When Morrison and West released their debut The Holy Coming of The Storm in early 2011 it received almost universal acclaim and ended up in many a top ten album list at the end of the year. Their unique blend of studied antiquity with their songwriting skills and superb picking and singing struck a chord with listeners and they topped it off with a triumphant Celtic Connections appearance.
18 months later and we have the follow up, Our Lady of the Tall Trees, an album that continues in much the same vein as its predecessor which is tantamount to saying that it’s essential listening. Morrison continues to write the bulk of the material here with one traditional song offered up. However this time around there are three contemporary cover versions included, the very familiar Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta, Norman Blake’s Church St. Blues and closing the album Garry Harrison’s Red prairie Dawn, a nice touch as it serves to pay tribute to Harrison, an Illinois fiddler and lover of old time music who sadly died earlier this year.
It’s a measure of how successful Morrison and West are in creating their sepia toned world that their version of Loretta jars the impression that we are listening to an archived recording from the dusty old days. Theirs is a fine reading but the familiarity of the song accords it an outsider status, a glitch in the matrix if you like, however the instrumental Red Prairie Dawn ends the album with a flourish, a beautiful tune lovingly picked and plucked on banjo and mandolin it captures the essence of old time country music.
As on the debut album however it’s Morrison’s songs that support any claim to greatness here. He has the ability to capture and recreate old time ballads, tales as strong as an Oak with language that seems to be hewn from ancient timber. It’s reminiscent of the best of the English folk rock revival of the seventies when tales of yore were married to a contemporary sound. Morrison and West however eschew drums and amplification creating their tapestries using guitar, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki. The words do hark back to the richness and poetry embodied in the King James Bible. When they sing
“Although starched your apron may now be, it’ll lose it’s shape in the water. But go swimmeth thee to the anchor most near, a lady does not often falter. Oh the winds they blow and the tide she swells, brings life into the beaches. Oh that seem between the Earth & Tide, from land that sea is not quite so wide”
one could be reading from that old good book. Morrison packs his songs with such lyrics on A Lady Does Not Often falter, All I Can Do and All For The Sake of Day. Meanwhile the front porch plucking on their instruments offers some fine moments of beauty with the mandolin solo on All For The Sake of Day especially standing out.
Ancient and modern, homespun and literate, it’s a standout album from a pair who astonish and exhilarate. Do give it a listen.
Seems like every time we mention Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three here they’ve added another feather to their cap. Pokey recently had a song featured on the American TV series Empire Boardwalk, a rendition of Lovesick Blues (and there’s a great story behind this involving Jiminy Cricket, see here). In addition the band have been supporting jack White to huge audiences in the states including the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Radio City Music Hall. It’s great to see that they are gracing our shores again over the next few weeks and even better to hear their latest release Live In Holland that captures their rip roaring act perfectly.
Recorded at the Paradiso in Amsterdam the 14 cuts will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the band recently. Culled from the band’s two albums and singles and Pokey’s solo releases Marmalade and Beat Move and Shake along with a cracking version of Bob Wills’ Devil ain’t Lazy the live setting allows the band to cut loose and Pokey to holler and play the audience, wisecracking and adlibbing. It all adds up to a rollickingly good listen with the band seemingly enjoying themselves as much as the audience. It’s almost impossible to pick out highlights as throughout the album Ryan Koenig blitzes the crowd with his harmonica wizardry while Adam Hoskins’ guitar zips and slides splendidly. Joey Glynn on bass gets his moments to shine also especially on the raucous In The Graveyard. While Pokey, the ringmaster, ushers in the solos and is in fine booming voice the band deliver great harmonies and vocal asides that add to the vaudevillian element they create. Almost a perfect document of one of the most exciting bands around right now if this doesn’t move you then you should call a doctor
Newcastle band, Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra are supporting Pokey and his gang on the upcoming UK tour just in time to promote their debut album Money isn’t Everything. While Newcastle isn’t St. Louis musically the tea pads inhabit much the same territory as the south city three, old time blues, ragtime and jazz with some Cajun riffs thrown in. While Heron tends to croon and scat rather than holler the syncopated rhythms and jazzy vamps are all there and executed with finesse, Ben Fitzgerald on guitar in particular plays some scintillating Django type runs. With three songs rerecorded from their EP including the mini epic Great Fire of Byker (about a huge conflagration on Tyneside) there’s a dramatic improvement in the sound and they come across as much more confidant and assured. Heron writes most of the songs although it’s hard to believe that they’ve not been dredged up from some archive of old time Americana. A version of Bob Miller’s Bank Failures from the 1930s nestles comfortably with Heron’s songs particularly the title track, in fact the album could have been called Songs For the New Depression and one wouldn’t have been surprised to find Buddy Can You Spare a Dime here, maybe they’ll do it live. With songs of escapism (the sousaphone led thump of Rich man Blues), booze (Hangover Blues) and exotica (the south American styled Biarro Alto) there’s a definite retro feel here that harks back to the dichotomy of the jazz age when the bright young things partied and the working class worked. A great debut and on the strength of this a great double bill on the forthcoming tour.
Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Australian band Jeremy Edwards and the Dust Radio Band way back in 2008 when their album Stay Hungry knocked us out. The album was an almost perfect example of well crafted and brilliantly played Americana, taking elements from as far back as Gram and Emmylou up to the Jayhawks’ melancholic majesty with a pinch of Steve Earle’s political bluster. Four years on and Russian Doll arrives in the in tray and it was with high expectations that we played the platter. From the first it was comforting to find that the Dust Radio Band are unchanged. Ben Edwards and George Brugmans, bass and drums respectively continue to lay claim as one of the best rhythm sections around. Tight, grounded, unobtrusive but powerful they lay the foundations for a cracking selection of songs. Julianne Henry’s fine voice remains a great foil for Edwards’ resigned vocals which can sound vulnerable and frail at times but above all burn with emotion. Finally Roy Payne’s guitar, pedal steel and Dobro, along with Edwards own fretwork burns and buzzes throughout making this a fine follow-up to the grand edifice that was Stay Hungry.
Edwards writes all ten songs here and each and every one is a potential winner. The title song, Russian Doll is a lascivious slide guitar driven boogie very much in the vein of Lowell George’s Little Feat. This murky blues’ feel permeates the album with Holy Ground, the album opener slithering and buzzing like a rattlesnake as a biting guitar underpins a mandolin riff before some delicious soloing. The guitars on Misery Loves Company are like shards of steel being hammered as the hard as nails rhythm section piledrive on a pulverising song that just begs to be played loud. The invigorating Bring the Family Around is a fast paced jaunt that recalls (strangely enough) the gutsy feel of John Hiatt’s Bring the Family album and has a great guitar lift at the end. There are moments when the band are not so sure-footed with Between Hell and the Highway failing to live up to its opening AC/DC type intro, while it’s a fine song it fails to stand up in comparison to its companions.
They do turn down the amps on several of the songs. The melancholic ballad Sing has a fine dynamic with sweet pedal steel and an excellent vocal performance from Edwards. Better Than Me is half Cajun, half Lowell George with slide guitar and fiddle duelling. Edwards picks up the mandolin again for the final song Pulled an Angel Down which references Thomas Gray but more importantly is a potent mix of acoustic playing with upright bass, Dobro and fiddle coalescing into an almost perfect sound.
Overall this is an album where all of the pieces just fall into place. Edwards and band deliver some classic songs in the classic style much as the likes of the Jayhawks and others. Do give it a listen.
The kind folk at wordpress sent me this. An “annual report” detailing activity on the site. So in the interests of transparency you can read it below. And after the seasonal break expect more reviews and if I can summon up the energy some choice live gig reports. As always thanks to all who read this blog and special thanks to all artists who have considered us worthy enough to comment on their fine efforts.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,600 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
A child of California, Gwendolyn first came to Blabber’n’Smoke’s attention when she released Lower Mill Road, a 2007 album recorded in Scotland with players such as Chris Drever and John McCusker. With this, her fourth album she’s left the Incredible String Band influences evident on Lower Mill Road behind and welcomed country music with open arms. With a voice that is a cross between Melanie Safka and Dolly Parton she’s joined by her regular band who play an idiosyncratic selection of instruments including found percussion and glass harmonica. Despite this the overall sound is fairly traditional and throughout the album there is an impish and infectious sense of joy. The songs range from the Bakersfield country pop sound of Tater Tots and Whiskey Shots to the Nanci Griffith like Discover Me. Ably assisted by a clutch of guests including Tony Gilkyson, Josh Grange and some of I See Hawks in LA there are snatches of fiddle and guitars, both steel and twang, popping up when one least expects it. With all of the songs written by Gwendolyn she has produced an excellent set that harks back to tradition while stamping her own quirky personality all over. Listening to this I was reminded of Michelle Shocked’s Arkansas Traveller, another album that explored country roots. Gwendolyn’s effort is just as ambitious and overall is a tremendous listen with repeated hearings unveiling new delights. Well worth checking out. website
Rum Drum Ramblers. Mean Scene
At the last Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three gig in Glasgow, washboard and harmonica player, Ryan Koenig pressed into my hand this fine album. Recorded by him and fellow South City Three member, Joey Glynn (upright bass) with Mat Wilson on guitar and vocals this will delight anyone who enjoys Pokey’s blend of old time swing and blues. The vibe is essentially the same and the third member of the South City Three, Adam Hoskins appears on slide guitar. The addition of the Funky Butt Brass Band on several songs offers a more pronounced jellyroll type jazz sound while Wilson’s vocals are mellower than Pokey’s. Comparisons aside the Ramblers are indeed a mean machine with some magnificent interplay between the instruments, a sly jive talking style and an obvious love of their influences. All 12 songs are gems with the standouts being Jack and Tom, a rattling introduction to the album, If It Have To Be with its vintage sounding blues guitar licks and Do You which has a decided Michael Hurley feel to it.
Well below the radar you’ll need to go to CD baby or Amazon to buy or download this but it’s a guaranteed winner. http://www.myspace.com/rumdrumramblers
Jack and Tom
Old Dollar Bill. Across The Tracks
When what appeared to be cash money came tumbling out of the envelope we thought that at last someone had figured out that payola should not be restricted to members of parliament. Unfortunately it was a fake dollar bill from our old friends in the east, Old Dollar Bill, the mighty Edinburgh duo of Ed Henry and Stephen Clark. Hot on the heels of their collaboration with the Wilders and Woody Pines comes this four song EP. Maintaining their expanded palette with guest musicians from the Edinburgh folk scene (Martin McQuade on double bass, Owen McAlpine, harmonica, Mairi Orr, harmony vocals and Tom McAweaney, an old, old friend of Blabber’n’Smoke on fiddle) Old Dollar Bill deliver a great little bundle of tunes that sound as if they could have been played by bunch of genuine hillbillies. Clark excels on mandolin, Dobro and banjo while Henry’s percussion and especially his use of the Cajon adds an extra layer of enjoyment to what are already fine songs.
The EP opens with Move On, a driving romp that warns of the perils of gold digging women. Bright Light is drawn from the tradition of Appalachian dirges such as Oh Death and has some spine tingling vocals and fiddle playing. Hats Off to Begg (dedicated to the late Bryan Begg, a musical compadre of the Bill) is a heartfelt tribute that has a soulful southern blues slink to it. The EP closes with The Cold Gin Waltz, an instrumental that highlights the Celtic influence on Americana and could easily have featured in a movie such as Cold Mountain.
Old Dollar Bill seem to grow in stature with each release and this one is well recommended. . Myspace page
The offending Old Dollar Bill
Five years ago English songwriter Mat Gibson cut a very impressive album in Philadelphia with his band The Broken Hearts. Packed full with fine guitar slinging Gibson came across as a UK equivalent of Ryan Adams at times. Since then he seemed to disappear from view until this re-emergence as a solo artist on Clubhouse Records. In the interim it appears that he spent several years in Quebec and something of the Canadian landscape (or mindscape) appears to have returned with him as Forest Fire is a set of stark, minimalist songs which sound as if they were conjured up on freezing plains with the writer isolated, miles from anywhere. The sound of the North Country (think of The Jayhawks here) also appears to have had some influence. This is most evident on Yonder Burning Tree where Gibson’s harmonica and guitar could have come straight from Hollywood Town Hall. Gibson plays all of the instruments sticking in the main to acoustic guitar with sparse accompaniment from his harp and occasional keyboards. There are some other embellishments, the slide guitar on the opening song Lord Only Knows, played by Jonathan Berry lends a plaintive air to what is an excellent song. Forest Fire drips like an icicle, a pale fire indeed as Gibson sings of seeing forest fires sending plumes of smoke into the air as he flew back from Quebec. On this elegiac song with heartrending vocals and a perfect marriage of guitar and strings Gibson’s lyrics cast a perfect light on the stress and strain and regret left behind when a relationship ends. The aeroplane metaphor is revisited in Icebergs where Gibson sings of having nowhere to land, buffeted by the forces of nature conspiring against him. An airborne version of Titanic, Gibson sings of “the band playing silently on” as the ‘plane circles endlessly.
After the glacial outpourings of the previous songs the final cut, Where Demons Go, adds some muscle with some electric guitar thrashing. Almost an exorcism after the confessional nature of what came before it Gibson asks “won’t you give me one more chance to make things right with us.” Whatever the answer there’s no doubt that that this album marks the return of a major talent to our shores and it’s to be hoped that we don’t have to wait five years for the follow-up. Website
Lord Only Knows
What is Americana? The simple answer might be that it’s music (or literature, art) that refers to America, in particular to that continent’s (primarily the US of A) heritage. So a broad church with country, bluegrass, jazz, swing and god knows how many others getting a shout in. But are, for example, Kings of Leon Americana? U2? Jack Johnston? The answer of course is yes and no. Or rather, it depends. It depends on the singer, the song, the listener, the situation and for an awful lot of folk in the end it doesn’t matter. And perhaps therein is the rub. For if it does matter to you then you probably know the answer already.
Americana is a feel, an intuition, a knowledge of and respect for, well, Americana. It has depth, history, tradition. Tradition that harks back to the great immigrations that peopled the USA, that recalls the natives who were displaced by the newcomers, the poverty and violence experienced by the Negro slaves, the violence of the civil war, the culture that grew out of all of these. The tradition continued in modern times, the civil rights struggles, the protest songs, the discovery of their own culture by the late sixties generation which fed into the No Depression generation of the eighties which in itself reached back into the distant past also.
It’s easy for anyone anywhere in the world to be captivated by Hollywood cowboys, Lonnie Donegan records or books by Cormac McCarthy. Dig deeper and chances are you’ll find Americana, a fabulous land with a fabulous story. And best of all you don’t have to be American. Jim Dead is a man who I reckon has done his fair share of digging. So much so that he inhabits a mythical Americana hometown, Deadsville. Deadsville is a mixture of all of the above however Dead has sculpted it into shape. A dust blown dread place with frontier justice, where gunslingers are replaced by guitar slingers, where the blues are amplified and dragged from the past and shot into Technicolor glory.
Calling up a new version of his band The Doubters consisting of Craig Hughes on guitar, James Duffin on bass and Tommy Duffin on percussion and harmonica, Dead offers up twelve songs that portray Deadsville as a scary place to be. Telling stories of lynchings, drugs and death the band walk throughout the landscape with a powerful swagger. Several of the songs here reach epic proportions both in length and delivery. The combination of Dead’s and Hughes’ guitars conjure up visions of Crazy Horse and the Drive By Truckers. While there are quieter moments such as the opening song Silence has No Place Here, Hotel, (with a touch of Willie Vlautin about it) and My Heavy Heart, My Aching Bones, there remains a sense of doom, of hopelessness in them. However the big hitters here are when the band plug in. The loping Bone Blue Moon has the feel of hank Williams backed by Creedence Clearwater, the song does indeed feel as if Dead is howling at the moon. Untitled has some spooky, almost psychedelic tinges, when Dead repeats the refrain Baby, Baby there is a sense of what could have been if Led Zeppelin were an American band. Hughes’ playing on this epic is spectacular, full of menace, coiled, ready to kill. Mean–Eyed River Snake is a mean tale of the death of a girl as retold by a confused, possibly pilled up youth who may have seen too many drive in horrors. It ends in a confusion of babbling while Hughes’ guitar rumbles in the background. The Hallelujah Revolver perhaps tries too hard here to achieve a proper dynamic, a gospel song from hell it’s the one song where the feel is muddied, Having seen a gobsmackingly good live version done by this line up of the band it’s possible we were spoiled beforehand. Honours must go to the stand out song here however. Jim Landstrom Must Die is a killer track. A deceptively jaunty riff leads into a sorry tale of a jive travelling salesman who gets lynched after selling bottles with “stars that fell from from the sky.” Peckinpaw in parts, “ hang him up by his legs, slit his throat so the streets turn ruby red” the band really gel with some tremendous bass playing and a cracking vocal performance from Dead.
If this album was by a crew from the south west of the USA chances are it would be hailed to the heavens. As it is it’s perhaps the best example I’ve heard so far of a local band setting up residence in that fabled Americana. Definitely one to buy. website
It’s February and Celtic Connections is over for another year. By all accounts it was a success and it certainly gets great press locally. I only managed one gig (shame indeed) but as with almost everything these days the good old interweb allows armchair assholes like me to dip into the goings on for as long as the links last. So here is some video of one of the bands I did see, the Wiyos and a gig I did want to see, Robby Hecht.
Well its that time of year again and the cash registers are ringing and the shops are full of the usual Xmas musical suspects. It seems that Christmas and music have been entwined for years with the race to have the number one chart topper and everyone and his uncle putting sleigh bells on their songs.
If, like most sensible folk, you’re fed up with chestnuts roasting and reindeer prancing then there is some respite. The good old internet has a way of finding odd, alternative, rude and occasionally brilliant Christmas songs with various blogs leading the way. In addition various artists and labels toss off a few seasonal titbits for one’s delectation.
So here’s a few. Why not google” Christmas blog” or somesuch for more and make your own “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” compilation to accompany the turkey.
Some of the downloads require an email address as a sign up to newsletters etc , for example Jason Lytle , ex of Grandaddy has a mini Xmas album for download, but the blogs wrap it up. Big Rock Candy Mountain are posting several mp3s of excellent old country, jazz and rock Xmas songs. For two bespoke compilations head over to A Truer Sound , much better than you can buy in the shops.
With their latest album “We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River” Willie Vlautin and chums seem sure to be in the top album of the year lists so beloved by us bloggers. On their tour to promote the album they pulled into the local BBC studios to record a session. You can catch it on the Radio Scotland website at Another Country but here’s one of the songs they played, “The Boyfriends.”
Regular readers will know that at Blabber’n'Smoke we’re suckers for good old fashioned, dust blown, gulch dry twangy Americana. Throw in some mariachi horns and we’re salivating. Maybe it stems from formative years and time spent watching cowboys and Indians on the screen while John Wayne ruled the roost as far as my old man […]
The first thing to strike one about this Tennessee quintet is the source of their name. Led by married couple Dorothy Daniel and Ben DeBerry they amalgamated their surnames to baptise the band. The second and more important note is how good they are. The opening song of this album, Here We Go Round would […]
When I reviewed Diana Jones‘ previous album, High Atmosphere I said it simultaneously sounded sixty years old and contemporary. Her careworn voice and superb ability to author heartbreaking tales of hardship and woe had a deep affinity to pre-war country recordings while the delivery by a stellar bunch of musicians led by producer Ketch Secor […]
Bit late in mentioning this as several of the gigs have been and happened but Texas twosome The O’s are hurtling around Scotland right now and there’s word of an album coming out on the Electric Honey label. Remaining dates are below and their website is here June 12 – Aberdeen, SCOT – Cafe Drummond […]
Blabber’n'Smoke’s favourite junkerdash (psychedelic swamp-shack rags) band Hillfolk Noir attack the UK on three fronts this month with these two releases and a tour that commences today and which packs in 18 shows in 19 days including a sweep through Scotland. Perhaps the finest proponents of old time jugband, folk and blues songs around these […]
While there’s no shortage of contemporary Americana bands, duos and solo artists digging into the roots of folk, blues, bluegrass, old time, ragtime and whatever its apparent that there’s a thirst for the first blossoming of what was then called “country rock” with hardly an issue of Mojo or Uncut featuring Gram Parsons, The Byrds […]
Liverpudlian Kete Bowers delivered a fine album with his 2011 release Road which featured the great BJ Cole on pedal steel. Introduced to American music by his Scottish grandmother who played Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves and Jerry Lewis on the family turntable he turned in a set of wearied songs that […]
San Francisco based Tiny Television released their fine debut, Mission Statement, back in 2009. A dusty Dobro driven slice of classic Americana its weathered well and still gets played in the Blabber’n'Smoke habitat. Four years down the line and one successful Kickstarter campaign later Just This Side of Everything crawls into the light of day […]
Most folk probably think of Appalachian mountains and woods or fetid Southern climes when it comes to the rootsiest Americana music. Charlie Parr, who comes across as a dyed in the wool backwoodsman reminds us that the frozen north, home of strip mining and decaying industrial landscapes has its own history. Duluth, Minnesota is his […]
Taking some time out from her regular gig as a member of the Wailin’ Jennies Ruth Moody releases her second solo album just in time to promote her UK tour which includes a six night stint at the Royal Albert Hall as a special guest of Mark Knopfler. Knopfler appears on These Wilder Things along […]