Reviews by Stephen Rapid


Pushing Chain Sorrows Always Swim Kingswood 

When you see Bill Kirchen’s name in the credits you can pretty much be assured that it’s going to be a good album. That’s the case with Pushing Chain’s debut album. They are essentially Boyd Blomberg and Adam Moe, a guitar and fiddle duo who wrote the songs for the album in a classic country style and therefore wanted to put a team together who could help them deliver that vision. They have done that and done it well. Along with Kirchen they have got Mark Hillman to produce the songs and also gathered some of Austin’s finest to help out. This team includesdrummer Rick Richards and bassist David Carroll. Guitarist Redd Volkaert joins them for an instrumental track that closes the album. Hellman also provided the keyboards and the studio (Congress House) and the means to make this the fine album it is.

This album takes the duo’s folk orientated live sound to another level giving the material an added dimension for the recorded sound. The songs fit easily into the musical themes of traditional country,relationships,love and loss. Theyare graced by some sweet melodies and some memorable riffs. The majority of the songs are written by Blomberg and include Lucky You, Lucky Him, Hearts Ache When Heart’s Break, $10 Bill Between Teardrops, Once I Loved A Woman and the title track. Moe’s contributions are Truckstop Rose and Yesterday’s Coffee. All are assured songs that make for an album that works across the board. 

Pushing Chain are yet another musical combo that proves that you don’t need to turn to Nashville and its mainstream radio outlets to hear the kind of country music that means so much to anyone of a certain age and disposition. Bloomberg and Moe are also an assured vocal team adding strong harmonies behind whichever of them takes the lead or duo vocal. This and the masterful playing to be found on Sorrows Always Swim makes it a musical experience worth diving headlong into.

Jesse DanielSelf-Titled Die True

There is a back story here that has been well documented and one that informs the heart and soul of Daniel’s country music in the way that it was intended to draw form real life. Daniels had a background in punk and that has provided the delivery here with a similar edge and honesty. He grew up in the small town of Ben Lomand, California where his musical father gave impetus to his interest in music which saw him playing drums in the punk rock scene. This lifestyle however introduced him to substance abuse that ended in a downward spiral.

Once he got himself back on his feet he needed to express himself by writing songs. He bought a pawnshop guitar and formed a band to play his songs. He soon found himself immersing himself in the hardcore country music that he loved. A particular inspiration was fellow Californian Buck Owens and his hard work ethic. His songs are a roadmap to where he’s been to andwhere he’s heading. He produced the album with Henry Chadwick as well as writing the material solo or with Jodi Lyford. He also plays lead and acoustic guitars as well as drums and percussion.

The album, his debut, is full of great songs that are testament to that hard journey. Titles like Soft Spot (For The Hard Stuff), Coming Down Again or Killing Time ’Til Time Kills Me are a part of that. Others like SR-22 Blues and California Highway are about a different journey to a degree. I had to look up the former and it appears that a SR-22 is a licence that is required for truck drivers. In the end this is a rough and ready album, one that is all the better for having that edge and energy and certainly an album that I have played and enjoyed a lot. Jesse Daniels is making music he can be justly proud of and in doing so has set himself on a new path that can only be good for everyone. 

Garrick Rawlings Self-Titled Peloponnese

There are two coverson this new album from Rawlings that are compass points to his music. The first is the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter/John Dawson songFriend Of The Devil and the second is Townes Van Zandt’s Poncho & Lefty. Between those two songs sits Rawlings own material that range between that easy 60’s feel country rock and some Texas singer/songwriter seriousness. Both versions are credible without replacing or replicating the originals in one's mind.

Another point of interest here is that the album is a co-production between Rawlings and the estimable Rick Shea. That seems very much in sync and Shea’s undoubted skills add much to the album. Recorded in Los Angeles that have brought in some seasoned players to help out, thesed included LA stalwarts Skip Edwards and Shawn Nourse,as well as a number of harmony singers including Jami Lyn Shuey as well as a couple of cello players for one track. 

Rawlings has an earthy warmth to his voice that is entirely suited to these songs. The voice, guitar and accordion version of Poncho & Lefty is stripped back and in keeping with the resigned mood of the song. Likewise, Friend Of The Devil fits right in and also soundlike a honest tribute to the Dead. Rawlings own songs are evocative tales of lost love like I Don’t Care What You Say or of the self descriptive Whiskey, Cryin’, Pain … All are graced with melody and the memorability of a new song that feels like one you are already well acquainted with. The arrangements move from acoustic to electric with ease and express the life that Rawlings has lived and the places and people he has loved.

Kate Campbell Damn Sure Blue Large River

Another songwriter who has gained a solid reputation for her work to date (17 albums and counting). Her latest album is a mix of originals and her version of some classic songs including the Louvin Brothers’ Great Atomic Power, Peter La Farge’s Ballad Of Ira Hayes, Eric Kaz’s somewhat lesser known Christ, It’s MightCold Outside and old time artist Stringbean’s (David Ackerman) version of Peace, Precious Peace. There’s also a version of Johnny Cash’s Forty Shades Of Green whichgiven that she gives tours inIrelandmakes perfect sense.

This album was produced by the renowned Will Kimbrough who brings his usual attention to detail to the music accompanied by a set of seasoned accompanistsincluding Bryan Owings, Kevin Gordon, Dave Jacques and Phil Madeira. All of which makes for a satisfying musical setting to bring thesesongs to fruition. The songs written by Campbell and her writing partners are welcome additions to her catalogue. The best includes When You Come Back Home, Change Should’ve Come By Now, Long Slow Train and the title track. These songs have a certain anger and attitude in the tradition of folk protest. This is delivered in a restrained manner, an Americana blend that requires a certain engagement that not everyone will have but one that rewards more than a casual listen.

It is often debatable how successful a cover can be for an overly familiar song but Campbell, to her credit, takes these non-original songs and bring something of herself to each that ensures they don’t become mere copies of the originals. Her voice is at its purest on Christ, It’s Might Cold Outside and evocative on the Cash composition. This may not bring a lot of new fans to Campbell’s music but will surely please those who have encountered her music in the past and will again in the future on the strength of this album.

Kat Danser Goin’ Gone Black Hen

A solid mix of blues and rockin’ roots music is at the heart of her fifth album. There’s also a touch of rockabilly here that makesfor an overall outing that convinces. Her producer Steve Dawson is back at the helm and pays guitar and pedal steel. Bass is provided by Jeremy Holmes and Gary Craig is the drummer. Add to that Jim Hoke on some telling harmonica and saxophone and Matt Combs on fiddle,adding somediversity to the mix,that broadens itsblues base out to something more Americana. These are solid and sustained performances all round with Danser’s expressive voice front and centre.

Dancer is also the writer of the majority of the songs and they sit easily alongside the covers of classic blues songs. Both, Chevrolet Car (Sam McGee) and Train I Ride (Mississippi Fred McDowell), relating to travel and traveling on and given solid workouts, especially the six-minute take on the latter with its atmospheric blend of sax and guitar. The playing throughout is pleasure and reminds of the close relationship that the blues has to most other elements of roots music.

The swampy feel is present on a number of the tracks though Danser can deliver a more stripped-down setting as she does on the evocative and enlightening My Town which is recollection of growing up and growing away. The album finishes on the appropriately titled Time For Me To Go. It ends anaccomplished album from Danseur and the ever-present Steve Dawson who seems to be involved with a great many roots production projects emerging from Canada,as well as being an artist in his own right. It is easy to see why he wanted to continue his association with an artist of Danser’s talent. The blues may not be for every listener but when it is as engaging and varied as this,it should at least garner some attention across the board.

Edward Davis Anderson Chasing Butterflies Black Dirt

A singer/songwriter who fits alongside his contemporaries with a loose Americana sound and set of sonic conversations. These are songs of observation and Southern orientation. Anderson recorded the album with producer Jimmy Nutt and a crew of local session players in the producer’s studio in Sheffield, Alabama. This gives the album a Southern soulful feel that is relaxed and resolutely in tune with its location both in terms of sound and story.

The album opens with Harmony and noting that all things are better in that state. Whereas The Ballad Of Lemuel Penn tells the true story of Penn,a school superintendent and decorated war veteran,who was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. This sad story of extreme prejudice is given a sombre reading that underscores the essential evil of the story. By way of contrast, The Best Part, is a love song. Crosses is a vivid description of how a life can end up as being defined “by a cross at the side of the road.” Dog Days observes the way a canine companion dreams of chasing rabbits oblivious to the more human problems that happen around him. Anderson’s songs look at the human condition and the humanity that he observes in various situations, largely from the perspective of a Southern mindset.

He has a vision and voice that encompasses anumber of musical options that all pull together to create a solid sound that works throughout the album. One that provokes some thoughtfulness in the diversity of the subject matter but retains a cohesive view that is Anderson’s. Chasing Butterflies is an easy album to like despite Anderson confronting his demons as described in the title track. “I cleaned up my act, I quit drinking and shooting smack” point to a more worthwhile life that in the telling of these tales can point you towardsa better future and some good music along the way.