Reviews by Paul McGee

Janie Barnett & Blue Room You See This River Minor Regrets

This is the second release from a singer-songwriter who has gathered together an impressive line-up of musicians across the 14 tracks included. There is a hint of Rickie Lee Jones in the vocal delivery and it is no surprise, given that Janie developed her career, partly singing backup, for iconic stars like Linda Ronstadt, Celine Dion, and ... Rickie Lee Jones.

Produced by Janie and mixed by Michael Golub, who also provides ‘programming’ on several tracks; the gentle arrangements are full of restrained playing that serve the songs so well and the excellent musicianship is a joy throughout. Witness the trio of love songs, Wrap Me Up; Good Crazy Thing and Sweet Thursday and the lyrical timelessness of the melodies.

The subject of gun purchase is part of Buy That Thing and the fractured state of love gone wrong is touchingly illustrated in Walk It Out To You; with poignant and wistful vocal delivery and minimal guitar/piano accompaniment. Face The Voodoo is wonderfully quirky and reminds me of a Jane Siberry song.

This Small World and Another Round Before It’s Time both question the true meaning of love and the communication that should be an essential part of it. You See This River speaks of taking the jump and experiencing life, with all its risks and rewards. Beginner explores opening up to new love and being vulnerable, as does the sweetly supportive How You Are, in reaching out to a sensitive soul.

A very impressive body of songs that just get better with repeated listening. Recommended for all who like to dwell in the magical universe of the ethereal. 

Peter Gallway Feels Like Religion Self Release

Yes, he is most definitely at it again. Eleven new songs with the same high quality, as always, in both the musicianship and the writing. Over 36 minutes this prolific song-writer, musician and producer paints a vista that shows just how versatile an artist he truly is. Dedicated to, and inspired by, the work of Laura Nyro and her unique vision and whether or not you have listened to this now legendary female artist who died in 1997, you can feel her come alive again in the writing of Peter Gallway.

He has released more than twenty albums across a varied career and last year’s critically acclaimed solo release, Muscle And Bone, was his most politically impassioned work to date. In addition to his solo and band recordings, Peter Gallway has produced over fifty albums and special projects, so you can trust yourself to the tools of the master.

Playing guitars, fretted and fretless bass & keyboards, it is the world-weary quality and the wistfulness in the vocal delivery that captures the imagination as he spins tales of scenarios, both imagined and remembered, around New York City and memories of Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

R&B influences are never far away as the jazz tinged sound of Shorty Moves On conjures thoughts of a Steely Dan arrangement, following so seamlessly after the smooth sentiment of Just Lucky. Longing Lasts Longer is inspired by the work of performance artist Penny Arcade, an actress and playwright based in NYC and his ode to the City is further brought to life with songs like Tonight At The Fair and Roller Coaster.

Joined by Jerry Marotta on drums and percussion and long-time collaborator Annie Gallup, who appears on two songs, Peter Gallway is always worth a place in any music collection and this new release is highly recommended.

Tokyo Rosenthal This Minstrel Life Rock and Sock

Ten years of recorded output that has seen six previous releases and a growing reputation as an artist of some depth and quality. This release is broken into six studio recorded songs and four live songs, recorded at different venues across a 4-year period. The ten tracks hint at old spontaneous sessions that the best of Country/Folk music used to conjure up. Tokyo co-produced with Chris Stamey (Alex Chilton, The dB’s) and the mix of accordion, mandolin, flute, dobro and fiddle across the songs adds to a very open and warm production style that allows plenty of room for the fine musicianship to emerge.

There is a Tex-Mex groove on The Immigrant Revisited where the cantina sounds of mandolin and accordion transport you off to another world. Now I Believe There’s A Devil is a song that takes aim at the current President of the U.S.A. with a bi-lingual verse to add to the dynamic. Wiregrass highlights the fine talents of John Teer on fiddle while live tracks, Mama Tried (a Merle Haggard cover) and Love Won Out, show the ability to turn out performances that lift the spirit and deliver real quality. Impressive.

Daisy Chapman Good Luck Songs Songs & Whispers

Good Luck Songs is Daisy's third full length studio album. If you include a number of EP’s and a career that has been steadily growing since 2006, then you can understand the interest and respect that her beautiful melodies and voice have been gathering. This release is quite hypnotic and the nine songs that span 45 minutes just sail by in a warm reverie. Her vocal range and tone is really impressive and the song arrangements use piano, violin, cello and viola to dramatic effect. Add in the impact of oboe on a few tracks and even baritone sax and trombone; the results are highly arresting.

Daisy's unique voice soars and her wistful delivery on certain tracks is beautifully heart-wrenching. Throw in a gentle version of the Tom Waits song Tom Traubert’s Blues and the sassy groove of There’s A Storm Coming and you get a broad palette on which she paints.

However, it is the great emotion of songs like The Decalogue, Good Luck Song and Home Fires that really cast their spell and enchant the listener. How to define this music?  Perhaps it is Chamber Folk; maybe Pastoral Country? Does it need a box? No, because it is quite simply a joy to discover and that should be enough!

Her albums have all been recorded by renowned producer Ali Chant at Toybox Studios (PJ Harvey, Gruff Rhys, Giant Sand, Seasick Steve) and The Green Eyed (2009) won an Independent Music Award. Just check out this great talent.

Richard Schroder Drive Self Release

This is a slice of country-pop in all the best traditions of modern radio-friendly tunes. In an industry that has expanded the definition of what exactly qualifies as country these days, the message has become so diluted and confused that artists such as Richard Schroder don’t quite know what focus they need to bring to a rebooted career in the music business. So, why not tick ALL the boxes and hope for the best?

The production is perfectly fine with well-arranged melodies to underpin the eleven songs included here. Nothing wrong with any of it and the stories of trying to make it in the business (Drivin’) are coupled with chasing down desires (Nashville Girl), memories of youthful passion (Backseat Love) sit with advice to live life bigger (Wildest Dreams).

The standout song here is Someone Else, with its simple acoustic arrangement, a nice cello part and an authenticity that points towards the direction that Schroder should look to for any future projects.

Ryne Doughty Date Night Self Release

This musician lives in Des Moines, Iowa and on his fourth release he has written all nine songs and also produced with Jon Locker, who plays bass guitar on the tracks. They are joined by a fine group of musicians in the studio, including Justin Appel (piano), James Biehn (electric guitar), Nathan Emerson (pedal steel), Will Locker (drums, percussion), Alex Ramsey (accordion), Neil Stoffregen (keyboards) and Matt Woods (electric guitar).

Jordi Doughty adds harmony vocals, as well as providing album art, so you could truly define this as a DIY project. The music is very organic and rootsy with Ryne singing and playing acoustic guitar & banjo in a style that has real grit and stripped- down honesty. His finger-style guitar picking is impressive and the songs tell simple tales of everyday scenarios; like the title track and the rural feel of Pickled Peaches; living the simple life.

Crossing The River has a folksy blues groove and echoes the old blues players of past generations; "the Devil close behind me and Jesus up ahead on the bank’ – a metaphor for hard drinkin’ and hard livin"… Sway is a highlight with its laid-back tempo and fine guitar playing and Some Good, Some Bad has a slow groove that is both taut and razor sharp in delivery. Leaf ends the album in a gentle strum that leaves you with a smile.

A fine example of the quality music that is out there waiting to be discovered, just around the bend and down by the ’Please Stop Here’ sign.    

Humphrey-McKeown Tapestry Of Shadows HM

Songwriters Tom McKeown (vocals, banjo, guitar, harmonica, mandola and mandolin) and Heather Humphrey (vocals, flute, piano) release their fifth album and are joined by Jim Livas (drums), Tony Meadors (4 and 5 string upright and electric bass) and Gary Jacklin (violin). They produce a blend of folk/roots music that is highlighted by the harmony vocals and an organic sound that showcases the inventive musicianship.

All songs are written by Humphrey and McKeown and they also engineered, produced and mixed the entire project. You Don’t Know Me unfolds with a slow tempo and the arrangement highlights some fine piano, violin and flute interplay with the upright bass of Tony Meadows anchoring everything so well.

The co-vocal on Better Day is underlined by a gentle beat and some nice guitar and violin lines while You & I is a very atmospheric song with impassioned lead vocals.  Someday is a plea to keep going even when the waves of life seem to be crashing around you and Our Beautiful Sad Dance is a song of regret and an unwanted goodbye. It all comes together on Madness with the five musicians really coming together in unison as the song builds to a climax; stirring stuff. A very enjoyable 50 minutes spent in the company of superb musicians and an urge to enjoy more of their back catalogue.

Sands & Hearne Time Is A Line Self Release

Quinn Sands and Richard Hearn are a recently married couple and are planning their summer road tour to serve as their honeymoon. Talk about taking your love for a road trip! They actually grew up a few miles from each other but never met until many years later at a local venue called the Barking Spider Tavern. Well, what can you do but make beautiful music together?

The couple began performing and writing together in 2015 and their style is a blend of traditional folk and country blues. The two combine perfectly on the wonderfully dark tale of Crazy Carl, with harmonica atmospherics from Colin Dussault and some mean resonator guitar painting atmospheric colours. Bouncing Ball of Jesus councils on the twists and turns of cruel fate and on the title track they sing that "time is a line, but it's not always straight; it curves and it bends, by choice and by fate."

Well, fate threw this couple together and they certainly make some excellent music as they take lead- vocal turns across the eleven songs that are enriched by the superb players assembled for the studio recording in Cleveland, Ohio - Joey Hanna on drums & percussion; Kevin Johnson on electric & upright bass; Chris Hanna on organ & piano; Al Moss on lap steel, pedal steel and dobro; Nick Stipanovich on accordion; Sam Kristoff on cello and Colin Dussault on harmonica.

Sands plays acoustic guitars, glockenspiel and sings with a lovely warm tone to her voice. Hearn plays acoustic guitars, resonator/bottleneck slide guitar and sings equally well, sharing harmonies to great effect on many of the tracks.

Matt Troja produced, recorded and mixed the project in addition to playing various guitars, keyboards, percussion and singing duties. There are no fillers here and the tracks Angel With Dusty Boots, American Mind and Sugar In The Morning hold an instant appeal. However, all the songs blend seamlessly together and this duo have made a very impressive debut that comes highly recommended and points towards a bright future, both professionally and romantically speaking!!

Delta Wires Born In Oakland Mud Slide

The Delta Wires is a high-energy, harmonica and horns, 7-piece blues band from the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area and this is their 7th album. Their sound is big and funky with Ernie Pinata in the role of bandleader, harmonica player and vocalist. He is credited with forming the band almost 30 years ago, so you know that these musicians form part of an enduring legacy in playing a combination of Chicago and Mississippi Delta blues, in addition to their own modern take on the genre.

Of the ten tracks included here, 7 are originals, penned by the collective which includes a wonderful horn section of Gerry Jonutz on tenor, alto and baritone sax; David Bowman on Trombone and John Christensen on trumpet. Tony Huszar also contributes on drums, congas and tambourine with Tom Gerrits on bass and vocals and the exciting Richard Healy who really makes his guitar sing throughout. The arrangements are bright and sassy with plenty to enjoy across the seven players.

Your Eyes slows the pace down and allows the musicianship to stretch out as does Devil’s In My Headset with some lovely lead lines played by Healy. In The Middle is the chance for an extended workout with individual solos highlighting the great quality on offer. Pinata Ieads a very tight unit and the groove of Fun Time, I Don’t Care and the final track, All I Have To Give, makes this an essential purchase for any lover of all that is great about a big band blues sound.