Kim Lenz Slowly Speeding Blue Star
“The idea was to try and use all the ingredients that made up rock & roll, but shift around the time frames’’, explains Kin Lenz on the direction of her fifth solo album, the shamelessly rampant and abrasive Slowly Speeding. Though she is generally labelled as a rockabilly artist, Slowly Speeding is testimony to Kim Lenz’s wide musical footprint and her capacity to excel across wider genres including blues, gospel and old-time country, without ever straying far from her trademark rockabilly sound. Guitars screech, bass lines thump and drums keep pace with Lenz’s seductive vocals throughout the album, which finds Lenz and her cohorts at the top of their game from the outset. The brutal stomping blues opener Bogeyman sets the scene for what’s to follow. I’ll Find You has a dynamic beat that recalls Should I Stay Or Should I Go? by The Clash and the title track Slowly Speeding is a cracking two step country dance tune, with precise and alluring vocals (“Slowly speeding, my heart is beating, Going zero to sixty with you’’). Percolate is Chuck Berry sounding no nonsense rock & roll, naughty but nice (“ Percolating, percolating, stimulating, undulating, generating. You’ve got me percolating’’). Bury Me Deep is equally toe tapping and danceable with a ripping guitar break and pulsating bass lines throughout.
D.H. Phillips, who co-produced the album with Lenz, plays electric and steel guitar, Tjarko Jeen also plays guitar and adds six string bass, with Jake Erwin on bass and Santos De Leon on drums. Between them they create a dynamic musical landscape, the sympathetic production giving every instrument equal space to accentuate Lenz’s raspy growling vocals.
A rockabilly rollercoaster that delivers on so many fronts, I expect Slowly Speeding to be inhabiting my car CD player for quite a while in the coming months!
Review by Declan Culliton
Paul J Bolger The Start Of It Pillar Stone
Better known as an animator, film maker and author, The Start Of It is a four track EP released by Paul J Bolger. It’s not his first diversion into recording, his previous release The Moss House was recorded over twenty years ago. Given the success of his other artistic offerings you could possibly expect The Start Of It to be self indulgent and throwaway. Nothing could be further from the truth, it’s a really impressive listen across its four tracks that evoke the musical direction of early Elvis Costello, particularly on the standout track Lady Love & The Cavalier.
The album was co-produced by Bolger and Dave Molloy for Pillar Stone Productions in Waterford and features vocal, guitars and keyboard contributions from both producers, together with Ronnie O’Flynn on bass, Michael Black on drums and Catherine Flynn on piano.
Review by Declan Culliton
Suzanne Jarvie In The Clear Wolfe Island
The history leading to Suzanne Jarvie’s entry into the music industry reads like a film script, fortunately one with a happy ending. Born in Honk Kong and raised in Toronto, a criminal defence lawyer and mother of four children, she made her recording debut in 2014 with the release of Spiral Road. An avid music lover from childhood, the catalyst for the recording of the album was a near tragic accident, whereby her eldest son fell down a spiral staircase, was comatose and given little chance of survival. Fortunately, he did survive and his stay and recovery in hospital lead Jarvie down a song writing path by way of dealing with the extreme trauma, culminating in the collection of songs that, not surprisingly, included titles such as Before and After, Tears Of Love, Wait For Me and Love Is Now. The album on its release drew comparisons with Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris from a selection of the numerous positive reviews it received, particularly making an impact on the European market.
In essence this album follows a similar path to Spiral Road, with strikingly evocative songs often dealing with the life changing experiences of both a mother and her family that inspired the debut album. The material reads like a retrospective reflection on the nightmarish saga visited on the family, revealing scars that are partially but not yet fully healed. Jarvie’s lyrics are thoughtful, provocative, avoiding repeated choruses in favour of lengthy poetic streams of consciousness, sometimes quite abstract, leaving room for varying interpretations. Her vocal delivery, most particularly on the closing track Trilogy, recalls Karen Carpenter.
Musically the breezy opener Headless Rider camouflages its gothic nightmarish lyrics, as if inspired by a recurring fantasy. The equally surreal and abstract Carpenter Bay follows (“Last night I dreamed we went boating down an ion channel, Sat on the gunnels and just gloating for beating the odds’’). Point Blank, featuring label mate Hadley McCall Thackston on backing vocals, visits the toll of Jarvie’s son’s recovery process, both personally and on the mother (“Mind bent up and insane, killing me like a freight train’’). At close to fifty minutes long there’s quite a lot to absorb across the ten tracks on the album. Nine of those minutes come courtesy of the closing and previously mentioned track Trilogy. The albums standout track for me, it dips and soars across its three chapters that consider birth, impairment and resurrection.
Jarvie returned to Hugh (Christopher) Brown for production duties, and the album is released on Wolfe Island Records, the label responsible for signing some stellar acts including David Corley, Hadley McCall Thackston, Kate Fenner and the Stephen Stanley Band. It features a host of talented artists that appear on many of the label’s recordings including Tony Scherr, Kenny Wollesen, Gregor Beresford, Joey Wright and Chris Brown.
In The Clear reads like pages from a personal diary, deliberating on the predicaments and life challenges that visit us, by times foreseeable but often without notice. A very eloquent and engaging listen indeed.
Review by Declan Culliton
Sean McConnell Second Hand Smoke Big Picnic
Few artists can boast having recorded their debut album at the ripe age of 15 and on their own record label. Sean McConnell’s 2000 recording Here In The Lost And Found did exactly that and Second Hand Smoke is the thirteenth recording by the Boston born and Nashville based singer songwriter and prolific musician. Recorded at his own home studio and self-produced over a two-month period, McConnell takes the credit for all vocals and instrumentation, with only the strings and synths outsourced and background vocals provided by The McCrary Sisters on the gospel tinged Shaky Bridges.
The writing on the album is impressive, not surprising given that McConnell has written songs for a number of artists including Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Buddy Miller, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Brothers Osborne, Christina Aguilera and Meatloaf. You could be forgiven for assuming that the content would be country and roots slanted, given this imposing roll call. The album is actually marketed as ‘modern folk’ - whatever that is - whereas in fact much of the material is a closer relation to Jason Isbell’s last release The Nashville Sound, a blend of heartland rock and instantly catchable gritty pop.
The opener and title track Secondhand Smoke is one of the impressive slow burners included and is equalled by the lovely Greetings From Niagara Falls, telling the tale of sacrifices and missed loved ones, the high price paid by the touring musician. Closer Wrong Side Of Town is similarly paced, a piano led ballad lamenting unrealised dreams. However, the two standout tracks on the album are the previously mentioned gospel flavoured Shaky Bridges, featuring The McCrary Sisters and the stunning I Could Have Been An Angel, which boasts killer riffs and melodies that were firmly locked in my memory bank after a few spins.
All in all, Second Hand Smoke is a terrific catalogue of ‘easy on the ears’ tracks from start to finish. I’m interested to see how it performs sales wise - I reckon if the aforementioned Isbell had recorded the album, it would shift by the lorryload.
Review by Declan Culliton
Carolina Chimes Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase Foxfire
It’s quite unusual these days to be presented with a whole album of bluegrass instrumentals. Rudi Ekstein - writer, producer, engineer and musician - may not be a well known name but in his studio (Foxfire Recording) in Asheville, NC he has recorded some of the best in the business. And he has called on some of those very best to bring his own compositions to life. How could he really go wrong, with players like Stuart Duncan (Nashville Bluegrass Band) on fiddle, Jeff Autry (John Cowan Band, Edgar Loudermilk) on guitar, and bassist Mark Schatz (Claire Lynch Band, Nickel Creek) on board? They are augmented by Rudi’s fellow Californians, John Plotnik on banjo and dobro and Patrick Sauber (Laurie Lewis, Peter Rowan and most recently seen in Ireland with Darin & Brooke Aldridge) on banjo. Rudi himself plays mandolin throughout and his own playing is not overshadowed by any of these luminaries.
And what of the tunes themselves? They are an utter delight. Ekstein allows each of his musicians their chance to shine on each of the 12 tunes, which vary from the gentle paced waltz of Dixie Sunset to the serious hardcore bluegrass of All Night In Kentucky. Spikebuck is an exhilarating two minutes of a mandolin-led white knuckle ride, depicting a family whitewater rafting adventure, while Bacon in the Pan is a fiddle tune dedicated to his late friend and musical compadre, Billy Constable. Rockalachia is a nod to Bill Monroe, consciously incorporating boogie woogie and rock n’ roll elements into this swinging tour de force.
Review by Eilís Boland
Marty Rivers Maltese Falcon Amberstar
It’s a pleasant surprise to get an album of good old fashioned country music. It’s even more of a surprise that it comes from Malta! Performing since his teens, Marty Riviera has wisely returned to Gary Carter’s Nashville studio to record his fourth album. Familiar to Connie Smith fans, pedal steel player Gary is a longstanding member of her Sundowners but he has also played with such country royalty as Randy Travis and Faith Hill. The songs are all cowritten by Marty and his friend Joseph Spiteri and I could hear almost any of the 14 songs being cut by major artists, so strong is the writing here.
The songs range from the decidedly honky tonky (Texas Lady, Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool, If Only These Walls Could Talk) to slow country ballads and the production is superb. It is particularly in the ballads that Marty sings with a vulnerability in his voice that is strangely appealing. Love is A Wonder is a beautiful closing song - enhanced by Gary Carter’s ever so sweet pedal steel. Maltese Falcon is another memorable ballad, this time with Gary on dobro and Jason Roller deserves a mention for his guitar playing on all tracks. Two of the songs, Magnifico Mexico and Sweet Lorena are successfully given the Tex Mex treatment, very reminiscent of The Mavericks’ sound.
Not surprisingly, Marty has figured in various European Country charts in the past and this new album is deservedly doing well too. Check it out.
Review by Eilís Boland
Kyle Daniel What’s There To Say Self Release
Fitting right in with the current crop of contemporary “outlaw” musicians Kyle Daniel has produced a second EP of songs that speak to the human condition, yet one that is imbued with hope, hedonism as well as humanity. Daniel has faced these problems in his own life as a traveling musician who has experienced and seen the hard options and occasional highs that come with that choice.
Born To Lose, the opening song, on this 5 track release was inspired from personal experience. It takes an honest view of addiction and the reason that it might arise. The other titles further elaborate on that viewpoint in Don’t Give Up On Me, or What’s There To Say? He has acknowledged the strong influence of Southern Rock and the Allman Brothers on his own music and, to these ears, there’s something of classic Bob Seger in the mix too. He rusty-rail voice is matched by some hard rockin’ riffs and a solid rhythm section. Though the players are unnamed on the sleeve and neither are the the writing credits - so I assume that he has had a hand in all of the material.
In a post-Stapelton world there is a growing appetite for this type of roots influenced rock that is never quite metal and is certainly a long way from traditional country music. But in these times the banner ‘Country Music’ might be where Daniel might find his most accessible audience. On the less full on songs like Somewhere In Between he displays a voice that is both as expressive as it is powerful. Good Bless America (Damn Rock ’n’ Roll) has a B3 swirling around the mix and is not that far from an early Joe Cocker sound. The song’s title may be a little ironic however. Kyle Daniel sounds like an artist whose time might be about to come.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Andrew Leahey & The Homestead Airwaves Skyline
On the inside of the CD cover Leahey dedicates this album to the last generation raised on FM radio. All of which means that Leahey is a rocker who, from his press release, should appeal to fans of such diverse acts as Tom Petty and The War On Drugs. There may be a fondness for Echo and The Bunnymen also as the only cover here is of that band’s memorable Lips Like Sugar. Overall the self and co-written songs are uniformly melodic and with anthem potential.
The album was produced, engineered and mixed in Nashville by Paul Ebersold who brings echoes of Leahey’s heroes such as the already mentioned acts and others like Big Star to mind. Leahey and his band - Jon Estes on bass, bassist Jon Radford and guitarist Thomas Heesen (who were joined on some of the songs by additional players) did a great job of evoking that FM era where a sense of melodic structure was such a part and parcel of that sound.
Leahey had apparently recovered from a serious illness when he recorded this album and the exuberance of that release shows itself in a similar spirit in the songs. The 11 songs play out like a segment of a decent FM rock show with enough variety to keep it interesting throughout. it is indeed a reminder of a time when pure rock was a vibrant force. One led by the much missed Tom Petty. However in acolytes like Andrew Leahey that sound might be around for for some time to come. So one hopes that Leahey may be around for a similar long run and his music would likely to be equally progressive and interesting.
Review by Stephen Rapid