Reviews by Paul McGee


The Sumner Brothers The Hell in your Mind Self-Release

The sound of siblings Bob and Brian Sumner has been a long time in the making and dates back to their early years in Vancouver, Canada. In the summer of 2006 they changed their garage into a recording studio and created their debut release, In The Garage. It launched a career that has seen the brothers release a self-titled record in 2008, followed by In The Garage 2 (2010) and I’ll Be There Tomorrow (2012).

The media/press that I researched speak of alt-country, folk-roots and indie-country when looking to pin a label on the music. Having never heard of the band before and in the absence of a lyric sheet, I find myself thinking of touchstones like Crash Test Dummies for the quirkier songs and Pearl Jam for the more rock based arrangements. Dare I suggest that the vocals can sometimes sound like Eddie Vedder meets Bono in tone…

There is a dark element running through the eight tracks here and focus on our mortality in songs like Last Night I Got Drunk (death of brother/wife) and I’m Not Ready (not wanting to die alone). Ant Song is the stand-out track with chiming guitars, a military drum beat and throbbing bass lines that propel the song about mental illness and small town reactions.

Giant Song is very tongue-in-cheek and spins a new perspective on the mythical Yeti of the mountain terrain who feeds off young children in order to survive. Go This One Alone is a real band work-out complete with driving rhythm and distorted guitars and a resolve to survive a broken relationship. It Wasn’t All My Fault and Lose Your Mind are both gentle arrangements, with strummed acoustic guitars and even a clarinet, both looking at opposite ends of a relationship; the loss of love and the beginnings of new love.

Ending with a prayer for contentment and peace with one-another, My Dearest Friends sounds as much like a plea for enlightened awareness and replaces some of the darkness that runs through the rest of the recording. The Sumner Brothers are very interesting and I would certainly like to hear more of their music. The production and song structures are very strong and the players all dove-tail together into a tight ensemble. Worth checking out.

Lotus Wight Ode To Banjo Self-Release

Thirteen tunes spanning 46 minutes is a tall ask when all we are given is a small variety of instruments with a common link to the banjo. The notes on the sleeve refer to the African roots of the instrument and the cry of enslaved human beings with homes and families torn apart. In its time the banjo united a common movement of shared suffering before being absorbed into the mainstream of society. Where it began taking a place at the table of ragtime, blues, bluegrass and folk tales from rural communities.

Lotus Wight is a stage name for Sam Allison who produced this collection of tunes and also wrote all the songs. The speciality instruments used sound really impressive, especially when you try to absorb and consider which is a #36 Frostwood Gourd Banjo or indeed an open-back Tubaphone five-string; not to forget a supertone banjo-mando with four strings. I rest my case.

Atmospheric is the key word here as the 13 tunes come and go across the recording. Lotus is a banjo folklorist, bluesman, poet, fiddler, and plays jaw-harps and a contrabass harmoniphoneum (a banjo/megaphone combination).

Most of the tracks are instrumentals and you have to enjoy the sound of a claw-hammer banjo to really embrace the artistry at play here. If you are largely underwhelmed by the instrument and the somewhat brash sound it can make, then you will not have the patience to stay the distance here. Fine musicianship no question but not everybody’s automatic favourite choice – approach with reverence and a sceptical ear.

The Ted Vaughn Blues Band Harbinger Northwest

What a welcome surprise to put a CD in the player and hear no nonsense, straight talkin’ blues come jumping out of the speakers. This release is a real tour de force performance across ten tracks that really explode in a driving rhythm of ‘all aboard the blues train’ and we stop for nobody…!

The production by Leon Forrest is immediate and compelling while the players really inspire with the right sort of attitude and really tight playing. The Blues Harp is played with a real vibrancy by Ted Vaughn and Clay ‘Bone’ King burns everything down to ashes with some searing guitar work. The rhythm section of Ian Henderson on drums and Ted Larson on bass underpin the everything with some solid bedrock grooves while producer Leon Forrest adds some incredible keyboards on many tracks here.

Three tracks are written by Ted Vaughn; Nothin’ But Trouble, Swang Thang and Them 12 Bar Blues. The rest of the tracks are licensed and used by permission, such as Boom Boom (John Lee Hooker), Killin’ Floor (Howlin’ Wolf), The Thrill Is Gone (BB King) among others.

A giddy romp and a really enjoyable listen with rootsy blues that grab you in a dizzy spell of joy and some down ‘n’ dirty playing.

Kevin Gordon Long Time Gone Crowville Media

This collection of 11 tracks starts with the slow groove electric blues of All In The Mystery and sets a high standard with some superb ensemble playing. The studio musicians are drawn from an impressive list of experienced players, with Nashville producer Joe V. McMahon contributing guitar on everything, Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown, Jeffrey Foucault) on acoustic and resonator guitars, Lex Price (k.d. Lang) on upright bass and acoustic tenor guitar, Ron Eoff (The Band, Delbert McClinton) on electric bass and Paul Griffith (Sheryl Crow, John Prine) on drums and percussion. 

The tracks vary between the rockabilly beat of GTO to the late night atmospherics of Letter To Shreveport and into the acoustic folk strum of Crowville, Shotgun Behind The Door and Goodnight Brownie Ford.

There is a hypnotic quality to the overall tone and tempo of the recording and the authentic writing of Kevin Gordon comes across in the narrative-style writing and lyrics that reflect local experiences around Louisiana where he was born.

The drum shuffle and Little Feat guitar riff of Church On Time gets into a real blues boogie and Cajun With A K is one of the stand-out tracks that changes the pace with a spoken rap and a rich tapestry of characters and images that pass across our senses as if taken from a novel or TV show. Country Blues born out of the bayou and played with depth and style. A very fine release.

Mr Rick Sings About God + Booze Self-Release

Skiffle as a music genre defined itself by absorbing Blues, Folk, Jazz and Roots influences in equal measure. It didn’t matter whether old time Swing mixed with vintage Country or served up a healthy dose of Gospel. It was the overall feel of the music that counted and there were many artists that developed out of this early influence in the 50’s on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Rick hails from Ontario Canada and he does everything to keep this music alive with a blend of String Band, Rockabilly, Gospel and Blues. This 13 song release centres around the twin topics of Drink and Religion. Many songs have been written on these themes, as God-fearing folks looked to save their souls and praised the heavens, while battling with their human frailties upon this Earth. The inside sleeve carries the sub-header “Love Whiskey – Fear God” and this sums up the feel of these songs perfectly.

The music has an infectious rhythm at the hands of the music ensemble gathered here. We have Drew Jackson playing superb fiddle on One Kind of Favour, It’s The Bottle Talking, Liquor Store Blues and Death Come In My Room. He is ably assisted by the understated guitar playing of both Mr Rick and Steve Briggs. The Clarinet playing of Jono Lightstone on I Know I’ve Been Changed is very atmospheric and the Gospel voices of the Ted Hawkins Singers feature on a number of tracks like Hush, Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin, Beams Of Heaven and I’ll Fly Away.

Mr Rick has been playing with fellow musicians the Biscuits since the early 2000’s as an Alt- country power trio and this release has expanded upon this activity with fine production from Rick Zolkower and superb playing from all concerned with the project.

The Mystix Live Rhythm and Roots Mystix Eyes

This Roots band is based in Boston and has been performing their unique interpretations of the music of rural America, as well as original material since their first release in 2007. On this live album of 14 tracks, a number of songs are included that has brought them a strong support base across their local state of New England.

Over 5 studio releases this band of veteran musicians has produced some memorable moments. The dynamic playing of Matt Leavenworth on fiddle and the great Bobby Keyes on guitars is a real driving force. The blues harmonica, organ and mandolin playing of Annie Raines is also of real quality and the entire recording swings along at a very strong pace. Jo Lily anchors the band and his vocal style is something of an acquired taste, sounding somewhere between Roger Chapman of Family and JJ Cale.

There are covers of You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had (Steve Earle), To Ramona (Bob Dylan), Hard Times (Stephen Foster), Whiskey and Wimmen (John Lee Hooker), Cry, Cry, Cry (Johnny Cash), among others. Jo Lily includes a few self-penned songs in the mix and overall the mood is one of celebratory playing and an organic sound that is full of rich textures. The impressive musicianship is coupled with soulful and restrained performances that gives this group of musicians a real gravitas.

Peter Gallway Muscle and Bone Galway Bay

This is the new solo release from acclaimed singer-songwriter and producer Peter Gallway. Written, performed, produced, recorded and mixed by Gallway, these eight songs demand full concentration and Gallway is taking a gritty look at life in response to the inhumanity and lack of empathy that is all too prevalent. In the press release he states that "this collection is a plea written in outrage, sorrow, anger, shame, hope, hopelessness, expectation, regret, belief, release and prayer."

It has been said that Gallway displays a blue collar observational lyrical style, inspired by Raymond Carver, and there are songs of deep meaning contained on this release. Echoes of Bruce Cockburn are present in some of the spoken word passages that urge us to seek out our higher calling and spread inspiration and joy. This sentiment is included on the excellent Hymn and also the opening song, Anthem.

The aggression of Tear Something Down channels the frustration of a returned war veteran shunned and pushed to the margins of a society that he has fought to protect. “People, not sure I want ‘em, Not sure I need ‘em, Not sure ‘bout anything, Except I want to tear something down . . . “ 

Downtown Ferguson deals with the fallout from the shooting of black youth Michael Brown in Los Angeles. The Distance Of My Fall is inspired by the life and writing of Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director who was executed by Nationalist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The writings of Mahatma Gandhi are included in the closing track Blow This World, in addition to a spoken word segment in Downtown Ferguson.

This accomplished artist has been releasing albums since the late 1960’s and has achieved a level of excellence that is truly inspiring. The song arrangements are very sophisticated and the mood of the music in the melodies is of quiet resignation, dignity and fortitude. There is Leonard Cohen in the sentiment and Jackson Browne in the spirit of the lyrics. A better use of mind is the key message being delivered.

Overall this is a very impressive release and something of a meditation on our human condition. Clocking in at just on one hour of music, this is not for the faint hearted but the benefits are many in the listening experience. A work of some importance and artistic integrity.