Reviews By Paul McGee

Kelley McRae The Wayside Self Release

This is folk/roots music of the highest order. The eleven tracks included on this release are superbly crafted and played by an ensemble of musicians who gel perfectly together in delivering a work of some sophistication and strength.

McRae directs the gentle grooves on display with her guitar and a wistful longing in her vocal delivery. Her partner in all things creative, Matt Castelein, plays beautiful lead guitar and also sings sweet harmony vocals. Backed by Brent Clifford on guitar & vocals; Roy Salmond on piano, keys, bass & percussion, with Kenton Weins on drums & percussion; we are given song arrangements that serve the project beautifully as the song, If You Need Me, states “Anything worth holding onto is worth letting go”.

Reach You is a soft regret on scoring relationship points against a futile future “there was a time when joy came easy…”.

Land of the Noonday Sun sums it all up with the line;” time goes by like a dream, no matter how hard you run”. The dreamlike quality of her music just pulls you along on a breeze of calm and reflection.

Having travelled extensively across America and performed hundreds of shows, this duo has gone on to tour in eleven countries and performed at festivals. Theirs is a celebratory sound which reminds me of the Indigo Girls when they first appeared on the scene & both Hard Night and Red Dirt Road are perfect examples with their swagger and tempo. I also hear Patty Griffin and Emmylou in these songs but in mentioning these greats, I only hope to elevate the creative talent on display here.

A Long Time and All the Days That Have Come Before, are real nuggets that unveil themselves on repeated listen, while Rare Bird is a moment of reflection with a rueful look back at old friends, gone along another path. Tell It Again contains the most sublime guitar break and Rose is a tribute to a child (daughter?), that is beautifully gentle and heart felt.

The press release for The Wayside speaks of the ‘hope that comes with stepping onto unknown soil’. Perhaps a “place along the side of the road where things get left behind, or where you go to rest awhile, or where you go find something you lost along the way.” Well, that just about hits the nail on the head.

With four previous releases to her name, Kelley McRae has arrived at a perfect place where creative essence meets with mature and poignant reflection. Everything you would look for in a release of quality song craft and understated performance. A must buy.

C. Daniel Boling These Houses Berkalin

This represents the seventh release in a career that has seen this American Folk artist receive widespread acclaim for his singer-songwriter talents and compared to the artists like Steve Goodman, John Prine and Tom Paxton.

Of the 13 tracks here, 3 are co-writes with Tim Henderson (Buffalo Nickels/Miss Amelia Harris/Spinster) and Andrea Renfree (Growing Old in New Mexico), and there are also 2 songs inspired by the war veterans of a New Mexico organisation who helps with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (I Brought the War With Me/Crumble).

These are well-crafted story songs and influenced by his upbringing in a traveling Air Force family, along with some years spent as a National Park Ranger, a Criminal Investigator for the US Bureau of Land Management.

The assembled musicians serve the songs with quiet restraint and colour the words with sensitive playing around the arrangements.

The title track is right out of the great American folk tradition and it is no surprise that such a varied band of musicians assemble to pay tribute to the past as well as honouring the present. Songs such as I Will Not Go Gently and Leadbelly, Woody & Pete close the project with a nod to the struggle that continues… ‘We are here to make each other strong and whole…’ A fine performer and song-writing talent.

Anna Elizabeth Laube Tree  Ahh…Pockets!

Anna Elizabeth Laube is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and this is her fourth release. The nine tracks selected include a cover of Bob Dylan’s Wallflower, together with a version of XO, originally written by Beyoncé. In a way, these two extreme opposites sit as a perfect summary of this excellent artist who is prepared to take chances in her writing and song arrangements.

The title song is a sweet reflective piece that reflects on growing up and childhood memories. The innocence of youth is captured in lines like "You’re the hideout in my backyard”. The light touch and jazz swing of Sunny Days is just so sweetly subtle and sung in a lazy care-free style that frames a number of the songs here. The musicians are all very impressive in their varied cameo roles but it is the skills of Ms Laube that knits it all together, whether playing guitar, bass, harmonica, piano or just using her disarming voice.

The country-style violin that frames the Dylan cover brings the song to a new place and the Beyoncé track (XO) is given a stripped back acoustic guitar treatment with some very fine muted trumpet from Charley Wagner.  

With previous releases, Laube has been honing her song-writing skills and this fells very much like a complete and mature realisation of the days spent learning her craft.

Please Let It Rain in California Tonight is a beautiful prayer for healing in the World that has reflective compassion with lines such as “ Please let love rule our bodies, hearts, and minds, and melt away every single chain that binds”.

The narrative in “Lose, Lose, Lose” is of an ex-addict falling off the wagon on Christmas Eve and is such a poignant song both in delivery and mood. The final song “All My Runnin” is a knowing nod to love and the pedal steel of Dan Tyack frames the sentiment as Laube sings “Darlin’ all my runnin’, led me to your face”. A terrific release and one that delights as much as it surprises.

Magic Car Meteorites Tiny Dog

Twelve songs that fall into the broad space of folk/Americana from this 5-piece who are based in Nottingham, UK. All songs are written by Phil Smeeton (guitar) and feature the clear vocals of Hazel Atkinson.

Formed in 1994, the band has released three previous records and Yellow Main Sequence, Family Matters, European Punks has now been joined by Meteorites. There are songs about novelist Mario Puzo (Only in America), Summer ending (Summer Storm), Local down 'n’ outs (King of Pool), Ladies of the Night (Manwhippa!), nature escapes (Fritz’s Beach) and fractious love (Meteorites). The sound is easy on the ear and the playing is accomplished without taking any unnecessary risks.

You could sink into the easy jazz groove of Working Woman or the acoustic shuffle of The Bends and the time will pass by quite pleasantly. A varied and interesting collection of songs.

Errol Walsh & Ted Ponsonby Just Sayin' Self Release

I remember Errol Walsh with some nostalgia. I was a young man growing my musical tree in Dublin city when I was first introduced to the great sound of Stagalee, fronted by Errol, all authentic swagger and country blues/ roots rock attitude. It was a terrific live band and boasted many members that came and went through changing line ups that never seemed to diminish the quality of the music.

Years later I came across a solo release, Waltzin’ in the Water, which gave me great comfort to know he was still ‘out there’ and doing his independent thing…

So, when this new release came in my review batch I was understandably enthusiastic to catch up with his recent past. I am glad to report that this talented song-writer is not only alive and well but is making excellent music, as evidenced on the 13 tracks included here. With 6 co-writes and 7 self-penned songs, Errol spans quite a few styles with country waltzes, light jazzy numbers, folk and rhythm & blues, complete with some Irish trad touches and some slow soul grooves.

Something to suit everyone then but not a hint of the overall sense of direction being overtaken by the variety on display.

Produced by Errol, Ted Ponsonby and Joe Murray in Ireland and something of an organic creation, the entire project is fully deserving of great credit to all concerned.

Errol is joined by Ted Ponsonby (Dobro, Acoustic/Elec guitars, Hammond Organ), Sarah Ponsonby (Fiddle), Gary Porter( Drums), Denise Boyle(Fiddle), Dave McCracken (Bass), Donna Murray(Harmonies), Rory Clements(Piano), Gordon Murray(Acoustic guitar), Sean McCarron (Saxes),Martin Hughes(Drum programming), Cloudy Henry(Piano & accordion), Stephen Quinn(Percussion), Seonaid Aitken( Fiddles) and Joe Murray on Bass, Drum programming, guitar, Harmonies & vocal arrangements – quite an ensemble to control in a studio environment and it is to their great credit that the songs just fit perfectly together as they move across the various genres.

Long Way Down has a jazz feel with horns and piano to the fore, Seventeen is steeped in Van the Man influence with the lovely piano, warm keys and gentle guitar strum all reminiscent of the great man. Matchbox Billy is a first for the best of Country traditions; a tribute to the life of a Pyro-maniac. Queen of the Glens is a beautifully realised song with a great lead vocal from Donna Murray.

Somewhere in the Middle has a Folky groove while Looney Tune finishes everything off with some style and a tip of the hat to the old acoustic blues players of the past. Terrific stuff and this is a release that I can recommend to one and all.

3Hat Trio Solitare Okehdokee

3hattrio play what they call 'American Desert Music'. The three musicians, Greg Istock, (acoustic bass, percussion, vocals, production, arrangements), Hal Cannon, (banjo, guitar, vocals) and Eli Wrankle, (violin, vocals) make a music that is both timeless and essentially familiar. It is comprised of varying influences, yet has a strong sense of the cultural traditions of the deserts of the American southwest.

Living in the region of Zion National Park in Utah brings the three musicians into daily contact with their roots and the indigenous influences of the region and all who have passed before is interwoven into the haunting, ghost-like violin playing of Eli Wrankle, the banjo melodies of Hal Cannon and the free-form jazz like runs of Greg Istock on stand-up bass.

There is a quality of isolation and other-worldliness in the playing and the spaces created by the arrangements. The singing of Greg Istock is particularly engaging, adding fresh layers to the overall atmospherics, especially when he sings in scat style improvisations to add colour to these songs.

Solitare is the third release from this trio and in our review of the previous release, Dark Desert Night, we stated that their music was simple and sublime. I see no reason to depart from this description of what is offered up on this new recording; ten songs that create a sense of returning home yet retaining the spirit of the nomadic traveller.

Texas Time Traveller is an atmospheric opener and features the free form vocals of Istock while the more reflective Rose speaks of moving down the road with the sense of nature all around. Mojave displays the finesse of the musicians to play off each other and interpret the flow of ideas contained in the elemental arrangement. The abiding message is one of the surrounding land and the place we take in the unfolding journey through time. Both Range and Blood River point to forces that are greater than us mere mortals and the drive of this music is something that powerfully captures nature in a way that is both fresh and understated. A recommended purchase.

Michael Tomlinson House of Sky Self Release

This Seattle-based singer/songwriter has 11 previous releases to his name and the 16 tracks included on this new release take over an hour of listening time. Quite a commitment is therefore required but the effort is rewarded in the positive, life enhancing lyrics and sweet vocal delivery of this accomplished singer song writer. The production is very clean and delivered by Tomlinson himself, together with the essential input of Jay Kenney, co-producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist.

It is hard not to repeat yourself across so many tracks and his optimistic messages remind me of the music of UK’s Charlie Landsborough. The writing is strong enough to hold the interest, from the light jazz groove on tracks like Boulevard Rain to the acoustic swing of Daddy O’; the catchy Wyoming Wind and reflective Thanks For the Wind. This is folk/rock played with accomplished ease and delivering a very genuine message of thanks, hope and peace, as Michael Tomlinson sings from the heart with a genuine passion and belief in his spiritually uplifting songs.