Friday
Jul142017

Reviews by Declan Culliton

David Corley Zero Moon Wolfe Island

Less than three years ago David Corley was virtually unknown in the music world. Zero Moon is his second full album following a whirlwind two-year period which saw his debut album Available Light make a considerable industry impact, particularly in Europe, and a tour that almost ended tragically when a heart attack on stage in Groningen, Netherlands resulted in a long period of hospitalisation and subsequent recuperation. While recovering Corley recorded the seven-track mini album Lights Out, much of the material a reflection on his near-death experience. Having not entered a recording studio until he reached his early fifties Zero Moon is a continuation of the creative purple patch that Corley is currently enjoying.

Much of his latest album is bleak, desolate, searching and questioning, and all the better for it. The striking artwork (created by Kevin and Cynthia Kehoe) is monochromatic and stark, as are the barely legible hand-written lyrics by Corley himself, the only hint of colour featuring in the track listing and emblem on the rear cover. Equally dark, cold and edgy are many of the lyrics that feature on the eleven tracks.

I often wonder if the classic Rolling Stones album Exile On Main Street were to be released today which of the numerous sub-categories would it be pigeon holed in, alt-country/Americana/indie rock or possibly country rock. Back in the day it was simply a ‘rock’ album, no more no less. David Corley’s music, for me, fits hand in glove into that simple one word categorisation and particularly on this new album. 

It’s a long player in the true sense, you’ll need to set aside the best part of an hour to play it start to finish and three of the tracks (Zero Moon, Desert Moon and Burning Chrome), each one memorable, contribute to about a third of the album.

Recorded at The Post Office Studio, Wolfe Island, Ontario and produced by Corley’s right-hand man Hugh Christopher Brown, the sound throughout is beautifully loose, flowing and sounding very much like a live recording.  The aforementioned Zero Moon and Desert Mission (inspired by Cormac Mc McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian) thankfully were not edited to the too often customary four minutes but instead were allowed to drift, ebb and flow giving the impression that things were going so well in the studio that the only direction was – keep on playing and see where we end up. His studio band are the same musicians that featured on Available Light and Lights Out. Chris Brown playing keyboards as well as production duties, Gregor Beresford (Barenaked Ladies, Suzanne Jarvie) on drums and Tony Scherr (Norah Jones, B.B.King, Al Di Meola, Ani DiFranco) playing bass. Sarah McDermott and Kate Fenner contribute backing vocals. Notwithstanding the quality of the musicians employed the most potent instrument is Corley’s voice, broken, whiskey torn, raspy and growling, perfectly suited to the subject matter that often concerns dark and painful landscapes. As with his previous recordings we are given a glimpse of Corley’s personal life, trials, suffering, frustration and distress. A door opened momentarily but never left open for too long, leaving the listener with only a brief opportunity to observe the contents.  His lyrics continue to be beautifully abstract at times "Then pirates arrive, knives in their teeth, and dancing girls are filling the streets"(Zero Moon). "Mean beings wring their hands and hang their heads in darkness while our imagination founders on the rocks"(Vision Pilgrim). Whirl recalls his recent health issues in no uncertain terms "I’ll just whirl and hope that the wind don’t die, just in case – you know who to notify, my next of kin."

Down With The Universe which featured on Lights Out is given a second outing and Take Me Down Some and Splendid Now both echo early 70’s Stones. A Lifetime Of Mornings tips its hat in the direction of Leonard Cohen, delivered semi-spoken.

Given the stature  of Corley’s output on this album and his previous work, one is left wondering where his industry standing would be had his career kicked off a few decades ago, though possibly it was the life and near death experiences that were the catalyst, inspiration and motivation for the wonderful body of work he has delivered in the past few years.

An album of the year contender for this writer, hands down.

Emily Barker Sweet Kind of Blue Self Release

Having developed a quite British sound from her work with The Red Halo Band spanning nine years  and with over fifty unrecorded songs of varying  styles already in the slow burner, Australian born Emily Barker decided to experiment with a change of producer for her next project. While recording The Applewood Road (2016) album in Nashville -with Amy Speace and Amber Rubarth- she struck gold when a recommendation by sound engineer Chris Mara resulted in an introduction to Matt Ross-Sprang. Having produced a couple of the finest albums released in the past two years in Margo Price’s Midwest Farmers Daughter and Jason Isbell’s Something More, together with having worked at Sun Studios for eleven years, Ross-Sprang could not have been a better pair of ears to consider Barker's war chest of material.

On hearing a selection of Barkers songs Ross-Sprang wisely identified a core soul and blues tread in many of them and recommended Barker went on a musical diet of Ann Peebles, Dan Penn, music to her ears having grown up as a lover of Aretha Franklin and all things soul.

Never one to do things in half measures, fast forward to June of that year and Barker found herself at the hallowed ground of Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis surrounded by the tightest bunch of local session players you could imagine in David Cousar on guitar (Al Green), Rick Steff on keyboards (Lucero, Dexy Midnight Runners), Dave Smith on bass (Norah Jones, John Mayall) and Steve Potts on drums (Neil Young). Susan Marshall and Barker herself were on hand to contribute backing vocals. Recorded and mixed in seven days the resulting album is a collection of ten songs soaked in emotion and melody that work wonderfully together ranging from hard boiled soul and blues but also leaving plenty of room for the melodic ballads that Barker has a particular gift for penning.

Three of the songs included are co-writes with UK singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine, the heart wrenching and quite beautiful ballad – a tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Sister Goodbye, the equally moving Over My Shoulder and the upbeat Motown sounding More!, featuring saxophone and trumpet by Jim Spake and Marc Franklin.  No.5 Hurricane, co-written with Eric Palmqwist sees Barker visiting a style closer to her previous work with The Red Halo Band, an achingly gorgeous new love/old love song. 

 A hugely talented and focused artist, never standing on her laurels and always stretching her musical parameters, Sweet Kind of Blue is indeed a triumph and a delightful diversion for Barker.

John Murry A Short History Of Decay TV 

Much as I dislike rolling out the ‘difficult second album’ cliché, it could hardly hold more relevance than A Short History Of Decay, the sophomore album by John Murry. His debut The Graceless Age was considered by many in the industry as a masterpiece, a road map detailing a lifetime of emotional, physical and mental turmoil. Autism, mental health issues, institutionalism, rejection and drug addiction all contributed to an album that appeared to play out as cold turkey, exorcism and closure. 

Murry’s state of mind and health seemed to be in a good place and even if sales of The Graceless Age did not necessarily provide a retirement fund it presented him with a touring platform, a regular though possibly cult following, the confidence, motivation and platform to further his career.  His well-documented loathing at the prospect of residing in California resulted in a relocation to Kilkenny, where he was welcomed with open arms by the art appreciative community, and he appeared to be in a good place mentally, physically and emotionally. 

However, stability was short lived and over a few turbulent years further challenges presented themselves including the sudden death of Murry’s mentor and guiding light Tim Mooney, who had produced the previous album, and an acrimonious marriage break-up, both of which threatened to re-open scars barely healed and seriously challenge the vulnerable artist. Left without a regular touring band, no record label and limited income Murry continued to his perform raw, emotional live gigs sometimes with guest musicians, more often solo. He released the EP John Murry Is Dead in 2016 but the prospect of a second full album seemed to be drifting away.  

An encounter with Michael Timmons of Cowboy Junkies fame followed, (Murry opened for them at a show in Glasgow), a friendship developed and Timmons greatly encouraged Murry to consider recreating, in the studio, the raw passion, emotion and honesty that pours from every inch of his body during his live performances. After a few false starts a recording session lasting five days was lined up at Timmon’s studio in Toronto with Peter Timmons (brother of Michael) on drums, Josh Finlayson (Lee Harvey Osmond) on bass and Cait O’ Riordan contributing backing vocals and most likely also moral support - having performed on stage previously with Murry. All guitar and keyboards were handled by Murry with Timmons, always the master of atmosphere, providing the structure, guidance and most importantly the discipline necessary to get the album down over the short period with the emphasis always on Murry’s vocal and his parables. The sound is more often than not paired to the bone, toned down, forthright and at times delightfully shambolic. Gone are the layering, multi instrumentation and sound effects that adorned The Graceless Age, Timmons simply and cleverly provided Murry with a blank canvas to express himself and set about creating an unobtrusive musical backdrop that never gets in the way of the vocals.

Most importantly Murry, with more than a helping hand from Timmons, did not attempt to create The Graceless Age Act 2, what would be the point and ironically the only track on the album that might have fitted snuggly on his debut is a remodelling of the Afghan Whigs What Jail Is Like.

The album is named after a book title by French philosopher Emil Cioran and the tracks One Day (You’ll Die) and Countess Lola’s Blues (All In This Together) both consider mortality - a subject which Murry appears enthralled by – though it’s difficult to decipher whether irony outpoints rancour, which can sometimes the case with Murry’s song writing.

"All I Do Is Fix Whatever I Broke the Day Before" admits Murry on Under A Darker Moon, testament to his chaotic behaviour. It’s a driving song with layered, echoed vocals and screeching guitars with more than a nod in the direction of Velvet Underground. As with much of the album it takes on another dimension when heard on headphones where the production and mix really hit home. Defacing Sunday Bulletins is equally turbulent, fuzzy guitar glancing over the shoulder of Finlayson’s thumping bass lines. 

In many ways it should be celebrated that this release has seen the light of day given Murry’s wayfaring existence. A slow burner without doubt and one that even the most astute ear may require a number of visits to get fully on board but a more than laudable successor to The Graceless Age. Highly recommended. 

Sophia Marshall Bye Bye Self Release

Due for release in late August Bye Bye follows Sophia Marshall’s five track EP The Paper Thin, released in 2015 and is further testimony to the vocal and song writing talents of the former member of boy/girl duet The HaveNots.

Marshall’s industry internship has included support act to Peter Bruntnell, Frazey Ford, Tift Merritt, Be Good Tanya’s, The Sadies and Sam Outlaw and it’s not difficult to identify certain influences gathered along that journey, most particularly in her capacity to fashion uncomplicated compositions using the basic tools, simple language and abundant hooks. 

Boasting a beautifully unadulterated and natural voice, which sounds all the better for Marshall’s tendency, unlike many UK Americana artists, not to adopt a West Coast accent but to use her own natural pronunciation to full effect. 

The album brings to mind the work of fellow UK artist Thea Gilmore in many ways, mixing powerful hard edged catchy songs like the title track and Losing You (co-written with Liam Dullaghan) with the more acoustic Sarah’s Room and surreal Beauty Sleep.

Catch Me shifts in the direction of Jesse Sykes with lots of twang and boldness, Hey Al, Woah! (great title!) is equally edgy while the atmospheric two-minute closer Drunken Sailor is delivered vocals only with Marshall given a helping hand by Jay Hardy (Hardy Band) and some cleverly plotted over dubbed vocals.

While titles such as Bye Bye, Losing You and Missing Pieces suggest looming despair and hardship, the subjects are dealt with in a positive, upbeat and assured manner suggesting an artist that is marching forward ready to embrace anything that comes her way. Most impressive and perhaps a door opener for Miss Marshall.

Suzanne Jarvie One Take Only Dirt Road

I have to admit arriving a bit late to the party when it comes to Suzanne Jarvie. She played Ireland in September 2016 in support of her album Spiral Road album but I was abroad at the time and did not get to see her show. Having been really impressed by her performance in Kilkenny recently supporting David Corley, I welcomed the opportunity to review her mini album One Take Only released in 2016 as a stop gap between her debut album and it’s successor In The Clear, due to be completed later this year.

Jarvie is yet another impressive female singer songwriter to emerge from Canada in recent years following the path taken by Sarah Harmer, Oh Susanna and Lindi Ortega. Born in Honk Kong and raised in Toronto, a lawyer by profession and the mother of four children, music was primarily a hobby for her from a very young age. However, a near tragic accident whereby one of her sons fell down a spiral staircase and his subsequent recovery was the trigger for her debut album Spiral Road. The album made a favourable impression particularly in Europe where it reached No.7 in the Euro/Americana charts.

This mini-album includes six tracks in total, two originals and four cover versions. Produced by Hugh Christopher Brown, Jarvie is joined by her daughter Sara Jarvie Clark on backing vocals and violin on Believing, a track which featured on the TV series Nashville. The covers versions included are Dylan’s Senor, Sweet Carolina from Ryan Adams and Hills of Home written by Ralph Stanley. However, it’s the two original songs that shine most brightly, the stripped to the bones opener You Shall Not Pass  and closer Shadow of the Sultan both of which feature  angelic vocals that above all seem to be delivered by an artists that actually loves what she is doing.

Jean Shephard Country Music: Pure and Simple HumpHead

Jean Shepard, who passed away in September 2016, was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for sixty years and one of the most iconic female honky tonk singers in the history of country music. Often overshadowed by artists such as Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn she made her debut in the country music charts as a teenager in 1953 with A Dear John Letter. Released as a duet with Ferlin Husky it charted at No.1 in the country charts and remained there for six weeks. Totally uncompromising, Shephard was an unapologetic champion of traditional country music, a principal that in many ways may have limited her career opportunities at certain times. Uniquely and unlike the majority of female country singers, she launched her career as a solo artist whereas her peers generally performed as family groups, band members or duets. For ever a risk taker many of her early releases were quite daring for the times with titles such as Then He Touched Me, Many Happy Hangovers To You, Don’t Fall In Love With A Married Man and My Arms Stay Open Late. Her debut album Songs Of A Love Affair, considered to be the first concept country album to be recorded, was released in 1956 when she was only 23 years old. The album featured some of the industry’s finest including Buck Owens, Tommy Collins, Bill Woods and Clarence Lee and consisted of twelve original songs with Shepard having an input into the song writing.

Shepard signed to Capital Records in 1952 and this double album collects no fewer than fifty songs released on that label between 1964 and 1978. Interestingly the tracking is not in any chronological order kicking off with A Real Good Women (1968) and closing with I’ll Take The Dog (1966). The real winner is the consistency of her incredible voice throughout and her staunch insistence in ‘keeping it country’ and avoiding any pop crossover regardless of the pressures from Music Row.  Shepard survived many industry and personal difficulties, most particularly the tragic death of her husband Hawkshaw Hawkins, who perished in the plane crash that also claimed the life of Patsy Cline yet she continued to perform until twelve months prior to her death from Parkinson’s Disease.

 This delightful collection of songs is an absolute vindication of Shepard’s insistence of keeping country music simple, pure, and unadulterated and far outshines the majority  the hybrid product currently masquerading as country on Country Music Radio.   

Erin McLendon Making It Up As We Go Self Release

Ticking all the boxes for what passes today as radio friendly pop country this is the second release from Music City resident Erin Mc Lendon following her 2015 recording Fire & Wine which was nominated as an album of the year by IMEA (International Music and Entertainment Association). 

Originally hailing from Durham North Carolina, Mc Lendon graduated with A Bachelor of Music degree in Commercial Voice, a qualification that involved particular emphasis on the business side of the music industry. Her musical inspirations include a diverse range of artists from The Beatles to Tina Turner in the more popular genre but also soul queen Aretha Franklin and country icons Brad Paisley and Reba McEntire.

Opener When God Made a Woman is particularly radio friendly, densely layered, lots of hooks and a gospel like closing chorus. Don’t Believe My Eyes Anymore takes a swipe at the insincerity of dating sites and Honolulu Love is a stripped back ukulele lead song dealing with young love.

The title track suggests a random care free artist taking things as they come. However, the album gives the impression of an artist with her finger firmly on the pulse and more than aware of her market and the type of product that opens doors. McLendon is one of so many young female artists that are products of the America’s Got Talent formula sound but to her credit Making It Up As We Go has the songs, the sound and the self assured vocal delivery to position her ahead of a lot of her contemporaries.

Jeffrey Halford and The Healers Lo Fi Dreams Floating

The title of the album is a reflection on Jeffrey Halford’s efforts to make a recording with a particularly warm sound reminiscent of some of the classic recordings of the 1950’s and 60’s. Co-produced by Adam Rossi and Halford and using vintage equipment including Sears Silvertone, Danelectro and Harmony guitars, the album without doubt does succeed in nailing the intended stripped-down sound. 

Texas-born but spending much of his childhood in various parts of California, Halfords childhood was never conventional as his nomadic parents moved from location to location, sometimes by choice and other times by necessity. Heavy exposure to classic AM Radio and artists such as The Doors, Marvin Gaye and Howlin’ Wolf sowed the seeds for a musical career that kicked off by playing street corners in San Francisco, forming rockabilly band The Snappers and for the past two and a half decades touring and recording with his current outfit The Healers.

Lo Fi Dreams is his eight release and represents everything roots music stands for, mixing blues, country, soul, rock and roll and most particularly attitude in abundance.

Elvis Shot The Television is a funky recollection of a bored and wired Elvis misbehaving, opener Two Jacksons is a slick, smooth tale of an encounter with an attractive sales assistant. Halford lets loose and cranks it up a notch or two on Bird of Youth before slowing things down with the atmospheric and amusing Sweet Annette which recollects a visit to a remote diner.

Saturday
Jul082017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Eileen Kozloff Just Words MoosiCowlia

The sleeve says to file under Americana/Country and who am I to argue? However, on listening to these songs the sound has more in common with traditional Folk music to these ears.

The opening track, Always Wrong From The Start, sounds like a Mark Knopfler riff with John Kelly playing very fluid electric guitar melody.  The pedal steel on Coming Back To You has Rob Pastore turning in some fine backing runs. Guitar Man sounds like a Neil Young tribute complete with harmonica part from Hank Woji, who also produced the album and chipped in with acoustic guitar parts on a number of tracks. The violin of Jeff Duncan comes to the fore on 5,775 to dramatic effect in setting an atmosphere for the acoustic guitar work of Eileen Kozloff .

And so, the rest of the project unfolds across the 11 songs included here. Autoharp dominates the arrangement on To The River I’ll Go and there is a distinctly Folky feel to the traditional sound of No More War Anymore and the sweet strum of Asunder and Take Me Back

Eileen Kozloff is a multi-instrumentalist who has been actively involved in the autoharp world for many years. She is best known for her unique "pick-less" style of diatonic autoharp and for her clear vocals.

She has released two critically acclaimed CD’s with her former band, Well Tempered String Band and is now performing as a solo artist having released Solitary Rider (2006) and Hearts And Souls Entwined (2007). Both recordings were released under the Moosicowlia Label and this third release builds on the positive critical reaction she has been receiving. 

The Furious Seasons Look West Stone Garden

This band is based in L.A. and has released four previous albums as a 5-piece. This project is an acoustic affair with David Steinhart and Paul Nelson on acoustic guitar and vocals and Jeff Steinhart on stand-up bass. 

The vocal harmonies are beautifully mixed with some excellent playing and the understated nature of the production leaves plenty of room for the talents of these players. Lyrically the songs address relationship issues in all their different guises. 

Long Shot speaks of working through difficult times and What’s Coming Next laments over a past relationship now ended. Best Plans deals with the loss of a business while The Tape charts the life of an older family member who lived through hard times. Summer Flame is a memory of young days and innocent beginnings.

The final song is superbly crafted and tells of 4 friends who shared close birthdays but sadly only one now remains alive. There is the suggestion of a drink problem in the lines; “Just this one”; Became early hours, I put another day to waste, I wish I’d never got the taste, You can believe that you’re not to blame? and Hey denial - have you met shame?"

Excellent stuff indeed and there is a nice warmth to the production, with the easy, fluid playing an understated joy. A gentle record to suit the mood on a lazy Sunday morning over a hot coffee and the hint of Spring in the air. 

Harrow Fair Call To Arms Roaring Girl

This duo is Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers, Belle Starr) and Andrew Penner (Sunparlour Players). Miranda has built a strong reputation as a sought-after session musician and has played and toured with many top-line acts over the years, while Andrew Penner has been involved in Canadian Country music for many years now.

This release slots into the interesting & quirky world of the Handsome Family or the Civil Wars as a reference point. The playing and the production is innovative and edgy with songs like Call To Arms, Bite The Way and Hangnail challenging the listener with a dynamic that excites.

Recorded in Toronto and produced by Andrew Penner, the superb arrangements highlight the many talents of these two musicians who impress greatly. How Cold has a traditional folk feel with a modern treatment while Emmaline highlights the fine vocal of Miranda and the haunting, understated violin parts. It all comes together on the final track, Been There Ways with a haunting delivery from both musicians and an arrangement that leaves you wanting just one more song.

Well worth checking this one out and it just gets better and better with repeated plays.

The Fretless Bird’s Nest Self Release

The Fretless is a Canadian group of four musicians who play instrumental music on string instruments. They are made up of Karrnnel Sawitsky on Fiddle & Viola; Trent Freeman on Fiddle & Viola; Ivonne Hernandez on Fiddle & Viola and Eric Wright on Cello.

In 2012 they released their debut album, Waterbound, which was awarded Instrumental Album of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. The Canadian Folk Music Awards saw the group win both Ensemble of the year and Instrumental Group of the Year. 

This new release sees the group take the traditional airs of past compositions and apply a current interpretation which keeps the music alive and vibrant. There are nine songs across 36 minutes and the dynamic in the playing is constantly shifting in order to hold the attention of the listener. Ronim Road/Bella Coola are two original pieces that sound steeped in the Irish tradition of jigs and reels, while Maybe Molly is an infectious jaunt across the sunny fields of a summer’s day. Hidden View is a more reflective arrangement, as is the closing track 38 & Gone.

Musically, the goals of the group are to expand the many folk genres they visit. All four members have come from very different traditional and contemporary backgrounds but are influenced to push traditional music as far as possible.

Jon and Roy The Road Ahead Is Golden Self Release

There is a nice groove and a low-fi appeal to this release from duo Jon Middleton and Roy Vizer who have released this new album – their 7th in a career that has seen them develop from an initial meeting at University. Hailing from Victoria, BC the vocals/guitar/harmonica of Middleton are perfectly in synch with the understated drums/percussion playing of Vizer. In the gentle song arrangements lie a hidden depth where on repeated listens the melody lines come through and the play Louis Sadava on bass is supported by co-producer Stephen Franke who plays Wurlitzer and piano. Roots/Folk music to calm the soul and tracks like Breakdown, How The Story Goes, Nothing But Everything, Every Night and Windowlinger in the mind and boast of a fine release that is worth checking out.

Annie Gallup Lucy Remembers Her Father Gallway Bay

Annie’s website describes this latest release as twelve new songs that are meditations on fragility, mortality, family, survival, and love. Who am I to disagree? Along with her close collaborator Peter Gallway, Annie Gallup has been releasing music of real depth and quality for many years now and she deserves due recognition for the musical vision and scope that is brought to the table. Visceral and challenging but never trite, her muse is worth the surfboard ride across the waves to a quiet destination. This release feels deeply personal, like eavesdropping on a conversation that you should not be listening to, but all the more compelling for the experience.  Hers’ is a singular talent, reflective and yearning for something just beyond our reach. Songs that deal with the past and the fragility of relationships are laid bare. Being Her Child, Lucy Remembers Her Father andBluebird explore the complexities of the family dynamic. Other tracks look into relationships, devious and needy; Loyalty, Strange Boy, He Will Never Love MeLuminary looks at estrangement and unresolved love with a curiosity while Story is a spoken word reflection on the pointless search for meaning in all the grief we encounter. Very impressive and rewarding but not for the faint-hearted.  

Rachel Sage The Tide MPRESS

This 4-track EP adds to the impressive catalogue of music created by Rachel Sage over a career that has seen her release a body of work that stands tall against many of her peers. Her accomplished and comprehensive catalogue captures a voice and music that hints at greatness and this current project sees the proceeds donated to one of the world's leading international refugee assistance organizations. Songwriters come & go but this lady is a real keeper – sublime composition and melody combine to create a powerful result. These are protest songs and reflect on the need for both empathy and acceptance in the World right now. The title track speaks about compassion and the need for everyman on our various journeys. Disarm Distrust is written for the victims of the recent Orlando shootings and Tomorrow speaks of euphemisms and hope.

Oh Susanna A Girl in Teen City Stella

This is a paean to the past from an artist who has taken a look through life’s infinite telescope to chart the path that she negotiated in order to arrive at a signpost that reads ‘What Next’? Produced by the talented Jim Bryson who contributes on guitar, keyboards & vocals, the 12 songs that cover almost 50 minutes read like a ‘dear diary’ exercise in exhuming a past that sits very much in the present tense. My Boyfriend, Getting Ready, Walked All the Way Home, Tickets On The Weekend and My Old Vancouver give a sense of what is at play here. Quality playing and production, allied with a strong song-writing talent make this as strong as her past releases and an artist well worth exploring further. 

Ted Russell Kamp Flying Solo PoMo

This accomplished artist has been a favourite of Lonesome Highway across his seven critically-acclaimed albums that nail the country / roots / Americana flag firmly to his mast. For this release, he has taken 12 songs and played them in a largely acoustic setting with six songs recorded at shows or radio stations and six as brand new songs recorded at his home studio, The Den. From the mandolin rhythm of Old Folks Blues to the soulful groove of If I Had A Dollar; the reflective acoustic strum of When She Flies and the bluesy beat and feel of Lookin’ For Someone, it is evident that all is well in the world of this talented artist and he has produced another work of creative depth as a solo performer.    

Worry Dolls Go Get Gone Self Release

After two EP releases (2011 & 2015) this duo decided to change their focus and relocated to Nashville in order to record this debut album. The ten tracks are a mixture of gentle, stripped back acoustic Folk and some up-tempo arrangements played with a quiet confidence and a focus to deliver work of an enduring quality.

Duo Zoe Nicol and Rosie Jones team up with producer Neilson Hubbard who has worked with artists such as Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Ben Glover and Amy Speace. Together they create some fine moments and the uncluttered arrangements allow the sweet melodies and hypnotic harmonies to flourish. She Don’t Live Here, Things Always Work Out and Someday Soon are three highlights and the experienced studio musicians add greatly to a relaxed feel and a gentle mood that soothes across the listening experience.  

Son of the Velvet Rat Dorado Fluff & Gravy

Don’t be put off by the very strange band name. Son of the Velvet Rat is the project of Austrian Songwriter Georg Altziebler and his wife Heike Binder. He plays a variety of instruments and she adds organ and accordion. They live in Joshua Tree and the California desert runs through the sparse mood of the ten songs shared here. Victoria Williams is among the notable musicians who add their talents to this project and the impression is one of ragged savoir-faire or, as producer Joe Henry says on the liner notes; songs that hint at bankable redemption. Fragile vocals counter the sweet melody lines of songs like Love’s the Devil’s Foe, Starlite Motel and Sweet Angela, while the loose feel of the recording, completed over a few days, is always to the fore. Moody and magnetic. 

Sunday
Jul022017

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Dan Stevens Runnin’ The Backroads Gatorbone

This is a man who sounds comfortable in his own skin. By his own admission an old hippie who takes the values that accompanied that profession and has moderated them as time goes by. Stevens does this with a modicum of humour and happiness with lines like “I still love my darling wife, but now it takes a pill” (Another Sad Country Tale). The opening song Crush Hour Traffic is about a working man getting home through traffic - traffic often miss-referred to as “rush hour” which he felt need a new, more apt descriptor. 

What Stevens does is not particularly new, musically outstanding or littered with contemporary clutter; rather it is a solid, satisfying, rounded take on one person’s life perspective that covers environmental issues (Blair Mountain), how a 60’s radical was reduced to selling cookies (Jerry Rubin);his drinking habits of yore (I Drink Gin) or the way established religious groups spend more time to destroy each other rather than saving souls (When Jesus Sang His Songs For Us).

Stevens has written all the 13 songs on the album which includes a fold out poster with the packaging that has an explanatory note on each of the songs and why they were written. Stevens co-produced the album and had a bunch of musicians around him who round out the songs to give them added depth and texture. The instruments involved include Irish Flute, Pedal Steel, Concertina, Clawhammer banjo, fiddle, accordion, harmonica and guitar, which makes for variety in both overall sound and tempo. Runnin’ The Backroads is roots music that takes on the view, goes for the scenic route with very little thought of ever getting to a big city Music Row. It’s all the better for that.

Bill Booth Some Distant Shore Wheeling

Born in Maine but now residing in Norway Bill Booth has a long musical and recording history that goes back to the mid-Eighties. He has been compared to Tom Russell and Tom Pacheco with a touch of Mark Knopfler and those comparisons are fair enough as far as they may help to delineate the overall territory that Booth inhabits musically. The music has a Celtic influence in both lyric and musical content. It is folk in form but with other influences, like roots rock, around the edges.

The opening song is a tale of Dublin born Arthur O’Neill who led a group of the Irish Brigade know colloquially as Wild Geese (as is the song). Booth notes that these songs were inspired by tales of Ireland, Scotland and England that he had heard back in his home state of Maine. So, Cliffs Of Dover is about emigration with a loved one from Aberdeen to Nova Scotia. This slow-paced ballad has an appealing setting based around Uilleann pipes which emphasize the melodic structure and Booth’s warm singing voice and interesting lyrics. Not all songs deal with purely times gone by and City Of Rubble is a powerful lament against war. Wars which turn cities and lives to rubble; from Berlin in 1945 to recent destruction in places like Fallujah. 

Several of the albums songs hit a similar melodic mark that soon finds them rewarding repeated listening. No doubt that his experience and years give his voice some grit and gravitas. Booth has produced the album with an even hand and the music is largely understated but effective in allowing Booth to tell these tales. Musicians include Bill Troiani who was a member of the Tom Russell Band in the past alongside Paul McKernan’sdistinctive pipe playing and drummer Alexander Pettesen and Eddy Lyshaug accordion contributions. All can be heard on the driving instrumental Skerry Reel. Molly McKeen salutes a fiddle playing colleen with a foot tapping momentum. 

Bill Booth is a new name to me but an artist deserving of some wider recognition and a performer who would likely do well on these shores with some decent exposure. Booth is a craftsman who has learned his trade through the years.

Mark Sinnis One Red Rose Among The Dying Leaves 9th Recordings

Sunnis, somewhat demonstratively calls his music “Cemetery & Western.” A mix of roots-rock country fusion that has hints of Johnny Cash, Elvis, rockabilly and on the title track a Celtic influence, with tin whistle and pipes, which offers something of a graveside sliver of hope on some dark days. Sinnis’ has a big voice and a big band behind it. The 825 has some eight players, several who are multi-instrumentalists. This gives the songs a wide range of sounds from the aforementioned Celtic tone to a more south of the border touches like on the guitar tango twang of Why Should I Cry Over You.  While In Tupelo is a tribute to the Memphis King. Sitting At The Heartbreak Saloon is a throwback to some classic 50’s country and tear-stained beers. He changes his vocal delivery to match the mood and the era in which the song’s structure is sonically set.

That theme of rejection and dejection is further explored on the vibrant, horn and twang guitar laced Tough Love (Is All She’s Got) - an explanation of the reasons behind a failed marriage. In truth, a fondness for some classic country and country rock pervades many of the tracks. Something that Sinnis and George Grant’s production emphasises while also remaining on the right side of these influences and not outweighing the need to make the music relevant to who they are now. Even though the closing song is about listening to a radio station 1050 WHN back in the day. 

Sinnis has a wide vocal range that serves his self-written songs well, giving these songs the kind of gravity that they need to make them reflect the way that his life took a down turn that ended with a divorce, but never sounds maudlin when it doesn’t want to. As the title suggests this music looks for the positive, for the rose among the dying leaves. In the end Sinnis has found that flower and hope.

Tim Grimm and the Family Band A Stranger In This Time Cavalier

Singer/songwriter Tim Grimm has been around for some time delivering his folk songs to live and listening audiences around the world. With more than 10 albums to his name he has been refining his music to bring it to the point where it is now. Grimm has been compared to such classic inspirations as John Prine and Guy Clark and on this album, I’d suggest that with songs like Gonna Be Great there is something of a passing resemblance in the direction of Lenoard Cohen’s delivery too. Not that in the long term it does much for an artist to be saddled with comparisons to artists of such stature without it sounding that they are somehow in their shadow.

Tim Grimm is following his own path and on this release, he is joined by three members of his family. Jan Lucas on vocals and harmonica, Connor on bass and Jackson Grimm on all things stringed. Additional guests include Hannah Linn on percussion and Diderik Van Wassenaer on fiddle. All in all, an accomplished team who bring life to the songs and their performance. But it is Grimm’s voice and songs that are the focus of the album and songs like Thirteen Years fit the classic storytelling mode of folk and country. It is a clearly observed tale of local family history that brings in logging and the use of the wood to create a guitar from a fallen tree.

The apple didn’t fall far from that deeply rooted tree it seems with a number of songs here being written by Jan Lucas and Jackson Grimm. Black Snake is a dark tale that is at times reminiscent of some of Sam Baker’s song writing. A song that looks at how progress has again infringed upon a small community’s lifestyle “the beast they call progress eats money and gasoline.” The songs have some hard electric guitar tones to underscore this sense of anger. Their Finding Home is a gentler evocation of trying to follow your heart and the road home.

Darlin’ Cory is traditional song done with an old-time expression of the ages. Banjo and fiddle are central to giving the song its off kilter sense of foreboding. As the title suggest these are songs of people looking at a changing world and trying to make sense of it in song. It can safely be said that Grimm and his family have given food for thought in something of a feast of words and music.

Sam Baker Land Of Doubt Self Release

Anyone who has followed Baker’s progress across his albums will have an idea of what to expect from a new album. Knowing his personal story and how he, at times, struggles with the making of his music following the injuries he received in a terrorist attack on a train he was travelling in. However, at this point that is water under his bridge as Sam Baker knows how to get the best out of Sam Baker. This is slow and nuanced reflection of a man looking at a land riddled with doubt and distrust.

For this album Baker has called in renowned producer Neilson Hubbard to helm the production and they have also brought in Will Kimbrough and Dan Mitchell along with string players David Henry and Eamon McLoughlin to add much to these restrained sonic landscapes. The album is a mix of Baker’s poetic songs and a number of instrumental interludes. These are songs put on a musical canvas in an abstracted way but with a subtle sense of beauty.

A song like Margaret is a gentle observation of how love can change a person and in turn those around them. The Feast Of St. Valentine also ponders a day when love is celebrated. The lines take a soft focus look at how a particular day may slowly evolve - “what is not to like, this kind of day, first it snows, then it rains like hell.” By way of contrast Leave asks one who has squandered a trust to go. For those who do not know Bakershis soft, almost spoken delivery may be disconcerting  to listeners used to more overblown delivery that would do nothing for the delicacy of these songs. It is however Baker’s distinctive voice that is essential to making these songs what they are.

Land Of Doubt stands with Baker’s best and emphasises his singular vision for his musical endeavours and the musical team around him have further enhanced the placement of these songs in a (not) popular (enough) consciousness. It is an album that can leave little doubt about its worth for those who understand its underlying message of love and beauty.

Pete Sinjin The Heart And The Compass Hootenanny Arts

The title refers to Sinjin’s combining the two together to guide him through his life. Allowing that his heart is his moral compass and it leads him to explore the direction that his life and music may take him. His music is a combination of solid singer/songwriter observation that translates into melodic and multifarious views of everyday existence. Songs like Radio Tears and Stolen Afternoon, 1951 are reflections of some intimate moments that however fleeting have made an impression. Both feature notable vocal contributions from fellow singer/songwriter Michaela Anne. While another couple of tracks Breathing The Same Air and Goodbye Knoxville kick things up a notch with a solid beat and add to the overall mix of moods on the album. The Letters, sounds like it would fit right in with the science that developed on Lower Broadway back in the 90s.

Sinjin started his musical journey playing some more robust punk rock before he evolved his muse and reaches back to some of the classic rock and soul music he listened to growing up in Pennsylvania. To help him realise where he is currently, he brought Bryce Goggin in to co-produce the album with him. Then he put together a set of players that included bass, drums, violin, mandolin, pedal steel and electric guitar along with some harmony vocalists to deliver a sound that has warmth, space and spontaneity.

The essence of the songs is a wry look at love in all its aspects from Desperate Kind Of Love to That’s My Heart. Songs that are sometimes explicit in their thought process while others are more veiled. Overall though Sinjin delivers them with a committed and centred vocal that makes the album a very listenable and likeable experience. This is Americana with a strong country/folk-rock overtone that has enough among it’s 11 tracks to warrant placing Sinjin on the radar and wondering where his compass will take him next.

Michael Hearne Red River Dreams Howling

Hearne is a native of Dallas, Texas who now lives in New Mexico. He has been involved in the music business since the 70s and is both a writer/performer and promoter. He delivers what is essentially a gentle, genuine take on country, folk and Americana. He takes his classic influences and delivers them through a velvet voice and some introspective songs. This album mixes a number of co-writes (often with his friend Shake Russell) with some well know material like Gram Parsons’ Return Of The Grievous Angel, Michael Martin Murphy’s Drunken Lady Of The Morning and Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain.

Hearne is credited as co-producer also (with Don Richards) and they also form the core of the band. Both playing multiple instruments throughout the album where they are joined by a number of local players who add drums, piano and pedal steel to fill out the songs. Hearne’s own songs fit easily beside the aforementioned songs with titles like Blue Enough, The Highway Is A Friend Of Mine - a song that is directly related to a life travelling and playing. The nostalgic Back In The Day and the reflective and instructive Lesson To Be Learned From Love.

All of these songs are not far from the template of the early Eagles with a strong country undercurrent and warm harmonies. The have a pleasant, undemanding demeanour that sits comfortably - a peaceful easy feeling perhaps might best sum them up. It is the music of a man who is at peace with himself and his music and wishes only to find an audience who are equally at home with music that reflects on a wilder past but one that has settled down and fits like a well-worn pair of jeans.

While Hearne’s take on the better-known songs may not replace them in most people’s memories they still work in their own right and as reminders of when you first became acquainted with the original versions. Hearne’s music ability should not be overlooked either as his playing throughout contributes much to the album’s completeness. This is old school and proud of it and there are many who will applauded it sentiments.

Gerry Spehar I Hold Gravity Self Release

The inner sleeve of this album contains a sleeve note that is a dedication to his lost long-time love, his wife - Susan Nancy Miller. As a result, the songs have an edge, a sense of loss and longing. The opening song Dirt (co-written with Susan and Bobby Allison) refers to “it all comes down to dirt” and has an edge that suits that sentiment. There are other co-writes here with Susan as well as several written by Spehar solo. He employs the band I See Hawks in L.A. throughout the album along with a number of other guests who between them, play a wide range of instruments.

The title track is a pure and direct love song that is sung with obvious emotion. Holy Moses Doughboy tells of a World War 1 veteran who returned from the conflict to deal with the inner conflicts of isolation. The music uses martial drumming and trumpet to add to the overall soundscape. Closer to (everyone’s) home is Mr & Mrs Jones, about the need to compete with the titular couple idea of perfection. It has a groove with Hammond organ that somewhat lessens the pithy observations. How To Get To Heaven From L.A. has a Guy Clark feel (and Spehar has a similar vocal approach with sounding like the great man). The closing song, a Spehar original again, is Into The Mystic, a song that is about the open range and an open heart that asks “where are you going, why would you leave.”

Gary Spehar was a member of the Spehar Brothers Band who quit the live circuit when he had a family to raise. This is his return to the fray - even if the mood is more considered by personal loss. It is a labour of love in more senses than one but one delivered with conviction. Spehar is a songwriter who makes his points with some skill and produces an album that is musically rewarding for the listener as it must have been for him to make it.

Monday
Jun192017

Reviews By Stephen Rapid

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters Self-Titled Organic

After four albums, as front person with the Honeycutters Amanda Anne Platt has taken the step to release this latest album under her own name. The Honeycutters are still there adding the kind of musical support that only a band that has shared stages, studios and small vans can. There is no doubting Platt’s central role here as lead vocalist, songwriter and producer (along with Tim Surrett). She does all three with skill and a steadfast vision. The thirteen songs here are Platt’s observations on life and the many tribulations faced getting through it. These are real and recognisable relationships observed with the eye of a writer who understand the balances of the good and the bad and is well capable of putting them in a succinct voice that is sympathetic yet unyielding. Perhaps summed up by the line “If you have a heart, now and then you’re gonna have a little heartache.” 

The music is framed in a way that shows its roots in traditional country storytelling yet is aware of many other musical tangents that fit easily into the overall picture. The Honeycutters; Matthew Smith, Rick Cooper, Josh Milligan and recent addition Evan Martin are satisfying throughout, playing with an understanding and awareness of what makes the song work. This is a band who have found their place and now need a wider audience to understand that too. Platt may not have the recognition (or sales) of some of her contemporaries but that in no way takes away from strength of the music that is on this album.

The quality of the songs here is obvious but Birthday Song, Late Summer’s Child, The Good Guys and The Things We Call Home all have an immediacy that picks them out on first listen. The other songs soon also make their presence felt and underscore what a talent Platt is. She has proven herself to be in this for the long haul and an artist who is gaining in craft and ability with each release. Strongly making the point in moving from the band name, to putting hers out front, is may seem a risk after working under the band name until now, but it is a necessary step for the future.

Slaid Cleaves Ghost On The Car Radio Candy House

By now Slaid Cleaves has earned his place in the pantheon of songwriters who have proved their skill and craftsmanship as storytellers par excellence. This is thoroughly emphasised by this latest album which is among, if not, his best album to date. There’s no reason to expect that he won’t continue to equal and surpass this too. Production and guitar duties are handled by Scrappy Jud Newcomb who seems an ideal choice to bring these folk-rock songs to life. It is simply a case of everything working together in a way that makes it hard to single out any particular song, although there are some obvious choices to recommend, which are mentioned below.

The ringing 12 string electric guitar, for instance, signals the openness of the musical direction. One that rings true and has a certain weight and texture that allows the songs to breath in their own space. Cleaves has an immediately identifiable vocal presence; a perfect vehicle to tell this tales of makers, misfits, miscreants and the misunderstood.

Drunken Barber’s Hand a co-write with his friend and fellow songwriter Rod Picot (whose own version appeared on his most recent album Fortune) is an observation that the world going to hell in a handcart. Picott also wrote three other songs here with Cleaves. There are other co-conspirators too with four other co-writes sitting alongside his four solo credits. This makes for a varied lyrical overview from the straight-up country saw-dusted memories of The Old Guard through to the tenderness of To Be Held. There are number of different moods and tempos that give the album a listenability that holds the attention from opening track to last.

Kudos also to Cleaves fellow players who, under Newcomb’s seasoned guidance, deliver an understated but statuesque performance that is solid and supportive. All of Cleaves albums have been good and this one is no exception and undoubtably one of tyhe best. Slaid Cleaves music works very musc in the nowand as such as it can illuminate the human condition with insight and a soupçon of humour. Long may he haunt the airwaves and the ear canals.

Jade Jackson Gilded Anti-

The debut album from Jackson is a reflection of her no-bullshit nature. She worked in her parent’s small-town California restaurant and there fostered the beginnings of her song writing experience. She has teamed up with Social Distortion’s frontman Mike Ness to produce the album. A perfect pairing as Ness' two country-orientated solo albums are a themsleves a perfect blend of both his punk and country sensibilities. Here the music has a little less of the harder edged punk sound but is still imbedded with its attitude. Jackson had seen Social Distortion headline a show she had attended on her own and was immediately taken with their performance to the point she then knew what she wanted to do in a life-shifting experience.

But that doesn’t exclude any tenderness or more reflective moments like Finish Line (“My skin’s a lot thicker than you’d think it’d be”). There is some up-tempo twang too with songs like Troubled End, detailing a dangerous relationship. On the other side of embrace is Motorcycle wherein our protagonist rides off alone in the sunset on her motorcycle noting “my motorcycle only seats one.” Over the eleven songs Jackson shows a present-day notion of what relationships can offer a person in a society as it exists now rather than 10, 20 or 50 years ago.

Jackson wrote all the songs, one with Ness and two others with her band members. Mention should be made of their contribution and Ness’ decision to use her road band of Andrew Rebel, Jake Vukovich and Tyler Miller in the studio. There they are joined by Sara Watkins on fiddle for several tracks alongside, on one track, Greg Leisz on pedal steel and a guitar solo from Ness on another. Focal point though is her telling vocal delivery that conveys a number of hard fought emotions. The end result is immediately satisfying blending the likes of Lucinda Williams and Rosie Flores with some harder left field rock/blues influences in something that is both familiar and yet distinctive in its execution. While many of her Nashville contemporaries proclaim a “rebel attitude” it is more often than not tempered by a certain need to achieve, or at least aim for, wider radio exposure. Here Jade Jackson makes the album she wants to and the end result is raw and ready; indeed, gilded and gratifying.

The Whiskey Charmers The Valley Sweet Apple Pie

In truth, something of a vehicle for Carrie Shepard who is the singer and chief songwriter with this band. Her partner in this musical venture is guitarist Lawrence Daversa. Together with a selection of players they deliver a solid slice of Americana. From their base in Detroit they dispense their desert tones that sounds like they might orientate closer to the Mexican rather than the Canadian border. Indeed, the opening song is called Desert. They produced the album themselves (their second) and it a concise, clear sound that is centred around Daversa’s guitar and Shepard’s voice, both of which are compelling elements of the Whiskey Charmers appeal. Daversa bring different guitar sounds to the songs as appropriate but in each case, underlines his importance to defining their music. Equally Shepard has a vocal dexterity that allows her voice a certain enduring smokey whiskey charm.

The album credits the orchestra pit with a selection of additional instruments from Flugelhorn to bagpipes however none of these are distracting or to the fore in the mix. Songs like Melody (with soft pedal steel) contrast with the more percussion driven tracks like the title track or Dirty Little Blues which in turn give way to the twangier guitar-toned somas like Meet Me There. Overall there is an air of brooding restraint and darkness to the songs that set an overall mood to the album that is suitable to some late night noir listening. As with a lot of Americana albums the overall direction here provides nothing that is outside of the parameters of such a wide-ranging form. Rather its appeal is in its execution and the strength of the songs themselves. All the elements here are blended to produce an album of lasting quality. One to be shared.

Shoot Lucy The Soothing Sounds Of Smack Me

Second outing from this Minnesota based power poppy/roots inclined six piece. Formed in 1996 this is their second album release. It is a lot of fun. The band is led by Dave Bernston who is their song writer and lead singer. He can write songs with the humorous consideration of another’s partner on the opening Disproportionately Hot Girlfriend, to the more serious consideration of how a domestic fallout can have an effect, often unintentional, on those around the bickering and belligerence in Not Their War.

I’m Blind features some nice pedal steel from guest Adam Ollendorff. Elsewhere guitarist David Nahan plays some lap steel to add that roots feel. They appear to have two drummers which gives a strong rhythmic foundation. They are Scott Skaja and Steve Schultz. The line-up is completed by Chris Berg on bass and Jennifer Urbach on Hammond organ and backing vocals. All bring these songs to life. There is a little of the Rembrandts about them but with a perhaps broader sound base.

The album features 8 songs and all are underpinned by a strong melodic sensibility and Bernston’s vibrant vocal. Lost considers the advice of other, most likely, unwanted with lines like “you should really go to church” and “you should really quit that horrible band.” While Won’t Go That Far is the response of a potential girlfriend to his abilities in terms of his mode of transport or guitar playing ability leading her to put limits on their intimacy potential.

The soothing sounds on offer here may not send you to sleep but they will have you tapping your feet, (occasionally) singing along and enjoying this collection of songs that sound like they came from another time and place and the more welcome for it.

Mike Younger Little Folks Like You And Me Self Release

This Canadian singer/songwriter cut his teeth travelling around his native country and busking before he got the attention of a music publisher which led to his 1999 debut album Somethin’ In The Air. The album was produced by Rodney Crowell. For his next album, he worked with noted producer Jim Dickinson. That album has never seen the light of day but may yet emerge. From that you can surmise that Younger has some noted talent.

For this album, he has worked with producer Bob Britt. The album was recorded in 2013 and released last year. It is never-the-less timeless roots music that has a Band-ish overall feel in a soulful, rhythm and blues and country feel. Recording with a keyboard, bass, drums, guitar and backing vocal line up he has made a rich and rewarding album. However, as with a number of albums, it is initially one song that immediately draws you in and back to the album. That is true with this album and that song is Poisoned Rivers which has an impassioned vocal over a simple backing of percussion, harmonica and dobro. It is a rejection of ill-considered industry fracking and deregulation. A stripped back song that stands with the little folks who seem to count for less and less these days. He offers a similar worldview in the self-explanatory What Kind Of World. Elsewhere the songs have a full sound that has its antecedents in late 60s rock.

All songs are enhanced by Younger’s voice which is one that has character and clarity. The direction of the music is not something that the listener will not have encountered before by several artists but in effect originality is not really what is on offer here, rather it is the work of an honest craftsman. There is a vibe in the groove of the songs that often clocks in above the 4 minutes with a couple passing the 5 minute mark. This all sets the tone for the type of album that it is. One that will appeal to the listener who appreciates the looseness of spirit and the tightness of the playing.

Jamie Wyatt Felony Blues Forty Below

We are told that the title is a nod to those country artists who have spent time incarcerated and have used the experience in their musical endeavours. The LA based singer is a part of the revitalised California country contingent. A singer with an attitude that belies her age Wyatt had a record deal when she was 17 but for a variety of reasons developed a drug problem that resulted in her robbing her dealer and the serving an eight month jail sentence. All of which makes for a good background story but counts for little if the music falls short. Thankfully this 7-track mini-album delivers much and promises more. It seems that the jail time has given her a need to get back to the music; free of rehab and confinement. She had family roots in California with a distant relative playing in Bakersfield. Her own music veers more towards that location than the Music Row affiliations of Nashville. Even with the production values being polished and persuasive bryond their budget.

The songs draw from experience and Drew Allsbrook’s production gives them a clean and concise musical setting that is contemporary country with steel and fiddle prominent on the mix alongside the harmony vocals and solid rhythm. Wishing Well looks at the possibilities open to improve your life situation. Stone Hotel and Wasco are both prison experience inspired songs. While From Outer Space breaks that confinement and features some otherworldly steel guitar from John Schreffler Jr. (who has also played with Shooter Jennings). Ted Russell Kamp and Gabe Wincher also add their undoubted talents. Another rising star California country scene, Sam Outlaw sings a tender love ballad with Wyatt on Your Loving Saves Me, which itself offers another shot at redemption. Misery And Gin (which was produced by Mike Clink) was written by John Durrill and recorded by a performer who Wyatt had an obvious affinity with - Merle Haggard.

She has a smooth, crystal clear voice that is reminiscent of some traditional singers of the past and has also has been compared to Linda Ronstadt, which has some truth, but shouldn’t take away from her own approach and assiduousness. Felony Blues stands in good company with a wide range of outstanding female artists emerging from the fringes who are making their mark.

The Brother Brothers Tugboats Self Release

Brothers Adam and David Moss have covered a lot of ground prior to working together; the former has played and toured with Session Americana as well as Ana Egge amongst others. David Moss has previously released solo albums Bag of Bones and Songs For Willoughby after a spell playing with a number of artists like The Broken Stars and Satellite Ballet. Here together, the Brooklyn based twin brothers, explore their folk roots and exquisite sibling harmonies. They bring together not only a shared history but also the experiences they gained playing in a variety of different musical settings.

The EP has six tracks and the production was handled by Andrew Sarlo and it is simple direct and highly effective. Although there is no mention on the packaging I’m assuming that these are all original songs from the Moss brothers, other than Columbus Stockade Blues, a song that was written in the late ’20s. Some of the songs take a more melancholy timbre like Come Back Darling, while Notary Public is more upbeat and humorous if still dealing with a failing relationship. The closing Cairo, Illinois is also a gentle evocation of having to find one’s way in this life and look towards something that one can call home. The instrumentation is often just cello and fiddle, sometimes guitar but always enhanced by the brother’s vocal harmonies and interaction. You can place these brothers alongside many of the greats. A folk equivalent of the Cactus Blossoms more country take but equally as attractive.

Thursday
Jun082017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Hometown Marie Wild Side Self Release

Authentic Country Rock from this Swedish band who really impress on this 4-track EP. They sound like the real deal and come out of the traps with the driving Like We Used To, which features a laid-back groove and some fine vocals. Unfortunately, there are very few details available about the band, although Facebook tells me that the four band members are named; Oskar, Simon, Gabriel and Accel. 

Cannot say who plays what, but the sound is really tight and could be any of the current crop of American Country bands that are breaking through Stateside. A previous EP in 2014 was called The Wanderer and they have a few more tracks on You Tube that are worth checking out.  

To add to my confusion, they are clearly a 4-piece but on the cover of the EP they are pictured as a 5-piece? Self sabotage – I would doubt it, but they could do with a decent media team working on their behalf.

Yours Tonight is a fine example of the band in full flight, while Run To You pears things back to a slow burn with some tasty guitar parts. The final song, Wild Side, is just made for Country FM and has hit record written all over it. More please.

Winter Mountain I Swear I Flew Astral Fox

Winter Mountain is the stage name of singer songwriter Joseph Francis (Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Piano, Harmonica). He is based in Cornwall, UK and his folk-rock sound impressed Cara Dillon and her husband/producer Sam Lakeman who decided to sign Francis to their Charcoal Records label after watching a performance in Donegal, Ireland. 

Winter Mountain released a debut album in 2013 as a duo, with Martin Smyth, an Irish musician who introduced Francis to Donegal and that meeting with Dillon and Lakeman. Smyth left in 2015 and now Winter Mountain is carried on the impressive talents of Francis. His is a sweet vocal and a gentle playing style, perfectly complimented by the coterie of studio musicians who contribute to this project. 

Produced by Joe Francis who also wrote all the ten songs featured here; tracks like Sunlight, Good Roads, Things That I’ve Done Wrong, Dragonfly and Before The Flood highlight an emerging talent that is deserving of great praise for this confident release.

Eric Ambel Lakeside At The Helm

I was first introduced to the music of Eric Ambel back in 1989 when he released a cracking solo record called Roscoe’s Gang (still have it on vinyl). As a one-time member of the Del Lords, he went on to greater fame as a producer and worked with artists like Nils Lofgren, The Brandos, Steve Earle, The Bottle Rockets, Joan Jett, Blue Mountain, Freedy Johnston and many others. 

He has spent recent years in various roles, either as a producer, sideman or sought-after collaborator. Lakeside is his latest song collection and follows on from Knucklehead (2004) and Loud n’ Lonesome (1994). The title of the new release is in honour of the Lakeside Lounge, the bar and music venue which Ambel co-owned and operated in New York’s East Village from 1996 until 2012.  

There are a number of different styles running through the 10 tracks here with a nod back to the days of Cash and Orbison on Let’s Play With Fire while Massive Confusion channels a Rockpile sound.  Don’t Make Me Break You Down has a slow brooding beat that places a mean guitar on top of a languid drum shuffle.  A cover of Look At Miss Ohio (Welch/Rawlings) is very well placed here with a slow pace that highlights an arresting guitar break to great effect. 

There is no doubting the wonderful paying talents of Eric Ambel and with the sweet melody of Buyback Blues followed by the instrumental, Crying In My Sleep, this collection draws to a very satisfactory close. Welcome back to an experienced and expansive artist.  

Hat Fitz Cara After the Rain Self Release

Nine songs over 32 minutes from this Australia-based duo that is made up of Hat Fitz; a wild man of the blues scene and Cara Robinson, who has a background in soul music having worked with artists such as Jamiroquai and Corinne Bailey-Rae. This is Roots music with a Bonnie Raitt meets Little Feat groove running through songs like Going Home and Doing It Again.

Cara sings with a clear, confident and sassy delivery and also contributes on vintage drums and washboard. There is a loose, ramshackle feel to tracks like After the Rain and Tank Man and the guitar & mandolin playing of Hat Fitz is very much to the fore. The album was inspired by true events in their lives, past and present and this is release number four in a career that has seen Beauty And The Beast (2010), Wiley Ways (2012) and Do Tell (2014) precede this current collection. Worth checking out.

Stephen Fearing Every Soul’s a Sailor Self Release

Stephen Fearing was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and grew up in Dublin, Ireland where his schoolmates included future members of U2. In the years since, he has developed into one of the finest songwriters in Canada and has built an international audience for his music.

This is his 10th release, including a live record, and all songs are written by Stephen Fearing with two co-writes. The studio musicians include John Dymond on bass, Gary Craig on drums & percussion, David Travers on horns and Rose Cousins on harmony vocals for 2 tracks. It all works like a charm with songs of real colour and personality. 

Lyrically there is a diverse mix of subjects from the know yourself message in the opening Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, to the loneliness of constant life in motion, Red Lights In The Rain. The message in Blowhard Nation is one of cynical electioneering and the boulevard of broken dreams for the electorate.  Throughout, Fearing comes across as an accomplished artist who is in command of every aspect of this project. Love The Deal speaks of embracing the challenges of life and forgiving our imperfections and Carousel deals with facing disappointment and counsels to "get back on that horse and ride again."

Another strong release from this talented singer-songwriter and one that adds to his reputation as a contemporary artist worthy of greater attention.

Lowri Evans & Lee Mason A Little Bit Of Everything Shimi

Six albums and Four EP’s into a career that has seen Lowri Evans and Lee Mason arrive at a juncture where they celebrate ten years of playing together. This is a live studio recording with no other musicians present to assist with the sound; a brave move but one that bears much fruit. This duo is really talented with Lowri singing like an angel and playing acoustic guitar while Lee Mason also sings and plays acoustic and electric guitars, plus bass. 

The 12 songs featured here include three Welsh language folk songs and a version of Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out (Jimmie Cox). The other songs are all written by Lowri and selected from her back catalogue, apart from one Welch song (Can Walter), written by Meic Stevens. 

The songs are gentle vignettes of life with relationships examined, feelings explored and love lost & found. The harmony vocals are a joy throughout and the lovely understated playing on tracks like Seventeen, Corner Of My Eye, Maria’s and Everyone Is From Somewhere Else stand as fine examples of the artistic craft on display. Warmly recommended.  

The Buffalo Skinners Cease Your Dreaming Self Release

The Buffalo Skinners are a song-writing collective based in Sheffield. This release contains 13 songs across almost 50 minutes and includes the talents of Kieran Thorpe on Fender Rhodes Keyboard, piano & mandolin; James Nicholls on Violin; Peter Seccombe on various Guitars; Miles Stapleton on Drums and Robbie Thompson on Bass, acoustic & electric guitars. 

Over the past six years their first two albums, a self-titled debut in 2011 and The Other Nine To Five in 2014, have established them as a band to watch and they have gained much media attention.

This third album is produced by the critically acclaimed Colin Elliot (Richard Hawley, Kylie Minogue) and contains a bright airy feel to the arrangements. The band are a mix of many styles with a folk/roots feel to the arrangements and their shared vocal harmonies certainly impress. A touchstone would be early skiffle or the loose sound of jug band ensembles, with violin featuring high up in the mix. 

The celebratory swing to songs like We Get Along, Shoes, Monkey On Your Back, Sam’s Chop House and If You Won’t Love Me, Somebody Else Will, display plenty of talent and serve up tunes that make the listening experience worthwhile.

Lowlands and Friends Play Townes Van Zandt’s Last Set Harbour Song 

In December 1996 the late, great Townes Van Zandt played his last gig and this 14-track tribute to the talents of this singer-songwriter recreates that last set list, played at the Borderline in London. The project took the best part of a year to complete, recorded at various venues, and involving quite a list of musicians who all wanted to contribute.

Italian band, Lowlands are a Roots band who were formed in Pavia, by British born singer-songwriter Edward Abbiati and they have released 5 albums and 4 EPs since their debut in 2008. They anchor this project, along with other Italian musicians from their extended musical family and they are also joined by the likes of Sid Griffin, Chris Cacavas, Rod Picott, Antonio Gramentieri, The Lucky Strikes, Cheap Wine, Kevin Russell and Stiv Cantarelli just some of the artists involved. The liner notes name check a further fourteen players so you get the clear message that this was indeed a labour of love.

If you are a collector who must have everything in the catalogue of such great artists then the completionist in you will just have to purchase this release as a necessity. As with any such project the relative worth of the different tracks is entirely the subjective experience of the listener. Some of the songs fare better than others and the arrangements veer into new territory as the different artists decide to place their own individual stamp on the versions recorded here.

There are also a few cover versions included with two Lightning Hopkins numbers (My Starter Won’t Start, Short Haired Woman Blues), the Rolling Stones (Dead Flowers) and Elvis Presley (Ballad Of The Three Shrimps).

All the old favourites are here with Pancho & Lefty, Waiting Around To Die, Sanitarium Blues, Loretta and Tecumseh Valley all given strong workouts. There is narration by Barry Marshall-Everitt before each track and the idea to recreate this event has to be applauded. Some may wish to approach with caution while others may prefer to purchase some of the original material and hear it straight from the artist’s lips.

I Draw Slow Turn Your Face To The Sun Compass

This is their fourth release and I Draw Slow go largely unnoticed in their homeland, despite the fact that this album was entirely crowd funded from their loyal fan base. Much of their activity is focused on the American market and they are about to embark on their 14th tour of the United States, where they are very well received and revered. We should embrace their success in the Irish media wholeheartedly, as they carry a flag for all that is good in Irish Roots music.

The album was written by Louise and Dave Holden and features wonderful vocals by this brother and sister duo, with Dave also playing guitar/mandolin, Konrad Liddy on double bass, Adrian Hart on fiddle and Colin Derham on clawhammer banjo. 

The harmony vocals of Dave and Louise are a key component to the signature sound of this very fine band and with the interplay of banjo/fiddle and mandolin, rooted by the double bass pulse; the music merges with the sense of their Irish background and the best of Appalachian/Bluegrass music. 

 Recorded in a live setting, which helps the organic spontaneity of the ensemble, the sibling harmonies can be quite addictive and the singing here is so beautifully realised that the seamless rhythm folds around the melody in a very compelling fashion.

My Portion, Garage Flowers and Apocalypso are immediately entertaining with relationship stories of a very different hue – from addictive dependency, through the vain attempts to keep a relationship fresh and into an enduring love affair that lasts beyond time. 

The reflective Don’t Wake The Children, to a simple and sweet acoustic strum and gentle fiddle, pleads for time between a couple outside of family duties that weigh heavily on any relationship. Carolina is a similar acoustic arrangement that deals with leaving home fields for the promise of far-off adventures. Twin Sisters is an infectious tune that brings a distinctly Irish arrangement to what is a barn dance jig.

I Draw Slow seem to possess a strong work ethic and spend quite a bit of their time out on the road, quietly building their support base. They play with an energy and spontaneity that is infectious and clearly enjoy the creative compulsion to make music that lifts the spirit and lingers in the memory. Timeless.