Entries in Son of the Velvet Rat (2)

Tuesday
Sep042018

Reviews by Paul McGee

The Mulligan Brothers Songs For The Living and Otherwise Southern Routes

Studio outing number three for this talented band of musicians from Mobile, Alabama. The first two records were very well received and built up their reputation as musicians of some substance, both in the studio and playing in a live setting. The original line up lost an influential member when Gram Rea (fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica and vocals) left for family matters but the remaining core of Ross Newell (lead vocals, guitar, and song writing); Ben Leininger (bass and vocals) and Greg DeLuca (drums and vocals) continued to look to the future and added a suitably different talent with Melody Duncan joining on fiddle, vocals and piano in 2016. The Female perspective adds a broader colour and nuance on vocals and playing style. 

This record is something of a departure with the writing casting a wider net into the areas of rock and blues. Newell is a fine writer and his eye for a couplet is as finely honed as ever. The opening song, The Deal, is a love song that does not mention the old clichés at all and all the better for it!

Possession In G Minor is a clever ditty about the eternal everlasting search of the Devil for new, lonely and vulnerable souls, while I Need To Get Out talks about new beginnings and creating distance with the past. Divine Design is about a relationship that is out of kilter where one party is an emotional bully taking the other for granted.

I Know That Man is a story song about sweet revenge in an abusive relationship. Ghost Town rues the price paid for ‘progress’ and the choking of so many small towns across America while Not That Way talks about suicide and the confusion it leaves in the hearts and minds of those left behind.  

The tour bus gets a song also with the excellent Roseanne, destined to be a favourite of audiences on tour, and a clever juxtaposition of groupie and road wagon! Great Grandaddy’s War talks about old attitudes and entrenchment forged from the Civil War years and a limiting attitude that change can only be a bad thing. It challenges and questions those who choose sides with a blind rage and self-righteous conviction. Duncan has a song included also with the sombre message of The Basement and the power of the deceased to invade our memories and thoughts.

The playing is superb throughout, the harmony vocals are a joy, while the lead vocal of Ross Newell is both sweet and warm to the ear. Arrangements stray from the simple Country/Roots formula to include new colours, under the familiar guise of well-crafted songs and performance. A real keeper.

The Mulligan Brothers Live From The Netherlands Southern Routes

This 13-song set is taken from a tour of the Netherlands in 2017. My copy has no information to suggest that a number of different nights and venues were included in the recording. Indeed, the muted crowd response and the lack of between song communication leaves the listening experience just a little sterile. What can be in no doubt however is the quality of musicianship that exists within this collective. On the back of two critically acclaimed studio records this ensemble has been stretching out into Europe in search of a wider network of admirers and with their quality they will have little difficulty achieving their goals.

Ross Newell (lead vocals, guitar, and song writing); Ben Leininger (bass and vocals), Greg DeLuca (drums and vocals) and Melody Duncan (fiddle, piano & vocals) deliver on all fronts with an engaging, easy charm in the song arrangements and vocal harmonies that augment the tight playing of all four musicians. 

Ross Newell is the creative source in the band and writes all their songs. His voice is very mellow and sweet, with the occasional sense of the timbre of Dave Matthews in the delivery. His words are well crafted and composed with both care and confidence into some real gems. Cecilia is a story song from the Plantation times and tells of a tragic love that results in a walking ghost. Calamine is another story song, this time dealing with murder on the run, while the wonderful Thrift Store Suitcase looks at second chances, living with regrets and leaving the past behind.

The surprise is that included on this live set are a total of six cover versions – quite a number when all one wants to hear is some more of the band’s original material. I do believe that a deluxe edition exists with an additional 12 tracks, but the inclusion of six cover songs, however good, on this single disc is somewhat unbalanced to say the least. 

Of the covers, we are given Stephen Stills, Townes Van Zandt, Grateful Dead, Thomas Dolby, The Steeldrivers and The Civil Wars. Some work better than others, given the Mulligan Brothers treatment, but the Thomas Dolby song I Love You Goodbye steals it for me with a superb arrangement and highlighted by the excellent fiddle playing of Melody Duncan.

The band are such a tight unit with Greg Deluca and Ben Leininger providing the understated rhythm for both Duncan and Newell to play between the lines. Well worth having in your collection but perhaps opt for the deluxe version to get even more of this great band in a live context.

Ben Bostick Hellfire Simply Fantastic

Any musician who saves his busking money in order to record a debut EP has my unwavering respect. This talented musician released his full debut record the following year and now we have his next project, as momentum builds towards World domination. Now based in Southern California, the co-production on this release is shared by Bostick and John Would (Warren Zevon) and there is quite an influence of the departed genius in the songs included here. 

Bostick has a wicked & wry sense of looking at things and amidst a gumbo of Country, Rockabilly, Blues and Rock we are treated to plenty of drinkin’, hard partying on Saturday nights, lustful love flings, poor boy messes and just downright bitter and mean men - loners set to do you harm.

Titles such as The Other Side Of Wrong, How Much Lower Can I Go, Feeling Mean, Blow Off Some Steam and The Outsider give a very strong flavour of what is involved in the grooves here.

We have a Johnny Cash vibe on the cool, drinkin’ rockabilly of the title track. No Show Blues has the writer skipping out on his wedding day, while Work, Sleep, Repeat gives a sense of what he escaped from as the debts pile up and the feeling of living a trapped life starts seeping in.

Excellent band in Kyle Lalone (lead guitar, vocals), Luke Miller (piano, organ), Perry Morris (drums, percussion), Cory Tramontelli (bass) and Bostick on rhythm guitar, harmonica and lead vocals. Just go out and buy it…!  

Lucia Comnes Held In The Arms Delfina

Based in San Francisco, this musician plays fiddle and sings songs in an Americana, Folk, Roots idiom. She has studied with many fiddle masters in the U.S. and Ireland. She also attended the Traditional Irish Music Program at University College, Cork, to study spoken Gaelic and sean-nos, or “old-style,” singing. Add to this a deep interest in Balkan/Eastern European folk music and a picture emerges of a dedicated artist to her craft. Simple arrangements, a sweet voice and understated playing.

All songs are written by Comnes with four co-writes and the production, by both her and fellow (multi-instrumental) musician Gawain Mathews, is uncluttered and bright. Songs about a celebration of rural life (On The Farm, Winter In The Mountains), join with a nostalgia for home and family values, (The Sleeping Lady’s Daughter, Matilde, Song For Mama) childhood and best friends (Mirabelle), loyalty, love and understanding (Good Hands, I’m With You, Morning Star), while a sibling in trouble is the context for Side By Side. A very pleasant listen.

Son Of The Velvet Rat The Late Show Fluff & Gravy/Mint 400 

Eleven songs recorded live at three separate venues in Austria and America and featuring husband-and-wife team Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder, who are the core of this band that has been producing music since 2004.

Having built quite a profile in their native Austria, they relocated to Joshua Tree in California’s Mojave Desert in 2013 and have continued to follow their vision of what can be described as reflective resonance...                                                         

Their last release, Dorado, was a brooding atmospheric work of dishevelled beauty, ragged in all the right places but shining with a certain light. The vocals of Georg are lived-in and winking at a secretly held knowledge that informs his writing. Heike gently harmonises to add sweet to the sour and reminds in parts of the stripped back Cowboy Junkie arrangements circa the Trinity Sessions. There is a fragile beauty in the songs and the simple acoustic strum of Little Flower plays against the up-tempo groove of Surfer Joe, while a Nick Cave ghost haunts the arrangement on Do You Love Me?

Sweet Angela allows the band to stretch into a Neil Young work-out vibe while the meditative, slow-burn quality of Copper Hill is closer to the core of this band’s interesting sound. Well worth further investigation. 

Vinny Clohisey Pistolero Self Release

This release by Irish musician Vinny Clohisey seems to have been in the works for a few years now. The very scant information says it was recorded in 2016 at Floodplain Studios in Clontarf but some internet searching shows that the actual release is this year, 2018. 

There is no list of credits to the musicians who play on the 11 songs which is unusual, given that the promo copy I received has a colourful insert with full lyrics. This booklet also states that “the songs on this cd predate those on my 2015 EP”. Hmmm…!

In any event, here it is – an independently created project that seems to have had its spiritual home in the regular sessions at Darkey Kelly’s, The Lord Edward and various Folk clubs in and around Dublin City. The playing is very consistent throughout and a number of the songs stand-out, like the two instrumentals Sevilla and An Turas go dti An Talamh Naofa (The Journey to The Holy Land) for all our International readers.

The vocals are not quite so consistent and something of an acquired taste on some of the songs. However, this is a small observation and the pleasure in songs such as Pistolero, There’s Good Out There, Spailpin’s Song and Southern Ways, far outweighs any perceived pain. Kudos to all concerned.

Saturday
Jul082017

Reviews by Paul McGee

Eileen Kozloff Just Words MoosiCowlia

The sleeve says to file under Americana/Country and who am I to argue? However, on listening to these songs the sound has more in common with traditional Folk music to these ears.

The opening track, Always Wrong From The Start, sounds like a Mark Knopfler riff with John Kelly playing very fluid electric guitar melody.  The pedal steel on Coming Back To You has Rob Pastore turning in some fine backing runs. Guitar Man sounds like a Neil Young tribute complete with harmonica part from Hank Woji, who also produced the album and chipped in with acoustic guitar parts on a number of tracks. The violin of Jeff Duncan comes to the fore on 5,775 to dramatic effect in setting an atmosphere for the acoustic guitar work of Eileen Kozloff .

And so, the rest of the project unfolds across the 11 songs included here. Autoharp dominates the arrangement on To The River I’ll Go and there is a distinctly Folky feel to the traditional sound of No More War Anymore and the sweet strum of Asunder and Take Me Back

Eileen Kozloff is a multi-instrumentalist who has been actively involved in the autoharp world for many years. She is best known for her unique "pick-less" style of diatonic autoharp and for her clear vocals.

She has released two critically acclaimed CD’s with her former band, Well Tempered String Band and is now performing as a solo artist having released Solitary Rider (2006) and Hearts And Souls Entwined (2007). Both recordings were released under the Moosicowlia Label and this third release builds on the positive critical reaction she has been receiving. 

The Furious Seasons Look West Stone Garden

This band is based in L.A. and has released four previous albums as a 5-piece. This project is an acoustic affair with David Steinhart and Paul Nelson on acoustic guitar and vocals and Jeff Steinhart on stand-up bass. 

The vocal harmonies are beautifully mixed with some excellent playing and the understated nature of the production leaves plenty of room for the talents of these players. Lyrically the songs address relationship issues in all their different guises. 

Long Shot speaks of working through difficult times and What’s Coming Next laments over a past relationship now ended. Best Plans deals with the loss of a business while The Tape charts the life of an older family member who lived through hard times. Summer Flame is a memory of young days and innocent beginnings.

The final song is superbly crafted and tells of 4 friends who shared close birthdays but sadly only one now remains alive. There is the suggestion of a drink problem in the lines; “Just this one”; Became early hours, I put another day to waste, I wish I’d never got the taste, You can believe that you’re not to blame? and Hey denial - have you met shame?"

Excellent stuff indeed and there is a nice warmth to the production, with the easy, fluid playing an understated joy. A gentle record to suit the mood on a lazy Sunday morning over a hot coffee and the hint of Spring in the air. 

Harrow Fair Call To Arms Roaring Girl

This duo is Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers, Belle Starr) and Andrew Penner (Sunparlour Players). Miranda has built a strong reputation as a sought-after session musician and has played and toured with many top-line acts over the years, while Andrew Penner has been involved in Canadian Country music for many years now.

This release slots into the interesting & quirky world of the Handsome Family or the Civil Wars as a reference point. The playing and the production is innovative and edgy with songs like Call To Arms, Bite The Way and Hangnail challenging the listener with a dynamic that excites.

Recorded in Toronto and produced by Andrew Penner, the superb arrangements highlight the many talents of these two musicians who impress greatly. How Cold has a traditional folk feel with a modern treatment while Emmaline highlights the fine vocal of Miranda and the haunting, understated violin parts. It all comes together on the final track, Been There Ways with a haunting delivery from both musicians and an arrangement that leaves you wanting just one more song.

Well worth checking this one out and it just gets better and better with repeated plays.

The Fretless Bird’s Nest Self Release

The Fretless is a Canadian group of four musicians who play instrumental music on string instruments. They are made up of Karrnnel Sawitsky on Fiddle & Viola; Trent Freeman on Fiddle & Viola; Ivonne Hernandez on Fiddle & Viola and Eric Wright on Cello.

In 2012 they released their debut album, Waterbound, which was awarded Instrumental Album of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. The Canadian Folk Music Awards saw the group win both Ensemble of the year and Instrumental Group of the Year. 

This new release sees the group take the traditional airs of past compositions and apply a current interpretation which keeps the music alive and vibrant. There are nine songs across 36 minutes and the dynamic in the playing is constantly shifting in order to hold the attention of the listener. Ronim Road/Bella Coola are two original pieces that sound steeped in the Irish tradition of jigs and reels, while Maybe Molly is an infectious jaunt across the sunny fields of a summer’s day. Hidden View is a more reflective arrangement, as is the closing track 38 & Gone.

Musically, the goals of the group are to expand the many folk genres they visit. All four members have come from very different traditional and contemporary backgrounds but are influenced to push traditional music as far as possible.

Jon and Roy The Road Ahead Is Golden Self Release

There is a nice groove and a low-fi appeal to this release from duo Jon Middleton and Roy Vizer who have released this new album – their 7th in a career that has seen them develop from an initial meeting at University. Hailing from Victoria, BC the vocals/guitar/harmonica of Middleton are perfectly in synch with the understated drums/percussion playing of Vizer. In the gentle song arrangements lie a hidden depth where on repeated listens the melody lines come through and the play Louis Sadava on bass is supported by co-producer Stephen Franke who plays Wurlitzer and piano. Roots/Folk music to calm the soul and tracks like Breakdown, How The Story Goes, Nothing But Everything, Every Night and Windowlinger in the mind and boast of a fine release that is worth checking out.

Annie Gallup Lucy Remembers Her Father Gallway Bay

Annie’s website describes this latest release as twelve new songs that are meditations on fragility, mortality, family, survival, and love. Who am I to disagree? Along with her close collaborator Peter Gallway, Annie Gallup has been releasing music of real depth and quality for many years now and she deserves due recognition for the musical vision and scope that is brought to the table. Visceral and challenging but never trite, her muse is worth the surfboard ride across the waves to a quiet destination. This release feels deeply personal, like eavesdropping on a conversation that you should not be listening to, but all the more compelling for the experience.  Hers’ is a singular talent, reflective and yearning for something just beyond our reach. Songs that deal with the past and the fragility of relationships are laid bare. Being Her Child, Lucy Remembers Her Father andBluebird explore the complexities of the family dynamic. Other tracks look into relationships, devious and needy; Loyalty, Strange Boy, He Will Never Love MeLuminary looks at estrangement and unresolved love with a curiosity while Story is a spoken word reflection on the pointless search for meaning in all the grief we encounter. Very impressive and rewarding but not for the faint-hearted.  

Rachel Sage The Tide MPRESS

This 4-track EP adds to the impressive catalogue of music created by Rachel Sage over a career that has seen her release a body of work that stands tall against many of her peers. Her accomplished and comprehensive catalogue captures a voice and music that hints at greatness and this current project sees the proceeds donated to one of the world's leading international refugee assistance organizations. Songwriters come & go but this lady is a real keeper – sublime composition and melody combine to create a powerful result. These are protest songs and reflect on the need for both empathy and acceptance in the World right now. The title track speaks about compassion and the need for everyman on our various journeys. Disarm Distrust is written for the victims of the recent Orlando shootings and Tomorrow speaks of euphemisms and hope.

Oh Susanna A Girl in Teen City Stella

This is a paean to the past from an artist who has taken a look through life’s infinite telescope to chart the path that she negotiated in order to arrive at a signpost that reads ‘What Next’? Produced by the talented Jim Bryson who contributes on guitar, keyboards & vocals, the 12 songs that cover almost 50 minutes read like a ‘dear diary’ exercise in exhuming a past that sits very much in the present tense. My Boyfriend, Getting Ready, Walked All the Way Home, Tickets On The Weekend and My Old Vancouver give a sense of what is at play here. Quality playing and production, allied with a strong song-writing talent make this as strong as her past releases and an artist well worth exploring further. 

Ted Russell Kamp Flying Solo PoMo

This accomplished artist has been a favourite of Lonesome Highway across his seven critically-acclaimed albums that nail the country / roots / Americana flag firmly to his mast. For this release, he has taken 12 songs and played them in a largely acoustic setting with six songs recorded at shows or radio stations and six as brand new songs recorded at his home studio, The Den. From the mandolin rhythm of Old Folks Blues to the soulful groove of If I Had A Dollar; the reflective acoustic strum of When She Flies and the bluesy beat and feel of Lookin’ For Someone, it is evident that all is well in the world of this talented artist and he has produced another work of creative depth as a solo performer.    

Worry Dolls Go Get Gone Self Release

After two EP releases (2011 & 2015) this duo decided to change their focus and relocated to Nashville in order to record this debut album. The ten tracks are a mixture of gentle, stripped back acoustic Folk and some up-tempo arrangements played with a quiet confidence and a focus to deliver work of an enduring quality.

Duo Zoe Nicol and Rosie Jones team up with producer Neilson Hubbard who has worked with artists such as Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Ben Glover and Amy Speace. Together they create some fine moments and the uncluttered arrangements allow the sweet melodies and hypnotic harmonies to flourish. She Don’t Live Here, Things Always Work Out and Someday Soon are three highlights and the experienced studio musicians add greatly to a relaxed feel and a gentle mood that soothes across the listening experience.  

Son of the Velvet Rat Dorado Fluff & Gravy

Don’t be put off by the very strange band name. Son of the Velvet Rat is the project of Austrian Songwriter Georg Altziebler and his wife Heike Binder. He plays a variety of instruments and she adds organ and accordion. They live in Joshua Tree and the California desert runs through the sparse mood of the ten songs shared here. Victoria Williams is among the notable musicians who add their talents to this project and the impression is one of ragged savoir-faire or, as producer Joe Henry says on the liner notes; songs that hint at bankable redemption. Fragile vocals counter the sweet melody lines of songs like Love’s the Devil’s Foe, Starlite Motel and Sweet Angela, while the loose feel of the recording, completed over a few days, is always to the fore. Moody and magnetic.