Review by Stephen Rapid


Stan Martin Long Nights Twangtone

The new album from Stan Martin continues his run of finely-honed Telecaster infused twang laden neo-country. This is Martin’s sixth album of Bakersfield bound country. He is a master of the understated craftsmanship as singer, writer, producer and musician on this and previous albums. Although he is a talented picker he is not a show-off and is happy to trade guitar licks with the similarly minded Kenny Vaughan. The latter appears on all but one of the tracks here. Add to that the father and son rhythm section of Dave and Jerry Roe and you have a formidable team of musicians who know well how to serve a song to best effect.

Those songs, all written by Martin, are largely tales of lost and found love. They are delivered with humour, insight and a degree of honesty that shows an understanding for the frailties, possibilities and pitfalls that every relationship offers us all. One thing immediately apparent is the sense of melody inherent in the songs. An ingredient that is often missing in the overly riff driven hard rock of much of today’s overblown country music. Song after song feels like an old friend and all the more welcome for that. There is an atmospheric and appropriately named instrumental (El Tarantino) that fits easily in context (not unlike those that graced Way Out West, the album Vaughan made as part of Marty Stuart’s band, The Fabulous Superlatives). This all hints at a wide spectrum of influences and also mirrors some of the great and more expansive country music that was given exposure on the airwaves in the late 80s and early 90s.

The ten songs have a lasting appeal that will delight any of Martin’s fans and for those who have yet to have the pleasure of his company this is a great place to start to appreciate Martin’s talent. His last album was his best yet, up to that point, but this one is likely to grab that top slot. And why not, with such tales of betrayal south of the border as Dos Tequila. Then there is the reflection of the ballad, My Dream, wherein there is a wish for one’s love to be returned in equal measure. Long Nights is long on strong hooks and intertwined guitars and background vocals by Dave Roe. Another goodie is Play With Fire which again effectively features Roe on vocals. The whole album plays though as a piece without any filler or less interesting songs. This, then, is an album to savour and to return to and a reminder why so many of us miss top-notch music that, while it may not be breaking barriers or changing the musical landscape, is rather played for its own sake. The sake of the song.

Emily Herring Gliding Eight 30

As a pedal steel player and producer with such well known artists as Radney Foster, producer Steve Fishell seems like the right choice to helm Herring’s latest album of traditionally influenced but forward-thinking country music. Herring and Fisher have picked some of Austin’s finest to play on the album. Names like Redd Volkaert, Glen Fukunaga and Dave Sanger are all seasoned and gifted players. They recorded in the renowned Bismaux Studio in Austin and the results are engaging and emotion filled.

Now on her fourth album (her last, Your Mistake, was a Lonesome Highway album highlight) and it delivers in equal measure. The perspective however is personal with songs about her relationships and her Mother’s passing; as well as some tender moments that sit alongside a more definite swagger on the up-tempo truckin’ songs. As expected, the players are supportive throughout and allow Herring’s voice to deliver. The slow paced, Last Of The Houston Honky Tonk Heroes, floats on Fisher’s steel guitar. While All The Millers In Milwaukee is a drink sodden song that sees her joined by its writer Mary Cutrufello trading lines like “the whole damn Daniels family” and “every bud in Ol St. Lou” which give you a pretty good idea of where the song is heading. Balmorhea, by way of contrast, has an understated swing that ties it to an earlier Texas dancehall tradition. Her version of Billy Farlow and Bill Kirchen’s Semi Truck again offers another musical route that is a foot tapping truckin' treat. Both highlight Redd Volkaert and the versatility of the rhythm section.

However, the song, Right Behind Her, is an emotional standout. It is a song about loss and a song she actually wrote a year before her mother passed away and had a deep premonition of what living without her biggest fan, friend and anchor might actually mean. But the songs work by pulling her and the listener into that deep sense of departure. The title track sees Herring thinking of herself, but aware of the waitress in the bar and aware of the attraction between them. It tells of their getting together but later taking different paths in a way that is pretty universal. The Boudleaux Bryant and Chet Atkins penned Midnight has a feel that is totally in tune with the title and features some effective light night piano. Overall there is a set of different musical directions here that are pulled together by Herring’s striking vocals and the overall collective playing. Herring continues to glide and soar.

Ed Romanoff The Orphan King Pinerock

For this release, his second album, Ed Romanoff has upped his game by giving a vocal performance that makes the most of his baritone voice and his developing writing skills. He began writing some five years ago after a career outside of music. That gave him the freedom to develop his writing and music without the pressure of that being his only source of income and thereby having to make compromises to any possible commercial dictates.

For this album the producer is Simone Felice, which gives the album a wider and warmer sound than on his previous album. Interestingly, that album’s producer Crit Harmon is the co-writer of several songs on this album. Felice has also brought in a selection of sidemen and women who add much to the overall sound. These include Cindy Cashdollar, Larry Campbell, James and Simone Felice. Vocalists featured are Teresa Williams, Rachael Yamagata, Keith Pattengale, Cindy Mizelle and Felice - all of whom help to add a layer of effective vocals behind Romanoff’s. It was recorded in Sugar Mountain Studios in Woodstock and has an expansive folk sound that is loosely Americana in outlook.

Many of the songs have a haunting quality that paint pictures of various predicaments. None more so than The Ballad Of Willie Sutton, a brooding, almost spoken lament on a life of crime, that was continued in the attempt to give the Bonnie to his Clyde all the things she desired. It takes the Woody Guthrie ethos that the crime of robbing banks was equal to that of running one. The title song is one that he wrote with Mary Gauthier (her version featured on her album The Foundling) it is a reference to his own background and upbringing as well as believing in love as a way forward. That theme continues with  . It has a subtle atmosphere and melody that sits behind the tale of a traveling sideshow exhibit who, like everyone, is looking for a soulmate. A Golden Crown has a slight Celtic feel with a fiddle and is another story of looking and trying to find love.

Romanoff is a romantic storyteller and has delivered an album that is full of nuances and musical touches that do much to bring these songs to life. It is his recently discovered Irish roots coming to the fore which shows that even for those who come late to making music and recoding, it is never too late to bloom.

Craig Gerdes Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ Sol

This is an album that pretty much reveals itself from the cover and doesn’t disappoint. Gerdes fits the current profile of “outlaw” with beard, cowboy hat and 70’s inspired Waylon-esque sounding country songs. That is not to take away from Gerdes baritone voice or his song writing. Seven of the songs here are written by Gerdes solo or with a co-writer. There are two covers; Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets was a hit for Johnny Paycheck and You Saved Me From Me was written by his fellow contemporary outlaw Dallas Moore. A song of redemption and finding Jesus, Good Ol’ Days, reminisces about earlier times and Ol’ Hank. Redneck Sonabitches considers his time in Nashville and how it was not a perfect fit for a good ol’ boy wanting to write and play country music old school - something that he tells us that Billy Joe Shaver sympathises with him on. There is a grimmer tale of darkness and death to be found in Dead In A Box In Kentucky. The song has a brief Spanish guitar bridge that works well in the context of the tale.

Geodes co-produced the album with Brian DeBruler in Sol Records Studio in Indiana. It has a sound rooted in the past but one that sounds fresh in the light of some current production modes. They selected a group of players well able to give these songs the sound they needed. DeBruler was the drummer, Gerdes played lead and acoustic guitar and were joined by names well known to those who checked the credits of some albums of the era in Robby Turner on pedal steel and Larry Franklin on fiddle. Jim Vest, Tony Nasser and Buddy Hyatt and Mudbone also contributed.

This album places Gerdes among the expanding list of names who play country music that draws influences from Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson amongst others. Its outlaw status lies simply in going against the grain of what mainstream radio and the majority of the major labels want to release to appease their need to appeal to a crossover audience. Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’ will not fit easily into that pigeonhole and that, perhaps, is its appeal. It is rather a real and robust expression of a musical form that is still loved by many and is fighting to retain its roots. Albums like this only help that to happen.

Matt Sayles & The Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress Manifest Refugees Philville

A Californian six-piece country/roots band fronted by singer, writer, arranger and co-producer Matt Sayles. He formed this band at the tail end of 2015 while still playing with another more acoustically focussed combo the Kentucky String Band. They take their name from Sayles place of employment (a gun club) when he was a teenager. This is (I believe) their debut album and it has been released as a limited edition vinyl album - one of which they were kind enough to send over for review. It features 11 original songs brought to fruition by the six-piece band that includes the solid rhythm section of Terry Luna and Blair Harper, keyboards (and accordion) from Ben Saunders and the lead guitars of Jay Carlandar and Sayles himself, plus the effective pedal steel guitar services of Bill Flores. They state their mission as “drawing out the echoing twang, reverb, and darkness from the smouldering remnants of manifest destiny that still mournfully beat in the hearts of our unknowing constituency.” Well that makes it pretty clear I guess.

However, what makes it, probably, even more clear is what’s in the grooves, which is pretty damn fine from the opening Old Man’s First Call; a sweet steel infused song about the bar life of a man who starts the day drinking coffee and moves to the harder stuff as his first, rather than last, call. From then on Sayles’ songs run through a number of experiences that are tied in with the way everyone has to deal with the effects that time and tribulation have in tempering an individual view, for any particular lifespan. Between some the songs there are the occasional samples from radio and other such utterances (often related, not unsurprisingly given the band name origin, to duck hunting). The overall effect makes for a slice of alt. country that engages and embodies the real spirit of honky-tonk music.

But titles like Don’t Drink The Water, Whites Of Their Eyes, Defan Saleau (with its hints of a Cajun lifestyle via the accordion) and Life Gets In The Way, offer an overview on how things can so easily slip away. Taking a similar world-weary tone is Can’t Track Myself Down, while the album closes with the pretty factual statement that Truth Is Now A State Of Mind. It rides along on twanging guitars, flowing pedal steel and a highway rhythm topped by Sayles knowing vocal. As good a way to end what is a solid mission statement from this entertaining, upright and upbeat collective.

Daniel Meade When Was The last Time Button Up

The new album from multi-instrumentalist and multi-talented Daniel Meade offers a much broader musical palette than his previous recordings. Maybe all that work with Ocean Colour Scene has rubbed off on him. It is also a solo album in the truest sense where all the instruments, apart for the important contribution by Ross McFarlane on drums, are played by Meade. A process that made him rethink his previous approach to record live with his band. He recorded it in Glasgow and had it mastered in Abbey Road Studio. Sonically it is a rich and satisfactory sound that is full of touches that reward repeated playing and familiarity with the songs. He has always had an ear for melody and structure and takes it to another level here. There are hints of his rootsier side at times but this has a bigger and, dare I say it, a somewhat more popier sound.

Meade has always impressed vocally but there is an additional confidence here and his use of multi-tracked vocals are particularly effective throughout. To appreciate that, in its most stripped back form, listen to So Much For Sorrow which is delivered as unaccompanied vocals or the layered vocals in Oh My My Oh. However, the final track is equally effective in its simplicity, Don’t We All. It is vocal and acoustic guitar plea for some kind of understanding and tolerance in the face of adversity. An old-school folk protest song in many ways.

Many of these songs were conceived initially as letters to himself and they are songs that are infused with Meade’s worldview and consideration of the darker times in life. They are at times somewhat downhearted but at other times looking towards the light. Either way, the music is entirely positive and full of his sense of structure, melody and skill as a player. The titles Nothing Really Matters and The Day the Clown Stopped Smiling might suggest otherwise but one can’t help but return to these rewarding songs and the man who conceived them. When was the last time that Daniel Meade impressed? It was live on stage and with all his previous recordings. An underrated artist at the top of his game.

Los Wrangos Way Out Yonder JT Omstead

There must be something in the water over in Sweden or else a big Morricone/Tarantino following, as here’s another band who appreciate and utilise that spaghetti western/Mexican element in their energised country and dark sinister round. The band is fronted by brothers Bob and Martin Lind who lead their accomplices through a set of original songs that range from desert instrumentals to songs that feature the brother’s confident English language vocals. The opening Tres Companeros is boosted by some strident mariachi horns. The Thundering Herd which follows could easily fit on A Man With No Name type film soundtrack. Like the rest of the album it is a heat and wind scorched landscape that they explore. It may be pastiche to some and not exactly sitting on the cutting edge (al la Calexico) but the end result is both entertaining and elemental. It is not pretending to be something authentic, but rather an interpretation of an atmosphere and attitude that has been their source of inspiration.

Though there are dark moments, there is a lightness of touch and elements of tongue-in-cheek humour throughout. It is also delivered with an undeniable skill and enthusiasm. Sweetheart Magnolia again places their trumpets to the fore with Spanish guitar increasing the mood all behind a solid melody. Of the ten tracks here 6 were recorded in Sweden and the remaining 4 tracks used the skills of Tucson’s Wavelab Studios maestro Craig Schumacher (who knows a thing or two about this kind of music) to mix the songs.

Some tracks that immediately stand out in include El Dorado (a song that see our hero hoping to return home made good) and Christmas In El Paso - both have a touch of Marty Robbins’ storytelling in them. Prairie Rain opens with accordion which sets the tone for a restless tale of returning. A theme that repeats itself. The lone man on a mission. Indeed, Los Wrangos are on a mission - one to make you listen and enjoy their music, something that it is not hard to do. They may look way out yonder from Sweden for their raison d’être but their aim is true. Long may they ride.

Jonn Walker Partisan Palace Self Release

His press release describes him as a vintage style country and western musician. Though I don’t how many would identify these stripped back songs as immediately belonging to that genre. For all that the five songs here are all interesting variations of a folk-style that assumes a stance of a less politically motivated Billy Bragg style performance. 

Walker songs are built from acoustic guitar upwards and add additional instruments to vary the sound a little. They songs have some angrier moments contrasted against some feelings of rejection and loss. Honey states “she loves money more than me” and that allows for mixed feelings. A Crying Shame has a riff that is most appropriate to translation to a traditional country song. It is again a song of misfortune in love. It also boast vocals that standout against the simplicity of the song structure.

The Open Secret is about drink and opens with a short story of staying in a hotel in New York and hearing the sound of sirens running throughout the night. It has a list of the preferred alcohol beverages. The final song Reputation again has reference to such consumption. In this case "Jack and Coke".

Walker is a UK based musician who has previously worked with The SoapGirls as a drummer. Here on this debut solo EP he sets out a base line to build from and it would be good to hear him add some traditional C&W instrumentation to his recorded output to see him move closer to his chosen format that he portrays in the cover photograph.

Reviews By Stephen Rapid


Jim Lauderdale This Changes Everything Sky Crunch

Not noted for lengthy periods between releases Jim Lauderdale is nothing if not prolific. As an independent artist, he can release records when he wants to. This has on occasion led to the comment that a tighter rein on the output may make for a stronger album. However, This Changes Everything dispels that theory to a large degree. Rather it is the context that Lauderdale places his songs that make them more appealing to some sections than to others. Which is why those who favour his more overtly traditional country outings have taken to this Texas recorded album.

Produced by Tommy Detamore - a musician steeped in the traditional aspects of Texas country - it also features a selection of Austin’s finest players, from Detamore himself, alongside such respected players as Bobby Flores, Hank Singer, Floyd Domino, Tom Lewis, Kevin Smith and others. Singers like Sunny Sweeny, Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay all add background vocals. These are a set of Lauderdale penned co-writes with the likes Frank Dycus, Bruce Robison, Odie Blackmon and Hayes Carll. Add to that that Mr. Lauderdale is in top vocal form here. The end result over time will be seen as one of his very finest releases.

Some of the songs featured here have had previous incarnations. George Strait recorded We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This while All The Rage In Paris which was cut by The Derailers in their heyday. But, Lauderdale makes these songs his own here and they are enriched by the talented players and the Texas environment they have been recorded in. The pedal steel, Telecaster twang and fiddle are well to the fore as one might expect with a Detamore production. And while, in strict commercial terms this is unlikely to change everything, it underlines the strengths and integrity that Jim Lauderdale brings to his musical output.  

Levi Cuss Night Thief Self Release

This album was originally released in 2014 but is being given a European release now to coincide with a tour. Cuss is a Canadian roots artist based in Alberta who, for this album, worked with fellow Canadian artist Steve Dawson as producer. They recorded this album in Henhouse Studio in Nashville with a rhythm section and a keyboard player. Dawson handled all the stringed instruments requirements. Using his inherent playing and production skills he is able bring depth and focus the songs such Pills where the sweet pedal steel enriches a song about a drugs and his girl who “liked her oxy better than she liked me.” There’s one cover, which is a Canned Heat style boogie-fried version of JJ Cale’s Bringing It Back.

Between those points Cuss uses his solidly lived-in voice and life experienced songs that have encompassed his personal battle with drink and drugs as well as incarceration. Cuss’ lyrics reflect this former lifestyle and the type of people who tend to inhabit the locations with a certain lowlife lassitude. Tecumseh is a dark story of those moments of a sudden bold rush that may lead to regretted violence … and possible matrimony - the title being the lady of his affections. There are eleven self-penned tales of those who have taken the less fortunate path in life. Some have made it, others not.

Levi Cuss wears a baseball cap and has a beard on the album cover so fits the current “look”for some of the the non-mainstream artists at the moment. But Cuss knows about hard work as he found employment as a manual labourer to put himself in the position to make and finance this album. It followed his one previous album and as this album was originally released in 2014 leaves him about due for a new one thoiugh he touring in the UK and Europe later in the year. He normally tours locally but these European dates should expose him to a wider audience who will appreciate his varied and vibrant hard folk, blues and roots music.

Karen Jonas Country Songs At The Helm

This second album from the very talented Ms Jonas arrived at the tail end of the year and escaped the best of lists but is well worthy of a place up there with the best. It is another example of an artist sticking to their guns (at this point) and playing their individual take on country songs at a time when a number of other of her contemporary artists have moved to a much broader palette of sounds. Jonas was born in Virginia, in Fredericksburg and recorded there with her own musicians. These players include Tim Bray on electric guitar, Jay Starling on lap steel and keyboards with Eddie Dickerson on fiddle over a solid rhythm section of bassist Jordan Medas and drummers Jack O’Dell and Jason Cizdiel. There is no production credit as it was recorded live in the studio, something that gives the sound a spontaneity and an undeniable energy if, in the long term, that doesn’t allow for some development of the overall sound.

Jonas has written all the songs and they show an understanding for the traditional themes of country music while putting a personal and perceptive viewpoint on relationships - good and bad. Add to this a voice that is redolent of your favourite country singers while being both passionate and poignant. Jonas is building from the experience of her excellent debut Oklahoma Lottery and the performances that followed its release. There are 10 songs here and not a bad one among them. They are solidly ‘country’ yet have a certain popish quality at times that makes them eminently listenable.

There are a number of slower songs like Why Don’t You Stay or The Garden which contrast with the big beat stance the Bakersfield (and Dwight Yoakam) referencing title song or the brush off of Keep Your Hands To Yourself or the twanging Ophelia. A song where guitarist Tim Bray shines. Country Songs shows the continuing promise of Karen Jonas - her song writing and singing and one can only hope that it creates a platform that will allow her a producer and more time in the studio next time out. But this album lives up to the promise of her debut release and places her alongside the likes of Zoe Muth and Eilen Jewell. Good company to be in. 

Adrian & Meredith More Than A Little Vertigo

This album reminded me of some of the earlier recordings of Paul Burch in the overall sound style. It is the duo’s first album together though Meredith Krygowski played with Adrian (Krygowski) on his 2014 release Roam. It is an amalgam of various roots styles that fits under the Americana banner. The album is ably produced by Mark Robertson (the upright bassist and producer for The Legendary Shack Shakers) who gives the recording a punkish patina while holding the songs together to give a cohesive overview. There is a little of the Shack-Shakers/Dirt Daubers in the mix too.

Alongside the duo are a set of players whose names will be familiar to many such as Paul Niehaus of Lambchop and Calexico fame. Then there’s Fats Kaplan on tenor banjo and JD Wilkes on harmonica with Robertson himself joining the rhythm section. Meredith is the band’s more than able fiddle player and Adrian its guitar player. The latter is also the main songwriter penning all the songs including one with Niehaus. The sole cover is the traditional Greasy Coat and Kitchen Girl. The album was cut live to tape and that approach is inherent in the overall feel of the engaging results.

The duo handle all their vocals mainly with Adrian taking the lead vocals but on some tracks Meredith is the lead, otherwise she provides duet and harmony vocals. The song Birthday Cakes opens with a solid drum beat before Adrian’s nasal vocal takes up the story and Meredith joins him over the solid beat with pedal steel and fiddle enhancing the sound that resonates in a number of ways that suggest the duo’s influences. Beat is a bedrock for many of the songs as illustrated by the floor stomp of More Than A Little. The use of a trombone allies it to an earlier time while sounding very contemporary in its context. Suffic it say that the Krygowski’s make a noise that is nourishing and more than a little natty.

The Grahams and Friends Live In The Studio Three Sirens

The husband and wife duo revisit the songs that they recorded for their previous album and for the film soundtrack Rattle The Hocks. That release came to Europe through the Sony Music Group but this one sees them independent again. Somemay be familiar with some the songs from other releases, such as the opening song Glory Bound, the title song from their previous album. The version here features the Watkins Family (including Sara and Sean Watkins). The hymn-like Lay Me Down comes from the soundtrack and is an outstanding vocal from Alyssa Graham, as is the version of Alejandro Escovedo’s Broken Bottle. The slower songs also include The Lonely Ones which features the Milk Carton Kids on harmony vocals or Tender Annabelle a duet with guest with John Fulbright and a strong vocal chorus. These stand out well alongside the up-tempo nature of the songs like Griggstown, Kansas City with New Orleans style brass. There is also a related cover (in terms of sound) of the classic City Of New Orleans. Mama opens with the voice of Douglas Graham before Alyssa accompanied by David Garza and Suzanna Choffel join in. Another strong emotional delivery and highlight from Alyssa is on the song Blow Wind Blow.

There are a host of musicians featured on the album who help differentiate the songs from the previous versions on the last album - though some are taken from the deluxe edition of Glory Bound. They include Luther and Cody Dickinson (the former was also director of the Rattle The Hocks movie), Alvin Youngblood Hart, The Norman Sisters, Mark Rubin and others. It is a shame that the duo is not getting the backing that they received when with a major label and this single CD has been released to tie in with some dates in the UK. However, if you didn’t pick up on them with Glory Bound then this collection of 14 songs will help fill a gap until the next album sees the light of day.  

Alt-Country in the UK.

Ags Connolly Nothin’ Unexpected At The Helm

This is the third release from Connolly and follows on from How About Now? and a limited edition album, whose title pretty much explains its content, Traditional - 12 Cowboy Songs. Born in Oxfordshire in England but could easily have been Oxford, Mississippi in that there is an authenticity to the music that largely negates its origin. The album was produced by Dean Owens himself a recording artist both solo and as a member of The Felsons, an Edinburgh based alt-country band from the mid to late 90’s. He is the perfect person to helm this project with an understanding of both traditional and contemporary country music.

Connolly has a voice that is well-suited to the self-written songs that detail the upside and downside of life and its often-complicated relationships. There’s is a sense of depth that feels well-worn and wearied, but hopeful. Something that is borne out by the captivating opener I Hope You’re Unhappy. From then on, the album is a consistent run through of Connelly’s tales of regret, reason and refuge. Louden Wainwright’s I Suppose is the only cover and it is a testament to Connelly that he makes it fit right in. There is a strong melancholy to songs like Fifteen Years and When The Loner Gets Lonely. Both are stripped back arrangements featuring just guitar and fiddle or guitar and accordion (the latter played by ace Mavericks sideman Michael Guerra) -a song that could have easily fit on the Cowboy Songs album. Mention should be made here of the other players involved who include London-born fiddler Eamon McLoughlin (formally of the Greencards and now a player on the Grand Ole Opry), the man on all stringed things - Stuart Nisbet, Kev McGuire on stand-up bass, Jim McDermott’s steady drumming and Andy May on piano. All of whom, along with Connelly and Owens, serve these songs well and deliver an album that stands up with the best - no matter where it may have been recorded; it is the heart involved that matters most.

Guerra’s contribution adds a ‘border’ feeling to many of the songs that is not dissimilar to the feel that UK expat Wes McGhee brought to his Texas influenced music through the years. Ads Connelly can be justifiably proud of the way he and the other players have brought his songs to life with such authenticity and assiduousness. Would that Connelly (or My Darling Clementine and many others for that matter) were getting the kind of exposure that The Shires are currently receiving. But in the end, it’s the music that matters and here it matters.

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars And Tiny Tears From The Top

The versatile and talented Scotsman is back with a new solo album that is pretty much the definition of solo. He is releasing the album on his own label and looking after every aspect of the project from the cover design, the manufacturing and the promo. That’s as well as writing, producing and playing everything on the album. Its genesis came from an idea to write each song in an hour and then record the song with four hours. A self set limitation to see what he could come up with. He also didn’t read the lyrics but improvised them as he recorded them. Some in first takes, others took a little longer, but each take was individual in terms of arrangement and lyrics. The theme was to take conversations with his girlfriend as his inspiration. Initially it was something he was just going to for her but he was happy with the outcome and decided to make it available on a wider scale. 

The album proves again that Meade is a distinctive singer and a songwriter who can write songs that have strong hooks as well as an all-round musical vision - as is witnessed on the album. Several of the songs are instantly likeable (to this writer) like Sometimes Falling, Sometimes Flying, Your Voice At Night, Throwing Pebbles (Round My Head) and Today Doesn’t Matter. There are heartfelt ballads and other more up-tempo songs that are played in a style not unfamiliar to Meade’s fans or of his previous recorded output. His early country, acoustic country blues, folk and old-time influences are all present. Given that it was recorded in his kitchen, there is a lo-fi quality which, however, suits the overall nature of the project.

Meade hopes to be back with a full Flying Mules album later in the year but this is a pretty good listen in the meantime. Daniel Meade deserves all the attention he can get for his commitment to his music and again confirms his position as one of the shining lights of UK roots music.

The Most Ugly Child Copper And Lace Self Release

This Nottingham based 6-piece band are fronted by the male/female vocal interplay of Daniel Wright and Stevie-Leigh Goodison. These are songs in the template set by many of the classic country male and female duet partnerships; offering mighty support are the remaining band members, including rhythm section Matt Cutler and Max Johnson, alongside Nicole J Terry on fiddle and Big Jim Widdop on pedal steel and dobro. They also bring in the Blidworth Brass Band as well as Daniel Meade, Lloyd Reid and Henry Slim from the Flying Mules. The end result is a solid take on country music as it was (and should be).

The writing is also strong with songs from Meade (What Might Have Been), Townes van Zandt (Lungs) sitting alongside the original  songs, mainly from Wright, with a couple by Goodison. The songs in the main are looking at the love and loss that relationships are fraught with. Songs Like Another Lesson In Pain, Today, You Said Goodbye and Long Gone Woman Blues all consider aspects of failure and a need to forget its effects. While other titles like Queen Of The Honky Tonk offer more of a ray of hope for the lonely, while the acoustic album-closer My Pony is perhaps metaphor for life. All this means a good variety in terms pace and style that makes for a very satisfying album.

This is undeniably country music with a contemporary edge and attitude. Rather being retro in outlook it takes in obvious favourites as well as more diverse influences to produce an album that is as well-packaged as it is played. They may be the ugliest child in the town but they come from pretty good stock.

The Lucky Strikes The Motion And The Moving On Harbour Song

This Essex-based band deliver a new album that rocks as much as it rolls with its roots and blues energies. The five-piece band employ fiddle, banjo and pedal steel as much as they do sax, keyboards and loud guitars. The steel laced Lilac And Soil is a downbeat ballad while  Michael is a a song about a friend going through band times. While Carry Me Lord is another tale of searching and seeking with a spiritual context and that allows the dobro and voices to deliver its message. Gone, Gone is a gentle reflection of another man who slowly drifted away that has a folk feel that is reflective way to close the album. There is a sense of looking for meaning - for motion and moving on in fact. The authorship of the songs is not listed on the sleeve but I assume that they are all original songs by the band’s singers Boulter and David Giles. Songs that need time to reveal themselves to the listener.

The band’s main singer and writer Matthew Boulter also release albums under the MC Boulter name but here he meshes with his bandmates to produce a sound that has been likened to the Waterboys, Tom Waits and Crazy Horse. A pretty disparate bunch to be sure, which just goes to show how The Lucky Strikes are going to mean different things to different listeners and how their sound touches a number of bases while remaining a consistent entity. The Lucky Strikes are following where the individual songs take them. This may mean that some listeners will lose interest in the way the band have chosen to deliver their songs. Others will be happy to go on the journey with the band and find for themselves what it has to offer. Something which is individual, interesting and a little intense.

Daniel Meade 'Keep Right Away' - From the Top

The latest album from the Glasgow country singer finds him stepping things up a notch, recording this new album in Nashville with Old Crow Medicine Show’s Morgan Jahnig in the producer’s/engineer’s chair. Jahnig had been impressed with the singer’s debut, As Good as Bad Can Be, and invited him to record in Music City. 

That decision has allowed them to call on the talents of players like Chris Scruggs, Joshua Hedley, Aaron Oliva and OCMS’ Cory Younts, Critter Fuqua, Chance McCoy and Jahnig himself. Guest vocalists included Diana Jones and Shelly Colvin. Meade’s longtime guitarist Lloyd Reid also joined the trip and anyone who has seen Reid play live will know why. That the album sounds not unlike some of OCMS’ more recent outings is not surprising, though Meade has his own path to tread and incorporates some old school country and blues into the sound too. In fact he takes his cue from the era when  blues and country were just two sides of the same coin.

The first song and current single is Long Gone Wrong which sets the tone for what follows. It is a fairly uptempo and uplifting set of songs that draw on the perennial heartbreaks and edge-of-disaster relationships that were once the staple of both country and blues. The titles, all written by Meade bar two that were co-writes, tell the story as much as anything. With songs like Sometimes a Fool’s the Last to Know, Always Close to Tears, Not My Heart Again and the title songs, things are not coming from a happy camper. However the spirit of the music belies that as there is an energy and engagement that means the music is never maudlin, rather it’s positive.

Daniel Meade is front and centre as a singer and no slouch in the writing stakes. He has enough vocal depth that he can adapt his voice to suit the songs’ different needs and does so with a sense of real life and truth. True, nothing steps outside a specific framework, but within its chosen parameters it gives as good as it gets and is yet another example of originality shining through from home-grown acts willing to explore their own muse rather than simply playing an audience a pleasing set of covers. In the end this is a far more satisfactory outlook that doubtless makes it a harder task for the artist, but it is a far more creatively rewarding, if not always financial rewarding, one.

So go against his advice and rather than keeping right away, my advice is to get closely acquainted with Daniel Meade.