Reviews by Stephen Rapid


D.B. Reilly Live From Long Island City Shut Up & Play

The latest album from the New York native is a solo live album. 10 sings in front of a live audience at the RaR Bar. It is another in his series of unique handcrafted covers. The previous two albums were packaged in a tin and in a box. This once come in a large cardboard style postcard. Where the previous albums featured a band, this is right back to Reilly and his guitar/banjo and voice. Very much the way we get to listen to many singer/songwriters live. 

These are all new self-written songs that run from the humorousness of the opening Nothing Like You (as in I’ve never seen nothing quite like you along with several descriptions of some other hard to believe people and incidents). From then on it gets a little more serious with songs that are about relationships and related issues. For I Believe Angeline he sings about the belief he had in the things that the lady in question told him, even though she subsequently told him that they were lies. He plays banjo on this track and it adds to the overall mood of the song. Don’t Give Up On Me is also a plea for another woman to hold fast and to not give up on him. Humour returns again, as it often does throughout, for Lawrence Welk. In his intro he explains that his room has two pictures on the wall Jesus and Lawrence Welk and why he didn’t have a girlfriend. He then muses that he can’t even keep an imaginary girlfriend together. He tells the audience of one song that he usually plays the song in his room ... and it’s a hit there!

This is a short 10 songs album that feels something of a stopgap until the next album proper. D.P. Reilly shows an incisiveness in his writing which is based with observation and obvious delight in the eccentricities that continually occur when you are dealing with people of all ages and backgrounds. His song My Ma is affectionate while the closing I’ll Remind You Every Day is about memories of a marriage and good times and how they can be lost to time and dementia. D.P. Reilly is a purveyor of such emotion and understanding and his music has a similar warmth here.

Ash Gray Chickenwire Broken Silence

This album was recorded in Sheffield and Austin. It features Gray’s equally transatlantic musical outlook which blends some Americana bluesy roots rock with some hard rock 60’s UK attitude. Divided into sides A and B it features Gray’s songs and effective voice. He has put together some players in support who are credited on the album but in such small print as to be pretty much unreadable (the text overall has the feel of being reduced from vinyl size down to CD - i.e. it’s small). There is some solid playing from the rhythm section and aside from Gray, a number of vocalists are featured on the recordings. There is also some nice slide guitar and harmonica.  

The song that stands out first is Josephine Clark an acoustic song with a sound that has melody and harmony with an echoed vocal that reminds of the likes of Al Stewart to a degree. Another song takes the expression “if the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise” - a phase used to good effect also by Hank Williams Snr. but here it’s more in the conyext of a relationship song. Sundown (Come See Me) has some steel guitar threaded between the jaunty drum pattern and again the song seems to relate to an earlier time but has a section where cello is introduced to give the song a different mood before giving the steel guitar full reign to close the song.

When The Devil Comes Home is the first song on what is designated as Side B and it has again a blend of acoustic guitars over the galloping rhythm section. There is a different mood in Firefly with steel guitar, more of a desert sound and ambience that works well. That arid tone is continued in the title track and there is some effective fiddle used on Life’s A Pounding Adventure. The closing track is another tale of woe as the protagonist decides he may need to express his confusion at being chucked out in It Might Get Loud.

Ash Grey’s album is one that brings to mind some music from the 60s and early 70s whilst fitting in with contemporary Americana. It rewards on repeated play and, so, well done to all involved. Now where’s that magnifying glass and I’ll read the text on the cover. Martin Bedford’s cover illustration though fits the music and direction perfectly.

Casey Donahew 15 Years - The Wild Ride Almost Country

This compilation covers the music released by Casey Donahew over the last 15 years since he released his debut album Lost Days in 2006. It tracks the career of the Texas natives brand of full on roots rockin’ country. He and his band started out playing small bars and built a strong following which allowed them to tour nationally. This success culminated when their 2009 album release Moving On reached the Billboard Top 30 Country Album charts. Something that all his subsequent albums have also done. However, Donahew still maintains a view that is both local and national and plays many levels of venue to his supportive fan base.

Donahew’s music is of that righteous and rigorous Texas Country style that is full on with a bounding rhythm section and loud, upfront guitars. There are moments of reflection alonside the morefull on ones - as there is on most of the albums but the over-riding feel is that of a good-time Saturday night out. This compilation was produced by Josh Leo and features a number of band and session players over the 15 tracks selected. There is also an interesting accompanying DVD documentary that helps explains Donahew’s outlook and individual take on his music. He has written or co-written all the songs here that deal with a wide range of emotions and locations. The opening track Stockyards is a paean to his roots and growing up. Double Wide Dream is about life with a loved one and low cost living. Runaway Train is built around an attractive riff and powers along in a way that more rock than traditional two-steeping country. Sometimes the songs are slower as in Ask Me To Stay and Fallen but it still has that full-bodied sound that is aimed at a younger demographic than the likes of a Dale Watson. No Doubt is a more twangy offering with its tale of a rodeo cowboy.

This represents a career overview introduction to Donahew’s music and with the DVD a visual insight to accompany it. Like such artists as Aaron Watson he is likely to be a relative unknown on this side of the pond even with his US chart placings and it looks like this brand of Texas music has been largely ignored by the likes of C2C and the CMA even though they would likely have found an audience here if placed in front of a lively crowd.

Case Garrett Aurora Suitcase

From the opening track you kind of know where you are. A languid voice, pedal steel and fiddle to the fore and a bad boy lyric about the devil having him on his speed dial. What Can I Say? Is the opening salvo of 6 songs written, produced and arranged by Garret (along with a version of JJ Cale’s Call Me The Breeze and an alternative version of Going Down To Mobile). Garrett looks not unlike the late Harry Dean Stanton and uses his writing to express feelings that are related to life, love and lament. The singer/songwriter was born in Missouri but now resides in a suburb of New York City. He’s spent time in the south at a time when music was everywhere and covered everything from The Beatles, to Elvis, Waylon and Merle. It is the latter that seems to have had the lasting impact though, along with storytellers like Robert Earl Keen and other noted Texas troubadours.

What Can I Say? opens the album with fiddle and steel to the fore - its subject finds that he is good company so much so that the Devil has him on speed dial! Long Way Down deals with the ways that drink has affected those he knows in a none-too-positive way. It is a slow, sad look at life from the lower depths. Going Down To Mobile finds the proponent considering his options to get to the titular town for a variety of reasons. She Never Liked Elvis, about a lady friend who found the King’s pompadour a little on the scary side. The Thought Of You asks the question of the object of his desire what she thinks about screwing? Trying to turn thoughts into actions. Fill ‘er Up is a more acoustic take with strong female backing vocals from Clara Lofaro which takes something of a more gospel inspired path.

All are very personable and purposeful songs that are bolstered by some fine playing and Garett’s worn and lived-in voice and peopled stories. Although it falls into the mini-album/EP category it showcases a late blooming artist who could well produce some more music that fits neatly into the plus side of the country/Americana tally.   

Cousin Harley Blue Smoke - The Music Of Merle Travis Little Pig

Any rockabilly or Merle Travis fan would be happy to hear and own this respectful tribute. It takes 12 songs associated with Travis - many written or co-written by Travis with one track written by the band’s guitarist Paul Pigat. Pigat also co-produced here with Marc L’Esperance. He is joined by Keith Picot on bass and Jesse Cahill on drums for their invigorating run through some of Travis’s classics.

Divorce Me C.O.D, Sixteen Tons, Smoke That Cigarette and Dark As A Dungeon are some of the better known songs included but all have an updated retro feel for a time when the genres were more open.

Pigat is a skilful and dexterous guitarist who brings his own touches to the tracks - not unlike his contemporary Deke Dickerson in fact. He is also an accomplished singer who adds his own nuances to these (mostly) tongue-in-cheek songs that are enhanced by the trio’s energy and ability. Some equally extol the virtues of the female form as well the failures of the fair sex. Divorce Me C.O.D, So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, Too Much Sugar For A Dime, Fat Gal and Cincinnati Lou may all be considered as unPC in this sensitive age but reflect a different time and thinking in musical terms and attitudes. Not that that affects their appeal to a particular audience segment who are likely to want to listen to these songs. Some of the other songs such as Sixteen Tons and Dark As A Dungeon have a deeper and darker tone that considers the lot of the blue-collar worker.

Pigat is a versatile player who has played in a jazz trio, a rock band, a cowpunk band as well as many other settings and seems equally at home in all of them. He is certainly at home fronting Cousin Harley and the combined skills of the trio serve up an enjoyable and entertaining tribute to one of the greats to whose music this album may serve as a positive primer.

Los Plantronics The Worst Is Yet To Come (Best of 1995-2017) Jansen

The band name, title and cover art reveal that this seven piece (plus) band deal in a serving up a boiling stew of Tex-Mex, Stax, surf, rock ’n’ roll, garage, twang and punk or Mariachi Death Surf as they like to call it. Largely instrumental and played at a devil hound on the run tempo. They also cover some classic rock tunes like Devil With The Blue Dress and My Girl Is Red Hot as well as their take on spaghetti western themes like Hang ‘em High and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. There is a lot that any fan of the Cramps would recognise in the approach of this Norwegian band.

This double album ‘best of’ covers a lot of bases and musical directions but is all held together by an unrelenting love and enthusiasm for the music they play. Much of which  I assume is self written. On a more atmospheric song like Montezuma’s Revenge they have a brass and Hammond sound that feels like it belongs to some long overlooked jungle adventure movie. This is a collection that will find favour with particular segments of the audience who appreciate their music delivered with a no holds barred, Mexican wrestling mask in place attitude.

The band have toured all over Europe and have shared stages with many liked-minded acts, something that, given the size of the band, shows that they are doing this as something they love, rather than any particular monetary or fame concerns. It shows. Long may they do their worst.

Rod Picott Out Past The Wires Welding Rod

Pigott has always displayed his skill as a writer on his records but never more so than on this new double album. 22 songs, 22 slices of acute observation of the human condition. The positive and the negative, the ups and downs of life. Out Past The Wires was produced by Neilson Hubbard and includes Will Kimbrough among its musical contributors. It has a raw, spacious and sometimes intense sound. The focal point is the emphatic vocal contribution of Picott. His songs gain from this and he has an obvious empathy with his subjects. Much of it is as he says in Take Home Pay comes down to what can be earned to try and hold body and soul together.

Over the body of work many different moods are explored both in terms of mood and musical setting. Obviously, some songs will have a more immediate response than others, depending on the subjectiveness of the individual listener. As with all albums there will be the debate about what tracks would have made it onto a single album. A debate that can never really be successful when one is dealing with such a good song writer. Over the album there are number of highlights; Primer Grey, On The Way Down (which seems to be aimed at a particular person - though one should never assume that a song is written in the first person, or is specific), Holding On, Fire Inside, Falling Down, The Shape Of You, Store Bought and the one that hits on all levels, Hard Luck Baby. All resonate with this writer. Picott is neither an oblique writer or a straight storyteller. Rather his words make sense in the context of the songs and convey a feeling, a mood, a reason. They allow for some individual interpretation which is often important in allowing the listener their own sense of the song.

Like his friend and occasional co-writer Slaid Cleeves, Rod Picott should be considered to be in the ranks of the next generation of writers who transcend the mundane to produce work of a lasting quality and evolving craftsmanship. Picott exists in a place out past the wires where it is about nothing more than doing the best you can without having to consider what anyone else other than your family, friends and fans might think of it.

Chris Stapleton From A Room Volume 2 Mercury

The second part of this collection of songs that seems to have been written over a period of time, offer no great departure from what we already know about Stapleton and his music. He co-produced with Dave Cobb and solidifies his overall soulful, bluesy approach. Again, it is a simple band line-up with his regular bassist and drummer who are joined by producer Dave Cobb on acoustic guitar and percussion and his wife Morgane on background vocals and tambourine.

The room in question is the Historic Studio A in Nashville. A studio with a long history and a specific warm sound. One perfectly suited to Stapleton. Here he has recorded the songs which include Kevin Welch’s Millionaire and the folkish tale of working the land against the odds,  Scarecrow In The Garden, plus there’s the soft acoustic approach of A Simple Song. The majority of these songs are Stapleton co-writes. One Midnight Train To Memphis takes a much heavier groove and was co-written with fellow guitarist and former Steeldrivers band member Mike Henderson. But one of the obvious highlights here is Drunkard’s Prayer - a heartfelt performance that has an impassioned vocal about communicating with God in whatever way that seems to work. Other than this song, the aforementioned Welch song and the final song, Friendship, written by Homer Banks and Lester Snell.

It will be interesting to see where Stapleton takes his music and success in the future. He is undoubtedly on a roll and appealing to a wide and varied audience that has little relationship with the machinations of mainstream country. Rather in the spirit of the final song, Friendship, he seems like an old friend who it is comfortable to be around. He has a lot of friends right now. Easy to see why.