Larkin Poe : Fall/Winter

The curiously named Larkin Poe were formed when the Lovell Sisters, a bluegrass based trio lost a member (who married and stepped away from the spotlight). The remaining pair, Rebecca and Megan regrouped, the band taking on the name of their great great great grandfather. With a rhythm section in tow their first endeavour has been a series of seasonal themed mini albums, the first pair, Spring and Summer released last year. Fall and Winter complete the set and are released just in time for their first UK tour.
With the sisters accompanied on both sets by Mike seal (guitar, piano), Daniel Kimbro (bass, banjo, baritone guitar) and Chad Melton (drums, percussion) there is precious little country picking on show here. Indeed, despite the fine Dobro and lap steel of Megan these songs are firmly set in a soft rock, almost Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks milieu. At times this is successful, Memories the opening song on the Fall disc is a fine country rock workout while Fall From The Tree is an atmospheric AOR guitar dominated swoon.
The Winter disc wins out here although much of it continues in the same vein as the Fall album. Desert Dream, the opening song here showcases the sisters’ fine voices in a chilling setting (in keeping with the seasonal device) while Tree Like a Bird makes full use of the acoustic instruments, something many of the other songs neglect.
While the sisters are no doubt fine singers there is too much clutter on show here. It would be interesting to hear these songs unadorned and skeletal. Perhaps on their forthcoming tour they will shine with an opportunity to find out when they play The Ferry on Thursday 7th April.



The Wailin’ Jennys. Bright Morning Stars.

Canadian sirens The Wailin’ Jennys are a publicist’s delight. Attractive, talented, perfect for tasteful radio play, winners of numerous awards, it seems they can do no wrong. On this, their fifth release and the first for True North Records they maintain the qualities that have so far helped them remain leaders in the field. Blabber’n’Smoke was lucky enough to see them in St. Andrews In the Square a few years ago and can testify to the enchanting lure of their voices.
On Bright Morning Stars their vocals remain the primary feature. Each of the trio ( Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse) take ownership of the songs they have written with the others adding sublime harmonies. They are supported by a very sympathetic band in an atmospheric setting that recalls Daniel Lanois’ trademark sound (the album was co-produced by Mark Howard and Dave Travers-Smith). The result is an intimate snugfest, perfect for relaxing while wallowing in the soft comforting pillows of sound. Although the Jennys provide one acapella song (the title track) and sing Asleep At Last accompanied only by acoustic guitars the beauty here is in the arrangements and playing. Much of this is down to the excellent and various guitar players who adorn many of the songs in a manner that is ever so slightly reminiscent of the intricacies of Bert Jansch and John Renbourne duetting. This is heard to best effect on All The Stars and What has Been Done. The one drawback here is Cherry Blossom Love, a fine song delivered well but its retro swing feel puts it slightly at odds with the rest of the album.

Carrie Elkin. Call It My Garden

Carrie Elkin is an Austin, Texas based musician who is in danger of being overwhelmed by her connections. This album, her fourth was recorded in Sam Baker’s house during the Kerrville folk festival last year. Fellow festival performers accordingly appear on the album including A. J. Roach, Raina Rose and Robbie Hecht. In addition Baker himself pops up on vocals here and there and the album was produced by Colin Brooks of The Band of Heathens who also provides most of the fine lap steel and Dobro that wind throughout the songs. The overall result is a fine and appealing example of current folky Americana which should appeal to anyone interested in Nanci Griffith, Iris DeMent or Laura Cantrell and one that reflects the apparently relaxed atmosphere it was recorded in. From the laughter that opens Jesse Likes Birds to the closing chuckle at the end of the album the artists seem to be having a ball. Jesse Likes Birds opens the set, loosely based on the old Mockingbird song it’s taken at a fair clip with banjos flailing and fine ramshackle backing vocals that reflect the “live” ambience of the recording. This live sound remains throughout giving the album an attractive rough edge. The sunny disposition of the first song however gives way to weightier concerns with a darker edge for the most part delving into country blues or funereal laments (Lift up the Anchor). Elkin looks at the bleaker side of life with Shots Ring Out, a short tale of murder given a stark reading while Guilty Hands is a gospel stomp that seems to be about religious fervor and which has some excellent ensemble playing. With a tender tribute to Sam Baker (Dear Sam, with Baker joining in on vocals) and a rousing finale in Edge of the World which pumps and wheezes like an old fashioned church hymn given a Tom Waits twist this is a fine country tinged album
Elkin is touring the UK (or at least England and Wales) throughout April, dates on her website

March Musings: The Flyin’ A’s, Alicia McGovern, Little Miss Higgins.

The Flyin’ A’s “Til They shut It Down”
Texan couple, Hilary and Stuart Adamson are the Flyin’ A’s, their name taken from a brand that was seared onto the hides of cattle many moons ago on Stuart Adamson’s family ranch. As such its an apt name because in common with their bovine forebears they can be described as shit kicking in the best sense. Aided and abetted by a fine crew including the great Lloyd Maines on pedal steel they deliver a fine set of songs that range from bar room belters to sobbing ballads all done in a fine Texan style. Ain’t that Something in particular has some wonderful Maines’ playing although he sprinkles magic all over the album. Adamson writes well and several of the songs could be comfortably grafted onto on any number of top selling country artists with the best example being One More Time which would just spill out of radio speakers. A cover of Joe Tex’s (I Want To) is a nitty gritty southern blues swamp while Jon Ims’ Good Luck is given a fantastic showing which should have radio programmers foaming at the lips.
With twang guitar, beer soaked sobs and shit kicking delivery this is a fine little album.


Taking it down a notch Alicia McGovern’s Words Through The Season has been high on the Euro American chart for the past two months. Woody and rustic McGovern is one of those singers with a voice that is unconventional, brittle and occasionally cracked but which ultimately worms its way into the listener’s ear. In addition she plays some fine acoustic guitar and her songs are perfect examples of the craft. With a lineage going back to sixties icons such as Melanie up to modern day exemplars like Natalie Merchant McGovern delivers an album that is heartwarming in its simplicity with sympathetic and understated backing from Duke Levine, Brad Wentworth, Rob Jost and Daisy Castro. While all play with a light touch the delicate banjo on I Wanna Grow Old is excellent while the use of sitar on You Do Not Bring Me Flowers adds a slight exotic touch. McGovern writes well with the majority of the songs bittersweet meditations on love and its attendant problems although she has a fine, brittle Christmas song in The Holly and All . This song should be packed away and brought out each year along with the decorations. At times her songs are reminiscent of early Loudon Wainwright’s melancholic style.
The final cut, So Many Songs addresses the songwriter’s dilemma
“so many love songs we all sing/songs of birds with wide open wings/you think we’d have learned to do one or the other/either to love or to find better things/and all the songs still to be sung/all the days and nights still to come/to be filled with hands and heartaches/and star-hung moons and bring-down suns”
From start to finish a minor gem of an album.


If you need a wake me up after the comfort blanket that is Through The Season then Canadian artist Little Miss Higgins’ Across The Plains might be just the thing. Sassy, sexy and in your face Higgins swings through a set of songs in a style that might best be described as swingtime jazz blues with its roots in Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith as well as latter day proponents like Maria Muldaur and early KD Lang.
With trombone, saxophone and clarinet carrying the swing element Higgins plays a mean guitar giving the songs a powerful engine room drive under the jazzy froth. Banjo and violin add a western swing style to some of the songssuch as Snowin’ Today: A lament For Luis Reil. The song that jumps out immediately is the mildly salacious Bargain Shop Panties where Higgins sings about her underwear choices but the passion behind songs such as The Tornado Song and Hope You Don’t Feel Blue prove that there is more to her than mere titillation. So Glad Your Whiskey Fits Inside My Purse is an excellent primer, opening with a faux scratched recording before Higgins launches into a brilliant tale of smuggling booze into a venue. The closing song, Slaughterhouse (Revisited) abandons the swing concept to deliver a mean and dirty blues thump that sounds like a cross between Ry Cooder. Taj Mahal and P.J. Harvey.
Little Miss Higgins is touring the UK soon and has a date in Edinburgh at the Leith Folk Club on 29th march. I reckon that she’ll put on a mighty fine show.


March Musings

Going by the number of CDs sent to Blabber’n’Smoke there are countless country troubadours, singer songwriters and nitty gritty dirt bands out there releasing music by the boatload. The majority of these are folk who are not well known, who might have a local audience, have spent their savings on their vision. Self released or on local labels it’s encouraging that despite the oft trumpeted “death of the CD” a horde of well intentioned and usually quite talented musicians plug on. Although there is the occasional clunker the majority of these have something to say and they say it in style. With the advent of the blog musicians who might not have got a mention in newsprint have an outlet and can use the reviews to further promote their disc. All this is a prelude to this latest roundup, a bunch of folk who won’t feature in the major press outlets but who all have something to recommend them.

First up is Pete Sinjin with his debut Better Angels Radio. Sinjin is from New York and has produced a belter of an album that could be loosely categorised as country/folk rock. With lashings of guitar, pedal steel, mandolin and fiddle married to a solid rock rhythm section Sinjin delivers driving Californian type anthems, souped up Springsteen type rockers and jangley power pop. While the opening Driving California and the pell mell tumult of Romance of The Punkers are full bodied rockers in a Tom Petty vein Sinjin excels on the evocative Funeral Train, a memory of waiting for the carriage carrying Bobby Kennedy’s body back to Washington to pass through his town and the closing Shuhuykill Red, an impressionistic tale of a couple hanging about on a bridge, no Terry and Julie here but a song set against a wasteland of lost opportunities.


From a fresh young thing to a grizzled veteran, Grant Peeples tried his luck in Nashville in the seventies but eventually ended up living on an island off of Nicaragua with his music on the back burner. A series of events led him back to the states and into the arms of Gurf Morlix who produced this album, Okra and Ecclesiastes. Peeples drinks from the well of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Guy Clark. His songs are spare muscular tales delivered with a world weary aplomb. While there are jaunty moments such as Last Great Buffalo Hunt (reminiscent of J.J. Cale in a Cajun style), spooky acoustic blues on Powerlines and on Lethal Injection Blues a chilling record of the last moments of a death row prisoner Peeples is at his best on the opening song My people Come From the Dirt. A powerful description of the lifestyle of a disenfranchised underclass. This is a powerful song, Peeples sings
“My people come from the dirt, full choke and steel guitar
Cigarettes and whiskey, and a dog chained in their yard
My people come from the dirt, white bread and kerosene
Catfish and flatbeds, sweat stains and retreads, okra and Ecclesiastes.”

The title refers to okra, a staple food of the rural poor and the book of Ecclesiastes which Peeples reads as meaning “all the strife, struggle and actions lf Man are vain, futile, empty, meaningless, temporary, transitory, hopelessly fleeting.” Glum indeed but the song itself is a searing indictment of the lot of the poor in the land of plenty.


Gurf Morlix pops up again in the producers seat for Betty Soo’s Heat Sin Water Skin. He is all over this album, providing guitar and vocals and adding it to a fine line of south western roots music. Soo is a second generation Korean based in Austin and this is her fourth release. As one might anticipate from any project connected to Morlix this is a great sounding set with Soo delivering some sweet country sounds on Whisper My Name, sultry rock on Who Knows and a driving soulful sound on Still Small Voice. Throughout there is some fine sinewy guitar work from Morlix who manages to give this album the honest , sweet yet gritty feel that he attempted to give Lucinda Williams on the Car Wheels album. Soo has a fine clear voice that can be tender or ballsy as required and her writing is well up to par with all of the songs bar one written by her. The album was released two years ago in the states but is only now getting a UK push. Well recommended.


Kimmie Rhodes “Dreams Of Flying”

With 14 album releases under her belt since 1981, Lubbock, Texas born Rhodes has steadily carved a reputation as a solid songwriter and a vocal foil to numerous country stars. These include Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and even Townes Van Zandt. Despite this she has never achieved the popularity of peers such as Emmylou, Nancy Griffith or Lucinda Williams. Plowing on, her latest release Dreams of Flying is a firm reminder of her songwriting and performing qualities.
Recorded in Austin and featuring a stellar band (Charlie sexton, John Gardner, Mike Thompson and John Mills, check them out) and produced by her son Gabriel Rhodes who adds some fine guitar touches the album sounds wonderful with Rhodes’ tender voice ably supported by some sumptuous playing. This is immediately evident on the opening title song which has a dreamlike quality similar to the otherworld inhabited by David Lynch’s ethereal soundtracks. Rhodes glides through Back Again with a quiet majesty while the band inhabit an ambient space that Emmylou Harris used to great effect on Wrecking Ball that wraps itself around the listener like a warm blanket. Like Love To Me has a touch of Van Morrison’s Caledonia soul to it with muted horns adding the honey. One By One is an almost unbearingly poignant song while New Way Through is an almost perfect song. Rippling mandolin and a wheezy keyboard sounding like an accordion support Rhodes who does indeed sing like an angel here as she uses clouds as a metaphor for her state of mind. With a cover of Donovan’s Catch The Wind, performed as a duet with Joe Ely that transforms the song into another elegiac rhapsody the overall feel of the album is of lost opportunities delivered in a heart melting style.
This might be Rhodes’ most fully realised album and there is an opportunity to hear and see her at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow when she appears in May.