Friday
May202016

Reviews by Paul McGee

Christa Couture Long Time Leaving Self-Release

On the track That Little Part of my Heart, Christa Couture sings “Don’t be afraid to be amazing – you are amazing”. She could be singing this line to another or to herself, about herself, in an attempt to boost her self-talk to a level where renewed courage shines through. It is just one example of the subtle muse at play when she writes her words of life and longing, love and lust and everything in-between. 

This is Christa’s fourth release and it marks a departure from the searing self- analysis of her previous albums which dealt with personal tragedy in a way that both inspired and devastated in equal measure. Coming out of a marriage and going through divorce  is a time for reflection and self-examination, but when life has dealt you dire cards in the years before, then a certain perspective is brought to bear. Fighting cancer and losing a limb, yet winning the battle, was nothing compared to the deaths of her two children, losses painfully and bravely borne and now referenced through her music.

For this new project Christa has employed the many-talented Steve Dawson as producer/musician and his finely tuned influence is very prominent on Long Time Leaving ‘s 12 songs. The studio musicians add a texture that allows plenty of space and room. The sound is lighter and more commercial with a number of upbeat arrangements to add a nice tempo to the overall feel.

The early glow of a potential new relationship is explored in Alone in This and is balanced against the sad realisation of Separation/Agreement that leaves a feeling of resignation, with lines like “it’s difficult to know how to divide which ghosts are yours and which are mine”. The Slaughter explores flirtation with the heady swim of experimentation and new opportunity to play at being Aphrodite. Solid Ground reaches out to try and find mutual understanding where the “best medicine is an honest conversation”, while Zookeeper looks at the whole process of counselling and the role of a marriage guidance counsellor as a zookeeper overseeing the zoo animals who might strike out at any moment. Dealing with the frustration of failed relationships is given a fresh spin on When It Gets Dark Again and the urge to binge drink all problems away for just a little while. 

We end with feelings of enduring, which is a mantra that seems to run through the path of this artist; brave and resourceful, talented and open to tomorrow. Along Time Leaving is a very fine release that sits well in Couture’s catalogue and is an example that creative music that can be found in the worst of experiences and shared for the greater good.

Jeb Barry Milltown Dollyrocker

Milltown is a follow up to Barry’s solo EP Bury Me in a Lonely Place released in 2014.  It is based in the acoustic singer-songwriter vein and comparisons have been made to Jason Isbell and Steve Earle in both the vocal delivery and subject matter of the 15 songs.

 Clocking in at just over of 47 minutes, the tracks become somewhat repetitive with sparse songs of the darker side of life; small town decay (Milltown #2, No Way Out of This Town) resignation with life (Drag the River, $10 Girl), regrets over the past and old relationships (Shoot Out the Moon, If You Were Whiskey, Gone), lost hope and lost lives (Hard Times, Why I Drink Alone, Weird Places).

 Barry sings in a weary, gravelly voice that fits the words well and the support musicians slot superbly into the songs with Pat Powers (banjo, harmonica), Ernie Barufa (bass, percussion), Mike O’Neill (guitar, Dobro) and Heather Austin (vocals) all adding understated support to Barry and his various guitars. 

This is a contemporary take on bleak, economically busted small town America and the perspective of wasted lives. Barry’s style has been aptly described as ‘hard dirt Americana’ which sums it up very well. 

West of Eden Look to the West West of Music

West of Eden is a 6 person Swedish band inspired by the creative hub of Jenny and Martin Schaub, who write the majority of the songs. This is their 9th release, a concept album focusing on the emigration trail taken by many Swedes in the 19th century, looking for a better life and greater opportunity on the shores of England, America and beyond. There is a strong resonance with Ireland and our own mass emigration following the Famine years of 1845-1849. The music of both nations is similar and this is added to by the very Gaelic feel that runs through many of the song arrangements. 

Both Schaubs have studied Irish traditional music here and their sensitive arrangements are beautifully produced with a swell of melody giving a lush feel to songs about missing home (Going to Hull, Sweet Old Country), sailing away from loved ones (Oh I Miss My Home, The Final Cut), reluctant travellers (The Crying Stairs, Look to the West) and hard luck stories of deception and robbery on distant shores (Wilson Line).

Their sound has been described as ‘Celtic Folk’ but this is not a very fair reflection of the experience and talent that these musicians bring to each project. Yes, they honour to old folk traditions of songs about land and sea, hard times and hope for the future, but they are so much more with fine harmonies lifting the melodies to new heights and the subtle use of horns and trombones on certain tracks giving the project a deeper resonance. The fiddle/viola playing of Lars Broman is always a joy, along with the fine accordion playing of Jenny Schaub and the flute of Steph Geremia, the mix of dobro, mandolin, pump organ and guitars make for a heady experience.

There are songs of packing for the journey (The List) and of having to escape a loveless marriage (Please Mister Agent). However, one of the most poignant songs is The Ticketless Man which tells of those left behind through not being able to afford the ticket to a new life. Rainy Town sings of another left behind who does not envy those who leave for an unknown fate – better to stay with the familiar life that is tried and tested. Two instrumentals show the band and guest musicians in full flow and both  Paddy Fahey’s/Sweel and Tekla’s Tune display the range of talent at play.

Strong storytelling in the traditional folk style and the sweet voice of Jenny Schaub make this a potent listen and the talents of West of Eden are worth investing time in discovering. 

James Houlahan Multitudes Gumbo Luvah

James Houlahan is a singer- songwriter who first came to prominence with bands like Dogs on Television and The Jody Grind around Boston. Now living in Los Angeles, he has released two previous solo albums, Seven Years Now and Misfit Hymns and has a number of recognised session musicians on this collection of 10 songs, including Fernando Perdomo (Jakob Dylan) on bass and Danny Frankel (Lou Reed, kd lang) on percussion. The project was recorded at Veneto West studios in Santa Monica, and was produced by Houlahan and Ronan Chris Murphy (King Crimson, Steve Morse).  

Many of the song arrangements display a leaning towards the eccentric and strange, with the instrumentation somewhat at odds; the drums on the opening murder song Fires of Mercy sound ponderous and a second murder song Marcy’s Lament suffers from noise treatments and vocal distortions. The rock groove of The Rogue Song stands starkly against the gentle folk strum of acoustic guitars on Morning Sun and the ghost/fantasy dreamscape of Mystery Earth Song, the longest track here at almost 7 minutes, contains elements of Mexican brass and strings added to the mix. The country twang of Home shows the direction that this artist could benefit from placing greater focus on, with some neat pedal steel from Erik Kristiansen and sweet violin from Kaitlin Wolfberg.  

The final track is also interesting with the slow strum of Joyful Circuit  and Danny Levin’s horns adding greatly to the overall feel. There are just too many different styles here, which leads to a general feeling of no real direction. 

Carly Dow Ingrained Self Release

This is the first solo release from Canadian artist Carly Dow, who lives in Manitoba. She sings of the environment and our relationship with nature (Too Much to Go Back) in addition to reflecting on matters of the human heart and our ability to endure (Watch it Go). 

She sings with a clear and strong voice that blends perfectly with her acoustic based songs and her banjo and guitar rhythms. From the clap and stomp beginning of Olive Branch and its message of sisterhood, to the bluesy beat of This Dress, there is a confidence flowing through the arrangements and the playing that fits perfect with the overall feel of the project. 

The light jazz groove of Down This Road has some very tasty bass playing from Ashley Au that is complemented by the fine playing of Matt Filopoulos on lap steel and electric guitar. Cello by Julian Bradford on Yours & Mine is beautifully understated and dovetails with lap steel in a reflection on past relationships ;  “I search in the past, where I sometimes live; for the touch, for the brush of a hand”. This is fine writing and plenty to enjoy ona very promising debut.

Mike Jacoby NorthEastSouthWest Self Release

Jacoby is based in Long Beach California and has released his second solo album which takes the title from his birth place in the NorthEast and his current abode in the SouthWest. The album is a self- produced project and Jacoby plays all the instruments on the eleven self-penned songs included here.

 He writes in an American-ish vein, with opening tracks Ready When You Are and Nevermind Me setting the tone with strong beats and a rhythm that sweeps along with attitude. He is clearly a musical talent and his ability to deliver this project single-handed has to be admired and applauded.

There is a country feel to Explaining to Do with its’ swing and swagger and Lay of the Land has a radio friendly groove that will appeal to many. Lie in Bed is a strong track that slows everything down before the driving beat of Where She Goes recalls early 1950s rockabilly.

Thursday
May052016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Lera Lynn  Resistor Resistor

Shape Shifter, the opening track on Lera Lynn’s latest release, announces a radical change in direction. Her previous releases Have You Met Lera Lynn (2012) and Avenues (2014), were brooding folk-tinged Americana with cleverly crafted song writing delivered by Lynn’s distinctive vocal. Resister finds her abandoning her earlier twang and replacing it with a darker mystical psychedelia which approaches territory inhabited by Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter and more recently by St. Vincent. The album is released on her own record label Resister Music, a further indication of an artist intent on maximum control over her own musical destiny. Whatever her motivation on leaving her previous comfort zone, the results are staggering ,with Resistor going places not previously visited by Lynn.

Perhaps her impressive involvement on the True Detective series (the trailer featuring a clip of Lynn performing The Only Thing Worth Fighting For achieved over 35 million views) pointed her in this direction, perhaps her writing with T-Bone Burnett on the series was the catalyst. Lynn has said that writing with Burnett allowed her freedom to experiment with her darker side.

The production duties were shared between Lynn and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange ( Dwight Yoakam, Lionel Ritchie, Victoria Williams, Dixie Chicks and Michelle Shocked;production work for Conor Oberst, Stephen Malkmus and kd lang). All instruments were played by Grange and Lynn.There is so much to savour on the album which has an otherworldly, almost cinematic feel, throughout. Unlike her previous work the vocals aren’t out front but drift around atmospherically.

Slow Motion Countdown is hypnotically dreamlike and intoxicating, bordering on frightening, Cut & Burn is revengeful (I cast my soul into a bullet babe, fine metal for our last dance) with an almost Joy Division like baritone guitar dominating. What you Done recalls late 80’s Marianne Faithfull (You can pluck a rose while wearing sheep’s clothes but you know what you done) and the power poppy Little Ruby closes the album in style.

The sweet’ girl next door’ from Have You Met Lera Lynn (2012) has moved to an entirely darker and seedier neighbourhood. The move may lose her some of her earlier listeners, however  Resistor is likely to expose her to a considerably wider audience and, if given the promotion it richly warrants, should feature in many year-end ‘best of’ lists whether that be in the Americana or Indie categories.

Carter Sampson Wilder Side Continental Song City

Hot on the heels of Margo Prices’ superb Midwest Farmer’s Daughter comes another classic female country album. Carter Sampson has been working, recording and touring relentlessly in recent years without achieving the deserved industry breakthrough. Like Price, Zoe Muth and Elizabeth Cook, Oklahoma born Sampson possesses a glorious country voice which certainly packs a punch on the ten tracks on Wilder Side. Her love of the traditional country queens Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline and fellow Okie Reba Mc Entire is evident throughout the album.

Wilder Side is her fourth album and sees her reunited with producer and multi-instrumentalist Travis Linville who also produced her second album Good ForThe Meantime (2009). Linville plays guitars, Dobro, bass, drums, percussion, banjo and pedal steel. Tulsa Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland, who has gained much acclaim for his latest album High on Tulsa Heat, adds backing vocals. Boasting a musical family legacy that includes Roy Orbison and with music flowing through her veins, Sampson has been experimenting and writing music from the age of fifteen. She founded The Oklahoma City’s Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, offering a formal music education for girls and women.

From the opening and title track Wilder Side (which  Sampson admits is a tribute to her alter ego) through to the  closing track See the Devil Run, much of the album has a breezy  late 70’s country feel to it, uncomplicated, captivating, and conjuring up scenes of road trips on hot, dry, sun drenched highways. A self-confessed lover of travel from an early age, much of the material references movement, freedom and journeying. Medicine River is inspired by Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains;  Holy Mother could be drawn from the Linda Ronstadt songbook and Highway Rider is a sobering road song depicting both the joys and strains of constant career-driven travel. 

Sampson performs on average 220 shows a year and if there is any justice the masterfully crafted Wilder Side will bring her to the attention of a much wider audience both in her home country and Europe.

Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby In America Cabritunes

Recorded in Nashville in the summer of 2015, In America offers seventy minutes of charming folk music in this latest collaboration between Virginia-born singer-songwriter Cathryn Craig and the superlative UK guitarist and ex-member of The Strawbs, Brian Willoughby. This is folk music at its very best, weighted with traditional Celtic influences and including a group of talented musicians in Andy Reiss, Brent Moyer, Mark Fain, Fran Breen, Dennis Bryon, Pat McInerney, Ritchie Bailey and Jeff Taylor. The production duties were undertaken by Thomm Jutz, who also plays on the album.

In America features sixteen tracks, eleven of which are co-writes by Craig and Willoughby. This includes four bonus tracks, two of which acknowledge Craig and Willoughby’s very early career work, his with Mary Hopkin’s Those Were The Days ( Willoughby played guitar) and the Righteous Brothers You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling (recalling Craig’s first venture into the music industry).

The title track tells of immigrant dreams of escaping the potato famine in Ireland for the shores of America (We’re glory bound I am told, Bluest skies and streets of gold in America). A Soft Place to Fall is a thoughtful, sincere and hopeful ballad, written by Craig for her niece. Willoughby’s solo album Black and White (1998) is revisited with The Fire. Bullet, co-written with Bill Mead of The Sharpees fame, bounces along with a catchy chorus.Worth special mention is the delightful artwork and packaging of the album, which includes a twelve page booklet including lyrics and a brief introduction to all the tracks.

In America is perfect listening for a lazy rainy afternoon. The combination of Craig’s wonderful, yet sometimes delightfully vulnerable vocals, Willoughby’s remarkable playing and the many talented contributors, makes the journey from Malahide to Donegal to America both reflective and rewarding.

Thursday
Apr282016

Reviews by Stephen Rapid



Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes in My Head  Silent City

This mini-album opens with a spaghetti western-styled instrumental titled For a Few Dollars Less and thus wears its influences on its sleeve. Guitar and keyboards shoot it out over a galloping rhythm, but it represents one aspect of Los Angeles based Steven Casper, a veteran of several bands before he put his name upfront, along with that of his regular band. They have released several previous EPs, as well as full length albums which attest to Cowboy Angst being a seasoned band.

Casper fronts the four piece, which is largely American/roots orientated, combining elements of country-rock, blues, folk and straight ahead rock. Restless Heart, Maria, Slow Dancing, She’s Bad and Driving Fast are all written by Casper. He has a distinctive voice, full of character which holds attention. The band and producer Ira Ingber have taken a slightly different tack with each song. Maria has strong a Tex-Mex influence with a featured repeated organ riff and conjunto accordion, while Slow Dancing is a piano and slide guitar-lead ballad that exudes a certain tenderness. Driving Fast appears in two versions, first in a Canned Heat style straight-ahead rock riff take and the second version, designated as the “4AM” version, is more acoustic with guitar, accordion and tambourine. It is the song from which the title line comes and shows how easily a song can be adapted to a different setting or mood, and work equally well, depending on how one wants to frame a particular story.

This is an accomplished band led by Casper, whose voice and songs probably have a strong following in California and beyond as their back catalogue attests. Equally they are not making music that hasn’t been heard before or is going to take you by surprise. They are a tight, focussed and talent unit whose songs and performances should guarantee them their place and piece of the pie.

Spicewood Seven Still Mad  Phoebe Claire 

This collective released their debut album in 2006 titled Kakistocracy. They were led by lyricist Luke Powers and Austin musical stalwart Tommy Spurlock and included the likes of Leon Rausch and Garth Hudson in the line up. All four are here with the latter pair appearing together on the song The Magic Bullet. They are joined by the likes of Suzi Ragsdale and a solid rhythm section. The songs are all written by Powers and Spurlock. The latter is the album’s producer and the two handle the vocal on a series of songs that are not without their bite and pose a polemic reaction to their immediate surroundings both personal and political. 

The previous album was rooted in the Bush era. That era may have changed, in terms of the names, but Power and Spurlock still aren’t too happy with what they see, hence the title of this new set of songs. These songs represent a different viewpoint from many in country music, apart from well know dissenters like Steve Earle. The titles pretty much give you an idea of the overriding lyrical themes expressed: I Live with The Devil, Hey Idiot (a song about some sound parental advice), Broke, Dumb It Down as well as the more reasoned and open consideration that People Are Basically Good. The final song The Magic Bullet is a reference to the theory of the single bullet theory associated with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Not normally a subject heard to the backing of a steel guitar-led country band.

Recorded in Nashville, the Spicewood Seven prove themselves to be a united team who play the songs with a conviction that suggests they are all behind the sentiments expressed. The overall sound is edgy country rock, with both Spurlock and Powers handling the vocal duties with ease. The songs are not exactly designed for superficial listening and with no lyric sheet they require engagement to connect with them. Given all that, this will appeal to a certain frame of (open) mind and those who like things a little rough and ready. Let’s hope they’re still mad enough to do another album. No doubt the political climate will provide inspiration in the coming months and years.

Daniel Meade & the Flying Mules  Let Me Off At The Bottom  At the Helm

This is the latest album from the Glasgow singer/songwriter Daniel Meade and is the follow up to the Nashville-recorded, Morgan Jahnig produced album Keep Right Away. It is a tribute to Meade’s regular band; Lloyd Reid, Mark Ferrie and Thomas Sutherland, with guests. It sounds as good as that previous album both in songs and performance. Jahnig was again involved, as he did the mix in Nashville. Otherwise it was recorded in Glasgow.

The rhythm section is tight, Reid is a damn fine guitarist and there is some great piano playing throughout. Meade is an especially convincing vocalist and writer and the whole album could easily have emanated from the Americana community in Austin or East Nashville.

There’s a Ghost Where Her Heart Used to Be and Ghost and Crocodiles have an energy that is contagious. Meade can also keep the pace down as with the regretful “what could have been” He Should’ve Mine where Meade gives a passionate and perfectly suited vocal that fully conveys the emotion in the song. The title track is a cautionary tale about wanting to stay away from the dubious dizzy heights of success, another song that shows just how talented this crew is. That mood of an uncompleted relationship is further enunciated in Leave Me to Bleed, which features a strong guest vocal from Siobhan Wilson. These and other unresolved and unrequited factors of an unhappy life reach a conclusion in the final track of the self-explanatory The Bottle Called for Me 

The overall feel draws from an earlier era which blends hillbilly, swing, blues and folk, but sounds like a living, breathing, hard-kicking iteration of a timeless musical form which might only require water, or something stronger, to grow. Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules have made a very fine album that proves again that the roots of this music lie (partly) in these isles and is as much at home here as it would be in Tennessee.  

The Chapin Sisters Today’s Not Yesterday  Lake Bottom

While male sibling harmonies are fairly prevalent, there are not that many sister duos in recent times. Nieces of the late Harry Chapin, the Chapin sisters, Abigail and Lily, are releasing their 4th full length album. Their previous album was a tribute to the Everlys that didn’t get as much attention as the one by Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong.

The Chapins are dressed for the cover with white dresses and cowboy hats, and the album has a certain country-rock flavour, among other styles. What is foremost is their voices, either singing together in harmony or with one or other taking lead vocal - a very attractive sound it has to be said. The production, with Dan Horne and Jesse Lee, makes effective use of those voices over a layered musical setting that includes keyboards, bass and drums  (Horn and Lee respectively)  as well as pedal steel on three tracks and some judicious use of electric guitar here and there. 

The overall feel is of a slightly dreamy county/folk/pop; a sound that insinuates itself and allows the listener the chance to luxuriate in the music. The sisters have written all 12 songs on the album, with one co-write, and they show skill in that area too. Love Come Back, Autumn, Angeleno, Sleep In, and Waiting are all examples of this. The sound is fairly similar throughout and doesn’t vary a great deal, but that enhances the album nature of the music, where one tracks follows in tone from the next without showing up anything that seems out of place. Today is not yesterday, but tomorrow holds a future for these two talented and visually aware sisters and their music.

Underhill Rose The Great Tomorrow  Self-Release

With The Great Tomorrow the trio of Eleanor Underhill, Molly Rose and Sally Williamson release their latest album of their folk/bluegrass/pop and country infused music. It has ten songs written by the individual members, plus one outside track. It is centred on their vocal harmonies. They usual have one of the trio take the lead vocal, generally the song’s writer, with the others adding close harmonies. 

The country connection is emphasised by Matt Smith’s pedal steel guitar, which is featured prominently, as is Nicky Saunders’ violin. The album’s producer, Cruz Contreras, adds guitar and keyboards to the sound. Williamson plays bass with a drummer to create a solid and effective rhythm section. Undersell and Rose add guitar, banjo which along with the upright bass give the core sound it’s folk and bluegrass centre, around which the other instruments help to embellish the particular song’s mood.

Although all three contribute as solo writers, the overall theme of love and relationships blend together. And while the album plays together well, there are a couple of songs that stand out in terms of immediate connection. They include Rest Easy, which has a livelier pace and is given some distinction by a Dobro. Elliott Wolff’s Straight Up is essentially just the band with a drummer and the stripped back arrangement works well. Not Gonna Worry pairs banjo and steel together and gives the two instruments equal prominence.

The Great Tomorrow should have appeal and it expands from what I imagine is the normal live trio’s acoustic setting. There is nothing too demanding here. It is all very understated and that is both a strength and a weakness. However Underhill Rose will continue to grow the fan base to a listening audience. 

Murder Murder From The Stillhouse  Self-Release

Think along the lines of punk-infused old-time music, Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions and a touch of the Pogues and you might have an approximate idea of what this 6 piece band sound like. They are an Ontario-based acoustic band and this is their second album of original songs, the one exception being a spirited version of Guy Clark’s The Last Gunfighter Ballad.

Three of the band share vocal duties, offering different styles, and they all lead the choruses over rambunctious rhythms and dexterous playing. Some of the songs have an immediate affinity with age-old traditional songs, which is a testament to their commitment to bring life into a style that has been around a long time and needs the occasional kick in the arse. Murder Murder are not the only band doing this by any means, but on their own terms, they may be one of the best.

There are some stand-out performances on the album including the environmentally-themed Where the Water Runs Black. Duck Cove is a song about the sailing life and suggests that these guys could easily play a pirate party. They can also calm things down to good effect on the spiritual quest pondered in When the Lord Calls Your Name. Alberta Oil is a song about an oil worker’s journey through a hard working life to death. The Last Gunfighter Ballad sounds in good hands too with Murder Murder making it sound like a song for the ages.

They sound like a band well worth seeing live and they are touring the UK and Ireland in May. If you can’t make it along, then check this album. It has a lot going for it and while it has precedents it has colour and power. Despite the dark name and intent, the band look pretty colourful in the main picture on their website - maybe to balance out the murder ballads they play. Check them out.

Monday
Apr182016

Reviews by Paul McGee

Matt Andersen Honest Man Self Release

Matt Andersen is an award-winning Canadian blues guitarist who hails from New Brunswick.  He’s been playing his blend of blue-collar folk, electric blues and roots rock for many years. Honest Man, produced in New York with Commissioner Gordon (Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Santana, Quincy Jones), follows the JUNO Award-nominated Weightless and sees Anderson breaking new ground without losing his signature sound. 

Anderson is blessed with a rich gospel/soul voice and here he uses a cast of players that includes Andy Bassford (Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Natalie Merchant), Benji Bouton (Ibibio Sound Machine), Josh David Barret (The Wailers, Lauryn Hill), and Lenny Underwood (Mary J. Blige, Amy Winehouse).  Using beats in the tracking gives the songs a real groove and swing that carries the arrangements along and gives an overall feel of good times had by all in the studio sessions.

The ten songs that make up Honest Man explore both the political and the personal wrapped up by his powerful vocal delivery which is filled with emotion on songs such as Last Surrender and I’m giving In. Let’s Get Back talks about how daily life has changed and the need to be an inclusive and open in society again. Who Are You Listening To? is a call for people to think for themselves and not be swung by a media message. Break Away is a song to remind us that sometimes a change of scenery is all we need. 

With a 2013 European Blues Award, and winning Best Solo Performer at the Memphis Blues Challenge, it appears that the wider world is waking up to Matt Andersen. He has built a fan base through relentless touring and  his reputation has built steadily through word of mouth. This is a fine honest blues record played with style and plenty of heart. It comes recommended and this artist is certainly one to watch.

Gem Andrews Vancouver Self Release

Andrews was born in Liverpool and is currently based in Berlin. This is her second release, which  has its roots in the time she spent in Vancouver learning her craft of song-writing and performance. Vancouver is produced by Martin Stephenson, who also plays and adds harmonies on several tracks. The songs are very much in the folk tradition and conjure up images of lost innocence and the disappointment that life can bring. 

Andrews has assembled a fine band of musicians, with the fiddle playing of Bernard Wright particularly prominent, which adds real colour to the arrangements with some atmospheric melody lines. Her voice is clear and strong as she delivers songs about family memories (Your Father’s Diary), lack of hope (Dead Weight) ageing and role-reversal (Mother Dear), longing (Crimson Tide) and broken relationships (Please Forget Me/ Ten Thousand More). She also covers the McGarrigle’s Heart like a Wheel. The production is airy and bright throughout which gives us an album that is full of excellent interplay and gentle reflections.   

Jason Rosenblatt Wiseman’s Rag Self Release

This is an intersting take on roots, blues and early jazz, featuring producer, pianist, vocalist and harmonica player, Jason Rosenblatt, one of the world’s foremost harmonica innovators. On his latest recording, Wiseman's Rag, Jason returns to his blues roots. With touches of Jelly Roll Morton, Robert Johnson, Paul Butterfield and Professor Longhair, Jason's all original repertoire of blues, jazz and ragtime compositions are gritty but performed with good humour. The players are Jason Rosenblatt (harmonica, piano, vocals, B3), Joe Grass (guitar), Joel Kerr (bass) andEvan Tighe (drums). 

Ken Dunn & Gypsy Starfish The Great Unknown Self Release

Ken Dunn plays with a finger style acoustic guitar technique and performs either solo, with partner Anna Green, or the band Gypsy Starfish.  These songs are firmly based in the folk tradition. This CD won Best Americana Album for February 2016 at the Akademia Music Awards in Los Angeles, and the music is both undemanding and classic in composition. Dunn has been releasing music since the early 1990’s and has built a reputation for original and thoughtful song arrangements. 

Cross of Lorraine has some lovely interplay between Tyler Beckett on fiddle and Keira McArthur on cello, while the harmony vocals of Anna Green are always complementary and fit gently into the melody. Fukushima Nightmares has a nice groove with the guitar of Dean Drouillard supported by the attractive keyboards of Drew McIvor. Equally Shifting Sand has a quiet groove that rewards repeated listening and the title track is a gentle tribute to a performer’s life and is an insight into the price that is paid for the perceived freedom of the open road. Again the fiddle playing of Tyler Beckett is a standout feature as on many other tracks here.  

Tiny Toy Cars Falling, Rust & Bones Self Release

Tiny Toy Cars feature mandolin, violin, banjo, guitar and upright bass, so there is an expectation that bluegrass and old time rhythm will be the order of the day. However, add a high level of instrumental virtuosity from violinist Martin St-Pierre, guitarist Andrew Chute, bassist Brian Burns, plus the drumming of Aaron Guidry and the song writing of Peter Fand ( mandolins and voice) and an unexpected image begins to emerge. 

Traditional West African music mixes with roots based Americana music and lends the songs an intriguing slant. Indie Americana with a twist; this band has members from Cirque du Soleil and display both great song writing and a keen eye for cutting edge arrangements and melodies. Tracks such as Rapture and Hell, Do Everything You Can before you’re Dead, Down on the Bowery and Addicted To You build into a compelling release. Think Mumford and Sons meets Old Crow Medicine Show and Tiny Toy Cars is the next chapter in a genre with roots in traditional music, but with a firm vision for the future.

Text editing by Sandy Harsch

Thursday
Apr072016

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Various Artists Country to Country (Volume 2) Hump Head

Compilation album in support of the recent Country 2 Country tour of the UK and Ireland (See Lonesome Highway Live Reviews). The album includes twenty tracks by artists who featured on the tour including  household names on the US country circuit for decades Dwight Yoakam Man Of Constant Sorrow and Lori McKenna The Time I’ve Wasted, both still sounding as vital as ever.

The standout tracks on the album are perhaps those contributed by female artists, in particular American Idol winner Carrie Underwood Smoke Break, Ashley Munroe On To Something Good, Miranda Lambert Automatic and Kacey Musgraves with High Time. Chris Stapleton also does his gender proud with Traveller - the title track from his CMA award winning album.

The album certainly highlights the contrast in music styles being marketed today as “country". Purists may very well bemoan the lack of fiddle, banjo and steel guitar on the majority of the offerings on the recordings. The thorny issue of what actually represents true country music today comes to mind when considering a number of the artists represented. Contemporary Country, bordering on Country/Pop in many cases, is well represented by artists such as Luke Bryan, David Nail, Frankie Ballard and Sam Hunt. 

Emerging singer-songwriter Andrew Comb’s offering Nothing To Lose recalls a young Glen Campbell whereas UK duo The Shires contribution All Over Again is closer in sound to The Corrs than country. Also featured on the album are Dierks Bentley, Kip Moore, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Callaghan, Old Dominion and Maddie & Tae. With twenty artists represented there is something to savour on this album both for purists and for the punter that prefers their country music a tad sugar-coated.

Matt Patershuk  I Was So Fond Of You  Black Hen

There appears to be an endless supply of hugely talented Canadian singer-songwriters emerging in recent years. Ryan Boldt, Jim Bryson, Kathleen Edwards, Kendal Carson, Luke Doucet, Frazey Forde, immediately come to mind in this context, artists unfortunately unlikely to achieve the commercial recognition they richly deserve. Matt Patershuk, on the basis of this delightful offering, is yet another Canadian to richly impress.

I Was So Fond Of You follows Patershuk’s debut, the Western Canada Music Awards nominated Outside the Lights of Town released in 2013. This album is a collection of eleven songs, in the main dedicated to his sister Clare, tragically killed by a drunk driver in 2013. It’s an album that has the listener immediately seeking out the lyrics to some beautifully written songs from the understated title track to the equally moving and saddening Prettiest Ones.

Equally impressive is the quality of the musicianship throughout. Fiddle, banjo, accordion, mandolin and guitar are contributed by Nashville resident and one of America’s finest, Fats Kaplin. Gary Craig adds drums and percussion, with backing vocals, to beautiful effect, by Ana Egge, an extremely talented singer-songwriter in her own right. The album was produced by Juno Award Winner Steve Dawson who also adds some elegant steel guitar throughout and was recorded at Dawson’s Henhouse Studio in Nashville 

Sounding decades beyond his years (elder statesmen Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker come to mind) Patershuk’s baritone vocals throughout cannot be described as melodic but are controlled, disciplined and magically suited to his lyrics. Melancholy may be the overriding tone of the album yet it’s not without humour.  Pep The Cat Murdering Dog tells the tale of Pep the Labrador sentenced to life without parole by a State Governor for killing his wife’s cat and Burnin’ the Candle is straight down the middle honky tonk. 

Despite these lighter moments it is the material dealing with its core subject that remain with the listener. The previously mentioned and understated title track, the wonderful Tennessee Warrior ( his lines weren’t straight but his heart was true, papa said girl he was meant for you) relating to a horse owned by Patershuk’s sister and the evocative Prettiest Ones standing out in particular. 

Noteworthy also is the striking packaging and artwork on I Was So Fond Of You which is better described as a sharing of thoughts by Patershuk than simply an album. Highly recommended indeed.

Shane Joyce An Introduction Self Release

Briefly fleeing the nest from his duties as lead singer and frontman with The Midnight Union Band, this five track mini-album emphasises the song writing ability of Joyce, whose career kicked off not so many years ago busking on the streets of Kilkenny.

Making no apologies for his love in particular of the heavyweight songwriters Dylan, Cohen and Van Morrison the main focus on the five songs  is on the lyric with the vocal always out in  front in the recordings. Opening track Blame tells of unrequited and lost love in Leonard Cohen fashion with a simple hum along chorus. The Same Old Song is a modern day protest song (‘’ pretty soon they will tax you just for living in your skin’’) a reflection, written from the heart, of the profound difficulties for survival in an austerity driven environment 

Those Who Pay The Rent, the absolute  standout track on the album and also released as a single by Joyce last year, is a beautifully constructed piece of music, perfectly paced an including some heavenly  harmonies aided  by Jan Ramsbottom. Again, very obviously, Leonard Cohen influenced but also delivered in an individualistic style quite recognisable from Joyces’ work with The Midnight Union Band. 

Peter Flynn and John Wallace from The Midnight Union Band contribute guitar, bass, piano and drums with acoustic guitar on the album, with harmonica and Hammond organ from Joyce. 

Where Joyce particularly excels is in his live performances as punters who have enjoyed The Midnight Union Band gigs will be aware of.  He is a confident frontman, who possesses the required intensity and natural ability to immediately engage his audience - not always an easy task. I certainly look forward to hearing the songs from this most impressive debut solo effort live in the near future and if he can continue to create music as imposing as Those Who Pay The Rent then the sky is the limit for this young man.

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones Little Windows Cooking Vinyl

What do you get when you mix UK music royalty with Californian power pop? An outstanding result on the basis of this delightful collaboration between Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones. The combined vocals on all ten original compositions are heavenly with the lead melodies being shared between both artists.  

Interestingly only one of the songs clocks in at over three minutes and recalls an era when such beautifully countrified rock and roll music was aired regularly on daytime radio performed by musical dignitaries such as the Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. Thompson and Jones first sang together at LA’s Club Largo in 2011, performing a George Jones song and sowing the seeds for Little Windows. The songs were subsequently written and developed while Jones resided in LA and Thompson in New York.

Having recorded five solo albums to date Thompson, the son of the legendary Richard and Linda Thompson, Little Windows is the first collaborative venture that Thompson has pursued, following in the same vein in terms of two part vocal harmonies as those perfected by his parents and indeed by his sister Kami and her husband James Walbourne (The Rails).

Jones, for her part, has recorded with Daniel Lanois  Buddy Miller and Brian Blade during her musical career which has seen her move from her childhood residence on a Washington horse farm to Nashville via Manhattan and finally to LA where she presently lives. 

The collection of musicians who contribute are household names within roots music circles and  include guitarist Steve Elliot, Ryan Adams keyboard player Daniel Clarke, Davey Farragher of Cracker, John Hiatt and The Imposters fame on bass and Pete Thomas of The Attractions (Elvis Costello) on drums. The album was recorded live to an analog 16 track tape machine by Mike Viola. Linda Thompson acted as executive producer.

Stand out tracks are the opener Never Knew You Loved Me Too, which would hold its own on any Everly Brothers album, Don’t Remind Me which enters Emmylou and Gram sacred ground and Make A Wish On Me the highlight being some captivating keyboard playing by Daniel Clarke.

At 26 minutes the album is regrettably on the short side but given the absolute quality on offer sometimes less is more.