Beth Bombara Evergreen Lemp Electric
In a market heavily populated with female singer songwriters, all competing for listens and exposure in the Americana genre, making a lasting impression when your album is released is no easy task. Beth Bombara has certainly put her heart and soul into this ten-track album and hopefully will reap the rewards. She may be a new name to some, but Evergreen is in fact her seventh recording - she has already released two EP’s and five full albums.
Aimee Mann comes to mind on both Anyone and I Only Cry When I’m Alone, two guitar driven gems that Ms Mann would be proud to have in her back catalogue. Like many of her contemporaries, the Grand Rapids Michigan artist cut her teeth forming and fronting a punk band, Green Means Go. Those punk sensibilities raise their head on the punchy Good News, it’s sassy and mean as hell. However, the standout track is the striking Does It Echo, a stunner from start to finish and up there with the best individual tracks I’ve heard this year. Woozy guitar by Samuel Gregg and Bombara’s nasally vocals combine like two peas in a pod on this album highlight. The title track Evergreen is an infectious poppy affair and the broody All Good Things simply features Bombara’s vocal accompanied only by piano. I Only Cry When I’m Alone reflects on personal vulnerability and is bravely selected as the album's opening track.
The concept of isolation from the outside world while in the writing process appears to be coming increasingly popular among artists. The title of the album references the log cabin in the Rocky Mountains where the album was written, directly after completion of a gruelling tour. The ‘time out’ in isolation was well invested by Bombara, resulting in a consistently compelling collection of songs, well worth your attention.
Review by Declan Culliton
Dalton Domino Songs From The Exile Lightning Rod
Hailing from Lubbock Texas, Songs From The Exile is Dalton Domino’s latest release following on from Corners in 2017. Gone are the rich arrangements that adorned Corners, replaced this time around by an emphasis on his thoughtfully delivered lyrics, the stories contained within them and some stellar guitar, pedal steel, bass and drums.
All thirteen tracks were conceived during a period described by him as ‘’my own personal rock bottom’’, so it’s no surprise that titles such as Better Now, Shadowlands, Cheap Spanish Wine and Welcome Home all feature. Yet another artist that was raised on punk and classic country, the album blends both country and southern rock, covering topics such as love lost, family memories, and personal rehabilitation. Domino certainly brought in the big guns to play on the album. Ace multi guitarist Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams, Marianne Faithful, Norah Jones, Jewel) and in demand drummer Nate Coon both feature and make a telling impression throughout.
All I Need, a duet featuring Kalsey Kulyk on vocals, is a killer country ballad, sounding all the better compliments of some awesome guitar work by Pettibone. Daddy’s Mud is on the same page, a mature and reflective song, written from the heart.Shadowlands is a haunting ballad with echoes of a stripped back Steve Earle. Saving the best until last, the album finishes with Welcome Back, an emotional homecoming suggesting an artist presently in a good place.
The road to sobriety was undoubtedly a challenging journey for Domino. This collection of songs created during his period of crystal clear clarity were therapeutic for the writer, by his own admission. Collectively they offer the listener a keyhole perspective on the struggles that often accompany the artistically gifted. Domino can take pride in both his recovery and the resulting album that accompanied it.
Review by Declan Culliton
Elaina Kay Issues Rockin’C
‘’In the last few years, I’ve grown so much. I’m not that small-town ranch girl anymore. I run with the boys’’. Part proclamation, part tongue in cheek, but there’s a certain brashness and self-assurance running through Issues, a most impressive debut recording from the young Texan. No shrinking violet by any means - not surprising as she grew up on her family’s ranch in Wichita Falls, Texas, which involved 4am alarm calls to help out on the farm. That fondness and devotion to ranch life, tortuous as it may have been at the time, led to her joining the rodeo team when enlisted in college at Tarleton State University. Her work ethic and attention to detail must have given her food for thought when assembling a team to work on the album. Enter Paul Cauthen, the somewhat reformed hell raiser and rising star in his own right. Cauthen came on board as producer and Kay also called on another bunch of outlaws, the long haired and denim clad Texas Gentlemen, as her studio band for the recording.
The writing across the album is honest and from the heart, never appearing to stray beyond her native Texas for inspiration. The opener Daddy Issues, is a true to life tale of her father treading the wrong side of the tracks and getting in trouble with the law. It’s a country rocker that brings to mind the equally sassy Elizabeth Cook. Rodeo is bold and raunchy, as it considers the parallel quandaries that the rodeo and touring musician face. The bar room honky tonker Pull Your Own Weight, is further evidence of a young lady more than able to fight her own corner and not afraid to dish out the ultimatums. Widows Watch is a more laid-back country ballad, combining Kay’s impressive vocals with some equally skilled playing from her musicians.
Parallels could be drawn with Jade Jackson, another young artist blending rock with country overtones. Issues exhibits an indisputable quality and consistency, not always found in debut albums. It’s a crowded market for aspiring country artists at present, but given Kay’s talents and determination, don’t be surprised to be hearing a lot more from her in the coming years.
Review by Declan Culliton
Tim Grimm Heart Land Again Cavalier
This is good natured, mature and warm folk music from Tim Grimm, a musician, actor and tour leader. The title relates to an album called Heartland he recorded in 1999. The album comes with a lyric booklet and a brief précis on the subject of each song. All this shows an album that is rooted, in more than once sense, in a location and in family.
Grimm delivers these songs in a warm, rich, easy on the ear, voice that is well suited to his subject matter. The songs included one about a much-loved father, Staying In Love, while This Old Man is about his Grandpa. A part of his story was making the move for Los Angeles to Southern Indiana. There was a farm that became home and he also writes about neighbours around the 80-acre farm that they worked and still live on.
The lyrics are evocative and delivered in a way that makes it easy to assimilate with the combination of simple melodies and crafted writing. Grimm is joined on this and previous albums by his sons, Connor and Jackson, as well as his wife Jan and a couple of guests including Krista Detor. Anyone who has encountered Tim Grimm on his recent albums will be more than happy with this new collection of material that seems like a message from an old friend telling stories of his life.
Recorded in Bloomington, Indiana, the heartland, it is a reflection of a simpler time and lifestyle. But without becoming overly sentimental. Much of this is down to Grimm’s sense of place and his easy delivery. There are also a couple of covers. One is AP Carter’s, Carter’s Blues, and the other a traditional song, Sowin’ On The Mountain, which he originally learned from his friend Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and his here arranged by Jackson Grimm. Heart Land Again is about family and is appropriately delivered by one (one what?).
Review by Stephen Rapid
Karen Jonas Lucky, Revisited Self Release
For album 4, Karen Jonas decided to revise tracks from her previous albums as she didn’t quite like the way they turned out. Here with a more confident and prominent vocal performances they sit in a more acoustic setting that brings a uniform setting throughout that seems to work on a number of levels. The band is the trio of long-time guitarist Tim Bray, bassist E.P. Jackson and drummer Seth Brown with Jonas on vocal and acoustic guitar. This touring unit are especially familiar with the songs and how they are performed in a live setting and deliver them closer to this format than on previous recordings. It shows an intuitive chemistry that bands who have played a lot of road shows have.
Jonas is the writer of the songs featured here, other than the two covers, Lovesick Blues and Dylan’s It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry. The latter given a sad, slow reading that gives the lyrics a different slant with some effective guitar from Bray. Four songs are taken the debut release Oklahoma Lottery (including Money, River Song and the title track in a less bluesy, slightly more rocking version). Her second album was appropriately entitled Country Songs and the selections from that album still live up to that title. The guitar twangs with country tones although there is the absence of the fiddle and steel that appeared on the original versions. Gospel Of The Road and the title track Butter came from the most recent album and are given more stripped-down arrangements here that fit within the context of the album’s intentions.
Jonas is a strong writer and vocalist who brings the traditional themes associated with country music to the fore in her work. This album is an ideal place to get to know her work, which has seen her acknowledged as a winner in the Washington Area Music Awards as best Americana/Country artist. Her music may not be that well known outside of her home territory but should be. It is above all fun and fresh so as Jonas says upfront at the start of the album “hang on to your hats boys!
Review by Stephen Rapid
Dan Bern Regent Street Kababa
25 releases to date and still counting! Having lost 2 fingertips in a domestic accident involving a snowblower, Dan remains undaunted – he simply went and played piano instead of his trusty guitar. His vision has always been big and in technicolour and this release is no different. He paints on a wide palette.
The opening track, Regent Street, is a sweaty work-out complete with brass section, hand-clap beat, funky piano and fiddle all joining in on the fun. Don’t know where this Regent Street actually is, but if they play sounds like this, then I think I’ll ignore Dan’s advice not to go there and jump in a cab…
Teresa Brown is another big sound with something of a Dion or Gary US Bonds feel to it – thumping bass lines and military tattoo drum rhythms. Bern has always been a commentator of our times and he dishes up America For The People, a sardonic swipe at the politicians who would package up the democratic process in search of personal power and more of the gold.
Not Perfect struts along at a busy pace and the layered sound drowns the vocals somewhat but on Dear Tiger Woods, the message is clear and the tongue-in-cheek dig at obscene fame is well aimed and delivered; suggesting maybe it’s time to play a little less golf in his search for Gandhi-like global acceptance and the possible need for a song-writer on his back-up team.
Produced by Jonathan Flaugher, who also plays a mean bass, the assembled studio musicians are many. They deliver the goods on most songs, with the funky groove of Negotiation one of the stand-out tracks, all Little Feat vibe with Flaugher prominent on his bass rhythms, with harmonica, keyboards and wah-wah pedal guitar effects adding a great backdrop. Riding On A Train is something of a respite with simple piano, harmonica and a gentle rhythm hinting almost in the direction of a ballad.
Deregulation speaks for the need to wake up and come together in the face of increasing regulation and constraint on daily living. This new release has plenty on offer and when this truly talented artist decides to enter the studio then you can be assured that sparks are likely to fly – in which direction is something that the listener is invited to explore…!
Review by Paul McGee
Sadie Jemmett Phoenix Twouptwodown
This singer-songwriter is based in London and is releasing her third studio album in a recording career that began in 2013. Her vocal is assured and strong with a nice tone and warmth in the delivery. She deals in heartache and the vagaries of love and relationships, with opener, Rescue Street, dissecting the marketplace of boy meets girl and followed by Bitter (Danni Nicholls guests) a song about uncertainty in relations and the curse of envy.
Don’t Silence Me is a call out to the MeToo movement and to females beyond who have been silenced for too long, “take your hands off my sister, didn’t you hear her say NO!?” A Fighting Chance is a mellow groove and a message to keep things going even if there are a few bumps in the road and on Good Friday, a cheating song, the urge is strong to never forgive and just move on.
Joby Baker handles all string arrangements as well as contributing on an array of instruments, nine in all. Richard Moody also plays mandolin, violin, viola, with Adam Dobres contributing electric guitar. Sadie plays acoustic guitar and sings all songs, in addition to writing everything. Two of the tracks are co-writes and all songs are the work of an accomplished artist who knows how to create a dynamic in the song structures and deliver arrangements that are never predictable.
Leonard’s Waltz is a stand-out track with its’ heartfelt words to the fire of friendship and a beautiful melody; “So where will you go to when absence covers your face? How will I find you with no forwarding address?”
The Wilder Shores Of Love is a salutary tale of war and the price paid by innocent people caught up in the madness. “They bombed us in the night until the break of day, rounded us up like vultures’ prey…”
The closing song is a call to arms and a cry to give in order to receive – a pay-it-forward message in What You Give Will Come Back.
Wonderful stuff and a terrific listen.
Review by Paul McGee
Josh Johnston The Art Of Saving Lives Shandon
This release from Dublin based Josh Johnston was created over a number of years, with some of the tracks dating back as far as 2009. Having released three solo records since 2000, plus a number of collaborations with various artists, Johnston has established himself as a musician and producer of some wide experience and depth. His compositions are always interesting and, on this project, the overall feel is that of an eclectic mix of differing styles.
Josh Johnston plays Piano, Wurlitzer Piano, Synth and pipe organ and provides lead vocals. Nine of the eleven tracks included are co-writes and the studio players joining in are Eoin O’Brien (electric and acoustic guitar, backing vocals, synth, percussion), Martin Gruet (bass), Cormac Dunne (drums and percussion), Carol Keogh (vocals), Adam Fleming and Paddy Groenland (electric and acoustic guitars), Tom Portman (dobro, pedal steel and electric guitar), Aisling Bridgeman (violin), Rory Pierce (cello), Marco Francescangeli (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Bill Blackmore (trumpet and flugelhorn).
Rain is veiled in a busy production with plenty going on in the mix but I hear it more as a stripped back song of staying the course and being a true friend. Scattered is more effective with a simple piano melody and a vocal that speaks of self-doubt and chances lost. Equally, with A Light In The Dark Of Night, the light touch on piano and subtle dobro of Tom Portman ground the instrumental in a sweet melody that drifts easily along like a gentle breeze.
A duet with Carol Keogh on Missed Her On The Road works well within an easy groove and the combination of cello, violin and soprano sax on Midsummer With Anja is very affecting. Closing track, The All-nighter, is a slow burn that shimmers with the guitar of Adam Fleming and the bass of Martin Gruet providing perfect foils for the keyboard flights and synth sounds of Johnston.
Review by Paul McGee