Reviews by Paul McGee


The Dustbowl Revival ‘Carry Me Home’ Self-Release

It is a brave move to open up your second official CD release with a cover version of the traditional Swing Low. However, the instinct is well rewarded, with a very appealing arrangement that carries into a further four songs of traditional origin. All considered fair game by this collective of ten talented musicians.

The key inspiration seems to be one Zach Lupetin, who writes and arranges all ten songs here with a real creative gusto. We are given the sound of the Deep South; New Orleans voodoo, swamp groove, jug band swing, mixed with jazz tinged arrangements.. It is all here folks! So roll up and start the party. The only thing missing from John the Revelator is Tom Waits on lead vocal while the merry stomp of New River Train is a pure joy that would have the God fearing folk of the Mississippi delta dancing in the pews.

We get a musical banquet with the serving of mandolin, fiddle, washboard, Wurlitzer, clarinet, trombones, saxophone and tuba thrown into the giddy mix. A feast for the senses; this collection is a real blast and a recommended purchase.

Dave McPherson ‘Dreamoirs’ Graphite

This is a solo recording from one of the key members of the metal band InMe. The ten tracks are very impressive with great production and versatile playing. Following on from his 2011 release, The Hardship Diaries, this collection shows off the acoustic, softer side of McPherson’s music which is delivered with his distinctive voice and imploring, yearning tone. Dave McPherson has delivered all instrumentation himself on this release and there is a tour planned with a full band to flesh out the layers of sound and rich orchestration. The concept of the album is based around a series of dreams that are explored through titles such as Her Majesty’s Prism, Relics of Don Quixote, Ambivert Melanconnoisseur…  

All this material is very understandable in the gentle, colourful world painted by this interesting composer/musician. He is also embarking on a challenge to write and record a song for every day of the current year; a project worth keeping an eye on. Check him out at

John Smith ‘Great Lakes’ Barp Ltd.

This artist came across my radar some years ago with the release of his debut The Fox and the Monk.  A second collection appeared in 2009, titled Map or Direction and we are now treated to a third release. All eleven songs feature a beautiful vocal delivery by this gentle, Devon based, English troubadour and the guitar playing is of a consistently high standard. Very much steeped in the folk tradition, John Smith delivers a collection of songs that charm and engage the listener. He sounds somewhat similar to the great John Martyn in his vocal phrasing and songs such as Freezing Winds of Change and Perfect Storm sing of loss and love while the final track Lungs takes the wistful stance that a failed relationship ‘gave me everything, until you gave me away’. Introspective and reflective, Great Lakes is indeed a collection that challenges the listener and one that rewards more often than not.

Tim McGraw ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’ Big Machine

I have always admired the talents of Tim McGraw, but had thought the artist lost his way in the traffic of commercial country success, over recent releases. Being feted as one of the biggest stars on the Nashville circuit, together with his marriage to fellow country star, Faith Hill, had painted a media image that carried an inevitable overhyped momentum. So, credit to the man for coming back from media cynicism to deliver a set of songs that stands proudly alongside his best ever work. 

From aspiring singer/songwriter to country music royalty cannot be an easy journey and the potential fall from grace can be a real crash landing. However, talent will always rise to the top and Tim McGraw does know how to pick a song.  I do wish that he would put his hand to writing some self- penned material as, at this stage in his career, he knows what makes a killer song work...  

The choices here are consistently strong with Number 37405, Friend of a FriendOne of Those Nights and Truck Yeah all delivering in classic country style. The production is very expansive with lots of variety across horns and strings, with a happy dance between violins, violas and cello and the traditional mix of lap steel, banjo, fiddle and accordion. This is an impressive return to form; heady stuff indeed. 

Father Einstein ‘A Magic Fantasy’ Self-Release

Father Einstein; the name alone conjures up images of some higher paternal intelligence. With that vision in my mind, I hoped that such an impression would translate to these nine piano based songs. On investigation, Father Fantasy is one Mr Tom Conroy, a pianist with a drive to succeed in his native Ireland. Since this CD, he has released a further two collections; The Moon is Within Reach in late 2012, followed by Content to Serve in March 2013. He is already working on a fourth release for later in the year and an aspiration to perform on the live circuit.

So, what do we find here? His voice has a pleasant delivery with shades of Dean Friedman in his tone. However, the songs tend to run into each other with no real outstanding highlight. The lack of a sophisticated production may have something to do with this impression, as all we have is solo piano and voice. I would expect the sound to have developed over the successive releases and do not know if this has actually been the case? Some viola, cello or acoustic guitar colouring, would bring a brighter tone to these personal musings. 

Dave Armo ‘Poets on the Wall’ Self-Release

This singer/songwriter hails from California and Poets on the Wall is his third release. While writing all the words and music across the twelve tracks, Dave Armo shares production credits with his ally and fellow musician Jeff Rolka. 

The songs are heartfelt and the arrangements/melodies reminiscent of a young Paul Simon. His understated approach to the song-writing craft is certainly appealing and the reflective tone of the lyrics carries the songs on a slow groove. A change in the tempo of some songs would be a welcome intrusion however, as the whole set gets to be a little too predictable. I did find myself waiting for the inclusion of some guitar colourings that could lift the overall song dynamic to a new level.

That said, Not Too Old is a standout song, along with The Vista View that closes the CD – a classic country feel of isolation and lost connections.     

Cheap Wine ‘Based On Lies’ Self- Release

Imagine a cross between Tom Petty and the Psychedelic Furs and you have an idea of what to expect from this Italian rock band. Eight releases since 1998 places Cheap Wine at the top of the tree in terms of the Italian rock sound and their experience certainly comes across in the excellent playing and arrangements on this set of eleven songs.

The guitar work of Michele Diamantini is always inventive and complimented by the expansive playing of Alessio Raffaelli on piano, keyboards and accordion. The singer, Marco Diamantini, handles his delivery in English with great aplomb; no mean feat given the challenges to a foreign accent. In fact, he reminds me of that great Dutch band The Nits in the vocal phrasing and the band reflect a similar dynamic, if just a little more mainstream.

The more I listen to this CD, the more I am impressed by the overall self- production and the musicality of all players. The songs bounce along with a joyous feel and the dynamic of interplay between the band members is very infectious. As they sing on the excellent track Give me Tom Waits - “I feel wild inside and I won’t settle down”. I am drawn to the dynamic of Based on Lies and On the Way Back Home – two numbers with superb guitar breaks that really elevate the song structure. These guys really rock and although it may be too costly to check them out by flying to Italy, their back catalogue is available from the excellent CD Baby website – need I say more? 

The Kennedys ‘Closer Than You Know’ Self-Release

This marks the tenth studio release from husband and wife duo, Pete and Maura Kennedy. Performing artists since the mid 1990’s when their debut River of Falling Stars created an initial stir, the Kennedys display a very sophisticated talent across this eclectic mix of songs, which range from celebratory to reflective, with a very human element running through the music.

Call it contemporary folk or call it Americana, the genre doesn’t really matter as the chances are that the Kennedys will jump the fences in any event. The guitar playing of Pete Kennedy is consistently strong across their body of work and the latest release is no different with ample support from the rhythm guitar of Maura. They play all instruments on the twelve songs featured here with Maura taking credit for lyrics and melodies.

Pete mixed and mastered the songs and only a cover version of U2’s Wild Honey breaks away from this self penned creation. The song I’ll Come Over is very arresting in a message to a friend in trouble, to pick up the phone and in just being there to lend support.  

‘Winter’has a dream pop quality to the arrangement while ‘Cradle to a Boat’ sings of maintaining a strong sense of self worth when your spirit is threatened by external forces. Maura Kennedy has a fine voice and delivers these songs in a manner that hides the deeper meaning and message running through her words.

Home is an interesting spin on sleepless nights and a yearning for closure with an old memory. Big Star Song is a tribute to Alex Chilton who passed away in 2010. Happy Again is a song to lend reassurance to a friend that troubled times can be overcome and the closing track Winter Lies brings this fine set of songs to a close with a reflective arrangement and a haunting vocal delivery.

This is an engaging listen and comes highly recommended.