New Orleans isn’t the first place you’d expect to hear classic country music although in the past few years acts such as Hurray For The Riff Raff and Gal Holiday have proved that pedal steel can cut it in the Crescent City. now along come The Deslondes, a five piece band who sound as if they’ve been marinated in old time country spiced up with some blues and soul, the end result a very fine ramshackle sound that can be likened to The Band, The Felice Brothers or even Doug Sahm (on the fiddle sawed Same Blood As Mine). And while they don’t (as yet) achieve the heights of these acts this debut album is a heart warming collection of songs that variously swing, rock or pull at the heart.
Some of the band have been together for several years (recording as The Tumbleweeds) and have strong ties with Alynda Lee Segarra (of Hurray For The Riff Raff) before eventually coalescing as The Deslondes. With several songwriters in the fold and four of the band able to sing lead there’s variety aplenty on the album and despite the country tag we’re pushing here theres’ a definite Big Easy influence at play most evident on the opening and closing songs. I Fought The Blues And Won rides on a Fats Domino like piano riff with a laidback singalong quality. Out On The Rise is starker with the piano more in tune with barrelhouse blues and a clarinet solo nailing the NO vibe although a lonesome pedal steel cries throughout.
Sandwiched between these is the fine country gospel of Those Were (Could’ve Been) the Days and the trucking Less Honkin’ More Tonkin’ (guaranteed to please fans of Junior Brown or Bill Kirchen), the spaghetti western twang of Time To Believe In and the Johnny Cash meets Ricky Nelson chicka boom of Louise. There are laments. Simple and True stumbles and starts fitfully and Heavenly Home is a mighty slice of pedal steel garnished southern grit. Best of all is the lonesome howl of Low Down Soul which is indeed indebted to Hank Williams and well worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.
The Deslondes (Sam Doores vocals/guitar, Riley Downing vocals/guitar, Dan Cutler vocals/stand-up bass, Cameron Snyder vocals/percussion and John James Tourville pedal steel/fiddle) play several UK shows this week, dates here. There’s a fine interview with the band from Uncut magazine which you can read here.
UK lap steel and slide blues guitarist Martin Harley gained a good deal of recognition with his 2013 album Mojo Fix. Live At Southern Ground, the follow up was recorded “live” (no audience as far as we can gather) in Nashville’s Southern Ground Studios with double bass player Daniel Kimbro after the pair met up and jammed at a Tennessee festival. Almost a spur of the moment decision then, the album was recorded in one day with Harley playing regular, resonator and lap top (Hawaiian style) guitars with Kimbro slapping the big fiddle.
As such it’s a really fine slice of acoustic blues, well recorded and definitely an album that will please anyone who recalls Taj Mahal in his acoustic prime or the many finger picking wizards from the sixties folk boom who peppered their sets with blues covers. Harley writes the majority of the songs with a fine handle on the classic blues rhetoric while his guitar playing is at times mesmerising and vocally he answers that age-old question as to whether white men can sing the blues with some aplomb. The interaction between him and Kimbro’s nimble bass playing is a delight with some passages demanding to be replayed as one decides which instrument to concentrate on. Together they have a similar sort of musical telepathy to that of the late John Martyn with the great Danny Thompson.
Acknowledging his roots Harley covers Lead Belly’s Goodnight Irene and Blind Willie Johnson’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine while a cover of Tom Waits’ Chocolate Jesus is given a razor edged slide guitar thrust which takes the song into acoustic Led Zep territory. The album ends with an uncredited song that harks back to Johnson’s Dark was The Night, Cold Was The Ground with its sinister slide playing laid over some sombre and spine tingling double bass bowing. It’s a hidden track so if you do get the album wait for it at the end, it will blow you away.
Third visit to Glasgow in 18 months for Pennsylvania roots trio The Stray Birds and while most of their set was familiar to the audience (a fair bet a good percentage had seen the two previous shows) they grow in confidence and delivery. Buoyed by some ecstatic notices for their appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival a few weeks ago Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven and Charles Muench offered a spellbinding set with de Vitry in particular excelling, her voice commanding. Her delivery of their ode to record stores, Best Medicine was slower and more poignant than the recorded version and somewhat spectacular. There’s no doubting their musical skills as they skirled around their condenser microphone whipping up excitement as on the opening song The Bells and Caleb Klauder’s New Shoes while Make Me A Pallet On The Floor and Blue Yodel #7 were fun and funky. However the best moments were on the more tender moments as songs by de Vitry and Craven allowed for a delicate touch on various guitars, fiddles and mandolin with Never For Nothing given a solemn heft from Muench’s bowed double bass while Harlem was a world away from standard bluegrass fare sounding more like a classic Carole King song.
Muench helmed much of the show’s introductions, down-home and witty while there was some band banter over who wrote what and who did this before they dived into another fine ensemble piece. Crammed before the one mic there’s a pleasing visual symmetry on display with Craven playing several of his fine guitar solos in a vertical position in order to avoid taking an eye out. Covers of Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta, taken at a trot despite some preferences for a slower version and Nanci Griffiths’ I Wish It Would Rain were real crowd pleasers and the encore of a new song, When I Die which was Appalachian dyed bodes well for the future.
The opening act was The Jellyman’s Daughter, an Edinburgh based duo who combine cello and guitar to fine effect. Nice harmonies and some fine song writing were displayed on a rendition of The One You’re Leaving while covers of Gillian Welch’s The way It Will Be and a fine reconstruction of The Beatles’ Money Can’t Buy Me Love showed some eclectism in their influences.
Kansas band The Roseline are essentially a vehichle for Colin Haliburton’s sweetly sad songs which are delivered with a gentle flow. Haliburton has a light voice, not dissimilar to Ryan Adams at times while the instrumentation is primarily keyboard driven and burnished with scrubbed acoustic guitars and slender electric embroidery.
The eleven songs here deal with tough subjects including mental illness and substance abuse but there’s no descent into hell here. Rather there’s always a glimmer of hope, the music like a ray of sun peeping through a cloud. At times there’s a resemblance to the poppier elements of Calexico particularly on the title track and the closing A Children’s Game. At his best however Haliburton delivers some swooning country tinged numbers with Dark Love Is Still Love featuring keening pedal steel while Selfish Heart is simply wonderful, a yearning desire to spend time with a sweetheart that isn’t realised because “love ain’t on the cards for a man with a selfish heart.”
Tonight was the release party/show for Bearpit Brothers‘ second EP, Something Cruel, the latest instalment in their ongoing reclamation of late 50s/early 60s pop and rock from the dead embrace of Family Favourites. On the EP the trio (Robert Ruthven, Jim Byrne and Larry Alexander, augmented tonight by drummer Angus Ruthven) recreate an era on the cusp of the morally rigid post war era and the sexually permissive Technicolor sixties. Songs about sex were veiled back then, the act itself only hinted at, seemingly innocent but with a dangerous undercurrent. However tonight was a cause for celebration and the dark underbelly was for the most part hidden beneath a lusty and jubilant delivery of very melodic songs with added lustre from Alexander’s dextrous fretwork, teardrops and rain dripping from his strings.
It was a sixties themed night with some of the audience dolled up in thrift store reclamations as shades of Roy Orbison and Cliff & the Shadows stalked the stage in a fashion not dissimilar to the Sheffield greaser Richard Hawley. Playing most of the songs from both EPs it was obvious the band were having great fun with the mini operas they’ve conjured playing up the melodrama in songs such as Love And Hate. A new song, Snap In Half showed that they’re steadily approaching the Merseybeat era although the template here seems to be The Searchers with Alexander playing some well-jangled guitar. An encore of Orbison’s Running Scared paid full tribute to the man although singer Ruthven just couldn’t manage the soaring immensity of the voice (but then again who can) and there was a fine countrified ramble through Byrne’s Daddy’s Car, a song that graced his album On These Dark Nights. They don’t seem to play live often but if you get a chance to see a show then grab it.
The band were well supported by poet Stephen Watt, winner of the Poetry Rivals Slam Championship a few years back. His observations on the plight of bats (without them there’d be na na na na na na na …Man), The Man who Wouldn’t Dance to Ska and the tragicomic tale of midnight buses from George Square were entertaining and well delivered and above all great fun, like listening to a local John Cooper Clarke. The other support, Ryan Morcambe, singer/songwriter, harked back to sixties frantic strumming with harmonica carrying the melody. His best song tonight was the folky thrash of 12 Rounds which had a fine whiff of Greenwich Village about it.
Summer’s almost gone and the nights are drawing in. Almost time to light the fires and gather round the hearth and a perfect time to consider listening to Isle of Lewis musician Iain Morrison’s peaty and misty soundscapes. Morrison is a Scot steeped in local musical tradition, his father a famed piper, and schooled in the bagpipe tradition of Ceol Mor aka The Big Music but his albums have been of a singer songwriter bent up until now. On Eas Morrison returns to his roots with the album composed around piobaireachd, the classic form of the Highland pipes and he weaves a mystical and moving tapestry that is wreathed in Gaelic and reeks of Celtic mystery. In a similar manner to The Unthanks and Seth Lakeman (and the late Martyn Bennett) Morrison is creating a new music carved from the past. He summons up folk memories be it Ewan McColl’s radio ballads or the witchy weirdness of The Wickerman soundtrack with a nod to the likes of Robert Wyatt and his sonic soupiness.
The album ebbs and flows like the tide. There are grand moments as on the anthemic ending to My Letting Go and the tribal chorus on the barbed folk rock of To The Sea while there’s grainy, almost Grierson like documented snapshots such as Too Long In This Condition which features the voice of Donald MacLeod, a late legend in piping circles, over a restrained piano led backing. Crackle features piper Allan McDonald speaking in Gaelic as pipes and fiddle gently gather before the song transforms into a misty lament with a nice vocal clamour. Morrison’s whispered voice creeps throughout the album with the opening and atmospheric Subhal (47) summoning up visions of misty moors, Eas, a mighty flight into a Celtic faeryland which knocks the likes of the music for Lord Of The Rings for six. On A Flame Of Wrath For Patrick Caogach Morrison strides magnificently on a ballad suffused with woody cello, strident whistle and pulsating percussion before The Little Spree sneaks in as a tender love song where Morrison is ably assisted by Lori Watson on vocals.
Some albums set a mood and Eos is one of these. The Scottishness of it all is a balm for anyone pining for Highland mist but it stands out as a brave example of new strains arising from old refrains.
Iain Morrison will be playing some Scottish dates later this year. Dates here
When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed the first EP from Bearpit Brothers we waxed about their kodachromed 50’s spangled pop. Two years on and their second EP is lined up for release and the brothers themselves say that they’ve moved onto the early sixties. Well, there’s a lot of folk who say that the sixties didn’t really start until 1964 when The Beatles hit global dominance while there does seem to have been a watershed with the advent of the Pill. As Philip Larkin famously wrote,
Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/ (which was rather late for me) /Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/And the Beatles’ first LP.
We mention this because while the band might be dipping their toes into the rising tide of sixties pop they’re holding on to a lifebelt of innocence, a raft of teenage dreams with the hormones held in check, the songs limited to allusion and portrayed as melodrama. Musically they continue to inhabit a pre Beatles world, crooner vocals, old school married to a pop idiom, think of the Larry Barnes’ stable of brylcreemed balladeers such as Dickie Pride or Vince Eager. Next drop in a dollop of sumptuous guitar draped pop of the type purveyed by John Barry and Joe Meek, both influenced by Buddy Holly but able to add their own idiosyncratic touch. Cap this with Cliff and The Shadows and we’re somewhere near where Bearpit Brothers are at these days although a top notch production and some spectacular guitar playing rises the EP well beyond mere nostalgia.
On to the songs then. Say Goodbye is a pop confection of the first order, pizzicato type guitar underpins singer Robert Ruthven’s warm croon as he evokes tearful railway platform goodbyes. There’s a glorious melange of acoustic and electric guitar midway through which rings to the heavens. Love Born In The City is a paean to young love hit by Cupid’s arrows lifted aloft again by the deft guitar work which does recalls Hank Marvin strutting behind Cliff. Love And Hate moves into Roy Orbison territory, darkly dramatic with a flamenco flourish on the chorus with some low riding twang guitar to boot it sets the scene for the sour title song which follows. Something Cruel has an exotic touch, castanets clicking away as Ruthven realises he’s been taken for a fool, recognising clues too late. Here we’re reminded of Billy Liar, lured by his dolly bird, Liz, only to bottle out at the last moment. This kitchen sink cinematic touch continues on the closing song, Ruby Wine although here it’s the fatalistic element of Poor Cow that’s evoked as Byrne recognises the hopelessness entwined in the relationship.
It’s only 16 minutes long but Something Cruel grabs the listener and is a wonderful evocation of a more innocent time. The EP will be available at the launch gig at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe this Saturday, 22nd August.