Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Jade Jackson - Gilded : Anti-Records

This debut album by Jade Jackson nearly passed me by, but thankfully, fate delivered an absolute beauty. GILDED in its title suggests either something golden or something hidden. One certainty though is that a little mining will reveal vast treasures. The sound hits you with a blast of indie tilted in an Americana direction while splashed with country sentiment. Ultimately, it’s raw, riveting and rather good.

The eleven tracks, all in a self-penned status, unwrap with a sweet and sour effect. The lyrics have a youthful zest to them, in contrast to some some worn vocals belying such a young performer. It transpires that intense listening to the Lucinda Williams classic album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was part of the preparation journey from prolific introspective writer to a recording artist offering songs to the world. This has clearly rubbed off and while it would be remiss to compare, the detected influence gives the record a degree of maturity.

A useful element to any successful album is to have a crackerjack of a lead off track. ‘Aden’ does that precisely for the California-based Jade, with its cracking chorus segment and series of lovely melody shifts. A stellar opening line, “I grew up my father's daughter/ He said, "Don't take no shit from no one”, also sets the tone before a neat mix of rousing guitar and fiddle make this song a major pull. If this track gives the album an indie feel, it is also joined by the rocking closer ‘Better Off’, an interesting narrative piece titled ‘Good Time Gone’ and a key stand out candidate in ‘Troubled End’. The latter evokes a spirit of Johnny Cash meeting The Smiths with heaps of deep majestic guitar breaking out into scintillating solos.

Fleeting fiddle and briefly utilised steel provide the country tone with the heavily promoted track ‘Finish Line’ being the highest profile nod in this direction. ‘No Guarantees’ features later in the album in the break up slot, but comes across more as a rock ballad. This is similar to ‘Bridges’, which sees Jade’s vocals slip into tenderer folk mode.

A couple of pedestrian tracks do struggle to make a strong impact especially the slightly languid ‘Salt to Sugar’ and the title song ‘Gilded’ where the writing gets a little abstract. Okay, the latter’s indication of unlatching the cage of life does have some relevance to a debut album, but the writing has a greater effect elsewhere. ‘Motorcycle’ leads the pack on this score with its explicit message “my motorcycle only seats one” and a glorious piece of baseball analogy in the final verse. This is the second impressive referral to America’s pastime this year following Caroline Spence’s ‘Softball’.

However, the line of the record belongs to the second track ‘Back When’ with Jade proclaiming “I want to be the bird on the wire/ So many things I forgot to admire”. This excellent song has a fine acoustic intro before the electric kicks in and who can resist a song, which factors in listening to Hank Williams.

GILDED is a classy, cultured and cool album, which has clearly weaved in the influences of Jade Jackson really well. While perhaps this album is not designed for the purists, if cross genre pollenating is an inevitable road of evolution this is the ideal formula to adopt. The fact this album refused to budge from the review pile is a testimony to its slow burning appeal. This is a touch ironic in light of the super strong opening track, yet eventually getting to the grips with the entity of the album has been a worthwhile venture. 


Ed Dupas - Tennesse Night : Road Trip Songs

Take your coffee black; drink your whiskey straight; enjoy your food without ketchup and savour your music free of saccharine. There is also no flavouring or artificial tinkering required with the music of Ed Dupas as it stands alone on a towering plateau of genuineness. TENNESSEE NIGHT is the second album from this Michigan based singer-songwriter and surfaces to a willing world in a swirling mix of the rousing and the heartfelt. The album weaves ruggedly through a myriad of tempos without straying too far from a focussed core. This is of an artist hell bent on dissecting a mass of emotion, feelings and thoughts within the powerful medium of the articulate song. Throw in a soundtrack splattered with the soil of when country music meets it alternative cousin on the backroads of the Americana landscape, and a winning formula blows across the airwaves.

Eleven self-penned tracks form this album, which begins in a fully fired up mode before reverting to the mean of the temperate performer relying on the subtleness of the song over raw power. That is not to say that the first two tracks don’t get the album off to a cracking start. The impassioned ‘Too Big To Fail’ with a catchy chorus hook and the straightforward alt-country rocker  ‘Two Wrongs’ instantly grab your attention before the pace gently retracts to enable several insertions of pedal steel to flourish. The overarching guitars do crank back into action later in the record supplemented by a sizzling solo in the song ‘Anthem’.

For me the soul of the album resides elsewhere, most prominently in the rich optimism of ‘Promised Land’ and flagged up in the opening lines of ‘I thought somebody was at the wheel // I thought somebody was up there keeping score // But it’s just you and me.' Not just the soul of the record, this track probably captures the essence of an independent artist fighting their corner in a challenging world. Pushing this track hard in the ‘appeal stakes’ are ‘Up Ahead’, a great road song representing the heartbeat of the album, and the reunion-tinged powerful title track ‘Tennessee Night’.

Following the initial dominating blast of the electric contribution, the acoustic guitar does come more to the fore especially on the tempo changing fourth track ‘Do It For Me’ and the pondering closer ‘Hold Me Tight’, which does leave the listener at a junction of whether to depart on an upbeat or downbeat emotion. Regardless of the concluding mood, you are a leaving a record that has proved a damn good listening experience for the past thirty-eight minutes.

Earlier in the album, the feel had moved in a more country direction with the steel kicking in on third track ‘Heading Home Again’. This succeeds in maintaining the momentum of the album without continuing the rocking out phase that greeted the listener. ‘Some Things’ is another track in a similar vein, although containing a rather resigned feeling in the midst of some great hooks. ‘Everything is in Bloom’ is a perplexing mid-tempo track, not exactly obvious in its sentiment, but keeps the record gently rolling along as it heads towards the finale.

Ed Dupas is one of those artists who personify the strength of the Americana undercard. On TENNESSEE NIGHT, he treads a weary road of gutsy music, while humming, strumming and fleetingly bashing out an alt-country soundtrack. Its live-recorded status creates a mind wave of music crafted for the road coupled with a spot on vocal performance to suit. The perfect antidote to the disposable culture. 

Nicole Atkins - Goodnight Rhonda Lee : Single Locke Records

While the background and journey adds substance to the story, you barely need a fraction of the opening song from Nicole Atkins’ new album to know that you are in the midst of a winner. GOODNIGHT RHONDA LEE is the triumphant result of a calling ‘South’ and proof that the horizon knows no limits when all the stars are aligned. Natural talent is bestowed upon an individual with no invitation, but how it is utilised is key to transmitting such a gift from the creative individual to the person experiencing it. From its scintillating opening through the other ten tracks, this achingly beautiful album fans the vocal flames with extraordinary pedigree.

A record that smoothly switches from making you smile, cry, think and dance, this a classic cut of country soul, which spans the generations. Throughout the album, Nicole wanders into soul territory armed with rock credentials, never really staying, yet intent on soaking up all the vibes that have formed the ‘Great American Soul Book’. Although the album was initially recorded in Fort Worth Texas by the same Niles City Sound team responsible for the recently acclaimed Leon Bridges recording, the release has been orchestrated by Single Locke Records: a burgeoning indie label operating right in the heart of the Shoals region in Florence Alabama. There is so much local flavour in the sound and a strikingly directional move for Nicole who had grown into the label ‘Queen of Asbury’ in her native New Jersey. Further delving into the background events that led to the making of this album help build the picture, but the overriding conclusion is that the decision to settle in Nashville has worked wonders on the recording front.

There is going to be a tendency for a logical link to some of the soul giants, but I’m going to name three different associations that spill out of many plays of this gem. Stunning opener ‘A Little Crazy’ will accrue many plaudits with its power; even to the extent of sliding up the vocal range in a very Roy Orbison-style. However, there so much synergy to when Brandi Carlile cracks open her vocal chords and this will do quite nicely. Essentially Nicole pours every sinew of energy into this piece before digging deep into her versatility to ensure the remainder of the album retains its freshness.

The second association that jumped out was in the acutely retro sounding title track. It doesn’t take too much online searching to find out that ‘Goodnight Rhonda Lee’ is a message to her fading alter ego demon. Nicole addresses this in a classic pop style and traces of the vocal performance are reminiscent of the fabulous Lindi Ortega injecting intense emotion into a song. You need to cross the Atlantic for the final link and how there is a hint of Amy Winehouse’s version of ‘Valerie’ in the soulful ‘Sleepwalking’. This is one of several tracks where Nicole and her bunch of players get the listener’s feet moving in a semi-rhythmic way including the horns-influenced soul stomping ‘Brokedown Luck’ and the sweet hook-adorned ‘Listen Up’.

Of course, Nicole will herself no doubt pay tribute to the players assembled for the making of this record, of which the finishing touch was added by Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes. Their influence constructed a sound track to supplement the vocal element, whilst ensuring the the overall feel sways between soul, rock and country. The latter is represented by slithers of faint steel especially in the aforementioned opener, the superbly poignant ‘A Dream Without Pain’ and the concluding number ‘A Night of Serious Drinking’, which rolls out as a tender laid back lounger mixing the minimal twang with some hazy sax.

Elsewhere on the record, the theme hits a very personal note especially on ‘I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t’), a thoughtful piece on her departure from Asbury Park. Further insight into the mind-set that fuelled this album comes from ‘Darkness Falls So Quiet’ complete with its rising tempo and theme of loneliness. Nicole really excels in piano ballad mode for the moving repenting piece ‘Colors’. A lovely restful mid-album song, which reinvigorates the listener to savour the second half. Perhaps the one song that lags a little behind the bulk of the collection is ‘If I Could’, but probably suffers as a result of its high standard contemporaries rather than any deficiencies.

No doubt this album with be claimed by the Americana community especially with Nicole’s now Nashville residency and the doors that open in that city, which are far more wide reaching than the confines of Music Row. Ultimately, GOODNIGHT RHONDA LEE is an album that you will fall in love with. It can be interpreted as a career re-boot, while certainly possessing the class to ensure the music of Nicole Atkins is opened up to a whole new audience.

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters - Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters : Organic Records

The reasoning behind self-titled albums can be somewhat vague, but this is certainly not the case with the new record by Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters. It is born from a decision for Amanda to step out of the shadows and be more of a focus for the music of a band that has been gathering momentum over the last couple of years. It is also a case of a fertile period for the band with records seeing the light of day in 2015, 2016 and now 2017. This follows a steady start to a recording career that stretches back nearly a decade. Whether the re-branding is deemed successful can wait for a later day, but on the evidence of the new album’s thirteen tracks, the sound is right on the mark. 

The Honeycutters accrued praise for their smart ability to execute a deep-rooted country sound in songs framed for their simplicity. This, of course aligned with their indie status, meant an audience tended to be sourced from the Americana and contemporary folk communities. However, decent press coverage followed and much of the same is expected for the new album. One of the most highly valued traits of the record is Amanda’s sincere and poignant approach to song writing. Free of waxed lyrical pretentions, this collection of transparent songs perfectly captures multiple facets of everyday life, albeit from a deeply thought perspective. These range from a curious look at life through the work-in-progress aging process to more reflective moments as time draws to a close. ‘Birthday Song’ resides in the former’s camp and and its autobiographical content reaches an uplifting conclusion especially in the line ‘I must have done something right ‘cos I’m still so damn glad to be here’. This track opens the album and is one of half a dozen songs that make early pitches for the standout moment. ‘Learning How to Love Him’ is another candidate and is an end of life theme, gladly not autobiographical though but a real life scenario that had a song itching to be written.

As you would expect from a traditionally biased country record, pedal steel is widely prevalent and no better utilised than on another positive song ‘What We’ve Got’. In fact, Amanda’s writing frequently flies in the face of sad song convention, often focussing on the precious things rather than those moments of heartbreak. ‘Diamonds in the Rough’ is the prime example of this by championing the inner desires of everyday folk. A neat piece of keyboard work here provides a decent complement to the extensive general use of steel. Further resolute positivity reigns in the mini epic ‘Eden’:  a classic example of country music storytelling, recounting life at its most sparse and basic, whilst lauding the beloved heartland.

The album was recorded in Amanda’s home state of North Carolina, surrounded by a tight team of four players plus co-producer Tim Surrett adding harmony vocals to a couple of tracks. For the third straight release, Organic Records is the home for a Honeycutters record and in accordance with Amanda putting her name very much at the forefront of this project, all the songs are solo written. So often a resourceful route of great song writing in my opinion.

Several early listens of this fifty-four minute album for review purposes are probably insufficient to fully grasp every crevice of each song. One safe prediction though is that this won’t be filed away so easily and its accessibility will fill those quieter moments if the inflow of new music ever slows. A further trio of tracks which help give a flavour of this record begins with the appropriately titled ‘Brand New Start’ and is instantly followed in the running order with a fine piece of seasonal analogy in ‘Late Summer’s Child’. Perhaps strengthening the album in its latter stages is another song proclaiming the overarching theme of simplicity in ‘The Things We Call Home’.

As eponymous records go, the “debut” by Amanda Anne Platt  & the Honeycutters is a strong effort and set to maintain the momentum that has been building for the band’s music. While the digital world tends to ensure cross Atlantic releases are synchronised, there is a formal lag here with the UK getting an official August launch following its general June availability via the wires. This is probably to coincide with a planned tour that will give folks the opportunity to hear the new tunes live alongside many favourites from the Honeycutters growing back catalogue. Whether you are already on their bandwagon or a willing new recruit, the wares of the new record are eagerly awaiting many joyous listens, while offering further proof that grassroots country music is in rude health.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Hannah Aldridge - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 16th July 2017

Hannah Aldridge noticeably thrives in the format of touring solo. It presents opportunities to bare the soul of her song writing and express the deepest sincerity she feels within her music. Key signs of progress as a touring artist are also emerging all the time, no more apparent than the evolution of the gigs hosted by the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham. Over the last three summers, Hannah has cultivated an ever-increasing turnout culminating in the latest show edging very closely into sold out territory. To mark this event, probably the most revealing performance to date was given as the new record was signed, sealed and delivered – both in a literal and metaphorical sense.

Hannah’s association with the Midlands area pre-dates the first Birmingham show by a few months, and at least half a dozen folks present for the initial gig at Bromsgrove’s Hop Pole pub in March 2015 were once again in attendance. Indeed tracing back to that first gig, we were introduced to songs such as ‘Burning Down Birmingham’, ‘Lace’ and ‘Gold Rush’, that had to wait a little while before ascending into recording status. That has happened literally in the last month and the centrepiece for this show was to strip down almost the entirety of the new album GOLD RUSH. This led to the sharing of its bare bones, fruitful sources of influence and subsequent birth.

As far as singer-songwriter shows go, this one was fairly intense, highly articulate and forever revealing. By the high standard of many such performers who regularly cross the pond, this is lavish praise. Only on a couple of instances did Hannah launch straight into a song, namely ‘Razor Wire’ and ‘Aftermath’, which opened each set either side of a short break. It was also the case for ‘You Ain’t Worth the Fight’ where Hannah is probably right to state that it needs no introduction.

The real beauty of live music is that it cannot be replicated in other mediums, with perhaps the written reflection or short video clip being just a tantalising teaser to re-visit or grow the experience. The wealth of informed song writing chat was an integral part of the evening, alongside showcasing a raft of highly crafted songs that are entwined within the existence of their creator on many levels. These range from the personal to the professional as well as frequently reflecting the observational and incidental.

Hannah’s general Southern upbringing, and more specific musical one, will always play a strong role in this chosen way to earn a living, although it could be construed that it chose her. Outside her own song-writing repertoire, which is extensive and entirely the domain of the recorded material, Hannah carefully selected three covers to spice up the show. Jackson Browne’s ‘These Days’ and a version of her father’s penned number 1 country hit ‘Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde’ have become staples of the live show, although celebrating the work of The Allman Brothers through a cover of ‘Whipping Post’ was a new addition.

Maybe an outsider would categorise Hannah as part of the country fraternity, but this forms only an element of the DNA, possibly overstated through her Southern disposition. ‘Lie Like You Love Me’ remains her starkest effort at ‘three chords and the truth’, but it is when Hannah gets deeply personal (‘Black and White’), highly observational (‘Gold Rush’) and passionately emotive (‘Parchman’) that the songs freeze a moment in time. ‘Lace’ takes the audience into an alternate enticing world, while ‘Howling Bones’ is the finale invitation to return to a Hannah Aldridge show in the future, delivered in an unplugged format to shake off that last slither of song writing cover.

Just as thoughts were turning to when the alternative sound of GOLD RUSH would be revealed to live audiences in the UK, we were informed that plans are in the pipeline for a full band format to tour in the not too distant future. Maybe the increasing number of fans well versed in Hannah’s seemingly de facto mode of solo delivery are ready for the next step. However, this should not deter her from growing the raw and emotively charged way of exposing the songs that was witnessed this evening. Is it greedy to demand both though?

On a highly successful evening for many Kitchen Garden regulars, homegrown singer-songwriter Will Hunt shared a selection of his original tunes in the opening slot. Will was joined by his father Bill on accordion who had a distinguished career as a past member of iconic Birmingham bands ELO and Wizard. The feel of the songs was very different to what we were going to hear from the main act, but it was music that had a place and was executed well.

While this also applies to Hannah Aldridge, it was only the start to what was experienced during this latest visit to Birmingham. Maybe the welcome in the West Midlands is a little different to that of the main city in her home state of Alabama, but open displays of mutual appreciation were evident throughout. Exceptional songs, perceptive insight, a cutting aura and an open heart, all go a long way to defining the music of Hannah Aldridge. They also contribute to nights like this when any video clip, posted picture or published review is a mere chink of light on a very bright picture. 


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Tingestock Festival - Tingewick Village Hall, Bucks. Saturday 8th July 2017

The eighth staging of the world’s greatest micro music festival was greeted by a house full sign as the ‘legendary’ Tingewick village hall swung into action for its annual renewal. Putting hyperbole to one side for a moment, Tingestock does have an exceedingly good knack of fine-tuning its optimum appeal to a dedicated audience. Five excellent acts under the curating guidance of Clubhouse Records spanned an identical number of hours to ensure a sleepy North Buckinghamshire village kept one eye open to a triumvirate of rock sounds, positioned in the realms of alt-country, folk and wide-encompassing Americana. Cross colonial collaboration, comradeship and putting music into perspective were the themes emanating from this year’s staging. Within a tight remit, balanced offerings were prevalent on the vocal, tempo and instrumental front, with the sole exception being of original material almost entirely ruling the roost.

From memory, on only three occasions were the works of the greats celebrated including a fitting finale consisting of an artist-packed stage negotiating with a minimum of fuss on who was to sing which verse of ‘The Weight’. Impromptu proved a wonderful thing even if Luke Tuchscherer inevitably gravitated towards the iconic singing drummer role and Don Gallardo stole a march to lead the chorus. Indeed Luke went head to head with multi-talented musician Thomas Collison for the most productive performer on the evening, with both featuring heavily in three of the five sets.

Their frenzied evening of activity began in a semi-relaxed state as opening act Hannah Rose Platt replicated her Maverick Festival set list from the previous week with the gradual unveiling of a full band. The solo-delivered trio of ‘Dancer’, ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘1954’ got Hannah into her storytelling groove especially the latter which has blossomed to be the signature track from her excellent debut album PORTRAITS. Thomas joined Hannah initially on keyboards before adding some delectable lap steel, a welcome addition to the restriction of the Maverick set. Eventually Luke on drums and Tristan Tipping on bass completed the line-up as Hannah raised the beat a notch for two new songs set to feature prominently on her follow up album due out later this year. The recently released single ‘Chanel and Cigarettes’ closed the set, but it was the preceding song ‘When the Hurricane Came to Town’ which just gets the edge on early listens to the new material. While from the evidence of the first album, her vocal approach and attention to storytelling detail has firmly placed Hannah on the folk edge of any genre claim, indications are beginning to point to veering more in a straightforward Americana direction. Thomas has produced the album and a quick delve into his background through work with The Dreaming Spires, Luke Tuchscherer and Don Gallardo gives further credence to where the sound will reside. Anyhow, Hannah remains a bright emerging talent on the UK’s music scene and wholeheartedly bought into the spirit of Tingestock to become a one of their deserved alumni.

Luke Tuchscherer followed Hannah’s set fresh on the back of the release of his outstanding brand new album ALWAYS BE TRUE. This time the front role beckoned for Luke (the former/forever Whybirds singing drummer) as his five piece band set out to serenade, impress and ultimately rock out. Thomas was in action again ramping up the keys element for this set often in soulful proportions. Right from the off, Luke needed minimal time to settle with ‘Waiting for My Day to Come’ sounding superb. The set raced along with material from the new album featuring ‘Amanda Jayne’, ‘When the Dream Dies’ and ‘Don’t Put Me Out’. ‘Easy to Fall’ and ‘Just Like Holden’ from an earlier EP also provided a platform for Luke, Thomas and the other guitarists to strut their stuff, plus an admirable debut performance from the drummer, quite literally new to all the songs. A little bit of indulgence seeped into Luke’s set with a closing version of Neil Young’s ‘Down by the River’, but by then his own acoustic guitar had been ditched for the electric and the whole band was not going to let their momentum go to waste.

Along with Luke, Oxford-based duo Loud Mountains, originally from South Carolina, have also put out a record on the Clubhouse label, although this was a debut EP in 2016. Led by brothers Kevin and Sean Duggan, the duo expanded into a temporary trio for their Tingestock set with the addition of a pedal steel player. The logistical positioning of the third musician a whole stage width away from the harmonising brothers impacted a little on fully utilising the steel, but there was still periodic good use of the twang. Having seen the duo open for a couple of artists in Oxford gigs put on by Tingestock guardians Empty Room Promotions, this overall performance was viewed as a significant step forward. A jam the previous evening with fellow Americans Don Gallardo and Travis Stock led to them sharing a version of Guy Clark’s ‘Stuff that Works’; a fitting rendition of a song that carries forward the notion that the works of this legendary songwriter will last forever. While the pedal steel flickered in and out of their own songs, mandolin, harmonica and the harmonies fully sealed the appeal with perhaps the key moments being the songs ‘Lethal Remedy’ and ‘She’s a Fire’, with the latter being graced by Hannah Rose Platt on guest backing vocals.

After the roots rock of Luke Tuchscherer and the harmonious folk of Loud Mountains, who better than Don Gallardo to supremely blend both styles to give an effortless display of high class Americana. Don was the sole overseas touring artist on the Tingestock line-up, with perhaps the added pressure to justify his presence to those with an investment in him. Needless to say, he was in stylish imperious form. Band prowess, powerful vocal clarity and the innate ability to pen incredibly catchy tunes have all been contributing factors to Don Gallardo further establishing himself on the UK touring circuit over the last couple of years. In fact, this was his second Tingestock appearance, after impressing immensely in 2015 with a performance then backed by his Clubhouse colleagues The Rosellys. This time Don and his travelling partner Travis Stock enlisted – you’ve guessed it -Thomas Collison on keys and Luke Tuchscherer on drums for his band, and the quartet were bang on the mark right from the first song to a barnstorming finale of ‘Banks of the Mississippi’. It was fascinating watching the impact and presence of Travis on bass, effectively driving the sound in terms of tempo, beat and leadership. While his onstage relationship with Don must be telepathic, he seemingly played an enormous role in pulling together the makeshift line-up to provide a thrilling set to the sold out crowd.

While ‘Midnight Sounds’, ‘Carousel’ and ‘North Dakota Blues’ easily jostled with the aforementioned concluding song for the set highlight, probably the most ear catching aspect was the strength of the new material which was particularly highlighted by the tune ‘Kicking Up the Pavement’. The name of his co-writer for this piece escapes me but the recognition of him penning cuts for the latest Miranda Lambert album raised the ear lobe. The exciting prospect of a new album from Don Gallardo, assumingly to be released on the Clubhouse label, has proved to be an enticing moment as the summer music extravaganza kicked into action.

You could say Don Gallardo was the star of Tingestock 2017 – few would dispute, but stalwart UK alt-country rockers The Redlands Palomino Company were afforded the headline spot and ensured the evening soared towards it inevitable crowd pleasing conclusion. Appearing in their usual five-piece unit, this was classic Redlands. Full of impish wit, there was plenty of ironic interaction between husband and wife team Alex and Hannah Elton-Wall, with the usual exchange of vocals and plenty of highly charged tunes. While this band has been on my horizon for close on a decade, Hannah indicated that they have been together for eighteen years. The answer to their longevity may be down to not exerting too much energy on album releases, but more seriously, they seem to be at perfect ease with what they are trying to do. On their day, you are pushed to find a better band in this country playing a pumped up brand of pedal steel driven alt-country rock. Evidence of this continually surfaced during a headline set which burst into action from the opening bars of ‘Broken Carelessly’ right through to Alex proclaiming his respect for those in public service in the usual peerless closing anthem ‘Doin’ it for the Country’. All the old Redlands favourites were on show, with pedal steel player David Rothon switching to conventional guitar to add some Byrds-style twang to classics like ‘Wasted on You’, ‘Coastline’ and ‘Take Me Home’. The added good news from this set was Hannah revealing that a sixth Redlands record should be on the way. If the evidence of the last album is a guide, the lengthy wait will be well worth it. However active or not this band are, it is always good to catch up with them live and they provided a fitting end to an evening which buzzed from act to act.

Tingestock 2018! Folks will be demanding it. The 2017 exhibition once again provided a faultless showcase of grass roots music rising to a level way above its base. Full credit to those involved in the whole set up and ensuring that splendid soul defining music can flourish within the budget of common sense. Now, as a footnote, the terms ‘greatest micro festival in the world’ and the ‘legendary Tingewick village hall’ may not be so exaggerated as first indicated. 








Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Maverick Festival - Easton Farm Park, Suffolk. Friday 30th June to Sunday 2nd July 2017

There is a motto banded around Austin Texas, probably originating in the tacky tourist trade, of ‘too much music too little time’. This will likely also apply to many music events around the country, and in our own little world of deepest Suffolk on the first weekend of July, it was certainly a theme when reflecting upon the 10th renewal of the Maverick Festival. Some events grow, some events fizzle and die, but there is a level of consistency that singles out this now established festival, ranging from its gorgeous idyllic setting to the way the organisers feed the thirst for the type of music so many of its dedicated followers crave. Even the golden ball in the sky accepts the invite each year. Nevertheless, one interesting thought in the aftermath is what drives the viewing habits of folks over the weekend.

The beauty of Maverick, and its compact location, is the appeal to spontaneous drifters with the urge to just saunter around the stages taking in full/part sets plus anything that catches the ear. On the other hand you have the dedicated planner with every hour marked out, maximising the volume of artists on offer to a multitude of motives. This can include old favourites, new favourites, hot tips and ones making the transition from record to stage in the domain of the listener. Inevitably, there are going to be many fine artists who don’t make a planner’s list; some have been seen elsewhere on a recent/upcoming tour or on a more frequent basis, while others could be the unknown stars of tomorrow. Therefore, with the crystal ball for tomorrow’s stars not fully functioning, the pick of the unseen acts was likely to be between Dean Owens, Worry Dolls, Erin Rae, Annie Keating, The Black Feathers and Hannah Aldridge. All have been subject to kind praise here in the past and please stay tuned for much more on the latter as her UK tour proceeds.

Lachlan Bryan
However, let’s focus more on the many artists who formed a near wall-to-wall batch of great music from the Friday 5 o’clock launch to when time was almost upon us just after Sunday lunch. What better place to start than an artist who was highlighted the week before from a trusted source and transpired to be the find of Maverick 2017. While seasoned Aussie rockers The Black Sorrows made the preview headlines with their Saturday night closing slot, it was their compatriots Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes, which stole the limelight some twelve hours earlier with a both fascinating and fabulous set on the outside stage. Lachlan’s songs, stories, music and stage persona was right on the mark for a festival with a left field streak. The comment of an ‘Aussie Cale Tyson’ resonated with a few others and an initial final bonus was the announcement that he hopes to follow up this inaugural English show (following on from some Scottish dates) with a tour in the New Year. However, the icing on the cake was catching Lachlan and the guys later playing an impromptu 15-minute set on the unscheduled Travelling Medicine stage with the enhanced appeal of expanding their song repertoire.

Justin Townes Earle
Justin Townes Earle still holds my record for the lowest ever attendance at a ticketed gig when first seen in 2008. Those days are long behind and he has become a firm favourite over the years. His Maverick Festival Saturday night slot in the Barn was billed as one of the headline sets. True to form, this stylish performer who has successfully stripped away the family ties to make an acclaimed individual stance appeared with a chipper disposition ready to show how a stellar bunch of songs and an engaging personality can blow a hole in an event packed with other outstanding music. Justin’s appearance at the festival was the only feasible chance to see him on this short UK tour. Playing alongside exceptional guitarist and pedal steel player Paul Niehaus, Justin didn’t disappoint and rewarded the wise decision to view the whole set, up close and personal.

Prior to Justin taking the stage, Sierra Hull played a captivating set of virtuoso mandolin playing accompanied only her colleague on stand-up bass. In contrast to the artist that followed her, Sierra was in the camp of being seen for the first time and displayed every inch of her class, even as the temperature soared with the Barn drenched in the last remnants of a sun that heeded to the order. Sierra is basing this current UK visit around her Grammy nominated album release from last year WEIGHTED MIND and her highly technical set weaved a classical input into a trademark bluegrass sound. Preluding Sierra on the Barn stage, and also falling into the camp of seeing live for the first time, was country outfit American Young. This core duo, expanded into a quartet for the tour, represented a strand of music not normally the staple of Maverick. While there is a debate as to whether they fit the ethos of the event, they were well received by an appreciative audience.

Sierra Hull
Moving away from the transatlantic acts populating the Barn on Saturday night, the whole of the Friday evening on the nearby Peacock stage was commissioned by the AMA UK to showcase emerging British talent. Of the six artists scheduled, three made my viewing list for the evening on the basis of checking two out for the first time and breaking all the rules laid out for omitting artists as expressed earlier in this piece for the other performer. Sophia Marshall and The Grande were both new names to me and greatly impressed in their opportunity to expand a fan base. Some really strong songs flowed from Sophia’s generally singer-songwriter acoustic base, though there was a band in tow for this show. The Grande impressed immensely with their substantial bout of alt-country rock, paying homage to the three-part harmony while injecting energy into a set, which utilised the standard array of instruments including the expanded use of keyboards to bridge the country-rock divide. Just a quick word on Danni Nicholls’ performance at the heart of this presentation. There is no finer artist playing her all round style of music in the UK at this moment in time. She blossoms as a performer with every appearance, even on this occasion when playing solo without Max Milligan on accompanying guitar. The combined history of Danni Nicholls and my Maverick experience go back to 2010 when the third staging of this event launched both an artist and a festival to stay on my horizon ever since.

Usually my Maverick Friday evenings tend to be split between the Barn and the Peacock, but this year’s desire to seek out newer artists saw a quick two-minute walk to the Moonshine on a couple of occasions. First up was to see a performance from Alabama-based singer-songwriter Amy McCarley who interestingly stated in her set that being a full time musician is a recent move for her after spending time working for NASA. If Amy’s music was excellent standard singer-songwriter fare, a later visit to the Moonshine saw the far more eclectic duo Royal Jelly Jive. This San Francisco-based pair were literally straight off the plane and shrugged off any jetlag to stir the Maverick pot with some entertaining music, best described as ‘jivin’’ in the festival programme.

Hannah Rose Platt in session
Earlier it was indicated that some artists make a festival viewing cut by adding the live performance to enjoying their recorded material. It was a privilege to be among the first folks to shower online praise on Hannah Rose Platt’s debut album PORTRAITS a couple of years back. Up until her Saturday lunchtime set on the outdoor location (retaining its attached name of the Sweet Alabama Stage assumedly from some sponsorship a few years ago) the path of seeing Hannah in a live setting hadn’t been crossed. The omission was corrected as she played an emerging set of songs from both the aforementioned album and the impending new one. Emerging also in the sense of opening with three solo songs before first introducing guitar/keys playing sidekick Thomas Collison and then a drummer to eventually complete the line-up. The infrastructure, association and material expansion is in place for the career of Hannah Rose Platt to continue to flourish and hopefully this will be the first of many Maverick appearances. Hannah was also one of many artists to play a session in Leader's Live Lounge over the weekend for broadcast to the wider world at a later date.

An additional factor for the Maverick set viewing choice could be the near guarantee appearance of extensive Saturday afternoon sunshine, which enhances the appeal of the sole outdoor stage. The general rule for this setting is that it is predominately the domain of largely up-tempo full band acts with the Clubhouse stable providing a couple of back-to-back mid-afternoon slots in the guise of Don Gallardo and Case Hardin. Both have been Maverick favourites in the past with Don especially growing from the often buried confines of the Moonshine location to this latest higher profiled billing. Linking up with a ‘Danberry’ on guitar, borrowing the drummer from Danny and the Champs and utilising the ubiquitous talents of Thomas Collison, Don and his usual travelling sidekick Travis Stock set about demonstrating what an accomplished and established artist he has become from a touring perspective. Case Hardin were just their usual appealing selves, rocking especially hard in the set finale with some of the best tracks from the excellent COLOURS SIMPLE album.

Don Gallardo 
A picture is emerging that for a multitude of reasons the outdoor stage became my prime focus for the sun-drenched hours between 11 and 6. Southern Companion kicked things off and gently felt their way into this environment with a trio of popular covers from Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Ryan Adams featuring high in their set. While celebrating the works of others is not unknown at Maverick, especially in choreographed arrangements such as last year’s Jimmie Rodgers tribute and a similar one for Hank Williams in the Peacock this year, original material tends to be the de facto position with covers probably getting a minimal sprinkling. Indeed, it is the self-penned song that pumps life into the independent Americana music scene that is core to the ethos and appeal of Maverick. Following the opening act, Fargo Railroad Company played a high-octane set of southern rock, and as we headed towards the end of the outdoor presentation Sonia Leigh returned to a setting where she has previously excelled. Teaming up with the backing band from American Young helped project her own material that benefits from a feisty coating of determined grit. This portrays an artist fighting for every inch of the music she believes in and winning each bout in the eyes of the fans who increasingly adore her.

Legendary performers tend to be carefully chosen and pretty sparse at Maverick, no doubt for the obvious fiscal reasons. However, selecting Albert Lee to close the outdoor stage was a masterstroke and he set about showing all and sundry why he is classed as one of the guitar greats over a career that has taken him to many places and worked with many great people. On this occasion, legendary UK pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole and Albert’s own son on keyboards were his prime sparring partners. In his own inimitable style, the works of many iconic artists were celebrated from the Gram Parsons-Emmylou Harris axis to Buddy Holly, Glen Campbell and Rodney Crowell. What Albert can do on electric guitar is literally amazing and while opportunities to catch him live have been numerous in the past, perhaps Maverick 2017 was one of those occasions to freeze in the memory bank of the mind.

Low Lily
Sunday morning at Maverick is always a good time to catch new acts. The double scheduling of certain artists also works in the favour of those who like to maximise the diversity of music listened to over the weekend. So the motive for the morning after the night before was to catch the sets of five performers not previously seen. Both The Danberrys and Terra Lightfoot have flickered on my horizon in the past, but there is nothing like a live appearance to boost the understanding of an artist. Canadian rocker Terra had solely flown the flag for her country on their July 1 national day and word had got around that the full band gave a heated rocking rousing late night performance in the Peacock. While the location switched to the Barn for the second Sunday lunchtime set, the effect was similar as she sailed through a thirty-five minute exhibition of soulful blues rock. Of course, this tossed around the debate of style fitting the time of day, but from my perspective when the music was that good you can easily slip into the necessary groove, plus there were choices across the three stages providing the Sunday entertainment. The Danberrys followed Terra in the scheduling, but not in style. This Nashville based trio operate more on the rootsy folk side of country music and geared their set to those seeking a more sedate offering. Co-front person Ben DeBerry had been the guest lead guitarist with Don Gallardo’s makeshift band the day before, although preferring the acoustic model alongside his tambourine playing vocalist partner Dorothy Daniel for his band’s set.

Before we leave the Sunday entertainment in the Barn, a quick word about Vermont-based trio Low Lily which played a very accomplished set of old time folk music with a particular emphasis on some classic fiddle playing. They offered a fine contrast to the other bands around their schedule time, proving that Maverick does literally have all the bases covered across the broad spectrum of Americana music.

Roamin' Jasmine
The Moonshine stage has been mentioned before and this slightly hidden gem at the festival can throw up some interesting acts really adding to the diversity. It’s hard to top a small serving of southern gospel music on a Sunday morning especially when its architects are the real deal authentic old time duo Ramblin’ Steve Gardner and Bill Steber. Folks needed little encouragement to join in with the songs as the beautiful weather for the festival showed no sign of abating especially at a location, which can act as a suntrap for those listening outside the venue. The second band caught live at the Moonshine was another festival tip and a splendid half hour was spent in the musical company of Roamin’ Jasmine: a Louisiana based jazz band proving the theory that a stage initially designed for a couple of artists can comfortably house six musicians with a touch of improvisation. These New Orleans natives play an infectious style of music close to the roots of their city and while this was not their Maverick debut, catching them live for the first time was a wise Sunday morning choice.

As we head towards the conclusion of a highly successful tenth staging of the Maverick Festival, let’s turn the clock back nearly 48 hours and give a final mention to the duo that kicked off this personal spin around the event. True to a pre-determined plan to steer the viewing in a new band direction more this year, Hymn for Her got the nod and provided a style of music that got to the very core of the Festival – independent, authentic and extremely maverick.

Without the omnipresent powers to view every single act plus the thankful odd social breather, this concludes a comprehensive if not exhaustive list of the fabulous music that once again brought Easton Farm Park to life. No doubt during the post-festival reflection further recommended artists will be banded around, alongside the ‘must have seen’ sets that sadly haven’t made this review. However, Maverick Festival is not about lamenting what you didn’t see; it is about celebrating what you did catch, enjoy thoroughly and if so desire, choose to share with a willing world. 

Congratulations Maverick on your tenth anniversary with the hope that the next decade will just be as prosperous.