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Tuesday
May292018

Reviews By Declan Culliton

 

Shane Joyce The Sadness of King Joyce Self Release

Following on from his impressive five track mini album release of 2016 titled An Introduction, The Midnight Union Band lead man Shane Joyce returns with his second solo recording, featuring nine self-penned songs and revealing an artist growing in maturity and confidence. In contrast to An Introduction, which pointed towards a love of all things Dylan and Morrison, The Sadness of King Joyce reveals itself to be altogether more intimate, individualistic and soul bearing, with anguish, distress and resolution the dominant themes. In many ways the album exposes the deepest inner thoughts of Joyce and his alter ego.

The title track which opens the album is quite stunning. Delivered with somewhat semi spoken vocals and brought to life by gorgeous strings, compliments of Rowan Sherlock and Claire Kinsella, it confronts lost love head on (‘There’s a girl I used to know, but she had a better place to go. I showed her what I had inside. She said ‘son, those things are easy to find’) with a delivery and deportment that recalls Nick Cave at his most morose. 

The influence of Leonard Cohen, particularly in his early and disconsolate work, are evident throughout the album, most noticeably on The Spider, a nightmarish Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. Stripped to the bone with only vocals and piano, it’s a tale of capture and submission. (‘I slipped into a spider web, I couldn’t move a thing. Then came the bristle of many legs and the teeth began to sink. The venom joined my blood and cauterized my veins’). Similar echoes of Cohen also surface on the otherworldly Winter.

The Battle may be a cry for help, the rock bottom addict yearning sobriety, the abandoned companion begging to be loved again, the depressed pleading for freedom and normality, the adult craving for the comfort of the womb ('Make me strong Mama, like I used to be’). Equally impressive is the beguiling Bad Woman, piano and strings accompanying Joyce’s tale of lust and frustration. In contrast to the desolate opening song To Lady, Too Late concludes the album, certainly not offering closure but with a degree of acceptance and defiance. (There’s no glory in defeat, no grace in backing down, and so I won’t retreat, you’ll keep seeing me around’). 

The Sadness of King Joyce is a coming of age album by an artist equally proficient as a prophet of despair and hopelessness with dark and gothic tales as he is brewing up a storm in his other role as frontman with The Midnight Union Band. Its mix of expressionless and controlled vocals, sparse acoustic guitar and piano add to the atmosphere but what elevates the album is the exquisite strings that embrace and caress much of the material without ever dominating. A wonderful piece of work.

Megan O’Neill Ghost Of You Self Release

Described as The Irish Carrie Underwood by The Irish Times, Kildare born singer songwriter Megan O’Neill’s debut album Ghost Of You follows her 2015 EP Coming Home which reached No.1 in the Irish County Charts and her 2017 mini - album Stories To Tell, recorded with her band The Common Thread and produced by Guy Fletcher (Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler).

Her latest offering Ghost Of You was recorded in Nashville in late 2017 under the guidance of the talented producer, songwriter and pianist Zak Lloyd – who also co-wrote six of the inclusions - and its twelve songs are tailor made for the new country market. Don’t expect screeching fiddle playing or haunting pedal steel guitar, instead the album offers radio friendly crossover pop country of a quality that’s tailor made to tick all the boxes for inclusion on Country Radio playlists. The title track Ghost Of You – a gorgeous ballad composed in memory of lost loved ones - together with Why I Need You and Without have all been released as singles over the past nine months and the album has its official release on 9th June. Tell You To Leave, Good Love and opener Don’t Come Easy find O’Neill every bit at ease belting out catchy arena anthems as she is with heartfelt ballads.

 O’Neill hasn’t put a foot wrong career wise to date with appearances at The Bluebird Café in Nashville, slots at C2C in London and having her song Don’t You featured in the TV series Nashville. It’s extraordinary that no Irish female artist in recent years has made an international breakthrough in the commercial country market given the popularity of the genre in Ireland. This could possibly change with this release, O’Neill has put her heart and soul into Ghost Of You and given the exposure has the talent, vocals, songs and drive to match the success of like-minded acts this side of the pond such as The Shires and Ward Thomas. Watch this space.

Ana Egge White Tiger Storysound

Ana Egge had already got seven albums under her belt when I discovered her in 2011 courtesy of the excellent Bad Blood album which introduced me to the artist christened 'The Nina Simone of Folk' by none other than Lucinda Williams. Praise indeed and well justified for the Saskatchewanborn singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose latest release White Tiger has me scratching my head wondering why she’s not a household name. Voted at nineteen years of age the Best Singer Songwriter and Best Folk Artist by The Austin Music Awards and with supports slots on tours by Iris De Ment, Shawn Colvin, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Ron Sexsmith it’s inconceivable that Egge remains relatively undiscovered by many. Perhaps it’s her free spirited mentality to flit between various genres, in many cases on the same album, whether it be country, indie folk and jazz, that’s resulted in her being difficult to classify and to market. Alec Spiegelman is the producer this time around and his contributions on keyboards and reeds together with string and horn arrangements greatly enhance the ten tracks on the album.

White Tiger- her tenth recording -finds Egge in a typically empirical mood from the opening and instantly catchy opener Girls, Girls, Girls, which details a lesbians coming out in the Big Smoke - complete with whistles and horns - and  equally captivating is the You Among The Flowerscomplete with it’s woolly and unshakable robotic rhythm. One cover version is included and it fits the overall rustic theme of the album like a glove. John Hartford’s In Tall Buildingslaments having to leave behind all cherished values by way of conformity ('Goodbye to the sunshine, goodbye to the dew, goodbye to the flowers, and goodbye to you') and Egge shares the lead vocal with guitarist and bluegrass musician Billy Strings with violin courtesy of Alex Hargreaves. The title track White Tiger, dedicated to a dear friend encountering difficult times, drifts along beautifully with Egge’s dream like vocals simply hypnotic.

Ana Egge, together with the superb Kate Stables (This Is The Kit), Anais Mitchell and Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station), has helped to redefine folk music into a distinctive alt/indie style and White Tiger is yet another outstanding album from an artist you really need to check out. 

Mike Ross Jenny’s Place Taller

The U.K. has for decades produced some exceptional blues artists, many of whom have remained relatively unknown outside their immediate fan base. Sussex resident Mike Ross falls into this category, even if his output has one leg in the rock camp with a sound that brings to mind the swashbuckling Scottish blues rocker Frankie Miller or Roger Chapman of Family and Streetwalkers fame.

Jenny’s Place (named after his wife’s Swedish holiday home) is the second solo album recorded by Ross and features nine studio tracks together with six bonus live tracks recorded at The Latest. Thumping bass and gravely vocals introduce the opener Bamboozled, a boozy, sexy, barroom blast and a fair indication of what’s to follow. The Big Picturerecalls mid-career Stones, Harpotips its hat in the direction of Canned Heat and Jenny (Sun Goes Down) could have been plucked from the Tom Petty songbook with its infectious riff and chorus.

There’s not a lot on Jenny’s Place that hasn’t been done endless times before but Ross’s hoarsy, vocals, screeching guitar and harmonica breaks are a reminder of how uplifting rootsy blues music can be when the bar is set this high. Classic roots/blues rock revisited and certainly an artist that would be a blast in a live setting.

Charley Crockett Lonesome As A Shadow Thirty Tigers

Street wise from an early age as a result of years spent hitchhiking and busking around the States and satisfying his wanderlust by spells in Paris, Spain, Morocco and North Africa, Charley Crockett – a descendant of American folk hero Davy Crockett -  finally returned to his home state of Texas in 2015 where he settled down and recorded three albums. His debut album A Stolen Jewel gained him the Dallas Observer Award as Best Blues Artist of that year.  Crockett subsequently got the opportunity to tour as support act to Turnpike Troubadours and the positive exposure lead to a recording deal with Thirty Tigers. His release on that label in 2016 was an album of country covers titled Charley Crockett presents LIL G.L’s Honky Tonk Jubilee which revisited the work of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Ray Acuff and Webb Pierce In homage to a host of traditional country artists that influenced him. 

Lonesome As A Shadow – the title depicting Crockett’s early busking career - finds him more experimental and exploring various styles of music from blues to country and soul to Cajun. Recorded at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis under the watchful eye of Grammy Award producer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price, Jason Isbell, Chris Isaac), the album was recorded live to tape over a period of four days and features some stunning musicianship from his backing band Blue Drifters.  Crockett’s uneven vocals can be an acquired taste and are rescued on occasions by the quality of the musicians alongside him in the studio who manage to transform and rescue some quite average material in some cases.

Writing and recording the album was, no doubt, a labour of love for Crockett and the opportunity to showcase his many musical influences and inspirations. Comparisons in his press releases to the work of Hank Williams, Van Morrison, Dr. John and Bill Withers are somewhat exaggerated, though there are a number of highlights on the album, in particular the bluesy Sad & Blue and the rocking Goin’ Back To Texas. All in all, the album, for me, suffers from a lack of coherency and over ambition, despite the dazzling playing throughout.

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