Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro 'Live At Southern Ground' Del Mundo

An exponent of lap-style slide guitar, Martin Harley is the main vocalist and writer here. He is joined by Daniel Kimbro on upright bass and backing vocals. The result has both atmosphere and astuteness. It is a simple enough set up, with the duo playing live in Southern Ground Studio in Nashville, so it’s about the skill of the players and the strength of the songs. Both are good, an honest, simple and direct setting that was made to represent how Harley had been performing live recently.

We are lucky enough to have, here in Ireland, at least two excellent similarly styled guitar players; NC Lawlor and Clive Barnes. So we’ve heard how expressive an instrument the guitar is when played in this style. It is so here with songs which touch on blues, folk and various roots associations. There is a trio of covers as well as original songs. Goodnight Irene is arranged as a slow blues and is very effective as a new look at the traditional song. His interpretation of Tom Waits’ Chocolate Jesus has an appropriate angst with some dexterous slide. Blind Willie Johnson’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine has an essential understanding of how one can take the wrong path in life and Harley’s voice is full of the pain of that understanding.

Throughout Harley matches the emotion of his voice with that of his playing. Daniel Kimbo adds additional depth to the performances on what is a very accomplished album, full of light and shade. The closing song, the uptempo Love in the Afternoon closes the album with a sense of the uplifting, life affirming moments that life can bring. For this album Harley has stripped his sound back and shown that he can more than hold his own in a variety of musical settings.

Clive Barnes 'The Ghost Country' Leander

Always a compelling live artist either solo, with additional musicians or playing the role of sideman to others Clive Barnes has continually developed his recorded output. Which has led to The Ghost Country being his most realised album to date. He uses a full band to add additional flesh on the bones of these strong songs. Barnes has a sandpapered voice that has gained depth and resonance over the years and will continue to do so. Though here he is joined by Siobhan O'Brien who adds a balance with here sweet voice. The songs are also testament to his growth as a writer of these tales of blues inflected relationships with people, places and passage between the two. William McGlynn and Dan Hingerty are a bedrock rhythm section who give the songs direction without ever overwhelming the subtle textures of Barnes' ability as a guitarist. Something he enhances here with, on occasion, electric guitar banjitar, dobro and lap steel. There's also a light touch of keyboards on a couple of tracks which add the overall strength of the music on offer. It's also one of those albums that works in context, as a unit of songs, rather than a set of individual songs. It's best listened to as a whole which is out-of-step to how a lot of people listen to music these days. But as a taster listen to Losing where Joe Ryan's pedal steel adds atmosphere to this tale of a request for redemption. The title and mood may also suit a country of ghost estates and cold wind recession but this is music to raise the spirit rather than to drown it from an artist who deserves greater recognition than he often receives.