Sunday, 30 December 2012

The David Latto Band - The David Latto Band Self released

You only have to scratch the surface of today’s instant digital and online music industry to find some real gems of substance. The advance of genre and sub-genre music continues to gather pace tempting people to make that satisfying switch from consumers to connoisseurs. This debut full length album from Scottish based outfit The David Latto Band is a prime example of how the infused sounds of country, roots and Americana has the potential to permeate the mainstream and raise the stakes of popular music.
This self titled ten- track release has been a while in the making but the finished product should be a treasured addition to the collections of those with Trans-Atlantic musical leanings. The band structured around the core of David Latto and Gavin Brady has expertly embraced the arrangements of traditional stringed instruments and interwove them with well written contemplative songs. The result is an amalgam of sensitive ballads and driving acoustic numbers paying homage to the spirit of pure Americana.

David and Gavin supply the vocals, guitar, lap steel and banjo work for the album as well as the song writing credits for nine of the ten songs. The odd one out being the delightful Herb Pedersen penned ‘Wait a Minute’, a song also covered by those two East Nashville alt-country purveyors, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper. The impressive recording has been enhanced by the drums of John Alexander, bass of Atholl Fraser along with the ubiquitous fiddle, dobro and mandolin input from Jim Hyndman.
After a standard scene setting opener ‘Like I Feel Tonight’, the record steps up a notch with the up tempo number ‘Byway Man’ with its attention turned towards the iconic traveller. The third track titled ‘Wronged’ is the most interesting composition on the album. A banjo inspired slow number about revenge with a slight hint of sinister connotations. Banjo is heavily featured again on the reflective song ‘Rollin’ On’ while lap steel comes to the fore on the country ballad ‘Song You’ll Never Hear.’

Two of the record’s more memorable tracks are situated in the second part of the album. ‘Black Horse’ is a fine well constructed ballad with strong vocals and chorus. ‘God, I’m Drinking Tonight’ is the perfect finale song and ensures the album tackles that essential country ingredient – drink. This bluegrass inspired song leans heavily towards the fiddle and impressively builds up to a crescendo to bring the curtain down on an enjoyable album.
Hopefully the band will be in a position to venture south of the border and treat fans to some live performances of this album. You can attach a whole host of labels to it – country, alt-country, Americana, bluegrass – but ultimately it should just be classed as a good record.
                                          Byway Man

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Top 10 Gigs of 2012

 Top 10 Gigs of 2012

1 - Terri Clark Glee Club Birmingham

To see an ‘A’ list country singer in an intimate setting was a fantastic experience. The announcement to tour was a surprise but Terri lit up the Glee Club with her songs, stories and personality. An evening to be treasured and worthy of top spot for this year.

2 -  Eve Selis Robin 2 Bilston

Eve has toured many times but the combination of a full band, finest album to date and a growing turnout made this a memorable evening. The sound was excellent with Eve’s vibrancy and vocals filling the venue. Excellent support too in Berkely Hart.

3 – My Darling Clementine Hare and Hounds Birmingham

The album, HOW DO YOU PLEAD grew on me in the second half of the year and the live performance of it by Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish was definitely one of 2012’s highlights. The show was well put together with an excellent band and of course the most wonderful retro duet performance.
4 – Good Lovelies St. Mary’s Church Ross and Wye

The church acoustics and the harmonies of this fantastic Canadian trio were well and truly suited during this show on their UK tour. Always eager to get off mic they effortlessly gave a superb performance especially in their interpretation of ‘Hallelujah’.

5 – The Civil Wars HMV Institute Birmingham

Harmonies were definitely the theme of the year and the performance by John Paul White and Joy Williams with just a single acoustic guitar was mesmerising. They demonstrated all the hype surrounding the album was real. May not be repeated though.

6 – The Secret Sisters Glee Club Birmingham

There is something special about siblings and country music. The Rogers sisters had that impressive chemistry of timing and harmonies to deliver a brand of music that can take traditional music forward. The capacity audience eagerly await their return in 2013 with new material.

7 – Rachel Harrington and the Knockouts Courtyard Arts Centre Hereford
Long time UK visitor Rachel came over in 2012 with a new band, new album and a new sound. This interpretation of all-female honky tonk music was a breath of fresh air on the Americana scene. Rejuvenated some older material as well.

8 – Gretchen Peters Robin 2 Bilston
Gretchen spent the whole of 2012 on a crest of a wave with her career defining album HELLO CRUEL WORLD. Her shows were well attended and the systematic approach to airing the entire record ensured maximum exposure for this fine release.

9 – Los Pacaminos Robin 2 Bilston
There is a tendency to view this part time collaboration as light hearted but when they put their minds to it they can almost create the perfect live music experience. The Robin 2 show this year was by far their best to date.

10 – Jason and the Scorchers The Musician Leicester

Influential country rocker Jason Ringenberg brought his 30th anniversary tour to the UK this year and demonstrated to a lively audience what an outstanding inspiration he has been. It was loud and raucous but extremely roots reflective.

The Toy Hearts - Hare and Hounds Kings Heath Birmingham Thursday 20 December 2012

Although The Toy Hearts spend ever increasingly more time on the road, their hometown Christmas show has become a set feature over the years. The Birmingham based band have used several venues around the city to host their festive bash and this year they elected to return to one of their regular haunts. The Hare and Hounds is a lively suburban music venue comprising of a couple of upstairs rooms and, on this busy pre-Christmas evening,  the band had to settle for virtually selling out the smaller, yet still sizeable room. 
Georgette Jones      Image not from show

In line with other previous hometown shows, The Toy Hearts are keen to share the evening with other like minded acts and on this occasion they persuaded Georgette Jones to join them for a short set. Georgette has family links in the Midlands after marrying Birmingham born pedal steel player Jamie Lennon and couldn’t resist the opportunity for them both to perform on this holiday visit from their Nashville home.

Georgette and Jamie joined the band on stage for the final half hour of the evening with a short set list not surprisingly featuring a selection of family favourites. From her mother’s side came the popular Tammy Wynette classics ‘Stand by Your Man’, ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’ and ‘Apartment No.9’, while father George wasn’t left out with ‘The Race Is On’. With the festive season almost upon us, the audience were treated to a delightful version of ‘Silent Night’ before Toy Hearts vocalist Hannah Johnson returned to the fore to end the night on a country note with a cover of ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’.

While the enjoyable conclusion to the evening provided the cream, the real substance of the show was The Toy Hearts set which saw them focus almost entirely on their latest album WHISKEY. Having followed the band for a number of years, it has been interesting to see them evolve from a bluegrass outfit to one that’s more inclusive of the wider Americana movement. The new album is heavily biased towards the Western Swing sound and this proved the theme for this evening’s set. With the bluegrass influence put to one side, Stewart Johnson reverts from his usual dobra and banjo to concentrate solely on the triple neck steel guitar, an instrument central to a sound popularised by Bob Willis in 1930’s Texas. It has to be said that this has vastly enhanced a Toy Hearts live show.

The Toy Hearts     Image not from show
In fact Bob Wills is far more influential in the Toy Hearts current mode rather than their traditional source of inspiration, Bill Monroe. Two Wills numbers included on the WHISKEY album ‘Ridin’ on Down’ and ‘I Hear You Talkin’ were played on the evening along with the instrumental ‘Twin Guitar Special.’ Modern day swing is not left out with Wayne Hancock’s ‘Thunderstorms and Neon Signs’ featuring on both album and set list.

The band fronted by the Johnson sisters, Hannah on mandolin and Sophia on guitar, demonstrate that they are not just fine interpreters of old time music. They have self penned a considerable portion of the WHISKEY album with ‘Bring on the Swing’, ‘Mary Jane’ and ‘Stutter Blues’ all featuring on the evening. Having listened extensively to all four of the band’s albums to date, apart from a couple of old favourites notably ‘Montpellier Street’ and ‘The Captain’, WHISKEY is by far their most accomplished collection of songs and is the perfect theme to an enjoyable live performance.

The Toy Hearts are temporarily re-locating to their spiritual home of Austin, Texas for the second half of 2013. Hopefully the intended six month visit will mean another Birmingham homecoming show in a year’s time. While the extended trip will aid the band's development, they are very much needed in the UK to promote their brand of country music and many fans will eagerly await their return.

                                          The Captain - The Toy Hearts

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Gary Quinn - This Cowboy's Heart

A widespread trait of the UK country scene is the demand for artists to include an abundance of covers in their live shows. While there is certain merit in interpreting the songs of others, the true health of any genre is defined by the creative development of original material Therefore it is commendable when an artist takes this progressive stance and ventures out with a selection of new songs, especially when they themselves have been immersed in the covers scene. On the evidence of this five-track EP titled THIS COWBOY’HEART, Greater Manchester based Irishman Gary Quinn has the talent to carve out a successful career as a credible singer-songwriter, collaborator and artist brave enough to showcase new songs.

In line with some of the finest Music Row output, Gary has demonstrated the knack of crafting a well constructed song that sublimely fits so well with the array of instruments providing the authentic country sound. Repeated plays of the opening and title track ‘This Cowboy’s Heart’ confirm an outstanding song that is adorned with a wonderful melodic chorus accompanied by complementary keyboards, guitar and pedal steel, all telling the simple tale of the iconic cowboy.

The danger of such a strong opening track is it sets a too high standard to follow but Gary has made an admirable attempt to match the heights of this outstanding number. ‘Keep on Playin’ has a more up tempo beat to it with a catchy chorus that will embed itself into the mind of regular listeners. In contrast to the pace of this song, Gary shows his worth has a ballad composer with the next track, the heartfelt ‘He Don’t Show Her Anymore’. Once again the chorus is a striking feature of a song that ticks plenty of boxes from the country music repertoire.
The ballad theme continues with ‘Tin Man’ a number that explores the world of a certain late thirties Hollywood blockbuster to act as an analogy for the message of this song. ‘Live Each Day’ is an ideal closing track with its uplifting message and consisting of gentle verses leading into a rousing chorus. Like all songs in the collection, the opportunity to hear them live should be an enhancing experience and regular festival goers at Wolvestock and Americana will get the opportunity next summer.

In the meantime Gary Quinn continues to hone his craft with a repeat involvement in the Nashville songwriter’s circle that makes regular visits to the UK and this should aid his future development. THIS COWBOY’S HEART is surely a mere taster and hopefully a signal for further original material to emanate from this fine country singer-songwriter and his co-collaborators.
                                          He Don't Show Her Anymore


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Daniel Pearson - Mercury State

It has often been mooted that periods of austerity can spawn a burgeoning of creative talent directly involved in capturing the moment of the times in song. Woody Guthrie will always be associated as the voice of the Great Depression while closer to home Weller, Bragg and acts like The Specials rose to prominence as musical commentators on the British economic upheaval of the early eighties. It may be a touch premature to anoint Daniel Pearson as the spokesperson for the ongoing difficulties we are currently enduring but his second album MERCURY STATE is an excellent attempt to define the dark era that continues to blight individual’s lives.

Gritty, industrious and unreservedly melancholic, this 9 track 32 minute collection of original material will resonate with many and has the potential to launch a genre of austere, hard hitting singer-songwriter realism. In tune with the times by using minimal production, Daniel has successfully blended a range of guitar and keyboard sounds to his thoughtful lyrics to create a body of work that will meet the needs of folk, indie, Americana and country fans who yearn for a dose of real life, reflective truth in their music.
The album bursts into life immediately with the emotive acoustic guitar inspired ‘Factory Floor’. The song written like a plea of ‘why me’ repeatedly asks “what more could you want from me” and sets the tone for an avalanche of thought provoking numbers. The second track ‘Promises’ contains more electric guitar and a stance of attacking those who lead or more appropriately – mislead. The third song is a lovely ballad titled ‘I Still Believe’ with an effective piano intro and a slightly more positive message of clinging onto a chink of light.

The self explained title ‘Hard Times’ accompanies a more electro rock tinged track before the album’s stand out song appears, to define the message of the record. The metaphorically named ‘Rat Race’ may echo the Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers song blasted out by The Specials in the summer of 1980 but in 2012 Daniel Pearson uses the metaphor to highlight family breakdown , tough times and re-possessions, all ironically supplemented by the line “raised as the son of a working man”.
Keyboards and guitar are once again mixed in the balled ‘All is Not Lost’ while the light indie rock anthem-like number ‘Medication’ calls for a little reprieve and a plea to give us a break. ‘Old Friends’ contains a hint of Americana while ‘Lights’ is the perfect atmospheric curtain closer with a touch of twang as Daniel seeks solace by “finding hope in simple chords”.

This is definitely a heavy release and not for the faint hearted but contains more depth than a lifetime of X- Factor wannabes. Shallow pop fans should steer clear while serious music connoisseurs should invest at least 32 minutes of their life in listening to the profound message of this recording.
                                          Daniel Pearson - Factory Floor

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Laurie Levine - Bridge House Theatre Warwick Saturday 8 December 2012

Having reviewed Laurie Levine’s latest album SIX WINTERS a couple of weeks previously, the opportunity to catch one of her live shows, on this her inaugural UK tour, was not going to be missed. So it was a return to the Bridge House Theatre in Warwick which was also the venue for the first gig of the year in January when they hosted Canadian singer-songwriter, Ruth Moody. The theatre, located within the exclusive Warwick School, has started to showcase a few folk and roots artists with the added bonus of hosting shows on a Friday and Saturday night, evenings which most venues restrict to pop and rock acts. Therefore the scene was set for Laurie and her musical partner, Jessica Lauren to demonstrate live what extremely fine artists they both are.

Unfortunately the counter attractions of a December Saturday night impacted upon the turnout but in a positive way the re-location to a makeshift stage in the foyer added to the intimacy of the show and like true professionals both musicians gave exemplary performances of their creative talents. It was quite remarkable that South African Laurie had only teamed up with UK based Jessica in the last couple of weeks as their onstage presence came across as seamless thus enabling Laurie to give a more effective and rounded rendition of her music.
Spread across a couple of roughly 45 minute slots, Laurie set out to offer a mix of songs from the latest album, her previous recording LIVING ROOM and to introduce a series of new material that will surely be featured on any future release. After opening with a couple of these new songs, Laurie soon launched into some of the standout tracks from the SIX WINTERS album. The previous album review had earmarked the title track as a superb number and its live airing didn’t disappoint along with the wonderful ‘Beautiful Loser’ and ‘Where Have You Gone’. Throughout these songs, Laurie switched between her acoustic guitar and banjo, effectively supporting her distinct vocal style that was such an appealing component of the album. Out of the new songs previewed in the first half, ‘Everyman’ was the one which made the greatest initial impression.

After the interval, Laurie resumed with the SIX WINTERS opening track ‘Oh Brother’ before focussing  a little more on her older album by featuring the impressive ‘Kites’, ‘Advance’ and ultimately closing the show with ‘Tonight’. The between-song banter increased in the second half possibly after adjusting to the slightly surreal surroundings. Earlier in the show Laurie had intimated to her country/Americana influences and true to her beliefs she included the slowed down version of ‘Ring of Fire’ after the break. Having previously listened to this recording on the SIX WINTERS album, it once again re-confirmed a view on how a cover should add value to the original and this one definitely does.
While the focus of the show was very much on the musical output of Laurie, a special mention needs to be reserved for Jessica. This multi talented musician with a jazz/blues/world music background contributed keyboard, harmonica and auto harp amongst others to give the show a more authentic roots sound as well as providing backing vocals. You never know on a future visit a touch of dobra and lap steel may be added to enhance the timeless country and Americana feel to the live performance of these fine songs.

This penultimate show of the tour may not have had the greatest turnout but this initial visit has been about spreading the word. Laurie Levine is a new name to most people on the UK circuit but she has been a very welcome visitor and hopefully will continue to cultivate her presence in this country. Her talents have been well appreciated and generally the reviews have been positive. We look forward to enjoying more from her in the future.


Annie Dressner - Strangers Who Knew Each Other's Names

Annie Dressner may be a new name to a lot of people but on the evidence of her debut album STRANGERS WHO KNEW EACH OTHER’S NAMES this situation may be soon set to change. This impressive offering from a singer-songwriter who has recently re-located to the UK from her New York home is a collection of enchanting songs that will hook you in from the very start and keep you enraptured throughout its duration.
The sound created from Annie’s distinct and unique vocals coupled with the varied musical accompaniment has an alluring wide appeal that will engage with fans right across the spectrum of roots music. Much deliberation about the style has drawn a conclusion to a mix of the orthodoxy of Lucy Wainwright Roche and the distinct sound of Caitlin Rose. Fans of modern folk especially that emanating from the New York scene will find some appeal in the album. There is also a sufficient hint of twang in the sound to engage those who like their Americana music a little less rounded and classical. Overall the mesmerising vocals of Annie will leave a lasting effect once their spell has been cast upon you.

The opening track titled ‘Fly’ will instantly lure you in and grab your attention that will remain throughout the 38 minutes of the album’s duration. It is difficult to argue against this track being the stand out one, although it is closely rivalled by the excellent ‘Cigarette’ with its lovely scene setting intro before launching into some effective guitar work.

Those on the lookout for a hint of left field country/Americana will enjoy the subtle twang of ‘September’ and the various traditional string sounds added to the impressive ‘Hardy Boys’, another of the album’s better tracks. Those who prefer their singer-songwriters to have a more indie guitar driven sound will be drawn towards ‘Find Me’, all in all demonstrating the eclectic nature of this record. The final song of this eleven track collection ‘How Am I Supposed To Be’ is the perfect concluding number with its low key simple guitar enabling you to drift away in a state of satisfaction.
Other tracks worth mentioning are the homage to the iconic New York neighbourhood ‘Brooklyn’ and the title track which is a tuneful number containing some fine guitar work. On the surface, the lyrical content is worth exploring but this would be greatly enhanced by the online availability of a lyric sheet to accompany this download.

The tools are in place for Annie to create a niche in any number of different scenes. She is hitting the road in the New Year and will be worth seeing to complement the listening of this fine and recommended album.
                                          How Am I Supposed To Be

Kris Kristofferson - Birmingham Town Hall Wednesday 5 December 2012

Photo not taken at gig
With the years advancing, many country music fans have grasped the opportunity to catch the legendary performer Kris Kristofferson on this rare visit to the UK. Although he is now in his 77th year, the evidence of this sold out show at the elegant Birmingham Town Hall suggests there is still plenty left in the tank. Accompanied only by a single guitar, and being briefly joined on stage by his banjo playing daughter Kelly, the singer-songwriter/actor/legend gave a relentless performance of virtually non-stop hits that captivated an audience determined to savour every moment.
The voice may be a little worn but then again that was never one of Kristofferson’s major attributes and probably why so many of his songs were taken to greater heights by others. The guitar playing was a little inconsequential and a mere side dish to the performance but then again much of country music is constructed around the infamous ‘three chords’. However it is that third element of a singer-songwriter -the song - that has elevated Kristofferson into the stratosphere of not just country music but to the industry in general.

The chiselled Texas-born performer, who made his name in Tennessee before being embraced by the movie moguls of California, cuts an impressive figure on stage and despite being afflicted by the perennial cold that always seems prevalent in travelling US artists, delivered a brace of 45 minute sets that satisfied the cravings of his loyal fan base. For an artist with a lifetime of industry tales to tell, there was surprisingly little banter from Kristofferson. Only a couple of the many songs sung were introduced but the repeated outbreaks of applause during the first few lines for most of them suggested the audience needed little introduction.
Highlights of the first set included performances of two of his most famous songs which had considerable crossover success – ‘Me and Bobby Gee’ and ‘Help Me Make it Through the Night’. Also from his vast back catalogue came ‘Here Comes That Rainbow Again’ and ‘Casey’s Last Ride’. ‘Nobody Wins’ saw a brief comment applauding Obama’s recent election victory while two other notable inclusions in the opening part were ‘El Coyote (the Lonesome Coyote survives)’ and ‘Johnny Lobo’.

It was very much the same after the break except for the short period when he was joined on stage by his young daughter, Kelly. They sang a handful of duet numbers with the most memorable being ‘The Pilgrim Chapter 33’. Kelly’s banjo playing enhanced the tunes performed and while the harmonies were not exactly top drawer, you could forgive this brief moment of family indulgence. Either side of Kelly’s appearance, the hits continued to roll including ‘Jody and the Kid’, ‘Silver Tongued Devil and I’ and ‘Billy Dee’. Increased crowd appreciation was in evidence for another of his most popular songs ‘For the Good Times’ and the one which eventually brought the evening to a close ‘Why Me’.
However for me, seeing Kristofferson live for the first time, the evening was all about one song. I had always considered the Johnny Cash version of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ to be the best but the pleasure of listening to Kris Kristofferson deliver his most famous composition live was a pure humbling experience. It ranks easily amongst the very best live songs enjoyed in person and rounded off an evening that in reality may not be witnessed again.
                                          Sunday Morning Coming Down

Sunday, 2 December 2012

2 - Porchlight Smoker Dead Reckoning

The recently released 2nd album by Brighton-based band Porchlight Smoker is a wonderful example of how to combine a cross-Atlantic roots sound yet still sound fresh, original and primed to carry the baton of traditional music into the future. The record, given the simple and appropriate title ‘2’, is a comprehensive amalgam of cleverly selected interpretations of existing recordings and self-penned tracks that indicate the positive contribution the quartet of talented musicians can make to this style of music. The essential harmonies required for this sound are in place and combine well with the usual collection of instruments you would expect to find on a roots record. The result is a 14 track album that can be fully embraced by fans of roots music from old time country, through modern Americana to those appreciative of traditional folk from the British Isles.

The quartet formed in 2006 is extremely prominent and active especially in the South of England. Along with much of the promotion, Scott Warman holds the sound together on double bass while Fred Gregory contributes guitar and mandolin, as well as doubling up as an integral member of fellow Sussex-based band Hatful of Rain. He also takes credit for a number of the original songs along with Steve Bell who includes accomplished banjo playing in his musical artistry. Scott Smith completes the line up as the provider of the indispensable lap-steel as well as adding a touch of clarinet. All four share vocal duties and together they perfect the fine performing of all 14 tracks.
These tracks are neatly packaged in a 50-50 split of originals and covers with the latter being an interesting selection from across the roots spectrum. In honour of those inspirational pioneers of country music, the band’s take on the Carter Family’s ‘Lulu Walls’ is a definite highlight of the record. The same genre but fast- forwarded 40 years is represented by the band putting their own stamp on Merle Haggard’s ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’. The work of Dylan is celebrated in a cover of ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’ while we are transported back to these shores with a traditional sea shanty titled ‘Haul Away Joe’. Perhaps the most interesting song selection is to explore the work of Bob Marley whose presence suggests a synergy between the folk/roots music of the Caribbean with that of North America and northern Europe. A banjo, mandolin and double bass-inspired version of his ‘Stir It Up’ is a worthy addition to this collection of quality of songs.

The potential danger of including a host of dominant covers on an album is that they can overshadow the band’s own material. The guys have strategically structured the track listing to mix up songs from different sources. Gregory’s ‘Old Bray Road’ opens the album while Bell’s instrumental ‘Steve’s Jacket’ neatly splits the strong concluding trio of Marley/Dylan/Haggard  tunes to give the listener a taste of what creative talents the band have up their sleeves. The core of the record comprises of a chain of originals headed by the folk-driven tale ‘Flowers on the Sea’ and including probably the record’s best original, the catchy harmonica laced ‘Dig Down Deeper’.
Porchlight Smoker is definitely a band to keep tabs on in the forthcoming year. Their brand of roots music is inclusive to a wide range of fans and in 2 they have an excellent record to exponentially grow their list of admirers. So enjoy their well constructed original material and broaden your musical experience with their carefully selected interpretations.

                                          Hey Maya