Reviews by Paul McGee

Kathy Mattea Pretty Bird Captain Potato

Six years since her last release, Calling Me Home, sees Mattea return with a collection of twelve cover songs that highlight the talents which turned her into one of the most successful country singers of her generation. Not that she restricted her recording history to just one genre of music; Mattea has often explored bluegrass, gospel, celtic and folk leanings.

This release displays her wonderful phrasing and tone, despite some health scares over recent years which saw her temporarily fear the loss of her voice. Her ability to interpret a song over many years of experience has served her well and she tackles covers by Martha Carson (I Can't Stand Up Alone), Jesse Winchester (Little Glass Of Wine), The Wood Brothers (Chocolate on My Tongue), Bobbie Gentry (Ode To Billie Joe) and Joan Osborne (St. Teresa) with her unique stamp of making the songs her own.

Mostly the songs are pared down to simple guitar or piano accompaniment and this allows for a new perspective on the sentiment or words contained within.  A good example is her treatment of the traditional arrangement, He Moves Through The Fair and the fine version of Mercy Now, a timeless classic written by Mary Gauthier. 

Production by Tim O’Brien is wonderfully bright and vibrant in the speakers and the musicians excel on every track. Welcome back to one of the greats.

Martha L. Healy Keep the Flame Alight Self Release

This is the second release from a Scottish artist who really impresses. Healy sings in a confident and strong style that brings an extra energy to these ten tracks and the instantly appealing openers, No Place Like Home and Fall In Love Again, have you hooked from the outset.

Recorded in Nashville during 2017, Healy used the production talents of David Spicher who had worked on her debut release, Better Days, back in 2014. Local Nashville session players on the sessions include Bill Cooley (guitars/bazouki), Todd Lombardo (guitars/mandolin), Rory Hoffman (accordion, piano), Eamon McLoughlin (fiddle), Wendy Newcomer (vocals), Dave Racine (drums) and Chas Williams (Dobro). All songs are penned by Healy with one co-write included, We Will Be OK, written with Wendy Newcomer and a song that speaks of hope for tomorrow.

The title track is a personal testament to the need to keep enduring and work through the inevitable hard times that we all face from time to time on our respective journeys. The swing and the swagger of Woman With No Shame channels Dolly at her best and the Folk tinged Unmade Bed takes a wry look at an old relationship that time has passed by ("All that is left is the things that they should have said; in an unmade bed...").

There is a soulful power to Livin’ Someone Else’s Dream and the frustrated message of this song is extended into Sisters To Strangers, a look back at the toll paid in living a life that veers away from youthful hopes and dreams. The closing ballad, Don’t Give Up, is a fitting sentiment to an artist who has forged a career for herself that continues to grow and the momentum gained with this superb release will surely power her along to greater heights.

Lisa Mednick Powell Blue Book Self Release

This collection of ten songs has a release date in 2017 but only recently found its way to the Lonesome Highway mailbox. It is a real keeper and worthy of a belated review, albeit at the end of 2018.

There is a wistful atmosphere to these reflective sounds and a sense of long forgotten memories that come back to remind us of younger days. Understated, stripped back arrangements and a soft focus to the production on songs that resonate and repeat like some lost dream…

Victoria Williams, Tommy Malone, Alison Young, Greg Leisz, among others, assist in the studio but it is the focus of Lisa and her husband, bass player and co-writer, Kip Powell, that brings the magic to tracks Checkpoint, Cold Coffee and Highway Prayer.

With a debut release in 1994, (Artifacts Of Love), it was 2002 before the release of her follow-up (Semaphore), until sixteen years later we are given Blue Book. This artist has played with Earl King, Alejandro Escovedo, Ray Wylie Hubbard, James McMurtry to name but a few and has quite an eclectic history, having toured with The Chills and Juliana Hatfield. Something for every taste here. 

Tom Freund East of Lincoln Surf Road 

A quality release from an artist who has been creating terrific music for over 20 years. He has collaborated with so many headline names, such as Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Ben Harper, Jackson Browne, The Silos to name a few… His song-writing is superbly crafted and his back catalogue is well worth investigation. On this latest release there are eleven songs and Freund is joined by a list of great players – drums from Matt Johnson (St. Vincent, Jeff Buckley) and Michael Jerome (Richard Thompson, John Cale, Blind Boys of Alabama), pedal and lap steel from Ben Peeler (Dawes, Shelby Lynne, Father John Misty), keys from Rami Jaffe (Foo Fighters, Ryan Adams) and Chris Joyner (Sara Bareilles, Rickie Lee Jones) and violin from Jessy Greene (Wilco, The Jayhawks). 

His writing is subtly laid-back in style but filled with little gems and great insights. A toxic relationship in Freezer Burn is captured in the lines "I was running on hope and fumes" while the self examination of a life lived in the fast lane (Brokedown Jubilee) is referenced with "I was a friend of the devil, but even he got sick of me." 

Abandoning The Ship and Homer Simpson’s Clouds (Day Of The Locust) are other tracks with real punch. Great writing and excellent songs that stay in the memory long after the disc has finished. Always a good sign!

Brad Colerick Nine Ten Thirty Back 9 

This is the fifth release from Los Angeles resident & singer-songwriter Brad Colerick. It was recorded in South Pasedena and co-produced by Colerick and Guillermo Guzman, who contributes bass and percussion across most of the 12 tracks.

They are joined by a group of local musicians who play their part in adding colour to the song arrangements. David Plenn on electric & 12-string guitars is very much to the fore as are the talents of Tim Fleming on pedal steel, dobro, 12-string and baritone guitars. 

Colerick sings in an easy style and there is a commercial, contemporary sound to tracks like Bachelorette Party, while Great Year and Millard Stream channel a Jimmy Buffet style and the sense of a soft breeze on a sunny day. Healer, Almost Home and Weeds are songs with a gentle tempo that drift along on a pleasant groove. A very easy listening experience. 

Ultan Conlon Last Days Of The Night Owl Darksideout

In the five years since his last release, this talented singer-songwriter has continued to grow into an artist of real quality and his creative muse is further enhanced on this latest project. There are twelve songs included and the warm production adds greatly to the arrangements and melodies of opening songs, As The Light Gets Low, The Town Square and Hall Of Mirrors, which set the tone for the rest of the album.

There is some lovely tight playing from the band that comprises of Ultan (acoustic guitars, vocals), Dave Curtis (electric guitars, baritone and 12-string guitars, piano, keyboards and vocals), Jon O’Connell (double and electric bass, acoustic guitar and lap-steel, mandola & vocals), Donal Kerins (drums, vocals), along with Jimi Higgins on percussion, Sabrina Dinan on vocals and Adam Shapiro on violin. 

Strings and brass add greatly to the overall production and these were recorded at Tesla Studios in Sheffield with additional musicians credited in the liner notes, along with pedal steel credits to Russ Pahl in Nashville, who plays on A Weak Heart Like Mine... This has recently been released as a duet with Mary Coghlan providing vocals to great effect.

Quite an investment in terms of energy and time, the commitment given certainly pays off and Ultan can move forward with some confidence into a future that holds plenty more opportunity to build further media attention.

Sorrow Ease and Hurt Inside are fine songs with gentle tones while Ojai takes things down a little with the reminiscence of a city trip, with an old flame, that still lingers in the memory. The radio friendly sounds of The Measure and Twice The Child are perfect examples of how astute a song-writer Ultan is; plenty of feel-good grooves and sing-along choruses that point to increased chart opportunity. However, it is the quiet, pensive strum of the final track, The Fine Art Of Happiness, that gives the greatest hint towards the future success of this blossoming talent. A release of some substance and one that comes highly recommended.

Sina Theil Under Cover Downda Road

Debut release from an artist who was born in Germany and has now settled in Ireland and taking her music career to the next level. Sina has quite a talent and her abilities have seen her songs achieve seven separate number one slots on the Country download charts from her Kildare base. 

This covers record has already gone to the number one slot on the Country download charts and to see what all the fuss is about; well, just go and buy this collection of eleven songs.

The difficulty with releasing a covers record is that you are "damned if you do; damned if you don’t…" Delivering a decent version of a favourite song is hard to do and if you fall short then you open yourself to all sorts of criticism. Especially if you decide to cover such diverse artists as Gretchen Wilson, Cheap Trick, Paul Brady, Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Eagles.

The good news is that Sina carries it all off with some style and the overall production by Brian O’Mahoney at Golden Egg Studios in Portlaoise is very impressive. The players, including O’Mahony, deliver a tight sound across each track and the fiddle playing of John Davidson is a real joy throughout and brings a real country feel to covers of These Boots Were Made For Walkin’ (Lee Hazelwood) and I Want You To Want Me (Cheap Trick).

Some of the covers work better than others, which is only to be expected across such an eclectic mix of choices. However, the overall project is very infectious and the three Brandy Clark inclusions (Stripes, Crazy Women, Since You’ve Gone To Heaven) show the key influences in Sina’s choices. She certainly likes to rock it up but it is the superb version of Colder Weather (Zac Brown Band) that steals the show and points a clear direction for where this talented artist should concentrate when it comes to following this release.

A word about the stylish press kit that was given to Lonesome Highway and the colourful biography and three separate singles that were included. Proof positive that here is an artist with her eyes set on the big prize. The packaging is high quality and makes a statement about the very professional approach being taken here. 

A recent single is Travelin’ Soldier (Bruce Robison), covered by the Dixie Chicks, and is blended with the traditional Irish song, The Minstrel Boy, to great effect. Not included on this covers release but another reason to seek out this rising talent. Watch this space…  



Reviews by Eilís Boland

Nathan Evans Fox Texas Dust Self Release 

The title track of this outstanding second album from folk/Americana artist Nathan Evans Fox chronicles the tragic story of his grandfather, which Nathan discovered quite recently and which inspired the whole collection of songs here. His grandfather was a migrant Tennessean worker who ended up in Texas, volunteered for the army and was posted into conflict abroad. After a family tragedy, he was granted a compassionate discharge and returned home to try to pick up the pieces. The universal theme of the struggle of soldiers to return to civilian life and family after the horrors of war is explored with stark imagery -‘I can’t change all my ways, I can’t change the laws of grief’ - and with some fine fiddle playing and echoes of military snare drum from Nathan himself. 

Displacement - from family, from friends and from familiar landscapes - is the other overriding theme in most of the songs. A North Carolina native, where he was immersed in country, rock, bluegrass and gospel music growing up, Nathan spent a year working in the Texas flatlands. On the evidence of the melancholy songs that were inspired there, one can safely assume that it didn’t go very well.

Texas Blues No.7 deals with that time, when he struggled with his faith and had somewhat of a meltdown.  ‘Lost my taste for poetry, picked up my taste for gin’. Simple accompaniment by Nathan on acoustic guitar and some subtle Hammond organ are all that are needed as a backdrop to his gritty vocals.

St Louis is another song wherein the temptations of wanderlust are tempered by the worry of being away from ageing loved ones, this time bookended by Nathan’s superb mandolin playing. It’s not all melancholic, thankfully. There are some memorable love songs here too.

Despite what one would expect from the title, Grief Song is a beautiful love song accompanied by Nathan’s piano and fiddle, atmospheric upright bass from Mike Conners and enhanced further by gorgeous backing vocals from Lindsay Foote. She is a revelation throughout the album, but particularly on another love song, (the inappropriately titled) Texas Blues No.4, where she sings a duet with Nathan.

Corn Whiskey is a gentle country ballad about an Appalachian couple’s adventures in evading the law, which comes to the inevitable gruesome end. The staying power of love in a long-term relationship is explored in Quicksand, where more sweet piano playing from Nathan is perfectly enhanced by claw hammer banjo from Mike Conners. Seek out this excellent album and enjoy.

Montana Tunesmith Dream Catch Self Release

‘Never judge a book by the cover’ goes the old adage and I certainly learned this lesson when I first played this album. My expectations had been low - I didn’t particularly take to the stylised cover painting of the salmon leaping out of the lilac tinted lake (apologies to acclaimed Montana artist Monte Dolack) - I had speculated that this would be another collection of mediocre songs with a New Age sensibility. How wrong I was! From the very first chords I knew this was something special. 

Brothers Tim and Mike Nordstrom make up the band - Tim is the main songwriter and instrumentalist while Mike contributes vocals. For this their third album they have returned to Texas to work again with maestro producer and multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines in The Zone studio, where everybody who’s anybody in Texas music has recorded at one time or another. 

I suspect Lloyd Maines had a simple task, however, along with his bunch of seasoned session musicians, because the material brought to him by this little known duo from Montana was indeed much better than average.  

This is true Americana music. Tim Nordstrom is justifiably proud of his home state and this pride permeates all the songs here, either overtly or covertly. The musical style is a combination of folk, rock and country. As well as Lloyd Maines playing his signature pedal steel and dobro etc, he is joined by Pat Manske (Joe Ely, Alexandra Escovedo) on drums and Dennis Ludiker (Asleep At The Wheel) on fiddle and mandolin.

It’s difficult to single out a favourite song, but title track Dream Catch is particularly memorable - inspired by the death bed story told by an elderly grandmother who once caught a 21lb fish and then let it go. They are joined on this song by renowned fiddle player Tracey Grammer, who  contributes vocals as well as a gorgeous fiddle instrumental interlude.

There are many story songs - Beatnik Son, Hillbilly Storm Chaser and Death of a Salesman are outstanding. 31 Flavors bemoans the decline of culture as a price for the rise of convenience and mass production. Destination Desolation is a rollicking country road song.

Unusually for a record, there’s a three song epilogue, ‘dedicated to Montanans who have protected the natural environment’. The first of these is overly sentimental, but it’s saved by some searing pedal steel courtesy of Lloyd Maines. Full Moon On The Missions and One Montana are truly beautiful and moving.

Tim and Mike’s vocals are clear throughout the album, and their sibling harmonies are as sublime as one would expect. If this album doesn’t make you want to go visit Montana, nothing ever will.

PK Gregory Honkabilly Blues Genuine Butter 

Some very funny songs from one-man-band PK Gregory which will whet your appetite to see him live. PK manages to inject humour into every situation - so much so that I found myself smiling through almost every song here. As well as being possessed of an irreverent sense of humour, he’s an excellent composer of melodies. He plays mainly electric guitar, which is punctuated by bluesy harmonica and percussion from a foot drum. 

There are love songs (of sorts!) like She Showed Me A Picture Of Her Cat and Beat Me Senseless With Your Love. Then there are more conventional love songs like She’s Not My Type (She’s Not You)  and Let’s Not Fight - which is a plea to a long term partner to hang up the gloves (although this one is not for the easily offended either).

He excels at evoking the gothic in the black humour of My Soul Is A Wasteland Of Pain And Death and The Executioner’s Song, both of which are delivered at lively ditty pace. By contrast, Heck Of A Deal delivers a serious message about bullying. Kelly Got The Stomach Flu is just hilarious. Best of all is the opening song The Jesus Cure in which PK details his Catholic schoolboy obsession with a young female teacher who happened to have been a nun!

The overall musical direction is country blues with folk and honkytonk thrown in. It was all recorded live in his home studio so there’s nothing fancy here, but I expect it’s a good indication of how he sounds in a live gig situation.Based in Arizona, I don’t expect he’ll be touring Europe anytime soon, more’s the pity.

The Mallett Brothers Band Vive L’Acadie Self Release  

If you like your rock on the heavy side, with a touch of country, blues and southern thrown in, then this could be the album for you. This is their fifth recording since the brothers Luke and Will Mallett formed their band in 2009. They’ve been playing in their native Maine and up and down the East coast and Mid-West of the US ever since. 

The title track Vive L’Acadie is a nod towards the Acadia region, which stretches from the north east corner of Maine right up into Quebec. However, apart from a Cajun feel to this opening celebratory song of all things French-Canadian (with superb fiddle playing from Andrew Martell) the rest of the album has a more conventional country rock feel.

There are story songs - Onawa tells the tragic true story of a head-on train collision in 1919, when 23 newly arrived Scottish and English emigrants lost their lives. There are trucking songs - the metal heavy Headed Home starts at a gentle pace as the long distance trucker bemoans his lot, only to build into a frenzy that even ZZ Top would be proud of. Then there are the songs of the ordinary working class heroes from every small town in America - Too Much Trouble is a musical contrast to most of the album with acoustic guitar and fiddle dominating.

But of course there are also the love songs. In Few More Dozen Roses the said flowers end up ‘on the side of the road’, allowing Wally’s steel guitar to get a peek in (it is otherwise drowned out in the mix throughout the album, as is the mandolin and banjo, unfortunately).

The album is attractively packaged in a trifold digipak with a lyric book (essential as Luke Mallett’s growly vocals are difficult to decipher!) and with lovely illustrations by Nyla Smith-Lachman.


Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Ben Da La Cour The High Cost Of Living Strange FSCR

This is one of those albums that transcends all expectations because of the strength of the songs and performance. Da La Cour is a singer/songwriter in the roots/Americana mode but one who with this fourth release shows himself as a contender to join the likes of Rod Picott and Slaid Cleeves as contenders to the crown of Guy Clarke and other notable songsmiths. In the song Uncle Boudreaux Went To Texas he has written a couple of the best lines I have heard all year. “He swore he met Townes van Zandt outside a bar in Houston this one time, I always did believe him, my Daddy told me he was full of shit, he said the closest Boudreaux ever got to Texas was Willie’s Greatest Hits.” Although there are only 8 tracks on this mini-album all are strong and there’s variety in the mood and temposthat make for a consistently interesting listen.

Recorded in Nashville,itwas produced by De La Cour and Joe Lekkas and tight group of musicians who deliver their best shots. Fiddle and accordion join a bass, drum and guitar line up to deliver a warm and full sounding recording. De La Cour has a background in metal and rock but is now firmly ensconced in folk/roots story-telling. De La Cour has called this "Americanoir" - an appropriate description. One trackGuy Clark’s Fiddlesuggestthat he has absorbed some of the best writers around but these tracks are proof positive that his own writing is heading in the right direction. The themes may not be unique in the genre but they feature observations that are as true as any. Company Town is a look at the death of a town and the death of hope. Tupelo is a darker tale of escapism and endangerment. There is an acute sense of observation in the writing that is turned into memorable songs.

Da La Cour was raised in New York but moved to Los Angeles before settling in Nashville for the time being. He has couple of previous releases (A Wasted Moon and Ghost Light) before this current release which simply leaves you wantingmore from this engaging story teller. Hopefully in the not-to-distant future. He is expressing the need for humanity and the lack of it that exists in society at large. Something that has it cost in either living strange or in the strange aspects of living.

Thomas Gabriel Long Way Home Oxvision

On his recordings Thomas Gabriel sounds even more like his Grandfather Johnny Cash that even in the live setting. Gabriel himself has said he feels that he doesn’t have anything like the resonance and gravity that Cash had. Even so the casual listener may think that he is listening to tribute rather than a voice that respects and relates to such an icon. Once you get over the vocal affinity you are left with an album that in some ways has more in keeping with Cash’s later works than the earlier Sun styled recordings. This album, produced by Matthew Oxley, is centered around the voice but behind that is a forward looking set of arrangements that are full of atmospheric ambience.

In its favourit features 14 new original songs, some written by Gabriel, solo or with a writing partner Rick Scott or by executive producer Brian Oxley,for the most part. They are defiant statements of life as understood and realised by a man who had recently served several years in prison and had dealt with the demons of addiction. Cell is the most obvious of these but most of these songs have a darkness in their heart. In that light,Gabriel’svoice suits these tales of hardship and self awareness. However, there is a sense of redemption there also with a song like Come To Me song that offers a vision of a better place to lay your burdens down. Twangtown is a rebuke of those who have (always) favoured finance over heritage and real music in Music City.

Gabriel has said that this album represents and certain point in his life and recovery and that his next album will, likely, be coming from a better place. As it stands,musically,this is not intended as an easy listen. It is a recording that marks a scion of a legendary family trying to find his own path who sees no reason to try and change his voice to something different than it is. What it represents, is a living memory of an icon, while trying to find hisown identity andnever denying the lineage. It is a long way home for Gabriel but he is taking it one step at a time. Steps that in themselves are as strong as his voice. 

Carson McHone Carousel Loose

An artist with a back story that finds her playing a residency in an Austin nightspot at an age where she wouldn’t have legally been allowed to drink there. Now,after that live playing experience and with two previous releases behind herMcHone has sharpened her craft to include her past and her future. To encompass some traditional country influences that were part and parcel of her upbringing as well as to bring the music forward. This was done by bringing in producer Mike McCarthy who had worked with Spoon and Patty Griffin, to name but two. He has also gathered solid rhythm section over which fiddle, steel and electric guitar enhance and explore country’s perimeters without even losing sight of that musical core.

The themes of country music are here, the failed relationships (Sad And Gentle). Many come from an autographical background and some are revised and rerecorded form her earlier Goodluck Man release. Playing in bars from a tender age undoubtably will colour your viewpoint of life and relationships. Seen first-handthat experienceno doubt inspired some of these songs,which often have a melancholy undertow,that gives them a sense of confessional purpose. It is an album that is moving away from a strict traditional country base to something more contemporary and imbued with a wealth of other influences that are still aligned with a vision of where McHone might take this music in order to suit each song in its own right.

The upfront Drugs and Dram Shop Gal whose lines “But I still like to do my runnin’ round, so it couldn't be, I would not be bound” show that there is a determination to move on as a person and with her music. She is able to give each song on Carousel its own space and place allowing the songs their individual tempo and setting. There’s the piano and brushed drums mood of How ‘Bout it. That contact with the dance floor best of Good Time Daddy Blues. The overall mood of the album though is more plaintive without ever losingits energy and focus. McHone is exploring her options but has still created an album that manages to be considered country while moving beyond any restrictive boundaries. Life goes round and we wait to see which carousel horse McHone arrives on next.

Hunter Perrin Wild Card Self Release

It comes as no surprise that Hunter Perrin spent time as a member of John Fogerty’s band. He has distilled the elements of rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll into a new album that delivers 10 songs in 23 minutesof American music that thrills and avoids and excess fat. It is a sound that some mayfind too sparse and stripped back but it’s one that this review revels in. The themes are classic and timeless and could have been recorded anytime since the 50s. 

Titles like A Tear From A Bloodshot Eye, Another Lonesome Night In A Lonesome Town and That’s You, That’s Me, That’s All cover some basic emotional modes of the heart with a strong sense of hook and melody that makes you think that these songs have been around for quite some time. They are all however written by Perrin and played with his band mates Christopher Allis on drums and Thomas Lorioux on upright bass. This duo lay a solid rhythm under which Perrin sings and plays a big Bigsby tremoloed guitar. One song, Gallup, NM (New Mexico) is a vibrant instrumental and is set in that particular location, as is California Is My Home; a song that details his previous and current home bases. He is equally well versed musically,having studied at Yale and the University of Texas,where he studied classical guitarist.  He played in a rock band in NewYork called Hi-Five and has subsequently started three other bands as well as releasing two solo albums.

Although this album is released under his own name it is more of a band album in overall sound. A sound that is obviously a deliberate one given his undoubted range and experience. Perrin’s wild card is his innate ability to produce an album that has no fat or filler and all of its ten songs are somemorable and deceptively simple in their recording that they feel fresh and fundamental.

Connie Smith My Part Of Forever (Vol.1) Humphead

There may be lot of singers in country music better known than Connie Smith but few are better vocalists. This is another collection by the (generally) reissue label Humphead who have a collection of double CDs that are mainly drawn from a particular time of an artist’scareer and from a label they can licence the tracks from. in this case Smith and husband Marty Stuart have made the selection of tracks that span her career. So CD1 runs from 1973 to 1985. Songs from when she was signed to Columbia that include a good half dozen albums. She worked with producers Ray Baker and George Richey during this period and the sound is steadfastly traditional country without ever getting stuck in a rut. The range of writers was equally varied from Hank Williams through Dallas Frazier to Steve Earle.

The second CD takes tracks from more recent albums and finds Smith’svoice if anything stronger and more authoritative. There aremany tracks from Long Line Of Heartaches that was released by Sugar Hill in 2011,as well as the Warner released self-titled album from 1998through to an album I wasn’t aware of entitled The Lost Tapes - Country Rewind 1972-2015 - which as it suggests is a collection of rare and unreleased recordings. Stuart acts as executive producer on these Scotty Moore produced tracks. The other tracks were produced by Stuart himself and the sound is balanced and undoubtably country and at odds with the move towards a more pop-oriented sound. One listen to My Part Of Forever and you hear a masterclass in country music as it should be.

One might readily assume that at least some of the recent tracks benefit from the playing of Smith’s band The Sundowners who included steel player Gary Carter as well as Robbie Turner. Steel guitar is very much in evidence and central to many of these tracks. As a career overview it is a well thought out selection that sees Smith at the top of her game after remaining vital for nearly half a century. Something that not many can say. Alan Cackett’s sleeve notes are informative and they complete the package. It leaves one looking forward to Volume 2.

Mike Blakely The Outside Circle Swing Rider

With the new Colter Wall album focusing on the Western side of country music this album from Blakely is welcome. Blakey isstoryteller and uses these ten tracks to paint a vivid picture of a time and way of living that is all but gone. He does so in the tradition of the original singing cowboys and exponents like Michael Martin Murphy, Ian Tyson and Wylie Gustafson. Blakey’slatest album is his 13th and a return to the C&W format that he featured on his first two albums. He is also the author of Western novels and winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award and is steeped in the lores and motivations of those who love the feel of that time and those legends of the west, sung and unsung.

As a writer he has had his songs covered by the likes of Alan Jackson and Raul Malo among many others. Blakely is a native Texan who brings life to his songs of cowboys, round-ups and rodeos. His voice is ideal with a depth that is both warm and appropriately worn. The album was produced by Walt Wilkins and Ron Flynt and features a host of Austin players including Lloyd Maines on steel guitar, Rich Brotherton on mandolin and Kim Deschamps on resonator. The songs are originals written by Blakely solo or with Damon Rogers,other than the traditional song,The Colorado Trail. The Ballad Of Josiah Wilbarger is a seven minute plus tale of the trialsand tribulations of the rider and his encounter with a Comanche raiding party. It is a compelling story that does everything that is should over a simple and sparse backingfronted by Blakley’s captivating vocal.

This sub-genre of country may not be overtly popular but is one that still thrives and has many followers and exponents. If you are at all a follower of the Western ethos in movie, book or song then The Outside Circle is an album that you will want to explore and it is one I have returned to often since it arrived.


Reviews by Declan Culliton

Kristina Murray Southern Ambrosia Loud Magnolia 

The album cover of Southern Ambrosia, depicting Kristina Murray in semi darkness, has more than a passing resemblance to Emmylou Harris’s Luxury Liner. Possibly coincidence or possibly a statement of intent from the Georgia born Nashville resident. Murray first came to my attention a few years back when she was introduced by J.P. Harris as the finest country singer currently residing in Nashville, before she performed a few numbers midway through his own set at Americana Fest. She had previously worked with Harris as a backing vocalist, appearing on stage at The Grand Ole Opry and gaining a reputation as one to watch’ among the thriving East Nashville artistic community. She appears regularly at The American Legion in East Nashville, where a new generation of artists, along with more established names, keep the flag flying for traditional country music.  

The album was recorded in Nashville at both Sound Stage Studios and Welcome to 1979, under the watchful eye of Michael Rinne, who previously produced other East Nashville emerging artists Caroline Spence, Erin Rae and Kelsey Waldon.

Murray’s vocal is unadulterated country, wonderfully accented with a nasally drawl that fits the part, though I did find it a tad difficult to catch her lyrics from time to time, in the absence of a lyric sheet. She writes and sings from the heart, kicking off with the first track Made in America,(a first cousin to Margo Price’s All American Made perhaps), which visits the anguish and despair, coupled with the pride, resilience and contradictions of being a Southerner. It'a lively opener with Murray making a statement that she has more strings to her bow than simply being a great honky tonk vocalist. It also fosters some nifty guitar work by Kris Donegan and pedal steel courtesy of Justin Schipper, both of whom contribute in no small manner throughout the album.  

Personal pain and the despair of others are awash throughout the album, from the hopelessness and inevitability of Slow Kill, to the drug fueled violence of The Ballad Of Angel & Donnie, which also includes a killer guitar break by Donegan. The tempo of both tracks almost masks the painful lyrics, with a delivery that recalls an early career Carlene Carter at her boldest. Tell Me is a gentle, drop dead gorgeous and moving country break up ballad, sung as a duet with Frank Carter Rische, with a nod perhaps to Emmylou. Potters Field is similarly paced, equally striking and laced with baroscopic slide and pedal steel. The instantly appealing Lovers & Liars is an epilogue for a soured and broken relationship.It kicks off with wailing harmonica courtesy of Pat Bergeson and a slick bass line before Murray’s drawl kicks in. Strong Blood remembers her father, whose material legacy may only have been a bag of power tools and a few busted pick-up trucks, but who instilled in his daughter a strength of character and resilience. The self-deprecating Jokes On Me simply aches, both Murrays vocal and Justin Schippers eerie pedal steel setting an almost tearful atmosphere to the albums closer.

Southern Ambrosia is the second album from Murray, following her 2013 release Lights Out For The Lonesome. It’s broader reaching than its predecessor, not locked in traditional country and a further substantiation of her talent not only as a vocalist but also as a storyteller. Most of the tales may be depressing, dark and void of happy endings, but theyre honest, real life and compelling, from an artist that has served her time playing dive bars in Colorado before adding backing vocals to other artists. Shes finally arrived where she belongs, front of stage and with the support of cracking musicians. 

It’s inexcusable given the endless talent of female artists among the East Nashville community, that only Margo Price has got the deserved recognition, and she had to literally sweat blood for her breaks. Kristine Murray is yet another resident of that neighbourhood who, together with Erin Rae, Lilly Hiatt and others, could comfortably make a major industry breakthrough given the exposure and industry support. Southern Ambrosia is an album that sounds better and better on every spin and cant be recommended highly enough.

Neilson Hubbard Cumberland Island Proper 

Cumberland Island, Georgia is the largest of the Sea Islands of the southeastern United States. The ruins of the Carnegie mansion, destroyed by fire in 1959, remain on the island and the grounds are still populated by wild horses, dating back to their arrival in the 16th Century thanks to the Spanish Conquistadors. Cumberland Island is also the title of Neilson Hubbard’s most recent album and the inner album sleeve articulates how he and his wife spent a magical afternoon on the desolate island, one day after they were married. The inspiration generated by his visit to the island, and his marriage, are the stimulus for much of the album’s material and its artwork, with tracks such as the stunning My Heart Belongs To You and For My Love reflecting the latter and needing little explanation. 

Hubbard’s early career included his first band Spoon, before forming The Living Hand with Clay Jones, releasing two albums prior to pursuing a solo career and recording four solo albums between 1997 and 2008. The highly regarded Strays Don’t Sleep, a collaboration with Matthew Ryan was also released in 2006. Much of Hubbard’s energies in the intervening period were taken up with production work, working with artists such as Amelia White, Tyler James, Amy Speace and more recently Ben Glover’s album Shorebound and Mary Gauthier’s Americana Music Association Album Of The Year nominated Rifles And Rosary Beads.Hubbard, together with Ben Glover and Joshua Britt are also members of the roots band Orphan Brigade. 

Recorded in less than one week with Ben Glover sharing the production duties, the album is beautifully presented both in its packaging, photography and liner notes. The quality of the songs are equally impressive from the opener and title track – a dreamish Celtic Folk feel underscored by Eamon McLoughlin’s delicate violin playing – it recalls Van Morrison’s You Know What They’re Writing About with Glover’s influence as co-writer most evident. Equally impressive is How Much Longer Can We Bend, also co-written with Glover. Country gospel is the order of the day on Old Black Riverand the previously mentioned My Heart Belongs To Youis the album’s stand out track, a song that could very easily grow wings in a similar vein to Eric Bogle’s And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. It features in the main just Hubbard’s vocals in front of Danny Mitchell’s sympathetic piano and discreet horns. Don’t Make Me Walk This World On My Own also benefits from a similar exquisite mix of vocals, piano and horns.

Contributing to the album are a collection of Nashville big hitters including Will Kimbrough (guitars), Danny Mitchel (keys & horns), Dean Marold (bass), Eamon McLoughlin (violin), Natalie Schlabs and Audrey Spillman Hubbard (harmonies) and fellow Orphan Brigade members Ben Glover (acoustic guitar) and Joshua Britt (mandolin). There is a mellow style to much of the material on Cumberland Island, plaintive clear vocals revealing an artist growing in confidence and aided by a team of accomplished musicians and co-writers. An understated gem of an album, well worth checking out. I’m sure you’ll enjoy as much as I am.

Various Artists This Is Loose Loose

Celebrating their 20th Anniversary, Loose remain the champion of all things Americana in Europe. This Is Loose, a fifteen-track compilation, is a further reminder of the quality acts that the Loose family represent and includes tracks from 2017, 2018 and indeed 2019, with the inclusion of songs by both Frankie Lee (Downtown Lights) and William The Conqueror (Bleeding On The Soundtrack), both to be included in their forthcoming albums.

The list of artists covered in the recording reads as a ‘who’s who’ at the business end of the Americana market, both in the US and U.K. Included are leading lights such as Courtney Marie Andrews, Israel Nash and Andrew Combs representing the more established international acts, with more local and emerging acts Treetop Flyers and William The Conqueror also featured. Jim White has always been beyond categorisation and his inclusion on the label is the perfect marriage and included is the equally talented and no easier to categorise Joana Serrat. 

We’re reminded of the untimely passing of Robert Fisher in 2017 by the inclusion of Untethered from Willard Grant Conspiracy’s album of the same title. The album remained unfinished at the time of his death but was subsequently completed by his musical friends. Recent signing Sons Of Bill open the album with Good Morning (They Can’t Break You Now) from their recent and most experimental album to date titled OH God Ma’am and everybody’s favourite live band Danny & The Champions Of The World feature by way of Don’t Walk Away.

The Americans, Gill Landry, Ian Felice and Frontier Ruckus complete the line up in what is the perfect CD to pop in the player and let Loose select your playlist. Roll on the next 20 years!

Ariel Bui Disguised As Fate (10th Anniversary Edition) Love Note Collectables

I also honour your suffering and pain, remembering only vaguely now the depths of your trauma and despair that seemed never ending. I want to tell you; your life will get better. You will have adventures and learn to set better boundaries, find stability and peace’’.

The quote above forms part of a memo on the inside sleeve of the album Disguised As Fate, written today by Bui to her younger self, in recognition of her arduous voyage from a coming of age teenager to the fulfilled young adult that she is today. 

The tenth anniversary re-release of Ariel Buis debut album was celebrated on September 16th at The Fond Object in East Nashville, on the closing day of the Americana Festival. Disguised As Fate was written by Bui between the ages of 15 and 20 while she, as a consequence of her mothers mental illness, lived in various parts of the US, often with other members of her family. Her parents had emigrated from Vietnam to the US at the end of the Vietnam War and growing up, particularly in the predominately white environment of Florida, was difficult for Bui, coupled with her mothers illness.

Now a classically trained musician and graduate of Rollins College in Florida, the album is in many ways a diary of that often traumatic and stressful youth, all of which heavily influenced the album. Titles include The Stranger (“My love for yous disguised as hate, So I can have someone to blame, For the fact that I couldn’tmake you love me’’), How It Should Be (“All our lives we spend afraid, Of the future we have made’’) and Change (“But one day, someone sweet will come my way, And Ill keep him at bay, Because I am afraid’’). All point to a young lady openly questioning and attempting to come to terms with her predicament. 

The album was co-produced by a close friend Dylan Ethier, who released it on his own Love Note Collectables label. Stripped back to the bare bones, the material essentially features Buis vocals and acoustic guitar, as she confronts the life issues shes been dealt. The vulnerability and frailty in her vocals and lyrics are all too evident and, in many ways, recall a young Dolores ORiordan.

Bui graduated from Rollins College in 2009 and abandoned the notion of a musical career, instead relocating to New Mexico, where she took up employment in a radically sustainable firm of architects and then worked for AmeriCorps’ Energy Conservation.Next, finding herself at a crossroads career wise, she was actively encouraged to revisit her musical vocation by friends who had recognised her unique and unclassifiable musical inventiveness. She subsequently settled in East Nashville and founded The Melodia Studio, which offers musical lessons to students of all ages, with the particular emphasis on fun learning’. 

The re-release of Disguised As Fate is much more than simply an album. It is a brave celebration of the resilience of a young woman, against all the odds in many instances, who has found her true vocation in life as an artist and musical educator. Its not a Saturday night party listen and needs to be approached in the context of the intriguing backstory. 

The memo quoted at the top of this review, in its totality, together with the poetic lyrics from this album, could fittingly be included in English Literature school curriculums for teenagers, by way of reassurance and awareness that difficult times do pass. 


Michelle Lewis All Thats Left Self Released 

Originally from Boston but currently residing in Los Angeles, Michelle Lewis has been playing piano from the age of eight, moving to guitar in her teens and is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music. All That’s Left is the latest instalment and third release from her, whose debut album This Time Around was released back in 2004. She is not to be confused with another American songwriter of the same name whose claim to fame includes writing for Disney soundtracks and Cher.

Her music is best described as folk approaching pop, highlighting not only her very impressive vocals but also her sensitive and delicate songwriting ability. The album features eleven tracks in total, with topics covering the full range of emotions, from the tranquil In Love Againand You And Me, to the resolve of Push On, which has been released as a singleA self-confessed lover of the more sad and mournful side of songwriting Lewis’s darker emotions are visited in Scars and All That’s Left. A cover of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark is also included, a more unhurried delivery than the original with the focus on her vocals. 

Co-produced by Lewis and Anthony J. Resta, the album was recorded at Bopnique Musique in Los Angeles. Lewis has delivered some thoughtful song constructions on All Thats Left, that could quite easily find their way onto playlists on commercial daytime radio stations.

Rob Mc Hale Prophets On The Boulevard Wooden Door

North Carolina based folk singer Bob Mc Hales albums are consistently well turned out, both in musical content, cover design and packaging. Mc Hale is very much a disciple of his fellow Statesman Woody Guthrie and his songs follow a similar trail, with the emphasis often on the environment and equality. The thirteen tracks on the album are all self-written with the exception of Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster, which is given a makeover and presented in a delightfully lazy J.J.Cale type delivery. A follower of Guthrie McHale may be, but his musical style often has more in common with British Folk than closer to his home State.

Up to fifteen instruments and ten players were employed in the recording altogether including Mc Hales regular players, his brother Pat who adds harmonica and his guitar player Mike Alicke. Four female vocalists also contribute. 

The striking streetscape cover painting by David Merck depicts a rundown town with an animated bearded bible wielding evangelist preaching to a group of people, while around the corner a lady of the night invites custom from a passing motorist and a presumably dead body lies on the pavement. A couple of yards down the street a guitarist (possibly Mc Hale) sits busking on the street.

Standout tracks are the breezy opener Common Ground, the gentle tribute song Woodys Shoes and When Im With, a rocky closer that bookends the album. 

Marla & David Celia Daydreamers Seedling 

Male and female double acts seem currently to be the order of the day, with endless combinations recording and touring, often under the Americana umbrella. Marla and David Celia, who both have previous recorded output, have released their first joint album having toured extensively over the past few years, primarily in Canada, Russia and Europe. 

David Celia is a Canadian born artist whose four individual albums include influences as far ranging as Gordon Lightfoot and 60s Brit pop. He encountered the Heidelberg native Marla at a music festival in Germany and went on to produce her debut album Madawaska Valley in 2016. 

Where many of their like have followed the Welch/Rawlings model, exploring music of long bygone days, this combination’s output is closer to The Everly Brothers take on folk and country music. Aptly titled Daydreamers, the album is composed by two artists that appear as musically compatible as they are romantically. The overall feel of the album is of fondness and affection, with titles such as Lover Of Mine, I Am Her Man and Heart Like A Dove. Much more than a personalised mutual admiration recording, the album maintains a relaxing and soothing essence throughout, courtesy of some beautiful harmonies by the pair and consistently strong material. The album was recorded at The Rooster Studios in Toronto and self-produced by the couple under the supervision of experienced producer Don Kerr, who is also Ron Sexsmith’s drummer. 

Theres much to admire on the album, with well-crafted songs that are easy on the ear and the perfectly matched harmonies by the couple which shine most brightly on the catchy opener Carry It On and the title track Daydreamers. The previously noted Heart Like A Dove, written by David as a Valentine’s Day gift to Marla also impresses. Whats also noteworthy throughout is Marla singing in her own accent, thankfully not attempting to adopt an American inflexion.

The Whispering Tree Invisible Forces Self Release 

Singer/songwriter Eleanor Kleiner and multi-instrumentalist Elie Brangbour are The Whispering Tree and Invisible Forces is their third album release. Self-produced and recorded at their home in New York the material visits several genres, from the instantly accessible and Aimee Mann sounding Heavy to the more mysterious These Houses, a haunting tale of the ghosts of bygone times contained within every four walls. Fat Cat is a well visited songwriting theme and it’s delivered with a jazzy dash and California dreams of a slower paced lifestyle under sunnier skies. Bells,the closer, is also politically charged (‘I hear bells ringing for change, though I’m not sure who’s ringing those bells today’). Split In Half, at six minutes the longest track on the album, is also the standout, addictively rhythmic with Kleiner’s soaring vocals particularly impressive. Heavy, which includes the album’s title in its lyrics, relates to depression and the rhythm in the gorgeous Garden recalls Calexico.

In terms of musical direction, The Whispering Tree are difficult to define, blending folk, blues, country soul and even jazz across the eight tracks on Invisible Forces. What can’t be denied is that the album is very easy on the ears.


Reviews by Paul McGee

Jaimee Harris Red Rescue Self Release

This is a very impressive debut from a Texas artist who is starting to make quite a few ripples Stateside. Starting off with the hard edged, driving guitar sound of Damn Right and the topic of doomed attraction and broken relationships, the mood changes on the soft and reflective Creatures to a nice melody and tempo, even if the subject is, again, that of love lost.

Harris has a past that she is thankful to have survived and this chance at putting her life on a central path is not one that she intends to mess up. Her voice is both gentle and powerful as she brings just the right amount of colour and tone to each of the 10 songs included here. There is just one co-write and the remaining songs are all self-penned, with Depressive State perhaps being the immediate stand-out with it’s refrain an earnest plea for acceptance, both from herself and others. I had a strange sensation of her singing this with Tom Petty in a dream; it’s just got that vibe about it.

The acoustic strum of Catch It Now speaks of getting out there and living life big while the guest vocals of (the late) Jimmy LaFave on Red Rescue add a poignancy to the lyric about reaching out and trying to help lift the darkness.

Fake seems a deeply personal song with its slow, lifting structure while Hurts As Good As It Feels sounds like the most radio-friendly track here; again, it deals with an abusive relationship that feeds only negative habits.  Forever is a different take on Jaimee’s ability and delivers a torch song moment that no doubt has fuelled the early comparisons to Emmylou. However, my thoughts are more towards Patty Griffin with her vocal power and tone and never more so than on Snow White Knuckles, a song that deals with her addiction and shows both her resilient and vulnerable sides in the understated delivery.

Closing track Where Are You Now? has a sad acceptance in the letting go of a loved one (parent, friend, relative?). Poignant and restrained.

The production by Craig Ross is very bright and full of just the right amount of space for the players to really express themselves and serve the songs. One of the best releases this year and highly recommended.

My Politic 12 Kinds Of Lost Self Release

This band is building up quite a head of steam as their career reaches for new heights with the release of this seventh album since they started out in 2006. Working around the central pairing of Kaston Guffey and Nick Pankey, the other band members add greatly to the organic, rootsy sound of the 12 tracks here, with dobro, mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitars and upright bass all adding plenty of layers to the superbly observed songs and lyrics.

Starting out with Bored Young Ghost, a clever take on the possibility that growing up bored in a small country town is not just the preserve of the living. Loneliness captures that feeling of isolation perfectly and the need to reach out to another. All songs are written by Guffey and he certainly has a way with words and capturing a sentiment, a feeling or an idea worth pondering upon. Lost love is reflected in Only Human, with the notion that ultimately, we are always on our own – ‘I was always thinking of me, and you were always thinking of you.’

Down In Hell is about addiction and the possibility of repeating the sins of the father is something that many songsters have tacked, but not with this much wry observation and insight. The Tunnel is a plea and the need to reach out for one another.

I Don’t Wanna Run is about slowing down, living a simple life and being thankful for a place to settle down. Devil’s Playground, is a Steve Earle type workout that examines hypocrisy and juxtaposing the high from a needle with the high from the Good Book on a Sunday. ‘Amphetamines are passed around like communion and the Good Lord’s grace.’ 

These are character songs and dreaming of another life (Aint Outta Line), failed relationships (Great Divide), returning home (My Mother Missouri) and living a reclusive life (News Alone) are all observations on life and the feeling of being vulnerable and lost. 

Really great stuff throughout, with Wilson Conroy on dobro, mandolin, and Jen Starsinic on fiddle being supporting the twin guitars of Guffey and Pankey. Will Cafaro provides solid bass lines throughout with occasional drums from John Wood and B3 organ from Jeff Adamczyk.

Tim Easton Paco & Melodic Polaroids Campfire Propaganda

Welcome back to this very fine singer songwriter who has been releasing excellent music since his debut appeared back in 1998. Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, Easton released a series of quality albums culminating with a best of collection in 2013. 

He continues to record and release music and this project is a direct-to-lacquer mono recording. There is a timeless quality to the feel of the songs and the 10 tracks included are all just Tim and his faithful old companion, Paco – a J-45 Black Gibson guitar that he has owned since 1987.

The liner notes talk of both him and the guitar having taken a lot of dents and cracks over the years on the road but on listening to these songs, his craft is alive and well with the added sparkle that only experience and insight bring with the passing years. He is a very talented guitar player and his songs speak of heartland America in the best of Folk traditions. 

Never Punch The Clock Again is a story song of murder and staying on the run. California Bars is another dusty road tale of wanderlust and evil deeds while Elmore James is a tribute to the old blues master.

Another Good Man Down speaks of drug addiction and there is a cover of the Jimmie Rogers song, Jimmie’s Texas Blues, while Travelling Days evokes the spirit of Woody Guthrie complete with harmonica backing to add atmospherics. This is a cosy night by the fire with a nice glass of wine.

Jesus Save Me is a plea for tolerance and patience among the self-professed emissaries of truth on Earth and the greed that seems inherent in humankind, with bullying ways engineered to spread fear. This is an excellent release and deserving of a place in any discerning music collector’s home.

Walter Salas Humara Walterio Rarr

The Silos were a band credited with being at the origins of the alt-country, No Depression movement sound that spawned such acts as Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, The Bottle Rockets, Wilco, Son Volt and many others. 

As a founding member, Walter has always espoused that rebel notion of staying independent, keeping it on the edge and creating a body of work, whether with the changing Solos line-ups, or latterly on a solo basis, that is continuously scaling such heights... His light continues to burn brightly as evidenced by the 10 tracks included here, all played with an energy and tension that feels like electricity burning in your grip. 

Walter also handles full production duties and the snap of She’s A Caveman and Here We Go are examples of the dynamic still at play as he releases his rock instincts to run alongside the more rootsy numbers like l Want To Be With You and Come In A Singer; all the way along to the funky groove of Hecho En Galicia

The playing is excellent throughout with Joe Reyes on guitar and Konrad Meissner on drums really driving the tight workouts and spinning the plates… Out Of The Band sums it all up with a driving beat and a rocking conclusion to what is a really enjoyable listen and one that proves real talent never goes away; it just takes a well earned rest from time to time!

The Watson Twins Duo Self Release

Twin sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson make a very welcome return with this 8-track album. It has been a few years since their last output but those sweet harmonies are as tight as ever and the production on the project is light and airy. Russ Pollard did the honours at Camp Sierra Studio in California. He also plays a number of instruments across the tracks, with just a few guest appearances from Vanessa Carlton (piano), Bo Koster (keys) and Mickey Raphael (harmonica).

At just over 21 minutes, it never overstays its welcome but, rather leaves you wanting more – a very good sign! The traditional country sound of Cry Baby is perfectly captured with some superb pedal steel playing by Carl Broemel, who also provides bass and guitar parts, in addition to some drum programming. All in all, this is a tightly produced record that highlights the commercial appeal of the twins, together with their natural talents as songwriters and singers. All eight tracks are written by Chandra and Leigh and the big sound of Rolling Thunder reminds me of the classic 60’s arrangements and vocals a lá the Shirelles.

They sing of ‘this city of lost souls’ on Down In The Valley and this is not a fate these twins will ever suffer as their talent will always point them in a clear direction. There is a torch song, noir feel to the duet with The Cactus Blossoms on the atmospheric Call To You, while the song Blue Tonight has a more folky vibe to the arrangement. 

Playing Hearts has a fine up-tempo beat and the title track sums it all up with the classic hook, ‘Gonna Hustle, Gimme That Shake; Thought We Had It Made’. Perhaps a sideways look at the career difficulties of any artist trying to forge a meaningful career in the shark infested waters of the music business these days. An excellent release and welcome back, Ladies…! 

Astra Kelly Chasing The Light Rockaway

This interesting artist is a Chicago native who now lives in in San Diego and has quite a number of releases to her name. Her career that has seen her work hard to rise above the crowded marketplace where the competition is always fierce. Her talents extend to Radio DJ, local concert promoter, recording studio manager, vocal coach and voice-over artist. Go girl…!!

On the opening track, Prelude, she sings ‘head, heart, soul; let the light be the fire’. This sums up Astra’s philosophy in believing that living in the moment is what we can best aspire towards. The following track, Old Shoes, speaks of leaving down your burdens and moving on to better things. It may be centred around a relationship but can equally be likened to a spiritual awakening. Equally, the title track, Chasing The Light, is affirmation that the journey is going to be worth all the effort. 

Astra co-produced the project with Jeffrey Berkley who also plays banjo and guitars across the eleven tracks included here. All Along speaks of leaving and taking a journey - only to realise that ‘you find out when you get there; you had what you were seeking all along’. Again, a message of inner strength being ample as our guiding light. 

The Less I Have (Freedom) speaks of living life as simply as possible, feeling light. All That Matters is a relationship song that questions the need to hide feelings and the wish for real honesty. Pedal steel from Doug Pettibone on this track adds to the atmosphere and augments the tight band arrangement.

The production is very clean throughout with plenty of space between the notes. Astra sings in a very clear, confident and soulful voice with her spoken-word piece, Watching Wasps, an interesting break to the flow of the music where she addresses the need to unlock our mental chains and step into the light. 

The country sound of Twisted is perfectly delivered with banjo and violin (Melissa Barrison) to the fore, while the acoustic groove of Stone Cold delivers a happy, upbeat sound. Crumble has a soulful sound with Jeff Berkley front and centre on electric guitar & banjo – ‘change is always comin’ back for more.’ 

Closing track, The Road, is a powerful ending that displays Astra’s ability to front this excellent studio band and a strong statement that here is an artist worthy of your attention. A fine release.  

Eilidh Patterson Sunshine Self Release

A commercial, contemporary Folk sound that is full of catchy melodies and songs that engage the listener. The studio musicians play with great sensitivity and talent in delivering these songs and Sandy Jones features on a number of instruments together with the family bluegrass band Cup O’Joe (The Agnew siblings, Reuben, Tabitha & Benjamin) and Ruth Trimble. Co-produced with Sandy Jones at the Foundry Music Lab in Motherwell, Eilidh shows a real talent for capturing a hook and melody to match her beautiful vocals and engaging words.

It has been a number of years since her last release but Eilidh has not gone away and her talents certainly shine brightly across the 12 tracks included here. In the days of singles and radio charts, the title track would have featured as a prime example of how to deliver a hit. Sunshine bounces with a happy, pop sound and an optimism about living life. Similar tracks to this are True Love Is Returned, A Good Day and the joyful slice of memory that is My Mother Loved Elvis.

However, there is also the other side of life and reflective songs like I’ve Got Lines and Do I Really Know You? hint at a disappointment with relationships that becomes manifest on the sweetly sad song, Losing You… There is a glimpse of what Eilidh could veer towards in the future with the bluesy groove of Slow Down, advice to start smelling the roses a little more and the beautiful delivery on The Way You Say My Name shows that real love and commitment is still out there, even if it’s capture is as elusive as ever... The closing song, When I Don’t Feel Like Singing Anymore is a call for reassurance and support when doubt arises and it stands as a ray of hope for a brighter tomorrow. This is a very strong comeback statement and one that merits your attention

Josephine Johnson The Spark Self Release

This is the second release from a singer songwriter who has worked hard at forging a career in the competitively overcrowded artistic space that is the female solo market. Josephine released Let It All Out back in 2014 and on this follow up she has enlisted co-producers John Vanderslice (Samantha Crain, the Mountain Goats, Grandaddy, Strand Of Oaks, Spoon) and Robert Shelton, who also engineered, across the eight tracks featured. The project was recorded at Vanderslice’s analogue studio in San Francisco and mastered in Boston. It is the culmination of two years work in driving the campaign, via KickStarter, towards a happy ending.

The overall sound is underpinned by warm keyboard sounds from Shelton on piano and organ and Carly Bond contributes on guitar, slide and clarinet to great effect. The rhythm section of Doug Stuart and Jason Slota drive the tempo with a confidence, whether on the slow groove of the title track or the up-tempo closer, Light It Up.

Long Way Home is a gentle acoustic arrangement that highlights Josephine’s smoky vocal delivery while Come Down displays a slow burn soulful sound. Tuesday Evening and Carry On also focus on a tight band sound and the vocal colour added by Josephine builds an atmosphere that delivers a consistency across this interesting release.

Kristi Rose & Fats Kaplin How Many Chances Self Release

Released in 2017, this project is not the first time that the combined talents of Kristi and Fats have aligned to make sweet music. In 2010 they released the excellent I Wonder As I Wander and they quickly followed this up in 2011 with You're Still Around

So, this makes it a very fine hat-trick with the engaging vocals of Kristi mixing seamlessly with the superb musicianship of multi-instrumentalist Fats. He plays a dizzying array of instruments on the 12 tracks included here. Wait for it – steel guitar, mandolin, organ, button accordion, bass, harmonica, violin, clarinet, viola, acoustic guitar and electric guitar...!

Of course, it helps that they are also husband and wife and the close bond shared is evident in the way that they deliver songs that have a sweet balance and a feeling of wide-open spaces about them. The bright melody and excellent harmonies of Beautiful World is a prime example, but we also have the treat of the title track with its lonesome harmonica and acoustic sound, balanced against the slow, reflective vocal and sensitive arrangements of So Far As I Can Tell and closing track, Far Away Places

The easy cool of Fly Tomorrow is a smooth groove and the next track, Gin, is a salutary look at domestic dystopia, compulsion and disillusionment. This duo makes soulful music that comes from the creative heart of what they define as Pulp Country. Wonderfully atmospheric and highly addictive.