Review by Stephen Rapid


Stan Martin Long Nights Twangtone

The new album from Stan Martin continues his run of finely-honed Telecaster infused twang laden neo-country. This is Martin’s sixth album of Bakersfield bound country. He is a master of the understated craftsmanship as singer, writer, producer and musician on this and previous albums. Although he is a talented picker he is not a show-off and is happy to trade guitar licks with the similarly minded Kenny Vaughan. The latter appears on all but one of the tracks here. Add to that the father and son rhythm section of Dave and Jerry Roe and you have a formidable team of musicians who know well how to serve a song to best effect.

Those songs, all written by Martin, are largely tales of lost and found love. They are delivered with humour, insight and a degree of honesty that shows an understanding for the frailties, possibilities and pitfalls that every relationship offers us all. One thing immediately apparent is the sense of melody inherent in the songs. An ingredient that is often missing in the overly riff driven hard rock of much of today’s overblown country music. Song after song feels like an old friend and all the more welcome for that. There is an atmospheric and appropriately named instrumental (El Tarantino) that fits easily in context (not unlike those that graced Way Out West, the album Vaughan made as part of Marty Stuart’s band, The Fabulous Superlatives). This all hints at a wide spectrum of influences and also mirrors some of the great and more expansive country music that was given exposure on the airwaves in the late 80s and early 90s.

The ten songs have a lasting appeal that will delight any of Martin’s fans and for those who have yet to have the pleasure of his company this is a great place to start to appreciate Martin’s talent. His last album was his best yet, up to that point, but this one is likely to grab that top slot. And why not, with such tales of betrayal south of the border as Dos Tequila. Then there is the reflection of the ballad, My Dream, wherein there is a wish for one’s love to be returned in equal measure. Long Nights is long on strong hooks and intertwined guitars and background vocals by Dave Roe. Another goodie is Play With Fire which again effectively features Roe on vocals. The whole album plays though as a piece without any filler or less interesting songs. This, then, is an album to savour and to return to and a reminder why so many of us miss top-notch music that, while it may not be breaking barriers or changing the musical landscape, is rather played for its own sake. The sake of the song.

Emily Herring Gliding Eight 30

As a pedal steel player and producer with such well known artists as Radney Foster, producer Steve Fishell seems like the right choice to helm Herring’s latest album of traditionally influenced but forward-thinking country music. Herring and Fisher have picked some of Austin’s finest to play on the album. Names like Redd Volkaert, Glen Fukunaga and Dave Sanger are all seasoned and gifted players. They recorded in the renowned Bismaux Studio in Austin and the results are engaging and emotion filled.

Now on her fourth album (her last, Your Mistake, was a Lonesome Highway album highlight) and it delivers in equal measure. The perspective however is personal with songs about her relationships and her Mother’s passing; as well as some tender moments that sit alongside a more definite swagger on the up-tempo truckin’ songs. As expected, the players are supportive throughout and allow Herring’s voice to deliver. The slow paced, Last Of The Houston Honky Tonk Heroes, floats on Fisher’s steel guitar. While All The Millers In Milwaukee is a drink sodden song that sees her joined by its writer Mary Cutrufello trading lines like “the whole damn Daniels family” and “every bud in Ol St. Lou” which give you a pretty good idea of where the song is heading. Balmorhea, by way of contrast, has an understated swing that ties it to an earlier Texas dancehall tradition. Her version of Billy Farlow and Bill Kirchen’s Semi Truck again offers another musical route that is a foot tapping truckin' treat. Both highlight Redd Volkaert and the versatility of the rhythm section.

However, the song, Right Behind Her, is an emotional standout. It is a song about loss and a song she actually wrote a year before her mother passed away and had a deep premonition of what living without her biggest fan, friend and anchor might actually mean. But the songs work by pulling her and the listener into that deep sense of departure. The title track sees Herring thinking of herself, but aware of the waitress in the bar and aware of the attraction between them. It tells of their getting together but later taking different paths in a way that is pretty universal. The Boudleaux Bryant and Chet Atkins penned Midnight has a feel that is totally in tune with the title and features some effective light night piano. Overall there is a set of different musical directions here that are pulled together by Herring’s striking vocals and the overall collective playing. Herring continues to glide and soar.

Ed Romanoff The Orphan King Pinerock

For this release, his second album, Ed Romanoff has upped his game by giving a vocal performance that makes the most of his baritone voice and his developing writing skills. He began writing some five years ago after a career outside of music. That gave him the freedom to develop his writing and music without the pressure of that being his only source of income and thereby having to make compromises to any possible commercial dictates.

For this album the producer is Simone Felice, which gives the album a wider and warmer sound than on his previous album. Interestingly, that album’s producer Crit Harmon is the co-writer of several songs on this album. Felice has also brought in a selection of sidemen and women who add much to the overall sound. These include Cindy Cashdollar, Larry Campbell, James and Simone Felice. Vocalists featured are Teresa Williams, Rachael Yamagata, Keith Pattengale, Cindy Mizelle and Felice - all of whom help to add a layer of effective vocals behind Romanoff’s. It was recorded in Sugar Mountain Studios in Woodstock and has an expansive folk sound that is loosely Americana in outlook.

Many of the songs have a haunting quality that paint pictures of various predicaments. None more so than The Ballad Of Willie Sutton, a brooding, almost spoken lament on a life of crime, that was continued in the attempt to give the Bonnie to his Clyde all the things she desired. It takes the Woody Guthrie ethos that the crime of robbing banks was equal to that of running one. The title song is one that he wrote with Mary Gauthier (her version featured on her album The Foundling) it is a reference to his own background and upbringing as well as believing in love as a way forward. That theme continues with  . It has a subtle atmosphere and melody that sits behind the tale of a traveling sideshow exhibit who, like everyone, is looking for a soulmate. A Golden Crown has a slight Celtic feel with a fiddle and is another story of looking and trying to find love.

Romanoff is a romantic storyteller and has delivered an album that is full of nuances and musical touches that do much to bring these songs to life. It is his recently discovered Irish roots coming to the fore which shows that even for those who come late to making music and recoding, it is never too late to bloom.

Craig Gerdes Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ Sol

This is an album that pretty much reveals itself from the cover and doesn’t disappoint. Gerdes fits the current profile of “outlaw” with beard, cowboy hat and 70’s inspired Waylon-esque sounding country songs. That is not to take away from Gerdes baritone voice or his song writing. Seven of the songs here are written by Gerdes solo or with a co-writer. There are two covers; Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets was a hit for Johnny Paycheck and You Saved Me From Me was written by his fellow contemporary outlaw Dallas Moore. A song of redemption and finding Jesus, Good Ol’ Days, reminisces about earlier times and Ol’ Hank. Redneck Sonabitches considers his time in Nashville and how it was not a perfect fit for a good ol’ boy wanting to write and play country music old school - something that he tells us that Billy Joe Shaver sympathises with him on. There is a grimmer tale of darkness and death to be found in Dead In A Box In Kentucky. The song has a brief Spanish guitar bridge that works well in the context of the tale.

Geodes co-produced the album with Brian DeBruler in Sol Records Studio in Indiana. It has a sound rooted in the past but one that sounds fresh in the light of some current production modes. They selected a group of players well able to give these songs the sound they needed. DeBruler was the drummer, Gerdes played lead and acoustic guitar and were joined by names well known to those who checked the credits of some albums of the era in Robby Turner on pedal steel and Larry Franklin on fiddle. Jim Vest, Tony Nasser and Buddy Hyatt and Mudbone also contributed.

This album places Gerdes among the expanding list of names who play country music that draws influences from Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson amongst others. Its outlaw status lies simply in going against the grain of what mainstream radio and the majority of the major labels want to release to appease their need to appeal to a crossover audience. Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ will not fit easily into that pigeonhole and that, perhaps, is its appeal. It is rather a real and robust expression of a musical form that is still loved by many and is fighting to retain its roots. Albums like this only help that to happen.

Matt Sayles & The Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress Manifest Refugees Philville

A Californian six-piece country/roots band fronted by singer, writer, arranger and co-producer Matt Sayles. He formed this band at the tail end of 2015 while still playing with another more acoustically focussed combo the Kentucky String Band. They take their name from Sayles place of employment (a gun club) when he was a teenager. This is (I believe) their debut album and it has been released as a limited edition vinyl album - one of which they were kind enough to send over for review. It features 11 original songs brought to fruition by the six-piece band that includes the solid rhythm section of Terry Luna and Blair Harper, keyboards (and accordion) from Ben Saunders and the lead guitars of Jay Carlandar and Sayles himself, plus the effective pedal steel guitar services of Bill Flores. They state their mission as “drawing out the echoing twang, reverb, and darkness from the smouldering remnants of manifest destiny that still mournfully beat in the hearts of our unknowing constituency.” Well that makes it pretty clear I guess.

However, what makes it, probably, even more clear is what’s in the grooves, which is pretty damn fine from the opening Old Man’s First Call; a sweet steel infused song about the bar life of a man who starts the day drinking coffee and moves to the harder stuff as his first, rather than last, call. From then on Sayles’ songs run through a number of experiences that are tied in with the way everyone has to deal with the effects that time and tribulation have in tempering an individual view, for any particular lifespan. Between some the songs there are the occasional samples from radio and other such utterances (often related, not unsurprisingly given the band name origin, to duck hunting). The overall effect makes for a slice of alt. country that engages and embodies the real spirit of honky-tonk music.

But titles like Don’t Drink The Water, Whites Of Their Eyes, Defan Saleau (with its hints of a Cajun lifestyle via the accordion) and Life Gets In The Way, offer an overview on how things can so easily slip away. Taking a similar world-weary tone is Can’t Track Myself Down, while the album closes with the pretty factual statement that Truth Is Now A State Of Mind. It rides along on twanging guitars, flowing pedal steel and a highway rhythm topped by Sayles knowing vocal. As good a way to end what is a solid mission statement from this entertaining, upright and upbeat collective.

Daniel Meade When Was The last Time Button Up

The new album from multi-instrumentalist and multi-talented Daniel Meade offers a much broader musical palette than his previous recordings. Maybe all that work with Ocean Colour Scene has rubbed off on him. It is also a solo album in the truest sense where all the instruments, apart for the important contribution by Ross McFarlane on drums, are played by Meade. A process that made him rethink his previous approach to record live with his band. He recorded it in Glasgow and had it mastered in Abbey Road Studio. Sonically it is a rich and satisfactory sound that is full of touches that reward repeated playing and familiarity with the songs. He has always had an ear for melody and structure and takes it to another level here. There are hints of his rootsier side at times but this has a bigger and, dare I say it, a somewhat more popier sound.

Meade has always impressed vocally but there is an additional confidence here and his use of multi-tracked vocals are particularly effective throughout. To appreciate that, in its most stripped back form, listen to So Much For Sorrow which is delivered as unaccompanied vocals or the layered vocals in Oh My My Oh. However, the final track is equally effective in its simplicity, Don’t We All. It is vocal and acoustic guitar plea for some kind of understanding and tolerance in the face of adversity. An old-school folk protest song in many ways.

Many of these songs were conceived initially as letters to himself and they are songs that are infused with Meade’s worldview and consideration of the darker times in life. They are at times somewhat downhearted but at other times looking towards the light. Either way, the music is entirely positive and full of his sense of structure, melody and skill as a player. The titles Nothing Really Matters and The Day the Clown Stopped Smiling might suggest otherwise but one can’t help but return to these rewarding songs and the man who conceived them. When was the last time that Daniel Meade impressed? It was live on stage and with all his previous recordings. An underrated artist at the top of his game.

Los Wrangos Way Out Yonder JT Omstead

There must be something in the water over in Sweden or else a big Morricone/Tarantino following, as here’s another band who appreciate and utilise that spaghetti western/Mexican element in their energised country and dark sinister round. The band is fronted by brothers Bob and Martin Lind who lead their accomplices through a set of original songs that range from desert instrumentals to songs that feature the brother’s confident English language vocals. The opening Tres Companeros is boosted by some strident mariachi horns. The Thundering Herd which follows could easily fit on A Man With No Name type film soundtrack. Like the rest of the album it is a heat and wind scorched landscape that they explore. It may be pastiche to some and not exactly sitting on the cutting edge (al la Calexico) but the end result is both entertaining and elemental. It is not pretending to be something authentic, but rather an interpretation of an atmosphere and attitude that has been their source of inspiration.

Though there are dark moments, there is a lightness of touch and elements of tongue-in-cheek humour throughout. It is also delivered with an undeniable skill and enthusiasm. Sweetheart Magnolia again places their trumpets to the fore with Spanish guitar increasing the mood all behind a solid melody. Of the ten tracks here 6 were recorded in Sweden and the remaining 4 tracks used the skills of Tucson’s Wavelab Studios maestro Craig Schumacher (who knows a thing or two about this kind of music) to mix the songs.

Some tracks that immediately stand out in include El Dorado (a song that see our hero hoping to return home made good) and Christmas In El Paso - both have a touch of Marty Robbins’ storytelling in them. Prairie Rain opens with accordion which sets the tone for a restless tale of returning. A theme that repeats itself. The lone man on a mission. Indeed, Los Wrangos are on a mission - one to make you listen and enjoy their music, something that it is not hard to do. They may look way out yonder from Sweden for their raison d’être but their aim is true. Long may they ride.

Jonn Walker Partisan Palace Self Release

His press release describes him as a vintage style country and western musician. Though I don’t how many would identify these stripped back songs as immediately belonging to that genre. For all that the five songs here are all interesting variations of a folk-style that assumes a stance of a less politically motivated Billy Bragg style performance. 

Walker songs are built from acoustic guitar upwards and add additional instruments to vary the sound a little. They songs have some angrier moments contrasted against some feelings of rejection and loss. Honey states “she loves money more than me” and that allows for mixed feelings. A Crying Shame has a riff that is most appropriate to translation to a traditional country song. It is again a song of misfortune in love. It also boast vocals that standout against the simplicity of the song structure.

The Open Secret is about drink and opens with a short story of staying in a hotel in New York and hearing the sound of sirens running throughout the night. It has a list of the preferred alcohol beverages. The final song Reputation again has reference to such consumption. In this case "Jack and Coke".

Walker is a UK based musician who has previously worked with The SoapGirls as a drummer. Here on this debut solo EP he sets out a base line to build from and it would be good to hear him add some traditional C&W instrumentation to his recorded output to see him move closer to his chosen format that he portrays in the cover photograph.