Raven and Red We Rise Up Self Release
This Nashville based 5-piece release their debut album and the creative core of the band is Brittany Lynn Jones (lead vocal, violin, tenor guitar, mandolin & banjoin) and brothers Mitchell Lane (lead vocal, 6 & 12 string guitars) and Cole King (Mandolin). On this release they are ably joined by Paul Leech (electric & upright bass, cello) and Justin Collins (Drums, percussion). Excellent musicianship throughout and some superb harmony vocals. Plenty of highlights across 12 tracks that include Mirror To My Soul, It Could Have Been You, Moonshine and Makeup (One More Mistake), Grandpa’s Beer and We Rise Up.
The stand out track is Wild Roses which also gets a reprise later in the song order, augmented by Winter Raven and World Traveller. Brittany weaves her 5-string violin through the melody lines with great skill and touch while the mandolin playing of Cole and guitar augmentation from Lane lead to a heady mix of Country, Folk and Bluegrass sounds that would lighten up any gathering of musical minds.
Cold Tone Harvest After You Copycats
What an impressive debut. This band is from Plymouth, Michigan and is comprised of Andrew Sigworth (acoustic guitar/vocals), Daniel Ozzie Andrews (acoustic bass/bass guitar/bass banjo), Brian Williams (drum/banjo) and Tony Pace (Dobro/lap steel/electric guitar).
Formed in 2008 and with a couple of EPs to their name, this full-length album is packed with terrific songs and some superb playing. All songs were written by Andrew Sigworth with the exception of Adeline, written by Anthony Price and a cover of Out On The Weekend by Neil Young. Adeline, Wake Me, Stealing Roots and Hold On all show different colours of this band and the trade-off is so engaging between restrained, slow tempo arrangement and full-on melody lines; equally compelling and measured.
Lap steel features throughout and lifts the song arrangements along with Sigworth, who has a particularly arresting vocal and his tone sits perfectly into the organic playing of the band as they trade off with lap steel, banjo, dobro and guitars, playing around the rhythm and tempo established by Ozzie Andrews and Brian Williams.
They are not afraid to stretch their quintessentially country sound into new areas and the use of trumpet, tuba and trombone on a few of the later tracks is superbly judged as are the touches on violin/vocals (Erin Zindle), cello (Christina Furtado) and mandolin (Jay Lapp). There are additional guitar, keyboard & vocal parts from Chris Dupont and the 12 songs are uniformly impressive in their construction and delivery. One of the finds of 2018 without a doubt.
The Furious Seasons Now Residing Abroad Self Release
Based in Los Angeles, the contemporary folk sound of this trio is very rewarding and the playing is both understated and free-form with an easy, jazz-like groove.
Davis Steinhart (acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals), Jeff Steinhart (bass, keyboards) and P.A. Nelson (acoustic, slide, resonator, high strung and electric guitars, vocals) produce a fine warm session across 13 tracks.
The guitar work is very special and elevates the music on songs like Tethered, Fort Knox, The Muse, Marathon and Airtight display a mellow, gentle sound that is very appealing. Perfectly captured by the upright bass and fine guitar lines of So Sorry Adele on this, a sixth release that highlights their dedication to create clear, no frills melodies. Quietly contemplative and executed with grace and no little talent.
Seán Millar and Jon Sanchez It All Ends Tonight Self Release
Four tracks over sixteen minutes, the meeting of two minds and a lot of quality in the grooves. Séan Miller is well known in Irish music circles as an eclectic warrior of the bright and beautiful in song composition and creative thinking. Never one to shy away from a challenge, his career has taken him into the occasional cul de sac, but his bright light always finds a way home and guides him onto greater journeys. Here, he teams up with Jon Sanchez, one of the top guitar players in Texas who has played with, among others, Alejandro Escovedo and Rocky Erickson. It is a stripped down recording played live and produces music that is compelling with an acoustic rootsy feel to the arrangements.
Everyday’s A Holiday tells of a family dominated by an abusive Father, (street angel, house devil). There is a sense of liberation for the abused and downtrodden with the message that out of dark deeds, bright days can appear. The Gang is a reflection on being misunderstood and misjudged. Wayward youth looking for meaning.
It All Ends Tonight speaks of loneliness and the need for intimacy. Bordering on the obsessive almost, in search of a dream? Like Jesus and Satan… Savage Pride is an anti-war protest song with the undercurrent of righteous indignation. Youth taken and hurled off the cliff like lemmings in a power play!
Jon Sanchez plays electric guitars, piano and santur (hammered dulcimer). Seán Millar plays acoustic guitar, bass and sings. Daragh O’Toole plays organ. Recorded by Jon Sanchez and mixed by Daragh O’Toole, this is hopefully a teaser of more superb collaboration to follow… Watch this space?
Sugar Brown It’s A Blues World… Calling All Blues Self Release
Born in Ohio, moved to Chicago, this artist is authentic Blues at its best. Sugar Brown is back with a vengeance on his third release. Hummingbird kicks off with a tight rhythm, channelling the juke joint sound of the prohibition 20’s, barrelhouse piano adding to the magic created by electric guitar and baritone sax in the background.
All songs are written by the man himself, although the second track, Love Me Twice, sounds just too close to BB King’s The Thrill Is Gone, for comfort. Hard to be truly original when it comes to the blues I know, but Sugar Brown always walks a tight line between innovative guitar playing and a nod to the past in aspiring towards a contemporary sound. The sweet tension created in Lousy Dime is reminiscent of a Tom Waits arrangement while the fiddle playing of Minnie Heart is very memorable. The shuffle in Sure As The Stars has a JJ Cale vibe running through the guitar playing with a ‘less-is-more’ groove.
The title track is a slow burn with great piano and guitar parts as Sugar builds to a band coda. The acoustic blues of Hard To Love and Brothers bring out the preference of Sugar for analogue recording equipment and old microphones in what are timeless performances, as is the following track, Out Of The Frying Pan, which channels some of the great signature Blues sounds. The harmonica on What I Know and the front porch swing of Tide Blues are also a real joy.
Not a weak track here and yet another testament to the talent on offer. If you want authentic blues, played in a traditional fashion, no frills, just great dynamic and skill, then look no further.
Lucky Bones Matchstick Men Self Release
The third release from Dublin singer song-writer, Eamonn O’Connor (aka Lucky Bones) and one that builds strongly on his reputation as an artist of real quality, who has been operating under the radar for a number of years now, but deserving of much greater recognition. The song arrangements are upbeat in tempo and reflect a band ethic rather than on previous releases which were more grounded in the familiar singer-songwriter tradition.
Produced by Gavin Glass at Orphan Studios in Dublin, the playing is excellent throughout, dovetailing perfectly with the arrangements and melodies. The studio musicians are members of the Lucky Bones band; Conor Miley (guitars), Leon Kennedy (bass), Peter O’Grady (keyboards) & Binzer Brennan (drums). Gavin Glass also played on the project and the musicians add plenty of colour to the sensitive singing and words of Lucky Bones. I am sure that these songs would resonate equally well in a solo acoustic setting.
The title track is written for Eamonn’s Father who passed away recently and it is a very poignant and heartfelt performance that sets a high standard for the rest of the album. Indeed, there is a sense of looking back at the years gone by and reflecting on lessons learned throughout. The sound channels Snow Patrol meets Del Amitri in places and the perspective of experience is never far away with a certain rueful melancholy running through the songs.
The frustration and defeated stance of Neon Morgue give way to the hope and comfort of Home To You, with Ireland depicted as a long-missed girlfriend in a clever juxtaposition. These are mature insights into a life lived and the wistful vocals blend beautifully with the music on tracks like Gone and The Things That We Take In.
The final song, The Walls, just nails it with a terrific arrangement that builds to a cathartic climax, a bare look at insecurity and sleepless anxiety; “Invent doubt, it’s all I ever do, Me, the walls, the moon”.
Such a fine release and well worth checking out.
The Needables Tales from the Fish Tank / Deep Down At The Bottom Of It All Self Release
Two Eps and a few years in-between. Met Floyd and Beat at a recent Birds of Chicago gig in Kilkenny, where they played support. What came across onstage was a pair of talented players having fun and producing a fine sound. They kindly gave me their music to listen to and review, after the show.
Funding a studio release is not for the faint hearted and this probably hints at why the band has preferred EPs to full-length albums thus far. Tales... first appeared in 2015 and includes 6 tracks that vary from the upbeat, good time sound of Bringing It Home and the easy swing of You Won’t Cry, to the slow strum of Oh Chicago and the reflective acoustic sound of It’s Better Forgetting The Things You’ve Done and Rainy Day Blues.
Deep Down… appeared in 2017 and the unifying impression across both recordings is the excellent harmony vocals, coupled with guitar and mandolin, as these six songs continue to build upon the progress made by this talented duo. Baby I’m On My Way is a positive message and both Harder To Say Goodbye and These Dreams Of You are strong examples of song-writing that resonates after the songs have ended. Right Time has a good tempo and some great harmonica while closer, Guess It’s Better Late Than Not At All, slides along at a quiet pace and leaves you wanting... just one more. An act to watch out for.
Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters Home Perm
This release marks a change of direction for an artist who grew up with bluegrass music and released a number of prior albums under the Americana/Folk banner. In the studio she again turns to old friend and collaborator Chris Funk (The Decemberists) who produced the project and recorded at the Halfling Studios, Portland, Oregon.
Ashleigh Flynn has turned to an all-female band, named The Riveters and they certainly kick up a storm with the dynamic guitar of Nancy Luca at its centre. Ashleigh contributes vocals/acoustic guitar and is aided by Nancy Luca on electric guitars, Carmen Paradise on bass, Jolie Clausen on drums, Jenny Conlee-Drizos plays organ/piano, Kathryn Claire on fiddle/backing vocals and Ara Lee backing vocals.
The 10 songs are penned by Ashleigh with five co-writes, and a sound that switches between straight out Rock and Pop arrangements. The first six tracks hit hard with a sense of either The Runaways meet the Black Crows or the Stones giving Sheryl Crow a turn at the microphone.
The playing is very strong throughout with the guitar driven riff of This Love repeated on tracks like Cold Black Line and You Will Remember. The Pop sound of tracks like The Sound Of Bells, Too Close To The Sun and One Moment is replaced by the slow groove of Shrouded Sun and the influence of country roots returns on the final tracks with High On A Mountain and the standout Big Hat, No Cattle sealing the deal. So, a little scattered in direction but this is no rifle that Ashleigh is shooting; more like a shotgun aiming to hit as wide a target (audience) as possible. They sure seem to be having fun doing it too.