Wednesday
Jan172018

Reviews by Paul McGee

The Wailin’ Jennies Fifteen True North

A warm welcome back after a 6-year absence that sees this trio of heavenly harmonious voices take some of their favourite songs and give them a fresh perspective that is instantly appealing and inspiring.

Bright Morning Stars was released in 2011 to wide acclaim and apart from side projects, the intervening years have been taken up with busy lives and schedules that kept this reunion on hold for a tantalisingly lengthy period. Well, the wait has been worth it as we have been given nine songs that truly melt the heart with sublime harmony vocals and performances that raise the spirit.

Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse find passion and power in their interpretation of songs from a diverse selection of stars, including Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Paul Simon. For me, it is the lesser-known tracks, The Valley (Jane Siberry), You Are Not Alone (Patty Griffin) and Keep Me In Your Heart (Warren Zevon) that really hit the mark but this is subjective choice among such joyous arrangements across a project that delivers on all fronts.

Celebrating their 15-year anniversary and self-produced by The Wailin’ Jennys, the album also features additional musicians Richard Moody (Ruth’s brother) on mandolin, viola & violin; Sam Howard on upright bass; Adrian Dolan on violin and Adam Dobres on guitars & mandolin. Wonderful, uplifting and essential.

Don Merkle The Ballad of Lincoln Wray Jangly

This singer/songwriter from Charleston, South Carolina has been working the circuit for many years in different bands before deciding to release this solo project that is a tribute to his grandfather, Lincoln Wray and his exploits during the Korean War.

The 5 songs here are a look back to simpler times when honour and bravery were the key ingredients to doing the right thing. Two of the tracks are repeated as acoustic versions at the end of the recording and the playing is suitably restrained and sympathetic to the sweet melodies of North Carolina, My Lord, My Lord, the title track and Cold War. The trumpet of Mark Rapp and the twin guitars of Merckle and Ace Evans weave nicely together and the keys add a nice layer, provided by Jonathan Lovett.

Johnny Max Band Roadhouse Soul Pour Soul 

This is the home of the Blues. Release number seven and lucky for some. Johnny Max has been living the life of a respected, soulful, blues player for many years and on this release his assembled band deliver a collection of 10 tracks that really groove.

With Kevin Vienneau (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Jim Casson (drums & percussion), Rob Gusevs (piano and keyboards), Russ Boswell (bass) and Quisha Wint (backing vocals) the assembled talent is very compelling and the rhythm generated is full of high octane energy.

Songs like Blind Leading The Blind; Little Yellow Dress; Time Well Wasted; (I’m Your) 911 and the title track, lend credence to the opinion that this band are the best thing to hit the Toronto blues scene in years. If you enjoy the music of Stax/Volt, and like a helping of Funk mixed with your Blues, then this is for you.   

Kathryn Rose Wood In The Ashes Self Release

This solo release is a 6-song set, lasting just over 25 minutes is a gentle listen with the soulful voice of Kathryn Rose Wood prominently to the fore. She is joined by a group of 10 studio musicians who add subtle playing to these heartfelt songs. The project is something of an emotional release for the artist who lost her brother to suicide and who uses the opportunity to spread a loving message of hope and kinship to others who may be feeling fragile or vulnerable in this world of shifting emotions.

Lullaby (to Preston), Free and Ashes are fine examples of the vocal prowess that Kathryn Rose possesses and the concluding This Ain’t Fine has a rocking beat that hides the heartbreak in the lyric.

Giulia Millanta Moonbeam Parade Self Release

This singer/songwriter is based in Austin, Texas and delivers her fifth collection of songs that draw from a variety of influences and styles. Born in Italy and moved to America in 2012, her superb guitar playing instantly made her one to watch among the musical elite of Austin. Over the years her solo releases have added to her reputation culminating in the 13 songs included on this impressive release and featuring some of the best musicians in Austin, such as Charlie Sexton, Howe Gelb, Glenn Fukunaga, Michael Fracasso, Kimmie Rhodes, Gabriel Rhodes, Dony Wynn and David Pulkingham.

Her tribute to David Bowie, sung in Italian, is very affecting with Howe Gelb sharing vocals on Rock n’ Roll Suicide. Elsewhere there are fine examples of her creative muse and songs like Motel Song, There’s A Bridge and If You Ask Me display a confidence and maturity that gives plenty of substance to the argument that this artist is the real deal.

Kris Kristofferson The Life & Songs Of /All-Star Celebration Blackbird Presents

What can you say about a living Country Music legend that hasn’t already been said? With numerous releases, collaborations, appearances, associations and reincarnations, we have the definitive tribute to one of the most endearing songwriters of the last 50 years.

Recorded live in 2016 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, this 21 track celebration comes with an array of all that is great in current Country music circles – with performances by Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Alison Krauss, Lee Ann Womack and many others.

Kris Kristofferson is many things to many people but above all a singer-songwriter, actor and musician who has served in the US Army, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, won a Golden Globe award for his role in A Star Is Born and has the distinction of an  IQ that is registered at genius level – 163.

All the songs are here and the performances are uniformly excellent throughout; Nobody Wins; Jesus Was A Capricorn; Loving Her Was Easier; Help Me Make It Through The Night; For The Good Times; Me And Bobby McGee; Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down – just to name a few.

Top marks to Blackbird Production Partners for a very attractive and impressive release, complete with 90-minute DVD of the all-star celebration. A must-have in any Country Music collection.

Thursday
Jan112018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

D.B. Reilly Live From Long Island City Shut Up & Play

The latest album from the New York native is a solo live album. 10 sings in front of a live audience at the RaR Bar. It is another in his series of unique handcrafted covers. The previous two albums were packaged in a tin and in a box. This once come in a large cardboard style postcard. Where the previous albums featured a band, this is right back to Reilly and his guitar/banjo and voice. Very much the way we get to listen to many singer/songwriters live. 

These are all new self-written songs that run from the humorousness of the opening Nothing Like You (as in I’ve never seen nothing quite like you along with several descriptions of some other hard to believe people and incidents). From then on it gets a little more serious with songs that are about relationships and related issues. For I Believe Angeline he sings about the belief he had in the things that the lady in question told him, even though she subsequently told him that they were lies. He plays banjo on this track and it adds to the overall mood of the song. Don’t Give Up On Me is also a plea for another woman to hold fast and to not give up on him. Humour returns again, as it often does throughout, for Lawrence Welk. In his intro he explains that his room has two pictures on the wall Jesus and Lawrence Welk and why he didn’t have a girlfriend. He then muses that he can’t even keep an imaginary girlfriend together. He tells the audience of one song that he usually plays the song in his room ... and it’s a hit there!

This is a short 10 songs album that feels something of a stopgap until the next album proper. D.P. Reilly shows an incisiveness in his writing which is based with observation and obvious delight in the eccentricities that continually occur when you are dealing with people of all ages and backgrounds. His song My Ma is affectionate while the closing I’ll Remind You Every Day is about memories of a marriage and good times and how they can be lost to time and dementia. D.P. Reilly is a purveyor of such emotion and understanding and his music has a similar warmth here.

Ash Gray Chickenwire Broken Silence

This album was recorded in Sheffield and Austin. It features Gray’s equally transatlantic musical outlook which blends some Americana bluesy roots rock with some hard rock 60’s UK attitude. Divided into sides A and B it features Gray’s songs and effective voice. He has put together some players in support who are credited on the album but in such small print as to be pretty much unreadable (the text overall has the feel of being reduced from vinyl size down to CD - i.e. it’s small). There is some solid playing from the rhythm section and aside from Gray, a number of vocalists are featured on the recordings. There is also some nice slide guitar and harmonica.  

The song that stands out first is Josephine Clark an acoustic song with a sound that has melody and harmony with an echoed vocal that reminds of the likes of Al Stewart to a degree. Another song takes the expression “if the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise” - a phase used to good effect also by Hank Williams Snr. but here it’s more in the conyext of a relationship song. Sundown (Come See Me) has some steel guitar threaded between the jaunty drum pattern and again the song seems to relate to an earlier time but has a section where cello is introduced to give the song a different mood before giving the steel guitar full reign to close the song.

When The Devil Comes Home is the first song on what is designated as Side B and it has again a blend of acoustic guitars over the galloping rhythm section. There is a different mood in Firefly with steel guitar, more of a desert sound and ambience that works well. That arid tone is continued in the title track and there is some effective fiddle used on Life’s A Pounding Adventure. The closing track is another tale of woe as the protagonist decides he may need to express his confusion at being chucked out in It Might Get Loud.

Ash Grey’s album is one that brings to mind some music from the 60s and early 70s whilst fitting in with contemporary Americana. It rewards on repeated play and, so, well done to all involved. Now where’s that magnifying glass and I’ll read the text on the cover. Martin Bedford’s cover illustration though fits the music and direction perfectly.

Casey Donahew 15 Years - The Wild Ride Almost Country

This compilation covers the music released by Casey Donahew over the last 15 years since he released his debut album Lost Days in 2006. It tracks the career of the Texas natives brand of full on roots rockin’ country. He and his band started out playing small bars and built a strong following which allowed them to tour nationally. This success culminated when their 2009 album release Moving On reached the Billboard Top 30 Country Album charts. Something that all his subsequent albums have also done. However, Donahew still maintains a view that is both local and national and plays many levels of venue to his supportive fan base.

Donahew’s music is of that righteous and rigorous Texas Country style that is full on with a bounding rhythm section and loud, upfront guitars. There are moments of reflection alonside the morefull on ones - as there is on most of the albums but the over-riding feel is that of a good-time Saturday night out. This compilation was produced by Josh Leo and features a number of band and session players over the 15 tracks selected. There is also an interesting accompanying DVD documentary that helps explains Donahew’s outlook and individual take on his music. He has written or co-written all the songs here that deal with a wide range of emotions and locations. The opening track Stockyards is a paean to his roots and growing up. Double Wide Dream is about life with a loved one and low cost living. Runaway Train is built around an attractive riff and powers along in a way that more rock than traditional two-steeping country. Sometimes the songs are slower as in Ask Me To Stay and Fallen but it still has that full-bodied sound that is aimed at a younger demographic than the likes of a Dale Watson. No Doubt is a more twangy offering with its tale of a rodeo cowboy.

This represents a career overview introduction to Donahew’s music and with the DVD a visual insight to accompany it. Like such artists as Aaron Watson he is likely to be a relative unknown on this side of the pond even with his US chart placings and it looks like this brand of Texas music has been largely ignored by the likes of C2C and the CMA even though they would likely have found an audience here if placed in front of a lively crowd.

Case Garrett Aurora Suitcase

From the opening track you kind of know where you are. A languid voice, pedal steel and fiddle to the fore and a bad boy lyric about the devil having him on his speed dial. What Can I Say? Is the opening salvo of 6 songs written, produced and arranged by Garret (along with a version of JJ Cale’s Call Me The Breeze and an alternative version of Going Down To Mobile). Garrett looks not unlike the late Harry Dean Stanton and uses his writing to express feelings that are related to life, love and lament. The singer/songwriter was born in Missouri but now resides in a suburb of New York City. He’s spent time in the south at a time when music was everywhere and covered everything from The Beatles, to Elvis, Waylon and Merle. It is the latter that seems to have had the lasting impact though, along with storytellers like Robert Earl Keen and other noted Texas troubadours.

What Can I Say? opens the album with fiddle and steel to the fore - its subject finds that he is good company so much so that the Devil has him on speed dial! Long Way Down deals with the ways that drink has affected those he knows in a none-too-positive way. It is a slow, sad look at life from the lower depths. Going Down To Mobile finds the proponent considering his options to get to the titular town for a variety of reasons. She Never Liked Elvis, about a lady friend who found the King’s pompadour a little on the scary side. The Thought Of You asks the question of the object of his desire what she thinks about screwing? Trying to turn thoughts into actions. Fill ‘er Up is a more acoustic take with strong female backing vocals from Clara Lofaro which takes something of a more gospel inspired path.

All are very personable and purposeful songs that are bolstered by some fine playing and Garett’s worn and lived-in voice and peopled stories. Although it falls into the mini-album/EP category it showcases a late blooming artist who could well produce some more music that fits neatly into the plus side of the country/Americana tally.   

Cousin Harley Blue Smoke - The Music Of Merle Travis Little Pig

Any rockabilly or Merle Travis fan would be happy to hear and own this respectful tribute. It takes 12 songs associated with Travis - many written or co-written by Travis with one track written by the band’s guitarist Paul Pigat. Pigat also co-produced here with Marc L’Esperance. He is joined by Keith Picot on bass and Jesse Cahill on drums for their invigorating run through some of Travis’s classics.

Divorce Me C.O.D, Sixteen Tons, Smoke That Cigarette and Dark As A Dungeon are some of the better known songs included but all have an updated retro feel for a time when the genres were more open.

Pigat is a skilful and dexterous guitarist who brings his own touches to the tracks - not unlike his contemporary Deke Dickerson in fact. He is also an accomplished singer who adds his own nuances to these (mostly) tongue-in-cheek songs that are enhanced by the trio’s energy and ability. Some equally extol the virtues of the female form as well the failures of the fair sex. Divorce Me C.O.D, So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, Too Much Sugar For A Dime, Fat Gal and Cincinnati Lou may all be considered as unPC in this sensitive age but reflect a different time and thinking in musical terms and attitudes. Not that that affects their appeal to a particular audience segment who are likely to want to listen to these songs. Some of the other songs such as Sixteen Tons and Dark As A Dungeon have a deeper and darker tone that considers the lot of the blue-collar worker.

Pigat is a versatile player who has played in a jazz trio, a rock band, a cowpunk band as well as many other settings and seems equally at home in all of them. He is certainly at home fronting Cousin Harley and the combined skills of the trio serve up an enjoyable and entertaining tribute to one of the greats to whose music this album may serve as a positive primer.

Los Plantronics The Worst Is Yet To Come (Best of 1995-2017) Jansen

The band name, title and cover art reveal that this seven piece (plus) band deal in a serving up a boiling stew of Tex-Mex, Stax, surf, rock ’n’ roll, garage, twang and punk or Mariachi Death Surf as they like to call it. Largely instrumental and played at a devil hound on the run tempo. They also cover some classic rock tunes like Devil With The Blue Dress and My Girl Is Red Hot as well as their take on spaghetti western themes like Hang ‘em High and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. There is a lot that any fan of the Cramps would recognise in the approach of this Norwegian band.

This double album ‘best of’ covers a lot of bases and musical directions but is all held together by an unrelenting love and enthusiasm for the music they play. Much of which  I assume is self written. On a more atmospheric song like Montezuma’s Revenge they have a brass and Hammond sound that feels like it belongs to some long overlooked jungle adventure movie. This is a collection that will find favour with particular segments of the audience who appreciate their music delivered with a no holds barred, Mexican wrestling mask in place attitude.

The band have toured all over Europe and have shared stages with many liked-minded acts, something that, given the size of the band, shows that they are doing this as something they love, rather than any particular monetary or fame concerns. It shows. Long may they do their worst.

Rod Picott Out Past The Wires Welding Rod

Pigott has always displayed his skill as a writer on his records but never more so than on this new double album. 22 songs, 22 slices of acute observation of the human condition. The positive and the negative, the ups and downs of life. Out Past The Wires was produced by Neilson Hubbard and includes Will Kimbrough among its musical contributors. It has a raw, spacious and sometimes intense sound. The focal point is the emphatic vocal contribution of Picott. His songs gain from this and he has an obvious empathy with his subjects. Much of it is as he says in Take Home Pay comes down to what can be earned to try and hold body and soul together.

Over the body of work many different moods are explored both in terms of mood and musical setting. Obviously, some songs will have a more immediate response than others, depending on the subjectiveness of the individual listener. As with all albums there will be the debate about what tracks would have made it onto a single album. A debate that can never really be successful when one is dealing with such a good song writer. Over the album there are number of highlights; Primer Grey, On The Way Down (which seems to be aimed at a particular person - though one should never assume that a song is written in the first person, or is specific), Holding On, Fire Inside, Falling Down, The Shape Of You, Store Bought and the one that hits on all levels, Hard Luck Baby. All resonate with this writer. Picott is neither an oblique writer or a straight storyteller. Rather his words make sense in the context of the songs and convey a feeling, a mood, a reason. They allow for some individual interpretation which is often important in allowing the listener their own sense of the song.

Like his friend and occasional co-writer Slaid Cleeves, Rod Picott should be considered to be in the ranks of the next generation of writers who transcend the mundane to produce work of a lasting quality and evolving craftsmanship. Picott exists in a place out past the wires where it is about nothing more than doing the best you can without having to consider what anyone else other than your family, friends and fans might think of it.

Chris Stapleton From A Room Volume 2 Mercury

The second part of this collection of songs that seems to have been written over a period of time, offer no great departure from what we already know about Stapleton and his music. He co-produced with Dave Cobb and solidifies his overall soulful, bluesy approach. Again, it is a simple band line-up with his regular bassist and drummer who are joined by producer Dave Cobb on acoustic guitar and percussion and his wife Morgane on background vocals and tambourine.

The room in question is the Historic Studio A in Nashville. A studio with a long history and a specific warm sound. One perfectly suited to Stapleton. Here he has recorded the songs which include Kevin Welch’s Millionaire and the folkish tale of working the land against the odds,  Scarecrow In The Garden, plus there’s the soft acoustic approach of A Simple Song. The majority of these songs are Stapleton co-writes. One Midnight Train To Memphis takes a much heavier groove and was co-written with fellow guitarist and former Steeldrivers band member Mike Henderson. But one of the obvious highlights here is Drunkard’s Prayer - a heartfelt performance that has an impassioned vocal about communicating with God in whatever way that seems to work. Other than this song, the aforementioned Welch song and the final song, Friendship, written by Homer Banks and Lester Snell.

It will be interesting to see where Stapleton takes his music and success in the future. He is undoubtedly on a roll and appealing to a wide and varied audience that has little relationship with the machinations of mainstream country. Rather in the spirit of the final song, Friendship, he seems like an old friend who it is comfortable to be around. He has a lot of friends right now. Easy to see why.

Saturday
Dec302017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Judy Kass Beyond The Ash & Steel Self Release

New York-based Judy Kass began playing at an early age and her passion for music education led her to found a community program (MusicWorks) in 2008.

A debut album, Better Things, appeared in 2014 and this, her follow-up, was released in 2016.  Judy is a strong song-writer, having penned all but one of the tracks included here. Her vocals are clear and tinged with an air of lament; life lessons gained along the path she has walked. She plays guitar and piano and is joined by Mark Dann on bass, organ, mandolin and electric guitar; Dan Hickey on drums; John Sebastian on harmonica; Sara Milonovich on violin; Kyla Milonovich on trumpet.

From the easy jazz shuffle of opening track Chili Pepper Nights to the up-tempo rhythm of Laugh and Reckless Driving, Judy delivers on all fronts. The key tracks are back-to-back with both Beyond the Ash and Steel, followed by Carry Me Nowhere, setting the gentle tone of the project which is coloured with bright co-production from Judy and Mark Dann.

Turn Us Around is about honesty & openness in relationships and Vastness Of Now deals with appreciating the essence of life and being in the moment. The closing track Selfless Deed speaks of pivotal moments that can dictate the route that a life can take and the consequences of our actions. Very enjoyable.

Head For The Hills Potions and Poisons Self Release

This band is from Colorado, USA and they play Bluegrass music that is very much in keeping with the old traditions of this genre. Afraid Of The Dark begins with an example of the talents at play and the mandolin of Sam Parks is very much to the fore. Suit and Tie showcases the violin of Joe Lessard and throughout the ten original songs, the steady bass playing of Matt Loewen provides a constant rhythm from which the other members can intersperse and interplay.

Potions and Poisons is their fourth album and members Adam Kinghorn, Joe Lessard, Matt Loewen and Sam Parks take on the production duties and a look at life with all the pull and push that defines us. Bonnie Paine (Elephant Revival) sings and plays washboard on 2 songs, with Erin Youngberg (Uncle Earl, FY5) adding vocals on Waiting On You, with viola & cello played by Ryan Drickey and Dana Shin on Kings and Cowards. There is an Old Time feel to the instrumental music on Floodwaters and Bitter Black Coffee has the ensemble dovetailing together with impressive rhythm and understanding. This is music that energises and keeps the listener engaged.

Steepways Holy Smoke Mansion House

A debut album from Blair Chadwick and Charlie Bateson who together make up the creative centre of Steepways. Their sound is very much based in the great American traditions of Country influences with excellent harmony vocals and easy song arrangements that are peppered with warm keys, banjo, dobro and pedal steel guitar among the instrumentation.

Blair takes lead vocals and plays some excellent electric and Spanish guitar while Charlie adds acoustic guitar and 6-string banjo, plus vocals across the 11 songs included here. The production duties are undertaken by Chris Clarke, regular bass player with Danny and the Champs and he is joined by fellow Champs member Andy Fairclough on Hammond organ, piano and Wurlitzer. The arrangements are superbly executed by the players who also include Jamie Shaw on drums, Darren Buddell on lap and pedal steel and Siobhan Parr on vocals. Standout tracks are Hannah-Lee, Echoes and the playful bounce of Rather Be Alone. Something for all tastes included here and an impressive debut.

PI Jacobs A Little Blue Travianna

This is a fine release and something of an about-turn for Los Angeles singer-songwriter Pi Jacobs. Her rock influenced previous releases have been put to the side after a chance meeting in 2015 with the head of Mountain Fever Records, the premiere US bluegrass label, which led to the offer of a recording contract.

A resulting creative collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist, Aaron Ramsey has delivered 12 tracks of great colour and interesting arrangements. This artist can certainly hold a tune as proven on Good Things; as close to an up-tempo rocker as this project gets. There is a bluesy feel to Faking It and the restrained playing adds to the atmosphere of the song. Half Way Done showcases Pi’s voice in all its gentle restraint, as does the poignant last track, When My Father Is Gone.

Pi Jacobs sings and plays acoustic guitar, plus box percussion, while Aaron Ramsey contributes on bass, mandolin and guitar. Jeff Pertin plays dobro and lap steel and there are vocal turns on harmony from Kel Pritchard and Celia Chavez. Sam Morrow guests on vocals on the excellent Purple State and the overall stripped down feel of the songs is very appealing with plenty of room for the musicians to play in the space around the melodies. The result is a bluesy feel to a country collaboration that points in a very positive direction for the future.

Blind Lemon Pledge and Friends Backwoods Glance Ofeh

With five previous releases that have established this interesting artist as a real talent, the appearance of this new release has been received with open arms. The music of Blind Lemon Pledge is a mixture of blues and country at the best of times but this release concentrates mostly on Americana, folk, and country influences that are ingrained in the musical heritage of his homeland. Over 12 songs the quality of the performance and the song- writing are superb with the studio musicians really finding that magic touch throughout the process.

Tom Cline (Dobro), Jimi Edwards (keys, percussion, vocal), Peter Grenell (bass), Cal Keaoola (violin and fiddle), John Pearson (Cajon, Djembe, percussion) and Marisa Malvino (vocals) all join with Blind Lemon on Vocals, guitars and harmonica to deliver a very rewarding record. Sisters Of The Coalmine and Moon Over Memphis are fine examples of the diversity here and the early Dylan feel of Lynchburg Town is balanced against the sad tale of Fayetteville and the plight of the homeless. Carolina Kiss is pure nostalgia and the memory of an early romance while the Cajun spin of Ma Belle Cherie is a dizzy dance tune with Cal Keaoola letting loose. Another winner in the career achievements of Blind Lemon Pledge.

Tim Henderson Gone to Texas, Volume 1 Snake Hollow

Tim Henderson (1940–2011) was a singer–songwriter who was held in the highest regard by many who came after him and were influenced by his craft and words.

Gone to Texas is Volume 1 of a six-CD Legacy Collection created to celebrate and honour his music The other releases are Vol 2, Live in Texas; Vol 3, Damron Sings Henderson; Vol 4, West Virginia in my Dreams; Vol 5, Songs of Protest; Vol 6, In My Eyes.

He lived most of his adult life in Texas and composed many great songs that dealt with the history, land, people and overall influences of the Lone Star State. He was a folk musician and a balladeer of the highest quality and is still revered by those who were in his orbit as they learned the craft of song-writing and performance. Titles such as Texas In His Ways; Jesus Would Have Loved El Paso; Town Of Tascosa; Austin In The Summer; Texas Morning Ride and Galveston Shrimper give a flavour for the style of song included here. Authenticity and heart-felt acoustic gems that inspire and pay due reverence to a lost talent.

Saturday
Dec232017

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Alice Dimicele One With The Tide Alice Otter

"Folks, I am a Woman not a large corporation. Thanks for supporting independent music." These words appear on the back cover of Alice Dimicele’s latest and fourteenth album One With The Tide, all released on her own Alice Otter Music label, dating back to her debut album recorded in 1988. A quite unique achievement given that few artists can boast having self-released their entire back catalogue over a three decade period.

An early starter, she fronted a rock/fusion band at the tender age of 15 before launching her solo career in the mid-eighties. One With The Tide, consistent with most of her writing, deals in the main with environmental issues, a theme that resulted in her sharing the stage over the years with artists such as Steve Winwood, Janis Iain, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. The album is dedicated to environmental and social justice activists Barry Snitkin who died in February 2015.

Given the foregoing you might be forgiven for assuming that the album content would be low beat acoustic folk. Quite the contrary, as much of the material possesses an upbeat blues groove from the title track opener, the reggae themed Waiting, the ‘letting go’ ballad Seeds, the earthy and funky Voice of the Water and the closer, a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine. Constant throughout is Dimicele’s captivating vocals, soaring and dipping and as crystal clear as much of the subject matter on this most enjoyable recording.

Balsam Range It’s Christmas Time Mountain Home

This little beauty from a band long established as our Bluegrass guru Ronnie Norton’s favourite is a treat from start to finish. From the stunning cover art by Teresa Pennington to the last note of the instrumental Jingle Bells the six track EP is a very welcome departure in style and delivery for Balsam Range. They are a band that somehow manage to surprise and enthral with their watertight harmonies and instrumental excellence in all of their previous outings.

And this one takes us just a tad farther with the addition of the Nashville Recording Orchestra to the mix. The blend of Orchestra and Bluegrass instrumentation makes for a heady brew that is guaranteed a place on any Christmas listening list. 

Four standard oldies like The First Noel, Hark The Herald Angels , Jingle Bells and Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree are paired with the haunting Doc Watson adaptation of The Christmas Lullaby and the Ralph Stanley, Old Timey I’m Going Home It’s Christmas Time should get full rotation honours over the season anywhere they find a home.

This is Balsam Range’s first Christmas project and as it’s only six tracks we can hope that they will pour us another glass of Christmas cheer at some other stage in the future. Team this one with Vince Gills orchestral Breath Of Heaven CD and you have the perfect background music for a mellow lead
in to the festivities for this and many years to come.

Cua Songs of the Hollow Anseoceol

Before even removing the album from the sleeve the striking design work on this album cover immediately caught the eye, the design carried out by John Daly and the equally impressive photography by Joe Conroy.  Cua are a three-piece group made up of John Davidson on fiddle and percussion, Shane Booth on guitars and Ros O’Meara on bouzouki, guitar and percussion with all three contributing vocals often harmonising. Their sound is world music Irish style, their groove actually self-christened as Atlantaen.

The album weighs in with a hefty fifteen tracks in total -  all titles written by the band - and does indeed explore many different styles from traditional (The Somewhere Waltz), jazz fusion (Black Dog), roots (Atlantic Cross, Waco), folk (Kings and Queens), 3 part a capellas (The Other Man) together with some quite distinguished hybrids.

The album is both ambitious and impressive, the musicianship impeccable, though it could possibly suffer in terms of potential airplay given that it covers such a wide range of musical classifications. Well worth investigating. 

Richie Healy The Perilous Tree Self Release

 Richie Healy is a singer songwriter highly regarded in his native ‘music capital of Ireland’ Kilkenny. A regular support act to numerous visiting acts in Kilkenny after his early days playing in local band Enerjive, The Perilous Tree is his latest album having released Last Taxi Home in 2013 on the Swarfbomb Record Label. With a career path that has combined farming, bar tending and quarrying together with song writing and performing, it’s not difficult to imagine a solitary Healy, content making hay or tending to his herd, taking inspiration from the wild outdoors with the outlines of poems and lyrics at formation stage.  In many ways the album is in fact poetry put to song, deeply informed plainspoken lyrics often inspired by the reality of day to day struggles, desperation, conflicted emotions, helplessness and survival. 

Make no mistake it’s no party record, rather a late-night listen in a darkened room, perhaps accompanied by a glass or two of spirits. Its stories are stripped right back to the bare bones with Healy’s weathered vocals and acoustic guitar sympathetically supported by some atmospheric accordion playing by Ger Moloney. Its unlikely that even the most discernible listener will connect fully on first listen but with repeated plays of the album the tales unravel and the atmosphere fully exposes itself. The material never strays too far from what is probably most credibly described as gothic folk blues, with early Leonard Cohen influences noticeable on Cloak Me In Quiet and similarly Van Morrison Astral Weeks period visited on Cold Grey Shine. Death and despondency dominate the most impressive Princess Of The Ditch and opening track Fallen In creates dreamlike images of a mysterious afterworld ever so close yet always out of reach.

Recorded at Crossroad Studios in Kilkenny and co-produced by Healy and Jed Parle The Perilous Tree is a slow burner which offers a cryptic set of songs, challenging, spellbinding but ultimately extremely rewarding.

The ROAMies We Got Love Self Release

Joining forces after promising solo careers, duo Alexa James and Rory Partin’s debut album We Got Love more than showcases their stunning harmony vocals across six tracks, four self-penned, together with a cover of Dave Heywoods Just A Kiss, previously recorded by Lady Antebellum and Tom Higgenson’s 1,2,3,4 which charted in 2009 when released by Plain White T’s. The bands name refers to the intense travelling the pair have enjoyed, visiting over thirty countries since their formation.

The opening track Oh My My is up-tempo country blues, We Got Love is crossover country pop, very listenable and consistent with the sound presently populating much of the commercial country radio stations. Still The One, the strongest track featured, follows a similar path, gorgeous melody, stylish harmony vocals and a clear pointer of their ability to create a sound that with the right breaks could lead to much wider exposure.

The previously mentioned Just A Kiss doesn’t stray too far from Lady Antebellum’s version but I’m left with the opinion that their self-written material is every bit as striking and impressive as the covers featured. In an often over populated market breakthroughs don’t come too easy and I’m left with the impression that The ROAMies ability to write radio friendly material of such a high standard could very well see the duo’s material taken on board by some already established artists with a considerable degree of success. 

Trouble Pilgrims Dark Shadows and Rust Chiswick 

The Rollercoaster Records annual albums of the year poll is the most credible reflection on albums released by both Irish and International acts during the previous twelve months.  Voted by the punters rather than the music press, it covers a wide range of genres from rock to roots, country to metal and further afield. This year’s poll featured votes for 575 albums in total and when the top 50 were announced it came as little surprise to me to find Dark Shadows and Rust by Trouble Pilgrims sitting pretty at No.29. Not bad for a band whose roots go back nearly four decades to the early days of The Radiators From Space, yet still retain the hunger, ingenuity and motivation to release an album that obviously hit the spot with listeners of all ages.

The Radiator’s output was always a step ahead of U.K. punk, combining the energy and rawness of the early punks but with the addition of melody and structure. In many ways they were New Wave in advance of the U.K. Press inventing the genre in the late 70’s and before many artists chopped off their manes and raided their father’s wardrobes for skinny trousers to replace their well-worn bell-bottomed loons.

Forty years on from the release of their debut album TV Tube Heart and two founding members, Pete Holidai and Steve Rapid, are still rolling back the years as frontmen with Trouble Pilgrims. Also on board are one-time Radiators drummer Johnnie Bonnie, former Blue Russia member Tony St. Ledger on guitar and vocals. Bren Lynott, previously of The End and The Cathedral, on bass and vocals. The band name was taken from the album of the same name from The Radiators after Philip Chevron, another founding member and song writer, became seriously ill and was unable to perform live.

Dark Shadows and Rust is released on Chiswick Records, a label can also boast surviving since the mid 70’s and that supported many of the early punk and new wave bands and released the first two Radiators albums. What is immediately striking about the album is the energy and fluency of the material, its delivery recreating that glam rock meets post punk sound to perfection. 

Out of the starting blocks in full throttle is opener Snake Oil Carnival followed by Animal Gang Blues, full of menace and back alley aggression. Queen of Heartache combines the amphetamine intensity of The Ramones with Beach Boy style harmonies and Reach Out ("There’s a madman in the White House, An imposter on TV, He’s got his finger on the button, to bring an end to democracy") recalls early Dr. Feelgood with ripping guitar riffs escorting Holidai’s raucous vocals. Sex In A Cheap Hotel (‘Let’s get together on a Saturday night, Tie me to the bedpost I won’t put up a fight’) is a reminder that sleazy glam rock is not yet quite dead and buried just waiting it’s time for a revival. The dynamic Instant Polaroid, always a highlight of their live sets and released as a single in 2015, loses none of its guts on the studio version. Long Way To The Sun is Undertones (a band both The Radiators and Pilgrims have shared stages with) neighbourhood power pop at its finest and The Velvet Tongue recollects late 60’s New York garage rock. Death Ballad creates a driven sound immortalised by Howard Devoto’s Magazine in the late 70’s and for me the standout track on the album.

Dark Shadows and Dust is an album that unashamedly wears its hat on its sleeve, no nonsense rock and roll and most importantly fun, fun, fun!

Saturday
Dec162017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards California Calling Compass Records

Connection is the abiding feeling that runs through the music of this prolific artist. Her creative drive and willingness to collaborate has stood her in good stead across a career that has seen seven previous releases, each one special in its own right. Laura plays a number of instruments on this latest project, including fiddle, synth bass and glass harmonica. She also sings in a seductively sweet voice and adds stomps and claps to proceedings. Valerie Thompson plays cello, marimba, Rhodes, glass harmonica and also adds vocals and claps. Jenna Moynihan contributes on fiddle, voice, banjo, stomps, claps, glass harmonica and toy piano, while Natalie Bohrn plays bass, glass harmonica and sings.

Sam Kassirer, a very creative influence, produces and also contributes on acoustic and electric pianos, organs, synthesizers, percussion, marimba. It’s all a heady mix of eclectic and ethereal sounds that are very rooted in a Country/Folk tradition and seem timeless in every aspect of their creation.  The eleven tracks have much to recommend them and the traditional arrangement of Swing & Turn (Jubilee) is particularly appealing, as is the sweet melody of Three Little Words. Skipping Stone and Pace Myself, while very different in arrangement, also impress but it is the album in its entirety that stands as a true work of great inspiration.

Red Moon Joe Time & Life DBS 

This title is an appropriate summary of this band’s history which saw a first release in 1990, before fate and circumstance stepped in and 20 years later, the original band gets back together again to record their second album, Midnight Trains in 2010.

Americana, bluegrass and country come together on this third release, with Paul Casey (drums, percussion, vocals), Steve Conway (pedal steel, lap steel, guitar, mandolin, dobro, vocals); Dave Fitzpatrick (guitar, mandolin, gob iron, banjo, vocals); David A. Smith (bass, guitar, vocals); Mark Wilkinson (vocals, guitar) making this a very pleasant listening experience.

The band hail from England and the authentic feel of their sound is peppered with great playing that runs through songs like The High Lonesome; Elvis, Townes & Hank; and One Day Behind.

Please Take My Broken Heart is a classic country sound and Hard Road displays some great guitar playing over a driving rhythm that finds the band almost straying into Lynyrd Skynyrd territory.

Shadows calms everything down with a quiet strum and a reflective look at the modern world. One Day Behind is a classic bluegrass workout that energises and inspires and the last track, Nobody’s Fool leaves you with a smile and the urge to keep listening. 

Jim Byrnes Long Hot Summer Days Self Release

With ten previous releases over a career that has seen this artist take turns as a musician, movie actor, TV and voice actor and very fine blues player of some 40 years; Jim Byrnes continues to defy the hands of time and produce work of sterling quality. He works on a regular basis with Steve Dawson, one of Canada’s most influential musicians/producers and the 12 tracks included here are a mixture of old standards and other choices that may surprise. All are carried off with great aplomb and sass as the musicians produce quality playing throughout. The horn section and the keyboards give a swell to the arrangements that are perfectly suited to the guitar breaks of both Jim and Steve Dawson. Covers of Leonard Cohen (Everybody Knows), Robbie Robertson (The Shape I’m In), Willie Dixon (Weak Brain, Narrow Mind) and Eddy Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Steve Cropper (Ninety Nine and a Half Won’t Do) are all delivered with great panache. A great record for the car on a long journey with the windows down and the volume turned right up.

Beki Hemingway Whins & Weather Self Release

What a pleasure to find this artist again after many years out of sight. Beki had a burgeoning career in the late 90’s with the release of a number of excellent albums and growing media interest. However, Life is what happens when making other plans and she found herself pulled in different directions; returning to the industry in the last few years, having spent time working in events media and dealing with some health issues. This 10-track release shows that Beki has lost none of her strong writing skills and her voice sounds really powerful and seasoned by the added years of living that have coloured her perspective on life.

This is a very impressive statement, from the country roll of opening track Two More Hills, which deals with the need to keep enduring no matter what happens; to the blues groove of My World Is Out There, which speaks of grabbing life and living the days that present themselves. The production by Conor Brady at Camden Studios is really bright and the arrangements are clear as a bell to allow the full range of Beki’s singing to come to the fore. Together with husband Randy Kerkman, who plays, writes and also co-produces, this lady knows how to put real conviction and feeling into a song.

Is This All delivers a superb vocal full of wistful yearning along with an understated acoustic guitar & keyboard support. Anyone But You is a more up-tempo number and shows the versatility of this superb artist. Lyrically, she shows that the extended family connection to Ernest Hemingway is not wasted and break-up songs like Not Excused have wry observations such as "you look much better in my rear-view mirror." Because offers the observation that "our scars are just reminders of the places we’ve been healed" in another stand-out song with just gentle voice and acoustic guitar accompaniment. Thank You For The Rain is a song of celebration for the good things we get in our lives and the perspective gained; "the grey skies bring back the green grass" and ‘thank you for the mystery of the darkness and the mercy of the light’.

The coterie of studio musicians are very supportive with subtle playing and the excellent Kenny Hutson delivers on a number of instruments, along with Cian Boylan on keys and Smiley on drums. Duke Special guests on You Sing This Song and Tourist, a song that captures the conflicting emotions of a recent visit to Auschwitz.

Comparisons to Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams are merely signposts along the main road that brings you to the singular talent of this superb singer-songwriter. Beki Hemingway is back and on a mission to capture the hearts and minds of everyone fortunate enough to find this very fine music. Check out her catalogue at bekihemingway.com or CD Baby.

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 Shawn Colvin but then you would miss the turn 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 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 more 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.

Fallon Cush Morning Lightly Toasted

This is the fourth record from a Sydney band who describe themselves as a collision of rock, alt. country, psychedelic rock and pop. Fallon Cush is the vehicle for songwriter Steve Smith, who plays guitar and is joined by Glen Hannah (guitar), Casey Atkins (guitar), Tim Byron (keyboards), Scott Aplin (keyboards), Peter Marley (bass), Chris Vallejo (bass), Michael Carpenter (bass), Josh Schuberth (drums/ percussion), Suzy Goodwin(vocals) and Stephanie Grace (backing vocals). So, very much a collective that has come together to provide the big, melodic sound on display across the nine songs. There are hints of Crowded House and the playing is excellent with great production and a vibrant sound from the arrangements. Long Shot, Best Laid Plans and No Answers are immediately appealing but the entire project is worthy of your attention if you enjoy the direction that commercial Americana has been going in; radio-friendly tunes that will be very well received. 

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