Craig Finn of The Hold Steady announced in July he was recording a solo album. “I had written a bunch of songs that were outside of the norm for The Hold Steady, a little quieter and perhaps more narrative,” says Finn. “I wanted to gain some experience and insight into the process of making a record by working with new people.”
Here’s the first result, a limited edition single released for the USA’s “Black Friday” commerce fest. You can listen to ‘Honolulu Blues’ below. Going by this the album should be well worth a listen.
Movember? Well I didn’t grow a moustache bit I did spend some time listening to these.
Society. A Crooked Mile.
Another UK crew in thrall to the sounds of the States, Society have a jangled harmonious approach to the genre topped off with some nice harmonies. As such this is country pop/rock of the type that Graham Nash excelled in all those years ago given a delivery not too dissimilar from Glasgow country rockers Kassidy. A trio consisting of Matt wise, F. Scott Kenny and Ben Lancaster providing guitars, mandolin, percussion and bass they are ably assisted on the album by a clutch of players who provide pedal steel and various keyboards which does raise the album into another realm giving them more muscle and bite.
While the first half of the album consists of well played and delivered country rock songs the band really kick into gear with their seventh song, Davey. Rooted in the sound of The Band and in particular the songs and singing of Levon Helm it’s as successful as The Felice Brothers’ similar endeavours and from here on in the songs have a tougher and darker edge to them. Matt Wise writes well within the vernacular and the closing half of this album is a delight to listen to. The Closing song Martyr’s Avenue is a bit of a tour de force with surging guitar and swirling organ backing an impassioned song.
Jeremy Steding. I Keep on Livin’, but I Don’t Learn.
Moving on from West Sussex to Texas Jeremy Steding is a youthful baby faced singer and songwriter with a band composed of (looking at the promo pics) a bunch of guys who look as if they all have a few years on him. True or not they all do a fine job on this album of solid Texas styled country music. Guitars twang, pedal steel weeps and the rhythm section is solid and true. Be it tear stained ballads or rip them up rockers each and every song is delivered with gusto making for a very enjoyable listen, like having a honky tonk in your own house. Aside from a cover of Cash’s Don’t Take Your Guns To Town (given a fine reading here with sterling backing vocals from Shannon Lee Nelson) Steding wrote or co-wrote all of the songs and its here he proves his mettle. A few of the songs here are excellent examples of story telling. Five Aprils is a chilling Civil War tale while the opening song Annie Ray positively bursts with energy and that twang sound with an audacious and successful segue into the title song. I Keep On Livin’, But I don’t Learn in itself has a real crowd-pleasing quality to it and you can imagine it being a real showstopper live. The stand out song here is Paint the Town Red, When They’re Blue. A wonderful waltz into Butch Hancock territory it’s a tremendous piece.
Paint the Town Red, When They’e Blue
R.Mutt Leash on Life
Just as listening to Jeremy Steding makes one long for a night in a genuine Texan Honky Tonk, time spent with this Milwaukee quartet’s album of strong armed blue collar guitar workouts makes one think of sweaty and mobbed clubs where the band compete with the bar and other diversions. Hanging together since 1988 three of the Mutts have known each other since high school with guitarist Dan Power only joining in the last year. This lot describe themselves as growing up listening to The Clash, Black Flag, Minor Threat and Public Enemy while their parents were into Little Feat, Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Gram Parsons and Willie and Waylon. What this amounts to is an impassioned and energetic set of songs that capture an American splendour delivered with a driving punk attitude. The vocals blast with a full-throated volume while the rhythm section powers away and guitars slash and burn. There are elements here of early Springsteen (and I think that some of these guys also have a sneaking admiration for the Blue Oyster Cult) along with a touch of alt country rockers such as the V-Roys. It’s an energetic ride listening to this. Beautiful Bad Day is anthemic while Big Things is a super smooth chromium plated glide. The Tale of Bobby A is a nice example of a tale of an everyman given a Drive by Truckers makeover while Sisyphus starts off with a dirty Stones’ type riff. This might seem like a bit of a smorgasbord of an album but amped up it’s a great listen for anyone who likes god honest boogie. If they were to play the likes of King Tuts I’d be there in the queue expectantly waiting to experience the R Mutt sound.
The Tale of Bobby A
“There’s a natural language of American music that flows from a place where strength and tenderness meet.” So begins the liner note for this fabulous album. Written by Dirk Powell, a man who is an expert on Appalachian music, these notes describe the album far better than your current reviewer could ever hope to achieve. However, to read the rest you’ll need to get the album. It is indeed a mighty work. Coming from a pair in their twenties who met up in Portland a few years ago its astonishing at times when listening to it to recollect that this is not the result of some grizzled old timers sitting around a pot bellied stove with an enthusiastic young researcher taping their efforts for the Smithsonian Institute.
Morrison and West play banjo, guitar, mandolin, bazouki and lap steel. They sing together in the best fashion of the brothers Louvin and Stanley. They write songs that sound as if they have been disinterred from dusty archives. Of the 14 songs here there are two traditionals but in a blindfold test it would be hard to pick them out. The lyrics and imagery of the originals cleave fast to traditional mores with spare plucking and weathered voices sounding like apocalyptic messengers on On God’s Rocky Shore. It’s not all doom and gloom however as they deliver the jaunty country hop of Since You Took Your Leave, the gospel tinged Over There and the moving Weathervane Waltz. The heart of the album however is the stark and dark moments that chill and thrill at the same time. To go back to Powell’s liner note “where the days are dry and dusty and full of the smell of pine but the nights are cold and crisp and you find you wanting to get next to a fire in a cabin, burning wood that crackles.” There, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Morrison and West are all over us for the next few weeks. Several Scottish dates, radio slots and a film on BBC Alba following Morrison as he traces his Scottish roots. If you get the chance to see them you’d be nuts not to.
A bunch of hip young gunslingers from Canada New Country Rehab are a four piece acoustic band (fiddle, guitar, double bass and drums) who attack their songs with gusto and a fine sense of adventure utilising studio effects that enhance their fairly unique take on Americana songs. Their version of Springsteen’s State Trooper for example removes the dread and replaces it with a frantic speed changing the song’s character from being furtive into a daredevil chasing down the highway. This hell-bent abandon is captured on several of the tracks. Angel of Death which opens the album showcases the excellent playing of all four band members on a blistering song that could easily sit on a heavy metal album if you electrified the guitar. Hank Williams’ Mind your Own Business gets a dirty southern rock treatment with nasty slide guitar and voodoo drums and even a fiddle sample of the Mission Impossible theme at the end! There are three Williams covers here perhaps explaining the Country Rehab moniker as they do drag these old and hallowed chestnuts into the modern age. Ramblin’ Man initially appears to be a respectful tribute version but half way through the band get trippy and dip into dub electronica reshaping the song in an appealing fashion. The Log Train stays closer to the William’s’ original but is stripped to the bone with some fine singing from John Showman and plaintive guitar and fiddle almost defining that “high lonesome sound.” A superb rendition.
The original songs by Showman and guitarist “Champagne” James Robertson stand up well beside the covers. Cameo is a well told tale of generations escaping from danger and its smooth delivery is similar to that of the Avett Brothers recent success. The Lost Hand tells a torrid gambling story very much in the traditional style with a fantastic arrangement that builds up the tension until the denouement.
Composed of four well-seasoned session players New Country Rehab deliver the goods here. Showman’s fiddle is exemplary and Robertson on guitar, Ben Whitley on bass and Roman Tome on drums kick up a fine fuss. A striking debut indeed and it looks like Glasgow will get a chance to see then as their website lists two Celtic Connection gigs here in January at Oran Mor on the 26th and the Festival Club the following day.
The Log Train
“JT NERO, wandering mystic, stumbling misfit, moping misanthrope, movable feaster, crooner, poet!” Or so it says on his website. He’s also the alter ego of Jeremy Thomas Lindsay, singer with JT and the Clouds who released one of the better Americana albums of 2010 with “Caledonia.” On this ostensibly solo album he’s accompanied by several of the Clouds with some members of Canadian band Po’ Girl also in attendance. Recorded in only three days in a cabin in Wisconsin the album is a gentle affair with laid back instrumentation and full attention given to Lindsay’s soulful voice and the utterly amazing harmonisings of Allison Russell and Michelle McGrath. The three of them sing wonderfully together elevating this album into the top ten of this years releases. In addition Lindsay’s writing is well up to the task of providing a fine set of songs for them to sing with several of them outstanding. Roll Tide is perhaps the standout, the sound of crickets introduce a strummed guitar and Lindsay’s sweet voice before banjo and the heavenly harmonies enter while a gentle bass and organ support the fragile edifice. A beautiful song. Roll Tide references Tupelo Honey and elsewhere Elton John’s Tiny Dancer gets a name check and its perhaps no coincidence that much of this album reminds one of the singer songwriters of Laurel Canyon back in the seventies and the whole Troubadour scene they created. Singers and writers who drew inspiration from the countryside but who were also infused by the melodic influence of The Beatles the likes of Neil Young, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Lowell George can all be heard in the grooves of this album. Thus the churning North Star, the Lennonesque Grey Ghost, the Nilsson like lyrics to Double Helix (Rainbow) and the New Orleans jive of Gallup, NM could all have sat well on a Warner Brothers album of the period. The blue eyed soul of Morrison of this period is well captured and here Lindsay’s day job with the Clouds stands him in good stead with their modern day take on soul.
So although recorded in a cabin this is not a back to the roots album unless the roots are that great blossoming of talent in LA back in the days. And despite most of the above one does not have to be an aficionado of LA Canyon music to enjoy what is an almost perfectly crafted album.
Lindsay along with Allison Russell and Po’ Girl drummer Mikey “Lighting” August have a short set of dates in England lined up in late November and December. Going by this album these look to be must attend!