Friday
Jul062018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Kacy & Clayton The Siren’s Song New West

Second cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum’s third recording The Siren’s Song finds the duo exploring a fuller sound from their previous recordings with the addition of bass guitar and drums. Having been invited by Jeff Tweedy to open for Wilco at The Fillmore in San Francisco last year, the duo impressed Tweedy to the extent that he offered to produce the album at Wilco’s famous Loft Studios in Chicago. The end product is quite staggering and an album that has hardly left my CD player since it’s arrival. 

There has always been a primal innocence to their writing, inspired no doubt by the rural upbringing they enjoyed but this time around they create and perform songs like veterans. Quite extraordinary considering they are both marginally above the legal age to purchase alcohol in the States!

Everything about the album transports the listener back to the late 60’s/early 70’s, from the impressive graphics on both the front and back of the sleeve (the artwork and layout were directed by label mate Daniel Romano), but most particularly to the material itself, folk music soaked in country with nods in the direction the very best of UK folk when Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch and a young Richard Thompson held court.

Despite approaching deeper topics such as disillusionment (The Light Of Day), abandonment (Go And Leave Me), exploitation (A Certain Kind Of Memory) and betrayal (Cannery Yard), the album also possesses some lighter moments, particularly on the sardonic White Butte County, where Linthicum takes the lead vocal on a familiar tale of small village hopelessness ("The hills of White Butte County are a pleasant sight to see. But the girls of White Butte County have the same Grandpa as me"). Lifeboat would not have been out of place on the Richard and Linda Thompson classic breakup album Shoot Out The Lights ("If envy was tequila and jealousy strong beer, we could throw a party that would last throughout the year") and the simplicity of the aforementioned Cannery Yard is spine tingling, with Anderson’s sweet vocals accompanied only by acoustic guitar and gentle fiddle playing.

Far from being revivalists and given that they grew up in the remote Wood Mountain Uplands, the impression generated is that the material is first hand and based on personal experience rather than delving into The Harry Smith Songbook. Songwriting aside, what elevates the material to an altogether different level is Anderson’s intoxicating and crystal-clear vocals, perfectly in tune with Linthicum’s equally impressive fingerpicking guitar style.

The Siren’s Song is an album created with totally sincerity, innocence and love, steeped in all that’s so vital in classic country folk music. The genre is in safe hands with Kacy and Clayton as custodians and I’m already eagerly awaiting their next album. A contender for album of the year for me on it's European release this year or last year when it was released in the U.S.

Lera Lynn Plays Well With Others Single Lock

Lera Lynn’s 2016 release Resistor found the young Nashville based artist abandoning her more familiar country roots sound and experimenting with an album that crossed into indie territory, possibly targeting a wider audience given her far reaching exposure having appeared and performed in the second series of HBO’s True Detective.

Plays Well With Others finds her returning to more familiar territory. The album features seven co-writes with some of her Nashville neighbours, who each also duet on the various tracks they contributed to. What is particularly impressive about the album, given the formula, is how well the tracks gel as a unit and critical to this is Lynn’s selection of collaborators. All the more notable given that Lynn deliberately did not point any of her allies in any particular direction during the writing process. 

The performers on the album are a reflection of the burgeoning and emerging musical talent in Nashville with contributions by John Paul White – who also co-produced the album alongside Lynn and Ben Tanner - Andrew Combs, Dylan LeBlanc, JD Mc Pherson and Nicole Adams. The old guard also features courtesy of Rodney Crowell whose delicate semi spoken vocals combine beautifully with Lynn’s honeyed purring on Crimson Underground.

The overriding theme throughout is love imagined, gained and lost with titles such as Lose Myself, What Is Love, Breakdown and Nothin To Do With Love exploring relationships at their various junctures. 

Recorded in a week and a half at John Paul White’s Sun Drop Sound Studio in Florence, unlike its predecessor Resistor it features acoustic instrumentation throughout as a backdrop to some stunning vocal deliveries. Particularly impressive are What Is Love featuring Lynn and Dylan LeBlanc’s perfectly matched hushed vocals, accompanied only by acoustic guitars. A stripped back version of the Sutton/Sherrill classic Almost Persuaded is given the George and Tammy treatment by Lynn and John Paul White. Shovels & Rope contribute to the other cover on the album, the dark and sleazy Wolf Like Me written by TV On The Radio and both Lynn and Andrew Combs explore their edgy sides on Breakdown. The only all-female duet finds Nicole Atkins sharing vocals on the upbeat 60’s sounding In Another Life.

Duet and tribute albums can often go horribly wrong but Plays Well With Others does exactly what the title advocates by combining well-chosen conspirators, great songs, exceptional vocal deliveries and most of all simplicity, acknowledging that sometimes less is more. At thirty-two minutes it’s not the longest album, having said that one listen is never enough so get ready to hit the play button once more, I certainly did.

Carter Sampson Lucky CRS

Carter Sampson’s profile has been heading skyward in Europe ever since the release of Wilder Side in 2016, an album that hit the No.3 spot in Euro Americana Chart’s Best Albums of that year.

An artist that seems to be continually on the road, Sampson managed eight visits to Europe in a twelve-month period touring that recording which included two sold out shows at Kilkenny Roots in 2017 and appearances at both The Maverick and Glastonbury Festivals. Her latest album’s title may suggest an element of fortune in her rising star but it’s the quality of her song writing and her distinctive sweet vocals, together with a relentless work ethic that has found the Oklahoma born Sampson fostering a growing fan base and getting the recognition she richly deserves.

Recorded at On Studios in Moore Oklahoma, the production duties are shared by Sampson and Jason Scott, who also adds drums, guitars, mandolin and backing vocals. Fellow Okies joining Sampson in the studio were Jason Tyler (dobro, banjo and mandolin), James Purdy & Jack Waters (drums), John Calvin Abney (keys and electric guitar), Kyle Reid (keys, guitar and pedal steel), Luke Mullenix (bass). With no intention of straying from what she does best the album follows a similar path to Wilder Side, route one country folk held together spectacularly by her tight rhythm section. 

The cracking title track opens the album with Sampson and her host of backing musicians giving the number the Emmylou/Hot Band treatment. Coincidently the album culminates with the Shel Silverstein classic Queen Of The Silver Dollar, Sampson version displays a looser laid-back delivery than Emmylou’s version on the Pieces of The Sky album.

Other inclusions that reveal Sampson as an artist growing in confidence and maturity are Hello Darlin, complete with some dreamy steel guitar by Kyle Reid complementing Sampson’s gorgeous unhurried vocals and All I Got which follows a similar path. Tulsa, written by fellow Okie Zac Copeland, is not the first time an Oklahoma artist has written with glowing pride about their home State and Sampson’s effort certainly does the song justice.

The up-tempo Rattlesnake Kate is classic dirt road country, a tale of a determined freewheeling independent woman – perhaps an analogy to the demands on a female musician’s trials attempting to survive in today’s market – raising her son alone and single handily bumping off one hundred and forty rattlesnakes and skinning them to make a matching dress and shoes. 

There’s so much to savour and admire on Lucky. Like its predecessors Wilder Side and Mockingbird Sing, it’s uncomplicated, joyous and delivered by an artist in possession of a voice that always seems to love what she is singing about. Thumbs up also to Stuart Sampson for the most impressive cover painting featuring Ms Sampson in trademark red cowboy boots!

Levi Parham It’s All Good CRS

It’s All Good is the fourth release from Okie Levi Parham whose signature blend of blues, soul, rock and country lands somewhere between The Allman Brothers and early 70’s Rolling Stones.

Parham’s 2016 release All American Blues made the No.1 spot on the Euro Americana Charts and it’s reasonable to expect the gritty blues soaked It’s All Good will hit similar highs. 

‘I ain’t scared, I ain’t worried, I’ve got friends and they’d be here in a hurry’, Parham tells us on the album’s title track and true to his word Parham and his entourage took the ten-hour drive from Tulsa Oklahoma to Muscle Shoals Alabama to record at the famed Portside Sound Studio. The journey most certainly was a fruitful one resulting in a ten-track album that sets its stall from the primal bar room bluesy opener Badass Bob and continues on a similar high-octane path before drawing breath with the closer, a John Prine sounding ballad All The Ways I Feel For You.

The stellar line-up includes guitarists Paul Benjaman, Jesse Aycock, Dustin Pittsley and Parham, pooling their talents with John Fullbright on keys, Aaron Boehler on bass, Dylan Aycock on drums, snippets of sax courtesy of Michael Staub and backing vocalists Lauren Farrah, John Carter Abney and Lauren Barth. The individual talent in that bunch alone was a signal of Parham’s intent of going for broke and its fair to say he pushed the band all the way to get his just rewards.

"Ring that bell I’ll come running out like a heavyweight", Parham sings on Heavyweight, an inclusion that, intentional or not given the title, recalls The Band at the top of their game. Boxmeer Blues could have been plucked from The Stones Exile On Main Street sessions, slick layered vocals and bluesy piano breaks on a tale of temptations and distractions on the road. In LP jargon the sixth track Shade would be the Side 2 opener and its addictive and beautifully paced rhythm recalls Derek & The Dominoes. The brooding Turn Your Love Around offers five minutes plus of raw hypnotic blues.

It’s All Good is more than a recording paying homage to music and bands of previous decades but more accurately a collection of  top drawer material delivered vocally and musically by an artist who is very much a caretaker of the soulful bluesy country sound that we love so much. Hats off young man, it’s a gem!

Suburban Dirts I Want Blood Old Jank

Suburban Dirt are a six-piece band made up of John Wheatly (lead vocal, guitar, harmonica), Chris Varley (bass), David Austin (drums, vocals), David Moyes (guitar), Jay Seymour(keyboards) and Joolz Addison (violin).  Residing in the London commuter belt town of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire rather than any dust bowl State in the country they write about has not deterred them from creating an absorbing and exceptionally well researched project.  With gothic and blood thirsty tales of pre-cowboy America, the band’s third album plays like a soundtrack to a violent and gruesome movie populated by mercenaries, bandits, smugglers, rapists and highwaymen, in a free for all continent immediately post American Revolution. The album is based on the lives of the infamous Harpe Brothers, who are credited with being the first serial killers and mass murderers in America and whose barbaric treatment of their victims included gutting them, filling their bodies with stones and dumping them in the nearest waterway. Ruthless horse thieves and highwaymen, the two brothers were also employed as plantation foremen – think the Brittle Brothers in Tarantino’s Django Unchained -  they adopted the outlaw lifestyle having been loyal to The British Crown during American Revolution. The album consists of fifteen sections which need to be played in one sitting for maximum effect. 

The Harpe Brothers Theme opens the album in frenzied fashion getting straight to the point ("We cut them open, carve out their guts, fill their innards up with stones").  What follows are the gentle instrumental Home and then Eli, a tale of hope for a character who will later become one of the brothers’ targets. We hear of the brother’s wives and their casual acceptance of their partners brutality on Harpe Women ("He’ll be home soon, making plans. We will wash their feet and cook their meals, we will make their beds and watch them sleep"). The revenge and final and slaying of Micajah Harpe - Wiley Harpe died five years later -  by a victim left for dead features in The Hunt ("I know I’m not evil but I have done evil deeds, I took the head of that evil son of a bitch and stuck it in a tree").

Playing out every bit as dark as the Bob Frank and John Murry murder ballad classic World Without End - another comparison might be Richmond Fontaine’s cinematic The High Country -   I Want Blood is essentially a soundtrack without a supporting movie. Well worth checking out.

Fox & Coyote Scattered Shadows On A Double Bed Self Release

Ryan Evans and Jonathan Harms, the founder members of Cox & Coyote, originally performed as a duo, two voices, a banjo and a guitar. That particular line up somewhat restricted their musical direction and led to the recruitment of Catherine Canon (cello and vocals), Grant Gordon (bass) and Kenny Befus (drums), who collectively contribute to the current line-up. Scattered Shadows On A Double Bed most certainly benefits from the addition of the more recent recruits, offering a unique, experimental and wonderfully layered musical landscape, quite difficult to categorise. Described as alt-folk the album’s material ranges from the Sufjan Steven’s sounding White Spider to A Million Filaments which would not have been out of place on a (very) early Genesis album. What is consistent throughout is outstanding musicianship, with the cello contribution by Canon a particular delight. 

The opening track (Don’t Tell Me) There’s Nothing In My Head dips, soars and eventually explodes musically and the closer Bed ("You can forget about tomorrow, I’m going back to bed again") deals with escapism and depression, a topic also suggested both in the album’s title and cover shot. 

All in all a most interesting and challenging listen which requires a number of visits to fully appreciate and best described on their website as "sonic panorama, juxtaposing hushed confessions wit raging guitar solos, thick cello crescendo with existential howls."

Saturday
Jun162018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Wylie and The Wild West 2000 Miles From Nashville Hi-Line 

Wylie Gustafson is in it for the long haul. He has walked the line of authentic traditional country music since his debut release in 1992. He has released 22 albums to date and the standard of the music has always been top notch. There was a time I remember that Wylie was a mainstay of CMT when it first was broadcasting in these parts. But times change and as things stand now he wouldn’t have a chance ofgetting exposure. Something that he tackles on the opening song,Nashville Never Wanted Me. Another factor that appealed, as a spectacle wearer myself,was that Gustafson wore glasses - one of the few country singers to do so. 

Gustafson lives on aworking ranch in Northern Montana and as such,brings the two parts of this traditional form together,country and western. He does so with a genuine passion, perception and panache. Nothing about this album could be said to be trying to redefine the genre. Rather itbrings a timeless approach to the music. That and a set of musicians who deliver the goods. Guitarists Kenny Vaughan and Chris Scruggs are superlative - as usual. The rhythm section of Mike Bub and John McTigue also provide the necessary bedrock that you would expect from such seasoned players. Clayton Parsons and Mark Thornton both add guitar and the former also plays the pedal steel featured throughout the album. Vaughan is quoted as saying “rarely do I encounter music as unaffected and heartfelt” and you know, with all the sessions that Vaughan plays that counts for something.

Of the 15 tracks on the album the majority are composed by Gustafson and cover such topics related to his lifestyle like Wild Rose Of The Range, Cowboy Vernacular, Cowboy Daddy and Road To Narvacan. Others like Little Secret and Hope Lives In You are more relationship related. There are two examples of his trademark yodel too in Hot Rod Yodel and Ukulele Yodel. The five covers will be well known to many and all are well chosen to fit Gustafson’s voice and the overall context of the music featured. Two are Nick Lowe songs (Lowe has often acted as a touchstone for a certain segment of the alt-country fraternity) in (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love & Understanding and I Knew The Bride. Sitting alongside the classic Sea Of Heartbreak, Robbie Fulks’ Tears Only Run One Way and Stan Jones’ (Ghost) Riders In The Sky which closes the album on a high note. Long may he ride the range and given that this is one of his best albums he still has a lot of trail to cover.

Charlie Smyth The Way I Feel Self Release

Recently on the Lonesome Highway radio show I played the song The Cold Hard Truth by Jamie O’Hara so it was something of a coincidence that the next day this CD arrived. I immediately noted that track 4 of this CD was a version of that very song. The second thing that gained my attention and interest was that it was produced by Andy Gibson, noted for his upright steel playing and production with Hank 3 and Bob Wayne. However the first think you notice is Smyth’s lived in, purposeful and barbed baritone. That, with the harmony and duet vocals of his wife Kalee Smyth, offer their take on classic country duo singing - a combination of opposites, sort of the beauty and the beast that is both effective and affecting.

Smyth matches his own songs with some interesting cover choices. Along with the aforementioned Cold Hard Truth the album opens with Neil Diamond’s Beautiful Noise which fits better in the overall contect that might be expected. Then add in Star Spangled Banner, Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes and the George Jones, Roger Miller co-write That’s The Way I Feel. All are given a pretty reasonable turn out,some working slightly better than others,but all fitting the context of the album. Gibson and Smyth’s production is a solid take on an interpretation of classic country stylings while feeling more alt.country than roundly retro.

Given that Smyth’s musical career started as a punk rocker in Chicago and Seattle as well as a spell playing with no-waver James Chance, there is a finely honed balance of respect and irreverence that gives the album a sense of nowness that certainly veers more towards outlaw and out-thererness than orthodoxy,without ever going off the rails into something more akin to his former musical directions. However, it is on his ownsong writing that you get a sense of the strength of what Smyth is capable of. Faithfully, Paint, Country Girl and Shore which all open what is delineated as Side B of the album show both a good sense of melody and word smithery as well as defining this particular sound. The version of Star-Spangled Banner though, in truth, feels more like a statement as it features a lone fiddle and feels like a lament for his country’s lost identity rather than a celebration.

There is much on this album that makes it one to get acquainted closer with inits entirety rather than picking out individual tracks. Smyth doesn’t look a typical country hipster on the cover, even in his stars and stripe shirt, rather he has the look of a life-worn rocker. He has, however, crafted an album that encompasses much of what he has been through to get here while also perhaps a connection with a simpler time and music. Where he goes from here,given where he has been in the past,is entirely up to him but it would be good to think he will explore these roots further.

Ford Maddox Ford This American Blues Porterhouse

This band is led by Chip Kinsman and producedby his brother Tony. Both brothers have a long history of being involved with some ground breaking musical ventures. They were founding members of The Dills who releaseda number of7” singles, including You’re Not Blank, Class War and I Hate The Rich. The duo then explored the energy and directness of that music,blended with a love of country music,to great success in Rank & File. They released 3 albums starting with Sundown and Long Gone Dead on Slash Records before moving to Rhino for their, more robustly rockin’ self-titled third album. Seeking other viewpoints their next venture was Blackbird wherein they took on a harder soundincluding the useof some electronics. There followed a return to their roots with the Western themed Cowboy Nation, in the late 90s. The duo recently returned to music with the band Ford Maddox Ford which featured Chip as a playing member and Tony as producer. Shortly after releasing this debut album came the sad news that Tony had passed away from cancer.

Ford Maddox Ford (named after an American author) include (alongside Chip Kinman), Dewey Peek on guitar, Matt Little on bass and drummer S Scott Aguero. There are eleven tracks,mainly written by Kinman and Peek,with one (Quicksand) written by the two Kinmans and one cover ofthe Wilbert Harrison songLet’s Work Togethera song best known by versions from Canned Heat and Brian Ferry. 

The song combines much of the duo’s DNA right back to the Dills days as it is a hard guitar-led sound that acknowledges a lot of influences including the blues mentioned in the title. Chip Kinman’s distinctive vocal is at the heart of the band’s sound. It is that which pulls all the iterations of their music together. That and Tony Kinman’s stripped back and direct production. How Does Your Horn Sound Today is a slow questioning song with slide guitar that allows them to stretch out at a slower tempo. It may be that some fans of Rank & File and Cowboy Nation may not feel totally comfortable with this harder, bluesier direction. But it is rather, another aspect of their sound rather than a total departure. Many of the themes and threads are the same as they have considered since they started playing. Promised,which opens the second side of the (deep blue) vinyl editionmay remind some of the Only Ones with its angular, unhurried approach. The riff laden Before The Fall is another strong moment as is the motorised closing aforementioned cover song.

All in all, a promising return, albeit tinged with a deep sadness, that marks Ford Maddox Ford as a further step in a musical passage that is still open to exploring sonic possibilities that work together.

Stevie Tombstone On The Line Self Release

In common with many these days the latest release from the hardcore troubadour Stevie Tombstone is a 6 track EP (or mini-album if you wish). Either way it leaves you wanting more. Not that this is the singer/songwriter’s first outing as he has 4 previous releases under his belt. He formally fronted a band called the Tombstones in Atlanta before proceeding with a solo career that combines hardcore country, country blues, folk and raw blues into an alt. country roots alliance.

For this outing Tombstone has produced a stripped back sound that is centred by his heartfelt and hall-marked vocals. These are songs drawn from deep inside a soul that has seen the voraciousness of life and how it manages to uplift and also, on occasion, crush the spirit that is central to us all. Tombstone though has the capacity to turn these observations and experiences into songs. Indeed, in this light he walks a similar line to Michael McDermott, another singer/songwriter who speaks his own truth. Tombstone’s music is a little more inclined to the real deal country line perhaps. 

The one cover is a choice that makes perfect sense here. Wreck On The Highway is an oft-recorded public domain song written by Dorsey Dixon in 1937. It is a song that reflects on the reaction of the singer after coming on an alcohol related fatal crash and as such a warning indelibly told. Tombstone’s own songs include Take This Pain about wandering the world alone. The track features some effective steel from Scott Lutz. Right State Of Mind has fiddle, upright bass and acoustic guitar and tells of a substance that might bring one to that condition. Forty Dollar Room reflects on what it is like to be in such a location and again in a lonesome state of mind. The title song has a piano theme played by Joey Huffman and a vocal from Shelli Coe that is a pledge of fidelity over a building track with organ a spiritual quality that again shows that Tombstone is a soulful and singular vocalist who delivers these songs with the kind of believability that aligns him with some of his more lauded peers.

The track At Least I’m Genuine is a selective list of the singers’ many faults and concludes that while he may not be the best you’ll ever find at least he’s genuine. That sentiment may in fact sum up Stevie Tombstone. There are others with a similar conviction and talent but Tombstone comes across as just that - genuine. And that counts for a lot in my book. 

Gerry Spehar Anger Management Self Release

I Hold Gravity,Spehar’s previous album,dealt with some fairly weighty life issues and was recorded just before his wife passed from cancer. Given the title of his new release things would appear to be still weighing heavy on his soul. This is, in essence, an old school protest album albeit with some tangential influences involved. Essentially a roots album with folk overtones and elements of other influences mixed in. The album was produced by Spehar and I See Hawks In LA’s founder Paul Lacques with help from Tommy Jordan. All were also part of the assembled team of players that included such as LA country stalwart Brantley Kearns on fiddle. The songs are a mix of solo written material and some cowrites. All feature the centrality of Spehar’s warm but forceful vocal (reminiscent of a number of old school troubadours) over a varied and interesting set of arrangements that keep the album moving along at a satisfactory pace.

Spehar’s touchstone was the integrity and honesty of Woody Guthrie (to whom the album is dedicated). The music though is written for these times with songs like Thank You Donald and Bitch Heaven that puts the current protagonists in the same frame … “old man Trump had money and Woody had song.” This sits alongside a hard ballad like A Soldier’s Spiritual a song that considers the plight of many a war veteran facing anuncertain future. Elsewhere he tackles other topical issues with a sense of anger, frustration but also with wit and humility. The last song on the album asks the simple question What Would Jesus Do? He wonders would Jesus build a wall or would he cut taxes on the rich and leave the poor without healthcare. Pertinent and perceptive for an unsure time. While he also asks about the lessons of history in Pearl Harbour,about that infamous attack and what was learned from it.

Many casual listeners take the attitude when faced with a particular viewpoint that may or may not coincide with their own of “shut up and just sing.” All well and good but the art of the protest song is one that should not be forgotten or ignored. Here Spear’s personal opinion is expressed when he sings (rather than the in-between song asides that often occur in a live situation) and, as such, he has made an album that also works on a pure enjoyable musical level,so that even if the words didn’t mean jackshitthe music should please. It is a well produced and performed album that has a depth of meaning beyond the more usual subject of relationships. Spehar and his co-writers have something to say and hopefully in doing so they have managed some of that anger that was invoked by recent events. For all that,listen to this for the character of the singing, playing and sincerity and hopefully some of the sentiments expressed will get through too.

Mike Aiken Wayward Troubadour Northwind 

The title of this album sums up the overall attitude of this singer/songwriter whoselatest release is a well produced and played set of original songs and a couple of outside covers. The album was recorded in the main in Nashville and Aiken secured the services of some top-notch players in theshape of guitar-slinger Kenny Vaughan, bassist David Roe and drummer Tom Hurst. Aiken added his skills on a variety of guitars and his wife Amy adds harmony vocals and a range of percussion instruments. The titles of the songs are an indicator of the subjects that Aiken writes about such as Two-Lane Highway,about the places such structures can take you to. Hard Working Girl is a non-judgemental overview of a person caught in that lifestyle. The trials and tribulations of the machinations Music Row is the subject of Nashville Skyline. Aiken’s interest in sailing is touched on in Chesapeake. A Little Lazy In Your Life has a jazz feel that suits the mood of the song while Hangover Helper praises the hair of the dog as a way to escape a previous night’s excesses.

Mark Collie and Shawn Camp wrote Dead Man Walks Before He Runs and it has a darker mood about trying to escape from a correctional facility delivered with a bluesy guitar-led feel that has a certain sense of desperation. The other outside songs are Penelope and Real Mean Dog; the former has that beach front, light reggae touch on a song about wanting to return to Jamaica, whilethe latter is a twangy tale of man, dog and pick-up truck. Both left behind in a relationship gone sour.

Aiken’s music has been described as a mix of country, folk, rock and Buffet style back porch, ocean beach music. He grew up in New York State and currently is based in Norfolk, Virginia. His wide-ranging Americana has a broad approach that should appeal to many. This is an accomplished album of roots music that will further enhance Aiken often praised body of work. The work of a troubadour who finds much to enjoy in life and conveys that feeling in his music.

Saturday
Jun092018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Luke LeBlanc Time On My Hands Self Release

These 5 songs are thoughtfully delivered with understated playing and a production that proves the adage that ‘less is more’. On the opening, Beautiful, the studio musicians interplay across an arresting acoustic rhythm as the longing of the lyric spins the driver home along dark Wisconsin roads. Time On My Hands sparks with an up-tempo arrangement and a focus on living for the moment. Winter Rising slows things down with an easy strum and superb violin from Laurie Melting Stagner, both restrained and reflective in delivery. 

The 12-bar blues of Please Stay, with dual harmonica from Stacy Bowen and Luke LeBlanc, is nicely paced and quietly laid-back while the final song, Highway’s Gone, ends up on the road again as a metaphor for a failing relationship; “drivin’ on empty and runnin’ out of room”- a bittersweet melody to take everyone home. 

Luke LeBlanc sings with a warm tone and his voice has a fine quality and resonance across these acoustic tracks. Well worth investigation and another steady step taken in a career that is gaining momentum.

Michael Veitch Wake Up Call Burt Street

This talented and well-respected singer-songwriter has released a 5-track EP that is aimed at the moral conscience of everyone who is witness to the inequality of this World and the crazy extremes of current politics and conglomerate growth.

Veitch plays beautifully on acoustic and electric guitar and his fluid style adds great colour to these songs. He is joined by Lou Pappas (upright bass), Dan Whitley (resonator guitar), Fooch Fischetti (dobro & fiddle), Brian Mellick (percussion) and Andrew Borkowski (cello). Back up vocals are ably provided by Julie Last, Aima Honal and lead vocals from Veitch highlight a gentle and sweet delivery. 

Veteran’s Day, Happy 4th of July, Pledging Allegiance are all wearisome objections to War at any price or cost. Voices Of The Old Days points to a past that has not been heeded or learnt from and White Rose is a song that reflects upon a call to arms. A timely reminder for our troubled times and the lack of empathy that perverts our attempts to recover some humanity.

Amy Henderson May Self Release

Folk meets Indie attitude on this 8-track release. The East Coast of America is familiar stomping ground for this song-writer who handles all vocals and plays acoustic & electric guitar, plus harmonica on her fourth album. There is some nice lead guitar and dobro from Radcliffe Burt and John Priestly plays both fretless & upright bass and mandolin, while Rene Carillo adds cajon and percussion. 

All three add their vocal talents to these well-arranged songs that are both bright and melodic. The drumming of Chris Schup and percussion of John Morland swell the sound and tracks like It’s My Year is a radio hit if ever there was one. Hemingway continues the feel-good factor and the vocal delivery reminds me of Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, not a bad marker. Everything About You and Rockabye Me end proceedings in fine style; the first a soulful rhythm groove and the latter a reflective slow acoustic blues.

Annie Keating Ghost Of The Untravelled Road Self Release

A 5-track release that adds another fine touchstone in the career of this very talented artist. Keating has delivered seven superb albums stretching back to 2004 and her insightful writing is a real joy to experience. The title track speaks of the road not taken in a relationship and is a wistful reflection. Forever Loved is a heart-felt message to a child who must learn to walk their own path but will always be held close in the heart. 

Kindness of Strangers is a journey song for the weary and those in need of respite along the way. Sting Of Hindsight sings of regret and the need to go forward with faith. The closing Forget My Name is paean to love and the urge to move on while being dragged back to the comfort of the past. Throughout there are the wonderful talents of Chris Tarrow (guitars and pedal steel), Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), Steve Mayone (mandolin, nylon guitar and harmony vocals), Jason Mercer (upright bass) and Kate Steinberg (harmony vocals). Beautifully played and delivered in real style.

Yvette Landry & the Dukes  Louisiana Lovin’  Soko

Steeped in the Cajun culture of her Louisiana upbringing, Landry is a musician/singer/songwriter who tours worldwide as a multi-instrumentalist in several bands. Over four previous releases she has sought to bring cultures and traditions together and no more so than on this latest release. It is a look back to the days of Juke Joints and dance halls where Louisiana came alive after the working day. The eleven songs are originals from some of the greats like Bobby Charles, Warren Storm, G.G. Shinn and others. The one departure is a great version of the Sara Evans song, Three Chords & The Truth, taken from her debut record in 1997.

The band are quite superb and even more impressive is the fact that there were no rehearsals, with the live environment at Dockside Studios sparking the musicians to record everything with the first take! So, take a bow, Roddie Romero (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars), Eric Adcock (pianos, farfisa, wurlitzer), Josef Butts (upright bass), Derek Huston (tenor and baritone sax) and Jermaine Prejean (drums and percussion). This ensemble adds greatly to the authentic feel of every track here and the fine vocals and acoustic guitar of Yvette Landry complete the perfect circle. It’s rare that a project hits with such immediacy but this is certainly a real keeper.

Guest musicians Beau Thomas (fiddles) and Richard Comeaux (pedal steel guitar) add great colour to a number of songs, including Three Chords & the Truth and the co-vocals of Landry and Romero are a real joy, especially on Homesick Blues, Yea Baby, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and the standout Take It Easy Greasy. Hopefully this is not a once-off project as this band is way too good not to repeat the magic again.

Annika Fehling Trio In the Universe Rootsy

What a very pleasant surprise! This project is the work of a trio named AFT, led by Annika Fehling, who lives on Gotland, an island off the Swedish mainland. She plays acoustic guitar with real style and is joined by Robert Wahlstrom (piano, Moog and percussion) and Christer Jonasson (guitars, acoustic, electric and lap steel). Production at Spacefield Studios on Gotland is beautifully crisp and clear and delivered by Robert Wahlstrom in impressive style. 

The nine tracks are sung with both passion and a gentle tone by Fehling and the expansive feel reminds me of early John Martyn/Nic Jones when they were exploring the line where folk interpretations stopped and jazz leanings took sway. The room to play and stretch out the arrangements is embraced by all three musicians as they deliver a very resonant and vibrant performance across their range of instruments.

Dark City Alone and Stars arrive with strong rhythms and superb interplay as the song structures build. Spirits Awake and Seamless are more restrained and reflective in delivery. Fehling has an impressive body of work to her name and a back catalogue that is deserving of close scrutiny if this particular project is anything to go by.

Tuesday
May292018

Reviews By Declan Culliton

 

Shane Joyce The Sadness of King Joyce Self Release

Following on from his impressive five track mini album release of 2016 titled An Introduction, The Midnight Union Band lead man Shane Joyce returns with his second solo recording, featuring nine self-penned songs and revealing an artist growing in maturity and confidence. In contrast to An Introduction, which pointed towards a love of all things Dylan and Morrison, The Sadness of King Joyce reveals itself to be altogether more intimate, individualistic and soul bearing, with anguish, distress and resolution the dominant themes. In many ways the album exposes the deepest inner thoughts of Joyce and his alter ego.

The title track which opens the album is quite stunning. Delivered with somewhat semi spoken vocals and brought to life by gorgeous strings, compliments of Rowan Sherlock and Claire Kinsella, it confronts lost love head on (‘There’s a girl I used to know, but she had a better place to go. I showed her what I had inside. She said ‘son, those things are easy to find’) with a delivery and deportment that recalls Nick Cave at his most morose. 

The influence of Leonard Cohen, particularly in his early and disconsolate work, are evident throughout the album, most noticeably on The Spider, a nightmarish Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. Stripped to the bone with only vocals and piano, it’s a tale of capture and submission. (‘I slipped into a spider web, I couldn’t move a thing. Then came the bristle of many legs and the teeth began to sink. The venom joined my blood and cauterized my veins’). Similar echoes of Cohen also surface on the otherworldly Winter.

The Battle may be a cry for help, the rock bottom addict yearning sobriety, the abandoned companion begging to be loved again, the depressed pleading for freedom and normality, the adult craving for the comfort of the womb ('Make me strong Mama, like I used to be’). Equally impressive is the beguiling Bad Woman, piano and strings accompanying Joyce’s tale of lust and frustration. In contrast to the desolate opening song To Lady, Too Late concludes the album, certainly not offering closure but with a degree of acceptance and defiance. (There’s no glory in defeat, no grace in backing down, and so I won’t retreat, you’ll keep seeing me around’). 

The Sadness of King Joyce is a coming of age album by an artist equally proficient as a prophet of despair and hopelessness with dark and gothic tales as he is brewing up a storm in his other role as frontman with The Midnight Union Band. Its mix of expressionless and controlled vocals, sparse acoustic guitar and piano add to the atmosphere but what elevates the album is the exquisite strings that embrace and caress much of the material without ever dominating. A wonderful piece of work.

Megan O’Neill Ghost Of You Self Release

Described as The Irish Carrie Underwood by The Irish Times, Kildare born singer songwriter Megan O’Neill’s debut album Ghost Of You follows her 2015 EP Coming Home which reached No.1 in the Irish County Charts and her 2017 mini - album Stories To Tell, recorded with her band The Common Thread and produced by Guy Fletcher (Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler).

Her latest offering Ghost Of You was recorded in Nashville in late 2017 under the guidance of the talented producer, songwriter and pianist Zak Lloyd – who also co-wrote six of the inclusions - and its twelve songs are tailor made for the new country market. Don’t expect screeching fiddle playing or haunting pedal steel guitar, instead the album offers radio friendly crossover pop country of a quality that’s tailor made to tick all the boxes for inclusion on Country Radio playlists. The title track Ghost Of You – a gorgeous ballad composed in memory of lost loved ones - together with Why I Need You and Without have all been released as singles over the past nine months and the album has its official release on 9th June. Tell You To Leave, Good Love and opener Don’t Come Easy find O’Neill every bit at ease belting out catchy arena anthems as she is with heartfelt ballads.

 O’Neill hasn’t put a foot wrong career wise to date with appearances at The Bluebird Café in Nashville, slots at C2C in London and having her song Don’t You featured in the TV series Nashville. It’s extraordinary that no Irish female artist in recent years has made an international breakthrough in the commercial country market given the popularity of the genre in Ireland. This could possibly change with this release, O’Neill has put her heart and soul into Ghost Of You and given the exposure has the talent, vocals, songs and drive to match the success of like-minded acts this side of the pond such as The Shires and Ward Thomas. Watch this space.

Ana Egge White Tiger Storysound

Ana Egge had already got seven albums under her belt when I discovered her in 2011 courtesy of the excellent Bad Blood album which introduced me to the artist christened 'The Nina Simone of Folk' by none other than Lucinda Williams. Praise indeed and well justified for the Saskatchewanborn singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose latest release White Tiger has me scratching my head wondering why she’s not a household name. Voted at nineteen years of age the Best Singer Songwriter and Best Folk Artist by The Austin Music Awards and with supports slots on tours by Iris De Ment, Shawn Colvin, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Ron Sexsmith it’s inconceivable that Egge remains relatively undiscovered by many. Perhaps it’s her free spirited mentality to flit between various genres, in many cases on the same album, whether it be country, indie folk and jazz, that’s resulted in her being difficult to classify and to market. Alec Spiegelman is the producer this time around and his contributions on keyboards and reeds together with string and horn arrangements greatly enhance the ten tracks on the album.

White Tiger- her tenth recording -finds Egge in a typically empirical mood from the opening and instantly catchy opener Girls, Girls, Girls, which details a lesbians coming out in the Big Smoke - complete with whistles and horns - and  equally captivating is the You Among The Flowerscomplete with it’s woolly and unshakable robotic rhythm. One cover version is included and it fits the overall rustic theme of the album like a glove. John Hartford’s In Tall Buildings laments having to leave behind all cherished values by way of conformity ('Goodbye to the sunshine, goodbye to the dew, goodbye to the flowers, and goodbye to you') and Egge shares the lead vocal with guitarist and bluegrass musician Billy Strings with violin courtesy of Alex Hargreaves. The title track White Tiger, dedicated to a dear friend encountering difficult times, drifts along beautifully with Egge’s dream like vocals simply hypnotic.

Ana Egge, together with the superb Kate Stables (This Is The Kit), Anais Mitchell and Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station), has helped to redefine folk music into a distinctive alt/indie style and White Tiger is yet another outstanding album from an artist you really need to check out. 

Mike Ross Jenny’s Place Taller

The U.K. has for decades produced some exceptional blues artists, many of whom have remained relatively unknown outside their immediate fan base. Sussex resident Mike Ross falls into this category, even if his output has one leg in the rock camp with a sound that brings to mind the swashbuckling Scottish blues rocker Frankie Miller or Roger Chapman of Family and Streetwalkers fame.

Jenny’s Place (named after his wife’s Swedish holiday home) is the second solo album recorded by Ross and features nine studio tracks together with six bonus live tracks recorded at The Latest. Thumping bass and gravely vocals introduce the opener Bamboozled, a boozy, sexy, barroom blast and a fair indication of what’s to follow. The Big Picturerecalls mid-career Stones, Harpotips its hat in the direction of Canned Heat and Jenny (Sun Goes Down) could have been plucked from the Tom Petty songbook with its infectious riff and chorus.

There’s not a lot on Jenny’s Place that hasn’t been done endless times before but Ross’s hoarsy, vocals, screeching guitar and harmonica breaks are a reminder of how uplifting rootsy blues music can be when the bar is set this high. Classic roots/blues rock revisited and certainly an artist that would be a blast in a live setting.

Charley Crockett Lonesome As A Shadow Thirty Tigers

Street wise from an early age as a result of years spent hitchhiking and busking around the States and satisfying his wanderlust by spells in Paris, Spain, Morocco and North Africa, Charley Crockett – a descendant of American folk hero Davy Crockett -  finally returned to his home state of Texas in 2015 where he settled down and recorded three albums. His debut album A Stolen Jewel gained him the Dallas Observer Award as Best Blues Artist of that year.  Crockett subsequently got the opportunity to tour as support act to Turnpike Troubadours and the positive exposure lead to a recording deal with Thirty Tigers. His release on that label in 2016 was an album of country covers titled Charley Crockett presents LIL G.L’s Honky Tonk Jubilee which revisited the work of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Ray Acuff and Webb Pierce In homage to a host of traditional country artists that influenced him. 

Lonesome As A Shadow – the title depicting Crockett’s early busking career - finds him more experimental and exploring various styles of music from blues to country and soul to Cajun. Recorded at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis under the watchful eye of Grammy Award producer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price, Jason Isbell, Chris Isaac), the album was recorded live to tape over a period of four days and features some stunning musicianship from his backing band Blue Drifters.  Crockett’s uneven vocals can be an acquired taste and are rescued on occasions by the quality of the musicians alongside him in the studio who manage to transform and rescue some quite average material in some cases.

Writing and recording the album was, no doubt, a labour of love for Crockett and the opportunity to showcase his many musical influences and inspirations. Comparisons in his press releases to the work of Hank Williams, Van Morrison, Dr. John and Bill Withers are somewhat exaggerated, though there are a number of highlights on the album, in particular the bluesy Sad & Blue and the rocking Goin’ Back To Texas. All in all, the album, for me, suffers from a lack of coherency and over ambition, despite the dazzling playing throughout.

Tuesday
May222018

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Years Bloodshot

The second album from this tight and tenacious combo follows time spent touring and playing in front of audiences across the US. There is some real meat here with all parts of the equation adding up to something that counts. The band serve the songs and it all feels right. The guitar and steel give that roots edge but the overall sound is capable of a number of twists and turns that fail to pigeon-hole them into a single category. However, there is no doubting that this fits the overall loose Americana tag. 

Shook is the author of the 10 songs and she has a voice that is central to their truth. Songs that deal with a variety of emotions and moods that are signalled, to a degree, by their titles. New Ways To Fail, The Bottle Never Lets Me Down, Damned If I Do, Dammed If I Don’t and Heartaches In Hell are all songs that have at their heart an emotional and intentional reaction to situations that feel like her take on the reality of living and coping in these straightened times. Hard times, heart breaks and hard drinking are all explored with a mix of toughness and vulnerability. She can also take and understand an opposite viewpoint, like in The Bottle Never Lets Me Down where she sings the song from the male perspective.

With some of her more high profile major label contemporaries, like Kacey Musgraves for instance, making moves to a broader pop platform it is refreshing to hear Shook and her band explore the possibilities of their music without abandoning the underlying sense of country, alternative or otherwise, that is the bedrock of her two albums to date. Whether she expands on that in any way is up to Shook but for now she and her core band which features exhilarating exchanges between guitarist Eric Peterson and steel guitarist Phil Sullivan and bassist Aaron Oliva make music that is for these times. 

Karen Jonas Butter Self Release 

There is a sense of maturity about this new album from Karen Jonas. She is a mother as well as a working musician and so that has to mean that she doesn’t have a great deal of time to mess around and on her latest album she looks at her life and delivers a set of songs that reflect her life and loves. This means a smooth mix of twang and torch. A subtle blend of country, folk as well as a touch of soul and jazz tinged moments. 

The title song relates to a love of baking in her kitchen and the associations that butter has with her family, her upbringing and also the family she is raising currently.It’s about being at home with family as much as being at home with her music. There are also references to the circus of life in songs like the directly titled   as well as in Mr Wonka. Elsewhere she walks, reluctantly, down Yellow Brick Road (“paved with fool’s gold”), Butter is an allegory for the good things and Jonas alludes to that with the track’s big band feel. Then thereare the tales of heartbreak and woe that often are the subject of country aligned albums.

The album was co-produced by long term associates who worked on the last two albums, guitarists Tim Bray and Jeff Covert, in a studio in hometown Fredericksburg in Virginia. It features a full, warm sound that includes pedal steel, fiddle, keyboards and brass, alongside a strong rhythm section and some versatile guitar contributions. Often, they recorded in late night sessions after the kids were tucked up which gives the album a sense of comfort and ease with unforced late night attributions. There is a timeless feel throughout that has both class and sass. All three of Jonas’ albums are worthy of attention and the combined talents of all those involved have produced a set of recordings that are as real and tasty as butter on a good bread.

Sean Burns and Lost Country Music For Taverns, Bars and Honky Tonks Self Release

This Winnipeg artist has released a number of albums under his own name alone. This one has the appendage of Lost Country - a set of musicians who have joined in the recording to deliver a set of songs that live up to the album title. Music that indeed would fit any of the venues mentioned. Small, intimate, loud and looking to be entertained. And entertain they do from the train whistle sound of the cut-a-rug opener, Have You seen That Train. The band - Joanna Miller on drums, bassist Bernie Thiessen and guitarist Grant Siemens - are joined by a couple of superlative players in the fabulous Chris Scruggs on steel guitar and Harry Stinson on harmony vocals as well as (for one track) harmonica player Big Dave McLean.

What makes the album work especially well is the diverse nature of the songs. The second track Farewell Parties (which might be located more in atavern than arowdy bar) is a sad, slow tale of a break-up when his woman is setting up the event before he has actually gone. Then there’s the mid-tempo My Old Self, a quavering vocal that tells of a man who doesn’t really want to get back to his bar-fly self anymore. Throughout, Burns vocal delivery is spot on and able to take the rough with the smooth, the lost with the found. Burns penned a half dozen of the songs but choose some good songs that fit the bill from other writers such as Wade Mosher’s Don’t Let The Highway Get You Lost, a song about keeping focus and avoiding distractions. Big Freightliner is a song written by fellow honky-tonker Andrew Neville. Dan Russell’s Sturdy Woman should also please Band fans too. Another stand out is Don’t Play With Fire a cautionary tale co-written by Burns and Sara Bleackley with some great Harry Stinson harmonies. The final song here, I Wish Things Were Different, is another ballad that is full of regret and remorse.

As with all the songs, the band and guests have a ball and the playing is perfect for the music with Scruggs steel adding a welcome diversity that takes the music upwards and onwards. Though the core band are well capable of delivering in a live setting I would imagine (and with the YouTube live clips to back it up). Sean Burns joins the growing number of under the radar independent artists who clearly love to listen to and play classic country; albeit from their own point of view with original songs and well chosen covers. Top notch music for all occasions - if those occasions demand a cool band building a head of steam on some hot songs.

Ashley McBryde Girl Going Nowhere Atlantic

This girl from Arkansas plays guitar and writes songs. Ashley McBryde rhastwo previous self released albums and won the Country Showdown talent show before signing with Atlantic records and releasing her major label debut album Girl Going Nowhere. That this album was produced by Jay Joyce made me fear for something more bombastic with strong crossover leanings so it’s good to report that this is a more subtle and restrained production and very much in sync with the songs. McBryde is a part of the trend towards female songwriters who write for their times and contemporaries. The end results though are good storytelling songs that should always be at the heart of what is labelled country music.

A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega, the first single from the album is an example of her craft and was named one of the best songs of 2017. There are many other here that show her skill at taking the elements of her upbringing, as well as observations of those she sees around her, as the focus and subjects of her writing. The title track and opening song is a realisation that while a person can be dubbed going nowhere, this can in fact be doing pretty good. Radioland tells of the influence that that medium had on her and her family. American Scandal is a passionate declaration of the need for love. As is often the case these days McBryde has co-written these songs for the most part with a selection of different co-writersbut whatever the source, they are well written and engaging. The one solo write is a straight and honest consideration of the things that are good and bad about a close relationship. That song, Andy (I Can’t Live Without You), will resonate with many as being based in a no-bullshit reality (as is much of the material here). Material that is memorable and full of a definite female power.

The lyrics are all worth listening to and it’s a shame that the label didn’t see fit to include them in the package to make that easier. Another factor in the success of the album is McBryde using her band on the album; a group of players who have lived with these songs and understand them. Joyce’s production, as mentioned, helps to achieve a balanced and dynamic sound that moves from slower ballads to out and out rockers like El Dorado. Out in front of all this is McBryde’s striking vocal delivery that is full of heart and soul. Ashley McBryde’s major label debut is one of an artist who is going places and one well worth joining her on

Ashley Monroe Sparrow Warner Brothers 

For this new album Monroe has taken a step in a different direction than I had expected. Her performance at Dublin C2C in 2016was a stand-out of more traditionally minded country music (closer to the real thing than much of what has performed under that banner). For this album Monroe has worked with the very much in demand Dave Cobb. They recorded the album in the Historic Studio A in Nashville and have used the environment to create what they may have considered to be a contemporary take on the string-laden countrypolitan made famous by Chet Atkins (often in that very studio). It is an interesting if not quite fulfilling venture. One that artist and producer are no doubt happy with but one that somehow fails to ignite despite some quality song writing.

Monroe is still a distinctive and twang-inflected singer who is commanding on these co-written songs. It has highlights like She Wakes Me Up (Rescue Me) and the opening Orphan, the heartbreak of Paying Attention or the affection of Daddy Told You. But the overall sound seems to fall between different stools; neither pop nor traditional country, without really firmly establishing itself in its own right. There is no steel guitar for instance which might’ve helped to somehow make a link to her previous work. Rather, it is strings with an accompanying rhythm section, keyboards and Cobb’s own guitar contributions.Individually the songs are good enough but overall the similar mood and arrangements tends to negate the strength of the intention.

As part of the Pistol Annie’s Monroe achieved some recognition but her solo career seems not to have taken off as expected and for a writer and singer of her undoubted talent that is a shame. There are circumstances for that to a degree, especially in the way country radio underplays the role of female artists. So, in the end, Sparrow tries hard but doesn’t quite succeed on its own terms but that doesn’t mean writing off Ashely Monroe. What will be interesting, outside of this release, will be how she performthese songs in a live setting alongside the music of the previous albums. For now, it is worth listening to Sparrow yourselves and making your own minds up as to how it flies.

Ross Cooper I Rode The Wild Horses Self Release

Perhaps the best known of the real cowboy singer/songwriters is Chris Ledoux. Others include Ian Tyson and Wylie Gustafson and you can add to that list, Ross Cooper, a former professional bareback rider who had to quit the rodeo circuit when he sustained a knee injury. Now he concentrates on music and has just released this brand new album. The title track makes reference to that career though many of the other songs are more about the trialsand tribulations of everyday life. Me Only, Damn Love, Living’s Hard, Loving’s Easy and Heart Attacks are all explorations of day to day existence. Equally the album has a hard-edge sound that is hardly traditional honky-tonk. Often it hits the edge of hard riff-laden rock. But then some of Ledoux’s music did as well.

The album was produced and mixed by Eric Masse in Nashville. He and Copper assembled a sturdy set of players including Steelism’s Jeremy Fetzer and Eddy Dunlap on pedal steel. Another name that may be familiar to many is Erin Rae on backing vocals. These join the 11 named musicians who contribute their talents to the recordings on what is an enjoyable album that has enough roots Americana to make it of interest to all those who enjoy the more adventurous side of things.

Fellow artist Paul Cauthen co-wrote Old Crow Whiskey & A Cornbread Moon with Cooper and it is one of the more traditionally orientated songs here. Andrew Combs, another artist who may be known to our readers, is a co-writer of Lady Of The Highway along with Jordan Leaning. It celebrates those ladies who add some comfort for those travelling the well worn highways. Cooper has a versatile voice that can handle the slower material along with the up-tempo rockers. It is the kind of album that may well appeal to Ryan Bingham fans and those who like their roots music to have a less traditional bias.

Cooper had a hand in writing all the 12 tracks here and he is following his muse in music and looking for the same thrill that bareback horse riding undoubtably gave him. I imagine that in a live setting with a receptive audience that he might get close. On record he has made an album that grows with listening and signals a singer/songwriter who has the experience of a lifestyle first hand that others only imagine (his song Cowboys & Indians touches on that very subject). An experience that should translate into a portfolio of believable songs as he gets further into his music career. As his song says he is Another Mile on that path.

Romantica Outlaws Self Release

A couple of years agoBen Kyle released a self-titled album that was one of my albums of the year. He also released a fine duets album with Carrie Rodriquez. Since then he has been putting out albums under his previous band name, Romantica. This new album is a mixture of all these elements. The opening track features Rodriquez on backing vocals and the final track is a version of one of the standout tracks from his solo album. This live rendition of The Dark features Ryan Adams. 

Key to Romantica’s gentle, reflective sound is pedal steel guitar. On one of the tracks he features two different steel players. The songs are originals with the exception of two covers - Something from George Harrison and the other is his take on Hallelujah. Now I have to admit, though I love the song, I’m a bit hallelujahed out at this stage having heard so many versions - some good, some bad -  this one however has meaning for Kyle and fits the mood of the album fine. But given the standard of his songs like Do Go Gently, Love In Winter or Listen To Your Soul he may not need to add outside material other than that the songs has a special meaning for him in context of the overall album.

Kyle has recently been through a serious and debilitating illness (Lyme Disease) and couldn’t function in the way he wanted and was unable to communicate or make music. A distressing situation for anyone to face and doubly so for someone who often communicated through words and music. This release then is very welcome. Kyle is still dealing with the illness and its ramifications but has found a way and the words to deal with that.

Without knowing this, these tracks still offer and deliver much. They are called forgotten songs. Songs from an earlier time that have been outsiders, outlaws. Now they may offer some insight. I haven’t heard all the previous Romantica albums but would recommend them (as would my colleague Paul who reviewed the last album). The band name may be slightly incongruous given what he has been going through but is perfectly suited to this music. Wishing you well Ben.

Lloyd Green & Jee Dee Maness Journey To The Beginning Coastal Bend

This album is (largely) instrumental revisit to the Byrds seminal Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album by the two steel guitarists who played on different parts of the album; Green in Nashville and Maness in LA. Anyone who loves the sound of steel guitar will enjoy the joint playing of these two masters of the instrument. There is a rhythm section of Dennis Crouch and John Gardner and they are joined by Russ Pahl (guitars), Sam Bush (mandolin and fiddle) and others including Al Perkins, Sally Van Meter, Earl Poole Ball and Skip Edwards. An array of talent in other words. John Macy was in the producer’s chair.

The songs will be well known to anyone who knows the original album and include I Am A Pilgrim, Hickory Wind, The Christian Life as well as a song that was recorded at the time but not included. One Hundred Years From Now gets an outing here. It is a niche album perhaps but also a tribute to an instrument that was once fundamental to country music and to an album that many regard as one of the foundation stones of country-rock.

The final track is a reprise of You Ain’t Going Nowhere which features the vocals of Jim Lauderdale, Herb Peterson, Richie Furay and Jeff Hanna all trading verses. it makes a fitting end to the otherwise vocal-less album. Steel guitar lovers worldwide should take notice as well as those who appreciate the many talents involved in putting this tribute together.

 

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