Grant Peeples. Prior Convictions.

Peeples’ follow-up to the sinewy folk tales on his last release, Okra and Ecclesiastes, serves to cement his position as a worthy carrier of the torch previously held by the likes of Guy Clark and John Prine. Singing everyday tales of everyday folk Peeples can come across as a bit of a musical chameleon here with various songs reminiscent of those who came before but his writing and delivery is spot on and ensures that he is no mere copycat. Sounding grizzled and wise he delivers songs that rock and songs that are more akin to talking blues with lyrics that are evocative and provocative. Throughout all of this he is ably assisted by his producer and accompanist, the great Gurf Morlix who plays some fine guitar and bass along with banjo, pedal steel and keyboards.
Opening with a cover of Dylan’s Things Have Changed, a slow bluesy groove with some sublime guitar by Morlix, it features a fine vocal appearance from Ruthie Foster. A late (2000) Dylan song Peeples dresses it up in the gospel style of Dylan’s born again period which is in keeping with the biblical references he often uses and it’s one of the best Dylan covers we’ve heard in a long time. Had the remainder of the album continued in this style then we wouldn’t feel short changed. However Peeples changes tack with the second song Patriot Act which places him firmly in the earthy Texas outlaw tradition. Dedicated to Dave Hickey, an author and art critic who recorded some songs in the early seventies and whose volume of short stories provides the album’s title this song is like a time machine for anyone who knows early Guy Clark.

The remainder of the album is delivered in pretty much the same style with gritty vocals and pedal steel guitar predominant although each song has its individual style. It’s a testament to Peeples’ character that he even manages to deliver a cover of eighties new wave band Shriekback’s Gunning For The Buddha as if it was written in a Texan barrelhouse. The gentle paced Market Town is a tremendous portrait of a slave auction with the ugly scenes described delivered with a terrible beauty in the handsome tune and delicate playing. The accordion playing of Joel Guzmen adds a fine filigree here and later on he adds atmosphere to Last Night I Dreamed in Spanish, a song about Peeples’ sojourn in Nicaragua which Willie Nelson would have been proud to have written had he the chance. The wonderful Road To Damascus with some fine banjo and nasty guitar licks from Morlix stomps along as Peeples dissects St. Paul and unveils him as an opportunistic carpetbagger. Sad Naked Woman is a voyeuristic soul search which recalls Terry Allen’s Lubbock On Everything.

The provocative Nigger Lover demonstrates the power of language with Peeples at pains to point out that he ensured Ruthie Foster would approve of its presence here. Ironically scored out on the album cover the N word rings loud on what appears to be an autobiographical account of the travails visited on the young Peeples and how nowadays bigots might temper their words but still harbour the same prejudices. It’s delivered in a world wearied voice with a spare accompaniment and is very much a twin to the recent song by Chip Taylor, Fuck All The Perfect People. This theme of outward respectability covering all sorts of hypocrisy is nailed in the final and solo acoustic song Last Honest Man which references Diogenes’ mocking search for honesty by shinng a lamp in daylight to highlight the futility of it all.

In summary then we have an album that is an excellent example of country folk tales delivered in the style of the extraordinary collection of talents that gathered in Texas in the early seventies. Added to this is the unique and intriguing philosophical viewpoint of Peebles which rails against modern mores and harks back to a simpler time. Even simpler, this is brilliant.

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Patriot Act

Mark Lucas. Uncle Bones.

This is a fine collection of tales from Kentuckian Mark Lucas. Bare boned musically for the most part the dominant sounds are Dobro (from Bleu Mortensen) and fiddle (Jenee Fleenor) with occasional banjo and mandolin. Lucas sings of a dark and mysterious world where death and the devil lurk and where strange things happen in the shadows although he tosses in a few lighter hearted rambles to sweeten the mix. Every Day I Have The Greens is a Guy Clark styled jolly romp that does for veg what Clark did for home grown tomatoes while Grits and Redeye Gravy is a wonderful paean to a diner peopled with a vibrant list of characters.
“Mac taps his skullbone, they all fought in Korea, Mac took some lead, he’s got a steel-plate that can tell the weather, he picks up Louisiana Hayride in his head.”

Fine and jolly as these are they are merely the gravy for the meat of this album. The jaunty banjo introduction to the opening title song leads us into a tale as old as the Greek myths as Lucas tells of fiddler Orphie Coulter who begs the Devil to return his lover but who makes the fatal mistake of looking back and ends up fiddling in Hell for eternity. Superbly delivered with Flenee’s fiddle playing full of fire it’s a cracking opener. Lucas slows the tempo for the scintillating Take Me Back, Water where the Dobro shines like a light in the darkness highlighting a sad tale of a nymph tortured for her ability to shed tears of pearls and who ultimately escapes.
“Rocks sewn in the pockets of her coat, she walked down to the river, got in a boat. A hunter’s moon shone, the oars creaked and moaned and a song echoed out through the cove. Take me back, water, take me back home, wash off this flesh and bleach out the bones, hold me down like a stone, take me back, take me home.” Great stuff.
Elsewhere there’s the archetypal tale of a traveller meeting the Grim Reaper on the woozy waltz that is Hezekiah while Big Bad Love is a chilling description of the tragic end to a troubled couple who fight and fuck. With sinister pedal steel and a gritty blues feel this is the aural equivalent of a Weegee Crime scene picture. The bluesy vibe continues on Pick Up which tells of a spurned wife who poisons her philandering husband and which cleverly uses the McGuffin of mobile phones which allow her to know he’s cheating and affords her a cold revenge as she calls his phone which is buried with him.
With a firm strong voice and some superb playing from his band Lucas has delivered a gem of an album which deserves to be held in the same respect as those by the likes of Gurf Morlix or Ray Wylie
Hubbard.

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Uncle Bones

Magnolia Mountain. Town and Country

A Cincinnati based eight piece country rock combo Magnolia Mountain are very much the brainchild of Mark Utley, a big man with a big sound and judging by this a big talent. Singer, guitar and banjo player and writer of all but two of the 18 songs here one senses that Utley is steeped in rock, country and blues with the result that the album is a smorgasbord of delights. Fiddle laced romps sit side by side with slide driven rockers and devilish blues moans, an eclectic mix indeed and it goes some way to explain the dichotomy of the album’s title.
The country side is evident from the start with Black Mollie where a rustic fiddle leads into a Celtic influenced jaunt with banjo and mandolin sprinkled throughout. One Waking Moment continues with this mandolin and fiddle country style but with a smoother approach and some nice Bakersfield type electric guitar flourishes.The Old Ways ripples along with some fine fiddle soloing from Kathy Woods that is spinechilling. This is a thrilling song that sounds as old as the hills and ably demonstrates Utley’s ability to capture in his lyrics age-old worries. He brings this bang up to date however on the tremendous Hand of Man, a great folk song that rails against the despoliation of the country by mining companies who are “greedy for that coal” and the consequences of their greed.

“White Star Holler was my home. Shared the crops that we had grown, Shared the water from our well, Shared the life we loved so well, Coal men brought the mountain down, Leaked their poison underground, Mother, neighbour, friend, and son, Cancer took them, every one.”

Delivered with a fiery passion and with some great harmony singing by Melissa English and Renee Frye the song blazes with a righteous indignation fuelled by the real life protest against mountain top mining in the Appalachians that led Utley to compile a protest album Music For The Mountains. The sweeter All My Numbered Days runs like a clear mountain stream and is reminiscent of John Hartford with its country pop sensibility.
Back in the grittier side of town life Magnolia Mountain prove themselves to be capable of some fine urban grooves and bluesy slinks. Baby Let’s Pretend is like a blue-collar version of The Mavericks while Set On Fire grinds its loins lustily. The Southern soul groove of Rainmaker is rousing and sexy with an infectious dance feel while The Devil We Know is an impressionistic and spooky film noire set to music. Guest vocalist Lydia Loveless adds some fire and brimstone to the fast paced and slide guitar driven duet that is Shotgun Divorce where Utley and Loveless toss insults and threats as if they were trailer park descendants of Lee Hazlwood and Nancy Sinatra.
There’s ’s a temptation to conjure up the word “epic” to describe this but this is partly because it arrived as a beautiful double vinyl album package and compared to the usual CD review copies it just seems, well, big. While I’d recommend the vinyl it is available in digital form. Whatever format you go for it’s a great album.

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Oholics. Orbits.

Glasgow Americana and Swedish psychedelia might make for strange bedfellows but Blabber’n’Smoke is a broad church and has been a fan of the Oholics since hearing their first album a few years ago. While it had a whiff of the early Floyd and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators in its grooves this new episode cranks up the guitars to give it a harder sound that is reminiscent of Primal Scream at times particularly on the opening Transfer Orbit. While the space rock side is amply covered in Suzy Banyon Blues and Astara City the band visit Rain Parade territory with the thumping and spectral swoon that is Out of Track, a superb song with ringing guitar chiming throughout. Hambone W. N. is a rabble rousing garage surf punk rifferama while closing freak out Out of Nothing could sit proudly on the soundtrack of the movie Repo Man with its soaring guitar lines and otherworldly voices. An unlisted song at the very end, Great Hero Boys is another garage rocker with scrambled guitar and a punk sneer in Chtistoffer Rydestahl’s vocals.
Despite these laudable and successful stabs at incorporating a more traditional rock feel to their sound the band are at their best when they lock into a hypnotic groove and this is best heard on the stand out song here. Moonraker, released as a single, has a pummelling beat and sonic guitar wizardry which recalls Hawkwind in their heyday. With an exotic Eastern underlay it jangles the neurons in the listener’s brain. Add to this the ferocious rush that is Snowflakes and the jangled trippiness of The Truth and you have one excellent album.

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Transfer Orbit

Heritage Blues Orchestra. And Still I Rise

While the Alabama Shakes currently fly the flag for an amped up and sassy take on Southern blues and rock The Heritage Blues Orchestra show that its not only the younger generation who can shake that particular tail feather. Drawing from the same well as the Shakes as befits their maturity they have a more traditional and a statelier feel but that’s not to say that these 12 songs lack the energy and immediacy of Brittany Howard and her colleagues. Despite the grey beards and suited demeanour this album rocks in a righteous way with lashings of wicked blues guitar swamped with some awesome horn playing and a mighty percussive engine room.
The opening stomp of Clarksdale Moan thunders like Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee breaks due to the drumming of Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith while the horns add a new Orleans feel. A great opening number it sets the tone for the remainder of the album. The voices of Chaney Sims, Bill Sims Jr. and Junior Mack are all well versed in old time holler, Gospel wails and bluesy insinuation allowing the band to deliver an all too sinful sounding C-Line Woman which slinks along like a sinner in a church while Big Legged Woman forsakes the church for an earthy rumbunctiousness. The band see-saw between the secular and the sacred throughout the album with the traditional Get Right Church capturing the rapture of Gospel while a downright dirty guitar corkscrews throughout. They recall slavery spirituals and field hollers on several songs while the spirit of John Lee Hooker hovers over their cover of Eric Bibb’s Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down. The breathless sprint through In The Morning is perhaps the most condensed example of their style. Soaked in Gospel with parping horns and great church tent revivalist vocals it could possibly raise the dead. While the majority of the songs are either traditional or covers the one original Chilly Jordan, written by Junior Mack more than holds its own. A fine rippling guitar rolls along on the jauntiest song here.
A powerful album, the slightly jazzy horns, the muscular blues guitar and the spirited singing all combine to create a disc that will appeal to anyone interested in the Staple Singers, Ry Cooder, Dr. John or hopefully the Alabama Shakes.

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Clarksdale Moan

Farmer Jason, Suzy Bogguss.

Farmer Jason and Buddies. Nature Jams

Farmer Jason is of course Jason Ringenberg of Scorchers fame. Over the past few years he’s carved out this sideline as a children’s entertainer playing live gigs for the little ones and releasing several albums in this guise although this is the first one to have come to our attention. For anyone who’s seen the Scorchers the energy and sheer enjoyment Ringenberg brings will be familiar and its to his credit that the songs musically don’t make any concessions to what one might expect of kiddie music. Turbo charged country rockers are the order of the day with regular foil Warner E. Hodges adding his whirlwind guitar to several of the songs. With a stellar cast of characters including Mike Mills (REM), Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick), Steve Gorman (Black Crowes), Iris Dement, Suzy Bogguss, Tommy Ramone and The Saw Doctors Farmer Jason sings about the great outdoors and the many sights, activities and fauna one can engage with.
As an adult the hokum introductions and the frequent admonitions to ensure the parent or care giver is involved does interfere with the enjoyment although the rousing Prairie Riddles with Iris Dement could easily fit on a Scorchers album. Guest Tod Snider however joins in with particular relish relating the tale of his lost Moose. But after all this is an album for kids and the rollicking tale of Dison The Bison , the galumphing country thump of Manatee with Hank Williams 111 or the banjo driven Can You Canoe should delight the discerning tot. The disc comes with a DVD of four of the songs where Farmer Jason goofs around with a bunch of kids canoeing, spelunking, hiking and being chased by Dison. Buy this and you need never watch Barney The Dinosaur again.
For copyright reasons we can’t post a song here but you can listen here

http://www.farmerjason.com/

Suzy Bogguss American Folk Songbook.

Bogguss, who appears on the Farmer Jason album is another artist with kids on her mind. The genesis of this album was when she toured with Garrison Keillor and was impressed by the audience participation on songs like Red River Valley that everyone there seemed to know. Recalling her own experience of learning such songs in school she decided to produce an album and associated songbook in the hope that listeners and in particular younger generations would continue to learn how to play and sing cherished songs that have graced campfires, choirs and family gatherings for years.
The album in itself is a delight with superb renditions of songs familiar to all such as Froggy Went A-Courting, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Shenandoah. Perhaps less familiar to the general public but well known in folk circles songs such as Wayfaring Stranger, Shady Grove, Careless Love and Wildwood Flower all turn up.
Bogguss as always sings beautifully and the arrangements and playing are tasteful and uncluttered. The acoustic ensemble led by Pat Bergeson (guitar, harmonica, Jews harp) play fiddle, mandolin, accordion, concertina, banjo and hammer dulcimer can be as delicate or as invigorating as required. As a result all 17 songs are impressive whether it be the rollicking Ol’ Dan Tucker, the yodelling cowboy song Get Along Little Dogie or the powerful Erie Canal. Special mention must be made of Bogguss’s very impressive vocal acrobatics on the sprightly Froggy Went A-Courtin’ while Wildwood Flower with its hammer dulcimer is a wonderful rendition of this old Carter family song.
An impressive album overall, the companion book is well worth investigating. With charts for piano and guitar plus lyrics Bogguss write a short introduction to each song which demonstrate her obvious love and respect for the songs and the tradition. As a package this would be a fine introduction for any youngster hankering to learn how to begin to delve into Americana music.

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June Round Up: Kenny Young Band, Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons, Jonah Tolchin.

Kenny Young Band. Simple Things.
This album from New Jersey based Kenny Young popped through the door as recently as April and after a couple of listens we put pen to paper. It was only then we discovered the album was actually recorded in 2010. That said Kenny had added a nice hand-written letter to the package and he covers one of Blabber’n’Smoke’s favourite songs so here goes.
A jobbing musician for most of his life this is Young’s debut album so he’s had plenty of time to hone his songwriting and it shows. While he’s not a wordsmith per se he manages to come up with strong verses and choruses that fit well with the muscular delivery of the band be it the jaunty pop of We’ll Find Love Again, the radio friendly ballad Going Home or the pell mell Southern rock’n’roll that is Krazy. While young’s voice can be grits or honey depending on the song the highlight on most of these cuts is the guitar playing of Andy Schlee whose slide playing on Nothing To Hear is indeed a joy to hear. He really lets rip on Strong Man where his solo is reminiscent of vintage Thin Lizzy. While there are some ballads including Waiting which again features some fine playing from Schlee the overall feel is of a band that has its roots firmly in the mid seventies and especially that of the southern Rock bands of that time which takes us to that cover version, Duane Allman’s Midnight Rider. While this doesn’t have the stoner groove of the original it packs a punch and I daresay goes down a treat live.

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Strong Man

Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons. White Lighter.

Another album that was recorded in 2010 but only recently swam to these shores this is a great listen. Fletcher writes some fine songs and his voice has an attractive easy way with the words as he sings about losers and folk tossed aside by life’s trials. Ably supported by The Wrong Reasons, a local conglomerate of musician friends there are loose limbed country ballads, rootsy blues workouts and rockabilly riots scattered throughout. Opening with the attractive fiddle laced folkiness of Say What You Will the album ramps up the pace on the following two songs, Ambulances and Flat Tire, the former a full tilt road song with driving harmonica and a great guitar solo from Damian Puerin, the latter a pile driving world weary lament that has a huge sound with clanging guitar and a gung ho chorus. The world weariness continues on the album highlight, Every Heartbroken Man. A fantastictically jangled guitar runs through this tale of a down on his luck guy for whom everything that can go wrong goes wrong who accepts that fate cannot comfort every heartbroken man. Fletcher’s lyrics have a boho fatalism that he delivers with just the right mix of emotion and detachment. St. Vincent continues with this life is shit motif as the protagonist states that when he eventually get to sit on God’s knee he’ll complain that he’s been treated as a criminal all of his life. Here the band sound like the best or worst ever bunch of punch drunk honky tonk players as the song drunkenly weaves its way with Puerin delivering a stinging yet gloriously woozy solo. There’s a bunch of other songs that all stand up to scrutiny including the delightful broken country waltz of Front Porch and the George Jones inspired honky tonk hymn to booze which is Drunk and Single. You can capture the album free here for a limited time. Have a listen and then buy it, it’s a great album.
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Every Heartbroken Man

Jonah Tolchin. Criminal Man.
Finally we go back to New Jersey to find Jonah Tolchin, a youngster of 19 who sounds a lot older and delivers some spinechilling spare songs along with a few more muscular diatribes including a cover of a Blaze Foley song. The opening track here is a wonderfully glacial song with Tolchin on guitar and voice accompanied only by a cello and immediately the listener is captured by the beauty and simplicity here. Godforsaken World expands the sound adding fiddle and bass but is similar in delivery. This melancholic feel resurfaces on Fracking Nightmare where Tolchin addresses the environmental issues of this new and potentially destructive method of robbing the planet. A musical saw adds to the sense of foreboding on what is a fine protest song. Wrong Side of the Wire which follows is another environmental lament with a simple delivery. Tolchin’s fine voice and guitar is supported by pedal steel from Ed Iarusso on a song that could stand proudly beside the best that Woody Guthrie could conjure up. Strangely enough one of the backing vocalists here is the selfsame Joe Fletcher mentioned above, small world indeed. Fletcher sings again on the Foley cover, Oval Room which gets a jauntier delivery and reminds one of the Reagan years. Tolchin leaves the politics behind to an extent on the final song, Rocks and Nails, a wonderful ballad that seems to describe a suicide on a railroad line, evocative and chilling it serves to deliver notice that Tolchin is one to watch.

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Fracking Nightmare