Wednesday, 30 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 29th October 2019

Songwriting retreats where artists formally meet up to share and hone their craft appear to be increasingly popular. It's not that audiences are open to such things, just that more and more songs are being introduced as originating from these structured events. This has happened on consecutive nights during a current run of four straight gigs. First Robert Vincent preluded a new song with a story of it being a co-write with James House at one of these events. Now a pair of artists have taken the concept a whole step forward by not only meeting up to write one song, but continue the association to come up with a whole album. This process is not just a vehicle for novices to plot their way forward. Indeed Robert Vincent has written some excellent songs prior to his involvement and the two songwriters who spun the whole concept in a new direction are no other than established operators, Emily Barker and Marry Waterson. 

Earlier this year, A WINDOW TO OTHER WAYS introduced the collaboration of these two artists to the recorded world with the next step to tour the album in several venues around the country. Birmingham's Hare and Hounds hosted the Midlands staging, which was enabled by a joint promotion between Moseley Folk Festival and the Kitchen Garden. Like the other dates on the tour, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou were the billed support act, but just has had occurred on previous dates, illness restricted the appearance with Trevor Moss riding this gig solo. Not that this guy is going to hold back and miss the opportunity to share some of the songs that made this husband and wife duo a popular act on the acoustic, folk and alternative circuit over the last decade. 

From the solo guitar of Trevor Moss, the evening grew into a four-piece operation as Emily and Marry entered the stage backed by the ever present Lukas Drinkwater on basses and Rob Pemberton on drums. What was striking as this gig breezed through its seventy-minute setlist were the multitude of differences between the pair and how well things had gelled to bring the collaboration to this point. 

First of all Marry Waterson is a straight up no frills vocalist. Steeped in the tradition of the English song and born into a family of folk royalty. Ample evidence was aplenty that we were in the presence of an immense talent. The latter implication is totally understated when it comes to Emily Barker, who can somewhat leave you drained when keeping up with her diverse and eclectic approach to making music. Not only were her glacial vocals in contrast to shades of earthy Yorkshire finesse that seep into Marry's, but she proceeded to play acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboard, banjo and harmonica. It became apparent during the show that many of the songwriting ideas came from Marry, but breathed a whole new life when colliding with the artistic innovation of Emily.

A quick peep at the setlist revealed the entire album was played during the set, which left a couple of spaces for each artist to take the sole spotlight to further extol what they offer from a more individual perspective. Emily Barker, an artist who never stands still, played a couple of new songs from her next solo project, similarly to what she did when last in the area while playing a solo gig in nearby Smethwick. Marry Waterson's efforts were straight from the iconic folk playbook; no music required as the voice is all that's needed. 

As the evening rolled towards its conclusion, we were treated to the popular song 'Bright Phoebus', introduced as written by Marry's uncle, Michael Waterson, and one that Emily had been singing long before this collaboration was born. To send folks home content, all four protagonists stepped off mic to the front of the stage to sing the traditional song 'Some Old Salty'. Job done and the possibility that maybe we will never see this collaboration in action again.

On the journey home, thoughts turned to how many different formats Emily Barker had been seen live in. The count proceeded: solo, duo with Lukas, own band, Red Clay Halo, Venna Portae, Applewood Road and now in conjunction with Marry Waterson. There may even have been more. Final thought ended with the precious appreciation of witnessing two exceptional artists conspiring to take their music in new directions. Renewal and innovation remains the oxygen of keeping live music fresh.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Robert Vincent - Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham. Monday 28th October 2019

The irony of discussing streamed music funding models in the vicinity of a small but dedicated band of gig goers each paying £14 to attend on a Monday night in a tiny city centre cellar bar quickly resonated around all concerned. This signalled the ultimate bond of three artists on stage and in front of them, the very reason they exist. A poignant moment indeed, yet one that struck a chord and if anything helped bring the purpose of live music together. From the moment Matt Owens commenced his opening set at 8:15 to Robert Vincent not creating a shock two hours later by ditching 'Demons' as the closer, this ad-hoc combo sprang up as an unpolished gem, not exactly purring like a stage managed operation, but prevalent in an unconscious gel that only intuitive musicians can adopt. 

Essentially this was a Robert Vincent gig, but certainly one with a difference. Over the last six years, I have seen him live on several occasions and in different formats. These included full band shows at Ramblin' Roots, Cambridge Folk Festival and opening for the Turnpike Troubadours, solo shows like the first time at Palmfest in Brighton back in 2013 and most recently in a songwriting exchange evening with Dean Owens in Birmingham. The common theme has been that none of these was actually a headline Robert Vincent show where he was charged with owning the evening. Tonight was all different and in a format away from convention. 

This current run of dates around the country is a precursor to a new album that is due out most likely in the new year. For theses shows, he has hooked up with a fellow singer-songwriter in Matt Owens (most significantly known as a member of popular indie folk group Noah and the Whale). The deal is Owens opens the show with a drummer by the name of Jimmy Daniels and they in turn back Vincent on keys and drums respectively. You have to be creative and resourceful on the road. Interestingly, there is not a lead electric guitar in sight (though Owens reaches for the bass on a couple of occasions). The result is a concoction that works in the most instinctive form. Far from slick in places, but who craves that from live music, where instinct and reaction can rule. 

Four paragraphs in and a first mention of Birmingham's Sunflower Lounge. Not the most popular venue in the city for music of a country, roots or Americana persuasion. One defined by its cosy nature and ability to make a crowd of around thirty look positively welcoming. However, this evening it housed a gig that immediately raced up the year's live music appreciation charts.

This was the second time seeing Matt Owens open a show in the Midlands area in 2019. Back in May he supported Thea Gilmore in Bromsgrove, and like this evening showed his versatility by appearing in the headliner's band. The set he played here was a lot more vibrant, mainly due to the addition of Jimmy Daniels on drums. It came across better, even though the songs and stories were largely similar. 

Having previously seen Robert Vincent play sole acoustic and full on electric, it was interesting to see how he came across in the former mode, but with added drums and keys. Overall, it was pretty good, even on songs such as 'So in Love' and 'November', which were designed for the rock treatment. 

Maybe each time I'd seen him play live before there was an added pressure of performing in a multi-act environment. This time a natural persona shone brightly, which when matched with an incisive wit and acute songwriting skills, constituted an impressive stage performance. Obviously, the latter is what will ultimately drive his career, and this side proved in stellar health as several songs from the upcoming album were previewed.

The main new song was the one just released as a single and available for just a meagre 79p we were reminded. 'This Town' may well appear different on record to the version heard this evening, but it sounded excellent c/o Matt and Jimmy doing their piece. The same has to be said about the others previewed, and on first listen those who enjoyed the last award winning Robert Vincent album are going to be treated very kindly in the new year.

Just prior to 'Demons' finishing the show, yes no change there or likely to be, the loyal crowd tested their own vocals to 'I'll Make the Most of My Sins'. A small but beautifully sounding choral ensemble. At this point, what admittedly had been viewed as a slightly low key evening in advance had evolved into something that can be fondly recalled as the moment where Robert Vincent shook off a tag of not always owning the party. Of course, many fans will have observed this before, but headline Midlands gigs haven't been too frequent in the past, and I was unable to attend his Cuban Embassy show last year. 

Anyway, previous neglects are now cast aside and the scene is set for a very prosperous 2020 for Robert Vincent. I'll be there somewhere down the line. 

Monday, 28 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Rails - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 27th October 2019

A member of the Thompson clan is just one piece of the jigsaw, though not a too shoddy one to portray when making introductions. Throw into the mix a co-front person with the pedigree of James Walbourne and it of no surprise that The Rails have created great waves since moving into the world of a recording outfit in 2014. The core duo of Walbourne and Kami Thompson, husband and wife in their regular lives, morph into a five-piece band when hitting the road, and it is this format that greets folks heading out to catch them live on the current tour. This latest run of dates coincides with the release of the band's most recent album. Therefore the bulk of the seventy minute set played at the Hare and Hounds this evening came from the recently released CANCEL THE SUN and those present had the perfect opportunity to tune into its riches in a near unfiltered and complete state.

This album is The Rails' third full length release since formation and cements a status of being at the forefront of the folk rock fraternity, just like Kami's father Richard was, close on fifty years ago. Yes, the band do hit it hard and heavy in places, but in a crafted way that never loses a grip on being purveyors of fine folk songs. There is a dynamic edge to the way the music is delivered that thrills folk and rock fans alike. Gaps are left for harmonies and slower tunes to prosper alongside fusing the influence of established keyboard player Sean Read, and a trusty backline of drums and bass. The tunes range from uptempo popular numbers like 'Other People' and 'Late Surrender' from a compact but perfectly formed back catalogue to newbies such as 'Ball and Chain' and 'Call Me When it All Goes Wrong', which go a long way towards spearheading the sound of the latest album.

In line with the rituals of folk, a traditional piece gets a full makeover, and in this instance its 'William Taylor'. Encore number 'The Dictator' was introduced as a response to the mobile phone, while the inevitable stripped down slot where the backing band took a breather, Walbourne dealt a song he wrote many years ago with the late Bap Kennedy in 'On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol'. Ending with a little nod to the above.

To keep the rock part to the fore, our two co-leaders stick to electric guitar all evening, whilst still moving to the mood of the songs. The title track off the new album, which closed the pre-encore part of the set, saw a good mix of Thompson kicking things off vocally before hubby concludes with the evening's most memorable guitar segment  The London roots of the band, Walbourne in particular, are not too far in the distance as found in the pair of tracks 'The Cally' and 'Mossy Well', both taking influence from real life North London. 

In line with a good night's entertainment presented by Birmingham Promoters, local vocalist Gabby Kettle opened the show with a short set of keyboard accompanied personal songs and left no-one in the audience in the dark of her considerable talent in the voice department. Maybe the polar opposite to what The Rails went on to deliver in style, but still the perfect complement, and all in all, an enjoyable experience. 

Three albums in and many shows played, The Rails continue to power forward as a band. Kami Thompson and James Walbourne harness their talents splendidly to play a brand of music that is both cultured and edgy. A fiery mix to continue a long tradition of folk rock prodding the boundaries of convention. All in evidence on this Sunday evening in Kings Heath.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Hannah Rose Platt - Letters Under Floorboards : Continental Song City

The lure to compare and contrast a new album with the previous work of an artist is one mulled over to determine any degree of relevance. In the midst of gathering some thoughts on Hannah Rose Platt’s long awaited follow up to her 2015 debut effort, thoughts did turn back to an artist who drifted under the microscope via an independent network and left a positive impression. Not only was PORTRAITS dusted down and played, but past published thoughts were relived to gauge the starting point of a journey that ventures in a new direction now that LETTERS UNDER FLOORBOARDS is delivered to the world. 

Firstly, the four years between releases has seen Hannah striving to remain a presence to such an extent that her own network has solidified in an established community where it was initially felt her music would find synergy and conformance. So a case of all change in the team assembled to create the album was initiated. Secondly, the names of those called up reads like a ‘who's who’ of musicians from a very tight and productive community. Having observed Hannah’s moves over the last few years, it was of little surprise to read names such as Thomas Collison, Danny Wilson, Joe Bennett, Tony Poole, Henry Senior and others appear on the credits. Therefore commenting on a beefed up sound from the more acoustic folk sounding first album is a given, yet the players have helped skilfully curate a record where Hannah Rose Platt never relinquishes control. 

Perhaps underpinning the music of Hannah Rose Platt is a trait that will always be prevalent in her work. She is a born and gifted story telling songwriter with a natural knack of transferring literate thoughts into aesthetic songs. Whether working with fiction or reality, the results pose thoughts in the listener’s ear to ponder, seek or just enjoy. Like most singer-songwriters, Hannah will stride an extra mile to share the influences and drivers of her craft. Whether through filtered/unfiltered media or direct engagement via a live show, expect the legs of the eleven tracks on the new album to accomplish many miles of explanation before the curtain is pulled. Only then this will be likely due to the next batch of songs arriving. 

Another constant between albums is the name Sid Griffin. Back in 2015, his words were used to boost the profile, now four years later it is the voice that features in full duet mode. ‘I Will Tell You When’ is one of the album’s most recognisable tracks as multiple listens begin to shape where the album sits in your listening hierarchy. 

On the subject of recognition, ‘Chanel & Cigarettes’ was the first track to surface while an agonising wait went on to seek a suitable and viable route for the entire collection to find a recorded home. It became a song shared in the live shows, with a lyrical content that leaves little to the imagination in the repercussions of straying a touch too far. 

LETTER UNDER FLOORBOARDS (the title is lifted from a lyric that goes a long way to creating an imaginative source for many of the songs) possesses far more substance than allows for the top tracks to be easily anointed in the embryonic stages of an album’s life. Yet temptation to draw attention to a couple is cheekily yielded. ‘Brooklyn, New York’ is one of those touching immigration tales that springs from left field, while contemplating whether the heart is warmed or left considerably colder; over to the listener. ‘When Audrey Came to Call’ is another fascinating pursuit of committing thoughts to song and scores highly when you want to put the words on one side for a while and just absorb the strength of the tune. 

There are critical moments on the record where you can measure the magnitude of a seismic sound switch, courtesy of the players involved. Album opener ‘Illuminate’ and ‘Black Smoke’, found deep in the vaults of the second half, fall into this category. Whether you consider these musicians: good ole rockers, alt-country throwbacks or UK Americana pioneers, there was always likely to be moments when they rule the roost. Own moments maybe, but never own the whole process it must again be reiterated. 

Of course LETTERS UNDER FLOORBOARDS is best consumed with lyric booklet in hand, just to ensure both modes for passive engagement are activated. To take a step further, it is worth checking out some of Hannah’s spoken notes as found in interviews she has given, especially in Between the Lines podcast. Alternatively, it would be remiss of her not to maximise any opportunity to tour the hell out of this record and spread the word in the most primal way a singer-songwriter can. So attend these shows if you get the chance. Hopefully, the next time she plays Birmingham it won’t clash with a Kelly Willis or Dale Watson concert. These Texans don’t tour too regularly! 

Lavish praise heaped on PORTRAITS didn’t fall on barren ground. LETTERS UNDER FLOORBOARDS is all about positive evolution. Moving on the highway of opportunity without losing grip of what inspires an artist’s existence. This album has a prosperous life well past the humble release-hugging review. It may be an example of perseverance; it is certainly an example of excellence. All an artist can do is put their best out there. In the case of Hannah Rose Platt, it will resonate strongly and repay the faith any person has had in her ability to make music that matters. 

Album available here

Saturday, 12 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Curse of Lono - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Wednesday 9th October 2019

Two prevailing thoughts from attending this gig at the Hare and Hounds were: 1) those anointing Curse of Lono as lauded pioneers of UK generated Americana rock are pretty smart and, 2) isn't it about time John Murry shifted from being an artist known to one actually listened to. The first needed no further action as this show confirmed what had been briefly considered when seeing them play an opening set for Chuck Prophet back in 2017. The second rectified within 24 hours of the gig by listening intently to John Murry's most recent album. You can debate streaming all day long, but its propensity to unlock easy access and enable widespread availability moves the world forward in a positive way.

There was an element of military precision about this show, which acted as the opening night of Curse of Lono's latest UK tour. John Murry on at 8, finishes 30 minutes later. Main band enter stage dead on 9, then depart for merch stand/bar not a minute either side of half ten. Great for us punctuality sticklers. Aside from the impeccable timekeeping, the music also did its job immaculately. His name may have already appeared in this review, but there is no holding back on the acute observation of John Murry coming across as the dark side of Chuck Prophet. His opening set rolled out as a fabulous drift into the rambling world of imperfection when a glimpse of masked genius pokes its head above the malaise. Whether plucking some aura inducing tunes independently on acoustic or gently strumming electric while temporarily backed by Curse of Lono (minus Felix), he cut through the haze of the fuzzy Hare and Hounds lighting to bring a mesmeric slice of Americana's alternative underbelly. 

John Murry and Curse of Lono were good for each other tonight. We saw our esteemed opener join the band for a couple of tracks deep into the main set. 'Dead Flowers' may have been covered a million times, but budge up a little for one more. 
Felix Bechtolshheimer may have a wry smile when he gazes upon his Emerging Artist award bestowed on the band earlier this year. Fair enough, Curse of Lono only formed in 2015, but there are a few more miles on the personal clock. Anyhow, such recognition opens doors and the band have gone from strength to strength releasing two full length albums and a re-conditioned third in the legendary Toe Rag studios as well as recently representing the UK in formal US Americana circles. 

This evening saw the band on apparent top form, (if they weren't they are better than I thought) slaying an array of tracks ranging from some out and out folk rockers to ones of a more sensitive persuasion. They operate as a tight knit five-piece outfit, with the usual quartet of keys and lead up front assisted by drums and bass bringing up the rear, plus the usual fluid frontman. Forever the twain in the standard band set up witnessed from the floor. 

Our front man periodically switches guitars, beats a single drum on one track and takes frequent time out to engage an audience in multiple ways. The hugely personal mixes with the irreverent and by the end of the show you feel you know a little more about who Curse of Lono are. You are certainly exposed to their fine musicianship and that essential knack of blending as a band. Keys and harmonium c/o Dani Ruiz Hernandez are always prevalent, though occasionally you wish they would drive a track a little more. Lead guitarist Joseph Hazel rises to the challenge to take up the mantle for the required solos and obliges with amplified intent. Felix keeps thing ticking over from the front, in unison with his long term colleague Neil Findley behind on drums. Charis Anderson completes the line up on electric bass, although you can turn that on its head by saying that is really where it all starts. 
The smaller upstairs room of the Hare and Hounds hosted this evening's gig and was well-populated with many Curse of Lono devotees lured into sharing the vocals on some of the the band's most popular songs. This included tracks such as 'Pick Up the Pieces' and 'Don't Look Down' from the band's debut 2017 album SEVERED. Indeed the bulk of the tracks from this release and its 2018 follow up AS I FELL featured in the setlist. The odd song out was 'Goin' Out West', which had its first recorded outing on the new Curse of Lono album. This record titled 4AM AND COUNTING saw the band go into the aforementioned Toe Rag studios and re-record a number of tracks off the previous albums in a special live and stripped back format. The lead single from this album 'Welcome Home' was another track inked onto the setlist for inclusion this evening. 

While this Curse of Lono performance had its roots in the full band set up, there was still a slot for Felix to share the first encore song 'All I Got' accompanied only by Dani on keys. Another song from a sensitive perspective was 'I'd Start a War for You'. 'Not to be taken literally' quipped Felix, who was also candid about his own past and some of the issues he has overcome. 

This gig was certainly a valuable experience in getting to know more about Felix Bechtolshheimer, Curse of Lono, and the music that is exciting many folks on the cusp of the Americana circuit where the sound tumbles into some remnants of indie rock. Not forgetting the presence of John Murry, set to feature on all the dates the band undertake on this short tour. Yes, so many positives drawn on this latest trip down Kings Heath way. 

Thursday, 10 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Orphan Brigade - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 8th October 2019

The journey began in some parts just over four years when an album popped up in the inbox by a new name, but with an interesting concept. Pieces quickly assembled that this was part the work of Ben Glover, an artist quite well known at the time for his association with Gretchen Peters and Mary Gauthier alongside a solo album released and reviewed the previous year. Over time, Ben's output has gathered pace, and that project from a band intriguingly hailed as The Orphan Brigade morphed into two further albums filtering out through a similar process to the original concept. 

Likewise to Ben Glover's steady growth, the name of Neilson Hubbard started to exponentially expand as the production engineer on what seemed to be every other album churned out from a tightly knit community of progressive artists in Nashville. Admittedly, the third Orphan Brigade member remained the lower key figure, although it doesn't take too much effort to deduce that Joshua Britt is as active as anybody operating in this scene of songwriting, collaboration and music production. 

So let's catapult things from that first listen to SOUNDTRACK TO A GHOST STORY to the first moment that Ben, Neilson and Joshua stand literally a couple of paces in front of me and present the epic music that has come to define The Orphan Brigade. A Tuesday evening in Birmingham's Kitchen Garden venue completed the cycle began in 2015, and now from informed sources, one ready to yield another full turn. 

Kentucky, Osimo, Co. Antrim and Birmingham may not have too much in common, but synergy emerged and sealed a deal during the hour and half that the trio spent on stage (ok stage may be stretching the performing space a little, but a little imagination goes a long way). There may have been a heavy bias to the most recent album, TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, recorded in the close vicinity of Ben's Northern Ireland roots, but just listening and marvelling at the talent on show as the other records were dipped into, shone a whole new light of what The Orphan Brigade have achieved since venturing into the world of curating 'field music for the 21st century. 

Every time I listen to songs from the trio's debut album based on the ghostly surroundings of an old Civil War residence known as Octagon Hall in Kentucky, thoughts go back to 2016 and taking a detour off I-65 on the way back to Nashville from attending the Forecastle Festival in Louisville. Result, Monday was the day this tourist attraction closes. Never mind, when in Kentucky next is ironically mused! To remind me of that time and that album, the guys paid tribute with tremendous versions of 'Pale Horse', 'Trouble My Heart (Oh Harriet)', 'I've Seen the Elephant', 'Sweetheart' and 'We Were Marching on Christmas Day'. All perfect reminders to what a fine album dropped into the inbox back in 2015. 

Although we had some detailed descriptions and observations of The Orphan Brigade's second venture in the depths of subterranean Osimo in Italy, memory restricts to just two songs shared on the evening - 'Alchemy' and 'Flying Joe'. As the second is the finest track on HEART OF THE CAVE, and the owner of possibly The Orphan Brigade's most fascinating story, it was a case of job well done and further proof that the band are masters of the catchy singalong as well as the interpretative deeper material. 

The bulk of TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD made the setlist from opening shots of 'Under the Chestnut Tree' to Neilson doing his best John Prine interpretation on 'Captain's Song (Sorley Boy)'. Maybe the choir from Ben's old school in Glenarm didn't make an appearance, but the power of songs such as 'Mind the Road' transported all the way from the Emerald Isle over the water to England's second city. 

Concluding thoughts on seeing The Orphan Brigade live ranged from wasn't Joshua's mandolin playing breathtaking, you would have to travel a long way to hear better vocal harmonies that what was heard tonight, to despite the obvious charismatic presence of Ben Glover as the centrally positioned lead, this is 100% a balanced equilibrium of musical chemistry. We already knew that Neilson Hubbard was more than just an exceptional producer when he occasionally hits the front like with his solo album of last year, but we now have first hand evidence of his musicianship prowess.

Orphan Brigade IV? don't bet against it, indeed pile your money on. This trio are far from done regardless to where the solo plans lie. Another location will need to be found, but vast treasures await in countless places. We trust The Orphan Brigade to uncover them, present them and hopefully bring the fruits of another venture back to premium listening venues on this side of the pond. Over to you guys, a patient loyal and dedicated crowd awaits. 

Sunday, 6 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Rod Picott - St.George's Hall, Bewdley. Saturday 5th October 2019

Much time was spent in the summer wrestling with Rod Picott's new album. Reviews complementing such a contemplative personal effort tallied up, yet to this date TELL THE TRUTH & SHAME THE DEVIL remains a tough listen. There is still an element that the album had to be made and that it would be dealt to listeners with a 'take or leave it' tag. My utmost respect for Rod Picott, one of the most sincerest and highly crafted singer-songwriters around, has been solid since first discovering his work a decade ago. Although it had to be concluded that maybe his most connective work with listeners is found in material that comes across as less intense. 

The personal background to the album's recording process was candid in the notes accompanying the release and it was similar as he took to the stage to share songs with an audience as the concluding part to Bewdley's American Epic weekend. If thoughts of an audience being the missing piece in the record still prevail, such notions evaporate when Rod Picott does what singer-songwriters do best; present their songs live. 

Throughout the duration of his time on stage at St.George's Hall, Picott charmed, engaged and rallied an audience around his sincerity. The major blessing was seeing an artist fighting back from troubled times and possessing a renewed vitality that was prevalent on the five previous occasions I have seen him play live. The first of those was many years ago with his ex-partner Amanda Shires, although he might have been stretching things a little when impishly expressing that his album is better than The Highwomen. 

Inter-song chat weaved between the irreverent and the lifelong influences that have inspired his dedication to an art form alien to what was expected from his upbringing. There was a stirring mixture of songs stretching the Rod Picott repertoire, from the title track of his first album 'Tiger Tom Dixon Blues' to a liberal smattering from the latest effort. To be fair when the new songs were taken out of the context of listening in a stripped backed collective form, they took on a whole new life. 'Folds of Your Dress', 'Spartan Hotel','Ghost' and 'A 38 Special & A Hermes Purse' may yet ascend to the status of their many predecessors.  

Older efforts like 'Welding Burns', '65 Falcon' and '410', frame an air of familiarity about Rod Picott. A reassuring constant in a changing world. His warmth shone through as well as a fascinating insight to what life on the road is life. A 7 1/2 drive in the States may be staple, but one from Montrose to Bewdley on tight UK roads is a different beast. 

While St.George's Hall has been a welcoming host to many touring Americana artists over the last couple of years, this evening's show was part of a separate venture to the usual presentation. The Rod Picott gig was the final event of an American Epic weekend, which included a full large screen showing of the acclaimed historical music series of the same name, associated events around the production and wider themed activities across the town over the Friday and Saturday. The organisers deemed Rod Picott as the epitome of American songwriting roots and the ideal live act to close this section of a wider Bewdley Festival that swings into gear later in October. Those in attendance would have few reasons to disagree. 

Despite my lukewarm response to the latest record, Rod Picott's legacy is still intact. Ultimately, it was known that any doubts would be cast aside. Hope exists that he will remain a prolific figure of sincere songwriting music and that maybe his best years are still to come, albeit with both aspects of art - the creative and the experiencer - delicately aligned. 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Onwards and Upwards; A Strategy for the Future

Within a few months of this blog commencing, it was presented with the opportunity to write reviews of albums available through the promo network. That was back in 2012 and it became a feature to such an extent that a firm decision was made to only publish album reviews from these sources. Over the years numbers escalated to the point where only a third submitted were ever getting some element  of coverage. The upside to this choice meant a finely tuned filter allowed for only favourable albums with a high degree of personal preference awarded the time required to publish something that was meaningful and to the best of my ability. This time was always competing with listening to purchased music, which had always been kept away from the blog until time came to post those end of year favourite lists.

2019 has seen much contemplation on how to keep this one man operation going with a couple of temporary manoeuvres and aborted policies. Album and gig reviews were halted for a couple of months and replaced by a weekly blog that eventually ran out of steam. The reviews eventually returned and for a time the thirst for writing some thoughts in advance of a release returned with a vengeance.

However, the block returned and another decision to ultimately step away from the advanced copy world has arrived. Therefore with immediate effect, and now at a point where any commitments have been fulfilled, this blog will cease to publish reviews of albums from these sources. The upshot is a new listening strategy to rejuvenate the love of music and to further fine tune purchasing decisions. Of course, the availability of streaming subscriptions throws a whole new light on how we access music and the choices available. They play an important part and are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

So what does the future hold? First of all, who knows? It is envisaged that this blog will operate on some kind of scale as the gig content has by and large operated independently, and the fire to pen a few post event words still flickers brightly, give or take the odd hiatus. You also never know, the odd album review may appear, or even expanded to the world of purchased content, that area deliberately avoided in the past.

Back in 2017, an Album Release Directory page was created to log all albums made available to me from a variety of sources. As the intention is to still keep that keen ear to the ground on what is new, relevant and upcoming, there is mileage in this being at least preserved with updates, and expanded to any information acquired, inside and outside the promo world. This will also help inform listening habits as the new releases roll out each Friday.

When Three Chords and the Truth UK was launched in 2012, little was known that it would sail past 1000 reviews nearly 8 years later and get to the stage where 200 promo albums a year would present themselves as review options. From one perspective that is a helluva win, while another it is wholly unsustainable. It has always been a privilege to be given the opportunity to review an advanced copy, with the obvious additional benefits should that album eventually be one that you love and cherish over time.

So many thanks to everyone who kindly offered me an album to review (download or hard copy) and the honour of being selected as someone who had the potential to write something that could be used to sell an album, which is what promotion is all about. Yes, the ethos was always positive. Life's too short to exert effort on negativity, even if it is construed as constructive.

Anyway enough ramblings for now, there are plenty of gigs to look forward to in the remaining months of 2019 and many on the albums-to listen list. This strategy may prevail or fall in the ditch like others adopted in 2019, but while this post is tagged at the top of the blog it is the way forward.