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.

website

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.

website

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.

website

The Stray Birds

photo by Doug Seymour

Serendipity indeed. Just after posting the review of the Ana Agge album which features Lancaster, Pennsylvania based The Stray Birds as the backing band Blabbern’n’Smoke received some fine news nuggets relating to the band.

First off they had a triumphant main stage appearance at Cambridge Folk Festival where they were hailed by many, including BBC Radio 2 folk show presenter, Mark Radcliffe, as “the hit of the event”. Secondly they have added a select few tour dates in the UK while in Europe, including the Edinburgh Fringe (The Famous Spiegletent) and St Andrews in the Square in Glasgow, scene of their sold-out debut at Celtic Connections last year. These will be the only tour dates on this side of the Atlantic this year. You can read previous Blabber’n’Smoke mentions of The Stray Birds here, here and here

Dates:

Wed Aug 19: Cecil Sharp House, London
Thurs Aug 20: Norwich Arts Centre
Fri Aug 21: The Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford
Sat Aug 22: The Black Box, Belfast
Sun Aug 23: The Famous Spiegeltent, Edinburgh Fringe (11pm)
Tues Aug 25: St Andrews in The Square, Glasgow

The Boxmasters. Somewhere Down The Road. 101 Ranch Records

It’s a game of two half’s here on this double CD set from actor Billy Bob Thornton’s troupe, The Boxmasters. Thornton (here listed as “Bud”) drums and sings most of the vocals for the band with Teddy Andrewis, keyboards, Brad Davis, guitar and JD Andrew on bass completing the complement. Obviously The Boxmasters are not Thornton’s main gig, busy as he is winning Golden Globe awards for his performances in shows such as Fargo taking up some of his time however they’re far from a vanity project and Somewhere Down The Road stands up well apart from the celebrity in their midst.

Two half’s? Well, for some reason disc 1 here is a well-crafted collection of songs that are hewn from the same quarry as sixties jangled pop and rock with a dash of power pop thrown in, echoes of The Flamin’ Groovies, The Hollies and The Byrds are heard here and there. Disc 2 is darker, contemporary Americana songs with pedal steel from Jon Rauhouse adding some spice. While The Boxmasters have had mixed reviews for their previous efforts here the song writing is well above par while Thornton manages his vocals well, quite recognisable on several of the latter disc’s songs while the poppier demands of the first disc have him managing high notes and harmonies with no difficulty. Highlights include the Everly influenced Kathy Won’t Share which is swathed in tasty guitar licks and garlanded with a fine chorus and the fine pop thump of You’ll Be lonely Tonight which could have graced a Traveling’ Wilburys’ album. Over on disc two things get off to a fine start on the prowling and dark Away, Away. Always Lie is a John Prine like number as Thornton advises the listener that the best way to survive is to be economical with the truth, a lesson learned perhaps from his encounters with showbiz reporters as he sings
“Remember to resist when they grab you by the wrist. You know they’re gonna always twist every word you say. Their world is only black and white, cold darkness and a shining light. They’re a little short too short of sight to see that life is always gray.”
Who Can Tell is a murder ballad of the first degree, a pregnant young girl cut to pieces under a train and delivered with a country stagger. Best of all however is the pedal steel laced Young Man’s Game, a co-write with Rauhouse which is infused with nostalgia for the old days as Thornton lays down his most wearied vocal before an excellent instrumental ending with the pedal steel curling away over mandolin and strummed guitars.

website

Ana Egge. Bright Shadow

Brooklyn based folk singer Ana Egge has teamed up with Pennsylvania trio, The Stray Birds for this, her eighth album having met them at Folk Alliance in Toronto in 2012. Fans of her last album, the Steve Earle produced Bad Blood, The Bird folk expressed an interest in playing with Egge who subsequently wrote the material for Bright Shadow with them in mind, their instrumentation and voices integral parts of the process. To call the collaboration a success is something of an understatement. With Egge on lead vocals and guitar The Stray Birds (Maya De Vitry : fiddle, banjo, vocals, Charles Muench : upright bass, vocals, and Oliver Craven : mandolin, fiddle, slide guitar, vocals) are ever present with fine harmony singing and their usual degree of musical proficiency with a few of the songs sounding similar to their own recordings in style and delivery. It’s Egge who’s in the spotlight however and she shines brightly. Her voice is a wonderful thing, at times melancholic, wearied, elsewhere skipping in its beat, all the while expressive and warm while her songs are finely honed nuggets of delight.

The album opens with the sturdy upright bass line of Dreamer sounding as if it were backing a beat poem before Egge appears, indeed speaking in rhyme. The chorus however is sung with De Vitry on harmony as more instrumentation appears and a short fiery fiddle solo enlivens the piece. It’s a striking opening but Dreamer is the least indicative of what to expect here, the remainder of the album being more traditional in arrangement and delivery. There’s a brace of sparkling up-tempo numbers that skirt on the edge of bluegrass and stringband music allowing The Stray Birds full rein. Flat Top Guitar tells the tale of a neglected instrument, left gathering dust in a corner and recalling its glory days being played at the country fair and the “golden hands that made me wail and cry.”  With a great chorus (again featuring De Vitry), rippling mandolin and curling fiddle it’s a fine song. Jenny Run Away is an adaptation of a traditional song and continues in a similar vein while an excellent rendition of Dolly Parton’s Wildflowers features some fine mandolin playing.

The title song is more introspective, a hushed (and beautifully played) nocturnal musing on dreams of flight with a mesmerising middle eight, it’s hypnotic. On Rock Me (Divine Mother), a number that has gained resonance as Egge’s mother died shortly after the album was recorded, dreams again feature in a song that has a spiritual light at its centre. Egge closes the album with the magnificent The Ballad Of Jean Genet, a tribute to the French author she first heard of from Patti Smith. Here her voice approaches Lucinda Williams’ worn approach while The Stray Birds offer up fine harmony murmurings throughout and swell in the chorus. Laid over sly and sinewy slide guitar it’s a perfect summation of the collaboration between Egge and The Stray Birds and a fine end to an excellent album.

Ana Egge website

The Stray Birds website

Listen to the song Bright Shadow here