Entries in Levi Cuss (2)

Saturday
Dec022017

Reviews by Paul McGee

The Novel Ideas Self-Titled  Self Release

I love the surprise of playing an unknown CD and from the first moment, you are hooked! This is one such moment and has me returning to hit the repeat-play button more than anything I have heard recently.

The Novel Ideas are a country-folk quartet of friends hailing from Massachusetts and comprise Sarah Grella (vocals), Danny Hoshino (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), James Parkington (bass, vocals) and Daniel Radin (guitar, vocals). Their 4-part harmony vocals are an absolute joy and there is not a weak track on this debut release. 

Produced by Rick Parker (Lord Huron) and mixed by Ryan Freeland (Ray LaMontagne, Bonnie Raitt), the arrangements are full of space and warmth with some superb interplay between the musicians and intricate vocals that colour everything in a bright hue. Sarah Grella has one of those voices that captivates and lifts the spirit and the addition of Elena Bonomo (drums/percussion), Eva Walsh (fiddle) and John Waynelovich (piano/organ) give the arrangements just the right amount of texture.

Broken Glass is a stand-out track, with such restraint in the build-up and such sweet surrender in the coda. Lost On The Road is melancholic sweet-release and The Blue Between Us is a wistful reflection on relationships tested by the distance borne of travelling. 

Dena is a song about forgiveness and features some fine pedal steel playing. The final track, I Was Not Around, ends the journey with the plaintive tone of the words; "You asked me to save you from yourself, but I can’t help you now." Such beautiful heartbreak and not very hard to make this my favourite release by an unknown band this year

Amelia White Rhythm Of The Rain  Self Release

Amelia White recorded this record in the four days between her Mother’s funeral and her own wedding. Her last release (Home Sweet Hotel) brought great praise and I read somewhere that she “illuminates the ordinary” - a fitting description of her creative muse. This is a really strong release with plenty of dramatic playing from the studio musicians that include Sergio Webb (guitars, banjo), Dave Coleman (guitars, organ, vocals), Dave Jacques (bass), Megan Jane (drums/percussion), Eamon McLoughlin (violin), as the core players supporting Amelia, who contributes guitar and lead vocals.

Comparisons with Lucinda Williams are somewhat inevitable given the tired, road-travelled, texture in the vocal delivery but there is also the sweet refrain of Eliza Gilkyson and if you wrap it all up in a pretty bow – guess what; you get the unique talent of Amelia White.

There are co-writes with Lori McKenna, The Worry Dolls, Annie McCue and Ben Glover, among others, and the quality never dips for a moment. There is compassion, understanding of living life on margins, trying to make sense of daily rush to feel relevant; words tumble down like “his friends are coming to drink their unemployment down on Friday night, American small town” (Little Cloud Over Little Rock); “the poor get poor and the rich get richer; war is stirring back home, the rain taps on my window” (Rhythm Of The Rain).

The final track, Let The Wind Blow, sums up the feeling of a love gone cold in the lines; “Fire went out and the bed went cold, and your eyes won’t meet mine anymore; I put good money on this one, I don't like to be wrong….” This artist is the real deal and running through her tough look at life is a steely resolve to always come out fighting and winning at the end of the day.

Hoodoo Operators Burning Churches Wide Mouth

Swamp Rock meets Country-Blues and all bets are off… Hoodoo Operators are a four-piece band from West Yorkshire and you would never guess from the earthy vocals and tunes that create this atmospheric music. Interesting that they perform without a drummer, which doesn’t detract from the overall groove of the band and their rhythmic drive. 

The line-up includes C.P.S Dover (vocals, acoustic guitar, kazoo); Mathew Birch (resonator guitar, lap-steel, backing vocals); Peter Hayward (electric guitar, backing vocals) and Gareth Bates (acoustic bass, backing vocals), with additional musician Kieran O’Malley on fiddle making a key contribution on tracks like Last Orders and I’ll Tell You When I’ve Had Enough

Date With The Dead and Follow Me Down (To The River) kick off proceedings in telling style and with a nod to Creedence, all loose and crackling with energy. Pills & Whisky slows down the pace, as does It Won’t Be Me; but the giddy stomp of End Up On The Dime Bar Floor has a Rockabilly tempo that really sparkles. Excellent arrangements and a band worth checking out.

Hunter/Wiggins/Seamons A Black & Tan Ball  Self Release

This album features a cross section of early jazz, string band tunes, ragtime and blues. The music duo, Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons, blend these styles together into a real gumbo of musical tastes across thirteen tracks. 

There is real history in these influences and if American roots music ever needed a modern twist then this is a fine example. Ben Hunter plays violin, mandolin and guitar; Joe Seamons plays guitar and banjo with Phil Wiggins on harmonica. It captures a time that has long since passed, classic tunes that remain with us and that are given a brand-new treatment by this talented trio.

Stop & Listen Blues, (Mississippi Sheiks, 1930), Hard Time Blues (Lane Hardin, 1935), Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me (Duke Ellington Orchestra}, Struttin’ With Some BBQ (Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five), Po’ Howard (Leadbelly) and Do You Call That A Buddy (Louis Jordan) are just a sample of the tunes included and the playing is excellent, with a very organic and rhythmic sound. 

Bruce Cockburn Bone On Bone  True North

An iconic singer-songwriter with 33 albums to his name since a debut release in 1970, Bruce Cockburn stands as a giant of Canadian music with a reach that spans not only different nations but has influenced political change through his brave stance in speaking out against global abuse of power, atrocities and the injustice of political regimes across his long career.

His 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory, is a great read for anyone who is interested in bearing witness to a life that has tried to make a difference through his music but also as a humanist motivated by an unerring sense of equality in the World. Bone On Bone addresses spiritual concerns in the way we shape our World today.

Forty Years in the Wilderness is one of several songs that feature a number of singers from the church Cockburn frequents, the San Francisco Lighthouse Chorus. Among other songs, they contribute call-and-response vocals to Stab At Matter, Looking And Waiting, Jesus Train and Twelve Gates To The City.

Produced by Colin Linden, Cockburn’s long-time collaborator, the album is built around the musicianship of Cockburn on guitar and the core accompaniment of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig. Also, very much part of the sound is the accordion playing of Cockburn’s nephew John Aaron Cockburn and the superb fluegelhorn player Ron Miles 

Cockburn remains very driven by the inequalities in the World and is focused on change. A consummate musician and a special talent when it comes to words on the page, this new album is compelling and relevant.  

Levi Cuss Just Below Radio  Self Release

Two EP’s that contain 4 tracks each and both produced, recorded and mixed by Steve Dawson. He has been releasing his own music for many years now and also producing such acts as The Deep Dark Woods, Kelly Joe Phelps, Christa Couture, Jim Byrnes and many others. Levi Cuss has also benefitted from previous collaborations and on this project Steve also contributes on acoustic and electric guitars, plus pedal steel. Levi has written all the songs and is joined by William Moore on bass, Chris Gestrin on organ & piano, with different drummers Justin Amaral and Geoff Hicks appearing.

The warm sound of the keys gets EP One off to a strong start on White Lies, while the rootsy guitar sound of One Night Stand carries a reminder of early Little Feat. Hardwood is a good Country sound and The Hunt slows everything down with a Bluesy groove.

With two previous albums under his belt, I’m not sure of the logic behind the release of separate EP’s as the second carries on very much from where the first left off; solid song arrangements and fine ensemble playing, with the slow Country vibe of Blew It All Away and the closing track, Alena, perhaps the highlights. Think of Steve Earle as a touchstone and you get the general idea.  

The Penny Black Remedy Maintaining Dignity In Awkward Situations  Mono Del Mundo

This band formed in 2004 and is based in London. Keith M Thomson is the main songwriter and fronts the band with singer/percussionist, Marijana Hajdarhodzic. The other band members include Paul Slack on bass; Jeremy Mendonca on acoustic guitar/vocals; Barbara Bartz on violin and Jamie Shaw on drums. They have a diverse history and all play in side projects, in addition to building a formidable reputation as a live act around the local venues of London. This is the third release and their sound is a heady mix of Americana, Folk and Ska. Production is shared by Thomson with Boz Boorer (Morrissey/The Polecats/Adam Ant), who together with a small group of additional studio musicians, deliver what is a very enjoyable listen.

Thomson is a very clever lyricist and songs like Trying To Be A Slightly Better Person and You Should Have Left Your Money At Home are perfect examples of the wickedly teasing wit in his writing. The irony of I’d Murder To Have You Back is another example of what Thomson says are songs “about death, lost love, living in a constant state of crippling paranoid fear and/or coping with the daily grind of everyday life”. Enough said! The playing is really excellent across these nine tracks and the overall impression is of a band that, above all else, are having great fun. 

Keegan McInroe A Good Old Fashioned Protest  Self Release

This is the fifth solo album from Keegan McInroe, a Texas singer-songwriter who delivers a mix of old country, blues and folk that pays tribute to the origins of American roots music. He has written and performed all nine songs here, in the company of Taylor Tatsch who also co-produced with Keegan. 

If Woody Guthrie was looking down from above then he has nothing but encouragement for the words and the righteous anger that is such a vital element of this artist’s creative muse. He is not afraid to tackle the key issues of these troubled times and political hypocrisy is exposed along with the disease of big money greed and the senseless waste of life to fuel war games. 

Songs like Talking Talking Head Blues, Bombing For Peace, The Ballad Of Tommy Johnsons Living Brother, Bastards & Bitches are all excellent and delivered with great perspective and conviction.

A poem, Nietzsche Wore Boots, speaks of the moral blindness within society, fuelled by religious dogma and the reflection that God could well be dead. A very insightful and rewarding work from an experienced and mature songwriter. Worthy of further investigation.

Tuesday
Jan312017

Reviews By Stephen Rapid

 

Jim Lauderdale This Changes Everything Sky Crunch

Not noted for lengthy periods between releases Jim Lauderdale is nothing if not prolific. As an independent artist, he can release records when he wants to. This has on occasion led to the comment that a tighter rein on the output may make for a stronger album. However, This Changes Everything dispels that theory to a large degree. Rather it is the context that Lauderdale places his songs that make them more appealing to some sections than to others. Which is why those who favour his more overtly traditional country outings have taken to this Texas recorded album.

Produced by Tommy Detamore - a musician steeped in the traditional aspects of Texas country - it also features a selection of Austin’s finest players, from Detamore himself, alongside such respected players as Bobby Flores, Hank Singer, Floyd Domino, Tom Lewis, Kevin Smith and others. Singers like Sunny Sweeny, Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay all add background vocals. These are a set of Lauderdale penned co-writes with the likes Frank Dycus, Bruce Robison, Odie Blackmon and Hayes Carll. Add to that that Mr. Lauderdale is in top vocal form here. The end result over time will be seen as one of his very finest releases.

Some of the songs featured here have had previous incarnations. George Strait recorded We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This while All The Rage In Paris which was cut by The Derailers in their heyday. But, Lauderdale makes these songs his own here and they are enriched by the talented players and the Texas environment they have been recorded in. The pedal steel, Telecaster twang and fiddle are well to the fore as one might expect with a Detamore production. And while, in strict commercial terms this is unlikely to change everything, it underlines the strengths and integrity that Jim Lauderdale brings to his musical output.  

Levi Cuss Night Thief Self Release

This album was originally released in 2014 but is being given a European release now to coincide with a tour. Cuss is a Canadian roots artist based in Alberta who, for this album, worked with fellow Canadian artist Steve Dawson as producer. They recorded this album in Henhouse Studio in Nashville with a rhythm section and a keyboard player. Dawson handled all the stringed instruments requirements. Using his inherent playing and production skills he is able bring depth and focus the songs such Pills where the sweet pedal steel enriches a song about a drugs and his girl who “liked her oxy better than she liked me.” There’s one cover, which is a Canned Heat style boogie-fried version of JJ Cale’s Bringing It Back.

Between those points Cuss uses his solidly lived-in voice and life experienced songs that have encompassed his personal battle with drink and drugs as well as incarceration. Cuss’ lyrics reflect this former lifestyle and the type of people who tend to inhabit the locations with a certain lowlife lassitude. Tecumseh is a dark story of those moments of a sudden bold rush that may lead to regretted violence … and possible matrimony - the title being the lady of his affections. There are eleven self-penned tales of those who have taken the less fortunate path in life. Some have made it, others not.

Levi Cuss wears a baseball cap and has a beard on the album cover so fits the current “look”for some of the the non-mainstream artists at the moment. But Cuss knows about hard work as he found employment as a manual labourer to put himself in the position to make and finance this album. It followed his one previous album and as this album was originally released in 2014 leaves him about due for a new one thoiugh he touring in the UK and Europe later in the year. He normally tours locally but these European dates should expose him to a wider audience who will appreciate his varied and vibrant hard folk, blues and roots music.

Karen Jonas Country Songs At The Helm

This second album from the very talented Ms Jonas arrived at the tail end of the year and escaped the best of lists but is well worthy of a place up there with the best. It is another example of an artist sticking to their guns (at this point) and playing their individual take on country songs at a time when a number of other of her contemporary artists have moved to a much broader palette of sounds. Jonas was born in Virginia, in Fredericksburg and recorded there with her own musicians. These players include Tim Bray on electric guitar, Jay Starling on lap steel and keyboards with Eddie Dickerson on fiddle over a solid rhythm section of bassist Jordan Medas and drummers Jack O’Dell and Jason Cizdiel. There is no production credit as it was recorded live in the studio, something that gives the sound a spontaneity and an undeniable energy if, in the long term, that doesn’t allow for some development of the overall sound.

Jonas has written all the songs and they show an understanding for the traditional themes of country music while putting a personal and perceptive viewpoint on relationships - good and bad. Add to this a voice that is redolent of your favourite country singers while being both passionate and poignant. Jonas is building from the experience of her excellent debut Oklahoma Lottery and the performances that followed its release. There are 10 songs here and not a bad one among them. They are solidly ‘country’ yet have a certain popish quality at times that makes them eminently listenable.

There are a number of slower songs like Why Don’t You Stay or The Garden which contrast with the big beat stance the Bakersfield (and Dwight Yoakam) referencing title song or the brush off of Keep Your Hands To Yourself or the twanging Ophelia. A song where guitarist Tim Bray shines. Country Songs shows the continuing promise of Karen Jonas - her song writing and singing and one can only hope that it creates a platform that will allow her a producer and more time in the studio next time out. But this album lives up to the promise of her debut release and places her alongside the likes of Zoe Muth and Eilen Jewell. Good company to be in. 

Adrian & Meredith More Than A Little Vertigo

This album reminded me of some of the earlier recordings of Paul Burch in the overall sound style. It is the duo’s first album together though Meredith Krygowski played with Adrian (Krygowski) on his 2014 release Roam. It is an amalgam of various roots styles that fits under the Americana banner. The album is ably produced by Mark Robertson (the upright bassist and producer for The Legendary Shack Shakers) who gives the recording a punkish patina while holding the songs together to give a cohesive overview. There is a little of the Shack-Shakers/Dirt Daubers in the mix too.

Alongside the duo are a set of players whose names will be familiar to many such as Paul Niehaus of Lambchop and Calexico fame. Then there’s Fats Kaplan on tenor banjo and JD Wilkes on harmonica with Robertson himself joining the rhythm section. Meredith is the band’s more than able fiddle player and Adrian its guitar player. The latter is also the main songwriter penning all the songs including one with Niehaus. The sole cover is the traditional Greasy Coat and Kitchen Girl. The album was cut live to tape and that approach is inherent in the overall feel of the engaging results.

The duo handle all their vocals mainly with Adrian taking the lead vocals but on some tracks Meredith is the lead, otherwise she provides duet and harmony vocals. The song Birthday Cakes opens with a solid drum beat before Adrian’s nasal vocal takes up the story and Meredith joins him over the solid beat with pedal steel and fiddle enhancing the sound that resonates in a number of ways that suggest the duo’s influences. Beat is a bedrock for many of the songs as illustrated by the floor stomp of More Than A Little. The use of a trombone allies it to an earlier time while sounding very contemporary in its context. Suffic it say that the Krygowski’s make a noise that is nourishing and more than a little natty.

The Grahams and Friends Live In The Studio Three Sirens

The husband and wife duo revisit the songs that they recorded for their previous album and for the film soundtrack Rattle The Hocks. That release came to Europe through the Sony Music Group but this one sees them independent again. Somemay be familiar with some the songs from other releases, such as the opening song Glory Bound, the title song from their previous album. The version here features the Watkins Family (including Sara and Sean Watkins). The hymn-like Lay Me Down comes from the soundtrack and is an outstanding vocal from Alyssa Graham, as is the version of Alejandro Escovedo’s Broken Bottle. The slower songs also include The Lonely Ones which features the Milk Carton Kids on harmony vocals or Tender Annabelle a duet with guest with John Fulbright and a strong vocal chorus. These stand out well alongside the up-tempo nature of the songs like Griggstown, Kansas City with New Orleans style brass. There is also a related cover (in terms of sound) of the classic City Of New Orleans. Mama opens with the voice of Douglas Graham before Alyssa accompanied by David Garza and Suzanna Choffel join in. Another strong emotional delivery and highlight from Alyssa is on the song Blow Wind Blow.

There are a host of musicians featured on the album who help differentiate the songs from the previous versions on the last album - though some are taken from the deluxe edition of Glory Bound. They include Luther and Cody Dickinson (the former was also director of the Rattle The Hocks movie), Alvin Youngblood Hart, The Norman Sisters, Mark Rubin and others. It is a shame that the duo is not getting the backing that they received when with a major label and this single CD has been released to tie in with some dates in the UK. However, if you didn’t pick up on them with Glory Bound then this collection of 14 songs will help fill a gap until the next album sees the light of day.  

Alt-Country in the UK.

Ags Connolly Nothin’ Unexpected At The Helm

This is the third release from Connolly and follows on from How About Now? and a limited edition album, whose title pretty much explains its content, Traditional - 12 Cowboy Songs. Born in Oxfordshire in England but could easily have been Oxford, Mississippi in that there is an authenticity to the music that largely negates its origin. The album was produced by Dean Owens himself a recording artist both solo and as a member of The Felsons, an Edinburgh based alt-country band from the mid to late 90’s. He is the perfect person to helm this project with an understanding of both traditional and contemporary country music.

Connolly has a voice that is well-suited to the self-written songs that detail the upside and downside of life and its often-complicated relationships. There’s is a sense of depth that feels well-worn and wearied, but hopeful. Something that is borne out by the captivating opener I Hope You’re Unhappy. From then on, the album is a consistent run through of Connelly’s tales of regret, reason and refuge. Louden Wainwright’s I Suppose is the only cover and it is a testament to Connelly that he makes it fit right in. There is a strong melancholy to songs like Fifteen Years and When The Loner Gets Lonely. Both are stripped back arrangements featuring just guitar and fiddle or guitar and accordion (the latter played by ace Mavericks sideman Michael Guerra) -a song that could have easily fit on the Cowboy Songs album. Mention should be made here of the other players involved who include London-born fiddler Eamon McLoughlin (formally of the Greencards and now a player on the Grand Ole Opry), the man on all stringed things - Stuart Nisbet, Kev McGuire on stand-up bass, Jim McDermott’s steady drumming and Andy May on piano. All of whom, along with Connelly and Owens, serve these songs well and deliver an album that stands up with the best - no matter where it may have been recorded; it is the heart involved that matters most.

Guerra’s contribution adds a ‘border’ feeling to many of the songs that is not dissimilar to the feel that UK expat Wes McGhee brought to his Texas influenced music through the years. Ads Connelly can be justifiably proud of the way he and the other players have brought his songs to life with such authenticity and assiduousness. Would that Connelly (or My Darling Clementine and many others for that matter) were getting the kind of exposure that The Shires are currently receiving. But in the end, it’s the music that matters and here it matters.

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars And Tiny Tears From The Top

The versatile and talented Scotsman is back with a new solo album that is pretty much the definition of solo. He is releasing the album on his own label and looking after every aspect of the project from the cover design, the manufacturing and the promo. That’s as well as writing, producing and playing everything on the album. Its genesis came from an idea to write each song in an hour and then record the song with four hours. A self set limitation to see what he could come up with. He also didn’t read the lyrics but improvised them as he recorded them. Some in first takes, others took a little longer, but each take was individual in terms of arrangement and lyrics. The theme was to take conversations with his girlfriend as his inspiration. Initially it was something he was just going to for her but he was happy with the outcome and decided to make it available on a wider scale. 

The album proves again that Meade is a distinctive singer and a songwriter who can write songs that have strong hooks as well as an all-round musical vision - as is witnessed on the album. Several of the songs are instantly likeable (to this writer) like Sometimes Falling, Sometimes Flying, Your Voice At Night, Throwing Pebbles (Round My Head) and Today Doesn’t Matter. There are heartfelt ballads and other more up-tempo songs that are played in a style not unfamiliar to Meade’s fans or of his previous recorded output. His early country, acoustic country blues, folk and old-time influences are all present. Given that it was recorded in his kitchen, there is a lo-fi quality which, however, suits the overall nature of the project.

Meade hopes to be back with a full Flying Mules album later in the year but this is a pretty good listen in the meantime. Daniel Meade deserves all the attention he can get for his commitment to his music and again confirms his position as one of the shining lights of UK roots music.

The Most Ugly Child Copper And Lace Self Release

This Nottingham based 6-piece band are fronted by the male/female vocal interplay of Daniel Wright and Stevie-Leigh Goodison. These are songs in the template set by many of the classic country male and female duet partnerships; offering mighty support are the remaining band members, including rhythm section Matt Cutler and Max Johnson, alongside Nicole J Terry on fiddle and Big Jim Widdop on pedal steel and dobro. They also bring in the Blidworth Brass Band as well as Daniel Meade, Lloyd Reid and Henry Slim from the Flying Mules. The end result is a solid take on country music as it was (and should be).

The writing is also strong with songs from Meade (What Might Have Been), Townes van Zandt (Lungs) sitting alongside the original  songs, mainly from Wright, with a couple by Goodison. The songs in the main are looking at the love and loss that relationships are fraught with. Songs Like Another Lesson In Pain, Today, You Said Goodbye and Long Gone Woman Blues all consider aspects of failure and a need to forget its effects. While other titles like Queen Of The Honky Tonk offer more of a ray of hope for the lonely, while the acoustic album-closer My Pony is perhaps metaphor for life. All this means a good variety in terms pace and style that makes for a very satisfying album.

This is undeniably country music with a contemporary edge and attitude. Rather being retro in outlook it takes in obvious favourites as well as more diverse influences to produce an album that is as well-packaged as it is played. They may be the ugliest child in the town but they come from pretty good stock.

The Lucky Strikes The Motion And The Moving On Harbour Song

This Essex-based band deliver a new album that rocks as much as it rolls with its roots and blues energies. The five-piece band employ fiddle, banjo and pedal steel as much as they do sax, keyboards and loud guitars. The steel laced Lilac And Soil is a downbeat ballad while  Michael is a a song about a friend going through band times. While Carry Me Lord is another tale of searching and seeking with a spiritual context and that allows the dobro and voices to deliver its message. Gone, Gone is a gentle reflection of another man who slowly drifted away that has a folk feel that is reflective way to close the album. There is a sense of looking for meaning - for motion and moving on in fact. The authorship of the songs is not listed on the sleeve but I assume that they are all original songs by the band’s singers Boulter and David Giles. Songs that need time to reveal themselves to the listener.

The band’s main singer and writer Matthew Boulter also release albums under the MC Boulter name but here he meshes with his bandmates to produce a sound that has been likened to the Waterboys, Tom Waits and Crazy Horse. A pretty disparate bunch to be sure, which just goes to show how The Lucky Strikes are going to mean different things to different listeners and how their sound touches a number of bases while remaining a consistent entity. The Lucky Strikes are following where the individual songs take them. This may mean that some listeners will lose interest in the way the band have chosen to deliver their songs. Others will be happy to go on the journey with the band and find for themselves what it has to offer. Something which is individual, interesting and a little intense.