Reviews by Paul McGee


West Of Eden No Time Like The Past – A Collection West Of Music

West of Eden is a band from Gothenburg, Sweden and for the past 20 years they have been releasing music of enduring quality. This retrospective spans 8 albums, with 2 unreleased songs also included; together with a single and a new song written especially for the collection, Twenty Years Of Travelling.

The band was formed in 1995 and the main songwriters are Jenny and Martin Schaub. They are joined in the current line-up by Lars Broman on fiddle, Ola Karlevo on drums and percussion, Henning Sernhede on electric and acoustic guitars, plus mandolin and Martin Holmlund on bass. Their folk oriented sound has been inspired by Celtic music and tribute is paid to all the previous musicians who played in the band at different junctures and who all helped shape the career arc that has seen West Of Eden arrive at a point where their collective is mush respected and given due gravitas among fellow artists.

Martin Schaub plays acoustic guitars, piano, cittern and also sings, in addition to having quite a hand in most of the song production. Jenny sings in a beautiful clear voice that lifts all the songs and also plays accordion and tin whistle.

Well worth investigating further, West Of Eden are a multi-talented group who take the roots of traditional music and marry a sound that is both old and new with a focus on contemporary arrangements and a dynamic vision. There are love songs, songs of the sea, songs of leaving for new beginnings and there is even a tribute to their local football club, Glenntown. 

There are songs of longing and wishing for more. New World warnings mix with nostalgic memories of youth and the past. All along we are regaled by heady combinations of mandolin, whistle, fiddle, accordion and guitars. Many of the arrangements are bright and up-tempo with a sense of hope and belief in the future running through the atmospheric melodies.

There are 25 songs over 2 discs and a total playing time of 100 minutes. I can honestly say that at no stage did I feel bored or tempted to quit and this brave attempt to capture the essence of the band in all its different stages and guises is to be admired. The concept involved is sometimes fraught with difficulties and there can be an uneven quality to retrospectives at the best of times. This happily steers clear of all such traps and produces a beautifully packaged celebration of a band that began with a love of traditional Celtic folk music.

Eric Congdon Into The Woods Self Release

This is the fifth release from musician and fund raiser Eric Congdon. He plays guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, bass, percussion and drones across the ten tracks featured here and also produced the entire project.

He lives in Asheville, North Carolina and has created a video series called Hiking Jams which features the natural beauty of the region as you are taken on a musical journey to some of the most scenic spots in his locality. Eric has helped raise over $100,000 for Autism and supports the Autism Science Foundation and other organizations. He is committed to spreading hope through his music and the songs included here certainly highlight his terrific guitar playing skills to maximum effect. 

Cool Mountain Morning is a laid-back sense of summer with Lisa Taylor on co-vocal with his dextrous finger picking guitar style really impressing. Five instrumentals, Huckleberry, Enter In Silence, Requiem For John Fahey, Carolina Stroll and Becka’s Train add to the realisation that this artist is someone to be celebrated and his stripped back groove in Smokey Mountain Medicine Man is perfectly augmented by the fine lap steel playing of Billy Cardine. Acoustic blues and roots music of some quality and well worth investigation.

Thunderbolt & Lightfoot Songs For Mixed Company Vesper

Sarah Fuerst and Phil Barry are the duo behind the ten songs on this full album debut. Phil plays guitar and Sarah adds a combination of keys, mellotron, whistle, marimba and bass. Both share close vocal harmonies that really impress within the gentle acoustic structures of the melodies and stripped back arrangements.

Recorded at a studio in Kalamazoo, these songs of love and loss are quietly addictive on repeated play and the guest musicians add subtle touches on accordion, strings, organ, piano and drums. The playful nature of Can’t Be Trusted runs against the pleasure of watching a past lover rueing a break-up on Miss Me. Sad Song cautions the person to ‘take care, choices have consequences’. The light jazz feel of Goodbye Is Not The End sits against the acoustic strum of instrumental, Vesper.

A cover of the Bruce Springsteen song I’m On Fire is a strange inclusion and is just too clean; missing all the coiled desire of the original. The naïve optimism of Sweetest Baby is grounded by the clever Dearly Beloved which looks at the realism of relationships in lines like ‘I promise to always leave the seat down and no backseat driving on the way into town’. An interesting collection of songs and worth investigation. 

Robbie Cavanagh To Leave/To Be Left At The Helm

Labelled as Country/Folk this UK artist releases his second album of songs that were recorded at Eve Studios near Manchester and explore “leaving and being left. What’s taken away and what’s left behind.”

To these ears, the sound is quite commercial, with a number of radio friendly tracks highlighting Cavanagh’s sweet voice that could easily slot into any of the recent young singer-songwriter crop of talent.

My promo copy has no information so I cannot tell who plays what apart from the fact that Roo Walker produced the 11 songs. The soulful groove of Still Talkin’ stands out and the acoustic Let You Down highlights the expressive tone in Cavanagh’s voice. Fool is a bluesy stroll through the back catalogues of older artists complimented by a warm keyboard swell and back-up vocals. Roles Reversed is a rueful look back at a relationship now gone while He’s Alone brings things to a close with a further reflective musing on love lost.

Rob Jungklas Blackbirds Madjack

Rob Jungklas is an experienced musician who is based in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 1980’s he released a number of commercial records but left the music business and became a teacher in the search for something new. However, Jungklas began playing music again in 2001 and released two albums, in 2003 and 2007, that were blues-based in sound and led to opening for Lucinda Williams. In 2010 he released another album, Mapping The Wreckage and this was followed by The Spirit And The Spine in 2013. And so, to this new release, a mixture of blues meets folk at a crossroads where shadows lurk and a sense of foreboding hangs in the air. The song arrangements are sparse and possess a menace that seeps out in lines like "And I will stay here in this mortal coil, til I’m redeemed, blessed are the broken ones."

The ten songs are the work of a seasoned player who is confident in the sound he seeks and the overall experience is very compelling as the brooding tracks play out like a catharsis against all the wounds of the world. These are songs of loss and regret, moody and atmospheric. Low Hanging Fruit is a beautiful piece that reflects on relationships lost ‘The love we had becomes a wish and the wish becomes a star’ – a gentle arrangement with strings and a bare guitar sound.  Hymn is a prayer for the hopeful while The Spiritual Beauty Of Material Things plays out like a movie in looking at the life of a poor farmer.

Such good songs and Blackbirds, Shine, Gone, Diggers and Vitriol all warrant special mention but the complete work is worthy of the highest praise. Closing with Carry Me Home, the lines that best sum up the persona that runs through these songs are captured by "My angels ain’t got no halos, my angels ain’t got wings, they got on too much mascara, they’re wearing diamond rings" A special artist with either a skewed view of the universe or just pure originality in the song-writing. I choose the latter. A very impressive release and highly recommended. 

Susan Cattaneo The Hammer & the Heart Jerseygirl

Two CD’s, each with nine songs; one called The Hammer and the other called The Heart. Forty musicians were involved in the making of the album and some of the guests include The Bottle Rockets, Mark Erelli, Bill Kirchen, Jennifer Kimball and Todd Thibaud.

Anyone who does not know of Susan Cattaneo is missing out on one of Boston’s most respected songwriters. She blends rock, folk and blues with a healthy dose of country. If you are looking for a signpost then it would read Mary Chapin Carpenter meets Sheryl Crow but then you would not explore the road that leads to the unique talents of Susan in her own right. Four covers are included in the tracks and the others are all written by the lady herself or co-written in the case of five more songs. The atmospheric Dry, sung with Dennis Brennan, is a real stand-out moment on a hugely enjoyable listen. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger is another special moment with guitar shredding courtesy of Mark Erelli. Country blues at its finest on disc one.

Work Hard, Love Harder spans both CD’s as the opening track, on the second it is played with the Boxcar Lilies and the sweet folk/bluegrass arrangement kicks off a set of songs that are gentle and acoustic after the electric blues of CD one. Country colourings run throughout these nine songs and the playing is more restrained and laid back. Bitter Moon and Smoke are a duo of songs that deal with the frustration of relationships. A very cool version of the Mose Allison song Everybody Cryin’ Mercy is followed by David Bowie’s Space Oddity which is a strange way to end the project but should not take away from what is a terrific release filled with real treasures.