Reviews by Eilis Boland

Janet Martin Eve Sessions Self Release 

Janet Martin has been working away building a steady fanbase in her native US and raising her profile in Europe over the course of seven studio albums. After going through a life crisis, the Virginian multi-instrumentalist and songwriter decided she need to take back control in the studio. Crowdfunded by her fans, she wrote, performed and produced this album alone, and what an impressive musical document it is!

Recognised as a particularly accomplished guitarist, here she plays acoustic, electric, bass and slide. Thrown into the mix are drums, other forms of percussion, mandolin, accordion and I could swear I hear trumpet on one track. Her rich voice reminds me of that of Anne McCue, although Janet’s overall sound leans more towards blues and rock than Anne’s.

Yesterday I Dreamt a Journey Wide opens the album with unusually a sample of a Bulgarian folk choir, and this motif is cleverly woven throughout this song of searching. In Without Your Love her ferocious bluesy slide guitar expresses so well the visceral pain of heartache. First Bite is another standout song, with its insistent bass line, acoustic guitar and another powerful slide guitar hook. But it’s not just the instrumentation that stands out here - the lyrics are heartfelt and real. Would you do things differently if you could go back and relive your life again? This universal theme is explored in Turn Back Time. Deceit and learning to trust again are the catalysts for another standout track Smoke and Mirrors, which has a distinctly klezmer feel with its accordion and mandolin. The closing track I’ll Still Wait celebrates contentment in love - an appropriate way to sign off.

This album is a real grower - it’s definitely worth seeking it out and here’s hoping that Janet comes to play in Ireland soon.

Pierce Edens Stripped Down Gussied Up Self Release 

Here’s another artist from the vibrant music scene in Asheville, NC - but this time we’re talking more grungy rock and roll than folky stringband. Based on the evidence of this his fifth independent release, the small town North Carolina that Pierce Edens inhabits is one of devils and fires and murder and gothic horror … you get the picture. 

Throughout the ten original songs (and one Tom Waits cover - Mr. Seigal) Pierce snarls and growls and howls and hollers his way through the depressing mire of psychedelic horror. His passion is admirable.

The dark tales are accompanied by a relentless soundtrack of driving acoustic guitars, punctuated by searing and soaring electric guitars. Most of the guitar work is performed by Eden himself, accompanied by his long time side man Kevin Reese, who also contributes mandolin and banjo. Matthew Neilson adds percussion, vocals and piano.

Body, a murder ballad of sorts, tells the story of a body found floating in a flooded river. Clocking in at a full six minutes, The Bonfire is a celebration of pyromania and Eden really lets rip as this one builds up intensity to its climax. Further Down gives a brief respite from the intensity of most of the album, but even here, the theme is one of despair at lost love. We return to the hammering acoustic guitars with I Can’t Sleep and the closer It’s Alright, It’s All Wrong.

Hillfolk Noir Junkerpunch Self Release

 Another delicious slice of acoustic hillbilly blues has been released on the world from the Boise, Idaho home of this singularly unique trio. Travis Ward, the main songwriter, along with his wife Alison and their compadre Mike Waite are regular visitors to Ireland and Europe, where their blend of old time, punk, rock and roll, folk and country continues to go down a bomb.

They describe their music as ‘junkerdash’, hence the name of this latest collection. And punch you in the head and the heart this music sure does- in a good way. Sparse though the instrumentation is, the album never bores, even though there are seventeen songs here - seventeen vignettes of life. They sing of the outlaws, the inlaws, the pirates and the hobos. They celebrate murder in Billy Got Popped and Crow Jane. Seafarers and pirates also get a look in, in Shanty Blues and Pirate Song.

Travis Ward’s rich baritone voice is mirrored to great effect on most of the songs by Alison’s harmony vocals, while the rhythm is held down by Mike Waite’s steady upright bass playing. Alison also augments the percussion of the bass with her washboard playing. Travis plays a mean resonator guitar on most of the songs. Alison also gets to shine with her clawhammer banjo playing on Might As Well Live Like A Hobo and the instrumental Brushy Fork Of John’s Creek. The most effective instrument of all, however, is Alison’s saw playing - it lends an appropriately eerie quality to Dead Maud (with its ghost called Sally O’Malley!) and to the bluesy Forgive Me Please.

Notwithstanding the tongue-in-cheek and whimsical celebration of noir throughout most of the album, the closing song brings you up short. Leave A Light On is a touching and hauntingly beautiful plea to its mama from a little child who is afraid of the dark.

Buy this and go see them when they get back to Europe in 2018.

Scroggins & Rose Grana Self Release

If you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing Justin Scroggins play mandolin live, you will not be surprised that he has just been awarded the IBMA 2017 Instrumental Momentum Award. At 22 he has already reached heights with his playing that most players can only dream of. He tours regularly with his equally talented and legendary banjo playing father, Jeff. They thrilled Irish audiences recently with a short duo tour, before their full bluegrass band toured Europe. 

Alisa Rose is another prodigy, this time on violin and baritone violin. As well as being classically trained, Alisa is equally at home playing American traditional music. She has played and taught all over the world in various combinations and in many styles including classical, folk, bluegrass and pop. This is a musical match made in heaven.

On this collection of six original tunes and seven improvisations the duo push the boundaries of instrumental ‘new acoustic’ music further than anyone has before. From the first track to the last, they attack the tunes like their lives depend on it. The passion and the pace of the playing is truly exhilarating. Each time I listen, I hear something new. 

Justin’s Eagle’s Nest and its companion piece Argonaut’s Armada are a case in point - he and Alisa trade musical phrases at breakneck speed and it’s hard to comprehend that there are only two of them playing here. Alisa’a compositions are equally memorable and accomplished. The improvisations are mainly on well-known bluegrass instrumentals like Bill Monroe’s Wheel Hoss - but the purists needn’t fear - they pay homage to these standards rather than destroy them.

Get this album - and play it LOUD.