Paul Cauthen Room 41 Lightning Rod
My first encounter with Paul Cauthen was back in 2017 when he performed solo at Kilkenny Roots Festival. Playing a lunchtime set in a small venue, his booming baritone vocals caught my attention, as he managed to silence a noisy crowd a couple of songs into his set. A founder member of hell raising Texas band Sons of Fathers, Cauthen disbanded the group in 2013, despite having released two albums, both of which charted in the Top 10 of the Americana Charts. The bands direction was not fulfilling Cauthen and he pursued a solo career, allowing him the artistic freedom to follow his chosen path. It’s been a journey not without mishaps and headaches, for an artist with his finger never too far from the self-destruct button. Seldom on the straight and narrow from a young age, he spent a short spell in jail as a teenager and got kicked out of college in later years. His artistic creativity and musical expertness appear to be his salvation, and Room 41 is his second solo recording, following My Gospel which was released in 2016. Blessed with a striking voice from childhood, Sundays and Wednesdays in his childhood were spent singing a cappella in his local church choir, developing a love of Gospel, blues and soul music
Room 41, could be labelled as a journey to hell and back again, written while Cauthen was literally living out of a suitcase as he pieced his life together after a number of health scares. The title refers to a room at The Belmont Hotel in Dallas, where the ten tracks were written by Cauthen.
Possibly best described as country funk, it’s a triumph over tragedy. Cauthen combines his brooding and powerful baritone vocals with a combination of rich and experimental instrumentation. Shades of early Jim White Searching For The One Eyed Jesus era come to light on tracks Holy Ghost Fire and Freak. The latter a possible reference to Cauthen’s incarceration for marijuana possession in his youth. The narcotic theme continues on the ultra-funky and album standout track Cocaine Country Dancing, which finds Cauthen sounding like a reincarnation of Johnny Cash. It’s pure modern-day outlaw, funky and as addictive as its subject. However, there’s a lot more to the album than rebel rousing offerings. The considered ballad Slow Down is a beautiful piece, a plead and cry for help from pending burnout. Equally impressive is Can’t Be Alone, a confessional account about a relationship regretfully abandoned. Give ‘em Peace dances between the spoken word and driving vocals, enriched by soothing choir harmonies and some jazzy playing. The autobiographical Big Velvet - Cauthen’s nickname - chronicles his many misdemeanours and eventual rehabilitation. Lay Me Down also impresses, a fitting and meaningful track, closing the album effectively.
Very much an album of its time, Room 41 is a hybrid of classic old school country and gospel, alloyed with more modern-day funk. Credit also to producers Beau Patrick Bedford and Jason Burt, together with the numerous artists that contribute. Cauthen has travelled a meandering life path to date, much of which inspired this album. His rising star status is well earned, let’s hope his journey continues to find him in such creative form and grants him the peace of mind he craved for while creating this most impressive collection of songs in Room 41.
Review by Declan Culliton
Native Harrow Happier Now Loose
An album laced with sadness and regret from Devi Tuel and her multi-instrumentalist musical partner Stephen Harms, otherwise known as Native Harrow. Whether autobiographical or not, Tuel’s writing tends to focus on topics that others may prefer not to give discourse to. Titles such as How You Do Things, Hung Me Out To Dry, Hard To Take and Can’t Go On Like This give a flavour of a writer that isn’t afraid to confront the less savoury relationship issues.
Opener and aforementioned Can’t Go On Like This, together with the title track, recall 60’s U.K. Folk and Sandy Denny, in particular. Blue Canyon is delightful and dreamlike, mirroring the album title perfectly. Questioning and without restraint, both Hard To Take and Hung Me Out To Dry showcase Tuel’s writing skills and silky vocals. Bookending the album and approaching seven minutes in duration, the sanguine Way To Light closes the album in a manner that suggests the writer is putting burdensome times firmly behind her.
Happier Now is an exceptionally impressive recording from the latest act to be signed to Loose Records. Sadness and regret seldom sounded better, from a maturing artist with endless potential. The album will appeal to lovers of Judee Sill and indeed, Laura Marling. It’s also one that won’t be gathering dust in my collection and will be a contender for my best of 2019 listings. Well worth checking out.
Review by Declan Culliton
Ana Egge Is It The Kiss Story StorySound
There’s a comforting and soothing hallmark about Ana Egge’s vocal that has the capacity to eclipse that bad mood that may have crept up on you unexpectedly. Even when her songs penetrate displeasing personal territory or the painful realisms of the modern world, her gentle and delicate deliveries arouse sensibilities of serenity rather than misery. Those lullaby qualities are once more very much to the fore on her latest collection of songs titles featured on Is It The Kiss. Following on from where she left off on her 2018 recording White Tiger, her ability to fuse country and folk with some clever jazz overtures is quite individualistic. The production duties are once more pulled together by jack of all trades Alec Spiegelman, whose early formal musical education was rooted in jazz. Spiegelman regularly appears on stage with Egge and his improvisation prowess is the perfect foil for Egge’s fine vocals and edgy melodies.
This time around Egge once again displays a capacity to click a switch from one genre to another, while maintaining an evenness across the ten tracks. Cocaine Cowboys is honeyed country, with light dustings of pedal steel and fiddle alongside her calm and gorgeous vocals. Ballad Of A Poor Child, the one cover on the album, is a duet with Iris DeMent. Their contrasting vocal delivery more than does justice to Diana Jones' song. The gentle and caring James recalls lost innocence and unrealised dreams. Oh My My finds Egge’s vocals stretched to high pitched breaking point with equally aching pedal steel guitar accompanying her inner thoughts. Pain and suffering oozes out from the quite beautiful Teacake and Janey, a harrowing tale of unexplained love turned to tragedy. Rise Above is a reminder that despite the helter skelter times we live in, self-belief, honesty and empathy will always conquer.
Don’t just take my word for it, both Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle have namechecked Egge as an outstanding artist that should be on every serious music collectors’ radar. For the unenlightened this new album is as good a place as any to start. Intoxicating!
Review by Declan Culliton
Leslie Stevens Sinner Thirty Tigers
Having shared stages and studios with the likes of John Fogerty, Father John Misty, Jackson Browne and Jonny Fritz, Sinner finds LA based singer songwriter Leslie Stevens recording her debut solo album. With the accolade of ‘Best Country Singer’ in 2018 courtesy of LA Weekly, the ten track album features material that is accurately described as ‘country’ and thankfully avoids any attempts to target the over populated and more often bland, ‘country/crossover’ market. Instead, what we get from Stevens is a collection of songs, all self-written, that highlight her knockout vocal ability alongside some slick instrumentation. Choosing Jonathan Wilson to produce may appear to be a wild card, given his own often quite left of centre solo recordings and his work with Dawes, Bonnie Prince Billy, Conor Oberst, Roy Harper, Father John Misty and Roger Waters. However, it’s a well-suited marriage as Wilson manages to match the perfect sonics to complement Stevens’ impressive vocals. He also contributes guitar, bass, percussion, drums and mellotron. Their combined talents are displayed to the fullest effect on the title track where Stevens’ crystalline vocals impress alongside woozy guitar playing by Wilson.
The songs are simple and straightforward in the best possible sense, seldom deviating from classic female country singer songwriter territory. Echoes of Ashley Munroe and Sunny Sweeney appear across a number of her deliveries which, for me, is certainly not a bad thing.
In the true country sense the album is laced with pedal steel guitar, in particular on You Don’t Have To Be So Tough and bookender The Long Goodbye. Storybook sounds like a young Nanci Griffith at her best and Falling is a country barroom blues delight. Depression, Descent, the albums highlight, hits the spot on first time listen and demands repeated plats.
Stevens is about to embark on a tour of Europe in the coming weeks with dates in Denmark and the U.K. culminating in an appearance at The Long Road Festival in early September. If undiluted non-commercial country is on your radar, do grasp the opportunity to catch the honeyed voiced Stevens in the live setting. Make no mistake, this young lady's talents expand way beyond her noteworthy vocal capabilities. A top shelf album and a reminder of just how magical ‘real’ country music can be.
Review by Declan Culliton
Edgar Loudermilk Band, featuring Jeff Autry Lonesome Riverboat Blues Rural Rhythm
In 2015, bassist Edgar Loudermilk decided to form his own bluegrass band after having successfully served his time in some of the top bands around (Rhonda Vincent, Marty Rabon and others). He called on the services of his friend and fellow Georgian, Jeff Autry (a powerhouse of an acoustic flatpicker) who had spent 14 years touring with the now sadly disbanded John Cowan Band. Since then, this hard driving bluegrass band has been no stranger to the highways of the US and Canada, but this is their first full album together. Not surprising for a bunch of road warriors, the predominant theme of the collection of 12 songs is one of loss - be that loss of family/friends or loss of one’s connection to home.
The title track is an aptly named bluesy song, co-written by Edgar, Jeff and Jeff’s talented son, Zack Autry, who is the band’s mandolinist. So strong is this song that I can see it being covered by many other performers in the future. Edgar Loudermilk, who takes the lead vocal on most of the songs, is renowned for his distinctive voice, as well as for his songwriting and it’s no surprise to learn that he is related to the Louvin Brothers! However, Jeff Autry successfully takes the lead on several, including his own song The Winter Wind. In true bluegrass style, ample space is given to each of the players to showcase their individual skills in most of the numbers. Banjo duties are taken by Curtis Bumgarner and another Georgia native Dylan Armour is also superb on resonator guitar.
It seems to me that all stringband players love themselves a bit of swing, and here they get down on the classic Dinah (Jeff on lead vocals) and When I Grow Too Old To Dream
Overall, though, the band’s own compositions are every bit as captivating as the covers, so I’d like to see them concentrating on an album of originals next time. Coproduced by Jeff and Edgar, this is an excellent collection and comes highly recommended.
Review by Eilís Boland
GreenSky Bluegrass All For Money Thirty Tigers
A ‘jam band’ is not a concept that we have had much exposure to here in Europe, but Greensky Bluegrass are one of the most successful of the bluegrass jam band genre in the US. They’ve been together for 18 years now and have a huge following of fans who travel long distances to see them live. Combining ‘rock and roll showmanship with high energy bluegrass’ is how they neatly describe themselves. For this, their seventh studio offering, they have aimed to create in the studio a sound reminiscent of their legendary live shows - not an easy ask. They’ve brought on board well known producer (and bassist with Jack White and many other luminaries) Dominic John Davis and he has successfully achieved that aim.
While their instrumentation may be pure bluegrass (no drums, just acoustic stringed instruments) their songwriting is pure rock and roll. Ashes is a beautiful love song, whereas Courage For The Road and Collateral Damage detail the breakdown of a relationship. They are both from the pen of mandolinist and main song writer Paul Hoffman. Guitar player Dave Bruzza contributes three strong songs; a love song Like Reflections - “If I was a mountain, standing tall and proud, I’d wait for you”; It’s Not Mine Anymore - a dark exploration of disturbed memories, enhanced by distorted banjo, dramatic dobro interludes and maniacal mandolin; and Murder Of Crows - “she wrote it all down with an eagle’s feather, dipped in cocaine and blood”.
The superb production allows the dobro, banjo and bass to come to the fore. Many of the songs become extended jams but they never feel self-indulgent. A fabulous album that has grown on me with each listen. Let’s hope they travel to Europe sometime to allow us to experience the live show.
Review by Eilís Boland
Rob Heron & the Tea Pad Orchestra Soul Of My City Tea Pad Recordings
Almost impossible to categorise, Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra’s sound is a heady stew of rockabilly, soul, country, swing, pop, ragtime and even surf rock, all put together and simmered over the past eight years in the boiling pot that is their beloved Newcastle. Everything about their sound is retro - except the superb production (credited to themselves and John Martindale). From the evidence here, it’s easy to see why the band are in big demand on festival bills across the UK and further afield. This is a rowdy, irreverent celebration of life, expressed by six superb versatile musicians. Rob himself writes all but one of the 12 songs here - songs that are clever, well crafted and above all catchy. Most of them are whimsical in theme (Holy Moly, Life Is A Drag) and are bound to encourage a sing-a-long. But it’s not all fun and games here- the gentle shuffle of Soul Of My City is a searing indictment of the gentrification of their native city, and Lonely Boy In The Dole Queue reminds one that not everyone is benefiting from so called progress. Colin Nicholson must be mentioned for his accordion (and piano and Hammond organ) playing, particularly on Une Bouteille De Beaujolais, where he adds to the distinctively French ambiance. And Ben Fitzgerald’s electric and baritone guitar playing is particularly dominant and successful in creating the retro sound. Ted Harbot’s bass, Paul Archibald’s drums and Tom Cronin’s mandolin and harmonica playing are equally impressive.
Superb artwork and b/w photography complete the package - party on!
Review by Eilís Boland
The Mountain Firework Company The Beggar’s Prayer Fretwork Union
Essentially using acoustic bluegrass instrumentation but with the addition of drums, The Mountain Firework Company have been plying their version of folky bluegrass with Celtic punk attitude in Brighton and beyond for 14 years. This is only their fourth recording and it was produced by the songwriter Gareth McGahan and bassist Simon Russell. Northern Irishman McGahan also sings all of the songs (well, he wrote them after all) and the rest of the band lend backing vocals. The lineup (which has barely changed in the lifetime of the band) is completed by Grant Allardyce (drums), Mike Simmonds (violin, viola, mandolin, nyckelharpa) and Brian Powell (guitar).
Most of the songs are taken at a fair pace and are banjo driven (Gareth McGahan) and the fiddle is very much to the fore. Themes vary from love songs (more like frequent heartbreak!) to social ills, as in Refugee and Spare Change. Come Back, a gentle love song is greatly enhanced by the plaintive lap steel of guest Bernd Rest. The short but sweet instrumental The Fish And The Crow inspired the fabulous artwork with a dark edge, just like in many of the songs - created by Gareth McGahan also!
Review by Eilís Boland