Monday, 28 October 2013

Scowlin Owl - These Strange Companions Strange Records

Before you jump on an apparent punctuation error in the name, we are explicitly explained in the press release that the apostrophe omission is deliberate but that’s where the potential flaws end as Scowlin Owl unveil their excellent debut release to an audience waiting in high expectation. This four-piece all-female combo from London have been steadily building up momentum since their 2011 formation via hosting occasional live music nights, regular gigging and using social media to connect with a wider fan base. THESE STRANGE COMPANIONS is their first foray into the world of recorded music and this six track EP will immediately connect with those people who like to submerge their listening experience into a well of enchanting and mystical sophistication.

The labels of folk, alt-country and Americana can be used to define the sound of Scowlin Owl but ultimately it’s their ability to give your mind a licence to wander which will entice you into a world of left field and non-conformist articulate music making. The musings of writing band members Nina Lovelace and Yvonne Bordon steer the record towards the inner thoughts of your mind and rekindles the passion of comment and recollection through song in a 21st Century context. All six songs are strong on lyrical content and several addictive hooks ensure there is a counter balance between prose and sound.

Cut price quality is nowhere to be found on this record and repeat listens of the first two tracks are required to get into the zone where band founder Nina wants to take you. ‘Message From The Psalms’ and ‘These Strange Companions’ are intelligent tracks that stretch the imagination of the listener and invite you into the observational world of Nina whose link up with Yvonne laid the foundation of bringing the project to fruition. A hybrid sound emerges as we saunter through this half hour journey of mystique and intrigue. This flourishes with the appearance of the flute, another part of Nina’s creative arsenal, giving a traditional folk feel to ‘Grey’, an interesting story written by Yvonne on the well-documented squirrel species battle on these isles. The general tones from this number probably will have most listener-friendly appeal but, like so many records of this musical style, the entity exceeds the merit of a standout individual track.

The subject content of a South Dakota Poker house and an extended lead electric guitar solo paint an Americana picture to the Nina penned ‘Poker Alice’ while the violin of Sally Gainsbury is set free to roam and sparkle on the final track ‘Sugawara and the Sunflower’. This latter track, a Nina/Yvonne co-write, is a true account of a Japanese Tsunami survivor and the subject has given his approval to the song. The other track ‘Mifune’ also has a Japanese theme to it and once again a fulfilling dose of Sally’s violin contribution, which is a recurring trait of the record. The role of bassist often gets referred to last so full apologies to Karina Zakri but the importance of its input into supporting the sound of the lead instruments should never be undervalued.

One of the aims of Nina was to create a musical collective based on harmony vocals and all four band members have delivered on this ideal to a high standard. This type of musical arrangement is becoming increasingly in vogue with fellow UK groups Troubadour Rose and The Self Help Group being of a similar style to the sound created by Scowlin Owl. The market for such groups has the potential to grow especially from its present niche status as the quality is there for all to enjoy. The challenge is to educate the listener and THESE STRANGE COMPANIONS is the perfect record to set about this task.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Three Chords Introducing (US) Volume 1 - Rod Picott/ Kimmie Rhodes/ Ronnie Fauss

In this US segment of the new series, three diverse acts are selected for some positive extended scrutiny. Some may be well known, others out to establish themselves but all will have a relevant recent or upcoming record which warrants a feature.

First up and representing the solo male singer-songwriter plying his trade on the Americana circuit is north-east US native Rod Picott. No stranger to many active enthusiasts on the UK circuit, Rod has just released his seventh solo studio album and repeat listens to HANG YOUR HOPES ON A CROOKED NAIL suggest the great storytelling knack that has served him well over the years is still in fine fettle.

'65 Falcon' is the song that makes the most impression but any Rod Picott listening experience to best undertaken by letting a complete album soak through your veins and digest each track on your own terms.

Texas singer songwriter Kimmie Rhodes is an institution among her peers and has earned the right to call her own shots with regards to her artistic direction. After many years of delivering highly acclaimed original material, Kimmie has put that side of her creative talents on hold and spend time instead expertly interpreting the work of others whilst still ensuring value is added to these respected. This last point is never in doubt when Kimmie wraps her own sophisticated tender vocals around the lyrical and melodic content of these timeless classics.

Many of the songs will need no introduction but her version of 'Yesterday' is getting some airplay and acclaim. However you will have your own favourites so decide for yourself whether Kimmie has added value with her version.

Finally the name of Ronnie Fauss has literally just come to my attention and it's hard to think of a recent act which had the same instant appeal to that which the playing of his recent album I AM THE MAN YOU KNOW I'M NOT had. In the structured world of genres and labels, industry moguls will pin the alt tag to Ronnie but it has to be said that there is far more country to this album than much of the male output from the majors ruling Music Row in Nashville. There is a strong school of thought believing that the true spirit of country music has gravitated to the Lone Star State and Texan Ronnie is an artist that will strengthen that belief.

Ashleigh Flynn - A Million Stars Home Perm Records

If you are unaware of the talents of Ashleigh Flynn, it would be highly advisable to read on and spend a few minutes of your valuable time getting acquainted with her. I went through the same experience when her new album A MILLION STARS appeared in the inbox and the challenge is not to be hooked into a sound which embraces all that is good within the evolving Americana genre. For the record, this is Ashleigh’s fourth studio release and is a well-balanced album which sparkles with inspiration in a diverse style that is conducive to the roots of American music. Ashleigh has used her bluegrass Kentucky background and blended in a touch of jazz, blues, soul and rock to produce an entertaining and captivating bunch of songs true to the core of this often confusing genre to outsiders.

With the help of The Decemberist’s instrumentalist Chris Funk as producer and a host of key contributors from the creative north-west Pacific hub of Portland, Oregon, Ashleigh has created a record that will cement her standing among eminent musicians and enhance her stalwart status which has blossomed from appearances at key festivals such as Bonnaroo. From the slow burning luscious opener ‘The Devil Called Your Name’ which succeeds in hitting the right spot with minimal exertion, right through to the classy catchy closer ‘Walk Awhile , the album is fully stocked with strong songs exemplified by their strength of substance. The experimentation of different sounds ranges from a traditional country gospel feel to ‘New Angel in Heaven’ to the brass-induced jazz connotation to ‘Prohibition Rose’.

Echoes of fiddle add some grace to ‘Rainy Days’ while the ubiquitous steel flavours the gentle floater ‘Runnin’’ and the dreamy number ‘A Little low’. A live version with a dose of banjo brings ‘Prove it on Me’ to life while a soulful organ laced vibe is wrapped around the ironic preaching number ‘See That Light’. Hopefully now you are beginning to see how eclectic this release is designed to be without losing sight of the ideals of genuine Americana music. This 46 minute lesson in how to produce a perfect amalgam of American roots music reaches its peak with three stunning tracks that jostle for standout status.

The narrative based title track ‘A Million Stars’ relives a tale when two 19th century outlaws challenged the gender convention of the day and shows the depth of the song writing. This makes an impressive claim for top spot as does the new wave rock feel to ‘The West Was Won’ but ultimately this accolade goes to the toe tapping mover ‘Dirty Hands and Dirty Feet’ where Ashleigh returns to her bluegrass roots to produce a storming track containing a memorable chorus and littered with iconic references to Tennessee and the Cumberland River.

Ashleigh also enlisted the services of respected performer Todd Snider to help on the album which has been released on her own Home Perm Records label. Together with all her help and collaborators, A MILLION STARS has turned into a fulfilling and entertaining release that has the potential to launch a new phase of Ashleigh’s career. If this has aroused your curiosity check out some of the songs on Sound Cloud and better still invest in the record soon after its early November UK release. A planned 2014 visit to our Isles will be another important milestone in spreading the word of Ashleigh Flynn as she will thoroughly deserve this wider recognition.

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood - Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge Thursday 24th October 2013

The talents of Kim Lowings were first discovered around six months ago when she played a supporting set for Jess Morgan at the very venue of this evening’s gig. In the interim period since that discovery, Kim has recorded a brand new EP to follow up her full length debut album THIS LIFE and her short set at the end of summer Moseley Folk Festival was captured in this site’s review of that event. However this show hosted by the Stourbridge Folk Club in the cellar bar of Stourbridge’s Katie Fitzgerald’s pub has long been planned as her flagship night to showcase the new release amongst a hometown gathering. The resultant packed room heralded the evening a complete success and her magical talent to interpret traditional music and seamlessly blend in original material was there for all those present to witness and thoroughly enjoy.

Kim, a fervent advocator of young performers establishing themselves in the traditional music scene,  uses the collaborative status of her band known simply as the Greenwood to promote her favoured music style and this evening’s ensemble added  considerable value to her own impressive vocal contribution and traditional instrument playing. Switching between mountain dulcimer, shruti box and straightforward acoustic guitar, she eased through a two set performance which drew on a wide range of material from a variety of sources with a nod to songs originating on either side of the Atlantic.

A beautiful unaccompanied version of ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ opened the first half of her twin sets and the circle was completed around an hour and half later when the band quietly departed to allow Kim to close with a stunning version of ‘The Parting Glass’. Having experienced The Wailin Jennies end their show with this classic traditional Celtic song a few years ago, a comparison to the vocal talents of Ruth Moody is no meagre analogy. For the rest of the performance, the band played their commendable part led by the delightful fiddle playing of Ami Oprenova and the co-support of Andrew Lowings on guitar, bouzouki and bodhran. All good bands need to be kept in check by a rhythmic engine room and this was successfully steered by Tim Rogers on Cajon and double bassist Dave Sutherland. Local Birmingham singer-songwriter Chris Cleverley, who was seen earlier in the year opening for Cara Luft, provided the evening’s backing vocals on selected tracks like he did on the video of ‘Annie Laurie’. This Scottish traditional song features on the new EP titled DEEPEST DARKEST NIGHT and opened the evening’s second set.

Amongst the highlights of Kim’s song writing skills was the highly enjoyable ‘Off to Sea’, a tale of a young woman having to endure losing her loved one to the military service of his country and ‘The Allotment’ dedicated on the evening to her grandparents. The latter has been available as a free download from the Fatea website as part of their showcase sessions but at the time of writing this would be available for just one more week. Although Kim is deeply rooted in English traditional folk music, there was an occasional nod to songs across the pond with a version of the much interpreted ‘Shady Grove’ and a cover of The Be Good Tanya’s ‘The Littlest Birds’.

The organiser and host of the Stourbridge Folk Club, Sunjay Brayne played a short set of high quality finger pickin’ interpretive blues to open the evening but was humble enough  to sideline his own fine skills to allow Kim the full spotlight on this excellent evening of local roots talent. While it has to be acknowledged that English traditional music has not often found a home in this blog, perhaps Kim Lowings and the Greenwood are about to pioneer a change in providing a catalyst for more coverage of this genre of roots music. While the live and recorded offerings are both unreservedly recommended perhaps the biggest compliment to Kim is the temporary diversion she has provided away from this blog's transatlantic inspiration and created an intrigue to investigate what is happening on your doorstep.

Set list: - The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood (cover): Did You Ever (original): Drifting Point (original): Deepest Darkest Night (original): Phoenix (original): This Life (original): Off to Sea (original): The Cruel Mother (Traditional): Alfrick (Original): The Wonderful Mr Clark (original): Annie Laurie (traditional): The Blacksmith (traditional): The Allotment (original): The Devil and the Ploughman (traditional): The Bonny Labouring Boy (traditional): The Littlest Birds (cover): Shady Grove (traditional): The Begging Song (traditional): The Parting Glass (traditional)

Kim Lowings & The Greenwood - Annie Laurie from Kim Lowings & The Greenwood on Vimeo.

Otis Gibbs + Amelia Curran - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham Wednesday 23rd October 2013

Occasionally we are presented with a treasured moment when the various movers in the music industry put on an evening which includes two artists held in high esteem. So it was a great pleasure when the Kitchen Garden Café decided to host not one but two artists from the impressive BPA Live roster for one of its Wednesday evening gigs. There was sufficient diversity in the style, delivery and content of Amelia Curran and Otis Gibbs but one thing was for sure, those frequenting this lively, cosy cafe were being exposed to two of the finest singer-songwriters to cross the Atlantic and bring their own brand of North American folk music to the cream of UK listening venues.

Technically Amelia adopted the opening role but was granted an extended slot that certainly had no feel of a support set. Hailing from the Canadian Maritime province of New Foundland, Amelia possesses an acclaimed back catalogue with her 20009 HUNTER HUNTER  album the proud owner of a Juno award (Canada’s answer to the Grammys). She has visited this country on numerous occasions but this was apparently her first visit to the West Midlands and a positive reaction and feedback suggests this won’t be her last. Having to overcome that common travelling musician ailment of the irritating head cold, Amelia was committed to shake off the effects and deliver a bunch of strong compositions that expertly demonstrated her immense talent to write and play extremely effective and inspiring songs.

Amelia has twice been featured in this blog before, with a review of her latest album SPECTATORS and a couple of excellent sets at the Calgary Folk Festival in July. The recent record which hit these shores at the turn of the year was represented on the evening by half a dozen tracks including its standout number ‘San Andreas Fault’, a candidate for the strongest metaphorically titled song of the year. From the award winning album, ‘The Mistress’ is always a well-received song with ‘Bye Bye Montreal’ matching its status of lead off track in being one of the set’s better moments. Perhaps the song which had its enjoyment elevated via a live performance the most was the country feeling ‘Strangers’. Amelia’s confidence to interact and provide some background to her songs grew throughout the set but ultimately she should be judged on the mere quality of her songs and in my book they are definitely top notch.

Otis Gibbs needs very little introduction to those who regularly frequent venues hosting Americana artists in this country and on this comprehensive evening of high quality music he delivered a pair of informative, entertaining and ultimately memorable sets of perceptive travelling musician material. Always conscious that there may be Otis Gibbs novices in the room, the staple tale of singing old country Jimmy Rodgers songs for a drunken ‘uncle’ never tires after many listens, while the moving memorial to a lost friend immortalised in the song ‘Something More’ always leaves a poignant mark.

His recent fund raising activity to finance the next record was an unqualified success though just falling short of reaching the mark to see a removal of the trademark beard. While never one to give much away, the first set appeared to possess some new material but the wait for a new release is likely to extend into the first half of next year. For me, the second set saw Otis move up the gears and deliver what I consider to be some of his finest material. It was great to see ‘Get Me Out of Detroit’ restored to the set list especially at the conclusion of an amusing recollection of getting his first tattoo and an encounter with a notorious motor cycle gang. No Otis Gibbs concert is complete without the iconic ‘Small Town Saturday Night’ featuring as well as the beautiful ‘Karlov Most’ being the crowning song of the evening.

However one Otis Gibbs song which has been a constant grower was probably the standout song on the evening. ‘Kansas City’ with the fantastic line ‘7 hours in a car, 45 minutes singing in a bar’ is an anthem to the travelling musician and this track is now definitely nestled amongst the top echelons of Otis Gibbs excellence.

Catching the prolific touring Otis Gibbs is not too difficult and he should always be witnessed on his many tours. Hopefully the next one will see a rolling out of the new material and further proof that good things do come out of Wannamaker, Indiana. However I want to leave the final word with Amelia Curran and do recommend you get acquainted, if not already, with this superb Canadian talent. These double headers certainly have their merit and hopefully there is more to come in the future.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo - Artrix Arts Centre, Bromsgrove Monday 21st October 2013

When the BBC decided to unleash some home grown artists on our transatlantic cousins at the recent Americana Music Festival in Nashville, they made a wise choice in enlisting the delightful talents of Emily Barker. While the term ‘home grown’ may do a little disservice to Emily’s proud Australian roots, she has very much cultivated her career here in the UK over the last decade. The resultant four evolving albums under the guise of Emily and her posse ‘The Red Clay Halo’ has seen her stock rise with increasing critical acclaim and their latest release DEAR RIVER is at the very heart of the extensive UK tour she is currently undertaking.

Right from the outset at this Monday night Midlands gig, Emily hit her stride with an exceptional performance of the title track off the new record which in my opinion is unrivalled amongst, both this release and her entire back catalogue. The subtle vibes from her electric guitar gave the song a live vibrancy and signalled a more Americana feel to the new material in contrast to some of the folk oriented sound that flavoured the two previous releases. The versatility of the constant switches between electric and acoustic exemplified the diversity of Emily’s sound which flowed from the neo classical tones of ‘Nostalgia’, taken to exalted heights as the theme tune to the TV series Wallender, to a rock feel to  tracks such as ‘Tuesday’ and ‘Everywhen’.

The vocals of Emily rose to the challenge of matching the majestic tones of the Red Clay Halo in full swing. Whether it’s Gill Sandell on flute, accordion and keyboard, Anna Jenkins on violin or, depending on the mood of the song, Jo Silverston on cello or electric bass, the expert musicianship brought the songs to life, all being kept in time by the band’s latest addition, Nat Butler on percussion. This talented quartet graced the Artrix’s main stage throughout a majority of the seventy-minute set, just briefly moving aside for the spotlight to be firmly fixed on Emily for solo renditions of ‘Nostalgia’, ‘Home’ and ‘Little Deaths’. However one of the evening’s many highlights was when the girls returned to provide tender backing harmony vocals on the evocative ‘Pause’, another of Emily’s crime series soundtracks.

As you would expect from an accomplished singer-songwriter, there were informative snippets of useful information sprinkled throughout the performance and early in the set we learnt that many of the songs from the new record reflected issues and observations from Down Under. ‘Letters’ was based on researching her grandfather’s war time evacuation experience while ‘A Spadeful of Ground’ added to the breadth of material addressing the aboriginal issue. The depth and beauty of the songs are an admirable trait of Emily’s artistry and by the evidence of the post gig merchandise activity, the success of the evening was filtering down to people’s pockets.

For the climax of the evening, Emily returned the invitation for the opening artist Chris TT to join her on stage and fulfil the role of Frank Turner that graced the single version of ‘Fields of June’ nearly half a dozen years ago. Previously Emily had joined Chris for one of his compositions during a forty-minute opening set of often quirky singer-songwriter material which proved a contrast to the mood and tone of the second half. By the time that Emily brought the evening to a soulful close with a much respected version of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, the savouring of a very special performer had been bottled and treasured for future posterity.

Setlist -  Dear River: Ropes: Tuesday: Letters: A Spadeful of Ground: Blackbird: Nostalgia: Home: Little Deaths: Pause: Ghost Narrative: Everywhen: Disappear: The Blackwood  Encore – In The Winter I Returned: Fields of June: Do Right Woman, Do Right Man

Monday, 14 October 2013

April Verch Band - Cookley Village Hall, Worcestershire Sunday 13th October 2013

Occasionally you come across the utopian scenario when all the essential ingredients for a perfect gig are in place. For a roots artist there can be no finer environment than a rural setting, an opportunity to ditch all things electric and an appreciative audience ready to embrace the fruits of their talents. To witness such a happening is a precious experience and April Verch’s first visit to Cookley Village Hall in the North Worcestershire countryside was an evening to treasure as well as leaving a jaw–dropping mark on your musical senses. Of course it helps when the central figure is blessed with an amazing talent to play fiddle, step dance and deliver many beautiful songs in an informative and enthusiastic manner.

This evening of wonderful music which swayed through the repertoire of North American roots music with a specific nod to bluegrass, western swing and old time Appalachian was delivered by an accomplished trio of April, Cody Walters and Hayes Griffin, all three with a solid grounding in a style so rich in heritage and legacy. Their mix of instrumental exchange and shared vocals serenely reflected the combo of tunes and songs selected for the evening with a special focus on the latest album BRIGHT LIKE GOLD. This magical recording was brought to life in the intimate setting of a venue which fitted the ‘live and local’ ethos embraced by the Shindig promotion.

It was impossible to split the impressive effect of April’s fiddle playing and step dancing which she proudly enthused was in a style of her Ottawa Valley upbringing, a Canadian melting pot of European folk culture. The blending of her roots with those of the US Mid-Western background of Cody (banjo/bass) and Hayes (guitar/mandolin) laid the foundation of a delightful history lesson in traditional music spanning two nations from Ontario through West Virginia as well as taking in North Carolina and spreading west to the Mississippi. The anecdotes and education belied the young years of the enthused trio who matched their talent with a passionate interest in furthering the cause of old time roots music.

The flawless and pure vocals of April graced a string of strong melodic songs such as her father-penned ‘No Other Would Do’, ‘Sorry’ and the Flat and Scruggs number ‘Before I Met You’, the latter in duet format, which all can be found on the new album. Also from this exceptional record we were introduced to instrumentals – ‘Jeff Sturgeon’, ‘Big Eared Mule’ and the origins of ‘Big Eyed Rabbit’, while another memorable step dancing performance added the finesse to ‘Sandy River Belle’.

This was truly an evening not to forget and April closed it in a self- inimitable style of a finale showcasing the best of all her three talents. Amongst the admirers fortunate to be present in this rural location, albeit barely half a dozen miles from the edge of the West Midlands conurbation, was local resident Robert Plant who shares a similar passion for North American roots music as revealed in many of his recent projects. He will have certainly valued and cherished the spirit of April Verch as did no doubt many others present on this special occasion. Hopefully April will become a regular visitor to these shores and her presence is set to grow in the ever increasing select circles of traditional music. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Laura Cantrell - Glee Club, Birmingham Tuesday 8th October 2013

Having come across a comment a while back that ‘old punks don’t die; they just turn to country’, it’s always interesting to relate Laura Cantrell with the championing she received a decade or so ago from the late John Peel. Amongst all the introspective dark indie guitar bands that followed the beacon of the late iconic DJ, the sessions the velvet voiced Laura recorded for him must have been like diamonds in a rich seam of gritty urban matter. The UK has been good to Laura over the years and this solid base of support has been rewarded with a full visit this year with one of the stopping off points being a well-attended evening in the main room of Birmingham’s Glee Club.

With the exceptional guitar maestro, Mark Spencer, perfectly settled in as Laura’s on-stage side kick, the audience, containing plenty of devoted admirers, was not left disappointed instead many members were drooling over a 90 minute set of exquisite and magical pure country music. The new album being promoted by Laura, her first of original material since 2005, understandably featured prominently during the evening and the new material neatly dovetailed some Laura Cantrell classics and a couple of covers dear to her heart.

Laura definitely doesn’t hide her adulation for Kitty Wells and it was not surprising to hear her special tribute to one of the ground breaking trailblazers for female country music. ‘Kitty Wells Dresses’ was also the title of her 2011 release and whilst apologising for not fully touring the UK with the album, Laura further set the record straight with a version of ‘Making Believe’ and poignantly stating that Kitty passed away on Laura’s birthday to cement the devoted link.

The handful of songs previewed from the new album NO WAY THERE FROM HERE suggest another batch of growers that will settle and flourish amongst Laura’s impressive back catalogue. However the truly golden moments of the main set were a trio of old favourites which started early in the performance with ‘Queen of the Coast’ before climaxing with ‘When the Roses Bloom Again’ and the seminal ‘Not the Trembln’ Kind’. By then Mark’s versatile guitar and Dobro playing had lit up Laura’s songs and the rich, soft, smooth trademark vocals which set her apart from many other artists sounded as good as ever.

The not so secret success of many live shows is to save the best ‘til last and Laura surpassed anything in the main set with a stunning encore of four songs that went as far as you could go to gather evidence of her ability to tunnel straight to the heart of country music. Mark and Laura re-vitalised the Cowboy Jack Clement standard ‘Just Someone I Used to Know’ made famous by Dolly and Porter and sent the crowd home humming to the rhythmic ‘Yonder Comes a Freight Train’. In between a captivating performance of ‘Two Seconds’ and the honky tonk rousing ‘ The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter’ had met the audience’s full approval, although with a polite declining to holler to the latter.

The new album and the accompanying UK dates have reminded a lot of people of what Laura Cantrell is all about and this Birmingham return was a resounding success for all parties. All we need now is for Laura to shorten the wait for her next appearance in the area.

Set List: California Rise, Queen of the Coast, 14th Street, Don’t Break the Heart, Can’t Wait, Now Way There From Here, Kitty Wells Dresses, Making Believe, Glass Armour, Bees, Letter She Sent, Starry Skies, Do You Ever Think of Me, When the Roses Bloom Again, Not the Tremblin’ Kind Encore: Just Someone I Used to Know, Two Seconds, The Whiskey Makes You Better, Yonder Comes a Freight Train

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Three Chords Introducing (UK) Volume 1 - Cherry Lee Mewis/ Gary Quinn/ Troubadour Rose

In this new series, three artists that represent the eclectic nature of the blog will have some positive coverage of their recent or upcoming release. These features are designed to widen the appeal of the acts and manage effectively the time constraints of running this blog.

First up is a trio of UK artists headed by the raw and gutsy country blues of Cherry Lee Mewis. Her new EP titled CHERRY PICKIN' is a follow up to last year's full length album HEARD IT HERE FIRST and a collaboration with Max Milligan who gets joint credit on the album cover. Essentially the record is four main tracks supplemented by a pair of shorter contributions but the fairly brief 14 minute listening experience is over far too quickly thus leaving you yearning for an extra helping.

Released on the Cherry Jam label, Cherry was comfortable to sit back and let the pen of Max take control over five of the six tracks, and having added her own spirited and dynamic vocals to the songs, was eager to share them via this short record. The prize of top track is a toss up between the pedal steel driven powerful ballad 'It's Over' and the driving blues inspired 'Meet Me at the Station'. However the main winners are those discovering Cherry for the first time as this EP has the doubled edged benefit of creating a desire to investigate her back catalogue and leaving an unsatisfied thirst for future offerings.

Gary Quinn has, with the help of the Pledge platform, finally put out a full length release of original material to follow up a brief but impressive EP in the latter months of last year. This highly pro-active and talented songwriter is part of a UK element out to demonstrate that good quality contemporary country music to rival the output of Music Row is alive and thriving this side of the pond.

These 10 self-penned tracks do include a couple of strong songs that appeared on Gary's previous recording but 'Live Each Day' and 'He Don't Show Her Anymore' are well worth sharing with audiences new to his work. Of the new songs the definite stand out is the traditional feel to 'On Your Way Out' which like several of the key tracks is rich in pedal steel. While there are undercurrents of a pop sound, this is unmistakably a solid and refreshing country release that has the potential to project Gary beyond the sometimes narrow confines of the UK country scene. 

Finally the folk/Americana crossover sound that sees Troubadour Rose stand out among their peers has been commissioned to a no doubt vinyl, disc and digital format in the guise of their excellent debut album FIND AN ARROW. In the midst of fine company as part of the evolving Clubhouse Records stable, Troubadour Rose offer an alternative to the alt-country/rock style synonymous with many of the acts on the label and their brand best described as alt-folk does possess a unique feel to reach out to a broader audience than one restricted by a single genre straight jacket.

The trio consisting of Bryony Afferson , Lizzy O'Connor and Gary Bridgwood expertly blend their sumptuous harmonies with the usual collection of roots influenced string instruments to enchant, engage and captivate your musical senses. Of the many fine songs to be found within the eleven selected tracks, the nostalgic 'Bruce Lee' puts its nose in front alongside the unusual self-titled masterpiece that brings the record to an outstanding finale. The salient striking sound of Troubadour Rose will re-define the boundaries of folk and has the potential to evolve into the mythical, at the moment anyway, genre of 'Briticana'.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My Darling Clementine - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham Wednesday 2nd October 2013

The moment the stars of the show strolled through the audience to take their place on the stage, you knew the years were about to be rolled back with the unveiling of phase 2 of the My Darling Clementine project. The retro theme may have decorated the larger of the two Hare and Hounds music rooms, both in visual and sound terms, but the presentation by Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish ensures a contemporary relevance is added to their harnessing and re-interpreting of a golden age in duet inspired country music.

Twelve months on from gracing the very same venue with a helping to savour from their debut album, the duo assisted by a polished and experienced 5-piece band managed to raise the experience to a level likely to be unprecedented on the home grown circuit. My Darling Clementine have developed that bridging knack of taking what is a very traditional country sound and successfully reaching out to a wider country, roots and Americana audience. There is no need for pseudo American accents and ample tongue-in-cheek chat liberally fills their stage show but make no mistake the immense quality of song writing, musicianship and vocal delivery left an indelible mark on those fortunate to be present at this well-attended Birmingham gig.

For those who like a little structure to their gigs, Michael and Lou bookended their 90 minute performance with half a dozen tracks from the first album including the fabulous trio of ‘Going Back to Memphis’, ‘Departure Lounge’ and ‘Reserved for Me and You’. The middle section saw a near complete serving of the new record, THE RECONCILIATION?, and the fuller sound to these 11 tracks demonstrated the positive development the band have made in taking the concept of marital disharmony and evolving the sound without any degree of authentic compromise.

With the help of the opening artist, Paul Murphy, taking the role of Kinky Friedman mediating on the album’s opening track ‘Unhappily Ever After’, the songs from this highly commendable album were taken to greater heights with their live performance. The posters extravagantly proclaimed the tour as 'at these dance halls' and the ambience of this re-creation couldn’t have come across as any better. The high points of the middle segment were definitely the exceptional pair of tracks which cast away the subtleties of the first album being an ode to Tammy and George. Michael, combining his mature and re-assuring vocal style with acoustic guitar playing, took great pride in explaining the writing process that gave birth to the classic ‘The Gospel According to George’, while Lou adopted a fervent feminist stance on the emotional ‘No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him).

The accomplished band featuring Alan Cook on pedal steel, as well as mandolin on the Latino influenced ‘King of the Carnival’, did an exceptional job providing the backdrop to the intrinsic timing of Michael and Lou’s duet performance. The passion-induced and emotive-laced vocal delivery by Lou provides a critical dimension to her role in My Darling Clementine which flits from song writing to a little keyboard playing on the sentimental encore track ‘Miracle Mabel’, all mixed with a sense of dry irony to add spice to the onstage and audience banter.

This uplifting evening of pure country gold will live in the memory for an exceedingly long time and the talents of Michael and Lou should be cherished by all those intent on preserving a precious sound. There will no doubt come a point where big decisions on the future direction of the My Darling Clementine project will need to be made but in the meantime grab both albums, get down to your local dance hall and treat yourself to the delights of how proper country music should be made.

Set List: I Bought Some Roses. Going Back to Memphis. Departure Lounge. Unhappily Ever After. No Heart in this Heartache. I Can't Live Without You (When I Can't Live With Myself). Our Race is Run. Leave the Good Book on the Shelf. No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won't Stand by Him). I No Longer Take Pride. King of the Carnival. The Gospel According to George. Ashes, Flowers and Dust. Reserved for Me and You. Nothing Left to Say.Goodbye Week  Encore: Miracle Mabel, 100000 Words

Photos courtesy of Pete Saunders

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Danny and the Champions of the World + The Dreaming Spires - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham Sunday 29th September 2013

Danny and the Champions of the World
Photo Courtesy of Sorin Russo
On an evening when Fleetwood Mac turned back the years to please their legions of fans at a reunion gig at the nearby LG Arena, across the city a lower key gathering which was by no means any less electric, saw Danny and the Champions of the World give a Midlands launch of their new album to a loyal and passionate following. The acclaim and praise for the highly soulful STAY TRUE has poured in from the music intelligentsia far and wide. The five songs from the album Danny featured in this evening’s set brought the record to life and the oozing of its sheer emotion justified the lofty status of the appeal.

Prior to Danny and his talented posse taking to the stage, the Hare and Hounds welcomed back The Dreaming Spires to ease through their style of alt-country/Americana with a bunch of tunes very much inspired by their New World adventures and admirably collated on their debut album BROTHERS IN BROOKLYN for a dose of listening pleasure. With this being the 3rd straight occasion of seeing the band, the architects of Joe and Robin Bennett, play a forty-minute set, hopefully it won’t be too long before their shows are extended. A work-in-progress follow up album which should appear in early 2014 will provide the material and on the evidence of a superb track previewed on the evening the unveiling will be a tasty prospect. While ‘Strength in Strings’ from the current album was a track that emerged from the pack with an enhanced live version, the impassioned epic-like ‘You Know You Got Soul’ created the lasting impression of what to expect in the future.

The review of Danny’s album mentioned the instant appeal of the opening track ‘(Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket’ and in true correlation this fabulous song splendidly launched the second half of the gig. With the iconic line of ‘three chords and a heart on fire, something about walking out on the wire’, coupled with the brass input of the Bennett Brothers and Free Jazz Geoff, a high precedence was set from the off and subsequently the boys didn’t disappoint. There were no seasonal ailments that a couple of brandies couldn’t deal with as an undeterred Danny didn’t shy away from the aching ‘Stop Thief!’ which echoed the depth of commitment to live and breathe an album drenched in country soul. Over the course of the near hour and half set, we were further treated to ‘Cold Cold World’, ‘Other Days’ and ‘Darlin’ Won’t You Come in From the Cold’ and hopefully in the future more of the album will get its deserved live airing.

The Dreaming Spires
Photo courtesy of Sorin Russo
While Danny is the voice, heartbeat and soul of the project, the Champs are the true essence of the sound where a freedom of expression blends seamlessly the pedal steel, percussion, bass, lead and acoustic guitar. Throw in a little random keyboard and horns to re-create the artistic fusion that was embedded in the Stax sound and you can begin to imagine the aura that filled this intimate venue. The set list sprinkled with old favourites such as ‘Colonel and the King’, ‘Every Beat of my Heart’ and ‘These Days’ was far from comprehensive but the extended interpretation of the numbers to showcase the band’s immense ability to deliver a tight sound ensured the evening was a fulfilling experience.

By adding the album to your ‘bucket list’ and following it up by catching one of Danny and the Champions of the World’s  live dates, your senses will be amply rewarded and you will be supporting one of the precious talents rooted in the UK alt-country and Americana scene. This is serious praise that is fully justified, so the rest is over to you.