Foghorn Stringband Rock Island Grange Self Release
Well, you can’t say you’re not getting value for money in this latest superb release from Portland’s Foghorn Stringband. As well as the nineteen listed tracks, there are a bunch more thrown in for good measure. Possibly the best (and hardest working) Old Time American string band in the business, this recording gives a true flavour of what it’s like to experience the band’s legendary live gigs. All of the band members are masters of their instruments, and all of them can take lead vocals.
Founding member Caleb Klauder is a natural frontman and an incredibly talented mandolinist and fiddle player. The other original founding member Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind is an outstanding old time fiddler, and plays banjo here also.The lineup has been completed for the past few years by Québécoise Nadine Landry on rock solid upright bass and Reeb Willms on guitar.
Recorded live over three days by Bruce Harvie in the historic Grange venue in Caleb’s native home of Orcas Island in Washington State, the album is a rollicking ride through a selection of songs and instrumentals. All of the band members are proud historians and custodians of the music so it’s no surprise that the cleverly designed folding card cd cover is accompanied by extensive notes on the provenance of every tune. Most of the tunes are taken from sources both old and more recent - a gorgeous version of Hazel Dicken’s little known Only The Lonely being one of the latter, sung beautifully here by Reeb.
This album could serve as a perfect introduction to old time music, if you are not familiar with it, while established fans will know exactly what they are going to get and will relish it, as do I.
Review by Eilís Boland
John Blakeley & Jeff Larson Yesterday’s Dream Compass
If you’re a fan of the California Sound, this album will be right up your street. I have to admit that it didn’t grab me on first listen, but the more I listened the more it got right under my skin. Throw in some other West Coast influences like country rock and folk, and you’ll have an idea of the retro, but simultaneously modern, aesthetic invoked here by the two veterans of the SoCal music scene.
Both artists contribute original songs to the project, while Jeff Larson takes all lead vocal duties and John Blakeley plays most of the instruments. John is an underrated guitar player, not well known outside of this scene, but he has played in sessions and on stage with a myriad of top artists like Van Morrison, Glen Campbell and Country Joe McDonald. In his 73rd year and a survivor of two heart transplants, here he plays acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and mandola, and bass and slide guitars.
Straight from the catchy opening song Renaissance Man, it’s obvious there’s something a bit unusual going on here - it is the prominence of John Blakeley’s mandolin as the main instrument insistently holding down the rhythm. On Day Trip, the only instrumental, the opening guitar riffs are pure surf guitar a la Dick Dale, and again the mandolin interjects. The interplay between the two instruments is phenomenally good, thanks to the strength of John’s writing and producing. Elsewhere, his prowess on various stringed instruments is breathtaking but never showy.
Jeff Larson is a singer-songwriter, producer and is also the archivist for the band America. He has long been connected also with The Beach Boys and Chicago. His ability to write catchy tunes and his clear pure voice impress on songs such as The Calamar Trees and Always the Mystery. Long time collaborators/friends from The Beach Boys are called up eg Scott Mathews on drums and Jeffrey Foskett on backing vocals.
Lastly, the minimalist cover art is contributed by another senior surfer dude, the ceramicist and musician Ron Nagle. Worth checking out!
Review by Eilís Boland
Jim Lauderdale From Another World Yep Roc
It’s somewhat stating the obvious to label Jim Lauderdale as prolific. He has released at least one album each year since 1998 and From Another World is album number thirty-two from the twice Grammy Award winning artist. The twelve track album sticks with the winning production team from its 2018 predecessor Time Flies. Jay Walker again co-produces with Lauderdale, with the engineering duties carried out by David Leonard. The title perhaps recalls less turbulent and aggressive times, in keeping with many recent recordings coming out of the US under the Americana brand. Much of the albums spark is motivated by our rapidly changing world. However, rather than personalised attacks, Lauderdale’s messages are more controlled, subtle and understated, without the slightest hint of ego. Not surprising given his Tai Chi proficiency.
Titles such as Listen and Some Horses Run Free are pointers to less knee jerk reactions and more thoughtful contemplation. The Secrets of The Pyramids, the first single from the album, includes some fine fiddle playing from Third Man Records artist Lillie Mae, while her brother Frank Rische also features on the track, providing backing vocals. The previously mentioned Some Horses Run Free opens the album in fine Southern Rockin’ style, pounding drums and screeching guitars competing with Lauderdale’s distinctively nasal vocal. For Keeps is no apologies classic country, which would sit comfortably on a mid-60’s George Jones album and I’ll Forgive You If You Don’t is on the same page. Country Soul is represented on the closing track Are You Trying To Make a Song Out Of Us.
Lauderdale has seldom stood in the same musical spot for too long across his career. Always a fervent student of various musical genres, bluegrass, soul, southern rock, experimental and traditional country have all been represented in his recordings. This album dips in and out of many of those categories, resulting in his strongest album in some time. Recent albums have found Lauderdale recording music very much in the present, neither overly retro nor futuristic. From Another World follows that pattern. Another stellar listen which can be summed up by his often-used phrase ‘‘Now THAT’S Americana’’.
Review by Declan Culliton
Norrie McCulloch Compass Black Dust
No stranger to Lonesome Highway, Norrie McCulloch’s two previous releases, These Mountain Blues and Bare Among The Branches, both made favourable impressions on us. If those albums revealed a singer songwriter growing in confidence, his latest offering Compass, raises the bar to an entirely higher level. Rather than the tortured soul searching and politically frustrated writings of many of his peers, McCulloch’s nine song album is overflowing with affection, cherished memories, love captured and love lost.
In a different era, the wonderful Road Sign would be played to death by radio stations. A beautifully constructed love song, it emphasises McCulloch’s mastery of the minor detail, as he daydreams of his loved one during another torturous late-night journey. Fond childhood memories are recalled on Janey (When We Were Young) before he reverts to amorous themes on both She’s So Good and the closer With You In My Life. Dear Lady Blue reflects on the tragic loss of a loved one and the ensuing aloneness. Drinking Money is a tongue in cheek ballad and closer to traditional folk than anything else on the album. The title track is a dreamy affair, streams of consciousness underlined by echoing vocals, swirling guitar and rhythmic bass lines.
Mc Culloch, who plays guitar and harmonica on the album, is reunited with his trusted musical contributors. Iain Thompson plays electric guitar, Dave Mc Gowan bass and Marco Rea adds backing vocals. In simple terms, Compass is a delightful listen from start to finish, by another totally under rated U.K. singer songwriter. Americana delivered with a charming Scottish accent never sounded better.
Review by Declan Culliton
Kevin Daniel Things I Don’t See Self Release
This new talent is currently living in the Brooklyn area and his debut album includes eleven tracks that are all written by Daniel. He plays Americana music with a confidence that augers well for his developing career and the musicians used here all turn in superb performances that add plenty to the the overall groove and sound for the project.
Eight tracks were produced, recorded and mixed by Ben Rice at Degraw Sound in Gowanus, Brooklyn, NY. A further three tracks were produced, recorded and mixed by Kenny Siegel at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, NY. Different producers and session players don’t always make for a smoothly cohesive end product, but in this case, there is a seamless quality to the entire project and the soulful groove of Daniel comes over strongly.
The players on the eight tracks are Muddy Shews on bass, John Hummel on drums, Anthony Krizan on both tenor guitar & slide guitar, Judd Nielsen on organ and Erica Mancini on accordion. Backing vocals are delivered by Irene Blackman and Roman Urbanski.
Separately, Jon Ladeau on electric guitar, Lee Falco on vocals and drums, Brandon Morrison on vocals and bass, Will Bryant on vocals, organ and keyboards deliver on the remaining three tracks.
The songs are all very strong and All I Need, Jupiter And Xanax, Cocaine & Whiskey are Country tinged songs that sit well into the overall tempo that is very much driven by Daniel on vocals and guitar. Pour Me A Drink is a slow blues that showcases the band in full flow and Name Of Fame has an up-tempo bluegrass vibe with some nice fiddle playing. The acoustic strum of 22 is a Folk tinged reflection at the disappearance of youth and the rites of passage as College years begin and the emergence of hesitant adulthood.
There are strings on some of the arrangements and there are horns on others, plus occasional fiddle and piano playing but I have no information as to who played what. Advance review copies don’t always have sufficient liner notes sadly, but this cannot take away from the overall enjoyment of the songs.
The opening tracks Used To Be and Things I Don’t See set the tone with warm keys and tales of life experience taking its toll in shaping us and our dreams along the way, while City That Saves is a fine bar room boogie that closes the album. The playing is superb throughout and I can recommend this album to everyone who likes their music big, bright and brimming with bravado.
Review by Paul McGee
J.D. and the Straight Shot The Great Divide Self Release
This is the seventh release by a band that is the self-realised creation of Jim Dolan, guitarist and vocalist who has been front and centre since their first release back in 2005.
Dolan has continued to chase his passion to perform and play music that is based in a Country Rock sound and despite criticism of his deep pockets as a successful business tycoon, one cannot fault his dedication and doggedness... If there was no back story regarding the wealth that Dolan has amassed, then the music would stand some chance of being assessed purely on its own merits. The musicians in the band are certainly top drawer and the album is not in any way an artificial exercise in self-promotion by Jim Dolan…
The album was recorded at Sound Stage Studios in Nashville with Marc Copely producing and also contributing on guitar, mandolin and vocals. He is joined by Byron House on upright bass and banjo, Carolyn Dawn Johnson on guitar and vocals, Shawn Pelton on drums & percussion and the stand out Erin Slaver on violin & vocals. The harmony vocals of Tabitha Fair, Erin Slaver, Byron House and Mark Copley are also very strong throughout. The eleven tracks featured here are expertly performed by this group of experienced musicians and cover versions of the Turtles, Happy Together, and the Allman Brothers, Jessica, showcase the band in full colours and displaying the depth of Nashville talent that exists across their collective experience.
Production by Marc Copley is crisp and precise throughout with the wonderful Erin Slaver lifting many of the tracks with her superb solo runs on violin. Invisible, It Must Be Night and I Should Have Known are all prime examples but the rest of the band more than chip in to the arrangements with the swing beat of Bees highlighting some nice guitar work and the Salsa sound of Take It Slow hinting at a commercial Latin groove. The duelling solos that energise Jessica are delivered on violin (Slaver) and mandolin (Copley) in place of the sweet guitar of the Allman Brothers Dickey Betts on the original.
Review by Paul McGee
The Royal Hounds Low Class Songs For High Class People Self Release
This Nashville trio can be placed somewhere between Jesse Dayton and Southern Culture On The Skids for their take on roots rock/rockabilly. There is equally a strong sense of humour lurking within the grooves, from the opening The Walk, the most simplistic of dance craze tunes, to The Parthenon, a song about a brothel in Greece and the strange clientele that is to be found there. Then there’s Chinese Buffet which contains the following lines as a sample of the general lyrical direction on offer here: “Well lock up the house, chain up the dog. We’re going into town to eat like a hog. Got my plate stacked high as hay at the Chinese Buffet”. However that’s not to take away in any way from (name?) lead singer and upright bassist’s vocal and musical skills. He is joined by new Brazial guitarist Matheus Canteri - a player who the US government deemed to have ”extraordinary talent” and granted him a visa to live and play there. The drummer on the album is Scott Billingsley. Hinds has written five of the songs solo and two with Canteri, who also contributed two instrumental tunes.
They are joined by some extra musicians who add pedal steel, accordion, organ, trumpet and backing vocals which all helps to give the music a wider scope on the recordings. The album was co-produced by Hinds and Canteri and they give the proceedings a full and expansive sound throughout.
There is an additional bonus track - a recording of the Stan Jones classic Ghost Riders In The Sky which might give Kenny Vaughan’s version a run for its money. The stated aim of the band is to entertain, get people dancing and in a party mood. Well, they have pretty much done all of that with some style and a tongue-in-cheek approach to life. Not sure about high class people but these songs have the ability to make you forget the lows of life. Facetious and friendly - just like the hound who adorns the cover.9
Review by Stephen Rapid
Sam Outlaw Hat Acts Self Release
This is a digital release from the ever interesting Sam Outlaw, an artist that has been on Lonesome Highway’s radar since his first independent album release. He has managed to create a sound which he is developing, that appeals on many levels. Despite his chosen name, his music sits outside what would generally be considered on the outlaw side of non-mainstream country. His idea of “pop”, however, is far more interesting than what we usually associate that term with on major label releases.
For Hat Acts he has recorded three new songs. Cigarette, Shake A Heartache and Humility all are solid extensions of the sound he has been developing over the last few releases. The first sees him wishing he was a cigarette close to the lips of the woman in question. It features some good steel guitar, as indeed do the others two tracks. Shake A Heartache is an uptempo attempt from the man in question to forget his woes on the dance floor. Humility is a slower song that opens with guitar as our ‘hero’ realises what he needs is not more drink but in truth ”one strong shot of humility”. He has a distinctive voice and sound that will doubtless see him reacher a wider audience in time. Also notable, but not for radio play, are three before and between song scenarios wherein the character in question is caught trying to talk to a girl outside the venue and finally being insulted by another attendee. They fit the overall mood well and each song directly relates to the ambient mood. Outlaw also recently released a single Love Is On A Roll that has more than a hint of Jimmy Buffett in its production. All are available from his website and are worth checking out as, indeed, are all his releases to date - which you can buy as a special rate job lot at the moment.
Review by Stephen Rapid