Sunday
Mar292015

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Sunday
Mar292015

Yvette Landry 'Me & T-Coe’s Country' - Soko

For her latest album Yvette Landry has distilled her music down to the purest elements of traditional country; voice, guitar and pedal steel. Added to that is the fact that the acclaimed songwriter has chosen to mostly cover some of her favourite songs. It is a testament to her seeking for truth of the music that she manages to make these often iconic songs feel very much her own. You can’t dismiss the version that have already become ingrained in your memory banks, rather the simplicity of the setting give them a new perspective.

Landry’s unique voice is full of passion, pain and perception. It soars above the simplicity of the arrangements. Kudos too to Richard Comeaux’s steel playing which is a major part of the musical impact, along with Landry’s voice. Comeaux has been a part of Landry’s musical band for some time and clearly understand her vision. The duo setting allows him full reign to display his many skills over the entire album rather than coming to the fore with a brief solo or atmospheric playing that a full band setting often dictates.

The songs include Tennessee Waltz, I Fall to Pieces, Together Again and Misery Loves Company. The latter a dissertation of the memory of love lost that comes from the pen of Jerry Reed and clocks in at over six minuets. Voice and steel guitar jointly explore the anguish in way that underlines the real nature of raw regret. There are three songs associated with Hank Williams Senior (Cold, Cold Heart, Hey Good Looking and Bucket’s Got A Hole in It), another artist who understood how to turn human nature into a heart-wrenching vocal. There are songs from Foghorn Stringband’s Caleb Klauder (Can I Go Home with you?) as well as two from Landry (Together, Forever and Memories Of Clelia) along with the classic covers. These both sound and feel at home with the other songs.    

The way they perform the songs soon makes you forget that there are only two players featured on the album. On the bonus closing track (I’m leaving it Up to You) Landry is joined by a full band on a more bluesy take and the male vocal is front and centre providing alternate verses with Landry. The nature of the album gets inside these songs and deconstructs them back to the foundations of the emotions that the songs were built upon. No mean feat when you’re up against the originals recording - and countless other versions in some cases. There have been quite a number of albums in recent times where singers have gone back to the songs that first drew them to real country music. The success of these has been varied, but this album deserves to be heard. It is not a stopgap, but rather an affirmation of why this person is as good as she is. And she is. 

Sunday
Mar292015

Elliott Murphy 'Aquashow Deconstructed'- Last Call

Some forty years after Aquashow’s original release on Polydor, Elliott Murphy has reconsidered the songs he originally wrote in his early twenties. Now in his mid 60s he revisits these song from a different time and emotional viewpoint. The album was produced by his son Gaspard, who is now the same age as Murphy was when the album was released. Elliot’s voice is tinged with the wisdom (or lack of it) that age brings and the music is still compelling. The songs are in the same order and delivered in similar keys and tempos. Anyone acquainted with the album will be more than happy to revisit its charms - like a old friend come to visit. 

Aquashow has long been out of print and my vinyl version has been lost in the mists of time, so this release is welcome. It opens with Last of the Rockstars with that familiar opening line and plaintive harmonica. Though titled as Deconstructed the father and son duo have given each song a new setting. Guitar and piano are central, as is the harmonica with added contributions from long time collaborator Olivier Durand as well as percussion, keyboards and strings and you have a full sounding album. At times there is a surfeit of emotion to be heard as in How’s the Family which considers that uniquely strange unit. 

Then there are songs from which the album drew upon literary sources such as Like a Great Gatsby. Marilyn is a paean to the ill-fated screen goddess Monroe. White Middle Class Blues could be a song that might be the lyrical template for the origins of aspects of late 70s hard rock and punk. The album closes with Don’t Go Away which seems like a renewed plea for love delivered with more hope than realism. These ten songs have stood the test of time and Murphy continues to make albums that matter. He deserves to be more than a footnote in the long forgotten “new Bob Dylan” sweepstakes; rather Murphy was always his own man and one who found, if not fame, then at least an attentive audience in France where henow lives and works. He may not be the last of the rockstars, but he is one who has lasted.

Sunday
Mar292015

The Foghorn Stringband 'Devil in the Seat' - Self Release

From the get-go this is an album full of both devilment and musical dexterity. The quartet play string band music as distinct from bluegrass and they do so with purpose. They draw from a myriad of sources and come together from different backgrounds to play these largely traditional sourced songs, though they name the version that inspired them in the credits. There are 16 songs featured which have titles that suggest their lyrical inspiration like Stillhouse, Mining Camp Blues, Jailbreak and such standards as Columbus Stockade Blues, Henry Lee, John Hardy and Pretty Polly.

This seasoned quartet (Caleb Klauder, Stephen Lind, Reeb Willms and Nadine Landry) all put their collective hearts into the delivery of these songs. All take their turn at the microphone and blend their voices in something of an uplifting salutation. There is sadness, murder, misery and mayhem at the heart of many of these songs but all are honest, rough and ready and uplifting. They speak of the human spirit and come from the crossroads of American music. These songs came from many countries, many climates and many a campfire. These are songs to be played at the end of a hard day to raise the spirit, to show that there are those who may have had it worse and you can find sympathy with a fellow sufferer, even if that person was born many moons ago.

The Foghorns are acknowledged masters of their instruments, mighty vocalists and true explores of the past, as well as futurists by bringing these songs to a contemporary audience. The devil may be in the seat but that’s because he wants you to get up and dance.

Sunday
Mar292015

Danny Schmidt 'Owls' - Live Once

Although he has released some seven previous solo albums, this is my first encounter with Danny Schmidt and if Owls is anything to go by that is my loss. It is a song that the writer says explores the myriad of relationships but more in a more non-direct  existential way. His site has commentary for each song for those who wish to explore further. For now let’s consider the music on offer here.  The album was produced by David Goodrich, who, with Schmidt has given these songs both depth and worth. Recorded in Texas, it employs some skillfull players who included Goodrich himself on guitars and piano as well Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and trio of harmony vocalists, among them Carrie Elkin, with whom Schmidt has previously recorded an album. 

As is often the case with an artist with a proven track record, the album was funded via Kickstarter and all can feel that their money was well spent. The immediate standout is Faith Will Always Rise, a song that tries to have an understanding of something powerful but intangible. It is the sort of song that could find a wide audience if it was placed before them. Girl with Lantern Eyes opens the album in a understated way with a beautiful interplay between the male and female vocal on a song that considers the one who opens to reach out but inevitably reaches inwards instead. There is a subtly to the music with it losing any of its inherent grit and gleam. Recorded, for the most part, live in the studio it has the energy that that process allows. That is then tempered with a sensitivity and lightness of touch that highlights the lyrical and studied nature of Schmidt’s writing. These are songs that more between indie folk and a more robust Americana. 

In the end it comes down to the sound that emerges from the speakers and this is one that encompasses the whole room and draws you into its centre. It reveals a more with each play and familiarity makes it an album to which you can return often. Danny Schmidt is a singer/songwriter who should be making inroads into the consciousness that embraced the likes of Josh Ritter. This is music that has been made for the man himself and those who his music has touched, and if it remains well under the radar it is nonetheless a success on its own terms regardless of sales. It is the full package and hopefully the album that could take Schmidt up to another level. There is not a weak track here. Check it out - that would be a wise decision.