The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP

The local talent keeps piling it on with this excellent EP from Fife’s David Latto Band. Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Latto’s last album here saying it was a “fine slice of country influenced songs featuring some fine back porch picking and an excellent ear for the idiom.” Since then the band have been gigging hard and last summer they accompanied Blabber’n’Smoke hero Phil Lee on his European tour striking up a camaraderie with the pint sized, wise cracking, knife throwing self proclaimed Mighty King of Love. So much so that one of Lee’s songs is point man for the band’s latest foray, a four song EP released this week which they will be promoting on a mini tour of the central belt before they head off to the continent.
We Cannot Be Friends Anymore (from 2009′s So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You) shows Lee to be much more than a comedic songster with its Dylan like put down and wild mercury sound. The Latto band beef it up somewhat giving it a more pugnacious and defiant air as the guitars churn with Latto more accusatory than Lee, incensed rather than sarcastic. It’s a belter of a song and the band work it up to a fine climax. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow brings us back to earth with a bump. Starting off with a melancholic voice and strummed guitar it soon shifts gear into a gently propulsive country shuffle with guitar shimmering in the background as Latto describes a ghost town of sorts as folk leave for brighter lights. As relevant to small town Scotland as a US troubadour singing about their homeland the badlands of Fife are commemorated here in a manner that James Yorkston might be proud of. Every Now And Then summons up some Caledonia soul with the band laying down a fine backbeat as Latto sings with some conviction although one can’t but regret the lack of some soulful horns which would add a Muscle Shoals touch. Long Time Coming wraps up the EP with a banjo backbone giving a fine rustic feel to a song of aspiration and vision that ripples from the speakers and offers evidence that Latto is growing into a fine songwriter as the song recalls the likes of Jackson Browne in his early years.

The EP’s a steal at only £5 from here while you can catch the band on these dates.

April 19th – Jubilee Hall, Burnturk, SCO

April 27th – Glad Café, Glasgow, SCO

May 9th- Summerhall, Edinburgh, SCO

June 28th- House Concert, Lincolnshire, ENG

June 29th – The Cask in Hand, Holbeach, ENG

July 1st – TBC, FRA

July 2nd – Metz en Fete, Metz,FRA

July 3rd – Le Lapin Blanc, Réding, FRA

July 4th – TBC, FRA

July 5th – Le Bouche a Oreille, Villenueve sur Yonne, FRA

July 6th – TBC, FRA

August 2nd- Moniaive Memorial Hall, SCO

The Redlands Palomino Company. Broken Carelessly. Clubhouse Records.

It’s looking to be a good year for what one might loosely term “alt country” albums with Scots acts the New Madrids and Red Pine Timber Company handing in excellent efforts so far. Time now to look to London to see what’s cooking down there and keeping their end up are The Redlands Palomino Company whose fourth album, Broken Carelessly is released this week. The Palominos are a classic UK “Americana” band with a sound that ranges from pedal steel laced country songs to jangled pop and rock while remaining true to their local roots. In addition their not so secret weapon is the wonderful voice of Hannah Elton-Wall (who’s had several mentions on Blabber’n’Smoke recently as backing or harmony singer on various albums). Here she sings like an angel and is the primary songwriter while hubby Alex adds his voice to several of the songs and produces. Recorded almost live in a Methodist Chapel in rural Gloucestershire within the space of a week there’s an immediacy and intimacy to the songs that is welcoming and reflects the recording environment which took on an air of a farewell party for drummer Dan Tilbury who emigrated to Denmark immediately the recording was over.

In these Lines opens the album with the band chuckling in the studio before launching into what is an almost perfect song. Hannah Elton-Wall’s voice is buttressed by acoustic guitar before the pedal steel and some chunky guitar chording kick in. Effortlessly she sings a bitter sweet lovelorn story with the ambiguity reflected by the honeyed pedal steel of Dave Rothon and a gritty guitar solo from guest Tom Bowen. Solitary Strangers has Alex on lead vocals on another honey slide of a song with some more grit in it as it picks up momentum. While it’s not as immediate as its predecessor it has an energy which should translate well into a live performance. On a roll by now Everything I’m Not is another up-tempo sad love song fuelled by jangling guitar and mandolin with the rhythm section gently propelling it along. These three songs epitomise the Palomino experience, loping country rock with vigorous breaks from the guitarists so it’s a surprise when the title song starts off as if they were about to dive headlong into glam rock. With a riff borrowed from The Sweet (believe it or not) Hannah sings about a Palomino horse with a free spirit while Rothon attempts to temper the propulsive beat and power chords with his pedal steel. It’s a bold effort but one that requires further perusal. No qualms about Don’t Ever Let Me Down however as it’s a country laced jaunt while She Can Live Without You , written by Rothon and with Alex on vocals heads into Teenage Fanclub territory with a fine chunky power pop feel. While Alex also offers us the woozy Floorboard George that sounds as if The Felice Brothers were recording on a cider binge the high points of the album are to be found in a brace of songs towards the end. Scattered Earth recalls Emmylou Harris’s ambient style from Wrecking Ball with mallets and subdued strumming swaddling Hannah’s voice. Swim is an impressionistic canvas with Hannah as a submariner drifting at the mercy of the current as organ swells billow and wave. The Big Freeze is another atmospheric piece, the lyrics dominated by images of snow and ice with the band tobogganing along as the pedal steel curls and weaves. Hannah sounds wonderful here, gliding above the music, soaring at times. They end the album on a valedictory note with Band Song which is like a diary entry as Hannah sings of the trials, tribulations and ultimately the reasons for being in a band.

“What a stupid thing to try and make money from, but when we’re dead and gone let’s hope these songs live on, oh why do I still try, why am I standing here tonight? It’s because the pedal steel still makes me want to cry.”

Of course the pedal steel weeps throughout as they build up to the climatic chorus which is proud and defiant ending the album ultimately on a high note.

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Simone Felice. King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow. Friday 11th April 2014

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With his second solo album safely under his belt Simone Felice is rapidly conforming his status as one of the finest purveyors of Americana around these days. Fortunately (for us) he remains somewhat under the mass radar allowing audiences to see him in intimate settings such as the hallowed King Tuts, a perfect space to see and hear his shamanistic offerings. A mesmerising performer tonight he possessed a leonine grace, prowling and genuflecting, iconic at times and all the while with that voice, a pure unsullied adult choirboy, soaring to the heavens, tender, affecting. While this might lead one to believe the evening was a worshipful event the reality is that Felice balanced his arching and aching ballads with a fine and earthy dose of rock’n’roll while his rapport with the crowd was engagingly down to earth especially as he repeatedly acclaimed ( and imbibed) the local water of life, singing some songs with a whisky tumbler in hand. It was notable that after the second encore he was off stage and at the merch table before the band had finished, greeting each and all as if they were long lost friends.

Backed by cellist Gabriel Dresdale and guitarist/Dobro/mandolin player Matt Green Felice hopped between his acoustic guitar and a small drum kit throughout the set. A squall of noise from guitar and cello opened the show before New York Times showed Felice as the impassioned balladeer, pleading and plaintive, foot stompingly percussive and matching the drama of the recorded version. Bye Bye Palenville followed and when, halfway through the song, Felice moved to the drum kit to shift the song up several gears it was clear we were in for a treat as proved by a vibrant rush through Molly-O! while an infectious You & I Belong had the audience joining in on the chorus. Sublime renditions of If You Go To LA, Shaky and Radio Song followed with Felice prowling like a panther on the latter as his band mates soloed before he welcomed support act Emma Jane up to accompany him on Running Through My Head. Encoring with a crowd favourite, Wild Mountain Thyme, dedicated to cellist Dresdale’s late stepfather the band then dunked into an excellent medley of Neil Young’s Helpless and Knocking On Heaven’s Door both of which tonight seemed to have been tailor made for Felice’s voice. An excellent evening which appears to have been professionally filmed so keep an eye open for that.

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Dropkick. Homeward

It’s always nice when an old friend , someone you haven’t seen for a while, turns up and reminds you of why you’re friends in the first place. And so it is with Lothian’s Dropkick who have handed in Homeward after a two year absence. Proudly flagging a quote from The Scotsman that proclaims them Scotland’s third best band (sadly a search didn’t come up with the winner and runner up) the Taylor brother’s band are back to a five piece with Ian Grier still on keyboards and Scott Tobin( bass) and Mike Foy (drums) coming on board for what is their 12th album, perhaps giving them first place in Scotland’s most prolific band lists. While the band have released albums on Spanish and Swedish labels over the past few years they return here to their bespoke label, Taylored Records for what might amount to be their most accomplished effort to date, an album that is polished and proud outgrowing their various influences which have dotted previous album reviews.

Often compared with the likes of The Jayhawks, Wilco, Teenage Fanclub and The Pernice Brothers, Dropkick still drink from the same cup and to my mind have added some of the sonic adventures of The Boo Radleys’ Giant Steps to the mix while Andrew Taylor’s ventures into production (The Wynntown Marshals’ Long Haul) has paid dividends. The result is a multi layered collection of pure pop songs that range from pedal steel laced ballads to more baroque opuses with sumptuous keyboards and occasional studio effects.

Throughout the album the vocal harmonies are polished to a sheen but it’s the arrangements and embellishments that reel you in. Come Home opens the album with simple strummed guitars and an east coast lilt in the vocals but pretty soon a honeyed pedal steel creeps in taking one back to sun dappled Topanga Canyon Days. The discordant start and waspish synths of When It Starts however clouds this paradise before the dizzy and claustrophobic guitar buzz of Halfway Round Again, again augmented by fizzy synth along with a Strawberry Fields like coda, adds a hallucinogenic haze to the mix. Throughout the album the lyrics are somewhat opaque but for the most part seem to be about retaining relationships adding a melancholic air which is best captured on the aching organ drenched Jump Start which features a fine and gutsy guitar crunch while It’s My Life (Not Ours) burns with an ill disguised anger and slopes along with Neil Young guitar picking and some fine bass playing from Tobin while the keyboards add an air of gravitas. Rainbows is perhaps the pick here as a sole harmonica takes us into Dylan territory and Grier’s organ fills offer a glimpse of how The Band might have sounded had they hung about Edinburgh folk clubs. They close the album with a classic miniature on Carry Me Home. Acoustic guitar and piano open before a lonesome pedal steel (by guest Tim Davidson) offers an audio equivalent to the sun going down on this latest offering.

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Homeward is released on 18th April and Dropkick are playing a short tour to celebrate the release. Good news for vinyl junkies is that the album will be available on 180 gram black vinyl in full colour sleeve, with lyric insert sheet, download code and a CD digipak version of ‘Homeward’ which you can order here.

Fri 11th April @ Twa Tams, Perth. 8.30pm. Free entry. With The Galipaygos.
Thu 17th April @ Clarks on Lyndsay St, Dundee. 8pm. Free entry. With The Galipaygos.
Fri 18th April @ Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh. Doors 7pm. £5 entry. With The Galipaygos.
Sat 19th April @ The Tea Posy, High St, Dingwall. 1.30pm. Acoustic set.
Sat 19th April @ Mad Hatters/Hootenany, Inverness. 9.30pm. With The Galipaygos.

Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both Hands.

Firm favourites here at Blabber’n’Smoke Cahalen Morrison & Eli West don’t disappoint with their third release, I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both Hands. Their previous discs, The Holy Coming of The Storm and Our Lady of The Tall Trees are two of our favourite albums of the past three years inspiring quotes such as “They write songs that sound as if they have been disinterred from dusty archives” and “tales as strong as an Oak with language that seems to be hewn from ancient timber.I’ll swing My Hammer With Both Hands continues in this vein although first impressions are of a less bare boned approach on some songs with producer Tim O’Brien adding his mandolin and bouzouki to the duo’s sound along with bassist Erin Youngblood while fiddle is added by Ryan Drickey (who appeared on The Holy Coming Of The Storm) and Brittany Haas. This string band approach allows them the opportunity to have a full blown hoedown on Living In America that Bill Monroe could have been proud of while Natural Thing To Do is an excellent old time country ballad with forlorn fiddles adding a fine Hickory touch to the wearied words. The fiddle returns for the dramatic Sinner Come Home, a fire and brimstone sermon with apocalyptic imagery. Surprisingly there’s no fiddle on the opening song, Fiddlehead Fern, just the sweet interplay between Morrison and West, complementing each other perfectly and harmonising as only they can do, voices rough hewn yet beautiful. The fiddlehead fern referred to in the title is indeed a young fern shoot, cooked, somewhat like Asparagus, in parts of North America. However at the end of the album there is an instrumental reprise of the song which does indeed feature a fiddle so no need to feel short changed.

The bulk of the album allows Morrison and West to appear as they do live, Morrison playing banjo, mandolin bouzouki and Dobro, West on guitar and bouzouki (although O’Brien does beef up the sound on a few songs), with Morrison writing the songs . Again Morrison seems able to conjure up songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a scratchy 78 as Pocket Full Of Dust uses depression era language to describe a lovelorn loner while his lyrics paint vivid pictures such as ” My love’s a sparrow, she weaves a blazing thread. She flies in crimson when the sky is burning red. She sharpens like an arrow as the evening turns to rust.” James Is Out is a pleasure to listen to as their deceptively simple sounding guitar and banjo ramble and pluck while they sing a childlike vision of a rural family forced to cope on their own with a fierce family pride refusing to accept that poverty might be an issue. Down In The Lonesome Draw stands as the centrepiece of the album, a sepia toned portrait of the westward expansion, not so much Go West Young Man than the trials and tribulations of the settlers, burnt by the sun and with the promised land always one more town away, “Here’s to the great expanse, where everything is a poisonous dance.”

There are three cover songs included. H.W. Vanhoose’s Going To Live In Green Pastures ( familiar perhaps to fans of Emmylou Harris) is a fine gospel outing that allows Morrison and West to showcase their harmony singing, more so in their version of the Louvin Brothers’ Lorene as the duo are surely indebted to the Louvin’s (with the debt fully paid here). Voices of Evening comes from the pen of Alice Gerrard, another singer who drinks from the old time well. A funeral dirge to the departed it sounds as if it were recorded in a sylvan cathedral as the departed’s soul goes heavenward. Even a confirmed atheist could consider this for their own last calling card.

Suffice to say that I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both Hands is another triumph for Morrison and West. Often the PR blurbs that accompany album releases are sheer hyperbole but one instance in the one sheet that came with this speaks volumes. “An effort to touch the unknown with eyes closed and fingers wrapped around the neck of your instrument and voices raised in beautiful harmony.” Well put. Finally it’s worthwhile noting that the packaging of the CD is handsome indeed for all of those pondering if a download would suffice.
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West are touring the UK from April 30th. Dates below.

Website

Tour dates

Wed Apr 30: The Garret Sessions at Queens Head, Fyfield, Essex
Thur May 1: The Green Note, London
Fri May 2: The Workhouse, Presteigne, Powys, Mid Wales
Sat May 3: The Walker Theatre (Theatre Severn), Shrewsbury
Sun May 4: The Cross Inn, Haverfordwest, Pembs
Tues May 6: Red Rooms, Cookstown
Wed May 7: Balor Arts Centre, Ballybofey, Co Donegal
Thur May 8: Whelan’s, Dublin
Fri May 9: Baltimore Fiddle Fair, Co Cork, Ireland
Sun May 11: Caedmon Hall, Gateshead
Mon May 12: Church on the Green, Denholm
Tues May 13: House concert, Edinburgh
Wed May 14: House concert, Edinburgh
Thur May 15: Acoustic Music Club, Kirkcaldy
Fri May 16: Glenbuchat Village Hall, Aberdeenshire
Sat May 17: The CatStrand, New Galloway
Sun May 18: The Barrels Alehouse, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Simone Felice. Strangers.

felice

Where to start with this second solo album from Simone Felice, the poster boy of current Americana with a honeyed voice, great songwriting chops and a back story that could fuel several LA screenwriters for the next few years? Famously near dead on two occasions Felice transcended the (very fine) roots rock of his brotherly band in his guise as the Duke and The King before he delivered the Cri de Coeur that was his initial solo album. Two years on and he sounds less pained, not as vulnerable but as transcendent as ever.

The opening romp, Molly-O! is a fine slice of blue eyed country pop soul with the zest of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl in its DNA and sets one up for a sun kissed celebration of life. Instead we get a tremendous collection of metaphysical ruminations expertly played and always with Felice’s voice singing to the heavens. He drapes himself in a Gene Clark cloak for If You Go To LA, a banjo led and orchestrated hymn to the city of Angels which emphasises its spiritual emptiness while Running Through My Head carries on in this vein with Biblical allusions, the opening lines paraphrasing Psalm 23. Our Lady of The Gun is a powerful and visceral dissection of American calamities combining school shootings with armed forces lost in a desert war both trying to find some sense in their teachings about God and the Devil. With pummelling percussion and heavenly harmonies it comes across as a secular hymn to much that is wrong with America today.

Felice is sure footed throughout the album as he delivers the sepia toned Bye Bye Palenville and the velvety Heartland which recalls David Lynch’s trick of peeling back the white picket fence of normality revealing a dark cocaine fuelled underbelly. Finally he strips away the veneer for the initially stark Bastille Day which swells with vocal arrangements as Felice attempts to escape the turmoil with his “skin on skin” lover before the closing song The Gallows where Felice offers himself as some sort of sacrificial lamb, transcendent and ascendant. One is tempted here to wonder whether Felice suffers from some messianic complex, taking on the world’s guilt and figuring he can atone (given that he has been resurrected) but there’s no doubting the beauty of this and of the album overall. Suffice to say that Felice sings like an angel and that the songs sound heavenly. Happily enough he’s bringing the songs to the UK with a short tour. Tour dates are ;
April

Wed 2 Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
Thu 3 Leeds, Brundell Social Club
Fri 4 Bristol, Louisiana
Sat 5 Nottingham, Maze
Sun 6 Manchester, Deaf Insitute
Wed 9 Brighton, Komedia
Thu 10 London, Bush Hall
Fri 11 Glasgow, King Tuts
Sun 13 Newcastle, Cluny
Tue 15 Edinburgh, Electric Circus

Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.

Brent

Over the past few years it seems that the tsunami of talent that appears at the Folk Alliance International gathering in Kansas eventually laps up on our shores as promoters and distributers sign deals to release albums and set up tours in old Blighty. The first wave of 2014 is Mississippi’s Bronwynne Brent with her second release Stardust and if any that follow are half as good then we’re in for a treat.

The cover art portrays Brent as a flower garlanded hippie songstress with an ever so slight resemblance to Joni Mitchell back in the days. However one listen to her voice and thoughts of Mitchell fly out the window as Brent has an earthiness that forever eluded Joni’s rarefied atmosphere. Instead Brent has that seemingly untutored and effortless way of singing that borders on the idiosyncratic with the weight of emotion on its shoulders. Immensely attractive and engaging Brent’s voice is in the tradition of singers like Billie Holiday, Karen Dalton, Melanie and Alela Diane while at times there’s even a hint of the late Amy Winehouse on the more up-tempo numbers here.

The beguiling vocals are the entree to the album’s pleasures but Brent proves to have a way with words as she sings of loss and despair for the most part. The songs portray abandoned women, betrayed, trying to find some comfort in their inner worlds but condemned to relive their tragedies in their memories. It’s not a happy album but happily Brent has embroidered her words with some exceptionally fine music which ranges from the glacial folk noire of Devil Again to the rustbucket blues of Bulletproof and the tombstone Mexicana of Lay Me Down. She’s ably assisted in this by producer Johnny Sangster’s guitar skills whether it be twangy reverb or country picking while the drumstool is occupied by the unmistakeable cool of Calexico’s John Convertino, reason enough some might think to pick up the album. Add to this the presence of anther Calexico cohort, Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel on several songs and the album’s pedigree is impeccable. Well recommended.

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