Matt Patershuk If Wishes Were Horses Black Hen
The latest album from Matt Patershuk should see his reputation cemented as not only one of Canada’s finest roots performers but also among the best,period. It is a high point of his career to date and a superb album to boot. Taking its title from an old Scottish proverb which reads “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” which suggest that dreams and ambitions should be pursued, even if not realised. Patershuk has said that this is a mixed bag and that is true as the songs cover a lot of bases that includes country (and western), blues, rock ’n’ roll and folk. Patershuk’s baritone vocal has the versatility to cover all these avenues with conviction allied to long-time producer’s Steve Dawson deft production skills.
The new album has fifteen tracks that immediately showthe variety in themes with in subject matter in the open trio of songs which are The Blues Don’t Bother Me, Ernest Tubb Had Fuzzy Slippers and Horse 1 (For Bravery & Good Fortune). All are set in suitable musical arrangements, the first is a bluesy song, the second a tribute to the good nature and personality of Ernest Tubb - which recounts a night Tubb spent a night in jail for firing a gun! Slightly at odds with what the title might have you expect. It features Charlie McCoy on harmonica and Dawson on pedal steel. Then the third track is an instrumental that would fit a Tarantino-style B movie. It is one of four such instrumentals on the collection all called Horse (the others numbered 2,3 and 4 are all shorter pieces) and in keeping with the album title but all diverse in their content.
There is a cover of a Grateful Dead song Sugaree co-written by the recently deceased Robert Hunter and the late Jerry Garcia. Apart from that it’s Patershuk all the way and the writing standard is high throughout. His writing is more in the straight forward story telling mode,rather than as an oblique wordsmith. The words are set against some memorable musical arrangements which are full of hooks and melodies that stick.
Aside from the tracks mentioned above another trio of the songs should be noted. The slow ballad of the Alberta Waltz which, to its credit sounds like a timeless song for the ages. Bear Chase is more up-tempo, telling of the hunt for a bear and features another strong vocal from Patershuk. Walkin’ is a slow ballad which uses the pedal steel and deeply solid rhythm section and vocal accompaniment to set it off in ’50s style. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable outing that touches numerous different bases and which avoids sounding like a compilation album,rather one that compliments itself in its aims and realisation.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Ed McGinley Tangled Roots & Twisted Tales Sonic Justice
The debut solo album from former Dixons and The Winters guitarist Ed McGinley who delivers a soulful, understated album of original songs alongside three thoughtful covers of Tim Hardin, Hank Williams and Bill Fay. He has also produced the album with Les Keye in Arad Studio in Dublin. It’s a rich warm sound that utilises numerous players to good effect. While McGinley’s voice is limited in range it is used well to fit within the context of the songs and their overall mood. Highlands and For The Last Time This Year are both good examples of the overall nature of McGinley’s vision for this album.
The three covers also fit neatly into the context of the album. The arrangement for I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry with its brass intro brings the song to a different place, that does what a good cover should, by making you rethink the song and your memories of it. You reflect on its lyrics and what they might mean set in a different musical space to the one you know. Long Ago, Far Away has pedal steel master Percy Robinson add his layered textured sound to the track alongside the organ of James Delaney to evoke a restless journeying. That pedal steel sound is again used effectively on You’re Never Coming Back, something of the opposite theme to that of the previously mentioned song.
There is an emphasis on thoughtful and skilful playing from the fourteen additional listed players on the album (McGinley play guitars throughout). It has the overall feel of a labour of love and it has been realised as such from the well-designed cover through to the control that the producers have used to achieve the contextual sound and vision of the album; something which is difficult to pin down, with its numerous influences, that have blended into nearly 35 minutes of music that fits and feels like a warm glove in winter.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Osborne/Jones Twang CRS
This is a download only compilation from the English duo who have released four albums under their joint names. David Osborne plays guitar and David-Gwyn Jones is the lead vocalist. Their debut album Sometime Soon was released in 2014 but this new album takes tracks from their last two releases, Only Now and Even Closer. Now this compilation lives up to its title and features the guest guitar talents of some of the very best country players around, in Rick Shea (who has worked with the duo on previous albums), Albert Lee, Jerry Donahue, Kenny Vaughan, Will McFarlane and Peter Anderson. Telecaster exponents all.
The question might be, do these guests overshadow Osborne and Jones who also wrote the songs? The answer is no. Jones is a good and versatile vocalist and while Osborne works with the other players to produce the best performances in the songs. The other players, who include such notables as drummers Shawn Nourse and Don Heffington, bring much to the relative simplicity of the songs, all of which fit the traditional themes in country music, such as lost and requited love. Titles like A Million Teardrops, Always Write In Blue and I Guess That You Will could easily be covered by some of the more traditional country singers of the past 50 years.
There are four songs from the recent albums Only Now (2016) and six from Even Closer (2018). The former album was produced in L.A. and Glendale, while the latter was produced by Teddy Thompson in New York (mainly). The duo were a part of the Los Angeles real country music scene in the past, playing such shows as Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance, alongside such acts as James Intveld and I See Hawks In LA.
The album is very engaging and a good example of guitar-driven twang that is both listenable and danceable. I’m just surprised that I hadn’t heard of the two albums that these tracks came from. They certainly deserve to be given another outing and will hopefully put the band up among the very best of the current resurgence of real country music emerging from the UK. One small point however - a better cover may have helped sales.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Jim Sullivan Self -Titled Light in the Attic
This release first saw the light of day back in 1972 and was a follow up to the debut U.F.O. that had started a media buzz about Sullivan, his big voice and 12-string guitar prowess. The production on this record is right up there with the best that studios could offer at the time. It is a completely different sound to the simple acoustic recordings of the other release, If Evening Were Dawn. The one track that appears on both records is Sandman and it’s interesting to compare the different production values given to each. This record is very assured and rounded in all the right ways by a studio production that gives the songs a finished feel…
There is a sense of Jim Croce or Gordon Lightfoot when hearing the content but then Sullivan had such a rich resonance to his voice that comparisons seem trite. There are eleven tracks here and the feel to the production is warm and full with the horn section and the rhythm of the back line quite compelling in the overall mix.
There is a soulful direction to these songs that take them out of the simple Folk category and push them into a more rhythm and blues field. Clearly the talent of this artist was not fully realised, perhaps being on Hugh Hefner’s new Playboy label didn’t do Sullivan any favours? Who can tell?
He never gained the rewards for all the hard work he put into his career over the years. Tom Cat and Show Me The Way To Go are pure soulful boogie and point to a direction that Sullivan could have blossomed in…. Biblical Boogie (True He’s Gone) is another track that could have originated in the Church influences of Gospel. Gone too soon but with these two revamped works, his memory is being kept alive.
Review by Paul McGee
Jim Sullivan If Evening Were Dawn Light in the Attic
The songs here date back to 1969 and this 2019 release is like a capsule hurled through space and time to reach out to a voice long since silenced. The back story to Jim Sullivan is just that – a back story. In 1975 he vanished without a trace on the way to Nashville to chase a career in the music business. These unreleased tracks were discovered and put into a posthumous release in order to celebrate a talent that never got to fulfil its true potential.
All songs are simple acoustic guitar and voice accompaniment and have that sense of being trapped in time. The production is very basic, almost like home recordings, while the songs speak of broken relationships, (Roll Back The Time, Walls), looking for something more out there (Jerome), or just trying to make a relationship work out, (Sandman, What To Tell Her…).
So Natural is a quality song that deals with death in a manner that is somewhat different; “He looked so natural tonight, He had his hair all combed just right” – poignant and insightful…
It’s just like a faded photograph taken in the time when the World was a different place; there is an innocence and also a sense of wondering about why the dream never quite worked out.
Review by Paul McGee
David G Smith Who Cares Self Release
The title of this album gives a strong hint as to the content of the twelve songs included here. A message for our times? The opening track, Where Is The Medicine, leaves no doubt as the swamp rock sound of resonator guitars and the soulful backing vocal illustrate the personal anguish and pain suffered as a result of depression and suicide in our cities and towns.
Second song, I Won’t Remember You, is a look at separation and whether a friendship can endure. The sweet guitar lines of Joe Robinson light up the arrangement with fluid jazz-based runs that you just want to keep going. He is a guitar virtuoso and his playing across these songs is of the highest quality.
Jesse James is a country tune with great fiddle playing from Larry Franklin as he weaves around the story of who the outlaw really was – the facts and the fiction that grew around his legend. The slow blues of Right Amount Of Wrong has the warm keyboard sound of Tony Harrell to the fore on Wurlitzer electric piano with understated guitar duelling along.
David G Smith lives in Nashville and this is his seventh release over a career that has spanned over 20 years. His producer, Blue Miller, died just after the completion of the project and the album is dedicated to his memory. Blue Miller produced a number of previous albums from Smith, in addition to working with artists such as Joss Stone, Bob Seger and India Arie. All songs are written by Smith, including 5 co-writes and the excellent musicianship displayed throughout is a pleasure to listen to…
Mary Alice is about a female long-distance trucker and the compromise & sacrifices made to earn a living, while Say Die, tells of a riverboat family who live close to the poverty line as shrimp farmers. The bayou accordion sound and soulful backing vocals give plenty of atmosphere to the arrangement.
There is a duet with Mary Gauthier on Shine, a soulful upgrade on the Curtis Mayfield classic, People Get Ready. Mary has also appeared on earlier albums by Smith and as always, she knocks her vocal out of the park. Also featured on the album are the voices of Alicia Michilli and Chante Caan, but without individual song credits it’s not clear who sings which part… suffice to say that both voices are full of soul and real nuance.
The country sound of Straw Houses and Just To Feel The Wind sit well together; one about the relationship woes of not being strong enough and the other a tale of a dying man, victim of a hit & run and left to take his last breath in a ditch while looking at the sky and thinking of his loved one at home. The fiddle playing of Franklin is prominent again in both tracks.
Without Water is about water pollution and captured in the lines ‘what leaks into the water seeps into our souls and takes us down’. No legacy to leave our children and the frustration at the world and the ignorance displayed daily is tackled in the closing song and title track; also touched upon in the song, Mi Familia, were the futility and hopelessness of lives forced into emigration/immigration is handled with great compassion, both including fine female vocal parts again. A very interesting release and one that comes recommended.
Review by Paul McGee
Simon George I Am The Wanderer - Tales From The Old West Self Release
A second release in as many years from an artist that was born in Dallas and moved to Nashville, where his musical development grew roots. He sent me this music, which arrived with the most comprehensive set of liner notes that I have ever received; what a welcome surprise to be given real insight into the bones of this project. The nine tracks clock in at 50 minutes and the mix of Americana, psyche rock and Soul, makes for an interesting listening experience.
The title track, for example, is a funky workout with warm keys and trumpet making their mark in a driving arrangement, followed by the laid-back groove of We Used To Love Each Other Once, a tip of the hat to past romance and the nostalgia of something lost that can never be recovered. The opening tracks, The Mountains Calling and My Way Home, are guitar driven songs about love lost and getting a focus on what is important in following your dream and living free and true.
The studio musicians are excellent in support of the songs and Robert Hudson on Bass and Rhythm guitar; Andrew Kahl on Drums & Percussion; Spencer Garland on Organ, Piano and Keys; Robert Gay on Trumpet and Maggie Reed on superb backing vocals all contribute greatly to the overall feel of the album.
Robert Hudson also engineered and produced at his Kinda Warm Studio and with Simon George on Lead & Rhythm guitars and lead vocals, both turn in superb performance across the entire recording. The final three tracks really hit the mark as the project climaxes with Save Your Tears For Sunday, Bigger Than Dallas and Good Lord Willin’ all hitting the mark and highlighting the excellent ensemble playing.
I also received a copy of the first album in my post and I have to say that The Way We Were is a terrific listen also, another nine tracks, clocking in at 55 minutes and well worth a listen. This artist is worthy of further investigation and you will not be disappointed in the time spent.
Review by Paul McGee
The Commonheart Pressure Jullian
That very broad sweep known as Americana embraces quite a number of genres, spreading its tentacles far and wide. With its growing market it is inevitable that the music industry will become more and more influential in a direction it considers to be most likely to appeal to a wide audience. There appears to be a particular welcome approval from industry for crossover soul/country music presently, with acts such as War & Treaty, Yola, Shinyribs and Nathaniel Rateliff getting lots of positive and well-deserved press. Eight-piece Pittsburgh band The Commonheart are worthy of joining that list of acts most likely to position themselves much higher up the music chain on the basis of their striking sophomore recording Pressure.
The Commonheart featured on the Outlaw Music Festival tour alongside Willie Nelson and Sturgill Simpson, which was great exposure for the band. However, I do sometimes wonder at the increasing number of acts currently being touted as ‘Outlaw’. Qualification for that accolade nowadays appears to be well outside of its original coveted membership.
The album offers ten tracks, the common denominator being Clinton Clegg’s powerhouse vocals and, despite the large contingent in the band, the accompanying and backing instrumentation never dominates. Where The Commonheart differ from the earlier named acts is in the rawness in Clegg’s vocal. His gravelly chanting offers similarities to England's Joe Cocker across a number of tracks but particularly on Wait and Memory. Strings, brass, synthesizers, backing vocals combine delightfully on Can’t Forget You and Best Hold On. The title track is classic soul, evidence that Clegg is just as adept with a gentle delivery as he is with his more powerful and raspy efforts.
Nobody’s Listening proclaims Clegg on the track of the same title. With material as powerful as this and a stage act to match he may not be saying this for much longer.
Review by Declan Culliton