Vermont based Bow Thayer takes a mighty stride forward on Eden, his third album with his Perfect Trainwreck set up. Originally from Boston Thayer has featured in several bands as he has pursued his version of a driving folk, country and blues sound with his weapon of choice these days being an electric banjo. Eden finds him on top form as he crafts a powerful album packed full of melodic hard rocking songs with his signature banjo, pedal steel guitar and occasional horn section combining to create a big big sound. While at times it’s not too far removed from the “jam band bluegrass” of the likes of Trampled By Turtles Thayer reins any excess in and instead drinks from the cup of The Allmans, The Band and Tom Petty, a southern soup of sounds which benefits from a fine production by Justin Coup, producer of the late Levon Helm (Helm himself having played on a previous Thayer release).
The album opens with The Beauty of All Things which could be a Mudcrutch number with its Petty vocal similarities. It’s a great driving pop song that happens to feature banjo and a great opener. It gives way to the urgent thrust of Blackstone Valley which resembles a hopped up Midnight Rider. The combination of Thayer’s banjo and the rock thrust of the rhythm section is exhilarating and the soaring pedal steel adds a majestic feel to the song. The banjo/pedal steel interplay is excellent throughout the album and when a horn section is added as on Inside Joke one is bereft of comparisons and the only thing to say is that it works and it works wonderfully. Chuck in some fine organ playing to this mix and Perfect Trainwreck come across as the type of band Little Feat might have become if Bill Payne hadn’t been so jazz orientated and preferred his funk. There’s a soul stew of songs here that simmer and bubble with the temperature cooked up by Little Feat on Oh, Atlanta or Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. Trials, a fast paced greyhound of a song again features horns while the title song chugs mightily like the Mississippi, churning away while Thayer conjures up a post apocalyptic vision. The Tide is a diatribe against pollution and features some magnificent slide guitar while the band swirls and eddies like the muddy Mississippi. The closing song, Happy Ending shows that Thayer and band can turn down the dials as they turn in an initially laidback performance that grows in intensity as Thayer again delivers an apocalyptic vision that howls eventually with a burning anger. Tremendous stuff.
Finally I guess it’s safe to say that Eden is something of a concept album with several of the songs portraying folk preparing for the end of the world and eventually emerging after a cataclysm to make some sense of what is left. In the centre of the album Thayer plays a mini song suite, Parallel Lives that could have been oh so pretentious and there is a slight whiff of the Eagles Journey of the Sorcerer in there. However he ties together the tale of an old man unburied due to the catastrophe and the end of rivers and trees with a sublime instrumental and a redneck rail against the injustice of it all. It’s not prog rock and the songs all stand on their own two feet so concept or not do dive in.
Inevitably there are albums sent to Blabber’n’Smoke that just don’t get reviewed. Some aren’t very good, others just get swallowed up in the pending pile and by the time we get around to them the release date has been and gone so we move on to the next and more current contender. However with the best of these orphans we keep an eye out for opportunity and this time around we can dust off Sarah McQuaid’s fine The Plum Tree and The Rose from last year as Sarah’s about to go on a hop across Scotland.
McQuaid has a fairly exotic background, born in Madrid to a Spanish father and American mum she was raised in Chicago, holds dual US and Irish citizenship, and now lives in England. It may be fanciful to suggest that this is reflected in her selection of the songs here however they include a song sung in the ancient Occitan language (from Southern Europe) along with others written in 1597 and 1609! The immediate attraction of the album however is McQuaid’s voice which is warm with a low register and although it’s quite distinct from that of the late Sandy Denny’s McQuaid has a similar air of authority and empathy with the songs that Denny had.
Speaking of Denny there’s a lot about the album that recalls the blossoming of modern folk around the late sixties and early seventies. A cover of John Martyn’s Solid Air for starters. This is a tough one to consider as the original is seared in the memory but McQuaid keeps it simple with just guitar and a doleful trumpet turning it into a late night dram friendly obituary. Apart from this McQuaid is very taken with the guitar tuning DADGAD which was Bert Jansch’s calling card and the best parts of the album recall his and John Renbourne’s peregrinations with Pentangle while Kenilworth has a smidgeon of David Crosby’s ethereal If Only I Could Remember My Name about it. There are some excellent songs here all buttressed by some immaculate playing. The jazzy intimations of The Sun Goes On Rising and So Much Rain showcase the writing while the medieval feel of Hardwick’s Lofty Towers, New Oysters New and Can She Excuse My Wrongs bring us right back to the likes of Denny and Renbourne who could hush packed halls with renditions of 500 year old songs much in the same way I’m sure McQuaid would do these days.
McQuaids’s UK tour started in Ireland a week ago and she’ll be in Scotland for four shows from May 1st as part of an “in the round” presentation with Bill Adair and Richard Grainger
1 May 2013
Edinburgh Folk Club — Pleasance Cabaret Bar
2 May 2013
Falkirk Folk Club — The Tolbooth Tavern
3 May 2013
Tolbooth — Jail Wynd
4 May 2013
Birnam Arts Centre — Station Road, Birnam
After this she heads south. All dates are on her website
It’s off up to Aberdeen for this one. Craig John Davidson is a native of the granite city and The Last Laugh, his fourth release, is his first for the very fine Aberdonian Indy label, Fat Hippy Records. A one man band, Davidson plays all of the sounds on the album apart from some strings on one song and it’s the rippling and intricate acoustic guitars which stand out from the off as Davidson wraps them in layers and swathes of sound. Some of his guitar work is dazzling as his fingers dance around the fretboard and there are several moments when the notes seem capable of flight with a fine example occurring on the title song where there is a wonderful cadence as a George Harrison styled electric guitar briefly appears. There’s another sublime moment at the end of Price To Pay with a brief coda that sounds as if it was plucked from the mind of Arthur Lee.
While the predominant sound is of the acoustic guitar Davidson adds subtle keyboards, occasional drums and utilises reverb and multitracking to achieve a hazy, dreamlike sound. His wispy vocals float over and around the music and the only quibble one might have that is he lacks range leading to an initial impression that most of the songs are much of a one. However if you can discard that thought and listen to the music there are miniature gems to be found in the majority of the songs here. While the likes of Bert Jansch and Elliott Smith are being bandied about as influences here the album reminded me at times of another one man band album, Skip Spence’s Oar. Despite the overdubs and multitracking there’s a desolate sense to the which comes to the fore on the closing song One Last Laugh. However there’s beauty in sadness and this album is abundant with it.
The album’s released today and there’s a launch party at Captain Toms in Aberdeen. Davidson will be in Glasgow on Sunday 12th May at the Slouch bar. More dates on his website
The creative duo behind this band are guitarist ( multi instrumentalist actually) Kenny Marshall and lyricist Kevin W. Peery. An odd set up in Americana land as I can’t recall anyone else having this type of relationship (although I probably stand to be corrected). Indeed Elton John with Bernie Taupin and Procul Harum with Keith Reid are the only set ups that immediately come to mind although there are plenty of examples of occasional/semi regular gigs with The Dead and Robert Hunter coming to mind straightaway.
Anyway this is just so much Blabber so back to the band. Marshall/Peery have worked together for several years and this is their fourth release. The band is completed by the addition of Andy Oxman, guitars, Bryant Carter, guitars, vocals and Dave Jarman on drums. Marshall handle bass, banjo, dulcimer and various guitars. Together they have a fairly traditional take on a southern rock sound with lashings of slide guitar, occasional banjos poking through and on some songs the mighty fine gospel wailing of backing singer Tobbi White-Darks. nothing new here really as one can hear elements stretching back to The Band and the Allmans all the way up to the Drive By Truckers and Steve Earle. While there’s nothing here to rival the heights these forebears scaled there’s no doubt that Marshall/Peery are a tight little band and several of the songs here are fine examples of the genre.
The album opens with the very Southern slink that is the title track. Coiled guitars slide up and down while the vocals snarl and snap. What makes the song stand out however are Tobbi White-Darks (is that her real name?) backing vocals which recall Merry Clayton wailing away behind the Stones. An excellent opener its followed up by the arresting and brutal tale that is Country Justice. A banjo infused stomper with wicked slide guitar it relates the grim vigilante justice meted out to paedophile Ken McElroy in Skidmore, Missouri in the eighties. As told by the band it could be a tale from the frontier as sung by the Drive By Truckers and has a powerful brooding menace about it. They lighten the mood with the acoustic jaunt On This Farm but it’s back to the dark side with the pulp fiction of Bourbon, Women and Too Much Time with its atmospheric guitar and dark lyrics. There’s another fine slice of DBT chunkiness on Mr. Phelps which again benefits greatly from White-Darks’ voice
While the album opens strongly and maintains its momentum for the first three quarters of its playing time the two closing songs somewhat let it down merely by comparison to what came before. However “bonus” track, First Taste is a nice little acoustic romp that is almost hillbilly in its style.
It’s been a turbulent few years for The Wynntown Marshals with arrivals and departures (including guitarist Iain Barbour and drummer Keith Jones) that might have derailed lesser bands. However they’ve ploughed on with their other guitar wizard Iain Sloan picking up the baton dropped by Jones as the band’s indefatigable publicist and also employing an impressive array of strings to broaden their sound while bassist Murdoch McLeod has blossomed into a fine writer as evidenced by the two songs he’s penned here. With front man Keith Benzie remaining at the helm the Marshals are still recognisably The Marshals but there is a subtle shift in their sound as they seem more assured and confident, adding layers of sound in the production and leaving behind their more “twangish” Nashville flourishes. The end result is a triumphant return with The Marshals consolidated as a magnificent four piece after the long haul of the past few years.
They kick the album off with a bang with the frantic road trip of Driveaway’s muscular beat which pulverises along with a cracking guitar solo from Sloan soaring above the driving organ. A Kerouac inspired tale of cross country driving it captures the adventure and spirit of open highways as it sparks and fizzes and is a fine way for the band to announce their return to the fray. Canada is a Byrds’ like jangle fest with Benzie bemoaning a pair separated by oceans as he sings “I would get there if I could/but I admit I find it hard/I feel stuck in this corner/Like a stamp on a postcard.” Despite the yearning in the lyrics the song has a joyous and uplifting feel with some superb backing vocals from the band members. The epic Crashing (Like The Reds) showcases the band’s fuller sound which reflects the sophisticated country pop of Wilco’s Summerteeth album and, going further back, the polished power of L.A.’s wrecking crew. While it’s a rocker of the first degree the deftness of the changes along with the chiming guitars and crashing chords elevate it to sonic heaven. Murdoch’s North Atlantic Soul is another song that wraps itself in a multilayered tapestry of sound with waves of acoustic guitar buried under a sweeping pedal steel and another superb solo from Sloan. There’s plenty of variety to be had here. Curtain Call is a gentle, reflective and chilling tale of addiction, failure and suicide which features cello and violin. The opening lyrics “Here I sit in this dingy room/Alone with needle, tourniquet and spoon” could be from any number of rock’n’roll drug damage songs but Benzie pulls off a fine smoke and mirrors trick as the words reveal the song to be set in the bygone age of Victorian stage magicians conjuring up images from The Prestige.
There is in addition a fine wallop of that chunky Americana sound that the Marshals do so well. Low Country Comedown ebbs and flows like the Mississippi with the guitars churning away while Change of Heart chugs along in fine Stray Gators style with a chunky rhythm and sweet pedal steel while some Beatles’ styled psychedelic guitar corkscrews in the background. Benzie is accompanied on vocals here by Diane Christiansen (from Dolly Varden) and they truly sound like a heartbreaking couple.
The icing on the cake here is the awesome and sublime Tide. A mesmerising smorgasbord of wave washed guitars and swirling keyboards with parched vocals it swells like a tidal bore before hitting the shore and falling apart in trickles of sonic beeps and squiggles. Lyrically it’s faintly reminiscent of Crosby Stills and Nash’s Wooden Ships and indeed the vocals and the intricate guitars would not have been out of place on Deja Vu ( and would have made it a finer album!).
All in all The Long Haul is a worthy successor to Westerner as the Marshals expand their sound, widen their horizons and above all deliver a solid set with not a clunker in sight. The album will be available in July via their website and there’s a launch gig on July 12th at Broadcast in Glasgow. If you can’t wait that long they support Chuck Prophet at Oran Mor on May 1st and they promise to have some copies on sale.
What is there to say about Kinky Friedman that doesn’t sound as if it’s been dreamed up by a John Waters type screenwriter hoping to capture a warped vision of the American dream? Riding on the first wave of country rock in the early seventies he formed the Texas Jewboys, an outfit that thrilled and offended folk in equal manner. He toured and recorded with Dylan and was named male chauvinist pig of the year in 1973. His songs lampooned many of the shibboleths of the day be it racism, feminism, rednecks and he delivered all of this with a biting sense of irony and a huge helping of humour.
Since then he’s branched out into writing hard boiled crime stories (featuring investigative sleuth Kinky Friedman), ran for the governorship of Texas (unsuccessfully) and launched a range of products that celebrate his own legend. He continues to perform and nowadays is in the position of being a state treasure for all Texans who believe that the heart of Texas is in Commander Cody and not the Alamo. He is a raconteur, singer, songwriter, cigar smoker and all round dude.
All of this (bar the cigars) is on display on this his latest disc. Recorded live it’s a fine mixture of his songs, his introductions, reminiscences and some readings from his books. Armed only with his guitar (and undoubted charm) there’s a nostalgic sense to most of the songs as they reflect the issues and attitudes of the late sixties and early seventies and are delivered in the singer/songwriter style of those times. Nevertheless Friedman did write some fine songs and Sold American, We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To You, Get Your Biscuits In The Oven and Your Buns In The Bed and The Ballad of Charles Whitman stand the test of time. But the primary reason for seeing “The Kinkster” these days is for the stories and ad libs as he delves into his colourful past and remarks on modern life with a fine wit and these are well captured on the disc with Waitret, Please Waitret the best example.
Kinky Friedman plays Glasgow this Thursday at St. Andrews in The Square courtesy of the Fallen Angels Club , His last appearance here in the Tron Theatre was an immediate sell out, in this larger venue there might still be a chance to grab an opportunity to see what ultimately is an Americana legend.
Local purveyor of “gulch” rock (dryer than that desert variety) Jim Dead had a rare outing on Friday night at The state Bar. Accompanied by his head honcho, Craig Hughes on growling electric guitar he transformed this Glasgow cellar into a flyblown pueblo for an all too short set. With a song list fairly evenly balanced between the Ten Fires album and his recent I’m Not Lost E.P. Dead sang with a gravid authority while Hughes provided all manner of sonic embellishment ranging from spooky bottleneck to scattershot bursts of noise.
The songs from Ten Fires stood well on their own two feet without the rhythm section present with Hughes pulling out all of the stops particularly on the epic Untitled while Coffee and Cocaine was chilling in its intensity. From the I’m Not Lost E.P. (which Dead recorded with Hughes) Stealing A Mile was the standout, a perfect example of their musical simpatico as it swept over the audience like a dire wind, a dustbowl of despair amplified by Hughes’s menacing guitar rumblings. Although the gig was plagued by some chatterboxes at the bar this song seemed to silence all.
Dead has another gig in Glasgow at Pivo Pivo on 21st May and on the strength of this he really should be seen. His discs are all available here
Dead and Hughes were bookended by two other acts, Ryan Morecambe who has a neat early Dylan vibe about him and Firebugs, an Edinburgh based trio who have an attractive bluesy folk sound and when mandolin was employed even reminded us a little bit of Lindisfarne.
The evening was hosted by The Vagabond Social Clubwho have regular nights at The State Bar and if they are all as good as this then We’d recommend keeping an eye out for future events.
Blabber’n’Smoke described Michael Rank’s previous album, Kin as a set of wonderfully ramshackle country leaning rock songs…..straight from the Stones’ country songbook. A double album, it had a tremendous swagger with switch-blade guitar and fiery fiddles blazing away. With In The Weeds Rank, a stick thin rock’n’roll ragamuffin staring defiantly from the album sleeve, delivers another blindingly good set of songs that again have a wasted elegance, a cosmic American sloppiness that strips away any studio polish and replaces it with genuine feeling. It’s not lo-fi or primitive with the production sounding crystal clear but the emotion bleeds from the speakers in spades as Rank and his band Stag lurch wonderfully from song to song.
A single disc, In The Weeds is obviously not as expansive as its predecessor and there is less of the fire and fury present. These ten songs are for the most part countrified laments with Rank accompanied on many of them by the vocal harmonies of Emily Frantz. The blistering guitar solos are for the most part abandoned and the overall feel is of a back porch session of musicians schooled in the ways of The Band and Nikki Sudden and The Jacobites. There remains however one guitar fuelled epic, The River Cross, a passionate and churning song that inherits Neil Young’s Stray Gators’ mix of banjo, pedal steel, slow burning guitar and clattering drums. Epic indeed.
The ragged acoustic numbers that predominate here might lack the gravitas of The River Cross but Rank’s (and Frantz’s) vocals allied to his ability to write songs rooted in the idiom as the band seesaw away more than make up for that. ‘Round My Head opens the album in fine style with sawing fiddle, rippling mandolin, chunky guitar and sweet pedal steel interlaced around the vocals and eventually taking over in a great melange by the end. This wonderful instrumental recipe underpins all of the songs here with a depth and complexity that belies the apparent ramshackleness of the opening song. Rifle Days ripples with regret while Topo crackles with anxiety and foreboding. Some of the songs however have a more bare boned approach with the band tiptoeing around while the listener half expects all hell to break loose. This Town is the best example as Rank is accompanied by a solitary banjo until the massed guitars occasionally hum into life and then fade away while The Surrender strips the instrumentation back and then allows a menacing guitar rumble to intrude. Lyrically the album is pretty dark and this is concentrated in the quieter musical moments. Field Song is a desolate ballad with stark fiddle and mandolin circling a grim tale of a suitor burying his would be lover and the opening words on All The Rope have all the ingredients for a home-made gallows.
A tremendous follow up to Kin, In The Weeds is a magnificent collection and deserves to be heard. Rank writes with the best of them and the sonic slurry he conjures up is nothing less than mesmerising.
Jenny Ritter is a new name to us at Blabber’n’Smoke although she appears to be a mainstay of Canada’s west coast folk scene having been a member of the all female band The Gruff before they split in 2010. Bright Mainland is her first solo release and reflects a period of soul searching and a relocation from Vancouver Island to big city life on the mainland. While The Gruff were primarily an acoustic band Ritter here surrounds herself with a fine bunch of musicians to achieve a warm country tinged sound that is replete with some excellent pedal steel guitar. the eleven songs featured (all penned by Ritter) are bursting with a vitality that is refreshing and to top it all she delivers them with a voice that is almost immaculate.
Ritter’s acoustic guitar and voice supported by a lonesome pedal steel introduce the first song They Can’t Tell where a separation crisis highlights the gulf between her island and the mainland. Pretty soon the band stomp in with a driving percussive beat and the songs builds a momentum that is pretty thrilling. Not for the last time the listener is reminded of fellow Canadian Kathleen Edwards as Ritter swoops and soars throughout. Five Nights captures some of her early experiences of life in the city with the band capturing a late night feel while Ritter has a sense of wonder and yearning in her voice. There’s an uplifting sense of joy and happiness in the following We Must Sing as banjos flutter, guitars soar and the lyrics celebrate the power of song. Resolute is another opportunity for the band to cut loose with a fiddle to the fore and while Ritter is singing of a lost love again the overall feel is optimistic. You Missed The Boat has an almost doo woppish 50’s rock’n’roll swing and according to Ritter is another “breakup” song written during that time when one is getting over the emotional upheaval of a failed romance. again Ritter transforms what could have been a lament into a redemptive song casting aside the ex lover and again celebrating the power of song, literally so in this case as a massed chorus swells up at the end. Throughout the album the playing is exemplary with producer Adrian Dolan playing several instruments while Lucas Goetz of The Deep Dark Woods delivers incendiary pedal steel and also drums. Ryan Boeur and Bear Erickson add electric guitar on some songs and Elise Boeur plays viola. In addition there is a host of backing singers most of whom are members of the Kingsgate Chorus, a “rock’n’roll” vocal collection of local Vancouver musical luminaries. The band shine brilliantly on the enigmatic Ghost, a song that is central to the album as it ponders the duality of the duplicitous male and realises that a girl’s best friend is ultimately her mum. The music churns and boils along with some fine guitar effects to create a fine musical conundrum. Scattered through the album are a few songs that reflect Ritter’s folkier roots as accompanied by guitar she delivers a childlike set of beliefs in It Is What It Is while Weathervane shows that even without her musicians she can deliver a rousing message.
Dave Arcari and whisky seem to go together like ham and eggs. Sometimes we reckon he only started off in his quest to be Scotland’s premier blues artist in order to get offered dram after dram from adoring fans. It seems that after almost every feral delivery on stage someone comes up, glass in hand to offer homage and it’s somewhat fitting that he finally admits it in the title of his latest album, Whisky In My Blood. It’s something of a departure for Arcari who is renowned for his blistering solo performances live and on disc. Here he’s accompanied by the Helsinki Hellraisers whom he encountered on his regular trips to Finland, proof indeed that the Blues are universal. The Hellraisers (Juuso Haapasalo, upright & electric bass and Honey Aaltonen, snare drum, cymbal, washboard) actually appeared on a few songs on Arcari’s last album but here they clatter, batter and boom along with the main man allowing him to indulge in some rockabilly and skiffle.
It’s a great set that adds that extra dimension to Arcari’s usual sound. It allows him to come across as a demented swamp dwelling version of Led Zeppelin on Travelling Riverside Blues where his particularly lascivious slavering on the notorious squeeze my lemon lyric should be X- Rated. He revisits Robert Johnson on Preachin’ Blues which is given a tremendous run through and despite the great slide guitar playing it’s the singing which impresses most, a whisky soaked preacher indeed. Aside from another cover, Bukka White’s Jitterbug Swing which swings mightily Arcari penned all of the songs here. The title song is a classic celebration of the amber nectar and by all rights should have been recorded by The Dubliners if they had come from Alabama rather than Dublin. Third Time Lucky hits the same spot with Arcari on banjo and raising the ghost of Ronnie Drew. Tell Me Baby is a cracking rockabilly roustabout and this pell mell gung ho blues abandon is the primary feature throughout the album but Arcari and the Hellraisers do take some time to catch breath and deliver a few slower numbers. Still Friends has him picking on banjo and gruffly reminiscing on younger days while Wherever I Go is a boastful swagger of a song that stumbles along wonderfully. Cherry Wine is perhaps the best example of the synergy of the band with Aaltonen’s brushed drums, Haapasalo’s solid bass and Arcari’s fine slide playing and vocals coming together on what is an excellent song.