Rita Hosking. Frankie and The No-Go Road. Independent release.

Quietly, almost surreptitiously, Rita Hosking, like the teacher she is, has over the years gently led her listeners into her world of softly stated folk music, an amalgam of sunny California and steelier mountain climes. She’s a story teller with a guitar who has always embellished her songs with banjo and Dobro, keeping it simple but direct. Her last release,  Little Boat was a miniature delight, 27 minutes of unalloyed joy as Hosking sang of small town life and a child’s wonder of science.

Frankie and The No-Go Road follows the template of the earlier albums, produced again by Rich Brotherton (of Robert Earl Keen fame) who plays a plethora of stringed instruments and keyboards here while husband Sean Feder adds Dobro and Djembe. The twist is that it’s a bit of a concept album, or at least a set of songs with a thematic connection, the connection being the concern about the untrammelled drive of commerce and its abuse of the individual’s aspirations along with its effects on society and ecology. There’s no storyline as such but Hosking adroitly weaves her theme around the concept of Wetiko, a Native American word for those who consume all around with no thought for the future. She directly addresses this in the song Wetiko singing “Take it all, take it now, take it any way you can. And you will be a royal in this guns’n’dolls land” but overall the message is oblique. The “hero,” Frankie is on an odyssey set off by his search for a better world as he observes wanton commercialism. He considers a flight from it all but instead decides to teach folk how to achieve a better world. He battles the villain and returns only to find that messiahs are not always welcomed, unabashed he continues to deliver his wisdom. In a nutshell this is it but the above is gleaned from Hosking’s written intros on the lyric booklet as the songs exist both within and without the story. You can enjoy the album as you wish, a set of very fine songs or as a message.

As a set of songs the album maintains Hosking’s place as one of our finer artists. She sings with a fine sense of ache and the songs are all excellent rootsy excavations. Mixing a folky sound with a more primitive and bare boned banjo blues style she delivers a set of songs that each deserve attention. Our Land is a song that is shiveringly good while Mama Said is a pure joy. The band are excellent on the gently rolling Black Hole and there’s a wonderful sense of defiance on Resurrection.

Rita Hosking is touring the UK in November, dates here.

website

Advertisements

Glasgow Americana Roundup Pt. 3

Sunday and the action has shifted from the South Side to the city centre, The CCA in Sauchiehall Street, for two shows, an afternoon matinee and the closing concert of the Festival, Hazy Recollections.

Krista Detor/Sam Lewis

First up was Krista Detor from Bloomington, Indiana accompanied by her husband, David Weber on guitar and Mike Lindauer on bass. For some reason Ms. Detor chose to place her keyboard front and centre on the stage with a cloth around it. Seated behind this she appeared at times to be interviewing the audience, at other times celebrating a religious rite with the keyboard an altar. Although no religion was involved there was at times an ecclesiastical feel which for this writer was emphasised by the resemblance of some of the songs to the late Judee Sill’s work, in particular the striking delivery of Clocks Of The World. Other songs, the languid Castle in Wales, the dream like Can I Come Over and For All I Know, a song dedicated to her son, were reminiscent of other songstresses from the early seventies such as Dory Previn and Joni Mitchell.

No shame in that of course as Ms Detor is a fine writer and well able to step away from the keyboard ballad (although not from behind the keyboard) to offer the bar room styled Steal Me A Car and the boho beat of Middle Of A Breakdown. In addition she donned accordion for her rousing version of the Cinderella story, Belle Of The Ball while her song introductions were a world away from the stately delivery of the ballads. Mention must be made of Weber’s guitar playing which adorned the keys wonderfully.

Sam Lewis sort of wandered on to the stage. Clad in denim, bearded and with long lank hair he seemed the epitome of the seventies minstrel, an image he didn’t attempt to dispel with his various references to his “recreational activities,” some of which were hilarious – at one point wandering over to the promo picture of himself projected onto the backdrop and saying, “I don’t remember this photo shoot at all.” Any notion that he is just a stoner with a guitar however soon evaporated as he worked his way through songs from his two albums (his greatest hits as he called them) along with some fine covers. A fine guitarist he managed to project the songs despite them being stripped of the fine arrangements, soul and country, which adorn them on the albums.

There’s no getting away from the fact that his voice sounds at times like James Taylor, at other times Dylan in Nashville circa ’69 but his writing and performance overshadows that, his opening gambit, Reinventing The Blues setting out his wares, laid back songs with a soulful country feel. Aside from the tales of high times Lewis explained the origin of some of his songs with a fine sense of dissection, the hypnogogic state described on In my Dreams and memories of his grandmother’s house on Virginia Avenue. He was fulsome in his praise for Fred Eaglesmith describing him as a mentor (and deriding him for his poor jokes) and paid tribute to Willie Nelson with a cover of Hands On The Wheel from Red Headed Stranger (acknowledging the song’s writer Bill Callery). Nelson was again mentioned as an influence when Lewis sang an excellent Never Again from his Waiting For You Album. His delivery here was superb and one was reminded of a visitor to last year’s festival, Sturgill Simpson who was about to go stratospheric. With the right breaks, Lewis could head in the same direction.

Thanks to Alistair Fleming for photography

Glasgow Americana Round Up Pt. 2

Back to The Glad Cafe for the evening’s entertainment and the small hall is packed to the rafters for this show.

Opener Curtis McMurtry is the 24-year-old son of James McMurtry and grandson of author Larry and tonight was his first show in Scotland. He delivered several songs from his debut album Respectable Enemy which certainly showed that he has his forebear’s gifts for words with his war veteran’s suicide note, Foxhole, the highlight of the set. Opening song, Sparks In The Wind was memorable for its melody and striking chorus and McMurtry’s deft guitar work more than compensated for the lack of the instrumentation on the recorded version while Eleanor’s House was a fine example of small town reminiscences that reminded us a little of John Fullbright. McMurtry describes his album as “songs about villains who think they’re victims” and tonight he offered the audience a choice at times of a sad or mean song. He seems to be attempting to inhabit the dark hinterland of Americana but he still has some gravitas to develop before he can drive down that dark highway without looking over his shoulder. Nevertheless he can be proud of lyrics such as “when we trust in constellations/we proudly admit that we made a mistake /and we muster disappointment /with everything we make” on his fine rendition of Chaplinesque.

CM

Lewis & Leigh have a bit of a buzz going on about them right now, reports from Nashville indicating that their set at the recent CMA awards was a cracker. Al Lewis, a Welshman, and Alva Leigh from Mississippi teamed up two years back and have released three excellent EPs (the latest, Hidden Truths is released this week). With Al on guitar and Alva on occasional keyboards they roamed easily around rockabilly, Everly Brothers’ harmonies and spooky night speckled tales. There are hints of X, The Walkabouts and Twilight Hotel in there but their songs transcend the influences with several tonight mesmerising the audience.

They opened with the rambunctious and rollicking Only Fifteen, a song that opens with some thrashing guitar on a tale of a kid looking for his birth mother, her plea that she was too young to look after him delivered in a dreamlike chorus with Alva sounding like Maria Muldaur on the soundtrack to Steelyard Blues. Next up was the wearied and blowsy Late Show, a late night waltz through Soho’s dreary neon nights with the pair riposting each other like a London based George and Tammy. Alva moved to the keyboard for the magnificent noirish Devil’s In The Detail, a song that surely marks the duo out as one’s to watch, atmospheric and laden with dread it’s a great song and tonight they performed it with some gusto.

Less one thinks that Lewis & Leigh are purveyors of an Americana nightmare there was humour aplenty in the between song chat with Little Chef restaurants especially pointed out as the reality of touring as opposed to the supposed glamour of being on the road and Al trying out his Scottish accent. However the spectral beauty of Rubble and the slightly southern soul feel of Please Darlin’ highlighted their harmonies and they capped this with a fine delivery of All Night Drive. Finally, there was a magnificent rendition of Heart Don’t Want, a song that has garnered some radio play for the duo and on the evidence of tonight it’s well deserved.

Thanks to Alistair Fleming for his photography.

Ben Rogers. The Bloodred Yonder. Tonic Records

2015 just gets better and better with each month throwing up some fantastic roots records and Vancouver’s Ben Rogers is not one to disappoint us with The Bloodred Yonder one of the most vibrant slices of countrified rock we’ve heard in a while. Rogers is a rebel rocker in the vein of Waylon Jennings and Steve Earle; he’s bad and wants us to know it, running from the law, a God fearin’ vagabond washed up on hard times, riding the rails and singing like fury although inside he’s hurting.

Rogers’ 2013 debut, Lost Stories: Volume 1 had him marked as a solid songwriter and performer working in the acoustic tradition. The Bloodred Yonder however is Rogers flexing his muscles with a full band behind him, in particular his brother Matt on guitars and keyboards and Matt Kelly playing a mean pedal steel, fuzzed up and rivalling Sneaky Pete in The Burritos. Together they revel in a hard edged honky tonk heaven somewhat akin to that inhabited by Jennings’ Lonesome, On’ry and Mean album – shitkickin’ music that doesn’t take prisoners. And while this mean country machine rolls on Rogers is there, riding shotgun, his lyrics loaded with acute observations, sage wisdom and just plain old poetry, in fact some of the best words we’ve heard this year.

There’s excitement aplenty on the opening songs. Wild Roses is out the traps with a gallop, a Western movie set to song, Rogers sounding wizened, the guitars blazing away. Wanted is a raucous honky tonk rant as the singer complains that he’s wanted by everybody except his romantic prize. Panhandler is a rip-roaring hillbilly take on the Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil with the protagonist bragging about his past, “I was baptised in a horse trough/I was born wearing a bull rim Stetson hat/Give me a jar of applejack/I’ll skin that hard tail mule in 30 seconds flat.” Perhaps exhausted by this opening triplet Rogers eases on the throttle delivering the achingly mournful Goodbye Rosa Lee, a keyboard spangled lament to a lost love with the lyrics almost a short story in themselves with killer opening lines “The moon shines like a silver coin you put in the jukebox to play our favourite song/I feel your beating heart as we dance along/We kiss so gently as if our lips are made of glass.” The song floats on with Rogers voice wearied but dripping poetry throughout.

Although there are still some instrumental pyrotechnics to come with the fiery pedal steel at the end of Darling Please and the Neil Young guitar rush of River standing out, Rogers triumphs on two songs in particular. On the whiskey soaked and weary Sinners he sings “Well God spoke to me last night, I told him I don’t talk to strangers/The guardian angel of death watches over the sinners” as pedal steel weeps away and the song limps along wonderfully. Even better is the Bakersfield styled The More I Learn which balances scatology and philosophy name checking The Klu Klux Klan, Einstein and Galileo, all kicked off when the singer has to bag his dog’s pile of shit only to find the bag has a hole in it.

All in all a cracking album that engages and intrigues, the lyric sheet included essential here as the words all work in their own right. As we said earlier Rogers is well versed in the acoustic setting so it will be interesting to see how these songs translate into a solo show and the good news is that he is currently embarked on a solo tour of the UK. English dates are about over but he has six Scottish dates coming up, see here.

Glasgow Americana Round Up Pt. 1

Blink and you’ll miss it. Well, not quite but Glasgow’s annual celebration of all things country and, well, Americana, is indeed small but as so often happens it’s also perfectly formed – five days of world class entertainment on your backdoor, what’s not to like about that. For Blabber’n’Smoke it was even smaller as diary engagements (including a commitment to review Pokey LaFarge who was in town as well) meant that we missed what one might call “the big guns,” Bruce Cockburn and Tom Russell (you can read The Herald reviews of these acts here). So it was down to four shows (and ten acts!) on the Saturday and Sunday, a concentrated dose of new and returning talent that at times was stunning and at the very least terrific entertainment.

Saturday’s action took place at The Glad Cafe on the South Side, an excellent venue for intimate shows allowing the audience an up close and personal contact with the performers, all of whom seemed to enjoy the intimacy.

Betty Soo and Danny Schmidt (with Carrie Elkin). Saturday Matinee

soo

A second generation Korean American, Betty Soo is a Texan so she comes already armed with that State’s innate gift of storytelling in song. A selection of songs from her new album, When We’re Gone, displayed her talent well; Last Night, a swooning lament of a betrayed lover was sung with a desolate sense of loneliness with Curtis McMurtry (up for this one song) adding some understated banjo notes while When We’re Gone was another tender song detailing the mementos we leave behind. Wheels showed that Ms. Soo can be defiant with this more upbeat song although again the lyrics, while celebrating life seemed to accept that we all hurtle towards the inevitable end.

Armed with only her guitar and beguiling voice Soo had the audience rapt with older songs (a tremendous Whisper My Name) and a new song that captured again the aftermath of a break up as she catalogued a list of daily activities, once routine but now perpetual reminders of loneliness (no one there to tell you to shut the cupboard door). As we said Ms. Soo is from Texas and she paid homage to one of the great Texans with a rendition of Butch Hancock’s Boxcars, slowing it down and infusing it with a fine sense of loss and regret.

ds

It was a welcome surprise to see Danny Schmidt arrive on stage accompanied by his wife, Carrie Elkin as she hadn’t been billed to appear. A fine vocal foil for Schmidt’s husky voice, adding harmonies to the songs Ms. Elkin also had the opportunity to display her recently established command of the mouth organ which led to one of the better quips of the days as Danny added “I could have asked Neil Young to marry me” after one of her “moothie” solos. An affable host Schmidt spent a good deal of time talking; about his songs, explaining their genesis with a sly wit or engaging in repartee with Elkin, obviously relishing his relationship with her and singing the song he wrote by way of proposing marriage (and you can see that song at the bottom of this article).

Aside from the obvious happiness of the couple Schmidt got down to business with a solid performance, his excellent guitar technique, bending strings and achieving some fine vibrato and tremolo effects, adding colour and dynamics to the songs. He opened with Paper Cranes from his current release, Owls and several songs from the album featured with Schmidt delivering his thoughts on ecology, god and gun control (on Soon The Earth Will Swallow, Looks Like God and Guns and The Crazy Ones) but his best was on the spooky and dusty ballad Bad Year For Cane while his solo rendition of an older song, Stained Glass was a masterclass in storytelling, the words pouring out like a torrent towards the end. Rounding up the show, the pair returned to the Texan theme with their rendition of Guy Clark’s Stuff That Works, a fine and comfortable way to finish off with.

).

Betty Soo. When We’re Gone. Independent release.

Still banging on about the Glasgow Americana Festival (which starts today folks, see here for details) we were surprised to find Betty Soo scheduled to appear. Blabber’n’Smoke encountered Betty’s fine albums back in 2011 here and here after which she seemed to drop off the map. Well, perhaps she was quiet on the album front but according to her press release she’s been busy; touring, attending to friends with personal and mental health problems and managing her own health which has been problematic at times.

Nice then to hear that Soo remains at the top of her game on When We’re Gone, a swoonful mix of laid back country and folk styled songs, her wonderful voice surrounded at times by the graceful pedal steel stylings of Lloyd Maines or marinated in soothing cello. The cello is played by Soo’s primary foil here, producer Brian Standefer who recorded the album at his studio in Texas and together the pair have crafted an exquisite piece.

There are songs that have the inbuilt pain and heartache one expects from Mary Gauthier, The Things She Left Town With being the primary example. It’s a wonderful song, hesitant and painful, Soo’s voice emotional but distant, observing the scene as Will Sexton skilfully fleshes it out with some mournful guitar flourishes. There’s sadness scattered throughout the album. Last Night aches with betrayal as does Josephine, a song that that could have been written by Janis Ian, its inner city folkiness redolent of bed sit listening. Aside from some of the country leanings and its Texas origins, most notable on the curling guitar of Sexton on Love Is Real,  the album actually is more akin to late night musings in Greenwich Village. The Paul Simon styled title of 100 Different Ways Of Being Alone is home to a relatively fast paced deliberation on alienation and loneliness while Hold Tight swims with shimmering cello and recalls Laura Nyro’s city ballads.

When We’re Gone is an album that should mark Ms. Soo out as a major talent, her voice is like crystal, her songs heartfelt and delivered with grace and beauty. Any doubts as to this should be dispelled by her crowning achievement here, the heart rending Nothing Heals A Broken Heart. A meditation on a mother’s loss of her child it’s a monumental song, borne along on a weeping cello with an empathetic rhythm section the song weeps tears as Soo captures the mother’s pain in a series of vignettes opening with these lines.

We took your seat out of the car after a couple of weeks but your room is still unchanged/ Yellow and lime Jeans still crumpled in the basket/a small tear on the left knee from a big old oak you were proud to climb.

Five and a half minutes of heartache, the bass like a heartbeat and Soo, harmonising with herself, drenched in regret, it’s one of the best songs we’ve heard this year. Listen and weep.

As we said above Betty Soo is appearing at Glasgow Americana. She’s appearing with Danny Schmidt at The Glad Cafe on Saturday 10th October and on the strength of this album you’d be daft not to see her.

website

GospelbeacH. Pacific Surf Line. Alive Natural Sound Records

Well the nights are drawing in and it’s a strange time to be extolling the virtues of an album as sunny as Pacific Surf Line, an album that might require some sunscreen to be applied before listening. The album’s packed full of sunshine pop and rock’n’roll, the California (or more specifically LA) sound that was mined by The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees and The Byrds helmed by producers such as Gary Usher, Terry Melcher and Curt Boechter. No surprise really as GospelbeacH are the spiritual descendents of Beachwood Sparks whom folk will remember as a sun drenched jangle band from the turn of the century.

Brent Rademaker and Tom Sanford, both ex Beachwoods got together back in 2014 and pretty soon were joined by Neal Casal (somewhat of a renaissance man in the Americana scene, check out his resume sometime) who added his guitar and vocals to the mix. With bass duties picked up by Kip Boardman and Jason Soda coming in on yet more guitar the line up was finalised; bass drums and three guitarists, a modern day Moby Grape? Not too farfetched a comparison perhaps as the Grape produced what might be the finest West Coast pop/rock disc with their debut album, each song on it deemed worthy of a single release (a PR stunt that backfired spectacularly). The point here is that GospelbeacH have the muscle, crossfire guitar and song writing chops that Moby Grape displayed so briefly and combine this with the mature country rock of Souther, Hillman and Furay.

There are ten songs, all written and arranged by all band members with Rademaker singing lead throughout, harmonies from the other four. The sprightly country rock of the opening California Steamer immediately grabs your attention, an intricately layered tapestry of guitars, acoustic and slide, beavers away as Rademaker sings the praises of barrelling down the California coast on a glorious train. It’s a sublime song that incredibly gets better towards the end with an excellent coda featuring organ and sparkling guitar, a song that could kill an album as you reckon there’s nothing coming up that’s going to beat it. No fears here as the band next launch into the sun kissed road song Sunshine Skyway evoking the likes of Poco with some fine pedal steel from Jason Soda skirling away. Your Freedom allows some room to catch your breath on a gentle ballad that features some heavenly harmonies before Mick Jones hammers into view with its driving rhythm and snarled Dobro summoning up a country punk thrash before Casal delivers a blistering guitar solo.

Midway through and the band deliver two of the album’s highpoints. Come Down visits the Beach Boys circa 1973 when they added a rhythm section and explored California with a weathered eye. Tempo changes, keyboards and guitar effects echo the Beach Boys mature style and the harmonies lift the song into another dimension. Southern Girl repeats this trick although here the template is Surf’s Up with the band capturing the melancholic nostalgia conveyed by Brian Wilson at the end of the sixties. Immaculately delivered this is no mere copy cat with the arrangement superb, an ARP string ensemble adding texture and Jason Soda soaring stratospherically on his guitar solo. Proving that they’re not anchored to the west coast the band salute some predecessors on the jubilant jangled groove of Out Of My Mind (On Cope & Reed), a song that still relates to LA but the hazier side of things. The lengthiest song here it allows the guitars to flash over a Lowry organ buzz but there’s a sense that they’ve missed a trick here in the title as it most resembles the late Kevin Ayers in full flow.

There’s a sense that the band have had great fun in making this album, collecting their musical memories and breathing new life into them and the closing song Damsel In Distress is no exception gathering in as it does elements of Steve Wynn and CSN&Y’s muscular Long Time Gone. Whatever, it’s another grand song and a great way to end what is a great album.

website