Sunday
Sep182016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Two Steps South There They’re There Self Release

Without ever intending to reinvent the wheel Lurgan Co.Armagh band Two Steps South debut album is a collection of country-tinged pop songs, simple, well written and very listenable. The three-piece band is made up of Mark Haddock, Gerard Magee and Tony O’Hara, musicians that have featured in various local bands over the years and who joined forces to combine their collective song writing skills. Additional musicians used on the album include Lawrence Hill whose pedal steel guitar playing is particularly impressive.

Stand out track on the album is The Jayhawks sounding Getting’ Over You but they are also more than capable of writing decent pop ballads such as Rainmaker and Friends and Lovers. You Ain’t Here No More also impresses as does the poppy Down By The Railway Tracks. 

The album was recorded at TSS Studio in Lurgan with production duties with the album cover design by the band members.

Sam Wickens Send Me dootdoot Music

My first exposure to Sam Wickens was earlier this year when he performed at The Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival in a singer-songwriter circle in the company of Nashville legend Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, singer-songwriter and actress in American TV drama Nashville. Totally undaunted by his illustrious company the 20 year old Bangor artist performed three self-written songs with the confidence of a veteran and with quality to match. His song Oh Mother made a particular impression on both of his co-singers leading to Lauderdale simply commenting ”young man you need to get to Nashville and soon”. Wickens has subsequently visited Tennessee where he performed at the Bluebird Café in Nashville and also at The Factory in Franklin as part of the live broadcast Music City Roots which has an audience of over 60 million across the United States.

Send Me is the debut six track mini album by Wickens featuring four studio recordings and two live tracks. Guitar, synths and drums are performed by Wickens with contributions by James Reid (lead guitar), Andrew Whittaker (bass guitar) and Mark Johnston (piano).

It would be over simplistic to make comparisons with the music of Jeff Buckley, Bon Ivor and John Martyn, the most obvious connection being that similar to these artist Wickens possess quite a unique style. 

The focus throughout the album is on his wonderful vocal, always to the fore, soaring, melodic, atmospheric and emotional. Wickens has wisely allowed his vocal to dominate to the extent that the listener is immediately drawn to the lyrics. That’s not to understate the quality of the song writing, which appears to carry personal messages and a maturity beyond his years.   

Hold The Time drifts along accompanied only by keyboards giving the song a delightful lightness of touch throughout. The title track Send Me is dreamy, hypnotic with a vocal delivery that brings to mind Jack Lukeman at his best.

Oh Mother, which made such an impression of Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, is one of the two live recordings included and both the range and discipline of the vocal understandably brings Jeff Buckley to mind.

Given that futuristic folk/roots music seems to be in vogue at the moment, Wickens has without doubt the talent to make a name for himself. If he can continue to write such compassionate yet forceful material and with astute management and the right breaks the world could be this young man’s oyster. It worked for Hozier, so why not.

West My Friend Quiet Hum Self Release

A particularly vibrant and experimental folk scene currently exists in Vancouver, Canada and Quiet Hum by West My Friend confirms this beyond doubt. This is the third release from the quartet and continues on a similar vein to their 2012 album Place and When The Ink Dries recorded in 2014. 

West My Friend are made up of classically trained musicians Eden Oliver (vocals, guitar), Alex Rempel (vocals, mandolin), Jeff Poynter (vocals, accordion) and Nick Mintenko (vocals, bass). Their sound is quite distinctive, a wonderful combination of folk, country, bluegrass, chamber music and even a dash of cabaret thrown in for good measure. The result is a body of work that has an instant appeal from the opening track No Good Monster to the closer How Could I Not Sing.

Eden Oliver’s takes front of house vocally on ten of the thirteen tracks displaying a range that dips and soars beautifully throughout the album. The addition of four part harmonies and flawless playing combine to result in a collection of impressive songs.

No Good Monster opens the album tentatively, suggesting writers block with the line I don’t want to write a today” but any uncertainty is dismissed by the third track Spruce Top with Oliver declaring, in a more upbeat mood, “There is something to be said for a voice and a song and a chord”. Gradient Graceful is beautifully bittersweet and stripped back featuring only vocal, bass and piano. The album was recorded at Fiddlehead Studios, Maine Island and produced by David Travers-Smith (Jason Romero, The Wailin’ Jennys, Pharis).

In summary, a most impressive modern indie folk sound that incorporates bits of The Decemberists, Frontier Ruckus, Bright Eyes and possibly Joanna Newsom. Probably best listened to on headphones to fully appreciate the wonderful harmonies and musicianship throughout.

Well worth visiting indeed.

Chris Murphy Red Mountain Blues Self Release 

Born in New York of Irish/Italian descent, violinist Chris Murphy cites his introduction to music as being exposed to the eclectic sounds of his neighbours traditional music while growing up, together with a mix of less traditional icons including Lou Reed, Peter Thompson, Bob Dylan and particularly David Lindley, whose fiddle work was instrumental in Murphy’s interest in the violin.

Currently living in Los Angeles, Murphy’s career is divided between teaching violin, guitar and mandolin, writing music and live performances. Together with his prolific personal music output the artists that Murphy has worked or collaborated with include Nels Cline, John Doe, Tim O’Brien, Victoria Williams, Joachim Cooder to name but a few.

Indeed, the musicians listed on Red Mountain Blues is in itself a who’s/who of some of the most respected artists in the bluegrass genre and such as Tim O’Brien (mandolin & vocals), Herb Peterson (banjo & vocals), Marty Rifkin (pedal steel & dobro), DJ Bonebrake (drums) and Ted Russell Kemp (bass). Recorded at Hayloft Studios, Los Angeles and Blacktree Studios, Santa Monica the fourteen track album was produced by Chris Murphy and Joshua ‘’Cartier’’ Cutsinger. 

Kicking off with the fiddle driven instrumental title track and followed by the driving Dirt Time the album packs a hefty punch from start to finish. Walt Whitman is a wonderful instrumental waltz, Kitchen Girl is perfectly paced with Tim O’Brien taking the lead vocal, Buckwheat Pancakes is a banjo driven back porch delight and Johnson County conjures up imagery of centuries past, civil war and brothers fighting brothers.

Chris Murphy is more than merely a revivalist and has the talent and ambition to produce, compose and collaborate.  He succeeds on all fronts hands down with this album. If you’re only intending buying a few bluegrass album this year, this should be one of them.

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band Come With Me Self Release

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band are an all-female London five piece bluegrass/Americana outfit. Citing influences from Alice Cooper to Hank Williams Come With Me is high octane, in your face and hugely enjoyable. Recorded live(ish) in three days at Retreat Studios the band features Immanuel on vocals, banjo and guitar ably assisted by Feadora Morris, Blanche Ellis, Maya Mc Court and Hjordis Moon Badford on a variety of instruments including cello, washboard, thimbles, cajon and foot tambourines.

The ten track album is anything but back porch bluegrass with nods towards Louisiana and New Orleans, delightfully mixing bluegrass, zydeco and old time jazz.

With song titles such as Nashville, Going to the Bottle, Rock Bottom, Devil’s Money and Motherfucking Whore it’s no surprise that the album is fun, uncouth, uncivil, knees up, toe tapping, feet stomping stuff, always powered by an excellent band.

Nashville offers a quite traditional roots by comparison to much of the material on the album with delightful harmonies, the title track is banjo driven bluegrass and the album closes with a rousing take on Viva Las Vegas, the Elvis favourite written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

Dana and her band have performed at a number of high profile festivals this year including Glastonbury and the Maverick Music Festival. The album begs to be heard live, all the better late at night in a packed venue with the drink flowing!

Greenshine The Girl In The Lavender Dress Tiger Dog Records

Greenshine comprises of husband and wife team Noel Shine and Mary Greene together with their daughter Ellie. Noel and Mary have both featured as session players on a host of albums over the years from Christy Moore to The Clancy Brothers and The Republic of Loose to Dr. Strangely Strange. No strangers themselves to the studio, Mary Greene has recorded a solo album Sea of Hearts and Noel Shine and her have previously recorded two albums as a duo together with their self-titled debut album as Greenshine.  Given their eclectic musical experiences to date it is not surprising that their debut album The Girl in the Lavender Dress is a journey across quite wide range of musical genres embracing folk (Pastures Of Plenty) , country( Lonesome Whipoorwill), traditional (Sammy’s Bar) and even a hint of reggae (Sweet As Honey Heart).

Readers may be familiar with the title track from the album which has received considerable airplay on national radio recently and had the distinction of reaching No.1 on the ITunes Ireland Singer-Songwriter charts. It’s a stunning song, dreamlike, buoyant and weightless and is most certainly the strongest track on the album. 

The eleven songs featured include six originals written by Mary Greene together with cover versions of Bob Dylan (You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go), Hank Williams (Lonesome Whippoorwill), Cyril Tawney (Sammy’s Bar), Woody Guthrie (Pastures of Plenty) and Townes Van Zandt (Marie). As would be expected the musicianship throughout is top notch with multi-instrumentalist Shine contributing guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistle, lap steel, bass, harmonica, ocarina and keyboards.

 Particularly refreshing is the quality of two of the original songs (the title track and City of Dreams) which actually outweigh the covers, both sung beautifully by Ellie Shine. The album was recorded and produced by Noel Shine and Mary Greene and mastered by Dan Fitzgerald at Sound Studio, Cork.

Greenshine is most definitely the sum of its parts even if the wide range of styles represented possibly results in this album being a trifle dislocated.  However, given the very healthy mix of song writing, instrumentation and vocal talent they collectively possess and particularly if they can emulate the quality of some of their original songs on this album, Greenshine have the potential to produce music with an extremely wide appeal.

Thursday
Sep082016

Reviews By Paul McGee

Rivers of England  Astrophysics Saved My Life Self Release

This band hail from the West of England and are comprised of Rob Spalding on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Brian Madigan on drums/ percussion, Jacob Tyghe on bass.

This is their second release and the 11 tracks here cover the ground from folk-rock to lightly tinged jazz arrangements. The vocal talents of Spalding carry the project on a warm glow of melodic tunes and acoustic arrangements, backed by some excellent strings (Danyal Dhondy take a big bow).

There are a number of additional musicians that help to enhance the experience and Neil Gay (guitar), Innes Sibun (guitar), Bill 'The Goat' Owsley (double bass), Patrick Morgan (drums), Roo Primrose (violin) all contribute to an overall sense of sweet release. 

In Universe, In Universe kicks off the project and explores great themes of infinity both, within and without. Endless affinity with the cosmic whole is a theme that runs throughout and we are asked to embrace loving awareness with the daily experience of being alive. Underneath the Moon is a gentle reflection on a relationship and our place in the great enigma.

There are plenty of references to water and sailing in songs such as You, Me and the Sea; Norfolk and Waves. Born For This is a very positive statement for living an expansive life and feeling alive. Love, Science & Peace is a plea for love in times of loneliness while In the Barley plays on conflicting emotions of wanting a simpler rural life versus the race to succeed in the city rat race. This is a very pleasant record and worth checking out. 

Rami and the Whale Self-Titled BIEM/NCB

Rami and The Whale is the solo project of Swedish singer-songwriter Rasmus Blomquist. This is his first release and the 12 songs were written over a period of ten years.

Rami is joined by an array of musicians, with Kristin Freidlitz on violin, Erik Lundin on flute, Henri Gylander on lead guitar, Ryan McMackin, Björn Sima and Johan Magnberg sharing drum duties across various tracks and Jonte Johansson with Lisa Illy on vocal harmonies.

The songs are very much rooted in contemporary folk with a slow, lazy groove and gentle vocals to lull the listener into a calm sense of being. The Unfinished Song and Autumn Song are instantly appealing while I Am Rami visits his relationship with the World and all its’ wide-eyed wonder.

The vocals are very much the catalyst for these songs and Rami sings in a plaintive and sweet voice. The mood is one of contemplation and reflection and the understated playing and rich melody constantly impress. The strings on Echoes of Matter play against the simple guitar lines to great effect and Shipwreck visits the past in order to free old demons. Tiny Seed ends the record and looks to a future where hope and expectation reside. This is a very strong debut release.

Don Conoscenti Anastasia Howlin’ Dog

This is a new release from American singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Don Conoscenti, originally from Chicago, Illinois. He has released 9 previous albums since the early 1990’s and is a student of jazz, in addition to the blues, Americana, and rock, as a member of several bands. This project is a diverse and lush affair with 14 tracks covering an hour of music that includes big vocals, string and horn arrangements and plenty of excellent playing. Mainstream rock with quite a bit of soul.

Special guests include Grammy winning orchestrator/arranger Paul Buckmaster, Eliza Gilkyson (Anastasia), Kevin Welch (What Else Could I Do), Ellis Paul (Love Is a Curious Thing), Dan Navarro (Drink Another Round), plus others.

The studio musicians are excellent and add real colour to the songs with Richie Cannata, sax and Bob Andrews, piano, Mina Tank on background vocals and Don Richmond on banjo, pedal steel and mandolin really pushing the performance levels higher.

There are plenty of superb guitar breaks which can only be expected from this experienced and mature player and the acoustic feel of Ariana, The Other Side, What Else Could I Do and She Didn’t Break Me show plenty of layers to the song-writing skills on display.

The up-tempo arrangements of Drink Another Round, Love Has Come, are balanced against the reflective That Train, viewed as a metaphor for life’s journey while the big blues sound of Smith Road is a slow groove with some fine solo work on guitar and swirling organ. So, plenty to excite on this release and something to suit all tastes. 

Mia Rose Lynne Follow Me Moon Waterknot 

This impressive artist grew up in Northern California and was exposed to bluegrass and Western Swing music at an early age through her family who had a touring group. Now living in Nashville, she released her debut recording Open Space in 2014 to much interest and media attention. Her songs are folk ballads with a rootsy feel and some lovely string arrangements that elevate the listening experience to another level. 

The 11 acoustic based tracks were all written played and sung by Lynne who is accompanied by a superb coterie of musicians who serve the songs beautifully. The understated playing and gentle touch of Danny Mitchell (Piano), Matt Slocum (Cello), Jeff Taylor (Accordion), Eli Bishop (Fiddle/Viola), Chris Donohue (Bass), Joshua Hunt (Drums/Percuson), Liz Poston (Backing Vocals), Austin Filingo (Acoustic/Electric Guitar), Chris Moyse (Acoustic Guitar & Vocals) are all perfectly aligned with the sweetly seductive vocals and acoustic guitar playing of Mia Rose. 

Opening up with two songs, January and Different, that speak about a rekindled relationship and aiming for happiness, despite external commentary and pressures. Colorado is about keeping a relationship together and being willing to sacrifice everything to hold that sense of true love. Not Just You & Me is a song for everyman and the daily lives that are quietly led by you and me in our corners of the World. Porcelain Doll lightens the theme with a quirky love story that begins on a shop shelf and ends with a happy reunion. 

Starlings is self-rumination on a long car journey and the reflection that ‘this is just the kind of drive that writes a song, by the time I’ve made it home’. Where To Begin and Gunshy are back-to-back songs about troubled times in relationships and wanting to endure the pain and struggle in the hope of a resolution ("I don’t wanna lose you by giving up"). The closing track I Like You a Lot is a playful wordy romp through the imagery of a love crush. Sung with Chris Moyse, it is the perfect antidote for much of the weighty themes before, but does not diminish in any way the bright talent of this exciting new talent. Definitely one to watch.  

Jaimie Michaels Once Upon a Different Time Appaloosa

Produced by Jono Manson and mixed at Kitchen Sink Studio in Chupadero, New Mexico, this is the 10th album in the past 20 years for Jaimie Michaels. Jaime was joined in the studio by his regular team of players, guitarist Ben Wright, bassist Josh Martin and drummer Mark Clark and a number of special guests. His sound is warm and gentle with plenty of insight in the words that reflect a musician and song-writer of some experience and a great deal of talent. 

Warming speaks as a reflection of our times and is a protest song against the waste of war and the way that political power corrupts. Somewhere Like Italy asks that we live for now and not overthink this life. Steal Light has a lovely blues shuffle and is reminiscent of JJ Cale with some nice understated keyboard parts. Circling Around and Singing For My Supper have philosophical messages contained in the clever wordplay, while The Heat speaks of a love that has gone cold (“we’re just two winding roads that no longer meet”). This is a very fine example of a talent at the top of his creative game and writing engaging and fun arrangements that are a joy to hear.

 

Thursday
Sep012016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

J. Hardin The Piasa Bird Self Release

This is the first release from John Everett Hardin under this guise. He had previously released albums under the name Everett Thomas but had decided to take a break from music to concentrate on some other aspects of his life. During that time, he’s written a number of songs but wanted to get his friend and fellow artist Hayward Williams to produce them. This they did at a converted farmhouse studio in Illinois. There, Hardin and Williams were joined by Daniel McMahon on guitars and keyboards and Darren Garvey on percussion as well as Liza Day and Naomi Marie on backing vocals. Hardin played acoustic guitar and sang while Williams played bass. They have done this two-sided set of 8 songs some justice.

The end result is a mini-album named after a mythical wall-painted Native American dragon which were less mythical and more about the often mystifying aspects of relationships. There are odes to a particular female characters in Oh Sophia (parts one and two), Woman Like You and Run Jackie, Run! Other songs such as Drifter and Shot My Baby Down are equally evocative. The former opens the album in a relaxed style that brings voice music and story together in a relaxed, full band folk/rock style that is rewarding and receptive. Though much of the album follows in this relaxed, restless mood the band can add weight and depth as required. Shot My Baby Down is a song just waiting for its place on the likes of a True Detective. It has a darkness that is underscored by the reverb guitar and funeral pace.

The lyrics are good here but it is the overall atmosphere that you are drawn to. One that sets the tone for the song even when, on initial listen the lyrics are not totally decipherable but enough is understood to know that these are full of imagery and invocation. The pace picks up, naturally enough given the title, for Run Jackie, Run! The album closes with Oh Sophia (Part 2) with Liza Day’s shadowing vocal echoing the poetic nature of the sense of intrigue and innocence of missing a person. It is stripped back to the voices and guitar and ends the album with you wanting some more. Hopefully this team will work together to bring a little more music to a waiting world - even if it doesn’t know it’s waiting.

Trevor Alguire Perish In The Light Self Release

When you hear a striking album and find out that it is the artists 6th release you realise just how much good music (and bad) remains to be discovered. On the evidence of this Trevor Alguire is well worth seeking out. A Canadian singer/songwriter who has co-produced and written all the material here and these are songs that have an immediacy that is as convincing as it is confident. For want of a better sound comparison I would say that fans of Blue Rodeo would be well at home here. Indeed, that band’s steel player (Bob Egan) is one of many players to add their noted contribution to the album.

Keyboards, violin (and pedal steel) enhance the bass, drums and guitars on what is essentially an Americana (or should that be Canadiana) album. There are up-tempo dance floor ready romps like Flash Flood that sit easily alongside a song like Out Of Sight/Out Of Mind that looks at life today from the perspective of a 93 man and how life has changed in his lifetime. It is an evocative piece of writing that hits home. Another stand out is My Sweet Rosetta a sing that starts in silence before revealing the longing and love that is the lady in question. It is a duet with noted Canadian singer Catherine MacCellan who both share the vocals and take individual verses to describe different viewpoints and perceptions. 

Wasted Ways, Wasted My Time With You are both songs that consider how easily time can be so easily spent on pursuits that have no satisfactory conclusions. Relationship that are going nowhere fast or simply a way to pass time - for a time. The use of time is considered again on the final track If I’d Stayed In School. The title of the album is taken from a line in the first song The Ghost Of Him about a man who is comfortable in the shadows but who would perish in the light. Likewise, music sometime equally need that exposure to grow stronger and Trevor Alguire already has that in his native land but could easily use some of the wider recognition that this album deserves. 

Silver Lake 66 Let Go Or Be Dragged Saw Tooth

Formally of L.A. based band The Ruby Trees, the duo of Maria Francis and Jeff Overbo now record and play under the name of Silver Lake 66. They play a roots music blend of country, rock and blues. They moved to Portland, Oregon and began to play sessions there which resulted in them gathering a group of players around them for live sessions. This became the nucleus of Silver Lake 66. Bass, drums, dobro, pedal steel, keyboards and fiddle were all added to the duo’s guitars to make this album. They wrote and produced the album together and it’s a summation of their music blend.

The opening Bury My Bones In Arkansas has organ and pedal steel running through a slow song about music and place. Jeff takes the lead with Maria providing harmony. They change roles though throughout and the next track up Magnolia is another slow paced song with more of a late night bluesy tone. Change Your Mind is taken at a similar pace and features a strong vocal from Maria. Sinuous steel and twang laden guitar are behind the duet Devil’s Lookin’ For Me a song that finds both declaring their allegiance to places that may be less than savoury. The album continues largely with this moody blend of influences that is less dance floor orientated than it is meditative. Sherman County is another strong country style song and a couple of tracks that definitely up the tempo in a welcome change of pace are San Francisco Angel and Don’t Have To Tell Me You’re Blue

The album’s twelve songs all are well performed, produced and written material that, of itself, may not make you feel that you’re hearing something you haven’t heard before. However, what you do hear should please and it is an album with many moments that feel right and should encourage you to listen back. Maria Francis and Jeff Overbo are definitely making music that they can be satisfied that they are achieving what they set out to do when they wrote and recorded these entertaining songs. 

Chip Taylor Little Brothers/I’ll Carry For You Trainwreck

By now Chip Taylor should have perhaps achieved some of the status that Leonard Cohen has achieved. Both have an understated semi-spoken delivery of well thought out and written songs. These two albums however taken a more personal direction.Little Brothers opens with a song about his granddaughter Alex on a ride home after winning a golf tournament. Each of these song has a little explanation note about it’s particular inspiration. There are a number of song that are dedicated and draw inspiration from his wife Joan. All are affecting and delivered in his inimitable style. Like Enlighten Yourself! has a spoken introduction that encourages to do just that. In fact, Chip tells some tales throughout not unlike a concert setting which in fact it pretty well is a live in the studio set-up. The musicians who accompany Taylor include long time guitarist John Platania. There is also upright bass (Grayson Walters and Bill Troiani) and some essential keyboards from Gøran Grini (who also co-produced the album with Taylor). Backing vocals are also present with some from his granddaughters. Refugee Children is a somewhat topical song that tells of an encounter with a group of them fishing in a forest in Sweden. 

The second album here is a shorter set of 8 songs that are inspired by Brooke and Brittany Henderson, two Canadian golfing sisters. Not a subject often taken on by singer/songwriters but then there’s Chip and anyone who is aquatinted with his previous album and live performances will know what to expect and will smile and be drawn into the Taylor way of doing things. There are some piano instrumentals on the album composed by Grini. While Platania is also present on guitar. A bonus track is the title song performed by Shave Zadravec. Taylor’s song is about striving to achieve against odds and succeeding (or not). He delivers it in a committed and emotional voice. 

Chip Taylor may not be for everyone but those who have got to know his music will recognise a human being who cares and observes and tries to put his feelings and beliefs into his music. Something he does with these two albums.

Kalyn Fay Bible Belt Horton

The debut album from the Tulsa, Oklahoma based artist is a contemporary take on a mix of country, folk and rock that is immediately accessible and pleasing. Fay is of Cherokee ancestry and a graphic designer by trade (she designed the album’s cover). She also sings and plays guitar and, although it doesn’t clearly state on the cover, has written all the songs too. She and co-producers (Scott Bell and Dylan Layton) gathered some musicians together to realise these songs with their skill and support.

Cody Clinton on electric guitar, Roger Ray on pedal steel and Cory Mauser on keyboards and Kevin Warren-Smith on fiddle are some of the team who join Layton on bass to lay down the tracks. They do so with an understanding for these, often, relationship related songs. Songs that show off Fay’s voice to good effect. She has a voice that has an intimacy and instinctiveness that allows these tales to be told with an understated ease. Black & Blue, Looking For A Reason, Wherever I Feel Right and The Fight all consider the way that relationships can twist and turn while Oklahoma, Tula and the title track are related to people and place. Spotted Bird wonders what secrets the titular creature keeps.

Bible Belt is a very promising start to Fay’s musical career and a chance for listeners to get to know her music in its recorded form from its inception. Her take on country music has a quality that makes it a living breathing form that is capable of going in different directions. There is a video of her playing an acoustic version of Oklahoma with a banjo player that shows another aspect of these songs. But for now this album is worth seeking out for a good listen. 

TV Jones & The Tomahawks Self-Titled Self Release

This mini-album comes from a Kilkenny band who specialise in all things ‘Billy. Be that rock, psycho and more. There is a lot of twanging guitars and full bore energy displayed on these 50s style songs. The band have written all the songs and they stand up well within the parameters they have set. Ones that usually come from locations far from Ireland’s shores. The band co-produced the album with Leo Pearson who would seem a perfect partner in crime for the recording.

The majority of the songs are paced like there’s a hellhound on their tail. There is no TV Jones to be found but his is a fiction of the quartet who are in fact Jimmy Conroy, Tony Doherty, Noxie Noonan and Pius Maher on vocals and guitar, electric guitar, upright bass and drums respectively. The themes are oriented to a time period that is instinctively American. Dragging My Chevy is about a favoured car and has some nice slide guitar. Other songs talk a somewhat darker B-Movie tones with songs like Die, Die, Die and Night Of The Living Dead.

There has been a healthy support for rockabilly in Ireland through the years with a number of prime exponents from the USA and Europe have played the Kilkenny Rhythm & Roots Festival through the years so it is good to see a home grown unit continuing that tradition and doing with some gusto and aplomb. In truth nothing too radical is happening here but that is not really the point. They are playing music that truly motivates them and they do it with the passion of those who live and breathe their inspirations and that should translate across to devotees and ‘Billy believers.

Monday
Aug222016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Travis Green A Little Too Late - Self Release

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

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

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

Very impressive album and a particularly easy and rewarding listen.

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

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

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

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

Steve Dawson Solid States and Loose Ends – Black Hen Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auburn Love & Promises – Scarlet Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Rose Spin Spin Dizzy – Self Release

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

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

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

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

Blue Moon Marquee Gypsy Blues – Self Released

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

Monday
Aug152016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Al Scorch Circle Round The Signs Bloodshot

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

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

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

Western Centuries Weight Of The World Free Dirt

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

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

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

Anders Westin House By The Lake Millhouse

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

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

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

The Western Flyers Wild Blue Yonder Versa-Tone

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

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

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

Freakwater Scheherazade Bloodshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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