Beverley Martyn. The Phoenix and the Turtle. Les Cousins Records

Remembered primarily as the late John Martyn’s wife and his musical companion on two albums in the early seventies, Beverley Martyn is the latest female folk singer to return from their wilderness years (think Vashti Bunyan, Shelagh McDonald, Linda Perhacs and Linda Thompson) with The Phoenix and the Turtle, her first release in 14 years. Although she’ll be forever linked with her ex husband (and indeed she retains his surname instead of reverting to her birth surname, Kutner) Beverley was the one first signed and recorded in the sixties, releasing singles on the Deram label but refusing to be marketed as the “UK Cher” by Denny Cordell. Instead she fell in with the folk crowd befriending Davey Graham, Bert Jansch (she’s pictured on the cover of Jansch’s 1965 album It Don’t Bother Me.) and Paul Simon with whom she went to the States, contributed to Bookends and appeared at the Monterey Pop festival. Meeting and marrying John Martyn led the pair to record as a duo with Stormbreaker, their first album being recorded in Woodstock with Levon Helm on drums followed swiftly by The Road To Ruin, both released in 1970. Thereafter Martyn forged his solo career while Beverley brought up the kids. Unfortunately it was a tempestuous relationship fraught with domestic violence eventually forcing her to flee, divorcing in 1980.

Aside from a solo album in 1998, No Frills, Martyn disappeared from the music scene. She credits producer and guitarist Mark Pavey for nurturing her return, hitching up with him in the studio after seeing his efforts to support Davie Graham in his final years. Now in her sixties Martyn’s voice shows signs of wear and tear however anyone who remembers her clarion voice on Sweet Honesty or Auntie Aviator all those years ago will still recognise her here. An autobiographical collection of sorts the album is comprised of songs gathered by Martyn throughout her career from folk blues with her first jug band, The Levee Breakers up to more recent songs that show she still revisits her time with her errant spouse.

The album kicks off with a song that has been somewhat newsworthy over the past few weeks, billed as a new and previously unrecorded Nick Drake song, Reckless Jane. The Martyn’s befriended Drake (with Solid Air generally considered to be a tribute to him) and Beverley co-wrote this song with Drake “as a bit of a joke.” That it takes pole position might be a canny marketing ploy while its languorous guitar and piano with Robert Kirby styled string arrangement certainly pitch for the Drake audience but aside from all of that its a handsome song and Martyn carries it off well. Potter’s Blues is much more Martyn’s song as she sings about and around Dennis Potter’s play Blue Remembered Hills introducing the concept of nostalgia and remembrance to the album. A sturdy modern folk song it wouldn’t be out of place on Dylan’s Time Out of Mind album as Martyn sings with the voice of experience and regret, a great song. She next dives into the past with Going To Germany, a Gus Cannon song she sang back in the sixties. Unfortunately her voice isn’t as flexible as it used to be and as a result the song suffers as does her other foray into her jug band past on Levee Breaks with the band stumbling on their take of the blues which is somewhat stilted. Sweet Joy was the first song Martyn recorded and here she sounds just a little bit like her contemporary Marianne Faithfull while the song is a neat snapshot of mid sixties folk innocence.

Women & Malt Whisky points the finger at her husband’s demons as Martyn recalls the good and bad times with a resigned air that can match Mary Gauthier, if the Coen brothers ever decide to make a movie on the sixties UK folk scene then their soundtrack starts here. The album closes with the most upbeat number, Jesse James, which is tempting to suppose is again about John as Beverley sings that she loves his face but recognises the danger he poses.

All in all The Phoenix & The Turtle (named after a Shakespeare poem on the death of an ideal love) is a well crafted album that should be welcomed by all who lend an ear to the UK folk legacy from the sixties with Beverley Martyn proving to be a survivor who still has things to say.

Website

Birds of Chicago. Live From Space

J.T. Nero and Alison Russell’s Birds of Chicago album was one of the best releases of last year capturing the pair in top form vocally as they wrapped their soulful voices around their excellent songs. Live from Space offers listeners the opportunity to hear the live experience as Nero and Russell, with a five piece band behind them, heave into Evanston, Illinois what must have been a doozie of a night. Recorded warts and all with no overdubs the first impression one has that there are no warts on show, the songs flow, the musicians rise to the occasion and the singing is as well done as in the studio, at times it’s hard to recall that this is a live album. Second impression however is that much of what we hear does not add to the studio recordings and the lack of introductions, tuning, glitches (there must have been at least one) means that there is a somewhat sterile air to the affair. This isn’t Live At Leeds or Kick Out The Jams.

Having said that the album is a delight from start to finish and there are moments when the spirit of the evening is captured with Prairie Lullaby standing out with its loose limbed canter, guitar jabs and tootling clarinet almost adding to a mini jam towards the end of the song. It’s a lengthy album, 76 minutes and 17 songs long and it does ebb and flow much like a live show would. There’s a definite peak six songs in with the aforementioned Prairie Lullaby followed by a superb Mountains/Forests that does gain from the live setting with Nero’s vocals impassioned as he strains to let the words tumble out. The best is kept to the end as the band whip themselves (and the audience) into a mild frenzy. Fever Dream‘s driving bass line develops into a powerful soul stew with a Booker T and the MGs’ urgency as Nero and Russell spar on vocals like Inez and Charlie Foxx. Trampoline gets a soul makeover, losing some of its original sunny disposition but gaining a solid soul groove.

Live From Space is a snapshot of a particular night and as such it does its job. Nero and Russell are the core, the heart and soul of the band and as the sleeve notes say they appear as a duo, trio, a quartet and occassionally, the “Cadillac edition,” seven strong. This is the Cadillac show and its unlikely to appear on these shores so the album is an essential for fans of the band. For newbies it might be best to start with last years album

They’re appearing in the UK this month and next as a four piece we believe, dates below
APRIL – UK
Thurs 24 Portsmouth The Square Tower
Fri 25 Whitstable The Royal Native Oyster Stores
Sat 26 Lewes The Elephant & Castle
Sun 27 Birmingham The Kitchen Garden Café
Tues 29 Hempstead, nr. Saffron Walden The Bluebell Inn
Weds 30 London Green Note
MAY – Ireland & N. Ireland
Fri 2 Dundalk Vantastival
Sat 3 Enniskillen Ardhowen Theatre
Mon 5 Dingle, Co. Kerry McCarthy’s Bar, Féile na Bealtaine Music & Arts Festival
Thurs 8 Clonmel, Co. Tipperary Raheen House Hotel
Fri 9 Galway Monroe’s co-headline with Liam Ó Maonlaí
Sat 10 Ballybofey, Co. Donegal Balor Arts Centre
Sun 11 Dublin Whelan’s
Mon 12 Ballymore Eustace Mick Murphy’s
Tues 13 Kildare Cunningham’s

Website

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.

website

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

tut felice

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.

website

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.

website

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