Reviews by Declan Culliton

Bill Price I Can’t Stop Looking At The Sky – Grass Magoops

Inspired by the explorers Lewis and Clark, Bill Price took a lengthy trip around America and over a four year period wrote and recorded this extremely ambitious and hugely rewarding work. The journey covered over five thousand miles across the states of Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. His original intention was to compile a personal journal but the journey subsequently inspired him to put much of his thoughts and experiences to music. The end product includes two hours and twenty minutes of music, a one hundred and twenty page journal, a one hundred and sixty page book of essays and poems, posters and stickers. The album is Prices’ sixth release since his debut album in 2001.  

This review is based on a sixteen track sampler of music from the venture. The material featured on the album is hugely enjoyable and quite varied. I Don’t Want to Come Home is driving pacey rock, Makes Me Feel Better would sit proudly on Paul Simon’s Graceland while Heaven Collapse is all Tom Petty with predictable, yet wonderful, guitar riffs. If Simon, Petty and Jonathan Richman type 70’s rock is your cuppa, based on this sampler, you will embrace this enterprising product with open arms.

Daniel Romano Mosey – New West 

My abiding memory of Daniel Romano will always be seeing him exiting a taxi outside The Ryman in 2013 on his way to the Americana Awards Show. Resplendent in a colourful nudie suit, boots to match and a cowboy hat, flanked by two equally well attired cowgirls, he impressed as someone who when making a statement goes the whole hog. Mosey sees the enigmatic Romano moth ball the nudie suit and travel an altogether different highway than listeners to his previous albums would have anticipated. The Fifties/Sixties traditional country look on previous album covers has been replaced by a look closer to late 60’s Syd Barrett than Hank Williams on the album cover. Referring to his intention of exploring genres other than country Romano is on record recently stating “I’m trying to cover my ass so I don’t end up in some club I don’t want to be part of!”

A mere twelve months since the release of the excellent If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ the prolific Canadian has recorded most probably his strongest work to date, moving away from the Nashville and Bakersfield influences and exploring dustier border landscapes.  The addition of strings and horns often results in the material bearing a delightfully healthy relation to the work of Ennio Morricone. As was the case with If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ Romano plays all the instruments on the album with the exception of piano, horns and strings but  also managed to arrange the string and horn section. The album was self-produced by Romano and recorded in mono at his own studio in Fenwick, Ontario 

The opener Valerie Leon is a monster of a track, soaring gloriously from the word go with mariachi horns and strings a plenty and slick vocals. The rootsy Toulouse sees actress Rachel Mc Adams dueting effectively with Romano. Mr.E.ME is immediately catchy, humorous and again adorned beautifully by strings and horns. Sorrow (For Leonard and William) has a luscious flow with a vocal and lyric recalling Leonard Cohen. (Gone is) All But A Quarry Of Stone is the most ‘country’ offering including some pulsating keyboards. Equally striking is One Hundred Regrets Avenue, the albums longest track, a seductive piano ballad and an indication of Romano’s ability to be equally adept in penning a ballad as a swashbuckler. 

Echo Bloom Red (2016)/Blue (2013) - Self Release

Two very interesting offerings from an intriguing set of musicians recording under the name of Echo Bloom. The band/collectives title is a play on the phase Echo Boom which refers to the offspring of baby boomers and is a vehicle for multi-instrumentalist Kyle Evans who wrote and produced both albums. The albums form part of a ‘Colours’ triptych with each of the three albums experimenting an entirely different musical genre. The first album Blue represents chamber pop, the second and current album Red visits country(ish) rock and the final album of the trilogy Green will focus on classic pop.

The obvious comparison to Evans’ most ambitious project would be the work of Sufjan Stevens and lovers of Stevens’ work will find so much to enjoy in both these albums. Red features no fewer than ten musicians and describing the album as country rock probably does not do it justice. It often enters dark country-noir territory, no more so than the track Willingham which describes the execution of Cameron Willingham for the murder of his three daughters.  It’s beautifully atmospheric throughout, intense with delightful layered backing vocals adding to to Evan’s often whispered and strained vocal. Leaving Charlestown tells the tale of two lovers eloping from Charlestown in search of a new life. Evangeline recounts the writers failure to deliver on his promises to his lover. “The man you love so long ago‘s all torn and faded and there’s nothing left inside of him not full of hatred. Another Rose is straight down the middle honky tonk.

It’s quite interesting revisiting Blue in the context of reviewing Echo Bloom’s current album and certainly rewarding. The songs are more acoustic and highlight Evan’s seductive vocal often with sparse accompaniment of backing vocal and guitar. The description of chamber pop refers to the addition of viola, violin, French horns, cello and oboe which embellish some of the songs. Evan’s describes how the ideas for the songs on the album were larger and more symphonic than anything he had previously written and demanded absolute concentration and distraction free to complete them. As a result he relocated to Berlin which he considered the perfect location to finalise the album. 

Standout tracks are the quite stunning, minimalistic and haunting The Prostitute (Goodbye Savannah), The Flood, which has a definite nod in the direction of Sufjan Stevens and the equally delightful Fireworks. All in all two excellent albums by an artist that I have to admit passed under my radar but whom I will certainly eagerly wait for the release of the final album from the trilog 

Rachel Garlin Wink at July – Tactile 

This is the fifth album released by San Francisco based singer-songwriter Rachel Garlin.  Featuring twelve tracks, the album often brings to mind the earthy, happy work of Laura Veirs. The album is essentially a series of well written unconnected stories delivered by Garlin, both acoustically and with backing musicians, in a distinctive semi-conversational rather than powerful vocal. She plays guitar on all tracks with contributions from eighteen different musicians. 

Opening with Gwendolyn Said, possibly the albums stand out track, the song nostalgically recalls Garlin’s trips on the school bus and reading a quote from poet Gwendolyn Brooks “Exhaust the little moment, soon it dies.” The Winding Road breezes along, immediate and poppy. The Sea You See is an ode to Garlin’s mother who emigrated from Scotland. Colorado Rain is catchy and toe tapping and the reflective title track closes the album. All in all an uncomplicated, very listenable, enjoyable and particularly relaxing listen.

Rainey Qualley Turn Down The Lights – Cingle

Turn Down The Lights is the debut album from actress turned singer Rainey Qualley.  Daughter of actress Andie Mc Dowell and musician Justin Qualley, the 26 year old’s seven track release is firmly aimed at the country pop market. The material is likely to work with the current country radio listenership leaning heavily toward the commercial poppy end of the market. Qualley without doubt possesses a wonderful voice and considerable song writing ability, six of the seven tracks being co-writes with John Ramey. 

The opener Turn Me On Like The Radio is Kasey Musgraves territory, catchy, instant and radio friendly. Kiss Me Drunk recalls mid 90’s Alanis Morissette and Cool, Wild, Whatever closes the album in style, poppy, catchy and immediate. 

The album, recorded at the Cowboy Arms Hotel and recording Spa in Nashville, if anything suffers from over production in places with layered vocals and drum machines dominating but not particularly enhancing the songs. Qualley has unquestionably inherited her parent’s talents and ticks all the boxes to make an impression in the mainstream country market 

Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles Soon Enough – Clubhouse 

There appears to be an endless contingent of quality female singer/songwriters currently recording albums of exceptional quality. Nashville resident Erin Rae is the latest addition to a string of such artists that have made the first six months of 2016 particularly productive in terms of worthy releases. This debut album Soon Enough was recorded live in Nashville over a two day period and finds the Jackson-born Rae flirting between the Laurel Canyon country folk sound of yesteryear and the more current roots driven Americana. It’s a piece of work that seems to benefit from the short recording period, uncomplicated, stripped back, weightless and natural.

Regardless of classification the irresistible Clean Slate, the second of thirteen songs on the album, will certainly stand out with the writer as one of the finest songs of the year, enhanced by some glorious steel guitar it’s a song that seems to have been with the listener for ever.

The arrangements throughout are simple featuring Rae’s acoustic guitar playing often accompanied only by bass and drums, occasionally with the addition of pedal steel. Rae’s wonderful honeyed vocal stands out and there are delightful songs around in plenty from the unhurried title track to the aching melody of Owe You One.

She is a quality act signed to the Clubhouse UK label, here’s hoping we get the opportunity to hear this set of reflective songs performed live by an artist mature beyond her years. Most definitely for lovers of Laura Cantrell and Patsy Cline.