Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Frankie Lee - American Dreamer : Loose Music

This album is gift wrapped for dreamers, whether you’re living it real stateside or hooked up in an estate in suburban England armed with a fistful of records celebrating the West. Frankie Lee has lived the life of a country song and now his debut album AMERICAN DREAMER unveils as a road map to the land of endless highways. This widely travelled artist, now based in Minneapolis, has teamed up with Loose Music for its European release and praise has come rushing in from a plethora of trusted sources. What the listener is presented with is a compact set of ten tracks bathed in the essence of a late night jam. What you are left with is the satisfied feeling of letting a deluge of cool Americana music soak right through layer upon layer of emotive resistance.

Lee bases his writing on the vastness of the rural landscape and uses impressive imagery skills to relay the contents of his fertile imagination. Musically, Lee has gravitated to the piano for his sound accompaniment treading in the footsteps of many of his compatriot luminaries. The vocals wrap around each tune with a delightful feel of a wearisome soul, yet marvellously match the mood of the songs’ sentiments. The true worth of any record is to raise a satisfying smile with each listen and the continual playing of sensational album opener ‘High and Dry’ manages this every time the tones of the track hit your aural senses. A killer chorus is a key part of many a good song with the banjo and fiddle parts adding to the impact of this storming start.

Echoes of classic 70’s singer-songwriter rock is etched on ‘Black Dog’, an era continually surfacing in much of the current Americana output. The full sound inserted into this track adds an air of grandeur to the overall feel of the album. A softer yet equally as tough side of Lee comes across on the emotive ‘Queen of Carolina’ which lowers the mood without lowering the quality. A road song built around love adorns this sultry number bestowed with some useful harmonica. The mood is retained with ‘East Side Blues’, or if anything a haunting sound makes it one of the album’s darker corners. The other song to reside in the album’s first half, or side A on the undoubtedly sought after vinyl format, is the solid twang induced melody that emerges from ‘Where Do We Belong’.

The second half opens with a couple of contrasting sounding tracks in ‘Buffalo’ and ‘Honest Man’. The first has been selected for album promotion and rolls along with a steady rock-laden groove, while the latter is a more laid back offering. There is nothing wrong with a stab at a little soul in any Americana album and the nearest you get to that on AMERICAN DREAMER is the fascinating vibes emanating from ‘Know By Now’, reflecting Lee at his ear pleasing best. ‘Horses’ emerges as the album’s penultimate track and if you are not transfixed by the sound of Frankie Lee now then it’s perhaps time to seek pastures new. However the initiated will be fully on board and absolutely on the radar of Lee’s enticing sound. Saving the title track to the end proves a masterstroke for Lee, as the piano intro to ‘Americana Dreamer’ sets the scene for an evocative number sealing the deal of this being a class album from start to finish.

Frankie Lee has nailed a genre in his debut album with the essential ingredients securely in place to exceed expectations in terms of instrument sound, vocal feel and ability to feed the imaginative reservoirs of an intriguing mind. AMERICAN DREAMER is a driving, gritty and expansive release representing all that is alluring about a quality Americana record. A UK suburban record collection has been enriched by the addition of this album and it would be wise for like-minded people to do the same upon its October 2nd release.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Cardboard Fox - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Monday 21st September 2015

You can’t go wrong with the acoustic combo of guitar, violin, mandolin and double bass, as witnessed by the good folks of the Kitchen Garden Café this evening. Throw in a pair of gorgeous voices and a bunch of songs, both borrowed and new, and the ingredients were in place for an entertaining show by Cardboard Fox. If the name is not yet on your horizon, there may be a chance that the Carrivick Sisters is, with the link being that Laura and Charlotte form the perfect half of this quartet set to thrill the world of UK roots music. Together with Joe Tozer and John Breese, the band is rolling along in sync with the Carrivick Sisters format and likely to rise to an even higher profile over the next six months. In the run up to the debut album recording and subsequent release, Cardboard Fox are embarking on a series of UK dates and what better place to call in than the intimate surroundings Birmingham’s premier acoustic listening venue.

By paying homage to such iconic performers as Joni Mitchell, Bill Monroe, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and Bob Dylan, the band isn’t shy on learning from the masters and make more than a decent effort with covering popular numbers such as ‘Don’t Think Twice’, ‘Tear My Stillhouse Down’ and ‘Raised on Robbery’.  The early Alison Krauss number ‘Endless Highway’ was the pick of the covers with Bill Monroe’s ‘Cry, Cry Darlin’’ being the most akin to the band’s bluegrass pretensions. However, the original compositions which surface from studio to record to stage are often the key measures of band format credence.  From this angle, the band put out four new songs on their debut EP last year and the impact led to acknowledgement from Spiral Earth, one of the UK’s leading roots websites.

All four songs appeared in tonight’s set list with ‘Ego’ and ‘Green Skin’ featuring in the first half, followed by ‘Balloon’ and ‘Someone Else’s Shoes’ excelling after the break. The latter originates from the pen of mandolin player Joe Tozer, who made waves during the evening with a highly enjoyable playing performance thoroughly impressive from close quarters. It’s a pity that the unsung bass player is often last in the credits, but this is no slur on the accomplished performance of John Breese. John’s association with Laura and Charlotte goes back a while and a couple of years ago he joined the Carrivick Sisters on stage at the Maverick Festival.

Although egalitarian in projection, it is hard to argue against Laura and Charlotte being the face of Cardboard Fox. The twins take sole control of the band’s vocal output, mixing harmonies and shared lead pieces. Musically the girls are top notch with Laura injecting a countrification sound drenched in pure Appalachia via her trusty fiddle.The heady mix of solo and backing segments blend supremely with Charlotte’s guitar playing. The outstanding interaction with Joe’s mandolin added the cream to a sound thrilling folks within the café’s brickwork interior. Instrumentals such as ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Daybreak in Dixie’ were the ideal vehicle for the talent to blossom. Other songs of note to add value to the evening, and represent the breadth of their influence, were the traditional number ‘Jordan’ and a new song named ‘Believe’ earmarked for the upcoming album.

Laura, Charlotte, Joe and John are a breath of fresh air on the UK roots scene, providing a celebrated bridge between the traditional sounds of our shores and its American cousin. It was a delight to attend this show and be presented with an opportunity to promote the band from first-hand experience. Cardboard Fox already possess a memorable hook to its name and further indulging in the wares of this band will splendidly embed their music.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Lucy Ward - I Dreamt I Was A Bird : Betty Beetroot Records

Lucy Ward is a wavelength artist who will lure and mesmerise those tuned into her stimulating and progessive approach to music, although art is a more appropriate word. Praise has not been in short supply for the Derbyshire based artist and I DREAMT I WAS A BIRD will surely follow in the wake of the 25 year old’s previous two albums. The prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk awards have already recognised her prodigious and innovative talent in multiple categories. Lucy, with the help of her assembled team of players and the production stewardship of Stu Hanna, has served up a sumptuous serving of nine diverse songs, spanning the breadth of her imagination and influences. Together they package into a mystical world of left field artistry and a record straining every sinew of your aural capacity.

My frequency connection with the waves of Lucy Ward occurred earlier this year during a live show and has been totally sealed after delving deep into the realms of the new record. In a sincere act of experimental folk, Lucy has chosen eight original compositions for the album plus an interesting version of the much sung border ballad ‘Lord Randall’. The result is a compelling listen, forever testing the endurance of the listener in terms of mental stimulation making this not a record for the faint ear. There is an earthy beauty within the vocals of Lucy, frequently infiltrated with a hint of North Midland’s brogue. There are times on this record when the sheer elegance shines brightly and others when the breath is held as boundaries are expertly tested.

‘Song for Lola’ is the beautiful ballad acoustically anchored to the mid part of the record which reveals the gorgeous state of Lucy’s vocal range, but the heavyweight tracks in the first half of the record succeed in making the greater profound impact. Lucy is emerging as a passionate social commentator as witnessed by the rhetoric at her shows, following her online profile and observing her presence on the protest album LAND OF HOPE AND FURY. The commissioning role of penning a song based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South led Lucy to spin around the concept of rich and poor with ‘Creatures and Demons’ being the sparkling result. The vocals soar on this piece as the B3 organ kicks in towards the latter stages of the track. The line ‘profit mad master’ is just an introduction to the fiery side of Lucy’s protest stance.

The other heavyweight song on the album is the immensely impressive ‘Lion’ where with the help of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, Lucy dramatically re-surfaces the story of a World War 1 execution for cowardice. Robert Loveless Barker gets the send-off he deserves a hundred years after this hideous crime and one uncovered following a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The dramatic score adds to the sense of drama and represents a mood inducing production, often subtle in places and always signposting the listener to the feelings of the song.

Back to the characters and issues in a short while, but at this moment it’s worth mentioning the opening and closing tracks which both hark back to the fundamental features of the land and climate. ‘Summers That We Made’ is a haunting and delightful introduction to the record with the violin excelling. ‘Return to Earth’ has a more sincere message at the end of the album with the line ‘we are choking I can no longer sing’ leaving food for thought from this environmental piece.

Two of the final three tracks have their inspiration closer to home for Lucy. ‘Daniel and the Mermaid’ is a true family sighting of a mermaid many years ago off the shore of Scotland with an invitation to free your mind a little and connect with the eye of the beholder. The album’s title is a line lifted from this song which possesses eerie and gothic tendencies in its haunting and experimental capacity. ‘Ode to Whittaker Brown’ is a more temperate song in the album number two slot and is based on her own mother’s upbringing in the post war dwelling of a Nissen Hut. Not family linked but further social commentary concludes the album in ‘Connie and Bud’ with Lucy once again highlighting the role of life’s underdogs.

I DREAMT I WAS A BIRD is a wonderful piece of theatrical music making. Consistently rooted in the folk tradition of story-telling and flowing with instrumentation such as harmonium, violin, concertina and piano, this record has a beckoning and addictive appeal. Checking into the wavelength of Lucy Ward is a beguiling experience and immersing into the mystical and radical word of her artistic creativity leads to endless riches.

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood - Historia : Self Released

If you want conclusive proof that the future of folk music in the Black Country is in rude health then look no further than the new album from Kim Lowings and the Greenwood. The record scores the first of many outstanding points with surely the most inspirational of album titles to emerge this year. Succinct to the core of its single word constitution, HISTORIA is the Ancient Greek take on learning from the past to inform the present and look to the future. The whole embodiment of this sentiment resides within Kim’s second full length release and one revealing a confidently assured singing-song writing performer to the ears of the listener.

Whether re-interpreting classic traditional folk songs or using the power of observation and association to form an immensely ear catching original composition, Kim succeeds in engineering an acutely balanced album capturing the essence of her creativity, beautiful vocals and the combined talents of her assembled musical compatriots. Checking in at forty-seven minutes long takes the album into optimum listening territory and rarely does it fail to engage the listener. The option to devour the lyrics or just kick back and savour the sonic appeal is available to all, although the only recommendation from these quarters is to do both.

There can be only one place to commence the song analysis and that is a piece showing an increased versatility to reach out a little from an entrenched folk base. While ‘Maggie’s Song’ is essentially a folk song for the twenty-first century, and introduced by a family recording very much in the style of how folk tales were collected from the field throughout the ages. What follows is by far the most contemporary sound Kim has recorded or played live in her brief career. In the possession of a catchy killer chorus supported by a stellar melody, this stand out track shines like a beacon in attracting popular appeal, while remaining true to the core of substance and quality.

No doubt many fans of the folk genre will identify with and assess Kim’s take on the three traditional songs to feature on the record. ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’, ‘Bonny Labouring Boy’ and ‘The Blacksmith’ each have a lengthy recording history and there are no blemishes on Kim’s interpretation. A popular recent version of the first of this trio was Olivia Chaney’s BBC session and Kim’s is not out of place in this lauded company. However far from dwelling on the traditional, which is obviously a key component of HISTORIA, it is the originals that put the marker down for the true depth of the record.

Heading these in album order is ‘The Wood Wife’ which evolves into a strong messaged fable-like piece of work, rich in morals and lessons. Like many songs in the folk tradition, further background is likely to emerge in the live shows and many dates are lined up following the album launch gig in Kim’s hometown of Stourbridge in October. If the opening track had the feel of the past about it, the follow up number ‘I’m Still Here’ is right to the core of the modern world and will resonate with many listeners. Ultimately it deals with workplace tension in a brave way and plants the seeds of an alternative outlook.

A couple of songs have been circulating around Kim’s live shows for a while. ‘Alfrick’ is an instrumental piece arranged by Andrew Lowings and provides a jaunty mid album word-free break to rejuvenate your listening acumen. At this stage it is polite to introduce the Greenwood who has a core of Andrew (guitar, bouzouki), Tim Rogers (Cajon, percussion) and Dave Sutherland (bass). Alongside the bouzouki and Kim’s trademark Mountain Dulcimer, another traditional instrument in the guise of a cittern makes an appearance courtesy of Leon Gormley. It has often been noted when seeing the band live on several occasions, the value of the violin from Anna Oprenova. While this has been infrequent of late, Anna’s services have been secured for the record with resounding effect. Dave Draper assisted Kim with the production duties and provides the electric guitar input to re-enforce the modern tinge. Last but not least on the album credits, is the backing vocal contribution of Ange Hardy.

These backing vocals appeared on one of the songs which have previously been featured in a live show. ‘Monsoon’ is a highly descriptive and striking track painting the image and emotion of experiencing extreme weather in Singapore. It has a powerful conclusive segment to cement the effect of the song. While on the topic of emotion, ‘Regrets’ is another excellent inclusion to the album and tells of a thought provoking encounter with a stranger while creating the backdrop for the vocals to flourish. Earlier in the album, Kim had taken down the sound to a sublime sleepy level with the delightfully and simply titled ‘Lullaby’, explicitly doing what this suggests. By opening with the chorus, this implies an element of diversity to Kim’s song writing and this notion can also be applied to the excellent ‘Willow’ which concludes the track list. Rich in personification and personal perception, Kim truly cracks the song writing process with this effort and it matches up well with the entirety of the album.

This is a valued and proud record showing Kim Lowings as a purposeful singer-songwriter marrying the talents of those in her midst. From a modest infrastructure, a record fully deserved of praise on a grander scale has emerged. For an honest and creative take on the past, present and future, HISTORIA is the perfect album, with Kim Lowings and the Greenwood being defintely a band to investigate further.

Try before you buy : Maggie's Song

Dennis Ellswworth - Romantic As It Gets : Busted Flat Records

Dennis Ellsworth is a highly talented singer-songwriter who is not averse to baring his soul in a modest style. He has chiselled out a decent following in the UK over the last couple of years and the release of his new album ROMANTIC AS IT GETS is more power to the repertoire. Issued once again on the Busted Flat Record label, this new cut sees Dennis return to the location of one of his previous recording successes with the hope of continuing his ascent into markets across North America and Europe. Dennis headed back to Athens, Georgia to hook up with the team behind his 2012 successful release DUSK DREAMS and the early vibes from the new album suggest another winning ticket is in his hand.

Awards have been bestowed upon Dennis in his Prince Edward Island home on Canada’s maritime east coast and it is surely only time before wider national and international reward is forthcoming. Like so many effective roots artists, Dennis hovers over influences from the country, folk and rock sectors to hone a sound echoing across the spectrum and finding praise in the constitution of music housed within the wide-reaching Americana movement. This new record is heavily tilted to the sentimental side of music making with clear evidence of seeking tender emotions and if anything blurring any perceived boundaries between masculinity and femininity. There is a refreshing intelligence to all ten songs on the record which are expressively blessed with an instant appeal and palatable façade.

There is a ghostly wave of pedal steel across the tracks to supplement the usual piano, organ and guitar pieces which underpin the sound. This starts off in the exquisite opener ‘Shakin’ on the Plank’ rampant with an influential melody and peaks a few tracks later with the utterly sublime ‘Skyline River Valley Dream’. In an era of contrasting running lengths, Dennis chooses to keep this record on the shorter side with thirty five minutes of music, but this is ample time to get across the mood and finesse of an artist perfectly at ease with his craft. ‘Stay True’ is one of the tracks with a message and its sentiment could also apply to a singer-songwriter exercising self-belief in their work.

The point in the record where Dennis gets right to the heart of his tender side resides in the lullaby strains of ‘Shines the Sun in Your Mind’ where the sounds of steel and piano collide to serenade the listener. ‘Ghost of Love’ in the record’s early stages is another representative of the subdued emotion with the honest endeavour of searching for answers. ‘Beauty and Sad’ is where the record moves into higher impact mode with a strong melody throughout, commencing in the opening bars and carrying over into the chorus. ‘Full Moon Blues’ is reflective of the album’s shorter songs and successfully merges effective piano and percussion into its transmission as a quintessential Dennis Ellsworth track.

Mercy Doll’ and ‘Make it Alright’ reflect the rockier side to Dennis’s music with the former kicking in through a fuller drum sound. The latter is among the numbers with a more listener-friendly chorus and responsible for this record having few obstacles on the path to the keen ear. As indicated earlier, the record is thoughtful and poignant in its construction with no finer example than the closing track ‘Dancing All Alone’. At this point the ultimate question of ‘do you still belong to me’ is asked as the chasm of love is dealt with.

Dennis Ellsworth is a voice of authority, quite comfortable with opening his heart and expertly capable of synching the minds of artist and listener. The last couple of years, and the release of three albums to UK audiences, have revealed an artist of sublime consistency. With uplifting quiet moments and an ability to adapt and induce moods, ROMANTIC AS IT GETS delivers in its entirety and Dennis Ellsworth continues to possess the uncanny knack of producing popular material true to the roots path.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers - Loved Wild Lost : Little Sur Records

In the deluge of recordings these days categorised under the Americana banner, especially to listeners overseas, it has to take a special release to raise itself above the parapet and Nicki Bluhm’s new album LOVED WILD LOST splendidly achieves this. The record will drop in the UK on October 9 and is the second outing for Nicki with her assembled band The Gramblers. By taking a large slice of California influence, Nicki and her pivotal album pilot, husband Tim Bluhm, have delivered a studious record representing a team effort and proving an archetypical sponge of the American roots spectrum. The record will appeal to those with a fine taste and who demand a release that treats them with respect.

This is effectively Nicki’s fifth album, following 2 solo records, a duet record with Tim and a single Gramblers effort, and will mature like that proverbial fine wine upon the required repeat listens. Such blossoming will reveal traces of country, rock, soul and even sophisticated pop which is a favoured bunch of traits for many followers of Americana music who appreciate this subtle blending. The path this album follows will keep you on your toes throughout its forty-one minute playing time and enables the sound to distance itself from popular trends, thus giving it an air of originality.

The track selected for initial promotion is the slightly pop orientated ‘Waiting on Love’, mainly understandable from a commercial viewpoint, but far from representative of the feel of the album. It is probably more accurate to say that no single style dominates the record, yet the two country influenced tunes make sound cases for the premium moments. There is a warm and comforting nostalgia to the glorious song ‘Simpler Times’ with stellar steel and a suitable keyboard intro. Its cousin track is ‘Queen of the Rodeo’ which also flourishes with country appeal. Moving into slightly alt-country territory is the appealing lounging track ‘Me and Slim’ with a vocal performance more than a touch familiar to that of Angaleena Presley.

Of course California, the home state of the band, is synonymous with the country rock side of American roots. A rock tinge can be found within the cool grooves of ‘Heartache’, while streaks and shades exist in the track ‘Heart Gets Tough’. No West Coast release is complete without some jangly guitar and ‘Love Your Loved Ones’ ,with its 60’s vibes greeting a duo song delivery, sees a neat mix of quality guitar work and enjoyable melody. ‘Mr Saturday Night’ is amongst the most ear pleasing tracks on the record and uses its beat driven, rootsy groove to take the sound in a rock ‘n’ soul direction.

Nicki stretches her vocals most on the bluesy effort ‘High Neck Lace’ which slows the pace down amidst a more prominent string arrangement. This leaves the final two tracks being the ones that open and close the record. ‘Only Always’ acts as an ideal starter and successfully marries the effective combination of voice and sound. A soul piercing finale in ‘Heavy Hey Ya’ appropriately frequents the finale position as its piano accompaniment adds to the heavenly gospel feel made even better when the organ kicks in.

LOVED WILD LOST is a credible and noble album fully deserved of forthcoming UK exposure in the wake of its previous stateside release. It is worthy of your consideration and presents Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers as a vigorous and zestful act capable of making mightily enjoyable music.

John Doyle - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham.Sunday 13th September 2015

John Doyle may be an in-demand session player, integral member of the Transatlantic Sessions team and virtuoso guitar-playing singer-songwriter, but this evening at the Kitchen Garden Café he proved to be a very entertaining solo performer in his own right. Matching impish wit with the aforementioned skills was a winning formula for John who failed to not move any of this considerably healthy Birmingham audience turnout. The alternative attraction of Richard Thompson at the city’s Symphony Hall and a vibrant street festival right outside the venue’s door seemed to not impact upon the evening, give or take a slightly delayed start to the proceedings. This sensible policy to wait for a significant alleviation in the adjacent outdoor activity only had a marginal effect on the evening which still panned out to John charming the attendees for nearly two hours.

Striking a balance between traditional and contemporary is a usual safe haven for folk artists alongside being able to deliver an autobiographical flow of original material. John Doyle comfortably falls into this category and threads many an entertaining yarn based on events from his beloved Ireland. Not surprisingly travel and emigration from the Emerald Isle features prominently in his writing with a pair of tracks from his most recent album in ‘The Arabic’ and ‘Clear the Way’ rich in this subject.

The album in question, SHADOW AND LIGHT, came out in 2011 suggesting John is far from an exhaustive music maker, although checking out his extensive work with other artists is far more indicative of his hectic work schedule. Recently John has teamed up with Kate Rusby on her latest record, previously worked with Heidi Talbot and his association with Scottish folk icons Mike McGoldrick and John McCusker is legendary. The evidence witnessed this evening via John’s skills on his guitar-bouzouki hybrid, known effectively as a guizouki, gave full credence to these collaborations and you only have to go back a decade to uncover a Grammy winning project with Tim O’Brien.

Returning to proceedings this evening revealed yet another gig which blossomed and bloomed more intensely with each song. Apart from ‘The Arabic’, which is a true tale of a family member literally coming back to life after a deadly boat attack, the other highlight of the first set was the ever perpetual folk singalong ,with ‘Liberty’s Sweet Shore’ providing the memorable chorus on this occasion. This song married the theme of the evening with its subject content based on the endemic hardship of nineteenth century Irish emigrants making their way to Canada. A similar topic was the inspiration of the evening’s final song in ‘Clear the Way’ which tells the tale of the song’s inhabitants entering different parts of America from the old world  and thus becoming enemies on the battlefield of a nation embroiled in civil war.

In fact the measurably increased in length second set was packed full of smart songs ranging from the singalong sea shanty ‘Fall Down Billy O’Shea’ to the intrinsically captivating song ‘Path of Stones’. The latter is the result of a commissioned project to produce a piece of song writing inspired by the great Irish poet W.B.Yeats and this yet to be recorded track ticked many boxes on first listen. Traditional songs poured out in the guise of ‘False Lady’ and a re-working into ‘Valentine O’Hara’, while many in the audience were given a educative lesson of the origin and meaning of the word selkie via a song of the same name. The take on the Dick Gaughan made famous song ‘Pound a Week Rise’ was another entertaining high spot of the show, with John also demonstrating his adeptness at delivering a love song in ‘I Never Let You Know’.

Richard Thompson may have pulled in more punters for his show, but those who chose this appealing intimate offering from John Doyle had few complaints. The whole package was in place plus much more and when John hopefully returns to the city next year with the Transatlantic Sessions annual tour reunion, thoughts will go back to when he delivered a thoroughly entertaining, enlightening and engaging show at the Kitchen Garden Café on a Sunday night in September.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Hip Hatchet - Hold You Like a Harness : Self Released

If you’re a little partial to some wordsmith musings then make sure you check out the latest album by Hip Hatchet. HOLD YOU LIKE A HARNESS is the fourth release by Philippe Bronchtein and what better recording pseudonym to adopt than one creating the ultimate image of a travelling troubadour. On the evidence of this record, Hip is the epitome of the wanderlust poet brimming with songs, tales and tunes. The voice may be worn to the levels of ageless maturity, but this adds an authority and credence to the contents of a record already subject to positive press in Europe. In fact, this presents a solid foundation for Hip to cross the Atlantic later this month and promote the record.

This eleven track offering from an artist now based in the creative hub of Portland Oregon, is a cross fertilisation of a lengthy list of studio players and the insular drive of time spent roaming the land sharing songs for a living. The splendid arrangements add extra appeal and help package the record for home enjoyment. However some time and energy will need to be exerted to discover the true treasures of this record especially as Hip doesn’t chase the killer chorus and many of the songs are devoid of enticing hooks.

What is on offer to the discerning ear is a wonderful rambling trail of encounters, loves and acquaintances wrapped in the literary sentiment of lyric laden songs. The song structures often border on unconventional with repetition being a common feature. Ultimately there is a delightful feel of randomness to the songs and their subjects, but equally a fascinating past time in acute analysis for those inclined to soak up the lyrics of an album. The top line from the record is ‘the cars look like crying in this Oregon rain’ from a track unsurprisingly titled ‘Cars Look Like Crying’ and is one of many leaving a thought provoking mark.

If the arm was twisted to pinpoint a stand out track then ‘Travel Map’, with a wonderful appealing mid song gear change of tempo dressing a song possessing a slightly weird range of lyrics, would get the nod. ‘David’s Wolves’ is another desirable contribution to edge into bizarre territory, while ‘Ladies Night’ is the track where Hip injects a dose of passion into the song delivery. Musically the album strays across the roots spectrum with pedal steel adding a country flavour to the abstract ‘Coward’s Luck’ and a piano intro creating a tender plateau for ‘Words of Wisdom’. Towards the end of the album the multi instrument effect from the production kicks in with violin positively impacting on ‘Father Redemption’.

Hip’s travels across an expansive stretch of the northern part of the American continent have proved the ideal inspiration for a record that also raises the importance of that secure home base which now exists in Portland. These travels will once again re-commence when he plays a concise sixteen date tour during his two and a half week stay in this country starting at the end of September. The opportunity to hear the songs live will no doubt add to their deeper understanding, although their thought provoking status will also enhance the record buyer’s experience. HOLD YOU LIKE A HARNESS is not for the faint hearted or weaker musically minded which will inevitably be an added appeal to its target audience and re-affirm Hip Hatchet as an innovative singer-songwriter.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Moseley Folk Festival - Birmingham. Saturday 5th to Sunday 6th September 2015

There is surely no finer boutique festival setting or set up than the delight the organisers of Moseley Folk serve up to the good people of Birmingham each September. In fact the operation has just celebrated its tenth birthday and yet another eclectic mix of genre stretching artists was assembled in the marvellous surrounds of the privately operated Moseley Park. The perpetual sounds from two closely aligned stages ensure a seamless stream of good music for nearly twelve hours each day with the added delight for hardened fans to catch every act on the bill live. This luscious tree lined amphitheatre setting, with only the brace of stages preventing you tumbling into the Black Swan populated pool, proves the perfect backdrop to some of the cream of the English folk scene alongside several surprise inclusions.

Outside commitments prevented attendance on the Friday of this year’s festival which saw Spiritualised headlining and local acclaimed act Scott Matthews a late addition to the line-up. Despite a similar commitment doing the same to Saturday’s stage headlining bands Idlewild and Merrylees, it is a pleasure to present a complimentary report of many of the artists witnessed over the weekend. There were a number of ‘must see’ performers on show this year as well as the usual surprises. Overall the quality was mainly immaculate ranging from your solo singer-songwriter owning the limelight for thirty minutes to a fuller assembly of musicians raising the sound to crescendo levels.

With a polite nod to the creaking and depleted Monkees, the vibes of Gaz Coombes more suitable to other ears and a theatrical anthem fuelled exhibition from fourteen white cloak clad Texans under the name of The Polyphonic Spree, this review will focus on the ten most enjoyed sets that lit the festival up in the eyes and ears of this beholder. So in no particular order here are the artists that made the cut.

If there was such a thing as the hangover slot, then by opening the smaller Lunar Stage on Sunday morning Scottish singer-songwriter Aaron Fyfe provided the kill or cure remedy. With a string of folk songs delivered in true Glaswegian style and a stray into occasional choice language for a family environment, Aaron made sure everybody in the vicinity knew he was there and to say a profound effect was forthcoming is an understatement. There’s no such thing as kicking a festival into life too soon and Aaron played his part in rousing the early arrivals out of any slumber.

The Unthanks are one of the most highly acclaimed performers on the folk scene and their spectacularly moving ten piece show made the Sunday headline tea time slot a sheer joy to be in listening range. To be more precise, this set was viewed close at hand and there was probably no more stunning moment on the festival fields this summer than listening to Rachel and Becky melt the heart of folks with their version of ‘Magpie’. Everything about the show from the sisters’ clog dancing, the beautiful orchestral arrangements, the celebrated trumpet solos and the sumptuous harmonies was blissful and praise for The Unthanks couldn’t be any higher from these quarters.

Mirroring The Unthanks on the five o’clock Saturday slot was US folk rockers Dawes who have been wooing UK and European audiences for the last week, since their salivating headline slot at nearby Shrewsbury Folk Festival. Although their set was trimmed by fifteen minutes this time to fit into the hour, Taylor Goldsmith and the boys were still in an incredible band zone spilling out a barrage of west coast inspired classic rock tunes to a host of new ears. While the immaculate quality was identical to Shrewsbury, the band seemed a lot more relaxed with Taylor highly complimentary of the festival atmosphere and aura.

Birmingham band Goodnight Lenin elevated their status in my book from just a name to now a name with a sound, and a good one to that. They headlined the Lunar Stage on Sunday night in a seven piece format with the curious mix of three contrasting keyboard players. The resulting sound was very impressive and definitely in the style of contemporary Americana rock. The guys even had a bit of fun when inviting fellow Brummie artist Michael King from Boat to Row on stage to give a joyous version of ‘Dancing in the Dark’. The biggest compliment to pay to the band is that they outshone a certain ‘boyband’ from the distant past who followed them.

The deplorable situation of not seeing award winning folk duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker play live was corrected on Sunday afternoon when a dose of splendid melancholy was served in all its dark splendour. Mixing Gillian Welch and Sandy Denny covers with their own take on the sad song genre, described by Josienne as the ‘psycho ballad’, made for an obsessional enticing half hour. Ben’s exceptional acoustic guitar playing echoed the sounds from Josienne’s beautiful vocals and together we were invited to wallow in our misery. There was no hesitancy in adding this golden moment to the top ten and an essential fix for any folk festival.

While on the topic of beautiful voices, perhaps the stand out moment of the festival from this standpoint was the delightful set from Olivia Chaney on the main stage on Saturday afternoon. This is one remarkably talented lady who not only possesses a heavenly voice, but turns her hand majestically to piano, assorted guitars and harmonium. Attention was drawn to Olivia earlier this summer and discovering her debut album THE LONGEST RIVER. The promise from this finding has been fulfilled after seeing her play live and as a performer who just views herself as a genre free artist playing, singing and writing songs she takes a liking to, the future is set to be very prosperous for Olivia Chaney.

While championing many artists across the globe in this easily accessible virtual world, it is sometimes refreshing to support and promote a performer closer to home. As an aside to the two main stages at the Moseley Folk Festival, local roots venue the Kitchen Garden Café organised a smaller stage for local acts, strategically located to pull in fans on the way to the bar. Among the array of talent to frequent this stage across Saturday and Sunday was Stourbridge based folk outfit Kim Lowings and the Greenwood. More will be heard from Kim in the remainder of the year as she releases her new album HISTORIA. However she chose to use her half hour set to mainly sing a bunch of festival songs often inviting audience participation. The draw of the main two stages regretfully meant this part of the festival was only occasionally visited, but an opportunity to once again catch Kim and the guys sing live was too good to miss.

Two years ago The Cadbury Sisters played the Lunar Stage at an earlier time than their late afternoon Saturday slot this year. Over the course of this period, the family trio with the name defining heritage have evolved their sound from the acoustic side of folk to a more experimental indie fused output characterised by dark electric guitars and a thumping beat. There is a little bit of Sharon Van Etten to their new style and the resultant projected offering from the girls was rather appealing. The success of any festival appearance is provoking an audience response to further seek out the band’s recorded material and own shows. The Cadbury Sisters succeeded in achieving this.

On the back of an eclectic festival giving a stage to such Americana tinged bands as Dawes and Goodnight Lenin, the solid guitar driven groove sound of US act Houndstooth went down well with a fair few festival goers. Of course many purists may scoff at this sound taking precedence at a folk festival, but as was alluded by Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes recently that underneath all this electric amplification are just basic folk songs. There is also the little matter of a certain folk festival in Newport Rhode Island precisely half a century ago this year. Anyhow, Houndstooth played their part memorably and once again showed this festival as giving a brief slot to promote aspiring overseas acts.

Last but not least, and this is not in any particular order remember, it is impossible to ignore the ubiquitous presence of festival favourite Jim Moray and this time with his new band collaboration, False Lights. This project is the brainchild of Jim and Sam Carter with both sharing the limelight leading functions to unveil a plethora of folk songs in a more rocked up version than you normally associate with either artist. This fascinating set on the main stage during Saturday afternoon passed a mesmerising hour and made you appreciate just what fine musicianship was on show throughout the festival.

Just falling short of the top ten were Peacock Angell, Abi Budgen, Michael King’s solo slot on the main stage and a rolling back the years performance from folk icons Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick. However the true winners were the seamless flow of great music and the festival inhabitants of the West Midlands who frequented this fine weekend in good numbers, blessed with the best weather September can offer. Finally apologies to any act missed off this review and to the festival for slyly sloping off to other gigs on the Friday and Saturday nights. A footnote and slight clue to the overall highlight is that they are from Northumberland and very, very good. 

Hayes Carll - The Glee Club, Birningham. Saturday 5th September 2015

Wait number one was over as Hayes Carll returned to Birmingham to play the same venue that he graced seven years ago; Wait number two is almost over as Hayes announced the imminent arrival of his follow up record to the 2011 release KMAG YOYO (& OTHER AMERICAN STORIES). So for this loyal base of Hayes Carll fans, it was a win-win situation and almost a déjà vu moment as the striking Texan strode onto stage to open the set with his premium song ‘Beaumont’.

To continue the 2008 link, Hayes was accompanied by his long term travelling companion Travis Linville who opened the gig with a short set of good songs mainly self-penned. Although the memory of Travis playing alongside Hayes last time was a touch hazy, there was no such mistaking his contribution this time with a stylish bout of slide induced twang adding an extra dimension to the much loved and familiar songs of his sidekick. The enhancement was further complete with the additional rhythm section courtesy of percussion by Mike Meadows. The trio thoroughly entertained this Glee Club gathering not too inconvenienced by sharing the venue’s entrance with the usual Saturday night comedy throngs.

Since 2008, Hayes has been back to these shores a handful of times, most notably to play Cambridge Folk Festival and a couple of London dates last September. In the meantime, it was a pleasure to catch him live at Calgary Folk Festival in 2013 and keep in touch with an artist who first leapt to prominence over here with the LITTLE ROCK album almost a decade ago now. The title track, and the opening number from this album ‘Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long’, actually the first Hayes song heard, are still integral parts of the set list, which was joined this evening by a few tunes set to be the recorded songs of the future. ‘One Bed, Two Girls, Three Bottles of Wine’ is another serving of classic Hayes Carll humour and proved the pick of the newbies this evening.

Of course the classic tongue in cheek Hayes song is ‘She Left Me For Jesus’ and not surprisingly it made the encore after a segment of requested songs. While having an obvious link with this old favourite, a new song titled ‘Jesus and Elvis, co-written with Allison Moorer and Matraca Berg, is a lot more serious and reflected the depth of sincerity that permeates Hayes’ writing. ‘Drunken Poet’s Dream’, ‘Faulkner Street’ and ‘I Got a Gig’ are exemplars of his lyrical prowess, while another new song this time with family connections, ‘The Magic Kid’, represented the more heartfelt side to his song writing.

The sparkling sound from the trio took this show to greater heights than your usual travelling troubadour and the opportunity to raise the tempo was no finer than a storming version of ‘Stomp and Holler’ as the show neared its climax. The input of Mike and Travis could not be underestimated especially when you throw in the latter’s opening set. Travis was also having a good run in selling his ‘name your price’ CDs and although not actually one of his compositions, the excellent song ‘Lefty’ from his SUN OR MOON EP was the pick of the bunch. This was an excellent amalgam of baseball and country music.

Hayes Carll is definitely one of the more countrified members of the contemporary Americana singer-songwriter scene and his distinctive vocal style makes every song an aural event. Hopefully the wait for his next visit to the provinces is not the proverbial ‘itch’ and to conclude a theme to the evening as well, the demographic is slightly changing in a downward direction. Hayes Carll is too good not to look after his UK fans on a regular basis and this Glee Club faithful will be there to snap up the new album if a return materialises.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Will Hoge - The Stables, Milton Keynes.Friday 4th September 2015

Will Hoge is a stripped back songwriter, comfortable with extracting deep from the heart and revealing his soul. Using his rather gruff and earthy vocals to maximum effect, he signs, seals and delivers the fruits of a craft honed over many years of practice. A slightly travel weary American, originally from Franklin, Tennessee but now introduced as a resident of Nashville, landed into the hinterland town of Milton Keynes to begin a new chapter of a career, characterised by plenty of endeavour punctuated with the odd big time break. The Stables posted the sold out sign outside their studio-like second venue and a part enthusiastic – part respectful audience experienced the music of Will Hoge and his band at close quarters.

This inaugural tour for Will was on the back of his acclaimed new album SMALL TOWN DREAMS, but this record is only a small part of an extensive back catalogue and far from dominated a performance spilt by the inevitable art centre interval. With a nod to the symmetrical, both sets were opened by Will in solo mode before being joined by the band. The presence of Will on acoustic rhythm guitar and occasional harmonica made this a five piece combo which perhaps took to the limit the sonic capacity of this confined location, probably suited more to a less full on sound.

Whether you consider Milton Keynes as heartland UK, Will Hoge is absolutely the personification of heartland USA. As we learnt by the introduction to the song that 'feeds the kids', Will absorbed his inspiration from across the dial of the American soundtrack, whilst growing up in a town that more than shaped his outlook. The influence of the traditional country he listened to back then forms the backbone of his song writing style, in contrast the sound composition of drums, guitars and piano leans heavily in the rock direction. This leaves Will in the conundrum of where to market his music.

Going back to 'that song', which Will exclaimed as ‘changing his life’, ‘Even If It Breaks My Heart’ was taken to country and radio heights by the version recorded by the Eli Young Band and proved that the winning formula existed within the arsenal of the songwriter’s repertoire. Following it up has been tricky for Will as well as stepping out of the shadows into the limelight of being a respected performer of similar stature to his acclaimed writing. The new album possesses many radio friendly moments should the powers that be choose to engage in Will’s style as we heard tonight in tracks such as ‘Desperate Times’, ‘Growing Up Around Here’ and ‘Better Than You’. Surprisingly album anthem ‘Middle of America’ was left off the set list, but more than made up by the poignant signature track from the record, ‘Little Bitty Dreams’.

The new record is very much about Will telling the listener who he is and the audience tonight went home a little more informative about his passions, loves, nuances and driving influences. They also saw a tidy rock tinged band performance markedly improved in the second half when lead guitarist Patrick Stevens stepped up to make his solo contribution stand out more. The solid keyboard playing of Brady Beard held the tempo throughout the show, while the backroom team of bassist Dean Moore and drummer Brian Kilian played the essential but often unsung role of rhythm maestros. As previously mentioned, there is a cracked roughness to Will’s vocals which blend in perfectly with his heartfelt sentiment and they peaked in one of the show’s stand out moments, with every sinew of emotion packed into the blues-style belter ‘When I Get My Wings’.

As intimated the show seemingly picked up intensity and pace during the second half, probably as a result of the band settling into their groove. A trio of songs that were previously unfamiliar made a profound impact in this segment of the show. ‘Another Song Nobody Will Hear’ summed up perfectly the frustrations of an aspiring songwriter and ‘Daddy Was a Gambling Man’ showed that Will was prepared to go straight to the bottom of the often forgotten vice. The third of these three tracks new to the ear acted as the show closer which surprisingly had the omission of an encore. Anyhow ‘The Highway’s Home’ was a suitable finale to send folks away happy. Banjo, fiddle and steel may be lacking in Will’s approach to music making, but the line ‘a head full of Hank Williams songs’ demonstrated a kind nod to tradition which was topped by all five band members stepping off mic to deliver a snippet of the Hank classic ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’.

Across the hour and forty minute show, it was impossible not to warm to the style of Will Hoge and interpret what he stands for. Whatever mode of sound he chooses to accompany the message of his songs, he thrives on following instinct and breathing intensity into an accomplished performance. The level of Will’s success is ultimately out of his hands, but all he can do is stay true to his beliefs and continue to impress all those that connect with his music. I’m sure many folks in Milton Keynes did this evening.