Reviews by Declan Culliton

Alice Dimicele One With The Tide Alice Otter

"Folks, I am a Woman not a large corporation. Thanks for supporting independent music." These words appear on the back cover of Alice Dimicele’s latest and fourteenth album One With The Tide, all released on her own Alice Otter Music label, dating back to her debut album recorded in 1988. A quite unique achievement given that few artists can boast having self-released their entire back catalogue over a three decade period.

An early starter, she fronted a rock/fusion band at the tender age of 15 before launching her solo career in the mid-eighties. One With The Tide, consistent with most of her writing, deals in the main with environmental issues, a theme that resulted in her sharing the stage over the years with artists such as Steve Winwood, Janis Iain, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. The album is dedicated to environmental and social justice activists Barry Snitkin who died in February 2015.

Given the foregoing you might be forgiven for assuming that the album content would be low beat acoustic folk. Quite the contrary, as much of the material possesses an upbeat blues groove from the title track opener, the reggae themed Waiting, the ‘letting go’ ballad Seeds, the earthy and funky Voice of the Water and the closer, a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine. Constant throughout is Dimicele’s captivating vocals, soaring and dipping and as crystal clear as much of the subject matter on this most enjoyable recording.

Balsam Range It’s Christmas Time Mountain Home

This little beauty from a band long established as our Bluegrass guru Ronnie Norton’s favourite is a treat from start to finish. From the stunning cover art by Teresa Pennington to the last note of the instrumental Jingle Bells the six track EP is a very welcome departure in style and delivery for Balsam Range. They are a band that somehow manage to surprise and enthral with their watertight harmonies and instrumental excellence in all of their previous outings.

And this one takes us just a tad farther with the addition of the Nashville Recording Orchestra to the mix. The blend of Orchestra and Bluegrass instrumentation makes for a heady brew that is guaranteed a place on any Christmas listening list. 

Four standard oldies like The First Noel, Hark The Herald Angels , Jingle Bells and Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree are paired with the haunting Doc Watson adaptation of The Christmas Lullaby and the Ralph Stanley, Old Timey I’m Going Home It’s Christmas Time should get full rotation honours over the season anywhere they find a home.

This is Balsam Range’s first Christmas project and as it’s only six tracks we can hope that they will pour us another glass of Christmas cheer at some other stage in the future. Team this one with Vince Gills orchestral Breath Of Heaven CD and you have the perfect background music for a mellow lead
in to the festivities for this and many years to come.

Cua Songs of the Hollow Anseoceol

Before even removing the album from the sleeve the striking design work on this album cover immediately caught the eye, the design carried out by John Daly and the equally impressive photography by Joe Conroy.  Cua are a three-piece group made up of John Davidson on fiddle and percussion, Shane Booth on guitars and Ros O’Meara on bouzouki, guitar and percussion with all three contributing vocals often harmonising. Their sound is world music Irish style, their groove actually self-christened as Atlantaen.

The album weighs in with a hefty fifteen tracks in total -  all titles written by the band - and does indeed explore many different styles from traditional (The Somewhere Waltz), jazz fusion (Black Dog), roots (Atlantic Cross, Waco), folk (Kings and Queens), 3 part a capellas (The Other Man) together with some quite distinguished hybrids.

The album is both ambitious and impressive, the musicianship impeccable, though it could possibly suffer in terms of potential airplay given that it covers such a wide range of musical classifications. Well worth investigating. 

Richie Healy The Perilous Tree Self Release

 Richie Healy is a singer songwriter highly regarded in his native ‘music capital of Ireland’ Kilkenny. A regular support act to numerous visiting acts in Kilkenny after his early days playing in local band Enerjive, The Perilous Tree is his latest album having released Last Taxi Home in 2013 on the Swarfbomb Record Label. With a career path that has combined farming, bar tending and quarrying together with song writing and performing, it’s not difficult to imagine a solitary Healy, content making hay or tending to his herd, taking inspiration from the wild outdoors with the outlines of poems and lyrics at formation stage.  In many ways the album is in fact poetry put to song, deeply informed plainspoken lyrics often inspired by the reality of day to day struggles, desperation, conflicted emotions, helplessness and survival. 

Make no mistake it’s no party record, rather a late-night listen in a darkened room, perhaps accompanied by a glass or two of spirits. Its stories are stripped right back to the bare bones with Healy’s weathered vocals and acoustic guitar sympathetically supported by some atmospheric accordion playing by Ger Moloney. Its unlikely that even the most discernible listener will connect fully on first listen but with repeated plays of the album the tales unravel and the atmosphere fully exposes itself. The material never strays too far from what is probably most credibly described as gothic folk blues, with early Leonard Cohen influences noticeable on Cloak Me In Quiet and similarly Van Morrison Astral Weeks period visited on Cold Grey Shine. Death and despondency dominate the most impressive Princess Of The Ditch and opening track Fallen In creates dreamlike images of a mysterious afterworld ever so close yet always out of reach.

Recorded at Crossroad Studios in Kilkenny and co-produced by Healy and Jed Parle The Perilous Tree is a slow burner which offers a cryptic set of songs, challenging, spellbinding but ultimately extremely rewarding.

The ROAMies We Got Love Self Release

Joining forces after promising solo careers, duo Alexa James and Rory Partin’s debut album We Got Love more than showcases their stunning harmony vocals across six tracks, four self-penned, together with a cover of Dave Heywoods Just A Kiss, previously recorded by Lady Antebellum and Tom Higgenson’s 1,2,3,4 which charted in 2009 when released by Plain White T’s. The bands name refers to the intense travelling the pair have enjoyed, visiting over thirty countries since their formation.

The opening track Oh My My is up-tempo country blues, We Got Love is crossover country pop, very listenable and consistent with the sound presently populating much of the commercial country radio stations. Still The One, the strongest track featured, follows a similar path, gorgeous melody, stylish harmony vocals and a clear pointer of their ability to create a sound that with the right breaks could lead to much wider exposure.

The previously mentioned Just A Kiss doesn’t stray too far from Lady Antebellum’s version but I’m left with the opinion that their self-written material is every bit as striking and impressive as the covers featured. In an often over populated market breakthroughs don’t come too easy and I’m left with the impression that The ROAMies ability to write radio friendly material of such a high standard could very well see the duo’s material taken on board by some already established artists with a considerable degree of success. 

Trouble Pilgrims Dark Shadows and Rust Chiswick 

The Rollercoaster Records annual albums of the year poll is the most credible reflection on albums released by both Irish and International acts during the previous twelve months.  Voted by the punters rather than the music press, it covers a wide range of genres from rock to roots, country to metal and further afield. This year’s poll featured votes for 575 albums in total and when the top 50 were announced it came as little surprise to me to find Dark Shadows and Rust by Trouble Pilgrims sitting pretty at No.29. Not bad for a band whose roots go back nearly four decades to the early days of The Radiators From Space, yet still retain the hunger, ingenuity and motivation to release an album that obviously hit the spot with listeners of all ages.

The Radiator’s output was always a step ahead of U.K. punk, combining the energy and rawness of the early punks but with the addition of melody and structure. In many ways they were New Wave in advance of the U.K. Press inventing the genre in the late 70’s and before many artists chopped off their manes and raided their father’s wardrobes for skinny trousers to replace their well-worn bell-bottomed loons.

Forty years on from the release of their debut album TV Tube Heart and two founding members, Pete Holidai and Steve Rapid, are still rolling back the years as frontmen with Trouble Pilgrims. Also on board are one-time Radiators drummer Johnnie Bonnie, former Blue Russia member Tony St. Ledger on guitar and vocals. Bren Lynott, previously of The End and The Cathedral, on bass and vocals. The band name was taken from the album of the same name from The Radiators after Philip Chevron, another founding member and song writer, became seriously ill and was unable to perform live.

Dark Shadows and Rust is released on Chiswick Records, a label can also boast surviving since the mid 70’s and that supported many of the early punk and new wave bands and released the first two Radiators albums. What is immediately striking about the album is the energy and fluency of the material, its delivery recreating that glam rock meets post punk sound to perfection. 

Out of the starting blocks in full throttle is opener Snake Oil Carnival followed by Animal Gang Blues, full of menace and back alley aggression. Queen of Heartache combines the amphetamine intensity of The Ramones with Beach Boy style harmonies and Reach Out ("There’s a madman in the White House, An imposter on TV, He’s got his finger on the button, to bring an end to democracy") recalls early Dr. Feelgood with ripping guitar riffs escorting Holidai’s raucous vocals. Sex In A Cheap Hotel (‘Let’s get together on a Saturday night, Tie me to the bedpost I won’t put up a fight’) is a reminder that sleazy glam rock is not yet quite dead and buried just waiting it’s time for a revival. The dynamic Instant Polaroid, always a highlight of their live sets and released as a single in 2015, loses none of its guts on the studio version. Long Way To The Sun is Undertones (a band both The Radiators and Pilgrims have shared stages with) neighbourhood power pop at its finest and The Velvet Tongue recollects late 60’s New York garage rock. Death Ballad creates a driven sound immortalised by Howard Devoto’s Magazine in the late 70’s and for me the standout track on the album.

Dark Shadows and Dust is an album that unashamedly wears its hat on its sleeve, no nonsense rock and roll and most importantly fun, fun, fun!