Entries in Backtrack Blues Band (2)

Sunday
Apr152018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Birds Of Chicago Love In Wartime Signature Sounds

Husband and Wife duo, JT Nero and Alison Russell return with a follow up release to their 2016 Real Midnight album. If that was defined by a reflective, understated direction then this new set of eleven songs walks more along a line between up tempo numbers and gentle, poignant arrangements. 

Starting out with the soulful hum of Alison over a simple accompaniment of banjo, piano and a hint of electric guitar, the reflective mood is quickly broken by the track, Never Look Back, which jumps out at you with a positive energy and a message to leave the past behind with no time to lose. 

This is followed by the title track which is a beautiful melody and message of taking care of each other first. Love always endures in the world of these Birds and why not indeed. Travellers then follows with another up tempo arrangement and the calypso beat of being nomads in this world of constant schedules to meet and busy lives to serve. 

Try is a sweet soulful song that hints at a very personal situation with the illness of a loved one at the heart of it. There are some passionate vocal lines from Alison and JT sings "I don’t see your body broken, I still see the fire there in your eyes."

And so, the listening experience continues, light juxtaposed with shade as the mood swings back and forth. 

The studio musicians are uniformly excellent and the production by JT and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) is superbly balanced and open, which allows plenty of room for the players to express themselves. They have tried to capture the excellent live performance of the Birds in as much as a studio setting will allow. The entire album was recorded in just a few days and the immediacy of the overall sound gives the impression that much of it was recorded in just a few takes. Spontaneity taken to the next level as the ensemble compliment each other in serving the songs. 

Lodestar is another example of a sweet groove and a message of forgiveness and healing; "You are not what you’ve lost, what remains should not bear the cost." Roll Away and Baton Rouge (impacted by the 2016 Louisiana floods), are both gospel tinged, soulful messages of being alive in the world and moving forward. Roisin Starchild is a look back to school days by Alison and a close friend who had her back while growing up. It hints at a darker underlying message and the escape of Roisin at the age of only 12 in the search for ‘a kinder place’... It left me really wanting to know what ever became of her…

Superlover and Derecho end the project with messages of hope and concern for the gathering storms that will have to be endured in our quest for community, empathy and understanding.

The vocal harmonies are tight and give a strong sense of just how good this band are in a live setting. There are some lovely moments by Drew Lindsay on piano and keys, together with Joel Schwartz on lead guitars. The rhythm section of Nick Chambers on drums and Chris Merrill on bass anchor everything with strong playing, both understated and vibrant as required; while Dan Abu Absi adds rhythm electric and acoustic guitar with Javier Saume-Mazzei on percussion and Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor providing harmony vocals on four tracks. 

Always interesting and revealing itself more on repeated listens. My album of the year so far and an essential purchase.

Backtrack Blues Band Make My Home In Florida Harpo

This band reside in Tampa Bay, Florida and formed back in 1980. They are one of Florida’s longest running blues acts and have released five studio albums plus a live CD/DVD package to date.

This new release is another live cd/dvd package of a gig in St Petersburg, Florida recorded in January 2017. It all clocks in around 50 minutes of stellar Blues work-outs, including covers of songs by Sonny Boy Williamson II (Your Funeral And My Trial, Checkin’ On My Baby), B.B. King (Woke Up This Morning) and T-Bone Walker (T-Bone Shuffle).

Kid Royal is a really gifted guitar player and his passionate solos are a highlight of this project, elevating the tracks and adding some magic sparkle to the excellent Little Johnny Walter on rhythm guitar, Joe Bencomo on drums, and Stick Davis on bass. The harmonica playing of lead vocalist Sonny Charles is also a real treat across all nine tracks included here.

Make My Home In Florida is a track where all these elements come together in a real tour de force of playing and the production by George Harris is crystal clear and very bright in the speakers. Essential for all lovers of the blues.

Ashley Campbell The Lonely One Hump Head

This debut solo release from the daughter of Glen Campbell comes within a year of his passing and Ashley is embarking on a career that has seen her learn the ropes as an integral part of her father’s touring band during 2011 and 2012. She played banjo and guitar, wrote a fine song Remembering, while the documentary I’ll Be Me, about Glen Campbell’s farewell tour and battle with Alzheimer’s was very well received upon release to the public.

This album is released on her own label, Whistle Stop Records and produced by both Ashley and Cal Campbell. The thirteen tracks are co-written by Ashley and Cal, who appears throughout on various instruments; as does Shannon Campbell, on selected songs, playing electric guitar. There are strings on quite a number of songs and the title track has a bossa nova swing that has radio hit written all over it. The use of synths and programming on a number of tracks adds a sheen to the sound and the horns on We Can’t Be Friends is another departure into the arena of Country Pop. 

Ashley is an undoubted talent and her skills as a musician cannot be faulted – the instrumental, Carl & Ashley’s Breakdown, highlight her superb banjo playing. This release is a strong statement of intent with plenty of catchy melodies (How Do You Know, Good For You) and tales of broken hearts and living life to the full. It has a number of hits in the grooves (A New Year, Looks Like Time, Better Boyfriend) and I wish her well in her future career that will, no doubt, go from strength to strength.

Lelle Dahlberg These Words Are True Self Release

A native of Bureå, Sweden this singer-songwriter releases his debut album after many years of writing and recording with other artists and bands. All music and lyrics are written by Lennart Dahlberg and he sings in a voice that has a well of experience and a lived-in quality to draw from. The production is uncluttered, from the blues of Come Back Home to the laid-back groove of There’s Only You, that has the fine vocals of Pearl adding to the melody.

Tonight’s The Night and Play That Old Melody have a real honky-tonk swing and the fiddle and piano playing on I Should Have Loved You are very catchy. The swing of Till We Meet Again with pedal steel to the fore and Can’t Stand Losin’ You with its’ slow twang and bittersweet piano are also good songs. A very pleasant listen across all 12 tracks.

Andrew Sheppard Steady Your Aim Self Release

Singer-songwriter Andrew Sheppard is from Idaho this is his second album, following on from Far From Here which was released in 2015. Production is by Sheppard and Eric Loomis, plus Wes Walsworth; both of whom play guitar on the record which was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. 

The other musicians on the album are Nick Archibald on bass and piano; Joe Giotta on drums; David Henry on cello and backing vocals; Smith Curry on pedal steel and lap steel; Chris Tuttle on organ and Wurlitzer; Sarah Elanton and Catherine Anderson on harmony vocals.

The title track is very radio-friendly and Travel Light and Carry On is a slice of country tinged desert music that reminds me of the great western landscapes. Standin’ Tall compares different attitudes to life, from the bum who lives off the system to the quiet heroes who make the best of the cards that are dealt them. Lies As Cheap As Whiskey is another tale of life on the outside and Not My Kind is a look at people who think that living is all about brash, loud and proud behaviour. Further Away ends proceedings with a song to a deceased friend who is a guiding inspiration that endures. Good country roots songs, well performed and a name to watch out for in the years ahead.

Kris Delmhorst The Wild Blueblade

In a career that has seen her release eight studio albums, a few collaborations with Red Bird (husband Jeffrey Foucault & Peter Mulvey) and a couple of live outings, Kris Delmhorst has arrived at an interesting crossroads in what has been a varied path taken.  Her Folk beginnings have been replaced by a sophisticated soundscape of wistful moments, notes in a diary and a souvenir of a life lived in contemplation of the self.

There is a longing and a search for something undefined and unseen in these songs. The playing is sparse and understated with sensitive arrangements and melodies serving the songs so well. Kris plays cello, guitar, organ, piano, Wurlitzer and Jeffrey Foucault adds lovely touches on a variety of guitars, ukulele, and piano. They are joined by Jeremy Moses Curtis on upright and electric bass, Billy Conway on drums and Alex McCullough on pedal steel guitar.

This is her first release in four years and the solitude and realisation of a love that is treasured on the opening, All The Way Around, sets the template for what is a work of real depth and maturity.

The title track is like a meditation on love and nature. Rules To Games dissects a relationship and all the petty squabbles that keep people apart in the daily grind. Magnolia speaks of casting off the old in favour for a new attitude and beginning to look forward with optimism. Kris sings so sweetly and with a soft tone that reminds me sometimes of Norah Jones in these hushed moments of contemplation and reflection. At other times there is a hint of Natalie Merchant in the delivery (Colour Of The Sky) but it is always the unique warmth of Kris and her delivery that shines through.

Production is by Kris and Jeffrey, all songs are written by Kris and her gentle muse has never been more keenly defined. Foolish Blood and Lonely West are relationship musings and the feelings that arise from the realisation that love burns within and without. Hollow deals with the heaviness of a relationship, "Cause music comes from emptiness, When the air is moving through it."

The final song, The Light In The Hall, is a wish to have all our insecurities fall away in the quiet of night when trusting yourself to the vagaries of this mortal coil. A superb record that is everything one would expect from a talent that keeps growing and blossoming.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Feb282017

Reviews By Paul McGee

 

Chris Murphy The Tinker’s Dream Teahouse

What do you get when you mix some Reels, a few Jigs, a couple of traditional airs and a waltz? Well, you get a damn fine example of what is commonly called World Music or indeed, Roots Music. The strong well of Irish traditional themes is a central influence throughout, but the array of instruments used outside of this strict idiom makes for a collection that celebrates all types of indigenous, native music.

From the giddy opening of Connemara Ponies, which comes bursting out of the speakers, to the more reflective Union of the Seven Brothers; the 12 tracks included here spin off in different directions like a flock of birds looking for the open sky.  Guitars mix with mandolin & fiddle; bodhran & Bass duel with uilleann pipes & accordion, while flutes, whistles and violin vie with piano and violin to make a joyous sound and lift the spirits ever higher.

The celebratory nature of this music is perfectly captured in the production and arrangements. recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Chris Murphy and Joshua Cutsinger, the sound is very liquid in feel and reflects the wealth of experience gained over the years by Chris in absorbing the eclectic sounds of all kinds of traditional music.

It is impossible to keep still when this music is playing and it is the perfect party CD. Wicklow is a great dance tune as is Cape Horn with the guitar, fiddle and whistle interplay. Small Wonder has a refrain that stays with you, while Thistlewood Bridge will have you skipping around the floor.

Throughout, the dextrous playing of Chris Murphy is a delight and the overall sense of fun and living for the moment makes this an essential purchase for lovers of all things traditional.

My Politic Anchor Self Release

Well now, this is impressive. Sounds like everything that new Country music should embrace; a lot of the old with a healthy sprinkling of the new.

My Politic is an indie/americana trio hailing from Nashville, Tennessee. Originally formed in 2007, this troupe deliver a nine-song set of laid-back, melodic songs that just keep getting better on repeated plays.

Tight harmonies, interesting lyrics and a musical identity that brings to mind the best of Americana/Roots musical artists, I have no doubt that this release will be figuring in my favourites of the year.

Nick Pankey and Kaston Guffey recorded their first album in 2008 and over the next five years they released a further four albums. A move to Nashville in 2013 led to meeting their newest member Wilson Conroy, who has added further colours to their sound.

This is the sixth album and the song-writing is of the highest order with reflective musings on the human condition (God Vs Evolution), youthful hope (Before It’s Too Late), Love in all its complex forms (Ways of Love and Heartless), drug addiction (Nobody to Blame), marital breakdown (The Truth), temptation and human failings (Ain’t No Saint) and the need for a solid base in life (Anchor). This is highly recommended.

Little Diamonds New Orleans Bound Self Release

Luks LeBlanc has a classic country delivery and his vocal is reminiscent of a young Bob Dylan meets Randy Travis. The 12 tracks on this CD are well produced and recorded with plenty of variety in the arrangements. According to media research, Little Diamonds is a combination of Cajun, folk, Americana, Appalachian rockabilly, gospel, and Dixie-land, however to my ears it is simply acoustic folk.

LeBlanc is a self-taught musician, who plays multiple instruments and has just released this second album. On the cover, he is seen hitching towards New Orleans and on the inside, he is pictured in a bar with some bikini-girls in a cosy huddle – hardly the image of ‘having arrived’; or perhaps his sights are just set very low…?

In any event, the music is very good, despite the off-putting album sleeve. The easy song arrangements feature LeBlanc on guitar, piano, harmonica & and banjo. He is joined by lap steel, saxophone, violin, drums and bass on various tracks and he is definitely a talent to watch over the coming years.

Too Early Gone and Duluth Grandma are fine examples of the song-writing talent on display and Drive Away highlights his easy guitar proficiency and style. Understated and peppered with simple sentiment; a song collection that will bring rewards to those who like music that quietly grows on the senses.

Runaway Horse Beautiful Blue Self Release      

This EP of 5 songs marks the debut of Mari Tirsa and her band, Runaway Horse. Daniel Barrett produces and also plays guitar, bass, percussion and backing vocals. Rick Richards plays drums.

Holy Water speaks about not giving up and standing on your own ground, on your own terms. The Well is a reminder that the reserves we have can always be called upon, whatever the adversity faced. Once reflects on the spiritual journey that results in the realisation that ‘everything is in me’. Beautiful Blue is soothing and Arrive considers whether we have already been given all the gifts that we need for a fulfilled existence.

A fine collection of songs that are light in touch and gentle on the mind as we seek to find the personal treasure within.

Backtrack Blues Band Way Back Home Harpo 

The Backtrack Blues Band hails from the Tampa Bay region of Florida and has been performing original blues music since 1980. They have performed with many blues legends over their career and this album was selected as one of the world's top 50 blues albums for 2016.

Think early Chicago blues and you have a good idea of what is on offer with Sonny Charles on harmonica and vocals, Kid Royal on lead guitar and vocals, Little Johnny Walter on rhythm guitar, Joe Bencomo on drums, and Stick Davis on bass.

If Paul Butterfield got together with Fabulous Thunderbirds, then you have some idea of the musical storm created here. It is heady stuff with impressive performances throughout. It may not be the country blues of the original rural folks who created the genre but it certainly swings with a New Orleans vibe on Shoot My Rooster and some mean and dirty licks on Your Funeral, My Trial by Sonny Boy Williamson - great song title and the title of a Nick Cave album.

There really isn’t a weak track on this collection of 10 stellar workouts and there is no doubt that this is a band to see live and just boogie the night away. Sonny Charles writes 6 of the songs here and the cover of Baby Please Don’t Go, is a real treat.

Proceedings are brought to a close with Help Me Just This Time, which really sums up this band who are more than a sum of its’ parts with all members playing with a loose abandon that just rocks the blues.

Jude Johnstone A Woman’s Work BoJak

What a consummate artist this lady is…

Across a career littered with plaudits for her song-writing talents and her regular supply of hit songs for other artists, her body of work has gone largely unnoticed by the general listening public. Perhaps this will be the release to push that tipping point?

Never Leave Amsterdam reflects on a love affair abroad that cannot survive the need to return to a child at home. The title song, with sublime cello and piano, speaks of the price of love and the embers of a failed relationship. People Holding Hands could be a Randy Newman classic with a diatribe from the protagonist against the fuzzy logic of love’s desire, complete with jazz-tinged trumpet. The Woman Before Me is a song that served Trisha Yearwood very well some years back and Jude sings it with an understated sadness that really brings out the true meaning of the lyric.

Little Boy Blue is just a gorgeous example of the talent on display here; a song that touches on the need in all of us to find comfort in the wake of personal vulnerability in a relationship. What Do I Do Now speaks of the vulnerability we all expose ourselves to in trying to be honest in our search for happiness. Road To Rathfriland is a song that reflects on love lost and the need to endure. I’ll Cry Tomorrow is a song about a fractured relationship that points to a new tomorrow and Turn Me Into Water is a Gospel/Soul lament for a resigned feeling of lost trust. The album ends with Before You, which is a beautiful affirmation of love in all its’ ragged glory.

This lady is one of the great songwriters and is deserving of every attention that can be directed to her door. A must buy for any record collection.