Reviews by Declan Culliton

Tom Baxendale In The City a Short Time Ago Backwater

Tom Baxendale is a Sheffield based singer songwriter, former front man of UK Americana band Rainy Day Club and lead guitarist with The Payroll Union. In The City a Short Time Ago is his debut solo album and it is a solo effort in every sense of the word with all the material written, performed and produced by him and recorded in his home studio.

Before even playing the album you get a sense of what’s to come with the dark, blurry album artwork and song titles such as All My Nightmares, Leave Me Be, Better Than You and Red Rag. Whether a reflection of Bexendale’s state of mind at the time or the artist creating and capturing a particular atmosphere, it’s fair to say that the album succeeds. Probably best described as psychedelic folk, comparisons to both Kurt Vile and Vic Chestnut come to mind, though Baxendale vocals are strained at times.

Opening with the lively All My Nightmares and closing with the wistful and introspective Every Dream the mood on the album swings from the somewhat countrified Honey and the reflective and positive An Old Hand to the driving Stranglers-like vibe of Straight Face.

In The City a Short Time Ago is a body of work that does take a few listens to penetrate but is well worth the time invested. Wonderfully atmospheric, achingly painful at times and the work of a very talented young song writer.

Riddle & The Stars New Coastline Self Release

Riddle & The Stars are a three piece band made up of Australian Ben Riddle and Californians Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes. Whereas their debut album This Is Happening was recorded in California during a three week visit by Riddle, New Coastline, the bands second album, was created by way of Skype communications between Australia and America and songs being exchanged and developed over the internet.

Nine of the ten tracks included on the album were collectively written by them with John Prine’s Mexican Home also featuring. Their sound is quite laid back Americana probably best described as landing somewhere between The Jayhawks and Crowded House. Particularly impressive are the vocal harmonies throughout with all three contributing. 

Standout tracks are the catchy opener Running Back To You, the country tinged When We Ride with Tracy Byrnes taking the lead vocal and the closing track When The Weight is Gone.

Eliza Mary Doyle It Ain’t What It Seems Self Release

Eliza Mary Doyle is a distinguished banjo player and vocalist from Saskatchewan whose fifteen-year career to date has seen her work with a variety of acts as a professional session player together with sharing the stage as a member of bands such as Swift Current and The Cracker Cats.

It Ain’t What It Seems features eleven tracks in total, ten penned by Doyle together with Anne Louise Genest’s Wish I Felt This Good Without The Whisky.

Doyle has recounted  how an extended stay in Nashville, following her car giving up on her, led to playing local bars and encountering various musicians in the Music City and was a motivator in the release of the album. 

Abandoning much of the good time feel of her previous work It Ain’t What It Seems has a more reflective and personal theme to it with the writer visiting dark places suggesting regret and world weariness in equal quantities, topics often to be found in traditional bluegrass. 

The album certainly succeeds in achieving an old time ageless feel with Doyle’s fragile vocal and banjo picking the winners. Opener Nothing to Lose kicks the album off in fine style, Doyle’s picking complimented by searing pedal steel. Say Darlin’ Say is achingly stripped back to the bare bone featuring only vocal, banjo and harmony. Wish I Felt This Good Without The Whisky is the most upbeat offering fleshed out by some slick fiddle playing alongside Doyle’s standout banjo playing.

Accompanying Doyle’s banjo, acoustic guitar and dobro on the album are Paula Mc Guigan on upright bass, Lucas Geotz on pedal steel and drums, Liza Holder on acoustic guitar and Dustin Olmsted on electric and acoustic guitar.

Deni Bonet Bright Shiny Object Zip 

NYC resident Deni Bonet is a classically trained violinist with a CV that any artist would be proud of having performed over the years with household names such as R.E.M., Warren Zevon, Cyndi Lauper and Sarah Mc Lachlan. She has also toured in her own right  in support of Patti Smith, The Tubes, Marshall Crenshaw and Robyn Hitchcock.

A singer songwriter as well as a violin virtuoso, she originally performed as a member of the NPR radio show Mountain Stage before moving on to pursue her solo career.

Bright Shiny Objects is a brave departure from her previous albums with Bonet favouring an all instrumental recording unlike her earlier career work. Being a sucker for electric violin I was immediately struck by both the sheer power, atmosphere and indeed stunning instrumentation created over the thirteen tracks on the album.  A few tracks into the album and I was reminded of artists such as Eddie Jobson in full flow in his Roxy Music days, Steve Wickham with his Waterboys hat on and more recently Lillie Mae’s appearances with Jack White.

Difficult to categorise without doubt but none the less effective for all that, the listener is treated to the uplifting and stormy Red Dog, the delightfully dreamy Magic Wand, which lives up to its title and the jazzy Nuages which conjures up scenes of sunny Parisian afternoons, martinis and untipped Gitanes. The aptly named BBC2 could have been plucked from The Old Grey Whistle Test archives on the same TV channel in the mid 70’s. 

Its thirteen tracks (eleven co-writes together with the cover songs Edgar Winters' Frankenstein and Nuages written by Django Reinhardt) effortlessly swing from rock to  folk, power pop and jazz capturing the imagination and drawing you in from the opening track Light This Candle to the extent that the absence of vocals goes unnoticed and in many ways is welcomed.

Produced by Paul Bevan (John Wesley Harding, The Soft Boys, Morheeba, Hardcore Nation) Bright Shiny Objects is refreshing, melodic, timeless and highly recommended indeed.

Courtney Chambers Tales of The Aftermath Royal Daughter 

With understandable comparisons to Stevie Nicks Tales of The Aftermath is the Californian’s latest release eight years after her last album Bigger and Brighter. She founded her own independent record label, Royal Daughter, in 2001 and Tales Of The Aftermath is her fourth album appearing on the label. Together with her work as a singer, songwriter and guitarist she is also a member of the Heart tribute band Dog 'N' Butterfly and is guitarist and backing vocalist in country band Jasmine Fields.

Despite the comparison with Stevie Nicks, possibly suggesting an AOR recording, Chambers is not afraid to leave her comfort zone with  both the opening track Fool In Me and Young Lovers being delivered vocally with classic  phrasing and discipline more akin to Amy Winehouse. Love And Music is instantly catchy with a thumping bass line, very radio friendly and the beautiful ballad Heart of This Man recalls Tori Amos at her most melodic. The Bitter End rocks out with a divine driving drum and rhythm guitar beat up front and the album closes with the stripped back ballad Winter.

Produced (wonderfully it has to be said) and mixed by Sean Hoffman (American Music Club, Bedroom Walls), vocals and lead guitar are handled by Chambers with guitars, keys, bass and percussion performed by Hoffman. The line-up is completed by drummers Joey Galvan and George Sluppick

Caroline Reese & The Drifting Fifth Tenderfoot Self Release

Tenderfoot is the debut album by Caroline Reese and The Drifting Fifth and follows two solo releases Indian River (2010) and Slow Code (2013) by the young Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter and musician. Recorded at The Headroom Philadelphia, the album is produced by Reese and her guitarist Mark Watter and was mixed by Matt Poirier at Miner Street Recordings in Philadelphia, the studio chosen in recent years for recordings by accomplished alternative artists including Sharon Van Etten, Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, Strand of Oaks, Marissa Nadler and Joan Osborne. 

Formed in 2013, Reese and Drifting Fifth have supported Grammy Winner Chris Stapleton and Brandy Carlile on tour and Reese in her solo career has opened for John Hiatt, Cord Lund, The Secret Sisters and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Tenderfoot features Reese on vocals, rhythm guitar, banjo and keyboards. Mark Watter plays guitars, Karl Germanovick plays bass and John Macko adds drums.

Comparisons could be made with Lydia Loveless’s latest offering Real, closer to alt-rock than alt-country, a direction which quite a number of artists including Lera Lynn, Elizabeth Cook and Hurrah For The Riff Raff appear to be heading.

It kicks off and is bookended by two laid back acoustic songs, the opener Unlocked featuring vocal, acoustic guitar and harmonica and the final track I Can’t Love You. However, much of the album is more up-tempo including Airshow of which Reese says "the lyrics were inspired by a World War 11 re-enactment that takes place in my hometown each year and a Rainer Maria Rilke quote that I heard songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard quote to his audience." New Tricks and the first single to be released from the album Snake Eyes maintain a similar driving pace. Angel Fire is stripped back with Reese on banjo and acoustic guitar combined with an aching vocal delivery. Beast, co-written with Watter, is possibly the stand out track, beginning with a great twangy melody but changing direction mid-stream to a more grungy finale compliments of some super fuzzy guitar work.

The eleven tracks most certainly showcase Reese’s crafty song writing ability, mixing honesty, helplessness and an attempt to understand and accept the unpredictability of relationships. It’s a fine offering that hopefully won’t be ignored, well worth checking out

Glenn Alexander Glenn Alexander & Shadowland Rainbow’s Revenge

Composer, guitarist, saxophonist and singer Glenn Alexander has been recording since the mid 80’s and has enjoyed a career that found the Kansas resident  performing or recording with Bruce Springsteen, Levon Helm, Elvis Costello, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes and Tom Scott to name a few. 

Born in small town Maize Kansas to humble beginnings, Alexander was the first member of his family to graduate or indeed attend college. He earned the first ever guitar scholarship offered by Wichita State College and within three years had received a BA and as a result of his mentor taking a sabbatical, was promoted to the role of full time professor, managing the guitar department and tutoring thirty guitar majors. A relocation to New York with aspirations of making the big time followed, as did the subsequent  abject poverty as the stardom did not quite materialise. A teaching career in New York proceeded together with touring as a band member with various artists, solo performances and recording whether as a session player, collaborating or indeed his own projects. The one consistent feature is the exceptional guitar playing whether it be jazz, blues or soul orientated.

Shadowland is a project that features Alexander on guitar and vocals with a stunning backing band of Oria (backing vocals), Greg Novick (bass), Tom Seguso (drums) and a horn section of Chris Anderson, John Isley and Neal Pawley. Shadowland is in fact the name of a roadhouse in Wichita Kansas that claims to have staged the first electric guitar appearance in 1932.

The result is a blues drenched soul album, driven by Alexanders stunning guitar work and raspy vocals with blazing horns, thumping bass and drums a plenty.

Come Back Baby and Blues For You and Me could be lifted from the Van Morrison songbook and though Alexander rocks out The Odds Are Good the benchmark is most definitely Van the Man and Southside Johnny and The Asbury Dukes (Southside Johnny in fact contributes blue harp on Get A Life). 

All in all a rousing and upbeat blues drenched package, I expect they would de spectacular in a live setting!

Doghouse Roses Lost Is Not Losing Yellowroom 

Doghouse Roses are Glasgow duo Paul Tasker and Iona Mac Donald. Lost Is Not Losing is their third release and recalls the UK folk sound of the 60’s with Mac Donald’s haunting vocal and Tasker’s accomplished guitar playing drawing obvious comparisons to the work of artists such as Sandy Denny and Bert Jansch. 

The eleven tracks on the album include four written by Mac Donald, six by Tasker and one co-write by Tasker and Sara Reith. Recorded at La Chunky Towers Glasgow, the album does indeed bring to mind the work of Denny and Jansch but could also be compared, particularly in the song writing, with the work of our own Mary Coughlan. 

The opening track Pour sets the tone for what is to follow in the main with Mac Donald’s honeyed vocal telling the tale of love gone wrong and over indulgence on the bottle. Feed The Monster follows a similar path and is one of a number of politically motivated songs on the album. Similarly Weather The Storm, though more up-tempo in delivery, follows a similar ethical theme with a plea and for an inclusive and caring society. Fairground tells the story of an ageing prostitute and the album closes on a high note with Days of Grass And Sun, possibly the strongest track on the album, bright, breezy and summery. The album was mixed and mastered by Slovenian Dejan Lapanja who also contributes lead guitar on Diesel Engine.

With the combination of Mac Donald’s gifted vocals, flawless guitar work by Tasker and a collection of well-structured songs Lost Is Not Losing is well worth checking out.