Reviews By Declan Culliton


Jen Lane This Life of Mine Self Release

One of the rewards of receiving a bunch of albums to review is selecting at random an artist that was previously unknown to me and uncovering a gem. This was certainly the case with Jen Lane’s This Life of Mine, an album that stopped me in my tracks at first listen and has been visiting my cd player on a number of occasions ever since.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that the Canadian singer songwriter escaped under my radar to date despite having recorded four previous albums. The song writing, musicianship and production on the album are top drawer in no small measure a credit to John Macarthur Ellis who produced the album together with contributing no fewer than twelve instruments, his superb pedal steel work probably the standout. Ellis has won numerous awards over the years including seven BC Country Music Awards and a number of Canadian Country Music Awards, well deserved on the basis of the flawless production on this album.

The album was recorded at Bottega Studio in Kelowna located in a thirteen-acre estate which is also a working farm and parklands, the landscape cited by Lane as an inspiration to her and the musicians who feature on the album. Equally inspirational was the loss of her grandfather just before recording commenced resulting on a reflection on his life and indeed her own and hence the album’s title.

Eleven tracks feature in total, all written by Lane with the exception of the Big Star song Thirteen which is given a refreshing laid back treatment. Moving On, released as a single, summarises much of the albums theme, all about accepting things as they are and letting go. 1st Day of Spring bounces along with a ragtime feel, My Man is Linda Ronstadt style late 70’s country rock and the tour da force is the final and title track which closes the album in a defiant and positive way.

Without a doubt had this album been recorded in the late 70’s it would be receiving rave reviews and selling by the cartload. If you, like myself, are unfamiliar with Lane’s music I strongly recommend you correct this and no better place to start than here.

Jeremiah Johnson Band Blues Heart Attack Self Release

Sixth album release from the St. Louis Mississippi born Johnson, his bass player Jeff Girardier and drummer Benet Schaeffer. Don’t expect any surprises, Blues Heart Attack is Johnson doing what he does best, straight down the middle ripping blues with a bit of southern rock on the side, often delivered at a blistering pace and fleshed out by Frank Bauer adding sax and keyboards courtesy of Nathen Hershey.

Currently residing in Houston Texas readers unfamiliar with Johnson could do worse than seek out the 2014 documentary Ride The Blues, directed by Australian Gary Glenn which features concert footage of Johnson together with interviews about the artist’s career path to date.

Mind Reader, the opening track, is closer to ZZ Top than Buddy Guy and kicks the album off in fine style. Room of Fools which follows showcases both the gritty and fullsome vocals of Johnson together with his thrilling guitar work. The title track Blues Heart Attack abandons the full-on rocking sound of much of the album and settles for a jazzier feel. Summertime (how many blues artists have written a song with the title Summertime!) floats along with the emphasis on Johnson’s vocal and recalling a young Van Morrison. Similarly Talk Too Much brings to mind early career John Mayall. Southern Drawl, a killer song by the way, not surprisingly is pure apologetic southern rock name checking Johnny Cash along the way. Here We Go Again slows thing down a mite and features both stunning guitar and sax solos.

All twelve tracks were written by Johnson and recorded at Sawhorse Studio in St. Louis and produced by Jason Mc Intire. For lovers of Rory Gallagher, Buddy Guy and the like.

The Honeydogs Love & Cannibalism Simon Records

It’s hard to fathom that The Honeydogs have existed in one form or another for over 25 years at this stage. Originally formed in the early 90’s by the Levy brothers Adam and Noah together with bass player Trent Norton, they were considered back in the day by Billboard to be Alt-Country’s next big thing, notwithstanding the fact that their output was and remains to be much more far reaching that anything alternative or even country for that matter. Adam Levy sums up their early influences simply as "liking Bowie and Jobim as much as the Flying Burrito Brothers and Merle Haggard." Such was there impact in the 90’s that they toured with both Aimee Mann and INXS.

Their line up in recent years is that of a seven-piece unit. Adam Levy (who released the solo album Naubinway earlier this year, a tribute to his son who passed away in tragic circumstances and reviewed by Lonesome Highway) on guitar, piano, keyboards, Trent Norton on bass and vocals, Ryan Paul Plewachi on guitar and vocals, Peter Anderson on drums, Peter J. Sands on keyboards with Matt Darling and Steve Kung on trombone and trumpet.

Love & Cannibalism, following on from their 2012 release What Comes After, finds them in outstanding form, most definitely a sum of their parts and an album that could not be more suited to the car CD player at high volume.  Their style would simply have been classified as ‘rock’ in the 70’s landing somewhere between the guitar driven sound of Thin Lizzy and the slick, clever power pop output of XTC and Squeeze. The addition of a horn section gives them a fuller and richer soul feel bringing to mind Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes on the track Ordinary Legs in particular.

Recorded over a five-day period at The Pearl Studio in Minneapolis and produced by John Fields (Jonas Brothers, Pink, Miley Cyrus, Busted) the eleven-track album has no fillers from the driving opening track Vermillion Billows (Shouldn’t Take It So Hard) with its thumping bass line through the Tom Petty sounding Look Through The Sun and closing with the funky sounding Little Sister.

The album is pure fun, with stunning chord changes, riffs and guitar solos, thumping bass lines and luscious horns a plenty. An album that should find its way into your record collection.

Richard Shindell Careless Continental Song City

Recorded over a three-year period in New York and his current residence Buenos Aires, Careless is a collection of eleven songs by a singer songwriter who has recorded a considerable body of work dating back to his debut album Sparrow Point released in 1992.

Recognised somewhat as a perfectionist Careless certainly reflects the meticulous input by Shindell over the three-year period with possibly the strongest album of his career, more electric that much of his earlier work and songs and stories that catch the listener’s attention on first play.

Shindell is yet another songwriter that has remained on the fringes without a major industry breakthrough and it is such a shame that an album of this quality may not reach the numbers it’s quality certainly merits.

Stray Cow Blues, which opens the album, is straight down the middle bluesy and rootsy and probably not a pointer of what is to follow. The title track which features next is beautifully paced, atmospheric and delivered with a hoarsy vocal drawl in a style reminiscent of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher.

Infrared is simple, poppy, sixties sounding and sing along with a wonderful harmony vocal courtesy of Sara Milonovich, who also contributes violin on a number of other tracks on the album. Milonovich is one of a number of accomplished musicians that feature including Larry Campbell, Joe Bonadio, Jerry Marotta and Lucy Kaplansky.

All Wide Open tells of a father/daughter reconciliation, Before You Go is dreamlike and hypnotic and the closing track and only cover on the album is The Dome (written by Jeff Wilkinson and Brian Martin) featuring only vocal, bowed electric guitar and keyboards, all performed by Shindell.

All in all a great album, well worth investigating.

Proudfoot Flowers of London Self Release

Not to be confused with the Dublin soul/funk band of the same name, Flowers of London is the second album release by the North London four piece consisting of Michael Proudfoot on vocals and guitar, Duncan Kerr on electric and acoustic guitar, Wayne Worrill on bass and Joe Malone on drums and percussion. If their 2009 album Lincolnshire, produced by pedal steel supremo B.J.Cole, had its inspiration firmly in country music, Flowers of London’s influences are much closer to home in particular in the Brit pop sound of the 60’s combined with the post-punk output of the late 70’s. Not surprising given songwriter and TV Producer Proudfoot’s unapologetic love of the 60’s Beat Boom sound and Kerr’s former life as a veteran of the mid 70’s pub rock scene with the band Plummet Airlines.

Recorded at Alchemy Studios in London the album often recreates the pub rock sound mastered by Brinsley Schwarz in the mid 70’s and brought to a wider audience by Graham Parker and The Rumour. Proudfoot does not reach the stirring and spikey vocal ability of Parker, few do, but the album in spots does create material that would fit snugly in Parker’s early output, particularly on Pathfinders, Come On Come On and Lorraine. The arrangements work to a tee particularly on these tracks with a driving rhythm section and standout guitar playing by Kerr.

Not all twelve tracks on the album shine but the ones that do simply glow.

Norrie Mc Culloch These Mountain Blues Black Dust 

Scotland has seen some notable Americana acts emerge in recent years, albeit artists that may have remained somewhat under the radar. The Wynntown Marshals from Edinburgh and Glasgow’s Daniel Meade immediately spring to mind. Norrie McCulloch is another fine artist from Glasgow that turned quite a number of heads with his debut album Old Lovers Junkyard recorded in 2014. His latest album These Mountain Blues treads a similar path musically yet reveals a greater maturity and confidence that its predecessor.

Recorded live over a three day period at The Tolbooth, a 15th Century historic structure in Stirling, the ten tracks are a collection of great songs, all written by Mc Culloch, that work together as a unit.

The benchmark in terms of delivery and content could be Jay Farrar’s Son Volt at his most phlegmatic. Mc Culloch manages to deliver, with an unhurried and assured sense throughout, an album that has traces of many of the qualities that also stand out in Farrar’s work.

Contributing on the album are some of Glasgow’s finest, including Dave Mc Gowan (Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub) on upright bass, piano and pedal steel, Marco Rea (The Wellgreens, Euros Child) on bass, piano and vocal and Stuart Kidd (The Wellgreens, Pearlfishers, BMX Bandits) on drums and vocal. Despite having such fine players available the album also includes some gems with stripped back instrumentation, in particular Black Dust with Mc Culloch’s vocal and harmonica up front and closing track Hearts Got To Be In The Right Place with delightful harmonies and piano playing.

The title track is intoxicating with Mc Cullocks vocal and Mc Gowan’s silky piano to the fore as is the beautiful When She Is Crying Too enriched by Mc Gowan’s tranquil pedal steel

Further evidence that quality Americana, a classification this album certainly merits, is often closer to home than you think.

The Rifters Architect of a Fire Howlin Dog

Formed in 2002 in New Mexico The Rifters are a three-piece made up of ex-Hired Hands members Jim Bradley and Don Richmond together with Rod Taylor of The Rounders.

Their sound is best described by themselves when they recorded their self-titled debut album in 2004. “It’s music that comes from where we come from – both from the high desert and mountain landscape of our home and from the background and experiences of our lives – sort of a laid-back high-energy gentle giant old blue-buffalo-grama-grassy, cowboy, folky, shake-a-leg with a smile sort of thing.’’

Architect of Fire is a twelve-track recording of songs all written by the band members who combine impressive harmonies with slick instrumentation featuring guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, violin and more.

Pick of the crop are two Leonard Cohen sounding songs, the title track and I Can Live With That together with Charlie’s Lament which would not be out of place on an early career Guy Clark album.

The album’s cover depicts the three members casually sitting around a campfire, a fitting location for playing and indeed listening to the mixture of country and bluegrass covered on the album.

Henry Senior Jnr. Plates of Meat Maiden Voyage 

This is the debut album by Henry Senior Jr, pedal steel player and member of Danny & The Champions of The World. Not surprisingly the recording features all the members of The Champions and was recorded at Reservoir Studios in North London under the watchful eye of producer and bass player Chris Clarke.

When considering the pedal steel guitar in the UK the obvious benchmark is the talented BJ Cole who, as can be expected, was one of the inspirations that lead to this recording.

Often considered to be an instrument rarely heard outside The Music City, Senior’s intention was to "use the pedal steel outside its traditional context" and he succeeds hands down with his ability to weave together jazz, blues, reggae and even ragtime. A theme visited in a similar vein by Jon Rauhouse, who plays steel in Neko Case’s band, and has recorded a number of experimental albums, Senior has also succeeded in producing a quite unique sound. The pedal steel never attempts to dominate but instead works hand in glove alongside bass, keys, drums and horns that recalls the late 60’s golden era of jazz fusion.

The title track and Better Left Unsaid are wonderful blends of soul, jazz and rhythm and blues. Goodbye Bowler Hat glides along, perfectly paced and with a dreamy reggae backbeat conjuring up scenes of sun, sand and surf. An experimental album combining pedal steel and powered by an excellent band of musicians that hits the spot from start to finish.