If you live near the Shawlands area on the south side of Glasgow you might have seen Robin Adams striding along, usually with his guitar in bag strapped to his back, his lion’s mane head of hair flowing in the wind, he’s quite a striking sight. Fortunately, he’s quite a striking musician as well with his previous albums gathering a bit of a cult following, similar to that of the late Nick Drake three decades ago when Drake was known to only a few cognoscenti. Reviews of Adams’ previous works have compared him to Drake and John Martyn (the Martyn comparison is odd other than that they share a Glaswegian background) but there are some elements of Drake to be found here. There’s a melancholic feel to the lyrics and a bucolic air in the music but the comparison ends there, to these ears it’s the likes of Roy Harper, Robin Williamson, Bert Jansch and Will Oldfield who come to mind with beguiling melodies and lyrics that can be darkly beautiful.
Adams stares that The Garden was influenced by his thoughts on Vincent Van Gogh, the painter’s struggles with his internal turmoil, his darkness and light. However, the album’s hazy sameness, an almost repetitive search for peace recalls another painter, Monet who captured the likes of Reims Cathedral in different lights at different times of the day trying to capture the illusive nature of light. Monet ended his years obsessively painting his garden at Giverny. As with light so with sounds and Adams, perched in his bedroom overlooking his garden, offers variations on this theme.
Overall The Garden is the sound of one man and his guitar. Occasional harmonica, keyboard, percussion and bass intrude and there’s a cello on one of the songs. A fine guitarist with a wisp of a voice that only occasionally betrays its Glaswegian origin, Adams roots around in the soul of despair. He cites Rimbaud’s description of a soldier’s corpse (Sleeper In The Valley) as inspiration and this is most obvious on the apocalyptic lyrics of Collision Course that closes the album while the opening song, The Garden is full of foreboding with spilled blood fuelling the garden’s growth. Paint Me The Day is almost iridescent as Adams sings of “burning red skies over fields of gold flowing like rivers of colour all born from your soul.” Packed full of beautiful metaphors it’s a powerful plea for love. Throughout the album Adams displays a fantastic poetic bent, his words paint pictures, impressionistic, not story telling but allied to the slight Americana touch in Keep Me or the naked guitar lines of Troubled Skies he is riveting, demanding a replay to properly savour the songs. The Garden isn’t an album to put on as background music, it demands and repays close attention and the rewards are there with Street a magnificent meditation on the fragility of the human condition. With the devastating opening lines “your heart is made of paper, your life is made of glass so beware of those who reach for you” delivered over a rippling guitar that recalls Arthur Lee’s Love on Forever Changes, the end result is sublime. Meanwhile Need Not Turn is perhaps the best song Will Oldham hasn’t yet written.
The Garden is a wonderful listen for those who delve into the nooks and crannies of a songwriter’s mind, it flows, brackish and dark perhaps, but seeking an outlet.
Robin Adams is launching the album at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Saturday 4th April.
Since 1998, The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival in south east Ireland has attracted some of the finest names in the Americana canon; acts like Calexico, Giant Sand, Ryan Adams,Alejandro Escovedo, Mark Eitzel, Guy Clark, Chuck Prophet, Ray LaMontagne,Richmond Fontaine, John Murry and Rodney Crowell. Last year it won the Irish Best Small Live Music Festival while one of its main venues, Cleeres won the Best Live Music Venue in Leinster award.
This year’s festival is from 1st – 4th May and is jam packed with some spectacular acts. Calexico, , Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, The Barr Brothers and Sons Of Bill and a songwriting circle of Aiofe O’Donovan, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz are just some of the acts announced to play. Also on the bill are Ryan Boldt, head honcho of Canada’s Deep Dark Woods, ace new country singer-songwriter Cale Tyson, Glaswegian Daniel Meade and a rare Irish date for the acclaimed US songwriter Eef Barzelay. US band Daddy Long Legs will close the festival on the Monday night with their unique brand of primitive rock n roll. In addition there will be a number of free gigs around the town all weekend as part of the Kilkenny Roots heritage trail. By all accounts this is a fabulous weekend with the Guinness flowing throughout and a great opportunity to catch some stellar acts in intimate surroundings and while Blabber’n’Smoke can’t make it this year we’re booking up for 2016 as we write.
Tickets and general information can be found on the website http://www.kilkennyroots.com and apparently the box office, Rollercoaster Records is, we are reliably informed, not only the best record shop in Ireland but the happiest little record shop in the world!
Here’s a video made for the 2013 Festival
Little Mountain is the creation of Ross Godfrey, a member of trip hoppers, Morcheeba. With his partner, Amanda Zamolo, Godfrey had become a bit of a California Dreamer when, spending time in Santa Cruz, he began to write a song that for him captured some of the golden era of Laurel Canyon on the cusp of the sixties and seventies. The song, Catch Me was recorded by the pair with assistance from Will Sprott of The Mumlers and Dan Joeright (Drummer for Jim White and David Byrne) before Godfrey and Zamolo returned to the UK. Back home they cast about for a third member and a serendipitous moment occurred when they chanced upon a busker on London’s Southbank. Impressed, they invited Ste Forshaw to sit in with them resulting in him becoming the third leg of the tripod that is Little Mountain.
Forshaw adds an earthy tone to Godfrey’s LA haze, a yin to his yan perhaps and together the trio have crafted an album that ripples with sunshine melodies and harmonies allied to a strong beating heart rooted in a more Anglicised folk idiom. Godfrey embellishes the album with a plethora of instruments (vintage guitars , early synthesisers and Hammond Organs, bass, lap steel and drums) offering a texture that is warm and enveloping, at times recalling Steven Stills’ bluesy organic style as on the organ driven Hide Me From The Darkness. Elsewhere his experience with Morcheeba is utilised as he wraps Zamolo’s voice in a warm electronica fuzziness that’s not a million miles removed from early Beth Orton on What We Gonna Do. While Forshaw comes across more as a ploughboy than a cowboy on the folky Even More and the short instrumental Sound Mirror is like Pentangle meeting Portishead the meat here is in the swampy sludge of You Never Know and the keening harmonies of the opening song, Giving it Up. Altogether a fine listen.
It might not be a trend as yet but recently Blabber’n’Smoke has noticed bands that are using the basic tools of bluegrass and adding their own particular twist. Examples include Fish & Bird, Front Country and Run Boy Run where elements of jazz and chamber music are more prominent than backwoods Appalachian mountain music. Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys fit into this slot neatly with their all acoustic set up (guitar, mandolin, Dobro, banjo, double bass, cajon, harmonica and hambone) rarely breaking out at breakneck speed. Instead there’s a delicacy in the sounds they weave and although they sound nothing like them one is reminded of the way The Pentangle shook up sixties folk music when they used fused jazz and instrumental prowess to create their powerful hybrid. Of course one can argue that some bluegrass players such as David Grisman have been doing this for years but after several years of back to basics shitkicking roots music bands (and nowt wrong with that of course) the pendulum seems to swinging in the other direction. Anyway, the other striking point here is Lindsay Lou herself. With a voice that can accommodate folk, blues and jazz she is the focal point of the album. Her phrasing is elastic enough to navigate the twists and turns that some of the songs undertake although she never veers into vocalese. In addition when the band turn their attention to a more traditional sounding song such as on the excellent River Jordan she carries it off as if she were a born and raised Baptist soul singer.
The album itself was recorded in a four day session in the dining room of a clapboard house in the town of Ionia, Michigan with the band grouped around a couple of microphones. Although each member of the band has a primary instrument they swapped around a fair bit during the sessions with the end result that one is never too sure who’s playing what without recourse to the liner notes, testament to the instrumental abilities of Joshua Rilko, Mark Lavengood and PJ George III. They kick off with Hot Hands, a perky little confection which has an occasional similarity to Nick Lowe’s I Love The Sound Of breaking Glass. It’s an attractive piece but lacks the depth the band prove themselves capable of later on. There’s much more muscle on the brooding Everything Changed with the band charged up, the guitars vibrant and driving the song along with a fine mandolin solo towards the end. The Fix returns to the poppier sensibilities of the opening song but is less twee with some intricate vocal harmonies and from here on in the band settle down to weightier concerns. Old Song features mandolin and banjo over percussive acoustic guitar and is a fine example of their ensemble playing and harmony singing with a wistfulness in the words and in the playing which is as sweet as a mountain stream. Sometimes is a bluesy number with harmonica to the fore but the band adorn the song with pizzicato fiddle and double bass along with some snappy brushwork on the cajon. Sung by Mark Lavengood, Sometimes ends up sounding as if a classical string quartet were playing something from The Band’s Big Pink. There’s adventure too in the odd rhythms of House Together where they start and stop, change their time signature and doodle their way to the end of the song. Over this challenging backdrop Lindsay Lou moves from wide eyed home improver to imperious vocal dominatrix.
The album sails to its conclusion with a mighty punch beginning with the aforementioned River Jordan, a gorgeous song that is the most traditional sounding here. Here Between is another string driven chamber pop piece that flows wonderfully and the title tune, Ionia is a masterful nod to tradition, American and Celtic, with flatfoot stomping over a gorgeous melody that seems as old as the hills.
Ionia is available now and the band have a short tour of Scottish dates in May following an appearance at The Shetland Folk Festival. Dates are here
It’s not often that one comes across a debut album from a 53 year old. It’s even rarer for that album to be a stone cold cracker, an instant classic (if such a thing exists), an album that immediately rewards and then gets better on repeated listens. Well, David Corley has achieved this with Available Light, ten songs of experience and at 53 Corley has a lot of experience under his belt. Raised in Lafayette, Indiana, Corley attended the University of Georgia leaving at the age of 20 after a series of “ecstatic visionary and mystical experiences” if we are to believe the biography. There followed 30 years of wanderlust and odd jobs coupled with a voracious reading and writing habit. Following cardiac problems he returned to Lafayette which brings us up to date and to the album.
Produced by Canadian Hugh Christopher Brown Available Light is an album that shuffles and stumbles with a wonderful, almost homemade charm. That’s not to say it’s lo-fi, indeed its wonderfully warm and organic, meandering for its 55 minutes in a magnificent manner. Corley’s voice is lived in, deep but not rough, a gruffer version of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher while his delivery (and some of the song arrangements) remind one of John Murry on The Graceless Age.
The band (Gregor Beresford, drums, Tony Scherr, bass, Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermott, background vocals and Hugh Christopher Brown on piano, hammond b-3, clavinet, wurlitzer, and vocals) create a fine Southern sound similar to the sounds created by Eddie Hinton and Tony Joe White, swampy, blues infused and soulful with the female vocalists perfectly complementing Corley’s vocals. A highpoint is acheived on the tender Lean, a song that eschews the rumbling guitars that weave like Virginia Creepers throughout the album for a short piano led ballad with Corley’s voice emotion packed amid excellent female harmonies. Here Corley waxes poetically, possibly influenced by Walt Whitman as he sings
the river moves
through the sand archives
i might have been holding her up –
i’m not gonna this time
i relinquish control
i think it softens my eye
i believe in the power of this moment
but i let it wash over the bow
you got to lean into it
Corley is able to deliver a relatively straightforward narrative as on the dream like Easy Mistake where he opens the song with
I hopped up into my truck
but I headed to the wrong bar
got way too fucked-up
started wishin’ on the wrong star
- but the sky, man, it’s so large….
that’s just an easy mistake
but many of the lyrics on the album have a poetic quality from the “life as a movie” quality of the opening title song to the closing epic The Calm Revolution where Corley seems to allude to climate change. Married to the cool crisp funk of the title song or the hazy shimmering guitars of the seven and a half minute closer the words flow as easily as the music creating an atmosphere that is nothing less than magical. Definitely an early contender for an album of the year.
Husband and wife team The Kennedys have been delivering their particular blend of harmonic folk pop, influenced by the likes of Buddy Holly and Nancy Griffith for 20 years now and West is the first of three proposed albums to celebrate this milestone (the others will be solo efforts from both Pete and Maura Kennedy). West, it has to be said, is not a demanding listen but there’s a freshness and sense of joy in there with some sparkling guitar from Pete Kennedy and powerful vocals from Maura. Overall the album recalls earlier times with a wisp of the 60’s and 70’s and acts like The Mamas and Papas, Geoff and Maria Mulduar and The Byrds resulting in a variety of songs that have a sunny disposition, perfect for listening to as spring awakens.
All is not sweetness and light in some of the lyrics and there’s a sense of grit in the sinister sitar curls of Signs and the brooding bluesy Black Snake, White Snake, proof that the duo can get down and dirty when required. However the breezy open road sound of the opening song West points the album in the general direction it’s headed. Elegy is a Laurel Canyon speckled gem that could have been written by John Phillips while Jubilee Time is a sweet and weary trip to Gene Clark land. Buddy Holly looms large on the retro styled Locket (a debt acknowledged in the liner notes) with Pete Kennedy nailing Holly’s strat stylings excellently and his guitar work is again to the fore on the sing-along country rock of Southern Jumbo. Bodhisattva Blues is as far removed from the similarly titled Steely Dan song as can be imagined as the duo get all rootsy on a rollickingly good song that isn’t a million miles away from Froggie Went A Courtin’, excellent toe tapping stuff indeed.
There are two covers here, the first, a John Stewart Song, The Queen Of Hollywood High (from his album Blondes). It’s the only song on the album to have a full band playing and there’s a fine extended guitar solo towards the end but it doesn’t approach Stewart’s guttural delivery. Perfect Love, written by John Wicks of The Records is more successful as it bathes in jangled 12 string glory. They close the album with Good, Better, Best, written by Pete Kennedy to celebrate their 20 years together. Delivered in an Everly Brothers style it’s simple and eloquent and shows the pair at their best.
The Kennedys are touring in support of the album release and will be in Glasgow on Thursday 30th April at the Woodend Bowling Club.
Listen to Southern Jumbo here
Apparently Perfect Abandon is North Dakota musician Tom Brosseau’s ninth album although he’s new to Blabber’n’Smoke. Googling his past releases reveals critics’ tendency to link him in with early sixties folksters while he varies his approach to recording, solo or band based at times. However it’s the current release we’re looking at here and while it’s a bit of a curio there’s no doubt that Brosseau has crafted a very fine set of songs that together draw the listener into his world, a world he observes and relates to with an air of detachment and reports on with an almost childlike sense of wonder and discovery.
This sense is reinforced by the simple recording process, perfectly captured by producer John Parish, with Brosseau on acoustic guitar accompanied by guitarist Ben Reynolds (from Glasgow’s Trembing Bells), double bassist Joe Carvell and drummer David Butler. Sat in front of one microphone on a theatre stage in Bristol they recorded the album live with no overdubs over two days. The result is an intimate sound, warm and engaging with the band sounding as if they were sitting beside you with the percussion in particular rattling around the room. It’s not lo-fi and it’s not weird folk but it is akin to some of the lesser known folk artists of the sixties such as Ed Askew while its general ambience is not too far removed from Skip Spence’s Oar.
The album opens with its simplest song, the talking blues of Hard Luck Boy featuring Brosseau’s gossamer voice and guitar. Delivered as if humorist David Sedaris was inhabited by the ghost of Woody Guthrie it sets Brosseau up as an abandoned child and although it might be a flight of fancy one can imagine the remainder of the album as an attempt to recover from this. Roll Along With Me introduces the band with squirrelly guitar lines over a loose rhythm section. There’s a train metaphor here but it’s not a barrelling new frontier feeling that’s evoked, rather the lyrics are introspective and narcissistic and the locomotive stutters along the way. Tell Me Lord is a supplication asking the Lord to explain the singer’s existential angst as he rails against his isolation and loss, at times almost howling. Take Fountain and Landlord Jackie are narratives describing a lost boy in an adult world with the words rushing out, word salads seeking to make sense of things and here the recording method perfectly suits as the sounds envelop the listener allowing Brosseau’s voice to worm its way in. There’s a disconnect in the anthem to an Eden that is Island In the Prairie Sea as Brosseau sings as if he’s imagining himself inside a picture postcard wishing himself into the scene. As he describes his imagined paradise there’s a pervasive sense of loneliness in the delivery. In this vein My Sweetest Friend might be retitled My Sweetest Imaginary Friend as Brosseau casts blame for his wrongs elsewhere. The album stutters to an end with the magnificent waywardness of The Wholesome Pillars, a song of despair and hope that recalls Bonnie Prince Billy and features the ensemble at their gloriously ramshackle best.