Saturday
Jul162016

Reviews by Paul McGee

 

The Sumner Brothers The Hell in your Mind Self-Release

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

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

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

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

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

Lotus Wight Ode To Banjo Self-Release

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

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

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

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

The Ted Vaughn Blues Band Harbinger Northwest

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

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

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

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

Kevin Gordon Long Time Gone Crowville Media

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

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

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

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

Mr Rick Sings About God + Booze Self-Release

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

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

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

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

The Mystix Live Rhythm and Roots Mystix Eyes

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

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

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

Peter Gallway Muscle and Bone Galway Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday
Jul092016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

Country Lips Till The Daylight Comes Self Release

An eight piece country band may not be what immediately springs to mind when you think of music from Seattle, Washington. But this band more than hold their own with their brand of hard-core country music. This album follows up a live album Live at the Little Red Hen released earlier this year that pretty much sums up the band’s taste and influences with original material alongside songs from Hank Williams through to Bruce Springsteen. The album also features a live version of one of the tracks from this album Holding Out.

The band are slightly less rowdy than I expected on the live album and here put in a pretty polished performance. One, however, that is neither slick nor soulless. Country Lips may not take themselves too seriously but they are serious about what they do, though the keyword here is fun. The album opens with Laundromat and you get a feel for what is to follow from the opening line “You don’t have to drive me crazy, darling, I’m close enough to walk.” Their music is rooted in traditional country themes that hark back to an earlier time but equally serve as a platform for a contemporary audience to dance and let off steam to. Basically what a country band has always been best at and what they have been doing for decades. Country Lips don’t bring anything new to the party - rather they bring the party.

They write a bunch of catchy songs, they play and sing them well and sound like this is what they want to be doing. The line up features fiddle, accordion, piano and guest pedal steel over the bass, drums and twangy guitar bedrock sound. This creates a diverse and diverting sound. One that often seems to be coming from a border and State that’s pretty far away from Seattle but is one that feels a natural fit. There are thirteen songs included and all are originals bar Please Be My Love, a song previously recorded by George Jones and Melba Montgomery. They are the kind of band who write songs that could easily be from the pen of a classic country writer. You are soon captivated by the band and their music. There are four members credited with vocals and they are also a strong point in the band’s sound with the lead vocal supported by solid harmonies throughout.

With songs like Day In The Sun, Grizzly Bear Billboard, Don’t Quit Your Day Man, Bar Time and Reason I’m Drinking Country Lips feature the trials and tribulations of a blue collar lifestyle. In the end it is an overall package that works. It is an album that I have returned to many times and I enjoy it each time. Till The Daylight Comes is the sound that could not be classified as anything but country but has little chance at receiving mainstream airplay at mainstream country radio. That is a shame but in this day and age you can go to the Country Lips website to hear (or purchase) their previous 3 albums. This album is due for release in August and if you find yourself in Seattle and Country Lips happen to be playing you won’t likely find a better evening. These guys are in it for the music. Listen up.

The High Bar Gang Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind True North

Bluegrass is not exactly my forte but when it is played either with a punky energy and spirit or with a sense of storytelling and musical inventiveness rather than just technique and speed then I can appreciate it as much as anyone. The High Bar Gang are a seven piece band from Canada and are following up their well received debut album Lost & Undone with this second offering of well chosen covers. The song choices cover such bases as Silver Dagger (Dolly Parton) to Branded Wherever I Go (Roy Acuff), I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash) through to One I Love Is Gone (Bill Monroe) and Long Lonesome Highway Blues (Steve Earle). All fit the parameters of what the band have set out to do which is to deliver some classic songs in a classic setting. 

The lead vocals are shared between the majority of the band with only double bassist Rob Becker and Colin Nairne playing guitar and mandolin not featured on vocals. This gives the band a wide range of voices to suit the individual song choices. Dave Barber, Kirby Barber, Barney Bengal, Wendy Bird and Shari Ulrich all sing as well as (mostly) playing and they all make a sweet sound. They are joined by guitarist and occasional participant Colin James for their version of Utah Phillips’ Rock, Salt and Nails. As with any album certain songs immediately hit home and One I Love Is Gone with lead vocals by Bird and How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart which has Ulrich taking lead with the other ladies adding harmony are special. The latter incidentally written by Hank Williams but then finished by Norah Jones. That, though in the end, is just a selective viewpoint as the whole album is a balanced performance of fine acoustic playing (listen to Cold Rain And Snow as one example of that) and heartfelt singing.

The High Bar Gang are continuing a genre of music that they love but in doing so give it a new purpose and audience. It appears that the various members also play outside of the gang and therefore to not get together to tour that often. They have however done what they set out to do which was to play some of their favourite songs in an old-time bluegrass setting. This they have done and the end result is an excellent album that should be heard beyond the obvious listening circle. 

Bianca De Leon Love, Guns & Money  Self Release

Self-written and produced album number four from De Leon (other than the one cover Nothin’/Ramblin’ Man which combines songs by Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams). It was recorded in Austin, Texas with some local players stepping up to the plate. Names know to those who check such things on albums coming out of Austin like John Inmon, Paul Percy and some, not so well know perhaps, like Radoslav Lorkovic on piano, B3 and accordion (he also plays with Jimmy LaFeve and others)- an instrument that adds much to the atmosphere of the song Guns And Money. De Lone has a strong versatile voice that is the centrepiece of the material here. 

For her fourth album she handles the production herself and gets a strong, textured and varied sound from her assembled players. Some of the songs really evoke a time and place  such as I Sang Patsy Cline. A song that details the background to the title which was about the night that Manuel Noriega was removed from power in Panama. It appears in an extended 6-minute version and as a bonus track at the end of the album as a radio edit. To underline her affinity and heritage, Buscando Por Ti is sung in Spanish and is about looking for love. Stale Wine and Roses is  about leaving and being left behind and is delivered with a softness that echoes of regret. The Bottles On The Table, which features some effective playing from Lorkovic on piano and the East Side Flash on resophonic guitar and some string harmony vocals, has a similar sense of unresolved emotions.

The remainder of the album is equally effective and the songs bear repeated listening and the printed lyrics allow for closer inspection and therefore the meaning of the songs though relationships gained and lost are central to the songs. Garden In The Sun has another nice harmony from Hilary Claire Anderson. It is also a more acoustic-based song that considers offering a place of refuge. Nothin’/Ramblin’ Man fits well into the overall scheme of things by sounding completely in sync with the self-written songs. They are tributes to two writers who have likely provided much inspiration to De Leon. Silence Speaks Louder Than Words is an expression of a universal truth which again underscores that De Leon is a writer and singer of note who has produced an album that works on several levels and is the work of a person who has lived some life to get to this place. A place worth getting to.

Wild Ponies Radiant No Evil

Band mainstays, husband and wife, Telisha and Doug Williams have previously released albums under their own names before moving to the more band-orientated Wild Ponies name. Telisha is the main singer and plays bass, Doug also sings and plays guitar. Add to that two other trusted players in Fats Kaplan - strings and steel and Megan Jane on drums and you have a tight, multi-functional combo who have made a thoughtful and trust worthy album that is full of atmosphere and lives up to its title. Folk music with electric guitar might suit the overall sound best with Kaplan’s steel adding more of a dreamy texture than traditional country steel styled licks.

Mom and Pop, a song written by the duo with Jeff Barba, has a twangy country feels with joint vocals and a theme that fits - local stores that are quickly vanishing. Unplug The Machine sounds like a new wave band singing a Billy Joel song. It works though, and shows the open minded approach that the duo and producer Tres Sasser have taken this time out. The Night We Never Met is a ballad that chronicles a sense of unfulfilled longing. Lullaby is exactly what it says - a percussion based ode to a child, but one with a dark edge. That feel is further explored on Graveyard Train, a song that was inspired by a Texas graveyard that has a train track running through its’ middle. The musical tone is suitably weighty too. A plea for tolerance is contained in Love Is Not A Sin a duet that balances the Williams’ voices well. Telisha’s has been compared to a lot of other singers in reviews but suffice it to say to is a vibrant and sturdy one that commands attention. Doug meanwhile is no slouch in that department either and a fine guitarist to boot.

The songs are all written by the duo with a selection of other writers including Amy Speace, Roddy Hecht and Amelia White amongst others. One song, the title track features lyrics by a 12 year old girl Mariah Moore who submitted them when the duo were doing a program to nurture young writing talent. The duo added the music and one verse and Telisha sings it with the kind of open wonder that a person of that age would have. It is a gentle, soft song that does all involved proud. As does this whole album which make the best of all the talents involved and adds the name of the Wild Ponies to the list of performers that should be checked out and listened to.

Ana Egge & The Sentimentals Say That Now Grace

Ana Egge is an acclaimed artist with a bunch of albums to her credit and this latest one with Danish band The Sentimentals will doing nothing but further that reputation. She produced and plays on this album together and it covers a lot of bases from the traditional country of Promises To Break to such songs as the harmonium infused energy of title track and hard guitar riff that drives Spider. The songs are written by Egge and other co-writers including band member MC Hanson (whose own work has been favourably received here at Lonesome Highway in the past). He also contributes a self-written track The Girl From The Banks Of The Ohio that is a powerful folk-rock statement that shows the assembled players working as a unit that has skill alongside heart and soul.

Another standout is the Hanson/Egge co-write Still Waters Run Deep that features Hanson as lead vocalist with Egge joining him on the choruses. The song has an acoustic feel with the mandolin and acoustic guitar but is buoyed by solid drums and bass. The other players here are Jacob Chano and Nikolaj Wolf with help from engineer Peter Brander on occasional bass guitar. Wolf and Egge wrote Falling, Falling, Falling a song that at its heart is about wanting and needing another person. While on Take Off My Dress the shoe, so to speak, is on the other foot here and is about walking away that wants to be together. But perhaps the strongest statement is another Hanson/Egge co-write He’s A Killer Now which take the viewpoint of a mother whos’ son has committed that unsurmountable crime before having his own life taken away. It tells of the emptiness left in the wake of such devastation for all those involved. Especially in the wake of recent terrorists shooting in Denmark. This is not the stuff of happy-talk radio but something more substantial by far and proves that such difficult topics need to be aired.

Say That Now is an album that considers all aspects of life from a set of people who have witnessed and reflected on such conditions and have turned those experience into meaningful music. If you haven’t encountered Egge, or The Sentimentals, previously then this is an album that will doubtless enrich your listening experience.

Bill Jackson The Wayside Ballads - Vol 2 Laughing Outlaw

An Australian artist who has recorded this album in Nashville with Thomm Jutz producing (and playing). It is an acoustic album but one that transcends easy categorisation as folk or bluegrass. It is indeed coming from that area but as drums are also featured adds a more percussive element to the mix. Jackson is a folk styled writer influenced by such icons as Woody Guthrie who he quotes on the album cover. The players involved bring a variety of textures to the songs with banjo, fiddle, upright bass, mandolin and dobro to the fore from musicians like Sierra Hull and Justin Moses involved

There are 11 songs which were co-written by Bill Jackson and his lyricist brother Ross, two are co-written with others, that include the story telling about Silver Screen Cowboys, a Gippsland Boy and the notion that Every Day’s A Drinkin’ Day. Overall Jackson’s simple but effective delivery and warm, undemanding voice will remind you of a bunch of other troubadours. Nothing too wrong with that as in the end it’s about the songs and the way they have been put together. Thomm Jutz can be relied on to give the whole process a sense of understanding and a solid sound that would be hard to dismiss. Your liking for Bill Jackson will depend on your appreciation for the songs on offer here. Although Australian Jackson is also steeped in Americana and that is the subject of many of his songs. Something that may be familiar to fans of Irish singer/songwriter Mick Hanley who takes a similar musical path.

Jackson has released several albums previously including (obviously) Volume 1 of The Wayside Ballads and has developed a comfortable relationship with his songs and the musicians he plays with. Those who have a liking for care-worn troubadours, and we seem to take to them over here in Ireland, will enjoy these tales of the less fortunate but often satisfied characters who are the subjects of these songs.

Monday
Jul042016

Reviews By Paul McGee

Gypsy Soul True Off the Beaten Track

Cilette Swann and Roman Morykit met in Edinburgh during the 1990’s and have recorded and written together as Gypsy Soul for many years now. They walk an independent path with a music career which has been funded mostly by the continued patronage of their loyal fan base. They have an intimacy in their music that touches a number of sources with their unique blend of roots rock, blues and jazz.

Morykit, is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer whose musical roots reach back to his childhood training in classical piano.

Canadian-born singer/lyricist, Cilette Swann sings with both clarity and power across these eleven songs that make for a very enjoyable release. The instrumental, Magic Carpet Ride, shows off the talent and maturity at play here with a gentle and considered arrangement while the attractions of 6000 Miles, Long, Long Ride, We Are What We Believe and You’re Everything To Me unfold with repeated listening.

One small complaint would be the inclusion of yet another cover version of Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen). I don’t see what can possibly be added to the numerous covers that are already out there and this version brings little to the table. Better by far is the arrangement of Amazing Grace (revisited) which has a nice bluesy groove to the timeless classic.

All other songs are written and performed by Gypsy Soul and they are definitely worth checking out if you enjoy fully rounded, mature music played with an authentic feel. 

Mark Mandeville & Raianne Richards Grain By Grain Nobody’s Favourite

This folk duo from Massachusetts began in the local venues around the New England area and this is their latest release. American contemporary Folk music played with a quiet confidence and the vocal harmonies of Mark Mandeville (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Raianne Richards (vocals, ukulele, clarinet, penny whistles, electric bass) are a real joy to experience.

The 10 self-penned songs make for a very enjoyable listen and these acoustic arrangements are supported by Doug Williamson (upright bass, piano, papoose, mandolin, vocals) and Peter Hart (dobro, pedal steel).

Pleasant uncluttered songs that visit such subjects as time passing the (title track/Across The Morning), having self-belief (Don’t Ever Stop Believing/Diggin’ Me A Hole), living in the moment (Hang On To The Day/Worn Down), relationship woes (Temper) and shutting down local industries (That Old Machine).

Mandeville and Richards are co-founders of the Massachusetts Walking Tour - promoting local music, arts and culture on foot and have released a number of concerts that were recorded on previous tours. Nice playing and great production by Mandeville & Kyle Swartzwelder, with plenty to enjoy.

The Danberrys Give & Receive Self-Release

Ben DeBerry and Dorothy Daniel are from East Nashville, Tennessee and have been influenced by the traditions of bluegrass, old-time country, blues, and soul music. They have very distinct vocal harmonies and their first recording Company Store, was released in April 2011, followed in 2013 by The Danberrys.

Their latest album Give & Receive was produced by Ethan Ballinger (Lee Ann Womack, Tim O’Brien) at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville and these ten songs provide a musical landscape that reveals a broad range of moods and sounds, reflecting the continued growth of these two artists who wrote all the music & words included here.

Receive has fine vocal harmonies with mandolin and fiddle interplay giving the song arrangement a gentle laid-back feel. Indeed this sense of timeless music is repeated across the ten tracks with a strong presence from producer/musician Ethan Ballinger on mandolin, a variety of guitars, bazouki, banjo,organ, piano, wurlitzer  & percussion. With subtle fiddle on most of the tracks supplied by Christian Sedelmyer and the steady bass playing of Sam Grisman, the project delivers an overall sense of real quality and restrained mood.

The bluegrass sound of Long Song is followed by the slow moody groove of Don’t Drink the Water. Let Me Go visits the subject of escaping a suffocating relationship and Life Worth Living visits the urge to seek real meaning in our lives. We’ll Be Done highlights the superb vocal talent of Dorothy Daniel and brings proceedings to a very satisfactory conclusion on a sea of sweet melody. Recommended. 

Tuesday
Jun282016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Noam Weinstein On Waves Self Release

On Waves, the eight album recorded by Boston resident Noam Weinstein is soul drenched Americana, containing fifty six minutes of cleverly crafted songs, fifteen in total and often enhanced by delightful strings and horns. A reference point both to Weinstein’s vocal sound and the album’s musical content could be the work of Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and yet the album also recalls the type of wonderful melodies created by Todd Rundgren on his 1972 album Something/Anything.

Dedicated to his recently deceased mother and recorded between the time of her death and the birth of his son the album is naturally full of mixed emotions including loss, grief, expectation, love, celebration and no shortage of humour.

Mother is more joyful and celebratory than sorrowful, Intelligent Design is rich, layered and benefitting from a lovely horn section. Over is poppy with a simple catchy chorus that connects instantly.

Recorded at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, NY by Kenny Siegal (Langhorne Slim) and mastered by Jeff Lipton (Arcade Fire) the album features fifteen musicians including bassist Derek Nievergelt (Coldplay, Herbie Hancock), vocalist Heather Masse (Wailin’ Jennys), drummer Stephen Nistor (Rick Rubin). 

Tokyo Rosenthal Afterlife Rock & Socks

Afterlife is the sixth album released by Tokyo Rosenthal. Performing as a solo artist and leading man with bands such as Harpo and Slapshot and Treo Gato in a career stretching nearly three decades, it was not until 20017 that Rosenthal finally recorded his first album One Score and Ten. The song Edmonton from this album was critically well received and lead to an award for cultural and artistic contribution to the city of Alberta and also resulted in a solo tour of Canada sponsored by West Jet Airlines and opening slots for Chris Hillman, Stephen Stills, Rick Roberts and Jackie Levon.

Like many Canadian and American singer-songwriters Rosenthal has developed a hard core following in Europe and the UK and regularly tours Europe. His influences include Gene Clarke, Jackson Brown, The Band, The Byrds and the album captures the familiar gentle country rock one associates with these artists.

Afterlife is produced by fellow Chapel Hill, North Carolina resident and previous member of Alex Chilton’s band, Chris Stamey, who also contributes bass on the album. It includes ten songs exploring various themes such as immortality (Afterlife), relationship breakups (Love’s Hurtin’ Real Bad) and politics (Cold War).

Post Byrds Gene Clarke can certainly be heard on The Pearl and Shreveport, which includes a clever use of the intro from Queen's Under Pressure. Tom Russell disciples will enjoy the Tex Mex feel to Love’s Hurtin’ Real Bad.

The CD also includes a bonus video of The Cold War.

Hackensaw Boys Charismo Free Dirt 

The Hackensaw Boys have always done old timey as good as anyone, plucking and strumming with the best of them. This time out they are produced by Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Judy Collins, Linda Thompson, Paul Simon). The eleven track album is full of good time Appalachian - raw, unpolished and joyfully melodic.

It's old timey in style with modern day lyrics (Mama likes to rock, daddy likes to roll, Mama sips a bottle and Daddy tokes a bowl). The title of the album is taken from a percussion instrument made of scrap wood and metal and invented by former band member Justin Neuhardt.

The current line up of Hackensaw Boys is Brian ‘Nugget’ Gorby, Ferd ‘Four’ Moyse and David ‘Shiner’ Sickmen and Jimmy ‘The Kooky-Eyed Fox’ Stelling. Larry Campbell adds fiddle on The Sweet and guitar on Wolves Howling.

They're nine albums in with basically the same formula of fiddle and banjo-driven bluegrass with tobacco and whiskey fuelled vocals. It's great fun.

Ol’Nick tells of a devil-like character to be avoided (Grab you by your arm when he sees you cannot stand. Ol’ Nick gonna get you if he can), The Sweet swings along with a Dirty Old Town melody and World’s Upside Down questions survival in the modern world. It’s a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, stomping and hollering delight. Pass the jug.

Jeremy Nail My Mountain Self Release

Popped My Mountain into the CD player for first casual listen without carrying out any research into Jeremy Nail, a new artist to me. Immediate impression of both the tempo of the music and Nail’s sometimes semi spoken vocals was pain, a lot of pain.

Further listens and research revealed the source of the pain and the motivation for the album, the second recording by Nail following his 2007 release Letter.

Born in Albany Texas Nail relocated to Austin in 2005 to pursue his career in the musical capital of Texas. Together with his solo career Nail became a member of the legendary Alejandro Escovedo’s band and played guitar on one show of  Escovedo’s world tour in 2013.

After the tour Nail was tragically diagnosed with sarcoma, the result of an incident two years previously when he was kicked while working with cattle at home. Sarcoma is a form of soft tissue cancer that eventually resulted in amputation of his left leg. With his life and career on hold Nail’s main focus became learning to walk again with a prosthetic.  A reunion with Escovedo after a gig was the catalyst for The Mountain. Escovedo, who has faced serious illness himself suffering from Hepatitis-C for many years, acted as a mentor for Nail and his motivation was the driving force behind the album which Escovedo also produced.

The resulting set of songs vividly reflects Nail’s struggle, acceptance and recovery from his trauma. More stripped back than his previous work the emphasis being very much of the vocals which are often unhurried, dreamlike, almost suspended (Down To The Ocean, Survive, Brave).

Dreams is possibly the most radio friendly sound on the album, reflective and hopeful ("We’re given second chances, I finally see the light, The best things come from a higher place, You no longer have to fight") and includes some killer guitar playing by Chris Masterson.

Recorded over a three day period at Church House Studio, the album was mixed by Grammy Award winner Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash) and alongside Escovedo features a host of Austin’s finest musicians in Chris Masterson (electric guitar), Eleanor Whitmore (violin, vocals), Bobby Daniel (upright bass), Chris Searles (drums), Stephen Barber (piano and strings) and Dana Falconberry and Jazz Mills (backing vocals).

"The spirit grows when the wind of change blow in, I might fall, but I’ll get up again" Nail announces on the title track My Mountain. He certainly has turned personal tragedy into triumph with this wonderful piece of work.

Monday
Jun202016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Bill Price I Can’t Stop Looking At The Sky – Grass Magoops

Inspired by the explorers Lewis and Clark, Bill Price took a lengthy trip around America and over a four year period wrote and recorded this extremely ambitious and hugely rewarding work. The journey covered over five thousand miles across the states of Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. His original intention was to compile a personal journal but the journey subsequently inspired him to put much of his thoughts and experiences to music. The end product includes two hours and twenty minutes of music, a one hundred and twenty page journal, a one hundred and sixty page book of essays and poems, posters and stickers. The album is Prices’ sixth release since his debut album in 2001.  

This review is based on a sixteen track sampler of music from the venture. The material featured on the album is hugely enjoyable and quite varied. I Don’t Want to Come Home is driving pacey rock, Makes Me Feel Better would sit proudly on Paul Simon’s Graceland while Heaven Collapse is all Tom Petty with predictable, yet wonderful, guitar riffs. If Simon, Petty and Jonathan Richman type 70’s rock is your cuppa, based on this sampler, you will embrace this enterprising product with open arms.

Daniel Romano Mosey – New West 

My abiding memory of Daniel Romano will always be seeing him exiting a taxi outside The Ryman in 2013 on his way to the Americana Awards Show. Resplendent in a colourful nudie suit, boots to match and a cowboy hat, flanked by two equally well attired cowgirls, he impressed as someone who when making a statement goes the whole hog. Mosey sees the enigmatic Romano moth ball the nudie suit and travel an altogether different highway than listeners to his previous albums would have anticipated. The Fifties/Sixties traditional country look on previous album covers has been replaced by a look closer to late 60’s Syd Barrett than Hank Williams on the album cover. Referring to his intention of exploring genres other than country Romano is on record recently stating “I’m trying to cover my ass so I don’t end up in some club I don’t want to be part of!”

A mere twelve months since the release of the excellent If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ the prolific Canadian has recorded most probably his strongest work to date, moving away from the Nashville and Bakersfield influences and exploring dustier border landscapes.  The addition of strings and horns often results in the material bearing a delightfully healthy relation to the work of Ennio Morricone. As was the case with If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ Romano plays all the instruments on the album with the exception of piano, horns and strings but  also managed to arrange the string and horn section. The album was self-produced by Romano and recorded in mono at his own studio in Fenwick, Ontario 

The opener Valerie Leon is a monster of a track, soaring gloriously from the word go with mariachi horns and strings a plenty and slick vocals. The rootsy Toulouse sees actress Rachel Mc Adams dueting effectively with Romano. Mr.E.ME is immediately catchy, humorous and again adorned beautifully by strings and horns. Sorrow (For Leonard and William) has a luscious flow with a vocal and lyric recalling Leonard Cohen. (Gone is) All But A Quarry Of Stone is the most ‘country’ offering including some pulsating keyboards. Equally striking is One Hundred Regrets Avenue, the albums longest track, a seductive piano ballad and an indication of Romano’s ability to be equally adept in penning a ballad as a swashbuckler. 

Echo Bloom Red (2016)/Blue (2013) - Self Release

Two very interesting offerings from an intriguing set of musicians recording under the name of Echo Bloom. The band/collectives title is a play on the phase Echo Boom which refers to the offspring of baby boomers and is a vehicle for multi-instrumentalist Kyle Evans who wrote and produced both albums. The albums form part of a ‘Colours’ triptych with each of the three albums experimenting an entirely different musical genre. The first album Blue represents chamber pop, the second and current album Red visits country(ish) rock and the final album of the trilogy Green will focus on classic pop.

The obvious comparison to Evans’ most ambitious project would be the work of Sufjan Stevens and lovers of Stevens’ work will find so much to enjoy in both these albums. Red features no fewer than ten musicians and describing the album as country rock probably does not do it justice. It often enters dark country-noir territory, no more so than the track Willingham which describes the execution of Cameron Willingham for the murder of his three daughters.  It’s beautifully atmospheric throughout, intense with delightful layered backing vocals adding to to Evan’s often whispered and strained vocal. Leaving Charlestown tells the tale of two lovers eloping from Charlestown in search of a new life. Evangeline recounts the writers failure to deliver on his promises to his lover. “The man you love so long ago‘s all torn and faded and there’s nothing left inside of him not full of hatred. Another Rose is straight down the middle honky tonk.

It’s quite interesting revisiting Blue in the context of reviewing Echo Bloom’s current album and certainly rewarding. The songs are more acoustic and highlight Evan’s seductive vocal often with sparse accompaniment of backing vocal and guitar. The description of chamber pop refers to the addition of viola, violin, French horns, cello and oboe which embellish some of the songs. Evan’s describes how the ideas for the songs on the album were larger and more symphonic than anything he had previously written and demanded absolute concentration and distraction free to complete them. As a result he relocated to Berlin which he considered the perfect location to finalise the album. 

Standout tracks are the quite stunning, minimalistic and haunting The Prostitute (Goodbye Savannah), The Flood, which has a definite nod in the direction of Sufjan Stevens and the equally delightful Fireworks. All in all two excellent albums by an artist that I have to admit passed under my radar but whom I will certainly eagerly wait for the release of the final album from the trilog 

Rachel Garlin Wink at July – Tactile 

This is the fifth album released by San Francisco based singer-songwriter Rachel Garlin.  Featuring twelve tracks, the album often brings to mind the earthy, happy work of Laura Veirs. The album is essentially a series of well written unconnected stories delivered by Garlin, both acoustically and with backing musicians, in a distinctive semi-conversational rather than powerful vocal. She plays guitar on all tracks with contributions from eighteen different musicians. 

Opening with Gwendolyn Said, possibly the albums stand out track, the song nostalgically recalls Garlin’s trips on the school bus and reading a quote from poet Gwendolyn Brooks “Exhaust the little moment, soon it dies.” The Winding Road breezes along, immediate and poppy. The Sea You See is an ode to Garlin’s mother who emigrated from Scotland. Colorado Rain is catchy and toe tapping and the reflective title track closes the album. All in all an uncomplicated, very listenable, enjoyable and particularly relaxing listen.

Rainey Qualley Turn Down The Lights – Cingle

Turn Down The Lights is the debut album from actress turned singer Rainey Qualley.  Daughter of actress Andie Mc Dowell and musician Justin Qualley, the 26 year old’s seven track release is firmly aimed at the country pop market. The material is likely to work with the current country radio listenership leaning heavily toward the commercial poppy end of the market. Qualley without doubt possesses a wonderful voice and considerable song writing ability, six of the seven tracks being co-writes with John Ramey. 

The opener Turn Me On Like The Radio is Kasey Musgraves territory, catchy, instant and radio friendly. Kiss Me Drunk recalls mid 90’s Alanis Morissette and Cool, Wild, Whatever closes the album in style, poppy, catchy and immediate. 

The album, recorded at the Cowboy Arms Hotel and recording Spa in Nashville, if anything suffers from over production in places with layered vocals and drum machines dominating but not particularly enhancing the songs. Qualley has unquestionably inherited her parent’s talents and ticks all the boxes to make an impression in the mainstream country market 

Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles Soon Enough – Clubhouse 

There appears to be an endless contingent of quality female singer/songwriters currently recording albums of exceptional quality. Nashville resident Erin Rae is the latest addition to a string of such artists that have made the first six months of 2016 particularly productive in terms of worthy releases. This debut album Soon Enough was recorded live in Nashville over a two day period and finds the Jackson-born Rae flirting between the Laurel Canyon country folk sound of yesteryear and the more current roots driven Americana. It’s a piece of work that seems to benefit from the short recording period, uncomplicated, stripped back, weightless and natural.

Regardless of classification the irresistible Clean Slate, the second of thirteen songs on the album, will certainly stand out with the writer as one of the finest songs of the year, enhanced by some glorious steel guitar it’s a song that seems to have been with the listener for ever.

The arrangements throughout are simple featuring Rae’s acoustic guitar playing often accompanied only by bass and drums, occasionally with the addition of pedal steel. Rae’s wonderful honeyed vocal stands out and there are delightful songs around in plenty from the unhurried title track to the aching melody of Owe You One.

She is a quality act signed to the Clubhouse UK label, here’s hoping we get the opportunity to hear this set of reflective songs performed live by an artist mature beyond her years. Most definitely for lovers of Laura Cantrell and Patsy Cline.