Reviews by Declan Culliton

Andrew Combs Canyons Of My Mind Loose 

Nashville can often be a contradiction in musical terms. The home of what is marketed today as "country music" is essentially controlled by Music Row and its influence on country music radio, dictating a style of music that could not be further from what many of us consider to be traditional country music. However, take the short trip over the Cumberland River and out to East Nashville and you will find a cooperative of musicians who for the past number of years have been representing and playing a different brand of music altogether, mixing country with folk and fortunately also making industry breakthroughs in recent years. Often influenced by hoovering up their parents record collections their impact has been gradual but noteworthy. Caitlin Rose unlocked the door a few years back with her 2013 album The Stand In, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price simply kicked the door in with their 2016 recordings which both deservedly made inroads in the Billboard Charts. 

Andrew Combs is probably the next most likely candidate from the East Nashville musical community to follow in their footsteps. His second album All These Dreams (2015) established him as an intelligent, reflective singer songwriter with obvious comparisons being made to Nilsson and Glen Campbell. Canyons of My Mind finds the Nashville resident taking a large leap into areas not often visited by country artists. The song writing is equally impressive as his earlier work, visiting lost love (Hazel, Lauralee, What It Means To You), environmental (Dirty Rain) and political issues (Bourgeois King, Blood Hunters) but with arrangements that are much more adventurous, aggressive and in some cases mind-blowing. The swashbuckling anti-Trump anthem Bourgeois King ("feed us fiction, fabrication, make this country great again") introduces strings into a wonderful mix that you simply do not want to end. Heart Of Wonder, which opens the album, features screeching guitars, incessant piano and even a woozy sax finale. Dirty Rain, showcasing his incredibly gentle vocal range, finds Combs deeply concerned environmentally about our children’s future "nothing shines like it did before."

Combs writing has always been inspired, thoughtful and confessional and having recently wed his long-term girlfriend a number of the songs catalogue previous relationships and what might have been, possibly by way of exorcism as he enters this new phase of his life.

If there is any justice Combs should expand his fan base considerably with Canyons Of My Mind which represents the best of both worlds with beautiful Nilsson like ballads and more experimental material entering Tim Buckley territory. He certainly has the potential to be one of the standout Americana artists of his generation. Here’s hoping.

Jason Eady Self Titled Old Guitar 

An artist releasing a self-titled album mid-career is often making a statement or revealing a body of work more personal and reflective than their previous output. The sixth release from Texas resident Jason Eady is a departure from his previous recordings in that it is acoustic in total with the exception of pedal steel guitar.  It’s also a body of work that in a just world should further the reputation of an artist whose recordings to date are up there with the finest outputs of country music in the true sense over the past decade. Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton may be hoovering up the awards and accolades, and more power to them, but Eady’s music is truer to the tradition of country music of outlaws Haggard, Jennings and Nelson than most other singer songwriters of his generation.

His latest album is so much more personal and reflective than his previous work. Exit the drinking, womanising and honky tonking and enter the concerned parent, loving husband and possibly reformed hell raiser as Eady pours his heart out over the twelve tracks on the album. Always an intelligent wordsmith, Eady has reached the age of forty and the album reflects midlife reconciliation rather than midlife crisis. More suited to the back porch than the barroom and clocking in just over thirty minutes the album includes what could be described as three spiritual tracks, the opener Barabbas, Rain and a cover of the Channing Wilson/Patrick Davis song Black Jesus. No Genie in This Bottle enters George Jones territory with its anti-drinking sentiment. Not Too Loud is a beautiful song written for his daughter as he considers the passing years from her childhood to womanhood. 40 Years closes the album with Eady delivering a semi spoken reflection of his arrival at middle age. Waiting To Shine (the longest track on the album at 4.21, coincidentally or not five of the other tracks are between 3.11 and 3.13 long) finds the writer on the road again and searching for the elusive words to pen another song ("Words are like diamonds, the best ones are the hardest to find, buried in the bottom on a hole, waiting to shine"). 

Eady once again employed Kevin Welch to produce the album which was recorded at The Blueroom Studio in Nashville, a venue used previously by Welch to record acoustic albums. Vince Gill, Tammy Rogers of The Steeldrivers both joined Eady in the studio with Courtney Patton (Eady's wife) contributing, beautifully it has to be said, backing vocals. Fellow Texan and pedal steel supremo Lloyd Maines input is telling on pedal steel, dobro and slide guitar. 

Eady already has a back catalogue behind him that sets him apart as a writer and story teller and which to date has not rewarded him with the recognition he deserves. It may require a song or two of his to be recorded by a ‘name’ in Nashville to introduce him to a wider audience. The sooner that happens the better.

Steve Gardner Bathed in Comfort Self Released

The story behind Yorkshire born Steve Gardiner’s debut album is worthy to be written about in its own right. A totally amateur musician, Gardner had written a few songs over the years without ever having performed them in a live setting with a backing band. He attended a Chuck Prophet show in London and having been blown away by the performance he started to contemplate how his handful of songs would sound rocked up with professional help.

Being aware that Chuck Prophet took on production duties together with recording and touring killer albums he audaciously e-mailed Prophet to ask if he would be prepared to give his four songs the kiss of life. To his surprise the challenge was accepted and in 2015 he found himself in San Francisco with Prophet and his backing band The Mission Express having booked a week in the studio to record a four track EP. To maximise the use of the studio time the four tracks ended up been increased to six with two late additions (in fact two versions of the same song), a country and a rocked up offering of The Day The Aliens Saved The World.  Encouraged by Prophet to consider writing  some more material to record a complete album Gardner did just that and returned to the same studio some months later with the balance of the album. Strongest tracks on the album are the instantly catchy What Would I Do, the opener Rosalie with slick banjo picking by James Deprato and both versions of the aforementioned Aliens, the ‘rock’ version recalling Jona Lewie’s You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen at Parties.

The packaging and artwork are particularly impressive and wouldn’t  any artist, whether amateur or professional, just love to credit his band as including Chuck Prophet, Stephanie Finch, Vicente Rodriquez

Lauren Alaina Road Less Travelled Humphead

Voted American Country’s New Artist of The Year in 2012, Georgia born Lauren Alaina is a product of the American Idol TV series having achieved runner up spot in the tenth season. Road Less Travelled is her second album following the release of her debut album Wildflower in 2011 which entered the Billboard 200 Charts at number 5 selling 70,000 copies on the first week of its release.

Sticking very much to the roadmap of the commercial pop/country crossover genre,  Alaina’s output compares favourably with her peers Rae Lynn, Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum.With a career very much in the ascendancy Alaina is currently on tour with Martina Mc Bride having supported Alan Jackson on his 2016 Still Keeping It Country tour. The twelve tracks featured are co-writes with Alaina working with some of the strongest songwriters in Nashville including fellow female country singer songwriters Emily Weisband, Emily Shackleton and Lindsey Lee.

The album is typical of what is been marketed in Nashville as country even though many of the tracks are devoid of any elements which qualify as country in the traditional sense. That said as a pop album it is undeniably strong if a tad over produced. Alaina possess a powerful and heavenly vocal and songs such as Doin’ Fine, Think Outside The Boy, Crashin’ The Boys Club, Queen of Hearts and the title track   are a clear indication of her ability to pen catchy radio friendly storytelling songs while  dealing with personal issues honestly such as parental break ups, growing up pains and  peer pressures.

Don’t expect to hear much pedal steel guitar or country fiddles and purist country fans will hardly embrace Road Less Travelled whereas lovers of radio friendly country pop will lap it up. A very talented young lady doing what she does remarkably well.

Urban Desert Cabaret Shadow of a Ghost Pumpkin

Urban Desert Cabaret is the vehicle used by  Joe City Garcia to produce and record his take on music and stories inspired by a life time of experiences in New Mexico, Los Angeles and California. His earlier career had included indulgences in psychedelia rock, Tex-Mex and punk rock having played in a number of bands in California including Joe City and The Nightcrawlers, The Crawlers and Dream Army. Having side stepped the music industry for a number of years Garcia was reinvigorated by his involvement in the Joshua Tree Music and Art scene and relaunched his career playing open mic nights in pubs and coffee houses in Los Angeles. 

The name of the project originates from a monthly event in 2013 organised by Garcia and his wife Joanna Fodczuk, a Polish abstract artist, which essentially was a meeting group for singers, songwriters, poets, artists and painters. Garcia vocal delivery is reminiscent of late career Guy Clark and indeed Terry Allen, his gravely delivery more often than not semi spoken.

Stand out tracks Go Away and Delta Bar both feature some delightful violin playing by Bobby Furgo, whose claim to fame includes being part of Leonard Cohens touring band in the early 90’s. UK famed folk singer songwriter Kirsty Mc Gee contributes backing vocals on Wouldn’t You Agree and the particularly impressive title track Shadow of a Ghost. Gar Robertson, who co-produced the album with Garcia, plays pedal and lap steel, electric and bass guitar. Danny Frankel plays drums and percussion.

Kelly’s Lot Bittersweet Self Release

Kelly’s Lot have been playing and recording (Bittersweet is their eleventh release) in Los Angeles since the mid 90’s. They consist of singer songwriter Kelly Zirbes and her band Perry Robertson and Rob Zucca on guitars, Matt McFadden on bass, Sebastian Sheehan on drums, Bill Johnston on sax, Dave Welch on trumpet, Bobby Orgel on keyboards and Frank Hinojosa on harp. 

Bittersweet, containing a hefty fourteen tracks, finds Zirbes stretching her musical parameters to deliver folky ballads, funky country, rocking blues and some full on, in fact very full on, rockers. Consistent throughout all the genres represented is the wonderful vocal delivery by Zirbes who also delivers a moving a capella on the hymn like Proud.

Come Home is a stripped back love ballad, featuring only Zirbes vocal and acoustic guitar courtesy of Perry Robertson. Mr.Chairman turns the heat up, a bluesy detour with a nice sax break by Johnston. Thorn, a dreamy country ballad, features aching pedal steel throughout by guest player Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams, Tift Merritt, and Tim Easton). Sleep explores darker territories, very effectively it has to be said. 

The title track Bittersweet is a heartfelt recognition for many Vietnam War veterans, lamenting their often lack of recognition and acknowledgement when returning from the frontline. Opening and closing with acoustic guitar and a whistling intro by Zirbes of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ it also features neat harmonica playing by Hinojosa.

Love Is Hard To Catch, with its sultry almost spoken delivery and kicking in at over six minutes, enters Marianne Faithfull territory as does the equally impressive On Fire with its thundering chorus.

Rick Monroe Gypsy Soul MRG

First things first. Rick Monroe ticks all the boxes for inclusion  in what is currently defined as country music in Nashville. Big arena sound, formula ballads, heavy production and slick guitar riffs. Think Eric Church, Zac Brown etc. Don’t expect any pedal steel or banjo. The Florida born Nashville resident six track mini album Gypsy Soul should without doubt  introduce Monroe to a wider audience given that it’s likely to be well received by Country Music Radio and credit to the young man as it is very good indeed in this genre.  Twelve years have passed since the release of his debut EP Against the Grain in 2005 and in that period Monroe has gained a reputation as a relentless touring artist visiting every US State except Oregon and playing support to Eric Church, Dierks Bently, Dwight Yoakam and The Charlie Daniels Band. His 2016 schedule included 120 shows and 100,000 miles of travelling.

The opening track This Side of You is a slick, sultry, come on song and is typical of what is to follow. The title Track Gypsy Soul, possibly autobiographical, follows a similar path, neat riffs, backing vocals and solo guitar breaks. Production duties were undertaken by Sean Giovanni on five of the tracks with JD Shuff credited with the remaining song.

Monroe has the songs, the image and the work ethic to join the elite modern country artists that play to large stadiums of fans on tours like Country 2 Country. Gypsy Soul could very well be his passport.

Norrie McCulloch Bare Along The Branches Self Release 

It only seems like yesterday when I put pen to paper to review Norrie McCulloch’s second album, These Mountain Blues, recorded less than twelve months ago. Not one to let the grass grow under his feet Bare Among The Branches is the third album in three years for the prolific songwriter from Glasgow. 

The Son Volt influences so evident on These Mountain Blues remain but this outing is possibly more adventurous with the two opening tracks Shutter and Little Boat giving the thumbs up to early Van Morrison and Frozen River offering a more traditional country leanings with the inclusion of some slick mandolin playing by Iain Thompson. Around The Bend is an impressive ballad and very much true to form for McCulloch and the album closes with Beggars Wood a seven-minute journey through the passage of time beautifully articulated and enhanced by some distinctive guitar playing throughout.

Studio colleagues are his regulars, Dave McGowan (Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian), Stuart Rea and Marco Rea (The Wellgreen) together with Iain Thompson of The Bella Hardy Band on mandolin and Iain Sloan of Wynntown Marshals adding pedal and backing vocals. 

McCulloch’s work sits comfortably at the crossroads between folk and country and Bare Among The Branches is further evidence of a proficient and maturing artist, very much part of the wealth of UK talent currently representing the Americana genre. 

Cory Goodrich Wildwood Flower Self Release

Cory Goodrich is certainly no stranger to country music having won Jeff Awards for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in the Johnny Cash Revue Ring of Fire and her role as Mother in Ragtime. Together with her acting career she is also a singer songwriter and children’s music composer with two award winning albums, Hush and Wiggly Toes to her credit.

Wildwood Flower, her latest work, is a collection of folk and country songs, covers and originals, all featuring Goodrich playing autoharp, an instrument she was introduced to while researching for her role as June Carter for the stage play. The cover versions chosen are standards and include Ring of Fire, Shenandoah, Will The Circle Be Unbroken and all work comfortably together with a number of self-penned additions by Goodrich of which C’est Plus Facile Sans Toi (It’s Easier Without You) and Home To You particularly impress.  

Goodrich, together with being an accomplished musician, is blessed with a controlled vocal range which captures the intended old timey atmosphere throughout the recordings.

The title of the album is a Maud Irving poem, immortalised in song by The Carter Family and given an interesting makeover by Goodrich.

Production duties were undertaken by musician, actor and former musical director at Goodman Theatre Malcolm Ruhl, who together with Goodrich also contributes autoharp and backing vocals.


Reviews by Paul McGee


Ordinary Elephant Before I Go Berkalin

This acoustic folk duo is Crystal Hariu-Damore on guitar and vocals with husband Peter Damore on banjo, guitar and vocals. They have been performing together since 2011 and their debut release, Dusty Words & Cardboard Boxes appeared in 2013 and was well received at the time, This follow-up is a very strong statement of intent for the future. The harmony vocals are sweetly compelling in the 13 tracks and there is a hint of Natalie Merchant in Crystal’s phrasing.

Songs like Another Day and Can I Count on You? refer to the trials and tribulations of commitment and the routine of married life. Railroad Man is a fine tribute to a father and the values with which he was raised. Best of You speaks of not letting life get on top of our hopes and dreams and of turning hard times into positive experiences. Leaving Kerrville and Lady in the Elevator are two songs written from personal experience, one a near-fatal and life-changing road accident; the other a conversation in a hospital lift with a woman who was saying goodbye to her departing husband: ‘Too many machines sing their song around his bed; Too many words that she never said…’ . The Things He Saw is a powerful song that deals with Alzheimer’s in a moving and poignant lyric and highlights Ordinary Elephant’s great song craft and playing abilities.

Today Crystal and Peter call the road home, living full-time in a van and travel trailer with their dogs, exploring the country and creating music of real depth and dignity. Someone mentioned Rawlings and Welch in a review as a comparison and this is not wide of the mark when it comes to authentic, honest and heart-felt stories and character songs. This is a highly recommended release and the duo are ably supported by the subtle and understated playing of Jon Gaga on upright bass, Jason Crosby, fiddle & piano, Sharon Gilchrist on mandolin with Jono Manson, tenor guitar, David Berkeley, backing vocals and Mark Clark, brushes. 

Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean Orchestra Waves Sun Sign

Ocean Orchestra is a Celtic fusion band that reside on the American East Coast and comprise mostly of Jennifer Cutting on electronic keyboard and accordion, Lisa Moscatiello on vocals and whistle, Andrew Dodds on fiddle, Zan McLeod on bouzouki, mandolin, and electric guitar, Tim Carey on highland bagpipes, Steve Winick on vocals, Rico Petruccelli on electric bass and Robbie Magruder on drums. 

They are quite a fluid troupe and play in different ensembles and formats. Indeed, there is an impressive array of guest musicians and performers on this new release and all bring a rich tapestry to the overall results. The key inspiration comes from the creative talents of Cutting who is composer/arranger of considerable depth. She holds both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music and is the artistic director behind this project, her third release.

I am reminded of Steeleye Span when listening to the 12 tracks here, nine written by Cutting, with the inclusion of three traditional airs. The eclectic mix of accordion, fiddle, bouzouki, flute, whistle, piccolo and highland bagpipes lead a celebratory sound that is vibrant and pleasant on the ear. Lark in the Clear Air is particularly striking with the strong vocals of Polly Bolton subtly supported by Troy Donockley on whistle and Jennifer Cutting on an antique pedal-powered reed organ. Crane and Tower is another stand-out, with a damning lyric against unchecked urban development at the expense of the countryside: “Build for Jesus, build for glory/Dwarf the acre where we stand/Profits in the sky, Hosanna/Build it anywhere you can”. Powerful.

Leaves of Autumn is a gentle ballad with the Celtic harp of Sue Richards adding a poignant mood to the wistful vocal of Lisa Moscatiello. Everything Glows is a really terrific example of fusing music from India with the unique sound of the bagpipes. It is a great workout, fuelled by Bollywood Shouters, the fine drum/bass combo of Steve Loecher and Rio Petruccelli and layered with tablas, bansuri, flute, fiddle and rich guitar/keyboard lines. She is a fine song which sees a welcome appearance of the great Clive Gregson on guitar, slide and harmony vocals to complement the lead vocal of Lisa Moscatiello.  

The sleeve notes say: File under ‘Folk-Rock/Celtic/World’, so not really in our usual or sought remit but a perfect description for this global mix of traditional tunes and musical influences.

Dave Vargo Burning Through Self Release

This excellent musician graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston and went on to forge a very successful career as a touring artist and session player. He has worked with a number headline artists including Whitney Houston, Phoebe Snow and Vonda Shepard, but his talents as a songwriter have only been given the spotlight on this, his debut release as a solo performer. 

The eleven songs are written by Dave and co-produced with drummer Tim Pannella. Erik Romero plays bass and keys with Kim Boyko on backing vocas. The arrangements are all very impressive with fluid playing and a bright feel to the melody and rhythm. The commercial sound is perfectly captured on the opening song Come Take Me Home and the fluid guitar playing of Finding My Way to You, which captures a Hootie & the Blowfish vibe. 

Too Young To Be Broken slows things down with gentle acoustic guitar and a lyric about broken dreams and disillusionment. Waiting runs along similar reflective lines with a wistful look back at the past and regrets over choices made. The expressive vocals of Varo are perfectly complimented by the support cast and Don’t Think Twice is a fine example of the band in full unison and playing with a relaxed and loose tempo. Final track, Pieces of my Heart, is an up-tempo ending to what is a very strong debut release and one that comes highly recommended.  

Bill Jackson The Wayside Ballads Vol. 2 Laughing Outlaw

This release follows on from Volume 1, which was launched in 2015 and was an electric record, due to the group of songs chosen. This follow-up is a more acoustic approach with production by Thomm Jutz (Mary Gauthier, Nanci Griffith, Otis Gibbs etc.) in Nashville. 

The 11 new songs are mainly co-written by brothers Bill and Ross Jackson and the band is comprised of Pete Fidler on Dobro, Sierra Hull on mandolin, Justin Moses on banjo and fiddle, Daniel Kimbro on upright bass and Lynn Williams on drums and percussion. Bill Jackson plays acoustic guitar and sings, while producer Thomm Jutz contributes acoustic guitar, keyboards and backing vocals. Recorded ‘live’ in the studio and benefiting from an organic acoustic sound, the playing is understated, warm and welcoming. 

Songwriters occupy a crowded marketplace, but what can set them apart is a fine line between originality and simply being a copyist. The songs on this release are very authentic and have a feel of being around before. 

Story songs such as Gippsland Boy, Three China Ducks, Rollin’ Into Rosine, Time Will Judge and Pink Jesus ring true to life and carry the experiences and interpretations of everyman. Halfway House of the Broken and Every Day’s Drinkin’ Day  are two poignant songs that conjure up the  lives of the marginalised.The interplay between the musicians is a real joy and the entire project is dotted with little surprises and gentle grooves. This is roots music that will appeal to fans of folk and country ballads.

Bill Jackson’s previous releases include Diggin’ the Roots (2006), Steel & Bone (2008), Jerilderie (2011) which have been all well received in the media. He is a talented artist who is well worth checking out. 

Jeff Plankenhorn Soul Slide Lounge Side

Plank is a versatile musician who has been playing a variety of guitars for many years in Nashville and Austin, appearing on numerous records and releasing a batch of solo albums that have gained him an impressive reputation. This new release sees Brannen Temple on drums, Yoggie on bass, Dave Scher on guitar, piano, organ, Rami Jaffe on mellotron & Hammond organ, Peter Adams on clavichord, Hammond organ and Wurlitzer.  Ruthie Foster and Malford Milligan share both lead and background vocals and Miles Zuniga plays electric and acoustic guitars, piano and also sings backing vocals, completing an impressive line-up of players. There are other guests involved, namely his band associates in The Resentments and the overall impression is one of admiration for the musical depth and the range of skills on display.

Plank marries soulful vocals, with a touch of southern soul, a touch of funk coupled with country which all blend into an intoxicating sound.  However, it is the extraordinary guitar sound that carries the tunes from the opening Lose My Mind, through the slow blues of Trouble Find Me and on into the full throttle work-out of Like Flowers which sees Ruthie Foster singing her heart out.

Plank has played on records by Joe Ely, Ray Wylie, Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmy Lafave and many more.  All his experiences have led to standing dates with collaborative Austin bands, The Apostles of Manchaca, The Purgatory Players, and The Resentments. His Plank guitar is a creation that is stand-up lap steel guitar, which he picks with one hand and uses a slide with the other. The sound is down n’ dirty with plenty of emotive force and edge to the solos and riffs that he produces. Think Bonnie Raitt meets John Hiatt and Sonny Landreth and you have an idea of the quality and groove on offer here.

Dirty Floor is a stand-out with some really tasty guitar parts on top of a driving rhythm and Vagabond Moonlight is a slow country strum, while Mockingbird Blues is an acoustic blues. Headstrong is like a workout from the heady days of The Band and Live Today talks of making the most of the moment and forgetting the worries of tomorrow. This is a very fine release, most worthy of your attention.


Reviews by Stephen Rapid

The Mavericks Brand New Day Mono Mundo

This is the first album of original songs from the reactivated Mavericks since leaving Big Machine Music Group and it finds that the Mavs are pretty much business as usual. The core team of Raul Malo, Eddie Perez, Jerry Dale McFadden and Paul Deakin are joined by the Fantastic Four, which includes long-time associate Michael Guerra on accordion, guitar and percussion as well as the brass section and current bassist. So, there’s nothing here that strays too far from what might be expected - and loved - from the band.

Per usual, the musicianship is without question and the focal point of Malo’s vocal prowess is well to the fore. The 10 songs have been written by Malo, mostly with co-writer Alan Miller. There is one solo credit and one on which guitarist Perez joins in. The themes are, as they have been of late, of affairs of the heart and in most cases the songs affirm love and life. I Think Of You, I Will Be Yours, I Wish You Well and the title track attest to the generous state of the heart. The more acerbic older songs such as From Hell to Paradise seem likely to remain in the past. This would seem to be one of the reasons that the Mavericks are often tagged as a good time party band which has both positive and negative effects, depending on which side of the fence you are on.

For any long time Mavericks fan though, Brand New Day offers a brand new way to get acquainted with the band with their trademark sound firmly to the fore. It is an album that many are already placing alongside the best of their earlier incarnation and it will give the Mavericks the impetus to carrying doing what they do best, hopefully making some new fans along the way too.

 Sam Outlaw Tenderheart Six Shooter

Following on from the success of his last Ry and Joachim Cooder-produced album, Sam Outlaw has followed up with an album that reinforces his trademark sound. His sound is focused around his distinctive vocal style and his neo-LA (So-Cal) country stylings. As the title implies, there is a new tenderness to some of the songs, especially as he and his wife now have a son. This makes the process of being a working musician, of being on the road, a lot more difficult, yet the call to carrying on making music is strong. In order to do that successfully there is a need to tour behind a new album and Tenderheart is that album and a fine one it is too. Prior to releasing Angeleno, Outlaw had self-released a vinyl album and  an EP. For both his last and the new album he has rerecorded some of those earlier songs, and on this album Diamond Ring, Two Broken Hearts and She’s Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of) have been chosen beside 10 new songs.

The production this time out is by Outlaw himself and Martin Pradler. and here he works again with Molly Jenson, Daniel Rhine, Jeremy Long, Brad Lindsay, all of  whom contributed to the debut release Nobody Loves Sam Outlaw. Jenson and Long also appeared on the Angeleno album and this brings continuity to the context of his music. Outlaw is steeped in the music that emanates from Los Angeles. It is a broad spectrum of the country music that has always differed from that being produced in Nashville, but this is less Bakersfield and more Burbank. There is a nod to the border again with familiar mariachi moments that allow for a broad palate and musical expression. 

The songs are much enhanced by Long’s steel guitar and the equally sympathetic playing of all. Outlaw looks at love, loss, friendship and forgiveness. Everyone’s Looking For A Home is a universal statement of the wish to belong, to have a home, to find some peace in a crazy world. The title track is about finding that special relationship. Yet it’s not all on the upside as a song like Trouble asserts; it is an album highlight and is delivered with a kick that is welcome. She’s Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of) looks at a relationship that has it’s warmth and is sung with a empathy that is easy to fall for. Two Broken Hearts is about lovers meeting and making their way in the world.

This is Outlaw doing what he does best and it is the next step in what has already been an interesting and individual musical journey, that has seen Outlaw gaining both critical respect and audience acclaim in a relatively short time. While Tenderheart may not be as well received as Angeleno in some quarters, to these ears, and after repeated listening. it is at least it’s equal.

Jim Keaveny Put It Together Self Release

The spirited troubadour returns with a brand new set of songs, most are solo writes and two are co-writes. There is a storyteller at work here who engages the listener with a loose amalgam of styles that  fall under the roots label. The album is co-produced by Keaveny and Bill Palmer who is also a player here and they are joined by a bunch of players who sound like they’re having fun and getting the groove right. The songs have a certain spontaneity totally in keeping with lifestyle of a wandering spirit, a man who looks at life with a wry smile and an open heart. 

There is also a border feel to some of the songs with the addition of guitarrón, trumpet and accordion. There are some great vocal harmonies behind Keaveny’s engaging voice and lyrics. This feels something like a conversation in a warm sunny place with a music drifting in on the wind. Given it was recorded in Santa Fe in New Mexico that may be an intention. Those who heard his last album (or previous releases) will know what to expect and newcomers are likely to be equally enchanted. This is not chart bound music, nor is it intended to be.

There is a strong folk/country axis to the overall sound with pedal and loop steel, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars and a solid rhythm section that are right behind the songs. There is also enough change of pace and texture to keep the album interesting. Most of the songs are over the 3 minute mark and several clock in over 5. The album opens with What I ain’t Got which is a précis of the things in his life that he has to hand. Is It You? opens with trumpet and a lyric about the person he has in his life. It is one of the album standouts in that it sums better than words what  Jim Keaveny is all about. The Grand Forks is an atmospheric song that mixes backing vocals with trumpet to create a Calexico styled instrumental piece. Also check out Blown Away, the heartfelt plea Please don’t Underestimate my Love, which is delivered in a soft and understated way. Limbo and Grim/The Mariachi Mantra builds from Alex McMahon’s pedal steel through to Eric Ortiz’s trumpet to create a soundscape that plays like the end credits of a modern day western.

Keaveny has put it together here in more ways than one and it underlines him as a fringe figure who continues to make music that recalls much but is very much owned by his attitude and his auspicious endeavours to be heard.

Christopher Rees The Nashville Songs Red Eye

From the first notes of this album you welcome the return of this distinctive Welsh wonder. As the title indicates, this set of songs were written with a number of co-writes including Rick Brantley, Mando Saenz, Sandy Cherryholmes, Amy Speace and others. However the recording, production and mixing was done by Rees at his studio in Wales and it features Rees’ notable attention to detail and a sound that brings his multi-instrumental abilities well to the fore. He plays everything here other than drums (Dan Tilbury) and pedal steel guitar (Aaron Goldstein - a talented player who has worked with Daniel Romano and The Cowboy Junkies). Another vital asset here is Rees’ dynamic and individualistic vocal, which is central to the album’s success. 

A listen to Something about Nashville will confirm that accomplisment to any listener. The song is about being separated from a partner who once shared the city together but is now not there. In the song A Place Upon My Face Rees’ writes that “I want my face to be a reflection of where I’ve been and where I come from.” In many ways his albums also offer the same sort of illumination. Each album is about a musical adventure and inspiration as well as a diary of where he was when he recorded it in terms of inspiration and application. Even though they are largely recorded back in his studio in Wales they draw from the experiences and the relationships he has made along the way. These are both personal and musical. 

Rees is an artist whose compulsion to make music as a necessary expression and fundamental need is evident. There is little doubt that the path of any independent artist is not a particularly easy one, but when the results are as good as this is, then it is one that needs to be encouraged and applauded. But if the end result was below standard then it would be easy to suggest that, as is sometimes the case, the continued release of albums may be something of a fool’s errand. That is not true of Christopher Rees, who has consistently proved his worth and the worthiness of his endeavours. The Nashville Songs is his latest album and long may he continue to do what he does so well.

Ed Dupas Tennessee Night Road Trip

The sleeve note from Dupas explains something of the genesis of this album - how a trip to Nashville and a stay in a remote writer’s cabin helped to inspire several of the songs featured here - songs born out of longing and some inner turmoil (I can’t let you go, I watch your picture on the wall, and I wait for it to fall - Do It For Me). Overall the mood is not upbeat, even though the music is. Dupas looks at his life, his hopes and his past and uses that to create this music and in doing so expresses something that many will have experienced themselves.

The album was produced, engineered and mixed by Michael Crittenden, who is also a part of the players who have brought these songs to life. Full credit to them and their individual talents. The album is a worthy successor to Dupas’ debut A Good American Life and underlines his talent as a writer, singer and performer. It has the feel and energy of such wonderful albums as Bob Woodruff’s 1994 album Dreams & Saturday Night which was produced at a time when a country album could rock while remaining true in spirit to the core music without becoming a parody of overblown heavy metal, as is often the case these days.

Mention should be made of the contribution of Drew Howard on pedal steel which does much to flavour the music’s roots orientation. Crittendon’s B3 and banjo also add to that overall texture. Dupas himself plays acoustic and electric guitars which complement his grounded and graceful vocal performance. He is joined on a number of these songs by vocalists Tara Cleveland, Judy Banker and Cole Hanson and all add a counterpoint and harmony behind the emotion evident in Dupas’s delivery. Too Big to Fail, Anthem and Everything is in Bloom are all examples that immediately stand out and show why Ed Dupas is an artist who well warrants investigation and interest. These songs have insight and inhabit a space that, if nothing else, shows that Dupas’ need to make music is a true one. That is something to be deemed as a worthy endeavour. 

Malcolm Holcombe Pretty Little Troubles Singular

There is little doubt that Holcombe has his detractors as well as his admirers. His grit and gravel sandpaper voice is not to everyone’s taste, but those that do fall under his spell seem to be growing and he is certainly been prolific of late with a number of albums to his credit over the last few years. This time out noted artist in his own right Darrell Scott has taken on the production duties. Holcombe’s bluesy tales, his own pretty little troubles, are as often about the world around him and how it is being eroded (Yours No More, Good Ole Days, Damn Weeds) as about his own life and times (Crippled Point O’ View, Outta Luck), some of the songs encompass both.

However these tales of woe are given a musical setting that always make them never less than interesting with a wide range of instruments adding substance and sustenance to the hardworn nature of the music. Many of the instruments are played by Scott himself but with major contributions from Jelly Roll Johnson, Joey Miskulin, Verlon Thompson and Denis Crouch. Mike McGoldrick brings a distinctly Celtic flavour to The Eyes O’ Josephine with Uillean pipes, which makes that song an immediate standout. Yet in the end it is Holcombe’s voice which is the most prominent feature of the tracks and the success of the album will largely depend on your liking for that particular vocal inflection.

For those that do like this sound, Pretty Little Troubles is a compelling album that employs all the skills of its participants to best advantage which makes it a highpoint of Holcombe recorded output. His pretty little troubles have produced some nuanced and balanced personal and unique representations of the blues that are as effective as many of the more applauded practitioners of that often ignored genre. Malcom Holcombe continues to do it his own way. Singular indeed. 

Angaleena Presley Wrangled Mining Light

For her second album Presley takes a particular stand for her take on traditional country music and against some prevailing attitudes on the role of the women gagged. Add to that a the album’s title and you get the impression that Presley wants to break free. She does this by expanding her parameters while remaining within the country corral. 

The songs also tell something of the tale with titles like Dreams Don’t Come True, Country, Outlaw, Mama I Tried and Motel Bible. The album’s overall tone is her largely contemporary takeon  a musical form she loves. The steel and baritone guitar on Only Blood takes things right back. This duet with Morgane Stapleton was co-written by Presley and Chris Stapleton and is a sweetly sung song of revenge and that “she’s been talking to Jesus and he said that only blood is strong enough to wash away your sins.” There is a distant distored male voice and some discordant sound that adds an air of disquiet to the song. Country heads the opposite direction with a rap vocal from co-writer Yelawolf that wipes the floor with some of mainstream country’s rap aspirations and mixes the two approaches with success. 

The songs are a mix of those written solo and co-writes. Dreams Don’t Come True with her Pistol Annies bandmates Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert. There are two co-writes with writers who had obviously played a major influence on her in terms of attitude and writing aspirations. They are Guy Clark in Cheer Up Little Darling (which uses Spanish guitar under Clark’s spoken advice over that intro) and Wanda Jackson (and Vanessa Olavarez) for Good Girl Down. Co-producer Oran Thornton also has a couple of writing credits (Mama I Tried and Motel Bible - the latter also with Trevor Thornton). Her own Outlaw makes the point that she doesn’t want to be a renegade or outlaw, that she would like to be a straight shooter on the hit parade, a place she has been with The Pistol Annies. However one gets the feeling that Presley would want to do that her own way rather than as any sort of record company puppet.

There is a whole bunch of attitude at work here that makes for an album that has both variety and velocity which in turn make it a step forward for Presley. However hse may still find her music sitting outside the tightly controlled focus of country radio’s current thinking - sad to say. 

The Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band Front Porch Sessions Family Owned

The big voiced Reverend is back with his band on these stripped back acoustic blues and country blues outings. So stripped back,in fact, that the Big Damn Band here is just two people; Breezy Paton on washboard and Maxwell Senteney on drums. However a lot of the performance are just Payton alone or predominately him. It was recorded on vintage equipment in order to capture a certain timeless quality that is not exactly retro but rather realistic.

Payton went in to lay down some old songs and some new songs in a live-in-the-studio format while capturing the looseness the title indicates. The results are going to please any of those who have witnessed the band’s live performances. It also stands up as a pure listening experience as it captures the spirit of the songs and the lineage that they convey, When My Baby Left Me by Furry Lewis being a good example. As is  the Reverend’s taken on the songs from the 1900 Let Your Light Shine, an infectious spiritual reading.

Between the covers and the originals there is not a lot of distance, which is to say the new songs capture the spirit of older ones. It is about intimacy and illumination, but also it is about Payton’s big and booming voice and his growing skills on his guitar on his Dobro. Not an album to please everyone, especially those with one foot in the honky-tonk, but for anyone who likes their music honest. 


Reviews by Paul McGee

Aaron Watson Vaquero Big Label

Sixteen songs and over 60 minutes of new music from this independent Texan who continues to blaze an impressive trail in celebration of his artistic talents and entrepreneurial vision. This represents CD release number 13 and highlights a career spanning 18 years that includes countless live performances across America and into Europe in recent years.

His last release, The Underdog, acted as a statement of defiance against the music machine of Nashville, where his style of Texas Outlaw Country is not given much official recognition. However, this was not the first time that the big record labels came calling for Watson’s signature on a contract; only to be turned down at every point of asking. Instead, The Underdog made history when it made Watson the first independent male artist to debut at number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart with a self-released, independently distributed and promoted album.

No pressure then on this follow-up, only 2 years later, but Watson comes through with a very self-assured and confident project that does not sag at any time across the many tracks included here. There are love songs (Take You Home Tonight, Be My Girl, Big Love in a Small Town, Rolling Stone), heartland songs about pride in living quiet and honest lives (These Old Boots Have Roots, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To), story songs such as the tile track which references the solitary life of the old independent ranch hands and the sage advice of years spent riding the rural countryside farms – “He said don't live your life like a sad country song, A fool on a stool is still a fool right or wrong”.

Texas Lullaby examines the simple wish to serve one’s country and make it back alive – a politically tinged song with a small-town twist that makes it all the more honest. Outta Style is a fine band workout and the celebratory groove of the arrangement has radio hit written all over it. Run Wild Horses is a song of passion and desire that really rocks out with guitar and fiddle playing off each other in style. There is some timely social commentary in the song Clear Isabel, which looks at the subject of illegal immigrants and the hope of making a better life across the border.

Amen Amigo has an addictive beat with some excellent fiddle parts as local town fun spills out into the weekend and partying with the boys in tow! The strongest track is The Arrow which gives a life lesson to the sense of living with kindness and love. Diamonds & Daughters is a heart-felt song to his little girl and will long endure as a fan favourite with its sweet sentiment.

Aaron Watson is a very authentic country artist who delivers on all fronts; an insightful and strong song-writer who plays from the belief that he can make a difference in the lives of people who look to music as a means of coping in their daily lives. The abiding message is to live life with a belief and confidence in yourself. This release takes top spot in my country music releases so far, this year.

Stevieray Latham Winter in London At the Helm

This collection of 10 songs was released at the end of 2016 and arrived into our offices for review this month. There is no detail or information on the promo copy I received, but the following was sufficient endorsement ‘mixed and produced by Peter Bruntnell at Domestico Studios in North Devon’. This is the home studio of the multi-talented Mr Bruntnell and any connection with such a revered artist/producer should be sufficient to highlight any young artist to the media.

Steveray Latham released his debut record in 2014 and this follow up is a quiet affair with stripped down arrangements and a vocal that delivers with a sense of reflection and wistful longing. Latham sings these personal songs that have relevance to his years spent living in London. West Hendon Incident deals with a shooting on an estate. Kristina looks at a friend who has issues in communicating in the real world. Never Go Back is a lament to times passed by and the reflection that you can never return. The strings used on This is The Love are gently haunting against a backdrop of a failed relationship while House On The Corner tells of a past girlfriend who has travelled away. Plenty to enjoy here and a strong release from this young talent.

Adriana Spina Let Out the Dark Ragged Road

This singer-songwriter is based in Scotland and her second release, following on from her debut in 2011, is quite an interesting collection of songs. Her band comprise of Stuart MacLeod, who not only produced and mixed the ten songs here, but also weighs in with guitar, bass, keyboards & percussion. Ross McFarlane plays drums and there are backing vocals from Caitlin MacLeod and Francesco Spina (keeping it in the family). Adriana plays acoustic guitar and sings with a sweet voice and clear delivery.

The songs are based around relationships in the main (Home, The Same Drum, Sparkle, Where You Are), affairs & infidelity (The Fall, Hear It From You), the challenge of being away from home and unfilled dreams (Don’t Recognise Me, Two Steps, Disappear) and there is a poignant reflection on the immigrant crisis (See Another Day).

Regret is the abiding theme in the relationship songs with the author cast as the villain in breaking-away and avoiding intimacy. A restless soul looking for a true home should not look back in anger.

A fine collection of contemporary Folk songs that will appeal to many and attract media attention for this new artist.

Scotch Hollow Little Tortuga Self Release.

Scotch Hollow is an acoustic roots band that play in a country-blues style that is both timeless and modern. Mark Verbeck met Carley Martin at College where their mutual love for the blues, traditional country and roots music brought them together. The band line-up is completed by JD Linn on upright bass, Benjamin Scholz on drums, percussion Brody Buster on harmonica and Joel Schuman on piano.

This collection of 11 songs represents their third release, following a debut 5-track EP in 2014 and their debut full length album in 2015. The band produce a fine groove with harmonica and guitar high in the mix. Verbeck produces the project with Linn also acting as producer and sound engineer, so it is very much an in-house affair. The blues playing on the 3 opening songs Hocus Pocus/Kansas City Pepper/Drop in the Bucket is immediate and bright and the pace does not let up throughout.

There are cover versions of Nobody But You (Little Walter), Moaning at Midnight (Howlin' Wolf/Big Willie Dixon) and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning (Blind Willie Johnson). It is a measure of the playing prowess on display that all three tracks stand very much in their own style with strong performances in the interpretations ... The vocal talents of Carley are very much to the fore throughout this enjoyable release.

Cranford Hollow Color/Sound/Renew/Revive Swampfire

Cranford Hollow describe their sound as a blended mix of Southern Rock, Appalachian Fiddle Music and American Rock and Roll. Well, the evidence on this, their fifth record, is more that of a roots/country sound with the fine violin playing of Eric Matthew Reid colouring the arrangements at every turn. He is ably assisted by John Cranford on guitars, piano and sound manipulation; Jan Reynecke on electric guitar, Randy Looman on drums and Philip Sirmans on bass. Special guest/honorary member John Wilkins also features on guitar and the 8 tracks here are a testament to this excellent band of musicians who blend the influences of the Band and the Allman Brothers into a composite whole that is both addictive and unique in sound. Reid and Cranford handle the vocals with great aplomb and the tired, worldly wise delivery in the voices comes over as fully authentic in the song settings. And You Brutus, Songfield, North and Swing are really strong tracks but the whole project makes for a great listening experience. Good to discover new music such as this and to recommend it to a wider audience.

New Road Stone Walls & Street Lights Self Release

What an unexpected surprise! This collection of 13 tunes is a real joy from start to finish with playing that sweeps the listener along with a real energy and flourish. The band comprise of Rick Epping (harmonica, concertina, 5-string banjo, jaw harp, vocals); Seamie O'Dowd (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, vocals); Leonard Barry (uilleann pipes, whistles) and Andy Morrow (fiddle). The combo playing is just superb and the blend of fiddle, jaw harp & uileann pipes on the song Greasy Coat is a fine example of the great arrangements that deliver little twists along the way to keep the listener fully engaged.

Formed in 2013 and featuring this interesting blend of instruments, New Road are very aptly named and explore roots music that includes Irish traditional, Appalachian old-time, blues and more. An eclectic mix of traditional airs, tunes, jigs, reels, songs, stories are sewn together across a tapestry of melody and rhythm that is both engaging and full of rich colour. Guests include bodhrán legend Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh, Cathy Jordan and Sligo guitarist Shane McGowan. The songs are sung by Rick Epping and include the aforementioned Greasy Coat, Saturday Night My Wife Died and Down In The Old Home Town.

Fellow Pynins Hunter & the Hunted Self Release

This debut release was recorded live in Ashland, Oregon and the band is made up of duo Ian Van Ornum on guitar, mandolin, hurdy gurdy and vocals with Dani Aubert on banjo, bouzouki, vocals, plus voice sung into the banjo. All 10 songs are created by Fellow Pynins and their website describes them as “a tender duo, birthed out of years of travelling, farming, childrearing and touring with a 6-piece orchestra called Patchy Sanders”.

Their songs contain an old-world feel in the words and speak of love stories and the untamed nature of both man and sea. Folk tales and fables that tell of sheep and sugar beets, kings and queens; echoes of a time since passed and one where many may still wish to reside.

Finely tuned harmonies and sympathetic musical arrangements flow easily and the simple strum and intimacy of My Adventures With Jack As Sheepherders is a real joy. Instrumental Henry’s Got Freckles (In The Summertime) is a pleasant jaunt on a buggy in the countryside on a sunny day before Dear Ones unfolds with a salutary tale of death and the depths that could easily fit into an Irish session of traditional singing. The duo did tour Ireland in 2016 as part of a European tour and their music is quaintly appropriate to the sense of a return to simpler ways. A fine release for those who enjoy traditional folk music played with an understated charm.  

Shake Russell Little Bright Band of Light Howlin’ Dog

Thirteen songs in 49 minutes and the project was funded by way of a pre-order campaign. The players who support Shake are Michael Hearne on acoustic guitar & harmony vocal; James Doyle on drums; Jimmy Stadler on piano and guitar (4 tracks, all parts recorded at his home studio) and Don Richmond, who plays a cornucopia of instruments, in addition to production duties.

For more than three decades, this Texas singer-songwriter has been creating his folk-rock compositions, some of which have been recorded by artists such as artists as Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Ricky Skaggs, Clint Black, and Carolyn Dawn Johnson. He has been recording since the 1970’s and has a broad body of work to his name.

Quality playing throughout and a fine way with a lyric make this experienced singer-songwriter one to celebrate and songs like Pure and Shadow Man are reminiscent of JJ Cale in the arrangement and rhythm. Letters, Songs And Photographs is a look back at old memories while The King of the Honky-Tonk Is Gone is a fine tribute to the great George Jones. In early 2016, Shake RusselI was honoured and inducted in the Songwriters Texas Legends Hall of Fame and this latest release gives plenty of reasons as to why such an award was merited.

Jen Gloeckner Vine Spinning Head 

The music industry often works in bazaar and unexpected ways. Not always with the results anticipated or intended. Labels sign artists, distribution deals are struck for product reach and then promotion/PR companies get involved with product air-play, placement and media reviews. It all leads to a big machine spinning its wheels, ever in different directions, and not always aiming the energy at the original targets intended.

In this context, I am contacted by the Jen Gloeckner promotion team who tell me that this artist has just released her third CD and that she is placed, as a reference point, in the category of; Massive Attack, Radiohead, Bjork, Portishead, Julee Cruise, Patsy Cline, Simon and Garfunkel and others.

Well, as Lonesome Highway is focused mainly on Americana, Country, Folk & Roots music, I am interested to understand just how Patsy Cline made it onto this list of artists, but I am prepared to suspend judgement and just listen to the music on its merits…

Some days later I receive a package that contains all three of Jen’s releases; Miles Away (2005), Mouth of Mars (2010) and Vine (2017). Asked to review the latest release, I am curious to track the progression made across all three records and so I settle into a few days of Jen Gloeckner taking up the greater part of my listening time.

The experience is not unpleasant and indeed I am very taken with the singular talents of this Dubuque, Iowa artist who recorded the new release in her bedroom before having the tracks mixed and mastered in Philadelphia.

The latest release Vine is a further jump in creative control and expression as Jen delves further into the use of loops, pulses, rhythms, treatments and voice atmospherics. These are lavish soundscapes and the ambient quality of the tracks is augmented by the sweet vocal delivery and use of Cello, Flute and EBow. The lyrics are not always clear but add to the overall effect of floating along the breeze of life with destination unknown. Song titles such as Blowing Through, Firefly (War Dance), Counting Sheep, Row With The Flow and Breathe give an indication of the musical colour on display here. A very talented artist who is worthy of greater media attention for her creative gifts. Jen Gloeckner is not easily placed in any specific genre, which can only be a positive when everyone is eager to pigeonhole creative talent into various boxes.

I am still looking for Patsy Cline howeve … A small complaint!




Reviews by Declan Culliton

Samantha Crain You Had Me At Goodbye Ramseur Records

Samantha Crain’s last visit to Ireland in 2015 featured an appearance on national television where she performed Big Rock from her then current album Under Branch And Thorn And Tree on The Late Late Show. That album featured highly in Lonesome Highway’s Best of 2015 and was a career best for the Oklahoma resident. Not one to stand on ceremony, Crain freely admitted that after that tour it was back to bread and butter issues with the prospect of working shifts at a pizza parlour to earn cash to finance her next recording and subsequent tour. The result of her toils is You Had Me At Goodbye, the fifth full album by Crain and a worthy successor to its predecessor.

Engaging the same production team of John Vanderslice (The Mountain Goats, Strand of Oaks) and Jacob Winik (The Magnetic Fields, Hot Buttered Rum) and recorded at Tiny Telephone Studio in San Francisco the album finds Crain in a more experimental and relaxed mood than on previous recordings. A recent quote from the young Shawnee Oklahoma resident noted "With this album, I just wanted to have some fun. I’ve spent the majority of my young adulthood taking myself and my music very seriously."’

Well, it is indeed fun but certainly not throwaway. Crain may have felt more carefree than on her previous recordings but her gift as a prolific and passionate songwriter continues to glow as she considers sincerity, self-respect, grieving, mental illness and relationships over the ten songs that make up the album. The album kicks off with the upbeat and hooky Antiseptic Greeting which agonises about the pressure on people to continually put a brave face on, when sometimes it should be ok and acceptable to be in bad form and not under pressure to be expected to mask it. The Loneliest Handsome Man deals with lost friendship and is delivered with an almost sleepwalking vocal and delightful piano and strings. Crain employs her ancestors native Choctaw language on Red Sky, Blue Mountain a melodic and hypnotic song and possibly the stand out track on the album. Grieving and loss are visited on Betty’s Eulogy which deals with a widow’s loss. Interestingly the album includes Crain’s first recorded cover song When The Roses Bloom Again from the Mermaid Avenue Sessions. Its appearance on that album featured music by Jeff Tweedy to lyrics that were discovered in Woody Guthrie’s journals but which had been written by the composer Will D. Cobb.

This album is a slight departure from Crain’s previous work but captures the lyrical beauty that has permeated all her output to date and fits snugly in a back catalogue that should be included in every serious listener’s collection.

Holly Macve Golden Eagle Bella Union

‘I looked at the world with different eyes’ announces Holly Macve in White Bridge, the opening track from her debut album Golden Eagle. In a certain context these words could well describe the direction the twenty one year old Galway born artist has taken her musical inspirations to create a most impressive and individualistic recording.

Possessing a quite unparalleled vocal which dips and soars throughout the ten tracks on the album, Macve excels in the art of storytelling with a maturity well beyond her years. Produced by Paul Gregory of Lanterns On The Lake, the album was written when Macve was, by her own admission, going through a difficult period emotionally. Often the motivation for creativity, her dark moments have delivered some wonderful stark stories depicting lost love (Heartbreak Blues), the comfort of childhood innocence (Sycamore Tree/Timbuktu), isolation (Shell) and loved ones departed (All Of It’s Glory), often delivered with minimal instrumentation and Macve’s  luscious vocal always out front. 

Make no mistake, her warbling, yodelling vocal will not be to everyone’s taste. It is quite distinctive and it did take a few listens to fully connect with but the time invested and particularly with the lyric sheet in hand certainly reaps rich rewards.

While heavily influenced by old time country, one is constantly reminded of Hank Williams, comparisons could also be made with Angel Olsen and no doubt Macve has the talent and potential like Olsen, to make a major industry breakthrough on the strength of Golden Eagle.

Country noir at its finest and highly recommended indeed.

The Black Sorrows Faithful Satellite Rootsy

Listening to Cold Grey Moon, the opening track on The Black Sorrows latest album, you could be forgiven for assuming it was an outtake from Elvis Costello’s 1999 album Painted From Memory, the album he recorded in collaboration with Burt Bacharach. Glorious vocal, horns and strings combine to give the song a full and rich delivery. No coincidence possibly as Costello was instrumental in a process that elevated The Black Sorrows from a covers band to big hitters. Frontman Joe Camilleri had raised the finance to record the band’s first album by playing birthday parties and weddings, the resulting album Sonola was recorded for a mere $1300. Costello happened upon the album when visiting Gaslight Records while playing in Australia and plugged them on the national airwaves and TV, creating a wave of interest in the band.  Costello in fact went on to cover Joe Camilleri’s So Young on his 1987 compilation album Out Of Our Idiot.  

Camilleri has since been at the forefront of Australian music culture for decades and was inducted into The Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame in 2007. Under his stewardship, The Black Sorrows have recorded seventeen albums to date and continue to be one of Australia’s most loved live acts. 

Faithfull Satellite is an album that packs a hefty punch from start to finish with the artists that excited and influenced Camilleri well represented. Costello’s trademark is all over the opening track and is revisited on Love Is On It’s Way, with a reggae beat Watching The Detectives style. It Ain’t Ever Gonna Happen comes across as time honoured Cohen with accompanying backing vocals and Winter Rose recalls a classic Van Morrison sound. Not content with merely paying homage to their peers they also dust down their banjos and fiddles for the country (ish) Fix My Bell and move more up tempo with a classic power pop melody with Carolina.

The album was recorded at Woodstock Studio in Melbourne with production duties shared by Camilleri and keyboard player John Mc All. The twelve songs were written by Camilleri and executive producer Nick Smith.

Conor O’Donnell Come On In Self Release

Conor O’Donnell’s father Al was very much part of the mid 60’s flourishing folk scene in London, rubbing shoulders with household names such as Peggy Seegar, Billy Connolly, Martin Carthy and Ewan Mc Coll. In Dublin he performed alongside The Dubliners and for a brief period  was a member of the traditional folk group Sweeney’s Men. He sadly passed away in 2015 and Come On In, Conor O’ Donnell’s debut album, is dedicated to his late father.

Featuring eleven self-penned songs, the albums stand out track is the haunting ballad Trouble I’m In and embraces the full range of roots music with nods to rockabilly (T Minus 20), country (Trucks A Gonna Roll) and two songs (Bobby Cole and Come On In) that recall the work of Simone Felice.

Recorded at Orphan Recording in Dublin the album was co-produced by Garvan Gallagher who also plays bass and keyboards and guest musician Gavin Glass who contributes keyboards and slide guitar. Also guesting on the album on violin is Leo O’Kelly with regular band members Kieran Mc Evoy (guitar, Duesenberg, vocals) and Sean Devitt (drums, vocals) completing the line up.

Donald Byron Wheatley Moondogs And Madogs Maiden Voyage

A number of the music magazines we subscribe to include in their review sections ‘Rediscovered’ features, reminding us or introducing us to forgotten or little known acts that released quality music back in the day but for some reason did not reach a market or were unappreciated at the time. Listening to  set me thinking that this album may feature in a similar scenario twenty years down the road as an extraordinary recording that did not get its due recognition when released. It’s an excellent album to say the least and exceptional in that the artist has never played onstage to a live audience. 

The title Donald Byron Wheatley conjures up an image of an aristocratic public schooled English gent most likely dressed in tweeds from head to toes and clad in hand made Barker Alderney brogues. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Wheatley spent his childhood in the family’s travelling business erecting and dismantling helter-skelters at various carnivals and fairgrounds up and down the country. His introduction to music was through his father’s love of the blues, regularly playing Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and eventually progressing to the early classic Dylan recordings. Both his father and grandfather were musical, playing the guitar and accordion but purely as a pass time.

Wheatley had notions of becoming a professional musician in his youngers years and wrote some songs which he intended to include in an album at some stage. However, life moved on with family responsibilities a priority and the idea of stardom soon faded into the background. Some years after his fathers passing and difficult times encountered by some close friends, he felt inspired to write again and with the encouragement of his cousin John Wheatley put the songs down on tape at Reservoir Recording Studio in North London.

The resulting album was produced by Chris Clarke (Danny & The Champions of The World) and John Wheatley (Suburban Discs) and features members The Champions, Chris Clarke, Steve Brookes, Andy Fairclough together with Siobhain Parr and UK pedal steel supremo BJ Cole.

The musical influences on the album are obvious, Wheatley wears his heart on his sleeve in this regard, but the quality of the material from first to twelfth track is staggering. On second listens I was convinced that some of the tracks were cover versions that I had previously heard such was the impact they made.

Opener Life’s A Beach is a semi rap type delivery in the style of Aaron Lee Tasjan and uncharacteristic of what follows. Smoking Gun and Hand Me Down Leopard Skin Hat recall mid 60’s Dylan and Not Tonight Josephine explores similar territory with its Band like driving rhythm, hammond organ solo and layered backing vocals. Nothing is the stand out track on the album, of a standard that would sit comfortably alongside anything on John Lennon’s Imagine.

There’s no doubt that Wheatley could be accused of raiding Dylans piggy band for much of the material but the same could be said of numerous other artists. Fans of the Felice Brothers and The Band will lap this up and rightly so. 

Osborne Jones Only Now Continental Song City

Unapologetically inspired by Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the classic country sound of the 60’s, you could be forgiven for assuming that Osborne Jones was a Nashville country crooner. They are in fact David-Gwyn Jones and David Osborne, UK born and bred who have assembled a team of musicians to produce an album that delightfully recalls the traditional sound of both Bakersfield and Nashville. Featuring ten tracks, nine of which were written by them and one co-write with Nigel Osborne, the songs are punctuated in no small measure by the stunning playing by Rick Shea who contributes mandolin, acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitar. A renowned artists in his own right, Shea also produced the album which was recorded by Mark Linett (Beach Boys, Los Lobos, Rikki Lee Jones, Randy Newman) at Your Place Or Mine Studios in Glendale, California. Also brought on board for the recording are David Jackson on bass, piano, organ and accordion, Shawn Nourse on drums and Cindy Wasserman and Gia Ciambotti on backing vocals.

The album is a fulfilment of a common love of the classic country sound between two long-time friends and part time musicians and though now residing in different continents they have managed to realise that ambition. As would be expected heartbreak and loving feature in large doses, no better than on Only Now with more than a nod to Elvis  and  Heartbreak and Six Strings and I Still Think She Cares both of which are soaked in pedal steel guitar.

Never intended as a project to attack the Billboard Country Music Charts it achieves precisely what it set out to do in accomplishing their ambition to create a body of well fashioned songs and particularly impressive musicianship which they can justifiably be proud of.

Dave Desmelik Lifeboat Self Release

Lifeboat, similar to the other works in the back catalogue of Dave Desmelik, is not an album to pop in your cd player and start singing along with the choruses after one listen. The Brevard North Carolina resident’s albums fall into a similar category to the work of Jim White, John Dowd, Richard Buckner and possibly Vic Chestnutt, no compromise, from the heart and music that demands a considerable investment of your time to fully appreciate.

It’s his eleventh recording in a career that dates back to the late nineties when he was part of the Arizona band Onus B.Johnson. Not quite a one man show, though Desmelik does contributes vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, cigar box guitar, baritone ukulele, bass, piano, organ, drums and percussion together with recording and mixing duties. The cover artwork also features a sketch by Desmelik.

Despite employing many and varied instruments in the recording the eleven tracks are in the main raw, stripped back yet never fail to atmospherically create vivid imagery for the listener.

The delightful Surgery, Recovery and Love features only three spoken words by Desmelik and is basically an instrumental with the addition of sporadic words by children Holmes, Elena and Vince who, unaware that they are being recorded, reveal their innocent inner thoughts. 

A Strange Realization, the longest track on the album at over nine minutes and one of the highlights, is a dreamy kaleidoscope of sound that could be mistaken as a demo track for an early Pink Floyd album.

Battlefield is a more up-tempo inclusion on an album that often sounds desperate, intense, honest and hurting, yet when penetrated, grabs the listener from the outset and doesn’t let go.

Sophia Marshall The Paper Thin EP Self Release

In a previous life and as a teenager, Leicester born Sophia Marshall’s was part of The Havenots, a duo with Liam Dullaghan whose album Bad Pennies, released in 2004, was possibly a decade ahead of its time and combined luscious boy/girl harmonies in a manner that is certainly more hip today than it was then. The Mastersons, Shovels and Ropes and Whitehorse have perfected the approach and one is left to wonder what impact Bad Pennies would have in the burgeoning Americana scene were it to be released today.

In more recent times, 2015 to be precise, Marshall began concentrating on her solo career and this five track EP, her debut solo release, demonstrates not only her beautifully subtle vocal but also her ability to create songs that contain both melody and depth in equal measures.

Comparisons with Eddie Reader come to mind on both Wasted Days and Living  Things. Her vocals ebb and flow, layered delightfully on the closing track and tour da force The Devil and The Hollow. Produced by her band member and guitarist Andy Jenkinson, the emphasis is always on Marshalls perfectly paced voice.

In her former and current career Marshall has played support to Frazey Ford, Peter Bruntnell, The Sadies, Sam Outlaw and Tift Merrit. On the strength of this recording, given the exposure it deserves, there is little doubt that she has the potential and talent to make a lot of people stand up and take notice.


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