Tuesday
Jan272015

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Tuesday
Jan272015

Awna Teixeira 'Wild One' - Self-Release

This second album from former Po’ Girl member is every bit as good, if not better than, its predecessor Where the Darkness Goes. It again highlights her distinctive vocal style, her writing and song arrangements. A multi-instrumentalist, Teixeira recorded this album in Toronto with co-producer Dave MacKinnon. The end result is a striking combination of words and music. The music is subtle, but highly effective, with bass and drums laying down a solid foundation for the electric guitar and piano as well as the numerous other textures from the instruments played by Teixeira throughout. It is the layered vocals however which give the focus to the whole project. In this she is joined for harmonies, at times, by fellow singer Oh Susanna.

Without a lyric sheet it is not always easy to follow the lyrical content, but you are soon absorbed into the heart of these rewarding songs, while additional plays give you more lines and you gain a greater understanding of their meaning. One is drawn to the emotion of a person who has an obvious affinity for her fellow humans and the way that life has a way of getting in the way. These are personal songs and Teixeira has been touched by the destructiveness of metal illness in her family and use her music as a means to raise awareness of that. That is done with a lightness of touch and a gentle approach that will make Wild One something of a healing song for many.

Many of these songs were written by Teixeira while in Salt Lake City and the landscape and people of Utah provided her with inspiration. The cover artwork comes from another Salt Lake City affiliate, Claire Taylor. It’s a depiction of the wild animal as a metaphor for a free spirit. This is what Teixeira is and this album is a reflection of that and a thoroughly rewarding experience on every level. One listen to the closing song here, Away We G,o will confirm the special talent that is Awna Teixeira.

Tuesday
Jan272015

The Westies 'West Side Stories' - Pauper Sky

The Westies are named after a notorious Irish related gang that held sway around Hell’s Kitchen in New York in the 1960s and ‘70s. The six piece band is fronted by Michael McDermott and Heather Horton and includes (on this occasion) guitarist Joe Pisapia and keyboard player John Deaderick. The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by the band’s bassist Lex Price. The songs are presumably written by McDermott although there is no writing credit on the actual CD. They are story songs that draw from the dark end of the street. They could be said to be in the same ball park as Bruce Springsteen, but you can also add the likes of Graham Parker and Elliott Murphy to list of acts who have a sound that is a mix of rock, r ’n’ b and roots music. McDermott has a rough hewn voice that is convincing as conveyor of combatative city culture. 

The songs follow a cycle of  slow paced intensity that features both the voices of McDermott and Horton to good effect. McDermott has previously released a series of solo albums and has been honing his writing skills over a period of time that shows in this album’s strengths. None of the songs clock in at under the three minutes mark and several run over five minuets. However all hold the attention and create audio world that runs in the head like a gritty movie.

Titles like Hell’s Kitchen, Death, Fallen, Bars and Devil set the tone for a musical cityscape that takes you into places you may not want to walk on your own. But here the Westies guide you through the urban jungle and its inhabitants.There’s no way that you won’t recognise the strength of these songs, even if the general sound has many precedents. They are memorable and delivered with a conviction that directly relates to the experience of the assembled players. They tell stories that have their roots in a tradition of tales of romance and myth, of reality and truth. You won’t find anything here that breaks down any musical barriers, rather, this is a simple and direct realisation of some really good music.

Tuesday
Jan272015

Kimmie Rhodes 'Cowgirl Boudoir' - Sunbird

Anyone familiar with the songs and sweet voice of Kimmie Rhodes will be happy to hear this new album from the Texas songbird. The title suggests both intimacy and a rootsy musical direction. This is true in the fourteen song set, but there is also vulnerability as evinced in a song like Will You, wherein she wonders who will come and visit her when she is in need. 

The album is again produced by her son and musical foil Gabriel in Texas’ Sunbird Studios and they are joined by seasoned players like Glen Fukunaga on bass and Tommy Spurlock on steel guitar and Dobro. Gabriel Rhodes brings his usual musical and production dexterity to the proceedings, which in the end means it all turns out in a recognisable Rhodes family style.

Fellow singer/songwriter Johnny Goudie joins Kimmie for two songs; the opener, I Am Falling, which is graced by steel guitar on a song that follows the downward path of the protagonists. The two voices blend together well to spin out this tale of self-destruction, while Having You Around is more uptempo and they sing the words together about a non relationship that has reached a base level of a familiarity that simply breeds content. The songs are all written or co-written by Rhodes, with her customary clarity and humanity. Gary Nicholson co-wrote the positive album closer Yes, a bright and uplifting song that counts collective blessings.

There has always been a certain innocence in Kimmie’s voice, even when the words are dealing with situations that are far from light. Don’t Leave Me Like This is about a lost love or even a much deeper loss. That sense of being left alone, or the fear of such, tends to be theme in many of the songs. The Sky fell Down, with it’s distinctive electric sitar sound, makes that clear with it’s repeated title vocal refrain. However, as with all her music, Rhodes has a positive attitude and outlook at the heart of her songwriting that is underlined by her lightness of touch.

The album is dedicated to the late Cowboy Jack Clement who was an inspiration, as were some of the artists who have previously recorded her songs like Joe Ely and Willie Nelson. This cowgirl seems ready for the next round-up, so saddle up and go along for the ride.

Tuesday
Jan272015

Porchlight Smoker 'Water into Sand' - At The Helm

Porchlight Smoker are a UK band who are essentially a bluegrass/folk band, but who take their music a beyond any strict definition of that genre. They have double bass, banjo and acoustic guitar well to the fore, but they play lap steel guitar, fiddle, accordion and pedal steel to broaden the sound. This sound is lively and uplifting with some strong singing and playing which gives the album its bite. The song Maria Kennedy sounds like one you have heard before, but is in fact a Steve Bell original which has all the hallmarks of a traditional folk classic. Bell is joined in the band by Scott Smith, Fred Gregory and Scott Warman. They produced the album themselves in Medway Studio in Brighton and have made a pretty fine job of it.

The band are responsible for all but one of the songs, an old time country reading of Jimmie Rodgers song Waiting For A Train. Their own songs are outstanding, like the aforementioned Maria Kennedy and A Day In Mid-July, which again sounds like a lost ballad. It features some ambient radio voices and a harmonica and focuses on the landmark day of the title. US75 is a fast moving song that tells of the highway of that name with mandolin, fiddle, dobro and banjo showing the band’s picking prowess. Another song that evokes a picture is Cleaner’s Rag, as it asks that you look out for your fellow man. Homeline seem set also in the US but suggest a physical and emotional border that has to be crossed.

This is another album that shoes how buoyant the home grown scene is in these Isles, with bands writing original material and delivering it with an understanding and skill that goes beyond the many copyists are nothing more than human jukeboxes turning out uninspired cover version of well know tunes. Here there are original songs played and sung well, ones that will have a lastingimpact. Porchlight Smoker can feel justifiably happy to have delivered such a satisfying, if undemanding, set of songs.