Reviews by Paul McGee

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards California Calling Compass Records

Connection is the abiding feeling that runs through the music of this prolific artist. Her creative drive and willingness to collaborate has stood her in good stead across a career that has seen seven previous releases, each one special in its own right. Laura plays a number of instruments on this latest project, including fiddle, synth bass and glass harmonica. She also sings in a seductively sweet voice and adds stomps and claps to proceedings. Valerie Thompson plays cello, marimba, Rhodes, glass harmonica and also adds vocals and claps. Jenna Moynihan contributes on fiddle, voice, banjo, stomps, claps, glass harmonica and toy piano, while Natalie Bohrn plays bass, glass harmonica and sings.

Sam Kassirer, a very creative influence, produces and also contributes on acoustic and electric pianos, organs, synthesizers, percussion, marimba. It’s all a heady mix of eclectic and ethereal sounds that are very rooted in a Country/Folk tradition and seem timeless in every aspect of their creation.  The eleven tracks have much to recommend them and the traditional arrangement of Swing & Turn (Jubilee) is particularly appealing, as is the sweet melody of Three Little Words. Skipping Stone and Pace Myself, while very different in arrangement, also impress but it is the album in its entirety that stands as a true work of great inspiration.

Red Moon Joe Time & Life DBS 

This title is an appropriate summary of this band’s history which saw a first release in 1990, before fate and circumstance stepped in and 20 years later, the original band gets back together again to record their second album, Midnight Trains in 2010.

Americana, bluegrass and country come together on this third release, with Paul Casey (drums, percussion, vocals), Steve Conway (pedal steel, lap steel, guitar, mandolin, dobro, vocals); Dave Fitzpatrick (guitar, mandolin, gob iron, banjo, vocals); David A. Smith (bass, guitar, vocals); Mark Wilkinson (vocals, guitar) making this a very pleasant listening experience.

The band hail from England and the authentic feel of their sound is peppered with great playing that runs through songs like The High Lonesome; Elvis, Townes & Hank; and One Day Behind.

Please Take My Broken Heart is a classic country sound and Hard Road displays some great guitar playing over a driving rhythm that finds the band almost straying into Lynyrd Skynyrd territory.

Shadows calms everything down with a quiet strum and a reflective look at the modern world. One Day Behind is a classic bluegrass workout that energises and inspires and the last track, Nobody’s Fool leaves you with a smile and the urge to keep listening. 

Jim Byrnes Long Hot Summer Days Self Release

With ten previous releases over a career that has seen this artist take turns as a musician, movie actor, TV and voice actor and very fine blues player of some 40 years; Jim Byrnes continues to defy the hands of time and produce work of sterling quality. He works on a regular basis with Steve Dawson, one of Canada’s most influential musicians/producers and the 12 tracks included here are a mixture of old standards and other choices that may surprise. All are carried off with great aplomb and sass as the musicians produce quality playing throughout. The horn section and the keyboards give a swell to the arrangements that are perfectly suited to the guitar breaks of both Jim and Steve Dawson. Covers of Leonard Cohen (Everybody Knows), Robbie Robertson (The Shape I’m In), Willie Dixon (Weak Brain, Narrow Mind) and Eddy Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Steve Cropper (Ninety Nine and a Half Won’t Do) are all delivered with great panache. A great record for the car on a long journey with the windows down and the volume turned right up.

Beki Hemingway Whins & Weather Self Release

What a pleasure to find this artist again after many years out of sight. Beki had a burgeoning career in the late 90’s with the release of a number of excellent albums and growing media interest. However, Life is what happens when making other plans and she found herself pulled in different directions; returning to the industry in the last few years, having spent time working in events media and dealing with some health issues. This 10-track release shows that Beki has lost none of her strong writing skills and her voice sounds really powerful and seasoned by the added years of living that have coloured her perspective on life.

This is a very impressive statement, from the country roll of opening track Two More Hills, which deals with the need to keep enduring no matter what happens; to the blues groove of My World Is Out There, which speaks of grabbing life and living the days that present themselves. The production by Conor Brady at Camden Studios is really bright and the arrangements are clear as a bell to allow the full range of Beki’s singing to come to the fore. Together with husband Randy Kerkman, who plays, writes and also co-produces, this lady knows how to put real conviction and feeling into a song.

Is This All delivers a superb vocal full of wistful yearning along with an understated acoustic guitar & keyboard support. Anyone But You is a more up-tempo number and shows the versatility of this superb artist. Lyrically, she shows that the extended family connection to Ernest Hemingway is not wasted and break-up songs like Not Excused have wry observations such as "you look much better in my rear-view mirror." Because offers the observation that "our scars are just reminders of the places we’ve been healed" in another stand-out song with just gentle voice and acoustic guitar accompaniment. Thank You For The Rain is a song of celebration for the good things we get in our lives and the perspective gained; "the grey skies bring back the green grass" and ‘thank you for the mystery of the darkness and the mercy of the light’.

The coterie of studio musicians are very supportive with subtle playing and the excellent Kenny Hutson delivers on a number of instruments, along with Cian Boylan on keys and Smiley on drums. Duke Special guests on You Sing This Song and Tourist, a song that captures the conflicting emotions of a recent visit to Auschwitz.

Comparisons to Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams are merely signposts along the main road that brings you to the singular talent of this superb singer-songwriter. Beki Hemingway is back and on a mission to capture the hearts and minds of everyone fortunate enough to find this very fine music. Check out her catalogue at or CD Baby.

Susan Cattaneo The Hammer & the Heart Jerseygirl 

Two CD’s, each with nine songs; one called The Hammer and the other called The Heart. Forty musicians were involved in the making of the album and some of the guests include The Bottle Rockets, Mark Erelli, Bill Kirchen, Jennifer Kimball and Todd Thibaud.

Anyone who does not know of Susan Cattaneo is missing out on one of Boston’s most respected songwriters. She blends rock, folk and blues with a healthy dose of country. If you are looking for a signpost then it would read Mary Chapin Carpenter meets Shawn Colvin but then you would miss the turn that leads to the unique talents of Susan in her own right. Four covers are included in the tracks and the others are all written by the lady herself or co-written, in the case of five songs. The atmospheric Dry, sung with Dennis Brennan, is a real stand-out moment on a hugely enjoyable listen. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger is another special moment with guitar shredding courtesy of Mark Erelli. Country Blues at its finest on disc one.

Work Hard, Love Harder spans both CD’s as the opening track, on the second it is played with the Boxcar Lilies and the sweet folk/bluegrass arrangement kicks off a set of songs that are more gentle and acoustic after the electric blues of cd one. Country colourings run throughout these nine songs and the playing is more restrained and laid back. Bitter Moon and Smoke are a duo of songs that deal with the frustration of relationships. A very cool version of the Mose Allison song Everybody Cryin’ Mercy is followed by David Bowie’s Space Oddity which is a strange way to end the project but should not take away from what is a terrific release filled with real treasures.

Fallon Cush Morning Lightly Toasted

This is the fourth record from a Sydney band who describe themselves as a collision of rock, alt. country, psychedelic rock and pop. Fallon Cush is the vehicle for songwriter Steve Smith, who plays guitar and is joined by Glen Hannah (guitar), Casey Atkins (guitar), Tim Byron (keyboards), Scott Aplin (keyboards), Peter Marley (bass), Chris Vallejo (bass), Michael Carpenter (bass), Josh Schuberth (drums/ percussion), Suzy Goodwin(vocals) and Stephanie Grace (backing vocals). So, very much a collective that has come together to provide the big, melodic sound on display across the nine songs. There are hints of Crowded House and the playing is excellent with great production and a vibrant sound from the arrangements. Long Shot, Best Laid Plans and No Answers are immediately appealing but the entire project is worthy of your attention if you enjoy the direction that commercial Americana has been going in; radio-friendly tunes that will be very well received.