Reviews by Declan Culliton


Lilly Hiatt Royal Blue Normaltown

It’s never easy for an artist to have a famed musician as a parent and Lilly Hiatt is no exception. The daughter of acclaimed singer songwriter John Hiatt has just released her second album Royal Blue some four years after she recorded her splendid debut album Let It Down. 

Let it Down was a welcomed introduction to Hiatt, her frail yet seductive vocal working its way through well written songs and slotting nicely into a country/bluesy sound though also prepared to rock out from time to time.

Royal Blue is more suggestive of turbulent times and encounters, feeling the pain of others, break ups and make ups, all delivered with no end of passion by a young lady that seems to be saying ‘not going to be messed around with anymore’. 

It’s unbalanced in a quite delightful way. Contrast the addictive, comical yet biting Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant (surely a contender for song title of the year!) with the sombre heart-breaking Worth It, a song that would compete with any number of vitriolic works penned by Aimee Mann.

Machine positively thunders along reflecting wild teenage years (“Learned To Mix A Drink A 11 Years, Learned To Keep ‘Em Sorry With Them Fake Pearl Tears’”), the title track Royal Blue is confessional, honest and hopeful (“What A Nice Night To Know, I Wanna Let Go, What Would A Good Woman Do? And Write a Song or Two”)

Engineered and produced by Adam Landry (Deertick, Diamond Rugs) at Playground Sound Nashville the album features a host of East Nashville finest including her regular guitarist Beth Finney, Luke Schneider (Margo Price, The Banditos, William Tyler) on pedal steel, John Radford (Steelism, Tim Easton, Drew Holcomb, Greg Hager) on drums and Jake Bradley (Bill Mallonee, Scott Chism) on bass.

All in all, a stunning piece of work by an artist capable of communicating her anger, sorrow, vulnerability, hurt and strength in such an articulate manner.

Glenna Bell Lone Star Songs and Stories Straight from the Heart of Texas  Self Released

Fifth self-released album from Texan Glenna Bell. Lone Star Songs from the Heart of Texas featuring nine tracks produced by Mark Abernathy and recorded at Sugar Hill Studious in Houston, Sea Fog Studio in East Sussex UK and The Finishing School in Austin.

As you might expect from a graduate of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program the song writing throughout the seven original songs by Bell is evocative, full on expression yet simple and very much from the heart.

Originals Pig in Lipstick Blues features Johnny Nicholas (Asleep at The Wheel) on piano and George Reiff (Joe Walsh) on bass. The autobiographical Poor Girl (In Blue) and Shiner Bock & ZZ Top are delivered semi-spoken by Bell similar in style to Minton Sparks. 

Somewhat surprisingly the two covers on the album include Everybody’s Changing by Britpop band Keane, not an obvious choice for a Texan singer- songwriter and a spirited delivery of Don Henley’s Heart of the Matter.

Lazy Afternoon Whatever Artache

Thirteen track debut from Swedish Roots band Lazy Afternoon. It’s an uncomplicated, fun all the way listen by a group of accomplished musicians. Tex-Mex in style generally - with The Mavericks stamp on much of the material. 

Founding member Bo Ahlbertz toured in the 80’s and 90’s with Westerness and Patrask, both bands playing Irish and Scottish inspired folk music. He formed Lazy Afternoon in 2013 and wrote the majority of songs on the album together with undertaking the production duties. The album was recorded by Anders Nordh on the island of Gotland and released by the Artache label.

Standout tracks are the driving powerhouse Goodbye and Sunday Afternoon. It’s dance music all the way, particularly enhanced by the accordion playing of Jorgen Ahlqvist, by a band that one expects would excel live and brighten up any lazy afternoon.

Love On Drugs I Think I’m Alone Now – Paraply

Love On Drugs, not to be confused with War on Drugs, is the vehicle for the solo career of Thomas Ponten, guitarist and band leader of Swedish Americana band Little Green.

The album is quite short, kicking in at twenty five minutes and consists of eight tracks, six penned by Ponten together with two co-writes. All instruments, with the exception of bass and drums, are played by Ponten who also produced the album.

The albums opens with a brief snatch from the Tiffany chart hit of 1987 I Think We’re Alone Now followed by Ponten’s somewhat remodelled version of the song and the title track of the album. Very immediate and sing along it has to be said. I Wanna Stay Young follows a similar path, upbeat, poppy and very listenable in an uncomplicated way. Blue and Queen Size Bed are more reflective and considered and an indication of Ponten’s song writing ability.

The album is dedicated to his close friend Andreas Johannesson, sadly passed away in 2015, following a tragic accident.

The Lowest Pair Uncertain As It Is Uneven – Team Love

The Lowest Pair were formed in 2013 when Kendl Winter, who had already recorded three solo albums of her own, teamed up with fellow banjo enthusiast Palmer T. Lee, meeting up while both performed in various bands on the Midwestern festival circuit.

The musical marriage was one made in heaven, both being lovers of traditional banjo techniques but also anxious to explore more experimental playing methods to create their own unique sound. Within eight weeks of teaming up they recorded their first album 36 cents with their second recording The Sacred Heart Sessions following less than twelve months later.

In preparation for this album the duo spent the winter of 2015 in Minnesota working with guitar wizard Dave Simonett and bass player Erik Koskine, both renowned members of bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles. They then toured for a few months before returning to Minnesota to complete the recording of the album, using the skills of Simonett and Koskinen to produce and engineer the final product. Having written and accumulated so much material over the twelve-month period they bravely decided to record two albums, not necessarily related, but released simultaneously.

Uncertain As It Is Uneven sees them abandon somewhat the totally banjo dominated sound of their earlier work with the addition of guitar, harmonica, fiddle, bass and lap steel without ever losing that timeless, back porch, earthy, bare boned sound that is their trademark. Vocals are shared, often harmonised, Winter’s wispy feathered high pitched voice complementing the coarse raspy vocal delivery of Lee. 

Opening track, the intimate The Company I Keep is very much Gillian Welch / Dave Rawlings territory, lead vocal taken by Winter with Lee adding backing vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar, banjo. Like I Did Before is stripped back to the duo’s vocals and banjo picking, Mason’s Trowel is more spirited and driven. Pretend It’s True is possibly the most accessible track on the album with a splendid John Prine like melody.

All in all a very impressive listen for those who savour their traditional folk music soaked in country.

Richard Paul Thomas Salado Self Release

Texan based singer songwriter Richard Paul Thomas has been performing for over five decades opening for household names such as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Odetta, Loggins & Messina and Anne Murray in the early days of his career.

For the past three decades Thomas has been combining live performances and recording music with video recording, acting and also the nine to five career job as a business software consultant.

The title track of his latest album refers to the town he has spent the past 32 years and is one of ten songs included in this collection of well written tales that moves effortlessly between folk and jazz tinged rhythm and blues.