Mark Bates 'Down The Narrow' Self-release

That Bates only cover here is a version of Townes van Zandt says a lot about his aspirations and intentions. It's a pretty good interpretation too. His own songs are good too. That he has the talent Duke Levine on board suggest that Levine thinks so too. Bates posses a voice that does his songs justice and a way with words. His songs as delivered can loosely be described as Americana and beyond. Some of the songs make hard choices. Go On is about leaving while the final track Death Sucks is fairly self explanatory. But the song itself is delivered with not a little humour and a little touch of New Orleans. Other songs start for an equally downbeat premise but are delivered with some panache. A Drunkard's Holiday would be one such song. The other songs are equally full of nuances and angles. The playing and production are, throughout, a perfect match for bates singular take on life. Shotgun With The Devil has a banjo to give the songs a certain mood while the songs expands and illuminates the unsettling nature of the song. Down The Narrow is an album of fairly wide open music and an one that is a strong listening experience for those with a broader view of roots music but one worth the effort to discover. Judging from this I begin to wonder if he's any relation to Norman.

John Lilly 'Live On The Red Barn Radio' Self-Release

A live recording from Lexington, Kentucky on May 6th 2009. John Lilly is a traditional singer/songwriter who here delivers a set of his own songs from the Red Barn Radio show in the elemental form of voice, guitar and mandolin. He gives Jimmie Rodgers' No Hard Times an appropriate reading with a strong yodel inflected vocal. He returns to that form with A Little Yodel Goes A Long Way, something that many may agree with but Lilly makes it enjoyable. His mandolin playing is evident on (the excerpt from) Johnny Don't Get Drunk. He touches on gospel with Spirit (Bend Close To Me) and delivers an empowered vocal that emphasizes his prowess in deliver the soul of a song. His version of Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood's Gasoline Alley makes it sound as if it was written a hundred or more years ago. He changes pace and style with his own, more personal, song Blue Boy. As this is a recording of the aforementioned Radio show the closing song Last Chance To Dance, the title track of a previous album,has a closing voice over that disrupts the song. None-the-less this is an enjoyable album for those who will like his take on old time music.

Hennessy Keane Nowhere Fast Self-Release

A band built around the two members who give the band its name - Shaun Hennessy and Ian Keane they play country-styled roots rock, a fairly innocuous sound but a pleasant one with the band playing well and laying acoustic instruments under the electric guitar and bass. Producer Nicke Beere plays some Hammond to fill out the sound in places. But as this is the band's first album they can build on the obvious interaction that the band displays on this, their debut album. The two duo write together and deliver the vocals which have a warmth and balance that indicates that, although they are not new to the game, they have found a niche and a way to progress their music. Songs like Ain't Leaving Without You show them off well and they bring to mind a slightly under developed version of The Sutherland Brothers. A listenable album that has some good songs and a solid delivery that suggest that they would also make a good live band.

Heather Bristow 'Hope On The Vine' Self-Release

The North Carolina native now lives in Gloucestershire in the UK. These she carried on her interest in playing bluegrass and folk music and formed a duo High Lonesome. This is her first album under her own name and it's a good one. Her voice lives up to the name of her previous band and her original songs are perfect vehicles for her voice. The players, which include producer Ben Winship, do a great job and there is never any doubt about the music strengths and authenticity. She cover life and death and in between with songs like Who's Gonna Tend Your Grave?, Aint Glory Grand? and Counting Memories cover the loss side. The Miner's Tale could as easily be on a Steeleye Span album as one from Appalachia, it's acapella delivery makes it an album highlight, as is the duet with John Lowell Lonesome Lullaby. Despite the bittersweet subject matter of some of the songs they are always delivered with a sense of positivity and hope. All in all if your a bluegrass or just a fan of good acoustic music then Hope On The Vine will bear fruit for the listener.