Monday, 31 August 2015

Old Man Luedecke - Domestic Eccentric : True North Records

Listening to any Old Man Luedecke album is a pleasurable experience and the fruits of his latest endeavours show no deviation from the norm. Apart from his own zestful exuberance for sharing a bottomless pit of creative outpourings via the folk and roots music medium, Luedecke has once again teamed up with Tim O’Brien, forming a formidable force of joint Grammy and Juno winners. DOMESTIC ECCENTRIC rattles along with maximum effect showing the value of the purposeful song wrapped in a velvet blanket of spellbinding acoustic musicianship. The album is once again released on the esteemed Canadian label True North Records, a trusted source for outstanding traditional inspired music.

Luedecke and O’Brien took themselves off to a cabin in a secluded part of Nova Scotia to make the record, mainly employing straight from the floor recording techniques. Whether pinning the sound to banjo, fiddle, mandolin or guitar, the input from O’Brien has proved invaluable. This creates a vibrant background for the songs of Luedecke to adopt their intended premise of conveying a personal message in an entertaining artistic manner. The biggest clue to the message is the ‘Domestic’ side of the album title as Luedecke opens his heart to a revealing degree in extolling the virtues of love, companionship, family and the stark reality of the many challenges faced in these emotions. The ‘Eccentric’ part of the title is tougher to detect with individualistic being a more relevant word to describe the increasingly acclaimed artist that goes under the moniker of Old Man Luedecke.

Like so many good records, the album is bookended by a couple of perfectly placed tracks core to the theme of the release. ‘Prologue: Yodelady’ can have no other place than number one in the running order and sets the tone explicitly by pouring out the heart at the start of a relationship. Just over forty-five minutes later, Luedecke leaves us with the realistic sentiment of ‘Happy Ever After’ and the facing up to the ongoing challenges of reality. In total, fourteen songs frequent this record and the sum of these tracks adds up to a breezy listen with the pace rarely relenting. ‘The Early Days’ is one of the few occasions where the foot eases off the acoustic pedal and this excellent melodic track has been highlighted for further promotion.

Eventually the highly agreeable sonic vibes of the record become so embedded that attention focuses to the immense quality of Luedecke’s writing which has illuminated each track. Early in the record wider cultural influences see songs materialise under titles such as ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ and ‘The Briar and the Rose’. Whether revolving songs around loose titles such as these or more specific personal references like ‘Chester Boat Song’ and ‘Now We Got a Kitchen’, the theme is anchored to a back to basics view of life and applying it to the things that matter most. Dreaming of the most simple ambitions is revealed in the latter of these songs, while life gets even rawer in the line ‘find freedom and freedom will find you’ as lifted from the penultimate track ‘Year of the Dragon’.

Occasionally you get a bluegrass feel to the record as heard in the short energetic number ‘Hate What I Say’. Mandolin comes to the fore in another back to basics song curiously titled ‘Low on the Hog’, while banjo leads from the front on the rootsy ‘Wait a While’ which reflects on the importance of companionship in a trade where travelling is compulsory. A similar theme is dealt with in ‘Brightest on the Heart’ and advocating the notion of clinging onto home thoughts while enduring the lonely travelling life. To give the record a more intense sense of simplistic reality, ‘Real Wet Wood’ adds the spice of a rural refuge and ‘Old High Way of Love’ is yet another clever attempt to convey the ultimate importance of marriage and family.

Of course all this is through the eyes of Old Man Luedecke and an incredibly revealing montage of thoughts, hopes and experiences. The perfect mix of astute writing and accomplished musicianship makes this another assured record to flow into the ever crowded roots market, although with enough strength to more than just keep afloat. Its underlying theme of 'time goes fast so savour every minute' is a useful note to finish on and apply it to our choice of music of which DOMESTIC ECCENTRIC by Old Man Luedecke deserves your consideration.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Dawes + Kate Rusby + Steve Knightley - Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Friday 28th August 2015

Taylor  Goldsmith
Two key moments summed up Dawes performance on the opening night of the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. Only a few songs into their set, frontman Taylor Goldsmith almost apologised for their presence by indicating that ‘underneath all the electric and amplification these were just a bunch of folk songs.’ Upon completion of their scintillating performance, compere Steve Knightley strode onto the stage adding nothing more than proclaiming ‘that was a band’. What the main stage had just witnessed was a sublime exhibition of classic American folk rock, bristling with spellbinding musicianship providing a magnificent backdrop for Goldsmith to wrap his unequivocal vocal style around a deluge of top rate songs. The booking may have been a left field choice and a desire to unleash a dose of West Coast folk rock on festival goers, but the sheer class of Dawes paid off the decision tenfold.

Attendance at this four day festival over the August Bank Holiday weekend was curtailed to just the Friday evening this year and, with the subsequent start time and line up, it effectively became an extended gig rather than the full feel of a folk extravaganza. Between the hours of 7:30 and 11:30, with minimal changeover slack, the scheduling of Steve Knightly, Kate Rusby and Dawes was met with agreeable approval. The contrast and balance of the three acts showcased differing sides of the genre with the ultimate common theme being the unmistakable proven calibre and quality. The capacious main stage marquee was the suitable venue for this trio of performers and reception from a packed audience paid full respect to each style.

Steve Knightley
Steve Knightley was of course no stranger to this and any other festival crowd. Pairing up compere duties with a solo ‘Show of Hand’ performance was natural territory for this charismatic performer, although the solo status was relieved for the final couple of songs when a junior Master Knightley joined his father to play the Cajon. The audience required only the faintest invitation for their vocal participation to take effect and this rarely relented during the hour that Steve was on stage. His whole persona in the spotlight was endearing, captivating and charming, presenting an artist on top of his game for well over twenty years. The passion, fire and humour was alive in equal portions as set topics included early gigging in Portsmouth, wishing great songs had been written by him and the 2008 banking crisis.

Like so many folk artists, Steve had been active in communicating songs to commemorate the centenary of The Great War and ‘The Lads in Their Hundreds’ was shared with the good folks of Shrewsbury this evening. ‘(Let Me Go) Sweet Bella’, ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’ and ‘Cousin Jack’ were among the most rapturous songs lapped up by the crowd with the latter acting as a self-engineered encore performance. Well Steve was compering so it was his rules. The choice of Steve Knightley to kick the festival off was a no brainer by the organisers and the mood in the main marquee was bubbling as we settled down for the second top class act to appear.

Kate Rusby, in her witty Yorkshire brogue, reminisced that her recording and touring career has now twenty three years in the bank with the passage of time certainly being kind to her career. If veteran is a little harsh word to use, maturing is more appropriate to describe Kate whose every accolade has been fully deserved and earned. For this return to the Shrewsbury Folk Festival (her 2012 appearance had the house full sign up outside the main marquee), Kate was joined by her cherished five piece band led by husband Damien O’Kane. They added a wealth of experience, class and panache to a host of self-penned and traditional songs all beautifully executed by the polished and stylish vocals of Kate.

Kate Rusby
For an hour and a quarter Kate interspersed nine songs from her extensive back catalogue with revealing tales showing her proud allegiances and roots of influence. She briefly left the stage for the guys to jam away to a set of folk and roots tunes before returning with one of her crowd favourites ‘Awkward Annie’ to send folks away fulfilled. For the majority of her set, Kate kept it contemporary by turning to six songs from her latest album GHOST which included the title track preluded by recollections of her haunted property. ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’ was the pick of the songs from this album and now we are certain of its Whitby origin courtesy of the persuasive Kate. To complete the tunes lifted off this 2014 release we enjoyed listening to set opener ‘The Outlandish Knight’, ‘The Night Visit’, ‘Silly Old Man’ and ‘We Will Sing’. To say that Kate is a much loved member of the English folk circuit is an understatement and tonight the warmth of her approach to music would have flowed straight to the hearts of fans old and new.

Since releasing their first two albums in Europe on the respected UK record label Loose Music, Dawes have been a bit quiet on this side of the pond in contrast to their rise back home in the States. Therefore this led to the five piece band led by prime singer, songwriter and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith taking a cautious approach to minimal inter-song communication preferring to let their music assume its rightful place as the driving force of a Dawes stage show. When you have such an exquisite toolkit of sensational guitar combination, the dual evocative finesse of keys and organ, all held together by powerful percussion, the network is secure to bring the stimulating songs of Goldsmith to light.

All four Dawes albums to date were featured in their hour and a quarter headline set with especially a few from the latest release ALL YOUR FAVOURITE BANDS leaving a marked effect on audience members. It was a pity that the CD version of this record was missing from the merchandise tent, although plenty of folks were milling around the other album copies after the show. The title track from the new record proved to be the band’s finale with the witty chorus line raising many a smile from the crowd. Earlier Dawes had announced their arrival with the outstanding ‘That Western Skyline’, a song heralding that West Coast feel to this tightly knit combo. This song saw first life on their debut album NORTH HILLS, a record which was later celebrated in the set with a resounding rendition of ‘When My Time Comes’.

As indicated, a humble Goldsmith kept the chat brief, but was not short on extolling his gratitude for the festival invite. What better way to extend his thanks by serving the audience with three more memorable numbers from the new album in the guise of ‘Things Happen’, ‘To Be Completely Honest’ and, standout candidate of the night, ‘Somewhere Along the Way’. Elsewhere one of the few tracks to get an introduction saw Goldsmith explain the flying connection to ‘From a Window Seat’ and quite simply give the title to their cover of The Waterboys ‘Fisherman’s Blues’. Whether a cover was needed from such an intelligent and vibrant songwriter as Taylor Goldsmith was debatable, but it far from defines the outstanding song craft housed in their growing back catalogue.

Of course being confined to a solitary marquee for an evening didn’t allow for the full festival experience which no doubt many folks enjoyed over the weekend. However available time was maximised in the best possible way with around three and a half hours of A* music by a trio of primed top class performers being served on a plate. The organisers got it precisely spot on with the scheduling of Steve Knightley, Kate Rusby and Dawes. Maybe circumstances in the future will enable the full festival to be enjoyed, but for the moment this gig-like evening will linger long in the memory.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Gilmore & Roberts - Conflict Tourism : GR! Records

CONFLICT TOURISM may be one of the more interesting album titles of the year and it is to the credit of Kat Gilmore and Jamie Roberts that the substance of the record far outweighs the intrigue. The major award nominated duo have created their own niche in the wave of young folk artists adding a youthful vibrancy to the genre. This niche is set to become an entrenched anchor as the new album possesses an enormous depth of song writing superiority. This strong album is full of magical moments combining enthralling stories, highly crafted songs and a balanced delivery reaching across the purist divide.

Apart from their established duo act, Kat and Jamie have professional music activities elsewhere and diving deep into the construction of this record will reveal a marked differentiation to each of their input. The writing of the eleven songs is credited to either artist with Jamie just edging the numerical advantage with six cuts and the general rule of thumb is that the writer leads the vocals. This gives the album a refreshing feel throughout its optimum forty-five minute duration, although collaboration via select harmonies and instrumental input is always present.

An added joy to savouring the delights of this record has been absorbing the lyrical content and admiring how the knack of delivering the killer chorus has turned the project into an engaging listen. The Jamie-written ‘Time Soldiers On’ may be found deep into the listings, but it packs a powerful punch in terms of song structure combining a memorable chorus with a fantastic verse layout. The topic of using the four seasons as a core may be a well-trodden route, but the striking use of first line repetition with near poetic effect makes this song standout alongside some emotive mandolin.

Not to be outdone in the top song stakes, Kat excels with her number ‘Stumble on the Seam’ and its classic storytelling format. This song was previewed in their live shows last year and tells a tale of a desperate search for a hidden seam of mineral wealth with a gentle twist at the end. Kat is also the architect of the album’s thumping opening track ‘Cecilia’ which sets the scene accompanied by a Seth Lakeman-style beat. In contrast, the album closer – another Kat song titled ‘Ghost of a Ring’ - is tenderly delivered and mixes a sense of melancholy and loss with yet another high quality chorus.

Photo by Elly Lucas
Jamie is also equally as capable in serving up a near slow motion piece with ‘Balance / Imbalance’ proving a curious listen as its contrasting lyrics reveal another emotive offering. A similar feel emanates from another Jamie composition in ‘Peter Pan’ which evolves into a dark view of premature mortality and fits neatly into the conflict theme of the title. Elsewhere Jamie proves that he too can deliver a folk stomper and ‘Jack O Lantern’ has all the traits of a classical structure amidst the interesting character being unveiled in the song.Traditional song style is also key to 'Peggy Airey' where Jamie explores a nineteenth century popular figure in his home town of Barnsley. Jamie’s final writing contribution is the superbly well-written ‘Selfish Man’ and a song analysing the effect of one’s behaviour on others.

It’s back to the writing of Kat for the final two songs and ‘Warmonger’ most prominently features the duet side of the duo’s vocals, while once again providing a link in its lyrical subject to the album title. ‘She Doesn’t Like Silence’ is the track with the element of twang that will resonate in Americana circles, although this record has all the overall credentials of a staunch folk release. Anyhow putting genres aside for a moment, this beautifully sung and written sad song deals delicately with the onset of decline and demise. It also delivers a cutting line in ‘It might be a while till I’m myself again’ as the effects switch to the song’s narrator.

By now you must be getting the message that this album is full of many delights, both hidden deep in the lyrical structure and more explicitly in the tones of the musical sound as well as the montage of fetching choruses. CONFLICT TOURISM is a proud release for Kat Gilmore and Jamie Roberts and can accept no finer praise than connecting with the listener from start to finish. It supremely reflects on their talents and acutely represents the health of the bright young folk scene.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Daniel Pearson - Alone, Together : Saint in the City Records

The contrasting structure of the album title suggests an artist toying with a multitude of feelings. This leads into a record supported by a strong indie spine, flavoured with folk sensibilities and allowed to saunter into occasional classic rock territory. ALONE, TOGETHER is Daniel Pearson’s third album release and joins his previous efforts in punching above its weight. This time a central streak of orchestral grandeur weaves around the variety of core guitar input suggesting a middling maturity to Daniel’s music. Not an ounce of the forty minute playing time is wasted as nine tracks succinctly portray the intended conviction of a singer-songwriter strong on sentimental message.

The numerous string arrangements differentiate this from Daniel’s other albums which have all had their release on Saint in the City Records. However the carefully constructed lyrics remain to decorate a clarity evocative vocal style ensuring maximum listener impact. If you’re acquainted with Daniel’s music, there will be an air of familiarity in the track ‘I Still Believe’ as it gets a subtle makeover from its original version appearing on 2012’s MERCURY STATE. While an element of curiosity revolves around the re-work, the effect of this outstanding and resounding anthem is rock solidly profound and retains the power to impress.

While similar anthemic vibes surround the track ‘War Stories’, it is probably album opener ‘Hymn for the Hopeless’ which delivers the record’s strongest theme. With the strings in full flow, this antidote to despair gives a voice to the moments of somber feelings and reveals Daniel’s song writing with its deepest sense of conviction. On the acoustic front, Daniel mixes more violin input with standard folk instrumentation on ‘The Open Sea’ a track which sees the writing at its figurative finest. ‘Come Back Around’ memorably closes the record with similar acoustic effect and successfully plants a yearning desire in the listener’s mind.

For those requiring a little extra rock sound to their music, both ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Rivers’ will oblige. The latter is not afraid to let the electric guitar take control from the opening bars, while the former is that directive stray into the waters of classic rock, albeit in a mild portion. ‘As Deep as Love’ and ‘Circles’ seamlessly merge into the mood of the album without necessarily reaching some of the peaks, but still maintaining the continual flow of mixing prime passion with sensitive nuances.

ALONE, TOGETHER is powerful music with a conscience, awash with acoustic reverence and orchestral pomp. Daniel Pearson’s style offers compassionate writing with stirring emotion and each release adds more than a ripple to any pool of placid singer-songwriter activity. The record deserves a chance to impress and will reward subsequent choices.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Stray Birds - The Met Studio at The Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford. Friday 21st August 2015

When The Stray Birds are in town, old time is cool. On the back of widespread acclaim for their performances at Cambridge Folk Festival and assorted dates, the roots trio originally from Lancaster Pennsylvania rolled into Stafford to once again demonstrate a timeless breath taking spin on the beautiful fusion of harmony, virtuoso musicianship and an innate ability to capture the spirit of a bygone age. With precision skill, the band’s performance ascended to impressive heights, maturing with each song that continually portrayed the trio in a different configuration. This ranged from the lead vocal interchange of Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven, not forgetting the multiple contributions in this facet from bassist Charles Muench, to the instrumental exchange of mandolin, fiddle and guitars. Whatever the format, the single mic soaked up the sound before projecting its elegance to a near-sold out venue.

The guys from the town’s Fish Records promoted this show which was held in The Met Studio setting of the Gatehouse Theatre and formed part of their ongoing plan to bring quality folk music to the Staffordshire area. Of course booking The Stray Birds meant attracting folks from further afield and anybody who made the journey could have little regret in investing their valuable leisure time for such accomplished music. Following an entertaining set from local blues influenced singer-songwriter Pistol Pete Wearn, who mixed self-penned originals with covers from artists as diverse as Hayes Carll and Jerry Lee Lewis, The Stray Birds used every second of their ninety minute allotted time to woo the appreciative audience with enterprising covers and fetching originals true to the core of tradition.

The trio’s latest album BEST MEDIICINE is approaching its first anniversary in the next few months and several of its tracks were central to the evening’s musical menu. ‘The Bells’ and ‘Never For Nothing’ saw the band immediately hit their stride, while the title track 'Best Medicine’ had all the credentials to be the evening’s peak. Like many of the songs shared, invaluable and informative introductions were the perfect accompaniment as we learned of the New York record shop acting as the song’s inspiration. Also from the latest album, Maya explained how family circumstances in Canada formed the basis for ‘Adelaide’, a song she also graced us with her captivating vocal style. This heavily detected a Gillian Welch influence and to continue the association they included a version of the traditional standard ‘Make Me a Pallet on the Floor’, co-incidentally also recorded by Gillian as well as being an integral track on BEST MEDICINE.

Whilst commenting on their extensive tour schedule, Oliver informed us that he and Maya have now re-located to Nashville and surely the Americana side of the Tennessee music industry will buy into their traditional ideals. This included paying homage to the Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers and the more up to date duo work of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. The sheer beauty pouring out of Maya and Oliver’s own sumptuous duet ‘Somehow’ added to a crowded gig summit which was also joined by two covers, namely Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Loretta’ and the Doc Watson/Jimmie Rodgers championed favourite ‘Blue Yodel # 7’. ‘Sabrina’ brought the main set to a fine conclusion before the infectious ‘When I Die’ had the sole spot in the encore, with background research revealing this as a new song.

If The Stray Birds had been on the periphery of my musical horizon for the past year, they were definitely on centre-stage this evening and deservedly so. The humour and interaction between Maya, Oliver and Charles was on fine form all night, but merely acts as the dressing to their stunning talent which, while classically trained, has evolved into possessing a magical common touch. Any perceived hype surrounding previous performances in the UK was turned to a golden substance as this show witnessed at The Met studio blossomed into one of the year’s most enjoyable to date. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Debbie Bond and the Trudats - The Hop Pole Inn, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, Thursday 20th August 2015

She was first introduced this year as an ‘Alabama sweetheart’ on the Saturday of the Maverick Festival and what a fine ambassador for her home state Debbie Bond has proved to be. Since that glorious day at the beginning of July, Debbie and her husband/musical partner Rick Asherson have stayed in the country playing countless gigs to continue to promote the state via their brand of inspirational blues music. This evening they swapped the idyllic surroundings of rural Suffolk for a more down to earth pub in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire without any let up in their mission to thrill, inform and most of all entertain.

Debbie wasn’t the first Alabama based artist to tread the boards of the Hop Pole this year as Hannah Aldridge payed the venue in March. Co-incidentally Hannah also appeared at the Maverick Festival as part of the themed Alabama feature. While Hannah’s heady mix of country, folk and soul music ventures heavily into Americana territory, Debbie keeps her feet firmly planted in the tradition of maintaining the blues as a relevant art form. This she does with exhilarating passion and a skill to make the notes buzzing out her guitar fizz with electrifying twang. Of course this is in tandem with her exemplary band known as the Trudats and this evening comprising of Rick on keyboards/harmonica, backing and occasional lead vocal, with London based drummer Sam Kelly undertaking the percussion role.

It is impossible not to underestimate the impact of Rick’s playing on the show as his keyboard sound underpins Debbie’s lead guitar part with frequent role reversal. However it is his harmonica blowing which raises the eyebrows most, especially with the train song that sees Rick leave the keyboards behind in contrast to his usual dual playing. Listening to this song brought back memories of Debbie and Rick playing a second, and more focussed, set on the Sunday morning of Maverick which probably sowed the seeds for attending this gig. Rick also featured prominently in the call and response number ‘Rick’s Boogie’ which increased the engagement of an audience, in the main just having a pint in their local, but more than aroused by this better than usual ‘free pub gig band’.

To equate the Hop Pole with an Alabama juke joint is stretching the comparison a touch, but Debbie was unfazed by the surroundings as she was determined to inject a high dose of blues passion to a fairly sedate gathering. To be fair audience participation from the venue was probably maximised by the time Debbie and the guys played their encore version of Muddy Waters’ classic ‘Got My Mojo Workin’’. Debbie was keen to share her definition of the blues as being as much about uplifting your spirits as the alternate view and also to glow about her association with respected Alabama based bluesman Willie King, whose band she played in until his death in 2009.

Alongside the re-working of many blues numbers, Debbie was keen to showcase some of her own compositions such as ‘Falling’ which appeared on her 2011 album HEARTS ARE WILD. ‘You’re the Kind of Trouble’ was another track from this album to feature and appear amongst the regular sales pitches of Alabama as a tourist destination, heralded as a music soaked place to rival Tennessee and Mississippi. The passion was flowing for a good couple of hours and hopefully the contents of the tip bucket reflected the sincerity and talent that was on show.

With London born Rick’s links to his homeland and Debbie’s almost evangelical mission to spread the word of her beloved state, a return UK visit in 2016 is likely to be on the cards. So if a Debbie Bond gig appears at a venue close by, you could do a lot worse than buying into her belief and pride of a musical style moulded to thrive in any live setting. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sarah MacDougall - Grand Canyon : Rabbit Heart Music

In the past Sarah MacDougall will always be remembered as the artist who played an encore song at the Kitchen Garden Café in Birmingham standing on a table amongst a small gathering of people. The evening like so many gigs there was a thoroughly enjoyable one. Alas no return visit has meant a little detachment from Sarah’s music, which has now been reversed via a re-introduction through the channels of her new album GRAND CANYON. Where perception of Sarah was of a straight down the middle Canadian folk singer, this new record heralds a highly explorative and experimental artist ready to stretch the boundaries of the genre. The result is an eight track record, though its thirty four minute running time accumulates the standard album feel, which does require a little industry of the listener and a freeing of the mind to unlock the merits of its content.

Perhaps it was that lodged memory of Sarah that persisted with the album, an action that paid off while coming across others who dismissed the release. It is a record heavily influenced by landscape, surroundings and subsequent induced feelings. It is also one of identity which features a lot in Sarah’s life as she draws influence from her Swedish heritage and Canadian homeland. From two lands which evoke a colder climatic feeling, you can sense the recording igniting some warmth and this is magnified by the learning that Sarah took herself off to the far north of Canada to undertake the writing task.

The inspiring vocals of Sarah tie up neatly with the diverse sounds amply supplied with numerous string arrangements and multiple instrumental raids. Scanning down the list of players revealed a couple of artists demonstrating the close knit status of Canada’s folk community, in total contrast to the vastness of the land. MJ Dandeneau plays as bassist in Sarah’s core three piece band and has played on our shores with at least two touring Canadian acts in Amanda Rheaume and the Good Lovelies. The award winning Rose Cousins is among the guest artists joining Sarah to enhance the record.

Going back to identity and two back-to-back tracks on the album tackle the subject. ‘Sparrowhead’ is up among the most enjoyable songs on the album and includes the line ‘take me home my Manitoba’. In contrast, for the following song Sarah returns to her first language in ‘Malmo I Mitte Hjarta’ which even non-Swedish speakers can see the link in its translation as ‘Malmo in my heart’. ‘Baby It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ has been one of the tracks selected for radio coverage in the UK and this is a sensible choice from the point of view of wider appeal. ‘The Story of Pippi and Lionheart’ had a title which prompted curious investigation which led to a possible link with Swedish child literature and unwraps as a song with a memorable lyrical structure. The same could also apply to ‘2012’ with its consistent use of repetition.

The album opens with ‘I Want to See the Light (Lost from Our Eyes)’ a haunting song with a dark sentiment and basically launching a left field sound adrift from your usual folk offering. The title track ‘Grand Canyon’ can be interpreted as a song of personal release and what better metaphor to use than a place of such vast openness. ‘Devil’s Gap’ brings up the rear of the recorded tracks, is a beautifully delivered piece of work and achingly pleads for the ultimate connection in its short lyrical moments.

GRAND CANYON is a stimulating and enthralling album, full of gazing and contemplative sentiment. It often wanders into alt-territory with the invitation to follow on its terms. Sauntering down this path will lead you into the enchanting musical world of Sarah MacDougall and its treasure trove of discovery. A table also awaits Sarah for her return to the Kitchen Garden Café one day.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Lauren Housley - Sweet Surrender : Big Bad Recordings

The search for that genuine powerhouse vocalist to grace the UK Americana scene can be called off as Lauren Housley announces her formal arrival into the full length recording world. Her debut album SWEET SURRENDER has been a long time coming and any pain from the journey can be immediately extinguished right from the opening snippets of the first track. Where others pretend, Lauren mixes genuine gift, a keen ear and an authentic path to unleash a special record which has the potential to interest the mainstream, while being totally anchored to the terms of the untainted independent.

The rose colour of her home has switched from white to red over the formative years of a burgeoning career, but the prosperous blooming of the music should entail a nationwide interest for starters. Rather than hooking on one specific genre, Lauren draws upon inspiration from country, soul and blues to form this ten track collection, rich in fine song writing and utilising the collective authority of an established list of players to enhance the production. The hooks are rampant throughout the record with pedal steel weaving in and out of many tracks, supremely blended in places with Wurlitzer organ. Without a cover in sight there is a timeless magical appeal to Lauren’s songs which are all sung with incredible feeling and emotion.

Lauren and her long time musical collaborator Thomas Dibb have been writing songs for eight years so the journey to this release, and subsequent media attraction via Radio 2 interest, has been lengthy and no doubt fraught with many lows punctuating the highs. Both take equal credit for each of the ten tracks which are all presented free of pop pretence and serve a modern focal point to what constitutes a great song. Scanning down the list of players reveals two guys who have previously crossed my path both live and on record. Scott Poley recorded and toured with Cara Luft in the past, while Chris (CJ just to differentiate!) Hillman has proved an in-demand pedal steel guitarist, with Billy Bragg regularly using his services.

‘Nice to See Ya’ is an audibly moving song which announces the album’s arrival and sets the tone with a valid attempt at being the record’s ‘first among equals’. It definitely resides in the positive camp of songs as the album unveils as a mixture of the blue and brighter sides of life. To link in the more buoyant side to the writing of Lauren and Thomas, ‘All You Need is a Friend’ closes the record some forty minutes later in a similar state of mind and beautifully supported by a piano intro.

On the topic of great intros, what can go wrong with a blues-tinged harmonica one and the answer is nothing as evidenced by the title track ‘Sweet Surrender’. Sounding very much like Allison Moorer at her finest (and that’s high praise from this pen), the track oozes with a streak of southern charm that could have evolved from any point from Nashville, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana, but remains firmly entrenched in Manchester, UK. Alongside Ms. Moorer, the other contemporary vocalist who springs to mind when listening to Lauren is Jennifer Nettles, obviously minus the extreme southern twang, but with equal passion and fervour. ‘It Ain’t About You’ with its archetypical country theme of family disharmony is the song which probably best emphasises this comparison.

You can take your pick whether you prefer the upbeat or the ballad version of Lauren with the latter style being supported with a quartet of fine songs headed by another challenger to the best track mantle. ‘When Autumn Came’ is that killer classic sad song and the one where Hillman adds the steel as well as displaying the traits of a well written number in terms of lyrical make up. ‘Face the World’ is in true tear jerker mode where the steel merges extremely well with electric guitar. ‘If You Were Mine’ and the painstakingly heartfelt ballad ‘Show Me What Love is’ complete this quartet with the former being the most tender of the four.

The soulful side to the record excels in two tracks to take the record up to that desirably complete round number of ten. ‘The Waiting Game’ may be representative of the lead up to this release and its solid groove underpins a track heaving with wonderful Wurlitzer and a breezing input of horns. ‘Ghost Town Blues’ has been the song scheduled for commercial consideration and its soul stomping qualities house plenty of spotlight appeal. Think a little bit of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’ and you’ll be on the right track. A radio edit exists on some versions of the album, leaving a personal judgement on preference which from these quarters will always lean away from the orchestrated commercial.

It is an understatement to suggest that this record made a profound impact. The package is complete and Lauren makes a without compromise stab at stardom. There is ample substance to unite the ardent roots purist with the wider world and launch a talent deservedly of a larger platform. Whether this review waves Lauren Housley off into the commercial world remains to be seen, but being totally engrossed in SWEET SURRENDER has been a joyous experience. 

Case Hardin - Colours Simple : Clubhouse Records

They say good things come in threes and Case Hardin’s new album COLOURS SIMPLE explicitly lives up to this quip. It’s their issue number three on the Clubhouse Records label, the third full collaboration from the four core band members and the astute listener can implicitly detect three strands to the sound of the record. On by far one of the most interesting releases of 2015 to date, Pete Gow leads Case Hardin into the territory of song writing excellence, ensuring every ounce of small letter soul infiltrates each crevice to once again proclaim the majesty of the full album. To further ingrain that classic feel, the liner notes inspire with heartfelt nostalgia alongside some beautiful mind bending cover art suggesting a blending of simplicity with the abstract. This is in tune with the mood of the album which blossoms with maturity and intelligence as the listener is taken on a path, dark in places, but for ever lit up by the glow of Gow’s lyrical brilliance.

This pedigree release tests and teases, probes and pleases throughout its ten track–fifty minute occupation of your undivided attention with perhaps little appeal for the casual listener which makes it even more special for those who like to bury themselves in the lyrical content. Recorded in the Reservoir Studios of Chris Clarke, the home of so much valued English alt-country rock, this canvas of masterly music delivers on a grand scale and will no doubt get articulate scribes brimming with superlatives. However let’s turn the wider praise into micro analysis and consider the three strands to the sound’s reception.

On three tracks, the record envelops itself into a complex structure with multiple layers and gear changes led off by album opener ‘Poet’s Corner’. This chorus free masterpiece will demand eight minutes of your initial attention, but will reward with a rock masterclass merging faint organ with a mid-song explosion of sound. On a lesser scale, ‘These Three Cities’ continues the mood with a more intrinsic feel to the pace change as the narrative of the song unveils. The final part of this intriguing trio is the folk rock vibes complete with vibrant fiddle which decorates one of the two Gow/Jim Maving co-writes in ‘A Mention in Dispatches’.

Maving who plays all lead and slide guitar on the album also assisted in the writing of ‘Roll Damnation Roll’ which heads a quartet of songs less complex and more acoustic led. Of the four this is the greater upbeat number with mandolin and piano threaded throughout aiding attractive appeal along with the first track on the record to contain a conventional and memorable chorus. By contrast ‘Fiction Writer’ is a softly delivered vocal effort from Gow with low key guitar supporting a piece revealing yet another intriguing character. On the back of the lengthy opener, the album returns to post–seven minute song territory with the seedy tale of a similarly double life in ‘High Rollers’. Once again it’s a low slow song allowing Gow to inject belief into the character. Acoustic melody closes the album in ‘Another Toytown Morning’ as this name-laden song presents interesting themes and provides an outlet for the lyrics to blossom.

The final song strand is three straight up rockers giving the album renewed energy and a balanced output to substantiate its complete feel. The familiar brass section trio of Geoff Widdowson (aka the Champs ‘Free Jazz Geoff’) and the Bennett Brothers (aka The Dreaming Spires) ignites a rock n’ soul track lifted as the album’s first single titled ‘Cheap Streaks From a Bottle’. ‘The Streets are Where the Bars are (The Bars are Where the Girls Will Be)’ is a basic good ole Americana drenched rock 'n' roller lifted by piano and one of the few tracks to have a straightforward song structure backed by a strong chorus. A further bracketed title ends this brief song analysis in ‘(Jesus Christ Tomorrow Morning) Do I Still Have to Feel This Way?’ with a single lingering thought. Its hook has more than an uncanny resemblance to ‘Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way’) from the Dixie Chicks album WIDE OPEN SPACES. However who cares as both tracks are superb efforts.

Quite simply, with no pun intended, COLOURS SIMPLE by Case Hardin is a record to treasure and a collection of songs knee deep in marvelled magnificence. Long live the complete album in all its glory and that a British band from the thriving independent sector can engage in such artistry.

Daniel Romano - If I've Only One Time Askin' : New West Records

The sad song troubadour with a voice burrowing deep into an emotive state of mind returns in the mystique that is Daniel Romano and the vehicle of his latest album release IF I’VE ONLY ONE TIME ASKIN’. It’s a pure record paradoxically heavy on production, far from single driven and achingly formed for the vinyl event. The Canadian can come across as a curious character on stage, probably due to being someone totally engrossed in his music, which has that compass pointing in the right direction on a path to righteousness and once again blessed with the winning formula. Daniel is unequivocally and reassuringly country.

Many addictive plays of the disc reveal a record commendable from tracks one to eleven. Although that killer number like ‘Helen’s Restaurant’ from 2011’s SLEEP BENEATH THE WILLOW remains allusive, perhaps time and the live experience may ultimately crown a subsequent heir. In the meantime a trio of tracks in the latter part of the album make credible cases for peak spot without demeaning the effect of the entity. ‘There’s a Hardship’ is pure pain, ‘Learning to do Without Me’ is acute loss and the grainy intro to ‘Two Word Joe’ opens up into a splendid storytelling ditty. As you would expect from such a record, dreamy pedal steel leads the nostalgia evoking sound closely followed by accordion, piano and the odd horn input.

In an almost discard of contemporary evolution, fans of Gram Parsons will love every moan and groan from Daniel Romano as will those who have been totally smitten by the emergence of Cale Tyson over the past year. The release of the album on the prestigious New West Records label gives the record a solid platform to prosper and an enhanced opportunity to pierce into the roots market where folks are besotted by the infectious sounds of traditional country music. Of course such listeners savour lyrical majesty as well and Daniel is on the literary ball with ‘I get more happiness from a bottle/ And get more love from a stranger’ as he delivers the excellent ‘Old Fires Die’.

If you place suitable emphasis on the opening and closing tracks of an album then IF I’VE ONLY ONE TIME ASKIN’ won’t disappoint as ‘I’m Gonna Teach You’ with its almost orchestral appeal perfectly sets the tone and mood of a record consistent in ear piercing quality. Likewise the drifting sentiment of album closer, the appropriately titled ‘Let Me Sleep (At the End of the Dream)’, leaves Daniel’s creative mark, a talent which extends to other outlets for his artistic tendency including design. Although faint to detect on the track, further lauded association for the record is the vocal addition of Caitlin Rose on ‘Strange Faces’ which suggests the sphere of Daniel’s industry manoeuvres.

Radio airplay has supported this album in the run up to the release and the profile of Daniel in the UK has risen on the back of a couple of fairly low key tours to date with the untapped potential to float to grander scales. With the support of his backing band The Trilliums, it is a mouth-watering proposition to imagine the live airing of these focussed tracks. However rather than fast forwarding the appeal of IF I’VE ONLY ONE TIME ASKIN’ just concentrate on the accessible at the moment and immerse yourself in a sound that conjures up a delightful air of simplicity and provides warm affectionate music for that personal place of solace.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Mo Kenney - In My Dreams : New Scotland Records

Once you’ve spent thirty minutes in the musical presence of Mo Kenney, the spell of her magnetic appeal is a lasting emotion. The event referred to was the support slot Mo played for Rachel Sermanni last year and once hooked you eagerly await the next move. Well in the UK, the follow up to Mo’s debut album, which was a popular purchase on the aforementioned evening, is now about to be released and it further enshrines the enigma that is Mo Kenney. Instantly the more ratchetted up sound will hit your senses hard as IN MY DREAMS steers you away from the previous sensitive song writer into an artist with a greater profound impact.

Of course this is likely to be your introduction to Mo Kenney and be prepared for an unconventional record where a pop tinge belies the deep and dark undertones buried within the lyrical substance. Bordering on insular and heavily in explorative mode, this album challenges itself to maximise the impression in its thirty minute duration and is forever fascinating in its reception. Mo’s appealing vocals sit well alongside a multitude of instrumentation under the direction of Canadian music icon Joel Plaskett. Including Mo, the team of players is only a trio, but they collaboratively add a depth to the ten tracks which make up this record.

Four tracks with contrasting traits make a case for the soul of the record as the intensity unravels to reveal an artist with plenty of emotion to explore through the lyrics. Apart from ‘Telephones’, one of the four and characterised by an infectious beat, Mo has a hand in writing the other nine songs either as a solo piece or co-write project. ‘Take Me Outside’ is the song which probably packs the most powerful punch with a slice of explicitness to make a far from subtle point. ‘Pretty Things’ and ‘In My Dreams’ see Mo in a more reflective mode than the general mood of the record with the former a laid back number with an effective moment of dreamy melodica, while the latter sees a return to the sensitive and milder side of Mo.

Awards were forthcoming in Mo’s Canadian homeland after the release of her first album and this record will garner similar praise, but its alternative and indie focussed angles may stretch the folk community which showered the original love. This more genre defying record will challenge the discerning critic, although the occasional hooks and the dotted around memorable chorus parts enhance its wider attraction with captivating and engaging proportion. Album opener ‘I Fake It’ leaves a cautious trail and acts as the perfect antonym to the reality of Mo Kenney as an intriguing and inspiring song writing performer.

Take a punt on IN MY DREAMS is the recommendation and free your mind to the work of an artist who will leave more than a mark of intrigue. Mo Kenney certainly did that when first crossing my path in 2014 and investing a similar length of time by listening to this record will do likewise to many others following this advice.

M Lockwood Porter - 27 : Hidden Trail Records

More known for projecting the talent of south coast England, the good guys from Hidden Trail Records and At the Helm Records have teamed up, broadened their wings and delivered a brand new sound from the west coast of America in the guise of M Lockwood Porter. Titled 27 for the obvious rock n’ roll reason, this is Porter’s first European release and unveils an album cut and primed in the model Americana tradition. Underpinned by a combination of folk spirit, singer-songwriter sentiment and rock drive, the record delivers a well-balanced listen, steeped in formula while containing enough edges to lift it out of the malaise of like-minded releases.

All ten tracks have been written by Porter who also took control of the production duties during its recording in San Francisco. Predominately driven by guitar with assured vocals, the album dabbles in an assortment of pedal steel, harmonica and keys as well as sufficiently varying its pace to hook in your absolute attention. The album excels on its energy output with the rousing rock n’ roll number ‘You Only Talk About Your Band’ which bridges classic rockabilly with vibrant new wave, all in a frenetic two and half minutes. Earlier in the album ‘Restless’ had injected further pace into the record with equal effect and rigour. Repeat listens to this track unveils a very Jason and the Scorchers feel to it.

Of the more sedate numbers in comparison, ‘Different Kinds of Lonely’ leads the way with its slightly jaunty style and ‘Secrets’ is not far behind aided by a fine mid-song guitar solo. The acoustic tracks ‘Mountains’ and ‘Couer d’Alene’ also fall into this category, revealing an artist who may have been considered mainstream in the heyday of the classic rock infused singer-songwriter. Records like this are indebted to the Americana movement for rescuing a sound often shunned by an industry looking for a quick fix.

As a reward, M Lockwood Porter delivers a stunning stand out track that links in with the simplistic album title 27. For the uninitiated, the number has gone down in folklore as the age of rock n’ roll immortality ala the demise of artists such as Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Jones and Winehouse, although statistical critics of the ‘27 Club’ myth pour facts on the notion. Anyhow a less familiar member of the club is the subject and title of ‘Chris Bell’ which proves a resourceful vehicle for Porter to peak in the song writing department while wooing Americana lovers with snippets of pedal steel and harmonica. Check out more information on the ‘27 Club’ and then consider Porter’s lyrical line ‘better to burn out than fade’

Elsewhere ‘I Know You’re Going To Leave Me’ gets the record off to a solid beginning, while ‘There To Here’ provides a calmer resting point after a few of the more up tempo numbers. On a record which has an optimum running time of just shy of forty minutes, Porter does leave room for a track heading in the direction of epic length proportion with ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Around’ using its repetitive  chorus parts to merge into a semi-psychedelic closing.

This highly palatable and trusty release possesses enough promise to put M Lockwood Porter on the map and provide a platform for a valid stab at the UK market. 27 is an album title not too difficult to remember and spawns a sound with pretensions of being etched on your memory.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Southern Fried Festival - Perth, Scotland. Friday 31st July to Sunday 2nd August 2015

Its name belied the northern location of the host city, but undeniably the air was full of sounds, smells and sentiments that meant for one weekend Perth in Scotland could make a valid claim as the UK’s capital of American roots music. The Southern Fried Festival resumed its role as a pre-eminent force in fulfilling a desire for folks to indulge in a romantic love affair with cultural and culinary offerings from that collective group of states affectionately known as the ‘Deep South’. Alongside the daily serving of inventive soul food (far from your usual feast of festival transient cuisine), the organisers once again invited an exceptional band of guests to ensure the whole pot of bubbling roots music was represented with artists excelling in styles such as gospel, soul, blues, bluegrass, country, folk and Cajun. Throw in some good ole rock n’ roll and that indefinable genre of Americana into the mix before being served expertly by home grown artists from either  side of the border, all perfectly at home in the company of the highly respected stateside visitors and the stage was set for three days to linger long in the memory.

This pure city centre located festival had three musical epicentres weaving its magical sounds from a mild mannered midday start to an early hour conclusion that showed little sign of refrain once the 2 am formal curfew had played its hand. Whether you wanted to relax in the grandeur of the three formal shows in the city’s concert hall, catch some very good local talent on the nearby outside stage or check out a plethora of outstanding semi intimate sets at a nearby hotel, the menu was comprehensive and full of class acts.

Rhiannon Giddens
The term class is just one of a landslide of superlatives to label Rhiannon Giddens who opened the main proceedings with a twin billed show in the hall alongside those icons of modern classical bluegrass, the Chris Thile-led Punch Brothers. Rhiannon elevated her status tenfold with the debut solo album TOMORROW IS MY TURN released earlier this year and this aspect of her career is set to spiral in a vertical direction. The hour long set, which was backed by an excellent band including fellow Carolina Chocolate Drop Hubby Jenkins, was splendidly populated with songs from the album such as ‘Waterboy’, ‘Up Above My Head’ and ‘Black is the Colour’. Additionally the home audience enthusiastically greeted the song sung in Gaelic as Rhiannon celebrated the Scottish heritage thriving in North Carolina.

Following the ecstatic reception Rhiannon received from the audience was going to be a tough task for the Punch Brothers and one made tougher when technical problems beset the early stages of their set. However the solution was probably the one folks came to see anyway as leads were ditched and all five players shared the single mic. With their take on bluegrass bordering on classical virtuosity, it is a joy to just sit back and marvel at the exceptional playing and intricate timing. Early difficulties were soon discarded as the mash of mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass took control. Perhaps a little fine ear tuning is required to grasp the breadth of their talents and an a Cappella delivery of ‘The Auld Triangle’ showcased sublime harmony to marry neatly with the exalted musicianship of the Punch Brothers in full flow.

Celia Woodsmith 
With the sound of first class American roots music ringing in your ears at the conclusion of the Friday night headline concert, it was a quick five minute hop across town to the Salutation Hotel and another three hours of live music to herald in the new day. The choice on offer to festival attendees is either a couple of up tempo shows downstairs with a full band or a singer-songwriter showcase upstairs. For the first hour a decision was made to carry on with the bluegrass theme with the alternative take on the genre from Grammy nominated act Della Mae. Fronted on stage by the vivacious and sassy Celia Woodsmith, this five piece combo assembled from several locations across the North American continent have fast become the find of summer ’15 with their entertaining songs, engaging personalities and effortless connection between artist and audience. In a slight deviation from the earlier dates on the UK tour, the band was heavily focussed on preparing for the following night’s extravaganza which was to further seal their outstanding introduction to UK audiences. The lasting memory from Della Mae’s set was that ‘Boston Town’ is now fully endorsed as one of the songs of summer ’15.

Samantha Crain
The remainder of this first evening of Southern Fried was spent in the company of two singer-songwriters at different ends of my musical awareness and split by an ocean in their nationalities. Bristol based, Yola Carter is a new name to me and this introduction to her style of song presentation made a positive impression and ignited a flame to check more of her work in the future. Like so many artists this weekend, appearances weren’t confined to their solo slot and on two further occasions we were granted the pleasure of listening to Yola sing. In contrast, Samantha Crain, who directly followed Yola onto the stage, is well known in these quarters having enjoyed her Edinburgh gig last year and adding a couple of her albums to the collection. This incredibly dedicated songwriter from Oklahoma keeps the UK very much on her horizon evidenced by multiple visits to balance her homeland adventures which has included support slots for First Aid Kit and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Armed with a considerable number of CD and vinyl versions of her new album, UNDER BRANCH & THORN & TREE, to sell, Samantha did her utmost best to tempt punters late into the night to part with their cash by extolling all the favourable merits of an accomplished singer-songwriter. The new record is also now safely in my collection.

Dean Owens and the Whisky Hearts
Saturday at Southern Fried saw music spring up in three locations with the launching of the outside stage to supplement the concert hall and the hotel. The latter’s offering was now extended to a full afternoon gig which saw old pals Ags Connolly and Dean Owens team up for a twin set of border crossing country, roots and Americana music. Ags opened this show in the Salutation Hotel with a sterling performance of traditional country music flanked by a couple of extra musicians to enhance his usual solo status. Ags was returning to the format he used at the same festival twelve months previous and it also engineered a meet up with Dean Owens who produced his acclaimed debut album. If Ags represented the south of these isles, then Dean is firmly planted north of the border and used this homeland gig to re-assemble his Whisky Hearts backing band to add extra zest to his growing back catalogue in a live setting. This was the first opportunity to spend more than a fleeting acquaintance with the music of Dean Owens and the resultant purchase of his new record INTO THE SEA cemented a growing appreciation for how he perfectly blends the Americana spirit into songs inspired by feelings, events and observations closer to home.

The Chaplins
The decision to attend the inside gig, which took up most of the afternoon, meant time was very limited to catch the mainly Scottish acts who frequented the outside stage. However two bands caught the eye as events wound down before the evening’s entertainment. Boogalusa from Dundee used their five o’clock slot to prove that Cajun and Zydeco music Louisiana style was the new rock n’ roll, well at least for an energetic forty five minutes. The Chaplins secured the ‘headline slot’ on the outside stage as the audience was swelled by those early arrivals for the nearby concert hall show. This heavily influenced Americana band from Glasgow led by Jill Jackson played a rousing set to an impressive degree leaving a lingering memory that there is much more on offer from them.

Having perused the festival line up from the previous year, it was hard not to feel a little short changed from the Saturday evening headline show in the Perth Concert Hall as in lieu of another original artist being added to the bill, the organisers elected to present a tribute show to the songs of Dolly Parton albeit commissioning the outstanding talent already present to appear. This is not saying it wasn’t a thoroughly entertaining show as each performer shared their own take on the iconic singer and the evening was not confined to a string of sing along hits. Despite her legendary status and undeniable global appeal, the songs of Dolly Parton don’t really move me to the limits of their widespread adulation and while each artist put their exemplary heart into the show there was still a slither of a hastily arranged production. Della Mae pulled out all the stops to choreograph the evening and provide backing band duties while an array of vocalists took turns to select a Dolly song to share. While it has to be admitted that far more pleasure was derived from seeing each artist deliver their own material over the weekend, there was an emotional highlight of Jenni Lyn from Della Mae pouring out her heart with a stunning tearful version of ‘The Grass is Blue’. Of course the enduring appeal of Dolly meant that this was the best attended event of the weekend and maybe it played a commercial role to help support the underlying ethos of the festival.

Doug Seegers
No sooner had the ubiquitous ‘9 to 5’ closed the ‘main event’, the eagerly awaited set by Doug Seegers commenced at the other nearby venue. There was definitely no short change from a performer who epitomises the notion that true talent will eventually find an outlet. From the streets of Nashville to superstardom in Sweden has been a barnstorming journey for sixty two year old Doug whose talent has finally been recognised to the extent that he has just been bestowed an Emerging Artist nomination at the upcoming AMA awards. Doug’s outstanding new album GOING DOWN TO THE RIVER with its stellar title track formed the centrepiece of his set which was supported by a three piece backing band led by the magical fiddle playing of Barbara Lamb. If anything Doug’s model country voice was even more fetching when bridged by just a microphone and there was a common consent that a top notch country performer was in our midst.

As per the previous evening an identical decision was made to spend the first part of the late night slot downstairs before venturing upwards to calmer surroundings. Not that the upstairs room was any less packed as Willie Watson took to the stage to adulated acclaim from his many fans frequenting the audience. Willie’s cult appeal has grown significantly since he departed the Old Crow Medicine Show with his debut solo release being produced by roots impresario Dave Rawlings. With a slightly quirky and surreal stage presence, Willie cuts right into the heart of traditional American folk music. It may have been well past the midnight hour but Willie’s famed version of ‘Midnight Special’ had everybody singing and in full appreciation of an artist on top of his game.

Lisa Mills
There was only a slight movement in the audience between the sets of Willie and the artist who brought the curtain down on the festival’s ‘Late and Southern Fried’ programme. Any American roots festival needs a healthy portion of the blues and straight from Mississippi via a number of other places Lisa Mills was in full voice to meet the requirement. Lisa has been a regular visitor to the UK for a number of years and was first seen a while back supporting Seasick Steve at Dudley’s iconic, but now defunct venue, JB’s. Fast forward to this evening and this powerhouse vocalist was in full throttle to ensure those not too familiar with the wee small hours of the morning didn’t doze off. Whether interpreting covers or presenting original material in classic blues style, Lisa took the curfew to its limit in fine style. A slight detour through the hotel bar on the way out revealed the informal replacing the formal with the sound and vision of Kimberly from Della Mae jamming with Doug Seegers, leaving it to the imagination as to when ‘Late and Southern Fried’ unofficially ended.

Daniel Meade
With the late night option off the menu for the festival’s final day, the only choice was to either spend an afternoon watching the outside artists or venture one more time to the hotel for the double bill of Chris Smither and Alvin Youngblood Hart. It was decided to invest some time in watching the up and coming acts, which was slightly made easier with the scheduling of Daniel Meade and the Flying Mules at three o’clock. Aided by ace guitarist Lloyd Reid and the rest of the band, Daniel reeled off a deluge of timeless toe tapping tracks depicting an age where country music was simpler and reaching out to an audience moved by a core rhythm unsinkable in its appeal. Twelve months after discovering Daniel from his Sturgill Simpson connection, the passion is still flowing, the guitar is still strumming and the songs continue to effortlessly spill out. The acts in the hotel may have had more esteem, but it would have been tough to leave Daniel’s homeland without witnessing a storming forty five minute set from him.

Daniel Meade and the Flying Mules
So to the festival finale and it’s a return to the Perth Concert Hall for one final time with the missing pieces of soul and gospel to be finally found in the form of two highly acclaimed US artists. In a double billed show titled ‘Rock My Soul’, The Fairfield Four and The McCrary Sisters sandwiched a pair of individual sets within two collaborative pieces to ultimately get right deep into the heart of what the South is all about. This latest line up of The Fairfield Four, an active group since the 20’s, possessed its fair share of experience and they sold their vision inspirationally through a distinguished set of a Cappella numbers proclaiming their faith and uniting contrasting strands of the secular spectrum with full blooded believers. The McCrary Sisters were also not to shy away from the faith angle and used the full breadth of their sisterly harmony to fill the hall with a heavenly atmosphere of spiritually influenced southern soul. This excellent pairing closed the loop of the American roots tradition and if you’re going to put the word ‘Southern’ in your festival’s title then ensure that no musical stone is left unturned.

Ags Connolly
As a side line to the truly authentic food and the brilliant blend of high class genuine American artists with those from our shores doing it the right way, the organisers also presented a number of American roots music themed films in conjunction with the local picture house. So a couple of ‘down time hours’ was spent watching ‘Another Day, Another Time…’ and ‘Down From The Mountain’. Both presentations were perfectly in sync with the mood of the festival with the former featuring the music inspiring the film ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and the other from that roots revival centrepiece ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’. A cinema setting with surround sound made a great environment for watching both films as they each were based on a concert featuring some of America’s finest contemporary roots artists.

There was no better way to start a twelve day Scotland trip than three days on the banks of the River Tay soaking up sounds more akin to the Mississippi, Cumberland, Ohio etc. Southern Fried deserves full praise for booking so many superb artists and organising a festival which rarely strayed from its ethos and mission statement. Overall the organisation and presentation was first class with an acute eye on maximising local interest which eventually will be the lifeblood of an urban festival away from heavily populated centres. Southern Fried continues to find the winning formula and it is without doubt that this festival will keep Perth on the UK’s Americana landscape whilst continuing to flourish in the future.