Reviews by Paul McGee

Hometown Marie Wild Side Self Release

Authentic Country Rock from this Swedish band who really impress on this 4-track EP. They sound like the real deal and come out of the traps with the driving Like We Used To, which features a laid-back groove and some fine vocals. Unfortunately, there are very few details available about the band, although Facebook tells me that the four band members are named; Oskar, Simon, Gabriel and Accel. 

Cannot say who plays what, but the sound is really tight and could be any of the current crop of American Country bands that are breaking through Stateside. A previous EP in 2014 was called The Wanderer and they have a few more tracks on You Tube that are worth checking out.  

To add to my confusion, they are clearly a 4-piece but on the cover of the EP they are pictured as a 5-piece? Self sabotage – I would doubt it, but they could do with a decent media team working on their behalf.

Yours Tonight is a fine example of the band in full flight, while Run To You pears things back to a slow burn with some tasty guitar parts. The final song, Wild Side, is just made for Country FM and has hit record written all over it. More please.

Winter Mountain I Swear I Flew Astral Fox

Winter Mountain is the stage name of singer songwriter Joseph Francis (Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Piano, Harmonica). He is based in Cornwall, UK and his folk-rock sound impressed Cara Dillon and her husband/producer Sam Lakeman who decided to sign Francis to their Charcoal Records label after watching a performance in Donegal, Ireland. 

Winter Mountain released a debut album in 2013 as a duo, with Martin Smyth, an Irish musician who introduced Francis to Donegal and that meeting with Dillon and Lakeman. Smyth left in 2015 and now Winter Mountain is carried on the impressive talents of Francis. His is a sweet vocal and a gentle playing style, perfectly complimented by the coterie of studio musicians who contribute to this project. 

Produced by Joe Francis who also wrote all the ten songs featured here; tracks like Sunlight, Good Roads, Things That I’ve Done Wrong, Dragonfly and Before The Flood highlight an emerging talent that is deserving of great praise for this confident release.

Eric Ambel Lakeside At The Helm

I was first introduced to the music of Eric Ambel back in 1989 when he released a cracking solo record called Roscoe’s Gang (still have it on vinyl). As a one-time member of the Del Lords, he went on to greater fame as a producer and worked with artists like Nils Lofgren, The Brandos, Steve Earle, The Bottle Rockets, Joan Jett, Blue Mountain, Freedy Johnston and many others. 

He has spent recent years in various roles, either as a producer, sideman or sought-after collaborator. Lakeside is his latest song collection and follows on from Knucklehead (2004) and Loud n’ Lonesome (1994). The title of the new release is in honour of the Lakeside Lounge, the bar and music venue which Ambel co-owned and operated in New York’s East Village from 1996 until 2012.  

There are a number of different styles running through the 10 tracks here with a nod back to the days of Cash and Orbison on Let’s Play With Fire while Massive Confusion channels a Rockpile sound.  Don’t Make Me Break You Down has a slow brooding beat that places a mean guitar on top of a languid drum shuffle.  A cover of Look At Miss Ohio (Welch/Rawlings) is very well placed here with a slow pace that highlights an arresting guitar break to great effect. 

There is no doubting the wonderful paying talents of Eric Ambel and with the sweet melody of Buyback Blues followed by the instrumental, Crying In My Sleep, this collection draws to a very satisfactory close. Welcome back to an experienced and expansive artist.  

Hat Fitz Cara After the Rain Self Release

Nine songs over 32 minutes from this Australia-based duo that is made up of Hat Fitz; a wild man of the blues scene and Cara Robinson, who has a background in soul music having worked with artists such as Jamiroquai and Corinne Bailey-Rae. This is Roots music with a Bonnie Raitt meets Little Feat groove running through songs like Going Home and Doing It Again.

Cara sings with a clear, confident and sassy delivery and also contributes on vintage drums and washboard. There is a loose, ramshackle feel to tracks like After the Rain and Tank Man and the guitar & mandolin playing of Hat Fitz is very much to the fore. The album was inspired by true events in their lives, past and present and this is release number four in a career that has seen Beauty And The Beast (2010), Wiley Ways (2012) and Do Tell (2014) precede this current collection. Worth checking out.

Stephen Fearing Every Soul’s a Sailor Self Release

Stephen Fearing was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and grew up in Dublin, Ireland where his schoolmates included future members of U2. In the years since, he has developed into one of the finest songwriters in Canada and has built an international audience for his music.

This is his 10th release, including a live record, and all songs are written by Stephen Fearing with two co-writes. The studio musicians include John Dymond on bass, Gary Craig on drums & percussion, David Travers on horns and Rose Cousins on harmony vocals for 2 tracks. It all works like a charm with songs of real colour and personality. 

Lyrically there is a diverse mix of subjects from the know yourself message in the opening Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, to the loneliness of constant life in motion, Red Lights In The Rain. The message in Blowhard Nation is one of cynical electioneering and the boulevard of broken dreams for the electorate.  Throughout, Fearing comes across as an accomplished artist who is in command of every aspect of this project. Love The Deal speaks of embracing the challenges of life and forgiving our imperfections and Carousel deals with facing disappointment and counsels to "get back on that horse and ride again."

Another strong release from this talented singer-songwriter and one that adds to his reputation as a contemporary artist worthy of greater attention.

Lowri Evans & Lee Mason A Little Bit Of Everything Shimi

Six albums and Four EP’s into a career that has seen Lowri Evans and Lee Mason arrive at a juncture where they celebrate ten years of playing together. This is a live studio recording with no other musicians present to assist with the sound; a brave move but one that bears much fruit. This duo is really talented with Lowri singing like an angel and playing acoustic guitar while Lee Mason also sings and plays acoustic and electric guitars, plus bass. 

The 12 songs featured here include three Welsh language folk songs and a version of Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out (Jimmie Cox). The other songs are all written by Lowri and selected from her back catalogue, apart from one Welch song (Can Walter), written by Meic Stevens. 

The songs are gentle vignettes of life with relationships examined, feelings explored and love lost & found. The harmony vocals are a joy throughout and the lovely understated playing on tracks like Seventeen, Corner Of My Eye, Maria’s and Everyone Is From Somewhere Else stand as fine examples of the artistic craft on display. Warmly recommended.  

The Buffalo Skinners Cease Your Dreaming Self Release

The Buffalo Skinners are a song-writing collective based in Sheffield. This release contains 13 songs across almost 50 minutes and includes the talents of Kieran Thorpe on Fender Rhodes Keyboard, piano & mandolin; James Nicholls on Violin; Peter Seccombe on various Guitars; Miles Stapleton on Drums and Robbie Thompson on Bass, acoustic & electric guitars. 

Over the past six years their first two albums, a self-titled debut in 2011 and The Other Nine To Five in 2014, have established them as a band to watch and they have gained much media attention.

This third album is produced by the critically acclaimed Colin Elliot (Richard Hawley, Kylie Minogue) and contains a bright airy feel to the arrangements. The band are a mix of many styles with a folk/roots feel to the arrangements and their shared vocal harmonies certainly impress. A touchstone would be early skiffle or the loose sound of jug band ensembles, with violin featuring high up in the mix. 

The celebratory swing to songs like We Get Along, Shoes, Monkey On Your Back, Sam’s Chop House and If You Won’t Love Me, Somebody Else Will, display plenty of talent and serve up tunes that make the listening experience worthwhile.

Lowlands and Friends Play Townes Van Zandt’s Last Set Harbour Song 

In December 1996 the late, great Townes Van Zandt played his last gig and this 14-track tribute to the talents of this singer-songwriter recreates that last set list, played at the Borderline in London. The project took the best part of a year to complete, recorded at various venues, and involving quite a list of musicians who all wanted to contribute.

Italian band, Lowlands are a Roots band who were formed in Pavia, by British born singer-songwriter Edward Abbiati and they have released 5 albums and 4 EPs since their debut in 2008. They anchor this project, along with other Italian musicians from their extended musical family and they are also joined by the likes of Sid Griffin, Chris Cacavas, Rod Picott, Antonio Gramentieri, The Lucky Strikes, Cheap Wine, Kevin Russell and Stiv Cantarelli just some of the artists involved. The liner notes name check a further fourteen players so you get the clear message that this was indeed a labour of love.

If you are a collector who must have everything in the catalogue of such great artists then the completionist in you will just have to purchase this release as a necessity. As with any such project the relative worth of the different tracks is entirely the subjective experience of the listener. Some of the songs fare better than others and the arrangements veer into new territory as the different artists decide to place their own individual stamp on the versions recorded here.

There are also a few cover versions included with two Lightning Hopkins numbers (My Starter Won’t Start, Short Haired Woman Blues), the Rolling Stones (Dead Flowers) and Elvis Presley (Ballad Of The Three Shrimps).

All the old favourites are here with Pancho & Lefty, Waiting Around To Die, Sanitarium Blues, Loretta and Tecumseh Valley all given strong workouts. There is narration by Barry Marshall-Everitt before each track and the idea to recreate this event has to be applauded. Some may wish to approach with caution while others may prefer to purchase some of the original material and hear it straight from the artist’s lips.

I Draw Slow Turn Your Face To The Sun Compass

This is their fourth release and I Draw Slow go largely unnoticed in their homeland, despite the fact that this album was entirely crowd funded from their loyal fan base. Much of their activity is focused on the American market and they are about to embark on their 14th tour of the United States, where they are very well received and revered. We should embrace their success in the Irish media wholeheartedly, as they carry a flag for all that is good in Irish Roots music.

The album was written by Louise and Dave Holden and features wonderful vocals by this brother and sister duo, with Dave also playing guitar/mandolin, Konrad Liddy on double bass, Adrian Hart on fiddle and Colin Derham on clawhammer banjo. 

The harmony vocals of Dave and Louise are a key component to the signature sound of this very fine band and with the interplay of banjo/fiddle and mandolin, rooted by the double bass pulse; the music merges with the sense of their Irish background and the best of Appalachian/Bluegrass music. 

 Recorded in a live setting, which helps the organic spontaneity of the ensemble, the sibling harmonies can be quite addictive and the singing here is so beautifully realised that the seamless rhythm folds around the melody in a very compelling fashion.

My Portion, Garage Flowers and Apocalypso are immediately entertaining with relationship stories of a very different hue – from addictive dependency, through the vain attempts to keep a relationship fresh and into an enduring love affair that lasts beyond time. 

The reflective Don’t Wake The Children, to a simple and sweet acoustic strum and gentle fiddle, pleads for time between a couple outside of family duties that weigh heavily on any relationship. Carolina is a similar acoustic arrangement that deals with leaving home fields for the promise of far-off adventures. Twin Sisters is an infectious tune that brings a distinctly Irish arrangement to what is a barn dance jig.

I Draw Slow seem to possess a strong work ethic and spend quite a bit of their time out on the road, quietly building their support base. They play with an energy and spontaneity that is infectious and clearly enjoy the creative compulsion to make music that lifts the spirit and lingers in the memory. Timeless.