The Deslondes. New West Records

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.


Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro. Live at Southern Ground. Del Mundo Records.

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.


The Stray Birds/The Jellyman’s Daughter. Fallen Angels Club, St. Andrews In The Square, Glasgow. 25th August 2015

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.

The Roseline. Townie

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.”


Bearpit Brothers. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Saturday 22nd August

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.

Iain Morrison. Eas. Peat Fire Smoke Records

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


Bearpit Brothers. Something Cruel

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.


Southern Fried. Perth. Thursday 30th July-Sunday 2nd August 2015. Part 2


As with most festivals Southern Fried requires some juggling if one is to catch some shows and not others. Tough choices had to be made, some shows missed or only partially caught. It’s all part of the experience and after all there’s always next year. Blabber’n’Smoke caught some or all of these and apologies to those we missed. Here’s a round up of the shows we caught at The Salutation Hotel.

Della Mae

Heroes of the weekend, Della Mae played their second show of the festival at the late night Late & Southern Fried session on Friday. A world away from the Concert Hall shows Late & Southern Fried is a loose limbed and drink friendly informal set up, a wristband allowing patrons to wander “as the mood takes you” with two band shows on the ground floor and three acoustic acts upstairs at the Songwriter Sessions hosted by Dean Owens. Tonight these bluegrass belles confirmed the opinion formed at The Twa Tams that they are one of the most exciting string driven outfits around at present. While their set was similar to the pub gig there was more opportunity to marvel at their performance, songs and playing with guitarist/banjo player Courtney Hartman really coming to the fore. Celia Woodsmith was sassy as hell (if one is still allowed to use the term) and fiddler and band founder Kimber Ludiker showed why she has been named Grand National Fiddle Champion at the prestigious National Old-time Fiddlers’ Contest in the States.

Ags Connolly/Dean Owens


Ags Connolly, Oxford’s ambassador of Ameripolitan music was a late addition to the roster, an addition that was welcomed by all we met who remembered his appearances from last year. Indeed his show on the Saturday afternoon in The Salutation Hotel was almost a repeat of last years. Same time, same stage, same players (Nico Bruce and Joe Nisbet and, according to Nisbet, the same shirt he wore last year). Nevertheless a year of solid touring has sharpened Connolly’s presence. He was witty when speaking and his tough country tales of heartache and woe continue to impress. Playing favourites from his album, How About Now,  he also offered some new delights including the very impressive Prisoner Of Love In A Neon Jail and I Hope You’re Unhappy Enough To Come Back To Me. He championed Robert earl Keen on his version of Love’s a Word I Never Throw Around. Nisbet, who played guitar on How about Now was particularly impressive throwing in some fine country flecked solos particularly on the Neon Jail song while Bruce, sporting a wrist support due to his extensive rehearsals for the upcoming Gospel show, was supple and supportive on the double bass.


Dean Owens gathered together his Whisky Hearts for this performance giving the songs from his latest album Into The Sea a powerful punch. Dora, Up On The Hill and The Closer To Home were opened up with the latter approaching The Waterboys in its widescreen sound and rocking guitar from Craig Ross. It Could be Worse was even more epic with the drums pushing the song as guitar and fiddle swept upwards. Owens proved himself capable of more tender moments with a solo rendition of an old Felsons song Shine The Road which was given a Big O treatment while Valentines Day In New York had a jaunty Slim Chance skip in its beat. With many of his songs tied to his biography Owens explained the story behind Dora, saluted his father (who was in the audience) on the mighty Man From Leith and paid tribute to his late sister on the tender Evergreen. Closing with his popular Raining In Glasgow Owens showed himself at the top of his game with Into The Sea his most fully realised album so far.

Doug Seegers


Doug Seegers has a back story you couldn’t make up. A New Yorker who drifted to Nashville when hard times hit he was homeless for a while, recorded some songs one of which went viral in Sweden. This led to a recording contract and an opportunity to have Emmylou Harris appear on his debut album which has been universally praised. His appearance tonight was his UK debut and one that exploded any notions one might have had that he’d provide the soulful country groove that permeates the album, Going Down To The River. Tall, rangy, cowboy shirt and hat on, Seegers turned in a fierce honky tonk shock peppered with some Western swing backed by drummer Simon Wilhelmsson, bassist Scott Esbeck and flamboyant fiddler Barbara Lamb. Back in his homeless busking days Seegers was sometimes known as Duke the Drifter and tonight it wasn’t a huge leap to imagine him as a present day version of Luke The Drifter, a nom de plume of Hank Williams back in the days. Stretching it a bit perhaps but Seegers sang and rocked as if his life depended on it throwing in Luke like thanks to the Lord for his current good luck. He opened with Angie’s Song, the opening song from his album with its laid back seventies folk rock feel but pretty soon he was into the ball busting blues of Hard Working Man and a much tougher version of Going Down To The River than that on the album. There was gospel on Will You Ever Take The Hand Of Jesus, world weary loss on The Edge Of The World and some actual Hank on a cover of There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight. There was humour and bathos on Pour Me which was preceded by a fine tale of a cheating wife while Precious Wedding Vow should become mandatory at each proposal. Barbara Lamb on fiddle was a joy to behold, carrying all solos with a zest she added spark to Seegers’ fire on what was, for Blabber’n’Smoke, the gig of the festival.

Southern Fried. Perth. Thursday 30th July-Sunday 2nd August 2015. Part 1

Perth’s annual celebration of American soul, country and blues music, Southern Fried more than lived up to its title of Best Small Festival in Scotland (Scottish Events Awards) in this, its eighth year as a host of musicians descended on the city for four days of unalloyed musical joy. Blabber’n’Smoke attended and had a whale of a time, not only in seeing the acts (who also seemed to having a whale of a time also) but in meeting folk from last year’s event and , thanks to one of the sponsors Inveralmond Brewery, meeting various bloggers and journalists many of whom were but virtual friends on a computer screen. We compared notes and some drink was taken. Here’s the first report from the weekend.

Della Mae/The Red Pine Timber Co. The Twa Tams


The festival started with a bang at a sold out Twa Tams concert on the Thursday evening with two sets from bands who exemplified the Southern Fried ethos, class acts from America and home grown talent. Della Mae, a bluegrass quintet, originally from Boston and now based in Nashville are a youthful crew who are making waves in the country world with their records released on Rounder. They were to be almost ubiquitous throughout the weekend playing another show at the late night Friday session and acting as the house band for the Because We’re Women Dolly Parton tribute show at the Concert Hall. At the Twa Tams they were on top form playing several songs from their current album including the excellent Boston Town along with covers of The Stones’ Factory Girl and The Everly’s Wake Up Little Susie. Singer Celia Woodsmith gave as good as she got from the rumbustious audience with a performance that at times recalled the vigour of the late Janis Joplin, not bad for a bluegrass band. The other band were local heroes, The Red Pine Timber Co. who were a perfect fit for the night with their mixture of self penned country songs and covers of classics such as Gram Parsons’ Las Vegas and Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere (with some John Martyn thrown in to good effect). The eight piece band, replete with trombone, sax and fiddle partied along with the crowd late into the night. A great start to the weekend. The Twa Tams hosted further shows over the weekend including a Glasgow based showcase for bluesman Dave Arcari along with bluegrass act The Dirty Beggars and a day long rockabilly show however Blabber’n’Smoke can only be in one place at a time so missed these.

red pine tt

Rhiannon Giddens/The Punch Brothers. Perth Concert Hall

As usual, Perth’s Concert Hall hosted  three main events on consecutive evenings. Friday saw Rhiannon Giddens offer a master class on American roots music opening with her haunting rendition of a revived Dylan song, Spanish Mary before going on to cover artists as diverse as Odetta, Dolly Parton, Jean Ritchie and Patsy Cline. Water Boy took us into the deep south of chain gangs while Cousin Emmy’s Ruby Are You Mad At Your Man was a bluegrass hoedown of the first order. The outstanding Black Is The Colour saw cellist Malcolm parson on melodica inserting some of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme towards the end while Gidden’s fine Gaelic mouth music on Puirt a Beul had the audience on their feet. Pulling together the roots of what we might call Americana music Giddens took time to discuss many of the songs’ origins and explained that North Carolina has a large settlement of Scots Gaelic speakers. Charming and engaging Giddens set the bar high for the weekend.

The Punch Brothers were hampered initially by sound problems leading to several pauses in the show which Chris Thile managed to fill with some fine deprecatory quips. Eventually they abandoned their attempts to fix the sound and grouped around one microphone old style allowing their finely crafted style of chamber bluegrass to flow. While at times they can seem incredibly mannered, (a stately version of Debussy’s Passepied done bluegrass style?) there’s no doubting the instrumental prowess on show here and the crowd lapped up the virtuoso delivery of Movement and Location and Julep. However the frantic version of Jimmy Rodgers’ Brakeman Blues that closed the set showed that they can still play exciting rootsy music with a fervour with Thile’s vocal delivery most impressive.

Because We’re Women: The Songs of Dolly Parton. Perth Concert Hall


Saturday night was Dolly night. A concert dedicated to Ms. Parton and a reminder that away from the showbiz glitz and rhinestone guitars Dolly is at heart a great musician and songwriter. The sight of seventeen female artists gathered on stage was an impressive statement in itself. Della Mae were the house band, able to turn in bluegrass, soul and some good old rock and pop ably assisted by drummer Signy Jakobsdottir and Mhairi Hall on piano after some intensive rehearsals over the previous few days. In front (or sitting at the Dolly themed stage bar) were The McCrary Sisters, Meaghan Blanchard, Yola Carter, Lisa Mills, Samantha Crain and Amythyst Kiah. With three songs each from the Parton canon each of the performers added their own particular sparkle to the night. Yolanda Carter beaming a soulful joy, Meaghan Blanchard a fine country joy, Lisa Mills some bluesy charm, Samantha Crain an earthy folkiness and Amythyst Kiah a swampy grit. With the McCrary’s adding yet more soulful touches songs such as Applejack, Jolene, My Tennessee Mountain Home and Coat of Many Colours were all given an airing. The most poignant moment was a tender and moving version of The Grass Is Blue sung by Della Mae’s Jenni Lynn Gardner who seemed almost overwhelmed at the end of the song. A reminder then of Dolly’s place in the pantheon of country fame but her pop persona was not ignored with Alfreda McCrary delivering I Will Always Love you (occasioning some arm waving on stage and in the audience and a standing ovation) and an ensemble encore of Nine To Five which again had everyone on their feet. A great night.

Rock My Soul. Perth Concert Hall

rock my soul

For the final concert hall event The Fairfield Four and The McCrary Sisters transformed the auditorium into a gospel tent for the evening. For the first song both ensembles delivered Come Into This House before the McCrary’s departed. Dressed in pressed dungarees and dinner jackets The Fairfield Four boomed impressively on songs such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Dese Bones and Children Go Where I Send Thee on which they were joined by Willie Watson. Their four voices meshed magnificently with Joe Thomson’s bass particularly impressive and while the exhortations to give thanks to the Lord seemed to affect primarily the front row by the time Levert Allison came down from the stage for the final number the audience was happy clapping along.
From the glories of the unaccompanied voices of The Fairfield Four The McCrary Sisters, although still delivering a sanctified message were soulful and grooving thanks to their well drilled back up band for the night. All Scots (Nico Bruce bass, Joe Nisbet guitar, Jim McDermott drums and Andy May keys), they were able to lock into a Stax-Volt backbeat with Nisbet throwing out some very fine Cropper like guitar licks on the bluesy This Train. Bringing up guests Yolanda Carter for two songs and Doug Seegers (taking the part of Buddy Miller on Hold The Wind) the sisters praised the Lord but also partied with abandon with Fire stoking up an Otis inspired frenzy and a cracking version of The Staples I’ll Take You There. The encore featured the Fairfield’s and the guests for an awesome Rock My Soul inciting the third standing ovation of the three concert hall nights.

For a limited period you can hear highlights of the shows from Rhiannon Giddens, The Punch Brothers and The Fairfield Four recorded by BBC Radio Scotland for Another Country with Ricky Ross here

James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band. The Tower. Dead Records Collective

Guest reviewer Rudie Humphrey is very impressed by this debut from Glaswegian James Edwyn

No biography, no press release, just a brown envelope on the mat when I returned home, understated, standing on its own two feet. The opener The new Arrival is a bare acoustic number, Dylanesque, Edwyn sounds like the best bits of Simon and Garfunkel. You think you know how it’s going to be and that preconception would alone be a good record. On meeting the Man in the Suit, the second number,  is the album clincher. Super radio friendly, a groovy little shuffle with some damm fine guitar, I love the harmony on “if you see me coming, you’d better not stick around”. Emma Joyce on harmony vocals is terrific throughout, but on this track it is all about the guitar picking – the solo is a stormer. There is a delightful undercurrent across the record, an all pervading darkness of the soul, woe, loss, a permissive melancholy. On She Sees Rainbows, again augmented by Joyce’s voice, Edwyn is a British slant on Willie Nelson, beaten down, but not beaten, and the heartbroken piano leaves you sobbing. It’s about dark places but it is far from gloom inducing creating a sense of solace instead. It fills you with hope, vanquishes loneliness, reassures you that we all have these feelings, it’s normal. “We should be dancing off the ceiling, but we’re holding on to nothing, that’s how it works” serves as illustration.

The construction, the subtle, delicate, refined construction is stunning. Only the best is used, the minimum, and it’s the better for it. The day they mixed this record and it was complete Edwyn should have been at his happiest, to know he’d touched perfection. If you played on this record you’ve touched greatness and your pride should be unmeasurable. There is Dylan, Adams, Nelson, Currie, Finn and Costello in this record, in its DNA, it’s channelled and used in an evolved state; there’s a family resemblance to all of them, but he is his own man. Maslow is The Lemonheads, Lloyd Cole and similar 90’s artists Toad the Wet Sprocket brought to the boil, the froth knocked off and just the body savoured. It is a record to remind you life has so many good things, and why music is so valuable, how it can shape a mood. The Last Waltz’s pleading “please” is Hansard, Fray or Rice, done better. “How could you just turn it off, like a light you left on overnight by mistake” is the best heartbroken line of the year, and if this isn’t on their t-shirts they’ve missed a trick – it’s their “guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm”. The flourish near the start of I Figure Son, probably a Fender Rhodes, definitely played by Scott Keenan, is worth the album’s price alone – 3 notes that sum up this remarkable record, Borrowed Band it might be but extend the loan, it’s certainly a worthy investment.

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