Gwendolyn. Bright Light
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.
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.
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. .
The offending Old Dollar Bill