Saturday, 30 April 2016

Dixie Chicks - Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham. Friday 29th April 2016

“No smiling during this song” expressed Natalie. However there was a slight grin detected during the line ‘I kinda like it’ as the defiant Dixie Chicks anthem ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ reverberated around the Birmingham NIA (even the ticket hasn’t quite let go of the original name). This defining track of the Dixie Chicks transitional period had its rightful place at the start of the encore. It signalled the end was approaching on the first date of the first proper UK tour in thirteen years and the packed arena was left in little doubt that this was Dixie Chicks circa 2016. The most important aspect had to be that the girls were back in full pomp and glory, splashing out on a lavish show and filling the air with a deluge of much loved songs.

Half hour into the show, you couldn’t help but feel that you were witnessing the unfinished business from 2006’s Accidents and Accusations Tour. While that set of dates did visit London for the ‘return to the scene of the crime’, the anticipated UK provincial roll out didn’t materialise and that was the Dixie Chicks done, or so we began to think. There is still little hint of the band heading back into the studio, but the massive announcement of ‘MMXVI World Tour’ re-awoke the phenomenon that is the Dixie Chicks. 2016 was also straight out of the 2006 sound base, with a five piece touring band heavily leaning in the rock direction selected to back Natalie, Emily and Martie. Four of the first six songs were lifted from the Rick Rubin produced album TAKING THE LONG WAY, headed by ‘The Long Way Around’ before launching into Natalie’s guitar riff assault on her home town in ‘Lubbock or Leave It’.

As soon as the opening strobe lighting and highly visual stage show had settled down, the hugely creative and spectacular background video show kicked in playing a significant part in the band getting over their messages and inspirations. This included a lyric video for ‘Easy Silence’ and a montage of domestic abuse headlines accompanying ‘Goodbye Earl’. Yes, he was killed for the umpteenth time, the band continue to show no remorse and the crowd sing along to every word. This conclusion of this classic brought a small scene changing break and a few moments to reflect on the first segment of the show. In light of a recent seismic event, especially in American music circles, a Prince cover was included and Natalie strained every ounce of her vocal talent to belt out a version of ‘Nothing Compares to You’. The other key observation from this part of the show was the reworking of ‘Long Time Gone’, answering questions in how they were going to reflect their country heritage.

It was clear from the start that the band set up was very much in the rock camp complete with piano, keys, drums, guitars and notably a lack of pedal steel. Of course this does not detract from Martie’s fiddle playing which was given plenty of opportunities to blossom over the two hours and Emily switching between banjo, lap steel and occasionally Dobro. Following a swift scene change, the stage was condensed to focus on the more roots material with Natalie leading off this section of the show with a glorious acoustic version of ‘Travelin’ Soldier’, not that any other version would do this fantastic song any justice. By now the band had joined the girls at the front of the partitioned stage and they all contributed fantastically on ‘White Trash Wedding’, with even the mandolin making an appearance. Following band introductions and subsequent temporary departures, we were left with the trio improvising on a bluegrass influenced instrumental medley of a couple of popular non-country contemporary songs.

One long term feature of the Dixie Chicks is their total admiration for Patty Griffin. Two of her songs featured on the multi-million selling album HOME and duly ‘Truth #2’ and ‘Top of the World’ found their rightful place in this evening’s set list. A third Patty Griffin song featured during the show’s intimate section when the band covered ‘Don’t Let Me Die in Florida’. Natalie introduced it as a new song for the Dixie Chicks, although it appeared on Patty’s 2013 album AMERICAN KID. Perhaps this suggestion of a new song did give a glimpse of hope that the band recording hiatus may end at some point. While on the subject of covers, there was the usual superb version of Dylan’s ‘Mississippi’. Usual, in the fact that it has appeared in the set list of the band’s sporadic shows over the last decade including their appearance in London at Country to Country in 2014. Before we end on covers, Ben Harper’s ‘Better Way’ was a suitable closer for the Dixie Chicks 2016, containing an important message and reflecting the musicians who Natalie has worked with since the now distant country music industry divorce.

For many folks, on this triumphant return, the thrill was in hearing and singing along to so many old Dixie Chicks favourites in the final part of the show. ‘Cowboy Take Me Away’, another song a little different minus pedal steel, soared around the arena with gusto and the audience played their part perfectly for the orchestrated unaccompanied chorus piece of the coming of age anthem ‘Wide Open Spaces’. Natalie still possesses all the old sass when pouring her heart and soul into ‘Sin Wagon’ and the Dixie Chicks version of ‘Landslide’ does this Stevie Nicks song complete justice. The final section commenced with a red, white and blue ticker tape shower filling the front of the arena as ‘Ready to Run’ was bashed out with an accompanying large screen video displaying a parody of the American political system. This was the sole reference to politics all evening with Natalie keeping the chat to a minimum generally.

This was an evening that few thought we would ever see again and for two hours the Dixie Chicks showed a Birmingham audience, thirteen years since last playing the city, that they are still a force to be reckoned with. Upon hearing ‘Goodbye Earl’ for the first time many years ago, the hook was complete and they still remain my favourite American band to date. The promise to return was made by Natalie and everybody present should hold her to that. The thorny subject of new material will need to be addressed at some point if this is to be materialised, and you get a general feel of the direction that it will head. The country influence will never wane, Emily and Martie will see to that, but Natalie is such an inquisitive and explorative artist that she should be trusted to freely wander. Her solo album of a couple of years back MOTHER showed what she can do and hopefully she will make her professional life more prolific from a recording perspective.

The Dixie Chicks flame has flickered, dimmed a little and nearly been extinguished but now in 2016, it’s approaching oxygen fuelled status and ready to burn brightly again. They are such a special act and sharing their music with a wide audience will thrill many adoring fans. Tonight at Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena, the re-emergence was complete and anticipation grows for what next? 

Friday, 29 April 2016

Hayes Carll - The Glee Club, Nottingham. Thursday 28th April 2016

There seems to be two constants at a Hayes Carll gig: ‘Beaumont’ is the opening song and nobody leaves the venue disappointed. Maybe the sample of witnessing four shows over eight years is a touch small, but who cares now that Hayes has his compass set in the direction of the UK once again. Having dipped his toe into our cooler climate last year after a lengthy break, the promised quick return has materialised with a significant step up in presentation and impact. The major upgrade from last year was the introduction of pedal steel, and the dual skills of Geoff Queen injected unbelievable vibrancy into the amazing depth of Hayes’ songs. The new album may be shedding an introspective and mellow light on his current recording status, but for an hour and half tonight on show was the full breadth of what makes Hayes Carll such an exceptional artist on the contemporary Americana circuit.

The trio on stage for this year’s run of dates was heralded as the Gulf Coast Orchestra with percussionist Mike Meadows joining Geoff Queen as the travelling sidekicks to Hayes. Both are key players on the Austin and wider Texas music scene with a list of impressive associations starting from Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Sunny Sweeney before branching out into many other influential performers. The input from Geoff and Mike this evening was invaluable. Geoff added segments of exhilarating electric lead guitar to heaps of emotive pedal steel, while Mike’s innovative percussion had a profound effect on how the songs were received by an enthralled audience. Hayes was just the same straight laced Texan introduced to British audiences nearly a decade ago with the LITTLE ROCK album. His inimitable style, deep rooted lyrics and cool delivery makes him a distinctive performer.

Before eulogising in some of the finer detail of the headline set, full commendation needs to be reserved for Roxanne de Bastion who has been performing the opening duties throughout the tour. Whilst being aware of Roxanne via her association with Hidden Trail Records, this was the first time giving her music serious attention. What revealed itself was a confident and assured singer-songwriter possessing a string of impressively assembled songs. The two which particularly made you sit up and notice were ‘Wasteland’ from her latest EP and a new song titled ‘Run’, hopefully lined up for inclusion on a future release. The link between these two finely crafted songs was Roxanne’s continental heritage with the former being inspired by change in the city of her upbringing, Berlin, and the latter, her Hungarian grandparents. To end on an upbeat note, Roxanne conducted some audience participation with ‘Red and White Blood Cells’ and the stage was duly set for the guys to do their thing.

Highlights were aplenty from Hayes during his turn in the spotlight, on his return to a Glee Club venue in the Midlands, albeit swapping Birmingham for Nottingham on this second visit to our shores in nine months. The show was distinctly split between the gentler mellow acoustic moments and the occasional ones where the pace and volume was ramped up. Four songs were lifted from the brand new album LOVERS AND LEAVERS, with the major focus on ‘The Magic Kid’, penned in honour of his son Eli. ‘Sake of the Song’, ‘Good While It Lasted’ and ‘The Love That We Need’, also showed that this new album is worth getting into even if comes across as a little different to his earlier material.

The major inspiration for the set list were the two previous albums, with the popular ‘Drunken Poet’s Dream’ and ‘Bad Liver and a Broken Heart’ from TROUBLE IN MIND lining up as the encore numbers. The first of these had a slightly surreal introduction as Hayes imitated Bryan Adams who co-incidentally was the alternative draw for music fans in Nottingham on the evening. Just prior to the encore, the guys really rocked the joint with ‘Stomp and Holler’; likewise earlier in the set with ‘I Got a Gig’ and ‘Kmag Yoyo’. These two songs had entertaining introductions involving government backed LSD experiments and referring to a Texas coastal area as Redneck Riviera.

Poignancy and irony were on the table as Hayes introduced his themed coupling of ‘Jesus and Elvis’ and ‘She Left Me For Jesus’. These illustrated the wit and emotive side to his writing as well as proving highly entertaining listens for the audience. Among the other songs shared to a decent Glee Club gathering was the Grammy nominated ‘Chances Are’ which proved that his writing doesn’t go unnoticed in more commercial circles as Lee Ann Womack cut an excellent version. ‘Girl Downtown’ always makes me smile with the line ‘pretty as a plate’, likewise the ‘easy listening’ reference in ‘Hard Out Here’. Throw in ‘Wild Turkey’ and ‘It’s a Shame’, and from memory that completes a significant set of songs to include in a show.

Hayes Carll is an endearing artist, the writer of great songs and hopefully one who now believes in strengthening his international profile. His material is long lasting and there is ample evidence that the songs are set to roll for many years in the future. Connecting with the music of Hayes Carll is a wonderful experience and shows like this further embed the psyche of great American song writing with a British audience.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Fred's House - Cookley Village Hall, Worcestershire. Sunday 24th April 2016

It didn’t take too long into this show for the peerless harmonies and enticing melodies of Fred’s House to take a grip. The five piece outfit from Cambridge are in the throes of playing a raft of dates around the country in support of their upcoming new album and there is ample evidence that the record will serve the band well in the near future. What Fred’s House do extremely well is lift the underlying quality of their recorded material and ensure a live audience unconditionally enjoys the best parts in the purest form.

Cookley Village Hall in Worcestershire has put on many good folk and roots gigs over the last couple of years with this evening’s show matching up well with the best. Fred’s House veer more towards the rock side of the folk genre and showed an acute understanding of how to balance the sound within the confines of an individual venue. Without the input of electric lead guitar, the frontier sound of Fred’s House was driven by the keyboards. Drums, electric bass and acoustic rhythm all play an important role ensuring the majestic songs get the instrumental support they deserve. These songs are primarily sung by Vikki Gavin who thrives in the role of band front person, while still preserving the collective entity of an equilibrium band.

The band’s onstage personality and heartbeat revolves around the roles of Vikki and song writing partner Griff Jameson. Griff supplements his guitar playing with a sidekick vocal part in support of Vikki with the pair being frequently joined by bassist Gafyn Jameson on three-part harmonies. On drums Paul Richards keeps time in a bright and breezy manner, leaving the keyboard skills of Alister Bunclark to sparkle at many an opportune moment. What is possibly the defining trait of Fred’s House at this moment of a fledgling career is the tremendous ability to pen a catchy song, free of soft pop pretense while capturing the essence of an iconic style.

FAULTLINES is the name of Fred’s House new album and unsurprisingly its near entirety was played across the two sets of this evening’s show. The second song in, ‘Face in the Water’, was a timely reminder to how good this record is and the cue to settle back for further riches to be unveiled in their live format. One of the few tracks where Griff takes lead vocal bolstered up the middle part of the first set with ‘Nevermind’ and it wasn’t soon after when one of the higher profile songs from Fred’s House’s repertoire made an appearance. ‘Shut Up and Dance’ was the first song that alerted me to the band when it appeared on a compilation album put out by the Folkstock folks nearly a couple of years ago. It has now re-surfaced for the first time on a wholly Fred’s House record and adds a feel good factor among grittier tracks. Perhaps with a view to injecting a touch of wider familiarity into the live show, the band selected a couple of popular covers to play and few balked at the opportunity to join in with the chorus of ‘Starman’.

After the break there was another opportunity for a singalong with ‘Gotta Get a Message to You’, but the real heart of the second set was four of the strongest songs from the new album. All four had their credentials strengthened with a live performance. ‘California for a Girl’ is a smashing song written as a parting gift to an ex-band member and brings some heartfelt sincerity to the proceedings. ‘Earthquake’ sees Fred’s House diving into a whirlpool of dreamy sensibilities, while ‘Ghost Town’ is decorated in retro glory and presents the pop tinge of the band with a streak of finesse. ‘Another Universe’ is a totally gratifying and rousing anthem, deserved of its climax position on both the album and this thoroughly entertaining show.

All that was left was the complimentary band introductions conducted by Vikki coupled with a soundtrack of ‘Somebody to Love’, popularised by Jefferson Airplane in the late sixties. There is an intrinsic resemblance of Fred’s House in full flow with the sounds synonymous of that iconic West Coast folk rock style, totally awash in lush harmonies and driven by a soulful keyboard output. This earmarks Fred’s House as a band to look out for on the UK indie circuit with a wide ranging appeal encompassing country, folk, rock and pop. More importantly than labels, they make damn fine music and effortlessly transfer this attribute to the live venue. FAULTLINES should be added to your ‘to get’ list and fast tracked to the top. The same sentiment can be applied if Fred’s House are ever in your vicinity. Take these statements as a valued recommendation.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Josh Harty - Thimblemill Library, Bearwood, West Midlands. Saturday 23rd April 2016

Josh Harty
In these challenging times for both public libraries and grass roots singer-songwriters, the answer may lie in closer collaboration. Although the sound level barrier will need to be torn down, the longer you think about it, the greater the synergy reveals itself in the multi-facetted world of the written word. This association was taken to its literal conclusion as a venue was sought for Josh Harty’s return to the Birmingham area. So step in Thimblemill Library, a community focussed organisation located in an art deco building and steeped in adopting an innovative approach to securing alternative streams of funding. The result was a partially surreal but wholly captivating night of acoustic music decorated by a backdrop of the science, religion and crime fiction sections.

While a modest cover charge may have contributed to a healthy turnout, it is still a feat to attract folks on a Saturday night with all the inside and counter attractions of an urban environment on the Sandwell-Birmingham border. This was especially fitting considering that all three acts on the bill were by nature going to play a host of unfamiliar songs. True singer-songwriters rarely stray from the opportunity to expose the gifts of their own literary talents, whatever the turnout and situation. Of course CDs are on sale to convert the unfamiliar into the familiar and thus ensure the work of the recording singer-songwriter is rewarded and the creative process is financially re-fuelled.

Dan Hartland 
Opening performer Dan Hartland did comment on the gratitude artists have for people taking a chance on music they have previously not heard. While more ardent live music devotees thrive on this opportunity to discover, it can be a tough ask for others. Thimblemill Library did live up to its pre-requisite by presenting the ideal listening environment allowing both Dan and fellow support artist Mellow Peaches the prime platform for sharing their songs, music and stories. It helps that both are regular players on the West Midlands acoustic music circuit, albeit Dan returns to his hometown from a wider geographical base, previously Cheltenham and now Stafford.

The evening was billed as an Americana line up with Josh Harty all the way from North Dakota perhaps the neater fit of the three performers. Dan Hartland is more on the contemporary folk side of the acoustic spectrum matching his heartfelt songs with engaging stories and recollections. Mellow Peaches was organically presented as a duo on the evening cultivating an instrument based country blues sound merging the twang of finger picked guitar and mandolin. Periodically they became a trio with the addition of a guest percussionist on an intriguing washboard contraption complete with mini-cymbals. Their original songs were joined by an instrumental piece and a rendition of the popular gospel Americana anthem ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’.

Mellow Peaches 
It was almost twelve months to the day since Josh Harty was last in the area when his 2015 UK tour with Kelley McRae called into the Kitchen Garden Café for a show. This time Josh was the sole representative from North America and the proud owner of a brand new record to add to his back catalogue. Among the tracks from HOLDING ON shared with the audience were ‘Wired’ and ‘English Rain’, coupled with an enlightening set of tales ranging from growing up in a small town in North Dakota to the perils of being a travelling musician touring a foreign land thousands of miles from home. Josh played the archetypical troubadour role to a tee and maximised every minute of his hour on stage. In line with the song writing theme of the evening, much of the content would have been totally fresh to a majority of the audience, with the exception of an encore version of Buddy Holly’s ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’.

It was certainly a case of the contrasting worlds of words colliding in a setting which seemed fitting to the art which was on offer from the assembled stage. Survival for aspects of our literary culture is often reliant on instinct and the message from this evening is that innovation can work with respect to where you take music. Sometimes below the radar music has to work a little harder even to the extent of penetrating urban communities and exploring what’s in our very own vicinity.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Friday Freedom Feature - Releases on 22 April 2016

"Pitched somewhere between the folk-blues of Karen Dalton and the epic soundscapes and storytelling of Joanna Newsom. The Other Sun is a stunning piece of work."

Get a copy of the new EP

“Climb the air” is an EP of traditional material recorded by Hatful of Rain in late 2015.The songs included here started as material played at live shows amongst original ‘Hatful‘ compositions. The idea for the EP came from a desire to demonstrate how the band’s musicianship and song-writing has been influenced and inspired by folk music coming from the British Isles, crossing the Atlantic and back again."

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman + Kitty MacFarlane - Artrix Arts Centre, Bromsgrove. Wednesday 20th April 2016

You know the night is turning into a good one when the first act ends with a Tim Buckley song and the main artist opens with one from the Warren Zevon catalogue. Not that this was an evening of cover songs, although the work of Bruce Springsteen and Tim O’Brien was also celebrated before the final curtain came down. This show was entirely owned by the highly accomplished duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman ably supported by a bright new folk starlet in Kitty MacFarlane. Across what were effectively three sets both acts excelled in the power of song, whether interpreting the traditional, covering the influential or primarily sharing the fruits of their song writing output.

Good things were heard about Kitty MacFarlane prior to the announcement that she was going to open for Kathryn and Sean on this extensive tour. With a debut recording safely in a saleable format and literally minutes from hearing one of her tracks played on the BBC Radio Two Folk Show for the first time, Kitty was comfortably settled to maximise every minute of her half hour in the spotlight. She oozed with an air of confidence while delivering a bunch of softly sung and delicately played acoustic songs. In true song writing spirit, Kitty had an intuitive knack of capturing those ordinary moments and turning them into an articulate preserved memory. All five tracks from the recently released EP titled TIDE & TIME were shared with this Bromsgrove audience, of which four were original compositions. ‘Bus Song’ was probably the pick of these on first listen and this turned out to be the track that received the airplay. Kitty wasted little energy in wrapping her delightful vocals around each song in a reassuring way and displayed a stage poise showing a high degree of maturity for a performer still in her early twenties. There is a strongly felt suspicion that we are going to hear a lot more of Kitty MacFarlane and this short set was merely a taster for greater things.

No sooner had Kitty finished off her set with a sincere cover of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’ then Kathryn and Sean immediately appeared with the intent to deliver two sets leaving just one interval break for the audience. Right from the off, the vocal volume was raised with Kathryn having a more powerful song delivery style to Kitty. The choice of song opener in ‘For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer’ by Warren Zevon was an interesting selection, but set the tone well for the remainder of the acclaimed duo’s lengthy time on stage.  The centrepiece of their set list was a healthy dose of super tracks from the latest studio album TOMORROW WILL FOLLOW TODAY; an excellent record essential for any collection.

The attributes of Kathryn and Sean as a performing duo are extensive, ranging from an affable charm to merging the artistry of their individual musical talent. Sean uses his considerable guitar playing skills to provide a backdrop to Kathryn’s versatile vocals which are capable of matching the mood of the songs. Likewise when she moves to the piano, the canvas is filled with an evocative sound to pour emotion into the ballads that duly follow. A popular piece in this vein is ‘A Song to Live By’, and one designed for those moments when we all need a pick up. Aided by the innovative greetings card complete with song lyrics, this tune is fast becoming Kathryn and Sean’s most popular, but this is surely followed hot on the heels by the heartfelt account of a lonely whale in ’52 Hertz’.

By association, background and general sound, Kathryn and Sean are right at the core of the British folk scene, yet there exists a strong degree of versatility in their influence to project a range of styles. There is a definite transatlantic feel to some of the songs performed and Sean did comment on the amount of time Kathryn and he spent Stateside several years ago. Amongst the songs featured in their pair of sets tonight was a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Matamoros Banks’ and a country sounding version of Tim O’Brien’s ‘Safe in Your Arms’, which was a request and acted as the encore number. Another American influence was the Appalachian version of ‘The Lusty Smith’, albeit a folk song to cross the ocean and back.

Despite these observations, many of the songs come straight out of the folk mould, whether penning protest pieces like ‘Tomorrow Will Follow Today’, taking on the traditional in ‘Child Owlet’ or spinning a subject like Mrs Beaton’s cook book into a song titled ‘Dear Isabella’. There were dark numbers such as an alternative take on the mermaid mythology in ‘Rusalka’ and deep personal reflective songs like the ‘Wisdom of Standing Still’. The product of a Kathryn and Sean show is highly memorable, giving the audience plenty to think about and ponder long after the evening has been concluded. One of the evening’s more poignant moments was Kathryn spilling out memories of her youth in ‘The Ballad of Andy Jacobs’ and suggesting the mining community shifts of the eighties might well be replicated in the steel industry today.

This was the second occasion of seeing Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman live in the last six months and they are fast becoming one of my favourite acts on the folk circuit. Perhaps being more informed about their songs helped a second time and they are successful at leaving a positive impression. This performance, coupled with being introduced to the music of Kitty MacFarlane, will linger long in the memory and the Artrix Arts centre in Bromsgrove commissioned a real treat for fans of quality folk tinged songs.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Treetop Flyers + Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards - Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 17th April 2016

Don’t bother looking in the diaries for this double bill show as it only existed in the world of two people. Due to the close proximity of the Kitchen Garden Café and the Hare and Hounds, it was always on the cards that the venues would be combined one evening and the opportunity finally presented itself. The main feature of the night was Treetop Flyers returning to Birmingham to promote their new album and it was initially unfortunate that this clashed with Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards playing the city on the same evening. However a touch of good fortune appeared when it was announced that Treetop Flyers would hit the Hare and Hounds stage at 9:45 and Laura’s first fifty minute set would end around 9:30. Hence a super gig evolved out of two venues barely twenty yards apart.

First of all apologies to Laura and her musical companions for not returning to see their second set after the break. However enough was seen in the first half to give the four piece band, assembled from right across the North American continent, a hearty plug in this write up. Laura was no stranger to this part of Kings Heath having played the Hare and Hounds with Session Americana only last October. This time the set up was wholly different as she fronted a quartet of two fiddles, cello and a double bass. Laura was paired in the fiddle department with Jenna Moynihan, leaving cellist Valerie Thompson and Winnipeg native Natalie Bohrn on bass to complete the band. From such an acoustic base the sound unsurprisingly had a folk and roots feel to it, although a contemporary twist was woven into the music. The set played to a responsive Kitchen Garden Café gathering was a mix of brand new material, traditional fiddle tunes and an opening instrument free song sprinkled with sparkling harmonies. Whilst being far from your usual acoustic roots combo, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards came across as a zestful group of talented performers joining a lengthy list of traditional musicians confident enough to take their accomplished brand of music far and wide.

The trip from the London area to Birmingham was not exactly in the transatlantic realms for Reid Morrison and his merry bunch of Treetop Flyers. This five piece band on the Loose Music label have been racking up the exalted reviews for their brand new album PALAMINO and this headline show at the Hare and Hounds was the first extended chance for Midlands based fans to listen to most of the material live. The guys made a fleeting visit to the city last autumn to play a low key gig at the Sunflower Lounge and are due to return this September for a prestigious slot at the Moseley Folk Festival. This interim city gig was a headline scheduling preceded by three support artists, and perhaps one will never know how these acts would have matched up to Laura Cortese. One thing for certain is that Treetop Flyers were in blistering form as soon as they hit the stage and for an hour and a quarter they showed why they are being rated so highly on the live circuit.

A few teething problems with the sound did surface during the set, although the band masked the bulk of these in their ability to craft an abundance of wonderful guitar and keyboard based tunes. Pinpointing the sound of Treetop Flyers is a tough task especially if you want to avoid West Coast Americana clichés. Similarly labelling them an indie/alt-country hybrid is being too simplistic, so just leave it that they are one hell of a finely tuned rock ‘n’ roll band, rich in a plethora of mind splitting extended musical interludes. Of course it helps to have a front person so passionately involved in each song and Reid Morrison is such an intense performer that he hypnotises you with a well-stocked pile of excellent Treetop Flyers songs.

Having been sold on their live performance last time and ensuring PALOMINO has been on perpetual rotation since its release, tonight was the crowning interaction with the band, all witnessed from just a few paces away. Watching every ounce of emotion emanate from Reid’s face as he poured out ‘St. Andrew’s Day’ was inspirational. Likewise witnessing Sam Beer alternate between keys and lead guitar amidst contributing to loads of stunning tunes was worth the admission price ten-fold. The major candidate for set highlight was the scintillating ten-minute pre-encore version of ‘Dance Through the Night’. Although on ‘any given Sunday’, it could have been run close by ’31 Years’, ‘Sleepless Nights’, 'Wild Winds' and ‘You Darling You’. In truth you can pick any of the tracks from the new record and it has certainly been worth the wait since the previous release in 2013, and the band’s subsequent re-appraisal.

There will be a gross injustice if Treetop Flyers aren’t the live breakout band of 2016. If this isn’t the case, they are totally sold on me and any waxed lyrical musing is entirely based on foundation. Hopefully their live presence will continue to grow and subsequently their time on stage. However this improvised evening of fifty minutes of Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards and seventy five minutes of Treetop Flyers was a triumph of innovative good fortune, proving that brilliant live music is not normally that far away if you seek it out.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Black Feathers + The Rosellys - Tower of Song, Birmingham. Friday 15th April 2016

The Black Feathers 
It was a case of similarities and differences with the dual line up presented at the Tower of Song in Birmingham this evening. Both artists appeared in the duo format and set about demonstrating why they are accumulating acclaim in the UK indie Americana sector. The promotion gave The Rosellys and The Black Feathers roughly equal stage time with the latter awarded the prestigious headline slot, although the evening had a double bill feel to it. The contrasts began with The Rosellys informing folks that this was in effect the launch date for a set of forthcoming gigs, while The Black Feathers announced that this return to Birmingham was effectively the final date of their album launch tour, with an upcoming American trip soon on the horizon for this Gloucestershire based couple.

Musically each artist arrives on the Americana spectrum from a different perspective. The Black Feathers is heavily influenced by a folk style delivery, sprinkling a stripped back simple acoustic sound with the sparkling precipitation of gold dust harmonies. Aside from a number of studio contributions, The Black Feathers is entirely the vehicle for Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler to project the enormous depth of their talent. While being active on the circuit for a little longer in terms of shows and releases, The Rosellys hop from being the core duo of Simon and Rebecca to a bona fide band complete with drums and pedal steel, and an emerging role in backing a number of touring American artists on the shared Clubhouse roster. Musically they adopt the oxymoron moniker of British Americana and rarely shy away from a deep rooted US influence. Even going back to their duo roots for this evening’s show, Simon flitted between fiddle and guitar, while a family member played cello on a couple of songs. Needless to say, The Black Feathers was quite simply Ray’s acoustic guitar and Sian’s wonderful voice.

The Rosellys released their latest album THE GRANARY SESSIONS in the late summer days of 2015 and have spent a considerable amount of time promoting it via numerous live dates. A couple of songs from this record impressed during the fifty minutes they spent on stage this evening in ‘Asheville 1784’ and ‘A Thousand Miles’. Although The Rosellys have fleetingly crossed my path on the circuit over the last half a dozen years, this was probably the most focussed observation. Among their attributes are the evolving vocal range of Rebecca and the added diversity of Simon’s enhanced fiddle playing. The songs are generally ripe with ear pleasing melodies and this was extended to at least one new composition previewed during the evening. The profile of The Rosellys has notably increased in the wake of their tie up with Clubhouse Records and one of their upcoming high profile projects is to once again support the excellent Don Gallardo on a fair few of his UK dates this spring.

The Rosellys 
The Black Feathers was first seen at this very venue a couple of years ago when they played a short set after a lengthy open mic session. Happily this follow up consisted of a longer time in the spotlight and a step up in the overall quality of the evening. The duo’s debut album has courted some serious praise since its release earlier this year and SOAKED TO THE BONE is set flourish in the foreseeable future. A decent selection of tracks from the album made the set list headed by the unconventional opener ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’. A popular upbeat song from the record in ‘Down By The River’ was not surprisingly well received, but I felt it was jointly eclipsed by the delightful ‘Arc Light’ and the mesmeric ‘All For You’. This last number contains a remarkably catchy guitar riff which goes a long way to exemplify Ray’s acute skills in being the sole architect of The Black Feathers live instrumental sound.

The real crux of what makes The Black Feathers tick is the intuitive harmonious chemistry between Ray and Sian. This straddles the standard and innovative, while being constantly engaging. Sian was slightly under the weather during this show, but this failed to mask the inner beauty of her vocals. The highest compliment is to eulogise how her vocals melt into each song and to categorically state that she extracts direct influence from the depth of her soul. Sian continues to develop the role of the stage voice-piece, cultivating a persona in the mould of Josienne Clarke. This slightly dark and ironic image fits perfectly with the theme of many of the songs and led to the duo covering the iconic classic ‘Spirit in the Sky’ in a creative harmony-packed gothic style. Twice Ray and Sian ditched the amplification to step off mic and complete the removal of any artificial barrier between artist and audience. The first occasion was to deliver ‘You Will Be Mine’ off their debut EP, and buoyed by this experience, duly repeated it for an encore version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.

This crowned a highly enjoyable evening where both bands played a valuable role. The Rosellys are set to continue to pursue their almost evangelical trail of playing a brand of music very dear to their hearts and exploiting every opportunity that comes their way. The Black Feathers will continue to astound new admirers with their innate ability to merge the proverbial two into one and portray a talent in an enlightening way. In either case, Americana tinged music in the UK continues to roll along in healthy proportions.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Railsplitters - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 10th April 2016

It was another case of ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ at the Kitchen Garden Café this evening, albeit there was no sight or sound of the Emmylou Harris classic. What we did have on offer was a highly talented quintet of musicians, once again leaving their hometown in Colorado, and on this UK tour paying a visit to the Second City suburb of Kings Heath. The Railsplitters are the latest in a long line of old time string bands to grace this venue and the evidence on show suggested that they are up there with the best. Throughout this twin set show, the band was rarely shy on attempting to re-define the scope for the type of music they love with sporadic references to pop grass, new grass, Colorado green grass and occasionally offering defiance to the bluegrass police. Putting sub-genre subtleties aside for a moment, the chosen gathering at the Kitchen Garden Café was ultimately privileged to listen to a procession of super sumptuous sounds from the full range of fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and double bass.

While Boulder, Colorado is the base for The Railsplitters, the band members have gravitated to the Rocky Mountains from places as far away as Mississippi, Michigan, Alaska and, even Brazil was mentioned. The journey to Birmingham for this show was a little less on the mileage chart with their previous port of call being a gig at the American Museum in Bath earlier in the afternoon. In fact, two shows in one day had the band buzzing with an equal spread of irreverent chat keeping things light hearted during the song breaks, often necessitated by the obligatory tuning, especially for the banjo.The song scale for The Railsplitters was primarily based on their two studio albums to date, sprinkled with a smart selection of contrasting covers. It was of little surprise to hear the band cover an excellent Bela Fleck fiddle tune (‘Down in the Swamp’) and a Dillards number (‘Whole World Round’), but more so to steam full ahead with Buddy Holly’s ‘Oh Boy’. The latter was the guilty pleasure of bassist Leslie Ziegler, while the first of this trio proved the perfect vehicle for the fiddle playing of Christine King to excel.

These two musicians may have been positioned on the flanks of the stage line up, but were core to the whole sound of The Railsplitters in full play. Next to these two ladies were the two men in the band, namely banjo player Dusty Rider and Peter Sharpe on mandolin. Both these fine musicians were the architects of many of the band originals with Peter being credited with amongst others the song ‘Boarding Pass (That’s the Way It Is’)’ from their 2013 self-titled debut album. While the harmonies were aplenty, Dusty did a fair amount of the solo vocals in tandem with Lauren Stovall who was also responsible for the guitar work in this musical ensemble. If a focal point for The Railsplitters had to be anointed then Lauren would probably get the nod, however the great British political term of ‘first among equals’ is a more suitable description of the band. Apart from the bulk of the lively chat, Lauren impressed immensely with her vocal contribution which had more than a tinge of Southern class especially on the standout song of the night ‘Jackson Town’, referencing her Mississippi roots.

As indicated earlier, the evening rolled out as a two set gig with the band active selling CDs, both in the interval and at the end. Two songs that further impressed in the first half included the traditional tune ‘The Cuckoo’ which raised much debate whether it had its roots in the UK or the US. The other was a Katie Bowser song from Nashville going by the name of ‘Where You Are’. There were numerous stories attached to many of the songs especially ‘The Estuary’ in the second set and the Leslie composition ‘Blue Moon’. Two other traditional songs worthy of a mention came in the final stages of the evening in the guise of ‘Bright Sunny South’ and the inevitable encore piece ‘Fly Around’, complete with the exaggerated line ‘crazy’ exemplifying the band’s desire to end on a high note.

This Birmingham date, which evolved into a highly enjoyable evening, was in the early stages of this tour for The Railsplitters. The indication was that the band was beginning to hit their stride and this bodes well for folks catching them later in the tour. Alongside their debut album, the band was also selling copies of the 2015 album THE FASTER IT GOES with many songs from this release featuring during the show. It was a pleasure to witness a positive, vibrant and accomplished band play a style of music, authentic in its attention to detail yet progressive in its interpretation. Boulder to Birmingham may be a long way, but metaphorically they were in each other’s pockets this evening. 

Friday, 8 April 2016

Friday Freedom Feature - Releases on 8 April 2016

Four artists appear in the first Friday Freedom Feature, designed to share some music that may need a helping hand in reaching out to more folks. There is an even split between the four artists with two homegrown and two from the US. Leading the way from across the pond is the new album by Josh Harty. Holding On is an excellent release and Josh is currently on tour in the UK, following up the live dates he played with Kelley McCrae last year. Full tour dates for Josh are listed below. A new name to me is Katey Laurel, who recently made contact following the review of the Ashley Riley album. Katey has some sample tracks available from Noise Trade and the link to these can also be found below. Well worth checking out. First up representing the UK this week is the singer-songwriter from Norfolk Lisa Redford. Lisa is fairly well known on the country, roots and Americana circuit and has just released a four track EP of songs worth adding to your collection. Last but by no means least will be a new name to most people - Hope in High Water. This duo consists of Josh Chandler Morris and Carly Slade. They first crossed my path when opening for Sarah Gayle Meech in Leicester last year. They recently released a new four track record under their new band name and details of this can be found below. Also check out their live gigs as they will supporting such esteemed acts as Cale Tyson and Nikki Lane on upcoming dates. Enjoy this week's new music and look out for more clips, links and recommendations next Friday. 

Josh Harty · April 2016 UK & Ireland Tour  
Fri 8            Appleby MagnaLeics.                              Sir John Moore Foundation  
Sat 9           Manchester                                               Fuel Cafe Bar
Sun 10         Newcastle upon Tyne                               The Tanners Arms
Fri 15          ErrolPerthshire                                       AliBob Cafe @ Cairn O'Mohr Winery
Sat 16         Barrynr. Carnoustie                                 Barry Mill
Sun 17         Newport-on-TayFife                                The Newport
Tue 19         Sheffield                                                   The Greystones
Wed 20        Nottingham                                               The Guitar Bar
Thu 21         Leicester                                                    The Musician
Fri 22          Liverpool                                                    View Two Gallery
Sat 23         SmethwickWest Midlands                          Thimblemill Library
Mon 25        Ballymore EustaceCo. Kildare                    Mick Murphy’s Bar
Thu 28         Galway                                                       Monroe’s Live
Fri 29          Dublin                                                         DC Music Club

Order CD via Lisa's Website or at this Bandcamp link


Music and the Mountains
Another Place and Time
Remember Me
Worst Kind of Love

Released on 14th March 2016

(Formerly known as Josh Chandler Morris and Carly Slade) 

Track Listing:

When Sorrow Calls 
Who's Gonna Hold Your Hand 
When You're Gone
Angels in Heaven


Monday, 4 April 2016

Preview : Maverick Festival - Suffolk, Friday 1st July to Sunday 3rd July 2016

When you use the term ‘maverick’ in your festival title, the challenge is to continually update what you have to offer and seek which barriers are there for stretching. Of course this hasn’t been too difficult for the first eight years of the Maverick Festival and the ninth annual gathering of roots music fans in the Suffolk countryside over the first weekend in July is set to be no different. In the wake of several strategic leaks during the course of March culminating in an official press launch on the day before Easter, the picture is now becoming clearer on what to expect if you venture down to Easton Farm Park for the mixture of great ambience, marvellous music, fine food and drink,  and historically – good weather!.  

Paul & Jamie from Los Pacamonos
The beautiful rustic location is a draw for committed and casual fans alike, along with the laid back feel, ease of access within the site and a guarantee that all attendees will be catered for from kids to the music aficionado. The latter will no doubt be thrilled that one of the pioneering artists of country music is getting honoured on the Friday evening with a programme of classic Jimmie Rodgers songs being presented by several esteemed guests. Not exactly your usual local tribute show, but then again, this is ‘Maverick’. Over the last couple of years, the state of Alabama has been celebrated along with the fiftieth anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan went electric. Plans are also underway to commemorate Canada Day on July 1st, while in the past the festival has handed over part scheduling to operations like Clubhouse Records and the Americana Music Association (UK).

Barbara Nesbitt 
However let’s not delay any further introducing some of the names lined up to appear over the weekend at Maverick 2016. Definitely coming in at left field, providing a home grown focus and one to whom we had a sneak preview last year is the prolific UK cult singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. While on the theme of British acts, one undoubtedly steeped in an Americana sound, is the highly contagious Los Pacaminos – co-led by Paul Young who proves that a life outside the Top 40 and retro circles can be totally enriched. Having seen their raucous brand of late night Tequila-fuelled accomplished yet moderately chaotic Tex Mex on several occasions, Maverick folks are in for a treat. The other artist who raised eyebrows with his announcement on launch night was Sam Outlaw. If it’s considered a meteoric rise from relative UK obscurity to Maverick headliner in barely six months for this Californian, the answer lies in the fabulous album Angeleno and eye witness accounts of those who saw him support Aaron Watson in January. By the time of his Maverick appointment, Sam will have had another UK tour under his belt and those eye witness accounts will have significantly grown.

Hannah Aldridge 
With approaching twenty artists named so far, of which the majority are now confirmed on the festival line up web page, there is the usual mix of the familiar and the ones that you know will be in the future. Four of the solo female performers listed, distinctly fall into two camps. Hannah Aldridge and Debbie Bond are festival returnees; in fact it will be Hannah’s third time, hopefully with her new record in tow. Amelia White and Barbara Nesbitt are both Maverick debutants. Amelia has had her last two albums promoted over here and it is good to see her follow up the 2016 release with a UK trip. Meanwhile trawling back through some of Barbara’s work has added to the anticipation of hopefully catching her live in July.

Robyn Hitchcock 
Skipping across the genders for a moment, three names caught the eye and represent a fairly lengthy generational divide. Robert Vincent is a singer-songwriter tipped for big things, while it has probably been a long time since legendary British guitarist Wiz Jones has had that tag. Jon Langford, famous for his work with The Mekons and Waco Brothers, bridges the pair generation-wise and as well as playing a set will also have his artwork exhibited. Of course all have their roots in the British Isles, in contrast to Canadian Ryan Cook and Luke Winslow who will be bringing a New Orleans spice to Maverick this year. Two fully fledged bands crossing the Atlantic to play the festival this year represent the bluegrass/old time/ roots side to the wares on display with The Hackensaw Boys and The Sultans of String following in the fine footsteps of many like minded acts to have played one of the festival’s indoor and outdoor stages over the previous eight years.

Sam Outlaw 
All artists mentioned in this preview are listed on the festival’s website at the time of publish and with still three months to go before many hardened music fans descend on Suffolk, there is the possibility of these names being subject to change. Likewise there should be a host of other names added to the list to keep the stages ticking over from Friday teatime until a cessation of the good time fun on Sunday afternoon. Maverick continues to be one of the most cost effective weekends of the year and will still hold its own even as more expensive alternative events muscle their way onto the scene.

Look out for more information in the run up to the festival in the usual published sources and the ever connective and instant world of social media. 

Tickets are available from //
Ranger £85.00
Weekend ticket with admission to all stages and includes up to TWO nights camping FRIDAY and SATURDAY
Wrangler £65.00
Weekend ticket with admission to all stages No Camping
Rustler £39.00
Day ticket, Saturday only
Nighthawk £25.00
Friday night only
Holy Roller £20.00
Sunday only
Tenderfoot £15.00
Children 10-15 yrs, under 10's go free

Past Maverick Festivals Reviews 2015  2014  2013  2012