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It does raise some good questions. Take a moment and watch Yes, I wrote "Part III" because many forget that current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was busted back when he was the Broncos head coach for doing exactly when his mentor Bill Belichick was caught doing - video taping opponents' coaching signals.

Now, a member of the Houston Texans believes that the Patriots are at it once again. I've heard rumblings from others in the New England area that despite the scandal associated with Spygate, it actually never ceased.

Will the NFL "investigate" this matter? What do you think? Sports can be fixed in the United States. Well, horse racing is still wide open for corruption as four people were arrested in relation to an alleged fixing scandal.

And shockingly, ESPN's backing this one It was making an excellent point as it kicked the NFL in the ribs while it tries to recover from the concussion controversy stirred up by PBS.

Then came the line, "[the NFL is] impossible to do without. The guy can't even hold a salient point through an article.

He becomes his own punchline as the blame for the NFL getting away with this B. First, this is a highly interesting article coming out of Canada's The Globe and Mail.

Seems as though the Toronto Raptors wouldn't mind tanking the entire NBA season to get a shot at home-grown talent Andrew Wiggins currently playing at Kansas.

The highlight of this article is the following: Don Van Natta Jr. Van Natta's article here is basically the Cliff Notes version of the book.

And after reading his piece, if you still don't think the NFL would stoop to fixing a game, then I can be no further help to you. Based on my new book Larceny Games , Gary Buiso interviewed me and cited the book and the FBI files within it in his article about members of the New York Knicks shaving points as a "favor" to their cocaine dealer.

CNN called my house Could it be the one that spends the most money broadcasting NBA games? Why, yes, the answer is:.

You can't even boo in America anymore with The Man coming down on you. It was meant to be. And that's why American soccer player Clint Dempsey may have intentionally missed the goal on a free kick you could've seen his attempt at the link, but YouTube's already pulled it.

But it's all fun and games as no one had bet on this game, right? And no one would've dared wager on a final score, would they?

Despite the fact that it's proven that soccer fixers often fix games for exact final scores - and make them happen. But this is the key quote from Ray, "I'm not gonna accuse nobody of nothing — because I don't know facts," says Lewis.

Now listen, if you grew up like I grew up — and you grew up in a household like I grew up — then sometimes your lights might go out, because times get hard.

But you cannot tell me somebody wasn't sitting there and when they say, 'The Ravens are about to blow them out. Man, we better do something.

That's a huge shift in any game, in all seriousness. And as you see how huge it was because it let them right back in the game.

They should also be strong, stand together and make a public statement about their dissatisfaction about it instead of hiding behind anonymous quotes.

Could they lose their jobs by doing that? Perhaps though after this I don't think ESPN would want to be seen as even more against their own investigative reporters.

But if they did lose their jobs, so what? Is that an entity they really want to work for? One that forces them not only to pull out of something like this PBS project, but also causes them to self-censor?

Myself, I'd prefer my integrity over a paycheck. Nearly 40 years later, people still cannot agree about whether an exhibition tennis match was rigged.

So why do it? For the money, no doubt. This begs the question: The argument has always been, "You might be able to pay off a player who is clearly not NFL or NBA bound, but you couldn't get a certain first round draft pick to throw a game.

All money is green, and while signing autographs isn't fixing a game, both might cost a player his eligibility, his "free ride," and several slots in the draft.

Thanks to Yehuda for the tip. Peterson wants everyone to know he didn't use drugs like HGH to make such a stunning comeback At least that's what one former Lebanese referee stated at his recent trial.

He traded games for sex - not money, not because of a blackmail situation - just sex. That's all it takes. Thanks to Ethan on the tip.

The Sports Geeks took this one step further and put together an interactive graph of arrests in the NFL.

It's worth checking out. Thanks to Robert for the heads up. On the surface, no. But if you know that professional poker players are often fronts for professional sports gamblers, then perhaps Pierce shouldn't be causally sitting there getting a massage.

By the way, he did bust out of the tournament not long after this picture was taken. If so, then someone needs to explain that to now former Boston Bruins center Tyler Seguin as the team needed to hire a guard to keep him in his hotel room so he wasn't out partying every night.

If these reports are correct, this is the first ever dismissal of its kind in baseball. Also, this was reportedly not Runge's first failed test.

As if anyone in either league really needs affordable healthcare And most importantly, writer Patrick Hruby is bold enough to ask: That's all there is to it.

I thought it was an entertaining fight and the fans got their money's worth, but it's a lot of bulls There's politics, and you get bulls like this.

It's part of the game, and somebody should do something about it. I don't have to fight again. I made good money in boxing and I work with you guys at Showtime.

I'm not saying it was fixed, but it's always the more connected fighter who gets the decision. And he has a point: Boxing, of course, has had corruption at its heart for more than years.

Malignaggi may not be right in this case, but certainly boxing matches have been fixed - recently and repeatedly.

On US soil, former Auburn Tigers point guard Varez Ward was arrested on allegations of point shaving and game fixing during the season.

He was also fined 18, English pounds for the offense, although exactly what misconduct caused the ban has not yet been detailed. Thanks to John for the heads up on this.

Very subjective if one is an athlete apparently. In which game s did this take place? Was an investigation launched? Sadly, none of these follow-up questions seemed to be asked or answered, but these responses are a tad frightening.

Though the University of San Diego fixing story received some press, it was not nearly the national sports news it should have been.

Because you make a fact like this known, as college basketball might get even dirtier than it already is. We had to be the fight on the hockey arena, we had to be the walk-off home run in the seventh game of the World Series, we had to be the yard kickoff return on the gridiron.

We had to do that to get those sports fans to come in and be a part of us. First, this article details how the refs not just gave the Lakers the wins they needed to reach the post-season, they also snatched games away from the Jazz.

Interestingly, this article comes from a Trailblazers -related site so it's not really "homerism" at work. One of the comments after the article provides even more insight on this debate - and none of it paints the NBA or its refs in a good light.

Thanks to Ethan for the tip. Adding on to this idea is the following video which depicts one of the worst screw-jobs in recent history, of course favoring the Lakers.

What I really enjoyed in this video is the host's "Coach Nick" assertion that in the past, "we all knew and understood" that the NBA was forcing Knicks-Bulls playoff series to 6 or 7 games.

This is common knowledge that the NBA was rigging games through its referees to make their wish of a 7-game playoff series a reality? And if so, why wouldn't the league then be doing the same today with the Lakers?

Coach Nick needs to think things through a bit more if you ask me Will the league allow the Jazz to make the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Western Conference, or will the Lakers rise to the occasion?

This video might give you a clue That's the allegation against Rush by the PAC according to this article. Well, one a former Turkish referee was told the same thing regarding the recent UEFA Champions League draw for match-ups, he went on live TV and proved it could be done.

Was it a simple slight of hand magic trick? If he could do it, who is to say the league can't do the very same thing for their own reasons?

And thanks to Rodney for sending me the tip! Their piece based in part on an ESPN Outside the Lines piece basically lays out the proof Goodell had the story squashed since it never did air.

Player safety is pure PR, nothing more. Thanks to Ethan for the heads up on this! It shows how poorly ownership can treat its fans, and this case against the Padres' owners could be made to several other franchise owners as well.

The Sad Truth by. I mean, don't we all know that these exploited kids are being paid under the table to sign that letter of intent? Once again proving that nothing in the sports world is as it appears.

The NFL thought you might, so it attacked and defeated an enterprising man who attempted to trademark "Harbowl," even though I don't believe the NFL can lay claim to either the word "har" or "bowl.

It's their name, or does the NFL own that as well? But here's the real kicker--the NFL didn't force this action now, with the Harbaugh Brothers about to face each other in the Super Bowl.

No, the NFL did this in August , prior to the start of this season. What, did the league just have a gut feeling about who was going to play in this year's championship?

In case you missed it, the NHL is back in action! And players are already fighting! I love how the author of that article has no problem writing that the fights are staged in one instance, the gloves were off within 3 seconds of the first puck drop , but he doesn't go a step further and ask the implications of such play acting.

Notice, by the way, the ESPN anchors just chuckling over these calls, rather than showing any sort of indignation like they did regarding the NFL's replacement refs.

Mitchell did, in fact, get injured on the play in question. This revelation has left Mitchell flabbergasted, but should any of us really believe more shenanigans like this don't occur in all sports?

Remember when Brett Favre intentionally took a sack so Michael Strahan could set the single season sack record?

Think players don't work out pre-game arrangements similar to Favre's with Strahan so someone can reach a contract incentive or look good for his family, etc.?

I've heard all sort of stories similar to this. But Brown's admission is a bit of a first. It should prove to fans that not all you see and believe in a game is as you assume it to be.

There are all sorts of debates as to the odds of this occurring , but it has more than a few fans wondering if something else read: Imagine a "rehearsal draw" for the NBA Draft Lottery ending the same as the actual drawing, and you get a sense as to what this seems like for European soccer fans.

To what ends this would be set up remains to be seen as certain first round games such as Real Madrid vs. Manchester United would seeming be better served in the later rounds.

Losing late in their game against the Jets, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton ordered their defense to allow the Jets to score a touchdown which would've made the Jets cover the Dockett refused the order , and got into a heated on-the-field argument with teammate Kerry Rhodes.

In the end, the whole episode was rendered moot when Jets RB Shonn Greene downed the ball short of the endzone for the Jets win.

To which Dockett stated:. It was frustrating at the time. At the end of the day, I am never, never going to lay down and quit. I've been playing football for over 20 years.

I've given this organization, I've given Florida State, I've given my high school everything I've got.

I love the game. I play with passion and I'll never quit. Apparently few other NFL players have a similar mindset. Thanks to Rodney for the heads up on this story.

According to other reports , Parmley stated to the FBI that he has bet on college and professional games for "multiple years. How far all this goes remains to be seen This may not be of note to non-soccer fans, but this is a tournament in which MLS teams are desperate to achieve a win against Mexican and Central American clubs in order to gain higher status in the soccer community.

And now we know, these games can be rigged. Those details are still emerging at this time, it's believed the arrest is tied to a New York State investigation relating to offshore sports book giant Pinnacle.

Stay tuned to this one And then ask yourself just how much the government funds professional sports and how close these modern gladiators are to their Roman ancestors as well as the purpose the Romans used them for: Patrick - to his credit, and perhaps verbally jabbing his ex-employers - added, "They've [ESPN] lost that credibility, a large portion of the credibility of covering news.

I think that it's now: You're trying to create things there. Bernie Fine story at Syracuse. Where are those stories?

Those are big stories that you guys created. You were late on the Joe Paterno story. I think there's just a different mindset from what they're doing and how they're covering it.

Then, on Showtime's Inside the NFL , two former replacement referees told hosts James Brown and Cris Collinsworth that not only did the NFL instruct its officials not to call pass interference on Hail Mary plays like the blatant one on Monday Night Football between the Packers and Seahawks in Week 3 , but that there are "philosophies" behind when and when not to throw a flag.

This means, in short, that the NFL dictates to its officials how to call a game But it's a start. Thanks to "Apollo Creed" on Twitter for giving me the heads up.

How soon after sports gambling is legalized in the U. The AFL has maintained that tanking does not occur. Others, including former Melbourne president Paul Gardner, claim that is not true.

Amazingly, this is a case of a private entity suing to enforce a federal statute - something the government is supposed to do. This has nothing to do with game fixing, but it's a rare piece of actual investigative reporting and a great read.

They, too, did nothing as Reilly's article indicates. Instead of actually doing its supposed job of being a muckraking watchdog for fans everywhere, the sports media has become nothing but idol worshipers happy to create illusionary fairy tales for soulless athletes, coaches and owners.

If something as horrific as what when on at Penn State can be covered up for 14 years and only come to light because of law enforcement's involvement , what else can be held back from public scrutiny in college and professional sports?

Anyone who dares argue that sports cannot be fixed because someone would talk now will face the immediate and undeniable counterpunch of this story.

Here's another major storyline in a major market city. He said in part , "If you have one [yellow flag] every 20 laps, I don't care.

It adds to the show. Someone once said we're in show business. Well, if we're in show business, let's deliver that show. Right now, we're not delivering it.

Other sports have mandatory timeouts and TV timeouts. All that stuff creates things in those sports. We need to be creative in this sport.

Thanks to Michael for the heads up on this one! I only have one thing to say about all three cases: How many other unreported incidents like this have occurred?

What can we trust, America? After it was indeed the Top 5 I knew the show must be rigged; I decided at that moment to distance myself from an organization who did not allow fair play and whose morals did not match my own.

Donald Trump, who owns the Miss USA pageant, has threatened to sue the Donald then switched gears, offering to let the matter go if she apologized publicly.

Meanwhile, the Miss Universe Organization has filed an arbitration action against Monnin for "ongoing defamatory statements. That article was published on May 30, Apparently there were certain editorial changes read: Read the piece for yourself and see if ESPN was being paranoid, or truly didn't want certain things to come to light.

As Yahoo Sports Adrian Wojnarowski wrote, "The reaction of several league executives was part disgust, part resignation on Wednesday night.

So many had predicted this happening, so many suspected that somehow, someway, the Hornets would walk away with Davis.

That's the worst part for the NBA; these aren't the railings from the guy sitting at the corner tavern, but the belief of those working within the machinery that something undue happened here, that they suspect it happens all the time under Stern.

Perhaps not remarkably, this got its start in sports journalism. As I've been saying for some time now, sports reporting--especially investigative reporting--is dead.

The fact that a computer can to the same job a human can when it comes to writing up a sports article doesn't come as a shock to me. However, it should put a bit of fear into every fan because even more objectivity is being removed from covering sports by using such a program.

Wouldn't this be exactly what a league would want? A program that can produce intelligent articles based on the parameters a league requests?

There would be no more uncomfortable questions and there aren't that many anymore as it is. As one commenter wrote, "it's the journalists' job to question everything and trust no one.

But I guarantee you, the more this technology is utilized, the saner I'll appear to everyone. He wondered if anyone else had read the book or were aware of the allegations of game fixing included.

I just so happened to stumble across this on my own, asked to join the site, was welcomed in, and promptly engaged in the debate to defend myself, the book, and to post information that was lacking.

After this thread grew for about two weeks and as the debate heated up, suddenly the rug was pulled out from under everyone as the administrator locked the thread, ending it by citing " ruffled feathers and nit picking.

Shouldn't I have a say in the matter? If I'm totally honest, I don't entirely connect with some of the prog and then New Age modes with which Claire became engaged from the late 70s through to the late 80s, a blandness too far on occasion for me perhaps, but the sample tracks from the albums made during that period encapsulate what she was doing pretty well.

In all, it's actually a very sensibly programmed compilation, and certainly whets the appetite for the forthcoming projected complete reissues of all the individual albums over the next year or so and prompts a re-evaluation on my part.

And even Claire's staunchest fans will probably not own all of those albums! So to those issued thus far One House Left Standing was the product of the ingenuous Claire's signing with Island at age 16, and ambitiously showcased her nascent songwriting and her enviably pure and uncannily cultured singing voice on an unexpectedly wide-ranging set of songs, mainly penned by Claire herself some with her then-boyfriend Mike Coles.

The record started out stylishly, with the kittenish Dixieland swing of Baseball Blues whoa, what an opener! It's a persuasive set that wears very well indeed, and its ten tracks are topped up with two bonus cuts, the lengthy and intense single B-side Alice In The Streets Of Darlington and a cutglass cover of Lindisfarne's Meet Me On The Corner featuring Gerry Rafferty and Stealer's Wheel as backing musicians.

A more pronounced Joni Mitchell influence also seemed to be present, especially in the melodic contours of songs like To The Stars. There are some sensitive string arrangements too courtesy of Nick Harrison , and the final track Peaceful was even recorded alfresco in the cold in the middle of the night!

The odd-track-out is a quite strident cover of Jimmy Reed's Baby What's Wrong With You which, well done though it is, breaks the flow of the album's original second side somewhat.

Sadly, there are no bonus tracks with this reissue - but, as with One House The third of the reissued albums, Voices, propels us forward 12 years to , by which time much water had flown under Claire's musical bridge.

At that time, Claire was settled and married, and had just supported Rick Wakeman on a national tour. At the instigation of her husband Nick, Claire dipped her tentative toes into the then-nascent New Age genre, recording a whole album based around the concept of a vocal interpretation of the changing seasons.

Using then-pioneering layering techniques to create a thick, ethereal soundscape from her own extraordinary vocal performances, Voices proved a startlingly original record which genuinely broadened musical horizons, astounding listeners and defying preconceptions of what might "sell".

Heard now, it seems a verys artefact, rather akin to Kate Bush without the outlandish eccentricities I thought, and definitely a precursor of what's now regarded as the Enya sound especially in its wash of swooning, shifting vocal colours - but it doesn't sound dated in the way that much 80s music does, and it contains some inspiring and uplifting composition.

From the vantage point of two decades on, it's easy to underestimate how inventive and original this music was back in the mids, and this repackage allows us to reassess its magic in all its aural splendour.

The fourth album to be reissued in this series, Love In The Afternoon, dates from , a time when Claire was on a creative roll after the massive success of the Voices album.

It's a collection of songs without an overall concept, and although it doesn't suffer from disunity in that sense and there are some fine songs among its nine tracks it still doesn't quite satisfy as an entirety.

Trees, Japanese Lullaby and to some extent Glastonbury and the title track are to some extent all style-defining within Claire's later output, but the album's standout is probably Beauty Of England which is drawn from an aborted concept album Domesday, about the Battle Of Hastings.

Love In The Afternoon shares with many albums of its time a distinctly 80s synth-dominated backing, which now makes it sound quite dated more so than Voices , and this dilutes the impact of Claire's writing somewhat for me.

It would be interesting to hear some of these songs with a less elaborate textural backdrop. Best known for a string of albums on Island Records in the early seventies, Middlesborough vocalist Claire Hamill has never stuck rigidly to one formula, reinventing herself along the way as New-Age songstress, occasional rock-chick singer with Wishbone Ash and conceiving the remarkable 'Voices' album, which featured multi-layered arrangements of Claire's erm, voice!

Released in , her most recent studio album sees Claire return to the comparative comfort zone of singer-songwriter mode, yet several of the songs in this collection stand comfortably alongside the best of her earlier work; the jazz-tinged 'Beautiful Moon' featuring the moody trumpet of Duncan Mackay, a song which would not sound out of place on a record by Madeleine Peyroux or Diana Krall and the bright 'In the Leaves of the Park', as crisp and clear as a brisk Autumn walk.

Claire obviously has a keen ear for a cover and her little-girl-lost vocals are perfectly suited to 'Blue' from the pen of McAlmont and Butler.

We also get another chance to hear the beautiful 'You Take My Breath Away', re-recorded due to the renewed interest in her work largely thanks to the surprise discovery of a recorded version of Claire's song by the late Eva Cassidy.

There is an air of melancholy throughout much of this album, even on the uptempo 'Mr Wonderful', but it is an emotion that Claire handles better than most.

On the closing track, 'Singer', she proclaims "where did you go, I used to buy your records many years ago. She's been likened to Bush, Harvey and Lennox as well as Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap, and while you'll hear the comparisons, she's still very much her own voice.

The album is an exotic musical journey, brushing the multicultural world wings of dreamy celestial pop tinged with Gaelic mist Exist , cobwebby jazz soul folk The Bush infused Pick Me Up , airy Brill building balladry There It Is , the panoramic rhythms of African plains How Beautiful , and the melting icicle soulful ebb and flow fragility of Deeper Glorious.

Then there's the Weill cabaret shades to All In Adoration with its puttering percussion beats and woodwind trills, the classical hymnal majesty of Liathach's choral beauty and, drawing on her time in Cambodia, the intoxicatingly hushed seductiveness that is Mekong Song.

She's releasing Winter Is Over a a trailer single, a playfully catchy pizzicato plucked strings waltzer that suggests a sort of Oriental Bjork by way of an arthouse 40s Broadway musical.

But it's the closing Think Of Me that's the real deceptive killer, a windchime, musical box Gaelic lullaby that floats you away on a pillow of clouds and twinkling night stars.

Sophisticated, sensuous, complex, layered and utterly beguiling, there's a song here called Paradise.

A better description of the album would be hard to conjure. Well there's certainly plenty evidence of a rock edge and drive here, but his roots are certainly showing, too.

Just seven songs of high quality combine a Guy Clark-like fondness for characters and story-telling with a very twenty-first century musical approach.

Three tracks of random radio stuff "reception 1", etc don't make too much sense to me; I guess it's an attempt to make the songs seem like random unknown voices from the ether too.

Nonetheless, bags of atmosphere are conjured from some pretty sparse ingredients; Nathan's warm, slightly fractured vocal on Cinders is sung right up against the mike and supported by an arrangement of great delicacy shot through with steel - reminiscent, I suppose, of one of Lou Reed's painfully intimate songs.

If Cinders was on your mp3 and popped up out of the blue I think you'd have to stop what you were doing to drink it all in.

Weary World, on the other hand, demonstrates an ability to make an apparently simple, straightforward tune and lyric carry an awful lot of emotional weight, not an easy trick to pull off whilst Change could have come from Nels Andrews' songbook; it has a similar weighty, considered style to the acoustic guitar sound, an echo-laden pedal steel for the atmosphere and an acute sensitivity for the disappointments experienced in real lives - a long way from the vacuous optimism of pop music.

Receive, in contrast, gets the electric guitar brought out and a pretty fuzzy, heavy sound backed by a thumping drum; Nathan's vocals have the edge required for a very good rock voice and the warmth that draws you in for the quieter, folkier songs.

It's a slow-burner, this one, and it'd be well worthy buying or downloading what you can and familiarise yourself with Nathan Hamilton's style before you check him out live; there's hidden treasures here and I think the man could be a real find.

It's a bit over two years since Peter's last solo studio recording Incoherence , but he's been busy over that time, not just with the VdGG reunion tour and remasters but also in supervising the remastered reissues of his 70s Charisma solo albums.

All despite having suffered a heart attack, an experience which no doubt played a part in triggering this new set of songs on which Peter reflects on mortality and on considerations of history both personal and public.

With admirable, if typically cryptic succinctness, Peter admits that "the main theme here is the long dive down into not being what we were", and in confronting this situation I think he's produced a very fine set indeed, one that ranks with those Charisma albums in actual songwriting power yet doesn't possess anything like the impenetrability or degree of turn-off idiosyncrasy that many music-lovers had often found such a barrier to appreciating his earlier output.

That doesn't mean to say that Peter's abandoned the experimental elements in his music - indeed, the urge to forge new and intriguing sonic landscapes is as strong as ever eg the fragmented voice and treated-piano textures of White Dot ; and Singularity is once more a totally solo effort, all instruments and voices you hear belonging to Peter himself.

Lyric-wise, the Hammill hallmarks of literate and expressive heart-baring are there in abundance, yet imbued with a new maturity in their freshness of execution.

What was once a distinctly inward-looking narcissism is replaced by a worldly realism, often quite self-critical and definitely not devoid of humour.

Peter's metaphors are still intelligently conceived, but they're inclusive not opaque, and the music expresses a fragile tenderness amid the sometimes still painful recollection and assessment of a personal situation.

Peter uses the key word "singularity" in both senses: At its most intense as on Event Horizon , Peter's writing exhibits an expressive beauty that's both accessible and immensely compelling.

Now if in the past you were put off more by Peter's intensity, by way of his histrionic vocal delivery, than the actual admittedly often impenetrable content of his songs, then I firmly believe that Singularity may be the album to now give you the optimum chance to re-evaluate his music - for although it's still recognisably Hammill, the actual expression of the drama and thought-content within the songs is toned down naturally not in any way dumbed down, I hasten to add and, allied to some genuinely interesting musical content, makes for a most rewarding listening experience and hey, Naked To The Flame even contains a snatch of tune we can whistle along with Peter!

But that doesn't for a moment mean that Peter's compromised his ideals or his talent. Singularity is a grand achievement by any standards, flying defiantly in the face of those who'd argue that anyone who's been writing and recording for 40 years is bound to have nothing new to say.

Following in quick succession barely a month after the previous batch, here's the second tranche of Peter Hammill remastered reissues, covering his four solo releases which originally came out between March and October The album does, however, at least seem to audibly begin where Nadir's Big Chance left off, in the sense of throwing at us the proto-punk riff-heavy vibe of Crying Wolf.

Over comes with three bonus tracks: Coming complete with some striking cover photos like the front shot which I always thought made PH look like Kenny Everett!

Although there's often a distinct sense of trial-and-error about much of the album, it's amazing how it hangs together and although it's not my favourite Hammill album by any means, it nevertheless retains an aggressively confident quality right through.

The two bonus tracks, spare versions of album tracks If I Could and The Mousetrap taken from the Kansas City tape, exude an intense self-containment.

The followup, pH7 which turned out to be Peter's final album for Charisma , appeared just over a year later, in October ; Peter regarded it as a twin to Future, and certainly it contained a rather similar mix of experimentation and social commentary.

Its at once punning and misleading title it was PH's eighth album not his seventh! It began, however, with two for PH less characteristic tracks: My Favourite, a fairly lightweight pop-love-song with slightly laboured imagery redeemed by a charming string arrangement, and then the declamatory new-wave stance of Careering.

Thankfully there's stronger material to come: Not For Keith is a brief but affecting tribute to VDGG's first bass player Keith Ellis; Handicap And Equality harks back to the social-commentary folk-troubadour approach, whereas The Old School Tie is an even more obvious attack on politicians and the dawn of spin, imbued with all due venom and bile.

Imperial Walls, a setting of 8th century Saxon words found displayed at the Roman baths at Bath, has a scratchy grandeur all its own.

Compositionally, the album's odd-man-out is an old song of Chris Judge Smith's Time For A Change , but it's a tribute to Peter that it suffers not from the comparison with his own songs.

A Black Box, released in the late summer of , was a go-it-alone independent-label effort, self-released on S-type Records almost as a gesture of frustration at the albeit inevitable situation of being dropped from Charisma due partly to the ever-familiar story that although Peter's albums were critically esteemed, his music wasn't deemed commercially viable.

Like most of Peter's music, it can at times be tough going but it invariably rewards the patient listener. In common with the previous batch of Hammill digitally remastered reissues, the above four are state-of-the-art, and sound better than ever.

All sleeve art and lyrics are faithfully reproduced, and the reissues benefit from Peter's own commentary within the booklet notes.

Listening to these albums again in sequence I experience an embarrassment of riches, a torrent of ideas and feelings that's truly overwhelming.

Peter's songs are singularly dramatic, turbulent, restless, angst-ridden utterances, yet they often possess much quiet beauty both musical and lyrical amidst all the torment.

The second and third and suitably lengthily-titled! Chameleon, though a typically introspective collection, is compared with some of his earlier VDGG work less concerned with wilful sci-fi obscurity and more with the deeply personal; if it were issued today, I suspect it would probably fall most readily into the indie category notably in respect of the occasionally brittle nature of the home-studio-produced sound and its primitive, much-of-its-time approach to stereo imaging , but that's not in any way to denigrate its many abundantly impressive qualities.

As Peter himself admits, he was "stumbling under the guidance of instinct as much as conscious innovation", although "many of the moves he made at this time were to prove pivotal in his later development".

Like all of Peter's work, it's music of startling, nay frightening originality. In matters such as his distinctly independent spirit and obstinate integrity especially I often hear a kinship with significant mavericks like Bowie and Harper, but the truth is that for the most part Peter's songs sound like absolutely nobody else's, even though there may be elements and echoes of modern-day chanson flooding through pieces like In The End and the sinister pastoral of What's It Worth.

And he was at first slow to distance himself completely from VDGG, as Easy To Slip Away with its throwback to the personae of Refugees and In The Black Room a song originally destined for the band's next, unrecorded - intended fifth - album, with its grandiose, episodic nature and band dynamics both show in their different ways.

Chameleon may be the first real fruit of Peter's potential solo career, but it's an astonishingly assured and coherent album.

Even at a temporal remove of some 30 years, it's almost too much to take in at once: This remastered edition comes with three bonus tracks: The third bonus track Rain 3 AM is an unreleased curiosity from around the time of the album: Peter's pulsating electric guitar work on this track in particular betrays the influence of Spirit's Randy California, who made a one-off guest appearance on another of the album's key tracks, Red Shift.

Of the four bonus cuts, three are versions of album tracks which come from a roughly contemporaneous Peel session with David Jackson in tow , the last The Lie being another delightfully over-the-top selection from the abovementioned Kansas City concert.

In Camera was the first Hammill solo album on which everything aside from percussion on just three tracks was played by Peter himself.

It continues the startling advances made on The Silent Corner, notably in terms of wild experimentation, while the sheer scope of its material bravely presents the listener with at times uncomfortable challenges in the form of extreme contrasts, from the relatively orthodox reflective confessional of Again to the rockist angst of Tapeworm, the intriguing guitar-quartet setting of The Comet, The Course, The Tail to the ultra-synth texturings of Faint Heart And The Sermon, and the strange but logical pairing of the harmonium-rich Gog misprinted as Go on the back cover - oops!

Three bonus tracks, taken from a Peel session recorded shortly after the album's release, are sparse voice-and-piano readings of two of the album's songs plus a real rarity: Though released in February , barely six months after In Camera, Nadir's Big Chance saw the Chameleon mutate dramatically into Rikki Nadir, a kind of proto-punk alter-ego!

The album comprised a set of by Hammill standards pithy quasi-pop-songs though in practice few of them weigh in at under four minutes! Not unnaturally, it was received with some puzzlement and a degree of antipathy, but in retrospect, although it's not necessarily Peter's finest forty-seven minutes, I really rather like it for what it is - and it sounds great in this remaster, even though it yields no bonus tracks.

The digital remasterings of these four albums have been carried out by Peter himself, and he's opened out the original slightly thin sound with far better presence, notably in certain of the bass frequencies, and the bonus tracks are well worth having; these sensibly-coordinated reissues, which are graced with additional new notes by Peter too, are state-of-the-art.

A few months after Nadir, VDGG ended its four-year set-aside, and the Godbluff lineup was to take up most of Peter's time for a year or so; a convenient point at which to break my survey of Hammill remasters - the next batch will appear shortly.

This has actually been a really difficult record to review, basically since it's nigh impossible to capture the incredibly individual essence of Brighton-based Mary's wildly original and very very special talent as a singer and songwriter.

It's also one of those "less is more" jobs that makes much out of exceedingly minimal resources.

And it's a seriously scary experience from beginning to end - at times it's almost too disturbing to listen to at all except in the comfort of your own mind.

But the first thing you'll hear, after the bald tenor guitar intro that is, will be Mary's totally extraordinary voice, which will bring your ears stark upright, for it takes the art of singing into an unearthly place indeed you'll either love it or hate it with a passion, I suspect - and I love it!

It's a voice of paradoxes: Mary's writing - and indeed her whole sound-world - is peculiarly haunting. Imagery is spellbindingly strange, both significantly eldritch and properly poetic, sometimes ostensibly impenetrable but always keeping a firm handle on the boundaries of perception.

Melodies sound primordial, ancient, modal, yet with adventurous turns of the screw. The feel of the music, and some of the instrumentation Mary has at her command, is imaginative and often distinctly ISB for instance, there's a gorgeous swooning cello line on Honey that just cries out to be played on bowed gimbri!

A small complement of extra musicians including Alice Eldridge, Jo Burke, Alistair Strachan, Grant Allerdyce and co-engineer Joe Watson supplement Mary's guitar, being used eminently selectively and to brilliant effect.

Perhaps the most striking marriage of words and music comes on The Bell They Gave You, but every song here has much to offer in terms of aural and verbal stimulation and even the interpolated samples on Free Grace and the cryptic Exeunt don't grate or disrupt the album's curiously logical flow.

Features that might in lesser hands become just a gimmick here prove essential to the impact of the songs - for example, the hidden track Encore For Florence a weirdly touching tribute to celebrated "tuneless, tone-deaf soprano" Florence Foster Jenkins sets a parlour piano amidst the faux-crackle of an ancient 78 in the manner of a fusty attic discovery.

And maybe the strangest and most immediately memorable among the host of strange songs, is the acappella Ballad Of The Talking Dog, which takes the time-honoured "bunch of green holly and ivy" refrain from the domain of classic folk balladry and twists it around multiple vocal chords to the creepy accompaniment of hand and mouth percussion, with spectral whistling, discords and spoken counterpoints - it sounds like the Addams family singing a Child Ballad at their fireside on a bleak winter's evening!

Like the whole album in fact, this track is at once soothing and discomforting. All in all, an extraordinary record: Wayne The Train Hancock is one of those guys who believes in doing things the old fashioned way.

Well, at least when it comes to recording. Extended sessions in the studio are not for these boys. A Town Blues was recorded in 20 hours and mixed in two days.

Bloodshot Records, their new label, might even be accused of providing them the luxury of extra hours. Well, at least a couple of them.

The reason that he's able to do this is that the band is a hard working outfit travelling the road performing more than most. The net result is that all their albums have a spontaneous feel well, they would, wouldnt they and a bunch of songs that have matured with performance on the road.

A recipe that has worked fine for all of their albums. At the production controls, this time, is Lloyd Maines who is favoured by many of our country music friends in the US.

Rightfully acknowledged on this album as The Professor for all his sterling work in this area. He closes out the album accompanying Wayne to get the regulatory forty minutes of CD time on Railroad Blues.

A track that's as live as you'll get. So, if you havent gathered already, the music of Wayne Hancock is country - the honky tonk way.

All styles are here. The up tempo songs swing along with a highlight in Miller, Jack And Mad Dog warning of the dangerous effect of the demon drink and driving combination.

There are lonesome ballads such as Happy Birthday Julie which has the singer passing on congratulations to the girlfriend who left him and got killed in a car crash.

Mr Hancocks pen accounts for ten of the tracks with the others including Cow Cow Boogie which was made famous by Ella Mae Morse who was popular in the s and 50s.

This gives you a good clue as to where this band are positioned. Yes, its traditional honky tonk in all its flavours with great songs done just like a live show.

The odds have to be that Hand - whom Willie Nelson describes as the 'real deal' - will remain as unfazed and unaffected as his music by the acclaim that will surely follow The Truth Will Set You Free.

While the revolutions of Americana, 'big hat' country and 'nu country' have swirled around him, James Hand has steadfastly remained true to the heart and soul of old country, the kind that served Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb so well.

While a 'career' musician, one who has done nothing else in his life, may have to search long and hard for the truth of his songs, Hand has to look no further than his own life.

He has also drawn deeply on a lifetime's experiences at the 'unknown' end of the musical spectrum, James Hand isn't showbusiness, to echo Nelson's wise words, he's the 'real deal'.

This collection of a dozen originals gives a small overview of Hand's work, his country music encompasses the whole range, beginning with the wonderfully light and sunny swing of Banks Of The Brazos and ending with When You Stopped Loving Me, So Did I, not only a classic country title but a song that could be as old as country music itself.

Without Hands's tender touch it could easily have been swamped by corn, however three chords and the truth never hit home quite so sharply.

There's almost a novelty factor in listening to an artist play pure, undiluted country music, no whistles no bells, just plain old, from the heart country.

James Hand may have taken 40 years to get intot he studio but I'll bet it doesn't take another 40 for him to be back. Drifting away to Brett Spark's dark baritone on the opening cello waltzing Linger, Let Me Linger I was transported back to the days of the old school doo wop crooners like the Ink Spots, melting in the warmth of the unbridled romanticism captured in lines like "I am the puddles in the street waiting for your falling leaves".

Recorded for their 20th wedding anniversary, it's an album of admittedly often skewed love songs, steeped in spirituality and the rich loam of nature with metaphors and images of spiders, birds, trees and foliage.

Indeed, the pedal steel keening Little Sparrows talks of schools of shining fish, swarms of buzzing bees, geese and ants with love painted as Jonah on the raging seas embracing the whale that comes to swallow him while the twangy, Johnny Cash evoking Wild Wood has them conjuring a stone age love nest of stick and bones as he declares he will "bark like a dog in your arms.

Invested with their longtime Louvin, Stanley and Everly influences, songs like When You Whispered carried in the traditional arms of banjo and pedal steel with bluegrass waltzes and mountain music slow dances, it's a marvellous testament to the couple's devotion to both each other and their musical roots.

Nothing here falls short of wonder, but particularly deserving of mention has to be A Thousand Diamond Rings with its surf guitar noir mood, the Spanish classical guitar and gothic melancholy of The Winding Corn Maze more swarming bees, here and the 40s ragtime lounge whistling shuffle of The Loneliness of Magnets, an inspired image of separated lovers.

Here's to their 25th. Over the years they've been musical partners Brett and Rennie Sparks have built a reputation as one of the world's finest purveyors of melancholy Americana, their music conjuring images of dust hung desert nights and Appalachian mountains silhouetted against the evening sky as they sit round the camp fire singing songs of loss, death and damnation.

So, a surprise then to find the new album a relatively more upbeat affair, noting a world waltzing towards self-destruction but celebrating the small and infinite moments of beauty and wonder that nature provides to soothe the soul's fears.

Using such instruments as mellotron and wine glasses and drawing on the sepia tinted worlds of hillbilly, tin pan alley ballads, cowboy country, western slow waltzers and, on Beautiful William, even medieval tunes, Brett crafts the careworn honky tonk melodies upon which songs like Somewhere Else To Be, Bowling Alley Blues very George Jones and Your Great Journey are built.

Meanwhile, Rennie takes lyrical inspiration from the life of Nicola Tesla, the electrical engineer and scientist who invented alternating current transmitters but whose ambivalence to the world let him to become a recluse in his hotel room, unable to bear the touch of human skin.

However, as she notes in the waltzing Tesla's Hotel Room from where comes the album's title, one day he opened the window and befriended pigeons, finding his way back out of the darkness.

It's that contact with the universal her songs explore. Unfolding in airport lounges the throaty Neil Young-like All The Time In Airports , bowling alleys Bowling Alley Bar and graveyards White Lights , she tells stories of hunters shooting prey that transforms into their true love Hunter Green , of shoes hung over telephone wires These Golden Jewels and post apocalypse life After We Shot The Grizzly , striking emotional chords from such images as a black glove on the cliffs, broken cheap sunglasses, and 'a small bag of onion rings'.

Existential, metaphysical, whatever, the Sparks dig beneath the dry clay and turn dulled stones into diamonds. A thing of wonder indeed.

The Handsome Family - Singing Bones Loose Now suitably based in Albuquerque, Mexico, baritone Brett Sparks and his ethereal voiced lyricist wife Rennie follow up 's breakthrough death ballads collection Twilight with yet another collection of poisoned dark country melancholia that reinforces their reputation as the Johnny Cash and June Carter of contemporary Americana..

If you've not encountered them before, then try and imagine a rocky mesa at dusk, cacti and stark jutting Appalachian mountains silhouetted against the evening sky, the sound of rattlesnakes occasionally breaking the silence, dust gathering in your throat, an empty whisky bottle in your hand and the death angel sitting round a camp fire with an acoustic guitar singing of the souls that have passed this way en route to damnation.

This time round they've fleshed out the sound somewhat, pushing the boat out by adding musical saw and pedal steel to the basic mix of guitars, keyboards and drums mandolin and such regular embelishments as auto harp, bango and violin.

But the landscape remains mich the same with its dark valleys, black hills, and creeping shadows a perfect backdrop to songs that explore the "veil between this world and the next" on numbers such as the whippoorwilling waltz Hour Store where the sleepless and the lost push their trollies as the crying ghosts of dead shoppers flit in and out the aisles, the cowboy dying in the desert on the clacking chugger The Song of a Hundred Toads or the farmer lowering himself down The Bottomless Hole behind the barn where dead cows, garbage and tractors seem to fall forever.

Texas Gothic at its finest, there's no better wallow in gallows humour and death balladry to be had this side of Nick Cave. This duo's fourth album In The Air was one of the listening highlights of for me, and this new one coincides handsomely with a UK tour.

Husband and wife team Brett and Rennie Sparks make very strange music that's at once comforting and unsettling, smooth and caustic; it's both seriously weird and weirdly serious.

Kinda like an unpardonably sweet, easy-on-the-ear gothic country, but lots more addictive than that tag might imply - try to imagine Johnny Cash singing Beefheart lyrics!

Brett's is the golden voice, and he also plays almost everything in sight, while Rennie seems to content to pen those peculiarly poetic lyrics while contributing occasional vocals and autoharp.

The songs contain some exquisite imagery, which often appears inconsequential but is actually finely crafted, while musical settings are by turns mournful There Is A Sound , sinisterly jaunty All The TVs In Town and creepy Gravity , often running counter to what you'd expect from a cursory reading of the texts.

With typical oddball directness, the insert helpfully explains that "this CD was recorded at home on our Macintosh G You must experience the uniqueness of the Sparks Family's vision at least once in your life!

Formerly leader of 80s Newcastle upon Tyne underachievers Hurrah! Little short of a modern day hymn with a soaring arms-linked swaying chorus that builds to a jubilant, uplifting finale as he sings 'let now every heart rejoice', it's hard not to find the words Rufus, Wainright, Buckley and Jeff rising unbidden to the lips.

The same is true throughout the album where you might also see parallels with Martin Stephenson with whom he's collaborated on a Grant McLennan tribute , but which unfolds to reveal him as very much his own man.

Indeed, that hymnal quality is also forcefully to be heard on the no less outstanding Midwinter's Feast with its hallelujah chorus, lines about church bells and wheezing harmonium and the closing piano backed, emotion quivering Peace In Our Time as he sings "God bless our bombs and the guns we are firing, caught in the crossfire of lies we told.

Dealing in themes of love, loss uncertainty and disillusion, the album's musical textures are simple but rich. The opening piano ballad Beautiful Thing hints at Brel and Buckley equally you could also imagine hearing it on an early Scott Walker album , Darkest Night is brooding, muscular bluesy soul flecked folk, River Of Song harks to Irish trad folk swayalong while acoustic Americana warms the heart of The Slow Road and the yearningly gorgeous Whisper In Your Mind with its pedal steel and Paul Heaton colours.

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Egypt, returning to the finals after their last appearance in ; Morocco, who last competed in ; Peru, returning after ; and Senegal, competing for the second time after reaching the quarter-finals in Notable countries that failed to qualify include four-time champions Italy for the first time since , three-time runners-up and third placed in the Netherlands for the first time since , and four reigning continental champions: The other notable qualifying streaks broken were for Ghana and Ivory Coast , who had both made the previous three tournaments.

The draw was held on 1 December at Pot 1 contained the hosts Russia who were automatically assigned to position A1 and the best seven teams, pot 2 contained the next best eight teams, and so on for pots 3 and 4.

However, teams from the same confederation still were not drawn against each other for the group stage, except that two UEFA teams could be in each group.

Initially, each team had to name a preliminary squad of 30 players but, in February , this was increased to Players in the final squad may be replaced for serious injury up to 24 hours prior to kickoff of the team's first match and such replacements do not need to have been named in the preliminary squad.

For players named in the player preliminary squad, there was a mandatory rest period between 21 and 27 May , except for those involved in the UEFA Champions League Final played on 26 May.

On 29 March , FIFA released the list of 36 referees and 63 assistant referees selected to oversee matches. VAR operations for all games are operating from a single headquarters in Moscow, which receives live video of the games and are in radio contact with the on-field referees.

VAR had a significant impact in several games. Russia proposed the following host cities: The bid evaluation report stated: Three of the 16 stadiums would be renovated, and 13 would be newly constructed.

In October , Russia decreased the number of stadiums from 16 to Construction of the proposed Podolsk stadium in the Moscow region was cancelled by the regional government, and also in the capital, Otkrytiye Arena was competing with Dynamo Stadium over which would be constructed first.

The final choice of host cities was announced on 29 September The number of cities was further reduced to 11 and number of stadiums to 12 as Krasnodar and Yaroslavl were dropped from the final list.

Sepp Blatter stated in July that, given the concerns over the completion of venues in Russia, the number of venues for the tournament may be reduced from 12 to He also said, "We are not going to be in a situation, as is the case of one, two or even three stadiums in South Africa , where it is a problem of what you do with these stadiums".

They were satisfied with the progress. Of the twelve venues used, the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and the Saint Petersburg Stadium — the two largest stadiums in Russia — were used most, both hosting seven matches.

Sochi, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara all hosted six matches, including one quarter-final match each, while the Otkrytiye Stadium in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don hosted five matches, including one round-of match each.

Volgograd, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg and Saransk all hosted four matches, but did not host any knockout stage games. Base camps were used by the 32 national squads to stay and train before and during the World Cup tournament.

Costs continued to balloon as preparations were underway. Platov International Airport in Rostov-on-Don was upgraded with automated air traffic control systems, modern surveillance, navigation, communication, control, and meteorological support systems.

Saransk Airport received a new navigation system; the city also got two new hotels, Mercure Saransk Centre Accor Hotels and Four Points by Sheraton Saransk Starwood Hotels as well as few other smaller accommodation facilities.

The last facility commissioned was a waste treatment station in Volgograd. In Yekaterinburg, where four matches are hosted, hosting costs increased to over 7.

Preference, especially in the key areas, was given to those with knowledge of foreign languages and volunteering experience, but not necessarily to Russian nationals.

Free public transport services were offered for ticketholders during the World Cup, including additional trains linking between host cities, as well as services such as bus service within them.

The full schedule was announced by FIFA on 24 July without kick-off times, which were confirmed later. Russia was placed in position A1 in the group stage and played in the opening match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on 14 June against Saudi Arabia , the two lowest-ranked teams of the tournament at the time of the final draw.

The Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg hosted the first semi-final on 10 July and the third place play-off on 14 July.

The opening ceremony took place on Thursday, 14 June , at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, preceding the opening match of the tournament between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

At the start of the ceremony, Russian president Vladimir Putin gave a speech, welcoming the countries of the world to Russia and calling football a uniting force.

Competing countries were divided into eight groups of four teams groups A to H. Teams in each group played one another in a round-robin basis, with the top two teams of each group advancing to the knockout stage.

Ten European teams and four South American teams progressed to the knockout stage, together with Japan and Mexico.

For the first time since , Germany reigning champions did not advance past the first round. For the first time since , no African team progressed to the second round.

For the first time, the fair play criteria came into use, when Japan qualified over Senegal due to having received fewer yellow cards.

Only one match, France v Denmark, was goalless. Until then there were a record 36 straight games in which at least one goal was scored.

All times listed below are local time. The ranking of teams in the group stage was determined as follows: In the knockout stages, if a match is level at the end of normal playing time, extra time is played two periods of 15 minutes each and followed, if necessary, by a penalty shoot-out to determine the winners.

If a match went into extra time, each team was allowed to make a fourth substitution, the first time this had been allowed in a FIFA World Cup tournament.

Twelve own goals were scored during the tournament, doubling the record of six set in In total, only four players were sent off in the entire tournament, the fewest since A player is automatically suspended for the next match for the following offences: The following awards were given at the conclusion of the tournament.

The award was sponsored by Hyundai. FIFA also published an alternate team of the tournament based on player performances evaluated through statistical data.

Prize money amounts were announced in October The tournament logo was unveiled on 28 October by cosmonauts at the International Space Station and then projected onto Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre during an evening television programme.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that the logo was inspired by "Russia's rich artistic tradition and its history of bold achievement and innovation", and FIFA President Sepp Blatter stated that it reflected the "heart and soul" of the country.

The official mascot for the tournament was unveiled 21 October , and selected through a design competition among university students.

A public vote was used to select from three finalists—a cat, a tiger, and a wolf. The first phase of ticket sales started on 14 September , The general visa policy of Russia did not apply to participants and spectators, who were able to visit Russia without a visa right before and during the competition regardless of their citizenship.

A Fan-ID was required to enter the country visa-free, while a ticket, Fan-ID and a valid passport were required to enter stadiums for matches.

Fan-IDs also granted World Cup attendees free access to public transport services, including buses, and train service between host cities. Fan-ID was administered by the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media , who could revoke these accreditations at any time to "ensure the defence capability or security of the state or public order".

The official match ball of the World Cup group stage was " Telstar 18 ", based on the name and design of the first Adidas World Cup ball from It was introduced on 9 November After the group stage, "Telstar Mechta" was used for the knockout stage.

The word mechta Russian: The difference between Telstar 18 and Mechta is the red details on the design. Its music video was released on 8 June Thirty-three footballers who are alleged to be part of the steroid program are listed in the McLaren Report.

The choice of Russia as host has been challenged. Controversial issues have included the level of racism in Russian football, [] [] [] and discrimination against LGBT people in wider Russian society.

Allegations of corruption in the bidding processes for the and World Cups caused threats from England's FA to boycott the tournament. Garcia , a US attorney, to investigate and produce a report on the corruption allegations.

Eckert's summary cleared Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing, but was denounced by critics as a whitewash.

On 3 June , the FBI confirmed that the federal authorities were investigating the bidding and awarding processes for the and World Cups.

In response to the March poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal , British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that no British ministers or members of the royal family would attend the World Cup, and issued a warning to any travelling England fans.

The British Foreign Office and MPs had repeatedly warned English football fans and "people of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent" travelling to Russia of "racist or homophobic intimidation, hooligan violence and anti-British hostility".

At the close of the World Cup Russia was widely praised for its success in hosting the tournament, with Steve Rosenberg of the BBC deeming it "a resounding public relations success" for Putin, adding, "The stunning new stadiums, free train travel to venues and the absence of crowd violence has impressed visiting supporters.

Russia has come across as friendly and hospitable: All the foreign fans I have spoken to are pleasantly surprised. FIFA President Gianni Infantino stated, "Everyone discovered a beautiful country, a welcoming country, that is keen to show the world that everything that has been said before might not be true.

A lot of preconceived ideas have been changed because people have seen the true nature of Russia. In February , Ukrainian rightsholder UA: PBC stated that it would not broadcast the World Cup.

This came in the wake of growing boycotts of the tournament among the Football Federation of Ukraine and sports minister Ihor Zhdanov.

Broadcast rights to the tournament in the Middle East were hampered by an ongoing diplomatic crisis in Qatar over alleged support of extremist groups.

Qatar is the home country of the region's rightsholder, beIN Sports. On 2 June , beIN pulled its channels from Du and Etisalat , but with service to the latter restored later that day.

Etisalat subsequently announced that it would air the World Cup in the UAE, and continue to offer beIN normally and without interruptions.

On 12 July , FIFA stated that it "has engaged counsel to take legal action in Saudi Arabia and is working alongside other sports rights owners that have also been affected to protect its interests.

The elimination of the United States in qualifying led to concerns that US interest and viewership of this World Cup would be reduced especially among "casual" viewers interested in the US team , especially noting how much Fox paid for the rights, and that US games at the World Cup peaked at During a launch event prior to the elimination, Fox stated that it had planned to place a secondary focus on the Mexican team in its coverage to take advantage of their popularity among US viewers factoring Hispanic and Latino Americans.

Trees, Japanese Lullaby and to some extent Glastonbury and the title track are to some extent all style-defining within Claire's later output, but the album's standout is probably Beauty Of England which is drawn from an aborted concept album Domesday, about the Battle Of Hastings.

Love In The Afternoon shares with many albums of its time a distinctly 80s synth-dominated backing, which now makes it sound quite dated more so than Voices , and this dilutes the impact of Claire's writing somewhat for me.

It would be interesting to hear some of these songs with a less elaborate textural backdrop. Best known for a string of albums on Island Records in the early seventies, Middlesborough vocalist Claire Hamill has never stuck rigidly to one formula, reinventing herself along the way as New-Age songstress, occasional rock-chick singer with Wishbone Ash and conceiving the remarkable 'Voices' album, which featured multi-layered arrangements of Claire's erm, voice!

Released in , her most recent studio album sees Claire return to the comparative comfort zone of singer-songwriter mode, yet several of the songs in this collection stand comfortably alongside the best of her earlier work; the jazz-tinged 'Beautiful Moon' featuring the moody trumpet of Duncan Mackay, a song which would not sound out of place on a record by Madeleine Peyroux or Diana Krall and the bright 'In the Leaves of the Park', as crisp and clear as a brisk Autumn walk.

Claire obviously has a keen ear for a cover and her little-girl-lost vocals are perfectly suited to 'Blue' from the pen of McAlmont and Butler.

We also get another chance to hear the beautiful 'You Take My Breath Away', re-recorded due to the renewed interest in her work largely thanks to the surprise discovery of a recorded version of Claire's song by the late Eva Cassidy.

There is an air of melancholy throughout much of this album, even on the uptempo 'Mr Wonderful', but it is an emotion that Claire handles better than most.

On the closing track, 'Singer', she proclaims "where did you go, I used to buy your records many years ago. She's been likened to Bush, Harvey and Lennox as well as Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap, and while you'll hear the comparisons, she's still very much her own voice.

The album is an exotic musical journey, brushing the multicultural world wings of dreamy celestial pop tinged with Gaelic mist Exist , cobwebby jazz soul folk The Bush infused Pick Me Up , airy Brill building balladry There It Is , the panoramic rhythms of African plains How Beautiful , and the melting icicle soulful ebb and flow fragility of Deeper Glorious.

Then there's the Weill cabaret shades to All In Adoration with its puttering percussion beats and woodwind trills, the classical hymnal majesty of Liathach's choral beauty and, drawing on her time in Cambodia, the intoxicatingly hushed seductiveness that is Mekong Song.

She's releasing Winter Is Over a a trailer single, a playfully catchy pizzicato plucked strings waltzer that suggests a sort of Oriental Bjork by way of an arthouse 40s Broadway musical.

But it's the closing Think Of Me that's the real deceptive killer, a windchime, musical box Gaelic lullaby that floats you away on a pillow of clouds and twinkling night stars.

Sophisticated, sensuous, complex, layered and utterly beguiling, there's a song here called Paradise. A better description of the album would be hard to conjure.

Well there's certainly plenty evidence of a rock edge and drive here, but his roots are certainly showing, too. Just seven songs of high quality combine a Guy Clark-like fondness for characters and story-telling with a very twenty-first century musical approach.

Three tracks of random radio stuff "reception 1", etc don't make too much sense to me; I guess it's an attempt to make the songs seem like random unknown voices from the ether too.

Nonetheless, bags of atmosphere are conjured from some pretty sparse ingredients; Nathan's warm, slightly fractured vocal on Cinders is sung right up against the mike and supported by an arrangement of great delicacy shot through with steel - reminiscent, I suppose, of one of Lou Reed's painfully intimate songs.

If Cinders was on your mp3 and popped up out of the blue I think you'd have to stop what you were doing to drink it all in.

Weary World, on the other hand, demonstrates an ability to make an apparently simple, straightforward tune and lyric carry an awful lot of emotional weight, not an easy trick to pull off whilst Change could have come from Nels Andrews' songbook; it has a similar weighty, considered style to the acoustic guitar sound, an echo-laden pedal steel for the atmosphere and an acute sensitivity for the disappointments experienced in real lives - a long way from the vacuous optimism of pop music.

Receive, in contrast, gets the electric guitar brought out and a pretty fuzzy, heavy sound backed by a thumping drum; Nathan's vocals have the edge required for a very good rock voice and the warmth that draws you in for the quieter, folkier songs.

It's a slow-burner, this one, and it'd be well worthy buying or downloading what you can and familiarise yourself with Nathan Hamilton's style before you check him out live; there's hidden treasures here and I think the man could be a real find.

It's a bit over two years since Peter's last solo studio recording Incoherence , but he's been busy over that time, not just with the VdGG reunion tour and remasters but also in supervising the remastered reissues of his 70s Charisma solo albums.

All despite having suffered a heart attack, an experience which no doubt played a part in triggering this new set of songs on which Peter reflects on mortality and on considerations of history both personal and public.

With admirable, if typically cryptic succinctness, Peter admits that "the main theme here is the long dive down into not being what we were", and in confronting this situation I think he's produced a very fine set indeed, one that ranks with those Charisma albums in actual songwriting power yet doesn't possess anything like the impenetrability or degree of turn-off idiosyncrasy that many music-lovers had often found such a barrier to appreciating his earlier output.

That doesn't mean to say that Peter's abandoned the experimental elements in his music - indeed, the urge to forge new and intriguing sonic landscapes is as strong as ever eg the fragmented voice and treated-piano textures of White Dot ; and Singularity is once more a totally solo effort, all instruments and voices you hear belonging to Peter himself.

Lyric-wise, the Hammill hallmarks of literate and expressive heart-baring are there in abundance, yet imbued with a new maturity in their freshness of execution.

What was once a distinctly inward-looking narcissism is replaced by a worldly realism, often quite self-critical and definitely not devoid of humour.

Peter's metaphors are still intelligently conceived, but they're inclusive not opaque, and the music expresses a fragile tenderness amid the sometimes still painful recollection and assessment of a personal situation.

Peter uses the key word "singularity" in both senses: At its most intense as on Event Horizon , Peter's writing exhibits an expressive beauty that's both accessible and immensely compelling.

Now if in the past you were put off more by Peter's intensity, by way of his histrionic vocal delivery, than the actual admittedly often impenetrable content of his songs, then I firmly believe that Singularity may be the album to now give you the optimum chance to re-evaluate his music - for although it's still recognisably Hammill, the actual expression of the drama and thought-content within the songs is toned down naturally not in any way dumbed down, I hasten to add and, allied to some genuinely interesting musical content, makes for a most rewarding listening experience and hey, Naked To The Flame even contains a snatch of tune we can whistle along with Peter!

But that doesn't for a moment mean that Peter's compromised his ideals or his talent. Singularity is a grand achievement by any standards, flying defiantly in the face of those who'd argue that anyone who's been writing and recording for 40 years is bound to have nothing new to say.

Following in quick succession barely a month after the previous batch, here's the second tranche of Peter Hammill remastered reissues, covering his four solo releases which originally came out between March and October The album does, however, at least seem to audibly begin where Nadir's Big Chance left off, in the sense of throwing at us the proto-punk riff-heavy vibe of Crying Wolf.

Over comes with three bonus tracks: Coming complete with some striking cover photos like the front shot which I always thought made PH look like Kenny Everett!

Although there's often a distinct sense of trial-and-error about much of the album, it's amazing how it hangs together and although it's not my favourite Hammill album by any means, it nevertheless retains an aggressively confident quality right through.

The two bonus tracks, spare versions of album tracks If I Could and The Mousetrap taken from the Kansas City tape, exude an intense self-containment.

The followup, pH7 which turned out to be Peter's final album for Charisma , appeared just over a year later, in October ; Peter regarded it as a twin to Future, and certainly it contained a rather similar mix of experimentation and social commentary.

Its at once punning and misleading title it was PH's eighth album not his seventh! It began, however, with two for PH less characteristic tracks: My Favourite, a fairly lightweight pop-love-song with slightly laboured imagery redeemed by a charming string arrangement, and then the declamatory new-wave stance of Careering.

Thankfully there's stronger material to come: Not For Keith is a brief but affecting tribute to VDGG's first bass player Keith Ellis; Handicap And Equality harks back to the social-commentary folk-troubadour approach, whereas The Old School Tie is an even more obvious attack on politicians and the dawn of spin, imbued with all due venom and bile.

Imperial Walls, a setting of 8th century Saxon words found displayed at the Roman baths at Bath, has a scratchy grandeur all its own.

Compositionally, the album's odd-man-out is an old song of Chris Judge Smith's Time For A Change , but it's a tribute to Peter that it suffers not from the comparison with his own songs.

A Black Box, released in the late summer of , was a go-it-alone independent-label effort, self-released on S-type Records almost as a gesture of frustration at the albeit inevitable situation of being dropped from Charisma due partly to the ever-familiar story that although Peter's albums were critically esteemed, his music wasn't deemed commercially viable.

Like most of Peter's music, it can at times be tough going but it invariably rewards the patient listener. In common with the previous batch of Hammill digitally remastered reissues, the above four are state-of-the-art, and sound better than ever.

All sleeve art and lyrics are faithfully reproduced, and the reissues benefit from Peter's own commentary within the booklet notes.

Listening to these albums again in sequence I experience an embarrassment of riches, a torrent of ideas and feelings that's truly overwhelming.

Peter's songs are singularly dramatic, turbulent, restless, angst-ridden utterances, yet they often possess much quiet beauty both musical and lyrical amidst all the torment.

The second and third and suitably lengthily-titled! Chameleon, though a typically introspective collection, is compared with some of his earlier VDGG work less concerned with wilful sci-fi obscurity and more with the deeply personal; if it were issued today, I suspect it would probably fall most readily into the indie category notably in respect of the occasionally brittle nature of the home-studio-produced sound and its primitive, much-of-its-time approach to stereo imaging , but that's not in any way to denigrate its many abundantly impressive qualities.

As Peter himself admits, he was "stumbling under the guidance of instinct as much as conscious innovation", although "many of the moves he made at this time were to prove pivotal in his later development".

Like all of Peter's work, it's music of startling, nay frightening originality. In matters such as his distinctly independent spirit and obstinate integrity especially I often hear a kinship with significant mavericks like Bowie and Harper, but the truth is that for the most part Peter's songs sound like absolutely nobody else's, even though there may be elements and echoes of modern-day chanson flooding through pieces like In The End and the sinister pastoral of What's It Worth.

And he was at first slow to distance himself completely from VDGG, as Easy To Slip Away with its throwback to the personae of Refugees and In The Black Room a song originally destined for the band's next, unrecorded - intended fifth - album, with its grandiose, episodic nature and band dynamics both show in their different ways.

Chameleon may be the first real fruit of Peter's potential solo career, but it's an astonishingly assured and coherent album. Even at a temporal remove of some 30 years, it's almost too much to take in at once: This remastered edition comes with three bonus tracks: The third bonus track Rain 3 AM is an unreleased curiosity from around the time of the album: Peter's pulsating electric guitar work on this track in particular betrays the influence of Spirit's Randy California, who made a one-off guest appearance on another of the album's key tracks, Red Shift.

Of the four bonus cuts, three are versions of album tracks which come from a roughly contemporaneous Peel session with David Jackson in tow , the last The Lie being another delightfully over-the-top selection from the abovementioned Kansas City concert.

In Camera was the first Hammill solo album on which everything aside from percussion on just three tracks was played by Peter himself.

It continues the startling advances made on The Silent Corner, notably in terms of wild experimentation, while the sheer scope of its material bravely presents the listener with at times uncomfortable challenges in the form of extreme contrasts, from the relatively orthodox reflective confessional of Again to the rockist angst of Tapeworm, the intriguing guitar-quartet setting of The Comet, The Course, The Tail to the ultra-synth texturings of Faint Heart And The Sermon, and the strange but logical pairing of the harmonium-rich Gog misprinted as Go on the back cover - oops!

Three bonus tracks, taken from a Peel session recorded shortly after the album's release, are sparse voice-and-piano readings of two of the album's songs plus a real rarity: Though released in February , barely six months after In Camera, Nadir's Big Chance saw the Chameleon mutate dramatically into Rikki Nadir, a kind of proto-punk alter-ego!

The album comprised a set of by Hammill standards pithy quasi-pop-songs though in practice few of them weigh in at under four minutes!

Not unnaturally, it was received with some puzzlement and a degree of antipathy, but in retrospect, although it's not necessarily Peter's finest forty-seven minutes, I really rather like it for what it is - and it sounds great in this remaster, even though it yields no bonus tracks.

The digital remasterings of these four albums have been carried out by Peter himself, and he's opened out the original slightly thin sound with far better presence, notably in certain of the bass frequencies, and the bonus tracks are well worth having; these sensibly-coordinated reissues, which are graced with additional new notes by Peter too, are state-of-the-art.

A few months after Nadir, VDGG ended its four-year set-aside, and the Godbluff lineup was to take up most of Peter's time for a year or so; a convenient point at which to break my survey of Hammill remasters - the next batch will appear shortly.

This has actually been a really difficult record to review, basically since it's nigh impossible to capture the incredibly individual essence of Brighton-based Mary's wildly original and very very special talent as a singer and songwriter.

It's also one of those "less is more" jobs that makes much out of exceedingly minimal resources. And it's a seriously scary experience from beginning to end - at times it's almost too disturbing to listen to at all except in the comfort of your own mind.

But the first thing you'll hear, after the bald tenor guitar intro that is, will be Mary's totally extraordinary voice, which will bring your ears stark upright, for it takes the art of singing into an unearthly place indeed you'll either love it or hate it with a passion, I suspect - and I love it!

It's a voice of paradoxes: Mary's writing - and indeed her whole sound-world - is peculiarly haunting. Imagery is spellbindingly strange, both significantly eldritch and properly poetic, sometimes ostensibly impenetrable but always keeping a firm handle on the boundaries of perception.

Melodies sound primordial, ancient, modal, yet with adventurous turns of the screw. The feel of the music, and some of the instrumentation Mary has at her command, is imaginative and often distinctly ISB for instance, there's a gorgeous swooning cello line on Honey that just cries out to be played on bowed gimbri!

A small complement of extra musicians including Alice Eldridge, Jo Burke, Alistair Strachan, Grant Allerdyce and co-engineer Joe Watson supplement Mary's guitar, being used eminently selectively and to brilliant effect.

Perhaps the most striking marriage of words and music comes on The Bell They Gave You, but every song here has much to offer in terms of aural and verbal stimulation and even the interpolated samples on Free Grace and the cryptic Exeunt don't grate or disrupt the album's curiously logical flow.

Features that might in lesser hands become just a gimmick here prove essential to the impact of the songs - for example, the hidden track Encore For Florence a weirdly touching tribute to celebrated "tuneless, tone-deaf soprano" Florence Foster Jenkins sets a parlour piano amidst the faux-crackle of an ancient 78 in the manner of a fusty attic discovery.

And maybe the strangest and most immediately memorable among the host of strange songs, is the acappella Ballad Of The Talking Dog, which takes the time-honoured "bunch of green holly and ivy" refrain from the domain of classic folk balladry and twists it around multiple vocal chords to the creepy accompaniment of hand and mouth percussion, with spectral whistling, discords and spoken counterpoints - it sounds like the Addams family singing a Child Ballad at their fireside on a bleak winter's evening!

Like the whole album in fact, this track is at once soothing and discomforting. All in all, an extraordinary record: Wayne The Train Hancock is one of those guys who believes in doing things the old fashioned way.

Well, at least when it comes to recording. Extended sessions in the studio are not for these boys. A Town Blues was recorded in 20 hours and mixed in two days.

Bloodshot Records, their new label, might even be accused of providing them the luxury of extra hours. Well, at least a couple of them.

The reason that he's able to do this is that the band is a hard working outfit travelling the road performing more than most.

The net result is that all their albums have a spontaneous feel well, they would, wouldnt they and a bunch of songs that have matured with performance on the road.

A recipe that has worked fine for all of their albums. At the production controls, this time, is Lloyd Maines who is favoured by many of our country music friends in the US.

Rightfully acknowledged on this album as The Professor for all his sterling work in this area. He closes out the album accompanying Wayne to get the regulatory forty minutes of CD time on Railroad Blues.

A track that's as live as you'll get. So, if you havent gathered already, the music of Wayne Hancock is country - the honky tonk way.

All styles are here. The up tempo songs swing along with a highlight in Miller, Jack And Mad Dog warning of the dangerous effect of the demon drink and driving combination.

There are lonesome ballads such as Happy Birthday Julie which has the singer passing on congratulations to the girlfriend who left him and got killed in a car crash.

Mr Hancocks pen accounts for ten of the tracks with the others including Cow Cow Boogie which was made famous by Ella Mae Morse who was popular in the s and 50s.

This gives you a good clue as to where this band are positioned. Yes, its traditional honky tonk in all its flavours with great songs done just like a live show.

The odds have to be that Hand - whom Willie Nelson describes as the 'real deal' - will remain as unfazed and unaffected as his music by the acclaim that will surely follow The Truth Will Set You Free.

While the revolutions of Americana, 'big hat' country and 'nu country' have swirled around him, James Hand has steadfastly remained true to the heart and soul of old country, the kind that served Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb so well.

While a 'career' musician, one who has done nothing else in his life, may have to search long and hard for the truth of his songs, Hand has to look no further than his own life.

He has also drawn deeply on a lifetime's experiences at the 'unknown' end of the musical spectrum, James Hand isn't showbusiness, to echo Nelson's wise words, he's the 'real deal'.

This collection of a dozen originals gives a small overview of Hand's work, his country music encompasses the whole range, beginning with the wonderfully light and sunny swing of Banks Of The Brazos and ending with When You Stopped Loving Me, So Did I, not only a classic country title but a song that could be as old as country music itself.

Without Hands's tender touch it could easily have been swamped by corn, however three chords and the truth never hit home quite so sharply.

There's almost a novelty factor in listening to an artist play pure, undiluted country music, no whistles no bells, just plain old, from the heart country.

James Hand may have taken 40 years to get intot he studio but I'll bet it doesn't take another 40 for him to be back. Drifting away to Brett Spark's dark baritone on the opening cello waltzing Linger, Let Me Linger I was transported back to the days of the old school doo wop crooners like the Ink Spots, melting in the warmth of the unbridled romanticism captured in lines like "I am the puddles in the street waiting for your falling leaves".

Recorded for their 20th wedding anniversary, it's an album of admittedly often skewed love songs, steeped in spirituality and the rich loam of nature with metaphors and images of spiders, birds, trees and foliage.

Indeed, the pedal steel keening Little Sparrows talks of schools of shining fish, swarms of buzzing bees, geese and ants with love painted as Jonah on the raging seas embracing the whale that comes to swallow him while the twangy, Johnny Cash evoking Wild Wood has them conjuring a stone age love nest of stick and bones as he declares he will "bark like a dog in your arms.

Invested with their longtime Louvin, Stanley and Everly influences, songs like When You Whispered carried in the traditional arms of banjo and pedal steel with bluegrass waltzes and mountain music slow dances, it's a marvellous testament to the couple's devotion to both each other and their musical roots.

Nothing here falls short of wonder, but particularly deserving of mention has to be A Thousand Diamond Rings with its surf guitar noir mood, the Spanish classical guitar and gothic melancholy of The Winding Corn Maze more swarming bees, here and the 40s ragtime lounge whistling shuffle of The Loneliness of Magnets, an inspired image of separated lovers.

Here's to their 25th. Over the years they've been musical partners Brett and Rennie Sparks have built a reputation as one of the world's finest purveyors of melancholy Americana, their music conjuring images of dust hung desert nights and Appalachian mountains silhouetted against the evening sky as they sit round the camp fire singing songs of loss, death and damnation.

So, a surprise then to find the new album a relatively more upbeat affair, noting a world waltzing towards self-destruction but celebrating the small and infinite moments of beauty and wonder that nature provides to soothe the soul's fears.

Using such instruments as mellotron and wine glasses and drawing on the sepia tinted worlds of hillbilly, tin pan alley ballads, cowboy country, western slow waltzers and, on Beautiful William, even medieval tunes, Brett crafts the careworn honky tonk melodies upon which songs like Somewhere Else To Be, Bowling Alley Blues very George Jones and Your Great Journey are built.

Meanwhile, Rennie takes lyrical inspiration from the life of Nicola Tesla, the electrical engineer and scientist who invented alternating current transmitters but whose ambivalence to the world let him to become a recluse in his hotel room, unable to bear the touch of human skin.

However, as she notes in the waltzing Tesla's Hotel Room from where comes the album's title, one day he opened the window and befriended pigeons, finding his way back out of the darkness.

It's that contact with the universal her songs explore. Unfolding in airport lounges the throaty Neil Young-like All The Time In Airports , bowling alleys Bowling Alley Bar and graveyards White Lights , she tells stories of hunters shooting prey that transforms into their true love Hunter Green , of shoes hung over telephone wires These Golden Jewels and post apocalypse life After We Shot The Grizzly , striking emotional chords from such images as a black glove on the cliffs, broken cheap sunglasses, and 'a small bag of onion rings'.

Existential, metaphysical, whatever, the Sparks dig beneath the dry clay and turn dulled stones into diamonds. A thing of wonder indeed.

The Handsome Family - Singing Bones Loose Now suitably based in Albuquerque, Mexico, baritone Brett Sparks and his ethereal voiced lyricist wife Rennie follow up 's breakthrough death ballads collection Twilight with yet another collection of poisoned dark country melancholia that reinforces their reputation as the Johnny Cash and June Carter of contemporary Americana..

If you've not encountered them before, then try and imagine a rocky mesa at dusk, cacti and stark jutting Appalachian mountains silhouetted against the evening sky, the sound of rattlesnakes occasionally breaking the silence, dust gathering in your throat, an empty whisky bottle in your hand and the death angel sitting round a camp fire with an acoustic guitar singing of the souls that have passed this way en route to damnation.

This time round they've fleshed out the sound somewhat, pushing the boat out by adding musical saw and pedal steel to the basic mix of guitars, keyboards and drums mandolin and such regular embelishments as auto harp, bango and violin.

But the landscape remains mich the same with its dark valleys, black hills, and creeping shadows a perfect backdrop to songs that explore the "veil between this world and the next" on numbers such as the whippoorwilling waltz Hour Store where the sleepless and the lost push their trollies as the crying ghosts of dead shoppers flit in and out the aisles, the cowboy dying in the desert on the clacking chugger The Song of a Hundred Toads or the farmer lowering himself down The Bottomless Hole behind the barn where dead cows, garbage and tractors seem to fall forever.

Texas Gothic at its finest, there's no better wallow in gallows humour and death balladry to be had this side of Nick Cave. This duo's fourth album In The Air was one of the listening highlights of for me, and this new one coincides handsomely with a UK tour.

Husband and wife team Brett and Rennie Sparks make very strange music that's at once comforting and unsettling, smooth and caustic; it's both seriously weird and weirdly serious.

Kinda like an unpardonably sweet, easy-on-the-ear gothic country, but lots more addictive than that tag might imply - try to imagine Johnny Cash singing Beefheart lyrics!

Brett's is the golden voice, and he also plays almost everything in sight, while Rennie seems to content to pen those peculiarly poetic lyrics while contributing occasional vocals and autoharp.

The songs contain some exquisite imagery, which often appears inconsequential but is actually finely crafted, while musical settings are by turns mournful There Is A Sound , sinisterly jaunty All The TVs In Town and creepy Gravity , often running counter to what you'd expect from a cursory reading of the texts.

With typical oddball directness, the insert helpfully explains that "this CD was recorded at home on our Macintosh G You must experience the uniqueness of the Sparks Family's vision at least once in your life!

Formerly leader of 80s Newcastle upon Tyne underachievers Hurrah! Little short of a modern day hymn with a soaring arms-linked swaying chorus that builds to a jubilant, uplifting finale as he sings 'let now every heart rejoice', it's hard not to find the words Rufus, Wainright, Buckley and Jeff rising unbidden to the lips.

The same is true throughout the album where you might also see parallels with Martin Stephenson with whom he's collaborated on a Grant McLennan tribute , but which unfolds to reveal him as very much his own man.

Indeed, that hymnal quality is also forcefully to be heard on the no less outstanding Midwinter's Feast with its hallelujah chorus, lines about church bells and wheezing harmonium and the closing piano backed, emotion quivering Peace In Our Time as he sings "God bless our bombs and the guns we are firing, caught in the crossfire of lies we told.

Dealing in themes of love, loss uncertainty and disillusion, the album's musical textures are simple but rich. The opening piano ballad Beautiful Thing hints at Brel and Buckley equally you could also imagine hearing it on an early Scott Walker album , Darkest Night is brooding, muscular bluesy soul flecked folk, River Of Song harks to Irish trad folk swayalong while acoustic Americana warms the heart of The Slow Road and the yearningly gorgeous Whisper In Your Mind with its pedal steel and Paul Heaton colours.

There's not a weak moment here but it would be remiss not to also make special mention of Let The Lights Go Down, a spare, romantically bruised acoustic song of pleading and resignation that features shared vocals with Maria Yuriko and curls around the ears like aural aromatherapy.

Hopefully it won't mirror Hurrah! Let now every heart rejoice, indeed. This at first seems a confusing record. It's labelled as "Chinese folk revival", and, whilst it certainly emanates from Beijing, its inspiration derives comes more from Mongolian folk music.

Hanggai the name describes an idealised grassland landscape of mountains, trees, rivers and blue skies is a group of young musicians, mostly from Inner Mongolia.

Its frontman is Ilchi, a former member of a punk band who, having discovered traditional overtone singing khöömei , is now on a mission to rediscover and perform a repertoire of ancient songs that have almost disappeared during China's recent turbulent past.

Aiding Ilchi and his tobshuur two-stringed lute in his endeavours are horsehair-fiddle morin khuur player Hugejiltu and deep bass singer Bagen music students steeped in the traditional music , with Xu Jinhchen sanxian , Hexigtuu sihu , further assisted by producers Robin Haller and Matteo Scumaci who add electric and bass guitar, banjo and programming.

The latter hints at the nature of Hanggai's treatments of the traditional material, with authentically spare basic textures augmented by percussion, occasional western influences and natural and street sounds from the surroundings Beijing.

It's little wonder that Hanggai have attracted a cult following in China amongst those seeking an antidote to Chinese boy bands!

Some tracks sound true-traditional Wuji is just voice chanting against a wailing fiddle line , whereas My Banjo And I great title! Some western-style twang guitar embellishes Five Heroes, while Flowers builds on a hypnotic, driving lute rhythm; the rather gentler melody of Haar Hu could almost be a Mongolian version of Scarborough Fair, and - most fun of all - there's even a raucous, madly accelerating Drinking Song.

Maybe it shouldn't work, you say, but it does - and I get the strong feeling that this is but the start, and that there's plenty more territory yet to be explored in this creative and genuinely exciting reinterpretation of traditional Mongolian music.

What if music had smells? If CDs were impregnated with an aroma that embodied the essence of the sounds. Motorhead would be leather, axle grease and sweat, Lucinda Williams would be the smell of tarmac intermingling with fresh cornfields, Radiohead would be antiseptic and anything from the Pop Idols stable would, of course, be a ripe processed cheese.

If that were the case then playing the Dogs would fill the room with the scent of leafy English country lanes, the grass glistening with dew, raindrops from a summer shower dripping from leaves on the trees, a clean freshness in the air.

Comprising Andy Allen, formerly a jobbing member of the Pistols and Professionals, his ex-lover Joanna 'Piano' Pace, and his but not her daughter Lily Ramona, it's been four years since the South London trio emerged with their Joe Boyd overseen debut, Bareback, on his Hannibal label.

Reviews glowed for their fusion of English folk rock, celtic country and the sort of midwest American gothic embodied by Matthews Southern Comfort, underpinning lyrics of a generally downbeat mood.

However a cancelled Rankins tour on which they'd been booked as support followed by label problems, took the edge off what should have been fast lane progress up the folk roots ladder.

Now they're back via a different licensing deal, still with Boyd keeping a watchful eye, and while there's times when the mix has a few too many rough edges, if the wheels turn smoothly there's no reason why this shouldn't elevate them to the hallowed ranks of artists such as the Indigo Girls, Dear Janes, the McGarrigles, Poozies, Michelle Shocked, and the early incarnation of Suzanne Vega.

Evoking worthy comparisons to the likes of McTell, Thompson and Martin Taylor, Allen's nimble fretwork dances all over the album, cascading arpeggios, tumbling lullabies, meditative strums, bluegrass banjo, steel strings twanging and resonating under his fingertips.

Here and there the acoustic guitars are coloured with mournful woodwind, hand percussion, cello, dulcimer, and double bass but mostly they're left to weave their own spells, the women's voices - sometimes in harmony, more often with Piano's dust and creekwater wearied whispering tones taking lead - providing the real complementary textures.

Her songs haven't exactly found the sunnier paths of life, but as the album title, Whole Way where they express the optimistic hope to ' sell a lot of records ' and even death song Little Door " I wouldn't say the world has opened up, just a little door but it's enough " hint there's at least rays of light coming through and any darker concerns are well shaded behind the generally sprightly tunes.

Spanning English trad folk flavours and appalachian mountain music Let Alone Me , it's hard to pin down prize tracks from the 12 contained here, but pushed to name favourites then the repeat play button hits on the haunting Half Smile with the two women weaving witchy, dank forest harmonies as a flute threads its way between the spaces, the resigned Women Who Love Too Much as Fred Neil meets Sandy Denny , Singers shades of Leonard Cohen and early Judy Collins and Hollywood , a dreamy tale of empty success, self-deceptions and those left behind in the road to fame on which Allen takes lead vocals, his timbre and phrasing sounding not unlike Billy Bragg.

It's a beguiling, intoxicating album, inhale and breath in deep. If you can't aurally picture that, then just think Ottawa's Lucinda Williams with a pinch of Gillian Welch and you'll have a good idea of what lies inside the CD case.

Songs about busted relationships, broken dreams, temptations, growing older and the slippery search for redemption, delivered in world weary dusty tones, it's a fine collection of roots country tinged here and there with bluegrass banjo courtesy of guitarist producer David Baxter and, on opening track When Lovers Leave and the waltzing backwoods folk Three Times Bent, from Toronto's Justin Rutledge.

She gets bluesy on Rest Of My Days, lover's revenge murder ballad Mary Mary and the swampy Southern groove of Riptide and ups the tempo for the slide and banjo picking of No More Rain, but to these ears it's the gentler, wistful bruised heart ballads that are the strongest.

The undulating Here We Go Again distils the uncertainty of entering into a new romance while still picking up the pieces of the last, Just For The Ride brings a jangle and twang to a yearning for the innocence of young love unaware of the hurt ahead while the album's final three numbers, the London set Somewhere A Lovely Flower, Off This Train and, conjuring memories of Kathy Mattea, Lilacs Dancing move from the search for self and happiness to a memory of being found.

It's not a groundbreaker, but her laid-back acceptance and honest delivery will make heartbreak's twilight hours easier to bear.

Seems a fair way of describing the Ottowa native's album of Americana and a soulfully warm voice that's drawn comparisons with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Gillian Welch.

With instrumentation built around acoustic guitar, dobro fine picking by Chris Barkely , pedal steel, upright bass and stripped down percussion, Hanson fluidly moves her musical moods between twangy roots country Eleven Months , rustic American folk Dance In The Evermore , bluegrass Cold Touch and country blues Willow Tree' revisiting of murder ballad Pretty Polly , all sounding equally assured whether she's standing tough or hiding vulnerability.

Love, life, mortality, religion and, on Tears In Your Rain, environmental concerns provide the subject matter and, if she's not rewriting any thematic concerns, she does find the human heart in the stories she tells.

And if there's no single career making standout, the lovely sadness of Seeking Juliet and More Of The Same and a gravel gritty Nazareth Bound will certainly ensure her name gets mentioned in the right places.

Out of Ottawa sporting comparisons to Gillian Welch and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Hanson recently picked up a Canadian Blues award for River By My Side which she didn't actually write but while the blues also puts in appearance on the commitment-fearing Little Stage Fright it's her Americana and Texas soul-country moods that really flavour this debut album.

Recorded with unfussy production and unshowy playing that gives it a live feel, her songs are a mix of well observed snapshots and seemingly more personal reflections on relationships that have slipped or are slipping away, ranging from the aching Different Story where a couple meet at a barroom to sign the divorce papers and the lost dreams detailed with a finely observant eye on the twangy title track to the regrets of the backwoods country-folk Fell Down A Wishing Well one of several featuring Lynn Miles on backing vocals and the comfort and healing to the lilting, pedal steel laced Just A Day Away.

Fine though it is, I'm not convinced that the album really needs her cover of the traditional gospel folk tune Wayfaring Stranger, a song that may have a thematic connection of sorts but feels as though it's strayed in from a live set list.

That said, the fact that a song that's weathered the years as well as it has can be overshadowed by Hanson's own material, says as much for her songwriting credentials as the album does for her singing.

Even so, as a talented Gothenburg-born multi-instrumentalist and prog-rock genius, Bo is certainly best remembered today for his first solo release, Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings , which the Famous Charisma Label took high into the album charts back in That album was reissued last year by Virgin, and now it's the turn of the three remaining solo albums which originally appeared on Charisma in the UK to appear in digitally remastered new editions.

Watership Down' s bonus track is an eleven-minute live-in-the-studio Migration Suite. Sadly, and unusually for such reissues, the booklet notes don't give us any information regarding the sources of the bonus material.

The downside of this is that some of Bo's musical ideas and themes don't quite achieve the memorability quotient that they need to stand out in a competitive prog marketplace, and whilst one can admire his versatility and creativity some of the later music, particularly on Watership Down , has a tendency to ramble and in the end leaves me a touch cold.

The Watership Down album continued to explore the wave of inspiration that had begun with Attic Thoughts' Rabbit Music, and Bo utilised his musical collaborators to good effect, but in truth it was a more uneven effort musically, and by the time of its release distinctly unfashionable.

But these reissues at least give us the chance to reassess Bo's place in prog history, and I find that I can certainly appreciate them a lot more now than I did at the time of their original release.

From Cork and now based in Glasgow, Hara's very much in the tradition of the classic acoustic singer-songwriter, a deft string picker, a voice with a slight emotional crack and songs that slide down easy but also hang around to get you pondering their relationships themed lyrics.

It's not about to make him the next darling of the modern folkie set, but numbers like the circling melody of Bribe, the fresh open fields air to Nothing New, What Will Lie In Wait where he actually conjures thoughts of Ian Matthews and the clear stream waterfall colours sparkling across Blue Heart of Mine and The Light will always ensure a welcome on the folk club and pub circuit.

Coming together as a three piece house band for a regular event at St Pauls Church in Derby and gradually evolving into their current sextet format, they've largely spent their career to date on the Christian music circuit, releasing debut album Leaving Safe Anchorage last year.

However, given the exposure, their sophomore should easily see them expanding their audience into the contemporary folk-rock mainstream.

Fronted by the striking, dust and silk vocals of Bethan Court, obvious comparisons would have to include Fleetwood Mac, Kate Rusby, and Sandy Denny but you might also hear hints of Judy Collins and Eva Cassidy in there too.

Listening to her on the gently rippling autumnal Another Rainbow or the world weary Sweet Hand of Mercy is a bit like bathing in aural Radox, the soothing sound of late summer evenings and fireflies.

The band's other prime strength lies in the songs of Phil Baggaley, sometimes quietly melancholic at others shimmering with a sense of joy and determination; wistfully veined with themes of loss and stalled emotions on Watching It Slip Away, Mayday and the wonderful waltzing title track or celebrating the redemptive nature of love on the tumbling folk pop of Five Senses and the simple wonder of the universe in Stargazing.

There's times when he calls to mind Julie Gold. Having said that, two numbers hark to traditional English folk ballad.

The Storm Gate is tale of a Whitby boy sailing with Captain Cook while his intended waits at home, verses sung by both the lovers and the lad's sister.

And, arguably the album's standout track, Gunmetal Grey is a brooding warning not to harden your heart that, with its steady drum beat, electric guitar and the edge Court brings to her singing, would add lustre to a Steeleye Span album.

These two highly regarded young musicians originally met as teenagers, but only last summer, while teaching at the Folkworks Summer School, did they consider doing some actual duo work together.

And by all accounts, so naturally did the two gel that after just a couple of days of playing this CD emerged! Meantime, Rob's continued his involvement with the English Acoustic Collective and Emma's been teaching and performing both in the UK and her motherland Sweden.

This disc turns out to be an intensely uplifting experience that fully conveys the joys of informal music-making.

The majority of its ten tracks are duets for English concertina and fiddle: The CD also showcases two descriptive pieces by the musicians themselves: All told, this is a genuinely exciting disc which it'll prove hard to grow tired of, for with each twist and turn of melody Rob finds felicitous subtleties in his chosen instrument and Emma's joyous, earthy phrasing springs new surprises.

Rob's also responsible for the superbly immediate and close recording. To vary things a bit, Ghost Writer turns in four minutes worth of discordant, clanking beatnik jazz Tom Waits with a sprinkle of Bowie, but opening proceedings with the gentle summery sway of Bittersweetheart for the most part he again favours the dreamier side of melody in which to couch his songs of love and loss, of death and, well, life really.

Mercifully for the Samaritans then, the lad does manage to curl a couple of more positive moments round his fingers, Watching The Sun Come Up is a buoyant post break up song but still sees Ed ready to "attack the day with the will to burn" and on the gorgeous lullaby Metaphorically Yours with its crooning ooohing backing vocals, he sings "if my wrists were slit you'd bandage them with style and grace", adding "I confess I love you so.

This is an unusually distinctive album by a British band based in Berkshire that is unafraid to take chances and diversify within the broad compass of Americana.

Sure, it's got its own oddball tendencies, but for most of its length it's a reliable and intriguingly different album on which influences are less worn on the sleeve than sewn away neatly in the cuff.

It would be considered an interesting album purely because every track's different, but the consistent quality of the songwriting transcends any novelty-value and the occasional quirk of presentation.

Pete clearly feels for his protagonists and translates this concern into the settings and the expression he brings to the lyrics: I could live without the gimmicky distancing and scratching effects given to the vocals at times, but in the end these probably don't intrude seriously enough to spoil my appreciation of atmospheric songs like Are Those Really The Miles?

This new collection intersperses telling and ingenious treatments of traditional material more Songs Lost And Stolen, you might say with some stylistically-diverse songs of her own composition.

These all take their cue in some measure from the concept of Battleplan, an ideal state of affairs which is almost never achieved.

Bella's interpretive creativity achieves a new level with the challenge this presents; she not only plausibly re-imagines traditional ballads from a female perspective, but also brings her own personal experiences into the mix; notwithstanding the fact that some of the traditional songs have already been subjected to countless reinterpretations down the ages.

The devilish momentum of Whisky You're The Devil forces piano and drums together in almost unholy counterpoint to Bella's rewritten tune, and a pounding drone-heavy beat permeates the fiddle-sing of Through Lonesome Woods.

The Seventh Girl is a feisty, skipping retelling of the Outlandish Knight ballad that reflects the status of its heroine, and a charming, rustic-piano-backed version of the shanty One More Day provides a pleasing and apt disc finale -although the distinctly late-night-lounge feel of Bella's own "coffee shop crooning song" Maybe You Might could equally well have fitted that particular bill.

Bella's renowned compelling and well-controlled vocal delivery is reliably supported by her current touring band The Midnight Watch Anna Massie, Angus Lyon, James Lindsay and Mattie Foulds , who provide a sensitive indeed, sometimes chillingly dramatic backdrop that also displays a keen contemporary edge.

Perhaps one or two of the new songs have the conscious air of therapy Three Pieces Of My Heart , but for the most part they convince; for instance, Sleeping Beauty seems to tread the right side of the line in its depiction of the unrealistic expectations of relationships, while Drifting Away is a beautifully conceived snapshot of a touring artist's perception of our world.

Even so, for all the persuasiveness of the storytelling, the thematic unity of the material and the imagination of the arrangements, I'm left with a mild feeling of the album not quite hanging together, which may in part be attributed to its brevity.

Bella's latest CD is an infinitely more ambitious undertaking than its two predecessors, although it takes the trend begun on album two In The Shadow Of Mountains to its extreme by becoming nothing less than a fully fledged singer-songwriter album, and in doing so inevitably takes her music to some perhaps unexpected places well outside the ambit of the traditional folksong with which she originally made her name and reputation a mere four or five years ago.

Having said that, Bella's not abandoned her traditional roots - roots that you'll remember surfaced with a vengeance on her own song Three Black Feathers since covered by Jim Moray, too that was a highlight of her debut album Night Visiting.

The songs range wide over personal experiences real and imagined, not all equally convincing on early acquaintance it must be admitted, but Bella's compelling delivery soon wins one over.

The jazzily attractive Promises revisits the writer's insouciant pretensions of schoolgirl days, while there's an almost relentless Seth-Lakeman-meets-bluegrass-and-rockabilly vibe to Written In Green.

On the other hand, Good Friday and Broken Mirror almost appear insubstantial by comparison with the delicate vision of Full Moon In Amsterdam, which seems to inhabit a similar poetical universe to that of Karine Polwart.

Bella's creative uploading of the fairy-tale concept into the modern world is also key to the album's opener Labyrinth, a decidedly thorny proposition which moves from spooky beginnings including a musical saw within its backdrop to a more pop-conscious climax that in Bella's swooning delivery exhibits shades of Kate Bush albeit in a lower register.

This track is typical of the overall less rough-hewn, more sophisticated ambience of the record, in production terms especially courtesy of The Burns Unit's Mattie Foulds - the aforemtntioned Ms.

Happily, Bella's trademark starkly, brilliantly expressive voice has lost none of its special quality, and nor is it submerged in the production; but this time round she contributes markedly less in the way of fiddle playing to the record I think any brief solos have been taken by Breabach's Patsy Reid, but track credits haven't been supplied with the promo copy so I'm unable to verify this.

Bella's other collaborators are Kris Drever slide guitar, and duet vocal on the lazy 3-a. Although Bella herself is on superb vocal form, and there's not really a weak track as such, it's possible to argue that this album's consistency lies more in the textured feel of the production than in the actual writing; but it's still a hell of an album.

Bella's first solo album, Night Visiting, both impressed and mesmerised enormously on its appearance almost exactly two years ago, and neither its impact nor its charms have waned a jot on repeated plays since.

Her followup disc is another stark yet often very sensual masterwork characterised by the sheer power of her voice, the intense quality of her fiddle playing and the inventiveness of her own songwriting.

Although Bella herself is necessarily and rightly the dominant and defining presence in the album's all-embracing solidly-voiced and cocooningly fiddle-rich textures, I wouldn't wish to underplay the equally assured supporting contributions of string players Debbie Chalmers and Lucy Coggle, or of Chris Sherburn, Corrina Hewat and Anna Massie.

This is a disc that you just can't ignore, such is its aural impact for a start; but this facet would be of little or no consequence if the music within were not of such exceptionally high quality both in its invention and execution.

Like its predecessor, In The Shadow Of Mountains intersperses Bella's creative arrangements of traditional songs and ballads with her own compositions which are keenly if innately and yet subconsciously rooted in tradition.

And again, it's with a prime example of the latter that the new disc kicks off: Mary Mean, a potent little tale set in jig-time that throws you in at the deep end while demonstrating Bella's exceptional control of her voice.

It also gives the listener the chance to get accustomed to the elements of occasional harshness and stridency in that voice which offset the moments of pure tenderness the closing Trawlerman's Wife gives an even better account of these contrasting qualities.

Bella is one of those performers who displays a real sense of presence I'm sometimes reminded of Carole Pegg, in fact, with her forthright fiddle style rich in double-stopping drones and fierce stabbing strokes , and the forwardly-balanced recording tends to accentuate this aspect while maintaining a key clarity of line and texture.

There's a sense of danger about Bella's music-making, and while the album's not exactly unremittingly gloomy it does possess a largely dark and brooding ambience.

Standout tracks include Bella's tense reading of Low Down In The Broom, with Chris Sherburn's barren and sombre concertina providing a slightly underplayed and yet entirely responsive counterpoint to the string-trio backdrop, and her telling exploration, in Smoke And Ashes, of the human side to the tragedy of foot-and-mouth disease.

Elsewhere, there are some tracks which, though bravely managed, may divide opinion to a greater extent: Bella's rather individual treatment of Rosebud In June backed only by Corrina's harp , which is distinctly wayward in its almost improvisatory vocal elaborations and irregularly stretched melismas, may well seem unsettling at first acquaintance, while her latter-day update of the Sovay tale, Sylvie Sovay, initially feels too lackadaisical but gradually will quietly impress - believe me.

As did Bella's plaintive version of Ten Thousand Miles, which could so easily have been one of those "do we really need another version of?

The disc's only slight misjudgement to my mind comes with Bella's version of the classic murder ballad Cruel Mother, which I feel loses some of its visceral impact by being paced rather fast.

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