John Hinshelwood is one of the stalwarts of Glasgow’s (and further afield) Americana scene although rarely does his name appear in lights. Performances, either solo or with his band or with The City Sinners seem to appear in fits and bursts although he does a regular slot at Tchai Ovna in the west end. Over the years he’s championed the memory of Gram Parsons with several tribute shows while his musical collaborators have included Rab Noakes and Gene Parsons while he’s supported Roger McGuinn (that’s three Byrds mentioned so far), Tim O’Brien and Martin Simpson.
Lowering The Tone is only his third album in a decade but as with its predecessors (Holler ‘Til Dawn and Shattered Pleasures) it’s an album informed by American country rock and folk circa the early seventies, reminiscent in turn of the latter day Byrds, Guy Clark, Jackson Browne and Poco (along with a host of others). The end result might not be cutting edge but its joi de vivre is infectious with Hinshelwood obviously enjoying himself while the quality of the band(s) he has assembled (all local including his regular live band, members of The City Sinners and a few other crack players) is at times astonishing with guitar players Tim Black and Iain Barbour both in spectacular form. The album was recorded in Glasgow’s Calton Studios but at times you would swear that this was a bunch of grizzled LA veterans sweating it out in Burbank.
Hinshelwood wrote (or co-wrote) nine of the eleven songs here and all are well above par. The opener Radio Angel starts off like an earnest singer songwriter strumming his wares but pretty soon Malcolm McMaster’s pedal steel swoops in as the song picks up pace. McMaster has a tremendous solo while Tim Black’s acoustic slide snakes away. With some very fine harmony vocals from Kathy Stewart the songs kick-starts the album in swell fashion. A fat backed pedal steel introduces the Western Swing styled I Don’t Want To Hear That and again McMaster delivers a fine solo that humbucks away while Black’s guitar is almost Hawaiian. Laid back and with an infectious groove that recalls Danny Adler’s Roogalator it’s a tremendous slice of music. Look Back In Anger is a story song of star crossed lovers that again features some superlative guitar over sumptuous jangled acoustics and swirling organ. What’s Left (Is what’s Right) is a swampy blues effort while A Few Shallow Moments has a Byrds like intro before Hinshelwood launches into a Gene Clark/Jackson Browne mode with a Beatles middle eight thrown in for good measure. Sometimes less is best and Hinshelwood delivers the excellent Little Rowdy accompanying himself on acoustic with Iain Barbour’s sympathetic lap steel the only colour added allowing his fine voice space to shine. Back to the full band and No Easy Way weighs in like a descendant of Gene Clark’s dense productions on No Other. Ed McGlone’s fretless bass throbs throughout like a lead instrument and reminds one of Joni Mitchell’s jazzier forays. The Cost of Doing Business is a cover of an old Pure Prairie League song and while it coasts along in a fine manner it suffers in comparison to the songs surrounding it. As if to prove this Hinshelwood next delivers one of the album highlights, American Lifestyle. A loose limbed Dobro driven road film synopsis it opens with a couple marrying in Mexico, feeding on hamburgers, French fries and milkshakes on their honeymoon as the rhythm section skiffles away and mandolin sparks against the Dobro. Excellent.
McGlone’s fretless bass reappears for the lengthy A Poet’s Life which is an impressionistic paean to Walt Whitman. Again Joni Mitchell and Gene Clark are recalled as the music curdles around Hinshelwood’s voice and ends with a fine coda. The album ends with a cover of Carole King’s Crying In The Rain with Patsy Seddon and Kathy Stewart adding their voices to Hinshelwood’s offering a version which is as shiveringly good as the Everlys.
Lowering The Tone is an excellent album which along with offerings from other bands such as The New Madrids and The Wynntown Marshals shows that Americana is alive and well in Scotland. There’s a chance to catch John Hinshelwood (and his band) as they are appearing at The Southside Americana Club at The Glad Cafe this Sunday while upcoming City Sinner dates are here.