Tuesday
Feb202018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Chris Murphy Water Under The Bridge Teahouse

Whether performing solo or as part of an ensemble, Chris Murphy displays his prodigious talents at a consistently high level. His website describes him as violinist, composer and band leader, which is a concise description of the creative muse that regularly takes him into other projects. 

He can be seen playing bluegrass, country and fiddle tunes with The Devil’s Box and their 2016 release, Red Mountain Blues, included Tim O’Brien on vocals and mandolin, along with Herb Pedersen on banjo and vocals. 

Separately, he plays jazz, swing, and blues with The Blind Blake’s and it is under this umbrella that Water Under The Bridge finds the light of day. It is a retro sound with plenty of swing and swagger over its fourteen tracks. The musicians are all wonderfully talented and get plenty of room to show their finely-honed skills as they compliment the music and lyrics; all created and credited to Chris Murphy. Quite an achievement and equally, a compliment, when you realise just how familiar these tracks become, even after first listen. 

A Moveable Feast, Table For Two, The Lemon Rag, Tarbox Blues and My Spanish Lover are all fine examples of the joyful feel to this project. Given the level of talent on offer, it is no exaggeration to say that Chris Murphy sits above it all with his proficient playing on violin, mandolin, guitar, percussion and vocal duties.

Last year he released a live record, Hard Bargain, which was a solo violin concert from Boise, Idaho and also, The Tinker’s Dream, a band effort; both were superb in their execution and reviewed at separate intervals on this website.

If you enjoy the easy jazz sound of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt then this music is just right for you. Throw in some Count Basie and sprinkle with Dr John New Orleans voodoo and you have a heady mix of compelling, kick-ass tunes that demand your attention.

Kyle Carey The Art Of Forgetting Self Release

This widely travelled artist grew up in Alaska and New Hampshire, before her move to Nova Scotia to study the language and music of the Gaelic tradition. She then moved to Scotland to continue her studies before releasing two recordings that established her credentials as a real talent in blending the best of Celtic and American roots music.

This third release is a confident and fully realised project and highlights the growing development of a mature talent. There are three songs included that see her sing in the Scottish Gaelic language and the gentle arrangements, melody and expert playing make all twelve songs a very pleasant listen with a sweetly restrained balance throughout.

Produced & engineered by Dirk Powell (Joan Baez, The BBC Transatlantic Sessions), the experience is peppered with real quality and highlighted by the excellent musicianship. Powell contributes bass, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, accordion, banjo, piano and vocals while John McCusker (Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby) also appears on fiddle. 

Sam Broussard on guitar and Mike McGoldrick on flute also make telling contributions while Rhiannon Giddens appears on backing vocals. There are also the talents of Ron Janssen (octave mandolin) and Kai Welch (trumpet) and Josh Scalf (trombone) to enjoy.

Songs like the title track, Sweet Damnation, Tell Me Love, Evelyna and For Your Journey are very appealing and the easy interplay between fiddle, flute, mandolin, guitars and banjo invite repeated listens. 

The Stone Hill All-Stars Wilson Comes Home Self Release

Baltimore is home to this Roots band since their formation in 2005. They have developed into a very tight unit over three previous releases and the members have a collective experience to rival anybody on the local music scene. Paul Margolis plays guitar and bass, in addition to being the principal songwriter and providing vocals. His founding partner John Shock is responsible for the song arrangements and also plays accordion and piano, in addition to vocal duties. Together they form a potent pair and drive the melody and rhythm with the sterling assistance of Dan Naimann on bass and saxophone, Hoppy Hopkins on drums/percussion and Tim Pruitt on guitar. We also have Jim Hannah on percussion and kalimba plus Katherine Shock on flute to add the talented collective.

The addictive Polka rhythm to the opening track, Just These Things, leads into a varied mixture of styles that touch on ska, blues and jazzy beats; a number featuring superb interplay between the sax of Dan Naiman and the accordion of John Shock. There are also some tasty guitar licks from Paul Margolis or Tim Pruitt; then again, it may be guest guitarist, Rick Pressler, who also features on the project; sadly, the liner notes are lacking in detail so it is hard to pin down individual contributions.

The overall production and sound is very airy, appealing and full of colour. The Ska beat of The Mark Of A Man and A Hundred Answers is balanced against the bluesy feel of To Be Her Man, Alexander Grothendieck and also, the title track. 

Songs deal with looking back with regret, relationships gone wrong, prison tales, the tribulations of a loner/recluse and a girl on the verge of hysteria. Overall the performance is reminiscent of the best of loose, fluid, playful music that engages and rewards. 

Zachary Richard Gombo RZ 

This is the 21st studio album from an artist who is steeped in the Acadian culture of his native Louisiana. Over a career spanning 45 years this singer-songwriter also holds the distinction of being recognised as Louisiana’s first French language Poet Laureate. On this project he includes 8 songs that are performed in French and whereas the quality of the playing is never in doubt, the lack of English translation for the lyrics takes away somewhat from the overall experience. 

Of course, Zydeco music is rooted in the origins of Creole and Cajun traditions and the use of accordion and washboard continue to be at the source of this now internationally acclaimed music genre that boasts festivals, not only throughout the USA, but also Europe and into the northern regions of Scandinavia. 

Gombo (Gumbo) is the perfect description for the music here with an eclectic mix of styles that include elements of waltz, shuffles, two-steps, Afro-Caribbean and traditional forms. It also stands as a symbol for the multi-ethnic culture of Louisiana and the 15 songs here are played with great energy, passion and tempo.

Catherine, Catherine is written and performed with famous Québec singer Robert Charlebois and Fais briller ta lumière is performed with African legend Angélique Kidjo. There is a choir from L’Académie Sainte-Thérése and a string quartet which add to the heady mix of instrumentation.

Co-produced by New Orleans legend David Toraknowsky, Gombo features a host of players including Francis Covan on fiddle and accordion. It is an enjoyable listen and at almost an hour in length, represents great value for all fans of Zydeco music.

Whitherward The Anchor Self Release 

Contemporary Folk Duo Whitherward have released four EP’s since 2014 and both Ashley E. Norton and Edward Williams are joined on this full-length debut by additional musicians, Patrick Hershey and Stephanie Groot.

The Anchor has 13 songs that are based around their perspective of touring musicians and doesn’t stray too far away from a Folk/Roots base in the arrangements. There are two tracks, Free and Interlude, that dabble in inventive jazz exploration while the remaining tracks seem to be a mix of the observed and the personal. A guest vocal on Parallel Universe (Jhan Doe), introduces a rap element into the arrangement and the excellent musicianship throughout leaves a strong sense of a band that has a real confidence and maturity. 

The metaphor of ship & anchor in the title track reflects a relationship where safe harbour is in question and the unappreciated partner longs to be set free. Burn The Roses is a song of anger in the destruction of a relationship while there is a Country Noir feel to Teeth, with a late-night, lounge room dynamic. 

The violin playing of Stephanie Groot is quite arresting and dramatic and elevates the production while the rich and inventive bass playing of Patrick Hershey is a joy. The guitar playing of both Norton and Williams is fluid and fluent throughout. The strings on The Night I Fell For You are mixed with restrained elegance while hiding a tale instant attraction and unrequited love. The final track, Wasteland, is one of dislocation and the loneliness of travel but ends with some studio fun and frolics as we are treated to a series of repeated vocal takes, gargling and other strange noises. 

Rupert Wates Lights Of Paris Bite Music 

From a debut release in 2005, this artist has navigated a path through the music industry and arrived at the release of his 9th solo album; quite an achievement in these days of DIY careers, shifting sands and short attention spans. 

Originally from London, he lived in Paris prior to moving to the States, where both NYC and Colorado are touchstones for his current life. He is a contemporary Folk singer and his songs touch on many of the issues we face in modern times; like all good Folk releases should … a reflection of the ways in which we shape our world.

He plays a Lowden acoustic guitar in a style that sounds very effortless and impressive, while his clear vocal tone never clutters the song arrangements. For this project Wates uses the talents of Adrianna Mateo (violin) and Brian Sanders (cello) to augment his acoustic playing. The results are eleven gentle tunes that play out in a pleasant fashion, never really changing the dynamic that would grip the listener or shake matters out of an induced state of quiet calm. 

Topics vary from the cynical posturing of the current President in the USA (I Can’t Shut My Eyes) to the indifference of society towards marginalised lives and small-town business shutting down (Long Winter Is Coming). Our treatment of immigrants (Fields Of America) and the legacy we are leaving for future generations (Oh The Times) are given full vent while Wates seems somewhat disillusioned as he yearns for simpler times when music was enough to lift the spirit (The Balladeer). 

Happily, the conclusion to the project has a more positive tone and message of hope (A Song Of Your Own), urging youth to find their own voice and not to be bullied by others. Aspirations of greater enlightenment and the wish to live together in peace (The Time Will Come) are balanced with a sense of faith in the future with the title track. 

Scott Kirby Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost Self Release

Nine releases over the past twenty-plus years has seen this musician mature into a seasoned singer-songwriter who now lives in Key West and is the proprietor at The Smokin’ Tuna Saloon.

There are ten songs included here and the project is produced by Andy Thompson who also contributes on acoustic & electric guitar, bass, stand-up bass, ukulele, dobro, keyboards, mandolin and vocals! Quite the list, but not to be outdone, his brother, Matt Thompson chips in on drums, percussion, kalimba, bass harmonica, piano, melodica and vocals! 

Scott Kirby plays acoustic guitar, harmonica and sings, together with writing eight of the songs included (four co-writes). The album title is a reference to the life that Ernest Hemingway led in the area between 1931 and 1939 but also a tribute to Toby Bruce, who served as his assistant for more than 30 years.

The sound produced is pleasant with an acoustic groove and songs like We Own Key West; Ava Rose and La Casa Cayo Hueso have more than a touch in common with the easy delivery of a James Taylor. Morning In Montana takes things up a notch with some fine fiddle playing by Eamon McLoughlin over an infectious beat. Happy Hour Blues is a fine band workout and a tongue-in-cheek look at a life of relaxed semi-retirement. A great laid-back arrangement of the classic, Summer Wind, brings things to a happy ending and you can just feel the breeze in your hair.

The multi-talented Thompson brothers carry the bulk of the heavy lifting but the simple arrangements are proof of a song-writer who has learned his craft over many years and there is no excess on any of these gentle melodies.

Beth Wimmer Bookmark Self Release

Since her debut release in 2001, Beth Wimmer has released four albums that chart the progress of a Female singer-songwriter’s journey, living in the American countryside near Boston and moving to California at a young age. She now resides in Switzerland with her husband and tours in both Europe and her land of birth. 

This new release is her first for six years and was co-produced by Beth and LA-based guitar-player, Billy Watts. It was recorded in Liechtenstein, Austria and in Los Angeles, with all songs written by Wimmer, apart from a David Bowie cover of Starman. Her sound is essentially Folk oriented and she sings in an attractive tone that suits the song arrangements well. 

Her first two albums were produced by David Raven and he plays drums on most tracks here, joined by Taras Prodaniuk (bass), Billy Watts (acoustic/electric/lap steel guitars) and other studio musicians on selected tracks. 

Her song-writing is partly focused on intimate relationships with the title track, Bookmark, The Last Part and We Can Do This, all reflecting on the enduring power of love to fuel a relationship in the right direction. There are songs about living a simple existence and Loosen My Grip, Mahogany Hawk and Pretty Good, all speak of taking a moment to just enjoy & live in the natural space that surrounds us.

Other songs deal with the need for change (Louisiana) or the need to return to a favourite place (Mexico) and the track, Simplicity Of A Man brings a message of trust and belonging with a ‘less is more’ approach in both words and deeds. 

Tuesday
Feb062018

Review by Stephen Rapid

 

Stan Martin Long Nights Twangtone

The new album from Stan Martin continues his run of finely-honed Telecaster infused twang laden neo-country. This is Martin’s sixth album of Bakersfield bound country. He is a master of the understated craftsmanship as singer, writer, producer and musician on this and previous albums. Although he is a talented picker he is not a show-off and is happy to trade guitar licks with the similarly minded Kenny Vaughan. The latter appears on all but one of the tracks here. Add to that the father and son rhythm section of Dave and Jerry Roe and you have a formidable team of musicians who know well how to serve a song to best effect.

Those songs, all written by Martin, are largely tales of lost and found love. They are delivered with humour, insight and a degree of honesty that shows an understanding for the frailties, possibilities and pitfalls that every relationship offers us all. One thing immediately apparent is the sense of melody inherent in the songs. An ingredient that is often missing in the overly riff driven hard rock of much of today’s overblown country music. Song after song feels like an old friend and all the more welcome for that. There is an atmospheric and appropriately named instrumental (El Tarantino) that fits easily in context (not unlike those that graced Way Out West, the album Vaughan made as part of Marty Stuart’s band, The Fabulous Superlatives). This all hints at a wide spectrum of influences and also mirrors some of the great and more expansive country music that was given exposure on the airwaves in the late 80s and early 90s.

The ten songs have a lasting appeal that will delight any of Martin’s fans and for those who have yet to have the pleasure of his company this is a great place to start to appreciate Martin’s talent. His last album was his best yet, up to that point, but this one is likely to grab that top slot. And why not, with such tales of betrayal south of the border as Dos Tequila. Then there is the reflection of the ballad, My Dream, wherein there is a wish for one’s love to be returned in equal measure. Long Nights is long on strong hooks and intertwined guitars and background vocals by Dave Roe. Another goodie is Play With Fire which again effectively features Roe on vocals. The whole album plays though as a piece without any filler or less interesting songs. This, then, is an album to savour and to return to and a reminder why so many of us miss top-notch music that, while it may not be breaking barriers or changing the musical landscape, is rather played for its own sake. The sake of the song.

Emily Herring Gliding Eight 30

As a pedal steel player and producer with such well known artists as Radney Foster, producer Steve Fishell seems like the right choice to helm Herring’s latest album of traditionally influenced but forward-thinking country music. Herring and Fisher have picked some of Austin’s finest to play on the album. Names like Redd Volkaert, Glen Fukunaga and Dave Sanger are all seasoned and gifted players. They recorded in the renowned Bismaux Studio in Austin and the results are engaging and emotion filled.

Now on her fourth album (her last, Your Mistake, was a Lonesome Highway album highlight) and it delivers in equal measure. The perspective however is personal with songs about her relationships and her Mother’s passing; as well as some tender moments that sit alongside a more definite swagger on the up-tempo truckin’ songs. As expected, the players are supportive throughout and allow Herring’s voice to deliver. The slow paced, Last Of The Houston Honky Tonk Heroes, floats on Fisher’s steel guitar. While All The Millers In Milwaukee is a drink sodden song that sees her joined by its writer Mary Cutrufello trading lines like “the whole damn Daniels family” and “every bud in Ol St. Lou” which give you a pretty good idea of where the song is heading. Balmorhea, by way of contrast, has an understated swing that ties it to an earlier Texas dancehall tradition. Her version of Billy Farlow and Bill Kirchen’s Semi Truck again offers another musical route that is a foot tapping truckin' treat. Both highlight Redd Volkaert and the versatility of the rhythm section.

However, the song, Right Behind Her, is an emotional standout. It is a song about loss and a song she actually wrote a year before her mother passed away and had a deep premonition of what living without her biggest fan, friend and anchor might actually mean. But the songs work by pulling her and the listener into that deep sense of departure. The title track sees Herring thinking of herself, but aware of the waitress in the bar and aware of the attraction between them. It tells of their getting together but later taking different paths in a way that is pretty universal. The Boudleaux Bryant and Chet Atkins penned Midnight has a feel that is totally in tune with the title and features some effective light night piano. Overall there is a set of different musical directions here that are pulled together by Herring’s striking vocals and the overall collective playing. Herring continues to glide and soar.

Ed Romanoff The Orphan King Pinerock

For this release, his second album, Ed Romanoff has upped his game by giving a vocal performance that makes the most of his baritone voice and his developing writing skills. He began writing some five years ago after a career outside of music. That gave him the freedom to develop his writing and music without the pressure of that being his only source of income and thereby having to make compromises to any possible commercial dictates.

For this album the producer is Simone Felice, which gives the album a wider and warmer sound than on his previous album. Interestingly, that album’s producer Crit Harmon is the co-writer of several songs on this album. Felice has also brought in a selection of sidemen and women who add much to the overall sound. These include Cindy Cashdollar, Larry Campbell, James and Simone Felice. Vocalists featured are Teresa Williams, Rachael Yamagata, Keith Pattengale, Cindy Mizelle and Felice - all of whom help to add a layer of effective vocals behind Romanoff’s. It was recorded in Sugar Mountain Studios in Woodstock and has an expansive folk sound that is loosely Americana in outlook.

Many of the songs have a haunting quality that paint pictures of various predicaments. None more so than The Ballad Of Willie Sutton, a brooding, almost spoken lament on a life of crime, that was continued in the attempt to give the Bonnie to his Clyde all the things she desired. It takes the Woody Guthrie ethos that the crime of robbing banks was equal to that of running one. The title song is one that he wrote with Mary Gauthier (her version featured on her album The Foundling) it is a reference to his own background and upbringing as well as believing in love as a way forward. That theme continues with  . It has a subtle atmosphere and melody that sits behind the tale of a traveling sideshow exhibit who, like everyone, is looking for a soulmate. A Golden Crown has a slight Celtic feel with a fiddle and is another story of looking and trying to find love.

Romanoff is a romantic storyteller and has delivered an album that is full of nuances and musical touches that do much to bring these songs to life. It is his recently discovered Irish roots coming to the fore which shows that even for those who come late to making music and recoding, it is never too late to bloom.

Craig Gerdes Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ Sol

This is an album that pretty much reveals itself from the cover and doesn’t disappoint. Gerdes fits the current profile of “outlaw” with beard, cowboy hat and 70’s inspired Waylon-esque sounding country songs. That is not to take away from Gerdes baritone voice or his song writing. Seven of the songs here are written by Gerdes solo or with a co-writer. There are two covers; Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets was a hit for Johnny Paycheck and You Saved Me From Me was written by his fellow contemporary outlaw Dallas Moore. A song of redemption and finding Jesus, Good Ol’ Days, reminisces about earlier times and Ol’ Hank. Redneck Sonabitches considers his time in Nashville and how it was not a perfect fit for a good ol’ boy wanting to write and play country music old school - something that he tells us that Billy Joe Shaver sympathises with him on. There is a grimmer tale of darkness and death to be found in Dead In A Box In Kentucky. The song has a brief Spanish guitar bridge that works well in the context of the tale.

Geodes co-produced the album with Brian DeBruler in Sol Records Studio in Indiana. It has a sound rooted in the past but one that sounds fresh in the light of some current production modes. They selected a group of players well able to give these songs the sound they needed. DeBruler was the drummer, Gerdes played lead and acoustic guitar and were joined by names well known to those who checked the credits of some albums of the era in Robby Turner on pedal steel and Larry Franklin on fiddle. Jim Vest, Tony Nasser and Buddy Hyatt and Mudbone also contributed.

This album places Gerdes among the expanding list of names who play country music that draws influences from Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson amongst others. Its outlaw status lies simply in going against the grain of what mainstream radio and the majority of the major labels want to release to appease their need to appeal to a crossover audience. Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ will not fit easily into that pigeonhole and that, perhaps, is its appeal. It is rather a real and robust expression of a musical form that is still loved by many and is fighting to retain its roots. Albums like this only help that to happen.

Matt Sayles & The Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress Manifest Refugees Philville

A Californian six-piece country/roots band fronted by singer, writer, arranger and co-producer Matt Sayles. He formed this band at the tail end of 2015 while still playing with another more acoustically focussed combo the Kentucky String Band. They take their name from Sayles place of employment (a gun club) when he was a teenager. This is (I believe) their debut album and it has been released as a limited edition vinyl album - one of which they were kind enough to send over for review. It features 11 original songs brought to fruition by the six-piece band that includes the solid rhythm section of Terry Luna and Blair Harper, keyboards (and accordion) from Ben Saunders and the lead guitars of Jay Carlandar and Sayles himself, plus the effective pedal steel guitar services of Bill Flores. They state their mission as “drawing out the echoing twang, reverb, and darkness from the smouldering remnants of manifest destiny that still mournfully beat in the hearts of our unknowing constituency.” Well that makes it pretty clear I guess.

However, what makes it, probably, even more clear is what’s in the grooves, which is pretty damn fine from the opening Old Man’s First Call; a sweet steel infused song about the bar life of a man who starts the day drinking coffee and moves to the harder stuff as his first, rather than last, call. From then on Sayles’ songs run through a number of experiences that are tied in with the way everyone has to deal with the effects that time and tribulation have in tempering an individual view, for any particular lifespan. Between some the songs there are the occasional samples from radio and other such utterances (often related, not unsurprisingly given the band name origin, to duck hunting). The overall effect makes for a slice of alt. country that engages and embodies the real spirit of honky-tonk music.

But titles like Don’t Drink The Water, Whites Of Their Eyes, Defan Saleau (with its hints of a Cajun lifestyle via the accordion) and Life Gets In The Way, offer an overview on how things can so easily slip away. Taking a similar world-weary tone is Can’t Track Myself Down, while the album closes with the pretty factual statement that Truth Is Now A State Of Mind. It rides along on twanging guitars, flowing pedal steel and a highway rhythm topped by Sayles knowing vocal. As good a way to end what is a solid mission statement from this entertaining, upright and upbeat collective.

Daniel Meade When Was The last Time Button Up

The new album from multi-instrumentalist and multi-talented Daniel Meade offers a much broader musical palette than his previous recordings. Maybe all that work with Ocean Colour Scene has rubbed off on him. It is also a solo album in the truest sense where all the instruments, apart for the important contribution by Ross McFarlane on drums, are played by Meade. A process that made him rethink his previous approach to record live with his band. He recorded it in Glasgow and had it mastered in Abbey Road Studio. Sonically it is a rich and satisfactory sound that is full of touches that reward repeated playing and familiarity with the songs. He has always had an ear for melody and structure and takes it to another level here. There are hints of his rootsier side at times but this has a bigger and, dare I say it, a somewhat more popier sound.

Meade has always impressed vocally but there is an additional confidence here and his use of multi-tracked vocals are particularly effective throughout. To appreciate that, in its most stripped back form, listen to So Much For Sorrow which is delivered as unaccompanied vocals or the layered vocals in Oh My My Oh. However, the final track is equally effective in its simplicity, Don’t We All. It is vocal and acoustic guitar plea for some kind of understanding and tolerance in the face of adversity. An old-school folk protest song in many ways.

Many of these songs were conceived initially as letters to himself and they are songs that are infused with Meade’s worldview and consideration of the darker times in life. They are at times somewhat downhearted but at other times looking towards the light. Either way, the music is entirely positive and full of his sense of structure, melody and skill as a player. The titles Nothing Really Matters and The Day the Clown Stopped Smiling might suggest otherwise but one can’t help but return to these rewarding songs and the man who conceived them. When was the last time that Daniel Meade impressed? It was live on stage and with all his previous recordings. An underrated artist at the top of his game.

Los Wrangos Way Out Yonder JT Omstead

There must be something in the water over in Sweden or else a big Morricone/Tarantino following, as here’s another band who appreciate and utilise that spaghetti western/Mexican element in their energised country and dark sinister round. The band is fronted by brothers Bob and Martin Lind who lead their accomplices through a set of original songs that range from desert instrumentals to songs that feature the brother’s confident English language vocals. The opening Tres Companeros is boosted by some strident mariachi horns. The Thundering Herd which follows could easily fit on A Man With No Name type film soundtrack. Like the rest of the album it is a heat and wind scorched landscape that they explore. It may be pastiche to some and not exactly sitting on the cutting edge (al la Calexico) but the end result is both entertaining and elemental. It is not pretending to be something authentic, but rather an interpretation of an atmosphere and attitude that has been their source of inspiration.

Though there are dark moments, there is a lightness of touch and elements of tongue-in-cheek humour throughout. It is also delivered with an undeniable skill and enthusiasm. Sweetheart Magnolia again places their trumpets to the fore with Spanish guitar increasing the mood all behind a solid melody. Of the ten tracks here 6 were recorded in Sweden and the remaining 4 tracks used the skills of Tucson’s Wavelab Studios maestro Craig Schumacher (who knows a thing or two about this kind of music) to mix the songs.

Some tracks that immediately stand out in include El Dorado (a song that see our hero hoping to return home made good) and Christmas In El Paso - both have a touch of Marty Robbins’ storytelling in them. Prairie Rain opens with accordion which sets the tone for a restless tale of returning. A theme that repeats itself. The lone man on a mission. Indeed, Los Wrangos are on a mission - one to make you listen and enjoy their music, something that it is not hard to do. They may look way out yonder from Sweden for their raison d’être but their aim is true. Long may they ride.

Jonn Walker Partisan Palace Self Release

His press release describes him as a vintage style country and western musician. Though I don’t how many would identify these stripped back songs as immediately belonging to that genre. For all that the five songs here are all interesting variations of a folk-style that assumes a stance of a less politically motivated Billy Bragg style performance. 

Walker songs are built from acoustic guitar upwards and add additional instruments to vary the sound a little. They songs have some angrier moments contrasted against some feelings of rejection and loss. Honey states “she loves money more than me” and that allows for mixed feelings. A Crying Shame has a riff that is most appropriate to translation to a traditional country song. It is again a song of misfortune in love. It also boast vocals that standout against the simplicity of the song structure.

The Open Secret is about drink and opens with a short story of staying in a hotel in New York and hearing the sound of sirens running throughout the night. It has a list of the preferred alcohol beverages. The final song Reputation again has reference to such consumption. In this case "Jack and Coke".

Walker is a UK based musician who has previously worked with The SoapGirls as a drummer. Here on this debut solo EP he sets out a base line to build from and it would be good to hear him add some traditional C&W instrumentation to his recorded output to see him move closer to his chosen format that he portrays in the cover photograph.

Thursday
Feb012018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Bennett Wilson Poole Self-Titled Aurora

Formed in 1973, the same year that the curtain dropped for the final time on The Byrds, UK band Starry Eyed and Laughing released their debut self-titled album one year later. Their West Coast sound was unapologetically influenced by The Byrd’s, possibly with a sprinkling The Beatles on the side, Tony Poole’s Rickenbacker very much at the cutting edge of their sound. Signed to CBS Records and with sessions on John Peel’s BBC Radio Show, fame, tours, limos, and major festival slots seemed inevitable. Alas, after a poorly co-ordinated US tour in 1975 and management difficulties on their return to the UK, the band finally derailed in 1976 leaving only their two studio releases and a few compilations albums in their wake.

Danny Wilson, of Danny and The Champions of The World and previously Grand Drive fame, was introduced to Tony Poole by Peter O’Brien, a schoolteacher of Wilson, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of Starry Eyed and Laughing. Robin Bennett and his brother Julian were members of the original Grand Drive line up before they moved on the form The Dreaming Spires and came to the attention of Poole while recording their album Searching For The Supertruth. Despite their individual hectic schedules, Poole, Bennett and Wilson managed to hook up at Poole’s home studio over a number of weekends. What started off as a meeting of minds with three mics, three acoustic guitars and three voices, swiftly grew wings to develop into something entirely different. With a number of unfinished songs in their collective repertoires the roots of an album began to emerge, enlivened by three-part harmonies, electric guitars and the realisation that their creative juices were in full flow.

First listen to the album resulted in me not getting beyond the second track Ask Me Anything which stopped me in my tracks and demanded repeated listening such is its intoxicating melody. The opener Soon Enough had been written by Bennett to feature acoustically in a dark solo album, yet to be completed, here it thunders along with smouldering guitars and closes slickly with a jangly fade out. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the brutal murder of Jo Cox, is vintage Neil Young and Crazy Horse, a powerful guitar driven acclamation, enraged and defiant. Wilson General Store recollects a different world and era, mid 60’s corner shops and Village Greens perhaps, a theme of simplicity and innocence many a time visited by The Beatles and The Kinks in their early days and at their most nostalgic. That Thing That You Called Love, a work in progress at the time for Poole, was rapidly completed with an input from all three resulting in a sound not unfamiliar with trademark Danny and The Champions of The World output.

The album is bookended by the epic Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), the harshness of survival weighted against wanton self-indulgence, written by Poole in response to a newspaper photo of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean beside an article on ‘selfies’. A marathon of a song at nearly eight minutes long it’s a considered reflection on the often-conflicting times we currently live in.

Supergroup may be a dated and overstated description but it’s a joy to come across a collaborative work by these three amigos that actually emphasises their cumulative talents rather than an album of competing ego’s. A joy to behold.

Anna Mitchell Self-Titled Tonetoaster

On first listen to All These Things, the opener on Anna Mitchell’s second album, you could be forgiven for assuming that it was a track by electronic trip hop band Goldfrapp and not the demure young Cork artist whose debut album Down To The Bone made quite an impression on Lonesome Highway on its release in 2015. Stripped back, emotional, personal and very much a Sunday morning rather than Saturday night listen, that debut album offered an introduction and insight into the talents and potential of Mitchell both as a singer and songwriter. Fast forward a little over two years and her self-titled second release is quite a bold departure, raunchier, fuller, more experimental and evidence of an artist taking centre stage having grown into herself with a self-belief and confidence only hinted at on her debut album.

That opening track, with its densely layered vocals and backbeats, represents a change in direction for Mitchell, straying from her country folk comfort zone and is repeated on the equally impressive It Pours which follows and indeed the dishevelled and racy Dog Track, all of which cross the threshold to previously unvisited territory for Mitchell.

However, it’s not all fire and thunder as Mitchell’s does not totally abandon her signature sound with both Radio Waves and Lovins For Fools exposing her divine self-assured vocal delivery to full effect. Better Life finds Mitchell strikingly hitting high notes that others wouldn’t even attempt and Never Learn recalls Tori Amos at the top of her game.

Featuring nine self-penned songs and one cover - Lovins For Fools was written by Sarah Siskind - Mitchell’s vocals and keyboards are aided by accomplished musicians Brian Hassey (Bass), Davie Ryan (Drums), Alan Comerford (Guitar), David Murphy (Pedal Steel) and Clare Sands (Violin). It has to be said that the musicianship throughout is of the highest quality as is the production - Mitchell, Hassey and Brendan Fennessy take a bow - as is the album sleeve containing beautiful photography courtesy of Emily O’Connell.

Cork appears to be the hot bed for emerging female Roots artists at present with Mitchell joining Marlene Enright and indeed Clare Sands as three exceptionally talented young ladies all of whom possess the capabilities to bring their careers to entirely higher levels. 

In her other life as keyboard player and backing vocalist with John Blek and The Rats, Mitchell can be found on the wings and side stage. She’s certainly thrown off the shackles this time around, in control, calling the shots and most certainly centre stage

Cindy Lee Berryhill The Adventurist Omnivore

California born Cindy Lee Berryhill’s recording career dates back to 1987 when she released Who’s Gonna Save The World, gaining her a reputation as a follower of the anti-folk movement together with artists such as Michelle Shocked and The Violent Femmes. She subsequently recorded an additional four albums between then and Beloved Stranger released in 2008.

Her latest release The Adventurist deals with the most personal of challenges head on, its inspiration being her marriage to her late husband Paul Williams, founder of American music magazine Crawdaddy, who died in 2013 following a long struggle with illness resulting from a serious cycling accident in 1995. 

Far from grief, sorrow and desperation, the material that make up the fourteen tracks is a celebration of a life and loving relationship, an acceptance of the inevitable and a delightful body of work which no doubt would have contributed to the healing process for Berryhill.

 Its songs are quirky (Horsepower), heartfelt (Somebody’s Angel, An Affair Of The Heart), escapist (Deep Sea Fishing) and not without humour (Deep Sea Dishing), with Berryhill’s distinctive and wonderfully unconventional vocals fleshed out by string driven instrumentation, the cello playing by Renata Bratt being particularly impressive.

The Adventurist demands your full attention and is not initially an easy listen, but after a few spins it reveals a body of songs that will undoubtedly win you over in the end.  Simply gorgeous. 

Guy Littell One Of Those Fine Days AR

The thirty second guitar intro on the opening track of One Of Those Fine Days stopped me in my tracks on first spin. The track is titled So Special and its great kick off to a no-frills album that points very much in the direction of Neil Young with Crazy Horse and Tom Petty with The Heartbreakers. No point in getting over analytical about this recording by Guy Littell. Simply put, it’s a cracking good album with non-cryptic and to the point lyrics, stellar guitar riffs, thumping bass lines, crashing drums and is best played at full volume. 

Gaetano Di Sarno is an Italian singer songwriter who records by the pseudonym Guy Littell and One Of These Days features ten self-penned guitar driven songs. Sounding like a live recording and all the better for it, many of the tracks may have you scratching your head wondering where you heard them before as Littell cleverly cherry picks classic rock riffs and chord changes to superb effect, elevated by a vocal delivery perfectly in keeping with the material. Proving capable of delivering ballads as well as anthems Better For Me and the album stand out track Twenty Six are less frenetic but equally impressive.

This album has been spinning in my car stereo for the past week and sounding better with each listen. It’s nourishment for the soul, comforting and perfect listening to brighten up these long winter days.

Katie Garibaldi Home Sweet Christmas Self Release

Apologies to Katie Garibaldi for reviewing this album some weeks after the festive season but with so many albums arriving in December we found it impossible to cover them all before the year end. Fortunately, a Christmas album can be revisited every year.

California based Garibaldi has been recording country tinged folk music adorned by her distinctive vocal style since her debut album Fireflies released in 2004. Rather than taking the easy option of recording an album of traditional Christmas songs Garibaldi composed eleven of the tracks, the only exception being the closing track Silent Night. On record that it was a personal ambition since childhood for her to write, produce and record a festive album, it’s fair to say that the project has proved to be more than a personal aspiration but instead a most impressive body of work.

Highlights are the soulful stunner Safe and Warm Lullaby For Jesus with gorgeous backing vocals courtesy of Misa Malone, Jessica Allison and Drew Cheshire, opener Happy Married Christmas, Tomorrow Is Christmas, previously released as single and two countrified gems in the barroom tear jerker Unhappy Christmas and the less melancholy Love On Christmas Day. 

Home Sweet Christmas may not have featured on my living room playlist last December but will surely make an appearance in future festive seasons, far outweighing most of the traditional, somewhat tired and repetitive fare that we often subject ourselves to at that time of the year. Well worth checking and not only at Christmas.

Ordinary Elephant Before I Go Berkalin

Ever since her emergence in the mid 90’s, Gillian Welch has been a major source of encouragement and inspiration for a host of acts to dust down the banjos and fiddles in an attempt to recreate the sparse musical styles of old country, Appalachian and bluegrass of bygone days.

Some have succeeded, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn and Carolina Chocolate Drops spring to mind, as do more recent recruits Rachel Baiman and Molly Tuttle. However, Before I Go, the second album release by husband and wife duo Ordinary Elephant, certainly goes closer than most others in reinventing that sound so unique to Gillian Welch - and Dave Rawlings. With all thirteen tracks written by the husband and wife duo, it’s no exaggeration in reporting that the album hardly contains a weak moment throughout, managing to capture widescreen cinematic backdrops across its tales of travel, tragedy, tenderness and anxiety.  Ordinary Elephant is Crystal Hariu-Damore (vocals and guitar) and Peter Damore (vocals and banjo) and with vocals perfectly matched for harmonising, Peter’s sublime claw hammer banjo playing and Crystals sweet guitar rhythms, all that was required was a collection of songs to showcase their talents.

Fragility and uncertainty are visited in the beautifully paced Leaving Kerrville, love found and lost in Evangeline, uncertainty and insecurity in Can I Count On You, the aftermath of Texas wildfires in Highway 71 and the anguish of Alzheimer’s in The Things He Saw.

Having released their debut album Dusty Woods And Cardboxes in 2013 and being shortlisted for Vocal Duo of the year at the 2014 Texas Music Awards they have essentially spent the past number of years on the road, travelling, touring with their van and trailer as home. They name check Darrell Scott and their attendance in 2015 at his summer 2015 SongFood Workshop as hugely inspirational in the shaping of numerous songs on Before I Go. 

Intelligent and interesting writing, sublime vocals, stellar playing and beautifully packaged. Another treasure unfolded.

Wednesday
Jan172018

Reviews by Paul McGee

The Wailin’ Jennies Fifteen True North

A warm welcome back after a 6-year absence that sees this trio of heavenly harmonious voices take some of their favourite songs and give them a fresh perspective that is instantly appealing and inspiring.

Bright Morning Stars was released in 2011 to wide acclaim and apart from side projects, the intervening years have been taken up with busy lives and schedules that kept this reunion on hold for a tantalisingly lengthy period. Well, the wait has been worth it as we have been given nine songs that truly melt the heart with sublime harmony vocals and performances that raise the spirit.

Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse find passion and power in their interpretation of songs from a diverse selection of stars, including Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Paul Simon. For me, it is the lesser-known tracks, The Valley (Jane Siberry), You Are Not Alone (Patty Griffin) and Keep Me In Your Heart (Warren Zevon) that really hit the mark but this is subjective choice among such joyous arrangements across a project that delivers on all fronts.

Celebrating their 15-year anniversary and self-produced by The Wailin’ Jennys, the album also features additional musicians Richard Moody (Ruth’s brother) on mandolin, viola & violin; Sam Howard on upright bass; Adrian Dolan on violin and Adam Dobres on guitars & mandolin. Wonderful, uplifting and essential.

Don Merkle The Ballad of Lincoln Wray Jangly

This singer/songwriter from Charleston, South Carolina has been working the circuit for many years in different bands before deciding to release this solo project that is a tribute to his grandfather, Lincoln Wray and his exploits during the Korean War.

The 5 songs here are a look back to simpler times when honour and bravery were the key ingredients to doing the right thing. Two of the tracks are repeated as acoustic versions at the end of the recording and the playing is suitably restrained and sympathetic to the sweet melodies of North Carolina, My Lord, My Lord, the title track and Cold War. The trumpet of Mark Rapp and the twin guitars of Merckle and Ace Evans weave nicely together and the keys add a nice layer, provided by Jonathan Lovett.

Johnny Max Band Roadhouse Soul Pour Soul 

This is the home of the Blues. Release number seven and lucky for some. Johnny Max has been living the life of a respected, soulful, blues player for many years and on this release his assembled band deliver a collection of 10 tracks that really groove.

With Kevin Vienneau (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Jim Casson (drums & percussion), Rob Gusevs (piano and keyboards), Russ Boswell (bass) and Quisha Wint (backing vocals) the assembled talent is very compelling and the rhythm generated is full of high octane energy.

Songs like Blind Leading The Blind; Little Yellow Dress; Time Well Wasted; (I’m Your) 911 and the title track, lend credence to the opinion that this band are the best thing to hit the Toronto blues scene in years. If you enjoy the music of Stax/Volt, and like a helping of Funk mixed with your Blues, then this is for you.   

Kathryn Rose Wood In The Ashes Self Release

This solo release is a 6-song set, lasting just over 25 minutes is a gentle listen with the soulful voice of Kathryn Rose Wood prominently to the fore. She is joined by a group of 10 studio musicians who add subtle playing to these heartfelt songs. The project is something of an emotional release for the artist who lost her brother to suicide and who uses the opportunity to spread a loving message of hope and kinship to others who may be feeling fragile or vulnerable in this world of shifting emotions.

Lullaby (to Preston), Free and Ashes are fine examples of the vocal prowess that Kathryn Rose possesses and the concluding This Ain’t Fine has a rocking beat that hides the heartbreak in the lyric.

Giulia Millanta Moonbeam Parade Self Release

This singer/songwriter is based in Austin, Texas and delivers her fifth collection of songs that draw from a variety of influences and styles. Born in Italy and moved to America in 2012, her superb guitar playing instantly made her one to watch among the musical elite of Austin. Over the years her solo releases have added to her reputation culminating in the 13 songs included on this impressive release and featuring some of the best musicians in Austin, such as Charlie Sexton, Howe Gelb, Glenn Fukunaga, Michael Fracasso, Kimmie Rhodes, Gabriel Rhodes, Dony Wynn and David Pulkingham.

Her tribute to David Bowie, sung in Italian, is very affecting with Howe Gelb sharing vocals on Rock n’ Roll Suicide. Elsewhere there are fine examples of her creative muse and songs like Motel Song, There’s A Bridge and If You Ask Me display a confidence and maturity that gives plenty of substance to the argument that this artist is the real deal.

Kris Kristofferson The Life & Songs Of /All-Star Celebration Blackbird Presents

What can you say about a living Country Music legend that hasn’t already been said? With numerous releases, collaborations, appearances, associations and reincarnations, we have the definitive tribute to one of the most endearing songwriters of the last 50 years.

Recorded live in 2016 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, this 21 track celebration comes with an array of all that is great in current Country music circles – with performances by Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Alison Krauss, Lee Ann Womack and many others.

Kris Kristofferson is many things to many people but above all a singer-songwriter, actor and musician who has served in the US Army, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, won a Golden Globe award for his role in A Star Is Born and has the distinction of an  IQ that is registered at genius level – 163.

All the songs are here and the performances are uniformly excellent throughout; Nobody Wins; Jesus Was A Capricorn; Loving Her Was Easier; Help Me Make It Through The Night; For The Good Times; Me And Bobby McGee; Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down – just to name a few.

Top marks to Blackbird Production Partners for a very attractive and impressive release, complete with 90-minute DVD of the all-star celebration. A must-have in any Country Music collection.

Thursday
Jan112018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

D.B. Reilly Live From Long Island City Shut Up & Play

The latest album from the New York native is a solo live album. 10 sings in front of a live audience at the RaR Bar. It is another in his series of unique handcrafted covers. The previous two albums were packaged in a tin and in a box. This once come in a large cardboard style postcard. Where the previous albums featured a band, this is right back to Reilly and his guitar/banjo and voice. Very much the way we get to listen to many singer/songwriters live. 

These are all new self-written songs that run from the humorousness of the opening Nothing Like You (as in I’ve never seen nothing quite like you along with several descriptions of some other hard to believe people and incidents). From then on it gets a little more serious with songs that are about relationships and related issues. For I Believe Angeline he sings about the belief he had in the things that the lady in question told him, even though she subsequently told him that they were lies. He plays banjo on this track and it adds to the overall mood of the song. Don’t Give Up On Me is also a plea for another woman to hold fast and to not give up on him. Humour returns again, as it often does throughout, for Lawrence Welk. In his intro he explains that his room has two pictures on the wall Jesus and Lawrence Welk and why he didn’t have a girlfriend. He then muses that he can’t even keep an imaginary girlfriend together. He tells the audience of one song that he usually plays the song in his room ... and it’s a hit there!

This is a short 10 songs album that feels something of a stopgap until the next album proper. D.P. Reilly shows an incisiveness in his writing which is based with observation and obvious delight in the eccentricities that continually occur when you are dealing with people of all ages and backgrounds. His song My Ma is affectionate while the closing I’ll Remind You Every Day is about memories of a marriage and good times and how they can be lost to time and dementia. D.P. Reilly is a purveyor of such emotion and understanding and his music has a similar warmth here.

Ash Gray Chickenwire Broken Silence

This album was recorded in Sheffield and Austin. It features Gray’s equally transatlantic musical outlook which blends some Americana bluesy roots rock with some hard rock 60’s UK attitude. Divided into sides A and B it features Gray’s songs and effective voice. He has put together some players in support who are credited on the album but in such small print as to be pretty much unreadable (the text overall has the feel of being reduced from vinyl size down to CD - i.e. it’s small). There is some solid playing from the rhythm section and aside from Gray, a number of vocalists are featured on the recordings. There is also some nice slide guitar and harmonica.  

The song that stands out first is Josephine Clark an acoustic song with a sound that has melody and harmony with an echoed vocal that reminds of the likes of Al Stewart to a degree. Another song takes the expression “if the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise” - a phase used to good effect also by Hank Williams Snr. but here it’s more in the conyext of a relationship song. Sundown (Come See Me) has some steel guitar threaded between the jaunty drum pattern and again the song seems to relate to an earlier time but has a section where cello is introduced to give the song a different mood before giving the steel guitar full reign to close the song.

When The Devil Comes Home is the first song on what is designated as Side B and it has again a blend of acoustic guitars over the galloping rhythm section. There is a different mood in Firefly with steel guitar, more of a desert sound and ambience that works well. That arid tone is continued in the title track and there is some effective fiddle used on Life’s A Pounding Adventure. The closing track is another tale of woe as the protagonist decides he may need to express his confusion at being chucked out in It Might Get Loud.

Ash Grey’s album is one that brings to mind some music from the 60s and early 70s whilst fitting in with contemporary Americana. It rewards on repeated play and, so, well done to all involved. Now where’s that magnifying glass and I’ll read the text on the cover. Martin Bedford’s cover illustration though fits the music and direction perfectly.

Casey Donahew 15 Years - The Wild Ride Almost Country

This compilation covers the music released by Casey Donahew over the last 15 years since he released his debut album Lost Days in 2006. It tracks the career of the Texas natives brand of full on roots rockin’ country. He and his band started out playing small bars and built a strong following which allowed them to tour nationally. This success culminated when their 2009 album release Moving On reached the Billboard Top 30 Country Album charts. Something that all his subsequent albums have also done. However, Donahew still maintains a view that is both local and national and plays many levels of venue to his supportive fan base.

Donahew’s music is of that righteous and rigorous Texas Country style that is full on with a bounding rhythm section and loud, upfront guitars. There are moments of reflection alonside the morefull on ones - as there is on most of the albums but the over-riding feel is that of a good-time Saturday night out. This compilation was produced by Josh Leo and features a number of band and session players over the 15 tracks selected. There is also an interesting accompanying DVD documentary that helps explains Donahew’s outlook and individual take on his music. He has written or co-written all the songs here that deal with a wide range of emotions and locations. The opening track Stockyards is a paean to his roots and growing up. Double Wide Dream is about life with a loved one and low cost living. Runaway Train is built around an attractive riff and powers along in a way that more rock than traditional two-steeping country. Sometimes the songs are slower as in Ask Me To Stay and Fallen but it still has that full-bodied sound that is aimed at a younger demographic than the likes of a Dale Watson. No Doubt is a more twangy offering with its tale of a rodeo cowboy.

This represents a career overview introduction to Donahew’s music and with the DVD a visual insight to accompany it. Like such artists as Aaron Watson he is likely to be a relative unknown on this side of the pond even with his US chart placings and it looks like this brand of Texas music has been largely ignored by the likes of C2C and the CMA even though they would likely have found an audience here if placed in front of a lively crowd.

Case Garrett Aurora Suitcase

From the opening track you kind of know where you are. A languid voice, pedal steel and fiddle to the fore and a bad boy lyric about the devil having him on his speed dial. What Can I Say? Is the opening salvo of 6 songs written, produced and arranged by Garret (along with a version of JJ Cale’s Call Me The Breeze and an alternative version of Going Down To Mobile). Garrett looks not unlike the late Harry Dean Stanton and uses his writing to express feelings that are related to life, love and lament. The singer/songwriter was born in Missouri but now resides in a suburb of New York City. He’s spent time in the south at a time when music was everywhere and covered everything from The Beatles, to Elvis, Waylon and Merle. It is the latter that seems to have had the lasting impact though, along with storytellers like Robert Earl Keen and other noted Texas troubadours.

What Can I Say? opens the album with fiddle and steel to the fore - its subject finds that he is good company so much so that the Devil has him on speed dial! Long Way Down deals with the ways that drink has affected those he knows in a none-too-positive way. It is a slow, sad look at life from the lower depths. Going Down To Mobile finds the proponent considering his options to get to the titular town for a variety of reasons. She Never Liked Elvis, about a lady friend who found the King’s pompadour a little on the scary side. The Thought Of You asks the question of the object of his desire what she thinks about screwing? Trying to turn thoughts into actions. Fill ‘er Up is a more acoustic take with strong female backing vocals from Clara Lofaro which takes something of a more gospel inspired path.

All are very personable and purposeful songs that are bolstered by some fine playing and Garett’s worn and lived-in voice and peopled stories. Although it falls into the mini-album/EP category it showcases a late blooming artist who could well produce some more music that fits neatly into the plus side of the country/Americana tally.   

Cousin Harley Blue Smoke - The Music Of Merle Travis Little Pig

Any rockabilly or Merle Travis fan would be happy to hear and own this respectful tribute. It takes 12 songs associated with Travis - many written or co-written by Travis with one track written by the band’s guitarist Paul Pigat. Pigat also co-produced here with Marc L’Esperance. He is joined by Keith Picot on bass and Jesse Cahill on drums for their invigorating run through some of Travis’s classics.

Divorce Me C.O.D, Sixteen Tons, Smoke That Cigarette and Dark As A Dungeon are some of the better known songs included but all have an updated retro feel for a time when the genres were more open.

Pigat is a skilful and dexterous guitarist who brings his own touches to the tracks - not unlike his contemporary Deke Dickerson in fact. He is also an accomplished singer who adds his own nuances to these (mostly) tongue-in-cheek songs that are enhanced by the trio’s energy and ability. Some equally extol the virtues of the female form as well the failures of the fair sex. Divorce Me C.O.D, So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, Too Much Sugar For A Dime, Fat Gal and Cincinnati Lou may all be considered as unPC in this sensitive age but reflect a different time and thinking in musical terms and attitudes. Not that that affects their appeal to a particular audience segment who are likely to want to listen to these songs. Some of the other songs such as Sixteen Tons and Dark As A Dungeon have a deeper and darker tone that considers the lot of the blue-collar worker.

Pigat is a versatile player who has played in a jazz trio, a rock band, a cowpunk band as well as many other settings and seems equally at home in all of them. He is certainly at home fronting Cousin Harley and the combined skills of the trio serve up an enjoyable and entertaining tribute to one of the greats to whose music this album may serve as a positive primer.

Los Plantronics The Worst Is Yet To Come (Best of 1995-2017) Jansen

The band name, title and cover art reveal that this seven piece (plus) band deal in a serving up a boiling stew of Tex-Mex, Stax, surf, rock ’n’ roll, garage, twang and punk or Mariachi Death Surf as they like to call it. Largely instrumental and played at a devil hound on the run tempo. They also cover some classic rock tunes like Devil With The Blue Dress and My Girl Is Red Hot as well as their take on spaghetti western themes like Hang ‘em High and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. There is a lot that any fan of the Cramps would recognise in the approach of this Norwegian band.

This double album ‘best of’ covers a lot of bases and musical directions but is all held together by an unrelenting love and enthusiasm for the music they play. Much of which  I assume is self written. On a more atmospheric song like Montezuma’s Revenge they have a brass and Hammond sound that feels like it belongs to some long overlooked jungle adventure movie. This is a collection that will find favour with particular segments of the audience who appreciate their music delivered with a no holds barred, Mexican wrestling mask in place attitude.

The band have toured all over Europe and have shared stages with many liked-minded acts, something that, given the size of the band, shows that they are doing this as something they love, rather than any particular monetary or fame concerns. It shows. Long may they do their worst.

Rod Picott Out Past The Wires Welding Rod

Pigott has always displayed his skill as a writer on his records but never more so than on this new double album. 22 songs, 22 slices of acute observation of the human condition. The positive and the negative, the ups and downs of life. Out Past The Wires was produced by Neilson Hubbard and includes Will Kimbrough among its musical contributors. It has a raw, spacious and sometimes intense sound. The focal point is the emphatic vocal contribution of Picott. His songs gain from this and he has an obvious empathy with his subjects. Much of it is as he says in Take Home Pay comes down to what can be earned to try and hold body and soul together.

Over the body of work many different moods are explored both in terms of mood and musical setting. Obviously, some songs will have a more immediate response than others, depending on the subjectiveness of the individual listener. As with all albums there will be the debate about what tracks would have made it onto a single album. A debate that can never really be successful when one is dealing with such a good song writer. Over the album there are number of highlights; Primer Grey, On The Way Down (which seems to be aimed at a particular person - though one should never assume that a song is written in the first person, or is specific), Holding On, Fire Inside, Falling Down, The Shape Of You, Store Bought and the one that hits on all levels, Hard Luck Baby. All resonate with this writer. Picott is neither an oblique writer or a straight storyteller. Rather his words make sense in the context of the songs and convey a feeling, a mood, a reason. They allow for some individual interpretation which is often important in allowing the listener their own sense of the song.

Like his friend and occasional co-writer Slaid Cleeves, Rod Picott should be considered to be in the ranks of the next generation of writers who transcend the mundane to produce work of a lasting quality and evolving craftsmanship. Picott exists in a place out past the wires where it is about nothing more than doing the best you can without having to consider what anyone else other than your family, friends and fans might think of it.

Chris Stapleton From A Room Volume 2 Mercury

The second part of this collection of songs that seems to have been written over a period of time, offer no great departure from what we already know about Stapleton and his music. He co-produced with Dave Cobb and solidifies his overall soulful, bluesy approach. Again, it is a simple band line-up with his regular bassist and drummer who are joined by producer Dave Cobb on acoustic guitar and percussion and his wife Morgane on background vocals and tambourine.

The room in question is the Historic Studio A in Nashville. A studio with a long history and a specific warm sound. One perfectly suited to Stapleton. Here he has recorded the songs which include Kevin Welch’s Millionaire and the folkish tale of working the land against the odds,  Scarecrow In The Garden, plus there’s the soft acoustic approach of A Simple Song. The majority of these songs are Stapleton co-writes. One Midnight Train To Memphis takes a much heavier groove and was co-written with fellow guitarist and former Steeldrivers band member Mike Henderson. But one of the obvious highlights here is Drunkard’s Prayer - a heartfelt performance that has an impassioned vocal about communicating with God in whatever way that seems to work. Other than this song, the aforementioned Welch song and the final song, Friendship, written by Homer Banks and Lester Snell.

It will be interesting to see where Stapleton takes his music and success in the future. He is undoubtedly on a roll and appealing to a wide and varied audience that has little relationship with the machinations of mainstream country. Rather in the spirit of the final song, Friendship, he seems like an old friend who it is comfortable to be around. He has a lot of friends right now. Easy to see why.