Resonant Rogues Autumn Of The World Self Release
Out of Asheville, N Carolina comes this excellent self produced third album from a stringband who successfully encompass elements of folk, Appalachian, gypsy jazz, country, klezmer and old time music in their unusual but appealing sound. The core of the band are two colourful characters: Sparrow, on accordion and clawhammer banjo, and her partner Keith J. Smith, on guitar. Sparrow’s rich resonant vocals kick off the opener, Maker’s Song, an anthem which could be adopted by ‘makers’ everywhere. It tells of the powerful drive in all creative souls, be they ‘storytellers … builders or bakers.’
His penchant for, or addiction to, travelling is detailed by Keith J Smith on several offerings, including Tramp and Watching Those Wheels Roll, both of which are heavy on the gypsy jazz feel. Kristen Harris ably supports the band with her stunning fiddle playing, whether that be on the several swing jazz inflected songs or the more folky offerings. Eric Heveron-Smith completes the line up, mainly on upright bass and vocals but he also plays trombone on one track.
Irish audiences will particularly identify with, and perhaps gain some solace from, Sparrow’s homage to (rain)water in Strength Of Water! Her soaring haunting vocals lull the listener gently into a sense of acceptance - ‘Let it roll, let it rain, let the water wash your tired frame’. Yeah right.
It is, however the title track that stands out most for this listener. In the very moving Autumn Of The World, Sparrow sings beautifully of the fragility of life and the devastation of depression and suicide - ‘a song for the sad ones, those of us who cannot stay away from the edges of existence, whose flame it burns too bright for it to stay’.
The CD is accompanied by fine cover art, combining photography and line drawings and lettering, continuing the ‘earthy’ theme. Resonant Rogues are touring the UK in July and I urge you to get out and hear them, as well as buying this album.
Review by Eilís Boland
Pete Gow Here There’s No Sirens Clubhouse
Readers may or may not be familiar with the U.K rock flavoured country band Case Hardin. Their frontman and songwriter Pete Gow’s stunningly beautiful solo debut album is far removed from the more upbeat music in the band’s repertoire. Here There’s No Sirens is an intimate and confessional collection of songs, laced with pain and tales of personal disarray.
Gentle piano and dusky vocals introduce the opening track One Last One - Night Stand, before being joined majestically by symphonic strings, one and a half minutes into the song. It chronicles an elusive cry for help and affection of any kind. (‘’One last one-night stand, unprotected, uneven, unplanned. They get to be boring; they can start to taste bland’’). We learn of a doomed relationship and a bond sealed by personal needs rather than love in Mikaela. (‘But songs are like tattoos, and you should think before you name one after a girl’).
What raises the album well above the parapet are the most impressive arrangements. Many of the tracks are drenched in orchestral arrangements. Strings, brass and pianos all emerge in exactly the right places, without ever dominating Gow’s husky whispered vocals. The title track is divine, particularly goose bumps inducing when the strings kick in mid song. It’s plea for help and release is heart rendering as the songs end fuses atmospherically into The Pogues Rainy Night In Soho. Some Old Jacobite King grieves the loss of a wayward son, unsatisfied and unprepared to exists within the confines of his parent’s lifestyle. Emotion seeps out of Gow’s every pore as the tale unfolds (‘He made it away before the snows came in late’88. The ferry pulled the port mists apart, and his mother’s heart’). Strip For Me, which namechecks the Donald Trump accuser Stormy Daniels, leaves the listener considering various definitions of power, abusive control and chauvinism. A song very much of today.
No doubt this album will pass many people by, given the difficulty for lesser known artists to get exposure. Most unfortunate if this is the case, as it’s a joy from start to finish. If Gow never releases another album, this is a legacy that he can be justifiably proud of. An exceptional listen.
Review by Declan Culliton
Buddy & Julie Miller Breakdown on 20th Ave. South New West
Ten years after the release of their last duo album, husband and wife team Buddy & Julie Miller return with an impressive recording that considers the often traumatic period since their last recording. They had already commenced writing songs for the follow up to 2009’s Written In Chalk, when Julie was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder characterised by muscular pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Buddy’s workload at the time also accelerated, collaborating with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on Raising Sand, producing and appearing on a multitude of albums and touring with a number of artists. He also worked with T Bone Burnett on the ABC-TV Series Nashville.
The illness and work-related issues put serious strains on the marriage but also gave the often bedridden Julie the inspiration and ammunition to write up to sixty songs over that period. The album could have rightly been released as a Julie Miller solo album, given that she wrote the twelve tracks and is the main vocalist on many of the songs. The production, recording and playing were carried out by them both.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, finds Julie setting her stall out from the word go. It was the first song recorded for the album. It catalogues a demand for the support of her otherwise engaged husband and a reminder that she’s no longer going to wait in line for his attention ("I’m gonna make you love me and be your number one girl. I’m gonna make you love me and shout it out to the whole wide world"). Similar mantras are repeated throughout the track to a thumping back beat. Everything Is Your Fault is frank and to the point, a cry for help at crisis point ("I’m fragile, you’re agile at being so covert. Let’s pretend then, make it all end, as if no one got hurt"). The sparse sounding Till The Stardust Comes Apart hints at reconciliation and rebirth, a vocal duet that reads like an oath ("I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine, Til the clock runs out of time").
The title track opens the album, a raw grungy sound with snarling vocals, a reflection on a turbulent relationship facing possible disintegration. Feast Of The Dead, with its mandolin intro, finds Julie sounding like Lucinda Williams performing a song plucked from an early Steve Earle album. We’re nine tracks into the album before Buddy takes a lead vocal on the soothing and confessional Secret. Accompanied by a gentle acoustic guitar intro, it plays like a response and apology from him to his wife, having considered and accepted the frustrations she had vented on previous tracks. The album fittingly closes with Storm Of Kisses. The only co-write on the album, it was written by Julie and her nephew Alasdair MacKenzie. The title was thought of by Alasdair when only four years old and the lyrics, delivered as a duo, are written in memory of Julie’s brother, tragically and fatally struck by lightning.
Fortunately, having lived and survived through trying times, it’s a happy ending album. It could very well have been a partner to Richard & Linda Thompson’s break up album Shoot Out The Lights. On the contrary, the lights appear to be shining brighter than ever on the partnership, both in loving and creative terms. A moving, charming and soothing listen from start to finish.
Review by Declan Culliton
Kieran Goss and Annie Kinsella Oh, The Starlings Self Release
This is a family affair and all the better for it… Kieran Goss has been a much-loved part of the Irish musical landscape since he first appeared in the late 1980’s and his excellent songs have brought many pleasures to the airwaves and concert halls of Ireland over the years.
This project is undertaken with his wife, Annie Kinsella, who has one of those beautifully disarming voices, soft and sweet with a real warmth. The eleven tracks here include five covers and six originals and the choices blend together into a seamless whole to create a very pleasant listening experience. Gentle, soft, easy flow are words that come to mind when reflecting on the mood that is created by these songs that seduce and connect on many levels.
Kieran sings lead vocal on the sweet lullaby, Time To Go Sleeping and shares lead vocal with Annie on Hollywood Boulevard. Annie takes the remaining songs and makes them her own. The title track is a husband and wife co-write and Into Your Arms, Hollywood Boulevard and Hymn To Love are written by Kieran with Brendan Murphy and Sharon Vaugn. Crazy For Your Love is written by Kieran, Stephony Smith and Brendan Murphy.
The covers include W.B. Yeats, The Song Of Wandering Angus and Jewel Of The South by Rodney Crowell. Time stands still while these lovely melodies and understated playing spin their spell. A very welcome addition to the body of work from Kieran Goss and one that is delivered with no little skill and dedication to the work itself as the most important ingredient.
Review by Paul McGee
Danni Nicholls The Melted Morning Proper
This English rose has been making quite a name among the right music circles and there is a real buzz spreading, given her bright talents as a singer-songwriter. This release is her third and the growth as a musician is obvious from the opening Wild As The Water, a song of desire, passion and promises that is wrapped in the most appealing melody and song arrangement.
The warm organ sound on Hear Your Voice seeks courage and self confidence in another. Unwanted is a song about leaving and the end of an unhappy relationship. Wish I Were Alone is a song about missing an ex-lover and feeling lonely. Frozen deals with self-doubt, the inability to open up and being our own worst enemies while Lemonade spins a different perspective of being positive and looking for good things in life.
Losing It is a song about feeling lost and in need of stability while Texas is a co-write with Ben Glover and deals with hope, despite the pain of feeling lost but surviving. Power To Leave is about moving on, meeting an ex-lover and realising that life has already gone forward. Here is an artist that is maturing with the perspective of life lived and reflecting on all the growing pains that result.
Nicholls has a very expressive voice and her vocal tone and timbre are quite absorbing; both reflective and wistful in delivery. Production is by Jordan Brooke Hamlin who also contributes on drums, bass and electric guitars, trumpet and piano and her contribution cannot be underestimated. She also supplies the string arrangements on a number of tracks and the various studio musicians all contribute to what is a beautifully rounded and delivered production. The Secret Sisters appear on backing vocals for three tracks and the cello of Larissa Maestro is very memorable. This is a highly recommended album and a real keeper.
Review by Paul McGee
Six Mile Grove Million Birds Self Release
Lyle is a township in Minnesota, a mile from the Iowa border, which also flanks the city. The population is 550 approx. and is home for all five members of Six Mile Grove. This is the story of hometown boys made good and these childhood friends have grown into quite a compelling country music band.
The core of the group revolves around the superb and richly textured lead vocals of Brandon Sampson, augmented by his guitar skills, together with the excellent drumming of brother, Brian. Other members are Barry Nelson who plays keyboards, electric guitar and provides backing vocals, with Dezi Wallace on bass guitar and John Wheeler on steel guitar.
Recorded in The Barn Studio, Pine Island, Minnesota; all eleven tracks are written by Brandon Sampson and this is their seventh release over a 20-year career that has seen them hone their impressive talents into quite a convincing unit that delivers a sound that is full of character and charisma. The slow Country sound of tracks like Early Morning Rain, with restrained guitar solo and warm keys, is pure quality and Shot In The Arm is vintage Heavy Rock with a mean groove and snarling guitars sparring with the rhythm section.
The title track and Damned If I Do are both gentle tunes that weave a spell while Shame On Us smoulders with a plea for greater empathy and compassion. The Radio is a more commercially friendly song as is the easy tempo of Money Doesn’t Matter, which includes a fine guitar break.
The band has previously collaborated with Johnny Cash guitarist Bob Wootton over the years and he is credited with saying; "There's nothing fancy about them and they don't try to be something they're not. And that's what I like about them."
Roots music doesn’t get any better than this and I recommend this band to anyone who likes their Alt-Country sounds both energising and exciting, played with an integrity and presence that demands attention. There is an element of Son Volt meets the Jayhawks but really, their sound is all their own and filled with personality. Highly recommended.
Review by Paul McGee
Ian Noe Between The Country Thirty Tigers
Noe is an accomplished songwriter who is from Kentucky and belongs to a tradition of songwriters who have a strong sense of place that in recent times has brought such artists as Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson, Dillon Carmichael and Kelsey Waldon to the fore. Noe’s songs deal with a deeper, darker side of life and are delivered with a voice capable of passion and purpose. The underlying sense of desolation is also tinged with compassion, something that Dave Cobb’s RCA Studio A’s production is perfectly suited to. Also, in keeping with the songs, the musicians remain in the background adding colour and conscience to his sometimes harrowing tales that deal with the underlying drug abuse that is prevalent throughout his country. He can also reach back in time as with the track, Barbar’s Song, which deals with a train derailment in 1904. Hard times are always with us as these songs make clear. Yet there is a positive feel in this music which makes it eminently listenable.
Adam Gardner, Chris Powell and Cobb himself provided the musical setting behind Noe’s vocal and guitars and Savannah Conley’s backup vocals. A tight and focused team who understand what needs to be done with these songs.
Sure, there are undoubted influences with the likes of Prine, Dylan and older inspirations like Woody Guthrie to be heard, but then folk music is somewhat eternal and Noe is yet another expression of this need to tell the tales of his time. Following on from his debut EP, Off This Mountaintop this album exposes the work of another artist who deserves to reach a wider audience. However, due to the realism that is the backbone of his writing, Noe may struggle to reach the exposure that his mentors and influences achieved. That, however, was delivered over many albums and years, so hers’s hoping that the music of Ian Noe will have time to grow and be appreciated in a wider context.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Jade Jackson Wilderness Anti
Social Distortion’s Mike Ness is back behind the board on Jade Jacksons’s second album and it more or less continues from where the debut Gilded left off. Lyrically she is also pulling no punches from the opening Bottle It Up which is something of a declaration of her independence. ‘Bottle it up the way we feel right now, Whenever I get lonely gonna drink a little down.’ A means to an end by not confronting some emotions head on with the impact lessen with drink. The sound is upbeat rocking country with Jackson voice bolstered by experience garnered on the road and off. Closer to home are the content of songs such as City Lights which details a personal accident. A serious back injury led to some darker times and addiction problems which have undoubtably influenced her writing since that introspective time in her life.
Overall the sound is on the edge with some pedal steel and fiddle to blend with the guitars and B3 organ. All which create a tension in the sound that drives these songs along. Ness’ understanding of old school country and hard edged punk rock makes him the ideal person to to develop her music - initially as a mentor but now as her producer. There are comparisons to Lucinda Williams in reviews which there are to a lot of the strong-willed females singer/songwriters in roots music these days. And while I would see it as a pivotal influence it is no doubt a considered one.
On the album she is again joined by guitarist/pianist Andrew Rebel (who has subsequently left the band), Tyler Miller on drums and Jake Vukovich on bass guitar. This core unit deliver a committed sound throughout the album that has a wide ranging appeal that never falls into the overblown rock that some of her mainstream contemporaries displays live. However it whats on the record here that counts and many of the songs. Tonight conceals a sense of handling things alone while also revealing a sense of vulnerability by doing so while revealing that ‘boys like you make me want to spend my nights alone.’ Long Way Home takes a similar position. Dust is a slower song with steel guitar glides and a solid twanging guitar riff under her softer vocal approach that under lights the strength oh her vocal ability as well as it does her songwriting. Wilderness finds Jackson relishing her freedom but not entirely from the emotional landscape that title might suggest. The song itself is a powerful statement of knowing when you are and where you want to be at this time in your life and sums up a career in the ascendency.
Review by Stephen Rapid