Amanda Pearcy. Royal Street.

Hailing from Texas, Amanda Pearcy‘s second album is an exploration of sadness and loss and having read her biography one is tempted to imagine that she’s singing about herself in many of these songs. Widowed and with a child she fell into a turbulent second marriage before eventually getting to where she is now, settled, married again and producing some fine and moving music.
Pearcy has an attractive bluesy husk of a voice that is perfectly suited to her blue eyed gospel soul and country sound that peppers the album. She opens with Bring You Home, a brave choice as this in not exactly the toe tapping door banger one might expect at the beginning of an album and it’s certainly not the most immediate song here. With a string arrangement (by producer Tim Lorsch) the song hesitantly picks its way across a delicately plucked guitar as Pearcy unveils her heartache singing “When my tears have made a salty ocean of me I’ll chart a course across the dark sea of me.” Strong stuff. At times it’s reminiscent of Mary Gauthier and after submerged oneself in it for a few weeks it does assert itself as a perfect opener setting the tone, if not the style for much of the album to follow. Having crossed this sea of heartbreak Pearcy finds herself in border territory with the Mexican tinged Barking Dogs. Here she’s running away from the past and the song is an excellent border ballad with a hint of tension and freedom mixed in with the exotica of Mexico. This mildly up-tempo route continues in The Story Of My Heart which replaces the Mexican violin with pedal steel although the accordion which wheezes throughout helms the song firmly in the south. This tale of a female barfly is a classic hard luck story and could well have been sung by Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn in their heyday. After this it’s a fair bet that several country divas would give their eye teeth to get a hold of Lackin’ In Nothin‘. A slow tempo beer stained country waltz with classic lyrics, Pearcy sings it with Jon Byrd, evoking numerous country partnerships of the past.
If the above weren’t enough to have the average listener crying in their beer Pearcy reaches deep down and produces a couple of tear jerking ballads that could stop you in your tracks. Nickel In The Vase is a relatively unadorned tale of a blind beggar boy but the emotional vocal delivery sends shivers down the spine. In a similar vein the title song is another bare boned song with tugging strings on an evocative song where the singer seeks out garnet gemstones in New Orleans in order to drop them in the ocean wishing she could drown her regrets, a superb piece.
It’s fair to say that all of Pearcy’s songs on the album of a high standard. Better On My Own is a bluesy slink with some fine slide guitar from George Bradfute that strays into Cowboy Junkies territory while A Thousand Tender Recollections is given a deep soulful gospel rendition. Forgiven wafts along on a pillow of accordion and sweet guitar with a particularly fine solo from Bradfute, the tender delivery in contrast to the existential lyrics. Pearcy ends the album with two covers. The Rolling Stones’ No Expectations again visits Cowboy Junkiedom while the faux antiquary of Wish I’s In Heaven Settin’ Down pops up after the official track listing is done. Both are well done but here they pale in comparison to what has gone before.

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Rose’s Pawn Shop. Dancing On The Gallows

Touring over here soon Rose’s Pawn Shop are a vibrant bunch who play with a kick in their step with their banjos and fiddles well to the fore. Based in Los Angeles they seem to have a reputation there as a good time party band be it playing in theatres or busking on the streets. There definitely is a Celtic swing to some of their songs which as we all know makes for good time listening. Dancing On the Gallows is their second release and was released in the States back in 2010 however it’s getting a push on the back of their UK tour.
Opening with the almost Irish strains of the title song there’s a rollicking good time feel with lashings of banjo and some great harmonies and they continue in this vein with the fiddle and guitar duet on Danger Behind The Wheel. The Bed in Which You Lie adds some rhythm section oomph and beefs up the guitar giving the song a fine honky tonkin’ truck stop vibe while Pine Box reins in the band’s more extravagant flourishes and contents itself with being a very fine medium paced ballad. The highlight here, Pine Box flows like all good Americana songs should as if one was driving on an endless highway and there are some fine guitar flourishes that are reminiscent of the Allmans’ back in their heyday. Almost as good is the following Box Of Flames which pummels along like a runaway train before reaching an exciting guitar driven climax. If they can achieve this level of intensity live then I’d venture they are a sure bet to go and see.
Tour dates are here with two Scottish gigs including an Edinburgh date at Bannermans Bar on Monday March 4th where they will be supported by those fine friends of Blabber’n’Smoke, Old Dollar Bill

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Mary Dillon and Heidi Talbot

Catching up on some Celtic Connections related items here’s our take on a couple of albums released by participants in this year’s shindig.
First up is Mary Dillon with North, a fairly traditional album of songs from this Northern Irish singer and sister of Cara Dillon. Mary was a member of Irish band Deanta way back in the nineties but retired from the music business for the past decade or so to raise her family. Stepping back into the fray North is a fine selection of mostly traditional songs on which she sings beautifully and is supported by a very talented group of musicians including former Deanta band mate Neil Martin who arranges the strings on the very affecting lament Edward On Lough Erne Shore. With all of the songs having a connection to Northern Ireland and having grown up with the majority of them Dillon seems to live and breathe by them and this is apparent in the delivery. Her voice appears as if out of a mist, clear as a bell, intimate and warm whether it be unaccompanied on the haunting Ard Ti Chuain which closes the album or the gently lilting and mildly ribald When’s A Man’s In Love which open the proceedings. This is an album that’s as warm as a glass of whiskey on a cold winter’s night, to be savoured and taken at one’s leisure.

Heidi Talbot chose to have the official release party of Angels Without Wings at Celtic Connections, fittingly enough as it was recorded in Glasgow’s new Gorbals Sound Studios. While she’s backed in the main by her regular band including husband John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine the album includes contributions from such luminaries as Jerry Douglas, Mark Knopfler, Tim O’Brien, Karine Polwart and King Creosote. While stellar line-ups don’t always guarantee a result Talbot has hit pay dirt here as the album is as swell a selection of modern folk songs as one could wish for. From the Hurdy Gurdy folksiness of the title song to the bare boned The Loneliest the playing is excellent and Talbot’s voice hits home with its childlike vulnerability. When The Roses Come Again is perhaps the most traditional sounding song here but the best is saved for last with two heart tugging songs, My Sister The Moon and Arcadia that are sumptuous and beguiling. Pillows of sound waft from the musicians while Talbot sounds vulnerable, cosseted by the very sympathetic playing. All in all a fine showing from a singer who deserves to be held in the same regard as Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson.

Richard Thompson. Electric

While no one in their right mind would say that Richard Thompson, solo, acoustic, is anything less than riveting it has to be admitted that when he straps on his electric guitar and cuts loose there’s a certain frisson of delight. Frequently cited in polls and lists of the “greatest guitarists” Thompson can rarely be mistaken for anyone else with his biting razor sharp playing which owes little to the usual blues roots and has a uniquely British sense despite him having lived in L.A. for the past two decades. News that his follow-up to 2010’s live album, Dream Attic was to feature a “power trio,” be produced by Buddy Miller and to be called “Electric” was tantalising to say the least and here, at last, is the beast.
Recorded in Miller’s home over a two week period and captured on analogue tape the album is another feather in Miller’s producer’s cap with a warm and crisp “live” sound heard to best effect on the one song that does sound a little like a power trio, Sally B, with drummer Michael Jerome almost aping Ginger Baker’s style. That the opening to the following Stuck On A Treadmill sounds dangerously similar to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir is a red herring although it does allow Thompson to blaze away with an amazing solo of the type that he generally reserves for live performances. Album opener Stony Ground sets the scene well with Thompson’s guitar set to folk rock as he relates a sad tale of a toothless old man lusting for the widow next door. With lyrics reminiscent of those on Hokey Pokey Thompson describes his comeuppance at the hands of the widow’s sons
“Kicked him in the head, poked him in the eyes, shoved him in the gutter and there he lies, dripping with blood, dripping with snot, but he’s still dreaming of her you-know-what.”
Straight and Narrow takes Thompson almost into sixties garage territory with its Farfisa sounding keyboard and affords him another opportunity to solo with his notes dripping like quicksilver on a song that pulses with energy. As good as this is the highlight of the rockier songs here is undoubtedly the amazing Good Things Happen To Bad People. This is a stunning song with its muscular beat and ringing guitars that thrash and flail as Thompson (in fine voice) denounces a Jezebel who “cried the day I walked you down the aisle.” Presumably, the acoustic guitar here is by Miller but it lays down a fine challenge to Thomson who unleashes a wicked solo that tears and bites with a ferocity appropriate to the protagonist’s wounded anger.
There are some quieter moments on the album with Salford Sunday in particular standing out. An impressionistic take on a hung-over Sunday morning in a dreary northern town it has an incongruous jauntiness in its step. Another Small Thing In Her Favour is classic Thompson miserabilism, it details the end of a relationship with a tender vulnerability both in the lyrics and the playing. The Snow Goose reminds you of just how good Thompson is when solo as he picks his way through a typical slice of pessimism singing
“Northern winds will cut you, northern girls will gut you, leave you cold and empty Like a fish on the slab.”
Sparse, with only acoustic guitar and occasional accordion, it is cold and lonesome and the introduction of Alison Krauss on harmony on the chorus only serves to emphasise this. A wonderful song and a fine reminder that Thompson might be one of the finest guitarists around but more importantly he is one of the finest songwriters we have.

Buy “Electric” here

Jim Dead. I’m Not Lost.

“There’s a thunder looming” goes the weather forecast for Deadsville , that mythical hinterland where Jim Dead and occasional compadre Craig Hughes hunker down and sustain themselves with helpings of tinder dry musical epistles that smell of brimstone and dread. Expertly mapped out on Ten Fires, Dead’s last album, he returns to Deadsville in I’m Not Lost with Hughes riding shotgun having ditched the rhythm section somewhere back along the trail.

Dead and Hughes have indeed hunkered down in Glasgow’s Ohm studios and transformed the damp bleak Scottish winter into their sun scorched and parched mythical landscape. A six-song expedition this is leaner than and not as mean as Ten Fires. No one gets lynched but the outlook remains as bleak as bleached bones as Dead sings and almost moans in ominous fashion. Steady Us opens the disc with Hughes in a Morricone mood, his guitar cracking the sky open and then rumbling along with menace as Dead delivers some nihilistic words. Nine Years continues in this vein with Dead coming across like a voice from the grave, a sense that is accentuated by the whelps that close the song. Gold + Silver finds Dead solo, hesitant and fractured but Hughes returns with his switchblade guitar on the snappy suicide note of Giving Up The Ghost. Stealing A Mile is the standout track here, slow, brooding, filled with menace and foreboding. With Hughes’ guitar creating a sonic sandstorm over Dead’s acoustic drone Dead foretells of the storm a coming and proclaims “I’ve not cared much for sunny days or bright afternoons in the haze. Give me clouds and give me rain.” As on most of the songs the lyrics are opaque allowing the listener to imagine a scene while the music is almost cinematic.Dead states on his website that he’s been listening to Calexico and and it’s most apparent here. The closing song Head Full Of Booze however comes across almost as a traditional number lamenting the demon drink and the havoc it wreaks. With Hughes’ guitar more lyrical and almost pedal steel sweet it could have been Hank William’s last song.

Overall I’m Not Lost is another reason to reckon that Dead is our number one homegrown American artist. A download only release it’s merely a precursor to the full follow up to Ten Fires and at around £4 it’s a steal. You can get it here

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