Reviews by Paul McGee

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards California Calling Compass Records

Connection is the abiding feeling that runs through the music of this prolific artist. Her creative drive and willingness to collaborate has stood her in good stead across a career that has seen seven previous releases, each one special in its own right. Laura plays a number of instruments on this latest project, including fiddle, synth bass and glass harmonica. She also sings in a seductively sweet voice and adds stomps and claps to proceedings. Valerie Thompson plays cello, marimba, Rhodes, glass harmonica and also adds vocals and claps. Jenna Moynihan contributes on fiddle, voice, banjo, stomps, claps, glass harmonica and toy piano, while Natalie Bohrn plays bass, glass harmonica and sings.

Sam Kassirer, a very creative influence, produces and also contributes on acoustic and electric pianos, organs, synthesizers, percussion, marimba. It’s all a heady mix of eclectic and ethereal sounds that are very rooted in a Country/Folk tradition and seem timeless in every aspect of their creation.  The eleven tracks have much to recommend them and the traditional arrangement of Swing & Turn (Jubilee) is particularly appealing, as is the sweet melody of Three Little Words. Skipping Stone and Pace Myself, while very different in arrangement, also impress but it is the album in its entirety that stands as a true work of great inspiration.

Red Moon Joe Time & Life DBS 

This title is an appropriate summary of this band’s history which saw a first release in 1990, before fate and circumstance stepped in and 20 years later, the original band gets back together again to record their second album, Midnight Trains in 2010.

Americana, bluegrass and country come together on this third release, with Paul Casey (drums, percussion, vocals), Steve Conway (pedal steel, lap steel, guitar, mandolin, dobro, vocals); Dave Fitzpatrick (guitar, mandolin, gob iron, banjo, vocals); David A. Smith (bass, guitar, vocals); Mark Wilkinson (vocals, guitar) making this a very pleasant listening experience.

The band hail from England and the authentic feel of their sound is peppered with great playing that runs through songs like The High Lonesome; Elvis, Townes & Hank; and One Day Behind.

Please Take My Broken Heart is a classic country sound and Hard Road displays some great guitar playing over a driving rhythm that finds the band almost straying into Lynyrd Skynyrd territory.

Shadows calms everything down with a quiet strum and a reflective look at the modern world. One Day Behind is a classic bluegrass workout that energises and inspires and the last track, Nobody’s Fool leaves you with a smile and the urge to keep listening. 

Jim Byrnes Long Hot Summer Days Self Release

With ten previous releases over a career that has seen this artist take turns as a musician, movie actor, TV and voice actor and very fine blues player of some 40 years; Jim Byrnes continues to defy the hands of time and produce work of sterling quality. He works on a regular basis with Steve Dawson, one of Canada’s most influential musicians/producers and the 12 tracks included here are a mixture of old standards and other choices that may surprise. All are carried off with great aplomb and sass as the musicians produce quality playing throughout. The horn section and the keyboards give a swell to the arrangements that are perfectly suited to the guitar breaks of both Jim and Steve Dawson. Covers of Leonard Cohen (Everybody Knows), Robbie Robertson (The Shape I’m In), Willie Dixon (Weak Brain, Narrow Mind) and Eddy Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Steve Cropper (Ninety Nine and a Half Won’t Do) are all delivered with great panache. A great record for the car on a long journey with the windows down and the volume turned right up.

Beki Hemingway Whins & Weather Self Release

What a pleasure to find this artist again after many years out of sight. Beki had a burgeoning career in the late 90’s with the release of a number of excellent albums and growing media interest. However, Life is what happens when making other plans and she found herself pulled in different directions; returning to the industry in the last few years, having spent time working in events media and dealing with some health issues. This 10-track release shows that Beki has lost none of her strong writing skills and her voice sounds really powerful and seasoned by the added years of living that have coloured her perspective on life.

This is a very impressive statement, from the country roll of opening track Two More Hills, which deals with the need to keep enduring no matter what happens; to the blues groove of My World Is Out There, which speaks of grabbing life and living the days that present themselves. The production by Conor Brady at Camden Studios is really bright and the arrangements are clear as a bell to allow the full range of Beki’s singing to come to the fore. Together with husband Randy Kerkman, who plays, writes and also co-produces, this lady knows how to put real conviction and feeling into a song.

Is This All delivers a superb vocal full of wistful yearning along with an understated acoustic guitar & keyboard support. Anyone But You is a more up-tempo number and shows the versatility of this superb artist. Lyrically, she shows that the extended family connection to Ernest Hemingway is not wasted and break-up songs like Not Excused have wry observations such as "you look much better in my rear-view mirror." Because offers the observation that "our scars are just reminders of the places we’ve been healed" in another stand-out song with just gentle voice and acoustic guitar accompaniment. Thank You For The Rain is a song of celebration for the good things we get in our lives and the perspective gained; "the grey skies bring back the green grass" and ‘thank you for the mystery of the darkness and the mercy of the light’.

The coterie of studio musicians are very supportive with subtle playing and the excellent Kenny Hutson delivers on a number of instruments, along with Cian Boylan on keys and Smiley on drums. Duke Special guests on You Sing This Song and Tourist, a song that captures the conflicting emotions of a recent visit to Auschwitz.

Comparisons to Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams are merely signposts along the main road that brings you to the singular talent of this superb singer-songwriter. Beki Hemingway is back and on a mission to capture the hearts and minds of everyone fortunate enough to find this very fine music. Check out her catalogue at or CD Baby.

Susan Cattaneo The Hammer & the Heart Jerseygirl 

Two CD’s, each with nine songs; one called The Hammer and the other called The Heart. Forty musicians were involved in the making of the album and some of the guests include The Bottle Rockets, Mark Erelli, Bill Kirchen, Jennifer Kimball and Todd Thibaud.

Anyone who does not know of Susan Cattaneo is missing out on one of Boston’s most respected songwriters. She blends rock, folk and blues with a healthy dose of country. If you are looking for a signpost then it would read Mary Chapin Carpenter meets Shawn Colvin but then you would miss the turn that leads to the unique talents of Susan in her own right. Four covers are included in the tracks and the others are all written by the lady herself or co-written, in the case of five songs. The atmospheric Dry, sung with Dennis Brennan, is a real stand-out moment on a hugely enjoyable listen. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger is another special moment with guitar shredding courtesy of Mark Erelli. Country Blues at its finest on disc one.

Work Hard, Love Harder spans both CD’s as the opening track, on the second it is played with the Boxcar Lilies and the sweet folk/bluegrass arrangement kicks off a set of songs that are more gentle and acoustic after the electric blues of cd one. Country colourings run throughout these nine songs and the playing is more restrained and laid back. Bitter Moon and Smoke are a duo of songs that deal with the frustration of relationships. A very cool version of the Mose Allison song Everybody Cryin’ Mercy is followed by David Bowie’s Space Oddity which is a strange way to end the project but should not take away from what is a terrific release filled with real treasures.

Fallon Cush Morning Lightly Toasted

This is the fourth record from a Sydney band who describe themselves as a collision of rock, alt. country, psychedelic rock and pop. Fallon Cush is the vehicle for songwriter Steve Smith, who plays guitar and is joined by Glen Hannah (guitar), Casey Atkins (guitar), Tim Byron (keyboards), Scott Aplin (keyboards), Peter Marley (bass), Chris Vallejo (bass), Michael Carpenter (bass), Josh Schuberth (drums/ percussion), Suzy Goodwin(vocals) and Stephanie Grace (backing vocals). So, very much a collective that has come together to provide the big, melodic sound on display across the nine songs. There are hints of Crowded House and the playing is excellent with great production and a vibrant sound from the arrangements. Long Shot, Best Laid Plans and No Answers are immediately appealing but the entire project is worthy of your attention if you enjoy the direction that commercial Americana has been going in; radio-friendly tunes that will be very well received. 

Reviews by Paul McGee

Tony McLoughlin & Marlon Klein Where Is Jack? - Fuego 2634

This duo come together for a release that leans heavily on a roots rock formula to deliver 11 songs of atmospheric moods. Nine of the tracks are co-writes by Klein and McLoughlin and with production by Klein, in addition to playing drums, percussion and keyboards, his influence is very present on this project. On previous releases McLoughlin has used fellow Irish musician Ben Reel on co-production and the change of direction supplied by Marlon Klein brings a new edge to the song arrangements.

There is a moody atmosphere to the tracks Another Poor Rider and Eagle Eye which open the record and bring a rhythm that is both restrained and powerful. Only You comes out of the traps with a real driving beat and Heart of Darkness changes the mood completely with a samba-base to the beat that underpins some atmospheric guitar work.

The closing track Red Light Love has a Spanish cantina influence that is gently delivered against the more robust tracks that precede it. There is an ill-conceived song Bomb-maker which is very poorly timed, given the world pulse of terrorism at present, but that glaring slip apart, this is a solid release with fine performances and an interesting production.

Buford Pope The Poem & the Rose - Unchained

A Swedish artist with 4 previous releases, Buford Pope has delivered this 12 song project with some real style and confidence. His last release, Sticks in the Throat, was a rock oriented collection of songs that contained plenty of guitar heroics and hard edged driving rhythm.

So, it is a surprise to encounter this change of direction that reflects a laid back, Band/early Eagles influenced style of country music. It is a very wise decision, based on the quality of playing and writing on this release, with the combined talents of producer Amir Aly, who also plays an impressive range of instruments, joined by Mats Bengtsson on piano & accordion, Peter Andersson on pedal steel, Filip Runesson on fiddle and Mattias Pederson on drums.

Anna Liljeborg adds great colour on harmony vocals, never more striking than on the excellent My Heart Don’t Lie, that channels Levon Helm and the Band in an eerie-but-good fashion. The production is crisp and clear with the quality of the playing given plenty of room to breathe. The fiddle and pedal steel support the song arrangements beautifully, especially on All I Took Was You.

The music and lyrics are credited entirely to Buford Pope and his vocals, guitar, banjo, dobro and harmonica skills are impressive throughout. This is a fully realised project with not a weak track present. The playing skills of co-producer Amir Aly on acoustic & electric guitars, mandolin, bass, percussion & vocals adds much to the overall feel of the arrangements.

Songs such as At the End of the Week, I Light Up a Candle and If Ties Don’t Bind are particularly striking but it seems churlish to select particular tracks ahead of others. All I can say is go out and buy this collection. My favourite release of 2016 – so far…

California Feetwarmers Silver Seas - Shepheard’s

The California Feetwarmers are Based in Los Angeles, and play a heady mix of Ragtime, early swing and Dixieland Blues. Put yourself in prohibition times with a sharp suit, a fedora and a speakeasy playing the vibrant music of the times and you are right in the essence of this record.

With old classics revisited and material from The Blue Ridge Playboys, Scott Joplin, The Memphis Jugband and Emile Grimshaw’s Rag Pickers, the quality just flows effortlessly. This release was recorded live in Los Angeles at the Kingsize Soundlab and the 13 tracks really bounce out of the speakers with a groove and attitude that is irrestible.

Keb’ Mo’ used these musicians as the backing band for his latest album, Blues Americana. The collaboration won them a Grammy-nomination in the Best American Roots Performance category.

Six of the tracks here are originals with The Breeze That Brought Me Home, Wooden Nickel and Betty Brown standing alongside old standards like Scott Joplin’s Weeping Willow and At the Jazz Band Ball by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1917. Old time vaudeville and a heady mix of good time tunes.

Meschiya Lake & the Little Big Horns Bad Kids Club Continental Coast

Joining the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow and End of the World Circus – a ragtag traveling troupe that blended traditional circus arts with modern sideshow entertainment –gave Meschiya Lake all the tools that she needed for a life in front of the spotlight.

In 2007 she began singing with the Loose Marbles, a traditional jazz outfit on Royal Street, New Orleans before going on to create The Little Big Horns Jazz Band. Lake was recognized as Female Performer of the Year three years running at the Big Easy Awards and the Little Big Horns’ debut CD, Lucky Devil, appeared in 2010, followed by Fooler’s Gold in 2013, before the release of this offering.

If your tastes lie in the area of slightly twisted trad jazz, Prohibition era, New Orleans swing, old time rag, barrelhouse fun, or anything in-between then this is the perfect Saturday Night record for you. Full of the swing and swoon of all great jazz-groove vibrations, this release really kicks ass – tracks like 24 Robbers, Flim Flam Man, and the slow burn of Hey Mary Wanna show the true range of talent on display here, while the sassy delivery of You Ain’t Woman Enough is given the right combination of attitude and defiance.

There are 14 tracks included here and they all bounce around the room with attitude - Highly recommended. 

Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the Slap Ya Mama Big Band I Heard the Voice of a Donut - Little Paradise

Based in Bristol, U.K. and sounding like the best of New Orleans ragtime and swing, this 7-piece band has a lot of personality and talent. There are elements of many different influences, from Hokum, Jazz, Hillbilly Country and western Swing. The slap ya mama big band are a colour-box of street sounds across the 12 tracks included on this debut release. Most of the band share vocal duties and with a line-up that includes April Jackson (Washboard & Vocals), Marc Griffiths (Guitar, Banjo & Vocals), Becca Philip (Guitar & Vocals), Mark Legassick (Mandolin & Vocals), Henry Slim (Harmonica & Vocals), Mandrake Fantastico ( Double Bass) and AJ Murdoch (Drums), the arrangements are delivered with much energy and dextrous playing. Their infectious sound is quite compelling and you would never know that the musicians are all based in this current century and located far away from the original influences of this vibrant music.

Tracks like One Daddy, The Whiskey Tastes Too Good, Take Jesus On a Date and Boxcar Date are guaranteed to get anybody up and dancing around their furniture. All songs appear to be original compositions although the sleeve notes don’t confirm this and the co-production between the band and Ben Capp is perfectly pitched to highlight the tight-knit playing and harmony singing. An impressive debut and augers well for a future that will grow in a positive direction.

Jenai Huff Color Wheel - Self Release

If there were a category to place this sublime artist into then it would be Jazz-Folk. The wonderfully crafted 9 songs included here are a real joy and the atmosphere created by the production is one of quiet calm and a confident maturity. This artist released her debut album in 2013 with Translations and her soulful voice, reflective words and subtle song arrangements give her craft an immediacy that cannot be underestimated.

Currently living in New York City she has surrounded herself with a small group of special musicians with Ben Wisch (producer, piano and keyboards), Eugene Ruffolo (acoustic guitar and background vocals), George Naha (electric guitar), Zev Katz(upright and electric bass),  Chris Marshak (drums and percussion) and Jonathan Preddice (cello).

A cover version of the Marvin Gaye classic What’s Going On is beautifully delivered and apart from one other cover which is a version of Old Man (Bryan MacLean), the Love classic song from Forever Changes album  the effect is that of being in the presence of a skilled, sensitive artist who is in total control of her place in the creative firmament. Think Joni Mitchell and add a little blend of understated, restrained, classy midnight soul. One of the best releases this year.

Cliff Howard Spiritual Town - Self Release

A blend of Americana, blues, and country music feature on this debut album by British singer songwriter Cliff Howard. Originally from London and now living in rural North Wales. Twelve songs written by the artist who also produced the record, the vocal mix is somewhat flat and does not add much colour to these tracks. The playing is brighter and the saxophone on a few songs, Columbus Avenue (David Carmichael) and Spiritual Town (Jamie Baxter) are highlights. This would seem to be the direction that this artist should concentrate upon going forward as his wish to gain a foothold in Country music circles seems to be somewhat difficult. Flood Street Blues has a nice lazy guitar groove running through it and Waiting for the Dream has a Neil Young flavoured tempo but never breaks out into a full-on guitar crescendo. Contemporary music that could do with a sense of direction really.

Tia McGraff Crazy Beautiful - Bandana

Port Dover, Ontario, Canada is the place where we can find the talented Tia McGraff. With 6 releases in her career she has earned respect and a growing fan base. This collection was released in 2015 and is produced by her husband, Tommy Parham, who also plays guitar on all 13 songs here.

Recorded in different locations, Ontario, Austin and Nashville, the continuity does not suffer despite the large number of studio musicians used. The country strum of Mesa Gold is underpinned with some subtle fiddle and mandolin while Nineteen recalls a Bob Seger track with its’ look back at youthful innocence and has a guitar driven arrangement that builds nicely. Long Ride Home sings of lessons learned and displays a reflective maturity ("every dreamer pays a price").

The title track is a challenge to those who do not embrace risk and take chances in life – "a story is waiting to unfold; make yours the greatest ever told". All songs are written by Tia and Tommy Parham and the sweet vocals carry them along to a happy conclusion with the Gospel tinged Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. A fine collection of songs and worth investigating. 

The Robert Bobby Duo Folk Art - Self release

Quirky, different and full of inventive song-writing, this release by Robert Bobby is Folk music taken in a new direction and given a fresh coat of paint. Forget the self-emotive songwriter who wears his heart on his sleeve and sings of worthy causes. What we have here is the healthy sense of irony that Robert Bobby brings to the table.

Explaining God’s grand plan in the opening song, Constantly Tweaking, we are given the image of him needing a wife to put things straight in the World.  Another song, God Couldn’t Wait speaks of ‘If God is everywhere, then He’s spread too thin’. A sense of humour is never far away and the true meaning of Mason Dixon Line is very naughty indeed.

His expressive voice is given great spotlight with I Wish It Would Rain and My Baby Loves Her Man. With 4 previous releases we are dealing with someone who knows his way around a studio and the ability to cover different musical styles is captured with the blues swing of Blue Chevrolet and the folk strum of Too Much Time. With Mrs Bobby on bass and a small group of other musicians who fill out the songs, this is an interesting release that is suitably different.

Fallon Cush Bee in Your Bonnet - Lightly Toasted

Fallon Cush is the performance vehicle for songwriter Steve Smith, a Sydney musician who has released 2 previous albums. This release sees Glen Hannah (guitars), Scott Aplin (keyboards) and Josh Schuberth (bass, drums) joining Smith and producer Chris Vallejo for 10 songs that are full of great melody and pop driven arrangements.

Think Tom Petty crossed with Crowded House and you get some idea of the groove and rhythm that plays out here. With backing vocals supplied by Suzy Goodwin and Stephanie Grace, the tracks really bounce along and the impressive Kings Ransom is followed by Useless Friend with some fine swirling keyboards and sweet guitar breaks.

A rich production sound dominates throughout, perfectly illustrated by the sassy sparkle of Dorothy, all jangling guitars and warm keyboards. The dynamic of the title track with its’ slow beat and melancholy vocal is a highlight and the concluding song Biggest Show is a reflective look at a lost relationship, complete with swooning background vocals and a sweet melodic arrangement.

Ben Kunder Golden - Self Release

A Canadian singer-songwriter who hails from Toronto and has arrived with this debut release. Co-produced by Kunder and John Dinsmore, the sound is very warm with a mellow atmosphere across the 9 tracks. The musicians on these original songs are all very talented players and compliment the reflective vocals of Kunder with very laid-back and comfortable accompaniment.

Half Moon lifts the pace a little with a good beat and chiming electric guitar while Bags & Barrels highlights the restrained acoustic playing of the ensemble. In singing about relationships it is difficult to separate out from the throng of artists that have already covered such subject matter but songs like Don’t Dance with the distinctive clear vocal tone of Kunder linger long enough to leave an impression of real quality. As debut releases go, the songs here give encouragement for ongoing success.     

King of the Tramps Cumplir con ei Diablo - Self Release

King Of The Tramps (KOTT) is a roots-rock group, based in the Midwestern state of Iowa. The band includes Todd Partridge on Guitar and vocals, Justin Snyder on Guitar and Mandolin, Adam Audlehelm on Keyboards and Percussion, Ryan Aum on Drums and Ryan McAlister on Bass and Backing Vocals.

The band has released three albums prior to this and their sound has been described as "Whiskey Gospel" with influences from roots rock to rhythm and blues. They channel the Stones, circa Sticky Fingers era, together with a healthy dose of the Black Crowes, paired up with Lynyrd Skynyrd. The 10 tracks here are played with great belief and energy and the band sound is complimented by additional players on trumpet, saxophone, tambourine and acoustic guitar.

The gospel tinged That’s How It Goes is balanced against the rocking opener, See You On the Other Side. A swipe at Nashville and the less than welcoming music machine is the target of Nashville Line, while the bar-room blues of Airplane Bottles is a rant against authority. James Brown is a tribute to the great man which is played with swagger before the driving beat of Depression takes things in a completely different direction. Old Crow veers close to Country while closer ’89 Cutlass is a slow, 6-minute plus, acoustic blues strum.  

An enjoyable listen and worth your attention if you like roots rock with attitude and a little bit of soulful blues added to the mix.