Monday
Mar192018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Dallas Moore Mr. Honky Tonk Sol

For his latest album the Texas based singer/songwriter has honed his craft and produced an album of some substance. The eight tracks are concise and lean, coming in around the half-hour mark. He has brought in Dean Miller (who himself has delivered some fine country albums) to produce the album and the sound is as strong as you might expect or want, a step up indeed from some of the previous recordings which, as with a lot of independent artists, are done under tight financial constraints. The rougher and rowdier elements however have not been lost. This is an artist who is more or less on the road with his band constantly playing all the honky tonks and roadhouses around America. It is no major label stance but rather a genuine expression of a love and legacy for music that is solidly rooted in the outlaw music that, at the moment, pretty much defines real country music.

Outlaw meant and should mean artists who adhere to their own rules by remaining independent in terms of how they approach the writing, recording and production of their music rather than necessarily self-releasing their own albums. It would be healthy and fruitful to see an artist like Dallas Moore signed to a major label and being given the creative freedom he has here. Aside from long-time guitarist Chuck Morpurgo, Moore is joined by harmonica player Mickey Raphael (of Willie Nelson fame) and pedal steel guitarist Steve Hinson amongst others. All of this brings the best possible performance behind Moore’s songs from the slow waltz of Kisses From You to the “on the road” tails of Home Is Where The Highway Is (“the only home I’ve ever know”). A place where he has plenty of opportunity to observe the antics of the characters who feature in the title track. Shades of Pinto Bennett in that one.

Dallas Moore can be counted alongside Whitey Morgan, Jackson Taylor, Cody Jinks and others in terms of making the kind of music that many want to hear and that is all but banished from corporate radio stations. The beard and hat are in place and the attitude and grit are authentic, as is the passion for making music. Music that entertains, music that rocks and could easily find a bigger following if given its place alongside some of the more lauded major label performers out there. This is a good place to get acquainted with Moore’s music and it is also a good platform for Moore to build upon by adding more lyrical depth and musical nuances without sacrificing what it means to be Dallas Moore. We all need some more.

Mary Battiata & Little Pink The Heart, Regardless Self Release

A new name to me but one I’m very pleased to be acquainted with. Mary Battiata is a former Washington Post journalist with a passion for writing and performing traditionally orientated country music with folk, roots and pop overtones. Her band Little Pink (and guests) are equally adept in bringing these songs to fruition on record with particular sounds woven into each track as needed. Little Pink is a reference to the Band’s debut album and its formative influence, in terms of integrity, without sounding like that seminal album.

Mary Battiata has a crystal clear voice that has been compared, at times, to Margo Timmins and Linda Thompson among others. While I can see these comparisons Mary Battiata's voice has its own identity - one that is front and centre here. Battista is an equally adept writer penning all the songs here other than traditionalist Arty Hill’s Drive That Fast. Hill also sang harmony and played acoustic guitar as well as helping with the preproduction. Little Pink are Tim Pruitt (guitar), Alex Webber (bass), Ed Hough (drums) and Dave Hadley (steel). On the album the special guests include Ray Eicher on pedal Steel, Dudley Connell on harmony vocals as well as those bringing such additional instruments as banjo, fiddle, mandolin, accordion and saxophone. All these instruments add to the tonal range, within the context of the overall sonic direction and that allows these songs the room to move, depending on the song and its mood. 

There are a number of immediate stand-outs, including Things You Say And Things You Don’t, Disappearing Ink, Six Miles Out, Can’t Take My Mind Off You and 20 Words, among the 14 tracks; but in truth there is no filler here - it is all top notch and Battiata’s writing is emotive and takes a clear view of relationships, affairs of the heart, that fall on both sides of the divide that delineates the ones that work, the ones that don’t and the ones that could go either way.

Simply put, an album that stands up to a lot of the independent, thoughtful, creative contemporary female voices that are making some of the standout Americana music being made today. Battista and Little Pink are not from Nashville or Austin but rather hail from Arlington in Virginia and they are proof that a there is a lot going on, in terms of good music, outside those more well known cities. This may be regional but it is also international and Battista comes with a recommendation from the noted writer George Pelecanos.

Ryan Bingham Live Humphead

This show was recorded at the Whitewater Amphitheatre in Texas in 2016 and is getting a European release now. It was recorded in front of a vocal and vibrant partisan audience. In truth on some tracks this is a little distracting but overall it shows that his audience is right behind (as well as in front) of him. The band here is not a variation of his Dead Horses band but rather a set of seasoned players like Jedd Hughes and Daniel Sprout on electric guitars and Richard Bowden on fiddle alongside a sturdy rhythm section. These players were part of the band that recorded his last album (Fear And Saturday Night). Bingham is on acoustic guitar and harmonica and he is well up there in the sound. Some of the songs are virtually stripped back to his voice and guitar. And his gravel hardened voice is as distinctive as ever.

The songs came from different albums and parts of his career but two albums in particular are the source of many of the chosen songs in the set. They are Mescalito (his major label debut) and Fear And Saturday Night. The band, over the albums 14 songs 79 minute duration, cover a lot of ground from bluesy rock, ragged folk and toughened roots. These are in keeping with the nature of many of the songs which take a darker view of life with titles like Top Shelf Drug, Depression, The Weary Kind, Hard Times and Nobody Knows My Troubles expressing inner turmoil and trepidation.   

The songs are obviously familiar to many of the audience who sing along at times and cheer to particular phases and words. But as a summation of a career and a starting point for getting acquainted with Bingham’s music this may not be the best album to start with. That album may be Mescalito which came out on Lost Highway in 2007. There was at least one self-released album before that which never made it beyond local sales. But for Bingham fans there is much to enjoy in different and extended versions of the songs than appear on the previous albums.     

Brett Perkins and the Pawn Shop Preachers Put A Fork In Me, I’m Done Works Of Heart

An American abroad, Brett Perkins now resides in Copenhagen in Denmark and fronts his band (in various combinations) The Pawn Shop Preachers. The play (they say) “Americana for middle-aged music lovers.” Ones with a good sense of humour too it looks like. Perkins is no stranger to recording and touring and has a number of other albums under his belt. Although the cover doesn’t make it clear I assume that these are all original songs that are featured on the album. There are 12 songs that, unusually for these days, all come in under the three-minute mark. They are all short, sharp and satisfying.

The titles give you some clue to the nature of the content, as in: She’s Got Champagne Tastes On My Beer Budget, She Loves My Belly And My Bald Spot and I’m Longin’ For A Short Term Relationship. Just Like Jesus has a chorus that runs “ I like water with my wine, just like Jesus  … I don’t think I’ll be coming round again.” Get Me Outta’ Nashville is about dealing with a heartbreak in Music City and how every song reminds him of his predicament!

The album was produced and mixed by Troels Alsted, along with the band (who all have alter egos such as Friar Klaus and Pastor Zat; all clearly have a love and understanding for classic country stylings and mix a bit of other swinging rootsy elements in there too with their up tempo Americana. Fun and frowzy.

Alpha Mule Peripheral Vision Giant Meteor

This duo has a background in the visual arts and music. They describe their music as being influenced by such diverse but compatible elements as rock, blues, bluegrass, folk and traditional country - the basic ingredients of Americana then. Joe Forkan grew up in Tucson and Eric Stoner is from California - where they are now based. The album however was recorded at the renowned Wavelab Studio in Tucson, Arizona. They joined forces to play music five years ago and this is their debut album.

They produced the album working with Chris Schultz (recording) and Craig Schumacher (mixing). Schumacher also contributed keyboards alongside a selection of well chosen musicians including Calexico’s Joey Burns on bass and Jacob Valenzuela playing trumpet. Conor Gallaher contributed pedal steel guitar and Fen Ikner was the drummer. The cover image would suggest an old-time string band direction with banjo and guitar the featured photographic instruments. Indeed, those are equally prominent in the overall sound but with the skills of the other players involved, it has a wider musical focus while being built around the core of that earthy set-up. There is also something of that Tucson/Wavelab spacious soundscape to be taken into account.

They open (and close) with Corpus Christi a track that highlights these two elements well. After that, the main 10 tracks explore a mix of melody and metamorphosis. There are also an additional 5 tracks described as “bonus tracks” one of which is a version of Joe Henry’s Short Man’s Room. It also has three versions of the album songs stripped right back to the duo’s bare bones which also prove effective. On The Moon features the voice of Apollo 8 astronaut Commander Frank Borman which adds to its slightly unworldly quality. The title track again uses the pedal steel to good effect.

Much of the music has a cinematic sense that would make it a good source for use in a film or a TV series but aside from that potential it is a captivating sound that repays repeated listening in its own right. That they have added these layers to what could have been a more directly bare bones affair makes the album work on another level from that of perhaps seeing the duo play live. Their peripheral vision has insight. 

Melanie Dekker Secret Spot Self Release

A folk/pop/country styled singer from British Columbia in Canada who writes her songs and releases her albums to a growing audience in North America and in Europe. Dekker has produced this latest collection of songs with Sheldon Zaharko. They cover different bases and given that she credits the influence as such diverse artists as Willie Nelson, Lady Gaga, Tracy Chapman, Etta James and Tom Petty that’s not surprising. They are all held together by her confident and versatile vocal presence.

The songs are mostly written solo with a couple of co-writes and with one track, the title, written by Allan Rodger. Roger also plays bass on several tracks as well as drums, keyboards (all three on one track). Elsewhere the musicians add banjo, mandolin and accordion to add the rootsier sounds to the electric guitars, keyboards and trumpet that feature. There are several songs that have an immediate likability including the song written for her father (Te Amo Mucho) which has a Mexican element in the accordion and Spanish guitar, Memories of You, Ginned Up and Always Gonna Be which takes the sensible proposition that in life there is always gaining to be someone “faster, faster smarter, prettier” and to be as her Mother advised “the best you can be with what you’ve been given.” Good advice and something that Dekker has taken to heart to produce music that feels true to her vision and talent.

On Dekker’s website there are some 10 albums available so it’s obvious she has grown with her music and her fanbase along with her. With her writing talent and voice Dekker could compete with many of the current crop of crossover artists. She has opened for Diana Krall and Faith Hill which attests to the fact that her music can fit into a number of formats. She does this by believing in herself and her music and finding the secret spot where that works.

Tuesday
Feb272018

Reviews by Eilís  Boland

Billy Strings Turmoil & Tinfoil Self Release

This debut solo release from 24 year old Michigan native Billy Strings (real name Billy Apostol) completely blew my mind on first listen and I have hardly stopped playing it since! Not only can Billy flat pick his acoustic guitar as well as anyone (and better and faster than most) he is also blessed with a rich tenor voice (think of a young Doc Watson, who happens to be one of his musical influences) AND a songwriting ability that belies his youth. 

Brought up in a home with bluegrass playing parents, Billy has been playing guitar since he was four, emulating his beloved father Terry Barber. As well as the frequent picking parties at home, Billy was exposed to lots of classic rock music and played in metal bands. As a result, though steeped in traditional bluegrass, his other influences shine through in this exhilarating recording.

All the songs here, except the traditional Salty Sheep are written by Billy. He’s backed up by his road band, who are all also virtuoso exponents of their respective traditional instruments.

It’s difficult to pick out outstanding tracks here because there are no fillers. The album kicks off with the dynamic uplifting On The Line in which Billy explores the age old conundrum of the youth not being understood by their elders. It then kicks into an incredible almost 10 minute long Meet Me At The Creek - with its break neck speed extended jam in the middle of the song, featuring Billy’s guitar and Billy Failing’s banjo.

All Of Tomorrow sounds like a bluegrass standard ballad, but it was written by Billy in the style of Mac Wiseman. Likewise These Memories Of You, on which Billy shares vocals with his father - I could have sworn that I’d heard this song before.

Unusually for the bluegrass genre, Billy is driven to let his strong social conscience show through in his lyrics - many of the problems of small town America (where he grew up) affect him deeply - he lost many friends to drugs, for example. The title track and Dealer Despair reference these issues unapologetically. A surprise track right in the middle of the album, Spinning, is a spoken word track detailing a dreamlike account of an encounter with Mother Earth, complete with spacey bleeps and synth knob twiddling. The bonus/hidden track involves more of the same - you have been warned.

Billy’s friend, Bryan Sutton guests on the instrumental Salty Sheep, where the two guitar geniuses trade lightning fast licks and you can tell from the whoops of joy how much they enjoyed this.

Living Like An Animal evolved in the studio from a half finished song into an extended jam, where Billy plays driving clawhammer banjo, along with some demon harmonica and jews harp. (Unfortunately my advance copy is very short on detail and my research hasn’t turned up the names of the musicians for most of the tracks).

A word of caution - don’t play this album while driving, or I predict you will unknowingly stray well above the speed limit!

Erik Lundgren Door Dwellers Kebe/Misty

New to me, but Erik Lundgren has been creating music for quite a few years, and this is his 15th album. Swedish, but living in Denmark, Erik is a multi-instrumentalist and he wrote, performed, recorded and mixed this album all by himself.

The result is a mellow, dreamy, mainly acoustic, indie-folk affair, which shows off his superb songwriting skills and his ear for writing a catchy melody. Surprisingly also, his lyrical acumen belies the fact that English is not his first language.

The big question of mortality - ‘what’s it all about, Ted?’ - is explored on two of the standout tracks - In Your Eyes and on the title track Door Dweller. Layers of acoustic guitar are complemented by synths and keyboards, with minimal percussion. Erik’s voice is reminiscent of Conor Oberst, and there are shades of Simon & Garfunkel in his backing vocals.

It’s a well known fact that relationship breakups spawn many a good song, and Erik has a few of these here. In Your Eyes explores the guilt but also the resilience in the face of such adversity. Dark themes are explored in the gothic My Demise where the soundscape evokes the brooding and menacing of a physical and perhaps psychological breakdown, and in the blur of Taken By The Fog. What Follows is a beautiful paean to the innocence and heady excitement of childhood. 

The album cover is adorned with nine miniature watercolours of tall pines by Henrik Hansen - a nice touch to a highly recommended album.

Lena Ullman & Anna Falkenau I Can Hear You Calling Scroll 

How lucky we are that these two noted musicians have, by different routes, ended up making their homes in Ireland and producing this wonderful collaborative album.

Lena Ullman is Swedish by birth, but has spent most of her adult life to date in the West of Ireland, where she has been immersed in, and influential in the Old Time and Irish traditional scene there, especially in Galway and Kinvara. She is a clawhammer banjo player with her own distinctive playing style.  

Fiddler Anna Falkenau hails from Germany, by way of Scotland and the US. Classically trained, she has ‘converted’ to traditional playing and studied Irish fiddling in UCC and then American Old Time and South Indian music in the US. Regarded as a superb fiddler in the Irish tradition, here she brings many of her other influences to the fore.

The twelve tracks here, self produced (along with Ivan Murray) and recorded as live in the studio, consist of songs and instrumentals, both original and ‘traditional’.

Lena shows her songwriting skills on two tracks: Homeless highlights the plight of the many unfortunates currently sleeping on the streets of the country, while Blueberry is an equally plaintive lament of longing. Her delicate falsetto vocals and her playing recall Peggy Seeger - in fact the similarities are striking.

Anna’s cat, Apatchy, was the inspiration for her one original composition here - Apatchy Hunting In The Garden is a lively old timey tune that effectively immortalises the feline antics.

Lena’s slow tune Waiting For Anna leads me to suspect that Anna might have a reputation for tardiness somewhat akin to my own! More interestingly, this two part tune allows Anna to indulge her knowledge and love of South Indian music, and the result is beautiful, leaving this listener  wanting more.

Lena sings and plays her unhurried version of the traditional Red Rocking Chair, and also gives us her own take on the oft covered Black Jack DavidOn the set of hornpipes City of Savannah/ Ladies Choice/The Factory Smoke Anna’s fiddle playing sounds at its most ‘Irish’. On the remainder of the album, these (untutored) ears detect a Scandinavian feel to much of her playing.

Overall this is a superb album, that only improves with listening. Let’s hope it goes a little way towards raising the profile and popularity of this niche musical genre.

Nolan McKelvey & Dave Desmelik  Where It Takes Us Self Release

This is a nice slice of americana from two friends who have reunited musically after a long hiatus. Dave and Nolan both played together in Arizona-based newgrass/jam band, Onus B. Johnson, during the 90s.

On this self produced recording, they each contribute songs and play all the instruments. There’s a curious but successful mixture of musical styles here, at times recalling Son Volt, early Neil Young, acoustic folk and country music.

Dave’s opener, Imagination, is a touching encouragement to a child embarking on the journey of life - “keep it steady but rock the boat” - sentiments of which I thoroughly approve!

Nolan’s songwriting is a strong feature of the album. The Hanging is a stark piece told from the viewpoint of a man who’s facing the gallows, but without regrets. Dave contributes appropriately moody broody electric guitar to great effect here.

We Made Time and Pick Your Path are two more well crafted songs from Nolan McKelvey, and these are given a more acoustic folky treatment.There are a couple of filler instrumentals, but overall this is a strong collection from two people who seem to have reached a good place in their lives. That sentiment is summarised in the lovely closing song from Dave Desmelek, his appealing plaintive vocals over a stripped back piano assuring us that All Shall Be Well.

Intriguingly, the album cover is a photo of the Dark Hedges, just down the road from me in County Antrim, which has been recently made famous by Game Of Thrones.

Jono Manson  The Slight Variations Self Release

Native New Yorker Manson has been playing in bands in the NY blues/rock/funk scene since the 70s. In the 80s he became a music producer, working both in the US and in Italy, as well as contributing songs to movie sound tracks and tv. Now based in New Mexico, he continues to play in various bands and produces music for other artists in his recording studio there.

Most of the songs here are co-writes, many with his wife, Caline Welles. Perhaps Jono Manson should have more aptly called this solo record The “Major” Variations, because it jumps with impunity from style to style and back again! All the tracks are well produced, certainly, and feature his rich resonant voice and excellent guitar playing. 

The opening song Trees is given a folk rock treatment, and then we’re straight into a Stones-esque sound on Rough and Tumble. The production strays into soul blues, then easy listening pop treatments for subsequent songs, and the title track is out and out funk. Themes range from nature - particularly songs about birds - to love songs.

Manson is supported by a reliable band of studio musicians, but the stand out instrumentation comes from Jason Crosby on keys. His piano and Hammond organ playing lifts the songs to a higher plain

Born 53 A Talent Unrecognised Self Release 

Folk-rock is alive and well in Sweden, if this release from Born 53 is anything to go by. This is a collection of original songs mainly written by band member Anders Lindh, with a few cover songs thrown in. All songs are competently performed by the four multi-instrumental band members, and the recording is coproduced by Lindh. 

Forgive is a haunting memorable song, with nice electric guitar playing, and backing vocals from Anders’ wife Asa. Percussionist Jorgen Larrson’s djembe playing makes it a standout track. It contains a memorable line about “passing the grey haired Madonna’s door”! Asa takes the lead vocals on a lovely version of Dylan’s Forgetful Heart. There’s also an interesting cover of Paddy McAloon’s Devil Came a’ Callin’- the gothic theme and humour fits in well with the general feel of this album.

Anders’ lyrical style can pull one up short - perhaps there’s something lost in translation? Take for example the opening track Looking For Marie Jones, where Anders tells the story of a visit to London, in the search of the seemingly elusive Ms Jones (if this is the Belfast playwright of the same name, we are not told!). “Tom and I drank gallons of beer, and pissed it out at Trafalgar Square”. Err …

Hans Birkholz (who also co-produced) is a gifted string player and shows his skills particularly on his two instrumental tracks, where he plays all manners of guitars from Weissenborn to lap steel.

 

Tuesday
Feb202018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Chris Murphy Water Under The Bridge Teahouse

Whether performing solo or as part of an ensemble, Chris Murphy displays his prodigious talents at a consistently high level. His website describes him as violinist, composer and band leader, which is a concise description of the creative muse that regularly takes him into other projects. 

He can be seen playing bluegrass, country and fiddle tunes with The Devil’s Box and their 2016 release, Red Mountain Blues, included Tim O’Brien on vocals and mandolin, along with Herb Pedersen on banjo and vocals. 

Separately, he plays jazz, swing, and blues with The Blind Blake’s and it is under this umbrella that Water Under The Bridge finds the light of day. It is a retro sound with plenty of swing and swagger over its fourteen tracks. The musicians are all wonderfully talented and get plenty of room to show their finely-honed skills as they compliment the music and lyrics; all created and credited to Chris Murphy. Quite an achievement and equally, a compliment, when you realise just how familiar these tracks become, even after first listen. 

A Moveable Feast, Table For Two, The Lemon Rag, Tarbox Blues and My Spanish Lover are all fine examples of the joyful feel to this project. Given the level of talent on offer, it is no exaggeration to say that Chris Murphy sits above it all with his proficient playing on violin, mandolin, guitar, percussion and vocal duties.

Last year he released a live record, Hard Bargain, which was a solo violin concert from Boise, Idaho and also, The Tinker’s Dream, a band effort; both were superb in their execution and reviewed at separate intervals on this website.

If you enjoy the easy jazz sound of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt then this music is just right for you. Throw in some Count Basie and sprinkle with Dr John New Orleans voodoo and you have a heady mix of compelling, kick-ass tunes that demand your attention.

Kyle Carey The Art Of Forgetting Self Release

This widely travelled artist grew up in Alaska and New Hampshire, before her move to Nova Scotia to study the language and music of the Gaelic tradition. She then moved to Scotland to continue her studies before releasing two recordings that established her credentials as a real talent in blending the best of Celtic and American roots music.

This third release is a confident and fully realised project and highlights the growing development of a mature talent. There are three songs included that see her sing in the Scottish Gaelic language and the gentle arrangements, melody and expert playing make all twelve songs a very pleasant listen with a sweetly restrained balance throughout.

Produced & engineered by Dirk Powell (Joan Baez, The BBC Transatlantic Sessions), the experience is peppered with real quality and highlighted by the excellent musicianship. Powell contributes bass, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, accordion, banjo, piano and vocals while John McCusker (Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby) also appears on fiddle. 

Sam Broussard on guitar and Mike McGoldrick on flute also make telling contributions while Rhiannon Giddens appears on backing vocals. There are also the talents of Ron Janssen (octave mandolin) and Kai Welch (trumpet) and Josh Scalf (trombone) to enjoy.

Songs like the title track, Sweet Damnation, Tell Me Love, Evelyna and For Your Journey are very appealing and the easy interplay between fiddle, flute, mandolin, guitars and banjo invite repeated listens. 

The Stone Hill All-Stars Wilson Comes Home Self Release

Baltimore is home to this Roots band since their formation in 2005. They have developed into a very tight unit over three previous releases and the members have a collective experience to rival anybody on the local music scene. Paul Margolis plays guitar and bass, in addition to being the principal songwriter and providing vocals. His founding partner John Shock is responsible for the song arrangements and also plays accordion and piano, in addition to vocal duties. Together they form a potent pair and drive the melody and rhythm with the sterling assistance of Dan Naimann on bass and saxophone, Hoppy Hopkins on drums/percussion and Tim Pruitt on guitar. We also have Jim Hannah on percussion and kalimba plus Katherine Shock on flute to add the talented collective.

The addictive Polka rhythm to the opening track, Just These Things, leads into a varied mixture of styles that touch on ska, blues and jazzy beats; a number featuring superb interplay between the sax of Dan Naiman and the accordion of John Shock. There are also some tasty guitar licks from Paul Margolis or Tim Pruitt; then again, it may be guest guitarist, Rick Pressler, who also features on the project; sadly, the liner notes are lacking in detail so it is hard to pin down individual contributions.

The overall production and sound is very airy, appealing and full of colour. The Ska beat of The Mark Of A Man and A Hundred Answers is balanced against the bluesy feel of To Be Her Man, Alexander Grothendieck and also, the title track. 

Songs deal with looking back with regret, relationships gone wrong, prison tales, the tribulations of a loner/recluse and a girl on the verge of hysteria. Overall the performance is reminiscent of the best of loose, fluid, playful music that engages and rewards. 

Zachary Richard Gombo RZ 

This is the 21st studio album from an artist who is steeped in the Acadian culture of his native Louisiana. Over a career spanning 45 years this singer-songwriter also holds the distinction of being recognised as Louisiana’s first French language Poet Laureate. On this project he includes 8 songs that are performed in French and whereas the quality of the playing is never in doubt, the lack of English translation for the lyrics takes away somewhat from the overall experience. 

Of course, Zydeco music is rooted in the origins of Creole and Cajun traditions and the use of accordion and washboard continue to be at the source of this now internationally acclaimed music genre that boasts festivals, not only throughout the USA, but also Europe and into the northern regions of Scandinavia. 

Gombo (Gumbo) is the perfect description for the music here with an eclectic mix of styles that include elements of waltz, shuffles, two-steps, Afro-Caribbean and traditional forms. It also stands as a symbol for the multi-ethnic culture of Louisiana and the 15 songs here are played with great energy, passion and tempo.

Catherine, Catherine is written and performed with famous Québec singer Robert Charlebois and Fais briller ta lumière is performed with African legend Angélique Kidjo. There is a choir from L’Académie Sainte-Thérése and a string quartet which add to the heady mix of instrumentation.

Co-produced by New Orleans legend David Toraknowsky, Gombo features a host of players including Francis Covan on fiddle and accordion. It is an enjoyable listen and at almost an hour in length, represents great value for all fans of Zydeco music.

Whitherward The Anchor Self Release 

Contemporary Folk Duo Whitherward have released four EP’s since 2014 and both Ashley E. Norton and Edward Williams are joined on this full-length debut by additional musicians, Patrick Hershey and Stephanie Groot.

The Anchor has 13 songs that are based around their perspective of touring musicians and doesn’t stray too far away from a Folk/Roots base in the arrangements. There are two tracks, Free and Interlude, that dabble in inventive jazz exploration while the remaining tracks seem to be a mix of the observed and the personal. A guest vocal on Parallel Universe (Jhan Doe), introduces a rap element into the arrangement and the excellent musicianship throughout leaves a strong sense of a band that has a real confidence and maturity. 

The metaphor of ship & anchor in the title track reflects a relationship where safe harbour is in question and the unappreciated partner longs to be set free. Burn The Roses is a song of anger in the destruction of a relationship while there is a Country Noir feel to Teeth, with a late-night, lounge room dynamic. 

The violin playing of Stephanie Groot is quite arresting and dramatic and elevates the production while the rich and inventive bass playing of Patrick Hershey is a joy. The guitar playing of both Norton and Williams is fluid and fluent throughout. The strings on The Night I Fell For You are mixed with restrained elegance while hiding a tale instant attraction and unrequited love. The final track, Wasteland, is one of dislocation and the loneliness of travel but ends with some studio fun and frolics as we are treated to a series of repeated vocal takes, gargling and other strange noises. 

Rupert Wates Lights Of Paris Bite Music 

From a debut release in 2005, this artist has navigated a path through the music industry and arrived at the release of his 9th solo album; quite an achievement in these days of DIY careers, shifting sands and short attention spans. 

Originally from London, he lived in Paris prior to moving to the States, where both NYC and Colorado are touchstones for his current life. He is a contemporary Folk singer and his songs touch on many of the issues we face in modern times; like all good Folk releases should … a reflection of the ways in which we shape our world.

He plays a Lowden acoustic guitar in a style that sounds very effortless and impressive, while his clear vocal tone never clutters the song arrangements. For this project Wates uses the talents of Adrianna Mateo (violin) and Brian Sanders (cello) to augment his acoustic playing. The results are eleven gentle tunes that play out in a pleasant fashion, never really changing the dynamic that would grip the listener or shake matters out of an induced state of quiet calm. 

Topics vary from the cynical posturing of the current President in the USA (I Can’t Shut My Eyes) to the indifference of society towards marginalised lives and small-town business shutting down (Long Winter Is Coming). Our treatment of immigrants (Fields Of America) and the legacy we are leaving for future generations (Oh The Times) are given full vent while Wates seems somewhat disillusioned as he yearns for simpler times when music was enough to lift the spirit (The Balladeer). 

Happily, the conclusion to the project has a more positive tone and message of hope (A Song Of Your Own), urging youth to find their own voice and not to be bullied by others. Aspirations of greater enlightenment and the wish to live together in peace (The Time Will Come) are balanced with a sense of faith in the future with the title track. 

Scott Kirby Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost Self Release

Nine releases over the past twenty-plus years has seen this musician mature into a seasoned singer-songwriter who now lives in Key West and is the proprietor at The Smokin’ Tuna Saloon.

There are ten songs included here and the project is produced by Andy Thompson who also contributes on acoustic & electric guitar, bass, stand-up bass, ukulele, dobro, keyboards, mandolin and vocals! Quite the list, but not to be outdone, his brother, Matt Thompson chips in on drums, percussion, kalimba, bass harmonica, piano, melodica and vocals! 

Scott Kirby plays acoustic guitar, harmonica and sings, together with writing eight of the songs included (four co-writes). The album title is a reference to the life that Ernest Hemingway led in the area between 1931 and 1939 but also a tribute to Toby Bruce, who served as his assistant for more than 30 years.

The sound produced is pleasant with an acoustic groove and songs like We Own Key West; Ava Rose and La Casa Cayo Hueso have more than a touch in common with the easy delivery of a James Taylor. Morning In Montana takes things up a notch with some fine fiddle playing by Eamon McLoughlin over an infectious beat. Happy Hour Blues is a fine band workout and a tongue-in-cheek look at a life of relaxed semi-retirement. A great laid-back arrangement of the classic, Summer Wind, brings things to a happy ending and you can just feel the breeze in your hair.

The multi-talented Thompson brothers carry the bulk of the heavy lifting but the simple arrangements are proof of a song-writer who has learned his craft over many years and there is no excess on any of these gentle melodies.

Beth Wimmer Bookmark Self Release

Since her debut release in 2001, Beth Wimmer has released four albums that chart the progress of a Female singer-songwriter’s journey, living in the American countryside near Boston and moving to California at a young age. She now resides in Switzerland with her husband and tours in both Europe and her land of birth. 

This new release is her first for six years and was co-produced by Beth and LA-based guitar-player, Billy Watts. It was recorded in Liechtenstein, Austria and in Los Angeles, with all songs written by Wimmer, apart from a David Bowie cover of Starman. Her sound is essentially Folk oriented and she sings in an attractive tone that suits the song arrangements well. 

Her first two albums were produced by David Raven and he plays drums on most tracks here, joined by Taras Prodaniuk (bass), Billy Watts (acoustic/electric/lap steel guitars) and other studio musicians on selected tracks. 

Her song-writing is partly focused on intimate relationships with the title track, Bookmark, The Last Part and We Can Do This, all reflecting on the enduring power of love to fuel a relationship in the right direction. There are songs about living a simple existence and Loosen My Grip, Mahogany Hawk and Pretty Good, all speak of taking a moment to just enjoy & live in the natural space that surrounds us.

Other songs deal with the need for change (Louisiana) or the need to return to a favourite place (Mexico) and the track, Simplicity Of A Man brings a message of trust and belonging with a ‘less is more’ approach in both words and deeds. 

Tuesday
Feb062018

Review by Stephen Rapid

 

Stan Martin Long Nights Twangtone

The new album from Stan Martin continues his run of finely-honed Telecaster infused twang laden neo-country. This is Martin’s sixth album of Bakersfield bound country. He is a master of the understated craftsmanship as singer, writer, producer and musician on this and previous albums. Although he is a talented picker he is not a show-off and is happy to trade guitar licks with the similarly minded Kenny Vaughan. The latter appears on all but one of the tracks here. Add to that the father and son rhythm section of Dave and Jerry Roe and you have a formidable team of musicians who know well how to serve a song to best effect.

Those songs, all written by Martin, are largely tales of lost and found love. They are delivered with humour, insight and a degree of honesty that shows an understanding for the frailties, possibilities and pitfalls that every relationship offers us all. One thing immediately apparent is the sense of melody inherent in the songs. An ingredient that is often missing in the overly riff driven hard rock of much of today’s overblown country music. Song after song feels like an old friend and all the more welcome for that. There is an atmospheric and appropriately named instrumental (El Tarantino) that fits easily in context (not unlike those that graced Way Out West, the album Vaughan made as part of Marty Stuart’s band, The Fabulous Superlatives). This all hints at a wide spectrum of influences and also mirrors some of the great and more expansive country music that was given exposure on the airwaves in the late 80s and early 90s.

The ten songs have a lasting appeal that will delight any of Martin’s fans and for those who have yet to have the pleasure of his company this is a great place to start to appreciate Martin’s talent. His last album was his best yet, up to that point, but this one is likely to grab that top slot. And why not, with such tales of betrayal south of the border as Dos Tequila. Then there is the reflection of the ballad, My Dream, wherein there is a wish for one’s love to be returned in equal measure. Long Nights is long on strong hooks and intertwined guitars and background vocals by Dave Roe. Another goodie is Play With Fire which again effectively features Roe on vocals. The whole album plays though as a piece without any filler or less interesting songs. This, then, is an album to savour and to return to and a reminder why so many of us miss top-notch music that, while it may not be breaking barriers or changing the musical landscape, is rather played for its own sake. The sake of the song.

Emily Herring Gliding Eight 30

As a pedal steel player and producer with such well known artists as Radney Foster, producer Steve Fishell seems like the right choice to helm Herring’s latest album of traditionally influenced but forward-thinking country music. Herring and Fisher have picked some of Austin’s finest to play on the album. Names like Redd Volkaert, Glen Fukunaga and Dave Sanger are all seasoned and gifted players. They recorded in the renowned Bismaux Studio in Austin and the results are engaging and emotion filled.

Now on her fourth album (her last, Your Mistake, was a Lonesome Highway album highlight) and it delivers in equal measure. The perspective however is personal with songs about her relationships and her Mother’s passing; as well as some tender moments that sit alongside a more definite swagger on the up-tempo truckin’ songs. As expected, the players are supportive throughout and allow Herring’s voice to deliver. The slow paced, Last Of The Houston Honky Tonk Heroes, floats on Fisher’s steel guitar. While All The Millers In Milwaukee is a drink sodden song that sees her joined by its writer Mary Cutrufello trading lines like “the whole damn Daniels family” and “every bud in Ol St. Lou” which give you a pretty good idea of where the song is heading. Balmorhea, by way of contrast, has an understated swing that ties it to an earlier Texas dancehall tradition. Her version of Billy Farlow and Bill Kirchen’s Semi Truck again offers another musical route that is a foot tapping truckin' treat. Both highlight Redd Volkaert and the versatility of the rhythm section.

However, the song, Right Behind Her, is an emotional standout. It is a song about loss and a song she actually wrote a year before her mother passed away and had a deep premonition of what living without her biggest fan, friend and anchor might actually mean. But the songs work by pulling her and the listener into that deep sense of departure. The title track sees Herring thinking of herself, but aware of the waitress in the bar and aware of the attraction between them. It tells of their getting together but later taking different paths in a way that is pretty universal. The Boudleaux Bryant and Chet Atkins penned Midnight has a feel that is totally in tune with the title and features some effective light night piano. Overall there is a set of different musical directions here that are pulled together by Herring’s striking vocals and the overall collective playing. Herring continues to glide and soar.

Ed Romanoff The Orphan King Pinerock

For this release, his second album, Ed Romanoff has upped his game by giving a vocal performance that makes the most of his baritone voice and his developing writing skills. He began writing some five years ago after a career outside of music. That gave him the freedom to develop his writing and music without the pressure of that being his only source of income and thereby having to make compromises to any possible commercial dictates.

For this album the producer is Simone Felice, which gives the album a wider and warmer sound than on his previous album. Interestingly, that album’s producer Crit Harmon is the co-writer of several songs on this album. Felice has also brought in a selection of sidemen and women who add much to the overall sound. These include Cindy Cashdollar, Larry Campbell, James and Simone Felice. Vocalists featured are Teresa Williams, Rachael Yamagata, Keith Pattengale, Cindy Mizelle and Felice - all of whom help to add a layer of effective vocals behind Romanoff’s. It was recorded in Sugar Mountain Studios in Woodstock and has an expansive folk sound that is loosely Americana in outlook.

Many of the songs have a haunting quality that paint pictures of various predicaments. None more so than The Ballad Of Willie Sutton, a brooding, almost spoken lament on a life of crime, that was continued in the attempt to give the Bonnie to his Clyde all the things she desired. It takes the Woody Guthrie ethos that the crime of robbing banks was equal to that of running one. The title song is one that he wrote with Mary Gauthier (her version featured on her album The Foundling) it is a reference to his own background and upbringing as well as believing in love as a way forward. That theme continues with  . It has a subtle atmosphere and melody that sits behind the tale of a traveling sideshow exhibit who, like everyone, is looking for a soulmate. A Golden Crown has a slight Celtic feel with a fiddle and is another story of looking and trying to find love.

Romanoff is a romantic storyteller and has delivered an album that is full of nuances and musical touches that do much to bring these songs to life. It is his recently discovered Irish roots coming to the fore which shows that even for those who come late to making music and recoding, it is never too late to bloom.

Craig Gerdes Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ Sol

This is an album that pretty much reveals itself from the cover and doesn’t disappoint. Gerdes fits the current profile of “outlaw” with beard, cowboy hat and 70’s inspired Waylon-esque sounding country songs. That is not to take away from Gerdes baritone voice or his song writing. Seven of the songs here are written by Gerdes solo or with a co-writer. There are two covers; Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets was a hit for Johnny Paycheck and You Saved Me From Me was written by his fellow contemporary outlaw Dallas Moore. A song of redemption and finding Jesus, Good Ol’ Days, reminisces about earlier times and Ol’ Hank. Redneck Sonabitches considers his time in Nashville and how it was not a perfect fit for a good ol’ boy wanting to write and play country music old school - something that he tells us that Billy Joe Shaver sympathises with him on. There is a grimmer tale of darkness and death to be found in Dead In A Box In Kentucky. The song has a brief Spanish guitar bridge that works well in the context of the tale.

Geodes co-produced the album with Brian DeBruler in Sol Records Studio in Indiana. It has a sound rooted in the past but one that sounds fresh in the light of some current production modes. They selected a group of players well able to give these songs the sound they needed. DeBruler was the drummer, Gerdes played lead and acoustic guitar and were joined by names well known to those who checked the credits of some albums of the era in Robby Turner on pedal steel and Larry Franklin on fiddle. Jim Vest, Tony Nasser and Buddy Hyatt and Mudbone also contributed.

This album places Gerdes among the expanding list of names who play country music that draws influences from Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson amongst others. Its outlaw status lies simply in going against the grain of what mainstream radio and the majority of the major labels want to release to appease their need to appeal to a crossover audience. Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ will not fit easily into that pigeonhole and that, perhaps, is its appeal. It is rather a real and robust expression of a musical form that is still loved by many and is fighting to retain its roots. Albums like this only help that to happen.

Matt Sayles & The Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress Manifest Refugees Philville

A Californian six-piece country/roots band fronted by singer, writer, arranger and co-producer Matt Sayles. He formed this band at the tail end of 2015 while still playing with another more acoustically focussed combo the Kentucky String Band. They take their name from Sayles place of employment (a gun club) when he was a teenager. This is (I believe) their debut album and it has been released as a limited edition vinyl album - one of which they were kind enough to send over for review. It features 11 original songs brought to fruition by the six-piece band that includes the solid rhythm section of Terry Luna and Blair Harper, keyboards (and accordion) from Ben Saunders and the lead guitars of Jay Carlandar and Sayles himself, plus the effective pedal steel guitar services of Bill Flores. They state their mission as “drawing out the echoing twang, reverb, and darkness from the smouldering remnants of manifest destiny that still mournfully beat in the hearts of our unknowing constituency.” Well that makes it pretty clear I guess.

However, what makes it, probably, even more clear is what’s in the grooves, which is pretty damn fine from the opening Old Man’s First Call; a sweet steel infused song about the bar life of a man who starts the day drinking coffee and moves to the harder stuff as his first, rather than last, call. From then on Sayles’ songs run through a number of experiences that are tied in with the way everyone has to deal with the effects that time and tribulation have in tempering an individual view, for any particular lifespan. Between some the songs there are the occasional samples from radio and other such utterances (often related, not unsurprisingly given the band name origin, to duck hunting). The overall effect makes for a slice of alt. country that engages and embodies the real spirit of honky-tonk music.

But titles like Don’t Drink The Water, Whites Of Their Eyes, Defan Saleau (with its hints of a Cajun lifestyle via the accordion) and Life Gets In The Way, offer an overview on how things can so easily slip away. Taking a similar world-weary tone is Can’t Track Myself Down, while the album closes with the pretty factual statement that Truth Is Now A State Of Mind. It rides along on twanging guitars, flowing pedal steel and a highway rhythm topped by Sayles knowing vocal. As good a way to end what is a solid mission statement from this entertaining, upright and upbeat collective.

Daniel Meade When Was The last Time Button Up

The new album from multi-instrumentalist and multi-talented Daniel Meade offers a much broader musical palette than his previous recordings. Maybe all that work with Ocean Colour Scene has rubbed off on him. It is also a solo album in the truest sense where all the instruments, apart for the important contribution by Ross McFarlane on drums, are played by Meade. A process that made him rethink his previous approach to record live with his band. He recorded it in Glasgow and had it mastered in Abbey Road Studio. Sonically it is a rich and satisfactory sound that is full of touches that reward repeated playing and familiarity with the songs. He has always had an ear for melody and structure and takes it to another level here. There are hints of his rootsier side at times but this has a bigger and, dare I say it, a somewhat more popier sound.

Meade has always impressed vocally but there is an additional confidence here and his use of multi-tracked vocals are particularly effective throughout. To appreciate that, in its most stripped back form, listen to So Much For Sorrow which is delivered as unaccompanied vocals or the layered vocals in Oh My My Oh. However, the final track is equally effective in its simplicity, Don’t We All. It is vocal and acoustic guitar plea for some kind of understanding and tolerance in the face of adversity. An old-school folk protest song in many ways.

Many of these songs were conceived initially as letters to himself and they are songs that are infused with Meade’s worldview and consideration of the darker times in life. They are at times somewhat downhearted but at other times looking towards the light. Either way, the music is entirely positive and full of his sense of structure, melody and skill as a player. The titles Nothing Really Matters and The Day the Clown Stopped Smiling might suggest otherwise but one can’t help but return to these rewarding songs and the man who conceived them. When was the last time that Daniel Meade impressed? It was live on stage and with all his previous recordings. An underrated artist at the top of his game.

Los Wrangos Way Out Yonder JT Omstead

There must be something in the water over in Sweden or else a big Morricone/Tarantino following, as here’s another band who appreciate and utilise that spaghetti western/Mexican element in their energised country and dark sinister round. The band is fronted by brothers Bob and Martin Lind who lead their accomplices through a set of original songs that range from desert instrumentals to songs that feature the brother’s confident English language vocals. The opening Tres Companeros is boosted by some strident mariachi horns. The Thundering Herd which follows could easily fit on A Man With No Name type film soundtrack. Like the rest of the album it is a heat and wind scorched landscape that they explore. It may be pastiche to some and not exactly sitting on the cutting edge (al la Calexico) but the end result is both entertaining and elemental. It is not pretending to be something authentic, but rather an interpretation of an atmosphere and attitude that has been their source of inspiration.

Though there are dark moments, there is a lightness of touch and elements of tongue-in-cheek humour throughout. It is also delivered with an undeniable skill and enthusiasm. Sweetheart Magnolia again places their trumpets to the fore with Spanish guitar increasing the mood all behind a solid melody. Of the ten tracks here 6 were recorded in Sweden and the remaining 4 tracks used the skills of Tucson’s Wavelab Studios maestro Craig Schumacher (who knows a thing or two about this kind of music) to mix the songs.

Some tracks that immediately stand out in include El Dorado (a song that see our hero hoping to return home made good) and Christmas In El Paso - both have a touch of Marty Robbins’ storytelling in them. Prairie Rain opens with accordion which sets the tone for a restless tale of returning. A theme that repeats itself. The lone man on a mission. Indeed, Los Wrangos are on a mission - one to make you listen and enjoy their music, something that it is not hard to do. They may look way out yonder from Sweden for their raison d’être but their aim is true. Long may they ride.

Jonn Walker Partisan Palace Self Release

His press release describes him as a vintage style country and western musician. Though I don’t how many would identify these stripped back songs as immediately belonging to that genre. For all that the five songs here are all interesting variations of a folk-style that assumes a stance of a less politically motivated Billy Bragg style performance. 

Walker songs are built from acoustic guitar upwards and add additional instruments to vary the sound a little. They songs have some angrier moments contrasted against some feelings of rejection and loss. Honey states “she loves money more than me” and that allows for mixed feelings. A Crying Shame has a riff that is most appropriate to translation to a traditional country song. It is again a song of misfortune in love. It also boast vocals that standout against the simplicity of the song structure.

The Open Secret is about drink and opens with a short story of staying in a hotel in New York and hearing the sound of sirens running throughout the night. It has a list of the preferred alcohol beverages. The final song Reputation again has reference to such consumption. In this case "Jack and Coke".

Walker is a UK based musician who has previously worked with The SoapGirls as a drummer. Here on this debut solo EP he sets out a base line to build from and it would be good to hear him add some traditional C&W instrumentation to his recorded output to see him move closer to his chosen format that he portrays in the cover photograph.

Thursday
Feb012018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Bennett Wilson Poole Self-Titled Aurora

Formed in 1973, the same year that the curtain dropped for the final time on The Byrds, UK band Starry Eyed and Laughing released their debut self-titled album one year later. Their West Coast sound was unapologetically influenced by The Byrd’s, possibly with a sprinkling The Beatles on the side, Tony Poole’s Rickenbacker very much at the cutting edge of their sound. Signed to CBS Records and with sessions on John Peel’s BBC Radio Show, fame, tours, limos, and major festival slots seemed inevitable. Alas, after a poorly co-ordinated US tour in 1975 and management difficulties on their return to the UK, the band finally derailed in 1976 leaving only their two studio releases and a few compilations albums in their wake.

Danny Wilson, of Danny and The Champions of The World and previously Grand Drive fame, was introduced to Tony Poole by Peter O’Brien, a schoolteacher of Wilson, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of Starry Eyed and Laughing. Robin Bennett and his brother Julian were members of the original Grand Drive line up before they moved on the form The Dreaming Spires and came to the attention of Poole while recording their album Searching For The Supertruth. Despite their individual hectic schedules, Poole, Bennett and Wilson managed to hook up at Poole’s home studio over a number of weekends. What started off as a meeting of minds with three mics, three acoustic guitars and three voices, swiftly grew wings to develop into something entirely different. With a number of unfinished songs in their collective repertoires the roots of an album began to emerge, enlivened by three-part harmonies, electric guitars and the realisation that their creative juices were in full flow.

First listen to the album resulted in me not getting beyond the second track Ask Me Anything which stopped me in my tracks and demanded repeated listening such is its intoxicating melody. The opener Soon Enough had been written by Bennett to feature acoustically in a dark solo album, yet to be completed, here it thunders along with smouldering guitars and closes slickly with a jangly fade out. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the brutal murder of Jo Cox, is vintage Neil Young and Crazy Horse, a powerful guitar driven acclamation, enraged and defiant. Wilson General Store recollects a different world and era, mid 60’s corner shops and Village Greens perhaps, a theme of simplicity and innocence many a time visited by The Beatles and The Kinks in their early days and at their most nostalgic. That Thing That You Called Love, a work in progress at the time for Poole, was rapidly completed with an input from all three resulting in a sound not unfamiliar with trademark Danny and The Champions of The World output.

The album is bookended by the epic Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), the harshness of survival weighted against wanton self-indulgence, written by Poole in response to a newspaper photo of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean beside an article on ‘selfies’. A marathon of a song at nearly eight minutes long it’s a considered reflection on the often-conflicting times we currently live in.

Supergroup may be a dated and overstated description but it’s a joy to come across a collaborative work by these three amigos that actually emphasises their cumulative talents rather than an album of competing ego’s. A joy to behold.

Anna Mitchell Self-Titled Tonetoaster

On first listen to All These Things, the opener on Anna Mitchell’s second album, you could be forgiven for assuming that it was a track by electronic trip hop band Goldfrapp and not the demure young Cork artist whose debut album Down To The Bone made quite an impression on Lonesome Highway on its release in 2015. Stripped back, emotional, personal and very much a Sunday morning rather than Saturday night listen, that debut album offered an introduction and insight into the talents and potential of Mitchell both as a singer and songwriter. Fast forward a little over two years and her self-titled second release is quite a bold departure, raunchier, fuller, more experimental and evidence of an artist taking centre stage having grown into herself with a self-belief and confidence only hinted at on her debut album.

That opening track, with its densely layered vocals and backbeats, represents a change in direction for Mitchell, straying from her country folk comfort zone and is repeated on the equally impressive It Pours which follows and indeed the dishevelled and racy Dog Track, all of which cross the threshold to previously unvisited territory for Mitchell.

However, it’s not all fire and thunder as Mitchell’s does not totally abandon her signature sound with both Radio Waves and Lovins For Fools exposing her divine self-assured vocal delivery to full effect. Better Life finds Mitchell strikingly hitting high notes that others wouldn’t even attempt and Never Learn recalls Tori Amos at the top of her game.

Featuring nine self-penned songs and one cover - Lovins For Fools was written by Sarah Siskind - Mitchell’s vocals and keyboards are aided by accomplished musicians Brian Hassey (Bass), Davie Ryan (Drums), Alan Comerford (Guitar), David Murphy (Pedal Steel) and Clare Sands (Violin). It has to be said that the musicianship throughout is of the highest quality as is the production - Mitchell, Hassey and Brendan Fennessy take a bow - as is the album sleeve containing beautiful photography courtesy of Emily O’Connell.

Cork appears to be the hot bed for emerging female Roots artists at present with Mitchell joining Marlene Enright and indeed Clare Sands as three exceptionally talented young ladies all of whom possess the capabilities to bring their careers to entirely higher levels. 

In her other life as keyboard player and backing vocalist with John Blek and The Rats, Mitchell can be found on the wings and side stage. She’s certainly thrown off the shackles this time around, in control, calling the shots and most certainly centre stage

Cindy Lee Berryhill The Adventurist Omnivore

California born Cindy Lee Berryhill’s recording career dates back to 1987 when she released Who’s Gonna Save The World, gaining her a reputation as a follower of the anti-folk movement together with artists such as Michelle Shocked and The Violent Femmes. She subsequently recorded an additional four albums between then and Beloved Stranger released in 2008.

Her latest release The Adventurist deals with the most personal of challenges head on, its inspiration being her marriage to her late husband Paul Williams, founder of American music magazine Crawdaddy, who died in 2013 following a long struggle with illness resulting from a serious cycling accident in 1995. 

Far from grief, sorrow and desperation, the material that make up the fourteen tracks is a celebration of a life and loving relationship, an acceptance of the inevitable and a delightful body of work which no doubt would have contributed to the healing process for Berryhill.

 Its songs are quirky (Horsepower), heartfelt (Somebody’s Angel, An Affair Of The Heart), escapist (Deep Sea Fishing) and not without humour (Deep Sea Dishing), with Berryhill’s distinctive and wonderfully unconventional vocals fleshed out by string driven instrumentation, the cello playing by Renata Bratt being particularly impressive.

The Adventurist demands your full attention and is not initially an easy listen, but after a few spins it reveals a body of songs that will undoubtedly win you over in the end.  Simply gorgeous. 

Guy Littell One Of Those Fine Days AR

The thirty second guitar intro on the opening track of One Of Those Fine Days stopped me in my tracks on first spin. The track is titled So Special and its great kick off to a no-frills album that points very much in the direction of Neil Young with Crazy Horse and Tom Petty with The Heartbreakers. No point in getting over analytical about this recording by Guy Littell. Simply put, it’s a cracking good album with non-cryptic and to the point lyrics, stellar guitar riffs, thumping bass lines, crashing drums and is best played at full volume. 

Gaetano Di Sarno is an Italian singer songwriter who records by the pseudonym Guy Littell and One Of These Days features ten self-penned guitar driven songs. Sounding like a live recording and all the better for it, many of the tracks may have you scratching your head wondering where you heard them before as Littell cleverly cherry picks classic rock riffs and chord changes to superb effect, elevated by a vocal delivery perfectly in keeping with the material. Proving capable of delivering ballads as well as anthems Better For Me and the album stand out track Twenty Six are less frenetic but equally impressive.

This album has been spinning in my car stereo for the past week and sounding better with each listen. It’s nourishment for the soul, comforting and perfect listening to brighten up these long winter days.

Katie Garibaldi Home Sweet Christmas Self Release

Apologies to Katie Garibaldi for reviewing this album some weeks after the festive season but with so many albums arriving in December we found it impossible to cover them all before the year end. Fortunately, a Christmas album can be revisited every year.

California based Garibaldi has been recording country tinged folk music adorned by her distinctive vocal style since her debut album Fireflies released in 2004. Rather than taking the easy option of recording an album of traditional Christmas songs Garibaldi composed eleven of the tracks, the only exception being the closing track Silent Night. On record that it was a personal ambition since childhood for her to write, produce and record a festive album, it’s fair to say that the project has proved to be more than a personal aspiration but instead a most impressive body of work.

Highlights are the soulful stunner Safe and Warm Lullaby For Jesus with gorgeous backing vocals courtesy of Misa Malone, Jessica Allison and Drew Cheshire, opener Happy Married Christmas, Tomorrow Is Christmas, previously released as single and two countrified gems in the barroom tear jerker Unhappy Christmas and the less melancholy Love On Christmas Day. 

Home Sweet Christmas may not have featured on my living room playlist last December but will surely make an appearance in future festive seasons, far outweighing most of the traditional, somewhat tired and repetitive fare that we often subject ourselves to at that time of the year. Well worth checking and not only at Christmas.

Ordinary Elephant Before I Go Berkalin

Ever since her emergence in the mid 90’s, Gillian Welch has been a major source of encouragement and inspiration for a host of acts to dust down the banjos and fiddles in an attempt to recreate the sparse musical styles of old country, Appalachian and bluegrass of bygone days.

Some have succeeded, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn and Carolina Chocolate Drops spring to mind, as do more recent recruits Rachel Baiman and Molly Tuttle. However, Before I Go, the second album release by husband and wife duo Ordinary Elephant, certainly goes closer than most others in reinventing that sound so unique to Gillian Welch - and Dave Rawlings. With all thirteen tracks written by the husband and wife duo, it’s no exaggeration in reporting that the album hardly contains a weak moment throughout, managing to capture widescreen cinematic backdrops across its tales of travel, tragedy, tenderness and anxiety.  Ordinary Elephant is Crystal Hariu-Damore (vocals and guitar) and Peter Damore (vocals and banjo) and with vocals perfectly matched for harmonising, Peter’s sublime claw hammer banjo playing and Crystals sweet guitar rhythms, all that was required was a collection of songs to showcase their talents.

Fragility and uncertainty are visited in the beautifully paced Leaving Kerrville, love found and lost in Evangeline, uncertainty and insecurity in Can I Count On You, the aftermath of Texas wildfires in Highway 71 and the anguish of Alzheimer’s in The Things He Saw.

Having released their debut album Dusty Woods And Cardboxes in 2013 and being shortlisted for Vocal Duo of the year at the 2014 Texas Music Awards they have essentially spent the past number of years on the road, travelling, touring with their van and trailer as home. They name check Darrell Scott and their attendance in 2015 at his summer 2015 SongFood Workshop as hugely inspirational in the shaping of numerous songs on Before I Go. 

Intelligent and interesting writing, sublime vocals, stellar playing and beautifully packaged. Another treasure unfolded.