Reviews by Stephen Rapid


Pushing Chain Sorrows Always Swim Kingswood 

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

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

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

Jesse DanielSelf-Titled Die True

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

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

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

Garrick Rawlings Self-Titled Peloponnese

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

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

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

Kate Campbell Damn Sure Blue Large River

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

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

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

Kat Danser Goin’ Gone Black Hen

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

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

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

Edward Davis Anderson Chasing Butterflies Black Dirt

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

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

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


Reviews by Paul McGee

Chris Thomas Bound To The Ocean Self Release

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

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

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

Arkansas Dave Self Titled Self Release

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

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

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

Dan Israel You’re Free Self Release

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

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

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

Steve Hill The One Man Blues Rock Band No Label

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

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

Steve Future 7 Cities Blue Future

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

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

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

Jim Lauderdale Time Flies Yep Roc 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Saladino Band Bros Self Release

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

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

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


Reviews by Paul McGee

The Mulligan Brothers Songs For The Living and Otherwise Southern Routes

Studio outing number three for this talented band of musicians from Mobile, Alabama. The first two records were very well received and built up their reputation as musicians of some substance, both in the studio and playing in a live setting. The original line up lost an influential member when Gram Rea (fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica and vocals) left for family reasons but the remaining core of Ross Newell (lead vocals, guitar, and song writing); Ben Leininger (bass and vocals) and Greg DeLuca (drums and vocals) continued to look to the future and added a suitably different talent with Melody Duncan joining on fiddle, vocals and piano in 2016. The Female perspective adds a broader colour and nuance on vocals and playing style. 

This record is something of a departure with the writing casting a wider net into the areas of rock and blues. Newell is a fine writer and his eye for a couplet is as finely honed as ever. The opening song, The Deal, is a love song that does not mention the old clichés at all and all the better for it!

Possession In G Minor is a clever ditty about the eternal everlasting search of the Devil for new, lonely and vulnerable souls, while I Need To Get Out talks about new beginnings and creating distance with the past. Divine Design is about a relationship that is out of kilter where one party is an emotional bully taking the other for granted.

I Know That Man is a story song about sweet revenge in an abusive relationship. Ghost Town rues the price paid for ‘progress’ and the choking of so many small towns across America while Not That Way talks about suicide and the confusion it leaves in the hearts and minds of those left behind.  

The tour bus gets a song also with the excellent Roseanne, destined to be a favourite of audiences on tour, and a clever juxtaposition of groupie and road wagon! Great Grandaddy’s War talks about old attitudes and entrenchment forged from the Civil War years and a limiting attitude that change can only be a bad thing. It challenges and questions those who choose sides with a blind rage and self-righteous conviction. Duncan has a song included also with the sombre message of The Basement and the power of the deceased to invade our memories and thoughts.

The playing is superb throughout, the harmony vocals are a joy, while the lead vocal of Ross Newell is both sweet and warm to the ear. Arrangements stray from the simple Country/Roots formula to include new colours, under the familiar guise of well-crafted songs and performance. A real keeper.

The Mulligan Brothers Live From The Netherlands Southern Routes

This 13-song set is taken from a tour of the Netherlands in 2017. My copy has no information to suggest that a number of different nights and venues were included in the recording. Indeed, the muted crowd response and the lack of between song communication leaves the listening experience just a little sterile. What can be in no doubt however is the quality of musicianship that exists within this collective. On the back of two critically acclaimed studio records this ensemble has been stretching out into Europe in search of a wider network of admirers and with their quality they will have little difficulty achieving their goals.

Ross Newell (lead vocals, guitar, and song writing); Ben Leininger (bass and vocals), Greg DeLuca (drums and vocals) and Melody Duncan (fiddle, piano & vocals) deliver on all fronts with an engaging, easy charm in the song arrangements and vocal harmonies that augment the tight playing of all four musicians. 

Ross Newell is the creative source in the band and writes all their songs. His voice is very mellow and sweet, with the occasional sense of the timbre of Dave Matthews in the delivery. His words are well crafted and composed with both care and confidence into some real gems. Cecilia is a story song from the Plantation times and tells of a tragic love that results in a walking ghost. Calamine is another story song, this time dealing with murder on the run, while the wonderful Thrift Store Suitcase looks at second chances, living with regrets and leaving the past behind.

The surprise is that included on this live set are a total of six cover versions – quite a number when all one wants to hear is some more of the band’s original material. I do believe that a deluxe edition exists with an additional 12 tracks, but the inclusion of six cover songs, however good, on this single disc is somewhat unbalanced to say the least. 

Of the covers, we are given Stephen Stills, Townes Van Zandt, Grateful Dead, Thomas Dolby, The Steeldrivers and The Civil Wars. Some work better than others, given the Mulligan Brothers treatment, but the Thomas Dolby song I Love You Goodbye steals it for me with a superb arrangement and highlighted by the excellent fiddle playing of Melody Duncan.

The band are such a tight unit with Greg Deluca and Ben Leininger providing the understated rhythm for both Duncan and Newell to play between the lines. Well worth having in your collection but perhaps opt for the deluxe version to get even more of this great band in a live context.

Ben Bostick Hellfire Simply Fantastic

Any musician who saves his busking money in order to record a debut EP has my unwavering respect. This talented musician released his full debut record the following year and now we have his next project, as momentum builds towards World domination. Now based in Southern California, the co-production on this release is shared by Bostick and John Would (Warren Zevon) and there is quite an influence of the departed genius in the songs included here. 

Bostick has a wicked & wry sense of looking at things and amidst a gumbo of Country, Rockabilly, Blues and Rock we are treated to plenty of drinkin’, hard partying on Saturday nights, lustful love flings, poor boy messes and just downright bitter and mean men - loners set to do you harm.

Titles such as The Other Side Of Wrong, How Much Lower Can I Go, Feeling Mean, Blow Off Some Steam and The Outsider give a very strong flavour of what is involved in the grooves here.

We have a Johnny Cash vibe on the cool, drinkin’ rockabilly of the title track. No Show Blues has the writer skipping out on his wedding day, while Work, Sleep, Repeat gives a sense of what he escaped from as the debts pile up and the feeling of living a trapped life starts seeping in.

Excellent band in Kyle Lalone (lead guitar, vocals), Luke Miller (piano, organ), Perry Morris (drums, percussion), Cory Tramontelli (bass) and Bostick on rhythm guitar, harmonica and lead vocals. Just go out and buy it…!  

Lucia Comnes Held In The Arms Delfina

Based in San Francisco, this musician plays fiddle and sings songs in an Americana, Folk, Roots idiom. She has studied with many fiddle masters in the U.S. and Ireland. She also attended the Traditional Irish Music Program at University College, Cork, to study spoken Gaelic and sean-nos, or “old-style,” singing. Add to this a deep interest in Balkan/Eastern European folk music and a picture emerges of a dedicated artist to her craft. Simple arrangements, a sweet voice and understated playing.

All songs are written by Comnes with four co-writes and the production, by both her and fellow (multi-instrumental) musician Gawain Mathews, is uncluttered and bright. Songs about a celebration of rural life (On The Farm, Winter In The Mountains), join with a nostalgia for home and family values, (The Sleeping Lady’s Daughter, Matilde, Song For Mama) childhood and best friends (Mirabelle), loyalty, love and understanding (Good Hands, I’m With You, Morning Star), while a sibling in trouble is the context for Side By Side. A very pleasant listen.

Son Of The Velvet Rat The Late Show Fluff & Gravy/Mint 400 

Eleven songs recorded live at three separate venues in Austria and America and featuring husband-and-wife team Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder, who are the core of this band that has been producing music since 2004.

Having built quite a profile in their native Austria, they relocated to Joshua Tree in California’s Mojave Desert in 2013 and have continued to follow their vision of what can be described as reflective resonance...                                                         

Their last release, Dorado, was a brooding atmospheric work of dishevelled beauty, ragged in all the right places but shining with a certain light. The vocals of Georg are lived-in and winking at a secretly held knowledge that informs his writing. Heike gently harmonises to add sweet to the sour and reminds in parts of the stripped back Cowboy Junkie arrangements circa the Trinity Sessions. There is a fragile beauty in the songs and the simple acoustic strum of Little Flower plays against the up-tempo groove of Surfer Joe, while a Nick Cave ghost haunts the arrangement on Do You Love Me?

Sweet Angela allows the band to stretch into a Neil Young work-out vibe while the meditative, slow-burn quality of Copper Hill is closer to the core of this band’s interesting sound. Well worth further investigation. 

Vinny Clohisey Pistolero Self Release

This release by Irish musician Vinny Clohisey seems to have been in the works for a few years now. The very scant information says it was recorded in 2016 at Floodplain Studios in Clontarf but some internet searching shows that the actual release is this year, 2018. 

There is no list of credits to the musicians who play on the 11 songs which is unusual, given that the promo copy I received has a colourful insert with full lyrics. This booklet also states that “the songs on this cd predate those on my 2015 EP”. Hmmm…!

In any event, here it is – an independently created project that seems to have had its spiritual home in the regular sessions at Darkey Kelly’s, The Lord Edward and various Folk clubs in and around Dublin City. The playing is very consistent throughout and a number of the songs stand-out, like the two instrumentals Sevilla and An Turas go dti An Talamh Naofa (The Journey to The Holy Land) for all our International readers.

The vocals are not quite so consistent and something of an acquired taste on some of the songs. However, this is a small observation and the pleasure in songs such as Pistolero, There’s Good Out There, Spailpin’s Song and Southern Ways, far outweighs any perceived pain. Kudos to all concerned.


Reviews by Declan Culliton

Clay Parker and Jodi Jones The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound Electric Wreck

 Less than thirty seconds into the first track on this album, and you could be forgiven for assuming that The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound was an album of Gillian Welch outtakes and rarities. In fact, without the album cover in hand you would be convinced it was. Jones’ vocals have that sweetness and purity possessed by Welch and the guitar work is reminiscent of the sounds Dave Rawlings creates. The album as a whole retains this Welch/Rawlings feel throughout, but rather than dismissing it as copycat the focus should dwell on the quality of their harmonies, the playing in general and the songs, which stand on their own two feet. That opener Easy Breeze is aptly titled - airy, carefree and simply lovely on the ear. Remember It All and Down To The Garden travel similar paths, with shared lead harmonies by Parker and James, both laid back and as relaxed as J.J. Cale at his most untroubled. The lead vocal is taken by James on Katie’s Blues, a tale of release and liberation and the gorgeous country waltz Every New Sky contains some heavenly pedal steel breaks, courtesy of Paul Buller who also plays guitar and mandolin on the album.

It’s not a short album either, requiring over fifty minutes of your time over the ten tracks. The tour de force is without doubt the closing epic track Killin’ Floor. It delivers over twelve minutes of stripped back to the bare bone harmony vocals, only accompanied by acoustic guitar.  Shades of I Dream A Highway, the closer of Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator) perhaps, but a beautifully spellbinding closer nonetheless.

Having abandoned solo careers to work as a duo, Parker and Jones discovered at an early stage that their ability to co-write far outweighed their talent for writing individually. Recording the album in both their hometown of Baton Rouge in Louisiana and at The Bakery Sound Studio in Nashville on a near zero budget, Parker admits that most of the people who worked on the album did so for little or nothing, simply because they believed in the duo. It’s an admirable sentiment and quite credible, given the quality of the end product which hopefully will garner them exposure to a wider audience. So impressed was actor and film director Ethan Hawke when encountering the duo at a casual neighborhood show, that he cast them in his recently released film Blaze.

The methods that they have adopted to develop a following are equally old timey, focusing on endless tours across Southern towns in the US and building their fan base on the strength of their live shows, without an over reliance on social media. Perhaps this is the reason the album took a while to surface. They have been performing as a duo since 2009 and have no doubt won the hearts and souls of many - not surprising given the calibre of this album.

Granted the album title can be a tongue twister - taken from the Woody Guthrie lyrics from When The Curfew Blows ("Was the lonesomest sound boys, that ever heard boys, like a midnight wind boys, when the curfew blows") – but the quality of the material is of the highest standard over the ten tracks that explore old time folk and country. If old timey is your thing, you really need to hear this album.

Folk Soul Revival Self-Titled Self Release

The band’s title could be extended to folk, soul, bluegrass, rockabilly and country revival, given the amount of ground the Virginian quintet cover on their self-titled album. Believe me, there’s every bit as much country music as there is folk and soul on offer here. Very much a touring band, with ten years on the road at this stage and knocking out over a hundred shows a year.  Folk Soul Revival have shared stages with Old Crow Medicine Show, Dr.Ralph Stanley and Jason Isbell to name a few and their musical contributions and harmonies on the album point to a road seasoned act. The opener Other Side is an ‘in your face’ belter, before they settle into some dreamy country ballads such as Losing Kind, Small Town and the closing track Willin’. Honey Do raises the temperature with toe tapping rhythm and some killer guitar work and Horrible Girl is no frills traditional honky tonk. Dance With Me, a wonderful country ballad, features the honeyed vocals of Leah Blevins.

Folk Soul Revival are Daniel Davis and Justin Venable, both on vocals and guitar, Brandon Sturgill on bass, Chad Light on guitars, pedal steel and banjo and Justin Louthian on vocals and drums. Recorded at Ten 4 Recording in East Nashville and produced by Grammy Award winner Chad Brown (Robert Plant, Jim Lauderdale, Ryan Adams, Patty Griffin), the album looks backwards, forwards and sideways, with real tales of heartbreak, mundane nine to five back breaking jobs, the joy of small town living, and flirty women.  Lovers of the band Western Centuries will lap this up. 

Jeremy Nail Live Oak Open Nine

My Mountain, recorded in 2016 by Jeremy Nail and produced by Alejandro Escovedo, was written by Nail while recovering from cancer, which had resulted in the amputation of his left leg. Live Oak, in many ways, is a celebration of the ability to not only survive, but to blossom in the face of adversity. The title’s inspiration comes from a six hundred-year-old Treaty oak tree in Austin, Texas, which survived a poisoning attempt in 1989 and still stands as proudly as ever, mirroring Nail’s own continuation.

Co-produced by Nail and drummer Pat Manske at The Zone in Dripping Springs Texas, the overriding feel the album creates is one of absolute calmness and tranquillity across the ten tracks. Credit must go to the pair for the quality of the production and the choice of instrumentation. It’s stripped back in the main, placing Nail’s vocals out front but also showcasing some superb playing, particularly Jeremy Menking’s guitar and lap steel playing. 

The title track Live Oak is a celebration of resurgence, durability and recovery ("light and water make it grow, gathered on the branches the birds build their nest, dead leaves falling underneath as I come back new again, strong as a live oak"). Abiquiu reflects on both loveliness and despair - inspired while driving through the New Mexico town where both desolation and beauty exist side by side, an all too common feature of many American towns and cities. Like so much of the album, it is unhurried and patient, with Nail’s vocals clear and tranquil alongside some fine guitar playing. Other Side Of Time and Hope and Fear follow a similar path, the latter uncluttered and dreamy, all the better for the addition of trumpet by Shane Pitsch. Even more laid back, if that is possible, is the gorgeous So Long, Yesterday, the album’s stand out track. A tale of loss, tragedy and possibly recovery, it includes striking backing vocals from L.A. singer songwriter Shannon Brackett and moody lap steel from Jeremy Menking. Till’ Kingdom Come, the closing track, is a reflection on both Nail’s personal survival and on those who did not make it to the other side ("from a body ridden with disease, to this new life I live and breathe, to the ones that did not survive, I wish we could have had more time").

Nail’s previous album My Mountain featured in the main material that catalogued pain, loss, suffering and survival. Live Oak, on the other hand, is an album that celebrates recovery and endurance, written very much in the present and is another exquisite album from the Texan songwriter. 

Rhyan Sinclair Barnstormer Little Haunted Girl

Still only in her late teens, Rhyan Sinclair’s debut solo album finds the Kentucky born singer abandoning her more rocky sound as lead person in All the Little Pieces, the band she formed at the age of eleven. Barnstormer finds her exploring her country roots and very successfully it has to be said. She has not approached the challenge half-heartedly either, engaging the talents of Jason Groves (who recorded three other albums with Sinclair in previous projects) and Sean Giovanni to co-produce with her and also calling on some crack players - Fats Kaplin, Toni Karpinski, Ross Holmes, Carl Miner, Eliza Mary Doyle, Lillie Mae and Jeff Binder - to contribute to the album. The recording stretches to nearly fifty minutes across fourteen tracks, twelve written by Sinclair and two co-writes, Kentucky Night Sky and the title track, with Toni Karpinski.

Primarily and to her credit, it is a country album in the true sense, avoiding the pop crossover direction of many of her young peers and all the better for it. From Here, the opener, is uncluttered, beautifully paced with dreamy pedal steel by Kaplin, the perfect companion to Sinclair’s sweet high-pitched vocals. Barnstormer, the title track, steps up a few gears, a lively jaunt with Carl Milner’s slick banjo playing and some ripping fiddle playing by Ross Holmes taking pride of place, alongside Sinclair’s silky vocals on this occasion. Few country albums exclude a weepie and The Sad Song ("gonna write a sad song and get it over"), ticks that box, stripped back and unhurried. Old Lost Town is small town reflections with nods towards Miranda Lambert and Brandy Clark. Retrograde does slip one foot into the pop camp, but the touching and gentle Cold Summer’s Day steers the ship back in the right direction, with Lillie Mae adding harmony vocals and fiddle. What Time Is It In California? is a country/soul/gospel fusion, which works spectacularly well, group vocals and hand claps included, a tale of wanderlust and itchy feet, before the album closes with the loose bluegrass sound of Free At Last

It remains to be seen if Barnstormer is simply a diversion for Sinclair, or if it implies a musical direction she intends pursuing. What can’t be denied is that it’s an exceptionally mature and professional undertaking from someone so young. Possibly a track or two could have been omitted but in the main the writing and singing is top drawer and the playing immaculate throughout. 

RJ Comer One Last Kiss  Growling Moon

The cover photo on RJ Comer’s One Last Kiss album depicts a vintage car ploughed into a tree on the side of the road, an image which could aptly refer to the singer songwriter’s early career. From singing in a church choir as a young boy, to addiction and homelessness as a young man, RJ Comer eventually conquered his demons and the Chicago-born troubadour subsequently relocated to rural Tennessee, where he currently resides with his wife and dog. Having dropped out of music school and abandoned his musical career, three decades passed before Comer finally turned his life around and won a scholarship to law school. To complete his rehabilitation, while performing with his band semi-professionally, he was signed by a record label.

One Last Kiss is Comer’s first full album having released two mini albums, Hell Hole Swamp in 2015 and Nightly Suicide in 2016. His rugged baritone vocals reflect a life well lived and perfectly suit the twelve country tinged blues tracks on the album. Recorded at Great Hill Productions and Slack Key Studios in Nashville, the production duties were undertaken by multi-instrumentalist Shawn Byrne, who also plays guitars, bass and mandolin on the album. Even with Comer’s vocals always upfront the quality of the playing shines through, Randy Kohr’s (Dolly Parton, Jim Lauderdale, Dierks Bentley) slide guitar is especially intoxicating on House Grown Cold and Desert Mama. The latter is a playful yarn about an LSD trip in the desert ("I can’t say that I’m sober, but I can say I ain’t been drinking, I see a snake swallow its tail and then it rolls away like a wheel"). Let’s Run is a simple ballad craving escapism from the nine to five rural grind and features Grand Olde Opry staff fiddler Eamon McLoughlin on top form. Under A Lover’s Moon is a confessional love song celebrating the writer’s contentment and fulfilment.

Treetop Flyers Self-Titled Loose Music

Winners of the Glastonbury Festival Talent Competition in 2011, Treetop Flyers self-titled release is their third recording following The Mountain Moves (2013) and Palomino (2016). 

The London based band are headed by founding member Reid Morrison and borrow their name from a Stephen Stills song, a heads up to their musical direction which blends late 60’s West Coast with folk and soul. Flea Drops, which opens the album, is a mellow instrumental followed by the soulful blues sound of Sweet Greens & Blues, which celebrates that unique Brit soul sound and includes saxophone courtesy of Geoff Thomas Widdowson, a member of their label mates Danny and The Champions of The World. The spacey psychedelic Kooky Clothes creates images of sun drenched outdoor festivals on the west Coast circa 1969. Astral Plane fits a similar bill, though very much to Morrison’s credit, delivered in his own accent rather that adopting an annoying American twang. Warning Bell revisits their distinctive UK soul sound and Art of Deception recalls early Traffic with its infectious groove and Steve Winwood sounding vocal. Closing the album as it opened with an instrumental, Door 14 bookends what is an impressive, tender and most listenable album.

Unlike their previous recordings, which took place in the main in their own London SOUP studios, this time they travelled to Stoke Newington and The Cube studio, and with quite basic equipment concentrated on making an album that reflected exactly where they were musically at that moment in time. A very good place by the sound of the end product.


Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Kate Vargas For The Wolfish & Wandering Little Maniac

First up you notice the voice that has a rasp to it that makes it distinctive and individual. She is a songwriter who has written or co-written all the songs on this her third album. Producer Charles Newman has gathered around her, in a Brooklyn studio, a set of players who don’t play safe with this engaging take on Americana. The percussionist Granville Mullings Jr is central to the sound, using an array of junkyard objects that add a quirkiness to the direction the songs take. 

Some songs immediately draw you in like Common Creep, a sharp critique of an aquaintance, with its memorable chorus of “you’re a creep, you’re a creep … just like me” - showing that Vargas doesn’t exclude herself from criticism when considering life, love and logic. But there are many moments on this album that make you realise that Vargas is an artist who is pushing the limits of her personal vision to create music that is not simple or easy but rewards engagement. Her blend of folk orientated storytelling is placed in the middle of a sonic stream that washes over her voice, adding a dream like (or nightmarish) take on her songs that draw on literary sources to create the wolfish world she wanders.                                                    

She can strip the song right back to voice and guitar on Madeline (a song about a troubled patient in an asylum). Then Come Join The Show is set into a heavier palate that suits the song’s sense of unease. The songs are drawn from a personal journey that may not reveal their meaning on first listen, but if not then the nature of the setting gives a strong hint of the elemental inspiration behind these tales. Her upbringing in New Mexico undoubtedly influence her sense of intrigue and interest in folklore and supernatural instincts.

Kate Vargas is a performer who is likely to gain a growing audience for her musical stories and her third album is well placed to achieve that. She offers something in her music that is magnetic, menacing and meaningful. 

Benjamin Jason Douglas First World Blues Flour Sack Cape

From the get-go it’s easy to fall in love with this album. Sure the comparisons in terms of voice and writing style are pretty obvious and you can name your own names. The music touches on several roots orientated bases but is blended, like an old whisky, into something with a touch of bluesy woodsmoke and nocturnal deadly nightshade. It was distilled by Joe Lekkas and a team of like minded local musicians who understood the mission. Lekkas is also a player here, along with Ryan Dishen on guitar and Erin Nelson on drums. This trio are fronted by Douglas who is very much the big man with the big presence here. He also wrote all the songs on the album aside from Lekkas’ Tchoupitoulas.

The songs are largely life experiences that stem from the personal and the observed. The lyrics are good and worthy of attention. In Raggedy Andy Williams, about a marriage break-up, he tells his other half “you can have the records and the player too, ‘cause I can’t hear them now without thinking of you.” Tentpole has a gospel feel that relates to the teller wanting to be a “tentpole in the big tent revival.” The song opens with the voice of a revivalist preacher before becoming a jaunty, uplifting spiritual (including a verse of Amazing Grace). Walking Down The Grain is a chillin’ tale of the devil taking his Daddy’s hand and walkin’ him down the grain. There is a weight to this song that is palpable in its subtle menace. Lighter, musically, at least is the acoustic Doc Red Blues with guitar and mandolin behind a heartfelt vocal from Douglas. Street Preacher has also a tender heart, as does the album closer Gloria. Both show a more restrained and reflective delivery that work to highlight Douglas’ overall vocal ability and power.

The ten songs on the album sound like they should be part of some atmospheric HBO series, something like Carnivale. The songs are cinematic in both content and in the playing. The four musicians have produced something special that funnily enough is not that far from some successful artists who are currently riding high in the charts. The vocals are slightly grittier but the potential is there. These First World Blues are first class.

Letitia Van Sant Out In The Studs Self Release

The latest album from Baltimore based Letitia Van Sant is a beautifully laid back recording with simple, sparse and effective production by Alex Lacquement that places Van Sant’s voice, itself a versatile instrument, front and centre. Associate producer Don Goodwin also engineered and mixed the album. The songs are all folkish tales other than the one cover, a timely version of Stephen Stills’ protest song For What It’s Worth. Here Dan Ryan plays electric guitar, Dan Samuels plays drums and Lacquement the bass. But again this is an understated performance that makes the point of the song more poignant.

Elsewhere there are contributions from other musicians including guitarist David McKindley-Ward, Patrick McAvinue on upright bass and Laura Wortman adds harmony vocals on a couple of tracks. Overall this a tight knit unit that underplays the songs without ever short changing them in a way similar to the Cowboy Junkies’ production values on their Trinity Sessions album. This album stands alongside that in similarly allowing space in the songs. The lyrics (reproduced in the accompanying booklet) are clear, as is Van Sant’s voice which is able to portray the emotion of the songs without ever over delivering.

Where I’m Bound, the first track on the album, in timeless folk style opens with the lines “As my mother lay dying she called me to her side …” Her mother then advises her to follow the compass of her heart. This is something that Van Sant does through the rest of the album. In The Field she allows that her “soul is a field where her love may grow.” Nature and environment are also underlying influences on her work.

Van Sant was involved in environmental advocacy before she won the Kerrville New Folk Song Writing Competition. Previous winners include Nanci Griffiths and Lucinda Williams, which is a testament to her writing skills. She has released two previous albums (one as part of a band) but in many ways considers this something of a debut. There have been comparisons to Courtney Marie Andrews and certainly that can be seen if one considers Andrew’s earlier work. But Van Sant is quite different in her overall approach at this point. She sings in the title song “Am I wrong to want what I want?” The answer is “no” and in this set of songs she has produced a work that many may also want, as it is a striking and effective album from an artist with the vision, voice and songs to stand out. 

Speedbuggy USA Kick Out The Twang Wagon Wheel

An album to warm the heart of anyone missing the raucous rakishness of cowpunk. Speedbuggy USA are back with a thirteen track album of hardcore twang that announces its affiliation with the seminal debut of the MC5 with a similar attitude of no compromise. Not that it is without its airier moments such as the opening cover of the Monkees The Last Train To Clarksville. Then it’s largely a mix of hell-for-leather devil-may-care moments that recall the likes of Jason And The Scorchers and The Beat Farmers .... bands who understood where they were coming from and where they were going - which is more than some of the “country” bands lost in Hair Metal do today.

Opening with a vocal chorus Get Around leads to a solid rockin’ workout, while the next song Shaky Town puts more emphasis on the country side of what they do, with some steel underscoring the sense of movement that is prevalent in many of the songs. Between those two points of twang and fang they display their clear ability as musicians. Timbo and Seth Von Paulus trade tasty guitar riffs throughout the album, also notable for the talents of Brady Sloan on bass, drummer Jamie Dawson and Gregg McMullen playing pedal steel. These guys kick-ass as they tell the stories of tortured minds, devils inside and returning from the road.        

But they can also handle recriminations and regret as they do on the ballad Sorry. Long Gone shows they can strip it back when needed, with mandolin taking the lead. Honky Tonk Singer is another slow paced reflection of a wasted life. The song is laced with pedal steel again adding to its sense of loneliness. The album’s second cover is the Bobby Sharp written Unchain My Heart, first recorded by Ray Charles and given a impassioned and (lost) soul inflected delivery here. All this shows that within their chosen field of vision Speedbuggy USA are adept at delivering some engaging music. They do so with energy, conviction and cussedness that shows that even after numerous releases this band is far from spent and making their best music to date. Long may they keep kicking out the twang.

Lyman Ellerman  I Wish I Was A Train Woodshed Resistance

The album opens with Bigger Plan that I find not unlike one of the better Dire Straits tracks. It is a good introduction into the Americana world of Lyman Ellerman, a singer songwriter who has been through a lot of pain during his life not least due to the death of his son. His son was a drug addict and Ellerman has turned that hard journey into a song. The Addict takes a hard look at how the condition can devastate the person caught in the web and all those around them. It was written by Ellerman and Larry Brake who added harmony vocals on the recording. It is given a bluesy reading with co-producer Jason Morgan adding some telling guitar on the track, as he does throughout the album. The album is essentially Ellerman and Morgan providing the music behind Ellerman’s expressive voice.

The album is balanced between the songs that are shrouded in dark thoughts and those which express light and hope. This is not Ellerman’s first album by a long stretch and he has honed his craft since he first picked up a guitar in his teens. He is joined by Jessica Dooley for Nobody Knows You (Like I Do) which finds both sides recognising the true nature of the other. Ditches tells that if you wander off road you may never get back on track. Because Of You again is a slow blues that conveys that the only reason to get up in the morning is because of her. Shinin’ On Elizabeth is a tribute to love and its redeeming powers. The Stranger is an atmospheric story song that has a cinematic quality with spoken voice, insistent drums and raging guitar. One More Drink is an acoustic take on another self destructive lifestyle. Here Comes Tomorrow closes the album with the possibilities of a new day and a new beginning with some upbeat guitar and a persistent vocal chorus “Here the good times, here comes tomorrow.” 

This album represents who Ellerman is at this time in his life - the Nashville based singer songwriter who through the years has tried to reflect in his writing some of the harder aspects of life and death (which has seen him lose a lot of those close to him). The end result is a record that deals with some of those issues but does so in a way that offers understanding and insight - something that is often in short supply in the mainstream music that graces the radio today. Time, perhaps, to get on board.

David Starr South And West Cedaredge

Though recorded in Nashville with a crew of local session players, including the renowned pedal steel and electric guitarist Dan Dugmore, David Starr’s latest album does not fit with the current mainstream output - rather it crosses into an number of areas including country, folk and 70’s country rock. Not that these songs are without accessibility. Maybe You’re Not The One feels like a song that you already know. Written by Starr and Robby Hecht it could easily be a hit in the hands of a major label artist. The songs stand up to repeated listening without ever feeling like total classics. Starr has written the majority of these songs on his own but also some with such notables as Irene Kelly. She also joins him on harmony vocals on their co-write Don’t Give Me Hope. Starr produced this album which recalls a past that is rooted in bands like Poco, The Eagles and others who played melodic flowing country rock.

The songs largely deal with relationships, many looking at what could have been and what still might be. Listen to Night Rolls Around, Love Won’t Make Itself or Good As Gone in which Starr consider these options. In Until It’s Gone he sings of breaking nine of the Ten Commandments, and it’s only a matter of time before he breaks the tenth but he’s going his own path no matter what. If Nothing Changes takes a harder look at the direction society is taking in these days of fake news and fake attitudes. The lyrics have a certain poetic quality that sit with the overall musical setting.

There is one cover included which makes perfect sense of the overall mood and that is the Bernie Taupin/Elton John co-write Country Comfort. It fits as a reference point to a time when country music was neither traditional nor outright pop. As the title suggests, this albums brings together two places and times. David Starr lives in Colorado but also has a foothold in Nashville. The inspiration of birth places colours the overall mood - a mood that some will dismiss as not fitting with either the harder edged outlaw country movement or the more crossover pop/soft metal that dominates radio. That hardly matters for Starr who has made the album he wanted to.

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