New Album Reviews

Tellico Woven Waters Organic

Original Roots music and a second release following debut album, Relics and Roses, in 2015. The band comprises Anya Hinkle (guitar, fiddle, vocals), Greg Stiglets (bass, harmonica, vocals), Aaron Ballance (dobro, lap steel) and Jed Willis (mandolin and electric guitar). There are guest appearances from David Brewer (drums) and John Doyle (bouzouki), who also produced the project. 

The band are part of the vibrant Roots music community in Asheville, North Carolina and the nine tracks included on this release run to almost 40 minutes and are played with impressive technique and subtle skill by these tightly integrated musicians. Storytelling was an integral part of the Appalachian sound and songs like the Ballad Of Zona Abston keep that tradition alive, as does the song, Salsa, which tells of a favourite horse who goes missing in the mountains. 

There is bluegrass, old timey rhythms and some sweet folk leanings included in these songs but it’s the collective playing that impresses mostly with songs like West Of The Cumberlands, Courage For The Morning and Like November that linger. Hinkle has a fine delivery and her vocal is very expressive, with hints of Natalie Merchant. Never more so than on, It’s Just Rain, with the lyrical imagery of “another storm has come to wash the sin out of the stain”, staying on the breeze. Anya writes five songs, with Greg penning three more and there is one co-write between them. Worthy of your time and attention.

Review by Paul McGee

Blake Brown & The American Dust Choir Long Way Home We Believers

This debut release goes back to March 2018 but it only found a recent place in my review pile. Blake Brown is an American singer-songwriter from Denver, Colorado. Collaborative projects apart, he formed The American Dust Choir which includes wife, Tiffany Brown (keyboard/vocals), Adam Blake (drums), Jason Legler (bass) and Trent Nelson (guitar). Their sound is based around guitar orientated arrangements that echo an Americana feel and the dynamic is added to by the subtle vocal style of Brown, who employs an approach of ‘less is more’. 

On repeated playing, the overall sound is understated, yet addictive, and the easy swing of tracks like Up In Arms and Fever Dreams channel a Chris Isaak mood. Clocking in around 35 minutes, this release does not overstay its welcome and the neat production of Joe Richmond has much to recommend it. With clean lines and a nice separation on all instruments, it makes for an engaging listen and the commercial sound of Stop Shakin’ and Bended Knee indicate one direction that the band could focus on. Acoustic numbers, Accidental Love and Untitled are also engaging. However, it is the more ‘noir’ sound of tracks like Kissing Knives and Get Out that indicate where the true heart of the band’s sound may lie. Interesting.

Review by Paul McGee

Martha Reich Brave Bird Self Release

This 7-track release opens with a simple banjo, cello & fiddle accompaniment to the sweetly sensitive vocal of Martha Reich on If You Only Knew, and you are instantly hooked. Drawn into a space where time stands still and the plaintive, sparse sound of this Folk artist slowly takes hold of the moment. Self produced and written by Reich, with the exception of a cover, Over The Rainbow, you are touched by the sense of being in the presence of, perhaps, Joni Mitchell’s older and wiser, sister. Ethereal, gentle soundscapes that drip with restrained atmosphere and tracks like So Brave, The River, Fade Away and I’d Rather Be Surprised, over 30 minutes plus, leave you transformed. Yes, it’s that good!

Review by Paul McGee

Kalyn Fay Good Company Horton

I was very impressed by Fay’s last album Bible Belt and the Oklahoma musician (and graphic designer) has gone one better with her new album. On this release she has brought in Jesse Aycock to produce. He is a session musician and a recording artist in his own right. The sound is layered and varied, one that runs from the solid riff and propulsion of Highway Driving to the more folkish soft rock of Good Company and all points in between, that include country and rock in its make-up. 

The result is a collection of thoughtful and considered songs that benefit from Fay’s alluring vocal. It is a sound that speaks directly to you in a way that is personal and not without its own sense of panache. A sound that is intensely welcomes you to a deep sense of her heritage, talent and place. Described as quintessentially Oklahomaian, it is also quintessentially Kalyn Fay, as the two are largely intertwined. The one feeds the other and as Fay has recently made a move to Arkansas to further her fine arts career, it is no doubt twinned with some sense of that separation.

To help her realise this set of songs Fay has a range of local musicians involved including John Fullbright and Carter Sampson, as well as Aycock’s contribution on guitars, pedal steel and piano. While these may be names known only to those who follow the musicians mentioned, the othermusicians are equally attuned to the song-writing which takes into account the possibilities of love, loss and of locality,. The songs include 10 originals and a well chosen cover of Malcolm Holcombe’s Dressed In White (an underrated songwriter). The titles offer a clue to her inspiration from Oklahoma Hills to Fool’s Heartbreak. These songs bookend theunderlyingsense of place and relationships. Though both, as with most places, exist as often inseparable points on life’s compass.

They overall theme that these songs touch on is one that is universal and the sound is also one that captivates on a broader level to make the album work for thelistener, no matter where they happen tom reside.It is simply an album that shows an artist communicating at her best with her finest music to date. 

Review by Stephen Rapid

Boo Ray Tennessee Alabama Fireworks Self Release

The album opens with steel guitar on a song whose lyrics include the album’s title. It sets the tone for a selection of tracks that cover a number of different moods that are held together by Ray’s songs, allied to Noah Shain’s production and the assembled players collective skills. “What doesn’t come from the heart doesn’t reach the heart” a line from that opening track,A Tune You Can Whistle, sums up Ray’s credo. There is a consistent theme of travel, highways, truckers and small towns. Going Back Down To Georgia, as suits that particular song, has a more soulful direction with  sone funky guitar, bass and brass. Honky Tonk Dream continues to use the steel guitar and brass to good effect. 20 Questions finds Ray under the spotlight trying to deal with a wide array of lifestyle enquiries from his partner. The slower paced,She Wrote The Song, has a solid beat with some effective guitar lines mingled with the pedal steel to emphasise the emotion of the song. Dee Elle is an instrumentalist that again has the steel well to the fore and giving it a desert atmosphere. Out Run The Wind is more straight up country. 

There is a weariness and understanding in Ray’s voice which shows that he understands these emotions and motivations. His music is described as “Outlaw” on his Facebook page and while he may not fit the current stereotype, he fits the description in that he does his music his way, without interference from outside sources. Music that reflects his varied musical influences and experiences in the clubs and stages of Nashville, LA and in South Georgia, as well as his experiences from growing up in North Carolina. His sound has been perfected over recent albums such as Six Weeks In A Motel and Sea Of Lights, as well as some interesting single releases that feature such duet partners as Elizabeth Cook and Lily Winwood. An easy album to like and one that gets better with repeated plays. The cover depicts a sign that Ray repeatedly passed in his travels appearing as a “surreal, southern gothic effigy” - a pretty good marker for his music then.

Review by Stephen Rapid

Charles Wesley Godwin Seneca Self Release

Looking not unlike an old-time explorer on the cover of this album, Charles Wesley Godwin is perhaps fitting for a songwriter who is constantly making discoveries about the people and locations he has met or passed through in his life so far. Previously a member of Union Sound Treaty with whom he released one album, he played and listened to bluegrass and traditional country and began writing his own songs. These were coloured by his upbringing in West Virginia where he grew up with a coal mining father and a school teaching mother. He understood the people and places that he encountered along the way and these experiences of life are the bed rock of these songs.

His songs can be affecting, like Seneca Creek, a downbeat ballad that lays out a story of arelationship that has been touched by different aspects of weather and the weathered relationships that can occur in a particular place. It appears twice on the album,as afull band version and it also closes the album in an acoustic guitar and voice version. Both adequately highlight the storytelling power of Charles Wesley Godwin’s song-writing and singing. 

Charles Wesley Godwin recordedover a 12 month period, in between touring to raise the money to make the album. Inthe process he met some of the musicians he wanted to work with and allowed for their schedules to achieve this. The results show the time well spent and the affinity that producer Al Torrence has with the material and the artist. The rhythm section provide a solid base over which there are bass, guitars, keyboards, fiddle, banjo, dobro and pedal steel embellishments that colour the  textures but never over paint the pictures that Charles Wesley Godwin conjures. Seneca is an album that is deserving of a wider audience. Several of the songs in an acoustic setting are featured along with his back story on his website and are well worth checking out.

Review by Stephen Rapid

Balsam Range Aeonic Mountain Home

Great expectations awaited this eighth release from Balsam Range, who are named after a sub range of the Appalachian Mountains in their home state of North Carolina. They have, after all, twice been voted Entertainer of the Year by the IBMA membership and between them they have won 11 other individual IBMA awards. 

And they won’t disappoint their myriad of fans with this latest self produced offering, ambitiously titled Aeonic (enduring, lasting immeasurably). The selection of songs from well established bluegrass and country writers and a couple of covers from other genres, all delivered in their traditional bluegrass style but with a smattering of newgrass and country touches, show that Balsam Range are not content to stand still musically.

The Girl Who Invented The Wheel kicks off the album at blistering pace, band leader Buddy Melton’s superb vocals doing more than justice to an unusual theme - extolling the virtues of a woman who has just dumped him but he is still in awe of her wonderfulness. In true bluegrass style, Buddy also gets to show off his much awarded fiddling on most of the tracks. Another particularly memorable tune is Tumbleweed Town (from the pens of Milan Miller and Beth Husband) wherein Tim Surrett shows that he’s as adept on the dobro as he is on bass. Guitarist Caleb Smith’s sweet vocals here are perfect for the pacy country ballad, with lots of lovely mandolin infills from Darren Nicholson.

Ray LaMontagne’s early song Hobo Blues is given an appropriately simpler arrangement and, again with Caleb Smith’s vocals, is one of the standout tracks.

The four gospel choices here are predictable fare but they allow the vocalists to indulge themselves in gorgeous three and four part harmonies. Marc Pruett’s legendary banjo playing shines on Let My Light Be A Life and also on the driving Get Me Gone.

Most outstanding though is the cover of George Harrison’s classic If I Needed Someone. Taken at double pace, and with Buddy Melton working some sort of electronic sorcery on his fiddle making it sound like a whole string section, it is over all too soon! 

Review by Eilís Boland

Whiskey Shivers Some Part Of Something Devil Duck

Whiskey Shivers seem to have exploded onto the music scene recently - certainly they have only come under my radar in the past year - but would you believe that this is their 5th release? They’ve been bubbling under in Austin for years now - often described as ‘Austin’s best kept secret’ - but the secret is out! Currently in the middle of an extensive European tour, I suspect Europe doesn’t know what has hit it.

The band’s live performances are by now legendary - they are known for their high energy, irreverence and good humour, and much of that spirit comes across on this album. Produced by Houston’s Robert Ellis, the songs are a combination of original songs and covers of traditional bluegrass and folk songs, all performed in their signature ‘thrashgrass bluegrass’ style.

If you’re a bluegrass purist, you can turn off your set now. Whiskey Shivers play with a marked punk sensibility that is strangely compelling to these ears, and definitely grows on you with repeated listens. ‘Manic' is the description that springs to mind on hearing their breakneck cover of the bluegrass/folk standard Angelina Baker, and it also applies to their original songs Reckless and No Pity in the Rose City. Cluck Old Hen sounds like it is being sung by a chain gang in the 20’s, but it really works with this rollicking bluesy psychedelic treatment. Long Gone, a country tinged ballad, allows the band, led by vocalist/ fiddle player Bobby Fitzgerald, to show that they are no mean musicians.

Music to drive to - but watch your speed! 

Review by Eilís Boland

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Alice Dimicele One With The Tide Alice Otter

"Folks, I am a Woman not a large corporation. Thanks for supporting independent music." These words appear on the back cover of Alice Dimicele’s latest and fourteenth album One With The Tide, all released on her own Alice Otter Music label, dating back to her debut album recorded in 1988. A quite unique achievement given that few artists can boast having self-released their entire back catalogue over a three decade period.

An early starter, she fronted a rock/fusion band at the tender age of 15 before launching her solo career in the mid-eighties. One With The Tide, consistent with most of her writing, deals in the main with environmental issues, a theme that resulted in her sharing the stage over the years with artists such as Steve Winwood, Janis Iain, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. The album is dedicated to environmental and social justice activists Barry Snitkin who died in February 2015.

Given the foregoing you might be forgiven for assuming that the album content would be low beat acoustic folk. Quite the contrary, as much of the material possesses an upbeat blues groove from the title track opener, the reggae themed Waiting, the ‘letting go’ ballad Seeds, the earthy and funky Voice of the Water and the closer, a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine. Constant throughout is Dimicele’s captivating vocals, soaring and dipping and as crystal clear as much of the subject matter on this most enjoyable recording.

Balsam Range It’s Christmas Time Mountain Home

This little beauty from a band long established as our Bluegrass guru Ronnie Norton’s favourite is a treat from start to finish. From the stunning cover art by Teresa Pennington to the last note of the instrumental Jingle Bells the six track EP is a very welcome departure in style and delivery for Balsam Range. They are a band that somehow manage to surprise and enthral with their watertight harmonies and instrumental excellence in all of their previous outings.

And this one takes us just a tad farther with the addition of the Nashville Recording Orchestra to the mix. The blend of Orchestra and Bluegrass instrumentation makes for a heady brew that is guaranteed a place on any Christmas listening list. 

Four standard oldies like The First Noel, Hark The Herald Angels , Jingle Bells and Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree are paired with the haunting Doc Watson adaptation of The Christmas Lullaby and the Ralph Stanley, Old Timey I’m Going Home It’s Christmas Time should get full rotation honours over the season anywhere they find a home.

This is Balsam Range’s first Christmas project and as it’s only six tracks we can hope that they will pour us another glass of Christmas cheer at some other stage in the future. Team this one with Vince Gills orchestral Breath Of Heaven CD and you have the perfect background music for a mellow lead
in to the festivities for this and many years to come.

Cua Songs of the Hollow Anseoceol

Before even removing the album from the sleeve the striking design work on this album cover immediately caught the eye, the design carried out by John Daly and the equally impressive photography by Joe Conroy.  Cua are a three-piece group made up of John Davidson on fiddle and percussion, Shane Booth on guitars and Ros O’Meara on bouzouki, guitar and percussion with all three contributing vocals often harmonising. Their sound is world music Irish style, their groove actually self-christened as Atlantaen.

The album weighs in with a hefty fifteen tracks in total -  all titles written by the band - and does indeed explore many different styles from traditional (The Somewhere Waltz), jazz fusion (Black Dog), roots (Atlantic Cross, Waco), folk (Kings and Queens), 3 part a capellas (The Other Man) together with some quite distinguished hybrids.

The album is both ambitious and impressive, the musicianship impeccable, though it could possibly suffer in terms of potential airplay given that it covers such a wide range of musical classifications. Well worth investigating. 

Richie Healy The Perilous Tree Self Release

 Richie Healy is a singer songwriter highly regarded in his native ‘music capital of Ireland’ Kilkenny. A regular support act to numerous visiting acts in Kilkenny after his early days playing in local band Enerjive, The Perilous Tree is his latest album having released Last Taxi Home in 2013 on the Swarfbomb Record Label. With a career path that has combined farming, bar tending and quarrying together with song writing and performing, it’s not difficult to imagine a solitary Healy, content making hay or tending to his herd, taking inspiration from the wild outdoors with the outlines of poems and lyrics at formation stage.  In many ways the album is in fact poetry put to song, deeply informed plainspoken lyrics often inspired by the reality of day to day struggles, desperation, conflicted emotions, helplessness and survival. 

Make no mistake it’s no party record, rather a late-night listen in a darkened room, perhaps accompanied by a glass or two of spirits. Its stories are stripped right back to the bare bones with Healy’s weathered vocals and acoustic guitar sympathetically supported by some atmospheric accordion playing by Ger Moloney. Its unlikely that even the most discernible listener will connect fully on first listen but with repeated plays of the album the tales unravel and the atmosphere fully exposes itself. The material never strays too far from what is probably most credibly described as gothic folk blues, with early Leonard Cohen influences noticeable on Cloak Me In Quiet and similarly Van Morrison Astral Weeks period visited on Cold Grey Shine. Death and despondency dominate the most impressive Princess Of The Ditch and opening track Fallen In creates dreamlike images of a mysterious afterworld ever so close yet always out of reach.

Recorded at Crossroad Studios in Kilkenny and co-produced by Healy and Jed Parle The Perilous Tree is a slow burner which offers a cryptic set of songs, challenging, spellbinding but ultimately extremely rewarding.

The ROAMies We Got Love Self Release

Joining forces after promising solo careers, duo Alexa James and Rory Partin’s debut album We Got Love more than showcases their stunning harmony vocals across six tracks, four self-penned, together with a cover of Dave Heywoods Just A Kiss, previously recorded by Lady Antebellum and Tom Higgenson’s 1,2,3,4 which charted in 2009 when released by Plain White T’s. The bands name refers to the intense travelling the pair have enjoyed, visiting over thirty countries since their formation.

The opening track Oh My My is up-tempo country blues, We Got Love is crossover country pop, very listenable and consistent with the sound presently populating much of the commercial country radio stations. Still The One, the strongest track featured, follows a similar path, gorgeous melody, stylish harmony vocals and a clear pointer of their ability to create a sound that with the right breaks could lead to much wider exposure.

The previously mentioned Just A Kiss doesn’t stray too far from Lady Antebellum’s version but I’m left with the opinion that their self-written material is every bit as striking and impressive as the covers featured. In an often over populated market breakthroughs don’t come too easy and I’m left with the impression that The ROAMies ability to write radio friendly material of such a high standard could very well see the duo’s material taken on board by some already established artists with a considerable degree of success. 

Trouble Pilgrims Dark Shadows and Rust Chiswick 

The Rollercoaster Records annual albums of the year poll is the most credible reflection on albums released by both Irish and International acts during the previous twelve months.  Voted by the punters rather than the music press, it covers a wide range of genres from rock to roots, country to metal and further afield. This year’s poll featured votes for 575 albums in total and when the top 50 were announced it came as little surprise to me to find Dark Shadows and Rust by Trouble Pilgrims sitting pretty at No.29. Not bad for a band whose roots go back nearly four decades to the early days of The Radiators From Space, yet still retain the hunger, ingenuity and motivation to release an album that obviously hit the spot with listeners of all ages.

The Radiator’s output was always a step ahead of U.K. punk, combining the energy and rawness of the early punks but with the addition of melody and structure. In many ways they were New Wave in advance of the U.K. Press inventing the genre in the late 70’s and before many artists chopped off their manes and raided their father’s wardrobes for skinny trousers to replace their well-worn bell-bottomed loons.

Forty years on from the release of their debut album TV Tube Heart and two founding members, Pete Holidai and Steve Rapid, are still rolling back the years as frontmen with Trouble Pilgrims. Also on board are one-time Radiators drummer Johnnie Bonnie, former Blue Russia member Tony St. Ledger on guitar and vocals. Bren Lynott, previously of The End and The Cathedral, on bass and vocals. The band name was taken from the album of the same name from The Radiators after Philip Chevron, another founding member and song writer, became seriously ill and was unable to perform live.

Dark Shadows and Rust is released on Chiswick Records, a label can also boast surviving since the mid 70’s and that supported many of the early punk and new wave bands and released the first two Radiators albums. What is immediately striking about the album is the energy and fluency of the material, its delivery recreating that glam rock meets post punk sound to perfection. 

Out of the starting blocks in full throttle is opener Snake Oil Carnival followed by Animal Gang Blues, full of menace and back alley aggression. Queen of Heartache combines the amphetamine intensity of The Ramones with Beach Boy style harmonies and Reach Out ("There’s a madman in the White House, An imposter on TV, He’s got his finger on the button, to bring an end to democracy") recalls early Dr. Feelgood with ripping guitar riffs escorting Holidai’s raucous vocals. Sex In A Cheap Hotel (‘Let’s get together on a Saturday night, Tie me to the bedpost I won’t put up a fight’) is a reminder that sleazy glam rock is not yet quite dead and buried just waiting it’s time for a revival. The dynamic Instant Polaroid, always a highlight of their live sets and released as a single in 2015, loses none of its guts on the studio version. Long Way To The Sun is Undertones (a band both The Radiators and Pilgrims have shared stages with) neighbourhood power pop at its finest and The Velvet Tongue recollects late 60’s New York garage rock. Death Ballad creates a driven sound immortalised by Howard Devoto’s Magazine in the late 70’s and for me the standout track on the album.

Dark Shadows and Dust is an album that unashamedly wears its hat on its sleeve, no nonsense rock and roll and most importantly fun, fun, fun!