Entries in Levi Parham (2)

Friday
Jul062018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Kacy & Clayton The Siren’s Song New West

Second cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum’s third recording The Siren’s Song finds the duo exploring a fuller sound from their previous recordings with the addition of bass guitar and drums. Having been invited by Jeff Tweedy to open for Wilco at The Fillmore in San Francisco last year, the duo impressed Tweedy to the extent that he offered to produce the album at Wilco’s famous Loft Studios in Chicago. The end product is quite staggering and an album that has hardly left my CD player since it’s arrival. 

There has always been a primal innocence to their writing, inspired no doubt by the rural upbringing they enjoyed but this time around they create and perform songs like veterans. Quite extraordinary considering they are both marginally above the legal age to purchase alcohol in the States!

Everything about the album transports the listener back to the late 60’s/early 70’s, from the impressive graphics on both the front and back of the sleeve (the artwork and layout were directed by label mate Daniel Romano), but most particularly to the material itself, folk music soaked in country with nods in the direction the very best of UK folk when Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch and a young Richard Thompson held court.

Despite approaching deeper topics such as disillusionment (The Light Of Day), abandonment (Go And Leave Me), exploitation (A Certain Kind Of Memory) and betrayal (Cannery Yard), the album also possesses some lighter moments, particularly on the sardonic White Butte County, where Linthicum takes the lead vocal on a familiar tale of small village hopelessness ("The hills of White Butte County are a pleasant sight to see. But the girls of White Butte County have the same Grandpa as me"). Lifeboat would not have been out of place on the Richard and Linda Thompson classic breakup album Shoot Out The Lights ("If envy was tequila and jealousy strong beer, we could throw a party that would last throughout the year") and the simplicity of the aforementioned Cannery Yard is spine tingling, with Anderson’s sweet vocals accompanied only by acoustic guitar and gentle fiddle playing.

Far from being revivalists and given that they grew up in the remote Wood Mountain Uplands, the impression generated is that the material is first hand and based on personal experience rather than delving into The Harry Smith Songbook. Songwriting aside, what elevates the material to an altogether different level is Anderson’s intoxicating and crystal-clear vocals, perfectly in tune with Linthicum’s equally impressive fingerpicking guitar style.

The Siren’s Song is an album created with totally sincerity, innocence and love, steeped in all that’s so vital in classic country folk music. The genre is in safe hands with Kacy and Clayton as custodians and I’m already eagerly awaiting their next album. A contender for album of the year for me on it's European release this year or last year when it was released in the U.S.

Lera Lynn Plays Well With Others Single Lock

Lera Lynn’s 2016 release Resistor found the young Nashville based artist abandoning her more familiar country roots sound and experimenting with an album that crossed into indie territory, possibly targeting a wider audience given her far reaching exposure having appeared and performed in the second series of HBO’s True Detective.

Plays Well With Others finds her returning to more familiar territory. The album features seven co-writes with some of her Nashville neighbours, who each also duet on the various tracks they contributed to. What is particularly impressive about the album, given the formula, is how well the tracks gel as a unit and critical to this is Lynn’s selection of collaborators. All the more notable given that Lynn deliberately did not point any of her allies in any particular direction during the writing process. 

The performers on the album are a reflection of the burgeoning and emerging musical talent in Nashville with contributions by John Paul White – who also co-produced the album alongside Lynn and Ben Tanner - Andrew Combs, Dylan LeBlanc, JD Mc Pherson and Nicole Adams. The old guard also features courtesy of Rodney Crowell whose delicate semi spoken vocals combine beautifully with Lynn’s honeyed purring on Crimson Underground.

The overriding theme throughout is love imagined, gained and lost with titles such as Lose Myself, What Is Love, Breakdown and Nothin To Do With Love exploring relationships at their various junctures. 

Recorded in a week and a half at John Paul White’s Sun Drop Sound Studio in Florence, unlike its predecessor Resistor it features acoustic instrumentation throughout as a backdrop to some stunning vocal deliveries. Particularly impressive are What Is Love featuring Lynn and Dylan LeBlanc’s perfectly matched hushed vocals, accompanied only by acoustic guitars. A stripped back version of the Sutton/Sherrill classic Almost Persuaded is given the George and Tammy treatment by Lynn and John Paul White. Shovels & Rope contribute to the other cover on the album, the dark and sleazy Wolf Like Me written by TV On The Radio and both Lynn and Andrew Combs explore their edgy sides on Breakdown. The only all-female duet finds Nicole Atkins sharing vocals on the upbeat 60’s sounding In Another Life.

Duet and tribute albums can often go horribly wrong but Plays Well With Others does exactly what the title advocates by combining well-chosen conspirators, great songs, exceptional vocal deliveries and most of all simplicity, acknowledging that sometimes less is more. At thirty-two minutes it’s not the longest album, having said that one listen is never enough so get ready to hit the play button once more, I certainly did.

Carter Sampson Lucky CRS

Carter Sampson’s profile has been heading skyward in Europe ever since the release of Wilder Side in 2016, an album that hit the No.3 spot in Euro Americana Chart’s Best Albums of that year.

An artist that seems to be continually on the road, Sampson managed eight visits to Europe in a twelve-month period touring that recording which included two sold out shows at Kilkenny Roots in 2017 and appearances at both The Maverick and Glastonbury Festivals. Her latest album’s title may suggest an element of fortune in her rising star but it’s the quality of her song writing and her distinctive sweet vocals, together with a relentless work ethic that has found the Oklahoma born Sampson fostering a growing fan base and getting the recognition she richly deserves.

Recorded at On Studios in Moore Oklahoma, the production duties are shared by Sampson and Jason Scott, who also adds drums, guitars, mandolin and backing vocals. Fellow Okies joining Sampson in the studio were Jason Tyler (dobro, banjo and mandolin), James Purdy & Jack Waters (drums), John Calvin Abney (keys and electric guitar), Kyle Reid (keys, guitar and pedal steel), Luke Mullenix (bass). With no intention of straying from what she does best the album follows a similar path to Wilder Side, route one country folk held together spectacularly by her tight rhythm section. 

The cracking title track opens the album with Sampson and her host of backing musicians giving the number the Emmylou/Hot Band treatment. Coincidently the album culminates with the Shel Silverstein classic Queen Of The Silver Dollar, Sampson version displays a looser laid-back delivery than Emmylou’s version on the Pieces of The Sky album.

Other inclusions that reveal Sampson as an artist growing in confidence and maturity are Hello Darlin, complete with some dreamy steel guitar by Kyle Reid complementing Sampson’s gorgeous unhurried vocals and All I Got which follows a similar path. Tulsa, written by fellow Okie Zac Copeland, is not the first time an Oklahoma artist has written with glowing pride about their home State and Sampson’s effort certainly does the song justice.

The up-tempo Rattlesnake Kate is classic dirt road country, a tale of a determined freewheeling independent woman – perhaps an analogy to the demands on a female musician’s trials attempting to survive in today’s market – raising her son alone and single handily bumping off one hundred and forty rattlesnakes and skinning them to make a matching dress and shoes. 

There’s so much to savour and admire on Lucky. Like its predecessors Wilder Side and Mockingbird Sing, it’s uncomplicated, joyous and delivered by an artist in possession of a voice that always seems to love what she is singing about. Thumbs up also to Stuart Sampson for the most impressive cover painting featuring Ms Sampson in trademark red cowboy boots!

Levi Parham It’s All Good CRS

It’s All Good is the fourth release from Okie Levi Parham whose signature blend of blues, soul, rock and country lands somewhere between The Allman Brothers and early 70’s Rolling Stones.

Parham’s 2016 release All American Blues made the No.1 spot on the Euro Americana Charts and it’s reasonable to expect the gritty blues soaked It’s All Good will hit similar highs. 

‘I ain’t scared, I ain’t worried, I’ve got friends and they’d be here in a hurry’, Parham tells us on the album’s title track and true to his word Parham and his entourage took the ten-hour drive from Tulsa Oklahoma to Muscle Shoals Alabama to record at the famed Portside Sound Studio. The journey most certainly was a fruitful one resulting in a ten-track album that sets its stall from the primal bar room bluesy opener Badass Bob and continues on a similar high-octane path before drawing breath with the closer, a John Prine sounding ballad All The Ways I Feel For You.

The stellar line-up includes guitarists Paul Benjaman, Jesse Aycock, Dustin Pittsley and Parham, pooling their talents with John Fullbright on keys, Aaron Boehler on bass, Dylan Aycock on drums, snippets of sax courtesy of Michael Staub and backing vocalists Lauren Farrah, John Carter Abney and Lauren Barth. The individual talent in that bunch alone was a signal of Parham’s intent of going for broke and its fair to say he pushed the band all the way to get his just rewards.

"Ring that bell I’ll come running out like a heavyweight", Parham sings on Heavyweight, an inclusion that, intentional or not given the title, recalls The Band at the top of their game. Boxmeer Blues could have been plucked from The Stones Exile On Main Street sessions, slick layered vocals and bluesy piano breaks on a tale of temptations and distractions on the road. In LP jargon the sixth track Shade would be the Side 2 opener and its addictive and beautifully paced rhythm recalls Derek & The Dominoes. The brooding Turn Your Love Around offers five minutes plus of raw hypnotic blues.

It’s All Good is more than a recording paying homage to music and bands of previous decades but more accurately a collection of  top drawer material delivered vocally and musically by an artist who is very much a caretaker of the soulful bluesy country sound that we love so much. Hats off young man, it’s a gem!

Suburban Dirts I Want Blood Old Jank

Suburban Dirt are a six-piece band made up of John Wheatly (lead vocal, guitar, harmonica), Chris Varley (bass), David Austin (drums, vocals), David Moyes (guitar), Jay Seymour(keyboards) and Joolz Addison (violin).  Residing in the London commuter belt town of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire rather than any dust bowl State in the country they write about has not deterred them from creating an absorbing and exceptionally well researched project.  With gothic and blood thirsty tales of pre-cowboy America, the band’s third album plays like a soundtrack to a violent and gruesome movie populated by mercenaries, bandits, smugglers, rapists and highwaymen, in a free for all continent immediately post American Revolution. The album is based on the lives of the infamous Harpe Brothers, who are credited with being the first serial killers and mass murderers in America and whose barbaric treatment of their victims included gutting them, filling their bodies with stones and dumping them in the nearest waterway. Ruthless horse thieves and highwaymen, the two brothers were also employed as plantation foremen – think the Brittle Brothers in Tarantino’s Django Unchained -  they adopted the outlaw lifestyle having been loyal to The British Crown during American Revolution. The album consists of fifteen sections which need to be played in one sitting for maximum effect. 

The Harpe Brothers Theme opens the album in frenzied fashion getting straight to the point ("We cut them open, carve out their guts, fill their innards up with stones").  What follows are the gentle instrumental Home and then Eli, a tale of hope for a character who will later become one of the brothers’ targets. We hear of the brother’s wives and their casual acceptance of their partners brutality on Harpe Women ("He’ll be home soon, making plans. We will wash their feet and cook their meals, we will make their beds and watch them sleep"). The revenge and final and slaying of Micajah Harpe - Wiley Harpe died five years later -  by a victim left for dead features in The Hunt ("I know I’m not evil but I have done evil deeds, I took the head of that evil son of a bitch and stuck it in a tree").

Playing out every bit as dark as the Bob Frank and John Murry murder ballad classic World Without End - another comparison might be Richmond Fontaine’s cinematic The High Country -   I Want Blood is essentially a soundtrack without a supporting movie. Well worth checking out.

Fox & Coyote Scattered Shadows On A Double Bed Self Release

Ryan Evans and Jonathan Harms, the founder members of Cox & Coyote, originally performed as a duo, two voices, a banjo and a guitar. That particular line up somewhat restricted their musical direction and led to the recruitment of Catherine Canon (cello and vocals), Grant Gordon (bass) and Kenny Befus (drums), who collectively contribute to the current line-up. Scattered Shadows On A Double Bed most certainly benefits from the addition of the more recent recruits, offering a unique, experimental and wonderfully layered musical landscape, quite difficult to categorise. Described as alt-folk the album’s material ranges from the Sufjan Steven’s sounding White Spider to A Million Filaments which would not have been out of place on a (very) early Genesis album. What is consistent throughout is outstanding musicianship, with the cello contribution by Canon a particular delight. 

The opening track (Don’t Tell Me) There’s Nothing In My Head dips, soars and eventually explodes musically and the closer Bed ("You can forget about tomorrow, I’m going back to bed again") deals with escapism and depression, a topic also suggested both in the album’s title and cover shot. 

All in all a most interesting and challenging listen which requires a number of visits to fully appreciate and best described on their website as "sonic panorama, juxtaposing hushed confessions wit raging guitar solos, thick cello crescendo with existential howls."

Thursday
Oct192017

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Malojian Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home Rollercoaster

Malojian's Stevie Scullion turned quite a number of heads with his 2016 release This Is Nowhere, a blend of alt-folk with sufficient radio friendly pop sounds to earn it daytime playing on our national broadcasting station, not a mean achievement in its own right. A little over twelve months later and what kicked off as an experimental project for Scullion resulted in this full-blown album after he was offered the opportunity by The British Film Institute and Northern Ireland Screen to compose material and deliver it at a coastal location using visuals from their archives as a backdrop. 

The style is more relaxed than This Is Nowhere with the songs taken at a less frenetic pace and it’s a mirror image of the creators’ personality - understated, thoughtful, reflective, and experimental yet always structured. It also benefits from the material been written and created over quite a short period of time, resulting in a collection of songs that work well as a unit, more cohesive and consistent than his previous work. Scullion sought out Steve Albini to produce This Is Nowhere and rather than being overawed by the legendary producer, he ensured that he had a strong input into the final mix on the album. Anyone in doubt should view Colm Laverty’s excellent feature length documentary entitle Document: a film about Malojian.  This time around Scullion has taken the production reins himself and the choice of instrumentation (violins, cello, lap steel, trumpet and flugelhorn all feature) and the positioning of his gentle vocal in the mix is a triumph. Not surprisingly, given Scullions love of all things Lennon & McCartney, the mastering of the album was carried out by Sean Magee at Abbey Studios.

So, what about the songs themselves. Some New Bones opens the album, written for Rollercoaster Records owner Willie Meighan, bravely fighting an illness at this time. Battery kicks in with a pacey hypnotic drum beat, soon joined by Scullions muffled vocals harmonising with Fiona O’Neill. 

Adding some humour, or possibly deadly serious, Beard Song questions the coolness of excessive facial hair – at last someone has written a song about it! Vocals and piano on the track are enriched by a wonderful flugelhorn solo by jazzman Linley Hamilton, an indication of the discreet things that can elevate a great song to another level entirely.  Chet Baker’s trumpet solo on Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding comes to mind by way of comparison. Ambulance Song is dark, devious and instantly catchy, with Scullion’s vocal hoovering alongside muzzy cello, percussion and synths. The Purity Of Your Smile, at six minutes the longest track on the album by some way, is a simple love ballad pointed in the direction of his daughter, imploring that she follows in the direction of her mother rather than him. The title track and closing song’s entrance recalls ELO before morphing beautifully mid track into an orchestral chorus that brings to mind the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. 

Alt-Folk, Psych, experimental pop - label it as you will. The album certainly tips its hat in the direction of the Beatles more experimental journeys and also those of early career Syd Barrett. The bottom line is that Scullion has produced a body of work that will stand the test of time and more. A fantastic album and a further reminder of the exceptional musical talent on this island.

Dovecote Self-Titled Self Release

Niall Colfer’s previous musical output includes two albums and an EP with Wexford indie band Salthouse and a solo album entitled Finds, recorded in 2009. A career as an archaeologist together with domestic responsibility has kept him more than fully occupied in the intervening years but fortunately his song writing vocation never quite deserted him and to quote Colfer himself ‘the itch came back’.

Enter Dovecote the band and Dovecote the album. The band consists of Colfer, who is credited with all the song writing together with vocals and a range of instruments, jack of all trades Sean Coleman (Eels, Mark Eitzel) who produced the album together with playing guitars, piano, Fender Rhodes, synths and lap steel guitar, Mark Kelly on bass and Barry Smullen on drums. With such a formidable collection of musicians it’s not surprising that the arrangements on the album enrich and enhance Colfer’s selection of song themes and topics, many of which are strikingly personal, honest and questioning.

Recorded at Gavin Glass’s Orphan Recording Studios in Dublin, it’s an album that has an unhurried, relaxed feel to it, no doubt aided by the absence of deadlines, time limits and associated pressures. It’s also quite experimental instrumentally with the opening track For The Best awash with a glorious mix of horns, synths and woozy backing vocals. Easy Mind, the rockiest track on the album, lands somewhere between Tom Petty and Tom Walsh (Pugwash) and includes an addictive riff from start to finish that will remain with you for some time. Before The Night Goes closes the album stylishly, a simple yet contemplative and searching ballad. Wheres and Whys ambles gently along but instead of winding up at the four-minute mark drifts impressively into Neil Young territory with a further two minutes of guitar, strings and drum heaven, all stylishly distorted. Mean Time (Lisa says) is a tale of love, understanding, endurance and continuance and Indrifting follows a similarly personal and contemplative theme, inspired and written in the memory of Colfer’s father, who passed away four years ago.

An album full of delightful songs, stellar playing with a particularly impressive mix. What more could you ask for?

Levi Parham An Okie Opera CRS

This is a re-issue of the debut album by Oklahoma born and bred Levi Parham. Originally recorded in 2013, Parham similar to his fellow Okie musicians John Mooreland, Samantha Crain, Carter Sampson and John Fulbright, has been making inroads into the European market and An Okie Opera gives listeners the opportunity to check out his back catalogue.

Introduced by his father at an early age to bluesman Muddy Waters obviously made its mark but Parham cites Van Morrison as the artist whose output encouraged him mostly to pursue a musical career. Not surprisingly therefore that the self-produced and recorded album has both blues and soul leanings, all dispatched with Parham’s gravely, raw, raspy vocals.

Recorded and produced by Parham, its ten tracks are primarily acoustic with leanings more in the direction of blues than country soul. Hand claps and mouth organ introduce Two Cookies, a no nonsense bluesy opener. Staring At The End Of The World is more laid back with hints of JJ Cale.  I Want To Be With You is a simple love ballad and Devil’s Got A Sweet Tooth ramps up the tempo a few notches.

An Okie Opera is a welcomed introduction to an artist exploring his musical roots and will most likely point the listener in the direction of his more recent releases Avalon Drive (EP) and American Blues recorded in 2016. Like his fellow aforementioned Okies Parham is an artist that I expect we will be hearing a lot more about this side of the pond.

Birds of Chicago Real Midnight Five Head 

Apologies for arriving a bit late to the party with this review but such is the quality of the album that I felt duty bound to post a review, notwithstanding that it was released in 2016. Produced by Joe Henry and recorded at his Garfield House Studio in Los Angeles, Real Midnight is the second studio recording by the group who are essentially Allison Russell, formally of Canadian band Po’Girl and her husband JT Nero, of JT and The Clouds fame. The selection of Henry as producer, given his previous work with Carolina Chocolate Drops, was inspired, there are so many admiral similarities between both acts and Henry succeeds hands down in combining heavenly layered vocals with instrumentation that compliments without dominating. Aside from her striking vocals Russell plays banjo, clarinet and ukulele on the album with JT Nero contributing equally impressive vocals and guitars. Chris Merrill plays bass, Drew Lindsay plays piano and Dan Abu-Absi also plays guitars.

Setting aside the wonderful playing on the album, the listeners attention is swiftly drawn to the beautiful vocals from start to finish, be that Russell’s solo deliveries, her harmonies with Nero or indeed the esteemed guests that also add vocals which include Rhiannon Giddens who contributes to a couple of the tracks and Michelle Mc Grath whose vocal appear on all but one of the eleven tracks.

Nine of the songs are written by Nero and consider themes such as nostalgia in Remember Wild Horses, raw passion in the title track and impermanence in Sparrow, one of two songs written by Russell.  Particularly impressive is the upbeat Estrella Goodbye with Nero taking the opening lead vocals before being joined by Russell’s soaring voice on a song that sounds like it’s been knocking around forever.  Barley, also written by Russell, is acapella gospel at its finest, only aided by minimal percussion. Pelicans is a beautifully simple ballad, sung in duet by Nero and Russell and considering love and the afterlife.  It’s the perfect closer to an album that really does impress from start to finish.

Caroline Spence Spades & Roses Tone Tree

Originally from Charlottesville Virginia but currently part of the burgeoning underground Nashville scene, Caroline Spence is an artist that had been making quite an impression among her peers even before the recording of Spades & Roses. Her song writing has been acknowledged by awards in American Songwriter Magazine and the Kerryville Folk Festival and being name checked by an established household name like Miranda Lambert has to point towards something quite special. That promise was confirmed within the body of her 2015 album Somehow but Spades and Roses finds Spence raising the bar to altogether different heights.

The album contains eleven songs, visiting personal issues such as her parents’ divorce in Southern Accent (It’s not that there was yelling, but the silence was thick, That’s why when I get angry, you’d never know it), the loneliness and hardship of the touring artist in Hotel Amarillo (I’ve been playing shows out west with no guarantee, That anybody’s ever gonna give a damn about me), drug abuse in You Don’t Look So Good, On Cocaine (You get so high, you can’t come down, Can’t see what you lose except a couple of pounds) and relationship commitment in Slow Dancer (Found that part of my heart won’t take no for an answer, You turned me into a slow dancer). So many highlights other than the tracks previously mentioned but the closing track Goodbye Bygones deserves particular mention. Featuring only piano, cello and Spence’s exquisite vocal, it’s magical.

Comparison can most certainly be made with Patty Griffin at her best, so many similarities both in the quality of the song writing and her gorgeous vocal. Production duties were carried out by Neilson Hubbard, an accomplished artists in his own right, at Mr. Lemon’s Studio in East Nashville.

It’s an album that has you reaching for the lyric sheets on first listen, snippets of lines connect with the listener instantly, drawing you inquisitively to investigate the story lines more closely.  It also that demands that you stop whatever you’re doing, take a seat, get that lyric sheet out, read, listen and enjoy. Dreamy stuff. 

Michaela Anne Bright Lights & The Fame Kingswood

Michaela Anne’s last album release Ease My Mind (2014), was mellow in style with the songs taken at a leisurely pace. This time around she’s gone for broke with the foot firmly on the accelerator, delivering a body of work that offers thoughtful ballads and plenty of full on honky tonk, showcasing her fine country voice with songs to match.  The eleven songs on the album visit themes not unfamiliar to traditional country music with self-doubt, anxiety, regret and grieving abundant in cleverly written tales, brought to life by Anne’s exquisite vocals and the killer band of musicians that she assembled to perform on the album. Those musicians include Rodney Crowell who adds backing vocals on the track Luisa, producer Dan Knobler (Rosanne Cash, Tift Merritt, Rodney Crowell, Cory Chisel) on guitars, banjo, organ and vibes, Philip Sterk on pedal steel and dobro, Aaron Shafer-Haiss on drums and mandolin, and Michael Rinne on bass. Lonesome Highway favourite Erin Rae’s harmony vocals also adorn many of the tracks.

Relocating from Brooklyn to Nashville offered Anne the opportunity for co-writes with compatible peers, together with the inspiration to complete a number of previously written but unfinished songs and the change of address most certainly paid dividends. Dave Brainard, who worked with Brandy Clark on the universally lauded album Twelve Stories, was an inspired choice and both Everything I Couldn’t Be and Won’t Go Down co-written with him, are stand out tracks, each thankfully avoiding crossing over the fence into pop country land. Easier Than Leaving, written with Mary Bragg, laments the strain and trappings of a one-sided marriage and the unfortunate choices it offers. The previously mentioned Everything I Couldn’t Be reminds me of Ashley Munroe at the top of her game and Liquor Up recalls Elizabeth Cook at her sauciest.

Michaela Anne, who previously studied jazz at Manhattans New School before a musically career diversion towards country, is a young lady with the ability to bring every day run of the mill situations to life in a similar manner to Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves. She’s on record noting how she’d love to record a collection of her favourite country songs by way of a covers album, my advice would be to concentrate on her most considerable writing ability and allow others to consider recording her material. If you haven’t yet come across Michaela Anne I recommend you correct that without delay.