Reviews by Paul McGee


Patrick Darrah Northern Truth Double Darrah

This artist is from Bloomingdale, New York where he worked in his father’s auto business. These days he lives in Nashville and delivers his debut recording, on his own independent label, Double Darrah Entertainment. He writes two of the ten songs included here and the production is by Drew Smith and Kevin “Swine” Grantt, both of whom play in the studio band. 

There are songs of lost towns and lost lives (Colorado), old flames, old memories (Who You Used To Be), old love (I Never Got Over You), memories of youth (Mama Left The Radio On; Dry County). Being left behind is a common theme in Country music but three songs are perhaps a few too many on the same record (You Make It Look Easy; After You and Love Oughta Be Perfect). 

There is a real contemporary country groove to the songs and both Smooth As Whiskey and the rap groove of Make You Mine are the stand-out radio hits.The playing and production are very bright and clear in what makes for an enjoyable listen overall.  

Korby Lenker Thousand Springs Soundly

Seven releases into a career that has seen him mature into a song-writer of some substance, in addition to a published writer, for this project Lenker recorded the basic tracks in different places that held an importance for him. These are songs that are written with personal meaning rather than commercial appeal but the strong sense of melody ensures that his craft shines through. Having recorded across seven states and featuring approx. 30 different artists, including Amy Speace and Molly Tuttle, the songs have an immediate appeal.

There is a lonely quality to the opening tracks, Northern Lights and Friend And A Friend, both focusing on leaving and travelling on with reflections of life on the road and an unknown future. Uh Oh is a song about infatuation and the hope in wishing, it is gentle and sweet, as is the fine ballad, Love Is The Only Song, with cello and piano complimenting the whispered vocals. 

There is a look back through the rear window to younger days and lessons learned in Father To The Man, co-written with Amy Speace, while the dark tale of Stormy Seas is somewhat stark by contrast. The rock vibe of Last Man Standing tells the tale of Custer and Crazy Horse in the Sioux Nation fight for survival. The happily inane girlfriend in Book Nerd bears little resemblance with the free-spirit busker of Nothing Really Matters and her old man admirer who watches from afar. There is a sense of Paul Simon in the vocal delivery here and also on the excellent Late Bloomers; a song that speaks of the need to keep believing, even if dreams have been lost along the way. The final song, Wherever You Are is a real stand-out and an ode to the memory of a lost friend, both gentle and sad while keeping the feeling alive.

The project was produced by Korby Lenker, mixed by Paul Mitch, and mastered by Alex McCullough. It is a very engaging album and one which comes with a warm recommendation. 

S Carey Hundred Acres Jagjaguwar

This is a meditation of sorts, a soft whisper across a field in the early morning dew. The ten tracks blend into a seamless listening experience that never lifts beyond the gently laid-back atmosphere created by producer, song-writer, multi-instrumentalist S Carey – also known for his role as the drummer and supporting vocalist of indie folk band Bon Iver. 

He is joined here by a small group of musicians who play beautifully and sensitively in support of these mood pieces, including Justin Vernon, original founder of Bon Iver. This is the third solo release from Sean Carey and the whispered vocals and lush, yet understated, sonic vibe to the project is beautifully realised.  

Pedal steel mixes with synthesizer while programmed sounds blend with violin and viola. Titles such as Meadow Song, (with clarinet & french horn), Hundred Acres, True North, Rose Petals and Hideout give a flavour of the sense of quiet place and space that permeates this record.

A contemporary sound that hints at days gone by yet points to a bright future for this excellent musician.

True North Open Road, Broken Heart Self Release

True North is an acoustic Folk/Roots band that has released three previous albums prior to this new offering which surfaced in 2017. The band comprises Kristen Grainger (ukulele, vocals), Dan Wetzel (guitar, resonator guitar, octave mandolin, ukulele, vocals), Martin Stevens (mandolin, fiddle, octave mandolin, vocals) and Josh Adkins (upright bass, vocals). The album features eight songs written by Kristen Grainger and four covers; Mighty Bourbon (Justin Evan Thompson), The Eye (Brandi Carlile, Philip and Timothy Hanseroth), Wilder Than Her (Fred Eaglesmith) and Without You (Eddie Vedder).

Guest musicians Eric Alterman (cello) and Todd Sickafoose (bass) join the band who self-produced the collection at Big Owl Studios in Salem, Oregon. The playing is subtle and understated, giving the songs a cohesion and fluidity that makes the listening experience a very positive one. The vocals of Grainger are very engaging and the sweet melodies are quite hypnotic when listening on headphones; intimate and charged with a gentle longing.  The harmony vocals with Dan Wetsel are very complimentary to Grainger’s voice and lend an added layer to the arrangements.

One-Way Ticket contains the lines that appear as the title of the album and the song is one of striking out for the future, changing circumstances and having the will to keep believing. Dark Horse Bar & Grill celebrates the solace of a local hostelry where there is ‘lots of free philosophy’. Ratio of Angels to Demons deals with the passing of a friend and does so in a very creative and poignant manner. The subject matter of some songs is somewhat bleak with titles like I’m Gone, You Come Round, Sunday Night Blues and Without You handling the pain of separation and the feeling of being alone in the World. 

However, these are balanced by the upbeat melodies of Seed, Leaf, Flower, Seed – a celebration of the Seasons and the inherent magic of Mother Nature, plus the ability to take the extraordinary from the everyday ordinary things as explored on Small Wonders. A very impressive release and one that is well worth exploring further.

Will Paynter Truth & Beauty Self Release

Fender Rhodes and tenor sax join with the tenor bass of Will Paynter on opening track, One Better Man and we are given a soulful feel for the talents of this artist who performs and records with the Sonoma Sound Band. They play roots music with rhythms that incorporate blues, country and folk influences. 

Paynter served in the army with the Green Berets and has lived in both in Central and South America. His wandering has also seen him travel in the Far East and the South Pacific, North Africa and the Middle East. He has released a few previous albums and this current project includes 13 tracks and a list of studio musicians that is both very long and impressive with Greg Brady and Paynter co-producing. 

There are four cover versions of songs by Tom Waits (Down There By The Train), Johnny Cash (Let The Train Blow The Whistle), Bruce Springsteen (Further On Up The Road) and Dock Boggs (Wild Bill Jones) and all other songs are written by Will Paynter. The acoustic stripped-down feel to the whole recording and the less-is-more playing adds to the character of the songs like Loving You, Truth & Beauty, Brand New Day, All I Own and Clearer To Me Now

The most arresting song is What People Are Talking About, which highlights all of the injustice in the World today and a commentary on the lack of humanity in all of it – a grim overview of our times.

Six vocalists, five guitar players, three drummers, two bass players, accordion, violin, pedal-steel, banjo, saxophone, piano, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, and some fine harmonica playing from Paynter himself – plenty to enjoy here.

Jordan Davis Home State HumpHead.

A debut album from new artist Jordan Davis who comes from Louisiana, USA. The twelve songs are typical of the crossover country releases that are proving so popular among the current listeners of commercial radio stations. There is a slick production sound, courtesy of Paul DiGiovanni, who also contributes acoustic & electric guitars, banjo, vocals and programming. 

It is that last credit that old purists of the Country genre hate to see – programming. In modern recording techniques the use of loops, syncopated beats and programming can lead to something more akin to Pop music and can sound sterile, lacking real character or colour. 

This release falls into that territory. Sure, there are lots of bright choruses and hooks that will sound great while driving along with the windows down and the stereo turned up. Songs that celebrate woman-kind and songs that celebrate the chase involved in impressing a sought-after beauty – Tough To Tie Down; Singles You Up; Made That Way; So Do I; Dreamed You Did – all come and go with the hopes of success in the high stakes of romantic conquest. 

Country music is not something that exists in a vacuum and it must move forward, but the modern sound of albums like this do not fit any definition of the original roots of Country. Davis has a strong vocal and the tracks all bounce with a bright and breezy quality but I find myself wishing for Willie Nelson or Emmylou to appear and save the day. Hmmm.

True North 'Elsebound' - Self Release

Simple statement: I really like this album. It caught me totally by surprise. There are 13 tracks, each of which draws you back to listen again to their simplicity and melody. Each little gem seems to be hand picked and polished to perfection. The instrumentation supports and lifts the songs from their already high vocal standard to a place that just snuggles in your ear and dishes out crystal clear lyrics in a style seldom heard these days.

Eight of the thirteen songs are written by Kristen Grainger, who delivers most of the vocals, and the rest of the singing duties are shared equally by her partner Dan Wetzel and the other  couple making up the Salem, Oregon based quartet, Dale and Suzanne Pearse Adkins.

All of the songs have a rhyming simplicity that would have done Harlan Howard proud and their strong storytelling nails your foot to the floor till each one lets you loose. They are true to bluegrass when needed but drift into old timey or swing or even a tinge of Celticy folk. It’s hard to pick out a winner from all of Kristen’s songs but The Poet and the Carpenter and Shiny Black Shoes for me really show her ability to blend words and suitable melody to suit the mood and style. But the the life-story in Be Here Now is a real lump in the throat masterpiece. The addition of Ruth Moody’s One Voice and Rattlin’ Bones from Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers shows just how easily Kristen’s songwriting sits with the best of the best.

The boys provide stunning flat-picked guitar and a host of appropriate mountainy stringed instruments that are slipped in almost unnoticed, yet tick the box every time. This is a band that I would pay to sit front row and still holler for more at the end. ‘Nuff Said.

Reviews by Paul McGee


True North 'Self-Titled' – Self Release

The opening track on this 5-song CD sounds like something from a recent Civil Wars outtakes release. New Way Round highlights the close vocal harmonies of trio Eva Hillered, Janni Littlepage and Patrick Rydman.  Both Eva and Patrick are based in Sweden while Janni resides in California. They performed for the first time as a trio ensemble at the Copenhagen Songwriters Festival in Denmark in August 2012, Their sound is a mix of genres from Folk and Americana, to Country Roots and their songs, co-written together, are accompanied by guitars, dulcimer and percussion.

Barrelhouse 'Feels Like Home'- Self Release

After 30 years of playing electric guitar and writing songs for a full band, Kevin "Barrelhouse" Burke was inspired by a trip to Mississippi to explore finger-style acoustic guitar techniques. Feels Like Home is the result of four years of playing and writing in this style.

The songs on this album give the listener the feeling of old-time, rural America, with its dirt roads, farms, pickup trucks, roadhouses, and the trials of everyday life. This is acoustic blues played in a refreshing and simple style and many of the arrangements are reminiscent of JJ Cale.

The vocals are confident and gritty while the instrumentals show off the great slide playing on Dobro and various guitars.

Barry Ollman 'What’ll It Be?' - Blue Colorado

As debut CD’s go, this one is a real treat. The record includes fine performances by musical greats Graham Nash, Gary Tallent of the E-Street Band, David Amram, Nick and Helen Forster, Rad Lorkovic, Dave Beegle, Christian Teele, among others. The production is very clean and there is a feeling of plenty of space in the fine song arrangements. I am reminded of James Taylor in the song stories that are unfurled by Bill Ollman as he sings of an old photographer’s life (Imogen’s Lament) and life on the road as a painter (Painting the West). There are strong hints of Al Stewart also in the guitar playing and the addition of trumpet, accordion, mandolin and lap steel across the ten songs lends a diverse feel to the whole. Recommended.

Jonathan Segel 'Shine Out' - BMI

Jonathan Segel is a composer, performer and multi-instrumentalist. He plays guitar, violin, computer, keyboards, electric bass and this CD was recorded entirely in a little cabin somewhere in the middle of Sweden. He has made several guitar-centric rock music CDs and resides in a world of improvisation and electronic music. A very interesting listen but one thing for sure; this is a long way from Country Music.

Deena 'Rock River' - Life Force

A blend of alt country and indie pop, Rock River is the second CD from Deena. Produced by Deena and Bob Friedman, who plays an array of instruments, the sound is upbeat and full of personality. Plenty of good vocal harmony and melodic hooks are evident in songs like Find the Love and Bring It All. When I Fall has a nice country swing to it, plus some nice pedal steel playing. The twelve tracks run along at a pace and the overall experience is one of interest, if not a compelling listen.

Robinson Treacher 'Porches' - Sojourn

Starting with a gospel infused call and response song, Hopali, the tone of this release is set and the following ten songs do not disappoint. The band playing is really tight and the vocals are delivered in a passionate and soulful performance that is reminiscent of Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes. There are also hints of Ray Lamontagne in the singing but it is most definitely the voice of Robinson Treacher that carries the tracks along and lifts the arrangements. Titles like If I Need a Woman; Gone Baby Gone; Blind Man’s Blues and Can’t Call You Again give the overall vibe of the music here. Soulful, bluesy with a little bit of rock, all combine to elevate this artist from the many others who are active in this market.

Buford Pope 'Sticks in the Throat' - Unchained

Born on the Swedish island of Gotland, Buford Pope plays a mean guitar and his band of musicians really kick up a storm on the eleven songs featured on this latest release. This is straight down the middle rock music with plenty of hooks and driving beats. Think of Tom Petty locking horns with the Bob Seger Band and you get an idea of the arrangements here. Great production and a compelling, energetic groove. Worth a listen but it sure is a long way from traditional country music.

Esther Rose Parkes 'The Other Country' - Self Release

Recorded and produced in Stockholm, Sweden by Brian Kramer, this release is a collection of twelve gentle tunes played in an acoustic and intimate setting. Esther Rose sings in a voice that exudes a plaintive quality and her songs speak of loneliness and shadows; of earthiness; of unrequited love. The playing is sensitive and sparse with upright bass, cello and a variety of guitars, national slide, acoustic and 12 string, interweaving across the songs. A late night listen with a mood all of its own. Folk music for the insomniacs and melancholic dreamers.

Eryn Shewell 'Self-Titled' – Rewbie Music

Eryn Shewell is developing a reputation as one of the finest new singing talents to emerge in recent years. She has a wonderful voice and sings with a unique blend of blues and soulful, jazz based emotion. In 2012 Eryn folded The Eryn Shewell Band, after many years of touring back and forth, from the Jersey shore to Nashville, to New Orleans.  In 2013 she signed with Blue Raven Entertainment and started a new band called Eryn Shewell and the Whiskey Devils. 

She has just released this, her fourth album and Eryn's incredible vocals lift the song arrangements to great heights, never more so than on the standout Relax to Sleep, which soars and swoops in a breath-taking performance. Pat Ruth plays some very fine guitar, in addition to dobro, bass and piano and also shares production credits. Saxophones mix with trumpet and trombone; clarinet duels with harmonica in the up-tempo arrangements like I Wish I Was in New Orleans. A class act and worth checking out.


Lynn Miles 'Black Flowers (volumes 1-2)' True North

The convincing voice and the strong sons of Lynn Miles are the core of this album which features Miles accompanied only by her guitar or her piano playing on a set of new and old songs delivered in their rawest and purest setting highlighting the songs in the fashion that they were, doubtless, first conceived and played. The effect is that of listening to Miles in an intimate setting and hearing the songs in that light. There are 20 songs featured on the two CD which makes it a pleasurable listen for those acquainted with her music or those who like their songs of love, life and location straight up. Otherwise it may be a little too much for new listeners who may find any of her previous, well received and fuller sounding albums a better place to start but either way these songs testify to Miles' talent and her take on human traits.

Barney Bentall 'The Inside Passage' True North

This Canadian singer/songwriter, formally a member of the band The Legendary Hearts, has carved out a solo career with his roots, full band rock and country. He now owns a horse ranch in the Cariboo and divides his time between running that and continuing his recording career. He is also behind the Grand Cariboo Opry which gathers together a host of fellow musicians to play original and classic country songs. Here the sound is broader to reflect a wide emotional landscape. Sending Out A Message To You is the kind of song about being apart that Springsteen might do. By way of contrast On This Beautiful Night is bolstered by brass, with a soulful twist it talks of travel and of finding people and places. The title track has a feel of a classic Jackson Browne song and is again about of reflection and beauty. Elsewhere fiddle and steel play a prominent place in the production, by John Ellis, as on the uptempo Catch That Train or the tender, self-explanatory I Never Meant To Make You Cry. Papa Henry's Boy is a "Seeger Sessions" style sing along with banjo well to the fore. She Ran Away is a fine stripped back song with guitar and some atmospheric dobro and a stand-out here for that reason, and reminds of some classic John Hiatt. This is the sort of album that, with exposure, could easily find favour with a European audience.