Saturday
Jun092018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Luke LeBlanc Time On My Hands Self Release

These 5 songs are thoughtfully delivered with understated playing and a production that proves the adage that ‘less is more’. On the opening, Beautiful, the studio musicians interplay across an arresting acoustic rhythm as the longing of the lyric spins the driver home along dark Wisconsin roads. Time On My Hands sparks with an up-tempo arrangement and a focus on living for the moment. Winter Rising slows things down with an easy strum and superb violin from Laurie Melting Stagner, both restrained and reflective in delivery. 

The 12-bar blues of Please Stay, with dual harmonica from Stacy Bowen and Luke LeBlanc, is nicely paced and quietly laid-back while the final song, Highway’s Gone, ends up on the road again as a metaphor for a failing relationship; “drivin’ on empty and runnin’ out of room”- a bittersweet melody to take everyone home. 

Luke LeBlanc sings with a warm tone and his voice has a fine quality and resonance across these acoustic tracks. Well worth investigation and another steady step taken in a career that is gaining momentum.

Michael Veitch Wake Up Call Burt Street

This talented and well-respected singer-songwriter has released a 5-track EP that is aimed at the moral conscience of everyone who is witness to the inequality of this World and the crazy extremes of current politics and conglomerate growth.

Veitch plays beautifully on acoustic and electric guitar and his fluid style adds great colour to these songs. He is joined by Lou Pappas (upright bass), Dan Whitley (resonator guitar), Fooch Fischetti (dobro & fiddle), Brian Mellick (percussion) and Andrew Borkowski (cello). Back up vocals are ably provided by Julie Last, Aima Honal and lead vocals from Veitch highlight a gentle and sweet delivery. 

Veteran’s Day, Happy 4th of July, Pledging Allegiance are all wearisome objections to War at any price or cost. Voices Of The Old Days points to a past that has not been heeded or learnt from and White Rose is a song that reflects upon a call to arms. A timely reminder for our troubled times and the lack of empathy that perverts our attempts to recover some humanity.

Amy Henderson May Self Release

Folk meets Indie attitude on this 8-track release. The East Coast of America is familiar stomping ground for this song-writer who handles all vocals and plays acoustic & electric guitar, plus harmonica on her fourth album. There is some nice lead guitar and dobro from Radcliffe Burt and John Priestly plays both fretless & upright bass and mandolin, while Rene Carillo adds cajon and percussion. 

All three add their vocal talents to these well-arranged songs that are both bright and melodic. The drumming of Chris Schup and percussion of John Morland swell the sound and tracks like It’s My Year is a radio hit if ever there was one. Hemingway continues the feel-good factor and the vocal delivery reminds me of Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, not a bad marker. Everything About You and Rockabye Me end proceedings in fine style; the first a soulful rhythm groove and the latter a reflective slow acoustic blues.

Annie Keating Ghost Of The Untravelled Road Self Release

A 5-track release that adds another fine touchstone in the career of this very talented artist. Keating has delivered seven superb albums stretching back to 2004 and her insightful writing is a real joy to experience. The title track speaks of the road not taken in a relationship and is a wistful reflection. Forever Loved is a heart-felt message to a child who must learn to walk their own path but will always be held close in the heart. 

Kindness of Strangers is a journey song for the weary and those in need of respite along the way. Sting Of Hindsight sings of regret and the need to go forward with faith. The closing Forget My Name is paean to love and the urge to move on while being dragged back to the comfort of the past. Throughout there are the wonderful talents of Chris Tarrow (guitars and pedal steel), Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), Steve Mayone (mandolin, nylon guitar and harmony vocals), Jason Mercer (upright bass) and Kate Steinberg (harmony vocals). Beautifully played and delivered in real style.

Yvette Landry & the Dukes  Louisiana Lovin’  Soko

Steeped in the Cajun culture of her Louisiana upbringing, Landry is a musician/singer/songwriter who tours worldwide as a multi-instrumentalist in several bands. Over four previous releases she has sought to bring cultures and traditions together and no more so than on this latest release. It is a look back to the days of Juke Joints and dance halls where Louisiana came alive after the working day. The eleven songs are originals from some of the greats like Bobby Charles, Warren Storm, G.G. Shinn and others. The one departure is a great version of the Sara Evans song, Three Chords & The Truth, taken from her debut record in 1997.

The band are quite superb and even more impressive is the fact that there were no rehearsals, with the live environment at Dockside Studios sparking the musicians to record everything with the first take! So, take a bow, Roddie Romero (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars), Eric Adcock (pianos, farfisa, wurlitzer), Josef Butts (upright bass), Derek Huston (tenor and baritone sax) and Jermaine Prejean (drums and percussion). This ensemble adds greatly to the authentic feel of every track here and the fine vocals and acoustic guitar of Yvette Landry complete the perfect circle. It’s rare that a project hits with such immediacy but this is certainly a real keeper.

Guest musicians Beau Thomas (fiddles) and Richard Comeaux (pedal steel guitar) add great colour to a number of songs, including Three Chords & the Truth and the co-vocals of Landry and Romero are a real joy, especially on Homesick Blues, Yea Baby, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and the standout Take It Easy Greasy. Hopefully this is not a once-off project as this band is way too good not to repeat the magic again.

Annika Fehling Trio In the Universe Rootsy

What a very pleasant surprise! This project is the work of a trio named AFT, led by Annika Fehling, who lives on Gotland, an island off the Swedish mainland. She plays acoustic guitar with real style and is joined by Robert Wahlstrom (piano, Moog and percussion) and Christer Jonasson (guitars, acoustic, electric and lap steel). Production at Spacefield Studios on Gotland is beautifully crisp and clear and delivered by Robert Wahlstrom in impressive style. 

The nine tracks are sung with both passion and a gentle tone by Fehling and the expansive feel reminds me of early John Martyn/Nic Jones when they were exploring the line where folk interpretations stopped and jazz leanings took sway. The room to play and stretch out the arrangements is embraced by all three musicians as they deliver a very resonant and vibrant performance across their range of instruments.

Dark City Alone and Stars arrive with strong rhythms and superb interplay as the song structures build. Spirits Awake and Seamless are more restrained and reflective in delivery. Fehling has an impressive body of work to her name and a back catalogue that is deserving of close scrutiny if this particular project is anything to go by.

Tuesday
May292018

Reviews By Declan Culliton

 

Shane Joyce The Sadness of King Joyce Self Release

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

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

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

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

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

Megan O’Neill Ghost Of You Self Release

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

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

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

Ana Egge White Tiger Storysound

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

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

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

Mike Ross Jenny’s Place Taller

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

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

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

Charley Crockett Lonesome As A Shadow Thirty Tigers

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

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

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

Tuesday
May222018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Years Bloodshot

The second album from this tight and tenacious combo follows time spent touring and playing in front of audiences across the US. There is some real meat here with all parts of the equation adding up to something that counts. The band serve the songs and it all feels right. The guitar and steel give that roots edge but the overall sound is capable of a number of twists and turns that fail to pigeon-hole them into a single category. However, there is no doubting that this fits the overall loose Americana tag. 

Shook is the author of the 10 songs and she has a voice that is central to their truth. Songs that deal with a variety of emotions and moods that are signalled, to a degree, by their titles. New Ways To Fail, The Bottle Never Lets Me Down, Damned If I Do, Dammed If I Don’t and Heartaches In Hell are all songs that have at their heart an emotional and intentional reaction to situations that feel like her take on the reality of living and coping in these straightened times. Hard times, heart breaks and hard drinking are all explored with a mix of toughness and vulnerability. She can also take and understand an opposite viewpoint, like in The Bottle Never Lets Me Down where she sings the song from the male perspective.

With some of her more high profile major label contemporaries, like Kacey Musgraves for instance, making moves to a broader pop platform it is refreshing to hear Shook and her band explore the possibilities of their music without abandoning the underlying sense of country, alternative or otherwise, that is the bedrock of her two albums to date. Whether she expands on that in any way is up to Shook but for now she and her core band which features exhilarating exchanges between guitarist Eric Peterson and steel guitarist Phil Sullivan and bassist Aaron Oliva make music that is for these times. 

Karen Jonas Butter Self Release 

There is a sense of maturity about this new album from Karen Jonas. She is a mother as well as a working musician and so that has to mean that she doesn’t have a great deal of time to mess around and on her latest album she looks at her life and delivers a set of songs that reflect her life and loves. This means a smooth mix of twang and torch. A subtle blend of country, folk as well as a touch of soul and jazz tinged moments. 

The title song relates to a love of baking in her kitchen and the associations that butter has with her family, her upbringing and also the family she is raising currently.It’s about being at home with family as much as being at home with her music. There are also references to the circus of life in songs like the directly titled   as well as in Mr Wonka. Elsewhere she walks, reluctantly, down Yellow Brick Road (“paved with fool’s gold”), Butter is an allegory for the good things and Jonas alludes to that with the track’s big band feel. Then thereare the tales of heartbreak and woe that often are the subject of country aligned albums.

The album was co-produced by long term associates who worked on the last two albums, guitarists Tim Bray and Jeff Covert, in a studio in hometown Fredericksburg in Virginia. It features a full, warm sound that includes pedal steel, fiddle, keyboards and brass, alongside a strong rhythm section and some versatile guitar contributions. Often, they recorded in late night sessions after the kids were tucked up which gives the album a sense of comfort and ease with unforced late night attributions. There is a timeless feel throughout that has both class and sass. All three of Jonas’ albums are worthy of attention and the combined talents of all those involved have produced a set of recordings that are as real and tasty as butter on a good bread.

Sean Burns and Lost Country Music For Taverns, Bars and Honky Tonks Self Release

This Winnipeg artist has released a number of albums under his own name alone. This one has the appendage of Lost Country - a set of musicians who have joined in the recording to deliver a set of songs that live up to the album title. Music that indeed would fit any of the venues mentioned. Small, intimate, loud and looking to be entertained. And entertain they do from the train whistle sound of the cut-a-rug opener, Have You seen That Train. The band - Joanna Miller on drums, bassist Bernie Thiessen and guitarist Grant Siemens - are joined by a couple of superlative players in the fabulous Chris Scruggs on steel guitar and Harry Stinson on harmony vocals as well as (for one track) harmonica player Big Dave McLean.

What makes the album work especially well is the diverse nature of the songs. The second track Farewell Parties (which might be located more in atavern than arowdy bar) is a sad, slow tale of a break-up when his woman is setting up the event before he has actually gone. Then there’s the mid-tempo My Old Self, a quavering vocal that tells of a man who doesn’t really want to get back to his bar-fly self anymore. Throughout, Burns vocal delivery is spot on and able to take the rough with the smooth, the lost with the found. Burns penned a half dozen of the songs but choose some good songs that fit the bill from other writers such as Wade Mosher’s Don’t Let The Highway Get You Lost, a song about keeping focus and avoiding distractions. Big Freightliner is a song written by fellow honky-tonker Andrew Neville. Dan Russell’s Sturdy Woman should also please Band fans too. Another stand out is Don’t Play With Fire a cautionary tale co-written by Burns and Sara Bleackley with some great Harry Stinson harmonies. The final song here, I Wish Things Were Different, is another ballad that is full of regret and remorse.

As with all the songs, the band and guests have a ball and the playing is perfect for the music with Scruggs steel adding a welcome diversity that takes the music upwards and onwards. Though the core band are well capable of delivering in a live setting I would imagine (and with the YouTube live clips to back it up). Sean Burns joins the growing number of under the radar independent artists who clearly love to listen to and play classic country; albeit from their own point of view with original songs and well chosen covers. Top notch music for all occasions - if those occasions demand a cool band building a head of steam on some hot songs.

Ashley McBryde Girl Going Nowhere Atlantic

This girl from Arkansas plays guitar and writes songs. Ashley McBryde rhastwo previous self released albums and won the Country Showdown talent show before signing with Atlantic records and releasing her major label debut album Girl Going Nowhere. That this album was produced by Jay Joyce made me fear for something more bombastic with strong crossover leanings so it’s good to report that this is a more subtle and restrained production and very much in sync with the songs. McBryde is a part of the trend towards female songwriters who write for their times and contemporaries. The end results though are good storytelling songs that should always be at the heart of what is labelled country music.

A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega, the first single from the album is an example of her craft and was named one of the best songs of 2017. There are many other here that show her skill at taking the elements of her upbringing, as well as observations of those she sees around her, as the focus and subjects of her writing. The title track and opening song is a realisation that while a person can be dubbed going nowhere, this can in fact be doing pretty good. Radioland tells of the influence that that medium had on her and her family. American Scandal is a passionate declaration of the need for love. As is often the case these days McBryde has co-written these songs for the most part with a selection of different co-writersbut whatever the source, they are well written and engaging. The one solo write is a straight and honest consideration of the things that are good and bad about a close relationship. That song, Andy (I Can’t Live Without You), will resonate with many as being based in a no-bullshit reality (as is much of the material here). Material that is memorable and full of a definite female power.

The lyrics are all worth listening to and it’s a shame that the label didn’t see fit to include them in the package to make that easier. Another factor in the success of the album is McBryde using her band on the album; a group of players who have lived with these songs and understand them. Joyce’s production, as mentioned, helps to achieve a balanced and dynamic sound that moves from slower ballads to out and out rockers like El Dorado. Out in front of all this is McBryde’s striking vocal delivery that is full of heart and soul. Ashley McBryde’s major label debut is one of an artist who is going places and one well worth joining her on

Ashley Monroe Sparrow Warner Brothers 

For this new album Monroe has taken a step in a different direction than I had expected. Her performance at Dublin C2C in 2016was a stand-out of more traditionally minded country music (closer to the real thing than much of what has performed under that banner). For this album Monroe has worked with the very much in demand Dave Cobb. They recorded the album in the Historic Studio A in Nashville and have used the environment to create what they may have considered to be a contemporary take on the string-laden countrypolitan made famous by Chet Atkins (often in that very studio). It is an interesting if not quite fulfilling venture. One that artist and producer are no doubt happy with but one that somehow fails to ignite despite some quality song writing.

Monroe is still a distinctive and twang-inflected singer who is commanding on these co-written songs. It has highlights like She Wakes Me Up (Rescue Me) and the opening Orphan, the heartbreak of Paying Attention or the affection of Daddy Told You. But the overall sound seems to fall between different stools; neither pop nor traditional country, without really firmly establishing itself in its own right. There is no steel guitar for instance which might’ve helped to somehow make a link to her previous work. Rather, it is strings with an accompanying rhythm section, keyboards and Cobb’s own guitar contributions.Individually the songs are good enough but overall the similar mood and arrangements tends to negate the strength of the intention.

As part of the Pistol Annie’s Monroe achieved some recognition but her solo career seems not to have taken off as expected and for a writer and singer of her undoubted talent that is a shame. There are circumstances for that to a degree, especially in the way country radio underplays the role of female artists. So, in the end, Sparrow tries hard but doesn’t quite succeed on its own terms but that doesn’t mean writing off Ashely Monroe. What will be interesting, outside of this release, will be how she performthese songs in a live setting alongside the music of the previous albums. For now, it is worth listening to Sparrow yourselves and making your own minds up as to how it flies.

Ross Cooper I Rode The Wild Horses Self Release

Perhaps the best known of the real cowboy singer/songwriters is Chris Ledoux. Others include Ian Tyson and Wylie Gustafson and you can add to that list, Ross Cooper, a former professional bareback rider who had to quit the rodeo circuit when he sustained a knee injury. Now he concentrates on music and has just released this brand new album. The title track makes reference to that career though many of the other songs are more about the trialsand tribulations of everyday life. Me Only, Damn Love, Living’s Hard, Loving’s Easy and Heart Attacks are all explorations of day to day existence. Equally the album has a hard-edge sound that is hardly traditional honky-tonk. Often it hits the edge of hard riff-laden rock. But then some of Ledoux’s music did as well.

The album was produced and mixed by Eric Masse in Nashville. He and Copper assembled a sturdy set of players including Steelism’s Jeremy Fetzer and Eddy Dunlap on pedal steel. Another name that may be familiar to many is Erin Rae on backing vocals. These join the 11 named musicians who contribute their talents to the recordings on what is an enjoyable album that has enough roots Americana to make it of interest to all those who enjoy the more adventurous side of things.

Fellow artist Paul Cauthen co-wrote Old Crow Whiskey & A Cornbread Moon with Cooper and it is one of the more traditionally orientated songs here. Andrew Combs, another artist who may be known to our readers, is a co-writer of Lady Of The Highway along with Jordan Leaning. It celebrates those ladies who add some comfort for those travelling the well worn highways. Cooper has a versatile voice that can handle the slower material along with the up-tempo rockers. It is the kind of album that may well appeal to Ryan Bingham fans and those who like their roots music to have a less traditional bias.

Cooper had a hand in writing all the 12 tracks here and he is following his muse in music and looking for the same thrill that bareback horse riding undoubtably gave him. I imagine that in a live setting with a receptive audience that he might get close. On record he has made an album that grows with listening and signals a singer/songwriter who has the experience of a lifestyle first hand that others only imagine (his song Cowboys & Indians touches on that very subject). An experience that should translate into a portfolio of believable songs as he gets further into his music career. As his song says he is Another Mile on that path.

Romantica Outlaws Self Release

A couple of years agoBen Kyle released a self-titled album that was one of my albums of the year. He also released a fine duets album with Carrie Rodriquez. Since then he has been putting out albums under his previous band name, Romantica. This new album is a mixture of all these elements. The opening track features Rodriquez on backing vocals and the final track is a version of one of the standout tracks from his solo album. This live rendition of The Dark features Ryan Adams. 

Key to Romantica’s gentle, reflective sound is pedal steel guitar. On one of the tracks he features two different steel players. The songs are originals with the exception of two covers - Something from George Harrison and the other is his take on Hallelujah. Now I have to admit, though I love the song, I’m a bit hallelujahed out at this stage having heard so many versions - some good, some bad -  this one however has meaning for Kyle and fits the mood of the album fine. But given the standard of his songs like Do Go Gently, Love In Winter or Listen To Your Soul he may not need to add outside material other than that the songs has a special meaning for him in context of the overall album.

Kyle has recently been through a serious and debilitating illness (Lyme Disease) and couldn’t function in the way he wanted and was unable to communicate or make music. A distressing situation for anyone to face and doubly so for someone who often communicated through words and music. This release then is very welcome. Kyle is still dealing with the illness and its ramifications but has found a way and the words to deal with that.

Without knowing this, these tracks still offer and deliver much. They are called forgotten songs. Songs from an earlier time that have been outsiders, outlaws. Now they may offer some insight. I haven’t heard all the previous Romantica albums but would recommend them (as would my colleague Paul who reviewed the last album). The band name may be slightly incongruous given what he has been going through but is perfectly suited to this music. Wishing you well Ben.

Lloyd Green & Jee Dee Maness Journey To The Beginning Coastal Bend

This album is (largely) instrumental revisit to the Byrds seminal Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album by the two steel guitarists who played on different parts of the album; Green in Nashville and Maness in LA. Anyone who loves the sound of steel guitar will enjoy the joint playing of these two masters of the instrument. There is a rhythm section of Dennis Crouch and John Gardner and they are joined by Russ Pahl (guitars), Sam Bush (mandolin and fiddle) and others including Al Perkins, Sally Van Meter, Earl Poole Ball and Skip Edwards. An array of talent in other words. John Macy was in the producer’s chair.

The songs will be well known to anyone who knows the original album and include I Am A Pilgrim, Hickory Wind, The Christian Life as well as a song that was recorded at the time but not included. One Hundred Years From Now gets an outing here. It is a niche album perhaps but also a tribute to an instrument that was once fundamental to country music and to an album that many regard as one of the foundation stones of country-rock.

The final track is a reprise of You Ain’t Going Nowhere which features the vocals of Jim Lauderdale, Herb Peterson, Richie Furay and Jeff Hanna all trading verses. it makes a fitting end to the otherwise vocal-less album. Steel guitar lovers worldwide should take notice as well as those who appreciate the many talents involved in putting this tribute together.

 

Tuesday
May152018

Reviews by Paul McGee

 

Patrick Darrah Northern Truth Double Darrah

This artist is from Bloomingdale, New York where he worked in his father’s auto business. These days he lives in Nashville and delivers his debut recording, on his own independent label, Double Darrah Entertainment. He writes two of the ten songs included here and the production is by Drew Smith and Kevin “Swine” Grantt, both of whom play in the studio band. 

There are songs of lost towns and lost lives (Colorado), old flames, old memories (Who You Used To Be), old love (I Never Got Over You), memories of youth (Mama Left The Radio On; Dry County). Being left behind is a common theme in Country music but three songs are perhaps a few too many on the same record (You Make It Look Easy; After You and Love Oughta Be Perfect). 

There is a real contemporary country groove to the songs and both Smooth As Whiskey and the rap groove of Make You Mine are the stand-out radio hits.The playing and production are very bright and clear in what makes for an enjoyable listen overall.  

Korby Lenker Thousand Springs Soundly

Seven releases into a career that has seen him mature into a song-writer of some substance, in addition to a published writer, for this project Lenker recorded the basic tracks in different places that held an importance for him. These are songs that are written with personal meaning rather than commercial appeal but the strong sense of melody ensures that his craft shines through. Having recorded across seven states and featuring approx. 30 different artists, including Amy Speace and Molly Tuttle, the songs have an immediate appeal.

There is a lonely quality to the opening tracks, Northern Lights and Friend And A Friend, both focusing on leaving and travelling on with reflections of life on the road and an unknown future. Uh Oh is a song about infatuation and the hope in wishing, it is gentle and sweet, as is the fine ballad, Love Is The Only Song, with cello and piano complimenting the whispered vocals. 

There is a look back through the rear window to younger days and lessons learned in Father To The Man, co-written with Amy Speace, while the dark tale of Stormy Seas is somewhat stark by contrast. The rock vibe of Last Man Standing tells the tale of Custer and Crazy Horse in the Sioux Nation fight for survival. The happily inane girlfriend in Book Nerd bears little resemblance with the free-spirit busker of Nothing Really Matters and her old man admirer who watches from afar. There is a sense of Paul Simon in the vocal delivery here and also on the excellent Late Bloomers; a song that speaks of the need to keep believing, even if dreams have been lost along the way. The final song, Wherever You Are is a real stand-out and an ode to the memory of a lost friend, both gentle and sad while keeping the feeling alive.

The project was produced by Korby Lenker, mixed by Paul Mitch, and mastered by Alex McCullough. It is a very engaging album and one which comes with a warm recommendation. 

S Carey Hundred Acres Jagjaguwar

This is a meditation of sorts, a soft whisper across a field in the early morning dew. The ten tracks blend into a seamless listening experience that never lifts beyond the gently laid-back atmosphere created by producer, song-writer, multi-instrumentalist S Carey – also known for his role as the drummer and supporting vocalist of indie folk band Bon Iver. 

He is joined here by a small group of musicians who play beautifully and sensitively in support of these mood pieces, including Justin Vernon, original founder of Bon Iver. This is the third solo release from Sean Carey and the whispered vocals and lush, yet understated, sonic vibe to the project is beautifully realised.  

Pedal steel mixes with synthesizer while programmed sounds blend with violin and viola. Titles such as Meadow Song, (with clarinet & french horn), Hundred Acres, True North, Rose Petals and Hideout give a flavour of the sense of quiet place and space that permeates this record.

A contemporary sound that hints at days gone by yet points to a bright future for this excellent musician.

True North Open Road, Broken Heart Self Release

True North is an acoustic Folk/Roots band that has released three previous albums prior to this new offering which surfaced in 2017. The band comprises Kristen Grainger (ukulele, vocals), Dan Wetzel (guitar, resonator guitar, octave mandolin, ukulele, vocals), Martin Stevens (mandolin, fiddle, octave mandolin, vocals) and Josh Adkins (upright bass, vocals). The album features eight songs written by Kristen Grainger and four covers; Mighty Bourbon (Justin Evan Thompson), The Eye (Brandi Carlile, Philip and Timothy Hanseroth), Wilder Than Her (Fred Eaglesmith) and Without You (Eddie Vedder).

Guest musicians Eric Alterman (cello) and Todd Sickafoose (bass) join the band who self-produced the collection at Big Owl Studios in Salem, Oregon. The playing is subtle and understated, giving the songs a cohesion and fluidity that makes the listening experience a very positive one. The vocals of Grainger are very engaging and the sweet melodies are quite hypnotic when listening on headphones; intimate and charged with a gentle longing.  The harmony vocals with Dan Wetsel are very complimentary to Grainger’s voice and lend an added layer to the arrangements.

One-Way Ticket contains the lines that appear as the title of the album and the song is one of striking out for the future, changing circumstances and having the will to keep believing. Dark Horse Bar & Grill celebrates the solace of a local hostelry where there is ‘lots of free philosophy’. Ratio of Angels to Demons deals with the passing of a friend and does so in a very creative and poignant manner. The subject matter of some songs is somewhat bleak with titles like I’m Gone, You Come Round, Sunday Night Blues and Without You handling the pain of separation and the feeling of being alone in the World. 

However, these are balanced by the upbeat melodies of Seed, Leaf, Flower, Seed – a celebration of the Seasons and the inherent magic of Mother Nature, plus the ability to take the extraordinary from the everyday ordinary things as explored on Small Wonders. A very impressive release and one that is well worth exploring further.

Will Paynter Truth & Beauty Self Release

Fender Rhodes and tenor sax join with the tenor bass of Will Paynter on opening track, One Better Man and we are given a soulful feel for the talents of this artist who performs and records with the Sonoma Sound Band. They play roots music with rhythms that incorporate blues, country and folk influences. 

Paynter served in the army with the Green Berets and has lived in both in Central and South America. His wandering has also seen him travel in the Far East and the South Pacific, North Africa and the Middle East. He has released a few previous albums and this current project includes 13 tracks and a list of studio musicians that is both very long and impressive with Greg Brady and Paynter co-producing. 

There are four cover versions of songs by Tom Waits (Down There By The Train), Johnny Cash (Let The Train Blow The Whistle), Bruce Springsteen (Further On Up The Road) and Dock Boggs (Wild Bill Jones) and all other songs are written by Will Paynter. The acoustic stripped-down feel to the whole recording and the less-is-more playing adds to the character of the songs like Loving You, Truth & Beauty, Brand New Day, All I Own and Clearer To Me Now

The most arresting song is What People Are Talking About, which highlights all of the injustice in the World today and a commentary on the lack of humanity in all of it – a grim overview of our times.

Six vocalists, five guitar players, three drummers, two bass players, accordion, violin, pedal-steel, banjo, saxophone, piano, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, and some fine harmonica playing from Paynter himself – plenty to enjoy here.

Jordan Davis Home State HumpHead.

A debut album from new artist Jordan Davis who comes from Louisiana, USA. The twelve songs are typical of the crossover country releases that are proving so popular among the current listeners of commercial radio stations. There is a slick production sound, courtesy of Paul DiGiovanni, who also contributes acoustic & electric guitars, banjo, vocals and programming. 

It is that last credit that old purists of the Country genre hate to see – programming. In modern recording techniques the use of loops, syncopated beats and programming can lead to something more akin to Pop music and can sound sterile, lacking real character or colour. 

This release falls into that territory. Sure, there are lots of bright choruses and hooks that will sound great while driving along with the windows down and the stereo turned up. Songs that celebrate woman-kind and songs that celebrate the chase involved in impressing a sought-after beauty – Tough To Tie Down; Singles You Up; Made That Way; So Do I; Dreamed You Did – all come and go with the hopes of success in the high stakes of romantic conquest. 

Country music is not something that exists in a vacuum and it must move forward, but the modern sound of albums like this do not fit any definition of the original roots of Country. Davis has a strong vocal and the tracks all bounce with a bright and breezy quality but I find myself wishing for Willie Nelson or Emmylou to appear and save the day. Hmmm.

Thursday
May032018

Reviews by Paul McGee

 

 

Mare Wakefield & Nomad Time To Fly Maresie

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Kingfisher Transit Fading Trails

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

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

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

The Equitorial Group Apricity Self Release.

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

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

Paul Thorn Don’t Let The Devil Ride Perpetual Obscurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Lane Only A Flight Away Self Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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