Here’s a few of the albums which have been rocking this joint over the past week.
Betty Soo and Doug Cox Across the Borderline: Lie to Me.
Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Betty Soo a few months ago. Now she’s teamed up with ace guitarist Doug Cox to produce a fine, simple and superb album of covers. Soo is of Korean stock and hails from Texas while Cox is Canadian. Meeting at a guitar camp (indeed, do such things exist?) they appear to have shared a mutual admiration for Doug Sahm (whom Cox worked with) and soon Cox was touring with Soo. Together they cooked up the idea for this album wanting to share their favourite songwriters with the listener. Hence an album of songs by the likes of Loudon Wainwright, Butch Hancock, Sahm and Guy Clark along with lesser known talents such as Jeff Talmadge and Betty Elders.
Stripped back, the album features the pair on vocals with Cox’s fine resophonic guitar playing shining throughout. It’s an intimate affair, perfect for late night listening and the song selection is spot on. While the goofy country of Big Cheeseburgers (by Blaze Foley) and the bluesy Boxcars (Butch Hancock) are superb readings they excel on a pair of ballads. Betty Elders’ Light in Your Window showcases Soo’s fine clear voice while Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues ends the album on a high note.
Soo and Cox will be touring the UK in September and appear in Scotland for three dates.
Brothers Reid are a band from Aberdeen who take Americana by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake. A busy bustling band this debut might be a little muddy in its production but they have a fine line in their mixture of West Coast influenced rock with some folk influences thrown in. Starting off with Done and Dusted the harmonies and sinewy guitars hint at evenings spent listening to old Steve Miller and Moby Grape albums. Flea Circus continues in this vein but it’s the third song, Farmboy Blues which catches the listener’s ear. While it has a hint of the Grateful Dead’s country leanings the band steer it away from homage with an extended coda that has some fine guitar and strings. The outright folk embellishments on the following song City Lights come as a bit of a shock at first but are a brave reminder that the band hails from Scotland and not California. Despite that California is never far from the mind as they deliver their epic Roll On, a guitar churning slow flowing piece that sounds like it might be a killer heard live. Similarly the closing title song, a blues boogie whose harmonica parts recollect Canned Heat could have an audience on its feet yelling for more. Promising.
For a debut album his is a bit of a behemoth. Based in Philadelphia Malone and crew have produced a package that one generally expects from established bands. Comprising of two discs, the actual album on CD (with 13 tracks and five bonus cuts) and a DVD of them rehearsing in the studio it looks mighty impressive. Best of all however is the fact that Malone et al pull this off with no sign of filler throughout this bar the repetition of one song, Just Like New which has a “radio edit” version tacked on. Fitting perhaps as this band are nothing other than radio friendly with their version of blue collar American rock. Ringing and stinging guitars, sweet pedal steel and a rocking rhythm section back up Malone’s impassioned vocals on a series of songs that sound as familiar as hell after a few listens. The jangling intro Silver From is straight out of Earle county while the spooky Emmit Meets a Demon recalls the Byrds’ forays into swamp rock. Leave Us Alone has hints of the Jayhawks as has the Ballad of Mr. Bardo.
Covers of Creedence’s Fortunate Son (a great version by the way) and Tom Petty’s I Should Have Known It (on the DVD) show where the band are coming from. While they won’t win many awards for originality they do deserve an award for delivering this fine slice of energetic and rocking Americana.
Wiser Time. Beggars and Thieves.
First up are New Jersey band Wiser Time with their third release, Beggars and Thieves. Starting off with a rumbling guitar that smacks of Keith Richards’ exiled in the south of France the opening song Love and Devotion fails to live up to the wasted elegance that comprised Exile on Main Street but nonetheless is a fine slice of slide and piano driven boogie that ultimately recalls Little Feat. Main man Carmen Sclafani is obviously in thrall to the early seventies sound of such bands however this is not a retread of tired boogiedom and some of the better moments occur when the band ease back and rock gently with Sclafani dipping into a more mellow mood. Take Me back Home for example has some elements of Steve Stills’ solo work but with a sweet fiddle and mandolin backdrop and some fine guitar work this is a tremendous song. The B3 organ that comes in at the end adds a fine organic feeling and at times this sounds like an American roots version of a Steve Winwood ballad. The following song It’s Hard Letting You Go maintains this quality, a piano based ballad with Lowell George like slide guitar from Jimmy Somma it would fit perfectly on the soundtrack to “Almost Famous.” The album closes with a superb cover of the Bad Company song, Seagull which in our mind is an improvement on the original, less dramatic and enhanced by some very sympathetic percussion and mandolin, basically an encapsulation of the whole album, an affectionate nod to those far away days. website
Take Me back Home
Jeff Talmadge. Kind of Everything.
Talmadge was a Texas lawyer who packed it in to become an itinerant musician working very much in the Texan vein with clear routes back to Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark. While he hasn’t produced anything to match the best of either of these two he does provide a winning take on the genre on this, his seventh album. Armed with an attractive vocal delivery, warm but experienced, he spins tales of Texas folk buttressed by a superb line up of musicians that include Pat McInerney on percussion, Fats Kaplin, fiddle and steel guitar Freddy Holm, Dobro, Ray Bonneville, harmonica, Lloyd Maines, pedal steel and Tim O’Brien on mandolin. In fact anyone who likes acoustic albums laced with Dobro, steel guitar, mandolin and fiddle need read no more, just buy this.
While there are some upbeat songs including the opening If It wasn’t For the Wind, a David Olney cover and the jaunty Sometimes You Choose Love the meat of the album is in the moodier, darker moments with several that raise the album well above the average. One Spectacular Moon has a romantic yearning to it and features some fine fiddle playing from Kaplin. It’ll Sure be Cold Tonight is a stark tale of homelessness that raises goosepimples. Molly showcases Tim O’Brien’s mandolin on a tale that is straight out of the Townes Van Zandt stylebook. Summer Road is a classic of its sort, elegiac, wide screen nostalgia, this is dusty and vital. Finally He’ll Give Her Back This Town Tonight is a break up song that is delivered in a heartbreaking style with the band excelling on the oh so sympathetic backing, a song that could be destined for late night radio programmers everywhere. website
He’ll Give Her back This Town Tonight
Cam Penner Gypsy Summer.
Canadian Cam Penner has released several albums that can be considered “confessional.” Tender, despite his occasionally gruff voice his last release Trouble and Mercy was a stripped down affair. Here, despite recording the album in a cabin near the Rockies, he achieves a plush, warm, occasionally funky sound that is dynamic and engaging. Guitars and bass throb and thrum, strings (violin and viola) add to the drama at times and the percussion drives several songs with an almost J. J. Cale like shuffle. The title song unwinds slowly building to a crescendo that is spooky and evil sounding, as most songs with Gypsy in the title seem to do. Ghost Car has a strong pulse beat that drives the song which has a neon lit highway feel to it while the clash and clatter of My Lover & I is the sort of R’n’B shuffle that Ry Cooder has been fond of in the past, there’s a decidedly southern feel to this. The highlight of the album is the opening song Driftwood which starts off with a classic guitar /harmonica part so beloved of Neil Young. Perhaps it’s the title of the song but we find some of The Band’s influence here also as Penner delivers a downbeat tale of a relationship that’s taking some work to keep together. Here Penner and his band deliver a perfectly nuanced folk rock song. An instrumental reprise of the song towards the end of the album supports its claim to be a superior piece of music.
The closing song Come As You Are reverts to Penner’s stripped down style with just guitar, piano and voice and is reminiscent of Bill Callaghan’s work in Smog. A fine end to a fine album. website
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 […] […]