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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The Hot Seats touring this month.

Regular visitors should know that Blabber’n’Smoke rates Richmond, Virginia’s Hot seats very highly. Their album are always great but live they just kill. They’re in the UK next week for a short tour with the majority of the dates in Scotland. Press release and dates below.

“A band that has appeared at just about every major festival in the UK, Virginian livewires The Hot Seats, return to these shores later this month for their sixth tour here.
The hot five-piece will be one of the main attractions at this year’s Summertyne Americana Festival at The Sage in Gateshead, and have a string of other dates, mainly in Scotland this time around, where fans will get a chance to hear blistering new material from a brand new album – their eighth. That gets its official release as soon as they arrive on these shores.
The Hot Seats have gathered praise following performances at big events such as Celtic Connections, Didmarton Bluegrass Festival, Maverick Festival, HebCeltFest and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where they picked up the biggest accolade possible – a Herald Angel – for their outstanding contribution to the event following a sell-out run at The Famous Spiegeltent.
They were widely recognised as one of the outstanding acts at last year’s Shetland Folk Festival, their fiery brand on blistering Appalachian old-time mixed with left of centre bluegrass and a sprinkling of their own compositions winning them loads of attention.

Frontman Josh Bearman, a multi-instrumentalist, like several of his sidekicks, said they were delighted to be heading back to areas of Scotland they have visited and enjoyed previously.
“It’s great to play on the big festival stages, but we love it too, whenever we get a chance to take our music into the more intimate performance spaces,” he said.
“We are playing at three UK festivals this year, as well as returning to some smaller clubs and halls, so the balance is just how we like it.”

The band started out fine-tuning their skills on the redneck bars and college clubs circuit where they experimented with a suitcase-full of assorted toys to supplement the guitar/mandolin/banjo/fiddle/bass line-up, employing everything from jawharp to washboard, tin can percussion and vintage trap-kit drum set.

Their original music is simultaneously hard to classify and instantly identifiable, combining the virtuosic soloing and tightness of bluegrass, the band-driven rhythm of old time, the jerky bounce of ragtime, and the swagger of good old rock and roll.”

Thurs 17: Music on The Marr Festival, Brampton
Fri 18: The Border Club, Hawick
Sat 19: SummerTyne Festival, Gateshead (afternoon – 3pm) – (evening) Coldingham Village Hall
Sun 20: The Corn Exchange, Biggar
Tues 22: The Steeple Hall, Kilbarchan
Thurs 24: Universal Hall, Findhorn
Fri July 25: Glenbuchat Hall, Aberdeenshire
Sat 26: The Salmon Bothy, Portsoy
Sun 27: Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine
Wed 30: Eastgate Theatre, Peebles
Thurs 31: Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline
Fri Aug 1: The Grapes, Stranraer

Melissa Ruth & The Likely Stories. Riding Mercury. Both Ears Records.

Back at the beginning of 2013 Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Melissa Ruth‘s Ain’t No Whiskey and found it very appealing. The album was almost two years old by then and only making it across the pond but her deep throated delivery of beer stained laments and frisky Tennessee Three like jaunts was mighty fine. Three years on, Riding Mercury is a more textured album with Ruth, husband Johnny Leal (on guitars) and brother in law Jimmy Leal (drums) augmented on bass by Rick De Vol and Scoop McGuire allowing the band to record live as opposed to Johnny Leal dubbing bass on the previous album. As a result the band is looser and they stretch out at times while they retain the basic smoky late night louche approach with Leal’s guitar more akin to jazz than blues while Ruth’s husky tones are perfectly suited for torch songs and breathless vocalese. The intimacy of Ain’t No Whiskey is sacrificed somewhat but there are several songs here that still capture the feel of that album and while lyrically Ruth ditches the drunken sad songs she replaces them with some excellent insights into broken hearts, broken families and broken women on what could be construed as a song cycle.

Opening song, What I Got, sets the scene as a scuzzy blues scratch paints a picture of a bed ridden diseased woman looking for one last fling. Ruth’s banjo introduces the fine Lonely World that rips along gaily although again the lyrics paint a picture of an abandoned and lonely woman. Rick De Vol’s fretless bass billows throughout the aching blues of Summer Nights In New Orleans with Leal offering a gut wrenching slide guitar solo as Ruth sings as sultry as she can. Speaking of New Orleans the following High Brow Blues featuring Talon Nansel’s trombone sounds as if it was forged in the Crescent City as Ruth describes an empty socialite before the band launch into the jump jive of A Letter with some groovy guitar parts. Put Your Light On is a song that captures the description Ruth gave to her music when Ain’t No Whiskey came out. Doo Wop Twang is what she called it and here she carries the torch with a fifties’ influenced waltz while the guitar eventually slinks to the front to deliver a clipped and intense solo. Your Love is a country influenced ballad that recalls Lucinda Williams initially while the guitar solos in a lazy fashion reminiscent of Santo and Johnny. Ruth maintains this fifties feel on the soulful Tell Me and country pop Take My Chances but she closes the album with two powerful songs that recall the earlier album with the band scraping a desolate landscape as she visits territory normally inhabited by the likes of Mary Gauthier. Who’s Your Lover ebbs and flows with fretless bass, tom tom percussion and charged, taut guitar as Ruth moans and pleads

Who’s your lover who’s your lover now?
Who’s your lover who’s your lover now?
You’ve found another you’ve found another now
Who’s your lover who’s your lover now?
White white linen white white linen now
White white linen white white linen now
Your head is spinnin your head is spinnin now
White white linen white white linen now

Brown brown liquor brown brown liquor now
Brown brown liquor brown brown liquor now
Your heart is thicker your heart is thicker now
Brown brown liquor brown brown liquor now

Black black water black black water now
Black black water black black water now
Your blood runs hot your blood rums hotter now
Black black water black black water now

Red red fire red red fire now
Red red fire red red fire now
You hear the choirs the angel choirs now
Red red fire red red fire now.

Riding Mercury closes the album with a more conventional structure that again harks back to fifties rock’n’roll with the band approaching a gospel rhythm as Ruth testifies with appropriate biblical allusions. A fine end to a fine album.

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