Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Carrivick Sisters - Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury Monday 23rd September 2013

Playing at a sunny Maverick Festival in July
In the week that saw the Americana music industry re-convene in Nashville, Tennessee for its annual get together, it is intriguing to think how connoisseurs of old time Appalachian music would take to UK folk/bluegrass duo The Carrivick Sisters. Multi-instrumental sibling harmony acts are at the core of this style of music stateside and these two ladies from Salcombe, Devon would be able to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside some of the highly rated artists responsible for the old time revival. Catching them for the third time this year, albeit in different formats, has confirmed their undoubted potential and the setting for this well attended Monday evening gig at Henry Tudor House in Shrewsbury was ideal for the preview of their upcoming album OVER THE EDGE.

Charlotte and Laura have been steadily acquiring new admirers in their relatively short career to date due to an innate ability to merge the influence of traditional folk with a sound leaning very heavily on the acoustic combo of fiddle, mandolin, banjo and Dobra. On the evidence of this return to a town fast becoming a real hub for UK folk music, many more followers will surely be joining the growing band of Carrivick Sisters’ fans. Spread over a pair of synchronised sets, they interspersed originals from both their most recent and upcoming new albums with some carefully selected covers that acknowledged their wider interest in music from across the pond.

There was no holding back their enthusiasm for Alison Krauss with a version of ‘Gentle River’, as well as the usual opening question of asking for the audience’s approval for a little bit of James Taylor before launching into ‘Sweet Baby James’. A Norman Blake song recorded by respected US bluegrass maestro Tony Rice ‘Church St Blues’ always sees the sisters test the audience for a little artist recognition which is usually met by the odd approval.

While these covers along with renditions of traditional songs ‘Darling Cory’ and ‘Lazy John’, provide a sense of artistic interpretation, the soul of The Carrivick Sisters exists within their perceptive aptitude to compose and deliver impressionable original content. ‘If You Asked Me’, ‘The Moon’ and ‘Over the Edge’ all did a fine job of whetting the audience’s appetite for the new album and enthusiastic participation adds an element of variety to the infectious ‘Today is a Good Day’ from 2011’s FROM THE FIELDS.

The between-song stories and banter which help fills the interlude required to ensure the precious instruments are precisely tuned is a developing aspect of a Carrivick Sisters’ show but it certainly adds value with personal anecdotes, observations and the sources of their song writing inspiration proving informative and valuable. Whether in harmony, solo or duet format, the crystal vocals created a sense of awe amongst those present as well as an unavoidable desire to marvel at the expert playing of Charlotte on guitar, mandolin and banjo while Laura excelled on fiddle and Dobra. By the time they closed the show with their self composed instrumental ‘Piggy Bank’, vaunted approval circulated the air of this lofty venue and left the audience eager to sample more of the new album.

The Carrivick Sisters are a band worth checking out whether your core interest resides in folk music, bluegrass or Americana and there will no doubt be many more opportunities to see them live as the new release gathers momentum. Maybe the chance will arise one day for them to show a wider audience that transatlantic crossover music is healthy and vibrant on our isles. You never know ‘Briticana’ could yet emerge to rival ‘Americana’ especially as the talent pool is plentiful.

Review of Over the Edge

Sunday, 22 September 2013

My Darling Clementine - The Reconciliation? Continental Song City

Whether or not the My Darling Clementine project ends with just the two albums, we have been left with a blueprint of how the golden age of the country duet can be revitalised and refreshed in the second decade of the twenty-first century. THE RECONCILIAITION? carries on in the true tradition of great concept albums, by moving the story forward from 2011’s HOW DO YOU PLEAD? before leaving you with a couple of subtle clues as to the ending. The legacy of this record is that you can choose to intently immerse yourself into the literary content or just sit back and soak up the retro vibes but either way the effect will be equally as profound and long lasting.

The architects of the My Darling Clementine project are that stalwart of the UK Americana scene Michael Weston King and his talented wife Lou Dalgleish, showcasing her vocal and writing expertise, with also no doubt a little keyboard playing added to the live show. Under the guidance of co-producer Colin Elliott, and with the aid of players from Richard Hawley’s band who has also worked with the same producer, THE RECONCILIATION?  is a 12 song 51 minute duet extravaganza that is slightly more experimental than its predecessor especially in the horn accompaniment and Latino feel to ‘King of the Carnival’ which provides a Mexican slant to the theme of post marital break-up. Other critics have aligned this to the work of the great border songwriter Tom Russell and this is not a bad comparison.

Aside the solitary cover of Ronnie Self’s ‘I Can’t Live With You (When You Can’t Live With Yourself)’, Michael and Lou have carved up the song writing between them, either in collaboration or solo, as well as entwining their vocal content on a range of contrasting songs such as the closing pair of up tempo ‘Let’s Be Unhappy’ and the sentimental lullaby finale ‘Miracle Mabel’. The finesse of Lou’s vocals perfectly complement the solidity of Michael’s on this batch of strong melodies and tunes which emotionally mirror their contextual themes. There is no finer musical moment on this record than when Alan Cook’s pedal steel takes centre stage and adds a decorous atmospheric elegance to the proceedings.

Those familiar with the first album would have been struck with the undertones of aching memories of Tammy and George in their prime. This album is far more explicit in its references with the Weston-King penned ‘The Gospel According to George’ and Lou’s delightful ode ‘No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him)’ adding spice to the theme of seemingly doomed reconciliation attempts. Throughout the record the pain of the first album’s split is prevalent commencing with the opening track ‘Unhappily Ever After’ where the iconic Texan maverick Kinky Friedman makes a guest vocal contribution. Yet signs of common ground finally emerge in the emotion wrenching ‘Ashes, Flowers and Dust’.

No standout track is being offered for this record as its beauty is in the entity and the temptation to randomly play should be avoided in order to maximise the listening experience. It was mooted in reviews of the previous album in the creative viability of a live chronological rendition in order to recount the narrative. Despite having a scene setting spritely opener and a thought provoking closer, the tracks of THE RECONCILIAITION? are more random in their arrangement for this to form a similar possibility. Yet the comparative exceptional quality of both albums will make them an essential dual pleasure.

Without hesitation this album must be added to your ‘to get’ list and in an age of easily accessible downloads with all the luxury of this innovation, the magnificently reproduced CD package adds an authentic flavour that will rival any vinyl version of this record. Michael and Lou have definitely successfully delivered via their My Darling Clementine project and the fruits of their craft are now there to be savoured by those moved by a creative style of music-making that will never die. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

LeAnn Rimes - Birmingham Symphony Hall Saturday 14th September 2013

Ready to showcase all three phases of her career, LeAnn Rimes valiantly stepped onto the Birmingham Symphony Hall stage to shrug off her recent ailments and set about re-establishing herself with a live UK audience. While the gig may have been close to following the same demise as the Dublin date a few days earlier, those present sampled the opportunity to savour her precious vocal talent and enthusiastically welcomed her back to Britain’s provincial arenas. Circumstances may have contributed to a halving of the set time from the two-hour Belfast extravaganza that opened the tour but it gave sufficient evidence as to why millions have bought into her crossover appeal.

The hugely successful period where LeAnn floated around the peripheral of the country music model was represented by a string of hits including ‘How Do I Live’, ‘Cant’ Fight the Moonlight’, ‘Life Goes On’ and ‘Last Thing on My Mind’ and these were well received by those not deterred by the slightly inflated ticket prices. With the backing of a four piece band comprising of percussion and the guitar trinity of lead, bass and pedal steel, LeAnn constantly switched her mode of delivery from bar stool to increased animation in order to reflect the mood of the song. The listening experience is core to any LeAnn Rimes show and while the true professionalism of her vocal content was in place, perhaps the show production could have developed the no doubt fine musicianship behind her a little more.

There were glimpses of this when LeAnn brought the audience up to date with what was sadly for me a rather minimal representation of her excellent new album SPITFIRE. The onstage interaction required to bring ‘Gasoline and Matches’ to life proved the high point of a show which, while of undeniable high quality, left some food for thought. SPITFIRE is the latest segment of her re-integration with the country music fraternity and the passion and sincerity of this record was exemplified in her stunning rendition of two of the album’s fine ballads, ‘Borrowed’ and ‘What Have I Done’. It was a pity that some of the grittier tracks such as ‘Spitfire’ and ‘You Ain’t Right’ weren’t aired to show the nostalgia driven fans the true depth of a project designed to reflect upon the events of a turbulent period in her life.

Mid-set we were reminded of the child prodigy years with a spellbinding version of ‘Blue’ from an album that I will never tire of returning to even though LeAnn fondly reminded everyone that little was understood at the time. Although it was a touch disappointing that the far from modest outlay was rewarded with only a 65-minute set, the evening which had began on a high with the energetic ‘Family’ ended with a spine tingling and intimate version of ‘Hallelujah’ accompanied only by a solitary acoustic guitar. This Leonard Cohen standard is fast becoming a fashionable closer on my gig travels and LeAnn’s version, aided by the venue’s superb acoustic sound, didn’t disappoint.

There may be a fair few music miles on LeAnn’s clock but a feeling exists that there is a lot more to come and that she is ‘work-in-progress’ in becoming an acclaimed and influential artist. The material and style from her last three albums has hopefully signalled a path to this status. The quality content from the new record has seen LeAnn set the agenda and this needs to be developed in the future. The country music world is willing for her talent to be a genre flag bearer and although this show experience came up a little short in some aspects, the desire for LeAnn to reach that exalted level has been fuelled by her desire to re-connect with wider audiences.

On his first experience of performing outside the US, the singer-songwriter Logan Mize did a sterling job to open for LeAnn and, although reduced to solo acoustic status, demonstrated possessing the talent and toolkit to make inroads into the world of contemporary country music. The confidence in his onstage presence both in delivery and banter harnessed a passion to use the medium of song to bring to life real issues ingrained in the country music songbook. Definitely an artist to have his future releases monitored.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Brandy Clark - 12 Stories Slate Creek Records

The road to this spellbinding debut release by Brandy Clark may have been long but not a minute of life experience, observation and absorption of influence has been wasted as 12 STORIES captures the very essence of what country music is all about. From her raising in quintessential small town USA, also known as Morton, WA (pop 900) to the recent success as a hit Nashville songwriter, Brandy has honed a talent to analyse, articulate and convey the truth in an uncomplicated song style not far from the proverbial ‘three chords’. The re-assuring down to earth vocal delivery cements these attributes to package an anthology of real life pain, anguish, trepidation, temptation and regret with a small dose of black humour to show a glint of light.

With the encouragement of Marty Stuart and under the guidance of Dave Brainard (Jerrod Neimann), Brandy has produced a stunning collection of 12 masterpieces that easily rivals the highly marketed output from her pure song writing role. At a time when modern country’s respect to the past is in vogue, the moment for recognition may be upon Brandy and she certainly has a product which tips its hat to Haggard, Lynn, Wynnette and Jones. The evidence laid out in the content of 12 STORIES suggests that a potential for sustained longevity will counteract any industry fickleness as found in the careers of those Wine, Women and Song luminaries – Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss.

The initial focal point of the record has been the upbeat, humorous yet slightly dark ditty ‘Stripes’ which  takes a left field view of country music’s obsession with cheating and revenge. The wit and irony of the lyrics will leave their mark with a bass fused beat not too dissimilar to Carrie Underwood’s ‘Before He Cheats’. Brandy has been the co-architect for some of the recent Kacey Musgraves material and album opener ‘Pray to Jesus’ could easily have found a home elsewhere as this intuitive observation of folk hedging their bets between religion and the lottery unveils a deep perception amidst a memorable melody.

While all 12 accounts are written from a female perspective, the mood swings from a touch of sympathy for the downtrodden subject of ‘Get High’ experimenting with different states of mind to a damnation of those featuring in ‘Illegitimate Children’. This waltz-like tune graphically depicting a cross town scene is definitely a joint leader in this coalition of classics sharing top billing with the adorable tale of extra marital anticipation ‘What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven’.

Closely following this pair of standout tracks is the tear jerking late night smoky ballad ‘In Some Corner’ using a combo of pedal steel and piano to spill the beans of regret with the immortal line ‘there’s a jukebox playing Jones’ painting the perfect image of self-reflecting solitude. While the highs are many, the only lows exist in the sad content of numbers such as the solutions to life’s problems in ‘Take a Little Pill’ and the realities and decisions as depicted in ‘Hungover’.

The stories that Brandy has wonderfully collated over the years have almost singularly inspired her song writing and the spectrum of emotion continues to fluctuate from the defiant optimism of ‘Hold My Hand’ to the sad realisation of ‘The Day She Got Divorced’. The profound impact of this record is relentless even as we head to its closure with the tender heartbreaking flawed-father song ‘Just Like Him’. The use of fiddle on this track is appropriate as is the distribution of sounds on many other tracks such as the banjo gracing the feisty ‘Crazy Woman’ earlier on the album where the recognition of female flaws is upended by the cutting finale of being ‘made by crazy men’. In much the same way ‘Stand by Your Man’ has that twisting subtle stab of ‘after all he’s just a man’.

12 STORIES is how a country record should be made and Brandy Clark has eclipsed her compatriots Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves in delivering a far more thorough and consistent release that bridges the generation gap as well as tackling the issues of reality from a multitude of angles. After its October 22 release, it will take a truly exceptional album in the final ten weeks of the year to knock 12 STORIES off the number one spot. 

Check out Brandy on Reverbnation

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Moseley Folk Festival - Saturday 31st August and Sunday 1st September 2013

Having been slightly disappointed with The Be Good Tanyas Warwick Arts Centre show earlier this year, the most important aspect of the 2013 Moseley Folk Festival was being given another chance to re-connect with this Vancouver based trio who had risen to such prominence in the world of folk roots during the millennium’s early years. An hour and twenty minutes after they had set foot on the festival’s idyllic main stage, any doubts had been removed as Frazey Ford, Trish Klein and once again Caroline Ballhorn deputising for the recuperating Sam Parton gave a master class in how to deliver and interpret a mixture of classic roots material.

Frazey Ford of The Be Good Tanyas
Whether delving into folk, blues, gospel or celebrating the music of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, The Be Good Tanyas supremely entertained a Sunday teatime crowd who were revelling in the reclamation of the festival’s genre after the eclectic headliners of the preceding days. There may have been references to some awkward folk banter but Frazey’s soul-laced vocals give the band an air of individual artistry and the mouth watering prospect of collusion with some of Al Green’s Memphis players on her future solo project will temper the prolonged absence of new band material. As if to further diminish the earlier experience, the return to the set list of the exceptional ‘Light Enough to Travel’ topped a festival highlight list that had combined the experimental with the familiar.

This three day second city music extravaganza bearing the name of the famous suburb of its location brings a slice of urban grit into the enchanting surroundings of this private park complete with luscious green backdrop, vibrant natural lake and the sloping amphitheatre leading down to the pair of alternating stages. Unfortunately the Friday wasn’t attended this year but it is without doubt that the sell out crowd would have lapped up the sure fire success of the re-engagement of Ocean Colour Scene reminiscing their acclaimed 90’s album MOSELEY SHOALS. The weekend line up also flirted with a little loosening of the genre tag but any progressive element of a music style will always strive for freedom to release the shackles.

The Dunwells
While three artists in The Dunwells, Jack Savoretti and The Staves were earmarked to check out on the Saturday afternoon, it would be difficult to argue against British Sea Power owning the second day with a highly entertaining and rousing display of gritty industrial urban indie rock. The quintessential foliage and eight foot bears add spice to the swirling anthems and introspective guitar sound tinged with a sprinkling of brass. While not for the purists and certainly laying the foundation for debate, British Sea Power continue to leave an indelible mark after many years of festival appearances.

With the appetite for a touch of post punk eighties retro being satisfied with the headline performance of acclaimed Scottish artist Edwyn Collins, this review is better served by an analysis of the three acts mentioned in the previous paragraph. All three approach the genre from different angles with Leeds based band The Dunwells currently in the throes of some home festival appearances while taking a break from their stateside adventures. Having witnessed the band in Calgary earlier in the summer, this set re-affirmed the opinion that they have loads of potential and could develop into an eminent Americana rock band especially if they continue to absorb their US influences and not fall back into UK indie pop territory.

Jack Savoretti
Jack Savoretti recently came to my attention with the album BEFORE THE STORM which has the knack of refusing to eject from your CD player and while a solo folk festival appearance may not his natural habitat, the multi talent from this classy singer-songwriter oozed from the stage to be lapped up by his growing posse of admirers. Mean guitar playing and solid songs probably define the majority of his act although the appeal does extend into other territories. Getting to know the work of Jack Savoretti will ease the passage between genres and gave credence to the crossover nature of this festival.

Hailing from the ‘gateway to north’ town of Watford, The Staves are an intriguing sibling trio who are making rapid strides in the emerging world of twenty-first century folk rock. The harmonies and roots bias to their core instrumentation provide one half of the package with the backing band adding the amplification. Sharing the stage with Mumford and Sons during their headline Glastonbury slot enhanced their summer exposure and while the core toolkit is in place perhaps a little development in the song construction department will aid the longevity potential. There was no denying their rightful place on the Moseley Folk Festival bill and they could prove to be key architects in the progressive side of the genre.

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood
While the non-stop activity from the dual stages provides the festival focal points, it is well worth breaking off to visit the hastily erected third platform this year conveniently hosting local acts adjacent to the real ale bar. It was always the plan to catch the set of Kim Lowings and the Greenwood on Sunday afternoon and true to form the trio didn’t disappoint with their brand of contemporary and traditional folk. Plans are in place to give Kim, hailing from the cultural hotspot of Stourbridge, extended coverage later in the year but in the meantime why not sample her free track on the Fatea Showcase Sessions.

The Staves in harmony
It wouldn’t be a festival without the discovery of a new act and this year’s Moseley Folk Festival award goes to Canadian feel good fiddle, banjo, and bass et al combo Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys. Carrying on the tradition of fabulous Maritimes Provinces roots acts, this band from Prince Edward Island (PEI to those of us getting into the lingo) gave a blistering performance of high octane stomping served with Gordie’s impressive tap dancing and a sound that encapsulated rockabilly, traditional and general fine good ole finger pickin’. The band are getting some positive press on this UK visit and their Moseley Folk performance will only add to this.

The festival finale from The Dublin Legends (formerly The Dubliners) was a relatively easy pick from the organisers as the combination of free flowing drink (well refreshingly priced just under £4!) and those fervently celebrating the city’s Irish heritage ensured the closing moments weren’t going to pass quietly. Prior to this crescendo of heightened passion, rising star Lucy Rose gave a main stage performance of a folk flavoured style which veers towards pop and rock with ample suggestion that bigger arenas and venues may be just around the corner.

Early festival goers get settled
Once again apologies to the many other artists that either missed the review cut or were just plain missed as the omnipresent festival reviewer has yet to be created. It is also pretty sure that the darling of the UK folk scene Kate Rusby will get plenty of coverage elsewhere of her mid Sunday afternoon slot. The set up at the established Moseley Folk Festival  has tapped into a winning formula that ensures music lovers in the second city can round off their outdoor summer consumption with a high quality offering of sounds that will no doubt continue to push boundaries in the future.