Liverpudlian Kete Bowers delivered a fine album with his 2011 release Road which featured the great BJ Cole on pedal steel. Introduced to American music by his Scottish grandmother who played Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves and Jerry Lewis on the family turntable he turned in a set of wearied songs that could have been conjured up in a dusty Austin bar. Two years down the line and he pops up again with a single release featuring two new songs.
Harking back perhaps to his grandmother’s tastes the “A” side, White River Road is a laid back ramble with a tasty guitar twang and some sweet pedal steel (no Cole this time as the steel is supplied by Paul Hilton). Lyrically Bowers also harks back as he sings “I’ve lost friends to angels, gods and stars” while the twanging guitar creates a memorable hook that recalls Richard Hawley’s fatback moments.
The “B” side, Ghosts is a starker affair and reminds one of the better moments from his album. The pedal steel is joined by organ to provide an atmospheric backdrop to Bower’s cold acoustic lament. As it slowly jangles along Bowers describes a ghost town of the soul and Hilton’s pedal steel cries into the sky with shivering effect. Hopefully this is a precursor to more of the same on an album yet to come.
Buy it here
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San Francisco based Tiny Television released their fine debut, Mission Statement, back in 2009. A dusty Dobro driven slice of classic Americana its weathered well and still gets played in the Blabber’n'Smoke habitat. Four years down the line and one successful Kickstarter campaign later Just This Side of Everything crawls into the light of day and after rubbing its eyes and adjusting to the light goes on to prove itself a worthy successor to its elder sibling building on the more melodic moments from Mission Statement such as Carolina and the southern country funk of C.R.E.A.M. which was that album’s highlight.
Retaining the core of the band that recorded Mission Statement (Drummer Dan Luehring and guitarist Dave Zirbel ( on guitars, banjo, Dobro, wurlitzer, piano and pedal steel with the bass baton is taken up for the most part by Mike Anderson) mainman Jeremy D’Antonio provides all of the songs and delivers them with a fine relaxed drawl that inhabits a careworn space much as the early Kris Kristofferson did.
Kicking off with a brief variation on That’s Alright with a rockabilly skip and some excellent Dobro work the song then dips into Swing Low Sweet Chariot before winding up. An odd opening given that D’Antonio has a fine handle on his song writing as evidenced by the following Fire In Your Heart. This is a great song with the band channeling Springsteen’s pop touch, it’s not a million miles away from the boss’s Dancing In The Dark period, hook laden and radio friendly with the band and in particular the keyboards providing a triumphant swell. Jungle drums introduce Virginia before a Duane Eddy cowboy guitar rumble propels the song into Western territory with a widescreen vista as D’Antonio sings of his lost love while Jess Denicola on backing vocals summons up a zephyr blowing his memories away. With a short, knife sharp solo from Zirbel this is rousing stuff. The banjo driven Brother with its barroom piano moves the band into country mode while Devil delves into older and more primeval roots as Dobro and banjo snake their way through swampy atmospherics from the rhythm section. D’Antonio clings to the song like a drowning man singing from the well of despair, spooky indeed.
Following this one up is a tall order and the Gospel soul tinged The Way It Goes, although fine in itself sounds somewhat forced and out of place here and introduces a lull in the album with Jackson and Hear The Sound which follow failing to capture the spirit of the earlier songs. However they muster up a tremendous double whammy to close the album. Mississippi is a fine band workout with guitar and pedal steel circling like vultures around a cold tale of the deep south and recalls the Stones in their best Southern drapery. The closing Blood & Wine is a majestic ballad with D’Antonio duetting with Jess Denicola And Laura Dean while piano and strings buttress them recalling the glory days of Gram and Emmylou. Despite the occasional lull Just this Side of Everything is a fine listen and stakes Jeremy D’Antonio and Tiny Television’s claim to be one of the better prospects over the next year or two. At the end of Blood & Wine D’Antonio is heard asking “how’s that.” The answer must be “fine indeed.”
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Most folk probably think of Appalachian mountains and woods or fetid Southern climes when it comes to the rootsiest Americana music. Charlie Parr, who comes across as a dyed in the wool backwoodsman reminds us that the frozen north, home of strip mining and decaying industrial landscapes has its own history. Duluth, Minnesota is his stamping ground and lest we forget Dylan was forged in the folk scene in Dinkytown where the likes of Koerner, Ray and Glover were assimilating the lessons learned from the Harry Smith Anthology of American Music. Thus a second wave of performers who had learned the classic repertoire from records and who had no direct contact with the everglades, cotton fields or hillbillies populated the sixties. Parr is another step in this evolution and on this, his eleventh release he highlights it with two songs that were recorded by “Spider” John Koerner and adds eight of his own songs that sound as if they have been exhumed from the dirt with an authenticity that is spot on.
Playing a resonator guitar and occasional 12 string and fretless banjo Parr recorded this album live to tape with accompaniment from Mikkel Beckman on washboard and Dave Hundreiser on harmonica. He can whip up a storm as on the opening Jimmy Bell or deliver a sentimental and heartrending ballad such as Jesus is a Hobo (with partner Emily Parr on harmonies). He writes some acutely penetrating scenes whether it be the memory of his father looking to shoot a badger bothering his crop or the misleadingly jaunty murder song Groundhog Day Blues where he attempts to get revenge on the mailman who cuckolded him only to blow up his own house. Henry Goes to the Bank is the tale of the tittle tattle enjoyed spuriously by a bank worker’s colleagues when he fails to turn up for work. We don’t find out where Henry went but it’s a perfect capture of small town gossip and prurience with the plinking banjo and homemade percussion resembling the clatter of chit chat in the canteen.
There are some sinewy blues numbers such as True Friends featuring some excellent slide playing while Motorcycle Blues rattles along with propulsive harmonica as it portrays a frustrated racer who wants to test drive a Batmobile. However our favourite is the opening track, Jimmy Bell. Parr, Beckmann and Hundreiser deliver this traditional piece in fine style with the guitar, harp and percussion driving the song along and at a faster pace than the Koerner, Ray and Glover recording on Blues, Rags And Hollers. In fact listening to this we were reminded of those other exponents of the blues back in the sixties, Canned Heat with Al Wilson.
All in all one has to be grateful for artists such as Parr who can help us reconnect with the original folk who recorded the scratchy 78s Harry Smith collected. Long gone we can only imagine what they really sounded like but listening to an album like this or seeing Parr live can slice through the mists of time allowing us to be on a plantation in the 20′s or in a college dorm in the sixties experiencing Goosebumps as the slide guitar slides and the vocals holler and moan.
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Taking some time out from her regular gig as a member of the Wailin’ Jennies Ruth Moody releases her second solo album just in time to promote her UK tour which includes a six night stint at the Royal Albert Hall as a special guest of Mark Knopfler. Knopfler appears on These Wilder Things along with Jerry Douglas and our very own John McCusker along with Mancunian whistle player Michael McGoldrick. A little less folky in its overall sound than its predecessor, The Garden, These Wilder Things showcases Moody’s wonderful voice and there are some excellent moments such as on One Light Shining which features Douglas on Dobro along with Aoife O’Donovan on harmony vocals. The Celtic tint on Life is Long adds an air of mystery and mists to a song written by Moody but which sounds as if it’s been sung in bothies over the centuries while Trouble and Woe which opens the album is a rousing skirmish with banjos and fiddles flying about. While the remainder of the album fails to reach these heights there is plenty to enjoy with the title song featuring a mournful brass band while Knopfler’s guitar adds some laid back twang to the song Pockets.
Aside from the starry guest list David Travers-Smith (who produced), Adam Dobres and Adrian Dolan provide some excellent picking and playing throughout while the closing song, the plaintive and restrained Nothing Without Love pares the backing down to ukulele and piano allowing Moody’s voice to shine. There is one fly in the ointment, a cover of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. Although it’s given a credible run-through the jaunty mixture of the regular acoustic instruments with a cello seems somewhat misguided and its very familiarity causes it to stick out like a sore thumb here. Perhaps one that would have been best kept as a live audience pleaser.
Speaking of which Moody is currently touring the UK. Dates are here and she plays Glasgow on Friday 24th May at the CCA.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Jerry Douglas, John McCusker, Mark Knopfler, Michael McGoldrick, Ruth Moody, The Wailin' Jennies | Leave a Comment »
Husband and wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim, collectively known as The Quiet American have come up with a neat concept on their album Wild Bill Jones. While it’s not as well known as similar songs such as Stagger Lee or Long Black Veil Wild Bill Jones is a staple of the old time country songbook telling the tale of Jones being caught in flagrante delecte and shot dead by his lover’s lover. The album takes this song and weaves a back story around it creating an artefact that works on several levels. Taken at face value it’s a superb selection of songs and tunes that showcase the Keim’s virtuosity as they deliver a collection of traditional and self penned numbers along with a few selected covers. With guitar, banjo, ukulele, lap steel, keyboards, percussion and glockenspiel at their disposal (along with assistance on fiddle and harmonica) they conjure up an old time feel that is sepia toned and reeks of authenticity. Delve a little deeper and the storyline emerges, almost a screenplay as they inhabit the protagonists in this fatal love triangle and add an audio backdrop that lends colour and veracity to the story.
The album starts with a boastful swagger depicting young girls as ripe for the plucking on Apple in the Fall and the meeting of Bill and Posey at a dance in Give The Fiddler a Dram. Bill puffs his chest out on the strutting Come Walking With Me while Posey ponders on her beaus before offering a witness account of the killing as she chose to go with the dashing Jones. Thereafter the killer has a chance to reflect on his afterlife on Keys To The Kingdom before he is led to his punishment depicted by a rousing version of Gallows Pole. Posey, bereft, wonders What Are They Doing In Heaven Today. Gathering her strength she rallies with the uplifting Free Little Bird and finally reflects on the whole goddamn mess as they end the album with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End.
Story told but in between these songs the Keims add colour and atmosphere with a slew of instrumentals that recreate the era including a fine version of John Fahey’s Sunflower River Blues along with some fine traditional tunes with John Brown’s Dream being particularly evocative. This almost forensic investigation recalls the methods employed by film critic David Thomson in his novel Suspects where he unearths the unedifying truths that connect It’s A Wonderful Life and The Shining. On a more prosaic note one recalls Fairport Convention’s album on the failed attempts to execute Babbacombe Lee. As an imaginary soundtrack Wild Bill Jones is excellent.
Strangely enough the song Wild Bill Jones features on Long Gone Out West Blues, the latest offering from Pharis & Jason Romero. Another couple it’s almost spooky to consider that both Jason Romero and Aaron Keim are accomplished luthiers and that both couples are drinking from the same traditional well. Pitched up in British Columbia where Jason runs the J. Romero Banjo Company the pair have lengthy and separate musical histories before hitching up in 2007. Long Gone Out West Blues is their second album and it’s a perfect offering of handpicked and hand plucked songs and tunes, some new and others borrowed from the canon. Using banjo and guitar they share and swap vocals and listening to this it’s not unlike hearing a Gillian Welch album with David Rawlings sharing more of the spotlight.
The spare sound of vintage Martin guitars and Jason’s self built banjos is superb and there are moments here when one is mesmerised by their picking. Both sing well and their harmonies are divine throughout. The two instrumental numbers delicately highlight their instrumental empathy and they deliver fine versions of Wild Bill Jones (acknowledging a debt to the Doc Boggs version), Waiting For The Evening Mail, a Riley Puckett number and Truck Driver Blues from the pen of Ted Daffan. Pharis’s own songs are indistinguishable from these vintage offerings with the title song, I Want To Be Lucky and The Little Things Are Hardest In The End standing out, the latter in particular sounding like the saddest song the Everly’s never recorded. A tremendous album and well recommended.
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Vermont based Bow Thayer takes a mighty stride forward on Eden, his third album with his Perfect Trainwreck set up. Originally from Boston Thayer has featured in several bands as he has pursued his version of a driving folk, country and blues sound with his weapon of choice these days being an electric banjo. Eden finds him on top form as he crafts a powerful album packed full of melodic hard rocking songs with his signature banjo, pedal steel guitar and occasional horn section combining to create a big big sound. While at times it’s not too far removed from the “jam band bluegrass” of the likes of Trampled By Turtles Thayer reins any excess in and instead drinks from the cup of The Allmans, The Band and Tom Petty, a southern soup of sounds which benefits from a fine production by Justin Coup, producer of the late Levon Helm (Helm himself having played on a previous Thayer release).
The album opens with The Beauty of All Things which could be a Mudcrutch number with its Petty vocal similarities. It’s a great driving pop song that happens to feature banjo and a great opener. It gives way to the urgent thrust of Blackstone Valley which resembles a hopped up Midnight Rider. The combination of Thayer’s banjo and the rock thrust of the rhythm section is exhilarating and the soaring pedal steel adds a majestic feel to the song. The banjo/pedal steel interplay is excellent throughout the album and when a horn section is added as on Inside Joke one is bereft of comparisons and the only thing to say is that it works and it works wonderfully. Chuck in some fine organ playing to this mix and Perfect Trainwreck come across as the type of band Little Feat might have become if Bill Payne hadn’t been so jazz orientated and preferred his funk. There’s a soul stew of songs here that simmer and bubble with the temperature cooked up by Little Feat on Oh, Atlanta or Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. Trials, a fast paced greyhound of a song again features horns while the title song chugs mightily like the Mississippi, churning away while Thayer conjures up a post apocalyptic vision. The Tide is a diatribe against pollution and features some magnificent slide guitar while the band swirls and eddies like the muddy Mississippi. The closing song, Happy Ending shows that Thayer and band can turn down the dials as they turn in an initially laidback performance that grows in intensity as Thayer again delivers an apocalyptic vision that howls eventually with a burning anger. Tremendous stuff.
Finally I guess it’s safe to say that Eden is something of a concept album with several of the songs portraying folk preparing for the end of the world and eventually emerging after a cataclysm to make some sense of what is left. In the centre of the album Thayer plays a mini song suite, Parallel Lives that could have been oh so pretentious and there is a slight whiff of the Eagles Journey of the Sorcerer in there. However he ties together the tale of an old man unburied due to the catastrophe and the end of rivers and trees with a sublime instrumental and a redneck rail against the injustice of it all. It’s not prog rock and the songs all stand on their own two feet so concept or not do dive in.
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Inevitably there are albums sent to Blabber’n'Smoke that just don’t get reviewed. Some aren’t very good, others just get swallowed up in the pending pile and by the time we get around to them the release date has been and gone so we move on to the next and more current contender. However with the best of these orphans we keep an eye out for opportunity and this time around we can dust off Sarah McQuaid’s fine The Plum Tree and The Rose from last year as Sarah’s about to go on a hop across Scotland.
McQuaid has a fairly exotic background, born in Madrid to a Spanish father and American mum she was raised in Chicago, holds dual US and Irish citizenship, and now lives in England. It may be fanciful to suggest that this is reflected in her selection of the songs here however they include a song sung in the ancient Occitan language (from Southern Europe) along with others written in 1597 and 1609! The immediate attraction of the album however is McQuaid’s voice which is warm with a low register and although it’s quite distinct from that of the late Sandy Denny’s McQuaid has a similar air of authority and empathy with the songs that Denny had.
Speaking of Denny there’s a lot about the album that recalls the blossoming of modern folk around the late sixties and early seventies. A cover of John Martyn’s Solid Air for starters. This is a tough one to consider as the original is seared in the memory but McQuaid keeps it simple with just guitar and a doleful trumpet turning it into a late night dram friendly obituary. Apart from this McQuaid is very taken with the guitar tuning DADGAD which was Bert Jansch’s calling card and the best parts of the album recall his and John Renbourne’s peregrinations with Pentangle while Kenilworth has a smidgeon of David Crosby’s ethereal If Only I Could Remember My Name about it. There are some excellent songs here all buttressed by some immaculate playing. The jazzy intimations of The Sun Goes On Rising and So Much Rain showcase the writing while the medieval feel of Hardwick’s Lofty Towers, New Oysters New and Can She Excuse My Wrongs bring us right back to the likes of Denny and Renbourne who could hush packed halls with renditions of 500 year old songs much in the same way I’m sure McQuaid would do these days.
McQuaids’s UK tour started in Ireland a week ago and she’ll be in Scotland for four shows from May 1st as part of an “in the round” presentation with Bill Adair and Richard Grainger
1 May 2013
Edinburgh Folk Club — Pleasance Cabaret Bar
2 May 2013
Falkirk Folk Club — The Tolbooth Tavern
3 May 2013
Tolbooth — Jail Wynd
4 May 2013
Birnam Arts Centre — Station Road, Birnam
After this she heads south. All dates are on her website
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