Reviews by Declan Culliton


Lilly Hiatt Royal Blue Normaltown

It’s never easy for an artist to have a famed musician as a parent and Lilly Hiatt is no exception. The daughter of acclaimed singer songwriter John Hiatt has just released her second album Royal Blue some four years after she recorded her splendid debut album Let It Down. 

Let it Down was a welcomed introduction to Hiatt, her frail yet seductive vocal working its way through well written songs and slotting nicely into a country/bluesy sound though also prepared to rock out from time to time.

Royal Blue is more suggestive of turbulent times and encounters, feeling the pain of others, break ups and make ups, all delivered with no end of passion by a young lady that seems to be saying ‘not going to be messed around with anymore’. 

It’s unbalanced in a quite delightful way. Contrast the addictive, comical yet biting Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant (surely a contender for song title of the year!) with the sombre heart-breaking Worth It, a song that would compete with any number of vitriolic works penned by Aimee Mann.

Machine positively thunders along reflecting wild teenage years (“Learned To Mix A Drink A 11 Years, Learned To Keep ‘Em Sorry With Them Fake Pearl Tears’”), the title track Royal Blue is confessional, honest and hopeful (“What A Nice Night To Know, I Wanna Let Go, What Would A Good Woman Do? And Write a Song or Two”)

Engineered and produced by Adam Landry (Deertick, Diamond Rugs) at Playground Sound Nashville the album features a host of East Nashville finest including her regular guitarist Beth Finney, Luke Schneider (Margo Price, The Banditos, William Tyler) on pedal steel, John Radford (Steelism, Tim Easton, Drew Holcomb, Greg Hager) on drums and Jake Bradley (Bill Mallonee, Scott Chism) on bass.

All in all, a stunning piece of work by an artist capable of communicating her anger, sorrow, vulnerability, hurt and strength in such an articulate manner.

Glenna Bell Lone Star Songs and Stories Straight from the Heart of Texas  Self Released

Fifth self-released album from Texan Glenna Bell. Lone Star Songs from the Heart of Texas featuring nine tracks produced by Mark Abernathy and recorded at Sugar Hill Studious in Houston, Sea Fog Studio in East Sussex UK and The Finishing School in Austin.

As you might expect from a graduate of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program the song writing throughout the seven original songs by Bell is evocative, full on expression yet simple and very much from the heart.

Originals Pig in Lipstick Blues features Johnny Nicholas (Asleep at The Wheel) on piano and George Reiff (Joe Walsh) on bass. The autobiographical Poor Girl (In Blue) and Shiner Bock & ZZ Top are delivered semi-spoken by Bell similar in style to Minton Sparks. 

Somewhat surprisingly the two covers on the album include Everybody’s Changing by Britpop band Keane, not an obvious choice for a Texan singer- songwriter and a spirited delivery of Don Henley’s Heart of the Matter.

Lazy Afternoon Whatever Artache

Thirteen track debut from Swedish Roots band Lazy Afternoon. It’s an uncomplicated, fun all the way listen by a group of accomplished musicians. Tex-Mex in style generally - with The Mavericks stamp on much of the material. 

Founding member Bo Ahlbertz toured in the 80’s and 90’s with Westerness and Patrask, both bands playing Irish and Scottish inspired folk music. He formed Lazy Afternoon in 2013 and wrote the majority of songs on the album together with undertaking the production duties. The album was recorded by Anders Nordh on the island of Gotland and released by the Artache label.

Standout tracks are the driving powerhouse Goodbye and Sunday Afternoon. It’s dance music all the way, particularly enhanced by the accordion playing of Jorgen Ahlqvist, by a band that one expects would excel live and brighten up any lazy afternoon.

Love On Drugs I Think I’m Alone Now – Paraply

Love On Drugs, not to be confused with War on Drugs, is the vehicle for the solo career of Thomas Ponten, guitarist and band leader of Swedish Americana band Little Green.

The album is quite short, kicking in at twenty five minutes and consists of eight tracks, six penned by Ponten together with two co-writes. All instruments, with the exception of bass and drums, are played by Ponten who also produced the album.

The albums opens with a brief snatch from the Tiffany chart hit of 1987 I Think We’re Alone Now followed by Ponten’s somewhat remodelled version of the song and the title track of the album. Very immediate and sing along it has to be said. I Wanna Stay Young follows a similar path, upbeat, poppy and very listenable in an uncomplicated way. Blue and Queen Size Bed are more reflective and considered and an indication of Ponten’s song writing ability.

The album is dedicated to his close friend Andreas Johannesson, sadly passed away in 2015, following a tragic accident.

The Lowest Pair Uncertain As It Is Uneven – Team Love

The Lowest Pair were formed in 2013 when Kendl Winter, who had already recorded three solo albums of her own, teamed up with fellow banjo enthusiast Palmer T. Lee, meeting up while both performed in various bands on the Midwestern festival circuit.

The musical marriage was one made in heaven, both being lovers of traditional banjo techniques but also anxious to explore more experimental playing methods to create their own unique sound. Within eight weeks of teaming up they recorded their first album 36 cents with their second recording The Sacred Heart Sessions following less than twelve months later.

In preparation for this album the duo spent the winter of 2015 in Minnesota working with guitar wizard Dave Simonett and bass player Erik Koskine, both renowned members of bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles. They then toured for a few months before returning to Minnesota to complete the recording of the album, using the skills of Simonett and Koskinen to produce and engineer the final product. Having written and accumulated so much material over the twelve-month period they bravely decided to record two albums, not necessarily related, but released simultaneously.

Uncertain As It Is Uneven sees them abandon somewhat the totally banjo dominated sound of their earlier work with the addition of guitar, harmonica, fiddle, bass and lap steel without ever losing that timeless, back porch, earthy, bare boned sound that is their trademark. Vocals are shared, often harmonised, Winter’s wispy feathered high pitched voice complementing the coarse raspy vocal delivery of Lee. 

Opening track, the intimate The Company I Keep is very much Gillian Welch / Dave Rawlings territory, lead vocal taken by Winter with Lee adding backing vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar, banjo. Like I Did Before is stripped back to the duo’s vocals and banjo picking, Mason’s Trowel is more spirited and driven. Pretend It’s True is possibly the most accessible track on the album with a splendid John Prine like melody.

All in all a very impressive listen for those who savour their traditional folk music soaked in country.

Richard Paul Thomas Salado Self Release

Texan based singer songwriter Richard Paul Thomas has been performing for over five decades opening for household names such as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Odetta, Loggins & Messina and Anne Murray in the early days of his career.

For the past three decades Thomas has been combining live performances and recording music with video recording, acting and also the nine to five career job as a business software consultant.

The title track of his latest album refers to the town he has spent the past 32 years and is one of ten songs included in this collection of well written tales that moves effortlessly between folk and jazz tinged rhythm and blues. 


Reviews by Paul McGee


The Sumner Brothers The Hell in your Mind Self-Release

The sound of siblings Bob and Brian Sumner has been a long time in the making and dates back to their early years in Vancouver, Canada. In the summer of 2006 they changed their garage into a recording studio and created their debut release, In The Garage. It launched a career that has seen the brothers release a self-titled record in 2008, followed by In The Garage 2 (2010) and I’ll Be There Tomorrow (2012).

The media/press that I researched speak of alt-country, folk-roots and indie-country when looking to pin a label on the music. Having never heard of the band before and in the absence of a lyric sheet, I find myself thinking of touchstones like Crash Test Dummies for the quirkier songs and Pearl Jam for the more rock based arrangements. Dare I suggest that the vocals can sometimes sound like Eddie Vedder meets Bono in tone…

There is a dark element running through the eight tracks here and focus on our mortality in songs like Last Night I Got Drunk (death of brother/wife) and I’m Not Ready (not wanting to die alone). Ant Song is the stand-out track with chiming guitars, a military drum beat and throbbing bass lines that propel the song about mental illness and small town reactions.

Giant Song is very tongue-in-cheek and spins a new perspective on the mythical Yeti of the mountain terrain who feeds off young children in order to survive. Go This One Alone is a real band work-out complete with driving rhythm and distorted guitars and a resolve to survive a broken relationship. It Wasn’t All My Fault and Lose Your Mind are both gentle arrangements, with strummed acoustic guitars and even a clarinet, both looking at opposite ends of a relationship; the loss of love and the beginnings of new love.

Ending with a prayer for contentment and peace with one-another, My Dearest Friends sounds as much like a plea for enlightened awareness and replaces some of the darkness that runs through the rest of the recording. The Sumner Brothers are very interesting and I would certainly like to hear more of their music. The production and song structures are very strong and the players all dove-tail together into a tight ensemble. Worth checking out.

Lotus Wight Ode To Banjo Self-Release

Thirteen tunes spanning 46 minutes is a tall ask when all we are given is a small variety of instruments with a common link to the banjo. The notes on the sleeve refer to the African roots of the instrument and the cry of enslaved human beings with homes and families torn apart. In its time the banjo united a common movement of shared suffering before being absorbed into the mainstream of society. Where it began taking a place at the table of ragtime, blues, bluegrass and folk tales from rural communities.

Lotus Wight is a stage name for Sam Allison who produced this collection of tunes and also wrote all the songs. The speciality instruments used sound really impressive, especially when you try to absorb and consider which is a #36 Frostwood Gourd Banjo or indeed an open-back Tubaphone five-string; not to forget a supertone banjo-mando with four strings. I rest my case.

Atmospheric is the key word here as the 13 tunes come and go across the recording. Lotus is a banjo folklorist, bluesman, poet, fiddler, and plays jaw-harps and a contrabass harmoniphoneum (a banjo/megaphone combination).

Most of the tracks are instrumentals and you have to enjoy the sound of a claw-hammer banjo to really embrace the artistry at play here. If you are largely underwhelmed by the instrument and the somewhat brash sound it can make, then you will not have the patience to stay the distance here. Fine musicianship no question but not everybody’s automatic favourite choice – approach with reverence and a sceptical ear.

The Ted Vaughn Blues Band Harbinger Northwest

What a welcome surprise to put a CD in the player and hear no nonsense, straight talkin’ blues come jumping out of the speakers. This release is a real tour de force performance across ten tracks that really explode in a driving rhythm of ‘all aboard the blues train’ and we stop for nobody…!

The production by Leon Forrest is immediate and compelling while the players really inspire with the right sort of attitude and really tight playing. The Blues Harp is played with a real vibrancy by Ted Vaughn and Clay ‘Bone’ King burns everything down to ashes with some searing guitar work. The rhythm section of Ian Henderson on drums and Ted Larson on bass underpin the everything with some solid bedrock grooves while producer Leon Forrest adds some incredible keyboards on many tracks here.

Three tracks are written by Ted Vaughn; Nothin’ But Trouble, Swang Thang and Them 12 Bar Blues. The rest of the tracks are licensed and used by permission, such as Boom Boom (John Lee Hooker), Killin’ Floor (Howlin’ Wolf), The Thrill Is Gone (BB King) among others.

A giddy romp and a really enjoyable listen with rootsy blues that grab you in a dizzy spell of joy and some down ‘n’ dirty playing.

Kevin Gordon Long Time Gone Crowville Media

This collection of 11 tracks starts with the slow groove electric blues of All In The Mystery and sets a high standard with some superb ensemble playing. The studio musicians are drawn from an impressive list of experienced players, with Nashville producer Joe V. McMahon contributing guitar on everything, Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown, Jeffrey Foucault) on acoustic and resonator guitars, Lex Price (k.d. Lang) on upright bass and acoustic tenor guitar, Ron Eoff (The Band, Delbert McClinton) on electric bass and Paul Griffith (Sheryl Crow, John Prine) on drums and percussion. 

The tracks vary between the rockabilly beat of GTO to the late night atmospherics of Letter To Shreveport and into the acoustic folk strum of Crowville, Shotgun Behind The Door and Goodnight Brownie Ford.

There is a hypnotic quality to the overall tone and tempo of the recording and the authentic writing of Kevin Gordon comes across in the narrative-style writing and lyrics that reflect local experiences around Louisiana where he was born.

The drum shuffle and Little Feat guitar riff of Church On Time gets into a real blues boogie and Cajun With A K is one of the stand-out tracks that changes the pace with a spoken rap and a rich tapestry of characters and images that pass across our senses as if taken from a novel or TV show. Country Blues born out of the bayou and played with depth and style. A very fine release.

Mr Rick Sings About God + Booze Self-Release

Skiffle as a music genre defined itself by absorbing Blues, Folk, Jazz and Roots influences in equal measure. It didn’t matter whether old time Swing mixed with vintage Country or served up a healthy dose of Gospel. It was the overall feel of the music that counted and there were many artists that developed out of this early influence in the 50’s on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Rick hails from Ontario Canada and he does everything to keep this music alive with a blend of String Band, Rockabilly, Gospel and Blues. This 13 song release centres around the twin topics of Drink and Religion. Many songs have been written on these themes, as God-fearing folks looked to save their souls and praised the heavens, while battling with their human frailties upon this Earth. The inside sleeve carries the sub-header “Love Whiskey – Fear God” and this sums up the feel of these songs perfectly.

The music has an infectious rhythm at the hands of the music ensemble gathered here. We have Drew Jackson playing superb fiddle on One Kind of Favour, It’s The Bottle Talking, Liquor Store Blues and Death Come In My Room. He is ably assisted by the understated guitar playing of both Mr Rick and Steve Briggs. The Clarinet playing of Jono Lightstone on I Know I’ve Been Changed is very atmospheric and the Gospel voices of the Ted Hawkins Singers feature on a number of tracks like Hush, Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin, Beams Of Heaven and I’ll Fly Away.

Mr Rick has been playing with fellow musicians the Biscuits since the early 2000’s as an Alt- country power trio and this release has expanded upon this activity with fine production from Rick Zolkower and superb playing from all concerned with the project.

The Mystix Live Rhythm and Roots Mystix Eyes

This Roots band is based in Boston and has been performing their unique interpretations of the music of rural America, as well as original material since their first release in 2007. On this live album of 14 tracks, a number of songs are included that has brought them a strong support base across their local state of New England.

Over 5 studio releases this band of veteran musicians has produced some memorable moments. The dynamic playing of Matt Leavenworth on fiddle and the great Bobby Keyes on guitars is a real driving force. The blues harmonica, organ and mandolin playing of Annie Raines is also of real quality and the entire recording swings along at a very strong pace. Jo Lily anchors the band and his vocal style is something of an acquired taste, sounding somewhere between Roger Chapman of Family and JJ Cale.

There are covers of You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had (Steve Earle), To Ramona (Bob Dylan), Hard Times (Stephen Foster), Whiskey and Wimmen (John Lee Hooker), Cry, Cry, Cry (Johnny Cash), among others. Jo Lily includes a few self-penned songs in the mix and overall the mood is one of celebratory playing and an organic sound that is full of rich textures. The impressive musicianship is coupled with soulful and restrained performances that gives this group of musicians a real gravitas.

Peter Gallway Muscle and Bone Galway Bay

This is the new solo release from acclaimed singer-songwriter and producer Peter Gallway. Written, performed, produced, recorded and mixed by Gallway, these eight songs demand full concentration and Gallway is taking a gritty look at life in response to the inhumanity and lack of empathy that is all too prevalent. In the press release he states that "this collection is a plea written in outrage, sorrow, anger, shame, hope, hopelessness, expectation, regret, belief, release and prayer."

It has been said that Gallway displays a blue collar observational lyrical style, inspired by Raymond Carver, and there are songs of deep meaning contained on this release. Echoes of Bruce Cockburn are present in some of the spoken word passages that urge us to seek out our higher calling and spread inspiration and joy. This sentiment is included on the excellent Hymn and also the opening song, Anthem.

The aggression of Tear Something Down channels the frustration of a returned war veteran shunned and pushed to the margins of a society that he has fought to protect. “People, not sure I want ‘em, Not sure I need ‘em, Not sure ‘bout anything, Except I want to tear something down . . . “ 

Downtown Ferguson deals with the fallout from the shooting of black youth Michael Brown in Los Angeles. The Distance Of My Fall is inspired by the life and writing of Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director who was executed by Nationalist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The writings of Mahatma Gandhi are included in the closing track Blow This World, in addition to a spoken word segment in Downtown Ferguson.

This accomplished artist has been releasing albums since the late 1960’s and has achieved a level of excellence that is truly inspiring. The song arrangements are very sophisticated and the mood of the music in the melodies is of quiet resignation, dignity and fortitude. There is Leonard Cohen in the sentiment and Jackson Browne in the spirit of the lyrics. A better use of mind is the key message being delivered.

Overall this is a very impressive release and something of a meditation on our human condition. Clocking in at just on one hour of music, this is not for the faint hearted but the benefits are many in the listening experience. A work of some importance and artistic integrity. 


Reviews by Stephen Rapid


Country Lips Till The Daylight Comes Self Release

An eight piece country band may not be what immediately springs to mind when you think of music from Seattle, Washington. But this band more than hold their own with their brand of hard-core country music. This album follows up a live album Live at the Little Red Hen released earlier this year that pretty much sums up the band’s taste and influences with original material alongside songs from Hank Williams through to Bruce Springsteen. The album also features a live version of one of the tracks from this album Holding Out.

The band are slightly less rowdy than I expected on the live album and here put in a pretty polished performance. One, however, that is neither slick nor soulless. Country Lips may not take themselves too seriously but they are serious about what they do, though the keyword here is fun. The album opens with Laundromat and you get a feel for what is to follow from the opening line “You don’t have to drive me crazy, darling, I’m close enough to walk.” Their music is rooted in traditional country themes that hark back to an earlier time but equally serve as a platform for a contemporary audience to dance and let off steam to. Basically what a country band has always been best at and what they have been doing for decades. Country Lips don’t bring anything new to the party - rather they bring the party.

They write a bunch of catchy songs, they play and sing them well and sound like this is what they want to be doing. The line up features fiddle, accordion, piano and guest pedal steel over the bass, drums and twangy guitar bedrock sound. This creates a diverse and diverting sound. One that often seems to be coming from a border and State that’s pretty far away from Seattle but is one that feels a natural fit. There are thirteen songs included and all are originals bar Please Be My Love, a song previously recorded by George Jones and Melba Montgomery. They are the kind of band who write songs that could easily be from the pen of a classic country writer. You are soon captivated by the band and their music. There are four members credited with vocals and they are also a strong point in the band’s sound with the lead vocal supported by solid harmonies throughout.

With songs like Day In The Sun, Grizzly Bear Billboard, Don’t Quit Your Day Man, Bar Time and Reason I’m Drinking Country Lips feature the trials and tribulations of a blue collar lifestyle. In the end it is an overall package that works. It is an album that I have returned to many times and I enjoy it each time. Till The Daylight Comes is the sound that could not be classified as anything but country but has little chance at receiving mainstream airplay at mainstream country radio. That is a shame but in this day and age you can go to the Country Lips website to hear (or purchase) their previous 3 albums. This album is due for release in August and if you find yourself in Seattle and Country Lips happen to be playing you won’t likely find a better evening. These guys are in it for the music. Listen up.

The High Bar Gang Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind True North

Bluegrass is not exactly my forte but when it is played either with a punky energy and spirit or with a sense of storytelling and musical inventiveness rather than just technique and speed then I can appreciate it as much as anyone. The High Bar Gang are a seven piece band from Canada and are following up their well received debut album Lost & Undone with this second offering of well chosen covers. The song choices cover such bases as Silver Dagger (Dolly Parton) to Branded Wherever I Go (Roy Acuff), I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash) through to One I Love Is Gone (Bill Monroe) and Long Lonesome Highway Blues (Steve Earle). All fit the parameters of what the band have set out to do which is to deliver some classic songs in a classic setting. 

The lead vocals are shared between the majority of the band with only double bassist Rob Becker and Colin Nairne playing guitar and mandolin not featured on vocals. This gives the band a wide range of voices to suit the individual song choices. Dave Barber, Kirby Barber, Barney Bengal, Wendy Bird and Shari Ulrich all sing as well as (mostly) playing and they all make a sweet sound. They are joined by guitarist and occasional participant Colin James for their version of Utah Phillips’ Rock, Salt and Nails. As with any album certain songs immediately hit home and One I Love Is Gone with lead vocals by Bird and How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart which has Ulrich taking lead with the other ladies adding harmony are special. The latter incidentally written by Hank Williams but then finished by Norah Jones. That, though in the end, is just a selective viewpoint as the whole album is a balanced performance of fine acoustic playing (listen to Cold Rain And Snow as one example of that) and heartfelt singing.

The High Bar Gang are continuing a genre of music that they love but in doing so give it a new purpose and audience. It appears that the various members also play outside of the gang and therefore to not get together to tour that often. They have however done what they set out to do which was to play some of their favourite songs in an old-time bluegrass setting. This they have done and the end result is an excellent album that should be heard beyond the obvious listening circle. 

Bianca De Leon Love, Guns & Money  Self Release

Self-written and produced album number four from De Leon (other than the one cover Nothin’/Ramblin’ Man which combines songs by Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams). It was recorded in Austin, Texas with some local players stepping up to the plate. Names know to those who check such things on albums coming out of Austin like John Inmon, Paul Percy and some, not so well know perhaps, like Radoslav Lorkovic on piano, B3 and accordion (he also plays with Jimmy LaFeve and others)- an instrument that adds much to the atmosphere of the song Guns And Money. De Lone has a strong versatile voice that is the centrepiece of the material here. 

For her fourth album she handles the production herself and gets a strong, textured and varied sound from her assembled players. Some of the songs really evoke a time and place  such as I Sang Patsy Cline. A song that details the background to the title which was about the night that Manuel Noriega was removed from power in Panama. It appears in an extended 6-minute version and as a bonus track at the end of the album as a radio edit. To underline her affinity and heritage, Buscando Por Ti is sung in Spanish and is about looking for love. Stale Wine and Roses is  about leaving and being left behind and is delivered with a softness that echoes of regret. The Bottles On The Table, which features some effective playing from Lorkovic on piano and the East Side Flash on resophonic guitar and some string harmony vocals, has a similar sense of unresolved emotions.

The remainder of the album is equally effective and the songs bear repeated listening and the printed lyrics allow for closer inspection and therefore the meaning of the songs though relationships gained and lost are central to the songs. Garden In The Sun has another nice harmony from Hilary Claire Anderson. It is also a more acoustic-based song that considers offering a place of refuge. Nothin’/Ramblin’ Man fits well into the overall scheme of things by sounding completely in sync with the self-written songs. They are tributes to two writers who have likely provided much inspiration to De Leon. Silence Speaks Louder Than Words is an expression of a universal truth which again underscores that De Leon is a writer and singer of note who has produced an album that works on several levels and is the work of a person who has lived some life to get to this place. A place worth getting to.

Wild Ponies Radiant No Evil

Band mainstays, husband and wife, Telisha and Doug Williams have previously released albums under their own names before moving to the more band-orientated Wild Ponies name. Telisha is the main singer and plays bass, Doug also sings and plays guitar. Add to that two other trusted players in Fats Kaplan - strings and steel and Megan Jane on drums and you have a tight, multi-functional combo who have made a thoughtful and trust worthy album that is full of atmosphere and lives up to its title. Folk music with electric guitar might suit the overall sound best with Kaplan’s steel adding more of a dreamy texture than traditional country steel styled licks.

Mom and Pop, a song written by the duo with Jeff Barba, has a twangy country feels with joint vocals and a theme that fits - local stores that are quickly vanishing. Unplug The Machine sounds like a new wave band singing a Billy Joel song. It works though, and shows the open minded approach that the duo and producer Tres Sasser have taken this time out. The Night We Never Met is a ballad that chronicles a sense of unfulfilled longing. Lullaby is exactly what it says - a percussion based ode to a child, but one with a dark edge. That feel is further explored on Graveyard Train, a song that was inspired by a Texas graveyard that has a train track running through its’ middle. The musical tone is suitably weighty too. A plea for tolerance is contained in Love Is Not A Sin a duet that balances the Williams’ voices well. Telisha’s has been compared to a lot of other singers in reviews but suffice it to say to is a vibrant and sturdy one that commands attention. Doug meanwhile is no slouch in that department either and a fine guitarist to boot.

The songs are all written by the duo with a selection of other writers including Amy Speace, Roddy Hecht and Amelia White amongst others. One song, the title track features lyrics by a 12 year old girl Mariah Moore who submitted them when the duo were doing a program to nurture young writing talent. The duo added the music and one verse and Telisha sings it with the kind of open wonder that a person of that age would have. It is a gentle, soft song that does all involved proud. As does this whole album which make the best of all the talents involved and adds the name of the Wild Ponies to the list of performers that should be checked out and listened to.

Ana Egge & The Sentimentals Say That Now Grace

Ana Egge is an acclaimed artist with a bunch of albums to her credit and this latest one with Danish band The Sentimentals will doing nothing but further that reputation. She produced and plays on this album together and it covers a lot of bases from the traditional country of Promises To Break to such songs as the harmonium infused energy of title track and hard guitar riff that drives Spider. The songs are written by Egge and other co-writers including band member MC Hanson (whose own work has been favourably received here at Lonesome Highway in the past). He also contributes a self-written track The Girl From The Banks Of The Ohio that is a powerful folk-rock statement that shows the assembled players working as a unit that has skill alongside heart and soul.

Another standout is the Hanson/Egge co-write Still Waters Run Deep that features Hanson as lead vocalist with Egge joining him on the choruses. The song has an acoustic feel with the mandolin and acoustic guitar but is buoyed by solid drums and bass. The other players here are Jacob Chano and Nikolaj Wolf with help from engineer Peter Brander on occasional bass guitar. Wolf and Egge wrote Falling, Falling, Falling a song that at its heart is about wanting and needing another person. While on Take Off My Dress the shoe, so to speak, is on the other foot here and is about walking away that wants to be together. But perhaps the strongest statement is another Hanson/Egge co-write He’s A Killer Now which take the viewpoint of a mother whos’ son has committed that unsurmountable crime before having his own life taken away. It tells of the emptiness left in the wake of such devastation for all those involved. Especially in the wake of recent terrorists shooting in Denmark. This is not the stuff of happy-talk radio but something more substantial by far and proves that such difficult topics need to be aired.

Say That Now is an album that considers all aspects of life from a set of people who have witnessed and reflected on such conditions and have turned those experience into meaningful music. If you haven’t encountered Egge, or The Sentimentals, previously then this is an album that will doubtless enrich your listening experience.

Bill Jackson The Wayside Ballads - Vol 2 Laughing Outlaw

An Australian artist who has recorded this album in Nashville with Thomm Jutz producing (and playing). It is an acoustic album but one that transcends easy categorisation as folk or bluegrass. It is indeed coming from that area but as drums are also featured adds a more percussive element to the mix. Jackson is a folk styled writer influenced by such icons as Woody Guthrie who he quotes on the album cover. The players involved bring a variety of textures to the songs with banjo, fiddle, upright bass, mandolin and dobro to the fore from musicians like Sierra Hull and Justin Moses involved

There are 11 songs which were co-written by Bill Jackson and his lyricist brother Ross, two are co-written with others, that include the story telling about Silver Screen Cowboys, a Gippsland Boy and the notion that Every Day’s A Drinkin’ Day. Overall Jackson’s simple but effective delivery and warm, undemanding voice will remind you of a bunch of other troubadours. Nothing too wrong with that as in the end it’s about the songs and the way they have been put together. Thomm Jutz can be relied on to give the whole process a sense of understanding and a solid sound that would be hard to dismiss. Your liking for Bill Jackson will depend on your appreciation for the songs on offer here. Although Australian Jackson is also steeped in Americana and that is the subject of many of his songs. Something that may be familiar to fans of Irish singer/songwriter Mick Hanley who takes a similar musical path.

Jackson has released several albums previously including (obviously) Volume 1 of The Wayside Ballads and has developed a comfortable relationship with his songs and the musicians he plays with. Those who have a liking for care-worn troubadours, and we seem to take to them over here in Ireland, will enjoy these tales of the less fortunate but often satisfied characters who are the subjects of these songs.


Reviews By Paul McGee

Gypsy Soul True Off the Beaten Track

Cilette Swann and Roman Morykit met in Edinburgh during the 1990’s and have recorded and written together as Gypsy Soul for many years now. They walk an independent path with a music career which has been funded mostly by the continued patronage of their loyal fan base. They have an intimacy in their music that touches a number of sources with their unique blend of roots rock, blues and jazz.

Morykit, is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer whose musical roots reach back to his childhood training in classical piano.

Canadian-born singer/lyricist, Cilette Swann sings with both clarity and power across these eleven songs that make for a very enjoyable release. The instrumental, Magic Carpet Ride, shows off the talent and maturity at play here with a gentle and considered arrangement while the attractions of 6000 Miles, Long, Long Ride, We Are What We Believe and You’re Everything To Me unfold with repeated listening.

One small complaint would be the inclusion of yet another cover version of Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen). I don’t see what can possibly be added to the numerous covers that are already out there and this version brings little to the table. Better by far is the arrangement of Amazing Grace (revisited) which has a nice bluesy groove to the timeless classic.

All other songs are written and performed by Gypsy Soul and they are definitely worth checking out if you enjoy fully rounded, mature music played with an authentic feel. 

Mark Mandeville & Raianne Richards Grain By Grain Nobody’s Favourite

This folk duo from Massachusetts began in the local venues around the New England area and this is their latest release. American contemporary Folk music played with a quiet confidence and the vocal harmonies of Mark Mandeville (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Raianne Richards (vocals, ukulele, clarinet, penny whistles, electric bass) are a real joy to experience.

The 10 self-penned songs make for a very enjoyable listen and these acoustic arrangements are supported by Doug Williamson (upright bass, piano, papoose, mandolin, vocals) and Peter Hart (dobro, pedal steel).

Pleasant uncluttered songs that visit such subjects as time passing the (title track/Across The Morning), having self-belief (Don’t Ever Stop Believing/Diggin’ Me A Hole), living in the moment (Hang On To The Day/Worn Down), relationship woes (Temper) and shutting down local industries (That Old Machine).

Mandeville and Richards are co-founders of the Massachusetts Walking Tour - promoting local music, arts and culture on foot and have released a number of concerts that were recorded on previous tours. Nice playing and great production by Mandeville & Kyle Swartzwelder, with plenty to enjoy.

The Danberrys Give & Receive Self-Release

Ben DeBerry and Dorothy Daniel are from East Nashville, Tennessee and have been influenced by the traditions of bluegrass, old-time country, blues, and soul music. They have very distinct vocal harmonies and their first recording Company Store, was released in April 2011, followed in 2013 by The Danberrys.

Their latest album Give & Receive was produced by Ethan Ballinger (Lee Ann Womack, Tim O’Brien) at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville and these ten songs provide a musical landscape that reveals a broad range of moods and sounds, reflecting the continued growth of these two artists who wrote all the music & words included here.

Receive has fine vocal harmonies with mandolin and fiddle interplay giving the song arrangement a gentle laid-back feel. Indeed this sense of timeless music is repeated across the ten tracks with a strong presence from producer/musician Ethan Ballinger on mandolin, a variety of guitars, bazouki, banjo,organ, piano, wurlitzer  & percussion. With subtle fiddle on most of the tracks supplied by Christian Sedelmyer and the steady bass playing of Sam Grisman, the project delivers an overall sense of real quality and restrained mood.

The bluegrass sound of Long Song is followed by the slow moody groove of Don’t Drink the Water. Let Me Go visits the subject of escaping a suffocating relationship and Life Worth Living visits the urge to seek real meaning in our lives. We’ll Be Done highlights the superb vocal talent of Dorothy Daniel and brings proceedings to a very satisfactory conclusion on a sea of sweet melody. Recommended. 


Reviews by Declan Culliton

Noam Weinstein On Waves Self Release

On Waves, the eight album recorded by Boston resident Noam Weinstein is soul drenched Americana, containing fifty six minutes of cleverly crafted songs, fifteen in total and often enhanced by delightful strings and horns. A reference point both to Weinstein’s vocal sound and the album’s musical content could be the work of Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and yet the album also recalls the type of wonderful melodies created by Todd Rundgren on his 1972 album Something/Anything.

Dedicated to his recently deceased mother and recorded between the time of her death and the birth of his son the album is naturally full of mixed emotions including loss, grief, expectation, love, celebration and no shortage of humour.

Mother is more joyful and celebratory than sorrowful, Intelligent Design is rich, layered and benefitting from a lovely horn section. Over is poppy with a simple catchy chorus that connects instantly.

Recorded at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, NY by Kenny Siegal (Langhorne Slim) and mastered by Jeff Lipton (Arcade Fire) the album features fifteen musicians including bassist Derek Nievergelt (Coldplay, Herbie Hancock), vocalist Heather Masse (Wailin’ Jennys), drummer Stephen Nistor (Rick Rubin). 

Tokyo Rosenthal Afterlife Rock & Socks

Afterlife is the sixth album released by Tokyo Rosenthal. Performing as a solo artist and leading man with bands such as Harpo and Slapshot and Treo Gato in a career stretching nearly three decades, it was not until 20017 that Rosenthal finally recorded his first album One Score and Ten. The song Edmonton from this album was critically well received and lead to an award for cultural and artistic contribution to the city of Alberta and also resulted in a solo tour of Canada sponsored by West Jet Airlines and opening slots for Chris Hillman, Stephen Stills, Rick Roberts and Jackie Levon.

Like many Canadian and American singer-songwriters Rosenthal has developed a hard core following in Europe and the UK and regularly tours Europe. His influences include Gene Clarke, Jackson Brown, The Band, The Byrds and the album captures the familiar gentle country rock one associates with these artists.

Afterlife is produced by fellow Chapel Hill, North Carolina resident and previous member of Alex Chilton’s band, Chris Stamey, who also contributes bass on the album. It includes ten songs exploring various themes such as immortality (Afterlife), relationship breakups (Love’s Hurtin’ Real Bad) and politics (Cold War).

Post Byrds Gene Clarke can certainly be heard on The Pearl and Shreveport, which includes a clever use of the intro from Queen's Under Pressure. Tom Russell disciples will enjoy the Tex Mex feel to Love’s Hurtin’ Real Bad.

The CD also includes a bonus video of The Cold War.

Hackensaw Boys Charismo Free Dirt 

The Hackensaw Boys have always done old timey as good as anyone, plucking and strumming with the best of them. This time out they are produced by Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Judy Collins, Linda Thompson, Paul Simon). The eleven track album is full of good time Appalachian - raw, unpolished and joyfully melodic.

It's old timey in style with modern day lyrics (Mama likes to rock, daddy likes to roll, Mama sips a bottle and Daddy tokes a bowl). The title of the album is taken from a percussion instrument made of scrap wood and metal and invented by former band member Justin Neuhardt.

The current line up of Hackensaw Boys is Brian ‘Nugget’ Gorby, Ferd ‘Four’ Moyse and David ‘Shiner’ Sickmen and Jimmy ‘The Kooky-Eyed Fox’ Stelling. Larry Campbell adds fiddle on The Sweet and guitar on Wolves Howling.

They're nine albums in with basically the same formula of fiddle and banjo-driven bluegrass with tobacco and whiskey fuelled vocals. It's great fun.

Ol’Nick tells of a devil-like character to be avoided (Grab you by your arm when he sees you cannot stand. Ol’ Nick gonna get you if he can), The Sweet swings along with a Dirty Old Town melody and World’s Upside Down questions survival in the modern world. It’s a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, stomping and hollering delight. Pass the jug.

Jeremy Nail My Mountain Self Release

Popped My Mountain into the CD player for first casual listen without carrying out any research into Jeremy Nail, a new artist to me. Immediate impression of both the tempo of the music and Nail’s sometimes semi spoken vocals was pain, a lot of pain.

Further listens and research revealed the source of the pain and the motivation for the album, the second recording by Nail following his 2007 release Letter.

Born in Albany Texas Nail relocated to Austin in 2005 to pursue his career in the musical capital of Texas. Together with his solo career Nail became a member of the legendary Alejandro Escovedo’s band and played guitar on one show of  Escovedo’s world tour in 2013.

After the tour Nail was tragically diagnosed with sarcoma, the result of an incident two years previously when he was kicked while working with cattle at home. Sarcoma is a form of soft tissue cancer that eventually resulted in amputation of his left leg. With his life and career on hold Nail’s main focus became learning to walk again with a prosthetic.  A reunion with Escovedo after a gig was the catalyst for The Mountain. Escovedo, who has faced serious illness himself suffering from Hepatitis-C for many years, acted as a mentor for Nail and his motivation was the driving force behind the album which Escovedo also produced.

The resulting set of songs vividly reflects Nail’s struggle, acceptance and recovery from his trauma. More stripped back than his previous work the emphasis being very much of the vocals which are often unhurried, dreamlike, almost suspended (Down To The Ocean, Survive, Brave).

Dreams is possibly the most radio friendly sound on the album, reflective and hopeful ("We’re given second chances, I finally see the light, The best things come from a higher place, You no longer have to fight") and includes some killer guitar playing by Chris Masterson.

Recorded over a three day period at Church House Studio, the album was mixed by Grammy Award winner Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash) and alongside Escovedo features a host of Austin’s finest musicians in Chris Masterson (electric guitar), Eleanor Whitmore (violin, vocals), Bobby Daniel (upright bass), Chris Searles (drums), Stephen Barber (piano and strings) and Dana Falconberry and Jazz Mills (backing vocals).

"The spirit grows when the wind of change blow in, I might fall, but I’ll get up again" Nail announces on the title track My Mountain. He certainly has turned personal tragedy into triumph with this wonderful piece of work.

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