Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer. The Flower Of Muscle Shoals. Free Dirt Records.

Regular readers will know that Blabber’nSmoke are huge admirers of Cahalen Morrison and Eli West whose three albums have been superb bare boned distillations of what one might call the high church of Americana. Their pure and simple sound of acoustic instruments allied with lonesome voices recalls the pioneers of country music and the land around them. Tradition just about sums them up (while at the same time selling them short as they are as current as any of the big Nashville hitters). Cahalen Morrison continues in this vein with this offshoot release, The Flowers Of Muscle Shoals, recorded with his band Country Hammer. While Morrison & West are rustic, hewn from the ground, here Morrison moves into the city and finds that musicians are plugging in, adding some swing, finding honky tonks to play in, adding some Western to his Country. It still sounds as old as the hills but this time the audience are not on a back porch, more likely they’d be huddled around a radio catching static and occasional Grand Old Opry airwaves. The Carter Family have given way to Hank Williams.

Morrison is ably assisted in this venture by the magnificent Country Hammer, a country super group of sorts with Jim Miller and Rob Adesso on Telecaster and harmony vocals, Ethan Lawton on drums, Mary Maass on fiddle, Country Dave Harmonson on pedal steel and Michael Connolly on bass and accordion. Together they offer tear jerking ballads such as Through Your Window which limps along as if it’s four in the morning and the band are still playing for the last couple on the dance floor rebounding from the earlier fiddle led heartache of Over And Over And Over Again and the desolate I’ve Won Every Battle And Lost Every War, a magnificent lament. There’s more heartache albeit with a jauntier step on Sorrow Lines The Highway Of Regret, some Honky Tonk heaven here and they continue in this sweet and sour vein with the rousing Our Love Is Like A Hurricane, fiddles flying and guitars fatbacking in the best Western Swing tradition. Morrison’s vocals are stained with a sepia soak, at times recalling the late Levon Helm, and when they launch into the Cajun influenced San Luis one could be forgiven for thinking this is a Band outtake.

Essentially The Flower Of Muscle Shoals is one of the best albums we’ve heard this year and it is heartily recommended.

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Referendum Blues

Seems to me that the UK is like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. England Ireland and Wales were all getting along but needed some oomph. So Scotland was invited to add some bite and fire. Although the others had flashes of brilliance it was Scotland who revved up the engine. Spectacularly successful at first, world dominion, empire and all, Scotland began to chafe against the others, aware it had so much more to offer. So, eat a peach Better Together. We might be heading for the ditch but it’s much more interesting there.

Ash Gray. Once I Got Burned.

Our recent Indian summer was an opportunity to listen to some “sunny” music and going through some CDs I noticed that Texan Ash Gray’s debut album was still in the pending file with its release date well and truly missed. Fuzzy recollections of a first listen to the album were of some shining pedal steel, reason enough to bang it back into the CD player and give it another go. Fortunately a fine decision as Gray’s songs are of a sunny type, not so much in the lyrics but the winsome acoustic guitars, the deceptively care free delivery and, yes, some shining pedal steel is definitely the sort of music you would want wafting around as you laze on a porch or in a garden sipping something cool and with the sun shining late last week we did just that.

Of course there’s little point in recommending a summer album just as we head into the darker nights but this isn’t the Beach Boys and Gray’s light tenored voice and the overall excellence of the majority of the songs here are just as well savoured indoors particularly the honky tonk styled Whiskey Down and the beguiling Needlecase which comes across somewhat like a meet up between Ray Davies and Neil Young. There’s some power pop brashness on 55 which recalls Tom Petty’s early offerings with jangling guitars galore while Waiting For The World sashays between cantina culture (courtesy of some very fine acoustic guitar from Paul Caruso) and portent with its Dylanesque lyrics.

The opening title song is another poetic piece stuffed full of fiery imagery but Gray really gets into gear with the following Two Lane Blacktop, a ramshackle ride of a song that has the looseness and vibrancy of Uncle Tupelo as the guitars corkscrew their way through a classic road song. Santa Fe Sound on the other hand swells with the aforementioned pedal steel soaring over and around the vocals with Nina Murphy harmonising with Gray. There’s a folky element to Fiddler’s Son which showcases Gray’s own fretwork as sparks fly from his acoustic guitar in a manner reminiscent of Bert Jansch, a feat repeated on the country blues of Black Muddy Woman where again his guitar playing stands out.

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Santa Fe Sand

And here’s a video from a few years ago

The Stray Birds. Fallen Angels Club. Glasgow CCA. Thursday 11th September.

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Glasgow welcomed the Pennsylvania roots trio The Stray Birds last night with the band riding high on the news that they’ve been signed onto the roster at Yep Roc records who will release their second full length album, Best Medicine, in October. Their appearance at Celtic Connections earlier this year was one of CC’s highlights and tonight they basically repeated their set from back then but as the old adage goes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They’ve obviously racked up some serious fans with song requests galore throughout the set and had it not been for the auditorium set up I’m sure there would have been some serious jigging going on. If nothing else their simple set up, Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven on various instruments (banjo, fiddle and guitar) with Charles Muench the anchor on double bass works beautifully with all three well attuned to each other and well capable of kicking up a veritable shitstorm when required. Lead vocals revolved throughout the night with each taking the spotlight in turn as the others offered their harmonies leaning into a single voice mic. A veritable holy trinity of string band excellence.

While their stirring instrumentals such as Give That Wildman a Knife/Bellow’s Falls/Waiting on a Hannah fired up the crowd and Muench’s sly delivery of Make Me A Pallet On The Floor and Blue Yodel No. 7 where expertly staged the band showed that they have the song writing chops to distinguish them from the many other string band revivalists around these days. Dream In Blue and Harlem showcased de Vitry, sultry and down-home while Craven’s tribute to The Stanley Brothers and the loam of his land, My Brother’s Hill was somewhat breathtaking while he cod confessed to murky misdemeanours on No Part Of Nothing, a fine slice of old time bravado. Best Medicine, the title song from the forthcoming album bodes well for the band as de Vita commanded attention on a paean to old-fashioned record stores that could be seen as a musical equivalent to the loss of Sam The Lion in The Last Picture Show. Despite the sense of loss in the song it seems that the new album will be available on vinyl so there’s some hope therefore that at the very least The stray Birds might have a Technicolor moment.

The new album is availabe to preorder here

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Girls Guns And Glory. Good Luck/ Sarah Borges. Radio Sweetheart. Lonesome day Records.

Boston band Girls Guns And Glory are one of those hard working, hard touring bands who are the bedrock of roots rock in the US. Stolid and dependable they’re probably not going to set the world on fire but their past releases have been fine slabs of roots country rock and with Good Luck, produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, they’ve come up with their most adventurous album so far. Years of touring have been the equivalent of daily workouts at the gym with the band now toned and able to rip out country, rock and blues while barely breaking sweat in a similar fashion to the likes of Jason And The Scorchers in their heyday.

The ten songs here are all top notch cuts. Delivered with a swagger and, on occasion, some ferocity they range from the halting ballad One of These Days to the switchblade blues of Built For Speed which recalls The Fabulous Thunderbirds. C’Mon Honey is a turbo charged Eddie Cochrane meets the Ramones thrash while while It’s Your Choice gets all Springsteen on the listener as the band rev up and show off their muscles. There’s more muscle on the horn driven Be Your Man and a time trip to the greasy fifties on Shake Like Jello which features an absurdly deranged guitar solo. The stand out cut is the opening song, All The Way Up To Heaven, a multi layered country rock song that marries acoustic and electric instruments and trots along wonderfully.

Good Luck is a fine album that benefits from listening with the sound turned way up with Ambel’s production capturing the band’s sound. It’s tempting to guess what they sound like live and fortunately (for some folk) Girls Guns And Glory have a short UK tour coming up in October although there are no dates north of the border. That’s a real pity as they are touring with fellow Bostonian and now label mate Sarah Borges who also has a new album out. Radio Sweetheart is Borges’ solo debut following the breakup of her backing band The Broken Singles and was originally crowd funded before Lonesome Day Records picked it up. Borges is an Americana femme fatale with a fantastic voice and a fine sense of the melodrama of Roy Orbison and his twilight cousins as imagined by David Lynch, she’s like the older and more “experienced” sister of Neko Case. Radio Sweetheart, despite the loss of The Broken Singles is another hard hitting rock swoon with tons of twang guitar, one foot in the fifties, one foot in the future. It smacks you in the head like a gutter punk hanging outside an off license, slicked hair and menace trying to bum a drink.

Produced by Steve Berlin, Radio Sweetheart belies its retrograde faux fifties Technicolor cover art as Borges instead dives into neon dreams and nightmares for the most part. There are some uplifting songs such as The Waiting And The Worry, a sprightly and tightly arranged pop song that is delivered with a heavy nod to NRBQ to the extent that Terry Adams plays piano on it. NRBQ’s quirky take on melody and rhythm surfaces again on the reverb drenched and skewed bar room swing of Heavy Dreams, a cover of a Lloyd Price song where Borges adds some oomph to the nth degree with her gutsy voice up front as guitars buzz with an exhilarating sense of menace. There’s a sassy southern rock come on on Girl With A Bow and a rare tenderness, albeit with an edge, on the title song but the best moments here are when gutsy guitar and gusty vocal collide. Think Of What You’ve Done approaches Muscles Shoals level soul drama while there’s a mighty clusterfuck on Mind On Me and Hands On Knees is muscular as hell.

Borges is touring with Girls Guns and Glory in October. Dates here

Daniel Meade. Long Gone Wrong/ Help Me Tonight

Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Daniel Meade when he played a fine set in support of Sturgill Simpson at Glasgow’s Admiral Bar back in February. He was impressive, a Woody Guthrie meets Guy Clark sort of guy dressed in mod threads. His encounter with Simpson was fortuitous as the Kentucky singer, riding high on reviews of his tremendous Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, took a shine to Mr. Meade with the end result being that he and his compadre Lloyd Reid were invited to act as the defacto Simpson band on the man’s next UK tour playing some illustrious dates. Next month Simpson’s bringing his own band over for his next tour but faithfully has Meade supporting him on these gigs.

In the interim Meade’s been busy with an opportunity to record in Nashville and the first fruits of this have been unveiled on a download single available from this week. The results confirm that Meade has his finger firmly on the pulse of classic rootsy country folk with both songs impressive indeed.

Long Gone Wrong is a classic rockabilly thrash in the original sense. No turbo charged twang guitar here but rollicking fiddle and harmonica, dynamite piano, scrubbed guitars and Jordonaires like hollers add up to a fine collision of Lonnie Donegan and Joe Ely. It’s raucous and it rocks like a wildcat. Help Me Tonight is the flip side of the coin (and the record) as Meade visits saloon bar territory with tacky piano stuttering along to this wearied love song that is graced by the addition of the wonderful Diana Jones who duets with Meade on a song that stands tall against comparisons to the great country duets with an antebellum feel and a sepia stained sound. Hopefully there’s more of this to come.

Daniel Meade Facebook

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Adam Cohen. We Go Home. Cooking Vinyl.

Cards on the table straight away. Adam Cohen is the son of Leonard Cohen. Might not be fair to instantly tar him with this association but Adam seems happy to remind folk of it throughout the album with allusions to Hallelujah and First We Take Manhattan in his lyrics and what appears to be a picture of an infant Adam with dad on the rear cover. So primed, the listener is on the lookout for similarities and there are moments here and there when Adam does recall Leonard vocally but more so in mannerism and delivery. Unlike fellow travellers, Rufus and Martha Wainright and Teddy Thompson, Cohen junior was in his late thirties before he made a mark on the world. His early recordings were unheralded and a serious crash derailed him for a while before he left music aside for several years. 2011’s Like A Man however saw him accept and embrace his paternal lineage and was well received. We Go Home is much in the same vein, and casting all thoughts of the father aside for a moment it stands up well on its own two feet but ultimately there’s no denying that Adam is following in Leonard’s footsteps.

The songs are for the most part simply arranged, acoustic guitar or piano with minimal rhythm section, a female chorus and occasional strings. The more successful songs are those delivered with the minimum of melodrama, Cohen seems to like dynamic changes in melody and mood and this leads to a song like Love Is where he comes across like a tasered Neil Diamond. Fortunately this is a one off and he manages to curtail the drama of What Kind Of Woman to an acceptable level although he ends up sounding like dad circa New Skin For The Old Ceremony.

As we said his simpler melodies are the best and the opening Song Of You And Me is a warm and affectionate paean to love while Too Real is a very fine love song that hovers between Dobro flavoured country funk and string adorned confessional. We Go Home is an up tempo sing-along number with scrubbed guitar and catchy chorus that perks up the album before Put Your Bags Down weighs in, one of the more portentous numbers here and begging to be considered as an offloading of emotional baggage. So Much To Learn is sprightlier, an attractive and simple acceptance of his heritage and so much the better for it while Fall Apart directly addresses the father-son relationship Cohen has experienced and here he offers a finely tuned summary of his life in an attractive setting with a fine degree of acceptance on a song that would sound fine on a Bill Callahan album, quite lovely. Cohen signs off with the short and simple Boats, a string fuelled miniature that throws up the notion that this album could more accurately have been titled A Voyage Round My Father.

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