Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Choose My Music has been doing so well it is already starting to outgrow Blogger.

So the site has moved to

Come over and say Hi...but wipe your carpet

18th May 2011: B:A:26 - Nothing Like Dying To Make A Killing

Choose My Music this week was picked by a really top guy by the name of Mark Cann. You can find him on twitter right here. Mark and I only live a town or two apart, we frequent the same comedy club on occasions and followed each other on three different social networks over a period of 5 years. Oddly we have never met....maybe it is better that way.

I should also point out that this site now has its own Twitter account. So please follow @ChooseMyMusic

Anyway, Mark kindly picked the combination B:A:26 this morning which lead me to this album.

Johnny Cash - My Mother's Hymn Book
Amazon Link: My Mother's Hymn Book

The resurgence of Johhny Cash in the late 1990's and at the turn on the millennium was nothing but spectacular.

Like many musicians who plied their trade in the 60's & 70's, the 1980's was perhaps not the kindest period for the self proclaimed Man in Black. His record sales were in serious decline and he battled yet further addiction to painkillers thanks to being kicked in the stomach by an ostrich. By the end of the decade he was dropped by Colombia Records, who he was signed to for over 20 years.....Johnny Cash's mainstream music career was effectively over.

That was until U2 came along, which provided Cash with an appearance on the Zooropa album, which lead to a recording contract with Rick Rubin's American Recordings record label.

The first two releases barely scratched the surface, but Cash was finding a new audience and when American III: Solitary Man was released in 2000 the big time had returned.

As for this album, this is perhaps the only one in the series which solely relies on Johnny Cash's vocal and acoustic guitar. No guest appearances, no bass, no drums  - and this is perhaps what Cash does best.

As the album title suggests, the track list is made up of old hymns that Cash remembers singing with his mother while growing up amongst the cotton fields in perhaps the appropriately named Kingsland in Arkansas.

Originally the album was released as part of the 'Unearthed' box set, which as a big Cash fan at the time, caused significant anger from me.

From memory, the original release date was already set prior to Cash's death in September 2003 as was a perfectly acceptable price point (of around £40-£50). As soon as news of his passing broke the release date was shelved and fans were left hanging. A new date was set for November 2003 and so was a new price of between £80 to £100. Nothing like someone dying to make companies a bit more money.

Since that point I have always felt uneasy buying anything else released under the American Recordings banner. American V and VI has since been released, both topping the US charts - but I don't think those albums will ever grace my collection. It no longer feels right.

Of course a huge part of me is grateful of American Recordings. There is a significant possibility that without hearing his version of U2's One while updating the album chart wall in Tower Records, I may have never bothered to give Johnny Cash a listen....

....But there are some things which just need to be left alone.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Audiophiles - Ha Ha Tonka


Twitter: @Hahatonka
Amazon Links: Death of a Decade (MP3)
                        Death of a Decade (CD)

There a few things sweeter in music than:

1) Close harmony singing.
2) Despite my staunch atheism, a style that instantly makes me think of religion and superstition
3) A little bit of mandolin every now and then.

Fortunately for me, the first time I heard Ha Ha Tonka they presented all of the above and as a consequence I have not listened to anything else for three days straight. I even went for a two mile walk this morning just so I could enjoy the album from start to finish.

Signed to independent Chicago based label Bloodshot Records, you could be mistaken to liken these Missouri boys to Kings of Leon. Indeed growing up in the Midwest bible belt has no doubt created a similar sound to the Tennessee 4 piece.

But there is more to it than that. Hidden behind the southern rock guitars lays a folk sentiment which would be familiar to more recent UK folk breakthrough artists like Stornaway or even Mumford & Sons. You could even be bold enough during aspects of their new album 'Death of a Decade' to point odd fingers towards Arcade Fire with its driving drum rhythms.

Since 2005 Ha Ha Tonka have released four albums and one EP, gaining more and more friends each time. Indeed 'Death of a Decade was hailed as the 'birth of an important band' by the Austin Chronicle, while Spin Magazine, CMJ Essentials while various websites not called Choose My Music have also been extremely forthcoming in celebrating this band

Thanks to the efforts of Bloodshot Records and Ha Ha Tonka's management I have been lucky enough to obtain a short interview with the band to discuss their influences, touring the United States and the state of live music in general. But before that I urge you to have a quick listen to their new single and opening track of 'Death of a Decade' and check out the awesome video for "Caney Mountain"
"Usual Suspects" by Ha Ha Tonka by Bloodshot Records

I hope that has given you a big enough appetite to find out more about Ha Ha Tonka.  Please welcome singer and guitarist Brian Roberts, who has been kind enough to answer my questions.

CMM: Welcome to Choose My Music, could you please introduce the people who make up your band?

BR: Ha Ha Tonka consists of Brett Anderson (guitar, mandolin, keys), Lennon Bone (drums), Luke Long (bass) and me (vocals, rhythm guitar).

CMM: How long has Ha Ha Tonka be going for?

BR: Ha Ha Tonka has been active for 5 years.

CMM: Are you currently running the band on a full time basis or do you have to supplement your music with full time jobs?

BR: It's a full time job with part time pay.

CMM: There are many bands and artists which come to mind when I hear your music. Almost apologetically Kings of Leon come into my head, as does shades of Ben Harper and some recent UK folk bands such as Stornaway and Mumford and Son. Who, what or where do your influences come from?

BR:Those comparisons are very flattering!  Individually, we each have different influences.  Personally, I'm influenced by everything from REM to Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.  I also feel that the region we hail from, the Ozarks, has a big influence on all of us.

CMM: Your video to "Caney Mountain" has an almost biblical feel. I also got this impression from the first of your songs I ever heard 'Hold My Feet To The Fire". You also have recorded an album Buckle in the Bible Belt. Is there a religious aspect to your band or is this imagery ingrained from your surroundings?

BR: We aren't a "religious band" per se, however I was raised in a relatively fundamentalist environment and I'm sure that elements of gospel music seep into our songs.  As I mentioned earlier, the Ozarks play a big role in our music.  We try to sing about the people, places and things we know.

CMM: You are currently touring the United States with your new album 'Death Of A Decade'. I have recently discussed the death of the local UK music scene here with venues closing on a regular basis. Are things any better in the USA?

BR: Actually, I think the music scene is pretty strong in most markets here in the US.  Obviously, record stores aren't doing so well what with the decline of record sales, however shows seem to be doing well.

CMM: I've seen nothing but positive reviews for Ha Ha Tonka. How is the tour going for you?

BR: It's been the best tour we've ever done!  There have been several sold out shows and lots of rowdy crowds, which we absolutely love.

CMM: You are signed to Chicago's Bloodshot Records, what attracted you to the label?

BR: Well, they were really the only label actively courting us!  And the fact that the Old 97s and Ryan Adams were both on the label at one point, that didn't hurt.  Not a bad roster to be a part of. 

CMM: And finally, as around 70% of my readers are from the UK & Europe - do you have any plans to visit us in the near future?

Yes!  There are plans in the works for a Fall tour of the UK & Europe!  Working out the details now.

So there you have it. Ha Ha Tonka are very busy at the moment so I really appreciate their time with this. I hope to see them smash up the UK in the very near future.

I am certain many of you reading this will enjoy this band very much. If you have...why not tell a friend or two?

As always, your comments are always welcome. 

To finish off, a little Ha Ha Tonka appearing on TV in the USA:

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

11th May 2011: F:B:15: I Was A Teenage Punk

Today's Choose My Music was picked by a man known only to me as @Geek_Tone. His random selection was F:B:15 which has lead me to this selection.

Rancid - Rancid
Released: 1993
Purchase Link: Amazon

Now, for the sake of order and my own sanity, I should point out that there are two self titled Rancid albums - this is the original which was released in 1993.

I really do not think it is possible to underestimate the influence and affect Rancid had on me during my latter teenage years. Being born in the summer of 1979 I missed out on the original Punk scene by a considerable amount of years. Rancid were perhaps the first true alternative bands I got in to.

I was introduced to the Californian group by Mike Hartley, he was the guitarist of my 2nd band Arctic Space-Man. I had already got into the Pistols, Clash and various other original punk bands but he played me a tape with the track Ruby Soho on it (from their 3rd album ....And Out Comes The Wolves) and I was instantly hooked.

Sadly our band sounded nothing like Rancid, and it wasn't for another 5 years or so until I set up my very short lived punk band Chunk, but more about that later.

Rancid played a huge part in the resurgence of punk in the mid 1990s, along with Green Day and Offspring, yet unlike the other two bands, Rancid showed their true punk colours by releasing all their early albums on independent labels (Lookout, Epitaph and Hellcat, which is owned by singer/guitarist Tim Armstrong)

Armstrong and bass player Matt Freeman originally played together in cult underground band Operation Ivy. When they split up in 1989, Armstrong suffered with homelessness brought on through alcohol addiction. The story goes that Matt Freeman stumbled upon him one day and took him in to help him get clean - it was out of this act of friendship that Rancid was formed. Tim has credited this as saving his life.

This was the first of Rancid's 7 albums they have released to this point, all with virtually the same line up. For their 2nd release, 'Lets Go' a year later in 1994 they recruited Lars Fredrickson from UK Subs. The position was originally offered to Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day fame, who would often play live with the band during their formative years, but he turned down the offer to concentrate on breaking his own band.

Sadly, I have found myself over the years drifting away from Rancid. Their 2003 album Indestructible was panned by some of their fan base, not helped by them recruiting Kelly Osborne and members of Blink 182 to appear in the video for the single 'Fall Back Down'. Also Rancid decided to use Warner Brothers to distribute the album, they would only do so on the condition it had a parental advisory sticker on the front....for true hardcore punk fans this small detail is a big no no.

Even sadder still is upon the release of their 2009 album Let The Dominoes Fall, I actually found myself cringing at some it it during my first listen - and I haven't played it again since.

I am not sure if I have outgrown Rancid, or if they have outgrown me.

As for my punk band Chunk? Well we were always pretty bad - there exists on MiniDisc the only live recording of the group ever - which was a horrible gig in Newcastle Under Lyme (which we blagged the promoter saying we were a well established local band, when in truth we had never played a gig) - we were generally abused by a pissed up old man, who you can hear at one point in the recording asking us if we knew "any good ones". I guess the world wasn't ready for songs like "All My Friends Are Shit"....ahhhh...happy memories

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Audiophiles - The Salvadors

Well, what a huge week for Choose My Music. I am truly humbled by the amount of people reading this site on a regular basis.

Within a week of May this little music ramble of mine has already had over 50% of the total hits for the whole of April.

So I am starting this Audiophiles post with a little thank you for all of you who have seen fit to read, comment and share this site of mine. If you would like to continue doing what you are doing then I won't be stopping you.

There are share buttons knocking about somewhere and there is also a Facebook group. If you are visiting this site for the first time then get involved by following me on Twitter

All that aside, lets get down to business with another band I hope you will like.

The Salvadors

I was introduced to The Salvadors via a new music website called GroopEase.

The site has been made to not only promote new, up and coming bands but also to give its members the opportunity to buy GroopEase's featured bands album at a very stupidly low price for a limited period (usually about a week) with 5% of your money also going to charity.

You may have noticed I used the word members, it is because this site is by invite only - but lucky for you my dear reader - I have a little invite especially for you! Just click here - joining is free and is well worth it.

So, what do I know about The Salvadors....well very little to be honest, apart from they are Australian.

I did contact them via their Myspace to ask if they fancied doing an interview in the same vein as Ortolan Soup last week, but they have not got back to me as yet. 

While having my first listen to the band a couple of months ago, I scouted around the internet and found some half arsed lazy reviews going on about how they would appeal to fans of Arcade Fire. I am not disputing this per say. Fans of the Canadian 8-piece do have great music taste, but to liken the two bands as similar is a little but lazy.  I am sure most female vocalists who try their luck in the next 12 months will have the same issues with depressing chart botherer Adele.

Without taking anything away from The Salvadors, the only likeness is that they have a female in the group who sometimes does vocals. The similarities appear to end there.

What you have got with The Salvadors is a band that could be played at any social event, and you will be sure that someone will say "who's this playing now", thus giving you an awesome musical star rating of 5 amongst your friends.

I am not sure who The Salvadors remind me of, they have aspects of Californian band The Little Ones, if only in summer bounciness as opposed to actual style. They do also remind me a little of last weeks Choose My Music entry Bound Stems.

Really though, they just remind me how great music can be when done right.

You can hear some of The Salvadors below and you can buy their 8 track Misspent Youth album from the Groopease site for just $7 - that is about £4.27 for the Brits among us.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

4th May 2011 A:B:27 - I've Been Keeping This Family Afloat For Years

This weeks Choose My Music was picked by Dom Walsh, a man I have communicated with on an almost daily basis, collaborated on the A2Z music project with and interviewed on my football website - yet we have never met. Oddly on the couple of occasions he has picked on Choose My Music he has managed to pull out a couple of crackers. This week is no exception and would also qualify as an Audiophile post as this group was relatively unknown before their break up a year or so ago.

In keeping with tradition though, lets get the formalities out of the way. This morning Dom Walsh, at random, picked the combination A:B:27 (Bay A, Row B, CD 27) which lead me to this little gem of an album.

Bound Stems - The Family Afloat

Quite where I first heard this band I am not quite sure. Sadly with the array of music websites filling the internet over the past few years, my memory starts to get a little fuzzy when it comes to more recent purchases.

Looking back it was either on the brilliant Daytrotter website or on Last FM. Considering I do appear to have 6 Bound Stems songs in my Last FM played library and taking into account that due to my recent redundancy, I have a lot of time to watch Columbo, my powers of deduction lead me to the latter as the source on this occasion.

Bound Stems were formed in September 2002 and released a bunch of EPs between 2003 and 2005. By 2006 a full album was recorded and received some very favourable reviews amongst both the indie press and major publications like Rolling Stone and The New York Times. A national tour was booked, including an appearance at Lollapalooza. Things were looking good enough that all the band members decided it was time to quit their day jobs in order to become a fully fledged full time touring band.

12 months later it already became clear to Bound Stems that the lack of a stable income was causing problems. Feeling the need for stability and 'strong roots', they returned to their days jobs and got on to recording The Family Afloat.

I'll be honest, I have no idea how to describe this album. I don't feel exactly safe in my own mind using niche terms like "math rock" (it does exist). Whereas the bog standard 'indie rock" is just a little too vague for my liking too.

What you do have is a really well textured album where every track stands on its own merit. The opening track on its own changes rhythm and direction so much you feel like you have listened to a full album in the first 4 minutes and 20 seconds. My ears and brain tell me is a very good thing.

Often, a lot of the songs follow this pattern. Sometimes it feels like they have managed to merge three or four song ideas into one, yet magically make it sound perfectly natural, which suggests a collaborative approach to writing that many bands could no doubt learn a thing or two from. Oddly, listening to this album as I write I feel the urge to have a bit of an indie boogie....and I hate dancing... luckily no one is home.

The first time I listened to this album I was driving to work. I noticed when I arrived in the car park, that I only had two songs left on the CD so I sat there in my car until every last note was processed by my ears. Like a good book, I just had to know how it all ends.

I actually emailed the band after listening to The Family Afloat for the first time to tell them how much I enjoyed it. I got a lovely email back, then two weeks later, got another one to say they have split up.

If anything this CD demonstrates how difficult it is to break through in this industry. I imagine there are not many people who could not enjoy listening to it. The last track on this album contains the refrain 'I've been keeping this family afloat for years'. Sadly, like most families, the struggle appeared to be too great in this modern age.

On a positive note. Member of Bound Stems now make up the band Like Pioneers and you can listen to them here

Monday, 2 May 2011

Audiophiles - Ortolan Soup

This could be a long please allow me this slight ramble

Growing up in a small cathedral city in Staffordshire it may surprise many that myself and my friends got the opportunity to see quite a few bands, even Radiohead visited during their Pablo Honey tour.

Just 20 minutes drive away, in a rather nondescript town, there was a decent enough music venue in which we regularly got to see bands on their way up. Shed 7, Supergrass, Feeder and Reef to name but a few groups who made their name during the 1990's.

The off-shoot of this was the influence it gave me and my friends to start bands, and because of the promoter's generous booking policy it was often the case that many of us were able to play our first gigs at the same venue we used to go to week in week. Bands were formed in the venue bar, gigs at other venues were arranged by bands hooking up back stage - this place meant the world to us.

Fast forward at least 15 years to the present day and I shall present you with a discussion I had with someone involved with the local arts scene in Derby, or to be honest the lack of it. I happened to bring up the business that the city has struggled to maintain any consistent music venue for many years. Few have opened, barely any remain.

This then made me wonder how this affects the local music scene. To be honest Derby is not best known for producing music, some could argue White Town's 1997 number 1 single 'Woman' was the last significant piece of music to break through.

I decided to dig further and what I found was generally shocking. Bands were still citing Oasis as their influences, almost as if the last 10 years never happened. There was nothing, and I felt the weight of heavy despair and a tinge of sadness.

Last week, out of nowhere, I was follwed on Twitter by an account in Derby by the name of Ortolan Soup. This account had never tweeted and had no followers - usually enough for me to ignore - but for some reason I followed back. I asked the owner of this mystery account if they had any music.

A day or so later I received an message back linking me to this website. To be fair, I wasn't expecting much. Perhaps some guy with an acoustic guitar, or maybe just a standard pub band affair. What I actually found was this:

Ortolan Soup EP by Ortolan Soup

I was actually quite stunned. What I discovered was a rather brilliant, self recorded EP which instantly made me think of Elliot Smith and how much I missed his music. I heard depth and texture not often attributed to home recorded music. In short, I was very impressed.

Keen to find out more, I contacted the individual responsible who agreed to be interviewed.

CMM: Welcome to Choose My Music. This is the first interview I have done on here so you are honoured. Lets start with you telling us a little bit about yourself.

OS: I'm from Stoke-on-Trent, but I'm living in Derby - on a music and music tech course at the university. I'm currently a solo musician considering forming a band around my existing material. I'm not a great player or singer technically, but I like to think I've got some good ideas, and my songwriting has been improving a lot lately.

CMM: When I first heard your EP I mentioned to you that I felt it had a very Elliot Smith sound to it. What other artists influence you?

OS: I feel great about being compared to Elliot Smith, but other than that I'm really infuenced by indie folk artists like Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, Lost in the Trees and Sufjan Stevens (along with many others). Older stuff like The Beatles, Big Star, Love and the Kinks too. The list doesn't really end, and I'm always finding new bands and styles I want to incorporate into my own material.

CMM: What other music projects have you been involved in over the years?

OS: My first real band was a punk rock group called Cynical Protest. We played together for a few years and did okay, but never really pushed ourselves. The closest thing to that was a group formed in college, called Hot Rats. I liked it, but it wasn't a very musical period for me, and I never really commited myself. Then I left Stoke to go to university, so it would have been hard to stay in the band. I spent my first year, and most of this second year, trying to be a better songwriter.

CMM: You mention on your Bandcamp bio that you tried to be as autonomous as possible during making the EP - why did you decide to go it alone?

OS: I did the EP as a university project. I've always told myself that I could do this kind of thing if I wanted to, but never really did it. But the only way you can do something is if you do it. With a grade riding on it, I knew I had to get it done. As for doing it alone - I just worked to my strengths I think. I don't really have all these musicians around me to reach out to, and I don't have the cash to pay someone to design artwork and create a website. I think I have a pretty good eye for professionalism, so I made something that I'd like.

CMM: I was lamenting the music scene in Derby the other week. I suggested that there are very few bands doing anything remotely interesting in the area. One of the issues, I feel, is the lack of a good solid music venue to attract bands.What are your thoughts about the local scene and the problems that surround it?

OS: In Stoke, there's two venues and not much else. I typed into Google 'open mic Derby', and was more than happy with the results. It depends on the music though; Ortolan Soup is not yet a 'band' and I haven't been part of one whilst I've been in Derby, so I don't really know about that kind of thing. That said, I've not really noticed any real promotion for local bands - and that can't be a good sign.

CMM: How has the reaction been to your EP?

OS: Slow. It hasn't provoked any reactions - but it's new, and I'm new. I need to learn everything - including promotion. It's hard to get anyone to listen to anything, even music fans. I'm not well versed in this kind of thing, so it's learning curve. If I'm being honest, I've started to think of this EP as a precursor to what I'll do next. I haven't made a massive fuss about putting this EP out there because I'm still developing my writing and recording skills - and I'm not saying what I want to say yet, musically.

CMM: What are you plans for Ortolan Soup going forward?

OS: I'm uncertain. I might look for a songwriting partner, find band members, and write and record new material. Or I might stick at it alone, but that's pretty hard because you don't have anyone to bounce ideas off, so it takes ten times longer to finish songs (which is why my EP is so short). I plan to get into open mics before I get into real gigging anyway, to get a bit more experience under my belt, and test out songs. I've already got a lot of material and ideas for an album, so hopefully I''ll get that done by the end of ths year.

And there you have it. I have never been impressed by a self recorded, self produced d├ębut release before and I strongly urge you to download Ortolan Soup's EP...for

You can also follow Ortolan Soup on Twitter here

As always, comments and the sharing of this site is more than welcome.