Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Random Blog Post: Album Submissions and assorted 'State of the Union' stuff.

A new year, the fresh arrival of new music and the impending continuation of a live music journey. Also an opportune moment to make a rare excursion away from the road tested gig and album review. Although this blog began life seven years ago as a medium to collate some scribed thoughts on the live music experience, circumstances and association quickly led it into the realm of the album review, initially in collaboration before progressing down a solo route.

Together, reflections on music in its two most powerful forms progressed in harness as the published pieces racked up into three figures and beyond. Gig reviews have been the pivotal content, driven by an independent spirit and a desire where possible to log a journey in its near entirety. Over the last seven years, this relentless pursuit has spawned very few gaps in the activity, a testimony to hundreds of artists who pour their heart and soul into a craft, leaving cradles of positivity to inform the retrospective review. A smart ear to choosing music and artists that float your boat makes the process that much easier.

While gig reviews are a fixed beast, the album content is a fluid pursuit down a never-ending road of avenues, crescents and endless highways. From day one, the album review sparked from a submission route, a trend following on to this very day courtesy of artists, PRs and labels who have assessed the prospect of some kind words penned from an independent source. Eventually submissions exceed capacity, to the extent that two hundred CDs and downloads manifested into fifty reviews during the calendar year of 2018. Of course, such a pool eases the process of finding sufficient material flowing with inspiration to enable the desired scribing of positive reaction and feeling.

Review material always has to exist hand in hand with the streamed and purchased variety, and end of year favourite lists have equally reflected both parts of the listening schedule with the perfect complement. Largely, submitted material is not too far adrift from preferred style and there is no doubt many fine records that just fell victim of a finite amount of time.

Towards the latter end of 2018, it was decided to create a directory of all submissions to at least record their existence and provide a link for readers to check them out in lieu of the five hundred word exhaustive review. As we glide into 2019, this process will continue, as the capacity for the written review remains relatively unaltered and there are early signs that submissions will likely match this again. Of course, the latter may tail off, but that development can be lived with.

To open up the process, a new email address exists to accommodate submissions, with the minimum offer of addition to the directory providing the album/EP falls somewhere in the realm of Americana/country/folk/roots/singer-songwriter. Some reviews in the past have come from left field sources, so while no guarantee on feedback is given opportunities may exist in some format.

Three Chords and the Truth UK (yes I know ‘real’ country music only plays a relatively small part, but hey it’s a great quote) will continue to cultivate a small corner of the web and remain a one-person vanity project blogging about music that matters. If you’re a seasoned reader, in the words of Otis Gibbs ‘thanks for giving a damn’, if you’re a newbie, welcome. A website in America assessed this blog as providing ‘authentic music commentary’. I’ll take that!

ALBUM REVIEW: Dan Rauchwerk - We Are More Than What We Leave Behind : Self-released (Out in the UK on Jan 7th 2019)

A new year; a new name and another record getting a renewal in a new land.  Dan Rauchwerk’s WE ARE MORE THAN WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND breezed into life last year in his homeland and now takes a punt in the old world; a source for some of the material.  This New Yorker plants his foot firmly in folk troubadour territory and serves up a fertile source of stories spinning history into different perspectives. The style is raw and simple, akin to a refined Billy Bragg, but awash with a desire to listen intently. A singer-songwriter’s dream scenario.

This ten-track selection is the debut solo release from an artist cast as a founding member of the international touring band The Lords of Lichtenstein. No previous experience is required to take a lucky dip into this record’s contents and to derive some listening contentment. Reference to the title eventually comes in the final line of the final song, but at thirty-five minutes long you do not have to wait too long and the gist of the album is well grasped by then.

Historical context comes to the fore quite quickly with the feisty ‘Mrs, McLaughlin’ opening proceedings and leaving Rauchwerks’s war futility sentiments fervently in the open. A few tracks down the line, ‘Victoria’ takes the influential monarch as the centrepiece with several cutting lines concluding a legacy. In contrast to the famous, inspiration draws from browsing unknown epitaphs in ‘It Just is’ showing that our writer is more than content to roam down random paths to reach a shared conclusion.

As an aside, I am unaware whether Dan Rauchwerk has listened to the track ‘Dusty in Memphis’ by The Dreaming Spires, but if not, his own song ‘Memphis’ had some psychic influence thrust upon it in more ways than one.

The duet with Caitlin Mahoney was probably the album’s most disappointing moment, but a least it prompted checking out a new artist. While her solo material sounded fine, perhaps not all matches are made in heaven. On a more positive note, and taking the concept of legacy in an alternative direction, ‘Skywalker’ is a stellar piece of song writing shedding some limelight on the unsung.

A stark clarity emanates from this album and I am sure if Dan Rauchwerk and his instruments stood in front of you the live musical experience would be entertaining, engaging and enlightening. There is likely to be a backstory attached to each song, but in the absence of not seeing him live, then a vivid imagination can fill the void. A singer- songwriter would likely concur with such interpretation.

WE ARE MORE THAN WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND reveals a lot more about Dan Rauchwerk – the singer-songwriter, than we knew before. The conclusion being a record fighting for its patch and securing a stake. Maybe even a legacy, although definitely a title on the tin that explains the contents.

Try Before You Buy

ALBUM REVIEW: Kaia Kater - Grenades: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (Out in UK on January 11th 2019)

There has been an enormous level of potential attached to Kaia Kater. Although, it is the release of her latest album GRENADES that will see the seam most productively tapped. This album (Kater’s fourth) is having a staggered release across her target territories, with it taking a UK bow on January 11th after initially beginning life across the pond in the latter months of 2018. The vagueness of ‘across the pond’ is pertinent in this context as it portrays a Canadian artist heavily schooled in old time American music exploring their very own Caribbean roots. The multiple facets that adorn this record make it one of the most interesting releases discovered in a while, providing an abundance of thoughtful moments across a soundtrack that amply rewards an open-minded approach.

For the record, GRENADES consists of eleven songs and three spoken interludes drawing inspiration from the island of Grenada; the home of Kater’s father who fled the country in the 1980s in the aftermath of political upheaval and subsequent US invasion. While the music will ultimately claim the spotlight, the three spoken parts delivered by her father and strategically placed at track numbers: 4, 8 and 13 add an atmospheric element to splice the album with traces of documented history.

For folks previously aligning Kater’s work with the banjo, the reduction of its impact will be instantly noticeable without a move too far away from a roots base. One interesting addition to the sound is the work of fellow Canadian Christine Bougie, whose twang laden input has enhanced artists such as Good Lovelies, Bahamas and, more relevant for fans in the UK via a previous key member of Gretchen Peters’ touring band. This sound, presumably from lap steel, is subtle yet detectable and threads throughout the album starting in the opening track ‘New Colossus’.

The writing input strengthens this side of Kaia Kater’s armoury. Only on ‘La Misère’ does she dip into the archives, and the impact of this short track lies in its language delve into some French dialect. Elsewhere apart from the exquisite storytelling, the ability for a continuous array of strong chorus melodies to emerge smooths the way for the album’s sonic capabilities to take hold. Even in the first half of the forty-three minutes playing time, this feature has lauded the reception of tracks such as the aforementioned opening one, ‘Canyon Land’ and ‘Meridian Ground’.

If the spoken parts achieve one thing, they will surely create a curiosity to dip back into the history books and learn more about the circumstances surrounding Grenada and ultimately the aggressive side of US foreign policy at the height of the Cold War. These spoken parts chronicle the optimism of change, the horror of invasion and the ultimate re-settlement. The personal element provokes thought and supplies the intent that has led to Kaia Kater making GRENADES.

Further fascinating content emerges in the second half. ‘Hydrants’ sees all instruments ditched for a Capella delivery, while the banjo re-appears to support the penultimate song ‘The Right One’. Title track ‘Grenades’ is a worthy candidate for stand-out number in the latter stages with its shimmering organ play out ending the song on a high. To dismiss any lingering doubt about this album being a compelling listen, ‘Poets Be Buried’ seals the deal in a stunning heartfelt finale that urges further delving rather than closing the book.

From a personal perspective, GRENADES moves the game a lot further forward than its predecessor NINE PINS, the release that accompanied Kaia Kater on her recent tilt at the UK market. It was unsurprising that Rhiannon Giddens had played a significant part at the outset of Kater’s overseas touring career including offering opening slots, and an invitation to join the Cambridge Folk Festival curation. 2019 sees Kaia Kater return to play shows in the late spring and this time equipped with such a strong new album that the potential tag can be finally removed. A record that will prosper further in a live setting. So kick-start your New Year listening by allowing this album to educate and entertain you.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Nine Songs That Shaped 2018

Top 20 Favourite Albums of 2018

Favourite or best? You should know now what the preferred term is here. Only a small fraction of wonderful albums released each year get to tempt your ear, so rather than fret over the ones that haven't landed yet or didn't quite hit the mark first time, why not celebrate those that played an important part in framing the personal soundtrack of 2018. These twenty records, not forgetting the equal number that could easily have added on any given day, made a profound impact that lasted long after first listen and bubbled with a festive fizz as each was revisited in December. The reasoning behind each inclusion is often impossible to pinpoint. Time, place, mood, feeling, association and circumstance play as key part as any technical verdict. Ultimately, they stirred an emotion that is unique in music and will remain a part as long as sound is enjoyed in this sonic form. If you're still with me, and not not averse to the odd list, welcome to my world of indulgence and the unveiling of those records that stayed the distance this year.

1 Brandi Carlile- By The Way, I Forgive You

"Carlile and the Hanseroth twins were in imperious form on this latest release blending passion, verve and songwriting brilliance into a set of songs that moved, shook and reflected the true spirit of roots music in a classic contemporary frame."
2 Courtney Marie Andrews - May Your Kindness Remain

"Delicately sung and immaculately presented, Courtney Marie Andrews is the architect of a record that should act as a country/folk blueprint in 2018. A journey, a journal, a lesson, this album is a classic."

3 First Aid Kit - Ruins

"The Soderberg sisters ramped up the stage, sound and platform for their most lavish assault on the music world to date and absolutely pulled it off without compromise. Whatever the coating, heartfelt folk music flourishes underneath."
4 Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere

"A record which funnels the listener straight into its strengths, and there are plenty. Ashley McBryde has created a mightily impressive album that endorses the apparent momentum being built. Where it leads her who knows, but being on board is a ticket not to be missed."
5 Skerryvore - Skerryvore

"Music plays an important part in marking out the past. While Skerryvore scratches out the numbers 2-0-1-8 in the sand, it evokes memories of earlier years when sound became the catalyst for recalling an era"
 6 Pistol Annies - Interstate Gospel

"Lambert, Presley and Monroe ride the crest of the wave of their solo success with a collaboration for this and any other age. Tackling subjects the mainstream shies away from saw this album score highly on many fronts including the main one of providing a damn good entertaining listen."
 7 Letitia VanSant - Gut it to the Studs

"2016 delivered Carter Sampson and 2017 did likewise for Caroline Spence. Odds are quickly shortening that 2018 is the year that Letitia VanSant blossoms out of leftfield indie Americana to become a firm favourite on the back of a superlative album release."
 8 Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

"The year's slow burner for some, but this and the direction Musgraves gently swayed towards in her recording career made a comforting place for those willing to wait before jumping in. Genre will long be debated, although this album temporary shelved such discussion with its neutral yet magical feel."
9 Bennett Wilson Poole - Bennett Wilson Poole

"Rampant guitars, wispy harmonies and luxurious tunes combine to place the record in the set position pending the proverbial smash. Wholesomely British and vividly retrospective, the forty-eight minutes parade in a flash with little effect of strain, but plenty of endless uncomplicated ease."
 10 American Aquarium - Things Change

"Members may come and go, but the spirit of American Aquarium will always embody the soul of BJ Barham. Matching both the deep sentiment of folk 'n' country and the rawness of roots rock 'n' roll fed into the tracks of Things Change that left the most embedded of marks".
 11 Caleb Caudle - Crushed Coins

"Caleb Caudle may have been dealt a handful of aces, but he has chosen an opportune moment to play them in the shape of a fabulous new album. CRUSHED COINS scores high on a number of fronts, even to the extent of the ironed out imperfections suggesting not all great albums need an edge of vulnerability."
 12 Jamie Lin Wilson - Jumping Over Rocks

"The authenticity and real deal nature of JUMPING OVER ROCKS makes it an album to celebrate as much as one to deliver endless listens."

"the time is ripe to share the love for a record spiralling deep into the ethos of this blog’s title."
 13 Mary Gauthier - Rifles & Rosary Beads

"Gauthier digs deep into her whole expression and presentation repertoire to produce a career body of work; successful at leaving the listener suitably informed and visibly moved."
 14 Gretchen Peters - Dancing with the Beast

"The most important thing about a new release is that it is just the start of a cycle. In essence, DANCING WITH THE BEAST will be effectively born on May 18th, with several years of burgeoning appreciation set to follow."

 15 Carter Sampson - Lucky

"LUCKY will be around for a long time and is well on the way towards matching the heights of WILDER SIDE. This is captivating music capable of shifting through a pile of mixed emotions to find the primal point. "

16 Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers - Pay Pack and Carry

"Ultimately, Bob Collum, and whoever nestles comfortably within the Welfare Mother family, makes music that sinks deep into your psyche and retains an instinct to refuse to budge from your immediate horizon. In other words, the challenge is to let a satisfactory smile leave your face when this album gets its umpteenth play."

 17 Laura Benitez & the Heartache - With All Its Thorns

"WITH ALL ITS THORNS has put down a marker for an early instrumental delight of the year with lashings of luscious pedal steel sparring with border-inspired accordion, piercing your ear amongst a host of memorable tunes. Easy listening, maybe; absolutely adorable listening, certainly."
 18 JP Harris - Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing

"JP Harris makes country music as was meant to be. Oh and there is plenty of essential pedal steel. SOMETIMES DOGS BARK AT NOTHING knows what it is about and powerfully presents a slice of music that retains a gilded status."
 19 Emma Jane - Treasures

"Deeply personal and sourced from a ripped open heart makes the sort of music that resonates well here. Emma Jane has succeeded on multiple levels in making a record diverse in sound yet consistent in quality."
20 Lori McKenna - The Tree

"A highly crafted songwriter who has her finger on the pulse of the simple homespun ideas and attitudes. Saving some of her best songs for carefully curated solo albums continues to cement McKenna as a premium performer forging a path to hall of fame status in circles of esteemed peers and fans with an acute ear."

Seasons greetings and raise a glass to new music that will touch us in the future.

Top 20 Favourite Gigs of 2018

Here goes, for the seventh successive year this blog indulges in celebrating the live music shows which have resonated the most over the last twelve months. In time honoured tradition, kudos is given to those stalwarts of the gig scene whose intrepid numbers tower above mine and continue to be the life blood for any artist who crosses the line into a professional performance. The debate whether art should be quantified into lists continues to rage, but as somebody who resides firmly in the objective camp there is no holding back on the seasonal task of reflecting fondly. So with a short drum roll, here are the gigs that possessed a touch of magical appeal to live long in the memory:

 1 American Aquarium - Night and Day Cafe, Manchester

"Probably best summing up American Aquarium is that they start out full of country sentiment before finding the fault lines of rock ‘n’ roll, not a bad place to be though. A wonderful fulfilling gig from an awesome band sums the night up perfectly. "
 2 Courtney Marie Andrews - St.Barnabas Church, Oxford (December)

"Courtney had little trouble finding the notes that give her vocals an air of supremacy. Aided by a crisp clear sound system and the obligatory pin-drop audience environment, everything that makes Courtney Marie Andrews an exceptional performing singer-songwriter was in place."
 3 Kacey Musgraves - O2 Academy, Birmingham

"This performance upon a return to the only Birmingham that really counts was absolutely adorable and a major advert for the magnetic attraction of top quality live music from an artist who clearly matters."
 4 Carter Sampson - Kitchen Garden, Birmingham

"The most engaging of voices adorns an impressively curated arsenal of song selection. The rich texture of a vocal honed in the land where the South spills into the West possesses the capability to melt the heart of a listener, made even more effective in the confines of the acoustically perfected Kitchen Garden."

5 Steve Earle and the Dukes - O2 Institute, Birmingham

"This evening specifically, and in general the recent shows by Steve Earle and the Dukes are vivid reminders to what a great folk ‘n’ country, rock ‘n’ roll band they are and what a fantastic song writer Steve Earle is. Grab these moments while you can. The legends tag is still intact and yes… there is still unfinished business."

6 First Aid Kit - O2 Academy, Birmingham

"Just to name three from this set to absolutely pierce your heart were the stunning ‘Stay Gold’, ‘Emmylou’ and ‘Fireworks’. You will have to step up the gig count to hear such an esteemed trio dealt so crisply and evocatively to an audience hanging onto every line, note and vocal breath."
 7 Kelly Willis - Maze, Nottingham

"Strolling onto the stage at 9 o’clock, it did not take Kelly long to hit her stride and slip into an effortless zone of a cultured artist perfectly equipped to deal the cut glass country song."

"A worthy candidate for gig of the year, even as we just pass the half way point."
8 My Darling Clementine - The Rep, Birmingham

"Where Lou and Michael eventually take this project, who knows? What is important is that someone carries on the mantle of projecting an iconic style and who better than My Darling Clementine to keep turning on the creative tap. Nights like these make it all worthwhile."
 9 The Lone Bellow - Band on the Wall, Manchester

"The Lone Bellow did not disappoint and like so many nights when top quality Americana rock bands grace us with their presence, dissatisfied customers were as scarce as the proverbial… You get the drift; it was a damn good night of live music."
10 Mary Gauthier - The Glee Club, Nottingham

"This powerful piece of singer-songwriter theatre proved all-consuming and unleashed the infinite potential of where song can take you. The fervent anti-war protestor, and thorn in the side of the perpetrators, still exists alongside a purveyor of focussing on the humanist angle of a tragic state of affairs."
11 Eilen Jewell - Biddulph Town Hall, Staffs

"...fully blessed that the chance to finally see Eilen Jewell play live had been grasped, and this gig-going adventure become a little richer.If Emmylou coined the phrase ‘Boulder to Birmingham’, then why not evoke the alliteration ‘Boise to Biddulph’. Deepest Idaho and the Potteries interwove this evening."
12 Jamie Wyatt + Beth Bombara - Tingewick Village Hall, Bucks

"Whether we call it country, Americana, folk rock or singer-songwriter, artists such as Jaime Wyatt and Beth Bombara are probably more important to its vibrant future than browsing your High Street music store for Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Let them into your musical sphere either through their records or through seeing the live show and substantial rewards will freely flow. "

 13 Hayes Carll - Maze, Nottingham

"It is now a decade since Hayes strolled onto the Glee Club stage in Birmingham to the glorious tone of ‘Beaumont’ for the perfect introduction." 

"The replication of this Nottingham renewal is certainly a desired legacy. In this multi accessible digital age, nothing could surpass the frozen moment of being there. It was an honour and a privilege to be present."
 14 Bennett Wilson Poole - St. George's Hall, Bewdley

"Although it may be considered a side project in some respects, this set up is likely to take up much of the year and keep all concerned busy. The blistering performance delivered tonight proved ample evidence that no effort is wasted in making it a wholesale success. "
15 Gretchen Peters - Town Hall, Birmingham

"The immaculate surroundings of Birmingham Town Hall and the music of Gretchen Peters are the perfect fit. A hushed environment absorbed every word from the most meaningful array of songs you are likely to hear in a single set. This was Gretchen Peters in absolute control, cashing in on a lifetime of experience, association and striving to pen the momentous song."

16 Pokey LaFarge - O2 Institute, Birmingham

"Winners were all round though: a band having a ball of a time; an audience grasping a rare opportunity to see a true American roots band in full glory and maybe just a city showing that it can come to the fore with supporting this type of music."
17 Caroline Spence - Thimblemill Library, Smethwick

"Caroline Spence may have been 4,000 miles from her Nashville home, and on an inaugural overseas tour, but she settled into the surroundings without hesitation and went on to deliver a sublime performance of songs soaked to the core with southern sentiment. Any doubts that the promise of SPADES & ROSES would not live up to its billing drifted away into a cold Midlands night, suitably insulated by the warmth of the performance."
18 Don Gallardo + Hannah Aldridge - John Moore Foundation, Appleby Magna

"Thinking outside the box may be driven by survival but it leads to the most wonderful of musical experiences for fans offering a lifeline to live music. Hannah Aldridge and Don Gallardo feed off this. Those heading to Appleby Magna on a wet and blustery Good Friday evening had the perfect holiday feast."

19 Kim Richey and Ben Glover - Kitchen Garden, Birmingham

"Moments were also precious when each artist gave the other total space to deliver the immaculate individualistic song. ‘Kindness’ saw Ben conjure up some idealistic romanticism and perhaps set an agenda for many to follow. ‘A Place Called Home’ projected Kim Richey at her finest and possibly own the show’s Champagne three minutes."
20 Lucy Ward - Kitchen Garden, Birmingham

"The work of Lucy Ward continues to make her one of the most engaging and rewarding performers on the UK folk circuit. Tuning in is required, but art is far more satisfying and long lasting when the listener has to invest a little. Long may the fire burn in her songs..."

See you on the gig circuit in 2019 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

GIG REVIEW: O'Hooley and Tidow - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 18th December 2018

One thing that the 2018 gig year possessed was symmetry. The same venue hosted the first and last show with the artists themselves supplying a family flavour. From Robin, Joe and Katy Bennett (occasionally known as the Bennett Family Singers) to O’Hooley and Tidow, the Kitchen Garden presented many fine musical performances over the last twelve months. So as the curtain finally came down on an eventful year, it was a show of warmth, humour and familiarity that provided the finale, and a splendid evening of quintessential English folk music in its most engaging form.

Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow are a successful and popular duo on the folk circuit, accruing multi-layers of acclaim, whilst rarely failing to entertain an audience. The vocal blend, honing in on individual skills and possessing a keen ear to the borrowed and self-composed song has fermented their stage presence to the extent of adapting to a variety of live formats. This evening’s setting in the intimate surroundings of Kings Heath’s premier listening venue fell into the duo’s lap, though they did provide their own sound set up that gave the sonic environment a richer texture.

This latest run of O’Hooley and Tidow dates is billed as their Winterfolk Tour, aligned to the album of the same name released last year. Thus a seasonal theme threaded through the brace of sets that the pair played to a near full house.

Despite festive tracks like the familiar ‘River’ and ‘Fairytale of New York’ to close the evening (both standards given a personal twist) and picks off their WINTERFOLK , VOL 1 record such as ‘One More Xmas’ (possibly the song of the night) and ‘The Last Polar Bear’, the soundtrack forayed into many other subjects that have inspired the duo’s song choice.

Therefore jolly singalongs in ‘Gentleman Jack’ (based on the infamous 19th century diarist Anne Lister) and ‘Summat’s Brewin’ (celebrating the triumph of the small in a real ale context) kept the tempo up as the pair switched between piano, accordion, guitar and both, on and off mic. Throw in an instrumental piano solo from Belinda and a poetry reading from Heidi, and you can increasingly visualise the artistic diversity that flowed.

When seeking the most moving moment of the show, you needed to look no further than ‘Whitethorn’, with its homage to Ireland’s lost rural children, blending into Heidi’s German version of ‘Stille Nacht’, followed by an opportunity for us all to join in on the English translation. Wonderful music theatre.

Outside of these main points, many concurred with Heidi’s political outpouring on food banks, austerity and LGBT rights We were all a little more informed of the duo’s proud Huddersfield heritage (or at least present home). Other songs to grace this stirring evening were versions of Richard Thompson’s ‘We Sing Hallelujah’ and Louden Wainwright III’s ‘White Winos’ , along with other O’Hooley and Tidow recorded songs like ‘Fire and Wine’, ‘Wexford Lullaby’ and ‘Little Boy Blue’.

At the end of a year where so much music has been explored from countries like Canada, America, Sweden and Australia to name a few, it is sometimes warm and reassuring to savour some home comforts as we head into a few weeks break from the live music circuit. Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow gracefully saw the year out and will be more than welcome again to share their engaging and rather splendid take on the wide and eclectic world of folk music.