Kelsey Waldon I’ve Got A Way Monkey’s Eyebrows
"Well I was never trying to be a Queen, sings Kelsey Waldon, I just take a lot of pride in who I am, the way I sing."
The title of Kelsey Waldon’s sophomore album I’ve Got A Way (her debut The Goldmine was released in 2014) is a statement by an artist determined and unafraid to succeed on her own terms in the cut throat country music scene in Nashville. Following in the footsteps of fellow small town America female breakthrough artists Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price, I’ve Got A Way details the journey from a rural environment and the trials and tribulations of dodgy industry characters, unfulfilled promises and stereotyping. It has a defiant stamp of 'This is who I am, like it or not’ throughout and a determination of not being shaped into something that she doesn’t want. It’s also delivered with Waldon’s adorable vocal, pure unapologetic Kentucky drawl, thankfully not polluted by any technical devices to change to what comes naturally to her. Having Nashville whizz kids Brett Resnick on pedal steel, Jeremy Fetzer on guitar and Michael Rinne on bass (and production duties) round the circle and breathe life into a collection of well-constructed, honest and personal songs.
Dirty Old Town, which opens the album, is more than a distant relation of Margo Price’s This Town with Waldon in no mood to be compromised or standardised when she asserts "Well there’s voices over here, voices over there, saying come along, come with me. Don't want a bridge to burn but I'm taking my turn, ain't gonna let 'em ever take me." It’s a fitting opener strengthened by some searing pedal steel solos from Resnick. All By Myself, which follows, could have been be nicked from Lee Ann Womack’s The Way I’m Living both in delivery and lyrics. Live Moves Slow lives up to its title, revisiting and escaping back to small town America and it’s simple way of live "So when I drive down the highway past that county line, I take a deep breath, I know I’ll be doing fine, Gonna save me some money, Gonna buy me a place you can’t find." Don’t Hurt The Ones You Love The Most visits similar territory, a reminder of the value of home, roots and family.
Two covers are included on the album, both fitting in seamlessly. There Must Be Someone, previously recorded by The Gosdin Brothers and The Byrds and the Bill Munroe classic Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.
The greatest compliment I can pay I’ve Got A Way is that the self-penned songs all sound like covers of classic country tunes that the listener has previously heard and is being reintroduced to.
With country radio at present awash with music often masquerading as country, it’s a refreshing that a close knit bunch of artists in East Nashville such as Waldon, Margo Price, JP. Harris are maintaining without compromise what many of us consider to be true country music. In recent years Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price have both proved, despite the obstacles and lack of industry support, that a breakthrough is possible. Hopefully Kelsey Waldon will follow suit, on the strength of I’ve Got A Way she certainly deserves to.
The Black Lillies Hard To Please Black Lilly/Attack Monkey
Anyone reading this review and sensing that they encountered this album in a previous life most likely came across it in 2015 when it was released in the States. The UK release of the album is a precursor to the bands UK/Europe tour planned for February 2017.
The history of the recording of the album in 2015 could take up column space in its own right with two members of the then five piece announcing their intention to depart the band just as they were about to enter the studio to record the album. Frontman Cruz Contreras also faced the challenge, for various reasons, of essentially writing the album in two weeks prior to entering the studio to record it. Contreras had written the bands previous three albums, Whiskey Angel (2009), 100 Miles of Wreckage (2011) and Runaway Freeway Blues(2013), in a more conventional manner and timescale and gained considerable commercial success and exposure with them. Appearances at The Grand Ole Opry (more appearances than any other independent band in history), Stagecoach and Bonnaroo followed leaving the band on the verge of a major industry breakthrough.
The album was recorded at the House of Blues Studio D which was relocated to Nashville from Memphis in 2010, a studio where The Eales and Stevie Ray Vaughan among others had recorded in previously. The production duties were overseen by Ryan Hewitt (Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Avett Brothers), unlike their previous albums which were produced by Contreras.
Contreras was joined in the studio by the bands two remaining members Bowman Townsend (drums) and Trisha Gene Brady (vocals) together with Bill Reynolds (bass), Matt Smyth (pedal steel), and Daniel Donato (guitar).
The net result of the hurried writing and recording of the album is an inconsistent yet wonderful collection of songs that switch from country to blues and straightforward rock with even a bit of bluegrass included for good measure. Contrast the rocking opening title track with the rockabilly 40 Days and the dreamy ballad Desire (harmony vocals by Jill Andrews).
What is not in doubt is Contreras ability to pen a collection of great songs whatever classification which is more than borne out here.
Bob Bradshaw Whatever You Wanted Fluke
Working as a journalist and short story writer in Ireland, Bob Bradshaw, like many other young men in the mid 80’s, decided to seek employment and fulfilment away from Ireland. In 1985 he got a job as resident singer in a bar in Lagos, Portugal. Rather than return to Ireland Bradshaw then headed for Germany, living in Hamburg and Munich, sometimes sleeping in hostels though more often in a sleeping bag at a train station. His migratory lifestyle continued with spells in Spain and Sweden before acquiring a green card in 1989 and moving to the South Bronx where he worked at various jobs including doorman, roofer, landscaper and furniture mover. A further relocation to San Francisco followed where he formed the band Resident Aliens with fellow singer songwriter Scoop Mc Guire. They recorded two albums before Bradshaw, by now married, moved to Boston where he played bars solo again for a living. While in Boston he applied, as a mature student, for entry to the Berklee College of Music, surprising himself when he was accepted into the college. He applied himself judiciously at Berklee , studying song structure, timing and harmony together with courses in song writing and graduating in 2009.
Following his graduation three albums have been released including the very impressive Whatever You Want, a collection of twelve well-crafted songs that not only appear to benefit in structure from his formal training but from his life’s experiences over the past three decades in general.
The first three tracks alone revisit Bradshaw’s life travels, the brutal break up title track Whatever You Wanted has a fluent Celtic feel, Crazy Heart has a woozy shimmering Latin sound and the first track The Start Of Nothin’ starts with the lyrics "I was a young boy runnin’, My shoes a blur, I had something to tell you, Didn’t know where you were" a possible reference to the young man leaving Ireland unsure of what road he should follow.
Go Get Along is melodic country ragtime, sang as a duet with Annalise Emerick and the album closes in style with the Randy Newman sounding The Long Ride Home with Bradshaw’s vocal up front alongside some beautiful piano playing and lap steel in the background.
Co-produced with the aid of his long-time friend and former band member Scoop Mc Guire, who also plays bass, the album was recorded at Dimension Sound Studios, Jamaica Plain, MA. It may have taken over thirty years for Bradshaw to release a body of work as impressive as this but it’s an album that he can justifiably feel proud of.
Bill Johnson Cold Outside Oxborough
Bill Johnson has been a stalwart of the Canadian blues music scene for many years as a guitarist with numerous blues bands, fronting his own band and playing solo. He has opened for household names such as Otis Rush, Dr.John and James Cotton. Cold Outside, his forth release, follows his 2010 recording Still Blue, which received a Juno nomination together with three nominations by the Toronto Blues Society. It’s likely that this offering will receive equally positive plaudits. It consists of eleven tracks all written by Johnson, all blues based but coming from different directions. The splendid title track, with a semi spoken lyric, is a harrowing tale of death and destitution, enriched by some wonderfully atmospheric guitar playing by Johnson. My Natural Ability is BB King sounding blues heaven with bubbling guitar touches and wicked piano playing by Darcy Phillips. Makes A Fella Nervous, similar to quite a lot of the recordings has a ‘live’ sound to it, the listener could be sitting on a high stool in a barroom listening to a top notch blues band.
Johnson together with drummer Joby Baker produced the album at Baker’s own studio in Victoria BC. Rick Erickson plays bass, Darcy Phillips adds piano and organ and both Ross Hall and David Best play drums and piano respectively on three tracks.
Dan Stevens Angels In The Sand Gatorbone
Gulfport, Florida resident Dan Stevens spent over thirty years playing in various rock bands such as Apathy, Cottonmouth & Groove Moon to name a few, before concentrating more on his singer songwriter skills.
Angels In The Sand is his forth solo album release and the thirteen tracks contain a variety of styles ranging from the Warren Zevon sounding title track, the UK folky vibe of both Deep Blue Mystery and Just A Carpenter and the more rocky and electronic The Ghosts of Time and I’m Already There.
Produced by Stevens and Gatorbone records and engineered by Lon Williamson and Jason Thomas, the album features a collection of musicians including Elisabeth Williamson (guitar), Lon Williamson (bass), Gabe Valla (guitar), Jason Thomas (fiddle) and Tai Welch (percussion).
Darin and Brooke Aldridge Faster and Farther Mountain Home
Twenty-four months after the release of the critically acclaimed Snapshots, husband and wife Bluegrass duo Darin and Brooke Aldridge appear to have set the bar even higher with Faster and Farther, the sixth album release on the Mountain Home Music Label. An indication of their current standing in modern Bluegrass circles are the inclusion of iconic artists such as Vince Gill and Pat Flynn in the recordings. Gill contributes vocals to Highway of Heartache and Mountains in Mississippi, while three songs written by Flynn (Lila, Cumberland Plateau and Kingdom Come) appear on the album with Flynn also playing guitar on two of the tracks.
An act that regularly feature at the business end of the Gospel, Bluegrass and Americana/Roots charts, the duo journey comfortably between traditional bluegrass, roots and gospel on Faster and Farther.
Their formula is quite simple, well-chosen and arranged songs and technically outstanding playing. However, the ingredient that makes the whole package gel is the vocal capability of Brooke Aldridge, whose exquisite voice would effortlessly grace any musical genre.
The album is certainly evidence of this with tracks such as Mountains in Mississippi, Lila and This River, with Darin taking lead vocal, of a standard that would not be out of place on any Alison Krauss and Union Station album.
Kingdom Come, the opening track, takes less than twenty seconds to put the listener on notice of whats to follow with a belting mandolin, guitar and fiddle intro before Brooke’s powerful vocal kicks in.
Fit For A King is country gospel at its finest with Brooke’s vocal aided in no small measure by gorgeous harmony vocals courtesy of Charli Robertson of Flatt Lonesome. Heaven Just Got Sweeter For You closes the album in style with the focus on the duo’s harmonies with mandolin, guitar and acoustic bass adding the perfect background.
Altogether a hugely impressive effort sitting comfortably at the crossroads between bluegrass, country and folk. Beautifully punctuated by powerhouse vocals of Darin and Brooke and in no small measure by their band Tyler Collins (banjo, dobro, guitar), Tim Surrett (acoustic bass), Shay Cobb (fiddle) and their guests Vince Gill, Pat Flynn, John Cowan, Charli Robertson, Barry Bales ( in the band?) and Carley Arrowood. The album was produced by the duo and recorded at Crossroads Studios, Arden, North Carolina with recording engineers Van Atkins and Scott Barnett
The album cover depicts the couple on an airport runway alongside a jet possibly suggesting from the album title that this talented couple are on a forward journey to spread and share their wonderful talents and intend doing so at speed. Safe travels indeed!