Saturday
May162015

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Saturday
May162015

Malcolm Holcombe ‘The RCA Sessions’ - Proper

The sandpapered vocals of Malcolm Holcombe have become his trademark. That voice however delivers some insightful songs that highlight the human condition in the way that the best of the old school blues men did. Bare bones emotions given some meat by Holcombe and his set of fine players who bring to these songs their individual spirit and musicianship. When these players are Ken Coomer, Tammy Rogers, Dave Roe and Jared Tyler you can count on them being right there with the songs. As is Holcombe, a man who put himself into the soul of these songs. Songs that are, for the most part, taken from his numerous previous albums but given the added impetuous of the historic studio location and the collective strength of the assembled musicians. The 16 songs run to over an hour and they serve as a perfect introduction to Holcombe’s music being as it is something of a summation of a career that has found him praised by admirers but also damned by some reviewers who do not take to his voice and rustic delivery.

There are a couple of vocal sweeteners involved too with Maura O’Connell and Siobhan Maher-Kennedy joining Holcombe on one track each. Jelly Roll Johnson adds his harmonica prowess to an additional track. Producers Ray Kennedy and Brian Brinkerhoff use the famed location and the assembled musicians to bring the best out of Holcombe and his Appalachian folk/delta blues influenced songs that come from hard times, hard places but not a heard heart. The darkness inherent is lightened by the humanity that exists in many of the songs and within the grace that Holcombe has attained through the years.

Having listened to Malcolm Holcombe through the years I don’t need to be convinced of his sincerity or musical worth. This album should go a long way to convince all but the most Simon Cowell-esque of you, those who can only attach merit to a “perfect” vocal. Life is not like that so thank God for those voices that reveal something more rewarding that perfect pitch. That’s always a thing to admire in itself but not the sum total of what the voice is capable of delivering in terms of emotion or storytelling.

The deluxe version has a DVD that captures the occasion and offers insight into the recording process and a legendary studio. There are interviews with the players express their thoughts on Holcombe’s songs and his energy in the studio. An audio/visual experience that offers both in full.

Saturday
May162015

Christopher Denny ‘If The Roses Don’t Kill Us’ - Partisan

The first think that hits you is the nature of Denny’s voice that has elements of something operatic but also comes from the street level too. There are hints of Jimmie Dale Gilmore in his approach and vocal style. This vocal aptitude is applied to his music which has a lot of different elements in it’s makeup. Denny has called it “Arkansas Soul“ after his native State but there are strands of country, folk, rock, gospel and soul -  perhaps neatly summed up as Americana. The end result draws you and shows you it’s heart and some of the darkness that dwells there. The playing and production has a lot of names involved with both. The songs were apparently recorded several times before arriving at this releasable juncture. He had recorded a previous album Age Old Hunger back in 2007.

This is one of those albums that just flows and should be heard in its entirety as the collective story of the songs builds over the twelve numbers. The album opens with Happy Sad - a title which can perhaps sum up the emotions involved. I image some may not take to Denny’s vocal pitch but, for me, it works and works very well. Grammy award winning produced Dave Sanger worked with his co-producers to get these songs sounding right and Denny’s own band played with musicians like Sanger, himself on drums, alongside some notable platters such as bassist Glenn Fukunaga and pedal steel guitarist Marty Muse. Denny contributed acoustic and electric guitar to the mix.

Ride On brings Denny back to basic with just voice, guitar and some backing vocals brings it right back to the essence of the music in it’s most stripped back from. But many of the songs here have equal resonance. Radio, Some Things, God’s Height and others are memorable songs built around interesting melodic structures full of swelling keyboards, solid rhythms with guitar and steel guitars lines adding much to the overall sound. All of which makes If The Roses Don’t Kill Us an compelling listen and a memorable one.

Saturday
May162015

Grand Old Grizzly ‘Cosmo Nada’ - Self Release

The latest album from the Houston based quartet takes you back to the start of the insurgent country days with the delivery of some highly energised roots rock that reminds of the similarly designed Old 97s. Throw in some Rockpile and a touch of the (Tom Petty’s) Heartbreakers and you have the basis for some attractive tracks. Cosmo Nada has 12 slices of rough and ready retouched roots rock. Their take on country is alternative and energised but built around some solid playing and equally alluring songwriting.

On Travelin’ they take the foot of the gas a little and allow the harmonies to come forward over a melodic guitar riff. But it is the full steam ahead rockers like Did She Really?, Red Hideaway and particularly Eyes, a song where writer Will Thomas’ voice conveys the story of a time and place and person not effectively.  Drummer Paul Beebe also plays guitars and keyboards as well as adding his vocals alongside those of bassist Mark Riddell. The band is joined by pedal steel player Craig Freazel on some tracks. But it is the essential trio that is the backbone of these songs. They are storytelling songs that draw from that aspect of the best country music but they give them a dynamism that propels them into your heart and also to your feet. All of which should make them an ideal band to honk your tonk to even if you feel that mainstream country may be a little outside your normal listening spectrum.

Though there’s little doubting that these guys also like their Willie and Waylon. Which, as perviously stated, make them unrestrained reminders of those post cowpunk days when that landscape had a goodly number of punk enthused bands broadening their horizons to include of strands of a wide variety of roots influences. But in the end it come down to the tunes, the songs, which these guys have. And they do them justice here, which, while they may not have. in the recorded versions, the firepower of attending one of their live shows, it more than entertains in a listening setting where one’s concentration is on the music alone.  

Houston, we don’t have a problem.

Saturday
May162015

The Alan Tyler Show ‘Self-Titled’ - Littlefield

An acoustic collection of some of Tyler’s favourite cover songs mixed with his own songs. Alan Tyler has shown his commitment to his take on country music through his involvement with the Rockingbirds, an English country rock band who played the music in the 1990’s when it wasn’t exactly flavour of the month. They released their first self-titled album on Heavenly back in 1992 and disbanded in1995. Since they have reformed and produced two further albums.

In between Alan Tyler has carried on under his own name and this album is the latest release. Recorded with fellow Rockingbird Patrick Ralla on guitar, banjo and vocals as well as Jim Morrison playing fiddle and mandolin. It features the songs Dark River, Down To Deptford Creek, Essex, Long Time No See and The Fields Beneath - all Tyler originals. This release appears to be an expanded version of an earlier release that has added the covers of The Streets Of Baltimore, She Thinks I Still Care, Tecumseh Valley, Return Of The Grievous Angel, True Love Ways to make up 10 tracks.

Now it’s not the easiest thing in the world to take on songs that are often ingrained in the memory (in one version or another). However Tyler has a distinctively lived in voice that has a warmth and charm that makes hearing these songs in this setting a simple pleasure akin to a home singalong. Classic covers seems to be a thing these days and some such albums work better than others. Not to take away from the playing and performance on this set which would be worth hearing for the originals alone, but hearing the other (cover) songs are something of a bonus. Alan Tyler clearly loves this music and is working on a new Rockingbirds album that will add the power of a full band. The Rockingbirds have always added a specifically English element to their take on the music, which is to be applauded.

While this album would appear as something of a stopgap to promote and sell at live gigs it affirms Alan Tyler as a solid cornerstone of contemporary country in the UK. Someone who isn’t just producing carbon copies of American country but something more personal and with a real voice. The show goes on.