Catching up on some Celtic Connections related items here’s our take on a couple of albums released by participants in this year’s shindig.
First up is Mary Dillon with North, a fairly traditional album of songs from this Northern Irish singer and sister of Cara Dillon. Mary was a member of Irish band Deanta way back in the nineties but retired from the music business for the past decade or so to raise her family. Stepping back into the fray North is a fine selection of mostly traditional songs on which she sings beautifully and is supported by a very talented group of musicians including former Deanta band mate Neil Martin who arranges the strings on the very affecting lament Edward On Lough Erne Shore. With all of the songs having a connection to Northern Ireland and having grown up with the majority of them Dillon seems to live and breathe by them and this is apparent in the delivery. Her voice appears as if out of a mist, clear as a bell, intimate and warm whether it be unaccompanied on the haunting Ard Ti Chuain which closes the album or the gently lilting and mildly ribald When’s A Man’s In Love which open the proceedings. This is an album that’s as warm as a glass of whiskey on a cold winter’s night, to be savoured and taken at one’s leisure.
Heidi Talbot chose to have the official release party of Angels Without Wings at Celtic Connections, fittingly enough as it was recorded in Glasgow’s new Gorbals Sound Studios. While she’s backed in the main by her regular band including husband John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine the album includes contributions from such luminaries as Jerry Douglas, Mark Knopfler, Tim O’Brien, Karine Polwart and King Creosote. While stellar line-ups don’t always guarantee a result Talbot has hit pay dirt here as the album is as swell a selection of modern folk songs as one could wish for. From the Hurdy Gurdy folksiness of the title song to the bare boned The Loneliest the playing is excellent and Talbot’s voice hits home with its childlike vulnerability. When The Roses Come Again is perhaps the most traditional sounding song here but the best is saved for last with two heart tugging songs, My Sister The Moon and Arcadia that are sumptuous and beguiling. Pillows of sound waft from the musicians while Talbot sounds vulnerable, cosseted by the very sympathetic playing. All in all a fine showing from a singer who deserves to be held in the same regard as Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson.
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.
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.
Another Blabber’n’Smoke favourite who’s appearing at Celtic Connections is Heidi Talbot. Irish born she was a member of America’s Cherish The Ladies before returning to the UK and hooking up (professionally and personally) with John McCusker. With a new album, Angels Without Wings, set for release she plays the Old Fruitmarket on 27th January, sharing the bill with Paul Brady. We haven’t heard all of the album yet but the four songs on display below show that she’s building on her fine 2010 debut , The Last Star which found her finding her own songwriting skills. Angels Without Wings was recorded in the Gorbals Sound Studios with her regular team of Ian Carr (guitars), Phil Cunningham (Accordion), Michael McGoldrick (flutes/whistles) James Mackintosh (percussion), Boo Hewerdine (acoustic guitar) and Ewan Vernal (bass). It features guest spots from Mark Knopfler, King Creosote and Karine Polwart.
When we reviewed The Last Star we thought that there was a similarity in the sound and feel to Richard and Linda Thompson’s early recordings and the title song of the new album confirms this as the accordion and brass would sit easily within Hokey Pokey. When The Roses Come Again meanwhile has that heartaching quality that Linda Thompson was so good at conveying.
Proper Records have autographed copies of the album for sale at http://www.propermusic.com/product-details/Heidi-Talbot-Angels-Without-Wings-Ltd-Autographed-Edition-146125
It’s coming up for Celtic Connections time again and as usual there’s a hefty wallop of Americana music on show. Blabber’n’Smoke aficionados will already be familiar with some of the acts appearing. John Murry whose album, The Graceless Age, was our No. 1 release of last year appears along with the Cowboy Junkies at Kelvingrove art gallery while another of our top ten faves Petunia & The Vipers hit the Old Fruitmarket accompanied by Woody Pines. A Blabber’n’Smoke night to savour we think. Others we’ve previously mentioned here include the Heritage Blues Orchestra at the Royal Concert Hall, The Lost Brothers(supporting Glen Hansard), again at the Old Fruitmarket and finally a show that promises to be a doozie, Otis Gibbs at the Glasgow Art Club. Gibbs’ Hard As Hammered Hell was another album in our top ten releases of 2012.
This list only scratches the surface of course and it’s serendipitous that all of the above were mentioned here last year. We thought we’d take some time to mention a few others whose albums have fallen into our lap recently and who are also appearing.
The curiously named Leon Hunt n-Tet will be the must go gig for any music loving mathematicians as the n-tet suffix denotes a number that is liable to change (in layman terms they can be a duo, trio, quartet etc) and it’s likely that only boffins will get this. If so the boffins will be rubbing shoulders with bluegrass fans as Mr. Hunt is reckoned to be the UK’s premier 5-string banjo player and can be heard on numerous collaborations with a stellar array of transatlantic musicians. Here he’s promoting his tribute to the late Earl Scruggs. Farewell Blues (Remembering Earl Scruggs) sees him teamed up with three other UK exponents of the high lonesome sound (Jason Titley, Guitar, Ben Somers, Double Bass and Joe Hymas, Mandolin) and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from such experienced hands. The playing is impeccable, vibrant and joyous as they wheel through 12 cuts which range from the whirlwind Foggy Mountain Special to the ragamuffin roll that is Deep River Blues. It’s a joy from start to finish and in a blindfold test you’d swear these guys were raised on a porch on momma’s moonshine liquor. They play St. Andrews In the Square on 26th January supporting Sarah Jarosz
The Two Man Gentleman Band are a different kettle of fish although they also base their sound on a vintage American sound, in this case the very cool, hip and voutereeniest man ever, Slim Gaillard. Gaillard was a blast in the past, hobnobbing with Hollywood royalty and recording some of the daftest and deftest music ever. Most popular in a twin setting (as Slim and Slam then Slim and Bam, perhaps the chaps should rename themselves for Celtic Connections as Slim and Tam) he appeared in movies and was as popular as Louis Jordan. Playing guitar accompanied by double bass Gaillard scatted and jived about food, drinking and at times just nonsense in his invented language, vout. The Two Man Gentleman Band don’t share his language but they do sing about food (Pork Chops, Tikka Masala, Cheese and Crackers) and drinking (Chocolate Milk, Wine, Oh Wine!, Please Don’t Water It Down). What they do manage is the sense of fun, the joy of goofing off on a riff and the almost absurd (think Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes and Bugs Bunny) worldview that on record is engaging but should go down a storm live. They’re at the Glasgow Piping Centre on 26th January.
In the dying days of Celtic Connections we heard that good friends of Blabber’n’Smoke, Old Dollar Bill were venturing west to support Mairi Orr at an Open Stage gig. The Open stage is a free daily show featuring several artists who have the opportunity to play to a very appreciative audience. It’s one of Celtic Connections’ finer aspects and was inspired by the late and great Danny Kyle.
Anyway, Mairi, originally from Morar in the west Highlands but now living in Edinburgh, appeared with her “borrowed band,” and delivered a fine set featuring songs from her sparkling debut disc, The Gathering Crows that went down a treat. Intrigued we sought a copy and for the past two weeks have been very impressed. The Gathering Crows is a five song collection with all titles written by Orr and featuring support from Stephen Clark and Ed Henry of Old Dollar Bill among others. It positively bursts at the seams with a vibrant quality and the maturity of the writing and playing is unexpected from someone just stepping onto the stage.
Orr’s voice has a magnificent presence. Strong and melodic she could fit well into that pantheon that includes Sandy Denny, Linda Thompson, Jacqui McShee and in particular the enigma that is Shelagh McDonald. The latter is particularly recalled on two songs here, the title song and the opening For Gold. Both songs are baleful tales, chilling in their delivery with some superb backing, the Dobro in For Gold snakes menacingly throughout while on The gathering Crows the guitar, mandolin, bass and percussion thrash together in a propulsive audio equivalent of a murder of crows. A third song, Will You is delivered very much in a folk style that does recall early Denny and it features some exquisite fiddle by Amy Geddes. The two remaining songs display a more American influence. Sweet One has an urgency that owes a debt to bluegrass while Two Different States of Mind features just Orr and banjo from Mark Woods on a tantalising murder ballad.
A great debut and a mention must be made of the excellent supportive players, Stephen Clark, Ed Henry, Hugh Kelly, Mark Woods and Amy Geddes who all add a very authentic and well played backdrop to Ms. Orr’s very talented delivery.
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
Another artist who’s appearing at Celtic Connections (2nd and 5th Feb as part of the Transatlantic Sessions shows at the Royal Concert Hall) Moody is probably best known as a member of the renowned Wailin’ Jennies. Here she steps out on her own with a debut solo (originally released Stateside in 2010 but now on sale here) that’s captivating in its wispy, almost ethereal tones. While not departing too far from the Jennies’ sound she has backing from Crooked Still among others who add a little bit of a rock bite to the mix, perhaps best experienced on Travellin’ Shoes, a superb creeper of a song that has scintillating guitar spreading throughout it. However the majority of the songs here are gossamer thin with Moody’s pure voice hovering over the delicate backings. Cold Outside has something of a Daniel Lanois quality to it while We Can Only Listen pairs her with Matt Peters on a duet that trots along with a fine banjo led propulsion. Her Wailin’ band mates, Heather Masse and Nicky Mehta do appear with backing vocals on a few songs with all three joining in on the last song, Closer Now. The highlight is the opening and title song where fiddle and banjo ripple like the wind on a song that celebrates nature and according to Moody is influenced by Voltaire’s Candide, a work that equates the garden as a Paradise. Fair enough as this album is a miniature paradise in itself. If you like the Wailin’ Jennies then you will like this, if not (and why not) it’s well worth digging into.
Blabber’n’Smoke first came across this young band from the Borders when they supported The Wilders back in May of last year. Since then they’ve been to the States and now unveil their debut album to coincide with their slots at Celtic Connections. Nailing their colours firmly to the mast Americana music is their thing with bluegrass and string band playing well to the fore. It’s to their credit however that they’ve populated the album with nine originals and not an American song in sight. The one cover is the title song which was written by the late Peebles artist Bryan Begg and it’s of note that this is the second release in the recent past we’ve come across which has been dedicated to his memory (the other being Old Dollar Bill’s Across The Tracks EP).
Much in the way of Old Dollar Bill The Dirty Beggars have drunk from the well of traditional American music to the extent that they can regurgitate songs that sound as if they were whittled out of experience and hard living in the Appalachians and frontier towns. They can deliver lighting fast string driven hoedowns and wearied ballads although they shine best on the latter. Tunnel Light in particular is a splendidly nimble and poignant song with some fine playing and wise words from such a young band. Nashville Wave Goodbye is a great cautionary tale of a would be musician’s life lost in the drinking dens of Music City. With a great chorus and splendid harmonies this could be a hit in that titular town if anyone would listen. Underneath The Sky captures the band playing at their best with all the elements coalescing into a classic song.
Of the faster songs Too Tired (To Work That Farm Today) has a charming country bumpkin lift to it while When The Cockerel Crows skitters along with zest. The band cap the album with a fine and tender rendition of the Beggs’ song Bite The Bullet, a sombre note perhaps but a fine end to what is an excellent introduction to this fine young band. The Dirty Beggars play Celtic Connections today. There’s a fine interview with them here.
It’s Celtic Connections time again folks. We’ve already reviewed New Country Rehab who are playing two gigs. Now it’s the chance of Rebecca Pronsky whose appearance on 30th January chimes in nicely with the release this month of her fine album Viewfinder. Pronsky is a Brooklyn girl who in interviews comes across as feisty and entertaining as one might expect from an inhabitant of that borough. An example from a recent interview with Americana UK “I’m about to marry my guitar player. That’s pretty significant. I never thought I’d meet a guitar player who wasn’t a cocky SOB and not only did I meet one who is kind and lovely, he is super talented, plays so tastefully, and has been behind me 100% in this crazy biz.”
That guitar player is Rich Bennett who provides much of the rich texture that adorns this album. He has a firm grasp on that sinuous slinky reverbed guitar sound that Chris Issac and Richard Hawley are so fond of and his playing throughout is a delight. Allied (or married) to the tremendous guitar playing are Pronsky’s lyrics which relate oblique slideshows and snapshots of relationships and memories, mostly forlorn despite the upbeat backing. On top of this Pronsky has a fantastic voice which harks back to classic country singers with a hint of sadness and held back sobs but with a purity that is reminiscent of Neko Case. Pronsky writes all but one of the songs here. The exception is Lucy Wainright Roche’s Mercury News which fits into the overall picture like a bespoke glove.
From the twang filled opener Hard Times to the reverb drenched minimalist closer Good Life (lyrics: I’ve Been Given a Good Life/I Was Born at the Right Time) this is a corker from start to finish.
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 […]
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 […]
Vermont based Bow Thayer takes a mighty stride forward on Eden, his third album with his Perfect Trainwreck set up. Originally from Boston Thayer has featured in several bands as he has pursued his version of a driving folk, country and blues sound with his weapon of choice these days being an electric banjo. Eden […]
Inevitably there are albums sent to Blabber’n'Smoke that just don’t get reviewed. Some aren’t very good, others just get swallowed up in the pending pile and by the time we get around to them the release date has been and gone so we move on to the next and more current contender. However with the […]
It’s off up to Aberdeen for this one. Craig John Davidson is a native of the granite city and The Last Laugh, his fourth release, is his first for the very fine Aberdonian Indy label, Fat Hippy Records. A one man band, Davidson plays all of the sounds on the album apart from some strings […]
The creative duo behind this band are guitarist ( multi instrumentalist actually) Kenny Marshall and lyricist Kevin W. Peery. An odd set up in Americana land as I can’t recall anyone else having this type of relationship (although I probably stand to be corrected). Indeed Elton John with Bernie Taupin and Procul Harum with Keith […]
It’s been a turbulent few years for The Wynntown Marshals with arrivals and departures (including guitarist Iain Barbour and drummer Keith Jones) that might have derailed lesser bands. However they’ve ploughed on with their other guitar wizard Iain Sloan picking up the baton dropped by Jones as the band’s indefatigable publicist and also employing an […] […]