Reviews by Declan Culliton

Lera Lynn  Resistor Resistor

Shape Shifter, the opening track on Lera Lynn’s latest release, announces a radical change in direction. Her previous releases Have You Met Lera Lynn (2012) and Avenues (2014), were brooding folk-tinged Americana with cleverly crafted song writing delivered by Lynn’s distinctive vocal. Resister finds her abandoning her earlier twang and replacing it with a darker mystical psychedelia which approaches territory inhabited by Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter and more recently by St. Vincent. The album is released on her own record label Resister Music, a further indication of an artist intent on maximum control over her own musical destiny. Whatever her motivation on leaving her previous comfort zone, the results are staggering ,with Resistor going places not previously visited by Lynn.

Perhaps her impressive involvement on the True Detective series (the trailer featuring a clip of Lynn performing The Only Thing Worth Fighting For achieved over 35 million views) pointed her in this direction, perhaps her writing with T-Bone Burnett on the series was the catalyst. Lynn has said that writing with Burnett allowed her freedom to experiment with her darker side.

The production duties were shared between Lynn and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange ( Dwight Yoakam, Lionel Ritchie, Victoria Williams, Dixie Chicks and Michelle Shocked;production work for Conor Oberst, Stephen Malkmus and kd lang). All instruments were played by Grange and Lynn.There is so much to savour on the album which has an otherworldly, almost cinematic feel, throughout. Unlike her previous work the vocals aren’t out front but drift around atmospherically.

Slow Motion Countdown is hypnotically dreamlike and intoxicating, bordering on frightening, Cut & Burn is revengeful (I cast my soul into a bullet babe, fine metal for our last dance) with an almost Joy Division like baritone guitar dominating. What you Done recalls late 80’s Marianne Faithfull (You can pluck a rose while wearing sheep’s clothes but you know what you done) and the power poppy Little Ruby closes the album in style.

The sweet’ girl next door’ from Have You Met Lera Lynn (2012) has moved to an entirely darker and seedier neighbourhood. The move may lose her some of her earlier listeners, however  Resistor is likely to expose her to a considerably wider audience and, if given the promotion it richly warrants, should feature in many year-end ‘best of’ lists whether that be in the Americana or Indie categories.

Carter Sampson Wilder Side Continental Song City

Hot on the heels of Margo Prices’ superb Midwest Farmer’s Daughter comes another classic female country album. Carter Sampson has been working, recording and touring relentlessly in recent years without achieving the deserved industry breakthrough. Like Price, Zoe Muth and Elizabeth Cook, Oklahoma born Sampson possesses a glorious country voice which certainly packs a punch on the ten tracks on Wilder Side. Her love of the traditional country queens Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline and fellow Okie Reba Mc Entire is evident throughout the album.

Wilder Side is her fourth album and sees her reunited with producer and multi-instrumentalist Travis Linville who also produced her second album Good ForThe Meantime (2009). Linville plays guitars, Dobro, bass, drums, percussion, banjo and pedal steel. Tulsa Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland, who has gained much acclaim for his latest album High on Tulsa Heat, adds backing vocals. Boasting a musical family legacy that includes Roy Orbison and with music flowing through her veins, Sampson has been experimenting and writing music from the age of fifteen. She founded The Oklahoma City’s Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, offering a formal music education for girls and women.

From the opening and title track Wilder Side (which  Sampson admits is a tribute to her alter ego) through to the  closing track See the Devil Run, much of the album has a breezy  late 70’s country feel to it, uncomplicated, captivating, and conjuring up scenes of road trips on hot, dry, sun drenched highways. A self-confessed lover of travel from an early age, much of the material references movement, freedom and journeying. Medicine River is inspired by Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains;  Holy Mother could be drawn from the Linda Ronstadt songbook and Highway Rider is a sobering road song depicting both the joys and strains of constant career-driven travel. 

Sampson performs on average 220 shows a year and if there is any justice the masterfully crafted Wilder Side will bring her to the attention of a much wider audience both in her home country and Europe.

Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby In America Cabritunes

Recorded in Nashville in the summer of 2015, In America offers seventy minutes of charming folk music in this latest collaboration between Virginia-born singer-songwriter Cathryn Craig and the superlative UK guitarist and ex-member of The Strawbs, Brian Willoughby. This is folk music at its very best, weighted with traditional Celtic influences and including a group of talented musicians in Andy Reiss, Brent Moyer, Mark Fain, Fran Breen, Dennis Bryon, Pat McInerney, Ritchie Bailey and Jeff Taylor. The production duties were undertaken by Thomm Jutz, who also plays on the album.

In America features sixteen tracks, eleven of which are co-writes by Craig and Willoughby. This includes four bonus tracks, two of which acknowledge Craig and Willoughby’s very early career work, his with Mary Hopkin’s Those Were The Days ( Willoughby played guitar) and the Righteous Brothers You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling (recalling Craig’s first venture into the music industry).

The title track tells of immigrant dreams of escaping the potato famine in Ireland for the shores of America (We’re glory bound I am told, Bluest skies and streets of gold in America). A Soft Place to Fall is a thoughtful, sincere and hopeful ballad, written by Craig for her niece. Willoughby’s solo album Black and White (1998) is revisited with The Fire. Bullet, co-written with Bill Mead of The Sharpees fame, bounces along with a catchy chorus.Worth special mention is the delightful artwork and packaging of the album, which includes a twelve page booklet including lyrics and a brief introduction to all the tracks.

In America is perfect listening for a lazy rainy afternoon. The combination of Craig’s wonderful, yet sometimes delightfully vulnerable vocals, Willoughby’s remarkable playing and the many talented contributors, makes the journey from Malahide to Donegal to America both reflective and rewarding.