Review: 'BELL, JEFF'
'Turned Every Screw'
- Label: 'Rhythm Of The System' - Genre: 'Alt/Country' - Release Date: 'December 2014'- Catalogue No: 'RSR-002'
|Our Rating: 8/10|
'Turned Every Screw' is the latest album release (his third) from singer songwriter and poet Jeff Bell. Jeff is certainly a man who has a way with words, having written the poems 'I Once Kissed Pavarotti in Dalston' and 'Ok, you can call me an oddist if you like!'; a brilliant attack on the Conservatives (both available to read at: Jeff Bell at Penniless Press.
So, how does 'Turned Every Screw' stand up to wit and wisdom like that? Actually very well. There are twelve tracks on the album (actually thirteen due to the bonus track 'Wasted Hours', all packed full of insightful social comment, and forming eloquent stories taken from real life.
The music varies from jazzy rock, to rock, to ballads and back again, without ever seeming disjointed or having anything that grates. This is perhaps because Jeff has written, recorded and performed everything on the album save for the track 'Get The Chains' which includes French group Le Skeleton and London based Australian drummer Ryan Kalkman from Mouths. As a result, Jeff seems comfortably in his element.
Added to this is Jeff's undeniable talent as a lyricist, being able to evoke images of a London filled with seedy bars, alcohol and the highs and lows of life. The album opens with the jazzy 'Get The Chains', a song that is fairly reminiscent of early T om Waits, especially in Jeff's delivery, however, this is clearly, uniquely English and carries with it a wit and imagination in storytelling: - “I met a beautiful girl, she was brushin' the bar room floor/ She smiled at me as she walked past, I thought, get the chains/ I joked that I was in love, I'd buy her a Hoover one day/ As she laughed out loud, I thought, get the chains”
In a few short sentences, Jeff is able to convey both a distinct picture and an atmosphere which will resonate with most listeners, and this is his talent, his words are able to produce comfortable feelings and half forgotten memories. Such as on 'All I See is You', an almost funereal balled cataloguing a relationship break: - “You waste me when you taste me, you had me in your palm/ Now the sun don't shine like it used to, since you been gone/ And the spilt red wine on the duvet is now all I see,
Of the memories of you, when you were still with me.”
Overall, whilst this is something that will never translate to the dance floor, it is an excellent album, after all anyone who can throw in the lines: - “I shelter from the rain it the local bar that doesn't feel the same/ I'm drinking down the sediment, to wash away the sentiment.” will always get my vote. This is a perfect album for drinkers and thinkers everywhere.
Review - Nick Browne
Add a heading
Add a subheading
|Parallel Worlds' |
- Label: 'Rhythym Of The System'
- Genre: 'Blues' - Release Date: 'March 2016'- Catalogue No: 'RSR-007'
|The last Jeff Bell release I reviewed was 2014's Songs From No One In Particular; an album I liked well enough. I made sure to go back and listen to that album before reviewing this one to see how Jeff has progressed. He has gotten more grizzled and a little bit more lovelorn, it seems. |
The album opens with the very short and rather throwaway Parallel Worlds, which is basically a kids birthday party scene. That then gives way to the first proper tune, Okie Song which is nice and grizzled with some good thunder and rain sounds as if he's playing it on his porch as the storm begins. With vocals that sound like they are being sung into a closet, will the object of the song come to their senses or not?
Short Sell is a great song full of honking brass over Jeff's normal Steve Earle-alike vocals as he gets all het up over what's gone wrong in his relationship. Achilles Heel slows things down and asks about suicides as the sax plays in the background and the music makes you think about what's going down. This is a very clever song. I like how the pace picks up after he says she has driven him to drink to show the level of desperation he has sunk to.
You is a slowed down look at how he sees himself in you. That flashes by in a moment or two before the almost nursery rhyme-like UK Plantation Blues kicks in. This starts with a field holler and then comes in with the accordion and acoustic guitar to have a go at all the Gang masters out there like he's been listening to plenty of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee albums.
Feral has plenty of angry guitars fizzing all over it as Jeff has a good rant. Always Been The Same feels a little bit more upbeat as he tries to keep the debt collectors at bay while trying to evade the tax man but as he's not some Tory or Plutocrat they want their pound of flesh. Yes it has always been the same - the taxman always wants paying no matter how much sax you throw at them.
Distance takes Jeff back to his default Steve Earle-alike songs of darkness and when they are done this well is fine by me. Please opens with a piano solo that sounds like early 70's Neil Young but with the high, keening vocals substituted by Jeff's grizzled voice pleading for his love not to leave him. It's sad and slightly sorrowful but a cool song nonetheless.
Between the Bars is about being on a drunken binge rather than being in prison. It's almost like a slightly upbeat Tom Waits song if you can imagine Tom's vocals being easier to figure out. He wants her to drink up and get going but I'm sure she wants to stay for just one more drink, who will win out, we wonder?
I love the baritone sax. I think it is on Against The Tide where it sounds like something I'd expect to hear on a late 70's Lou Reed album. It's a very cool, dirty, sludgy sound and in the song Jeff Swims against the tide. It's cool even when I realize (to my surprise) that it's an Elliot Smith cover as I don't like too much of Elliot's music.
Sun Shines Down is a little doleful like he really wishes is was cloudy or raining no matter how much he feels it in his soul. Oh and it has a really cool scratchy guitar solo. Orange Glow is just a slow song of regret as his time stands still
Shadows is another Steve Earle-raiding song of regret. Desert Storm doesn't seem to be about that world, more about another relationship breakdown built around cool guitars and Jeff's grizzled vocals.
Talk About It follows the album's normal threads and sounds pretty cool as he gets all het up about the fact that he needs some help to get by. It almost gets histrionic (or is that just the interplay between the guitar and the vocals?) but either way I think it works pretty damn well.
The album closes with Era's Song. This starts off with a slow strum as he questions whatever happened to trade unions and how things have changed in the era of globalisation. It's a nice plea for unionization to make a comeback. It's also a nice end to a good album.
You can find out more about the new album and some of Jeff's previous work at Jeff Bell online
otherwise this CD did not come back. Another album that previously
(2011) is released digitally and only now as the official disc sees
light of day. Meanwhile I made a blog full of poems of this London based
singer-songwriter consumed and knowledge "Another
Academy" (2013), an album of spoken word of Charles Bukowski,
where Jeff Bell composed the music for.
Jeff had already convinced me with the previous CD, I wonder what
he's going to bring ... The opening song ("Get The Chains') was
again short, but very successful, with horns and cooperation of a
French group, Le Skeleton Band. The blues "Cast The First Stone"
rocks also nice way with a fine electric guitar, a little Johnny Dowd like
and gets at the end of one line "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"
with. Then we pull cloudy, desolate landscapes folk inside. The
dark, of loneliness drenched ballad "All I See Is You" suddenly does
strongly Nikki Sudden's album "Red Brocade" thinking, with wine
stains on the comforter and all. Laminated built tracks "Victims" and
"Lay Me Down" fans will Vic Chesnutt not fail to impress, I think. It'
hard to believe that Jeff plays all the instruments and sounds
creates itself. We hear a piano and other unexpected sounds in
"Another Year," when writing Jeff got help from a fellow townsman,
the singer Pete Hill. "Say A Prayer" sounds more like a rebellious
discussion with the higher power, instead of a prayer. "Hometown"
even calling the album "Goodbye Joe Russ Tolman recalled: I love
sung once of those close to the microphone, deep hoarse guttural
sounds ... With a huff" Guess It Worked "we reach a sarcastic complaint
traditional blues form addressed to the National Health Service: the care
in England is also a mess! Finally, we are treated to more than nineteen
minutes long bonus track, the sweeping "Wasted Hours (To Be Cont.)",
To which the Australian drummer Ryan Kalkman (from the London band
While still intuitive and quirky put down, imbued with emotional andsometimes sharp lyrics, this album is a bit more accessible and varied
than its predecessor. For the music lover who likes to have some trouble
over to dive for pearls! (Independent)
Translated from Flemish.
Depeche Mode once had a big hit with an album called Songs
Of Faith And Devotion. Jeff Bell might have done well to call this
one Songs Of Wrath, Emotion And Vengeance. Because that's
exactly what this album is. Tunes such as Guess It Worked and All I
See Is You wreak of experience and a life lived on the tightrope
between joyous hope and eternal frustration. This is a real
Pandora's Box of an album. You want to peek inside and not
knowing whether you'll be stabbed or embraced by the next song
makes the temptation to do so all the more exciting. This is a very
tight set where every note is toughened and sweetened by beautiful
folksy arrangements. ****
Americana UK - Turned Every Screw Review - Dec 2014
Mainstream Country music is the equivalent of TV evangelist’s churches; Bell is more like a one-man ministry preaching in a rough-hewn church where the only polish is the repeated rubbing of threadbare Sunday best suits on the pine pews. His sermons champion love and the soul over the material world, his voice is a rough instrument and it can be traced back to the gospels of Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits and Paul K. It's weather-beaten, pitted with experience and age - on ‘Guess It Worked’ he sounds like he’s at a revivalist meeting trying to conjure up the lord from a jar of spiders. He’s helped out on this record by the French group Le Skeleton Band who do a mean Magic Band impersonation on ‘NHS Blues’ which sounds like a collaboration between Beefheart, Mike Leigh and Benny Hill. There are also traces of funk and jazz on ‘Get the Chains’ a mutant funk, but funk nonetheless and RnB rears it head on ‘Cast the First Stone’ not least when it morphs into ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’.
Bell has an everyman persona and his songs approach universal themes through the personal, he manages to put an individual spin in each song; ‘Another Year’ uses piano as a differentiator, whereas the bulk are predicated on the guitar - ‘I Saw It’ finds its own way with organ being used for punctuation. Bell has a likeable approach and sounds at his best on the relaxed ballads ‘All I See Is You’ and ‘Lay Me Down’ which necessarily focus on him. The songs are spectacular, they don’t aim to be, they are honest and truthful and in a world full of artifice, it is a good quality to have.
Review by David Cowling.
Written In Music - Turned Every Screw Review - Dec 2014
Poet, singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jeff Bell was until recently completely unknown to me. Yet he's already had some nice music released, including an album of haunting poems by Charles Bukowski, where Jeff Bell has added music. The man's obstinacy is also evident from his website, where a whole page titled "The Art of Neglect " is dedicated to the stages of disintegration of a garden parked grievously neglected harmonium.
Vocals and lyrics breathe of London, liquor, cigarettes, drink away your heartbreak in dark bars, loneliness and gloom. Think of Bob Dylan, Mark Sandman (Morphine), Ian Siegal or Tom Waits; artists for whom it is also about feeling, rhythm, language, song and voice, and not always to play nice and pleasing.
A large part of the songwriting and arrangements are Bell himself, but he
also has support from the French Le Skeleton Band and Australian drummer Ryan Kalkman, plus on "Another Year", he and fellow Londoner, Pete Hill collaborated together. Sometimes the sound is raw, with derailing blues guitar and blues harp, while the melancholic piano ballad "Another Year" uses the sounds of a cello. Especially in his folk -like ballads opts for Bell somber chords and desolate atmospheres. "Humorous NHS Blues" then describes the discomforts of the hospitals in the UK National Health Service , and the album finishes with the hypnotic meandering 19 minute finale "Wasted Hours".
Bell will, thanks to this album, probably will not go bathing in wealth and fame, but it will certainly find its way into the hearts of many enthusiasts.
(Translated from Flemish).