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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Glasgow Americana Festival 2015 : 7th to 11th October.

This week sees the ninth annual Glasgow Americana Festival and as always it’s an excellent opportunity to see and hear some top notch acts in an intimate setting far removed from the arenas and concert halls that often act as a barrier between audience and artist.

Festival director Kevin Morris will be no stranger to readers here as he is responsible for The Fallen Angels Club who promote shows throughout the year, his keen ear responsible for bringing the likes of Sturgill Simpson to Glasgow well before his star was in the ascendancy. The past week’s been a bit of a blizzard of last minute preparations for Kevin but he was kind enough to take some time to speak to Blabber’n’Smoke. We started by recalling the first festival back in 2007 which Kevin organised as a tribute to Billy Kelly, a key player in the local and national scene going back to the days of Mayfest and who was responsible for Big Big Country, Glasgow’s first Americana festival. Mary Gauthier appeared that year and was recorded in The Herald describing Kelly as “an angel,” his patronage among the significant stepping stones on a career that has taken her to Nashville as a major label recording artist.

Kevin: The Glasgow music scene sadly lost Billy in 2007 and he has been hard to replace ever since. Glasgow Americana has tried to fill the gap that was left after Billy’s sudden passing, and hopefully Billy is looking down us with an approving look at what we have achieved since we started in 2007. We always have a wish list year on year and go about trying to make it happen, we are lucky to have these amazing artists making the festival as part of their tours. We already have some ideas for both 2016 and 2017, so we will see what develops, but probably best to get the 2015 festival out the way first.

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Over the nine years there have been numerous artists performing but we wondered if there were any particular moments that stood out for Kevin

There have been loads and that it is a very good and a tricky question, I suppose one that does stand out was Alejandro Escovedo at The Arches in 2011. Also our Americana Saturday in 2012, we had Sam Baker playing the matinee show in The CCA and then Eliza Gilkyson play the evening show that year, that was a very special day indeed.

Kevin and his team are well known for their hospitality for the acts he puts on with many returning time and time again and who regard Kevin as a friend and not just the promoter. He told us a little bit about a special occasion for him earlier this year.

I have been very lucky with the people I have met through putting on shows, and have made so many friends from across the pond. Myself and my wife Lauren got married in Austin, Texas in June of this year. While we were there we met up with some musician friends that have played for us over the years, including Sam Baker, Eliza Gilkyson and Chip Dolan. On our wedding day we were very fortunate enough to have Alejandro Escovedo as a witness at our wedding ceremony over looking Barton Springs. Not your average day for a wee boy from Bothwell.

With that Kevin was back attending to business for what will be a busy week for him. The Festival kicks off on Wednesday 7th October with Bruce Cockburn playing at St. Andrews in the Square while Tom Russell plays the same venue on Friday 9th. Other venues are The Glad Cafe which has Danny Schmidt and Betty Soo on a matinee show on 10th October and Lewis & Leigh and Curtis McMurtry (son of James) that same evening while The CCA has Kathryn Williams and Michele Stodart (The Magic Numbers) on Thursday 8th October and a matinee show from Sam Lewis and Krista Detor on the11th.
The festival ends with Findlay Napier’s Hazy Recollections, his peripatetic event that showcases several acts and is hosted by Napier himself, the man responsible for one of the finest Scottish albums this year in his disc Very Important Persons. His VIPs for the night will be Sam Lewis, Dark Green Tree and Kera Impala and it’s shaping up to be a very interesting evening.

We’ll leave the final words to Kevin as we tried to get him to spill the beans on whether he had any particular artist or group who would be his ultimate Glasgow Americana catch, his “bucket list” as such. Kevin pondered on this before replying… Yes, but I’m not telling you anything else about that.

Full line ups and dates are here http://www.glasgowamericana.com/

Reviews of the latest albums from some of the acts are here
Sam Lewis
Lewis & Leigh
Tom Russell
Findlay Napier
Dark Green Tree

And finally here’s a clip of Sturgill Simpson closing last year’s Glasgow Americana Festival.

Anna Coogan UK tour

Songwriter Anna Coogan has announced a string of UK tour dates this October, as part of her international The Silver Sea Tour. Anna will be kicking things off in London (Green Note) then heading on to Glasgow, Nottingham and Essex. Now celebrating her thirteenth year as a performing songwriter, Coogan has released five critically acclaimed full- length records and toured extensively around the US, UK, and Europe. Her music has been described as “absolutely gorgeous” (BBC
Radio Scotland) and “simply divine” (Maverick Magazine). Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed her 2011 album The Wasted Ocean here

After moving from Seattle to Ithaca, New York in 2011, Anna began to find her voice among a group of avant-garde musicians living in upstate New York. Under the tutelage of freak-country artist Johnny Dowd, Anna traded her acoustic guitar for a 1979 Stratocaster and began to move away from her folk roots. She began writing songs with longtime friend and producer JD Foster (Calexico, Patty Griffin), and powerhouse drummer Willie B (Jamie Lidell, Neko Case). Inspired and driven by collaboration, Anna plays electric guitar for several upstate NY outlets, including Mary Lorson (Madder Rose), and Johnny Dowd, and has produced several records by young musicians in Upstate New York. She is currently touring her 2015 collaboration with JD Foster “The Birth of the Stars”, as well as a new live record made with Willie B at the Triple Door in Seattle.

Dates:
Sunday 4th October Live At Earl Haig Hall – The Jet Lag Show, London (Free Entry)
Tuesday 6th October Green Note, London (supporting Willie Porter)
Wednesday 7th October Rothesay, Isle Of Bute, Scotland Private Show
Thursday 8th October Woodend Bowling and Lawn Tennis Club, Glasgow
Friday 9th October The Guitar Bar, Nottingham
Saturday 10th October Little Rabbit Barn, Ardleigh, Essex

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