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

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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

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.

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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

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.

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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

DMTT

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.

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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

Dolly

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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The Dirty Beggars Farewell (For Now) Party. Stereo Cafe Bar, Glasgow. Friday 7th August


Borders based bluegrass country group, The Dirty Beggars have been one of the quieter success stories in Scottish music over the past five years. From humble beginnings they have supported a host of well known roots and Americana artists, been championed by Trampled By Turtles, busked across the Southern States and released a well regarded album and EP. For some reason they’re taking a break hence the banner for this packed show at Glasgow’s Stereo, sold out we believe and it’s certainly the case that Blabber’n’Smoke has seen several well known acts here and it’s never been so busy. Getting near the front was nigh impossible and even the usual space at the back by the bar was crowded.

Dressed for the occasion in suits the five piece band ( Kieran Begbie Vocals, Guitar; Finn Begbie Vocals, Harmonica, Mandolin, Guitar; Pete Begbie Vocals, Banjo, Guitar; Stuart Printie Double Bass, Dobro, Mandolin; Pedro Cameron Fiddle) launched straightaway into Hey Hey, a song that just about sums them up. Rollicking bluegrass, fiddle blazin’ and banjo flailing away it’s easy to see why some folk have called them Scotland’s answer to Old Crow Medicine Show. They soon slipped into the first of several covers of the night, a gently flowing version of Jackson Browne’s These Days which was lapped up by the crowd. By now the temperature was rising and soon the jackets were off as the band withstood the heat for almost two hours playing songs from Bite The Bullet and their EP along with the crowd pleasing Galway Girl from Steve Earle. The gentler songs however were all but lost among the chatter from the punters at the back of the room. The closing song, their inevitable rendition of OCMS’s Wagon Wheel tipped the crowd into a frenzy and ending up as one big singalong. Hopefully the band will return recharged after their break as talent such as theirs will be much missed.

Here they are with that crowd favourite from a few years ago.

Jenny Ritter. Raised By Wolves. Fiddle Head Records

Review by Rudie Humphrey

This banjo driven pedal steel fest is one for true music fans, its production quality, especially of the uncomplicated drums, is a class apart. If this was Jenny Lewis the press would be gushing and fawning, Jenny Ritter does it better. Her sharp high voice means you sail away, lofted up high to some other, better place, soaring over the world below.

Wolf Wife, which gives us the album title, is full of sawing fiddles and throughout its construction is a marvel, let alone the turns themselves. It has a tide-like rhythm, an ebb and flow, pedal steel to banjo to fiddle and return, all in harmony, perfectly attuned. It has lots of subtle, occasional harmony vocal lines, the voice is haunting, a siren, she opens her mouth and the next you know you’re prostrate, dashed on the rocks, hypnotised.

Slide Mountain is proof, if it were needed, of the power of the instrumental, it’s the music of the woods, of the outdoors, chilly, and music of a cold place but a warm soul, and it is time to mitten up. It’s a tune that gives you that feeling of seeing mountains for the first time in a long time, a stark reminder of how beautiful they can be, a jolt to your reality; we get some mediocrity and vanilla, occasionally you get something special, this is the flake in the 99, and probably the strawberry sauce too.

Remember the Life is otherworldly, like a voice calling you from inside a dream. It seems like looking through dust in sunlight to see its own very magical sparkle. This is an album for when it is cold outside and you’re warm inside, it’s an album that makes everything seem just that bit more special.

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Ronnie Fauss. Built To Break. Normaltown Records

When Another Town, the opening song on Dallas based Ronnie Fauss’s Built To Break came banging out of the speakers for the first time Blabber’n’Smoke had a quick double take moment. Surely this was Scotland’s own Wynntown Marshals beavering away under a pseudonym? Turns out not to be the case but Another Town is a dead ringer for The Marshals, vocally Fauss sounds like Keith Benzie while the song belts along in similar fashion to Wynntown goodies such as Canada with big crunchy guitars and whip smart solos driving it along. Probably not the best way to start a review but the resemblance is striking and as regular readers of Blabber’n’Smoke will know a comparison to The Marshals is praise indeed. However Fauss is at heart a blue collar country rocker and a more apt comparison might be Robert Earl Keen, both documenting the other side of life in Texas red dirt life, case in point, the lyrics of Another Town…”well the neighbours said you made a big scene today Screaming that you would be damned before the state take your baby away And I remember that I swore I’d do my best But now I’m here in this hotel room stacking bottles on my chest.”

There’s more hi octane rocking on A Natural End and on the magnificent Eighteen Wheels, a trucking song where Fauss shares vocals with Rhett Miller (of the Old 97’s) which scoots along splendidly with frantic keyboards and a litany of musical heroes purifying the trucker’s soul as he heads for home. Old Life is a rush of words, fiddle, pedal steel and organ with lyrics worthy of Woody Guthrie which takes the wind out of the listener with its pace and energy. Elsewhere there’s the wild yearning country rock of A Place Out In The Country which has the lurch of vintage Crazy Horse and the dual guitar duelling of the Allman’s all coming to a boil towards the exhilarating climax.

Fauss takes his foot off the throttle on occasion delivering the fine Come On Down, a celebration of the working man and on The Big Catch, a song that hints at a dark secret in a kid’s past. Never Gonna Last is a delightful Dobro fuelled duet with Jenna Paulette that recalls country duets such as Dolly and Porter’s but Fauss goes all out on the subdued cover of a Phosphorescent song, Song For Zula which is just this side of sublime. His vocals and acoustic guitar are gradually joined by guitar and backing vocals over a gentle bass line giving the song a fine melancholic air without losing any of the pathos of the original. In addition it links Fauss again to The Wynntown Marshals who once sang a song about a gorilla in captivity. Weird coincidence.

Anyway, Built To Break is an excellent listen and well recommended.

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Black Vincent. Teardrop Deluxe

Fronted by Chicago based musician, Coley Kennedy, Black Vincent is a seven piece band which includes several members of Coley’s previous bands, Welcome To Ashley and The Buddies. Kennedy is quoted as saying, “I’ve always wanted to make a ‘rainy-night’ album that’s sad without being depressing” and on Teardrop Deluxe he’s tried his best to do this coming on like Richard Hawley with dashes of Roy Orbison thrown in for good measure. Tremeloed guitar and string like keys sweep throughout the album giving it a forlorn and indeed rain swept night time feel but there are also elements reminiscent of Bowie and Scots post punk balladeer Paul Quinn in the way Kennedy uses his voice while the band ramp up the atmosphere adding a fine sense of melodrama. This melodramatic touch reaches its height on the extravagant flourishes of Sad Deep Inside which unfortunately topples over itself in its excitement ending up as merely a cacophony of guitars and voices. More successful is the Bowie like When We Was Young which opens with a melody similar to Space Oddity while Kennedy actually sounds like Bowie circa ’69 and Friends With Motorcycles which does sound like Paul Quinn and Orange Juice goofing around. There’s even a pumped up romp, It’s All Too Much that heads into Iggy Pop territory with a frenzied riff and Iggy like lyrics.

Kennedy’s at his best on the Orbison like heartbreak of Lonely and Blue singing
I’ll miss you when I wake I’ll miss you in my dreams and in my grave I cannot change my past I cannot change my tune I’m lonely and blue I’m lonely and blue”
as the band lurch gloomily behind him while Stacy Main is another stand out with a similar feel for old times and places to that on Richard Hawley’s Cole’s Corner. The closing song Gone goes for a climatic ending but serves to show that although there’s plenty of promise here Kennedy needs to loosen up somewhat as the song could do with the swing and passion that someone like Raul Malo of the Mavericks would bring to it. Nevertheless, a fine wee album that marks Black Vincent out as ones to watch.

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