Reviews by Paul McGee

Jaimee Harris Red Rescue Self Release

This is a very impressive debut from a Texas artist who is starting to make quite a few ripples Stateside. Starting off with the hard edged, driving guitar sound of Damn Right and the topic of doomed attraction and broken relationships, the mood changes on the soft and reflective Creatures to a nice melody and tempo, even if the subject is, again, that of love lost.

Harris has a past that she is thankful to have survived and this chance at putting her life on a central path is not one that she intends to mess up. Her voice is both gentle and powerful as she brings just the right amount of colour and tone to each of the 10 songs included here. There is just one co-write and the remaining songs are all self-penned, with Depressive State perhaps being the immediate stand-out with it’s refrain an earnest plea for acceptance, both from herself and others. I had a strange sensation of her singing this with Tom Petty in a dream; it’s just got that vibe about it.

The acoustic strum of Catch It Now speaks of getting out there and living life big while the guest vocals of (the late) Jimmy LaFave on Red Rescue add a poignancy to the lyric about reaching out and trying to help lift the darkness.

Fake seems a deeply personal song with its slow, lifting structure while Hurts As Good As It Feels sounds like the most radio-friendly track here; again, it deals with an abusive relationship that feeds only negative habits.  Forever is a different take on Jaimee’s ability and delivers a torch song moment that no doubt has fuelled the early comparisons to Emmylou. However, my thoughts are more towards Patty Griffin with her vocal power and tone and never more so than on Snow White Knuckles, a song that deals with her addiction and shows both her resilient and vulnerable sides in the understated delivery.

Closing track Where Are You Now? has a sad acceptance in the letting go of a loved one (parent, friend, relative?). Poignant and restrained.

The production by Craig Ross is very bright and full of just the right amount of space for the players to really express themselves and serve the songs. One of the best releases this year and highly recommended.

My Politic 12 Kinds Of Lost Self Release

This band is building up quite a head of steam as their career reaches for new heights with the release of this seventh album since they started out in 2006. Working around the central pairing of Kaston Guffey and Nick Pankey, the other band members add greatly to the organic, rootsy sound of the 12 tracks here, with dobro, mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitars and upright bass all adding plenty of layers to the superbly observed songs and lyrics.

Starting out with Bored Young Ghost, a clever take on the possibility that growing up bored in a small country town is not just the preserve of the living. Loneliness captures that feeling of isolation perfectly and the need to reach out to another. All songs are written by Guffey and he certainly has a way with words and capturing a sentiment, a feeling or an idea worth pondering upon. Lost love is reflected in Only Human, with the notion that ultimately, we are always on our own – ‘I was always thinking of me, and you were always thinking of you.’

Down In Hell is about addiction and the possibility of repeating the sins of the father is something that many songsters have tacked, but not with this much wry observation and insight. The Tunnel is a plea and the need to reach out for one another.

I Don’t Wanna Run is about slowing down, living a simple life and being thankful for a place to settle down. Devil’s Playground, is a Steve Earle type workout that examines hypocrisy and juxtaposing the high from a needle with the high from the Good Book on a Sunday. ‘Amphetamines are passed around like communion and the Good Lord’s grace.’ 

These are character songs and dreaming of another life (Aint Outta Line), failed relationships (Great Divide), returning home (My Mother Missouri) and living a reclusive life (News Alone) are all observations on life and the feeling of being vulnerable and lost. 

Really great stuff throughout, with Wilson Conroy on dobro, mandolin, and Jen Starsinic on fiddle being supporting the twin guitars of Guffey and Pankey. Will Cafaro provides solid bass lines throughout with occasional drums from John Wood and B3 organ from Jeff Adamczyk.

Tim Easton Paco & Melodic Polaroids Campfire Propaganda

Welcome back to this very fine singer songwriter who has been releasing excellent music since his debut appeared back in 1998. Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, Easton released a series of quality albums culminating with a best of collection in 2013. 

He continues to record and release music and this project is a direct-to-lacquer mono recording. There is a timeless quality to the feel of the songs and the 10 tracks included are all just Tim and his faithful old companion, Paco – a J-45 Black Gibson guitar that he has owned since 1987.

The liner notes talk of both him and the guitar having taken a lot of dents and cracks over the years on the road but on listening to these songs, his craft is alive and well with the added sparkle that only experience and insight bring with the passing years. He is a very talented guitar player and his songs speak of heartland America in the best of Folk traditions. 

Never Punch The Clock Again is a story song of murder and staying on the run. California Bars is another dusty road tale of wanderlust and evil deeds while Elmore James is a tribute to the old blues master.

Another Good Man Down speaks of drug addiction and there is a cover of the Jimmie Rogers song, Jimmie’s Texas Blues, while Travelling Days evokes the spirit of Woody Guthrie complete with harmonica backing to add atmospherics. This is a cosy night by the fire with a nice glass of wine.

Jesus Save Me is a plea for tolerance and patience among the self-professed emissaries of truth on Earth and the greed that seems inherent in humankind, with bullying ways engineered to spread fear. This is an excellent release and deserving of a place in any discerning music collector’s home.

Walter Salas Humara Walterio Rarr

The Silos were a band credited with being at the origins of the alt-country, No Depression movement sound that spawned such acts as Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, The Bottle Rockets, Wilco, Son Volt and many others. 

As a founding member, Walter has always espoused that rebel notion of staying independent, keeping it on the edge and creating a body of work, whether with the changing Solos line-ups, or latterly on a solo basis, that is continuously scaling such heights... His light continues to burn brightly as evidenced by the 10 tracks included here, all played with an energy and tension that feels like electricity burning in your grip. 

Walter also handles full production duties and the snap of She’s A Caveman and Here We Go are examples of the dynamic still at play as he releases his rock instincts to run alongside the more rootsy numbers like l Want To Be With You and Come In A Singer; all the way along to the funky groove of Hecho En Galicia

The playing is excellent throughout with Joe Reyes on guitar and Konrad Meissner on drums really driving the tight workouts and spinning the plates… Out Of The Band sums it all up with a driving beat and a rocking conclusion to what is a really enjoyable listen and one that proves real talent never goes away; it just takes a well earned rest from time to time!

The Watson Twins Duo Self Release

Twin sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson make a very welcome return with this 8-track album. It has been a few years since their last output but those sweet harmonies are as tight as ever and the production on the project is light and airy. Russ Pollard did the honours at Camp Sierra Studio in California. He also plays a number of instruments across the tracks, with just a few guest appearances from Vanessa Carlton (piano), Bo Koster (keys) and Mickey Raphael (harmonica).

At just over 21 minutes, it never overstays its welcome but, rather leaves you wanting more – a very good sign! The traditional country sound of Cry Baby is perfectly captured with some superb pedal steel playing by Carl Broemel, who also provides bass and guitar parts, in addition to some drum programming. All in all, this is a tightly produced record that highlights the commercial appeal of the twins, together with their natural talents as songwriters and singers. All eight tracks are written by Chandra and Leigh and the big sound of Rolling Thunder reminds me of the classic 60’s arrangements and vocals a lá the Shirelles.

They sing of ‘this city of lost souls’ on Down In The Valley and this is not a fate these twins will ever suffer as their talent will always point them in a clear direction. There is a torch song, noir feel to the duet with The Cactus Blossoms on the atmospheric Call To You, while the song Blue Tonight has a more folky vibe to the arrangement. 

Playing Hearts has a fine up-tempo beat and the title track sums it all up with the classic hook, ‘Gonna Hustle, Gimme That Shake; Thought We Had It Made’. Perhaps a sideways look at the career difficulties of any artist trying to forge a meaningful career in the shark infested waters of the music business these days. An excellent release and welcome back, Ladies…! 

Astra Kelly Chasing The Light Rockaway

This interesting artist is a Chicago native who now lives in in San Diego and has quite a number of releases to her name. Her career that has seen her work hard to rise above the crowded marketplace where the competition is always fierce. Her talents extend to Radio DJ, local concert promoter, recording studio manager, vocal coach and voice-over artist. Go girl…!!

On the opening track, Prelude, she sings ‘head, heart, soul; let the light be the fire’. This sums up Astra’s philosophy in believing that living in the moment is what we can best aspire towards. The following track, Old Shoes, speaks of leaving down your burdens and moving on to better things. It may be centred around a relationship but can equally be likened to a spiritual awakening. Equally, the title track, Chasing The Light, is affirmation that the journey is going to be worth all the effort. 

Astra co-produced the project with Jeffrey Berkley who also plays banjo and guitars across the eleven tracks included here. All Along speaks of leaving and taking a journey - only to realise that ‘you find out when you get there; you had what you were seeking all along’. Again, a message of inner strength being ample as our guiding light. 

The Less I Have (Freedom) speaks of living life as simply as possible, feeling light. All That Matters is a relationship song that questions the need to hide feelings and the wish for real honesty. Pedal steel from Doug Pettibone on this track adds to the atmosphere and augments the tight band arrangement.

The production is very clean throughout with plenty of space between the notes. Astra sings in a very clear, confident and soulful voice with her spoken-word piece, Watching Wasps, an interesting break to the flow of the music where she addresses the need to unlock our mental chains and step into the light. 

The country sound of Twisted is perfectly delivered with banjo and violin (Melissa Barrison) to the fore, while the acoustic groove of Stone Cold delivers a happy, upbeat sound. Crumble has a soulful sound with Jeff Berkley front and centre on electric guitar & banjo – ‘change is always comin’ back for more.’ 

Closing track, The Road, is a powerful ending that displays Astra’s ability to front this excellent studio band and a strong statement that here is an artist worthy of your attention. A fine release.  

Eilidh Patterson Sunshine Self Release

A commercial, contemporary Folk sound that is full of catchy melodies and songs that engage the listener. The studio musicians play with great sensitivity and talent in delivering these songs and Sandy Jones features on a number of instruments together with the family bluegrass band Cup O’Joe (The Agnew siblings, Reuben, Tabitha & Benjamin) and Ruth Trimble. Co-produced with Sandy Jones at the Foundry Music Lab in Motherwell, Eilidh shows a real talent for capturing a hook and melody to match her beautiful vocals and engaging words.

It has been a number of years since her last release but Eilidh has not gone away and her talents certainly shine brightly across the 12 tracks included here. In the days of singles and radio charts, the title track would have featured as a prime example of how to deliver a hit. Sunshine bounces with a happy, pop sound and an optimism about living life. Similar tracks to this are True Love Is Returned, A Good Day and the joyful slice of memory that is My Mother Loved Elvis.

However, there is also the other side of life and reflective songs like I’ve Got Lines and Do I Really Know You? hint at a disappointment with relationships that becomes manifest on the sweetly sad song, Losing You… There is a glimpse of what Eilidh could veer towards in the future with the bluesy groove of Slow Down, advice to start smelling the roses a little more and the beautiful delivery on The Way You Say My Name shows that real love and commitment is still out there, even if it’s capture is as elusive as ever... The closing song, When I Don’t Feel Like Singing Anymore is a call for reassurance and support when doubt arises and it stands as a ray of hope for a brighter tomorrow. This is a very strong comeback statement and one that merits your attention

Josephine Johnson The Spark Self Release

This is the second release from a singer songwriter who has worked hard at forging a career in the competitively overcrowded artistic space that is the female solo market. Josephine released Let It All Out back in 2014 and on this follow up she has enlisted co-producers John Vanderslice (Samantha Crain, the Mountain Goats, Grandaddy, Strand Of Oaks, Spoon) and Robert Shelton, who also engineered, across the eight tracks featured. The project was recorded at Vanderslice’s analogue studio in San Francisco and mastered in Boston. It is the culmination of two years work in driving the campaign, via KickStarter, towards a happy ending.

The overall sound is underpinned by warm keyboard sounds from Shelton on piano and organ and Carly Bond contributes on guitar, slide and clarinet to great effect. The rhythm section of Doug Stuart and Jason Slota drive the tempo with a confidence, whether on the slow groove of the title track or the up-tempo closer, Light It Up.

Long Way Home is a gentle acoustic arrangement that highlights Josephine’s smoky vocal delivery while Come Down displays a slow burn soulful sound. Tuesday Evening and Carry On also focus on a tight band sound and the vocal colour added by Josephine builds an atmosphere that delivers a consistency across this interesting release.

Kristi Rose & Fats Kaplin How Many Chances Self Release

Released in 2017, this project is not the first time that the combined talents of Kristi and Fats have aligned to make sweet music. In 2010 they released the excellent I Wonder As I Wander and they quickly followed this up in 2011 with You're Still Around

So, this makes it a very fine hat-trick with the engaging vocals of Kristi mixing seamlessly with the superb musicianship of multi-instrumentalist Fats. He plays a dizzying array of instruments on the 12 tracks included here. Wait for it – steel guitar, mandolin, organ, button accordion, bass, harmonica, violin, clarinet, viola, acoustic guitar and electric guitar...!

Of course, it helps that they are also husband and wife and the close bond shared is evident in the way that they deliver songs that have a sweet balance and a feeling of wide-open spaces about them. The bright melody and excellent harmonies of Beautiful World is a prime example, but we also have the treat of the title track with its lonesome harmonica and acoustic sound, balanced against the slow, reflective vocal and sensitive arrangements of So Far As I Can Tell and closing track, Far Away Places

The easy cool of Fly Tomorrow is a smooth groove and the next track, Gin, is a salutary look at domestic dystopia, compulsion and disillusionment. This duo makes soulful music that comes from the creative heart of what they define as Pulp Country. Wonderfully atmospheric and highly addictive.