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.