Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Random Blog Post: Album Submissions and assorted 'State of the Union' stuff.

A new year, the fresh arrival of new music and the impending continuation of a live music journey. Also an opportune moment to make a rare excursion away from the road tested gig and album review. Although this blog began life seven years ago as a medium to collate some scribed thoughts on the live music experience, circumstances and association quickly led it into the realm of the album review, initially in collaboration before progressing down a solo route.

Together, reflections on music in its two most powerful forms progressed in harness as the published pieces racked up into three figures and beyond. Gig reviews have been the pivotal content, driven by an independent spirit and a desire where possible to log a journey in its near entirety. Over the last seven years, this relentless pursuit has spawned very few gaps in the activity, a testimony to hundreds of artists who pour their heart and soul into a craft, leaving cradles of positivity to inform the retrospective review. A smart ear to choosing music and artists that float your boat makes the process that much easier.

While gig reviews are a fixed beast, the album content is a fluid pursuit down a never-ending road of avenues, crescents and endless highways. From day one, the album review sparked from a submission route, a trend following on to this very day courtesy of artists, PRs and labels who have assessed the prospect of some kind words penned from an independent source. Eventually submissions exceed capacity, to the extent that two hundred CDs and downloads manifested into fifty reviews during the calendar year of 2018. Of course, such a pool eases the process of finding sufficient material flowing with inspiration to enable the desired scribing of positive reaction and feeling.

Review material always has to exist hand in hand with the streamed and purchased variety, and end of year favourite lists have equally reflected both parts of the listening schedule with the perfect complement. Largely, submitted material is not too far adrift from preferred style and there is no doubt many fine records that just fell victim of a finite amount of time.

Towards the latter end of 2018, it was decided to create a directory of all submissions to at least record their existence and provide a link for readers to check them out in lieu of the five hundred word exhaustive review. As we glide into 2019, this process will continue, as the capacity for the written review remains relatively unaltered and there are early signs that submissions will likely match this again. Of course, the latter may tail off, but that development can be lived with.

To open up the process, a new email address exists to accommodate submissions, with the minimum offer of addition to the directory providing the album/EP falls somewhere in the realm of Americana/country/folk/roots/singer-songwriter. Some reviews in the past have come from left field sources, so while no guarantee on feedback is given opportunities may exist in some format.

Three Chords and the Truth UK (yes I know ‘real’ country music only plays a relatively small part, but hey it’s a great quote) will continue to cultivate a small corner of the web and remain a one-person vanity project blogging about music that matters. If you’re a seasoned reader, in the words of Otis Gibbs ‘thanks for giving a damn’, if you’re a newbie, welcome. A website in America assessed this blog as providing ‘authentic music commentary’. I’ll take that!

ALBUM REVIEW: Dan Rauchwerk - We Are More Than What We Leave Behind : Self-released (Out in the UK on Jan 7th 2019)

A new year; a new name and another record getting a renewal in a new land.  Dan Rauchwerk’s WE ARE MORE THAN WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND breezed into life last year in his homeland and now takes a punt in the old world; a source for some of the material.  This New Yorker plants his foot firmly in folk troubadour territory and serves up a fertile source of stories spinning history into different perspectives. The style is raw and simple, akin to a refined Billy Bragg, but awash with a desire to listen intently. A singer-songwriter’s dream scenario.

This ten-track selection is the debut solo release from an artist cast as a founding member of the international touring band The Lords of Lichtenstein. No previous experience is required to take a lucky dip into this record’s contents and to derive some listening contentment. Reference to the title eventually comes in the final line of the final song, but at thirty-five minutes long you do not have to wait too long and the gist of the album is well grasped by then.

Historical context comes to the fore quite quickly with the feisty ‘Mrs, McLaughlin’ opening proceedings and leaving Rauchwerks’s war futility sentiments fervently in the open. A few tracks down the line, ‘Victoria’ takes the influential monarch as the centrepiece with several cutting lines concluding a legacy. In contrast to the famous, inspiration draws from browsing unknown epitaphs in ‘It Just is’ showing that our writer is more than content to roam down random paths to reach a shared conclusion.

As an aside, I am unaware whether Dan Rauchwerk has listened to the track ‘Dusty in Memphis’ by The Dreaming Spires, but if not, his own song ‘Memphis’ had some psychic influence thrust upon it in more ways than one.

The duet with Caitlin Mahoney was probably the album’s most disappointing moment, but a least it prompted checking out a new artist. While her solo material sounded fine, perhaps not all matches are made in heaven. On a more positive note, and taking the concept of legacy in an alternative direction, ‘Skywalker’ is a stellar piece of song writing shedding some limelight on the unsung.

A stark clarity emanates from this album and I am sure if Dan Rauchwerk and his instruments stood in front of you the live musical experience would be entertaining, engaging and enlightening. There is likely to be a backstory attached to each song, but in the absence of not seeing him live, then a vivid imagination can fill the void. A singer- songwriter would likely concur with such interpretation.

WE ARE MORE THAN WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND reveals a lot more about Dan Rauchwerk – the singer-songwriter, than we knew before. The conclusion being a record fighting for its patch and securing a stake. Maybe even a legacy, although definitely a title on the tin that explains the contents.

Try Before You Buy

ALBUM REVIEW: Kaia Kater - Grenades: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (Out in UK on January 11th 2019)

There has been an enormous level of potential attached to Kaia Kater. Although, it is the release of her latest album GRENADES that will see the seam most productively tapped. This album (Kater’s fourth) is having a staggered release across her target territories, with it taking a UK bow on January 11th after initially beginning life across the pond in the latter months of 2018. The vagueness of ‘across the pond’ is pertinent in this context as it portrays a Canadian artist heavily schooled in old time American music exploring their very own Caribbean roots. The multiple facets that adorn this record make it one of the most interesting releases discovered in a while, providing an abundance of thoughtful moments across a soundtrack that amply rewards an open-minded approach.

For the record, GRENADES consists of eleven songs and three spoken interludes drawing inspiration from the island of Grenada; the home of Kater’s father who fled the country in the 1980s in the aftermath of political upheaval and subsequent US invasion. While the music will ultimately claim the spotlight, the three spoken parts delivered by her father and strategically placed at track numbers: 4, 8 and 13 add an atmospheric element to splice the album with traces of documented history.

For folks previously aligning Kater’s work with the banjo, the reduction of its impact will be instantly noticeable without a move too far away from a roots base. One interesting addition to the sound is the work of fellow Canadian Christine Bougie, whose twang laden input has enhanced artists such as Good Lovelies, Bahamas and, more relevant for fans in the UK via a previous key member of Gretchen Peters’ touring band. This sound, presumably from lap steel, is subtle yet detectable and threads throughout the album starting in the opening track ‘New Colossus’.

The writing input strengthens this side of Kaia Kater’s armoury. Only on ‘La Misère’ does she dip into the archives, and the impact of this short track lies in its language delve into some French dialect. Elsewhere apart from the exquisite storytelling, the ability for a continuous array of strong chorus melodies to emerge smooths the way for the album’s sonic capabilities to take hold. Even in the first half of the forty-three minutes playing time, this feature has lauded the reception of tracks such as the aforementioned opening one, ‘Canyon Land’ and ‘Meridian Ground’.

If the spoken parts achieve one thing, they will surely create a curiosity to dip back into the history books and learn more about the circumstances surrounding Grenada and ultimately the aggressive side of US foreign policy at the height of the Cold War. These spoken parts chronicle the optimism of change, the horror of invasion and the ultimate re-settlement. The personal element provokes thought and supplies the intent that has led to Kaia Kater making GRENADES.

Further fascinating content emerges in the second half. ‘Hydrants’ sees all instruments ditched for a Capella delivery, while the banjo re-appears to support the penultimate song ‘The Right One’. Title track ‘Grenades’ is a worthy candidate for stand-out number in the latter stages with its shimmering organ play out ending the song on a high. To dismiss any lingering doubt about this album being a compelling listen, ‘Poets Be Buried’ seals the deal in a stunning heartfelt finale that urges further delving rather than closing the book.

From a personal perspective, GRENADES moves the game a lot further forward than its predecessor NINE PINS, the release that accompanied Kaia Kater on her recent tilt at the UK market. It was unsurprising that Rhiannon Giddens had played a significant part at the outset of Kater’s overseas touring career including offering opening slots, and an invitation to join the Cambridge Folk Festival curation. 2019 sees Kaia Kater return to play shows in the late spring and this time equipped with such a strong new album that the potential tag can be finally removed. A record that will prosper further in a live setting. So kick-start your New Year listening by allowing this album to educate and entertain you.