Jeremy Pinnell. Ties Of Blood And Affection. Sofaburn Records

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2When North Kentuckian, Jeremy Pinnell, released his first album, OH/KY, a few years back I reviewed it for Americana UK saying, “The ten songs here are all exemplars of Country tradition be it Hank or Merle or Waylon.Ties Of Blood And Affection reaffirms my thoughts back then as Pinnell spins nine songs with each and every one of them a stone cold killer, steeped in a tough country tradition and elevated at times by some killer lyrics. In his songs he inhabits badlands, honky tonks and whorehouses. His spirit is defiant and proud, past sins are to be accounted for but in the meantime there’s a life to be lived and his characters live pretty full lives.

The record swings with a brashness that harks back to Waylon Jennings’ Lonesome, On’ry & Mean; country music with a rock’n’roll heart, Jennings’ response back then to Nashville’s increasingly straight laced music, Hank Williams music for modern times. Jennings and his fellow outlaws won that battle back then but today, with Nashville again trying to lose country’s roots in favour of flavourless ‘bro country, it’s artists like Pinnell who are carrying the flag for an authentic take on what Jimmy Rogers called the white man’s blues.

An acoustic guitar leads us into the arresting opening lyrics of Ballad Of 1892 as Pinnell sings, “Laid up in the house full of hookers and wine, my baby’s in the back done committing a crime” before the band slink in with a solid country beat, slinky guitars and tough pedal steel flashing like a flick knife. Take The Wheel is somewhat sweeter despite Pinnell’s gravelly vocals on a road song that barrels along with gliding pedal steel before a road stop in a honky tonk on Feel This Right. Here Pinnell is in his comfort zone, a bar room philosopher declaring his hard won triumphs and his daily toils. He has to pay his bills but he’s got a kid and a good woman who calls him daddy and his musings are surrounded with a wonderfully realised fat backed, almost Western Swing, style, the band almost lazily laying down some excellent licks. Still in the honky tonk there’s the redemptive love song, I’m Alright With This, with Pinnell casting a gaze back on times in institutions and the days when he went to jail every time he had a beer before being saved by the love of a good woman. Again, Pinnell and the band just slay it with their nonchalant country insouciance, the guitars and pedal steel almost slipping from the speakers.

It’s this lived in aspect that makes the album so attractive. There’s a sense that this is a bunch of guys just laying down their tales, the art disguised by the ease with which they deliver the goods. Think of your favourite country song and there’s a fair bet that one of the songs here will match it. Different Kind Of Love is a sweeping declaration of affection with a Jennings’ like majesty and I Don’t Believe chugs along with some brio and a fine dose of machismo.  Ain’t Nothing Wrong is a master class in country rock with the guitar and pedal steel battling it out as the band approach the brilliance of Emmylou’s Hot Band way back then.

The album closes with another tough outlaw type song on The Way We See Heaven with Pinnell again throwing up some arresting lyrics. Here he foretells his hell raising days leading to an eternity below, not an issue as he’ll be with the ones who loved him. It’s delivered with a bewildering skewer of guitars, pedal steel and organ along with a steady outlaw country heartbeat.

The album’s out and Jeremy Pinnell embarks on a short tour of the UK, accompanied by Ags Connolly, this week. All dates here. 

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Richard Thompson. Acoustic Rarities. Proper Records

arRichard Thompson’s decision, back in 2014, to record some of his back catalogue with just him and his acoustic guitar (Acoustic Classics) might be one of the best of his career. Hailed immediately by fans and critics he recently followed it up with Acoustic Classics Vol. 2, another cracker, and now, just two months later, he unveils a third instalment.  Essentially, there’s no real need to read further on if you enjoyed the previous volumes. Rarities stands beside them, tall and proud.

The format is the same. Thompson, voice and acoustic guitar, revisits his catalogue. Here the bait (if any was needed) is six previously unreleased songs and a few recorded by others but not previously by Thompson. Alongside these he digs deep into his recorded past revisiting Fairport Days, his obscure solo debut, Henry The Human Fly, and two numbers originally recorded with Linda Thompson.

Sloth, originally a lengthy electric folk dirge on Fairport’s full House, is stripped back but still sends shivers down the spine with Thompson’s unique guitar style a triumph. Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman (a song that was recorded for Full House but which didn’t make the final cut, only emerging some years later) allows Thompson to stake, yet again, a claim to be one of our finest troubadours in the folk medium. From the duo years with Linda, Thompson selects the dark Never Again and the even darker, End Of The Rainbow, the latter given a magnificent reading and as relevant today as it was back when it was recorded, a bleak prophecy for a fresh faced bairn.

Henry The Human Fly (his first solo album in 1972) was, allegedly, the poorest selling album ever released by US label Warner Bros/Reprise and Thomson was reportedly dissatisfied with it. This reviewer still has his copy bought back then and still thinks that The Angels Took My Racehorse Away and Roll Over Vaughn Williams stand amongst Thompson’s best songs. Here he selects The Poor Ditching Boy for a royal makeover with accordion accompaniment, a version which begs the question as to whether, for a future instalment, Thompson could deliver the whole of the album acoustically.

As for the unreleased songs, some will be familiar to gig goers over the years such as the humorous Alexander Graham Bell, here given some Django like guitar runs, while Push And Shove was a live favourite some twenty years ago. Rainbow Over The Hill was offered to The Albion Band and it’s a neat reversal of the rainbow metaphor from The End Of The Rainbow with its optimism. What If is a fine example of a spiky Thompson diatribe while She Played Right Into My Hands rolls along with a fine pub session folk feel and They Tore The Hippodrome Down wanders down a nostalgic alley. Best of all however is the stark folk ballad Thompson offered to Blair Dunlop, Seven Brothers. Here he revisits his reimaging of classic folk ballads that helmed Liege & Lief and Full house with a song suffused with portents of doom.

So, number three in an excellent series. Wholly recommended to Thompson fans and hopefully not the last of them to surface.

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Redwood Mountain. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Thursday 28th September 2017

20170928_201733 copy“It’s misery at The Glad Cafe,” quipped Dean Owens, as he described the contents of Run Boy Run, a song about slavery. It’s one of the songs Owens has revitalised from a book, The Penguin Book Of American Folk Songs, edited by Alan Lomax, which was given to him as a gift some time back. To accommodate his reimagining of the songs Owens has teamed up with Scots fiddler, Amy Geddes, the pair forming Redwood Mountain, a perfect vehicle for these songs from the past with Geddes’ fiddle the perfect transatlantic bridge connecting the Celtic roots of many of the numbers with the high lonesome sounds of the Appalachians and the plains.

Owens, a successful singer and songwriter in his own right, comfortably inhabits songs such as Katy Cruel and Rye Whiskey as he’s long had a strong American element in his songs, Celtic Americana he calls it. On the album they have recorded, and live tonight, he displays his affinity with his chilling delivery of On The Range Of The Buffalo. The song, which tells of the mass slaughter of the buffalo in 19th Century America, a ploy to starve the Native Americans, allowed Owens to lower his voice to a grim level before swelling in the cowboy yodel of a chorus while Geddes provided a mournful counterfoil to Owens’ vocals. Their rendition of East Virginia was another showstopper; another dark ballad, it summoned up ghosts of the past with a chilling intensity.

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It wasn’t all doom and gloom however as the pair joked back and forth between songs and even delivered a few upbeat numbers such as the stirring Railroad Man and Rye Whiskey while Delia’s Gone, perhaps the most familiar song of the night, was a delight with Owens delivering a very funny tale regarding the song. The audience sang along with Get Along Home, Cindy and Darlin’, a nonsense love song, not on the album but great fun indeed. Interspersed with the old folk songs were some Owens originals. Reservation Blues, another song inspired by the plight of Native Americans, tied in with the theme of the night while Strangers Again harked back to his first solo album. Geddes meanwhile offered up the wonderful instrumental, Amang The Braes O Gallowa before the pair delivered a beautiful version of Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song). Take It Easy, the one Owens original on the album and inspired by Woody Guthrie, ended the show on an upbeat note with the optimistic lyrics dispelling much of the gloom beforehand. Riding on the applause they then played on with a final song, This Land is Your Land, the audience joining in. A fine close to an excellent night.

Redwood Mountain

Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards. California Calling. Compass Records

51soicuelml-_pjautoripbadgebottomright4-40_ou11__Boston’s Laura Cortese steps up a mark with this excellent album recorded with her all female band, The Dance Cards. It’s an adventurous disc, a mutant string band venture with fiddle and cello to the fore but adorned by an adventurous use of percussion and sympathetic synthesized sounds. It’s not avant garde nor is it downhome bluegrass. Instead, it’s a richly multilayered tapestry of sonic adventure underpinned with a strong sense of pop nous and Cortese’s lovely honeyed voice. The use of marimba, glass harmonica, synth bass and various keyboards add a touch that’s not so much exotic as adventurous with the resulting sounds recalling artists who were redefining the art of the singer songwriter back in the day such as Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, The McGarrigles and The Roches and even, at a stretch, Tom Waits. It’s bold and invigorating while still rooted in a folky and woody Americana vein.

Aside from the sonic adventures offered by the multitude of instruments and the earnestness of Cortese’s voice (and the excellent harmonies from the band) it’s the twin fiddles of Cortese and Jenna Moynihan which drive the album forward, the propulsive heartbeat if you wish. On several of the songs they just let it rip with the best example perhaps the explosive breakout mid way through the traditional Swing & Turn (Jubilee) which transforms the song from a harmony laden number into a barnstorming fiddle tune. Strident fiddle playing is again well to the fore on the two most upbeat numbers here, the immaculate joy of playing which is captured in Stockholm and on the more measured pizzicato strains of California Calling , a song which drags a Fleetwood Mac pop sensibility into the wonderfully realised concatenation of plucked strings and woody bowing.

With several songs linked by the uncanny sound of glass harmonica Cortese weaves her way through kitchen sink drama with an Appalachian touch on Three Little Words, breathes life into the heartfelt superstition of Skipping Stone while she and her singing partners harmonise to the heavens on the slow gospel beat of Rhododendron. Someday has a fine, Celtic influenced, timbre as Cortese wafts skywards in her vocals while Pace Myself (co written with Ana Egge) is a sophisticated number with a seductive bass line and electronic noodling adding atmosphere to a noirish tale of self exploration and doubt.

There’s no doubt however that with California Calling Ms Cortese steps up to the bench. The album flows wonderfully, the production is excellent and the band are fully attuned to her fresh take on what one can do with a fiddle and some strings. She’s currently touring the UK and on the strength of this she will be well worth seeing.

Tour dates here

 

 

 

Roseanne Reid gears up for her debut album release

rr copyThere’s a fair chance that if you’re a regular attendant at shows in the central belt then you’ve probably already encountered Roseanne Reid. The Leith born singer/songwriter has rapidly established herself as a rising star in the Scots folk/roots firmament to the extent that she seems to be the person to go to to add some local colour when major artists are hitting town. Now she’s ready to really step out on her own, a debut album on the cards with a plan to run a Kickstarter campaign over the month of October in order to fund the recording.

Reid has certainly captured the imagination of the audiences and local media with The Scotsman describing her thus, “Her singing and song craft displays a talent and maturity awesomely beyond her years” while she also has the cachet of being admired by none other than Steve Earle who has said she is, “An outstanding song writer.” Certainly one listen to her excellent song,  I Love Her So, proves that Earle is right on the button as Reid, sounding far older than her years, jerks at the heartstrings  with the song coming across as if it could be a deep cut from Lucinda Williams.

Poised to press the button to launch her Kickstarter campaign,  Ms. Reid was kind enough to take some time out to talk with Blabber’n’Smoke and we started by asking her about her background.

I was born in Leith but I live in Dundee right now. I guess I really started to get interested in music when I saw Martha Wainwright in concert when I was only 12. Rufus was actually the headliner but when I heard Martha it changed a lot of things for me and I really started to listen to things after that. But it was a couple of years later when I discovered Steve Earle for the first time. My brother had the Copperhead Road album and I think I was about 15 or 16 when I first listened to it. After that it was just a natural progression from Steve to Townes Van Zandt who was kind of like Steve’s mentor and that just led me onto a lot of other artists.

Going to a concert aged 12 seems like an awful early start but then you come from a musical family. It’s not something that you talk about but I’ve read in one interview you did a while ago that your dad is Craig Reid of The Proclaimers.

Well it’s not a secret and if anyone asks then I’m happy to talk about it. I did keep it quiet for a time and it’s only recently that people have begun to comment on it.

So when did you start wring and playing your own songs?

After seeing Martha I wanted to play guitar so I got one and my mum taught me a few chords and things and then I started writing some songs a year or so later. I can’t remember any of them, I haven’t kept anything from that time. I’d say I started to get a bit more serious about it when I was around 17.  I played at things like school assemblies and that but when I turned 18 I started to play in bars and folk clubs. Leith Folk Club were really good to me giving me my first support slot and it really just kicked off from there. They were the first to really support me as an artist and it gave me the confidence to move further afield and I started doing open mic nights in Glasgow in places like Nice’n’Sleazy. They had a really good open mic night and it was a great opportunity to improve your song writing and performance. Open mic nights aren’t easy, they can be really hard gigs to do, to capture the audience’s attention but they’re great places to cut your teeth and it’s an opportunity to meet more established acts and to make connections.

Talking of connections you seem to have established a good relationship with our local promoters, The Fallen Angels Club, I think most of the shows I’ve seen you play at were promoted by them.

Kevin Morris runs that and I actually got in touch with Kevin via email at first. I was wanting to get into a more Americana folk-based thing and when I looked that up on Google Kevin’s Glasgow Americana Festival was the first name to come up so I got in contact with him just saying I was looking for opportunities to play and Kevin was good enough to get back and offer me some slots. He’s been really brilliant for me and the shows I’ve played for The Fallen Angels have been with really quality acts. It’s been a great experience and I’m really looking forward to playing a couple of shows at the Glasgow Americana Festival next week.

You were nominated for a Radio Two young Folk Artist Award.

That was in 2015. My mum had heard about the awards when listening to the radio and she suggested I go for it. So I sent in a couple of demos and I was lucky enough to be selected by them to go down south  for a Young Folk weekend and then four acts from that were officially nominated and I was one of them.  It was a great experience, I played a live slot on Radio Two and it stood me in very good stead for making more contacts and getting my name spread around.

The year before that you attended Steve Earle’s Camp Copperhead, the song writing workshop he holds in the Catskills.

That was the first year it ran and I was really keen to go as I’m a huge fan. It was actually my 21st birthday present from all my family to send me off to it. It was brilliant, just the opportunity to spend a few days being able to listen to him talk about his songs and song writing. There were about 120 campers that first year and I sang one of my songs there and he must have seen something in it as in the years since I’ve been able to get scholarships to go back and help out so I’ve been to them all. It’s quite intensive over five days, you’re getting up early, he gives a two hour lecture every morning and in the afternoon it’s workshops looking at various things, poetry, guitar playing, writing and then there’s an open mic every night. We’ve had guest lecturers in like Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams.  And again I’ve been very lucky and Steve’s been really supportive helping me out with the scholarships so I can go back and assist with people attending for the first time. He wants me to learn, I know that for sure, so that’s been the deal for the last three years.

So when did you start to record.

After the Folk Awards I recorded an EP called Right On Time. I had quite a few songs together by then but I didn’t feel it was the right time for an album so I thought that releasing four songs was just about right. Happily, the CD run has sold out, I’ve only got one copy left but it’s still available as a download on Bandcamp.

So now you’re ready to record an album.

Well, I’ve kind of held off until now for a variety of reasons, working different jobs, various things happening in my life. There was no way I was ready to do this before now if I’m being honest but recently everything’s taken a turn for the better with me and now I’m really looking forward to it.

Teddy Thompson has offered to produce it and hopefully, if I can raise the money I’ll head over to New York to record it with him. I still wasn’t sure if it was the right time to do this but I’ve spoken to folk about it, asking for advice and Ross Wilson (of Blue Rose Code) said, “Well, it’s the album you’ve been writing your whole life and if you feel that Teddy’s the right guy for you then go for it.” I mean I’ve been writing these songs for the past ten years and they’re all sitting there ready to go.

Your EP is just you and a guitar. Will the album be more fleshed out with regard to instrumentation?

It’s going to be quite low key, maybe a bass player, some pedal steel and a few harmonies, quite basic, I just want a bit of a backbone to support me and the guitar.

And how do you describe your music?

The great thing about the Americana tag is that it’s quite a wide umbrella so I usually go with Americana Folk, I’m not purely folk, not wholly Americana, it’s about a 50/50 thing.

Who are you listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Sam Cooke as I want to try and get a more soulful element into my voice but my current favourite is definitely Blue Rose Code. Their new album is going to be phenomenal.

October looks to be a busy month for Ms. Reid as she launches her Kickstarter project while she appears at two shows in this year’s Glasgow Americana Festival in addition to her usual schedule of live gigs. The Kickstarter goes live at 6pm on Sunday 1st October and there will be incentives for those who sign up while she promises some surprise news regarding the project sometime next week.

Kickstarter page

Picture courtesy of Carol Clugston

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Keaveny. Put It Together.

jimkeaveny2This is an album that’s been kicking around for a couple of months and on arrival Blabber’n’Smoke was pretty excited as we had raved about Keaveny’s previous album, Out Of Time, one of our top ten albums of 2014. Sure enough, it’s a mighty fine listen but it somehow got lost in the pile of albums and it was only last week we were reminded that it was still sitting there, dying to be adored. So apologies to Mr. Keaveny but here we go.

Out Of Time was a tremendous listen and Put It Together is really no different aside from having a bolder touch of mariachi on several of the songs. Keaveny remains a fine singer and raconteur, his slightly worn voice still has a hint of Dylan (circa late sixties), and at times there’s a Basement Tapes whirl to the music especially on Check You Out. He also has the fine ability to make it seem so easy to conjure up a song out of almost nothing as on the opening track, What I Ain’t Got. Here he laconically lists his possessions, ranging from his rented house and things in his cupboard to eat to a list of his band’s instruments and equipment while admitting that he’s still missing that essential ingredient.  It’s a superlative song played with some excellence as the guitars dance around an accordion shuffle and really just typical of his laid-back style.

Is It You opens with a grand mariachi horn flourish and then darts along in fine style with a female chorus and the following The Grand Forks, an instrumental which again has (a wordless) female chorus and horns is somewhat akin to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack work on Duck You Sucker (AKA A Fistful Of Dynamite). Sticking to the Mexican influence Keaveny turns in the opaque love song, Limbo And Grim (Slight Return/The Mariachi Mantra) which opens with a sigh before he repeats a mantra over delicately plucked guitar and gliding pedal steel. The song then swells into a wonderful and lengthy coda, the band sounding like a dust stained funeral procession from El Topo as imagined by Calexico. Blown Away is another song with mariachi horns with Keaveny singing of a breakup with a swell degree of insouciance despite his protestations of rethinking the whole affair. Here he recalls John Prine while the band’s playing is just so impressive with whirling pedal steel, horns, accordion and splashing cymbals all meshed into one.

There’s so much to admire here. The chicken scratching roadhouse blues of Leave This Town, just perfect for the vampire brothel in From Dawn To Dusk. The sepia toned Blue Eyes which oozes with a longing for his lover while the gospel chorus infused confessional, Good Times, is wonderfully limpid in its presentation. The title song again employs Keaveny’s heavenly chorus who echo his existential urging to get it together as the song sweeps along with a fine cosmic country rock jumble of guitars and pedal steel.

Suffice to say that Keaveny has, yet again, produced an album that stands out amongst the slew of releases that might be considered Americana. He’s gifted and really should be more feted. If anyone asks you for a reason to listen to Texan music these days then just hand them this album and stand well back.

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Listen to Put It Together here

 

Heather Lynne Horton. Don’t Mess With Mrs. Murphy. At The Helm Records

hlh-dmwmm-cd-cover-final-copyBlabber’n’Smoke has showered praise on Michael McDermott and his band, The Westies, in the past and we even suggested that his wife, the other half of The Westies, Heather Horton should record an album of her songs after hearing the excellent Like You Used To Do on their Six On The Out album. Well, here it is only it’s not an album of dusty country hurt. Instead, Horton has another palette she uses here in conjunction with Lex Price who produces, the result a shimmering set of songs, some personal, some somewhat agitating or protesting. Horton addresses issues of disability on one song and in a wider sense proclaims her rights as a female although it would be wrong to describe the album as a feminist diatribe as indicated in some of the publicity material. Probably the most directly feminist statement is on the album artwork which pictures a naked and hi-heeled Horton chained to a supermarket trolley by a pearl necklace, her fiddle and a keg of beer in the trolley, a darkly humorous nod perhaps to how she might be seen by some.

On the album, Horton inhabits several characters. A loving mother, an outraged wife, a kid caught up in romantic dreams and a woman caught up in a doomed relationship. She does this several removes from The Westies, replacing their mean streets bluster for a more intimate feel, Price’s musical textures wrapped around her excellent voice recalling the more baroque moments of some vintage singer/songwriters. The opening Murphy’s Law ripples and pulses like late era Joni Mitchell as Horton describes a woman in thrall to a man who basically wipes his feet on her while Coffee Cup  sweeps along with a grand Laurel Canyon feel as she sings of two opposites trying to find common ground in what is eventually a kitchen sink drama. I Wanna Die In My Sleep finds Horton sounding innocent and childlike (recalling Victoria Williams) but here the message is hopeful and optimistic as she paints an idyllic romance. Meanwhile there’s a very fine pop sensibility on the bouncy Did You Fell That , a song that seems to about a messy sexual encounter.

While there’s a short detour into disability rights on Wheelchair Man, a delicate and daintily delivered delve into the obstacles faced by those bound to wheels instead of legs the flesh of the album seems to be Horton’s relationship with McDermott however obliquely it’s delivered. Save The Rain  is a lullaby of sorts  to their daughter, Rain, while Horton borrows a title from The Westies’ with her Pauper Sky a response of sorts to McDermott’s Springsteen  like tale of urban shenanigans. More directly she confronts a groupie on the sardonic F.U. which is a withering put down delivered with a fine and woozy country shuffle as Horton bares her claws in an excellent fashion. It’s all grist to the mill I suppose as the album signs off with a bit of a joke on the “hidden” final song where Horton and McDermott offer up their take on the ultimate couple song, You’re The One That I Want.  An acoustic scrabble and a fine example of the pair’s chemistry it’s a fine pointer to the fact that the pair are touring the UK over the next few weeks and it’s in this set up we’ll see them. A post modern Sonny & Cher?

Horton & McDermott are currently touring the UK, all dates here and they have their one Scottish appearance at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Wednesday 27th September.

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