Reviews by Paul McGee

Chuck Brodsky 'Tell Tale Heart' - Self Release

If folk music was to appoint an ambassador for the 21st Century, then the song-writing style of Chuck Brodsky would be its’ finest example and brightest star. For many years Brodsky has been releasing superbly crafted songs that champion the struggles of everyman and he has honed his craft in communicating a message of compassion, mixed with a keenly observant eye with both a wicked sense of humour and irony.

This is release number 11 in a career that began in 1998, and his ability to turn a telling phrase has never been sharper. Chuck often writes in a narrative style and this produces highly entertaining and perceptive songs, populated by colourful characters and references.

Brodsky muses on the joys of the internet and Facebook (2000 Friends), preferences in women (I Used to Fall), the loneliness of pride (What Good Did It Do?),the Irish Famine (New Shoes for Tom Guerin), and racism (The Handshake) about the first coloured player to play in baseball’s major leagues. He further deals with corporate greed and political hubris (Not a Single Shot), the Jewish migration from Denmark to Sweden in WW2 (A Dane Was a Dane), the passing of a life (Rachel’s Guitar), a forgotten baseball player (Splinter Cheeks Johnson) and the joys of SatNav (My British Emily). Brodsky is always right on point in his keen observations and plays with a melodic style that breathes real life into these songs. 

The musicians on the record include Doug Pettibone on guitars, Steve Wickham on fiddle, Chris Rosser on piano, organ and mandolin with Brandon Bush on drums. Chuck Brodsky deserves a higher profile and a seat at the great-songwriter table. Why not start here?  

Andrea Zonn 'Rise' - Compass Records

If support players were given due credit for their roles in shaping the careers of innumerable headline artists, then the world might be a place where fairness reigned. Many such talents go sadly unrecognised, none more so than Ms. Andrea Zonn.

Look for her name on numerous releases as a fiddle player par excellence and note that she has graced the music of artists such as James Taylor, Vince Gill, Mickey Newbury, Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Keb' Mo' and Neil Diamond.

On this self- produced collection she has very much stepped up and delivered a project of real quality. Andrea has a very expressive voice, both sweet and clear. Here taking the lead role, she performs with consummate ease. She moves gracefully from the light jazz swing of Another Swing and a Miss, into the gospel tinged blues of Rise and on to the gentle folk-tinged Ships. The production is really excellent with lovely harmonies and melodies populating the arrangements.

Whether dealing with true love (Another Side of Home / No Reason to Feel Good / You Make Me Whole), the fear of isolation and loneliness (Crazy If You Let It), nurturing children to grow and lead independent lives (Let Them Go), support through a personal crisis (I Can’t Talk About It Now), the ten songs are delivered with great compassion and vision, touching on the transience and vagaries of life but always within the knowledge that the morning brings renewed hope.

The musicians are top drawer, with a rhythm section of Willie Weeks on bass and Steve Gadd on drums. Guitarists Thomm Jutz, Bryan Sutton and Jim Oblon add colour on various tracks and John Jarvis on piano andorgan plays with great fluency. Zonn’s own beautiful fiddle lines are ever present, whether subtly supporting the song or leading from the front, always with a resonance that lingers.

James Taylor sings harmony on the excellent You Make Me Whole and Vince Gill, Keb Mo, Jerry Douglas, Alison Brown, Sam Bush and Mac McNally also make cameo appearances on various tracks. This is a very mature and fully realised project that delivers on all counts.

Pete Kennedy 'Gotham City' - Self Release

Metropolis is New York in the daytime and Gotham City is New York at night, if you are to believe the fiction writers. Some see Gotham City as "New York below 14th Street, from SoHo to Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Little Italy, Chinatown, and the sinister areas around the base of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges”.

No matter how you view it, New York is a magical city that is steeped in myth and wonder. So, here we have New York resident and accomplished musician Pete Kennedy paying homage to the streets he walks and the influences that shape his life there.

As a band, The Kennedys, Pete and wife Maura, have forged a reputation as one of the best proponents of American folk music currently on the circuit. Since their debut release in 1995 they have consistently raised the bar of excellence in all that they do.

Pete Kennedy is a wonderful musician who usually plays acoustic & electric guitars, sitar, bass and ukulele. However, on this self- produced set of 13 songs, he plays everything to be heard and carries it all off with a real aplomb. There is plenty of jangling guitar work that is reminiscent of the Byrds (Harken) and there are arrangements that hint at Springsteen in both theme and tempo (The Bells Rang; Gotham Serenade).

New York, Union Square and Williamsburg Bridge are given their own tunes and Riot in Bushwick has a Dave Edmonds groove that slips and slides out of the speakers. The song Asphodel visits the mythical flower that is associated with the dead and the underworld and Unbreakable pays tribute to the Irish Emigrants who arrived to shape much of the city - “and they dug this city out of rock”.Never Stopped Believin’ appears to be an autobiographical look back through the mirror of Pete’s youth and the personal journey that has seen him arrive at his own Mecca.

As he sings on the song New York – “The city is one great soul that enfolds us and makes us whole”. This release is a fitting tribute to the pulse of an iconic city and a very fine solo effort from this talented artist.

Maura Kennedy 'Villanelle' - Self Release

Villanelle, he title of this collaboration between musician Maura Kennedy and author/poet  B.D. Love is defined as a highly structured nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. Hmm, sounds very high-brow indeed.

Maura asked B.D. Love to send her original poetry, anything from free verse to structured compositions. She then set about putting these words to music. So, rhythm and phrasing had to follow the poetic image, rather than the other way around making this a most interesting project and one that offered a great challenge.

The fifteen songs here run for almost an hour, so Maura cannot be accused of cutting back on her daunting task. However, the listening can be a little exhausting and perhaps a few of the tracks could have been saved for a further project, Villanelle Part II?

Singing the words of another writer is never easy and to put belief and passion into the vocal is essential if the songs are to come to life. Maura Kennedy’s beautiful voice and crystal clear tone win the day and the fact that these songs are not her own becomes a non-issue.

Standout tracks are Bicycles with Broken Spokes, which reflects on young love grown cold, I Cried to Dream Again which speaks of unrequited love, Be the One, which deals with the urge to protect a lover and Borrowed Dress, a memoir from an immigrant worker to her distant daughter.

Father to the Man is a family memoir of the role of a parent and I’ll Be Alone Tonight is an acoustic blues to the feeling of loneliness. Breathe Deeply Love will surely become a classic wedding song of the future with its unashamed paean to eternal union and deep commitment.

Engineered and mixed by Maura, with the assistance of her husband Pete Kennedy, the entire project is delivered with style. Pete plays guitars, bass, banjo, mandolin and drums  among other instruments,  while Maura  provides guitar, ukulele, glockenspiel, bass and percussion, in addition to all vocals.

The final track, Beneath the Mistletoe is a light jazz swing that heralds the Christmas season of goodwill to all men. So, a chocolate box full of goodies with something for everyone; a pioneering work with much to recommend it and full marks to the talented Maura Kennedy in pulling it all together. 


Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Dennis Ellsworth 'Romantic As It Gets' - Busted Flat 

Love is at the heart of Canadian singer/songwriter Dennis Ellsworth’s latest (fourth) album. Romantic as it Gets is produced by David Barbe and has a drifting sound carried by Matt Stoessel’s pedal steel over a solid rhythmic base supplied by Barbe and drummer Seth Hendershot. Add Thayer Sarrano on keyboards and Ellsworth himself on guitars and thoughtful vocals andf the album is complete. The mood is gentle, reflective and, indeed, romantic. Songs like Stay True and Full Moon Blues. Ghosts Of Love is a song with a melancholy mood and features an effective backing vocal from Sarrano who has released music in her own right.

This music is partly summed up by the alt-country label of some years back. The pedal steel helps that association, though Ellsworth is not honky-tonk singer. His music needs a gentler ear to take in it’s decided worth. Though in a song like Mercy Doll the band pick up the beat, but not in a way that raises sweat. Instead they bring a sense of energy which posits the truth that “no one is ready for loneliness”. Perhaps the overall mood can be summed up by the song Beauty is Sad from which the line for title comes.

The album finishes with Dancing All Alone where the singer wonders “do you still belong to me?”.  Romantic as It Gets is full of these questions and the answers may come from the music, but mainly from Ellsworth’s mostly self-written songs and his effective vocals. Throughout he is backed by a band and producer with whom he has worked before and who fully understand him and his songs. Recording in Athens, Georgia has given this music a sense of time and place that makes his Ellsworth’s latest album a understated gem.

Woody Pines 'Woody Pines' - Muddy Roots

Mr. Pines appears on the cover of the latest album to bear his name. His music is a continued exploration of the acoustic hillbilly, country blues, vaudeville and jugband that has long been associated with his work. This time there is the mix of covers and originals that he integrates to a point where they fit seamlessly together. Here Pines surrounds himself with a cutting crew who add to the music’s wide range and includes some fine guitar picking, upright bass, fiddle, harmonica, piano, electric autoharp and percussion.

As befits the man with his name on the cover, a lot of these are played by Woody himself. His two main accomplices are Skip Frontz Jr on upright bass and Brad Tucker on guitar and vocals. But what really matters is that the eleven tracks entertain, enthuse and enrich in their delivery from the foot tapping Nashville Boogie and the jazzy take on Irving Berlin’s My Walking Stick. The Mississippi  Sheiks’ number Make it to The Woods has a sense of latent criminality, while Little Stella Blue is a quite song for a lady friend. The closing Worth the Game is stripped back to just Pines’ voice, guitar and atmospherics on a song that considers that “life’s a gamble, but it worth the game”.

There is an old soul in Woody Pines who, with his commanding voice and overriding sensibilities, breathes life into the music which has it’s roots at the beginning of the last century but is well presented for this one. Those already acquainted with the music of Woody Pines will very much enjoy this new collection of song, while newcomers could well find themselves enthralled of his effusive Americana.

The Rosellys  'The Granary Sessions'- Clubhouse

This is another band to add to the list of those who add creditability to those making original roots-orientated music in the UK and Ireland. The band is led by Dr Rebecca and Simon Rosellys. They are accompanied by fellow members Drew Bridges on drums, Bob Lane and bass and Allan Kelly on pedal steel and resonator. The latter ups the country music quotient overall and what is, at times, a blend of folk rock, indie and roots influences, or ‘British Americana’ as they label it on their website.

Rebecca and Simon Rosellys are the songwriters and they have turned out some well crafted stories of travel, travail and temptation. Although from Bristol, many of the songs appear to come from observations made during their wide ranging touring. A Thousand Miles, Maryland, Asheville 1784 are all songs of people and  places a long way from Bristol. They actually address the subject in Red, White and Blue where the question “why don’t you sing about your country” is one they seemed to have been asked, and to which they reply that the “streets of grey might show you where I was born, but to the black tops of Texas I belong.” Whatever the inspiration or the location, the end result is well executed and easy to like.

Label mates and major influence the Redlands Palomino Company have been a source of encouragement and more, with members Hannah and Alex Elton-Wall appearing as guest players, with the latter also serving as co-producer with the Rosellys. The additional guests add piano, double bass and cello to a couple of tracks. This gives the sound a rounded and diverse feel topped by the shared vocals of the Rosellys,  both of whom take the lead on certain songs and also harmonise together. They handle both tasks with clarity and conviction. The Granary Sessions is the band’s third album and it is evident that they can only get better, but that this is a good place to get acquainted.

Mark Brown 'Skin & Bone' - Self Release

Mark Brown has a  sound that kinda reminds me of those Texas albums that bring a lot of strands together under one roof. This is the type of thing that Gurf Morlix might be involved in. Brown’s new album is a diverse and distinguished set of songs from a voice that commands attention with its rough and tumble tone, a tone that suggest that Brown has seen and experienced a thing or two and is happy to divulge his thoughts and emotions. There are 14 songs on Skin & Bone and they are full of hard rhythm and extramural sounds that weave in and out of the overall backing track.

The album opens with Brown’s voice sitting on top of a strident banjo motif, some distorted guitar and hard percussion. It set the listener up for something a little out of the ordinary and a long way from the honky-tonks. From then on Dean Jones (credited with recording the album along with Ken McGloin) is featured on keyboards, trombone and “other noise making devices”. The guests include Mike Merenda on banjo. Pooch Fishcetti on pedal steel with vocal contributions from Eli McNamara, Kendall Jane Meade and Wayne Montecalvo. Montecalvo also adds fiddle and musical saw on a couple of tracks.

There are occasions like Smashed and Hatchet Man where Brown conjures the jukebox ghost of Johnny Cash - during a bar-room fight in the former case, but the end result is more pleasing than that might sound. Other songs capture different moods like the confessional, pedal steel enhanced Cried in Your Bed, the processed pain of Hurt or Spaceship which takes a futuristic view of the man traveling far afield to establish himself before sending the fare the bring his partner to him. However, as the title suggests, the destination in the song is the moon. The music is an understated mix of trombone and upright bass. Granny, the song that ends the album is a memory of a departed close, influential and much loved relative. The words, as they do throughout, have a directness that underscores their effectiveness, especially when delivered in Brown’s hard scrabble and road-worn voice of the ages.

Shelby Lynne 'I Can’t Imagine' - Rounder/UMG 

The well respected Shelby Lynne continues to follow her muse in a direction she has followed since she left the tight control imposed on her by the major label deals she has had in the past. Lynne has released on her own label in the past, but is now working with Rounder. She produced the album with assistance from her guitar player Ben Peeler, a former member The Mavericks. Recorded in a live setting in Louisiana, these soulful songs are never over-sung or produced, but rather use the assembled musicians in a way that enhances the overall delivery. 

Back Door, Front Porch uses the backing vocals of Clarence Greenwood as counterpoint to Lynne’s vocal and the other players show restraint and taste in their playing. It is Lynne’s powerful vocal that is at the centre of her work. There are moments of pure pop-soul that underlines the comparison that has been made in the past to Dusty Springfield. However, the overall feeling is sparse and laid-back. There is a loose grooved southern-ness that pervades much of the work, though when it comes to a song like Down Here there is a kick from the driving lead guitar and swelling keyboards.

While Lynne has co-written some of the songs here with Ben Peller, NRBQs Pete Donnelly and Ron Sexmith (two each) the majority are solo compositions. Over the length of I Can’t Imagine there tend to be moments where the pace does lag, but once you’re in the mood that may not matter and certainly long-time fans will not complain.

There is a nod to her Nashville days on the title song with a compelling melody that places the pedal steel guitar to the fore. It also forms a part of the atmospheric and intriguing Following You which opens with Leni Stern’s n’goni before become a largely acoustic delivery. This is a song that points to the diverse nature of Lynne’s muse and the wide range of options open to her that finds her looking to not repeat the sounds of previous albums. That wish however doesn’t change the confidence and conviction of Lynne’s work. This may be something that is not for outright country music fans, but for those in the know.

David Massey 'Until the Day is Done' - Self Release

With a couple of previous albums under his belt, Massey blends folk, bluegrass, country and rock together. He is in the troubadour tradition, telling stories over a musical backing that is easy to assimilate and to like. Massey, as with many similar artists, is traveling on a well worn path,  but one that can still lead you to a place where you would like to find yourself. A huge asset to the songs is the tasteful guitar of Jay Byrd who is a focus throughout behind Massey’s vocal assuredness. The other assembled players also do their job well. They rock the songs, giving them a toe-tapping energy that makes them work within the confines they have set themselves. Some of the songs like Sweet Marie have a simple but memorable chorus that works and imbeds itself in the memory.

The use of mandolin and cello on the Song for Olen give it a broader, more reflective feel to a departed friend. Producer Jim Robeson brings in additional instruments as the song requires so with the bass, drums, guitar core you get Dobro, harmonica, keyboards, pedal steel, accordion and washboard which add different tones to the songs. Massey’s songs, mostly self-written, all have a sense of craft that shows a writer working to better tell the tales he wants to. One, Holden Caulfield is a tribute to the fictional hero which given the simple voice, guitar and violin rendition an effective sparseness. Equally stripped to its core is the closing Until The Day Is Done, a song recorded at home that could have been worked up, but is allowed to sit in its rawest form 

It finishes a likeable and easy listening collection of songs that won’t change your life, but may well make it a little more enjoyable. David Massey and his team have done a good job of getting these songs across. They could easily be enjoyed by a wider audience if they were placed before them and Massey with his third album will undoubtedly enhance his local reputation and please those who have encountered his previous work live or in recording.


Reviews by Declan Culliton


Georgia Jessup ‘Philosopher Dogs’ - Self Release

This the latest album from musician, writer, philosopher and Native American activist Georgia Jessup is her first studio release since Working Class Hero in 2007. Transgender Jessup is best known for her soundtrack to the Woman in a Mans Suit the 2013 documentary about her life. Philosopher Dogs is perhaps her strongest work to date. Heavily influenced by her country music and folk leaning, it also reinforces her love of Memphis blues.

No fewer than twenty musicians contribute to the album and the quality of the playing is evident on the album in particular Jessop’s keyboard skills throughout and John Heinrich’s pedal steel guitar on Lost Paradise and You’re The One.

The opening title track and Geronimo’s Bones are both full on country blues with strong lead vocal and instrumental arrangements augmented by soulful backing vocal harmonies. Jessup’s vocal is impressive throughout the album both on the blues fuelled tracks and equally on the tender ballads. A particular vocal highlight is the albums standout track Reluctant Phoenix which also includes a brass arrangement that gives the song depth and fullness.

The eleven tracks on the album feature two covers. Geronimo written by Dirk Hamilton suits the general mood of the album but the closing track, an upbeat version of June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore classic Ring of Fire does little to enhance what is a well crafted and produced album.

Rob Lytle 'A Hypocrite Of Heart And Hope - Self Release

The adage of never judging a book by its cover rang true with this album. The fairly nondescript and bland packaging certainly did not prepare me for the quality Of a hypocrite of heart and hope recorded by Rob Lytle after a 14 year musical career break.

A mix of ballads, country and well crafted pop songs, the album displays Lytle’s wide ranging song writing talent. The laid back, country rock sound of Come South opens the album bringing the listener back to a mid 70’s West Coast territory. Lytle repeats this style on Little Loser and The Way We Used To Love. In contrast Drunk Girl and Trouble are no frills classic country, the latter’s arrangement influenced no doubt by late 60’s Johnny Cash.

 The quality of the musicianship on the album is top drawer. Thomm Jutz (Guitars), Mark Fain (Bass), Lynn Williams (Drums), Barry Walsh (Keyboards) and Terry Crisp (Pedal Steel Guitar) support Rob Lytle’s strong vocals with backing vocals by Britt Savage and Peter Cronin.

Lytle possesses unquestionable talent as a songwriter. Concentrating on one particular genre, whether it is country or folk might result in much greater exposure. 

Joel Rafael 'Baladista' - Inside 

Contemporary American songwriter Joel Rafael’s latest album Baladista is a collection of ten songs, very much embedded in traditional American folk music, in the tradition of Rafael’s hero Woody Guthrie. Rafael is recognised as a celebrated modern interpreter of  Woody Guthrie and his previous recordings include the albums Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie (2003) and Woodboye:Songs of Woody Guthrie and Tales Worth Telling Volume 2recorded two years later. It is evident from Baladista that Rafael’s talents as a songwriter are equal to those as an interpreter.

In traditional troubadour style  Baladista tells intimate tales of lost love, abused migrant workers, history, life and death. The album also  contains a cover of  Hedy West’s song 500 Miles which featured on the soundtrack Inside Llewyn Davis and Love’s First Lesson, co-written with Eagles’ songwriter Jack Tempchin.

Baladista’s  standout track is El Bracero, which laments the abuse of Mexican immigrant workers in the 1940s, when they were employed for little or no payment, while the local men were at war: "Paid by the sack or the bushel, never paid by the hour, and never got that shower, at the end of a long hot day." Rafael’s weathered vocal delivery, often semi spoken, brings to mind late-career Warren Zevon, battle weary but not beaten and continuing to fight for worthy causes.

The album was recorded in Rafael’s home studio in California on the independent Inside Recordings label. The musical arrangements are quite sparse with Rafael’s acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica accompanied by renowned steel guitar player Greg Leisz and James ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson on bass.

Steve Wariner 'Heart Trouble: The Best of the MCA Years' - HumpHead

Steve Wariner’s musical career began as a 17 year old playing bass and singing vocalist in Dottie West’s band. Warner’s real passion was for playing lead guitar, fuelled by his interest in Chet Atkins’ playing. After touring with West, Wariner joined rockabilly singer Bob Luman’s band. RCA signed Wariner as a solo artist in 1977 igniting a career which has seen him release over twenty albums and fifty five singles, with fourteen becomhg number ones.

Heart Trouble features material he recorded for MCA between 1985 and 1990. This period was a career highlight for Wariner as is made evident by the consistent quality of the material on offer. Apart from the self penned material the MCA albums included material co-written with Guy Clark, Mac McNally, Randy Hart and Arnold Newton as well as songs written by Rodney Crowell and Dave Loggins.

His first hit single for MCA What I Didn’t Do was a top five country chart hit and was followed by eighteen consecutive Top Ten hits including  I Got Dreams, Life’s Highway, Small Town Girl, Lynda and The Weekend, all featured here.

Interestingly the track sequencing on the album is not in chronological order. However, this is hardly noticed on listening given the consistency and quality of the material.

Heart Trouble is a welcome journey through some of the best country song writing and playing of its time. It features many of the top Nashville session players including Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Mark O’Connor (fiddle), and John Jarvis (piano) George Grantham (tambourine) and indeed Wariner’s great guitar work. 



Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Legendary Shack Shakers 'The Southern Surreal' - Alternative Tentacles

They’re back and they mean business. Following two albums with the Dirt Daubers and the last Shack Shakers album Agri-dustrial (which was released in 2010) the J.D. Wilkes led band return to the fray on a new label. They are now working with Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label (also home to Slim Cessna’s Auto Club). On the last album guitar duties were handled by Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison. He guests here, but the main guitarist is now Rod Hamdallah who played and toured previously with the Dirt Daubers. Powerhouse drummer Brett Whitacre returns, as does longtime member, co-founder and the album’s co-producer, upright bassist Mark Robertson. Other guests include Fats Kaplin on violin and Ralph Carney on sax and horns.

The Southern Surreal continues the band’s exploration of the cultural mores and eccentricities of the region that is their home country. It is somewhat more considered than the music played in their early days. There are also some tangents to the sound like The Dog was Dead, a distinctly very un-Old Shep tale of the demise of an injured dog delivered with the distinctive vocal tone of its writer, Billy Bob Thornton. Aside from that it’s the Colonel on the microphone. The album opens with a thirty second snippet of ambient guitar and drum noise before starting properly with Mud, which takes a similar stance but immediately lets you know you’re in familiar territory with an original song. From then on you are taken on a rollercoaster ride with songs likeMisAmericaDead Bury The Dead and The One that Got Away that show how well this band has gelled and how their music has grown  and been honed and sharpened like a primal pitchfork. The latter song one of the most overtly catchy songs they have so far produced. The Wilkes/Robertson production team has delivered a powerful sound that is full of subtlety and solid ability.

The other diversions on the musical menu include The Grinning Man, a short found vocal, while Fool’s Tooth is another concise, at under a minute, harmonica-fronted instrumental. From then on the band explores various roots elements that have been incorporated into their sound from the start, especially their individual take on the blues. To underline this, the album closes with Born under a Bad Sign, a song that explores the lyrical theme of hard times and bad luck over a fragmented sound collage underpinned by abstract percussion and rumbling bass. It is a fitting close to a welcome return that finds the band celebrating its twentieth year with renewed energy and a readiness to look to the next twenty years where their legendaryness can be assured.

Barrence Whitfield & the Savages 'Under The Savage Sky' - Bloodshot

This is the second album on Chicago’s Bloodshot label for rockin’ soul man Barrence Whitfield and his band, and it is every bit as explosive and high energy as his previous one. There’s little here that could be classed as country, but it fits loosely under the wide Americana umbrella. Whitfield has a demented but soulful voice and he is a dynamo backed by a rhythmically tight and forceful rock band. They sound as if the inmates have taken over the asylum and decided to throw a punk party and it follows on from where 2012 Dig My Savage Soul left off. Guitarist and writer Peter Greenberg again produces and he knows exactly the perfect sound for these 12 songs; this time out he has tightened the bolts and hardened the exterior to keep the core intensity intact.

There are moments where the bands sounds like Little Richard fronting The Stooges of  the Fun House era. The band is Greenberg, long time bassist Phil Lenker, drummer Andy Jody, Tom Quartulli on raging saxophone and keyboard player Ricky Nye and they do a sterling job of delivering some controlled mayhem. Upfront it is Whitfield leading the charge on a bunch of fast paced original songs and covers like the ‘70s soul song I’m a Full Grown Man which declares manhood as a method of madness, a subject returned to again in I’m A Good Man. This is a very specific sound that is a continuation of what Barrence Whitfield has done in the past and as such will doubtless please the faithful, while others may need oven gloves to handle the heat.

The songs like The Claw and Rock and Roll Baby declares a new dance of derangement and delight. But on occasion they take things a little slower at his declaration that he is a simple man but also a cursed one on Adjunct Street. Full Moon tn The Daylight Sky rounds off the album at less frantic pace and asks the unanswerable question “why must I lie?” about a man who is unsure of his intentions maybe, but one who takes action none-the-less. It has the unsettling quality of a Hitchcock film, something that is reflected in Katherine Coffey’s The Birds and Vertigo inspired cover.  

Peter Berwick 'The Legend of Tyler Doohan' - Little Class 

Peter Berwick is rough-voiced singer/songwriter who is more mid-period Steve Earle than Bruce Springsteen. He is happy to be called a ‘cowpunk’ pioneer. That may be where he is best placed on this thirteen track album of unsophisticated rough and ready roots rock. His lived-in voice tears up these self-written songs with an abandonment and menace, but he also takes a more relaxed approach on songs like Cried my Last Tear and the acoustic Check-Out Time and Wait. Ain’t Goin’ Back to Memphis and See You in Hell are pure cowpunk in attitude. Between those two points you get a bunch of stories that deal with life in the raw.

The title track is a song based on the true story of a nine year old youngster who lost his life rescuing his family in a trailer park fire. The Legend of Tyler Doohan is not pretty or polite as befits the nature of such a harrowing tale. Small Town Blues is a self-explanatory slice of reality that is delivered with sadness in Berwick’s sandpaper voice of the ages. Everything’s Waiting takes a more hopeful view while listing the nature of empty dreams, but implore that everything is waiting for those who can hang on to those dreams. The album is subtitled Other Tales of Victory and Defeat and seems full of the latter, with a little of the former to keep thinks hopeful.

Producer Drew Burasco has given the album a live feel that allows the band free rein to give the songs some energy that is a far cry from the polished sounds emanating from Nashville. In a live situation Berwick is the kind of performer who is likely to give his all and he does so here. The result is not going to be for everyone, but for many who yearn for the early days of insurgent country, then this is an album that should be on your horizon. 

Mike Barth 'Dance This!' - Self Release

Barth is a member of the bands The Polkats and The Stone Hill Allstars. Barth’s solo album is, as it title suggests, something that aims to get the feet moving. A mix of roots, pop, folk, reggae and more, it is a pretty uplifting affair. Members of the Allstars join him on this outing of original songs, bar his version of Buddy Holly’s Words of Love and one other song, A Thousand Times written by Polecats member John Shock.

One of the songs is an ode to cooked chicken called, not unsurprisingly, Big Piece Of Chicken which features guest vocals from Linda Nelson. This song kind of gives you an idea of the over all brightness of the album. Barth delivers a nice version of Words of Love that sits somewhere between the Holly version and that of the Beatles who could be said to be an influence here in their period up to Revolver. Energy called Love has the feel of commercial reggae. But there are moments when the subject gets a little darker, when our man has women troubles and is wrapped up tight in a Blanket of Misery. But if you didn’t listen too closely the overall tone is still quite chirpy.

Drink it All Day is a fast paced train-rhythm song that has a rootsy feel. The OWS and Me is about a man working at the railroad yard and has a fact effective guitar break. Grease Step, takes a different approach, but still has a smile on its face. The album closes with the aforementioned A Thousand Times which is about reaching the end of your tether with someone you care for but still find yourself reaching break point with. It is effective in its simple guitar and voice delivery, which contrasts nicely with the more arranged and produced songs that precede it. This is Barth’s baby - with his songs, his production and his direction and its versatility reminds of an album that a band like 10cc might have done, not so much in actual sound but more in overall feel. Dance This! Is clever, but not overly so, and an album that somewhere along its course will set your toes tapping and maybe put a smile on your face.



Reviews By Paul McGee

John Neilson  Tomorrow comes the Spring  Lounge Side 

On his two previous releases, If By Chance (2005) and 4TH Street Sessions (2011), John Neilson writes songs that are honest, pure, and from the heart. Neilson now lives in Austin, Texas and has quickly made a reputation as a singer-songwriter of real talent who has already had success with his songs finding their way to both TV & film soundtracks.

Jim Wirt produced this record and also plays a variety of instruments on the 11 tracks. The arrangements are varied, with the opener Fall coming out of the blocks at a real driving pace, only to be followed by Lights of Los Angeles, a slow burner that is full of atmosphere sung with a weary vocal delivery, reminiscent of early Steve Earle.

Shape I’m In, Coming Home and Take a Shot are all examples of Nielson’s impressive musical variety and the production is both sharp and full of colour. End of the Road and Walk Away point to a future that will continue to fast track this artist with an acoustic guitar and a hope for wider recognition.

Grant Dermody  Sun Might Shine On Me  Self Release

Harmonica virtuoso Grant Dermody is firmly based in the blues with two previous solo releases, Crossing That River (2003) and Lay Down My Burden (2010), plus numerous guest slots on other artists’ releases, including Jim Page and Eric Bibb.  As a lifelong student of the harmonica and acoustic blues, Grant’s latest release delivers 15 tracks that include traditional arrangements mixed with original songs and covers, all displaying his pioneering approach and a commitment to the timeless traditions of the blues.

Beyond the blues, Grant is also passionate about old-time music. He sees the harmonica as the most vibrant instrument connecting the mouth and the power of the breath in a pure way that no other musical instrument can achieve. Playing with five other musicians on drums, guitar, piano banjo, mandolin, Dobro and fiddle sees this release capture the true essence of organic music and the joys of self-expression.

It is unfair to single out any specific tracks, but the groove of Easy Down and the laid back tempo of Sun Might Shine take some beating. Traditional tunes, Reuben’s Train and Sail Away Ladies are wonderful examples of what can be achieved by this talented ensemble. At the end of the day it is the joy throughout the project that leaves you feeling uplifted. Compelling.

Vincent Cross A Town Called Normal  Self Release

 Cross was born in Dublin, raised in Australia and is now based in New York City. With one previous release, Home Away from Home (2008), he could not be accused of being prolific, but his second album has now been unveiled. On 12 tracks Vincent Cross displays a strong playing style on guitar, mandolin and harmonica, supported by a variety of musicians who colour the songs with a light touch on bass, banjo and occasional drums. His style is very much folk-based and the lyrics appear to be of a personal nature with many of the themes visiting the past (Childish Things), regrets (Cursed), lack of brotherhood (A Town Called Normal) and the need to keep personal demons down (Walking on the Outside).

Relationships are focussed on in tracks like Trouble Being There, that looks at a broken situation where one partner cannot commit. My Love and Wrack & Ruin display a questioning of the loyalty involved in staying together and the changing feelings that we all have. The closing track, Sometimes, asks whether it is better to take the road you are on or to go back again; perhaps the answer to the question lies in the knowledge that you can never really go back. This is a solid release that boasts strong arrangements and excellent musicianship.      

The Slocan Ramblers Coffee Creek Self Release

 This is a bluegrass band from Toronto, Canada that has been together for 4 years and made their debut, Shaking down the Acorns, in 2013. This new release was recorded in a live-in-the-studio setting and captures the energy of the band’s live performances. The four musicians are certainly very talented and display their dextrous abilities on banjos, guitars, mandolin and acoustic bass.

All music is arranged by the band and there is a sense of listening to old standards which speaks volumes for the craft and care taken in putting these 13 tracks together into a cohesive whole.  The singing style of Frank Evans adds to this sense of tradition and sounds like it comes from a body much older than his. Pastures of Plenty/Honey Babe and Galilee are instantly rewarding with Elk River and Angeline close on their heels. The instrumentals Lone Pine, The Back 40 and April’s Waltz are a delight; however all the songs bounce out of the speakers and leave a smile as they finish.

Harmonies are vital in bluegrass and the music is elevated by these four voices in unison. If you are a fan of this genre, then the Slocan Ramblers are a welcome addition to the new ranks of musicians who are breaking through.

Dave Desmelik We Don’t Want a Dying Flame Self Release

This is the ninth solo release from Desmelik, an independent artist who performs, records and writes for the genuine love of the song-writing craft and the therapeutic value that it brings. Based in North Carolina, this fine singer-songwriter/ instrumentalist has produced a collection of heartfelt songs, full of emotion, from the opening instrumental Hyper Fatigue to the rueful warning of Destruction and the fear that we ‘are digging our own graves’ in the way we abuse the environment.  

L-I-F-E is another instrumental that has a background of children laughing and talking and the impact is really effective against the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar.  Red Collar and Two Gifts are both further examples of this seasoned musician’s excellent guitar virtuosity.

On the 13 tracks included here, the gentle arrangements (Sand Toe) are followed by insightful perspective;  ‘drown yourself in drinking and wait for what comes next’ / ‘you make your excuses, you make your own bed’ in On the Clock . Desmelik is a prime example of the endless stream of talent that is creating vibrant and vital music that needs greater exposure. 

Paper Moon Shiners Self-titled Self Release

This duo from Austin, Texas specialize in vintage songs and originals inspired by American music from the early twentieth century. Their old time sensibility and vaudeville arrangements command attention and the 12 songs included on this debut release come alive with  blues, vintage jazz, swing, ragtime, Americana roots and folk.

Elena Antinelli sings like she means every last vocal inflection and trill, while her musical and life partner, Frank Meyer, adds plenty of character with his gravel voice and easy playing style on guitar, Dobro, ukulele and steel body resonator guitar. Their music is a step back in time to the days of Prohibition and juke joints with plenty of character and colourful delivery in Who’s that Knockin’? (Trad), Come on in My Kitchen (Robert Johnson) and Carolina Moon (Joe Burke & Benny Davis) stealing the spotlight. However the seven songs written by this unique duo can stand up against such competition with both Space and Same Thang particularly prominent. 

Brock Zeman Pulling Your Sword out of The Devil’s Back Busted Flat 

This is the 11th release from Ottawa Valley singer-songwriter Brock Zeman. His songs are very much in the contemporary country arena of storytelling narratives and a sound that is based on strong song hooks and great melody.  This is a self-produced effort and comes across with a swagger and a strut in the ten songs featured. The observations and words are the sure sign of a mature artist who has found his groove and the musicians that are employed here really play their part in what is a very impressive collection. Blair Hogan on guitar, organ, piano, and mandolin is a real virtuoso and fills out the sound in an understated manner but always right on the money. Brock Zeman is no slouch either when it comes to playing around the song tempos and his guitar work is supported by synth pads and sequencing. He sings with a voice that is full of character and personality.

The song-writing road is littered with lots of bodies, but this level of talent is on a fast-track to increased exposure, should he decide to start gigging outside of his Canadian territory. There are no weak tracks here and the subject matter shifts from relationship reflections (Don’t Think About You Anymore, Little Details) to musing on the lives we lead (Walking in the Dark, Some Things Stay). Many of the tunes are catchy enough to fit nicely on radio (Sweat, Drop Your Bucket, Dead Man’s Shoes) but an artist like this is too far under the radar to get that type of attention. More is the pity as the quality of music here deserves an international audience.

The track Ten Year Fight is a movie script all rolled up into five minutes of sublime storytelling, whether sourced from reality or imagination. It visits a broken relationship through the eyes of the writer who sees the father of his past lover and reflects on the bumps along their road which led to damage for all concerned. It is a wonderful song and beautifully constructed. The title song gives early notice of the talent at play here with lyrics such as ‘I live in a house of ghosts that just won’t let me be; I let them in myself and now they just won’t leave’. I cannot recommend this artist highly enough and wish I had been graced by his music long before now. 

Eight O’Five Jive  Too Many Men  Red Rudy Too Tunes

Jump blues and retro swing are alive and well as long as bands such as Eight O’Five Jive continue to hold a torch for the classic era of the late 1940s to the late 1950s, when jump jive defined an exciting era of music and dance. What defines the Eight O’Five Jive sound is the tight ensemble playing of Patrick Mosser (Sax), Duane Spencer (Drums), Andy Scheinman (Guitar), Bill Bois (Bass) and Lee Shropshire on vocals.

There are nine songs from the past that are reworked into the band’s sound, which is based around the great rhythm section and the duelling sax and guitar breaks that allow Lee Shropshire to sing on top of the arrangements with a strong vocal and plenty of wry humour. Titles such as Have Mercy Baby, You Was Right Baby, Market Place and Drunk give a sense of the ‘dust yourself down and get on with life’ attitude that prevails here. Misery Loves Company, written by Lee herself,  stands shoulder to shoulder with the timeless originals as does her second song, Young Enough To Be My Son.

Eight O’Five Jive redefines this essential genre and helps to keep it alive and vibrant. It stands as wonderful music for dinner and cocktails, eminently suitable for lively dance lovers and delightfully immune to passing time.