Cam Penner & John Wood. Fallen Angels Club @ The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Thursday 30th November

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One of the first shows we attended in 2016 was Cam Penner  & John Wood back in January at Celtic Connections. With a brand new album (Sex & Politics) under their belt they were a joy to hear back then and now they’re back in town, the songs truly bedded in, the result still somewhat astonishing.

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Penner & Wood record in a home built wooden shack in the wilds of British Columbia, a wooden cathedral of sound, tall pines looming on either side, and they evoke the primordial elements of their deep dark woods along with occasional shafts of sunlight in their unique take on rootsy bluesy country rock. Marrying technology and primitive strings and percussion Wood sets up from the start a spooky ambient background throb and thrum, the bedrock on which they deliver their songs. These in turn veer from honeyed acoustic laments with harmonica as creamy as Neil Young’s days in the middle of the road to guttural stomps and hollers, atavistic harbingers of dread and doom. At times the hairs on the back of the neck stand up as Penner wails away.

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There’s no showmanship but as the pair beaver away on stage, selecting guitars, sitting behind a simple drum kit, swapping roles, the ambient drone all the while like crickets in long grass soothing and insistent, there’s a workmanlike craft about them. Some of the sounds may seem primitive but there are keen minds behind them. The set didn’t vary too much from the January show leaning heavily on the last two albums and opening with the delicate whisperings of I’m Calling Out which crawled eerily into the tougher blues of I Believe with Wood moving from drums to guitar in the space of two songs. Wood is the cerebral side of the songs, hunched in the corner with his gadgets or laying down some sweet lap steel as the hirsute Penner commands attention but on several songs he slings on his guitar to lay down some liquid lines or throw out some gutbucket blues. They played familiar songs such as House Of Liars, Memphis, No Consequence with Trouble & Mercy given a particularly good delivery tonight.  There was less talk tonight although Penner remains a master of the understated joke as when he spoke of his song House Of Liars being featured on the BBC’s Stonemouth saying it was cool, he doesn’t make any money but cool will do.  And cool he is, the audience tonight treated to a magisterial show that had several facets but which ultimately proved that Penner and Wood are hard wired into a deep and dark old Americana, goosebumps and all.

There’s still a chance to see Penner & Wood as they play The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen on Friday 2nd December and The Traverse Bar in Edinburgh on Monday 5th.

 

Light Of Day Scotland. Charity Gig. The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Saturday 26th November

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Featuring Eddie Manion, Jeffrey Gaines, Joe D’Urso, Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, Doghouse Roses & The Rising

Light Of Day is a worldwide charity raising awareness of and money for research into neurological diseases. It takes its name from a film starring Michael J. Fox (who has Parkinson’s disease) along with a Bruce Springsteen song. Since its inception in 2000 Light of Day has been heavily associated with Asbury Park, New Jersey holding a winterfest there. There are also annual musical tours of the UK, Europe, Canada and Australia.

So there’s a heavy Boss vibe to the night the caravan rolls into Glasgow. Manion and Lopez have done time with Springsteen, the latter a founding member of The E street Band and subsequently an inductee into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame. Lopez is first up singing and drumming on four songs including a trucking number and some old time r’n’b supported by Rob Dye on guitar. After that there was a stage invasion with all of the musicians lining up on the stage (bar The Rising who played their set afterwards) for what was kind of like a cross between a jam session and a songwriter circle.

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It was great fun. D’Urso offered up some fist pumping rockers while Gaines proved to be a powerful performer. Manion sang on Dylan’s Forever Young and played an endearingly kitsch version of Town Without Pity. For this reviewer it was great to hear Doghouse Roses (Paul Tasker and Iona MacDonald) with a full driving band behind them. Thunder Of The Dawn hurtled along with Manion’s sax exploding towards the end. Weather The Storm was another of their songs that benefitted exceptionally well from the set up while MacDonald showed that she  can throw out a powerful blues vocal on Mean Mean Woman.

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As the set bowled on Manion led a sing-along of We Shall Overcome before D’Urso had the audience ecstatic with a thunderous performance of Springsteen’s Light Of Day. To end this part of the show The Rising were invited onstage as all cast members rang out on Because The Night.  Had the show ended there no one would have been disappointed as we had around 90 minutes of rock and roll thrown at us but after a short break The Rising Came on for a full set of their own take on the Boss. There was dancing and drinking.

Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts. Drygate Glasgow. Friday 25th November

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A welcome return to Glasgow for the Leith man with his fine band in tow, tonight’s show was an intimate affair despite the airy (and cool, temperature wise) bare girder barn like room in Tenants’ Drygate brewery. Set out cabaret style the tables were all taken by what seemed to be diehard supporters (as evidenced by requests for some deep cuts from Owens’ recording history); his own fault as he announced early on that they weren’t playing from a set list as such tonight. As such this was a show that was dramatically different from the last time Blabber’n’Smoke encountered The Whisky Hearts when they turned in a performance that leaned heavily on a country rock sound.

With drummer Jim McDermott absent tonight there was less rock but a whole lot more roll with Brian McAlpine’s accordion featured heavily throughout the show along with Amy Geddes’ fiddle playing. As a result guitarist Craig Ross only had a couple of opportunities to let loose on the strings instead adding some delicate touches and a steady rhythmic flow to a set that had a very folky touch.

They slid gently into their set with a gently swinging Valentine’s Day In New York with accordion and fiddle lending the song a sweet rambling vibe which, and not for the first time, reminded us of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. This was the first of a brace of songs from Owens’s latest album Into The Sea with Virginia Street, Dora and Kids all following, the last allowing Ross a chance to solo as the song gradually built up from its sombre opening into a classic rock sound. 10 Miles From Saturday Night was a new song which was classic Owens with its mix of Celtic Americana and memorable chorus and it was followed by a rare live outing for the title song from his album Whisky Hearts which was given a rollicking folky delivery which transported the audience into the taverns of Leith. Another blast from the past was a pair of songs from his My Town album, Northern Lights which again was given a fine folk lilt with Geddes’ fiddle well to the fore and Strangers Again with Giddes duetting with Owens.

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A grand host for the night, Owens was in fine form explaining the stories behind the songs and cracking some puntastic jokes while admitting that on the older songs the band were somewhat busking it, a task they performed with an admiral aplomb. There was gravitas however as he talked about the loss of his sister to cancer, a shadow that stalked the recording of Into The Sea and he paid tribute to her with an affecting delivery of Evergreen before unveiling a new song dedicated to her memory, Julie’s Moon. There was a similar sense of loss when they played, for the first time live, Sally’s Song (I Dreamed of Michael Marra), a lament for past times and lost Dundonian friends with a kick in its tail with the band conjuring up a couthy accordion led slow time waltz which brought a lump to the throat. A solo rendition at the start of the second set of The Only One was another reminder of Owens’ ability to render heartache clothed in a healing song, a gift he shrugged off as he talked of his reputation as only singing miserable songs. Cottonsnow, inspired by a visit to civil war battlefields in the US was offered as an example of his miserabilism but again here he grabs inspiration from desperation with the song a powerful declaration. While he detoured into Johnny Cash territory with a tongue in cheek rendition of Cash’s Delia’s Gone and a rousing The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin which had a fine Cajun belt to it there was no doubting the power behind the stirring version of Up On The Hill  they laid on us while with the fan’s favourite The Man From Leith had the audience singing along. Of course being in the dear green place there was no escaping Owens’ signature tune, the umbilical cord that ties him to his twin city and Raining In Glasgow closed the show proper, the audience on board for a song that is approaching legendary status.

It didn’t end there however as the band came back on for the first unveiling of Owens’ foray into the Christmas market with Home For Christmas, the audience happily joining in (and do have a look at the video here replete with kiddie chorus and jungle bells and a cracking good tune). Thereafter there was only the simple notion of satisfying a song request flung from the front row throughout the night as Owens came back on for a solo flight through Sand In My Shoes, another oldie that again had the audience joining in.

On stage for nearly two hours with every song perfectly crafted and delivered this was an excellent night. There are a couple of opportunities to catch Dean and The Whisky Hearts before they draw 2016 to a close as they play in Stirling and Edinburgh with Dean also playing Dundee and Aberfeldy. All dates here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terry Dolan. Terry Dolan. High Moon Records

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Terry Dolan was a 60’s folkie from Connecticut who took himself to San Francisco in 1965 throwing himself into the burgeoning music scene there. While he never hit the headlines he had an uncanny knack for forging friendships and alliances with numerous musicians who did have successful careers with many of them regular members of his long lasting band Terry & The Pirates.  Chief among these were John Cipollina and Nicky Hopkins, the Quicksilver guitarist virtually a full time member and Hopkins sitting whenever he wasn’t off somewhere bashing the ivories for The Stones. Cipollina’s death in 1989 took the wind out of The Pirates’ sails, they only played sporadically after that and Dolan himself passed away in 2012. While The Pirates recorded several albums they were virtually unknown out with the Bay Area (aside from a fanatic following in Germany). Dolan himself had a shot at fame shot down when he was signed to Warner Brothers in the early seventies, recording this album in 1972. For reasons unclear it was never released leaving Dolan free to run what may have been the best bar band on the planet for the next 20 years.

The release is an obvious labour of love helmed by High Moon Records and Dolan’s fan and eventual friend Mike Somavilla who badgered Warners for years regarding these lost songs. It’s a handsome package with Dolan’s story and the tale of the album’s torturous recording fully recorded in the 48-page booklet included here. Aside from Cipollina and Hopkins (who produced half of the songs), it features appearances from Pete Sears (who produced the remainder), Lonnie Turner, Spencer Dryden, Neal Schon, Greg Douglass, Prairie Prince and The Pointer Sisters.  San Francisco rock aficionados will need no introduction to these names and it’s these self same folk who are probably the target audience. Had the album been released as intended back in 1973 it’s likely that it would now be remembered with a fond affection with original copies somewhat desirable, as it is now it’s a time capsule that deserves investigation but sadly it’s not what one might call a lost classic.

That said it’s a fine album which captures the funkier roots type of rock that was replacing psychedelia, bluesier with a side of soul as played by the likes of Delaney & Bonnie and Leon Russell or even the grittier side of Elton John way back then. Piano (by Hopkins and Sears) dominate the songs with Dolan singing and playing acoustic rhythm. Cipollina, Douglas and Schon add stinging guitar runs and the female backing voices add a gospel feel to several of the songs. The album was recorded in two bursts. Side One (as was) with Hopkins producing and Cipollina on board, the second set six months later with Sears producing (Hopkins had been called away by his Satanic Majesties) with a smaller line up, Schon in place of Cipollina. Fans of the latter day Quicksilver Messenger Service will latch onto the first four songs as Hopkins does play a storm especially on the frantic Rainbow as Cipollina goes a wee bit apeshit on slide guitar. Dolan’s signature song Inlaws And Outlaws (which he recorded several times) is a powerful example of west coast rock romanticism with Dolan singing about Gypsies and outlaws and dreaming of living free with the music a claustrophobic clutter of squirreling guitar and Gospel harmonies. Angie (not the Stones’ song) is a love song to his wife that veers ever so close to MOR balladry but is saved by Dolan’s passionate vocals and some excellent bass playing from Lonnie Turner. Listening to this it is possible to imagine that, had it been released back then, that it might have been a hit as it hits all the buttons I remember from ’70’s Top Of The Pops.

Side Two (as was) opens with another strong ballad, Purple An Blonde…?  that again has a powerful nostalgic pull for those who might have been listening to the radio back in those days and it’s not dissimilar to the songs that propelled Jefferson Starship into the charts in the mid seventies. It kind of fizzles out after this however with Burgundy Blues (dedicated to the J Geils Band) a rockin’ blues boogie while a cover of J.J. Cale’s Magnolia offers a fine vehicle for Dolan’s voice and features some fantastic keyboard playing from Pete Sears but it’s let down by some lumpen drumming.

An album then for fans of the era and of the players on the album but there’s an added bonus of six songs, all different takes from the first session that are well worth listening to with an alternative version of Inlaws And Outlaws particularly blistering and probably more akin to the music he ended up playing with his pals.

High Moon Records

Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire. Swithering. Middle Of Nowhere Records

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Fate smiles upon Roddy Hart. Notwithstanding his obvious talents a brief look at his career will have many other artists shaking their heads in disbelief. His first album featured a guest appearance from an early fan Kris Kristofferson with Kristofferson championing Hart’s work since then. An invitation from fellow Scot Craig Ferguson to appear on The Late Late Show in the States was so well received that Hart and his band returned for a five night residency on the show which was viewed by 12 million Americans. A chance encounter in a Glasgow studio led to a cameo role in the movie Sunshine On Leith, he was invited to play at the Scottish Parliament’s 10th anniversary and in his role as curator of Celtic Connection’s Roaming Roots Revue he has had the opportunity to collaborate with a veritable who’s who of American and UK roots royalty; his phone book must be well guarded. In addition he hosts one of the better radio shows here in Scotland and just recently has become the MC of Radio Scotland’s Quayside Sessions. One might suggest that he change the name of his band from the Lonesome to the Ubiquitous Fire.

Of course this hasn’t all just tumbled into Hart’s lap. Kristofferson was quick to spot a songwriter with promise telling Hart (who has a law degree),”The world doesn’t need any more lawyers” when Hart was swithering about his future prospects.  Aside from his own take on classic Americana song writing gathered from years listening to the likes of Jackson Browne Hart is able to turn his hand to writing new arrangements for songs and poems by Rabbie Burns and he also delivered a very respectable EP of Dylan Covers a few years back. It was however a bit of a surprise when in 2013 he formed The Lonesome Fire and turned in an album that was somewhat anthemic in its ambition with Hart and band allowing the likes of Arcade Fire and The National to erupt from its shiny grooves, the album was nominated for a Scottish Album Of The Year Award.

So, three years on Hart & The Lonesome Fire return to the fray with another album that if anything is more polished and epic in its ambition. Swithering (a Scots word that indicates indecision) is an odd title for an album that sounds so self assured (it shines at times with the arena allure of U2). A close inspection of the lyrics reveals Hart singing on Sliding, “And I don’t really know why I didn’t doubt it, I was sure but now I’m swithering” as the band whirl up a Springsteen like storm, keyboards rippling away over a pummelling rhythm. Hart himself explained in an interview  that the album was conceived in a different manner from that which was he used to and that he swithered throughout the process before producer Paul Savage came on board and helmed the project. Whatever, the result is an album that might remind folk of the works of The Blue Nile and Lloyd Cole as it alternates between rain speckled drama and guitar based epics.

Opener Tiny Miracles is a seductive glistening groove while the following Berlin has Hart in his most emotive mode amidst shards of glimmering guitars and an eighties like percussive beat. Low Light descends into a rubbery funk beat that is somewhat beholden to Talking Heads but Hart struts his stuff quite excellently here with a fine sense of paranoia and a brilliant glimpse of his native accent thrown in. The cavernous No Monsters rumbles with an evil menace and there’s a similar sense of dread on the ethereal I Thought I Could Change Your Mind which is like a cross between Nick Cave and The Beatles especially as it approaches its end and a mournful horn section appears from the mists. The closing song We’re The Immortals is in a similar vein as a wheezy organ leads into an arrangement that sounds somewhat like something Brian Wilson would come up with if he was a funeral director.

At times there’s just a wee bit too much bombast, clang and clamour, the songs too in thrall to AOR as on Dreamt You Were Mine and In The Arms Of California but there’s a fine reminder of Hart’s own past on the gentle sway of Violet. It’s a softly strummed love song adorned with sympathetic guitar and keyboards and, despite Hart’s onward progress, the song here that I think best sums up his qualities. Not as iconoclastic as shouting Judas at a Dylan gig but just a personal preference expressed here. However, there’s no doubting that Hart & The Lonesome Fire have the chops to make it big with this album and hopefully the Fates will continue to shine on him.

Website

 

Doghouse Roses. Lost Is Not Losing. Yellowroom Music.

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Back in March Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Paul Tasker about his solo album Cold Weather Music. We also spent some time discussing the exciting news that Doghouse Roses had a new album recorded, their first in six years with Paul promising a November release. True to his word, Lost Is Not Losing hits the streets this week and, several listens in we can confirm that it’s been well worth the wait.

Comprised of Tasker on guitar and the glorious voice of Iona MacDonald, Doghouse Roses are one of those bands who are critics’ favourites with a devoted following both here and abroad especially in Europe. Critical acclaim however doesn’t always butter the bread and following their excellent 2010 album This Broken Key they had a hiatus of sorts.  An invitation from cult US art rockers Television to open for them on a European tour in 2014 was a kind of kick starter and it paved the way to this album. They’ve been back on the road and released two EPs in the past two years and finally with Lost is Not Losing they emerge triumphant.

Since their tentative string laden debut and the woody Americana of This Broken Key Tasker and MacDonald have matured as songwriters and while they still tread in the footsteps of artists such as the Pentangle family, Gillian Welch, Fairport Convention and John & Beverly Martyn the pair confidently march forward. The album is a fine mix of assured and melodic folk rock along with strong ballads and even some mild rockabilly. Gathering around them a sympathetic crew of musicians and vocalists the album is fully realised, the songs throughout balanced perfectly.

They open with the liquid gravitas of Pour, a lambent lament on the effects of alcohol on a relationship with Tasker’s electric guitar slowly burning as MacDonald commands the voice of a wounded soul, battered but proud, the song akin to an early Fairport number when Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny were ascending to their heights. With drums and bass from Craig Lawrie and Stephen McGourty gently propelling the song along with harmonies from Jo Shaw and Biff Smith the song is a fine declaration from Doghouse Roses that they’re back. To Decide displays the pair unadorned, Tasker’s guitar wizardry and MacDonald’s voice welded to each other on a wistful ripple of a song which seems to have had its genesis in late night post gig decisions. The pair delight again on the old time New Year Rag, a song that has a political context delivered with the breezy sassiness of the likes of Malvina Reynolds while the starkly beautiful After Sun addresses an environmental collapse and Feed The Monster tips against global avarice and the indifference which allows it to grow unfettered.

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Elsewhere the basic duo sound is gently expanded to include mandolin ripples (from Laura Beth Salter) on The Whistle Song offering a fine folk lilt and an opportunity for Tasker and Salter to indulge in some duelling string playing. Jez Hellard adds some excellent and earthy harmonica to the tale of a prostitute on Fairground and there’s a full band set up for the breezy folk rock of Crooked Life which in a blindfold test could easily be assumed to be an outtake from Fleetwood Mac’s witchy Stevie Nicks. There’s some electric guitar muscle on the driving rock of Weather The Storm (courtesy of John Alexander), the song itself wonderfully arranged in its dynamics and vocal performances in the middle eight especially. Perfect radio fodder as is the chunky retro groove of Diesel Engine with the Roses’ letting their hair down somewhat as various guitars slip and slide and snarl, the lead on this occasion handled by Slovenian guitarist Dejan Lapanja.

The album draws to a close with a song that sounds as if it’s been summoned from the halcyon days of sixties folk. Days Of Grass And Sun displays the duo’s strengths with MacDonald’s voice crystal clear and assured as Tasker lays down his intricate finger picking and flourishes. The song itself has the perfect mixture of simplicity and memorable melody that characterised the likes of Tom Paxton, Fred Neil and even Joni Mitchell in her Clouds era. It’s a wonderful ending to what is a wonderful album throughout.

Lost Is Not Losing is released this Friday with a launch event at The State Bar in Glasgow. They appear again the next night at The Admiral Bar as part of a Light Of Day charity gig  before the band head off to Germany for a short tour. Dates here

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Five Years of Gravy: Celebrating 5 years of Fluff and Gravy Records

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Portland-based Indie label, Fluff and Gravy Records, is turning 5 years old. What started as a one off vehicle to release a record for a friend has come of age, with 36 releases under its belt and an international roster that includes 20 artists. They  celebrate with the release of Five Years of Gravy (cd/download). The collection of songs is not just a retrospective, but a compilation of new/unreleased tracks from 17 artists over the course of the label’s history. Standout tracks include “No Regrets” from Fernando Viciconte, “Run” by Nick Jaina (featuring Henry Ratcliff), “All Along” by Anna Tivel, “Shattering Sun” from Mike Coykendall, and the sure to go viral “It Ain’t Gay (to love Jesus)” by The Git Rights Gospel Revue. Five Years of Gravy is a sepia tone family snapshot, documenting a moment in time to preserve for the next generation.

Proceeds from this cd directly benefit The Jeremy Wilson Foundation, a musicians’ nonprofit health and services organization supported by friends, family and fans. Making it easy to directly assist individual musicians and their families during medical emergencies.

The album can be purchased on their Bandcamp page, as well as the usual (iTunes, Spotify, etc)

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