Reviews by Declan Culliton

Various Artists Country to Country (Volume 2) Hump Head

Compilation album in support of the recent Country 2 Country tour of the UK and Ireland (See Lonesome Highway Live Reviews). The album includes twenty tracks by artists who featured on the tour including  household names on the US country circuit for decades Dwight Yoakam Man Of Constant Sorrow and Lori McKenna The Time I’ve Wasted, both still sounding as vital as ever.

The standout tracks on the album are perhaps those contributed by female artists, in particular American Idol winner Carrie Underwood Smoke Break, Ashley Munroe On To Something Good, Miranda Lambert Automatic and Kacey Musgraves with High Time. Chris Stapleton also does his gender proud with Traveller - the title track from his CMA award winning album.

The album certainly highlights the contrast in music styles being marketed today as “country". Purists may very well bemoan the lack of fiddle, banjo and steel guitar on the majority of the offerings on the recordings. The thorny issue of what actually represents true country music today comes to mind when considering a number of the artists represented. Contemporary Country, bordering on Country/Pop in many cases, is well represented by artists such as Luke Bryan, David Nail, Frankie Ballard and Sam Hunt. 

Emerging singer-songwriter Andrew Comb’s offering Nothing To Lose recalls a young Glen Campbell whereas UK duo The Shires contribution All Over Again is closer in sound to The Corrs than country. Also featured on the album are Dierks Bentley, Kip Moore, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Callaghan, Old Dominion and Maddie & Tae. With twenty artists represented there is something to savour on this album both for purists and for the punter that prefers their country music a tad sugar-coated.

Matt Patershuk  I Was So Fond Of You  Black Hen

There appears to be an endless supply of hugely talented Canadian singer-songwriters emerging in recent years. Ryan Boldt, Jim Bryson, Kathleen Edwards, Kendal Carson, Luke Doucet, Frazey Forde, immediately come to mind in this context, artists unfortunately unlikely to achieve the commercial recognition they richly deserve. Matt Patershuk, on the basis of this delightful offering, is yet another Canadian to richly impress.

I Was So Fond Of You follows Patershuk’s debut, the Western Canada Music Awards nominated Outside the Lights of Town released in 2013. This album is a collection of eleven songs, in the main dedicated to his sister Clare, tragically killed by a drunk driver in 2013. It’s an album that has the listener immediately seeking out the lyrics to some beautifully written songs from the understated title track to the equally moving and saddening Prettiest Ones.

Equally impressive is the quality of the musicianship throughout. Fiddle, banjo, accordion, mandolin and guitar are contributed by Nashville resident and one of America’s finest, Fats Kaplin. Gary Craig adds drums and percussion, with backing vocals, to beautiful effect, by Ana Egge, an extremely talented singer-songwriter in her own right. The album was produced by Juno Award Winner Steve Dawson who also adds some elegant steel guitar throughout and was recorded at Dawson’s Henhouse Studio in Nashville 

Sounding decades beyond his years (elder statesmen Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker come to mind) Patershuk’s baritone vocals throughout cannot be described as melodic but are controlled, disciplined and magically suited to his lyrics. Melancholy may be the overriding tone of the album yet it’s not without humour.  Pep The Cat Murdering Dog tells the tale of Pep the Labrador sentenced to life without parole by a State Governor for killing his wife’s cat and Burnin’ the Candle is straight down the middle honky tonk. 

Despite these lighter moments it is the material dealing with its core subject that remain with the listener. The previously mentioned and understated title track, the wonderful Tennessee Warrior ( his lines weren’t straight but his heart was true, papa said girl he was meant for you) relating to a horse owned by Patershuk’s sister and the evocative Prettiest Ones standing out in particular. 

Noteworthy also is the striking packaging and artwork on I Was So Fond Of You which is better described as a sharing of thoughts by Patershuk than simply an album. Highly recommended indeed.

Shane Joyce An Introduction Self Release

Briefly fleeing the nest from his duties as lead singer and frontman with The Midnight Union Band, this five track mini-album emphasises the song writing ability of Joyce, whose career kicked off not so many years ago busking on the streets of Kilkenny.

Making no apologies for his love in particular of the heavyweight songwriters Dylan, Cohen and Van Morrison the main focus on the five songs  is on the lyric with the vocal always out in  front in the recordings. Opening track Blame tells of unrequited and lost love in Leonard Cohen fashion with a simple hum along chorus. The Same Old Song is a modern day protest song (‘’ pretty soon they will tax you just for living in your skin’’) a reflection, written from the heart, of the profound difficulties for survival in an austerity driven environment 

Those Who Pay The Rent, the absolute  standout track on the album and also released as a single by Joyce last year, is a beautifully constructed piece of music, perfectly paced an including some heavenly  harmonies aided  by Jan Ramsbottom. Again, very obviously, Leonard Cohen influenced but also delivered in an individualistic style quite recognisable from Joyces’ work with The Midnight Union Band. 

Peter Flynn and John Wallace from The Midnight Union Band contribute guitar, bass, piano and drums with acoustic guitar on the album, with harmonica and Hammond organ from Joyce. 

Where Joyce particularly excels is in his live performances as punters who have enjoyed The Midnight Union Band gigs will be aware of.  He is a confident frontman, who possesses the required intensity and natural ability to immediately engage his audience - not always an easy task. I certainly look forward to hearing the songs from this most impressive debut solo effort live in the near future and if he can continue to create music as imposing as Those Who Pay The Rent then the sky is the limit for this young man.

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones Little Windows Cooking Vinyl

What do you get when you mix UK music royalty with Californian power pop? An outstanding result on the basis of this delightful collaboration between Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones. The combined vocals on all ten original compositions are heavenly with the lead melodies being shared between both artists.  

Interestingly only one of the songs clocks in at over three minutes and recalls an era when such beautifully countrified rock and roll music was aired regularly on daytime radio performed by musical dignitaries such as the Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. Thompson and Jones first sang together at LA’s Club Largo in 2011, performing a George Jones song and sowing the seeds for Little Windows. The songs were subsequently written and developed while Jones resided in LA and Thompson in New York.

Having recorded five solo albums to date Thompson, the son of the legendary Richard and Linda Thompson, Little Windows is the first collaborative venture that Thompson has pursued, following in the same vein in terms of two part vocal harmonies as those perfected by his parents and indeed by his sister Kami and her husband James Walbourne (The Rails).

Jones, for her part, has recorded with Daniel Lanois  Buddy Miller and Brian Blade during her musical career which has seen her move from her childhood residence on a Washington horse farm to Nashville via Manhattan and finally to LA where she presently lives. 

The collection of musicians who contribute are household names within roots music circles and  include guitarist Steve Elliot, Ryan Adams keyboard player Daniel Clarke, Davey Farragher of Cracker, John Hiatt and The Imposters fame on bass and Pete Thomas of The Attractions (Elvis Costello) on drums. The album was recorded live to an analog 16 track tape machine by Mike Viola. Linda Thompson acted as executive producer.

Stand out tracks are the opener Never Knew You Loved Me Too, which would hold its own on any Everly Brothers album, Don’t Remind Me which enters Emmylou and Gram sacred ground and Make A Wish On Me the highlight being some captivating keyboard playing by Daniel Clarke.

At 26 minutes the album is regrettably on the short side but given the absolute quality on offer sometimes less is more.