Alexander Wolfe. Morning Brings A Flood.

Although this album has been kicking around since last year it’s getting a push as one of the tracks, Song For The Dead has bagged a place as the theme song for a new BBC comedy, Whites. Good enough reason to wheel it out and enjoy its eclectic mix of English pastoral and baroque rock settings. Wolfe’s story is fairly unique in itself. Full name Alexander Gordon de Menthon, a scion of a French aristocrat he funded this album through selling a family heirloom, a Rembrandt sketch, not often that happens.
Anyway, the result was an album that pulls in influences that include the likes of Tom Waits and Neil Young but the overall influences are English artists such as Paul Weller and even Peter Skellern. The Weller trick of fusing pastoral sounds with frighteningly good turbo charged guitar is given a good airing on the second song, Lazybones while the lengthy closer Stuck Under September is a close cousin to The Jam’s English Rose. The mellow Till Your Ship Comes In has shades of Nick drake particularly in the string accompaniment. While the overall feel of the album is of a wintry melancholia there are moments such as Teabags in Ashtrays which has wonderfully eccentric feel with Hawaiian guitar and merry go round circus music blending into a dizzying mix. The song that the Beeb is using, Song For The dead struts proudly sounding like a long lost Kinks song although Wolfe’s estuary English might not be his everyday voice one suspects. There are other joys, Empty Morning is a mournful lament with brass accompaniment reminiscent of Peter Skellern while This Submarine brings to mind folk rock experiments by the likes of Roy Harper and Michael Chapman from many moons ago.
A minor classic that might enjoy resurgence thanks to the BBC.


Listen to Lazeybones

Steven L Smith. Outside of Tupelo.

An accomplished luthier and self confessed fan of The Band (in particular Levon Helm), Merle Haggard and The Allman Brothers, Smith looks like a big bear of a man according to his picture on the sleeve. Appropriately enough he has a big sound as well. Vocally he comes from the Waylon Jennings school, gruff and loud, untutored perhaps but commanding attention. His songs are very much country rock with an acoustic bed over which the guitars (lead, pedal steel and slide) bite and caress, at times rocking away but able also to cradle a tender ballad. Listening to this folk such as Steve Young and Guy Clark came to mind while fiddle is used in a Charlie Daniels’ Style. While there is nothing new here when it comes to subject matter Smith writes convincingly about drunken truckers (Woman On A Pole) and fallen women who follow their dreams (Molly). Woman on A Pole in particular is a fine addition to the grand tradition of truck driving songs where a red neck trucker loses his heart and wallet to a pole dancer. It’s a grand opening song with the band playing at full tilt. Big Sky is an almost perfect country song with bright piano, rippling mandolin and fine swirls of pedal steel. Smith can write some fine and touching songs (Cowboy Song and Oregon in particular), and can also get down and dirty as on I Stole The Bible with devilish fiddle and bluesy slide. All in all this is an accomplished slice of country rock with a southern bent.

Listen to Big Sky

Round Up Reviews

Let’s hear it for the girls. Oops, sexism aside here’s a slew of albums received recently from a bunch of great female artists. One thing you can say about Americana is that there’s a decent ratio of male/female artists with 9 out of 20 women in the current EuroAmericana chart including three of the albums reviewed here.

First up is Ashleigh Flynn, originally from Kentucky and now based in Portland Oregon with her third album, American Dream (Home Perm Records) and a bit of a dream it is too. Flynn has a truly fine voice, well suited for these songs with a little bit of backwoods twang and a little bit Sarah Jones smokiness in there she makes it all seem effortless. The ten self-penned songs are all excellent from the poppy Mystery to the hard luck story of Isaac on 3rd and Burnside. To top it all Flynn has gathered a great band of musicians with fine contributions from Paul Brainard (Richmond Fontaine) on pedal steel and trumpet. The upright bass, played by Jim Bromberg is an important part of the equation but there is some fine fiddle and Dobro flying throughout. The Seventh Sea is a perfect example of the picking and playing here with Flynn’s vocals betraying her Kentucky background. A fine album indeed.
Listen The 7th Sea

In a similar vein is Lynne Hanson, based in Canada, originally from the American south. She too fronts a fine band of pickers and writes all the songs on Once The Sun Goes Down. Where Flynn’s album has an organic feel around the production, this album has a burnished feel with David Baxter’s production similar to Daniel Lanois’ trademark sound. Guitars ripple and burn while the percussion has a brooding quality to it best heard in Here we Go Again. Hanson’s voice is planted firmly in front and on a song like No More Rain she recalls early kd lang but the best elements here are the slower pieces. Somewhere A Lonely Flower is a sublime, impressionistic account of a trip to London while the last song, Lilacs Dancing, catches a romance in the moment it starts. Riptide is a sinewy snarl of a song with evil sounding guitar over a ripple of banjo. Again, a cracking listen.
Listen Here We Go Again

Tara Linda’s Tortilla Western Serenade is a different kettle of fish altogether. Linda defines her music as tortilla western, “a musical genre blending spaghetti western, rock and Tex-Mex styles; roots music influenced by the land and stories of the American Southwest. So far so good. This boils down to a collection of songs, some with the rock inspiration to the fore as on the fabulous opener, Muse’s Duel with its twang guitar and mariarchi horns which is incredibly invigorating. Dream out Loud is another guitar-based song that is sexy and sinister while Crossroads showcases the guitar playing of Az Samed as it grumbles menencingly. This approach reaches its apogee on Leavin’ Texas (Drivin’ Slow) where LA punk inspired guitar and screeching Mexican horns collide
A good part of the album however is more restrained. Songs about historical Mexican figures (Teresita de Cabora, Padre Kino) have a more traditional “conjunto “ (the button accordion, the bajo sexto) approach. That some of the accordion is played by Flaco Jiminez is a recommendation in itself. For a debut album this is impressive and is heartily recommended for anyone into Calexico, Los Lobos or even Ry Cooder.
Listen Muse\'s Duel

Finally we have Annie Keating with Water Tower View. Keating comes from a folkier side with an earthy delivery, her vocals husky, at times sounding like a female John Prine, at others reminiscent of the frailty of Melanie Safka. Her subjects are the usual folk topics, tales of losers for the most part and one might wonder what more there is to say about the underbelly of American life. However Keating has the ability to take a well worn scenario such as gambling in On the Loose and breathe new life into it.
With some very sympathetic backing from a variety of players all of these songs beg to be heard but the standout songs are The Borderline with a very restrained backdrop and Keating’s vulnerability well to the fore and the closing Scene I/Scene II which, as the title suggests, is like an aural movie. Intimate and engaging, an excellent recording.
Listen The Borderline

Blaze Foley and Gurf Morlix: Glasgow Americana Festival

It’s not often that a world premier of a movie occurs in Glasgow, Even less so when it’s a film about a musical legend. If I Could Only Fly is a movie about Blaze Foley, a singer and songwriter, friend of Townes Van Zandt, companion of Gurf Morlix, and it is Morlix who will be there at the film’s première this Sunday at the GFT. Following his gig at Brel in the late afternoon as one of the highlights of the Glasgow American Festival Morlix will join Glaswegians in a celebration of the Texan hell raiser and inspiration for Lucinda Williams’ song Drunken Angel.

Details for the GFT show here

Marianne Dissard. L’Entredeux.

A while back we reviewed Susie Hug’s latest album, recorded in Tucson with the help of Calexico, here Marriane Dissard performs a similar trick with an album produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns, recorded in Tucson and released on the same label, Vacilando ‘68.
Dissard is a filmmaker who relocated to Tucson with her then partner, Naim Amor, several years ago. She was the femme fatale vocalist who graced the Calexico song The Ballad of Cable Hogue on their Hot Rail album leading to her setting out as a recording artist in her own right. The title L’Entredeux can be translated as in between two and reflects her position as a singer very much in the French chanteuse tradition but recording with some of the cream of Tucson Americana musicians. Burns produces and plays guitar, bass and piano (and wrote the music for the majority of the songs), band mate John Convertino adds his unique shuffle and Willie Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael pops up on one song. In addition Dissard’s ex partner Naim Amor (another honorary Tucsonian) writes, sings and plays on several tracks.
While there is none of Calexico’s epic Mexicana forays on display, the committed listener will recognise Burns’ (and indeed Convertino’s) fingerprints all over the album. To Burns’ credit he has not produced an album of Cable Hogue retreads but added a deeply sensual backdrop to Dissard’s excellent voice. The songs are very much in the European tradition ranging from the Djangoesque Les Draps Sours to the Europop confection that is Les Confettis but any similarities to Eurovision pap are firmly stamped out as the players add layers and embellishments that drip with conviction. The best example is Flashback with its strong guitar outro while Merci De Rein Du Tout is sublime in its multilayered form.
Over it all is Dissard’s voice, strong, sultry, sexy, at times she sounds like a successor to Juliette Gréco, a soundtrack for anyone for whose vision of cool is early Godard, Gauloise cigarettes and left bank beatniks. When she sings on Sans Facon the effect is hair raising while Cayenne seeks out another (sometimes) French speaker from the Americas in the form of Leonard Cohen.
While Dissard sings all the words in French one doesn’t need to understand them in order to succumb to this album’s beauty.
Available via the internet for some time this UK release has two live songs added and is available here while Dissard’s website is here

Merci De Rein Du Toit listen

Tom Feldmann & The Get-Rites. Tribute, The Gospel Sides of…

Tom Feldmann’s previous albums, Driven To My Knees and Side Show Revival showcased his deep rootsy voice and a deliciously funky backwoods blues that is akin to Keb Mo and Taj Mahal in exploring the roots of Americana. In addition he appears to have a deeply held religious bent which has informed his songwriting, this has allowed him to mine the deep vein of spiritual and gospel traditions. Here on his latest album he pulls all of this together in a wonderful collection of spiritual songs originally recorded by the likes of Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Charley Patton and others of that ilk.
Feldmann performs four of the ten songs solo, just voice and a National Reso-phonic guitar, the remainder have the band backing. Throughout the album his bottleneck and slide playing is excellent, at times sinister and threatening, at others joyful. The playing on Fred McDowell’s The Lord Will Make a Way is a particular standout, a deep dark throb of a song with stinging slide guitar and an evil lope. While the blues predominate there are sprightly and uplifting moments such as the solo rendition of Charley Patton’s Lord I’m Discouraged which has a Carter Family feel to it. The pedal steel on Leave It There (Washington Phillips) and I’m Going Home (Dock Reed) adds a gloss to the starkness of some of the songs.
Listening to this I was reminded of an old Fairport Convention tune, The Lord Is In This Place, How Dreadful Is This Place which in turn was informed by Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Cold Was the Ground. Johnson himself is represented here with his song It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine and the album serves to remind us that God does indeed work in mysterious ways inspiring dirt poor, discriminated against Black Americans to find beauty in hardship.
For information on the songs, the artists who wrote them and Feldmann’s reasons for picking them go here where he has described the album far better than I ever could.
Listen to Needed Time (Lightin\' Hopkins)

Old Dollar Bill.

This debut album from the Edinburgh based country duo, Old Dollar Bill is a definite progression from their EP Cheap But Sweet released last year. While the EP was composed of Steve Earle covers and songs lifted from Springsteen’s Seeger project here we have a collection of songs all composed by the band themselves. While the Earle influence remains evident (on Friendly Fire for example) they can hold their head high with this offering. For a two-man band (with additional support on piano, accordion and fiddle from friends) they can certainly whip up a storm, guitars, mandolins and banjos whip and flail throughout. Clark carries most of the vocals in a convincing manner while Henry adds just the right touch of percussion with one track in particular, the instrumental Bill’s Ruckus where he thunders away to great effect using a Brazilian Surdo drum and 2 or 3 bass drums.
While there are obvious debts to the likes of Ry Cooder and the Band (Levon Helm in particular) the songs in the main stand up to scrutiny. Romance, booze, the Devil and booze again all feature. Of the drinking songs Me And My Wine is a wonderful boozy waltz while Drink With Me is a particularly tuneful country pop song that one can imagine Gram Parsons could have crooned. Clark’s vocals almost match some of Parsons’ southern nuance with a hint of the Stones’ country leanings and the piano playing (by Neil Pearlman) adds a wonderful honky tonk feel. I Swear I Killed My Liver (Over You), apart from earning points for its wonderful title is a classic country drinking song delivered with gusto. Befitting their urban hillbilly attitude Cousin Kelly is chock full of tasty licks and feisty fiddle playing while Henry’s vocals capture the housing scheme day time TV attitude perfectly. Caroline (The Devil’s Bride) is a tale of a young man humbled when the tables are turned and he feels used and abused by a flighty female. On a lighter note there is the sweet and sour tale of the singer’s admiration for a waitress on Tables For You while the final song Throw in The Towel fires on all cylinders. Clark spits out the words while his mandolin and Dobro spark against each other in a song that the Pogues might have been proud to have penned.
Old Dollar Bill appear regularly in Edinburgh, hopefully they will be over here in the west to see if they can carry these songs off as successfully as they do on the album. Check out Ike Sheldon of The Wilders endorsement on the image above, just about says it all I reckon.
Website here
Listen to Drink With Me