It was a bit of a light relief to attend this show and to be thoroughly entertained (and at times laugh out loud) by the very dapper two piece Two Man Gentleman Band who are, interestingly enough, a two man band. The two members, Andy Bean (guitar and American four string banjo) and The Councilman (double bass, kazoo) sang about food and beverages, girls, guys and food and beverages with Bean wisecracking with a terrific comedic sense of timing while the Councilman was the perfect foil. The problem with being seen as a comedy act is that folk might end up more interested in the jokes than the music but The two Man gentleman band proved they were no one trick pony as they blitzed the audience with a dazzling display of virtuosity on their instruments and a great vocal rapport. The humour was merely the topping on a very tasty cake.
Working in the same vein as the late Slim Gaillard’s celebrated duo line ups there was little of Gaillard’s hipster slang ( although one song did celebrate reefer), rather it was as if two Connecticut Yankees had turned up at the Cotton Club as opposed to King Arthur’s court. And while most of their songs did refer to food and drink with Pork Chops getting some belly laughs from the audience we were invited to join in songs about President William Taft’s girth and were regaled with some fine mock trumpet on Bye Bye Blues. All in all a great set and a fine night.
Support was provided by another two piece, The Kilcawley Family from Tyneside. With autoharp, guitar and harmonica they delivered a fine set of old time American folk songs that portrayed their influences such as the Reverend Gary Davis and Doc Watson. Somewhat trepidatious at times they did win the audience over with renditions of 500 Miles, Railroad Boy and Dink’s Song. A particularly spirited Wildwood Flower showed them at their best while a self penned lament based on the reflections of an elderly Morecambe woman (they currently reside in the faded Lancashire resort) showed some promise with the intimations’ of mortality contained within showing that they have learned from their forebears.
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Celtic Connections uses a variety of venues spread over Glasgow and the prospect of a show in this venerable Victorian pile was tantalising. Unfortunately, the reality was that as a venue for live rock music it failed dismally. The seating arrangement for anyone in the back half of the hall meant that the view was of some upper torsos of the artists. Worse was the sound, lost in the echoing galleries it was muddy and indistinct, similar to what I imagine the sound in a swimming pool might be like. Nevertheless the prospect of seeing John Murry, high on the acclaim of his debut solo album, The Graceless Age was indeed a tantalising prospect and despite the sound problems he put on a fantastic show. Backed by a three piece band (Sean Coleman, guitar, Michael Mullen, keyboards and Will Waghorn, drums and horn) Murry played several songs from the album and engaged in some lively banter with the audience (or at least the front rows who could hear him). He cut a clumsy and uncoordinated figure in between songs, fiddling with his pedals, at one point unable to choose which guitar to play, but when he played he did so with a passion that burned through the muddy sound and reminded the audience that he has lived the majority of the songs he played. The graceful and well produced elements of the Graceless Age were ditched in favour of a raw naked power with the guitar solos and feedback on Southern Sky raising hairs. At one point he asked if we wanted to hear a thin Lizzy guitar song and blasted into a frenzy of Neil Young like guitar thrashing which morphed into Penny Nails before climaxing with a Thin Lizzy type duel guitar workout. This was tremendous stuff. Murry paid tribute to the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse with a tender version of Maria’s Little Elbows but none of the songs had prepared the audience for his final piece. Introducing it as “a true fucking story”, he put down his guitar and sang Little Colored Balloons, a song which documents his near death from a drugs overdose. Without his stringed breastplate he seemed uncomfortable and unsure as to what to do with his hands. However his delivery of this harrowing and beautiful song was spine tingling as, voice wracked with emotion, he seemed to be reliving the trauma. This was raw, close to the edge drama, powerful and unsettling and when Murry abruptly left the stage leaving the band to close the song there was a small niggle at the back of one’s mind wondering if the emotional effort on show was just too much, too close to home. As a performance this was riveting and made one think of Neil Young’s stark Tonight’s The Night tour, teetering between brilliance and disaster. Oh to have seen this in a proper venue.
After the psychodrama of John Murry The Cowboy Junkies were like a juggernaut that ploughed on despite ongoing sound problems. The lengthy blues soaked Working On A Building, all crashing guitars and cymbals, was the template for much of the night with Shining Moon featuring a harmonica solo that seemed to last forever. While there was plenty of Sturm und Drang, supplied by guitar, electric mandolin and drums throughout the set with Sweet Jane introduced by a thunderous rumble and clatter the best moments were when they eased up and laid back a little. With the middle section of the set dedicated to a brace of songs from their recent Wilderness collection two Vic Chesnutt covers, See You Around and Square Room were delivered with an appropriate delicate touch. Damaged From The Start benefited as a mainly acoustic piece and when Margo Timmins, brother Michael and Jeff Bird on mandolin delivered Townes Van Zandt’s Lungs and their own Remnin Park as a trio the instruments sparked as Timmons sang beautifully. Back to a full band they gave a fine rendition of Blue Moon Revisited while the encores, Misguided Angel and Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down showed that by then they had got to grips with the sound and had the audience enthralled. A very static band compared to Murry’s hyperactivity The Junkies surely pleased their fans and Margo Timmins was a commanding and gracious presence. However on the way out most folk I overheard were talking about Murry and his astonishing performance.
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Dan Stuart, former wild frontman of Green On Red has been sadly missing from action for several years. Despite occasional sightings in the mid 2000’s with (successful) reunions of Green On Red and Danny and Dusty there’s only been the occasional low key album release. A few months back a new release The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings was announced and then a European tour which mercifully included Glasgow on the short itinerary.
And so it was that a few of the faithful (too few by far) gathered in the bar at King Tuts to see and hear the enigmatic Stuart, lured by the legend and perhaps somewhat nonplussed by the recent stories of his incarceration and subsequent escape from a New York psychiatric institution, his settlement in Oaxaca, Mexico and his current hook up with an Italian country rock band.
Sacri Cuori played a short opening set and immediately it was clear that country rock does them a grave injustice. A four piece they unveiled an astounding palette of sounds that ranged from surf and Duane Eddy type guitar to Nino Rota cinematic whirls with Joe Meek electronica and superb percussion to take the audience on a trip through some weird places and left us feeling as if we were in the middle of Jodorowsky’s El Topo. Guitarist Antonio Gramentieri tackled the introductions informing us that local girl Isobel Campbell sings on their latest album Rosario and pretty much had us eating out of his hand by the end of their all too short set.
Mr. Stuart then came on and within a few minutes of his superb, humorous (with some barbed stabs at a few sacred alt country cows) introduction any possible doubts about his mental health were dispelled. Revelling in his banter he was a hit before even striking a note but it was clear from his opening song, a solo rendition of an old Green On Red song, Death and Angels, that he was totally in control. Delivered as a lament with his voice a warm croon and some fine guitar picking it was miles away from the old band version. Another Green On Red song You Couldn’t Get Arrested with Stuart joined by Christian Ravaglioli on accordion was next and it was spellbinding. A sly dig at Mick Jagger and his abandonment of his sixties Chelsea drug store decadence one could have heard the proverbial pin drop as the audience paid full attention; we could have listened to the solo Stuart all night. From here on in however Stuart bared his fangs and with the assistance of Sacri Cuori delivered a blistering set of tunes, old and new that featured his sardonic and sneering vocals while also offering a glimpse into his love and passion for Spanish and Mexican tinged ballads with an edge. Sixteen Ways kicked it off while amped up renditions of Zombie For Love and Gravity Talks showed that he still has some fire in his belly. Two Lovers Waiting to Die swung mightily with a heavy Neil Young swagger.
Along with the back catalogue Stuart unveiled several songs from the new album with What Are You Laughing About ? delivered almost like a Joe Strummer thrash, fittingly enough as it’s a translation of a poem by Mario Benedetti, a Uruguayan poet who had to flee right wing political persecution, Strummer would approve. Gringo Go Home utilised the exotic sounds of Sacri Cuori to their utmost as Stuart channelled Lee Hazlewood on what appears to a satire on the perceived dangerousness of Mexico for visitors while on Clean White Sheet the Joe Meek type organ exhilarated as the band went stratospheric towards the end.
Overall Stuart seems to a man at the top of his game, proud of his past and rightly proud of the new material, if you get a chance to see him then we would heartily recommend it.
We should mention the two local opening acts. Eilidh Hadden and her band were a nice whispy folk tinged crew with Hadden using a tape loop at times to multiply her guitar playing while Danielle Tonner delivered a solo set of covers and some of her own songs. Both acts delivered their material in good Scots voices, something we seem to be seeing more of these days.
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Apologies for the time lag in posting this. Originally intended for another website it got lost in a queue, so here goes…………..
This Austin based Canadian due brought their fairly unique blend of Gothic Americana for the first time to Glasgow on a quiet mid week night which might explain the meagre audience numbers but for those who came it was a sublime performance. Topped with a Baron Samedi styled top hat, Dave Quanbury wrung some fine spectral sounds from his guitar while Brandy Zdan proved to have a great voice and was no slouch on guitar and accordion. With additional kick drum and trombone from Quanbury and a mesmerising piece of lap steel playing from Zdan the two man band were able to capture much of the mystery and atmosphere of their most recent album When The Wolves Go Blind.
With songs ranging from the tango styled What Do I Know About Love to the Rockabilly Rattle of Ham Radio Blues there was variety in the set but the overall thrust was of a cold darkness with menace in the lyrics and the music. The Master was transformed into a David Lynch dark highway melodrama with both players meshing and mashing the guitar lines, thrilling stuff. Their rendition of Frozen Town, a paean to their hometown of Winnipeg had a wintry lonesome Neil Young feel to it and was the occasion for Zdan to embroider the piece with some fine sonic swoopings on her lap steel before segueing in to Ham radio Blues. The duo showed that they can rival some classic male/female vocal pairings with a rendition of Impatient Love from their Highway Prayer album but they were at their best when Quanbury was teasing out feedback crouched by his speaker while Zdan’s voice commanded attention. She’s a great singer and at times one was reminded of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins while listening to her. With some new songs including one called (I think) Blackbird Lips where shards of sound fell from Quanburys’ strings it bodes well for their next recorded outing.
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Two great bands playing in two different venues on Sunday night required a modicum of planning however it was a toss of a coin that led me to visit the Woody Pines gig at Lauries Acoustic Music Bar first. This Trongate live music stalwart has changed its name recently and now proudly proclaims itself as Avant Garde. All well and good but this proved problematic for the band who apparently circled the area several times looking for Lauries Bar. Nevertheless by the time they appeared on stage they were unfazed by this slight hiccup and proceeded to turn the venue into a veritable southern roadhouse. The four piece North Virginia band led by the tousle haired Woody (who left his usual headgear to a barman in Ireland) immediately had the crowd going with a vibrant rendition of the traditional Long Gone Lost John before easing into Hank Williams’ Can’t Keep You Off My Mind. With guitarist Lyon Graulty switching between clarinet and some fine slide guitar playing the band slid from New Orleans type vamps to old time country blues with 99 Years a particular delight as Felix Hatfield excelled on the washboard sounding like a full drum kit. Crazy Eyed Woman loped along splendidly and an extended version of Counting Alligators with a spoken rap from Woody recounting a trip along Highway 61 encapsulated their appeal with a tight rhythm and a lot of swing.
Sadly the desire to see The Hot Seats led us to leave Woody and his band at half time in order to hoof it on up to The Universal and due to crossing the Glasgow dateline we caught most of their set. Another band who drink from the old time music well The Hot Seats are a (mostly) bearded raggle taggle crew who swap instruments with gay abandon and to great effect. Anyone who’s heard their latest live album would know what to expect but in truth the humour and sheer vibrancy of their set has to be seen live. The first song we caught, Trouble in Mind was a steamroller of banjo, fiddle and guitar flailing away, a great start. In full flight the five-piece band serve up an unplugged wall of sound that can make the hair on the back of the neck stand up. No Plans from their next album was an outstanding example of this, forget the cinematic Soggy Bottom Boys, this is the real deal. Playing tunes by the likes of Gid Tanner’s Skilletlickers and Earl Scruggs there was plenty of bluegrass action and even a turn by Shannon Dunne, an American “flatfooter” who whetted the audience’s appetite for a dance. The sly entendre of Peaches allowed the band to wallow somewhat in a vaudevillian humour fully realised on Soft John Blues, a fabulously louche country slouch that pays tribute to that old viagra.
Earlier on Woody Pines had commented on the somewhat cramped confines of his gig lamenting the lack of dancing space. At The Universal there was no such problem and by the closing and rousing Another Day, Another Dollar you couldn’t see the band for the dancers.
If this had been a battle of the bands then I’d declare it a draw and the only loser was the reviewer who haplessly missed out on the second set from Woody Pines. It’s safe to say however that both bands are smoking hot and if you get the chance to see one or both then do so.
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Glasgow singer/songwriter Jim Byrne’s last album, Every Day is Sunshine gathered some fine reviews with comparisons to Tom Waits and Johnny Cash among others. Perhaps it’s down to his smooth baritone but fine praise indeed. Two years down the line and Byrne has his third album in the trap and Blabber’n’Smoke went along to hear the unveiling.
The launch gig was held in Brel in Ashton lane, a place I’ve always found difficult to enjoy due to its layout and the intrusive noise at times from the bar. However a pretty full crowd crammed into the narrow conservatory to see and hear Byrne and his band The Blackwoods and to a man (and woman) they were not disappointed. The Blackwoods (brother Peter Byrne, occasional bass, percussion including cajon, and freedom boot, Graham Mackintosh, banjo and guitar, Elanor Gunn, violin and Dinny, guitar, bass, autoharp and vocals) proved to be an excellent troupe swapping instruments and styles with ease and managing an occasional set list confusion with good humour that fitted the down home and family type feel of the evening. Byrne himself was a perfect host with an engaging manner that connected well with the crowd.
Launching into the new album, The Innocent, they opened with the first song from the disc, Fancy Wooden Box, a death row ballad that would have sat very comfortably with Mr. Cash himself. This was a great performance with the violin, banjo and freedom boot giving it a stomping good delivery. Three songs in the band proved their worth with a fine performance of Down By the Wildwood, a song from his second album that fused some scintillating gypsy guitar duetting and fine fiddle playing with a flamenco hint of mystery and menace. This was our favourite of the night and one would have relished more of the same. However Byrne’s muse appears to favour a home spun folky idiom that flavoured the rest of the evening with covers of I’m Thinking Tonight of my Blue Eyes, Satisfied Mind and a cracking version of Make Me a Pallet on the Floor, all of which were as comfortable as sitting in front of a fine log fire. Best of all was a rollicking boozy rendition of There Stands the Glass which Byrne nailed with a fine looselimbed performance. Mention must be made of Ms. Gunn’s playing, she has a fine tone and at times was exquisite. Bar the lack of a moustache I was reminded of Bobby Valentino who used to play with Hank Wangford.
Songs from the album that were aired included Two Empty Chairs, its jaunty air masking a tale of betrayal that came across as a mixture of Leonard Cohen and the Harry Lime theme. Sand in Your Shoes and Sweeter Than a Rose were sleepy waltzes that recalled the likes of Hoagy Carmichael and Bob Wills, a fine tincture for what was outside a cold and wet night. Also from The Innocent was a very touching and emotive cover of Big Star’s supreme tale of teenage longing Thirteen which had some fine guitar from Graham Mackintosh. Byrne commented on the laid back content of the album several times as he introduced yet another ballad but at the end they encored with a superb delivery of Daddy’s Car from his first album On these Dark Nights. A singalong song very much in the style of Loudon Wainwright or Woody Guthrie’s kiddies songs it was a grand way to end a fine little gig.
The opening act was a short performance by one of The Blackwoods, Dinny herself who proved to be a fine singer and who delivered an all too short set which was folky but at times had the louche torch song approach of kd lang.
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Fine night on Thursday with three great acts at Oran Mor. Great contrast from the still vignettes of Tiny Ruins to the country thrash of New Country Rehab and then the jungle steamboat blues of CW Stoneking. Full review is posted on Americana UK
New Country Rehab
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The Pokey LaFarge carnival rolled into town last Saturday for a triumphant show at the Classic Grand. I say carnival because there’s an element of old time showmanship surrounding Pokey and his band. Apart from the thrift shop (although dapper) threads Pokey always comes across like a cross between a showground barker and a vaudevillian M.C. While he might not always enjoy the “old time” tag that follows him around there’s no doubt that he invokes a happier, more innocent time that comes across in the shows and records. Having said that Pokey and the band don’t display any stuffiness or reverence when it comes to playing songs written half a century ago instead injecting a large dose of vim and vigour into them. His own songs, influenced by the likes of Jimmy Rogers do hark back to the past but are delivered with a youthful joy, looking backward and forward at the same time the effect is dizzying.
A packed Classic Grand crowd was treated to a hectic, fast paced show, crammed into around 80 minutes due to an early curfew. In addition LaFarge himself was due to celebrate a birthday at midnight and was keen to start the celebrations early. The crowd, most of whom were well familiar with the band from previous performances joined in with several shouts of Happy Birthday and a rendition of the eponymous song at one point.
While the band played several songs from the new album (Middle of Everywhere) crowd pleasers from his last two albums were delivered with gusto. Claude Jones, Hard Times Come and Go and Walk Your Way Out Of this Town all featured. A fantastic version of the 1920’s vintage Sadie Green The Vamp of New Orleans was a particular favourite while the crowd surged when Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight from the new album was played. Throughout the show the South City Three demonstrated some superior picking, plucking, slapping and blowing. Bassist Joey Glynn had numerous short solo spots while guitarist Adam Hoskins either alone or sparring with Pokey played some sweet jazzy Django runs. Ryan Churchmouse Koenig’s harmonica and vocal asides were a joy to hear while his donning of his washboard, bells and horns and all added a Spike Jones surrealism to the show.
Hats off however to their rendition of Pack It Up, a song they recorded for vinyl release with Jack White of the White Stripes. With the lyrics adapted almost as a tour diary this was a tour de force with audience participation included.
All in all a great night, Pokey and the band are on fire right now so if they set up a tent by your way be sure to join the queue.
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Jim Dead comes from Deadsville. An imagined place, more in the mind than on the map. Occasional visitors to this shadowland include Jim White, Hank Williams, Jason Molina, The Drive By Truckers and even Neil Young. Here the music is slow and thick, churning like the Mississippi, rich and full bodied. Jim Dead has captured this on his latest release; Ten Fires and tonight unveiled it in a hot cellar to an appreciative Glasgow crowd. This was possibly a unique event as the Doubters consist of the musicians who recorded the album with Dead but in their non Deadsville lives they all have other gigs. Reconvened for the album launch it would be a pity if they fade away as they conjured up a blissful, noisy wall of sound. Consisting of Dead on guitar and vocals, Craig Hughes on guitar and the Duffin brothers, James and Tommy on bass and drums they punched their way through several songs from the album. The twin guitars cranked up an almighty mess of sound with Craig Hughes sparking off of Dead’s solid rhythm on a sound that was reminiscent of Crazy Horse or Magnolia Electric Co. Wading through lengthy renditions of Jim Langstrom Must Die, Bone Blue Moon and Mean eyed River Snake there were several spine tingling moments wrung from Hughes’ Gibson but Dead’s knack for a well written song with strong hooks meant that this never descended into jamdom. The band ended the set with epic renditions of Untitled and The Hallelujah Revolver. Untitled started off with an Iberian Miles Davis feel before a psychedelic tinge crept in with Hughes playing arabesque lines but the closing song trumped all before it with the Duffin bothers in particular adding an almighty edge to a powerful and inspired performance. Dead hollered as if his life depended on it. A great end to the show.
Mention must be made of the support acts. Glasgow duo The Colts delivered a fine set of acoustic country tinged songs with a Ryan Adams/Keef Richards flavour while Craig Hughes showed us his day job playing powerful bottleneck acoustic blues. A bear of a man he can be ferocious on the guitar but his bottleneck style and use of sustain reminded one of Zoot Horn Rollo’s instructions from the good Captain. His song The TR7’s Have All Gone to Heaven was a particular crowd pleaser
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