Sunday, 27 May 2012

Tom Rodwell - Live Humble Fireplace Recordings

This uncomplicated stripped down collection of traditional numbers by Sheffield based blues performer Tom Rodwell is as pure example of modern day roots music as your likely to come across. From the opener, a slow burning version of raw blues song 'Over the Hill' through the slightly more beat orientated second track 'You Better Mind' right to the gospel tinged single 'Adam in the Garden', Rodwell's fine guitar playing and versatile vocals, assisted by a stomp-box and traditional percussion instruments tabla, kanjira and pandeiro, show how contemporary performers can add value to timeless original recordings.

Rodwells's renditions of gospel, spiritual, calypso and blues music, recorded on one inch tape without any modern day enhanced sound aids may have taken a while to hit the market in a saleable format but the finished article titled 'Live Humble' will enable him to further promote his work alongside his burgeoning live presence in the UK blues scene and the wider world markets he is active in such as New Zealand. This live presence is based on the re-invention of old time blues as a dance form and is proving popular at some of the low key festivals he performs at.

This eleven track approximate forty minute album is probably going to have a specialist appeal but if you're interested in younger performers who are passionate in maintaining the traditions of music that laid the foundations for much of today’s mainstream, then you will get satisfaction from the interpretations by this talented British artist. So even if blues or its similar styles are not your preferred choice of music, invest a little bit of time in this album and you'll reap the pleasures of a rewarding piece of work.

Various Artists - Hymns From Home Hemifran

Swedish based music promotional organisation Hemifran are extremely active in helping a wide range of artists, many under the Americana banner, to get their work better known in Europe generally and Scandinavia particularly and, from time to time, they put together compilation releases that encompass both old and new acts. However this new project, originated from an idea put forward by veteran LA singer songwriter Greg Copeland, has gone down the route of mainly embracing the work of many long time performers who have decades of experience producing highly respected Americana music in their U.S. homeland. The result, not surprisingly, has a very 70’s laid back California feel about it which was inevitable with songs contributed by artists such as Copeland, Jack Tempchin, Steve Noonan and J.D. Souther. Although there was a switch of tempo with the contribution by folk legend Judy Collins whose inclusion embraced the album’s title with a hymn-like aura to her song ‘How Can I Keep From Singing.’
The album title ‘Hymns from home’ and subtitle ‘That Thing That’s a Whole Lot Bigger Than This’ was born out of Copeland’s idea of collating a selection of modern day secular hymns that, while not being too judgemental, allowed songwriters to explore those unanswered ‘higher being’ questions. This theory is best exemplified by Keith Miles’s ‘Something Bigger Than This' and the twenty tracks selected, of which all artists played some part in their writing, carried forward this theme to create a very thought provoking album.

Two of the preferred tracks in the collection were contributed by artists that have more recent origins rather than those who served their apprenticeship in the 60’s, in particular contemporary band I See Hawks in LA who have produced a number of fine albums over the last decade.  Their song ‘If You Lead I Will Follow’ celebrates the virtues of independence and mutuality, fully explained in the comprehensive sleeve notes that allowed the artists to provide the background to their offering. This is closely followed by the song ‘Free World’ contributed by Texas singer-songwriter Kate Campbell which has prompted a desire to seek more of her music, thus the ultimate aim of the people putting this record out. With this in mind, Hemfiran also included tracks from four Swedish artists to demonstrate that fine Americana-influenced home grown music can flourish alongside such prestigious company.

As in a lot of compilation albums, especially ones where you are exploring a number of artists for the first time, it can take numerous listens to get a full flavour and each repeated play can uncover something extra of interest. ‘Hymns From Home’ definitely falls into this category especially as many of these artists may not have much prior awareness in the UK and it would also enhance the record collection of any person wishing to delve a little more into the wide ranging genre that is Americana music.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Viper Central - Thump and Howl Self Released

The Canadian roots music scene is currently in buoyant health and this situation is further enhanced with the upcoming highly anticipated third release from Vancouver based five piece band – Viper Central. This new album titled ‘Thump and Howl’ will be having its launch aligned with a summer UK and Ireland tour and its blend of bluegrass, country and old time traditional will surely be enthusiastically endorsed by connoisseurs of this music.
The strength of the album lies within the fine string instrumental skills of the five vastly experienced band members each demonstrating their expertise with the blend of sounds from banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar, laced with a little lap steel to add a more county flavour to the feel of the  music. Multi skilled Vancouver music activist Steve Charles is the architect of the band and is capably supported by Kathleen Nisbet on fiddle and lead vocal on around half the tracks, as well as Tyler Rudolph on banjo, Mark Vaughan on mandolin and a variety of steel sounds from Tim Tweedale. Together they take you on a forty minute journey of original material that combines talented finger pickin’ and entertaining storytelling to give ample evidence of the torch of traditional roots music being kept well and truly alight.

This well balanced fourteen track album contains seven songs delightfully sung by, now solitary female band member, Kathleen Nisbet with perhaps the highlight being the opening number ‘Saskatchewan’. This song celebrates the importance of old time music in Canada’s prairie province and Nisbet’s distinctive vocals, aided by a touch of steel, give it a real upbeat country sound. There is a similar feel, albeit with a slower tempo, to the song ‘Hanging Ground’ with its darker tones, a pace also repeated in ‘Captain’. Although all the tracks incorporate each band member’s instruments, the fiddle stands out on the title track ‘Thump and Howl’, likewise banjo on ‘A Northern Midwife’ and mandolin on ‘The One I Love is Gone’. However all these sounds complement the fine vocal skills of Nisbet.

Steve Charles steps forward to take the lead on two of the tracks, which both have a unique feel about them amongst the collection of songs that comprise this album. The listener is left with little doubt of the bluegrass qualities attached to ‘Come ‘Round’ while the folk orientated ‘The Donkeyliner’s Waltz’ is a well constructed traditional storytelling song. The latter, whilst predominately sung by Charles, includes a brief duet interlude with Nisbet.  The five remaining tracks are all instrumentals with the more memorable being the Celtic influenced fiddle tune ‘Drops of Brandy’ and the banjo inspired ‘Cobro’s Last Call’.

Overall the slightly eclectic sounds may not satisfy the bluegrass purists but for those who prefer to savour a more general range of what traditional Canadian and American roots music can offer, this interpretation from Viper Central will warrant a place in a personal music library. As well as recommending this album, it is fairly certain that a musical evening in their company will be an opportunity not to be missed during their visit this summer.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Good Lovelies St.Mary's Church Ross-on-Wye Saturday 19 May 2012

After the misfortune of not being able to attend the Madison Violet show earlier in the year at this venue, due to the rare intervention of wintry inclement weather this past winter, there was no such hindrance when the current Good Lovelies UK tour arrived at the small Herefordshire market town of Ross-on-Wye. This unique church setting added to the growing list of unconventional venues prepared to host roots artists and provided the perfect backdrop for this Canadian trio to showcase their brand of folk music. The group comprising of Kerri Ough, Caroline Brooks and Sue Passmore, formed in Toronto around half a dozen years ago, are currently riding the crest of a resurgence of old time traditional music given a new lease of  life by a younger generation and increasingly embraced by UK audiences. These audiences are being spoilt by the number of quality artists being prepared to cross the Atlantic with Canada comparing very favourably with their more populous southern neighbours.

The hard working Good Lovelies now have four releases behind them including the 2007 debut EP ‘Oh My’ and a 2009 festive album but it is their two full length compilations of self penned songs that comprise the bulk of their live performances, which can number around 150 a year. Both albums have received critical praise in their homeland with prestigious Juno nominations/awards and in particular, it is the current release, ‘Let the Rain Fall’, which forms the centrepiece of their 2012 UK gigs. A Good Lovelies show is not just a very comprehensive package of a couple of forty five minute sets, it is a story telling journey about their lives, loves and experiences of travelling both around the vastness of their home country and the early adventures of being fortunate to take their talents overseas.
After opening the evening with the catchy number ‘Kiss Me in the Kitchen’, the girls went on to perform another six tracks from the current album in the first set including two songs with a heavily Canadian influence , ‘Old Highway’ and ‘Backyard’, the latter written against the backdrop of much derision of their home town  by fellow Canadians.  The alternative subject of personal relationships was also explored in the mellow song ‘Best I Know’. The group are also keen to celebrate the work of other selected artists in their set and paid tribute to fellow Canadian band The Deep Dark Woods with a cover of ‘Winter Hours’ before closing the first half with an acapella off-mic version of Gram Parsons’ ‘Juanita’. You could sense the girls were really ready to ditch the microphones and test the church acoustics with their beautiful harmonies and the appreciative audience were clearly in full agreement with this.

For the second set, the band delved a little into their back catalogue by selecting three tracks from their 2009 self titled release, the stand out song being  Lie Down’ , a number performed towards the end of the evening with its easily remembered chorus collaborated with prompted audience participation.  This second part of the evening also included some personal favourites from the new album, ‘Free’ which needed no introduction from the band and ‘Mrs T’ with its enchanting French interludes. The girls were also keen to come off-mic again and their exquisite harmonies delighted those present with an unaccompanied version of the Boswell Sisters’ ‘Heebie Jeebies’, a song preceded by a wonderful tale of it being sung at a US/Canadian border crossing.  The audience were given one final rendition of this style of delivery with their encore version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Although an acknowledged predictable choice, this performance, assisted only by Caroline’s unplugged guitar and the arrangement of each girl taking the lead on particular verses, worked well and rounded off a perfect evening of musical entertainment.
The strength of a Good Lovelies show is their sanguine disposition, confident banter, infectious harmonies and uncomplicated sound, though the girls showed their diverse  string instrumental skills as well by effortlessly switching between bass, banjo, acoustic guitar and mandolin. It is hoped the band return to our shores soon and perhaps the biggest complement is that they made the time and money invested in a 120 mile round trip extremely worthwhile.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

J.C.Cinel - The Light of a New Sun

As an experienced performer on the European rock circuit for nearly thirty years, ‘The Light of a New Sun’ is an attempt by Italian artist J.C.Cinel to further enhance his credential as a purveyor of country rock in the international market. The eleven-track nearly hour long album is a comprehensive effort to promote his work but it’s felt that it may fall short in creating much interest outside the areas where he is already established.
It is certainly a challenge to break into an English speaking market when it’s not your first language and it’s a brave move to mix the heavily guitar featured tunes with a couple of semi rock ballads that showcase the vocals. J.C. has certainly made a valiant effort but is unlikely to make much inroad with the UK or US album buying public should that choose to be his objective. The considerably sized continental European country scene seems to be its natural home and the songs will definitely be enhanced in a live setting.

There is an element of country cliché in the title and subject content of three of the tracks - ‘Living on a Highway’, ‘Nashville Nights’ and ‘California Sunset’ but probably the most ear catching tune on the album is ‘Islands’ where J.C. tones down the guitar and gives one of his better vocal performances.

So overall a neatly packaged collection of country rock infused tunes that while having a limited appeal will no doubt be a success when promoted in the appropriate markets.

Crossing Keys - About Time

There is certainly a slight irony in the naming of this album, as this is the first full length release for Swedish band Crossing Keys, despite performing together for around eighteen years. So it really was about time that they put together a collection of songs to reward the fans who have supported this band over the years. After several listens, mainly on commuting journeys, this probably sums up the positioning of this album as it’s unlikely to create much of an interest outside the inner circles of the band’s sphere of influence.
This doesn’t indicate that the record is not a well-produced collection of country-tinged pop rock and the songs wouldn’t be out of place on the live European music circuit, but there is a shallowness that is exposed when up against many of the finer exponents of this type of music. The band's vocal performance is fine, but the electric guitar oriented tunes have a soft-rock throwaway feel about them that, while a pleasant listen, doesn't create a lasting impression.

The ten track production includes an instrumental to close the album with the opening number ‘Whatever Comes First’ probably the stand-out song. One of the more memorable tunes is ‘Sweet Carrie Anne’, partly because its glam rock feel conjures up images of one of Sweden’s more profitable exports of the 70’s.

Good luck to the band, and the album will be a useful side supplement to their live shows, but there has to be a reservation to it broadening their appeal and expanding into the English speaking music listening markets.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Tom Kell - This Desert City 17 Degrees Recording

Since leaving the emerald city of Seattle around thirty years ago, Tom Kell has become a firm fixture of the L.A. singer songwriter community carving out a diverse career through a variety of different projects. These have included working alongside some of the southern Californian musical elite such as J.D. Souther and Timothy B. Schmidt as well as getting heavily involved in writing songs for children. Yet with a burning desire to showcase several new songs to the wider music listening community and after the absence of several years of doing so, Kell has decided to return to the studio and record a conventional new album.
The resultant piece of work is ‘This Desert City’, a record lavished with a southern Californian flavour that allows Kell to use the back drop of the golden state and the wider US south west to express his song writing skills. He does this ably on eight self written tracks competently assisted by an experienced set of backing musicians assembled by producer, Jeffrey Cox.  The ten track finished product  also contains two interesting choice of covers, a safe version of the sixties classic ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ and a  fairly obscure Lennon and McCartney song lifted from the 1965 ‘Beatles for Sale’ album, titled ‘Baby’s in Black’. Both songs give the album a diverse feel without deflecting attention from the record’s prime purpose of highlighting Kell’s song writing skills.

The album’s standout song from a personal viewpoint is ‘Texas on the 4th of July’ , a tale of reflection and regret a long way from home, enhanced by the sound of lap steel and accordion to give it a real country feel. This is closely followed by the slow melody tune ‘Dove’ including a duet with Valerie Carter and sublime bottleneck guitar playing by Kenny Edwards.

Generally the majority of Kell’s original tunes have that laid back west coast feel about them that, while being very pleasant to listen to, you feel they are not really going to pull up any trees and can easily be described as steady singer songwriter numbers. Album opener ‘Which Road’ and ‘The Way of the World’ definitely fall into this category but the latter does have the memorable line ‘She was a French girl, she came to L.A. for the heat’ as part of a tragic tale describing the allure of the city.
The Californian theme continues right through to the final song, ‘I Wouldn’t Trust the Moon’ a highly descriptive thoughtful piece of prose questioning the myths of the golden state with a gospel like feel to the melody. A suitable climax to a well produced and constructed album that shows there’s still plenty more to come from the pen and acoustic guitar of Tom Kell.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Waz E James - Noisy Trucks Gravel Road Records

Although Waz E James has been making fine music in his Australian homeland for a number of years, it wasn’t really until his 2009 release ‘Watermelon’ that he started to get some international promotion, mainly in the U.S. This drive for increased recognition will surely gain further momentum when his impressive brand new album ‘Noisy Trucks’ starts to get some airplay in its target markets. The album is pure ‘Americana from down under’ with a heavily influenced Texas feel about it. This is hardly surprising as its recording was split between James’s home city of Melbourne and the town of Brenham, Texas, probably the choice of ex-Flying Burrito Brothers band member, John Beland who produced the fourteen track album.
Without wishing the originality of James’s style to be dismissed, there was definitely an element of acclaimed Texas musician Ryan Bingham within the earthy vocal style and a country/rock/blues tinged sound to the music. This is not deemed a criticism as Bingham is a fine performer and there’s definitely room in the crowded alt-country market for a fine exponent of this sound, of which James clearly is.

James undertakes the writing tasks on all but one of the albums tracks, reaching deep into his creative mind and heart to cover a diverse range of subjects. There’s reference to the traditional country angst of consoling your losses with drink in the song ‘Hair of the Dog’, a track that has also featured on some of his earlier releases. Other subjects tackled include loving a flawed person in the up-tempo number ‘Car Wreck’, the Australian indigenous population in ‘Ruby’ and the usual topic of the futility of war covered in ‘Shiloh Baghdad’.

The sounds created by his four piece band start off fairly mellow with the album’s title track ‘Noisy Trucks’, also the record’s opener which contrasts with the driving rhythm sound of ‘All Night Long’ and the rock infused numbers ‘All I Ever Want’ and  Hell for Leather’. There was also a sprinkling of the traditional country sound with a dose of lap steel and dobra on ‘Nothing I Can Say’ and mandolin on the fast moving ‘Headlights’.
Perhaps the finest songs on the album are ‘Angels’ with its accordion accompaniment and infectious chorus and the solitary cover song on the record, the Fred Eaglesmith written ‘Alcohol and Pills’ which is a journey through the history of the demons that have affected and ultimately conquered some of America’s music greats. This arrangement stands alongside the versions of its writer, Todd Snider and Texas honky tonk band, Two Tons of Steel and perfectly sets this hour long album up for its fine closer, the roots- swampy number ‘River Boat Queen’.  

Waz E James has produced an impressive solid album that wouldn’t be out of place alongside the more vaunted names in alt-country and Americana music and maybe in the future he will come to the UK to further promote his craftsmanship.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Whitehorse - Whitehorse Six Shooter Records

Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland have enjoyed reasonably successful careers for a number years both as performers in their own right and as members of multi Grammy and Juno award winning Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan’s backing band. Yet this husband and wife duo are embarking on perhaps their bravest challenge to date in launching a collaboration as equal partners in the newly created act, recording and performing under the band name Whitehorse.
Their self titled debut release initially hit the Canadian market last year under the Six Shooter Record label and the band are about to promote this album on their short UK tour that visits several towns and cities later this month. Live music regulars at these venues will get the pleasure of the duo showcasing this album along with its successor that is very much in the pipeline. The reason for this sharp follow up is the cautious step the band has taken in recording a relatively short album containing only eight tracks and lasting barely thirty minutes. There is an old saying, quality over quantity and after spending not a considerable amount of time on repeat listens, you really begin to appreciate the magic and potential that they have for making great records.

The band has taken a bold step in deciding to bookend the six main tracks on this compact album with a couple of eulogies that give a very atmospheric beginning and end to the record. This creative feature took a few listens to get used to and while being an interesting move, it is felt the album could have been improved by adding a couple more conventional songs that the duo demonstrate they are fine exponents of.

Doucet and McClelland share the song writing credits on all bar one of the album’s six main tracks including Broken where Sean McDonald collaborated as well. Also this song was featured on one of Doucet’s solo releases in 2006. The other song on the record that had been previously aired was McClelland’s heavy beat rock oriented Passenger 24 where Doucet’s electric guitar playing combines well with his wife’s vocal skills. Perhaps the most interesting track on the album is the duo’s re-worked version of the old Bruce Springsteen hit I’m on Fire in the style of an old time country duet. This slower version of a much covered song came over really well and as Melissa alluded to in a recent magazine interview,’ if you’re going to cover someone else’s song you might as well pick one of their best’. The duo’s harmonies are showcased on the up tempo track Killing Time is Murder which kicks the album into life after the opening eulogy while they show they can also conquer the tender ballad with the song Night Owls that brings the album to its conclusion just prior to the final fifty-second eulogy.

The upshot of recording a relatively short quality album is to leave your audience yearning for more and it shouldn’t be too long to wait before this talented Canadian song writing and performing duo will be sharing more of their songs with audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Hat Fitz and Cara - Wiley Ways

There’s a lot of debate in music about the over classification of artists and genres. Some even say there are just two types, either – good or bad – or even -  music that you like or music that you don’t. One such act currently due to promote their new album in the British Isles is the husband and wife duo Hat Fitz and Cara. They certainly fuel the debate by throwing into the mix- an Australian bluesman, an Irish folk singer, Cara Robinson to give her full name, a touch of alt-country and instruments ranging from lap steel, piano and bass to flutes, fiddles and the usual guitar to cement the blues sound  that resonates throughout their music.
This current record is only their second full length album release since their formation in 2008 but Wiley Ways, a follow up to 2010’s Beauty and the Beast is set to help them get further established on the UK and Ireland roots circuit throughout the summer of 2012. Their growth plan is on the back of the success they have had in Fitz’s homeland of Australia, a place where they have settled and recorded this album.

The duo have written eleven of the twelve tracks on Wiley Ways, the exception being the Frank McNamara penned Company Underground and apart from the instrumental tune Sine, a number that fuses lap steel and flute, they share their contrasting vocal styles fairly evenly throughout the album’s duration. This contrast is highlighted in two particular songs, the opener Power, where Cara’s vocals have a touch of the song title and very different to her soft Irish brogue that accompanies other songs such as the closer Rusty River, and the country flavoured Play Something New, where Hat’s raw outback accent superbly complements the acoustic strumming that is a feature of the song.

The duo’s bio throws an intriguing myth into the air of the suggested destiny these two had in meeting up, dating back to the colonisation of the Australian continent in the early 19th Century and this theme is further explored in the song Eliza Blue, named after a ship transferring felons from the British Isles around this time. However the strength of this album tends to be in the mix of sounds the band makes rather than poignant songs where the lyrics instantly grab you.  There may be a comparison to another certain bearded bluesman who regularly frequents the summer UK festival scene and the masses of mainstream music fans who flock to see Seasick Steve should  take more than a passing interest in the pickin’ of Hat Fitz, expertly demonstrated on one of the latter album tracks Red Rattler.

Amongst their extensive summer tour dates, is a tentative appearance at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in August and although the festival’s website is yet to confirm this, having come across their second album they will be an act definitely sought out on the Saturday. In fact the eclectic sound of Hat Fitz and Cara supported by this album will be a welcome addition to any live venue this summer.