Chris Murphy Water Under The Bridge Teahouse
Whether performing solo or as part of an ensemble, Chris Murphy displays his prodigious talents at a consistently high level. His website describes him as violinist, composer and band leader, which is a concise description of the creative muse that regularly takes him into other projects.
He can be seen playing bluegrass, country and fiddle tunes with The Devil’s Box and their 2016 release, Red Mountain Blues, included Tim O’Brien on vocals and mandolin, along with Herb Pedersen on banjo and vocals.
Separately, he plays jazz, swing, and blues with The Blind Blake’s and it is under this umbrella that Water Under The Bridge finds the light of day. It is a retro sound with plenty of swing and swagger over its fourteen tracks. The musicians are all wonderfully talented and get plenty of room to show their finely-honed skills as they compliment the music and lyrics; all created and credited to Chris Murphy. Quite an achievement and equally, a compliment, when you realise just how familiar these tracks become, even after first listen.
A Moveable Feast, Table For Two, The Lemon Rag, Tarbox Blues and My Spanish Lover are all fine examples of the joyful feel to this project. Given the level of talent on offer, it is no exaggeration to say that Chris Murphy sits above it all with his proficient playing on violin, mandolin, guitar, percussion and vocal duties.
Last year he released a live record, Hard Bargain, which was a solo violin concert from Boise, Idaho and also, The Tinker’s Dream, a band effort; both were superb in their execution and reviewed at separate intervals on this website.
If you enjoy the easy jazz sound of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt then this music is just right for you. Throw in some Count Basie and sprinkle with Dr John New Orleans voodoo and you have a heady mix of compelling, kick-ass tunes that demand your attention.
Kyle Carey The Art Of Forgetting Self Release
This widely travelled artist grew up in Alaska and New Hampshire, before her move to Nova Scotia to study the language and music of the Gaelic tradition. She then moved to Scotland to continue her studies before releasing two recordings that established her credentials as a real talent in blending the best of Celtic and American roots music.
This third release is a confident and fully realised project and highlights the growing development of a mature talent. There are three songs included that see her sing in the Scottish Gaelic language and the gentle arrangements, melody and expert playing make all twelve songs a very pleasant listen with a sweetly restrained balance throughout.
Produced & engineered by Dirk Powell (Joan Baez, The BBC Transatlantic Sessions), the experience is peppered with real quality and highlighted by the excellent musicianship. Powell contributes bass, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, accordion, banjo, piano and vocals while John McCusker (Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby) also appears on fiddle.
Sam Broussard on guitar and Mike McGoldrick on flute also make telling contributions while Rhiannon Giddens appears on backing vocals. There are also the talents of Ron Janssen (octave mandolin) and Kai Welch (trumpet) and Josh Scalf (trombone) to enjoy.
Songs like the title track, Sweet Damnation, Tell Me Love, Evelyna and For Your Journey are very appealing and the easy interplay between fiddle, flute, mandolin, guitars and banjo invite repeated listens.
The Stone Hill All-Stars Wilson Comes Home Self Release
Baltimore is home to this Roots band since their formation in 2005. They have developed into a very tight unit over three previous releases and the members have a collective experience to rival anybody on the local music scene. Paul Margolis plays guitar and bass, in addition to being the principal songwriter and providing vocals. His founding partner John Shock is responsible for the song arrangements and also plays accordion and piano, in addition to vocal duties. Together they form a potent pair and drive the melody and rhythm with the sterling assistance of Dan Naimann on bass and saxophone, Hoppy Hopkins on drums/percussion and Tim Pruitt on guitar. We also have Jim Hannah on percussion and kalimba plus Katherine Shock on flute to add the talented collective.
The addictive Polka rhythm to the opening track, Just These Things, leads into a varied mixture of styles that touch on ska, blues and jazzy beats; a number featuring superb interplay between the sax of Dan Naiman and the accordion of John Shock. There are also some tasty guitar licks from Paul Margolis or Tim Pruitt; then again, it may be guest guitarist, Rick Pressler, who also features on the project; sadly, the liner notes are lacking in detail so it is hard to pin down individual contributions.
The overall production and sound is very airy, appealing and full of colour. The Ska beat of The Mark Of A Man and A Hundred Answers is balanced against the bluesy feel of To Be Her Man, Alexander Grothendieck and also, the title track.
Songs deal with looking back with regret, relationships gone wrong, prison tales, the tribulations of a loner/recluse and a girl on the verge of hysteria. Overall the performance is reminiscent of the best of loose, fluid, playful music that engages and rewards.
Zachary Richard Gombo RZ
This is the 21st studio album from an artist who is steeped in the Acadian culture of his native Louisiana. Over a career spanning 45 years this singer-songwriter also holds the distinction of being recognised as Louisiana’s first French language Poet Laureate. On this project he includes 8 songs that are performed in French and whereas the quality of the playing is never in doubt, the lack of English translation for the lyrics takes away somewhat from the overall experience.
Of course, Zydeco music is rooted in the origins of Creole and Cajun traditions and the use of accordion and washboard continue to be at the source of this now internationally acclaimed music genre that boasts festivals, not only throughout the USA, but also Europe and into the northern regions of Scandinavia.
Gombo (Gumbo) is the perfect description for the music here with an eclectic mix of styles that include elements of waltz, shuffles, two-steps, Afro-Caribbean and traditional forms. It also stands as a symbol for the multi-ethnic culture of Louisiana and the 15 songs here are played with great energy, passion and tempo.
Catherine, Catherine is written and performed with famous Québec singer Robert Charlebois and Fais briller ta lumière is performed with African legend Angélique Kidjo. There is a choir from L’Académie Sainte-Thérése and a string quartet which add to the heady mix of instrumentation.
Co-produced by New Orleans legend David Toraknowsky, Gombo features a host of players including Francis Covan on fiddle and accordion. It is an enjoyable listen and at almost an hour in length, represents great value for all fans of Zydeco music.
Whitherward The Anchor Self Release
Contemporary Folk Duo Whitherward have released four EP’s since 2014 and both Ashley E. Norton and Edward Williams are joined on this full-length debut by additional musicians, Patrick Hershey and Stephanie Groot.
The Anchor has 13 songs that are based around their perspective of touring musicians and doesn’t stray too far away from a Folk/Roots base in the arrangements. There are two tracks, Free and Interlude, that dabble in inventive jazz exploration while the remaining tracks seem to be a mix of the observed and the personal. A guest vocal on Parallel Universe (Jhan Doe), introduces a rap element into the arrangement and the excellent musicianship throughout leaves a strong sense of a band that has a real confidence and maturity.
The metaphor of ship & anchor in the title track reflects a relationship where safe harbour is in question and the unappreciated partner longs to be set free. Burn The Roses is a song of anger in the destruction of a relationship while there is a Country Noir feel to Teeth, with a late-night, lounge room dynamic.
The violin playing of Stephanie Groot is quite arresting and dramatic and elevates the production while the rich and inventive bass playing of Patrick Hershey is a joy. The guitar playing of both Norton and Williams is fluid and fluent throughout. The strings on The Night I Fell For You are mixed with restrained elegance while hiding a tale instant attraction and unrequited love. The final track, Wasteland, is one of dislocation and the loneliness of travel but ends with some studio fun and frolics as we are treated to a series of repeated vocal takes, gargling and other strange noises.
Rupert Wates Lights Of Paris Bite Music
From a debut release in 2005, this artist has navigated a path through the music industry and arrived at the release of his 9th solo album; quite an achievement in these days of DIY careers, shifting sands and short attention spans.
Originally from London, he lived in Paris prior to moving to the States, where both NYC and Colorado are touchstones for his current life. He is a contemporary Folk singer and his songs touch on many of the issues we face in modern times; like all good Folk releases should … a reflection of the ways in which we shape our world.
He plays a Lowden acoustic guitar in a style that sounds very effortless and impressive, while his clear vocal tone never clutters the song arrangements. For this project Wates uses the talents of Adrianna Mateo (violin) and Brian Sanders (cello) to augment his acoustic playing. The results are eleven gentle tunes that play out in a pleasant fashion, never really changing the dynamic that would grip the listener or shake matters out of an induced state of quiet calm.
Topics vary from the cynical posturing of the current President in the USA (I Can’t Shut My Eyes) to the indifference of society towards marginalised lives and small-town business shutting down (Long Winter Is Coming). Our treatment of immigrants (Fields Of America) and the legacy we are leaving for future generations (Oh The Times) are given full vent while Wates seems somewhat disillusioned as he yearns for simpler times when music was enough to lift the spirit (The Balladeer).
Happily, the conclusion to the project has a more positive tone and message of hope (A Song Of Your Own), urging youth to find their own voice and not to be bullied by others. Aspirations of greater enlightenment and the wish to live together in peace (The Time Will Come) are balanced with a sense of faith in the future with the title track.
Scott Kirby Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost Self Release
Nine releases over the past twenty-plus years has seen this musician mature into a seasoned singer-songwriter who now lives in Key West and is the proprietor at The Smokin’ Tuna Saloon.
There are ten songs included here and the project is produced by Andy Thompson who also contributes on acoustic & electric guitar, bass, stand-up bass, ukulele, dobro, keyboards, mandolin and vocals! Quite the list, but not to be outdone, his brother, Matt Thompson chips in on drums, percussion, kalimba, bass harmonica, piano, melodica and vocals!
Scott Kirby plays acoustic guitar, harmonica and sings, together with writing eight of the songs included (four co-writes). The album title is a reference to the life that Ernest Hemingway led in the area between 1931 and 1939 but also a tribute to Toby Bruce, who served as his assistant for more than 30 years.
The sound produced is pleasant with an acoustic groove and songs like We Own Key West; Ava Rose and La Casa Cayo Hueso have more than a touch in common with the easy delivery of a James Taylor. Morning In Montana takes things up a notch with some fine fiddle playing by Eamon McLoughlin over an infectious beat. Happy Hour Blues is a fine band workout and a tongue-in-cheek look at a life of relaxed semi-retirement. A great laid-back arrangement of the classic, Summer Wind, brings things to a happy ending and you can just feel the breeze in your hair.
The multi-talented Thompson brothers carry the bulk of the heavy lifting but the simple arrangements are proof of a song-writer who has learned his craft over many years and there is no excess on any of these gentle melodies.
Beth Wimmer Bookmark Self Release
Since her debut release in 2001, Beth Wimmer has released four albums that chart the progress of a Female singer-songwriter’s journey, living in the American countryside near Boston and moving to California at a young age. She now resides in Switzerland with her husband and tours in both Europe and her land of birth.
This new release is her first for six years and was co-produced by Beth and LA-based guitar-player, Billy Watts. It was recorded in Liechtenstein, Austria and in Los Angeles, with all songs written by Wimmer, apart from a David Bowie cover of Starman. Her sound is essentially Folk oriented and she sings in an attractive tone that suits the song arrangements well.
Her first two albums were produced by David Raven and he plays drums on most tracks here, joined by Taras Prodaniuk (bass), Billy Watts (acoustic/electric/lap steel guitars) and other studio musicians on selected tracks.
Her song-writing is partly focused on intimate relationships with the title track, Bookmark, The Last Part and We Can Do This, all reflecting on the enduring power of love to fuel a relationship in the right direction. There are songs about living a simple existence and Loosen My Grip, Mahogany Hawk and Pretty Good, all speak of taking a moment to just enjoy & live in the natural space that surrounds us.
Other songs deal with the need for change (Louisiana) or the need to return to a favourite place (Mexico) and the track, Simplicity Of A Man brings a message of trust and belonging with a ‘less is more’ approach in both words and deeds.