Sacri Cuori. Rosario.

This album has been in heavy rotation here at Blabber’n’Smoke ever since we were able to get a copy at Sacri Cuori‘s superb gig with Dan Stuart at King Tuts last month. From Italy and primarily an instrumental band press releases and record label notes would lead one to expect a spaghetti western version of Calexico and that’s a little bit unfair on the band as they have much more to offer than dust blown soundtracks to non existent cowboy movies.
Having said that there’s no doubt that they are influenced by the sounds of the American south west. Their first album, Douglas & Dawn was recorded in Tucson with some of Giant Sand and Calexico in attendance and John Convertino appears here. However there is a heavy European influence also present which is dominated by the music of Nino Rota, best known for his film scores for Fellini and The Godfather theme, with whirls of circus like tumbles and mournful swollen horns such as tuba recalling his dizzying work. Elsewhere there are glimpses of Joe Meek’s clockwork science fiction sounds and occasional glimmers of Krzysztof Komeda.
Essentially a trio (Antonio Gramentieri, guitars, Christian Ravaglioli, various keyboards and wind instruments and Francesco Giampaoli, bass) Sacri Cuori are expanded here with Diego Sapignoli providing various percussive effects and sound samples while Enrico Mao Bocchini drums on several tracks while Denis Valentini adds percussion and horns. Ravaglioli and Sapignoli in particular beaver away on so many instruments with the result that the album is a multilayered cornucopia of delights while Gramantieri evokes surf music, Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk, The Lounge Lizards jazz noire and Link Wray. While they proved at King Tuts that they can pull this off live as a quartet on the album they are joined by a stellar cast of supporting players including Convertino, Jim Keltner, David Hidalgo, Stephen McCarthy, JD Foster and Marc Ribot.
Although this is essentially an instrumental album another star guest opens the proceedings as Isobel Campbell sings the opening Silver Dollar. With her trademark whispy voice Campbell croons as the band swoon around her in a dreamlike state with keening lap steel and banjo from Stephen McCarthy. Like a Lee Hazlewood song scored by Angelo Badalmenti it’s a fine curtain raiser. Campbell reappears and does another fine job on Garrett, East, a relatively unadorned song featuring Dobro and prepared piano that is delicate as gossamer. It’s worth noting that Campbell wrote the lyrics for both songs.
The remainder of the album is an atmospheric broth of tunes with only occasional voices, sampled or sung, to add colour. While each and every one has its own beauty and repeated listens reveal new delights a few gems merit mention. The stately slow tango of Fortuna has some outstanding guitar work from Gramantieri while Lido recalls the Cuban sensuality captured so well by Ry Cooder and Manuel Galban on their album Mambo Sinuendo. Sipario’s swirling keyboards revisit the heady delights of Rota’s Amacord while Teresita starts off with Tex-Mex keyboards before the song swirls into outer space. Finally the juggernaut drive of Sei takes the listener down dark menacing highways with squalls of guitar, screeching horns and a disembodied voice. Short and to the point if David Lynch decides to remake Lost Highway he’s got his opening song right here.
This album is ridiculously good. As we have said it repays repeated listens as the ear discovers and hones in on yet another fine detail and the mind paints pictures to go with the music. Hopefully it won’t be long before these Italian suoni maghi are back in Glasgow to thrill and delight us.

buy it here

Picture The Ocean.

Canadian trio Picture The Ocean are touring the UK right now promoting their fine self-titled album. Previously a duo called Jesse Dee & Jacquie B they’ve got a new buddy in the shape of Matt Blackie who drums and allows them to capture their studio sound live. While we’ve only heard one song from the new album, the organ driven Erewon the duo have proved themselves to be fine purveyors of dramatic and widescreen American epics such as Straggler from their Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls album. Sounding at times like a less grungey White Stripes they’re big in their native Canada and this is their first European jaunt.
They’ve played the first gigs of the tour by now but they turn up in Glasgow on Sunday at the Griffin bar and in Edinburgh the following day before heading south. A rare chance to catch a fine band in an intimate setting.
Tour dates here

Mary Gauthier. Live at Blue Rock.

Mary Gauthier is a particular favourite of Glasgow Americana fans having appeared here regularly and always beguiling the audience with her world weary observations, her trials and tribulations. So news of a live album caused some excitement at the Blabber’n’Smoke newsdesk and having finally arrived it proudly sits, a true, fly on the wall, unenhanced capture of a show, warts and all. Gauthier bares her soul, intense, emotionally connected to the characters she sings about. Supported by Tania Elizabeth on fiddle and Mike Meadows on percussion this almost amounts to a greatest hits compilation with selections from most of her albums although surprisingly only one from The Foundling, her autobiographical and award winning album.
With all of the songs well delivered its difficult to select highlights although one has to mention the sterling work by Tania Elizabeth whose fiddle playing is superb with a raw tortured feel about it adding a sense of drama to what are already fairly dramatic songs. However Gauthier’s delivery of Last Of The Hobo Kings is spinechilling while Our Lady Of the Shooting Stars is on a par with the best of Leonard Cohen’s sixties output. Our personal favourite here is Karla Faye, the stark tale of a drug raddled Texan prostitute who ended up on death row. The trio absolutely gels here wringing all the emotion out of the song. Karla Faye is followed by Gauthier’s most famous song, I Drink which again sounds superb with excellent fiddle from Elizabeth. The album ends on a raucous note with a spirited rendition of Wheel Inside The Wheel with dervish fiddling and Gauthier totally in command vocally. Cool and assured she rocks here with a vengeance. A great end to a great album although there is an unlisted (and very fine) version of Mercy Now with gospel sounding backing vocals which acts as an encore. An essential buy for Gauthier fans. She’s coming over to play some gigs promoting the album, unfortunately no Scottish dates mentioned so far.
Oct 11th. Bush Hall, London
Oct 13th.The Malbank Studio Theatre, Cheshire
Oct 14th. The Live Theatre, Newcastle


The Ballachulish Hellhounds. Red Eye’s Motorcycle Blues.

More homegrown Americana this time from the well kent (if you frequented The Captain’s Rest or attended any Scottish “bijoux” festivals over the past few years) Ballachulish Hellhounds. The Hellhounds are another band in thrall to old time American music and live they whip up a storm. Their debut album in 2010, Songs from The Great Atlantic Ocean was a fine mix of traditional and self penned songs that celebrated the long standing connection between the folk traditions of the old and new worlds. Our only quibble with the album was that it seemed a mite thin in the production failing to quite capture the energy and sparkle of their live shows. No problems this time around as Red Eye’s Motorcycle Blues positively jumps out of the speakers with a fire in its belly.
With six songs and only available as a digital download this mini album is intended to bridge the gap between the release of their debut and their next all original long player (promised for next year). One thinks the Hellhounds are short-changing themselves here as it stands up to scrutiny while promising much for the next album. In particular the title song, written by the band, is a fine tale of a farm boy itching to join some motorcycle rebels and failing. Delivered with a sly drawled vocal from Zander McFarlane it has a jaunty old time country feel and one can imagine Ry Cooder or Mike Wilhelm having great fun with this. Iron Horse/Born To Lose which, believe it or not, is a cover of a Motorhead song is the other stand out here. In the absence of power amps the Hellhounds drench the song in swathes of acoustic guitar in a melancholy mode with a sixties Byrds type feel although its not the jingle jangle Byrds, more like David Crosby’s internal meanderings.
The remainder of the album is of a traditional nature. Long Gone and Rabbit In A Log are fast and furious with the banjo and mandolin frantically flailing away. Lonesome Without You is a Carter family type singalong. Expertly delivered it recalls the likes of The Louvin Brothers and other greats of country music tradition. Bury Me Beneath The Willow which closes the disc is another old time tune which has been recorded by everyone and his uncle and the Hellhounds deliver a great version with some great solos on Dobro and mandolin but overall it’s the ensemble playing and fine harmonising that show that they truly capture the essence of old time Americana. All in all a great little album.
You can buy the album here


Dan Stuart

The great Dan Stuart is among us again. The voice of Green On Red and one half of the fabled bar band Danny and Dusty Stuart barnstormed and howled his way into our consciousness as part of the burgeoning California post punk roots movement back in the eighties. A bunch of young bucks, Green On Red crawled from Tucson to L. A. and released a crop of albums that owed as much to the sixties sound of The Seeds as it did to Hank Williams. Always teetering on the edge they fell over it when the band imploded with Stuart keeping a low profile for several years afterwards. Successful reunions of Green On Red and Danny and Dusty around 2006-7 saw him in fine fettle but again he retired from sight until now. Teaming up with Sacri Cuori who are very simpatico Stuart returns in the guise of Marlowe Billings on his latest release. Delivering a set of songs that may be autobiographical (although as with much of his mythology it’s cloaked in layers of mystery) his voice remains strained and compelling, second only to Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Who is Marlowe Billings and what is his relationship with the mysterious author of the Treasure of The Sierra Madre? We don’t know but Dan was kind enough to take the time to respond by email to a couple of questions we threw his way just before his Glasgow gig..

So who is Marlowe Billings and where do you fit in?

Me and Marlowe Billings? We try to accommodate one another, although we have competing narratives. He thinks he’s smarter than me… there’s a book as well with the same title for those that still can read. I’m lucky now cause I get to play a lot with a great band (Sacri Cuori) but I’m not actually in one. Bands are replacements for one’s family of origin which seldom are happy… bands are often worse.

What are your biggest influences and your most significant moment?

I could reply with a laundry list of the agreed upon canon but really “Blonde on Blonde” ain’t that big of a deal… or “Pet Sounds” for that matter. Of course I love Dylan and Brian but musicians are generally completely full of shit when it comes to what’s “good” or “bad”. Jimmy Cliff recently told an interviewer that he had been listening to Katy Perry… I thought that was hilarious. As for a significant moment, surviving when my brain broke…

What venue/gig do you most want to play?

The old places I used to play filled with sullen kids who hate the world. Now I have to play some roots venue with clean bathrooms of all things. How the mighty have fallen…

What is your favourite song you have written?

There’s a couple I’m proud of… Vivian Girls covering “Sixteen Ways” was a special treat.

What does the next six months have in store for you?

Playing Europe this fall, enjoying life and writing in Oaxaca, a west coast swing in the USA, maybe I’ll even get laid…

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Either walking the streets of San Felipe Del Agua or resting in its panteón… whatever Juquila decides.

Any recent sounds you might want to recommend that would gladden our ears?

Both my old compadre Chuck Prophet and his buddy John Murry have released great records recently… Sacri Cuori has a record coming out next month called “Rosario” that is fantastic. “Venice Dawn” by Adrian Younge is intriguing…

And intriguing is one way of describing The Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings, Dan’s new album. Backed by the Italian band Sacri Cuori Stuart is in fine voice while the songs are for the most part superb with a couple of killers inside. I’ve reviewed the album at Americana UK while you can check out Dan’s website

The Kingmakers. Last Night In Nashville.

The Kingmakers are yet another Canadian group who have picked up the baton of Americana and carried it over the 49th parallel. However unlike the majority of acts we’ve reviewed here who delve into bluegrass, singer/songwriter musings or country music The Kingmakers are unashamedly rockabilly and proud of the retro tag that comes with this. So proud in fact that they’ve recorded in the Sun Studios in Memphis in the past and on this, their third album, shifted to Nashville to record the album at Cowboy Jack Clement’s studio, Clement being the man who recorded and produced much of Jerry Lee Lewis’ Sun output. In addition they’ve persuaded The Jordonaires to sing on a few of the songs while JM Van Eaton, Jerry Lee’s drummer joins in on the fun.
First thing to say is that this is great fun. Pump up the speakers and pretty soon it’s difficult to stay seated as they run through some amped up rockers and swingingly good fifties teen toe tappers. With only one cover, Van Eaton’s Memphis In ’55, their songs, mainly written by bass player Steve Donnelly, have an authentic touch that we’ve not heard since The Blasters announced their mission to reclaim American music. Indeed the opener Well Well Michelle and Johnny Green could sit comfortably on a Blasters album while Beale St. Memphis TN Morning After Blues, a deliciously loose and slinky blues number has the Alvin brothers stamped all over it. To show however that they are no mere copyists the band have a fine zydeco influenced number in Women and Weather while Prom Night Car Crash is a great Johnny Tillotson type death song. Great fun.


Coyote Grace Now Take Flight.

A Seattle based trio Coyote Grace began as a duo busking at the famous Pike Place Fish Market while more recently their profile was raised on several tours in the States supporting the Indigo Girls. Now Take Flight, their fifth album, certainly supports their claim to wider acclaim packed as it is with some fine playing and above all excellent songs. The trio (Joe Stevens, Ingrid Elizabeth and Michael Connolly) impress with some fantastic harmonies while Stevens and Elizabeth both have distinctive and attractive voices. The overall sound is not too far removed from the likes of Larkin Poe, Old Crow Medicine Show or indeed the Indigo Girls themselves. Acoustic based with plenty of frills in the shape of mandolin, banjo, ukulele, accordion and fiddle these are not country songs but a very pleasant set of intelligent songs that have a radio friendly approach that would please those whose idea of roots music is the Avett Brothers.
The main strength here however is in the songwriting. Stevens produces several gems including the delicate Flowers and the superb These Gray Days which captures perfectly the feel of winter malaise and which features some very impressive upright bass playing by Connolly. Elizabeth is no slouch in the songwriting stakes although she favours an earthier touch which is apparent in the bluesy stroll of Born Blind while she gets downright dirty on the slinky organ driven Kansas which manages to reference the Wizard of Oz on a tale of a groupie chasing her chosen star. Fact is all of these songs are great including a choice cover of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. Well recommended.


Old Dollar Bill. Lucky From Kentucky.

It was Neil Young who sang “ Homegrown is the way it should be. Homegrown is a good thing. Plant that bell and let it ring.” Old Neil might have been singing about something else altogether (answers on a postcard!) but it’s gratifying to find that there’s a good deal of homegrown bands and songsters in the best wee nation in the world who can take on Americana type music and deliver their own take on it with a degree of authenticity but more importantly portraying their feeling and affection for the genre.
Bands such as The Wyntown Marshals, Dropkick, The Ballchulish Hellhounds and the late lamented Southpaw are all fine examples of Scots bands who can deliver the real thing and the list can be expanded almost ad infinitum if one looks at the likes of Teenage Fanclub and The Vaselines who exported the proverbial coals to Newcastle.
Old Dollar Bill are a grand addition to the local canon of Scots combos who can summon up a genuine feel for American music. In their case it’s old time good time stringband hoe-downs and rollicking country songs. Their debut album was as fine a piece of Scots Americana as we’ve heard in a long time and now on their second release Lucky From Kentucky they consolidate their sound, relying less on their undoubted instrumental prowess with the inclusion of several fine songs that broaden their appeal.
Comprised of Stephen Clark (guitar, mandolin, banjo and Dobro) and Ed Henry (Cajon, drums and percussion) (supplemented by Edinburgh musicians Martyn McQuade on double bass, Neil Pearlman, piano, Tom McAweaney, fiddle, Owen McAlpine, harmonica and Gill Swan, harmony vocals on various cuts) Old Dollar Bill cut a fine cloth with ten songs all self written that range from the swamp blues of My Love She Did Wear A Disguise to the triumphant closing good time swing of Lucky From Kentucky. My Love she Did Wear A Disguise is a great opener with Clark snarling a tale of betrayal that cleaves to a folk tradition but with the menacing Dobro and clattering percussion relocates it to a swamp ridden murky voodoo land. One More Shot To Kill The Pain is a straightforward country stomp with fine harp and piano playing with the lyrics appearing to portray a typical Edinburgh bar although there’s no hard drinking “Rebus” type detective propping up the bar along with the unemployed graduate and the war veteran. The Man With The Hurtin’ Smile slinks along gracefully with some nice Dobro and mandolin fills while McQuade’s bass burbles along nicely. Henry takes over the vocals on the heartworn tale of a John fleeced by a pretty girl and excusing her as he says “I see the pain in her eyes/where she’s cut off social ties/she doesn’t look too well/she’s living in her own little hell.” This is a great little song with expressive harmonica, intricate percussion and excellent guitar, Dobro and mandolin; it’s reminiscent of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band circa Hollywood Dream which is no bad thing. The Place is another roustabout country ditty while Hey Y’all plants the fiddle firmly in the foreground for what is a fiercely danceable hoe-down. Clark returns to the fore vocally on the fine This Feeling with his mandolin propelling the band as Henry’s percussion adds to the drive. The Last Good Time is a departure of sorts for the band as they rein in the toe tapping vibes and deliver an emotive ballad that has rippling piano and female harmony vocals. It comes across almost like a Bruce Cockburn type song, plaintive and affecting it sounds great here. Home Lovin’ Man which follows seems to be another attempt to add an extra dimension to the band. A pared back stumble with emotive harmonica it has a fine lazy feel but the intrusive finger clicks that feature throughout are somewhat distracting. They close the album with the title song (aided and abetted by Woody Pines and members of The Wilders). Lucky From Kentucky is a barnstorming closer that must go down a storm live with its opportunities for the singers and instrumentalists to add to the energy that is already present on the recorded version. Old Dollar Bill play regularly in the drinking dens of Edinburgh and on the strength of this should be seen well before any ghost tours.


Malcolm Holcombe. Down The River

Slowly but surely North Carolina bred singer and songwriter Malcolm Holcombe has carved a reputation over the years as a fine purveyor of rootsy country blues with his albums and live shows almost universally praised. Despite this he remains a bit of a hidden gem, known only to the cognoscenti but there’s a chance this might change with the release of this, his ninth album.
Having been on several labels (including Geffen who refused to release the album he recorded for them) he’s self released Down The River and it’s a measure of the respect he’s held in that he’s gathered a grand set of musicians to assist him. The band include Darrell Scott, Ken Coomer and Viktor Krauss while vocals are supplied by Kim Richey, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. In addition the album is produced by Steve Earle’s sometime producer Ray Kennedy. The result is a stellar collection of songs that feature Holcombe’s amazing growl of a voice and his deft guitar picking with truckloads of banjo, steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle and Dobro backing him up. The effect is very similar to that of Earle’s “come back” album Train A Coming.
In addition to the excellent playing Holcombe writes with a fine sense of anger at the modern ways of the world railing against injustice but also celebrating the eternal optimism of the human spirit most pointedly in The Crossing, one of the more tender songs here. With some fine lilting fiddle this is a beautiful spiritual lament. The Door continues in this vein as Holcombe reins in his voice while pedal steel (by Russ Pahl) glides and weaves. Both of these songs are cloaked in mystery as Holcombe sings of people who seem to be lost and desolate but who are buttressed by hope and pride. The starkness of The Empty Jar is the culmination of this; delicate guitar and viola paint a lonely picture as Holcombe sings “an empty jar but full of eyes/ that see you here pourin’ perfect comfort /for thirsty silent tears.” The effect is similar to the grim determination seen in the photography of Dorothea Lange. The duet with Emmylou Harris In Your Mercy is lighter in its delivery but again tells of an abandoned soul clinging to pride and memories.
All of these songs are beautiful and had the album stuck with this style it would be very impressive indeed. However Holcombe adds a topping of righteous indignation and launches his full bear growl on a clutch of songs that damn those in control who cause misery and loss. Butcher In Town opens the album like a boxer jumping out on the bell. Darrell Scott’s Dobro is excellent here as Holcombe proclaims “I don’t claim a thing/not a two bit clue/but somebody whispered/war kills the truth” while on Twisted Arms he almost spits out the words. Whitewash Job nails the politicians with an undisguised glee with Holcombe sounding not unlike Baby Gramps with his piratical “har hars” over a fine chugging rhythm. The duet with Steve Earle, Trail O’ Money is the most direct diatribe as Holcombe declares “all the noise from the crowd/breakin’ hearts with deceit/all you war hungry bastards/bloodthirsty with greed.” Despite the vitriol in the words the song itself is a wonderful recreation of the sound of Bob Dylan circa 1970 with lonesome harp and a nice country lope. Holcombe sums up the album and his thoughts on the closing title song, a fine old fashioned number with female backing vocals and an uplifting beat as he sings “the hard times makes us stronger to get by/and leave this world behind/down the river.”


Dan Stuart and Sacri Cuori. King Tuts Wah Wah Hut. Wed. 5th September.

Dan Stuart, former wild frontman of Green On Red has been sadly missing from action for several years. Despite occasional sightings in the mid 2000’s with (successful) reunions of Green On Red and Danny and Dusty there’s only been the occasional low key album release. A few months back a new release The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings was announced and then a European tour which mercifully included Glasgow on the short itinerary.
And so it was that a few of the faithful (too few by far) gathered in the bar at King Tuts to see and hear the enigmatic Stuart, lured by the legend and perhaps somewhat nonplussed by the recent stories of his incarceration and subsequent escape from a New York psychiatric institution, his settlement in Oaxaca, Mexico and his current hook up with an Italian country rock band.
Sacri Cuori played a short opening set and immediately it was clear that country rock does them a grave injustice. A four piece they unveiled an astounding palette of sounds that ranged from surf and Duane Eddy type guitar to Nino Rota cinematic whirls with Joe Meek electronica and superb percussion to take the audience on a trip through some weird places and left us feeling as if we were in the middle of Jodorowsky’s El Topo. Guitarist Antonio Gramentieri tackled the introductions informing us that local girl Isobel Campbell sings on their latest album Rosario and pretty much had us eating out of his hand by the end of their all too short set.
Mr. Stuart then came on and within a few minutes of his superb, humorous (with some barbed stabs at a few sacred alt country cows) introduction any possible doubts about his mental health were dispelled. Revelling in his banter he was a hit before even striking a note but it was clear from his opening song, a solo rendition of an old Green On Red song, Death and Angels, that he was totally in control. Delivered as a lament with his voice a warm croon and some fine guitar picking it was miles away from the old band version. Another Green On Red song You Couldn’t Get Arrested with Stuart joined by Christian Ravaglioli on accordion was next and it was spellbinding. A sly dig at Mick Jagger and his abandonment of his sixties Chelsea drug store decadence one could have heard the proverbial pin drop as the audience paid full attention; we could have listened to the solo Stuart all night. From here on in however Stuart bared his fangs and with the assistance of Sacri Cuori delivered a blistering set of tunes, old and new that featured his sardonic and sneering vocals while also offering a glimpse into his love and passion for Spanish and Mexican tinged ballads with an edge. Sixteen Ways kicked it off while amped up renditions of Zombie For Love and Gravity Talks showed that he still has some fire in his belly. Two Lovers Waiting to Die swung mightily with a heavy Neil Young swagger.

Along with the back catalogue Stuart unveiled several songs from the new album with What Are You Laughing About ? delivered almost like a Joe Strummer thrash, fittingly enough as it’s a translation of a poem by Mario Benedetti, a Uruguayan poet who had to flee right wing political persecution, Strummer would approve. Gringo Go Home utilised the exotic sounds of Sacri Cuori to their utmost as Stuart channelled Lee Hazlewood on what appears to a satire on the perceived dangerousness of Mexico for visitors while on Clean White Sheet the Joe Meek type organ exhilarated as the band went stratospheric towards the end.

Overall Stuart seems to a man at the top of his game, proud of his past and rightly proud of the new material, if you get a chance to see him then we would heartily recommend it.

We should mention the two local opening acts. Eilidh Hadden and her band were a nice whispy folk tinged crew with Hadden using a tape loop at times to multiply her guitar playing while Danielle Tonner delivered a solo set of covers and some of her own songs. Both acts delivered their material in good Scots voices, something we seem to be seeing more of these days.