Old time American music continues today with countless proponents picking, strumming, fiddling and sometimes even yodelling, reaching back into the past and updating it with varying degrees of success. Here we have Western swing, Appalachian folk songs and bang up to date country rock.
The Quebe Sisters Band. Timeless
The Quebe Sisters Band are Texans who do like their Bob Wills and Spade Cooley. The three Quebe sisters all play fiddle and sing while Joey McKenzie strums and Drew Phelps’ upright bass provides the beat. The 14 songs here are all covers including “Across The Alley from the Alamo,” “Along The Navajo Trail” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” familiar songs, perhaps too familiar at times. That said the album starts off with a cracking “So Long To The Red River Valley” and when they tackle Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The A train” the fiddle playing and guitar sounds like Django and Grappelli duelling. Perhaps the only complaint about the album is that with the vocals sounding at times like the Andrews sisters this is a bit too retro, a bit too safe especially if you like a little bit of grit in your music.
The Quebe Sisters Band appear in the UK for the first time in July for a bunch of dates including The Cambridge Folk Festival.
Jeni and Billy. Longing For Heaven
Jeni and Billy trade in the same homespun feel as the Quebes although it belongs on the back porch as opposed to bars and dance halls. Theirs is the sparse folk sound of the mountains and backwoods folk, god fearing, hardworking, scraping a living but finding joy in family and friends. The pair play guitar, banjo and mandolin while Jeni Hawkins carries the vocals with Billy Kemp adding counterpoint. Together they create a warm, honest sound as natural as flowers in a field. With a mixture of traditional and original songs they sing of drunkards, jilted lovers and ruined lives. Half of these songs could be turned into tear-stained movies, “The Ballad of Sally Kincaid” tells of a girl seduced by a thieving preacher who hangs himself leaving her to end her days in shame. “Father Will You meet Me In Heaven” is the story of Johnny cash’s brother, Jack’s tragic death seen as a redemptive moment for their father’s godless ways. A previous album, Jewell Ridge Coal, documented the lives of miners in south-west Virginia and here they sing a song for Cecil Roberts, the President of the United Mine Workers of America. It’s a reminder that even these days mining is dangerous, deadly even.
A pretty stunning album for anyone into old-time Americana. Jenni and Bily are currently touring in England.
Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers.
Zoe Muth draws on classic country sounds with lashings of pedal steel and dobro and a voice that could have graced Nashville recordings anytime in the fifties to the present day. While the debt to tradition is there Muth and her band come across as an up to date Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band. Muth writes all of the songs with a worn and weary take on modern life, cosmopolitan as opposed to rural her lost souls are stuck in a neon lit nighttime dead end. The full band sound throbs and swings with some excellent playing, a rock solid rhythm section lay down a beat while steel guitar, dobro, banjo and mandolin hammer home the country roots. Over this Muth sings like a wounded angel, vulnerable yet tough and above all else she can write. All of the songs here have a hook that should have radio station playlisters drool. “Hard Luck Love” is a stone solid classic radio friendly song while “The Last Bus” is a superb portrait of a drifter drifting the lonely highways and bus stops, hungry and broke she can sing and play guitar but seems doomed to go on in ever decreasing circles. While this may be the highlight here Muth delivers again and again. “The Middle of Nowhere” is Loretta Lynn arriving in a big city while “Not You” is another Lynn type perky put down of a philandering partner. Overall this is a mighty fine album and Muth is definitely one to watch.