Friday, 30 May 2014

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood - Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge Thursday 29th May 2014

Kim at 2013 Moseley Folk Festival
In these multi modal times of consuming music from across the globe, it is refreshing to keep an eye on what is happening on your local doorstep. So amongst the many artists from Austin, Nashville and all points in between featured on this site, the career of Stourbridge based folk singer Kim Lowings has been closely followed after discovering her last year. Since this introduction, Kim and her assembled band known as the Greenwood have played many gigs, both local and further afield, but they regularly return to Katie Fitzgerald’s pub as guests of the local folk club. With a growing catalogue of traditional and original songs, the band can comfortably play a pair of 45 minute sets in a style that successfully blends a contemporary and classical folk stance.

Kim has a trio of recordings to her name and the brace of sets performed this evening drew on material mainly from the recent EP DEEPEST, DARKEST NIGHT and the full album THIS LIFE released in 2012. However there were a couple of new original unrecorded tracks aired during the evening to suggest that a future release may be under consideration. Once again Kim used personal experience as the inspiration for her song writing with ‘Monsoon’ having its origin from a trip to Singapore while ‘Willow’ was written to convey her thoughts to a close friend. The latter is backed by a new online video and was one of the highlights of the evening.

Of her recorded originals which were featured during the gig, ‘Deepest, Darkest Night’ is probably the strongest song, although the live performance of ‘Off to Sea’ possibly shaded it on the evening. ‘The Allotment’, which was promoted via the Fatea Magazine showcase last year, is always an enjoyable song to hear, while the instrumental ‘Alfrick’ allows for the musicianship skills to take centre stage.

The eye opening instant appeal to Kim’s music is her beautiful vocal style which delivers each song in a semi classical neo-folk manner. This is closely followed by the intrigue and mystique emanating from her choice of instruments – mountain dulcimer and shruti box. Yet there was a special segment at the beginning of the second set where Kim ditched all band instrumentation to elegantly sing a solo version of ‘By the Shore’ and just her own instruments to cover The Be Good Tanyas ‘Littlest Birds’. This was followed by an interesting switch in style to move into jazz mode when singing ‘I See Right through You’ to provide a little food for thought to possible future diversions from the world of traditional and contemporary folk.

However Kim is presently rooted very much in world of traditional song as exemplified by the opening number ‘Devil and the Ploughman’ and the jolly sing along pre-encore closer ‘The Begging Song’. Other songs of note during the evening were a version of the American traditional classic ‘Shady Grove’ and a fine rendition of ‘The Parting Glass’ to bring the curtain down on the show. At this point her band, Andrew Lowings (bodhram, bouzouki, guitar), Tim Rogers (cajon) and Dave Sutherland (double bass, backing vocals), had departed to allow Kim the sole honour of closing the evening.

Since first coming across Kim Lowings when supporting fellow accomplished singer-songwriter Jess Morgan at this same venue last April, each of the three subsequent performances witnessed have confirmed the talent that is within our midst. She has a string of live dates lined up throughout the summer and onwards, with hopefully the intention to keep writing and interpreting new songs to one day, be in a position to add to her catalogue of recordings. 

Recordings available from this Bandcamp link

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis - Our Year Thirty Tigers

It took Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison a while to get the duet recording bug but hot on the heels of last year’s CHEATER’S GAME, we have another delightful collection to whet the appetite of those forever searching for real country music in today’s contemporary market. If you want to lose yourself for half an hour in a whirlpool of delectable duets, classic country, sublime steel and heart breaking harmonies then OUR YEAR demands your attention. The ten tracks selected reflect well on Kelly and Bruce’s ear for a song as their writing input has been limited to just a trio of numbers but the choice of cover will certainly educate and entertain.

The legendary status of Kelly and Bruce is anchored in Austin, Texas and while their fruits should be enjoyed far and wide there is a thread of hometown influence throughout the album. In fact the record kicks off with a track written by Bruce’s younger sister Robyn Ludwick. ‘Departing Louisiana’ will hook you into the album groove immediately as Bruce takes lead vocal and fills the interludes with harmonica. Of course family links have not been far from Bruce’s music dating back to his classic ‘Travellin’ Soldier’ taken to the top of the country charts by the band of his then sister-in-law Emily Robison. Another Austin link immediately follows as this time Kelly launches into the Walter Hyatt penned rocker ‘Motor City Man’, once again laced with Bruce’s harmonica.

The vocals of Bruce and Kelly, whether as two or as one, gloriously decorate track after track on the record though as indicated earlier, their writing is sprinkled more conservatively. Bruce has teamed up with Darden Smith to pen the ultra- traditional ‘Carousel’ and liberally drenched the track with fiddle and steel to ramp up the authenticity. On ‘Anywhere but Here’ Bruce has shared the writing duties with Monte Warden while Kelly hooked up with highly successful song writer Paul Kennerley on the effortless ‘Lonely for You’.

Probably the most well-known song on the album is the duo’s version of Tom T .Hall’s ‘Harper Valley PTA’ and Kelly stamps a little bit of vocal originality on this recording which is neatly supported by an accompanying video. Bruce and Kelly join an illustrious list of artists to record ‘A Hanging On’ and on an album driven by a traditional sound possibly reflects best the mood of the record. Although this verdict is ran extremely close by a version of The Statler Brothers’ ‘I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You’.

Kelly and Bruce at the Calgary Folk Festival 2013
The work of esteemed artist/writer/producer T.Bone Burnett is celebrated in covering his ‘Shake Yourself Loose’ and this short but satisfying serving of real country music concludes with a version of The Zombies ‘This Will Be Our Year’ given an Austin style makeover. Along with informing the album’s title, the message of this song could be a cryptic clue to an increased level of appreciation and admiration that OUR YEAR may bring.

Optimistically this will apply in the UK as the link up with Thirty Tigers is already ensuring greater press over here and the album availability will be far wider than the equally impressive CHEATER’S GAME. Having been fortunate to see Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison play live last year at the Calgary Folk Festival this recommendation comes first hand and without hesitation, OUR YEAR will be featuring high in certain end of year favourite album lists.

John Fullbright - Songs Blue Dirt Records/Thirty Tigers

SONGS will surely be amongst the fictional end of year accolades for the most simple and appropriate album title of 2014. Songs quite literally are the currency of John Fullbright and this latest album delivers a new batch of compositions to fuel the clambering campaign to hail him as the next great American song writing talent. There is no façade to the album just 12 stripped back tracks to reveal an artist who speaks through his music and understands the strength of song.

Of course, John is no stranger to lavished praise on his music after his debut album FROM THE GROUND UP was a 2013 Grammy nominee for Best Americana album. Even in the run up to its release you can envisage a similar reception to SONGS as its content possesses an inbuilt timeless longevity that grows with each listen. Wes Sharon has produced the record which sees John ignite his fierce independent spirit by surrounding himself with only a select band of contributors, one being Terry Ware who accompanied John on his UK tour last year.

Having seen John twice in 2013, including a solo set at the Calgary Folk Festival, the tracks from SONGS are geared up for a solitary delivery with only one really having a major degree of band production. However, saying that, the aforementioned track ‘Never Cry Again’ is one of the album’s standout numbers. The majority are defined by John playing piano, guitar and harmonica and singing a bunch of songs imaginative in their theme and subterranean in their depth.

Of the themes evaluated, the promoted track ‘Happy’ ensures that sad songs don’t have a monopoly while ‘Write a Song’ is a unique take on the song writing path. There are sentimental elements to ‘Going Home’ and this particular song with its rousing optimistic traits suggests John is quite content to return to his Oklahoma home after undertaking the endless tours to promote his music. The piano provides the backdrop to many of the tracks including ‘When You’re Here’ and ‘She Knows’ while the Wurlitzer and a drop down in gear vocal delivery give a nostalgic old time feel to ‘All That You Know’.

2013 Calgary Folk Festival
There are more conventional themes such as exploring relationships in ‘The One That Lives Too Far’, although the lyrical highlight is adding the line ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ to ‘Keeping Hope Alive’. The album requires a degree of stamina towards the end especially during the 7:38 long ‘High Road’ which sees John adding Traditional to the credits after basing the song on the Scottish ballad ‘The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond’ and including a short piano rendition of its melody at the end. Yet such is the hypnotic and addictive presence of John’s voice, the lure of a repeat play after its 49 minute duration is too much to avoid especially after the moving closing number ‘Very First Time’.

You come across various namedropping online in suggesting an heir to Townes Van Zandt and Randy Newman but ultimately John Fullbright is an honest and veracious song writer plying his trade as only he sees fit. The good news is that he is very good at it and SONGS is a worthy follow up to its illustrious predecessor. It wouldn't be surprising if similar accolades are awaiting it when it becomes eligible for the next round of Americana music award giving.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Blair Dunlop - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham Tuesday 27th May 2014

The band in full tour rehearsal 
His background may be rooted in the folk tradition but the unveiling of the new Blair Dunlop live persona, coupled with full band, revealed a sound as good as any UK act exploring the world of country rock Americana on the circuit. Switching between electric and acoustic, Blair focussed heavily on his new album during this near-90 minute set and received stellar support from Jacob Stoney on keys, Fred Claridge on percussion and the usual quality fiddle and mandolin playing we have come to expect from Kat Gilmore.

Over the last twelve months, Blair has been seen live in several developing roles as he tied the loose ends in promoting BLIGHT AND BLOSSOM including a Birmingham date supporting the Carrivick Sisters and another in a similar role with Larkin Poe. However the support element was well and truly dropped from this gig which was held in the Hare and Hounds’ larger music room and attracted a respectable sized audience. For this evening the opening slot was awarded to local artist Michael King who is the front person for up and coming Birmingham folk outfit Boat to Row. It was felt that the sound didn’t do justice to Michael’s acoustic slot with his violin accomplice Anna Bennett but there was no such concern once Blair launched his set with ‘Something’s Gonna Give Way’, the opening track from the newly released HOUSE OF JACKS.

Over the next hour and a half we were treated to almost the entirety of this album, of which most as originated from the pen of the talented Blair. Although this was the first serious listen to the album, a handful of the tracks had a feel of being long time favourites and I’m sure ‘House and Jacks’, ‘Fifty Shades of Blue’ and ‘Chain By Design’ will assume this status. The musical connection between Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe and Blair has been well documented and as well as plugging her Hare and Hounds gig next month, we learnt that she provided backing vocals on ‘Different Schools’, which tonight featured the delightful Kat.

As earlier mentioned, the band development is a major surge forward for Blair and Kat was no stranger to a Birmingham audience having played a sold out gig recently as one half of the Gilmore Roberts duo. The keys of Jacob Stoney gave many of the tracks a soulful feel and he played a beautiful accompaniment to an acoustic Blair on ‘Song of Two Bridges’, a number co-written by his father Ashley Hutchings. This was part of a three song segment which saw Blair also perform solo, the title track from BLIGHT AND BLOSSOM and his usual stunning version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952’. We also shouldn’t underestimate the contribution on percussion from Fred Claridge who drove the band along all evening, being especially valuable on faster numbers like ‘45s (c.’14)’ and a ramped up version of ‘Less The Pawn’. To complete the contribution from his debut album, Blair turned to the reliable ‘Secret Theatre’ and started the two-song encore with ‘Fallout’.

The evening ended with Blair reminding the audience that he is no mean guitarist with a blistering acoustic version of the instrumental ‘Si Bheagh Si Mhor’. Yet this new incarnation of Blair is very much about the band sound which as indicated in the opening paragraph possessed a significant folk tinged country rock feel, and will be enjoyed by many who may hold a primary allegiance to music from the Americana movement. However the most important aspect is that Blair Dunlop continues to widen his appeal and is well on the way to fulfilling his prodigious potential.

Set List – Something’s Gonna Give Way: 45s (c.’69): The Station: Secret Theatre: Fifty Shades of Blue: Different Schools: House of Jacks: The Ballad of Enzo Laviano: Blight and Blossom: Song of Two Bridges: Vincent Black Lightning 1952: Chain by Design: Less the Pawn: 45 (c.’14) Encore – Fallout: Si Beagh Si Mhor

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Jess Morgan - Ort Cafe, Birmingham Saturday 24th May 2014

Photo not taken at gig
After giving Jess Morgan’s new album an intense listen and favourable review, an ideal opportunity immediately presented itself to hear a number of the songs live in this triple bill at Birmingham’s suburban arts venue, the Ort Café. Over the duration of her headline set, the qualities which factored the review verdict were evident for all to see and confirmed the view that we were in the presence of an accomplished and talented artist.

As Jess is in the middle of the tour designed to promote the new album, those present were unsurprisingly treated to a selection of exquisite numbers from LANGA LANGA which gave the record an added dimension. The recent review acknowledged that a live show would give Jess the opportunity to flavour the songs with an informed introduction and this duly happened to enhance their understanding.

Prior to Jess taking the spotlight, a pair of local singer-songwriters were granted a slot to share their music with the audience. First up from nearby Coventry was Stylusboy, although for this performance he was just plain Steve Jones instead of a duet which has been his recording format. Steve has described his sound online as lo-fi folk and this is understandable given his gentle acoustic song delivery. Steve came across well and shared some of the songs which can be found on his recent album HOSPITALITY FOR HOPE along with a couple of amusing anecdotes to lighten the mood. He closed with the sentimental ‘Hold My Hand’ to reveal some personal inspiration for his song writing.

In contrast to Steve, Chris Tye is a far more upbeat performer with his folk style opening up to a jazz and soul influence in places. Chris is a local Birmingham singer-songwriter and has raised eyebrows recently with a few support sets on the circuit. He has utilised the Pledge model to fund his new album and early indications are THE PAPER GRENADE is a release to look out for.

For her set Jess chose to mix material from her complete album spectrum and delved into the back catalogue to open with ‘Due Grace Coming’ from 2010’s ALL SWELL and later share ‘Every Day a School Day’ originally found on 2012’s AYE ME. However it was the current release which featured prominently with the added background stories. We were wiser about the influences of her hometown Norwich and its wider surroundings on ‘Movie Scene’ and ‘Cavalier’ as well as the chance encounters on her travels being the inspirations behind ‘Last Song’ and ‘Freckles in the Sun’. We also learnt of her experience when hitch hiking in East Africa’s Rift Valley and how it became the basis for ‘The Missionary’. To conclude the set, Jess spoke of how she sometimes altered the theme of songs and reworked ‘Modern World’ into a previously unrecorded track called ‘Carelessness’. This just left the encore number with it this evening being the slightly surreal ‘Bat and Mouse Blues’.

As indicated in the album review, Jess possesses a high degree of Americana singer-songwriter traits in her act with respect to the guitar playing and vocal style. The latter contains traces of traditional English folk coupled with a sound associated with some of the eminent female vocalists from across the Atlantic. With the complete package in place, and on the evidence from this evening, the career of Jess Morgan is well positioned to continue to flourish.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Hatful of Rain - The Morning Key Union Music Store

In today’s competitive music market there is no room for bands to rest on their laurels and Sussex based Hatful of Rain understand the importance of connecting with both their existing and potential fan base. Praise has been showered on the quartet following their debut release, including a successful session with Bob Harris, but the recording of a new album could just be the impetus they need to take their music to a wider audience. Along with this excellent sophomore album, the band that produce an eclectic roots sound to excite specialists in the country, folk and Americana scene, are also in the throes of breaking out from their south coast zone with a tour of venues further afield. The good news is that in THE MORNING KEY they have a record to carry on the momentum.

Under the guidance of the good folks at the Union Music Store and leadership from producer Al Scott (The Levellers, Oysterband), this 13 track comprehensive collection of self-penned songs shows the democratic approach to music making the band have and how well they utilise their musical and vocal talents. All four band members have contributed to the writing process and in their own individual style shape the sound with waves of fine musicianship. The beautiful choral-like vocals of Chloe Overton grace the majority of the tracks and she also supplies string input in the guise of banjo, mandolin and guitar. Phil Jones drives the band along with his onstage enthusiasm, double bass, banjo and guitar contribution as well as lead vocal on ‘Bread Woolly Back’ and additionally, playing a significant part in raising the band’s profile.

Although the quality rarely dips during the album’s 52 minute play time, there is an undeniable high early in the listening with the outstanding ‘Good Way (To Make a Bad Man Worse)’ and the inspirational ‘One Promised Land’. The opportunity to experience these songs live is a mouth-watering prospect. The opening track ‘These Streets’, lifted as the first single, and ‘Map or Compass’ embed the bluegrass sound in the band which is further enhanced by the regular contributions of Fred Gregory and James Shenton. Gregory, also a member of likeminded group Porchlight Smoker, excels on mandolin, guitar and double bass as well as singing and writing the twin tracks ‘Superman’ and ‘Stay’, the latter a duet with Chloe. Shenton provides the essential fiddle sound which weaves its way through the tracks peaking with ‘Stranger’, an instrumental he composed.

The album also benefits from a number of guest musicians including John Breese, who was seen live recently playing banjo with The Coal Porters, and Max Sweatman, the source of the hurdy-gurdy sound added to the stompin’ finale ‘Little Bird’. With such a positive and upbeat ending, you are left with little alternative but to press repeat and re-live all the many high spots again.

Hatful of Rain are just about to undertake their most extensive tour to date and when you add the best of THE MORNING KEY to old favourites ‘Way Up On The Hill’, ‘Rockin’ Chair Daddy’ and ‘Angelina Baker’ from the first album then the opportunity to catch them live is a must. If Hatful of Rain are the barometer of the UK folk/roots/Americana scene, then the future looks safe and secure.

Jess Morgan - Langa Langa Self Released

For a while now Jess Morgan has been recognised has one of the most talented young artists plying their trade on the acoustic singer-songwriter circuit. In what is a somewhat crowded market this is no mean achievement and the release of her third full length album will help cement that reputation further. There is a neat symmetrical pattern between these releases and the two year gaps have no doubt been filled with the many live dates Jess plays. LANGA LANGA is very much in the style Jess has cultivated on her previous records and evidences a career that continues to blossom.

This 43 minute album is a collection of 11 beautifully crafted songs underpinned by a multi instrumental sound which is sufficiently subtle to allow the elegant vocals to recount the vivid tales Jess wants to share with her listeners. Whether wrapped around the cello, fiddle mandolin or guitar, each song is tinged with an honest purity to provide a soft palatable listening experience. Don’t expect your liaison with LANGA LANGA to be a short term affair as the record demands not to be easily discarded and is best enjoyed after multiple listens to tune into its acoustic vibes.

Of the tracks chosen for this record, two made their debut on her mini EP release last year RICHER THINNER SMARTER. Apart from obviously being known beforehand both these, ‘The Missionary’ and ‘Modern World’, possess valuable qualities to be among the better tracks on the album. The former was clearly remembered from seeing Jess live for the first time last year and hopefully will remain an integral part of her live show. However the stand out song from the album is the delightful ‘Freckles in the Sun’ which oozes with class and has a detectable country sound within its boundaries. This song contains one of the album’s better chorus hooks which are possibly an area for development in the future.

While her vocals and song delivery anchor Jess in the folk world, there is a wider appeal to her music which attracts listeners who perhaps have more interest in the Americana sound than one rooted in English traditional song. This can only work in her favour and matches the contemporary aurora that comes across in her music. Jess hails from Norwich but spends much of her time touring in the true troubadour spirit and the Americana connotation has led to being invited to play a showcase at this year’s AMA UK conference.

With her seemingly non-stop touring schedule the best way to enjoy the music of Jess Morgan is to combine buying her records with listening to the stories behind the songs at one of her many shows. All will be an intimate, genuine and rewarding experience as you allow these songs gift wrapped in ingenuity to wash over you. Supporting LANGA LANGA and exploring the back catalogue of Jess Morgan should be on a roots music enthusiast’s wish list for 2014.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

David Latto Band - Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow Self Released

It’s always a rewarding experience to get the chance to see an artist live after spending time getting to understand their music. Amongst a raft of UK acts eager to promote their fruits to a wider audience, David Latto’s self-titled album in late 2012 stood out as an exceptional model for a DIY Americana record. His talents were duly confirmed after seeing him play a set at last year’s Maverick Festival and nearly twelve months on, David has returned to the studio to bring some further fine recordings from north of the border.

With his sidekick Gavin Brady on production, guitar and support vocal duties, HERE TODAY, GHOST TOMORROW is a tidy collection of tunes which once again highlights David’ ability to craft, write and present songs. In a similar style to his previous material, the blend of guitar melodies and heartfelt vocals wrap themselves around a set of songs evoking memories of a sound born from the highways and wide open spaces.

As on his previous album, David has elected to mix and match the song selection by the inclusion of a cover track to help cement his sound. Having previously reworked a tune from Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, this time David raided the song bank of Phil Lee, a highly respected North Carolina artist, to provide a Caledonian touch and some jangling guitars to ‘We Cannot Be Friends Anymore’. While this has been earmarked as the focus track, partially due to its radio friendly qualities, the other three original compositions rank just as highly in my estimation.

The title track is a slightly sombre offering but nonetheless highly perceptive and hits the mark in the observational stakes. With its catchy chorus and even catchier title ‘Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow’ showcases David’s song writing craft and ability to apply his thoughts via this medium. Of course the instrumentation will help define a style and the faint strains of steel on the more gentle number ‘Every Now and Then’ leave the listener in no doubt of where David draws his inspiration from. The four track EP veers in the nostalgia direction for its concluding number as the banjo comes to the fore to lead the string input on ‘Long Time Coming’. With a striking element of diversity within the confines of an alt country/Americana sound, you can make a case for any of the quartet to be the standout track and it’s probably best to let each listener decide.

As HERE TODAY, GHOST TOMORROW is officially credited to the David Latto Band, it is only courtesy to mention John Mather on bass and John Alexander on drums. However together, this four piece outfit has combined well to present a short but highly competent set of songs which David can proudly place alongside his previous material. Quality EP releases have a tendency to create a desire for more and although in this modern music DIY environment obstacles are tough to overcome, there is surely more to come from the David Latto Band.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Amanda Shires - Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury Monday 19th May 2014

Photo credit Erica Shires
You know you’re in for a good evening when the artist strides onto the stage and announces their arrival with a stunning a cappella version of a song from their back catalogue. She may have based her reputation on being an exceptional violin player but, with that opening, Amanda Shires continues to show her musical diversity. This evening’s gig in Shrewsbury was further evidence of her evolution into a top notch Americana artist and throughout her twin set performance a sizable Henry Tudor House audience were in full appreciation of her talents.

Amanda has toured in several different formats over the years and on this UK trip she has teamed up with bassist Stephanie Dickinson to form a duo, with the chemistry flourishing both on and off the stage. Whilst her recent career has been intrinsically linked with husband Jason Isbell, Amanda is the proud architect of a fabulous trio of solo albums and she decided to base much of this evening’s set around the two most recent releases with an understandably particular emphasis on 2013s DOWN FELL THE DOVES.

As is usual in my extensive live music experience, a gig often throws up a surprise standout track and from the deep well of the latest album, a serene version of ‘Stay’ made a instantly pleasing lasting impression. This song just eclipsed ‘Bulletproof’ which has long since been an album favourite and Amanda took great delight in vividly explaining its inspiration from an encounter in Tampa, Florida. ‘The Garden Song’, ‘Devastate’ and ‘Wasted and Rolin’’ were amongst those selected for the opening set with ‘Look Like a Bird’ launching the second part of this enjoyable evening.

The rendition of this track was one of the few occasions Amanda chose to sample her violin skills during the performance, instead deciding to major on ukulele, both electric and acoustic. She was immensely proud of her Martin branded version of the latter and this neatly blended with the subtlety of Stephanie’s double bass playing. You only need to hear a solitary note from Amanda to identify her distinct vocals which fuel your ears in a quirky yet satisfying manner. After she opened with ‘Kudzu’ from CARRYIN’ LIGHTNING, they continued to define the best parts of the evening and probably peaked in a fine version of the popular ‘When You Need A Train It Never Comes’.

Photo credit Erica Shires
As the evening progressed the stories from Amanda became a little more random but you were left in no doubt about the pride she has in her Texan roots. Amongst family recollections, we learnt of the origins of the song ‘Mineral Wells’ which was in fact one of the two locations she called home. This track is to be found on WEST CROSS TIMBERS, an older album, which while a bedrock of her previous tours was very much side lined in providing material for the set list.

During the evening, Amanda name checked a stellar list of artists who she had worked with including Justin Townes Earle, Billy Jo Shaver and Todd Snider. However for tonight’s show she chose to cover the Leonard Cohen song ‘I’m Your Man’ to reveal where her other influences lie. Like so many multi-talented artists operating out of Nashville, Amanda is primarily a singer songwriter and her original material demonstrates a high degree of depth and quality.

While husband Jason was simultaneously storming other UK venues on this joint visit, Amanda Shires continues to develop into a significant artist in her own right. While collaborations with Jason will no doubt continue to feature in the future, Amanda Shires is certain to grow in standing as a performer who writes, sings and plays great songs in a style core to the ideals of folk, Americana and rock n’ roll. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Hannah Aldridge - Razor Wire Trodden Black Entertainment

With strains of country, echoes of soul and all underpinned by rock, Hannah Aldridge has unleashed a mightily impressive debut album for music lovers far and wide. Hannah has dug deep into her heritage, she is the daughter of respected producer Walt Aldridge, and has successfully exploited the rich sounds of both Muscle Shoals and Nashville. The result of this twin city influence is RAZOR WIRE, a straight from the heart record, rich in soul injected roots rock with a sufficient desired twang to tempt listeners from the country fraternity.

Produced in Nashville under the stewardship of Chris Mara, this 11 track - 47 minute collection possesses an interesting mix of both upbeat tunes and emotive ballads with a faint resemblance to the sounds of fellow highly touted female artists Holly Williams and Lindi Ortega. Hannah has drawn on her eventful past experiences to pen the majority of the tracks and it’s to the album’s credit that the standout number has the tendency to differ with each listen.

The sole cover song on the record has a close Muscle Shoals link in that ‘Try’, apart from being a Jason Isbell original, also features his band the 400 Unit backing the track. This is about as heavy as the sound gets on the record and suits Hannah’s powerful vocals well. The high energy rock feel is also evident on selected other tracks especially with the guitar breaks on ‘Old Ghost’ which like many of the tunes is driven along by soulful keys. Also in a similar up tempo style, Hannah launches the album with the anger tainted ‘You Ain’t Worth The Fight’ to reveal a little about some of the adverse experiences endured in the preceding years.

However not all these experiences have been negative and an undeniable passion and pride in her young son is felt in the intense ballad ‘Black and White’. On the ballad front, ‘Howlin’ Bones’ is a haunting effort with a tremendous opening and once again demonstrating an agreeable mix between keys and guitar. There are guest appearances from Dylan Le Blanc on a couple of songs including the title track ‘Razor Wire’ and the evocative ‘Lie Like You Love Me’. The latter probably contains the record’s most striking line ‘miss you like morphine straight to my veins’ which hints at some of the challenges Hannah has faced.

Having earlier referred to a resemblance to two other artists, the Lindi Ortega similarity is apparent on the moody and soulful number ‘Strand of Pearls’. Holly Williams springs to mind on the vocal led ‘Razor Wire’ which, with its country vibes, appears twice on the album with an acoustic version doubling up as an unlisted addition. On another country note, Hannah has performed at Nashville’s prestigious Bluebird Café and you can envisage the thoughtful quiet finale ‘Lonesome’ wooing a listening audience there and  its drifting sound is a great relaxing way to sign off the album.

Whilst on first listen there were several other leading candidates for the outstanding track, the piano led mellow number ‘Parchman’ is an evolving grower and after many plays became the somewhat unlikely pick of the slower songs. However the true strength of the album is that there are numerous options for a standout track to match your mood.

RAZOR WIRE has been described as ‘Dark Americana’ and while not wanting to plagiarise the phrase, it is very close to the mark. Ultimately Hannah Aldridge has produced an excellent debut record to announce her arrival big time on the Americana scene. UK fans get an early opportunity to enjoy the record live in June and hopefully this can be the start of a fruitful alliance between Hannah and the burgeoning scene this side of the Atlantic. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Parker Millsap - Old Time Religion EP Okrahoma Records

Though often overshadowed by its southern neighbour, Oklahoma can boast a rich musical heritage to rival Texas in the troubadour stakes. From the days of the Dust Bowl Balladeer right up to the present, inspirational song writing has emanated from this state with John Fulbright the latest to get both national and international recognition. However there's a new name on the block and early listens to Parker Millsap reveal an awe-inspiring young talent ready to make a lasting impression on the roots Americana scene around the world.

This three track EP has acted as an introduction to the UK market ahead of a self titled full release ready to hit these shores over the summer. If the quality of the three tracks selected are a representation of the album then the new record is going to be a real treat. The opening two songs have been lifted from the upcoming release and their stunning quality belies the tender performing years of the 20 year old Millsap.

Being subjected to a Pentecostal raising may have played a significant part in the lead track 'Old Time Religion' which swings to an acoustic beat of guitar, banjo and fiddle infiltrated with a blast of brass. The track echoes of vintage gospel with a healthy dose of upbeat retro. 'The Villain' is a more straightforward ballad with no less appeal as Millsap displays a moving vocal range to dig deep into the soul of the song. To conclude this highly satisfying taster Millsap shows no fear in interpreting the blues by tackling the traditional negro spiritual song 'You Gotta Move' and putting his own stamp on a composition covered by such legendary vocal bands as the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith.

You sense things are going to move very quickly for Parker Millsap. The American Music Association have just bestowed him with an Emerging Artist nomination for their September awards and a month after that he is scheduled to support Old Crow Medicine Show on their UK tour. By then the album, which is a follow up to a 2012 collaborative release with Michael Rose who features on the new record as well, will be hopefully ingrained within the minds of UK fans eager to absorb these traditional Americana influences. One to watch can be an overused cliche but on this occasion keep your eyes peeled for Parker Millsap.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Brigitte DeMeyer - Savannah Road Brigitte DeMeyer Music

If you have a passion or just a passing interest in the sounds of the South then this new album by Brigitte DeMeyer will be right up your street. SAVANNAH ROAD is the 6th studio release from Brigitte and succeeds in taking you on a roots fuelled southern journey of discovery. The combination of sultry vocals, evocative instrumentation and expressive lyrics weaves together a sound deeply embedded in the spirit of blues, soul, gospel and country. Brigitte has masterminded this project with much valued assistance from Will Kimbrough who has had a hand in co-writing most of the 13 tracks as well as contributing his renowned skilled musicianship.

Although not born and raised in the South, Brigitte is now a Nashville resident and derived inspiration for the record from a biography of southern rock icon Gregg Allman. The result is a sensual exploration of southern lore which encapsulates the spirit of an area strongly considered the bedrock of Americana music. Whilst embarking on a desire to explore the subject in sufficient depth, the record is remarkably uncomplicated and full of satisfying melodies to deliver the message, probably best exemplified in the tune-friendly, uplifting and optimistic ‘Say You Will Be Mine’.

Preceding this spritely number is the album’s lead and title track. ‘Savannah Road’ probably just deserves the top spot in my opinion and is a beautifully constructed song acting as a calling to this journey of discovery. With its explicit descriptive opening line of ‘rows and rows of peaches grow’, the canvas starts to fill up with vivid imagery. Brigitte’s song writing probably peaks with ‘Build Me A Fire’, an ode to her mother’s struggles in war torn Europe prior to her eventual emigration.

There are still examples of great lines in other songs and ‘cigar-box and chicken wire picking away’ from ‘Lightnin' Poor’ conjures up the dedication to interpret song in the most basic way. The bid to tap into the core of soul and blues is evident in the chorus driven ‘Please Believe Me’ and the observational ‘Boy’s Got Soul’. Liberal offerings of organ and occasional strains of back porch harp add to the mood while a dose of clarinet brings to life a late night lounge jazz feel to ‘Big Man’s Shoes’, which also possesses the album’s best guitar piece.

To enhance  your sensory experience, ‘Simmer Right’ is literally a ‘tasty’ number while the tender tone to ‘Home Ground’ is designed to soothe any hardships derived from a journey through what can be a tough land. The voyage is completed with the philosophical and gospel overtures of ‘My Someday’ which emerges as an apt and suitable closer. The full track listing is completed by the trio ‘Worker’, ‘Honey Hush’ and ‘Conjure Woman’, with the latter being the pick and tapping into the mystique of the region.

SAVANNAH ROAD is an excellent album which brings an essence of peaches, dust roads and iced tea to your living room and, for a brief 46 minutes, you can immerse yourself into a sound steeped in the core of what makes Americana music a source of long lasting gratifying pleasure. Hopefully Brigitte DeMeyer can pay the UK a visit again to promote the album and re-live her performances as seen at previous Maverick Festivals.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Redlands Palomino Company - Marr's Bar, Worcester Monday 5th May 2014

Let’s leave the alt tag on one side for the moment and pose the question; is there a better country band in the UK at this current time than The Redlands Palomino Company? True, they position themselves on the rock side of the genre but where else can you find such delectable harmonies, strong songs, luscious pedal steel and a driving drum and bass backbeat in a tight knit five piece band. Fresh on the back of their fabulous new album BROKEN CARELESSLY, the band has undertaken a short UK tour to promote the record and the evidence of their storming performance in Worcester suggests they are in fine fettle.

For me, the Redlands experience began in the Marr’s Bar half a dozen years ago and this compact city centre club hosted the band again, giving those present the joy of hearing many of the new songs live for the first time. It didn’t take long to deliver the tracks from the latest album as, without any unnecessary introductions, Hannah launched into ‘Broken Carelessly’, the title and one of the stand-out tracks from the new record. Soon to be classic songs flowed from the album with ‘Solitary Strangers’ and ‘Everything I’m Not’ being particular highlights.

Although husband and wife team, Hannah and Alex Elton-Wall are the architects and heartbeat of the band, you cannot fail to be impressed by the multi-talented musician Dave Rothon who has added song writing to his pedal steel, keyboard and guitar artistry. His 60’s west coast revivalist number ‘She Can Live Without You’ echoed with pure nostalgia to sync with a band sound that tips its hat very much down the Gram Parsons road of the country highway. At this point it would be remiss and inappropriate to ignore some electrifying pedal steel picking by Rothon on ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Down’.

As usual with any Redlands gig there are moments of genuine heartfelt tomfoolery but when the band gets in their rhythm, with significant assistance from Rain on bass and Dan Tilbury on drums, you scratch your heads as to why they remain relatively undiscovered by the masses. Perhaps opportunity hasn’t always shined kindly on the band but their current alliance with the Clubhouse stable suggests they are not far away from a driving influence. One such song previewed during the set was ‘Sunday’, a track exclusively selected for the label’s Record Store Day release.

Redlands' back catalogue is not the most exhaustive collection but three old favourites never seem to leave their live set and it would not feel right to see the band without listening to ‘She Is Yours’. ‘Wasted On You’ and their pre-encore number ‘Take Me Home’. For this evening we went back a little further with ‘Get On The Train’ from their 2004 debut album as well as hearing the only cover in the set, a version of ‘One A.M.’ originally recorded by country rock legends The Dillards.

Amongst occasionally frivolous chat which adds to the band’s laid back demeanour, Hannah was bemused about the current single ‘In These Lines’ being accompanied by an explicit banner on download sites but this misunderstood track is proving popular in being the showcase song  from the new album. However for me the true gem of the record appeared in the encore and repeat listens to the lyrics of ‘Band Song’ reveals a soul to their music and a line straight to the heart of pedal steel lovers.

Of course there was still time for the band to pay homage to Neil Young in their standard closer ‘Doin’ It For The Country’ and put a crown on another first class performance by The Redlands Palomino Company. Hopefully the fortune of opportunity will look favourably on this great band in the future with both tours and albums being not so far apart. However we can but live in the present and enjoy the current rich pickings from BROKEN CARELESSLY and catch the band whenever we can. They are standard bearers in this country for a sound immortalised in American heritage. 

Set List - Broken Carelessly: The Boat: Wasted On You: Sunday: She Can Live Without You: Everything I'm Not: Scattered Earth: In These Lines: Don't Ever Let Me Down: Get On The Train: Solitary Strangers: She Is Yours: Take Me Home  Encore - Band Song: Doin' It For The Country

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music Loose Music

With the ink barely dry on his debut UK release, those fans who feasted on HIGH TOP MOUNTAIN are set to gorge themselves further as Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore album METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC simultaneously hits both sides of the Atlantic on May 12. Having caused more than a ripple within the country music intelligentsia with his first album, Sturgill serves up more of the same in this follow up which further justifies UK label Loose Music’s decision to add the Kentucky born country outlaw to their roster.

You are unlikely to come across a deeper and more philosophical album this year as Simpson continues to delight those seeking for an heir to Cash, Nelson, Haggard and Jennings. With masterly song writing and a neo traditional stance, this album oozes with a pretence soaked in top 40 radio antipathy. This is country music with a psychedelic edge that manages to push your mind to the limit and at the same time still retain glimpses of a laid back sound synonymous with the golden age of classic singer song writing.

This contrasting observation is epitomised in the opening and closing tracks which book-end this 34 minute ten song collection. Quite what the Grand Ole Opry made of Simpson bringing the high-brow thinking of the earth being pulled along the universe on the back of a turtle to its iconic platform is unsure but the opening and lead song from the record has all the structural hallmarks of Kristofferson at his best. ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ is an interesting track designed to free your mind with killer lines such as ‘There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane’ and ‘Met the devil in Seattle and spent 9 months inside the lion’s den’. The wider web will indulge any further analysis of this song but despite lacking a chorus hook it possesses a magnetic appeal and is rich in Simpson’s country vocals.

 For a more homely, nostalgic and fairly straightforward take on life, the album closes with a so called bonus track ‘Pan Bowl’ which sees Simpson in a reflective mood on his younger days. References to his grandparents are interesting as his grandfather is also the voice behind the album’s old style radio intro which sets the scene perfectly before we are introduced to turtle theories. The album’s second track is also another traditional pleaser and any country album is incomplete without reference to the content of ‘Life of Sin’. However Simpson is keen to not overdo the country clichés and virtually leaves the genre in his dip into a radical psychedelic sound within the strains of electric in ‘If It Ain’t All Light’.

Simpson has chosen to rework the song writing of others on two of the tracks and decided it was time to recapture the truck as a means of living rather than a leisure lifestyle in ‘Long White Lines’. This song was popularised by 90s country star Aaron Tipping, angles on the lonely side of the trucking life and Simpson’s version does it justice. For his take on love, Simpson has rehashed an 80’s British minor electro-pop hit ‘The Promise’ by an act called When in Rome. He saw the country potential in the song and has certainly made a good job in re-working it in this style.

There are gospel overtures to the guitar led rock n’ roll number ‘A Little Light’ , while ‘Just Let Go’ is a heartfelt ballad with traces of slide guitar adding to the ambience of the song. The two remaining tracks ‘Living The Dream’ and ‘Voices’ add to the diversity of the record with a underlying appeal of digesting the lyrical content amidst a sound true to the core of country music. Simpson is an acknowledged deep thinking artist and this approach is a defining feature of the album.

Simpson has once again teamed up with ace producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Lindi Ortega, Jamey Johnson) to bring the project to fruition and they have done a fine job in creating a piece of work of immense substance. METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC is an unrivalled album title and Sturgill Simpson is shaping up to be a likewise performer. This is set to be most analysed release of the year and once you tap into its thinking then the rewards will be unveiled.