New Album Reviews

Stone Mountain Sinners Tones Of Home Self Release

A debut release from a 6-piece band who are based in the U.K. and who really hit all the spots with a dynamic and energetic Americana & Rock sound. Lead vocalists Sarah Warren and Neil Ivison had separate bands and careers before deciding to join forces and experiment with a new sound. Joined by Nick Lydon (acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass & vocals), Roger Roberts (piano, hammond organ, vocals), Adam Hood (bass) and Duke Delight (drums & percussion) they have discovered an authentic sound that is hard edged and filled with plenty of drive in the song arrangements. The opening tracks, Roadhouse and Arms Of Love set the tempo with full on high energy playing and there are echoes of Bob Seger on tracks like Round Here & All Night Long.

Keeping On shows another side to the sound with a Blues workout that recalls the Allman Bros. The vocal delivery of Sarah Warren is very powerful, full of a bluesy soul and reminiscent of Janis in her tone. It blends nicely with the deeper, gravel timbre of Ivison and together they deliver a convincing performance across the nine tracks here.

Stronger is a track that shows the band in full flight with all players channelling a rockabilly beat with all jangly guitars and shuffle drum beats. The slower Music City Blues features Maurice Hipkiss on pedal steel guitar and the extended closing track, Tones Of Home suggests a direction they could explore further with duelling guitars playing around the rhythm and bouncing off the pedal steel parts. Impressive debut and worth investigation.

Review by Paul McGee

Taylor Martin Song Dogs Little King

A singer-songwriter who grew up in Virginia and who now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, Martin releases his third album and Song Dogs is a very impressive statement of his talent and intentions. Amanda Anne Platt produces and along with her co-producer/engineer, Robert George, she delivers a beautifully balanced record with plenty of texture and vitality in the arrangements. The players on the album are quite superb and the quality and richness of each song is a joy to be discovered by the listener.

Little Pictures is a look at our modern addiction to cell phones/social media and how we end up “missing everything”. It has a blues feel with B3 and piano filling out the funky drum beat. The roots rock of Here Comes The Flood is followed by the country strum of Eden Colorado and the interplay between acoustic guitar and pedal steel. Martin writes eight songs and there are three excellent covers, which include Sign On The Window (Bob Dylan), Kern River (Merle Haggard) and Music Arcade (Neil Young). Milk & Honey and Our Memories are pure country with the fiddle playing of Lyndsay Pruett a real highlight; not only on the latter track but throughout the record. The title track closes the album and the simple piano lines, complimented by the lonesome sound of pedal steel, just leave you wanting more.

The musicians deserve the spotlight and this ensemble really knock it out of the park on every track; Taylor Martin (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Richie Jones (drums, percussion), Matthew Dufon (bass), Matthew Smith (pedal steel), Josh Shilling (piano, B3), Aaron Woody Wood (electric guitar), Aaron Ramsey (acoustic guitar), Lyndsay Pruett (fiddle), Amanda Anna Platt (harmony vocals). Quite superb and a must buy.

Review by Paul McGee

Gordie Tentrees & Jaxon Haldane Grit Greywood

This is a debut release from Canadian artists Gordie Tentrees and Jaxon Haldane as a duo. Both have recorded previously in their own names and have collected works that bear out their unique talents across a range of instruments. This release is a live album and was recorded at various venues in Alberta, Canada during 2016. Gordie plays dobro, acoustic guitar, foot percussion, porch board bass and prison whistle. Jaxon joins him on cigar box guitars (electric & lap steel), fiddle saw and 5-string banjo. The sound is very organic as befits twelve stripped down acoustic arrangements. There are story songs and others of keen observation while the Folk & Blues influences of Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson are never far away in these ballads. 

Ten songs involve Tentrees in the writing, with seven written solo and two involving Haldane. They all sound like old standards, which is testament to the authenticity that is brought to their delivery and performance. I hear echoes of Loudon Wainwright III in the vocals, especially on the blues tinged rendition of I Don’t Have A Gun (Womack/Kimbrough). 29 Loads Of Freight, Junior and Bottleneck Of Wire are all very strong songs and performed with great energy and passion. Well worth investigation for all folk music enthusiasts.

Review by Paul McGee

Blue Fish Diamond From Dark To Light Self Release

This debut album appeared in late 2018 and Blue Fish Diamond are an Irish seven-piece band who originally formed in 2016. Their sound is very melodic and resonates with commercial and contemporary Folk leanings across the ten tracks included here. The lead vocals of Jim Murphy are quite soft and he sings in a gentle, almost fragile tone, especially on tracks like Salvation Call and Innocent Child. Time To Go and Angels Of The Wind are more up-tempo arrangements and A World Away has a nice guitar break from McDonald which energises, before the song takes a change in tempo at the mid-way point. 

The harmony vocals of Ella Ryan and Matilda O’Mahoney are very appealing throughout and add colour to the arrangements. Gavin Glass produced the project at his studio and he also played on the tracks, with a credit of ‘all other instruments’ perhaps not telling the full story. The rhythm section of Ronan Quinn (bass) and Shay Sweeney (drums & percussion) provides a strong platform for the guitars of Murphy (acoustic) and Alex McDonald (electric) and the piano playing of Laura Ryder is also full of nice runs and subtle touches. Laura has a separate band which appeared recently at the Ones To Watch 2019 Festival in Dublin and her performance was excellent. 

The band originally met at the BIMM Dublin music college and they certainly are making the right steps forward with this release. So, overall a very pleasant listen with hope for more to follow in the future. 

Review by Paul McGee

Carl Broemel Wished Out Bismeaux

Better known as guitar god with My Morning Jacket, this is Carl Broemel’s third solo effort. Recorded in his newly constructed home studio in Nashville, he has roped in friends like Robbie Crowell (Deer Tick), Russ Pollard (Sebadoh) and MMJ band mates Tom Blankenship and Bo Koster to help out.

It’s a collection of eight self penned songs of mainly dreamy folk rock, but with more than a hint of his rock guitar leanings finding their way in, to a greater or lesser degree on most tracks. My favourite track is Wished Out - by far the longest at 6 minutes, Carl here gets to show his excellent vocal range on a soulful groove of a song, augmented by an appropriately long languid electric guitar solo.

There’s quite a variation of styles and influences here, from the retro twin harmony guitars of opening song Dark Matter to the Ryan Adams-esque vocals and piano on Starting From Scratch. Another standout track is the acoustic driven Malibu Shadow, with it’s catchy tune and lovely layered vocals. The album ends on a real rock out with the guitar driven Out Of Reach.

Review by Eilís Boland

Mark Mandeville & Raianne Richards Live In Manitoba Nobody’s Favorite

Mark & Raianne, a folk duo from Massachusetts, had the wise idea of bringing along a recording engineer during a 13 date house concert tour of Manitoba, Canada, and this album is the result.

It stands as a perfect calling card for their superb blend of original folk songs and musicianship. True folkies in every sense of the word, they are already known locally for initiating the Massachusetts Walking Tour, a now annual event where they walk through the state, carrying their instruments and camping along the way, performing concerts in out of the way locations en route. They even paddle their way in canoes at times!

The collection showcases their accomplished songwriting and duet singing, and between them they play guitar, ukulele, harmonica, clarinet (an acquired taste which has so far eluded me in folk music) and tin whistle. A nice touch is the inclusion of some of the between song banter, where you get an idea of their easy rapport with their audiences and their sense of humour and, indeed, humanity.

Review by Eilís Boland

Daniel Meade and the Flying Mules Live Mules Self Release

Glasgow’s finest exponent of ol’ time Americana with a hillbilly boogie woogie edge is back for a busy year where he intends to release 3 albums. Given his dexterity they are likely to show different aspects of his musical muse. The first of these will doubtless appeal to anyone who has seen the Flying Mules play across the U.K. or in Ireland where they were regulars at the Kilkenny Rhythm & Roots Festival. Meade is an authentic songwriter and many of his original songs have a timeless quality that would easily place them along side some of the classics pop the era that they evoke.

Neither should the contribution of the Flying Mules be underestimated. Guitarist Lloyd Reid is a top notch player well the equal of many better know players. While the rhythm section of upright bassist Mark Ferrie and drummer Thomas Sutherland bring the swing to its rightful place as the bedrock of the overall sound. The album was recorded at Mareel in Shetland  in 2016. It was their first visit and from the audience reaction and solid delivery that was captured on the night it was a memorable one.

The album features a selection of Meade’s songs taken from their first album to the then current album Let Me Off At The Bottom. That title song, along with astute titles like, There’s A Headstone Where Her Heart Used To Be, If It’s Not Your Fault (I Guess It’s Mine), Not My Heart Again all play out the timeless emotional relationship game viewed form both sides of love/leave divide. The album closes with a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee cover that brings the roots of the music full circle.

So crank up the sound system as this is a pretty hefty live sound given it’s simple origins and you can have the Flying Mules stopping round your living room while you wait to see what Daniel Meade come sup with next. Whatever that is it’s bound to be interesting.

Review by Stephen Rapid

Michael McDermott Orphans Pauper Sky

The many fans of Micheal McDermott will be more than happy with his latest release which underscores the reason they became fans in the first place. Strong songs that don’t shy away from the darker paths his life has taken in the past. As with Out For Under they are something of an exorcism of those times to the more positive place he finds himself. McDermott produced this album which has a big, full sound that will place him alongside some of those to whom he has been compared. Whenever I play his music to new listeners there is, inevitably, a comparison to Bruce Springsteen and on a certain level I can understand that. The instrumentation and delivery are similar as are the occasional arrangement but one major difference is that while Sprinsteen’s songs tend to focus on the working man McDermott’s are more about the ups and downs life of a working musician. The many nights away, the cheap hotel and cold motels, the sparse audiences that are very much a part and parcel of the life of a traveling troubadour. Not all the songs, of course, are about that and neither is he asking for your sympathy. It’s a life style he has chosen, or chosen him, so rather it is a more honest detailing of the path he has taken or, as truthfully, won’t let him go.

His wife (and singer in her own right) Heather Lynne Horton is a part of the musicians involved, many who were a part of the band The Westies with him and also played on his previous solo albums like Lex Price, John Deadrick and Fred Eltringham as well as guitarist Will Kimbrough. All in all these musicians are in tune with McDermott’s vision and production. He is also singing with energy and no little passion. Given that this songs are mostly drawn from his journey so far that have a conviction that is integral to McDermott’s thinking and actions. Songs like Ne’er Do Well, Meadowlark, Los Angeles, A Lifetime Ago and the closing What If Today Were My Last all take different perspectives mirrored in their delivery which ranges from piano ballads to more uptempo arrangements. All of which show that Michael McDermott is on a upward path that continues to produce music that has an all round excellence.

Review by Stephen Rapid

Reviews by Declan Culliton

Samantha Crain You Had Me At Goodbye Ramseur Records

Samantha Crain’s last visit to Ireland in 2015 featured an appearance on national television where she performed Big Rock from her then current album Under Branch And Thorn And Tree on The Late Late Show. That album featured highly in Lonesome Highway’s Best of 2015 and was a career best for the Oklahoma resident. Not one to stand on ceremony, Crain freely admitted that after that tour it was back to bread and butter issues with the prospect of working shifts at a pizza parlour to earn cash to finance her next recording and subsequent tour. The result of her toils is You Had Me At Goodbye, the fifth full album by Crain and a worthy successor to its predecessor.

Engaging the same production team of John Vanderslice (The Mountain Goats, Strand of Oaks) and Jacob Winik (The Magnetic Fields, Hot Buttered Rum) and recorded at Tiny Telephone Studio in San Francisco the album finds Crain in a more experimental and relaxed mood than on previous recordings. A recent quote from the young Shawnee Oklahoma resident noted "With this album, I just wanted to have some fun. I’ve spent the majority of my young adulthood taking myself and my music very seriously."’

Well, it is indeed fun but certainly not throwaway. Crain may have felt more carefree than on her previous recordings but her gift as a prolific and passionate songwriter continues to glow as she considers sincerity, self-respect, grieving, mental illness and relationships over the ten songs that make up the album. The album kicks off with the upbeat and hooky Antiseptic Greeting which agonises about the pressure on people to continually put a brave face on, when sometimes it should be ok and acceptable to be in bad form and not under pressure to be expected to mask it. The Loneliest Handsome Man deals with lost friendship and is delivered with an almost sleepwalking vocal and delightful piano and strings. Crain employs her ancestors native Choctaw language on Red Sky, Blue Mountain a melodic and hypnotic song and possibly the stand out track on the album. Grieving and loss are visited on Betty’s Eulogy which deals with a widow’s loss. Interestingly the album includes Crain’s first recorded cover song When The Roses Bloom Again from the Mermaid Avenue Sessions. Its appearance on that album featured music by Jeff Tweedy to lyrics that were discovered in Woody Guthrie’s journals but which had been written by the composer Will D. Cobb.

This album is a slight departure from Crain’s previous work but captures the lyrical beauty that has permeated all her output to date and fits snugly in a back catalogue that should be included in every serious listener’s collection.

Holly Macve Golden Eagle Bella Union

‘I looked at the world with different eyes’ announces Holly Macve in White Bridge, the opening track from her debut album Golden Eagle. In a certain context these words could well describe the direction the twenty one year old Galway born artist has taken her musical inspirations to create a most impressive and individualistic recording.

Possessing a quite unparalleled vocal which dips and soars throughout the ten tracks on the album, Macve excels in the art of storytelling with a maturity well beyond her years. Produced by Paul Gregory of Lanterns On The Lake, the album was written when Macve was, by her own admission, going through a difficult period emotionally. Often the motivation for creativity, her dark moments have delivered some wonderful stark stories depicting lost love (Heartbreak Blues), the comfort of childhood innocence (Sycamore Tree/Timbuktu), isolation (Shell) and loved ones departed (All Of It’s Glory), often delivered with minimal instrumentation and Macve’s  luscious vocal always out front. 

Make no mistake, her warbling, yodelling vocal will not be to everyone’s taste. It is quite distinctive and it did take a few listens to fully connect with but the time invested and particularly with the lyric sheet in hand certainly reaps rich rewards.

While heavily influenced by old time country, one is constantly reminded of Hank Williams, comparisons could also be made with Angel Olsen and no doubt Macve has the talent and potential like Olsen, to make a major industry breakthrough on the strength of Golden Eagle.

Country noir at its finest and highly recommended indeed.

The Black Sorrows Faithful Satellite Rootsy

Listening to Cold Grey Moon, the opening track on The Black Sorrows latest album, you could be forgiven for assuming it was an outtake from Elvis Costello’s 1999 album Painted From Memory, the album he recorded in collaboration with Burt Bacharach. Glorious vocal, horns and strings combine to give the song a full and rich delivery. No coincidence possibly as Costello was instrumental in a process that elevated The Black Sorrows from a covers band to big hitters. Frontman Joe Camilleri had raised the finance to record the band’s first album by playing birthday parties and weddings, the resulting album Sonola was recorded for a mere $1300. Costello happened upon the album when visiting Gaslight Records while playing in Australia and plugged them on the national airwaves and TV, creating a wave of interest in the band.  Costello in fact went on to cover Joe Camilleri’s So Young on his 1987 compilation album Out Of Our Idiot.  

Camilleri has since been at the forefront of Australian music culture for decades and was inducted into The Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame in 2007. Under his stewardship, The Black Sorrows have recorded seventeen albums to date and continue to be one of Australia’s most loved live acts. 

Faithfull Satellite is an album that packs a hefty punch from start to finish with the artists that excited and influenced Camilleri well represented. Costello’s trademark is all over the opening track and is revisited on Love Is On It’s Way, with a reggae beat Watching The Detectives style. It Ain’t Ever Gonna Happen comes across as time honoured Cohen with accompanying backing vocals and Winter Rose recalls a classic Van Morrison sound. Not content with merely paying homage to their peers they also dust down their banjos and fiddles for the country (ish) Fix My Bell and move more up tempo with a classic power pop melody with Carolina.

The album was recorded at Woodstock Studio in Melbourne with production duties shared by Camilleri and keyboard player John Mc All. The twelve songs were written by Camilleri and executive producer Nick Smith.

Conor O’Donnell Come On In Self Release

Conor O’Donnell’s father Al was very much part of the mid 60’s flourishing folk scene in London, rubbing shoulders with household names such as Peggy Seegar, Billy Connolly, Martin Carthy and Ewan Mc Coll. In Dublin he performed alongside The Dubliners and for a brief period  was a member of the traditional folk group Sweeney’s Men. He sadly passed away in 2015 and Come On In, Conor O’ Donnell’s debut album, is dedicated to his late father.

Featuring eleven self-penned songs, the albums stand out track is the haunting ballad Trouble I’m In and embraces the full range of roots music with nods to rockabilly (T Minus 20), country (Trucks A Gonna Roll) and two songs (Bobby Cole and Come On In) that recall the work of Simone Felice.

Recorded at Orphan Recording in Dublin the album was co-produced by Garvan Gallagher who also plays bass and keyboards and guest musician Gavin Glass who contributes keyboards and slide guitar. Also guesting on the album on violin is Leo O’Kelly with regular band members Kieran Mc Evoy (guitar, Duesenberg, vocals) and Sean Devitt (drums, vocals) completing the line up.

Donald Byron Wheatley Moondogs And Madogs Maiden Voyage

A number of the music magazines we subscribe to include in their review sections ‘Rediscovered’ features, reminding us or introducing us to forgotten or little known acts that released quality music back in the day but for some reason did not reach a market or were unappreciated at the time. Listening to  set me thinking that this album may feature in a similar scenario twenty years down the road as an extraordinary recording that did not get its due recognition when released. It’s an excellent album to say the least and exceptional in that the artist has never played onstage to a live audience. 

The title Donald Byron Wheatley conjures up an image of an aristocratic public schooled English gent most likely dressed in tweeds from head to toes and clad in hand made Barker Alderney brogues. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Wheatley spent his childhood in the family’s travelling business erecting and dismantling helter-skelters at various carnivals and fairgrounds up and down the country. His introduction to music was through his father’s love of the blues, regularly playing Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and eventually progressing to the early classic Dylan recordings. Both his father and grandfather were musical, playing the guitar and accordion but purely as a pass time.

Wheatley had notions of becoming a professional musician in his youngers years and wrote some songs which he intended to include in an album at some stage. However, life moved on with family responsibilities a priority and the idea of stardom soon faded into the background. Some years after his fathers passing and difficult times encountered by some close friends, he felt inspired to write again and with the encouragement of his cousin John Wheatley put the songs down on tape at Reservoir Recording Studio in North London.

The resulting album was produced by Chris Clarke (Danny & The Champions of The World) and John Wheatley (Suburban Discs) and features members The Champions, Chris Clarke, Steve Brookes, Andy Fairclough together with Siobhain Parr and UK pedal steel supremo BJ Cole.

The musical influences on the album are obvious, Wheatley wears his heart on his sleeve in this regard, but the quality of the material from first to twelfth track is staggering. On second listens I was convinced that some of the tracks were cover versions that I had previously heard such was the impact they made.

Opener Life’s A Beach is a semi rap type delivery in the style of Aaron Lee Tasjan and uncharacteristic of what follows. Smoking Gun and Hand Me Down Leopard Skin Hat recall mid 60’s Dylan and Not Tonight Josephine explores similar territory with its Band like driving rhythm, hammond organ solo and layered backing vocals. Nothing is the stand out track on the album, of a standard that would sit comfortably alongside anything on John Lennon’s Imagine.

There’s no doubt that Wheatley could be accused of raiding Dylans piggy band for much of the material but the same could be said of numerous other artists. Fans of the Felice Brothers and The Band will lap this up and rightly so. 

Osborne Jones Only Now Continental Song City

Unapologetically inspired by Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the classic country sound of the 60’s, you could be forgiven for assuming that Osborne Jones was a Nashville country crooner. They are in fact David-Gwyn Jones and David Osborne, UK born and bred who have assembled a team of musicians to produce an album that delightfully recalls the traditional sound of both Bakersfield and Nashville. Featuring ten tracks, nine of which were written by them and one co-write with Nigel Osborne, the songs are punctuated in no small measure by the stunning playing by Rick Shea who contributes mandolin, acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitar. A renowned artists in his own right, Shea also produced the album which was recorded by Mark Linett (Beach Boys, Los Lobos, Rikki Lee Jones, Randy Newman) at Your Place Or Mine Studios in Glendale, California. Also brought on board for the recording are David Jackson on bass, piano, organ and accordion, Shawn Nourse on drums and Cindy Wasserman and Gia Ciambotti on backing vocals.

The album is a fulfilment of a common love of the classic country sound between two long-time friends and part time musicians and though now residing in different continents they have managed to realise that ambition. As would be expected heartbreak and loving feature in large doses, no better than on Only Now with more than a nod to Elvis  and  Heartbreak and Six Strings and I Still Think She Cares both of which are soaked in pedal steel guitar.

Never intended as a project to attack the Billboard Country Music Charts it achieves precisely what it set out to do in accomplishing their ambition to create a body of well fashioned songs and particularly impressive musicianship which they can justifiably be proud of.

Dave Desmelik Lifeboat Self Release

Lifeboat, similar to the other works in the back catalogue of Dave Desmelik, is not an album to pop in your cd player and start singing along with the choruses after one listen. The Brevard North Carolina resident’s albums fall into a similar category to the work of Jim White, John Dowd, Richard Buckner and possibly Vic Chestnutt, no compromise, from the heart and music that demands a considerable investment of your time to fully appreciate.

It’s his eleventh recording in a career that dates back to the late nineties when he was part of the Arizona band Onus B.Johnson. Not quite a one man show, though Desmelik does contributes vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, cigar box guitar, baritone ukulele, bass, piano, organ, drums and percussion together with recording and mixing duties. The cover artwork also features a sketch by Desmelik.

Despite employing many and varied instruments in the recording the eleven tracks are in the main raw, stripped back yet never fail to atmospherically create vivid imagery for the listener.

The delightful Surgery, Recovery and Love features only three spoken words by Desmelik and is basically an instrumental with the addition of sporadic words by children Holmes, Elena and Vince who, unaware that they are being recorded, reveal their innocent inner thoughts. 

A Strange Realization, the longest track on the album at over nine minutes and one of the highlights, is a dreamy kaleidoscope of sound that could be mistaken as a demo track for an early Pink Floyd album.

Battlefield is a more up-tempo inclusion on an album that often sounds desperate, intense, honest and hurting, yet when penetrated, grabs the listener from the outset and doesn’t let go.

Sophia Marshall The Paper Thin EP Self Release

In a previous life and as a teenager, Leicester born Sophia Marshall’s was part of The Havenots, a duo with Liam Dullaghan whose album Bad Pennies, released in 2004, was possibly a decade ahead of its time and combined luscious boy/girl harmonies in a manner that is certainly more hip today than it was then. The Mastersons, Shovels and Ropes and Whitehorse have perfected the approach and one is left to wonder what impact Bad Pennies would have in the burgeoning Americana scene were it to be released today.

In more recent times, 2015 to be precise, Marshall began concentrating on her solo career and this five track EP, her debut solo release, demonstrates not only her beautifully subtle vocal but also her ability to create songs that contain both melody and depth in equal measures.

Comparisons with Eddie Reader come to mind on both Wasted Days and Living  Things. Her vocals ebb and flow, layered delightfully on the closing track and tour da force The Devil and The Hollow. Produced by her band member and guitarist Andy Jenkinson, the emphasis is always on Marshalls perfectly paced voice.

In her former and current career Marshall has played support to Frazey Ford, Peter Bruntnell, The Sadies, Sam Outlaw and Tift Merrit. On the strength of this recording, given the exposure it deserves, there is little doubt that she has the potential and talent to make a lot of people stand up and take notice.


Reviews by Declan Culliton


Rhiannon Giddens Freedom Highway Nonesuch

It’s both poignant and indeed disturbing that Freedom Highway, the title of Rhiannon Giddens second solo album, was inspired by the Staple Sisters song of the same name, recorded over fifty years ago and motivated by the Civil Rights movement in Alabama at that time. The album was originally to be named At The Purchaser's Option but the prevailing political tensions and developments during the writing process made her reconsider the title.

Giddens debut solo album Tomorrow Is My Turn was released in 2015. Produced by T.Bone Burnett, it featured, in the main, interpretations of material previously written or performed by artists ranging from American blues singer Geeshie Wiley to country legend Dolly Parton together with a quite spectacular rendition of the traditional American folk song Waterboy. Only one song, the closing track Angel City, was penned by Giddens.  While never concerned with concentrating on a particular style the album deservedly received glowing reviews, in the main earned by Gidden’s stunning vocal delivery throughout. 

Freedom Highway on the other hand proves to be a more fiercely personal project, unfolding in documentary style and giving the often faceless and anonymous the opportunity to articulate their struggles, pain, helplessness and abuse. Many of the songs are taken from the female’s perspective, a recurring theme is the mother child relationship with the album visiting the casual and cruel manner by which that relationship was shattered both in former times and indeed to the present day. The inner sleeve of the album features a newspaper cutting from 1797 advertising the sale of a young female slave with the inclusion of her nine-month baby At the Purchasers Option. This proved to be the inspiration and motivation for the opening track of the same name."You can take my body, you can take my bones, you can take my blood but not my soul."

It plays out as an album that Giddens was always going to record and on her own terms.  Her previous solo album and recordings with The Carolina Chocolate Drops were produced by T. Bone Burnett, Joe Henry and Buddy Millar. This time around Giddens avoids the possibility of a more polished and over produced recording by taking control herself in the co-production with multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell. Produced at Powell’s studio in Breaux Bridge Louisiana, the majority of the songs were recorded in a pre-civil war wooden structure and captures a timeless ambiance. 

The Angels Laid Him Away, a cover of the Mississippi John Hurt original, is stripped back to feature vocal and acoustic guitar and dwells on a mother’s loss at the death of her son. Better Get It Right The First Time, full on country soul, visits similar territory but in the present times, questioning the shooting of a young black man and featuring an unexpected yet entirely compelling rap by Giddens nephew Justin Harrington. Julia, tells the tale of an exchange between a slave girl and her mistress as Union soldiers arrive at their plantation, the mistress pleading with the defiant young slave to dutifully safeguard the family’s trunk of gold. "Mistress, O Mistress, that trunk of gold Is what you got when my children you sold."

Birmingham Sunday, written by Richard Farina and immortalised by Joan Baez, is delivered vocally almost trance like as if Giddens is reliving every last word. Opening with Dirk Powell’s slow piano intro and closing with the addition of an accompanying choir it moved me to the point that I found myself playing it on repeat a number of times prior to continuing with the rest of the album.

Giddens interpretation is at odds with the Staple Singers version on the closing track Freedom Highway. Favouring a less pacey delivery and introducing horns and handclaps, it may stray somewhat from the more gospel sound of the original but lyrically delivers the same message that it did back in the mid 60’s.

Giddens has been in receipt of numerous awards and nominations over the years including a Grammy Award in 2011 with the album Genuine Negro Jig. A late comer to song writing she can justifiably be as proud with this album as any other career highlight to date. 

Kaurna Cronin Southern Loss Self Release

Kaurna Cronin was voted Folk Alliance Australia’s Artist of The Year in 2015 following the release of his last album Glass Fool that year. Southern Loss follows twelve months later and is further recognition of the growing body of talent in the Americana/ Folk genre coming out of Australia in recent years. Artists such as Kaurna Cronin, Emma Swift, Ruby Boots, CW Stoneking and Beth Brown have the ability to follow in the footsteps of fellow Australian's Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson and Anne McCue by establishing themselves in a market that is highly competitive.

The album consists of ten tracks written and produced by Cronin and recorded at Mixmasters Studio in Adelaide with the mixing and mastering carried out by Mick Worley. Musicians featured on the album are Cronin’s touring band members Tom Kneebone ( guitar/vocals), Kiah Gossner (Bass) together with session players David Resce ( Drums), Aaron Nash ( Organ/Grand Piano and )Julian Ferraretto ( Strings).Tara Mc Henry, Laura Knowles and Delia Obst all contribute additional vocal harmonies.

The material ranges from the country rocking opener Passion Parade with an addictive laid back riff and harmonies to the gorgeous love ballad Never Get You Off My Mind and the dreamlike 5019. The song writing is strong, solid with tales of love, loss, regret and reflection. Cronin’s high pitched and sometimes fragile vocal is the winner throughout, quite often complemented by well-timed harmonies. 

The Looking Lead Me To The Water Rhizome Man

The Looking is in essence New York City based singer songwriter and producer Todd Carter. His previous album Songs For a Traveler, released in 2013, explored the American songbook from the 19th Century up the 1950’s covering standards such as Black Is The Colour, Old Man River, Blue River and Long Black Veil. Lead Me To the Water. Carter’s inspiration for this current album was the songbooks of the Country music legends Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Townes Van Zandt, whose work he immersed himself. 

Between the recordings of each album Carter produced recordings by Argentinian Bernardo Palombo and French artist Leopold.

Carter, who received degrees in Religion and Philosophy at Indiana University most certainly has an open mind in respect of his musical influences. Together with his research of the great American songbook for his previous album he also cites Syd Barrett, The Circle Jerks, Husker Vu and The Smiths as artists that were very much on his radar. As a result the listener won’t make an immediate connection individually with the music of Haggard, Price or Van Zandt on first spin of the album though further plays expose their influences.

The title track and open track draws the listener straight away thanks in no small measure to some dreamy pedal steel playing by Gerald Menke. The Well, which follows, is a fuller and rockier affair with a killer guitar riff and backing vocals compliments of Sasha Dobson who plays regularly with Nora Jones. Not Your Friend and Where Did You Go have a mid-70’s West Coast Jackson Browne feel, You And Me recalls the sound of Josh Rouse. Burning Doves bookends the album very much in a similar style that the title track opened it, a gentle country rock sound aided once more by Menke’s lovely pedal steel.

The album was produced by Carter and Bill Finizio with all songs written by Carter with the exception of You and Me co-written with Finizio and Where Did You Go which was written with Tim Curtis–Verderosa. It credits thirteen musicians other than Carter and Finizio and is most certainly the work of an artist that has the talent and achieves a sound that could make a major industry breakthrough.

Erika Kulnys Rise Up Self Release

The possessor of a quite extraordinary voice, Rise Up, the seventh studio album by Kulnys, finds the Nova Scotia resident in fine form reflecting on matters worldly as well as closer to home.

The album’s twelve tracks, all penned by Kulnys, are both personal ( Love Me In The Morning, Carolina, Love’s Not Wasted) and political (Rise Up, Roaring For A Revolution), the common bond being the quality of the story telling and that heart stirring  vocal that dips and soars effortlessly throughout.

The aforementioned Roaring For A Revolution, the cream of the crop, bears a healthy relation to Anais Mitchell in style and indeed delivery. Kulnys powerful and soaring vocal is the winner here without doubt, bringing the poignant lyrics and melody to life.

The title track speaks for the repressed and downtrodden "Rise up, Now is the hour Rise up, Take back your power, Rise up, We will not wait, We rise up today."

Equally comfortable singing the blues on I’m On Fire or folk ballads such as Angel On The Road and Honeysuckle the album as a whole reinforces the versatility and rounded talent of an artist well worth checking out. 

Callie Hopper Out of the Shadows Callie Hopper Music 

This is the second album release by the 20-year-old Nashville resident Callie Hopper. As the title would suggest the album features open hearted material  and is a large step forward from her debut album Notes On Love And Such,  which she recorded as a sixteen-year-old. It also reveals the song writing talent of a young lady mature well beyond her years. The material is credited as co-written with producer Ryan Speakman and Chad Alexander, with the exception of Stay which is credited to Hopper alone.

The music in general is quite mainstream, possibly closer to the pop end of the market rather than that wide umbrella we classify as Americana and it’s probably the correct market for her to target. 

Created over a two-year period it is commendable that much of the album was primarily written when Hopper was a teenager and it’s understandable that many of the songs deal with relationships and vulnerability (Stay, So Much, Hold On, This Songs Not For You).

The title and opening track, however, is a wonderful coming of age song with the writer prepared to bare her soul while agonising over how her stories and honesty might be perceived. "If I open up my heart to you, if I show you what’s inside, will you listen to my words, will you feel what I wrote."

Notwithstanding Hoppers ability to pen strong material she also possesses a delightful voice and engaged a strong band of musicians to bring the songs to life including co-writers Alexander on guitars and piano and Speakman on drums percussion and organ. Chad Alexander also shares vocals on Fire and Ice.

Possessing the song writing ability, a gorgeous vocal ability and style, Hopper is more than than well situated to enjoy a successful career and is in the right place both musically and geographically to be noticed and nurtured.  Whether her journey continues down a mainstream route or takes a slight diversion in a more countrified direction will be interesting.

One to watch without doubt.

Jemima James At Longview Farm/When You Get Old Team Love Records

An extraordinary project and album in many ways.  Jemima James, now 65 years old, wrote At Longview Farm in 1979 and it has taken 38 years for it to see the light of day, being finally released by Team Love Records. But the story does not end there as the album has been released as a double which also features When You Get Old ( 65’s not old anymore Jemima!), her recent 2015 recording. James’s life story is intriguing, having dropped out of art school in the early 70’s, she relocated to New York and was employed by Famous Music as a songwriter. The great grandchild of the most famous American  philosopher William James (brother of the author Henry James),  her career  has seen her employed as a writer, performer, cook, pre-school teacher and carer. Her early life also found her working for three years at Long View Farm, cleaning, cooking, milking cows and also serving food to a range of artists including J.Geils Band, Tim Curry, Arlo Guthrie and The Rolling Stones.

She and Michael Mason are also parents to Willy and Sam Mason, both accomplished artists in their own right, both understandably feature on When You Get Old.

What makes the intriguing story complete is  the quality of both albums. Notwithstanding the musical excellence, the packaging, liner notes and photography are delightful. The cover on the earlier album features James with the classic 70’s singer looks, wild hair and sweet impish smile. When You Get Old depicts James in more recent times, still in possession of the impish smile!

It was during her three year stay at Long View Farm that she recorded At Longview Farm. Two tracks in on my first listen had me reaching for the liner notes in full expectation that the track Havana Cigar is a Townes Van Zandt song that had somehow escaped me over the years. The standout track on the album, It is in fact written by James, as are all the other tracks on the album and is of a standard that compares with Van Zandt’s finest. Not trailing far behind in the quality stakes are One More Rodeo, Jackson County and Esperate. The album is most definitely of its time, folk music soaked in country, assured playing throughout and delivered beautifully by James. The work of Linda Ronstadt and Guy Clark come to mind.

When You Get Old was recorded at Old Soul Studio in Catskill, New York in October 2015 and unlike her earlier album includes four well selected cover versions, If I Could Only Fly by Blaze Foley, Tennessee Blues by Bobby Charles, Gillian Welch’s One and Only and If It’s The End written by her son Willy Mason. She also revisits the earlier album with versions of Sensible Shoes and Easy Come Easy Go featuring in the thirteen tracks. The vocals remain as sweet and disciplined as her earlier album with the playing equally accomplished.

Listening to At Longview Farm one has to wonder how many quality recordings are packed away in attics, garages and recording studios that for a variety of reasons never found their way on to the record store shelves and a subtle reminder of the thin line between commercial success and oblivion. 

Various Artists Five Years of Country to Country C2C (2013-2017) Hump Head Records

The Country to Country Festival was first staged in 2013, bringing a wide range of artists annually to London, Glasgow and Dublin. It takes place over a weekend and includes acts that represent traditional country, modern country, crossover pop country, bluegrass and rock music.

In celebration of the continuing success of the festival Hump Head Records have released this double album featuring many of the acts that have appeared at the various venues over the past five years.

Impressively packaged and including a glossy forty-page booklet, the album features forty tracks in total across quite a wide musical range catering for all tastes. Full on rockers Brantley Gilbert (One Hell Of An Amen) and Eric Church (Springsteen) sit side by side with more classic country honky tonkers Dwight Yoakam (Take Hold Of My Hand) and Marty Stuart (Time Don’t Wait). Legendary Nashville household names Reba Mc Entire (Consider Me Gone) and Lee Ann Womack (Last Call) are complimented by their neighbours and a new generation of female singer songwriters in Ashley Monroe (If The Devil Don’t Want Me) and Brandy Clark (Girl Next Door). UK duo’s The Shires (State Lines) and Ward Thomas (Guilty Flowers) represent acts closer to home that have benefitted greatly by the exposure they have been given by appearing at the festival. Multi award winner Chris Stapleton (Tennessee Whiskey) introduces a slice of country blues in to the mix. More modern country is featured with the inclusion of Brad Paisley (The Mona Lisa) and Jennifer Nettles (That Girl). Female singer songwriter Miranda Lambert (Little Wagon), with the capability to excel in all the foregoing strands of country music is also represented.

 The purists may argue that the material is not entirely representative of country music in the true sense (which it does not claim to do, in fairness), but without doubt one of achievements of C2C has been to introduce a younger UK and Irish age group in considerable numbers to country music, both recorded and live, as well as the ‘older grey hairs’ who would traditionally be considered the target audience. 

It’s inevitable that not all tracks on the album will be to everyone’s liking. However, it does present what the music industry considers to represent country music today and with the depth of artists featured should include music to suit most country listeners taste.

Michael Howard Gasoline Dream Self Release

Alaskan born and reared Michael Howard, similar to so many other singer songwriters, had an early career playing punk music prior to settling back in to a career as a folk singer songwriter. Maybe the remoteness of residing in the rural setting of the Last Frontier with its long dark winters made a mark in terms of self-survival as Gasoline Dreams, though primarily folk and some protest songs, also retains the DIY dimension with a number of the tracks being recorded entirely live by Howard. The album was recorded at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco with production and engineering duties carried out by Jacob Winik (Magnetic Fields, Samantha Crain).

In the main it is very much a stripped to the bone affair with the emphasis most definably on the written word and the stories within. Vocal and acoustic guitar dominate  with minimal additional instrumentation courtesy of Kevin Worrell on bass and keys, Andrew Maguire adds percussion.

The songs are heartfelt and personal, written and delivered by an artist with an obvious deep social conscious and a passion for storytelling. With Howard’s distinctive almost spoken vocal the album  may take a few listens to grab you but songs such as opener Meet Me at the Front Line, Hog Butcher Hog Butcher and  the title and closing track are representative of an album that is a Sunday morning rather than a Saturday night listen.

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Dennis Ellsworth 'Romantic As It Gets' - Busted Flat 

Love is at the heart of Canadian singer/songwriter Dennis Ellsworth’s latest (fourth) album. Romantic as it Gets is produced by David Barbe and has a drifting sound carried by Matt Stoessel’s pedal steel over a solid rhythmic base supplied by Barbe and drummer Seth Hendershot. Add Thayer Sarrano on keyboards and Ellsworth himself on guitars and thoughtful vocals andf the album is complete. The mood is gentle, reflective and, indeed, romantic. Songs like Stay True and Full Moon Blues. Ghosts Of Love is a song with a melancholy mood and features an effective backing vocal from Sarrano who has released music in her own right.

This music is partly summed up by the alt-country label of some years back. The pedal steel helps that association, though Ellsworth is not honky-tonk singer. His music needs a gentler ear to take in it’s decided worth. Though in a song like Mercy Doll the band pick up the beat, but not in a way that raises sweat. Instead they bring a sense of energy which posits the truth that “no one is ready for loneliness”. Perhaps the overall mood can be summed up by the song Beauty is Sad from which the line for title comes.

The album finishes with Dancing All Alone where the singer wonders “do you still belong to me?”.  Romantic as It Gets is full of these questions and the answers may come from the music, but mainly from Ellsworth’s mostly self-written songs and his effective vocals. Throughout he is backed by a band and producer with whom he has worked before and who fully understand him and his songs. Recording in Athens, Georgia has given this music a sense of time and place that makes his Ellsworth’s latest album a understated gem.

Woody Pines 'Woody Pines' - Muddy Roots

Mr. Pines appears on the cover of the latest album to bear his name. His music is a continued exploration of the acoustic hillbilly, country blues, vaudeville and jugband that has long been associated with his work. This time there is the mix of covers and originals that he integrates to a point where they fit seamlessly together. Here Pines surrounds himself with a cutting crew who add to the music’s wide range and includes some fine guitar picking, upright bass, fiddle, harmonica, piano, electric autoharp and percussion.

As befits the man with his name on the cover, a lot of these are played by Woody himself. His two main accomplices are Skip Frontz Jr on upright bass and Brad Tucker on guitar and vocals. But what really matters is that the eleven tracks entertain, enthuse and enrich in their delivery from the foot tapping Nashville Boogie and the jazzy take on Irving Berlin’s My Walking Stick. The Mississippi  Sheiks’ number Make it to The Woods has a sense of latent criminality, while Little Stella Blue is a quite song for a lady friend. The closing Worth the Game is stripped back to just Pines’ voice, guitar and atmospherics on a song that considers that “life’s a gamble, but it worth the game”.

There is an old soul in Woody Pines who, with his commanding voice and overriding sensibilities, breathes life into the music which has it’s roots at the beginning of the last century but is well presented for this one. Those already acquainted with the music of Woody Pines will very much enjoy this new collection of song, while newcomers could well find themselves enthralled of his effusive Americana.

The Rosellys  'The Granary Sessions'- Clubhouse

This is another band to add to the list of those who add creditability to those making original roots-orientated music in the UK and Ireland. The band is led by Dr Rebecca and Simon Rosellys. They are accompanied by fellow members Drew Bridges on drums, Bob Lane and bass and Allan Kelly on pedal steel and resonator. The latter ups the country music quotient overall and what is, at times, a blend of folk rock, indie and roots influences, or ‘British Americana’ as they label it on their website.

Rebecca and Simon Rosellys are the songwriters and they have turned out some well crafted stories of travel, travail and temptation. Although from Bristol, many of the songs appear to come from observations made during their wide ranging touring. A Thousand Miles, Maryland, Asheville 1784 are all songs of people and  places a long way from Bristol. They actually address the subject in Red, White and Blue where the question “why don’t you sing about your country” is one they seemed to have been asked, and to which they reply that the “streets of grey might show you where I was born, but to the black tops of Texas I belong.” Whatever the inspiration or the location, the end result is well executed and easy to like.

Label mates and major influence the Redlands Palomino Company have been a source of encouragement and more, with members Hannah and Alex Elton-Wall appearing as guest players, with the latter also serving as co-producer with the Rosellys. The additional guests add piano, double bass and cello to a couple of tracks. This gives the sound a rounded and diverse feel topped by the shared vocals of the Rosellys,  both of whom take the lead on certain songs and also harmonise together. They handle both tasks with clarity and conviction. The Granary Sessions is the band’s third album and it is evident that they can only get better, but that this is a good place to get acquainted.

Mark Brown 'Skin & Bone' - Self Release

Mark Brown has a  sound that kinda reminds me of those Texas albums that bring a lot of strands together under one roof. This is the type of thing that Gurf Morlix might be involved in. Brown’s new album is a diverse and distinguished set of songs from a voice that commands attention with its rough and tumble tone, a tone that suggest that Brown has seen and experienced a thing or two and is happy to divulge his thoughts and emotions. There are 14 songs on Skin & Bone and they are full of hard rhythm and extramural sounds that weave in and out of the overall backing track.

The album opens with Brown’s voice sitting on top of a strident banjo motif, some distorted guitar and hard percussion. It set the listener up for something a little out of the ordinary and a long way from the honky-tonks. From then on Dean Jones (credited with recording the album along with Ken McGloin) is featured on keyboards, trombone and “other noise making devices”. The guests include Mike Merenda on banjo. Pooch Fishcetti on pedal steel with vocal contributions from Eli McNamara, Kendall Jane Meade and Wayne Montecalvo. Montecalvo also adds fiddle and musical saw on a couple of tracks.

There are occasions like Smashed and Hatchet Man where Brown conjures the jukebox ghost of Johnny Cash - during a bar-room fight in the former case, but the end result is more pleasing than that might sound. Other songs capture different moods like the confessional, pedal steel enhanced Cried in Your Bed, the processed pain of Hurt or Spaceship which takes a futuristic view of the man traveling far afield to establish himself before sending the fare the bring his partner to him. However, as the title suggests, the destination in the song is the moon. The music is an understated mix of trombone and upright bass. Granny, the song that ends the album is a memory of a departed close, influential and much loved relative. The words, as they do throughout, have a directness that underscores their effectiveness, especially when delivered in Brown’s hard scrabble and road-worn voice of the ages.

Shelby Lynne 'I Can’t Imagine' - Rounder/UMG 

The well respected Shelby Lynne continues to follow her muse in a direction she has followed since she left the tight control imposed on her by the major label deals she has had in the past. Lynne has released on her own label in the past, but is now working with Rounder. She produced the album with assistance from her guitar player Ben Peeler, a former member The Mavericks. Recorded in a live setting in Louisiana, these soulful songs are never over-sung or produced, but rather use the assembled musicians in a way that enhances the overall delivery. 

Back Door, Front Porch uses the backing vocals of Clarence Greenwood as counterpoint to Lynne’s vocal and the other players show restraint and taste in their playing. It is Lynne’s powerful vocal that is at the centre of her work. There are moments of pure pop-soul that underlines the comparison that has been made in the past to Dusty Springfield. However, the overall feeling is sparse and laid-back. There is a loose grooved southern-ness that pervades much of the work, though when it comes to a song like Down Here there is a kick from the driving lead guitar and swelling keyboards.

While Lynne has co-written some of the songs here with Ben Peller, NRBQs Pete Donnelly and Ron Sexmith (two each) the majority are solo compositions. Over the length of I Can’t Imagine there tend to be moments where the pace does lag, but once you’re in the mood that may not matter and certainly long-time fans will not complain.

There is a nod to her Nashville days on the title song with a compelling melody that places the pedal steel guitar to the fore. It also forms a part of the atmospheric and intriguing Following You which opens with Leni Stern’s n’goni before become a largely acoustic delivery. This is a song that points to the diverse nature of Lynne’s muse and the wide range of options open to her that finds her looking to not repeat the sounds of previous albums. That wish however doesn’t change the confidence and conviction of Lynne’s work. This may be something that is not for outright country music fans, but for those in the know.

David Massey 'Until the Day is Done' - Self Release

With a couple of previous albums under his belt, Massey blends folk, bluegrass, country and rock together. He is in the troubadour tradition, telling stories over a musical backing that is easy to assimilate and to like. Massey, as with many similar artists, is traveling on a well worn path,  but one that can still lead you to a place where you would like to find yourself. A huge asset to the songs is the tasteful guitar of Jay Byrd who is a focus throughout behind Massey’s vocal assuredness. The other assembled players also do their job well. They rock the songs, giving them a toe-tapping energy that makes them work within the confines they have set themselves. Some of the songs like Sweet Marie have a simple but memorable chorus that works and imbeds itself in the memory.

The use of mandolin and cello on the Song for Olen give it a broader, more reflective feel to a departed friend. Producer Jim Robeson brings in additional instruments as the song requires so with the bass, drums, guitar core you get Dobro, harmonica, keyboards, pedal steel, accordion and washboard which add different tones to the songs. Massey’s songs, mostly self-written, all have a sense of craft that shows a writer working to better tell the tales he wants to. One, Holden Caulfield is a tribute to the fictional hero which given the simple voice, guitar and violin rendition an effective sparseness. Equally stripped to its core is the closing Until The Day Is Done, a song recorded at home that could have been worked up, but is allowed to sit in its rawest form 

It finishes a likeable and easy listening collection of songs that won’t change your life, but may well make it a little more enjoyable. David Massey and his team have done a good job of getting these songs across. They could easily be enjoyed by a wider audience if they were placed before them and Massey with his third album will undoubtedly enhance his local reputation and please those who have encountered his previous work live or in recording.