Reviews by Paul McGee

Christa Couture Long Time Leaving Self-Release

On the track That Little Part of my Heart, Christa Couture sings “Don’t be afraid to be amazing – you are amazing”. She could be singing this line to another or to herself, about herself, in an attempt to boost her self-talk to a level where renewed courage shines through. It is just one example of the subtle muse at play when she writes her words of life and longing, love and lust and everything in-between. 

This is Christa’s fourth release and it marks a departure from the searing self- analysis of her previous albums which dealt with personal tragedy in a way that both inspired and devastated in equal measure. Coming out of a marriage and going through divorce  is a time for reflection and self-examination, but when life has dealt you dire cards in the years before, then a certain perspective is brought to bear. Fighting cancer and losing a limb, yet winning the battle, was nothing compared to the deaths of her two children, losses painfully and bravely borne and now referenced through her music.

For this new project Christa has employed the many-talented Steve Dawson as producer/musician and his finely tuned influence is very prominent on Long Time Leaving ‘s 12 songs. The studio musicians add a texture that allows plenty of space and room. The sound is lighter and more commercial with a number of upbeat arrangements to add a nice tempo to the overall feel.

The early glow of a potential new relationship is explored in Alone in This and is balanced against the sad realisation of Separation/Agreement that leaves a feeling of resignation, with lines like “it’s difficult to know how to divide which ghosts are yours and which are mine”. The Slaughter explores flirtation with the heady swim of experimentation and new opportunity to play at being Aphrodite. Solid Ground reaches out to try and find mutual understanding where the “best medicine is an honest conversation”, while Zookeeper looks at the whole process of counselling and the role of a marriage guidance counsellor as a zookeeper overseeing the zoo animals who might strike out at any moment. Dealing with the frustration of failed relationships is given a fresh spin on When It Gets Dark Again and the urge to binge drink all problems away for just a little while. 

We end with feelings of enduring, which is a mantra that seems to run through the path of this artist; brave and resourceful, talented and open to tomorrow. Along Time Leaving is a very fine release that sits well in Couture’s catalogue and is an example that creative music that can be found in the worst of experiences and shared for the greater good.

Jeb Barry Milltown Dollyrocker

Milltown is a follow up to Barry’s solo EP Bury Me in a Lonely Place released in 2014.  It is based in the acoustic singer-songwriter vein and comparisons have been made to Jason Isbell and Steve Earle in both the vocal delivery and subject matter of the 15 songs.

 Clocking in at just over of 47 minutes, the tracks become somewhat repetitive with sparse songs of the darker side of life; small town decay (Milltown #2, No Way Out of This Town) resignation with life (Drag the River, $10 Girl), regrets over the past and old relationships (Shoot Out the Moon, If You Were Whiskey, Gone), lost hope and lost lives (Hard Times, Why I Drink Alone, Weird Places).

 Barry sings in a weary, gravelly voice that fits the words well and the support musicians slot superbly into the songs with Pat Powers (banjo, harmonica), Ernie Barufa (bass, percussion), Mike O’Neill (guitar, Dobro) and Heather Austin (vocals) all adding understated support to Barry and his various guitars. 

This is a contemporary take on bleak, economically busted small town America and the perspective of wasted lives. Barry’s style has been aptly described as ‘hard dirt Americana’ which sums it up very well. 

West of Eden Look to the West West of Music

West of Eden is a 6 person Swedish band inspired by the creative hub of Jenny and Martin Schaub, who write the majority of the songs. This is their 9th release, a concept album focusing on the emigration trail taken by many Swedes in the 19th century, looking for a better life and greater opportunity on the shores of England, America and beyond. There is a strong resonance with Ireland and our own mass emigration following the Famine years of 1845-1849. The music of both nations is similar and this is added to by the very Gaelic feel that runs through many of the song arrangements. 

Both Schaubs have studied Irish traditional music here and their sensitive arrangements are beautifully produced with a swell of melody giving a lush feel to songs about missing home (Going to Hull, Sweet Old Country), sailing away from loved ones (Oh I Miss My Home, The Final Cut), reluctant travellers (The Crying Stairs, Look to the West) and hard luck stories of deception and robbery on distant shores (Wilson Line).

Their sound has been described as ‘Celtic Folk’ but this is not a very fair reflection of the experience and talent that these musicians bring to each project. Yes, they honour to old folk traditions of songs about land and sea, hard times and hope for the future, but they are so much more with fine harmonies lifting the melodies to new heights and the subtle use of horns and trombones on certain tracks giving the project a deeper resonance. The fiddle/viola playing of Lars Broman is always a joy, along with the fine accordion playing of Jenny Schaub and the flute of Steph Geremia, the mix of dobro, mandolin, pump organ and guitars make for a heady experience.

There are songs of packing for the journey (The List) and of having to escape a loveless marriage (Please Mister Agent). However, one of the most poignant songs is The Ticketless Man which tells of those left behind through not being able to afford the ticket to a new life. Rainy Town sings of another left behind who does not envy those who leave for an unknown fate – better to stay with the familiar life that is tried and tested. Two instrumentals show the band and guest musicians in full flow and both  Paddy Fahey’s/Sweel and Tekla’s Tune display the range of talent at play.

Strong storytelling in the traditional folk style and the sweet voice of Jenny Schaub make this a potent listen and the talents of West of Eden are worth investing time in discovering. 

James Houlahan Multitudes Gumbo Luvah

James Houlahan is a singer- songwriter who first came to prominence with bands like Dogs on Television and The Jody Grind around Boston. Now living in Los Angeles, he has released two previous solo albums, Seven Years Now and Misfit Hymns and has a number of recognised session musicians on this collection of 10 songs, including Fernando Perdomo (Jakob Dylan) on bass and Danny Frankel (Lou Reed, kd lang) on percussion. The project was recorded at Veneto West studios in Santa Monica, and was produced by Houlahan and Ronan Chris Murphy (King Crimson, Steve Morse).  

Many of the song arrangements display a leaning towards the eccentric and strange, with the instrumentation somewhat at odds; the drums on the opening murder song Fires of Mercy sound ponderous and a second murder song Marcy’s Lament suffers from noise treatments and vocal distortions. The rock groove of The Rogue Song stands starkly against the gentle folk strum of acoustic guitars on Morning Sun and the ghost/fantasy dreamscape of Mystery Earth Song, the longest track here at almost 7 minutes, contains elements of Mexican brass and strings added to the mix. The country twang of Home shows the direction that this artist could benefit from placing greater focus on, with some neat pedal steel from Erik Kristiansen and sweet violin from Kaitlin Wolfberg.  

The final track is also interesting with the slow strum of Joyful Circuit  and Danny Levin’s horns adding greatly to the overall feel. There are just too many different styles here, which leads to a general feeling of no real direction. 

Carly Dow Ingrained Self Release

This is the first solo release from Canadian artist Carly Dow, who lives in Manitoba. She sings of the environment and our relationship with nature (Too Much to Go Back) in addition to reflecting on matters of the human heart and our ability to endure (Watch it Go). 

She sings with a clear and strong voice that blends perfectly with her acoustic based songs and her banjo and guitar rhythms. From the clap and stomp beginning of Olive Branch and its message of sisterhood, to the bluesy beat of This Dress, there is a confidence flowing through the arrangements and the playing that fits perfect with the overall feel of the project. 

The light jazz groove of Down This Road has some very tasty bass playing from Ashley Au that is complemented by the fine playing of Matt Filopoulos on lap steel and electric guitar. Cello by Julian Bradford on Yours & Mine is beautifully understated and dovetails with lap steel in a reflection on past relationships ;  “I search in the past, where I sometimes live; for the touch, for the brush of a hand”. This is fine writing and plenty to enjoy ona very promising debut.

Mike Jacoby NorthEastSouthWest Self Release

Jacoby is based in Long Beach California and has released his second solo album which takes the title from his birth place in the NorthEast and his current abode in the SouthWest. The album is a self- produced project and Jacoby plays all the instruments on the eleven self-penned songs included here.

 He writes in an American-ish vein, with opening tracks Ready When You Are and Nevermind Me setting the tone with strong beats and a rhythm that sweeps along with attitude. He is clearly a musical talent and his ability to deliver this project single-handed has to be admired and applauded.

There is a country feel to Explaining to Do with its’ swing and swagger and Lay of the Land has a radio friendly groove that will appeal to many. Lie in Bed is a strong track that slows everything down before the driving beat of Where She Goes recalls early 1950s rockabilly.