Kacy & Clayton The Siren’s Song New West
Second cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum’s third recording The Siren’s Song finds the duo exploring a fuller sound from their previous recordings with the addition of bass guitar and drums. Having been invited by Jeff Tweedy to open for Wilco at The Fillmore in San Francisco last year, the duo impressed Tweedy to the extent that he offered to produce the album at Wilco’s famous Loft Studios in Chicago. The end product is quite staggering and an album that has hardly left my CD player since it’s arrival.
There has always been a primal innocence to their writing, inspired no doubt by the rural upbringing they enjoyed but this time around they create and perform songs like veterans. Quite extraordinary considering they are both marginally above the legal age to purchase alcohol in the States!
Everything about the album transports the listener back to the late 60’s/early 70’s, from the impressive graphics on both the front and back of the sleeve (the artwork and layout were directed by label mate Daniel Romano), but most particularly to the material itself, folk music soaked in country with nods in the direction the very best of UK folk when Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch and a young Richard Thompson held court.
Despite approaching deeper topics such as disillusionment (The Light Of Day), abandonment (Go And Leave Me), exploitation (A Certain Kind Of Memory) and betrayal (Cannery Yard), the album also possesses some lighter moments, particularly on the sardonic White Butte County, where Linthicum takes the lead vocal on a familiar tale of small village hopelessness ("The hills of White Butte County are a pleasant sight to see. But the girls of White Butte County have the same Grandpa as me"). Lifeboat would not have been out of place on the Richard and Linda Thompson classic breakup album Shoot Out The Lights ("If envy was tequila and jealousy strong beer, we could throw a party that would last throughout the year") and the simplicity of the aforementioned Cannery Yard is spine tingling, with Anderson’s sweet vocals accompanied only by acoustic guitar and gentle fiddle playing.
Far from being revivalists and given that they grew up in the remote Wood Mountain Uplands, the impression generated is that the material is first hand and based on personal experience rather than delving into The Harry Smith Songbook. Songwriting aside, what elevates the material to an altogether different level is Anderson’s intoxicating and crystal-clear vocals, perfectly in tune with Linthicum’s equally impressive fingerpicking guitar style.
The Siren’s Song is an album created with totally sincerity, innocence and love, steeped in all that’s so vital in classic country folk music. The genre is in safe hands with Kacy and Clayton as custodians and I’m already eagerly awaiting their next album. A contender for album of the year for me on it's European release this year or last year when it was released in the U.S.
Lera Lynn Plays Well With Others Single Lock
Lera Lynn’s 2016 release Resistor found the young Nashville based artist abandoning her more familiar country roots sound and experimenting with an album that crossed into indie territory, possibly targeting a wider audience given her far reaching exposure having appeared and performed in the second series of HBO’s True Detective.
Plays Well With Others finds her returning to more familiar territory. The album features seven co-writes with some of her Nashville neighbours, who each also duet on the various tracks they contributed to. What is particularly impressive about the album, given the formula, is how well the tracks gel as a unit and critical to this is Lynn’s selection of collaborators. All the more notable given that Lynn deliberately did not point any of her allies in any particular direction during the writing process.
The performers on the album are a reflection of the burgeoning and emerging musical talent in Nashville with contributions by John Paul White – who also co-produced the album alongside Lynn and Ben Tanner - Andrew Combs, Dylan LeBlanc, JD Mc Pherson and Nicole Adams. The old guard also features courtesy of Rodney Crowell whose delicate semi spoken vocals combine beautifully with Lynn’s honeyed purring on Crimson Underground.
The overriding theme throughout is love imagined, gained and lost with titles such as Lose Myself, What Is Love, Breakdown and Nothin To Do With Love exploring relationships at their various junctures.
Recorded in a week and a half at John Paul White’s Sun Drop Sound Studio in Florence, unlike its predecessor Resistor it features acoustic instrumentation throughout as a backdrop to some stunning vocal deliveries. Particularly impressive are What Is Love featuring Lynn and Dylan LeBlanc’s perfectly matched hushed vocals, accompanied only by acoustic guitars. A stripped back version of the Sutton/Sherrill classic Almost Persuaded is given the George and Tammy treatment by Lynn and John Paul White. Shovels & Rope contribute to the other cover on the album, the dark and sleazy Wolf Like Me written by TV On The Radio and both Lynn and Andrew Combs explore their edgy sides on Breakdown. The only all-female duet finds Nicole Atkins sharing vocals on the upbeat 60’s sounding In Another Life.
Duet and tribute albums can often go horribly wrong but Plays Well With Others does exactly what the title advocates by combining well-chosen conspirators, great songs, exceptional vocal deliveries and most of all simplicity, acknowledging that sometimes less is more. At thirty-two minutes it’s not the longest album, having said that one listen is never enough so get ready to hit the play button once more, I certainly did.
Carter Sampson Lucky CRS
Carter Sampson’s profile has been heading skyward in Europe ever since the release of Wilder Side in 2016, an album that hit the No.3 spot in Euro Americana Chart’s Best Albums of that year.
An artist that seems to be continually on the road, Sampson managed eight visits to Europe in a twelve-month period touring that recording which included two sold out shows at Kilkenny Roots in 2017 and appearances at both The Maverick and Glastonbury Festivals. Her latest album’s title may suggest an element of fortune in her rising star but it’s the quality of her song writing and her distinctive sweet vocals, together with a relentless work ethic that has found the Oklahoma born Sampson fostering a growing fan base and getting the recognition she richly deserves.
Recorded at On Studios in Moore Oklahoma, the production duties are shared by Sampson and Jason Scott, who also adds drums, guitars, mandolin and backing vocals. Fellow Okies joining Sampson in the studio were Jason Tyler (dobro, banjo and mandolin), James Purdy & Jack Waters (drums), John Calvin Abney (keys and electric guitar), Kyle Reid (keys, guitar and pedal steel), Luke Mullenix (bass). With no intention of straying from what she does best the album follows a similar path to Wilder Side, route one country folk held together spectacularly by her tight rhythm section.
The cracking title track opens the album with Sampson and her host of backing musicians giving the number the Emmylou/Hot Band treatment. Coincidently the album culminates with the Shel Silverstein classic Queen Of The Silver Dollar, Sampson version displays a looser laid-back delivery than Emmylou’s version on the Pieces of The Sky album.
Other inclusions that reveal Sampson as an artist growing in confidence and maturity are Hello Darlin, complete with some dreamy steel guitar by Kyle Reid complementing Sampson’s gorgeous unhurried vocals and All I Got which follows a similar path. Tulsa, written by fellow Okie Zac Copeland, is not the first time an Oklahoma artist has written with glowing pride about their home State and Sampson’s effort certainly does the song justice.
The up-tempo Rattlesnake Kate is classic dirt road country, a tale of a determined freewheeling independent woman – perhaps an analogy to the demands on a female musician’s trials attempting to survive in today’s market – raising her son alone and single handily bumping off one hundred and forty rattlesnakes and skinning them to make a matching dress and shoes.
There’s so much to savour and admire on Lucky. Like its predecessors Wilder Side and Mockingbird Sing, it’s uncomplicated, joyous and delivered by an artist in possession of a voice that always seems to love what she is singing about. Thumbs up also to Stuart Sampson for the most impressive cover painting featuring Ms Sampson in trademark red cowboy boots!
Levi Parham It’s All Good CRS
It’s All Good is the fourth release from Okie Levi Parham whose signature blend of blues, soul, rock and country lands somewhere between The Allman Brothers and early 70’s Rolling Stones.
Parham’s 2016 release All American Blues made the No.1 spot on the Euro Americana Charts and it’s reasonable to expect the gritty blues soaked It’s All Good will hit similar highs.
‘I ain’t scared, I ain’t worried, I’ve got friends and they’d be here in a hurry’, Parham tells us on the album’s title track and true to his word Parham and his entourage took the ten-hour drive from Tulsa Oklahoma to Muscle Shoals Alabama to record at the famed Portside Sound Studio. The journey most certainly was a fruitful one resulting in a ten-track album that sets its stall from the primal bar room bluesy opener Badass Bob and continues on a similar high-octane path before drawing breath with the closer, a John Prine sounding ballad All The Ways I Feel For You.
The stellar line-up includes guitarists Paul Benjaman, Jesse Aycock, Dustin Pittsley and Parham, pooling their talents with John Fullbright on keys, Aaron Boehler on bass, Dylan Aycock on drums, snippets of sax courtesy of Michael Staub and backing vocalists Lauren Farrah, John Carter Abney and Lauren Barth. The individual talent in that bunch alone was a signal of Parham’s intent of going for broke and its fair to say he pushed the band all the way to get his just rewards.
"Ring that bell I’ll come running out like a heavyweight", Parham sings on Heavyweight, an inclusion that, intentional or not given the title, recalls The Band at the top of their game. Boxmeer Blues could have been plucked from The Stones Exile On Main Street sessions, slick layered vocals and bluesy piano breaks on a tale of temptations and distractions on the road. In LP jargon the sixth track Shade would be the Side 2 opener and its addictive and beautifully paced rhythm recalls Derek & The Dominoes. The brooding Turn Your Love Around offers five minutes plus of raw hypnotic blues.
It’s All Good is more than a recording paying homage to music and bands of previous decades but more accurately a collection of top drawer material delivered vocally and musically by an artist who is very much a caretaker of the soulful bluesy country sound that we love so much. Hats off young man, it’s a gem!
Suburban Dirts I Want Blood Old Jank
Suburban Dirt are a six-piece band made up of John Wheatly (lead vocal, guitar, harmonica), Chris Varley (bass), David Austin (drums, vocals), David Moyes (guitar), Jay Seymour(keyboards) and Joolz Addison (violin). Residing in the London commuter belt town of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire rather than any dust bowl State in the country they write about has not deterred them from creating an absorbing and exceptionally well researched project. With gothic and blood thirsty tales of pre-cowboy America, the band’s third album plays like a soundtrack to a violent and gruesome movie populated by mercenaries, bandits, smugglers, rapists and highwaymen, in a free for all continent immediately post American Revolution. The album is based on the lives of the infamous Harpe Brothers, who are credited with being the first serial killers and mass murderers in America and whose barbaric treatment of their victims included gutting them, filling their bodies with stones and dumping them in the nearest waterway. Ruthless horse thieves and highwaymen, the two brothers were also employed as plantation foremen – think the Brittle Brothers in Tarantino’s Django Unchained - they adopted the outlaw lifestyle having been loyal to The British Crown during American Revolution. The album consists of fifteen sections which need to be played in one sitting for maximum effect.
The Harpe Brothers Theme opens the album in frenzied fashion getting straight to the point ("We cut them open, carve out their guts, fill their innards up with stones"). What follows are the gentle instrumental Home and then Eli, a tale of hope for a character who will later become one of the brothers’ targets. We hear of the brother’s wives and their casual acceptance of their partners brutality on Harpe Women ("He’ll be home soon, making plans. We will wash their feet and cook their meals, we will make their beds and watch them sleep"). The revenge and final and slaying of Micajah Harpe - Wiley Harpe died five years later - by a victim left for dead features in The Hunt ("I know I’m not evil but I have done evil deeds, I took the head of that evil son of a bitch and stuck it in a tree").
Playing out every bit as dark as the Bob Frank and John Murry murder ballad classic World Without End - another comparison might be Richmond Fontaine’s cinematic The High Country - I Want Blood is essentially a soundtrack without a supporting movie. Well worth checking out.
Fox & Coyote Scattered Shadows On A Double Bed Self Release
Ryan Evans and Jonathan Harms, the founder members of Cox & Coyote, originally performed as a duo, two voices, a banjo and a guitar. That particular line up somewhat restricted their musical direction and led to the recruitment of Catherine Canon (cello and vocals), Grant Gordon (bass) and Kenny Befus (drums), who collectively contribute to the current line-up. Scattered Shadows On A Double Bed most certainly benefits from the addition of the more recent recruits, offering a unique, experimental and wonderfully layered musical landscape, quite difficult to categorise. Described as alt-folk the album’s material ranges from the Sufjan Steven’s sounding White Spider to A Million Filaments which would not have been out of place on a (very) early Genesis album. What is consistent throughout is outstanding musicianship, with the cello contribution by Canon a particular delight.
The opening track (Don’t Tell Me) There’s Nothing In My Head dips, soars and eventually explodes musically and the closer Bed ("You can forget about tomorrow, I’m going back to bed again") deals with escapism and depression, a topic also suggested both in the album’s title and cover shot.
All in all a most interesting and challenging listen which requires a number of visits to fully appreciate and best described on their website as "sonic panorama, juxtaposing hushed confessions wit raging guitar solos, thick cello crescendo with existential howls."