Mary Gauthier. Trouble and Love. Proper Records.

There are some artists whose albums are almost guaranteed to burn a place in your heart and head, who stay true to their course with each release offering the listener an opportunity to share in their thoughts, and sometimes, their emotions. They are few and far between and long gone are the days when the likes of Dylan or Neil Young could be counted amongst them. I would proffer Sam Baker as an example but Mary Gauthier probably tops the list these days. With her well documented troubled youth behind her she was a late entrant to the music business but all of her albums have been raw yet warm emotional torrents delivered almost perfectly in a spare style with her laconic voice hypnotic.
Trouble and Love is no departure from her tried and trusted template and as such should delight those who already hold her in high regard. For others it’s as good a place to start as Gauthier delivers eight world wearied laments that ooze hurt and pain all delivered in a laid back soulful country shuffle. Recorded on the back of a broken relationship Gauthier says
“This record is about losing an attachment I actually made. The loss of it was devastating because I hadn’t fully attached before to anyone. Writing helped me back onto my feet again. This record is about getting to a new normal. It’s a transformation record.”

Gauthier virtually takes the listener through the phrases of grief as the album goes from a sense of hurt on the opening When A Woman Goes Cold, a slow burning blues which builds in intensity as the hurt moves to anger and bitterness to the resignation and acceptance of the closing song Another Train where she sings “I’m moving on through the pain, waiting on another train.” The anger is muted on the folky reminiscences of False From True as Gauthier looks for clues as to what went wrong as the band offer a comfort pillow with what sounds like a cello supporting her vulnerable voice. Oh Soul begins the healing process and in contrast to the preceding songs the tempo is upped and Gauthier is joined by Darrell Scott on vocals for this Gospel outing where she seeks to find succour from a visit to Robert Johnson’s grave. It’s a tremendous performance soaked with sadness and loss but hinting at a light at the end of the tunnel as the uplifting harmonies remind you of the eternal quest for salvation and hope. Worthy is another soul searching song as Gauthier stumbles in the dark still trying to make sense of it all but the final three songs are redemptive although the hurt still lingers. Walking Each Other Home is an excellent weary ballad while How To Learn To Live Alone is a primer on getting back on the tracks with a steely determination to the lyrics that reflects Loretta Lynn’s grit. With fine lonesome guitar picking from Duane Eddy over a lethargic country rhythm Gauthier picks up the pieces with a stoic heroism. Another Train does point to the future and while Gauthier remains wounded and the song moves as sluggishly as Mississippi mud a shining guitar solo hints at a new dawn coming.

Overall it’s a devastating listen, one for late nights and introspection. Recorded live in one takes Gauthier gathered her musicians (guitarist Guthrie Trapp, keyboardist Jimmy Wallace, bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Lynn Williams and singers Beth Nielsen Chapman, Ashley Cleveland, Darrell Scott, Siobhan Kennedy and The McCrary Sisters) together without rehearsal, led them through the pieces and hit the record button. The result is intimate, naked and raw.

website

Advertisements

Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. Loose Music

It was clear from the start of Sturgill Simpson‘s debut album, High Top Mountain, that he is a very talented guy, perhaps the best country rocker/honky tonker to have pressed wax for a good decade or so. High Top Mountain only hit the UK earlier this year, several months after its Stateside issue after Simpson being picked up by Loose Music (who by now must be cock a hoop with his follow up). So Metamodern Sounds In Country Music has the benefit of High Top’s slipstream which along with Simpson’s recent tour of the UK and his appearance on Jools Holland’s Later have meant that his profile is up there. Nevertheless even without these Metamodern Sounds In country Music stands out from the crowd with its breathtaking swagger and sonic bravado. There’s an element here of Simpson reclaiming country from the tattooed hunks currently littering the American charts with pop songs and autotuned voices as if he’s saying “I’ll show you how to do it.” It’s significant that the album title is a nod to Ray Charles’ bold venture into the genre back in ’62, Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, another game changer.

At its core the album is traditional country with Simpson’s Kentucky drawl impossible to imagine in any other format. His voice still recalls Waylon Jennings and several of the songs have the punch and grit of the Outlaw movement with some brilliant strangled guitar and clanging pedal steel, best heard on Life Of Sin and his cover of Moore and Napier’s Long White Line (from their album Songs For All Lonesome Truck Drivers). Whereas the first album was almost dominated by such on’ry and mean fare on Metamodern Sounds Simpson expands his palette to include country Gospel on A Little Light while he again proves to be an excellent balladeer on Voices and on the album’s other cover, an eighties synth pop confection The Promise (originally by When In Rome and which featured at the end of the movie, Napoleon Dynamite) which Simpson transforms into a stone cold country ballad which sounds as if it was written by Kris Kristofferson.

So far so great but Simpson tops and tails the album with two songs that hark back to the sixties miscegenation of country and rock including cosmic sounds and mind bending substances. Turtles All the Way Down is introduced by an ancient voice (Simpson’s grandfather) before a Kristofferson like dusty tale of transcendental encounters ambles into view like a cosmic cousin to Sunday Morning Coming Down. As the song progresses the lyrics get weirder as “reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain” and Simpson litanies a pile of hallucinogens before realising that love trumps the pills. As he recites this some wonderfully old fashioned sonic gimmickry such as phasing and mellotron whoosh in giving the song a feel of The Byrds (or even The Monkees) in their psychedelic phase as The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Simpson seems to be alluding here to his past when he dabbled with drugs and his ongoing interest into the likes of Terence McKenna but reading interviews with him one gets the impression that this might be one big cosmic joke. Whatever there’s no denying that it’s a magnificent song that opens the album in a fine style. Simpson returns to the sound effects for the closing song, It Ain’t All Flowers with backward tapes and flanging as he again confesses his past misdemeanours before the song mutates into a country cousin of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows with stereo panning and all sorts of psychedelic stew thrown in. Excellent.

There’s a bonus song tossed in at the end, a pleasant ditty called Panbowl which somewhat spoils the grand finale that is It Ain’t All Flowers but it’s a minor inconvenience. Essentially after track ten there’s a compulsion to start again to find out what Turtles All the way Down is about and then to just listen and savour what is essentially a great album.

website

Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz.

Pioneering UK country veteran Hank Wangford has been on a mission for the past thirty years to inform the public that country music is not all rhinestone and showbiz smiles. He’s been smitten by the dark underbelly, the god fearing singer who behind closed doors is a raging drunk pilled to the gills, a monster who writes beautiful songs about death, divorce and drunkenness. Introduced to the music of the patron saint of drunks, George Jones by Gram Parsons (whom Wangford knew at the tail end of the sixties) Wangford was singing country to punk audiences well before Costello went all blue and The Mekons hightailed it to Chicago.

Now Hank wants to reclaim the waltz, the 3/4 signature that fuels the majority of sad country songs. Typically seen today as “middle aged and suburban” as Wangford notes in his short essay in the album booklet, the waltz was seen as decadent when first introduced to English society by Lady Caroline Lamb in 1816 with dancers touching each other’s body, “sex on legs.” He goes on to say “the saddest country songs are in three four. It’s certainly the best rhythm for a slow drunken shuffle in a honky tonk bar with some voluptuous intertwining of limbs.”

So Save Me The Waltz is a double album of slow sad country songs that share that three four rhythm as Hank and the excellent Lost Cowboys take the listener down a lost highway littered with broken souls, cripples, plane wrecks, heartache and sin. A double dose of misery that will delight any connoisseur of the genre( and timely for those who enjoyed My Darling Clementine’s recent albums) as Hank delves into his favourite writers as well as delivering some fine tearjerkers of his own. Willie Nelson scores four covers here while The Louvins, Dallas Frazier, Woody Guthrie and Wayne Kemp get one apiece. More up to date Gram Parsons and Lucinda Williams and surprisingly Lennon/McCartney are also covered.

The band sail through the first disc (entitled The Light with disc two, The Dark) splendidly with the rhythm section (Kevin Foster, bass and Roy Dodds, percussion) laying down an unobtrusive backbeat while Martin Belmont and BJ Cole add lilting pedal steel, throbbing heartbreak guitar and breezy Dobro as Anna Robinson accompanies Wangford on some excellent harmonies. It’s delightful to sit back and wallow in this with the lazy fat guitar of Half A Man and the dappled Appalachian Dobro of Get Acquainted Waltz swim hypnotically in your head. Wangford’s title song itself is somewhat sublime with Belmont curling his guitar licks around the words while Cole lurks mischievously on Dobro and Hank and Anna twirl wondrously around each other on vocals.

Disc two (The Dark) is less comfortable, edgier and, well, darker. Waltzing With Sin features Larry Love of the Alabama 3 ( thanked in the liner notes for sounding like Richard Burton on acid) and it’s a big production number with fuzz guitar and space age cosmic pedal steel, fantastic. Baby’s In Black is another fuzz fuelled pedal steel driven epic (think Sneaky Pete here, hot railing the Burritos) with some pummelling percussion. It’s notable that Wangford penned most of the songs here and by and large they stand up to scrutiny compared to the covers. Lies is tied to the roots of Nelson and Jones while Lonely Together is a fine riposte to Willie Nelson’s Permanently Lonely as Wangford injects some hope and optimism while maintaining the sad slow waltz melody. While Lonely Together is one of five songs on the album previously released it fits the concept so well we have to pause while the beauty of this song hits home and listen to it again as The Lost Cowboys deliver a master class in aching country music. Mention should be made of two songs recorded with Billy Bragg in the eighties (and released as B sides to Bragg singles), a fine rendition of Sin City and a heartfelt Deportees which sit well within the album.

Save The Waltz is obviously a labour of love for Wangford who in his 73rd year could reasonably be expected to be sitting at home, pipe and slippers to hand. Instead he’s hitting the road with The Lost Cowboys and he’s in Glasgow next week (Thursday 15th May) at the 02 ABC. With Martin Belmont and BJ Cole in the band you get three legends for the price of one. Other tour dates here

website

Soundcloud won’t let me uplift some songs for some reason so head here to listen to two of the songs.

Naomi Wachira

African/American Naomi Wachira hails these days from Seattle and after being named the best local folk singer by a local paper she came to the attention of Damien Jurado who has produced her debut album. Despite growing up in Kenya there is no African indigenous music on show here. Rather Wachira attempts to relate to her two primary influences, one, Miriam Makeba, a major influence not only musically but for her bravery and stance against apartheid. Wachira’s other heroine is Tracy Chapman and it’s to the likes of Chapman that one would point to if asked to describe Wachira’s songs. With a powerful voice she is often multitracked to produce powerful harmony singing (sounding like Honey In The Rock) with Burn Me an excellent example that is proud and defiant. She does sing about her African heritage and celebrates her fellow women in Just Like You while I Am A Woman is a feminist anthem in waiting which decries the use of rape as a weapon. With powerful songs that carry a message (We Are In Trouble) and others that celebrate life (I’m Alive) Wachira is well placed to follow in the footsteps not only of Chapman but others like Janis Ian with her songs very listener friendly while packing a punch.

website


Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.

Grant Peeples is a muscular, shaved head, scary looking guy, the kind you’d avoid in a bar in case he’s looking for a fight. His music too is muscular and it’s looking for a fight, in this case with the hucksters and moral majority who run his nation. Always on the side of the downtrodden and oppressed, Peeples, over the course of his four albums is a powerful voice telling us what the networks and syndicates won’t.
Punishing The Myth, his third album to be produced by Gurf Morlix kicks against the pricks and punctures the balloon of hypocrisy that populates the American Dream. Peeples sings about outsiders including a lesbian aunt and a revolutionary while he takes a pop at himself and his ilk on the opening song You’re A Slave To Your Imagination where he writes
“You call it art but you’re just jerking off, all you want to do is make a name for yourself, sucking up to owners and promoters, could it be any good if it’s something you sell?”
before going on to say “Yea its true every song is just a compromise, but every now and then I find a word’ll ring true, I hang my hat on a hook I know’ll get um, then I scribble down some crap and I call it a tune.” The irony here is that it’s a rollicking good tune with Sarah Mac trading vocals with Peeples over a wicked bluesy groove with organ and cornet in the driving seat over finely picked electric guitar and that’s true of all of the songs here. Peeples songs are first and foremost eminently listenable and on the face of it Punishing The Myth is an excellent album of country, folk and blues that will please fans of Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, J.J. Cale and Mr. Morlix himself.

Who Woulda Thunk It, the one cover on the album (written by Greg Brown) is another cracking bluesy number with Knopfleresque guitar snaking throughout while the lyrics connect with the overall sense of the album that Americans are sleepwalking to doom, relying on Mastercard and Visa instead of being self reliant. This belief is hammered home by Peeples on the spoken word High Octane Generation where he thunders against the pampered state of present day car owners who rely on the bleeps and alarms on their space age dashboards but who are unable to check their oil. This could have become a Luddite rant but Peeples changes gear to celebrate the automobile as an allegory of the “passions, and ideals that mapped out our interior destinations across the crooked fields of time” before lamenting that owning a car that can park itself appears to be nothing to be ashamed of these days.

Peeples hammers oligarchs and Wall Street in The New American Dream while The Morning After The Coup appears to share The Who’s sentiment of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” I Can’t Imagine Him Carrying a Carbine subverts a father’s greeting to his new born son as he fears he’ll not be fit to defend the revolution and guns feature in She Was a Wildflower as the narrator remembers “watching her swing from the barrel of an M1 rifle.” There’s a militant feel to many of the songs, Peebles says of himself “I’m a vegetarian that watches NASCAR, a tree-hugger that keeps a gun under the seat,” but his recollection of his lesbian aunt “Aunt Lou” has a tender edge to it while acknowledging her bravery.

Peeples ends the album with an excellent live recording, “It’s Too Late to Live In Austin,” that firmly places him in the Texas story telling tradition as he tells of a night in “this myth-ridden city” with vocal support again from Sarah Mac. The highlight of the album however is the dark country duet, The Hanging where he’s joined by Eliza Gilkyson who sings wonderfully on what is a powerful portrait of an execution and in its chorus damns the death penalty. A powerful song on a powerful album.

website

Dan Stuart. Glad Cafe. Glasgow. Thursday 1st May.

stuart

This was a welcome return to Glasgow for one of our more perplexing musicians, Tucson raised and now domiciled in Mexico, Dan Stuart. Last time he played here the audience turnout was pitiful especially coming as it did only a few years after the sell out Green On red Reunion tour. Blame Stuart’s virtual retirement from the business or poor promotion. On this occasion however a packed venue bore testimony to Stuart’s once again rising profile and the sterling work done by promoter Kevin Morris’ The Fallen Angels Club who has astutely used social media and good old fashioned leafleting to ensure healthy turnouts for numerous shows around Glasgow.

With his last new release, The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings now two years old Stuart’s latest recorded offering was the release on Cadiz Music of two albums he recorded way back in the nineties, now repackaged as Arizona 1993-95. For the true fans (including one chap from Croatia) the lure, apart from the show itself, was an opportunity to buy two books written by Stuart. The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings is a warts and all snapshot of his early years (described as a false memoir) while Barcelona Blues is a collection of poems written while in the throes of a marital breakup which saw him decamp to Spain for a period of time. It’s clear Stuart has been in some dark places ( he’s recorded as saying his original intention when going to Mexico was to kill himself following a depressive episode, “my brain broke”) but tonight he seems in fine form, slightly combative on stage with a dismissive attitude towards much of his past works but engaging well with his foil and sparring partner for the evening, guitarist Antonio Gramentieri (from the Italian band, Sacri Couri) while at the end of the evening he was the perfect host patiently greeting the long queue that formed as he signed his CDs and books.

With Stuart singing and playing acoustic guitar and Gramentieri on electric it was a mesmerising show with deadpan humour, occasional menace and some soul baring. Ranging from the bruised tenderness of Why I Married You to the visceral shredding of Jimmy Boy the duo’s range was astounding with Gramentieri colouring in Stuart’s musical palette with bottleneck, reverb and barbed wire shards of noise on some of his solos. While there was a vulnerable air to Stuart as he revisited his darker times his wild and dangerous days of Green On Red were unveiled as he grimaced and roared on epic renditions of Jimmy Boy, That’s What Dreams Were Made For and Sixteen Ways while Clean White Sheets from the Marlowe Billings album had some blistering guitar from Gramentieri. There were several newer songs including Why I married You and the Hollywood Babylon like tale, The Day William Holden Died, which relates the solitary drunken death of Holden, star of The Wild Bunch with Stuart comparing his lifestyle to Holden’s. With the tour posters featuring Hemingway and Barcelona Blues not too far removed from Kerouac’s Book of Blues Stuart certainly relates to these doomed borrachos. His delivery of the Holden song was sublime and when, caught in the moment, he almost stumbled back over the stage riser behind him he quickly quipped “Bill just shoved me” as he recovered his balance.

Antonio Gramentieri was offered an opportunity mid set to play some of his and Sacri Cuori’s music reminding us of the superb soundscapes he can conjure up on six strings.Romantic with liquid notes flowing from his fingers it was all too short before Mr. Stuart came back to tell us a little about his book. Unfortunately there were no readings from the text but he did tantalise the audience talking about some misadventures in Edinburgh many moons ago involving spear guns in a hotel room (for more you’ll need to buy the book). Throughout the show there were humorous asides with the biggest laugh coming as he re tuned his guitar while telling us that Jim Dickinson, legendary Memphis producer thought that “tuning was a decadent practise of European homosexuals.”

Ending with a stomping Hair Of The Dog before an encore (and audience participation on) Little Things In Life we had almost two hours of Dan Stuart’s life given over to us and while it may be a bit melodramatic to say so there was a chance a few years ago that he thought he had no more time to offer. Here’s hoping that it’s not too long before we hear these new songs on a new disc. In the meantime the tour continues on the continent with another old Green On Red buddy, Chris Cacavas joining in some of the dates.

The opening act for the night was American songstress Kathleen Haskell. Ms. Haskell has a keen pedigree having sung with Neil Young while her latest album was produced by none other than Dan Stuart’s old sparring buddy, Chuck Prophet. Armed only with her guitar and a wicked way with some risqué rock’n’roll anecdotes she did a short set with the highlight being the title song of her album Where The Land Meets the Sky, a fine waltz time tune that recalled a chilled out Patsy Cline while the guitar coda was simple but captivating. Like A Pearl Necklace struggled to match the ribald introduction but I’ll Be Your Fool was a sensuous slink and, sitting at the piano for this one, Drama In The Dark proved to be a fine example of LA noir drama.

Dan Stuart/Marlowe Billings website

Kathleen Haskard website

Sacri Cuori website

And here’s some video of Dan and Antonia earlier in the tour.

The Rulers of The Root. Glad Cafe. Sunday 27th April

Blabber’n’Smoke had first caught sight of this grizzled bunch a week or so ago when they played a few songs at the Southside Sessions, battling a noisy crowd and a wonky PA system. Even so their weird take on Beefheartian delta Dadaism was somewhat intriguing so the promise of their own gig some days later was a no brainer, we had to investigate.

The Rulers of the Root are a four man band who don’t have any product to push, no discs, no mp3s, no tee-shirts or even fridge magnets (so far), just four guys who have got together to play some music and fortunately they seem keen to do this in front of other folk. While Beefheart may be an influence there are shades of Tom Waits, The Meters, Alex Harvey, The Blockheads and David Lynch to be heard while their absurdist sense of humour recalls the pop Dadaism of the Bonzo Dog Band along with a whiff of the late and lamented Chou Pahrot. Opening with the word salad lyrics of Cat Fur, a junkyard blues maelstrom that was the most Van Vliet influenced song of the night it was clear that they are a diamond in the rough with the raucous vocals battling with some ferocious guitar. Rose Of Jericho was a sea shanty as sung by sailors on mescaline while The Doctor tangoed like a mutant Tom Waits with some salacious wordplay. Millport Cowboy was a gnarly ode to the pseudo gunslingers who invade that Isle for their Tombstone festival while White on Rice invoked a reverb soaked trip into David Lynch country and western territory. It should be noted here that singer Patrick Gillies had a bag of props which the band temporarily tolerated before tossing aside leaving him to populate the songs with an array of headgear to fit the moment. Pirates, cowboys and gladiators ruled the roost depending on the song being played.

With the rhythm section ( Mick Murphy, bass and Chris Quinn, percussion) as tight as the proverbial duck and Gillies in full “method” mode this was already a sight to see and hear but the cream on the top was the guitar playing from John Palmer, a veteran of the Glasgow music scene. Able to crank out the chunky Feelgoods’ I Can Tell (their one cover of the night) and then come across all Marc Ribot on the more Waitsian numbers he was outstanding throughout the night. And while their distorted Magic Band angularisms might be their calling card The Rulers visited Ry Cooder territory on Sinaloa before adopting a Clash attack on Murdoch Browns, a song that attacked the hypocrisy of that media magnate. Ian Dury’s music hall mirth was invoked on Spartacus with Gillies totally in character with his Roman helmet and sword a swinging while the Tour de France got a good trouncing on the final song Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) with the audience thrown suitable headgear to get in the moment. With Dury and the Blockheads again channelled it was funky as hell and topped the show without any performance enhancing drugs in sight.
You can catch the band on their Facebook page and see them in action below. Blabber’n’Smoke hopes to talk to them soon in order to inquire into this weird mutant sound in the South Side.