Reviews by Declan Culliton

Western Centuries Songs From The Deluge Free Dirt

If it ain’t broken don’t fix it. Western Centuries template for their debut release Weight Of The World (2016) was simple -  strong songs, killer vocals, sweet harmonies and stellar playing. Anyone fortunate to catch their live shows while touring that album last year would testify to their ability to tick all these boxes and more. Together with featuring much of the material from that album they also included what seemed to be an endless supply of new material, weaving effortlessly between classic, cajun and honky tonk country. Much of that material has ended up on Songs From The Deluge, songs that were written, tested and honed on their gruelling touring schedule in 2017. 

Loosely described as a supergroup, Western Centuries are made up of three accomplished writers and musicians in Ethan Lawton, Cahalen Morrison and Jim Miller. Leo Grasalon on pedal steel and upright bass player Nokosee Fields complete the line-up. In true democratic fashion each of the writers contribute four songs each on the album, taking lead vocals on their own compositions. Three songwriters on an album can be one (or two) too many but Western Centuries – as was the case with their debut album – manage to impressively achieve a consistent flow from start to finish by all sticking to their core value of producing pure country music and avoiding any crossover into pop or modern country.

 Jim Miller, who could be described as the father figure in the band, cut his early career teeth with Donna The Buffalo, who were Jim Lauderdale’s backing band for a spell. Ethan Lawton was formerly a member of Zoe Muth’s band The Lost High Rollers and Cahalen Morrison was previously a member of the duo Eli West. Between them they conjure up George Jones style ballads (Rocks And Flame, Wild Birds), Maverick’s quality Tex-Mex (Far From Home, Warm Guns), no nonsense honky tonk (My Own Private Honky Tonk, soulful blues (Three Swallows) and even find room to let there hair down with the full on rocker Time Does The Rest

Self-produced by the band in Eunice Louisiana with the assistance of Cajun musician and producer Joel Savoy, Songs From The Deluge is a joy to behold, probably best described simply as a fun album from start to finish.

Eva Hillered New Me Hill Songs

Swedish singer songwriter, music therapist, vocal teacher and authoress Eva Hillered has been recording since 1988, when she was nominated for a Grammy as Newcomer of The Year. Since then she has recorded nine albums, the latest titled New Me. The album is made up of both self and co-writes over the ten tracks, with Hillered performing vocals and guitar and multi-instrumentalist Peter Sund contributing guitar, mandolin, drums, rhodes and percussion. Sund also co-produced the album with Hillered.

Highly regarded in her native Sweden, Hillered’s musical style ticks both the folk and country boxes with an easy listening charm, characterised best here on the title track and Rosanne Cash sounding Swede Hollow. The Curtain and Sing Him Back – the latter a co-write with Nels Andrews - are uncluttered and dreamlike with Hillered’s impressive vocals perfectly paced.  Equally arresting is The Hunt, a haunting tune brought to life by well-placed backing vocals and slick guitar playing by Sund.

Nowhere Brothers Down Life Boulevard Self Release 

Lo-fi Americana Italian style from Nowhere Brothers duo Nick Ventolini (vocals, harmonica and penny whistle) and Roberto Fiorelli (vocals, guitars, piano and stomp box). Self-produced and recorded over two days at the Pyramix Studio in Phoenix Arizona, Down Life Boulevard is atmospheric, delicate, spacious and captures the recent nomadic lifestyles of the duo, with much of the album featuring only acoustic guitar and harmonica. On first listen the music creates an impression of demos rather than completed songs, to be fleshed out at another time by the addition of electric guitar, bass and drums. However, on further plays it reveals itself to be an impressive finished article with the sparseness and stripped back instrumentation contributing to the mood of the album.

Standout of the ten tracks are the grief-stricken sense of loss on Soul Mirror and Dust Walker which conjures up images of isolation and dark starry desert skies.

Beautifully packaged with lyrics in both English and Italian, Down Life Boulevard is an impressive late night listen for fans of Bill Callahan and Peter Oren. 

Dugger Band East Tennessee Son Self Release

Brothers Jordan and Seth Dugger began their musical careers singing at their parent’s church in Greenville Tennessee. East Tennessee Son is their debut mini album, offering six tracks that flirt with Southern rock, country and mainstream pop. They possess, without doubt, the capability to create music that is tailor made for what features currently on Country Radio with tracks like For The Girl and One Track Mind particularly market friendly.

Unapologetically Christian, they have created a programme titled A Dream Worth Chasing, a series of schoolhouse concerts to introduce and motivate young children through music. They have performed at numerous High Schools over the past twelve months as part of this venture. 

Opener Warning Label, the strongest track on the album, recalls a rocked up Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth. However, it’s unreflective of what follows which tends to stick to less adventurous material. What can’t be denied is the standard of musicianship across all the tracks and the brother’s vocal expertise. An album that could undoubtedly make an impact in the mainstream crossover country market given the exposure.

Orphan Colours All On Red At The Helm

Ex- members of London band Ahab, Steve Llewellyn, Dave Burn and Graham Knight teamed up with former Noah and The Whale guitarist Fred Abbott and Danny and The Champions Of The World drummer Steve Brooks to form Orphan Colours in 2015. All On Red is their debut album following the release of their EP High Hopes in 2016. The album title suggests a make or break gamble and may possibly be reflective of the ambition of the band to achieve the industry breakthrough that failed both Ahab and Noah & The Whale, somewhat surprisingly given both bands had huge potential.

Start of Something opens the album in style, a big sound a la Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes with slick riffs, big power chords and ripping sax solos. Goodnight California follows a similar path, bursting out of the speakers with an insanely catchy chorus that impacts on first spin. Equally addictive is Renegade kicking off with thumping drums joined by more power riffs.  Not that it’s all blood and thunder, closing track Rambling Rose together with Sarah and Loving Lately both display Llewellyn’s – who wrote all the material on the album - capacity to also pen dreamy radio friendly ballads.

In a market that often demands classification it’s not easy to place Orphan Colours in a particular genre. A few decades ago their sound would simply be described as rock. What is beyond doubt is that with their arena suited anthems they possess the ammunition and the oomph in their arsenal to turn a lot of heads if the roulette wheel is kind to them. 

Tupelo The Heart’s Bloodline Crashed

Alt-folk combo Tupelo’s music has straddled traditional, folk and country since their formation in 2008. Not surprising given their individual musical backgrounds and pedigrees. Voted best folk group in 2013 by Hot Press Magazine The Heart’s Bloodline is their latest offering which finds them continuing to stray further from their trad origins into left wing alt-folk, a genre which continues to grow in popularity.

Hugely celebrated overseas, the band have toured Holland, Belgium, France, Russia, Norway together with performances at Irish Music Festivals in the States. For their third album duo James Cramer (vocals, guitars, mandolin, percussion, banjo) and Kevin Duffy (fiddle, vocals) are joined by Brian Connor on keys, Jerry Fehily on drums, Robbie Malone on bass and Bill Shanley on guitars. Offering ten tracks, all written by Cramer, the album was recorded at Cauldren Studios in Dublin and mastered by David Montuy (The High Kings, Celtic Woman) at Blackbird Studious in Nashville.

Standout tracks include opener Break Loose, released as a single late last year, Nursery Rhyme , with echoes of The Waterboys, Queen of the Vale, which is enriched by delightful harmonies and backing vocals courtesy of Julia Hale and the Van the Man sounding Just Leave It.

Tupelo have earned a reputation as one of the finest live Irish bands peddling the alt-folk brand and a few listens in to The Heart’s Bloodline suggests that they are equally adept in a recording studio.