Carter Sampson. Queen Of Oklahoma and Other Songs. Continental Song City

a3937328516_16Carter Sampson created a bit of a stir when she released Wilder Side back in 2016, her red dirt country laments packing an emotional punch that resonated with listeners here and in Europe. Wilder Side was the first of her albums to be released over here and this selection of songs from her previous releases is a handy catch up for those who were enamoured by her, on disc or in person on her recent tours over here.

Running at a generous 60 plus minutes Queen Of Oklahoma gathers up five songs from Mockingbird Sing and six from Good For The Morning plus a couple from digital only solo releases, Thirty Three and Over The Moon.  With the earliest songs dating back to 2011 they show Sampson as a fully-fledged songwriter and performer from the start. The opening songs (Be My Wildwood Flower and Queen Of Oklahoma) are rich in their alt country loam recalling at times the rough and ready Cheri Knight while Jesse James is a plugged in blast of chugging country rock with Sampson as rugged as John Fogarty as she wails away. I Don’t Want Him (from Good For The Meantime) winds down the chug somewhat with its back porch fiddle over a wonderfully loose rhythm section while Honeybee is a delicious concoction of swirling organ (played by John Fullbright) and jangled guitars with Sampson here just perfect in her languid vocals. Sanctuary rips along with some fine twang guitar breaks and Payne County Line is an excellent moody number with the baleful lyrics somewhat offset by the upbeat banjo rippling that runs throughout.

There are a few more intimate moments. I Am Yours features just Sampson and her guitar and shows that on her own she can be just as powerful as with a band behind her and this is reinforced on the compelling tale of Annie, a narrative that allows Sampson ample room to stake her claim as an excellent writer. The album closes with Better Ways (from Mockingbird Soul), a song that again is stripped back and again shows off Sampson as dirt stained and able to inveigle her way into the heart and soul of hard scrabbled folk.

Queen Of Oklahoma was released to tie in with Carter Sampson’s Europe tour back in May but she returns this weekend for an appearance at Glastonbury. If you can’t make that then this album is a perfect introduction and it’s available here

Static Roots Festival, Oberhausen, Germany, 9-10th June 2017

A few weeks ago we delved into the background of and the inspiration for the Static Roots Festival with Dietmar Liebecke. It’s a fascinating story and all down to Dietmar and his wife, Marion’s love of music. Well the second Festival has come and gone and unfortunately we weren’t able to be there. Fortunately, a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke, the inveterate gig goer Ken Beveridge attended and he was kind enough to pen this report for us. So, over to Ken.

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Mr. Beveridge in his usual habitat

Many of you will have heard of (or attended) The Kilkenny Roots Festival. One of the stalwarts of that festival is a seriously nice German chap, Dietmar Liebecke. So enamoured has he become of The Kilkenny setup he decided last year to have a go at organising a similar, but much smaller event in Oberhausen in Germany. The inaugural Static Roots Festival was held last June and was such a success that Dietmar set about putting together a second one, which was held on June 9-10th this year.

The festival takes place in one indoor venue in The Altenberg Zentrum, a former zinc factory turned cultural centre, with a beer garden, that hosts drama, concerts & parties. It is a small and intimate venue which houses around 200 people. The immediate exterior is a tree-strewn terrace with loads of seating and tables where festival-goers can sit, chat, drink and eat the most gorgeous of beef burgers or German pastries. It is a fantastic venue. The festival featured nine bands over the two days – three on the Friday evening and six the following afternoon and evening.

34924303630_6ca603e5f5_bThe opening act was the wonderful David Corley. David played a divine set featuring songs from his first album Available Light and the follow up Zero Moon (released this month). That David is even here playing is remarkable given that he suffered a major heart attack whilst playing onstage in Holland less than18 months ago. His whisky soaked voice, reminiscent at times of Tom Waits, holds the audience spellbound. Highlights include Available Light and the marvellous Down With The Universe from his latest release. Mention has to be made of the sublime keyboard playing of Canadian Chris Brown and the subtle drumming of Gregor Beresford (who came on as a half time substitute!)

34501937613_f8e1f98f0c_bNext on stage was the much-travelled Peter Bruntnell and his band. Your correspondent has seen Peter many times in various, mainly small, venues in the UK and Ireland. The larger stage here allowed Peter and his band (the magnificent Dave Little on guitar, Peter Noone on drums and Mike Clews on bass) to broaden their sound. His set contained crowd pleasers Here Come The Swells, his anti Trump Mr Sunshine, the mighty Yuri Gagarin from his latest album (Nos Da Comrade) and the show topping By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix.

35182344551_60aaa6fb03_bClosing the night were the Irish band John Blek and The Rats. Front man John O’Connor is a larger than life character whose frame belies the most gentlest of singing voices. He and his five piece band, including the brilliant Anne Mitchell on keyboards, presided over a rollicking set containing the sing-a-long Calling Out My Name, the poignant The Barman, The Barfly And Me and a magnificent rendition of Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down.

A great end to a great evening.

35289358266_4c5520e998_bA late night and the need for some brunch meant that I missed the first act on the Saturday – Nadine Khouri. By all accounts she performed a great set which I now regret missing. Next up was Jack Marks, a Canadian singer who was completely new to me, He and his two sidekicks – Leslie Ann Christi on drums and her husband, Alistair, on bass – played a faultless set featuring Americana ballads that could have been taken from The John Prine songbook. Brilliant story telling songs full of imagery that had me spellbound. A great new find and well worth looking out for.

35199960951_8e0949b545_bNext up was another new to me British artist, David Ford. In contrast to the previous act, David, played solo and entertained us with his wonderful set of strong gritty songs whilst backing himself via a loop system incorporating guitar, keyboards, drums and a variety of percussion instruments. His heart felt To Hell With The World had me mesmerised – think Bruce Springsteen meets Billy Joel. The song that he sang eschewing the rampant greed for stardom – the title of which I have forgotten – was worth the price of entry on its own. Another wonderful act which was followed by the incomparable Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles. This American songstress is in the mould of Iris DeMent and Kate Campbell Succulent, intimate, songs, sung in a wonderfully understated voice with backing vocals provided by her brilliant guitarist Jerry Berhardt. She sings to you as if you are the only person in the room, nay universe. The haunting Clean Slate is the pick from a most wonderful set. The need for food and the chance to have a chat with Erin Rae on the terrace means that I miss most of the following band’s performance. That which I did catch from the German band, Torpus And The Art Directors, was interesting. Fairly standard Americana stuff (hints of Wilco) with the quirky addition of a trombone-playing front man.

34960793870_8b5c0339fb_bAnd so to the highlight of the weekend. The ever popular, spectacularly hard working Danny and The Champions Of The World. I can’t count the number of times that I have seen this band. They never fail to deliver. In Danny Champ they must have the most effervescent front man in Roots music. They play with a tightness that only comes with much hard work on and off the road mixing songs from their soon to be released album with a host of crowd-pleasing favourites. Particular favourites on the night included (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket, Stop Thief, Clear Water and they finished with the ever popular, crowd sing-a-long that is Henry The Van.

The whole weekend was marvellously managed by Master Of Ceremonies, Canadian DJ, Jeff Robson. His obvious knowledge of each and every act and his enthusiastic cajoling of the audience to listen, enjoy and buy merchandise was spot on.

We finish as we started, out on to the terrace, where nearly every musician that has played during the day is hanging about talking and drinking with members of the audience. Not an ego in sight. If Roots music is your thing, look out for this festival next year. It really is The Business.

Thanks to Ken for his words and to Klaas Guchelaar for the pictures.

Slaid Cleaves. Ghost On The Car Radio.

a3490201652_16Never a man to let you down Slaid Cleaves again comes up with the goods with Ghost On The Car Radio, a magnificent selection of songs that, aside from acting as a primer on how to turn out a nigh perfect album, reflects our current troubled times. It’s not a political album per se but Cleaves continues to be a champion of blue collar working songs on the sly country funk of Little Guys and the finely burnished Primer Gray, both songs hanging on the automobile as a metaphor for the state of the nation. The pulsating Take Home Pay with its growling guitars is a fine a capture of day to day scraping it together, the protagonist, unable to compete with younger labourers, pawns what he has and considers selling his blood, as Cleaves explains, “I’m bone dry but I can bleed.” Continuing their mutual admiration society Cleaves features four songs co-written with his buddy Rod Picott and his version of Drunken Barber’s Hand (a pacier rendition than Picott’s on Fortune), is given some elucidation via an interview Cleaves gave to Rolling Stone where he explains that the song was written in response to the topsy turvy politics that was gathering pace in the States.

Given all this the album overall is less direct than Cleaves’ last album (2013’s Still Fighting The War) and he lays down some songs that at times approach a Beatles’ like melodic air. If I Had A Heart is a careworn threnody, a life of dissolution and regret straining to accept the concept of a new innocence. So Good To Me meanwhile has McCartney like bridges over a very finely nuanced mix of acoustic clatter and swooning electric guitar while To Be Held drips with soulful tears as Cleaves almost dips into Solomon Burke territory with able assistance from Harmoni Kelley on harmony. There are also some invigorating slices of out and out jangled rock with Still be Mine a wonderful cascade of keyboards and guitars while the opening song, Already Gone, crashes in with a Tom Petty like flourish. Add in the Bakersfield jaunt of The Old Guard and the closing solo rendition of Junkyard, a slight return to the automobile motif equating a terminal illness to the heaps of rusting cars and you have one of the best albums of the year so far.

Website

Anna Coogan. The Lonely Cry Of Time & Space

a4200116745_16Last time we looked Anna Coogan was a wandering minstrel of the singer/songwriter variety as evidenced by albums such as The Wasted Ocean and The Nowhere Rome Sessions. There was a hint of things to come when her versatile voice was added to the freaky world of Johnny Dowd’s last two albums and on The Lonely Cry Of Time & Space she breaks through to an alien universe of sound that’s somewhat akin to PJ Harvey working with Angelo Badalamenti.

Played in the main by Coogan on voice and guitar with Willie B on drums, Moog bass and synthesiser the album is a helter skelter ride into avant-garde mutations of surf music, twang and arid desert ruminations with a dash of astrophysics added for good measure. With some songs written to accompany vintage French and Russian movies while others rail against the recent Trumpdon of America and the threat to the environment that it entails, Coogan achieves a huge sound that swirls throughout. At times almost hypnagogic, elsewhere like a trepanning as she drills into your head, it’s a challenging listen but there are enough hooks to drag the listener on board. A song like If You Were The Sun with its operatic vocals, alien synthesized ambience and closing heavy metal guitar riffs is balanced by the following chimes of Wedding Vow which, had it been available back then, would have been perfect for the soundtrack for Kill Bill with its Morricone like menace.

At their simplest Coogan and Willie B conjure up a wonderful dark stew of menace on the apocalyptic  Wishing Well (a riposte to anti immigration hysteria)  while Burn For You broods mightily as Coogan wanders into the miasma of Middle East calamities. Sylvia (an ode to Sylvia Plath) has its roots in folk which is apparent at the beginning of the song but it soon takes wings as shards of guitar splinter over rushed drums. There’s a Kate Bush like ebullience to the Telstar rock of Meteor and the title song is inspired by the recent discovery of gravitational waves (as prophesied by Einstein) with the song sounding like a mash up of Brian Eno’s Apollo Atmospheres and the aforementioned PJ Harvey. Meanwhile the robotic pulse of Collateral is Coogan’s response to the US election fiasco as she sings, make me invisible, make me expendable, her guitar here as American as the stars and stripes as it twangs with a fury.

Website

Redwood Mountain. Redwood Mountain

redwood-mountain-side-1-alt-desat-40-250x250Aside from his burgeoning career as a transatlantic bridge, linking Nashville to Leith Scots musician Dean Owens has delivered several projects over the past few years which have been more low key than his official solo albums. He’s recorded (and played live) tributes to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams with the albums available via his website and at gigs. Redwood Mountain follows this tradition but here Owens isn’t restricted to one artist, instead offering up his version of the great American songbook, not the one written by Gershwin et al but the songs that were first sung and handed on before they were written down. Songs that crossed the ocean with settlers and grew into the New World landscape, played on porches and at barn dances before they were eventually transcribed and then etched into shellac.

The catalyst for the recording was the gift to Owens of a book, Alan Lomax’s The Book Of American Folk Songs. First published in 1968 the book was a collection of 111 folk songs, ballads, sea shanties, work songs, cowboy songs and spirituals with Lomax adding chord charts and explaining the history and provenance of the songs. Intrigued by this wealth of traditional songs Owens set about rearranging some of them and in keeping with the sometime stark delivery of the earliest recorded versions decided to record them in a stripped down fashion. Thus was born Redwood Mountain, a duo of Owens and fiddle player Amy Geddes (with occasional double bass and piano from Kevin McGuire), the pair delving into the backwoods. Geddes of course is the fiddle player in Owens’ band The Whisky Hearts but here she’s riding point with Owens, her fiddle playing not only the second voice on the album but an essential connection to the Celtic roots of much of these Appalachian and high plains songs. This is evident on her rendition of the traditional Scots tune Amang The Braes O Gallowa, one of two numbers here not taken from the Lomax book but acutely delivered with an aching pull and which would not sound out of place on Nick Cave’s soundtrack for The Proposition.

They open with the devastating Katy Cruel, a song with strong Scottish roots and perhaps best known these days for Karen Dalton’s haunted version. Owens and Geddes are just stunning here, their delivery sending a chill up the spine and they capture this spectral aspect again on Fair Thee Well O Honey (also known sometimes as Dink’s song) with Geddes’ fiddle wraithlike at times. Owens’ lone voice on East Virginia (with Geddes adding an intermittent resonant fiddle) is another dark tale but that’s as murky as it gets as the remainder of the album, while still at times dwelling on misery, is somewhat more upbeat. Thus we get the waltz like Get Along Home Cindy and the slave runaway song Run Boys Run which finds Owens in fine voice and Geddes’ fiddle flying like Scarlet Rivera on Desire. Cowboys get a look in on the narrative of On The Range Of The Buffalo with Owens lowering into Cash territory with his vocals and there’s space for a railroad song (Railroad Man which roams into Woody Guthrie and big Bill Broonzy territory) while Rye Whiskey could be sung as easily in a Scots tavern as a hobo camp back in the thirties. Owens winds up the album with his own song, Take It Easy, But Take It which again is reminiscent of Guthrie as Owens adds some modern  commentary as he sings, “The homeless should always have shelter, the hungry should always have food, the sick should be helped to get better and the misunderstood understood.”

Dylan was scrabbling around the Lomax collections on his albums Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong while more recently Ags Connolly offered his selection of Cowboy songs and Redwood Mountain continue in this tradition. But the album that most comes to mind when listening to this is Billy Bragg and Joe Henry’s Shine A Light, another collection of Americana folklore and I’d certainly recommend to anyone who enjoyed that disc to give a listen to Redwood Mountain.

You can buy Redwood mountain here

 

My Darling Clementine. Still Testifying. Continental Song City

a0840776620_16Still mining the rich vein of country duetting, My Darling Clementine have grown in stature since the release of their first album, How Do You Plead, back in 2011. Essentially a homage to the classic duets of George Jones and Tammy Wynette in the late sixties the album led to them being named Americana Music Artist of the year at the British Country Music Awards in 2012. A second album and a successful collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham on The Other Half (an album and stage show) have established the duo (Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish) as the current King and Queen of UK Country music and with Still Testifying they further advance the charms and depth of their project.

Keen to avoid making the same type of album over and over King and Dalgleish have followed a path which was hinted at on Our Race Is Run (from second album, The Reconciliation) which was suffused with a Southern Soul sound, brass and organ offering a sanctified Solomon Burke like solemnity. As such, Still Testifying shifts from a Nashville based sound mirroring the shift in the late sixties that saw Music Row challenged by Memphis, Texas and even Hollywood showbiz and hippies. With artists such as Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Bobbie Gentry (and Lulu) getting down and dirty in Memphis, The Flying Burrito Brothers channelling a similar sound in LA (remember, they covered Dark End Of The Street on their first album) and even Bacharach and David getting in on the act with their score for Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, country was edging into pop, rock and soul and it’s this creative period that My Darling Clementine inhabit here.

They open the album with the barnstorming The Embers And The Flame which barrels in with a similar swirl as that of The Burritos’ Christine’s Tune before the horns add some Hollywood colour. It’s the horns again which lift Dalgleish’s sorrowful tale of a couple trapped in love on Just A Woman (which incidentally reverses Wynette’s oft repeated apology for her man) with the pair crooning almost amidst a dreamy background which one would like to imagine was on the soundtrack for a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie had they looked at real life instead of cotton candy pillow fluff. Tear Stained Smile meanwhile employs some fat sounding sax on a cheerful murder song which rolls along like Elvis in Vegas while There’s Nothing You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know) has a cracking guitar riff over a sinewy rock beat that has Elvis In Memphis all over it along with some Tex Mex organ stylings. Here Dalgleish and King keenly observe the human condition and the mating technique with some finesse with lines such as “The groove on your third finger tells me you once had a wife.” As it’s a My Darling Clementine album there are several other songs which feature couples in or out of love or trying to make some sense of just what happened to them. Friday Night, Tulip Hotel is a wonderful waltz describing a sorrowful clandestine tryst that seems doomed to repeat itself until one day the man doesn’t turn up. Elsewhere Dalgleish picks up the ongoing tale of Dolly Parton’s Jolene on Jolene’s Story offering the other side of the story.

Not all of the songs are stained with romance however as Dalgleish offers up the delicate Eugene, inspired by an occasion when the band were on tour in Oregon while King summons up the plight of isolated and stricken communities on Two Lane Texaco. The closing Shallow abandons the band and finds the pair harmonising on a delightful song that, despite the earlier tales of loss and abandonment, tells of an undying love.

Website

 

Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes. Howling Wolf, Glasgow. Friday 9th July 2017

20170609_234839 copyOh dear. The gods weren’t smiling tonight for Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes, the award winning Australian Americana trio who were playing their first UK date. First off, there was only two in this trio as guitarist and Dobro player Damian Cafarella’s flight was delayed meaning we had Bryan and bassist Shaun Ryan. Next up Bryan opened his guitar case on arriving at the venue and discovered that his acoustic guitar had been seriously damaged in transit and was unplayable. A call was sent out for a replacement and one did arrive, an electric guitar (which was gratefully received) but this put the opening of the set back somewhat and did change the sound we had expected to hear. Finally, the gig was in a very busy city centre bar late on a Friday night and the band were not the main attraction it seemed, so the show went on amidst a constant barrage of chatter (and here we should probably be grateful for the switch to electric).

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Nevertheless there was a dedicated row or two of folk who had come out for the band (and the crowd, to be fair, did applaud at the end of the songs) while Bryan managed to engage in some banter with a bunch of lads who were responding to some of his introductions (especially when he asked if anyone in the bar was there with someone else’s partner before playing The Secret I’ll Take To The Grave). For those who were listening there was evidence aplenty that Bryan has a barrowful of great songs in addition to a fine voice and both he and Ryan managed the circumstances with good humour, a great example of “the show must go on.” There might have been a temptation to just rock out and they did offer up some fine boogified moments. The opening 309, a fine and dark country rocker on disc, had the pair firing up the cylinders while You, Me And The Blues and The King And I were energetic and grabbed the crowd’s attention. Deathwish Country was given a fine sluggish Neil Young chug while Dragging My Chain sloped into the blues and saw Bryan firing out some sparks on his borrowed guitar. Murder ballads always go down well in Glasgow.

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It was a mite more complicated with what one might call the the quieter songs but to their credit the duo managed to get these out without losing too much of the subtleties one associates with  country music. Ballad Of A young Married Man, Afraid Of The Light and The Mountain did battle with the assembled crowd but ultimately (for those at the front) were quite affecting. Bryan delivered an excellent version of his hymn to a New Orleans voodoo temptress on Dugdemona and his closing Whistle And Waltz was simply superb with some of us singing along on the sweet chorus.

This was the first date for Bryan & The Wildes on their first UK tour and probably isn’t what they’ll sound like once they get properly set up but even so it was a fine night with the songs shining out.

Further tour dates here