Friday
Apr062018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Leslie Tom Ain’t It Something, Hank Williams Coastal Bend

Perhaps using the life and songs of Hank Williams as a roadmap may seem like an odd direction to follow given how that turned out for him. However, here, Texas born singer Leslie Tom has taken the spirit of Williams’ template of love, heartbreak and loss as the heartbeat of her latest release, a 10 track tribute to Hank that combines 6 original songs with covers of William's originals - Hey Good Lookin’, Honky Tonkin’, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and the somewhat lesser known Angel Of Death. All are delivered with a passion that makes them worthy of attention despite the fact that they have been, in the main, recorded many times before. Part of that is due to the skill of Tom’s assembled band and John Macy’s production. Both are respectful while also rejuvenating the songs and sound in a style that is fluent and fresh. Those who like to read credits and have done so through the years will recognise the names of steel guitarist Lloyd Green and guitarist Chris Leuzinger among the talented players involved (who also included Andy Hall on dobro - for Angel Of Death - from the Infamous Stringdusters). The album was recorded in Nashville’s Cinderella Sound Studios but is a far cry of from much that emerges from via the studios of Music City these days.

The original songs are both lyrically clever and emotionally concise and incorporate some of Williams’ spirit and synergy, but do so from a defiantly female perspective. Still Love You (Audrey’s Song) is written from the perspective of Hank’s wife and their troubled relationship that was still imbued with an underlying love for each other. Born Too Late offers the “if only” theory that he was born too late and she was born too soon. Mr Williams is a precis of his life and relationship with Audrey that uses some of Hank’s lyrics intertwined with Tom’s own incisive writing. The final track Hank You Very Much (listed as a “bonus track” as it appeared on a previous release) takes this even further by using many of Williams’ song lines in its verses. It features vocals from Larry Nix who adds harmony throughout the album. Another guest on a song he co-writes with Tom is Dean Miller and  their Are You Ready For Some Hanky Panky? is a joyful and up tempo realisation that we are all ready for some of the music of Mr. Williams.

Although Tom is a multi-instrumentalist here she concentrates on delivering some powerful and impassioned vocals that do justice to all the material on the album. An album that covers a range of moods, tempos and tempestuousness that places here in the forefront of traditionally-minded singers who don’t feel the need to court the temptation of crossover commerciality. Leslie Tom has combined her considerable talents and those of her players to produce a statement of intent that surely points to some equally potent (and likely original) music in the future. Ain’t that something to look forward to?

Sir Canyon Ventura Skies Self Release

Singer and writer Noah Lamberth is the central figure being behind Sir Canyon. He is a part of the revived and resolute California country music scene. He uses d his music as means to deal with some emotional hurt and loss that he had encountered in his life. He is a film and documentary maker in his other life and previously played in a band, Hank Floyd. He also played steel guitar for the likes of Katy Perry. Lamberth played some of his home demos to his friend, producer Andy Davis, who was impressed enough to begin recording the songs with a serious intent to bring his self described country/surf/mariachi/desert rock sound to another level

Indeed, even though there is pedal steel, twanging guitars and more, the end result is neither traditional country nor mainstream crossover country pop/rock. Rather, it evokes some earlier exponents of California country, without ever sounding like such icons as Glen Campbell, Gram Parsons or the many exponents of the Bakersfield Sound; as well as that of those who made their home and music there - like Neil Young - another influence on these sounds. Even though there are elements of all of these in Sir Canyon’s music there is also the cinematic aura of the soundtracks that are part and parcel of the music inherent in California’s film industry, especially those that deal with the landscape of the American West.

The opening track (and video) Angeleno Daydream looks to the sense of mythology that is central to Los Angeles as a city of dream and reality. The good and the bad that both draws people in looking for fame and fortune as much as it is a catalyst to move out and on. The song opens with three music components that are pivotal to the overall sound. They are strummed acoustic guitar, deep baritone guitar and ethereal pedal steel guitar. These three elements are soon enhanced by the full band utilising an understated rhythm section and Lamberth’s considered indie styled vocals. There is a dream-like quality at times that befits their self-described “cosmic Americana” sound. It is a blend of influences that takes some of the principles that Gram Parsons based his musical ideology on without sounding like a rehash of that man’s oeuvre.

Crucial to the album is the input of producer Andy Davis and mixer John Rausch who have worked with Lamberth’s song writing to bring a quality to the overall project that makes for an end to end listening experience that works on a number of levels. As band leader Lamberth not only is vocalist but also plays pedal steel and guitar on the album. Joey Esquibel and John Moreau are the rhythm section. Producer Davis plays keyboards and adds background vocals. Martin Saavedra plays effective trumpet on Cindy Come Over. This team took it’s time to produce and album that they were proud of. It shows and while if you’re a hard-core honky-tonk fan it may not appeal, it is an album that is a welcome addition to the cannon of recent work from L.A. based artists, such as Sam Outlaw, that is a worthy antidote to much of the output from Nashville.

Michael McDermott Out From Under Pauper Sky

As the title suggest this is an album about taking hold of your life and looking toward the better things. Things that really mean something. His story is one of excess and extremes. Being signed to a major label at an age where nothing else seems to matter and when that falters and fails resorting to finding things to blot out that lack of self worth. McDermott has now, over his last few albums, both solo and with The Westies found himself dedicating his life to creating work that he can be proud of as well as realising the strengths and support that his wife and daughter bring to his life.

However, it is also true that these negative tendencies have given him the opportunity to look at the good and the bad things that life has to offer. The songs here look at both sides, but end up being imbued with positivity and understanding that sees the cycles of life, death and everything in between as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human being. Given also that McDermott is a dynamic and riveting live performer as well as an accomplished artist in the studio his music is underrated and worthy of greater attention. He has already been praised, in the past, by Stephen King, amongst others, for his song writing ability. This album brings his work to a whole other level. His experiences have galvanised him to create something with a more resonant meaning that in the past.

McDermott produced the album and in doing so has delivered an album that he is central to, as a player contributing guitar, bass and keyboards. His wife Heather sang back-up and played fiddle on the album (she is a performer in her own right and recently released a fine album). He also included some of The Westies (such a long-time bass player Lex Price) and other players who either came to the studio or contributed remotely. His studio is in Willow Springs, Illinois and working there gives him the freedom to create in his own time. He even added one song The World Will Break Your Heart when the album was ostensibly done. It was a song he felt needed to be on the record as it in some ways serves as a cautionary tale for less worldly artists. The eleven songs here clock in with a time of over 45 minutes allowing the songs the time they need to tell their stories. God Help Us is an ambiguous plea for the understanding of faith. Lack of faith in one’s self is apparent in the opening Cal-Sar Road. A location where one might score and then try removing pain through narcotics. He is well placed to tell this fictional tale of murder and mayhem. As he is in many of the other songs on the album. Sad Songs is a full-blooded rock song that sees him wanting to move away from that subject to something more positive.

In overall terms this is an album that should appeal to his hard core fans as well as those who like their songwriters to be able to deal in truth in a musically varied and interesting setting. One that allows the layers to emerge slowly with each listen. McDermott has clearly come out from under and emerged into the light with an album that is arguably the best of his career and one that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Sam Morrow Concrete And Mud Forty Below

This album opens with Morrow giving a deep soulful vocal over a strong full sounding track with edgy guitar. Heartbreak Man has a little of Waylon in its DNA (as do many of the other tracks) and it is a good start to what is an album that fits in well with the current idea of what outlaw is right now. His is a blend of Texas dance floor country, some Southern Rock and a soupcon of Memphis country funk. His deep baritone voice sits atop a live, in the studio, sound that producer Eric Corne captured on a vintage Neve desk. From then on, the playing adds much to the overall feel with Hammond styling, mixed with bluesy slide, twanging’ Telecaster and layered vocals. San Fernando Sunshine exemplifies this. While the up tempo Good Ole Days moves along at a pace with some nods to his native Texas and some fine guitar playing which again blends with the swirling full bodied keyboards.

Skinny Elvis features duet vocals from his label mate Jamie Wyatt (as do two other tracks where she joins him on backing vocals). It also features a notable turn from Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel. An instrument that is also central to the equally effective Coming Home. The guitar and keyboard blend is prominent on the standout ballad Weight Of A Stone which has a compelling and telling vocal from Morrow. One that should easily find him favour with Chris Stapelton fans and marks Morrow out as a real contender. Cigarettes has a touch of Little Feet in its loose, rootsy funkiness and bolstered by some judicious Moog bass. There is some fiddle that works well on the closing song Mississippi River.

Morrow is the assumed writer of the songs here, working with Eric Corne (individual writing details are not credited on the promo sleeve). The latter is also the label owner and has played a large part in bring some diversity to Morrow’s country funk amalgamation. Something off an abiding trend these days but one that Morrow and Corne have pulled off with style giving the listener an album that works on many levels. Never quite fitting easily in either the country rock or country soul categories but rather offering a blurring of the lines that makes Concrete And Mud, as the title might suggest, both hard edged and loose. So, while it may not be everyone’s side of a honky-toning night out, it is music that the 27 year old Texan can put out there knowing that he’s tried to make the best album he can at this time - and it is an album for these times.

The Lynnes Heartbreak Song For The Radio Self Release

These two Canadian artists have worked together previously but this is the first album that Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles have released together. They have written all the songs together (with one being a co-write) and co-produced the album. Miles plays acoustic and electric guitar and piano while Hanson also adds acoustic and electric guitars. They are joined by a full band that includes Kevin Breit on guitars, Dave Draves on keyboards Keith Glass plays baritone guitar and Don Cummings plays the B3. The rhythm section is Peter Von Althen and Steve Clark. The all do a great job as this is an excellent album on all levels - great vocals, memorable songs and engaging playing.

Most of the songs are song by both vocalists together or with one thing taking the lead and the other adding harmony. Either way the vocals are a foremost part of the overall presence of the album. Those songs, as the title suggests, deal with failed and unresolved relationships. The closet to positivity is Halfway To Happy (well as a title at least). Other than that, these titles tell a story in themselves: Cost So Much, Recipe For Disaster, Dark Waltz, Blame It On The Devil and Heavy Lifting. The thing is, despite the lyrically directions, this is an energetic, uplifting and rewarding recording.

They each have a strong turn of phrase and the lyrics are well written; being emotive, gritty and revealing as befits artists who have had life experiences and lived to tell the tales. It has been said that individually there are both compelling but together they excel. Heartbreak Song For The Radio is ready testament to that. The songs are not without balls. These are not delicate folk songs but rather move from the more reflective tone of Blue Tattoo to at the harder edges of Halfway To Happy. Throughout, the harmonies are enchantingand it is an example of two artist totally in synch with each other, their band and the songs. One could only wish to hear more of their brand of patented heartbreak on the radio.

Mojo Monkeys Swerve On Medikull

A California based trio who have lent their considerable talents to a great number of musical endeavours not least acting as sidemen to such luminaries as Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Richard Thompson, Keith Richards and Eric Burden. They are bassist/vocalist Taras Prodaniuk, drummer and vocalist David Raven and guitarist/vocalist Billy Watts. This new album, their third, displays their individual and collective skills on 10 self written songs and one cover; Allen Toussaint’s Ride Your Pony. The opening song Tuscaloosa Maybe has a Western Swing feel and features some alluring pedal steel from Marty Rifkin. Rifkin also joins them for the next song, Two Shots. Both are somewhat different in style from what follows on with nods to soul, rock and blues - a California filtered selection of roots oriented moods – giving both diversity and dance floor vibes throughout. If I Were Gone, All The Wrong Things and Beat Bus Driver are just three of the titles that show why these three work so well together.

There are hooks a-plenty that these guys can play, as well as write and they appear to be having fun throughout. They have been compared to ZZ Top and that comparison is understandable but these monkeys have their own tales and their collective experiences on display here and it shows you why they are in demand as players. There’s nothing particularly new on offer on Swerve On, other than good music that is easy to enjoy and get in the groove to.

Saturday
Mar242018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Courtney Marie Andrews May Your Kindness Remain Loose

Honest Life, released in 2017 by Courtney Marie Andrews, was considered by many as one of the stand out albums of the year, remarkably the sixth release in the career for the 26-year-old Arizona born artist.

Having toured continuously from January through to August last year, the material that makes up the ten tracks on May Your Kindness Remain, unlike its predecessor, was essentially written while on the road and shifts to a wider lens perspective than the it’s more personal predecessor. Its overriding themes are in the main observations of ordinary people struggling to survive, reflecting the plight and disintegration of the working and middle classes in America and the resultant pressures on the individual in an ever-changing materialistic world. They read as real-life tales, the bones of which may have been overheard and conceived by Andrews in coffee shops, bars and motel lobbies on her travels across small town America. Much of the material was performed live by Andrews during the latter half of her tour last year, revealing a fuller sound than the more acoustic feel of her previous album.

Having self-produced Honest Life, on this occasion Andrews sought out producer Mark Howard, whose previous employers included Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Marianne Faithfull. Heading straight from her tour to California with her band, the album was completed in eight days in a rented house converted into a studio in Los Angeles. Given that much of the material had been performed on tour the recording reflects in the main ‘first takes’ (‘recorded in a circle without a click or fancy programs, looking into my bands eyes’) or at most just one overdub. Andrews, a most accomplished guitarist in her own right, was joined in the studio by her trusted band members Dillon Warnek on guitar, Daniel Walter and Charles Wicklander on keyboards, Alex Sabel on bass and William Mapp on drums. The addition of Gospel soul singer C.C. White, who provides backing vocals on a number of tracks, appears to have led Andrews own vocals in a more soulful and dynamic direction, no doubt also influenced by her immersion in Motown and Soul music while on the road.

If How Quickly Your Heart Mends was the standout song from Honest Life and the track that generated much of the interest for that album, it’s more than matched here by the excellent Kindness of Strangers with powerful layered vocals by Andrews and White together with some wicked guitar breaks by Warnek. The dying American dream and gentrification is the spark for Two Cold Nights In Buffalo (‘What happened to the middle-class, Mom and Pop, Five and Dimes’). The title track is a plea to a failing friend blinded by materialism and avarice (‘And if your money runs out and your good looks fade, may your kindness remain’). I’ve Hurt Worse may be sly humour but more likely a tale of resignation and acceptance of a mundane relationship (‘I like you honey, you don't listen to a word I say, I like you honey, when you interrupt me anyway’). Rough Around The Edges reflects on mental illness and personal trauma that often goes unnoticed and the difficulty in keeping a relationship on the rails in the circumstance (‘Don’t feel like picking up the damn phone today’). Border, representing a topical concern in America and further afield at present, is the wild card on the album, a punchy organ driven rocker.

May Your Kindness Remain is a brave departure from a fearless and assured young artist willing to take challenging career risks in support of her art. It’s not Honest Life Part 2 but another chapter in the wide ranging musical template of one of America’s most talented young female singer songwriters. Intoxicating and highly recommended.

Hans Chew Open Sea At The Helm

I've a fond memory -and damaged hearing- from a gig by Hans Chew in the back room of Ryan’s in Kilkenny some a few years ago. The venue comfortably accommodates around forty punters but the sound engineer- on Chew's direction - had the volume at what seemed like stadium levels. Pre-warned by the most engaging and likeable Tennessee born piano player, what followed was an ear bleeding but more than entertaining introduction to a talented young man. 

A native of Chattanooga in Tennessee, Chew’s splendid 2010 debut album Tennessee and Other Songs turned a lot of heads and found him a slot in the growing Americana genre at that time. Influenced by his mother’s tastes in Hendrix and The Stones and his father’s passion for classical music he's quoted as making the point that he knew Beethoven's 5th before Led Zeppelins Fourth! 

His latest album Open Sea sounds like it was recorded somewhere between 1968 and 1972. Featuring his regular guitar player Dave Cavallo, Chew has also drawn on the services of Jimy SeiTang and Rob Smith of New York band Rhyton to add bass and drums. It contains only six tracks but collectively they stretch to over forty minutes. The epic second track Cruikshank, at eight minutes long and with more than one extended guitar solo, could be from a lost Blind Faith or Allman Brothers album or indeed a Led Zeppelin demo that was  considered just not quite heavy enough to make Houses Of The Holy. The title track at seven minutes is no slacker either, even if dangerously close in content and melody to Blind Faith’s Can't Find My Way Home. Whom Am Your Love follows a similar path with an addictive groove that pays homage to Traffic. Freely is steeped in Brit Folk, Chew’s slick piano work duelling with Dave Cavallo’s guitar pickings in the style of Richard Thompson.

Open Sea may not be fashionable in today's often overly controlled markets. I mean, who would consider recording an album forty one minutes long featuring only six tracks with pounding drums, ripping guitar breaks, thumping bass lines and sounding like it was put down in one take? Hans Chew would and more power to him, it's a complete blast! 

Dean Owens Southern Wind At The Helm

Another under the radar artist that continues to release quality music, Edinburgh singer songwriter Dean Owens is typically a ‘musicians / musician’, highly regarded by his peers for both his creative writing ability and versatility. Southern Wind, his first release on At The Helm Records, is his seventh studio recording and was recorded in Nashville under the watchful eye of in demand producer Neilson Hubbard who also worked with Owens on his 2015 release Into The Sea. Much of the writing was in collaboration with his close friend Will Kimbrough, a superb musician in his own right and an artist very much on the same page as Owens. Their combined lyrics capture the moments beautifully across the thirteen songs on the fifty-six minutes that make up the album.

The rocking opener The Last Song, complete with yelps and whoops, is followed by the storming title track Southern Wind, currently on release as a single. The album especially excels where Owens recalls and reminisces on youthful and more innocent times. Elvis Was My Brother evokes memories of a childhood friend whose fascination with Elvis compensated for his absent father. Louisville Lip pays homage to his own childhood hero Muhammad Ali and Madeira Street, where Owens grew up, recalls his childhood, influenced no doubt by the untimely passing of his sister a few years ago.  The plight of the homeless is considered on Anything Helps and the bittersweet Famous Last Words brings to mind mid-career Elvis Costello at his most sentimental. However, the real highlight of the album is the stunner Bad News, it’s not the first time its theme -the lover to be avoided-has been visited and Owen’s interpretation is as good as any of its predecessors.

All in all, a cracking album that I’ll be often revisiting in the coming months by one of the standout Americana artists dwelling this side of the pond.

Clara Rose The Offering Self Release

It’s a particularly busy time for Irelands premier blues singer Clara Rose. Her recent Ladies In The Blues tour, accompanied by Flo MciSweeney, Emma Nicolai and Jhil Quinn, is followed by her third album release titled The Offering, in the wake of her debut A Portfolio (2010) and EP Queen Of The Late Night Radio (2012).

A Bachelor of Music holder from N.U.I. Maynooth and an All-Ireland Medal winner for Sen-Nos singing, Rose can also boast a Music Therapy Masters from The University of Limerick.  She has toured with a host of household names including Jack L, The Waterboys, Horslips and Eleanor Mc Evoy. She has also collaborated with harmonica and blues legend Don Baker, the perfect musically suited partnership, recording Baker and Rose in 2016.

Very much in her comfort zone when blasting out the blues, The Offering is evidence that Rose is anything but a one trick pony, with the material also straying seamlessly into modern folk and soft soul vibes over the ten tracks that feature on the album. Cardboard City Blues has jazzy overtones with hints of Sade in evidence and Tightrope Walkers is catchy, poppy, radio friendly fare. 

However, the stand out tracks feature Rose doing what she does best in belting out the blues. The Queen Of The Late Night Radio, Love Sweet Love and her cover of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball And Chain all showcase her exceptional vocal range. 

Recorded under the eagle eye of producer Gavin Glass in his Orphan Studio over a seven-day period, the album features Rose’s regular band members Sean Beatty, Tony Mc Manus and Michael Black. Additional vocals were provided by Elizabeth Monahan, Claire Mc Laughlin and Paula Higgins. 

A lady that can most definitely can sing the blues, delivering an album that further establishes her as one of Ireland’s finest female vocalists. An album well worth checking out and don’t miss out on the chance to catch her live given the opportunity.

Jerry Leger Nonsense and Heartaches Latent 

Four years after recording his debut album Early Riser, Canadian artist Jerry Ledger has released Nonsense and Heartaches on Latent Recordings, the label headed by Michael Timmons (Cowboy Junkies, Natalie Merchant, Mary Gauthier, June Tabor), who also produced the double album at The Hanger, Toronto.

It’s actually more accurately described as two separate albums as the raucous Nonsense has little in common with the more acoustic laid-back feel of Heartaches – with the exception that the same musicians contributed to both recordings. The musicians in question are James McKie (lap steel, fiddle, guitars), Dan Mock (bass, vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums, vocals) and songwriter Jerry Leger who provides vocals, guitar and piano.

Michael Timmons could never be accused of over production and Nonsense delivers raw ‘first take’ bluesy tones which works particularly well on the Frankie Millar sounding opener Coat On The RackForged Check has a Johnny Kidd and The Pirates vibe and shades of Pancho & Lefty can be heard on Wedding Dress. On The Fishing Line is unapologetic blues recalling Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster.

Heartaches heads in an entirely different direction, its countrified folk sound working best on Things Are Changing Around Here and Another Dead Radio Star. Leger’s impressive vocals and piano dominate on Lucy And Little Billy The Kid and Pawn Shop Piano, the latter a reflection of the day to day existence of many a musician which benefits from the combined vocals of Leger and Angie Hilts.

Well worth investigating with Nonsense perfect for the car CD player and Heartache more suited for a feet up, end of the day nightcap. 

Jesse Terry Natural Jackson Beach

A graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Natural is Jesse Terry’s fifth album release, his previous recording Stargazer having only been released six months ago. Natural is an album that features many of the female vocalists particularly admired by him, some being personal friends, others being artists he previously worked with. Included are Dar Williams, Cary Ann Hearst of Shovels & Rope, Liz Longley, Annie Clements, Erin Rae, Sarah Darling, and Kim Richey. The album contains eleven self-written songs together with the inclusion of Jeff Lynne’s Mr. Blue Sky, a track which Liz Longley contributes backing vocals. Produced by Josh Kaler at EastSide Manor Studios in Nashville (Kaler also adds drums, bass, guitar and ukulele), the songs are stripped right back with the vocals being the main focus at all times.

It’s a most impressive body of work that not only highlights Terry’s own talents but also that of the wonderful, in the main Nashville based, female vocalists who contribute. Much of the material could be compared to Sufjan Stevens at his most melodic. Music and song writing has given Terry the tools to deal with and overcome a turbulent childhood which included spells in reform school and recovery from a drug overdose at the age of eighteen. The album suggests a young man at peace with himself and nowhere more so than on I Was An Island written on The Aran Islands and one of two tracks that feature Kim Richey on vocals. Beautiful Way To Get Home is unhurried and patient with dreamy cello playing by Larissa Maestro and gorgeous harmonies by Terry and Erin Rae. Other highlights are Stargazer featuring Dar Williams and the closing title track, an evocative love song containing only guitar and vocals by Terry, perfectly bookending the album.

Natural scores on many fronts, from the delightful packaging to the musical content. It’s a welcome introduction to Jesse Terry and listeners should be also encouraged to visit his back catalogue, together with the work of all the female contributors, many of who are indeed well known and admired by Lonesome Highway.

Monday
Mar192018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Dallas Moore Mr. Honky Tonk Sol

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

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

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

Mary Battiata & Little Pink The Heart, Regardless Self Release

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

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

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

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

Ryan Bingham Live Humphead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpha Mule Peripheral Vision Giant Meteor

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

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

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

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

Melanie Dekker Secret Spot Self Release

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

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

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

Tuesday
Feb272018

Reviews by Eilís  Boland

Billy Strings Turmoil & Tinfoil Self Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Lundgren Door Dwellers Kebe/Misty

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

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

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

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

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

Lena Ullman & Anna Falkenau I Can Hear You Calling Scroll 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nolan McKelvey & Dave Desmelik  Where It Takes Us Self Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jono Manson  The Slight Variations Self Release

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

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

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

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

Born 53 A Talent Unrecognised Self Release 

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday
Feb202018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Chris Murphy Water Under The Bridge Teahouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Carey The Art Of Forgetting Self Release

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

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

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

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

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

The Stone Hill All-Stars Wilson Comes Home Self Release

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

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

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

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

Zachary Richard Gombo RZ 

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

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

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

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

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

Whitherward The Anchor Self Release 

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

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

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

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

Rupert Wates Lights Of Paris Bite Music 

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Kirby Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost Self Release

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

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

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

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

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

Beth Wimmer Bookmark Self Release

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

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

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

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

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

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