Pieces of Robert Wyatt

Excellent piece on Robert Wyatt by Richard Williams


The Amazing BandWhen I read, in the new issue of Uncut magazine, that Robert Wyatt has decided to stop making music, I felt an immediate pang of dismay. So I rang him up to see if he really meant it. His reply was to tell me a little story about the novelist Jean Rhys, who, after a long period of inactivity, responded to her publisher’s gentle suggestion that she might like to write another book by asking him if he’d enjoyed her last one. “Yes, of course,” he answered. “Well, read it again,” Rhys said.

We could all do a lot worse than work our way through Robert’s albums, starting with 1970’s End of an Ear, which includes his fabulous deconstruction of Gil Evans’s “Las Vegas Tango”, and concluding with 2010’s magnificent ‘…for the ghosts within’, on which he shares the credit with the saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and the violinist/arranger Ros Stephen. And…

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Billy Childs. Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro. Sony Masterworks

Time for a little sophistication here at Blabber’n’Smoke. Late night sophistication in fact in the form of this exquisite tribute to the late Laura Nyro from jazz musician, Billy Childs. Childs has rearranged a slew of Nyro songs and invited guest vocalists to breathe new life into them. The guests include Renée Fleming, Rickie Lee Jones, Alison Krauss and Dianne Reeves while Jerry Douglas turns up on Dobro and Wayne Shorter adds sax, the whole produced by Larry Klein, no stranger to enigmatic female singer songwriters.

The orchestration is superb with the strings in perfect harmony with the jazz instrumentation and while several of the songs are not immediately recognisable from the originals the spirit of Nyro can be felt throughout. Rickie Lee Jones’ interpretation of Been On A Train is the current favourite here but all of the songs bear repeated listening. Definitely recommended for lovers of Laura Nyro while fans of modern jazz will find it interesting.


John Southworth.

Described at one time as “Canada’s best kept secret”, John Southworth has just released Niagara, an ambitious two album set which aims to bridge the two countries divided by the titular falls. Mojo and Uncut reviews have been very positive while Pitchfork described it as “familiar and comforting and vivid and strange, all at once.” Although it’s his 9th album release it’s his UK debut and in support of this he’s playing a short tour (along with Devon Sproule) starting today. Southworth has recruited Ben Reynolds and Kenny Wilson from Tin Angel label mates, Two Wings for the tour and was in Glasgow earlier this week rehearsing with them. A perfect opportunity to meet up and ask him a little bit about the album.

Niagara’s your first UK release. Prior to that you recorded an album of “failed commercial” jingles and a Kklezmer influenced musical. A pretty varied output.

I recorded all those in about a year. It was 2012 and there were a lot of Doomsday prophecies about, that the world would end in 2012. And I thought that just in case somebody’s right, I might as well do whatever I want for one year musically. So in that year I released Failed Jingles For Bank Of America And Other US Corporations which literally is what it is, rejected jingles over a period of about five years and Easterween, a very surreal cabaret operetta with an incredible arranger Andrew Downing, he’s fantastic. I also recorded an EP, West Coast Persona, an older record I had abandoned. Well, 2012 came and went and we’re still here but it was an interesting idea, an interesting exercise. It wasn’t just that however. I’m quite ambivalent about the music industry these days and rather than wait around for other people I just wanted to do what I wanted to do so I went ahead and did it. No commercial intent, just to do it.

Niagara sounds as if there’s some “commercial intent” to it.

Well, that’s a real record. From beginning to end, getting funding, recording, it’s been a four year effort, a real effort to make a real recording. During those years I’ve put versions of songs up on Band Camp, made a few copies for friends, sold them at shows but this was a real undertaking. My motivation stemmed in part from, well, If I was going to make another record, in part work with the industry, I wanted to make something special. Something that required a lot of forethought and it turned out to be a double album. There’s a lot of thought behind it, a lot of fruit within it and hopefully people can spend their time over the next few years really discovering all the gems within it. It is the kind of record where things are revealed with each listen. It’s designed like a book, take your time with it, it’s something that’s long lasting. For those who find it.

Parts of it remind me of Harry Nilsson while others recalled the Italian musician, Paulo Conte.

It could be something Nilsson would do, I’m a big Nilsson fan and on occasion you might hear something on a given song. As for Conte, way back when I put out my first record on a label called Bar None Records who released his albums also. The A&R man gave me all his records but that was a long time ago. I haven’t listened to any of his records for a while so I can’t legitimately say he’s an influence. When I was younger I was more conscious of my influences.

The Conte part, for me, is the arrangements, very rhythmic with some jazz influenced backing.

Well I definitely am coming from a pop background but the more I work with these musicians (the South Seas), I’ve worked with them for ten years now, the process is like making a jazz record. The initial recording of a song is very spontaneous and free with not a lot of constraints except the constraints of the chords and the feeling of the music.

The album is divided into a Canadian side and an American side. To my ears the American side is punchier, a little bit more powerful.

It is. In Canada we’re a little bit more introverted and withdrawn, we tend to go inside a bit more, a bit more nervous types perhaps. In America, it’s a yin yan thing, there’s more of a feverish quality to the energy.

Was there a different approach taken when recording the separate sides?

No. The musicians had no idea this was happening. We did the takes and it then later I was thinking about the feeling, what was more appropriate for each side. I wanted to make a journey on each side, something that intersected and kept balance with the other and it was a nice way to frame a double record. Niagara Falls is a landmark that literally divides the two countries so it’s a lovely metaphor, a starting place. It’s a little cheeky to do but there is some weight to it. It’s a whole lyrical journey that’s happening on the record.

Well, since colonisation started some 500 years ago Canada and the States have developed quite different identities.

Different music. To me I hear a difference. In general I hear more space in Canadian music, we have Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. I wouldn’t say they are particular influences on me but it’s the space which has seeped into my own music whereas for America my big three would be Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan and Jimmy Webb. There’s a different quality, a different energy to the way the song is constructed and I think it’s to do with the land in essence. I think land generates music. Canada’s colder and I think in northern countries people have more of an internal life.

You’re doing some UK dates, are you solo or with a band?

I’m playing with some members of a band called Two Wings who are also on Tin Angel (Southworth’s record label). They are based in Glasgow and when I was here in the summer we did a show and it works well.

And any plans for the future?

Well right after I get back I’m going to Banff, in Alberta, doing some lectures on music and then after that let the year unwind and then back on tour in February along the west coast of America. And then after that I’m hoping to get to Germany. And if Niagara’s getting discovered, bit by bit, it’s good to see the record get a life so I’m excited by that.

Niagara is available now on Tin Angel Records. John Southworth and Devon Sproule tour dates are :

oct 29 – cheltenham, uk – the strand
oct 30 – london, uk – jazz cafe – facebook event!*
oct 31 – coventry, uk – the tin
nov 2 – gateshead – caedmon hall
nov 3 – edinburgh – douglas studio
nov 4 – york – the basement


Eddi Reader. Back The Dogs EP. Reveal Records.

Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Eddie Reader’s latest album, Vagabond, released back in February coming up with a somewhat sitting on the fence opinion, strong on her roots but so-so on her own songs. So it’s interesting to hear her new five song EP which leads with Back The Dogs from the album along with four cover versions including a version of Moon River produced by Boo Hewerdine and featuring a full blown orchestra.

The song, Back The Dogs has grown on us since the first listen with its quirky mix of bal musette and home-grown memories and with any justice it should be picked up on radio. As for the four new songs, Reader’s voice is the hook here, almost perfect, while the decision to record covers offers the opportunity for her to ornament proven songs with her singing. Super Furry Animal’s Juxtaposed With U is given an arrangement that is reminiscent of 80’s bands such as Everything But The Girl and Weekend with their airy and light jazzy arrangements. Amy Winehouse’s Love Is A Losing Game has a more intimate performance than the original with Reader recalling Julie London and Cry Me A River’s stark beauty. The perennial Mona Lisa continues the Gallic feel of some of the songs on Vagabond with accordion to the fore and one can imagine it wafting across the small squares of Montmartre. Finally, Moon River follows the original arrangement, halting and tender with Reader reading the song wonderfully.

It maybe only five songs but the EP has a cohesiveness missing from the Vagabond album and fully justifies Reader’s position as one of the best voices we have.


Cale Tyson. High on Lonesome EP. Clubhouse Records

2014 is turning out to be a fine year for new artists delivering new music that is steeped in a country tradition. After Sturgill Simpson’s magisterial retake on hard core outlaw country along comes Cale Tyson, a new signing to Clubhouse Records who grasps the sound of Hank Williams and George Jones in a warm embrace to deliver some wonderfully honky tonk soaked, tear stained ballads. The sound Tyson and his excellent band produce is mesmerising with the guitars and pedal steel given a spectral feel, as if Santo and Johnny of Sleepwalk fame had turned up at the Grand Ole Opry or Chris Isaak had joined Petunia and The Vipers. At heart however this is pure Country and the opening song, Honky Tonk Moan, is a perfect example as the Hawaiian sounding pedal steel introduces the band who clip clop into view while Tyson moans like Hank Williams. It’s an almost perfect song with Kenny Vaughan’s electric solo dripping with class as the song weeps out of the speakers, guaranteed to melt the heart of all but the stoniest listener.

One could be forgiven for expecting the remainder of this seven song disc to fall short of the standard set by Honky Tonk Moan but Tyson rises to the challenge with a set of songs that at times are better in that they are less anchored in the past. Is the Flame Burning Low is another tear stained waltz with more George than Hank. With a lighter touch on pedal steel, a more acoustic feel and some fine piano added to the mix Tyson croons wonderfully albeit with a lump in his throat. Lonesome In Tennessee is another love letter to a lost girlfriend (and by now one is wondering if Tyson will ever get to keep a gal) which adds a female chorus to his love raddled misery while the band are yet looser with drummer John McTigue adding a touch of drama with his cymbal work. By now it’s clear that Tyson is destined to be lonesome and Not Missing You adds a touch of defiance as he determines to move on from his heartbreak. Despite this, it’s still a sorrowful song with the sense of loneliness accentuated by a fine fiddle solo from Christian Sedelmayer. Again, the song is in waltz time but on this occasion one can hear the influence of another of Tyson’s heroes, Gram Parsons, in the vocal delivery and lyrics.

There’s a change of tone next as Long Gone Girl is given a darker, bluesy feel. Tyson is more judgemental here, his girlfriend drug addled and dragging him down. Sounding not a million miles away from The Doors on LA Woman the band lay down a neon rain specked vibe while Tyson’s lyrics are evocative and bang up to date.
Now my mind is racing faster than a car/Back in Texas for a night I’m playing in a bar/She calls me up ‘cos that girl is never quite too far/Saying Baby, come back home to me/I live like a sunset and all your drinks are on me/Though when I return she’s too coked out to see
This is brilliant story telling that raises the hair on the back of your neck recalling Jim White’s more spectral moments but following this we’re back in traditional territory as Old Time Blues returns to George Jones’ like laments while Thorn In My Side returns to the Hankness (if there is such a word) of the opening song. Again it’s a pitch perfect capture of raw country music back in the days when giants ruled the Opry although there is a hint of Parsons in the delivery.

Overall Tyson shows that he has an extraordinary ability to capture and repackage what some folk might consider to be the golden age of Nashville while tweaking it somewhat to bring it up to date. A post modern take on Parson’s Cosmic American Music perhaps, indebted to the elders, topical topics on occasion but overall infused with the spirit of Country music. Whatever it’s one of the best discs we’ve heard this year. The EP is released in early November on Clubhouse Records


The Howlin’ Brothers & Ten Gallon Bratz. Admiral Bar, Glasgow. 16/10/14


Fresh from the recent Glasgow Americana Festival The Fallen Angels Club have wasted no time in bringing some more top-notch acts to the city. For the Tennessee trio, The Howlin’ Brothers, this was their first time in Scotland (in the UK in fact), riding the wave generated by their recent album, Trouble, released on Brendan Benson’s label, Readymade Records (and reviewed here). First thing to say about them is that they have probably the coolest hat line up we’ve seen in some time. Straw Boater, black crumpled Trilby and stained Stetson sat atop the magisterial musical skills of Ian Craft (fiddle, banjo, kick drum), Ben Plasse (double bass) and Jared Green (guitar and fancy footwork). Aside from the hats the most pleasing thing about the band was their versatility and the variety of the songs they played. Bluegrass, blues, jug band, Cajun and country all tumbled from the stage with all three taking vocal duties on their respective songs.

From the off it was clear that this was going to be great fun as Craft’s fiddle and Green’s amplified step dancing bounced through the room while Plasse’s risqué Boogie showed that they can slow the tempo and still thrill. In a fairly lengthy set they ploughed through their two albums along with some cuts from their new Sun Sessions EP with the likes of the mighty George Jones country waltz of World Spinning Round and the bluesy swoon of Tennessee Blues standing out. Green’s Louisiana steeped Monroe showed that these Tennessee boys can wade through the bayou while The Boatman Dance positively reeked of chicken scratching’ dirt porch old timey American music and was a delight to see and hear. It was even more invigorating when the band later covered John Hartford’s Julia Belle Swain, another song steeped in Americana lore. Perfectly paced, the band ramped it up towards the end with Pack Up Joe a revved up road song while Hard Times stomped along with a defiant attitude. Ending with a fine Cumberland Gap The Howlin’ Brothers came across as a fine patina stained capture of some of the best rootsiest music we’ve heard in some time and this was reflected in the audience’s participation as the set progressed ’till the end when there were folk dancing at the back and the handclaps and whoops were drowning out the band. Catch them if you have the chance.

The night opened with a fine set from local chaps, Ten Gallon Bratz, high on a recent review for their album, Tales From The Long Shadows from R2 Magazine. Stripped of the album backing they entertained with three guitars and three voices recalling the likes of Poco and (early) Eagles opening with an acappella rendition of Hole In The Ground while Poor Man’s Money resonated with the audience. All in all a fine night.

The Howlin’ Brothers have a few more UK dates coming up http://thehowlinbrothers.com/shows/

Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time.

Like a breath of fresh air Jim Keaveny’s album Out Of Time is a back to basics album of American folk music with some blues, country and a dash of Tex-Mex added to the flavour. Keaveny’s one of those jobbing musicians, restless, a back history of hitching around, a colourful C.V. (fisherman, dishwasher, cook, graveyard maintenance man, brewer and busker) and eventually getting his act together, settling down and picking up his guitar.

Out Of Time is almost timeless with Keaveney’s songs firmly rooted in the dusty Americana canon of freewheeling road songs, small town romance and that old standby, the railroad. Riding the road and the rail he’s accompanied by the spirits of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, John Prine, Chip Taylor and numerous others, no big thing I suppose as one could say the same of numerous contemporaries. Keaveny however stands out from the crowd with the abandon and general sense of glee with which the songs are delivered. While the title song here is a big number production with parping horns and a similarity to Dylan going through the motions the remainder of the album is a gem indeed.

The Dylan thing comes from Keaveny’s voice which does have a nasal twang to it but get beyond that and there’s plenty to enjoy here. The confused agglomeration of guitars on the claustrophobic Parkin’ Meter harks back to cozmic coyboy days while the cluttered horn driven mayhem of The Girl comes across like a cartoon, thrilling indeed as it picks up steam. The meat of the matter however is in Keaveny’s mastery of the story telling steady rolling song with the opening song, Eugene To Yuma a perfect example. It lopes along in classic style namechecking territories as the drums shuffle, guitars brush along and a weedy harmonica roots it in the vernacular. From The Black shuffles along in excellent style with the guitars scintillating in their interplay while Anything Without You hits a fantastic retro groove as it snakes along. There’s stripped back troubadourism on the fine Ridin’ Boots and The Yippee-I-Ay Song while I Found A Girl is draped in a Mexican veil with accordion to the fore, a feat repeated in the standout song, Out Of Sight. Here Keaveney’s voice is attractively world worn as he leads us into a twilight world with huffing accordion and barbed acoustic guitar runs, romantic and evocative as hell. In addition Keaveny throws in a blinding crawling kingsnake blues number in the shape of Someone To Talk To Blues that slinks along with slabs of guitar erupting.


The Wynntown Marshals and The King Lot. Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh. Friday 10th October

Friday night at The Voodoo Rooms was essentially a celebration and culmination of a great year for The Wynntown Marshalls. With their celebrated album, The Long Haul reissued on Blue Rose Records, a European tour and some very special support slots (Sons Of Bill, Chuck Prophet) behind them they’re now set on recording a follow up. Playing on their home turf was an opportunity for the band to say thanks to some dedicated fans and those fans responded by turning up mob handed. A score or more from Ireland (who know The Marshals from The Kilkenny Roots Festival) along with a German contingent joined local supporters with the result that the Voodoo Rooms were packed to the gunnels.

The Marshals barrelled their way through a fine set list that featured songs from The Long Haul and its predecessor Westerner with Low Country Comedown setting the bar high from the start followed by the balladry of All That I Want and Whatever It Takes. Crashing (Like The Reds) and Canada upped the tempo before some new songs were introduced which maintain the Marshals grasp of churning country rock with a heart and a hard edge boding well for the new album.

From here on in it was a rollercoaster ride through old favourites Driveaway, You Can Have My Heart, a crowd favourite it seems, and the magnificent swell of Tide which gets more epic every time I hear it live. Blindsided, a song from their 2008 debut was given a lengthy outing before Change Of Heart came across like a punchy Neil Young with his Stray Gators. Wonderful stuff indeed but the encore was outstanding as they threw down a thrilling and fun filled rendition of Ballad Of Jayne, the L.A. Guns song that the Marshals can probably now claim to own. Speeded up and with snatches of Walking On Sunshine, Tracy’s Mom and Sweet Jane thrown in as the band flailed away with Jason from support band The King Lot adding his voice it was a tremendous closer as the packed crowd went wild and joined in. All in all it was a great curtain closer to a great year for the band and the beginning of an exciting future.

Support for the evening was from the hard rock trio, The King Lot who put away their amps for the night to present an acoustic set that made up the lack of noise with some fine sensitive and humorous moments. So accomplished was this that it was a surprise to find out later that this isn’t their normal setup. Have a listen to their acoustic rendition of Until My Dying Day on Soundcloud for a taste of what they were like.

The Wynntown Marshals

The King Lot

Chuck Prophet. Night Surfer. Yep Roc Records.

It must be the monkey glands. Nothing else can explain how Chuck Prophet, who should by now be a wizened old hard hat pondering the good old days, is able to deliver yet another album of turbo charged rock’n’roll, melodic and all and even able to add strings without becoming all syrupy. Hell, he even looks like he used to back in the days. Monkey glands, just saying.

Prophet’s last album, Temple Beautiful, was a fantastic, hook filled, tribute to San Francisco with every song a pelter, radio fodder for perfect radio. In a perfect world he’d be wearing Tom Petty’s hat and playing amphitheatres while Petty would be looking up at him in awe. Well, perhaps that wouldn’t be a perfect world as opportunities to see and hear him would be much more rare. As it is Chuck continues to travel the world offering us the opportunity to see one of the greatest current bands close up while he tosses off albums like Night Surfer almost as an afterthought. His pal, John Murry, captures it on the PR sheet describing the album as “it brings a tear to the eye and blood to the johnson.”

So, Night Surfer, what’s that all about? Prophet tells all (or not) in this interview but suffice to say that Peter Buck’s guitar adds some jangled mayhem to several of the songs here with the propulsive Ford Econoline the most immediate, grabbing you by the jugular as it leaps from the speakers. Prophet’s gift for electrifying stomps is well served with Felony Glamour harking back to seventies glam rock, the opening song Countrified Inner City Technological Man has a beefy Stax beat and meaty guitar and Laughing On The Inside sounds as if it should have been on a soundtrack for one of those high concept movies of the eighties and nineties before it melts into a welter of psychedelic guitar, soaring strings and ferocious percussion.

Prophet’s pop sensibility is evident on Lonely Desolation which opens with a guitar rumble before staccato Brill Building strings tie the song to a more innocent time despite the story line which bears comparison with The Left and the Right Hand, from Temple Beautiful. In addition he offers some tender moments as on his cover of Ezra Furman’s If I Was A Baby while Truth Will Out (Ballad of Melissa And Remy) is a spoken word melodrama that is perhaps somewhat overblown on the album but will probably go down a storm live. Equally anticipated is the glam rock stomper, Love Is the Only Thing, that closes the album. It’s dumb but gloriously so with a Gene Genie guitar riff and rousing chorus although here the strings do sound superfluous and surely will be a hit live. The good news is that chuck is hitting these shores in the next week with a show at Oran Mor on 19th October along with other UK dates.


Yep Roc Records

Police Dog Hogan. Westward Ho! Union Music store.

The eight piece Police Dog Hogan are a perfect example of unassuming country folk played with a sly grin and a slightly right on stance, mildly left wing and prepared to champion causes. Above all however is their obvious delight at the opportunity to play together some of their own favourite music in the hope that some others might also enjoy it. They remind me at times of The Colourblind James Experience, eclectic in their influences, never too serious but serious fun.

Westward Ho! is their third album and it gathers English and Irish folk influences ranging from the Oysterband (whose sometime bass player, Al Scott, produced) to The Pogues. While there are American name checks in Buffalo and Judgement Day is a fine fiddle laced hoe down it’s the common or garden English sentiments of West Country Boy and the sublime A Man Needs A Shed that stand out.

The opening song Thunderheads is a glowering ballad concerning an orphan, square pegged and unable to fit in the round holes offered while One Size Fits All has an insouciant swagger as it shrugs off any idea of wallowing in heartache with fiddles and banjo gaily bowing and plucking. West Country Boy is a Pogues like band odyssey though Devon with the protagonist fond of his curried pasties from an all night petrol station. It’s great fun and tailor made for maximum audience fun in a live setting and the band revisit this toe tapping feel in the closing song No Wonder That She Drinks. St. Lucie’s Day is a much gentler England, pastoral and reflective as it builds up with massed backing singers, there’s a modern day Thomas Hardy feel to it. Ethan Frome seems to be set in the deep south west of England, land of surfers smoking spliffs through red wine lips looking for the carefree life while Crackington transports a standard American small time gangster to the same area (and a first here for Blabber’n’Smoke as we had to use Google maps to check out all of these place names). A Man Needs A Shed perhaps reflects the average age of the band here (most of the members won’t see forty again) but it conjures up thoughts that this was what Loudon Wainwright might be writing about if he lived in a semi detached in suburbia. Mention should be made of the song Home, a collaboration between the band and Music In Prisons charity. Several ex prisoners assist here on a song that is melancholic and sweeping with a spoken rap seamlessly inserted into the song. It’s a powerful piece.