Reviews By Stephen Rapid

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters Self-Titled Organic

After four albums, as front person with the Honeycutters Amanda Anne Platt has taken the step to release this latest album under her own name. The Honeycutters are still there adding the kind of musical support that only a band that has shared stages, studios and small vans can. There is no doubting Platt’s central role here as lead vocalist, songwriter and producer (along with Tim Surrett). She does all three with skill and a steadfast vision. The thirteen songs here are Platt’s observations on life and the many tribulations faced getting through it. These are real and recognisable relationships observed with the eye of a writer who understand the balances of the good and the bad and is well capable of putting them in a succinct voice that is sympathetic yet unyielding. Perhaps summed up by the line “If you have a heart, now and then you’re gonna have a little heartache.” 

The music is framed in a way that shows its roots in traditional country storytelling yet is aware of many other musical tangents that fit easily into the overall picture. The Honeycutters; Matthew Smith, Rick Cooper, Josh Milligan and recent addition Evan Martin are satisfying throughout, playing with an understanding and awareness of what makes the song work. This is a band who have found their place and now need a wider audience to understand that too. Platt may not have the recognition (or sales) of some of her contemporaries but that in no way takes away from strength of the music that is on this album.

The quality of the songs here is obvious but Birthday Song, Late Summer’s Child, The Good Guys and The Things We Call Home all have an immediacy that picks them out on first listen. The other songs soon also make their presence felt and underscore what a talent Platt is. She has proven herself to be in this for the long haul and an artist who is gaining in craft and ability with each release. Strongly making the point in moving from the band name, to putting hers out front, is may seem a risk after working under the band name until now, but it is a necessary step for the future.

Slaid Cleaves Ghost On The Car Radio Candy House

By now Slaid Cleaves has earned his place in the pantheon of songwriters who have proved their skill and craftsmanship as storytellers par excellence. This is thoroughly emphasised by this latest album which is among, if not, his best album to date. There’s no reason to expect that he won’t continue to equal and surpass this too. Production and guitar duties are handled by Scrappy Jud Newcomb who seems an ideal choice to bring these folk-rock songs to life. It is simply a case of everything working together in a way that makes it hard to single out any particular song, although there are some obvious choices to recommend, which are mentioned below.

The ringing 12 string electric guitar, for instance, signals the openness of the musical direction. One that rings true and has a certain weight and texture that allows the songs to breath in their own space. Cleaves has an immediately identifiable vocal presence; a perfect vehicle to tell this tales of makers, misfits, miscreants and the misunderstood.

Drunken Barber’s Hand a co-write with his friend and fellow songwriter Rod Picot (whose own version appeared on his most recent album Fortune) is an observation that the world going to hell in a handcart. Picott also wrote three other songs here with Cleaves. There are other co-conspirators too with four other co-writes sitting alongside his four solo credits. This makes for a varied lyrical overview from the straight-up country saw-dusted memories of The Old Guard through to the tenderness of To Be Held. There are number of different moods and tempos that give the album a listenability that holds the attention from opening track to last.

Kudos also to Cleaves fellow players who, under Newcomb’s seasoned guidance, deliver an understated but statuesque performance that is solid and supportive. All of Cleaves albums have been good and this one is no exception and undoubtably one of tyhe best. Slaid Cleaves music works very musc in the nowand as such as it can illuminate the human condition with insight and a soupçon of humour. Long may he haunt the airwaves and the ear canals.

Jade Jackson Gilded Anti-

The debut album from Jackson is a reflection of her no-bullshit nature. She worked in her parent’s small-town California restaurant and there fostered the beginnings of her song writing experience. She has teamed up with Social Distortion’s frontman Mike Ness to produce the album. A perfect pairing as Ness' two country-orientated solo albums are a themsleves a perfect blend of both his punk and country sensibilities. Here the music has a little less of the harder edged punk sound but is still imbedded with its attitude. Jackson had seen Social Distortion headline a show she had attended on her own and was immediately taken with their performance to the point she then knew what she wanted to do in a life-shifting experience.

But that doesn’t exclude any tenderness or more reflective moments like Finish Line (“My skin’s a lot thicker than you’d think it’d be”). There is some up-tempo twang too with songs like Troubled End, detailing a dangerous relationship. On the other side of embrace is Motorcycle wherein our protagonist rides off alone in the sunset on her motorcycle noting “my motorcycle only seats one.” Over the eleven songs Jackson shows a present-day notion of what relationships can offer a person in a society as it exists now rather than 10, 20 or 50 years ago.

Jackson wrote all the songs, one with Ness and two others with her band members. Mention should be made of their contribution and Ness’ decision to use her road band of Andrew Rebel, Jake Vukovich and Tyler Miller in the studio. There they are joined by Sara Watkins on fiddle for several tracks alongside, on one track, Greg Leisz on pedal steel and a guitar solo from Ness on another. Focal point though is her telling vocal delivery that conveys a number of hard fought emotions. The end result is immediately satisfying blending the likes of Lucinda Williams and Rosie Flores with some harder left field rock/blues influences in something that is both familiar and yet distinctive in its execution. While many of her Nashville contemporaries proclaim a “rebel attitude” it is more often than not tempered by a certain need to achieve, or at least aim for, wider radio exposure. Here Jade Jackson makes the album she wants to and the end result is raw and ready; indeed, gilded and gratifying.

The Whiskey Charmers The Valley Sweet Apple Pie

In truth, something of a vehicle for Carrie Shepard who is the singer and chief songwriter with this band. Her partner in this musical venture is guitarist Lawrence Daversa. Together with a selection of players they deliver a solid slice of Americana. From their base in Detroit they dispense their desert tones that sounds like they might orientate closer to the Mexican rather than the Canadian border. Indeed, the opening song is called Desert. They produced the album themselves (their second) and it a concise, clear sound that is centred around Daversa’s guitar and Shepard’s voice, both of which are compelling elements of the Whiskey Charmers appeal. Daversa bring different guitar sounds to the songs as appropriate but in each case, underlines his importance to defining their music. Equally Shepard has a vocal dexterity that allows her voice a certain enduring smokey whiskey charm.

The album credits the orchestra pit with a selection of additional instruments from Flugelhorn to bagpipes however none of these are distracting or to the fore in the mix. Songs like Melody (with soft pedal steel) contrast with the more percussion driven tracks like the title track or Dirty Little Blues which in turn give way to the twangier guitar-toned somas like Meet Me There. Overall there is an air of brooding restraint and darkness to the songs that set an overall mood to the album that is suitable to some late night noir listening. As with a lot of Americana albums the overall direction here provides nothing that is outside of the parameters of such a wide-ranging form. Rather its appeal is in its execution and the strength of the songs themselves. All the elements here are blended to produce an album of lasting quality. One to be shared.

Shoot Lucy The Soothing Sounds Of Smack Me

Second outing from this Minnesota based power poppy/roots inclined six piece. Formed in 1996 this is their second album release. It is a lot of fun. The band is led by Dave Bernston who is their song writer and lead singer. He can write songs with the humorous consideration of another’s partner on the opening Disproportionately Hot Girlfriend, to the more serious consideration of how a domestic fallout can have an effect, often unintentional, on those around the bickering and belligerence in Not Their War.

I’m Blind features some nice pedal steel from guest Adam Ollendorff. Elsewhere guitarist David Nahan plays some lap steel to add that roots feel. They appear to have two drummers which gives a strong rhythmic foundation. They are Scott Skaja and Steve Schultz. The line-up is completed by Chris Berg on bass and Jennifer Urbach on Hammond organ and backing vocals. All bring these songs to life. There is a little of the Rembrandts about them but with a perhaps broader sound base.

The album features 8 songs and all are underpinned by a strong melodic sensibility and Bernston’s vibrant vocal. Lost considers the advice of other, most likely, unwanted with lines like “you should really go to church” and “you should really quit that horrible band.” While Won’t Go That Far is the response of a potential girlfriend to his abilities in terms of his mode of transport or guitar playing ability leading her to put limits on their intimacy potential.

The soothing sounds on offer here may not send you to sleep but they will have you tapping your feet, (occasionally) singing along and enjoying this collection of songs that sound like they came from another time and place and the more welcome for it.

Mike Younger Little Folks Like You And Me Self Release

This Canadian singer/songwriter cut his teeth travelling around his native country and busking before he got the attention of a music publisher which led to his 1999 debut album Somethin’ In The Air. The album was produced by Rodney Crowell. For his next album, he worked with noted producer Jim Dickinson. That album has never seen the light of day but may yet emerge. From that you can surmise that Younger has some noted talent.

For this album, he has worked with producer Bob Britt. The album was recorded in 2013 and released last year. It is never-the-less timeless roots music that has a Band-ish overall feel in a soulful, rhythm and blues and country feel. Recording with a keyboard, bass, drums, guitar and backing vocal line up he has made a rich and rewarding album. However, as with a number of albums, it is initially one song that immediately draws you in and back to the album. That is true with this album and that song is Poisoned Rivers which has an impassioned vocal over a simple backing of percussion, harmonica and dobro. It is a rejection of ill-considered industry fracking and deregulation. A stripped back song that stands with the little folks who seem to count for less and less these days. He offers a similar worldview in the self-explanatory What Kind Of World. Elsewhere the songs have a full sound that has its antecedents in late 60s rock.

All songs are enhanced by Younger’s voice which is one that has character and clarity. The direction of the music is not something that the listener will not have encountered before by several artists but in effect originality is not really what is on offer here, rather it is the work of an honest craftsman. There is a vibe in the groove of the songs that often clocks in above the 4 minutes with a couple passing the 5 minute mark. This all sets the tone for the type of album that it is. One that will appeal to the listener who appreciates the looseness of spirit and the tightness of the playing.

Jamie Wyatt Felony Blues Forty Below

We are told that the title is a nod to those country artists who have spent time incarcerated and have used the experience in their musical endeavours. The LA based singer is a part of the revitalised California country contingent. A singer with an attitude that belies her age Wyatt had a record deal when she was 17 but for a variety of reasons developed a drug problem that resulted in her robbing her dealer and the serving an eight month jail sentence. All of which makes for a good background story but counts for little if the music falls short. Thankfully this 7-track mini-album delivers much and promises more. It seems that the jail time has given her a need to get back to the music; free of rehab and confinement. She had family roots in California with a distant relative playing in Bakersfield. Her own music veers more towards that location than the Music Row affiliations of Nashville. Even with the production values being polished and persuasive bryond their budget.

The songs draw from experience and Drew Allsbrook’s production gives them a clean and concise musical setting that is contemporary country with steel and fiddle prominent on the mix alongside the harmony vocals and solid rhythm. Wishing Well looks at the possibilities open to improve your life situation. Stone Hotel and Wasco are both prison experience inspired songs. While From Outer Space breaks that confinement and features some otherworldly steel guitar from John Schreffler Jr. (who has also played with Shooter Jennings). Ted Russell Kamp and Gabe Wincher also add their undoubted talents. Another rising star California country scene, Sam Outlaw sings a tender love ballad with Wyatt on Your Loving Saves Me, which itself offers another shot at redemption. Misery And Gin (which was produced by Mike Clink) was written by John Durrill and recorded by a performer who Wyatt had an obvious affinity with - Merle Haggard.

She has a smooth, crystal clear voice that is reminiscent of some traditional singers of the past and has also has been compared to Linda Ronstadt, which has some truth, but shouldn’t take away from her own approach and assiduousness. Felony Blues stands in good company with a wide range of outstanding female artists emerging from the fringes who are making their mark.

The Brother Brothers Tugboats Self Release

Brothers Adam and David Moss have covered a lot of ground prior to working together; the former has played and toured with Session Americana as well as Ana Egge amongst others. David Moss has previously released solo albums Bag of Bones and Songs For Willoughby after a spell playing with a number of artists like The Broken Stars and Satellite Ballet. Here together, the Brooklyn based twin brothers, explore their folk roots and exquisite sibling harmonies. They bring together not only a shared history but also the experiences they gained playing in a variety of different musical settings.

The EP has six tracks and the production was handled by Andrew Sarlo and it is simple direct and highly effective. Although there is no mention on the packaging I’m assuming that these are all original songs from the Moss brothers, other than Columbus Stockade Blues, a song that was written in the late ’20s. Some of the songs take a more melancholy timbre like Come Back Darling, while Notary Public is more upbeat and humorous if still dealing with a failing relationship. The closing Cairo, Illinois is also a gentle evocation of having to find one’s way in this life and look towards something that one can call home. The instrumentation is often just cello and fiddle, sometimes guitar but always enhanced by the brother’s vocal harmonies and interaction. You can place these brothers alongside many of the greats. A folk equivalent of the Cactus Blossoms more country take but equally as attractive.