You might remember Will Varley who was reviewed on Blabber’n’Smoke last September. One of his songs, Weddings and Wars, was a potted history of mankind and the troubles he’s got into through his belief systems. Anyway Varley has engineered a great video for the song which is made to resemble an early computer game. so sit back and enjoy this.
Another act appearing at Celtic Connections, The O’s have the distinction of supporting Del Amitri at Glasgow’s latest venue, The Hydro. Their Celtic Connection appears to be that their latest album, Thunderdog, is to be released on the local Electric Honey label, adding their first U.S. band to their increasingly handsome catalogue.
Taylor Young (guitar and kick drum) and John Pedigo (banjo, Lowebro (like a lap steel, fact fans), harmonica and tambourine) constitute the two man O’s and between them they conjure up a fine sound swapping vocal lead and harmonising like a tougher version of The Lost Brothers. In fact they’re quite a lot like the Irish duo with roots in the Everley’s and Simon and Garfunkel but there’s a Texan swagger in their countrified stomps and at times it’s hard to believe that there’s just two of them kicking up this almighty mess of sound.
Young’s kick drum propels many of the songs while Pedigo’s banjo flails along adding a sense of urgency. Several of the songs have a very hummable and clap happy pop sensibility evident from the album opener Outlaw which sounds as if it were The Proclaimers backed by The Pogues, don’t believe me, see the video below. This rollicking and rolling thrill is repeated on several of the songs including Dallas and Go With Me which defies the listener to sit still. Secrets is almost power pop with Beatlish harmonica and a catchy as hell hook.
While their up-tempo numbers are quite exhilarating they take time out to offer some moments of respite. When The Levee Breaks is a dramatic love song seared by some stinging guitar work while Found The One is relatively straightforward country rock with some fine banjo picking.
The O’s are at The Hydro supporting Del Amitri and The Big Dish on Friday 24th January and the following night at The Arches supporting The New Mendicants. I reckon The Arches gig should be a belter.
The Small Faces occupy a unique place in the rock canon. Together for only four years in the sixties they were eclipsed by The Kinks and The Who and failed to make much of a dent in the States. They were overshadowed by their subsequent incarnation as The Faces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane replacing Steve Marriott (who of course had a brief taste of fame with Humble Pie). During those four years however they released a brace of singles which many would proclaim are the equal of Davies and Townshend. From the mod fuelled Watcha Gonnna Do About It, the druggy psychedelia of Here Come The Nice to the pastoral The Universal they were a top ten phenomena in the UK with many of the singles still staples on today’s day time radio. Despite the apparent progression from the pilled up R’n’B of the first singles to the likes of Itchycoo Park and Tin Soldier they failed to make the transition from a singles band to an album orientated group with only their 1968 release Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake standing the test of time (although some will argue that it was a brave but overall failed experiment). The deaths of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane add a tragic coda to the band’s story but their position in a rock family tree that includes The Faces, Humble Pie, The Who, The Stones and Slim Chance along with the sheer brilliance of their best songs have ensured that these days The Small faces are up there in the pantheon with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 2012) while they retain a fierce following which grows by the year.
It’s these devoted fans that this deluxe box set is aimed at. Curated and supervised by Kenney Jones and Ian McLagen it is a serious opportunity for the diehard Small Faces fan to go to heaven without dying first. It concentrates on their second phase after breaking free from hard man manger Don Arden and Decca Records when they signed to Immediate Records (slogan: Happy to Be a Part of the Industry of Human Happiness), the label set up by Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Hindsight might allow us to see that this was not the marriage made in heaven it might have seemed at the time but the presumption is that at the time of these recordings Marriott, Lane, McLagen and Jones could have been forgiven for thinking that the world was their oyster. Freed from the managerial shenanigans of Arden and with Marriott and Lane on a song writing roll they toss out classic after classic while the studio sessions included here show their musical muscle grooving at times like Booker T and the MGs.
We said deluxe and we meant it. The set is limited to 3000 and comes with a 72 page hardback book a 64 page lyric booklet, posters, postcards, Gered Mankowitz art prints, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake press kit and signed certificates from Jones and McLagen. And this is before we get to the music. There are three vinyl artefacts, a replica of a promo disc for their first Immediate album featuring excerpts from some of the songs and introductions by Tommy Vance along with two French released E.P.s. In addition there is a replica acetate of the never released Mystery single (subsequently retooled as Something I Want To Tell You).
Hidden within this very tantalising paraphernalia is the beating heart of the set. Four CD’s consisting of 75 cuts , 41 of them previously unreleased, which offer the opportunity to hear why The Small Faces mattered. Disc One gathers together mono versions of all the songs released on singles and E.Ps by Immediate within the band’s lifetime. While everyone will be familiar with the hits they constitute only seven of the 20 songs here. The remainder are a delight. While several appear on the first Immediate album hearing them coupled with their better known siblings allows the listener to piece together the band’s development. Little known gems such as Green Circles, Become Like You and I’m Only Dreaming have the chance to shine being released from B side obscurity. Discs two and three consist of studio cuts, alternate takes, backing tracks and overdub sessions and for the most part these will be of interest primarily to the most devout fan. Ranging from a 38 second snatch of Shades of Green to nine to a nine and a half minute jam (called a tracking session here) which ends with some ferocious Marriott howls and yelps these are not for casual listening but the alternate mixes of several songs (including Tim Hardin’s Red Balloon, Green Circles, Wham Bam Thank You Mam and Lazy Sunday Afternoon)are sure to set pulses racing. The fourth disc opens with several alternate mixes of complete songs and again the Small Faces’ completist will savour these with the Italian sung version of Green Circles tickling this reviewer’s fancy a great deal. There’s a song, (If You Think You’re) Groovy, credited to “The Lot,” in reality the Small Faces backing P.P. Arnold. Although it starts off with some pastoral acoustic guitar and flute it soon takes on the feel of her hit, Angel Of The Morning married to Tin Soldier, a minor triumph. The disc ends in fine style with five live songs recorded at Newcastle City Hall. These have been previously released, three of them on the posthumous album, The Autumn Stone but these versions allow the listener to hear the band more clearly despite the audience noise and demonstrate the raw power of Marriott’s voice along with the fact that they were a tight little band on stage. Their version of Every Little Bit Hurts just amazes.
Available only via Amazon and with a hefty price tag Here Come The Nice appears to be somewhat of a labour of love for the two remaining Small Faces and almost a mandatory purchase for the most rabid of fans.
full details of the box set including all content is available here
Fraser Anderson appears to be a well kept secret. A Scottish songwriter who decamped to rural France several years ago he’s appearing with Wilson, Swarbrick, Gaughan & Ellis at Oran Mor on the 23rd January. His most recent album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012 and it’s a very fine, warm and woody wisp of an album. It’s perhaps lazy to describe it as sounding a little bit like John Martyn circa Grace and Danger but there are definite similarities in the vocal style. Anderson doesn’t have the mumble and stumble that Martyn occasionally employed and his voice definitely is not as gruff. However his sweetly strained falsetto does recall some of Martyn’s work. Add to this the always excellent Danny Thompson on bass (and he sounds great here) along with Max Middleton’s Rhodes piano and some flugelhorn from time to time and we have a musical landscape that Martyn also inhabited.
Perhaps too much comparison there so it’s important to say that Anderson is no mere copyist. He runs the gamut from pastoral folk to noirish jazz on the album while the title song is a curious hybrid of banjo frolics and tooting trumpet as he almost scats with a Scottish burr. Listening to this I was reminded of Paulo Nutini but without Nutini’s wearisome vocal mannerisms. The album opens strongly with Rag and Bones where Anderson’s guitar picking is enveloped by Thompson’s supple bass as the song unfolds at a sedate pace. Never Know recalls another lost soul, Nick Drake. It doesn’t sound like Drake per se but the mood and arrangement recall his melancholic style. It’s a restrained piece with some excellent interplay between guitar, keyboards and bass. Warhorse maintains this level of playing but slows the pace to a crawl, perfect late night listening here. This laid back midnight feel persists throughout for the most part although the aforementioned title song might be the time to get up and stretch for a moment or two. Anderson ends the album with an understated flourish. Run These Lines is a fragile and tender love song with bare accompaniment which shows that Anderson can captivate without the accoutrements which adorn the other songs. He backs this up with two unlisted songs that close the album. One is a showcase for his guitar playing and vocal acrobatics while the final piece is a minor beauty with wistful violin winding around his voice and guitar. I reckon if you’re heading to Oran Mor next Wednesday be sure to get there on time to catch him.
Released in time for her appearance at Celtic Connections, Uncovered is pretty much the obverse of the usual covers record. With a healthy reputation for penning hits for others in addition to being a fine performer in her own right Beth Nielsen Chapman has delved into her bank balance (sorry, her notebooks) to deliver a selection of songs she has written but not recorded before, the majority of which were hits for the lucky recipients. To cap this she’s rounded up a host of luminaries to guest on most of the songs she’s chosen. The roster includes Duane Eddy, Vince Gill, Kim Carnes, Gretchen Peters, Suzi Boguss, Darrell Scott and our very own Phil Cunningham.
Given that many of these songs were written (perhaps) with an eye on the market I have to confess that several of them are not what would normally rock Blabber’n’Smoke but Chapman usually wins out even on her version of This Kiss, a hit for Faith Hill although Pray did test our endurance somewhat (despite it being one of the songs recorded in Scotland). However there are some cracking moments here with Sweet Love Shine (a co-write with Waylon Jennings and which features Jennings’ widow Jessie Colter and twang master Duane Eddy) featuring Chapman in sultry mode with Eddy adding his own eddies of subdued twang in the background. Strong Enough To Bend (written for Tanya Tucker) is a fine bluegrass romp while Meet Me Halfway wears its Bonnie Raitt origins proudly on its sleeve as Chapman, Bekka Bramlett and George Marinelli get down and dirty with guitar and organ mining a Southern groove.
Chapman excels herself on the tremendous rush that is One In a Million with guitars scrubbing away and a chorus that rings to the heavens before the countrified lament of Five Minutes offers an opportunity to hear what a fine singer she is as sleek pedal steel skirls around what is an almost perfect example of a strong female ultimatum to her man who done wrong. It might be bias but for us the standout song is the other one recorded in Scotland. Nothing I Can Do About It Now was written for Willie Nelson but Chapman, Phil Cunningham, Duncan Chisholm, John McCusker, James Mackintosh, Euan Burton, and Matheu Watson offer up a rollickingly good honky tonk cut with some excellent clamorous pedal steel and of course Cunningham’s accordion which adds a peculiar Scottish lilt to the Texicali feel.
Chapman appears at the opening Celtic Connections show at the Royal Concert Hall today before her own show on Saturday 18th January at the City Halls.
Lincoln Durham‘s debut album The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones was unleashed at the beginning of 2012. I say unleashed as its rabid delivery of wailing cat scratched blues was at times awesome in its ferocity. Exodus Of The Deemed Unrighteous continues in this vein although it digs even deeper into murder, mayhem and dread as Durham scrapes, bangs and almost eviscerates his vintage guitars howling all the while. As on Shovel he also grabs just about anything to hand to pummel and clatter with credit given to a samsonite suitcase and plucked piano strings. Acoustic and electric guitar, cigar box guitar, lap steel, piano, fiddle and banjo are all down to Durham with Rick Richards handling drums on the majority of the songs (although he plays percussion by slapping his leg on one song). The production (by George Reiff) is crystal clear with the drums in particular pounding away, one element here that is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin. Durham’s vocals also recall Robert Plant in his heyday at times and although Zep were never as stripped down as this Durham delivers some killer riffs that they would have been proud of with Stupid Man featuring some fine acoustic picking sounding as if it could have been snatched from a demented rehearsal session for Led Zeppelin 3.
Durham plants his flag firmly with the opening song, Ballad Of a Prodigal Son. Biblical references, chain gang call and response and thunderous drums dominate until at the end slide guitar squalls for a few brief moments before evaporating into the ether. Rise In the River boogies like voodoo Creedence while Annie Departee opens with this line “This here’s a little story about a girl who can’t seem to quit killing men”. Durham’s lyrics are steeped in blues and gospel archetypes but he achieves an almost Cormac McCarthy moment in the opening lines of Beautifully Sewn. Violently Torn as he unveils the bloody results of incest.
“Screen door blowin’ in the wind that’s drying up the blood on the ol’ wood floor/Dead-man’s shadow still dancin’ from a 40-watt bulb swingin’ back and forth/Record is skippin’ in the middle of Son House singin’ ’bout an old death letter/Little Ellie Mae’s still cryin’ in the corner, sayin’ “daddy should’ve known much better”.
Keep On Allie affords the listener a brief respite from the musical mayhem as Durham dips into Steve Earle territory for an affectionate observation of a girl who might be a prostitute but who maintains a sense of hope for the future. Tenderly plucked guitar and slight piano mark the song out and show that Durham can deliver without the fire and brimstone. However he dives headlong back into hell with the final three songs and by the end the listener could be forgiven for feeling somewhat drained. Nevertheless it’s a sure bet that despite this repeat listenings will beckon.
There’s around 2100 acts appearing at this year’s Celtic Connections so we’re paying attention to the ones we expect to see and those lesser known folk who we except to be well worth seeing.
Canadian “powertrad trio” De Temps Antan are a cert to satisfy the traditional folk crowd with their robust and infectious sounds. Singing in French, Éric Beaudry (guitar), André Brunet (fiddle) and Pierre-Luc Dupuis (accordion/harmonica) need no translation as they switch from rambunctious drinking songs to beautiful traditional airs with each excelling on their respective instruments. Their latest album, Ce Monde Ici-Bas (The World Below) is a fine introduction to the stomping, wheezing and danceable storm they can whip up. They’re appearing at The Mitchell library on 31 January with support from Gria.
Elephant Revival, a Colorado based five piece, open their first UK tour with an appearance at the Old Fruitmarket which is our favourite venue of the festival. Multi instrumentalists all the five band members conjure up a cornucopia of sounds weaving intricate and at times stately set pieces. While guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and washboard are all employed the songs and vocal harmonies are tightly arranged with an almost chamber folk feel at times. With several vocalists on board it might be unfair to pick one out but washboard player Bonnie Paine has that Karen Dalton touch to her voice. Although they excel on their well mannered hymns to nature and spirituality they can turn out a good old fashioned earthy number such as Spinning from their forthcoming album, These Changing Skies, due for release in March. Grace Of A Woman, again from the new album has a sparkling Paul Simon snap to it as the band step up their pace and almost rock while they do whip up a fine gospel inspired frenzy on the closing song Rogue River. As stated they’re at the Old Fruitmarket on Friday 24th January supported by Salt House.
And finally it’s time to land slap bang into the middle of good old fashioned American Honky tonking with the news that Sturgill Simpson is playing at the festival as part of his UK debut. Who? Well it’s just been announced that he’s been signed to Loose Records and that’s just about as good a recommendation as one can get. Loose will release his debut album, High Top Mountain in February. We’ve precious little information on him other than that he’s from Kentucky and evokes the likes of Waylon Jennings with his hard edged sound and listening to the album here we can only agree with that. Simpson is playing the Tron Theatre on Saturday 18th January supporting the highly recommended Lindi Ortega.
Second artist we’re featuring is the Canadian Jenny Ritter. Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed her album Bright Mainland back in April. Here’s what we said then…
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.
Usually I write reviews after a couple of days (fairly) intensive listening and to be honest most of the time they get filed away as new stuff comes in. Today Ms. Ritter was retrieved and spun again and if anything the album sounded better given that the old memory cells were kicked into action with the result that I was almost anticipating the highlights. Anyway, Jenny Ritter plays The Mitchell Library on January 18th supporting Joy Kills Sorrow, a band I’ve reviewed on americanaUK. Fine as they are it’s Ritter we’re rooting for here.
It’s that time of year again when we shake off the post festive blues with some energetic gig going. Blabber’n’Smoke will be attending several shows for a feature on americanaUK, if you’re interested you can read last year’s write ups here and here.
Celtic Connections has a habit of imprinting some artists onto the public’s collective consciousness especially if they get the chance to appear on the extensive television and press coverage that accompanies the festival offering these choice acts a fine opportunity to build their audiences up when they return under their own steam. So over the next few days we’ll look at a few bands and acts and here’s hoping that some of that Celtic Connection luck rubs off on them.
First up are the very fine Pennsylvania based The Stray Birds, a trio whose debut album has been gathering praise since its release at the tail end of 2012. An acoustic trio featuring primarily banjo, guitar, fiddle and double bass they convey a relaxed sound that harks back to traditional country and folk although on the album they wrote all of the songs. All three sing and harmonise excellently with the song Wildflower Honey (which does feature some stinging telecaster work) being the highlight of the album. It’s a song that stands up well against the likes of Sandy Denny and the Fairports. My Brother’s Hill meanwhile features their harmony singing and listening to it you could be mistaken for thinking that the Eagles had got their Mojo back and delivered on the promise of their first two albums. All well polished and good but the band conjure up older and darker spirits with the instrumental Give that Wildman A Knife/Bellows Falls where the twin fiddles of Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven are chilling and sinister. Capping it all is de Vitry’s song Wind & Rain which ventures into Gillian Welch territory and comes out a winner. If these are any indication of their live show then we’re in for a treat. With a new covers E.P just out (featuring songs by Townes van Zandt, Susanna Clark, Ira and Charlie Louvin, Jimmie Rodgers and Nanci Griffith) they are appearing at St. Andrews In The Square on 25th January.
From the opening line, “I’ve got a pistol in my pocket so don’t you fucking move and don’t you say a word,” you know that you’re not in for a smooth ride with Dan Baker. His delivery, a tortuous wail (that the unkind might call tuneless) adds to the sense of menace. In two minutes Baker paints a picture of a hold up in a liquor store with spare brush strokes. The remaining words are “put the money in the bag, get down on the floor” with the response “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.” Story over. With a delicate acoustic guitar intro before drums crash in and a piano takes up the threadbare melody the song hums with danger. A great start with more to follow.
Baker is from New England and Pistol In My Pocket is his third album. Recorded live in an old Masonic Temple converted into a recording studio the sound is harsh and vibrant giving his skeletal blues wails the sense of urgency that Tom Waits achieved on Mule Variations while Baker’s voice makes full use of the 60 foot vaulted ceiling reverb sounding like a man who is howling with the ghost of electricity. His band (Rob Flax, violin, Chris Enright, keyboards, Karl Grohmann, percussion and Alan Uhler, double bass) handle the frenetic workouts and the gentler numbers with equal aplomb while Baker’s guitar can scream or caress as required. Threw Me Down the Well recalls The Bad Seeds and The Violent Femmes in its dark procession describing the dark deed of the title while What I’m Looking For is a Waits like grotesquerie with some stompingly good guitar work. Baker and the band’s triumph however is the superb Down In the Canyon, a song that follows the topography of Calexico, Morricone and Hazlewood with a script from Cormac McCarthy. Beautifully paced, the excellent percussion, guitar, keyboards and violin coalesce into a shimmering whole that is breathtaking.
Aside from the full frontal attack Baker proves himself a dab hand at the more introspective songwriter model with the band switching into simpatico mode. Never Alone nods to the melody of The Battle Cry of Freedom as Baker declares his freedom from a straight jacketed home. Up On The Roof employs the studio’s echo to convey a sense of space as Baker, supported by piano and bass, sounds like the last person on earth looking down and asking for an Amen to his Hallelujah. One Of Them sounds like a disembodied John Prine while Coming Home is a majestic ballad that weaves together elements of John Murry’s wounded grandeur and Van Morrison’s early impressionistic portraits as the protagonist waits and waits. Fine stuff indeed.