Wednesday
Oct222014

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

Wednesday
Oct222014

Joni Harms 'Live - From Oregon to Ireland' - Harms Way

This is a double album recorded in Moate, Co Westmeath by noted singer and songwriter Joni Harms. She is well supported by the Sheerin Family Band who give a solid performance throughout and demonstrate their ability to play country music straight, no chaser. The various members of the family perform in their own right as well as backing other performers. This album came about when Tom Sheerin asked Harms to come to Ireland to sing at his parents 50th wedding anniversary which resulted in this live 22 track album. It comes with the atmosphere of a live show with intros, comments and audience all left in. This shows Harm’s warm outgoing personality and that she is a very good singer and writer of traditional country songs. She had a hand in writing all but one of the songs, The Only Thing Bluer than His Eyes which was a top twenty single from her debut album. As it was her first album she had been given outside songs to record, but that changed with later albums and now she co-writes her own songs.

Harms had been signed to both Capitol and WarnerWestern in her career,  but now releases her albums on her Harms Way label. She now, when she not recording or touring, works her family ranch in Oregon and that allows her to record the material and get the sound she wants without have  label interference. The music on this album comes from various points in her career and culminates in the title song which finds the band in traditional Irish mode which shows the versatility of the musicians. This move into a different style is effective, but might have paled if it had been used on more than the one track. Then again I’m sure there are many listeners who would have liked a whole album in that style. The first encore find Harms back on stage to deliver a solo song I Want to Sing for You, which shows she can hold an audience with just voice and guitar. The final track is titled Let’s Put the Western Back in the Country and it does that just that in a lively uptempo western swing mode. Joni Harms feels as at home on the Moate stage as she would back in Oregon and this album captures the occasion just beautifully. 

Wednesday
Oct222014

The Henry Girls 'Louder Than Words' - Beste 

This talented Donegal trio of the McLaughlin sisters fits neatly into a broad Americana/roots Irish musical mix. The girls’ harmony vocals are given a strong musical base that sees them joined by a bunch of respected players including producer Calum Malcolm, Nick Scott on bass, Liam Bradley on drums and Ted Ponsonby on acoustic and resonator guitar, among others.

The  majority of the songs are also written by the sister and these include such strong songs as James Monroe and Here Beside Me. The latter features just the voices and Hammond organ and gives the song a different sound that is nonetheless a very effective and appealing album closing track. One of the two non-originals is Bruce Springsteen’s Reason to Believe. Their version uses, as do many of the songs, the distinctive harp playing of sister Joleen. Sisters Karen and Lorna also play fiddle, ukulele and accordion respectively, but all bring their vocal skills to the fore. The trio alternate lead vocals throughout,  with the other two adding the harmony and chorus singing. So Long but Not Goodbye is the other outside choice. It has a 50s style vocal over fiddle and brushed drums and highlights the different influences brought to bear on the album.

They make the blending of their voices seem effortless, but it is that almost uncanny way that siblings are able to bring their voices together to create something that goes beyond just technique to create something so special. That they also write the bulk of the own material further emphasises their talent and in the end the music will speak for them louder than any words. Having said that, they package the music in a very attractive way, better than many a big label and that speaks volumes about commitment.

Wednesday
Oct222014

Parker Millsap 'Self-Titled' - Okrahoma

The debut album of this Oklahoma born singer shows a singer/songwriter with an outlook far beyond his years. He wasn’t even 21 when he released this album. There are religious and old time overtones in his outlook, even if they are about moving on and finding his own worldview away from his Pentecostal upbringing. The opening songs Old Time Religion and Truck Stop Gospel are the sort of dissertation on faith you might have found in Sixteen Horsepower and their frontman David Eugene Edwards. The songs have a strong, compelling and tightly delivered sound that finds multi-instrumentalist Millsap joined by drums, bass, fiddle and brass on several songs. Producer Wes Sharon has got it pretty much right throughout.

From the ballad The Villain, which is stripped back to bass, acoustic guitar and fiddle the music is countered by the clatter and claustrophobia of the aforementioned Truck Stop Gospel and the song’s God-fearing Christian on fire. Elsewhere there is a bluesy feel to When I Leave, which is underlined by plaintive harmonica. Quite Contrary takes a similar path and builds from the guitar intro to something bolstered by bass and electric guitar under Millsap’s fevered vocal. The rhythm section brings the drive and weight into these songs which are as much contemporary folk and country/blues as much as anything. Suffice to say that although many of the songs are taken at a similar pace, the strength of the lyrics and Millsap’s voice hold your attention and make you realise you are in at the start of what should be, with any justice, a long and fruitful career. 

The ten self-written songs here are testament to that. I find new favourites each time I listen to the album, but I also realise how the whole album works as piece and it should be heard as that. If Millsap further explores the fundamentals of his religious upbringing, or if his experiences give him a different perspective, there is no doubting his perception and expressive way with words. His is a voice that resonates with feeling. 

Wednesday
Oct222014

The Stray Birds 'Best Medicine' - Yep Roc

This folk/bluegrass trio have been refining their music since they first released an EP in 2010. This, their second full length album is their first for the Yep Roc label. Best Medicine features the sensitive playing and tight harmonies that have built their excellent reputation and adds to it with 10 new original songs and two traditional songs. Of there own songs there are immediately some songs that stand out like Feathers & Bone, The Bells, Simple Man and Might Rain. It is a craft that they are continuing to explore and find their place with. Their last EP Echo Sessions had the advantage of featuring a set of cover songs written by the likes of Townes van Zandt, the Louvin Brothers and Jimmie Rodgers, songs that have stood the test of time. These new songs show that they are developing their skills and these song will easily bear repeated listening.

The trio of Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven and Charles Muench are a self contained unit with strong vocals that see them alternating lead vocals with the others bringing their harmonies to bear on making the song special. The Stray Birds are also multi-instrumentalists, playing fiddle, guitar, piano, banjo, resonator and bass between them. They have co-produced the album with Stuart Martin which has a sound that is born of experience and progression.

Who’s Gonna Shoe shows how they can breathe new life into a traditional song and make it theirs as they have shown they can do with more recently written outside songs. They bring a directness and honesty to the way the deliver a song. Finding the essence of each song is something that they have managed from the start. So what it comes down to in the end is to connect with a larger audience in the long term, something  that working with a label like Yep Roc should prove valuable. Undoubtedly their music is “the best medicine they sell”.