Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Amy Speace - How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat Continental Song City

Amy Speace first came to my attention when she played a set at last year’s Maverick Festival. The favourable impression left from that appearance led to downloading her most recent album at the time LAND LIKE A BIRD which confirmed what a high quality singer-songwriter Amy is. Just under twelve months on from that UK visit, which also included a slot supporting Alejandro Escovedo around the country, Amy has announced the next phase of her career with a brand new album and hopefully some dates later in the year. In much the same vein as her previous material, HOW TO SLEEP IN A STORMY BOAT showcases Amy’s extraordinary talent to write, perform and sing beautiful songs in a style that straddles country, folk and all points in between on the Americana spectrum.

A classical trait from Amy’s earlier theatrical career can be found in her vocal style as well as the folk influence that brought the subsequent and fruitful attention of the genre’s legendary singer, Judy Collins. Yet Amy has gradually funnelled her sound via the alt-country channels to Nashville and further west to the fertile singer-songwriter lands of Texas and Oklahoma. This has led her to the Music City recording studio of Neilson Hubbard for the album’s production as well as significant contributions from acclaimed Americana performers John Fullbright and Mary Gauthier.

In an almost systematic streak of eleven four-minute songs, Amy uses the album to rehabilitate a series of her recent personal afflictions that many people also have to deal with but often singer-songwriters use as a source of inspirational genius. Amy is also keen to draw on the writings of the Bard, another hark back to her Shakespearean background. For the musical accompaniment to her lyrical offerings, Amy elects to combine the conventional roots instruments with a more classical feel from cello, violin and piano to give many of the songs a fuller sound.

The three standout tracks appear early in the album but this need not detract from soaking up the gentle atmosphere of the record’s  full 42 minute length. The fantastic duet with John Fullbright heads this trio with a metaphorical tale of anthropomorphism titled ‘The Sea and the Shore’. Ultimately the sturdiness and reliability of the shore outlasts the restlessness and inconsistency of the sea to send a message of which approach reaps greater rewards. The rousing opener ‘The Fortunate Ones’ inspired by the Agincourt speech of Henry V is perhaps the most country sounding track and is very reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter at her finest. The title track ‘How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat’ sees Amy at her best using words to come to terms with her issues and understanding where the answers are. All this is perfectly delivered by Amy’s graceful vocals and a semi orchestral sound.

Of the rest, the elegant ‘In Salida’ is an amazing piece of song writing and a re-collective tale that manages to hold its structure throughout, while ‘Bring Me Back My Heart’ is one of Amy’s more tender compositions. Some lovely guitar work accompanies the soulful ‘Hunter Moon’ and ‘Left Me Hanging’ contains some haunting pedal steel as well as a writing and vocal contribution from Mary Gauthier. ‘Lullabye Under the Willow’ is a song that veers very much towards a traditional folk style.

While not matching the heights of the album’s earlier tracks, the closing trio of ‘Perfume’, ‘Feathers and Wishbones’ and ’Hesitate’ all glide along elegantly and allow the very fine vocal qualities of Amy to flourish. In essence the album melts away in a satisfying manner to round off what could be considered her finest effort to date.

The live performance of this album has the potential to be one of the gig highlights of the year as it contains all the attributes required for an adorable evening. While we wait in anticipation for this to materialise, repeat listens of HOW TO SLEEP IN A STORMY BOAT will be a more than adequate substitute.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dennis Ellsworth - Dusk Dreams Busted Flat Records

When the Maverick Festival Canadian artist preview was published in April, it was admitted that little was known about Dennis Ellsworth. Well this has now been corrected as his new album has hit the UK in advance of his mid-summer visit. DUSK DREAMS is the third solo recording from Dennis who hails from Prince Edward Island on Canada’s Atlantic coast and it is an excellent release that will have no problem finding its niche in the UK country, roots and Americana music market.

With ten tracks carefully put together by acclaimed producer David Barbe in his Athens, Georgia studio, DUSK DREAMS captures the versatility of Dennis’s ability to master a range of sounds. The album eases through a combination of seamless gear changes to take you on an implicit journey of imagery, emotion and soul searching in a style that encompasses a lot of country, a hint of rock and a touch of lounge jazz blues. With the evocative sound of Matt Stoessel’s pedal steel echoing across the bulk of the tracks, the feeling to kick back and chill is prevalent.

With bell weather progression, the album treads tenderly through its opening numbers including the satisfying appetiser ‘Clear of Mind’ and a classic rock/pop feel to the piano driven vibes generated by ‘Electric Stars’. This is unsurprising considering the producer’s link to REM and the natural Athens, Georgia indie sound. Soon the pedal steel kicks in via ‘Perfect Storm’ a metaphorical take on the turbulence of love, and the sentimental harmonies that seep through the tender longing exuded in ‘Apple of My Eye’.

After savouring the relaxing tone emanating from the lounge jazz blues title track ‘Dusk Dreams’ which soothes your senses, the album reaches its peak with a brace of standout songs that succeed in blending the finest country rock with some cracking pop melodies. ‘Park Royal’ is a road song in the true tradition of the genre while ‘I Don’t Want to Worry You’ probably shades it as the high point of the record with its piano stomping beat and killer pedal steel.

The final three tracks bring you down gently with a more mellow sound accompanying the sad departure song ‘Hard to Leave’, the gorgeous ‘Sleepin’ Easy’ and the melancholic ‘Messed Up Kind of Way’. The latter brings the album to a close with the question we all ponder from time to time – ‘Please tell me where I will find the land of sunshine?’ We would like to know the answer to that but in the meantime listening to DUSK DREAMS by Dennis Ellsworth isn’t a bad way to while away the time.

Having self penned or co-written all ten tracks, Dennis has successfully projected himself as a highly competent song writer with the appropriate vocal style intact to deliver the excellent musical arrangements provided by his High Life band. The opportunity to support him on the upcoming UK tour is not one to be missed and a perfect complement to DUSK DREAMS.

Kenny Chesney - Life on a Rock Sony Nashville

The gradual migration of the music of Kenny Chesney from the heartland of his Tennessee upbringing to the tropical climes of an offshore existence has long been a topic for discussion. Perhaps now with no streak of CMA awards to maintain and the opportunity to set his own agenda, the hugely successful country superstar can continue to go about re-defining his sound. This is very much in hybrid mode as while there are strong undertones of a Caribbean influence in LIFE ON A ROCK, some of the more explicit offerings do not really define the album.

In particular this refers to the ‘Spread Love’ track where Chesney has decamped into an alternative world to record, with The Wailers and Elan Atias, an unabated attempt to re-create a soft reggae sound. While it will certainly polarise the country music fraternity, the positive laid-back vibes generated are in sync with many of the other songs which have a more conventional back porch feel to them. There is a greater subtleness to an extended Caribbean sound with a hint of steel drum faintly adorning his full on tributes to the little introduction needed ‘Marley’ and his late colleague Kristi Hansen in album closer ‘Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)’.

While this album is defined by an easygoing style centred round uncomplicated acoustic strumming there is still room for a little bit of amplification that exists in parts of the two opening tracks. The heavily promoted single ‘Pirate Flag’ which partially documents his migration south opens the album, with the second track ‘When I See this Bar’ reflecting a little on some of the diverse aspects of settling into a new way of life.

Having had a writing input into most of the album’s ten tracks, Chesney demonstrates his ability to clearly convey to pen his thoughts and observations of life, as expertly done in the simple but effective slow burner ‘Lindy’. This occurs later in the album with the title track ‘Life on a Rock’ where by now the sound has allowed a little more home country rock to amalgamate with the island beat. The track ‘It’s That Time of Day’ is probably the best example of a fused sound where country meets the Caribbean with a satisfying feel good atmosphere being generated by Chesney and his assembled musicians.

Of course, Kenny Chesney is not the first country artist to experiment in Caribbean roots music and he drew on the experience of Willie Nelson to duet on ‘Coconut Tree’. Nelson, now in his 80th year, delved into the reggae world for his 2005 album COUNTRYMAN and the little ditty he contributed to on this album had all the stamp of one of America’s musical legends over it. Perhaps this is something Chesney can aspire to achieve in the second half of his career now that all the record sales and money are in the bank.

Some fine conventional guitar work which veers a little towards a blues direction opens the remaining track, the co-write with long time collaborator Mac McAnnally ‘Must Be Something I Missed’. In essence this sums the album up as Chesney is not afraid to go on an exploratory journey while still having that innate ability to produce a commercial piece of work that will support his live summer extravaganzas around US sports stadiums.

Investing a small amount of your valuable listening time in LIFE ON THE ROCK will not go without its rewards. If by any chance we get the summer the UK deserves, the relevance of the vibes of this record will soar. 

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Eric Brace and Peter Cooper - The Comeback Album Red Beet Records

As you would expect from two artists who have considerable media experience, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper have once again demonstrated that uncanny knack of delivering a product straight into the approval arms of those music critics seeking a little sophistication. The two stalwarts of the East Nashville alt-country scene have utilised their own talents and engaged with some esteemed contributors to record an album brimful of articulate storytelling and sublime musicianship. As well as creating an intelligently designed listening experience, the duo has skilfully packaged a product that subtly adds value thus ensuring an effective engagement with their target audience.

THE COMEBACK ALBUM is a tongue in cheek title as, although it’s only the third album since Eric Brace and Peter Cooper decided to formalise their collaboration as a recording act in 2004, the pair are also extremely active in other projects. Peter Cooper regularly crops up in the UK in his role as a highly regarded contributor to The Tennessean publication when the BBC requires an insight into the country music scene. Eric Brace is heavily involved in the Red Beet Record label which he founded and owns, and it also provided the mechanism to get this album made.

Eric and Peter, as well as producing the record, are the lyrical architects behind nine of the twelve tracks with seven being co-writes. ‘Kissing Booth’ is solely credited to Eric due to it being an old track from his Last Train Home band who played the Maverick festival a couple of years ago. Peter teamed up with Baker Maultsby to pen a narrative based account of Boss Hall, Spartanburg, South Carolina titled ‘Thompson Street’, with it containing a neat accordion intro.

The enlisting of the services of legendary pedal steel guitarist Lloyd Green has paid dividends with his trademark twang adorning the Karl Straub nostalgic number ‘Carolina’ as well as ‘Ponzi  Scheme’ and the delightful ‘She Can’t Be Herself’. This last track portrays Eric and Peter as masters of the sad love song and is one of the album’s standout tracks alongside the beautiful country waltz like David Halley song ‘Rain Just Falls’.

To enhance their version of the Tom T Hall song ‘Mad’, the pair persuaded three icons of Americana music to lend their talents. Bluegrass veteran Mac Wiseman supplied support vocals, guitar contribution came from no other but Duane Eddy, while the highly versatile Marty Stuart provided mandolin and extra vocals. This amazing performance epitomizes Eric’s and Peter’s approach to making music and the track has already been played on the Bob Harris Country show.

Further evidence of the smart and eloquent output from the duo is found in the keyboard and pedal steel inspired ‘Johnson City’ which recalls Eric’s non-negotiable brief visit to the town’s jail. Both ‘Ancient History’ and ‘Nobody Knows’ carry on the intellectual theme with constant name checking weaving around the clever melodies. Any baseball context in the lyrics intensifies my listening and references to Babe Ruth and the Baltimore Orioles appear in these tracks. The diversity of the music content continues with some fiddle enhancing the track ‘Boxcars’ and a little clarinet adding a brass flavour to ‘Sailor’.

 It is this holistic approach to music making that continues to grow the reputation of Eric Brace and Peter Cooper who will be promoting the album in the UK for a few dates in June. So if you like your country music with a left field Americana tinge then THE COMEBACK ALBUM will suit you down to the ground.

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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Stacie Collins - The Musician, Leicester Saturday 25th May 2013

With her trademark cowboy hat, rousing vocals and boundless energy, Stacie Collins continues to be an international trailblazer for a raucous rock n’ roll sound that successfully straddles honky tonk, country and rock. After making that iconic migratory journey from Bakersfield, California to Nashville Tennessee, Stacie’s influence continues to spread this side of the Atlantic with an increasing number of venues happy to welcome back her band and their brand of high octane electric fused roots music. Amongst these include the exceptional Musician in Leicester which regularly hosts Stacie in a crowd friendly weekend slot to the delight of her Midlands based fans.

In the twelve months since Stacie’s previous extended UK visit, the composition of her band has altered with a Scandinavian segment assigned to support this year’s European trip. With a significant country music contract luring away lead guitarist Jason Graumlich, Swede Conny Bloom has been drafted in, with fellow Scandinavian Pontius Snibb replacing Brad Cummings on drums and thus performing a similar role he did with Jason and the Scorchers in Leicester last year. These changes came over as seamless with bassist Al Collins keeping order to free up Stacie to blitz the set with her vivacious persona and blues-soaked harp playing.

Stacie has two major album releases that she draws her set list from as well as lacing the show with a selection of strong covers to reflect her influences. New additions this year included a Scorchers song ‘Money Talk’, unsurprisingly with Al’s connection to both bands, and the blues standard ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, which has featured many a rock makeover in its day. In a unique way, the band sampled a verse from ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ into their high energised version. As 2013 is shaping up to be the year of Gram Parsons covers, the band’s usual duet rendition of ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ continued to contribute to the legacy of the pioneer of country rock.

The appeal of Stacie’s music attracts both fans of country music looking for a little rock and rock fans seeking a wider appreciation of roots music. The former will be smitten by her standout track ‘Lucky Spot’ which continues to melt hearts with each listen and enables Stacie to purr with pride when recalling the song’s origins. From the album of the same name of this fabulous track, the fast-paced ‘Ramblin’ never fails to get your heart racing, while the blood pumps along to ‘Baby Sister’.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before SOMETIMES YA GOTTA loses the status as Stacie’s latest album but while we wait patiently for its follow up, several of the songs will always be live favourites. This evening the band chose to open the set with ‘Lend the Devil a Hand’, and no show will be complete without ‘Hey Mister’, ‘The Very Last Time’ and ‘I Won’t Do Ya Like That’, the latter with the immortal line ‘One girl’s trash is another girl’s treasure’.

Twelve months ago Stacie fought bravely against an ailment to stun the audience with her rock ballad ‘It Hurts to Breathe’. This time there was no such struggle as a mug of tea was the entire liquid stimulant required to invigorate her vocal talents. There was also a hint of some future material with the Leicester debut of the blues infused ‘Better Get in Line’ and it will be an exciting proposition to hear more new songs from the undoubted talents of Stacie and Al.

The satisfying turnout on a Bank Holiday weekend, aided by a lively warm up slot by local rock band The Midnight Dogs, will hopefully encourage the organiser, Cheeseweasel Promotions, to continue to support Stacie in the Midlands area. While she has a number of established venues in this country, the potential to grow her fan base over here is enormous. So regardless of your musical standing, getting into the music of Stacie Collins and attending one of her gigs will be a decision without regrets and lead you on an absorbing journey of country rock n’ roll mayhem. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Louise Petit Band - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham Wednesday 22nd May 2013

Nine months after discovering her playing down the order on a bill at a city centre Birmingham pub, this show at the Kitchen Garden Café was the perfect opportunity to check out the progress of Midlands based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Louise Petit. Since the discovery, her double header gig with Annie Dressner in January has also been covered, so in terms of promotion, this headline show with special guests was a positive measure of the evolution of her live performance.

Although there was a slight hiccup in the availability of the advertised special guests, fellow local singer-songwriter Tim Judson filled the gap by making the relatively short journey from Wolverhampton and thoroughly entertained the audience with his brand of acoustic folk. As well as fascinating tales of his travels, Tim also demonstrated his musical versatility with a simultaneous playing of guitar and sax. Following this lively opening set, the way was paved for Louise and her rhythmic stalwart sidekicks, Russ and Tim, to continue to fulfil the undoubted potential that first alerted me to their sound.

The well written and often metaphorical songs from the pen, and fine vocals, of Louise are interwoven with her string accompaniment and elevated to a superior level with the harmonies and roots infused rhythm from Russ’s double bass and Tim’s flexible percussion. The tight knit sound from the settled trio ensured the fourteen song set list followed its sublime path often interjected with a little insight and some background humour.

Alongside the impressive EP FEAR AND MY OTHER FRIENDS reviewed here, the band has made available a further five of their songs via the live EP recording MAKE A HOUSE A HOME. Amongst these are two sing along numbers which featured memorably in this evening’s set. ‘Louder Than Your Drum’ included a invitation to outshout Tim’s concluding drum solo while show closer ‘Let it Go’ had the novel addition of a lyric sheet distributed around the thirty strong audience to ensure this feel good ditty brought the evening to a joyous conclusion.

Old favourites ‘Ghosts’, ‘Love is Pure’ and ‘Demons’ continue to come over as very strong songs with the later just completing a prime slot on the Fatea Magazine Showcase session. Hopefully this widely available limited time free download brought some positive attention for the band that in the long run will help finance a full length release. The songs are definitely in place for this long term project and tunes such as ‘To the Sharks’, ‘Tree Song’ and ‘Plastic and Glue’ are itching to get some recorded status to share their excellence beyond the live performance.

The decision last September to keep a keen eye on the musical development of Louise Petit, Russ Sargeant and Tim Heymerdinger has certainly been a fruitful one and their future, either on the Midlands or wider gig circuit, is surely only going to maintain this momentum. Getting the funding in place for a debut album is a tough proposition but if there is any justice the desire will become a reality. There is no mistaking that their music deserves a wider exposure and I will be gladly there promoting it when available. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Pistol Annies - Annie Up Sony Music

Perhaps the most important trait of this sophomore album by the Pistol Annies is that a major Nashville label is prepared to back a project that is drenched in a traditional sound and wraps it heart right round the roots of country music. There is no finer young female talent plying their trade in Music City than Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley and the fruits of their latest collaboration ANNIE UP is a consummate masterpiece of heritage with a contemporary twist.

This is an unashamed attempt to strip back the metaphors and imagery in song writing and produce a string of explicit accounts of everyday issues that have been a central theme of country music over the decades. Each Annie has drawn on their specific and diverse experience of a southern upbringing to cover in no particular order – drink, sin, love, loss, pretense, god, defiance, eternity, sadness and heartbreak. To achieve this in a compact 12 track – 43 minute release, aligned with sassy vocals, expert musicianship and infectious melodies is an extraordinary achievement and pays the ultimate respect to the talents of the three ladies and their supporting cast.

Although each Annie is at a different stage of their solo career, the high quality of their song writing is unequivocal and the lyrical content of each track is a major strength of this album. There are definitely concept tendencies to the record as it weaves its way around the issues, unsurprisingly from a female context but cleverly put together to avoid ambiguity. The blues-infused scene setting opener ‘I Feel a Sin Coming On’ gives a hint of what to expect which, after an emotional roller coaster, satisfyingly ends with a delightful uplifting lullaby ‘I Hope You’re the End of My Story’. This finale contains the classic line ‘we’ll be the last book on the shelf’ which perfectly sums up the eternity of love.

The album, which in my opinion doesn’t contain a weak track, explodes into life with its first single, the family tension stomper ‘Hush Hush’. The upbeat sound returns later with the catchy rhythmic number ‘Damn Thing’. Many of the songs possess all the hallmarks of those born out of the old style dance halls and honky tonks including the album’s standout track ‘Dear Sobriety’, an interesting take on the obligatory country drinking song.

The different facets of a troubled relationship are tackled in ‘Unhappily Married’ and ‘Don’t Talk About Him, Tina’, while the consequences of a breakdown are expertly examined in ‘Trading One Heartbreak for Another’. An intriguing track is ‘Loved by a Working Man’ which while on the surface seems a little clichéd in its male perceptions, perhaps does have a sad undertone to the failings of the other half. This is much in the same way that Tammy Wynette commented that ‘after all he is just a man’.  ‘Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty’ is a fairly straightforward questioning of the value of the personal façade but does contain some stellar pedal steel from Steve Fishell, who recently brought his talents to the UK as part of the Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell band.

Each Annie has a distinctive yet very southern drawl to their vocals and these are shared evenly across the tracks. For example Angaleena leads off ‘Girls Like Us’ before paving the way for Miranda, while Ashley takes the helm at the start of ‘Blues You’re a Buzzkill’. All  twelve songs are enhanced by the fine backing musicians assembled and while there are short bursts of electric, the remit is to generally keep it low key and traditional in style.

In the true tradition of Kitty Wells, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, the Pistol Annies have re-created a dose of female oriented pure country music to keep the flame burning of a bygone sound that should be preserved and celebrated by the whole of the genre. So kick your shoes off and treasure the rare talent of these three ladies. ANNIE UP is the real deal and a perfect example of how this style of country music should be made.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Natalie Maines - Mother Columbia Records

The divorce between country music and Natalie Maines happened a long time ago and the transition towards discovering her new niche has been a lengthy process. The importance of TAKING THE LONG WAY and its wider industry appreciation cannot be underestimated in the life and career of Natalie Maines, often cast as a polarising figure which has to be said has been debated extensively in the past. However with this debut solo release, MOTHER may just be the catalyst to open a new chapter in the same way that the last Dixie Chicks album closed one.

Much has been muted about Natalie’s migration to rock, which you could say began when the band sought solace in the studio of Rick Rubin to record their 2006 Grammy winning album. While undeniably MOTHER has considerable rock undertones, to say a simple statement such as this defines the record is unfair to the multitude of influences absorbed into the making of this album. Just as elements of the alt-country music movement free themselves to experiment, thus merging into the all-encompassing Americana genre, Natalie Maines is following a similar path. A return to Nashville may not be a too distant possibility, but this time it will be at the invitation of the AMAs rather than the CMAs.

The Americana movement will definitely sit up and take notice of this release due to its careful selection of interesting tracks from iconic rock figures and mixing them effectively with new material emerging from diverse sources. All ten tracks on this, 45 minute long, album have an air of sophistication that showcase Natalie’s unmistakeable vocals and the influence of co-producer Ben Harper.

The trio of covers that launch the album include delving into the more recent work of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder with an excellent version of ‘Without You’ borrowed from his ukulele album and a familiar but well executed take of Pink Floyd's ‘Mother’. The laid back vibes of the album’s introduction continue with ‘Free Life’, a song by Dan Wilson who has worked with Dierks Bentley in the past and co-wrote ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ with Maines.

The influence of Jeff Buckley is celebrated in a re-work of his classic break up track ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’ and alt-country fans will be delighted to listen to a version of The Jayhawks ‘I’d Run Away’. This is an excellent song to cover as it highlights the great way Gary Louris and Mark Olson have consistently blended good melodies, impressive harmonic backing vocals and an effective sound which combines elements of country with indie rock.

Of the five original recordings, two have a ramped up sound  with the co-vocals of Ben Harper on ‘Trained’ leading the track to stray a little too far into the explicit rock field. The style is similar in ‘Silver Bell’ which includes Patty Griffin in its writing credits and is definitely a step up in pace that feels unfamiliar to most of her work that I have sampled. There is a continual sound of slide guitar throughout the album with perhaps it being most prevalent in the epic strains of ‘Veil in Vein’. Album closer ‘Take it on Faith’ adopts a ballad stance and is a little more diverse in its sound with the addition of organ, cello and violin.

The Dixie Chicks chapter of Natalie’s life is far from closed as evidenced by the select festival appearances this summer and the album does include a track penned by the trio with the help of Gary Louris. ‘Come Crying to Me’ was deemed to be too rock for the Dixie Chicks to ultimately cut but it quite easily could have found a home on TAKING THE LONG WAY. Perhaps the fact that Natalie, Emily and Marti have their names linked on a new release may still leave a chink of light for a more integrated future but in reality the sound migration suggests otherwise.

The old saying can be adapted to state that ‘you can take the girl out of country but you can’t take country out of the girl’. This in my opinion applies to Natalie Maines, who will always retain a little bit of that influence as there is still that unmistakeable sound that makes you sit up and listen, rather than the damning ‘shut up and sing’. Maybe her true home is in the Americana movement but wherever it lies, an exciting new future for her career has started. 

Dustin Bentall and Kendel Carson - Ort Cafe, Birmingham Wednesday 15th May 2013

One of the recurring themes for this year’s reviews is the high quality output from our commonwealth friends Canada. Alongside the many fine releases being received are an ever increasing number of tours being undertaken to the UK and the latest artists to cross our paths are the west coast duo Dustin Bentall and Kendel Carson. Keen followers of country, roots and Americana music will be aware of Kendel who through her twin albums, association with Chip Taylor and plugging from Bob Harris, enjoyed some UK coverage a couple of years ago. Well the good news is she’s back and keen to re-engage with the UK as well as introducing us to her musical collaborator Dustin Bentall. 

In what can be described as a low key Birmingham gig at the slightly eccentric Ort Café, an enthusiastic audience was treated to a set predominantly designed to feature Dustin’s material with Kendel offering her trademark fiddle input and backing vocals. Although she did take centre stage to deliver ‘Oh Baby Lie Down’ and ‘Ten Lost Men’ from her 2009 album ALRIGHT DYNAMITE, as well as providing a final treat to the delight of certain audience members. 

Dustin Bentall hails from a musical family in Vancouver, British Columbia and possesses a style that flirts between country, its alt spin off and wider Americana (a term which seems so inappropriate for Canadian music). He has worked alongside respected Canadian artists such as Kathleen Edwards and recently supported the fantastic Lindi Ortega on some North American dates. The songs he showcased during the set ranged from numbers from his 2010 album SIX SHOOTER including the title track, ‘Three Thousand Miles’ and ‘Pontiac’, through some interesting covers to a couple of yet to be recorded gems. 

For somebody who declares his Cosmic American music love in his online bio, it was no surprise to hear ‘Sin City’ added to the set, while a more left field cover version was an Arthur Alexander song ‘Anna (Go To Him)’ which was also featured on The Beatles 1962 album PLEASE PLEASE ME. One of the stand-out songs which Dustin shared during this intimate evening was an excellent country influenced effort titled ‘Nine Inch Nails’, a 2008 country song of the year at the Independent Music Awards of North America. However this fine song was eclipsed by an unrecorded demo track, ‘Good Money’ that has been tracked down to this Sound Cloud link. This is definitely a song that warrants a new lease of life. Another superb song worth a mention was a new one called ‘I Have Not Been Sleeping’.

All that was left was for Kendel to fulfil the request to play the quirky yet delightful sing along ditty ‘I Like Trucks’ which was heavily featured on Bob Harris’s Country Show a number of years ago. This simple but effective tune has an endearing quality that ensures its listening will never tire willing ears. It was a pleasure to hear it live along with her talented fiddle playing. 

Dustin Bentall and Kendel Carson have the potential to become popular and regular additions to the UK circuit which embraces their music. So now the word is out and hopefully increased positive press will help raise their profile to fund future trips. The value their music adds will be more than welcome.

Old Man Luedecke - The Musician, Leicester Tuesday 14th May 2013

With his trademark cap, banjo and Juno nominated latest release, Canadian roots troubadour Old Man Luedecke is the epitome of a light traveller. The bard of Nova Scotia doesn’t need a touring entourage, just a bunch of great tunes, an engaging personality and an extraordinary ability to produce a wonderful sound from that much maligned but increasingly fashionable acoustic instrument. Those who braved the elements on this lousy un-spring like evening couldn’t fail to appreciate another fabulous artist booked to grace the stage at Leicester’s premier quality music venue.

Old Man, or Chris if you want to get a little more personal, may have had to settle for his latest album TENDER IS THE NIGHT remaining at nominated status and thus conceding the Best Traditional/Roots record award to Rose Cousins at this year’s Canadian version of the Grammys. Yet this excellent release was the centrepiece for his 2013 UK visit which is split into two parts, intersected by a return home for a pending family addition. All but two songs were featured in the set which was launched with the metaphorical ‘Jonah and the Whale’ and concluded an hour and a bit later with the thought provoking ‘Tortoise and the Hare’.

Just to sprinkle a little diversity into his show, Chris had also brought along his more conventional guitar and turned to this established tool of the trade to deliver a brace of mid-set tracks from the new record. The fantastic old style western influenced ‘Song for Ian Tyson’ saw him pay tribute to the legendary, in Canadian circles, country singer named in the title and the live performance of this superb track eclipsed the album version. The guitar also provided the backdrop to ‘Long Suffering Jesus’ before the banjo re-appeared from its brief rest to once again adorn the highly literate tuneful offerings from Chris.

With an ever increasing back catalogue to delve into, we were also treated to the amusing ‘Yodelady’ which was recorded a decade ago and introduced with a enlightening tale of a teenage Luedecke immersing himself into an eclectic musical education whilst being grounded. His 2008 album which did win the coveted Juno was represented with the title track ‘Proof of Love’ and ‘Just Like a River’. The solitary cover song of the evening saw Chris pay his respects to fellow compatriot Leonard Cohen with a version ‘Closing Time’ and doing justice to the original.

As you would expect from a travelling troubadour sharing his mix of folk, roots and a touch of country, there were an abundance of stories attached to many of the songs. These included the background to the sing along corporate agrarian number ‘Monsanto Jones’, the Doc Watson inspired ‘Little Stream of Whiskey’ and a francophone style interlude of a couple of verses of Dylan’s ‘Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall’. The quirky main set closer ‘A & W Song’ had its origins detailed as well as a memorable quote of a Nova Scotia location being described as a town full of drinkers with a yachting problem. 

Old Man Luedecke is an intriguing artist, keen to increase his awareness in the UK and a nailed on certainty to provide an enjoyable evening of music, song and chat. He returns to these shores in July for the annual Canada Day Trafalgar Square bash and a slot at the Maverick Festival. He is looking to add a few more shows and, if he appears near you, the ample reward will far outweigh the modest investment. With artists like Old Man Luedecke plying his craft on this instrument, the banjo future jokes will be the ones consigned to the past.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Maverick Festival Preview Part 2 - US Artists

Having last month previewed the impressive Canadian contingent due to appear at this summer’s Maverick Festival, attention now turns south of the border to see what delights are being offered from the nation that gave us the Americana genre. The whole ethos behind this festival is to maximise quality from its modest budget and, while the likes of Springsteen continues to grace other venues this summer, there are several fine US artists to catch down at Easton Farm Park in July.

Mindy Smith
The festival organisers are more likely to trawl the American Music Association for acts rather than its brasher fellow Nashville resident, the Country Music Association, and the star draw this year is a previous winner from their prestigious awards ceremony. Back in 2004, Mindy Smith won the hearts of the AMA awards panel and, partially on the back of her Dolly Parton ‘Jolene’ cover, took the Horizon Rising Star honours at that year’s annual shindig. In the near decade since that accolade, Long Island native Mindy has cemented her status as a highly respected singer-songwriter. She has had an occasional brush with some of Nashville major labels but ultimately her fiercely independent spirit has led her down the path of a self controlled route. This has culminated in a self-titled album, her fifth to date, which is set to be the centrepiece of Mindy’s UK shows this summer. Having graced the Cambridge Folk Festival on a previous UK visit, Maverick regulars will surely be treated to a smashing set from Mindy on the Saturday evening of this year’s festival.

Eileen Rose
While on the topic of female singer-songwriters, two contrasting US performers with varied experiences of the UK scene have been booked to appear in this rural Suffolk location. Eileen Rose, originally from Boston but now based in Nashville, has spent a large amount of time on our shores when frequenting the indie rock and burgeoning alt-country scene in the 90’s. A versatile performer, Eileen can interpret a wide variety of Americana styles from honky tonk to sincere ballads and will be using this summer’s UK visit to re-establish her standing over here and promote an upcoming new album. Ahead of her trip, Eileen released a stripped down recording of ‘something old; something new’ songs and BONES received a very favourable review here. Her set at the festival could just win over a new set of fans.

Anna Coogan  Photo courtesy of Alan Harrison
Anna Coogan has been extremely active over the last few years playing hundreds of shows across the States and undertaking numerous European trips in an attempt to establish herself both in the UK and on the continent. Her sound often errs on the folk side of country and her wonderful vocals will certainly woo those who witness her festival set this year. Anna recorded a delightful album last year titled THE NOWHERE, ROME SESSIONS with Daniel Fiaschi and it certainly made a positive impression when reviewed here. Her Maverick Festival appearance will be the centrepiece of a UK tour sprinkled with intimate shows and having not witnessed Anna live before, her set will be one earmarked when the schedule is announced.

For those who prefer their artists part of a full band then Californian alt-country rockers I See Hawks in LA will be the act to see at this year’s festival. Over the last fifteen years and numerous albums, the band formed by Rob Waller and the Lacques brothers, Paul and Anthony, have won many plaudits and worked alongside Americana luminaries such as Dave Alvin, Lucinda Williams and Ray Wylie Hubbard. For this year’s UK trip which does feature other dates around the country, the band has a new album to promote with MYSTERY DRUG receiving a positive review here. If the sun shines, and without tempting fate, it normally does on Maverick Saturday, the set of I See Hawks in LA may just well transport you thousands of miles west to the Golden State for a brief moment in time.

Also appearing from the USA this year are all female Californian combo The Rainbow Girls, punk grass Nashville duo Grace and Tony as well as regular Maverick visitor Phil Lee. All these artists will no doubt leave their own eclectic stamp on the festival and enable the organisers to demonstrate how much quality depth can be sourced from the modest budget.

So that concludes another American line up that will ensure Maverick festival goers are served a varied and impressive diet of high quality imported roots music. Obviously these artists are as advertised on the festival website at the time of publication and may be subject to change. All that is left to preview now is the fantastic and very special UK line up for this year’s festival and that will be appearing next month.

I See Hawks in LA - Mystery Drug Blue Rose Records

The imagery of their name conjures up a free wandering kindred spirit sauntering around the sprawling suburbs of the City of Angels and onwards into the wider expanse of the vastness of the Golden State. If you spend a little bit of time immersing yourself into MYSTERY DRUG the new album from I See Hawks in LA then this imagery will appear more apparent and ultimately you’ll be consumed by an agenda-free band that leaves an impression of dancing to no other tune than their own.

By exhuming all the past influences of west coast country rock, the band formed in 1999 by Rob Waller and the Lacques Brothers, Paul and Anthony, have become torch bearers for this iconic sound. They have perfectly captured the mix of rock riffs and solos, gentle pedal steel laced harmonies and a driving acoustic beat. The song writing of Paul and Rob, aided by several other contributors varies between the implicit and the explicit with an element of mystery to just keep those brain cells lubricated.

Weighing in at thirteen tracks and a not-too-brief forty nine minutes, MYSTERY DRUG will not fulfil you after a couple of listens. In fact it will leave you intoxicated until you feel that you have grasped its credentials. While you are undertaking this journey of discovery, your mind will be seduced by an engaging sound and a strong vocal delivery.

The core of the 2013 version of I See Hawks in LA, that will also bring this album to the intimate listening venues of the UK this summer, is Rob Waller on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Paul Laccques on guitar and Paul Marshall on bass, with the latter two providing vocal back up. For the album, extra bass, lashings of pedal steel and a hint of accordion has been added to ramp up the alt-country vibes. Amongst industry luminaries who have acquainted themselves with the ‘Hawks’ are Lucinda Williams, Chris Hillman and Dwight Yoakam.

Of the thirteen songs forming MYSTERY DRUG there is an outstanding track that you envisage being lifted from the album and appearing on many summer playlists. ‘We Could All Be In Laughlin Tonight’ is a wonderful tale of plying your musical craft at the bottom of the pile where the lack of perks extend to the exclusion of steak, lobster and top shelf drinks from each venue’s band order menu. You feel the frustration of this life of Skynrd covers and decisions where to head next. With a sound harking back to one of traditional county, this track can’t be recommended highly enough.

Of the others, ‘Oklahoma’s Going Dry’ , ‘Sky Island’ and ‘The River Knows’ have that implicit imagery that exists once you’ve freed yourself from the urban constraints. More explicit numbers include the forthright ‘Stop Driving Like a Asshole’ and the new wave vibes attaching themselves to ‘My Local Merchants’ with its take on the extra appeal of your local convenience outlets. ‘If You Remind Me’ has some drop dead harmonies crowning this reflective number.

Rock n Roll Cymbals from the Seventies’ is an spritely little rocking effort with a catchy chorus and containing an element of repetition as found in the more hypnotic number ‘One Drop of Human Blood’. ‘Mystery Drug’, ‘Yesterday’s Coffee’ and ‘The Beauty of the Better States’ will require a little perseverance in their understanding but as previously mentioned this journey of discovery is ably assisted by an ear pleasing melodic country sound spiced up in places with some subtle rock.

Your Americana music listening experience will be enhanced with a dose of I See Hawks in LA and MYSTERY DRUG is just the medicine to melt away life’s afflictions. Catch them live or on record and don’t forget to playlist the killer track.

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell - Birmingham Symphony Hall Friday 10th May 2013

Any show which opens with ‘Return of the Grievous Angel’ and ends nearly two and a half hours later with ‘Sin City’ always has the potential to be a special evening. When you throw into the mix the hosts being two highly respected artists in the wider country music world who have just produced a stellar duet album, then the fulfilling of that potential is never in doubt.

They may have first been acquainted almost forty years ago but the current collaboration between Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell has had the critics drooling despite both performers being significantly past their sixtieth year. The album OLD YELLOW MOON is set to receive enormous accolades at this year’s AMAs and in an ideal world also the CMAs but we’ll leave that debate for another day. Audiences in the UK have supported both performers for a very long time and those fortunate to be present tonight witnessed a comprehensive and very enjoyable evening.

Those who like their concerts structured were in luck at Birmingham’s towering Symphony Hall as Emmylou and Rodney, supported by a five piece band, neatly packaged the set into a series of themed parts. First up a constant stream of unannounced classics, then two stools were brought on to make the acoustic section more intimate, an airing of OLD YELLOW MOON, before some more oldie favourites to send everybody home happy.

Emmylou’s brief but influential liaison with Gram Parsons helped spawn a whole genre and through the bookended songs, ‘Wheels’, ‘The Angels Rejoiced Last night’, and the heavenly ‘Love Hurts’, memories swirled around the auditorium throughout the evening. With his career forming Texas upbringing and distinct vocal style, Crowell’s output over the years has cemented his eminent standing, first in the mainstream country music field and then, when that moved in alternative directions, the evolving Americana movement that filled the void. Through songs like ‘Earthbound’, ‘The Rock of My Soul’ and, as part of a rocking finale, ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’, we were all reminded of what a fine performer he is in his own right.

Emmylou, described by Rodney as having ‘the soul of a poet, the voice of an angel and the heart of a cowgirl’ has probably made her name as much as an interpreter of other songs as well as a writer herself. During the set she celebrated Townes Van Zandt (‘Pancho and Lefty’) and remembered two recently departed, close and highly revered friends – Kate McGarrigle (‘Darlin' Kate’) and Susannah Clarke (I’ll Be Your San Antonio Rose’).

As celebrated as Emmylou and Rodney are, they had some excellent support from a fine band and a hard working guitar techie. Leading the band from the front was an exceptional guitarist from Australia named Jedd Hughes who topped his exquisite performance throughout with a breathtaking solo piece on 'Luxury Liner’ . Long term Emmylou associate Steve Fishell added the continual Pedal Steel and Dobra sound in an accomplished and essential manner warranted by a triple A rated country music concert.

Image not from gig
The sheer quality of the older material shared during the evening was immense but even that had to take second best when Emmylou and Rodney got around to showcasing nine songs from OLD YELLOW MOON. These fabulous tunes headed by Emmylou at her country best on ‘Hanging Up My Heart’ were the show’s highlights as we were treated to the sultry blues feel to ‘Black Caffeine’. In this segment of the set there were also stunning versions of Matraca Berg’s ‘Back When We Were Beautiful’, Patty Scialfa’s (aka Mrs Springsteen) scintillating ‘Spanish Dancer’ and the country waltz sentimentality of title track ‘Old Yellow Moon’, although this came a little later to close the main set.

Rarely has such a lengthy-no interval gig gone by so quickly and this is to the credit of all seven performers adorning the Symphony Hall stage. The first standing ovation preceded the encore launching-Crowell led ‘Stars on the Water’ which was suitably followed by Emmylou enthralling everybody with a closing of the Gram Parsons circle.

Time has been very kind to these two performers but it is also wise to treasure these events as the inevitably of life will ultimately dictate progress. It may have taken them forty years to finally formalise their recording collaboration but on the evidence of this evening’s show, there is definitely a lifetime of synergy. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Brad Paisley - Wheelhouse Sony Music

The concept of judging a book by its cover can have its music analogy in how deep you go past the musical overlay to analyse the lyrical content and meaning of the songs. Obviously it’s down to personal preference to what importance you attach to the depth of a recording and after all, music is such a subjective form of entertainment. WHEELHOUSE , the latest studio album release by leading Nashville artist Brad Paisley is a multi-faceted record that will please both camps. Those with deep pretensions will love to delve into the inner southern naval gazing observations of Paisley while there is sufficient merit in the multitude of ear pleasing country rock and pop anthems to satisfy the casual consumer.

Vast amount of media coverage has emerged over Paisley’s attempt to appease the southern racial stereotype in ‘Accidental Racist’ and while it may appear to have been a brave move from the conservative heartland, he is hardly perceived as a great radical. As an artist probably at the peak of his creative powers, the collaboration and interaction with LL Cool J has come across as a fairly explicit piece of prose which works as an album track but in my opinion doesn’t define the record.

The potential for Paisley to be radical was given a greater opportunity in ‘Those Crazy Christians’ and while there is more than a hint of damnation in elements of the lyrics, his true unprovocative instinct led him to withdraw the full bible-belt assault in the song’s final line. The fact that the critics are analysing his work will no doubt please Paisley and this brings us to his swinging view of the southern lifestyle in ‘Southern Comfort Zone’ where you are not quite sure whether he is celebrating or damning the stereotypes. On the other issues he tackles, the retribution theme to domestic abuse in ‘Karate’ is fairly unique from a male artist but much more common in songs such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Goodnight Earl’, while ‘Death of a Single Man’ is a very clever and ironic slant on the sacred institution of marriage.

It has been previously alluded to that WHEELHOUSE is a concept album but a more appropriate view would be to give it semi concept status with a string of threads. Away from the issue themed tracks, which incidentally also included a dark satirical view of death in ‘Harvey Bodine’ –aided by the comic input of Eric Idle, several other songs can be grouped together in their meaning and content. Amongst a collection of tracks that herald a positive take on life, two impressive numbers stand out to an extent that they can have their merits enjoyed by those reluctant to indulge in the meaning of life. ‘Beat This Summer’ is an excellent radio friendly feel good song that while possessing a pop vibe has a superb melody that imprints in your mind. The same can be said for ‘The Mona Lisa’ where Paisley captures the simple pleasures of life so effectively.

It has to be said that there has been a little justified criticism in some of Brad Paisley’s albums being overly long and that the day he compacts his undoubted quality into a concisely packaged high impact product will be one to savour. At over an hour in duration and with twenty-one tracks on the widely available deluxe version, WHEELHOUSE is not this album but that is not to undermine the high standard of content from the top notch song writing team Paisley has assembled and his industry renowned majestic guitar playing skills.

As to this being Brad Paisley's finest piece of work to date, that is hard to say as I haven’t analysed his previous material to this extent but close scrutiny of WHEELHOUSE has been a highly enjoyable and rewarding experience. Maybe he is not yet one of Americana’s great radicals but Brad Paisley is an important progressive figure in contemporary country music and in my book the leading male exponent of the current fashionable crop. This album has cemented that position and whether you are somebody who wants join in the ‘Accidental Racist’ debate or just enjoy a pure listening experience to ‘Beat This Summer’ then this  album is an essential acquisition. 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Ruth Moody - These Wilder Things True North Records

Over the last twelve months, the stock of Canadian folk/roots artist Ruth Moody has grown considerably in the UK. During her most recent tour at the start of last year, we were just being introduced to her debut solo release THE GARDEN even though it had been available in the US and Canada for a while. However for its follow up there is no such delay and the launch of THESE WILDER THINGS has almost been synchronised across the pond. On the back of this high quality sophomore release, it appears that a Wailin Jennys’ reunion may be continued to put on hold as Ruth goes from strength to strength with her song writing, music making and high calibre of collaboration.

Listening to this 10 track – 47 minute production is an enthralling experience as Ruth continues to successfully find a sound to suit her enchanting vocals and heart drenched lyrical outpourings. This is reflected in piano led ballads, more buoyant acoustic numbers and a brief excursion into the world of electric to support some of the more vibrant offerings. The ultimate compliment you can give is to acknowledge her extraordinary ability to extract every sinew of emotion from a multitude of instrumental sounds.

Ruth’s successful stint as part of the 2012 Transatlantic Sessions cast has led to at least four collaborations on this album. Jerry Douglas, legendary Dobro virtuoso and Sessions co-founder, lends a hand to the excellent ‘One Light Shining’ thus giving it a very roots and bluegrass feel. Meanwhile the celtic influence of the Sessions has led to Ruth enlisting the talents of Scottish pair, John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick to provide some musical expertise via fiddle and low whistle to ‘Life is Long’. The fourth Sessions link is the guest backing vocals by Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan who effectively replaced Ruth in this year’s line up.

The eminence of Ruth’s collaborators moves up a notch with the guest guitar and vocals by Mark Knopfler on the excellent ‘Pockets’, a captivating tale of emotional intensity topped with a magical duet chorus. As part of her couple of upcoming UK visits, she is opening for Mark during his Royal Albert Hall stint. Although not in collaboration, Ruth does experiment on one track with a total re-working of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’. It took quite a few listens to determine whether the fiddle and mandolin treatment to this rock classic worked but ultimately this folk/roots style version convinced me of its merit.

Apart from her classically trained beautiful vocals and acoustic string playing skills via guitar, banjo and ukulele, Ruth is also an adept pianist which is expertly evidenced on the haunting title track ‘These Wilder Things’ and the fabulous heartbreak ballad ‘Make a Change’. This take on facing up to a heartbreak decision is representative of the deep lyrical content that accompanies all nine self penned songs but not all are entirely sad downbeat numbers. Album closer ‘Nothing without Love’ with its banjo sound contains a memorable chorus emphasising the importance of love. While at the other end of the record, ‘Trouble and Woe’ leads off in gospel style with fiddle and banjo gracing a song which you could envisage having a live sing along presence.

Tree of Skies’ is another song that has the potential to come across better live than on record which just leaves the stand out song on the album, ‘The One and Only’.  While a majority of Ruth’s songs do require a degree of patience to absorb their pure worth, this tempo changing radio friendly number, questioning the frustrations of eternal love, does take more of a bow to Americana than the contemporary folk ambience which generally describes her sound. The harmonies provided by current ‘Jennys’ Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse and the fuller electric sound are the contributing factors to this switch which does showcase Ruth’s diverse talents.

There is no doubt that THESE WILDER THINGS is a worthy follow up to The GARDEN, and there will be numerous opportunities to catch Ruth Moody and her band in the UK in the run up to her Maverick Festival appearance in July. By investing a little listening time, the rewards of experiencing this blossoming artist are unlimited, so immersing yourself into her music is highly recommended.

Catch Ruth's version of Dancing in the Dark

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Saturday, 4 May 2013

Danni Nicholls - A Little Redemption Self Released

Danni Nicholls first came to my attention when she played an acoustic set in the Peacock Café at the Maverick Festival a couple of years ago. After a pair of EP releases in the intervening years, the raw talent impressively observed on that warm July evening has finally reached fruition with the unveiling of Danni’s debut album A LITTLE REDEMPTION. To those already in the know the eventual quality of this record was never in doubt but now the material is available to spread the word of Danni Nicholls to a wider audience.

It is important for the future health of the UK’s Americana circuit that home grown artists continue to match up favourably against the stateside output and this delectable collection of adorable songs is recorded proof of this existing. Danni’s original take on a timeless style of music is reflective yet not imitative and the album embodies all the positive characteristics of the roots sound. With all but one of the songs coming from the heart and pen of Danni, either a self or co-write, the record has been moulded into a proud piece of work by esteemed American producer Chris Donohue who in the past has worked with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller. By taking herself over to Tennessee and working with some of the cream of East Nashville talent, Danni has fine tuned the raw talent of her true vocal skills, heartfelt song writing and musical ability to interpret songs in this art form.

The album is an absorbed collection of Americana influences that flirt between tender ballads and increased tempo numbers served with a delicious helping of pedal steel, Dobro and a brass element headed by some subtle French horn. The mood of the tracks also swing between a tinged with sadness waiting song ‘The Next One’ and the optimism of love taking on the world in ‘Dragons in the Distance’, a track enhanced by the French horn.

The sound also represents a diverse presence with a bluesy laid back feel to ‘Beautiful Game’, a recollection of a brief bout of flirtation, while there is a strong country feel to ‘Home Down the Line’ and ‘Cold, Hard Light of Day’, which as implied in the title deals with the reality of the night before. Those who like a little structure to their albums will be delighted with the pair of tracks that bookend this release. The enjoyable and appropriately titled opener ‘First Cuckoo of Spring’ starts the proceedings which are brought to a conclusion with the gorgeous closer ‘Goodnight Moon’, another track benefiting from a touch of faint brass and the solitary cover chosen.

For me the two standout songs are at opposing ends of the album. In a seasonal jump from the opening song, ‘Hey There Sunshine’ is an appealing upbeat number that drives along with some impressive guitar work by the legendary Al Perkins on Dobro and includes input from acclaimed Nashville musician Will Kimbrough. The penultimate and title track ‘A Little Redemption’ virtually shares top billing and is an up tempo optimistic call for better things that won’t fail to leave a positive impression. The album’s remaining number ‘Bird of Paradise’ endorses a more acoustic roots sound and like all nine other songs is a laudable inclusion on this excellent debut record.

The Queen of UK Americana music may be a vacant crown but the guaranteed critical acclaim of A LITTLE REDEMPTION has just launched the candidacy of Danni Nicholls. This album is highly recommended and don’t forget Danni returns to the Maverick Festival this year when we can enjoy all these songs live, no doubt in their original stripped down version.

Check out Danni on Sound Cloud

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