Reviews by Paul McGee

Eve Williams Peregreni Self Release

Living in the town of Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland has informed and influenced the creative output of this very talented singer-songwriter. Having battled the early-life afflictions of both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes, the desire to endure and succeed has been a driving force against the challenges placed before Eve Williams.

Recognised by the Nashville Songwriters Association International as a talent to watch and a member of the prestigious Irish Songwriters Guild, she has not let her difficulties stand in the way of achieving a Master of Music in Songwriting from Bath Spa University. Her first recording, What, Now? was released in 2008 and was followed by Twenty Miles From Home in 2012.  Now we are presented with Peregreni (a Latin word for ‘wanderers’). The nine songs included here are all beautifully performed and laced with melody and gentle mood.

Steven McKnight, one of Northern Ireland's best known guitarists, is joined by James Scott on guitar, bass; Darren Matthews on keys with Eve singing and playing keys also. Her voice is warm and strong and these songs are informed by optimistic messages of rising above the daily life constraints that we all face – titles such as Don’t Anchor Me and Eagle’s Wings suggest as much and the message of Who Needs a Knight goes straight to the belief in oneself and the ability to live independently. The past is visited in songs like Vale of Angels and Illumination speaks of the inspiration of seeing a brighter tomorrow. This is an excellent folk music and comes highly recommended.

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado Ramblin’ Feels Good Self Release

This bluegrass band from Colorado has two previous releases and feature superb playing from Jeff Scroggins on banjo with Tristan Scroggins on mandolin. This father/son combination is backed by the energetic rhythm playing of Mark Schatz on bass, Greg Blake on guitar and vocals with some fine fiddle contributions from Andy Leftwich. 

Additional vocals are provided by Don Rigsby and David Peterson to compliment the positive feeling created by the twelve tracks included here. Dismal Nitch, and Lemonade in the Shade are two self -compositions from Jeff and Tristan that sit comfortably alongside the other songs selected from a variety of musical sources, players and writers.

Carefree Highway (Gordon Lightfoot), Galveston (Jimmy Webb) and I’m A Memory (Willie Nelson) all get the bluegrass treatment to great effect and the superb picking on tracks She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind and Ramblin’ Feels Good sum up the feel-good factor and foot tapping pleasures that await the myriad listeners and adherents of this vibrant music all over the world.

Roger Roger Fairweather MFM

Lucas and Madeleine Roger are twins who grew up with a rich musical influence as the children of producer/engineer/musician Lloyd Peterson. These sibling singer/songwriters have now joined forces with their Dad on this debut release which highlights their diverse song-writing skills, their excellent guitar playing and some superb vocal harmonizing. Their songs channel a folk/roots influence and are superbly crafted with strong melodic arrangements and interesting lyrical musings on relationships (Scott Free, Think Of Me, Another Girl’s Shoes, Fairweather, You Came Around), life and being part of this cosmic whole (Mad Trapper, Dead Horse Creek, 13 Crows, O Rainy Day).

Recorded at Paintbox Recording in Winnipeg with Lloyd Peterson (The Wailin' Jennys, The Weakerthans) and mixed by John Whynot (Kathleen Edwards, Blue Rodeo, Bruce Cockburn), these nine songs are beautifully complimented by Julian Bradford on bass and cello, Damon Mitchell on drums, Scott Senior on percussion, Alex Campbell on organ and Lloyd Peterson on organ and percussion.

Madeleine also drew and designed the album artwork while Lucas built some of the guitars that were played in studio. A family affair that strikes a fine balance between the talents on display with echoes of early Joni Mitchell, the Indigo Girls and CSN, all mixed into a beautifully produced album that makes quite a statement as a debut recording. Certainly worth tracking down. 

The O’s Honeycomb Punch Five

This duo, John Pedigo and Taylor Young, started out in 2008 with the release of their first album We Are The O’s. In 2011, they recorded a second album Between The Two and an additional release, Thunderdog, arrived in 2013. This fourth offering boasts twelve tracks, produced by Chris “Frenchie” Smith and recorded at two cabins behind the River Road Ice House in New Braunfels, Texas. 

Justin Currie of Del Amitri adds his vocal talents to Woken Up and with a banjo, guitar and harmonica full frontal assault, the celebratory nature of these songs really comes alive and engages the listener. Halfway Sideways and Brand New Start channel a Mumford & Sons vibe while the more considered Reaper and Wanted both have a slower tempo that attract equally well. A solid folk /rock record that builds on a reputation that continues to grow.  

Ross Neilsen Elemental Self Release

Blues artist Ross Neilsen has lived a life of recording and touring since he first embarked on his personal quest back in 2007. With six releases to his name this passionate blues guitar player has delivered eleven tracks that are dripping in atmosphere and attitude. From the slow groove and tom tom beat of the title track to the big guitar sound of Woman’s Name, Neilsen is on a mission to win over as many new converts as possible. The atmosphere continues on tracks like The Race and Black Coffee. The Arrow is an excellent jazzy workout with some outstanding guitar work.

Produced by Steve Marriner who also plays a variety of guitars plus keys, drums and vibraphone on selected tracks and augmented by Jim Bowskill, guitars, mandolin, violin and pedal steel, Darcy Yeats on bass, Matt Sobb on drums, Ed Lister on trumpet, Brian Asselin on sax and other guests.

Ash Fault is a fine track steeped in acoustic blues with some atmospheric and dynamic violin playing. Nobody Gets Lonely is a folk based song that skips along while Ballad in Low E is a country-tinged, warm blues workout. The final track, Step Into The Light, has a Band feel to it and brings matters to a very satisfactory conclusion. Recommended. 

Jesse Aycock Flowers & Wounds Horton Records

Jesse Aycock is a singer-songwriter from Tulsa, Oklahoma that has two previous recordings, Life’s Ladder in 2006 and Inside Out of Blue in 2010. He sings with a high pitch which takes a little getting used to but when you have enlisted the calibre of highly respected Neal Casal, (guitarist for Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Ryan Adams & The Cardinals), David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) on guitar, Tulsa legend Jimmy Karstein on percussion, and Al Gamble on B3, then you know that this man has talent. 

Add in George Sluppick (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, JJ Grey & Mofro) on drums, as well as Eric Arndt on bass and the sweet song arrangements win you over with a warmth in the melodies and easy rhythm. These songs are rooted in a country rock sound and cover a range of topics such as lack of self-belief, (Where’s The Light), standing still in a small town (Out To Space), taking opportunity (Heavy Day), self-preservation (When The Day Crawls Out of the Night), broken ties and moving on (Leave Again) and the title track which deals with relationship changes. 

Recorded at the legendary Church Studio in Tulsa and produced by Jason Weinheimer and Neal Casal. This is a very pleasant listen.  

Victoria Klewin & the True Tones Dance Me To Heaven Self Release

Victoria Klewin is a professional vocalist and songwriter based in Bristol, UK. She has been involved in a number of different projects and session work over the years and her present focus is the release of this debut recording with the True Tones.

Her song-writing and vocal skills are very impressive and the eleven tracks featured are all written by Victoria and arranged by her and the band. Featuring Sophie Stockham on sax, Paul Field on harmonica, trumpet and flugelhorn, Sam Mills on keyboards, Paul Crawford on guitar, Mark James on bass and Tom Bradley on drums. This 7-piece band really make the songs come to life with plenty of superb playing that spans smoky jazz, big band groove, laid-back blues and some funky soul sounds. The interplay between the musicians is very enjoyable as the song arrangements leave room for some sweet spontaneity in the solo parts and band runs.

The songs cover the usual heart-torn topics of bad lovers (Can’t Help Myself), return of an ex-lover (Got A Question), playing the field (Why Should I) and the possibility of sweet seduction (Taking Me Down, Dance Me To Heaven, Roving Eye). The vocals are confident and colourful while the production by Klewin, Ben Capp & Sam Mills is both bright and compelling. Recommended.

Libby Koch Just Move On Berkalin 

Eleven songs that deal with relationships in all their ragged glory from Houston born Libby Koch. She qualified as a lawyer before turning to music as her preferred career choice, so she is well armed to swim in the shark-infested waters of the Nashville music industry. 

Her debut EP appeared in 2008 and two full albums, Redemption and The Shadow of This Town followed in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Tennessee Colony followed in 2014 and this marks her latest collection.Which is traditional country and Koch sings with a voice that will bring to mind Loretta Lynn or Reba McEntire. Not that she is trying to be anything but herself, as she sings from the heart about break-ups in a trio of songs that open up the record; Just Move On, You Don’t Live Here Anymore and Out Of My Misery.

Produced and engineered by Nashville legend Bil VornDick and featuring a 7-piece studio band who play with great understated rhythm, there are also 4 harmony vocalists who assist in filling out the sweet melodies, as Libby sings and plays a variety of guitars.

Don’t Know How deals with the life of a lonely soul while Chance On Me is the same person looking for a new relationship. Tell Me No Lies and I’ve Been Blind speak of the search for honesty and in recognising what was there all along. Back to Houston is a leaving song that says goodbye to an old life while the closing track Wish You Were Here is a drunken lament for an old lover. A very fine country artist who deserves your attention.

Erin Rae & the Meanwhiles Soon Enough Clubhouse

What an impressive full-length debut. This gifted musician hails from Tennessee and announces herself with a sweetly seductive voice and a song-writing ability that is a joy to experience. Erin co-produced the 13 songs here with Michael Rinne, Rodney Crowell's touring bassist, and the studio band sound just perfectly in tune with the gentle arrangements and melody of each track.

She had her first release in 2010 with a 5-track EP titled Crazy Talk and on this superb follow-up, Erin Rae sings of regret (Mistakes Made), advice for the impatience of youth (Soon Enough), appreciation of life’s perspective (Minolta), longing and memory (Monticello), a plea for meaningful communication (Panic), memories of family/mother (Pretty Thing) and real understanding (Light parts 1 & 2).

Rose Colour speaks of a debt owed to an old friend/lover while Owe You One deals with an argument and a need to find closure. Futile Attempts is a song about mental illness and a wish for a positive mental attitude. Sleep Away is a touching song for a sick Father and a quiet prayer for release.

On her website, she offers private singing lessons and speaks of becoming comfortable with your own natural voice. I can only imagine that any class with Erin Rae would lead to an improvement in the technique and way to approach mindful singing. Erin Rae sounds wise beyond her years and stands front and centre on this beautifully realised project. One of the highlights of the year and a must buy. 

Sue Sergel Beneath the Willow Tree Self Release

Born in Liverpool, this lady grew up in Spain before going to live in Sweden and achieving some fame on the Swedish blues scene. She had taken a break from the music industry to study and become a teacher but never really turned her back on music. Her last release was "Move Into The Light" in 2008 and this return to the studio is welcome news and proves that Sue Sergel was meant to sing the Blues.

Her voice is confident and has a quality and tone that suits the 12 songs that are included here. Sue is joined by Jimmy Olsson on upright bass and Erik Ivarsson on guitar and each plays with dexterity, subtlety and feeling. Sue plays acoustic guitar as a strong rhythm accompaniment to the songs and this allows Erik Ivarsson to stretch out with some impressive licks and solo runs across the recording.

The production duties were handled by Sue, in tandem with Stefan Svensson, and there is an open sound quality which gives the musicians plenty of space within the tunes. The tracks are all acoustic based, with no drums to ramp up the beat, but the dynamic playing of the musicians more than carry the project forward with real swagger.

Move Into the Light is one of the strongest songs with Ivarsson sounding like an early Mark Knopfler with his sweet guitar tone. Making Out and After the Apocalypse are very atmospheric and The Man, Breaking Even, Diamonds in the Rain and A Man Like That all really show off the great riffing of Ivarsson who swoops in and around the melody with great fret work. Well worth investigation.

Red Tail Ring Fall Away Blues Self Release

 Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo are the creative power that is Red Tail Ring and their gentle acoustic sound brings the listener into the world of old time roots music with guitar, fiddle, and open-back/gourd banjos releasing their timeless sound into the ether.

The record includes original songs, traditional interpretations and some fine sampling of old tunes with new lyrical additions. The harmony singing is really excellent and the production is as clear as if the musicians were seated in your living room. 

There is a Bible belt feel and the hushed, reflective and unhurried playing spins an atmosphere that just invites further investigation. With a number of prior releases, including some collaborations, Red Tail Ring bring a self-assured honesty to reviving tunes such as Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies; I’d Rather Be the Devil (Skip James); Yarrow and Gibson Town (Muddy Waters). 

Camp Meeting on the 4th July/May Day is a traditional tune that is given a very modern spin by Premo who also includes a song called Shale Town, written in protest of hydraulic fracturing practices. This duo is certainly rooted to the land in their sensitivities and the sweet singing on A Ghost Whispers is in direct contrast with the song sentiment. The title track speaks of defeating the blues while The New Homeplace tells of hard times and the hope of better days ahead. Please do yourself a favour and check this out. My favourite folk/roots release this year.

Session Americana with Jefferson Hamer Great Shakes Self-Release

Session Americana is a collective of musicians that reside in the Boston area and have been playing together in various combinations since 2003. This release is their seventh since their debut in 2005 and comprises Billy Beard (drums), Ry Cavanaugh (guitar), Kimon Kirk (bass), Jim Fitting (harmonica), Dinty Child (multi-instrumentalist) and Jefferson Hamer (guitar). 

Jefferson Harmer has worked with Anais Mitchell and is a gifted guitarist who co-produced the ten songs included here with the band. The feel is very much in the Folk tradition with excellent playing throughout. There is a quirky quality to some of the writing which adds an understated charm, particularly Big Mill in Bogalusa and What Are Those Things (With Big Black Wings).

This feels like timeless music with every player adding to the colour of the song arrangements and assisting with the co-writes. Tired Blue Shirt has a sense of Leonard Cohen running through the melody while Great Western Rail conjures up images of days past and the development of the rail system throughout the States.

The harmonica playing of Jim Fitting is very atmospheric and evocative while the simple rhythm and acoustic strum of One Skinner, One Good Rain and Barefoot Sailors are very fine examples of what is best in the American music tradition. A nice balance to the production and the playing and a collection of songs that impress.