Sunfire Sinners’ Town Self Release
Sunfire are a Dutch band who released this second album in August 2018. The band’s sound is a mix of folk, country and bluegrass and they comprise Sophie Zaaijer (fiddle & vocals), Satria Karsono (Resonator, guitars, banjo, percussion, vocals), Berend de Vries (electric guitar), Michel Beeckman (bass) and Jeroen van Leeuwen (drums, percussion) …
There are 14 tracks that run to 70 minutes, so this is quite a project to take on in one sitting. The songs are loosely based around a Wild West theme and the hard times and sorrowful lives that inhabit the occupants of the mythical Sinner’s Town. Throughout, there is an energy and vibrancy in the playing, with the outstanding talents of Sophie Zaaijer on fiddle a recurring joy. Songs about the devil abound and the dark days of simply surviving and enduring fill the grooves on tracks like Reapers Train, Shot, Gallows Waltz, Roadburn and The War Is Won.
Woman is a highlight and the tongue in cheek, My Horse Doesn’t Love Me Anymore, a fun filled hoedown. It all ends with the campfire strum of Long Road To Come and the hope that redemption is just around the corner. Engaging and something here for every taste.
Review by Paul McGee
Damien Jurado In The Shape Of A Storm Loose
Yet another fine release from the considered pen of an artist who has been making music of shifting shapes and real quality since his debut, back in 1997. Following on from his 2018, self-produced The Horizon Just Laughed, Jurado has finally decided to release a solo acoustic record which is very sparse; just guitar and vocal across ten tracks that clock in just over the 25-minute mark.
Quality and not quantity I hear you say and of course you are correct. The gentle leanings in these stripped back arrangements contain a refreshing honesty in their musings on love, openness, real connection true meaning and loyalty. The simple strumming on acoustic guitar contains real melody and Jurado recorded the project in just two hours, according to the press release. These are a collection of songs that had been left on the shelf during various other recording sessions over the years. They come together with a quiet elegance that makes you feel like the intimacy of the performance is something just for your ears alone. Jurado sings in a vocal tone that resonates between fragile, soft and wistful, adding to the sweet nature of proceedings.
There is a melancholy that also runs through the songs and the recent death of long-time friend and producer Richard Swift has no doubt influenced the overall mood. Newspaper Gown is a terrific song and the title track, together with Throw Me Now Your Arms also stand out, alongside the closing track, Hands On The Table. Jurado displays a naked honesty not usually associated with a songwriter who has typically written character songs over his previous recordings. So, hats off to a very different, concise treatise on the human heart and all the emotion wrapped around its gentle beating.
Review by Paul McGee
Michael Chapman True North Paradise Of Bachelors
Never one to bow to the vicissitudes of the ageing process, this celebrated artist releases yet another fine example of his song-writing craft. After a life spent honing his sound, beginning in the Folk clubs of the 60’s with fellow artists like Roy Harper and John Martyn, he has arrived at a place where his artistry has attained legendary status across multiple releases and an ability to incorporate varying musical styles and changes in direction, at any given point along his journey.
For this release, Chapman located at Mwnci Studios in rural West Wales with a group of friends that include Bridget St. John (vocals), Sarah Smout (Cello), BJ Cole (pedal steel) and guitarist/producer Steve Gunn. The eleven songs include two instrumentals, Eleuthera and Caddo Lake, while the remaining tracks contain a quiet resonance as the 78- year old artist looks back at the years gone by, in reflective mood. Never better illustrated than on Truck Song where the sublime interplay of the musicians is framed in the wry lines “but the highway never seems to sleep; I guess it’s a sign of the times” …
Youth Is Wasted On The Young looks back at missed opportunities along the way and It’s Too Late follows a similar path, with the lonely sense of a life in regret, for a chance at a relationship not taken. The converse of this is the song After All This Time, where a long-term relationship has broken down - “we grew up; we grew apart”.
Full Bottle, Empty Heart tells of a drifter who has lost out in love and Hell To Pay can be taken as either a love song or as a commentary on the current times we find ourselves and likening society to a “ship out on the ocean, sailing out of sight” – maybe things can get better but they probably will just get worse. Overall, this is a very strong statement from a singer-songwriter who has seen and done it all over his career but the flame still burns brightly.
Review by Paul McGee
West Of Eden Flat Earth Society West Of Music
This band from Gothenburg, Sweden deliver a contemporary folk sound that is inspired by the Celtic music tradition. The main songwriters are Jenny Schaub ( lead vocals, accordion) and Martin Schaub (vocals, guitars, mandolin, piano, cittern). This is their seventh release, not counting compilations and Christmas albums and they are joined by by Lars Broman (vocals, viola, fiddle), Ola Karlevo (drums, percussion, bodhran, vocals), Henning Sernhede (guitars, lap steel, vocals) and Martin Holmlund (bass guitars, vocals).
Their sound is reminiscent of The Corrs in part with the excellent vocals of Jenny Schaub to the fore throughout. The record is produced by Martin Schaub who delivers a rich tapestry of sound and the ensemble deliver a very compelling performance across the twelve tracks included here. Guest artists Damien O’Kane (guitar, banjo), John McCusker (fiddle and whistles), Jarlath Henderson (uileann pipes, whistle, vocals), Duncan Chisholm (fiddle) and Heidi Talbot (vocals) add their talents to selected tracks and add another layer to what is already a very confident and strong record.
The songs speak of enduring in times of trouble (Porcelain Days), travelling free (Horsehoofs & Primroses), being left at the altar (Kate, Are You Ready Now), the push and pull of relationships (Viper & Fireflies) and love leaving (Flat Earth Society and Come Winter, He’ll Be Gone). There are also two instrumental tracks, Isak/Doris and Rowbotham’s Map, plus a peek at either a witch or a simple widow (Old Miss Partridge) and the loneliness of losing a partner as we age (The Dwindling Of The Day). Another strong statement from this talented group of players who are clearly driven and focused on traditional Folk with a Celtic twist.
Review by Paul McGee
The Brother Brothers Some People I Know Compass
Sibling harmonies have a long history that goes back to duo like Osbourne’s, the Louvin’s or the Everly Brothers to name but three. It’s slightly ironic that the most frequent comparison that these brothers get is with non-siblings Simon and Garfunkel. However, that in itself is something of a compliment as that duo was known for their harmonic perfection. Adam and David Moss though seem vocally closer, sounding like a single voice double tracked at times. That matters little if their songs weren’t melodically strong in themselves. I first encountered these boys on the Tugboats EP. Now comes their first full length album and it lives up to the promise shown on that EP.
The album was produced by Robin MacMillian, who alone engineered and mixed the album in Faraway Sound in New York. They were accompanied by some select players who added bass, keyboards, acoustic guitar and saxophone to various tracks, but the trio of the Moss boys and MacMillan contribute the core of each of the songs which obviously have their voices as the central tenet of the sound. Overall the music is fairly stripped back as in the case of Banjo Song which is largely accompanied by the aforementioned titular instrument with added violin and guitar keeping it simple and direct. Elsewhere the songs are more layered as in Ocean’s Daughter where Adam Moss’ violin takes flight. In The Nightime sounds more like a foot stomping front porch session and adds a sense of variety to the material on offer. The gentle I Will Be With You certainly has that early Simon and Garfunkel feel in its assertion of love and longevity.
The songs deal with people and places in the main as the album title suggests. They are composed by the duo in the main other than a cover of Peter Rowan’s Angel Island, Sam Bridges from the pen of Alexander Meek and I Will Be With You by Joanna S. Frankie, which considers the loss of friends due to the way an area can becoming upscale and force a section people out of the part of the city as rents increase. Other titles like Colorado makes reference to a specific location and how that place can relate to the people living in them. Red And Gold is poetic, as are several of the lyrics, a short song that appears about the sun. But whatever the meaning, you are emerged in a world that is quietly powerful and immensely thoughtful in the way it draws from something within the Mosses musical motivation and draws you into their circle.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Marty Stuart The Definite Collection Vol.2 Hump Head
Although I have pretty much everything that Marty Stuart has released these two volumes curated by Stuart and released by Hump Head are essential even to a fan like myself, as they include hard to find tracks from tribute compilations as well as unreleased material. They confirm that from the start, even though he has explored some different musical direction it is all held together by a singular voice and vision.
It is Stuart personal take on the traditional music and icons that he holds dear and sees as his mission to keep alive on record and on stage. The earliest track here is from 1977, which is a medley of Mystery Train /Tiger Man. There are a couple of cuts from the late 80’s and early 90’s like 1991’s The Whiskey Ain’t Working, a song recorded as a duet with Travis Tritt with whom he toured around that time in the No Hats Tour. However, the vast majority of the songs are from the 2000’s. Many are recorded with his definite band The Fabulous Superlatives - a band who live up to their name. However, Stuart has always surrounded himself with top notch players who share his outlook.
This is 100% country music even when he steps outside the lines as he does on his version of that renowned bluegrass band The Who’s I Can See For Miles, recorded with the Old Crow Medicine Show and taken from his duets album Compadres. That track is one of several songs written by authors other than Stuart himself. Tillman Franks, Merle Kilgore, Dallas Frazier, George Jones, Ralph Mooney, Rabon Delmore, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Ira and Charlie Louvin, Benny Goodman and Charles Christian are just some of the writes who have credits on the three albums.
There are five unreleased tracks included, Mose Allison’s Parchman Farm, Billy Cole’s Homesick alongside the original songs 99 And A Half Won’t Do, Graveyard, Rattle & Roll and Le Tingo Tango. But aside from these it is a welcome reminder of many other old favourites from a notable career of an artist who hasn’t always been flavour of the month in mainstream circles but seems now to be having a resurgence both live and on record. This hard back triple CD offers sixty five tracks of some of the finest country music ever recorded. It is definite and definitive. A real Marty party!
Review by Stephen Rapid
Shelby Texas We Are Shelby Texas Self Release
This is an accomplished debut 7 track EP from Californian duo, Shelby Lanterman and Michaelryan ‘Texas’ McCauley. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the collection is particularly well produced by Gawain Matthews, who plays many of the instruments and has given the album a big radio friendly sound. Texas wrote and sings four songs - one could easily hear them being played on US pop country stations. The three songs contributed by and sung by Shelby are special. She is blessed with a powerful voice, which she has honed over many years of playing and performing in bands, even though she is still only in her early 20s. Her song writing is impressive and she combines catchy hooks with well crafted lyrics. Tennessee is a gentle ballad of longing for the southern state. No Regretsis a rousing rootsy country song about moving forward, while the pain of rejection is explored in Unrequited.
Just as we were about to post, we learn that the band have decided to go their separate ways. Keep an eagle eye out for Shelby, who continues to perform around her native California as Shelby Ann - I hope we’ll be hearing more from her.
Review by Eilís Boland
Various Artists Country To Country Vol 4 HumpHead
Mo Pitney’s stand out contribution to this 40 track compilation is the self penned song I Met Merle Haggard Today. It’s sad to say that most of his fellow contributors have probably never even heard of Merle. This is a companion album to the C2C roadshow that has brought ‘country’ music from its original home in the US to Dublin/Glasgow/London every year for the past seven years. In a cleverly programmed move the artists play all three venues once over the three nights in March - a logistical nightmare for the crews, no doubt, but it does work well. The songs here are from a selection of the artists that have played at one of those shows at some stage over the years.
The album could act as a souvenir of the weekend for the attendees, or as an introduction to what passes for ‘country’ in Nashville these days. With a few notable exceptions, the music here is closer to pop/rock than any other genre. Shamelessly aimed at the young market, and performed by young artists, it consists of a bunch of power ballads. On a positive note, most of the songs have been written or cowritten by the artists themselves, and there are hints of rap and metal creeping in in places. No one expects a musical genre to stand still - there has to be progression and development through time, but it disappoints me that these artists are being promoted commercially when a whole host of talented and more rootsy acts are being ignored.
Even the once lauded Americana artist Kacey Musgraves has gone down the pop route (which of course is proving very successful for her, both commercially and with her Grammy award). The few exceptions here are relative newcomers Lukas Nelson and Ashley McBryde, and the longer established Lyle Lovett and Marty Stuart, who stand out in a crowd of very similar sounding bands.
Review by Eilís Boland