Husband and wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim, collectively known as The Quiet American have come up with a neat concept on their album Wild Bill Jones. While it’s not as well known as similar songs such as Stagger Lee or Long Black Veil Wild Bill Jones is a staple of the old time country songbook telling the tale of Jones being caught in flagrante delecte and shot dead by his lover’s lover. The album takes this song and weaves a back story around it creating an artefact that works on several levels. Taken at face value it’s a superb selection of songs and tunes that showcase the Keim’s virtuosity as they deliver a collection of traditional and self penned numbers along with a few selected covers. With guitar, banjo, ukulele, lap steel, keyboards, percussion and glockenspiel at their disposal (along with assistance on fiddle and harmonica) they conjure up an old time feel that is sepia toned and reeks of authenticity. Delve a little deeper and the storyline emerges, almost a screenplay as they inhabit the protagonists in this fatal love triangle and add an audio backdrop that lends colour and veracity to the story.
The album starts with a boastful swagger depicting young girls as ripe for the plucking on Apple in the Fall and the meeting of Bill and Posey at a dance in Give The Fiddler a Dram. Bill puffs his chest out on the strutting Come Walking With Me while Posey ponders on her beaus before offering a witness account of the killing as she chose to go with the dashing Jones. Thereafter the killer has a chance to reflect on his afterlife on Keys To The Kingdom before he is led to his punishment depicted by a rousing version of Gallows Pole. Posey, bereft, wonders What Are They Doing In Heaven Today. Gathering her strength she rallies with the uplifting Free Little Bird and finally reflects on the whole goddamn mess as they end the album with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End.
Story told but in between these songs the Keims add colour and atmosphere with a slew of instrumentals that recreate the era including a fine version of John Fahey’s Sunflower River Blues along with some fine traditional tunes with John Brown’s Dream being particularly evocative. This almost forensic investigation recalls the methods employed by film critic David Thomson in his novel Suspects where he unearths the unedifying truths that connect It’s A Wonderful Life and The Shining. On a more prosaic note one recalls Fairport Convention’s album on the failed attempts to execute Babbacombe Lee. As an imaginary soundtrack Wild Bill Jones is excellent.
Strangely enough the song Wild Bill Jones features on Long Gone Out West Blues, the latest offering from Pharis & Jason Romero. Another couple it’s almost spooky to consider that both Jason Romero and Aaron Keim are accomplished luthiers and that both couples are drinking from the same traditional well. Pitched up in British Columbia where Jason runs the J. Romero Banjo Company the pair have lengthy and separate musical histories before hitching up in 2007. Long Gone Out West Blues is their second album and it’s a perfect offering of handpicked and hand plucked songs and tunes, some new and others borrowed from the canon. Using banjo and guitar they share and swap vocals and listening to this it’s not unlike hearing a Gillian Welch album with David Rawlings sharing more of the spotlight.
The spare sound of vintage Martin guitars and Jason’s self built banjos is superb and there are moments here when one is mesmerised by their picking. Both sing well and their harmonies are divine throughout. The two instrumental numbers delicately highlight their instrumental empathy and they deliver fine versions of Wild Bill Jones (acknowledging a debt to the Doc Boggs version), Waiting For The Evening Mail, a Riley Puckett number and Truck Driver Blues from the pen of Ted Daffan. Pharis’s own songs are indistinguishable from these vintage offerings with the title song, I Want To Be Lucky and The Little Things Are Hardest In The End standing out, the latter in particular sounding like the saddest song the Everly’s never recorded. A tremendous album and well recommended.
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Who exactly is Phil Lee and why does he matter? Well, if you read his biography he’s been a “Zelig” type figure on the “scene” for several decades now. Drumming, roadying for Neil Young, throwing knives, bootleg running and God knows what else. He’s invariably dressed as a cowboy dude, looks scary enough to scare the pants off of Phil Spector , kind of a cross between Killer Bob in Twin Peaks and Phil Kaufman, raconteur extraordinaire, the man who scared Charlie Manson and stole Gram Parson’s corpse and set it on fire in the desert.
So now we know a little bit about Lee, why does he matter? Well, over the course of several albums he’s captured what may be the true sense of Americana, able to toss songs off with just an acoustic guitar that stand alongside the likes of John Prine (see the title song to You Should Have Known Me Then), hit the honky tonks with tremendous truck driving stories, dig a southern soul groove or get deep and dirty with the blues. He does all of this and he does it with style. Irreverent, profane (radio stations beware) and above all laughing at the cosmic irrelevance of it all, Lee is a Maverick who , at the end of the day, simply makes fantastic records and thrills audiences at his live shows.
The Fall & Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love showcases Lee’s love of the Americana idiom with a brace of songs that embrace country, folk, blues and soul while his self mocking humour is apparent from the start with the cover art featuring him seated with the splendidly tattooed Ruth Buckler. While he scatters this self same wit through some of the songs it’s in no way a comedy album. While Every Time , an old fashioned folk skiffle of an anti love song has the immortal line Every time I see you nude, I wanna give your number to another dude and others of a similar ilk it’s a fine number that one could imagine Dylan carrying off when he was a bit of a joker in his early NY folkie days. Speaking of Dylan That’s All You Need is a dead ringer for the man circa Infidels.
Lee kicks the album off with the gospel tones of I Hated To See You Go, co-written with Barry Goldberg (another Dylan connection there) before shifting into the infectious chicken strut that is Blues In Reverse sounding like The Fabulous Thunderbirds with an insidious sexy slink in their walk. Cold Ground’s harmonica playing roots the song in 70′s songwriter territory as Lee sings convincingly of bereavement as his character desperately seeks for ways to turn the clock back and return his lover. It’s almost back to the fifties for the swoonful drama of The Hobo’s Girl although the excellent band playing gives the song a punch with George Bradfute’s slide guitar standing out. I Like Everything harks back to the past as well with cheesy organ giving it a 60′s feel as Lee runs through a salacious list of his girl’s attributes with undisguised glee. A little bit mambo, a little bit Tex-Mex describes the excellent ditty that is She Don’t Let Love Get In The Way and again the guitars shine with producer Richard Bennett excelling on Raquinto. Overall Lee has picked a fine bunch of musicians here with Ken Coomer on drums and Dave Roe on bass in addition to Bennett and Bradfute. Together they easily inhabit the different styles on show while Lee himself is no mean singer.
The album closes with a taste of Lee unplugged and live as he entertains a crowd with It Can’t Hurt, a fine example of his uproarious live show. Good news is he’s coming over in the summer so keep an eye open for a chance to catch him. And while you’re waiting mosey over to his website where he gives a song by song rundown of the album that truly captures his essence.
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Seems these days that there’s no end to locally produced Americana with the likes of Jim Dead, The Dirty Beggars and Old Dollar Bill releasing top-notch albums this year. Well we can add Fifers The David Latto Band to this roll call as they conjure up this fine slice of country influenced songs featuring some fine back porch picking and an excellent ear for the idiom. Starting off with the breezy Like I Feel Tonight the listener might think they’re in for some fairly good 70’s influenced West coast country rock as the band coast down the highway strumming away and adding some tasty guitar breaks. A mite misleading however as thereafter they rein in the rock side and settle down to offer a more traditional sound starting off with the fast paced romp that is Byway Man where fingers fly over fiddle and acoustic guitar. An energetic rabble rouser, Byway Man gives an indication of why the band were crowd favourites at Belladrum and the Perth based Southern Fried Festival as it’s guaranteed to have an audience on its feet. Having fired up the blood with these opening songs the band hunker down around the campfire with the remainder of the album having a more laid back feel. Whether it be the Neil Young Harvest era banjo plunk of Wronged, the Whiskeytown influenced Rollin’ On, the soulful guitar on the masterly ballad Wait A Minute or the stark Black Horse with its excellent harmony singing this is where the band excel. The dreamlike Song You’ll Never Hear embellishes their sad sound with some very evocative pedal steel and is the highlight here. While Latto’s voice captures just the right amount of pathos his bandmates (Gavin Brady, Jim Hyndman, Atholl Fraser and John Alexander) add some inspired playing that could easily have been the work of the best country music sessioneers. Harking back to the opening crowd pleasers they end the album with another rambunctious skiffle dedicated to the demon drink on God. I’m Drinking Tonight. A fine debut and definitely one to watch.
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More homegrown Americana this time from the well kent (if you frequented The Captain’s Rest or attended any Scottish “bijoux” festivals over the past few years) Ballachulish Hellhounds. The Hellhounds are another band in thrall to old time American music and live they whip up a storm. Their debut album in 2010, Songs from The Great Atlantic Ocean was a fine mix of traditional and self penned songs that celebrated the long standing connection between the folk traditions of the old and new worlds. Our only quibble with the album was that it seemed a mite thin in the production failing to quite capture the energy and sparkle of their live shows. No problems this time around as Red Eye’s Motorcycle Blues positively jumps out of the speakers with a fire in its belly.
With six songs and only available as a digital download this mini album is intended to bridge the gap between the release of their debut and their next all original long player (promised for next year). One thinks the Hellhounds are short-changing themselves here as it stands up to scrutiny while promising much for the next album. In particular the title song, written by the band, is a fine tale of a farm boy itching to join some motorcycle rebels and failing. Delivered with a sly drawled vocal from Zander McFarlane it has a jaunty old time country feel and one can imagine Ry Cooder or Mike Wilhelm having great fun with this. Iron Horse/Born To Lose which, believe it or not, is a cover of a Motorhead song is the other stand out here. In the absence of power amps the Hellhounds drench the song in swathes of acoustic guitar in a melancholy mode with a sixties Byrds type feel although its not the jingle jangle Byrds, more like David Crosby’s internal meanderings.
The remainder of the album is of a traditional nature. Long Gone and Rabbit In A Log are fast and furious with the banjo and mandolin frantically flailing away. Lonesome Without You is a Carter family type singalong. Expertly delivered it recalls the likes of The Louvin Brothers and other greats of country music tradition. Bury Me Beneath The Willow which closes the disc is another old time tune which has been recorded by everyone and his uncle and the Hellhounds deliver a great version with some great solos on Dobro and mandolin but overall it’s the ensemble playing and fine harmonising that show that they truly capture the essence of old time Americana. All in all a great little album.
You can buy the album here
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Hot on the heels of their live album recorded at a coffee shop in Ashland Virginia last year here’s a new studio album from The Hot Seats. They unveiled several of the songs and tunes on the album when they played here in May and anyone who knows the band will know what to expect here. That’s not to say that they are repeating themselves or going through the motions. Rather it’s another opportunity to marvel at their musical dexterity and to revel in their essential mixture of reverence and goofiness. Driving string driven workouts such as No Plans and Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail swing like hell and allow for plenty of inspired fiddle, banjo and guitar licks while the instrumental interludes (Rattletrap, Mineola Rag, Beasties In The Sugar, Hell and Scissors) almost inspire one to start a barn dance in front of the old desk. While the sheer vim and vigour of this whirlwind of plucking and picking makes The Hot Seats a must see live attraction their more restrained jug band side excels on the recorded medium. The rather risqué Peaches (unofficially accorded the title of the top song of the Shetland Folk Festival they recently played) allows Josh Bearman to fully wallow in the potential lasciviousness of this entendre laden ditty while the band slink along with a devilish mischievousness. Bearman carries on in this vein on Reminisce and Damaged Goods while his erstwhile bandmates strum and pick excellently along. The album culminates in the wonderfully titled I Wouldn’t Take Her To a Dog Fight, a song recorded by country singer Charlie Walker which for some might seem a tag misogynist. A great rendition by the band with all of their signature elements it’s a fine end to the album however we must say that on finding out that Walker’s version of this was recorded in 1967 was a surprise as the attitudes contained therein are somewhat antediluvian.
We must mention here that due to the sweet talking of the band members’ Blabber’n’Smoke was cajoled into buying a companion disc to this album at their gig in the Universal in May. Titled Leftovers it has six pieces they recorded but didn’t put on Feel. No barrel scraping here with Yonder Comes A Sucker a fine addition to the canon while they positively buzz on the instrumental Shaking Down The Acorns. Benjo is a measured and almost stately banjo rag with some rugged guitar and washboard backing. Ragged But Right is a fine piece of country braggadocio and Texas Gals is a veritable hurricane of ensemble playing with fingers flying and strings a buzzin’. A hidden song at the end has one of the band singing a plaintive cowboy trail type song, a little out of character for the band but a neat little addendum for fans.
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Victor Camozzi is yet another one of those wonderful Texan troubadours who for years have been one of the mainstays of Americana. Think of Steve Earle or Robert Earl Keen or even Kris Kristofferson and you’re halfway there to hearing him already. With a distinctive drawl in his voice Camozzi’s vocals effortlessly conjure up visions of drugstore cowboys and truck driving men, laconic, hard living, world wise. The fact that for most of us we experience this vicariously via movies and music leads us to imagine Camozzi as a cross between Sam Shephard and Sam Elliott as The stranger in The Big Lebowski.
So, scene set, what does the album sound like? Camozzi writes all the songs but all of the music is played by producer Matt Downs with the songs ranging from dust stained ballads to muscular roots rock workouts. The subjects are all well trodden paths, love songs, scenes from small town life, regrets and reminiscence all feature. Reading the lyrics one is struck by the thought that each one could easily be a short story or could morph into a screenplay. John 4:20 is a pot smokers’ response to a Christian call to heed the Word preferring to see the plant as a gift and offering an alternative to what to do with a burning bush. Sweetened with a superb pedal steel it’s a fine example of the sly humour here. The Mercy is a snapshot of a brief motel encounter that offers joy and guilt while The Homecoming Waltz is a stark portrayal of the emotional impact on a young wife coming to terms with her husband’s injuries on his return from the war with Camozzi wringing out every ounce of sadness from what one presumes to be a real life dilemma for numerous young Americans. While the uptempo A Lifetime In One Lifetime could be considered lightweight in term of its neighbours it’s a great celebration of living for the moment and is delivered with a rousing Tom Petty type pop drive. Mention should be made of two songs that stand out. Roadside Paradise is a brief note of a diner and a waitress therein that is atmospheric and evocative with a delivery that could have come from an early Little Feat album. Marlboro Morning evokes a similar feel to Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down with its description of a fairly aimless response to the dawn of a new day. The slide guitar, harmonica and lazy delivery all add up to a what could become a radio staple if enough folk pick up on it.
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We’ve mentioned Hillfolk Noir before with their fine fly on the wall recording Skinny Mammy’s Revenge. A companion album recorded live at the Old Idaho Penitentiary was even better with the Boise, Idaho combo letting loose on a bunch of exhilarating stringband/jugband/old time songs. Now, according to their website, we have a name for their particular way with a tune, Junkerdash. Junkerwhat? Well they say that Junkerdash has “multiple definitions up to and including “psychedelic swamp-shack rags.”” So that’s that settled, who are we to argue?
Spreading Junkerdash across the airwaves then this latest release comes in the guise of an old time radio show from the forties the likes of which were beamed across the South and Midwest allowing folk to listen to their musical heroes. A nice concept and the album opens with some waveband search sound effects before settling on the Hillfolk Noir station. The band add a commercial for Hillfolk Wild Root Cream Oil which surely would have Ulysses Everett McGill forsake his “Dapper Dan” pomade.
Aside from the old time radio show idea the meat and potatoes on here are the songs, all written by mainman Travis Ward and all of them excellent with not one clunker in sight. Ward writes on topics and themes that are so well worn and familiar as to be past bothering about and it’s a measure of his skills that he can breathe new life into them. The instrumentals are infectious and lively with a large dose of humour thrown in such as on the brief Pig Town Jug Blues where it sounds as if the kazoo player has forgotten the kazoo while Rattler In The Outhouse would have the dead tap their feet. He can be deliciously goofy and romantic as on Hand In Hand or channel Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues as if it were being performed by a coked up Hank Williams on Trash Can. Working here as a five piece the band employ the the expected guitar, banjo, washboard and percussion along with“Tooth Knuckle,” “Coot Hooter” and “Clanker.” The playing is excellent with Ballad of a Lonely Rounder standing out with its singing saw and syncopated rhythym.
It’s safe to say that this album sets a gold standard for Junkerdash music. For those who live outwith the Hillfolk Noir universe it’s probably the best old time string band album of the year so far and for anyone who thinks it’s somewhat anachronistic to celebrate old time radio by listening to a CD the band have a limited edition 10” vinyl version for sale. You can see and hear them for yourself when the band plays their first UK tour in June with several Scottish dates. You can check them here
Ballad Of A Lonely Rounder
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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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We first came across Woody Pines back in 2009 when we reviewed his album Counting Alligators which was a fine slice of old timey songs. Woody also popped up on an Old Dollar Bill release at one point. Now we’ve got this excellent EP released to coincide with their current UK tour. Five songs long with a brief intro that sounds as if one were tuning into an old radio show it bodes well for the shows portraying as it does a tight and fast picking band with a sure hand on the old Americana tiller. Although the songs are all covers Woody and his band own them here. From the opening traditional Long Gone Lost John we’re in country swing territory with Woody playing some fine snappy guitar runs that fuzz and bite while clarinet reinforces the jazzy feel embedded in the best of that genre. As they hurtle to the end of the song they swing like a bell on what is a great opening song, punchy and defiant. The smooth acoustic drive of Doc Boggs’ Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This way is embellished with some spooky resonator guitar that echoes the wide lonesome plains while Leadbelly’s Ham & Eggs rocks with a neat fifties style and again features some nifty guitar work. Hank Williams’ Can’t Keep You Off My Mind is given a laid back (or as laid back as they get) honky tonk feel with Zack Pozebanchuck’s upright bass a special delight here. The all too short disc ends with another traditional song Treat You Right with much finger picking, harmonica and muted organ that reminds you of just how groovy and infectious old time country music can be when it’s in the right hands.
With Woody in fine fettle on vocals and demonstrating some fine guitar and harp skills the rest of the band (Lyon Graulty, guitar, vocals, Zack Pozebanchuck, upright bass and Mike Gray, drums) more than keep up with him and much of the delight in listening to this is in the individual contributions of each adding to a very nice whole. If they sound half as good live then get thee to a show.
Long Gone Lost John
Woody Pines is currently touring the UK.
Tues Apr 17: The Acorn Theatre, Penzance
Wed Apr 18: Chichester Inn, Chichester
Thurs Apr 19: The Chattery, Swansea
Fri Apr 20: The Beach, Clevedon
Sat Apr 21: Bridge House Theatre, Warwick
Sun Apr 22: The Canteen, Bristol (afternoon)
Tues Apr 24: Red Room, Cookstown, Co Tyrone
Weds Apr 25: The Atlantic Bar, Main Street , Portrush, Co Antrim
Thurs Apr 26: Clonmel, Co Tipperary
Fri Apr 27: The Glens Centre, Manorhamilton, Co Lietrim
Sat Apr 28: Seamus Ennis Centre, Naul, Co Dublin
Sun Apr 29: Laurie’s Acoustic Music Bar, Glasgow
Tues May 1: Old Library, Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire
Wed May 2: Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine
Thurs May 3: Aros Centre, Isle of Skye
Fri May 4: An Tobar, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Sat May 5: Brew at the Bog, Bogbain Farm, Inshes, Inverness Tickets
from http://www.ticketsoup.com – 0844 3954000
Sun May 6: Woodend Barn, Banchory
Tues May 8: Leith Folk Club, Victoria Park House Hotel, Edinburgh
Wed May 9: The Catstrand, New Galloway
Thurs May 10: Woodlands Hotel, Broughty Ferry
Fri May 11: Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Sat May 12: Heart of Hawick auditorium, Scottish Borders
Sun May 13: Saltburn Community Theatre, Saltburn-by-the-Sea
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A timely reissue for this third release from Canadian duo, Twilight Hotel as they embark on a short European tour in March and April. They should go down well as the tone of this album is not so much Americana as Europicana (a word I have just coined) in parts. What Do I Know About Love? could be the music for an Apache Dance with its louche accordion and stinging guitar while the title song and Poor and Hungry both hint at the European moodiness of The Walkabouts on their album Train Leaves At Eight. However Mahogany Veneer pulls them back slap bang into the States on an autobiographical tale of the longeurs of touring and their longing to return to their home turf of Winnipeg.
On Ham Radio Blues and Dream of Letting Go the guitar bluster and the harmonies of Brandy Zdan and Dave Quanbury at times recall the recently re-energised Cowboy Junkies. They do however manage to stamp their own identity on the hypnotic Frozen Town and especially on the brooding menace that is The Darkness, a song that could easily illuminate some of the seedier scenes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Overall the sound of Twilight Hotel is dark and menacing, guitars swoop and soar, razor sharp at times with echoes of Morricone, the percussion (by Stephen Hodges, ex Tom Wait player) is dynamic and sensitive, banjo, accordion and dulcimer add a gossamer touch to what is an aural gothic movie. This is perhaps best summed up on the closing song When I’m Gone, a macabre plea not to buried “underground in a wooden box with walls around. Leave my bones bare and I will become a river.” Superb stuff.
As part of their tour Twilight Hotel hit the ABC2 on 18th April.
When I’m Gone
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