Reviews by Paul McGee


Casey Weston Young Heart - Self Release

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Casey Weston is originally from Naples, Florida where she played the coffee shop and honkytonk open mic circuit to learn the ropes and hone her craft. Her sound is based in commercial country with a strong Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain influence.

The eight co-writes here are evenly split between slow melodies and energetic pop-inspired grooves. With a self-titled debut EP followed by an album Find the Moon, this artist is on a fast track to radio friendly country hitsville and there is no reason why she shouldn’t get there. Never Come Back has hit single written all over it and falls into Carrie Underwood territory. Little Bit of Everything is another strong contender for radio and Lock & Key is the most accomplished song here. The production is impressive on all tracks, with bright arrangements and room for the vocals to shine through. Watch this artist grow.

Erik Sitbon and the Ghost Band - Self Release

With four previous releases, Erik Sitbon produces music that is a mixture of rock and country. He formed the Ghost Band in 2012 and the six-piece went on to release Lost and Found. A double album, Acoustic Sessions/ Electric Sessions released that year as was Back to the Roots – a Great Sun Session was recorded in the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2013, the double album received two CMA Awards France for  Best Male Artist  and  Best French Country Music album.

Despite his French origins, songs like My Demon Down, Your Lies, Mary Go Round, Down the River and Back to the Roots are decent examples of the genre and could comfortably hold their own on other country releases.

Annie Gallup Ghost - Gallway Bay

Ghost is the tenth solo recording in a career that has seen Annie Gallup achieve huge recognition among her peers for her song-writing and authentic playing. With this release she has chosen a  string band which includes Gabe Witcher on fiddle, and David West  on Dobro and mandolin, Peter Gallway on string bass/ backing vocals and Anna Abbey on backing vocals.

Gallup’s recent releases include Little Five Points which Annie calls "conversations in a quiet room" and Weather a prior to that. A project that features Annie's voice with a string quartet and award winning composer Asia Mei. Annie has been on the road performing throughout North America since 1994, touring solo and as the duo, Hat Check Girl, with Peter Gallway.

The 11 songs featured here are a tribute to the versatility and dexterous playing of the ensemble. The ‘less is more’ approach adds an authentic air to the recording process and titles such as Diamond Ring, Battle of Brooklyn, Raised By Wolves and West Memphis Arkansas sound like old standards from years gone by. There is a beautiful arrangement of the Davey MacLean classic Caledonia and the track A Loves B is a clever insight on the dynamic of a love triangle and cheating as a compulsion. Sounding not unlike Emmylou, the vocal delivery of Annie Gallup is always engaging and on Weapon of Choice she delivers a haunting performance. Impressive.

Jami Lynn  Fall is a Good Time to Die - Self Release

This is an acoustic introduction to the landscapes, animals, and people that inhabit the South Dakota plains and the Black Hills. Jami Lynn is a real treasure and a very accomplished musician and her music has been described as plainsfolk. Her previous releases include Dreamers, Sodbusters and Cluck & Croon. She began performing folk and bluegrass music at the age of thirteen and by the age of sixteen was writing her own music. She has an awareness of her deep connection to the landscape and culture of the Upper Midwest.

Tracks like Red Fox, Wolf, Coyote why ya Lookin’ so Thin? and God Out on the Plains are full of understated beauty with lots of space in the arrangements. The musicians adding their talents to the album, apart from  Jami  on vocals, banjo and guitar, are Dalton Coffey, Dobro, mandolin and guitar and Andrew Reinartz on upright bass with Eddie Faris playing mandolin on Red Fox.

The playing is just a joy to hear as the musicians come together and solo on top of the melodies in a restrained dynamic that heightens the tunes. Jami sings beautifully in a very clear and strong voice and this has to be one of the best American folk releases of the year, with not a weak track among the 10 on offer here

Vanish Valley  Queen of the Concert - Self release

With two previous releases under the belt, Get Good and eponymous debut Vanish Valley return with a cohesive release of twelve tracks that deliver a melodic, psychedelic folk-rock groove. This LA based 4-piece deserve kudos in the fact that the tracks were recorded in just 6 days and the live feel to the arrangements gives the tracks an immediate and vibrant quality. Singer/guitarist Andrew McAllister is the main influence, but he is well supported by Alex Owen on guitar and keyboards, Guy Christiano on bass and drummer Daniel Goldblatt.

Recorded with Grammy Award winning Engineer David Bianco (Bob Dylan/Tom Petty/Teenage Fan Club), the new album has a sound that is not a million miles removed from the Cars meets early Counting Crows. McAllister’s hoarse vocal style makes for an entertaining listen with tracks like Lookout Mountain, Golden Tape and Drifter’s Eyes providing upbeat workouts. Harmonica is used with great effect by McAllister and the track Cowboy Store has a nice contemporary country style to it. The title song is a fine acoustic reflective slice of Americana to end proceedings with.

Richard Schumacher   I’ll be Honest Withya - Self release 

There is a strong Johnny Cash quality to the vocal delivery of Richard Schumacher, a singer-songwriter from Southern California. This is his debut release and employs the considerable talents of a handful of LA's top country session players.  They encouraged Richard to enter a recording studio having seen him at local talent nights and open mic invites for many years. Of the nine musicians used here, the ensemble playing is of a high standard with the production by Chad Watson perfectly capturing the mood of these country blues songs.

Chad Watson has a key influence on proceedings, not just as producer, but with contributions on bass, guitar, piano, mandolin and trombone. The electric guitar work of Vern Monnet is also very prominent, especially on Cattle Drivers and the very tasty Lady on the Platform. There is a nice groove to the overall sound with plenty of references to drinking;  Melancholy Whiskey, which boasts some nice harmonica and slide guitar, Twelve Years Down, Occasionally Sober, The Party’s Over, Too Late For the Lovin’ and This Town’s Gone to Hell. Perhaps this indicates some dubious recreational habits but they certainly have not had a detrimental effect on the music.

D.R. Roberts  Down and Out in Gospel Oak -  Self Release

Down and Out in Gospel Oak is the debut album from UK singer/songwriter and multi- instrumentalist D.R. Roberts. There is a hint of a young David Bowie in his vocal delivery and the opening  Heavy Weather Girl has an Albert Hammond influenced guitar melody (It Never Rains in California).

This is English contemporary music that borders on folk,  with some nice guitar work, especially on Calm on the Other Side and the closing title track. The piano based Beach Roses and Fifteen Years deal with loss and the disappointment of shattered dreams while the feel of The Dragging Yourself Down Blues and Knocking on the Door of the Deaf hint at former struggles to make a mark in the music business, while keeping a sense of self from eroding.  Down and Out in Gospel Oak is musically sound and hints at greater things to come.