Mairi Orr. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Sunday 28th June 2015

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Morar raised, Edinburgh based Mairi Orr released her debut album this week and she was fortunate enough to have two launch parties celebrating this achievement. She played Edinburgh last weekend and tonight it was Glasgow’s turn. Reviewing the album, Jenny Does Burn Blabber’n’Smoke mentioned that Orr had gathered together a “dream band” whose playing, along with her fine voice and writing skills raised the album well above the bar. For the launch shows she was able to retain the majority of this gifted bunch with Steven Polwart on guitar, Dave Currie, Dobro and guitar, Nico Bruce double bass and Mattie Foulds on percussion while Danny Hart’s fiddle parts were handed over to a fellow Morar musician, Eilidh Shaw. From the off it was clear that the all acoustic ensemble were something special, the opening song, The Drover delivered with a haunting sense of mystery with Polwart’s guitar and Currie’s Dobro slyly weaving together over cymbal washes and delicate mallet playing from Foulds. As the song slowly unfolded they were spellbinding, memories of Fairport Convention, The Pentangle and other stalwarts from the heyday of folk rock were summoned up. The song itself is a tremendous invocation of ancient days but the playing was, simply put, gobsmackingly brilliant, sending shivers up the spine.

They played all of the songs from the album although the running order was rejigged. It was a hard task to follow the opening number but the brisk fiddle led country romp of Don’t You Wed Another Man, Maggie was up to the job allowing Eilidh Shaw to shine and featuring some fine counterpoint singing. The title song swayed exotically and hearing it live one felt that it was reminiscent of the late Kirsty MacColl’s ventures into Latin American music. In fact hearing the album fleshed out live offered insights into some of the songs that were not immediately apparent from the record. I’m Not A Gambling Man revealed its debts to Hank Williams and Western swing while Just A Fallow Year seemed to have more of Richard Thompson’s bleakness than was apparent on the album.

Orr was engaging as she introduced several of the songs explaining their origins. She spoke about growing up in Morar on Silver Sands, family memories on The Piper of Peanmeanach and Summer On The Clyde and of her mother’s search for a cluster of Ragged Robin flowers. The delicacy of the band playing amplified the sense of nostalgia (and sometimes, regret) embodied in these songs although there was also some welcome bawdiness on the rousing The Drinker’s Wife. However they kept the best to the last with an astounding version of Letting It Go, a song of regret that on the album again harks back to Richard Thompson like melancholy. Here the band slowly built to a climax with the instruments meshing together anchored by some muscular bass playing from Bruce as the fiddle skirled and Dobro snaked away to create a devilish din with Orr raising her voice over the maelstrom. A cracking performance it bookended the show perfectly. There was time for an encore and they ran through a grand version of Dirk Powell’s Moonshiner with Dobro and fiddle battling away and a definite Celtic air to the delivery.

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Whitehorse. Leave No Bridge Unburned. Six Shooter Records

Husband and wife team, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are quite the mythmakers. From the album art (which echoes the work of Saul Bass) featuring McClelland as a sixties leather clad spy girl and Doucet as a guitar toting gunslinger to the warped and twisted stories within the songs they create a fine melange of southern gothic, spaghetti western and James Bond glamour. Ably assisted by producer Gus Van Go (who co wrote three songs here and plays bass throughout), the pair go on a wild road trip with scorched guitars and fuzzed up keyboards backed by basic tub-thumping in the finest Moe Tucker style.

Leave No Bridge Unburned opens with the exotic rhythms of Baby What’s Wrong with its lecherous sway, lashings of twang guitar and hint of Calexico and Calexico’s desert noir is brought to mind again with mariachi horns adorning the border smuggling tale of You Get Older. Tame As The Wild Ones opens with a Morricone flourish before creeping into doomed romanticism with McClelland and Doucet coming on like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. The big guns however are brought out for the rousing and quite amazing Downtown which has a thumping Bo Diddley beat and features an insanely fuzzed Farfisa organ, searing guitar breaks and a brilliantly infectious chorus. Sweet Disaster is a dreamlike swoon of a sci fi fantasy with McClelland coolly singing
“Galileo was bluffing, it’s just a mess out here. There’s no compass to guide us through the flashes of violence and fear”
as the drums pound and guitars swirl and burst like fireworks. While there’s some breathing space offered by the subdued and very pretty Dear Irony which is like the Everley Brothers meets Santos and Johnny, they switch horses for the highlight of the album on the Neil Young inspired Fake Your Death (And I’ll Fake Mine). Starting with a simple acoustic guitar and close up voices the rhythm section burps into life and a growly electric guitar starts to muscle its way in. The song sways along, returning to the simple melody then bursting into guitar flourishes recalling classic Young epics such as Zuma. They wrap the album up with the zany eclecticism of The Walls Have Drunken Ears which careers around like a ball in a pinball machine lighting up Dylan circa 1966 and The Beatles around about the time of The White Album.

Overall leave No Bridge Unburned is a rousing and energetic listen and it should delight fans of the late Twilight Hotel and Blanche.

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Simon Stanley Ward.

When Blabber’n’Smoke met with Ags Connolly back in April we were talking about albums we were currently enjoying. Ags mentioned that he was really digging the debut album from Simon Stanley Ward, a London based musician who’s been pretty much a feature of the London scene for the past ten years or so. Ags also mentioned that Ward had Paul Lush from Danny & The Champs playing guitar all over the album which was incentive enough (apart from Ags’ impeccable taste) to search out this album.

Well, Ags spoke the truth as Ward’s album is one of the best UK based “Americana” albums we’ve heard in some time. Over the course of 10 songs he delves into honky tonk, bitter sweet country ballads and some rockabilly coming across, believe it or not, as the missing link between Lonnie Donegan and Dwight Yoakam. Ward has a similar nasal twang to Donegan in his voice and although there’s nothing pioneering here, like Donegan he’s a Londoner singing songs inspired by an American dream. In fact Ward homes in on this potential dilemma with his inspired song, American Voice where he admits he “never heard a whippoorwill cry at night and I don’t drink whisky, I never been in a fight” but in his defence he has been “so lonesome I could cry.” The irony here is that Ward sings this with a fine sense of braggadocio while his band of local worthies conjure up an excellent country rock skirl, fiddle blazing away before a characteristically brilliant guitar solo from Lush. The playing throughout the album is excellent. While Lush might draw in fans of The Champs the band (David Rothon (Redlands Palomino Company), pedal steel; producer Arthur Rathbone Pullen, keyboards; Geoff Easeman, bass; Neil Marsh, drums and Ben Wain, fiddle) match him with their ensemble efforts while Lorraine Wood and Laura Tenschert support Ward with some fine backing harmonies.

The album opens with a brooding guitar twang on Monster Song, a moody and remorseful apologia which summons up the ghosts of Roy Orbison and Mary Shelley, a mood immediately dispelled by the spritely rockabilly strut of 100 Days In Heaven. Trouble Somewhere weighs in with a classic pedal steel introduction as Ward and the band parade their finely honed Burritos’ styled country rock while Please Excuse me (I Feel Sorry For Myself) returns to Yoakam like hillbilly rock. There’s some more retro riffing on the Buddy Holly hiccups of Obvious To You while Homesick rattles along with a sound and vigour that recalls Dylan and The Band going pell mell in 1965. Dylan comes to mind again on the closing song, Over Here although this time it’s the latter day biblical prophet who’s mined here with an organ led soulful groove sounding like an out take from Slow Train Coming.

Elsewhere Ward delivers some finely honed sob stories. Another Page is a plaintive ballad with lonesome guitar pleadings while Behind Closed Doors is a simply beautiful and heartfelt love song. Laced with yearning pedal steel, gentle piano and wistful harmonica the song is haunting with some vivid images in the lyrics as Ward recalls a first walk around a lake with his partner “getting naked in every possible way.” Ward sings wonderfully here, wounded and lost as the song meanders to its conclusion.

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Mairi Orr. Jenny Does Burn


Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Scots singer and songwriter Mairi Orr back in 2012 when she appeared at Celtic Connections. She sang songs from her debut release, the five song EP The Gathering Crows, an impressive disc which we reviewed here. Three years on and Orr has her full length debut released this week with an album launch gig at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe this Sunday, 28th June. The album, Jenny Does Burn, is self-released after a successful Kickstarter campaign and additional funding from Creative Scotland.

We likened Orr to several singers when reviewing The Gathering Crows including Sandy Denny, Linda Thompson, Jacqui McShee and Shelagh McDonald. On Jenny Does Burn Orr has found her own voice and the most likely comparisons are to the likes of Eddi Reader, Karine Polwart, Siobhan Miller, Julie Fowlis and Heidi Talbot. Not that Orr sounds like any of these but she joins their ranks as a strong singer/songwriter with an acute sense of modern folk influenced music. Anyone who listens to these singers will see that there are names which crop up time and time again as the cream of Scotland’s acoustic music scene are becoming a most incestuous bunch (musically speaking). In keeping with this Orr has been able to gather together a dream outfit who combine to give the album a wonderful lift and lilt with some beautiful playing. Be it a glowering folk ballad or a banjo led country stomp the band are superb; featuring Steven Polwart: guitars, mandolin, vocals, Mattie Foulds: drums, percussion (and production duties), Nico Bruce: double bass, Fraser Fifield: low whistle, Dave Currie: dobro, Danny Hart: fiddle, bluegrass banjo, mandolin and Mark Woods: clawhammer banjo they curl and weave and pluck with a warm and engaging empathy for Orr’s songs.

As for the songs, Orr writes about family memories and delves into Scottish history with ease. The title song commemorates Janet (Jenny) Horne, the last woman to be burned for practising witchcraft in Scotland. Surprisingly Orr opts not for a traditional folk song style here but instead offers a sly, almost bluesy tango as she sings about the fate of Jenny and the mystery of her daughter’s disappearance. In fact with the exception of the opening song, The Drover, a brooding encounter between a drover and a reiver (herdsman and bandit) with sinister Dobro sneaking throughout an atmospheric arrangement Orr is defiantly contemporary. The up tempo fiddle and banjo of Don’t You Wed Another Man Maggie and Drinker’s Wife relate to current bluegrass music allowing the players to cut loose on their respective instruments as Orr crosses the Transatlantic gap with ease. There are several introspective songs that allow the band to shine gently. Letting Me Go is a portrait of a failed relationship that recalls the work of Richard Thompson while Just A Fallow Year is a melancholic yearning song about childlessness that floats on a wonderful Dobro and guitar fuelled dreamland. Orr tops these with the light-footed lilting ballad that is The Promise with the band breezing though a filigreed blend of guitar and Dobro belying the heartache in the lyrics.

Family and home account for several of the songs. On The Shore is a solid folk rock song that commemorates Orr’s home in Morar as she recalls the silver sands. The Piper Of Peanmeaneach salutes an ancestor who fought in the Boer war and was inspired by the discovery of an old photograph with Fraser Fifield’s whistle adding a wistful air. Summer On The Clyde (1914) is a fine close to the album as Orr sings about the innocence of a youthful crew messing about on the Clyde before enduring the agonies of the Great War. Again she captures the moment perfectly with a perfectly nuanced sense of nostalgia and regret.

As we said the album is out this week. Mairi played an East coast launch party in Edinburgh last weekend and this Sunday she brings her band to The Glad Cafe to introduce Glasgow to this very fine album.

https://soundcloud.com/mairiorr/01-the-drover

https://soundcloud.com/mairiorr/05-on-the-shore

Richard Thompson. Still. Proper Records.

Most of the advance publicity for Still, Richard Thompson’s latest album has honed in on the producer being Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and we must admit that the thought of Thompson and Tweedy together was tantalising. The reality is that Tweedy has done what a good producer should do; he’s all but invisible here, apparently on some backing vocals but not ostentatiously so. Tweedy’s quoted as saying, “Richard’s been one of my favourite guitar players for a very long time. When I think about it, he’s also one of my favorite songwriters and favorite singers. Getting to work closely with him on this record was a truly rewarding experience” while Thompson adds, “Jeff is musically very sympathetic. Although some of his contributions are probably rather subtle to the listener’s ear, they were really interesting and his suggestions were always very pertinent.”

Obviously, we’re not privy to what went on in the Chicago sessions that formed the album but Still is probably the most satisfying Thompson album we’ve heard in several years. There’s a variety to the songs that captures Thompson’s various musical guises, the melancholic folk singer, the music hall entertainer, the pessimistic dissector of human emotion. In addition Thompson’s guitar, acoustic and electric, shines throughout the album and again his variety is well captured, bagpipe like drones, quicksilver tones and fifties inspired rock licks are all present and correct and if Tweedy has done nothing else he’s captured Thompson’s guitar sound with a deadly accuracy. The ringing clarity of Where’s Your Heart the primary evidence here. As for the writing Thompson has delivered a solid set of songs with a few that, given time, might be considered among his classics.

The album opens with one of these, the excellent She Never Could Resist A Winding Road. A song that recalls his early solo career with martial drums and a wonderfully corkscrewed guitar solo it’s a tremendous opener. Patty Don’t You Put Me Down is another song that perks up the ears, a solid four beats to the bar thump that allows plenty of space for Thompson to solo on several occasions while the aforementioned Where’s Your Heart just drips with melancholy as Thompson’s guitar rings throughout with a spectacular solo turn that is somewhat gob smacking. There’s an almost Byrds like chime to the guitars on the darkness of Dungeons For Eyes and Josephine has an almost medieval feel with acoustic guitars adorning the Tennyson like lyrics. His drollery is well represented with All Buttoned Up one of his back terraced tales, this time about a girl who frustrates her boyfriend with her refusal to go all the way while he closes the album with the lengthy and perhaps autobiographical Guitar Heroes. A bit of a throwaway song when considered against its peers Thompson sings of sitting home alone, rejected at school, losing jobs all due to his need to practice and learn from his heroes as he plays some famous riffs from the classics including The Shadows, Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy et al. It’s good fun with Thompson admitting at the end of the song that he still doesn’t know how they did it (despite the evidence to the contrary).

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Danny And The Champions Of The World/The Goat Roper Rodeo Band. Broadcast, Glasgow. Saturday 20th June.

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Danny Wilson’s self-professed gang swaggered into town riding high on rave reviews for their latest album, What Kind Of Love and trailing clouds of glory from the unanimous praise heaped on the nine shows they’ve played so far on their summer tour. The news that they are still one of the top live bands of the day is really no news to anyone who’s caught them live in the past three years or has heard their thrilling live album released last year. What Kind of Love was recorded in the wake of a punishing schedule of shows at the end of 2014, 17 shows in Scandinavia in September and another 25 shows in October, and most of the songs on the album were forged on the road, at soundchecks or back at the hotel after the show. As Wilson says

“We wrote songs in Scandinavia, in Nashville, in the Preston Travelodge. This line-up of the Champs has been together for some time now, the group started out as a loose, lawless thing now we’re a bit more of a gang than we used to be.”

Rooted in the soul records they were listening to on tour What Kind Of Love is a solid soul groove that was an attempt, Wilson says, to sound like Gladys Knight & The Pips covering a Dylan song. Live, The Champs have always had a touch of the soul revue about them with Danny cajoling the audience with monologues within the extended songs inviting participation and tonight was no exception. With a new album to promote the set list was significantly different from the past three occasions the band have played here but the new songs more than made up for some old favourites missing in action. No Space Rocket opening tonight, instead the punchy and defiant bliss of Clear Water, a song that seems to encapsulate all of their influences, The E Street band, Motown and vintage Van Morrison with its tremendous sax riff and swirling pedal steel wrapped around Wilson’s impassioned pleading voice. Precious Cargo ebbed and flowed like a powerful tidal surge, the pedal steel flowing indeed over the chunky beat as if Booker T had forsaken his keyboards as guitarist Paul Lush threw out Steve Cropper lines. By the time they swept into the forsaken country soul of This Is Not a Love Song it was evident not only that the band were riding the crest of a wave via the new album but are also finely honed as the pedal steel and guitars curled around one another. An outing for Stay True showed that the soul genie has been flitting around the band for several years now sounding tonight as if it were an old Smokey Robinson song. Another oldie, Every beat Of My Heart, was launched with a cacophonous crash and raced along like Springsteen in a dragster with saxophonist Free Jazz Geoff given full rein but the frenetic delivery of Words On The Wind, a song from the new album showed that the spirit of the freewheelin’ Southern sound of a band like the Allman Brothers is still there with Lush’s guitar curling like a snake in the everglades. The Gospel influence on soul was apparent on the magnificent juggernaut that was Just Be Yourself with Wilson testifying as if his life depended on it before the sweeter tones of What Kind Of Love reminded one that soul can encompass Al Green as well as Otis Redding.

So, an hour into the set and having established the Church of Danny & The Champs to everyone’s evident satisfaction the band launched into an amazing pick’n’mix of old and new songs with Henry The Van a crowd favourite kicking off before (Never stop Building) That Old Space Rocket really revved the audience and the band up. It’ll Be Alright in The End was a perky slice of New Orleans inspired jive with some hot guitar licks and was followed by some inspired tomfoolery as Free Jazz Geoff led a sax fuelled conga line through the hot and sweaty cellar. Cold Cold World and These Days pumped away before the monumental Colonel And The King swung into view with the front rows dancing away. For the encore they delivered a coup de grace with the road philosophy of Restless Feet seemingly endless with the audience clapping and singing along wishing the night could last forever as the band took turns to solo.

All told it seems that Danny And The Champs are still the prime contenders for the best live band around these days. The new songs bite and the show in all is a glorious testament to the power and glory that is rock soul and country done just right. A lovely, tiring yet invigorating experience.

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We need to mention the support, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band. Three young (and hairy) guys from Rhyll in Wales they have two guitars and a double bass and scrabble up a fine thrash that has old time country roots. More so than that they conjure up a vocal harmony that recalls the Everly Bothers in their prime and if they can build on this they might be a name you will hear more of.

Danny And the Champions of the World

The Goat Roper Rodeo Band

Georgie Jessup. Philosopher Dogs

Georgie Jessup runs what is reportedly the best little house concert space in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, Edith May’s Paradise. In addition she works in special education with children with autism and special needs. She’s an activist for Native American causes and has been a musician since the 1970s releasing five albums prior to Philosopher Dogs. A transgendered country singer Jessup also campaigns for the transgendered community and featured in the award-winning documentary Woman In A Man’s Suit.

Philosopher Dogs is an old fashioned album in many respects. There’s some fine country rock, a dash of soul and some soul searching ballads while a version of Ring Of Fire is delivered with a veneer so polished it might have come from an eighties stadium band. Not a bad thing in this case as there’s no eighties production values, just a tremendous burst of energy and some scorching guitar work that could have come from the fingers of Warner E Hodges.

With two songs about Geronimo included Jessup reminds the listener of Michael Martin Murphy (author of Geronimo’s Cadillac and the original Cosmic Cowboy). Geronimo’s Bones is a dramatic and multi layered ballad with soaring organ and spiralling guitar while Geronimo (written by Dirk Hamilton) is a plaintive mandolin speckled tribute to the Apache leader. However, Jessup’s interest in Native American culture is best realised on the highlight of the album, Red Cloud’s Room. A loose-limbed rhythm section beds in, pedal steel flits gracefully overhead and Jessup with Christina Van Norman intones with an appropriate sense of mysticism. Elsewhere Jessup seems to be indebted to Brian Wilson on the confessional Reluctant Phoenix and she offers a potted biography on the tribal drum led title track which again harks back to FM radio anthems although there weren’t too many songs in the top twenty back then about the singer’s pet dogs.

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