Friday, 21 April 2017

Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker - Glee Club, Birmingham, Thursday 20th April 2017

The irony of Josienne Clarke appearing at the Glee Club was lanced on the evening even before a chord was struck, but the temptation to temporarily revive it is too good to miss. Needless to say Josienne proceeded to be in her fine usual form showcasing why Ben Walker and her are one of the preeminent acts on the UK folk circuit. In fact it is tough to identify a better duo where each half executes their specific part to an outcome of blissful excellence so well.

You can take your pick on the many facets of the Clarke-Walker partnership, and the full pack was on show during this return to Birmingham barely six months after their previous visit. Ultimately the sheer beauty of the music is purveyed through the triumvirate of original, cover and traditional songs. The stunning Josienne Clarke solo write ‘The Waning Crescent’ emerged on the evening as the standout original with its alternate theme and supreme soundtrack impressing. The cover of Gillian Welch’s ‘Dark Turn of Mind’ goes a long way to defining the duo’s tone and sets the scene of the Clarke-Walker aura early in the set. From a traditional perspective, ‘The Banks of the Sweet Primroses’ has served them well in the past and continues to do so as this gig evolved into a special exposure of tantalising live music.

Apart from a brace of Josienne’s forays into the world of saxophone parts, the effortless charms of Ben Walker’s sublime guitar playing adds instrumental colour to the Clarke-Walker canvas. His unassuming presence and elegance belies the summit of impact as you are left to marvel at the ease of his approach. Forever inventive and innovative in style and instrument choice, Ben mesmerised both aficionados and those intent on mere indulgence to equal measure as the acoustic, electric and bass format was excelled to a lofty degree.

If you were compiling an A-list of contemporary folk vocalists Josienne Clarke would feature high. The emotion, versatility and ability to convey the magic of song all radiate from her vocal presence, displaying a classical style that permeates through to the layperson. Each song chosen to form this twin-set gig possessed such an impact that it was a pleasure to experience this aural delight from close quarters. The Sandy Denny connotation is not going away especially when ‘Fotheringay’ makes the set list and an intriguing version of the Dolly Parton hybrid ‘Little Sparrow’ provided an enhanced touch.

This was the third occasion of seeing the Clark-Walker duo live and it helps significantly if you buy into the Josienne Clarke stage persona. Maybe sarcasm is a touch harsh; irony is probably a kinder compliment. The humour blends well with the unabated melancholy and perhaps adds a progressive maverick element to a product which can sometimes echo a conservative feel. Either way the whole Clarke-Walker package has attracted the signing arm of retro punk label Rough Trade, which put out their superb latest concept record OVERNIGHT in the latter part of 2016. Who needs rules anyway?

Maybe it wasn’t so ironic in booking Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker in a Glee Club after all. Synergy can exist in abstract situations and it would be dull if the world was viewed in a uniform way. Long may their talents be paraded at any venue where appreciative music fans get their pound rewarded tenfold. There may even be hope in Chicago one day!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Tour Preview: Mo Kenney



Her insightful and occasionally lacerating lyrics, her tunefulness and her finger-picking guitar perhaps place her in a bracket with the very British Laura Marling – Fatea

Known for her smooth vocals and fearless lyrics, Canadian songwriter Mo Kenney is excited to announce the release of her new single UNGLUED (May 26th); the first track to be taken from her eagerly awaited new album THE DETAILS, due for release later this year. Mo is excited to return to the UK this May for a string of live dates, including the GREAT ESCAPE and London headline show at THE ISLINGTON May 24th 2017.

“It’s been a while, but I’ve got a new record coming out. Took my time writing it and I’m excited to share it with the UK!”  Mo Kenney.

Mo’s Juno nominated second album In My Dreams (produced by Joel Plaskett) helped present an artist who has grown in every facet of her craft. Already recognised for her mix of folk and pop genres at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and East Coast Music Awards, Kenney is excited to share her new mix of Pop, Rock and Folk with UK audiences.

“Folk, pop, scuzzy rock - she is clearly poised and ready to pounce” Tony Clayton-Lea, The Irish Times.


18-20th May  GREAT ESCAPE Festival, Brighton

Sunday 21st May  Shepley Festival

Tuesday 23rd May The Castle, Manchester

Wednesday 24th May The Islington, London

Friday 26th & Saturday 27th May  Ireby Festival

Wednesday 31st May  The Mash House, Edinburgh

Thursday 1st June  King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

Friday 2nd June Louisiana, Bristol

Saturday 3rd June Acoustic Festival of Great Britain

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Artist Feature: Jess Morgan

Jess Morgan to release limited run of handmade 7” records for Record Store Day

DIY singer/songwriter Jess Morgan takes the do-it-yourself concept to new levels creating handmade vinyl records in her Norwich home. Jess has made a limited run of 7” vinyl of the song ‘Still In Fashion’ (from her album ‘Edison Gloriette’) for release exclusively at Relevant Records in Cambridge for Record Store Day on April 22nd 2017. Jess will also perform an acoustic set at 12pm at Relevant Records.

This limited run of ‘Still In Fashion’ follows 2016’s run of ‘In Brooklyn’, released as part of the PledgeMusic campaign for ‘Edison Gloriette’ as featured on The 405 who called her “a true DIY artist in her element. Seriously, she does it all”. Jess talks about the process on her BLOG in which she says:  

“It took a while to hit upon the right recipe - ratio of catalyst and silicone mix to pick up the grooves of a record while still holding its shape and not shrinking back. I also used paper / car / demo tape / duct tape and foil to build up texture in relief which would become the mould and transfer a raised design onto the resin. Eventually I used a thick kind of foil tape - which I think is used for insulation in plumbing - as I wanted to see if I could recreate the fine lines of a sketch in relief. Since working out how to successfully 'clone' a record, I spent almost a year - on days in-between touring and recording - experimenting with different ways to make the records special. In the early stages, I found colour mixing - within the resin really quite difficult. I experimented with dye, ink and paint to add a colour injection.”

The artwork for ‘Still In Fashion’ is designed by Jess, with a disc cut from the sleeve and trapped in the centre of each record.

‘Still In Fashion’ also appears on Jess’ album ‘Edison Gloriette’ which will receive a full commercial release on April 22nd 2017.

"musicianship dovetails well with her clever and understated songwriting" - The Telegraph
"Gorgeous country folk" - The Guardian
“Some of the most sublime tunes you are likely to hear in a long time. ****” – R2
“A real treat… an enormously gifted songwriter” – Songwriting Magazine

Tour Dates
Thursday 23rd March – The Burston Crown
Friday 25th March – Portico, Lincoln
Thursday 30th March – Relevant Records, Cambridge
Friday 31st March – The Courthouse, Thirsk
Thursday 13th April – Loughton Folk Club
Saturday 22nd April – Record Store Day session – Relevant Records, Cambridge @ 12 noon
Saturday 22nd April – Elmslie House, Malvern
Sunday 23rd April – Nights at the Circus, Birmingham
Sunday 30th April – Big Session Festival, Buxton
Thursday 4th May – Cuffern Manor, Pembrokeshire
Saturday 13th May – Hebden Bridge Roots Festival
26th May & 27th May – Ireby Festival, Cumbria

Jess Morgan – background

Jess Morgan is a songwriter’s songwriter. A cerebral storyteller. On her new album she pens personal, creative folk & roots tunes that paint a vivid picture for the listener.

When it came for the Norwich-based singer-songwriter to start recording tracks on ‘Edison Gloriette’ Norway was calling. Jess returned to Bergen team-up with collaborators from her 2010 debut, producer HP Gunderson and producer and studio engineer Daniel Birkeland. She wanted to record slowly and meaningfully following a mad 5 years of touring and rapid releases. 2 weeks in a quiet cabin, alongside a fjord on the outskirts of Bergen was just the right change of pace. ‘We recorded against the most incredible backdrop taking breaks for walks, drinking beer at the water’s edge’ explains Jess.

Back in the UK Jess brought on friends Stephen MacLachlan - to work on percussion - and Ben Savage and Hannah Sanders to record backing vocals. Noel Dashwood also joined the ‘Edison Gloriette’ dream-team to add some soulful dobro solos to ‘Red Rubies’, the true story of an unusual bird eating man, and ‘Still In Fashion’ which Jess describes as being about, ‘the fear of tomorrow that casts a long shadow over today’.

Jess’ songs are acutely observed tales of life, love, people and places. Album opener ‘Longest Arm’ is a snapshot of an encounter between a man and a waitress and the feelings stirred in their shared moment. Rousing track ‘Hymn In The Morning’ is about priorities changing as you get older, ‘I started writing this song in the wake of one of those mornings where you haul yourself out of bed and feel like you just can’t do nights out like you used to!’ says Jess, ‘I imagined the story set in the small hours, spending the morning in bed, shaking off the night with someone you love’. Rootsy-ballad ‘In Your Life’ is both challenging and optimistic.

The past 5 years have seen Jess cement her place in the burgeoning folk, roots and Americana scene throughout the UK and Europe. Her music has attracted the ears of BBC Radio 2, BBC 6 Music, Uncut, The Telegraph, The Guardian, R2 and Folk Radio UK, to name a few. New album ‘Edison Gloriette’ follows on from Jess’ 2010 debut ‘All Swell’, 2012’s ‘Aye Me’ and her highly acclaimed 2014 release ‘Langa Langa’. In summer 2015 Jess released ‘The Bournemouth EP’ which sold-out its limited edition run in less than 24 hours.

Gig Preview: Lynne Hanson St.George's Hall, Bewdley. Friday 28th April 2017

Somewhere in the heartlands, in a town called 'Americana USA,' nestles a particular variety of singer-songwriter. Someone who views a melodic sensibility through the bottom of a whiskey glass. Canadian songstress Lynne Hanson could run for mayor of that town.”

Bewdley’s Music in the Hall are delighted to welcome back to headline their next event on Friday April 28th Canadian songstress Lynne Hanson, together with her band The Good Intentions. Lynne featured at St Georges Hall last year, receiving a standing ovation and rapturous show reviews. Now she is back with a European tour promoting her brand new album “Uneven Ground”.

At first listen, her warm, gritty, boot stompin’ music leads you through the southern USA, though Hanson hails from Ottawa, Canada. Her sound is born honestly through a lifetime of experience and influence, expressed through the rock, blues and roots that bleeds from her very being. With a liberal amount of Texas grit and a polished Nashville sensibility, Lynne’s songs are familiar and comfortable, yet fearless and strong. She likes things a little rough around the edges, but her deep bluesy croon is pure and full of fortitude. No matter what the song, there’s a weight and a warmth to her expression.  

In her brand new release Uneven Ground (April 2017), produced by Winnipeg’s Scott Nolan, Hanson explores the realm of giving sound advice through songwriting, and fighting back against the devil within us. Permeating the recording is a restrained intensity, elevated with a finger picked beat, beautiful piano accompaniments, dobro and wind instruments. The album leads out with the lush electricity of “Carry Me Home,” winding into down-home roots ballads like “Stronger” and “Just For Now”. The title track “Uneven Ground” is a full-on blues assault, conjuring images a glamorous chanteuse stretched out in front of a baby grand in a smoky nightclub. “Counting Heartbeats” and “Every Honest Misstep” each have a unique, driving, rain-on-the-windshield quality; with a pace that leans in on the gas just a bit. All together, Uneven Ground is an authentic expression of Hanson’s rustic style, brimming over with imagery and cleverly penned lyrics, and a crystal clear production. It steps proudly into the next generation of roots and blues music, while still respecting traditions.   

The regular support slot is filled by Bewdley based Malar, whilst Wyre Forest Young Musicians of the Year Mayfli are featuring in the opening Youth act spot.

Tickets (£10.00) are selling very quickly, and are available at or over the counter at St Georges Hall Cafe. Doors Open at 7.30pm.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Oh Susanna - A Girl in Teen City : Continental Song City

The first thing that needs to be stated is A GIRL IN TEEN CITY is a totally adorable album. Susie Ungerleider aka Oh Susanna has come up trumps with a superb piece of work that transcends both the gender in its title and location in its theme. Substitute Vancouver BC in your imagination for any urban or suburban area of the western world will enhance your engagement with what Susie has set out to do. What is essential though is to tap into her mind set and fire up all the trials and tribulations of your heartfelt nostalgia. Perhaps it may help being on a similar generational plateau to Susie, but there are plenty of you out there with your name on this album.

Another prelude to getting the best out of this album is not to take the content at literal face value. Hence gender is not a pre-requisite to mining its resources as this merely acts as a conduit to explore your own experience. What you will do is share in the feelings conveyed and marvel in the style that Susie has adopted to tell her stories. This is done with a sharp, often explicit in sentiment, lyrical content hosted by a profound vocal presence all underpinned by a supportive soundtrack. This leads to a sound supremely blending the best of contemporary folk indie Americana with the heated passion of pubescent new wave.

The order of this twelve track album has relevance with the first couple of songs successful at setting the scene before the final two seal the project by putting the recollections in some sort of context. Album opener ‘Flashlights’ will really grab you as Susie reveals a major change in her life when ‘she fell in love with the night’. Nearly fifty minutes later ‘My Old Vancouver’ closes the book with ‘to watch my sun finally set’ being the most fitting line to end this episode of warts and all nostalgia. Prior to this, penultimate track ‘Pugent Sound’ provides one of many shiver down the spine moments that fill this album as Susie waves ‘bye bye to our Canadian life’.

Earlier in the album, ‘Wolf Boy’ can be construed as a song about belonging, one of the strongest themes on the record, and growing up in general. Other tracks are probably less subtle such as ‘The Darkroom at the School’ and ‘Tickets on the Weekend’. From a pure standout sound perspective, ‘My Boyfriend’ puts its head above the parapet, and makes a case for being the focal point of the record. Susie obviously agreed as she has just posted a video of this song.

Lyrically the album is full of gems with nothing really topping ‘whatcha gonna do when your boyfriend’s prettier than you? from ‘Getting Ready’. The vocal step up on ‘Lucky Star’ was really noticeable and at this point the album is in full flow with the gist of it neatly planted in the listener. As you would expect from an album with such focus, themes like relationships, image and musical discoveries are aplenty. References to bands like The Dead Kennedys and songs like ‘Clash City Rockers’ give a feel for the time and many Vancouver landmarks are namechecked, relevant to both, residents and those who may have visited. The change going on in the city in the early 80s is also firm in Susie’s mind as she made this album. Yet you can add in your own bands, locations, characters and settings such is the spark that this album provides.

A GIRL IN TEEN CITY is an album which will resonate with many and will give the career of Oh Susanna an added impetus as she pursues interest both in her Canadian homeland and in Europe. Take a chance on adding this to your collection; where it leads is only down to you, but it may provide a spark to a serious bout of positive nostalgia.

Oh Susanna Spring 2017  UK  Tour April 19- 27 

Wed 19 London  Cecil Sharp House
Thu 20  Sheffield The Greystones  co-bill with Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage
Fri 21    Saltaire, West Yorks.  The Live Room, Caroline Social Club
Sat 22   Glasgow The Admiral
Sun 23  Bury The Met   co-bill with Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage
Tue 25  Hereford House Concert  co-bill with Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage
Wed 26  High Wycombe Kingsmead House Concert
Thu 27  Basingstoke The Forge   co-bill with Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors - Souvenir : Magnolia Music

Immerse yourself into any record of Drew Holcomb and you re-surface refreshed, re-vitalised and truly inspired that the spirit of song can make a difference. This East Nashville based artist scored high when his last two records were released in the UK and the new one SOUVENIR is set to do likewise when widely available. What you get when you listen to this accomplished singer-songwriter is a cultivated sound, awash with swathes of sophisticated simplicity. The songs are strong on melody and the lyrics are incisive in their ability to tell a story, express an emotion or paint a picture.

On the writing front for this record, once again released on Holcomb’s own imprint Magnolia Music, Drew has teamed up with buddies Rich Brinsfield and Nathan Dugger to offer an eleven-song collection rich in material straddling the blurred boundaries of country, folk and rock. In essence Americana is the purpose built vehicle to transport these songs to a waiting public. Contrived album fillers are nowhere to be seen.

Five songs immediately jump out to be contenders for that very English phrase – first among equals. In album order, ’California’ is found early on and pans out to be a metaphorical love song to the Golden State, sealed by the stellar line ‘I always wondered where the sunset ends’. ‘Sometimes’ is nestled in the centre of the running order and its piano accompaniment throws up images of John Lennon in classic singer-songwriter mode. This is followed by the jovial ditty ‘Mama’s Sunshine, Daddy’s Rain’ with its contagious chorus. To break a usual rule, “front porch folk” lifted from the press release sums this song up perfectly. In the album’s final stages, ‘Postcard Memories’ brims with superlative quality, while penultimate track ‘Yellow Rose of Santa Fe’ is a delightful country fuelled song revealing what the souvenir implied in the title is.

Consistency is also the key to the strength of this album. While there may not be an absolute heavyweight track to carry it to a pinnacle, the undercard is incredibly strong. ‘Fight for Love’ is an out and out rocker written as a response to last year’s US election, while on a topical theme, album closer ‘Wild World’ is a simple cry for more equality in life. To bring the track listing to a conclusion, ‘Rowdy Heart, Broken Wing’ and ‘New Year’ are two of the more sensitive offerings, ‘Black and Blue’ starts that way until evolving into a rockier piece and ‘The Morning Song’ gets the album off to a steady start.

The general diversity of the songs, along with an accessible structure, makes SOUVENIR a relatively straightforward record to enjoy. The album is once again credited to the band Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors (we won’t split hairs on the spelling). Exploring the top notch writing and smoothened sound make this record an easy one to recommend and hopefully there will be the opportunity for a tour to make the same impact over here that GOOD LIGHT and MEDICINE made. The new record is a seriously good extension of these releases and builds upon the impressive past work.

The Long Haul - Beautiful Lies : Self-Released

The band name implies the metaphorical distance between Brighton and Austin, but the miles are eaten away when you press play on BEAUTIFUL LIES, the new album from south coast based combo The Long Haul. There is always a danger that such a delving into the world of traditional Texas honky tonk music may end up with just a barrage of standard covers, but to the credit of this band, the new album consists of ten original compositions. The added bonus is that they all fare well when put under scrutiny and the level of authenticity gives this record acres of credibility.

It has helped that the band enlisted the services of established American producer Eamon Mcloughlin to steer the project. In addition to the normal five piece band which forms the line up on home soil, the record contains esteemed playing from musicians such as Lloyd Maines and Chris Scruggs, both highly experienced practitioners of real country music. So with the help of production contributions in Nashville, Austin and Brighton, the finished product will give the band a strong selling point as they ply the live music circuit.

There is a stellar retro dance hall feel to this record, whether in the foot stomping rapid numbers or those slower moments inducing more intimate movement. The sound races along to a western swing meets traditional country soundtrack, with all the usual trappings of fiddle, pedal steel, guitars and the essential rhythm combo of drums and double bass. What also helps this record succeed is a fabulous opening song. ‘Continental’ celebrates the Austin institution of the same name in a joyous manner, full of foot tapping nostalgia and an immensely catchy tune.

Tunes of a similar vein are spread across this ten-track record, specifically in the songs ‘Rhythm Trail’ and ‘Existential Boogie’. Both superbly fire up a notion to visualise a scenario that for most probably only lives in the imagination. But dreaming is free and for a modest outlay this album will do its bit in fuelling them.

Second track ‘Psychic Baby’ is another pick from this collection and rattles along in timely rhythm possessing fine lexicon content, especially in slotting in the splendid word ‘serendipity’. On the moments when the listeners/dancers can draw a breath, the songs ‘Blind’ and ‘Leading Light’ step in to impressive effect. ‘You're Still Here’ is another example of the record’s more poignant pieces and acts as a decent end song to close the door on an album that has successfully held  your attention for just over half an hour.

One observation from the title track ‘Beautiful Lies’, at the core of the record, is the Celtic feel to the strings and chorus melody, but then American roots music has it influence from right across the old world. ‘Waiting & Wishing’, heralded by some ear pleasing pedal steel, and ‘Crawl complete the album set, each playing a part in giving this record a hefty dose of merit.

This latest display of Southern England meets Southern USA has captured a sweet sounding appeal and is a totally unashamed serving of replicate retro done well. There is always room for this type of music and in gift wrapping BEAUTIFUL LIES to a willing audience, The Long Haul have delivered a slice of added value to the UK’s country music community.