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.