Based in Athens. Georgia, Adam Klein’s last album Western Tales and Trails was well received with comparisons made to story tellers such as Townes Van Zandt. Here he moves away from a singer songwriter base into the direction of well crafted and sweet forays in a country pop idiom that should have radio programmers salivating at the bit.
The infectious Driftin’ and To Be a Loner which open the album are both hook laden songs that are country in origin but swing along with the joyful abandon that Van Morrison employed on Brown Eyed Girl. Adding to the playlist friendly sound are two songs that use horns to punchy effect. Anna (You Were Supposed to be Mine) and Griffin’s Song are buttressed by the horns with the latter sounding like a mix of The Beatles and Clem Snide.
Klein’s voice is tender and frail at times and does sound a bit like Eef Barzaley but this adds to the world weary romantic feel that several of the songs promote with Call My Name being the best example. Elsewhere Klein delves into a more traditional sound on the country swagger that is Wayward Son with lashings of fiddle and pedal steel on a song that Jason and The Scorchers would be proud to deliver. Of Pirates and Vagabonds takes us back to the sound of his earlier albums. A lengthy narrative delivered in a starker style than the rest of the album with fiddle and mandolin backing this dark tale of maritime ne’er do wells, chilling and thrilling as it builds to a climax.
Overall an excellent album.
Hymn For Her are a married couple who live with their child and dog in a 16 foot caravan. Not any old caravan however. A trailer indeed is the preferred American usage and theirs is one of those shiny metal beasts familiar to anyone who owns the first Ry Cooder album. A 1961 Bambi Airstream, it’s smaller than the one featured with Cooder but still serves as an iconic image of a certain type of America. Here however it’s not a romanticised vision of travelling the highways, free and easy but is redolent of a precarious, much derided trailer park existence, The cover art reinforces this with its image of beer swigging barbecuing family life.
Why mention all of this. Well the album in question here was recorded within the said trailer in various parks, garages and driveways by the duo as they travelled from show to show. Playing “stomp-grass punk folk.” (their description) Lucy Tight plays a home-made instrument, a three stringed cigar box while her partner Wayne Waxing plays guitar, bass or Dobro while working a bass drum and percussion with his feet, somewhat of a bizarre cross between Seasick Steve and the White Stripes. With this limited palette they create an almighty noise at times and the stinging slide drone of the three string cigar box guitar buzzes like an angry bee all over the album.
The majority of the songs are country rockers with a dollop of the blues thrown in. The sound is reminiscent of Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper at times. I defy anyone not to be jumping up and down on hearing the first three stomps that open the album. Sharing vocals Tight and Waxing can be tender when required as on the closing song Odette which features Tight almost acapella on a paean to a lost child but they are at their best on the thrilling and energetic Sea where the wailing cigar box sounds like it could be sampled from Led Zeppelin. They manage to combine some light and shade on the excellent Fiddlestix which manages to capture their range in a single song.
The tribute band for those who don’t like tribute bands, Jericho Hill play the songs of Johnny Cash with a keen eye and ear firmly pointed at his early rebel outlaw image. Not the tux clad family TV show host nor the older statesman of American music but the snarling, angry finger birding punk who was pilled up and seemed like a train wreck waiting to happen.
These two persona collided in 1968 when Cash and his entourage filmed and recorded a concert in Folsom Prison in California. Cash had been performing in prisons since 1957 but Folsom and its inmates had a unique place in his history being the inspiration for his early hit Folsom Prison Blues. The resulting album was a hit and cash repeated the exercise in San Quentin a year later producing another hit album. Of the two Folsom is rawer and it’s fitting that Jericho Hill (remember them) plan to reproduce the album live next week at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry. When Blabber ‘n’ Smoke has seen them Jericho Hill have been great fun with rip snarling renditions of Cash songs everyone knows and generally the audience gets off on the sheer energy they transmit. Whether they can maintain this song by song on an album that has its moments of humour and pathos remains to be seen but they will perform their usual set after the Folsom Prison section.
Taking place next Thursday, 24th February, two days before the great man’s birthday this promises to be a fine night. Tickets are available via Ticket Scotland and in the spirit of the night the audience are asked to turn up wearing some form of stripes.
Yet another in what has been a bumper bag of fine honky tonking country swing type albums from female artists that have arrived over the past few months. Should Have Known is a fine debut from Yvette Landry, a seasoned sidekick for numerous bands and artists but here standing tall on her own two feet.
The 16 songs are written by Landry and while they remain firmly in the tried and tested tradition of being about drinking, loving, heartbreak and fighting she proves that she can dip into tradition and come up with a set anyone of which could become a staple on country radio. One More Broken Heart is perhaps the best example of a song that drips with an old time Nashville feeling with fat steel guitar but the mention of “cougars in the night” brings it smack up to date. Although the tempo is varied with the lighting quick title song, Blue Moon Girl’s frenzied delivery and the bluegrass rush of Jack all perfect for the dancehall the standouts are the tearstained ballads. Better Days and Friday Night Special are made to be listened to late at night after a few drinks and perhaps in a morose mood. At times like these the mournful guitar playing of Richard Comeaux and Chas Justus are like teardrops falling from the songs.
While Landry can sound like a Loretta Lynn for these days her Louisiana roots are evident at times. The album was co-produced by Joel Savoy who plays some fine harmony fiddle while Betse Ellis (of the Wilders) handles the main fiddle duties (and provides some of the highlights of the album especially on the opening title song).
An above average debut and one which already is reaping praise and awards.
One More Broken Heart – Yvette Landry by paulk
The chattering classes may have been well impressed by Tom Jones and his recent “gospel” album however for an education on how to marry rock with gospel here’s a primer that swings and wails with a holy rolling beat.
Dead Rock West are currently a duo consisting of Cindy Wasserman and Frank Lee Drennan. Their debut album Honey and Salt was a mixture of LA rock with rootsy Americana and evidenced a strong X influence. Here they take this one step further with X members John Doe and Exene Cervenka helping out on vocals on several songs and D. J. Bonebrake on drums throughout. Digging into old time spiritual songs the duo eventually decided to “get back to the simplicity of life by connecting with the source.” Their masterstroke was to enlist Peter Case as producer and as anyone who has heard his latest album Wig would testify Case is a master at rootsy American music. In addition Case plays guitar and adds vocals on several songs. In the main however guitar duties are handled by Ron Franklin who impresses mightily on the opening song Ain’t No Grave and throughout the disc.
From the onset the scrubbed guitar and pounding drums on Ain’t No Grave bode well with Doe duetting with Wasserman on a song that can’t avoid comparison with latter day X. However it’s a tremendous curtain raiser, all fire and brimstone with the band stoking the fire as if their lives depended on it. The rhythm section are on fire all through this album with Bonebrake sounding like a freight train, pummelling, barrelling and firing on all cylinders. It’s a brave move putting such a tour de force at the beginning of an album but believe it or not there are several other gems that match it. Second song, God Moves On Water has a Bo Diddley beat that hypnotises the listener with enough clatter and clutter in the engine room guitars to satisfy anyone who misses Ry Cooder’s forays into this genre. Overall this is like listening to a hi octane version of the Robert Plant /Alison Krauss album. The infectious gospel harmonies, shuffled beat and stinging guitar of Two Wings are straight from the Staple Singers stable and one is left wondering how, after this tremendous opening trio of songs Dead Rock West can better this. The answer is that they don’t but for the most part they maintain a firm hand on the tiller with several other songs that are on a par with these. Wings of Angels has Mark Olson (Jayhawks) singing with Wasserman on a fine spiritual stomp while Tell The Angels and This Might Be The Last Time are stone cold solid updates on spiritual gospel with glorious harmonising and dread filled backing all in place. The production here is perfect with gutbucket bass and drums thudding away while the guitars and organ speak in tongues.
A surprising rendition of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s God Help Me fits well into the overall feel of the album and even has a touch of their signature feedback guitar noise but the rendition of Case’s Beyond The Blues smacks perhaps of hubris on the part of the producer. While it’s given a fine telling it does seem slightly out of place here and the album would not be any the less for its omission.
Overall a tremendous piece of work that carries on the work that the likes of Cooder, Plant and Krauss or even Woven hand do. Dead Rock West are in Glasgow on March 8 at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, maybe a fine night.
Dead Rock West- Two Wings by paulk
Chris Brecht’s debut The Great Ride was one of my favourite albums of 2008. With a mid sixties Dylan feel and a beat sensibility it was a fantastic example of how an artist can take a genre and re inject some vigour into it. After a fairly lengthy wait here we have his second offering which while not as exhilarating as The Great Ride shows a fine progression while retaining much that was great about the first album. With his band, Dead Flowers getting equal billing here the sound is expanded so that while there are still rambling rockers such as Living Twice as Hard and Devil and with the rollocking ride that is Not Where You Are, a direct link to the previous album Brecht is now using a wider canvas with the sound more expansive with some fine organ and pedal steel throughout the album.
The opening song, Hollywood has some of the ennui and faded grandeur that graced some of the more obscure early seventies LA albums by the likes of Terry Melcher and Gene Clark with the mock orchestral opening perhaps lampooning the string arrangements that were usually present. The song has a fine sense of drama and some fine pedal steel from Ricky Ray Jackson. The pedal steel indeed snakes throughout the album but not in a country sense, much more like the colourings added to late sixties, early seventies rock bands like The Grateful Dead or even the Stones.
On his webpage Brecht ponders the Dylan comparison’s he has evoked stating “I wanted to make a record that sounded like an acoustic social club that toured by freight train in 1922.” However there’s no getting away from the comparison when listening to Don’t take It So Hard which contains the very essence of Dylan in his pre motorcycle crash days. An excellent song. Brecht doesn’t sound like Dylan nor does he even try to but the music and the delivery are in thrall to that time. As good as this is Brecht gets even better with Blue Thunder, a song that is epic and understated at the same time with muffled percussion and crashing waves of sound.
Although the band excel throughout the album the stars of the show are Brecht’s lyrics and vocals. He inhabits a space vocally that is worn and weary, an old head on young shoulders. His words reference writers and poets, are reminiscent of Ansel Adams’ landscapes and find poetry in everyday circumstances.
Why Brecht is not better known is a mystery but it’s early days yet and he has the potential to leap into at least minor stardom. Whether he wants that or not is another matter. On his website he offers trenchant thought on his albums, his music and life in general and overall has a fine handle on his life.
Thoroughly recommended for anyone interested in Americana music.
Chris Brecht and Dead Flowers-Don’t Take It So hard by paulk
Lucky Bones. Together We Are All Alone
A vehicle for Irish songwriter Eamonn O’Connor, Lucky Bones are now a bona fide band but this album was recorded by him with local musicians in Texas after he met producer Stephen Ceresia while touring. Overall it’s a fine collection that showcases O’Connor’s writing that is poetic to read and sits well within the songs. However the variety of styles on show here leads to a sense that he has still to find his own métier. There is Americana, delivered on the opening title song which is a jaunty road trip with banjo and fiddle well to the fore and Longshot which has a power pop jangle and a driving rhythm. Elsewhere Stand So Tall is a smoky tale of a mysterious femme from New Orleans and has a fine mellifluous guitar sound which is used again on Frank Sinatra, a ballad which verges on the lachrymose and which, despite the stark Carveresque lyric almost blunders into bland James Blunt territory.
Two songs stand out. Magnificent Mistake marries O’Connor’s Irish sensibilities with the cool, laid back delivery of the late Gene Clark to the extent that I had to check to see that it wasn’t a cover of a Clark song. It isn’t. O’Connor follows this up with Unbelieving Eyes, a harrowing tale of a pointless murder, delivered with a passion and the tune of which seems to be based on the Times They are A Changin’. More of this and we would have a much more interesting album.
Lucky Bones-Unbelieving Eyes by paulk
Hank Woji. There Was A Time.
Back to basics with this one. There Comes A Time is a great example of Texan troubadouring. With Woji channelling the greats including Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Woody Guthrie this is a fine rootsy album that digs into the past with an excellent version of Deep Ellum Blues and brings things bang up to date with The Ballad of Bernie, a song about the disgraced Ponzi fraud felon. From the opening Warm East Texas Rain to the closing My Last Ole Dollar Wolji delivers the goods. Anyone who digs acoustic Earle, John Prine or Butch Hancock will find much here to whet their whistle. Woji has the required (and attractive) weathered voice, the guitars and harmonica sweep all before them and his writing is well above par. The aforementioned Ballad Of Bernie would sit well on a John Prine album with Wolji turning in a humorous and topical observation with some panache. No One To Talk To shows another gentler side, a gorgeous and gentle lovelorn snapshot. Well recommended.
Hank Wolji- The ballad of Bernie by paulk
Sarah McClurg. Tennessee Rain.
Ms. McClurg is one of those ballsy female singers who hails from a country background but delivers her goods with a rock attitude. The danger here is that Nashville has cottoned on to this and McClurg occasionally dances dangerously to the edge on this album with a few of the songs coming across as so much AOR fodder. Overall however the scales tip in her favour. The title song is gutsy while Little More Highway is a classic crash between a road song and a lost relationship tale. Out of Nowhere has some gutsy guitar and it’s fair to say that throughout the album the guitarists excel along with the legendary Al Perkins on pedal steel. There’s a Rolling Stones touch in the raunchy Home Is Where You Are while Sunday Morning swirls with organ and jumbled guitars to produce a great Southern soul sound. The best song on the album however is the closer Tumbleweed which resembles classic early seventies country rock with piano well to the fore while the guitars grumble and growl.
Ms. McClurg is currently touring the UK and appears at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry on February 20th.
Sarah McClurg- Home Is Where You are by paulk