David Corley. Lights Out.

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David Corley erupted into view at the beginning of 2015 with his tremendous debut album Available Light. An astonishing record, his deep voice carrying years of experience (53 years in fact), the music reminiscent of Southern soul and swampy blues, Available Light was an immediate hit with the roots music community in the UK, Ireland and the continent leading to Corley and his band touring Europe. Disaster struck however when Corley’s history of cardiac problems caught up with him, collapsing with a heart attack on stage in Groningen. Fortunately prompt attention and then medical care in Groningen’s University Medical Centre allowed a full recovery and now, after some rest and recuperation, Corley returns to the fray with this EP and will be touring again in May.

With seven songs and running at around 35 minutes Lights Out was recorded following Corley’s illness, some of it on Wolfe Island, Ontario and in Brooklyn with his band, The Wandering Stars, while three songs were recorded in The Netherlands with local musicians, keyboard player and Corley’s producer Hugh Christopher Brown on hand at all of the sessions. Most of the ingredients that contributed to Available Light’s success are in evidence, not least Corley’s voice, more stentorian than ever but there’s a bite here, an urgency that was not in evidence on the album.  While there are some languid reflections on a life lived there’s also some punk like ferociousness and soulful funk. His brush with the Reaper is alluded to on the artwork, a blurred heart with a cardiograph on top of it.

Watchin’ The Sun Go opens the disc in fine style. Spare guitars slowly mesh together over a restrained keyboard before Corley (here sounding somewhat like Springsteen) sings and the rhythm kicks in. There is an E Street feel here with organ swells on the chorus while other keyboard sounds add an off kilter edge to the song but overall the effect is uplifting with Corley seeming to sing about his “resurrection”. Under A Midwestern Sky revisits Available Light territory, its sinuous guitar and organ winding like the Mississippi as Corley dips into his finest rough baritone boosted by a gospel like chorus. The song meanders wonderfully, like Dylan’s Slow Train Coming the band coil around the words, the guitars snaking in and out creating something of an epic. Pullin’ Off The Wool dives deeper into soul music, Corley here sounding like a secular Solomon Burke, his words half spoken, his voice stained with experience and emotion as he investigates what true love means. His impassioned pleas here are superbly supported by the excellent Gospel tinged harmonies from Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermott while the band hit a gorgeous Muscle Shoal type soul beat. Mickey Raphael turns up on harp on the parable that is Blind Man with Corley and the band taking up the reins of early Kris Kristofferson on a rusty tale of love gone wrong, the protagonist blinded in so many ways by his lover, well aware of his fate but unable to do anything about it. Corley waxes poetic here as the band tumble along slowly, a wild bunch playing sad saloon music.

Given his heart problems one fears for Corley’s health as he launches into the frantic rant that is Dividing Line. With the band pile driving into a ferocious garage punk riff he rails mightily over snarly guitars about love and hate, “don’t stop this train, of thought“, wailed throughout. There’s a grand shift in the middle of the song when the grunginess is briefly replaced by a brash acoustic thrash. Wonderful. Lighting Downtown meanwhile is a whip smart slice of funk, Corley funnelling Prince and Curtis Mayfield. Down With The Universe is a fine sign off. It opens as another slow Southern groove, organ and slide guitars setting the scene as Corley again seems to reflect on his near death, observing himself from above, recalling tender moments  such as “I liked you best when you took off your dress” but eventually surrendering to a universal que sera sera, a dreamlike sitar infused ending fading into oblivion.

Mr. Corley says that Lights Out is “a bit of a departure…conceived during a stay in a hospital”, promising a full new album later this year. However there’s no sense here of this being a stop gap. Indeed it’s more proof, if proof were needed, that he is a writer and performer of the first order, poetic and passionate. You can catch him on tour here including two dates at the Kilkenny Roots Festival, Kilkenny seeming to have adopted Corley as a native son.

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Buy the EP here for EU customers, here for US and Canada

 

 

 

Lera Lynn. Resistor.

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While some folk might have caught a glimpse of Lera Lynn at Celtic Connections when she supported Sturgill Simpson most will probably know her through her work on the television series, True Detective. Just as season one of the series raised the profile of The Handsome Family when their song, Far From Any Road, was used as the theme music, Lynn has benefited from her association with the show. Several of her songs (some co-written with Roseanne cash and T Bone Burnett) appeared throughout the episodes while she also appeared as a “shadowy” bar singer. Folks expecting however a rerun of the languid country tinged songs that populated her last album, 2014’s The Avenues, might be somewhat surprised by the direction she’s taken here.

Resistor features Lynn and co-producer Joshua Grange playing most of the instruments on a set of songs that creep from the speakers, a bit like that Japanese ghoul from The Ring. There’s an emphasis on percussion and reverbed guitars creating an atmosphere that rumbles and roots around in that dark American hinterland; neon lit motels, dark highways and ghosts on the highway. There are moments that recall Twilight Hotel (the duo that featured Brandy Zdan), a whisp of the doomed romanticism of Chris Isaak and, on the opening Shape Shifter, a nod to bands like The Breeders.

Shape Shifter actually does the album a disservice. It’s a fair enough song with a fine guitar solo midway through but its robotic rhythm and routine verse/chorus shoehorned into a radio friendly groove doesn’t really cut it. The following songs fall into the same trap. What You Done with its lead bass line and Goth like darkness, Drive’s would be highway drama and Cut + Burn’s melodrama are songs that just don’t quite cut the mustard.  Things look up with Run The Night, the instrumentation is enhanced with some acoustic guitars in the mix while the percussion is more restrained, enhancing the song as opposed to dominating it and from here on in the album just gets better.

For The Last Time is a well paced and fully realised version of Lynn’s noirish dreamsongs. Her vocals are allowed to ride above the song and the guitars coil around her with a fine degree of menace. Fade Into The Black approaches that juncture where Roy Orbison and David Lynch intersect while Slow Motion Countdown is a dream like slow waltz tinted with an old time veneer reminiscent of The Walkabouts’ Prague wanderings. Scratch + Hiss continues in a similar vein, Lynn a chanteuse here, simpering over an opalescent backdrop of shimmering guitars.

Overall the album shows that Lynn isn’t one to rest on her laurels, some of her choices here somewhat daring in their refusal to go down a gravel road that would see her as just another singer wanting to sound like Lucinda Williams. However some of the songs lack passion while others show some promise. You can make your own mind up as she is touring the UK in May, all dates are here

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Fernando. Leave The Radio On. Fluff and Gravy/Decor Records

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Fear not, this review is ABBA free. This Fernando is Fernando Viciconte, born in Argentina but commencing his musical journey in LA with Monkey Paw, a hard rock band, before moving to Portland, Oregon in 1994. Since then he’s released several solo albums which have variously visited his Latin roots, alt-country and “gauzy, narcotic songs with Latin and country-folk accents”.  A health scare a few years back threatened his voice but he has thankfully recovered and recorded Leave The Radio On, the first of his albums (I think) to get a full UK release.

It’s getting so that Portland is the happening place to be in the States (actually, it may have been for some time and we’re just behind the curve here). Anyway, while fans of The Holy Modal Rounders will know of goings on eons ago, for the past decade or so it’s been a magnet for musicians, Peter Buck of REM the latest drawn to live there. We mention this as Fernando has a dream list of Portland musicians on the album. no surprise really when you consider that Willie Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine is on record as saying that Viciconte is “one of my all time favourite singer-songwriters”. Vlautin doesn’t appear here  but Daniel Eccles and Freddie Trujillo from RF are both onboard along with Paul Brainard, Scott McCaughey and Mr. Buck himself who variously plays guitar, sitar and mandolin on eight of the 11 songs. In addition there’s another “unsung” Portland musician here in the shape of Lewi Longmire on guitars and keyboards. A long time associate of Fernando, Longmire also has a history with various Rounders and the esteemed Michael Hurley, so, nice to see him in here.

The album itself is a polished affair. Viciconte’s voice is high in the mix, his tremulous vocals recalling at times Bowie and Lennon.  There’s little of his dusty Americana background although there’s a fine laid back vibe to the wonderful pedal steel and mandolin whorled Kingdom Come while the spectral White Trees oozes with a mysticism heightened by the simple ritualistic percussion, shadows gathering in the gloomy bass and subdued organ. Instead, we get the dark psychedelic soundscape of The Dogs, surely indebted to The Pretty Things in their lysergic days and the kaleidoscopic guitar tumblings of The Freak, a song that roots into Bowie’s 70’s paranoia (turn this one up loud). Buck’s presence isn’t flag posted throughout the album but it’s tempting to think that the churning guitar charge of Burned Out Love, a fantastic slice of power pop is a nod to him and Minus Five chap McCaughey. Turns out that the guitar here is handled by Fernando’s co-producer Luther Russell but it certainly hits the heights, a glorious addition to the canon of sun kissed guitar pop. Fernando certainly knows his way around a hook, the opening and closing songs here both memorable slices of dark melodic rock with shades of The Dream Syndicate and The Church lurking in there. Finally, there’s the odd seeming combination of Fernando sounding like Bowie on El Interior. Here, glistening guitars lead one into a twilight zone, an infra red desert, the singer stranded, his thoughts clouded by the intrusive Mariachi band. Whether Fernando intended this or not the song is a fine summation of the gin sozzled Thomas Jerome Newton damned in New Mexico. A wonderful song.

Good news is that Fernando is appearing near you soon as he is supporting Richmond Fontaine on their farewell tour.  Dates are here.

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John McCusker. Hello, Goodbye. Under One Sky Records

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Since he first came to attention as a 17 year old prodigy invited to join The Battlefield Band back in the early nineties John McCusker has become a cornerstone of the UK folk music scene. His fiddle playing has graced many an album while his production and arrangement skills have seen him work with numerous artists and ensembles, one off projects, television and film work. Regularly nominated for (and often winning) all sorts of folk awards he is as often to be found working with rock and pop musicians and regularly tours as part of Mark Knopfler’s band.

Hello, Goodbye is his sixth solo album and it features a fine cast list including James Mackintosh, Ewen Vernal, Ian Carr, Michael McGoldrick, Andy Cutting, Tim O’Brien, Phil Cunningham, Jarleth Henderson and McCusker’s partner Heidi Talbot (heard briefly as the album opens). Coming 13 years after his last solo effort it’s the first to be recorded at his new home studio, a converted bothy next to his Borders home and is a welcome return to the frontline for this folk Renaissance man.

Aside from a (very) brief sung part as the album opens, it’s all instrumental with all of the tunes written by McCusker. Having said that the album is as traditional as the hills, jigs, reels, waltzes and laments all represented, sounding as if McCusker has grasped them from the very air, melodies of the ages, reshaped by each generation. There are modern elements in there, the funky bass line of FooFog for example or the nod to the American duo The Milk Carton Kids on the same titled tune, a fiddle lament with acoustic guitar gracings.  Throughout the album McCusker duets with various musicians on more fiddle, mandolin, guitar or flute as the rhythm section skip merrily along defying the listener to sit still. From the titles of the tunes it’s apparent that he’s written these almost as a musical diary, the titles reflecting life events, his own or of friends. It’s A Girl, The Wedding, A Trip To Roma, Molly’s Waltz/Heidi’s Waltz  and Tune For Nana probably all resonate strongly with McCusker and his family and friends but there’s no sense here of exclusivity. Instead it’s indicative that, despite his impressive CV, McCusker has kept close to his roots, as happy to write a reel to celebrate a friend’s wedding as he is to share a stage with Bob Dylan. A cert to be on the lists of top folk albums by the end of the year.

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The Yardbirds. Yardbirds (AKA Roger The Engineer). Repertoire Records

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The Yardbirds, considered by some to be one of the sixties key UK  bands, behind The Beatles and The Stones, slightly behind The Who and The Kinks, maybe keeping up with The Pretty Things and definitely ahead of The Creation and The Action. They had some hit singles but when did you last hear them on a golden oldies radio show? In their lifetime they released three albums proper, a live debut, this album and a final Mickie Most produced last stab at hitdom but when it all boils down Yardbirds is their only fully realised album project. Let’s face it, were it not for the fact that they featured the triumvirate of Clapton, Beck and Page respectively they would be even less well known. However, this (latest, possibly definitive) reissue of their second album offers a chance for the band to remind listeners that, despite a catalogue of woes, management problems and guitarist lurgy that rivals that of Spinal Tap’s drummer problem, The Yardbirds captured the zeitgeist of “swinging London” on the cusp of beatfreak and psychedelia.

Originally a blues band and successors to the Stone’s residency at The Crawdaddy Club they recorded a live album (Five Live Yardbirds) with Eric Clapton on guitar but after hooking up with writer Graham Gouldman (of later 10CC fame) for the hit, For Your Love, Clapton quit, the pop tune allegedly not in line with his blues purist pursuit. His successor, Jeff Beck, had no such qualms, the band scoring with two further singles, Heart Full of Soul and Evil Hearted You. And so in March 1966 the band went into the studios to record their first bona fide studio album. Despite some background noise in the shape of a management change, original manager Giorgio Gomelsky replaced by Simon Napier-Bell, and a simultaneous attempt at solo stardom from singer Keith Relf they emerged with what would be their most fully realised statement.

Commonly known as Roger The Engineer after the line drawing (by rhythm guitarist Chris Déjà) of studio engineer Roger Cameron which featured on the cover, Yardbirds (the official title) shows the band in full command of their blues powers (witness the excellently paced Rack My Mind), experimenting with the studio possibilities and delivering some frantic beat pop with a slight whiff of the emerging psychedelic sound. The latter is apparent from the beginning with Lost Woman opening with an Animals’ like bass driven boogie before opening out into a lengthy “freak out”, harmonica and guitar duelling with Beck delving into feedback and frenzied fretwork that rivals that of Townshend. Over, Under, Sideways, Down , released as a single, is a fine slice of sixties guitar pop dominated by Beck’s spiralling guitar riff and He’s Always There had the potential to be a chart topper but it’s let down by a flat production that lacks oomph despite Beck’s bravura soloing at the end. Finally on the freakbeat side there’s the very fine What Do you Want, a song that starts off like The Monkees but is elevated by the frequent interventions from Beck and, again, his soloing at the end of the song. Turn Into Earth retreads some of the territory of their single, Still I’m Sad, the vocals recalling Gregorian chant, a mantra of sorts.

Unable to shake off their blues roots there are several “adaptations” of familiar blues riffs and boogies. Aside from the aforementioned Rack My Mind the band offer a 12 bar boogie on The Nazz Are Blue which thrashes along finely and which surely would have had fans comparing Clapton and Beck when played live. Here Beck passes with flying colours, his long sustained note midway through just brilliant. Jeff’s Boogie is just that, his fingers flying as he runs through some Chuck Berry inspired riffs and just generally shows off.

That’s two thirds of the album and had the band kept up this quality then Yardbirds might be up there with Between The Buttons and The Who Sell Out but they do themselves no favours with I Can’t Make Your Way, a pedestrian song that recalls the likes of Freddie And The Dreamers or Herman’s Hermits despite Beck’s soaring solo break. Likewise the short Farewell, a brave but ultimately failed attempt at social commentary. They’re more successful on the jungle surf weirdness of Hot House Of Omagarashid, a kind of R’n’B Pink Floyd instrumental complete with wobble board. The album proper ends with some more social commentary, this time on the evils of money, on Ever Since The World Began, a song that combines some of the Gregorian chanting that had featured on Still I’m Sad before warping into an almost cabaret like guitar shuffle. More than anything these songs date the album, their shelf lives expired.

It’s tempting to ask what if? What if the band had stuck together and got back into the studio a year later with better equipment and even better songs? There’s a partial answer here with the inclusion of their masterpiece, recorded six months later and with Jimmy Page replacing Paul Samwell Smith in the line up. Happenings Ten Years Time Ago is a major event, the band defining their guitar freakout and burgeoning psychedelic sound. Sadly it was a one off, Beck soon departing, however there was a final opportunity to see/hear the twin guitar line up in the movie Blow Up and happily their rendition of Stroll On (a thinly disguised version of Train Kept A’ Rollin) is also included here. The Yardbirds continued as a four piece, touring America and by all accounts becoming a prototype Led Zeppelin. However, they were delivered into the hands of Mickie Most who produced their final album, filling it with slight pop songs played by session men with the band having little or no say. They slowly disintegrated leaving Page with nothing but the name.

This release (a double CD) contains the album in both its mono and stereo versions along with mono versions of Happenings Ten Years Time Ago, its B-side, Psycho Daisies, and Stroll On. In addition there are alternative stereo mixes of He’s Always There, Turn Into Earth and I Can’t Make Your Way. Finally there are the two singles released by Keith Relf in ’66, manager Napier-Bell apparently seeing him as a potential pop heart throb. Recorded with session men (including Jimmy Page) Mr. Zero, a Bob Lind song, is a period baroque folk pop number which just nudged into the top 50, the B-side , Knowing, written by Relf, continues in a similar vein. Shapes In My Mind, written by Napier- Bell, is somewhat more dramatic with a churchlike organ intro, Napier-Bell seemingly trying to fit Relf into a Manfred Mann/Paul Jones suit. The B-side for this single, Blue Sands, is an inconsequential harmonica led instrumental and apparently is by another band altogether (The Outsiders), indicative of the manager’s cavalier manner.

In all this package won’t effect any seismic shift in The Yardbirds standing in the roll call of sixties bands but it’s a fine and respectful look back at their big shot at posterity.

Buy it here

 

 

 

 

Marianne Dissard. Cibola Gold – Best Of 2008-2015

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Marianne Dissard is probably best known as a sometime collaborator with several bands from the Tucson scene including Giant Sand and Calexico; most notably, she is the femme fatale on Calexico’s Ballad Of cable Hogue. A noted filmmaker and photographer in addition to being a chanteuse, Dissard recorded three albums in Tucson, the last being The Cat, Not Me along with two albums in what she calls her City Series, Paris One Takes and Cologne Vier Takes. Last year she relocated to Europe and this collection, culled from the above albums, is something of a farewell to her American years.

Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed L’Entredeux and The Cat, Not Me, albums that steered a course between European (and in particular French) pop tradition and American guitar rock. Despite the plethora of Tucson musicians the overall sense was of a continental bent, Serge Gainsbourg being an obvious touchstone, Dissard singing in French (and occasionally German), her voice usually somewhat sultry in the grand manner of the likes of Juliette Greco and Francoise Hardy.  Her lyrics (handily translated on her website) sensual, poetic, dark, a mix of Rimbaud and French argot. Above all her words were wrapped in a polyglottal musical language, Mariachi, twang guitars and Chanson all thrown into the pot and this collection is a fine reflection of that.

The 13 songs gathered here are each and every one reason to make the listener search out the albums they are taken from. Dissard roams from the opening accordion jollity of Les Draps Sourds, the Bal Musette setting disguising the lusty goings on in the lyrics, to the nightmarish claustrophobia of Tortue. She almost purrs on the magnificent Pomme, a song that initially recalls Parisian cobbled streets before a grand, almost prog, middle eight weighs in. On the rock side there’s some ferocious guitar squabbles on the driving The One And Only, another fine guitar solo on the thrilling Election and Trop Express oozes sensuality over a funky Hammond organ riff. However Dissard can also come across like a Gallic Nico back in her Chelsea Girl days on the string laden acoustic ballad Cayenne or conjure up a glistening bucolic world on the sublime Les Confetttis. The crowning glory perhaps is the meandering musical map of Un Gros Chat with its spooky bowed saw and splashing cymbals, the lyrics abstractly erotic, Dissard like a whispered siren drawing listeners into her realm.

The album is an excellent entree into the weird and wonderful world of Ms. Dissard, a dizzying potpourri of sensual frissons seasoned with some wonderful music. The package itself is worth delving into. Packed full of pictures , tributes, poems and snippets of correspondence from the Tucson days it gives a measure of Dissard’s time there. In addition, with the deluxe package, Ms. Dissard has liberally garlanded each CD with golden confetti, some of which is still cluttering up the keyboard here.

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Jeremy Nail. My Mountain

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The thing about mountains is that, essentially, they’re an obstacle. Something to get around or over, to put behind you. This might entail some endeavour, some work, some guts before it’s finally behind you allowing you to get on with your journey. So it was with Texan Jeremy Nail, a jobbing Austin musician with one album under his belt and an occasional gig playing guitar with Alejandro Escovedo. His mountain was a cancer, a sarcoma that led to a leg amputation in 2013, enough to derail anyone. However, My Mountain, an album that alludes to his struggle on several songs, is evidence that that Nail, in the words of the Dude, abides.

Of course, numerous musicians have overcome tragedy and moved on; Nail the latest in a long line including Robert Wyatt, Chet Baker and Rick Allen. He’s assisted here by another musician whose livelihood and indeed life was threatened by illness a few years back, his old chum Alejandro Escovedo who produced the album and co-wrote one of the songs. And while Nail doesn’t sound like Escovedo, the album is not dissimilar to some of the latter’s solo albums, some warm Texan guitar licks mixed with bitter sweet string laden laments the order of the day. Escovedo’s production is masterful, creating an ambience that recalls the work of Daniel Lanois.

The album opens with the gutsy title song, ponderous bass and drums and jagged acoustic guitar leading into sweet female harmonies and sinewy slide guitar, a wonderful slice of swampy rock. Here Nail alludes to his illness singing, “Gonna climb my mountain, it’s about time, just sit back and watch me walk this crooked line”.  The following song, Down To The Ocean, the co-write, has Escovedo’s fingerprints all over it recalling melodies from his album Thirteen Years especially on the opening however Nail takes the lead here, his voice earnest and warm as he confronts his demons waving goodbye to his failures “to come back new again”. It’s a sublime song, evocative of the womb if such a thing is possible, the bass a heartbeat, burbling guitars and coiled slide cosseting it. Similarly Survive mentions a new beginning and again it’s bathed in a warm ambience, this time recalling Daniel Lanois’ work with Emmylou Harris and Neil Young, an acoustic scaffold supporting fragile voice and atmospheric guitar with gliding female harmonies. Nail revisits this sonic territory on the wonderful Only Love while the Lanois effect is most apparent on the epic New Frontier.

There are echoes also of fellow Texan Buddy Holly on the upbeat Dreams and on Heroes (not the Bowie song), here especially in the guitar lines but it’s back to that ambient guitar swaddle on the plaintive Calling All Cars, a shuffling rhythm section bowing to fine arcs of molten guitar lines. Nail closes the album with the relatively simple Tell Me What Else You Got, a challenge to fate that’s embroidered with some sweet violin playing from Eleanor Whitmore and a final guitar flourish from Chris Masterson. Mention of these two should be accompanied by an acknowledgement of the stalwart efforts from Bobby Daniel on upright bass, Chris Searles on drums and Dana Falconberry and Jazz Mills on harmonies.

Aside from his own story and his mountain to climb, My Mountain is a sublime listen. A late night wallow in warm guitars and intoxicating rhythms bathed in pathos.

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