Reviews by Declan Culliton



The Paul Benjamin Band 'Sneaker' Horton 

Some albums take a few listens to kick in, others hit the spot on first listen. Sneaker by The Paul Benjamin Band certainly inhabits the latter territory. The Paul Benjamin Band are a hard working touring band, renowned for the quality of their live shows. They have, without doubt, recreated that live sound with an album that scarcely contains a weak moment. Sneaker is the band's second album following their self-titled debut released in 2010.

Recorded at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock Arkansas and unapologetically recalling the Tulsa sound of the mid 70’s, much of the album brings to mind in particular the work of the legendary JJ Cale and also of Leon Russell, although delivered in overdrive rather than Cale’s customary laid back style.

Estoy Loco positively grooves along with a jazzy rock feel, Ball and Chain rocks along with slick guitar licks from Benjamin and formidable pedal steel from Jesse Aycock (also a member of Hard Working Americans). Auburn Road slows the pace down beautifully, evidence of the versatility of Benjamin. Monticello Honeymoon drifts along sublimely and includes some wonderful piano playing by Jeff Newsome complimenting Benjamin’s guitar riffs.

Sneaker, sounding both fresh and nostalgic in equal measures, is an album that I’d happily slip in to the car CD player for a summer road trip, windows down and volume up and enjoy this refreshing mix of rockabilly, country, rock and roll and blues.

Franc Cinelli 'The Marvel Age' Song Circle

Recorded at Song Circle Studios, London The Marvel Age was written by Cinelli over a two year period while on the road touring the UK, USA and his native Italy. Having engaged Danton Supple (Morrissey, Coldplay) to produce his debut solo album I Have Not Yet Begun The Fight, Cinelli has taken the decision to record and produce The Marvel Age himself together with the vocal, guitar, keyboard and harmonica duties. Laurence Saywood plays bass and Drew Manley is on drums and vibraphone.

Cinelli cites his musical influences being his mother’s vinyl collection which included Springsteen, The Police, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley. Whatever about the other artists noted, the influence of Springsteen is particularly recognisable on Blindsided, a delightful song accompanied only by Cinelli on piano.

Breaker, the most convincing and strongest track on the album, is undoubtedly Tom Petty territory with a powerful driving guitar riff throughout. In contrast Blue is a delightful love ballad and the closing track Leave Here Running, with its spoken lyric is full of promise, optimism and rediscovery that is "drawn from life with open arms, I welcome in The Marvel Age."

Kreg Viesselman ‘To The Mountain’  Continental Song City

Kreg Viesselman earlier work gained him a reputation as a singer songwriter capable of creating sparse yet beautifully atmospheric music, delivered in his trade mark grizzled and craggy vocal tone. His albums demanded and rewarded repeated listening, none more so than his self-titled album released in 2003 which resulted in him sharing the stage with noted admirer Taj Mahal.

The Minnesota born Viesselham, while residing in Norway, released two further albums The Pull (2006) and If You Lose Your Light (2012) with a similarly stripped-back arrangement before commencing work the same year on To The Mountain which took nearly four years from conception to release and finds the artist enticing the listener down an altogether more upbeat journey than his previous efforts.

Much of the credit for the diversion is the introduction of Bjarne Stensli as producer whose influence appears to have rejuvenated Viesselman and encouraged a more fuller and accessible sound on the album.

Having written the songs in draft format he further developed them by spending a week with his band in a remote cabin in Norway where the final versions were pieced together before being further honed on a UK tour in 2014 to bring the proposed material before a live audience.

The material has most definite leanings towards UK folk both musically and lyrically, understandably painting pictures of Scandinavian and British landscapes on many of the eleven tracks. The opening track Garland could have been penned by Richard Thompson and The Disciples Song (Summer Leaves), a beautiful piece of music, would have comfortably adorned any early 70’s Caravan album. Similarly in the Summer, in Oslo succeeds in evoking music from that era.

Many artist are currently recording music heavily influenced by UK Folk, some more successfully than others, Viesselman undisputedly does the genre justice with this offering.

Danny Barnes ‘Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later)’  Continental Song City 

Few, if any musicians occupy the same territory as Danny Barnes. Often criticised for not taking himself seriously enough, the Austin born banjo picker and talented singer songwriter has flitted from solo recordings to forming the suitably named bands The Bad Livers and Danny Barnes and The Old Codgers, to several collaborations with noted artists such as Tim O’Brien and Dave Matthews. Barnes also tours as part of Robert Earl Keen and Bill Frisell‘s bands. Robert Earl Keen says of Barnes "I’ve said many times that he is the world’s greatest banjo player."

Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later) sees Barnes returning to possibly his strongest recording Get Myself Together which was released in 2006, an album that lyrically entered doom laden territory with tales of alcoholism, drug addiction, troubled existences, wasted romances and opportunities lost, all delivered with a certain degree of tongue in cheek attitude. The primary motivator in revisiting the album was the amount of fan mail received by Barnes in relation to the album which is unavailable as a result of the record label going out of business.

Rather than offer a richer and fuller recreation of the original album Barnes has headed in the opposite direction and recorded versions of the songs which to the listener might sound to be original demos or the material in its infancy prior to the final mix. Recorded in his kitchen with all instruments played by Barnes, he confesses that his technical ability as a musician is in a better place now that ten years ago, another reason for the ‘bare to the bones’ approach to the songs.

Quirky lyrics and impeccable picking dominate the album. Titles such as Get Me Out Of Jail, a traditional drunkards lament, Rat’s Ass and Big Girl Blues are timeless and depict scenes containing banjos, dungarees, front porches and jugs being passed around.