Reviews by Declan Culliton

Bennett Wilson Poole Self-Titled Aurora

Formed in 1973, the same year that the curtain dropped for the final time on The Byrds, UK band Starry Eyed and Laughing released their debut self-titled album one year later. Their West Coast sound was unapologetically influenced by The Byrd’s, possibly with a sprinkling The Beatles on the side, Tony Poole’s Rickenbacker very much at the cutting edge of their sound. Signed to CBS Records and with sessions on John Peel’s BBC Radio Show, fame, tours, limos, and major festival slots seemed inevitable. Alas, after a poorly co-ordinated US tour in 1975 and management difficulties on their return to the UK, the band finally derailed in 1976 leaving only their two studio releases and a few compilations albums in their wake.

Danny Wilson, of Danny and The Champions of The World and previously Grand Drive fame, was introduced to Tony Poole by Peter O’Brien, a schoolteacher of Wilson, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of Starry Eyed and Laughing. Robin Bennett and his brother Julian were members of the original Grand Drive line up before they moved on the form The Dreaming Spires and came to the attention of Poole while recording their album Searching For The Supertruth. Despite their individual hectic schedules, Poole, Bennett and Wilson managed to hook up at Poole’s home studio over a number of weekends. What started off as a meeting of minds with three mics, three acoustic guitars and three voices, swiftly grew wings to develop into something entirely different. With a number of unfinished songs in their collective repertoires the roots of an album began to emerge, enlivened by three-part harmonies, electric guitars and the realisation that their creative juices were in full flow.

First listen to the album resulted in me not getting beyond the second track Ask Me Anything which stopped me in my tracks and demanded repeated listening such is its intoxicating melody. The opener Soon Enough had been written by Bennett to feature acoustically in a dark solo album, yet to be completed, here it thunders along with smouldering guitars and closes slickly with a jangly fade out. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the brutal murder of Jo Cox, is vintage Neil Young and Crazy Horse, a powerful guitar driven acclamation, enraged and defiant. Wilson General Store recollects a different world and era, mid 60’s corner shops and Village Greens perhaps, a theme of simplicity and innocence many a time visited by The Beatles and The Kinks in their early days and at their most nostalgic. That Thing That You Called Love, a work in progress at the time for Poole, was rapidly completed with an input from all three resulting in a sound not unfamiliar with trademark Danny and The Champions of The World output.

The album is bookended by the epic Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), the harshness of survival weighted against wanton self-indulgence, written by Poole in response to a newspaper photo of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean beside an article on ‘selfies’. A marathon of a song at nearly eight minutes long it’s a considered reflection on the often-conflicting times we currently live in.

Supergroup may be a dated and overstated description but it’s a joy to come across a collaborative work by these three amigos that actually emphasises their cumulative talents rather than an album of competing ego’s. A joy to behold.

Anna Mitchell Self-Titled Tonetoaster

On first listen to All These Things, the opener on Anna Mitchell’s second album, you could be forgiven for assuming that it was a track by electronic trip hop band Goldfrapp and not the demure young Cork artist whose debut album Down To The Bone made quite an impression on Lonesome Highway on its release in 2015. Stripped back, emotional, personal and very much a Sunday morning rather than Saturday night listen, that debut album offered an introduction and insight into the talents and potential of Mitchell both as a singer and songwriter. Fast forward a little over two years and her self-titled second release is quite a bold departure, raunchier, fuller, more experimental and evidence of an artist taking centre stage having grown into herself with a self-belief and confidence only hinted at on her debut album.

That opening track, with its densely layered vocals and backbeats, represents a change in direction for Mitchell, straying from her country folk comfort zone and is repeated on the equally impressive It Pours which follows and indeed the dishevelled and racy Dog Track, all of which cross the threshold to previously unvisited territory for Mitchell.

However, it’s not all fire and thunder as Mitchell’s does not totally abandon her signature sound with both Radio Waves and Lovins For Fools exposing her divine self-assured vocal delivery to full effect. Better Life finds Mitchell strikingly hitting high notes that others wouldn’t even attempt and Never Learn recalls Tori Amos at the top of her game.

Featuring nine self-penned songs and one cover - Lovins For Fools was written by Sarah Siskind - Mitchell’s vocals and keyboards are aided by accomplished musicians Brian Hassey (Bass), Davie Ryan (Drums), Alan Comerford (Guitar), David Murphy (Pedal Steel) and Clare Sands (Violin). It has to be said that the musicianship throughout is of the highest quality as is the production - Mitchell, Hassey and Brendan Fennessy take a bow - as is the album sleeve containing beautiful photography courtesy of Emily O’Connell.

Cork appears to be the hot bed for emerging female Roots artists at present with Mitchell joining Marlene Enright and indeed Clare Sands as three exceptionally talented young ladies all of whom possess the capabilities to bring their careers to entirely higher levels. 

In her other life as keyboard player and backing vocalist with John Blek and The Rats, Mitchell can be found on the wings and side stage. She’s certainly thrown off the shackles this time around, in control, calling the shots and most certainly centre stage

Cindy Lee Berryhill The Adventurist Omnivore

California born Cindy Lee Berryhill’s recording career dates back to 1987 when she released Who’s Gonna Save The World, gaining her a reputation as a follower of the anti-folk movement together with artists such as Michelle Shocked and The Violent Femmes. She subsequently recorded an additional four albums between then and Beloved Stranger released in 2008.

Her latest release The Adventurist deals with the most personal of challenges head on, its inspiration being her marriage to her late husband Paul Williams, founder of American music magazine Crawdaddy, who died in 2013 following a long struggle with illness resulting from a serious cycling accident in 1995. 

Far from grief, sorrow and desperation, the material that make up the fourteen tracks is a celebration of a life and loving relationship, an acceptance of the inevitable and a delightful body of work which no doubt would have contributed to the healing process for Berryhill.

 Its songs are quirky (Horsepower), heartfelt (Somebody’s Angel, An Affair Of The Heart), escapist (Deep Sea Fishing) and not without humour (Deep Sea Dishing), with Berryhill’s distinctive and wonderfully unconventional vocals fleshed out by string driven instrumentation, the cello playing by Renata Bratt being particularly impressive.

The Adventurist demands your full attention and is not initially an easy listen, but after a few spins it reveals a body of songs that will undoubtedly win you over in the end.  Simply gorgeous. 

Guy Littell One Of Those Fine Days AR

The thirty second guitar intro on the opening track of One Of Those Fine Days stopped me in my tracks on first spin. The track is titled So Special and its great kick off to a no-frills album that points very much in the direction of Neil Young with Crazy Horse and Tom Petty with The Heartbreakers. No point in getting over analytical about this recording by Guy Littell. Simply put, it’s a cracking good album with non-cryptic and to the point lyrics, stellar guitar riffs, thumping bass lines, crashing drums and is best played at full volume. 

Gaetano Di Sarno is an Italian singer songwriter who records by the pseudonym Guy Littell and One Of These Days features ten self-penned guitar driven songs. Sounding like a live recording and all the better for it, many of the tracks may have you scratching your head wondering where you heard them before as Littell cleverly cherry picks classic rock riffs and chord changes to superb effect, elevated by a vocal delivery perfectly in keeping with the material. Proving capable of delivering ballads as well as anthems Better For Me and the album stand out track Twenty Six are less frenetic but equally impressive.

This album has been spinning in my car stereo for the past week and sounding better with each listen. It’s nourishment for the soul, comforting and perfect listening to brighten up these long winter days.

Katie Garibaldi Home Sweet Christmas Self Release

Apologies to Katie Garibaldi for reviewing this album some weeks after the festive season but with so many albums arriving in December we found it impossible to cover them all before the year end. Fortunately, a Christmas album can be revisited every year.

California based Garibaldi has been recording country tinged folk music adorned by her distinctive vocal style since her debut album Fireflies released in 2004. Rather than taking the easy option of recording an album of traditional Christmas songs Garibaldi composed eleven of the tracks, the only exception being the closing track Silent Night. On record that it was a personal ambition since childhood for her to write, produce and record a festive album, it’s fair to say that the project has proved to be more than a personal aspiration but instead a most impressive body of work.

Highlights are the soulful stunner Safe and Warm Lullaby For Jesus with gorgeous backing vocals courtesy of Misa Malone, Jessica Allison and Drew Cheshire, opener Happy Married Christmas, Tomorrow Is Christmas, previously released as single and two countrified gems in the barroom tear jerker Unhappy Christmas and the less melancholy Love On Christmas Day. 

Home Sweet Christmas may not have featured on my living room playlist last December but will surely make an appearance in future festive seasons, far outweighing most of the traditional, somewhat tired and repetitive fare that we often subject ourselves to at that time of the year. Well worth checking and not only at Christmas.

Ordinary Elephant Before I Go Berkalin

Ever since her emergence in the mid 90’s, Gillian Welch has been a major source of encouragement and inspiration for a host of acts to dust down the banjos and fiddles in an attempt to recreate the sparse musical styles of old country, Appalachian and bluegrass of bygone days.

Some have succeeded, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn and Carolina Chocolate Drops spring to mind, as do more recent recruits Rachel Baiman and Molly Tuttle. However, Before I Go, the second album release by husband and wife duo Ordinary Elephant, certainly goes closer than most others in reinventing that sound so unique to Gillian Welch - and Dave Rawlings. With all thirteen tracks written by the husband and wife duo, it’s no exaggeration in reporting that the album hardly contains a weak moment throughout, managing to capture widescreen cinematic backdrops across its tales of travel, tragedy, tenderness and anxiety.  Ordinary Elephant is Crystal Hariu-Damore (vocals and guitar) and Peter Damore (vocals and banjo) and with vocals perfectly matched for harmonising, Peter’s sublime claw hammer banjo playing and Crystals sweet guitar rhythms, all that was required was a collection of songs to showcase their talents.

Fragility and uncertainty are visited in the beautifully paced Leaving Kerrville, love found and lost in Evangeline, uncertainty and insecurity in Can I Count On You, the aftermath of Texas wildfires in Highway 71 and the anguish of Alzheimer’s in The Things He Saw.

Having released their debut album Dusty Woods And Cardboxes in 2013 and being shortlisted for Vocal Duo of the year at the 2014 Texas Music Awards they have essentially spent the past number of years on the road, travelling, touring with their van and trailer as home. They name check Darrell Scott and their attendance in 2015 at his summer 2015 SongFood Workshop as hugely inspirational in the shaping of numerous songs on Before I Go. 

Intelligent and interesting writing, sublime vocals, stellar playing and beautifully packaged. Another treasure unfolded.