Japanese born, New York citizen, Shu Nakamura has graced the pages of Blabber’n’Smoke on two previous occasions. As one half of the mysterious joshua and then with his fine solo album A Day Of Dreams which was a bewitching blend of Oriental and American influences. On his latest, Join The Spree, Nakamura tosses his hat into the punky power pop ring for the most part and comes up with an invigorating crunchy confection. While he proudly displays his Japanese roots on three songs sung in Japanese, Shihatsu Densha ni Notte, Donimo Tomaranai (a cover of a pop hit in Japan, the original has a decidedly Eurovision feel) and Ue Wo Muite Aruko he dresses them in a retro keyboard fuelled thrash with some squealing guitar thrown in for good measure. If Quentin Tarantino is looking for some east/west bubblegum punk noises for his next movie then he should give Nakamura a listen with Ue Wo Muite Aruko in particular coming across as if The New York Dolls were tottering around Tokyo in their stiletto and boa get up looking for a place to flop.
On the remainder of the album Nakamura conjures up flashes of Big Star on the opening song, Movin’ Train while the flashy Ninja Man reboots Johnny Rivers via Repo Man with some excellent reverb guitar hooks and Nakamura hits some mean and nasty blues licks on Hanging Fields. He closes the album with a tune that harks back to his previous release’s ambient sound as Mosquito Song‘s multitracked guitars float, shimmer and growl in a mesmerising fashion very reminiscent of the soundscapes conjured up by Gulch.
The mighty Los Lobos have been around for forty years now and to celebrate this fact they’ve decided to release Disconnected, an (almost) all acoustic (Conrad Lorenzo doggedly sticks to electric bass and Steve Berlin tinkles an electric keyboard when he’s not honking sax) performance. Cherry picking from their catalogue they run through what amounts to a best of collection which misses out on their turbo charged electric drive but delivers solidly in terms of energy and excitement. Unplugged or not the Los Lobos sound remains a juggernaut when required with the twin percussion engine room driving them forward while their more reflective numbers benefit from the acoustic presentation with David Hildago, Louie Perez and Cesar Romero trading licks.
For anyone who’s a fan of the band these offerings will be like manna from heaven as they run through favourites such as I Got To Let You Know (from Will The Wolf Survive) up to the title song from their last release, Tin Can Trust. With the inevitable Mexican excursions scattered throughout they display much of what makes them unique, the pile driving pummel of The Neighbourhood, the smooth jazz of Oh Yeah and the tenderness of Tears of God while the live interplay on the likes of La Venganza De Los Pelados and Set Me Free (Rosa Lee) shows a band at the top of their form and generally having a blast. They close the album with their brush with fame, Richie Valen’s La Bamba which they couple with an excellent rendition of The Rascals’ Good Lovin‘, the pair fitting together perfectly like hand in glove and a rousing end to a great disc.
Disconnected is available as the single disc reviewed here or in a deluxe version with an addition CD and DVD. Check out the video below.
Heading our way in support of the ever popular and always entertaining Pokey LaFarge Cincinnati based trio The Tillers unleash Hand on The Plow, an unabashed joyful stomp of an album that has fiddle and banjo flailing away over the 11 offerings on show. It’s old time string band music delivered with a fine degree of dexterity much like numerous other albums reviewed here but once again we find that the tradition is given a makeover in the shape of well written songs which are delivered in fine style by a charismatic frontsman, in this case Mike Oberst. Oberst wrestles with the songs beating them into submission with his powerful and dynamic vocals as witnessed in the excellent I Gotta Move which slinks along as Oberst repents of wallowing in cocaine and whisky, his voice hollering and pleading while guest musician, J.D. Wilkes (of the Legendary Shack Shakers & The Dirt Daubers) adds some fierce harmonica. Oberst is also able to portray a more vulnerable side as he sings of memories and more regrets on the sweetly flowing Weary Soul although his delivery maintains a sense of passion.
While guitarist Sean Geil gets a couple of numbers to sing it’s Oberst who remains the centre of gravity but the trio ( with new bassist and brother Aaron Geil replacing Jason Soudrette, sadly battling illness) gel well together and their ensemble playing is always spot on whether it’s the mighty fine The Road Never Ends, the lazy rhythms of Shanty Boat or the frenzied Tecumsah On The Battlefield. Geil does get to deliver the morbid ballad of Willy Dear, a fantastic tale of a sailor’s wife believing her man lost and hanging herself only for him to return a day late. This is something of a tour de force and demands repeated plays.
On the strength of this album The Tillers look like they might be a terrific live act and there’s an opportunity to catch them on their upcoming UK tour with some dates in support of Lafarge and some as headliners. Dates on here
Interview with Mike Oberst on the songs and recording of the album
Blabber’n’Smoke hasn’t posted an obituary since its inception but tonight we make an exception to mark the passing of Lou Reed. There should be no need to recount his career here and some folk might wonder why an “Americana” themed blog would mention him (although he did write a song called Lonesome Cowboy Bill). Suffice to say that Reed and his comrades in the Velvet Underground have cast such a huge shadow over the most interesting music produced over the past four decades either musically or in attitude. Way back in the seventies when Zeppelin, The Who and the Stones were the top triumvirate in schoolboy rock cred some brave folk carried around VU albums and fortunately I eventually saw the light. Reed’s initial solo career however passed me by as I (in a snobbish way) associated him with glam and I was off pursuing the likes of Neil Young, Poco and catching up on the adventures of The Grateful Dead. Late seventies and into the eighties I gradually discovered his work (and enjoyed Lester Bang’s on off love affair with his music). The persistence of a friend ensured that I considered Reed’s music as each album came out and to this day his Blue Mask and New York albums get regular plays. As tribute here’s a song from Coney Island Baby which that friend hopefully will understand why Blabber’n’Smoke has chosen it to commemorate one of the most influential musicians of the past 50 years.
We haven’t featured any string band music here for some time so news that The Locust Honey String Band are attending our shores over the next few weeks was a good enough excuse to revisit their debut album and give it a good listen. Locust Honey are an all girl trio from Swannanoa, North Carolina and only got together in 2012 recording He Ain’t No Good shortly afterwards. The album was recorded in one session with all three grouped around one microphone and apart from one original song is a treasure trove of old time nuggets.
The trio (Chloe Edmonstone (fiddle/guitar/vocals), Ariel Dixon (banjo/guitar/vocals) and Meredith Watson (guitar/percussion/vocals) are young in chronological years but they sound as if they’ve lived these songs and they play them with an authority that belies their jejunity while their youth offers an opportunity for these old songs and tunes to gain a sparkle and fresh vitality.
With a songbook that includes numbers by The carter Family, The Mississippi Sheiks, Uncle Dave Macon, The Skillet Lickers and Kitty Wells Locust Honey can whip up a storm with banjos flailing and fiddles flying and there are thumpingly good versions of Benton Flippen’s Sally In The Turnip Patch and Clyde Davenport’s Lost Girl with the latter in particular standing out for their hair raising picking. Aside from the barnstorming hoedowns they offer a fine and sassy Walking After Midnight and a delicate and considered Kitty Wells song, All The Time. The one original, Chloe Edmonstone’s Her Ways, could have been lost amongst it’s elder siblings but it’s to her (and the band’s) credit that it more than holds its own as Edmonstone sings of a wayward rootless soul on a song that could have been written and sung half a century ago. For an album recorded by a young and new sprung band this is astonishingly good.
Locust Honey are playing the Sligo Live Festival this weekend before swinging through England and then playing four Scottish dates in Biggar, Aberdeen, Kilbarchan, Edinburgh and Kirkcaldy. Full dates here
We Made It Home is the debut album as a duo from this pair of San Francisco based acoustic musicians and it’s a bit of departure from their bluegrass group Front Country. Stripped back to the basics with two voices and a handful of instruments (guitar, banjo and mandolin) they forsake dizzying string breakouts and concentrate on their songs which are delivered with the minimum of fuss. Both Walker and Groopman have fine voices and when they sing together the effect is sublime while their finger picking is exemplary. The temptation is to compare them to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings but Walker and Groopman have a jauntier bounce at times although on the more sombre songs they do approach Welch’s gravitas and earnestness.
Populated for the most part with Walker originals (with two co writes with Groopman) there are covers of Paul Simon’s Graceland (which allows Groopman to display his guitar skills) and of Peter Rowan’s Mississippi Moon (learned from a Jerry Garcia album) delivered with a “so laid back it’s horizontal” style with wonderful harmonies and very fine mandolin. Walker’s song’s subjects range from the traditional sounding title song which opens the album in fine style to musings on astronomy on the rippling Betelgeuse. While the story of an ex circus chimp (Billy the Chimp) and the train song Little Blue Caboose are at the very least toe tapping the duo excel on those strained and tortured songs which are scattered throughout the album. Aside from the Rowan cover they take the traditional Sweet Sunny South and capture that high lonesome sound that can send a chill down the spine. Retinue is a folkier contribution which almost sounds like John Prine as Walker and Groopman sing a sad love song. The stars collide on the standout song here, Black Grace. A halting and haunting hymn to a heaven on earth it earned Walker a first prize in this year’s Merlefest. It’s a wonderful piece with strong vocals from Walker as she ponders the mysteries of the firmament while guitar and mandolin weave an intricate and delicate backdrop.
A fine album and Walker and Grossman are currently offering it as a pay what you wish download here
Nick Lowe says when he was asked to do a Christmas album by his label his first thought was ‘Do they really think I would wish to sully my good name on this tawdry and vulgar commercialism?” However perhaps he remembered the tawdry and vulgar commercialism he aspired to back in his Stiff days ( his response to David Bowie calling his album Low was to release an EP called Bowi) and having mellowed in these grey haired days he decided to go for it. The result is a departure from his current status as a grand old man of song writing and somewhat of a return to his cheeky chappie persona he employed back in the seventies. There’s a definite tongue in cheek feel to much of the album from the cheesy artwork to the title’s homage to the ubiquitous tin of confectionary passed around on Christmas day and which can be found piled in the nation’s supermarket aisles as they rush to herd us towards the season of good will and debt.
Lowe offers some traditional fare with Roger Miller’s Old Toy Trains and Boudleaux Bryant’s Christmas Can’t Be Far Away which sound just like you’d imagine them to be and if he’d maintained this approach then Quality Street would just be another Xmas cash in. Other standards are tweaked with Silent Night given a farfisa fuelled southern feel and Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day gets a ska makeover. Still nothing to get too excited about. However he delivers a fine Lonnie Donegan inspired skiffle on Children Go Where I Send Thee while The North Pole Express steams in fuelled by good old fashioned fatback guitar rock’n’roll adding some muscle to the album.
Lowe claims that he wanted to have a “sleigh-bell free zone” and one has to commend him for that but there’s no denying that those sleigh bells are the most evocative element of a successful Christmas song, cheesy or good. As a result it’s hard to get a feel for Christmas when listening to the album (never mind that it’s just October) but just when you reckon it’s just another seasonal cracker that failed to bang Lowe throws in some unexpected gifts that bring a smile to the face. Hooves on The Roof (written by Ron Sexsmith) is a finger poppin’ hipster groove that just about captures the sense of disbelief required regarding the fat man in the chimney. Christmas At The Airport is a jolly romp with Ray Conniff type backing vocals as Nick falls asleep in a snowed in terminal and wakes to find it closed so enjoys his holiday there playing on the luggage carousel with Christmas dinner a burger he found in a bin. A novelty hit perhaps? Finally there’s A Dollar Short of Happy, co written with Ry Cooder, which turns the syrupy Nat King Cole song into a street beggar’s plea as he observes city slickers suffering from the economic downturn. If there’s any justice Nick and Ry’s cynical lament should be the Christmas Number One.
As for tawdry and vulgar commercialism if you pre-order the CD/LP now at the Yep Roc store you get some exclusive goodies including a holiday greeting card set, a Nick Lowe Snow Globe and Nick Lowe wrapping paper!