Friday, 29 July 2016

Brandi Carlile, Old Crow Medicine Show + Dawes - Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland. Saturday 23rd July 2016

On one hot and sultry night in Maryland three bands put on a show that would live in the memory for a long time. Racing through the genres of country, rock, bluegrass and old time roots, each band cemented an individual footprint on the evening ahead of intermittently collaborating prior to a storming finale. To witness Dawes, Old Crow Medicine Show and Brandi Carlile on a single evening line up was a privilege and proved the perfect climax to a three week trip inevitably focussing on what music could be savoured while away. For three hours this amphitheatre was awash with superb sounds comprising of outstanding original material and sensational covers designed to set the pulse racing. These were three artists that matter, execute great skill in their craft and showcase American roots music in its grandest form.

This Brandi Carlile and Old Crow Medicine Show tour has been ripping it up across the States all summer, but you would have struggled to find a better third guest act than Dawes, who were the invited ones for this show in Columbia Maryland, just outside the city of Baltimore. The Merriweather Post Pavilion was far from full to its 19000 capacity when Dawes took to the stage at 6:30. Those present were split between the sun drenched lawn and the shade haven covered section, but both in the listening vicinity of one of the most accomplished bands around.

After catching Dawes twice in the English Midlands towards the end of last summer, this Stateside show lent heavily on similar material starting with ‘Most People’ and ending forty five minutes later with the captivating singalong ‘All Your Favourite Bands’. So pleased to hook up with Dawes for this show, Brandi complimented them later by hailing the line ‘may your brother’s El Camino run for ever’ and invited them back on stage to join in on the finale version of Dylan’s ‘Rainy Day Woman 12 & 35’. Apart from their last song, the prime moment was once again ‘Somewhere Along the Way’ with Duane Betts stepping up the guitar input alongside front man Taylor Goldsmith. There were actually people present who mainly came to see Dawes and they would not have been disappointed with their favourite’s performance. However the night was just warming up – literally and figuratively.

‘Wagon Wheel’ has become a modern classic with its multitude of cover versions, but listening to Old Crow Medicine Show play their ultimate creation and watching the audience reaction could have easily been the highlight of what rolled out to be an exceptional evening. Just like Dawes earlier, Ketch and the boys kept the chat to a minimum and made sure their set of just over an hour was jam packed with rucks of great music. Classics such as ‘Alabama High Test’, ‘Doc’s Day’ and ‘Sweet Amarillo’ were delivered in full glory and ‘8 Dogs 8 Banjos’ is the fitting send off. In fact it is hard pressed to hear a bad tune when Old Crow are in full flow with all the lead instrument and vocal exchanges. Their David Rawlings co-write ‘I Hear Them All’ does find real emotion and intrinsically weaves in a sample of ‘This Land is Your Land’ to a song for the people by the people.

Mid way through the set Ketch invited Brandi Carlile on stage and they appropriately sang a version of the vastly covered and much loved ‘Streets of Baltimore’. Once teamed up Ketch wasn’t going to let her off the hook and in this covers segment Brandi helped out on ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and ‘CC Rider’. Old Crow Medicine Show left the stage to a thunderous standing ovation and it wasn’t too difficult to feel that we may see them again later in the evening.

Flanked by the ever faithful and highly talented Hanseroth twins (Tim and Phil), Brandi Carlile strode onto the stage for the headline spot determined to show why she is in the form of her life. On the back of the incredible Grammy nominated album THE FIREWATCHER’S DAUGHTER and a series of other personal highs, a lengthy search would be needed to find a more sincere, proud and gutsy artist as Brandi Carlile. Possessing a wonderfully cracked vocal acumen that splits the fault line of country and rock is just the beginning of her talent. Song after song is written with great emotion whether emanating from just her pen or in collaboration. Also a fabulous band is present to deliver the precise soundtrack to each number whether subtly required or in full on rock mode.

The new material nestled neatly alongside the older songs with Brandi enthusing about her eventual attempt at three part harmony with the beautifully intensive offering ‘The Eye’. This was the highlight when seeing Brandi play a festival a week earlier, but in this amphitheatre setting it was the faster tempo numbers such as ‘Wherever is My Heart’ and ‘The Things I Regret’ which set the tone. Obviously the older pieces are well received including the signature track ‘The Story’ which exposes the rawness of Brandi wrapping her vocals around a rock ballad. One quote attributed to Brandi is that whatever style she sings there will always be a touch of ‘country and western in her voice.’ This was in evident when delivering two songs from the BEAR CREEK record in ‘Hard Way Home’ and the sentimental classic ‘Keep Your Heart Young’. The diversity of Brandi Carlile in 2016 is when she piles into ‘Mainstream Kid’, a raucous sound that she has recently perfected.

No feature on Brandi Carlile is complete without the audience rapport and connectivity that runs deep. The challenge is to keep the eyes dry in the run up to ‘The Mother’ and full absorption of the sentiment will make you believe in Brandi as an artist, a person and a human being.

You knew the reciprocal invite for Old Crow Medicine Show to return to the stage was imminent and to join Brandi for a version of ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ was the opportune moment. Not just once did we see Ketch and the boys as they also helped out on a popular covers encore led off by the country classics – ‘Jolene’ (introduced by Brandi as a country punk song) and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. It was fitting then for Dawes to make the stage crowded and complete for the Dylan finale.

Words and pictures are just a meagre part of this wonderful show. Experience and memories are everything. Setting, line up and perfect weather played their part alongside an exalted slice of Americana that fuelled an evening which if repeated would be more than welcome. Brandi Carlile, Old Crow Medicine Show and Dawes in Columbia Maryland was absolutely a gig for this and all ages. 

Forecastle Festival - Louisville, Kentucky, Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th July 2016

Brandi Carlile
Music, Arts, Activism is the moniker of the eclectic Forecastle Festival which lights up downtown Louisville Kentucky for one weekend each July. Not your usual attraction for music fans in the UK, but when you’re on a Southern Road Trip and nearby, what better way to spend a few days lapping up the quality array of bands that were assigned to this year’s line-up.

When you first discover that the festival location is partly under an intersection of the I-64/I-65 curiosity is aroused, but the temporary shade this provides from the burning mid-afternoon sun is heaven sent. It is also more accurate to state that the site is on the banks of the Ohio River and has four conveniently located stages spilling out a range of diverse sounds from lunch time to late night across the three days.

The initial appeal of Forecastle was around half a dozen big name acts with loose connections to the Americana genre. Generally the line-up had the feel of a cool record store, mixing roots music with indie rock, hip hop and a touch of contemporary folk. Unfortunately travel constraints meant that Friday wasn’t attended and thus the opportunity to see the acclaimed Avett Brothers headlining was missed. Anyhow reports on social media were of thunder storms leading to a temporary evacuation of the festival site, so this inconvenience was avoided even if reports of the sets were generally positive.

Sarah Jarosz
There were no such weather concerns for Saturday unless you count the relentless sun and temperatures still in the mid-90s. The scene was set with no better way of getting things started on the main stage than a riveting performance from those old time roots exponents Pokey LaFarge. After impressing immensely at Cambridge Folk Festival two years ago, the journey from St. Louis for the band was a bit shorter this time with the same songs sounding just as good. A positive and healthy crowd reception from the early main stage gatherers lifted proceedings and the band duly responded with an excellent performance of songs such as ‘Something in the Water’ and ‘Goodbye, Barcelona’.

As three o’clock approached the first clash of the festival emerged. Sarah Jarosz just won the battle ahead of Shakey Graves, although the last ten minutes of the latter’s set was caught after Sarah had finished. She was scheduled to play the Boom Stage which could be construed as the second one; all stages were given a nautical name in common theme with the festival. Appearing in a trio format and with a brand new album in tow, Sarah showed once again how she is a blossoming artist merging her natural talent into engaging songs and an increasingly impressive stage presence. Songs from the new record UNDERCURRENT such as ‘House of Mercy’ and the Parker Millsap co-write ‘Comin’ Undone’ sounded supreme and matched up well against older tunes like ‘Build Me Up With Bones’ and the gospel inspired singalong ‘Come On Up to the House’. Jed Hughes ably assisted Sarah on lead guitar and the appetite was whetted for the new songs to get an airing in the UK when she visits later in the year.

Brandi Carlile
The rest of the afternoon was spent sampling some new bands, often out of the Americana comfort zone, and seeking the ‘concrete interstate shade’. One set of particular note was Louisville musician and band leader Teddy Abrams presenting an hour of music with his friends including guests from a variety of genres including rock, pop, hip hop and folk. Sarah Jarosz was one of his guests and also another American folk singer in Joan Shelley who was due to appear in a solo slot the following day.

The build up to the main event on Saturday evening gathered momentum as the hot sun dipped and dwindled before the ‘best live band in the world’ arrived on stage at 9:30 in the guise of the Brittany Howard-led Alabama Shakes. Just prior to the band taking the stage, there was a brief civic celebration of local Louisville pride based on the legacy of the city’s most loved citizen – the late Muhammed Ali. To the orchestrated chants of ‘Ali Ali’ and the call and response of ‘Float like a butterfly sting like a bee’ Alabama Shakes uncoiled into action to exhibit their credentials as the most passionate live rock ‘n’ soul band on the planet.

Alabama Shakes
This band has now been seen on three occasions, at three different venues in three separate countries. They rose to personal prominence at Calgary Folk Festival in 2013 and played an excellent show closer to home in Birmingham UK last year. This performance possibly eclipsed both shows as Brittany flung everything into each song to a back track of swirling soulful organ and gutsy guitars. Every song is delivered as her life is dependent on it and the vocals travel to places unheard of. Being fairly close up is a mesmerising experience and feeling the power of Alabama Shakes in full flow is a dip into an existential place. Saturday night at Forecastle was complete and in the memory mind bank forever.

Sunday brought a slight cloud cover but ultimately little temperature respite. While elevating above the Alabama Shakes experience would be tough, it did provide a more extensive offering of music to taste with the impressive Anderson East leading things off as the opening act on the ‘main’ Mast Stage. This Alabama artist has seen a significant rise in profile in recent times and his brand of soulful rock ‘n’ blues pours from the stage in sumptuous portions. Anderson cut a cool figure in his shades and posturing mode, mixing songs from his recent album with classic covers of ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’. The set ended too quickly but raised the promise of an artist that has the potential to be relevant on the Americana circuit both sides of the pond for a very long time.

Anderson East 
In between Anderson finishing and a set by the Heartless Bastards starting, a brief glimpse of Joan Shelley playing the outer WFPK Port Stage was viewed, complete with tree shade. She was definitely the most folk oriented artist on the bill and a few numbers caught will surely go down well in listening venues. Joan is due to visit the UK in August and is worth catching live. The Heartless Bastards is an Austin- based roots rock band, who once hit their groove, gives a very accomplished performance. Like Alabama Shakes, they were first witnessed in Calgary a couple of years ago and were well worth seeing in this Forecastle line –up.

The Boom Stage was proving the place to be on this Sunday afternoon. Prior to Anderson East playing the main arena, a few minutes of The Suffers was enjoyed with the added frustration of not being omnipresent. Anyhow after the Heartless Bastards, camp at the ‘Boom’ was set up for White Denim, Blackberry Smoke and Brandi Carlile, with the occasional beer, bite to eat and little bit of shade.

Blackberry Smoke
White Denim gave a first class performance in the late afternoon slot to show why Austin is a hot bed of high quality rock ‘n’ roll music. Whereas some bands find their groove and settle, White Denim continued to evolve over the hour on stage and proved to be an extremely accomplished outfit generating an energetic guitar and drum mix to impressive effect. Blackberry Smoke were next up on this stage and provided a break from the more indie sound with a set infused by a dose of straight up Southern Rock. In a festival which generally steered clear of country music this year (although Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson were on the bill last year), the slower parts of the Blackberry Smoke set was perhaps the closest we got. Overall they were probably the surprise act seen over the weekend with a starting point of just taking a look to giving them a rousing applause after a pulsating hour on stage.

The two days at Forecastle were now coming to a close but not before two of the most anticipated moments of the visit – a full set by Brandi Carlile and the last hour of Ryan Adams on the main stage before festival closure. Damn the slight overlap.

A good half hour before Brandi appeared, the front of the stage became packed with fans which were clear in who they wanted to see. This throng grew right up until Brandi and her band kicked straight into gear with ‘Again Today’. The massed gathering at the front was now in Brandi Carlile heaven singing word for word on ‘Hard Way Home’, ‘The Story’ and ‘Keep Your Heart Young’. In fact each one of the twelve Brandi songs on the set list, prior to the band signing off with covers of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Going to California’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.

Brandi Carlile with Tim and Phil Hanseroth
Brandi was in awe of the reception Kentucky was giving her and the numbers choosing her set over the one by Death Cab for Cutie on the main stage. She praised the fifteen year association with Tim and Phil Hanseroth along with the eventual decision to celebrate the work of the great harmony acts by recording their own song in a three part format. ‘The Eye’ was totally stunning standing barely yards from the trio singing it and who can fail to marvel at the line ‘you can dance in a hurricane, but only if you’re standing in the eye’. Alabama Shakes may have edged it in the performance stakes, but Brandi Carlile won clearly hands down in honesty, sincerity and the sheer ability to communicate heart, emotion and feelings through the art of song and music.

If some of the acts were of high quality, but generally straight down the middle, the same couldn’t be said of Ryan Adams. The quality was certainly there but mixed with the usual bout of eccentricity and rambling chat. This heady quirky mix has served him well over many years and the thousands who flocked to the main stage for the Forecastle finale were going to enjoy every minute of it. Joining the set fifteen minutes in meant standing at the back, but even observing most of the stage action via the screen didn’t diminish the experience of catching this enigmatic performer for the first time. Among the random musings was plenty of classic Ryan Adams material with many waiting patiently for the penultimate song and the reference to Kentucky in ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’. It was pure bliss hearing this song live on a warm summer’s evening and topped a great couple of days at this truly urban festival. Inevitably Ryan had the ‘Summer of ‘69’ heckle and dealt with it superbly with an improvised song of his own designed to provide a suitable response.

Forecastle serves Louisville Kentucky proud each year and its many peripheral attractions and activities celebrate the cultural heartbeat of a flourishing city. The music they present is top class and it was a honour to attend for a couple of days assuming the role of honorary Kentuckian. It also confirmed the status of Alabama Shakes as the best live band in the world and Brandi Carlile as a truly inspiring performer.

East to Knoxville and Asheville - Tuesday 12th to Thursday 14th July 2016

Greg Payne and the Piedmont Boys
Back in 2009 the inaugural trip to Nashville saw a trip out west to Memphis, so it was only appropriate to venture east this time and sample the delights of Knoxville and Asheville. Three significant music events were witnessed on this leg of the tour which sandwiched visits to the other ‘villes’ on this Southern road trip namely Nashville and Louisville. So enough town namedropping and some focus on the music sampled as we headed to the Smoky Mountains region.

The major music highlight of the time spent in the thriving East Tennessee metropolis of Knoxville was a mere yet splendid hour during the recording of the WDVX Blue Plate Special. This is a daily music show which is broadcast at noon from the Knoxville Visitor Centre. This visit saw two contrasting artists play a live set of around half a dozen songs interspersed with chat from the show host Red Hickey. Up first was Nashville-based artist Charlotte Berg who was fortunate to be aided by a band for this and her later show in town. Charlotte possessed a folk-pop tinge to her sound and played a few songs from her new record. During her chat she revealed that piano was the instrument of her musical schooling and that she was heading over to Europe for a few dates shortly. The exposure of this live radio show with an assembled audience is just the type of platform artists such as Charlotte need to promote their material.

Charlotte Berg
Midway through the show, a very quick set up and the Piedmont Boys were in place to change the tempo and style of music. Led by and technically named Greg Payne and the Piedmont Boys, this combo from Greenville South Carolina knew which way their country music bread was buttered and played it hard, fast, true and authentic. They probably only know one way and that was fine. It would be great to catch more of this band, but their show that night was miles away in Johnson City. Check out their latest record and the appropriately titled SCARS AND BARS with songs such as ‘Rice, Beans’ and ‘35’ featured during this radio showcase.

Time spent in Asheville North Carolina was a little longer than Knoxville and ironically two gigs materialised from artists who have been active in the UK recently. The second level of irony is that both latest albums from Austin Lucas and Danny Schmidt had been reviewed but the subsequent touring shows were not attended. So in a quirky slice of fortune, back to back nights in the delightful town of Asheville at the gateway to the Smoky Mountains corrected this omission.

Austin Lucas
The Austin Lucas gig was first up and held in the Mothlight which is your typical late night venue solely focussing on music in contrast to the many restaurant combo places housing bands. Austin was on tour with his buddy Matt Woods and had just played to a packed crowd in Atlanta the night before parking up in Asheville. Maybe it was a Tuesday, but in line with quite a few low key gigs back home, barely thirty people frequented a sizeable venue. However Austin had a solution by the time his set began at eleven! Those remaining after sets by opening artist JW Teller and Matt were requested to gather in front of the stage and Austin proceeded to do a sterling job in creating an intimate performance. His loyal canine companion Sally was introduced to the audience along with her responses to different songs. The highlight from Austin’s set was the amazing opening track from BETWEEN THE MOON AND THE MIDWEST with ‘Unbroken Hearts’ still remaining one of the best country songs of the year as we head into the second half.

Danny Schmidt 
Twenty four hours later and literally just a few minutes stroll up the road from the Mothlight, Austin-based singer-songwriter Danny Schmidt had a date at a totally contrasting venue in the ISIS Music Hall. This was back to the dinner venues and what was billed as an early evening intimate show in the bar. Between the hours of seven and nine, Danny showed why he one of the finest songwriters on the folk circuit with an incredible literate knack of using lyrics to spin an avalanche of gold plated songs. Danny reached deep into his back catalogue to share a wealth of material, but it was three songs from his latest album OWLS which hit all the right buttons. ‘Faith Will Always Rise’, ‘Bad Year for Cane’ and ‘Cries of Shadows’ are pristine examples of song writing magic and illustrate a writer in touch with his inner sanctum while being blessed with the talent to eloquently spill out these thoughts. While touring and song writing will always be in Danny’s blood, time will shortly be spent supporting his new family and the immediate career of wife and fellow musician Carrie Elkin. Mind you there is much more of Danny Schmidt to come especially as his life evolves.

This trip out east from Nashville yielded some great results from a musical perspective. The abiding memory though was Austin Lucas referring to Asheville as a ‘leftist Mecca among a sea of red’. He couldn’t have put the vibes of this North Carolina town any better after spending a brief time there. 

Five Nights in Nashville, Tennessee - Friday 8th to Sunday 10th and Monday 18th to Tuesday 19th July 2016

Elizabeth Cook
Nashville Tennessee provided the Southern gateway and exit point for a three week US road trip that included twelve days in the South. The five split nights in a city hailed by a tour guide as ‘LA East’ due to its rapid expansion, were going to be dominated by music with a desire to seek out an alternative side of the city. So in 2016 there was no Grand Ole Opry, no Ryman Auditorium and minimal time in the bars of Broadway. In its place, a few new venues, other iconic music names on a smaller scale, old and new artists and a venture east of the Cumberland to the other side of town. Here is a chronological wander through the delights of Music City.

Friday teatime, hop into the hire car and a trip to Grimey’s Record Shop for an in-store with a difference. Eight years have passed since I last saw Elizabeth Cook play live when she visited The Maze in Nottingham. Maybe the term gig was stretching it a touch when this show appeared on Bands in Town, but thirty minutes of Elizabeth Cook was not going to be missed in a cool record shop. The set up was totally professional with full band in tow and plenty of copies of the new album to sell. Elizabeth chose to showcase six tracks off EXODUS OF VENUS to a packed shop gathering and these sounded brilliant live. ‘Slow Pain’, ‘Methadone Blues’ and ‘Broke Down in London on the M25’ were the pick of the selection as well as creating a desire for Elizabeth to return to the UK soon to play these songs in a full show. Of course any trip to Grimey’s wouldn’t be complete without a reduced bank balance and new albums from Aubrie Sellars, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Parker Millsap were the culprits.

Brandy Zdan
The Bluebird Café is one of Nashville’s iconic listening venues and on this Friday night hosted four of the city’s most experienced songwriters. Bill Lloyd, Don Henry, Kim Richey and Matraca Berg are the architects of many hits over the years and the quartet teamed up for an ‘in the round’ songwriter’s circle. The evening panned out as expected with a cyclical rotation of songs and stories. The only issue of such a set up in a packed venue is you continually see the back of one performer and tonight for me was Matraca Berg. This seasoned songwriter didn’t disappoint with her choices starting off with ‘You and Tequila’ and finishing with the classic ‘Strawberry Wine’. The pick of Kim’s songs were ‘Those Words We Said’ and ‘Thorn in My Side’. Bill played the compere role for the evening and decided to throw in a couple of new songs to test them out. Probably the most popular song of the evening was Don’s ‘All Kind of Kinds’ made famous when Miranda Lambert cut it. Despite visiting Nashville before, this was a first visit to the Bluebird and it was a privilege to attend on an evening when some legends were present.

Day two of the first Nashville segment saw a saunter across the river to the East part of town and a brace of gigs in venues highly recommended by touring musicians visiting the UK. However before this venture a slight detour 125 miles south was undertaken to Muscle Shoals Alabama and time spent at both the Fame Recording Studio and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. The first of these included the obligatory tour and many stories told of how such a small building created a soundtrack to popular music. The second went to town on state pride and why not when you are home to amongst others – Hank Williams and Jason Isbell. Back up the I-65 to Nashville, beat the crowd heading to Nissan Stadium to see the Guns ‘n’ Roses and Chris Stapleton gig and locate the 5 Spot for an early show featuring Mark Edgar Stuart and Brandy Zdan. Mark played the opening half hour as a solo performer before Brandy and her band took to the stage for an hour long set. Brandy was the artist I was most familiar with and this was the first time seeing her live. Maybe it was a touch too early to pull in many punters, but she truly rocked the venue with a blistering performance edged with a dash of finesse.

Christian Lopez
No sooner had Brandy finished her set and it was quickly down to the Family Wash to catch the nine o’clock David Olney show. While the 5 Spot was a strictly music venue akin with many sticky floor places back home, the Family Wash was a packed restaurant which meant seating to see the artist was restricted by availability. Still a meal was consumed while David played songs from a lengthy career writing and singing folk music. One of the familiar songs from his pair of sets was ‘Jesus Met the Woman at the Well’, remembered from a version on Tom Russell’s ROSE OF ROSCRAE.

One more night on this first segment of Nashville and a show at the City Winery that was to subsequently bring to my attention the find of the trip. The event in question was the Eldon Thacker Radio Show which was held in the upstairs room at the venue and broadcast for two hours live at seven each Sunday. There were two special guests playing live on this week’s show with both getting plenty of opportunities to play their own material among the chat, other music played and sponsor’s messages. Larissia Murphy was the guest in the first hour and played several fine songs clearly inspired by the great female singer-songwriters of the country/folk/Americana tradition like Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton.

The Time Jumpers featuring Vince Gill 
The artist which alerted me to this event was the Christian Lopez Band and they dominated proceedings for the second hour. Prior to listening to Christian, two parts to his blurb stood out. First he was selected as one of the pick of the artists to play the Americana Music Festival in 2015 and secondly his debut album was produced by Dave Cobb. ONWARD is now proudly in the record collection and the name is no longer a mystery. Christian had not reached twenty years of age at the time of the show and displayed an immense maturity with the style of his songs. The chat with the radio host revealed an upbringing on ACDC and how his current sound had emerged after finding country music in his mid to late teens. This guy was immensely impressive and continual playing of the record reveals a striking similarity to Jason Isbell. Maybe the Dave Cobb effect or a genuine talent or both, either way check him out.

Seven days later after a tour of other places around the South, a return to Nashville was made for two further nights before a flight up North. It was a Monday so the place to be in town was 3rd and Lindsley and a Time Jumpers gig. The venue surprised me with its size and lack of available tables due to a large amount of people eating but on the stroke of nine full focus of everyone was the stage and some of the finest musicians that you will see. With a little bit of good fortune Vince Gill was with the band tonight, but he is with a bunch of equals when part of the legendary Time Jumpers. For over two hours the band poured through loads of Western Swing and country classics along with original material and the odd guest. Of particular interest was their version of ‘All That’s Left’ that was cut with Miranda Lambert on the PLATINUM album and an appearance by rising country star Charlie Worsham who sang a version of Hank’s ‘Honky Tonk Blues’. On a trip of many musical highs, an evening with The Time Jumpers was up there with the best.
Ben Glover

A final night in Nashville and a lower key ending that promised Ben Glover a spot in the feature next to Vince Gill. Ben was playing a set at McNamara’s Irish Bar on the outskirts of the city and it was good to catch up with an artist who has begun to make inroads back across the pond following his work with Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and subsequent release of the excellent ATLANTIC album. Not forgetting his superb haunted work with the Orphan Brigade. Ben was appearing with fiddle player Bill Verdier and used the opportunity to play songs from across his own records in addition to the Irish covers which were likely part of the contract. Now settled in Nashville, Ben never loses the Irish influence to his music to the extent that his new album out in September titled THE EMIGRANT has a very Celtic feel to it.

One final word on the Nashville part of the tour must be allotted to the Dylan Cash and the Nashville Cats exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. This was a fabulous and informative array of exhibits detailing the point where Nashville started to emerge as Music City and not just the recording capital of country music. A fitting tribute to a river town where dreams are made and the music never stops. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

From LA to Suffolk - Maverick Festival, Easton Farm Park, Suffolk. Friday 1st July to Sunday 3rd July


Some things are eternally re-assuring about the first weekend of July. A large peacock looms protectively over its stage, hug a bunny remains a festival side attraction and a host of fine musicians descend upon Easton Farm Park in Suffolk. Now one year shy of its decade existence, Maverick Festival continues to be a beacon on the independent music scene and forever adept at the concept of sun conquering rain. This ninth gathering of artists, sealed by a common bond of contemporary roots music, once again served up a treat for festival goers and displayed an array of styles to ensure that many angles of what we term ‘Americana music’ was covered.

While it would be useful to acquire omnipresent powers, the constraints of any festival review lean heavily upon the personal perspective. So full respect and admiration for any artist not seen over the weekend, but if you went on quality sampling of what was witnessed, then they too would have been worthy of your time. On an action packed weekend starting on the stroke of five on Friday teatime running through until Sunday afternoon, many acts rivalled for the festival highlights, with some neat scheduling giving artists multi sets. Reflecting on the events of the weekend left the conundrum of structuring the review, with possible options being a chronological, A to Z or preference format. However let’s try something different and embark on a Maverick Festival intercontinental virtual road trip. So fasten your seatbelt and prepare to be taken from LA to Suffolk via many ports of call.

Sam Outlaw 
Sam Outlaw has created an enormous impression with the UK release of his superb album ANGELENO earlier this year and the Los Angeles based country artist was presented with the opportunity to share these songs in The Barn on Saturday evening. Like so many gig experiences, it is often the lesser notable song on an album which stands out in the live arena and the finale of Sam’s set ‘Keep it Interesting’ upheld this theory during a show which launched his most extensive UK tour to date. Remaining on the West Coast, we now journey up to Seattle to bring you alt-country rock band Massy Ferguson who played a racing Saturday lunch time set on the outdoor stage. Primarily in the country to launch their brand new album on At The Helm Records, this four piece combo led by Ethan Anderson carried on where they left off on their last appearance at Maverick a couple of years ago, with ‘Powder Blue’ from their back catalogue once again extracting an enthusiastic response from the audience.
  
John Wort Hannam
While keeping on the western theme of this Maverick road trip, we now cross the border into Canada and more precisely Southern Alberta. John Wort Hannam is a new artist to many in the UK and this is about to change after a trio of sets across the weekend including a Sunday lunchtime half hour in the Peacock Café. John is your archetypal folk singer-songwriter with a slight comparison to Slaid Cleaves in the style of his compositions. As you would expect, the stories were enlightening with ‘Love Lives On’ being the pick of his set, although conducting a crowd choir during the chorus of ‘Time After Time’ didn’t need too much encouragement, even for the morning after the night before.

Lynne Hanson 
John also participated in the Friday evening Canada Day presentation along with compatriots Ryan Cook and Christina Martin, but for the next witnessed artist from this fine country we have to travel thousands of miles east to Ottawa and the impressive Lynne Hanson. Backed by her two piece band known as The Good Intentions, Lynne played a lively set in The Barn with the volume turned up on a fine bunch of tunes, mainly on the darker side of the song writing genre. ‘Gravedigger’ from her latest album 7 DEADLY SPINS and the title track from an older release ‘River of Sand’, led the way on a performance which signalled the rising of her star in the UK.

Jon Langford
We now must leave the land of the maple leaf and head back into the States and the northern city of Chicago, the current home of the legendary Jon Langford. Admirably, Jon stepped in early on Friday evening to play a set while another artist was struggling with the UK‘s fragmented rail network. Whatever your exposure to Jon has been in the past, most notably as a member of The Mekons and the Waco Brothers, it was not difficult to detect how he has successfully merged the passion of new wave punk with traditional twang to become identifiable with the alt-country scene of the 80s and onwards. Apart from Jon’s music, his incredible artwork was also on sale and you must look out for the fabulous piece that has been created for the Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats exhibition currently running in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Luke Winslow King
Our Maverick road trip should now move onto the rails and board the City of New Orleans right though the spine of the country to the Crescent City. Two artists based here represented the old and new of the festival. Andrew Duhon, a Grammy nominated singer songwriter, has graced the stages of Easton Farm Park a few times now, but this was the first time a set of his has been witnessed. The error has now been corrected and his song, ‘Just Another Beautiful Girl’ is now permanently in my head. Luke Winslow King was in many folks’ eyes, the star of Maverick 2016 and being up close to his closing set late on Friday was a great experience. Prominently playing a contemporary blues style, Luke hit on a perfect beat during this crowd pleasing performance with the song ‘Cadillac Slim’ being both a memorable and autobiographical number.

Barbara Nesbitt 
We are now going back west from Louisiana, crossing the Red River and into the neighbouring state of Texas. Two Austin based singer songwriters featured across the weekend with both Amanda Pearcy and Barbara Nesbitt using this Maverick appearance as the base for a series of UK dates. Amanda was briefly caught Saturday teatime on the Peacock Stage where she had the benefit of a house style band frequented by the legendary UK pedal steel guitar player BJ Cole. ‘Pallet on the Floor’ is one of the best songs on her latest album and duly featured during her time on stage. Amanda is actually combining some UK dates with Barbara and it was a treat to catch the latter’s set on the Moonshine Stage in the final throes of the festival on Sunday afternoon. She came across as a very accomplished country singer, leaning to the traditional side unsurprisingly for a Maverick booking. She was appearing alongside fellow guitarist Ben Jordan and from a raft of enjoyable songs; ‘Old Devils Can Die’ left a favourable impression.

Carter Sampson 
Now is the time for a bit of personal bias and a trip up to the epicentre of the 2016 Maverick Festival– Oklahoma City. Upon listening to Carter Sampson’s latest album WILDER SIDE, one was absolutely hooked on her captivating voice, imperial songs and earthy link to the soul of the music. This was Carter’s first professional trip to the UK and her Saturday afternoon set in The Barn lived up to all the exalted expectations. Half an hour was way too short, but just enough to sample some of the best from the new album, including ‘Medicine River’, an understanding on why she is the self-anointed ‘Queen of Oklahoma’ and by far the best song story introduction of the weekend – ‘Rattlesnake Kate’. We now also know what a Canadian tuxedo is. Carter, you were the star of the weekend.

Hop onto I-40, head east out of the fertile song writing state of Oklahoma and eventually Music City will beckon. However we have one further destination in the Deep South which featured prominently in Maverick before we land in Nashville. 2016 was Jimmie Rodgers tribute year for the festival and for an hour and a half on Friday evening the Peacock Stage was the domain of leading interpreter Britt Gully. He co-ordinated a celebration of the Singing Brakeman’s music with the help of many of the artists playing the festival including Sam Outlaw, Luke Winslow King and Robyn Hitchcock. Yodelling was optional, but the spirit of one of country music’s pioneers was prevalent in this corner of Maverick.

Wild Ponies
Nashville is the home to three of the most outstanding acts to play Maverick this year and all pre-festival favourites here as well. Doug and Telisha Williams, aka Wild Ponies, played a couple of blistering sets across Saturday and Sunday, Doug’s telecaster was on fire, Telisha’s vocals drooled with pure Southern class and the added percussion raised the bar once again. Relaying the set lists will take up too much time, but a shout out is essential for ‘Unplug the Machine’, ‘Radiant’ and ‘Love is Not a Sin’ from the new album and ‘Trigger’ off the previous one. Maverick had been on the couple’s horizon for a while and they seized the opportunity with great relish and plenty of enthusiastic skill.

Hannah Aldridge
Hannah Aldridge is now a Maverick Festival legend after playing for three consecutive years and growing her appreciative following considerably. This was the sixth occasion of seeing Hannah play a set in the UK and it was possibly the strongest performance of the lot when she commanded The Barn stage on Saturday evening. The voice, poise, electric guitar and songs which mean so much equip Hannah with the power to captivate an audience. From the opening line of ‘Lie Like You Love Me’ right through to celebrating the work of her father, Walt, with ‘Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde’, she was in peerless form and the new album cannot come quickly enough. Nashville is Hannah’s adopted home, and also to be more precise, East Nashville the location for Amelia White who was finally caught playing a set on Sunday in The Barn. The last two albums of Amelia’s have acquired favourable reviews here with the title track from HOME SWEET HOTEL shaping up to be the pick of her showcased songs. She teamed up with UK guitarist Dan Webster for this festival appearance and her endearing left field sound shared many similarities with the work of Lera Lynn.

Amelia White
Before we leave Nashville, and ultimately the USA, a quick word on two performers who have made the city their home, although thousands of miles from their country of origin. Robyn Hitchcock was one of the organisers’ coups this year after an impromptu appearance twelve months ago. Only a short part of Robyn’s set was seen, but the reports were positive with a couple of Dylan covers going down well. Immediately preceding Robyn on the Peacock Stage on Saturday night was Aussie songstress Emma Swift, accompanied by the ‘house band’ – (more BJ Cole on steel). She celebrated the work of Gram Parsons with a smashing cover of ‘Brass Buttons’ and her fellow antipodean sad song writers with the immensely dark ‘Shivers’, as interpreted by Nick Cave. 


Daniel Meade
It wouldn’t be Maverick, if there was not a fine input of home grown music gracing the weekend. After leaving Nashville, we first land in Glasgow and hook up with Daniel Meade and his Flying Mule sidekick, the incredible guitarist Lloyd Reid. The frustration of the schedule pitched Daniel in direct competition with his At The Helm partners Massy Ferguson, with both acts only making the single appearance. With more opportunities likely to catch Daniel live, only fifteen minutes of his set was seen but the songs of his new album sounded sweet live including the rousing title track ‘Let Me Off at the Bottom’. Hopefully Daniel and Lloyd will bring their talents south of the border more frequently as their style of honky tonk country always goes down well. 

Robert Vincent 
Unfortunately Daniel was the only one of the Scottish contingent to be in my listening vicinity, so next we head south down the M6 to Liverpool and check in on Robert Vincent. My previous exposure to the work of Rob was only as a solo performer and his full band performance in The Barn on Friday evening was a welcome surprise. To say Rob and the boys rocked is an understatement. The new material sounded superb with a strong emotive number 'Demons’from his previous record perhaps just eclipsing them as the set’s stand out moment. Without doubt Rob's status of 'emerging' star will be updated to 'established' in the near future. 

Yola Carter 
A late addition to the festival this year was Bristol based country soul singer Yola Carter. Her booking and the sound she brings was a major shift in the diversity of Maverick, which should be in line with the true definition of the word. Yola’s powerful vocals are beginning to literally make noises in circles actively promoting the genres of Americana and contemporary roots music. A full band supported Yola for this Friday evening exhibition of her talents including some fiddle, an instrument not so prevalent among this year’s artists. ‘Fly Away’ stood out as one of the prominent numbers included in Yola’s set and the live presence of this rising UK solo talent whetted the appetite for recorded material to become available.

Peter Bruntnell 
Our virtual road trip has covered thousands of miles so far with just the capital left to call in before we finally head up the A12 to the rural outpost of Easton Farm Park. Two artists with London links were among the full bands booked to rock the Sweet Home Alabama outdoor stage on Saturday afternoon. Simon Stanley Ward returned to the festival twelve months after a song writing circle slot and this year showed what he can do with an enhanced back beat to his quirky songs. The result was impressive with his distinct vocals working in tandem with the instrumentation on songs such as ‘The Monster Song’, ‘American Voice’ and the popular audience participation singalong ‘Water’. The vastly more experienced Peter Bruntnell returned to Maverick later on Saturday afternoon to play a signature alt-country rock set, full of swirling guitars and an intense passion for ensuring a cultured powerful sound resonated around the festival grounds for forty minutes. By the time Peter closed with ‘St Christopher’ many folks were thrilled with the stirring performance from the band.

As we wind our way to the festival site through the lanes of Suffolk, the journey from LA is almost complete. Nine Maverick Festivals are in the book with hopefully double digits being accomplished a year from now. The artists featured in this review are far from household names, but each one, plus the others that were only curtailed by time, deserve the utmost credit for putting musical integrity at the top of their agenda. They are, and always will be, the stars of the Maverick Festival.

www.maverickfestival.co.uk

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Rainbow, Birmingham. Wednesday 29th June 2016



Lucinda Williams, Woody Guthrie and John Prine were cited during this show, but Alynda Lee Segarra is well equipped to ply her own route in the contemporary roots scene. The entity of Hurray for the Riff Raff forms a rooted base for Alynda to spill out the wares of her wandering spirit which blossoms into a haze of groovy soulful folk songs. This Birmingham show was the second date of a UK tour designed to re-acquaint a British audience with Hurray for the Riff Raff and it is all systems go for the new album to hit the markets as we head into the winter months. From the moment Alynda and her four band companions struck the first note of ‘End of the Line’, an appreciative gathering at the Rainbow were left in awe of the talents in their midst.

It was fitting that the band slipped in a cover of Lucinda’s ‘People Talkin’ in the latter stages of their set as the similarities in Alynda’s approach to song delivery was stark and not just as a result of the shared Louisiana connection. Over the course of a handful of original albums that Hurray for the Riff Raff have released, the stellar song structure has been a common theme culminating in SMALL TOWN HEROES being one of 2014’s most acclaimed releases in respected roots and Americana circles. Several sensational numbers from this record formed the heart of this show led by the classic duo of ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ and ‘Crash on the Highway’ which open the album.

If you thought it couldn’t get any better, the strong emotive version of ‘St. Roch Blues’ , which saw Alynda ditch the guitar to pour extra into the vocals, could only be hailed as an exceptional show closer. Not to be outdone in the troubadour stakes, the solo acoustic delivery of ‘Small Town Heroes’ in the first encore slot revealed a folk singer to reckon with and the ability to hold an audience from opening line to last.

For this tour the band behind Alynda comprised of bass and lead guitars, drums and keys with all four players executing their parts of the mix with acute precision. The comfort of ease in filtering in the styles of soul, blues and rock into the sound was admirable. Essentially the core is a bunch of heart influenced folk songs given a musical coating, sung by a vocalist adept at penetrating and extracting the soul of each number. The new compositions were given an enticing preview and definitely you should look out for ‘Life to Save’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl’ and ‘Living in the City’. The latter possessed the evening’s most profound rock vibes and was born out of Alynda’s desire to give some insight into her New York upbringing. This sheds an alternative light on an artist who cut the early stages of a music calling via the transient life.

Throw in Alynda’s Puerto Rican heritage, which at times does give the Hurray for the Riff Raff sound a Hispanic tone, add the southern exposure to the raw talent and the result is knockout music refusing to abide by the constraints of the ceiling. This was a performance that moved up the gears right from the second song ‘Ode to John and Yoko’, got everybody moving in their own subtle ways to ‘Look Out Mama’ and ended far too soon with the rousing finale of ‘Little Black Star’.

Hurray for the Riff Raff will be at the forefront of the contemporary American roots scene for a long time to come and have the potential to develop further. The perfect marriage of talent, understanding, influence and heritage give the band a sure footing, with Alynda destined to flourish as a song writing performer. Birmingham Promoters should be commended for bringing them to Britain’s Second City and the promise to return soon armed with the new record needs to be grabbed. 


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Wild Ponies - Radiant : No Evil Records



Not only do East Nashville based duo, Wild Ponies put on excellent shows, they are also in the game of making exceedingly thoughtful and interesting records. RADIANT is the second album released under the band moniker Doug and Telisha Williams have decided to use and it does a fine job in defining the musical ethos that comes across in their live shows. A multitude of shades paint the façade and interior of this record, while shaping a style which reflects their influences, principles and outlook.

The short gap between US and Europe release dates has heightened the anticipation for this album and it is sure to prove a popular buy during the duo’s current run of UK dates. This includes an appointment at the Maverick Festival; a perfect all round fit for Wild Ponies. Many of the eleven tracks had a preview on the last tour towards the end of 2015 with the reception being positive upon first listen. The recorded versions have lived up to the early promise with the four musicians assigned to the production adding finesse to a sound not afraid to hop between tempos and focus.

The writing input is an exciting mix of the acclaimed and the familiar with co-writes generally ruling the roost. Among the names joining Doug and Telisha on the credits include Robby Hecht, Amy Speace and Amelia White, all artists who have been active with records of their own over here in the last couple of years. Amelia, who is also playing this year’s Maverick Festival, actually contributed on two songs: ‘Home is Where the Road Goes’ and the sassy ‘Big Blue Sun’. One song on the album where Doug and Telisha didn’t seek any help is the strong closer ‘Love is Not a Sin’ which is an impassioned response to the significant changes that have occurred with same sex marriages.

Photo by Nielson Hubbard
This was of one of the distinctly memorable songs previewed at shows last year alongside album opener ‘Born with a Broken Heart’ and ‘Unplug the Machine’. The first of these has the helping writing hand of Amy Speace and generally comes across as a leisurely dark and moody song. On first listen it sounded like an Angaleena Presley composition both vocally and in song structure, and repeat plays confirm this. The second is packed with straight up rock vibes and is an unashamed assault on the overbearing presence technology can have on our lives. Not a track to be filmed at gigs, if you’re that way inclined.

The pondering and evocative vocals of Telisha are prevalent throughout the record with a neat interjection from Doug on the jaunty effort ‘Mom and Pop’, also packed with groovy guitar. Both vocal inclusions have a distinct personality to the voices with Telisha exuding oodles of southern mystique.

Musically the album reaches across several barriers with steel providing some delicate touches, Doug’s electric guitar periodically letting loose and Telisha’s double bass keeping immaculate time.

The title track ‘Radiant’ is worthy of mention and not just for its origin. Doug and Telisha were bowled over by a set of lyrics from the twelve year old Mariah Moore that they encountered while on a project and suitably turned them into a high quality temperate track. At the other end of the scale is Nashville A list songwriter Sally Barris who contributed to the gorgeous soothing lullaby ‘The Night We Never Met’, one with reassuring serenading qualities and loads of steel.

Wild Ponies have served up a treat for new and old fans alike with the surfacing of RADIANT. This dedicated release has all the nuances of an album subtly encompassing the best parts of a record seeped in the genres of country, folk, alt-rock and roots. Doug and Telisha Williams make damn good music and it’s a pleasure that opportunity has presented itself to ensure it is internationally available, both in person and on record.