The Jeffrey Lewis Peter Stampfel Folk Show

Living legend, Grammy award winner, mentioned in Dylan’s Chronicles, what else is there to say about Peter Stampfel? Well, quite a lot actually. Stampfel was (and is) a Holy Modal Rounder or HMR if you prefer. To my mind an HMR trumps any accolade such as an OBE, CBE or any of that crap. From the dawn of the sixties Stampfel has pursued a musical course that has occasionally bumped into the mainstream (see Easy Rider) but for the most part has been a dirty secret shared by aficionados of underground and left field music. Apart from the Rounders he’s been a member of The Fugs, played with Gary Lucas (of Captain Beefheart fame) and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of American folk music.
Hooking up with Jeffrey Lewis, enfant terrible of the NY “anti-folk” scene seems to be a stroke of genius if their gig at at Mono on Friday night is anything to go by. Although Lewis performed some of his routine fare the night belonged to the legacy that is Peter Stampfel. Tremendous versions of songs from his extensive oeuvre were offered to a sold out crowd. Here’s some photos from the night.
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The Lucky Strikes. Gabriel, Forgive My 22 Sins.

Concept albums are a tricky business with the number of successful ones able to be counted on the fingers of possibly one hand. Generally the vaguer the concept the better the chances of getting away with it. The Lucky Strikes from Southend have come up with this (their second attempt at a concept, their previous album being based on an account of the murder of blues legend Robert Johnson), a hard luck story concerning a boxer who could have been a contender or so he hoped. Instead he descends into the murky waters of back street boxing, shady bets and gangsters eventually dropping out of sight and into mythology.
A potentially fine tale which tugs at memories of black and white movies, On the Waterfront being the main contender here. Fittingly the band have a big cinematic sound that at times recalls Springsteen and The Waterboys, lurching between urban rock and driving Celtic folk. Unfortunately it all tends to get a bit cluttered and there is a feeling that the listener is almost being bludgeoned, song after song into a punch-drunk acceptance. The primary one two double whammy here are the songs The Fight and The Man With The Golden Arm. Real sluggers both I’m sure that live they would have an audience begging for mercy. The band throw everything they’ve got into the ring to create a mesmerising and pulverising sound. With influences ranging from Gospel, blues, country and cabaret and with Americana and European influences entwined (think of Tom Waits’ The Black Rider) this is an album that requires close listening.

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The Lucky Strikes- Man With The Golden Arm by paulk

Winter Warmings.

Some more of the sounds that pitched up in the dying, snowlashed days of 2010. A mellow bunch for the most part although room for some fine honky tonkin’.

First up is the appropriately named Rain Perry (well it rains a lot here in winter) with Internal Combustion. Raised by a somewhat wayward hippie father following her mother’s death when Perry was aged just seven (a lifestyle she used as material for a previous album and play) and affected by rheumatoid arthritis which meant she had to give up guitar, she has nevertheless surmounted these obstacles to produce a very fine album indeed. Ably assisted by producer Mark Hallman (who plays several instruments as the Congress House Band on the album) Perry’s songs are very much in the hallowed singer songwriter tradition. Wordy, elaborate, reminiscent of masters such as Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones, Dory Previn and John Prine. The music has, for the most part a warm, sultry feel with well-nuanced horns, organ and even at times a sexy slippery seventies funk feel.
It’s hard to pick out any favourites here as the album as a whole feels just, well, nice and perfectly formed. There are three covers with her version of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s get It On perhaps the one fly in the ointment. Although her delivery of this iconic song is fine the original is just too closely identified with its author. No problem with her cover of Bob Segar’s Till It Shines which is glorious. Paul Simon’s Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog after The War is also given a fine rendition and it’s Simon’s mid career style which perhaps best describes Perry’s own muse. The opening song The Compartmentalised Thing could easily sit on a Simon album as could the funky slink of So You’re The Muse.
Elsewhere Perry uses tapes from the Bethel Tabernacle church she attended in her infancy to add colour to the Muscle Shoals sound of Next Best Thing, a powerful indictment delivered with gusto. However Keanuville which portrays a fanatical devotion to Mr. Reeve (almost like an aural equivalent of Scorsese’s The king of Comedy) shows that Perry has a fine, dark sense of humour, something that is carried on to the liner notes which are entertaining to read.
So a very fine album and well recommended.

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Rain Perry-The Compartmentalised thing by paulk

Kete Bowers Road.
Amazingly enough for someone who sounds like a Texan troubadour, Ketes Bowers is a Liverpool native who says he has his grandmother to thank for steeping him in the country tradition. Slow and deliberate with lashings of Dobro and pedal steel there are definite echoes here of Steve Young and Guy Clark. Bowers sings in an anguished, desperate way with no hint of a Liverpudlian accent. Rather he sounds as if he’s made some deal at a crossroads somewhere. With the great B. J. Cole on pedal steel there are no quibbles here about the music, some of the songs however are bordering on the maudlin, Regret being the main offender. However the sparkling quickstep of Gold and the heartfelt Isobel are hearty songs. The closing song which is untitled even has a hint of classic Randy Newman around it although without Newman’s acerbic wit.
Overall a brave stab at achieving an authentic Americana sound that should open some doors for Mr. Bowers.

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Kete Bowers-Isobel by paulk

Charlie Roth is old school with rough-hewn folk ballads and ragtime pickings populating Broken Ground. The 13 songs here are all attractive with Roth’s voice standing out, almost but not quite hoarse, weathered, authentic. The title song which opens the album is also the best here, laced with sublime pedal steel it trots nicely out of the speakers with Roth sounding like a cross between Dylan and Butch Hancock. The pity is that the remainder of the songs fail to impress sounding as they do like numerous others that have preceded them. On the whole the uptempo numbers fare better and according to reviews he is a fine live act. Maybe better to catch him live before buying the album.

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Charlie Roth-Broken Ground by paulk

Next up is Donna Beasley, another ex member of a fundamentalist church, in this case Baptist, who told her it was a sin to listen to rock and roll or go to the movies. Thankfully she’s moved on and on Under the Rushes she has a fine stab at contemporary Americana Nashville music. Cosseted by some fine players and singers including Elizabeth Cook and Tim Carroll Ms Beasley is another sultry alt-country siren. Just what I’m Looking For is a cracking song, tasty guitar licks, banjo and accordion melt into a seductive stew while Can I Get a Ride is Dobro heaven. Heart Like a Wound is a song that Steve Earle could have written and the jaunty Makin’ Love is a honeysuckle rose of aw shucks country music. Overall a fine album.

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Donna Beasley-Just What I’m Looking For by paulk

Last one up is Leyla Fences with Liars, Cheats and Fools. The CD comes with its own rhinestone and bar napkin and a whole lot of attitude. There was a culture of “answer songs” back in the fifties when macho r’n’b and country songs were taken up by feisty females who responded with their take on the male point of view. Here we have a sassy update on the likes of Loretta Lynn or even an aural equivalent of Thelma and Louise. Leyla sings with guts while the band swings mightily behind her. Hard drinking, cheating and yes, truck driving all feature. Hardly Livin’ is a honky tonk hymn to the hard working housebound mother while Getting Over You describes a hard drinking woman who realises that imitating her man’s behaviour is not going to help. Listening to this one wonders how well this would go down in a typical honky tonk tavern but if it was a girl’s night out then Ms. Fences would probably not be allowed to leave the stage.

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Leyla Fences-Gettin Over Him by paulk

Giant Sand at Celtic Connections

For their first ever show in Glasgow Giant Sand landed at the ABC in Sauchiehall street as part of this years Celtic Connections. Howe Gelb has played several solo gigs here over the past ten years or so but this was the first full blown Sand experience and it was well worth the wait. While the latest album Blurry Blue Mountain featured heavily there was a fine nod to the current reissue programme by Fire Records who are releasing around 30 past Giant Sand/Howe Gelb records in remastered and expanded formats. Accordingly we were treated to blisteringly hot renditions of Thin Line Man and Valley of Rain in their full blown guitar mesh. While the crowd (and it was crowded) went wild for these Ride The Rails (from the latest album) matched them for intensity.
Blabber’N’Smoke was able to grab some time with Howe for an interview before the gig, some of which will be posted here soon. In the meantime here’s some pictures of the event.
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First Footin’

Back from the holidays and here’s a couple of albums that have been sitting on the shelf for a while.

First up is the curiously named The Chymical Vegas Wedding of Joe Cassady and The West End Sound. Cassady, a New Yorker has a voice that is similar at times to that of Butch Hancock of the Flatlanders and at others like the young Mick Jagger. He sings in a laconic, laid-back style with a fine handle on the words that pack the songs here. The opening song Broken Down for example is a textbook example of how to use alliteration with the repetition of the words broken down throughout the song. Elsewhere he muses on the possibility of history reversing in Van Gogh’s Ear and in Make It Rain uses the silver screen and the dreams therein to reflect on the impossibility of achieving them. This is all delivered over a very attractive backdrop. In particular Shu Nakamura on guitar, mandolin, Dobro and banjo shines throughout. For the most part the band play acoustic based rock with Nakamura providing colour. There are a couple of throwaway confections with Rosarch in Love a dead ringer for Six Days on the Road and We all Tour With Elvis done as a sprightly country romp. However Cassady and the band can rock out successfully as evidenced on Holy Hell. The best moments however are the limpid swoons of Make It Rain and Living Ghosts, two songs that are delicate and beautiful with superb playing from all involved, they sound and feel as if the listener is looking at starlight on a clear night.

Website

http://soundcloud.com/paulk-2/joe-cassady-and-the-west-end-sound-pole-dance

Next up is a great slice of swedish Americana in the form of Mack Johhansson’s New Sweden.

Mack Johansson was the vocalist in the superb Swedish band Hyacinth House who despite two fine albums failed to gather much attention and eventually split up. Their first album in particular was a spectacular piece of Americana conjuring up visions of deep running rivers and green valleys with a sinister undercurrent, a bit like watching Deliverance actually. On his debut solo album Johansson digs deeper into that dark underbelly of Americana with a harder edged, blues, gospel and occasional rockabilly sound that has already paid dividends with one of his songs landing a slot in the American Gothic vampire drama True Blood.
Ranging from the driving acoustic swagger of Foot stompin’ Blues to the pumping and almost electronica sounds of Coyote Indian Blues Johansson rarely puts a foot wrong. There are elements of the elemental David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand here and there but ultimately Mack sounds fairly unique and closes the album with perhaps his best song Ulrike. Dark and doomladen with sinister slide guitar it oozes menace before building to a great climax. Anyone who knows Hyacinth House will dig the inclusion of a new version of New Day Rising, the song that opened their first album. In addition there is a hidden song Northern Highway that pops up after the album proper is ended. A cover of a David Childers song it just about sums up the album with its Americana imagery and the wailing guitars snaking all over it although it is the only song recorded in the USA and with a different set of musicians.
The album title stakes a claim for Swedish singers to sing Americana as it and the cover art refer to a 17th Century Swedish colony along the Delaware River that despite being annexed by the English has left a lasting and present American-Swedish connection.

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