Russ Tolman. Compass & Map.

tolman-cd-450x450Mention the so-called “Paisley Underground” and folk will wax wonderfully on The Dream Syndicate, The Rain Parade, The Long Ryders, Green On Red and The Bangles. Whether or not this was an actual movement or just some bands lumped together geographically (LA for the most part) is still moot and several of the main actors actively disavow the term these days. Anyway one of the bands lumped in here was True West, a name rarely heard these days, who released two albums and who at one point seemed poised to break into the big time. Despite touring with REM, noted by Prince, front page on the music weeklies and lined up for an Old Grey Whistle Test TV slot while on a UK tour (nixed due to work visa issues) unfortunately that didn’t happen and they disbanded in the mid eighties.

Key to True West’s sound was guitarist and songwriter Russ Tolman who quit the band in 1985 to pursue a solo career which kicked off strongly with several impressive albums released between 1986 and 2000 before everything kind of petered out. There were a couple of single releases while Tolman beavered away in producing and occasional live dates including a short lived True West reunion. Now, 30 years after going it alone, Tolman has geared up again with an avowed intention to get back to recording and touring and his opening salvo is this handsome retrospective plucked from his back catalogue, 20 songs in all. It’s a welcome reminder for those who have followed him and an excellent introduction for anyone new to him as it follows his trajectory from grungy desert rock to synthesized LA country music.

Handsomely packaged with informative liner notes by Pat Thomas and Tolman himself the album avoids a strict chronological delivery of the songs but broadly speaking it opens with earlier and snarlier cuts before settling down somewhat into the late nineties before ending with latter day songs (although it closes with a 1994 number). This allows one to follow Tolman’s progress including his vocal delivery (he states in the liner notes that when recording the first album, “I was deathly afraid of singing – I’d never done it before).  Despite his misgivings, his voice is always intriguing, on the early songs perhaps betraying a tendency to delve into a punkish sneer (no bad thing) before settling into a fine approximation of Lou Reed and Lloyd Cole, a cool laidback narrative voice. Song writing wise however he springs fully formed from the womb and the compilation is a strong argument that he be considered in the same vein as contemporaries such as Steve Wynn, Chuck Prophet and Howe Gelb.

From his first album, Totem Poles & Glory Holes, Looking For An Angel is a punk like thrash of guitars with Tolman sneering away and the song not a million miles away from early Dream syndicate or Giant Sand. Down In Earthquake Town, represented here by two songs is richer in its textures with Planes, Trains And Automobiles a sublime mixture of exotic percussion and Spanish guitar as Tolman offers a flyblown tale of lost love with a wonderful twang in his semi-spoken delivery. By the time of Goodbye Joe (1990) Tolman is really at the top of his form with Marla Jane as exhilarating as Chuck Prophet’s recent offerings, a thunderous riff topped with some delicious guitar curls it stomps along with a fury. The opening lines to Blame It On The Girl (Ah fuck it, just throw it away…) lead into a spectacularly dynamic slice of rock’n’roll that beggar’s belief, the hip vocals and squalling guitars the equal of any Tom Petty song.

As he sashays into the nineties Tolman settles down somewhat and the brace of songs here find him fronting a melodic jangled rock as he becomes more comfortable with his voice. Something About A Rowboat and Sleepin’ All Alone do recall Lloyd Cole’s Commotions particularly with the vocal delivery but then again there’s the snarling That’s My Story And I’m Sticking To It which returns to the Paisley Underground days with organ jabs and tortured guitar  reminiscent of Green On Red. 1998’s City Lights album offers the delightful Monterey with its sweet delivery disguising the acerbic lyrics and the laid-back country rock of Salinas which again belies Tolman’s fine digs at the picture perfect scene one might expect. More up to date there’s one song from New Quadraphonic Highway, a visionary album that had Tolman experimenting with synthesizers  to create his notion of cosmic cowboy music as he amalgamated them with pedal steel (played by Tom Heyman). Most recently, there’s Los Angeles, a digital only single from 2013 which, after several years of inactivity, was the first blooming of his rebirth and which sweeps along with a multilayered guitar, organ and keyboards swirl and another song which should ring bells for anyone into any of the acts we’ve already mentioned.

The album closes with a 1994 song, Dry Your Pretty Eyes, a song that somewhat apes The Velvet Underground but is a fine encapsulation of Tolman’s talent as he has evolved into an excellent singer and an acute songwriter. As Pat Thomas, the author of the album’s liner notes remarked on the Paisley Underground, it was a “marriage of classic rock and punk” and on Dry Your Pretty Eyes Tolman proves that he can do that in spades.

Summing up, if you have any interest at all in Steve Wynn, Chuck Prophet et al then you have a duty to listen to this. Hopefully there’s more to come.

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Richard Thompson. Acoustic Classics II. Proper Records

58Richard Thompson pleased a great many people with his 2014 release, Acoustic Classics, where he handpicked several of his songs and delivered them solo stating at the time,  “I really wanted something that would reflect the acoustic shows but we didn’t have anything like that, Just some old, slightly scratchy recordings of solo sets that I wasn’t really happy with.” It seems that he was happy with the result as he’s gone and done it again with this second volume where he again goes through his extensive back catalogue coming up with 14 gems and this time he’s included his Fairport Convention days with three of the songs taken from that period.

He opens the album with the acerbic She Twists the Knife Again which is perhaps the least successful of his renditions here although his staccato guitar runs reflect the jagged lyrics.  The Ghost Of You Walks which follows is more representative of the album as a whole as Thompson settles into his familiar melancholic mood while his guitar playing is expressive and tender as is his singing. The first of the three Fairport songs, Genesis Hall, follows suit with Thompson reining in the Fairport waltz arrangement unveiling it as a modern folk classic with the words (written about a raid on squatters with Thompson’s police officer father participating) allowed to ring free. Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair and A Heart Needs A Home, both from his partnership with ex wife Linda, follow with the latter particularly affecting.

It’s of note that Thompson can invest songs that were originally recorded with full rock band arrangements with as much power and drive using just his acoustic guitar. Here Pharaoh and Gethsemane (from Amnesia and The Old Kit Bag respectively) pack a punch with Pharaoh in particular stern and glowering, its message undimmed and particularly apt for these benighted times. Guns Are The Tongues, another powerful protest song is the one song here that has added instrumentation with a mandolin added to the guitar and again Thompson invests it with a powerful dignity.

He goes all the way back to one of his earliest and best known songs when he tackles Meet On The Ledge and while the original can probably not be beat it’s great to hear Thompson sing this. The biggest surprise on the album is with a song of similar vintage, Crazy Man Michael. Originally released on Liege & Lief when Fairport were digging deep into folk music it proved that Thompson and co-writer Dave Swarbrick were able to deliver songs that reeked of tradition and here Thompson is just perfect as he maintains the eerie folk magic that informed the original.

It’s another triumph then for Thompson and a must for his many followers. And for those wanting more there’s another disc of Acoustic Rarities available via his Pledge Music Page here.

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William The Conqueror. Proud Disturber Of The Peace. Loose Music

william_the_conqueror_-_proud_disturber_of_the_peace_-_vjlp232There’s been a bit of a buzz in the blogosphere regarding this debut from Cornish band William The Conqueror, partly due to an impressive appearance at last year’s Americana Fest in Nashville and a nomination for best song at this year’s UK Americana awards. A listen to the album however begs that age-old question, what is Americana? (Answers on a postcard please) as it draws from and reflects so many other genres. Appearing on Loose Music helps as they are rightly considered purveyors of quality “Americana” music but Proud Disturber Of The Peace is quite idiosyncratic, grungy, folky, lo-fi and even soulful at times, it’s really a trip into a singular vision. The closest equivalent I can think of is the music that emanated from the early days of The Fence Collective, a bunch of folk who tore up the rule book back at the tail end of the nineties.

The trio (Ruarri Joseph, Harry Harding and Naomi Holmes) recorded the album live with few overdubs or post production resulting in an up close band sound, the instruments piling on top of each other. The opening song In My Dreams hurtles in resembling the jangled frenzy of The Velvet Underground and the street busking bustle of The Violent Femmes while the following Tend To the Thorns is a trip into the epic “big music” sound of The Waterboys with some Echo And The Bunnymen thrown into the mix. Third song, Did You Wrong,  is another thrash in the instrumental department although here Joseph adopts a laconic and cool vocal delivery. Thereafter however they settle down somewhat with the remainder of the songs less frenetic.

Pedestals builds on Joseph’s talkin’ blues style (which again is rather laid back although impassioned) as the band vamp along with some horns adding atmosphere. Keeping the horns they plunge headlong into street r’n’b territory on the slippery rhythms of The Many Faces Of A Good Truth which recalls Gill Scott Heron while Cold Ontario continues in a similar vein. Mindful of Joseph’s previous stint as a folk singer Mind Keeps Changing recalls early folk rock a la Greenwich Village with echoes of Tim Hardin although it builds into a muscular keyboard driven rock song by the end while Manawatu, which closes the album, has classic folk harmonica amidst its thrusting instrumental climb to a rousing climax. Best of all perhaps is the title song which gathers much of what surrounds it on the album as the band ride tempo changes, guitars burst into bloom and the rhythm section busks away with some fervour. Over this Joseph almost croons with a cool authority which reminds one of Morphine’s Mark Sandman’s beat vocals.

I guess that looking back on the litany of comparisons up above then William The Conqueror are certainly to be considered in the world of alt whatever. What matters is that the album is a great listen that pushes the envelope somewhat. Give it a shot.

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The Honeycutters’ Amanda Anne Platt takes centre stage

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From Ashville, North Carolina, The Honeycutters’ last album, On The Ropes, was on several best of lists at the end of last year with the majority of reviewers homing in on singer and songwriter Amanda Anne Platt, the de facto leader of the band. On the eve of their first tour of The UK, they will release their newest, self-titled, disc. Self titled perhaps but Ms. Platt has decided to step up to the plate with this one, the result being the newer moniker of Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Amanda last week and we started off by asking her about the name change.

I’m sure that you’ve been asked this by everyone and it’s mentioned in the press release but can I ask you why you’ve finally put your name out front before the band? I mean you’ve always been the focus of the band and you’re singled out in reviews and I was wondering if it was a way of you reminding people that, with the great wave of female artists that are about now, that you are one as well.

It’s been a topic that has come up with every album we’ve put out. Should we use my name or the band name? Even on our first album back in 2009, we considered it but in recent years there have been some changes in the band line-up that made me think more about it. To be honest, my co-founder and ex boyfriend who played guitar in the band until 2013 came up with the name so after he left, it’s felt a little odd using it. However, I think it’s a good name and as the band has grown and changed that name has grown new significance, so I don’t want to part with it completely. Nevertheless, putting my name out there has at least given me the feeling of more freedom from the past. It does also feel as though I’m claiming some girl power, I suppose. Instead of just being “the chick from the Honeycutters.” 

Your last album, On The Ropes, seemed to be less reliant on mandolin and Dobro with pedal steel, electric guitar and organ more to the fore with something of a soulful feel on several of the songs. I think that this is continued on the new album with an even “rockier” touch on Diamond In The Rough.  Are you becoming more “country rock” than country or folk as you progress?

I think that’s a fair statement. Although who knows, the next album might be all acoustic! I’ve definitely been enjoying the “rockier,” more soulful feel of the band. When I first started playing my songs in front of people I was really in a period of backlash against all the punk rock that I got into in my teens. I grew up listening to country, folk, and blues at the hands of my parents, then rebelled against that in my teens, and then rebelled against myself by getting really heavy into old time country music like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers. So when I put my band together I had more of an ear for the acoustic instruments. It’s not that any of that appreciation has waned, but throughout my twenties I started listening to a lot of rock ‘n roll from the sixties and seventies and let that leak into my songwriting a little. 

I’ve noticed in several of your songs that you sing about love’s bitter twists and its general unfairness regards women. Songs like Me Oh My, Not That Simple, Blue Besides and Golden Child. I was reminded at times of the likes of Loretta Lynn. Do you think that all is not fair in love and war?

Well, sometimes it’s not fair. With Me Oh My, that’s a song that I wrote when I was feeling the impossibility, as a woman,  of having a good home and family life and also being a touring musician. I was 25 then and I had a lot to figure out about what I wanted and what my options really were. It’s not that I’ve figured all that out here at 31, but I think I see things a little clearer. A couple of those songs– Blue Besides and Golden Child, are also less about heartache (at least for me – I like a listener to be able to take away their own meaning) and more about accepting the grey areas of life and not giving up on a dream because you hit a rough patch. But to really answer your question, I think women do have a tougher go of it in love and in business sometimes. But there again, what does not kill us makes us stronger. In addition, you might get a song out of it. 

The new album has songs about getting older (Birthday Song) and bereavement (Learning How To Love Him). Do you find yourselves thinking about “time being a gift” as the years go on?

I do, absolutely. This past year I’ve been confronted with several acquaintances losing their spouses and, more recently, the death of someone young that I’d worked with. It just puts things in perspective. Birthday Song was written on the eve of my thirtieth birthday when, instead of feeling panicked about the end of my roaring twenties, I found a patch of gratitude for being older and wiser, wise enough to know that I still don’t know anything and that’s OK. When I wrote Learning How To Love Him I was writing a love song, not a death song. I was imagining the whole of a life spent with someone in love, the ups and downs, fear and faith. We should all be so lucky to stick it out that long. 

The Guitar Case is about life on the road, the ups and downs of touring and playing and although the refrain (the sun is shining…) seems quite optimistic overall, you paint a pretty grim picture of repetition and almost boredom. Is this your life on the road?

That was a very particular moment on the road. Not an isolated event by any means, sometimes the road just sucks. But the payoff of that is that when we hit the stage and I’m making music with people I love, it’s fucking fantastic. Nothing can top that. We’ve had many ups and downs and it’s easy to be bitter and I indulged that bitterness just enough to write that song. As we’re talking however, I’m staying at a beautiful hotel in Telluride Colorado with a panoramic view of the mountains. We’re all going to go for a hike before soundcheck today. This is also the road. Sometimes that dim light becomes blinding!

Eden is an exceptional song and the fate of the woman, stranded in Indiana after losing her job and her husband reminded me a little of The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan, the character looking back and regretting things, realising she’ll never get to do the things she really dreamed of, exiled from Paradise. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to write this one?

I’ll start by saying that I was not raised in a religious household nor do I feel any affiliation with organized faith now. But I have always been fascinated with this idea of the Garden of Eden, the Fall from Innocence, and especially with it somehow being Eve’s fault. To me, I was writing a story about a woman who feels like I have felt at times living in this country, that she wants to get out into the middle of nowhere and let life be SIMPLE. There’s a lot of noise these days, and the “American Dream” gets shoved down our throats more and more while attaining it gets more and more impossible. Even faith gets convoluted with power and politics. It’s tempting to stop trying to make anything better and just escape and feign ignorance. 

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I believe that originally you are from New York. How did you end up in Asheville? I read somewhere you wanted to be a luthier and that’s what led you there, and how did you get into song writing and performing?

I did move from New York to Asheville to be a luthier, or to learn the trade. I built the guitar that I play, but haven’t finished anything since! Music got in the way, Ha! I also had recently dropped out of college and needed to put some distance between that whole situation and myself.

 I started writing while I was still in school. I lived about two miles off campus and would pass by a music shop when I walked back and forth and, as I mentioned I was really into early country music at the time and I noticed a banjo in the window one day. So I bought it. I think I started writing songs as a way to sort out my feelings about leaving home and everything I had known for the first 17 years of my life. Also, I wrote a fair number of songs instead of doing homework. I started playing them at open mics in the area and got some encouraging feedback. Since then it’s just been a series of small, logical steps. 

You mentioned some of the musical styles and artists you were listening to in the past but can I ask you who has influenced you as a writer and singer and also who have you been listening to recently?

I sometimes feel like I’ve been influenced by anyone and everything ever but that’s a cop out. Like I said, I was brought up listening to a lot of earlier country artists like Earnest Tubb, Patsy Cline, The Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams. My dad is a huge fan of the blues, so artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins were well represented too along with folk music of the sixties like Joni Mitchell and Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. My parents met and married in Austin, Texas in the seventies so the songwriters of that time and place were part of my upbringing too. I remember being a little older and listening to Lucinda Williams and Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. The first CD I remember having for myself was the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks I’m a Stones over Beatles girl if pressed to choose (luckily no one ever really has to). In my teens I loved punk rock and grunge – Rancid, Gogol Bordello, Green Day and I was a huge Radiohead fan but I also liked straight ahead rock like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. Then there came the string band stuff and classic country. I developed a great love for Creedence Clearwater Revival in my 20’s then The Eagles, JJ Cale, Nina Simone, Warren Zevon, and all the stuff that now passes for “classic country,” Georges Jones and Strait and Conway Twitty and Charlie Pride and Tammy Wynette and Loretta and all of that. That’s the short version, I’m leaving so much out! Right now I’m totally hooked on Bruno Mars’ latest album 24k Magic. I think he’s a force for good in the pop music world. And anything Chris Smither ever does I think is brilliant. 

Finally, you’re coming to the UK in August for a lengthy tour up and down the country. You don’t have many days off but is there anything you are particularly looking forward to doing or seeing?

I’d like to see some castles! And some honest to goodness British Pubs. We have a lot of what I think are good imitations in this country but I want to have a pint and eat some fish and chips – the real thing. Mostly I just love meeting people and swapping stories, so I’m excited to get out of this country for a minute and hear some different perspectives. 

The album, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. is released on Organic Records on Friday 4th August and the tour commences on the same day, all dates here.

Winchester Texas? The Evolution of SC4M

sc4m-2017-for-webYou wouldn’t think that anyone would mistake a one day music festival in Winchester for the sprawling SXSW held annually in Austin. However, the lawyers at SXSW thought the possibility was there so they slapped a cease and desist order on Oliver Gray’s SXSC (South By South Central) some years back. Oliver, an author and long time music fan had set up SXSC in 2009 although he had been promoting shows in Winchester under that banner since 2004. Writing about his encounter with the SXSW folks he says, “The 2013 SXSC Festival was to be the last under that name, following a surreal series of email exchanges with lawyers representing the South By South West Festival in Texas. I tried to respond with levity but was always flat-batted back with stern, unresponsive legalese, so in the end gave in.” Thus was born SC4M – South Central For Music. Held annually the festival has featured many acts mentioned on Blabber’n’Smoke and this year is no exception so we reached out to Oliver to chat with him about the festival and his tireless promotion of Americana and roots music.

You say that you first really got interested in Americana type music when you saw Peter Bruntnell back in 2000.

Yes, although I’ve been going to gigs since the mid sixties I really first stumbled upon this more roots based music when I first saw Peter Bruntnell. That was in the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester and I decided then that I’d have a go at promoting what was then called alt-country with my friend, Richard Williams. Our first show was in 2003 and the act was of course Peter Bruntnell. After that, we put on shows at The Railway Inn on a fairly regular basis and also started doing house concerts before we decided to try a one day festival. I’d been to SXSX several times and thought we’d call ours South By South Central as it seemed to fit Winchester geographically and sum up the music.

So this year is the eighth festival?

That’s right. We started off in 2009 with Peter and Richmond Fontaine headlining. We call Peter our lucky mascot because he is one of our very favourite musicians and he’s played at The Railway Inn so often and it’s almost a tradition that he and his fans will be at the festival and this year is no different. His latest album, Nos Da Comrade has been so successful  that we take it as a compliment that he’s still happy to come along and play for us. He’s a busy man these days touring in various formats and we’ve actually got him coming back in October when he’ll be playing with the legendary BJ Cole but for SC4M it will be the four-piece band who can really rock. I saw them a few weeks ago at Static Roots in Oberhausen and they were really good as were Danny & The Champs, another great band who have previously headlined SC4M.

The festival takes place in The Railway Inn. Can you tell us a little about the venue?

Yes, it’s almost my second home. It’s your classic, slightly dingy, music venue but it has a great atmosphere and it has the advantage of having two rooms, the barn, which is the main room where we have the bands, and the attic which is where we put on the acoustic acts. We alternate the location so there’s never two acts playing at the same time which is one of my pet hates at festivals when you’re watching a band but really wishing you were at another one playing at the same time. So the audience can amble from room to room and see all of the acts. It’s very homely, almost club atmosphere, just a bunch of friendly people having a nice time together which is what we’re all about.  The capacity is 100 and if all of them came into the attic it can be a bit claustrophobic but some people take time out for a drink or a bite to eat so usually it’s not too crowded. It starts at noon and goes on until 11. Tickets are £32, same as last year even though our costs have gone up and there’s a range of food and lots of ale. It’s not your overpriced festival stuff, it’s a proper pub.

There’s quite a lot of these smaller events going on these days and I’m glad to see that. I was at Ramblin’ Roots a few weeks ago and they had a similar set up with several of the artists who were on veterans of SC4M but it seems that as the appetite for what we call “Americana” grows there’s room for more, we’re not in competition.  The more the merrier I say as there’s an astonishing amount of talent out there and if we can help in any way to let them play to sympathetic audiences then it’s a job well done. It’s always a fraught time as financially it’s extremely tight, we don’t make a profit and each year I get into a bit of a panic over whether we’ll sell enough tickets but in the end we always do. I hand out flyers for example at The End Of The Road Festival and quite a few people seem to come having seen them so it seems to work. We don’t have a publicity budget so it comes down to word of mouth and sympathetic folk mentioning us although I have to say that RnR magazine (formerly R2 and before that Rock’n’Reel)  very kindly gave us an advert in return for us advertising the magazine at the festival. It’s very kind of them and they’re a great supporter of roots music. 

Blabber’n’Smoke has mentioned many of the acts appearing this year : Peter Bruntnell, Emily Barker, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Joanna Serrat, Curse Of Lono, Robert Chaney and Vera Van Heeringen. There are a few we’re not familiar with, can you tell us about them?

Lucas & King are two girls from the Southampton area and we’ve put them on a lot. There’s quite a taste right now for sweet voiced duos but these guys are quite different. Bo Lucas sings and she sounds almost like Tammy Wynette but the songs aren’t anything like traditional country as they go into quite biting and original topics while Hayleigh King is a wonderfully fluid electric guitarist who plays with no effects sounding almost like Chet Atkins. Jonas and Jane are a bluegrassy husband and wife duo from Farnham, just up the road for us  and they played last year and blew the audience away so we’ve moved them up the bill a bit this year. Finally there’s Dan O’Farrell, the “token” local guy, he’s quite a political writer, our local Billy Bragg.

As with Peter Bruntnell we’re happy and proud to have Emily Barker back as she puts on a lovely show and she has been a stalwart supporter. As for Benjamin Folke Thomas we’re hoping he has the Swedish Mafia with him but at  present we’re not sure if he will or if it will be a solo performance. And then there’s Curse Of Lono. It’s unusual for me to book a band I haven’t seen personally but they’re playing a bunch of festivals and I thought we’d better get them while we can. It’s a great line up and you could say we have two themes really. The first is Internationalism as our acts are from all over – Sweden, Spain, Australia, Holland etc and secondly we wanted to try and feature as many female acts as we could and I think we’ve managed that.

I was looking at the SC4M website and the list of artists you’ve promoted over the years, at the festival, The Railway Inn and your house concerts, is just astounding. Are you able to mention any particular highlights?

We always love it when Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express come as they always do a storming show and I was really pleased to see that Uncut did two full length album reviews this month of acts that we’ve presented.  They featured John Murry who  headlined the festival last year and This Is The Kit who are of course originally from Winchester.  I think that the best show that we’ve ever done was not at the festival but we put on Sarah Borges with Girls, Guns and Glory and there was only about 12 people in the room. Despite that they played the most exciting show I’ve ever seen.

The house shows have been going on for some time and they’re a wonderful experience. As empty nesters we’re able to offer to put the musicians up for the night which of course helps them to keep the costs down. These musicians are inevitably incredibly nice people especially the Americans who are so polite and appreciative. Through this we’ve become good friends with some of them over the years especially the guys in Richmond Fontaine. Although it’s a hobby and doesn’t make us any money it’s a privilege to be a part of it and I honestly believe that we’re living in a bit of a golden age for Americana.

So, it sounds like a great day out and you can purchase tickets here. As Oliver says there’s only space for 100 folk so best to snap one up quickly. At £32 that’s less than £3 a band!

The SC4M webpage has a host of information including a great list of all the acts who have appeared under the SC4M/SXSC banner over the years. There’s also a Youtube channel, The Swiss Cottage Sessions , where you can see many of the acts who have played at the house concerts. In the meantime here’s classic clip from a previous festival…

The Primevals. Dislocation. Triple Wide

Primevals DislocationVeteran Glasgow rockers, The Primevals, have been hellbent for over 30 years in their quest to keep the heart of garage band rock’n’blues pumping, a task with which they have been spectacularly successful as they maintain their renaissance which began with 2011’s Disinhibitor after a fallow period at the beginning of the century. While their early contemporaries such as The Gun Club and The Cramps have gone the way of all things, Disinhibitor saw a revitalised band roar back into form and it was quickly followed by Heavy War and Tales Of Endless Bliss, both again superb slices of sound that, to coin a phrase, were groovetastic. Psychedelic swirls, evil slide guitar and hypnotic riffs all bundled into one very fine trip.

Dislocation is no disappointment as it sets its sights firmly on its antecedents with the band firing on all barrels. The twisting snarly slide guitar that kicks off the opening song Fever Zone serving notice that we’re back in Swampland on a classic Primevals’ song with singer Michael Rooney raving towards the end over the rushed beat and psychedelic organ. I Got Strong speeds along with a Seeds like velocity, the band pumping like adrenalized muscle tissue while Boho Baby is a Doors’ like seedy walk on a wild side, a vampish twilight zone of sputtering guitars and panther like stealth. All three songs are excellent and delivered with such a freewheeling ease that one imagines that the band and Rooney (who writes all the songs) could probably knock them off in their sleep, so ingrained in their musical DNA is this primal urge. However one of the delights of The Primevals is their ability to switch gears mid song, jump from garage rock to free jazz, localise a song or just freely associate and all of these come to play throughout the album.

East Campbell Street Breakdown opens with a brief lofi blaxploitation soundtrack soundalike before they go into a burnished speed riff not too far removed from Blue Oyster Cult as Rooney hones in on the plight of Glasgow’s homeless community.  Cuckoo Clocks, Chocolate And LSD manages the task of wedding Orson Wells, Forrest Gump and Albert Hoffman in a paranoid welter of scrambled vocals and razor sharp guitar scything. Meanwhile The Jump From Real To Weird adds trumpet from Robert Henderson over a pummelling riff as Rooney riffs on the lyrics almost scatting. Throughout the album the guitars of Tom Rafferty and Martyn Roger slash and burn but it’s in the frenetic Pleasures Past that they really excel as, apart from a short solo burst from one of them, they buzz and swarm like a pack of hornets. Slow Drip (a Rooney/Rafferty co-write) allows Rooney’s harmonica to add a crazed Yardbirds like R’n’B frenzy to the middle eight over some neat wah wah guitar and they close the album with another co write (with Richard Mazda) on another mighty example of Primevals music, a huge slab of noise, the guitars feral with Rooney in the throes of spiders in his bed hallucinations.

All in all Dislocation blasts the cobwebs from your ears  with the band again staking their claim to be the prime purveyors of swampy garage rock and the album is dedicated to the late Stewart Cruickshank who did so much to promote Scottish rock bands. The Primevals have an album launch gig this Friday at Glasgow’s Hug & Pint and it’s bound to be a great night of hi-octane sweaty rock’n’roll.

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Emily Duff. Maybe In The Morning.

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Country soul has been a genre percolating through several recent reviews here on Blabber’n’Smoke with My Darling Clementine, Danny & The Champions Of The World and Emily Barker all referencing the classic sounds that emanated from Alabama back in the late sixties and early seventies. The arrival of Emily Duff’s second album then was somewhat timely as this New Yorker actually went to the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals to record this soulful slab of wax. Duff is a new name to Blabber’n’Smoke but she’s got a fine pedigree along with a winning way of promoting herself. Her bio commences, “Emily was born in Flushing Queens and raised by a pack of cigarettes. Her Mama taught her 4 perfect chords and then ran off leaving Emily to figure out the rest on her own…armed with a hollow body electric guitar and enough anger to level a small country Emily carved a path straight to CBGBs and never looked back.” Who could resist such an introduction?

First coming to attention as part of Gary Lucas’ God & Monsters (replacing Jeff Buckley as his star briefly ascended) Duff eventually moved towards roots music with her trio Eudora before settling down with her own Emily Duff Band after taking time out for her family. Maybe In The Morning follows on from her 2015 album Go Tell Your Friends which had reviewers comparing her to Lucinda Williams and while one can see that in the new album, Duff delves much deeper into her early heroes such as Bobbie Gentry and The Staple Singers while the ghosts of The Allmans and Delaney & Bonnie are never too far away. Recorded with her regular band and a wealth of Muscle Shoals musicians including original “swamper” Clayton Ivey on keyboards, the album is chockfull of touchstones; Gospel harmonies, churchlike organ and liquid guitar solos that coalesce into the quintessential southern soul groove. Duff then takes this sound and adds her own vision which at one point is decidedly a New York state of mind as she sings on the title song about addiction as the band pulverise like The MG’s on speed.

She lays her wares on the table with the swampy and sultry Hypmotizing Chickenz which opens the album. A syncopated southern brew with a Meters like percussive precision, Gospel chorus and mighty slide guitar solo it’s as gritty as, well, grits. Please Don’t Do Me Dirty is somewhat breezier, the guitars gliding with the grit provided here by Duff’s throaty voice as she sings about the sexual undertones hidden by southern manners almost as if it were written by Tennessee Williams. Bomp Bomp bounces along like a pop confection from Bobbie Gentry with a hook made for radio play while one could imagine Everytime I Go To Harlem being a staple of Elvis’ Vegas shows as the band rock out with a sanctified middle eight. Alabama is a fast paced country rocker which sounds more west coast derived with the pedal steel gleaning away as Duff recalls a childhood visit to the State but there’s an immediate return to the swampy south on the glorious slow drift of Diamonds which has Duff’s fine vocals duetting with a male counterpart who sounds for all the world like Bobby Whitlock wailing away on the Layla album.

There’s so much to enjoy here with Needledrop Blues a witty dissertation on the current vinyl fascination delivered with some honky tonk vigour while Don’t is a ballad that builds on foundations laid down by the likes of Etta James back in the days. Daddy’s Drunk Again is a taut slide driven boogie with shades of Tony Joe White and Listen To Mama is a fine holy mess of cluttered rhythm section and muddy slide guitars colliding into each other as Duff stands tall and gutsy inhaling the spirit of Flannery O’Connor. The closing song, Somebody On Sunday, gathers all the antecedents together on a slinky southern groove that is so affecting one can almost smell the wisteria.

Sure, Maybe In The Morning is infused with that special moment in time that saw gems scattered daily from a bunch of talented Southerners, but to her credit Ms. Duff has created a vibrant and engaging album that doesn’t just rely on nostalgia. If there’s a new wave of country soul about to land then she should in the vanguard. You can buy the album here and there’s also a great interview here where she talks about her experience of recording in Muscle Shoals. As we said earlier she has a way with words so do catch her colourful descriptions of her time there.

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