Reviews by Eilis Boland

Mules & Men Thinking Sideways Self Release 

An exciting debut album from a new Irish band who are turning the bluegrass genre on its head.

Firmly rooted in bluegrass, Mules & Men are doing to the genre what The Pogues did to folk music - and they call it Acid Celtgrass!

Luke Coffey, who wrote the majority of the songs, shows that he has a good ear for constructing a melody as well as being one of the best young banjo players in the country at the moment. 

Wonder/Wander is a gentle paced ballad of yearning for a lost love where Luke’s vocals are superbly complemented by Lily Sheehan’s harmonies, all beautifully enveloped in Luke’s inventive banjo lines - definitely the strongest song on the album.

Mark Corry shows that he is not just a pretty mullet wearing bass player by contributing three original songs, all of which tend towards the manic, but are very funny too. Procrastination Blues aptly kicks off the collection at a searing pace as it describes an alcohol fuelled encounter with the devil. Donegal recounts a hilarious trip to that county that didn’t end well (I hear that Ardara may have been the end destination). ‘Pope John Paul upon the wall’ and ‘a red haired girl with a bad tattoo’ should give you an idea of the session that ensued.

Accomplished guitar player Lily Sheehan gets to shine on her own song Meet Me, a gentle love song which showcases her delicate vocals and is complemented superbly by guest violin player Camille Champarnaud.

Ballybough Breakdown is a banjo-driven mid paced instrumental where Luke gets to show that he can bend those strings with the best of them.

John Denby on mandolin is the band’s secret weapon - he lurks in the background playing solid rhythm and then every so often he gets an opportunity to unleash some killer licks. He’s credited in the sleeve notes with ‘vocals’ also, but rumour has it that no one has actually ever heard him sing ...

Luke also contributes several good mid-paced songs written in a traditional country style.

The album’s attractive artwork hints at the band’s punk sensibility - it’s a curious mash up of medieval meets 21st century, for which Mark Corry is responsible.

I can’t wait to see this band develop and build on their undoubted talents. Hopefully next time they will use a producer (this recording is self-produced) who will help them iron out a few issues like vocal projection. We’ll be hearing more from Mules & Men.

Caroline Wickberg  I’m Not Mad  Self Release 

Swedish sound engineer Caroline Wickberg comes out from behind the mixing console to deliver an accomplished EP of lush folk pop compositions.

The themes are the age-old ones of relationships - either heartbreak or desire - but the songs are as much about creating a soundscape to convey those emotions as they are about the lyrics.

December opens the collection with hypnotic percussion, then heavy bass drum is added in, then a catchy guitar riff - all serving as an ever building backdrop allowing Caroline’s sweet and ethereal vocals to send a sensual message to an illicit love.

On the title track I’m Not Mad, a tale of the insomnia and catatonia of despair following a break up, layers of echoing vocals are used over the mainly acoustic strings, while Caroline reassures us  that she’s ok.

Wedding Crasher is another great slow burner, building from acoustic guitar, adding violins, then cello and the ever prominent upright bass to evoke the darkness of a potentially dangerous brooding relationship.

Not surprisingly Caroline has successfully co-produced and also played guitars and synths. Special mention must go to drummer Max Sjoberg.

The several references to summer & winter and light & dark lead me to wonder if Swedes are as obsessed with the weather as we Irish are?!

Anyway, the five songs on here add up to a healthy 22 minutes and are we.

Dave Richardson Carry Me Along Branch & Thorn 

A charming folk album that will definitely be in my end of year ‘best of’ list.

Dave Richardson opens his third album with a tribute to a dead giant squid. Seriously. Bear with me here. On first listen I assumed Squid was a tongue-in-cheek song, but subsequent listens convinced me that I was wrong. The song was inspired by seeing this rare specimen in the Smithsonian and Dave responded by writing what is actually a touching ballad speculating on the life of this unfortunate mollusc. The gorgeous Waiting For The Sunlight describes the simple pleasure of getting up early and tiptoeing out to see/feel/enjoy the dawn - it would almost convince this inveterate night owl to get up very early (just once!). Liv Baxter lends her beautiful vocals to this and several other songs here. More simple pleasures are celebrated in Front Porch Time - a beautiful evocation of retreating from the stresses of a busy day to relax with loved ones at the dimming of the day.

Most of the album is recorded with acoustic instruments- Dave on acoustic guitar, Ariel Bernstein on ‘barely there’ percussion, and Mali Obomsawin on upright bass and vocals.

Fellow New Englander Jefferson Hamer (Anais Mitchell, The Murphy Beds), who is quite familiar in this part of the world, guests as a backing vocalist on several tracks and also plays electric guitar on another original song Goodbye Baltimore, which is the rockiest track on the album. Traveling So Far movingly recounts the story, from a daughter’s perspective, of a road trip to her estranged father’s funeral and all the feelings that this drags up - Emily Mure’s backing vocals are perfect here. Another stand out track is Rise And Play (The Fox) - another simple arrangement of acoustic guitar, bass, glockenspiel and other subtle percussion allows Dave’s strong voice to convey the fox’s night time antics delightfully. There are also covers of three traditional ballads from the Child Ballad collection, including a version of Polly’s Ghost (aka Pretty Polly).

Co-produced with Dan Cardinal (Josh Ritter, Darlingside) Dave Richardson has indeed created a must-have album.

Mike O’Donovan  No Time Like The Present  Self Release 

Limerick man Mike O’Donovan waited 65 years to get lots of living under his belt before he got around to recording his first collection of excellent original songs. Calling in many of his local musician friends, some well known on the national scene, he turned to his friend Dave Keary to help him produce this accomplished collection.

Various musical styles are used in the recording, reflecting Mike’s many influences over the years.

It Was On A Night Like This uses accordion and trumpet to evoke a mariachi feel in this nostalgic love song, while See You Once Again recalls the roots rock of The Band.

Keyboard genius James Delaney lends his magic touch to the latter and several other tracks. There’s a long tradition of brass bands in Limerick, and this is continued here with lots of brass contributions from saxophonist Michael Buckley and others. Trombone player Alistair White adds to the jazz inflections of The Dancer, and Gemma Sugrue’s backing vocals lend this and many other songs a relaxed laid back vibe.

Refreshingly, Mike hasn’t fallen into the (unintended) trap of singing in a fake American drawl - the vocals are pure Limericana!

The Billy Shinbone Show  Self Titled Tiny Dog 

Former member of Flipron, Jesse Budd releases a smasher of a debut solo album as his alter ego The Billy Shinbone Show.

In a scintillating smorgasbord of styles it’s impossible to categorise exactly what this recording sounds like, but Billy successfully melds influences from skiffle, rockabilly, punk, country, blues, rock and psychedelic pop. He plays practically all of the instruments here, sings all the songs and  co-produced with James Wilkes and Charlotte Worthy-Jarvis in his native Somerset.

If You Think You’ll Get Away With It, You’re Wrong, in what might be a first, finds clawhammer banjo trading licks with sitar in a delightful tirade against a haughty opponent, all sealed with the kiss of a howling harmonica. Rockabilly guitar and lots of bendy electric guitar chords duel with banjo in Temptation’s Got The Good Stuff. Day Of The Dangerous finds accordion, sitar, electric guitar and handclaps vying for attention in a psychedelic maze - and what the song is actually  about has defeated me so far! Billy’s vocals over a simple jazz guitar accompaniment tells the story of a nightmarish dream of hospitals and death in A Bunch Of Flowers, but he cleverly lifts the mood with the introduction of the chimes of a toy xylophone. Billy’s black sense of humour pervades the whole album, not least on the closer Thanks But No Thanks, Baby where a former lover is rejected with tongue-in-cheek bitterness - “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll wash my own dishes and polish my own brown shoes”.

The appropriately chaotic and psychedelic cover art completes the unforgettable experience that is the Billy ShinBone Show- go experience it for yourself (but don’t say I didn’t warn you).





Reviews by Stephen Rapid

JP Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing Free Dirt

After two albums on Bull Hunt’s supportive Cow Island label, JP Harris released his new album on Free Dirt and has also changed his approach to making these records to some degree. This time out he brought in Morgan Jahnig to produce and they decided to pretty much assemble these new songs in the studio. The musicians had heard the voice and guitar demos but from that point on they brought to each song what they felt it need. The steel guitar underpins the regret of When I Quit Drinking wherein the protagonist has given up drinking but found that his clear head brings back memories that are maybe too revealing and hence he considers heading back for the oblivion of the bottle again. There are two things that this track emphasises and they are the quality of Harris’ matured lyric writing and the strength of emotion in his voice. He is indeed a fine singer on these traditionally minded but new sounding songs

There is a slightly more acoustic approach to some of these songs and they gain from these different settings. The omnipresent lure of drink is again the subject of I Drink Alone, where he wishes to hide the habit away from judgmental eyes - his own included. Miss Jeanne-Marie is a tale of regret about a lost relationship. The closing song Jimmy’s Dead And Gone, a train song, is first cousin to Billy Joe Shaver’s Georgia On A Fast Train. It closes the album on a fast tracked musical high. Elsewhere Lady In The Spotlight has reminded some the Lonesome Highway team of Gordon Lightfoot. What men can all too often bring or remove from a relationship is the subject of the title track as it considers how men can cause pain by just being a man. A sentiment that he expresses with some conviction.

On the album Harris is joined by some very accomplished players including Leroy Powell on steel, Mark Sloan’s effective keyboards and Chance McCoy on guitar, fiddle and vocals. The Watson Twins add harmony vocals and Kristina Murray sings a duet on Runaway, a song about being the eternal drifter. So, all in all a top-notch album from a man who appears (on the cover) like you wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark night, but in truth would be great company on a dark night. Or in fact any night when he makes music this good. Undoubtably an album that is contender for the year’s ‘best of’ list.

Jimmy Rankin Moving East Songdog/True North

The seventh album from the easily likeable Rankin. Simply put, this Canadian singer/songwriter is a must for anyone who enjoyed Springsteen’s Seeger Session. This full-blooded high-octane folk music is given the kind of production that is both stirring and strident. It reflects the nature of life in Nova Scotia and Canada’s East Cost maritime community. Rankin lived in Nashville where he honed his songwriting skills before relocating back to Nova Scotia. There he recorded and mixed the album with producer Joel Plaskett at the helm. There is heart and salted soul at the core to these blue collar tales of working men and women. 

Rankin was a member of the Rankin Family - a band well known in Canada and elsewhere. The sleeve lists eleven plus players who brought this album to live. All bring their spirit and heart to these songs. Mostly written by Rankin solo but with one co-written by Patricia Conway and one with Steven McDougall. The final non-original is a traditional set of reels under the overall title of Dirt ’n’ Potatoes. This is life affirming, blood stirring music that draws form a musical tradition that goes back a long time but here in Rankin’s hands is given a vibrancy that is largely irresistible. Something akin to the aforementioned Seegar Sessions or the Pogues at their rowdy best. It is the sort of music and album that would, more than likely, find an audience on this shore as it would back in Canada. Moving East is simply moving.

Garrick Rawlings Self-Titled Peloponnese

Formally a hard rock guitarist, who during his travels met and became the road manager for Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. This instilled in him an interest in songwriting and solo performance (often opening for Elliott). Another person he met at this time was Rick Shea, who was also a part of Dave Alvin’s band. This has resulted in Shea bringing his talents to this album and co-producing with Rawlings in drummer Shawn Nourse’s studio in Los Angeles. Both Rawlings and Shea play a variety of stringed instruments throughout including mandolin, Spanish guitar and pedal steel.  

The songs are, in the main, written by Rawlings except for two covers which are indicative of his influences and overall direction. They are the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter written Grateful Dead recorded Friend Of The Devil and Townes van Zandt’s Pancho & Lefty. Both are given credible readings that fit easily in the overall style of the album. I Want To Run Away opens the album in an upbeat musical style even if the song talks of running away to find a better feeling and day! There is something of a border feel to Notengo Palabras - sung in Spanish. Then there are some story songs of some of dark travellers, such as the central figures in Lights Of Marfa. It features some sweet pedal steel and a harmony vocal from Jaimi Lyn Shuey. Lost In Time is about finding a somewhat worse for wear cello in a pawn shop. Jaimi Lyn Shuey again joins him on the vocals.  The slow ballad of ‘whatever gets you though the night’ Whiskey, Cryin’, Pain … is perhaps the best of their dual vocals. Rawling’s own vocal has a little of the age and rough edges it needs to make the songs believable.

This is one of those albums that is not trying to reinvent anything new, instead it consolidates a tradition of the troubadour who during his travels has had a chance to see many of the aspects that life has to offer. The interplay between Rawlings and Shea is seamless and portrays two men at ease with themselves and this music. I suspect any fan of Rick Shea’s work will also enjoy this and will be equally rewarded by Rawlings songwriting.

Tom Van Stockum Trebuchet Self Release

This newest of songs from Van Stockum shows him developing his skill as a writer and singer as well as offering a sound that builds on his debut self-titled EP by bringing together many of the same players that featured on that release. This is a full sounding album that includes a myriad of influences that stretch in many different directions. That ranges from the brass bolstered Strayed Out, the Hammond infused 60s influenced Want It As Bad As Me to the more roots-styled Cracks And Folds or the acoustic Autumn Rose which features backing vocals form Liz Hanley. The final track, the appropriately named, Going Time has some twangy guitar over a solid up-tempo and uplifting beat. A fully realised album that producer Alex P. Weinquest lets flow to whatever placed that the song requires.

That makes for an engaging album overall but not one that will appeal to those looking something that fits their concept of Americana as less expansive and more easily digested. This is the kind of album that has some layers in the recording that are revealed on repeated listening. However, it is Van Stockum’s voice that is the lynchpin that the album is focused on. The writing takes on a level of self-realisation and retrospection about the condition of relationships that are either a cause for regret or revelation. Whichever direction Van Stockum takes you on you can fell happy that you’re along for the ride. Tom Van Stockum has made this album a little difficult in one aspect and that is the use of what appears to be hieroglyphics on the front and back over. While it adds to the intrigue may not be the most effective communication of the contents. But it is the music that counts and this does that.  

The Pine Hearts Carousal Self Release

This band is fronted by the songwriter Joey Capoccia. It appears to be a three-piece acoustic bluegrass based band with some additional members on board for the album including pedal steel guitarist Leo Grassl adding an extra sonic dimension to this Nashville recorded album. The band are from Olympia in Washington State and have a couple of previous releases under their belts before this album. On the recording the six piece also feature banjo, mandolin, upright bass, fiddle and guitar. The overall feel is of a forward thinking bluegrass band rather any form of newgrass. They also have a penchant for traditional country and cover George Jones’ The Window Up Above as well as two other non-originals Good Luck By The Sea song written by Scott Nolan and a public domain instrumental President Garfield’s Hornpipe. The latter shows that the band have the chops to impress in this field. The remaining songs are written by Capoccia 

All are well realised and take on some important topics such as the self-explanatory opener Living With Depression. Elsewhere the perennial theme of forlorn love is central to Crying For Another or the considered solace of the lovelorn in The Pedal Steel Let Me Down Easy. All of which mark this as a band with strengths as players and well as having, in Capoccia, a decent songwriter who is developing his craft. The band’s bassist Charles R Humphrey 111 produced the album alongside its engineer and mixer Charles Chamberlin. This is an album that should please any open-minded bluegrass fan as well as the casual listener who appreciates some well played and delivered songs that are, at their best, readily memorable.

Bob Collum and The Welfare Mothers Pay, Pack And Carry Harbour Song

Making the reverse musical journey to the usual route, Bob Collum came from Tulsa, Oklahoma to the London’s Thames Estuary to deliver his power-pop inspired country rock. So, what do you get? Well 10 memorable slices of Collum’s take on the blending of the two genres. The name of the man behind the desk should be familiar to some sleeve readers from the late 70s. It is none other than the Vibrators bassist and producer Pat Collier. He also played with the Boyfriends who were a poppier combo overall. So, he has a pretty good track record (ha) for this. The songs are written by Collum, either solo or with writing partners. The covers include a welcomed take on Mike Heron’s (of the Incredible String Band) Log Cabin Home In The Sky that is a standout. He also takes on Mike Nesmith’s Different Drum, which holds its own against other versions, without outdoing some of them (there are some 20 or so versions out there!).

There are some other interested parties involved including guests Martin Belmont on guitar and Peter Holsapple on guitar, keyboards and vocals. Also prominent in the mix and giving the songs their country flavours are Mags Leyton on violin and vocals as well as Allan Kelly on steel guitar. The later features heavily on the opening Across A Crowded Room. The violin is central to Scarecrow. Tin Can Telephone is a song co-written with Martin Belmont and Rambow - making me wonder if it is Philip Rambow of the late, lamented Winkies fame? An up-tempo song with Belmont’s trademark twang over a solid up-tempo beat and a memorable chorus. It is a song that helps defines the sound that Collum seems to be aiming for, where the two elements fit together comfortably. So if you want to single out a representative track to listen to this may be the one. Otherwise the whole album is well worth packing and carrying home for some more listening. It also comes in a neat Saul Bass inspired cover.

John David & The Jerks I Love You Means I’m Lucky sonaBLAST!

On their Facebook page it says that this Minneapolis band are akin to a fusion of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and The Jayhawks. So old school Americana then! Of course, you can pinpoint these elements in the songs but that doesn’t mean that were looking at a mere copyist. For their third album David and the band pulls these overall influences, and there are others, into a cohesive album that veers more towards the rockier end of things but there are moments like the reflective Swedish Dream that is more ambient and atmospheric with distant vocals, acoustic guitar and random sound. I’ll Die Of Grief rocks harder and again the vocals are mixed into the overall sound making it difficult to decipher the words, though perhaps the title is a pretty good clue to the overall direction. As is I Only Want Your Love which has pedal steel and a driving beat that makes it hit the spot.

David and his guitarist Jerrick Jenson and the engineer Zachary Hollander produced the album which has a layered muscular sound. Less so is Must We Break which features the steel guitar and David’s vocal and guitar. After such full-on tracks like the brass bolstered Every Little Road gives the listener a moment to hear David in a more stripped-down context and one that shows his high register voice off as an important part of the overall sound. Friend Like You closes the album in a high-speed indie rock throw down mood. Maybe this album isn’t for everyone but it is the sound of a band and singer pulling tighter to create their own take on any number of strands that they want to knit into something they can call their own.

Malcolm Holcombe Come Hell Or High Water Proper

What can be said of Malcolm Holcombe that hasn’t already been said. He is either an expressive, earthy singer or dismissed as an also ran. A man whose voice grates on some listeners. I favour the former thinking. Over the last few albums he has found a group of players who are supportive of Holcombe’s talent. This include producers Marco Giovino and Jared Tayler as well as his two harmony and backing vocalist Greg Brown and Iris Dement. The latter is a perfect contrast vocally to Holcombe. It is a pairing that works. Both producers are also players and are the nucleus of these sessions. A couple of players join in on guitar and accordion. It is however Tyler’s Dobro which seems most suited to the occasion when it appears.

The songs are chronicles of people on the fringes of society. The Vietnam vet living in isolation in Left Alone or the opening verse of Legal Tender sets out a scene that encompasses an certain lifestyle “my cousin’s in and out of jail, more times than I can count, bad habits run in the family, Marshall still grows pot.” Merry Christmas alludes to a time that was anything but merry. Another 13 songs in this latest instalment that has seen around 10 albums by Holcombe since 2006 up to this release. That’s quite a productive output for an artist who is not exactly a household name - he is no Seasick Steve. Malcolm Holcombe is no one else other than Malcolm Holcombe but what helps Come Hell Or High Water stand out from his recent work is perhaps the contribution of Brown and Dement. The counter balance they provide to his vocals add an extra layer of attraction. On the cover under the disc is a graphic entitled “Captain Beefheart’s Ten Commandments of Guitar Playing” which, even if only 6 are visible, make for interesting reading and perhaps show another of Malcolm Holcombe’s influences.


Reviews by Declan Culliton


Kayla Ray Yesterday and Me Self Release

Less than half a minute into Rockport, the opening track on Yesterday and Me, and Kayla Ray’s husky drawl and edgy tale of looming despair and heartache had me hooked. The combination of her distinctive and very country vocal and the unfolding tale stopped me in my tracks, getting my full attention. It’s the first of twelve, often compelling stories, the album contains, each one tumbling effortlessly into the next, by an artist that is as brutal in her candidness as she is gifted in her song writing. The stories don’t deliver many happy endings and encompass all the elements that contribute to a great country album, with hurtin’, cheatin’, lovin’, leavin’ and drinkin’ always close to the surface. However, the album’s tales of disarray read like a personal diary and stand head and shoulders above the majority of formula written albums that masquerade as country recordings these days.

The previously noted Rockfort is a hard-hitting story of a woman’s intended liberation and escapism only to degenerate into drug addiction and suicide. The alcohol fuelled Hell of a Day to Drink All Night is a hell raising and somewhat tongue in cheek up tempo journey and the Keith Whitley written Once A Week Cheaters is a dreamy duet that pays homage to Dolly and Porter, with Ray and Colton Hawkins sharing vocals. Pills tackles the thorny subject of anti-depressants in a no holds barred manner but not without a slice of humour, the type of song that Elizabeth Cook was writing in her early career. Fair Warning addresses domestic abuse, Camel Blues laments doomed love ("it takes two hard working fools to build a wall, it takes two fools in love to make it fall’’) and title track Yesterday and Me is reflective, stained with regret and broken dreams of unfulfilled expectations.

Ray was born and reared in Waco, Texas and took full advantage of the musical opportunities offered to her at a young age, which included performing with Jimmy Gimble’s family band The Gimbles and eventually acting as tour manager for Jason Eady. Her debut recording Love and Liquor from 2014 highlighted her distinctive and very country vocals and suggested an artist with the potential to write clever sassy lyrics to match. That album was produced by Jason Eady, who obviously recognised her potential when she worked for him.  This time around Jason Eady is joined by Pat Manske (Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Tom Russell, Wayne Hancock) as co-producers and the pairing is inspired. Avoiding the temptation to over produce – the ruination of so many country albums in recent times - they achieve the perfect balance between Ray’s vocals and the stellar contributions of some crack musicians. The players are Joshua Barnard on guitar, Cody Braun on fiddle, Dick Gimble on upright bass, Ray Rodriguez on drums, Bukka Allen on piano, Jason Clyde Cartier on electric bass and Geoff Queen on steel guitar and dobros, whose contribution is particularly central to the overall quality of many of the tracks.

Kayla Ray possesses the ability to articulate true life stories of pain, loss and waste, with a dynamic similar to that of Brandi Clark and Kacy Musgraves but with far more edge and delightful guiltlessness, avoiding any degree of sugar coating on her parables. She’s unlikely to grace the stage at The Grand Ole Opry and country music radio stations will no doubt run a mile from the album - two factors that suggest a great traditional country album from a hell raising and fearless young lady that’s not going to be shackled. Thank God for that! A contender for album of the year for me.

Pat Reedy and The Longtime Goners That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More) Muddy Roots

There’s a somewhat charming innocence to Pat Reedy, as if he’s been taken by surprise by the critical acclaim for his recently released and second album, the wonderfully titled That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More). It’s not too long since Reedy was toiling on building sites to make ends meet, writing and performing in the little spare time available to him. Prior to his days on construction sites, Reedy paid his dues as a busker in New Orleans, learning his trade and eventually hooking up with some other New Orleans street musicians to form the first incarnation of his backing band, The Longtime Goners. Trips to Nashville followed, where his performances began to raise a few eyebrows, gaining him a reputation as an old school, no frills artist, delivering genuine country music without any extraneous bells and whistles. Reedy has managed to translate his live shows seamlessly on to this album, thanks to the excellent production by Richard Bailey, who creates the perfect mix between instrumentation and Reedy’s alluring monotone vocals.

Bloodshot Heart gets things underway, with enough hooks and twang to draw you in on first listen,followed by Lucky I’m Alive which includes some sweet pedal steel by Leo Grassl. A reality check on Music City is included compliments of Nashville Tennessee At 3AM, (“Everyone’s an outlaw until the cocaine wears off, the only thing that’s cheap in these bars is talk’’). Some marvellous fiddle playing introduces the classic country sound of Wedding Ring and the rip roaring You Don’t Have To Tell Me Again is laced with clever witticisms and killer guitars and pedal steel (“you say I like living dangerous, you must take me for some kind of fool, there’s arithmetic that runs my life that you don’t learn in school’’). That track could very well be a precursor for the title song and album highlight That’s All There Is etc, a leaving song as his woman packs her bags for another man. 

It’s difficult to exclude a mention of any track on the album such is the quality and Conversation With Jesus also deserves noteOut of the Hayes Carll school of songwriting it refers to an imaginary conversation with the Lord after escaping injury in a drunken car crash where Reedy is given sound advice. ("Lay off whiskey and remember this one thing, Holy-rollin’ preaching just ain’t worth a damn, What matters most in life is how you treat your fellow man"). Funny Thing About A Hammer laments the endless toil of the working man and the album is bookended by a lively train song Coal Train Blues.

I really can’t overstate how much I’m continuing to savour this album and finding it’s melodies unshakable. Let’s hope it gets the exposure it so richly deserves and that Reedy follows in Joshua Hedley and JP Harris’ footsteps in being recognised as one of the premier ‘country’ artist performing in Nashville this year. A must buy for lovers of ‘real’ country music.

Cliff Westfall Baby You Win Self Release

From time to time judging a book by its cover is not such a bad idea. Without doubt this was the case with New York based artist Cliff Westfall’s knockout album Baby You Win. The striking album cover design is very much in the ‘pulp fiction’ expression and a fitting metaphor for the music contained within.  It was designed by New York artist and musician Billy Woodward, whose previous employers include Rolling Stone, Sun Studio and National Geographic. Very much a retro sleeve made for twelve inch vinyl, it’s front cover is striking and the rear cover notes the six tracks on both side one and side two. Westfall also hired some New York big guns to feature on the album, including Scott Metzger (Shooter Jennings, Nicole Atkins, Stanton Moore) on guitar, Dan Lead (Kevin Morby, Norah Jones) on pedal steel and Jeremy Chatzky (Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Laura Cantrell) on bass. Recording took place at Trout Recording in Brooklyn, produced by Bryce Goggin and Graham Norwood, who manage to achieve the perfect balance between vocals and instruments.  

Most impressively the musical content more than matches the packaging with an equally retro country sound that instantly recalls early Dwight Yoakam on the opener It Hurt Her To Hurt Me and does not contain a weak moment over the course of the eleven tracks that follow. Till The Right One Comes Along is unadulterated classic country, tingling piano and plenty of twang keeping pace with Westfall’s elongated vocals. The Man I Used To Be and A Live If You Must slip back a gear or two, the former a tale of regret and remorse, the latter – with honeyed backing vocals from Barbara Endes - visiting denial and unacceptance.  Hanging On, written by Ira Allen and Buddy Mize, and a hit for The Gosdin Brothers in 1967, is the one cover on the album, a slick delivery sympathetic to the original. The Odds Were Good closes the album in style, chunky guitar working alongside Westfall’s tale of visiting an Oklahoma dive bar.

Baby You Win is classic West Coast country via New York and satisfyingly a further indication that real country music is alive and healthy outside Austin and East Nashville. A majestic recording that hopefully will not be ignored. You really need to get your hands on this one!

Jon Byrd Dirty Ol’ River Longleaf Pine

The title of Jon Byrd’s debut solo album, recorded back in 2007, was Byrd’s Auto Parts, following a career of performing as a sideman previous to its release. The Tee-shirt available for purchase with the album had the slogan "Byrd’s Auto Parts: We Don’t Rock Ever," printed on the front. The catch phrase just about sums up the Alabama born musician to a tee (pardon the pun). Byrd is pure country with a distinctive semi spoken vocal style and clever songs that inevitably are accompanied by pedal steel guitar. Equally impressive live, Byrd currently performs a weekly residency at Bridie's Bar in Nashville where he delivers two hour sets, generally alongside Paul Niehaus on pedal steel.

Dirty Ol’ River offers ten tracks with a common thread, clever well-constructed songs, delivered by Byrd’s gnarly deep vocal with some sweet, sad pedal steel always close by. The pedal steel on the album is courtesy of Eddie Lange, a ‘go to’ player in Nashville for many years. The opener I Get Lostis the album’s tour de force, but there lots to savour before the closing song, a cover of Steve Young’s Many Rivers. The toe tapping You Taught Me How and the tongue in cheek If Texas Is So Great all work well, as does the Willie Nelson sounding Silent Night. Well-chosen covers include Tammy Wynette/Billy Sherrill’s ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own and Giving The Devil His Due, written by Davis Raines. All in all, a clutter free bunch of songs by an artists who appears uncompromising and remarkably comfortable in his own skin. Lovers of Tom Russell will certainly warm to Dirty Ol’ River and understandably so. 

Currently residing in Nashville, Byrd recorded the album locally at TJ Tunes under the guidance of Thomm Jutz whose previous employers included Nancy Griffith, Todd Snider, Jason Ringenberg and Otis Gibbs.  An album well worth checking out - you won’t be disappointed.

James Houlahan The Wheel Still In Spin Gumbo Luvah 

An album that had me scratching my head on first listen but unravelled and revealed itself after a few more spins. Difficult to define genre wise, it skits between folk, experimental indie and mainstream across its twelve tracks. Houlahan’s website bio describes his music as ‘eclectic Americana’, creating another sub-genre which does not really inform or prepare the listener’s expectations.  A meeting of minds between Jim White and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) possibly best describes the album, which includes two stunning tracks in the achingly beautiful All I’ve Got and the almost gothic Stuck In Between, alongside the empirical Spirit/Music and a cover of Joe Ely’s Indian Cowboy. Echoes of Neil Young present themselves in the closing track California.

This is the fourth album from Houlahan, a founding member of Boston bands The Dogs On Television and The Jody Grind. His music has been used in both TV commercials and in films. His composition Going Home (For Thanksgiving) featured in film Little Pink earlier this year alongside contributions from David Crosby.

Like the aforementioned Jim White and Conor Oberst, it’s unlikely the wheel will ever stop spinning for Houlahan, landing him in one particular musical genre. No harm either, as his eccentricities and musical detours are exactly what makes this album most appealing. 

Kerry Fearon Honky Tonk Girl Self Release

There’s certainly no questioning Kerry Fearon’s work ethic, enthusiasm and energy. Together with holding down a career as a teacher and hosting a radio show on Downtown Radio, she also presents her own tv show on the Keep It Country channel every Friday. What does she do in her spare time, you might ask? Well, in the limited downtime she’s had this year, the South Armagh young lady has recorded a covers album of ‘close to her heart’ standard country classic songs, some from yesteryear and some from more recent times.

Recent years have also been traumatic for Fearon with the loss of her father, a well-known local singer, in 2013 having been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease the previous year. Turning tragedy into positivity, and having been too shy to sing in public, she vowed to honour her father’s legacy by deciding in her own words ‘not to waste her own voice anymore’. She recorded a few tracks herself which were eventually uploaded to Soundcloud by a friend and got some very positive feedback.

Those reactions resulted in Fearon having the confidence to release a couple of singles before embarking on recording Honky Tonk Girl. What particularly impresses me about the album is Fearon’s reluctance to go down the country crossover route – which may have been an obvious choice – instead she has selected classic country songs that are dear to her. It may be an exercise in ‘testing the waters’ prior to considering penning her own material for future recordings, but on the evidence of her vocals – and indeed the musicianship – she has passed her entrance exam with flying colours. Jessi Coulter’s Storms Never Last opens the album in fine style and classics such as Loretta Lynn’s Honky Tonk Girl, Maybelle Carter’s Juke Box Blues and a particularly impressive delivery of Gram Parson’s Luxury Liner all work. Also included are two Ashley Munroe co-writes, I’m Good At Leavin’ and If The Devil Don’t Want Me.

The album was recorded and produced by (former bass player with Van Morrison) Clive Culberston at his own No Sweat Studio in Coleraine, Co. Derry.

Fearon will, without doubt, continue her ascendancy in the music industry in Ireland or abroad. Whether her career path travels the roads of presenter or performer, or a combination of both remains to be seen. She most certainly has the vocal ability, personality and drive and if those talents crossover into song writing, watch this space. 

The Weight Band World Gone Mad Self Release

Former members of The Band, Jim Weider and Randy Ciarlante performed  at Levon Helm’s Woodstock New York Barn in 2013, joining original Band member Garth Hudson to perform "Songs of The Band." Following the success and positive feedback to that event, Weider decided to recruit others to form The Weight Band, a vehicle to continue the tradition and legacy of a group many consider to be one of the most influential forefathers of what some decades later would become known as Americana.

Five years on and after touring and performing classic Band material, Weider and his colleagues have taken a giant step forward in recording their debut album, which includes eight self-penned songs among the eleven tracks that feature on the album. Indeed, the final track is a live and rousing version of Remedy, originally recorded for The Band’s 1993 Jerico album, which was co-written by Jim Weider. The aptly titled World Gone Mad kicks the album off in fine style, Weider’s slick mandolin playing and a harmony driven chorus setting the template for what is to follow. Big Legged Sadie would sit comfortably on Levon Helm’s 2007 Dirt Farmer album. Wish You Were Here Tonight, a beautifully constructed ballad, slows things down temporarily before You’re Never Too Old (To Rock ‘N’ Roll) and Every Step Of The Way raise the tempo once more.

Joining Weider in The Weight Band to create a supergroup of sorts are a bunch of highly regarded and seasoned musicians, a number who have connections or have performed with Levon Helm, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, B.B. King and Al Green. Michael Bram plays drums and vocals, Brian Mitchell keyboards and vocals, Matt Zeiner also keyboards and vocals and Albert Rogers bass and vocals. 

As expected the album follows a similar landscape to the original Band material with shared vocals, multi instrumentation and timeless material. World Gone Mad establishes The Weight Band as much more than merely a tribute or cover band but an essential ingredient in keeping the gospel according to The Band alive and kicking

Mark Wayne Glasmire Can’t Be Denied Traceway

Pennsylvania born Glasmire had been a closet musician since the age of ten, finally plucking up the courage to perform in public by an insistent college girlfriend who encouraged him to play at a coffeehouse at Kutztown State University. Having completed college he performed semi-professionally, playing in New York by night, while working on construction sites by day.

To fulfil his ambitions as a career musician Glasmire pitched his tent in Nashville, before moving to Dallas and eventually settling in Arlington, Texas, where he currently resides. His song writing has been acknowledged with awards in The B.W. Stephenson Competition in Dallas, The Dallas Songwriters Association International Songwriting Competition and The GINA/LAWIM Songwriting Competition in Los Angeles and most notably the Grand Prize in the Country Song section of the 2010 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. 

By his own admission one of the challenges his musical career has faced from the outset has been to establish himself in a particular genre and capture the appropriate listenership. ‘When I spent time in New York, people told me I should be in Nashville. When I moved to Nashville, they told me I should be in California. Now I live in Texas!’. Pre- Americana, his style would have been described as ‘country rock’, closer in texture to The Eagles than Gram Parsons, but his writing style also brings to mind Guy Clark at times, an artist that Glasmire had the pleasure of supporting. Other notable performers that he also supported include Jesse Winchester, Gordon Lightfoot, Tracy Chapman and Dierks Bentley.

Borderline – a common song title in recent times – Those Nights and the title track Can’t Be Deniedare the pick of the crop on what is Glasmire’s seventh studio album. Released on the Traceway Records label, the twelve-track album was co-produced by Glasmire with John Albani at his Sonic Eden Studios in Nashville.


Reviews by Stephen Rapid


Pushing Chain Sorrows Always Swim Kingswood 

When you see Bill Kirchen’s name in the credits you can pretty much be assured that it’s going to be a good album. That’s the case with Pushing Chain’s debut album. They are essentially Boyd Blomberg and Adam Moe, a guitar and fiddle duo who wrote the songs for the album in a classic country style and therefore wanted to put a team together who could help them deliver that vision. They have done that and done it well. Along with Kirchen they have got Mark Hillman to produce the songs and also gathered some of Austin’s finest to help out. This team includesdrummer Rick Richards and bassist David Carroll. Guitarist Redd Volkaert joins them for an instrumental track that closes the album. Hellman also provided the keyboards and the studio (Congress House) and the means to make this the fine album it is.

This album takes the duo’s folk orientated live sound to another level giving the material an added dimension for the recorded sound. The songs fit easily into the musical themes of traditional country,relationships,love and loss. Theyare graced by some sweet melodies and some memorable riffs. The majority of the songs are written by Blomberg and include Lucky You, Lucky Him, Hearts Ache When Heart’s Break, $10 Bill Between Teardrops, Once I Loved A Woman and the title track. Moe’s contributions are Truckstop Rose and Yesterday’s Coffee. All are assured songs that make for an album that works across the board. 

Pushing Chain are yet another musical combo that proves that you don’t need to turn to Nashville and its mainstream radio outlets to hear the kind of country music that means so much to anyone of a certain age and disposition. Bloomberg and Moe are also an assured vocal team adding strong harmonies behind whichever of them takes the lead or duo vocal. This and the masterful playing to be found on Sorrows Always Swim makes it a musical experience worth diving headlong into.

Jesse DanielSelf-Titled Die True

There is a back story here that has been well documented and one that informs the heart and soul of Daniel’s country music in the way that it was intended to draw form real life. Daniels had a background in punk and that has provided the delivery here with a similar edge and honesty. He grew up in the small town of Ben Lomand, California where his musical father gave impetus to his interest in music which saw him playing drums in the punk rock scene. This lifestyle however introduced him to substance abuse that ended in a downward spiral.

Once he got himself back on his feet he needed to express himself by writing songs. He bought a pawnshop guitar and formed a band to play his songs. He soon found himself immersing himself in the hardcore country music that he loved. A particular inspiration was fellow Californian Buck Owens and his hard work ethic. His songs are a roadmap to where he’s been to andwhere he’s heading. He produced the album with Henry Chadwick as well as writing the material solo or with Jodi Lyford. He also plays lead and acoustic guitars as well as drums and percussion.

The album, his debut, is full of great songs that are testament to that hard journey. Titles like Soft Spot (For The Hard Stuff), Coming Down Again or Killing Time ’Til Time Kills Me are a part of that. Others like SR-22 Blues and California Highway are about a different journey to a degree. I had to look up the former and it appears that a SR-22 is a licence that is required for truck drivers. In the end this is a rough and ready album, one that is all the better for having that edge and energy and certainly an album that I have played and enjoyed a lot. Jesse Daniels is making music he can be justly proud of and in doing so has set himself on a new path that can only be good for everyone. 

Garrick Rawlings Self-Titled Peloponnese

There are two coverson this new album from Rawlings that are compass points to his music. The first is the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter/John Dawson songFriend Of The Devil and the second is Townes Van Zandt’s Poncho & Lefty. Between those two songs sits Rawlings own material that range between that easy 60’s feel country rock and some Texas singer/songwriter seriousness. Both versions are credible without replacing or replicating the originals in one's mind.

Another point of interest here is that the album is a co-production between Rawlings and the estimable Rick Shea. That seems very much in sync and Shea’s undoubted skills add much to the album. Recorded in Los Angeles that have brought in some seasoned players to help out, thesed included LA stalwarts Skip Edwards and Shawn Nourse,as well as a number of harmony singers including Jami Lyn Shuey as well as a couple of cello players for one track. 

Rawlings has an earthy warmth to his voice that is entirely suited to these songs. The voice, guitar and accordion version of Poncho & Lefty is stripped back and in keeping with the resigned mood of the song. Likewise, Friend Of The Devil fits right in and also soundlike a honest tribute to the Dead. Rawlings own songs are evocative tales of lost love like I Don’t Care What You Say or of the self descriptive Whiskey, Cryin’, Pain … All are graced with melody and the memorability of a new song that feels like one you are already well acquainted with. The arrangements move from acoustic to electric with ease and express the life that Rawlings has lived and the places and people he has loved.

Kate Campbell Damn Sure Blue Large River

Another songwriter who has gained a solid reputation for her work to date (17 albums and counting). Her latest album is a mix of originals and her version of some classic songs including the Louvin Brothers’ Great Atomic Power, Peter La Farge’s Ballad Of Ira Hayes, Eric Kaz’s somewhat lesser known Christ, It’s MightCold Outside and old time artist Stringbean’s (David Ackerman) version of Peace, Precious Peace. There’s also a version of Johnny Cash’s Forty Shades Of Green whichgiven that she gives tours inIrelandmakes perfect sense.

This album was produced by the renowned Will Kimbrough who brings his usual attention to detail to the music accompanied by a set of seasoned accompanistsincluding Bryan Owings, Kevin Gordon, Dave Jacques and Phil Madeira. All of which makes for a satisfying musical setting to bring thesesongs to fruition. The songs written by Campbell and her writing partners are welcome additions to her catalogue. The best includes When You Come Back Home, Change Should’ve Come By Now, Long Slow Train and the title track. These songs have a certain anger and attitude in the tradition of folk protest. This is delivered in a restrained manner, an Americana blend that requires a certain engagement that not everyone will have but one that rewards more than a casual listen.

It is often debatable how successful a cover can be for an overly familiar song but Campbell, to her credit, takes these non-original songs and bring something of herself to each that ensures they don’t become mere copies of the originals. Her voice is at its purest on Christ, It’s Might Cold Outside and evocative on the Cash composition. This may not bring a lot of new fans to Campbell’s music but will surely please those who have encountered her music in the past and will again in the future on the strength of this album.

Kat Danser Goin’ Gone Black Hen

A solid mix of blues and rockin’ roots music is at the heart of her fifth album. There’s also a touch of rockabilly here that makesfor an overall outing that convinces. Her producer Steve Dawson is back at the helm and pays guitar and pedal steel. Bass is provided by Jeremy Holmes and Gary Craig is the drummer. Add to that Jim Hoke on some telling harmonica and saxophone and Matt Combs on fiddle,adding somediversity to the mix,that broadens itsblues base out to something more Americana. These are solid and sustained performances all round with Danser’s expressive voice front and centre.

Dancer is also the writer of the majority of the songs and they sit easily alongside the covers of classic blues songs. Both, Chevrolet Car (Sam McGee) and Train I Ride (Mississippi Fred McDowell), relating to travel and traveling on and given solid workouts, especially the six-minute take on the latter with its atmospheric blend of sax and guitar. The playing throughout is pleasure and reminds of the close relationship that the blues has to most other elements of roots music.

The swampy feel is present on a number of the tracks though Danser can deliver a more stripped-down setting as she does on the evocative and enlightening My Town which is recollection of growing up and growing away. The album finishes on the appropriately titled Time For Me To Go. It ends anaccomplished album from Danseur and the ever-present Steve Dawson who seems to be involved with a great many roots production projects emerging from Canada,as well as being an artist in his own right. It is easy to see why he wanted to continue his association with an artist of Danser’s talent. The blues may not be for every listener but when it is as engaging and varied as this,it should at least garner some attention across the board.

Edward Davis Anderson Chasing Butterflies Black Dirt

A singer/songwriter who fits alongside his contemporaries with a loose Americana sound and set of sonic conversations. These are songs of observation and Southern orientation. Anderson recorded the album with producer Jimmy Nutt and a crew of local session players in the producer’s studio in Sheffield, Alabama. This gives the album a Southern soulful feel that is relaxed and resolutely in tune with its location both in terms of sound and story.

The album opens with Harmony and noting that all things are better in that state. Whereas The Ballad Of Lemuel Penn tells the true story of Penn,a school superintendent and decorated war veteran,who was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. This sad story of extreme prejudice is given a sombre reading that underscores the essential evil of the story. By way of contrast, The Best Part, is a love song. Crosses is a vivid description of how a life can end up as being defined “by a cross at the side of the road.” Dog Days observes the way a canine companion dreams of chasing rabbits oblivious to the more human problems that happen around him. Anderson’s songs look at the human condition and the humanity that he observes in various situations, largely from the perspective of a Southern mindset.

He has a vision and voice that encompasses anumber of musical options that all pull together to create a solid sound that works throughout the album. One that provokes some thoughtfulness in the diversity of the subject matter but retains a cohesive view that is Anderson’s. Chasing Butterflies is an easy album to like despite Anderson confronting his demons as described in the title track. “I cleaned up my act, I quit drinking and shooting smack” point to a more worthwhile life that in the telling of these tales can point you towardsa better future and some good music along the way.


Reviews by Paul McGee

Chris Thomas Bound To The Ocean Self Release

Debut release from a singer songwriter who lives in Devon, England. There is a very airy, California feel to these songs and the production by Barney Dine at Ocean Studios, UK is very bright and filled with catchy arrangements and melody lines. The musicians are excellent although the liner notes don’t seem to credit everyone who played on the project. I hear a banjo in the mix with no credits and the backing vocals, credited to Alex Hart seem too expansive for just a single voice. I guess that the programming of Barney Dine counts for a lot of the overall feel to the songs.

There is a Jack Johnston groove to both the opening and closing tracks, Whenever I Sing Georgia and Wake Up Smiling. The light Blues shuffle of Heart Is Broke, with a cool piano break (Martin Poole) and twin guitar line, is reminiscent of JJ Cale. The song arrangements and performance display a sense of effortless technique which is testament to just how enjoyable the listening experience is. 

There are a number of songs that celebrate the bond that love brings and Turning Stones, So Long, Travelling Away and If Not You, bear testament that love conquers all. There is a song for his daughter, Gwendolyn Rose and another that is an ode to a fisherman, Back Before The Storm. All told, a very pleasant release with some fine playing to brighten up your day.

Arkansas Dave Self Titled Self Release

This debut from Arkansas Dave is certainly not lacking in either confidence or talent. Coming out of the traps like a full-on rock experience, Bad At Being Good is an assault on the senses with full band attack and a horn section that really put the boot in. The second song, On My Way, is a tour de force of big brass blues and lays down a marker for the rest of the project.

Jamie Evans co-produces with Arkansas Dave and his versatility as a producer, writer, session player, multi-instrumentalist and musical director is very evident. Couple this with the talents of Arkansas Dave, also a multi-instrumentalist and you get an idea of the direction here. The presence of the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, the Swampers, adds great magic and muscle to the song arrangements. There have been a few different members over the years, but the quality of the Swampers never fades and having the talent of Will McFarlane on guitars, Clayton Ivey on keyboards and Bob Wray on bass, coupled with the superb horn arrangements of Jim Horn and Charles Rose, leads to the inevitable conclusion that employing real class always brings its own reward. The backing tracks were all recorded at Fame Studios and Arkansas Dave completed the vocals at Arlyn Studios in Austin, Texas.

Bad Water has a compelling groove and Chocolate Jesus channels a swampy laid-back, slow jazz groove, reminiscent of heady New Orleans bar room nights. The Wheel and Rest Of My Days shake things up a bit with a change of direction into more 60’s Rock based arrangements, that border on dreamy loose playing and subtle soul styling. Jubilee is a slow burn with Hammond B3 to the fore and great sweeping choral melody. It all makes for a dramatic listen, thirteen tracks to enjoy and not a dud among them.

Dan Israel You’re Free Self Release

This artist has been releasing albums since the 1990’s and he brings a sound that falls largely into the area of Roots-Rock. He states that formative influences included Bob Dylan and Tom Petty but there is little evidence of either across the eleven tracks here. 

The violin playing of Jillian Rae on Back To You and Make This Life Mine is a counterpoint to the guitar driven production and adds a different colour to what would be standard commercial radio friendly songs. The opening tracks, Gets You Through It and You’re Free, are good examples of this and the bright and breezy production is reminiscent of The Cars. With a big sound on most of the tunes, it is good that a few numbers such as Stay On The Run and the instrumental closer, Porch Storm, also leave breathing space for some contemplation. Feeling Better and If I Didn’t Have You are more personal songs and the liner notes speak of some challenges and issues faced, plus the fact that Israel has given up a day job after 21 years of juggling career with his urge to be a full-time musician.

Production is by Dan Israel, together with Rich Mattson and David J Russ; both of whom play in the studio band. This trio perform with a number of instruments; Dan Israel (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lead vocals), David J. Russ (drums, bass, piano, lap steel, keyboards, cello, percussion, backing vocals) and Rich Mattson (electric guitar, guitar solos, bass, piano). They are joined by quite a supporting line-up that includes Jillian Rae (violin), Paul Odegaard (trumpet) Dave Hill (drums), Randy Casey (slide guitar and baritone guitar), Mike Lane (bass), James Tyler O'Neill (keyboards, Fender Rhodes), Peter J. Sands (Hammond organ), Katie Gearty & Jenny Russ (backing vocals).  

Steve Hill The One Man Blues Rock Band No Label

Steve Hill certainly lives up to the title of this new release with an impressive concert performance. This one-man band plays Blues Rock with complete conviction on guitar, harmonica, drums, percussion and vocals. There are 14 tracks, taken mainly from his Solo Recordings volume 1, 2 & 3. Just to prove that he is not all studio techniques and overdubs, Steve Hill shows that he can do it all in the naked light of a live performance.

Juggling these various instruments in a feat of impressive dexterity, his performance is something to behold. He never drops a beat, whether embarking on a serious guitar solo, a bluesy harmonica riff or jumping between bass drum, snare drum, hi-hats or tambourine. There are out n’ out Blues Rock workouts (Rhythm All Over, Still Got It Bad, Dangerous) and slow burn tracks (Tough Luck, Out Of Phase, Nothing New). Hardly room for rest as we push on through with the next track. The stand out is a powerhouse delivery of musical technique on The Ballad Of Johnny Wabo and the set also includes a stirring cover of Voodoo Child. 

Steve Future 7 Cities Blue Future

Steve Future has been active since the early 1980’s and is based in Sweden. He delivers a Blues Rock sound and some previous albums, Four Cities, It Takes Time and The Nine Others, are combined here on an 18-track release. 

Recording took place at various locations; Abbey Road, London/Nashville/Stockholm/New Orleans/Berlin and the penthouse of Alicia Keys in New York, among them. The time period spans 2014 to 2018 and as a result, the results are a varied bag across so many locations and years. 

It doesn’t always work but there are some nice gems to be unearthed, like the acoustic groove of Black Water and the electric attack of Rat Poison, with fine harmonica parts by Steve and tasty organ by John Austin. There are any number of musicians across the tracks here but the overall guidance and direction of Steve Future is ever-present. The vocals can be a bit of an acquired taste but the closer, Blue Volvo (Berlin) rocks like a - well, fast car… as it drives the project towards the edge of a cliff…!

Jim Lauderdale Time Flies Yep Roc 

Shapeshifter…The chameleon of Country music is at it again. The hat on the cover artwork is somewhat appropriate, given the number of times this superbly talented artist has donned different hats and as many musical genres, when exploring influences from different strands of his colourful career. 

There are in the region of 30 releases from Jim Lauderdale that cover solo and collaborative work; with all kinds of country, from old time to bluegrass and honky-tonk to ballads. The interesting thing is that nobody has taken the opportunity to put together a greatest track compilation – now there would be a sure-fire winner and a great project to get involved with…

On this new release the songs visit a number of his favourite sources with the country blues of When I Held The Cards In My Hand, to the rockabilly of Wearing Out Your Cool, and the old time swing of Wild On Me Fast, to the honky tonk of Where The Cars Go By So Fast.

The title track finds a more reflective mood and If The World’s Still Here Tomorrow follows a similar vein. The fiddle playing of Lillie Mae Rische is featured on only one track, Where The Cars Go By So Fast, which is something of a shame and she provides stellar backing vocals throughout, along with husband Frank Rische. While You’re Hoping has a light jazz groove whereas Slow As Molasses could be a contender for inclusion on the soundtrack of a future Disney movie.

As always, the studio musicians are top drawer with some great players such as Kenny Vaughan, Chris Scruggs, Jay Weaver, Craig Smith, and Tommy Hannum, to name but a few… Of the eleven tracks, three are co-writes and the production by Lauderdale & Jay Weaver is very engaging; shining with a clear sound and lots of space between the playing.

The entire project is proof of just what a fine singer Jim Lauderdale is and this is his strongest release in a number of years. The benefits from an attractive package design, courtesy of Stephen Averill, with fine photo images by Ronnie Norton and Scott Simmontachi cannot be underestimated and add to the overall impressive look of this project. A real keeper. The man has reignited his mojo.

Justin Saladino Band Bros Self Release

This young musician releases his debut album and it is quite an impressive statement. Based in Montreal, Justin Saladino displays a maturity in both his playing technique and song-writing, with all songs written by him, including one co-write. Leading from the front on guitars and vocals this musician certainly knows his way around a melody and a well-placed solo.

The production on this project is courtesy of Connor Seidel and the studio band is comprised of Gabriel Forget on bass, A.J. Aboud on drums, Felix Blackburn on guitar, Remi Comier on trumpet & flugelhorn, David Osei-Afrifa on keyboards, Beatrice Keeler on vocals and Seidel on percussion.

The sound is a mix of soulful blues on tracks like A Fool I’ll Stay, Peace With You and All You Ever Need, and a roots sound on folk based songs like Third Week Of June, Mama Said and Put The Hammer Down. The funky groove of Honey and Only You are very easy on the ear and I can see them fitting perfectly into the style of song that Bonnie Raitt selects for her records. Recommended.