Reviews by Stephen Rapid


The Honeycutters On The Ropes Organic

More than fulfilling the promise of their last album The Honeycutters have delivered an album (their fourth) that underlines both the writing and singing talents of Amanda Anne Platt alongside the playing skills of her four band mates Matthew Smith, Rick Cooper, Tal Taylor and Josh Milligan. Alongside some additional guests on keyboards and harmonica, the North Carolina based band have doubtless built up a strong following wherever they tour On The Ropes, which far from what the title might suggest, is another knockout punch in terms of their recorded output.

There are songs here like Blue Besides that could easily fit on a Kacey Musgraves album while others would not feel out of place on a Eilen Jewell release. That just shows the versatility and scope of the band, it’s music and Platt’s writing. From the underlying sadness of the ballad The Only Eyes through to the dance floor dynamism of Let’s Get Drunk - a song that emphasises the “in for a penny in for a pound” nature of certain uncertain relationships. There are twelve songs written by Platt and one cover of the seemingly ubiquitous Hallelujah, a song that must be keeping Mr. Cohen’s accountant well pleased. My first thoughts were do we really need yet another version? That answer is open to debate but, in fairness, the version here is given a solid country take that is pretty original and played with the appropriate passion that makes it a worthwhile exercise.

On The Ropes is an album that any self-respecting admirer of the current blend of traditional country and roots Americana should be more than happy to be acquainted with. Recorded in a North Carolina studio with Platt and Tim Surrett producing they have realised an album that is free of outside influences and is all the better for that. As it says on the back cover “great music, no boundaries.” Nothing here disputes that claim.

John Doe The Westerner Cool Rock

At the age of 63 the former punk rocker is still making great music. Time has not only weathered his voice but it also has given him time to reflect. The passing of his friend and Dances With Wolves author Michael Blake has doubtless been a factor in the attitude of this record. He co-produced it with Dave Way and Howe Gelb. The sand worn, desert location of that artist’s work with Giant Sand is a factor in the overall feel that is purveyed on the album.

These songs are at heart a mix of acoustic folk orientated songs with some more solidly rocking moments to balance that out. The opening track Get On Board fairly steams along as it tells us that we are all on board life’s train. We all ride the rails at some point. Sunlight, the song that follows is a parched sun drenched song that has some atmospheric Spanish guitar underpinning its mood. A Little Help, with piano and pedal steel, notes that we all need a little help at times - something that all can relate to. Go Baby Go is a more robust and rockin’ tale of getting out there and doing it with a backing vocal from Debbie Harry. A song that could easily resonate with fans of Doe’s days in X. The isolation and sadness of Alone In Arizona is full of heartfelt thoughtfulness that requires some genuine loss in life to make it feel real. Sonically it is restrained but full of ambient sounds that are sympathetic to the song. In truth all the songs here have their place and an understated but committed performance.

It is a solid listening experience, an album in the fullest sense, rather than a random collection of songs. John Doe is still making vital music - some of the best in a long career. The Shephard Fairey illustration on the cover and the title maybe suggest something that is more akin to his work with the Knitters. However this is a wider exploration of openness, space and a sense of freedom that covers a broad but still essentially rootsy soundscape. One that Doe fans and those who look for engaging roots music should get acquainted with.

AP Mauro Rainmakers Lamon

As with any broad format there are a lot of people out there making records. They make albums to be heard to express a point of view or because they just want to. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good - or bad. It just means that finding a place in an over supplied marketplace is difficult. This is no reflection on AP Mauro or his latest release rather it is a fact of life. This 6 track EP was recorded in Nashville and was produced by Mauro and Dave Moody. Other than that and the fact Mauro wrote all these songs there is no mention on the cover of who the other players were. But they did a pretty good job in fleshing out these songs. 

The title song You’re A Rainmaker has a propulsive beat with guitar and piano lines under Mauro’s song that offers a wry look on political posturing and shows that the man possesses a solid voice. It’s easy to see the Springsteen/Mellancamp/Earle comparisons that have appeared in reviews. Comparisons that anyone who aspires to a “blue collar” ethos seem to pick up. They are valid if not essentially all there is to know about the music here. In the end most Americana music is redolent of something that has gone before. That’s pretty inherent in the DNA of the genre and can apply to any number of artists.

Of the other songs here all suggest a maturing artist who is developing his craft and while none of the songs have that classic quality that defines a career song These Chains and Lonesome Highways (a trucker’s tale) are well worth repeated listen along with the aforementioned Rainmaker. Those who have heard and enjoyed AP Mauro in the past will be happy that they have some new music to listen to. Others could well start here and maybe find a new name to add to their listening list.

Marlon Williams Self-Titled Dead Oceans

The New Zealand native opens this, his debut solo album, with a the attention seeking Hello Miss Lonesome a fast a furious song that introduces his distinctive and acrobatic vocal style. Previously he has recorded with a band The Unfaithful Ways but this solo album gives him the opportunity to explore a broader more eclectic set of songs. And while he has acknowledged the influence of Gram Parsons for playing country music with respect but with a rock ’n’ roll attitude this album would be hard pressed to be classified as country to some more traditionaly orienteted fans. Country, in truth, would just be one influence in many.

His songs, some co-writes, have, at times, literary and cinematic quality all directed by his undaunted vocal ability that matches the lyrical twists. Dark Child has that a certain sense of that hue in it’s overall delivery. I’m Lost Without You is a 60’s style orchestral ballad written in that era by Teddy Randazzo and is the sort of thing that Marc Almond (or any number of 60s balladeers) would feel right at home with and is full of expressive regret and longing. An ethereal synth solo underscores this dark mood and it is an album standout. Silent Passage is a cover of a Bob Carpenter song (the title of his 1984 album). 

There is a dark humour to Strange Things theme of death, strange dreams and things that creep in the night. Not exactly the theme of your modern country song! When I Was A Young Girl has an eerie folk quality that is stripped down to a voice and guitar setting that again highlights the qualities of Williams’ vocal dexterity on his version of a traditional ballad. The downbeat mood continues for the final track a restrained setting with vocals choruses that tells us that Everyone’s Got Something To Say. Something I would imagine is true of this album. I look forward to Williams next move after what is a pretty remarkable debut.

Scott Cook and The Long Weekends Go Long Groove Revival

This package comes with an extensive full colour booklet of lyrics, an explanation of the Nashville numbering system and a note from Scott as well as a lot of pictures. These pictures show the assembled cast playing Beersbie (also explained in the booklet). A good time was had by all from the evidence and that feeling seems to have extended to the music too. An open love letter to the world it says on the back cover. There has been some love expounded for most things although Bob Geldof and Bono (as well as Russell Brand) may not think so from their mention in Drink Poverty History. Although I think the attitude is tongue in cheek. “And there’s still no snow in Africa this Christmas, and good, ‘cause wouldn’t that be strange?” A cheap shot or a personal observation? One for you to decide, but from Cook’s sleeve note this is the view of a character in the song rather than personal observation.

Elsewhere the direction of Cook’s darts are aimed at big stars, the folk communities reliance on certain songs, a song about the “kid with the comic book” written by Trevor Mills and called exactly that. As an alternative to singing Happy Birthday he wrote his own song The Day That You Were Born

One of the centre pieces is the warm and full timbre of Cook’s voice. It matches his lyrical storytelling. There have been mentions of Guy Clark, John Prine in some of the reviews and to that I might add maybe a touch of Todd Snider and Fred Eaglesmith in their more humourous mode. He gathers members of his old band to, in his own words, “try to put summer on record.” Whatever the intention he and his seven band mates and co-singers have delivered an upbeat acoustic folk stew that both sustains and is flavoursome. 

Cook is a storyteller and and worthy addition to many other notable Canadian singer/songwriters. There are 13 songs on the album the longest and most wordiest is Talkin’ Anthropocalypsc Blues at over eight minutes. It’s fun and makes some points on subjects that interest and provoke Cook. Whatever spirit you take it it deserves to be taken. You may well need that long weekend to take it all in though. Pick a sunny one.

Clarence Bucaro Pendulum TwentyTwenty

The fourth song on this tenth release from the New York based performer is a song that immediately sounds both new and familiar as perhaps the best kind of song should. Girl In The Photograph has a light reggae-ish lilt that has an instant appeal. A substantial but breezy pop song about treasuring a photograph of a person who has meant much at one part or another of someone’s life. Bucaro is also touches on more troubled moments as in Tragedy where he doesn’t want to be caught up in the drama created by another, not wanting to be a part of their tragedy. Watching You Grow is a tender observation with accordion a part of the musical setting.

The subtle sense of melody as well as something a little deeper edge applies to many of the songs here and they become more appreciated with regular play. Bucaro has a strong velvet smooth voice that gives life to these reflective and intimate songs. Throughout he works with a band that includes Scott Ligon on bass and keyboards, Rich Hitman on guitar and pedal steel and Alex hall on drums, accordion and keyboards. A tight but essential unit of players under the direction on Tom Schick (who has previously worked with Ryan Adams) and Bucaro himself behind the production desk. My Heart Won’t has central characters  that seek but are wary of finding love, or anyway a love that might last. Another notable contribution comes from Alison Moorer who co-wrote and sings on the final song Strangers. There is a sense of melancholy in the strangers in the night theme that is reflected in the prominently featured pedal steel. That instrument does not a country album make though and this, overall, has a folkier feel - even with the full band there to give the songs some added strength.

Clarence Bucaro after nine previous albums should be making some headway in terms of recognition and judging by the overall consistency shown here on Pendulum, one can only hope that some of that might just swing his way. Even if that’s not the case in proves that although there is something of an overdose of singer/songwriter albums on the horizon there are still undiscovered performers out there who make travelling down our lonesome highway worthwhile.