Reviews by Declan Culliton

Clay Parker and Jodi Jones The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound Electric Wreck

 Less than thirty seconds into the first track on this album, and you could be forgiven for assuming that The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound was an album of Gillian Welch outtakes and rarities. In fact, without the album cover in hand you would be convinced it was. Jones’ vocals have that sweetness and purity possessed by Welch and the guitar work is reminiscent of the sounds Dave Rawlings creates. The album as a whole retains this Welch/Rawlings feel throughout, but rather than dismissing it as copycat the focus should dwell on the quality of their harmonies, the playing in general and the songs, which stand on their own two feet. That opener Easy Breeze is aptly titled - airy, carefree and simply lovely on the ear. Remember It All and Down To The Garden travel similar paths, with shared lead harmonies by Parker and James, both laid back and as relaxed as J.J. Cale at his most untroubled. The lead vocal is taken by James on Katie’s Blues, a tale of release and liberation and the gorgeous country waltz Every New Sky contains some heavenly pedal steel breaks, courtesy of Paul Buller who also plays guitar and mandolin on the album.

It’s not a short album either, requiring over fifty minutes of your time over the ten tracks. The tour de force is without doubt the closing epic track Killin’ Floor. It delivers over twelve minutes of stripped back to the bare bone harmony vocals, only accompanied by acoustic guitar.  Shades of I Dream A Highway, the closer of Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator) perhaps, but a beautifully spellbinding closer nonetheless.

Having abandoned solo careers to work as a duo, Parker and Jones discovered at an early stage that their ability to co-write far outweighed their talent for writing individually. Recording the album in both their hometown of Baton Rouge in Louisiana and at The Bakery Sound Studio in Nashville on a near zero budget, Parker admits that most of the people who worked on the album did so for little or nothing, simply because they believed in the duo. It’s an admirable sentiment and quite credible, given the quality of the end product which hopefully will garner them exposure to a wider audience. So impressed was actor and film director Ethan Hawke when encountering the duo at a casual neighborhood show, that he cast them in his recently released film Blaze.

The methods that they have adopted to develop a following are equally old timey, focusing on endless tours across Southern towns in the US and building their fan base on the strength of their live shows, without an over reliance on social media. Perhaps this is the reason the album took a while to surface. They have been performing as a duo since 2009 and have no doubt won the hearts and souls of many - not surprising given the calibre of this album.

Granted the album title can be a tongue twister - taken from the Woody Guthrie lyrics from When The Curfew Blows ("Was the lonesomest sound boys, that ever heard boys, like a midnight wind boys, when the curfew blows") – but the quality of the material is of the highest standard over the ten tracks that explore old time folk and country. If old timey is your thing, you really need to hear this album.

Folk Soul Revival Self-Titled Self Release

The band’s title could be extended to folk, soul, bluegrass, rockabilly and country revival, given the amount of ground the Virginian quintet cover on their self-titled album. Believe me, there’s every bit as much country music as there is folk and soul on offer here. Very much a touring band, with ten years on the road at this stage and knocking out over a hundred shows a year.  Folk Soul Revival have shared stages with Old Crow Medicine Show, Dr.Ralph Stanley and Jason Isbell to name a few and their musical contributions and harmonies on the album point to a road seasoned act. The opener Other Side is an ‘in your face’ belter, before they settle into some dreamy country ballads such as Losing Kind, Small Town and the closing track Willin’. Honey Do raises the temperature with toe tapping rhythm and some killer guitar work and Horrible Girl is no frills traditional honky tonk. Dance With Me, a wonderful country ballad, features the honeyed vocals of Leah Blevins.

Folk Soul Revival are Daniel Davis and Justin Venable, both on vocals and guitar, Brandon Sturgill on bass, Chad Light on guitars, pedal steel and banjo and Justin Louthian on vocals and drums. Recorded at Ten 4 Recording in East Nashville and produced by Grammy Award winner Chad Brown (Robert Plant, Jim Lauderdale, Ryan Adams, Patty Griffin), the album looks backwards, forwards and sideways, with real tales of heartbreak, mundane nine to five back breaking jobs, the joy of small town living, and flirty women.  Lovers of the band Western Centuries will lap this up. 

Jeremy Nail Live Oak Open Nine

My Mountain, recorded in 2016 by Jeremy Nail and produced by Alejandro Escovedo, was written by Nail while recovering from cancer, which had resulted in the amputation of his left leg. Live Oak, in many ways, is a celebration of the ability to not only survive, but to blossom in the face of adversity. The title’s inspiration comes from a six hundred-year-old Treaty oak tree in Austin, Texas, which survived a poisoning attempt in 1989 and still stands as proudly as ever, mirroring Nail’s own continuation.

Co-produced by Nail and drummer Pat Manske at The Zone in Dripping Springs Texas, the overriding feel the album creates is one of absolute calmness and tranquillity across the ten tracks. Credit must go to the pair for the quality of the production and the choice of instrumentation. It’s stripped back in the main, placing Nail’s vocals out front but also showcasing some superb playing, particularly Jeremy Menking’s guitar and lap steel playing. 

The title track Live Oak is a celebration of resurgence, durability and recovery ("light and water make it grow, gathered on the branches the birds build their nest, dead leaves falling underneath as I come back new again, strong as a live oak"). Abiquiu reflects on both loveliness and despair - inspired while driving through the New Mexico town where both desolation and beauty exist side by side, an all too common feature of many American towns and cities. Like so much of the album, it is unhurried and patient, with Nail’s vocals clear and tranquil alongside some fine guitar playing. Other Side Of Time and Hope and Fear follow a similar path, the latter uncluttered and dreamy, all the better for the addition of trumpet by Shane Pitsch. Even more laid back, if that is possible, is the gorgeous So Long, Yesterday, the album’s stand out track. A tale of loss, tragedy and possibly recovery, it includes striking backing vocals from L.A. singer songwriter Shannon Brackett and moody lap steel from Jeremy Menking. Till’ Kingdom Come, the closing track, is a reflection on both Nail’s personal survival and on those who did not make it to the other side ("from a body ridden with disease, to this new life I live and breathe, to the ones that did not survive, I wish we could have had more time").

Nail’s previous album My Mountain featured in the main material that catalogued pain, loss, suffering and survival. Live Oak, on the other hand, is an album that celebrates recovery and endurance, written very much in the present and is another exquisite album from the Texan songwriter. 

Rhyan Sinclair Barnstormer Little Haunted Girl

Still only in her late teens, Rhyan Sinclair’s debut solo album finds the Kentucky born singer abandoning her more rocky sound as lead person in All the Little Pieces, the band she formed at the age of eleven. Barnstormer finds her exploring her country roots and very successfully it has to be said. She has not approached the challenge half-heartedly either, engaging the talents of Jason Groves (who recorded three other albums with Sinclair in previous projects) and Sean Giovanni to co-produce with her and also calling on some crack players - Fats Kaplin, Toni Karpinski, Ross Holmes, Carl Miner, Eliza Mary Doyle, Lillie Mae and Jeff Binder - to contribute to the album. The recording stretches to nearly fifty minutes across fourteen tracks, twelve written by Sinclair and two co-writes, Kentucky Night Sky and the title track, with Toni Karpinski.

Primarily and to her credit, it is a country album in the true sense, avoiding the pop crossover direction of many of her young peers and all the better for it. From Here, the opener, is uncluttered, beautifully paced with dreamy pedal steel by Kaplin, the perfect companion to Sinclair’s sweet high-pitched vocals. Barnstormer, the title track, steps up a few gears, a lively jaunt with Carl Milner’s slick banjo playing and some ripping fiddle playing by Ross Holmes taking pride of place, alongside Sinclair’s silky vocals on this occasion. Few country albums exclude a weepie and The Sad Song ("gonna write a sad song and get it over"), ticks that box, stripped back and unhurried. Old Lost Town is small town reflections with nods towards Miranda Lambert and Brandy Clark. Retrograde does slip one foot into the pop camp, but the touching and gentle Cold Summer’s Day steers the ship back in the right direction, with Lillie Mae adding harmony vocals and fiddle. What Time Is It In California? is a country/soul/gospel fusion, which works spectacularly well, group vocals and hand claps included, a tale of wanderlust and itchy feet, before the album closes with the loose bluegrass sound of Free At Last

It remains to be seen if Barnstormer is simply a diversion for Sinclair, or if it implies a musical direction she intends pursuing. What can’t be denied is that it’s an exceptionally mature and professional undertaking from someone so young. Possibly a track or two could have been omitted but in the main the writing and singing is top drawer and the playing immaculate throughout. 

RJ Comer One Last Kiss  Growling Moon

The cover photo on RJ Comer’s One Last Kiss album depicts a vintage car ploughed into a tree on the side of the road, an image which could aptly refer to the singer songwriter’s early career. From singing in a church choir as a young boy, to addiction and homelessness as a young man, RJ Comer eventually conquered his demons and the Chicago-born troubadour subsequently relocated to rural Tennessee, where he currently resides with his wife and dog. Having dropped out of music school and abandoned his musical career, three decades passed before Comer finally turned his life around and won a scholarship to law school. To complete his rehabilitation, while performing with his band semi-professionally, he was signed by a record label.

One Last Kiss is Comer’s first full album having released two mini albums, Hell Hole Swamp in 2015 and Nightly Suicide in 2016. His rugged baritone vocals reflect a life well lived and perfectly suit the twelve country tinged blues tracks on the album. Recorded at Great Hill Productions and Slack Key Studios in Nashville, the production duties were undertaken by multi-instrumentalist Shawn Byrne, who also plays guitars, bass and mandolin on the album. Even with Comer’s vocals always upfront the quality of the playing shines through, Randy Kohr’s (Dolly Parton, Jim Lauderdale, Dierks Bentley) slide guitar is especially intoxicating on House Grown Cold and Desert Mama. The latter is a playful yarn about an LSD trip in the desert ("I can’t say that I’m sober, but I can say I ain’t been drinking, I see a snake swallow its tail and then it rolls away like a wheel"). Let’s Run is a simple ballad craving escapism from the nine to five rural grind and features Grand Olde Opry staff fiddler Eamon McLoughlin on top form. Under A Lover’s Moon is a confessional love song celebrating the writer’s contentment and fulfilment.

Treetop Flyers Self-Titled Loose Music

Winners of the Glastonbury Festival Talent Competition in 2011, Treetop Flyers self-titled release is their third recording following The Mountain Moves (2013) and Palomino (2016). 

The London based band are headed by founding member Reid Morrison and borrow their name from a Stephen Stills song, a heads up to their musical direction which blends late 60’s West Coast with folk and soul. Flea Drops, which opens the album, is a mellow instrumental followed by the soulful blues sound of Sweet Greens & Blues, which celebrates that unique Brit soul sound and includes saxophone courtesy of Geoff Thomas Widdowson, a member of their label mates Danny and The Champions of The World. The spacey psychedelic Kooky Clothes creates images of sun drenched outdoor festivals on the west Coast circa 1969. Astral Plane fits a similar bill, though very much to Morrison’s credit, delivered in his own accent rather that adopting an annoying American twang. Warning Bell revisits their distinctive UK soul sound and Art of Deception recalls early Traffic with its infectious groove and Steve Winwood sounding vocal. Closing the album as it opened with an instrumental, Door 14 bookends what is an impressive, tender and most listenable album.

Unlike their previous recordings, which took place in the main in their own London SOUP studios, this time they travelled to Stoke Newington and The Cube studio, and with quite basic equipment concentrated on making an album that reflected exactly where they were musically at that moment in time. A very good place by the sound of the end product.