Ian M. Bailey. Songs To Dream Along To. Kool Kat Musik.

Following on for their collaboration on the Shots Of Sun EP, Ian M. Bailey and Glasgow’s Daniel Wylie have co-written this full length album which, as with Bailey’s (and Wylie’s) previous releases, is a quite joyous celebration of 1960’s sunshine paradise pop, as practised by The Byrds, The Beau Brummels, The Association and many others, and the soft rock sounds of the early 70s as exemplified by America, Seals & Croft and numerous offshoots of the whole Byrds/CSN/Burritos clan.

Bailey remains a one-man band, playing all of the instruments (aside from a string section on The Sound Of Her Voice) and, as before, it’s quite impressive that there’s no hint of this in the final delivery. The songs are fresh and show no sign of being assembled whatsoever and the harmony singing (again all Bailey) is outstanding. Listen to Everything Will be Alright and try not to imagine that it’s a band like the trio America singing it.

Bailey is an experienced practitioner in the art of 12 string Rickenbacker jangle and this is to the fore in the opening song, This Is Not A Feeling which opens with a Beatles’ like acoustic guitar strum before the 12 string sparks up and we are offered a Gene Clark like song which aches with a romantic melancholic feeling. Take It Or Leave It is in a similar vein with more mid 60s’ solipsism although here it’s less melancholic given the powerful thrust of the verses and the waves of keyboard which pump throughout the song. Further along the track list, Slow Down River and Just Like A Child (Dream Catcher) remind one of the latter day Byrds, their jangled pop reined in by the likes of Clarence White and Gene Parsons who brought in new sensibilities rooted in old American music. Meanwhile, I’m Not The Enemy, still suffused with gleaming 12 string, is more akin to the Paisley Underground bands who revitalised these sounds in the 80s, even though its lyrics remain rooted in the original psychedelic underground.

As we said, Laurel Canyon and its denizens also loom large and it’s easy to imagine songs such as A Place To Live, Everything Will be Alright and The Sound Of Her Voice being performed by a sensitive soul on The Old Grey Whistle Test back then. The latter in particular, with its sweeping strings, reminds one of Dan Fogelberg which, we have to say, is no bad thing. The highpoint is the delicately delivered and harmonious What’s Happening Now which is a dreamlike meander with gently flowing guitars along with a slight undercurrent of menace courtesy of a muted yet decidedly psychedelic electric guitar. There’s also fun to be had in the mock Eastern exotica of Midday At The Hope Lodge which can’t help but remind one of The Beatles’ flight from the murderous cult pursuing them in their movie, Help!

Despite the surplus of names we’ve mentioned, Bailey and Wylie have come up trumps with Songs To Dream Along To. It’s a glorious listen that certainly rises above its influences.

Website

Malcolm MacWatt. Settler. Need To Know Music

Transatlantic Connections is of course the title of a series of successful TV shows and an ensuing (and usually sold out) live gig franchise. It might be a fear of being sued which prevented Malcolm MacWatt from giving this title to his excellent debut album but it would have been most appropriate. MacWatt, a Scots musician from Morayshire, has crafted a set of songs which relate to the Scottish diaspora, those who settled in the new world and elsewhere, usually leaving everything behind but their culture. In the end, MacWatt settled on Settler as the title and we’ll just have to settle with that, given that it is also quite appropriate.

While MacWatt’s songs have Celtic blood and a healthy dose of Appalachia coursing through their veins, he opens up the connections by having Jaimee Harris, Gretchen Peters and Laura Cantrell join him on the venture and Eliza Carthy adds a fine dose of English earthiness. These four song sirens might be considered the icing on the cake but all of the songs here stand tall on their own merit. On the strength of them MacWatt deserves to be considered alongside Jackie Leven, Ross Wilson of Blue Rose Code and even Dick Gaughan.

While several songs do address relocation and emigration, many are engaged with the perils and tribulations our settlers faced and there are also occasions when MacWatt nods to contemporary issues. Trespass begins as a diatribe against land ownership depriving local folk of access to their traditional country ways and ends with a dour description of run down town centres, local shops shut while the supermarket is a magnet. The opening song, Avalanche And Landslide is another contemporary number and, while it’s an attractive listen, one can’t help wonder why it’s placed first and foremost. With a jaunty beat and snakelike slide guitar it’s the most American sounding song here and it seems essentially to be a protest song and somewhat out of kilter with what is yet to come. It sounds great and Jaimee Harris adds some excellent gospel inspired vocals but we can’t help but think that this might have been a song to close on rather than open with.

No such quibbles regarding Letter From San Francisco which is a rousing tale of a hardscrabbled sailor’s life stranded in San Francisco, his money gone, his only comforts prostitutes and opium, his words a last testament of sorts, destined to be sent to his mother once he’s dead. This is ten times better than any old sea shanty which might be getting pushed your way these days. Ghosts Of Caledonia is where MacWatt starts to emulate some of those mentioned above. It’s a sinewy and twisting folk rock song, misty and evocative with some brilliant lyrics – “All you ghosts of Caledonia before Columba came/To put you pagan Picts and Celts and witches to the flame.”

We drift somewhere amidst the Appalachians and ye olde England  for The Curse Of Molly McPhee which has Laura Cantrell joining in on a song which ticks all of the boxes to be considered a child of The Child Ballads. It’s a deliciously dark tale of love, lust and witchcraft, ending with an execution. It has the cut and thrust and sheer brio that inspired Fairport Convention’s Matty Groves and it’s really quite astonishing to realise that MacWatt wrote this song. Gretchen Peters is next up, joining MacWatt on another powerful song, a valediction for those settlers who sailed from Scotland’s shores on My Bonny Boys Have Gone. If a song could weep tears, this one would and Peters closes the song with a perfect balance of sentimentality and regret. Somewhat astonishingly, MacWatt goes one better on The Miller’s Daughter which is a gnarled and windblown blast of rural lust which comes across like a Thomas Hardy novel. Eliza Carthy is the vocal foil here and she is indeed, earthy and compelling.

While the album reaches its apogee on this delightful vocal collaborative trilogy, there’s a fine historical bent to the tale of John Rae’s Welcome Home which is the true tale of an Orkney born Arctic explorer, celebrated in Canada but vilified in his time by the establishment. With Kris Drever providing subtle guitar, it’s another example of MacWatt invoking a folk strain and bringing it bang up to date. The album closes with MacWatt’s impressionistic evocation of his homeland coast on North Atlantic Summer, a return of sorts to the spirit of Ghosts Of Caledonia and suffused with the spirit, the history and geography of our highlands and islands and those brave emigrants. A sorry tale which continues to this day as beleaguered folk still take to the waters to escape ruin.

Website

Various artists. Choctaw Ridge – New Fables Of The American South 1968-1973. Ace Records

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Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe, a massive hit in 1967, is the template for this compilation of storytelling songs of the American south, all of them released in the following five years, a fairly tumultuous period in The States. The album is the latest to be compiled for Ace Records by Bob Stanley and Martin Green (both with a fine pedigree in dredging up fantastic songs from the past) and Choctaw Ridge is a fascinating listen whether you are au fait with the period or just intrigued by the approving mentions of it on social media in advance of its release.

Ode To Billy Joe itself isn’t present but Gentry does appear on Belinda, a banjo driven tale of a lonesome bar room dancer, and it’s snapshots such as this which pepper the album. Well-known names such as Dolly Parton, Mike Nesmith, John Hartford and Kenny Rogers all appear but lesser known artists such as Rob Galbraith, Sammi Smith and Henson Cargill can startle with their contributions. Aside from Gentry, Lee Hazlewood gets credit for originating this amalgam of country and pop and he has two appearances here while Jim Ford and Tony Joe White provide some swampier moments.

The album is a rich tapestry of adventurous styles, intricate arrangements, and songs some of which, at the time, ventured into territory rarely spoken about never mind being played on the radio. It’s a fabulous listen.

Audrey Spillman. Neon Dream.

Until Neon Dream dropped through the letterbox, Audrey Spillman was somewhat of a mystery to us here at Blabber’n’Smoke. We’d heard (and seen ) her as part of the Buffalo Blood collective (featuring her husband, Neilson Hubbard along with Joshua Britt and Dean Owens) which, in itself was something of an offshoot of Hubbard and Britt’s Orphan Brigade. Due diligence reveals that Spillman has a couple of albums and EPs already under her belt and had also acted in an independent film, Wheeler, alongside Stephen Dorff and Kris Kristofferson. Having heard Neon Dream, it’s fair to say that we’ll be checking out those past releases as we have truly succumbed to Spillman’s bewitching songs on Neon Dream.

The album opens with Austin Motel which contains the lyric providing the album’s title, a title which is quite apt as much of this album is a dreamlike reverie with Spillman’s voice somewhat spellbinding. Her hubby Hubbard, Will Kimbrough and Dan Mitchell are the musicians who provide the ingredients and they are perfect dream weavers, the delicate arrangements perfectly suited to the voice. Austin Motel is a perfect example as the song undulates between swooning guitar and percussive pops and fully fledged Neon lit Americana. Beyond The Blue is delivered in similar fashion with its fusion of pop and roots reminiscent of Neko Case on albums such as Blacklisted.

Elsewhere, Spillman digs a little deeper into her own voyage with Red Balloon an intimate recollection of a child’s relationship to her father while Little Light Of Mine is a delicate song to her infant son, sweetened immensely by the superbly restrained and cosseting guitars.  On a darker note, Go On And Fly is an eulogy to her late stepmother but it has a universal touch.

A cover of Summertime, the Porgy & Bess chestnut, might seem surprising but Spillman and crew actually manage to breathe new life into it, their resurrection is wonderfully languid and limpid. Stretching across to the Buffalo Blood project, there’s also Spillman’s take on White River which adheres, for the most part, to the original but with glistening guitar murmurings adding to its quiet majesty.

Website

Arksong : The Return of Marc Pilley

Cast your mind back to the year 2000 and there was a band called Hobotalk who created some waves in the general music scene. Their debut album, Beauty In Madness had been critically acclaimed and apparently was in the running for The Mercury Prize, but sales didn’t reflect that acclaim. Caught up in issues regarding their label, Hut, a subsidiary of Virgin Records, the band disbanded with leader and songwriter Marc Pilley taking some time out to reconsider his career.

Come 2005, Pilley revived the band with a new line-up and went on to release three superb albums on Glitterhouse Records. Again there was a positive reception from a small knit community, especially in Europe, but, once again, it just kind of petered out after their final release, 2008’s Alone Again Or. Since then, Pilley kind of disappeared from the scene, so it was a welcome surprise to find him back on stage a short while ago when, now billed as Arksong, he supported My Darling Clementine at the latest Glasgow Americana Festival. Appearing solo, Pilley plied the audience with a set of new songs which he has been carefully crafting over the past few years. His honeyed vocals were immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with Hobotalk and it was a joy to see him again.

It turns out that since around mid 2019, Pilley has been quietly releasing a series of albums and EPs in a DIY manner under the name of Arksong, selling them though his website and Bandcamp. After that gig, we delved into these and were quite astonished to find what amounts to a treasure trove of songs. Pilley has stripped his music back to, in the main, his voice and guitar, and recorded his songs in his garden shed. Despite this deliberately homegrown independence, there is much of what made Hobotalk such a compelling listen still evident. Pilley’s voice, quite mellifluent, a distant cousin of Tim Hardin’s, remains present. Nature and the seasons still feature with the music evocative of being beyond civilisation, a sense amplified by the beautifully stark black and white photographs which adorn the releases (all photographed by Pilley’s wife, Pam).

With Pilley’s most recent album, Ruin Valley Rising, glued to our stereo system, Blabber’n’Smoke reached out to him in his little garden cottage just outside of Edinburgh to chat about Arksong.

The last we heard of you was in 2008 when the final Hobotalk album was released. It’s been a long time.

Indeed it has. People still ask me about Beauty in Madness and that came out, oh, more than 20 years ago. I think it’s true to say that back then I didn’t really take care of business. When I’m asked about it I’ll tell folk that if you have a group of people who step in and say, here’s a bunch of money and we’ll take care of all this for you, a warning bell should go off. It’s really more important to take care of business yourself and by that I mean looking after relationships. If you take care of your business, each working relationship, then you’ll be much better placed to step forward. I didn’t do that back then. After Beauty In Madness, I took time out to go to Canada for several years and then I came back with a new band which I still called Hobotalk. We were signed to Glitterhouse and we grew quite a good following in Europe but eventually that came to a halt. Basically, I stopped thinking about having guitar, bass, drums and keyboards and I really got down to just my acoustic guitar and song writing.

So, what prompted you to come back as Arksong?

Well, I stopped doing a lot of things but the two things I didn’t stop were black coffee and song writing. Song writing seems to be the way I move though the world and I kept on doing that. It was my wife who said to me that there was no point in having all of these songs I’d written just sitting there, under a bushel if you like, so I reckoned it was time to record them and to say to people, here are some of my songs.

As you say, most of the songs are just you and your guitar but Ruin Valley Rising has some guests playing on it.

At first it was just me in my shed, singing and playing the songs. I recorded them and Ross Edmund, the original guitar player in Hobotalk who is a very gifted producer these days and runs a small studio called The Medicine Hut, mixed and produced the discs. On my last record, Ruin Valley Rising however, I asked some friends to join me and it was lovely to have The Unthanks, Ainslie Henderson, Henry Priestman, Mairi Campbell and Steve Balsamo all contribute.

I’ve really enjoyed listening to the albums and it strikes me that, on a song such as Turn To Me (on Everything’s Coming Home) you are walking in the footsteps of someone like Tim Hardin, a comparison which was often made in the Hobotalk days. Can you tell us a little about the music you were listening to when you were starting out?

I actually started off as a drummer but after a while I wasn’t enjoying the songs I was drumming on so I started writing my own. I was actually talking to Michael Weston King about this the other week when we played the Glasgow show. The first albums I remember really listening to were Bless The Weather by John Martyn and the three Nick Drake albums -I remember being floored by them and thinking this is what I want to do. When I was living in Dunbar I got to know Brian Hogg (Edinburgh based rock writer, author of All That Ever Mattered: The Story Of Scottish Rock and Pop and editor of Bam Balam magazine). I used to go round to his place where he had a huge record collection and he’d start at A and go through his collection with me to Z. It was Brian’s record collection which had a huge influence on me. It’s very hard to have something like a favourite list as it always changes but I’ve been asked that in the past and I always try to mention Tim Hardin, John Martyn, Joni Mitchell, Gillian Welch, Grant Lee Phillips and Justin Townes Earle. I think that Justin was really going places. You’ve probably heard Charlie Patton and I think that Justin was on that road. He was doing that howling at the stars thing and I thought it was going to get really exciting. Poor chap, that’s not going to happen now.

I enjoyed your contribution to the Jackie Leven tribute album, The Wanderer.

I was really honoured to be asked to participate on that. Jackie is one of those artists, a bit like Fred Neil, who are actually treasures but when you mention them to people they don’t know who you are talking about. I can’t believe that they don’t get more recognition.

So, what are your future plans?

The Glasgow Americana show was the first I’ve done in a long while and I really enjoyed being back on a stage again. I’m hoping to be touring again soon, here and in Europe where I’ve still got a lot of faithful fans. I’ll be playing solo as I think that it works out pretty well with just me and my guitar and my voice. I like to squeeze as much music as I can out of the least instrumentation. I’m currently recording songs for a new album but it won’t come out until next year.

So, keep you eyes peeled for news of Pilley playing anywhere near you soon. You can listen to and purchase his albums here and visit his website here.

Daniel Meade. Ever Wonder Why You Get Out Of Bed? From The Top Records

Following on from his successful “back to the roots” album, If You Don’t Mind, recorded with long-term guitar partner, Lloyd Reid, Daniel Meade returns to his one-man band set up for his latest opus. Ever Wonder Why You Get Out Of Bed? is a disc which sees him continuing to pursue a fuller sound while retaining much of the spirit which has inhabited his recent releases.

It’s evident from the beginning, as the title song opens the album with a whistling wind behind Meade’s lonesome voice and strummed acoustic, before swelling into a grandiloquent mix of synths and fiery guitar, that Meade is aiming high. He paints a dystopian picture, a wail of despair really which includes a litany of life’s losers and villains. His words and the delivery are quite reminiscent of Pete Townshend’s work circa Who’s Next. Townshend comes to mind again when Sometime The Rain Don’t Get You Wet erupts into view with its guitar power chords, although, as it powers along, the presumably synthesised horns threaten to overpower what is in essence a cracking slice of power pop which is just begging for some 12 string Rickenbacker jangle. It’s a fine double whammy to open the album but thereafter Meade dials it down (slightly) and begins to roam, which is where the fun really begins.

By The Book comes across like Jerry Lee fronting  Booker T & The M.G.s with its turbo charged guitar while Watcha Doin’ To Me roots around in garage band exuberance, joining the dots between the Sir Douglas Quintet and the sneering punk ridden Costello & The Attractions. Meanwhile, planted at the piano, Meade rips through the exuberant rockabilly roustabout of I’m Too Tired To Sing The Blues. He dresses this song up with snatches of found sounds and radio excerpts but, at root, it’s a grand showcase for his exceptional keyboard skills, up until and including the final trill. There’s more roustabout piano (along with a soaring guitar solo) on the amped up vocal duet with Cara Rose on Look No Further which simply rips along, just awaiting its turn to be picked up by some enterprising film director looking for the perfect song for his Scots road movie, a follow up to Restless natives perhaps?

There’s a loose limbed Stones cum Faces’ like rumble on Now I Laugh but heading back into his roots, Meade offers the clap along strum of The Choices That You Make which makes more sense of the Scots male psyche than any number of learned papers. Topping these however is the glistening ode which is To The Lovers, a glorious glitter ball swirl of sounds with a wonderful air of resignation in its refrain.

The album is available on CD and vinyl and download, see here.

Mr. Alec Bowman_Clarke. A Place Like Home EP. Corduroy Punk Records

When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed the then Mr. Alec Bowman’s album, I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot, we said, “It’s a brave album. It’s dark, but then without dark we wouldn’t have any light. And beyond the darkness, the songs, arrangements and performance are quite superb.” Light and shade continue to colour his music on this five song EP which was recorded in three days with Bowman_Clarke accompanied by his now wife Josienne Clarke (who produced and played on I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot) along with Lukas Drinkwater, both of them playing several instruments. The EP is not dissimilar to the previous album with Bowman_Clarke’s voice still somewhat world wearied, dispassionate almost. Comparisons to Cohen remain tempting but here there are also moments when the likes of Syd Barrett and Lou Reed come to mind.

Were he just a sound-alike, singing bedsit songs to cast out his demons, Bowman_Clarke would still be worth a listen, but he ventures forth here with a quite glorious set of songs which almost limp from the speakers, bruised and friable, on the verge of falling apart. Josienne Clarke adds her voice, saxophone and clarinet to the mix, providing some colour to the overall sense of chiaroscuro, but this is downbeat music with a capitol D.

A sound effect, we think of an old-fashioned film splicer, opens and closes the first song, Deleted Scenes. Here Bowman_Clarke searches for meaning within the mundane – the discarded memories and cast offs which constitute one’s experience as we hurtle from cradle to grave in what is essentially an existential soul search. The abrupt end to the song might be seen as high comedy – the editor wearied of Bowman_Clarke’s murmurings, cutting him off and discarding him – or a nod to the fact that, search as we may, the end can come out of the blue.

The Ghost Of Mistakes recalls the folkier elements of I Used To be Sad & Then I Forgot with its simple melody and breathy clarinet, as Bowman_Clarke burrows into domestic bliss and its precarious harmony. It’s a path riddled with past mistakes which have to be delicately managed but overall, it’s gently optimistic. Speaking Of Guns is the starkest song here with the guitar quite scabrous and slashing away as Bowman_Clarke dissects his song writing with a reference to Checkov’s principle that, if you mention a gun in a story then you should end that story with the gun being used. That aside, the song comes across like Lou Reed singing a seriously sad Syd Barrett song.

A Red Light In A Darkroom revisits some of The Ghost Of Mistakes territory, carrying forward that slight hint of light at the end of the day, and the disc closes with the title song which is decidedly Leonard Cohen like, especially with its hotel reference at the beginning. Sounding like a subdued out-take from Death Of A Ladies Man, it’s a song of solitude and longing, the singer insomniac and stranded, his lifeline the phone and the promise of home comforts. It’s a terrific close to what is a very impressive set of songs. Not your regular moon in June type by a country mile but an intriguing insight into the current state of mind of Bowman_Clarke and a fine retort to Dorothy’s belief that there’s no place like home.

Website

Matt Hill. Greedy Magicians II – Return Of The Idle Drones. Quiet Loner Records

Return Of The Idle Drones was initially conceived as a follow up of sorts to Matt Hill’s 2012 live album, Greedy Magicians, released under his previous moniker, Quiet Loner. Of course, Covid intervened, leading him to describe it as “a live album without the audience.” Undeterred, Hill and multi instrumentalist James Youngjohns went ahead and recorded anyhow in a studio based in a 19th Century Mancunian mill. Greedy Magicians was, in essence, a political album and its successor is very much in the same vein as Hill delivers a set of songs inspired and occasionally disgusted by contemporary events and historical injustices.

Hill has been ‘songwriter-in-residence’ at the People’s History Museum in Manchester and two of the songs here  (Strike and Build Us Something More) were written during that sojourn. They are typical of the subjects which interest Hill, the first being a song about the match women’s strike in 1888 and their role in the creation of the trade union movement, the latter, a celebration of the post war mood which saw the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. Much of the album is in similar territory as Hill topples social media mobs, the super rich and our current wave of populist (and dishonest) politicians as if they were pigeon crap encrusted statues.

Reading the above you might imagine that Return Of The Idle Drones is full of spittle specked angry rants but that’s not the case. Hill knows who the enemy is and presumes that his audience do too. Hence he might point fingers but he doesn’t come out and call Blowjob Johnson a bastard on Born To Rule. He doesn’t need to when he can sing lines like “privileged and titled, superior and cruel, there’s not a shred of doubt, he was born to rule.” He uses satire and sarcasm excellently and at times offsets the darkness within the songs with decidedly upbeat and melodic music. Hill cites Randy Newman as a song writing inspiration and says that 60’s singers, Scott Walker and Glen Campbell were sources for some of the sounds on the disc. We’d add that there’s more than a hint of a youthful Elvis Costello lurking here also, especially on Talking It Out. In addition (and maybe this is where Walker comes in) there’s a sense of European balladry on several of the songs, in particular, on the jaunty The End Of The World Is Here.

Hill is accompanied throughout by JamesYoungjohns who plays guitar, harmonium, lap steel and percussion along with Adam Gorman who plays piano. This provides plenty of light and shade on the album but it has to be said that the closing song (aside from two bonus tracks) Build Us Something More pretty much eclipses all which came before it in its aching beauty.

Return Of The Idle Drones is available as a download and as a limited edition CD, only from Bandcamp. Hill states, “I am not releasing the album to platforms like Spotify, Deezer, iTunes etc. I have to pay them for the privilege of having my music on there and in return they pay miniscule rates of return. Instead the only place you will find it is on Bandcamp -a platform that gives a fair deal to the artists it relies on. For some artists this could be commercial suicide but I believe that my small but committed band of supporters will not be phased by it.” For those who buy the CD, it contains two bonus songs including what Hill calls his Brexit song, Pound Shop Albion. Another Costello influenced number, it’s well worth going for the CD as opposed to the download.

Website

The Wanderer – A Tribute to Jackie Leven, Cooking Vinyl

Something of a labour of love, The Wanderer is a two disc tribute to the late Jackie Leven, curated by Michael Weston King on the tenth anniversary of his friend’s passing. Calling on a wide range of Leven admirers, Weston King has compiled 22 songs, all Leven covers bar his own self-penned tribute to the man along with songs by Levi Henriksen & Babylon Badlands and Liam Carson with Knut Buen.

As with most tribute albums there’s a wide variety of takes on Leven’s styles on show and some are more successful than others while we reckon it’s fair to say that what the album is really missing is Leven himself, given that he was such a unique and powerful character. Weston King is perhaps (and somewhat ironically) the one who gets closest to Leven on The Final Reel which captures some of his Celtic vagabond ways. Meanwhile it’s Scots crime writer Ian Rankin (who collaborated with Leven on several projects), accompanied by Dean Owens, who sounds most like Leven on the spoken word Edinburgh Winter Blues, one of our favourite moments on the album.

The two discs are subtitled Gentle Man and Hard Man, reflecting the conflicting dual personality which most folk attribute to Leven, but aside from a couple of more raucous numbers on disc 2, there’s little to distinguish them from each other. What they do portray is what a fine songwriter Leven was. Leven’s partner, Deborah Greenwood, offers a beautiful version of Universal Blue, and is quite touching on this extremely tender and aching song. Almost as touching is Boo Hewerdine’s plaintive delivery of A Little Voice In Space and Kathryn Williams proffers an ethereal and dreamlike version of The Crazy Song. Two sublime songwriters offer up sublime readings of Leven in quick succession as Arksong (Marc Pilley) and then James Yorkston delicately pick their way through Honeymoon Hill and Empty Square In Soho respectively. Meanwhile the other half of My Darling Clementine, Lou Dalgleish is quite majestic on her solo piano delivery of One Long Cold Morning.

The Hard Man disc opens with Andy White’s rocked up Standing In Another Man’s Rain which wrestles with fuzzed guitar and bagpipe like squirls, emerging sounding like The Go-Betweens on amphetamine. That said it does recall Leven’s version of “the big music” trumpeted by The Waterboys, that widescreen Celtic sound. Tom Robinson tries something similar but with less success on his version of Classic Northern Diversions but for a truly left field take on Leven it’s hard to beat Johnny Dowd’s unhinged robotic Farfisa fuelled romp through Farm Boy – it’s classic Dowd and one reckons that this might have been Leven’s favourite number here were he to have heard it. The Membranes hark back to Doll By Doll days on their splenetic delivery of More Than Human but Henry Priestman calms the waters with his boho delivery of Paris Blues which sounds like a beatified busker on a Paris Boulevard. There’s a theatrical heft to Eliza Carthy’s Brechtian take on The Garden but several of the artists simply take a song and deliver it in their own style. Jeb Loy Nichols’ laid back Caribbean vibes on The Working Man’s Love Song is a joy to hear while fellow Fifer, Rab Noakes, drills into Leven’s roots on the docudrama which is Poortoun with Noakes handing in a gloriously handmade performance, fleshed out with acres of acoustic guitar and double tracked vocals. Another Scottish act, Dogtown Roses are in excellent form on the banjo driven Elegy For Johnny Cash which seems to have been hewn from Appalachian rock with flashes of dark Americana Gothic.

Weston King has certainly honoured the memory of Jackie Leven well with this tribute which serves in its own right as a highly enjoyable listen. If it inspires folk to explore Leven’s own albums then all the better, and with a “best of” collection, Straight Outta Caledonia, recently released along with a forthcoming reissue of his first solo album, The Mystery Of Love Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death, due in November from Cooking Vinyl there’s no better time to do so. In addition, proceeds from this album will benefit the Westminster Drug Project (WDP) a charity that continues the work of Jackie’s own charity, The CORE Trust.

Website

Jim Byrne. 4 Country & Folk Songs. Fox Star Records

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Glasgow’s Jim Byrne is something of a musical chameleon. Over the course of four solo albums and a couple of EPs as a member of The Bearpit Brothers, he has rooted around various pop, folk and tin pan alley styles while he will be fondly remembered locally for his fledging years in Clydebank playing punk and garage rock, including a stint in The Primevals. So far he has been firmly in the independent camp when it came to his recordings but for 4 Country & Folk Songs, he finds himself on the roster of Fox Star Records, a situation which allows him to proudly (somewhat tongue in cheek) proclaim, “59 year old songwriter signs his first record deal.”

Following in the footsteps of musicians as varied as Dan Hicks and Richard Hawley, Byrne delves into past sounds and reinvigorates them. Be it on the fragile and broken down country waltz of The Yellow Clock or the twanged telecaster thrums on The Holy Ghost, he sets the scene and then peoples it with his fine baritone croon and keen lyrics.

The four song EP opens with an eerie fiddle introduction to The Yellow Clock, a haunting song which inhabits the thoughts of a daughter returned home from her mother’s funeral. Surrounded by mementos, she surrenders into a reverie, almost hypnotised by the ticking clock. With rustic fiddle (by Kurt Baumer) and harmony vocals from Lesley O’Brien, Byrne paints a perfect miniature of grief and loss. This Heart Of Mine Is A Blind Blind Fool, in contrast, is quite jaunty as Byrne looks to Hank Williams and his ilk for inspiration, adding in a mild Jambalaya of swampy Cajun sounds with O’Brien again joining in on vocals.

Tell The Devil I’ve Stole His Crown Of Pain is a grand melodrama which neatly sits within murder ballad and Child ballad idioms. The culprit here is a shadowy and somewhat supernatural figure who is “born with the devil’s charm,” the type of character you’d be well advised to avoid never mind entering into a contract with him. It’s wonderfully realised with a lonesome fiddle providing the melody over a repetitive guitar rythym while Byrne comes across like Nick Cave channelling Johnny Cash. Cash comes to mind again, along with Lee Hazlewood, on the concluding song, Holy Ghost. It’s cinematic, almost widescreen, as it boils down religious symbols, spaghetti westerns and an old fashioned love story into one great pot boiler. If Quentin Tarantino is still on the lookout for songs to put on his next pulp film, then he’d find some salvation here.

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