Thursday
May032018

Reviews by Paul McGee

 

 

Mare Wakefield & Nomad Time To Fly Maresie

This husband and wife duo met at Berklee College of Music in 2004. These days they are based in Nashville and multi-instrumentalist Nomad Ovunc produced and engineered this collection of 12 songs for their second release as a duo. Mare (Mary) Wakefield has been releasing solo records since 1997, with a total of 5 albums to her name. She plays acoustic guitar and sings with great clarity and conviction across these self-penned songs and very impressive they are too. 

Nomad contributes on piano and accordion plus melodica, percussion and backing vocals. The superb Will Kimbrough plays electric guitar and is joined by Brian Allen on upright and electric bass and Wes Little plays drums. They contribute in no small sense to what is a very accomplished collection. Special guests include Greg Foresman (electric guitar), Eamon McLoughin (fiddle), Bobby Holland (backing vocals) and Mike Waldron (guitar). 

The songs touch on a number of current topics as Land Of The Free demonstrates; a biting condemnation of bigotry in modern America and the lie of it being the land of the free. Lyrically this lady really nails it. The songs Breathe and Falling deal with lessons learned from heartbreak and failed relationships, while the title track looks at losing a loved one and the growth that can arise from bereavement.

Real Big Love is a playful opener with an up-tempo beat and a celebration of being alive in a World of free will and endless choice. Henry is a similar giddy, tongue-in-cheek, look at a flirtatious restaurant employee and a customer she fancies… The Day We Buried Mama is a real hoot with the sub-title (& Cousin Bobby Joe Got Wed). Old country jive and great playing by Nomad on piano.

Bernice & Bernadette is a song of unrequited love at a time when such liaisons were forbidden to dwell upon, much less put into action. It is both poignant and beautifully observed.

These are folk songs in the best tradition and the talents of Nomad blend perfectly with the warm vocals and song-writing talents of Mare in creating a highly recommended release. 

I’m Kingfisher Transit Fading Trails

This is the creation of Thomas Jonsson who writes all eleven songs here and adds guitars and vocals to the project. He is joined by a coterie of musicians who support the melodies on a variety of instruments. Jonsson has been releasing music since 2003 and this represents his third album as musical alias, I’m Kingfisher. Produced by Carl Edlom, who also contributes on guitars, bass, piano, synthesizers, percussion, field recordings and vocals, the stripped-down sound of these acoustic driven songs is a soft seduction that eases itself up to you and settles down for the evening by the fire. There is a hypnotic quality to the strumming and voice which lulls the listener in and gently seduces. Think Nick Drake meets Jeff Buckley if you want a sign-post along the way.

Luck Underwhelms Me is a powerful arrangement with subtle string accompaniment and Sarajevo is a song that checks Vedran Smailović, known as the "Cellist of Sarajevo".  Can’t Wait For The Future is a song of hope and for growing through new experience. Silent Spring shows off some fine guitar work but the subject matter of the song escapes me.

Although no lyric sheet came with this music and the actual words are hard to follow, it does not seem to matter, as the whole stream-of-consciousness vibe on the project allows the arrangements and voice to meld together. Despite the fact that song titles like Superman In A Wake and Topography Of Gabon don’t lend themselves to easy explanation and the abstract art work of the CD cover is in no way representative of the music contained within; I find myself increasingly impressed on repeated listening with this entire project. You will not be disappointed upon purchase.

The Equitorial Group Apricity Self Release.

This band hail from Eastbourne, England and are comprised of Teresa Fox (keys and vocals), Andy Tourle (bass and vocals), Dave Davies (guitar and vocals), Mike Tourle (drums) and Helen Weeks (vocals and pedal steel/guitar). They issued a compilation last year of previous songs, plus a few new titles, three of which appear on this new album. Apart from a Live at Summer Trifle Festival release, again in 2017, I know little about the band as there is no information with the CD that arrived for review – quite frustrating and not helpful.

The title of the album refers to the warmth of the sun in winter and their sound is akin to a gentle stroll in the early morning with the minimal strum of guitar and simple drum brushes delivered on the first two songs, Lights Shine and Juggernauts, setting the mood for the rest of the album. Surrogate Funeral dials everything up a notch with a good beat and rhythm that allows the musicians to stretch out a little and the noir feel of Burning is interesting. Electric Night and Motorbikes build into extended guitar explorations and the arrangements overall hint at mood scapes that carry a wistful sense of surrender. Farewell My Lovely and Those Dudes are a slice of Americana that points to wider influences and this is Folk-Rock with fine playing and confident vocal delivery. A release that bodes well for the future.

Paul Thorn Don’t Let The Devil Ride Perpetual Obscurity

This is a collection of Gospel/Soul/Blues songs, mainly plucked from obscurity and originally recorded by black southern gospel groups. There is also a cover of Love Train, the classic O’Jays hit and Paul Thorn has really delivered a collection of 14 tracks that impress on all levels. A veteran of the Roots-Rock circuit with a dozen releases to his name, Thorn is a well-respected artist who was born and raised in Mississippi and the son of a preacher. The influences of his childhood in Church revivals are clearly evident here and he honours the old traditions with real spirit and plenty of loving attention to detail.  

Featuring guest artists such as the Blind Boys of Alabama, The McCrary Sisters, the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns and Bonnie Bishop, the themes of redemption, reflection and resilience in the face of troubled times are highlighted in songs like Keep Holdin’ On; One More River; You Got To Move; Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed and Soon I Will Be Done. The title track, Something On My Mind and What Should I Do all have a slow blues groove and the co-production of Billy Maddox and Colin Linden is a joy throughout. Little Feat meets BB King and the result is pure gold.  A must have purchase. 

Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints Texas, etc… Dolly Rocker

Jeb Barry has three previous releases and his reputation as an artist in the Americana space is well earned. His Pawn Shop Saints are Michael O’Neill (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Chris Sampson (bass) with Josh Pisano (drums) and they support the songs with easy restraint and understated skill. Jeb takes lead vocal and plays guitar, banjo, harmonica, mandolin, bass and dobro. If you enjoy Steve Earle then this music will please you greatly.

This is a double CD with 19 tracks in total and the band are joined by Dan Tremblay (acoustic guitar), Ray Gargan (fiddle), Bernadette McMahon (ukulele), Heather Austin (lead/backing vocals) and Thomas Corrigan (vocals) to add some extra weight to the recording process. Disc One (The Sainted) is with the band, while Disc Two (The Saintless) is more sparse, stripped-down and solo. 

His songs address issues of the heart with the conundrum of love and the lack of it. Songs like You Don’t Ever Miss Me, The Girl Never Loved Me, Galveston 92, Evidence, A Little Mercy and Everybody Knows leave no doubt that finding love and then keeping it nurtured are the most difficult challenges that this songwriter grapples with. Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time is a more light-hearted look at relationships and is a duet with Heather Austin. Refugees is a fine song and looks at the difficulties in modern America where bigotry runs rife; the message of ‘aren’t we all refugees?’ is well delivered and a timely reminder of the original aspirations upon which the USA was founded.

Robert Lane Only A Flight Away Self Release

This is the third release from Robert Lane, a singer songwriter based in Birmingham. He has played mainly in a solo capacity in building a career that has seen him tour extensively throughout England and Germany. With upcoming tours in both Holland and Scandinavia, his momentum is building and his playing skills are very strong.

Lane has a clear vocal style and plays guitars, bass and piano on this album. He is joined by Matthew Pinfield on drums, bass and piano and Lucy Phillips on violin. The production, by Matthew Pinfield, goes for a much bigger panorama and a range of styles beyond his contemporary Folk leanings. 

The instrumental opener, The Hundred House, is impressive with emotive guitar lines and a swell of keyboards and programmed backing voices. The following track, Man Of The Moment, a swipe at Donald Trump, has a very Rock driven guitar sound that reminds me of Wishbone Ash in the arrangement. There are songs that lean towards radio aspirations with the arrangement on Right By My Side channelling a Beatles/ELO string section.

The acoustic blues of Baby Knows is a song that highlights the great fretwork of Lane and on The Instigator, a finely melodic dissection of a one-sided relationship, his acoustic guitar shines brightly again. These simple Folk arrangements work best.

The message of Far Too Busy is one of frustration at the loneliness in the world and the marginalised in society; prostitution, old age and child abuse are addressed in a plea to slow down and recognise the quiet desperation in the faces of those around us every day. Take As Long As You Need is a message of support for a close friend who is going through a grieving process and is a well thought out song. The final track, Who Do You Think You’re Talking For, with just solo acoustic guitar, speaks to a friend about toning down a brash ego and taking stock. 

The artwork on the album is somewhat odd and unrepresentative of the music. A more fitting image might have been to represent the song that inspired the CD title and Bill Frost’s Flying Machine, a Welsh legend about the first man to attempt to fly, is an excellent tune.

All songs are written by Lane, apart from three co-writes with musician/producer Matthew Pinfield. An interesting release that enhances a growing reputation as Robert Lane continues to hone his signature sound.

Friday
Apr202018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Western Centuries Songs From The Deluge Free Dirt

If it ain’t broken don’t fix it. Western Centuries template for their debut release Weight Of The World (2016) was simple -  strong songs, killer vocals, sweet harmonies and stellar playing. Anyone fortunate to catch their live shows while touring that album last year would testify to their ability to tick all these boxes and more. Together with featuring much of the material from that album they also included what seemed to be an endless supply of new material, weaving effortlessly between classic, cajun and honky tonk country. Much of that material has ended up on Songs From The Deluge, songs that were written, tested and honed on their gruelling touring schedule in 2017. 

Loosely described as a supergroup, Western Centuries are made up of three accomplished writers and musicians in Ethan Lawton, Cahalen Morrison and Jim Miller. Leo Grasalon on pedal steel and upright bass player Nokosee Fields complete the line-up. In true democratic fashion each of the writers contribute four songs each on the album, taking lead vocals on their own compositions. Three songwriters on an album can be one (or two) too many but Western Centuries – as was the case with their debut album – manage to impressively achieve a consistent flow from start to finish by all sticking to their core value of producing pure country music and avoiding any crossover into pop or modern country.

 Jim Miller, who could be described as the father figure in the band, cut his early career teeth with Donna The Buffalo, who were Jim Lauderdale’s backing band for a spell. Ethan Lawton was formerly a member of Zoe Muth’s band The Lost High Rollers and Cahalen Morrison was previously a member of the duo Eli West. Between them they conjure up George Jones style ballads (Rocks And Flame, Wild Birds), Maverick’s quality Tex-Mex (Far From Home, Warm Guns), no nonsense honky tonk (My Own Private Honky Tonk, soulful blues (Three Swallows) and even find room to let there hair down with the full on rocker Time Does The Rest

Self-produced by the band in Eunice Louisiana with the assistance of Cajun musician and producer Joel Savoy, Songs From The Deluge is a joy to behold, probably best described simply as a fun album from start to finish.

Eva Hillered New Me Hill Songs

Swedish singer songwriter, music therapist, vocal teacher and authoress Eva Hillered has been recording since 1988, when she was nominated for a Grammy as Newcomer of The Year. Since then she has recorded nine albums, the latest titled New Me. The album is made up of both self and co-writes over the ten tracks, with Hillered performing vocals and guitar and multi-instrumentalist Peter Sund contributing guitar, mandolin, drums, rhodes and percussion. Sund also co-produced the album with Hillered.

Highly regarded in her native Sweden, Hillered’s musical style ticks both the folk and country boxes with an easy listening charm, characterised best here on the title track and Rosanne Cash sounding Swede Hollow. The Curtain and Sing Him Back – the latter a co-write with Nels Andrews - are uncluttered and dreamlike with Hillered’s impressive vocals perfectly paced.  Equally arresting is The Hunt, a haunting tune brought to life by well-placed backing vocals and slick guitar playing by Sund.

Nowhere Brothers Down Life Boulevard Self Release 

Lo-fi Americana Italian style from Nowhere Brothers duo Nick Ventolini (vocals, harmonica and penny whistle) and Roberto Fiorelli (vocals, guitars, piano and stomp box). Self-produced and recorded over two days at the Pyramix Studio in Phoenix Arizona, Down Life Boulevard is atmospheric, delicate, spacious and captures the recent nomadic lifestyles of the duo, with much of the album featuring only acoustic guitar and harmonica. On first listen the music creates an impression of demos rather than completed songs, to be fleshed out at another time by the addition of electric guitar, bass and drums. However, on further plays it reveals itself to be an impressive finished article with the sparseness and stripped back instrumentation contributing to the mood of the album.

Standout of the ten tracks are the grief-stricken sense of loss on Soul Mirror and Dust Walker which conjures up images of isolation and dark starry desert skies.

Beautifully packaged with lyrics in both English and Italian, Down Life Boulevard is an impressive late night listen for fans of Bill Callahan and Peter Oren. 

Dugger Band East Tennessee Son Self Release

Brothers Jordan and Seth Dugger began their musical careers singing at their parent’s church in Greenville Tennessee. East Tennessee Son is their debut mini album, offering six tracks that flirt with Southern rock, country and mainstream pop. They possess, without doubt, the capability to create music that is tailor made for what features currently on Country Radio with tracks like For The Girl and One Track Mind particularly market friendly.

Unapologetically Christian, they have created a programme titled A Dream Worth Chasing, a series of schoolhouse concerts to introduce and motivate young children through music. They have performed at numerous High Schools over the past twelve months as part of this venture. 

Opener Warning Label, the strongest track on the album, recalls a rocked up Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth. However, it’s unreflective of what follows which tends to stick to less adventurous material. What can’t be denied is the standard of musicianship across all the tracks and the brother’s vocal expertise. An album that could undoubtedly make an impact in the mainstream crossover country market given the exposure.

Orphan Colours All On Red At The Helm

Ex- members of London band Ahab, Steve Llewellyn, Dave Burn and Graham Knight teamed up with former Noah and The Whale guitarist Fred Abbott and Danny and The Champions Of The World drummer Steve Brooks to form Orphan Colours in 2015. All On Red is their debut album following the release of their EP High Hopes in 2016. The album title suggests a make or break gamble and may possibly be reflective of the ambition of the band to achieve the industry breakthrough that failed both Ahab and Noah & The Whale, somewhat surprisingly given both bands had huge potential.

Start of Something opens the album in style, a big sound a la Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes with slick riffs, big power chords and ripping sax solos. Goodnight California follows a similar path, bursting out of the speakers with an insanely catchy chorus that impacts on first spin. Equally addictive is Renegade kicking off with thumping drums joined by more power riffs.  Not that it’s all blood and thunder, closing track Rambling Rose together with Sarah and Loving Lately both display Llewellyn’s – who wrote all the material on the album - capacity to also pen dreamy radio friendly ballads.

In a market that often demands classification it’s not easy to place Orphan Colours in a particular genre. A few decades ago their sound would simply be described as rock. What is beyond doubt is that with their arena suited anthems they possess the ammunition and the oomph in their arsenal to turn a lot of heads if the roulette wheel is kind to them. 

Tupelo The Heart’s Bloodline Crashed

Alt-folk combo Tupelo’s music has straddled traditional, folk and country since their formation in 2008. Not surprising given their individual musical backgrounds and pedigrees. Voted best folk group in 2013 by Hot Press Magazine The Heart’s Bloodline is their latest offering which finds them continuing to stray further from their trad origins into left wing alt-folk, a genre which continues to grow in popularity.

Hugely celebrated overseas, the band have toured Holland, Belgium, France, Russia, Norway together with performances at Irish Music Festivals in the States. For their third album duo James Cramer (vocals, guitars, mandolin, percussion, banjo) and Kevin Duffy (fiddle, vocals) are joined by Brian Connor on keys, Jerry Fehily on drums, Robbie Malone on bass and Bill Shanley on guitars. Offering ten tracks, all written by Cramer, the album was recorded at Cauldren Studios in Dublin and mastered by David Montuy (The High Kings, Celtic Woman) at Blackbird Studious in Nashville.

Standout tracks include opener Break Loose, released as a single late last year, Nursery Rhyme , with echoes of The Waterboys, Queen of the Vale, which is enriched by delightful harmonies and backing vocals courtesy of Julia Hale and the Van the Man sounding Just Leave It.

Tupelo have earned a reputation as one of the finest live Irish bands peddling the alt-folk brand and a few listens in to The Heart’s Bloodline suggests that they are equally adept in a recording studio.

Sunday
Apr152018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Birds Of Chicago Love In Wartime Signature Sounds

Husband and Wife duo, JT Nero and Alison Russell return with a follow up release to their 2016 Real Midnight album. If that was defined by a reflective, understated direction then this new set of eleven songs walks more along a line between up tempo numbers and gentle, poignant arrangements. 

Starting out with the soulful hum of Alison over a simple accompaniment of banjo, piano and a hint of electric guitar, the reflective mood is quickly broken by the track, Never Look Back, which jumps out at you with a positive energy and a message to leave the past behind with no time to lose. 

This is followed by the title track which is a beautiful melody and message of taking care of each other first. Love always endures in the world of these Birds and why not indeed. Travellers then follows with another up tempo arrangement and the calypso beat of being nomads in this world of constant schedules to meet and busy lives to serve. 

Try is a sweet soulful song that hints at a very personal situation with the illness of a loved one at the heart of it. There are some passionate vocal lines from Alison and JT sings "I don’t see your body broken, I still see the fire there in your eyes."

And so, the listening experience continues, light juxtaposed with shade as the mood swings back and forth. 

The studio musicians are uniformly excellent and the production by JT and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) is superbly balanced and open, which allows plenty of room for the players to express themselves. They have tried to capture the excellent live performance of the Birds in as much as a studio setting will allow. The entire album was recorded in just a few days and the immediacy of the overall sound gives the impression that much of it was recorded in just a few takes. Spontaneity taken to the next level as the ensemble compliment each other in serving the songs. 

Lodestar is another example of a sweet groove and a message of forgiveness and healing; "You are not what you’ve lost, what remains should not bear the cost." Roll Away and Baton Rouge (impacted by the 2016 Louisiana floods), are both gospel tinged, soulful messages of being alive in the world and moving forward. Roisin Starchild is a look back to school days by Alison and a close friend who had her back while growing up. It hints at a darker underlying message and the escape of Roisin at the age of only 12 in the search for ‘a kinder place’... It left me really wanting to know what ever became of her…

Superlover and Derecho end the project with messages of hope and concern for the gathering storms that will have to be endured in our quest for community, empathy and understanding.

The vocal harmonies are tight and give a strong sense of just how good this band are in a live setting. There are some lovely moments by Drew Lindsay on piano and keys, together with Joel Schwartz on lead guitars. The rhythm section of Nick Chambers on drums and Chris Merrill on bass anchor everything with strong playing, both understated and vibrant as required; while Dan Abu Absi adds rhythm electric and acoustic guitar with Javier Saume-Mazzei on percussion and Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor providing harmony vocals on four tracks. 

Always interesting and revealing itself more on repeated listens. My album of the year so far and an essential purchase.

Backtrack Blues Band Make My Home In Florida Harpo

This band reside in Tampa Bay, Florida and formed back in 1980. They are one of Florida’s longest running blues acts and have released five studio albums plus a live CD/DVD package to date.

This new release is another live cd/dvd package of a gig in St Petersburg, Florida recorded in January 2017. It all clocks in around 50 minutes of stellar Blues work-outs, including covers of songs by Sonny Boy Williamson II (Your Funeral And My Trial, Checkin’ On My Baby), B.B. King (Woke Up This Morning) and T-Bone Walker (T-Bone Shuffle).

Kid Royal is a really gifted guitar player and his passionate solos are a highlight of this project, elevating the tracks and adding some magic sparkle to the excellent Little Johnny Walter on rhythm guitar, Joe Bencomo on drums, and Stick Davis on bass. The harmonica playing of lead vocalist Sonny Charles is also a real treat across all nine tracks included here.

Make My Home In Florida is a track where all these elements come together in a real tour de force of playing and the production by George Harris is crystal clear and very bright in the speakers. Essential for all lovers of the blues.

Ashley Campbell The Lonely One Hump Head

This debut solo release from the daughter of Glen Campbell comes within a year of his passing and Ashley is embarking on a career that has seen her learn the ropes as an integral part of her father’s touring band during 2011 and 2012. She played banjo and guitar, wrote a fine song Remembering, while the documentary I’ll Be Me, about Glen Campbell’s farewell tour and battle with Alzheimer’s was very well received upon release to the public.

This album is released on her own label, Whistle Stop Records and produced by both Ashley and Cal Campbell. The thirteen tracks are co-written by Ashley and Cal, who appears throughout on various instruments; as does Shannon Campbell, on selected songs, playing electric guitar. There are strings on quite a number of songs and the title track has a bossa nova swing that has radio hit written all over it. The use of synths and programming on a number of tracks adds a sheen to the sound and the horns on We Can’t Be Friends is another departure into the arena of Country Pop. 

Ashley is an undoubted talent and her skills as a musician cannot be faulted – the instrumental, Carl & Ashley’s Breakdown, highlight her superb banjo playing. This release is a strong statement of intent with plenty of catchy melodies (How Do You Know, Good For You) and tales of broken hearts and living life to the full. It has a number of hits in the grooves (A New Year, Looks Like Time, Better Boyfriend) and I wish her well in her future career that will, no doubt, go from strength to strength.

Lelle Dahlberg These Words Are True Self Release

A native of Bureå, Sweden this singer-songwriter releases his debut album after many years of writing and recording with other artists and bands. All music and lyrics are written by Lennart Dahlberg and he sings in a voice that has a well of experience and a lived-in quality to draw from. The production is uncluttered, from the blues of Come Back Home to the laid-back groove of There’s Only You, that has the fine vocals of Pearl adding to the melody.

Tonight’s The Night and Play That Old Melody have a real honky-tonk swing and the fiddle and piano playing on I Should Have Loved You are very catchy. The swing of Till We Meet Again with pedal steel to the fore and Can’t Stand Losin’ You with its’ slow twang and bittersweet piano are also good songs. A very pleasant listen across all 12 tracks.

Andrew Sheppard Steady Your Aim Self Release

Singer-songwriter Andrew Sheppard is from Idaho this is his second album, following on from Far From Here which was released in 2015. Production is by Sheppard and Eric Loomis, plus Wes Walsworth; both of whom play guitar on the record which was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. 

The other musicians on the album are Nick Archibald on bass and piano; Joe Giotta on drums; David Henry on cello and backing vocals; Smith Curry on pedal steel and lap steel; Chris Tuttle on organ and Wurlitzer; Sarah Elanton and Catherine Anderson on harmony vocals.

The title track is very radio-friendly and Travel Light and Carry On is a slice of country tinged desert music that reminds me of the great western landscapes. Standin’ Tall compares different attitudes to life, from the bum who lives off the system to the quiet heroes who make the best of the cards that are dealt them. Lies As Cheap As Whiskey is another tale of life on the outside and Not My Kind is a look at people who think that living is all about brash, loud and proud behaviour. Further Away ends proceedings with a song to a deceased friend who is a guiding inspiration that endures. Good country roots songs, well performed and a name to watch out for in the years ahead.

Kris Delmhorst The Wild Blueblade

In a career that has seen her release eight studio albums, a few collaborations with Red Bird (husband Jeffrey Foucault & Peter Mulvey) and a couple of live outings, Kris Delmhorst has arrived at an interesting crossroads in what has been a varied path taken.  Her Folk beginnings have been replaced by a sophisticated soundscape of wistful moments, notes in a diary and a souvenir of a life lived in contemplation of the self.

There is a longing and a search for something undefined and unseen in these songs. The playing is sparse and understated with sensitive arrangements and melodies serving the songs so well. Kris plays cello, guitar, organ, piano, Wurlitzer and Jeffrey Foucault adds lovely touches on a variety of guitars, ukulele, and piano. They are joined by Jeremy Moses Curtis on upright and electric bass, Billy Conway on drums and Alex McCullough on pedal steel guitar.

This is her first release in four years and the solitude and realisation of a love that is treasured on the opening, All The Way Around, sets the template for what is a work of real depth and maturity.

The title track is like a meditation on love and nature. Rules To Games dissects a relationship and all the petty squabbles that keep people apart in the daily grind. Magnolia speaks of casting off the old in favour for a new attitude and beginning to look forward with optimism. Kris sings so sweetly and with a soft tone that reminds me sometimes of Norah Jones in these hushed moments of contemplation and reflection. At other times there is a hint of Natalie Merchant in the delivery (Colour Of The Sky) but it is always the unique warmth of Kris and her delivery that shines through.

Production is by Kris and Jeffrey, all songs are written by Kris and her gentle muse has never been more keenly defined. Foolish Blood and Lonely West are relationship musings and the feelings that arise from the realisation that love burns within and without. Hollow deals with the heaviness of a relationship, "Cause music comes from emptiness, When the air is moving through it."

The final song, The Light In The Hall, is a wish to have all our insecurities fall away in the quiet of night when trusting yourself to the vagaries of this mortal coil. A superb record that is everything one would expect from a talent that keeps growing and blossoming.

 

 

 

Friday
Apr062018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Leslie Tom Ain’t It Something, Hank Williams Coastal Bend

Perhaps using the life and songs of Hank Williams as a roadmap may seem like an odd direction to follow given how that turned out for him. However, here, Texas born singer Leslie Tom has taken the spirit of Williams’ template of love, heartbreak and loss as the heartbeat of her latest release, a 10 track tribute to Hank that combines 6 original songs with covers of William's originals - Hey Good Lookin’, Honky Tonkin’, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and the somewhat lesser known Angel Of Death. All are delivered with a passion that makes them worthy of attention despite the fact that they have been, in the main, recorded many times before. Part of that is due to the skill of Tom’s assembled band and John Macy’s production. Both are respectful while also rejuvenating the songs and sound in a style that is fluent and fresh. Those who like to read credits and have done so through the years will recognise the names of steel guitarist Lloyd Green and guitarist Chris Leuzinger among the talented players involved (who also included Andy Hall on dobro - for Angel Of Death - from the Infamous Stringdusters). The album was recorded in Nashville’s Cinderella Sound Studios but is a far cry of from much that emerges from via the studios of Music City these days.

The original songs are both lyrically clever and emotionally concise and incorporate some of Williams’ spirit and synergy, but do so from a defiantly female perspective. Still Love You (Audrey’s Song) is written from the perspective of Hank’s wife and their troubled relationship that was still imbued with an underlying love for each other. Born Too Late offers the “if only” theory that he was born too late and she was born too soon. Mr Williams is a precis of his life and relationship with Audrey that uses some of Hank’s lyrics intertwined with Tom’s own incisive writing. The final track Hank You Very Much (listed as a “bonus track” as it appeared on a previous release) takes this even further by using many of Williams’ song lines in its verses. It features vocals from Larry Nix who adds harmony throughout the album. Another guest on a song he co-writes with Tom is Dean Miller and  their Are You Ready For Some Hanky Panky? is a joyful and up tempo realisation that we are all ready for some of the music of Mr. Williams.

Although Tom is a multi-instrumentalist here she concentrates on delivering some powerful and impassioned vocals that do justice to all the material on the album. An album that covers a range of moods, tempos and tempestuousness that places here in the forefront of traditionally-minded singers who don’t feel the need to court the temptation of crossover commerciality. Leslie Tom has combined her considerable talents and those of her players to produce a statement of intent that surely points to some equally potent (and likely original) music in the future. Ain’t that something to look forward to?

Sir Canyon Ventura Skies Self Release

Singer and writer Noah Lamberth is the central figure being behind Sir Canyon. He is a part of the revived and resolute California country music scene. He uses d his music as means to deal with some emotional hurt and loss that he had encountered in his life. He is a film and documentary maker in his other life and previously played in a band, Hank Floyd. He also played steel guitar for the likes of Katy Perry. Lamberth played some of his home demos to his friend, producer Andy Davis, who was impressed enough to begin recording the songs with a serious intent to bring his self described country/surf/mariachi/desert rock sound to another level

Indeed, even though there is pedal steel, twanging guitars and more, the end result is neither traditional country nor mainstream crossover country pop/rock. Rather, it evokes some earlier exponents of California country, without ever sounding like such icons as Glen Campbell, Gram Parsons or the many exponents of the Bakersfield Sound; as well as that of those who made their home and music there - like Neil Young - another influence on these sounds. Even though there are elements of all of these in Sir Canyon’s music there is also the cinematic aura of the soundtracks that are part and parcel of the music inherent in California’s film industry, especially those that deal with the landscape of the American West.

The opening track (and video) Angeleno Daydream looks to the sense of mythology that is central to Los Angeles as a city of dream and reality. The good and the bad that both draws people in looking for fame and fortune as much as it is a catalyst to move out and on. The song opens with three music components that are pivotal to the overall sound. They are strummed acoustic guitar, deep baritone guitar and ethereal pedal steel guitar. These three elements are soon enhanced by the full band utilising an understated rhythm section and Lamberth’s considered indie styled vocals. There is a dream-like quality at times that befits their self-described “cosmic Americana” sound. It is a blend of influences that takes some of the principles that Gram Parsons based his musical ideology on without sounding like a rehash of that man’s oeuvre.

Crucial to the album is the input of producer Andy Davis and mixer John Rausch who have worked with Lamberth’s song writing to bring a quality to the overall project that makes for an end to end listening experience that works on a number of levels. As band leader Lamberth not only is vocalist but also plays pedal steel and guitar on the album. Joey Esquibel and John Moreau are the rhythm section. Producer Davis plays keyboards and adds background vocals. Martin Saavedra plays effective trumpet on Cindy Come Over. This team took it’s time to produce and album that they were proud of. It shows and while if you’re a hard-core honky-tonk fan it may not appeal, it is an album that is a welcome addition to the cannon of recent work from L.A. based artists, such as Sam Outlaw, that is a worthy antidote to much of the output from Nashville.

Michael McDermott Out From Under Pauper Sky

As the title suggest this is an album about taking hold of your life and looking toward the better things. Things that really mean something. His story is one of excess and extremes. Being signed to a major label at an age where nothing else seems to matter and when that falters and fails resorting to finding things to blot out that lack of self worth. McDermott has now, over his last few albums, both solo and with The Westies found himself dedicating his life to creating work that he can be proud of as well as realising the strengths and support that his wife and daughter bring to his life.

However, it is also true that these negative tendencies have given him the opportunity to look at the good and the bad things that life has to offer. The songs here look at both sides, but end up being imbued with positivity and understanding that sees the cycles of life, death and everything in between as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human being. Given also that McDermott is a dynamic and riveting live performer as well as an accomplished artist in the studio his music is underrated and worthy of greater attention. He has already been praised, in the past, by Stephen King, amongst others, for his song writing ability. This album brings his work to a whole other level. His experiences have galvanised him to create something with a more resonant meaning that in the past.

McDermott produced the album and in doing so has delivered an album that he is central to, as a player contributing guitar, bass and keyboards. His wife Heather sang back-up and played fiddle on the album (she is a performer in her own right and recently released a fine album). He also included some of The Westies (such a long-time bass player Lex Price) and other players who either came to the studio or contributed remotely. His studio is in Willow Springs, Illinois and working there gives him the freedom to create in his own time. He even added one song The World Will Break Your Heart when the album was ostensibly done. It was a song he felt needed to be on the record as it in some ways serves as a cautionary tale for less worldly artists. The eleven songs here clock in with a time of over 45 minutes allowing the songs the time they need to tell their stories. God Help Us is an ambiguous plea for the understanding of faith. Lack of faith in one’s self is apparent in the opening Cal-Sar Road. A location where one might score and then try removing pain through narcotics. He is well placed to tell this fictional tale of murder and mayhem. As he is in many of the other songs on the album. Sad Songs is a full-blooded rock song that sees him wanting to move away from that subject to something more positive.

In overall terms this is an album that should appeal to his hard core fans as well as those who like their songwriters to be able to deal in truth in a musically varied and interesting setting. One that allows the layers to emerge slowly with each listen. McDermott has clearly come out from under and emerged into the light with an album that is arguably the best of his career and one that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Sam Morrow Concrete And Mud Forty Below

This album opens with Morrow giving a deep soulful vocal over a strong full sounding track with edgy guitar. Heartbreak Man has a little of Waylon in its DNA (as do many of the other tracks) and it is a good start to what is an album that fits in well with the current idea of what outlaw is right now. His is a blend of Texas dance floor country, some Southern Rock and a soupcon of Memphis country funk. His deep baritone voice sits atop a live, in the studio, sound that producer Eric Corne captured on a vintage Neve desk. From then on, the playing adds much to the overall feel with Hammond styling, mixed with bluesy slide, twanging’ Telecaster and layered vocals. San Fernando Sunshine exemplifies this. While the up tempo Good Ole Days moves along at a pace with some nods to his native Texas and some fine guitar playing which again blends with the swirling full bodied keyboards.

Skinny Elvis features duet vocals from his label mate Jamie Wyatt (as do two other tracks where she joins him on backing vocals). It also features a notable turn from Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel. An instrument that is also central to the equally effective Coming Home. The guitar and keyboard blend is prominent on the standout ballad Weight Of A Stone which has a compelling and telling vocal from Morrow. One that should easily find him favour with Chris Stapelton fans and marks Morrow out as a real contender. Cigarettes has a touch of Little Feet in its loose, rootsy funkiness and bolstered by some judicious Moog bass. There is some fiddle that works well on the closing song Mississippi River.

Morrow is the assumed writer of the songs here, working with Eric Corne (individual writing details are not credited on the promo sleeve). The latter is also the label owner and has played a large part in bring some diversity to Morrow’s country funk amalgamation. Something off an abiding trend these days but one that Morrow and Corne have pulled off with style giving the listener an album that works on many levels. Never quite fitting easily in either the country rock or country soul categories but rather offering a blurring of the lines that makes Concrete And Mud, as the title might suggest, both hard edged and loose. So, while it may not be everyone’s side of a honky-toning night out, it is music that the 27 year old Texan can put out there knowing that he’s tried to make the best album he can at this time - and it is an album for these times.

The Lynnes Heartbreak Song For The Radio Self Release

These two Canadian artists have worked together previously but this is the first album that Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles have released together. They have written all the songs together (with one being a co-write) and co-produced the album. Miles plays acoustic and electric guitar and piano while Hanson also adds acoustic and electric guitars. They are joined by a full band that includes Kevin Breit on guitars, Dave Draves on keyboards Keith Glass plays baritone guitar and Don Cummings plays the B3. The rhythm section is Peter Von Althen and Steve Clark. The all do a great job as this is an excellent album on all levels - great vocals, memorable songs and engaging playing.

Most of the songs are song by both vocalists together or with one thing taking the lead and the other adding harmony. Either way the vocals are a foremost part of the overall presence of the album. Those songs, as the title suggests, deal with failed and unresolved relationships. The closet to positivity is Halfway To Happy (well as a title at least). Other than that, these titles tell a story in themselves: Cost So Much, Recipe For Disaster, Dark Waltz, Blame It On The Devil and Heavy Lifting. The thing is, despite the lyrically directions, this is an energetic, uplifting and rewarding recording.

They each have a strong turn of phrase and the lyrics are well written; being emotive, gritty and revealing as befits artists who have had life experiences and lived to tell the tales. It has been said that individually there are both compelling but together they excel. Heartbreak Song For The Radio is ready testament to that. The songs are not without balls. These are not delicate folk songs but rather move from the more reflective tone of Blue Tattoo to at the harder edges of Halfway To Happy. Throughout, the harmonies are enchantingand it is an example of two artist totally in synch with each other, their band and the songs. One could only wish to hear more of their brand of patented heartbreak on the radio.

Mojo Monkeys Swerve On Medikull

A California based trio who have lent their considerable talents to a great number of musical endeavours not least acting as sidemen to such luminaries as Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Richard Thompson, Keith Richards and Eric Burden. They are bassist/vocalist Taras Prodaniuk, drummer and vocalist David Raven and guitarist/vocalist Billy Watts. This new album, their third, displays their individual and collective skills on 10 self written songs and one cover; Allen Toussaint’s Ride Your Pony. The opening song Tuscaloosa Maybe has a Western Swing feel and features some alluring pedal steel from Marty Rifkin. Rifkin also joins them for the next song, Two Shots. Both are somewhat different in style from what follows on with nods to soul, rock and blues - a California filtered selection of roots oriented moods – giving both diversity and dance floor vibes throughout. If I Were Gone, All The Wrong Things and Beat Bus Driver are just three of the titles that show why these three work so well together.

There are hooks a-plenty that these guys can play, as well as write and they appear to be having fun throughout. They have been compared to ZZ Top and that comparison is understandable but these monkeys have their own tales and their collective experiences on display here and it shows you why they are in demand as players. There’s nothing particularly new on offer on Swerve On, other than good music that is easy to enjoy and get in the groove to.

Saturday
Mar242018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Courtney Marie Andrews May Your Kindness Remain Loose

Honest Life, released in 2017 by Courtney Marie Andrews, was considered by many as one of the stand out albums of the year, remarkably the sixth release in the career for the 26-year-old Arizona born artist.

Having toured continuously from January through to August last year, the material that makes up the ten tracks on May Your Kindness Remain, unlike its predecessor, was essentially written while on the road and shifts to a wider lens perspective than the it’s more personal predecessor. Its overriding themes are in the main observations of ordinary people struggling to survive, reflecting the plight and disintegration of the working and middle classes in America and the resultant pressures on the individual in an ever-changing materialistic world. They read as real-life tales, the bones of which may have been overheard and conceived by Andrews in coffee shops, bars and motel lobbies on her travels across small town America. Much of the material was performed live by Andrews during the latter half of her tour last year, revealing a fuller sound than the more acoustic feel of her previous album.

Having self-produced Honest Life, on this occasion Andrews sought out producer Mark Howard, whose previous employers included Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Marianne Faithfull. Heading straight from her tour to California with her band, the album was completed in eight days in a rented house converted into a studio in Los Angeles. Given that much of the material had been performed on tour the recording reflects in the main ‘first takes’ (‘recorded in a circle without a click or fancy programs, looking into my bands eyes’) or at most just one overdub. Andrews, a most accomplished guitarist in her own right, was joined in the studio by her trusted band members Dillon Warnek on guitar, Daniel Walter and Charles Wicklander on keyboards, Alex Sabel on bass and William Mapp on drums. The addition of Gospel soul singer C.C. White, who provides backing vocals on a number of tracks, appears to have led Andrews own vocals in a more soulful and dynamic direction, no doubt also influenced by her immersion in Motown and Soul music while on the road.

If How Quickly Your Heart Mends was the standout song from Honest Life and the track that generated much of the interest for that album, it’s more than matched here by the excellent Kindness of Strangers with powerful layered vocals by Andrews and White together with some wicked guitar breaks by Warnek. The dying American dream and gentrification is the spark for Two Cold Nights In Buffalo (‘What happened to the middle-class, Mom and Pop, Five and Dimes’). The title track is a plea to a failing friend blinded by materialism and avarice (‘And if your money runs out and your good looks fade, may your kindness remain’). I’ve Hurt Worse may be sly humour but more likely a tale of resignation and acceptance of a mundane relationship (‘I like you honey, you don't listen to a word I say, I like you honey, when you interrupt me anyway’). Rough Around The Edges reflects on mental illness and personal trauma that often goes unnoticed and the difficulty in keeping a relationship on the rails in the circumstance (‘Don’t feel like picking up the damn phone today’). Border, representing a topical concern in America and further afield at present, is the wild card on the album, a punchy organ driven rocker.

May Your Kindness Remain is a brave departure from a fearless and assured young artist willing to take challenging career risks in support of her art. It’s not Honest Life Part 2 but another chapter in the wide ranging musical template of one of America’s most talented young female singer songwriters. Intoxicating and highly recommended.

Hans Chew Open Sea At The Helm

I've a fond memory -and damaged hearing- from a gig by Hans Chew in the back room of Ryan’s in Kilkenny some a few years ago. The venue comfortably accommodates around forty punters but the sound engineer- on Chew's direction - had the volume at what seemed like stadium levels. Pre-warned by the most engaging and likeable Tennessee born piano player, what followed was an ear bleeding but more than entertaining introduction to a talented young man. 

A native of Chattanooga in Tennessee, Chew’s splendid 2010 debut album Tennessee and Other Songs turned a lot of heads and found him a slot in the growing Americana genre at that time. Influenced by his mother’s tastes in Hendrix and The Stones and his father’s passion for classical music he's quoted as making the point that he knew Beethoven's 5th before Led Zeppelins Fourth! 

His latest album Open Sea sounds like it was recorded somewhere between 1968 and 1972. Featuring his regular guitar player Dave Cavallo, Chew has also drawn on the services of Jimy SeiTang and Rob Smith of New York band Rhyton to add bass and drums. It contains only six tracks but collectively they stretch to over forty minutes. The epic second track Cruikshank, at eight minutes long and with more than one extended guitar solo, could be from a lost Blind Faith or Allman Brothers album or indeed a Led Zeppelin demo that was  considered just not quite heavy enough to make Houses Of The Holy. The title track at seven minutes is no slacker either, even if dangerously close in content and melody to Blind Faith’s Can't Find My Way Home. Whom Am Your Love follows a similar path with an addictive groove that pays homage to Traffic. Freely is steeped in Brit Folk, Chew’s slick piano work duelling with Dave Cavallo’s guitar pickings in the style of Richard Thompson.

Open Sea may not be fashionable in today's often overly controlled markets. I mean, who would consider recording an album forty one minutes long featuring only six tracks with pounding drums, ripping guitar breaks, thumping bass lines and sounding like it was put down in one take? Hans Chew would and more power to him, it's a complete blast! 

Dean Owens Southern Wind At The Helm

Another under the radar artist that continues to release quality music, Edinburgh singer songwriter Dean Owens is typically a ‘musicians / musician’, highly regarded by his peers for both his creative writing ability and versatility. Southern Wind, his first release on At The Helm Records, is his seventh studio recording and was recorded in Nashville under the watchful eye of in demand producer Neilson Hubbard who also worked with Owens on his 2015 release Into The Sea. Much of the writing was in collaboration with his close friend Will Kimbrough, a superb musician in his own right and an artist very much on the same page as Owens. Their combined lyrics capture the moments beautifully across the thirteen songs on the fifty-six minutes that make up the album.

The rocking opener The Last Song, complete with yelps and whoops, is followed by the storming title track Southern Wind, currently on release as a single. The album especially excels where Owens recalls and reminisces on youthful and more innocent times. Elvis Was My Brother evokes memories of a childhood friend whose fascination with Elvis compensated for his absent father. Louisville Lip pays homage to his own childhood hero Muhammad Ali and Madeira Street, where Owens grew up, recalls his childhood, influenced no doubt by the untimely passing of his sister a few years ago.  The plight of the homeless is considered on Anything Helps and the bittersweet Famous Last Words brings to mind mid-career Elvis Costello at his most sentimental. However, the real highlight of the album is the stunner Bad News, it’s not the first time its theme -the lover to be avoided-has been visited and Owen’s interpretation is as good as any of its predecessors.

All in all, a cracking album that I’ll be often revisiting in the coming months by one of the standout Americana artists dwelling this side of the pond.

Clara Rose The Offering Self Release

It’s a particularly busy time for Irelands premier blues singer Clara Rose. Her recent Ladies In The Blues tour, accompanied by Flo MciSweeney, Emma Nicolai and Jhil Quinn, is followed by her third album release titled The Offering, in the wake of her debut A Portfolio (2010) and EP Queen Of The Late Night Radio (2012).

A Bachelor of Music holder from N.U.I. Maynooth and an All-Ireland Medal winner for Sen-Nos singing, Rose can also boast a Music Therapy Masters from The University of Limerick.  She has toured with a host of household names including Jack L, The Waterboys, Horslips and Eleanor Mc Evoy. She has also collaborated with harmonica and blues legend Don Baker, the perfect musically suited partnership, recording Baker and Rose in 2016.

Very much in her comfort zone when blasting out the blues, The Offering is evidence that Rose is anything but a one trick pony, with the material also straying seamlessly into modern folk and soft soul vibes over the ten tracks that feature on the album. Cardboard City Blues has jazzy overtones with hints of Sade in evidence and Tightrope Walkers is catchy, poppy, radio friendly fare. 

However, the stand out tracks feature Rose doing what she does best in belting out the blues. The Queen Of The Late Night Radio, Love Sweet Love and her cover of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball And Chain all showcase her exceptional vocal range. 

Recorded under the eagle eye of producer Gavin Glass in his Orphan Studio over a seven-day period, the album features Rose’s regular band members Sean Beatty, Tony Mc Manus and Michael Black. Additional vocals were provided by Elizabeth Monahan, Claire Mc Laughlin and Paula Higgins. 

A lady that can most definitely can sing the blues, delivering an album that further establishes her as one of Ireland’s finest female vocalists. An album well worth checking out and don’t miss out on the chance to catch her live given the opportunity.

Jerry Leger Nonsense and Heartaches Latent 

Four years after recording his debut album Early Riser, Canadian artist Jerry Ledger has released Nonsense and Heartaches on Latent Recordings, the label headed by Michael Timmons (Cowboy Junkies, Natalie Merchant, Mary Gauthier, June Tabor), who also produced the double album at The Hanger, Toronto.

It’s actually more accurately described as two separate albums as the raucous Nonsense has little in common with the more acoustic laid-back feel of Heartaches – with the exception that the same musicians contributed to both recordings. The musicians in question are James McKie (lap steel, fiddle, guitars), Dan Mock (bass, vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums, vocals) and songwriter Jerry Leger who provides vocals, guitar and piano.

Michael Timmons could never be accused of over production and Nonsense delivers raw ‘first take’ bluesy tones which works particularly well on the Frankie Millar sounding opener Coat On The RackForged Check has a Johnny Kidd and The Pirates vibe and shades of Pancho & Lefty can be heard on Wedding Dress. On The Fishing Line is unapologetic blues recalling Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster.

Heartaches heads in an entirely different direction, its countrified folk sound working best on Things Are Changing Around Here and Another Dead Radio Star. Leger’s impressive vocals and piano dominate on Lucy And Little Billy The Kid and Pawn Shop Piano, the latter a reflection of the day to day existence of many a musician which benefits from the combined vocals of Leger and Angie Hilts.

Well worth investigating with Nonsense perfect for the car CD player and Heartache more suited for a feet up, end of the day nightcap. 

Jesse Terry Natural Jackson Beach

A graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Natural is Jesse Terry’s fifth album release, his previous recording Stargazer having only been released six months ago. Natural is an album that features many of the female vocalists particularly admired by him, some being personal friends, others being artists he previously worked with. Included are Dar Williams, Cary Ann Hearst of Shovels & Rope, Liz Longley, Annie Clements, Erin Rae, Sarah Darling, and Kim Richey. The album contains eleven self-written songs together with the inclusion of Jeff Lynne’s Mr. Blue Sky, a track which Liz Longley contributes backing vocals. Produced by Josh Kaler at EastSide Manor Studios in Nashville (Kaler also adds drums, bass, guitar and ukulele), the songs are stripped right back with the vocals being the main focus at all times.

It’s a most impressive body of work that not only highlights Terry’s own talents but also that of the wonderful, in the main Nashville based, female vocalists who contribute. Much of the material could be compared to Sufjan Stevens at his most melodic. Music and song writing has given Terry the tools to deal with and overcome a turbulent childhood which included spells in reform school and recovery from a drug overdose at the age of eighteen. The album suggests a young man at peace with himself and nowhere more so than on I Was An Island written on The Aran Islands and one of two tracks that feature Kim Richey on vocals. Beautiful Way To Get Home is unhurried and patient with dreamy cello playing by Larissa Maestro and gorgeous harmonies by Terry and Erin Rae. Other highlights are Stargazer featuring Dar Williams and the closing title track, an evocative love song containing only guitar and vocals by Terry, perfectly bookending the album.

Natural scores on many fronts, from the delightful packaging to the musical content. It’s a welcome introduction to Jesse Terry and listeners should be also encouraged to visit his back catalogue, together with the work of all the female contributors, many of who are indeed well known and admired by Lonesome Highway.