Back in 2012 Blabber’n’Smoke described The Foghorn Stringband’s album, Outshine The Sun as one of the best string band albums of the year. So the arrival of their latest, Devil In The Seat was greatly anticipated and sure enough it’s certainly the best string band album we’ve heard this year. The Portland, Oregon quartet (Caleb Klauder, mandolin, violin, vocals; Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind, violin, banjo, guitar, vocals; Nadine Landry, guitar, double bass, vocals and Reeb Willms, guitar, vocals) may have swapped their recording location from Oregon to Hawaii on this occasion (why, who knows but I’m sure they had a fine warm time sipping their Margaritas) but once again they sound as if they’re playing on a front porch in some bygone frontier settlement.
All four excel on their various instruments and their sheer exuberance is a delight to listen to. On top of that each is an accomplished singer with their voices seeming to reach from the past. With lead vocals switched from song to song there’s a sense of variety when listening to the album with Williams and Landry duetting wonderfully on the unaccompanied What Will We Do, a rare excursion into traditional folk which they learned from Irish singer Cathy Jordan. Williams yodels away on the roadhouse honky tonk of Mining Camp Blues while Landry adds a fine Acadian lilt to Henry Lee. As for the guys, Klauder and Lind can holler and whoop with the best of them. There’s variety also in the song selection as they range from lilting Appalachian ballads to square dance roustabouts and country waltzes. Each and every one is a delight and as with the previous album they note where they first heard each cut which can lead to some fine Googling fun checking out the originals.
From start to finish Devil In The Seat is an album that defies the listener to remain seated as the band whirl and skirl. There’s top marks for including a great version of Chicken Reel, a tune we probably first heard in a cartoon way way back in the mists of time and one that never fails to raise a grin and look for a partner to dozie doh with.
Good news is that The Foghorn Stringband are touring the UK and Ireland in May and there are two Scottish dates. They appear at Glasgow’s CCA on Sunday 17th may and at The Traverse Theatre Bar in Edinburgh on the 18th. The other tour dates are on their website. If they’re as good live as on record then these should be nights to remember. Here’s a clip of them playing.
Reviewing Benjamin Folke Thomas‘ debut album, Too Close To Here, Blabber’n’Smoke detected several of the Swedish artist’s influences jostling for position throughout. While Thomas was able to corral these into what was indeed a very fine opening statement the album did have a homemade charm having been recorded quickly and live in the studio with a resultant cliff edge tension on some of the numbers. Rogue state Of Mind is a very different beast; self assured and polished, it was recorded with Thomas’ regular band in Gothenburg and sounds like a group as opposed to a singer with a backing band. While none of the songs were rehearsed prior to going in they’ve made full use of the studio to flesh out the sound adding keys and brass to several of the songs while Thomas’ voice has filled out, less gruff and rushed than on Too Close To Here.
So, polished and ready to go Thomas and his band (Henning Sernhede on electric and acoustic guitar, lap steel, keys, pedal steel, mandolin and banjo, Johannes Mattsson, electric and stand up bass, keys and Jonas Abrahamsson, drums, percussion and keys) set out their wares and the result is in the main mighty fine. Like Danny And The Champions Of The World they manage to churn up a heady brew of urban Americana with a hint of The E Street Band on occasion and in Sernhede they have a guitarist able to soar when required. It’s apparent from the opening guitar curls of Break The Border that they’re a confident bunch with the song a zestful mid paced rocker with a touch of The Allmans in the guitar breaks. They then take a left turn however on the following Gettysburg, an acoustic tale that trots along with a steady although increasingly punchy pace, adorned throughout with some very tasty lap steel licks. The time signatures here recall Dylan circa Blood On The Tracks and the Dylan reference is reinforced by Thomas’ lyrics about a mystical camp whore. Riding the rhythm his voice rings with poetic fire as he sings “ in the cool fountain evening when she danced beneath the rain like random rhythms that drive black dust insane like an arrow screaming at her pleasure.” Bulletproof is more pared back, a trio of guitar, bass clarinet and mandobird cast the song in aspic as Thomas wrings out his emotions in a very fine wearied style.
The band jump back in for the brisk and declamatory Futile Blues where Thomas sounds like John Stewart in full voice before Broke Down Train pulls in with an ambient sound that recalls a Daniel Lanois production, a hypnotic haze pervading the song. Pauper To A King is a claustrophobic and grimy urban tale leavened only by some sleek guitar lines which snake around the funk fuelled bass line on a song that one could imagine Danny and his Champs doing. Dream About You Baby is a funky shuffle of a song with female backing vocals and honking sax with Thomas leering somewhat as he dreams about his girl in his bed as he seduces her by playing Blond On Blonde. There’s a darker side on the next song, Woman I Love which starts out with a chilling neon lit noirish feel but is eventually let down as the intensity fades towards the end. There’s a dip into Townes Van Zandt territory on the stripped down acoustic lament of Married Blues before Thomas closes the album with the pleading and powerful Little Too Late, an ambiguous tale that could be about a stalker or a lover about to lose his partner, whatever, Thomas imbues the song with a passion, his voice bursting at times as the tune climaxes with a wonderful solo from Sernhede. Heady stuff.