Reviews by Declan Culliton



Hadley McCall Thackston Self-Titled Wolfe Island

Every so often an album comes your way by an artist new to you that stops you dead in your tracks. This was very much the case, after a couple of spins, with Hadley McCall Thackston’s debut self-titled album. Comprising ten tracks and at marginally over thirty minutes, Thackston could have been tempted to include a few covers, or add a couple more choruses to a few of the shorter tracks to increase the length of the album. Fortunately, she declined, instead creating a body of work that is unconditionally her, warts and all, with lyrics which often carry personal messages.  It’s a beautifully written account of a young woman’s coming of age, with reflections on childhood, insecurity, adolescence, peer pressure, self-doubt and reconciliation.  

Thackston had intended packing her bags and moving from her hometown of Decatur Georgie to the bright lights of Nashville, in an attempt to establish her musical career. By happy chance Hugh Christopher Brown, of Wolfe Island Records, was introduced to her music by label mate David Corley and without delay redirected the Greyhound Bus from Nashville to Wolfe Island Ontario. The move was a meeting of minds, introducing Thackston to a musical family and environment perfectly suited to inspire her creativity. Much credit must go to Chris Brown for the uncluttered arrangements on the album, which complement Theakston’s gorgeous voice. The range of instruments used totals over twenty, from strings to guitars and accordion to ukuleles, an indication of Brown’s determination to make every track on the album shine individually, a task he passed with flying colours. The recording in the main took place at The Post Office in Wolfe Island Ontario with additional recordings at Sacred Heart of Mary Church also in Wolfe Island and at Broderick’s Music in Kilkenny, where Ger Moloney’s accordion pieces were recorded.

The word ‘timeless’ is possibly the most overused phrase in folk and country album reviews, but this album most certainly earns that banner. Thackston manages to blend old time country and folk, contemporary and even bits of jazz. Her vocals are from another world, with the ability to stretch one syllable words forever, she manages seven syllables on the word ‘God’ on the beautiful Redbird!

Her mellifluous vocals on the opener Butterfly considers the fragility of the young child growing up in a world of mixed messages and peer pressures (‘’and you are not afraid to fly wide pride, accepting all the joy your beauty brings’’).  Somehow, awash with divine pedal steel, fiddle and strings, fantasises about the dream lover yet to be met (‘’And on the day we finally meet I know we’ll fall in love, cuz you were put here on this earth for me from those above’’). Self-consciousness and insecurity surface on the melodically upbeat Ellipses, hitting a catchy groove that’s hard to shake off, as Thackston yearns for courtship (‘’ I’d take your sweet nothings for over diamonds any day, like the magpie who adorns her nest with treasures thrown away’’). She turns her attention to more worldly issues on the politically charged Change (‘’turn on the news and what do I see, another black man’s life cut short by the police’’). Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) is traditional front porch country fare, complemented by lively fiddle playing by James Abrams and backing vocals by label mate Sarah Mc Dermott. Devil or Angel flawlessly blends folk with a quite jazzy vocal delivery. Last Mountain Waltz, the albums closer, returns to the front porch with a gentle tale of liberation and acceptance. It does not quite reach the two-minute mark but makes its point charmingly in four short verses.

Hadley McCall Thackston has created  an album that sounds like a June Carter and Amy Winehouse collaboration, written and recorded in heaven and communicated through a young artist whose vocals and poetry pay homage to both of these legends. 

Israel Nash Lifted Loose

Barn Doors & Concrete Floors, the classic 2011 release by Israel Nash Gripka, recorded in a dusty hay barn at The Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, singled out the young Ozarks Missouri born artist as one of the most promising emerging acts of that time, further reinforced by his dazzling live shows. The album ticked all the Americana boxes with Southern soul, blues, country and lots of attitude. The tracks Baltimore and Goodbye Ghost are as good as anything written under the Americana genre in the past decade. A victim of his own success  perhaps, Nash has failed somewhat to reach those lofty heights in subsequent recordings. Rain Plains (2013) and Silver Season (2015) followed, both receiving positive industry reviews, yet you could be forgiven for feeling that Israel Nash (he had dropped the Gripka by then), was avoiding risk taking with much of the material and sounding more and more like Neil Young & Crazy Horse on each recording.

Lifted, co-produced by Nash and Ted Young (Kurt Vile, The Rolling Stones), finds him in more experimental form and all the better for it.  Recorded in his custom-built studio named Plum Creek Sound in Dripping Springs Texas, its mix of layered vocals, horns, strings, guitars and percussion, combine to produce his most impressive work since Barn Doors. File under ‘Hippie Spiritual’, we are advised on the cover. With the ongoing turmoil of these uncertain and often depressing times, when all normal political and environmental logic is turned on its head, Nash has, by his own admission, has moulded an album ‘about love and peace and purpose, creating a space for those feelings and personal reflections to manifest’.

So does it all work? The answer has to be spectacularly so. The material was created by Nash from first principals, word by word, note by note, layer by layer, with Nash even utilising outdoor sounds of frogs, crickets, rattlesnakes and running water.  Rolling On (Intro) kicks the album off with  sixty seconds of a layered sound collage before exploding into the track itself, setting the scene for what is to follow. Spiritfalls sounds like a song you’ve grown up listening to, echoes of Neil Young minus Crazy Horse, it’s beautifully paced and decorated with some great guitar breaks. Northwest Stars (Out Of Tacoma) must have been composed outdoors staring skywards, you can almost feel the cool night mist amongst its dreamy, hypnotic textures. Strong Was The Night and Looking Glass are reminders of Nash’s ability to also create the less swashbuckling and melodic, both being simple yet spacious ballads. The Widow, (is that the crickets I hear in the background?) dips and soars gloriously, Beach Boys quality harmonies beautifully dominating – the majority of the harmonies were created by Nash himself – a wall of sound with sparring harmonies, synths and dubbed over voices, combining without ever competing. Sweet Springs also recalls The Beach Boys with harmonies that would not have been out of place on Pet Sounds. Golden Fleeces threatens to bookend the album on a more sombre and gentle note, before unexpectedly erupting into chorus and continuing to dip and soar beautifully.

Make no mistake, it’s not an album that fully sinks in on first listen, there’s so much going on that repeated plays are required – on headphones ideally – to take on board the musical textures, gorgeous harmonies, bells, whistles, strings, horns and more. Nash was always going to eventually equal the dizzy heights of Barn Doors & Concrete Floors, it’s taken him a while but with Lifted he has finally nailed it.

Mike And The Moonpies Steak Night at the Prairie Rose Self Release

If ever an album title and its cover left you in no doubt what to expect when you pop the cd in your player, this nugget from Austin Texas bad boys most certainly does. Six dudes chewing the fat outside a Texas honky tonk bar, with a blazing trail of fire following lead man Mike Harmeir, as he strolls across the dirt track street. It captures the album’s content perfectly, the material itself being a blazing trail of rip roaring country music Texas style.  Formed by Harmeier in 2007, it’s the fifth album by the Austin based Outlaw Country six-piece band, that also includes Preston Rhone on bass, Kyle Ponder on drums, Zachary Moulton on pedal steel, Catlin Rutherford on guitar and John Carbone on keys. They are essentially a touring band, knocking out close to two hundred shows a year, mostly around Texas and Oklahoma. 

Barely over a minute into opener Road Crew and you get the message, rollicking pedal steel, guitars and keys kick in over Harmeir’s mischievous rantings (‘’ he sells the shirts he drives the van, he’s counting money with a left arm tan, he’s a rambler gambler he just quit drinkin’ and he’s on the road crew tonight’’). Might Be Wrong recalls early Mavericks, Beaches of Biloxi’s rhythm is borrowed from Elvis’s Suspicious Mind and Getting High at Home is classic Texan honky tonk, great playing and equally sassy lyrics (‘’I still put my boots on and ask the girls to dance, but now I spend a lot more time wearing sneakers and old sweat pants’’). Wedding Band and The Worst Thing track are no nonsense straight country and the title track (based on a Houston bar where Harmeir got a residency when in his teens), is a heartfelt ballad of a broken marriage and misspent youth, as the writer recalls childhood memories of sitting in the bar with his father listening to country cover bands. 

Produced by Adam Odor (Reckless Kelly, Cody Canada, Raul Malo, Ben Harper), it was recorded in only five days at The Yellow Dog Studio in Wimberley Texas. 

It’s likely that Mike and The Moonpies will remain a working live band, surviving by packing up the van and travelling the length and breadth of Texas and Oklahoma, possibly without establishing a foot hold elsewhere. Maybe this album will break new ground for them, maybe not, it certainly deserves to. In the meantime, this, for me, is real country music by real country players. Don’t expect to spend endless hours pouring over the lyrics, regaling as they are.  Instead just crank it up and navigate some rip roaring, badass, no nonsense, dive bar country music. File beside Dallas Moore, Whitey Morgan, Reckless Kelly, Whiskeydick and Jamey Johnson.   

Sons Of Bill ‘OH GOD MA’AM’ Loose Records

Four years after the release of their last and fifth album Love And Logic, the Charlottesville Virginia band Sons Of Bill, have finally managed to release their eagerly awaited follow up. Plagued by personal issues, which included marriage breakdowns and addictions, the band – which features brothers Sam, Abe and James Wilson – overcame those setbacks and were in the studio recording the album, when James fell on glass, severing five tendons in his right hand, an injury that threatened to leave him without any movement in his fingers.  Fortunately, after a long period of recuperation, he regained the use of all fingers and the album could be completed.

Tragedy often leads to inspiration and all these wretched events contribute to a change in direction for the band, both musically and lyrically. Recorded in both Nashville and Seattle with producers Sean Sullivan (Sturgill Simpson) and Phil Eek (Shins, Fleet Foxes), the album experiments with a fuller and more expansive sound, without abandoning their trademark striking vocal harmonies. The album was mixed by Grammy Award winning producer Peter Katis, who leaves his stamp firmly on it, with a sound that often brings to mind early work by The National. No coincidence, as Katis has worked on seven of The National’s albums, contributing in no small manner to their distinctive sound. 

The opening track Sweeter, Sadder, Farther Away contains only keyboard and vocals, a reflection of more innocent times perhaps, very much the calm before the storm.  Firebird ’85, the next track, takes off in a completely different direction with a heavy drum beat, some slick hooks and crisp harmonies. The intro to Believer / Pretender wouldn’t be out of place on an early New Order album, but like its predecessor quickly settles into an infectious power poppy groove. Green To Blue, the most uncluttered track on the album, has an earthy Pink Floyd sound to it and competes with Before The Fall as the standout track on the album. Easier finds them slipping back into cruising gear with a sound more in keeping with the work on their earlier albums. 

Despite recording five quality albums to date and having praised heaped on them by their peers, a deserved breakthrough has escaped Sons of Bill to date.  Hints at a change in direction did surface on their last album Logic and Love with Bad Dancer implying a more indie and less countrified direction. OH God Ma’am is a brave move, with more in common with New Order and Echo and The Bunnymen than Son Volt and possibly aimed at a wider audience. It may be a general change in direction or simply a temporary detour. Either way, it’s another great album by a band that should be shifting albums by the lorry load.

Martha Fields Dancing Shadows Self Release

Hot on the heels of her 2017 recording Southern White Lies, Martha Field’s latest album Dancing Shadows maintains her prolific output of recent years. Whether it’s country, folk, blues, Tex Mex or rockabilly that tickles your fancy, there really is something for all tastes in this strikingly packaged gem. 

It kicks off with the bluesy Sukey and tails off with the breezy Lone Wolf Waltz, fourteen tracks and over fifty-five minutes later. Recorded at Studio Recordoval in Chateauneuf – Sur – Charante France, it features musicianship that could hardly be bettered by the cream of Nashville session players. The musicians are in fact her European touring band, made up of Ubain Lambert on guitars, Serge Samyn on upright bass, Oliver Leclerc on violin, Danis Bielsa on drums, Manu Bertrand on dobro, pedal steel and banjo with Manu Godard and Vincent Samyn adding organ and piano respectively. Collectively these guys provide the ammunition to bring Field’s suite of songs to life and combine perfectly with her potent vocals across the fourteen tracks. ‘’14 songs that tell my story, past and present, through the mountains and valleys’’, she explains in the liner notes and it’s fair to say she pours her heart out from start to finish.

Not surprisingly, given her itchy feet – she seems to be constantly on the move – quite a few tracks are travel related. The burning desire to play Ireland is the theme on Exile and Paris to Texas – the first single to be released from the album – laments the distance between her two homes.  West Virginia In My Bones, delivered with maximum twang, pays homage to the lands of her childhood where she vows to return (‘’when I die bring me home, West Virginia in my bones’’) and the gentle ballad Oklahoma On My Mind aches with regret, possibly of love lost. Last Train to Sanesville and Hillbilly Bob are pacey toe tappers rocking along late 50’s Elvis style.

In a nutshell, Dancing Shadows is a fun album that is every bit as much Saturday night as Sunday morning listening, by an artist passionate about her art. Lets hope she makes that trip to Ireland, I’d expect she and her band are killer live! 

Ben Glover Shorebound Proper 

Recognising that the local market could not offer him a sustainable career from his hometown of Glenarm Ballymena, Ben Glover headed for Nashville a few  years ago where he has established himself as a highly respected songwriter, working with artists such as Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Neilson Hubbard. His songwriting talents were recognised in 2017, at the highest level, when The Americana Music Association voted his co-write with Gretchen Peters Blackbirds International Song of The Year.

Indeed the move has been a transformation for Glover, who now divides his time between Ireland and Nashville, co-writing, collaborating, and recording solo albums and working with his latest band Orphan Brigade, whose album Heart Of The Cave was recorded earlier this year.  His work on both sides of the Atlantic is reflected on Shorebound, which includes contributions from American’s Amy Speace, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Mary Gauthier, Neilson Hubbard and Angel Snow together with Robert Vincent, Ricky Ross (Deacon Blue) from the U.K., with Irish artists Malojian (Steve Scullion), Matt McGinn and Anthony Toner also featuring.

Produced by Neilson Hubbard – he also features on Song for the Fighting – the album offers twelve songs, ten co-writes with the guests noted above, with two solo tracks also featured, the title track and Kindness. What You Love Will Break Your Heart opens the album in fine style, an upbeat poppy sound featuring Amy Speace on backing vocals, contrasting in style and content with the darker brooding semi spoken Catbird Seat, co-written with Mary Gauthier. Dancing With The Beast, the next track, was also recorded earlier this year by Gretchen Peters and is the title of her most recent album, it follows a similar menacing and grim style and is every bit as impressive as the Peter’s version. Northern Stars, which finds Glover teaming up with fellow countrymen Malojian (Stephen Scullion) and Matt Mc Ginn, is instantly catchy. Keeper Of My Heart, which bookends the album, is a gorgeous love song, possibly the albums stand out track, with Glover’s and Robert Vincent’s vocals perfectly matched.   

Glover’s previous two albums The Emigrant (2016) and Atlantic (2014), suggested an artist not quite convinced  where he should reside, both geographically and artistically. Shorebound is the work of an artist content, assured and very much at peace with himself.

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Reckless Kelly Sunset Motel No Big Deal

As a band who loosely defined what was eventually to become labelled as Americana, Reckless Kelly rocked, honky-tonked and country rootsified their chosen musical path since moving from Oregon to Austin and releasing their first album Millican back in 1998. The band is fronted by the Braun brothers Willy and Cody. For their ninth studio album, they are joined here by bassist Joe Miller, guitarist David Abeyta, and drummer Jaz Nazz. The latter two have been reckless for some time and indeed Abeyta has been a co-producer on their recordings with the Braun brothers over the last few albums. Guests on the album include Bukka Allen on keyboards, Marty Muse on pedal steel as well as Eleanor and Chris from the Mastersons.

All contribute to a full and eventful sound that while it may not have altered a great deal since they started, shows how that have matured, honed and clarified their sound. It is a pretty engaging one that has found them many friends and fans through the years. The album opens with the very accessible How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)? A fairly self-explanatory song in terms of subject matter. This leads to the hard rockin’ Radio and example of maybe how not to get on radio while considering what would. Willy Braun takes the lead vocals and has a strong, emotive and engaging voice that can handle the rockier songs as well as the moments of regret like the moody title track with ease. Braun is also the writer of all the songs here and as such sings them with the total conviction required.

There are few bands better at what they do. The kind of scrappy, rough-round-the-edges roots music that still has a tightness that comes from playing together for some time. It is shared experience that knows its own place and isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t. There has been no compromise in how Reckless Kelly have approached their music. There have been no flirtations with the big label and that has enabled them to be true to themselves and their fan base which knows what to expect from a Reckless Kelly album. That includes a clever, well thought-out and designed cover (it comes with a key fob that when used as a viewer reveals further hidden images) something that is easily the equal of any major album release these days. 

This is a set of songs replete with choruses and hooks that are trying to be too-clever but equally share experiences that are readily relatable. Volcano, Give It Up, Moment In The Sun are further examples of how this band delivers on its early promise. While Sad Songs About You is just that, a song of pure heartbreak and sadness. The final track Under Lucky Stars is a slow acoustic based ballad that balances well with the more upfront songs that also permeate the album’s thirteen cuts. There are vacancies in the Sunset Motel - check in and check it out at your leisure. You will be back.

Luke Bell Self-Titled Bill Hill

Bell seems to be picking up press for his third album release. Deservedly so as his new album, released through Thirty Tigers, is a good one. After growing up in Wyoming and playing in a variety of rock bands he moved to Austin where he honed his mix of honky-tonk blues and New Orleans r’n’b. Now he lives in Nashville and this album reflects that move. There are a few tracks from his previous album Don’t Mind If I Do including the opening traditional sounding Sometimes, in which he reveals that he feels being in a relationship is like “sometimes I feel well … but other times I feel like hell”. If these songs have been remixed or recorded is not entirely clear but as the credits list only a Nashville studio I’d suggest the latter. 

From then on it’s one strong song after another. Where Ya Been? about looking at the straggled stranger looking back at him from the mirror. The Bullfighter takes the analogy of taking on the titular role in a honky tonk bar. Working Man’s Dream is a fast and furious fiddle-fuelled song with a yodel that recalls the resurgence of hardcore hillbilly down on Lower Broadway and back in the day. The album closes with the New Orleans sound of a big solid ballad, a self-written song, The Great Pretender. It shows that Bell can take on different sounding songs and sound like he is at ease with them all. He is effectively becoming known with this release which has a greater prominence that his previous releases - and deservedly so.

Producer Andrija Tokic has gotten a good take on mixing traditional modes with some contemporary mores. With players like bassist Dave Roe, drummer Jimmy Lister, steel player Brett Resnick, fiddler Casey Driscoll and Caitlin Rose on backing vocals there is an expectation and all play their part in bringing these songs to life. Fiddle, steel, twanging guitars and feisty harmonica all feature prominently giving the whole album its context and clarity. Proof again that even in Nashville music that bears some relation to the reason the city made its name is still being played there, even if it is not getting past the front door of the established labels at this point in time. All you need to do is listen out for the likes of Luke Bell and you will be, if you’re a honky-tonk fan, a happy listener. 

Bap Kennedy Reckless Heart At The Helm

It was great sadness that I learnt of the death of Bap Kennedy and somewhat ironic that his new album arrived through the letterbox on the same morning. Without the added poignancy of his passing this would still be a great album in keeping with the overall body of his work either as part of his punk band, Energy Orchard, or his solo albums. Through his career he has been recognised as a distinctive and emotive singer and songwriter who first came to wider attention with his Steve Earle & Ray Kennedy produced Domestic Blues album and through such releases as The Sailor’s Revenge, Howl On (which also featured the late Henry McCullough on one track), Lonely Street or The Big Picture, an album that featured Shane McGowan and a song co-written by Van Morrison. Kennedy stood toe to toe with these largely better known artists and leaves a fitting body of recorded work behind him.

Reckless Heart was written and produced by Kennedy and was recorded in Northern Ireland with Rod McVey, featuring  wife Brenda on backing vocals and percussion as well as lead guitarist Gordy McAllister, bassist Nicky Scott and Rod McVey on keyboards. All provide a musical bedrock for these songs that is perfect for the rootsy flavour and relaxed feeling that the tracks purvey. There are obvious standouts like the story telling of the wandering Henry Antrim, the wish to revisit a missed opportunity on I Should Have Said It or Honky Tonk Baby a song dedicated to the object of his affections and the music of their choice. The Universe And Me is a sad consideration of his life and times, his music and his love. A song that is all the more affecting because of his demise. As the songs tells us truthfully that for many “there’s no music in money, there’s no money in love”. 

Once again you’re reminded of how much talent exists on these isles that has long been dismissed or ignored for not emanating from the US or being too closely linked with the jukebox/covers syndrome that has been associated with country cover bands and artists for a long time. His much-praised debut was released in 1998 and Kennedy has been at the forefront of original (what has come to be known as) Americana since then. Bap Kennedy will be missed for his on-going musical and writing skills that marked him as one of the originals - and best.

Ben Glover The Emigrant Proper

Working again with producer Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover has delivered an album that largely reflects the nature and life of the emigrant. To do this Glover has used a set of traditional arranged songs as well as such sterling songs as the fiercely anti-war song of the Australian campaign in Gallipoli in World War 1 and the devastating effects that conflicts brings. The oft recorded And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda never fails to move in its unsentimental impact. Here it is a slow piano-based ballad (played by on this track by Dan Mitchell) that runs over seven and a half minutes and slowly builds up as the story unfolds and the bitterness intensifies. It is largely a singer’s song and Glover gives a heartfelt vocal that underlines his presence in that area. The piano is a central to many of these songs giving them an intimate and understated feel that works well in the context of the album’s timeless themes.

Something that is apparent throughout and where an artist covers non-original and traditional songs is that it is often largely down to their vocal skills to make the song their own. So, while some of these songs have versions that are already ingrained in the memory, Glover adds his own personality to his reading of such songs as The Green Glens Of Antrim, Moonshiner and The Parting Glass. The latter is the opening track and one of the albums standouts. It is given a folky rendering with fiddle and acoustic guitar but has an energy that highlights the essential message of the song.

The new songs are written by Glover solo or with Gretchen Peters (The Emigrant), Mary Gauthier (Heart In My Hand), Tony Kerr Carpe (A Song Of Home). Aside from Eric Bogle’s … Waltzing Matilda, there’s Ralph McTell’s From Clare To Here and Brendan Behan’s The Auld Triangle. All the latter are songs that Glover must feel are special enough to want to risk comparison to previous versions and in doing so he has given them context that are is as relevant to many today, as to the time or time frame that they were written. The appreciation of end result may depend on how open a listener may be to previously recorded songs but should also be considered in the way that fits with the new songs. Ben Glover is to be applauded for taking this risk; one that should establish him as an artist who can bring something of himself to all these songs. They have the capacity to make the listener reflect and think anew and that in itself is a pretty good thing all round.

Kaia Kater Nine Pin Self Release

The cover features Kater with back to the camera and a well-played claw hammer banjo cross her shoulder. Maybe signifying that this is an album, while that instrument is key, where she is considering other options than the usual routes. Kater and co-producer Chris Bartos have assembled a group of players who bring a set of tones that are as effective as they are unusual to accompany the banjo. These include flugelhorn, trumpet, electric guitar and moog alongside upright bass and fiddle. There are also several credits for backing vocals which play a subtle part in the proceedings. It is Kater’s banjo and voice however, that are the centrepiece to the recording.

Recorded in Toronto, the album highlights a combination of traditional arrangements and self-written originals. Kater has sleeve notes on the album that are related to the traditional song’s sources. All the material however fits seamlessly together with an experimental discourse that, while it is rooted in her musical heritage and that of the banjo, offers something a little different. Some of the tracks take a more stripped down approach like the song Little Pink.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird has a sense of acapella with some minimal percussive effects behind the voice. In other cases, though the instrumentation is largely voice and banjo, the arrangements feel more contemporary in outlook. The final track Hangman’s Reel is a fiddle and banjo reading that feels very traditional and shows Kater’s understanding of the instrument’s potential past and present.

The songs are strong and her voice compelling which makes her one to watch in the ever-growing list of those playing their individual take on old-time and bluegrass music. She has also got a strong visual presence that helps her to stand out. Something that always helps in what is a difficult time for any artist to gain attention for their music.

Jesse Dayton The Revealer Hardcharger

I don’t think I’ve heard a bad album from this Texas roots/country/rocker since his debut album back in 1995. Raisin’ Cain introduced a prodigious talent as writer, singer, guitarist and later as a producer. Since then there has been some seven albums under his own name between that album and this new set of songs. All but one of the songs are written (or co-written) by Dayton. The one outside song is from the noted artist Mike Stinson, who also plays drums on some of the tracks here. Brennen Leigh also duets with him on Match Made In Heaven (the duo also have released a full duet album Holdin’ Our Own back in 2007). Dayton plays all guitar as well as bass, percussion and keyboards. On the latter three he is also joined on different tracks by Eric Tucker, John Evans, Riley Osbourne and Erich Hughes. Beth Chrisman adds fiddle on several tracks. Evans also is the main producer here (he himself has made a number albums, one which I managed to track down a while ago was Biggest Fool In Town which I thoroughly enjoyed).

There is something of the outlaw outlook about Dayton and his ‘go-your-own-way’ approach he has taken to his music. He also has played with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in the past. There’s nobody looking over his shoulder here advising that this or that might be better “received’ if it was polished more. This is rough and ready and infused with the energy of the booze fuelled spirit of the honky-tonk and roadhouse. The opening song also reasons that that such an attitude was an inherited thing when he tells us that his Daddy Was A Badass. The humorous I’m At Home Getting’ Hammered (While She’s Out Gettin’ Nailed) is one of those oh so country songs that will always raise a smile, not unlike the Notorious Cherry Bombs It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long did. Dayton previously released a version of this song on the spoof album Banjo & Sullivan in 2005. This was a fictional band that featured in the Rob Zombie directed The Devil’s Rejects. Dayton has worked as an actor himself in subsequent films directed by Rob Zombie. Holy Ghost Rock ’N’ Roller is as you might expect a full-on piano-thumping stomper which is prefaced by a sampled diatribe about the evils of rock ’n’ roll. The Way We Are is another song that considers the life of a “this or nothing” working small-time musician looking towards “the hour on stage … playing for minimal wage … we do it for nothin’ or drinks from the bar.” Never Started Livin’ is a love song that is followed by the acoustic guitar and vocal finale Big State Motel which again deals with the life of the drifter, those who know no other way of life.

But it is his musical output that concerns us here and Jesse Dayton is the real thing and joins the ranks of those unreservedly in thrall to the throne of high octane country and rock ’n’ roll. The Revealer offers the listener some righteous unrighteous uncluttered music that will shake, rattle and country roll.

Ben Glover 'Before The Birds' Self-Release

The Northern Ireland singer/songwriter now spends the majority of his time in Nashville. This move has paid off on his latest album, third album. Produced by Neilson Hubbard in Nashville it highlights Glover's intimate style of writing and ever assured vocal skill. The musicians here, as you'd expect, are totally in synch with the songs and play there part well, delivering a tasty slice of roots orientated music that is prevalent on the fringes of Music City, if sadly not on the airwaves. Hubbard is joined by a full band who include Eamon McLaughlin on violin and some effective backing vocals from Kaci Bolls. But it's the songs that most albums are about and these are among the best Glover has yet committed to recording. Trick Of The Light opens the album and is soon followed by other songs that seek to define the minutiae of human relationships. A perennial pursuit of the songwriter and one with endless possibilities for perspicuousness. Almost Home delights in ending a journey while Song Of A Caged Bird Signing talks of a restlessness and the need to move on from difficult times and decisions. The album moves between those two reference points of melancholy and manifest good times. Before The Birds is an album that conjures a mood that is best sustained over it's ten tracks, rather than pointing to any single track, though the subtle restraint of the closing song At The Car Park has a haunting quality that last after the album has finished. A new song, yet to be recorded, played at a recent gig points to the fact that Glover is growing and moving forward as a songwriter, but for now this album is a more than satisfactory insight into the music of a talent singer/songwriter who has the ability to capture a mood and moment that will resonate with the attentive listener who will be rewarded for that involvement.