Wednesday
Oct262016

Reviews By Declan Culliton

Sarah Morris Ordinary Things Self Release

First listen to Ordinary Things brought to mind the Ohio singer Rachel Sweet, who’s blend of country infused pop was to the fore in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Not sure why she was released from my memory bank having not listened to her music for over thirty years but I did detect quite a number of similarities between her and Sarah Morris. Crystal clear voices, snappy country pop and simple but cleverly crafted songs mostly involving relationships, being the common tread between the two artists.

Following her previous two albums Grateful Moon (2011) and Lonely or Free (2012) Sarah Morris took time out from recording after the birth of her second child before returning to the studio earlier in spring 2015 to record the eleven tracks that feature on Ordinary Things. Recorded at River Rock Studios Minnesota with her band which includes Thomas Nordlund, a technically superb guitar player (whose solo album is coincidentally reviewed in this section), Andrew Foreman on bass and Zachary Schmidt on drums, percussion and keyboards, Morris also contributes acoustic guitar. Production duties were carried out by Eric Blomquist. 

The real winner on the album however is the heavenly quality of Morris’ soaring vocals that dip and soar throughout and leave a lasting impression with the listener.

No Memory is instantly catchy and hum a long, both Sway Me and Lie Here Tonight follow a similar path, delightfully mainstream and certainly radio friendly. Hope Sweet Hope fittingly closes Ordinary Things on a high note completing what is an upbeat and solid collection of songs delivered in some style.

Rachel Laven Love & Luccheses Self Release

I have Rebecca Roselly, who together with her husband Simon form the UK Roots band The Rosellys, to thank for the introduction to Rachel Laven, a 24 year old Texan singer-songwriter. Rachel guested at a show in Nashville that featured The Rosellys and certainly made a marked impression with her brief appearance.

A winner of the Texas Music Coalitions Artist of the Year while performing with her family band The Lavens she was also recently voted San Antonio’s Best Female Vocalist.

What places her ahead of many of her contemporaries, with ambitions of an industry breakthrough, is the possession of a quite luscious voice that recalls a young Carlene Carter and places Laven approaching the territory of the new breed of young gifted female songsters Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and Ashley Munroe.

 Love & Luccheses features eleven songs, eight of which are written by Laven, three co-writes and one cover Something Like Heaven written by Walt Wilkins. It’s altogether a solid collection of songs ranging from ballads Each Other’s Shoes and Something Like Heaven with echoes of Patty Griffin and the beautiful title track to the ripping Do You Dare which is straight in your face 80’s Carlene Carter fun country at its finest. 

In summary the song writing and delivery on the album suggests a maturity way beyond Laven’s years and the potential for much bigger things going forward.

John Blek Cut The Light  Self Release

‘I would bleed myself dry, I would take the blows for you, I regret the day you went away, And the things I put you through’

The opening lyrics to the debut solo album from John Blek sets the scene for a collection of well-constructed songs often depicting tales of lost love, heartbreak, despair and sorrow.

The frontman of Cork roots outfit John Blek and The Rats abandons the more swashbuckling and high gloss style of his writing for the band and explores territories more familiar with recent outputs from artists such as Richard Thompson and Ryley Walker. The album as a whole leans towards a British / Irish folk sound with also a healthy nod towards more traditional Irish music in parts particularly on both Where Are You Tonight and Lightness vs Weight.

Often stripped to the bone the emphasis is always on the lyrics and the stories they reveal.  Rich in emotion and melody Ruby Blood, one of the albums strongest tracks, is achingly mournful and melancholy (Did you hear my heart, break in two, Ruby blood, Ruby blood that bled for you).

Little Sparrow certainly calls to mind Richard Thompson both in melody and style, The Northline speaks of unrequited love. The Night and the Liquor tells a tale of unrepentant, reckless over indulgence, weightless in its delivery and featuring only vocal and acoustic guitar. Recorded at Wakefield Recordings in West Cork the album was produced by John Blek and Brian Casey (who also contributes piano, Hammond organ and guitar).

Unlike Blek’s work with The Rats Cut The Light is not the album you’d choose to select to liven up the party instead it’s a consistent collection of ballads by one of the most impressive Irish songwriters to emerge in recent years.

Amanda Shires My Piece of Land BMG

Musically Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell are a marriage made in heaven and this latest offering from Shires speaks volumes of their compatibility also as partners and parents. 

Isbell has been since his early days a song writer of absolute talent whether it be his classic Drive By Truckers songs Decoration Day and Outfit or his work with his band The 100 Outfit which resulted in some equally impressive offerings such as Sunstroke and Streetlights. However memorable his early work was it has been surpassed by his output since his relationship with Shires began, her steadying influence and support instrumental in Isbell reaching a stage where he must be considered the leading singer songwriter of recent times.

In a similar vein based on My Piece of Land, the sixth album released by Shires, domestic bliss, motherhood and contentment seems to have had a positive creative influence resulting in the strongest album of her career to date.

Lubbock, Texas born Shires professional career started as a teenager as the violin player and member of Bob Wills backing band The Texas Playboys. Releasing her first album Being Brave in 2005 her fragile and sweet vocals, flawless violin skills and an ability to write heartfelt songs in the folk/country genre suggested a young lady with immense potential.

The quality of her debut album was equalled by her 2009 recording Sew Your Heart With Wires and possibly surpassed with the Carry Lighting (2011) and its successor Down Fell The Doves (2013). My Piece of Land, however, is a further step up from her previous work containing some beautiful songs both revealing, honest and personal.

Written while Shires was pregnant When You’re Gone reveals the loneliness of the house bound Shires while her husband is on tour ("I’ve learned exactly which of the floorboards groan and how the ac exhales when it kicks on"). My Love (The Storm), is one of two co-writes on the record with Isbell, the other being Pale Fire. Nursery Rhyme anticipates the birth of her first child ("My breath a prayer I’m holding in, I know you’re coming soon").

However it is the closing track You Are My Home that is the stand out song on the album. A seductive love ballad which features some glorious violin playing by Shires  and an equally impressive guitar break by Isbell, it’s a piece of music that having listened to a number of times will take some time to leave the listeners memory bank.  ("Your six one frame, my address is your name, high ceilings and walls, walls are just walls, and you are my home"). Production duties were undertaken by Dave Cobb with Isbell adding guitar and piano. Nashville session players Paul Griffith on drums and Paul Slivka on guitar also feature.

In an industry where heartbreak, failure and defeat more than often act as inspiration to song writers it’s a breath of fresh air to have a wonderful set of songs created by love, honesty and contentment. Highly recommended indeed.

Vicky Emerson Wake Me When the Wind Dies Down Self Release

Third outing from the Minneapolis resident Vicky Emerson and it’s an album that is immediately listenable from the word go. The opening track Under My Skin kicks the album off in fine style and what follows is a collection of quality songs that really work.

The sound throughout is a blend of folk, country with a splash of blues here and there. The song writing is strong, intimate, contemplative and matched by elegant playing throughout, mostly undertaken by Matt Patrick. 

The previously mentioned Under My Skin rocks along to a chunky guitar driven rhythm. Dance Me Into The Night, enhanced by some delightful fiddle playing, simply drifts along and tips its hat in the direction of Leonard Cohen. Silhouette tells a tale of lost love and opportunity, delivered with a disciplined and soaring vocal. Runaway Train does its title justice, rolling along at speed and Save All My Cryin’ (For Sunday Afternoon) is as country as it comes, with shades of Emmylou Harris and including some smart guitar and pedal steel licks. September Midnight is a beautifully paced and immaculately sounding love song, possibly the albums strongest track. 

As was the case with her previous albums Long Ride (2009) and Dust & Echoes (2012), production duties were undertaken by the aforementioned singer – songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Patrick who also co-wrote two tracks on the album.

Thomas Nordlund Divide Avenue Codesong

Stunningly atmospheric and technically superb Divide Avenue is an eight track instrumental album by Minneapolis based guitarist and composer Thomas Nordlund.

The album pays homage to the expansive landscapes of Baja, Mexico and was recorded live at The Hideaway in Minneapolis. The lead instrument is Nordlund’s electric baritone guitar and includes the input of six other musicians who contributed 6 string guitar, trumpet, flugelhorn, wurlitzer, Rhodes, piano, bass and drums.

The result is quite stunning with the open desert and burning sun imagery being evoked not by a mariachi musical expression, as might be expected,  but by an intoxicating jazzy sound which often revisits some of the  jazz rock guitarists so popular of the 70’s such as Al Di Meola and Larry Coryell.

Instrumental albums can often be difficult listens and Nordlund’s debut album is no exception. They generally suit a certain mood and require more than couple of listens to digest. Divide Avenue is no exception but on repeated listens reveals itself as a wonderful body of work which would certainly work well as a film soundtrack. 

The Sawtooth Brothers One More Flight Self Release

Eight album in from the Minnesota band consisting of two sets of brothers, Ethan & Jesse Moravec and Clint & Luke Birtzer. It’s also their first album featuring all original material and was supported, as so many albums are these days, by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Named The Sawtooth Bluegrass Band in a former life, the band dropped the Bluegrass from their title and widened their musical horizons dipping into folk, country and a bit of pop together with their core old timey sound. The change in direction will no doubt appeal to a wider audience and avoid the band being pigeon holed into one particular genre, even if it may upset some of the purists. The end result is One More Flight which offers a rich mix of all these genres and creates a sound quite similar in style to their counterparts Old Crow Medicine Show and Chatham County Line. 

Lead vocals are shared on the eleven tracks between Jesse Moravec and Clint Birtzer, the other two members adding harmony vocals. The instrumentation, flawless throughout, consists of violin, mandolin, acoustic and electric bass, acoustic and resonator guitar.

The album kicks off in fine style with the catchy and audacious Another Cliché giving a taste for what will follow. Next up is County Road X which features some heavenly violin breaks by Luke Birtzer. Summer All The Time is delightful, a combination of vocal harmony, bubbling violin and mandolin breaks that combine perfectly. The title track, possibly the albums standout, is the perfect mix of old and modern and sums up what the brothers do best. Take Me Away is an intoxicating and fitting closing track to a very impressive and cohesive collection of songs by a band certainly worth checking out.

Adam Levy Naubinway Self Release

Before listening to this album I was somewhat intrigued by the stark and rather disturbing imagery on the cover and inner sleeve and was interested as to how the artwork related to the album. I was aware of Adam Levy as band leader and singer-songwriter with Minnesota band The Honeydogs, but was completely unaware of the motivation and the event that lead to the recording of this solo effort.

Written in the memory of his son Daniel, who having battled with mental illness for a number of years, tragically took his own life in 2012, Naubinway is understandably anything but an easy listen. The lead up, event, aftermath and topic of suicide and mental illness are dealt with openly, honestly and was no doubt part of a grieving process surrounding such a painful ordeal. Understandably Levy found it impossible to write creatively for a couple of years after the loss of his son but was eventually inspired by Daniel’s artwork, having poured through the many sketchbooks he left behind. The album’s title Naubinway is the name of a small beach at Lake Michigan and is the last place that Daniel’s mother saw her son smile.

The lyrics are often pain staking to read and one can only imagine how difficult they must have been to compose and record. Tracks such as How I Let You Down ("Daniel, all your sketchbooks are a journey, the pain revealed…..We’re still learning how to be without you. Daniel, you ventured on to the thin ice. We threw you so many lifelines. You burned them to the quick") and Pitch Black Path ("It’s long and its dark. It’s a pitch black path lit by nothing but a spark and it won’t get any better till you move on") leave nothing to the imagination. 

The title and closing track, detailing the trip to dispose of Daniel’s ashes in Lake Michigan, would challenge any listener as would the accompanying photograph of the young man beside some of his striking artwork. ("A backwards baptism in Lake Michigan. I cradled my baby on his deathbed. Sleep my beautiful son in the shallows of Naubinway"). As with the opening track Take it as it Comes it features only vocal and acoustic guitar by Levy suggesting that the message was too personal to have an input by others.

However, beyond the despair and darkness the album reveals itself as a beautifully constructed, intelligently written set of songs, quite a few which recall a mid 60’s Beatles sound, How Your Well Runs Dry, This Friend and Atoms Never Die in particular. Marigold is a lovely honeyed ballad, I Wish You Well an equally upbeat love song both of which feature some dreamy steel guitar courtesy of Joe Savage.

Levy is on the record saying that the album was not about immortalising his son, which he would not have wished for anyway. It was primarily written by way of personally dealing with the loss. 

Produced by Adam Levy and Scott Miller and recorded at both their houses and at Essential Session Studios Naubinway is a striking body of work that deals honestly and compassionately with a particularly difficult subject matter. Well worth investigating. 

 

Tuesday
Oct182016

Reviews by Paul McGee

Eve Williams Peregreni Self Release

Living in the town of Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland has informed and influenced the creative output of this very talented singer-songwriter. Having battled the early-life afflictions of both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes, the desire to endure and succeed has been a driving force against the challenges placed before Eve Williams.

Recognised by the Nashville Songwriters Association International as a talent to watch and a member of the prestigious Irish Songwriters Guild, she has not let her difficulties stand in the way of achieving a Master of Music in Songwriting from Bath Spa University. Her first recording, What, Now? was released in 2008 and was followed by Twenty Miles From Home in 2012.  Now we are presented with Peregreni (a Latin word for ‘wanderers’). The nine songs included here are all beautifully performed and laced with melody and gentle mood.

Steven McKnight, one of Northern Ireland's best known guitarists, is joined by James Scott on guitar, bass; Darren Matthews on keys with Eve singing and playing keys also. Her voice is warm and strong and these songs are informed by optimistic messages of rising above the daily life constraints that we all face – titles such as Don’t Anchor Me and Eagle’s Wings suggest as much and the message of Who Needs a Knight goes straight to the belief in oneself and the ability to live independently. The past is visited in songs like Vale of Angels and Illumination speaks of the inspiration of seeing a brighter tomorrow. This is an excellent folk music and comes highly recommended.

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado Ramblin’ Feels Good Self Release

This bluegrass band from Colorado has two previous releases and feature superb playing from Jeff Scroggins on banjo with Tristan Scroggins on mandolin. This father/son combination is backed by the energetic rhythm playing of Mark Schatz on bass, Greg Blake on guitar and vocals with some fine fiddle contributions from Andy Leftwich. 

Additional vocals are provided by Don Rigsby and David Peterson to compliment the positive feeling created by the twelve tracks included here. Dismal Nitch, and Lemonade in the Shade are two self -compositions from Jeff and Tristan that sit comfortably alongside the other songs selected from a variety of musical sources, players and writers.

Carefree Highway (Gordon Lightfoot), Galveston (Jimmy Webb) and I’m A Memory (Willie Nelson) all get the bluegrass treatment to great effect and the superb picking on tracks She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind and Ramblin’ Feels Good sum up the feel-good factor and foot tapping pleasures that await the myriad listeners and adherents of this vibrant music all over the world.

Roger Roger Fairweather MFM

Lucas and Madeleine Roger are twins who grew up with a rich musical influence as the children of producer/engineer/musician Lloyd Peterson. These sibling singer/songwriters have now joined forces with their Dad on this debut release which highlights their diverse song-writing skills, their excellent guitar playing and some superb vocal harmonizing. Their songs channel a folk/roots influence and are superbly crafted with strong melodic arrangements and interesting lyrical musings on relationships (Scott Free, Think Of Me, Another Girl’s Shoes, Fairweather, You Came Around), life and being part of this cosmic whole (Mad Trapper, Dead Horse Creek, 13 Crows, O Rainy Day).

Recorded at Paintbox Recording in Winnipeg with Lloyd Peterson (The Wailin' Jennys, The Weakerthans) and mixed by John Whynot (Kathleen Edwards, Blue Rodeo, Bruce Cockburn), these nine songs are beautifully complimented by Julian Bradford on bass and cello, Damon Mitchell on drums, Scott Senior on percussion, Alex Campbell on organ and Lloyd Peterson on organ and percussion.

Madeleine also drew and designed the album artwork while Lucas built some of the guitars that were played in studio. A family affair that strikes a fine balance between the talents on display with echoes of early Joni Mitchell, the Indigo Girls and CSN, all mixed into a beautifully produced album that makes quite a statement as a debut recording. Certainly worth tracking down. 

The O’s Honeycomb Punch Five

This duo, John Pedigo and Taylor Young, started out in 2008 with the release of their first album We Are The O’s. In 2011, they recorded a second album Between The Two and an additional release, Thunderdog, arrived in 2013. This fourth offering boasts twelve tracks, produced by Chris “Frenchie” Smith and recorded at two cabins behind the River Road Ice House in New Braunfels, Texas. 

Justin Currie of Del Amitri adds his vocal talents to Woken Up and with a banjo, guitar and harmonica full frontal assault, the celebratory nature of these songs really comes alive and engages the listener. Halfway Sideways and Brand New Start channel a Mumford & Sons vibe while the more considered Reaper and Wanted both have a slower tempo that attract equally well. A solid folk /rock record that builds on a reputation that continues to grow.  

Ross Neilsen Elemental Self Release

Blues artist Ross Neilsen has lived a life of recording and touring since he first embarked on his personal quest back in 2007. With six releases to his name this passionate blues guitar player has delivered eleven tracks that are dripping in atmosphere and attitude. From the slow groove and tom tom beat of the title track to the big guitar sound of Woman’s Name, Neilsen is on a mission to win over as many new converts as possible. The atmosphere continues on tracks like The Race and Black Coffee. The Arrow is an excellent jazzy workout with some outstanding guitar work.

Produced by Steve Marriner who also plays a variety of guitars plus keys, drums and vibraphone on selected tracks and augmented by Jim Bowskill, guitars, mandolin, violin and pedal steel, Darcy Yeats on bass, Matt Sobb on drums, Ed Lister on trumpet, Brian Asselin on sax and other guests.

Ash Fault is a fine track steeped in acoustic blues with some atmospheric and dynamic violin playing. Nobody Gets Lonely is a folk based song that skips along while Ballad in Low E is a country-tinged, warm blues workout. The final track, Step Into The Light, has a Band feel to it and brings matters to a very satisfactory conclusion. Recommended. 

Jesse Aycock Flowers & Wounds Horton Records

Jesse Aycock is a singer-songwriter from Tulsa, Oklahoma that has two previous recordings, Life’s Ladder in 2006 and Inside Out of Blue in 2010. He sings with a high pitch which takes a little getting used to but when you have enlisted the calibre of highly respected Neal Casal, (guitarist for Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Ryan Adams & The Cardinals), David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) on guitar, Tulsa legend Jimmy Karstein on percussion, and Al Gamble on B3, then you know that this man has talent. 

Add in George Sluppick (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, JJ Grey & Mofro) on drums, as well as Eric Arndt on bass and the sweet song arrangements win you over with a warmth in the melodies and easy rhythm. These songs are rooted in a country rock sound and cover a range of topics such as lack of self-belief, (Where’s The Light), standing still in a small town (Out To Space), taking opportunity (Heavy Day), self-preservation (When The Day Crawls Out of the Night), broken ties and moving on (Leave Again) and the title track which deals with relationship changes. 

Recorded at the legendary Church Studio in Tulsa and produced by Jason Weinheimer and Neal Casal. This is a very pleasant listen.  

Victoria Klewin & the True Tones Dance Me To Heaven Self Release

Victoria Klewin is a professional vocalist and songwriter based in Bristol, UK. She has been involved in a number of different projects and session work over the years and her present focus is the release of this debut recording with the True Tones.

Her song-writing and vocal skills are very impressive and the eleven tracks featured are all written by Victoria and arranged by her and the band. Featuring Sophie Stockham on sax, Paul Field on harmonica, trumpet and flugelhorn, Sam Mills on keyboards, Paul Crawford on guitar, Mark James on bass and Tom Bradley on drums. This 7-piece band really make the songs come to life with plenty of superb playing that spans smoky jazz, big band groove, laid-back blues and some funky soul sounds. The interplay between the musicians is very enjoyable as the song arrangements leave room for some sweet spontaneity in the solo parts and band runs.

The songs cover the usual heart-torn topics of bad lovers (Can’t Help Myself), return of an ex-lover (Got A Question), playing the field (Why Should I) and the possibility of sweet seduction (Taking Me Down, Dance Me To Heaven, Roving Eye). The vocals are confident and colourful while the production by Klewin, Ben Capp & Sam Mills is both bright and compelling. Recommended.

Libby Koch Just Move On Berkalin 

Eleven songs that deal with relationships in all their ragged glory from Houston born Libby Koch. She qualified as a lawyer before turning to music as her preferred career choice, so she is well armed to swim in the shark-infested waters of the Nashville music industry. 

Her debut EP appeared in 2008 and two full albums, Redemption and The Shadow of This Town followed in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Tennessee Colony followed in 2014 and this marks her latest collection.Which is traditional country and Koch sings with a voice that will bring to mind Loretta Lynn or Reba McEntire. Not that she is trying to be anything but herself, as she sings from the heart about break-ups in a trio of songs that open up the record; Just Move On, You Don’t Live Here Anymore and Out Of My Misery.

Produced and engineered by Nashville legend Bil VornDick and featuring a 7-piece studio band who play with great understated rhythm, there are also 4 harmony vocalists who assist in filling out the sweet melodies, as Libby sings and plays a variety of guitars.

Don’t Know How deals with the life of a lonely soul while Chance On Me is the same person looking for a new relationship. Tell Me No Lies and I’ve Been Blind speak of the search for honesty and in recognising what was there all along. Back to Houston is a leaving song that says goodbye to an old life while the closing track Wish You Were Here is a drunken lament for an old lover. A very fine country artist who deserves your attention.

Erin Rae & the Meanwhiles Soon Enough Clubhouse

What an impressive full-length debut. This gifted musician hails from Tennessee and announces herself with a sweetly seductive voice and a song-writing ability that is a joy to experience. Erin co-produced the 13 songs here with Michael Rinne, Rodney Crowell's touring bassist, and the studio band sound just perfectly in tune with the gentle arrangements and melody of each track.

She had her first release in 2010 with a 5-track EP titled Crazy Talk and on this superb follow-up, Erin Rae sings of regret (Mistakes Made), advice for the impatience of youth (Soon Enough), appreciation of life’s perspective (Minolta), longing and memory (Monticello), a plea for meaningful communication (Panic), memories of family/mother (Pretty Thing) and real understanding (Light parts 1 & 2).

Rose Colour speaks of a debt owed to an old friend/lover while Owe You One deals with an argument and a need to find closure. Futile Attempts is a song about mental illness and a wish for a positive mental attitude. Sleep Away is a touching song for a sick Father and a quiet prayer for release.

On her website, she offers private singing lessons and speaks of becoming comfortable with your own natural voice. I can only imagine that any class with Erin Rae would lead to an improvement in the technique and way to approach mindful singing. Erin Rae sounds wise beyond her years and stands front and centre on this beautifully realised project. One of the highlights of the year and a must buy. 

Sue Sergel Beneath the Willow Tree Self Release

Born in Liverpool, this lady grew up in Spain before going to live in Sweden and achieving some fame on the Swedish blues scene. She had taken a break from the music industry to study and become a teacher but never really turned her back on music. Her last release was "Move Into The Light" in 2008 and this return to the studio is welcome news and proves that Sue Sergel was meant to sing the Blues.

Her voice is confident and has a quality and tone that suits the 12 songs that are included here. Sue is joined by Jimmy Olsson on upright bass and Erik Ivarsson on guitar and each plays with dexterity, subtlety and feeling. Sue plays acoustic guitar as a strong rhythm accompaniment to the songs and this allows Erik Ivarsson to stretch out with some impressive licks and solo runs across the recording.

The production duties were handled by Sue, in tandem with Stefan Svensson, and there is an open sound quality which gives the musicians plenty of space within the tunes. The tracks are all acoustic based, with no drums to ramp up the beat, but the dynamic playing of the musicians more than carry the project forward with real swagger.

Move Into the Light is one of the strongest songs with Ivarsson sounding like an early Mark Knopfler with his sweet guitar tone. Making Out and After the Apocalypse are very atmospheric and The Man, Breaking Even, Diamonds in the Rain and A Man Like That all really show off the great riffing of Ivarsson who swoops in and around the melody with great fret work. Well worth investigation.

Red Tail Ring Fall Away Blues Self Release

 Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo are the creative power that is Red Tail Ring and their gentle acoustic sound brings the listener into the world of old time roots music with guitar, fiddle, and open-back/gourd banjos releasing their timeless sound into the ether.

The record includes original songs, traditional interpretations and some fine sampling of old tunes with new lyrical additions. The harmony singing is really excellent and the production is as clear as if the musicians were seated in your living room. 

There is a Bible belt feel and the hushed, reflective and unhurried playing spins an atmosphere that just invites further investigation. With a number of prior releases, including some collaborations, Red Tail Ring bring a self-assured honesty to reviving tunes such as Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies; I’d Rather Be the Devil (Skip James); Yarrow and Gibson Town (Muddy Waters). 

Camp Meeting on the 4th July/May Day is a traditional tune that is given a very modern spin by Premo who also includes a song called Shale Town, written in protest of hydraulic fracturing practices. This duo is certainly rooted to the land in their sensitivities and the sweet singing on A Ghost Whispers is in direct contrast with the song sentiment. The title track speaks of defeating the blues while The New Homeplace tells of hard times and the hope of better days ahead. Please do yourself a favour and check this out. My favourite folk/roots release this year.

Session Americana with Jefferson Hamer Great Shakes Self-Release

Session Americana is a collective of musicians that reside in the Boston area and have been playing together in various combinations since 2003. This release is their seventh since their debut in 2005 and comprises Billy Beard (drums), Ry Cavanaugh (guitar), Kimon Kirk (bass), Jim Fitting (harmonica), Dinty Child (multi-instrumentalist) and Jefferson Hamer (guitar). 

Jefferson Harmer has worked with Anais Mitchell and is a gifted guitarist who co-produced the ten songs included here with the band. The feel is very much in the Folk tradition with excellent playing throughout. There is a quirky quality to some of the writing which adds an understated charm, particularly Big Mill in Bogalusa and What Are Those Things (With Big Black Wings).

This feels like timeless music with every player adding to the colour of the song arrangements and assisting with the co-writes. Tired Blue Shirt has a sense of Leonard Cohen running through the melody while Great Western Rail conjures up images of days past and the development of the rail system throughout the States.

The harmonica playing of Jim Fitting is very atmospheric and evocative while the simple rhythm and acoustic strum of One Skinner, One Good Rain and Barefoot Sailors are very fine examples of what is best in the American music tradition. A nice balance to the production and the playing and a collection of songs that impress.  

Friday
Sep302016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

Elouise Deep Water Self Release

Although this is under singer Elouise Walker’s name, it is a group effort with the other four featured on the album cover who play a major part in making the music. Deep Water was produced by Walker and John Chamberlin and the production technique was to keep it as raw and field recording-like as possible. Most of the songs are original, but fit neatly with those from other sources such as the opening I’ll Fly Away (written by Albert E. Brumley) and a sombre version of Amazing Grace which has new music by band member Richard Dembowski. Takes on Silent Night and Link Wray’s Fire and Brimstone follow a similar route, a path that can be imagined as wandering through creaking twisted trees, abandoned graveyards, dark moonlight shadows and perhaps even a crossroads at midnight.

Walker and Dembowski, along with John Chamberlin, Michelle Beauchense and Willam Bongiovanni share the majority of the composing credits in different combinations. All, however, understand this pre-electric vision and no matter which is the composer, they have a similar feeling for the patina of times gone by. Walker’s vocals are delivered as if through a cracked radio speaker or carnival style megaphone. This is not music designed to cheer the soul or get you in the party mood. Once in the musical deep water it is easy to surrender to the atmosphere and sink down into a world of death, murder and decay which is actually grist to the mill for a music rooted in bygone times where morbidity and murder ballads were common. Both Walker and the band are gifted exponents of this musical eeriness and use all the instruments at their disposal to bring these songs and recitations to life. Trombone, cello, tuba, banjo, harmonium, lap steel, double bass and percussion all feature, giving a distinctive texture to the music, as do the occasional lead vocals from Dubowski.

It is music that might scare some away, but will equally attract those drawn to its rich, heart of darkness. There are, naturally, 13 tracks which may appeal to those who enjoyed the song and ballads recorded at the dawn of technology as well as those who have been drawn to the music of the likes of 16 Horsepower and Th’ Legendary ShackShakers in their non-electric moments. Although the album is credited to Elouise in fairness it would seem to be more of an Alice Cooper set-up with all participants contributing to a fairly unique take on a potent musical soundscape, one self-described as “blackgrass”.

Adam Lee Sincerely, Me Self Release

Sincerely is the first solo album from Adam Lee, whose previous album with his band The Dead Horse Sound Company, When the Spirits Move Me, was a more honky-tonk affair. This time Lee has broadened his outlook and tonal palate and has devoted this album in to a side one and side two. However, there is nothing immediately obvious that divides the two sides in terms of content. The last album dealt with themes of country music, while this album, while still touching on those themes, takes a broader viewpoint and looks deeper inside with songs like the title track and Good Days - wherein the man in question faces his drinking demons and hopes to look towards a better future.  

Lee has taken a long hard look at life and delivered some honest song-writing that recognises the less savoury and affirming sides of life, but also sees that things could always get better which gives the album a positive outlook. When She Danced views the submerged spirit of a dancer working in a dive bar who transcends the negativity and necessity that are fundamental to that situation. He does this with just a bruised voice and solo piano backing. Misery has a muted guitar-twanged tone that is perfectly in tune with a man facing his inner torments.

Elsewhere Lee blends rock, blues and blue collar sentiments with a little country to create a set of self-written songs that are a précis of where life is for him right now. He has done this with a set of players that he and co-poducer Johnny Kenepaske have assembled for the album. They include Dane Talley on electric guitar, Hanna Rae Mathey on violin, Tim Rose on bass and Paul Andrews on drums. Lee’s contributes various instruments with additional vocal input from Keepsake among others. One track, Hold On adds trombone and trumpet with some hard-nosed guitar. There is a swing to What I Need and again Lee shows versatility in his vocal delivery that pegs him as an assured singer throughout. Patrick is a song with a strong Irish-American theme, both in lyrical content and musical setting. It is about the loss of a brother and the reaction to that by a mother who then calls the surviving brother by the name of the lost sibling.

Lee resides in Chicago. He was a cast member of the stage production Million Dollar Quartet and will tour in support of Sincerely, Me. He shows here that he can produce songs in a range of styles that make this an interesting and entertaining collection highlighting a writer, singer and musician who is developing his muse in a number of different ways. This is a promising and revealing album.

Jack Ingram Midnight Motel Rounder 

Looking at my music collection recently an acquaintance asked “Why would you need more than one album from any particular artist in your collection?”.The answer would depend if you’re a fan of Revolver or Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Music evolves and even if an artist stays largely within specific parameters there are nuances and new found strengths to be discovered in their music. Not necessarily true of all artists - some simply get less interesting with each release - but in the main there is good reason to continue listening. Jack Ingram is one case in point; after 12 albums (the first released in 1995 and the most recent in 2009) I looked forward to listening to his new album. It encompasses all the aspects of his music from the storyteller, the humourist, the roots rocker to more seriously-minded artist.

It also takes a certain self-assurance to make your title song and album opener a song written by another songwriter, Blu Sanders who wrote Midnight Motel , which  also closes the album in an acoustic version. Between those bookends are eleven other songs. Nine are either Ingram co-writes or solo written songs, one is by Will Kimbrough (Champion Of The World) while the remainder The Story Of Blaine is an amusing anecdote prefacing the song Blaine’s Ferris Wheel. It is a taste of how an Ingram live show might go. There are also some snatches of ambient dialogue included at the start of a couple of the tracks.

The album sounds right and part of that is down to producer Jon Randall and a team of top notch players like Charlie Sexton on guitar, keyboard player Bukka Allen, drummer Chad Cromwell and contributions from Randall and on background vocals Bruce Robison. But Ingram has a seasoned vocal delivery that is expressive and never leaves you feeling that the process was without a spontaneous element. It’s Always Gonna Rain is song co-written with Lori McKenna and accepts that life has always got hope no matter how it might seem at times.

Two of the songs talk about letting go and relaxing with I Feel like Drinking Tonight and I’m Drinking through It, where the multi-voice closing chorus changes the I’m to We’re. The former is prefaced with a dedication to fellow songwriters Hayes Carll, Todd Snider and Chris Wall amongst others, writers with whom he has doubtless shared a brew or two. The other songs display a deceptive simplicity that serves them well.

This album is classic Ingram and will also appeal to anyone who has a taste for Texas storytelling and songwriter. It may an old motel but it is one that you can feel comfortable in and one that can be returned to whenever you’re passing. After 7 years it is good to have Jack Ingram back on a label that means that many will get the chance to hear this very fine album.

Michael Ubaldini Starshaker Self Release

The man dubbed ‘the rock ’n’ roll poet’ by both fans and critics focuses here on the rock part of his moniker. He has written and produced this album which is an energetic run through 14 songs of rock, roots, blues and a little country (Tombstone Woman - with Gary Brandin on pedal steel).  It’s not all hell for leather though, with the occasional introspective song such as Ballad Of Brian Jones, a slice of country blues in tribute to the Rolling Stones’ founder’s roots. Otherwise Ubaldini and the band let loose, play the blues and have fun. 

Mrs. Johnson, Simpson & Tucker is a cautionary tale of a man who does want his late night visitors to lead to his outline in chalk on the floor. Late night liaisons forms the theme of House Of Red Lights too. Whole Lotta Nothin’ Blues has a distorted vocal, some harmonica and soulful keys and slippin’ and slidin’ guitar. The Rooster Moans at Midnight, Once Over Twice and Ballad Of An Innocent Man are catchy blue-collar, foot tappin’ rock songs while 9 Ball Shuffle calms things down with a funky 12 bar. Ubaldini knows how to pen a song and place it in a musical context. That’s as true here as in has been on his previous albums. And while this album is a little outside the parameters of Lonesome Highway’s regular route, it has a broad enough musical base to appeal to those who regularly read our reviews.

Ubaldini has built up a steady following for his albums and writing and those acquainted with him will find much to enjoy. It is not going to cause anyone to rethink their musical opinions, but in the context of good time (or should that be bad times too) rock ’n’ blues Starshaker will get you to where you need to go. One listen to the closing song One Good Woman Blues underlines that.

The Goat Roper Rodeo Band Cosmic Country Blue Aveline 

A UK acoustic country blues trio based in the North West, the Goat Ropers have recorded this new album with Romeo Stodart (The Magic Numbers) as producer and have achieved a fuller, more rounded sound this time out. The band are Thomas Davis on vocals and double bass, Jim Davis on vocals and lead guitar and Sam Roberts on vocals and rhythm guitar. Here they are joined by some guests (including fellow Magic Numbers members Angie Gannon and Michelle Stodart) to realise these new, self-written songs that build on the vocals harmonies of the trio and their essentially acoustic approach.

The album opener I Got Room has a strongly nasal lead vocal that some may not like but it is one that fits neatly into the vocal mix on the other tracks. The songs are a mix of tempos from adrenalised stompers like Mean Man, Stick It On Red and Catch Me If You Can through a more blues orientated Blossom Blues to the softer harmonies of ballads Old Joanna, My Sweet Woman and the restrained piano and guitar of the closing Hey Chuck. There are 12 slices of the cosmic country that they righteously proclaim throughout. This is a sound influenced by many diverse American acts, but one they are developing to their own ends. This has led to their at times quirky and occasionally sad songs finding favour with the likes of Bob Harris and International Submarine Band member Ian Dunlop. 

The Goat Roper Rodeo Band look and sound like a band who would have fitted neatly alongside a similarly-orientated outfit like Quiver back in the 60s. They offer hints of the cosmic side of their sound which aren’t as prominent as they might become in the future but, for now, they are establishing themselves alongside other promising UK bands playing original roots music with a refreshing approach and independent attitude. 

Martha Fields Southern White Lies Self Release

For this album Fields has taken a more bluegrass/acoustic route compared to the electric sound of her previous album Long Way From Home. Dobro, fiddle and mandolin are prominent in the sound, all underpinned by double bass and drums. This is a sound that Fields has explored with the band Mountain High previously. This album is under her name however rather than that of Texas Martha, another name she uses. Some of the players here also play with her electric band and are versed in both styles, though in truth the songs could easily adapt to either (or other) formats easily. 

The songs are a mix of original songs from Fields and some traditional songs like Lonesome Road Blues and What Are They Doing In Heaven? She has also included Jimmie Rogers’ California Blues, Janis Joplin’s What Good Can Drinkin’ Do? and Mickey Newbury’s Tell Me Baby among the album’s 12 tracks. Front and centre though is Fields’ commanding voice which leads each song with conviction on tales of lies, hard drinking, hard times, lonesome roads and dead ends. American Hologram talks of a poor underclass being shut out of the American Dream to always find themselves on the margins with little to give them hope and so they have to resort to making the best of what little they have. 

Martha Fields, on this album, explores another aspect of her musical and familial heritage. She does it with the forcefulness that makes sense of her own story and of those who came before her. This is an album that Fields fans will doubtless want to explore. 

Massy Ferguson Run It Right Into The Wall At The Helm

This album features some unashamed rockin’ -  with some country rock thrown in for good measure.  It is what was once dubbed cow-punk, although this time there is less twang and more of a hard nosed attitude. What is good about these songs is that that have an honesty that rings true. They are not unique or that different to some other acts that have been mentioned in passing, such as Son Volt or The Backsliders, with reference to their music. Massey Ferguson (the name of a sturdy American farm tractor) are a solid and believable band who are committed to their music, and that counts in an era when so much of what is heard refers to another musical era anyway. 

Massy Ferguson are Ethan Anderson, Adam Monda, Dave Goedde and Tony Mann; the line-up is guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. They describe themselves as American rock which is a good a description of what they do. I’m assuming that singer Anderson is the primary writer as there are no credits on this promo CD. The album was produced by Johnny Sangster and recorded at Soundhouse Studios in Seattle. There are influences of that city’s grunge heritage in the music. However the things that count are how these songs sound and if they bear repeated playing. They do on both counts and Run It Right into the Wall has enough energy and melody to make the listening experience one that the more rockin’-oriented amongst you will want to return to it’s blue collar heart.

Tim Easton American Fork At The Helm

Tim Easton is another accomplished and lauded songwriter who has some twenty years as a performer and writer under his belt as well as four albums on the New West label. He’s back and he still delivering the goods. This album is produced by Patrick Damphier and goes for a full sound. Damphier employs some fine musicians like steelie Russ Pahl, Michael Rinne on bass, Jon Radford on drums and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Crowell 

There are a number of avenues explored in what is a broad palette of well-arranged and melodically structured songs. In the song Elmore James Easton lauds the bluesman in a swampy harmonica-laced groove. Gatekeeper shows off his guitar skills and is another dirty slide guitar-fueled reference to the oil that makes the entertainment industry world turn. He takes a smoother path with Burning Star, a literate song that features piano and steel which give it a dreaminess and longing. There is a darker and grittier, but equally feisty and fun sounding, take for Alaskan Bars (Part 1) which has a growled backing vocal that adds a sense of disquiet to the proceedings. Now Vs Now is an appeal to not get stuck in a state of apathy but rather to take control in whatever way possible. The album opens with Right before Your Own Eyes, a rhythmically realised song with touches of saxophone to bolster the chorus. The eight track (mini) album closes with On My Way, a soft touching song to his young daughter to let her know that he is always thinking of her, even those his chosen path takes him away.

Tim Easton writes songs that are those of one who continues to hone his craft and develop his sound. Here it is a well realised and considered exploration of his previous work as well as pastures new. American Fork is a twist on the folk music of America he grew up with and everything he has distilled since then into his own interpretation of the world he sees on his travels. He is past the gatekeeper and looking to his own future and muse now.

Sunday
Sep182016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Two Steps South There They’re There Self Release

Without ever intending to reinvent the wheel Lurgan Co.Armagh band Two Steps South debut album is a collection of country-tinged pop songs, simple, well written and very listenable. The three-piece band is made up of Mark Haddock, Gerard Magee and Tony O’Hara, musicians that have featured in various local bands over the years and who joined forces to combine their collective song writing skills. Additional musicians used on the album include Lawrence Hill whose pedal steel guitar playing is particularly impressive.

Stand out track on the album is The Jayhawks sounding Getting’ Over You but they are also more than capable of writing decent pop ballads such as Rainmaker and Friends and Lovers. You Ain’t Here No More also impresses as does the poppy Down By The Railway Tracks. 

The album was recorded at TSS Studio in Lurgan with production duties with the album cover design by the band members.

Sam Wickens Send Me dootdoot Music

My first exposure to Sam Wickens was earlier this year when he performed at The Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival in a singer-songwriter circle in the company of Nashville legend Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, singer-songwriter and actress in American TV drama Nashville. Totally undaunted by his illustrious company the 20 year old Bangor artist performed three self-written songs with the confidence of a veteran and with quality to match. His song Oh Mother made a particular impression on both of his co-singers leading to Lauderdale simply commenting ”young man you need to get to Nashville and soon”. Wickens has subsequently visited Tennessee where he performed at the Bluebird Café in Nashville and also at The Factory in Franklin as part of the live broadcast Music City Roots which has an audience of over 60 million across the United States.

Send Me is the debut six track mini album by Wickens featuring four studio recordings and two live tracks. Guitar, synths and drums are performed by Wickens with contributions by James Reid (lead guitar), Andrew Whittaker (bass guitar) and Mark Johnston (piano).

It would be over simplistic to make comparisons with the music of Jeff Buckley, Bon Ivor and John Martyn, the most obvious connection being that similar to these artist Wickens possess quite a unique style. 

The focus throughout the album is on his wonderful vocal, always to the fore, soaring, melodic, atmospheric and emotional. Wickens has wisely allowed his vocal to dominate to the extent that the listener is immediately drawn to the lyrics. That’s not to understate the quality of the song writing, which appears to carry personal messages and a maturity beyond his years.   

Hold The Time drifts along accompanied only by keyboards giving the song a delightful lightness of touch throughout. The title track Send Me is dreamy, hypnotic with a vocal delivery that brings to mind Jack Lukeman at his best.

Oh Mother, which made such an impression of Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, is one of the two live recordings included and both the range and discipline of the vocal understandably brings Jeff Buckley to mind.

Given that futuristic folk/roots music seems to be in vogue at the moment, Wickens has without doubt the talent to make a name for himself. If he can continue to write such compassionate yet forceful material and with astute management and the right breaks the world could be this young man’s oyster. It worked for Hozier, so why not.

West My Friend Quiet Hum Self Release

A particularly vibrant and experimental folk scene currently exists in Vancouver, Canada and Quiet Hum by West My Friend confirms this beyond doubt. This is the third release from the quartet and continues on a similar vein to their 2012 album Place and When The Ink Dries recorded in 2014. 

West My Friend are made up of classically trained musicians Eden Oliver (vocals, guitar), Alex Rempel (vocals, mandolin), Jeff Poynter (vocals, accordion) and Nick Mintenko (vocals, bass). Their sound is quite distinctive, a wonderful combination of folk, country, bluegrass, chamber music and even a dash of cabaret thrown in for good measure. The result is a body of work that has an instant appeal from the opening track No Good Monster to the closer How Could I Not Sing.

Eden Oliver’s takes front of house vocally on ten of the thirteen tracks displaying a range that dips and soars beautifully throughout the album. The addition of four part harmonies and flawless playing combine to result in a collection of impressive songs.

No Good Monster opens the album tentatively, suggesting writers block with the line I don’t want to write a today” but any uncertainty is dismissed by the third track Spruce Top with Oliver declaring, in a more upbeat mood, “There is something to be said for a voice and a song and a chord”. Gradient Graceful is beautifully bittersweet and stripped back featuring only vocal, bass and piano. The album was recorded at Fiddlehead Studios, Maine Island and produced by David Travers-Smith (Jason Romero, The Wailin’ Jennys, Pharis).

In summary, a most impressive modern indie folk sound that incorporates bits of The Decemberists, Frontier Ruckus, Bright Eyes and possibly Joanna Newsom. Probably best listened to on headphones to fully appreciate the wonderful harmonies and musicianship throughout.

Well worth visiting indeed.

Chris Murphy Red Mountain Blues Self Release 

Born in New York of Irish/Italian descent, violinist Chris Murphy cites his introduction to music as being exposed to the eclectic sounds of his neighbours traditional music while growing up, together with a mix of less traditional icons including Lou Reed, Peter Thompson, Bob Dylan and particularly David Lindley, whose fiddle work was instrumental in Murphy’s interest in the violin.

Currently living in Los Angeles, Murphy’s career is divided between teaching violin, guitar and mandolin, writing music and live performances. Together with his prolific personal music output the artists that Murphy has worked or collaborated with include Nels Cline, John Doe, Tim O’Brien, Victoria Williams, Joachim Cooder to name but a few.

Indeed, the musicians listed on Red Mountain Blues is in itself a who’s/who of some of the most respected artists in the bluegrass genre and such as Tim O’Brien (mandolin & vocals), Herb Peterson (banjo & vocals), Marty Rifkin (pedal steel & dobro), DJ Bonebrake (drums) and Ted Russell Kemp (bass). Recorded at Hayloft Studios, Los Angeles and Blacktree Studios, Santa Monica the fourteen track album was produced by Chris Murphy and Joshua ‘’Cartier’’ Cutsinger. 

Kicking off with the fiddle driven instrumental title track and followed by the driving Dirt Time the album packs a hefty punch from start to finish. Walt Whitman is a wonderful instrumental waltz, Kitchen Girl is perfectly paced with Tim O’Brien taking the lead vocal, Buckwheat Pancakes is a banjo driven back porch delight and Johnson County conjures up imagery of centuries past, civil war and brothers fighting brothers.

Chris Murphy is more than merely a revivalist and has the talent and ambition to produce, compose and collaborate.  He succeeds on all fronts hands down with this album. If you’re only intending buying a few bluegrass album this year, this should be one of them.

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band Come With Me Self Release

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band are an all-female London five piece bluegrass/Americana outfit. Citing influences from Alice Cooper to Hank Williams Come With Me is high octane, in your face and hugely enjoyable. Recorded live(ish) in three days at Retreat Studios the band features Immanuel on vocals, banjo and guitar ably assisted by Feadora Morris, Blanche Ellis, Maya Mc Court and Hjordis Moon Badford on a variety of instruments including cello, washboard, thimbles, cajon and foot tambourines.

The ten track album is anything but back porch bluegrass with nods towards Louisiana and New Orleans, delightfully mixing bluegrass, zydeco and old time jazz.

With song titles such as Nashville, Going to the Bottle, Rock Bottom, Devil’s Money and Motherfucking Whore it’s no surprise that the album is fun, uncouth, uncivil, knees up, toe tapping, feet stomping stuff, always powered by an excellent band.

Nashville offers a quite traditional roots by comparison to much of the material on the album with delightful harmonies, the title track is banjo driven bluegrass and the album closes with a rousing take on Viva Las Vegas, the Elvis favourite written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

Dana and her band have performed at a number of high profile festivals this year including Glastonbury and the Maverick Music Festival. The album begs to be heard live, all the better late at night in a packed venue with the drink flowing!

Greenshine The Girl In The Lavender Dress Tiger Dog Records

Greenshine comprises of husband and wife team Noel Shine and Mary Greene together with their daughter Ellie. Noel and Mary have both featured as session players on a host of albums over the years from Christy Moore to The Clancy Brothers and The Republic of Loose to Dr. Strangely Strange. No strangers themselves to the studio, Mary Greene has recorded a solo album Sea of Hearts and Noel Shine and her have previously recorded two albums as a duo together with their self-titled debut album as Greenshine.  Given their eclectic musical experiences to date it is not surprising that their debut album The Girl in the Lavender Dress is a journey across quite wide range of musical genres embracing folk (Pastures Of Plenty) , country( Lonesome Whipoorwill), traditional (Sammy’s Bar) and even a hint of reggae (Sweet As Honey Heart).

Readers may be familiar with the title track from the album which has received considerable airplay on national radio recently and had the distinction of reaching No.1 on the ITunes Ireland Singer-Songwriter charts. It’s a stunning song, dreamlike, buoyant and weightless and is most certainly the strongest track on the album. 

The eleven songs featured include six originals written by Mary Greene together with cover versions of Bob Dylan (You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go), Hank Williams (Lonesome Whippoorwill), Cyril Tawney (Sammy’s Bar), Woody Guthrie (Pastures of Plenty) and Townes Van Zandt (Marie). As would be expected the musicianship throughout is top notch with multi-instrumentalist Shine contributing guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistle, lap steel, bass, harmonica, ocarina and keyboards.

 Particularly refreshing is the quality of two of the original songs (the title track and City of Dreams) which actually outweigh the covers, both sung beautifully by Ellie Shine. The album was recorded and produced by Noel Shine and Mary Greene and mastered by Dan Fitzgerald at Sound Studio, Cork.

Greenshine is most definitely the sum of its parts even if the wide range of styles represented possibly results in this album being a trifle dislocated.  However, given the very healthy mix of song writing, instrumentation and vocal talent they collectively possess and particularly if they can emulate the quality of some of their original songs on this album, Greenshine have the potential to produce music with an extremely wide appeal.

Thursday
Sep082016

Reviews By Paul McGee

Rivers of England  Astrophysics Saved My Life Self Release

This band hail from the West of England and are comprised of Rob Spalding on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Brian Madigan on drums/ percussion, Jacob Tyghe on bass.

This is their second release and the 11 tracks here cover the ground from folk-rock to lightly tinged jazz arrangements. The vocal talents of Spalding carry the project on a warm glow of melodic tunes and acoustic arrangements, backed by some excellent strings (Danyal Dhondy take a big bow).

There are a number of additional musicians that help to enhance the experience and Neil Gay (guitar), Innes Sibun (guitar), Bill 'The Goat' Owsley (double bass), Patrick Morgan (drums), Roo Primrose (violin) all contribute to an overall sense of sweet release. 

In Universe, In Universe kicks off the project and explores great themes of infinity both, within and without. Endless affinity with the cosmic whole is a theme that runs throughout and we are asked to embrace loving awareness with the daily experience of being alive. Underneath the Moon is a gentle reflection on a relationship and our place in the great enigma.

There are plenty of references to water and sailing in songs such as You, Me and the Sea; Norfolk and Waves. Born For This is a very positive statement for living an expansive life and feeling alive. Love, Science & Peace is a plea for love in times of loneliness while In the Barley plays on conflicting emotions of wanting a simpler rural life versus the race to succeed in the city rat race. This is a very pleasant record and worth checking out. 

Rami and the Whale Self-Titled BIEM/NCB

Rami and The Whale is the solo project of Swedish singer-songwriter Rasmus Blomquist. This is his first release and the 12 songs were written over a period of ten years.

Rami is joined by an array of musicians, with Kristin Freidlitz on violin, Erik Lundin on flute, Henri Gylander on lead guitar, Ryan McMackin, Björn Sima and Johan Magnberg sharing drum duties across various tracks and Jonte Johansson with Lisa Illy on vocal harmonies.

The songs are very much rooted in contemporary folk with a slow, lazy groove and gentle vocals to lull the listener into a calm sense of being. The Unfinished Song and Autumn Song are instantly appealing while I Am Rami visits his relationship with the World and all its’ wide-eyed wonder.

The vocals are very much the catalyst for these songs and Rami sings in a plaintive and sweet voice. The mood is one of contemplation and reflection and the understated playing and rich melody constantly impress. The strings on Echoes of Matter play against the simple guitar lines to great effect and Shipwreck visits the past in order to free old demons. Tiny Seed ends the record and looks to a future where hope and expectation reside. This is a very strong debut release.

Don Conoscenti Anastasia Howlin’ Dog

This is a new release from American singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Don Conoscenti, originally from Chicago, Illinois. He has released 9 previous albums since the early 1990’s and is a student of jazz, in addition to the blues, Americana, and rock, as a member of several bands. This project is a diverse and lush affair with 14 tracks covering an hour of music that includes big vocals, string and horn arrangements and plenty of excellent playing. Mainstream rock with quite a bit of soul.

Special guests include Grammy winning orchestrator/arranger Paul Buckmaster, Eliza Gilkyson (Anastasia), Kevin Welch (What Else Could I Do), Ellis Paul (Love Is a Curious Thing), Dan Navarro (Drink Another Round), plus others.

The studio musicians are excellent and add real colour to the songs with Richie Cannata, sax and Bob Andrews, piano, Mina Tank on background vocals and Don Richmond on banjo, pedal steel and mandolin really pushing the performance levels higher.

There are plenty of superb guitar breaks which can only be expected from this experienced and mature player and the acoustic feel of Ariana, The Other Side, What Else Could I Do and She Didn’t Break Me show plenty of layers to the song-writing skills on display.

The up-tempo arrangements of Drink Another Round, Love Has Come, are balanced against the reflective That Train, viewed as a metaphor for life’s journey while the big blues sound of Smith Road is a slow groove with some fine solo work on guitar and swirling organ. So, plenty to excite on this release and something to suit all tastes. 

Mia Rose Lynne Follow Me Moon Waterknot 

This impressive artist grew up in Northern California and was exposed to bluegrass and Western Swing music at an early age through her family who had a touring group. Now living in Nashville, she released her debut recording Open Space in 2014 to much interest and media attention. Her songs are folk ballads with a rootsy feel and some lovely string arrangements that elevate the listening experience to another level. 

The 11 acoustic based tracks were all written played and sung by Lynne who is accompanied by a superb coterie of musicians who serve the songs beautifully. The understated playing and gentle touch of Danny Mitchell (Piano), Matt Slocum (Cello), Jeff Taylor (Accordion), Eli Bishop (Fiddle/Viola), Chris Donohue (Bass), Joshua Hunt (Drums/Percuson), Liz Poston (Backing Vocals), Austin Filingo (Acoustic/Electric Guitar), Chris Moyse (Acoustic Guitar & Vocals) are all perfectly aligned with the sweetly seductive vocals and acoustic guitar playing of Mia Rose. 

Opening up with two songs, January and Different, that speak about a rekindled relationship and aiming for happiness, despite external commentary and pressures. Colorado is about keeping a relationship together and being willing to sacrifice everything to hold that sense of true love. Not Just You & Me is a song for everyman and the daily lives that are quietly led by you and me in our corners of the World. Porcelain Doll lightens the theme with a quirky love story that begins on a shop shelf and ends with a happy reunion. 

Starlings is self-rumination on a long car journey and the reflection that ‘this is just the kind of drive that writes a song, by the time I’ve made it home’. Where To Begin and Gunshy are back-to-back songs about troubled times in relationships and wanting to endure the pain and struggle in the hope of a resolution ("I don’t wanna lose you by giving up"). The closing track I Like You a Lot is a playful wordy romp through the imagery of a love crush. Sung with Chris Moyse, it is the perfect antidote for much of the weighty themes before, but does not diminish in any way the bright talent of this exciting new talent. Definitely one to watch.  

Jaimie Michaels Once Upon a Different Time Appaloosa

Produced by Jono Manson and mixed at Kitchen Sink Studio in Chupadero, New Mexico, this is the 10th album in the past 20 years for Jaimie Michaels. Jaime was joined in the studio by his regular team of players, guitarist Ben Wright, bassist Josh Martin and drummer Mark Clark and a number of special guests. His sound is warm and gentle with plenty of insight in the words that reflect a musician and song-writer of some experience and a great deal of talent. 

Warming speaks as a reflection of our times and is a protest song against the waste of war and the way that political power corrupts. Somewhere Like Italy asks that we live for now and not overthink this life. Steal Light has a lovely blues shuffle and is reminiscent of JJ Cale with some nice understated keyboard parts. Circling Around and Singing For My Supper have philosophical messages contained in the clever wordplay, while The Heat speaks of a love that has gone cold (“we’re just two winding roads that no longer meet”). This is a very fine example of a talent at the top of his creative game and writing engaging and fun arrangements that are a joy to hear.

 

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