Chip Taylor Whiskey Salesman Train Wreck
To be a legend in the music industry can mean different things to different people but my guess would be that not a huge audience is aware of the talent of Chip Taylor. You won’t hear his music, for example, on the increasingly commercial and restrictive playlists of the radio. This is his 40th album over a career that has spanned some 60 years, in addition to writing some huge hits for other artists along the way. Wild Thing(The Troggs),Angel of the Morning(Juice Newton) and Try (Just a Little Bit Harder), which helped establish Janis Joplin - he also wrote Sweet Dream Woman for Waylon Jennings.
Taylor’s own releases have been regularly featured in industry polls but his profile remains under the radar. His distinguished, smokey vocal is reduced to almost spoken word delivery these days but that lived-in tone retains a gentle knowledge that only rests within the wise and well-experienced artists of our time.
Joined by his favourite players, including Goran Grini (keyboards), Tony Mercante (bass) and John Platania (guitars), his tales have the ability to lift our experience away from the normal and turn the personal into the universal. The songs are beautifully played, with great restraint and gentle touch throughout. Naples is a wonderful look back on old memory and I Love You Today is a tribute to the enduring power of romance and looking for the positive in life.
A Sip Or Two Of Good Scotch is a fun jaunt around the pleasures of drinking too much and pondering the journey. The whispered lines of both Whiskey Dreamsand Turn The Clock Back Again are framed and mirrored by the fiddle of Bonnie Sue Walters and co-producer Goran Grini, who shines on piano.
Some Heartsis a superb vignette of reaching out to the fragile and lifting up the spirit. There is a real truth and honesty in the lines of See The Good Side Of The Guywhen Chip sings about ‘there is good and bad in everybody, so when you look in the mirror, see the good side of the guy’; gentle sentiments of forgiveness and grace. A second disc is included, a DVD which has a setting created for each song and filmed at a local bar where Taylor features his wife and friends, among others. An essential purchase.
Review by Paul McGee
Gary Nicholson The Great Divide BlueCorn
When you have worked with a variety of talent such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Ringo Starr, BB King, Fleetwood Mac and Billy Joe Shaver, you should have an open door into every living room in the land of music lovers. However, Gary Nicholson remains largely unknown, an American singer-songwriter, producer and collaborator on more than 500 recordings to date … Not a household name, not famous for any media profile.
I doubt very much, however, that he is concerned with commercial recognition when you have the reverence of your peers in the business. He is a go-to guy when you want the best, a quality that comes only with true talent and hard-earned experience.
This release is so special that I can only imagine how much it must have sparked the collective involved in its creation and delivery. When the time is ripe for a statement of the times then a clear voice will find its way out of the darkness and shout with a clarity that has to be heard. This is such a moment… I have no doubt that the eleven songs here are all very close to Gary’s heart and the understated grace with which he delivers such a humanistic message has to be applauded…
On the title track he sings ‘I’m not afraid of where you come from, not gonna judge the way you pray’; setting the tone of the record which asks the hard questions of what exactly keeps us apart when we are essentially one and the same…. The credits show a who’s who of talent, all lining up to be part of the project but the outstanding John Jorgenson deserves special mention for his virtuosity on a range of instruments (12 in total) as the arrangements build into a feast of terrific melody and message.
God Help America is a spin on the traditional hymn and a plea to end the present division in his country. Soft Spot speaks to traditional values when you did the right thing without cause for hesitation or question. Immigrant Nation just nails it when it comes to issues of where the roots of America run deepest – lest they forget!
The fiddle of Carmella Ramsey on The Troubles; the piano and Hammond B3 of Catherine Marks on Hallelujah Anyhow; the harmonica of Kirk “Jellyroll” Johnson on Blues In Black and White – all fine examples of the great talent on display.
The final song sums it all up with the universal message – Choose Love. I can’t get enough of this one and it is without doubt a contender for my album of the year.
Review by Paul McGee
The Golden Dregs Hope Is For The Hopeless Funnel
Benjamin Woods is the creative source behind the performance project called the Golden Dregs. It has been described as a means for Woods to explore different musical avenues, whether in a solo capacity or working with a rotating cast of musicians.
Sounding like a cross between Lloyd Cole and Stuart A. Staples vocally, Woods has a deep and rich baritone that gives extra gravitas to the sound of the eleven tracks included here. The lyrics are not very easy to catch and this is a real pity as the vocal is often mixed back in the overall sound, using the tone as much like a musical instrument as anything else.
All songs are written by Woods and the small number of studio players would indicate that he played most of the instruments himself during the recording. Woods also mixed the tracks with Bruno Ellingham, who also provides additional drum recordings. Hannah Woods adds saxophone and Kath Williams plays cello beautifully across a number of songs; Nobody Ever Got Rich (by making people sad)being a highlight…
Woods released his first album in 2018 and Lafayette was four years in the making. These arrangements are full and melodic with a sense of isolation in the plaintive vocal that hovers above the broad rhythms. Songs likeDeath of a Salesman and Pathosare interesting in their differing structures, the former an upbeat rhythm, the latter all reflective cello and piano. Just Another Rock is quite hypnotic, with the programmed keyboard rhythms channelling deep bass and edgy guitar parts...
The song, Nancy and Lee, is another where the cello sets the atmosphere, surrounded by choppy rhythmic tempos, as Woods laments over a failed relationship. The title track is, as suggested, a glimpse down the path of lonely introspection with a simple arrangement and lyrics such as “self-preservation is no answer in a world where sunshine leads to cancer”. The clouds are gathering but they do make for a very interesting album that should please those who take the time to listen.
Review by Paul McGee
Hiss Golden MessengerTerms Of Surrender Merge
This one bounces right out of the speakers on the opening track, I Need A Teacher, with an addictive melody and rhythm and a bright production sound that lays down a marker for the rest of the album. The message speaks about ‘give it away freely and it will come back to you eventually; a sentiment that runs through the ten tracks here. MC Taylor is the creative source behind the performing moniker Hiss Golden Messenger and his catalogue of releases never fails to deliver music of real interest and quality.
Americana, Folk, contemporary take on singer-songwriter genre with added groove, this music is quite compelling and quietly rests in the corners of your listening experience.
Bright Direction (You’re a Dark Star Now) and My Wing segue perfectly into each other in a seamless groove that commands your attention. The hypnotic feel of Old Enough To Wonder Why (East Side-West Side) is a departure and the press sheet I received tells me that regular collaborators Phil and Brad Cook, Josh Kaufman and Matt McCaughan are joined by Jenny Lewis and Arron Dessner.
Cat’s Eye Blue has a soulful sound and a stripped back tempo with muted percussion, soft keys and sweet harmony vocals. The lyrics are not always easy to catch but the overall feel to the music is sufficient to say that these are songs from a personal perspective, yet play out to a waiting public in their different interpretations. Happy Birthday, Babyis a song to his daughter and possibly an apology in some sense, ‘I’m a lonely swimmer, a long way from shore.’ The beautiful melody is hypnotic and the sweet sentiment cannot be ignored.
Also, Katy (You Don’t Have To Be Good Yet) is a terrific song to move your body to and just dance out any sense of lethargy you might be feeling. Whipis a blues groove with a twist, all tight yet loose in the delivery, harmonica adding to the sense of tension. Final track, Terms Of Surrender, is a sad refrain that speaks of the tipping point in any relationship ‘ It’s one thing to bend it, but another to break it’. A terrific album that will feature in many end-of-year listings.
Review by Paul McGee
Dinah Brand Thank You Driver Transduction
When something works, then best to just leave it alone and enjoy the ride. The seamless quality of this release from Dinah Brand is quietly addictive upon repeated plays and settles in like a well-remembered lazy summer day. Clocking in at just over the 38-minute mark, this music never overstays its welcome across the ten tracks. All the songs are slow to mid-tempo, with an economy and restraint in the playing that is just right on the money. The laid back vocals and understated arrangements create lovely melodies that linger, long after the song has moved on. The urge to stretch out on tracks like Lagos, Old Trackand Other Heads(Cian Nugent guests), is not taken by either Stephen Ryan or Dylan Phillips on guitars and the resulting path not taken gives a sweet tension to the overall dynamic.
This is the third release from a group of players who are very experienced and came together from other bands (Pet Lamb, Stars of Heaven etc.) in order to create this lovely, languid groove. The warm keys of John Hegarty feature and colour the tracks with a soothing palette, underpinned by the less-is-more rhythm of Gavin Ward on drums and David Lacey on bass. Rotunda Boy is a fine song that ponders the onset of maturity against a backdrop of birth in a historic institution. Gardenis the longest track here and one that sets the bar high for the others, a challenge that is met with something to spare…
Review by Paul McGee
Sam Baker Horses And Stars Self Release
The first time I encountered Sam Baker, he was playing solo and delivering his songs in his quietly spoken voice and acoustic guitar. Since then I have seen him with percussionist Mike Meadows and heard him on record with a variety of accompanying and sympathetic players. So, it is interesting to go back to that original space and listen once more to Baker solo and live. The only difference is that he now accompanies himself on an electric guitar and occasional harmonica.
The album is something of a career overview and features songs from previous albums Pretty World, Mercy, Cotton, Say Grace and Land Of Doubt. These include Pretty World, Broken Fingers - a song that details his own past where he was seriously injured in a terrorist attack - Iron, Angel Hair, and Snow. What’s missing though is the amusing and thoughtful introductions that normally preceded the songs in a live performance, but I guess Baker felt that this album would work better by concentrating on the songs and their poetic words.
As with other writers like Chip Taylor or Kris Kristofferson, Baker is not a gifted singer in the traditional meaning of the word. However, it is difficult to image these songs in another voice other than Baker’s. Not that they aren’t ripe for covering as with different arrangements that would be a whole different world. But here in Baker’s world they are what they are, gentle reflections on life and how nature intercepts that passage. The songs are not unlike his impressive paintings, some of which grace the cover. He is also a photographer and his music and artwork are very much one facet of a creative life that funds Baker forging his own distinctive path. He may never have anything approaching mass appeal but that doesn’t take away from his achievements and that includes this likeable album.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Greg Felden Made Of Strings New Neighbourhood
Having listened to this album a number of times,I think it’s one of the best I have heard this year. This is down to some great playing and arrangements from Felden, his players and producers Al Sgro and Will Golden. Recorded in Los Angeles it is a part of the resurgence of roots orientated from thatregion.
Two notable upfront players are guitarist Jason ‘Ace’ Gonzalez and keyboardist Jerry Borger. They play an array of instruments that add a lot of texture and variety to the songs.It is though thexx rewrite thisxx songs that are the key element on the album. Felden has written some memorable songs and he sings them with understanding and power. They are songs detailing the human condition. They are full of simple truths from the perspective of the main character in the song. The Oregon native now lives in Los Angeles and has made himself a part of the scene there.
The sound is not traditional country,although there are some elements of that. Ratherit is more rock and folk oriented singer-songwriter centric. One guest on the album is Brian Whelan,a solo artist in his own right and a member of Dwight Yoakam’s band. He adds guitar to three tracks,while noted steel guitar player Rich Hinman joins him for Man Like Me. One on many songs that stand out as being worthy of mention is When The Change Comes - which asks about the place marginalised people might go when the their circumstances might change for the worse. Man Like Me is about transient loneliness. Bad Guy is where he finds himself in the situation of “never being the baby guy, now let’s have some fun” and so finds his motivation heading down a darker path.Tell Me What’s Broken reminds me of some 60s hard rock with some jaggered guitar and a cutting solo that underscores the confusion of that question. It’sa standout song. More reflective is Made Of Strings which is followed by Incoming another slower song that posers “maybe somehow I’ll be there when you come up for air”,where friends may not be seen for a long time but that friendship can be reignited again. The album closes with another highlight in Ghosts, a song that finds all the reminders we can accumulate are in some small boxes or in some other trigger of memory. That song closes what is an outstanding debut release that has everything in its favour and is also well packaged. It shows again what gems there out there and that discovering such new artists who can produce music of this calibre from the get go is rewarding on so many levels.
Review by Stephen Rapid
The High Divers Ride With You Self Release
A four-pieceband from South Carolina who have returned to recording duty after surviving a road accident, where their van was hit by a semi-trailer truck. Therefore, this release has an energy that is the result of having survived that near fatal incident and translatesthat into music. The final track Still Kickin’ may be an expression of their survival. Other songs here take a similar hard look at life, love and leaving, in various emotional contexts.
The band are essentially a rock band, with a measure of roots overtones, that have the feel of some of the more upfront elements of Tom Petty’s music, alongside reminders of 80s bands like Guadalcanal Diary - not a bad thing at all. The tracks are built around melodic structures and some captivating guitar riffs. The songs are largely written by Luke Mitchell who takes the lead vocal other than Our Love Is A Fire; written by his wife and keyboardist Mary Alice Mitchell, who takes the lead on that song. Kevin Early on bass and drummer Julius De Angelis complete the line up. Production was handled by Sadler Vaden, a solo artist and guitarist in his own right, as well as a member of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit.
The EP runs to under 25 minutes but the 6 tracks provide enough for a first acquaintance to suggest that the next release will further build on the solid achievement shown here. The High Divers have the potential to jump into the big time with this selection of songs and we can only applaud their on-board skills.
Review by Stephen Rapid