Otis Gibbs. Harder Than Hammered Hell

Otis Gibbs is a bearded and bewhiskered folky agitator, never happier than when singing about the common man, injustice or the environment. He sings from the heart and sounds like a bear might if it carried a guitar and, well, sang, and gargled with honey. The title of this, his sixth album comes from a phrase he heard when working as a tree planter. A 70-year-old co-worker would describe ground that was tough to dig as “harder then hammered hell” and Gibbs has co-opted it to describe his travels and travails and the songs herein.

For a man with a growl of a voice some of the songs here have a tender feel, sweetened by delicate guitar and the vocal harmonies of his partner Amy Lashley. Don’t Worry Kids is a songmap encouraging kids to persevere with the tough journey to adulthood while the love song Second Best breezes by at a fine clip with some fine guitar from Thomm Jutz. Big Whiskers meanwhile is a home spun folky tale of a granddad’s lifetime obsession with catching a giant catfish. With a Johnny Cash styled delivery Gibbs shows a talent for some fine writing with his description of the bait preparation a special delight.
The other songs are more sinewy. Made To Break tells of the toil and desperation that batters down the human spirit while Broke and Restless is a defiant response to those same tribulations that has a wonderful soulful quality akin to early Van Morrison or Dobie Gray. Again the guitar playing of Jutz deserves mention playing some sweet soul licks as he does again on The Land of Maybe where Gibbs dismantles the American Dream. Alongside Jutz on guitar Gibbs is well supported by Mark Fain on bass and Paul Griffith on drums. They shine throughout the album but the group really meshes on Detroit Steel, a rumbling road song that sounds great with the amp switched up.
Overall this is a solid set of songs of the soil, toil and plight of the working man that packs a Southern punch.


Big Whiskers

Blabber’n’Smoke Signals

An occasional column which captures the best of the rest, a brief nod to what’s rocking the joint at Blabber’n’Smoke in the hope that those wise enough to know follow the crumbs to the gingerbread cottage.

Jonathan Jeter and the Revelators. Late To My Own Funeral.
A five song disc from the full throated Jeter this is a powerful and ballsy trawl through southern rock and swamplike blues. Coming on like Drive By Truckers on the opening 19 Doin’ 20 the remainder of the disc doesn’t quite match the drive and finely balanced dynamics of this tremendous curtain raiser. The Springsteen like holler of Come On does run a close second while Barfly is one of those beer soaked sad café stories that sound like a movie in miniature. Eventually has too much bluster to convince with Jeter sounding a little bit like Lemmy but the final song Voodoo Woman, while a little bit too much on the pulverising side allows the guitars to slide and the menace ooze.

Linda Chorney. Emotional Jukebox.
Chorney, a New jersey based artist caused a minor media furore earlier this year when she was nominated for a Grammy award despite being an independent artist with no label. She didn’t win (that award went to Levon Helm (now sadly passed on)) but the publicity garnered can’t have caused her any sleepless nights. She’s a fine singer, at times reminiscent of Michelle shocked with shades of Chrissie Hinds thrown in. Here she delivers some fine self penned songs along with some covers of well known songs she grew up with. Indeed she covers The Beatles with I’m Only Sleeping and the Stones on Mother’s Little Helper adding her own personality so that the songs are refreshed. Her cover of Led Zeppelin’s Going To California is however outstanding. Retaining the rippling mandolin that dominated the original she manages to add on the Eastern influences that Plant has occasionally embraced with a vocal delivery that is warm and seductive. Elsewhere her own song Cherries bowls along with a sound akin to CSN’s Marrakech Express being driven by Michelle Shocked, some great guitar from Jeff Pevor buzzes away in a Garcia style. A great song. This is a double disc release with disc two a song cycle apparently including a cover of Stephen Stills’ Find The Cost of Freedom. Unfortunately our review copy didn’t contain the second disc but it’s a mark of how good this album is that we’d love to hear it.

Randy Thompson. Collected.
Sort of a “best of” from this Virginia based roots rocker with three new songs thrown in for good measure. With a driving rock rhythm section Thompson lays on layers of fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel and banjo to add a country twist while some fine lead and slide guitar add some guts to several of the songs. It’s a recipe that’s worked for numerous artists including Steve Earle and on listening to this it’s Earle who most comes to mind. Thompson is no mere copyist however as he delivers a fine set of songs written in the main by him although there are covers of Rock Salt and Nails and Steve Gillette’s Molly and Tenbrooks. Ranging from tough blue collar tales to twang fuelled countrybilly the album sounds swell cranked up with Goin’ Down to Lynchburg Town and Twang This being the outstanding selections.

Dan Raza.
It’s been said many a time that an artist has a touch of the “Nick Drake” about them. Well it’s the first thing that popped into my head when I listened to the first song on this début album. Raza’s breathy vocal delivery, the flute and piano all offer a melancholic autumnal air that does recall drake’s work. Towards the end of the album Rivertown revisits this mellow gold atmosphere while adding a folky air courtesy of the whistle playing of Frank Mead. The folk influence is more pronounced on songs such as Dark Side of The Road and Cool Dark Night while the addition of the African Kora on two of the songs add an enticing exotic touch. A fine first album that is mellow and uplifting and well recommended for Drake fans and anyone who hankers after the Van Morrison who capered with The Chieftains.

The Hot Seats. Live

Well we’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that The Hot Seats, one of the finest string bands around at present are coming to Glasgow soon. The bad news is that they’re playing the same night as the fabulous Woody Pines, a bit of a predicament indeed! Well, there’s one more piece of good news. It appears that promoters Brookfield Knights have generously agreed that on presentation of a ticket stub for one of the gigs patrons can choose to catch a set each from both bands by utilising the break to head from the Universal to Lauries or vice versa. You takes your pick.
We’ve reviewed Woody’s latest offering here and had an opportunity to review The Hot Seats latest live album for Maverick magazine where they had previously been described as “fantabulous” and “bonkers but brilliant,” The album is a fantastic document of their live set. Straight from the off they tear into the traditional Trouble In Mind and it’s apparent that they were on fire this night. Whether they are playing honky tonk songs (Another Day, Another Dollar) or jug band (Sugar Pudding) the playing is spot on but the best moments are on the old string band arrangements of songs like Same Old Man and Killing Time where they mesh together while a well oiled machine. The closing cover of Hell Broke Loose in Georgia pulls out all of the stops in a tour de force that would defy any audience to remain in their seats.
Looks like Sunday 29th April will be a fine night for music in Glasgow so get your running shoes out and start training.


Another Day Another Dollar

The Hot Seats are playing some other gigs.
04/27/12 Edinburgh, Scotland at House Concert at Douglas Robertson’s House
04/28/12 Brookfield Village Hall
04/29/12 Glasgow at The Universal
05/03/12 Shetland Islands, Scotland at The 32nd Shetland Folk Festival

Woody Pines. You Gotta Roll.

We first came across Woody Pines back in 2009 when we reviewed his album Counting Alligators which was a fine slice of old timey songs. Woody also popped up on an Old Dollar Bill release at one point. Now we’ve got this excellent EP released to coincide with their current UK tour. Five songs long with a brief intro that sounds as if one were tuning into an old radio show it bodes well for the shows portraying as it does a tight and fast picking band with a sure hand on the old Americana tiller. Although the songs are all covers Woody and his band own them here. From the opening traditional Long Gone Lost John we’re in country swing territory with Woody playing some fine snappy guitar runs that fuzz and bite while clarinet reinforces the jazzy feel embedded in the best of that genre. As they hurtle to the end of the song they swing like a bell on what is a great opening song, punchy and defiant. The smooth acoustic drive of Doc Boggs’ Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This way is embellished with some spooky resonator guitar that echoes the wide lonesome plains while Leadbelly’s Ham & Eggs rocks with a neat fifties style and again features some nifty guitar work. Hank Williams’ Can’t Keep You Off My Mind is given a laid back (or as laid back as they get) honky tonk feel with Zack Pozebanchuck’s upright bass a special delight here. The all too short disc ends with another traditional song Treat You Right with much finger picking, harmonica and muted organ that reminds you of just how groovy and infectious old time country music can be when it’s in the right hands.
With Woody in fine fettle on vocals and demonstrating some fine guitar and harp skills the rest of the band (Lyon Graulty, guitar, vocals, Zack Pozebanchuck, upright bass and Mike Gray, drums) more than keep up with him and much of the delight in listening to this is in the individual contributions of each adding to a very nice whole. If they sound half as good live then get thee to a show.

Long Gone Lost John

Woody Pines is currently touring the UK.

Tues Apr 17: The Acorn Theatre, Penzance
Wed Apr 18: Chichester Inn, Chichester
Thurs Apr 19: The Chattery, Swansea
Fri Apr 20: The Beach, Clevedon
Sat Apr 21: Bridge House Theatre, Warwick
Sun Apr 22: The Canteen, Bristol (afternoon)
Tues Apr 24: Red Room, Cookstown, Co Tyrone
Weds Apr 25: The Atlantic Bar, Main Street , Portrush, Co Antrim
Thurs Apr 26: Clonmel, Co Tipperary
Fri Apr 27: The Glens Centre, Manorhamilton, Co Lietrim
Sat Apr 28: Seamus Ennis Centre, Naul, Co Dublin
Sun Apr 29: Laurie’s Acoustic Music Bar, Glasgow
Tues May 1: Old Library, Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire
Wed May 2: Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine
Thurs May 3: Aros Centre, Isle of Skye
Fri May 4: An Tobar, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Sat May 5: Brew at the Bog, Bogbain Farm, Inshes, Inverness Tickets
from http://www.ticketsoup.com – 0844 3954000
Sun May 6: Woodend Barn, Banchory
Tues May 8: Leith Folk Club, Victoria Park House Hotel, Edinburgh
Wed May 9: The Catstrand, New Galloway
Thurs May 10: Woodlands Hotel, Broughty Ferry
Fri May 11: Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Sat May 12: Heart of Hawick auditorium, Scottish Borders
Sun May 13: Saltburn Community Theatre, Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Ernest Troost, Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra.

Ernest Troost. Live At McCabe’s. Travellin’ Shoes Records.

For a man who’s main job is writing (and winning Emmys for) film and television scores Troost is a surprisingly good acoustic folk and blues performer. I reviewed his 2005 album All the Boats Are Gonna Rise favourably but missed out on the follow up Resurrection Blues. Here he delivers a fine set of songs old and new, solo and accompanied that proves to be an excellent companion to his studio releases. Kicking off with Resurrection Blues and the magnificent Travelin’ Shoes I was afraid that it would be downhill from there but Troost delivers several pieces that can match these. With tales of ne’er do wells and desperadoes balanced by some delicate love songs and dust blown ballads it’s not surprising to see that his songwriting has been compared to the likes of Dave Alvin and Richard Thompson. Switchblade Heart which earned Troost a songwriting award at the Kerrville Festival is the outstanding example but the black humour of Disturbin’’Blues combines his writing with his live appeal. A lively ““Piedmont” blues styled song Disturbin’ Blues features Mark “Pocket” Goldberg on bass, Dave Fraser, harmonica, Debra Dobkin, drums and Nicole Gordon on harmony vocals. They appear elsewhere throughout the album and Gordon in particular is excellent and is given the opportunity to sing lead on two of the songs. In all this is a great live album that captures the artist in fine style and is well recommended for anyone looking for an updated Woody Guthrie or a less cynical Loudon Wainwright.

Switchblade Heart

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra. Teepy Eepy. Independent.

We caught the tail end of this band’s set when they supported Pokey LaFarge on his recent Glasgow gig. A nice fit indeed as they draw from the same musical well as Mr. LaFarge with old time country blues and swing featuring large. They looked good and sounded swell from what I saw and heard and copies of this, their five-song debut were being snapped up at the end of the gig. Coming from Newcastle (with one Glaswegian in the line up) they offer a nod to Northumberland tradition by having an accordion player in the line up. Listening to this However one would imagine they were born and raised in some Southern US state despite the references to their hometown in The Great Fire of Byker based on a massive scrapyard fire which happened in Newcastle last year. They set off comfortably enough with Quaich Keeper’s Blues, a fine shuffle about the demon whisky while alcohol features again on the graveyard vamp that is Tonic Wine. Here they exhibit a sly humour with the song starting off sounding like a New Orleans shuffle before Heron extols the delights of what appears to be Buckfast and his character heads off for a night on the town ending up at a reggae party. At this point the band switch from New Orleans to Jamaica with some dub effects thrown in, sounds odd on paper but it’s great to listen to. Whisky features again in Killed by Love while the last song She Don’t Like The Fish has some great Django type guitar runs on a rousing song that has a great sense of dynamics and a wonderful scat filled chorus. Given their Northumbrian origin one wonders if this is not a modern (although swingtime influenced) riposte to that well-known diitty, When the Boat Comes In. Overall this young band has some fine players and a promising songwriter in the shape of Mr. Heron and we look forward to watching their progress.

She Don’t Like The Fish

Cowboy Junkies. The Wilderness: The Nomad Series Volume 4.

Back in the summer of 2010 the Cowboy Junkies announced the release of four albums in what they called their Nomad series. On their website they said “For the first time in twenty years we are completely free of any recording contracts and obligations, we find ourselves writing and recording more than we have in years, our studio (The Clubhouse) feels more and more like home, the band now has twenty five years under the hood and is sounding so darn good…and then, added in to that mix, our friend Enrique Martinez Celaya, the brilliant and inspired Cuban-American painter, dropped these four spectacular paintings (a series of paintings called “Nomad”) into our laps, and it became clear that we needed to release four albums, with his paintings as our ground.”
Now almost two years down the line the final instalment is with us, The Wilderness. Having heard its predecessors (and reviewed two of them) it’s fair to say that the band have sounded revitalised across all of the releases whether it be on the impressionistic tales inspired by China on Rennin Park (Vol. 1), the moving tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt that was Demons (Vol. 2) or the furious bluesy wig outs on Sing in my Meadow (Vol. 3).
The Wilderness returns in a sense to what most folks’ perception of the band is, the laid back and intimate sound that catapulted them into the limelight on the Trinity Session album all those years ago. Undoubtedly the recording process has moved on but the glacial yet comforting sound that featured on Misguided Angel is very much present here. With the exception of the closing song, Fuck, I Hate The Cold which might have been best served on Sing In My Meadow the album is a sumptuous pillow of sound with Margo Timmins’ voice a comfort and a balm. Closer listening however reveals an album that explores hurt and loss, none more so than on the opening Unanswered Letter (for JB), a song written after the suicide of a close friend, but which also celebrates the inspirational benefits of solitude on We Are The selfish Ones. Michael Timmins wrote many of these songs holed up in a wintry retreat with the book Gilead (by Marilynne Robinson) to hand and the fragile soundscape of Angels In the Wilderness is inspired by the tale. A beautiful song, Angels In The Wilderness is a graceful and tender message for the next generation. It’s followed by a quartet of songs that are almost as good. Damaged From The Start is a haunting tale of “bruised and battered hearts.” Fairytale has some lilting mandolin from long time 5th band member Jeff Bird while Staring Man expands on a short poem by Elizabeth Bishop while retaining the mystery of who and what is the “Staring Man.” The Confession Of George E has a slow burning Neil Young feel to it with menacing guitar and organ. After this four song triumph the bare bones of I Let Him In is almost an anti climax despite its undoubted charm while the closer Fuck, I Hate The Cold as mentioned before spoils the mood of the album with its chunky guitar chords and slinky rhythm although Margo Timmins’ delivery of the title line is excellent in its repetition. I suppose it could be seen as a valediction to the winteriness of the preceding songs.
Overall a fine end to this brave venture from the band. Each of the albums is well worth getting and there is a proposed box set of all four plus an extra disc of songs gathered along the way in the offing and sounds mighty tempting.


Straylings. Entertainment On Foreign Grounds.

An energetic duo comprised of London born guitarist Oliver Drake and Bahraini/Austrian songwriter Dana Zeera Straylings conjure up a mess of sound that owes a lot to the likes of Mazzy Star and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Fuzzy amped up rockers with a hint of Lee Hazelwood and Phil Spector sit side by side with spectral ballads drenched in echo and reverb. We’ve already mentioned the opening song, Carver’s Kicks when it was released as a single at the beginning of the year. It’s a perfect opener for the album with Zeera’s soaring spooky vocals and Drake’s vibrant guitar set over a runaway rhythm section that kicks a plenty. There’s a cinematic sense of space and drama in this corker of a song but it almost pales by comparison with the widescreen epic that is The Saguaro. Stinging Morricone type guitar whiplashes the driving rhythm as Zeera’s multitracked voice wails and beseeches. This dramatic screenplay continues with Kings of the Mire which is ushered in with crashing guitar chords over a Spector drumbeat on a primal scream of a song. While these are the songs that immediately grab the listener’s attention Straylings show that they can downclutch with a brace of songs that are more delicate while maintaining the basic template. Bitter Face is laced with an acoustic strum although squalls of electricity also run through it while Marie & The Dusty Lands is a simple piano and voice piece that still manages to convey the same sense of menace and drama as the full blown band pieces. The closing song To Lay Down Roots is a slow burn with walls of shimmering guitar and buried violin that manages to rise above its immediate resemblance to a song by Leonard Cohen.

The musty psychedelic aroma that surrounds the songs on the album sets it up as a fine successor to several of the Paisley Underground bands and the only quibble is that listened to in one sitting there is a sense that the band need to add a touch more variety to their songs, however that may come in time. In the meanwhile this is at times an exhilarating listen and it’s recommended that you turn up the volume.


Carver’s Kicks

Marvin Etzioni. Marvin Country!

Very occasionally an album comes along that stops you dead in your tracks, knocks the wind out of your sails and demands that you pay attention. Marvin Country! is one such album. The work of Marvin Etzioni, one time member of Lone Justice and producer of the likes of Counting Crows, Peter Case and Toad The Wet Sprocket (remember them?)it’s a double disc CD with various “star” names guesting which had our antenna twitching. After all aren’t such beasts often a recipe for disaster? All doubts were dispelled as soon as the virtual needle hit the grooves (and there is a vinyl release which I presume will be magnificent in its own grooviness) and as song after song tumbled out of the speakers, each and every one great in its own unique way we realised we were in the presence of an album which in its ramshackle and splattergun approach pretty much approaches the pinnacle of current Americana music.
While Etzioni plays much of the music himself including various keyboards, mandolin, mandocello, casio, bass, drums, porchboard, synthesiser, mellotron and some scintillating electric guitar he opens the borders of Marvin Country to the likes of John Doe, Steve Earle, Maria McKee, Buddy Miller, Richard Thompson, Gurf Morlix, Greg Leisz and Lucinda Williams. While it’s fair to report that they all add something special to the mix even without their presence the album would stand up on its own.

With his songwriting credentials pretty much confirmed via his tenure with Lone Justice Etzioni has at least one stone cold bona fide classic here with Lay It On The Table. A tear jerking duet with Lucinda Williams and weeping pedal steel from Greg Leisz you should be hearing it over any decent airwaves very soon. You Possess Me, the opening song and another duet (with Maria McKee this time) is almost as good. However any notion gained from the curtain raiser that we’re in for some sweet modern country is dispelled by the following song, The Grapes of Wrath. John Doe takes the vocal duties here on a turbo charged rocker that sounds like vintage Dylan delivered by a souped up Chuck Prophet with a great big fat guitar sound that humbbucks like hell. Speaking of Dylan Etzioni proclaims Bob Dylan Is Dead on a tremendous acoustic thrash that is exhilarating in its iconoclasm and clever in the allusions within the lyrics. Etzioni throws up several other tremendous songs throughout the album such as the Cash like A Man Without A Country and the country punk Living Like a Hobo while You are The Light with vocal accompaniment from The Dixie Hummingbirds is simply superb. If all of the above were to constitute the album then it would be highly recommended but there is more, so much more, to hear on the second disc. Much of the delight in listening to this is in the rollercoaster feel of lurching from thrash to country to gospel to folk but on disc two (or side three if you do get the vinyl) Etzioni throws a fine curveball with a suite of what might be best called “oddball” songs. Where’s Your Analog Spirit? is a synth drenched protest song reminiscent of Roger McGuinn’s space rock. Etzioni plays around with sound samples on Gram Revisited, a primitive sounding tribute to Parsons and the goofy sounding What’s Patsy Cline Doing these Days? He then slips in anther cracking song with Hard to Build a Home which could not only end up as a country classic but also refers back to a song on the first disc, Son of a Carpenter. Aside from any biblical possibilities this is just more evidence of the very keen mind that made this album. The run up to the end of the album is packed with gems. The guitar solo in the bluesy Trouble Holding Back (by Trevor Meanor) is audacious and ridiculously spellbinding while the mournful horns of There’s A Train is one of the album’s highlights. The simple God’s Little mansion could be an old Carter Family homily.
We haven’t even mentioned the fine lazy cajun Richard Thompson vehicle It Don’t Cost Much and Gurf Morlix’s turn on Son of a Carpenter but if we were to go on this review would never end. Suffice to say that this album sits up there with the likes of Terry Allen’s superb Lubbock (On Everything) as a great example of left field maverick Americana. In order to try and offer a sense of its reach there are two samples below which demonstrate the breadth of the album.


The Grapes of Wrath

What’s Patsy Cline Doing These Days? Pt. 1