Glasgow Overture . Kevin P. Gilday & The Sea Kings

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It’s coming up for Record Store Day, a fine enterprise that was designed to get people back into their local musty vinyl emporium. There are mumblings that corporate greed has now weighed in and the enterprise might suffocate under limited edition Justin Bieber crap but locally it’s still an opportunity to get out there and pretend you’re an extra in High Fidelity. Aside from the insane idea that your local shop might have only two copies of that ultra rare item ( and the probability that it will appear, vastly inflated, on Ebay pretty soon) it is an opportunity to celebrate music in itself and it’s nice to see that Glasgow’s Love Music have actually co optioned two nearby pubs in order to let some local bands play.

Anyway, reason for this post was to mention a RSD release that celebrates Glasgow. A double A-side single collaboration between Glasgow spoken word artist Kevin P. Gilday, and The Sea Kings. As they say, “a marriage consumated behind a manky Gallowgate pub, Kevin P. Gilday and The Sea Kings bring you their debut collaboration. Kevin P. Gilday (The Man Who Loved Beer), an award-winning spoken word artist, and The Sea Kings (Woke In The Devil’s Arms), a critically lauded Bad Seeds for tomorrow,bring you their treatise on their home city of Glasgow. A double A-side offering, capturing the twin existence of the crumbling second city of the empire”.

It’s released on Iffy Folk Records and, aside from being pretty damn good, is a fine example of grass roots enterprise. For the true music hunter, a chance to stick a finger up to the media moguls and to support some local talent.

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Bellowhead. Live: The Farewell Tour. Navigator Records

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So it’s farewell then to the folk rock behemoth that was Bellowhead, the big band who folked up rock or rocked up folk depending on where you stand. While they avoided using guitar bass and drums, preferring to rely instead on a football team sized presence and hefty wind and fiddle sections, their rollicking folky tales elevated them to the premier league. Firm festival favourites, dominating the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards and shifting discs by the lorry load over a 12-year period. Last year they decided to call it a day.

When Jon Boden, erstwhile leader and front man decided last year that he was standing down the band agreed that they would not carry on. However it’s been a protracted farewell with the band announcing a final tour, that, with a break, began in November and is only now ending with some dates leaking into May. That tour is all but sold out but the band leave behind this triple disc souvenir of the first leg of the tour. Two CDs recorded on November dates and a DVD containing the entire performance from Leicester’s De Montford Hall again from November.

The CDs contain 29 songs and tunes that will surprise no one familiar with the band’s output pulled from the course of their recording career. There’s the stirring shanty Haul Away, the rousing Whiskey Is The Life Of Man along with the Stax like horn opening to Let Her Run. It’s not all crowd-pleasing jigs and reels and sing alongs however with reminders that the band can be inventive with the genre shifting Old Dun Cow while a ballad like Captain Wedderburn is delivered without any fancy flourishes. Moon Kittens continues to sound like their attempt at a James Bond theme.

The CDs, compiled from various venues might approximate one of the varied set lists the band played on the tour but the second disc closes with the three songs that the band generally close shows with.  The crowd favourite London Town appears of course with the crowd singing along before New York Girls  and Frog Leg’s & Dragon’s Teeth introduce the band members to the audience.

The DVD is an up-close front row seat of the entire show ending with a rendition of Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkard Rolls. Again, it works well as a souvenir or reminder for fans who can relive their concert memories.

Here at Blabber’n’Smoke we prefer not to be bludgeoned by folk music and over the course of this package there’s precious little delicacy. However there’s a lot of folk out there who will lap this up.

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Doghouse Roses/Joseph Parsons. The Hug & Pint. Glasgow. Friday 8th April 2016

A welcome return to Glasgow for one of our favourite duos, Doghouse Roses. An extremely packed venue saw singer (and guitarist) Iona MacDonald and guitarist Paul Tasker unveil some songs from their forthcoming album (with some early teasers available via a tour only EP). In addition, Tasker has just released his first solo album, Cold Weather Music, but he was modest enough to only mention it once and only play one tune from his instrumental disc.

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First up was Joseph Parsons, an American living in Germany whom the Roses had befriended on their continental jaunts. Parsons, accompanied by the very nimble fingered Freddi Lubitz delivered a fine set of songs that saw him savage George Bush Jnr. and pay tribute to friends who were victims of the AIDS epidemic on the touching Roman & Michael. He opened the set with the excellent regretful love song, Guess I’m A Fool Again and offered some noirish LA sheen on Dume Room. With Lubitz on second guitar, playing his solos with a refined touch on the effects pedal, Parsons conjured up some fine sounds. Broken Vows, based on an Irish Gaelic poem was a particularly powerful performance.

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The Roses’ duo gave a fine, relaxed and freewheeling performance, obviously pleased that the fans came out. With a mixture of old and new songs Iona MacDonald showed why she is one of the best singers around while Tasker continues to shine on guitar. He’s probably fed up with the Bert Jansch comparisons but from the off the opening bars of the opening song, Thunder Of The Dawn begged for it, the song as a whole an impressive opener. A couple of new songs were next unveiled, Pour, a fine lament on alcohol abuse and Feed the Monster a political message, both promising for the new album but they really hit their stride on the magnificent Woodstock (a different song) which showed why the pair might be considered a weird amalgamation of early Jefferson Airplane and The Pentangle.

There was a fine air of jollity around, a running joke regarding Iona’s guitar playing, Paul, the tutor, explaining the chords for some songs but there was no doubting the gravitas of a song like Fairground, the story of a prostitute. They ended the set with a tremendous rendition of Gone There, Tasker’s guitar rippling away as MacDonald’s voice soared, a fine example of all that is best about the pair.

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The night ended with a good old-fashioned encore. Not the type where the band run off and then back on again but a genuine addition to the night’s pleasure. All four musicians came on stage and after a wee bit of fiddling about launched into a trio of covers which the crowd lapped up, an opportunity for a singsong.  The Dead’s Friend Of The Devil and the traditional  I Know You Rider  were great fun but it was the closing cover of Lowell George’s Willin’ which really hit home. The band and audience as one as we all sang along. A cracking end to a cracking night.

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Sam Outlaw. Angeleno. Six Shooter Records

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It’s worse than buses. You wait ages for a Young Turk who’s going to set Country Music to rights and then a host of them turn up. Today’s ride is courtesy of the fabulously named Sam Outlaw (and, yes, it is his name, or at least his late mother’s maiden name) and while he’s not Outlaw Country he fits in well with his peers who are kicking the current trend of Bro Country into the ditch.

As the title promises, Outlaw mines a Southern California lode that leads from Merle Haggard (RIP) to Dwight Yoakam and Dave Alvin with a slight detour into seventies country rock as parleyed by Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles; ‘SoCal Country, he calls it. He hit pay dirt at some point as the album is produced by the legendary Ry Cooder (along with his son Joachim who drums in Outlaw’s band). Whether it’s Cooder’s influence or not there’s a pleasing mariachi touch to a couple of the songs but in the main Outlaw delivers a very solid set that should be riding the radio waves.

From the gorgeous Mexican sweep of the opening song Who Do You think You Are to the closing rockabilly of Hole In My Heart Outlaw hits all the buttons. He’s sweetly melodic on Love Her For A While with its curling pedal steel, a honky tonk romancer on It Might Kill Me and downright forlorn on the delicate seventies styled Old Fashioned. Throughout his voice is relaxed and warm, the band supple and supportive, the playing superb with Cooder’s guitar contributions a highlight.

There are 12 songs here and they are all deserving of attention as Outlaw effortlessly traverses the landscape. Keep It Interesting is country rock of the highest order, the title song is a sublime string laden Chicano love song, guitars rippling and horns parping with style. Country Love Song is introspective, the guitar sound here excellent, as Outlaw yearns for a lost love and Ghost Town adds a darker hue with its organ suffused drive. Diving into his roots Outlaw offers the honky tonk stonker that is I’m Not Jealous and tops this with his excellent addition to the canon of grand country song titles on Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To The Bar), a song that sounds just like its title and sure to be a favourite at gigs. Finally, Outlaw stakes a claim as an outstanding songwriter on the moving suppliant prayer of Keep A Close Eye On Me, his words, his voice and the empathetic (and gorgeous) playing catapulting the song into a should be standard.

Angeleno is a great album and highly recommended. It was released here back in January but if it whets your whistle then the good news is that the man is playing Glasgow next week on the 14th April at The Fallen Angels Club at The Admiral Bar.

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Cale Tyson. Careless Soul. Clubhouse Records

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Cale Tyson hit the boards running with his mini albums, Cheater’s Wine and High On Lonesome two years ago. They catapulted him into the forefront of the young pretenders, a disparate group of young country artists who hark back to the glory days of country while infusing it with a new energy. Tyson had the lonesome blues of Hank Williams down to a tee while his energy and enthusiasm was as infectious as Gram Parsons’ had been. Careless Soul is his first full length album and, while it builds on the music contained on the two previous discs, it’s a significant step forward for his exploration of Country music, expanding the vista and boldly moving out of what many would have thought would be his comfort zone.

While the album has its fair share of heartbreakers, still stained by the ghost of Williams, Tyson adds his version of Tin Pan Alley country, all zipping strings and brash melodies, and, as the title alludes to, he incorporates some country soul into the songs with a horn section and electric piano prominent on several of the numbers. His decision to record the album at the famed Muscle Shoals studios offers a chicken or egg situation here. Did he go there to sound soulful or did the ghosts in the studio machine haunt him? Who knows? What we do know is that the album is a magnificent effort which is tied together by Tyson’s flowing vocals, heart worn and warm, and his words which plough a familiar field but throw up new earth.

The album opens with the arrogant strut of Staying Kind, peppered with brash horns and tinkling keyboards, Tyson as laconic as Sal Valentino in his delivery. One could imagine this would be a killer as a guest slot on the Bobbie Gentry TV show back in the sixties, psychedelic camera work zooming in on the short and taut guitar solo. This golden era when showbiz recognised quality music is revisited on the pizzicato strings and guitar which decorate the pop croon of the title track. Popcorn and candy Elvis with a hint of the exotic Acapulco on the Spanish guitar dominate here, Tyson carries off the pastiche with some brio. Pain In My heart equally draws on an old template, almost doo-wop in its delivery, teardrops from the guitar solo, one can imagine teen-age girls swooning to this back in the days, Tyson brylcreamed up and winking at the camera.

The soul side sweeps in with a vengeance on the horn infused Somebody Save Me, a wonderful concoction of churchlike organ, female backing choir and sinuous pedal steel, Tyson testifying wonderfully as he seeks salvation from his murderous urges with a fervour similar to Solomon Burke. Similarly Dark Dark marries pedal steel and organ on a doleful journey into the heart of darkness, his voice echoed by the female chorus on a real teardropper.

It’s not all doom and gloom and croon here however. Tyson kicks ass on several of the songs. Railroad Blues is a souped up belter, the steel guitar rolling on the tracks over a helter skelter rhythm section. High Lonesome Hill is a vivid reimagining of Hank Williams’ ramblings given a noirish makeover, a low moaning slink with an intense feel, a kaleidoscopic giddiness in its rhythm as Tyson just stops short from a yodel as guitars flail and wail. Best of all however is the tremendous Easy which is a somewhat lecherous odyssey of a musician’s opportunities. Here Tyson manages to inhabit the cosmic cowboy persona of Gram Parsons, awed by the lights of Las Vegas and the glam therein while the band are spot on here sounding so much like Gram’s band and Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, the guitar whizzing like James Burton, the rest as tight as the proverbial duck.

It’s maybe not the album we expected from Mr. Tyson but it’s a bold adventure and after several listenings we conclude that it’s actually quite brilliant. It’s out this Friday on Clubhouse Records and Tyson is touring the UK this month, dates here

 

 

 

Dean Owens (with Dave Coleman). Cotton Snow. Single Release, Drumfire Records.

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With the best reviews of his career so far tucked in his pocket (for his acclaimed 2015 album Into The Sea), Dean Owens saw out last year on a roll and entered the new Year with a bang, supporting Patty Griffin at Celtic Connections. When Blabber’n’Smoke interviewed Owens for AmericanaUK he spoke of his plans for 2016 including a proposed project that reunites him with Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt, two thirds of the crew behind the magisterial American Civil War album, The Orphan Brigade (which we reviewed here ). That album was inspired by the history infused into an old plantation building in Franklin, Tennessee and it’s to the Civil War and Franklin that Owens pays attention on this single release which will be available from April 15th.

On a visit last year to the site of the battle of Franklin, one of the bloodiest of the war, Owens was taken by an image mentioned by a participant, Captain Tod Carter. The artillery laying waste to the cotton gins and cotton fields scattered the plant which fell like snow on the soldiers, Cotton Snow. The following day Owens was in Dave Coleman’s (of Nashville band The Coal Men) home studio in Nashville, tinkering around with this idea when Coleman suggesting recording a take on it. Couple of hours later there’s a rough mix, Coleman a one band on drums, tape loops, bass, guitars and pedal steel, Owens with the words down pat. Some transatlantic polishing later and here’s the end result.

It’s a great song and a great recording. Cotton Snow plays to Owens’ ability to invest a song with drama and emotion, to paint a picture with his words. The place names resonate, Chattanooga and Shiloh, previous battles for the progenitor who sees the soldiers, whether clad in grey or blue, inside all the same colour. The surreal image of the cotton snow is amplified by the musical setting, Coleman stirring a twang filled guitar soup that recalls the mystical Americana of Lee Hazlewood. And while Owens doesn’t have the gruff gravitas of Hazlewood here he sings wonderfully, close miked, a slight drawl and a fine giddy up exclamation escaping his lips just before the first guitar solo.  It’s a class act.

Anyway, you can listen to the song below and pre-order it here.

 

 

 

Peter Bruntnell. Nos Da Comrade. Domestico Records

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Ten albums in and Peter Bruntnell remains something of a buried treasure, or, according to this excellent article in The Guardian, a “cult hero”. To paraphrase Jane Austen it’s a truth universally acknowledged that Bruntnell’s 1999 album, Normal For Bridgewater is a high water mark for UK Americana music and on Nos Da Comrade, 16 years later, he’s still on fire, delivering punchy power pop and sun dappled songs that invigorate the listener.

The album title pays homage to his Welsh roots (Nos Da Comrade Welsh for Good Night Comrade) and he opens the album with a nod to the plight of fellow Celts as he tears into Donald Trump’s attempts to bully  Scots fishermen on the misleadingly upbeat Mr. Sunshine. The infectious and sunny melody camouflages the lyrical attack on the avaricious pseudo politician although there is some anger unleashed on the short blistering guitar solo (and do check out the video for this one!).

Recorded at Bruntnell’s home with a basic trio set up;  Bruntnell on guitars and vocals, Peter Noone, bass and Mick Clews, drums (and some later overdubs from James Walbourne and Dave Little adding more guitar along with Peter Linane’s string machine and pump organ ) the album offers several more sumptuous guitar jangled melodies throughout. Rain Stars opens with a Big Star like guitar flourish and a propulsive drum beat before an acoustic guitar starts to bristle beneath the electric strum. String machine and harmony vocals add a slight portentous air to the middle eight, appropriate perhaps as Bruntnell describes this song as “an unlucky man feels picked-on by the universe, toyed with by mad gods like a character from some Greek myth.” The song dips and soars wonderfully, the guitars bright and transcendent. Fishing The Flood Plain is another melodious spangled song which culminates in a tremendous chime of guitars while Plain Peak Operational Condition pumps into action like a new wave killer, all Lowe and Costello, bristling with angst and impatience. Towards the end of the album there’s another fine wallow in jangled guitars on the sublime Long Way Down From A Cloud.

It’s not all sunshine however. Dance Of The Dead opens with a plaintive Bruntnell singing over a slight guitar backing before a delicate piano led melody arises that eventually blooms into a funereal waltz macabre. Where The Snakes Hang Out is a dead eyed observation of shadowy goings on, the guitars much grimmer here. And speaking of guitars there’s the magnum opus of the album, the eight plus minutes of Yuri Gargarin, a song that imagines the mind of a child wishing to emulate the first man in space. Here Bruntnell’s voice is subservient to the liquid guitar meanderings, the band ponderous, an insistent slow beat initially until halfway through the guitar becomes more urgent, flailing around over electric keyboard. It’s a song bound to excite comparisons with Neil Young and Crazy Horse which is, of course, no bad thing.

The album’s rounded out with some winsome, delicate songs. End Of The World is a tip toed acoustic guitar braced exploration of solipsism and is graced by some fine slide guitar towards the end. Caroline, which closes the album, is tender in the extreme as Bruntnell inhales and exhales the essence of English love songs. Like Paul Weller’s English Rose it encapsulates love, longing and regret in a simple although beautiful melody.