Tuesday
Jan312017

Reviews By Stephen Rapid

 

Jim Lauderdale This Changes Everything Sky Crunch

Not noted for lengthy periods between releases Jim Lauderdale is nothing if not prolific. As an independent artist, he can release records when he wants to. This has on occasion led to the comment that a tighter rein on the output may make for a stronger album. However, This Changes Everything dispels that theory to a large degree. Rather it is the context that Lauderdale places his songs that make them more appealing to some sections than to others. Which is why those who favour his more overtly traditional country outings have taken to this Texas recorded album.

Produced by Tommy Detamore - a musician steeped in the traditional aspects of Texas country - it also features a selection of Austin’s finest players, from Detamore himself, alongside such respected players as Bobby Flores, Hank Singer, Floyd Domino, Tom Lewis, Kevin Smith and others. Singers like Sunny Sweeny, Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay all add background vocals. These are a set of Lauderdale penned co-writes with the likes Frank Dycus, Bruce Robison, Odie Blackmon and Hayes Carll. Add to that that Mr. Lauderdale is in top vocal form here. The end result over time will be seen as one of his very finest releases.

Some of the songs featured here have had previous incarnations. George Strait recorded We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This while All The Rage In Paris which was cut by The Derailers in their heyday. But, Lauderdale makes these songs his own here and they are enriched by the talented players and the Texas environment they have been recorded in. The pedal steel, Telecaster twang and fiddle are well to the fore as one might expect with a Detamore production. And while, in strict commercial terms this is unlikely to change everything, it underlines the strengths and integrity that Jim Lauderdale brings to his musical output.  

Levi Cuss Night Thief Self Release

This album was originally released in 2014 but is being given a European release now to coincide with a tour. Cuss is a Canadian roots artist based in Alberta who, for this album, worked with fellow Canadian artist Steve Dawson as producer. They recorded this album in Henhouse Studio in Nashville with a rhythm section and a keyboard player. Dawson handled all the stringed instruments requirements. Using his inherent playing and production skills he is able bring depth and focus the songs such Pills where the sweet pedal steel enriches a song about a drugs and his girl who “liked her oxy better than she liked me.” There’s one cover, which is a Canned Heat style boogie-fried version of JJ Cale’s Bringing It Back.

Between those points Cuss uses his solidly lived-in voice and life experienced songs that have encompassed his personal battle with drink and drugs as well as incarceration. Cuss’ lyrics reflect this former lifestyle and the type of people who tend to inhabit the locations with a certain lowlife lassitude. Tecumseh is a dark story of those moments of a sudden bold rush that may lead to regretted violence … and possible matrimony - the title being the lady of his affections. There are eleven self-penned tales of those who have taken the less fortunate path in life. Some have made it, others not.

Levi Cuss wears a baseball cap and has a beard on the album cover so fits the current “look”for some of the the non-mainstream artists at the moment. But Cuss knows about hard work as he found employment as a manual labourer to put himself in the position to make and finance this album. It followed his one previous album and as this album was originally released in 2014 leaves him about due for a new one thoiugh he touring in the UK and Europe later in the year. He normally tours locally but these European dates should expose him to a wider audience who will appreciate his varied and vibrant hard folk, blues and roots music.

Karen Jonas Country Songs At The Helm

This second album from the very talented Ms Jonas arrived at the tail end of the year and escaped the best of lists but is well worthy of a place up there with the best. It is another example of an artist sticking to their guns (at this point) and playing their individual take on country songs at a time when a number of other of her contemporary artists have moved to a much broader palette of sounds. Jonas was born in Virginia, in Fredericksburg and recorded there with her own musicians. These players include Tim Bray on electric guitar, Jay Starling on lap steel and keyboards with Eddie Dickerson on fiddle over a solid rhythm section of bassist Jordan Medas and drummers Jack O’Dell and Jason Cizdiel. There is no production credit as it was recorded live in the studio, something that gives the sound a spontaneity and an undeniable energy if, in the long term, that doesn’t allow for some development of the overall sound.

Jonas has written all the songs and they show an understanding for the traditional themes of country music while putting a personal and perceptive viewpoint on relationships - good and bad. Add to this a voice that is redolent of your favourite country singers while being both passionate and poignant. Jonas is building from the experience of her excellent debut Oklahoma Lottery and the performances that followed its release. There are 10 songs here and not a bad one among them. They are solidly ‘country’ yet have a certain popish quality at times that makes them eminently listenable.

There are a number of slower songs like Why Don’t You Stay or The Garden which contrast with the big beat stance the Bakersfield (and Dwight Yoakam) referencing title song or the brush off of Keep Your Hands To Yourself or the twanging Ophelia. A song where guitarist Tim Bray shines. Country Songs shows the continuing promise of Karen Jonas - her song writing and singing and one can only hope that it creates a platform that will allow her a producer and more time in the studio next time out. But this album lives up to the promise of her debut release and places her alongside the likes of Zoe Muth and Eilen Jewell. Good company to be in. 

Adrian & Meredith More Than A Little Vertigo

This album reminded me of some of the earlier recordings of Paul Burch in the overall sound style. It is the duo’s first album together though Meredith Krygowski played with Adrian (Krygowski) on his 2014 release Roam. It is an amalgam of various roots styles that fits under the Americana banner. The album is ably produced by Mark Robertson (the upright bassist and producer for The Legendary Shack Shakers) who gives the recording a punkish patina while holding the songs together to give a cohesive overview. There is a little of the Shack-Shakers/Dirt Daubers in the mix too.

Alongside the duo are a set of players whose names will be familiar to many such as Paul Niehaus of Lambchop and Calexico fame. Then there’s Fats Kaplan on tenor banjo and JD Wilkes on harmonica with Robertson himself joining the rhythm section. Meredith is the band’s more than able fiddle player and Adrian its guitar player. The latter is also the main songwriter penning all the songs including one with Niehaus. The sole cover is the traditional Greasy Coat and Kitchen Girl. The album was cut live to tape and that approach is inherent in the overall feel of the engaging results.

The duo handle all their vocals mainly with Adrian taking the lead vocals but on some tracks Meredith is the lead, otherwise she provides duet and harmony vocals. The song Birthday Cakes opens with a solid drum beat before Adrian’s nasal vocal takes up the story and Meredith joins him over the solid beat with pedal steel and fiddle enhancing the sound that resonates in a number of ways that suggest the duo’s influences. Beat is a bedrock for many of the songs as illustrated by the floor stomp of More Than A Little. The use of a trombone allies it to an earlier time while sounding very contemporary in its context. Suffic it say that the Krygowski’s make a noise that is nourishing and more than a little natty.

The Grahams and Friends Live In The Studio Three Sirens

The husband and wife duo revisit the songs that they recorded for their previous album and for the film soundtrack Rattle The Hocks. That release came to Europe through the Sony Music Group but this one sees them independent again. Somemay be familiar with some the songs from other releases, such as the opening song Glory Bound, the title song from their previous album. The version here features the Watkins Family (including Sara and Sean Watkins). The hymn-like Lay Me Down comes from the soundtrack and is an outstanding vocal from Alyssa Graham, as is the version of Alejandro Escovedo’s Broken Bottle. The slower songs also include The Lonely Ones which features the Milk Carton Kids on harmony vocals or Tender Annabelle a duet with guest with John Fulbright and a strong vocal chorus. These stand out well alongside the up-tempo nature of the songs like Griggstown, Kansas City with New Orleans style brass. There is also a related cover (in terms of sound) of the classic City Of New Orleans. Mama opens with the voice of Douglas Graham before Alyssa accompanied by David Garza and Suzanna Choffel join in. Another strong emotional delivery and highlight from Alyssa is on the song Blow Wind Blow.

There are a host of musicians featured on the album who help differentiate the songs from the previous versions on the last album - though some are taken from the deluxe edition of Glory Bound. They include Luther and Cody Dickinson (the former was also director of the Rattle The Hocks movie), Alvin Youngblood Hart, The Norman Sisters, Mark Rubin and others. It is a shame that the duo is not getting the backing that they received when with a major label and this single CD has been released to tie in with some dates in the UK. However, if you didn’t pick up on them with Glory Bound then this collection of 14 songs will help fill a gap until the next album sees the light of day.  

Alt-Country in the UK.

Ags Connolly Nothin’ Unexpected At The Helm

This is the third release from Connolly and follows on from How About Now? and a limited edition album, whose title pretty much explains its content, Traditional - 12 Cowboy Songs. Born in Oxfordshire in England but could easily have been Oxford, Mississippi in that there is an authenticity to the music that largely negates its origin. The album was produced by Dean Owens himself a recording artist both solo and as a member of The Felsons, an Edinburgh based alt-country band from the mid to late 90’s. He is the perfect person to helm this project with an understanding of both traditional and contemporary country music.

Connolly has a voice that is well-suited to the self-written songs that detail the upside and downside of life and its often-complicated relationships. There’s is a sense of depth that feels well-worn and wearied, but hopeful. Something that is borne out by the captivating opener I Hope You’re Unhappy. From then on, the album is a consistent run through of Connelly’s tales of regret, reason and refuge. Louden Wainwright’s I Suppose is the only cover and it is a testament to Connelly that he makes it fit right in. There is a strong melancholy to songs like Fifteen Years and When The Loner Gets Lonely. Both are stripped back arrangements featuring just guitar and fiddle or guitar and accordion (the latter played by ace Mavericks sideman Michael Guerra) -a song that could have easily fit on the Cowboy Songs album. Mention should be made here of the other players involved who include London-born fiddler Eamon McLoughlin (formally of the Greencards and now a player on the Grand Ole Opry), the man on all stringed things - Stuart Nisbet, Kev McGuire on stand-up bass, Jim McDermott’s steady drumming and Andy May on piano. All of whom, along with Connelly and Owens, serve these songs well and deliver an album that stands up with the best - no matter where it may have been recorded; it is the heart involved that matters most.

Guerra’s contribution adds a ‘border’ feeling to many of the songs that is not dissimilar to the feel that UK expat Wes McGhee brought to his Texas influenced music through the years. Ads Connelly can be justifiably proud of the way he and the other players have brought his songs to life with such authenticity and assiduousness. Would that Connelly (or My Darling Clementine and many others for that matter) were getting the kind of exposure that The Shires are currently receiving. But in the end, it’s the music that matters and here it matters.

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars And Tiny Tears From The Top

The versatile and talented Scotsman is back with a new solo album that is pretty much the definition of solo. He is releasing the album on his own label and looking after every aspect of the project from the cover design, the manufacturing and the promo. That’s as well as writing, producing and playing everything on the album. Its genesis came from an idea to write each song in an hour and then record the song with four hours. A self set limitation to see what he could come up with. He also didn’t read the lyrics but improvised them as he recorded them. Some in first takes, others took a little longer, but each take was individual in terms of arrangement and lyrics. The theme was to take conversations with his girlfriend as his inspiration. Initially it was something he was just going to for her but he was happy with the outcome and decided to make it available on a wider scale. 

The album proves again that Meade is a distinctive singer and a songwriter who can write songs that have strong hooks as well as an all-round musical vision - as is witnessed on the album. Several of the songs are instantly likeable (to this writer) like Sometimes Falling, Sometimes Flying, Your Voice At Night, Throwing Pebbles (Round My Head) and Today Doesn’t Matter. There are heartfelt ballads and other more up-tempo songs that are played in a style not unfamiliar to Meade’s fans or of his previous recorded output. His early country, acoustic country blues, folk and old-time influences are all present. Given that it was recorded in his kitchen, there is a lo-fi quality which, however, suits the overall nature of the project.

Meade hopes to be back with a full Flying Mules album later in the year but this is a pretty good listen in the meantime. Daniel Meade deserves all the attention he can get for his commitment to his music and again confirms his position as one of the shining lights of UK roots music.

The Most Ugly Child Copper And Lace Self Release

This Nottingham based 6-piece band are fronted by the male/female vocal interplay of Daniel Wright and Stevie-Leigh Goodison. These are songs in the template set by many of the classic country male and female duet partnerships; offering mighty support are the remaining band members, including rhythm section Matt Cutler and Max Johnson, alongside Nicole J Terry on fiddle and Big Jim Widdop on pedal steel and dobro. They also bring in the Blidworth Brass Band as well as Daniel Meade, Lloyd Reid and Henry Slim from the Flying Mules. The end result is a solid take on country music as it was (and should be).

The writing is also strong with songs from Meade (What Might Have Been), Townes van Zandt (Lungs) sitting alongside the original  songs, mainly from Wright, with a couple by Goodison. The songs in the main are looking at the love and loss that relationships are fraught with. Songs Like Another Lesson In Pain, Today, You Said Goodbye and Long Gone Woman Blues all consider aspects of failure and a need to forget its effects. While other titles like Queen Of The Honky Tonk offer more of a ray of hope for the lonely, while the acoustic album-closer My Pony is perhaps metaphor for life. All this means a good variety in terms pace and style that makes for a very satisfying album.

This is undeniably country music with a contemporary edge and attitude. Rather being retro in outlook it takes in obvious favourites as well as more diverse influences to produce an album that is as well-packaged as it is played. They may be the ugliest child in the town but they come from pretty good stock.

The Lucky Strikes The Motion And The Moving On Harbour Song

This Essex-based band deliver a new album that rocks as much as it rolls with its roots and blues energies. The five-piece band employ fiddle, banjo and pedal steel as much as they do sax, keyboards and loud guitars. The steel laced Lilac And Soil is a downbeat ballad while  Michael is a a song about a friend going through band times. While Carry Me Lord is another tale of searching and seeking with a spiritual context and that allows the dobro and voices to deliver its message. Gone, Gone is a gentle reflection of another man who slowly drifted away that has a folk feel that is reflective way to close the album. There is a sense of looking for meaning - for motion and moving on in fact. The authorship of the songs is not listed on the sleeve but I assume that they are all original songs by the band’s singers Boulter and David Giles. Songs that need time to reveal themselves to the listener.

The band’s main singer and writer Matthew Boulter also release albums under the MC Boulter name but here he meshes with his bandmates to produce a sound that has been likened to the Waterboys, Tom Waits and Crazy Horse. A pretty disparate bunch to be sure, which just goes to show how The Lucky Strikes are going to mean different things to different listeners and how their sound touches a number of bases while remaining a consistent entity. The Lucky Strikes are following where the individual songs take them. This may mean that some listeners will lose interest in the way the band have chosen to deliver their songs. Others will be happy to go on the journey with the band and find for themselves what it has to offer. Something which is individual, interesting and a little intense.

Wednesday
Jan252017

Reviews By Declan Culliton

 

Jen Lane This Life of Mine Self Release

One of the rewards of receiving a bunch of albums to review is selecting at random an artist that was previously unknown to me and uncovering a gem. This was certainly the case with Jen Lane’s This Life of Mine, an album that stopped me in my tracks at first listen and has been visiting my cd player on a number of occasions ever since.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that the Canadian singer songwriter escaped under my radar to date despite having recorded four previous albums. The song writing, musicianship and production on the album are top drawer in no small measure a credit to John Macarthur Ellis who produced the album together with contributing no fewer than twelve instruments, his superb pedal steel work probably the standout. Ellis has won numerous awards over the years including seven BC Country Music Awards and a number of Canadian Country Music Awards, well deserved on the basis of the flawless production on this album.

The album was recorded at Bottega Studio in Kelowna located in a thirteen-acre estate which is also a working farm and parklands, the landscape cited by Lane as an inspiration to her and the musicians who feature on the album. Equally inspirational was the loss of her grandfather just before recording commenced resulting on a reflection on his life and indeed her own and hence the album’s title.

Eleven tracks feature in total, all written by Lane with the exception of the Big Star song Thirteen which is given a refreshing laid back treatment. Moving On, released as a single, summarises much of the albums theme, all about accepting things as they are and letting go. 1st Day of Spring bounces along with a ragtime feel, My Man is Linda Ronstadt style late 70’s country rock and the tour da force is the final and title track which closes the album in a defiant and positive way.

Without a doubt had this album been recorded in the late 70’s it would be receiving rave reviews and selling by the cartload. If you, like myself, are unfamiliar with Lane’s music I strongly recommend you correct this and no better place to start than here.

Jeremiah Johnson Band Blues Heart Attack Self Release

Sixth album release from the St. Louis Mississippi born Johnson, his bass player Jeff Girardier and drummer Benet Schaeffer. Don’t expect any surprises, Blues Heart Attack is Johnson doing what he does best, straight down the middle ripping blues with a bit of southern rock on the side, often delivered at a blistering pace and fleshed out by Frank Bauer adding sax and keyboards courtesy of Nathen Hershey.

Currently residing in Houston Texas readers unfamiliar with Johnson could do worse than seek out the 2014 documentary Ride The Blues, directed by Australian Gary Glenn which features concert footage of Johnson together with interviews about the artist’s career path to date.

Mind Reader, the opening track, is closer to ZZ Top than Buddy Guy and kicks the album off in fine style. Room of Fools which follows showcases both the gritty and fullsome vocals of Johnson together with his thrilling guitar work. The title track Blues Heart Attack abandons the full-on rocking sound of much of the album and settles for a jazzier feel. Summertime (how many blues artists have written a song with the title Summertime!) floats along with the emphasis on Johnson’s vocal and recalling a young Van Morrison. Similarly Talk Too Much brings to mind early career John Mayall. Southern Drawl, a killer song by the way, not surprisingly is pure apologetic southern rock name checking Johnny Cash along the way. Here We Go Again slows thing down a mite and features both stunning guitar and sax solos.

All twelve tracks were written by Johnson and recorded at Sawhorse Studio in St. Louis and produced by Jason Mc Intire. For lovers of Rory Gallagher, Buddy Guy and the like.

The Honeydogs Love & Cannibalism Simon Records

It’s hard to fathom that The Honeydogs have existed in one form or another for over 25 years at this stage. Originally formed in the early 90’s by the Levy brothers Adam and Noah together with bass player Trent Norton, they were considered back in the day by Billboard to be Alt-Country’s next big thing, notwithstanding the fact that their output was and remains to be much more far reaching that anything alternative or even country for that matter. Adam Levy sums up their early influences simply as "liking Bowie and Jobim as much as the Flying Burrito Brothers and Merle Haggard." Such was there impact in the 90’s that they toured with both Aimee Mann and INXS.

Their line up in recent years is that of a seven-piece unit. Adam Levy (who released the solo album Naubinway earlier this year, a tribute to his son who passed away in tragic circumstances and reviewed by Lonesome Highway) on guitar, piano, keyboards, Trent Norton on bass and vocals, Ryan Paul Plewachi on guitar and vocals, Peter Anderson on drums, Peter J. Sands on keyboards with Matt Darling and Steve Kung on trombone and trumpet.

Love & Cannibalism, following on from their 2012 release What Comes After, finds them in outstanding form, most definitely a sum of their parts and an album that could not be more suited to the car CD player at high volume.  Their style would simply have been classified as ‘rock’ in the 70’s landing somewhere between the guitar driven sound of Thin Lizzy and the slick, clever power pop output of XTC and Squeeze. The addition of a horn section gives them a fuller and richer soul feel bringing to mind Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes on the track Ordinary Legs in particular.

Recorded over a five-day period at The Pearl Studio in Minneapolis and produced by John Fields (Jonas Brothers, Pink, Miley Cyrus, Busted) the eleven-track album has no fillers from the driving opening track Vermillion Billows (Shouldn’t Take It So Hard) with its thumping bass line through the Tom Petty sounding Look Through The Sun and closing with the funky sounding Little Sister.

The album is pure fun, with stunning chord changes, riffs and guitar solos, thumping bass lines and luscious horns a plenty. An album that should find its way into your record collection.

Richard Shindell Careless Continental Song City

Recorded over a three-year period in New York and his current residence Buenos Aires, Careless is a collection of eleven songs by a singer songwriter who has recorded a considerable body of work dating back to his debut album Sparrow Point released in 1992.

Recognised somewhat as a perfectionist Careless certainly reflects the meticulous input by Shindell over the three-year period with possibly the strongest album of his career, more electric that much of his earlier work and songs and stories that catch the listener’s attention on first play.

Shindell is yet another songwriter that has remained on the fringes without a major industry breakthrough and it is such a shame that an album of this quality may not reach the numbers it’s quality certainly merits.

Stray Cow Blues, which opens the album, is straight down the middle bluesy and rootsy and probably not a pointer of what is to follow. The title track which features next is beautifully paced, atmospheric and delivered with a hoarsy vocal drawl in a style reminiscent of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher.

Infrared is simple, poppy, sixties sounding and sing along with a wonderful harmony vocal courtesy of Sara Milonovich, who also contributes violin on a number of other tracks on the album. Milonovich is one of a number of accomplished musicians that feature including Larry Campbell, Joe Bonadio, Jerry Marotta and Lucy Kaplansky.

All Wide Open tells of a father/daughter reconciliation, Before You Go is dreamlike and hypnotic and the closing track and only cover on the album is The Dome (written by Jeff Wilkinson and Brian Martin) featuring only vocal, bowed electric guitar and keyboards, all performed by Shindell.

All in all a great album, well worth investigating.

Proudfoot Flowers of London Self Release

Not to be confused with the Dublin soul/funk band of the same name, Flowers of London is the second album release by the North London four piece consisting of Michael Proudfoot on vocals and guitar, Duncan Kerr on electric and acoustic guitar, Wayne Worrill on bass and Joe Malone on drums and percussion. If their 2009 album Lincolnshire, produced by pedal steel supremo B.J.Cole, had its inspiration firmly in country music, Flowers of London’s influences are much closer to home in particular in the Brit pop sound of the 60’s combined with the post-punk output of the late 70’s. Not surprising given songwriter and TV Producer Proudfoot’s unapologetic love of the 60’s Beat Boom sound and Kerr’s former life as a veteran of the mid 70’s pub rock scene with the band Plummet Airlines.

Recorded at Alchemy Studios in London the album often recreates the pub rock sound mastered by Brinsley Schwarz in the mid 70’s and brought to a wider audience by Graham Parker and The Rumour. Proudfoot does not reach the stirring and spikey vocal ability of Parker, few do, but the album in spots does create material that would fit snugly in Parker’s early output, particularly on Pathfinders, Come On Come On and Lorraine. The arrangements work to a tee particularly on these tracks with a driving rhythm section and standout guitar playing by Kerr.

Not all twelve tracks on the album shine but the ones that do simply glow.

Norrie Mc Culloch These Mountain Blues Black Dust 

Scotland has seen some notable Americana acts emerge in recent years, albeit artists that may have remained somewhat under the radar. The Wynntown Marshals from Edinburgh and Glasgow’s Daniel Meade immediately spring to mind. Norrie McCulloch is another fine artist from Glasgow that turned quite a number of heads with his debut album Old Lovers Junkyard recorded in 2014. His latest album These Mountain Blues treads a similar path musically yet reveals a greater maturity and confidence that its predecessor.

Recorded live over a three day period at The Tolbooth, a 15th Century historic structure in Stirling, the ten tracks are a collection of great songs, all written by Mc Culloch, that work together as a unit.

The benchmark in terms of delivery and content could be Jay Farrar’s Son Volt at his most phlegmatic. Mc Culloch manages to deliver, with an unhurried and assured sense throughout, an album that has traces of many of the qualities that also stand out in Farrar’s work.

Contributing on the album are some of Glasgow’s finest, including Dave Mc Gowan (Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub) on upright bass, piano and pedal steel, Marco Rea (The Wellgreens, Euros Child) on bass, piano and vocal and Stuart Kidd (The Wellgreens, Pearlfishers, BMX Bandits) on drums and vocal. Despite having such fine players available the album also includes some gems with stripped back instrumentation, in particular Black Dust with Mc Culloch’s vocal and harmonica up front and closing track Hearts Got To Be In The Right Place with delightful harmonies and piano playing.

The title track is intoxicating with Mc Cullocks vocal and Mc Gowan’s silky piano to the fore as is the beautiful When She Is Crying Too enriched by Mc Gowan’s tranquil pedal steel

Further evidence that quality Americana, a classification this album certainly merits, is often closer to home than you think.

The Rifters Architect of a Fire Howlin Dog

Formed in 2002 in New Mexico The Rifters are a three-piece made up of ex-Hired Hands members Jim Bradley and Don Richmond together with Rod Taylor of The Rounders.

Their sound is best described by themselves when they recorded their self-titled debut album in 2004. “It’s music that comes from where we come from – both from the high desert and mountain landscape of our home and from the background and experiences of our lives – sort of a laid-back high-energy gentle giant old blue-buffalo-grama-grassy, cowboy, folky, shake-a-leg with a smile sort of thing.’’

Architect of Fire is a twelve-track recording of songs all written by the band members who combine impressive harmonies with slick instrumentation featuring guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, violin and more.

Pick of the crop are two Leonard Cohen sounding songs, the title track and I Can Live With That together with Charlie’s Lament which would not be out of place on an early career Guy Clark album.

The album’s cover depicts the three members casually sitting around a campfire, a fitting location for playing and indeed listening to the mixture of country and bluegrass covered on the album.

Henry Senior Jnr. Plates of Meat Maiden Voyage 

This is the debut album by Henry Senior Jr, pedal steel player and member of Danny & The Champions of The World. Not surprisingly the recording features all the members of The Champions and was recorded at Reservoir Studios in North London under the watchful eye of producer and bass player Chris Clarke.

When considering the pedal steel guitar in the UK the obvious benchmark is the talented BJ Cole who, as can be expected, was one of the inspirations that lead to this recording.

Often considered to be an instrument rarely heard outside The Music City, Senior’s intention was to "use the pedal steel outside its traditional context" and he succeeds hands down with his ability to weave together jazz, blues, reggae and even ragtime. A theme visited in a similar vein by Jon Rauhouse, who plays steel in Neko Case’s band, and has recorded a number of experimental albums, Senior has also succeeded in producing a quite unique sound. The pedal steel never attempts to dominate but instead works hand in glove alongside bass, keys, drums and horns that recalls the late 60’s golden era of jazz fusion.

The title track and Better Left Unsaid are wonderful blends of soul, jazz and rhythm and blues. Goodbye Bowler Hat glides along, perfectly paced and with a dreamy reggae backbeat conjuring up scenes of sun, sand and surf. An experimental album combining pedal steel and powered by an excellent band of musicians that hits the spot from start to finish.


Tuesday
Jan172017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Jack Tempchin One More Song Bluélan

Jack Tempchin is an American musician and singer-songwriter, best known for writing songs with the Eagles. The classic, Peaceful Easy Feeling, being the most recognised. He also had a hand in writing Already Gone, along with others, including a number of songs with Glen Frey for his solo work. As you would expect with such a pedigree, Tempchin has a way with a melody and there are plenty of examples of his stellar song-writing skills on this, his ninth solo release.

He sings in an easy, laid-back vocal style that is unhurried and smooth, perfectly fitting into the acoustic based songs that are included here. He speaks of returning to his roots with simple musical arrangements and that is what he delivers with a late-night, by the fire, conspiratorial feel to the entire project.

Slow Dancing, Old River and Around Midnight set the gentle pace and sound before the sweet strum of Circle Ties That Bind brings the listener forward into the next phase of the recording.

So Long My Friend is a snapshot of the life that Tempchin has most likely lived with plenty of colour in the images and a philosophy of keeping on moving, living life one day at a time. Still Looking For a Way to Say Goodbye is a lament to lost love and the haunted memories of regret “Was there something you said that I did not hear; How do we lose the ones we hold so dear”. It is the stand-out track in this collection.

The very clever, I Got Her Where She Wants Me To Be, is a fine tune and highlights the song-craft on display. Song For You is one of empathy for life’s knocks and struggles while Tumbleweed is a slow reflection on trying to love a free spirit who cannot be tied down. The closing track, One More Song, would sit quite easily into any Eagles record with a perfect chorus that sums up the raison-d’etre of this skilled artist; “One More Song For the Times to Come”.

Esquela Canis Majoris Self Release

The Spanish word Esquela apparently means ‘notice’ or ‘announcement’ and that is precisely what happens here. This is the third release from a very versatile group of musicians, Esquela, comprised of a five-piece indie-roots-Americana band featuring vocalist Rebecca Frame, lead guitarist Brian Shafer, Chico Finn on bass/vocals, Todd Russell on drums and Matt Woodin on guitar.

Guest Musicians on the project include producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on guitar/vocals, Brian Mangini on keyboards, Matthew Polashek on saxophone, Mark Spencer on Pedal Steel and Tom White on Banjo/Tin Whistle/Fiddle.

The song arrangements are very bright and the harmonies are full of fun and spark. Their sound is up-tempo and driven by the strong vocals of Rebecca Frame which carry the fine playing through the 10 songs included here. A pleasing contrast is the world-weary delivery of Chico Finn on songs like Sorry, a salutary plea for forgiveness from a lover to his partner.

Pine Tar tells of a famous baseball game in 1983, played between the New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals that was abandoned on a technicality just as the Royals were winning. Heated protests followed and the debate raged until the game was replayed 24 days later.

This band has a quirky, independent streak to their music and topics such as corporate greed (Too Big to Fail) and racial inequality against the Irish (Need Not Apply) are balanced against parasitic females who crave wealthy husbands to keep them in a pampered life of luxury (Gold Digger). Best of all is a song called Animals that celebrates the joys of our four-legged friends and is a real joy.

This is a recommended release that will impress and bring a smile…

Steve Hussey & Jake Eddy The Miller Girl Merf 

Steve Hussey is a singer/songwriter and producer from Washington, West Virginia and has been playing professionally for almost 20 years in various bands.

This project is based around 10 love songs that are all written by Hussey and deal with the various aspects and challenges that are the stuff relationships are made of.

From the Bluegrass vibe of tracks like Looking For Love and Little Shove to the more modern Americana sound of Master Your Mind and Chalk It Up, there is plenty to keep the attention and attract the listener. Joined by Bluegrass prodigy Jake Eddy on banjo, this is a very enjoyable journey through song arrangements that span all aspects of traditional Roots/Folk influences.

The other musicians include Jeff Martin on drums, Ben Probus on fiddle, Anders Bush on bass and Ron Wallace on backing vocals and the songs are brought to life around the acoustic guitar of Hussey and the banjo of Eddy.

The title song, Miller Girl, is a view of local, rural life and fancying the neighbouring farmer’s daughter while Long List of Goodbyes is a clever take on moving on from heartbreak to the next opportunity. Better Day is a nice song that stays in the memory and the stripped back nature of the arrangements is simple and laced with easy tempos such as, I Pick You, a sweet tribute to love and all the positives of finding the ‘right one’… A very enjoyable release.

Sharon Goldman Kol Isha (A Woman’s Voice) Self Release

This New York based singer-songwriter has been producing music of real quality since early 2000 and has received much praise for her literary gifts as both writer and performer.

Kol Isha is based in traditional Jewish communities, where women are not supposed to sing publicly in front of men. Across 13 songs (Eliza Gilkyson's Rose of Sharon is the one cover), Goldman takes us on a spiritual journey that visits her Jewish upbringing and influences, including the dogma of orthodox religion, balanced against a modern all-embracing spirituality, that is more inclusive and empowering.

Memory mixes with myth and there is a strong imagery running through songs like Jerusalem, Lilith, Pillar of Salt and The Sabbath Queen. A modern feminist perspective reflects on the traditional roles expected of women and the biblical and ancient Hebrew references are coupled with insight that draws inspiration from an ongoing search for her own truth.

The project is co-produced by Goldman and the excellent Stephen Murphy (various guitars) and engineered by Mark Dann who plays Bass on one track. With the subtle skills of Cheryl Prashker on percussion, Craig Akin on upright bass and Laura Wolfe on harmonium and violin, the arrangements are understated with plenty of room for the players to express their individual talents. Abbie Gardner guests on dobro and harmony vocals, with Brian Prunka on oud and Amy Soucy on background vocals.

Goldman has a number of previous releases and plays an active role in song-writing communities. Her Folk inflected music is both powerful and enduring.

Katie Garibaldi Rooted Clarity Living Dream 

This talented artist has been on our radar for some years now and her song-writing skills continue to hone themselves into a very pleasant listening experience. With four previous releases to her name, including the excellent Follow Your Heart (2014), this San Francisco artist produces a 5-song suite that shines brightly. All songs are written by Katie and production duties are shared with Kevin Blair, who also contributes on electric guitar and acoustic bass.

Delightful is a song that speaks of believing in yourself and not letting anybody put you down or knock your self-belief. I Am, has a sweet melody and the strings, mixed with fiddle & mandolin, are just perfect for a song that lends support to a friend/lover who is going through a difficult time. In My Wildest Dreams is a rites-of-passage song where illusion shatters and love does not always stay around - ‘In my wildest dreams; Love Stays’…

On My Own speaks of leaving that little hometown and going out into the big bad world. A coming of age anthem for the hopeful dreamers whose ‘memories sit and watch you leave.’ Bird in a Cage ends the record with a plea to fly free from those who impose limits on our lives. Self- doubt and self-imposed chains are there to be outgrown and the plea to ‘fly away’ leaves an image of someone who has already taken to the skies and knows that there really are no limits.

Katie is blessed with a clear and pure vocal delivery and her excellent band assist in making these 5 songs a really enjoyable listen. Tim Fellow (Drums, Percussion), Arturo Garza (Keyboards), JP Shafer (Fiddle, Mandolin), Nathan Lowry (Violin) and Emily Nelson (Cello) join Katie and Kevin Blair in making this sweetly soaring music that comes highly recommended.    

Monday
Jan092017

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Kelsey Waldon I’ve Got A Way Monkey’s Eyebrows

"Well I was never trying to be a Queen, sings Kelsey Waldon, I just take a lot of pride in who I am, the way I sing."

The title of Kelsey Waldon’s sophomore album I’ve Got A Way (her debut The Goldmine was released in 2014) is a statement by an artist determined and unafraid to succeed on her own terms in the cut throat country music scene in Nashville. Following in the footsteps of fellow small town America female breakthrough artists Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price, I’ve Got A Way details the journey from a rural environment and the trials and tribulations of dodgy industry characters, unfulfilled promises and stereotyping. It has a defiant stamp of 'This is who I am, like it or not’ throughout and a determination of not being shaped into something that she doesn’t want. It’s also delivered with Waldon’s adorable vocal, pure unapologetic Kentucky drawl, thankfully not polluted by any technical devices to change to what comes naturally to her. Having Nashville whizz kids Brett Resnick on pedal steel, Jeremy Fetzer on guitar and Michael Rinne on bass (and production duties) round the circle and breathe life into a collection of well-constructed, honest and personal songs. 

Dirty Old Town, which opens the album, is more than a distant relation of Margo Price’s This Town with Waldon in no mood to be compromised or standardised when she asserts "Well there’s voices over here, voices over there, saying come along, come with me. Don't want a bridge to burn but I'm taking my turn, ain't gonna let 'em ever take me." It’s a fitting opener strengthened by some searing pedal steel solos from Resnick. All By Myself, which follows, could have been be nicked from Lee Ann Womack’s The Way I’m Living both in delivery and lyrics. Live Moves Slow lives up to its title, revisiting and escaping back to small town America and it’s simple way of live "So when I drive down the highway past that county line, I take a deep breath, I know I’ll be doing fine, Gonna save me some money, Gonna buy me a place you can’t find." Don’t Hurt The Ones You Love The Most visits similar territory, a reminder of the value of home, roots and family. 

Two covers are included on the album, both fitting in seamlessly. There Must Be Someone, previously recorded by The Gosdin Brothers and The Byrds and the Bill Munroe classic Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.

 The greatest compliment I can pay I’ve Got A Way is that the self-penned  songs all sound like covers of classic country tunes that the listener has previously heard and is being reintroduced to. 

With country radio at present awash with music often masquerading as country, it’s a refreshing that a close knit bunch of artists in East Nashville such as Waldon, Margo Price, JP. Harris are maintaining without compromise what many of us consider to be true country music. In recent years Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price have both proved, despite the obstacles and lack of industry support, that a breakthrough is possible. Hopefully Kelsey Waldon will follow suit, on the strength of I’ve Got A Way she certainly deserves to. 

The Black Lillies Hard To Please Black Lilly/Attack Monkey 

Anyone reading this review and sensing that they encountered this album in a previous life most likely came across it in 2015 when it was released in the States. The UK release of the album is a precursor to the bands UK/Europe tour planned for February 2017.

The history of the recording of the album in 2015 could take up column space in its own right with two members of the then five piece announcing their intention to depart the band just as they were about to enter the studio to record the album. Frontman Cruz Contreras also faced the challenge, for various reasons, of essentially writing the album in two weeks prior to entering the studio to record it. Contreras had written the bands previous three albums, Whiskey Angel (2009), 100 Miles of Wreckage (2011) and Runaway Freeway Blues(2013), in a more conventional  manner and timescale  and  gained considerable commercial success and exposure with them. Appearances at The Grand Ole Opry (more appearances than any other independent band in history), Stagecoach and Bonnaroo followed leaving the band on the verge of a major industry breakthrough.

The album was recorded at the House of Blues Studio D which was relocated to Nashville from Memphis in 2010, a studio where The Eales and Stevie Ray Vaughan among others had recorded in previously. The production duties were overseen by Ryan Hewitt (Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Avett Brothers), unlike their previous albums which were produced by Contreras.

Contreras was joined in the studio by the bands two remaining members Bowman Townsend (drums) and Trisha Gene Brady (vocals) together with Bill Reynolds (bass), Matt Smyth (pedal steel), and Daniel Donato (guitar).

The net result of the hurried writing and recording of the album is an inconsistent yet wonderful collection of songs that switch from country to blues and straightforward rock with even a bit of bluegrass included for good measure. Contrast the rocking opening title track with the rockabilly 40 Days and the dreamy ballad Desire (harmony vocals by Jill Andrews). 

What is not in doubt is Contreras ability to pen a collection of great songs whatever classification which is more than borne out here.

Bob Bradshaw Whatever You Wanted Fluke

Working as a journalist and short story writer in Ireland, Bob Bradshaw, like many other young men in the mid 80’s, decided to seek employment and fulfilment away from Ireland. In 1985 he got a job as resident singer in a bar in Lagos, Portugal. Rather than return to Ireland Bradshaw then headed for Germany, living in Hamburg and Munich, sometimes sleeping in hostels though more often in a sleeping bag at a train station. His migratory lifestyle continued with spells in Spain and Sweden before acquiring a green card in 1989 and moving to the South Bronx where he worked at various jobs including doorman, roofer, landscaper and furniture mover. A further relocation to San Francisco followed where he formed the band Resident Aliens with fellow singer songwriter Scoop Mc Guire. They recorded two albums before Bradshaw, by now married, moved to Boston where he played bars solo again for a living. While in Boston he applied, as a mature student, for entry to the Berklee College of Music, surprising himself when he was accepted into the college. He applied himself judiciously at Berklee , studying song structure, timing and harmony together with courses in song writing and graduating in 2009.

Following his graduation three albums have been released including the very impressive Whatever You Want, a collection of twelve well-crafted songs that not only appear to benefit in structure from his formal training but from his life’s experiences over the past three decades in general.

The first three tracks alone revisit Bradshaw’s life travels, the brutal break up title track Whatever You Wanted has a fluent Celtic feel, Crazy Heart has a woozy shimmering Latin sound and the first track The Start Of Nothin’ starts with the lyrics "I was a young boy runnin’, My shoes a blur, I had something to tell you, Didn’t know where you were" a possible reference to the young man leaving Ireland unsure of what road he should follow.

Go Get Along is melodic country ragtime, sang as a duet with Annalise Emerick and the album closes in style with the Randy Newman sounding The Long Ride Home with Bradshaw’s vocal up front alongside some beautiful piano playing and lap steel in the background. 

Co-produced with the aid of his long-time friend and former band member Scoop Mc Guire, who also plays bass, the album was recorded at Dimension Sound Studios, Jamaica Plain, MA. It may have taken over thirty years for Bradshaw to release a body of work as impressive as this but it’s an album that he can justifiably feel proud of.

Bill Johnson Cold Outside Oxborough

Bill Johnson has been a stalwart of the Canadian blues music scene for many years as a guitarist with numerous blues bands, fronting his own band and playing solo. He has opened for household names such as Otis Rush, Dr.John and James Cotton. Cold Outside, his forth release, follows his 2010 recording Still Blue, which received a Juno nomination together with three nominations by the Toronto Blues Society. It’s likely that this offering will receive equally positive plaudits. It consists of eleven tracks all written by Johnson, all blues based but coming from different directions. The splendid title track, with a semi spoken lyric, is a harrowing tale of death and destitution, enriched by some wonderfully atmospheric guitar playing by Johnson. My Natural Ability is BB King sounding blues heaven with bubbling guitar touches and wicked piano playing by Darcy Phillips. Makes A Fella Nervous, similar to quite a lot of the recordings has a ‘live’ sound to it, the listener could be sitting on a high stool in a barroom listening to a top notch blues band. 

Johnson together with drummer Joby Baker produced the album at Baker’s own studio in Victoria BC. Rick Erickson plays bass, Darcy Phillips adds piano and organ and both Ross Hall and David Best play drums and piano respectively on three tracks.

Dan Stevens Angels In The Sand Gatorbone

Gulfport, Florida resident Dan Stevens spent over thirty years playing in various rock bands such as Apathy, Cottonmouth & Groove Moon to name a few, before concentrating more on his singer songwriter skills.

Angels In The Sand is his forth solo album release and the thirteen tracks contain a variety of styles ranging from the Warren Zevon sounding title track, the UK folky vibe of both Deep Blue Mystery and Just A Carpenter and the more rocky and electronic The Ghosts of Time and I’m Already There.

Produced by Stevens and Gatorbone records and engineered by Lon Williamson and Jason Thomas, the album features a collection of musicians including Elisabeth Williamson (guitar), Lon Williamson (bass), Gabe Valla (guitar), Jason Thomas (fiddle) and Tai Welch (percussion).

Darin and Brooke Aldridge Faster and Farther Mountain Home 

Twenty-four months after the release of the critically acclaimed Snapshots, husband and wife Bluegrass duo Darin and Brooke Aldridge appear to have set the bar even higher with Faster and Farther, the sixth album release on the Mountain Home Music Label. An indication of their current standing in modern Bluegrass circles are the inclusion of iconic artists such as Vince Gill and Pat Flynn in the recordings. Gill contributes vocals to Highway of Heartache and Mountains in Mississippi, while three songs written by Flynn (Lila, Cumberland Plateau and Kingdom Come) appear on the album with Flynn also playing guitar on two of the tracks. 

An act that regularly feature at the business end of the Gospel, Bluegrass and Americana/Roots charts, the duo journey comfortably between traditional bluegrass, roots and gospel on Faster and Farther.

Their formula is quite simple, well-chosen and arranged songs and technically outstanding playing. However, the ingredient that makes the whole package gel is the vocal capability of Brooke Aldridge, whose exquisite voice would effortlessly grace any musical genre.

The album is certainly evidence of this with tracks such as Mountains in Mississippi, Lila and This River, with Darin taking lead vocal, of a standard that would not be out of place on any Alison Krauss and Union Station album.

Kingdom Come, the opening track, takes less than twenty seconds to put the listener on notice of whats to follow with a belting mandolin, guitar and fiddle intro before Brooke’s powerful vocal kicks in. 

Fit For A King is country gospel at its finest with Brooke’s vocal aided in no small measure by gorgeous harmony vocals courtesy of Charli Robertson of Flatt Lonesome. Heaven Just Got Sweeter For You closes the album in style with the focus on the duo’s harmonies with mandolin, guitar and acoustic bass adding the perfect background. 

Altogether a hugely impressive effort sitting comfortably at the crossroads between bluegrass, country and folk.  Beautifully punctuated by powerhouse vocals of Darin and Brooke and in no small measure by their band Tyler Collins (banjo, dobro, guitar), Tim Surrett (acoustic bass), Shay Cobb (fiddle) and their guests Vince Gill, Pat Flynn, John Cowan, Charli Robertson, Barry Bales ( in the band?) and Carley Arrowood. The album was produced by the duo and recorded at Crossroads Studios, Arden, North Carolina with recording engineers Van Atkins and Scott Barnett

The album cover depicts the couple on an airport runway alongside a jet possibly suggesting from the album title that this talented couple are on a forward journey to spread and share their wonderful talents and intend doing so at speed. Safe travels indeed!

Friday
Dec302016

Review of the Year 

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