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.


Reviews by Paul McGee

Amanda Rheaume Holding Patterns Self Release

This talented singer-songwriter releases her fourth record and shows plenty of growth and maturity since her Keep a Fire release in 2013. Produced by Jim Bryson who does a really excellent job, the twelve songs featured are full of melody and catchy arrangements. The musicians gel together and display great talent in bringing the songs to life. Blair Hogan and Jim Bryson shine at various stages with some tasty guitar moments.

Many of the songs are coming from a personal place and the woes of relationships are covered in Blood From A Stone and Dead Horse. The prospect of turning attraction into something more substantial is covered with Get To The Part, Mind Over Matter and Time to Land. Keeping a positive outlook on life is the subject of Beat the Rain, Wolf Of Time and the outstanding track here, All That You Need, a song that asks for belief in our own strength and talents. Red Dress, finds Rheaume honouring the over 1,180 murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada. 

The song The Day The Mountain Fell, refers to a 1958 landslide in Prince Rupert, British Columbia that crushed small community of houses and two men who rescued a baby. The baby was a cousin of Rheaume’s and they called her ‘The Miracle Child’ because she was the only survivor.

Rheaume sings in a sweet but strong vocal with a nice tone to her voice, while the folk- tinged feel of the songs lull the listener into a nice cosy place of seemingly familiar territory. Nine of the tracks are co-writes with Amana writing two others and Jim Bryson pitching in with the closing song, On Disappearing, a perspective on passing time and our sensitive natures. A very engaging release and one that asks to be heard.  

Brian Cullman The Opposite of Time Sunnyside

Twelve songs and all written by an artist who has gathered an impressive list of musicians to bring this project to life. Co-produced by Cullman and Jimi Zhivago (great name), who also contributes on multiple instruments, this NYC writer/producer/musician shows enough confidence here to be a real player. This is only his second solo outing but he has Jenni Muldaur on backing vocals joined by Leni Morrison (The Darling Sins), Glenn Patscha (Ollabelle, Sheryl Crow) on piano and organ, Byron Isaacs (Ollabelle, Levon Helm) plays bass, Aaron Johnston & Didi Gutman from the Brazilian Girls are on drums & keyboards respectively, Jimi Zhivago (Glen Hansard, Rufus Wainwright, Kim Taylor) plays guitar, and Hector Castillo (David Bowie, Bjork, Lou Reed) engineered and mixed.  

Wow, this guy has some CV, having shared experiences in London with the likes of John and Beverly Martyn, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Richard and Linda Thompson and writing for such publications as Creem, Musician, Rolling Stone and The Paris Review, among others. He also produced sessions for Lucinda Williams & Taj Mahal, Ollabelle, and Persian-Indian group Ghazal; collaborating with Youssou N'dour on a record for Senegalese guitar wizard Jimi Mbaye; producing the soundtrack to the documentary Gypsy Caravan, and scoring Padre Nuestro, winner of the 2008 Sundance Festival.

Eclectic does not really cover it all but the songs here are the culmination of all these influences and really hit home as a work of real accomplishment. The swamp groove of Walk The Dog Before I Sleep is pitched against the slow gentle groove of Time If There Is Time and Hands Of The Rain. Beneath The Coliseum is a folk strum that harks back to an earlier time of innocence and easy days while the sound of Memphis Madeline is Dylanesque in content and delivery. Well worth investigation.

Robin Greenstein Tears & Laughter Windy 

This artist has been playing and recording since the 1980’s and this release is her first in over a decade. Robin plays both guitar and banjo, describing her music as "Acousticness". She mixes many styles with folk, jazz and blues highlighting her acoustic talents. She has also looked at women's lives thru traditional Anglo and Afro-American folk songs, releasing Images of Women Vol 1 & 2

There are similarities to both Dar Williams and Mary Chapin Carpenter in the strong vocal delivery and the story-telling narratives. Hole in the Ground speaks of the troubles in the World while the light jazz groove of West Coast Swingin’ sits well against Eric Clapton cover of Tears in Heaven, co-sung with Frank Reno and a new take on a well-known song. A Tale Of Two Cities is about the aftermath of 9/11 and the coming together of communities in N.Y.C. and New Jersey. 

The relationship woes of Where There’s A Will There’s a Way reflects on a love gone cold with the routine of life; finely observed and well perceived with a message of enduring hope. The death of a child is sensitively visited in Happy New Year and the spiritual message of Buddha Watches Silently reflects on the inner journey we all must balance along our weary path through this world. 

John McDonough Surrounding Colors McDonough

Austin, Texas is home to this singer songwriter who releases his second collection of songs in the last 2 years. Dreams & Imagination was reviewed here previously and this time out the same studio band has remained, with the players delivering on all fronts. The 10 songs featured all display a confidence in the delivery and writing as we are given a strong mix of rock ballads and up tempo workouts. He is a fine guitar player and the piano and keyboards of Cole Gramling add real colour to the arrangements. Co-produced by McDonough and Kevin Butler (drums & electric guitar) the drive of the opening songs Tonight’s The Night, Save A Life and Open My Arms And Breathe lead into the more reflective Nowhere Else To Run. The Place Where I Belong is a country influenced groove that sits well alongside the easy tempo of All The Gold. Another solid project brought to fruition by this interesting artist who is quietly involved in a d.i.y. career that has to be applauded. 

Mary Beth Cross Feels Like Home MBC

Six songs on this mini release from a folk/roots artist who hails from Colorado. She has been making music since 2006 and has 4 previous releases to her name. Cross sings with a clear sweet voice and the cover versions of Kathy’s Song (Paul Simon), Long, Long Time (Gary White) and Shady Grove (Doc Watson) are given a bluegrass treatment that sits nicely alongside her original songs, Threshing Time, and Cottonwood Creek

However, it is the eight-minute medley of Summertime/Moondance (George Gershwin/ Van Morrison), mixed with her own original Pas De Deux (Francais) that is the highlight here. It is an audacious attempt to link 2 standards with unknown melodies but it does work well. The musicians play superbly together with bass (Adrian Engfer), banjo (Chris Pandolfi) and fiddle/mandolin (Jeremy Garrett), prominent in the mix and doing a fine job in backing up the fluent guitar work of Tyler Grant and vocals of Mary Beth as she follows her muse. Production by Chris Pandolfi is very impressive with a clear and spacious sound highlighting the excellent musicians throughout.


Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Reckless Kelly Sunset Motel No Big Deal

As a band who loosely defined what was eventually to become labelled as Americana, Reckless Kelly rocked, honky-tonked and country rootsified their chosen musical path since moving from Oregon to Austin and releasing their first album Millican back in 1998. The band is fronted by the Braun brothers Willy and Cody. For their ninth studio album, they are joined here by bassist Joe Miller, guitarist David Abeyta, and drummer Jaz Nazz. The latter two have been reckless for some time and indeed Abeyta has been a co-producer on their recordings with the Braun brothers over the last few albums. Guests on the album include Bukka Allen on keyboards, Marty Muse on pedal steel as well as Eleanor and Chris from the Mastersons.

All contribute to a full and eventful sound that while it may not have altered a great deal since they started, shows how that have matured, honed and clarified their sound. It is a pretty engaging one that has found them many friends and fans through the years. The album opens with the very accessible How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)? A fairly self-explanatory song in terms of subject matter. This leads to the hard rockin’ Radio and example of maybe how not to get on radio while considering what would. Willy Braun takes the lead vocals and has a strong, emotive and engaging voice that can handle the rockier songs as well as the moments of regret like the moody title track with ease. Braun is also the writer of all the songs here and as such sings them with the total conviction required.

There are few bands better at what they do. The kind of scrappy, rough-round-the-edges roots music that still has a tightness that comes from playing together for some time. It is shared experience that knows its own place and isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t. There has been no compromise in how Reckless Kelly have approached their music. There have been no flirtations with the big label and that has enabled them to be true to themselves and their fan base which knows what to expect from a Reckless Kelly album. That includes a clever, well thought-out and designed cover (it comes with a key fob that when used as a viewer reveals further hidden images) something that is easily the equal of any major album release these days. 

This is a set of songs replete with choruses and hooks that are trying to be too-clever but equally share experiences that are readily relatable. Volcano, Give It Up, Moment In The Sun are further examples of how this band delivers on its early promise. While Sad Songs About You is just that, a song of pure heartbreak and sadness. The final track Under Lucky Stars is a slow acoustic based ballad that balances well with the more upfront songs that also permeate the album’s thirteen cuts. There are vacancies in the Sunset Motel - check in and check it out at your leisure. You will be back.

Luke Bell Self-Titled Bill Hill

Bell seems to be picking up press for his third album release. Deservedly so as his new album, released through Thirty Tigers, is a good one. After growing up in Wyoming and playing in a variety of rock bands he moved to Austin where he honed his mix of honky-tonk blues and New Orleans r’n’b. Now he lives in Nashville and this album reflects that move. There are a few tracks from his previous album Don’t Mind If I Do including the opening traditional sounding Sometimes, in which he reveals that he feels being in a relationship is like “sometimes I feel well … but other times I feel like hell”. If these songs have been remixed or recorded is not entirely clear but as the credits list only a Nashville studio I’d suggest the latter. 

From then on it’s one strong song after another. Where Ya Been? about looking at the straggled stranger looking back at him from the mirror. The Bullfighter takes the analogy of taking on the titular role in a honky tonk bar. Working Man’s Dream is a fast and furious fiddle-fuelled song with a yodel that recalls the resurgence of hardcore hillbilly down on Lower Broadway and back in the day. The album closes with the New Orleans sound of a big solid ballad, a self-written song, The Great Pretender. It shows that Bell can take on different sounding songs and sound like he is at ease with them all. He is effectively becoming known with this release which has a greater prominence that his previous releases - and deservedly so.

Producer Andrija Tokic has gotten a good take on mixing traditional modes with some contemporary mores. With players like bassist Dave Roe, drummer Jimmy Lister, steel player Brett Resnick, fiddler Casey Driscoll and Caitlin Rose on backing vocals there is an expectation and all play their part in bringing these songs to life. Fiddle, steel, twanging guitars and feisty harmonica all feature prominently giving the whole album its context and clarity. Proof again that even in Nashville music that bears some relation to the reason the city made its name is still being played there, even if it is not getting past the front door of the established labels at this point in time. All you need to do is listen out for the likes of Luke Bell and you will be, if you’re a honky-tonk fan, a happy listener. 

Bap Kennedy Reckless Heart At The Helm

It was great sadness that I learnt of the death of Bap Kennedy and somewhat ironic that his new album arrived through the letterbox on the same morning. Without the added poignancy of his passing this would still be a great album in keeping with the overall body of his work either as part of his punk band, Energy Orchard, or his solo albums. Through his career he has been recognised as a distinctive and emotive singer and songwriter who first came to wider attention with his Steve Earle & Ray Kennedy produced Domestic Blues album and through such releases as The Sailor’s Revenge, Howl On (which also featured the late Henry McCullough on one track), Lonely Street or The Big Picture, an album that featured Shane McGowan and a song co-written by Van Morrison. Kennedy stood toe to toe with these largely better known artists and leaves a fitting body of recorded work behind him.

Reckless Heart was written and produced by Kennedy and was recorded in Northern Ireland with Rod McVey, featuring  wife Brenda on backing vocals and percussion as well as lead guitarist Gordy McAllister, bassist Nicky Scott and Rod McVey on keyboards. All provide a musical bedrock for these songs that is perfect for the rootsy flavour and relaxed feeling that the tracks purvey. There are obvious standouts like the story telling of the wandering Henry Antrim, the wish to revisit a missed opportunity on I Should Have Said It or Honky Tonk Baby a song dedicated to the object of his affections and the music of their choice. The Universe And Me is a sad consideration of his life and times, his music and his love. A song that is all the more affecting because of his demise. As the songs tells us truthfully that for many “there’s no music in money, there’s no money in love”. 

Once again you’re reminded of how much talent exists on these isles that has long been dismissed or ignored for not emanating from the US or being too closely linked with the jukebox/covers syndrome that has been associated with country cover bands and artists for a long time. His much-praised debut was released in 1998 and Kennedy has been at the forefront of original (what has come to be known as) Americana since then. Bap Kennedy will be missed for his on-going musical and writing skills that marked him as one of the originals - and best.

Ben Glover The Emigrant Proper

Working again with producer Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover has delivered an album that largely reflects the nature and life of the emigrant. To do this Glover has used a set of traditional arranged songs as well as such sterling songs as the fiercely anti-war song of the Australian campaign in Gallipoli in World War 1 and the devastating effects that conflicts brings. The oft recorded And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda never fails to move in its unsentimental impact. Here it is a slow piano-based ballad (played by on this track by Dan Mitchell) that runs over seven and a half minutes and slowly builds up as the story unfolds and the bitterness intensifies. It is largely a singer’s song and Glover gives a heartfelt vocal that underlines his presence in that area. The piano is a central to many of these songs giving them an intimate and understated feel that works well in the context of the album’s timeless themes.

Something that is apparent throughout and where an artist covers non-original and traditional songs is that it is often largely down to their vocal skills to make the song their own. So, while some of these songs have versions that are already ingrained in the memory, Glover adds his own personality to his reading of such songs as The Green Glens Of Antrim, Moonshiner and The Parting Glass. The latter is the opening track and one of the albums standouts. It is given a folky rendering with fiddle and acoustic guitar but has an energy that highlights the essential message of the song.

The new songs are written by Glover solo or with Gretchen Peters (The Emigrant), Mary Gauthier (Heart In My Hand), Tony Kerr Carpe (A Song Of Home). Aside from Eric Bogle’s … Waltzing Matilda, there’s Ralph McTell’s From Clare To Here and Brendan Behan’s The Auld Triangle. All the latter are songs that Glover must feel are special enough to want to risk comparison to previous versions and in doing so he has given them context that are is as relevant to many today, as to the time or time frame that they were written. The appreciation of end result may depend on how open a listener may be to previously recorded songs but should also be considered in the way that fits with the new songs. Ben Glover is to be applauded for taking this risk; one that should establish him as an artist who can bring something of himself to all these songs. They have the capacity to make the listener reflect and think anew and that in itself is a pretty good thing all round.

Kaia Kater Nine Pin Self Release

The cover features Kater with back to the camera and a well-played claw hammer banjo cross her shoulder. Maybe signifying that this is an album, while that instrument is key, where she is considering other options than the usual routes. Kater and co-producer Chris Bartos have assembled a group of players who bring a set of tones that are as effective as they are unusual to accompany the banjo. These include flugelhorn, trumpet, electric guitar and moog alongside upright bass and fiddle. There are also several credits for backing vocals which play a subtle part in the proceedings. It is Kater’s banjo and voice however, that are the centrepiece to the recording.

Recorded in Toronto, the album highlights a combination of traditional arrangements and self-written originals. Kater has sleeve notes on the album that are related to the traditional song’s sources. All the material however fits seamlessly together with an experimental discourse that, while it is rooted in her musical heritage and that of the banjo, offers something a little different. Some of the tracks take a more stripped down approach like the song Little Pink.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird has a sense of acapella with some minimal percussive effects behind the voice. In other cases, though the instrumentation is largely voice and banjo, the arrangements feel more contemporary in outlook. The final track Hangman’s Reel is a fiddle and banjo reading that feels very traditional and shows Kater’s understanding of the instrument’s potential past and present.

The songs are strong and her voice compelling which makes her one to watch in the ever-growing list of those playing their individual take on old-time and bluegrass music. She has also got a strong visual presence that helps her to stand out. Something that always helps in what is a difficult time for any artist to gain attention for their music.

Jesse Dayton The Revealer Hardcharger

I don’t think I’ve heard a bad album from this Texas roots/country/rocker since his debut album back in 1995. Raisin’ Cain introduced a prodigious talent as writer, singer, guitarist and later as a producer. Since then there has been some seven albums under his own name between that album and this new set of songs. All but one of the songs are written (or co-written) by Dayton. The one outside song is from the noted artist Mike Stinson, who also plays drums on some of the tracks here. Brennen Leigh also duets with him on Match Made In Heaven (the duo also have released a full duet album Holdin’ Our Own back in 2007). Dayton plays all guitar as well as bass, percussion and keyboards. On the latter three he is also joined on different tracks by Eric Tucker, John Evans, Riley Osbourne and Erich Hughes. Beth Chrisman adds fiddle on several tracks. Evans also is the main producer here (he himself has made a number albums, one which I managed to track down a while ago was Biggest Fool In Town which I thoroughly enjoyed).

There is something of the outlaw outlook about Dayton and his ‘go-your-own-way’ approach he has taken to his music. He also has played with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in the past. There’s nobody looking over his shoulder here advising that this or that might be better “received’ if it was polished more. This is rough and ready and infused with the energy of the booze fuelled spirit of the honky-tonk and roadhouse. The opening song also reasons that that such an attitude was an inherited thing when he tells us that his Daddy Was A Badass. The humorous I’m At Home Getting’ Hammered (While She’s Out Gettin’ Nailed) is one of those oh so country songs that will always raise a smile, not unlike the Notorious Cherry Bombs It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long did. Dayton previously released a version of this song on the spoof album Banjo & Sullivan in 2005. This was a fictional band that featured in the Rob Zombie directed The Devil’s Rejects. Dayton has worked as an actor himself in subsequent films directed by Rob Zombie. Holy Ghost Rock ’N’ Roller is as you might expect a full-on piano-thumping stomper which is prefaced by a sampled diatribe about the evils of rock ’n’ roll. The Way We Are is another song that considers the life of a “this or nothing” working small-time musician looking towards “the hour on stage … playing for minimal wage … we do it for nothin’ or drinks from the bar.” Never Started Livin’ is a love song that is followed by the acoustic guitar and vocal finale Big State Motel which again deals with the life of the drifter, those who know no other way of life.

But it is his musical output that concerns us here and Jesse Dayton is the real thing and joins the ranks of those unreservedly in thrall to the throne of high octane country and rock ’n’ roll. The Revealer offers the listener some righteous unrighteous uncluttered music that will shake, rattle and country roll.

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