Monday, 29 April 2013

Jay Leighton - Hours Strata

In the year of yet another extensive visit by the Boss, his influence continues to embed itself in guitar based music right across the spectrum. On the back of Eric Church’s ‘Springsteen’, Clubhouse Records Nebraska Sessions and even a folk cover of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ by Ruth Moody, Jay Leighton name checks New Jersey’s finest in the stand out track from his exceptionally well put together debut album.

True, this record gets off to a cracking start with the classic, optimistic and upbeat number ‘Wish I Was Springsteen’ but while this fabulous song sets such a high standard, the rest of HOURS doesn’t disappoint. In this release that sees Jay rejuvenate his passion for music, the singer-songwriter/guitarist from Bradford draws on all his influences to hone in a sound that endorses factions of indie pop rock as well as tipping its hat to pioneers of the alt-country/Americana movement. In fact the Americana UK website promoted ‘Don’t Look Back’ as the headline track on its monthly promotional CD.

All ten tracks on this album have an ingrained substance that encourages you to keep the repeat button on as Jay effortlessly switches from swirling guitar anthems to atmospheric ballads which you could envisage captivating audiences in much larger venues than he is currently frequenting. ‘Cause and Consequence’ with its additional keyboard input fits the model of the latter while ‘The Devil and I’ rattles along at a rhythmic pace with an incredibly catchy chorus.

In his website bio, Jay lists among his influences Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Nick Drake but constant listening to this fairly compact album continually draws up comparisons with the mid 2000’s sound of Keane and Editors. The infectious harmonies are very reminiscent of the former’s debut release while the guitar work has all the hallmark of the latter. Obviously there is going to be a little Manic Street Preachers influence as their producer Greg Haver took over the steering helm and it is to his credit that such a big production sound emerged from what started out as just Jay and his acoustic guitar. The album moves to its finishing line in a more reflective mood exchanging bouts of melancholy with the positive vibes of legacy, especially in ‘Pictures and Memories’ and ‘Painting Flowers’ which brings the proceedings to a suitable conclusion. However by leaving the repeat button on you soon return to the desire of being ‘Springsteen or James Dean’.

This album has widespread appeal that can unite indie/pop/rock fans as well as engaging those looking for a little left field alt-country rock. Jay perfectly combines his powerful vocals with a rousing but not overtly thrashing guitar sound and you do wonder where this album could have ended up with a little pedal steel added by some further Americana influence. However the knockout melodies give this album the necessary leverage to ensure a highly enjoyable listening experience and give the impetus for Jay Leighton to create more outstanding music in the future.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Rose Redd - Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge Thursday 25th April 2013

Rose during her acoustic set

Six months after discovering the amazing talent of Rose Redd at a Birmingham Arts festival, an opportunity was presented to catch her debut headline show and check out the progress of this Midlands-based singer-songwriter’s fledgling music career. In the subsequent months since that discovery, Rose has finally been able to put out a release and continues to ply her trade on the Midlands music circuit as well as having an eye on some ambitious opportunities to pursue commercial success. During this evening, the cellar bar of Katie Fitzgerald’s pub in Stourbridge hosted Rose and gave her the inaugural opportunity to play live two – 45 minute sets.

While there was no doubting that the raw ingredients were in place after first witnessing her, the development in this intervening period has been immense and we certainly have a very accomplished performer in our midst. Flawless and immaculate are fairly strong superlatives to be attached to the vocal delivery of an artist but they are words not wasted on Rose who, with an inimitable and distinct style, conveys the significance of her songs with such maturity and candour. To this extent, Rose has the versatility to take her music in any number of directions and still make an impact. The lucrative world of popular music may be ready to embrace her, yet the potential is there to gain meritorious acclaim in the genre world of roots and acoustic music as well.

The major evolutionary change in the live performance of Rose is the progression to enlist the services of a band and for the second half of this evening’s gig we had the pleasure of listening to a mixture of self-penned and carefully selected cover songs delightfully backed by a rhythmic combo of light percussion and electric bass. This supplemented the acoustic and vocal skills of Rose exceptionally well and raised the expectation bar of what can be achieved.

Another positive side to Rose’s work is the way she absorbs her influences and subsequently uses them to inform her own song writing. There were six well interpreted versions of old songs spread across the evening including opening with Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ and ending with her awe-inspiring rendition of ‘Wild Horses’. On the birthday of one of her heroes, Ella Fitzgerald, Rose spared the guitar to deliver ‘Summertime’ and in conjunction with the band gave credible performances of Tracey Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Iris’ by the Goo Goo Dolls. Interestingly she delved a little bit into the world of folk with Ewan McColl’s ‘First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ and in the future it may be beneficial for her to further explore the world of country, blues and soul as well.

However first and foremost, Rose is a singer-songwriter and this well balanced set showcased a fair proportion of original material that should hopefully prove the core of a debut full length release. The extraordinary depth and ability to translate her inner thoughts (both positive and negative) give Rose’s self-penned songs so much credence and, while the substance is in place, the killer melodies will surely follow. ‘Perfectly Useless’ has eventually become Rose’s first single release and unsurprisingly closed the evening’s second set. The diversity of Rose is exemplified in the two versions of this song available, first the pop-infused radio magnet style developed in conjunction with top notch producer Gavin Monaghan and the acoustic one which will keep roots enthusiasts on board. Take your pick from the nation’s leading download stores but hasten to add, it was more of the latter than featured in this gig.

Rose with guest bassist Sam
 ‘Girl with a Broken Heart’, ‘Curtain Call’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’ are all fine original songs which were played across the two sets and at present can be accessed via You Tube. An interesting addition to this evening’s set was one of Rose’s earliest self written songs (around the age of twelve I think) and despite being a touch apprehensive about resurrecting it, ‘Alice’ sounded really good. For someone so formative in their performing years, the between song audience interaction is progressing well and you certainly get a feel of where the songs are coming from with her honest and heartfelt introductions.

An appreciation must go to Stourbridge singer-songwriter Sunjay Brayne for giving Rose the opportunity to play this debut headline gig. He entertained those present with a brief selection of his material including a cover of Roger Brooks ‘Street Riot’ and his new single ‘The Fire Down Below’. Hopefully the opportunity to feature more of Sunjay’s brand of Americana infused folk/blues will occur as early listens of this young performer are exceedingly impressive.

 So six months on, the career of Rose Redd is showing positive signs of development. Her professionalism and determination is admirable and whatever sound path the career takes, the raw talent will give her every opportunity of success. However, or to what extent this pans out, there should always be somewhere, a Rose Redd – writing, playing and singing beautiful songs.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Eileen Rose - Bones Self Released

Occasionally, you attend a gig when the marketing hasn’t gone quite the way it was supposed to and through no fault of the artist the missing element is an audience (well one of meaningful numbers anyhow). Yet it is amazing how many times the artist being witnessed composes themselves and turns in a memorable performance. This was my introduction to the wonderful music of Eileen Rose a few years back when a tour of the country’s soulless Barfly venues didn’t quite go as planned. On that evening Eileen was promoting her AT OUR TABLES album which was also followed up by LUNA TURISTA a year later in 2009. After re-locating to Nashville, and immersing her world into the Silver Threads honky tonk project, Eileen Rose is now back as a recording artist and, as a prelude to her upcoming new album, she has released a stripped down collection of songs appropriately titled BONES.

This gritty back to basics album comprises of six carefully selected favourites from her back catalogue and four new songs being previewed ahead of the new complete original release later this year. This album is perfectly timed to coincide with a short UK summer visit as Eileen seeks to re-establish herself in a country where she spent many fruitful years after first leaving her Boston home. Once again Eileen has teamed up with one of Boston’s much lauded musicians ‘The Legendary’ Rich Gilbert to capture his recording, producing, mixing and playing skills thus ensuring this album can stand up alongside her previous releases and not just being a makeweight.

Eileen Rose has absorbed and oozed so many musical influences throughout her career, that the term ‘Americana’ could have almost been created for her. However for me, it’s the unmistakeable vocal style that lines real world experience with a touch of elegance and the innate ability to reflect a little country, blues, soul and rock. Her song writing is not to be underestimated with the bulk of the oldies selected for the stripped down re-working here displaying all the traits of a timeless quality.

Of the four new songs, ‘Space You Needed’ is a simple acoustic accompanied relationship reflective song with a demo feel which may or may not evolve into a spruced up number. ‘She’s Yours’ is a laid back jazz/blues lounge effort with a touch of fiddle joining bass, guitar and light percussion in decorating Eileen’s  successful attempt to add a little elegance to her vocals. ‘Wake Up Silly Girl’ pays respect to a country sound with Rich adding some sublime pedal steel while the most intriguing new track is the delightful and very Latino ‘Each Passing Hour’. Here Eileen and Rich have explored a new sound and experimented with castanets, accordion, trumpet and fiddle with the end result being an extremely well put together and enjoyable song. It will be interesting to see how Eileen develops this sound when the new album emerges.

The album’s remaining six songs are spread across four of Eileen’s five previous albums. The passion, sincerity and depth of each re-working will make these a welcome addition to the collection of new and old fans alike. ‘Sad Ride Home’ is the representative from her most recent album LUNA TURISTA while the outstanding ‘Old Time Reckoning’ heads a trio of songs from AT OUR TABLES. Hearing this stripped down version live will be one of the summer’s highlights (assuming it graces the set list!). ‘The Day Before’ and ‘Seven Winds’ are the other choices from this album.

Eileen has gone back a decade to re-visit her ‘turn of the millennium album’ SHINE LIKE IT DOES to record a version of ‘Shining’ with what sounds like a banjo accompaniment to this five minute number. ‘Stagger Home’ from COME THE STORM concludes this presentation of some of Eileen Rose’s finest work with its anthemic qualities getting the peeled back treatment.

So Eileen has announced her return with an excellent interim release that will no doubt be the centrepiece to her UK shows this summer including her much awaited Maverick Festival slot. The ability to make quality music never leaves a quality artist and hopefully there is much more from Eileen Rose in the future. In the meantime, enjoy BONES for what it has aimed to do.

Cam Penner - To Build a Fire Self Released

Cam Penner is an artist I first came across several years ago when he supported a gig by alt-country troubadours the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash. While his name keeps cropping up in various publications, it has to be admitted that not a lot of his material has been listened to. So being presented with the opportunity to review this album gave me a chance to re-acquaint myself with his work.

TO BUILD A FIRE is the seventh release by this Canadian artist who prior to launching his recording career in 2002 immersed himself in a life far away from comfortable suburbia. The experiences gained from viewing life from the less salubrious side have proved a creative tap to this singer-songwriter and the albums have come fairly frequently over the ensuing years. It is probably best to describe Cam Penner as a folk experimentalist and he is certainly an acquired antidote to simple roots music. However if you can tap into his wavelength, rich pickings are there to be enjoyed.

All ten tracks have emerged from the pen of Cam although Jon Wood shared the credits for ‘River Forgotten’ a slow banjo influenced tune with a relaxing almost languid sound. This much misunderstood yet revivalist instrument features regularly in the tracks alongside guitar, ukulele and plenty of thumping percussion. However the roots sound is not the source of album opener ‘Mighty Dam Animator’ which emerges as an instrumental with a brass section that poses more questions than it answers. In fact this record does take a few songs to get into its stride with the title track and ‘This Could Be Your Anthem’ not really registering any desire to return to.
Despite this sluggish beginning the album does burst into life with its standout track ‘Memphis’ where a mini rap like chant leads you into a hypnotic and rhythmic chorus of ‘I miss Memphis more than Tennessee’. This fine song with its memorable hook has a resemblance to some of the experimental material Steve Earle has done recently. This album highlight is closely followed by ‘House of Liars’ with its ear catching roots rhythm continually repeating the line ‘who will rock the boat’.  

Just as the reflective ballad ‘Whiskey Lips’ drifts the album to its conclusion with a faint hint of slide guitar, you start to feel that you’ve grasped the mood and ready to offer forgiveness for the slow start. However this release will require patience and an ability to connect with the inner thoughts of Cam Penner. On a footnote the album sleeve contains a poignant Woody Guthrie quote referring to the measuring of greatness in music being made clearer when the opposition is known, a definite pause for thought moment. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Emily Baker - Tower of Song, Cotteridge, Birmingham Sunday 21st April 2013

Emily and Fiddes in full flow

2013 is shaping up to be an exceptional year for outstanding female singer-songwriter output. Across the pond Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe are raising the bar in Music City while closer to home an album emerged earlier this year that was a blueprint to how a transatlantic record should be made. The review on this site referred to Emily Baker’s ALL AT SEA as a ‘brief glimpse of acoustic heaven’ and it is with great delight that an opportunity was grasped to hear a near-full live rendition of this fine album.

The Lazy Sunday Songwriter’s Sessions is a new venture by Birmingham based American artist Lobelia Lawson to showcase acoustic original talent in the intimate Tower of Song venue located in a south west Birmingham suburb. There was no finer guest to launch this series than for Lobelia and husband Steve to invite their colleague Emily Baker up from Brighton with her regular musical collaborator Fiddes Smith. Over the duration of this special evening filled with warmth, the healthily sized audience was treated to a short set by the host, an extended opportunity to listen to Emily and an impromptu jam to lead the evening towards its successful conclusion.

Lobelia has been making beautiful music for a number of years both in the UK, her native US, as well as time spent in Canada. Her latest release titled BEAUTIFULLY UNDONE (SONGS I WISH I HAD WRITTEN) is a covers album with a difference as just as the brackets suggest, this is a very personal album mixing some songs you’ll know and others you won’t. The title track was probably the highlight of her short set and was introduced as a song written by a Canadian singer-songwriter Lindy. While Lobelia primarily supports her crystal vocals with an acoustic guitar she is not afraid to experiment with various backing sounds and was also accompanied on one number by husband and bassist Steve.

Having only recently discovered the work of Emily Baker and thus delving into her back catalogue (well 2011’s HOUSE OF CARDS) it has been interesting to note how she has taken a more roots inspired path with the new album. During her set Emily made frequent references to the making of the album with producer Gavin Monaghan whose diverse work has included the folk sound of Scott Matthews and the rousing upbeat anthems of the Editors. However with Fiddes now in collaboration, his marvellous skills on acoustic, mandolin and banjo are the perfect foil for the heartfelt delivery of this new set of songs from Emily’s deep creative well.

Inspirational company! 
Right from the off, Emily stamped her own mark on the evening with a right mix of entertaining and informative chat that unlocked the door to enlighten people on the profound depth of these songs. By the end of the third song we had learned how listening to Joni Mitchell had played a part in the writing of ‘Run’, that the sense of longing inspired the fabulous ‘Tennessee’ and how ‘Warm Hands, Cold Heart’ proved the metaphor for things not quite seeming as they are. As an audience we were invited to make our own minds up to the meaning of ‘Northern Lights’ while a fond recollection accompanied the intro to ‘Best Laid Plans’, the first song she had played with Fiddes.

The roots influenced sound was very much in evidence via the tender mandolin contribution of Fiddes and this was ramped up when he switched to some delightful banjo for the playing of the more upbeat ‘Fire’. The experiences of travelling the US seem to have inspired Emily with a constant Americana thread weaving its way through the album and prior to her delivering the country influenced ‘Out of Time’ , she recounted a memorable tale when visiting Austin, Texas. The story of the infamous chicken ‘shit’ bingo in Ginny’s juke joint which accompanies Dale Watson’s regular slot there is legendary but tonight we found out that Emily was a lucky winner on her visit to this iconic venue.

Just before the final couple of songs of the evening, there was a brief interlude of some retro eighties pop - acoustic style. First Lobelia joined Emily on stage to lead the vocals on an ultra slo-mo version of ‘You Spin Me Round’, before Emily responded with a sing along rendition of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’. Lobelia’s version of the Dead or Alive classic is also found on her covers album. The appreciative crowd was not going to let Emily slope off to the bar that easily and she duly fulfilled a request to play an ‘Emily Baker oldie’ ‘House of Cards’ before inviting Fiddes back to provide the percussion for the show closing and infectious number ‘Cold Turkey’.

So in the end we were only ‘Coast is Clear’ from listening to the full album live but it’s wise to leave a little room for improvement. Although with such a high quality and entertaining performance of an outstanding album in an ideal intimate setting, it would have to be a supreme effort to exceed tonight’s offering. While UK fans of Kacey and Ashley quite rightly revel in their latest releases, they may well want to take a look at what is happening on our shores and check out the work of Emily Baker. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Good Lovelies - Live at Revolution Six Shooter Records

It may have been a couple of years since The Good Lovelies last studio album but promising news has arrived that a new set of songs are in the pipeline for a possible early 2014 release. However those impatient for their fix of this talented Canadian trio have the added bonus of this live release and a summer UK visit to look forward to in the meantime. Recorded live in Toronto towards the end of last year, the band have managed to capture the magic that has made their live gigs treasured events and a flavour of the shows UK fans enjoyed last spring.

In self producing this live album, The Good Lovelies (Kerrie Ough, Sue Passmore and Caroline Brooks) have selected thirteen tracks and interspersed them with three anecdotal inserts that I believe were shared with many audiences on the last tour. However to enhance the sound quality, they invited three session musicians to join them for these recording shows with Paul Mathew (bass), Les Cooper (guitar/percussion) and Christine Bougie (electric/lap steel) certainly adding value. The latter is becoming increasingly well known in the UK due to now having a couple of Gretchen Peters’ tours under her belt.

Despite being accomplished songwriters as well as exceptional singers and multi-musicians, the girls are always keen to experiment with interesting cover versions and the five selected songs for this recording really highlighted their diverse influences. Having witnessed the girls breathtaking version of Leonard Cohen’s standard ‘Hallelujah’ live in an acoustically wonderful church setting last year, it was no surprise to see that featured here in its rightful place as curtain caller. The spine tingling harmonies brought back great memories and it’s wonderful to have a permanent recording of this fantastic version. Their other influences are generally pretty conventional in Bruce Springsteen, Gram Parson and acclaimed Canadian alt-country outfit Deep Dark Woods. However their choice of an old time number ‘Heebie Jeebies’ made famous by The Boswell Sisters in the 1930’s exemplified the diversity.

Of the eight original tracks on the album, the main focus tended to be the most recent release LET THE RAIN FALL with my personal favourite being the exquisite travelling song ‘Old Highway’. From their Juno award winning self titled album it was of no surprise to see the crowd participation favourite ‘Lie Down’ featured and ‘Taboo’ was selected from the band’s inaugural album OH MY. The recording does include two self penned tracks that are not to be found on The Good Lovelies three previous releases so ‘Tuesday Night’ and ‘Duvet Love’ may re-surface sometime in the future.

Unashamedly this release cannot be recommended highly enough as it is a superb introduction to the band for the uninitiated while ardent fans can revel in their old favourites recorded in a different format. After sampling this fabulous live album, there will be a guaranteed insatiable desire to experience the real thing, so check out one of their live UK shows in June and July. 

Jess Klein - Ort Cafe, Birmingham Wednesday 17th April 2013

Before a mini rant is underway, let’s get the facts out on the table. Jess Klein is a fantastic singer-songwriter whose blend of country-folk captures perfectly the fusion of thoughtful lyrics, tuneful melodies and a voice to match the very best of Austin’s roots scene. The absolute crime was that she remained Birmingham’s  best kept secret on this spring Wednesday evening. This is not to denounce the Ort CafĂ© which hosted Jess and guitar picking sidekick Bill Masters but how on earth the second city’s Americana music community didn’t give her a more populous welcome is a sad state of affairs. The truth is this community is disjointed and thus talented touring artists continue to bypass the area. So there was at least some consolation in that Jess was invited, leading to an extremely intimate show which still was a treasure to behold.

In the decade since the career was launched in her native US north east, Jess has rubbed shoulders with some much vaunted icons of Americana music before ultimately gravitating to the singer-songwriter Mecca of Austin, Texas. Over this period the sound has evolved into one you would expect from the Lone Star State, with a hint of twang gracing the folk tales and down to earth quintessential American vocals. As the band which helped produce her latest album BEHIND A VEIL was left at home, it was very much a stripped down fundamental sound that adorned the set list on this evening.

In true professional manner, Jess wasn’t fazed by the turnout and delivered a wide selection of songs stretching from 2005’s STRAWBERRY LOVER right through to a yet to be released EP of songs spilling over from the latest album. She managed to shake off the effects of that cruel singer affliction – laryngitis – to combine the vocals with some insightful background anecdotes and acoustic guitar playing that complemented the subtle electric twang from Bill.

There was a high level consistency in the quality of the songs but three in particular stood out. An old song ‘Shonalee’ , a brand new number written in the wake of her father’s recent passing ‘Beautiful Child’ and ‘Unwritten Song’ with its quirky origin. This latter number started life as a melody with no lyrics as well as the time ticking tenth and final song on the latest album. Yet the lyrical block proved to be the source of the content and its playing tonight was probably the highlight of the set.

The road hardy and self empowered Jess will no doubt, in troubadour style, dust herself down and move onto the next town. Maybe next time the second city will be a little more receptive to the accomplished craft being exported from the ‘live music capital of the world’. All parties in the Americana music community have a duty to embrace such available talent. Thus ensuring more people are acquainted with the fine talents of Jess Klein either live or on record. 

Jess Morgan - Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge Tuesday 16th April 2013

Not taken at gig

Some great music is emerging on either side of the Atlantic where artists draw their creative influences from those roots cousins of folk and country. While we are currently enjoying a fruitful period of US and Canadian visitors expertly practising this craft, it would be remiss to not champion the fine British artists who can give their transatlantic peers a run for their money. Another name to add to this growing list, if you are not already acquainted, is Norwich based singer-songwriter Jess Morgan.

Over the duration of two albums and a newly released EP, Jess has already earned acclaim and a growing list of admirers for a style of acoustic music that successfully blends some traditional elements of music with a rootsy vocal style that drifts the sound westwards. The majestic melodies of Jess’s well constructed original material are sophisticated in content yet uncomplicated in delivery. Her appetite to take these songs on the road has led to Jess extensively touring the UK as well as northern Europe and tonight she was the main guest of Stourbridge Folk Club at the musically supportive venue of Katie Fitzgerald’s.

Prior to Jess’s two part set, the organiser Sunjay Brayne, himself a singer-songwriter, arranged for local act Kim Lowings and the Greenwood to open with a short slot. In contrast to the sound of Jess which we were to enjoy later, Kim and her three piece band draw most of their influence from the traditional music of these isles with a mixture of old tunes and self penned material that provides a contemporary twist to this heritage. Her vocal delivery and dulcimer playing impressed immensely especially as it blended well with the percussion, violin and acoustic guitar that backed these songs. ‘Phoenix’ and ‘This Life’ were fine examples of her original material while the short set was closed with a rousing version of ‘The Begging Song’ which was well received. From a personal viewpoint, the highlight was when Kim ditched the instruments to give a superb vocal delivery of the fine Be Good Tanyas song ‘The Littlest Birds’. This was a small consolation for the Canadian roots band omitting it from their Coventry set earlier in the year.

The diverse sound from Kim’s band proved an ideal contrast to Jess Morgan who relies on the solo delectable accompaniment of an acoustic guitar to play the fruits of her creative talent. This extends into the background story telling that adds so much value to a singer-songwriter’s show. Right from the opening number ‘Travelling Song’ where we discovered the effects of cheap red wine through to ‘The Missionary’ which closed the first set, the natural charm came across well. The latter song was inspired by her travels in Kenya and was given extra promotion as part of Fatea Magazine’s Spring Showcase. My favourite song of the evening came in the first set with the amusing tale of Jess’s tongue in cheek desire for librarians in ‘The Most of All’.

This enticing gig from Jess continued in the same manner after a short break with a selection of songs from 2010’s ALL SWELL, 2012’s AYE ME and the new single-take EP recently released and titled RICHER THINNER SMARTER. Amongst these, ‘Talisman’ had a definite traditional folk sound while ‘Well Dressed Fellas’ was more Americana influenced. Throughout listening to these songs you couldn’t help think how much potential there was for a little mandolin, lap steel or dobra to take them to a higher level. By the time the excellent ‘Leave a Light On’ ended the evening as the solitary encore number, the favourable impression of a fine singer-songwriter had left its mark.

So appreciation goes to the organisers for bringing Jess Morgan back to the Midlands and for introducing the new talent of Kim Lowings. A final shout out must be made to the ever influential world of Social Media which was the source that led the path to this highly enjoyable evening. 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Chastity Brown - Back-Road Highways Creative and Dreams Music Network

Let me introduce you to the amazing talent of Chastity Brown who is set to unleash her brand of American roots music on the UK market with this debut release and a full tour in September. As the title BACK-ROAD HIGHWAYS suggests this is a record born and bred away from big metropolitan cities as Chastity soaked up her influences from New Hampshire through the rich heritage of Tennessee via Appalachia before surfacing in her new Minneapolis base. The sound reflects a melting pot of soul, blues, folk and gospel to carry the torch of Leadbelly into a contemporary world where boundaries are blurred but containing an articulate fan base looking for new ways of capturing the past.

The endearing feature of the album is how the guitar, banjo, harmonica, bass, percussion and organ wrap their roots sounds around the sultry and occasionally gravelly vocals of Chastity in a multitude of laid back jazz like tunes that meander around your mind. The mesmeric feel to the listening experience is borne out of a consistent sound that smoothes out the peaks and troughs. Selecting a stand out track is tough but the captivating opener ‘House Been Burnin’ slightly shades it. Although Chastity is the architect of all eleven tracks, this metronomic pleaser with what sounds like exceptional slide guitar is a co-write with producer Paul Buono.

In a shared recording location of Franklin and Nashville Tennessee, Chastity has supplemented her own guitar, piano, banjo and harmonica skills with a collection of session musicians to give the record a fuller sound. The southern influence leaves traces of gospel especially in the five minute track ‘After You’ where with a hint of twang the sound drifts along with an increasing tempo. Blues –style instrumentals influence ‘I Left Home’ while the soul drenched organ laces album closer ‘If You Let Me’.  The carefree nature of immersing yourself into this near fifty minute long listening pleasure is summed up in the lyrical response to ‘Could’ve Been A Sunday’ where Chastity responds to this statement with ‘but it could’ve been a Saturday’ as to suggest does it really matter. Not that you really care what day it is while submerging yourself into this release.

While the lyrics of Chastity are emotionally driven and enchanting, it is the vocals and instrumental expertise that creates a lasting impression with a record that will leave you with a desire to switch off and enjoy. Open minded fans of country, folk, gospel, soul and blues will find merits in BACK-ROAD HIGHWAYS but this release only just touches these genres. However if you have an insatiable appetite for a general overview of American roots music, then Chastity Brown is the artist for you. 

John Fullbright - The Glee Club, Nottingham Wednesday 10th April 2013

Woody Fest 2011 Photo Credit: Vicki Farmer

The name John Fullbright may not be well known in the UK but this is set to change in the near future as the exposure of this exceptional singer-songwriter considerably widens. Despite being in his formative artistic years, the maturity displayed by this Oklahoma based talented performer is incredible in what has been a relatively short recording career. On the back of a Grammy nomination for Best Americana album, where sharing the limelight with eventual winner Bonnie Raitt was no mean feat, John’s UK visit has led to a Jools Holland Later slot, a session with Bob Harris and a series of well attended dates.

Established promoters Cosmic American’s decision to schedule John at the Nottingham Glee club was rewarded with a fairly healthy midweek turnout and those present were royally entertained with an hour and half of pure Americana. Accompanied by the widely respected Terry Ware on Telecaster, who has had a long association with Ray Wylie Hubbard, John effortlessly switched between guitar and keyboards, with a touch of harmonica, to deliver a luxurious offering of mainly self penned material.

From the opening two tracks, both new songs that John performed alone, to the stunning encore version of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’, the appreciative and respectful audience were served an appetising collection of songs that straddled country, folk, blues and few keyboard led ballads that you could envisage infiltrating the pop arena. Apart from a sprinkling of new songs and a couple of covers, unsurprisingly John drew most of his material from aforementioned critically acclaimed debut release FROM THE GROUND UP. Although the equally adept live album which was recorded at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City supplied a couple of numbers including the outstanding ‘High Road’ which heralded his return to the stage for the encore.

Blue Door 2012 Photo Credit: Vicki Farmer
John admitted that talking between songs wasn’t his strong point but from an audience perspective there was ample informative banter to reveal an honest and sincere performer. We were briefly invited into his inner thoughts and picked up useful snippets such as the contribution of Dustin Welch on the album opener ‘Gawd Above’ which for me has all the hallmark of a Hayes Carll song. The diversity of John’s influences are exemplified in his blues rendition of ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’ a much recorded song written by Bessie Smith’s accompanist Porter Grainger and the country strains of perhaps the stand out song on the evening ‘Blameless’. This fine song can only be found on the live album to date.

Of the other songs, ‘Satan and St Paul’ is fast becoming his most scrutinised piece of work and was the track selected for live performance on the recorded version on the Jools Holland Later show. The superb ‘Jericho’ was a perfect choice to close the main set, although the crowd were never going to let John and Terry leave without a little bit more. On John’s live album, he concludes the show with a fabulous version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and while it was a touch disappointing that this wasn’t the parting gift tonight, you couldn’t fail to be impressed with this being replaced by the off mic delivery of ‘Crying’.

London based Sean Taylor opened the evening’s proceedings with his brand of raw blues that exerted fine picking skills amongst a short collection of his songs. His brief set was the ideal appetizer prior to the fantastic evening that John and Terry were about to deliver.

The hidden secret of John Fullbright is now out for all fans of Americana music to savour. His solitary recorded album to date and the brace of live recordings are essential additions to any collection as well as the opportunity to catch one of his shows. The positive reaction John is getting should signal an extended future UK visit and the new songs suggest a follow up album is in the pipeline. Without trying to sound dictatorial, appreciation of John Fullbright is non-negotiable. You won’t be disappointed.

Set List:

Keeping Hope Alive
Didn’t Know
Satan and St. Paul
Unlocked Doors
Going Home
Never Cry Again
Me Wanting You
Fat Man
Nowhere to Be Found:
When You’re Here
Ain’t Nobody’s Business
I Only Pray at Night
Gawd Above
Forgotten Flowers
High Road

                                                        John Fullbright - Jericho

Monday, 8 April 2013

Maverick Festival Preview Part 1 - Canadian Artists

Over the weekend of 5th, 6th and 7th July, a select group of excellent Americana artists from either side of the 'Big Pond' will assemble once again in the rural and agricultural setting of Easton Farm Park in deepest Suffolk. The laid back ambience and wholesome feel to the event can often belie the depth of quality emanating from the makeshift stages. The mainstream music industry is invited but they come on the terms of the festival’s ideals. Many of the acts have a substance that outweighs their perceived standing but compliance is not on the agenda. So welcome to Part 1 of the 2013 Maverick Festival preview. This is the first of a trio of articles looking at some of the artists booked for this year. The structure is going to be geographical so stay tuned for the UK and the US, but first up is the 2013 Canadian contingent.

With the festival usually falling fairly near the July 1st Canada Day celebrations, artists sometimes combine their trip with the Trafalgar Square festivities. Anyhow close musical relations and a shared heritage between the two countries usually sees an abundance of summer visitors and this year is no different. So hot on the heels of last year’s attendees – Sarah McDougall, Cara Luft, Amelia Curran, Rose Cousins, Ladies of the Canyon and Corb Lund, in 2013 we have Ruth Moody, Good Lovelies, Old Man Luedecke, Leeroy Stagger and Dennis Ellsworth. Three of the artists have already been subject to features on this site and there is little doubt that this will be corrected for the other two by the end of the summer.

Ruth Moody is no stranger to these shores with both solo visits and trips with her band the Wailin Jennys. Winnipeg raised Ruth is currently on a hiatus from the Juno award winning band and this summer’s visit is a follow up to last winter’s highly successful solo tour. In fact she was the first artist to be featured on this blog when playing Warwick School and earned a favourable review The success of the those UK dates led to Ruth being invited to join the Transatlantic Sessions line up and she delighted large hall audiences up and down the country with her classically trained – folk influenced vocals. She has a brand new release to support this summer’s dates and hopefully THESE WILDER THINGS will be as good as her previous album THE GARDEN. So look out for Ruth’s other dates as well as her no doubt prestigious spot at the Maverick Festival. Recommended Track: We Can Only Listen - Ruth Moody

The Good Lovelies, from Toronto, are also blog favourites with their 2012 Ross-on-Wye show earning 4th place in the end of year gig list. The roots influenced multi instrumental harmony trio of Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore will certainly add to their growing list of admirers after this festival appearance. The band has recently returned to the road after Caroline’s family addition and they will be accompanied by a live album to give you an experience of their performing talents. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the band follow up 2011’s LET THE RAIN FALL with an offering of new original material. The Good Lovelies are playing a host of other UK dates in June and July including a terrific pre-Maverick double header with Ruth Moody in Oxford on the eve of the festival. The set by this exceptional Canadian band is one not to be missed. Recommended Track: Crabbuckit - Good Lovelies

A very recent addition to the festival line up and all the way from the north eastern extremes of Canada is Nova Scotia troubadour Old Man Luedecke. This first class singer-songwriter is in the UK for a number of dates in May before returning for the early July festival. His latest album TENDER IS THE NIGHT received a highly complimentary review from this blog in March and this Juno nominated artist is set for a lot more coverage here in 2013. Old Man (or Chris to some) raised his UK profile a little last year especially with an appearance at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival and hopefully can continue this momentum with his forthcoming visit. Festival goers will adore his catchy songs, thoughtful lyrics and excellent banjo playing. Old Man Luedecke is a worthy addition to the list of fine Canadian artists to grace the stages of Easton Farm Park. Recommended Track: Song for Ian Tyson - Old Man Luedecke

Canadian roots rocker Leeroy Stagger hails from the western province of British Columbia, a very long way from Nova Scotia! However his brand of alt-country defined music is set to woo Americana fans who like a little bit of edge to their sounds. Leeroy is a new artist to me but anybody who adds a Birmingham date to their tour schedule has got an increased chance of coming across my radar. His stock in the UK is set to rise following his signing with Clubhouse Records for the UK promotion of his forthcoming release TRUTH BE SOLD. Clubhouse will be featured more prominently in the UK review but if their taste in artists is anything to go by then we will be in for a treat with Leeroy Stagger.

The Canadian contingent for this year is concluded by prolific singer-songwriter Dennis Ellsworth. While it has to be admitted that little is known about this artist the beauty of any festival especially Maverick is the opportunity to discover and embrace new acts. The judgement of the organisers has an exemplary track record so there is little doubt that Dennis will fit in well with the surroundings of this festival.

So this year’s maple leaf contingent is another stellar line up and set to further the cause of country, roots and Americana music north of the 49th Parallel in the UK. Next up will be the US artists in May followed by the UK contribution in June. Stay tuned.

Note: These artists are listed to perform on the festival’s website as at date of publish.           

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Woody Pines - Rabbits' Motel Self Released

If you can close your eyes and visualise a bygone age of juke joints, box car hopping hobos and an air filled with roots inspired travelling music, there might just be a character in the corner mythically known as Woody Pines plying his trade with a solitary resonator and harmonica. This bout of imagery will be enhanced by lending your ear for half an hour to the unashamedly retro sound of RABBITS’ MOTEL, the fourth album by that very person central to your imagination.

The delightful Twitter bio for Woody succinctly states ‘American Boogie, Halloween, Viper Jazz and Indi-folk – Nashville, Tennessee’. Well you can add a host of other old time genre classifications to this record, although perhaps the place of residence should just simply state ‘the highways, byways and rail tracks of quintessential USA’.

Woody Pines has teamed up with, playing and writing companion, Felix Hatfield to compose eight original numbers leaving two songs the source of that most prolific songwriter ‘Traditional’. Of these two the essential train song makes an appearance in ‘Train that Carried my Gal from Town’ with resonator guitar, upright bass and snare drums providing the motion and harmonica adding functional effect. Piano and clarinet give a jazz feel to the other old number ‘Keep your Hands Off’ in a toe tapping feel good way.

On the two tracks Pines shares the credits with Hatfield, the pair have re-visited an early rock n’ roll sound on ‘Addicted to Blood’ while ‘Heartbreaker’ is a more sophisticated number leaning heavily on slow beat instrumental interludes amidst a sad tale of revenge. When composing alone, Pines deals with the transient life in ‘Railroad Vine’ and ‘Hobo and His Bride’, both laid back narrative efforts in true story telling tradition.

The boogie induced harmonica drenched ‘Who Told Ya?’ won’t  fail to get the extremities of your body moving as does the lively opener ‘Like I Do’ with the immortal line ‘she is putting Vaseline on her skin while drinking gasoline she’s wiping it from her skin’. It is probably these faster tempo numbers that appeal most after considering the merits of this release.

Of the remaining tracks ‘I Love the Way My Baby’ is the solitary track which heads in a blues direction while the appropriate album finale sees the pace eased with ‘Close Your Eyes and Dream’. This in effect takes us back to the opening notion of where the eye shut syndrome can send us with a little nostalgic assistance.

Back to reality and Woody Pines remain an active band in their native US and on their numerous trips to these shores where they have been exceptionally active north of the border. So if you have a desire for a touch of idealistic Americana retro, RABBITS’ Motel is well worth a punt either in your home or in your local juke joint. 

Larkin Poe - Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot Saturday 6th April 2013

Rebecca Lovell and Megan Lovell
If you are in the ever decreasing circle of music fans not yet acquainted with the delights of Larkin Poe then reading on is essential. Likewise if you are in their ever increasing band of admirers then reading on is also advisable as this continually evolving group will never let you rest on your laurels. The girls use their indie status to set their own agenda and it’s a breathless but highly rewarding experience to keep track of them. From the initial bluegrass inspired Lovell Sisters material, the journey for Rebecca and Megan continues to hurtle through country, folk, pop and a little bit of rock, all having that Larkin Poe stamp of expertise.

This short, date-wise, UK stint of a more expansive European tour started with a celebrated invitation to flank fellow state of Georgia native Kristian Bush in front of a packed O2 Arena at the Country-2-Country Festival in London. The subsequent dates on from that exalting experience have been markedly low key in comparison but on this evening a couple of hundred eager fans almost filled the auditorium at this impressive and well funded Oxfordshire arts centre. Instead of supporting one half of super group Sugarland, tonight Rebecca and Megan Lovell are back in the day job fronting the current four-piece Larkin Poe line up featuring Marlon Patton on percussion and Robby Handley on bass. The sound of much of the new songs previewed during the set had a rockier feel than earlier material but this is just one of the many influences that enhance a Larkin Poe live experience.
Blair Dunlop
For this tour, the band have teamed up with rising UK folk star Blair Dunlop with whom they have collaborated on a short EP recorded during his visit to Atlanta last year. Blair opened with a compact set of his material which included a cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952’ and a version of the traditional ‘Black is the Colour’. Not surprisingly, Rebecca joined Blair to sing the harmony just as she did on the recorded version. The compliments to Blair were returned when he was invited to assist the band on two tracks from the EP mid way through their set. These included the Rebecca penned ‘Lottie’ and the title track ‘Killing Time’. It was particularly noted that this part of the show had a lot more folk and rootsy feel to the sound especially when Rebecca dusted down her fiddle. This was just another eclectic example of what you get from Larkin Poe.

In the last couple of years the band have released the four seasonal EPs, another excellent short collection titled THICK AS THIEVES, the upcoming work with Blair and a recently released full length collaboration with acclaimed Norwegian singer songwriter Thomas Hell. While all these recordings have their merits, this evening was very much based on the imminent forthcoming full length solely Larkin Poe album. You now begin to see the vibrancy and buoyancy of the band. As stated the new material has a greater full on electric vibe and amongst the songs previewed ‘Sugar High’ reflected this sound probably the most although the set opener ‘Trick of Light’, ‘Voodoo Doll’ and ‘Try to Trust Me’ came across well.
Blair Dunlop joins the band for a couple of songs
Of the few well known tracks played during the evening, the stand out for me was the wonderful ‘Play On’ from the THICK AS THIEVES EP ending with a brief outbreak of audience interaction on this outstanding uplifting number. The collaboration with Thomas Hell was represented with the fine ‘I Belong To Love’ with Rebecca humbled by the 400,000 You Tube hits of the video. Many of those in the audience were present when the band performed, the yet unrecorded, ‘Mad as a Hatter’ at last year’s Cropedy Festival and were served with an another impressive offering of the song this evening.

The appeal of a Larkin Poe live gig centres on the effervescent personality of Rebecca when providing lead vocals, alongside her array of stringed instruments, and the sumptuous lap steel guitar playing of Megan. The blending of this traditional twang is equally as effective with the bluesy rock numbers especially set closer ‘Jailbreak’ as well as with the tender mandolin on the spiritual standard ‘Wade in the Water’. As you would expect the sibling harmonies are in evidence, no more greater exemplified than the delightful encore when in old time style, the guys departed and the girls sang a wonderful acoustic number ‘Take Me Back’ around a single mic. This proved a sublime and precious moment to end the evening.

So strap on your seatbelts and prepare yourself for the next instalment of the Larkin Poe Americana odyssey. The UK festival scene will once again be hosting them this summer including the prestigious Cambridge Folk Festival, where fans of the rock side of that genre will be in for a treat.

                                                                               Larkin Poe - Play On

Monday, 1 April 2013

Co-Pilgrim - A Fairer Sea Battle Worldwide Recordings

If the Stone Roses had took themselves off to America and explored the roots of alt country instead of splitting in the mid 90’s then this album would have emerged a lot sooner. Their guitars may have been more refined and an element of twang added but the celestial melodies would have launched the sound into a new stratosphere. In his guise as the driving force behind Co-Pilgrim, Mike Gale has produced an absorbing mix of indie, alt-country, folk, rock and Americana to create a masterpiece in A FAIRER SEA. Thus that sound that didn’t materialise nearly twenty years ago is now available for us to treasure.

The title suggests a notion of calm waters and this is certainly a release that you can drift away to with all its visions of idyllic summer days amidst a delicate and dreamy sound that smothers your senses in a satisfying manner. The blend of guitar driven melodies with tender, subtle twang is the album’s appealing feature and Mike Gale himself revealed that the lyrical content often comes a close second to the sound he and his musical collaborators have conjured up. This is despite the central theme of the songs being inspired personal emotions and often reflecting upon his experience of love.

The album, his second under the Co-Pilgrim banner since 2008, was conceived in Melbourne, Australia but is all set to bear fruition now Mike has returned to the UK. The ideas behind the songs have been around for a while but it was the input of several fine musicians including Joe Bennett from the excellent Oxford based band The Dreaming Spires, which provided the finishing touches to bring them to life.  The momentum behind this album is starting to grow with the lead track and single release ‘22’ starting to get some quality airplay. While the harmonies and exquisite gear changes of the sound make this track stand out there are possibly two other songs that are slightly more preferable to me.
The title track ‘A Fairer Sea’ is an outstanding enchanting song that is the album’s high spot with the slide guitar adding some romance to a sound that first drew attention to what that iconic Manchester band could have evolved into. This is closely followed by the summery nostalgic feel to ‘I’m Going to the Country’ where Mike intimated that his attempt to write an upbeat song with sad lyrics may have gone a little too far in poking fun at the alt-country scene but the bass lines of Andy Reaney redeemed this quality song.

The other tracks roam from the faint mellow sound of ‘Now You’re Here’ to the more rock led vibes of  Come On Come On’ where an influence of late 60’s Kinks can be detected. In fact the album is best listened to as an entity with all ten songs having sufficient merit especially the closing numbers where we are invited into Mike’s inner thoughts. First ‘No Man or Mountain’ serenely introduces us to his liaison with Dyana Gray while the self reflective ‘No Guiding Light’ succeeds in bringing this superb album to a rewarding conclusion.
The notion of a fairer sea in nautical circles may have once led to the doldrums but any induced depression would have been swept away if exposed to the wonderful sound of this very fine and highly recommended Co-Pilgrim album. It has all the credentials to become the sound of the summer in esteemed circles. Mike has indicated how he fell out of love with alt-country, however A FAIRER SEA has certainly gone a long way to enticing the genre back.

Mike talks though each track

                                                          A Fairer Sea Video