Reviews by Paul McGee

Heart Hunters American Eclipse Pretend Sweetheart

There are a number of husband and wife teams out there on the music highway, all trying to make a living while following their shared, creative muse. There are practicalities of travelling as a duo but when you have children at home, then the tug of the road is tempered by the urge to be settled into some form of domestic bliss.

Brianna Blackbird (vocals, guitar, Bolivian drum, bass) and Drew de Man (vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, percussion), decided to experience life as a couple in a mountain village in Bolivia and the experience gave them a new perspective that cemented their belief in writing about the environment and the way that nature has fallen under the wheels of big industry. They have enlisted some premier players for this record that spans ten songs and is produced to a very high standard by Peter Case. Included are the talents of Case himself on piano, organ, harmonium, guitar and percussion; Fats Kaplin on violins, viola, accordion, mandolin and oud; Don Heffington on drums & percussion; Dennis Crouch on upright bass.

The Spanish verse of Cristo is suitably different to the rest of the project and has a haunting melody that reflects a hymn, sung with quiet passion and a wish for better tomorrows. Angels is an autobiographical song about life on the road and the struggle to make ends meet, while Normal America questions the pursuit of the American dream and urges a look behind the veil. The Good Fight asks about the waste of deserted strip malls and the hope that we could restore mother nature to her original form. Living a self-sufficient dream and making sweet music is enough at times and this duo certainly have their hearts in the right place.

Annie Oakley Words We Mean Horton

She was a sharp shooter in the Wild West days of yore and her name is aptly adopted by this trio that comprises of twin sisters, Sophia & Grace Babb (vocals, guitar) & Nia Personette (violin, vocals). They hail from Oklahoma and play Folk based acoustic music that is very appealing. All songs are written and arranged by the trio and the sound is bright and full of colour across the twelve tracks here.

The Curse is a song about love and loss and Did You Dream is a love plea, asking for answers, framed by a sensitive delivery. Good Things has a sense of discomfort, foreboding and sadness while If I Were A Ghost is about wanting more and looking for a closer bond. The message of honesty in relationships is continued in two further songs, Words We Mean and Into The Light

Missed Connection deals with a close relationship where a lack of communication has dented the love. Brother speaks of a lost soul with no direction and Nothing To Say is again about complex relations where trust has broken down. However, things end on a positive with the excellent Sweet Time, a song that speaks of belonging and loving over the years.

With great harmonies throughout and stellar support from a studio band that adds just the right amount of texture and tone to the gentle and restrained arrangements, this is a very fine release and comes highly recommended. 

Tia McGraff Stubborn In My Blood Bandana

Co-produced and arranged with husband Tommy Parham (banjo, guitars), Tia McGriff delivers her seventh release since her debut in 2000. Impressive vocals throughout and the conviction and timbre in her vocal really sells these eleven songs. Especially on the opening Pilot Of Change and Hole In Your Heart, one a song of renewal and change; the other a sad look at feeling broken and low. The pressures of live performance and the travel schedule of a journeyed musician is explored on Travellin’ By Guitar, while the message to always believe in yourself is perfectly captured on Own Your Sunshine

The excellent production continues on Let Em’ See Your Strong and Stubborn In My Blood, songs about living proud and being emotionally strong. Far Away Man is a song about how distance makes the heart grow stronger and a new day with hope of change is the message of The Faithful Ones. The temptation and attraction in Forbidden brings matters to a fine conclusion and the players are very much aligned with the song structures throughout.

David Haerle Garden Of Edendale Edendales

Solo debut from an artist who has been president of the CMH Label Group for the past 27 years. He describes himself as a late bloomer but has been playing guitar since his early teens. This project took 7 years to complete and I have to say that it is quite an impressive achievement. The 13 tracks run for approx. 65 minutes but I didn’t find myself getting tired of listening at any point. The production is top drawer with a bright and vibrant sound while the assembled musicians play with great finesse and freedom around the song structures. 

The guitar prowess of Haerle is quite something and he can take a solo run with the best of them. The violin of Luanne Homzy is also very much to the fore but every player contributes to an overall sound that is commercial pop/rock with sweet melody lines, catchy up-tempo numbers (Finding Natalie, Tell Your Story, The Tracer), mixed with more reflective, sombre songs (The Stranger, Do You Know Surrender?). The duet song, Women Make The World Go Round has a Beautiful South feel to it while the excellent Glendale reminds me of a Dire Straits workout. 

The Tone That Got Away is an impressive instrumental track and the closer, Everything I Ever Wanted is another instrumental that features some fine violin parts before going into a Skynyrd workout as it builds to a climax. A most engaging album and one to seek out if you like guitar oriented commercial rock with a touch of class. 

Mandy Rowden When the Day Comes Howlin’ Dog

Starting out with the religious message of the title track could go either way for this artist who grew up in East Texas. However, when you can deliver a vocal that suggests much of the attraction in the vocals of Lucinda Williams, then you have something of an open road ahead.

San Antonio is a love song to a place of refuge and safety and If I Could Have Known is a look back at an old relationship. All songs are written by Rowden (2 co-writes) and there is one cover version, a tribute to Tom Petty, with a stripped back Angel Dream #2. Don Richmond plays an influential role in mixing and production and also plays a range of instruments. James Doyle provides drums on eight of the thirteen tracks and Rowden chips in with multi instrumentation on guitars, piano, organ, viola and fiddle. So, a tight bunch of players who produce a fine record to build upon previous successes. Pedal Upon The Metal is steeped in Country with pedal steel from Richmond adding real charm to the song structure. A Chance To Give You Love displays a quiet anger at a close friend who took their own life. The chance to help a friend move on from a toxic relationship is captured in Sticks & Stones, a fine song that shows the trio in all their understated power. Well worth having this release in your collection.  

Ken Pomeroy Hallways. Horton Records

This 7-track EP was recorded on 4-track cassette tape – the more things change, the more they stay the same! What we get is a stripped-down acoustic sound of guitar, sometimes supported by piano, mandolin and muted electric guitar. Her voice is really beautiful, with a pure and strong delivery. Ken is a 16-year old artist from Oklahoma and this is her 2nd EP release. Wow...!

Deprived speaks of surviving in an indifferent world and Three Wonderful Words is a fragile need to be loved. There is a plaintive quality to Ken’s voice and the vulnerability in reaching out for a connection is delicately delivered on the title track, Hallways. Sidewalk Song is about homelessness and the self-belief to endure and rise above. It’s bare bones, full of gentle playing and rumination from an artist that is wise and talented beyond her years. A big future lies ahead…