Roundup Time

The Art Gomperz Band are a sparkling little combo with a sound as fresh as a mountain stream on their CD, A Different Story to Tell. With a classic line up of acoustic guitars, Dobro, mandolin, banjo and bass there are no surprises in these 12 cuts which range from bluegrass to country folk to gospel. Fronting the band is Jenna Mammina whose voice is attractive and well suited to the genre. The album as a whole is a tribute to and based mainly on the songs of the late Bev Hahn with whom band leader Dan Geib played as a duo and whom he planned to record these songs with. Following her death Geib decided to record the songs with the new band line up, recruiting Mommina to deliver the words. While Geib and Mommina both contribute songs the standout is Hahn’s Don’t Worry Anymore, a fantastic piece of country gospel which the band whips into fine shape with a fine sense of exuberance and where Mommina sings like an angel in the vein of Loretta Lynn. Overall a nice little album and a worthy tribute to someone whose loss was obviously a major blow to all involved.

Art Gomperz Band website
Don\'t Worry Anymore


Earl Pickens and Family caused a minor stir a few years back with their bluegrass version of U2’s album The Joshua Tree. Gathering is a collection of original material that shows that they don’t need to rely on the Irish superstars for material. The opening song Time is a fine bare boned ballad with some plaintive fiddling from Bruce Derr. Do You Have a Secret is a dark bluesy song with sinister fiddle and skeletal banjo which is enhanced by some spectral keyboards. The band can also produce attractive country pop as heard on The Broom which showcases the harmony vocals of Pickens and Jessie Yamas while fiddler Derr references the old song Diggy Liggy Lo. All this and no sign of Bono, a definite plus.

Website
Time


On a different tack Australian Spike Flynn has released his debut album It’s Alright while in his mid fifties. As befits a man of his life experience this is a world weary, knowing and slightly philosophical take on things. Meditating on the blues as on the opening song It’s Aright which clocks in at nearly nine minutes, Flynn is obviously not in a hurry to tell his tales. It’s Alright could have fallen out of an early Tom Wait’s album with its vignettes of small town life and the smoky saxophone that accompanies it. The sax is present also on Silver Nitrate Serenade, another lengthy mood piece with lyrics that catch an emotion and a moment in time so well such as
the strong black coffee shoots my nerves, full of tin foil and memories and rust, and a mind almost spent checks its change for the rent.
This is rain drizzled neon lit night music and Flynn captures it again on several other songs on the album including The Pennywhistle Lament. With a voice that at times is similar to Butch Hancock, Flynn also turns in some well written uptempo folk songs, That’s The Way it Goes in particular sounds as if it should be a folk song standard while Falling Rain Blues is similar to latter day Bob Dylan especially on Time out of Mind. All in all this is terrific stuff.

Website
Spike Flynn The Penny Whistle Lament


Winding up this roundup we have US 32, a husband and wife team who on Tumblin’ Home rollick through 13 songs that in turn are catchy (Mabel’s Car, Credit Cards), evocative (the title song, Hamer House) or plain beautiful (Under the Bridge). Named after an American highway Michael and Christy Kline take the listener on a tour of Americana with some excellent back up from accomplished players on fiddle, mandolin, lap steel and pedal steeel guitars. Mabel’s Car with Christy on vocals sounds like one of Kathleen Edwards’ poppier efforts while she nails a sweet country voice in Under The Bridge, a tearful lament of lost love caressed with pedal steel and fiddle backing. Husband Michael’s voice is less impressive but he manages to deliver on Chasin’ the Sun, a jaunty tale of leaving one’s troubles behind and heading for the horizon in the hope that things will improve. He fares better on the title song, a civil war tale based on a letter written by Kline’s great , great uncle who fought in the war. With whistles and bagpipes evoking a martial feel the song is slightly out of place compared to the rest of the album but is undeniably heartfelt.

Website
Mabel\'s Car

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Holy Modelling

Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps. Outertainment. Red Newt Records.


Way back in the 1960’s there were none so weird and way out as the Holy Modal Rounders. Initially an acoustic duo comprised of Peter Stampfel on banjo and fiddle and Steve Weber, guitar, they jerked songs featured on the Harry smith Anthology of American folk music into the psychedelic sixties. In a decade long musical odyssey they ganged up with the inflammatory Fugs for a few albums and featured on the Easy Rider soundtrack. With members coming and going (including both founders) at various times their journey culminated in a zenith with Have Moicy!, a collaboration with Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Frederick that is generally considered one of the lost treasures of the 1970’s. A Stampfel/Weber reunion in 1999 produced a fine album in Too Much Fun that revisited some of the glories of their first two albums.
Since then Weber has for the most part retreated from the music biz (although he has released some vintage live recordings recently). Stampfel however ploughs on and over the years has released albums with The Bottlenecks, The Du-Tels (with ex Beefheart guitarist, Gary Lucas) and as a solo act. No matter the format however he retains a goofy childlike sense of wonder and above all an enduring love for and knowledge of American folk music.
Here Stampfel teams up with a character who seems to be as idiosyncratic and, well, as goofy, as him. Baby Gramps is a Seattle institution having busked and played there since perhaps the sixties. A well kept secret until he appeared on Rogues’ Gallery, a collection of pirate themed sea chanteys a few years back, Gramps has a voice that has been described as Popeye like and he shares Stampfel’s irreverent and iconoclastic approach to the classics of old time American music.
The result is a triumph, the best album Stampfel has been involved in since Too Much Time,. As a duo they stamp their personalities on individual songs while complementing each other vocally. Indeed it’s not too far fetched to say that Stampfel has eventually found a replacement for his long lost soul mate Weber. While the overall sound and feel of the album owes more to Gramps’ grizzled approach which keeps Stampfel’s often hyperkinetic style in check there are moments when both do let loose. Blues, folk and tin pan alley songs all get the treatment. While Gramps starts the album in fine style with Buzzard on the Gut Wagon, a growled hammered blues with vocals that recall Beefheart, he excels on Monkeys have No Tails in Zamboanga, a nonsense song that uses a style similar to Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence with some fantastic vocal interplay between the two, Gramps burbling and gurgling while Stampfel wails along, fantastic stuff. Stampfel’s contributions range from a wonderfully high and lonesome version of Heigh Ho (yes, the Disney song from Snow White with massed whistling) and a delightfully dotty ditty about the toilet habits of his puppy dog. He gets to showcase his fiddling chops on Wake Up Jacob which with Uncle Eph’s Got the Coon and Bar Bar is the nearest we get here to a Holy Modal traditional sound with Gramps taking the Weber part. The chalk and cheese pairing of their vocals is best seen on their rendition of Surfing Bird, the sixties garage punk staple which gets a demented outing here and demonstrates that there is no need for amped up fuzz guitar to create a cacophony. The album ends on a triumphant note with Ghost Train of Freak Mountain , described by Gramps in the liner notes as
“based on the mysterious legend of the ghost train running through Freak Mountain, which is a real place, but not found on any map.”
Well, no map perhaps but its topography is well described here.
While the likes of Seasick Steve have popularised traditional American folk blues recently this album portrays two artists who are steeped in the idiom but who present it through an unpolished, intensely personal viewpoint. It might not be pretty but it is pretty amazing. Special mention should be given to the unobtrusive bass playing of Dave Reisch who has served with Gramps, Stampfel and Michael Hurley over many years and who performs the same duties here and Curtis “King chamberlain who adds little touches of jaw harp, penny whistle and jug.

Norman Savitt and Friends.


Norman Ira Savitt is New York based guitarist who has long had an association with Peter Stampfel and their small circle of (mutual) friends. Armed with a deep knowledge of old time American music and familiar to those who frequent the websites and message boards of folk like the late Tuli Kupferberg (of The Fugs) he has released his first ever album, a meditative and peaceful collection of instrumentals based on his finger picking skills. Whether solo or accompanied by harmonica, cello, violin or penny whistle the result is wistful, at times elegiac with pieces dedicated to Ken Kesey and Chris Whitley (an old friend of Savitt’s).
It’s always tempting to mention John Fahey when a guitarist releases an album like this and although Savitt’s playing lacks Fahey’s baroque eclecticism and occasional dissonance the feeling generated when playing the album is similar to that of Fahey’s more straightforward pieces, Alex at Six in particular fits this bill. David Amram’s penny whistle on this tune evokes primitive cultures and the quills used by Canned Heat on Going Up The Country. Elsewhere Savitt, (with the aid of Eugene Friesen on cello) conjures up wintry English folksong on Prayer for Peace and Celtic mist on Alone. Howard Levy (from Bela Fleck’s band and who produced) adds some haunting harmonica to several tunes while violinist Susan Mitchell colours the tribute to the Reverend Gary Davis, One for the Rev where Savitt uses some Davis licks to great effect.
Savitt’s liner notes indicate his affinity to nature and the great outdoors and in an untutored, Carradine like zen mood, one could imagine that listening to this album is akin to watching a pebble fall into a still pond and digging the ripples long after they’ve gone.
Both albums are available here

Finally while we’re on things Rounder related a mention for Charlie Messing. Sprawling Epic. Charlie Messing was once a Rounder, late in the days but a member of that fabled troupe so a sneak preview of his forthcoming album was serendipitous. Apart from his part in the Rounders story Messing has played with Link Wray and Robert Gordon and backed up Loudon Wainwright. In addition he has a wealth of tales to tell of the New York scene from the boho sixties to the punk seventies and beyond which used to be available on his now defunct webpage. Indeed he’s like a musical Zelig, being there at fortuitous moments and this is reflected in his music.
Sprawling Epic looks to be a fairly eclectic pick of his own songs and a few choice covers (including Tom Waits, Michael Hurley, Dean Martin and Blind Willie McTell) all sung in his peculiar and endearing hangdog way. Low key and laid back it has a simple charm. Check back for news of the release date.

Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps Bar Bar
Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps Buzzard on the Gut Wagon
Norman Savitt and Friends Alex at Six

Various Artists. I Like it Better Here -Music From Home

The first release from the Hemifran label (who are one of the prime distributors and publicists of Americana in Sweden) is an odd affair. To launch the label not only have they reached across the Atlantic they’ve also delved into the past and come up with a collection that celebrates the classic seventies era of singer/songwriters. The inclusion of folk such as Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Jack Tempchin, Steve Noonan and Greg Copeland, all bona fide paid up members of the Laurel Canyon set is impressive. In addition some lesser-known names of the time and some contemporary continental artists pitch in with some very simpatico styled songs.
Of course some would argue that much of the music of this era was bland, drug fuelled narcissism or that it paved the road to excess as exemplified by the uber group that was the Eagles. However much that was recorded then remains vital and the best parts of this collection recall the optimistic and indeed groundbreaking sounds that continue to fuel much of today’s Americana.
The opening song, This is My Country, by Joel Rafael, recorded live, features Crosby and Nash on vocals and is the most nostalgic song here. Recalling that pairs’ glory days, the sound of Nash protesting hasn’t changed one iota over the years. The remainder of the album sounds more contemporary while maintaining the innocence, anger and values that the likes of CSN&Y espoused. Jack Tempchin (writer of the Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling) contributes a fine rootsy acoustic blues song. Greg Copeland recalls the edgier side of L.A. on 27 Red House Road while Steve Noonan‘s Goin’ Home relates a tale of him, Greg Copland and Jackson Browne building a spooky urban scarecrow to keep drug addicts away from their door. Both songs are superb. With some fine up tempo country rock from Mikael Persson (Home Sweet Home) and the excellent Steve Stills styled acoustic jab of Home Nights by Sugarcane Jane the newcomers more than hold their own. The album ends as it begins with a live song from a seventies survivor, Jackson Browne, with a great rendition of The Rebel Jesus that demonstrates that some of these guys are still as vital and significant as they were then.
Check out the website here
And listen to Jack Tempchin here

The Wrights. Red and Yellow, Blue and Green.

Husband and wife duo, Adam and Shannon Wright from Georgia had a taste of stardom when they were caught up on the coat tails of Adam’s uncle, country superstar, Alan Jackson with their debut album released on a major label and touring in the big time. Unfortunately their second album was nixed by their label leaving them to find their feet again as independents.
A classic couple they complement each other in the grand tradition of Gram and Emmylou or most recently Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. There are moments on this fine release when one could be fooled into thinking this is indeed the follow up to Raising Sand. Apart from the vocal interplay there is some sublime guitar playing not too far removed from the contributions Marc Ribot added to the Plant/Krauss collaboration and the production is on a par with T Bone Burnett’s.
The nine songs range from the haunting opener Since You Left Me to the rockabilly rhythms of The way That I’m Living. Special mention however goes to Flying Home which is a polished diamond of a song, sweet as the early Eagles where lush guitars sweep the song along and We were Made to Love, a haunting song, soft and hushed. Above all there is a shared affinity with The Everly Brothers tradition, a tradition that is shared by Plant and Krauss and Parsons and Harris
All in all a gem of an album that deserves to be heard.
Website
Since You Left Me

September Roundup

It’s been a bumper time at Blabber ‘n’ Smoke for albums tumbling through the letterbox. So much for the “silly season” so beloved of the press who complain that nothing much happens in August (that is, the world goes on, disasters happen but they don’t have their politicians to knock about with). Anyway, here’s a round up of what’s been rattling the walls around here.

First off some Scottish folk in the guise of Iain Thomson and Field of Dreams. Thomson is a shepherd in Mull who has now released two albums where he proves himself to be a very talented writer and a strong performer. Although the album is self released it comes beautifully packaged with a booklet where Thomson explains the origins of the songs. With a wide variety of instruments including accordion, fiddle, tin whistles and bodhran adding a traditional air and with several songs referring to local characters or history this is a great listen. Tostary, named after a ruined village on Mull is a haunting lament for the lost generations of the Highlands that evokes the beauty of the glens. Press Gang/Shouting Numbers relates an historical tale from Napoleanic times and is as fine a modern folk song as I have heard in a long time. One minor quibble is that the song, Southern Line, relating Thomson’s time as a truck driver, although fine in itself, sounds slight compared to the rest of the album.
Website
Tostary

Roy Schneider is a Florida based singer and songwriter whose album Erleichda is available to coincide with his appearance next week in the UK. A multi instrumentalist whose songs hark back to seventies country rock he is a fine purveyor of classic Americana best exemplified on Angels Along The Road. With banjo rippling away on a tale that references several touchstones including the highway and the devil this is a great song. Throughout the album very nifty finger picking, sweet violin, banjo and mandolin are all played by the man himself (who also appears to be quite an accomplished cartoonist, a veritable renaissance man indeed) and although in the long run not all of the songs stand out from the herd the overall vibe is good. Ending the album with a cover of The Grateful Dead’s Brokedown Palace just about sums it up. And finally anyone who names their album after a fictitious word dreamed up by novelist Tom Robbins is pretty cool.
Website
Angels Along the Road

Celilo hail from Portland, Oregon and their album Bending Mirrors has been around for some time but is now given a push on the back of upcoming tour dates over here. A five piece they have a sound that is often dreamy and lush. Washes of guitar and mellotron sweep over the songs but there is a skeleton of guitar and banjo underpinning this. This works best on Wy-am where the result is sublime but Sloan martin, who wrote all of the album delivers several others that are almost as good.
While there are comparisons to be made with Richmond Fontaine, Granfaloon Bus and Clem Snide Celilo manage to create their own limpid world. They are in the UK in November if any of this whets your appetite.
Website
Wy-am

From the moment the brash acoustic strumming that opens Roman Candle’s Oh tall Tree in the Ear tumbles out of the speakers you know you are in for a treat. This three piece North Carolina band offer eleven great songs with an intensity that is infectious. Oozing with melody, at times shambolic, at others rocking with a vengeance they embrace artists such as Dylan, The Drive By Truckers, Glossary and The Replacements on what is a thumping great listen. The stand out song here is, without a doubt Why Modern Radio is A-OK which has the makings of a modern classic.
Website
Why modern Radio is A-OK