Entries in Martha Fields (3)

Monday
Aug062018

Reviews by Declan Culliton

 

 

Hadley McCall Thackston Self-Titled Wolfe Island

Every so often an album comes your way by an artist new to you that stops you dead in your tracks. This was very much the case, after a couple of spins, with Hadley McCall Thackston’s debut self-titled album. Comprising ten tracks and at marginally over thirty minutes, Thackston could have been tempted to include a few covers, or add a couple more choruses to a few of the shorter tracks to increase the length of the album. Fortunately, she declined, instead creating a body of work that is unconditionally her, warts and all, with lyrics which often carry personal messages.  It’s a beautifully written account of a young woman’s coming of age, with reflections on childhood, insecurity, adolescence, peer pressure, self-doubt and reconciliation.  

Thackston had intended packing her bags and moving from her hometown of Decatur Georgie to the bright lights of Nashville, in an attempt to establish her musical career. By happy chance Hugh Christopher Brown, of Wolfe Island Records, was introduced to her music by label mate David Corley and without delay redirected the Greyhound Bus from Nashville to Wolfe Island Ontario. The move was a meeting of minds, introducing Thackston to a musical family and environment perfectly suited to inspire her creativity. Much credit must go to Chris Brown for the uncluttered arrangements on the album, which complement Theakston’s gorgeous voice. The range of instruments used totals over twenty, from strings to guitars and accordion to ukuleles, an indication of Brown’s determination to make every track on the album shine individually, a task he passed with flying colours. The recording in the main took place at The Post Office in Wolfe Island Ontario with additional recordings at Sacred Heart of Mary Church also in Wolfe Island and at Broderick’s Music in Kilkenny, where Ger Moloney’s accordion pieces were recorded.

The word ‘timeless’ is possibly the most overused phrase in folk and country album reviews, but this album most certainly earns that banner. Thackston manages to blend old time country and folk, contemporary and even bits of jazz. Her vocals are from another world, with the ability to stretch one syllable words forever, she manages seven syllables on the word ‘God’ on the beautiful Redbird!

Her mellifluous vocals on the opener Butterfly considers the fragility of the young child growing up in a world of mixed messages and peer pressures (‘’and you are not afraid to fly wide pride, accepting all the joy your beauty brings’’).  Somehow, awash with divine pedal steel, fiddle and strings, fantasises about the dream lover yet to be met (‘’And on the day we finally meet I know we’ll fall in love, cuz you were put here on this earth for me from those above’’). Self-consciousness and insecurity surface on the melodically upbeat Ellipses, hitting a catchy groove that’s hard to shake off, as Thackston yearns for courtship (‘’ I’d take your sweet nothings for over diamonds any day, like the magpie who adorns her nest with treasures thrown away’’). She turns her attention to more worldly issues on the politically charged Change (‘’turn on the news and what do I see, another black man’s life cut short by the police’’). Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) is traditional front porch country fare, complemented by lively fiddle playing by James Abrams and backing vocals by label mate Sarah Mc Dermott. Devil or Angel flawlessly blends folk with a quite jazzy vocal delivery. Last Mountain Waltz, the albums closer, returns to the front porch with a gentle tale of liberation and acceptance. It does not quite reach the two-minute mark but makes its point charmingly in four short verses.

Hadley McCall Thackston has created  an album that sounds like a June Carter and Amy Winehouse collaboration, written and recorded in heaven and communicated through a young artist whose vocals and poetry pay homage to both of these legends. 

Israel Nash Lifted Loose

Barn Doors & Concrete Floors, the classic 2011 release by Israel Nash Gripka, recorded in a dusty hay barn at The Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, singled out the young Ozarks Missouri born artist as one of the most promising emerging acts of that time, further reinforced by his dazzling live shows. The album ticked all the Americana boxes with Southern soul, blues, country and lots of attitude. The tracks Baltimore and Goodbye Ghost are as good as anything written under the Americana genre in the past decade. A victim of his own success  perhaps, Nash has failed somewhat to reach those lofty heights in subsequent recordings. Rain Plains (2013) and Silver Season (2015) followed, both receiving positive industry reviews, yet you could be forgiven for feeling that Israel Nash (he had dropped the Gripka by then), was avoiding risk taking with much of the material and sounding more and more like Neil Young & Crazy Horse on each recording.

Lifted, co-produced by Nash and Ted Young (Kurt Vile, The Rolling Stones), finds him in more experimental form and all the better for it.  Recorded in his custom-built studio named Plum Creek Sound in Dripping Springs Texas, its mix of layered vocals, horns, strings, guitars and percussion, combine to produce his most impressive work since Barn Doors. File under ‘Hippie Spiritual’, we are advised on the cover. With the ongoing turmoil of these uncertain and often depressing times, when all normal political and environmental logic is turned on its head, Nash has, by his own admission, has moulded an album ‘about love and peace and purpose, creating a space for those feelings and personal reflections to manifest’.

So does it all work? The answer has to be spectacularly so. The material was created by Nash from first principals, word by word, note by note, layer by layer, with Nash even utilising outdoor sounds of frogs, crickets, rattlesnakes and running water.  Rolling On (Intro) kicks the album off with  sixty seconds of a layered sound collage before exploding into the track itself, setting the scene for what is to follow. Spiritfalls sounds like a song you’ve grown up listening to, echoes of Neil Young minus Crazy Horse, it’s beautifully paced and decorated with some great guitar breaks. Northwest Stars (Out Of Tacoma) must have been composed outdoors staring skywards, you can almost feel the cool night mist amongst its dreamy, hypnotic textures. Strong Was The Night and Looking Glass are reminders of Nash’s ability to also create the less swashbuckling and melodic, both being simple yet spacious ballads. The Widow, (is that the crickets I hear in the background?) dips and soars gloriously, Beach Boys quality harmonies beautifully dominating – the majority of the harmonies were created by Nash himself – a wall of sound with sparring harmonies, synths and dubbed over voices, combining without ever competing. Sweet Springs also recalls The Beach Boys with harmonies that would not have been out of place on Pet Sounds. Golden Fleeces threatens to bookend the album on a more sombre and gentle note, before unexpectedly erupting into chorus and continuing to dip and soar beautifully.

Make no mistake, it’s not an album that fully sinks in on first listen, there’s so much going on that repeated plays are required – on headphones ideally – to take on board the musical textures, gorgeous harmonies, bells, whistles, strings, horns and more. Nash was always going to eventually equal the dizzy heights of Barn Doors & Concrete Floors, it’s taken him a while but with Lifted he has finally nailed it.

Mike And The Moonpies Steak Night at the Prairie Rose Self Release

If ever an album title and its cover left you in no doubt what to expect when you pop the cd in your player, this nugget from Austin Texas bad boys most certainly does. Six dudes chewing the fat outside a Texas honky tonk bar, with a blazing trail of fire following lead man Mike Harmeir, as he strolls across the dirt track street. It captures the album’s content perfectly, the material itself being a blazing trail of rip roaring country music Texas style.  Formed by Harmeier in 2007, it’s the fifth album by the Austin based Outlaw Country six-piece band, that also includes Preston Rhone on bass, Kyle Ponder on drums, Zachary Moulton on pedal steel, Catlin Rutherford on guitar and John Carbone on keys. They are essentially a touring band, knocking out close to two hundred shows a year, mostly around Texas and Oklahoma. 

Barely over a minute into opener Road Crew and you get the message, rollicking pedal steel, guitars and keys kick in over Harmeir’s mischievous rantings (‘’ he sells the shirts he drives the van, he’s counting money with a left arm tan, he’s a rambler gambler he just quit drinkin’ and he’s on the road crew tonight’’). Might Be Wrong recalls early Mavericks, Beaches of Biloxi’s rhythm is borrowed from Elvis’s Suspicious Mind and Getting High at Home is classic Texan honky tonk, great playing and equally sassy lyrics (‘’I still put my boots on and ask the girls to dance, but now I spend a lot more time wearing sneakers and old sweat pants’’). Wedding Band and The Worst Thing track are no nonsense straight country and the title track (based on a Houston bar where Harmeir got a residency when in his teens), is a heartfelt ballad of a broken marriage and misspent youth, as the writer recalls childhood memories of sitting in the bar with his father listening to country cover bands. 

Produced by Adam Odor (Reckless Kelly, Cody Canada, Raul Malo, Ben Harper), it was recorded in only five days at The Yellow Dog Studio in Wimberley Texas. 

It’s likely that Mike and The Moonpies will remain a working live band, surviving by packing up the van and travelling the length and breadth of Texas and Oklahoma, possibly without establishing a foot hold elsewhere. Maybe this album will break new ground for them, maybe not, it certainly deserves to. In the meantime, this, for me, is real country music by real country players. Don’t expect to spend endless hours pouring over the lyrics, regaling as they are.  Instead just crank it up and navigate some rip roaring, badass, no nonsense, dive bar country music. File beside Dallas Moore, Whitey Morgan, Reckless Kelly, Whiskeydick and Jamey Johnson.   

Sons Of Bill ‘OH GOD MA’AM’ Loose Records

Four years after the release of their last and fifth album Love And Logic, the Charlottesville Virginia band Sons Of Bill, have finally managed to release their eagerly awaited follow up. Plagued by personal issues, which included marriage breakdowns and addictions, the band – which features brothers Sam, Abe and James Wilson – overcame those setbacks and were in the studio recording the album, when James fell on glass, severing five tendons in his right hand, an injury that threatened to leave him without any movement in his fingers.  Fortunately, after a long period of recuperation, he regained the use of all fingers and the album could be completed.

Tragedy often leads to inspiration and all these wretched events contribute to a change in direction for the band, both musically and lyrically. Recorded in both Nashville and Seattle with producers Sean Sullivan (Sturgill Simpson) and Phil Eek (Shins, Fleet Foxes), the album experiments with a fuller and more expansive sound, without abandoning their trademark striking vocal harmonies. The album was mixed by Grammy Award winning producer Peter Katis, who leaves his stamp firmly on it, with a sound that often brings to mind early work by The National. No coincidence, as Katis has worked on seven of The National’s albums, contributing in no small manner to their distinctive sound. 

The opening track Sweeter, Sadder, Farther Away contains only keyboard and vocals, a reflection of more innocent times perhaps, very much the calm before the storm.  Firebird ’85, the next track, takes off in a completely different direction with a heavy drum beat, some slick hooks and crisp harmonies. The intro to Believer / Pretender wouldn’t be out of place on an early New Order album, but like its predecessor quickly settles into an infectious power poppy groove. Green To Blue, the most uncluttered track on the album, has an earthy Pink Floyd sound to it and competes with Before The Fall as the standout track on the album. Easier finds them slipping back into cruising gear with a sound more in keeping with the work on their earlier albums. 

Despite recording five quality albums to date and having praised heaped on them by their peers, a deserved breakthrough has escaped Sons of Bill to date.  Hints at a change in direction did surface on their last album Logic and Love with Bad Dancer implying a more indie and less countrified direction. OH God Ma’am is a brave move, with more in common with New Order and Echo and The Bunnymen than Son Volt and possibly aimed at a wider audience. It may be a general change in direction or simply a temporary detour. Either way, it’s another great album by a band that should be shifting albums by the lorry load.

Martha Fields Dancing Shadows Self Release

Hot on the heels of her 2017 recording Southern White Lies, Martha Field’s latest album Dancing Shadows maintains her prolific output of recent years. Whether it’s country, folk, blues, Tex Mex or rockabilly that tickles your fancy, there really is something for all tastes in this strikingly packaged gem. 

It kicks off with the bluesy Sukey and tails off with the breezy Lone Wolf Waltz, fourteen tracks and over fifty-five minutes later. Recorded at Studio Recordoval in Chateauneuf – Sur – Charante France, it features musicianship that could hardly be bettered by the cream of Nashville session players. The musicians are in fact her European touring band, made up of Ubain Lambert on guitars, Serge Samyn on upright bass, Oliver Leclerc on violin, Danis Bielsa on drums, Manu Bertrand on dobro, pedal steel and banjo with Manu Godard and Vincent Samyn adding organ and piano respectively. Collectively these guys provide the ammunition to bring Field’s suite of songs to life and combine perfectly with her potent vocals across the fourteen tracks. ‘’14 songs that tell my story, past and present, through the mountains and valleys’’, she explains in the liner notes and it’s fair to say she pours her heart out from start to finish.

Not surprisingly, given her itchy feet – she seems to be constantly on the move – quite a few tracks are travel related. The burning desire to play Ireland is the theme on Exile and Paris to Texas – the first single to be released from the album – laments the distance between her two homes.  West Virginia In My Bones, delivered with maximum twang, pays homage to the lands of her childhood where she vows to return (‘’when I die bring me home, West Virginia in my bones’’) and the gentle ballad Oklahoma On My Mind aches with regret, possibly of love lost. Last Train to Sanesville and Hillbilly Bob are pacey toe tappers rocking along late 50’s Elvis style.

In a nutshell, Dancing Shadows is a fun album that is every bit as much Saturday night as Sunday morning listening, by an artist passionate about her art. Lets hope she makes that trip to Ireland, I’d expect she and her band are killer live! 

Ben Glover Shorebound Proper 

Recognising that the local market could not offer him a sustainable career from his hometown of Glenarm Ballymena, Ben Glover headed for Nashville a few  years ago where he has established himself as a highly respected songwriter, working with artists such as Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Neilson Hubbard. His songwriting talents were recognised in 2017, at the highest level, when The Americana Music Association voted his co-write with Gretchen Peters Blackbirds International Song of The Year.

Indeed the move has been a transformation for Glover, who now divides his time between Ireland and Nashville, co-writing, collaborating, and recording solo albums and working with his latest band Orphan Brigade, whose album Heart Of The Cave was recorded earlier this year.  His work on both sides of the Atlantic is reflected on Shorebound, which includes contributions from American’s Amy Speace, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Mary Gauthier, Neilson Hubbard and Angel Snow together with Robert Vincent, Ricky Ross (Deacon Blue) from the U.K., with Irish artists Malojian (Steve Scullion), Matt McGinn and Anthony Toner also featuring.

Produced by Neilson Hubbard – he also features on Song for the Fighting – the album offers twelve songs, ten co-writes with the guests noted above, with two solo tracks also featured, the title track and Kindness. What You Love Will Break Your Heart opens the album in fine style, an upbeat poppy sound featuring Amy Speace on backing vocals, contrasting in style and content with the darker brooding semi spoken Catbird Seat, co-written with Mary Gauthier. Dancing With The Beast, the next track, was also recorded earlier this year by Gretchen Peters and is the title of her most recent album, it follows a similar menacing and grim style and is every bit as impressive as the Peter’s version. Northern Stars, which finds Glover teaming up with fellow countrymen Malojian (Stephen Scullion) and Matt Mc Ginn, is instantly catchy. Keeper Of My Heart, which bookends the album, is a gorgeous love song, possibly the albums stand out track, with Glover’s and Robert Vincent’s vocals perfectly matched.   

Glover’s previous two albums The Emigrant (2016) and Atlantic (2014), suggested an artist not quite convinced  where he should reside, both geographically and artistically. Shorebound is the work of an artist content, assured and very much at peace with himself.

Friday
Sep302016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

Elouise Deep Water Self Release

Although this is under singer Elouise Walker’s name, it is a group effort with the other four featured on the album cover who play a major part in making the music. Deep Water was produced by Walker and John Chamberlin and the production technique was to keep it as raw and field recording-like as possible. Most of the songs are original, but fit neatly with those from other sources such as the opening I’ll Fly Away (written by Albert E. Brumley) and a sombre version of Amazing Grace which has new music by band member Richard Dembowski. Takes on Silent Night and Link Wray’s Fire and Brimstone follow a similar route, a path that can be imagined as wandering through creaking twisted trees, abandoned graveyards, dark moonlight shadows and perhaps even a crossroads at midnight.

Walker and Dembowski, along with John Chamberlin, Michelle Beauchense and Willam Bongiovanni share the majority of the composing credits in different combinations. All, however, understand this pre-electric vision and no matter which is the composer, they have a similar feeling for the patina of times gone by. Walker’s vocals are delivered as if through a cracked radio speaker or carnival style megaphone. This is not music designed to cheer the soul or get you in the party mood. Once in the musical deep water it is easy to surrender to the atmosphere and sink down into a world of death, murder and decay which is actually grist to the mill for a music rooted in bygone times where morbidity and murder ballads were common. Both Walker and the band are gifted exponents of this musical eeriness and use all the instruments at their disposal to bring these songs and recitations to life. Trombone, cello, tuba, banjo, harmonium, lap steel, double bass and percussion all feature, giving a distinctive texture to the music, as do the occasional lead vocals from Dubowski.

It is music that might scare some away, but will equally attract those drawn to its rich, heart of darkness. There are, naturally, 13 tracks which may appeal to those who enjoyed the song and ballads recorded at the dawn of technology as well as those who have been drawn to the music of the likes of 16 Horsepower and Th’ Legendary ShackShakers in their non-electric moments. Although the album is credited to Elouise in fairness it would seem to be more of an Alice Cooper set-up with all participants contributing to a fairly unique take on a potent musical soundscape, one self-described as “blackgrass”.

Adam Lee Sincerely, Me Self Release

Sincerely is the first solo album from Adam Lee, whose previous album with his band The Dead Horse Sound Company, When the Spirits Move Me, was a more honky-tonk affair. This time Lee has broadened his outlook and tonal palate and has devoted this album in to a side one and side two. However, there is nothing immediately obvious that divides the two sides in terms of content. The last album dealt with themes of country music, while this album, while still touching on those themes, takes a broader viewpoint and looks deeper inside with songs like the title track and Good Days - wherein the man in question faces his drinking demons and hopes to look towards a better future.  

Lee has taken a long hard look at life and delivered some honest song-writing that recognises the less savoury and affirming sides of life, but also sees that things could always get better which gives the album a positive outlook. When She Danced views the submerged spirit of a dancer working in a dive bar who transcends the negativity and necessity that are fundamental to that situation. He does this with just a bruised voice and solo piano backing. Misery has a muted guitar-twanged tone that is perfectly in tune with a man facing his inner torments.

Elsewhere Lee blends rock, blues and blue collar sentiments with a little country to create a set of self-written songs that are a précis of where life is for him right now. He has done this with a set of players that he and co-poducer Johnny Kenepaske have assembled for the album. They include Dane Talley on electric guitar, Hanna Rae Mathey on violin, Tim Rose on bass and Paul Andrews on drums. Lee’s contributes various instruments with additional vocal input from Keepsake among others. One track, Hold On adds trombone and trumpet with some hard-nosed guitar. There is a swing to What I Need and again Lee shows versatility in his vocal delivery that pegs him as an assured singer throughout. Patrick is a song with a strong Irish-American theme, both in lyrical content and musical setting. It is about the loss of a brother and the reaction to that by a mother who then calls the surviving brother by the name of the lost sibling.

Lee resides in Chicago. He was a cast member of the stage production Million Dollar Quartet and will tour in support of Sincerely, Me. He shows here that he can produce songs in a range of styles that make this an interesting and entertaining collection highlighting a writer, singer and musician who is developing his muse in a number of different ways. This is a promising and revealing album.

Jack Ingram Midnight Motel Rounder 

Looking at my music collection recently an acquaintance asked “Why would you need more than one album from any particular artist in your collection?”.The answer would depend if you’re a fan of Revolver or Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Music evolves and even if an artist stays largely within specific parameters there are nuances and new found strengths to be discovered in their music. Not necessarily true of all artists - some simply get less interesting with each release - but in the main there is good reason to continue listening. Jack Ingram is one case in point; after 12 albums (the first released in 1995 and the most recent in 2009) I looked forward to listening to his new album. It encompasses all the aspects of his music from the storyteller, the humourist, the roots rocker to more seriously-minded artist.

It also takes a certain self-assurance to make your title song and album opener a song written by another songwriter, Blu Sanders who wrote Midnight Motel , which  also closes the album in an acoustic version. Between those bookends are eleven other songs. Nine are either Ingram co-writes or solo written songs, one is by Will Kimbrough (Champion Of The World) while the remainder The Story Of Blaine is an amusing anecdote prefacing the song Blaine’s Ferris Wheel. It is a taste of how an Ingram live show might go. There are also some snatches of ambient dialogue included at the start of a couple of the tracks.

The album sounds right and part of that is down to producer Jon Randall and a team of top notch players like Charlie Sexton on guitar, keyboard player Bukka Allen, drummer Chad Cromwell and contributions from Randall and on background vocals Bruce Robison. But Ingram has a seasoned vocal delivery that is expressive and never leaves you feeling that the process was without a spontaneous element. It’s Always Gonna Rain is song co-written with Lori McKenna and accepts that life has always got hope no matter how it might seem at times.

Two of the songs talk about letting go and relaxing with I Feel like Drinking Tonight and I’m Drinking through It, where the multi-voice closing chorus changes the I’m to We’re. The former is prefaced with a dedication to fellow songwriters Hayes Carll, Todd Snider and Chris Wall amongst others, writers with whom he has doubtless shared a brew or two. The other songs display a deceptive simplicity that serves them well.

This album is classic Ingram and will also appeal to anyone who has a taste for Texas storytelling and songwriter. It may an old motel but it is one that you can feel comfortable in and one that can be returned to whenever you’re passing. After 7 years it is good to have Jack Ingram back on a label that means that many will get the chance to hear this very fine album.

Michael Ubaldini Starshaker Self Release

The man dubbed ‘the rock ’n’ roll poet’ by both fans and critics focuses here on the rock part of his moniker. He has written and produced this album which is an energetic run through 14 songs of rock, roots, blues and a little country (Tombstone Woman - with Gary Brandin on pedal steel).  It’s not all hell for leather though, with the occasional introspective song such as Ballad Of Brian Jones, a slice of country blues in tribute to the Rolling Stones’ founder’s roots. Otherwise Ubaldini and the band let loose, play the blues and have fun. 

Mrs. Johnson, Simpson & Tucker is a cautionary tale of a man who does want his late night visitors to lead to his outline in chalk on the floor. Late night liaisons forms the theme of House Of Red Lights too. Whole Lotta Nothin’ Blues has a distorted vocal, some harmonica and soulful keys and slippin’ and slidin’ guitar. The Rooster Moans at Midnight, Once Over Twice and Ballad Of An Innocent Man are catchy blue-collar, foot tappin’ rock songs while 9 Ball Shuffle calms things down with a funky 12 bar. Ubaldini knows how to pen a song and place it in a musical context. That’s as true here as in has been on his previous albums. And while this album is a little outside the parameters of Lonesome Highway’s regular route, it has a broad enough musical base to appeal to those who regularly read our reviews.

Ubaldini has built up a steady following for his albums and writing and those acquainted with him will find much to enjoy. It is not going to cause anyone to rethink their musical opinions, but in the context of good time (or should that be bad times too) rock ’n’ blues Starshaker will get you to where you need to go. One listen to the closing song One Good Woman Blues underlines that.

The Goat Roper Rodeo Band Cosmic Country Blue Aveline 

A UK acoustic country blues trio based in the North West, the Goat Ropers have recorded this new album with Romeo Stodart (The Magic Numbers) as producer and have achieved a fuller, more rounded sound this time out. The band are Thomas Davis on vocals and double bass, Jim Davis on vocals and lead guitar and Sam Roberts on vocals and rhythm guitar. Here they are joined by some guests (including fellow Magic Numbers members Angie Gannon and Michelle Stodart) to realise these new, self-written songs that build on the vocals harmonies of the trio and their essentially acoustic approach.

The album opener I Got Room has a strongly nasal lead vocal that some may not like but it is one that fits neatly into the vocal mix on the other tracks. The songs are a mix of tempos from adrenalised stompers like Mean Man, Stick It On Red and Catch Me If You Can through a more blues orientated Blossom Blues to the softer harmonies of ballads Old Joanna, My Sweet Woman and the restrained piano and guitar of the closing Hey Chuck. There are 12 slices of the cosmic country that they righteously proclaim throughout. This is a sound influenced by many diverse American acts, but one they are developing to their own ends. This has led to their at times quirky and occasionally sad songs finding favour with the likes of Bob Harris and International Submarine Band member Ian Dunlop. 

The Goat Roper Rodeo Band look and sound like a band who would have fitted neatly alongside a similarly-orientated outfit like Quiver back in the 60s. They offer hints of the cosmic side of their sound which aren’t as prominent as they might become in the future but, for now, they are establishing themselves alongside other promising UK bands playing original roots music with a refreshing approach and independent attitude. 

Martha Fields Southern White Lies Self Release

For this album Fields has taken a more bluegrass/acoustic route compared to the electric sound of her previous album Long Way From Home. Dobro, fiddle and mandolin are prominent in the sound, all underpinned by double bass and drums. This is a sound that Fields has explored with the band Mountain High previously. This album is under her name however rather than that of Texas Martha, another name she uses. Some of the players here also play with her electric band and are versed in both styles, though in truth the songs could easily adapt to either (or other) formats easily. 

The songs are a mix of original songs from Fields and some traditional songs like Lonesome Road Blues and What Are They Doing In Heaven? She has also included Jimmie Rogers’ California Blues, Janis Joplin’s What Good Can Drinkin’ Do? and Mickey Newbury’s Tell Me Baby among the album’s 12 tracks. Front and centre though is Fields’ commanding voice which leads each song with conviction on tales of lies, hard drinking, hard times, lonesome roads and dead ends. American Hologram talks of a poor underclass being shut out of the American Dream to always find themselves on the margins with little to give them hope and so they have to resort to making the best of what little they have. 

Martha Fields, on this album, explores another aspect of her musical and familial heritage. She does it with the forcefulness that makes sense of her own story and of those who came before her. This is an album that Fields fans will doubtless want to explore. 

Massy Ferguson Run It Right Into The Wall At The Helm

This album features some unashamed rockin’ -  with some country rock thrown in for good measure.  It is what was once dubbed cow-punk, although this time there is less twang and more of a hard nosed attitude. What is good about these songs is that that have an honesty that rings true. They are not unique or that different to some other acts that have been mentioned in passing, such as Son Volt or The Backsliders, with reference to their music. Massey Ferguson (the name of a sturdy American farm tractor) are a solid and believable band who are committed to their music, and that counts in an era when so much of what is heard refers to another musical era anyway. 

Massy Ferguson are Ethan Anderson, Adam Monda, Dave Goedde and Tony Mann; the line-up is guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. They describe themselves as American rock which is a good a description of what they do. I’m assuming that singer Anderson is the primary writer as there are no credits on this promo CD. The album was produced by Johnny Sangster and recorded at Soundhouse Studios in Seattle. There are influences of that city’s grunge heritage in the music. However the things that count are how these songs sound and if they bear repeated playing. They do on both counts and Run It Right into the Wall has enough energy and melody to make the listening experience one that the more rockin’-oriented amongst you will want to return to it’s blue collar heart.

Tim Easton American Fork At The Helm

Tim Easton is another accomplished and lauded songwriter who has some twenty years as a performer and writer under his belt as well as four albums on the New West label. He’s back and he still delivering the goods. This album is produced by Patrick Damphier and goes for a full sound. Damphier employs some fine musicians like steelie Russ Pahl, Michael Rinne on bass, Jon Radford on drums and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Crowell 

There are a number of avenues explored in what is a broad palette of well-arranged and melodically structured songs. In the song Elmore James Easton lauds the bluesman in a swampy harmonica-laced groove. Gatekeeper shows off his guitar skills and is another dirty slide guitar-fueled reference to the oil that makes the entertainment industry world turn. He takes a smoother path with Burning Star, a literate song that features piano and steel which give it a dreaminess and longing. There is a darker and grittier, but equally feisty and fun sounding, take for Alaskan Bars (Part 1) which has a growled backing vocal that adds a sense of disquiet to the proceedings. Now Vs Now is an appeal to not get stuck in a state of apathy but rather to take control in whatever way possible. The album opens with Right before Your Own Eyes, a rhythmically realised song with touches of saxophone to bolster the chorus. The eight track (mini) album closes with On My Way, a soft touching song to his young daughter to let her know that he is always thinking of her, even those his chosen path takes him away.

Tim Easton writes songs that are those of one who continues to hone his craft and develop his sound. Here it is a well realised and considered exploration of his previous work as well as pastures new. American Fork is a twist on the folk music of America he grew up with and everything he has distilled since then into his own interpretation of the world he sees on his travels. He is past the gatekeeper and looking to his own future and muse now.

Sunday
Jan102016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Gill Landry ‘Self-titled’ - ATO

For his third solo album the former Old Crow Medicine Show member explores some of the same ground that influenced that band but also further expands his horizons. He produced this album of largely self-written songs performed with a select group of players that include Jamie Dick on drums as well as Ross Holmes on fiddle and Skylar Wilson and Robert Ellis on guitar. Landry himself plays guitar, bass, pedal steel, harmonium and harmonica as required. But it is the songs that resonate with everyone involved serving those.

The album opens with the slightly ominous Funeral In My Heart a song that asks the question “why do good things have to die” in a tone that suits that sentiment. Just Like You which follows takes an opposite view given it considers in an uncertain time the thing that helps most is “knowing someone just like you is alive.” The songs are all essays on trying to figure life out in a way that makes sense and while they are at times opaque and poetic, the overall feel suggests that the heart wins out. Throughout Landry’s vocal is both powerful and poignant. He uses the experience he has gained to this point to illuminate the songs with a restrained and pained passion. Lost Love, Bad Love and Long Road are all songs that attest to the force and follies of love.

The music is infused with dust and faded light but manages to illuminate some of the darker corners that the songs suggest. Musically it is innovative and touches a variety of moods and incorporates with the mainly mid-paced songs of both the past and future. Particularly attractive is the sultry border feel of Fennario with its border brass, Spanish guitar and heavy percussion. Overall, an album that will establish Landry as being at the forefront of contemporary Americana.

Jane Kramer ‘Carnival Of Hopes’ - Self Release

Her debut album was rooted in folk music but for her second album has taken that music as a foundation to build on. At the heart, these songs come from that tradition but the textures and brushstrokes are broader. Producer Adam Johnson embellishes the songs with the sounds of brass, keyboards upright bass and drums as well as a selection of guitars, dobro, mandolin and banjo.

Kramer has a voice that has a number of tones within its range that give the songs their personality. No doubt an extension of Kramer herself. She is the author of all the songs here other than Down South which was written by Tom Petty. A good choice that fits well with her songs and is in itself a standout that highlights the strength of Petty’s melodic writing. A highlight of her own writing is the song Good Woman, outlining the negative qualities of the lady in question who herself understands the reasons, but who would still like to be a good woman.

In other songs she looks for Truth Tellin’ Eyes, for Truck Stop Stars and truth learned from Highways, Rivers & Scars but all with a need to explore the Carnival Of Hopes. Songs that build around such emotions, use that folk setting to create the heart of the songs while the acoustic instruments entwine with the rhythm section and effective use of occasional jazzy brass (Why’d I Do That Blues). All of which makes for an interesting album that rewards a closer listen and suggest that Kramer is an artist who will steadily grow.

The Nouveaux Honkies ‘Blues For Country’ - Self Release

The title track outlines the perceived dilemma for the band on the opening song. Deciding that they are too blues for county and too country for the blues. Not however that many listeners will have that problem with this accomplished band. Fiddle is well to the fore as are the voices of the band founding duo Tim O’Donnell and Rebecca Dawkins. They are rounded out by Pat Manse on percussion, Nate Rowe on double bass and guest Lloyd Maines on pedal steel for three songs.

The blues side of what they do however is not predominately evident and the honky tonk side is the one that largely holds sway. The blues is an influence in the way that jazz was a big part of western swing but that music still had its own individual identity. The duo’s voices blend well together and Dawkin’s violin is a mainstay of the sound of a band of very accomplished players. The songs are a mix of originals (largely by O’Connell) and some covers such as a straight up but evocative version of Townes van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty.

The couple have been plying their trade for some time now and their extended life on the road is the subject of several songs from the title through Life Ain’t Easy and Two Doors Down From Paradise - a song which features twice at the end of the album with the reprise version being an extended instrumental coda that runs as one continuous piece. It’s a tale of recovering from the of work and unwinding  from a previous night and slowly getting one’s self back to a place where function and reason returns  - at least till that night.

The Nouveaux Honkies play around Florida and surely have built up a following in the region but on the strength of this, their latest album, could easily gain a wider following. They are not a retro recreation of the sound of an earlier era but rather have developed a sound that is grounded in a traditional sound but one that incorporates sounds from other genres and times to create something that is distinctive and a delight.

Lori Yates ‘Sweetheart Of The Valley’ - Self Release

This album finds Lori Yates at her best and in total control of her creative output after the experience of being signed to a major label (CBS) in the US back in 1989. Then the Steve Buckingham produced album had songs from interesting writers like Nick Lowe, Paul Kennerely alongside some co-writes from Yates herself. It was a fine debut but didn’t take her to stardom. Now it would seem she is continuing making traditional sounding country music and doing so with heart and soul and doing it her way.

For this album, which was produced by Yates and David Gavan Baxter, she teamed up with the members of Hey Stella. They were a band that Yates was a member of from the late 90s to the 2002. That included Baxter as well as Blue Rodeo bassist Bazil Donovan and drummer Michelle Josef who played with Prairie Oyster. Add to those players such guests as Steve Wood on pedal steel and guitarist Stephen Miller and you have a pretty ace unit to deliver Yates songs.

Here Yates particularly shines with her own songs with her measured, focused and thrilling voice. One that has matured into a distinctive and individual instrument. The songs range from Trouble in the Country which reflects on her time in Nashville and a less than welcoming meeting with Billy Sherill. Then aside from some effective ballads there are more up-tempo rockabilly tempered workouts. Much of which reflects the more open attitudes that prevailed in the mainstream as the 80s turned to the 90s and wider range of influences broadened the horizons of the genre with losing sight of its traditional base.

There are many highlights here from the effective guitar that underscores Call My Name to Corktown where Yates’ voice is joined by a chorus of Tequila lubricated throats recorded live in a hospitable tavern. There are songs that come from a very personal place such as Shiloh about meeting her father for the first time when she was 40. The atmospheric What The Heart Wants is another brooding ballad that conveys a desperate passion with conviction. 

Sweetheart of the Valley is an excellent album all round and just makes you wonder just how much such good music can pass you by. But don’t let this one do that as it is very easy to fall for this particular sweetheart.

Texas Martha and The House of Twang ‘Long Way From Home’ - Self Release

This Texas born singer songwriter now lives in Bordeaux in France. There she fronts her own band The House Of Twang and they play an intoxicating blend of country, country rock, blues and folk, a true amalgamation of American roots music. An acoustic sideline is to be found with Mountain High, a band she also fronts. She is planning a new release later this year but her current album Long Way From Home is a summation of her music to date.

Martha Fields Galloway has written all ten songs here and fronts the band playing acoustic guitar and delivering with a strong vocal presence found throughout the album. The album was recorded in France and the band provides bass, drums, guitar, pedal steel and keyboards. They open with the driving riff of Born To Boogie a strong statement of intent. There then follows a selection of songs that are all powered by a tight energy that musically covers all the bases mentioned.

The title track takes the foot off the throttle for the first part of the song before picking up the pace. Lover’s Lane is a ballad that looks at the journey love can take you on. Johanna has some nice Hammond and is a mid-paced reflection on a person’s life. That mood is continued on Streets Of Bordeaux an ode to her new home sung partly and appropriately in French. One of the best vocals on the albums is delivered in Where The Red Grass Grows, a song that is about place and purpose.

Of the final three songs Strike has a bluesy, bar-room feel while Do As You Are Told has some effective pedal steel guitar for a song that asks that the lady in question follows the dictate of the title. Like the opening song the closing title Gotta Move has a solid groove that’s suits the title and the traveling on nature of the lyric. Overall a very commendable album that hits all the right notes and sets Martha Fields up for her next Texas recorded album Southern White Lies. She is making music that keeps on movin’ on.

Eric Church ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ - EMI

One of the more engaging of the current crop of Music Row mavericks Eric Church has delivered an unheralded album which arrives with no credits at all in the booklet. The only clue to the content style may be the Les Paul guitar featured in one of the photographs. Those credits however can be found online. The production is by Jay Joyce a producer often noted for his more edgy productions. However it is only on checking the lyrics online on his website that you can confirm that Church has a hand in all these songs. The sound is more towards a more heartland rock feel than anything traditionally country. There are no hints of pedal steel or fiddle here. Banjo being the only obviously non rock instrument to feature.

Given all that it is a strong album that continues Church’s progress to a more mainstream, crossover rock orientated sound with a more roots related feel to some tracks. Nothing wrong with that of course and this is a place where his audience is happy to follow him to. He underlines this, to a degree, in the title track where he identifies with those who were “always left out, never fit in”. The song also makes reference to Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy while stating a love for his daddy’s vinyl collection. In Record Year another song that makes reference to musical influences he pays tribute to some country legends Jones and Jennings, Hank and Willie Nelson as well as James Brown in a song where a bad relationship sees the protagonist turn to his records for some much needed sympathy and salvation.

It is only by track 6 with Round Here Buzz that the song takes on a more obvious roots/country feel. Holding My Own is another song that has a less intense feel and again makes reference to loving blues and soul music while holdin’ his own space and track position. The album closes with Three Year Old wherein he looks to the simple needs and wants of a three year old to learn something for his own life. Its understated delivery closes the album on a note that resonates more quietly rather than ringing the ears that some of rockier tracks might. Mr. Misunderstood may well help Eric Church to a wider understanding of his aims, views and musical outlook. Something that he seems to have taken control of. Which can be no bad thing overall.