Reviews by Paul McGee

Judy Kass Beyond The Ash & Steel Self Release

New York-based Judy Kass began playing at an early age and her passion for music education led her to found a community program (MusicWorks) in 2008.

A debut album, Better Things, appeared in 2014 and this, her follow-up, was released in 2016.  Judy is a strong song-writer, having penned all but one of the tracks included here. Her vocals are clear and tinged with an air of lament; life lessons gained along the path she has walked. She plays guitar and piano and is joined by Mark Dann on bass, organ, mandolin and electric guitar; Dan Hickey on drums; John Sebastian on harmonica; Sara Milonovich on violin; Kyla Milonovich on trumpet.

From the easy jazz shuffle of opening track Chili Pepper Nights to the up-tempo rhythm of Laugh and Reckless Driving, Judy delivers on all fronts. The key tracks are back-to-back with both Beyond the Ash and Steel, followed by Carry Me Nowhere, setting the gentle tone of the project which is coloured with bright co-production from Judy and Mark Dann.

Turn Us Around is about honesty & openness in relationships and Vastness Of Now deals with appreciating the essence of life and being in the moment. The closing track Selfless Deed speaks of pivotal moments that can dictate the route that a life can take and the consequences of our actions. Very enjoyable.

Head For The Hills Potions and Poisons Self Release

This band is from Colorado, USA and they play Bluegrass music that is very much in keeping with the old traditions of this genre. Afraid Of The Dark begins with an example of the talents at play and the mandolin of Sam Parks is very much to the fore. Suit and Tie showcases the violin of Joe Lessard and throughout the ten original songs, the steady bass playing of Matt Loewen provides a constant rhythm from which the other members can intersperse and interplay.

Potions and Poisons is their fourth album and members Adam Kinghorn, Joe Lessard, Matt Loewen and Sam Parks take on the production duties and a look at life with all the pull and push that defines us. Bonnie Paine (Elephant Revival) sings and plays washboard on 2 songs, with Erin Youngberg (Uncle Earl, FY5) adding vocals on Waiting On You, with viola & cello played by Ryan Drickey and Dana Shin on Kings and Cowards. There is an Old Time feel to the instrumental music on Floodwaters and Bitter Black Coffee has the ensemble dovetailing together with impressive rhythm and understanding. This is music that energises and keeps the listener engaged.

Steepways Holy Smoke Mansion House

A debut album from Blair Chadwick and Charlie Bateson who together make up the creative centre of Steepways. Their sound is very much based in the great American traditions of Country influences with excellent harmony vocals and easy song arrangements that are peppered with warm keys, banjo, dobro and pedal steel guitar among the instrumentation.

Blair takes lead vocals and plays some excellent electric and Spanish guitar while Charlie adds acoustic guitar and 6-string banjo, plus vocals across the 11 songs included here. The production duties are undertaken by Chris Clarke, regular bass player with Danny and the Champs and he is joined by fellow Champs member Andy Fairclough on Hammond organ, piano and Wurlitzer. The arrangements are superbly executed by the players who also include Jamie Shaw on drums, Darren Buddell on lap and pedal steel and Siobhan Parr on vocals. Standout tracks are Hannah-Lee, Echoes and the playful bounce of Rather Be Alone. Something for all tastes included here and an impressive debut.

PI Jacobs A Little Blue Travianna

This is a fine release and something of an about-turn for Los Angeles singer-songwriter Pi Jacobs. Her rock influenced previous releases have been put to the side after a chance meeting in 2015 with the head of Mountain Fever Records, the premiere US bluegrass label, which led to the offer of a recording contract.

A resulting creative collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist, Aaron Ramsey has delivered 12 tracks of great colour and interesting arrangements. This artist can certainly hold a tune as proven on Good Things; as close to an up-tempo rocker as this project gets. There is a bluesy feel to Faking It and the restrained playing adds to the atmosphere of the song. Half Way Done showcases Pi’s voice in all its gentle restraint, as does the poignant last track, When My Father Is Gone.

Pi Jacobs sings and plays acoustic guitar, plus box percussion, while Aaron Ramsey contributes on bass, mandolin and guitar. Jeff Pertin plays dobro and lap steel and there are vocal turns on harmony from Kel Pritchard and Celia Chavez. Sam Morrow guests on vocals on the excellent Purple State and the overall stripped down feel of the songs is very appealing with plenty of room for the musicians to play in the space around the melodies. The result is a bluesy feel to a country collaboration that points in a very positive direction for the future.

Blind Lemon Pledge and Friends Backwoods Glance Ofeh

With five previous releases that have established this interesting artist as a real talent, the appearance of this new release has been received with open arms. The music of Blind Lemon Pledge is a mixture of blues and country at the best of times but this release concentrates mostly on Americana, folk, and country influences that are ingrained in the musical heritage of his homeland. Over 12 songs the quality of the performance and the song- writing are superb with the studio musicians really finding that magic touch throughout the process.

Tom Cline (Dobro), Jimi Edwards (keys, percussion, vocal), Peter Grenell (bass), Cal Keaoola (violin and fiddle), John Pearson (Cajon, Djembe, percussion) and Marisa Malvino (vocals) all join with Blind Lemon on Vocals, guitars and harmonica to deliver a very rewarding record. Sisters Of The Coalmine and Moon Over Memphis are fine examples of the diversity here and the early Dylan feel of Lynchburg Town is balanced against the sad tale of Fayetteville and the plight of the homeless. Carolina Kiss is pure nostalgia and the memory of an early romance while the Cajun spin of Ma Belle Cherie is a dizzy dance tune with Cal Keaoola letting loose. Another winner in the career achievements of Blind Lemon Pledge.

Tim Henderson Gone to Texas, Volume 1 Snake Hollow

Tim Henderson (1940–2011) was a singer–songwriter who was held in the highest regard by many who came after him and were influenced by his craft and words.

Gone to Texas is Volume 1 of a six-CD Legacy Collection created to celebrate and honour his music The other releases are Vol 2, Live in Texas; Vol 3, Damron Sings Henderson; Vol 4, West Virginia in my Dreams; Vol 5, Songs of Protest; Vol 6, In My Eyes.

He lived most of his adult life in Texas and composed many great songs that dealt with the history, land, people and overall influences of the Lone Star State. He was a folk musician and a balladeer of the highest quality and is still revered by those who were in his orbit as they learned the craft of song-writing and performance. Titles such as Texas In His Ways; Jesus Would Have Loved El Paso; Town Of Tascosa; Austin In The Summer; Texas Morning Ride and Galveston Shrimper give a flavour for the style of song included here. Authenticity and heart-felt acoustic gems that inspire and pay due reverence to a lost talent.