Entries in Chris Murphy (4)

Tuesday
Feb202018

Reviews by Paul McGee

Chris Murphy Water Under The Bridge Teahouse

Whether performing solo or as part of an ensemble, Chris Murphy displays his prodigious talents at a consistently high level. His website describes him as violinist, composer and band leader, which is a concise description of the creative muse that regularly takes him into other projects. 

He can be seen playing bluegrass, country and fiddle tunes with The Devil’s Box and their 2016 release, Red Mountain Blues, included Tim O’Brien on vocals and mandolin, along with Herb Pedersen on banjo and vocals. 

Separately, he plays jazz, swing, and blues with The Blind Blake’s and it is under this umbrella that Water Under The Bridge finds the light of day. It is a retro sound with plenty of swing and swagger over its fourteen tracks. The musicians are all wonderfully talented and get plenty of room to show their finely-honed skills as they compliment the music and lyrics; all created and credited to Chris Murphy. Quite an achievement and equally, a compliment, when you realise just how familiar these tracks become, even after first listen. 

A Moveable Feast, Table For Two, The Lemon Rag, Tarbox Blues and My Spanish Lover are all fine examples of the joyful feel to this project. Given the level of talent on offer, it is no exaggeration to say that Chris Murphy sits above it all with his proficient playing on violin, mandolin, guitar, percussion and vocal duties.

Last year he released a live record, Hard Bargain, which was a solo violin concert from Boise, Idaho and also, The Tinker’s Dream, a band effort; both were superb in their execution and reviewed at separate intervals on this website.

If you enjoy the easy jazz sound of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt then this music is just right for you. Throw in some Count Basie and sprinkle with Dr John New Orleans voodoo and you have a heady mix of compelling, kick-ass tunes that demand your attention.

Kyle Carey The Art Of Forgetting Self Release

This widely travelled artist grew up in Alaska and New Hampshire, before her move to Nova Scotia to study the language and music of the Gaelic tradition. She then moved to Scotland to continue her studies before releasing two recordings that established her credentials as a real talent in blending the best of Celtic and American roots music.

This third release is a confident and fully realised project and highlights the growing development of a mature talent. There are three songs included that see her sing in the Scottish Gaelic language and the gentle arrangements, melody and expert playing make all twelve songs a very pleasant listen with a sweetly restrained balance throughout.

Produced & engineered by Dirk Powell (Joan Baez, The BBC Transatlantic Sessions), the experience is peppered with real quality and highlighted by the excellent musicianship. Powell contributes bass, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, accordion, banjo, piano and vocals while John McCusker (Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby) also appears on fiddle. 

Sam Broussard on guitar and Mike McGoldrick on flute also make telling contributions while Rhiannon Giddens appears on backing vocals. There are also the talents of Ron Janssen (octave mandolin) and Kai Welch (trumpet) and Josh Scalf (trombone) to enjoy.

Songs like the title track, Sweet Damnation, Tell Me Love, Evelyna and For Your Journey are very appealing and the easy interplay between fiddle, flute, mandolin, guitars and banjo invite repeated listens. 

The Stone Hill All-Stars Wilson Comes Home Self Release

Baltimore is home to this Roots band since their formation in 2005. They have developed into a very tight unit over three previous releases and the members have a collective experience to rival anybody on the local music scene. Paul Margolis plays guitar and bass, in addition to being the principal songwriter and providing vocals. His founding partner John Shock is responsible for the song arrangements and also plays accordion and piano, in addition to vocal duties. Together they form a potent pair and drive the melody and rhythm with the sterling assistance of Dan Naimann on bass and saxophone, Hoppy Hopkins on drums/percussion and Tim Pruitt on guitar. We also have Jim Hannah on percussion and kalimba plus Katherine Shock on flute to add the talented collective.

The addictive Polka rhythm to the opening track, Just These Things, leads into a varied mixture of styles that touch on ska, blues and jazzy beats; a number featuring superb interplay between the sax of Dan Naiman and the accordion of John Shock. There are also some tasty guitar licks from Paul Margolis or Tim Pruitt; then again, it may be guest guitarist, Rick Pressler, who also features on the project; sadly, the liner notes are lacking in detail so it is hard to pin down individual contributions.

The overall production and sound is very airy, appealing and full of colour. The Ska beat of The Mark Of A Man and A Hundred Answers is balanced against the bluesy feel of To Be Her Man, Alexander Grothendieck and also, the title track. 

Songs deal with looking back with regret, relationships gone wrong, prison tales, the tribulations of a loner/recluse and a girl on the verge of hysteria. Overall the performance is reminiscent of the best of loose, fluid, playful music that engages and rewards. 

Zachary Richard Gombo RZ 

This is the 21st studio album from an artist who is steeped in the Acadian culture of his native Louisiana. Over a career spanning 45 years this singer-songwriter also holds the distinction of being recognised as Louisiana’s first French language Poet Laureate. On this project he includes 8 songs that are performed in French and whereas the quality of the playing is never in doubt, the lack of English translation for the lyrics takes away somewhat from the overall experience. 

Of course, Zydeco music is rooted in the origins of Creole and Cajun traditions and the use of accordion and washboard continue to be at the source of this now internationally acclaimed music genre that boasts festivals, not only throughout the USA, but also Europe and into the northern regions of Scandinavia. 

Gombo (Gumbo) is the perfect description for the music here with an eclectic mix of styles that include elements of waltz, shuffles, two-steps, Afro-Caribbean and traditional forms. It also stands as a symbol for the multi-ethnic culture of Louisiana and the 15 songs here are played with great energy, passion and tempo.

Catherine, Catherine is written and performed with famous Québec singer Robert Charlebois and Fais briller ta lumière is performed with African legend Angélique Kidjo. There is a choir from L’Académie Sainte-Thérése and a string quartet which add to the heady mix of instrumentation.

Co-produced by New Orleans legend David Toraknowsky, Gombo features a host of players including Francis Covan on fiddle and accordion. It is an enjoyable listen and at almost an hour in length, represents great value for all fans of Zydeco music.

Whitherward The Anchor Self Release 

Contemporary Folk Duo Whitherward have released four EP’s since 2014 and both Ashley E. Norton and Edward Williams are joined on this full-length debut by additional musicians, Patrick Hershey and Stephanie Groot.

The Anchor has 13 songs that are based around their perspective of touring musicians and doesn’t stray too far away from a Folk/Roots base in the arrangements. There are two tracks, Free and Interlude, that dabble in inventive jazz exploration while the remaining tracks seem to be a mix of the observed and the personal. A guest vocal on Parallel Universe (Jhan Doe), introduces a rap element into the arrangement and the excellent musicianship throughout leaves a strong sense of a band that has a real confidence and maturity. 

The metaphor of ship & anchor in the title track reflects a relationship where safe harbour is in question and the unappreciated partner longs to be set free. Burn The Roses is a song of anger in the destruction of a relationship while there is a Country Noir feel to Teeth, with a late-night, lounge room dynamic. 

The violin playing of Stephanie Groot is quite arresting and dramatic and elevates the production while the rich and inventive bass playing of Patrick Hershey is a joy. The guitar playing of both Norton and Williams is fluid and fluent throughout. The strings on The Night I Fell For You are mixed with restrained elegance while hiding a tale instant attraction and unrequited love. The final track, Wasteland, is one of dislocation and the loneliness of travel but ends with some studio fun and frolics as we are treated to a series of repeated vocal takes, gargling and other strange noises. 

Rupert Wates Lights Of Paris Bite Music 

From a debut release in 2005, this artist has navigated a path through the music industry and arrived at the release of his 9th solo album; quite an achievement in these days of DIY careers, shifting sands and short attention spans. 

Originally from London, he lived in Paris prior to moving to the States, where both NYC and Colorado are touchstones for his current life. He is a contemporary Folk singer and his songs touch on many of the issues we face in modern times; like all good Folk releases should … a reflection of the ways in which we shape our world.

He plays a Lowden acoustic guitar in a style that sounds very effortless and impressive, while his clear vocal tone never clutters the song arrangements. For this project Wates uses the talents of Adrianna Mateo (violin) and Brian Sanders (cello) to augment his acoustic playing. The results are eleven gentle tunes that play out in a pleasant fashion, never really changing the dynamic that would grip the listener or shake matters out of an induced state of quiet calm. 

Topics vary from the cynical posturing of the current President in the USA (I Can’t Shut My Eyes) to the indifference of society towards marginalised lives and small-town business shutting down (Long Winter Is Coming). Our treatment of immigrants (Fields Of America) and the legacy we are leaving for future generations (Oh The Times) are given full vent while Wates seems somewhat disillusioned as he yearns for simpler times when music was enough to lift the spirit (The Balladeer). 

Happily, the conclusion to the project has a more positive tone and message of hope (A Song Of Your Own), urging youth to find their own voice and not to be bullied by others. Aspirations of greater enlightenment and the wish to live together in peace (The Time Will Come) are balanced with a sense of faith in the future with the title track. 

Scott Kirby Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost Self Release

Nine releases over the past twenty-plus years has seen this musician mature into a seasoned singer-songwriter who now lives in Key West and is the proprietor at The Smokin’ Tuna Saloon.

There are ten songs included here and the project is produced by Andy Thompson who also contributes on acoustic & electric guitar, bass, stand-up bass, ukulele, dobro, keyboards, mandolin and vocals! Quite the list, but not to be outdone, his brother, Matt Thompson chips in on drums, percussion, kalimba, bass harmonica, piano, melodica and vocals! 

Scott Kirby plays acoustic guitar, harmonica and sings, together with writing eight of the songs included (four co-writes). The album title is a reference to the life that Ernest Hemingway led in the area between 1931 and 1939 but also a tribute to Toby Bruce, who served as his assistant for more than 30 years.

The sound produced is pleasant with an acoustic groove and songs like We Own Key West; Ava Rose and La Casa Cayo Hueso have more than a touch in common with the easy delivery of a James Taylor. Morning In Montana takes things up a notch with some fine fiddle playing by Eamon McLoughlin over an infectious beat. Happy Hour Blues is a fine band workout and a tongue-in-cheek look at a life of relaxed semi-retirement. A great laid-back arrangement of the classic, Summer Wind, brings things to a happy ending and you can just feel the breeze in your hair.

The multi-talented Thompson brothers carry the bulk of the heavy lifting but the simple arrangements are proof of a song-writer who has learned his craft over many years and there is no excess on any of these gentle melodies.

Beth Wimmer Bookmark Self Release

Since her debut release in 2001, Beth Wimmer has released four albums that chart the progress of a Female singer-songwriter’s journey, living in the American countryside near Boston and moving to California at a young age. She now resides in Switzerland with her husband and tours in both Europe and her land of birth. 

This new release is her first for six years and was co-produced by Beth and LA-based guitar-player, Billy Watts. It was recorded in Liechtenstein, Austria and in Los Angeles, with all songs written by Wimmer, apart from a David Bowie cover of Starman. Her sound is essentially Folk oriented and she sings in an attractive tone that suits the song arrangements well. 

Her first two albums were produced by David Raven and he plays drums on most tracks here, joined by Taras Prodaniuk (bass), Billy Watts (acoustic/electric/lap steel guitars) and other studio musicians on selected tracks. 

Her song-writing is partly focused on intimate relationships with the title track, Bookmark, The Last Part and We Can Do This, all reflecting on the enduring power of love to fuel a relationship in the right direction. There are songs about living a simple existence and Loosen My Grip, Mahogany Hawk and Pretty Good, all speak of taking a moment to just enjoy & live in the natural space that surrounds us.

Other songs deal with the need for change (Louisiana) or the need to return to a favourite place (Mexico) and the track, Simplicity Of A Man brings a message of trust and belonging with a ‘less is more’ approach in both words and deeds. 

Thursday
Aug172017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Hat Check Girl Two Sides to Every Story Gallway Bay

This release is described as a collection of ten songs, written in pairs, collected in five chapters, with interludes and an epilogue. Each pair is written from both a female and male perspective and each pair seems unrelated to the next … This is contemplative and reflective and set in an atmosphere of simple arrangements and understated musicianship. Contemporary Folk music taken to a new level.

The first chapter deals with a brother & sister relationship and the yearning that comes from loss. He drives away looking for a new beginning and she rues the day that ‘time stood still’ – hints of a fatality on this journey taken.

Chapter two debates beauty as its own currency in the world. He looks at external beauty as a ticket to open any door versus her reality that ‘not hiding behind the beauty I wore as a disguise’ is true freedom, as she seeks to discover her internal self and the simple beauty visible in all of nature – ‘beauty is free’.

Chapter three is a study on the price of fame ... The search for approval and ego-driven greed. Balanced against this is the nostalgia of being drawn to a life on the Big Screen in emulation of childhood heroes; innocence turned sour. A relationship formed in the glare of relentless media attention and star attraction.

Chapter Four sees the end of a relationship where forbidden fruit attracts and lures one party to look for something more. Cheating with your lovers’ best friend and living to regret the mistake.

Chapter five is a lament where one partner is stuck in a relationship with a drunk and resigned to her fate. ‘What I liked best about loving a drunk, was the lonely part of the day’. He responds with the lines ‘Someone like me will find some dignity when my thirst begins to fade’. It’s broken and fragile; it’s a challenge and a gift to be opened and explored for whatever meaning you may find.

Peter Gallway and Annie Gallup have been painting challenging, complex and unique musical vistas for many years now and their song-writing craft just gets better and better as they hone down to the true essence of their creative muse.

They share vocals and instrumentation and are joined by Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Indigo Girls, Elvis Costello), on drums and percussion. This is their sixth release and a clever concept. Perhaps I have missed a key link between the chapters but that doesn’t really matter as each of the five stories stands quite well on its own. 

Bill & Joel Plaskett Solidarity Pheromone

The album is a father and son creation and the eleven tracks chosen make for a powerful collection of both original and traditional songs. Joel Plaskett is a multiple JUNO Award winning songwriter based in Halifax, Canada and he has visited a number of genres, from blues and folk to hard rock, country, and pop across a career that has seen the release of an impressive body of work spanning his varied projects.

This outing reflects the individual journey and personal politics of both Joel and his father Bill; cited as his earliest musical influence. Socially aware songs like We Have Fed You For 1000 Years and Jim Jones, sit alongside protest songs like Blank Cheque and Solidarity.

Songs of hope, The New California, take a place next to No Sight Compares, a celebration of this Universe, and there is a reflective look at the past with On Down The River. All played in an intimate setting on guitars, bouzouki, mandola, bass Wurlitzer and (very occasional) drums. An excellent idea and a fine release.

Lynne Hanson Uneven Ground Song Shop

This is the fifth album from Canadian artist Lynn Hanson who has been recording music since 2006. The 13 tracks on this release include 7 co-writes with Linda McRae Lynn Miles (who produced 2 previous releases), Mark Elliot and MJ Dandeneau.

The remaining 6 songs were written by Lynne herself and there is a nice equilibrium between collaborative and solitary writing that dovetails nicely together across the project.

Carry Me Home starts the record with a serious groove, drum shuffles, bottle neck guitar and some jazzy piano runs. It is a spin on being left behind by a lover and in this case it is a call to the grim reaper to "lay me down, next to my love." Swallow Me Up is similar in theme but speaks of giving up on life when you can find no meaning to the big questions.

Counting Heartbeats and Dead Weight deal with living with disappointment and the hurt of loneliness, frustrated love and the restless yearning for something more. On Swallow Me, Hanson hits a new stride with a nasty groove that has echoes of a Bonnie Raitt work-out; a song of hurt and resignation. Devil Said So follows in a similar vein with a tussle between doing the proper thing and striking out for a wild time. Her word weary view is summed up on Stronger where she muses that "it’s living with the pain that shapes and makes us stronger" – the good guys don’t always win in this reality check.

The studio musicians do justice to these dark songs and play with plenty of understated energy. The tension in the arrangements is held perfectly by the rueful vocal delivery of Hanson in what can only be described as a work of some real highs; even when dealing with so many lows.

Jesse Waldman Mansion Full of Ghosts Self Release

This debut release boasts 16 tracks which is quite a statement in itself. Clocking in at over one hour of listening time, there is a serious amount of music to be digested here. An easy playing style does help and when you couple this with gentle Folk arrangements and a sweet vocal then the time does seem well spent.

The studio musicians are all very accomplished and adopt a ‘less is more’ approach to the music, leaving plenty of space for the songs to breathe. Living in Vancouver, Waldman has based the songs here around an exploration of the city's duality, the backdrop of beauty mirrored against its’ dark underbelly. Lonesome City, Raincity Blues and Another Lost Soul reference one image of the city while the lightness of love songs like Hummingbird, The Rest Of My Days, Ashes and Small Talk hold a guarded optimism.

Hope In Shadows is countered against songs of broken lives such as Lorraine, Other Side Of Town or Hard Livin’; while the excellent Good Company is very strong on advice to another about how to live well. Wild Balloon is a reflection for a lover who has moved on and Keep A Light On In The Dark reminds us to give thanks for the simple pleasures in each day.

Beth Southwell and Megan Alford sing beautifully on various tracks to compliment the melodies and Marc L’Esperance plays an array of instruments, sings and co-produces with impressive style and great perspective. Waldman has a keen eye for arrangements and displays an astute writing talent. A really impressive debut and highly recommended.

Kenny White Long List Of Priors MVP/CRS

The latest collection of original songs from Kenny White really hits the spot here. There is gravitas in these grooves and the effortless melodies and rhythm conjured up by Duke Levine on guitars, Shawn Pelton on drums, and Marty Ballou on bass are subtle and seductive.

As on his past recordings, there is a guest list of real quality with invites to the likes of David Crosby, Peter Wolf, Larry Campbell, Amy Helm, Ada Dyer and Catherine Russell to share the studio magic, alongside his sterling band.  Add horns and a string quartet across seven of the tracks here and the impressive arrangements take off into a place of quiet reflection and easy grooves.

White is a seasoned wordsmith and uses his lyrical gifts to great effect. The beautiful Another Bell Unanswered is a love song to unrequited relationships that just don’t get the timing right. Equally, The Other Shore is a love song to a deceased partner and the pain of separation; ‘soon the car will come and take you; and I will have to let you go’… Heart-breaking and beautifully delivered.

Lights Over Broadway is a slow jazz tribute to the past and the splendour of another era while Charleston brings the atrocity of the 2015 mass-shooting front and centre when an attack happened on one of the United States' oldest black churches, which has long been the site for community organization around civil rights. Ada Dyer duets on vocals and the song is both angry and uplifting with the lines ‘now each and every bullet hole shall be filled with grace and sealed with love’. Amen.

A Road Less Travelled is another look at love and the sadness felt when ‘only one can feel the distance’. Cyberspace tears down our reliance for online communications and vapid opinions based on social fluff and superficiality; "Contagious insanity, as goes the human touch, so goes humanity." Such terrific words and this song is stuffed with wry observation and sage wisdom. Long List Of Priors is a refreshingly original and multi-layered recording. Highly recommended.

Chris Murphy Hard Bargain Teahouse

On his website, Chris Murphy describes himself as a violinist, composer and band leader. In addition, he is an innovator and a music teacher, a revered violinist, mandolinist and guitarist who has released 13 albums of original music in many styles including rock, bluegrass, swing, electronic, classical, blues, Irish and ethnic music.

So, here we have a Live record to add to the already ballooning reputation and why not; when you can play with the dexterity and lyricism that Chris Murphy unleashes here, then it is an obvious step to take. Recorded solo and live in Boise, Idaho in a small theatre, the 10 tracks fly by in a storm of rhythm, aided by his amplified foot stomp and creative violin runs that lift the various tunes into the sweet spot reserved for special nights of live and vibrant music.

There are no real stand-out tunes among the 10 new & original songs unveiled as the entire set stands in testament to the talent of this artist. Atmospheric and exciting, it must have been a joy to be present in the room on what we are told was a rainy night – don’t know if this adds anything but the audience were certainly warmed up and shouting for more by evening’s end.

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.

Sunday
Sep182016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Two Steps South There They’re There Self Release

Without ever intending to reinvent the wheel Lurgan Co.Armagh band Two Steps South debut album is a collection of country-tinged pop songs, simple, well written and very listenable. The three-piece band is made up of Mark Haddock, Gerard Magee and Tony O’Hara, musicians that have featured in various local bands over the years and who joined forces to combine their collective song writing skills. Additional musicians used on the album include Lawrence Hill whose pedal steel guitar playing is particularly impressive.

Stand out track on the album is The Jayhawks sounding Getting’ Over You but they are also more than capable of writing decent pop ballads such as Rainmaker and Friends and Lovers. You Ain’t Here No More also impresses as does the poppy Down By The Railway Tracks. 

The album was recorded at TSS Studio in Lurgan with production duties with the album cover design by the band members.

Sam Wickens Send Me dootdoot Music

My first exposure to Sam Wickens was earlier this year when he performed at The Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival in a singer-songwriter circle in the company of Nashville legend Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, singer-songwriter and actress in American TV drama Nashville. Totally undaunted by his illustrious company the 20 year old Bangor artist performed three self-written songs with the confidence of a veteran and with quality to match. His song Oh Mother made a particular impression on both of his co-singers leading to Lauderdale simply commenting ”young man you need to get to Nashville and soon”. Wickens has subsequently visited Tennessee where he performed at the Bluebird Café in Nashville and also at The Factory in Franklin as part of the live broadcast Music City Roots which has an audience of over 60 million across the United States.

Send Me is the debut six track mini album by Wickens featuring four studio recordings and two live tracks. Guitar, synths and drums are performed by Wickens with contributions by James Reid (lead guitar), Andrew Whittaker (bass guitar) and Mark Johnston (piano).

It would be over simplistic to make comparisons with the music of Jeff Buckley, Bon Ivor and John Martyn, the most obvious connection being that similar to these artist Wickens possess quite a unique style. 

The focus throughout the album is on his wonderful vocal, always to the fore, soaring, melodic, atmospheric and emotional. Wickens has wisely allowed his vocal to dominate to the extent that the listener is immediately drawn to the lyrics. That’s not to understate the quality of the song writing, which appears to carry personal messages and a maturity beyond his years.   

Hold The Time drifts along accompanied only by keyboards giving the song a delightful lightness of touch throughout. The title track Send Me is dreamy, hypnotic with a vocal delivery that brings to mind Jack Lukeman at his best.

Oh Mother, which made such an impression of Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, is one of the two live recordings included and both the range and discipline of the vocal understandably brings Jeff Buckley to mind.

Given that futuristic folk/roots music seems to be in vogue at the moment, Wickens has without doubt the talent to make a name for himself. If he can continue to write such compassionate yet forceful material and with astute management and the right breaks the world could be this young man’s oyster. It worked for Hozier, so why not.

West My Friend Quiet Hum Self Release

A particularly vibrant and experimental folk scene currently exists in Vancouver, Canada and Quiet Hum by West My Friend confirms this beyond doubt. This is the third release from the quartet and continues on a similar vein to their 2012 album Place and When The Ink Dries recorded in 2014. 

West My Friend are made up of classically trained musicians Eden Oliver (vocals, guitar), Alex Rempel (vocals, mandolin), Jeff Poynter (vocals, accordion) and Nick Mintenko (vocals, bass). Their sound is quite distinctive, a wonderful combination of folk, country, bluegrass, chamber music and even a dash of cabaret thrown in for good measure. The result is a body of work that has an instant appeal from the opening track No Good Monster to the closer How Could I Not Sing.

Eden Oliver’s takes front of house vocally on ten of the thirteen tracks displaying a range that dips and soars beautifully throughout the album. The addition of four part harmonies and flawless playing combine to result in a collection of impressive songs.

No Good Monster opens the album tentatively, suggesting writers block with the line I don’t want to write a today” but any uncertainty is dismissed by the third track Spruce Top with Oliver declaring, in a more upbeat mood, “There is something to be said for a voice and a song and a chord”. Gradient Graceful is beautifully bittersweet and stripped back featuring only vocal, bass and piano. The album was recorded at Fiddlehead Studios, Maine Island and produced by David Travers-Smith (Jason Romero, The Wailin’ Jennys, Pharis).

In summary, a most impressive modern indie folk sound that incorporates bits of The Decemberists, Frontier Ruckus, Bright Eyes and possibly Joanna Newsom. Probably best listened to on headphones to fully appreciate the wonderful harmonies and musicianship throughout.

Well worth visiting indeed.

Chris Murphy Red Mountain Blues Self Release 

Born in New York of Irish/Italian descent, violinist Chris Murphy cites his introduction to music as being exposed to the eclectic sounds of his neighbours traditional music while growing up, together with a mix of less traditional icons including Lou Reed, Peter Thompson, Bob Dylan and particularly David Lindley, whose fiddle work was instrumental in Murphy’s interest in the violin.

Currently living in Los Angeles, Murphy’s career is divided between teaching violin, guitar and mandolin, writing music and live performances. Together with his prolific personal music output the artists that Murphy has worked or collaborated with include Nels Cline, John Doe, Tim O’Brien, Victoria Williams, Joachim Cooder to name but a few.

Indeed, the musicians listed on Red Mountain Blues is in itself a who’s/who of some of the most respected artists in the bluegrass genre and such as Tim O’Brien (mandolin & vocals), Herb Peterson (banjo & vocals), Marty Rifkin (pedal steel & dobro), DJ Bonebrake (drums) and Ted Russell Kemp (bass). Recorded at Hayloft Studios, Los Angeles and Blacktree Studios, Santa Monica the fourteen track album was produced by Chris Murphy and Joshua ‘’Cartier’’ Cutsinger. 

Kicking off with the fiddle driven instrumental title track and followed by the driving Dirt Time the album packs a hefty punch from start to finish. Walt Whitman is a wonderful instrumental waltz, Kitchen Girl is perfectly paced with Tim O’Brien taking the lead vocal, Buckwheat Pancakes is a banjo driven back porch delight and Johnson County conjures up imagery of centuries past, civil war and brothers fighting brothers.

Chris Murphy is more than merely a revivalist and has the talent and ambition to produce, compose and collaborate.  He succeeds on all fronts hands down with this album. If you’re only intending buying a few bluegrass album this year, this should be one of them.

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band Come With Me Self Release

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band are an all-female London five piece bluegrass/Americana outfit. Citing influences from Alice Cooper to Hank Williams Come With Me is high octane, in your face and hugely enjoyable. Recorded live(ish) in three days at Retreat Studios the band features Immanuel on vocals, banjo and guitar ably assisted by Feadora Morris, Blanche Ellis, Maya Mc Court and Hjordis Moon Badford on a variety of instruments including cello, washboard, thimbles, cajon and foot tambourines.

The ten track album is anything but back porch bluegrass with nods towards Louisiana and New Orleans, delightfully mixing bluegrass, zydeco and old time jazz.

With song titles such as Nashville, Going to the Bottle, Rock Bottom, Devil’s Money and Motherfucking Whore it’s no surprise that the album is fun, uncouth, uncivil, knees up, toe tapping, feet stomping stuff, always powered by an excellent band.

Nashville offers a quite traditional roots by comparison to much of the material on the album with delightful harmonies, the title track is banjo driven bluegrass and the album closes with a rousing take on Viva Las Vegas, the Elvis favourite written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

Dana and her band have performed at a number of high profile festivals this year including Glastonbury and the Maverick Music Festival. The album begs to be heard live, all the better late at night in a packed venue with the drink flowing!

Greenshine The Girl In The Lavender Dress Tiger Dog Records

Greenshine comprises of husband and wife team Noel Shine and Mary Greene together with their daughter Ellie. Noel and Mary have both featured as session players on a host of albums over the years from Christy Moore to The Clancy Brothers and The Republic of Loose to Dr. Strangely Strange. No strangers themselves to the studio, Mary Greene has recorded a solo album Sea of Hearts and Noel Shine and her have previously recorded two albums as a duo together with their self-titled debut album as Greenshine.  Given their eclectic musical experiences to date it is not surprising that their debut album The Girl in the Lavender Dress is a journey across quite wide range of musical genres embracing folk (Pastures Of Plenty) , country( Lonesome Whipoorwill), traditional (Sammy’s Bar) and even a hint of reggae (Sweet As Honey Heart).

Readers may be familiar with the title track from the album which has received considerable airplay on national radio recently and had the distinction of reaching No.1 on the ITunes Ireland Singer-Songwriter charts. It’s a stunning song, dreamlike, buoyant and weightless and is most certainly the strongest track on the album. 

The eleven songs featured include six originals written by Mary Greene together with cover versions of Bob Dylan (You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go), Hank Williams (Lonesome Whippoorwill), Cyril Tawney (Sammy’s Bar), Woody Guthrie (Pastures of Plenty) and Townes Van Zandt (Marie). As would be expected the musicianship throughout is top notch with multi-instrumentalist Shine contributing guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistle, lap steel, bass, harmonica, ocarina and keyboards.

 Particularly refreshing is the quality of two of the original songs (the title track and City of Dreams) which actually outweigh the covers, both sung beautifully by Ellie Shine. The album was recorded and produced by Noel Shine and Mary Greene and mastered by Dan Fitzgerald at Sound Studio, Cork.

Greenshine is most definitely the sum of its parts even if the wide range of styles represented possibly results in this album being a trifle dislocated.  However, given the very healthy mix of song writing, instrumentation and vocal talent they collectively possess and particularly if they can emulate the quality of some of their original songs on this album, Greenshine have the potential to produce music with an extremely wide appeal.