Monday
Aug222016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Travis Green A Little Too Late - Self Release

A blend of blues, country and rock from Austin-based singer songwriter Travis Green. The inspiration for many of the songs can be traced back to Green’s exposure as a young man to artists such as Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters yet the album also has nods towards Nashville.

Recorded in Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California the album features a host of renowned West Coast session players including Norwegian Kid Anderson, who produced and mixed the album together with contributing guitar. Other musicians include Randy Bermudes (bass), Jim Pugh (keyboards), Jason Hansen (drums), Nancy Wright (saxophone), Lisa Leuschner Anderson and Courtney Knott (vocals). 

The title track kicks the album off in fine style, a tale of lost love delivered in a country/rockabilly style and features some wonderful guitar licks by Anderson. Everybody Knows maintains a similar lyric theme of relationships going south ("Everybody Know you’re a bitch at heart"). Keep You Off My Mind has a lovely Dave Edmunds rockabilly feel. Damage Done could be drawn from the Dolly Parton songbook having a melody not a million miles away from Jolene. Caroline bounces along with ripping saxophone by Nancy Wright and pulsating keyboards by Jim Pugh dominating.

Very impressive album and a particularly easy and rewarding listen.

Locust Honey String Band Never Let Me Cross Your Mind – Self Release

Delightful rootsy Americana offering from the Nashville based bluegrass band. Originally from North Carolina, Locust Honey String Band celebrate traditional Southern music, intelligently mixing fiddle/banjo duets with heavenly harmonies and old time honky tonk.

Locust Honey String Band consists of Chloe Edmonstone (vocals, fiddle, guitar) and Meredith Watson (vocals, guitar). Hilary Hawke and Ariel Dixon play banjo on the album with bass duties carried out by Andy Deaver Edmonstone. 

Fourteen tracks in total including three originals credited to Chloe Edmonstone, two Carter Family songs (Lonesome Song, Righten That Wrong) and a fine execution of Nick Cave’s Henry Lee. Immaculate harmonies and elegant playing throughout combine to get the old boots stomping throughout this timeless offering.

Steve Dawson Solid States and Loose Ends – Black Hen Music

More often named on the inner sleeve of albums rather than the cover, Juno Award Winning producer, session player, multi-instrumentalist and solo artist Steve Dawson is one of the most respected artists on the Nashville music scene at present.

Solid States and Loose Ends is the eight studio album recorded by the Vancouver born Dawson and includes contributions by many of the artists that he has regularly worked with over the years. Regina and Ann Mc Crary add backing vocals, Fats Kaplin plays fiddle, Jim Hoke contributes saxophone and Gary Craig plays drums, to name a few.

Ten of the fourteen songs are penned by Dawson, a pulsating version of Joe Tex’s You Got What It Takes is also included together with the traditional Delia and Riley Puckett’s Monkey On My Back.

Dawson plays electric and acoustic guitar, steel guitar, chamberlain, mandotar and Weissenborn combined with a relaxed and effective vocal style throughout. Gid Tanner and The Skillet Lickers Henhouse Door (ironically Dawson’s recording studio is called Henhouse Studio) is the final cover, recorded acoustically with sublime slide guitar by Dawson. 

In contrast to his solo acoustic instrumental 2014 recording Rattlesnake Cage his latest album explores a much wider musical landscape embracing gospel, blues, country and beyond. As would be expected the production is immaculate throughout and strong comparisons could be made with the late 70’s early 80’s output of Ry Cooder. Loose Ends opens the album in style, a full rich bluesy sound with delightful backing vocals by the Mc Crary sisters. So much to savour on the album from the pulsating Driver’s Wheel, showcasing the wonderful fiddle playing of Fats Katlin to the laid back California Saviour which includes sweet steel guitar by Dawson.

All in all, a wonderful bluesy Americana album immaculately produced with masterful playing throughout. 

Rupert Wates Colorado Mornings (True Love Songs) – Bite Music

Eight solo recording from the London-born singer songwriter Rupert Wates. A professional songwriter since the late 1990’s when he was contracted by Eaton Music Limited to write music for a variety of musicians crossing a number of genres from folk right through to blues, Wates is very much a touring artist playing over 120 shows annually.

Dividing his time between New York and Colorado his latest offering is a collection of love songs based on the travels of two lovers through the state of Colorado in times long gone by. Understandably the album has quite a British Folk sound to it (The Green and Goody Valley) but also embraces jazz (Motorbike of Midnight Blue) and traditional folk.

The packaging and artwork on the album are delightful, striking photography depicting Wates and partner suitably clad in turn-of-the-century period costumes.

The Southern Fold A True Ascension from the Wayward Path – Self Release

The Southern Fold have been earning quite a reputation on the local live music circuit over the past eighteen months, well justified on the basis of this very impressive six track mini album.

The band is the brainchild of Kilkenny based singer songwriter Emlyn Holden and co-singer Laura Hand. They are joined by recent recruits Joe Maher (The Mariannes) on guitar and Frieda Freytag (Fox Owl Crow) on cello and piano. Recorded at Crossroads Recording in Kilkenny the album features four self writes by Holden, the most powerful being Romance in Morphine and Home From The War, together with two covers (Farther Along by Baxter/Stevens and Ledbetter’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night?).

The shared vocals and harmonies by Holden and Hand are the highlight of the album, no more so than on the aforementioned WWhere Did You Sleep Last Night?

The Southern Fold are one of an endless number of bands mixing country, folk and blues at present. I get the impression, listening to this album, that they have the potential to make a much more lasting impression than most. Credit must also go to Lorita Preiano for the beautiful cover photograph on the album.

Auburn Love & Promises – Scarlet Records

Originally formed by Liz Lenten in the UK back in 1999 Auburn recorded two very well received EP’S (Sweet Sebastian and For Life) before the release of their debut album Dreams in 2003.

They disbanded in 2005, regrouped in 2011 and have been particularly productive since then. Following a tour of the UK supporting Jefferson Starship they gained considerable industry acclaim with the release of their 2013 album Indian Summer which included a host of renowned guesting musicians including Eliza Carthy and Laura Vane. 

On a creative roll, the band followed in 2014 with Nashville, which explored country, jazz and southern blues and twelve months later released Mixed Feeling’s both produced by Thomm Jutz (Todd Snider, Sid Griffin, Nanci Griffith, and Lynn Marie Rink).

Love & Promises sees Auburn sticking with the same winning formula that worked on the previous album with Jutz again producing and contributing guitar, Jen Gunderman of Jayhawks fame on keyboards and accordion, Evan Hutchings on drums and Mark Fain on bass. Notwithstanding the excellent musicianship throughout its Lenten’s distinctive and sometimes strained vocals which standout on what is most likely the strongest work the band have recorded.

Probably the album’s standout track is the opener Asleep, with a nod towards Bonnie Raitt. Cross The Deep Atlantic features shared vocals with Austin based singer-songwriter Chet O’Keefe and If Everyone Was Listening simply cruises along beautifully.

The thirteen tracks on the album were produced by Jutz and mastered by Alex Mc Collough in Nashville with all songs written by Lenten with the exception of If Everyone Was Listening which was co-written with Mark Gustavina.

Without doubt well worth investing some time enjoying this very good album

Al Rose Spin Spin Dizzy – Self Release

"I’m a lazy fuck, a dedicated schmuch. I kick right back and I bank on luck" announces Al Rose in a Crazy Horse moment midway through his seventh studio release.

It’s business as usual from the Chicago resident. No frills blend of high octane country blues featuring Rose on electric and acoustic guitars accompanied by Steve Doyle on guitar, Steve Hashimoto on bass, and Lance Helgeson at the drum kit. Worse Came to Worse (I Feel Alright) simply rocks along, the title track Spin Spin Dizzy is gloriously bluesy and like much of the album sounds like a live recording.

It’s not all a hundred miles an hour though and Rose is more than capable of penning cry in your beer material as demonstrated with the delightful ballad Sweet Bouquet.

A satisfying blend of rock, roots, soul and no little humour, well worth a spin.

Blue Moon Marquee Gypsy Blues – Self Released

Forth offering from Rocky Mountain blues duo A.W.Cardinal and Jasmine Colette who perform as Blue Moon Marquee. It’s high energy, no frills blues from the opener Trickster Coyote to the closing title track. With all twelve songs written by the duo, Gypsy Blues does not attempt to reinvent the wheel but simply deliver a raw and retro sound covering expected themes of poverty, lost love, whiskey, loose and fearless women. The album was recorded at Afterlife Studios, Vancouver and engineered by Erik Nielson.

Monday
Aug152016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Al Scorch Circle Round The Signs Bloodshot

This latest release from Al Scorch and his Country Soul Ensemble highlights a growing confidence and awareness of how best to develop his raw talent. Although there are nine players listed in the Ensemble many of the tracks are based on a smaller, tighter unit led by Scorch’s ever present banjo picking and strumming. He is a writer of songs that often focus on the kind of subjects that would be equally as appropriate for a raging punk band as for his current line-up. However there are equally moments that touch on more personal and individual stories. 

Poverty Draft is an example of a song that shows an understanding of the plight of the misfortunes of his fellow man. Scorch’s music is rooted in that sense of affinity and awareness of how society can often become something less than caring. However throughout the ten songs Scorch and band make sure that the music is never bleak or hard work. From the first bars of Pennsylvania Turnpike the banjo drives the energy and heart of the music in a way that is both powerful and affecting. Alongside the faster songs are a bunch of mid-tempo songs that are full of atmosphere - like the Lost At Sea a song that deals, as the title suggests, with a potential loss at sea. Insomnia is about that state of sleeplessness due to a particular predicament and not wanting to be an unrecognised cog in a machine. Lonesome Low is his take on rising above a sense of inertia but it does so with a strong sense of purpose and thinking about the things that can bring you down. How sometimes that innocence can bring that will often alleviate such attitudes. Woody Guthrie's song Slipknot ("Have you ever seen a hangman tie a slipknot”) fits the overall mood perfectly, as does the aforementioned Insomnia written by Gaylen Mohre.

Al Scorch co-produced the album with Neil Strauch in his native Chicago which makes Bloodshot the perfect label to bring this music to the world as it is indeed an extension of the insurgent country that the label introduced to the world back when they started releasing albums. A previous album was recorded live at The Spirit Store in Dundalk, Ireland so it is easy to see that while this album is dedicated to friends and family and the city of Chicago its music will fit in and work just as well in any location that takes good music to its heart. 

Western Centuries Weight Of The World Free Dirt

Cahalen Morrison’s last album The Flower Of Muscle Shoals was a damn good one. It was self-produced by Morrison and recorded with hi, then band, Country Hammer. Now he is back as a member of Western Centuries who also include guitarist and vocalist Jim Miller who survives from the previous line up. The band name is perhaps more fitting as both handle writing and the lead vocals duties. Not forgetting drummer Ethan Lawton who also takes the lead on the three songs he wrote. This gives the band some vocal diversity and some different writing perspectives from within its' ranks.

The songs largely look at the lives of those who struggle with a variety of personal and pertinent issues. Each vocalist has a distinctive but equally real voice. Lawson songs Double Or Nothing, In My Cups and Off The Shelf are largely songs that seek the upside of love despite its many travails. Miller views are not far behind in his songs Knocking ‘Em Down, The Long Game and Rock Salt (written with Morrison). Morrison, like his band mates, channels the disappointments as well as hopes that life tend to provide as fodder for the gifted songwriter. There is outright heartbreak in the pedal steel weep of Sadder Day, the hard thinking of Philosophers And Fools or the soul searching of Weight Of The World. What Will They Say About Us Now?, Hallucinations, The Old You complete Morrison’s exploration of subject that are lifeblood to real country music.

Of course listeners may well have their favourite vocalist but the album, produced by Bill Reynolds, is a cohesive work that also makes the best use of the harmony skills of all three of the lead vocalists. Alongside the aforementioned trio mention should be made of Rusty Blake on pedal steel and Dan Lowinger on bass as well as the welcome contribution of Rosie Newton on fiddle. Morrison plays electric, acoustic guitars as well as drumming on three tracks. Miller weighs in on acoustic and electric guitars and Lawson also adds occasional guitar as well as playing drums. The end result is twangy and time-shifting country music delivered by true believers that is well off the radar as regards what country radio currently considers fitting for the estranged format. How wrong they are as Weight Of The World testifies. A very fine album and undoubtedly a contender of the best of the year list.

Anders Westin House By The Lake Millhouse

This album emanates from Westin’s native Sweden where he primarily worked as a producer. One who also wrote songs and had a loose affinity for Americana. He was encouraged to make his demos a reality and with the help of a number of musicians who include, prominently, Nicke Widén on pedal steel as well as Peter Korhonen on drums alongside a range of featured instruments including keyboards, violin and Westin’s vocals, guitar and lap steel. 

There is a gentle, relaxed melancholy feel that befits the ambience of the title. There are 9 songs that complete a suite of songs that dovetail into each other. All are written and sung by Westin (with some added harmony vocals) and all are a world away from the frantic pace that a lot of music is delivered in a cluttered world over-filled with music. The songs largely appear to match the title of one of the songs Reminiscence in terms of theme. These are reflections on time and place tp a large degree. One song however, Tom Dowd, is a tribute to the four tack tape pioneer who worked as a producer for Atlantic Records and as pioneer of multi-track recording.

The album opens with Carpenter’s Daughter's Son a song that sets the tone with it’s subtlety and airy grace. It then takes a similar path through to the final song Long Way Back Home. All appear to focus on times and moods of days gone by and past relationships that are mirrored by the equally gauyzed sunshine of the music. Anders Westin did the right thing in getting his music from demo to this admirable destination.

The Western Flyers Wild Blue Yonder Versa-Tone

This guitar, bass and fiddle trio trail the same tries as The Hot Club of Cowtown and would doubtless appeal to a similar audience. In other words very fine musicianship from three acclaimed players who cover an intoxicating blend of western swing, jazz, cowboy songs and old time fiddle tunes. Joey McKenzie is the guitarist and vocalist, Katie Gassman is the fiddler and vocalist and they are completed by Gavin Kelso on upright bass and harmony vocals.

The songs include a slew off standards Along The Navajo Trail, I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter, Tennessee Waltz, Old Fashioned Love and I’ll See You In My Dreams. So in the end Western Flyer aren’t the first and won’t be the last to take on the mantle of this music but the trio play the songs and instrumentals with such skill and love that there will always be room for performers dedicated to the revival and revitalising of any musical form that deserves to be heard outside the confines of memories and old releases or compilations.

Marty Stuart appears to think so too afrom his endorsement on the inner sleeve. The gender balance of the two vocalists works well giving different viewpoints to the songs while the instrumentals highlight the trio playing dexterity. Giving much to consider when you look into the wild blue yonder.

Freakwater Scheherazade Bloodshot

First album in some time from the band led by the duo of Catherine Ann Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean. They released their self-titled debut album back in 1989. This time out they are joined by some ten other musicians this time out which gives their distinctive dark take on their particular blend of alternative country influences and sonic experimentation an added dimension that is at times akin to a (Nick) Cave-ian echo.

The writing and vocal delivery is largely split between the two. They have taken their specific sound and added layers of sonic exploration that takes their deeply rooted Carter Family sound into the contemporary arena. Some of the songs are relatively stripped down while others are shrouded in soundscapes that are a mix of diverse instrumentation from Moog to mandola, from banjo and bass to wah-wah guitar.  

The lyrics take on the more sinister side of life on songs like the opening What People Want which deals in rape and murder. The Asp and The Albatross tells of betrayal or Skinny Knee Bone which considers the fortunes of chance, of taking the opportunity to “bet it all on black.” Suffice it say that those acquainted with the music that Freakwater have made since their inception will hear a development of that distinctive voice. One centred around the voices and songs of Irwin and Bean (and their accomplices) which have variously been described as Southern and Appalachian Gothic as well as old-time country. These influences are undoubtedly a factor in the make-up of the music but as Scheherazade clearly shows Freakwater are not a band who are afraid to experiment and move forward by incorporating a myriad of sounds alongside more traditional sources. 

The end result works on many levels and stands alongside, if not above, any of their previous albums. Scheherazade makes for some compellingly haunted and haunting music that should please those who have listened in the past or those who are stepping into the water for the first time.

The Flyin’ A’s You Drive Me Crazy Self Release

This husband and wife duo describe their music as Americana with Texas grit which is not a bad summation of what they do. What makes the album that bit special is, along with the duo’s strong vocal and writing input, the solid production of veteran player and producer Chris Gage. He is credited here also with a variety of guitars, keyboards and harmony vocals. Anyone who caught him here in Dublin playing with Jimmie Dale Gilmore will need no convincing of his abundant talent on all three. Not to take away from Hilary Claire Adamson and Stuart Adamson vital contribution on vocals with the latter on acoustic and electric guitars too. Both contribute songs either written solo, together or co-written with the likes of John Ims and Steve Brooks. 

There are a couple of other songwriters involved too with Billy Edd Wheeler’s Blistered, Claude Butch Morgan’s Mr. Blue and Ims’ The Other Side Of Lonely - all strong songs that fit in with the overall rootsy-sounding delivery that is emphasised by the inclusion of some of Austin’s favourites players. Names know to those who scan the credits on many an Austin album will be Paul Pearcy, Glenn Fukunaga and Lloyd Maines. But back to the focus of the album, Stuart sings with conviction on the stripped back song Blood And Bone that wrestles with the notion of a less than honest relationship. There's a slightly more positive attitude expressed in Ims’ The Other Side Of Lonely, a steel guitar infused ballad of stepping out from behind darker days and moving on. Hilary Claire gives a strong vocal on the more jazzy blues of Mr. Blue. In truth both are adept in the vocal deliveries with handling the lead vocals or harmonising together.

Roadwork Ahead is a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of living together and maintaining a working relationship - on the road and off. As the title and some of the ad-libbed comments at the end of the song suggest making music as a duo is not always as easy as it might seems however good natured the banter is. What matters to the listener is that the music here holds the attention and it does that with a nice mix of moods, tempos and styles that would fit their description of their music. The album closes with Wild Texas Wind a plea for redemption “Wild Texas wind, won’t you heal me from within.” That wind has the Flyin’ A’s riding high.

Monday
Aug082016

Reviews by Paul McGee

Tony McLoughlin & Marlon Klein Where Is Jack? - Fuego 2634

This duo come together for a release that leans heavily on a roots rock formula to deliver 11 songs of atmospheric moods. Nine of the tracks are co-writes by Klein and McLoughlin and with production by Klein, in addition to playing drums, percussion and keyboards, his influence is very present on this project. On previous releases McLoughlin has used fellow Irish musician Ben Reel on co-production and the change of direction supplied by Marlon Klein brings a new edge to the song arrangements.

There is a moody atmosphere to the tracks Another Poor Rider and Eagle Eye which open the record and bring a rhythm that is both restrained and powerful. Only You comes out of the traps with a real driving beat and Heart of Darkness changes the mood completely with a samba-base to the beat that underpins some atmospheric guitar work.

The closing track Red Light Love has a Spanish cantina influence that is gently delivered against the more robust tracks that precede it. There is an ill-conceived song Bomb-maker which is very poorly timed, given the world pulse of terrorism at present, but that glaring slip apart, this is a solid release with fine performances and an interesting production.

Buford Pope The Poem & the Rose - Unchained

A Swedish artist with 4 previous releases, Buford Pope has delivered this 12 song project with some real style and confidence. His last release, Sticks in the Throat, was a rock oriented collection of songs that contained plenty of guitar heroics and hard edged driving rhythm.

So, it is a surprise to encounter this change of direction that reflects a laid back, Band/early Eagles influenced style of country music. It is a very wise decision, based on the quality of playing and writing on this release, with the combined talents of producer Amir Aly, who also plays an impressive range of instruments, joined by Mats Bengtsson on piano & accordion, Peter Andersson on pedal steel, Filip Runesson on fiddle and Mattias Pederson on drums.

Anna Liljeborg adds great colour on harmony vocals, never more striking than on the excellent My Heart Don’t Lie, that channels Levon Helm and the Band in an eerie-but-good fashion. The production is crisp and clear with the quality of the playing given plenty of room to breathe. The fiddle and pedal steel support the song arrangements beautifully, especially on All I Took Was You.

The music and lyrics are credited entirely to Buford Pope and his vocals, guitar, banjo, dobro and harmonica skills are impressive throughout. This is a fully realised project with not a weak track present. The playing skills of co-producer Amir Aly on acoustic & electric guitars, mandolin, bass, percussion & vocals adds much to the overall feel of the arrangements.

Songs such as At the End of the Week, I Light Up a Candle and If Ties Don’t Bind are particularly striking but it seems churlish to select particular tracks ahead of others. All I can say is go out and buy this collection. My favourite release of 2016 – so far…

California Feetwarmers Silver Seas - Shepheard’s

The California Feetwarmers are Based in Los Angeles, and play a heady mix of Ragtime, early swing and Dixieland Blues. Put yourself in prohibition times with a sharp suit, a fedora and a speakeasy playing the vibrant music of the times and you are right in the essence of this record.

With old classics revisited and material from The Blue Ridge Playboys, Scott Joplin, The Memphis Jugband and Emile Grimshaw’s Rag Pickers, the quality just flows effortlessly. This release was recorded live in Los Angeles at the Kingsize Soundlab and the 13 tracks really bounce out of the speakers with a groove and attitude that is irrestible.

Keb’ Mo’ used these musicians as the backing band for his latest album, Blues Americana. The collaboration won them a Grammy-nomination in the Best American Roots Performance category.

Six of the tracks here are originals with The Breeze That Brought Me Home, Wooden Nickel and Betty Brown standing alongside old standards like Scott Joplin’s Weeping Willow and At the Jazz Band Ball by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1917. Old time vaudeville and a heady mix of good time tunes.

Meschiya Lake & the Little Big Horns Bad Kids Club Continental Coast

Joining the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow and End of the World Circus – a ragtag traveling troupe that blended traditional circus arts with modern sideshow entertainment –gave Meschiya Lake all the tools that she needed for a life in front of the spotlight.

In 2007 she began singing with the Loose Marbles, a traditional jazz outfit on Royal Street, New Orleans before going on to create The Little Big Horns Jazz Band. Lake was recognized as Female Performer of the Year three years running at the Big Easy Awards and the Little Big Horns’ debut CD, Lucky Devil, appeared in 2010, followed by Fooler’s Gold in 2013, before the release of this offering.

If your tastes lie in the area of slightly twisted trad jazz, Prohibition era, New Orleans swing, old time rag, barrelhouse fun, or anything in-between then this is the perfect Saturday Night record for you. Full of the swing and swoon of all great jazz-groove vibrations, this release really kicks ass – tracks like 24 Robbers, Flim Flam Man, and the slow burn of Hey Mary Wanna show the true range of talent on display here, while the sassy delivery of You Ain’t Woman Enough is given the right combination of attitude and defiance.

There are 14 tracks included here and they all bounce around the room with attitude - Highly recommended. 

Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the Slap Ya Mama Big Band I Heard the Voice of a Donut - Little Paradise

Based in Bristol, U.K. and sounding like the best of New Orleans ragtime and swing, this 7-piece band has a lot of personality and talent. There are elements of many different influences, from Hokum, Jazz, Hillbilly Country and western Swing. The slap ya mama big band are a colour-box of street sounds across the 12 tracks included on this debut release. Most of the band share vocal duties and with a line-up that includes April Jackson (Washboard & Vocals), Marc Griffiths (Guitar, Banjo & Vocals), Becca Philip (Guitar & Vocals), Mark Legassick (Mandolin & Vocals), Henry Slim (Harmonica & Vocals), Mandrake Fantastico ( Double Bass) and AJ Murdoch (Drums), the arrangements are delivered with much energy and dextrous playing. Their infectious sound is quite compelling and you would never know that the musicians are all based in this current century and located far away from the original influences of this vibrant music.

Tracks like One Daddy, The Whiskey Tastes Too Good, Take Jesus On a Date and Boxcar Date are guaranteed to get anybody up and dancing around their furniture. All songs appear to be original compositions although the sleeve notes don’t confirm this and the co-production between the band and Ben Capp is perfectly pitched to highlight the tight-knit playing and harmony singing. An impressive debut and augers well for a future that will grow in a positive direction.

Jenai Huff Color Wheel - Self Release

If there were a category to place this sublime artist into then it would be Jazz-Folk. The wonderfully crafted 9 songs included here are a real joy and the atmosphere created by the production is one of quiet calm and a confident maturity. This artist released her debut album in 2013 with Translations and her soulful voice, reflective words and subtle song arrangements give her craft an immediacy that cannot be underestimated.

Currently living in New York City she has surrounded herself with a small group of special musicians with Ben Wisch (producer, piano and keyboards), Eugene Ruffolo (acoustic guitar and background vocals), George Naha (electric guitar), Zev Katz(upright and electric bass),  Chris Marshak (drums and percussion) and Jonathan Preddice (cello).

A cover version of the Marvin Gaye classic What’s Going On is beautifully delivered and apart from one other cover which is a version of Old Man (Bryan MacLean), the Love classic song from Forever Changes album  the effect is that of being in the presence of a skilled, sensitive artist who is in total control of her place in the creative firmament. Think Joni Mitchell and add a little blend of understated, restrained, classy midnight soul. One of the best releases this year.

Cliff Howard Spiritual Town - Self Release

A blend of Americana, blues, and country music feature on this debut album by British singer songwriter Cliff Howard. Originally from London and now living in rural North Wales. Twelve songs written by the artist who also produced the record, the vocal mix is somewhat flat and does not add much colour to these tracks. The playing is brighter and the saxophone on a few songs, Columbus Avenue (David Carmichael) and Spiritual Town (Jamie Baxter) are highlights. This would seem to be the direction that this artist should concentrate upon going forward as his wish to gain a foothold in Country music circles seems to be somewhat difficult. Flood Street Blues has a nice lazy guitar groove running through it and Waiting for the Dream has a Neil Young flavoured tempo but never breaks out into a full-on guitar crescendo. Contemporary music that could do with a sense of direction really.

Tia McGraff Crazy Beautiful - Bandana

Port Dover, Ontario, Canada is the place where we can find the talented Tia McGraff. With 6 releases in her career she has earned respect and a growing fan base. This collection was released in 2015 and is produced by her husband, Tommy Parham, who also plays guitar on all 13 songs here.

Recorded in different locations, Ontario, Austin and Nashville, the continuity does not suffer despite the large number of studio musicians used. The country strum of Mesa Gold is underpinned with some subtle fiddle and mandolin while Nineteen recalls a Bob Seger track with its’ look back at youthful innocence and has a guitar driven arrangement that builds nicely. Long Ride Home sings of lessons learned and displays a reflective maturity ("every dreamer pays a price").

The title track is a challenge to those who do not embrace risk and take chances in life – "a story is waiting to unfold; make yours the greatest ever told". All songs are written by Tia and Tommy Parham and the sweet vocals carry them along to a happy conclusion with the Gospel tinged Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. A fine collection of songs and worth investigating. 

The Robert Bobby Duo Folk Art - Self release

Quirky, different and full of inventive song-writing, this release by Robert Bobby is Folk music taken in a new direction and given a fresh coat of paint. Forget the self-emotive songwriter who wears his heart on his sleeve and sings of worthy causes. What we have here is the healthy sense of irony that Robert Bobby brings to the table.

Explaining God’s grand plan in the opening song, Constantly Tweaking, we are given the image of him needing a wife to put things straight in the World.  Another song, God Couldn’t Wait speaks of ‘If God is everywhere, then He’s spread too thin’. A sense of humour is never far away and the true meaning of Mason Dixon Line is very naughty indeed.

His expressive voice is given great spotlight with I Wish It Would Rain and My Baby Loves Her Man. With 4 previous releases we are dealing with someone who knows his way around a studio and the ability to cover different musical styles is captured with the blues swing of Blue Chevrolet and the folk strum of Too Much Time. With Mrs Bobby on bass and a small group of other musicians who fill out the songs, this is an interesting release that is suitably different.

Fallon Cush Bee in Your Bonnet - Lightly Toasted

Fallon Cush is the performance vehicle for songwriter Steve Smith, a Sydney musician who has released 2 previous albums. This release sees Glen Hannah (guitars), Scott Aplin (keyboards) and Josh Schuberth (bass, drums) joining Smith and producer Chris Vallejo for 10 songs that are full of great melody and pop driven arrangements.

Think Tom Petty crossed with Crowded House and you get some idea of the groove and rhythm that plays out here. With backing vocals supplied by Suzy Goodwin and Stephanie Grace, the tracks really bounce along and the impressive Kings Ransom is followed by Useless Friend with some fine swirling keyboards and sweet guitar breaks.

A rich production sound dominates throughout, perfectly illustrated by the sassy sparkle of Dorothy, all jangling guitars and warm keyboards. The dynamic of the title track with its’ slow beat and melancholy vocal is a highlight and the concluding song Biggest Show is a reflective look at a lost relationship, complete with swooning background vocals and a sweet melodic arrangement.

Ben Kunder Golden - Self Release

A Canadian singer-songwriter who hails from Toronto and has arrived with this debut release. Co-produced by Kunder and John Dinsmore, the sound is very warm with a mellow atmosphere across the 9 tracks. The musicians on these original songs are all very talented players and compliment the reflective vocals of Kunder with very laid-back and comfortable accompaniment.

Half Moon lifts the pace a little with a good beat and chiming electric guitar while Bags & Barrels highlights the restrained acoustic playing of the ensemble. In singing about relationships it is difficult to separate out from the throng of artists that have already covered such subject matter but songs like Don’t Dance with the distinctive clear vocal tone of Kunder linger long enough to leave an impression of real quality. As debut releases go, the songs here give encouragement for ongoing success.     

King of the Tramps Cumplir con ei Diablo - Self Release

King Of The Tramps (KOTT) is a roots-rock group, based in the Midwestern state of Iowa. The band includes Todd Partridge on Guitar and vocals, Justin Snyder on Guitar and Mandolin, Adam Audlehelm on Keyboards and Percussion, Ryan Aum on Drums and Ryan McAlister on Bass and Backing Vocals.

The band has released three albums prior to this and their sound has been described as "Whiskey Gospel" with influences from roots rock to rhythm and blues. They channel the Stones, circa Sticky Fingers era, together with a healthy dose of the Black Crowes, paired up with Lynyrd Skynyrd. The 10 tracks here are played with great belief and energy and the band sound is complimented by additional players on trumpet, saxophone, tambourine and acoustic guitar.

The gospel tinged That’s How It Goes is balanced against the rocking opener, See You On the Other Side. A swipe at Nashville and the less than welcoming music machine is the target of Nashville Line, while the bar-room blues of Airplane Bottles is a rant against authority. James Brown is a tribute to the great man which is played with swagger before the driving beat of Depression takes things in a completely different direction. Old Crow veers close to Country while closer ’89 Cutlass is a slow, 6-minute plus, acoustic blues strum.  

An enjoyable listen and worth your attention if you like roots rock with attitude and a little bit of soulful blues added to the mix.

Saturday
Jul302016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

 

Lilly Hiatt Royal Blue Normaltown

It’s never easy for an artist to have a famed musician as a parent and Lilly Hiatt is no exception. The daughter of acclaimed singer songwriter John Hiatt has just released her second album Royal Blue some four years after she recorded her splendid debut album Let It Down. 

Let it Down was a welcomed introduction to Hiatt, her frail yet seductive vocal working its way through well written songs and slotting nicely into a country/bluesy sound though also prepared to rock out from time to time.

Royal Blue is more suggestive of turbulent times and encounters, feeling the pain of others, break ups and make ups, all delivered with no end of passion by a young lady that seems to be saying ‘not going to be messed around with anymore’. 

It’s unbalanced in a quite delightful way. Contrast the addictive, comical yet biting Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant (surely a contender for song title of the year!) with the sombre heart-breaking Worth It, a song that would compete with any number of vitriolic works penned by Aimee Mann.

Machine positively thunders along reflecting wild teenage years (“Learned To Mix A Drink A 11 Years, Learned To Keep ‘Em Sorry With Them Fake Pearl Tears’”), the title track Royal Blue is confessional, honest and hopeful (“What A Nice Night To Know, I Wanna Let Go, What Would A Good Woman Do? And Write a Song or Two”)

Engineered and produced by Adam Landry (Deertick, Diamond Rugs) at Playground Sound Nashville the album features a host of East Nashville finest including her regular guitarist Beth Finney, Luke Schneider (Margo Price, The Banditos, William Tyler) on pedal steel, John Radford (Steelism, Tim Easton, Drew Holcomb, Greg Hager) on drums and Jake Bradley (Bill Mallonee, Scott Chism) on bass.

All in all, a stunning piece of work by an artist capable of communicating her anger, sorrow, vulnerability, hurt and strength in such an articulate manner.

Glenna Bell Lone Star Songs and Stories Straight from the Heart of Texas  Self Released

Fifth self-released album from Texan Glenna Bell. Lone Star Songs from the Heart of Texas featuring nine tracks produced by Mark Abernathy and recorded at Sugar Hill Studious in Houston, Sea Fog Studio in East Sussex UK and The Finishing School in Austin.

As you might expect from a graduate of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program the song writing throughout the seven original songs by Bell is evocative, full on expression yet simple and very much from the heart.

Originals Pig in Lipstick Blues features Johnny Nicholas (Asleep at The Wheel) on piano and George Reiff (Joe Walsh) on bass. The autobiographical Poor Girl (In Blue) and Shiner Bock & ZZ Top are delivered semi-spoken by Bell similar in style to Minton Sparks. 

Somewhat surprisingly the two covers on the album include Everybody’s Changing by Britpop band Keane, not an obvious choice for a Texan singer- songwriter and a spirited delivery of Don Henley’s Heart of the Matter.

Lazy Afternoon Whatever Artache

Thirteen track debut from Swedish Roots band Lazy Afternoon. It’s an uncomplicated, fun all the way listen by a group of accomplished musicians. Tex-Mex in style generally - with The Mavericks stamp on much of the material. 

Founding member Bo Ahlbertz toured in the 80’s and 90’s with Westerness and Patrask, both bands playing Irish and Scottish inspired folk music. He formed Lazy Afternoon in 2013 and wrote the majority of songs on the album together with undertaking the production duties. The album was recorded by Anders Nordh on the island of Gotland and released by the Artache label.

Standout tracks are the driving powerhouse Goodbye and Sunday Afternoon. It’s dance music all the way, particularly enhanced by the accordion playing of Jorgen Ahlqvist, by a band that one expects would excel live and brighten up any lazy afternoon.

Love On Drugs I Think I’m Alone Now – Paraply

Love On Drugs, not to be confused with War on Drugs, is the vehicle for the solo career of Thomas Ponten, guitarist and band leader of Swedish Americana band Little Green.

The album is quite short, kicking in at twenty five minutes and consists of eight tracks, six penned by Ponten together with two co-writes. All instruments, with the exception of bass and drums, are played by Ponten who also produced the album.

The albums opens with a brief snatch from the Tiffany chart hit of 1987 I Think We’re Alone Now followed by Ponten’s somewhat remodelled version of the song and the title track of the album. Very immediate and sing along it has to be said. I Wanna Stay Young follows a similar path, upbeat, poppy and very listenable in an uncomplicated way. Blue and Queen Size Bed are more reflective and considered and an indication of Ponten’s song writing ability.

The album is dedicated to his close friend Andreas Johannesson, sadly passed away in 2015, following a tragic accident.

The Lowest Pair Uncertain As It Is Uneven – Team Love

The Lowest Pair were formed in 2013 when Kendl Winter, who had already recorded three solo albums of her own, teamed up with fellow banjo enthusiast Palmer T. Lee, meeting up while both performed in various bands on the Midwestern festival circuit.

The musical marriage was one made in heaven, both being lovers of traditional banjo techniques but also anxious to explore more experimental playing methods to create their own unique sound. Within eight weeks of teaming up they recorded their first album 36 cents with their second recording The Sacred Heart Sessions following less than twelve months later.

In preparation for this album the duo spent the winter of 2015 in Minnesota working with guitar wizard Dave Simonett and bass player Erik Koskine, both renowned members of bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles. They then toured for a few months before returning to Minnesota to complete the recording of the album, using the skills of Simonett and Koskinen to produce and engineer the final product. Having written and accumulated so much material over the twelve-month period they bravely decided to record two albums, not necessarily related, but released simultaneously.

Uncertain As It Is Uneven sees them abandon somewhat the totally banjo dominated sound of their earlier work with the addition of guitar, harmonica, fiddle, bass and lap steel without ever losing that timeless, back porch, earthy, bare boned sound that is their trademark. Vocals are shared, often harmonised, Winter’s wispy feathered high pitched voice complementing the coarse raspy vocal delivery of Lee. 

Opening track, the intimate The Company I Keep is very much Gillian Welch / Dave Rawlings territory, lead vocal taken by Winter with Lee adding backing vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar, banjo. Like I Did Before is stripped back to the duo’s vocals and banjo picking, Mason’s Trowel is more spirited and driven. Pretend It’s True is possibly the most accessible track on the album with a splendid John Prine like melody.

All in all a very impressive listen for those who savour their traditional folk music soaked in country.

Richard Paul Thomas Salado Self Release

Texan based singer songwriter Richard Paul Thomas has been performing for over five decades opening for household names such as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Odetta, Loggins & Messina and Anne Murray in the early days of his career.

For the past three decades Thomas has been combining live performances and recording music with video recording, acting and also the nine to five career job as a business software consultant.

The title track of his latest album refers to the town he has spent the past 32 years and is one of ten songs included in this collection of well written tales that moves effortlessly between folk and jazz tinged rhythm and blues. 

Saturday
Jul162016

Reviews by Paul McGee

 

The Sumner Brothers The Hell in your Mind Self-Release

The sound of siblings Bob and Brian Sumner has been a long time in the making and dates back to their early years in Vancouver, Canada. In the summer of 2006 they changed their garage into a recording studio and created their debut release, In The Garage. It launched a career that has seen the brothers release a self-titled record in 2008, followed by In The Garage 2 (2010) and I’ll Be There Tomorrow (2012).

The media/press that I researched speak of alt-country, folk-roots and indie-country when looking to pin a label on the music. Having never heard of the band before and in the absence of a lyric sheet, I find myself thinking of touchstones like Crash Test Dummies for the quirkier songs and Pearl Jam for the more rock based arrangements. Dare I suggest that the vocals can sometimes sound like Eddie Vedder meets Bono in tone…

There is a dark element running through the eight tracks here and focus on our mortality in songs like Last Night I Got Drunk (death of brother/wife) and I’m Not Ready (not wanting to die alone). Ant Song is the stand-out track with chiming guitars, a military drum beat and throbbing bass lines that propel the song about mental illness and small town reactions.

Giant Song is very tongue-in-cheek and spins a new perspective on the mythical Yeti of the mountain terrain who feeds off young children in order to survive. Go This One Alone is a real band work-out complete with driving rhythm and distorted guitars and a resolve to survive a broken relationship. It Wasn’t All My Fault and Lose Your Mind are both gentle arrangements, with strummed acoustic guitars and even a clarinet, both looking at opposite ends of a relationship; the loss of love and the beginnings of new love.

Ending with a prayer for contentment and peace with one-another, My Dearest Friends sounds as much like a plea for enlightened awareness and replaces some of the darkness that runs through the rest of the recording. The Sumner Brothers are very interesting and I would certainly like to hear more of their music. The production and song structures are very strong and the players all dove-tail together into a tight ensemble. Worth checking out.

Lotus Wight Ode To Banjo Self-Release

Thirteen tunes spanning 46 minutes is a tall ask when all we are given is a small variety of instruments with a common link to the banjo. The notes on the sleeve refer to the African roots of the instrument and the cry of enslaved human beings with homes and families torn apart. In its time the banjo united a common movement of shared suffering before being absorbed into the mainstream of society. Where it began taking a place at the table of ragtime, blues, bluegrass and folk tales from rural communities.

Lotus Wight is a stage name for Sam Allison who produced this collection of tunes and also wrote all the songs. The speciality instruments used sound really impressive, especially when you try to absorb and consider which is a #36 Frostwood Gourd Banjo or indeed an open-back Tubaphone five-string; not to forget a supertone banjo-mando with four strings. I rest my case.

Atmospheric is the key word here as the 13 tunes come and go across the recording. Lotus is a banjo folklorist, bluesman, poet, fiddler, and plays jaw-harps and a contrabass harmoniphoneum (a banjo/megaphone combination).

Most of the tracks are instrumentals and you have to enjoy the sound of a claw-hammer banjo to really embrace the artistry at play here. If you are largely underwhelmed by the instrument and the somewhat brash sound it can make, then you will not have the patience to stay the distance here. Fine musicianship no question but not everybody’s automatic favourite choice – approach with reverence and a sceptical ear.

The Ted Vaughn Blues Band Harbinger Northwest

What a welcome surprise to put a CD in the player and hear no nonsense, straight talkin’ blues come jumping out of the speakers. This release is a real tour de force performance across ten tracks that really explode in a driving rhythm of ‘all aboard the blues train’ and we stop for nobody…!

The production by Leon Forrest is immediate and compelling while the players really inspire with the right sort of attitude and really tight playing. The Blues Harp is played with a real vibrancy by Ted Vaughn and Clay ‘Bone’ King burns everything down to ashes with some searing guitar work. The rhythm section of Ian Henderson on drums and Ted Larson on bass underpin the everything with some solid bedrock grooves while producer Leon Forrest adds some incredible keyboards on many tracks here.

Three tracks are written by Ted Vaughn; Nothin’ But Trouble, Swang Thang and Them 12 Bar Blues. The rest of the tracks are licensed and used by permission, such as Boom Boom (John Lee Hooker), Killin’ Floor (Howlin’ Wolf), The Thrill Is Gone (BB King) among others.

A giddy romp and a really enjoyable listen with rootsy blues that grab you in a dizzy spell of joy and some down ‘n’ dirty playing.

Kevin Gordon Long Time Gone Crowville Media

This collection of 11 tracks starts with the slow groove electric blues of All In The Mystery and sets a high standard with some superb ensemble playing. The studio musicians are drawn from an impressive list of experienced players, with Nashville producer Joe V. McMahon contributing guitar on everything, Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown, Jeffrey Foucault) on acoustic and resonator guitars, Lex Price (k.d. Lang) on upright bass and acoustic tenor guitar, Ron Eoff (The Band, Delbert McClinton) on electric bass and Paul Griffith (Sheryl Crow, John Prine) on drums and percussion. 

The tracks vary between the rockabilly beat of GTO to the late night atmospherics of Letter To Shreveport and into the acoustic folk strum of Crowville, Shotgun Behind The Door and Goodnight Brownie Ford.

There is a hypnotic quality to the overall tone and tempo of the recording and the authentic writing of Kevin Gordon comes across in the narrative-style writing and lyrics that reflect local experiences around Louisiana where he was born.

The drum shuffle and Little Feat guitar riff of Church On Time gets into a real blues boogie and Cajun With A K is one of the stand-out tracks that changes the pace with a spoken rap and a rich tapestry of characters and images that pass across our senses as if taken from a novel or TV show. Country Blues born out of the bayou and played with depth and style. A very fine release.

Mr Rick Sings About God + Booze Self-Release

Skiffle as a music genre defined itself by absorbing Blues, Folk, Jazz and Roots influences in equal measure. It didn’t matter whether old time Swing mixed with vintage Country or served up a healthy dose of Gospel. It was the overall feel of the music that counted and there were many artists that developed out of this early influence in the 50’s on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Rick hails from Ontario Canada and he does everything to keep this music alive with a blend of String Band, Rockabilly, Gospel and Blues. This 13 song release centres around the twin topics of Drink and Religion. Many songs have been written on these themes, as God-fearing folks looked to save their souls and praised the heavens, while battling with their human frailties upon this Earth. The inside sleeve carries the sub-header “Love Whiskey – Fear God” and this sums up the feel of these songs perfectly.

The music has an infectious rhythm at the hands of the music ensemble gathered here. We have Drew Jackson playing superb fiddle on One Kind of Favour, It’s The Bottle Talking, Liquor Store Blues and Death Come In My Room. He is ably assisted by the understated guitar playing of both Mr Rick and Steve Briggs. The Clarinet playing of Jono Lightstone on I Know I’ve Been Changed is very atmospheric and the Gospel voices of the Ted Hawkins Singers feature on a number of tracks like Hush, Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin, Beams Of Heaven and I’ll Fly Away.

Mr Rick has been playing with fellow musicians the Biscuits since the early 2000’s as an Alt- country power trio and this release has expanded upon this activity with fine production from Rick Zolkower and superb playing from all concerned with the project.

The Mystix Live Rhythm and Roots Mystix Eyes

This Roots band is based in Boston and has been performing their unique interpretations of the music of rural America, as well as original material since their first release in 2007. On this live album of 14 tracks, a number of songs are included that has brought them a strong support base across their local state of New England.

Over 5 studio releases this band of veteran musicians has produced some memorable moments. The dynamic playing of Matt Leavenworth on fiddle and the great Bobby Keyes on guitars is a real driving force. The blues harmonica, organ and mandolin playing of Annie Raines is also of real quality and the entire recording swings along at a very strong pace. Jo Lily anchors the band and his vocal style is something of an acquired taste, sounding somewhere between Roger Chapman of Family and JJ Cale.

There are covers of You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had (Steve Earle), To Ramona (Bob Dylan), Hard Times (Stephen Foster), Whiskey and Wimmen (John Lee Hooker), Cry, Cry, Cry (Johnny Cash), among others. Jo Lily includes a few self-penned songs in the mix and overall the mood is one of celebratory playing and an organic sound that is full of rich textures. The impressive musicianship is coupled with soulful and restrained performances that gives this group of musicians a real gravitas.

Peter Gallway Muscle and Bone Galway Bay

This is the new solo release from acclaimed singer-songwriter and producer Peter Gallway. Written, performed, produced, recorded and mixed by Gallway, these eight songs demand full concentration and Gallway is taking a gritty look at life in response to the inhumanity and lack of empathy that is all too prevalent. In the press release he states that "this collection is a plea written in outrage, sorrow, anger, shame, hope, hopelessness, expectation, regret, belief, release and prayer."

It has been said that Gallway displays a blue collar observational lyrical style, inspired by Raymond Carver, and there are songs of deep meaning contained on this release. Echoes of Bruce Cockburn are present in some of the spoken word passages that urge us to seek out our higher calling and spread inspiration and joy. This sentiment is included on the excellent Hymn and also the opening song, Anthem.

The aggression of Tear Something Down channels the frustration of a returned war veteran shunned and pushed to the margins of a society that he has fought to protect. “People, not sure I want ‘em, Not sure I need ‘em, Not sure ‘bout anything, Except I want to tear something down . . . “ 

Downtown Ferguson deals with the fallout from the shooting of black youth Michael Brown in Los Angeles. The Distance Of My Fall is inspired by the life and writing of Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director who was executed by Nationalist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The writings of Mahatma Gandhi are included in the closing track Blow This World, in addition to a spoken word segment in Downtown Ferguson.

This accomplished artist has been releasing albums since the late 1960’s and has achieved a level of excellence that is truly inspiring. The song arrangements are very sophisticated and the mood of the music in the melodies is of quiet resignation, dignity and fortitude. There is Leonard Cohen in the sentiment and Jackson Browne in the spirit of the lyrics. A better use of mind is the key message being delivered.

Overall this is a very impressive release and something of a meditation on our human condition. Clocking in at just on one hour of music, this is not for the faint hearted but the benefits are many in the listening experience. A work of some importance and artistic integrity.