Daniel Romano. Mosey. New West Records.

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Mosey, an American equivalent perhaps of the French flaneur, a leisurely amble drinking in the atmosphere of the surroundings. God knows where Daniel Romano’s been wandering of late but his latest adventure, which casts aside any lingering memories of his Nudie suited George Jones fan era certainly lives up to his definition of the genre he has invented. He explained his vision of Mosey in a recent interview as, “It means a lot of things, I guess. Mostly, just keeping away from any kind of boys’ club that I don’t want to be part of, that I might get lumped into just from ignorance. Sometimes you have to set your own ground in order not to be buried in something that doesn’t represent you. But people feel they have to put you in a category.”

Fair enough, it would be a brave man who would lump this record into one category (the irony of this being an Americana based blog is not missed), but it’s folk who know Romano through his excellent reboots of classic country and countrypolitan sounds who will be reading this. In addition, despite Mosey being a singularly Daniel Romano album, it comes trailing clouds of influences, his moseying apparently allowing him time to wallow in various genres and styles all the while indulging in some grand nostalgia.

Recorded in mono with Romano playing all instruments (aside from piano, strings and horns) the album is a kaleidoscopic whirl of sounds. A mixed metaphor perhaps but aside from the retro music here there’s a fine cinematic feel to many of the songs with Romano stirring up visions of spaghetti westerns and swinging London and there’s a definite Bollywood touch to the opening number Valerie Leon. Leon, a Hammer horror starlet, Bond girl and (in the UK) famous for gloriously dated TV ads for Hi Karate aftershave, is an odd totem to hang a song on (and she’s missing from the video) but the mash up of Bollywood and Italian sixties pop (a la Sacri Cuori on Delone with a touch of Morricone added) on top of a supremely melodic hook laden pop song is sublime. Throughout the album Romano hits on those sixties mavericks who had the knack of producing hits that were just a touch, well, kinky. Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg come to mind, Toulouse, a wonderfully pun filled number recalls Hazlewood’s duets with Nancy Sinatra (with Rachel McAdams in the Nancy role) while Calexico’s update of Hazlewood is recalled on the widescreen horn driven vista of Sorrow (For Leonard and William), the title perhaps a joke, Leonard and William perhaps Nimoy and Shatner? Meanwhile Mr. E Me is a brassy pop revision of The Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil.

The album is a musical maze with twists and turns. The heyday of American pop psychedelia as filtered through the Brill building is captured on the astonishing brio of Maybe Remember Me and The Monkees like grandiosity of Hunger Is A Dream You Die In, a grand canyon of a song. Another figure from the sixties looms large on (Gone Is) All But A Quarry of Stone but in Romano’s skewed wormhole of time here he recalls Dylan revisiting his roots with a song that could have come from Time Out of Mind with a fantastic ersatz Garth Hudson organ solo. Meanwhile the slow blues burn of I Had To Hide Your Poem In A Song is like a fourth formers attempt at a Dylan song, portentous perhaps but delivered with some fury.

As on his last album, If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, Romano adds musical interludes after several of the songs, brief snippets of Mosey music (I suppose) that support the soundtrack aspect of the album with Tarantino like flashes of twanged guitar and exotic choruses. It all adds up to an intoxicating whole, an album to wander into and attempt to wander out of. Tellingly Romano seems to reference the author of the gnomic novel The Magus on his song The Collector, an earlier John Fowles book from the sixties. Here a butterfly collector incarcerates the girl of his dreams and Romano cloaks the song in a cocoon of gilded sixties menace recalling the work of John Barry and his glacial keyboard sound.
Mosey is an audacious and invigorating album, Romano blasting through preconceptions, digging into the past and blowing it up into an HD reality. He starts a European tour today with a show in Glasgow this Friday at The Classic Grand. Dates here

 

 

Murder Murder. From The Stillhouse.

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Oh well, another category to file beside rock and pop and insurgent country doo-wop (and if you have any of the latter please let us know). This time it’s Bloodgrass, defined by Northern Ontario band Murder Murder as bluegrass +outlaw country +murder ballads. A six piece shit kicking acoustic set up Murder Murder certainly flail along at quite a pace, the bass and drums propelling their guitars, fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and banjo with some abandon, indeed the occasional break from their breakneck numbers here are welcome respite, a chance to catch some breath.

The songs are frontier tales, bloody revenge, double crossed lovers, death dealing bootleggers and hellfire preaching all included. Written by the band the songs are graphic, with none of the coyness that was sometimes used in the good old trad days. On Half Hitch Knot the brother of a woman beat up by her man hogties him singing, “You’re a polite cocksucker with your hands tied up, like a barnyard pig just about to get stuck” while Bridge County’s bootlegger metes out punishment to a rival, “I found him standin’ by the old ash woods, I cut that fucker down right where he stood”.  Sung with some panache, indeed relish, the vocals are rousing while the band is like a well oiled machine, the instruments meshing splendidly, the songs packed with dynamic shifts in tempo that add to the drama.

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They do rein it in on a couple of numbers. When The Lord Calls Your Name preaches repentance for a life of sin, the melody similar to that of A Satisfied Mind while Bridge County flows slowly, the vocals dramatic, the fiddles scraping over a steady drumbeat, the tension building as the song culminates in a bloody battle with the law. There’s one cover, a poignant choice given recent news, as the band deliver Guy Clark’s The Last Gunfighter Ballad, the tempo upped somewhat from the original but lyrically it fits right in with the band’s own writing skills. Indeed, they even throw in a lusty shanty of sorts about gay pirates on Duck Cove, of course, it ends in murder and mayhem.

There’s a rabble-rousing element to the album, like Old Crow Medicine Show or even Dropkick Murphys music these songs should take to the stage like a duck to water. You can see if that’s the case as Murder Murder are currently on their first tour of the UK. All dates are here and include Edinburgh at Stramash on 28th May and Glasgow’s McChuill’s on the 29th.

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David Starr. Love and Sabotage.

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The unassuming, almost professorial, chap staring at you from the cover of this album doesn’t give a hint of the sparkling old school country tinged melodic rock he’s packaged within the cardboard. Starr, from Colorado, has a hefty pedigree under his belt with five previous albums and a lengthy list of acts he’s supported or played with, several of whom turn up here including Richie Furay, John Oates and Steve Cropper. The album ranges from classic guitar driven freeway friendly songs to fiddle and mandolin rich ballads, suffice to say if the likes of Poco, Steve Stills, JD Souther, Andrew Gold and even Fleetwood Mac (circa Rumours) floats your boat then you should lend your ears to the 15 songs on offer here.

The title song opens the proceedings, a radio friendly riff of a song sparked with soaring guitar breaks and some snarly lap steel that keeps it grounded, there’s a muscular heft in the rhythm section and keyboards. It’s classic FM fodder, the Eagles and even Boston recalled as Starr sings with confidence. Secrets, a co-write with John Oates (who provides harmonies), is another song that, had it been released back in the days, could now be a staple of retro radio. It’s supremely melodic in the Fleetwood Mac manner with a winning guitar break and an excellent middle eight featuring some fabulous harmonies. Starr turns in several other songs in a similar vein, the aching Called It Love, a Jackson Browne like drama with Steve Cropper adding some sinuous guitar lines and Our Mistakes which glistens with some Byrds like guitar flourishes.

The album is finely balanced with a brace of introspective numbers and some rootsy ramblings. Long Ride Home is a cosmic cowboy lament, an intricate lace of slide and electric guitar with mandolin and accordion it’s a valedictory to life on the road and beautifully delivered. What Do You Recall is a stripped down piece, piano and fiddle and voice only as Starr peers into a memory of a love, a song that is painfully wonderful, like a love song to a dementia sufferer if that’s not supposing too much. Memory also features on the slinky and slick night-time blues of Afraid as Starr revisits his past while The Beautiful Music Of You (featuring Furay on harmonies again) is a simple love song with a hint of sadness provided by mournful viola.

The rootsiness shines through on the Dobro and accordion driven Acadian rhythms of You Will Come To Know and the jaunty harmonica led skip of No Time Like The Present. However the crowning glory here is Starr’s rendition of Tumbleweed, a song written by Canadian Tia McGraff. With a grumbling and growling guitar underpinning some sweet mandolin and fiddle playing along with some very sweet harmonies (courtesy of Tania Hancheroff) Starr here recalls the luminous sound of Emmylou Harris on Wrecking Ball.

Love and Sabotage is an excellent album and the good news is that Starr is currently touring the UK although he’s performing solo. However, on the strength of this he seems well worth seeing. He appears in Glasgow as part of the Southside Fringe on Thursday his other dates are here.

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Malcolm Holcombe and Jared Tyler. The Hug & Pint. Glasgow. 18/5/16

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Malcolm Holcombe, on a return visit to Glasgow,  showed once again why he is considered by many to be a living connection to the age old Appalachian tradition, the front porch musician picking away  and plucking inspiration from the land, the folk around him, the music wiping away, if only for a moment, the cares and worries of the day. Holcombe, from North Carolina, is a primitive of sorts, his music unpolished, his voice rough and ready, his presence, enveloped in oversized jacket and jeans, with sunken cheeks and lank hair, the antithesis of show biz. Yet this is a man who has Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris turning up on his records, records which portray him as a master purveyor of powerful blues country and folk songs while live he can seem like the last in a line that includes Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs and Doc Watson, his visceral performance riveting. There’s a quote from Ray Wylie Hubbard saying, “He scares the living bejesus out of me, as he writes from a place only a true poet knows, and channels ancient mountain tones from dark overgrown hollows where ghosts and spirits moan and plead their cases to the devil.” Well, tonight he did just that.

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Curled up on his chair, rocking back and forward at times, his guitar cradled in his lap, Holcombe was a force of nature. He seemed to attack his guitar at times, flailing against the strings, wringing out dramatic chords and flashes of picking, his manic rhythms counterpointed by the excellent Dobro playing of his long standing comrade, Jared Tyler. There were gutbucket rushes and creepy excursions into deep dark territories, songs for the working man such as Papermill Man and backwoods poetry as on Savannah Blues. There was a bruised tenderness on For The Mission Baby and a burning anger on Another Black Hole. In between several of the songs Holcombe proved to be a wellspring of somewhat gnomic advice as he recounted events from his past including  a paranoid encounter with a neon bikini clad woman on Malibu beach culminating in the sublime, “If your dog tells you what to do and his lips aren’t moving, don’t do it”.  More seriously, he left the audience in no doubt where his political alliances lay, gouging into the Bushes and offering support for immigrants most pointedly on his encore of A Far Cry From Home. On this song, Holcombe pointed out the connections between North Carolina and the Celtic homelands (mentioning Maura O’Connell who recorded the song with him) before reminding the audience that his family were immigrants back in the days and that he would welcome those who flee from the horrors of Baghdad.

He might look like a hobo but there’s a heart of gold here and an acute sense of justice. Holcombe is a treasure.

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Jared Tyler, Holcombe’s producer and sidekick offered a fine set of songs before the main man came on stage. A fine picker he has a soulful feel to his songs that at times recalled Curtis Mayfield and Ritchie Havens. He offered up a fine take on a Holcombe song, The Door (from Down The River) while a song dedicated to an old Tulsa friend was quite affecting.  Local musician John Alexander opened the evening but unfortunately Blabber’n’Smoke arrived too late to catch him and we apologise for that. Word was he was well worth catching.

 

 

Fraser Anderson. Under The Cover Of Lightness. Membran Records

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Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Scots musician Fraser Anderson when he reissued his album Little Glass Box back in 2014. That album featured the legendary Danny Thompson on double bass inviting inevitable comparisons to the late John Martyn. True, Anderson had some of Martyn’s blend of folk jazz and blues about him but his songs raised him far beyond any such comparison.  At the time of recording Anderson was living in France with his family but in 2014 he relocated to Bristol and set about recording Under The Cover Of Lightness. The result is an album that sees him travel further into the tenebrous world of folk jazz; burbling bass, woody cello and supple guitar work all entwined with keyboard, accordion and violin adding colour, his voice with a slight Scots accent an instrument in itself. There’s less of a pastoral feel this time around, the songs darker at times, Anderson reflecting on life love and loss.

Some of these songs are truly beautiful but Anderson quests further throughout the album exploring other avenues,  his new life in Bristol reflected perhaps in the Portishead like reverie of Beautiful Eyes and the street rap of With You All motored by an insistent urban beat. This exploration reaches its apogee on the techno beats of Go On Wide (Part 1), a jarring explosion of keyboards and synthed percussion with Anderson’s vocals reverberating. It’s an audacious number in relation to its neighbours (in particular the languid liquid guitar work of Go On Wide (Part 2) which follows), the two songs a yin and yang pairing of a tumultuous relationship perhaps.

It’s a presumption of course but the album seems to chart Anderson’s life, the opening sumptuous horn and organ fuelled Simple Guidance a young lover’s dizzying ascent into romance, hindsight allowing that perhaps it happened all too soon but the singer has no regrets. Beautiful Eyes is a Parisian dawn tale, the heroine wandering home to listen to Piaf dreaming of her time to come with the beautiful people.  As Anderson narrates, the chorus, sung wonderfully by Bex Baxter, is dreamlike, buoyed by swooning keyboards and trippy effects. Please Let This Go is starkly wonderful. Pizzicato violin underpins Anderson’s pained recollections of failed love before a limpid rhythm and string section draw the song to a close. There’s some healing in the lovely The Wind And The Rain, another string driven threnody that opens with a fragility that’s eventually supplanted by a soulful organ as Anderson reflects and gathers the strength to forge on ahead. Feel is darkly claustrophobic, a menacing blues cluster with savage guitar work (from Ali Ferguson) that recalls John Martyn on I’d Rather Be The Devil. Anderson rushes through the words, his voice billowing like Tim Buckley’s.

As the album approaches a conclusion Anderson bares his soul on the exceptional spoken word With You All. A Beat poem with a naked soul, Anderson recalling Jackie Leven and even Renton’s Choose Life rap from Trainspotting in his delivery as he describes the photographs he took of his first born son and recalls the highs and lows of his life. The final three songs are contemplative reflections, Anderson returning to the chamber folk of Please let This Go peppered with some electronic burblings which add to the atmosphere. Crying From My Heart weeps majestically, the instrumentation simply superb. Five Days is gossamer thin, dappled with spare guitar, Anderson’s supple voice suffused with emotion. The closing song, Rising Sons, rises from an electronic morass growing into a tender salute to his children, now grown but still close to his heart as Anderson closes the disc singing, “I’d choose broken bones over broken homes, I’m here for you my boy”.

There’s an emotional heft to this album that raises it well above the bar. Anderson recalls his peer, Blue Rose Code’s Ross Wilson not only in their shared explorations of the hinterland of jazz and folk (and their expeditions into dance and rap) but also in the ability to convey hurt and loss with an aching beauty. Under The Cover Of Lightness is not, despite the lushness of some of the songs, an easy listen but will reward the earnest listener well.

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Keegan McInroe. Uncouth Pilgrims.

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Anyone with a hankering for some good old-fashioned Texan singer/song writing in the fashion of Michael Murphy or Terry Allen would be well advised to check out this fourth album from Keegan McInroe. McInroe has a knack for producing simple sounding songs that are melodic and memorable, honed by years of solo troubadouring through the States and Europe. Simple sounding perhaps but lyrically he garlands them with acute observations and well-crafted tales with much of this album inspired by events on his travels (the album title is a nod to Mark Twain’s European travelogue The Innocents Abroad).  He may be an old-fashioned solo troubadour on the road but here there’s a band of fellow travellers well able to summon up a fine rootsy folk feel or dive into a soulful swampy groove. It’s a lengthy cast list so suffice to say that fiddle, pedal steel, harmonica, mandolin, Dobro, ukulele and keyboards are all added to the basic guitar bass’n’drums set up. Overall the set up works but there’s a dichotomy here with some songs veering well away from the well-travelled folksinger mode.

McInroe nails his colours to the mast with the opening Country Music Outlaw, a witty number in which he maps out his life in terms of his heroes while admitting that he’s just another “shaggy singer of songs”.  Tonight is reminiscent of Terry Allen (particularly in the piano playing) and introduces a theme of sorts to the album, the transient romances common to travellers with Begona, a lovely pedal steel infused song, and Verona, with Dobro and accordion adding colour, continue in a similar manner, the latter alluding to the Shakespearean connections enjoyed by Verona.

McInroe offers up a fine story in a Townes Van Zandt style on the lengthy Woody & Ruth and on Give Me The Rain he recalls Randy Newman both in the melody and delivery. For the remainder of the album McInroe dips into a beefier sound which overall is less successful than the folkier offerings. I Got Trouble works well, a jagged bluesy guitar and gospel chorus and organ combine to create a sense of panic, late nights and drink fuelled paranoia, a theft in Barcelona. There’s more menace in Nikolina, a late night spiked trip down a blowsy jazz ridden blues that could be Tom Waits in his cups. Here McInroe is as far removed from his folky image as can be imagined but he pulls it off, the song quite powerful. The title song however is a pounding jackhammer blues effort that just jars in comparison to its siblings.

McInroe concludes the album with another summary of sorts on the jaunty Lay Down where he details his own travels, no need for heroes here, just him and his guitar, city to city, looking for some love.

Keegan McInroe embarks on another European tour this month with some UK dates included, see here.

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The Men From Leith: Blue Rose Code, Dick Gaughan, Dean Owens. Queens Halls Edinburgh, May 6th 2016

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First off an explanation of sorts regarding this show for those who might not be familiar with Leith. Until 1920, Leith was a separate borough from the neighbouring Edinburgh and even today some Leithers will consider Edinburgh to be a separate entity. This sense of pride in what was a fiercely working class area ( home to the docklands, infamous as the main location of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and still possessing a distinct character from the net curtains of Morningside despite two decades of attempted regentrification), was the thread that ran throughout the show. All three artists have their roots in Leith and tonight they offered up a tribute of sorts to the area in song and words be it the reminiscences of Gaughan, the regrets of ill spent times from Blue Rose Code or the celebration of the working class spirit from Owens. It was a slender thread perhaps but there was a palpable sense of celebration and memory throughout, reinforced by the MC, John Paul McGroarty, Artistic Director at Leith Theatre.

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Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

With three headline acts on the bill the sets were necessarily somewhat shorter than one might ordinarily expect, not a bad thing as such as the audience were treated to concise, almost “greatest hits” shows from the two bands. That’s not to say this was a run of the mill exercise, the first act, Blue Rose Code choosing to open with the extended suite In the Morning, a bold move. One of the many pleasures of seeing Blue Rose Code, the vehicle for Ross Wilson‘s talent, is that it’s a fluid enterprise, he can be solo or a four, five or even 11 piece set up, his words and melodies and his emotive vocals the nucleus around which the players revolve. Tonight it was a four-piece band well able to conjure up the mists and airs of Wilson’s Celtic romanticism as on the opening number and his setting of Robert Frost’s Acquainted With The Night. Wilson’s introspective ballads, the heartbreak of Pokesdown Waltz and a new number, another paean to lost love called Nashville Blue, tore at the emotions. Ghosts Of Leith, a song of regret recalling Wilson’s time caught in the throes of drink was played with Wilson later apologising for the song and explaining that he then wrote his wonderful salute to Leith (and Edinburgh), the song Edina, as a riposte before launching into it to a hugely appreciative audience.

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Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

While Wilson and Blue Rose Code offer a poetic folk jazz tinged Celtic freewheeling spirit Dean Owens, tonight supported by his excellent band, The Whisky Hearts, is a more robust affair. Owens is as much rooted in the USA as he is in Leith with the result an exultant mix of Celtic Americana, the stirring opener Dora giving notice that Owens and his band are able to provide a punchy, almost Richard Thompson like clarion call. Fiddle and accordion add a “raggle taggle” folk feel to some of the proceedings while guitarist Craig Ross can bend his strings in best Clarence White fashion. While songs from Owens’ latest album Into The Sea formed the majority of the set (including his warm memories of his late sister on Evergreen) there was of course a huge response from the audience for the song that lent its title to the night, Owens’ Man From Leith. An anthem of sorts, the song transcends its familial origins (having been written by Owens for his father) as it captures the pride of the working man. Tonight’s rendition was powerful, the audience singing along with the chorus. There was a first live airing of Owens’ latest single, the Civil War tale of Cotton Snow given a fine chunky alt country feel while Up On The Hill proved that Owens has a gift for writing memorable and rousing melodies. Throughout the set one was reminded of Owens’ song writing prowess, the songs stirring and emotive and instantly memorable with the closing number, Raining In Glasgow, the proof of the pudding.

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Dick Gaughan – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

Sandwiched between Blue Rose Code and The Whisky Hearts was Dick Gaughan, the fulcrum for the evening. Despite being born in Glasgow Gaughan epitomises much of what folk imagine of Leith and its working class traditions. Recovering from illness Gaughan doesn’t cut the powerful figure he once did but any loss of vitality was more than made up for by his venerability and he stamped his authority with a ferocious rendition of No Gods and Precious Few Heroes, a fitting song for the day after a parliamentary election which saw a resurgence of the Scottish Tory party. His Leith tale lay in the middle of his song Why Old Men Cry, again, a call out to past generations not dissimilar to Owens’ nods to the past.  A lengthy spoken preamble to his closing song saw Gaughan recalling his early days in Edinburgh’s folk scene and his discovery that there was no shame in singing and speaking in Scots despite his teacher’s disapproval. This led to his spine chilling rendition of Freedom Come All Ye, a song written by his mentor, the late Hamish Henderson and a fine end to his brief set.

The show, part of Edinburgh’s Tradfest (yeah, another Edinburgh festival), was a tremendous success, the only murmurings heard on the night being some questions as to why it didn’t actually take part in Leith itself. A fully refurbished Leith Theatre, currently in the offing, would be an apt space for a return show.

All pictures courtesy of Marc Marnie.