Thursday, 14 February 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Daniel Meade and the Flying Mules - Live Mules : Self-released (Out on March 1st)

Keeping up with Daniel Meade’s itchy feet can be an ordeal, although not a bad one to endure. It looks as if 2019 is going to be another busy one on the release front as this energetic Scot has three releases in the pipeline. Maybe he did not want to be out done by Ryan Adams (unfortunate comparison maybe since first drafted!) or perhaps it is just time to send a timely reminder to folks out there what a versatile performer he is.

The first of these takes a step back in time, both literally and metaphorically. LIVE MULES is released under the moniker of Daniel Meade and the Flying Mules, with intent to capture some of the magical moments that conspired when the combo was in prime form. Therefore, this album sets to pinpoint a period where Daniel cracked the honky code and dipped deep into his inner Hank, and a few other boogie pioneers from the halcyon days of raw rock ‘n’ roll in its unabated infancy.

Since this period where Daniel rubbed shoulders with the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show and Sturgill Simpson , deviations have led things into the realm of stripped back singer-songwriter, more polished contemporary rock stuff and a high profile role as keyboard player in Ocean Colour Scene’s touring band. Therefore, LIVE MULES acts as a little gift to those hooking up with the original Daniel Meade.

Apart from indulging Daniel Meade converts, the potential to recruit newbies is another trait attached to LIVE MULES, and one that could be the more serious outcome, rather than partaking in a little fun.

The ten songs adorning the album are familiar to existing fans as they largely appeared on earlier releases in a form that is not too far adrift to what you will hear on the record. Daniel Meade adopted a light production touch when initially recording these songs in the studio so the transition to the stage is not a great distance travelled. The aim of the live recording, which was initially made at a gig in Shetland in 2016, is to capture the magic of an impulsive audience fuelled environment. This is secured within the relative brevity of a thirty-three minute playing time to appease those of us not too enamoured with transferring what happens on stage to record.

Despite reservations of this format (experiencing it in person will always prevail in my book), spinning LIVE MULES repeatedly fired a feel good phase to what an effective operator Daniel Meade is when delving into a little retro revival. The press release stated that guitarist Lloyd Reid was on fire, but words describing this were surplus to requirement following first listen.

Solo work and a duo album with Lloyd are the planned 2019 follow up to LIVE MULES meaning anybody interested in the work of Daniel Meade is going to need to clear a little space in the coming months. Of course, this is no chore and we await the next move.

ALBUM REVIEW: Simon Stanley Ward and The Shadows of Doubt - Songs from Various Places: Blue Hole Records (Out February 22nd)

An album starting with a wacky childhood desire about replicating a move star and ending listening to Test Match Special in a bath of Spanish wine is likely to create an element of curiosity. Throw in the fact that Simon Stanley Ward has concentrated his artistic output largely on stand-up comedy since the release of his previous album, and thoughts turn towards a light-hearted streak forming the backbone of this follow up record. A thought compounded by the album cover and backing band called The Shadows of Doubt. Yet there is something more substantial binding the wares of SONGS FROM VARIOUS PLACES.

Teaming up with the cream of London’s alt-country rock scene lifts the sound into a heady territory as the largely country influenced tones that brought us the 2015 eponymously titled album have to jostle side-by-side with bundles of sculptured garage pub rock. Any record spearheaded on guitar by Paul Lush (who also handles the production duties) is bound to contain loads of fired up twangy rock, and the inclusion of this in addition to loads more smart instrumentation blends imperially with the distinct quirky vocals of Simon Stanley Ward. Factor in incisive writing across ten tracks and the overall feel to his record escalates into a mood of generating multi spins.

If three plays of a record deliver a gist, double figures (if intent moves it in that direction) embeds the subtleties and nuances that improve an album as you strip away the layers. It is easy to hold onto opening track ‘Jurassic Park’ where the post-punk undertones help deliver a fast-paced ode to wishing one-self was Jeff Goldblum in the film of the title track. This is a track that instantly breeds familiarity; a feeling that repeats itself when realising that ‘Water (You Got to Have it)’ was a song brought to events like Maverick and Tingestock, during the last time that Simon played dates with Paul Lush to significant audiences outside his London hinterland.

Apart from the lively opener, the other two tracks to hit the mark in the early stages were the retro feel to ‘I Heard it All’ and the riveting ‘Wow!’ complete with a scintillating two minute guitar-fuelled outro. Several plays in and the environmental message of ‘Beluga Whale’ took hold, while the back end duo of ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Stand Up’ had to painstakingly wait before ensuring this album attained entity status in deriving maximum appeal. Ending the album with the wonderfully weird connotations of Spanish Rioja, Test Match Special and Five Live in ‘Wine’ can only fuel a bizarre imagination, but a bloody marvellous one to boot.

The decision of Simon Stanley Ward to return to recording musician status has reaped wild rewards and thus re-enforce the admirable attributes he possess in this line of entertainment. Enlisting the services of an experienced and talented team gives this album a real edge to move out of an introverted zone and show that reaching out to a range of likeminded though different styles can work. SONGS FROM VARIOUS PLACES may bounce around a flexible canvas, but it delivers a verdict that Simon Stanley Ward may have to balance his artistic activities in music and comedy for the considerable future.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Buffalo Blood - Buffalo Blood : Eel Pie Records (Out on February 15th)

Without being discourteous to Dean Owens, the first thought to cross the mind when discovering the Buffalo Blood project was the Orphan Brigade with a little bit of Celtic exchange. Similarities run abound from location-based and theme-driven to creating a cinematic soundscape. There is also the unison of usual suspects in Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt, with another cameo from Audrey Spillman. However, the switch between the Northern Irish brogue of Ben Glover to the softer Edinburgh tones of Dean Owens is a significant directional adjustment, not just that the Scotsman probably has the slightly higher profile role across the record than the other three involved.

Whereas the Orphan Brigade went on location to Kentucky, Italy and soon-to-be Ireland, Buffalo Blood travel deep into the wide-open expanses of New Mexico, with a particular focus on the indigenous people who bring a distinct flavour to the area. Across fifteen tracks that form the content of this self-titled album, the project sweeps through a land of mystique, intrigue and affliction. 

Creativity runs deep in the production (steered by the widely acclaimed Neilson Hubbard) with repetition used in tempo, whistling and chant-inspired segments. Amidst the little intricacies lie a number of conventional songs frequently driven by mandolin that provide a commercial edge to the album.

While being a fan of Owens, Hubbard and Britt in their previous roles acts as an advantage, there is still a fair amount of work required to grasp the complexity of this record. There is likely to be a bulk of information published about this project relating to the inspiration, meaning and artist interpretation, so maybe a little listener introduction can find a spot.

Buffalo Blood is the debut release from Eel Pie Records and noticeably will only be available on double vinyl and digitally. An interesting signal to the future of the CD. While the physical format has certain predetermined markers, there are also indicators when listening to the fifty-three minutes via the other medium. Chunking the tracks into equal thirds proved a handy method. There were dedicated markers in Hubbard’s tender offering ‘Daughter of the Sun’ at position five and a vocal-free instrumental piece titled ‘Ghost of Wild Horses’ , complete with further whistling, settling neatly at number ten. The latter providing a suitable resting place before the album finale kicks in.

Dean Owens is the most familiar of the vocal offering, apart from the gorgeous ‘White River’ beautifully sung by Audrey Spillman. Her only other major input was sharing verses with the others on ‘I’m Alive’, one of five Owens solo writes and probably the standout song from the opening third.

The song writing overall takes on an egalitarian role with all three main players submitting solo writes alongside numbers credited to Owens/Britt, Owen/Hubbard and Hubbard/Spillman. The latter brought us the aforementioned Spillman number (a real husband-wife effort), which probably shares top mantle in the middle third with title track ‘Buffalo Blood’, a more upbeat piece that would flourish in the role of album focal point.

The final third presents more of the same including whistling, chants and further deeply excavated songs that require several listens to grasp fully. Maybe, album closer ‘Vanishing World’ possesses the most explicit message. It is awash with poignancy and interpreted points like can we co-exist.

Underpinning the whole record is the location and the inspiration of the people, land, sky and life. While the album is not overtly long, its playing time is packed full to the hilt that you feel it is much longer (not meant to be a slight). There is an epic feel to the record and exploring it is akin to diving into a new Tom Russell record. Although you would not expect anything less when musicians/artists/songwriters like this collaborate.

The intended audience for this album is always going to be niche though one with a finely tuned ear. The sheer quality injected into the process that shines through in the finished product is a selling point on its own. Chasing popular appeal is not on the agenda, but who says that popular appeal should not chase what is good! The genre-less status of Buffalo Blood makes it ripe for Americana love, and dependent to which angle you look at it, the UK and US operations may come running.

Indulgent or masterpiece, take your pick, though why not be a bit of both.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Kalyn Fay - Good Company: Horton Records (Out on February 15th)

Occasionally there are records that come along with your name stamped all over it. Reasons can vary from striking individuality to striking resemblance, but something clicks. First impression need not be the sole arbiter when concluding that an album means something to you. However, it can play a major part, especially in a world when you are forever in listening distance of competing new sounds. The desire to hit the keyboard when first taking in the new album from Kalyn Fay only bubbled away as it compelled a few more plays before hitting loop status. The fact that GOOD COMPANY moved into a familiar zone proved only a positive, as it quickly became one of the standout releases in the first six weeks of the New Year.

There is something in the water (or dust) in Oklahoma that breeds singer-songwriters with an edge to how they transit their words to a musical piece. Right across the eleven tracks and forty-seven minute playing time, the moment seizes and hooking into the dusty earthy vibes ripens the album for serious enjoyment. From somebody who bought into the magnetic sounds of Carter Sampson, the spill over into Kalyn Fay can only be down to the Okie psyche.

A little digging into the background made the picture a little clearer with Jesse Aycock, who toured last year with Carter Sampson, producing the record to join some of the dots. It also transpires that Kalyn deeply embeds into the vibrant music scene of her home state and thus clarity emerges. Adding to the spice is further input from the highly talented John Fulbright (what happened to his solo stuff?) and another Okie in Lauren Barth who made up the touring trio with Carter and Jesse last year. Yes, Carter does appear as well.

Picking out special tracks from this the second album from Kalyn, and another release on Horton Records, is full of options, though the underlying feeling is just to let it play through. Obviously, the title track ‘Good Company’ is one song to champion, understandably in light of the first impression made. Yet this is probably eclipsed three tracks in with the sublimely adorable ‘Highway Driving’ – so Carter Sampson in comparison. You can instantly make your mind up on the delightful ‘Come Around’ by clicking on the attached video, although this is one buy where you won’t be asking for your money back.

The quality link through tracks like ‘Oklahoma Hills’, ‘Faint Memory’ and ‘Dressed in White’ runs seamlessly and without a dip. Interestingly, the latter is the only track Kalyn Fay did not write on the album, instead this one comes from the pen of Malcolm Holcombe, a firm favourite for folks in the UK.

Consistency also exists in the studio arrangement of sounds utilising a mélange of guitar, keys, accordion and percussion, plus assorted strings. Together they blend well with the main vocals and the plethora of harmonies that lend a hand to many of the songs.

One suspects that GOOD COMPANY is going to stay around for a long time, thus allowing for the discovery of further nuances. Ultimately, this album takes you wherever you want to go and it is to the credit of Kalyn Fay that she had made such a strong recording set to connect with so many new fans. Keep exporting the good stuff Oklahoma.

GIG REVIEW/: Laura Veirs - St.Paul's Church, Birmingham, Friday 8th February 2019

On an evening where options were aplenty, sometimes it is worth taking a step into lesser known territory to get your live music fix. Despite Laura Veirs being a relatively successful recording artist for a number of years, our musical paths barely crossed. There was some impetus via her 2017 collaboration with Kd Lang and Neko Case in the Case/Lang/Veirs project, and further advancement in finally getting round to listening to last year’s THE LOOKOUT album, which was lavishly savoured upon discovery. So on an evening when Jarrod Dickenson played Moseley and the Transatlantic Sessions rode into town for their annual staging at the Symphony Hall, it was a singer-songwriter from Portland Oregon who won the day with the ticket purchase.

The Laura Veirs show was the mid-priced event of the trio and held at St. Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter area of Birmingham city centre. The operation behind Moseley Folk Festival promoted the gig and twinned this evening’s presentation with one featuring John Smith the day before. A decent turnout supported the show, some maybe curious to experience how these church gigs pan out.

For this UK tour, Laura is supported by her friend Sam Amidon; a musician originally from Vermont, but now based in London. Sam opened the show with a short set that progressed significantly during its duration. Like many gigs, though especially in the makeshift surroundings of a church, a little tweaking to the sound is required, likely by both the sound team and the ears of the listener. Once adjustments were made, some of the latter songs sounded quite decent especially when the banjo was strummed and the feeling slipped into old time traditional mode from the rural areas of the south.

We had our first glimpse of Laura when Sam invited her to join him on a couple of songs at the end of his set. In true comradery, the invitation was reciprocated and Sam played fiddle on a couple of tunes at the end of the main set.

An immediate observation from seeing Laura Veirs live is the obvious pedigree that oozes from her performing space. This exists in the triumvirate of vocals, guitar playing and song selection, with the frequent effect of transfixing an audience into a concentrated zonal state.

The subdued lighting may not have been great for pictures, but bathed in rays of candlelight added to the ambience to match the acoustics that were very much to Laura’s liking. The temptation to step off mic for a song may have been tempting, but sadly, it did not materialise. This is a common feature of many church gigs attended, although at the mercy of the artist’s comfort feelings.

While not being too familiar with many of Laura Veirs’ songs, there were still some standouts, whether recognising them from the latest album or the introduction provided on the evening. ‘Margaret Sands’ in the opening spot and ‘Mountains of the Moon’ in the encore were the pick from THE LOOKOUT, although ironically both originating far from Laura’s pen. Sadly, my personal favourite ‘Seven Falls” did not make the set list for this show, but its appeal is undiminished.

Another assertion from attending this show was how the stripped back sound from Laura solely on acoustic guitar was different when compared to the added electric and pedal steel that featured on the album. Both versions have merit, but I would just slightly err on the record content.

Outside the new record, ‘Song for Judee’ (off the Case/Lang/Veirs album), ‘Sun Song’, ‘Carol Kaye’ and a cover of the Daniel Johnston song ‘True Love Will Find You in the End’ proved the songs that lingered in the post-gig memory longer. However, this first real dip into the music of Laura Veirs was more about the essence than the detail.

One noted point from this show was the 63 minute set time that Laura played. Admittedly, the break had been seemingly extended, and there is no idea whether a curfew applied, but in my book, this just crawled into the credit column when relating set time to gig cost. It is still an intriguing concept that the duration of live music often enters into untimed territory as far as the main attraction is concerned. While this rarely causes a problem, it is out of sync with many other forms of live artistic entertainment.

Set times aside, this delve into the musical world of Laura Veirs has been a worthwhile venture. THE LOOKOUT remains a fine album to discover better late than never, and any future shows in the area are likely to be sought out. The beauty of music is that not a single one of us has exhausted the endless potential out there.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

GIG REVIEW: Wild Ponies - Elford Village Hall, Staffordshire. Saturday 2nd February 2019

November 2nd 2013 dawned a new era of friendship, association and mutual appreciation between the Wild Ponies and the village of Elford in Staffordshire. Little did those attending the Rod Picott show, ably backed by the Wild Ponies that evening, realise the extent that small seeds would grow. Maybe it would be good for both acts to align schedules one day and reenact that show, in light of how they have kept the UK firmly on their touring horizon since.

There has rarely been a tour gone by in the last six years where Doug and Telisha Williams aka Wild Ponies have not called into the Midlands area for a show. (It helps they have to pass through when travelling north south!). Elford has often been the dropping off point even when the gig relocates to nearby Lichfield, and in recent times connections in the Birmingham area have stepped in to widen the exposure. All this is greatly assisted by Wild Ponies being a superb act, steeped in the great tradition of American roots music whilst applying a considerable contemporary sheen.

This latest trip from East Nashville to the UK saw the duo once again joined by Devon-exiled Austin Texas-based mandolin playing percussionist Katie Marie on a host of dates stretching from Scotland to Brighton. The industry highlight was the AMA UK fest in London, but an opportunity to take in Elford on the final night of the tour was too good to miss.

To say that the Wild Ponies were sounding better than ever is almost becoming a cliché. Mind you, evidence backing it up was aplenty from folks seeing them for the first time and those approaching double figures in live shows. Just listening to Telisha knock a version of the Hazel Dickens song ‘Pretty Bird’ into the stars off mic to close the show was worth any investment and travelling. This was just the crowning moment of a winding journey through the band’s last three albums alongside a little peep into what the future holds.

Renewal is the lifeblood of any progressive artist and the sharing of two new songs demonstrated that the Wild Ponies are set strong to carry their songwriting and artistry forward. More will become available in the near future, but just imagine Telisha sitting on the front porch becoming emotionally nostalgic about a grandparent and then the most gorgeous of songs appears. You’ll, or perhaps y’all, love it! Doug’s new song delves into the issue of dying young (stern stuff), and watch out for this tune having multiple lives.

Elsewhere, the twin sets blossomed with old favourites stretching from the never-aging ‘Things That Used to Shine’ off the first Wild Ponies record (not counting Doug and Telisha Williams’ credited album that preceded it) to beautiful numbers like ‘Hearts and Bones’ and ‘Mamma Bird’ that made 2017’s GALAX such an enticing listen.

Unpredictable moments occurred as well. Doug responded admirably to a request for ‘Massey’s Run’, a song not sung in a while, with all aids allowed. ‘Love is Not a Sin’ had a new uplifting story attached to its introduction with the conclusion that this is no longer a protest song. The pre-encore version of ‘Unplug the Machine’ slowed down into a new format, though maybe as a finale, a faster pace better suits it.

The inclusion of drums always gives a Wild Ponies show a fuller touch, especially when Doug’s telecaster kicks into action. The ability of Katie Marie to play mandolin is another positive development, though perhaps a touch under used, but it added a fresh dimension live to the Appalachian stomper ‘Sally Ann’.

All Wild Ponies shows end in a rousing chorus of mutual appreciation, and mass gratitude is forthcoming that they take a chance on sharing their gifts so far from home. Hopefully, places like Elford and other enclaves across the country do make it feel like home for them. Supporting the Wild Ponies has been a given since that November evening in 2013 and the anticipation that these trips will continue keeps the light flickering in one corner of the UK-US Americana alliance.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

GIG REVIEW; Arkansas Dave - St. George's Hall, Bewdley. Friday 1st February 2019

The rivers’ Severn and Mississippi have few comparisons apart from the being the longest stretch of flowing fresh water in their respective UK and US. However, common ground flowed tonight as the sounds of the latter rolled down the banks of the former. Five guys jetting in from the southern states (perhaps via a tour van) warmed up a chilly night in Bewdley Worcestershire to inject a little rock ‘n’ roll into a venue probably not noted for bouts of extra amplification. Not to worry, a welcoming house was up for a little boogying and Arkansas Dave responded by getting a packed St. George’s Hall to their feet for a rousing finale. If this is the sign of things to come in 2019, patrons of the Music in the Hall promotion are in for an Americana musical treat.

Arkansas Dave (or to be more precise: the Arkansas Dave Band this evening) is now based in Austin Texas, although an artist explicitly keeping faith with his roots. Maybe the trip away from the Delta region to a more cosmopolitan music environment was an essential career journey, but the rich heritage of his home state especially the blues legends brought up in a similar area was never going to leave the fray.

The instrumental quintet of lead, rhythm, bass, drums and keys creaked into gear on the stroke of nine thirty and only an eleven o’clock curfew curtailed the band, thus ensuring the roof of St. George’s Hall remained intact.

Last year the band toured the UK as a four-piece so the addition of the keys proved a master touch. They played a couple of Midlands gigs on that trip including a less intense lunch time session in West Bromwich as part of a region wide festival. This time the level edged up several notches, more folks lapped it up and the ground set for a return on future trips.

It was full on electric for most of the set, the exception being Dave reaching for his acoustic guitar to deliver a cover of Blaze Foley’s ‘Oval Room’. Thus ensuring the obligatory American apology for their president was shared, oh times are so different to Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2003. Elsewhere on the cover front, tunes shared included ones from Muddy Waters and Tom Petty, along with no doubt others that merged into a lengthy finale free of chat.

Those aware of the self-titled Arkansas Dave album from last year would have recognised plenty of tracks such as ‘Bad at Being Good’, ‘Chocolate Jesus’, ‘The Wheel’, ‘Diamonds’ and the standout tune ‘On My Way’. The last one was the real cue to get the party underway and is as melodic as you get when steering into the world of southern rock.

Americana is the flakey perch surveying this type of music in 2019, but essentially just good ole’ rock ‘n’ roll was served up; one of a roots variety burrowing deep back fifty, sixty, seventy years and more in influence. Arkansas Dave captured this perfectly in a style to blend a good time feel on both stage and in the audience. Others aim for such heights, but sometimes the authenticity of hailing from an area can just raise the bar a touch.

To get the Music in the Hall presentation up and running for the year, a couple of local youth acts played a short set to add a little more value to the entrance fee. Tom Southam opened things up with around twenty minutes of acoustic music, before a trio consisting of Joshua Terry, Maddie Abbotts and Isabella Gregory took to the stage for about half an hour of mainly original songs. The twin female voices blended well with some impressive acoustic guitar work to make the slot an enjoyable listen. Isabella delivered one tune solo with her guitar and came across as a performer with bags of potential, definitely one to watch.

If this evening’s gig was a pitch to get a return invite, Arkansas Dave achieved full marks. Rather than just passing through, the experience appeared to be wholly absorbed. The response was first class and there is growing evidence that this band (led by Dave and his long-term trusty guitarist sidekick Drew) can cut a niche a long way from home. Maybe the Severn and the Mississippi have more in common that we realise.