Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard. Roberto Cassani. Man Flu

A couple of idiosyncratic Scottish releases here which run the gamut from pauky, almost gallows, humour to broad pastiche. Dumb Instrument are an Ayrshire troupe who apply a wonderful kaleidoscopic background to Tom Murray’s defiantly Scots voice which veers more towards King Creosote than The Proclaimers. Deadpan, insouciant, Murray almost croons his way through the songs which capture the dogged, world worn, stoical and “get it up ye” spirit of the West of Scotland male. Be it the presumed perennial question of Buckfast Vs. Hash, The battle Continues with its lounge jazz louche or the song proposed by the Daily Record as an alternative anthem, Suffering From Scottishness, which has a glorious widespread musical vista with sweeping piano and winsome harmonica as Murray paints a picture as vivid and gritty as a James Kelman novel. Elsewhere Remember Now opens with a lengthy instrumental passage with some fine keening pedal steel and spritely mandolin before Murray launches into a portrait of a lustful lass in her finery. Jealous Of The Junkies transports Tom Waits to somewhere like Coatbridge ( and apologies to Coatbridge here, ’twas the first name that cropped up) while The Savoy Cabbage Murderer is an absurdist look at vegetarianism and No-One Knows what It’s Like To be Me stomps along like a Caledonian Harry Nilsson. A favourite of ours is the fairground themed Five against One but the real deal is on the heart rending Missing Grannies where Murray is supported by a female harmony on a tender and nostalgic window into the past, almost like an Oscar Marzaroli picture set to music. The Silent Beard is an album that reflects such luminaries as Michael Marra, Ivor Cutler and much of the Fence Collective. It’s drenched in a Scottishness that discards kailyard nonsense and joins forces with the current revaluation of the nation in a sense. Aside from that it’s a great listen.
Dumb Instrument are in Glasgow this Friday at Steampunk Cafe, Aug 7th : The Tron Kirk, Edinburgh while Dumb Instrument will jointly headline The Verb Tent at Belladrum on Saturday 9th August with Roberto Cassani and playwright Hamish MacDonald in a Show called ‘Not The Referendum’. On Stage at 11.30pm.

In contrast Roberto Casssani & The Tickety Two are a much more one dimensional act with their tongue set firmly in their cheek. Cassani plays double bass and is joined by the ubermeister of Scottish guitar licks, Owen Nicholson with Dave Clelland on drums. Cassani writes comic songs, singing with an Italian accent while the trio as a whole are spot on with the music. No slouch on double bass himself Cassani surely won’t mind us pointing out that Nicholson’s guitar parts are the bees knees as he vamps, riffs, plucks and grooves in the manner of the best jazz guitarists. The trio set up makes for some fine listening and Cassani’s humour reminds one of the great late Slim Gaillard with a dash of Louis Prima although the ghost of Joe Dolce threatens to appear on some of the more pronounced Italian parodies. The humour is broad based, think of seaside postcards as they were celebrated by George Orwell, but a few of the songs hit the mark with Office Christmas Party in particular already lined up for this year’s festive celebrations. It’s probably best to view the disc as a fine souvenir for anyone who enjoyed a live show from this combo.

Arthur Brown – Zim Zam Zim and Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat…Spirit Of Satch.

60’s psychedelia was not all flowers and love. The strange brews cooked up by blissed out old rockers often had their musical roots reflected and distorted in a purple haze with all the trippings added. Thus Arthur Brown became an acid version of Screaming Jay Hawkins as The God of Hellfire and Mac Rebennack delved into New Orleans voodoo emerging as Dr. John The Night Tripper. Five decades later they’re still making records with Rebennack a grand old man of rootsy New Orleans music while Brown has all but disappeared from sight although he retains a rabid core following.

Zim Zam Zim is Arthur Brown’s first album in almost a decade and he’s revived his original band moniker of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown for the first time in yonks. Zim Zam Zim is posited as a concept album of sorts charting the adventures of the Zim Zam Zim character and you can read more about this on Brown’s website. Unfortunately for the uninitiated it reads as a somewhat garbled mixture of ecological Gaia pleadings with a large dash of Hawkwind like hippie sci-fi scenarios thrown in for good measure. Suffice to say that if you’re not inclined to go down this path and just want to enjoy some demented Tom Waits’ like junkyard blues with a sonorous vocal delivery then Brown delivers in spades. Youngsters might listen to this and throw up but Brown’s fans will lap it up (not the youngsters’ vomit, the music) while those of us old enough to remember Brown setting fire to his head on Top of the Pops can have a wallow in some nostalgia. There are a few hippy dippy ballads but the tribal thunderings of the title song and the sleazy beat noire of The Unknown clatter along finely while Muscle Of Love is a hypnotic tantric hymn to sex as the horn section parps over slinky rain stained fluorescent guitar lines. Junkyard Love is a rattling bones blues rap that is Waitsian in its delivery and tropical fever awaits in the C. W. Stoneking like Jungle Fever complete with animal sound effects. Overall it’s great fun to listen to as one admires the 72 year old brown for sticking to his guns.

Dr. John’s SKe-Dat-De-Dat…Sprit Of Satch, a celebration of Louis Armstrong gathers together 13 songs related to Satchmo with a host of guests including Bonnie Raitt, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Terence Blanchard and Arturo Sandoval. On paper this probably seemed a winner and there are moments when Rebennack locks into a fine Crescent City groove as on his version of Mack The Knife, unfortunately halfway through there’s a rap section which to these ears is somewhat out of place and throughout the album the nod or need to inject a contemporary aspect jars. Mack is on fine form vocally with his immediately recognisable easy drawl as welcome as ever but ultimately his presence is lost among the guest singers, the smooth jazz lite funk arrangements and ultimately the lack of any recognition of Armstrong’s early pioneering work. A pity really.

Listen to Dr. John here

Camper van Beethoven. El Camino Real. Freeworld.

Almost 30 years since Take The Skinheads Bowling alerted the world to the peculiar genius that is David Lowery he’s still going strong and while Cracker have been silent on the recording front recently Camper Van Beethoven have been busy celebrating their home state, California, firstly on last year’s La Costa Perdita and now on El Camino Real. Lowery says of the albums
“Last year Camper Van Beethoven released La Costa Perdida (loosely “the lost coast”) which is a set of songs about Northern California (see Northern California Girls or Come Down the Coast as examples). This year Camper Van Beethoven releases the companion piece to this album “El CaminoReal.” This time the album thematically focuses on Southern California and Baja California. The best way to look at the new album is to draw a contrast between the two. On La Costa Perdida the ocean is calm, benevolent and feminine; on El Camino Real the sea is “filled with darkness, secrets and chemicals.””

Lowery expands on several songs on the album on his blog 300 songs but suffice to say here that El Camino Real reflects the polyglot nature of California and in particular Los Angeles, a huge melting pot of conflicting cultures, needs and aspirations that threatens to blow from time to time. The music reflects this with the Camper Van folk cranking up the guitars as Lowery sings of vets suffering from PTSD, Portuguese fishermen turning to drug running after the fish stocks run out and lavish parties hosted by Columbian drug barons and attended by arrivistes, rock stars and hustlers with bush fires the main entertainment.

The album opens with a classic slice of Lowery in The Ultimate Solution as spiralling guitars and twisted violin spur his vision of an LA on the edge of disaster with the LAPD adopting gang culture. The remainder of the first half of the album is in a similar vein with It Was Like that When We Got Here a muscular romp that ends with a guitar smorgasbord and Camp Pendelton punches in with a meaty bass pulse and duelling guitar while Dockweiler Beach is a mutant secret agent man theme tune. Sugartown (which could be track one, side two if this were vinyl) breaks the mould as the band break out the acoustic instruments but I Live in LA pokes its nose into Cracker territory with its lead guitar snaking away over the claustrophobic cluttered instrumentation. There’s a shimmering instrumental in Goldbase (Lowery’s attempt to write a SoCal Albatross?) before Darken Your Door heads into country rock territory, a typically sardonic take from Lowery on the genre while Grasshopper closes the album in fine fashion as a young gringo gets enmeshed in Mexican shenanigans.

El Camino Real is Camper van Beethoven on top form, well past the college humour of their early days and delivering an album that can be seen as a concept of sorts but which stands up proudly as a great collection of great songs.

Buzz Cason Radio Session on ResonanceFM

Today Bonanza & Son Revue on ResonanceFM have a live session and interview with a true living legend Mr Buzz Cason. The show will air live at 4:30pm (UK time) when Buzz will play songs from his latest LP ‘Troubadour Heart’ ‘ plus some blasts from the past.

Buzz has had an incredible career having worked with them all. He was a founding member of The Casuals, Nashville’s first rock and roll band. He toured with The Crickets and went on to have huge success as a songwriter including the worldwide smash hit ‘Everlasting Love’. You’re only as good as your most recent album of course and Buzz’ brand new album ‘Troubadour Heart’, which has just been released on Plowboy Records, is one of our favourite albums of the year thus far and is a real gem of a record mixing Country, Blues, Rock ‘n ‘Roll and even Punk and New Wave! This is the first time Buzz has been to the UK for over ten years so we are very excited and honoured to have both an exclusive live session and a series of intimate gigs.

Buzz has also written songs for and had songs covered by Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, Merle Haggard Haggard, The Judds, The Doobie Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Olivia Newton-John and even The Beatles. Buzz has worked with them all and can even boast backing singer credits with Elvis Presley and Kenny Rogers.
Be sure to tune in to Bonanza & Son on ResonanceFM on Wednesday 23rd July at 4:30PM (UK time). Tune in on 104.4FM in London or http://www.resonancefm.com

Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard.

The name gives it away really. Norrie McCulloch, couldn’t come from anywhere else but Scotland , Ayrshire we believe. The voice also has a hint of the auld nation about it without being over obvious in a Proclaimers fashion. However McCulloch is another ( and in this case exemplary) case of local artists diving into the pool of Americana music and coming back up with a handful of treasure featuring twangy guitars, banjos and pedal steel dredged from the deep. Armed thus McCulloch adorns his UK folk influences to deliver a very fine hybrid indeed.

Recorded with Angus Braid on electric and steel guitars, Marco Rea & Stuart Kidd from Glasgow’s The Wellgreen and multi instrumentalist Dave McGowan of Teenage Fanclub / Lightships McCulloch hits pay dirt immediately with the first cut, Call Me Home. The smooth undulating guitar that floats over gliding pedal steel and a slow steady beat immediately brings to mind Fairport Convention back before they caught the trad folk bug and Meet On The Ledge was their signature tune. With McCulloch’s weathered vocals on top it’s a winner and reason enough to give the album a listen. Fortunately the remainder of the album offers several other gems, some folk, some country, with Branded opening with a Richard Thompson like guitar flourish while Wrong heads into Nashville West territory with Clarence White guitar twanging. Helen is a ringer for some of Guy Clark’s early work, a fine dust stained Dobro fuelled ballad before Hardline’s heat haze floats into view almost knocking Call Me Home off of its perch as the best song here. It opens with a sublime pedal steel keening away before acoustic guitar stumbles into view allowing the song to amble along in its restrained glory. Praise indeed but listen to the song and deny that it could easily sit alongside the best of the Eagles or Poco back in the days.

Rex is a fine country skiffle which paves the way for another belter in the shape of the title song which ripples with shimmering guitar and pedal steel as McCulloch buries his memories of an old car in fine fashion before it’s back to 1969 for Too Far Gone. The addition of piano here adds a stately air and a whiff of Witchseason productions with the young John Martyn the template as opposed to Fairport Convention. Losing Hand is simply a wallow in a wonderful sound with the pedal steel paramount and the album ends with a fine Stray Gators laidback country vibe on Still Looking For You.

All in all Old Lovers Junkyard is an absurdly well assured album of excellent country and folk flavoured songs that deserve further hearing. Iain Anderson on Radio Scotland has picked up on it and so should you. You can catch Norrie McCulloch at next weekend’s Southern Fried festival in Perth where he’s playing at the (free) outdoor stage on Saturday afternoon. In the meantime you really should buy this album.

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The Howlin’ Brothers. Trouble. Continental Rose

It’s always nice to get an album to review that doesn’t require much dissection allowing instead for 40 minutes of unalloyed wallowing in Mississippi mud with banjos and fiddles flailing away as the band whirl around the Southern States whippin’ up a deal of fun. The Howlin’ Brothers’ Trouble is just such a beast with the Nashville based trio scraping and scrapping their way through old time music with dashes of country, Cajun, and blues in their particular brand of seasoning. Produced by Brendan Benson (of Raconteurs fame) and with guest appearances by Ricky Skaggs and Mike Fried Trouble comes across almost as a Ry Cooder soundtrack with each of the songs worthy of scoring a scene in the likes of Southern Comfort, The Border or The Lost Riders and on one occasion (Pack Up Joe) harking back to the groundbreaking bluegrass accompaniment for Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. There’s actually a concept of sorts I think with woman trouble at the heart of it judging by some of the lyrics and the intriguing map of a woman’s heart included in the liner note but the overall breadth of the album more than anything reminds me of the early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band who slipped from country to Cajun to blues without pausing for breath.

So the album is steeped in American music traditions but the delivery more than does this justice with the songs leaping from the speakers and grabbing the listener by the feet demanding recognition. There’s a fine sense of familiarity to some of them with Hard Times borrowing a tune from Cocaine Blues while Louisiana brings forth memories of the original Holy Modal Rounders (without their zaniness). With the exception of the “country dub” song Love which jars somewhat in the midst of its siblings each and every one of the songs here is a cracker. Put It Down is a call and response old time rag tune while Boogie is a risqué funky country blues. Night and Day has a devilish slide guitar as the band zip along before the comforting “jolieness ” of the gumbo soaked Monroe with its zydeco allure . World Spinning Round is solid country tears and beers with lonesome fiddle and weeping pedal steel on a song worthy of Willie Nelson. Troubled Waltz continues in the Nelson vein with its saloon piano familiar to anyone who has heard Spirit while a gnarled guitar spurts and stammers proving this to be the highlight of the album. A seventies breeze blows through the lilting Sing A Sad Song which recalls the Texas troubadours of the early outlaw movement while the band end the album with a revivalist clap happy Gospel refrain on Yes I Am before the tent shuts up for the night.

As we said at the beginning the songs don’t need to be interpreted, this album’s not aimed at the head however it’s guaranteed to have your soul uplifted and feet a tappin’.

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Richard Thompson. Acoustic Classics. Proper Records.

Universally regarded as one of the finest songwriters and guitar players of his generation Richard Thompson‘s latest release, Acoustic Classics, is just that, Thompson and his acoustic guitar revisiting some of his greatest songs from the past four decades. According to the man himself “I really wanted something that would reflect the acoustic shows but we didn’t have anything like that, Just some old, slightly scratchy recordings of solo sets that I wasn’t really happy with.” The result is a corker that should gladden the heart of any Thompson supporter as his excellent fretwork sparks fireworks throughout the 14 songs here while he is in very fine voice especially on the sizzling retooled 1952 Vincent Black Lightning which outstrips the ’91 original on Rumour And Sigh in terms of passion and fire.

It’s easy to compare a song like 1952 Black Vincent Lightning to the original as back then Thompson recorded it solo. The opening song, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight is a different beast with the original so firmly fixed in the psyche. Originally sung by Thomson’s then wife, Linda, and with a brass band arrangement ornamenting the Bash Street folk rock beat it remains one of his best known songs. However Thompson has been delivering this song for nigh on thirty years and here it makes a punchy album opener as he rips through it giving it a tough masculine bravado missing from the original while the guitar break is a welter of bass strings and lead picking, indeed his guitar playing intrigues and delights throughout with perhaps the best heard on Wall Of Death although the delicate Persuasion recalls the work of Bert Jansch on Rosemary Lane.

The album above all stands as testimony to Thompson’s status as a songwriter as he regales the listener with classics such as From Galway To Graceland, Walking On A Wire, Down Where The Drunkards Roll, Shoot Out The Lights, Beeswing and Dimming Of The Day. All magnificent and while this reviewer pulled out vinyl albums, CDs ( and a cassette) to listen again to the originals it was noted that they sat amongst a slew of other, just as vital, songs leading one to think that the only complaint one could level at this release was that it wasn’t a boxed set of Thompson originals reimagined though him and his guitar. And if you haven’t heard From Galway To Graceland before treat yourself to one of the best ever songs about the “King” below.
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