Reviews by Paul McGee


West Of Eden No Time Like The Past – A Collection West Of Music

West of Eden is a band from Gothenburg, Sweden and for the past 20 years they have been releasing music of enduring quality. This retrospective spans 8 albums, with 2 unreleased songs also included; together with a single and a new song written especially for the collection, Twenty Years Of Travelling.

The band was formed in 1995 and the main songwriters are Jenny and Martin Schaub. They are joined in the current line-up by Lars Broman on fiddle, Ola Karlevo on drums and percussion, Henning Sernhede on electric and acoustic guitars, plus mandolin and Martin Holmlund on bass. Their folk oriented sound has been inspired by Celtic music and tribute is paid to all the previous musicians who played in the band at different junctures and who all helped shape the career arc that has seen West Of Eden arrive at a point where their collective is mush respected and given due gravitas among fellow artists.

Martin Schaub plays acoustic guitars, piano, cittern and also sings, in addition to having quite a hand in most of the song production. Jenny sings in a beautiful clear voice that lifts all the songs and also plays accordion and tin whistle.

Well worth investigating further, West Of Eden are a multi-talented group who take the roots of traditional music and marry a sound that is both old and new with a focus on contemporary arrangements and a dynamic vision. There are love songs, songs of the sea, songs of leaving for new beginnings and there is even a tribute to their local football club, Glenntown. 

There are songs of longing and wishing for more. New World warnings mix with nostalgic memories of youth and the past. All along we are regaled by heady combinations of mandolin, whistle, fiddle, accordion and guitars. Many of the arrangements are bright and up-tempo with a sense of hope and belief in the future running through the atmospheric melodies.

There are 25 songs over 2 discs and a total playing time of 100 minutes. I can honestly say that at no stage did I feel bored or tempted to quit and this brave attempt to capture the essence of the band in all its different stages and guises is to be admired. The concept involved is sometimes fraught with difficulties and there can be an uneven quality to retrospectives at the best of times. This happily steers clear of all such traps and produces a beautifully packaged celebration of a band that began with a love of traditional Celtic folk music.

Eric Congdon Into The Woods Self Release

This is the fifth release from musician and fund raiser Eric Congdon. He plays guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, bass, percussion and drones across the ten tracks featured here and also produced the entire project.

He lives in Asheville, North Carolina and has created a video series called Hiking Jams which features the natural beauty of the region as you are taken on a musical journey to some of the most scenic spots in his locality. Eric has helped raise over $100,000 for Autism and supports the Autism Science Foundation and other organizations. He is committed to spreading hope through his music and the songs included here certainly highlight his terrific guitar playing skills to maximum effect. 

Cool Mountain Morning is a laid-back sense of summer with Lisa Taylor on co-vocal with his dextrous finger picking guitar style really impressing. Five instrumentals, Huckleberry, Enter In Silence, Requiem For John Fahey, Carolina Stroll and Becka’s Train add to the realisation that this artist is someone to be celebrated and his stripped back groove in Smokey Mountain Medicine Man is perfectly augmented by the fine lap steel playing of Billy Cardine. Acoustic blues and roots music of some quality and well worth investigation.

Thunderbolt & Lightfoot Songs For Mixed Company Vesper

Sarah Fuerst and Phil Barry are the duo behind the ten songs on this full album debut. Phil plays guitar and Sarah adds a combination of keys, mellotron, whistle, marimba and bass. Both share close vocal harmonies that really impress within the gentle acoustic structures of the melodies and stripped back arrangements.

Recorded at a studio in Kalamazoo, these songs of love and loss are quietly addictive on repeated play and the guest musicians add subtle touches on accordion, strings, organ, piano and drums. The playful nature of Can’t Be Trusted runs against the pleasure of watching a past lover rueing a break-up on Miss Me. Sad Song cautions the person to ‘take care, choices have consequences’. The light jazz feel of Goodbye Is Not The End sits against the acoustic strum of instrumental, Vesper.

A cover of the Bruce Springsteen song I’m On Fire is a strange inclusion and is just too clean; missing all the coiled desire of the original. The naïve optimism of Sweetest Baby is grounded by the clever Dearly Beloved which looks at the realism of relationships in lines like ‘I promise to always leave the seat down and no backseat driving on the way into town’. An interesting collection of songs and worth investigation. 

Robbie Cavanagh To Leave/To Be Left At The Helm

Labelled as Country/Folk this UK artist releases his second album of songs that were recorded at Eve Studios near Manchester and explore “leaving and being left. What’s taken away and what’s left behind.”

To these ears, the sound is quite commercial, with a number of radio friendly tracks highlighting Cavanagh’s sweet voice that could easily slot into any of the recent young singer-songwriter crop of talent.

My promo copy has no information so I cannot tell who plays what apart from the fact that Roo Walker produced the 11 songs. The soulful groove of Still Talkin’ stands out and the acoustic Let You Down highlights the expressive tone in Cavanagh’s voice. Fool is a bluesy stroll through the back catalogues of older artists complimented by a warm keyboard swell and back-up vocals. Roles Reversed is a rueful look back at a relationship now gone while He’s Alone brings things to a close with a further reflective musing on love lost.

Rob Jungklas Blackbirds Madjack

Rob Jungklas is an experienced musician who is based in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 1980’s he released a number of commercial records but left the music business and became a teacher in the search for something new. However, Jungklas began playing music again in 2001 and released two albums, in 2003 and 2007, that were blues-based in sound and led to opening for Lucinda Williams. In 2010 he released another album, Mapping The Wreckage and this was followed by The Spirit And The Spine in 2013. And so, to this new release, a mixture of blues meets folk at a crossroads where shadows lurk and a sense of foreboding hangs in the air. The song arrangements are sparse and possess a menace that seeps out in lines like "And I will stay here in this mortal coil, til I’m redeemed, blessed are the broken ones."

The ten songs are the work of a seasoned player who is confident in the sound he seeks and the overall experience is very compelling as the brooding tracks play out like a catharsis against all the wounds of the world. These are songs of loss and regret, moody and atmospheric. Low Hanging Fruit is a beautiful piece that reflects on relationships lost ‘The love we had becomes a wish and the wish becomes a star’ – a gentle arrangement with strings and a bare guitar sound.  Hymn is a prayer for the hopeful while The Spiritual Beauty Of Material Things plays out like a movie in looking at the life of a poor farmer.

Such good songs and Blackbirds, Shine, Gone, Diggers and Vitriol all warrant special mention but the complete work is worthy of the highest praise. Closing with Carry Me Home, the lines that best sum up the persona that runs through these songs are captured by "My angels ain’t got no halos, my angels ain’t got wings, they got on too much mascara, they’re wearing diamond rings" A special artist with either a skewed view of the universe or just pure originality in the song-writing. I choose the latter. A very impressive release and highly recommended. 

Susan Cattaneo The Hammer & the Heart Jerseygirl

Two CD’s, each with nine songs; one called The Hammer and the other called The Heart. Forty musicians were involved in the making of the album and some of the guests include The Bottle Rockets, Mark Erelli, Bill Kirchen, Jennifer Kimball and Todd Thibaud.

Anyone who does not know of Susan Cattaneo is missing out on one of Boston’s most respected songwriters. She blends rock, folk and blues with a healthy dose of country. If you are looking for a signpost then it would read Mary Chapin Carpenter meets Sheryl Crow but then you would not explore the road that leads to the unique talents of Susan in her own right. Four covers are included in the tracks and the others are all written by the lady herself or co-written in the case of five more songs. The atmospheric Dry, sung with Dennis Brennan, is a real stand-out moment on a hugely enjoyable listen. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger is another special moment with guitar shredding courtesy of Mark Erelli. Country blues at its finest on disc one.

Work Hard, Love Harder spans both CD’s as the opening track, on the second it is played with the Boxcar Lilies and the sweet folk/bluegrass arrangement kicks off a set of songs that are gentle and acoustic after the electric blues of CD one. Country colourings run throughout these nine songs and the playing is more restrained and laid back. Bitter Moon and Smoke are a duo of songs that deal with the frustration of relationships. A very cool version of the Mose Allison song Everybody Cryin’ Mercy is followed by David Bowie’s Space Oddity which is a strange way to end the project but should not take away from what is a terrific release filled with real treasures.


Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Moot Davis Hierarchy Of Crows Self Release

This is the fifth Moot Davis album release since his Pete Anderson produced debut in 2004 (not counting an album he put out prior to that to sell at gigs). It is another link in the chain of work from an artist who always delivers something special through his work. At least it is special to me. His combination of traditional country influences blended with the better moments of hard rock and vintage rockabilly always manages to entertain and excite. Doing so in a way that the majority of mainstream country doesn’t. Even when he rocks out the music never loses sight of the roots from which it sprung. Like any artist who’s been around awhile Moot Davis is constantly adapting and realising his overall sound.

This album was recorded in California over a period of time and was produced by Davis with Jody Sappington and Blake Oswald. His previous albums were produced by renowned guitarist/producers Kenny Vaughan and the aforementioned Pete Anderson. This time out Storm Rhodes IV is the noted string bender who can deliver some tight twang as easily as some telling tones of distortion - as the songs and mood requires. Other players here include Ted Russell Kamp on bass, Skip Edwards on keyboards and guitar, Gary Morse on dobro and pedal steel and co-producer Blake Oswald on drums, so there’s no doubting the talent involved.

Moot Davis has always been an interesting writer taking what are the universal themes of love and its manifestations as the subject matter of many of these songs. The album opens in a hard rock mode with hard guitar and heavy drums and a distorted vocal. Here Comes The Destroyer is centered on a man who is out to wreak havoc. This is followed by a song with a strong incisive guitar riff. Quite As Well As You Lie takes a similar hard man attitude. While Shot Down In Flames has a loose Stones-ish Exile groove.

What’s The Matter With Me and You’re Gonna Win (I’m Gonna Cry) are a link back to the Davis of yore with pedal steel guitar and twang guitar reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam's early output and these diverse moods are all held together by a strong vocal presence and attitude. The title track takes a moodier path with dobro and an oblique lyric. Another stand-out is the closing Hemophiliac Of Love. Is back to where we came in with a hard rocking Zeppelin-style riff and intense vocal refrain of “blood clots, love stops.”

It is natural that an artist will grow and change their music. Sometimes this is welcome other times not. With this artist I’m on board as the core of the music is coming from a similar place and seems a natural diversity that works in the hierarchy of things.

Jeremy Pinnell Ties Of Blood And Affection Sofaburn

There has been a lot of anticipation for this new album from Jeremy Pinnell following on from the much acclaimed debut OH/KY. The Cincinnati singer has seen a fair amount of blood on the floor while looking to find the kind of affection that everyone needs and seeks. This album affirms Pinnell as a genuine contender, and in truth, more honest to goodness traditional country music minded that either Chris Stapleton or Jason Isbell. Nothing against those two gentlemen who are producing great music themselves.

These songs ring with truth and a sense that they come from within. Feel This Right is a testament to how way that love sometimes sneaks up on us and brings us to a place that just feels right. Different Kind Of Love is a reaffirmation of finding that there is a deeper, different kind of love that has the potential to be worth the fight to keep holding onto. These songs are not superficial love songs but ones that feel true. 

Best I Could Do is about being true to oneself and when standing before one’s maker declaring that the way you lived was honestly the best you could do. However Ain’t Nothing Wrong considers a lifestyle that might possibly point you in the opposite direction. Contemplation of afterlife and the consequences of the way one took life’s paths is the also the theme of the closing song The Way We See Heaven. It includes the telling line that in “19 hundred and seventy seven my Mama thought I came from Heaven … later in life she knew I came from Hell.” Affirmation of a life that has taken Pinnell through many situations that have informed these songs with no little grit and gravel.

What is central to the whole album is Pinnell’s contribution as songwriter, singer and co-producer - all of which are excellent. Mention also must be made of the players involved from steel player Cameron Cochran’s vital input alongside Brad Myers guitar and bass and Adam Nurre drumming and Bob Nave’s keyboards. Mike Montgomery co-produced the album which was recorded in Dayton, Kentucky. Far away from the prying eyes of any music executives who might have been present if the album was a major label project. Though it would be great to see Pinnell receive the kind of promotion that that position would bring. No doubt a contender for one of the albums of the year.

Amber Cross Savage On The Downhill Self Release

The title of the album is not an Irish opinion of one’s ability to ride a bike down a steep slope but rather a reference to how you would hold a rifle, Savage is a brand of hunting rifle, so as not to drag the barrel in the dirt. It is an indication of Cross’ affinity with land and lifestyle (as well as hunting). Something that informs the album’s songs as well as its title. Cross lives in Northern California but grew up in Maine so place and landscape inevitably seep in the songs. Those songs are a mix of folk and country. Storytelling that encompasses a direct form as well as, at times, a more poetic vision. Looking at the lives of those who may have drifted apart as in Leaving Again or the lifestyle of Tracy Joe in the windblown song of that name.

At the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko Nevada she met Chuck Hawthorne who in turn introduced her to Ray Bonneville who ended up producing this album in Austin. That location gave her access to a number of notable players such as Tim O’Brien, Gurf Morlix, Mike Hardwick and Dave Carroll. Seasoned and expressive players who do much to add a texture that has enhanced the songs greatly. But it is Cross’s voice (and songs) that are the heart of the album. She has a distinctive raw-boned voice that has distinctive phrasing and clear diction. There have been references to Iris DeMent as a vocal comparison and that is valid though Cross’ is less dividing in terms of liking and disliking her vocal presence.

There are a number of story songs on the album which opens with Pack Of Lies. A song that has a strong melody and a hardened sense of living “… I pray life is going to get easier” but qualifying that view with something more open “wish I could heal your broken heart.” The sense of troubled relationship is again highlighted in the line “did you think I’d stay here in your nightmare dream” from the title song. In Echoes that despair is central to the relationship of the couple who had raised two kids to find “Tell me again just why are we still together. Lying next to you I never felt so alone.” These snippets of the songs may suggest an album that is unrelentingly dark but overall though the lyrics are taken from some hard places the music has a sense of life and is upbeat overall. Cross has written these songs mainly solo. The title was co-written with her producer who also provided Lone Freighter’s Wall 

This is Cross’ third album and places her among the best independent women making roots music today. Making real music for real people. 

Rick Shea & The Losin’ End The Town Where I Live Tres Pescadores

It is good to hear a new release from Rick Shea. He is a distinctive singer, solid songwriter as a well as talented producer and skilled player. He is joined by his band of multi-instrumentalist Stephen Patt on guitars and keyboards, Bassist Dave Hall and drummer Steve Mugalian as well as some other guests. The songs have the feel of traditional storytelling. For instance, The Road To Jericho, The Starkville Blues or The Angel Mary and The Rounder Jim feel like they are the synopsis of some gritty, low-life B movie.

As with most of Shea’s albums there is a mix of blues, roots and country on offer. It is Shea’s warm, life-experienced vocal that provides much of the album’s individuality. The songs are all originals bar a Holleyesque/Bo Diddley rhythm underpinned upbeat version of Cowboy Jack Clement’s Guess Things Happen That Way which also features Shea’s pedal steel playing. He also plays dobro, mandolin, baritone as well as acoustic and electric guitars. Instruments he has played with a range of artists including the likes of Dave Alvin. Further showing, along with the rest of the band, an understanding of the music and traditions used in the creation of their own music.

Shea has been a part of the California country scene for some years where he continues to reside and perform. He does so with an ease that belies his talent as a conceptual all rounder. This is an understand master class in how to play roots music that, while it conforms to set parameters, manages to entertain and enlighten you in a way that feels good. Something that shows you the ethos and value of the music you’re listening to.  

My Darling Clementine Still Testifying CRS

Still testifying to the power of the music made by husband and wife duo Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish under the My Darling Clementine banner. This time out they have added a soupçon of soul to the classic country stylings. What immediately stands out is the subtlety and certainty of their vocals. Better here arguably than on any previous albums. They have now reached a place where the male/female interaction could easily be listed with the best duos of the past. 

They have co-produced this album with Neil Brockbank, who worked closely with Nick Lowe and recently with Jim Lauderdale on his London Southern album. He sadly passed away recently and will be greatly missed by both the musicians who he worked with as well as those who were the beneficiaries of the music he produced. They gathered together a fine crew of players to give, excuse the pun, it’s soul.  They included guitarist Martin Belmont, Alan Cook on pedal steel, Kevin Foster on bass, Bob Loveday on violin and Geraint Watkins on keyboards among a host of brass players as well as being joined by their daughter Mabel Dalgleish-King. 

The songs, which again mix humour and pathos, deal with fictional relationships of married and unmarried couples. These are written with a skill and sensitivity that gives them a lasting and meaningful resonance. Indeed those who have followed King’s solo career will know he is a seasoned writer who has made some outstanding albums in the past (as has Dalgleish). There are songs here from both, including Dalgleish’s Eugene - a song that is about the town in Oregon as well as a person. She also penned a song that lyrically relates to another point of view to that of the central figure in Dolly Parton’s classic in Jolene’s Story. Another stand-out that takes a hard look from a feminine perspective is Just A WomanFriday Night, Tulip Hotel is a King song that was previously featured in their collaboration with Mark Billingham. The Other Half is a great example of the cheating song that used to be a big part of the county music cannon way back.  Tear Stained Smile has an underlying darkness about a dying relationship. “A heart of marble, a face of stone, That’s what I’ve come to own” are lines that could have come from any renowned real country songwriter in the past. 

That this album was produced and played in the UK is, in itself, a testament to the fact that world class roots music is being made in these Isles and so should not be simply seen as a good album from this side of the pond but a great album period.

Mo Pitney Behind This Guitar Curb

Something of a throwback to the new traditionalist country movement of the late 80s and early 90s Mo Pitney is no outlaw. Rather he is a fairly clean-cut straight-up country singer and songwriter who writes largely about love. Love of place (Come Do A Little Life), of a special girl (Clean Up On Aisle Five), of country music and its sensibilities (Country)and of Merle Haggard (I Met Merle Haggard Today). This album was a long time waiting to come out but was finally released last year and is getting a push gain now as Pitney is playing dates in the UK. Although the has been no news of a new product if you go to his site it lists the album as sold out!

But back to the music, this is undoubtedly country music and as solid as pretty much anyone would recognise. The production by veteran Tony Brown (for the most part) is entirely in sympathy with the overall mood of the album. The songwriting is a selection of co-writes between Pitney and such notable scribes as Bill Anderson, Dean Dillon, David Lee Murphy and Don Sampson. There are two tracks that Pitney had no hand in. The closing Give Me Jesus - which has an obvious sentiment from its totally non-ironic title and Behind This Guitar which is a story of many a seeker looking for his chance to get behind a microphone and make the music they might love.

The musicians involved are equally well chosen to emulate a sound that is part early George Strait with a little Randy Travis thrown in. Chris Leuzunger, Richard Bennett, Glenn Worf, Aubrey Haynie and Gary Morse (among others) fully understand what is required and deliver. It is not though something that will surprise or excite in the way that some may. But I feel that’s not quite the point of the process. It was an album made to remind people of what country music should sound like from an artist who also loved his influences and the music he grew up with. It is solid, safe and satisfying. The real question is where Pitney will go from here. Unfortunately he didn’t make the impact that some hoped but in doing what he does he has made some fans who would be more than happy for him to repeat the process - to stand behind his guitar again and sing.


Reviews by Paul McGee

Hat Check Girl Two Sides to Every Story Gallway Bay

This release is described as a collection of ten songs, written in pairs, collected in five chapters, with interludes and an epilogue. Each pair is written from both a female and male perspective and each pair seems unrelated to the next … This is contemplative and reflective and set in an atmosphere of simple arrangements and understated musicianship. Contemporary Folk music taken to a new level.

The first chapter deals with a brother & sister relationship and the yearning that comes from loss. He drives away looking for a new beginning and she rues the day that ‘time stood still’ – hints of a fatality on this journey taken.

Chapter two debates beauty as its own currency in the world. He looks at external beauty as a ticket to open any door versus her reality that ‘not hiding behind the beauty I wore as a disguise’ is true freedom, as she seeks to discover her internal self and the simple beauty visible in all of nature – ‘beauty is free’.

Chapter three is a study on the price of fame ... The search for approval and ego-driven greed. Balanced against this is the nostalgia of being drawn to a life on the Big Screen in emulation of childhood heroes; innocence turned sour. A relationship formed in the glare of relentless media attention and star attraction.

Chapter Four sees the end of a relationship where forbidden fruit attracts and lures one party to look for something more. Cheating with your lovers’ best friend and living to regret the mistake.

Chapter five is a lament where one partner is stuck in a relationship with a drunk and resigned to her fate. ‘What I liked best about loving a drunk, was the lonely part of the day’. He responds with the lines ‘Someone like me will find some dignity when my thirst begins to fade’. It’s broken and fragile; it’s a challenge and a gift to be opened and explored for whatever meaning you may find.

Peter Gallway and Annie Gallup have been painting challenging, complex and unique musical vistas for many years now and their song-writing craft just gets better and better as they hone down to the true essence of their creative muse.

They share vocals and instrumentation and are joined by Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Indigo Girls, Elvis Costello), on drums and percussion. This is their sixth release and a clever concept. Perhaps I have missed a key link between the chapters but that doesn’t really matter as each of the five stories stands quite well on its own. 

Bill & Joel Plaskett Solidarity Pheromone

The album is a father and son creation and the eleven tracks chosen make for a powerful collection of both original and traditional songs. Joel Plaskett is a multiple JUNO Award winning songwriter based in Halifax, Canada and he has visited a number of genres, from blues and folk to hard rock, country, and pop across a career that has seen the release of an impressive body of work spanning his varied projects.

This outing reflects the individual journey and personal politics of both Joel and his father Bill; cited as his earliest musical influence. Socially aware songs like We Have Fed You For 1000 Years and Jim Jones, sit alongside protest songs like Blank Cheque and Solidarity.

Songs of hope, The New California, take a place next to No Sight Compares, a celebration of this Universe, and there is a reflective look at the past with On Down The River. All played in an intimate setting on guitars, bouzouki, mandola, bass Wurlitzer and (very occasional) drums. An excellent idea and a fine release.

Lynne Hanson Uneven Ground Song Shop

This is the fifth album from Canadian artist Lynn Hanson who has been recording music since 2006. The 13 tracks on this release include 7 co-writes with Linda McRae Lynn Miles (who produced 2 previous releases), Mark Elliot and MJ Dandeneau.

The remaining 6 songs were written by Lynne herself and there is a nice equilibrium between collaborative and solitary writing that dovetails nicely together across the project.

Carry Me Home starts the record with a serious groove, drum shuffles, bottle neck guitar and some jazzy piano runs. It is a spin on being left behind by a lover and in this case it is a call to the grim reaper to "lay me down, next to my love." Swallow Me Up is similar in theme but speaks of giving up on life when you can find no meaning to the big questions.

Counting Heartbeats and Dead Weight deal with living with disappointment and the hurt of loneliness, frustrated love and the restless yearning for something more. On Swallow Me, Hanson hits a new stride with a nasty groove that has echoes of a Bonnie Raitt work-out; a song of hurt and resignation. Devil Said So follows in a similar vein with a tussle between doing the proper thing and striking out for a wild time. Her word weary view is summed up on Stronger where she muses that "it’s living with the pain that shapes and makes us stronger" – the good guys don’t always win in this reality check.

The studio musicians do justice to these dark songs and play with plenty of understated energy. The tension in the arrangements is held perfectly by the rueful vocal delivery of Hanson in what can only be described as a work of some real highs; even when dealing with so many lows.

Jesse Waldman Mansion Full of Ghosts Self Release

This debut release boasts 16 tracks which is quite a statement in itself. Clocking in at over one hour of listening time, there is a serious amount of music to be digested here. An easy playing style does help and when you couple this with gentle Folk arrangements and a sweet vocal then the time does seem well spent.

The studio musicians are all very accomplished and adopt a ‘less is more’ approach to the music, leaving plenty of space for the songs to breathe. Living in Vancouver, Waldman has based the songs here around an exploration of the city's duality, the backdrop of beauty mirrored against its’ dark underbelly. Lonesome City, Raincity Blues and Another Lost Soul reference one image of the city while the lightness of love songs like Hummingbird, The Rest Of My Days, Ashes and Small Talk hold a guarded optimism.

Hope In Shadows is countered against songs of broken lives such as Lorraine, Other Side Of Town or Hard Livin’; while the excellent Good Company is very strong on advice to another about how to live well. Wild Balloon is a reflection for a lover who has moved on and Keep A Light On In The Dark reminds us to give thanks for the simple pleasures in each day.

Beth Southwell and Megan Alford sing beautifully on various tracks to compliment the melodies and Marc L’Esperance plays an array of instruments, sings and co-produces with impressive style and great perspective. Waldman has a keen eye for arrangements and displays an astute writing talent. A really impressive debut and highly recommended.

Kenny White Long List Of Priors MVP/CRS

The latest collection of original songs from Kenny White really hits the spot here. There is gravitas in these grooves and the effortless melodies and rhythm conjured up by Duke Levine on guitars, Shawn Pelton on drums, and Marty Ballou on bass are subtle and seductive.

As on his past recordings, there is a guest list of real quality with invites to the likes of David Crosby, Peter Wolf, Larry Campbell, Amy Helm, Ada Dyer and Catherine Russell to share the studio magic, alongside his sterling band.  Add horns and a string quartet across seven of the tracks here and the impressive arrangements take off into a place of quiet reflection and easy grooves.

White is a seasoned wordsmith and uses his lyrical gifts to great effect. The beautiful Another Bell Unanswered is a love song to unrequited relationships that just don’t get the timing right. Equally, The Other Shore is a love song to a deceased partner and the pain of separation; ‘soon the car will come and take you; and I will have to let you go’… Heart-breaking and beautifully delivered.

Lights Over Broadway is a slow jazz tribute to the past and the splendour of another era while Charleston brings the atrocity of the 2015 mass-shooting front and centre when an attack happened on one of the United States' oldest black churches, which has long been the site for community organization around civil rights. Ada Dyer duets on vocals and the song is both angry and uplifting with the lines ‘now each and every bullet hole shall be filled with grace and sealed with love’. Amen.

A Road Less Travelled is another look at love and the sadness felt when ‘only one can feel the distance’. Cyberspace tears down our reliance for online communications and vapid opinions based on social fluff and superficiality; "Contagious insanity, as goes the human touch, so goes humanity." Such terrific words and this song is stuffed with wry observation and sage wisdom. Long List Of Priors is a refreshingly original and multi-layered recording. Highly recommended.

Chris Murphy Hard Bargain Teahouse

On his website, Chris Murphy describes himself as a violinist, composer and band leader. In addition, he is an innovator and a music teacher, a revered violinist, mandolinist and guitarist who has released 13 albums of original music in many styles including rock, bluegrass, swing, electronic, classical, blues, Irish and ethnic music.

So, here we have a Live record to add to the already ballooning reputation and why not; when you can play with the dexterity and lyricism that Chris Murphy unleashes here, then it is an obvious step to take. Recorded solo and live in Boise, Idaho in a small theatre, the 10 tracks fly by in a storm of rhythm, aided by his amplified foot stomp and creative violin runs that lift the various tunes into the sweet spot reserved for special nights of live and vibrant music.

There are no real stand-out tunes among the 10 new & original songs unveiled as the entire set stands in testament to the talent of this artist. Atmospheric and exciting, it must have been a joy to be present in the room on what we are told was a rainy night – don’t know if this adds anything but the audience were certainly warmed up and shouting for more by evening’s end.


Reviews by Declan Culliton

Jason Wilber Reaction Time Wilber Tone

Jason Wilber is best known as John Prine’s trusted side kick and guitarist of the past two decades which often overshadows his impressive solo musical output. Reaction Time is his tenth album despite spending much of the past twenty years on the road touring with Prine or in the studio recording with him and the many collaborators that have featured on Prine’s albums over the years.

It’s also Wilber’s first full studio album of self-penned songs in eight years, following his covers album Echoes (2016) and Live And Otherwise Volume recorded seven years ago.

When considering Wilber’s music I’m reminded of both Rodney Crowell and Nick Lowe for a number of reasons. His output, and no more so than here, is a blend of both these artists mixing Americana with British Roots and Soul music to perfection. Equally similar to Lowe and to a lesser degree Crowell, his back catalogue includes many top-notch albums that should have and probably would have been better recognised had he concentrated on a solo career without the diversions as a band member and session player. His 1998 debut album Lost In Your Hometown was Americana before the term was conceived and Behind The Midway released two years later was equally impressive. 

The title and opening track of Reaction Time sets the benchmark for what is to follow, a slick breezy guitar intro, pounding drums and controlled vocals combining to give the song an early REM feel. Love Me Now heads down a slightly funkier path, Jealousy and Envy kicks in with a Rolling Stones’ Miss You riff, perfectly paced and infectious. Something Somewhere and Shame On You bring to mind much of what his fellow Nashville resident Jason Isbell is writing these days, both artists possibly inspired to some degree by John Prine, the latter song a flowing piece of music that connects on first listen. I’d Love Another Saturday Night, is the liveliest song on the album and possibly a good choice for "the single". It’s a topic that has been written about by endless of musicians over the decades yet Wilber’s effort sounds refreshingly crisp and original. Heaven, the most traditional country track on the album finds Iris DeMent adding harmony vocals and Allie Summers on violin. A gorgeous song conjuring up heavenly scenes and images of old farm houses, dusty paths, country cooking and simple living, it closes the album in style.

As can be expected the playing is elegant and faultless throughout with Wilber joined by bass player Glenn Myers, percussionists Ben Lumsdaine and Devon Ashley, Chris Erbacher adds pedal steel.

This latest album is another welcomed diversion from the day job by Wilber and one that will undoubtedly continue to be revisited by me in the coming months. 

Rachel Baiman Shame Freedirt

When considering current female singer songwriters who also excel as fiddle and banjo players the names Gillian Welch, Rhiannon Giddens, Abigail Washburn, Alison Brown and more recently Kaia Kater immediately spring to mind. Well it’s time to add Rachel Baiman to the list and near the top at that. The 27-year-old Nashville resident and multi-instrumentalist has most certainly hit the ground running with her debut solo album Shame.

Baiman  is a member of 10 String Symphony, a duo with Christian Sedelmyer, both five string banjo players whose 2015 album Weight Of The World featured on NPR’s listings of newest and most promising voices in Americana on it’s release. For her debut solo album Baiman engaged Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange as producer resulting in a less stripped down and fuller sound than that of 10 String Symphony. It hardly needs noting that the quality of the playing is dazzling, from Baimans banjo and fiddle to the guitar and keyboard input by singer songwriter and session player Josh Oliver and bass player by Marlin. 

Raised in Chicago, both her parents were political activists, her father a radical economist and her mother a social worker, she is the co-founder of Folk Fights Back, a political organisation who perform benefit concerts and events in response to the current political administration in the States. Not surprisingly a number of the tracks visit and question social issues, religion, politics, racism, inequality and abusive relationships. 

Getting straight down to business by questioning religion on the opener and title track Baiman probes "Well old white men write books about faith and healing love, And old white men look happily onto others from above, In the name of sweet religion they would lay their claims on me, And ask me to be grateful for triumphant jubilee." Acknowledging both the joy and responsibility of love and relationships Something To Lose simply drifts along with Baimans banjo perfectly placed in the background. 

Echoes of Gillian Welch surface particularly on I Could Have Been Your Lover Too and Wicked Spell, written by Michael Bowman alongside eight self-written songs by Baiman. Fittingly the other song covered on the album is Never Tire Of The Road written by Andy Irvine, chronicling the struggles of the underprivileged and left behind. 

The greatest accolade I can suggest in respect of Shame is that much of the material is everything you would hope for in a Gillian Welch album and praise hardly comes higher than that. 

Carter Sampson Queen Of Oklahoma and Other Songs CRS

Carter Sampson’s 2016 album Wilder Side was hailed as one of the finest releases of that year at Lonesome Highway and her performances at The Kilkenny Roots Festival earlier this year confirmed her status as yet another outstanding artist that had remained under our radar despite having released four previous albums.

It’s also fair to say that despite Wilder Side deservedly receiving rave reviews in Europe her back catalogue equals the high standard of that album as evidenced by Queen Of Oklahoma and Other Songs which gathers material from all four earlier albums. Released to coincide with her European tour earlier this year its sixty minutes feature fourteen tracks in total.

Mockingbird Song, released in 2011, is represented by five tracks including the zappy opener Be My Wildwood Flower followed by her signature tune Queen Of Oklahoma. Jesse James, Sanctuary and Better Ways also feature from this album which truthfully should take pride of place in any serious collectors’ catalogue. Much fuller, rockier, rousing and less country than Wilder Side, think Kathleen Edwards and you’re on the right page.

I Am Yours and Wild Bird are included from her acoustic EP Thirty Three recorded in 2014, both delightfully melodic country folk.  A fuller version of Wild Bird features on Wilder Side. Six tracks are presented from Good For The Meantime, released in 2009, the aching love song Let’s Get Back and the snappy Payne County Line are particularly impressive. Annie is the only inclusion from her debut acoustic album Fly Over The Moon recorded in 2004.

The album is a welcomed roadmap of Sampson’s career as a young songwriter to the present day. Weaving seamlessly between folk and country it’s indicative of a self-assured and extremely talented artist who without doubt will have lots more to offer going forward.

Chris Jamison Mindless Heart Self Release

The cover of Mindless Heart features a non-descript hand drawn red heart depicting I Love You which, not being familiar with Jamison’s previous albums, drew expectations of an acoustic based album of love songs and the like. However, this assumption transpired to be miles off the mark. Currently based in Ashville North Carolina, this the sixth studio album recorded by the Texan and it’s a cracker. A splendid mixture of country, soul and blues across eleven tracks it features an impeccable group of Texan players who joined Jamison at Whiteroom Studios in Austin Texas for the recording which was co-produced by Jamison and Sebastian Cure.

The title track showcases Jamison’s exquisite vocal, intoxicatingly soulful on a track that is thankfully uncluttered, a feature that repeats on All In Good Time and Lovers Lane both also benefiting from a less is more approach. Wanderin’ adds some funk bordering on reggae to the mix and Blue Cadillac laments the passing of Hank Williams.

The pedal steel guitar playing by Simon Page on Wanderin’ and Blue Highway manages to exquisitely enhance Jamison’s self-assured vocal delivery. Deadstring Brothers and Israel Nash spring to mind as references on both tracks whereas on some of the lighter moments on the album comparisons could be made with Josh Rouse.

Prinz Grizzley Come On In Shedmusic

Honky Tonk, pedal steel guitar and country waltzes are not exactly what you might expect from an Austrian artist but Prinz Grizzley, the brainchild of Chris Comper, manages to combine all three as if they were in his bloodstream in his debut album Come On In

Comper made a considerable impression with his live shows to packed houses at The Kilkenny Roots Festival early this year and Come On In (to be released in Europe this September) is further testimony that Americana and Country Music of the highest quality exists and survives beyond the U.S.A.

Comper formed the Indie Rock band Golden Reef in 2001, recorded two mini-albums and four full albums but despite positive recognition in the Austrian music press they failed to light a fire. A further diversion saw Comper form Grizzley & The Kids who released an album titled Temporizer in 2014, aimed more at the commercial pop market. 

However this album recorded between November 2015 and February 2016, finally found Comper hitting his sweet spot, writing and performing music from the heart, eleven self-composed and cohesive songs that work remarkably well together.

There’s so much to love about the album, not least the absolutely stunning Walls, the standout track on the album. Think Ryan Adam’s Jacksonville City Nights period, gorgeous layers of vocal, harmonies, searing guitar and wicked pedal steel combining to create a sound that you do not want to end. Tell Me Why, a stripped back heartbreaker closes the album, a lament to love slipping away, melodic country folk, its recipe out of the Neil Young cookbook.

The opening track Wide Open Country sets the scene for much of what is to follow, harmonica joined within twenty seconds by weeping pedal steel and Comper’s vocals dipping and soaring between chorus and verse. I May Be Late is no nonsense honky tonk featuring the standards – bars, wasted relationship, and unrequited love- all brought to life by lashings of twangy guitar and pedal steel.

Produced by Comper and Oliver Varga at Green Hill Studios in Rohrbach Austria, Come On is a joy from start to finish, nothing new or ground breaking, simply good lived in music that hits the spot from an unexpected source. High praise also for the wonderful no frills yet striking artwork and packaging. Well worth checking out.

Front Country Other Love Songs Organic

Front Country made quite an impression on the writer when they performed a rousing set at The Station Inn in Nashville last September on the opening night of The Americana Music Association Festival. The quality of the playing, energy, vocal harmonies and full on performance brought the house down, even though they played the graveyard shift from 12am to 1am after a long day of music and festivities. Difficult to categorise, contemporary Bluegrass or more accurately Soulgrass might best describe their sound, a direction that many young bands have travelled to get a foot in the door of an extremely crowded market. What raises Front Country above the parapet is the input of lead singer Melody Walker whose gutsy soulful vocals take centre stage much like that of Brittany Howard as part of Alabama Shakes. On receiving the album I wondered how the high quality of their live act would transfer to my living room via the studio and it’s fair to say that it does capture their dynamics particularly well.

Brought together as a professional outfit having won open mic contests at both The Rockygrass and Telluride Festival in Colorados  the band consist of Adam Roszkiewicz  ( mandolin, banjo, vocals), Jacob Groopman (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Jeremy Darrow (bass), Leif Karlstrom ( five string violin) and Melody Walker (vocals, guitar and percussion).

Of the twelve tracks on the album eight are written by Walker, two instrumentals composed by Roszkiewicz with the two remaining songs being covers of David Olney’s Millionaire, a song they felt compelled to include given the political climate when the album was being recorded and The Carter Family’s Storms Are On The Ocean. The playing from start to finish is flawless, particularly on the instrumentals T.H.A.T.S and Sometimes It Does where Karlstrom’s violin work simply soars above Roszkiewicz‘s clever banjo picking. Good Side is performed a Capella with Roszkiewicz and Groopman resplendently accompanying Walker opening vocals.

Front Country have managed to cherry pick old timey and  soul with a dusting of FM rock to present a body of work that is sure to appeal to a wide audience and deservedly so. 


Reviews by Eilis Boland

Furnace Mountain Shadow Of Plenty Self Release

An absolute joy from start to finish, this sixth album from well established Virginian old time string band Furnace Mountain cements their reputation as one of the foremost exponents of the music, bar none.

Superbly produced by their own Danny Nicely, who also plays mandolin and guitar throughout, the vocal duties are ably shared by the other three members. 

Rooted in the traditional Appalachian folk tradition, the timeless quality of the music is exemplified by the title track, Shadow Of Plenty. The pure harmony vocals of Morgan Morrison and Aimee Curl evoke the vision of a pastoral idyll, but by the end of the song, one is left with a foreboding that the bounteous façade is overhung by a dark cloud.

David Van Deventer ain’t called Fiddlin’ Dave for nothing – he’s a demon on his instrument! He also writes much of the music and sometimes the lyrics. His vocal style and indeed his playing is reminiscent of the late fiddle maestro John Hartford – particularly evident on his songs Ramblin’ Jack and The Last Song. The ironically named Inchworm Set showcases the skills of the whole band, where Dave’s fiddling interweaves with bouzouki (unusually) and mandolin, backed up by bass, and all at breakneck speed.

While most of the album relies on original material, there are a few covers, the most memorable of which is the oft-covered love song, Ewan McColl’s First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Here Aimee and Morgan blend their voices in a delicate near-perfect rendition of this beautiful song- a version I would like to think Peggy Seeger herself would approve of.

The sleeve is beautifully illustrated and there’s no need for a lyric sheet here - the well honed vocals are true and clear.

Red Herring Here To Distract You Self Release

This is the third offering (and second studio recording) from the Dutch folk roots string band, who are regulars on the folk club and festival scene in mainland Europe. The standard of musicianship throughout this self-produced recording is superb, and each of the four band members is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. Their influences are wide – there are obvious bluegrass, folk, jazz and celtic elements to many of their songs and instrumentals.

The fiddle chops of Joram Peeters and his versatility of tune writing is showcased in the instrumental set of three tunes Pigs Upon A Ninja. It moves from a Scandinavian influenced tune into a gypsy jazz number, and then, in the uplifting final funky tune, one is deliciously blasted by the uileann pipes (yes, you heard me correctly) of guest Michael Boere. 

The Beaten Track was co-written by Arthur Deighton in the aftermath of the loss of his sister, and he sings it sensitively, with sweet banjo contributed by guest Floris De Vries.

Dougie MacLean’s ballad on the pain of emigration, Garden Valley (familiar to Irish audiences from the singing of Cara Dillon) is still topical and the lead vocals are taken by bassist Loes van Schaijk, with Floris de Vries on dobro.

Loes also writes and sings the opening song, No Hearts Won – its beautiful tune is a winner, but as on many of the songs here, it is let down by clumsy lyrics. Joram Peeters’ talent in composing tunes is again overshadowed by the lyrics in the sublime country blues of A Loved Man’s Lonely Blues, and the less said about the attempt at humour in his Rather Die Alone, the better!

Joram redeems himself  though on the delightful jazz-inflected instrumental WhatsApp Doc which he cowrote with Arthur Deighton, featuring both of them on duelling mandolins and more tasty banjo from Floris De Vries. There are also covers of two bluegrass standards – Uphill Climb from the pen of Chris Jones and Don Reno’s Barefoot Nellie.

This release is accompanied by a beautifully produced booklet, with notes on each track and quirky, attractive artwork. An interesting album, though probably not for the bluegrass purist. The services of an independent producer could help to iron out the blips next time around.

Martin Harley & Daniel Kimbro Static In The Wires Del Mundo 

From the opening chords of this album, one is thrown straight into the country blues of the Deep South … but the surprise is that Martin Harley is an Englishman! He has previously fallen under my radar– but I am very pleased to make his acquaintance now.

A phenomenal guitarist, particularly an exponent of lap slide, Martin is also a talented songwriter with a strong distinctive voice. Martin’s musical compadre may be familiar to you already – Daniel Kimbro has been the bass player with the Jerry Douglas Band for the past four years. A Tennessean with a bluegrass background, Daniel has collaborated with many well regarded fellow Americana musicians, and just recently played on the Transatlantic Sessions first American tour.

Although regarded as a bassist, Daniel also contributes piano and guitar here, as well as coproducing with Martin Harley on this Nashville studio recording. The two have been friends and collaborators since they were introduced by mutual friend Sam Lewis a few years ago, and this is their second recording together.

In a recording of superb songs, it’s almost impossible to highlight one above the others. Gold is a particularly delicious slice of sultry down home folky blues, that of a contented man who has found the peace he’s been searching for.

There are jazz and soul inflections throughout, and Daniel’s sometime boss, Flux himself, guests on dobro on Feet Don’t Fail Me. The lyrics are never clichéd – themes range from escaping from ‘one horse towns’ and ‘mean old cities’, and thankfully there aren’t many broken hearts to contend with.

This is a match made in heaven, with Martin Harley’s guitar work and songwriting matched by the musical innovation of Daniel Kimbro. Not to be missed.

Cormac O Caoimh Shiny Silvery Things Self Release

Corkman Cormac O Caoimh releases his fourth album, well produced and recorded in his native city, with a host of local musicians aiding and abetting. All twelve songs are originals, with O Caoimh taking the lead vocals, and Aoife Regan contributing backing vocals on all songs.

Almost all of the songs have a predominantly 80s pop rock feel – think Paul Heaton/Prefab Sprout meets Paddy McAloon, but without the latter’s cynical insight, perhaps. There’s lots of melodic guitar work from O Caoimh, and pleasant piano and keyboard contributions from Cormac O’Connor.

Deviation from the 80s sound is really only hinted at in a few of the songs – In The Hollow Of An Old Oak surprises with it’s swamp rock feel; there’s a welcome funky bass backbeat and saxophone let loose in A Parked Car; and the title track itself strays into jazz pop territory.

The lyrics stand up well on their own. At times cryptic, any of them could be read aloud as works of spoken word. The cover is complemented with photos of – yes, shiny silvery things.


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