Luke Whittemore. Northern Town EP. Gold Ship Records

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Nottingham famously had a Sheriff so there must be a wee bit of the old wild west lurking in the genes there, how else to explain the sheer vein of Americana that courses through this debut EP from Nottinghamshire lad Luke Whittemore. Over a mere six songs Whittemore crafts a delightful disc that roams from creamy pedal steel infused ballads to brokedown country waltzes and tearstained laments, inspired by various sounds from the States yes but with enough grounding to remind the listener that his vista is not Monument valley but the peaks of The Pennines.

The EP opens with Nothing Beyond This Northern Town with Whittemore defiantly proclaiming “I was born and raised in a small town…ain’t nothing beyond this northern town” over acoustic guitar. Just as one starts to expect an Alan Price like hymn to the north and the old mine workings,  bass,  drums and pedal steel glide in steering the song away from gritty Northern  rock into more of a blue collar American lament although the sentiment remains the same speaking to the universality of the plight of the working man. Whittemore sings excellently here, his voice resigned, weary, the wish expressed in the closing lines that it was so different somehow sounding forlorn. Whittemore has obviously drunk deep from the well of despair. Have Mercy is another fine slice of pedal steel soaked gloom as Whittemore sings, “there’s a dusty tale of misery that the devil he just don’t hide” while So Far Apart is a pained and bittersweet love song, the backing here, a plaintive guitar and pedal steel, so poignant.

It’s not all doom and gloom however as If It Weren’t For The Rain is a spritely mandolin driven number that describes a relationship that may or might not be ongoing, the singer’s memory influenced by the half full or half empty bottle by the bedside. The delivery recalls Ronnie Lane and even Rod Stewart back in his glory days when he was more interested in a mandolin wind than a blonde bombshell. There’s a fine Texan like wooziness to the loose limbed guitar speckled waltz time of Lonesome Level Crossing but Whittemore takes us back to his northern climes on the closing Cold On The Hills, a song that echoes English folk but with its muted banjo and wheezy accordion captures that fine old Appalachian chill.

Northern Town is a fully realised debut, striking in its assurance and it certainly signposts Mr. Whittemore as someone to watch out for. The EP was released on 10th June and is available here. In the meantime he’s playing some dates in England over the next four weeks, dates are here.

 

 

California Feetwarmers. Silver Seas.

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It was the Bonzo Dog Band who, back in the sixties, declared, “Jazz, delicious hot, disgusting cold” on their deliriously loopy trad jazz instrumental of the same name. Supreme satirists as they were they had nailed it on the head as they took the mickey out of bands such as The New Vaudeville Band and The Temperance Seven both of whom had hit the charts but were regarded as novelty acts. We mention this as the California Feetwarmers are probably the best opportunity you’ll ever get these days to hear the sort of music that the Bonzos’ were championing in their early days, a vaudevillian extravaganza that summons up images of Keystone cops, spats, flappers and gangsters, speakeasies and ragtime, black and white Hollywood, Hawaiian luaus or a Dixieland New Orleans soundtrack waiting for a Woody Allen movie.

A seven piece band who are now based in LA The Feetwarmers boast sousaphone, trumpet, clarinet and trombone over a guitar, banjo and drums backbone creating a vibrant and exhilarating  rollercoaster ride of a listen. A syncopated time capsule of sorts Silver Seas features a mix of originals and tunes from the likes of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (from 1925) and Scott Joplin (1903) with a fine sense of variety. The majority of the numbers are supremely skittish romps but there are some stately moments (as on Dixie Waltz) while there’s a hint of Western swing on Betty Brown, one of the few songs with vocals the other being the sublime The Breeze That Brought Me Home, wonderfully gilded with steel guitar from guest Andy Bean. Wooden Nickel allows the banjo and guitar some space away from the horns on a tune that is more mountain stream than bordello.  Overall the band’s playing is simply mesmerising, their sense of dynamics, the parps and oompahs perfectly aligned with the jazzy guitar, banjo burps and rattletrap percussion. It’s hard not to think of cinematic references while listening to this. UK listeners will have a trove of memories, gleaned from TV and movies ranging from cartoons to serious directors such as Sergio Leone (and one is reminded of his Once Upon A Time In America), that these tunes could have easily sprung from.

So the album’s a winner but apparently these guys are fabulous live with Tom Jones, the Welsh Elvis apparently falling under their spell recently when he chanced upon them. Good news is they’re currently touring the UK  and will have advance copies of the album for sale at the gigs. All dates here including a show at Glasgow’s CCA this Sunday

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Here’s some video from their Celtic Connections appearance in 2015.

 

 

Starship Nicola. Got Me Singing The Blues EP launch show. Nice & Sleazy, Glasgow. Friday 3rd June.

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Blabber’n’Smoke wrote about this Glasgow based collective’s EP here and we popped along to the launch show last Friday for what turned out to be a short but invigorating shot of harmonic roots music.  The band, AJ Meadows from Memphis, Tennessee, backed by Harry & The Hendersons and ably assisted by two fiddles (eight players in all) filled the stage as they delivered all three songs from the EP along with a couple of other songs (mea culpa but I didn’t catch the titles) and a final (and excellent) cover of The Band’s The Weight.

While Meadows on lead vocals and acoustic guitar was the focal point for the night the group as a whole were mighty impressive especially around the vocal harmonies. While the brisk and breezy Glasgow Summer showcased the collective voices it was on Ella where they really excelled. Here the lead vocals were swapped around over a plaintive fiddle while harmonies and counterpoints rang out until the song coalesced into its collective voice towards the end. It was an astounding performance and my notes simply state here that it was like hearing an unknown CS&N song. Wildwood Flower/Across Rivers was a refreshing blast of good old-fashioned country rock, the Appalachian clarity of Wildwood Flower flowing easily into the crowd pleasing folkiness of the second half of the song. It was a short but very sweet set and their version of The Weight, aside from allowing further opportunity to show off their vocal prowess had the audience singing along.

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Apparently, this was only the second time this collective have played live, the last event almost a year ago. It would be somewhat criminal if they leave it so long before returning.

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Unfortunately we arrived too late for the opening act, Megan Airlie but we did catch Olifant Collective, an entertaining crew who offered up a fine mix of Ska and Mariachi tinged songs with a hint of Klezmer in the mix.

 

Robert Coyne & Jaki Liebezeit. I Still Have This Dream. Meyer Records

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I must admit I was intrigued by this record well before listening to it. The combination of Robert Coyne (son of the late Kevin) and the legendary Jaki Liebezeit (pioneering drummer with Can) was promising enough but weirdly I was drawn to the illustration on the back of the cover. It’s a painting by Wendy Coyne called “Dogs of Bookmongers” and attempting to delve into it made me really long for this album to have been on vinyl simply for the reason the picture would have been bigger.

As it happens the painting has no bearing on the music contained on the album, it just simply improves the package. Fortunately the music itself is well worth delving into if one can delve into an album of simple lyrics, almost Zen like in their sparseness, backed by wonderful but spare instrumentation. The robotic (yet warm) percussion of Liebezeit and Coyne’s acoustic guitar underpin the songs although there are occasional keyboards from Coyne and cello (from Aglaja Camphausen), the latter adding a nice woody vibe. The minimalist approach reminded me several times of Young Marble Giants with Alison Statton’s cool vocals replaced by Coyne’s gentle voice.

Despite the bare boned instrumentation Coyne and Liebezeit manage to weave layers within the songs, the guitar mesmerising at times as on In The Rehearsal Room where Coyne’s nimble picking throws flurries of notes in the listener’s direction. There’s a bucolic feel to much of the album especially when cello is featured while harmonies on two of the songs (by Camphausen and Wendy Coyne) flesh out the sound. Lyrically the songs are opaque, often very brief (I Still Have This Dream has two lines, “I Still Have This Dream/That you’ll know what I mean”) although Another layer Of Mud does stretch to five verses. Coyne, who wrote all the songs, says of them, “it’s just me talking to myself”.  So there’s a song about a Cockney Mystic who may be delusional, a frustrated dreamer, a disillusioned pub rocker along with odd snippets such as on Soothing Sounds, a rippling summery song which advises a listener to lie down, relax and listen only for their bags to be rifled and robbed.

All in all the album is a fine late night listen, the spare rhythms something of a balm. The one exception is the 11-minute Thank You (I’ve Got The Idea) where Coyne adds bass guitar and keyboards to Leibezeit’s insistent beat summoning up a less frantic vision of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn coloured with English pastoral prog rock.  Coyne’s deadpan vocals deliver a sly joke here as he sings, “Thank you I’ve got the idea…Please don’t take it from the top, Thank you, I’m pleading with you to stop” as Liebezeit motors on.

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Regarding the painting mentioned above it was commissioned by a bookshop in London and there’s a video of its making which allows you to see it in all its intricacies.

 

The Danberrys. Give & Receive.

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Seems a long time since we heard from The Danberrys, almost three years to the day actually when Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed their second self titled album which was nominated in the Best Americana Album category in 2013’s Independent Music Awards. On this follow-up, married couple Ben DeBerry and Dorothy Daniel add another ten songs that run the gamut from bluegrassy hoedowns and crystal clear folk songs to rhythmic recollections of the past with some dark undertones.

As on the last album they’re ably assisted by Ethan Ballinger (mandolin, guitar, keyboards and cigar box) and Christian Sedelmayer (fiddle) while bass is provided by Sam Grisman and Kyle Tuttle offers occasional banjo.  An impressive combo they play wonderfully with a gossamer like touch on some of the songs but they’re also able to dig in and plough a fertile rootsy loam.

The album starts well with the combined vocals of DeBerry and Daniel over a solitary guitar on Receive, their voices recalling country duets from the past with a slight devotional touch. Gentle backing from fiddle and mandolin then adds to the sense of voices from the past. Lady Belle allows full rein to Daniel’s voice on a song which ripples with a shivering delight as the band expertly deliver a subtle Celtic folk sound that nods to artists such as Sandy Denny and Shelagh McDonald. Let Me Ride is in a similar vein although there’s more of a skip in its step here along with a fine chorus, the ensemble playing quite superb. DeBerry steps up to the mic for the rousing bluegrass knockabout of Long Song which allows Ballinger, Tuttle and Sedelmeyer space to solo and spar with each other but thereafter the album grows somewhat darker and deeper.

Don’t Drink The Water is a menacing percussive piece with a chain gang drive, sinewy guitar and hand claps recalling slave memories. Sedelmayer’s fierce fiddle interludes add to the menace here while Daniel’s voice is powerful and emotive. Similarly Life Worth Living harks to the past with only a percussive beat backing the vocals on a song which brings to mind Rhiannon Giddens’ excavation of plantation songs, the reek of the old South strong here. The album ends with a powerful trio of songs. All The Way Up is a magnificently dynamic song, the band ebbing and flowing wonderfully behind Daniel’s impassioned vocal. Get Back Home offers DeBerry the opportunity to show that can create a mood as well as his other half, his vocals here as comfortable as a back porch settee on a song that rings as clear as a mountain stream with heavenly harmonies and some gorgeous playing from the band. We’ll Be Done closes the album on a strong note as Daniel is reflective, singing of rebirth over a gently tinkling backdrop which slowly swells into an ethereal chorus as the band play a lengthy outro.  Wonderful stuff.

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Starship Nicola. Got Me Singin’ The Blues EP. Holy Smokes Records

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Starship Nicola is a collaborative effort involving Glasgow band Harry & The Hendersons and AJ Meadows of whom Blabber’n’Smoke knows little other than that he seems to come from Mississippi. Today sees the release of their EP, Got Me Singin’ The Blues, a bit of a misnomer as there’s nothing here that could be classified as blues in the accepted sense. The title actually comes from the refrain repeated towards the end of Ella, a song that, for sake of convenience, we’ll term as “freak folk”, that odd genre that gathered together some of the oddities from late 60’s and early 70’s folk rock and a sprinkling of psychedelic dust, Devendra Barnhart probably the best-known exponent. In any case it’s an excellent song, a gentle ripple of guitar and floating violin welcome a wispy vocal which in turn is supplanted by a deeper voice. The song weaves away with some fine harmonies joining in before the refrain eventually appears with disparate vocals adding a sense of tension. It’s a bit like David Crosby singing with The Incredible String Band if you can imagine such a thing. Add to that that it seems to be a celebration of Ella Fitzgerald’s work and the sense of discombobulation is complete.

Glasgow Summer is a much more straightforward affair, a sun kissed acoustic ramble with a skip in its step and a sting in its tail. There’s a hint of bossa nova here, some steely and then melting guitar breaks with a fine fiddle addition towards the end.

They open with a nod to old Americana with Wildwood Flower/Across Rivers, the first part of the song  a delicate rendition of the old chestnut that’s been recorded by artists from The Carter Family and Johnny Cash to Dylan. The guitar playing here is excellent, capturing that old time Carter Family sound before the band up the tempo for the conclusion, a brisk folk rock version of a Marty Robbins type ballad including an acappella and handclapped devotional interlude.

Starship Nicola have a launch gig for the EP in Glasgow’s Nice’N’Sleazy today, support from The Olifant Collective, details here.

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Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules. Let Me Off At The Bottom album release show. The Rum Shack, Glasgow, Saturday 29th May.

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Lady Luck’s been smiling on Glaswegian Daniel Meade, either that or several years of hard graft is paying off as his song writing skills and musicianship are making waves well beyond his hometown. Following rave reviews for his independently released and Nashville recorded album, Keep Right Away, at the beginning of 2015 and support slots with artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Pokey LaFarge, Diana Jones and Old Crow Medicine Show Meade was signed to the well respected UK label At The Helm Records (joining an illustrious roster that includes Brent Best, John Moreland, Austin Lucas and Good Luck Mountain) earlier this year. The first fruit of this union, Let Me Off At The Bottom was released last week with some very positive press reviews in the run up to the day and the weekend saw Meade and his band The Flying Mules launch the album in fine style in Glasgow’s South Side.

Let Me Off At The Bottom is Meade’s third official release and the first to feature the band. Recorded in Glasgow (with mixing done by Morgan Jahnig in Tennessee) it’s a fine capture of the raucous hillbilly rock’n’roll and honky tonk country that Meade and The Mules (Lloyd Reid – guitar, Mark Ferrie – double bass, Thomas Sutherland – drums) excel in. Meade’s songs drink from the well of Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis (among others) and The Mules (who have notched up several hundred gigs over the past two years) are a well oiled music machine (not in the sense of well drunk). Their recent stint at The Kilkenny Roots festival in Ireland (five gigs in four days) is a contender for the festival highlight.

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Anyway, a capacity crowd turned up for the album launch. A good number were aware of the band but the audience was swelled by the show’s inclusion in Glasgow’s South Side Fringe Festival. This allowed the opportunity to see several folk, who before the band came on ask what sort of music they played,  pretty soon get up and join the party. And a party is what is was, the band in great form, the music infectious and impossible not to sit still for. There’s a great deal of nuance in Meade’s songs but live it’s much more primal as they cram sixty years of folk, blues, country and rock’n’roll into the set. With a batch of songs from the new album and some favourites from his back catalogue Mead and the band certainly ripped the joint.

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The band ripped into the opening trio of songs, Back To Hell, Not My Heart Again and There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used To Be creating an instant buzz before Meade sang the plaintive He Should Have Been Mine, a switch in mood but one which had the audience captivated. As far as I recall this was the only ballad of the night, the remainder being full blown rockabilly rock although the occasional country lope hove into view. With no  piano to hand Meade stuck to guitar for the night, showing some fine picking skills on Lock Up Your Daughters, a song which also included fine breaks from guitarist Lloyd Reid and bassist Mark Ferrie. Please Louise is a definite crowd pleaser, the bawdy lyrics going down a bomb, the girls at the front checking that it wasn’t their big behind Meade was singing about. If It’s Not Your Fault (I Guess It’s Mine) showed off the band dynamics starting off as a skifflish railroad beat before picking up steam. By the end there were dancers at the front and the back of the crowd (more space there to jitterbug I presume) and there was a definite (and justifiable) swagger about the band as they launched into Long Gone Wrong, a song that just about sums them up with its Sun Records rhythm and harmonies along with Meade’s lyrics that nail the travelling musician’s life. The set ended they offered one more song, a fine rendition of Sonny Terry’s Hooray, Hooray, a fine end to the night.

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There was an opening set for the evening from Sorbet, a guitar/bass/drum trio who ventured into the avant-garde as they responded to a backdrop of films which included the first two parts of Jean Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un Poète. They were followed by guitar/drums duo The Rivers who describe themselves as “country grunge”.  An exciting pair with jangled guitar and frantic percussion there was a Buzzcocks like rush to a song that I think was called your Love Is On My Side while their new single, Nine Miles High is worth checking out.