Joshua Radin - The Rock & The Tide (Warner/14th Floor)

I was worried about this one. I've given it two spins. My worries were justified. Do you like white bred?

Frankly, this album doesn't belong on a bluegrass / folk reviews site. It doesn't even belong on a singer/songwriter reviews site. I'm sorry to sound harsh but why sign a folky singer/songwriter and then try to turn him into a top 40 charting artist? The album from start to finish sounds like overly polished, auto tuned, pro-tooled, producer led soft pop. And just because there is a synth banjo on track two 'Streetlight' doesn't make it a 'folky' song. Way down the back end of the album there are a few softer, more folky numbers that actually sound half-decent. If you read between the lines here it seems to me that Radin wrote a soft, folky album and the label has brought in producers and writers to try and 'Radio' it up. Thus they've bumped the better songs further down the tracklisting and moved the 'radio' songs up front. 

I have to stress actually that the auto tuning is so bad on the lead into track three 'I missed you' that you can hear the vocal actually being cut up in the transition from pitch to pitch. Not good. Also there seem to be three writers credited on this track. It always amazes me how songs with more writers can be WORSE than those written alone. 

The ONLY song worth half a listen on this ten track indulgence is a track Radin wrote himself 'You Got What I Need'. He's written a beautiful mid tempo guitar ballad. Played out on what sounds like a strat or a tele his voice echoes Ray Lamontagne a little and we can actually start to feel with him. Minimal production of guitar, bass, drums, a beautifully warm rhodes/Wurlitzer type keyboard sound and vocals on this leads me to believe that this album should have been a one track single - with this song plugged to death. This is THE one for sync as far as I can tell. 

Each to his own, but I'd like to hear Radin if he ever makes a real down to earth, heart on his sleeve record produced with no budget. I think that's the place we'll all connect deep down with Radin. The writing and production of this album reminds me far too much of that annoying hat-wearing popper Jason Mraz. Unfortunately, a thumbs down from me on this album barring the song 'You Got What I Need'. If you want to listen to a Josh, try Josh Ritter or Josh Rouse.

by James Cooper

Forest Sun 'Harlequin Goodnight' Special Rider

A talented San Francisco artist with several albums to his credit delivers this confident and clever album. Co-produced by Forest Sun and Michael Winger with a core trio of Sun, bassist Steve Adams and drummer Michael Messer. Add to that backing vocalists, cello, dobro, keyboards and accordion and the songs are full of contrasting instrumentation that covers quite a few musical stepping stones. All of which makes this an album offers much to the listener with an open mind. It has no foot in any particular genre other than good music but overall the feel is of a rootsy base that should appeal across the board and is an example of the fact that there is a lot of music out there fling under the radar that is unlikely to get the attention it deserves in a situation where specialist music programmes are being squandered rather than encouraged by a system that prefers everything to be the same rather than encouraging individualism. Forest Sun makes music that may not appeal to all but their is not doubting the craft on display here. His voice is strong and confident throughout and the focal point of the album. Gurus and Rockstars, which features Larkin Gayl on equally strong duet vocals is a song in search of a movie or some mainstream placement. The one cover Dylan's She Belongs To Me is giving a treatment that makes it fits with the overall context of the album but also shows Sun reverential to the original but giving the song his own touch. Harlequin Goodnight will tuck you in after entertaining you.

Eric Brace & Last Train Home 'Six Songs' Red Beet

A six track ep from this accomplished band that mixes a couple of covers along with material from various band members. Soul Parking is a robust guitar led uptempo song with strong vocals. By way of contrast the three covers My Baby Just Cares For Me has an altogether cosmopolitan feel with hints of jazz in the mix. What Now My Love, sung in French and English again takes on a different mood that sees the band having fun with the different touch stones being displayed. Autumn Leaves is given a semi-Cash/surf treatment until the vocals, again sung in French come in and the song eases off the pedal. Big Fish is fun and taken at a rate of notes and is the most obviously countryfied song here. The opening Always Raining On My Street again emphasizes the band's skill and versatility and shows that next time out they could further explore any of these avenues or a different one entirely but either way Six Songs is what it is and is a fun excursion.

Kim Beggs Blue Bones Black Hen

A Canadian singer-songwriter who plays folk-Americana and who has a couple of albums under her belt before this current release. Beggs has a distinctive edge to her voice that wouldn't be unfamiliar to Iris DeMent fans. Utilizing a full band including fellow singer-songwriter Steve Dawson, who also produced the album, it has a full clear sound that never overwhelms the song or singer. Beggs own songs are about the travails of love while others like Can't Drive Slow Yodel is just what it says a song that states that Beggs has to travel at speed even though she's not going to the rodeo or about to give birth and the chorus is a full on yodel. It is a diverting and humorous moment. KIm also covers some classic songs from writers such as Bob Dylan, Jack Clement and Patty Griffin. The former's I'll Be Your Baby Tonight is given an appropriate pedal steel softly sung delivery while Clement's Just Someone I Used To Know is a well rounded duet with Gurf Morlix. The traditional I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes is equally given a countrified reading. Griffin's Trapeze highlights Beggs vocal skills on a restrained take on the song. Her own songs are usually more upbeat though Summertime Lonesome Blues is a recognition of time spent apart. The Longest Dream is a lovely duet between Beggs and Natalie Edelson where the voices blend over a pedal steel led backing that emphasizes the dreamlike quality of the song. Blue Bones is an album to get to know and enjoy for a lot of different reasons.

Guy Penrod 'Breathe Deep' Servant

With his surname and a look straight out of an Alexandre Dumas book Pernod could be making any type of music but Breathe Deep is a solid country album. It's one that is the antithesis to the likes of Hank 111. This is an album about love, family and belief in God. Values that are solid in mainstream country and it's something of a surprise that this album isn't on a major Music Row label rather than on an affiliated one. It could be that Pernod is a still a little too country, and old, for radio success. Which is strange as this album is full of songs that resonate with that audience. Produced by Brent Rowan and featured a host of the current A-team studio crew it sounds good in the way that records that go through that process do. The songs are solid and from the pens of former artists and now primarily focused songwriters. Pernod isn't a writer and so delivers some assured and upfront vocals that sound convincing in their tales of the common man and suburban and rural lifestyles. On occasion the songs touch on subjects like those who have nothing.The Broken Ones is about seeking and finding redemption for those who have fallen through the cracks and see the value in a person or thing if given love. And it's that word which is paramount here. It may not suit the honky tonk lovers but it has it's time and place and is superior with strongly rendered songs like The Maker Of Them All - a song that places faith at the centre of life. As a say not everyones cup of tea but few will deny the overall positivity and strong music on offer here. 

Fiery Blue 'Self-titled' Doubloon

This duo are produced by Kimmie Rhodes son and producer Gabe Rhodes who chooses a wide sonic palate in which to set these songs. The duo of Simone Stevens and Paul Marsteller are joined by such luminaries as the aforementioned Rhodes on a large variety of instruments and Hunt Sales on drums a man who has played with David Bowie and Iggy Pop in the past. The music is roots in overall tone but quite likely to take a diversion every now and then. It's all held in focus by Stevens strong, expressive vocal presence. The eighteen tracks build up a wide picture and hold attention if you slip into the fiery blue world. Some may find the album and overall tempos too similar but there is a textural substance at work here that gives the tracks added depth beneath the vocals central place in the mix. In that light this is an album where the music should be listened to in context and from that favourites will emerge but there are few tracks that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the material. But at this stage I can recommend Magic, Virtue and Diamond Ride as a trio that were memorable for there musical settings. The songs were written by Marsteller in the main with Stevens Rhodes co writing a track each. What makes this album special is the thing that makes all albums work that combination of song, playing and voice and Fiery Blue have produced an album that may never become mainstream but for those whose musical tastes expanded beyond country, in a kind of subdued "Wrecking Ball" mode then this album is worth seeking out.

Egon Danielson 'Raven And The Bluebird' Self-released

I really like this album a lot. It seems to have been made for the right reason which is simply to get a set of good songs out into the world. Danielson is a powerful singer-songwriter who wrote all the songs here some written over a number of years others written just before they were recording. Danielson has a voice that remind s me of a number of singers like, for instance, Robert Earl Keen. The producing by Andy Dee, formally of my old favourites Molly and The Heymakers, is spot on tough and tender as need be. Danielson calles his music soulbilly and that as good a description as any for his from the heart songs. He recorded in his native Kentucky and in Minnesota and these songs have heart and a heartland and never feel forced or unnatural they feel like song from a man who has lived a little and loved a little - even when he lost that love. She Won't Say Goodbye sums that up so well with its tender backing of nylon string guitar and lap steel.  This is followed two songs later by Start Out By Saying Goodbye a song deliver with feeling over another understated backing with pedal steel from John Ely of Asleep At The Wheel. More full on and rockin' is Your Guitar wherein Egon wishes he was a particular girl's guitar - well why not. By way of contrast The Girl In The Yellow Cotton Dress is more acoustic/bluegrass in style. One Rock At A Time is funkier with some swirling organ leading the ensemble getting into a groove. There's not a bad song here and Egon Danielson is a well worth checking out and as his website has the songs as MP3 you can listen or download as is you preference but either way have a listen. I don't think that you will be dissapointed. 

The Snakes 'Sometime Soon...'

This UK band make a rather good racket. This five piece have delivers a very credible album of original songs that hit the buttons. They add harmonica, banjo, violin and keyboards over the bass, drums and guitars bedrock and as all members sing have a varied and lively vocal presence. Some songs like Refrigerator Blues have a more bluesy sensibility that nicely contrasts with the more country Wasting Time. Cumberland Breeze could be equally be about a breeze in England's North East or one coming from the river that runs through Nashville. Either way it's one of the albums stand-out tracks with a relaxed harmonious vibe. We Can Fly has a uptempo west coast (UK or LA) feel with a strong melody and some fine guitar. Credit to Nick Beere for his production skill in creating a sound that has a full feel despite what I would imagine would be a relatively minor recording budget. Jesus In A Box also utilizes a darker voice that has shades of Edgar Broughton. Harmonies and organ abound on Come My Way's full sound. The album closes with the west coast harmonies of Black Cat. A versatile and varied album that easily fits under the roots rock/ tag but one that is more harmonious, melodic and life affirming that much that falls loosely into that category. The Snakes have bite and along with the likes of Hank Wangford are making music that should be given credit for being something that draws for a source that is largely from the USA but one that is filtered through music that was part of the fabric of musical forms on this side of the Atlantic too.

Southern Tenant Folk Union 'The New Farming Scene' JohnnyRock

On there new album, with a revised line-up, this acoustic band draw as much from traditional folk songs that were at the heart of the music that became bluegrass in America as from the original songs. Songs written in the main by Pat McGarvey who has been central to the band and its development since they founded. A former member of the Coal Porters this project is darker and rooted in the life of working communities. McGarvey's banjo is the key and leading instrument on many of these songs. Previously they were seen as a bluegrass styled band but here the folk tradition of parts of the UK would seem to be a viable influence. The acapella Those Little Grains Of Sand would be a case in point. Indeed the vocals are a vital and primary component of the music here. It always has , of course but here it seems to have become earthier and less tied to a outside source. A direct tie to the land is expressed in songs Like TA9. This is undoubtably the best album they have produced and one where they further their own identity and sound. The album was recorded in a more spontaneous setting which gives the music an edge a vibrancy that is both simple and ruggedly realistic. A new play for today. The musical skills of these musicians many who have come from a legacy of folk bands is never in doubt. Rather it is a potent mix of all the elements that brings together numerous strand in a potent whole. I may be a dark whole but its is one that resonates.