ALBUM REVIEW: MICHAEL HEAD AND THE STRANDS – THE OLDE WORLD

8/10

ALBUM REVIEW: MICHAEL HEAD AND THE STRANDS - THE OLDE WORLD

Michael Head will be releasing The Olde World, a companion album to his mythic The Magical World of the Strands on August 28th. The release is like a wine aged to perfection, this vintage contains heady outtakes, remixes and never before released songs. The content is drawn from Head’s time spent creating wondrous music with his then band the Strands. Head, is considered one of the greatest UK songwriters of his generation and is also one of the most underappreciated. The purpose of the release is to reintroduce the public to Head’s amazing musical abilities; as his record label looks to not only deliver the latest Head musical creations but to present his prior releases in the most appropriate way.

Head is best known for his formation of a number of Merseyside bands. He is the founder of The Pale Fountains, Shack, The Strands and his most recent group The Red Elastic Band. Fans have likened his resurgence into the public forum as “the third coming of Michael Head”. One common characteristic to Head’s bands is their fluid elasticity and songs that can flex whether played by three band mates or an entire orchestra and still retain their emotional impact.

Mick Head is ever drawing inspiration from his beloved Liverpool and that love is splendidly displayed on The Magical World. The Olde World looks to add additional background to that recording as it originates from the same sessions as “The Magical World”, and belatedly turns it into a double album. The original Strands project stretched over a two year period and produced over 100 minutes of recorded material. At the end of the sessions Head had been asked to reconvene his prior band Shack and was offered a major label deal. That offer unfortunately did not include the Strands work only new Shack material. The result was that a lot of music from the Strands sessions went unreleased. Producer Mark Coyle in 2014 was brought in by the label Megaphone to shape The Olde World release using both unreleased songs from the sessions, new remixes and outtakes from the original album. It was agreed by all concerned parties that the unreleased recordings deserved to see the light of day. The resulting final product is a must for fans of Head.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccRyxu0ns-U

The music on The Olde World confirms the adage that good songs can take any sonic form be they acoustic or electric, trio or full orchestra and still amaze the listener. The adage is brought to life with this release as it adds depth and insight to the The Magical World of the Strands studio work. It is hard to believe that there could be anything more beautiful that the original release version of It’s Harvest Time but this version has a more refined feel; especially when the song is contrasted with the original 1997 release which was a much rougher acoustic rendition.

Fin, Sophie, Bobby and Lance is a song that was originally released with a totally different mix on the 2006 Shack album, The Corner of Miles and Gil. It is a delightful jazz and country improvisational, with shimmering guitars and a swirling and soaring sonic feel. Poor Jill was a song that on “The Magical World” was lovely but was missed something, on this version remixed by Mark Coyle it culminates in a beautiful result. It has this amazing clear feeling of folky pop, recalling The Byrds and The Kinks at their most bucolic moments.

Something Like You is a departure from the recording on “The Magical World” with a strings only quartet approach that was arranged and conducted by Helen Caddick. When placed side by side with the original it becomes something more bittersweet with its strings only interpretation, it is dramatic and Elgar like. Listeners familiar with “The Magical World” will have a hard time figuring out which version of this song is better. Glynys & Jacqui is another alternative take on the original with a completely acoustic approach. What jumps out are Head and the Strands amazing guitar skills, the production on this release just emphasized their outstanding abilities. Hocken’s Hey is track that I could not imagine ever being improved upon; this rendition becomes an even more joyful selection. This version is only instrumental and puts the flute front and center.

And Luna is a long time favorite track of Producer Mark Coyle. He desired to have another go at the song. With this acoustic mix it becomes a quintessential tribute to Head’s idol and West Coast hero Arthur Lee. What results from the new approach is a song simply mesmerizing in its beauty with Head’s vocals jumping out and making for a special treat. Lizzy Mullaly was a b-side to the Shack 2006 single Cup of Tea. It had original come from a 1995 mix session for the Strands but could never find a home in the track order of “The Magical World” or for The Shack’s albums. The song is certainly in keeping with the sound of “The Magical World” and is energy filled and joyous.

Wrapped in Armour was a trial balloon of a song that emerged right about the time that Head and Co created Fontilan. It is actually a companion to that song and derives from Head not quiet being ready to leave off working on Fontilan. It is one of the never before released songs from the original recording sessions. The title track and new release The Olde World, is a bridge to the songs Head would release with Shack. The song is much more comfortable in the rock genre than the rest of the songs on this release. It is a barnburner and displays all the multi dimensional musical gifts of Head and his ability to jump genres with ease. I like to think of it as Head goes electric.

At the end of the disc when listened along side “The Magical World” you find yourself wondering how Head has not become famous. The album is fully capable to stand by itself but works best in tandem with “The Magical World”. The album cover is a give away clue to the album’s purpose with it’s glimpse of Head behind the brick facade. The Olde World provides you with an even clearer understanding of the man behind the music. Made clear is that he doesn’t like to go through the motions; every song has a commitment and emotion that makes it very special. In an era of momentary twitter concentration, Head still arrests the listener with his captivating and noteworthy musical skills. Where many of his 80’s and 90’s stablemates have flamed out, the creative embers still burn for Head.

The Olde World is a beauty laden album perfect for the autumn season we are headed into; and is another resource in preparing the listening public for the promised 2016 release of new material from Head and The Red Elastic Band. I look forward to that release with much anticipation.

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