Two Steps South There They’re There Self Release
Without ever intending to reinvent the wheel Lurgan Co.Armagh band Two Steps South debut album is a collection of country-tinged pop songs, simple, well written and very listenable. The three-piece band is made up of Mark Haddock, Gerard Magee and Tony O’Hara, musicians that have featured in various local bands over the years and who joined forces to combine their collective song writing skills. Additional musicians used on the album include Lawrence Hill whose pedal steel guitar playing is particularly impressive.
Stand out track on the album is The Jayhawks sounding Getting’ Over You but they are also more than capable of writing decent pop ballads such as Rainmaker and Friends and Lovers. You Ain’t Here No More also impresses as does the poppy Down By The Railway Tracks.
The album was recorded at TSS Studio in Lurgan with production duties with the album cover design by the band members.
Sam Wickens Send Me dootdoot Music
My first exposure to Sam Wickens was earlier this year when he performed at The Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival in a singer-songwriter circle in the company of Nashville legend Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, singer-songwriter and actress in American TV drama Nashville. Totally undaunted by his illustrious company the 20 year old Bangor artist performed three self-written songs with the confidence of a veteran and with quality to match. His song Oh Mother made a particular impression on both of his co-singers leading to Lauderdale simply commenting ”young man you need to get to Nashville and soon”. Wickens has subsequently visited Tennessee where he performed at the Bluebird Café in Nashville and also at The Factory in Franklin as part of the live broadcast Music City Roots which has an audience of over 60 million across the United States.
Send Me is the debut six track mini album by Wickens featuring four studio recordings and two live tracks. Guitar, synths and drums are performed by Wickens with contributions by James Reid (lead guitar), Andrew Whittaker (bass guitar) and Mark Johnston (piano).
It would be over simplistic to make comparisons with the music of Jeff Buckley, Bon Ivor and John Martyn, the most obvious connection being that similar to these artist Wickens possess quite a unique style.
The focus throughout the album is on his wonderful vocal, always to the fore, soaring, melodic, atmospheric and emotional. Wickens has wisely allowed his vocal to dominate to the extent that the listener is immediately drawn to the lyrics. That’s not to understate the quality of the song writing, which appears to carry personal messages and a maturity beyond his years.
Hold The Time drifts along accompanied only by keyboards giving the song a delightful lightness of touch throughout. The title track Send Me is dreamy, hypnotic with a vocal delivery that brings to mind Jack Lukeman at his best.
Oh Mother, which made such an impression of Jim Lauderdale and Sonia Leigh, is one of the two live recordings included and both the range and discipline of the vocal understandably brings Jeff Buckley to mind.
Given that futuristic folk/roots music seems to be in vogue at the moment, Wickens has without doubt the talent to make a name for himself. If he can continue to write such compassionate yet forceful material and with astute management and the right breaks the world could be this young man’s oyster. It worked for Hozier, so why not.
West My Friend Quiet Hum Self Release
A particularly vibrant and experimental folk scene currently exists in Vancouver, Canada and Quiet Hum by West My Friend confirms this beyond doubt. This is the third release from the quartet and continues on a similar vein to their 2012 album Place and When The Ink Dries recorded in 2014.
West My Friend are made up of classically trained musicians Eden Oliver (vocals, guitar), Alex Rempel (vocals, mandolin), Jeff Poynter (vocals, accordion) and Nick Mintenko (vocals, bass). Their sound is quite distinctive, a wonderful combination of folk, country, bluegrass, chamber music and even a dash of cabaret thrown in for good measure. The result is a body of work that has an instant appeal from the opening track No Good Monster to the closer How Could I Not Sing.
Eden Oliver’s takes front of house vocally on ten of the thirteen tracks displaying a range that dips and soars beautifully throughout the album. The addition of four part harmonies and flawless playing combine to result in a collection of impressive songs.
No Good Monster opens the album tentatively, suggesting writers block with the line “I don’t want to write a today” but any uncertainty is dismissed by the third track Spruce Top with Oliver declaring, in a more upbeat mood, “There is something to be said for a voice and a song and a chord”. Gradient Graceful is beautifully bittersweet and stripped back featuring only vocal, bass and piano. The album was recorded at Fiddlehead Studios, Maine Island and produced by David Travers-Smith (Jason Romero, The Wailin’ Jennys, Pharis).
In summary, a most impressive modern indie folk sound that incorporates bits of The Decemberists, Frontier Ruckus, Bright Eyes and possibly Joanna Newsom. Probably best listened to on headphones to fully appreciate the wonderful harmonies and musicianship throughout.
Well worth visiting indeed.
Chris Murphy Red Mountain Blues Self Release
Born in New York of Irish/Italian descent, violinist Chris Murphy cites his introduction to music as being exposed to the eclectic sounds of his neighbours traditional music while growing up, together with a mix of less traditional icons including Lou Reed, Peter Thompson, Bob Dylan and particularly David Lindley, whose fiddle work was instrumental in Murphy’s interest in the violin.
Currently living in Los Angeles, Murphy’s career is divided between teaching violin, guitar and mandolin, writing music and live performances. Together with his prolific personal music output the artists that Murphy has worked or collaborated with include Nels Cline, John Doe, Tim O’Brien, Victoria Williams, Joachim Cooder to name but a few.
Indeed, the musicians listed on Red Mountain Blues is in itself a who’s/who of some of the most respected artists in the bluegrass genre and such as Tim O’Brien (mandolin & vocals), Herb Peterson (banjo & vocals), Marty Rifkin (pedal steel & dobro), DJ Bonebrake (drums) and Ted Russell Kemp (bass). Recorded at Hayloft Studios, Los Angeles and Blacktree Studios, Santa Monica the fourteen track album was produced by Chris Murphy and Joshua ‘’Cartier’’ Cutsinger.
Kicking off with the fiddle driven instrumental title track and followed by the driving Dirt Time the album packs a hefty punch from start to finish. Walt Whitman is a wonderful instrumental waltz, Kitchen Girl is perfectly paced with Tim O’Brien taking the lead vocal, Buckwheat Pancakes is a banjo driven back porch delight and Johnson County conjures up imagery of centuries past, civil war and brothers fighting brothers.
Chris Murphy is more than merely a revivalist and has the talent and ambition to produce, compose and collaborate. He succeeds on all fronts hands down with this album. If you’re only intending buying a few bluegrass album this year, this should be one of them.
Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band Come With Me Self Release
Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band are an all-female London five piece bluegrass/Americana outfit. Citing influences from Alice Cooper to Hank Williams Come With Me is high octane, in your face and hugely enjoyable. Recorded live(ish) in three days at Retreat Studios the band features Immanuel on vocals, banjo and guitar ably assisted by Feadora Morris, Blanche Ellis, Maya Mc Court and Hjordis Moon Badford on a variety of instruments including cello, washboard, thimbles, cajon and foot tambourines.
The ten track album is anything but back porch bluegrass with nods towards Louisiana and New Orleans, delightfully mixing bluegrass, zydeco and old time jazz.
With song titles such as Nashville, Going to the Bottle, Rock Bottom, Devil’s Money and Motherfucking Whore it’s no surprise that the album is fun, uncouth, uncivil, knees up, toe tapping, feet stomping stuff, always powered by an excellent band.
Nashville offers a quite traditional roots by comparison to much of the material on the album with delightful harmonies, the title track is banjo driven bluegrass and the album closes with a rousing take on Viva Las Vegas, the Elvis favourite written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.
Dana and her band have performed at a number of high profile festivals this year including Glastonbury and the Maverick Music Festival. The album begs to be heard live, all the better late at night in a packed venue with the drink flowing!
Greenshine The Girl In The Lavender Dress Tiger Dog Records
Greenshine comprises of husband and wife team Noel Shine and Mary Greene together with their daughter Ellie. Noel and Mary have both featured as session players on a host of albums over the years from Christy Moore to The Clancy Brothers and The Republic of Loose to Dr. Strangely Strange. No strangers themselves to the studio, Mary Greene has recorded a solo album Sea of Hearts and Noel Shine and her have previously recorded two albums as a duo together with their self-titled debut album as Greenshine. Given their eclectic musical experiences to date it is not surprising that their debut album The Girl in the Lavender Dress is a journey across quite wide range of musical genres embracing folk (Pastures Of Plenty) , country( Lonesome Whipoorwill), traditional (Sammy’s Bar) and even a hint of reggae (Sweet As Honey Heart).
Readers may be familiar with the title track from the album which has received considerable airplay on national radio recently and had the distinction of reaching No.1 on the ITunes Ireland Singer-Songwriter charts. It’s a stunning song, dreamlike, buoyant and weightless and is most certainly the strongest track on the album.
The eleven songs featured include six originals written by Mary Greene together with cover versions of Bob Dylan (You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go), Hank Williams (Lonesome Whippoorwill), Cyril Tawney (Sammy’s Bar), Woody Guthrie (Pastures of Plenty) and Townes Van Zandt (Marie). As would be expected the musicianship throughout is top notch with multi-instrumentalist Shine contributing guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistle, lap steel, bass, harmonica, ocarina and keyboards.
Particularly refreshing is the quality of two of the original songs (the title track and City of Dreams) which actually outweigh the covers, both sung beautifully by Ellie Shine. The album was recorded and produced by Noel Shine and Mary Greene and mastered by Dan Fitzgerald at Sound Studio, Cork.
Greenshine is most definitely the sum of its parts even if the wide range of styles represented possibly results in this album being a trifle dislocated. However, given the very healthy mix of song writing, instrumentation and vocal talent they collectively possess and particularly if they can emulate the quality of some of their original songs on this album, Greenshine have the potential to produce music with an extremely wide appeal.