Thursday, 31 January 2013

Nell Bryden - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath Birmingham Sunday 27 January 2013

Photo not taken at gig
The concluding moments of this gig went a long way to defining the current state of Nell Bryden’s career. The magnitude of the last few whirlwind months for the New York based singer-songwriter was encapsulated in the first encore song ‘Sirens’. This anthemic power ballad lifted from her latest album SHAKE THE TREE has proved the catalyst for the wider exposure she has enjoyed in greater mainstream radio play and being chosen to open for Gary Barlow in his recent extensive sold out UK tour. The origins of this song also exemplify the fortitude Nell has had to develop throughout her career from eventually writing about her personal experience of 9/11 to coming to terms with her hair loss. The emotion of ‘Sirens’ was almost upstaged with the closing number as Nell tempted the near sell-out Hare and Hounds crowd to seize the moment and re-enact the spirit of ‘Shake the Tree.’

Although there were signs of some self admitted weariness as Nell entered the last leg of a gruelling tour, the appreciative audience were willing to forgive and enjoy the opportunity to listen to a comprehensive selection of material from her two most recent albums. The title track from the 2009 release WHAT DOES IT TAKE opened the proceedings and it wasn’t long before those present were treated to ‘Not Like Loving You’, ‘Helen’s Requiem’ and a personal favourite in ‘Green Dress’, all taken from a record that began to establish Nell’s commercial credentials. Nell also returned to this album for the pre-encore number as she and her band raised the tempo with the rock orientated ‘Second Time Around.’ The three piece backing band included her tour manager Rick Webster on guitar but they generally had a low key presence leaving the limelight the sole domain for the effervescent Nell, who especially couldn’t conceal her pride when reaching for her Gibson for a couple of numbers.

The new album was also heavily featured during the evening with ‘Mercy on Me’, ‘Echoes’ and ‘Buildings and Treetops’ coming over really well live. This new release has a far more pop feel to it than the previous more rootsy sound and you can’t begrudge Nell a tilt at some of the trappings of mainstream awareness and appreciation.  However for somebody with an enormous ability to interpret some classic Americana styles, it is hoped that in the future she could veer in this direction and the production would surely be of great merit. To further illustrate Nell’s diversity, the only cover incorporated into this evening’s set was ‘Learn to Fly’ by the Foo Fighters. Though a slightly clichéd rock ballad, Nell gave a fine rendition to inject some variety into the proceedings.

While the high profile 2012 support slots helped Nell take her music to a wider audience, she seemed to revel in the opportunity to resume centre stage albeit in the smaller venues especially as these are the fans she can rely on for future committed support. A return to her home cultural surroundings in New York city will enable Nell to re-charge and we all look forward to her future offerings, whatever direction they take her in.

Annie Dressner + Louise Petit - Ort Cafe Birmingham Saturday 26 January 2013

As the first, and hopefully last, of the winter snow melted away, the time finally arrived, after a month’s break, for the 2013 gig season to commence. The Ort Café is a relative newcomer to the Birmingham live music scene and this small community based arts venue is aiming to provide an outlet for up and coming acoustic artists, amongst its many other cultural activities. It possesses a similar ethos to other small venues located within the neighbouring suburbs of Moseley and Kings Heath, and thus providing a focal point in the often decried and misunderstood Balsall Heath area, barely a mile or so from the city centre.

Annie Dressner 
The purpose of this initial visit to the venue was to catch two fine singer-songwriter artists who impressed with their debut releases last year and had favourable features on this site. Annie Dressner originates from New York but now resides in Cambridge, UK and had included the gig in a short tour around the UK to co-promote her current full length album and a follow up EP due out in the spring. Louise Petit is a more locally based performer who regularly plays city centre locations when venturing from her Staffordshire home. She currently has a five track EP out but is keen to promote other songs that will hopefully form part of a future release.

Annie Dressner opened the evening with a ten song set to confirm live the undoubted potential from listening to her recorded material. Aided by the ubiquitous acoustic guitar and the collaborative assistance of Paul Goodwin on keyboards, Annie confidently delivered her songs in her own imitable way possessing a soft enchanting vocal style that straddles authentic folk and genuine Americana. The set was bookended by two of the many impressive songs from 2012’s STRANGERS WHO KNEW EACH OTHER’S NAMES. ‘September’ opened proceedings while the jaunty ‘Fly’ brought the performance to a suitable conclusion, just short of an hour later. In between Annie also featured the album’s title track, ‘How Am I Supposed To Be’ ,‘When I See Stars’ and the track ‘Brooklyn’, not about her home New York borough but a place she fondly refers to.

During the evening Annie was keen to promote her upcoming EP titled EAST TWENTIES. As a preview she elected to play three tracks. ‘Flame’, ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘I Can’t Forget’ and on first listen seemed to indicate a more tender sound but these songs will no doubt be subject to greater scrutiny and analysis as the launch date approaches. The set also saw Annie pay tribute to the late US singer-songwriter/musician Elliott Smith with a cover of his ‘Between the Bars’. Hopefully Annie now has the material to develop her live presence into a comprehensive show and it would be superb if somehow she was in a position to bring a full band on the road. Her music warrants that.
Louise Petit and her band

Louise Petit is developing into more of an entity now with her own vocal and acoustic skills being constantly supported by the presence of a small band. Tim Heymerdinger adds the rhythmic percussion while Russ Sargeant contributes to the fuller sound by being responsible for the presence of the double bass. On this evening, a guest guitarist joined the trio for some of the more up tempo numbers including the opener ‘Love is Pure’ and the excellent ‘Demons’ which brought the main set to a satisfying conclusion.

These two numbers are part of the EP, FEAR AND MY OTHER FRIENDS and the three remaining tracks from this release were also incorporated within the set, These are ‘A Fading Light’, the harmonious ukulele led ‘You Loved Me First’ and the haunting ‘Ghosts’. The ‘Demons’ song from the EP is set to get further exposure by being included in Fatea magazine’s spring showcase sessions free download titled Sketches. This will align Louise with other aspiring UK acoustic acts.

By interchanging acoustic guitar and ukulele, Louise and the band are able to cement a fused Americana/folk sound with a hint of pop that could evolve into some commercial opportunities. The impressive vocal range of Louise gives further credence to this possibility as well as the well-timed backing harmonies. The set also included half a dozen songs that have the potential to be the bedrock of a future release with ‘Tree Song’, ‘Plastic and Glue’ and ‘To the Sharks’ being the ones that caught the ear. Hopefully these tracks will evolve into some recorded version that enables wider listening and enjoyment.

So a positive start to the New Year with further proof of a healthy acoustic music scene bubbling under the surface. However additional and continued support is required to enable these artists to flourish and prosper. So a plea is made to further check them out either live, recorded or online. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Dale Watson and His Lone Stars - El Rancho Azul Continental Song City

Dale Watson has always taken an admirable stance on his country music beliefs and the genre has been enriched by this stalwart purveyor of the traditional sound. There was a brief flirtation with the Nashville hierarchy many years ago but in all honesty this was never going to work and the ensuing years has seen the prolific adopted Texan remain true to his integrity. Hot on the heels of 2010’s CARRYIN’ ON’ and 2011’s SUN SESSIONS, the honky tonk warrior has gone back to the studio and the result is EL RANCHO AZUL, another fourteen track album that covers all the bases of the trademark Dale Watson sound.

The objectives of this recording are merely to whisk you off to a Texas dance hall and intoxicate you in a sound that while harking back to a traditional era is still very much alive in today’s Lone Star juke joints such as the Broken Spoke in Austin and Ginny’s where Watson is an institution. His backing band, The Lone Stars, return to play on a record that is a pick n’ mix of country music subject content. This release will be lapped up by Watson fans far and wide with drinking, love and family songs all being underpinned by a dance-inspired mood that transmits rhythmic messages right down to your cowboys boots.

Dale Watson has certainly not held back on the drinking songs on this album. At the last count we had ‘I Lie When I Drink’, ‘I Drink to Remember’, ‘I Hate to Drink Alone’ and – yes! you start to get the picture – ‘Drink, Drink, Drink’. By the time the album closes with ‘Thanks to Tequila’, the metaphorical hangover is starting to kick in. However this is far from a clichéd set of songs as each one is cleverly constructed with an avalanche of bass, pedal steel and fiddle giving this an authentic sound as you can expect from any release.

The versatile impact of this record is maximised at its core when Watson pairs a couple of tracks designed to keep those Texas dance halls moving. ‘Quick, Quick, Slow, Slow’ and ‘Slow, Quick, Quick’ are the appropriately named tunes that will leave any beat laden line dancing number trailing in the distance. On the theme of dance styles, ‘We’re Going to Get Married’ is your archetypical frantic western swing style fiddle tune while in contrast the emotional ‘Daughter’s Wedding Song’ slows things right down as every true waltz should. Watson also takes a little detour north to replicate the Memphis rock n’ roll sound in ‘Give Me More Kisses’.

These fourteen original songs are set to seal Dale Watson as one of the leading advocates of the traditional sound and, in the eyes of some, as the true spirit of country music. Perhaps the debate on the soul of the genre can be put on one side for a moment and fans of all strands of the music can unite around the charismatic and inspirational Dale Watson. EL RANCHO AZUL has put a very early marker down as the country record of the year. The challenge is on for others to match the maestro.

                                          I Lie When I Drink

Anders and Kendall - Wild Chorus Nine Mile Records

Americana spiced music has been blessed with some wonderful male-female duets over the years. Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons were influential at the outset of the alt-country movement while The Civil Wars have recently wooed audiences on both sides of the Nashville divide. It’s a touch premature to anoint Anders and Kendall as the next big thing but their debut album is a welcome addition to the scene and sure to be well received by fans of this genre.

WILD CHORUS is the debut release from the creative artistry of Anders Parker and Kendall Meade, a duo who have consistently worked together for many years though, until now, refraining from going the full distance and producing the ultimate duet recording. Austin based label Nine Mile Records have backed this project which was recorded in the Knoxville based studio of producer Scott Minor that also provided the inspiration for the name of the record.

Throughout the eleven original tracks that make up this album, Anders and Kendall have fused their indie backgrounds with a hint of folk and pop to create a mesmeric hypnotic sound that will find its niche within the crowded Americana market. The blend of Anders’ seasoned and Kendall’ elegant vocals supremely supplement the soft guitar and regular back beat that feature strongly in a majority of the songs. These include the two prime tracks on the album, the spine tingling rhythmic ‘We’re on Fire Babe’, not surprisingly selected as the initial single, and the country-flavoured love song ‘Oh, Love’. The latter has that essential Americana ingredient of a hint of twang that melts into the soothing beautiful vocals. The sprinkling of a little harmonica on ‘Sleepwalking’ also gives the album a more authentic roots appeal.

Harking back to recently acclaimed duets, you can’t fail to visualise the Plant/Krauss collaboration in ‘Let’s Get Lost’, one of the albums up tempo numbers with a shade more guitar and aggression. The rock theme continues on ‘Gettin’ Ready’, a bass driven indie inspired number led by Kendall’s vocals. The duo frequently exchange lead vocals on several tracks with Anders’ more worn voice dominating ‘Can You Forgive Me’ while they effortlessly glide along on ‘Play It’. However as you would expect from a duet recording there are numerous highs when the harmonies surface and there is no finer example than on the mellow album closer ‘The Sun Will Shine Again Someday’.

Anders and Kendall have made a massive step to branch out as a duet but the sentimental euphonious sound of WILD CHORUS has given them a gratifying release to market their talents to mature music connoisseurs on both sides of the Atlantic. Hopefully it won’t be too long before they actively promote the record on these shores and visit the UK. An appreciative and knowledgeable audience will be ready to embrace their music. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Rebecca Pronsky - Only Daughter Nine Mile Records

There is a school of thought that music should only be classified into two types; good and bad or that which you like and that which you don’t. However for those genre junkies out there, here’s a new one to throw into the mix. Take the sincerity of country, the classical interpretation of folk, add a touch of the resolute realism of urban rock, sprinkle the minimalist approach of roots music and the result is a new genre hypothetically unveiled as ‘Urban Twang’. This is the perfect classification for those who consider the singer-songwriter genre to be too simplistic and Americana one too vague.

While the opening gambit of this review can be construed as a touch pretentious, all the factors indicated are the essential ingredients in the new album ONLY DAUGHTER from New York based singer-songwriter Rebecca Pronsky. This is her third release under the Nine Mile Records label and one that she can be very proud of. Coming quite quickly after 2011’s VIEWFINDER, Rebecca has continued to hit the mark with an impressive outpouring of her creative talents across the ten tracks that form the record.

These talents include the song writing credits for all but one of the songs on the album. The odd one out being a number originally written and performed by fellow American artist Mark Kozelek and given the curious title ‘Glenn Tipton’. On the surface this profound song seems to have little connection with the Judas Priest band member named in the title but is a much analysed piece online and Rebecca’s rendition is a highly commendable version of a heavily folk inspired song.

With analysis of the cover out of the way, attention turns to the wealth of self penned songs that give the album vitality and strength. The rousing ‘Rise Up’ with its protest connotations gets the album off to the perfect start before leading into the melodic ‘Honesty’ that continues the infectious beat to carry the momentum forward. Fellow New York artists, the mother and daughter duo Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche add vocals to ‘Better That way’ a song enhanced by the subtle banjo touches that adorn the opening number as well.

Rebecca’s husband, Rich Bennett, is one of the driving forces behind the album, combining guitar, keyboard and ukulele input with the production duties. The essential pedal steel is provided by guest musician Mike Nolan adding a hint of twang to ‘Glenn Tipton’ and ‘Honesty’, while the permanent band’s engine room is steered by Dan Shuman on bass and Russ Meissner on percussion.

In addition to her acoustic guitar and lyrical contribution, Rebecca’s vocals grace each track in true unmistakable Americana style effortlessly switching between the jaunty numbers and the slower ones such as the dreamy ‘Come Down’. This perfectly supplements the rock inspired song ‘The Garden’ where the production steps up a notch from the more minimal roots tunes.

The highlights of this first class album are a toss-up between the inspiring ‘Rise Up’ and the jolly show-closing ditty ‘Please Forget Me’ with its upbeat feel reminiscent of that nostalgic Broadway sound. In truth there isn't a bad track on the album, which will neatly fit into an economical half hour gap in our busy lives and will surely be the centrepiece when Rebecca returns to the UK for some shows in March.

If the hypothetical ‘Urban Twang’ is going evolve as a genre let’s add Rebecca Pronsky to some of the founding members such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gretchen Peters, Justin Townes Earle and Nell Bryden to name but a few highly respected and influential artists. Grand company I’m sure you would agree but ONLY DAUGHTER confirms Rebecca Pronsky’s place alongside these performers. 

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Andy White - 21st Century Troubadour Floating World

One of the great pleasures of coming across travelling singer-songwriters is the enlightening stories that accompany their songs which often form an integral part of their live performances. Belfast born artist Andy White has taken this one step further with his latest release by including a combination of songs and narrations spaced across a two-disc set. The real inspiration behind the release is to adapt his 2009 book of the album’s same title 21st CENTURY TROUBADOUR.

The stories disc comprises of Andy reading extracts of his travelling memoirs set to background music, a poetry adaption from his 2011 book STOLEN MOMENTS and an eponymous track appropriately titled ‘21st Century Troubadour’. The striking, poignant and often humorous observations of a transient life very much on the peripheral of rock ‘n roll are designed to take the listener on that journey and succeeds in capturing your attention for its almost hour-long duration. The most memorable part of the narration comes early on when Andy contrasts U2’s ‘Where the Streets have no name’ statement to the life of a lonely troubadour where every street has a name and often lead you to the venues and hotels you’ve booked.

For those of you new to the work of Andy White, he has spent close to thirty years recording music and working alongside industry giants such as Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison and the Finn brothers. For this unique release, Andy has chosen to include fourteen tracks from his back catalogue that have been essential to the rich heritage of experience captured in the book. The songs spanning from Andy’s 1990 album HIMSELF to his most recent record 2009’s SONGWRITER are an eclectic selection that catch a mixture of his sound, covering pop, rock and folk.

The two standout tracks for me are the ones which reflect a more stripped down acoustic sound. ‘Berlin 6 AM’ a song written around that city’s most important recent event was also related to a specific episode in the book, while the folk credentials of ‘The Fortune Teller’s Right’ with its harmonica interlude will resonate with any roots music fan. Another memorable song chosen which is aligned with Andy’s international status is the catchy ‘Italian Girls on Mopeds.’ Yet despite being based in Australia for a decade, Andy is always keen to hark back to the songs originating from his native Ireland and ‘Twelfth of July’ is a perfect example of his Belfast commentary.

This release presents itself as a concise introduction to the world of Andy White. A special mention also  needs to made of Andy's exceptionally informative website and excellent sleeve notes.The upcoming UK dates designed to promote his work are the perfect opportunity for music enthusiasts to engage further with an insightful artist who expertly fuses the spoken and written word with a diverse sound. One day, 21st century troubadour will inevitably be the epitaph of Andy White, however in the meantime, long may there be many more releases of travelling tales to fuel the desire of fans of high quality singer-songwriters.

                                          21st Century Troubadour

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Amelia Curran - Spectators Blue Rose Records

2013 is shaping up to be a sensational year for fans of Canadian folk music in the UK. Amongst others, Ruth Moody, Cara Luft, Old Man Luedecke and the Good Lovelies are all scheduled to visit these shores over the next few months but first out of the block is the alluring singer-songwriter Amelia Curran. A UK tour kicks off later this month with Amelia, a previous recipient of a prestigious Juno award,  using the visit to promote her new album SPECTATORS.
This is the sixth release from an artist committed to bringing the sounds from the outpost of Canada’s north eastern provinces to a wider audience. The St John’s born – Halifax based Amelia has followed the style of her previous releases with SPECTATORS offering the usual aggregation of enchanting tales, profound lyrics and a mellifluous sound. This unmistakable offering of distinct Canadian folk music displays the light of difference between it and that of its British counterparts. This is primarily down to the genuine vocals of Amelia which, while tinged with a dose of gritty realism, still remain remarkably tender.
SPECTATORS is a collection of ten implicitly constructed songs that reflect the deep inner thinking of the culturally talented Amelia who has enlisted the help of some amazing session players to fine tune these self-penned tracks. The record may only last a shade over thirty minutes but it’s an intense listen which is the converse of instant gratification. Repeated listens will ultimately leave you rewarded as you sync your mind with the rhythmic undertones that begin with the beat that accompanies the opening track ‘Years’ and remains through the duration of the album.
While the musical arrangements appear relatively straightforward, the subtle horns added to ‘What Will You Be Building’ and ‘In a Town (200 days)’ contribute positively to the feel of the record. Amelia’s vocals add an authenticity to the tracks and there is a mid song memorable non-lyrical addition to ‘Blackbird on Fire’. The two standout compositions on the album are ‘Strangers’ which immediately launches into an impressive explicit vocal statement with the line “I want to make you understand”, while the appealing sad reflective number ‘San Andreas Fault’ contains the metaphorical gem of a chorus line “the San Andreas Fault is on my heart”.
Make no mistake, this is a release designed for those chilled out and mellow moments in life. The live performance of these songs, coming to a series of intimate venues throughout the UK, should be earmarked by fans right across the country, roots, Americana, folk and singer-songwriter spectrum. Alternatively, or even additionally, indulge yourself in SPECTATORS to accompany you in the calmer moments of life.
                                          Blackbird on Fire

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Carrie Rodriguez - Give Me All You Got Ninth Street Opus

The stock of Texan artist Carrie Rodriguez is set to rise as she continues to reap the benefits of her rich musical heritage and the influences she has been exposed to. After a period of interpreting the songs of others with 2008’s LOVE AND CIRCUMSTANCE  and the 2011 duet EP with Ben Kyle WE STILL LOVE OUR COUNTRY, Carrie has re-ignited her song writing skills in this eleven-track new release, the Lee Townsend-produced GIVE ME ALL YOU GOT.

The exemplary fiddle work that has been the signature sound of Carrie since the early days of her classical upbringing is still very much in evident as she continues to explore the world of Americana music with a host of talented collaborators. As per usual, her mentor, the legendary Chip Taylor (Wild Thing, Angel of the Morning), continues to be a guiding light for Carrie. As well as supplying a brace of his own compositions’, he assisted Carrie in the writing of the two opening songs, which help shape a very strong album. The first of these ‘Devil in Mind’ is a trademark Carrie track adorned with her delightful fiddle complementing the sultry vocals. The song appears later in the album in instrumental format with an arrangement that adds value to the original and is no mere filler.
Some of these new songs were previewed during Carrie’s set at last year’s Maverick Festival when she toured with her latest musical sidekick, Luke Jacobs who plays a prominent role in this release with his co-writing and versatile guitar skills. One of these songs, ‘Lake Harriet’, left a positive impression and its recorded format is the record’s finest track with a snappy introduction and infectious beat. The fact that this is a solo-Carrie composition bodes well for the future self-confidence in her song writing skills. The country credentials of this song are apparent, albeit the subject is a Minneapolis tourist spot, not your usual southern inspired location.

Carrie’s previous collaborator Ben Kyle has penned the tender ballad ‘Get Back in Love’ that is part of a trio of slower numbers which hold the middle section of the album together alongside ‘Tragic’ a co-write with Luke Jacobs and Chip Taylor’s ‘Cut Me Now’. The latter having an increased electric input into its sound. The penultimate track ‘Brooklyn’ is an autobiographical piece heavily featured in the press release and it being a co-write between Carrie and Luke re-affirms the potential in this pairing to develop their song writing partnership. This continues in the reflective old time feel duet number ‘I Don’t Mind Waiting’ that brings the album to a suitable conclusion.
It’s a very positive sign that Carrier has returned to writing and this compilation of original material is the perfect opportunity  to re-establish her as a prime artist in the Americana movement who is extremely active both sides of the Atlantic. Some UK dates are pencilled in for the second part of 2013, so in the meantime set aside some time to enjoy this album from one of the young leading lights in country, roots and Americana music.
                                          Lake Harriet