Entries in James Houlihan (2)


Reviews by Declan Culliton


Kayla Ray Yesterday and Me Self Release

Less than half a minute into Rockport, the opening track on Yesterday and Me, and Kayla Ray’s husky drawl and edgy tale of looming despair and heartache had me hooked. The combination of her distinctive and very country vocal and the unfolding tale stopped me in my tracks, getting my full attention. It’s the first of twelve, often compelling stories, the album contains, each one tumbling effortlessly into the next, by an artist that is as brutal in her candidness as she is gifted in her song writing. The stories don’t deliver many happy endings and encompass all the elements that contribute to a great country album, with hurtin’, cheatin’, lovin’, leavin’ and drinkin’ always close to the surface. However, the album’s tales of disarray read like a personal diary and stand head and shoulders above the majority of formula written albums that masquerade as country recordings these days.

The previously noted Rockfort is a hard-hitting story of a woman’s intended liberation and escapism only to degenerate into drug addiction and suicide. The alcohol fuelled Hell of a Day to Drink All Night is a hell raising and somewhat tongue in cheek up tempo journey and the Keith Whitley written Once A Week Cheaters is a dreamy duet that pays homage to Dolly and Porter, with Ray and Colton Hawkins sharing vocals. Pills tackles the thorny subject of anti-depressants in a no holds barred manner but not without a slice of humour, the type of song that Elizabeth Cook was writing in her early career. Fair Warning addresses domestic abuse, Camel Blues laments doomed love ("it takes two hard working fools to build a wall, it takes two fools in love to make it fall’’) and title track Yesterday and Me is reflective, stained with regret and broken dreams of unfulfilled expectations.

Ray was born and reared in Waco, Texas and took full advantage of the musical opportunities offered to her at a young age, which included performing with Jimmy Gimble’s family band The Gimbles and eventually acting as tour manager for Jason Eady. Her debut recording Love and Liquor from 2014 highlighted her distinctive and very country vocals and suggested an artist with the potential to write clever sassy lyrics to match. That album was produced by Jason Eady, who obviously recognised her potential when she worked for him.  This time around Jason Eady is joined by Pat Manske (Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Tom Russell, Wayne Hancock) as co-producers and the pairing is inspired. Avoiding the temptation to over produce – the ruination of so many country albums in recent times - they achieve the perfect balance between Ray’s vocals and the stellar contributions of some crack musicians. The players are Joshua Barnard on guitar, Cody Braun on fiddle, Dick Gimble on upright bass, Ray Rodriguez on drums, Bukka Allen on piano, Jason Clyde Cartier on electric bass and Geoff Queen on steel guitar and dobros, whose contribution is particularly central to the overall quality of many of the tracks.

Kayla Ray possesses the ability to articulate true life stories of pain, loss and waste, with a dynamic similar to that of Brandi Clark and Kacy Musgraves but with far more edge and delightful guiltlessness, avoiding any degree of sugar coating on her parables. She’s unlikely to grace the stage at The Grand Ole Opry and country music radio stations will no doubt run a mile from the album - two factors that suggest a great traditional country album from a hell raising and fearless young lady that’s not going to be shackled. Thank God for that! A contender for album of the year for me.

Pat Reedy and The Longtime Goners That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More) Muddy Roots

There’s a somewhat charming innocence to Pat Reedy, as if he’s been taken by surprise by the critical acclaim for his recently released and second album, the wonderfully titled That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More). It’s not too long since Reedy was toiling on building sites to make ends meet, writing and performing in the little spare time available to him. Prior to his days on construction sites, Reedy paid his dues as a busker in New Orleans, learning his trade and eventually hooking up with some other New Orleans street musicians to form the first incarnation of his backing band, The Longtime Goners. Trips to Nashville followed, where his performances began to raise a few eyebrows, gaining him a reputation as an old school, no frills artist, delivering genuine country music without any extraneous bells and whistles. Reedy has managed to translate his live shows seamlessly on to this album, thanks to the excellent production by Richard Bailey, who creates the perfect mix between instrumentation and Reedy’s alluring monotone vocals.

Bloodshot Heart gets things underway, with enough hooks and twang to draw you in on first listen,followed by Lucky I’m Alive which includes some sweet pedal steel by Leo Grassl. A reality check on Music City is included compliments of Nashville Tennessee At 3AM, (“Everyone’s an outlaw until the cocaine wears off, the only thing that’s cheap in these bars is talk’’). Some marvellous fiddle playing introduces the classic country sound of Wedding Ring and the rip roaring You Don’t Have To Tell Me Again is laced with clever witticisms and killer guitars and pedal steel (“you say I like living dangerous, you must take me for some kind of fool, there’s arithmetic that runs my life that you don’t learn in school’’). That track could very well be a precursor for the title song and album highlight That’s All There Is etc, a leaving song as his woman packs her bags for another man. 

It’s difficult to exclude a mention of any track on the album such is the quality and Conversation With Jesus also deserves noteOut of the Hayes Carll school of songwriting it refers to an imaginary conversation with the Lord after escaping injury in a drunken car crash where Reedy is given sound advice. ("Lay off whiskey and remember this one thing, Holy-rollin’ preaching just ain’t worth a damn, What matters most in life is how you treat your fellow man"). Funny Thing About A Hammer laments the endless toil of the working man and the album is bookended by a lively train song Coal Train Blues.

I really can’t overstate how much I’m continuing to savour this album and finding it’s melodies unshakable. Let’s hope it gets the exposure it so richly deserves and that Reedy follows in Joshua Hedley and JP Harris’ footsteps in being recognised as one of the premier ‘country’ artist performing in Nashville this year. A must buy for lovers of ‘real’ country music.

Cliff Westfall Baby You Win Self Release

From time to time judging a book by its cover is not such a bad idea. Without doubt this was the case with New York based artist Cliff Westfall’s knockout album Baby You Win. The striking album cover design is very much in the ‘pulp fiction’ expression and a fitting metaphor for the music contained within.  It was designed by New York artist and musician Billy Woodward, whose previous employers include Rolling Stone, Sun Studio and National Geographic. Very much a retro sleeve made for twelve inch vinyl, it’s front cover is striking and the rear cover notes the six tracks on both side one and side two. Westfall also hired some New York big guns to feature on the album, including Scott Metzger (Shooter Jennings, Nicole Atkins, Stanton Moore) on guitar, Dan Lead (Kevin Morby, Norah Jones) on pedal steel and Jeremy Chatzky (Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Laura Cantrell) on bass. Recording took place at Trout Recording in Brooklyn, produced by Bryce Goggin and Graham Norwood, who manage to achieve the perfect balance between vocals and instruments.  

Most impressively the musical content more than matches the packaging with an equally retro country sound that instantly recalls early Dwight Yoakam on the opener It Hurt Her To Hurt Me and does not contain a weak moment over the course of the eleven tracks that follow. Till The Right One Comes Along is unadulterated classic country, tingling piano and plenty of twang keeping pace with Westfall’s elongated vocals. The Man I Used To Be and A Live If You Must slip back a gear or two, the former a tale of regret and remorse, the latter – with honeyed backing vocals from Barbara Endes - visiting denial and unacceptance.  Hanging On, written by Ira Allen and Buddy Mize, and a hit for The Gosdin Brothers in 1967, is the one cover on the album, a slick delivery sympathetic to the original. The Odds Were Good closes the album in style, chunky guitar working alongside Westfall’s tale of visiting an Oklahoma dive bar.

Baby You Win is classic West Coast country via New York and satisfyingly a further indication that real country music is alive and healthy outside Austin and East Nashville. A majestic recording that hopefully will not be ignored. You really need to get your hands on this one!

Jon Byrd Dirty Ol’ River Longleaf Pine

The title of Jon Byrd’s debut solo album, recorded back in 2007, was Byrd’s Auto Parts, following a career of performing as a sideman previous to its release. The Tee-shirt available for purchase with the album had the slogan "Byrd’s Auto Parts: We Don’t Rock Ever," printed on the front. The catch phrase just about sums up the Alabama born musician to a tee (pardon the pun). Byrd is pure country with a distinctive semi spoken vocal style and clever songs that inevitably are accompanied by pedal steel guitar. Equally impressive live, Byrd currently performs a weekly residency at Bridie's Bar in Nashville where he delivers two hour sets, generally alongside Paul Niehaus on pedal steel.

Dirty Ol’ River offers ten tracks with a common thread, clever well-constructed songs, delivered by Byrd’s gnarly deep vocal with some sweet, sad pedal steel always close by. The pedal steel on the album is courtesy of Eddie Lange, a ‘go to’ player in Nashville for many years. The opener I Get Lostis the album’s tour de force, but there lots to savour before the closing song, a cover of Steve Young’s Many Rivers. The toe tapping You Taught Me How and the tongue in cheek If Texas Is So Great all work well, as does the Willie Nelson sounding Silent Night. Well-chosen covers include Tammy Wynette/Billy Sherrill’s ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own and Giving The Devil His Due, written by Davis Raines. All in all, a clutter free bunch of songs by an artists who appears uncompromising and remarkably comfortable in his own skin. Lovers of Tom Russell will certainly warm to Dirty Ol’ River and understandably so. 

Currently residing in Nashville, Byrd recorded the album locally at TJ Tunes under the guidance of Thomm Jutz whose previous employers included Nancy Griffith, Todd Snider, Jason Ringenberg and Otis Gibbs.  An album well worth checking out - you won’t be disappointed.

James Houlahan The Wheel Still In Spin Gumbo Luvah 

An album that had me scratching my head on first listen but unravelled and revealed itself after a few more spins. Difficult to define genre wise, it skits between folk, experimental indie and mainstream across its twelve tracks. Houlahan’s website bio describes his music as ‘eclectic Americana’, creating another sub-genre which does not really inform or prepare the listener’s expectations.  A meeting of minds between Jim White and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) possibly best describes the album, which includes two stunning tracks in the achingly beautiful All I’ve Got and the almost gothic Stuck In Between, alongside the empirical Spirit/Music and a cover of Joe Ely’s Indian Cowboy. Echoes of Neil Young present themselves in the closing track California.

This is the fourth album from Houlahan, a founding member of Boston bands The Dogs On Television and The Jody Grind. His music has been used in both TV commercials and in films. His composition Going Home (For Thanksgiving) featured in film Little Pink earlier this year alongside contributions from David Crosby.

Like the aforementioned Jim White and Conor Oberst, it’s unlikely the wheel will ever stop spinning for Houlahan, landing him in one particular musical genre. No harm either, as his eccentricities and musical detours are exactly what makes this album most appealing. 

Kerry Fearon Honky Tonk Girl Self Release

There’s certainly no questioning Kerry Fearon’s work ethic, enthusiasm and energy. Together with holding down a career as a teacher and hosting a radio show on Downtown Radio, she also presents her own tv show on the Keep It Country channel every Friday. What does she do in her spare time, you might ask? Well, in the limited downtime she’s had this year, the South Armagh young lady has recorded a covers album of ‘close to her heart’ standard country classic songs, some from yesteryear and some from more recent times.

Recent years have also been traumatic for Fearon with the loss of her father, a well-known local singer, in 2013 having been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease the previous year. Turning tragedy into positivity, and having been too shy to sing in public, she vowed to honour her father’s legacy by deciding in her own words ‘not to waste her own voice anymore’. She recorded a few tracks herself which were eventually uploaded to Soundcloud by a friend and got some very positive feedback.

Those reactions resulted in Fearon having the confidence to release a couple of singles before embarking on recording Honky Tonk Girl. What particularly impresses me about the album is Fearon’s reluctance to go down the country crossover route – which may have been an obvious choice – instead she has selected classic country songs that are dear to her. It may be an exercise in ‘testing the waters’ prior to considering penning her own material for future recordings, but on the evidence of her vocals – and indeed the musicianship – she has passed her entrance exam with flying colours. Jessi Coulter’s Storms Never Last opens the album in fine style and classics such as Loretta Lynn’s Honky Tonk Girl, Maybelle Carter’s Juke Box Blues and a particularly impressive delivery of Gram Parson’s Luxury Liner all work. Also included are two Ashley Munroe co-writes, I’m Good At Leavin’ and If The Devil Don’t Want Me.

The album was recorded and produced by (former bass player with Van Morrison) Clive Culberston at his own No Sweat Studio in Coleraine, Co. Derry.

Fearon will, without doubt, continue her ascendancy in the music industry in Ireland or abroad. Whether her career path travels the roads of presenter or performer, or a combination of both remains to be seen. She most certainly has the vocal ability, personality and drive and if those talents crossover into song writing, watch this space. 

The Weight Band World Gone Mad Self Release

Former members of The Band, Jim Weider and Randy Ciarlante performed  at Levon Helm’s Woodstock New York Barn in 2013, joining original Band member Garth Hudson to perform "Songs of The Band." Following the success and positive feedback to that event, Weider decided to recruit others to form The Weight Band, a vehicle to continue the tradition and legacy of a group many consider to be one of the most influential forefathers of what some decades later would become known as Americana.

Five years on and after touring and performing classic Band material, Weider and his colleagues have taken a giant step forward in recording their debut album, which includes eight self-penned songs among the eleven tracks that feature on the album. Indeed, the final track is a live and rousing version of Remedy, originally recorded for The Band’s 1993 Jerico album, which was co-written by Jim Weider. The aptly titled World Gone Mad kicks the album off in fine style, Weider’s slick mandolin playing and a harmony driven chorus setting the template for what is to follow. Big Legged Sadie would sit comfortably on Levon Helm’s 2007 Dirt Farmer album. Wish You Were Here Tonight, a beautifully constructed ballad, slows things down temporarily before You’re Never Too Old (To Rock ‘N’ Roll) and Every Step Of The Way raise the tempo once more.

Joining Weider in The Weight Band to create a supergroup of sorts are a bunch of highly regarded and seasoned musicians, a number who have connections or have performed with Levon Helm, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, B.B. King and Al Green. Michael Bram plays drums and vocals, Brian Mitchell keyboards and vocals, Matt Zeiner also keyboards and vocals and Albert Rogers bass and vocals. 

As expected the album follows a similar landscape to the original Band material with shared vocals, multi instrumentation and timeless material. World Gone Mad establishes The Weight Band as much more than merely a tribute or cover band but an essential ingredient in keeping the gospel according to The Band alive and kicking

Mark Wayne Glasmire Can’t Be Denied Traceway

Pennsylvania born Glasmire had been a closet musician since the age of ten, finally plucking up the courage to perform in public by an insistent college girlfriend who encouraged him to play at a coffeehouse at Kutztown State University. Having completed college he performed semi-professionally, playing in New York by night, while working on construction sites by day.

To fulfil his ambitions as a career musician Glasmire pitched his tent in Nashville, before moving to Dallas and eventually settling in Arlington, Texas, where he currently resides. His song writing has been acknowledged with awards in The B.W. Stephenson Competition in Dallas, The Dallas Songwriters Association International Songwriting Competition and The GINA/LAWIM Songwriting Competition in Los Angeles and most notably the Grand Prize in the Country Song section of the 2010 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. 

By his own admission one of the challenges his musical career has faced from the outset has been to establish himself in a particular genre and capture the appropriate listenership. ‘When I spent time in New York, people told me I should be in Nashville. When I moved to Nashville, they told me I should be in California. Now I live in Texas!’. Pre- Americana, his style would have been described as ‘country rock’, closer in texture to The Eagles than Gram Parsons, but his writing style also brings to mind Guy Clark at times, an artist that Glasmire had the pleasure of supporting. Other notable performers that he also supported include Jesse Winchester, Gordon Lightfoot, Tracy Chapman and Dierks Bentley.

Borderline – a common song title in recent times – Those Nights and the title track Can’t Be Deniedare the pick of the crop on what is Glasmire’s seventh studio album. Released on the Traceway Records label, the twelve-track album was co-produced by Glasmire with John Albani at his Sonic Eden Studios in Nashville.


Reviews by Paul McGee

Christa Couture Long Time Leaving Self-Release

On the track That Little Part of my Heart, Christa Couture sings “Don’t be afraid to be amazing – you are amazing”. She could be singing this line to another or to herself, about herself, in an attempt to boost her self-talk to a level where renewed courage shines through. It is just one example of the subtle muse at play when she writes her words of life and longing, love and lust and everything in-between. 

This is Christa’s fourth release and it marks a departure from the searing self- analysis of her previous albums which dealt with personal tragedy in a way that both inspired and devastated in equal measure. Coming out of a marriage and going through divorce  is a time for reflection and self-examination, but when life has dealt you dire cards in the years before, then a certain perspective is brought to bear. Fighting cancer and losing a limb, yet winning the battle, was nothing compared to the deaths of her two children, losses painfully and bravely borne and now referenced through her music.

For this new project Christa has employed the many-talented Steve Dawson as producer/musician and his finely tuned influence is very prominent on Long Time Leaving ‘s 12 songs. The studio musicians add a texture that allows plenty of space and room. The sound is lighter and more commercial with a number of upbeat arrangements to add a nice tempo to the overall feel.

The early glow of a potential new relationship is explored in Alone in This and is balanced against the sad realisation of Separation/Agreement that leaves a feeling of resignation, with lines like “it’s difficult to know how to divide which ghosts are yours and which are mine”. The Slaughter explores flirtation with the heady swim of experimentation and new opportunity to play at being Aphrodite. Solid Ground reaches out to try and find mutual understanding where the “best medicine is an honest conversation”, while Zookeeper looks at the whole process of counselling and the role of a marriage guidance counsellor as a zookeeper overseeing the zoo animals who might strike out at any moment. Dealing with the frustration of failed relationships is given a fresh spin on When It Gets Dark Again and the urge to binge drink all problems away for just a little while. 

We end with feelings of enduring, which is a mantra that seems to run through the path of this artist; brave and resourceful, talented and open to tomorrow. Along Time Leaving is a very fine release that sits well in Couture’s catalogue and is an example that creative music that can be found in the worst of experiences and shared for the greater good.

Jeb Barry Milltown Dollyrocker

Milltown is a follow up to Barry’s solo EP Bury Me in a Lonely Place released in 2014.  It is based in the acoustic singer-songwriter vein and comparisons have been made to Jason Isbell and Steve Earle in both the vocal delivery and subject matter of the 15 songs.

 Clocking in at just over of 47 minutes, the tracks become somewhat repetitive with sparse songs of the darker side of life; small town decay (Milltown #2, No Way Out of This Town) resignation with life (Drag the River, $10 Girl), regrets over the past and old relationships (Shoot Out the Moon, If You Were Whiskey, Gone), lost hope and lost lives (Hard Times, Why I Drink Alone, Weird Places).

 Barry sings in a weary, gravelly voice that fits the words well and the support musicians slot superbly into the songs with Pat Powers (banjo, harmonica), Ernie Barufa (bass, percussion), Mike O’Neill (guitar, Dobro) and Heather Austin (vocals) all adding understated support to Barry and his various guitars. 

This is a contemporary take on bleak, economically busted small town America and the perspective of wasted lives. Barry’s style has been aptly described as ‘hard dirt Americana’ which sums it up very well. 

West of Eden Look to the West West of Music

West of Eden is a 6 person Swedish band inspired by the creative hub of Jenny and Martin Schaub, who write the majority of the songs. This is their 9th release, a concept album focusing on the emigration trail taken by many Swedes in the 19th century, looking for a better life and greater opportunity on the shores of England, America and beyond. There is a strong resonance with Ireland and our own mass emigration following the Famine years of 1845-1849. The music of both nations is similar and this is added to by the very Gaelic feel that runs through many of the song arrangements. 

Both Schaubs have studied Irish traditional music here and their sensitive arrangements are beautifully produced with a swell of melody giving a lush feel to songs about missing home (Going to Hull, Sweet Old Country), sailing away from loved ones (Oh I Miss My Home, The Final Cut), reluctant travellers (The Crying Stairs, Look to the West) and hard luck stories of deception and robbery on distant shores (Wilson Line).

Their sound has been described as ‘Celtic Folk’ but this is not a very fair reflection of the experience and talent that these musicians bring to each project. Yes, they honour to old folk traditions of songs about land and sea, hard times and hope for the future, but they are so much more with fine harmonies lifting the melodies to new heights and the subtle use of horns and trombones on certain tracks giving the project a deeper resonance. The fiddle/viola playing of Lars Broman is always a joy, along with the fine accordion playing of Jenny Schaub and the flute of Steph Geremia, the mix of dobro, mandolin, pump organ and guitars make for a heady experience.

There are songs of packing for the journey (The List) and of having to escape a loveless marriage (Please Mister Agent). However, one of the most poignant songs is The Ticketless Man which tells of those left behind through not being able to afford the ticket to a new life. Rainy Town sings of another left behind who does not envy those who leave for an unknown fate – better to stay with the familiar life that is tried and tested. Two instrumentals show the band and guest musicians in full flow and both  Paddy Fahey’s/Sweel and Tekla’s Tune display the range of talent at play.

Strong storytelling in the traditional folk style and the sweet voice of Jenny Schaub make this a potent listen and the talents of West of Eden are worth investing time in discovering. 

James Houlahan Multitudes Gumbo Luvah

James Houlahan is a singer- songwriter who first came to prominence with bands like Dogs on Television and The Jody Grind around Boston. Now living in Los Angeles, he has released two previous solo albums, Seven Years Now and Misfit Hymns and has a number of recognised session musicians on this collection of 10 songs, including Fernando Perdomo (Jakob Dylan) on bass and Danny Frankel (Lou Reed, kd lang) on percussion. The project was recorded at Veneto West studios in Santa Monica, and was produced by Houlahan and Ronan Chris Murphy (King Crimson, Steve Morse).  

Many of the song arrangements display a leaning towards the eccentric and strange, with the instrumentation somewhat at odds; the drums on the opening murder song Fires of Mercy sound ponderous and a second murder song Marcy’s Lament suffers from noise treatments and vocal distortions. The rock groove of The Rogue Song stands starkly against the gentle folk strum of acoustic guitars on Morning Sun and the ghost/fantasy dreamscape of Mystery Earth Song, the longest track here at almost 7 minutes, contains elements of Mexican brass and strings added to the mix. The country twang of Home shows the direction that this artist could benefit from placing greater focus on, with some neat pedal steel from Erik Kristiansen and sweet violin from Kaitlin Wolfberg.  

The final track is also interesting with the slow strum of Joyful Circuit  and Danny Levin’s horns adding greatly to the overall feel. There are just too many different styles here, which leads to a general feeling of no real direction. 

Carly Dow Ingrained Self Release

This is the first solo release from Canadian artist Carly Dow, who lives in Manitoba. She sings of the environment and our relationship with nature (Too Much to Go Back) in addition to reflecting on matters of the human heart and our ability to endure (Watch it Go). 

She sings with a clear and strong voice that blends perfectly with her acoustic based songs and her banjo and guitar rhythms. From the clap and stomp beginning of Olive Branch and its message of sisterhood, to the bluesy beat of This Dress, there is a confidence flowing through the arrangements and the playing that fits perfect with the overall feel of the project. 

The light jazz groove of Down This Road has some very tasty bass playing from Ashley Au that is complemented by the fine playing of Matt Filopoulos on lap steel and electric guitar. Cello by Julian Bradford on Yours & Mine is beautifully understated and dovetails with lap steel in a reflection on past relationships ;  “I search in the past, where I sometimes live; for the touch, for the brush of a hand”. This is fine writing and plenty to enjoy ona very promising debut.

Mike Jacoby NorthEastSouthWest Self Release

Jacoby is based in Long Beach California and has released his second solo album which takes the title from his birth place in the NorthEast and his current abode in the SouthWest. The album is a self- produced project and Jacoby plays all the instruments on the eleven self-penned songs included here.

 He writes in an American-ish vein, with opening tracks Ready When You Are and Nevermind Me setting the tone with strong beats and a rhythm that sweeps along with attitude. He is clearly a musical talent and his ability to deliver this project single-handed has to be admired and applauded.

There is a country feel to Explaining to Do with its’ swing and swagger and Lay of the Land has a radio friendly groove that will appeal to many. Lie in Bed is a strong track that slows everything down before the driving beat of Where She Goes recalls early 1950s rockabilly.