One could be forgiven to consider the Merseyside music scene’s main constituency to be that of the indie kid, with a coat of arms consisting of jangling guitars, a certain attitude and a nodding reference to what has gone before. They aim to stand on the shoulders of those Mersey giants that came before, paying homage to them in their contemporary creativity. But music is, well, music. And great music arrives in all genres, and with the passing of time, with perhaps with the aid of a parent’s music collections and tastes, we come to recognise the merit of great music – it lifts the soul and makes life’s travails just that little bit more bearable. A remedy perhaps. So let’s for a moment put away the Rickenbacker or the Hoffman, and reach for the double bass and the Gibson arch top.
Liverpool and Merseyside has a long and rich jazz tradition, the stories of which may have been overshadowed due to all things fab four. Places like the Iron Door Jazz Club and The Temple in Dale Street, which during the 1950s hosted the Merseysippi Jazz Band with Melly the Magritte collector on occasional vocals. However, in the last five to ten years this Mersey jazz scene has flourished, greatly helped by a network of pub venues, like The Grapes in Roscoe Street and The Caledonian. Liverpool Jazz is a great hub and resource about what is going on now – Peter Kavanaghs, on Lark Lane, and Ma Boyles, which brings us neatly to an absolute musical gem that has a Thursday residency there – Amanda Brown and The Common Ears, a trio – who have just released an exceptionally splendid ep – Medicinal Biscuit.
The trio consist of Amanda, guitar, Parabhen , double bass, and Martin on trumpet, all of whom have fully paid up musical dues and have contributed to the Merseyside musical scene to greater of lesser extents over the years. Their influences are eclectic, ranging from Pokey Lafarge, The Boswell Sisters to Louis Armstrong, with a bit of Digby Fairweather, Old Betty Boop and Mildfred Bailey for good measure.
Medicinal Biscuit is a collection of songs that ooze authenticity, musical craftsmanship, and succeeds in achieving what great records do, creating, by musical alchemy, its very own artistic raison d’etre. Of the six tracks in the collection only one is a cover of what you would call a traditional jazz tune, with the other five being of the very highest standard, which although of the contemporary, feels like they have come from the discography of historical jazz. Recordings took place at the Old Bull Pub in Dublin Street, with the trio plus a couple of co-conspirators forming a production collective that have delivered a perfectly nuanced set of songs, subtle, atmospheric, and sublimely fluid.
They have completely captured the essence of 1930’s fusion of jazz, ragtime and country, an utterly striking achievement. Lead track Spinning Top leaps from your speakers, full of life and with a jaunty swing that is irrepressibly catchy. The video that accompanies it is fun, creative, and fully represents the zestiness of the song. Examples of the great production present on Medicinal Biscuit include the tremendous violin on Creepy love, which is a satisfying counterpoint to the melancholic vocal, and the late surge of trumpet propelling the track to its denouement.
My Old Town is a classic good old boys lament to memory and the passing of time, and wouldn’t be out of step on a T Bone Burnett album. Parabhen’s I Had A Ball again evokes the Bluegrass, Dixie spirit, and I would have loved to hear Levon Helm drawl his way through it. Daddy, Let me Lay it in You is a Larry Coleman song, previously covered by the likes of Les Paul, and sits snugly alongside its musical comrades. Amanda Browns Sweet Notes rounds off this musical journey in a highly satisfying manner, full of charm and panache. Close your eyes and Amanda’s voice has time – travelled its way from a New York Speakeasy. And, is it not a universal truth that we all can’t live without those “clever notes”?
It’s interesting to compare Amanda Brown and The Common Ears to the likes of France’s Caravan Palace, with their cynically crafted bpm driven songs and triggered samples, or to the contemporary works of the likes of Parov Stelar. But the real interest lies in how they are producing really great, authentic songs of real substance and not just pastiches, or flimsy homage. This musical collective have an obvious love for the art form, and that’s the main strength of Amanda Brown and The Common Ears. Oh, and believe me that their live performances match the excellency of their recordings.
Plans for 2017 see them wanting to continue gigging and continue to grow and develop artistically, with some collaborations planned. They are representative of a vital and flourishing Liverpool jazz scene that has never really gone away, despite a few high profile musical historical distractions, and is now rightly demanding attention. More recordings are planned, and if they can keep up this very high creative standard, it will be something to hear, just like Medicinal Biscuit. Coleman Hawkins famous quote is that music should always be an adventure. Well, I for one am eagerly looking forward to the next musical instalment of Amanda Brown and The Common Ears. Medicinal Biscuit? Let’s go for the full health check. Album please.
To find out more about Amanda Brown & The Common Ears and where you can catch them live, like their Facebook page here.
You can listen to and download the EP ‘Medicinal Biscuit’ on Bandcamp here.