Music Reviews: Dum Dums display their true talent
Crafted: Dum Dum Girls display their unique brand of rock pop
Reviewed this week: Dum Dum Girls; The Gloaming; Sheryl Crow; Eugene Donegan
Dum Dum Girls
Too True (Sub Pop) ****
There is no shortage of bloated albums out there – heavily padded, 70 minute-plus efforts to try the patience of even the most ardent fan.
Happily this Californian band, named in double homage to a Vaselines' album and an Iggy Pop song, have opted for a far leaner approach on this their third, and comfortably best, album.
Too True weighs in at 30 minutes 22 seconds and barely a note is wasted as LA's Kristin Gundred (aka Dee Dee) and friends deliver a batch of blistering, pulse-quickening power pop songs. Guitars are very much to the fore as the quartet produce one striking riff after another.
There's nothing remotely 'original' – that increasingly meaningless description – in what Dum Dum Girls do, but their short, snappy compositions are beautifully crafted and wonderfully immediate.
Rimbaud Eyes – inspired by the famed cornflower blue irises of the French poet – offers a thrilling collision of guitars and vocals while Are You Okay is a faintly '80s-tinged ballad that could yield the band a bona fide hit. Elsewhere, there are songs indebted to new wave and others redolent of the riot grrrl movement.
The production – courtesy of ex-Raveonettes man Sune Rose Wagner and Richard Gottehrer (whose credits include Blondie, the Go-Go's and Richard Hell) – is slick and expansive, but rarely homogeneous.
This has been quite a month for all-female bands: fellow Californians Warpaint are impressing with their self-titled new album while Ireland's September Girls have a fine debut album out too.
Key Tracks: Rimbaud Eyes; Little Minx
Sheryl loses touch with Home
Feels like Home (Warner Music) **
Sheryl Crow sold several gazillion albums on the back of sweet, inoffensive country-inflected pop. This album, we're told, is her first proper country offering having been inspired by the fact that she now calls Nashville home.
In truth, it's no great departure from the sort of music Crow has proffered to date – think radio-friendly hooks, that (largely) character-free vocal of hers, a sumptuous production... the list goes on.
In places, Crow makes the listener sit up and take notice. The compelling Waterproof Mascara offers the world view of a put-upon single mum concerned about her son's need for a father figure while Stay At Home Mother finds the protagonist fretting about the daughter she rarely gets to see due to a demanding job.
But, too often, Crow's songs lack spark and invention. Best of Times never strays from tedious, middle-of-the-road territory while Crazy Ain't Original manages to be offensively dull – really, Sheryl, you thought such half-baked efforts were worth releasing?
Feels Like Home is likely to disappoint existing fans and will do nothing whatsoever to woo those who have hitherto given the singer a wide berth.
Key Tracks: Waterproof Mascara
Trad supergroup deliver an arresting set
The Gloaming (Real World Records) *****
Five remarkable musicians have pooled their talents for this veritable trad supergroup: Sean Nós singer and Afro Celt Sound System founder Iarla Ó Lionaird, violinist Martin Hayes, hardanger fiddle specialist Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill and the Vermont pianist Thomas Bartlett.
Rare live appearances over the past few years have attracted euphoric reviews and this debut album lives up to the loftiest of expectations. The wonderfully virtuosic music is rooted in an ancient Irish tradition, no doubt about that, but there's an experimental flavour to the compositions that makes the album such an intriguing, arresting listen.
The 16-minute opus Opening Set marries trad and avant-garde in bewitching, hypnotic fashion while Song 44 and Samhradh Samhradh are built for Ó Lionaird's striking vocals. The music is sparse in places, marvellously complex in others – and there's a beauty here that will touch many.
Bartlett – a seasoned producer, whose work includes Glen Hansard and Bell X1 albums – takes control in the studio, but this is very much the product of five people.
Key Tracks: Opening Set; Samhradh Samhradh
Donegan digs deep for album follow-up
Sail against the Wind (Freaky Tree Records) ***
Four years after his well-received Little Apples album, the Louth singer-songwriter, Eugene Donegan, is back with an assured follow-up that ruminates on birth and death.
He has drawn from the birth of his children and the death of his mother on deeply personal songs that have a universal resonance. And with his gruff voice and yen for spare, acoustic music there's more than a passing resemblance to a pre-electric Dylan to several of his songs.
Donegan's cause is helped by some fine collaborators – including Declan O'Rourke who produced his debut album – and the lap slide guitarist, Clive Barnes. But it's the vocals of comparative newcomer Joy Booth that help elevate the material above the ordinary.
Sail Against the Wind is hamstrung by a handful of humdrum tracks, but there's plenty to cherish.
Key Tracks: Sail Against the Wind; Little Hearts