Reviews by Paul McGee

Chuck Brodsky 'Tell Tale Heart' - Self Release

If folk music was to appoint an ambassador for the 21st Century, then the song-writing style of Chuck Brodsky would be its’ finest example and brightest star. For many years Brodsky has been releasing superbly crafted songs that champion the struggles of everyman and he has honed his craft in communicating a message of compassion, mixed with a keenly observant eye with both a wicked sense of humour and irony.

This is release number 11 in a career that began in 1998, and his ability to turn a telling phrase has never been sharper. Chuck often writes in a narrative style and this produces highly entertaining and perceptive songs, populated by colourful characters and references.

Brodsky muses on the joys of the internet and Facebook (2000 Friends), preferences in women (I Used to Fall), the loneliness of pride (What Good Did It Do?),the Irish Famine (New Shoes for Tom Guerin), and racism (The Handshake) about the first coloured player to play in baseball’s major leagues. He further deals with corporate greed and political hubris (Not a Single Shot), the Jewish migration from Denmark to Sweden in WW2 (A Dane Was a Dane), the passing of a life (Rachel’s Guitar), a forgotten baseball player (Splinter Cheeks Johnson) and the joys of SatNav (My British Emily). Brodsky is always right on point in his keen observations and plays with a melodic style that breathes real life into these songs. 

The musicians on the record include Doug Pettibone on guitars, Steve Wickham on fiddle, Chris Rosser on piano, organ and mandolin with Brandon Bush on drums. Chuck Brodsky deserves a higher profile and a seat at the great-songwriter table. Why not start here?  

Andrea Zonn 'Rise' - Compass Records

If support players were given due credit for their roles in shaping the careers of innumerable headline artists, then the world might be a place where fairness reigned. Many such talents go sadly unrecognised, none more so than Ms. Andrea Zonn.

Look for her name on numerous releases as a fiddle player par excellence and note that she has graced the music of artists such as James Taylor, Vince Gill, Mickey Newbury, Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Keb' Mo' and Neil Diamond.

On this self- produced collection she has very much stepped up and delivered a project of real quality. Andrea has a very expressive voice, both sweet and clear. Here taking the lead role, she performs with consummate ease. She moves gracefully from the light jazz swing of Another Swing and a Miss, into the gospel tinged blues of Rise and on to the gentle folk-tinged Ships. The production is really excellent with lovely harmonies and melodies populating the arrangements.

Whether dealing with true love (Another Side of Home / No Reason to Feel Good / You Make Me Whole), the fear of isolation and loneliness (Crazy If You Let It), nurturing children to grow and lead independent lives (Let Them Go), support through a personal crisis (I Can’t Talk About It Now), the ten songs are delivered with great compassion and vision, touching on the transience and vagaries of life but always within the knowledge that the morning brings renewed hope.

The musicians are top drawer, with a rhythm section of Willie Weeks on bass and Steve Gadd on drums. Guitarists Thomm Jutz, Bryan Sutton and Jim Oblon add colour on various tracks and John Jarvis on piano andorgan plays with great fluency. Zonn’s own beautiful fiddle lines are ever present, whether subtly supporting the song or leading from the front, always with a resonance that lingers.

James Taylor sings harmony on the excellent You Make Me Whole and Vince Gill, Keb Mo, Jerry Douglas, Alison Brown, Sam Bush and Mac McNally also make cameo appearances on various tracks. This is a very mature and fully realised project that delivers on all counts.

Pete Kennedy 'Gotham City' - Self Release

Metropolis is New York in the daytime and Gotham City is New York at night, if you are to believe the fiction writers. Some see Gotham City as "New York below 14th Street, from SoHo to Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Little Italy, Chinatown, and the sinister areas around the base of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges”.

No matter how you view it, New York is a magical city that is steeped in myth and wonder. So, here we have New York resident and accomplished musician Pete Kennedy paying homage to the streets he walks and the influences that shape his life there.

As a band, The Kennedys, Pete and wife Maura, have forged a reputation as one of the best proponents of American folk music currently on the circuit. Since their debut release in 1995 they have consistently raised the bar of excellence in all that they do.

Pete Kennedy is a wonderful musician who usually plays acoustic & electric guitars, sitar, bass and ukulele. However, on this self- produced set of 13 songs, he plays everything to be heard and carries it all off with a real aplomb. There is plenty of jangling guitar work that is reminiscent of the Byrds (Harken) and there are arrangements that hint at Springsteen in both theme and tempo (The Bells Rang; Gotham Serenade).

New York, Union Square and Williamsburg Bridge are given their own tunes and Riot in Bushwick has a Dave Edmonds groove that slips and slides out of the speakers. The song Asphodel visits the mythical flower that is associated with the dead and the underworld and Unbreakable pays tribute to the Irish Emigrants who arrived to shape much of the city - “and they dug this city out of rock”.Never Stopped Believin’ appears to be an autobiographical look back through the mirror of Pete’s youth and the personal journey that has seen him arrive at his own Mecca.

As he sings on the song New York – “The city is one great soul that enfolds us and makes us whole”. This release is a fitting tribute to the pulse of an iconic city and a very fine solo effort from this talented artist.

Maura Kennedy 'Villanelle' - Self Release

Villanelle, he title of this collaboration between musician Maura Kennedy and author/poet  B.D. Love is defined as a highly structured nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. Hmm, sounds very high-brow indeed.

Maura asked B.D. Love to send her original poetry, anything from free verse to structured compositions. She then set about putting these words to music. So, rhythm and phrasing had to follow the poetic image, rather than the other way around making this a most interesting project and one that offered a great challenge.

The fifteen songs here run for almost an hour, so Maura cannot be accused of cutting back on her daunting task. However, the listening can be a little exhausting and perhaps a few of the tracks could have been saved for a further project, Villanelle Part II?

Singing the words of another writer is never easy and to put belief and passion into the vocal is essential if the songs are to come to life. Maura Kennedy’s beautiful voice and crystal clear tone win the day and the fact that these songs are not her own becomes a non-issue.

Standout tracks are Bicycles with Broken Spokes, which reflects on young love grown cold, I Cried to Dream Again which speaks of unrequited love, Be the One, which deals with the urge to protect a lover and Borrowed Dress, a memoir from an immigrant worker to her distant daughter.

Father to the Man is a family memoir of the role of a parent and I’ll Be Alone Tonight is an acoustic blues to the feeling of loneliness. Breathe Deeply Love will surely become a classic wedding song of the future with its unashamed paean to eternal union and deep commitment.

Engineered and mixed by Maura, with the assistance of her husband Pete Kennedy, the entire project is delivered with style. Pete plays guitars, bass, banjo, mandolin and drums  among other instruments,  while Maura  provides guitar, ukulele, glockenspiel, bass and percussion, in addition to all vocals.

The final track, Beneath the Mistletoe is a light jazz swing that heralds the Christmas season of goodwill to all men. So, a chocolate box full of goodies with something for everyone; a pioneering work with much to recommend it and full marks to the talented Maura Kennedy in pulling it all together.