Wednesday
May032017

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

The Mavericks Brand New Day Mono Mundo

This is the first album of original songs from the reactivated Mavericks since leaving Big Machine Music Group and it finds that the Mavs are pretty much business as usual. The core team of Raul Malo, Eddie Perez, Jerry Dale McFadden and Paul Deakin are joined by the Fantastic Four, which includes long-time associate Michael Guerra on accordion, guitar and percussion as well as the brass section and current bassist. So, there’s nothing here that strays too far from what might be expected - and loved - from the band.

Per usual, the musicianship is without question and the focal point of Malo’s vocal prowess is well to the fore. The 10 songs have been written by Malo, mostly with co-writer Alan Miller. There is one solo credit and one on which guitarist Perez joins in. The themes are, as they have been of late, of affairs of the heart and in most cases the songs affirm love and life. I Think Of You, I Will Be Yours, I Wish You Well and the title track attest to the generous state of the heart. The more acerbic older songs such as From Hell to Paradise seem likely to remain in the past. This would seem to be one of the reasons that the Mavericks are often tagged as a good time party band which has both positive and negative effects, depending on which side of the fence you are on.

For any long time Mavericks fan though, Brand New Day offers a brand new way to get acquainted with the band with their trademark sound firmly to the fore. It is an album that many are already placing alongside the best of their earlier incarnation and it will give the Mavericks the impetus to carrying doing what they do best, hopefully making some new fans along the way too.

 Sam Outlaw Tenderheart Six Shooter

Following on from the success of his last Ry and Joachim Cooder-produced album, Sam Outlaw has followed up with an album that reinforces his trademark sound. His sound is focused around his distinctive vocal style and his neo-LA (So-Cal) country stylings. As the title implies, there is a new tenderness to some of the songs, especially as he and his wife now have a son. This makes the process of being a working musician, of being on the road, a lot more difficult, yet the call to carrying on making music is strong. In order to do that successfully there is a need to tour behind a new album and Tenderheart is that album and a fine one it is too. Prior to releasing Angeleno, Outlaw had self-released a vinyl album and  an EP. For both his last and the new album he has rerecorded some of those earlier songs, and on this album Diamond Ring, Two Broken Hearts and She’s Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of) have been chosen beside 10 new songs.

The production this time out is by Outlaw himself and Martin Pradler. and here he works again with Molly Jenson, Daniel Rhine, Jeremy Long, Brad Lindsay, all of  whom contributed to the debut release Nobody Loves Sam Outlaw. Jenson and Long also appeared on the Angeleno album and this brings continuity to the context of his music. Outlaw is steeped in the music that emanates from Los Angeles. It is a broad spectrum of the country music that has always differed from that being produced in Nashville, but this is less Bakersfield and more Burbank. There is a nod to the border again with familiar mariachi moments that allow for a broad palate and musical expression. 

The songs are much enhanced by Long’s steel guitar and the equally sympathetic playing of all. Outlaw looks at love, loss, friendship and forgiveness. Everyone’s Looking For A Home is a universal statement of the wish to belong, to have a home, to find some peace in a crazy world. The title track is about finding that special relationship. Yet it’s not all on the upside as a song like Trouble asserts; it is an album highlight and is delivered with a kick that is welcome. She’s Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of) looks at a relationship that has it’s warmth and is sung with a empathy that is easy to fall for. Two Broken Hearts is about lovers meeting and making their way in the world.

This is Outlaw doing what he does best and it is the next step in what has already been an interesting and individual musical journey, that has seen Outlaw gaining both critical respect and audience acclaim in a relatively short time. While Tenderheart may not be as well received as Angeleno in some quarters, to these ears, and after repeated listening. it is at least it’s equal.

Jim Keaveny Put It Together Self Release

The spirited troubadour returns with a brand new set of songs, most are solo writes and two are co-writes. There is a storyteller at work here who engages the listener with a loose amalgam of styles that  fall under the roots label. The album is co-produced by Keaveny and Bill Palmer who is also a player here and they are joined by a bunch of players who sound like they’re having fun and getting the groove right. The songs have a certain spontaneity totally in keeping with lifestyle of a wandering spirit, a man who looks at life with a wry smile and an open heart. 

There is also a border feel to some of the songs with the addition of guitarrón, trumpet and accordion. There are some great vocal harmonies behind Keaveny’s engaging voice and lyrics. This feels something like a conversation in a warm sunny place with a music drifting in on the wind. Given it was recorded in Santa Fe in New Mexico that may be an intention. Those who heard his last album (or previous releases) will know what to expect and newcomers are likely to be equally enchanted. This is not chart bound music, nor is it intended to be.

There is a strong folk/country axis to the overall sound with pedal and loop steel, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars and a solid rhythm section that are right behind the songs. There is also enough change of pace and texture to keep the album interesting. Most of the songs are over the 3 minute mark and several clock in over 5. The album opens with What I ain’t Got which is a précis of the things in his life that he has to hand. Is It You? opens with trumpet and a lyric about the person he has in his life. It is one of the album standouts in that it sums better than words what  Jim Keaveny is all about. The Grand Forks is an atmospheric song that mixes backing vocals with trumpet to create a Calexico styled instrumental piece. Also check out Blown Away, the heartfelt plea Please don’t Underestimate my Love, which is delivered in a soft and understated way. Limbo and Grim/The Mariachi Mantra builds from Alex McMahon’s pedal steel through to Eric Ortiz’s trumpet to create a soundscape that plays like the end credits of a modern day western.

Keaveny has put it together here in more ways than one and it underlines him as a fringe figure who continues to make music that recalls much but is very much owned by his attitude and his auspicious endeavours to be heard.

Christopher Rees The Nashville Songs Red Eye

From the first notes of this album you welcome the return of this distinctive Welsh wonder. As the title indicates, this set of songs were written with a number of co-writes including Rick Brantley, Mando Saenz, Sandy Cherryholmes, Amy Speace and others. However the recording, production and mixing was done by Rees at his studio in Wales and it features Rees’ notable attention to detail and a sound that brings his multi-instrumental abilities well to the fore. He plays everything here other than drums (Dan Tilbury) and pedal steel guitar (Aaron Goldstein - a talented player who has worked with Daniel Romano and The Cowboy Junkies). Another vital asset here is Rees’ dynamic and individualistic vocal, which is central to the album’s success. 

A listen to Something about Nashville will confirm that accomplisment to any listener. The song is about being separated from a partner who once shared the city together but is now not there. In the song A Place Upon My Face Rees’ writes that “I want my face to be a reflection of where I’ve been and where I come from.” In many ways his albums also offer the same sort of illumination. Each album is about a musical adventure and inspiration as well as a diary of where he was when he recorded it in terms of inspiration and application. Even though they are largely recorded back in his studio in Wales they draw from the experiences and the relationships he has made along the way. These are both personal and musical. 

Rees is an artist whose compulsion to make music as a necessary expression and fundamental need is evident. There is little doubt that the path of any independent artist is not a particularly easy one, but when the results are as good as this is, then it is one that needs to be encouraged and applauded. But if the end result was below standard then it would be easy to suggest that, as is sometimes the case, the continued release of albums may be something of a fool’s errand. That is not true of Christopher Rees, who has consistently proved his worth and the worthiness of his endeavours. The Nashville Songs is his latest album and long may he continue to do what he does so well.

Ed Dupas Tennessee Night Road Trip

The sleeve note from Dupas explains something of the genesis of this album - how a trip to Nashville and a stay in a remote writer’s cabin helped to inspire several of the songs featured here - songs born out of longing and some inner turmoil (I can’t let you go, I watch your picture on the wall, and I wait for it to fall - Do It For Me). Overall the mood is not upbeat, even though the music is. Dupas looks at his life, his hopes and his past and uses that to create this music and in doing so expresses something that many will have experienced themselves.

The album was produced, engineered and mixed by Michael Crittenden, who is also a part of the players who have brought these songs to life. Full credit to them and their individual talents. The album is a worthy successor to Dupas’ debut A Good American Life and underlines his talent as a writer, singer and performer. It has the feel and energy of such wonderful albums as Bob Woodruff’s 1994 album Dreams & Saturday Night which was produced at a time when a country album could rock while remaining true in spirit to the core music without becoming a parody of overblown heavy metal, as is often the case these days.

Mention should be made of the contribution of Drew Howard on pedal steel which does much to flavour the music’s roots orientation. Crittendon’s B3 and banjo also add to that overall texture. Dupas himself plays acoustic and electric guitars which complement his grounded and graceful vocal performance. He is joined on a number of these songs by vocalists Tara Cleveland, Judy Banker and Cole Hanson and all add a counterpoint and harmony behind the emotion evident in Dupas’s delivery. Too Big to Fail, Anthem and Everything is in Bloom are all examples that immediately stand out and show why Ed Dupas is an artist who well warrants investigation and interest. These songs have insight and inhabit a space that, if nothing else, shows that Dupas’ need to make music is a true one. That is something to be deemed as a worthy endeavour. 

Malcolm Holcombe Pretty Little Troubles Singular

There is little doubt that Holcombe has his detractors as well as his admirers. His grit and gravel sandpaper voice is not to everyone’s taste, but those that do fall under his spell seem to be growing and he is certainly been prolific of late with a number of albums to his credit over the last few years. This time out noted artist in his own right Darrell Scott has taken on the production duties. Holcombe’s bluesy tales, his own pretty little troubles, are as often about the world around him and how it is being eroded (Yours No More, Good Ole Days, Damn Weeds) as about his own life and times (Crippled Point O’ View, Outta Luck), some of the songs encompass both.

However these tales of woe are given a musical setting that always make them never less than interesting with a wide range of instruments adding substance and sustenance to the hardworn nature of the music. Many of the instruments are played by Scott himself but with major contributions from Jelly Roll Johnson, Joey Miskulin, Verlon Thompson and Denis Crouch. Mike McGoldrick brings a distinctly Celtic flavour to The Eyes O’ Josephine with Uillean pipes, which makes that song an immediate standout. Yet in the end it is Holcombe’s voice which is the most prominent feature of the tracks and the success of the album will largely depend on your liking for that particular vocal inflection.

For those that do like this sound, Pretty Little Troubles is a compelling album that employs all the skills of its participants to best advantage which makes it a highpoint of Holcombe recorded output. His pretty little troubles have produced some nuanced and balanced personal and unique representations of the blues that are as effective as many of the more applauded practitioners of that often ignored genre. Malcom Holcombe continues to do it his own way. Singular indeed. 

Angaleena Presley Wrangled Mining Light

For her second album Presley takes a particular stand for her take on traditional country music and against some prevailing attitudes on the role of the women gagged. Add to that a the album’s title and you get the impression that Presley wants to break free. She does this by expanding her parameters while remaining within the country corral. 

The songs also tell something of the tale with titles like Dreams Don’t Come True, Country, Outlaw, Mama I Tried and Motel Bible. The album’s overall tone is her largely contemporary takeon  a musical form she loves. The steel and baritone guitar on Only Blood takes things right back. This duet with Morgane Stapleton was co-written by Presley and Chris Stapleton and is a sweetly sung song of revenge and that “she’s been talking to Jesus and he said that only blood is strong enough to wash away your sins.” There is a distant distored male voice and some discordant sound that adds an air of disquiet to the song. Country heads the opposite direction with a rap vocal from co-writer Yelawolf that wipes the floor with some of mainstream country’s rap aspirations and mixes the two approaches with success. 

The songs are a mix of those written solo and co-writes. Dreams Don’t Come True with her Pistol Annies bandmates Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert. There are two co-writes with writers who had obviously played a major influence on her in terms of attitude and writing aspirations. They are Guy Clark in Cheer Up Little Darling (which uses Spanish guitar under Clark’s spoken advice over that intro) and Wanda Jackson (and Vanessa Olavarez) for Good Girl Down. Co-producer Oran Thornton also has a couple of writing credits (Mama I Tried and Motel Bible - the latter also with Trevor Thornton). Her own Outlaw makes the point that she doesn’t want to be a renegade or outlaw, that she would like to be a straight shooter on the hit parade, a place she has been with The Pistol Annies. However one gets the feeling that Presley would want to do that her own way rather than as any sort of record company puppet.

There is a whole bunch of attitude at work here that makes for an album that has both variety and velocity which in turn make it a step forward for Presley. However hse may still find her music sitting outside the tightly controlled focus of country radio’s current thinking - sad to say. 

The Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band Front Porch Sessions Family Owned

The big voiced Reverend is back with his band on these stripped back acoustic blues and country blues outings. So stripped back,in fact, that the Big Damn Band here is just two people; Breezy Paton on washboard and Maxwell Senteney on drums. However a lot of the performance are just Payton alone or predominately him. It was recorded on vintage equipment in order to capture a certain timeless quality that is not exactly retro but rather realistic.

Payton went in to lay down some old songs and some new songs in a live-in-the-studio format while capturing the looseness the title indicates. The results are going to please any of those who have witnessed the band’s live performances. It also stands up as a pure listening experience as it captures the spirit of the songs and the lineage that they convey, When My Baby Left Me by Furry Lewis being a good example. As is  the Reverend’s taken on the songs from the 1900 Let Your Light Shine, an infectious spiritual reading.

Between the covers and the originals there is not a lot of distance, which is to say the new songs capture the spirit of older ones. It is about intimacy and illumination, but also it is about Payton’s big and booming voice and his growing skills on his guitar on his Dobro. Not an album to please everyone, especially those with one foot in the honky-tonk, but for anyone who likes their music honest. 

Thursday
Apr202017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Aaron Watson Vaquero Big Label

Sixteen songs and over 60 minutes of new music from this independent Texan who continues to blaze an impressive trail in celebration of his artistic talents and entrepreneurial vision. This represents CD release number 13 and highlights a career spanning 18 years that includes countless live performances across America and into Europe in recent years.

His last release, The Underdog, acted as a statement of defiance against the music machine of Nashville, where his style of Texas Outlaw Country is not given much official recognition. However, this was not the first time that the big record labels came calling for Watson’s signature on a contract; only to be turned down at every point of asking. Instead, The Underdog made history when it made Watson the first independent male artist to debut at number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart with a self-released, independently distributed and promoted album.

No pressure then on this follow-up, only 2 years later, but Watson comes through with a very self-assured and confident project that does not sag at any time across the many tracks included here. There are love songs (Take You Home Tonight, Be My Girl, Big Love in a Small Town, Rolling Stone), heartland songs about pride in living quiet and honest lives (These Old Boots Have Roots, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To), story songs such as the tile track which references the solitary life of the old independent ranch hands and the sage advice of years spent riding the rural countryside farms – “He said don't live your life like a sad country song, A fool on a stool is still a fool right or wrong”.

Texas Lullaby examines the simple wish to serve one’s country and make it back alive – a politically tinged song with a small-town twist that makes it all the more honest. Outta Style is a fine band workout and the celebratory groove of the arrangement has radio hit written all over it. Run Wild Horses is a song of passion and desire that really rocks out with guitar and fiddle playing off each other in style. There is some timely social commentary in the song Clear Isabel, which looks at the subject of illegal immigrants and the hope of making a better life across the border.

Amen Amigo has an addictive beat with some excellent fiddle parts as local town fun spills out into the weekend and partying with the boys in tow! The strongest track is The Arrow which gives a life lesson to the sense of living with kindness and love. Diamonds & Daughters is a heart-felt song to his little girl and will long endure as a fan favourite with its sweet sentiment.

Aaron Watson is a very authentic country artist who delivers on all fronts; an insightful and strong song-writer who plays from the belief that he can make a difference in the lives of people who look to music as a means of coping in their daily lives. The abiding message is to live life with a belief and confidence in yourself. This release takes top spot in my country music releases so far, this year.

Stevieray Latham Winter in London At the Helm

This collection of 10 songs was released at the end of 2016 and arrived into our offices for review this month. There is no detail or information on the promo copy I received, but the following was sufficient endorsement ‘mixed and produced by Peter Bruntnell at Domestico Studios in North Devon’. This is the home studio of the multi-talented Mr Bruntnell and any connection with such a revered artist/producer should be sufficient to highlight any young artist to the media.

Steveray Latham released his debut record in 2014 and this follow up is a quiet affair with stripped down arrangements and a vocal that delivers with a sense of reflection and wistful longing. Latham sings these personal songs that have relevance to his years spent living in London. West Hendon Incident deals with a shooting on an estate. Kristina looks at a friend who has issues in communicating in the real world. Never Go Back is a lament to times passed by and the reflection that you can never return. The strings used on This is The Love are gently haunting against a backdrop of a failed relationship while House On The Corner tells of a past girlfriend who has travelled away. Plenty to enjoy here and a strong release from this young talent.

Adriana Spina Let Out the Dark Ragged Road

This singer-songwriter is based in Scotland and her second release, following on from her debut in 2011, is quite an interesting collection of songs. Her band comprise of Stuart MacLeod, who not only produced and mixed the ten songs here, but also weighs in with guitar, bass, keyboards & percussion. Ross McFarlane plays drums and there are backing vocals from Caitlin MacLeod and Francesco Spina (keeping it in the family). Adriana plays acoustic guitar and sings with a sweet voice and clear delivery.

The songs are based around relationships in the main (Home, The Same Drum, Sparkle, Where You Are), affairs & infidelity (The Fall, Hear It From You), the challenge of being away from home and unfilled dreams (Don’t Recognise Me, Two Steps, Disappear) and there is a poignant reflection on the immigrant crisis (See Another Day).

Regret is the abiding theme in the relationship songs with the author cast as the villain in breaking-away and avoiding intimacy. A restless soul looking for a true home should not look back in anger.

A fine collection of contemporary Folk songs that will appeal to many and attract media attention for this new artist.

Scotch Hollow Little Tortuga Self Release.

Scotch Hollow is an acoustic roots band that play in a country-blues style that is both timeless and modern. Mark Verbeck met Carley Martin at College where their mutual love for the blues, traditional country and roots music brought them together. The band line-up is completed by JD Linn on upright bass, Benjamin Scholz on drums, percussion Brody Buster on harmonica and Joel Schuman on piano.

This collection of 11 songs represents their third release, following a debut 5-track EP in 2014 and their debut full length album in 2015. The band produce a fine groove with harmonica and guitar high in the mix. Verbeck produces the project with Linn also acting as producer and sound engineer, so it is very much an in-house affair. The blues playing on the 3 opening songs Hocus Pocus/Kansas City Pepper/Drop in the Bucket is immediate and bright and the pace does not let up throughout.

There are cover versions of Nobody But You (Little Walter), Moaning at Midnight (Howlin' Wolf/Big Willie Dixon) and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning (Blind Willie Johnson). It is a measure of the playing prowess on display that all three tracks stand very much in their own style with strong performances in the interpretations ... The vocal talents of Carley are very much to the fore throughout this enjoyable release.

Cranford Hollow Color/Sound/Renew/Revive Swampfire

Cranford Hollow describe their sound as a blended mix of Southern Rock, Appalachian Fiddle Music and American Rock and Roll. Well, the evidence on this, their fifth record, is more that of a roots/country sound with the fine violin playing of Eric Matthew Reid colouring the arrangements at every turn. He is ably assisted by John Cranford on guitars, piano and sound manipulation; Jan Reynecke on electric guitar, Randy Looman on drums and Philip Sirmans on bass. Special guest/honorary member John Wilkins also features on guitar and the 8 tracks here are a testament to this excellent band of musicians who blend the influences of the Band and the Allman Brothers into a composite whole that is both addictive and unique in sound. Reid and Cranford handle the vocals with great aplomb and the tired, worldly wise delivery in the voices comes over as fully authentic in the song settings. And You Brutus, Songfield, North and Swing are really strong tracks but the whole project makes for a great listening experience. Good to discover new music such as this and to recommend it to a wider audience.

New Road Stone Walls & Street Lights Self Release

What an unexpected surprise! This collection of 13 tunes is a real joy from start to finish with playing that sweeps the listener along with a real energy and flourish. The band comprise of Rick Epping (harmonica, concertina, 5-string banjo, jaw harp, vocals); Seamie O'Dowd (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, vocals); Leonard Barry (uilleann pipes, whistles) and Andy Morrow (fiddle). The combo playing is just superb and the blend of fiddle, jaw harp & uileann pipes on the song Greasy Coat is a fine example of the great arrangements that deliver little twists along the way to keep the listener fully engaged.

Formed in 2013 and featuring this interesting blend of instruments, New Road are very aptly named and explore roots music that includes Irish traditional, Appalachian old-time, blues and more. An eclectic mix of traditional airs, tunes, jigs, reels, songs, stories are sewn together across a tapestry of melody and rhythm that is both engaging and full of rich colour. Guests include bodhrán legend Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh, Cathy Jordan and Sligo guitarist Shane McGowan. The songs are sung by Rick Epping and include the aforementioned Greasy Coat, Saturday Night My Wife Died and Down In The Old Home Town.

Fellow Pynins Hunter & the Hunted Self Release

This debut release was recorded live in Ashland, Oregon and the band is made up of duo Ian Van Ornum on guitar, mandolin, hurdy gurdy and vocals with Dani Aubert on banjo, bouzouki, vocals, plus voice sung into the banjo. All 10 songs are created by Fellow Pynins and their website describes them as “a tender duo, birthed out of years of travelling, farming, childrearing and touring with a 6-piece orchestra called Patchy Sanders”.

Their songs contain an old-world feel in the words and speak of love stories and the untamed nature of both man and sea. Folk tales and fables that tell of sheep and sugar beets, kings and queens; echoes of a time since passed and one where many may still wish to reside.

Finely tuned harmonies and sympathetic musical arrangements flow easily and the simple strum and intimacy of My Adventures With Jack As Sheepherders is a real joy. Instrumental Henry’s Got Freckles (In The Summertime) is a pleasant jaunt on a buggy in the countryside on a sunny day before Dear Ones unfolds with a salutary tale of death and the depths that could easily fit into an Irish session of traditional singing. The duo did tour Ireland in 2016 as part of a European tour and their music is quaintly appropriate to the sense of a return to simpler ways. A fine release for those who enjoy traditional folk music played with an understated charm.  

Shake Russell Little Bright Band of Light Howlin’ Dog

Thirteen songs in 49 minutes and the project was funded by way of a pre-order campaign. The players who support Shake are Michael Hearne on acoustic guitar & harmony vocal; James Doyle on drums; Jimmy Stadler on piano and guitar (4 tracks, all parts recorded at his home studio) and Don Richmond, who plays a cornucopia of instruments, in addition to production duties.

For more than three decades, this Texas singer-songwriter has been creating his folk-rock compositions, some of which have been recorded by artists such as artists as Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Ricky Skaggs, Clint Black, and Carolyn Dawn Johnson. He has been recording since the 1970’s and has a broad body of work to his name.

Quality playing throughout and a fine way with a lyric make this experienced singer-songwriter one to celebrate and songs like Pure and Shadow Man are reminiscent of JJ Cale in the arrangement and rhythm. Letters, Songs And Photographs is a look back at old memories while The King of the Honky-Tonk Is Gone is a fine tribute to the great George Jones. In early 2016, Shake RusselI was honoured and inducted in the Songwriters Texas Legends Hall of Fame and this latest release gives plenty of reasons as to why such an award was merited.

Jen Gloeckner Vine Spinning Head 

The music industry often works in bazaar and unexpected ways. Not always with the results anticipated or intended. Labels sign artists, distribution deals are struck for product reach and then promotion/PR companies get involved with product air-play, placement and media reviews. It all leads to a big machine spinning its wheels, ever in different directions, and not always aiming the energy at the original targets intended.

In this context, I am contacted by the Jen Gloeckner promotion team who tell me that this artist has just released her third CD and that she is placed, as a reference point, in the category of; Massive Attack, Radiohead, Bjork, Portishead, Julee Cruise, Patsy Cline, Simon and Garfunkel and others.

Well, as Lonesome Highway is focused mainly on Americana, Country, Folk & Roots music, I am interested to understand just how Patsy Cline made it onto this list of artists, but I am prepared to suspend judgement and just listen to the music on its merits…

Some days later I receive a package that contains all three of Jen’s releases; Miles Away (2005), Mouth of Mars (2010) and Vine (2017). Asked to review the latest release, I am curious to track the progression made across all three records and so I settle into a few days of Jen Gloeckner taking up the greater part of my listening time.

The experience is not unpleasant and indeed I am very taken with the singular talents of this Dubuque, Iowa artist who recorded the new release in her bedroom before having the tracks mixed and mastered in Philadelphia.

The latest release Vine is a further jump in creative control and expression as Jen delves further into the use of loops, pulses, rhythms, treatments and voice atmospherics. These are lavish soundscapes and the ambient quality of the tracks is augmented by the sweet vocal delivery and use of Cello, Flute and EBow. The lyrics are not always clear but add to the overall effect of floating along the breeze of life with destination unknown. Song titles such as Blowing Through, Firefly (War Dance), Counting Sheep, Row With The Flow and Breathe give an indication of the musical colour on display here. A very talented artist who is worthy of greater media attention for her creative gifts. Jen Gloeckner is not easily placed in any specific genre, which can only be a positive when everyone is eager to pigeonhole creative talent into various boxes.

I am still looking for Patsy Cline howeve … A small complaint!

 

 

Thursday
Apr062017

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Samantha Crain You Had Me At Goodbye Ramseur Records

Samantha Crain’s last visit to Ireland in 2015 featured an appearance on national television where she performed Big Rock from her then current album Under Branch And Thorn And Tree on The Late Late Show. That album featured highly in Lonesome Highway’s Best of 2015 and was a career best for the Oklahoma resident. Not one to stand on ceremony, Crain freely admitted that after that tour it was back to bread and butter issues with the prospect of working shifts at a pizza parlour to earn cash to finance her next recording and subsequent tour. The result of her toils is You Had Me At Goodbye, the fifth full album by Crain and a worthy successor to its predecessor.

Engaging the same production team of John Vanderslice (The Mountain Goats, Strand of Oaks) and Jacob Winik (The Magnetic Fields, Hot Buttered Rum) and recorded at Tiny Telephone Studio in San Francisco the album finds Crain in a more experimental and relaxed mood than on previous recordings. A recent quote from the young Shawnee Oklahoma resident noted "With this album, I just wanted to have some fun. I’ve spent the majority of my young adulthood taking myself and my music very seriously."’

Well, it is indeed fun but certainly not throwaway. Crain may have felt more carefree than on her previous recordings but her gift as a prolific and passionate songwriter continues to glow as she considers sincerity, self-respect, grieving, mental illness and relationships over the ten songs that make up the album. The album kicks off with the upbeat and hooky Antiseptic Greeting which agonises about the pressure on people to continually put a brave face on, when sometimes it should be ok and acceptable to be in bad form and not under pressure to be expected to mask it. The Loneliest Handsome Man deals with lost friendship and is delivered with an almost sleepwalking vocal and delightful piano and strings. Crain employs her ancestors native Choctaw language on Red Sky, Blue Mountain a melodic and hypnotic song and possibly the stand out track on the album. Grieving and loss are visited on Betty’s Eulogy which deals with a widow’s loss. Interestingly the album includes Crain’s first recorded cover song When The Roses Bloom Again from the Mermaid Avenue Sessions. Its appearance on that album featured music by Jeff Tweedy to lyrics that were discovered in Woody Guthrie’s journals but which had been written by the composer Will D. Cobb.

This album is a slight departure from Crain’s previous work but captures the lyrical beauty that has permeated all her output to date and fits snugly in a back catalogue that should be included in every serious listener’s collection.

Holly Macve Golden Eagle Bella Union

‘I looked at the world with different eyes’ announces Holly Macve in White Bridge, the opening track from her debut album Golden Eagle. In a certain context these words could well describe the direction the twenty one year old Galway born artist has taken her musical inspirations to create a most impressive and individualistic recording.

Possessing a quite unparalleled vocal which dips and soars throughout the ten tracks on the album, Macve excels in the art of storytelling with a maturity well beyond her years. Produced by Paul Gregory of Lanterns On The Lake, the album was written when Macve was, by her own admission, going through a difficult period emotionally. Often the motivation for creativity, her dark moments have delivered some wonderful stark stories depicting lost love (Heartbreak Blues), the comfort of childhood innocence (Sycamore Tree/Timbuktu), isolation (Shell) and loved ones departed (All Of It’s Glory), often delivered with minimal instrumentation and Macve’s  luscious vocal always out front. 

Make no mistake, her warbling, yodelling vocal will not be to everyone’s taste. It is quite distinctive and it did take a few listens to fully connect with but the time invested and particularly with the lyric sheet in hand certainly reaps rich rewards.

While heavily influenced by old time country, one is constantly reminded of Hank Williams, comparisons could also be made with Angel Olsen and no doubt Macve has the talent and potential like Olsen, to make a major industry breakthrough on the strength of Golden Eagle.

Country noir at its finest and highly recommended indeed.

The Black Sorrows Faithful Satellite Rootsy

Listening to Cold Grey Moon, the opening track on The Black Sorrows latest album, you could be forgiven for assuming it was an outtake from Elvis Costello’s 1999 album Painted From Memory, the album he recorded in collaboration with Burt Bacharach. Glorious vocal, horns and strings combine to give the song a full and rich delivery. No coincidence possibly as Costello was instrumental in a process that elevated The Black Sorrows from a covers band to big hitters. Frontman Joe Camilleri had raised the finance to record the band’s first album by playing birthday parties and weddings, the resulting album Sonola was recorded for a mere $1300. Costello happened upon the album when visiting Gaslight Records while playing in Australia and plugged them on the national airwaves and TV, creating a wave of interest in the band.  Costello in fact went on to cover Joe Camilleri’s So Young on his 1987 compilation album Out Of Our Idiot.  

Camilleri has since been at the forefront of Australian music culture for decades and was inducted into The Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame in 2007. Under his stewardship, The Black Sorrows have recorded seventeen albums to date and continue to be one of Australia’s most loved live acts. 

Faithfull Satellite is an album that packs a hefty punch from start to finish with the artists that excited and influenced Camilleri well represented. Costello’s trademark is all over the opening track and is revisited on Love Is On It’s Way, with a reggae beat Watching The Detectives style. It Ain’t Ever Gonna Happen comes across as time honoured Cohen with accompanying backing vocals and Winter Rose recalls a classic Van Morrison sound. Not content with merely paying homage to their peers they also dust down their banjos and fiddles for the country (ish) Fix My Bell and move more up tempo with a classic power pop melody with Carolina.

The album was recorded at Woodstock Studio in Melbourne with production duties shared by Camilleri and keyboard player John Mc All. The twelve songs were written by Camilleri and executive producer Nick Smith.

Conor O’Donnell Come On In Self Release

Conor O’Donnell’s father Al was very much part of the mid 60’s flourishing folk scene in London, rubbing shoulders with household names such as Peggy Seegar, Billy Connolly, Martin Carthy and Ewan Mc Coll. In Dublin he performed alongside The Dubliners and for a brief period  was a member of the traditional folk group Sweeney’s Men. He sadly passed away in 2015 and Come On In, Conor O’ Donnell’s debut album, is dedicated to his late father.

Featuring eleven self-penned songs, the albums stand out track is the haunting ballad Trouble I’m In and embraces the full range of roots music with nods to rockabilly (T Minus 20), country (Trucks A Gonna Roll) and two songs (Bobby Cole and Come On In) that recall the work of Simone Felice.

Recorded at Orphan Recording in Dublin the album was co-produced by Garvan Gallagher who also plays bass and keyboards and guest musician Gavin Glass who contributes keyboards and slide guitar. Also guesting on the album on violin is Leo O’Kelly with regular band members Kieran Mc Evoy (guitar, Duesenberg, vocals) and Sean Devitt (drums, vocals) completing the line up.

Donald Byron Wheatley Moondogs And Madogs Maiden Voyage

A number of the music magazines we subscribe to include in their review sections ‘Rediscovered’ features, reminding us or introducing us to forgotten or little known acts that released quality music back in the day but for some reason did not reach a market or were unappreciated at the time. Listening to  set me thinking that this album may feature in a similar scenario twenty years down the road as an extraordinary recording that did not get its due recognition when released. It’s an excellent album to say the least and exceptional in that the artist has never played onstage to a live audience. 

The title Donald Byron Wheatley conjures up an image of an aristocratic public schooled English gent most likely dressed in tweeds from head to toes and clad in hand made Barker Alderney brogues. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Wheatley spent his childhood in the family’s travelling business erecting and dismantling helter-skelters at various carnivals and fairgrounds up and down the country. His introduction to music was through his father’s love of the blues, regularly playing Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and eventually progressing to the early classic Dylan recordings. Both his father and grandfather were musical, playing the guitar and accordion but purely as a pass time.

Wheatley had notions of becoming a professional musician in his youngers years and wrote some songs which he intended to include in an album at some stage. However, life moved on with family responsibilities a priority and the idea of stardom soon faded into the background. Some years after his fathers passing and difficult times encountered by some close friends, he felt inspired to write again and with the encouragement of his cousin John Wheatley put the songs down on tape at Reservoir Recording Studio in North London.

The resulting album was produced by Chris Clarke (Danny & The Champions of The World) and John Wheatley (Suburban Discs) and features members The Champions, Chris Clarke, Steve Brookes, Andy Fairclough together with Siobhain Parr and UK pedal steel supremo BJ Cole.

The musical influences on the album are obvious, Wheatley wears his heart on his sleeve in this regard, but the quality of the material from first to twelfth track is staggering. On second listens I was convinced that some of the tracks were cover versions that I had previously heard such was the impact they made.

Opener Life’s A Beach is a semi rap type delivery in the style of Aaron Lee Tasjan and uncharacteristic of what follows. Smoking Gun and Hand Me Down Leopard Skin Hat recall mid 60’s Dylan and Not Tonight Josephine explores similar territory with its Band like driving rhythm, hammond organ solo and layered backing vocals. Nothing is the stand out track on the album, of a standard that would sit comfortably alongside anything on John Lennon’s Imagine.

There’s no doubt that Wheatley could be accused of raiding Dylans piggy band for much of the material but the same could be said of numerous other artists. Fans of the Felice Brothers and The Band will lap this up and rightly so. 

Osborne Jones Only Now Continental Song City

Unapologetically inspired by Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the classic country sound of the 60’s, you could be forgiven for assuming that Osborne Jones was a Nashville country crooner. They are in fact David-Gwyn Jones and David Osborne, UK born and bred who have assembled a team of musicians to produce an album that delightfully recalls the traditional sound of both Bakersfield and Nashville. Featuring ten tracks, nine of which were written by them and one co-write with Nigel Osborne, the songs are punctuated in no small measure by the stunning playing by Rick Shea who contributes mandolin, acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitar. A renowned artists in his own right, Shea also produced the album which was recorded by Mark Linett (Beach Boys, Los Lobos, Rikki Lee Jones, Randy Newman) at Your Place Or Mine Studios in Glendale, California. Also brought on board for the recording are David Jackson on bass, piano, organ and accordion, Shawn Nourse on drums and Cindy Wasserman and Gia Ciambotti on backing vocals.

The album is a fulfilment of a common love of the classic country sound between two long-time friends and part time musicians and though now residing in different continents they have managed to realise that ambition. As would be expected heartbreak and loving feature in large doses, no better than on Only Now with more than a nod to Elvis  and  Heartbreak and Six Strings and I Still Think She Cares both of which are soaked in pedal steel guitar.

Never intended as a project to attack the Billboard Country Music Charts it achieves precisely what it set out to do in accomplishing their ambition to create a body of well fashioned songs and particularly impressive musicianship which they can justifiably be proud of.

Dave Desmelik Lifeboat Self Release

Lifeboat, similar to the other works in the back catalogue of Dave Desmelik, is not an album to pop in your cd player and start singing along with the choruses after one listen. The Brevard North Carolina resident’s albums fall into a similar category to the work of Jim White, John Dowd, Richard Buckner and possibly Vic Chestnutt, no compromise, from the heart and music that demands a considerable investment of your time to fully appreciate.

It’s his eleventh recording in a career that dates back to the late nineties when he was part of the Arizona band Onus B.Johnson. Not quite a one man show, though Desmelik does contributes vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, cigar box guitar, baritone ukulele, bass, piano, organ, drums and percussion together with recording and mixing duties. The cover artwork also features a sketch by Desmelik.

Despite employing many and varied instruments in the recording the eleven tracks are in the main raw, stripped back yet never fail to atmospherically create vivid imagery for the listener.

The delightful Surgery, Recovery and Love features only three spoken words by Desmelik and is basically an instrumental with the addition of sporadic words by children Holmes, Elena and Vince who, unaware that they are being recorded, reveal their innocent inner thoughts. 

A Strange Realization, the longest track on the album at over nine minutes and one of the highlights, is a dreamy kaleidoscope of sound that could be mistaken as a demo track for an early Pink Floyd album.

Battlefield is a more up-tempo inclusion on an album that often sounds desperate, intense, honest and hurting, yet when penetrated, grabs the listener from the outset and doesn’t let go.

Sophia Marshall The Paper Thin EP Self Release

In a previous life and as a teenager, Leicester born Sophia Marshall’s was part of The Havenots, a duo with Liam Dullaghan whose album Bad Pennies, released in 2004, was possibly a decade ahead of its time and combined luscious boy/girl harmonies in a manner that is certainly more hip today than it was then. The Mastersons, Shovels and Ropes and Whitehorse have perfected the approach and one is left to wonder what impact Bad Pennies would have in the burgeoning Americana scene were it to be released today.

In more recent times, 2015 to be precise, Marshall began concentrating on her solo career and this five track EP, her debut solo release, demonstrates not only her beautifully subtle vocal but also her ability to create songs that contain both melody and depth in equal measures.

Comparisons with Eddie Reader come to mind on both Wasted Days and Living  Things. Her vocals ebb and flow, layered delightfully on the closing track and tour da force The Devil and The Hollow. Produced by her band member and guitarist Andy Jenkinson, the emphasis is always on Marshalls perfectly paced voice.

In her former and current career Marshall has played support to Frazey Ford, Peter Bruntnell, The Sadies, Sam Outlaw and Tift Merrit. On the strength of this recording, given the exposure it deserves, there is little doubt that she has the potential and talent to make a lot of people stand up and take notice.

 

Monday
Mar272017

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Chilli Willi and The Red Hot Peppers Real Sharp Proper/Last Music

This compilation brings together pretty much everything recorded by Chilli Willi who, essentially, started out life as the duo of Martin Stone and Phil Lithman. The former had a long musical career in bands such as Savoy Brown Blues Band, The Action and Might Baby among many others before becoming a dealer in rare books. Lothian nicknamed ”Snakefinge” had played with Stone in Junior’s Blues Band before moving to San Francisco. On his return he reunited with Stone to form Chilli Willi and play country oriented rock music. Both are now deceased as is their icon graphic designer Barney Bubbles. This compilation is dedicated to all three. Bubbles’s work is featured throughout the package and was one of the reasons I sought them out when they were originally released. 

The first CD in this two disc set opens with the songs originally released as Kings Of The Robot Rhythm. A mix of original songs and a couple of traditional arrangements. Though remastered the overall sound quality is a little thin but none-the-less quite entertaining. For the recording of that album Stone and Lithman were joined by Bob Andrews, Nick Lowe and Billy Rankin from Brinsley Schwarz along with a couple of other London-based players. It is a more acoustic sounding affair with some strong harmonies from the duo. Friday Song was an unreleased single and nit a bad one too. It is reminiscent at times of The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and the more country side of Moby Grape and seems to kick the sound up a notch or two with some good steel and guitar interplay. Their ethos may be summed up, to a degree, by the first song of a series of demos that come up next - Goodbye Nashville (Hello Camden Town). These tracks would make any current band feel happy with their content. Truck Driven’ Girl has banjo, fiddle. What you hear is that these guys can certainly play. Another highlights include Jesse Winchester’s Midnight Bus and a rockin’ version of Choo-Choo Ch’ Boogie. A song that also turns up on the second disc.

That disc starts with the eleven tracks that made up the band’s second album Bongos Over Balham and a slight shift in direction that encompasses some swing ands blues along side the more countrified numbers. The band had now solidified with a rhythm section of Pete Thomas (later of the Attractions) and Paul “Bassman”Riley along with P.C. Bailey and guest Bob Andrews who both added sax and other instruments. Mike Nesmith sideman 'Red' Rhodes also guested on pedal steel guitar. Again the playing singing and self-written songs are all engaging and enjoyable. Highlights include Desert Island Woman, All In A Dream and newer versions of song from the demos Midnight Bus and Truck Driving Woman. All of these were Lithman originals other than the aforementioned Choo-Choo Ch’ Boogie and Midnight Bus. The remainder of the album is taken up with some live tracks either from gigs or radio sessions. The final two tracks were final demo recordings of cover sings. These round out a package that is interesting both musically and in visual terms and for Paul “Bassman” Riley’s informative sleeve notes. Well done to Proper for reissuing this archival project of what was obviously a fun band to witness and remain to listen to. 

Bill Kirchin and Austin de Lone Transatlanticana Proper/Last

Anyone fortunate to catch Bill Kirchin live will be well of his prowess. Equally his albums make for a good listening experience that is full of memorable songs and playing. Nothing different here then for his collaboration with keyboardist Austin de Lone, an American who initially made his name playing with Eggs Over Easy on the burgeoning Pub Rock scene in London. The album was recorded in Austin and in London and it’s well up there with either’s best work. They work well together as they have in the past with either Kirchin or De Lone taking the lead vocal. But some fine guests abound such as Butch Hancock dueting on his own Oxblood. Gurf Morlix on electric guitar, Bobby Black on pedal steel and the rhythm sections of Paul “Bassman” Riley and David Carroll on bass and drummers Malcolm Mills and Rick Richards. Harmonies are added by Caroline de Lone and Louise Kirchin. 

The song are mostly covers including Blackie Farrell’s opener the amusing and arresting Hounds Of Bakersfield through to the blues of Charles E. Calhoun’s Losing Hand. Kirchin and de Lone have distinctive voices that work well in context. The former is, naturally steeped in the sound of Bakersfield while the later showed Kirchin is also adept at playing the blues. Throughout the duo cover a number of musical bases with ease and success. de Lone delivers a soulful and sensitive vocal on Warm And Tender Love. In the main the original songs are from de Lone while the rest are covers that suit the duo well including a version of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changing.

There is nothing ground breaking or monumental on the album, but that’s largely beside the point, as these are two musicians (and friends) who love to play music and are seasoned players who are putting there heart (and soul) into these songs. They perfectly delineate passion over posturing and the ease that such a long career making notable music brings to such a project. Both Bill Kirchin and Austin de Lone are comrades and old friends and Transatlanticana is a hands across ocean that shoes the true connections that music can make. Incidentally the UK version of the album has two additional tracks.

The Long Haul Beautiful Lies (10 Tales Of Temptation) Self Release

This UK band are Simon Sparrow and Francois De Ville who are the writers of these songs and who play guitar and pedal steel respectively. They are joined by Matt Windler and Dil Davis. A different set of players to those listed on the press release as can sometimes happen. They play traditionally minded songs that are enhanced by (Nashville based) Eamon McLoughlin’s production. He also adds fiddle, mandolin, cello and viola to the sounds and has brought in some fine guests in Lloyd Maines, John Jarvis and Chris Scruggs. The music was recorded in Brighton as well as Nashville and in Austin. Which gives the album some additional weight behind the duos songs. There are times when a little more grit in Sparrow’s voice would have been welcome but that shouldn’t distract from some solid songwriting and playing. Largely the sound falls into a smooth steel and string enhanced mood that is less honky-tonk overall than a song like the opening ode to the Austin club The Continental might suggest. Though another of De Ville’s songs is also more in the dance floor vein. His Beautiful Lies is also a good song.

Sparrow songs seem take a more melancholic direction that rewards some repeated play. Songs like Waiting And Wishing, Blind and You’re Still Here all have a sense of regret that is matched by the the music and you can see why McLoughlin wanted the steel and strings to form a central part of the song’s core. They provide the right sense of existential heartbreak that is part country, part universal songwriter. The Long haul are another example of how the UK country scene has moved away from jukebox style covers to something far more rewarding and  important to the development of a strong sense of individual identity. Having said that it is unlikely that this band will achieve the kind of recognition that The Shires or Ward Thomas have gained. However the songs here could and the album is a showcase for the songwriting of Sparrow and De Ville as well as McLoughlin’s sympathetic production.

Lil’ Lost Lou Self-Titled Bully Records

Another hands across the ocean production with Lil’ Lost Lou recording parts of the album in the UK and in Nashville. There she got producer Billy Livsey involved and she co-produced the album with Livsey and Sean Kelly (who handled the UK end of things). In Welcome to 1979 Studios they got a bunch of players like Dave Roe, Russ Phal, Stuart Mathis and Livsey himself lending their talents to the recording. The music is a vibrant mix of some rockabilly, country, rock ’n’ roll and punk ingredients. Psyche (an old family name?) wrote all the songs on the album that is focused around her edgy vocals and sassy, untameable attitude. 

The sound of the album is not as trenchant rockabilly as some others have been in the past which, in the end, makes for a more varied result that utilises the various skills on offer to good effect. Grounding it all is the rhythm section of drummer Justin Amaral and bassist Roe - who himself knows a little about attitude having played with a who’s who of interesting singers from Johnny Cash to Dwight Yoakum. Yet Psyche can also manage to keep things sparse yet edgy on a song like Ride A Train with simple stripped back instrumentation and voices. Elsewhere songs like I Kissed Your Man (Jolene), which has the air of an answer song about it. It is a harmonica filled gutsy tale of lust and need. Ramblin’ Woman with is the tale of an unsettled “other” woman who need to keep moving on and making her own way and own rules.

The album is divided into a Side A and a Side B Though there is no immediate difference sound wise between the two. He Put A Hook In Me (Bones, Feathers, Black Book, Rabit Foot) is another songs that has a voodoo rhythm and some midnite mayhem in a song that features some strident female backing vocals to harden its sense of want. More reflective is Red Is The Colour Of My Shame a restrained redemptive rating of ones internal demons that is largely some steel and acoustic guitar behind a telling vocal. Things get hotter again for Brown Boots that quotes from other boots related paeans to getting things done right. The closing song is entitled Song For Bob Dylan and is indeed just that. Questioning to the way that in her mind his words were written about her and for her. “Did you read my mind in a dream sometime” she asks. The song builds from voice and acoustic guitar to a full band finish that acts as a fitting end to this interesting and insurgent artist.

Nathan Bell Love>Fear (48 Hours In Traitorland) Stone Barn

The role of the protest folk-singer seems have gained an even greater relevance in recent (darker) times. Echoing a time when the guitar and harmonica wielding story-teller and oracle of truth was front and centre. Now they work on the fringes. What you see is what you get here with this album. Bell with guitar and harmonica and a bunch of songs that tell it as he sees it. Songs of the working man, the working woman and of lost souls. 

In these songs ordinary people are given a voice by Bell. It is a voice that has some portent and potency. One that is set against his simple but effective guitar playing. Raise Your Fist, is as it sounds, a call to action to make yourself know. It is dedicated to the athletes at the 1968 Olympics who gave the black power salute. While Coal Black Water takes to task those coal companies who abused the land and the miners for profit. One Man Walking is about how an individual can face up to those things in life that he finds difficult to face but makes an individual stand against. Traitorland is a song that set some guidelines for living (and loving). Perhaps the immediate standout though is MIA (Bill In 1975), wherein the turns the acronym into a number of alternatives like Missing In America and Mad In America about a brother who after returning from the Vietnam War went to live in Montreal and lost contact with his family.

Bell stands alongside the likes of Joe Purdy as a man who follows the path laid down by Woody Guthrie and the stripped down harshness and hardness of Springsteen’s Nebraska. This is how Bell would sound live and in fact half the songs here are live recordings and full of life and light. This is a raw recording that follows previous albums like the studio recorded I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love which was released in 2016. This is a timely release that will hit home for many.

Drew Holcomb And The Neighbors Souvenir Magnolia

The latest release from Holcomb and his band offers some more big sounding music. Produced by Joe Pisapia and Ian Fitchuk in East Nashville it again covers Holcomb and the bands’ genre mixed roots style that is riven with hooks and melodies. Though it is Holcomb’s voice that is front and centre here (it has the kind of timbre that would be familiar to David Gray fans) it is largely a full band effort with the members contributing both to the music and to the writing of the songs. This makes for a cohesive and complete album that has a strong organic feel from a group of musicians who have played a lot of dates together and have that ease with each other that shows in the music.

The writing credit are shared between Holcomb and band members Rich Brinsfield and Nathan Dugger in various combinations. Yet it is Holcomb’s name over the door and he ultimately has the responsibility for the overall direction of positive, passionate and at times fragile and figurative outcome. Souvenir is Holcomb’s tenth release and so he has been working to this point for a long time. And one wonders how much longer before he can achieve the kind of recognition that Nathaniel Ratcliffe and the Night Sweats have gained in recent times.

California an upbeat ode to that State, a place to return to from far away, is as bright as you would expect. While Fight For Love explores the disparate nature of a relationship that requires the titular effort to make it work. Keyboard player and guitarist Dagger’s The Yellow Rose Of Santa Fe has pedal steel to bolster it’s country feel. It is about meeting a woman who is a quiet force of nature, a slow shuffle about time and place. It looks wistfully about what might have been though from a place of positivity with what is. Postcard Memories is another song that considers home and wanted to be there with someone you love and need. It is a restrained ballad that is subtle and effective. The album ends with Wild World that is stripped back to guitar and voice until the piano and bass comes in to give the song a further depth. The song continues the theme of love s redemption that we all try to find our pace in a wild world where love is all that we have got to give away. A souvenir for romantics everywhere.

Euferzine Where Did The Time Go Little Crab Creek

Essentially this is a project of Denise Reagan working with producers Jeff Taylor and John Mock. Both are integral to the music with both performing multi-instrumental duties on Reagan’s co-written songs that sound timeless and traditional. Often with a strong celtic connection and featuring tin whistle, bodhrán, uileann pipes and fiddle. Through the double bass is a prominent and grounding element and in the hands of players like Byron House and Dennis Crouch you would expect no less. Elsewhere musicians of the calibre of Shad Cobb, Thomm Jutz, Kenny Malone, Glen Duncan and Wanda Vick join Taylor and Mock and others in creating an ethereal bedrock for the ethereal and evocative vocals of Reagan and other like Deana Berry, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses and John Thompson on backing vocals.

This is a double CD of some 20 tracks that are solidly rooted in the past and in heritage. Euferzine is the name of Reagan’s grandmother who grew up in the Appalachians in a place with no electricity or running water. Reagan lost her at the age of 13 but had a song impression of the saddest person she have ever encountered. So it is no surprise that this music is imbued with a sense of melancholy and deal, largely, with her family’s 400 year history.

The album runs as an overarching concept that brings together different style of music that have, equally, a simplicity and acoustic energy that finds the songs connecting together as a tangible whole. There is a companion book that goes with this which would doubtless given a greater emphasis to the songs and the soldiers, hunters, preachers, patriots - the men and women who people these songs. Songs that encompass the genealogy of the place and the old-time, front porch, bluegrass. folk, jazz and celtic musical tributaries that contribute to this river of song - one that is worth emerging yourself in.

Carrie Elkin The Penny Collector Self Released

A strong, often beautiful album from Carrie Elkin that has a strongly poetic nature that is bolstered by a strong musical setting that is perfectly attuned to the lyrical content. Themes include loss as her father passed away recently and love as she also recently gave birth to a daughter. That cycle of life that is central to music that has substance and sincerity. The album title is a dedication to her father who collected pennies all his life. 

 The album was produced by Neilson Hubbard and marks her return to solo work after working with Sam Baker and with her husband Danny Schmidt. There are stylistic elements of folk and Ambient Americana at play. The production manages to mix the moments that need to be heard with an undeniable power that picks the music up at the points it need to. the instruments can sweep and soar and also be subdued as the song requires. This give Elkin expressionistic voice the freedom it needs to for a strong emotional empathy perhaps mirrored in titles like Albatross and Lamp Of The Body.

Alongside Neilson playing drums are studio stalwarts Will Kimbrough and Eamon McLoughlin and backing vocalists Danny Schmidt, Robby Hecht and Ryan Culwell. The album was recorded in Nashville although she resides in Austin. This perhaps allows for a certain distance and distillation. Here Elkin’s voice is full of merciful strength and grace. There is power and equally a telling intimacy that brings the songs their heartbreak and joy. This is Elkin’s sixth solo album and easily ranks with her best recordings and arguably her finest to date. One that is indeed collectible.

Tuesday
Mar142017

Reviews by Declan Culliton

 

Rhiannon Giddens Freedom Highway Nonesuch

It’s both poignant and indeed disturbing that Freedom Highway, the title of Rhiannon Giddens second solo album, was inspired by the Staple Sisters song of the same name, recorded over fifty years ago and motivated by the Civil Rights movement in Alabama at that time. The album was originally to be named At The Purchaser's Option but the prevailing political tensions and developments during the writing process made her reconsider the title.

Giddens debut solo album Tomorrow Is My Turn was released in 2015. Produced by T.Bone Burnett, it featured, in the main, interpretations of material previously written or performed by artists ranging from American blues singer Geeshie Wiley to country legend Dolly Parton together with a quite spectacular rendition of the traditional American folk song Waterboy. Only one song, the closing track Angel City, was penned by Giddens.  While never concerned with concentrating on a particular style the album deservedly received glowing reviews, in the main earned by Gidden’s stunning vocal delivery throughout. 

Freedom Highway on the other hand proves to be a more fiercely personal project, unfolding in documentary style and giving the often faceless and anonymous the opportunity to articulate their struggles, pain, helplessness and abuse. Many of the songs are taken from the female’s perspective, a recurring theme is the mother child relationship with the album visiting the casual and cruel manner by which that relationship was shattered both in former times and indeed to the present day. The inner sleeve of the album features a newspaper cutting from 1797 advertising the sale of a young female slave with the inclusion of her nine-month baby At the Purchasers Option. This proved to be the inspiration and motivation for the opening track of the same name."You can take my body, you can take my bones, you can take my blood but not my soul."

It plays out as an album that Giddens was always going to record and on her own terms.  Her previous solo album and recordings with The Carolina Chocolate Drops were produced by T. Bone Burnett, Joe Henry and Buddy Millar. This time around Giddens avoids the possibility of a more polished and over produced recording by taking control herself in the co-production with multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell. Produced at Powell’s studio in Breaux Bridge Louisiana, the majority of the songs were recorded in a pre-civil war wooden structure and captures a timeless ambiance. 

The Angels Laid Him Away, a cover of the Mississippi John Hurt original, is stripped back to feature vocal and acoustic guitar and dwells on a mother’s loss at the death of her son. Better Get It Right The First Time, full on country soul, visits similar territory but in the present times, questioning the shooting of a young black man and featuring an unexpected yet entirely compelling rap by Giddens nephew Justin Harrington. Julia, tells the tale of an exchange between a slave girl and her mistress as Union soldiers arrive at their plantation, the mistress pleading with the defiant young slave to dutifully safeguard the family’s trunk of gold. "Mistress, O Mistress, that trunk of gold Is what you got when my children you sold."

Birmingham Sunday, written by Richard Farina and immortalised by Joan Baez, is delivered vocally almost trance like as if Giddens is reliving every last word. Opening with Dirk Powell’s slow piano intro and closing with the addition of an accompanying choir it moved me to the point that I found myself playing it on repeat a number of times prior to continuing with the rest of the album.

Giddens interpretation is at odds with the Staple Singers version on the closing track Freedom Highway. Favouring a less pacey delivery and introducing horns and handclaps, it may stray somewhat from the more gospel sound of the original but lyrically delivers the same message that it did back in the mid 60’s.

Giddens has been in receipt of numerous awards and nominations over the years including a Grammy Award in 2011 with the album Genuine Negro Jig. A late comer to song writing she can justifiably be as proud with this album as any other career highlight to date. 

Kaurna Cronin Southern Loss Self Release

Kaurna Cronin was voted Folk Alliance Australia’s Artist of The Year in 2015 following the release of his last album Glass Fool that year. Southern Loss follows twelve months later and is further recognition of the growing body of talent in the Americana/ Folk genre coming out of Australia in recent years. Artists such as Kaurna Cronin, Emma Swift, Ruby Boots, CW Stoneking and Beth Brown have the ability to follow in the footsteps of fellow Australian's Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson and Anne McCue by establishing themselves in a market that is highly competitive.

The album consists of ten tracks written and produced by Cronin and recorded at Mixmasters Studio in Adelaide with the mixing and mastering carried out by Mick Worley. Musicians featured on the album are Cronin’s touring band members Tom Kneebone ( guitar/vocals), Kiah Gossner (Bass) together with session players David Resce ( Drums), Aaron Nash ( Organ/Grand Piano and )Julian Ferraretto ( Strings).Tara Mc Henry, Laura Knowles and Delia Obst all contribute additional vocal harmonies.

The material ranges from the country rocking opener Passion Parade with an addictive laid back riff and harmonies to the gorgeous love ballad Never Get You Off My Mind and the dreamlike 5019. The song writing is strong, solid with tales of love, loss, regret and reflection. Cronin’s high pitched and sometimes fragile vocal is the winner throughout, quite often complemented by well-timed harmonies. 

The Looking Lead Me To The Water Rhizome Man

The Looking is in essence New York City based singer songwriter and producer Todd Carter. His previous album Songs For a Traveler, released in 2013, explored the American songbook from the 19th Century up the 1950’s covering standards such as Black Is The Colour, Old Man River, Blue River and Long Black Veil. Lead Me To the Water. Carter’s inspiration for this current album was the songbooks of the Country music legends Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Townes Van Zandt, whose work he immersed himself. 

Between the recordings of each album Carter produced recordings by Argentinian Bernardo Palombo and French artist Leopold.

Carter, who received degrees in Religion and Philosophy at Indiana University most certainly has an open mind in respect of his musical influences. Together with his research of the great American songbook for his previous album he also cites Syd Barrett, The Circle Jerks, Husker Vu and The Smiths as artists that were very much on his radar. As a result the listener won’t make an immediate connection individually with the music of Haggard, Price or Van Zandt on first spin of the album though further plays expose their influences.

The title track and open track draws the listener straight away thanks in no small measure to some dreamy pedal steel playing by Gerald Menke. The Well, which follows, is a fuller and rockier affair with a killer guitar riff and backing vocals compliments of Sasha Dobson who plays regularly with Nora Jones. Not Your Friend and Where Did You Go have a mid-70’s West Coast Jackson Browne feel, You And Me recalls the sound of Josh Rouse. Burning Doves bookends the album very much in a similar style that the title track opened it, a gentle country rock sound aided once more by Menke’s lovely pedal steel.

The album was produced by Carter and Bill Finizio with all songs written by Carter with the exception of You and Me co-written with Finizio and Where Did You Go which was written with Tim Curtis–Verderosa. It credits thirteen musicians other than Carter and Finizio and is most certainly the work of an artist that has the talent and achieves a sound that could make a major industry breakthrough.

Erika Kulnys Rise Up Self Release

The possessor of a quite extraordinary voice, Rise Up, the seventh studio album by Kulnys, finds the Nova Scotia resident in fine form reflecting on matters worldly as well as closer to home.

The album’s twelve tracks, all penned by Kulnys, are both personal ( Love Me In The Morning, Carolina, Love’s Not Wasted) and political (Rise Up, Roaring For A Revolution), the common bond being the quality of the story telling and that heart stirring  vocal that dips and soars effortlessly throughout.

The aforementioned Roaring For A Revolution, the cream of the crop, bears a healthy relation to Anais Mitchell in style and indeed delivery. Kulnys powerful and soaring vocal is the winner here without doubt, bringing the poignant lyrics and melody to life.

The title track speaks for the repressed and downtrodden "Rise up, Now is the hour Rise up, Take back your power, Rise up, We will not wait, We rise up today."

Equally comfortable singing the blues on I’m On Fire or folk ballads such as Angel On The Road and Honeysuckle the album as a whole reinforces the versatility and rounded talent of an artist well worth checking out. 

Callie Hopper Out of the Shadows Callie Hopper Music 

This is the second album release by the 20-year-old Nashville resident Callie Hopper. As the title would suggest the album features open hearted material  and is a large step forward from her debut album Notes On Love And Such,  which she recorded as a sixteen-year-old. It also reveals the song writing talent of a young lady mature well beyond her years. The material is credited as co-written with producer Ryan Speakman and Chad Alexander, with the exception of Stay which is credited to Hopper alone.

The music in general is quite mainstream, possibly closer to the pop end of the market rather than that wide umbrella we classify as Americana and it’s probably the correct market for her to target. 

Created over a two-year period it is commendable that much of the album was primarily written when Hopper was a teenager and it’s understandable that many of the songs deal with relationships and vulnerability (Stay, So Much, Hold On, This Songs Not For You).

The title and opening track, however, is a wonderful coming of age song with the writer prepared to bare her soul while agonising over how her stories and honesty might be perceived. "If I open up my heart to you, if I show you what’s inside, will you listen to my words, will you feel what I wrote."

Notwithstanding Hoppers ability to pen strong material she also possesses a delightful voice and engaged a strong band of musicians to bring the songs to life including co-writers Alexander on guitars and piano and Speakman on drums percussion and organ. Chad Alexander also shares vocals on Fire and Ice.

Possessing the song writing ability, a gorgeous vocal ability and style, Hopper is more than than well situated to enjoy a successful career and is in the right place both musically and geographically to be noticed and nurtured.  Whether her journey continues down a mainstream route or takes a slight diversion in a more countrified direction will be interesting.

One to watch without doubt.

Jemima James At Longview Farm/When You Get Old Team Love Records

An extraordinary project and album in many ways.  Jemima James, now 65 years old, wrote At Longview Farm in 1979 and it has taken 38 years for it to see the light of day, being finally released by Team Love Records. But the story does not end there as the album has been released as a double which also features When You Get Old ( 65’s not old anymore Jemima!), her recent 2015 recording. James’s life story is intriguing, having dropped out of art school in the early 70’s, she relocated to New York and was employed by Famous Music as a songwriter. The great grandchild of the most famous American  philosopher William James (brother of the author Henry James),  her career  has seen her employed as a writer, performer, cook, pre-school teacher and carer. Her early life also found her working for three years at Long View Farm, cleaning, cooking, milking cows and also serving food to a range of artists including J.Geils Band, Tim Curry, Arlo Guthrie and The Rolling Stones.

She and Michael Mason are also parents to Willy and Sam Mason, both accomplished artists in their own right, both understandably feature on When You Get Old.

What makes the intriguing story complete is  the quality of both albums. Notwithstanding the musical excellence, the packaging, liner notes and photography are delightful. The cover on the earlier album features James with the classic 70’s singer looks, wild hair and sweet impish smile. When You Get Old depicts James in more recent times, still in possession of the impish smile!

It was during her three year stay at Long View Farm that she recorded At Longview Farm. Two tracks in on my first listen had me reaching for the liner notes in full expectation that the track Havana Cigar is a Townes Van Zandt song that had somehow escaped me over the years. The standout track on the album, It is in fact written by James, as are all the other tracks on the album and is of a standard that compares with Van Zandt’s finest. Not trailing far behind in the quality stakes are One More Rodeo, Jackson County and Esperate. The album is most definitely of its time, folk music soaked in country, assured playing throughout and delivered beautifully by James. The work of Linda Ronstadt and Guy Clark come to mind.

When You Get Old was recorded at Old Soul Studio in Catskill, New York in October 2015 and unlike her earlier album includes four well selected cover versions, If I Could Only Fly by Blaze Foley, Tennessee Blues by Bobby Charles, Gillian Welch’s One and Only and If It’s The End written by her son Willy Mason. She also revisits the earlier album with versions of Sensible Shoes and Easy Come Easy Go featuring in the thirteen tracks. The vocals remain as sweet and disciplined as her earlier album with the playing equally accomplished.

Listening to At Longview Farm one has to wonder how many quality recordings are packed away in attics, garages and recording studios that for a variety of reasons never found their way on to the record store shelves and a subtle reminder of the thin line between commercial success and oblivion. 

Various Artists Five Years of Country to Country C2C (2013-2017) Hump Head Records

The Country to Country Festival was first staged in 2013, bringing a wide range of artists annually to London, Glasgow and Dublin. It takes place over a weekend and includes acts that represent traditional country, modern country, crossover pop country, bluegrass and rock music.

In celebration of the continuing success of the festival Hump Head Records have released this double album featuring many of the acts that have appeared at the various venues over the past five years.

Impressively packaged and including a glossy forty-page booklet, the album features forty tracks in total across quite a wide musical range catering for all tastes. Full on rockers Brantley Gilbert (One Hell Of An Amen) and Eric Church (Springsteen) sit side by side with more classic country honky tonkers Dwight Yoakam (Take Hold Of My Hand) and Marty Stuart (Time Don’t Wait). Legendary Nashville household names Reba Mc Entire (Consider Me Gone) and Lee Ann Womack (Last Call) are complimented by their neighbours and a new generation of female singer songwriters in Ashley Monroe (If The Devil Don’t Want Me) and Brandy Clark (Girl Next Door). UK duo’s The Shires (State Lines) and Ward Thomas (Guilty Flowers) represent acts closer to home that have benefitted greatly by the exposure they have been given by appearing at the festival. Multi award winner Chris Stapleton (Tennessee Whiskey) introduces a slice of country blues in to the mix. More modern country is featured with the inclusion of Brad Paisley (The Mona Lisa) and Jennifer Nettles (That Girl). Female singer songwriter Miranda Lambert (Little Wagon), with the capability to excel in all the foregoing strands of country music is also represented.

 The purists may argue that the material is not entirely representative of country music in the true sense (which it does not claim to do, in fairness), but without doubt one of achievements of C2C has been to introduce a younger UK and Irish age group in considerable numbers to country music, both recorded and live, as well as the ‘older grey hairs’ who would traditionally be considered the target audience. 

It’s inevitable that not all tracks on the album will be to everyone’s liking. However, it does present what the music industry considers to represent country music today and with the depth of artists featured should include music to suit most country listeners taste.

Michael Howard Gasoline Dream Self Release

Alaskan born and reared Michael Howard, similar to so many other singer songwriters, had an early career playing punk music prior to settling back in to a career as a folk singer songwriter. Maybe the remoteness of residing in the rural setting of the Last Frontier with its long dark winters made a mark in terms of self-survival as Gasoline Dreams, though primarily folk and some protest songs, also retains the DIY dimension with a number of the tracks being recorded entirely live by Howard. The album was recorded at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco with production and engineering duties carried out by Jacob Winik (Magnetic Fields, Samantha Crain).

In the main it is very much a stripped to the bone affair with the emphasis most definably on the written word and the stories within. Vocal and acoustic guitar dominate  with minimal additional instrumentation courtesy of Kevin Worrell on bass and keys, Andrew Maguire adds percussion.

The songs are heartfelt and personal, written and delivered by an artist with an obvious deep social conscious and a passion for storytelling. With Howard’s distinctive almost spoken vocal the album  may take a few listens to grab you but songs such as opener Meet Me at the Front Line, Hog Butcher Hog Butcher and  the title and closing track are representative of an album that is a Sunday morning rather than a Saturday night listen.