Reviews by Declan Culliton

Kelsey Waldon I’ve Got A Way Monkey’s Eyebrows

"Well I was never trying to be a Queen, sings Kelsey Waldon, I just take a lot of pride in who I am, the way I sing."

The title of Kelsey Waldon’s sophomore album I’ve Got A Way (her debut The Goldmine was released in 2014) is a statement by an artist determined and unafraid to succeed on her own terms in the cut throat country music scene in Nashville. Following in the footsteps of fellow small town America female breakthrough artists Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price, I’ve Got A Way details the journey from a rural environment and the trials and tribulations of dodgy industry characters, unfulfilled promises and stereotyping. It has a defiant stamp of 'This is who I am, like it or not’ throughout and a determination of not being shaped into something that she doesn’t want. It’s also delivered with Waldon’s adorable vocal, pure unapologetic Kentucky drawl, thankfully not polluted by any technical devices to change to what comes naturally to her. Having Nashville whizz kids Brett Resnick on pedal steel, Jeremy Fetzer on guitar and Michael Rinne on bass (and production duties) round the circle and breathe life into a collection of well-constructed, honest and personal songs. 

Dirty Old Town, which opens the album, is more than a distant relation of Margo Price’s This Town with Waldon in no mood to be compromised or standardised when she asserts "Well there’s voices over here, voices over there, saying come along, come with me. Don't want a bridge to burn but I'm taking my turn, ain't gonna let 'em ever take me." It’s a fitting opener strengthened by some searing pedal steel solos from Resnick. All By Myself, which follows, could have been be nicked from Lee Ann Womack’s The Way I’m Living both in delivery and lyrics. Live Moves Slow lives up to its title, revisiting and escaping back to small town America and it’s simple way of live "So when I drive down the highway past that county line, I take a deep breath, I know I’ll be doing fine, Gonna save me some money, Gonna buy me a place you can’t find." Don’t Hurt The Ones You Love The Most visits similar territory, a reminder of the value of home, roots and family. 

Two covers are included on the album, both fitting in seamlessly. There Must Be Someone, previously recorded by The Gosdin Brothers and The Byrds and the Bill Munroe classic Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.

 The greatest compliment I can pay I’ve Got A Way is that the self-penned  songs all sound like covers of classic country tunes that the listener has previously heard and is being reintroduced to. 

With country radio at present awash with music often masquerading as country, it’s a refreshing that a close knit bunch of artists in East Nashville such as Waldon, Margo Price, JP. Harris are maintaining without compromise what many of us consider to be true country music. In recent years Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price have both proved, despite the obstacles and lack of industry support, that a breakthrough is possible. Hopefully Kelsey Waldon will follow suit, on the strength of I’ve Got A Way she certainly deserves to. 

The Black Lillies Hard To Please Black Lilly/Attack Monkey 

Anyone reading this review and sensing that they encountered this album in a previous life most likely came across it in 2015 when it was released in the States. The UK release of the album is a precursor to the bands UK/Europe tour planned for February 2017.

The history of the recording of the album in 2015 could take up column space in its own right with two members of the then five piece announcing their intention to depart the band just as they were about to enter the studio to record the album. Frontman Cruz Contreras also faced the challenge, for various reasons, of essentially writing the album in two weeks prior to entering the studio to record it. Contreras had written the bands previous three albums, Whiskey Angel (2009), 100 Miles of Wreckage (2011) and Runaway Freeway Blues(2013), in a more conventional  manner and timescale  and  gained considerable commercial success and exposure with them. Appearances at The Grand Ole Opry (more appearances than any other independent band in history), Stagecoach and Bonnaroo followed leaving the band on the verge of a major industry breakthrough.

The album was recorded at the House of Blues Studio D which was relocated to Nashville from Memphis in 2010, a studio where The Eales and Stevie Ray Vaughan among others had recorded in previously. The production duties were overseen by Ryan Hewitt (Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Avett Brothers), unlike their previous albums which were produced by Contreras.

Contreras was joined in the studio by the bands two remaining members Bowman Townsend (drums) and Trisha Gene Brady (vocals) together with Bill Reynolds (bass), Matt Smyth (pedal steel), and Daniel Donato (guitar).

The net result of the hurried writing and recording of the album is an inconsistent yet wonderful collection of songs that switch from country to blues and straightforward rock with even a bit of bluegrass included for good measure. Contrast the rocking opening title track with the rockabilly 40 Days and the dreamy ballad Desire (harmony vocals by Jill Andrews). 

What is not in doubt is Contreras ability to pen a collection of great songs whatever classification which is more than borne out here.

Bob Bradshaw Whatever You Wanted Fluke

Working as a journalist and short story writer in Ireland, Bob Bradshaw, like many other young men in the mid 80’s, decided to seek employment and fulfilment away from Ireland. In 1985 he got a job as resident singer in a bar in Lagos, Portugal. Rather than return to Ireland Bradshaw then headed for Germany, living in Hamburg and Munich, sometimes sleeping in hostels though more often in a sleeping bag at a train station. His migratory lifestyle continued with spells in Spain and Sweden before acquiring a green card in 1989 and moving to the South Bronx where he worked at various jobs including doorman, roofer, landscaper and furniture mover. A further relocation to San Francisco followed where he formed the band Resident Aliens with fellow singer songwriter Scoop Mc Guire. They recorded two albums before Bradshaw, by now married, moved to Boston where he played bars solo again for a living. While in Boston he applied, as a mature student, for entry to the Berklee College of Music, surprising himself when he was accepted into the college. He applied himself judiciously at Berklee , studying song structure, timing and harmony together with courses in song writing and graduating in 2009.

Following his graduation three albums have been released including the very impressive Whatever You Want, a collection of twelve well-crafted songs that not only appear to benefit in structure from his formal training but from his life’s experiences over the past three decades in general.

The first three tracks alone revisit Bradshaw’s life travels, the brutal break up title track Whatever You Wanted has a fluent Celtic feel, Crazy Heart has a woozy shimmering Latin sound and the first track The Start Of Nothin’ starts with the lyrics "I was a young boy runnin’, My shoes a blur, I had something to tell you, Didn’t know where you were" a possible reference to the young man leaving Ireland unsure of what road he should follow.

Go Get Along is melodic country ragtime, sang as a duet with Annalise Emerick and the album closes in style with the Randy Newman sounding The Long Ride Home with Bradshaw’s vocal up front alongside some beautiful piano playing and lap steel in the background. 

Co-produced with the aid of his long-time friend and former band member Scoop Mc Guire, who also plays bass, the album was recorded at Dimension Sound Studios, Jamaica Plain, MA. It may have taken over thirty years for Bradshaw to release a body of work as impressive as this but it’s an album that he can justifiably feel proud of.

Bill Johnson Cold Outside Oxborough

Bill Johnson has been a stalwart of the Canadian blues music scene for many years as a guitarist with numerous blues bands, fronting his own band and playing solo. He has opened for household names such as Otis Rush, Dr.John and James Cotton. Cold Outside, his forth release, follows his 2010 recording Still Blue, which received a Juno nomination together with three nominations by the Toronto Blues Society. It’s likely that this offering will receive equally positive plaudits. It consists of eleven tracks all written by Johnson, all blues based but coming from different directions. The splendid title track, with a semi spoken lyric, is a harrowing tale of death and destitution, enriched by some wonderfully atmospheric guitar playing by Johnson. My Natural Ability is BB King sounding blues heaven with bubbling guitar touches and wicked piano playing by Darcy Phillips. Makes A Fella Nervous, similar to quite a lot of the recordings has a ‘live’ sound to it, the listener could be sitting on a high stool in a barroom listening to a top notch blues band. 

Johnson together with drummer Joby Baker produced the album at Baker’s own studio in Victoria BC. Rick Erickson plays bass, Darcy Phillips adds piano and organ and both Ross Hall and David Best play drums and piano respectively on three tracks.

Dan Stevens Angels In The Sand Gatorbone

Gulfport, Florida resident Dan Stevens spent over thirty years playing in various rock bands such as Apathy, Cottonmouth & Groove Moon to name a few, before concentrating more on his singer songwriter skills.

Angels In The Sand is his forth solo album release and the thirteen tracks contain a variety of styles ranging from the Warren Zevon sounding title track, the UK folky vibe of both Deep Blue Mystery and Just A Carpenter and the more rocky and electronic The Ghosts of Time and I’m Already There.

Produced by Stevens and Gatorbone records and engineered by Lon Williamson and Jason Thomas, the album features a collection of musicians including Elisabeth Williamson (guitar), Lon Williamson (bass), Gabe Valla (guitar), Jason Thomas (fiddle) and Tai Welch (percussion).

Darin and Brooke Aldridge Faster and Farther Mountain Home 

Twenty-four months after the release of the critically acclaimed Snapshots, husband and wife Bluegrass duo Darin and Brooke Aldridge appear to have set the bar even higher with Faster and Farther, the sixth album release on the Mountain Home Music Label. An indication of their current standing in modern Bluegrass circles are the inclusion of iconic artists such as Vince Gill and Pat Flynn in the recordings. Gill contributes vocals to Highway of Heartache and Mountains in Mississippi, while three songs written by Flynn (Lila, Cumberland Plateau and Kingdom Come) appear on the album with Flynn also playing guitar on two of the tracks. 

An act that regularly feature at the business end of the Gospel, Bluegrass and Americana/Roots charts, the duo journey comfortably between traditional bluegrass, roots and gospel on Faster and Farther.

Their formula is quite simple, well-chosen and arranged songs and technically outstanding playing. However, the ingredient that makes the whole package gel is the vocal capability of Brooke Aldridge, whose exquisite voice would effortlessly grace any musical genre.

The album is certainly evidence of this with tracks such as Mountains in Mississippi, Lila and This River, with Darin taking lead vocal, of a standard that would not be out of place on any Alison Krauss and Union Station album.

Kingdom Come, the opening track, takes less than twenty seconds to put the listener on notice of whats to follow with a belting mandolin, guitar and fiddle intro before Brooke’s powerful vocal kicks in. 

Fit For A King is country gospel at its finest with Brooke’s vocal aided in no small measure by gorgeous harmony vocals courtesy of Charli Robertson of Flatt Lonesome. Heaven Just Got Sweeter For You closes the album in style with the focus on the duo’s harmonies with mandolin, guitar and acoustic bass adding the perfect background. 

Altogether a hugely impressive effort sitting comfortably at the crossroads between bluegrass, country and folk.  Beautifully punctuated by powerhouse vocals of Darin and Brooke and in no small measure by their band Tyler Collins (banjo, dobro, guitar), Tim Surrett (acoustic bass), Shay Cobb (fiddle) and their guests Vince Gill, Pat Flynn, John Cowan, Charli Robertson, Barry Bales ( in the band?) and Carley Arrowood. The album was produced by the duo and recorded at Crossroads Studios, Arden, North Carolina with recording engineers Van Atkins and Scott Barnett

The album cover depicts the couple on an airport runway alongside a jet possibly suggesting from the album title that this talented couple are on a forward journey to spread and share their wonderful talents and intend doing so at speed. Safe travels indeed!


Review of the Year 



Reviews By Paul McGee

Kelley McRae The Wayside Self Release

This is folk/roots music of the highest order. The eleven tracks included on this release are superbly crafted and played by an ensemble of musicians who gel perfectly together in delivering a work of some sophistication and strength.

McRae directs the gentle grooves on display with her guitar and a wistful longing in her vocal delivery. Her partner in all things creative, Matt Castelein, plays beautiful lead guitar and also sings sweet harmony vocals. Backed by Brent Clifford on guitar & vocals; Roy Salmond on piano, keys, bass & percussion, with Kenton Weins on drums & percussion; we are given song arrangements that serve the project beautifully as the song, If You Need Me, states “Anything worth holding onto is worth letting go”.

Reach You is a soft regret on scoring relationship points against a futile future “there was a time when joy came easy…”.

Land of the Noonday Sun sums it all up with the line;” time goes by like a dream, no matter how hard you run”. The dreamlike quality of her music just pulls you along on a breeze of calm and reflection.

Having travelled extensively across America and performed hundreds of shows, this duo has gone on to tour in eleven countries and performed at festivals. Theirs is a celebratory sound which reminds me of the Indigo Girls when they first appeared on the scene & both Hard Night and Red Dirt Road are perfect examples with their swagger and tempo. I also hear Patty Griffin and Emmylou in these songs but in mentioning these greats, I only hope to elevate the creative talent on display here.

A Long Time and All the Days That Have Come Before, are real nuggets that unveil themselves on repeated listen, while Rare Bird is a moment of reflection with a rueful look back at old friends, gone along another path. Tell It Again contains the most sublime guitar break and Rose is a tribute to a child (daughter?), that is beautifully gentle and heart felt.

The press release for The Wayside speaks of the ‘hope that comes with stepping onto unknown soil’. Perhaps a “place along the side of the road where things get left behind, or where you go to rest awhile, or where you go find something you lost along the way.” Well, that just about hits the nail on the head.

With four previous releases to her name, Kelley McRae has arrived at a perfect place where creative essence meets with mature and poignant reflection. Everything you would look for in a release of quality song craft and understated performance. A must buy.

C. Daniel Boling These Houses Berkalin

This represents the seventh release in a career that has seen this American Folk artist receive widespread acclaim for his singer-songwriter talents and compared to the artists like Steve Goodman, John Prine and Tom Paxton.

Of the 13 tracks here, 3 are co-writes with Tim Henderson (Buffalo Nickels/Miss Amelia Harris/Spinster) and Andrea Renfree (Growing Old in New Mexico), and there are also 2 songs inspired by the war veterans of a New Mexico organisation who helps with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (I Brought the War With Me/Crumble).

These are well-crafted story songs and influenced by his upbringing in a traveling Air Force family, along with some years spent as a National Park Ranger, a Criminal Investigator for the US Bureau of Land Management.

The assembled musicians serve the songs with quiet restraint and colour the words with sensitive playing around the arrangements.

The title track is right out of the great American folk tradition and it is no surprise that such a varied band of musicians assemble to pay tribute to the past as well as honouring the present. Songs such as I Will Not Go Gently and Leadbelly, Woody & Pete close the project with a nod to the struggle that continues… ‘We are here to make each other strong and whole…’ A fine performer and song-writing talent.

Anna Elizabeth Laube Tree  Ahh…Pockets!

Anna Elizabeth Laube is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and this is her fourth release. The nine tracks selected include a cover of Bob Dylan’s Wallflower, together with a version of XO, originally written by Beyoncé. In a way, these two extreme opposites sit as a perfect summary of this excellent artist who is prepared to take chances in her writing and song arrangements.

The title song is a sweet reflective piece that reflects on growing up and childhood memories. The innocence of youth is captured in lines like "You’re the hideout in my backyard”. The light touch and jazz swing of Sunny Days is just so sweetly subtle and sung in a lazy care-free style that frames a number of the songs here. The musicians are all very impressive in their varied cameo roles but it is the skills of Ms Laube that knits it all together, whether playing guitar, bass, harmonica, piano or just using her disarming voice.

The country-style violin that frames the Dylan cover brings the song to a new place and the Beyoncé track (XO) is given a stripped back acoustic guitar treatment with some very fine muted trumpet from Charley Wagner.  

With previous releases, Laube has been honing her song-writing skills and this fells very much like a complete and mature realisation of the days spent learning her craft.

Please Let It Rain in California Tonight is a beautiful prayer for healing in the World that has reflective compassion with lines such as “ Please let love rule our bodies, hearts, and minds, and melt away every single chain that binds”.

The narrative in “Lose, Lose, Lose” is of an ex-addict falling off the wagon on Christmas Eve and is such a poignant song both in delivery and mood. The final song “All My Runnin” is a knowing nod to love and the pedal steel of Dan Tyack frames the sentiment as Laube sings “Darlin’ all my runnin’, led me to your face”. A terrific release and one that delights as much as it surprises.

Magic Car Meteorites Tiny Dog

Twelve songs that fall into the broad space of folk/Americana from this 5-piece who are based in Nottingham, UK. All songs are written by Phil Smeeton (guitar) and feature the clear vocals of Hazel Atkinson.

Formed in 1994, the band has released three previous records and Yellow Main Sequence, Family Matters, European Punks has now been joined by Meteorites. There are songs about novelist Mario Puzo (Only in America), Summer ending (Summer Storm), Local down 'n’ outs (King of Pool), Ladies of the Night (Manwhippa!), nature escapes (Fritz’s Beach) and fractious love (Meteorites). The sound is easy on the ear and the playing is accomplished without taking any unnecessary risks.

You could sink into the easy jazz groove of Working Woman or the acoustic shuffle of The Bends and the time will pass by quite pleasantly. A varied and interesting collection of songs.

Errol Walsh & Ted Ponsonby Just Sayin' Self Release

I remember Errol Walsh with some nostalgia. I was a young man growing my musical tree in Dublin city when I was first introduced to the great sound of Stagalee, fronted by Errol, all authentic swagger and country blues/ roots rock attitude. It was a terrific live band and boasted many members that came and went through changing line ups that never seemed to diminish the quality of the music.

Years later I came across a solo release, Waltzin’ in the Water, which gave me great comfort to know he was still ‘out there’ and doing his independent thing…

So, when this new release came in my review batch I was understandably enthusiastic to catch up with his recent past. I am glad to report that this talented song-writer is not only alive and well but is making excellent music, as evidenced on the 13 tracks included here. With 6 co-writes and 7 self-penned songs, Errol spans quite a few styles with country waltzes, light jazzy numbers, folk and rhythm & blues, complete with some Irish trad touches and some slow soul grooves.

Something to suit everyone then but not a hint of the overall sense of direction being overtaken by the variety on display.

Produced by Errol, Ted Ponsonby and Joe Murray in Ireland and something of an organic creation, the entire project is fully deserving of great credit to all concerned.

Errol is joined by Ted Ponsonby (Dobro, Acoustic/Elec guitars, Hammond Organ),​ Sarah Ponsonby (Fiddle), Gary Porter( Drums), Denise Boyle(Fiddle), Dave McCracken (Bass), Donna Murray(Harmonies), Rory Clements(Piano), Gordon Murray(Acoustic guitar), Sean McCarron (Saxes),Martin Hughes(Drum programming), Cloudy Henry(Piano & accordion), Stephen Quinn(Percussion), Seonaid Aitken( Fiddles) and Joe Murray on Bass, Drum programming, guitar, Harmonies & vocal arrangements – quite an ensemble to control in a studio environment and it is to their great credit that the songs just fit perfectly together as they move across the various genres.

Long Way Down has a jazz feel with horns and piano to the fore, Seventeen is steeped in Van the Man influence with the lovely piano, warm keys and gentle guitar strum all reminiscent of the great man. Matchbox Billy is a first for the best of Country traditions; a tribute to the life of a Pyro-maniac. Queen of the Glens is a beautifully realised song with a great lead vocal from Donna Murray.

Somewhere in the Middle has a Folky groove while Looney Tune finishes everything off with some style and a tip of the hat to the old acoustic blues players of the past. Terrific stuff and this is a release that I can recommend to one and all.

3Hat Trio Solitare Okehdokee

3hattrio play what they call 'American Desert Music'. The three musicians, Greg Istock, (acoustic bass, percussion, vocals, production, arrangements), Hal Cannon, (banjo, guitar, vocals) and Eli Wrankle, (violin, vocals) make a music that is both timeless and essentially familiar. It is comprised of varying influences, yet has a strong sense of the cultural traditions of the deserts of the American southwest.

Living in the region of Zion National Park in Utah brings the three musicians into daily contact with their roots and the indigenous influences of the region and all who have passed before is interwoven into the haunting, ghost-like violin playing of Eli Wrankle, the banjo melodies of Hal Cannon and the free-form jazz like runs of Greg Istock on stand-up bass.

There is a quality of isolation and other-worldliness in the playing and the spaces created by the arrangements. The singing of Greg Istock is particularly engaging, adding fresh layers to the overall atmospherics, especially when he sings in scat style improvisations to add colour to these songs.

Solitare is the third release from this trio and in our review of the previous release, Dark Desert Night, we stated that their music was simple and sublime. I see no reason to depart from this description of what is offered up on this new recording; ten songs that create a sense of returning home yet retaining the spirit of the nomadic traveller.

Texas Time Traveller is an atmospheric opener and features the free form vocals of Istock while the more reflective Rose speaks of moving down the road with the sense of nature all around. Mojave displays the finesse of the musicians to play off each other and interpret the flow of ideas contained in the elemental arrangement. The abiding message is one of the surrounding land and the place we take in the unfolding journey through time. Both Range and Blood River point to forces that are greater than us mere mortals and the drive of this music is something that powerfully captures nature in a way that is both fresh and understated. A recommended purchase.

Michael Tomlinson House of Sky Self Release

This Seattle-based singer/songwriter has 11 previous releases to his name and the 16 tracks included on this new release take over an hour of listening time. Quite a commitment is therefore required but the effort is rewarded in the positive, life enhancing lyrics and sweet vocal delivery of this accomplished singer song writer. The production is very clean and delivered by Tomlinson himself, together with the essential input of Jay Kenney, co-producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist.

It is hard not to repeat yourself across so many tracks and his optimistic messages remind me of the music of UK’s Charlie Landsborough. The writing is strong enough to hold the interest, from the light jazz groove on tracks like Boulevard Rain to the acoustic swing of Daddy O’; the catchy Wyoming Wind and reflective Thanks For the Wind. This is folk/rock played with accomplished ease and delivering a very genuine message of thanks, hope and peace, as Michael Tomlinson sings from the heart with a genuine passion and belief in his spiritually uplifting songs. 




Season's Greetings To All

The team here at Lonesome Highway would like to thank all the artists, management, record labels, PR agencies, venues and readers who helped contribute to the site over the last year. Long may the good music continue.

Here's to the next year.


Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers Pirate Party Self Release

Over the last few years Tom Mason has firmly nailed his colours to the mast with his Blue Buccaneers releases. The band name and title should give you a pretty good idea of where Tom Mason is coming from. It’s a pirate thing scallywags. In recent times Mason has released a pirate themed Christmas album Yo Ho Ho as well as The World Is Ablaze all of which, if you get in the mood, are entertaining, energetic and ebullient outings that will get anyone who is open to it in the party mood. 

Like the last album this set was produced by Thomm Jutz and the Buccaneers are a talented crew. Mason is the undisputed captain and handles the vocals, guitars, dobro, trombone, bouzouki and mandolin. Add to that violin, drums, bass, banjo and a whole lot of vocals and you have a fully realisied sound.

It’s interesting that after 4 such albums there are still songs that have you going with their infectious choruses. It must be all those pirate songs heard down through the years on film and TV. Bully In The Alley, Blow The Man Down, All For Me Grog, Haul Away Joe will be familiar to many. Mason and crew give them a good run for their money and display some fine playing and innovative arrangements (by Mason).Their take on Drunken Sailor for instance is given a twist by setting it to a Bo Diddley beat!

There are a number of original songs too that are written or co-written by Mason including the title song, Talk Like A Pirate (plenty of that here to give you a refresher course), Pirate Polka, In The Drink and Pirate Song (We’ll All Go Down With The Ship). A song that could easily be perceived as a forward thinking comment on the current state of affairs in the (dis)United States.

All in all, an album that while it may not be for everyone is full of life affirming spirit, tight playing and a sense of fun that is often lacking in these over-produced and over polished days. Long may Mason and his Blue Buccaneers rule the waves - as its likely in these programmed to death days that they won’t get to rule the airwaves. Still it’s never too late for a pirate party methinks.

Todd Snider Eastside Bulldog Aimless

Essentially this is a side project from Snider, a set of 10 songs that never outstay their welcome as the album clocks in at less than a half-hour. His Elmo Buzz pseudonym should be on the front cover but that may have confused things what with his other project the Hard Working Americans and all. It is a hard rocking album full of Snider lyrical asides and off beat, sometimes humorous observations. Snider has a distinctive voice that has gained in grain and grit over the years and is perfectly suited to this set of (assumingly) self-written songs. He also produced the album with Eric McConnell. They assembled a bunch of like-minded individuals including Snider on vocals and take-off guitar, McConnell on bass, Denis Taylor on some very upfront sax, Mark Horn on drums and Jen Gunderman on keys and vocals. These players all recorded their parts in the Sound Emporium in Nashville. While another set of players including Aaron Lee Tasjan, Paul Griffith and Keith Christopher (drums and bass respectively) were tracked in the Cash Cabin.

The title track, Hey Pretty Boy, Are You With Me? are all stand-outs but then the whole album rocks along at a pace. Those who enjoy the work of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages would do well to check this dog out. Rooted in rockin’ 60s sounds the album combines Snider voice and lyric with some off the leash riffing and energy. What’s not to like? 

AJ Hobbs Too Much Us Never Enough Booker

Hobbs is a classically trained musician who got hooked on country music (the good stuff) and his first show in the country mould was opening for Shooter Jennings. He met Ted Russell Kamp there playing bass for Jennings and they subsequently worked together with Kamp producing a previous e.p. and now this debut long playing album. The song Waylon & Merle may give you an idea of where Hobb’s heart really lies. He also includes a version of The Bottle Let Me Down that is in the spirit of its author, while also giving it some of the singer’s own style.

Aside from that, the songs are all originals from Hobbs with the exception of a Kamp song and two co-writes. All songs are taken from the storytelling tradition of using your own life as a source for the material. Hobbs admits to having problems in the past with drink and related issues. This is revealed in the opening title track. After that the song titles pretty much reveal their content in instances such as Life Without You, Daddy Loved The Lord, a song that displays a solid country/gospel theme that runs through the album with strong soulful backing vocals and organ playing a major role in many of the songs. That country/soul combination is one that has been currently explored in recent times. However, Hobbs seems to get the balance right so that it is overall a country album with an undercurrent of soul.

The production and playing are right behind Hobbs who has a strong voice much suited to the musical style he has chosen. His songs are about getting to the heart of some real life situations and experiences that are told with clarity and conviction. AJ Hobbs is not taking this music to places it hasn’t been before but, rather, he is adding to a tradition with some humour alongside the more harder hitting truths. Hobbs is a welcome addition to those exponents of California country music we know and love.

Lynne Hanson & The Good Intentions 7 Deadly Spins Self Release

Another engaging work from the Canadian singer/songwriter. Murder Ballads & Reckoning Songs it says on the sleeve and indeed these songs have a darker, edgier, rockier sound. Fellow singer/songwriter Lynn Miles brings out the rust and corrosion inherent in the seven songs here like Gravedigger, Water’s Edge and Black Widow.

Hanson plays acoustic and electric guitars and sings in a deathly clear voice on a set of original songs written solo or with co-writers Al Wood, Fraser Holmes and Miles. The accompanying musicians add tension and texture to the seven songs.  Songs that let you know where they are coming from “No hope for redemption … that’s what my Momma said” (My Mama Said), I’m digging in the dark ... digging to hide what I done” (Water’s Edge) or “Got a bible near my bed … and a shotgun by my head” (Cecil Hotel). These excerpts leave you in no doubt that these songs are a little different than the up-tempo, upbeat songs that are beloved by mainstream radio. This runs much closer to the bone(s).

Lynne Hanson has made strong albums in the past and this may be something of a diversion from the main path in terms of content and sound but this is a set of songs with a purpose and an opinion that makes it a pretty compelling listen. Just make sure to leave the lights on when you listen.

Tom Shed Davey’s Cornet Curly Maple

This songwriter has a number of albums under his belt. They are a mix of folky songs that tell stories of people and places. Shed and Nathan Smith produced the album in Nashville where they utilised the services of players like Steve Hinson (steel and dobro), Dave Pomeroy (bass) along with a selection of brass, keyboard and harmony vocals. The sound is warm and pleasant as is Shed’s voice.

These songs tell stories, for instance Bolita Sam about a murder in 1953, Ole Hickey’s Town about the rebirth of a town after a fire. As well as his own songs Shed includes three from Dave Grooms, one from Will McLean plus Stan Jones’s often recorded Riders In The Sky and the title song about the effects that war often has on a man (or woman) when they return home. The song was co-written by Shed and Janet Goodman. There is a mix of styles here from the more stripped back arrangements to the fuller sound songs, like the aforementioned title track Davey’s Cornet, which naturally features, understandably, that particular instrument. This gives a variety to the listening process. Just A Soft Echo is largely voice and guitar which perfectly suits the mood of the song. Conversely the arrangement of Riders In The Sky has a fuler sound with drums, pedal steel and a lead acoustic guitar break. The final track Groove, an instrumental, by way of complete contrast exemplifies that variety as it’s a brass and keyboard workout that closes the album on quite a different note to all that went before it, like it somehow strayed in from another album.

Shed is the sort of artist who will have fans who love his work and a ready audience that wants to hear them it, but for a number or reasons may find it hard to break outside of that particular audience. Those who are attuned to him will always want to hear more while the larger listening public will, which is true of many such artists, never take the time to find him or come across his music by accident. Those that do will know a good story when they hear it.

The Stray Birds Magic Fire YepRoc

Something of a change for The Stray Birds as they decided to bring in an outside producer. That choice was the notable producer Larry Campbell with whom they recorded the album over a ten-day period. They took the elements that had served them well through their previous albums such as the tight, lush sounding three part harmonies of the trio and their developing song writing skills which they opened to a wider approach to the process and subject matter. 

Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven, and Charles Muench all brought their A-Game to the sessions where they added to their own multi instrumental skills to those of Campbell, alongside drummer Shane Leonard, Kai Welch and Marco Benevento on keyboards. The end result is another step forward for the band and a step closer to wider public recognition.

For example, the percussion behind Where You Come From has a philosophical viewpoint aligned to a catchy chorus. The final song When I Die has an equally dark thread running through it. While, by way of contrast, Somehow steps back in time to stand close to what the Everly Brothers were doing at a certain period of their career. It’s soft harmonies and fiddle and steel guitar backing has a sweetness and instant likability. It is those harmonies throughout that are integral to what The Stray Birds have done since their inception. This time out they have added a much bigger sound and some fire and magic to the way they have conceived the album. It shows how a band can develop while fundamentally losing what was good about them in the beginning.

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