Wednesday
Feb132019

New Album Reviews

Tellico Woven Waters Organic

Original Roots music and a second release following debut album, Relics and Roses, in 2015. The band comprises Anya Hinkle (guitar, fiddle, vocals), Greg Stiglets (bass, harmonica, vocals), Aaron Ballance (dobro, lap steel) and Jed Willis (mandolin and electric guitar). There are guest appearances from David Brewer (drums) and John Doyle (bouzouki), who also produced the project. 

The band are part of the vibrant Roots music community in Asheville, North Carolina and the nine tracks included on this release run to almost 40 minutes and are played with impressive technique and subtle skill by these tightly integrated musicians. Storytelling was an integral part of the Appalachian sound and songs like the Ballad Of Zona Abston keep that tradition alive, as does the song, Salsa, which tells of a favourite horse who goes missing in the mountains. 

There is bluegrass, old timey rhythms and some sweet folk leanings included in these songs but it’s the collective playing that impresses mostly with songs like West Of The Cumberlands, Courage For The Morning and Like November that linger. Hinkle has a fine delivery and her vocal is very expressive, with hints of Natalie Merchant. Never more so than on, It’s Just Rain, with the lyrical imagery of “another storm has come to wash the sin out of the stain”, staying on the breeze. Anya writes five songs, with Greg penning three more and there is one co-write between them. Worthy of your time and attention.

Review by Paul McGee

Blake Brown & The American Dust Choir Long Way Home We Believers

This debut release goes back to March 2018 but it only found a recent place in my review pile. Blake Brown is an American singer-songwriter from Denver, Colorado. Collaborative projects apart, he formed The American Dust Choir which includes wife, Tiffany Brown (keyboard/vocals), Adam Blake (drums), Jason Legler (bass) and Trent Nelson (guitar). Their sound is based around guitar orientated arrangements that echo an Americana feel and the dynamic is added to by the subtle vocal style of Brown, who employs an approach of ‘less is more’. 

On repeated playing, the overall sound is understated, yet addictive, and the easy swing of tracks like Up In Arms and Fever Dreams channel a Chris Isaak mood. Clocking in around 35 minutes, this release does not overstay its welcome and the neat production of Joe Richmond has much to recommend it. With clean lines and a nice separation on all instruments, it makes for an engaging listen and the commercial sound of Stop Shakin’ and Bended Knee indicate one direction that the band could focus on. Acoustic numbers, Accidental Love and Untitled are also engaging. However, it is the more ‘noir’ sound of tracks like Kissing Knives and Get Out that indicate where the true heart of the band’s sound may lie. Interesting.

Review by Paul McGee

Martha Reich Brave Bird Self Release

This 7-track release opens with a simple banjo, cello & fiddle accompaniment to the sweetly sensitive vocal of Martha Reich on If You Only Knew, and you are instantly hooked. Drawn into a space where time stands still and the plaintive, sparse sound of this Folk artist slowly takes hold of the moment. Self produced and written by Reich, with the exception of a cover, Over The Rainbow, you are touched by the sense of being in the presence of, perhaps, Joni Mitchell’s older and wiser, sister. Ethereal, gentle soundscapes that drip with restrained atmosphere and tracks like So Brave, The River, Fade Away and I’d Rather Be Surprised, over 30 minutes plus, leave you transformed. Yes, it’s that good!

Review by Paul McGee

Kalyn Fay Good Company Horton

I was very impressed by Fay’s last album Bible Belt and the Oklahoma musician (and graphic designer) has gone one better with her new album. On this release she has brought in Jesse Aycock to produce. He is a session musician and a recording artist in his own right. The sound is layered and varied, one that runs from the solid riff and propulsion of Highway Driving to the more folkish soft rock of Good Company and all points in between, that include country and rock in its make-up. 

The result is a collection of thoughtful and considered songs that benefit from Fay’s alluring vocal. It is a sound that speaks directly to you in a way that is personal and not without its own sense of panache. A sound that is intensely welcomes you to a deep sense of her heritage, talent and place. Described as quintessentially Oklahomaian, it is also quintessentially Kalyn Fay, as the two are largely intertwined. The one feeds the other and as Fay has recently made a move to Arkansas to further her fine arts career, it is no doubt twinned with some sense of that separation.

To help her realise this set of songs Fay has a range of local musicians involved including John Fullbright and Carter Sampson, as well as Aycock’s contribution on guitars, pedal steel and piano. While these may be names known only to those who follow the musicians mentioned, the other musicians are equally attuned to the song-writing which takes into account the possibilities of love, loss and of locality,. The songs include 10 originals and a well chosen cover of Malcolm Holcombe’s Dressed In White (an underrated songwriter). The titles offer a clue to her inspiration from Oklahoma Hills to Fool’s Heartbreak. These songs bookend the underlying sense of place and relationships. Though both, as with most places, exist as often inseparable points on life’s compass.

They overall theme that these songs touch on is one that is universal and the sound is also one that captivates on a broader level to make the album work for the listener, no matter where they happen tom reside. It is simply an album that shows an artist communicating at her best with her finest music to date. 

Review by Stephen Rapid

Boo Ray Tennessee Alabama Fireworks Self Release

The album opens with steel guitar on a song whose lyrics include the album’s title. It sets the tone for a selection of tracks that cover a number of different moods that are held together by Ray’s songs, allied to Noah Shain’s production and the assembled players collective skills. “What doesn’t come from the heart doesn’t reach the heart” a line from that opening track, A Tune You Can Whistle, sums up Ray’s credo. There is a consistent theme of travel, highways, truckers and small towns. Going Back Down To Georgia, as suits that particular song, has a more soulful direction with  sone funky guitar, bass and brass. Honky Tonk Dream continues to use the steel guitar and brass to good effect. 20 Questions finds Ray under the spotlight trying to deal with a wide array of lifestyle enquiries from his partner. The slower paced, She Wrote The Song, has a solid beat with some effective guitar lines mingled with the pedal steel to emphasise the emotion of the song. Dee Elle is an instrumentalist that again has the steel well to the fore and giving it a desert atmosphere. Out Run The Wind is more straight up country. 

There is a weariness and understanding in Ray’s voice which shows that he understands these emotions and motivations. His music is described as “Outlaw” on his Facebook page and while he may not fit the current stereotype, he fits the description in that he does his music his way, without interference from outside sources. Music that reflects his varied musical influences and experiences in the clubs and stages of Nashville, LA  and in South Georgia, as well as his experiences from growing up in North Carolina. His sound has been perfected over recent albums such as Six Weeks In A Motel and Sea Of Lights, as well as some interesting single releases that feature such duet partners as Elizabeth Cook and Lily Winwood. An easy album to like and one that gets better with repeated plays. The cover depicts a sign that Ray repeatedly passed in his travels appearing as a “surreal, southern gothic effigy” - a pretty good marker for his music then.

Review by Stephen Rapid

Charles Wesley Godwin Seneca Self Release

Looking not unlike an old-time explorer on the cover of this album, Charles Wesley Godwin is perhaps fitting for a songwriter who is constantly making discoveries about the people and locations he has met or passed through in his life so far. Previously a member of Union Sound Treaty with whom he released one album, he played and listened to bluegrass and traditional country and began writing his own songs. These were coloured by his upbringing in West Virginia where he grew up with a coal mining father and a school teaching mother. He understood the people and places that he encountered along the way and these experiences of life are the bed rock of these songs.

His songs can be affecting, like Seneca Creek, a downbeat ballad that lays out a story of a relationship that has been touched by different aspects of weather and the weathered relationships that can occur in a particular place. It appears twice on the album, as a full band version and it also closes the album in an acoustic guitar and voice version. Both adequately highlight the storytelling power of Charles Wesley Godwin’s song-writing and singing. 

Charles Wesley Godwin recorded over a 12 month period, in between touring to raise the money to make the album. In the process he met some of the musicians he wanted to work with and allowed for their schedules to achieve this. The results show the time well spent and the affinity that producer Al Torrence has with the material and the artist. The rhythm section provide a solid base over which there are bass, guitars, keyboards, fiddle, banjo, dobro and pedal steel embellishments that colour the  textures but never over paint the pictures that Charles Wesley Godwin conjures. Seneca is an album that is deserving of a wider audience. Several of the songs in an acoustic setting are featured along with his back story on his website and are well worth checking out.

Review by Stephen Rapid

Balsam Range Aeonic Mountain Home

Great expectations awaited this eighth release from Balsam Range, who are named after a sub range of the Appalachian Mountains in their home state of North Carolina. They have, after all, twice been voted Entertainer of the Year by the IBMA membership and between them they have won 11 other individual IBMA awards. 

And they won’t disappoint their myriad of fans with this latest self produced offering, ambitiously titled Aeonic (enduring, lasting immeasurably). The selection of songs from well established bluegrass and country writers and a couple of covers from other genres, all delivered in their traditional bluegrass style but with a smattering of newgrass and country touches, show that Balsam Range are not content to stand still musically.

The Girl Who Invented The Wheel kicks off the album at blistering pace, band leader Buddy Melton’s superb vocals doing more than justice to an unusual theme - extolling the virtues of a woman who has just dumped him but he is still in awe of her wonderfulness. In true bluegrass style, Buddy also gets to show off his much awarded fiddling on most of the tracks. Another particularly memorable tune is Tumbleweed Town (from the pens of Milan Miller and Beth Husband) wherein Tim Surrett shows that he’s as adept on the dobro as he is on bass. Guitarist Caleb Smith’s sweet vocals here are perfect for the pacy country ballad, with lots of lovely mandolin infills from Darren Nicholson.

Ray LaMontagne’s early song Hobo Blues is given an appropriately simpler arrangement and, again with Caleb Smith’s vocals, is one of the standout tracks.

The four gospel choices here are predictable fare but they allow the vocalists to indulge themselves in gorgeous three and four part harmonies. Marc Pruett’s legendary banjo playing shines on Let My Light Be A Life and also on the driving Get Me Gone.

Most outstanding though is the cover of George Harrison’s classic If I Needed Someone. Taken at double pace, and with Buddy Melton working some sort of electronic sorcery on his fiddle making it sound like a whole string section, it is over all too soon! 

Review by Eilís Boland

Whiskey Shivers Some Part Of Something Devil Duck 

Whiskey Shivers seem to have exploded onto the music scene recently - certainly they have only come under my radar in the past year - but would you believe that this is their 5th release? They’ve been bubbling under in Austin for years now - often described as ‘Austin’s best kept secret’ - but the secret is out! Currently in the middle of an extensive European tour, I suspect Europe doesn’t know what has hit it.

The band’s live performances are by now legendary - they are known for their high energy, irreverence and good humour, and much of that spirit comes across on this album. Produced by Houston’s Robert Ellis, the songs are a combination of original songs and covers of traditional bluegrass and folk songs, all performed in their signature ‘thrashgrass bluegrass’ style.

If you’re a bluegrass purist, you can turn off your set now. Whiskey Shivers play with a marked punk sensibility that is strangely compelling to these ears, and definitely grows on you with repeated listens. ‘Manic' is the description that springs to mind on hearing their breakneck cover of the bluegrass/folk standard Angelina Baker, and it also applies to their original songs Reckless and No Pity in the Rose City. Cluck Old Hen sounds like it is being sung by a chain gang in the 20’s, but it really works with this rollicking bluesy psychedelic treatment. Long Gone, a country tinged ballad, allows the band, led by vocalist/ fiddle player Bobby Fitzgerald, to show that they are no mean musicians.

Music to drive to - but watch your speed! 

Review by Eilís Boland 

Monday
Feb042019

Reviews by Paul McGee

Hat Check Girl Cold Smoke Gallway Bay

This is the seventh release from a duo who have quite a track record in the music business, including numerous albums as solo performers, namely, Peter Gallway and Annie Gallup. Their sound is essentially Contemporary Folk with subtle Jazz leanings in the sparse arrangements. Annie can sound somewhat like Joni Mitchell in places, while Peter reminds me of Eric Taylor in his delivery on occasion. Of course, any such similarities are purely in the mind of this reviewer and my subjective thoughts and the entire listening experience across some 53 minutes is quite a lesson in song craft and expansive lyrical ideas. 

I have always found the music of Hat Check Girl both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. Not for them the simple love song or whimsical throw-away line; rather they build their story songs from historical context or imagined characters, placed in all kinds of straitened circumstances…

So, the soldier posted to the Army Air Corps in WW2 finds himself on an island where the Enola Gay lands, just before carrying out its fateful mission of dropping the Atomic Bomb in 1945.The lament for humanity is palpable in the narrative of the soldier as he helplessly witnesses the catastrophic build-up.

Andersonville is a song that relays the stark story of a Confederate prison of war camp during the American Civil War, told from the perspective of Newell Burch, the longest held prisoner at 661 days, in conditions that were dominated by infectious disease and severe overcrowding. The stockade commandant, Henry Wirz, was later tried and hanged for carrying out war crimes that were held to be the reason why quite a number of the 13,000 prisoners died.  Another Union prisoner, Dorence Atwater, recorded the names and numbers of the dead and his diaries were key to the eventual trial verdict. All these characters are interwoven into the song, making it almost like a short story or a movie script.

The story in Highway Of Tears refers to the British Columbia section of the Yellowhead Highway, a stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert where numerous women have gone missing over the years. It has been reported that eighteen women went missing, presumed murdered, but speculation puts that number into the forties… This tale is narrated by a chief of one of the indigenous, or first, people - an aboriginal, ethnic group who were the original settlers.

Thirteen Cents An Hour tells of the great industrial fire of New York in 1911. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was the worst industrial disaster in the history of the city, and one of the deadliest in U.S. history, causing the deaths of 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men. It is told through the eyes of a young Irish immigrant girl who worked and perished alongside her Mother.

And on it goes; a song about righteous objectors and the conviction to take action (I Broke The Law); a song about a family pet who gets recruited into the canine corps during the war (Liza Blue); another that tells the story of a runaway, single mother who makes a living by performing songs (Songbird Of Cincinnati) and the wife who seeks redemption in the company of a soldier returned from the war, risking her own marriage and thinking that her husband never knew (Cobalt Blue).

Towards the end of the project there is a duet between Annie and Peter that takes the form of letters received and sent between two young lovers during the Vietnam War and it is both poignant and heart rending in its description of the futility of battle and the longing to return to more innocent times.

A long review indeed but well merited and a release of some substance that will invigorate and involve the listener in all aspects of the creative process. 

Deer Tick Mayonnaise Partisan

Following the commercial and critical success of their dual release albums, Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Deer Tick Vol.2 in 2017 and the subsequent Twice Is Nice tour in support of the music, the band from Rhode Island are back to prove that their punk-roots rock leanings are a sharp as ever.

They have always walked a line between the light and the loud in terms of their musical output and this dual approach has won them many admirers over a career that began in 2007 with their debut release. With band members John McCauley (lead vocals, guitar), Christopher Ryan (bass, upright bass, backing vocals), Dennis Ryan (drums, backing vocals) and Ian O'Neil (guitar, backing vocals), this new release is a mixed bag of cover versions performed on tour, alternate versions of songs from Vol.1 and five new songs.

White City (The Pogues) works really well, with all its raw energy, both in a live setting and on this record. Run Of The Mill (George Harrison) has a slow groove, understated accordion mixed with jangly guitars, while Too Sensitive For This World (Ben Vaughn) has a very laid back, cool vibe. 

The 7-minute version of Velvet Underground song, Pale Blue Eyes, is given an acoustic Country treatment and new songs Strange, Awful Feeling and the instrumental, Memphis Chair, follow a similar sound. From Vol.1 we are given alternative versions of Limp Right Back, End Of The World, Doomed From The Start, and Cocktail, a song about drinking exploits that is rooted in the past memories and younger days of McCauley.

The loose electric attack of Spirals, another new song, kicks everything off in fine style and Old Lady is quite the opposite with a slow country tempo. Something for all tastes then and plenty to keep existing fans happy, while attracting new admirers to their eclectic musical world.

Jess Klein Back To My Green Blue Rose

This is the first release in four years from a singer songwriter who has been producing a consistently interesting body of work since her debut release in the late 1990’s. Now living in Hillsborough, North Carolina with her husband Mike June, she has put together a collection of songs that range from the commercial pop sound of opening track, In Dreams, to the blues tinged gospel arrangement of Gates Of Hell. 

However, it is her folk leanings that show her at her most natural as a contemporary singer songwriter of real depth and maturity. A strong sense of this is evident on songs like New Thanksgiving Feast and I Hear Love, two of the strongest statements on the album. With simple acoustic guitar accompaniment, New Thanksgiving Feast is a reflection of modern life in America and holds up a mirror against the injustice, prejudice and hatred that boils beneath the surface and all too often erupts. I Hear Love is an appropriate song to end with, as the sentiment captures the overall message of the project, which is one of healing and redemption.

Blair Mountain tells of the largest labour uprising in United States history where 100 people were killed and many more arrested in seeking to improve Mine Workers conditions. It has a fine rock arrangement and has an anger in the delivery that is reflected in the distorted guitar attack of the song. Kid is a song that offers sage advice to the young from the perspective of someone who has learned a few life lessons along the way. 

Tougher Than The Rest and Mammal are personal manifestos to believe in yourself and live life to the full, while Back To My Green has a similar theme with a prayer to leave all our burdens down and just breathe in the air, feel free and celebrate Nature.

Along with Jess, producer Mark Simonsen and engineer Thom Canova brought everything to life at Studio M in Durham and Hondo Creek Studio, North Carolina. Both contribute as musicians, with Canova (bass, electric guitars, percussion) and Simonsen (piano, organ, keyboards, electric guitars, drums, vibes, glockenspiel, percussion, vocals) adding greatly to the overall sound. Other guests include Mike Grigoni (pedal steel, lap steel), Laura Thomas (violin), Aubrey Keisel (viola), Leah Gibson (cello), Gaelynn Lea and Jonathan Byrd (vocals)… Another excellent release from an artist that should have a place in any discerning music collector’s library.

Peter Rogan Still Tryin’ To Believe Self Release

Debut release from an artist who lives near Philadelphia and who delivers twelve songs of real quality which resonate in the memory. He’s not afraid to mix the overall feel and sound with a diversity in the song structures that is impressive. From the southern rock of the title track to the country feel of The Only One and the blues funk of Kickin’ The Can, there is a confidence and swagger about this release. Beautiful Honey has a slow and easy groove while Big Green Rambler channels an Allman Bros feel and very enjoyable it is too. 

Rogan has a hand in all the songs (7 co-writes), which include two instrumentals and has assembled an impressive group of studio players in Will Kimbrough (guitars, dobro, pedals), Phil Madeira (guitars, organ, piano, lap steel), Chris Donohue (acoustic & electric bass), Dennis Holt (drums, percussion) and a selection of seven backing singers across the tracks. There are also additional players on selected songs that add to the colour of the arrangements. Produced by Rogan in Nashville, the sound is bright and clear which adds greatly to the enjoyment; no clutter, just straight down the middle arrangements laced with fine melody and rhythm. 

Rolling Mill Blues gives the ensemble a chance to really stretch out and the results are very compelling with a Stones vibe very evident. The slow blues of River Man is particularly appealing and the gospel rock refrain in Mercy is only topped by a searing guitar solo by Rogan that lifts everything to a new level.  

The jazz instrumental, Song For Keith, is beautifully delivered by a coterie of players who don’t appear on any other tracks, so it must have been created elsewhere – Rogan on jazzy guitar runs and the flugelhorn playing of Bob Meashey blend with the understated piano of Ron Stabinsky and the gentle rhythm of John Riley (drums) and Steve Varner (bass) – quite superb and so different to anything else here.

Working as a professional guitarist for many years and also holding down a day job as an electrician, this is the profile of the modern-day musician who tries to balance a lifetime passion with the everyday reality of paying the bills. The songs were written over a 4-year period and the old adage that ‘patience is a virtue’ has never rung truer. A highly recommended release.

Jesse Matas Tamarock Self Release

Jesse Matas is one third of The Crooked Brothers, a trio that hail from Winnipeg, Canada. They have released three albums and are recognised for their blend of country, back porch blues and folk sounds. On his solo debut, Matas does not veer too far away from this template and delivers music that is very easy on the ear and full of variety. There seems to be a Nature theme running through the project and the songs were written over a period of years outside of urban life and using the simple joys in Nature as a touchstone.  

Recorded in Winnipeg and Waterloo, Canada and produced by Matas and John Paul Peters, who also plays violin on the tracks; this is an understated sound that kicks off with a slow acoustic song, Tamarack, augmented with a brushed drum sound. The sweet instrumental, Sleep, is followed by the spoken word, jazzy, free-form arrangement of Monarch, a song about collecting butterflies no less.  Peace River Song has a country twang with banjo and harmonica setting the mood. Walking Human and Rock & Sound are two songs with a slow build and a rhythm that brings Neil Young to mind as the fluid and loose guitar lines give a great feel to both. 

The slow strum of Hardline and the easy groove of Before, We are both superb examples of the otherworldly quality that this project has. The Myth Of Forests is all jangly guitar, violin and spoken word and full of atmosphere. Overall, a fine release and one that comes highly recommended to fans of laid-back Americana.

Trent Miller Time Between Us Bucketfull Of Brains

This fourth release was recorded at Reservoir Studios in North London and co-produced by Miller with Graham Knight. The album also features renowned session guitarist Paul Cuddeford, violinist Barbara Bartz, cellist Bethany Porter and drummer Patrick Degenhardt. Miller was born in Italy before moving to London in search of a career in music and his road to this point has not always been an easy one. However, he has endured and made his way through to a point where his song craft is gaining greater recognition.

There is a big Rock sound on the title track and the closing She’s Leaving This Place For Good with electric guitar and harmonica winding around the rhythms and How Soon Is Never has a big strings sound to augment the arrangement. Moonlight Café has a strong keyboard/synth melody running alongside the plaintive vocal of Miller and the more acoustic arrangements of Motel Rooms Of Ocean Blue, Lament Of The Sea and Bonfires Of Navarino Road show another change of direction. A big, bright production and lots of good moments across the twelve tracks here.

Kaz Murphy Ride Out The Storm Self Release

An experienced singer-songwriter who has shared the stage with many noted artists and who released his debut album back in 1997 to critical acclaim. This is the fourth solo album and is produced by Scrappy Jud Newcomb (Patty Griffin, Slaid Cleaves, Ray Wylie Hubbard). Newcomb also contributes on various guitars, both acoustic and electric, in addition to playing mandolin, bass and singing. Pat Manske plays drums and percussion.

Eleven songs based around a folk/blues sound with fine ensemble playing and a focus around varied relationships in the song-writing; Blue Devil Sky has a deserted family story while Soft Heart has a message of helping out others less fortunate. When People Come Together is a song of hope for society and our ability to endure.

Where You Come From is a song about having a strong identity with your roots and where you were born and raised, with a driving bass line and a great melody running through it. Forget About The World Tonight is a fine sentiment and one that is best enjoyed by a night fire with a slow glass of wine. The final song, Rise Me Up, with Penny Jo Pullus on backing vocals has a celebratory message and an appropriate end to proceedings. 

Dirk & The Truth Along The Road Self Release

This band are based in Annapolis and this debut is a 5-track EP produced by Matt Ascione and engineered by Bob Dawson. There are a lot of players on the song credits, with the core 4-piece band augmented by a further seven musicians across the tracks. 

Dirk Schwenk writes all songs and Table Set For Two is a cheating song while The River celebrates nature and the feeling of revival. I Am Graced is a love song with a nice melody and tempo and the following song, Along The Road She Comes has a similar theme, with the message of feeling lucky in life. 

The final song, Flag On A Hill, is a patriotic statement of defending the land of the free in the USA. Whereas the sentiment is perfectly fine, I’m somewhat troubled by the evidence to the contrary, every day, in the media. Professing to adhere to the words in the declaration of independence is one thing but the words of George Washington sound a clear warning; “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism”.

Overall, this is a country rock sound that bodes well for future projects.

Thursday
Jan312019

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Amy McCarley Meco Meco Records

I have to admit the production credit of Kenny Vaughan and George Bradfute was the reason my interest was sparked by this artist’s latest album. I had not come across her work previously and it is something I will explore on the strength of this album. A release that is already going to be, for me, one of the best albums of 2019. Okay I know it’s only January but I doubt I will feel any different about it later in the year given the number of times I have gone back to it since the first listen. It is superb.

As well as the two gentlemen mentioned above, if you add the names of Chris Scruggs, Marty Stuart, Harry Stinson, Kenny Lovelace and Pat Alger, you know you are going hear something rather special. Those names however shouldn’t overshadow McCarley’s contribution as singer and songwriter. She possesses a strong and expressive voice that can display presentiment and positivity equally. The songs, McCarley writes in her sleeve notes, are about her life since leaving her role in NASA. The title is an acronym for “Main Engines Cut Off” something that occurred when the main engines had completed their task of getting the craft into orbit. This was a metaphor McCarley used to describe her life and for her musical career. 

She met Pat Alger, the noted songwriter and began to co-write with him in Nashville. One of their songs, Days, is an album highlight, an observational insight into the ordinary moments that she observed about her family. It is a deeply moving song. Alger co-wrote four more of the ten songs on the album. His input has no doubt helped McCarley as a writer but the other five songs show that she is a very capable writer in her own right. Such as, Never Can Tell, which looks at the unknown quantity that life is but that in the end, it’s your friends that count. This is done to a more acoustic setting with Marty Stuart on mandolin. How You Do is another reflection on life that shows off the versatility of McCarley’s voice and delivery. The lyrics question another’s role in her life. Elsewhere the songs take a more upbeat tack, such as the questioning Happy or the comment of Ain’t Life Funny.

Vaughan and Bradfut’s production is spot on, never overwhelming the vocal or getting in the way of the song. The playing throughout is supportive and inventive and shows the understated skill of all those involved. It is a shame that this album many never go into orbit in terms of sales and recognition. None the less, everyone involved can feel justifiably proud of what they have achieved with MECO. It features everything that is lacking in the majority of the mainstream right now. Ain’t life funny!

 Jason Ringenberg Stand Tall  Courageous Chicken

There is a line from an old song that says that ‘you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.’ In that light you don’t know you miss Jason Ringenberg until a new album arrives on your desk. Ringenberg says himself, in the sleeve notes, that he didn’t think there was an “internal drive or external demand to maintain a recording career.” Yet here he is and it’s great to have him back. The impetus for this venture was when he was made an artist in residence at Sequoia National Park. Spending a month in a mountain cabin, the location proved inspirational and he wrote several of songs that form the core of this album. 

This is prime Ringenberg, writing songs that are often humorous as well as heartfelt. To bring the album to fruition he co-produced with Mike Lescelius and decided to record in Misunderstudio in Illinois. He brought in two members of one of his college bands Tom Miller and Gary Gibula as the rhythm section and he then added players to fit the songs, such as George Bradfute, Fats Kaplan, Steve Fishell and guitarists Robbie Stokes, Andrew Staff and Richard Bennett amongst others. This set of musicians perfectly realise what is one of Ringenberg’s most enjoyable and diverse albums. The funding for the recording came from friends and fans who knew that Jason Ringenberg’s mission was not yet done.

The album opens with a strong, rounded and evocative instrumental, Stand Tall, which he notes took longer to get the right atmosphere than any other track he has recorded. From there on we get songs about The Ramones, John The Baptist (in which he notes that Baptist was a real humdinger), a Civil War story and a disenchanted soldier in I’m Walking Home. Here In The Sequoias is a song about the overall experience of being surrounded in such all-purpose environment. John Muir Stood Here is a more folk-based song that again is evocative of this special location. 

While the majority of the songs are written by Ringenberg with one Looking’ Back Blues written with his old friend Arty Hill. There are two songs that were added to the project when they turned out so well in the studio; they are Many Happy Hangovers To You (a Jean Shepard classic written by Johnny McCrae) which is delivered with tongue firmly in place. It also features some vibrant steel and electric guitar playing that is testament to the band enjoying themselves. The final track is his take on the old Bob Dylan song Farewell Angelina and it closes the album on a quiet note but on that is equally redolent of a revived spirit and passion.

Ringenberg, like fellow Nashville resident Jim Lauderdale, should be now be considered icons of determination with careers that have gone through ups and downs but now care only to make the kind of music that they feel in their souls. Both are decent men doing the very best they can to make the world a better place (musically at least). Take a bow and stand tall Jason. 

The Ponderosa Aces No Particular Way Mad Duck

This is a solid honky tonk five-piece band from Long Beach, California who after a previous album and ep are releasing their second full length album. The eleven songs on the album appear to be originals but there are no writing credits on the album! The band is fronted by Mike Maddux, who has the kind of voice that you want and expect from a hard-core honky tonk band. That is to say it has some gravel and depth without being totally unique. it serves as focal point of the band’s overall sound that is further enhanced by Marty Beal’s sterling guitar and Steve Meister pedal steel and the robust driving rhythms of Arthur Rodriguez and Jonny Bottoms on drums and bass respectively. 

The song titles fit with the overall notion of a honky tonk bar band and include If You Think I’ve Got A Drinkin’ Problem, Lots Of Ways To Be An Outlaw, Raising Hell In Honky Tonks and Gotta Keep Truckin’. Perennial themes for a band who trade in hardcore country and who were nominated in the Best Outlaw Band category in Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Awards in 2017 and Maddux certainly has the beard that goes with the overall image! 

However, these guys have it down and deliver an album that works on many levels and while it may not be totally different from a number of other bands ploughing a similar furrow, they do what they do with enough panache to make it easy to see why they have built a strong following in the US and also in Europe. No Particular Way, produced by Maddux and Beal, has a real affinity with grass roots, hardwood floor country music made for dancing and the album finds the Ponderosa Aces playing a winning hand.

Dave Rosewoood Gravel And Gold Self Release

This is another example of the fine, homegrown music that is coming from Scandinavia these days. Rosewood lives and works in Sweden after emigrating from the States.

He has a voice well suited to these Americana focused songs that recall any number of different influences and directions that are held together by Rosewoods voice and songs. He is ably backed by his Swedish backing musicians who sound as if they all work full time in a Nashville studio.

Oh No More is full of twanging guitar and vocal harmonies on a tale of returning to the place of growing up only without any troubles as he is now residing in a pine box!  While 20 Years is a song that opens with a distorted voice that sounds like it’s coming off an old scratchy 78. Before it boogies along with a roots groove. Blowin’ Round is about the preciousness of time. Back When features Rosewood on harmonica on a more acoustic based take on looking back at one’s past. Ozark Mountain Jam is a jaunty instrumental. Elsewhere Rosewood also touches on Southern Rock (In These Halls) and the music he grew up with so there are elements of folk, bluegrass, Bakersfield country, Allman Brothers blues and Gospel music on this first album, even though he has been playing music for some 20 years.

Settling in Sweden has doubtless, given him a perspective on his own country and a focus on the roots music that provided the impetus to make this a reality. Rosewood recorded the album in Aula Studios in Mariannelind where he co-produced the album (with Björn Holm) with a set of like-minded musicians to capture the essence of this Americana sound. Rosewood may well be making a name for himself in Sweden but could garner a wider audience on the strength of this, bringing together his many years on the road (gravel) and the songs that have come from those experiences (gold).

David Olney This Side Or The Other Black Hen

A renowned but underrated singer/songwriter David Olney has always released records that are full of literate storytelling delivered in a voice that is redolent with the understanding of age and what can be learned from surviving in a troubled world. Olney has lost none of his desire to continue to observe and offer his songs as testament to these times and to his world view.

This time out he is co-producing with Steve Dawson and they have gathered some musicians that infuse these songs with a depth and dexterity. Alongside multi-instrumentalist Dawson there is some atmospheric harmonica playing from Charlie McCoy, Fats Kaplan on oud and accordion and background vocals from Anne McCue and the McCrary sisters. The end result is a textured sound that is topped by a nuanced vocal performance from Olney. The songs themselves consider the peculiar nature of love and relationships in Death Will Not Divide Us, Open Your Heart (And Let Me In) and Running From Love as well as the sense of being that encompasses an outsider in Always The Stranger. Mortality seems central to biding one’s time in Border Town. Some of the songs are co-writes with John Hadley and on occasion a couple of other writers. The final track might seem a surprising choice with his take on Rod Argent’s Zombie classic She’s Not There. However, it fits completely within the context of the album.

Olney’s songs have been recorded by a lot of different artists and he has himself recorded many albums through the years. He delivers songs that are always contemplative and even when sometimes opaque they are open to individual interpretation. A new album from Olney is always worth exploring and that is true of this fine collection which will further enhance his reputation.

Doug Collins & The Receptionists Good Sad News Self Release

An album rooted somewhere between mid-sixties Beatles and Buck Owens. Collins writes some pretty meaty and beaty rootsy, pop songs. For his third album Collins brings his band into a couple of studios in Minneapolis to record these 10 tracks that sound like a lot of good pop songs should. Concise, fresh and memorable. The whole album clocks in just under 30 minutes so nothing ever overstays its welcome. Produced by Collins and Rob Genadek, it sounds contemporary without losing sight off its influences.

Some of the songs take on a more country influence with the addition of Joe Savage’s pedal steel guitar. Little House, I Saw You Dancin’ and Halfway Through are enhanced by its smooth sound. The core band of Collins, Charlie Varley on bass and drummer Billy Dankert are also joined by Dan Newton for a Tex-Mex flavoured Hey Mary and Jeff Victor brings his piano sound to Please Don’t Let Me Leave You and Tomorrow. The songs largely trade in misplaced lust and misunderstood love though the final cut, Top Of The Watertower, is about escapism and finding a place where no one else can find you.

The rhythm section also add some rewarding vocal harmonies and Collins is no slouch on the guitar either. The overall effect is to bring a smile to the face and a beat to the feet as the Good Sad News fills your head with a selection of catchy riffs and capable choruses.

Surrender Hill Tore Down Fences Blue Betty

Third album for Surrender Hill which is a husband and wife duo of Afton and Robert Dean Salmon. I had previously encountered Salmon as a solo artist (he has some 10 albums under his own name) but this pairing adds another dimension as their two voices are a perfect match. The writing is shared as are the vocals. Each taking a lead or harmony. 

There is a solid group of players working on the album with them, including steel and dobro player Mike Daly, Mike Waldren on electric guitar, drummer Matt Crouse and Eric Fritsch on bass and Hammond B3. Fritsch also co-produced the album with Salmon. They have delivered a solid sound that fits the songs well. The duo, after their first two albums, decided to consider some of the darker aspects of their lives before their paths crossed and they started working together. There were challenges that both endured and together they have faced their own pasts and are able to reflect  them in songs. There are also songs that show how their partnership, both personal and professional, provided the platform to help that introspection. There are also some songs that deal with  positivity as they were able to tear down fences and face a future together. One song that has a sense of their long-time commitment is Misbehave, while the closing PBR & Cigarettes is a celebration of some of these crazier times.

Tore Fences Down is the sort of album that those who love their roots rock robustly delivered with strong vocals. It is one also that will reward numerous plays, whether as focused listening, or music to accompany a drive.

Bye Bye Banshee Deathfolk Magic Self Release

The voice of Jezebel Jones (for whom this is a side project from her other musical activities) is the key factor in this strangely compelling EP. The songs embody a sense of pagan magic, feminism and ancient folklore. On one of the songs, Psychopomps, we are told of the spirit guides who surround a dying person. If I Die In My Dreams draws on the fear of death that many view as an equal fear of the devil. Bye Bye Banshee, one of the songs as well as the artist name, takes the Irish spirit that is often portrayed as an evil one but here sees it as one that warns of an impending death. So, the music that accompanies these four songs is likewise a dark, sparse, atmospheric, ambient folk music.

In the music it is the voice that is the key figure, with the surrounding background voices, percussion and upright bass (which takes a prominent place in the mix) supported by lap steel, cello, electric guitar and Hammond organ. The overall effect is melancholic yet entirely listenable and memorable. The effect, despite the darker aspects of the subject, is oddly soothing and soundtrack like. Not a release that will be for everyone but if your interests lie in the direction of the “old ways” and some the arcane folk tales such as the folklore of the Appalachians and other areas, you might well find this appealing.

 

Wednesday
Jan232019

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Carol Markstrom Desert Rose Desert Rose

Awarded 2018 Country & Western Album of The Year by the Rural Roots Music Commission, Desert Rose is the third album release by Carol Markstrom. It’s a particularly ‘easy on the ear’ listen, a combination of folk and country ballads. Named after the flowering desert plant that survives and blossoms against all the odds, a similar resilience exposes itself on many of the songs included on the album. Bandida tells a tale of a fleeing escapee from an abusive relationship, having killed her abuser in self-defence and Where Did You Go hails the spirit and fortitude of the left behind partner, working menial jobs for a mere existence. It’s one of five co-writes with multiple Grammy Award winner Bil VornDick who also produced the album at Mountainside Audio Labs in Nashville and features a number of Music City big hitters including Andy Reese (guitar), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle, mandolin), Charlie McCoy (harmonica), Mark Fain (bass), Bryan Sutton (guitar) and Paul Franklin (pedal steel).

A research psychologist and university professor in a previous life, Markstrom specialised in Native American cultures and has written extensively on the subject. Recent years have found her pursuing a professional career as a musician. It’s not surprising therefore that she includes songs such as Medicine Bottle, inspired by the execution of the Dakota Sioux leader of the same name and many of his warriors in the U.S.- Dakota War and Seminole Wind, another reminder of the colonisation of Native Americans’ lands.

Impressively packaged and very much delivered from the heart, Desert Rose is a body of work from an artist every bit as passionate about her writing as she is in delivering her messages in the live setting. 

Dillon Carmichael Hell On An Angel Riser House

Chris Stapleton’s somewhat unexpected rise to fame in modern country music circles has created ripples for like minded artists, whose previous opportunities to be played on country music radio amounted to zero. 

The young Kentucky native Dillon Carmichael ticks all the right boxes on his Dave Cobb produced debut album Hell On An Angel, from the astute selection of ‘go to’ guy Cobb as producer and engaging crack musicians Leroy Powell (guitars), Brian Allen (bass), Chris Powell (drums) and Robby Turner (pedal steel). Arresting artwork and packaging also impress, but the big winner is the selection of material, a combination of self writes, co-writes and well selected covers. Blending traditional and 90’s country, southern rock and a few weepies, is the perfect jumble to gain far reaching attention and each are well represented across the ten tracks on the album.

Natural Disaster kicks off the album with a tornado siren warning, preceded by six minutes plus of regret and reflection on a lifetime of travels down best avoided paths. Setting the scene for what follows, it’s one of two covers on the album, the other being a raunchy cover of Jon Pardi’s Country Women, which name checks Merle Haggard. 

Title track Hell On An Angel is standard southern rock fare as is the impressive bluesy Dixie Again. Hard On A Hangover is a slow classic country tune, What Would Hank Do may not be particularly original, penned by three writers it’s predictable enough, but still manages to sound good. Dancing Away With My Heart, the albums first single release, hits the spot on first spin, a big earthy sound. Might Be a Cowboy is catchy as hell, melodies and hooks that would work equally well in a stadium or barroom. Old Flame follows a similar pattern, big sounds and slick guitar breaks.

Dave Cobbs production works well throughout with Carmichael’s impressive baritone vocal always out front. Over a dozen co-writers are featured across the eight original songs on the album and the whole package is a box ticking exercise in what the industry considers marketable by a new and younger breed of Outlaws. Recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studio A and with Cobb at the controls it’s a fair indication of the potential the industry places in the young man from Burgin, Kentucky. All in all this is fair enough, as it certainly beats the dreadful crossover pop/country dirges that dominate much of country music radio at present. Carmichael has all the credentials to move from honky tonks to arenas in jig time and with this album he has climbed the first few rungs on the ladder.

Hayes Carll What It Is Dualtone

The sixth album from the Texan troubadour with the golden pen and it’s business as usual, sticking to his effective, non-cryptic and to the point song writing.  No surprises, simply another trademark album that ebbs and flows across its twelve tracks and finds Carll tackling issues close to his heart, both personal and social. 

Brad Jones, who produced Carll’s award-winning albums Trouble In Mind (2008) and KMAG YOYO (2011), is at the controls once more, alongside Carll’s partner Allison Moorer, who is also credited as co-writer on the opening track None ‘ya. The song tells the tale of a less than attentive partner – misunderstood in his own callow eyes – and similar to much of Carll’s writing, it’s laced with caustic humour. Times Like These, which follows, wipes the smile from your face and blows off the cobwebs in rockabilly fashion. Scratching his head at the often baffling present day political mess, he poses the question, ‘In times like these do I really need a billionaire just taking up my time, trying to tell me how he’s treated unfair’. If I May Be So Bold is a twangy joyride, an appeal for people to take back control of their lives despite the constant negativity at play. The Dylanesque Things You Don’t Wanna Know bemoans a dead in the water relationship and on the opposite side of the coin Beautiful Thing is a moving ode to a lover. Reading like a Valentine Card, it rocks along to a Stonesy beat, complete with tingling piano and slick guitar riffs. The powerful Jesus And Elvis mourns the unnecessary loss of life, the tale of the bar owner’s son not returning from war and his memory remaining some years later by a hanging picture of Jesus and Elvis behind the bar. The title track, with its toe tapping bluegrass rhythm, advises fulfilment and contentment and Wild Pointy Finger speaks to the judgemental, whether it be politicians, spin doctors or indeed ourselves. ‘I’ve got ten digits like most other people, I can build the church, but I can’t hold the steeple Nine of them stand up and do exactly what I say, but the one by the thumb it just points all day’.

Fittingly, the album closes with an eloquent love song, the charming I Will Stay, presumably dedicated to his partner. It’s the perfect bookend to another chapter of exceptional songs by an artist continuing the legacy of Townes Van Zandt and John Prine as one of the insightful pen smiths of his generation.  

Josh Peters Pages Of My Heart Memramcook 

An award-winning tattooist is not one who immediately springs to mind as a creator of a very traditional and classic country recording. Enter Josh Peters from New Brunswick, Canada.  A member of the High Tides Tattoo company, he has been inking the locals and not so locals for the best part of a decade. Pages Of My Heart, his debut recording, has been cooking for several years, as a tribute by Peters to his love of straight down the middle country music, the type performed by artists such as Charley Pride and Ray Price to name but two. One glance at the album cover, before even removing the disc, and you instantly get a flavour of where he’s coming from. Everything about the artwork – not unlike the images used by Colter Wall in his recent releases – suggest ‘country’ and very much without the word ‘rock’ following it.

The eleven-track album is made up of nine self-written songs, one co-write and his take on the traditional ballad Hesitation Blues. Titles such as Who Closed The Honky Tonks, Prison Of My Mind and The Working Man follow the classic country themes, but the quality of the material elevates Peters above that of a pretender. A close observer of traditional country, I expect Peter’s spent quite a while rooting in the bargain bins seeking out old classics to inspire him. 

 In some ways Peters may be accused of attempting to pay tribute to a greater range of artists than necessary. His accented vocals do vary considerably on a few tracks, to the extent that you could be forgiven for assuming different vocalists delivering them. However, this is a minor quibble which should not distract from the overall quality of the album.  Pages Of My Heart may or may not be a one-off project by a musician captivated by the time honoured sound of yesterday, or possibly the first instalment by an artist following a similar path to Joshua Hedley, Zephaniah OHora and Jason James, carrying the torch for real country as it should be heard. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

Joshua Ray Walker Wish You Were Here State Fair 

 Maybe I’ve just hit a purple patch, but only three weeks into 2019 and I’ve already come across three or four albums that are most likely to feature in my favourites of 2019. The latest of the batch is this gem from a young man from Dallas, Texas named Joshua Ray Walker.

Not too many albums impress on first spin to the extent that it remains in the cd drawer on rotation for multiple spins, but that was the case with Wish You Were Here, the debut album from Walker. Initially drawn to Walker’s crystal-clear rich vocals and killer musicianship by his players, it’s only when you combine these with the quality of his storytelling that the whole picture emerges. And some picture it is! 

Walker has a lot to say across the ten tracks on the album, all self writes, and it’s fair to say he doesn’t waste too many words getting his stories across. Only one track, Lot Lizard breaks the four-minute mark and most of the others barely last more than three minutes. That track Lot Lizard finds Walker hitting notes yodel style that are octaves over most singer’s ranges. It’s a delightful Texan love ballad enhanced by some dreamy accordion playing by Ginny Mac. Burn It raises the temperature – pardon the pun – rocking along in top gear like a young Dwight Yoakam on speed. Keep is a Joe Ely style two stepper with Walker sharing vocals and Love Songs would sit pretty on any Mavericks recording. Trouble recalls Steve Earle back in his debut Guitar Town days, a lush melody enriched by perfectly timed piano and a killer guitar break with just about the perfect dosage of twang. 

I also love the album cover, a simple yet evocative Texas honky tonk shot, with Walker propping up the bar, beer in hand. The young man from East Dallas has recorded an album with the maturity of someone that has decades of life’s experiences under his belt. There is competition at present among several talented young men making waves outside the dreaded commercial country music drivel. The vast majority of them are targeting the outlaw side of things, given the success in recent years of Chris Stapleton, and more power to them. However, this young man is coming from a different direction entirely. Nothing outlaw about him at all, simply a country singer that can write and deliver strikingly impressive country songs. He has produced a treasure of a debut album with Wish You Were Here! 

Lula Wiles What Will We Do Smithsonian Folkways

Long before forming the three-piece Lula Wiles, Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland and Mali Obomsawin sang and played instruments together at Berklee College of Music in Boston and around the many folk clubs in that city. The natural progression of their combined talents lead to the creation of the band and the release of their self titled debut in 2016, an album featuring all original material.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the non-profit record label of the Smithsonian Institution of the USA, is the perfect label to host the trio, alongside other treasures that continue to keep the flame burning for traditional folk music such as Don Flemons, Kaia Kater and Los Texmaniacs.  Smithsonian Folkways are supporters and champions of artists that create what they simply describe as ‘people’s music’ - passionate writing and playing, reflecting political and environmental everyday occurrences, whether by way of protest or mere reflection. 

What Will We Do most certainly does just that, with reflections on their birthplace of Maine on Hometown, to romantic hopelessness on Nashville, Man. An album honouring the past as much as the future demands a murder ballad of sorts and Bad Guy ticks that box. However, unlike many of its predecessors, the perpetrator is the sister of an abused wife, who disposes of the offender in time honoured fashion ‘I followed her husband down to the glade, I drew my dagger across his chest, And the wound I dug deeply as his grave’.  A cover of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner’s classic The Pain Of Loving You also impresses. The national opioid epidemic is the motivation behind Morphine, the painful progression from a wide eyed and innocent child to the anguish and despair of the adult addict. The closing and title track What Will We Do is credited to Irish ballad singer Mary Delaney and fittingly bookends the album as a reflection on the themes and threads across the previous eleven songs. 

 Most notable is the forty-page coloured booklet accompanying the album, complete with attractive artwork and particularly informative liner notes. However, the real winner is the quality of the musical content across the twelve tracks on the album, stunning lead and harmony vocals and flawlessly understated guitar, bass and fiddle by the trio with the addition of drums on several the tracks courtesy of Sean Trischka. 

A joy from start to finish with vocals that call to mind Nanci Griffith at her peak and stands shoulder to shoulder with their fellow sisters Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins on their similar journey with side project I’m With Her. Take my word for it, this is seriously good!

River Whyless Kindness, A Rebel RollCall 

Asheville North Carolina quartet River Whyless follow their impressive 2016 release We All The Light with a more experimental and dynamic sound under the guidance of progressive producer Paul Butler (Bees, The Dawn Chorus, Devendra Banhart, Michael Kiwanuka). Formed while all students at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, the band have matured from their alt-folk beginnings to a more adventurous and imposing outfit with Kindness, A Rebel. Four songwriters in a band can create hurdles, whether it be competing egos or attempting to be overly diplomatic by allowing each member a free hand to include their individual compositions. The decision to give Butler a relatively free hand with their third album has resulted in an entirely more mature and compelling recording. It’s also very much an album of its time, exploring political and environmental landscapes. Born In The Right Country – with a melody not unlike Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark - addresses the privileged white classes, The Feeling Of Freedom laments the two-job minimum wage culture. Falling Farm and Darkness In Mind – both recalling Talking Heads – particularly benefit from Butler’s input, as does the powerful opening track All Of My Friends. New Beliefs enters The Decemberists territory, impressively it must be said. 

Kindness, A Rebel heads in directions that River Whyless could hardly have anticipated when they formed a decade ago. Sounding better and better on each listen, abandoning their folky overtones for a more expansive, dynamic and edgier sound has elevated them to another level which should introduce them to a wider audience. 

Willard Grant Conspiracy Untethered Loose

A posthumous release and a reminder of the virtuosity that the music industry lost at the untimely passing of Robert Fisher from cancer in 2017. At the forefront of what we now label Americana, Fisher had been the front man in Willard Grant Conspiracy since their formation in 1995. The band survived until his passing – albeit with numerous personal changes - despite never gaining the industry recognition his unique brand of gothic roots richly deserved. Up to thirty band members came and left during the lifespan of WGC, but their distinctiveness remained unchanged, with Fischer cavernous baritone vocals instantly recognisable.  He often performed as a duo in later years with long-time collaborator and violin supremo David Michael Curry. Their amalgamation fitted like hand and glove, Fischer’s prowling voice and Curry’s stylish and atmospheric strings adding the perfect effects to uncompromising and searching lyrics. Curry is on record describing how WGC’s final album was originally a fun time weekend project, in parallel to both their busy schedules prior to Fischer’s diagnoses.  It’s very much to Curry’s credit that he ensured that Fisher’s final works were not packed off to the archives, unlikely to see the light of day.

Notwithstanding that thirteen of the fourteen tracks were written prior to his diagnoses, an atmosphere of impending doom dominates throughout, from the Nick Cave echoing opener Hideous Beast to the ghostly and prognostic closer Trail’s End. The latter dipping and soaring gloriously with free fall instrumentation, confusion, distortion and indiscipline.  The albums title track was composed by Fisher after he became aware of his fate and it’s an honest, open hearted and plainspoken commentary on his impending death, not unlike Lazarus from David Bowie’s farewell album. Love You Apart has echoes of an outtake from the Lou Reed/John Cale tribute album Songs For Drella, it’s delivered semi spoken and aches and rejoices in equal measures, concluding with magical viola playing. Likewise, Saturday Night With Jane recalls mid-career Lou Reed. The chaotic Let The Storm Be You’re Your Pilot implies anxiety and agitation, Fischer’s drifting whispered vocals intensifying the sense of misgiving.

A poignant and fitting farewell that sits alongside Regard The End (2003) as a career highlight from an artist whose body of work, if there is any justice, will be uncovered, recognised and valued by generations going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan162019

Reviews by Paul McGee

Heart Hunters American Eclipse Pretend Sweetheart

There are a number of husband and wife teams out there on the music highway, all trying to make a living while following their shared, creative muse. There are practicalities of travelling as a duo but when you have children at home, then the tug of the road is tempered by the urge to be settled into some form of domestic bliss.

Brianna Blackbird (vocals, guitar, Bolivian drum, bass) and Drew de Man (vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, percussion), decided to experience life as a couple in a mountain village in Bolivia and the experience gave them a new perspective that cemented their belief in writing about the environment and the way that nature has fallen under the wheels of big industry. They have enlisted some premier players for this record that spans ten songs and is produced to a very high standard by Peter Case. Included are the talents of Case himself on piano, organ, harmonium, guitar and percussion; Fats Kaplin on violins, viola, accordion, mandolin and oud; Don Heffington on drums & percussion; Dennis Crouch on upright bass.

The Spanish verse of Cristo is suitably different to the rest of the project and has a haunting melody that reflects a hymn, sung with quiet passion and a wish for better tomorrows. Angels is an autobiographical song about life on the road and the struggle to make ends meet, while Normal America questions the pursuit of the American dream and urges a look behind the veil. The Good Fight asks about the waste of deserted strip malls and the hope that we could restore mother nature to her original form. Living a self-sufficient dream and making sweet music is enough at times and this duo certainly have their hearts in the right place.

Annie Oakley Words We Mean Horton

She was a sharp shooter in the Wild West days of yore and her name is aptly adopted by this trio that comprises of twin sisters, Sophia & Grace Babb (vocals, guitar) & Nia Personette (violin, vocals). They hail from Oklahoma and play Folk based acoustic music that is very appealing. All songs are written and arranged by the trio and the sound is bright and full of colour across the twelve tracks here.

The Curse is a song about love and loss and Did You Dream is a love plea, asking for answers, framed by a sensitive delivery. Good Things has a sense of discomfort, foreboding and sadness while If I Were A Ghost is about wanting more and looking for a closer bond. The message of honesty in relationships is continued in two further songs, Words We Mean and Into The Light

Missed Connection deals with a close relationship where a lack of communication has dented the love. Brother speaks of a lost soul with no direction and Nothing To Say is again about complex relations where trust has broken down. However, things end on a positive with the excellent Sweet Time, a song that speaks of belonging and loving over the years.

With great harmonies throughout and stellar support from a studio band that adds just the right amount of texture and tone to the gentle and restrained arrangements, this is a very fine release and comes highly recommended. 

Tia McGraff Stubborn In My Blood Bandana

Co-produced and arranged with husband Tommy Parham (banjo, guitars), Tia McGriff delivers her seventh release since her debut in 2000. Impressive vocals throughout and the conviction and timbre in her vocal really sells these eleven songs. Especially on the opening Pilot Of Change and Hole In Your Heart, one a song of renewal and change; the other a sad look at feeling broken and low. The pressures of live performance and the travel schedule of a journeyed musician is explored on Travellin’ By Guitar, while the message to always believe in yourself is perfectly captured on Own Your Sunshine

The excellent production continues on Let Em’ See Your Strong and Stubborn In My Blood, songs about living proud and being emotionally strong. Far Away Man is a song about how distance makes the heart grow stronger and a new day with hope of change is the message of The Faithful Ones. The temptation and attraction in Forbidden brings matters to a fine conclusion and the players are very much aligned with the song structures throughout.

David Haerle Garden Of Edendale Edendales

Solo debut from an artist who has been president of the CMH Label Group for the past 27 years. He describes himself as a late bloomer but has been playing guitar since his early teens. This project took 7 years to complete and I have to say that it is quite an impressive achievement. The 13 tracks run for approx. 65 minutes but I didn’t find myself getting tired of listening at any point. The production is top drawer with a bright and vibrant sound while the assembled musicians play with great finesse and freedom around the song structures. 

The guitar prowess of Haerle is quite something and he can take a solo run with the best of them. The violin of Luanne Homzy is also very much to the fore but every player contributes to an overall sound that is commercial pop/rock with sweet melody lines, catchy up-tempo numbers (Finding Natalie, Tell Your Story, The Tracer), mixed with more reflective, sombre songs (The Stranger, Do You Know Surrender?). The duet song, Women Make The World Go Round has a Beautiful South feel to it while the excellent Glendale reminds me of a Dire Straits workout. 

The Tone That Got Away is an impressive instrumental track and the closer, Everything I Ever Wanted is another instrumental that features some fine violin parts before going into a Skynyrd workout as it builds to a climax. A most engaging album and one to seek out if you like guitar oriented commercial rock with a touch of class. 

Mandy Rowden When the Day Comes Howlin’ Dog

Starting out with the religious message of the title track could go either way for this artist who grew up in East Texas. However, when you can deliver a vocal that suggests much of the attraction in the vocals of Lucinda Williams, then you have something of an open road ahead.

San Antonio is a love song to a place of refuge and safety and If I Could Have Known is a look back at an old relationship. All songs are written by Rowden (2 co-writes) and there is one cover version, a tribute to Tom Petty, with a stripped back Angel Dream #2. Don Richmond plays an influential role in mixing and production and also plays a range of instruments. James Doyle provides drums on eight of the thirteen tracks and Rowden chips in with multi instrumentation on guitars, piano, organ, viola and fiddle. So, a tight bunch of players who produce a fine record to build upon previous successes. Pedal Upon The Metal is steeped in Country with pedal steel from Richmond adding real charm to the song structure. A Chance To Give You Love displays a quiet anger at a close friend who took their own life. The chance to help a friend move on from a toxic relationship is captured in Sticks & Stones, a fine song that shows the trio in all their understated power. Well worth having this release in your collection.  

Ken Pomeroy Hallways. Horton Records

This 7-track EP was recorded on 4-track cassette tape – the more things change, the more they stay the same! What we get is a stripped-down acoustic sound of guitar, sometimes supported by piano, mandolin and muted electric guitar. Her voice is really beautiful, with a pure and strong delivery. Ken is a 16-year old artist from Oklahoma and this is her 2nd EP release. Wow...!

Deprived speaks of surviving in an indifferent world and Three Wonderful Words is a fragile need to be loved. There is a plaintive quality to Ken’s voice and the vulnerability in reaching out for a connection is delicately delivered on the title track, Hallways. Sidewalk Song is about homelessness and the self-belief to endure and rise above. It’s bare bones, full of gentle playing and rumination from an artist that is wise and talented beyond her years. A big future lies ahead…