Vesper Sky – “Enjoy, Not Endure”

When you come across work by talented artists, their ability can shout at you, while they themselves are more discreet with their style.

Vesper Sky is a collection of songs, spoken words – and various combinations of the two – that oozes skill, professionalism, life experience, spiritual depth and fun.

It ends with an Yvonne Lyon poem-song that notes, “You were made for greater things than living with regret; here’s to enjoying, and not to endure.” That attitude of making the most of life flows out of its many delicious words: “Let these be the luminous years / the ludicrous handstand years… The being loved, that’s it, years.”

The fun comes in humorous pieces, but also through the delight in words that runs through everything, right down to immaculately-scanning lines that emphasise the right bits like a well-fitting dress.

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Salvador (Blu-ray/DVD) – Getting the Truth Out

Image result for salvador Oliver stone masters of cinemaOliver Stone’s Salvador makes its UK début on Blu-ray within weeks of Oscar Romero being canonised earlier this month.

The archbishop criticised actions by either side in the Salvadoran Civil War that adversely affected civilians. It was the main reason that the ruling right wing militia considered that “the Church was the enemy,” as claimed in the extras to this release.

Romero’s murder, while he was celebrating mass, is one key event in this film, which tells the stories of several real life characters. The movie aimed to show the devastating impact of American funding (through fear of communism) for the militia, which carried out a horrific programme of repression, torture, disappearances and massacres.

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DJ Andy Hunter, Part 1: Dance Music Pioneer

While it feels like churches have hosted classical concerts forever; secular rock artists are increasingly using them as venues; and Christians have had decades to evolve (somewhat soft) rock music in worship, there is still a great black hole where faith and electronic dance music (EDM) meet.

That’s a lot of space for DJ Andy Hunter to fill, but he’s doing a good job.

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Andy Hunter, Part 2: Presence – the World’s First Arts-based Devotional App?

Andy Hunter via

Some new releases get launched with a huge media blast, while some just seep out slowly. One that surely deserves a blast, but has quietly evolved in stages, is Andy Hunter’s Presence project, its vision to inspire people’s reflections and experience God’s presence in their everyday lives.

As a devotional aid and inspiration for worship, it is such a mix of different media and content that it is hard to describe in a way that does it justice. It is better experienced.

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Richard Durrant – Stringhenge

It’s not easy to get politics into largely instrumental, largely classical music, but that hasn’t stopped guitarist Richard Durrant trying.

Straight after finishing Stringhenge – “the most personal album I have ever made” – he cycled over a thousand miles to play ten celebratory concerts.

He considered it a “personal pilgrimage, which I hoped would reconnect me with a country that I love, but no longer understand, recognise or even feel comfortable being associated with… after the referendum in 2016.”

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Eliza Gilkyson Torpedoes the Ship of Fools on Secularia

Image result for eliza gilkyson secularia“I wouldn’t call myself a Christian, but I am spiritual…” and “I’m not religious, but…”

These phrases often come from people who either search for God or experience him, but want to distance themselves from established faith.

American Eliza Gilkyson has gone further and deliberately recorded “a collection of songs… born from my ongoing search for meaningful spirituality, without the constraints of traditional religious beliefs and outmoded ideologies.

“The stories told in these songs, of a fall from grace or redemption of the soul, are not about a heaven and hell, but about the very human nature of losing and finding ourselves, as individuals and as a society.”

How does she envisage a “meaningful spirituality without the constraints of religious belief”?

She gives plenty of clues in the songs.

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Band of Love: Folk Fever

Image result for band of love folk fever

(Island Records)

Just when I thought there were no genre mash ups left – and Malcolm McLaren’s mix of punk and opera was a strange one – we now have folk artists covering disco songs. What do we get – “Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, fol-de-rol-de-dol” or “Disco Inferno, ooh-arhh”?

And, more importantly, does it work?

Looking at the thirteen tracks on the cover, I gave this a simple bar to cross: if they could make Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” work in a folk style, then they had probably succeeded. But how could they, without all those bubbly sequencers that make the original so irresistible?

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Here’s some of the best instrumental music of the year so far to come across my desk (or kitchen table, to be more accurate).

There is jazz, neo-classical, folk, Celtic and various points in between. Most of it is cottage industry stuff, by people who have honed their craft for years, without corporate budgets to support them, relying instead on the quality of their music to earn them a living. If you enjoy the sound of music that has no need for words, read and listen on.

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Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, Daughter of the Church

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin. Image via Women News Network

You are huge when people know you by one name only. Like Bowie and Prince, the prized pair that we lost in 2016, Aretha Franklin was one such singer. The name ‘Aretha’ only meant one person – and often, when the name was expanded, it was to ‘Aretha, Queen of Soul’.

When she died last week, the level of tributes confirmed her importance, not least when Barack Obama, reminding us what a dignified presidential tweet actually looks like, said, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”

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Beth Rowley – Gota Fria

Beth Rowley Ten years is a lot of life to condense down into 59 minutes, which may explain why Gota Fria smoulders away, glowing red hot like it’s about to burst into wild fire.

It has been that long since Rowley’s last full album release Little Dreamer was released and certified gold – a strangely long wait, given that it put her in the charts with major label backing. Many artists would play the game and get rich as long as the gravy train rolled along.

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Fairport Convention – What We Did on our Saturday


Fairport Live, via Daily Express

Swipe me, 50 years already? “Who knows where the time goes,” indeed. And with Fairport’s penchant for losing people somewhat permanently, who knows how many of them will be around to celebrate 60 years?

So this was an anniversary to mark, and they have marked it superbly with this celebratory two-hour-plus Fairport Convention dream album, capturing most alumni (the five surviving members of the début album line-up all appear) performing at their own Cropredy Festival last August.

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Angélique Kidjo – Remain in Light

KidjoFor Angélique Kidjo – probably Africa’s best-known female singer – to record a version of Talking Heads’ classic art-rock masterwork Remain in Light is both an obvious choice and a strange one.

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Moby – Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

MobyAll things bleak and beautiful, a creature great and small. On this release, Moby bares all: the shame of his past, his helplessness and pain in the present and his fear of a dystopian future.

But, being Moby, despite the weary melancholy inherent throughout, he produces moments of great beauty, even transcendence.

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Early Man

Early Man - Dug and Hognob(PG, Aardman)

Released in a World Cup year, even those who avoid ‘the beautiful game’ can enjoy the punfest and ingenuity of another Aardman film. Early Man is a clash of civilisations, where football is the means of bringing them together, but writer/director Nick Park insists that this is not a football film, per se.

The movie maintains Aardman’s appealing homespun warmth, but on a new epic scale (with their biggest sets ever) that sometimes suggests a stop-motion Lord of the Rings – although Park reveals that the inspiration is mainly from Gladiator.

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The Old Dark House (Dual Format DVD/Blu Ray)

The Old Dark House(Eureka)

You may or may not be not grateful for this, but if it wasn’t for films like The Old Dark House, you’d never have got Scooby Doo. You can imagine the start: to quote another famous cartoon dog, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and an open car with 3 drenched passengers struggles to get over the Welsh hills. Then a landslide maroons them, where the only shelter is the spooky, eponymous house. When the window of the door slides back, it slowly reveals the wild, scarred and lupine face of a dumb butler – just one of the house’s weird inhabitants.

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Joanne Hogg & Co: The Map Project

Joanne Hogg. Image by Henri Strik, via

Joanne Hogg is best known for her keyboards and lead vocals with Celtic-jazz-prog-folkies Iona, but this 6 track EP is a very different affair.

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Marillion – All One Tonight

Marillion have come a long way over the years, The band that started out derided by music fans as just a Genesis rip off went on to have a couple of excellent hit singles and now has members in demand – such as bassist Pete Trewavas, who is part of prog supergroup Transatlantic.

This live DVD records a show from London’s Royal Albert Hall that sold out in just four minutes.

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The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl

(Rough Trade/ Capitol Records)
11 tracks / 43 mins

There are plenty of songwriters covering the bizarre political climate across the States and Europe, but who uses black humour like The Decemberists? This one is like New Order making a soundtrack to a David Lynch film about a George Orwell novel.

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Darlingside – Extralife

It is rare for me to be so instantly struck by a new album. After hearing about four songs (or maybe only four parts of songs) I was contacting the band for a press copy.

It’s the reverb-drenched harmonies that did it. Comparisons with the Beach Boys are unavoidable (and on “Indian Orchard Road” it’s the tune as well), while there are also bits of Fleet Foxes in the sound and even Sufjan Stevens at times. I actually find Darlingside more appealing than Fleet Foxes, as they demand more repeat plays.

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Sheeran Perfection

Hanna with Sheeran, via Church of England Newspaper

No, Johnny Nash didn’t sing, “I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone.” Neither did Hot Chocolate sing, “I remove umbilicals” or the Police record a song about Sue Lawley.

Misheard lyrics can give us a quick laugh, but occasionally, they lead to something more creative – like a viral video that quickly reached some nine million viewers around Easter.

That happened to singer-songwriter Philippa Hanna, whose Christian version of Ed Sheeran’s Christmas number one “Perfect” was the pearl that grew from the grit of a misheard lyric. Continue reading

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