Heidi Talbot. Here We Go, 1,2,3… Navigator Records


In the space between her last album, 2013’s Angels Without Wings and this, her fifth release Ms. Talbot has undergone several changes, the birth of her second child, the passing away of her mother. More mundanely, she and husband John McCusker have built their home studio in the Scottish borders. Here We Go, 1,2,3… reflects some of these changes. There’s a contemplative aspect to several of the songs, a looking back and forward aspect. In addition she describes the new recording set up as being, “in your own environment, you’re comfortable, you’ve got all the time you need and the kids can come over.” Fittingly then she has written or co written eight of the ten songs here, a departure from previous albums where she relied mainly on traditional covers or songs from her extended musical family.

While Talbot’s (and McCusker’s) folk roots still underpin the songs with Uillean pipes and tin whistles prominent on Time To Rest and The Willow Tree, the album continues the slight shift into the mainstream that was evident on Angels Without Wings. Talbot here is closer to Eddie Reader than to Julie Fowlis and the beauty of songs such as A Song For Rose (will you remember me) and Tell Me Do You Ever Think Of Me recall the days when Linda Thompson was still singing the songs penned by her then husband Richard. Talbot’s voice is, as ever, a thing of joy. Light and clear with a youthful vulnerability to it she soothes as she sings, indeed there’s a childlike anticipation on the uplifting lilt of the opening title song despite it being about meeting in the afterworld. Likewise, A Song For Rose (will you remember me), written while her mother was ill, reaches into the past with a childlike refrain with Talbot’s daughter joining in briefly on the last chorus. While such a venture could easily become maudlin here it’s managed with grace and tenderness, the song  beautifully realised with warm strings. Throughout the album Talbot draws pictures that are evocative and warm. The Year That I Was Born sparkles with a nostalgia that anyone digging through old photographs will recognise while Tell Me Do You Ever Think Of Me starts off like an old grandfather clock brooding over Talbot’s tentative love song, the ensemble playing here just excellent, percussion, strings and horns all wrapped cosily together.

The musicians (including the hubby, Louis Abbott, Michael McGoldrick and Donald Shaw) conjure wonderful sounds throughout. Gossamer like on occasion, elsewhere gently swelling, all captured in a great clarity. It’s a comforting album, one to be savoured at length and perhaps late at night cosseted by a fine beverage.






Henry Senior Jr. Plates Of Meat. Maiden Voyage Recording Company.


So, here it is. The first release from the record company set up by Ark PR man Del Day and Danny Champ, both of whom spoke to Blabber’n’Smoke about the label here. It’s simultaneously a bold move; an instrumental pedal steel album and a safe bet; Henry Senior Jr being Danny and The Champs’ pedal steel player with all of the Champs playing on the album. There is of course a history of “solo” albums from pedal steel players, mostly Stateside chaps such as Buddy Emmons and Pete Drake although we shouldn’t forget our very own maestro BJ Cole who’s 1972 release The New Hovering Dog is very much a cult classic.

It’s Cole actually who was something of a mentor to Senior Jr after the 14 year old budding guitarist stumbled upon the wonders of “the ironing board of love” (as Mr. Champ calls it) and set out on his career. And while most folk immediately think of country music when one mentions pedal steel well it appears that it was while listening to Pink Floyd’s Breathe (from Dark Side Of The Moon) that Senior Jr. was hit by the fretless bug. A listen to Cole’s track Five Pieces For Steel Guitar and Percussion (From the Hovering Dog album) should suffice to show that the instrument is capable of so much more.

So, in amongst this tangle of foot pedals and knee levers what has the man come up with? Senior says, “I wanted to use the pedal steel outside its traditional context, picking up rhythm parts that guitar or keyboard players would play and using sounds and effects that they use.” So there’s no keening country effects here, Senior sounds funky with a nice big fat sound springing from his fingers while at times he takes flight in tandem with Paul Lush recalling twin guitar attacks from the likes of The Allman Brothers as on the fresh faced romp of Along Came Molly. There’s lush harmonics on the totally solo closing song, The Presence Of Namaqua, a tune that could happily sit inside Cole’s work, proto ambient Eno music.

The meat of the album is in the soulful funk that permeates much of the tunes here. There’s one foot in the Southern country grooves of a band like Barefoot Jerry, another in the New Orleans syncopation of The Meters’ instrumental days, indeed we have to pay tribute to the band here as they really nail the tight yet loose (go figure it out) beat with sax man ‘Free Jazz’ Geoff excelling on the title song, here exhuming the treasure trove that is Blaxploitation soundtracks.  Furthermore they delve into Western Swing on Cat Doggin’,  and there’s even a touch of dub on the glorious strains of Goodbye Bowler Hat as the pedal steel glides over the bass’n’drums.

Short and very sweet Plates of Meat is manna from heaven for anyone interested in the sound of pedal steel while there’s a nice sense of humour allied to the whole project. The title perhaps a cockney allusion to Little Feat, who knows?  The titles of the tunes, seemingly random, would not seem out of place on a Charles Mingus album. Whatever, it’s great fun and highly recommended.


Maiden Voyage Recording Company



Maiden Voyage Recording Company



All aboard the Skylark…

It’s not every day that a new record company starts up. Even rarer when you hear that the cigar chomping head honchos behind the desk are folk you know. Maiden Voyage Recording Company is the brainchild of Danny George Wilson of Danny And The Champions Of The World (firm favourites of Blabber’n’Smoke and probably the best live band in the UK these days) and legendary PR man Del Day (who is responsible for alerting Blabber’n’Smoke to many of the artists we review). With their very own maiden voyage set for launch this week as they release their first album,  Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Del and Danny about the label.

First of all. Why set up your own record label? Aren’t there enough to go around and surely it’s a major task.

Del: Well I’ve worked in all just about every aspect of the music industry over the last 20 odd years, retail, marketing, distribution, PR, promoting and run a booking agency.  So it was only a matter of time I guess before I dipped my toe into the dangerous waters of running a record label. e4c8778786e5b91f46063c4602c6ebd5_400x400

Danny: I love making music because I love records and it seems like another great adventure to be a record company guy too. The best thing about finding great records is sharing them with your friends and this is all just an extension of that. danny-champ-in-warren-tee-shirt

Del: I’ve known Danny  for a few years now. Initially as a fan of his band which then developed into a great friendship. We both share an insatiable love of music and spend most of our time together either listening to records, sharing tracks and just chewing the fat I guess. So starting a label together seemed both hugely exciting and, in a weird way, the obvious thing to do.  Maiden Voyage Recording Company was conceived over many drinks at The Betsey Trotwood in London on a rainy Wednesday night.  We see the whole venture as an expansion of those drink and music fuelled nights, a way of sharing our love of music from all genres with likeminded people and musical explorers.

Danny:  When I was a teenager me and my pals would get on the bus to Beanos’ record shop in Croydon. We’d spend all our money and then read the liner notes and credits in those gatefold sleeves all the way back. I’d buy anything that James Burton played on or anything on the Stax labeI. I went through fads that covered everything from Delta Blues to Prog to Hip Hop to Jazz to Country music, my mind was literally crammed with useless but brilliant information. It still is although it’s just a little harder to summon nowadays! Later I worked in a famous London second hand record shop and played poker with my work mates deep into the night trying to win more staff vouchers to spend on that Big Youth or Big Black album…good times.

I’m presuming that you’ve named the label after the Herbie Hancock album of the same name given its seagoing theme? 71xlqirvzyl-_sl1300_

Del:  Indeed we did. We are both huge fans, well jazz fans in general

And all set to sail this Friday with your first release?

Del: Yes. The label’s first record, Henry Senior Jr’s Plates Of Meat. It’s a wonderful instrumental pedal steel album that flits between country, jazz, funk and Allman Brothers’ jam band wonderment. Henry is of course the pedal steel wizard for The Champs so it was the obvious first release for us both in terms of working with musicians who are friends and musicians we both respect and love. ed7b30_241646c3551142ac890d5843cb2a2de2mv2_d_2000_2000_s_2

I’ve had the privilege of hearing Plates of Meat and it’s really rather good. Funky pedal steel driven tunes that reminded me of bands like The Meters and Barefoot Jerry, two bands that probably aren’t too often lumped together. Wonderful as it is it’s hard to imagine that a record like this would get much attention from more established labels despite an obvious audience of music obsessive’s like us who can appreciate the album itself and its antecedents. I’m wondering what you have up your sleeve for future releases?

Del: It’s hard to say really.  Danny and I drew inspiration from the likes of Light In The Attic and Honest Jon’s, record labels who consistently release albums that excite and surprise. Those labels appear free form any sort of genre categorisation, and we like that. We will be releasing albums and hopefully singles for all genres in all sorts of formats. We will be doing a 7″ singles club next year and we’re also looking to release some old reissues that we feel have laid dormant for too long. We do have two definite releases, both ‘concept’ albums if I can use that phrase. First off there’s I Want Blood by the London-based band The Suburban Dirts. It’s an ambitious piece set in Kentucky circa 1800 that borrows from the legend of The Harpe Brothers who are infamous for being America’s first serial killers.  It’s just stunning. We will also be releasing Moondogs And Mad Dogs by Donald Byron Howard Wheatley, an album that’s been 15 years in the making.

To be honest the love of music in all its weird and wonderful forms is what keeps me alive and it’s also the one and only guiding factor as to how we want to run the label. It really is a label of love and one that we hope people will keep an eye out for. MVRC will hopefully become a mark of quality, that’s the aim. The first three records already feel like dusty relics drawn from some second hand bin and Danny and I love that! 

Danny: And we should say that Maiden Voyage Recording Co’s online shop is now up and running! You can pick up copies of ‘Plates of Meat’ on both 180g gatefold vinyl and CD or one of our super cool t-shirts!!

As Danny says, the shop is now open while Henry Senior Jr’s album has been picking up airplay already before its release on Friday. Blabber’n’Smoke certainly wishes Del and Danny well in this venture and we look forward to hearing what comes next. You can keep up the news on their website here

And here’s a taster from Henry Senior Jr.







The Honeycutters. On The Ropes


Some bands just get a buzz about them at certain points in their career and it seems that right now it’s Asheville North Carolina combo The Honeycutters‘ moment in the sun. Their last release, Me Oh My (2015) was listed in many year end top tens’ with special attention being paid to their focal point and chief songwriter, Amanda Anne Platt.  Comparisons with Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier were bandied around but to our ears the singer, or more specifically the writer Platt reminded us of was Loretta Lynn, Platt being able to dig into the ups and downs of a relationship with as much sass as the venerable Ms. Lynn.

On The Ropes continues Platt’s examination into the foibles and follies of man meets woman. The album title and title song along with the artwork, the inner sleeve a close up of Platt’s bandaged hands draped around a guitar, might suggest a rather pugnacious approach  however many of the songs feature her straining to hold onto, recapture or recover from bruised relationships, sometimes defiant, sometimes shattered. Her voice is wonderful, just the right amount of country angst while the band are the perfect seconds, crafting bittersweet country rock with occasional bursts of honky tonk hoots.

Platt opens the album proclaiming, “I’ve been making something out of nothing for a long time now,” before the band kick in on the chiming title song, organ and mandolin duelling wonderfully on a defiant piece of writing. The gentle country shuffle of Blue Besides follows, Platt’s voice powerful as she explains that love “ain’t black and white.” The soulful country blues of Golden Child then glides into view, a regretful shrug of the shoulders from Platt singing, “I’ve been a stranger here before. I’ve been a soldier, I’ve been the war. I’ve done my time on the wrong side of the door.” A song about past glories and being supplanted by the latest attraction it’s a weird mix of A Star Is Born and Delaney and Bonnie’s Superstar (Groupie). This Southern soul soup is revisited on The Only Eyes and Back Row, the latter somewhat punchier while there’s a creamy country feel to Useless Memories and A Piece Of Heaven.

There are a couple of detours that sit somewhat uncomfortably within the confines of the album.  The Handbook is an upbeat number that approaches Texan swing with Platt jauntily singing about the qualities of a real man while the one cover here, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, nicely delivered though it is, is probably best kept for a live performance. Then again perhaps our American cousins weren’t subjected to the plethora of versions that hit the UK a few years ago.

They’re firmly back on track for the rollicking country honk of Let’s Get Drunk, sure to be a live favourite while Platt offers up a very fine story in best Texas troubadour style on the closing Barmaid’s Blues with its shades of Guy Clark.




John Murry. John Murry Is Dead.


Don’t worry, that’s not a headline, just the name of the latest EP from Mr. Murry compiled to tie in with his recent short tour down South. Regular Blabber’n’Smoke readers will know of Murry’s trials and tribulations, his past addiction issues and more recent hassles with the recording business. More importantly they’ll know that he is capable of making music that is emotionally direct, his thoughts tumbling out over confessional ballads and scorched earth waves of sounds. His 2012 album The Graceless Age, surely in the running for top ten status at the end of this decade, remains the foundation for most fans but anyone lucky enough to have seen him live in the past few years will testify to his ongoing ability to transfix an audience, even reduce to them to tears with the power of his performance.

It’s not been an easy road for Murry since the triumph of The Graceless Age. Rather than reiterate it here I’d advise you to head over to his revamped website where there’s an eloquent summary written by Oliver Gray, one of the folk who have been unfailing in their support of Murry. The good news is that things are looking up. The follow up to The Graceless Age is as good as in the can, Murry having headed to Canada to record with Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. He’s been granted residential status in Ireland and is happily ensconced in the small city of Kilkenny, there’s a documentary on him in production and he’s bringing out a graphic novel that will portray episodes from his life so far.

While we await the album John Murry Is Dead is an EP produced to tie in with his recent short tour of England. Hard copies were available at his concerts and it will soon be available to buy digitally via his website. For the most part it’s the result of Murry’s involvement with the Tamalpais Research Institute (TRI) , a state of the art studio and web platform set up by The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir who produced one of the songs here, Murry’s anguished cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s What becomes Of The Broken Hearted. Cloaked in ecclesiastical organ fills, Murry croons his pain away here. Weir also turns up on the centrepiece of the EP, Murry’s current magnum opus, Oscar Wilde. On a song that most definitely captures the feel and range of those on The Graceless Age Murry describes a society under surveillance, swayed by the media, driven to home grown terrorism as Irish wit Wilde looks down. At least I think that’s what some of it is about but it’s delivered excellently, revisiting The Graceless Age’s “sumptuous narcotic pillows of sound that swirl and beguile the listener.” Piano, organ, violin and pedal steel guitar slither throughout the song as Murry’s voice pleads and intones brilliantly. Weir appears at the very end here on a strangulated and brief attempt to play Dixieland on trumpet.

The Wrong Man opens the EP and it captures Murry at the top of his game. Again his voice shines, he sounds vulnerable, wounded, the music a delightful confection of Wurlitzer keyboards and dreamy guitar over a smattering of cymbals. He then covers Peter Gabriel’s creepy crawly Intruder, the drums here recalling the original but overall it’s much murkier recalling the Manson clan’s habit of invading homes without alerting the sleeping occupants. It’s claustrophobic and menacing. Finally there’s the intriguing One Day, billed here as a Rick Vargas remix of As I Lay Dying (Vargas one of the engineers at TRI and who produced several of the songs here). A blizzard of effects, wonky guitars and keyboards blitz the song , reminiscent at times of Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse  as Murry, buried but still audible proclaims his resurrection from his addiction days but accepts and indeed proclaims that in the end we’re all dust.

A very welcome addition to the Murry canon then and hopefully just a taste of what’s to come. The EP will soon be available here along with a previous EP, Perfume and Decay and an odds and sods collection The Resurrection of John Quixote, both also well recommended.

Here’s an earlier version of The Wrong Man…

Seth Lakeman. Ballads Of The Broken Few. Cooking Vinyl


On his eighth solo album Seth Lakeman continues to amaze in his questing journey to reinvigorate the UK folk scene. Ballads Of The Broken Few finds this quintessentially English folk musician working with producer Ethan johns, a man one normally associates with our American cousins, for a set of songs that still reek of proud Albion but reach out across the water pulling in Appalachian influences. Throughout the album Lakeman is accompanied by the vocal trio, Wildwood Kin, their harmonies another nod to the transatlantic influences here. Recorded “live” in the “great hall” of a Jacobean Country House the album is for the most part a gloom ridden exploration of death, loss and misery, a twilight album with Lakeman’s sawed fiddle raw and emotive over a funereal beat, a drone somewhat akin to that of Fairport Convention’s version of Flowers of The Forest.

The album opens powerfully with the ethereal voices of Wildwood Kin intoning over a skirled fiddle before Lakeman kicks his drum into service leading into a skewed spiritual of sorts on Willow Tree. Immediately we’re into weird folk territory, Wicker Man witchery but with an affiliation to chain gang spirituals as the beat hammers on. Silence Reigns retains the fiddle drone eschewing the beat, Wildwood Kin’s voices carrying the melody, their voices arching on the middle eight, the whole a mystical meditation equally at home in Appalachia or misty Dartmoor. Several of the songs follow in these footsteps. Stranger weeps for a drowned son, Anna Lee (a song sung by Levon Helm on Dirt Farmer) is a dirt poor lamentation for a mother drowned and Whenever I’m Home has a ringing chorus on the most plaintive of songs.

There is some variety here. Lakeman grabs his guitar for the kenspeckle acoustic folk rock of Meet Me In The Twilight which is leavened by the excellent harmonies from the Kin. Silver Threads is a tentative pizzicato number, the harmonies the highlight here and the propulsive Fading Sound recalls the heady seventies folk rock flight. Aside from his production duties Johns adds some fractured  grungy and slide guitar sounds on the title song, another stomp filled belter which is somewhat bettered by the addition of mandolin to the swampy mix on Innocent Child. Here Lakeman comes across as a traditional folk response to Nick Cave. Indeed if you’re a fan of Cave’s soundtrack work there will be much here that will thrill you.






Get Up and Dance! Various Artists. Rhythm Bomb Records


Until this little jewel popped through in the post Blabber’n’Smoke had never heard of Rhythm Bomb Records. Turns out they’re a bijoux record label based in Hamburg and London and they specialise in rockabilly and roots music. They’re not a reissue label, instead they scour the planet (and yes, we said planet as they haul in artists from as far afield as The States, Australia and Europe) looking for the best in current rockabilly and associated music. In addition they produce many of the records they release in a few select recording studios (you can see a list here )  creating a “house sound” and there’s not many labels you can say that of these days. Many of their releases (on vinyl and CD) are in very limited editions and they obviously take pride in their graphic art, some of the cover art is droolingly wonderful.

Anyhow. Get Up and Dance! is a mighty fine package and a very fine introduction to the label. A five disc CD set it contains 125 songs and after having spent a fair amount of time listening to it we can confidently say that there’s not one ounce of filler in here. Each and every song is well worth listening to even though we weren’t familiar with any of the dozens of acts who perform. The discs are themed, Perfect For Parties, Boppers, Strollers, Jivers and Slow Down, the artwork (designed by Henrique San) is cool, perfectly capturing the moods of the music.

As for the music, well it’s steeped in the fifties as you might expect. There aren’t any notes other than song titles and artists so apart from a few covers we recognised (such as George Jones’ You’re Still On My Mind, delivered here by the Rob Ryan Roadshow, Good Rockin’ Daddy from Billie & The Kids and several others) many of the songs are probably originals. They’re all delivered with an authentic feel, there’s no polish here but all are expertly recorded, a perfect (and perhaps mono) rush of sound. It’s nigh on impossible (and unfair really) to pick out the best or favourite song here. Suffice to say that there are hi octane rockers, fuzzy garage belters, slappin’ bass acoustic snappers, bluesy harp driven hollers, hiccuppin’ country rock, pile driving blues rockers, horn parping goonsville, twangy instrumentals and spoony romantic nocturnes. All steeped in historical melting pots such as New Orleans, Texas and Memphis. All great.

Get Up and Dance! is limited to 300 copies so if you want one head here 

Here’s a couple of songs from the collection…





The Stray Birds. Magic Fire. Yep Roc Records


Over the next few weeks Blabber’n’Smoke will be looking at albums recently released by artists who will be appearing at the forthcoming Glasgow Americana Festival. The tenth anniversary of the festival this year’s line up is particularly strong and we believe tickets are going fast so have a look here if you don’t want to miss out.

First off is the latest album from Pennsylvania trio The Stray Birds, regular visitors to Glasgow. The past twelve months have seen a significant increase in their profile; signed to the highly regarded Yep Roc Records, proclaimed by many as the highlight of last year’s Cambridge Folk Festival and their song, Best Medicine (the title song from their previous album) named song of the year at The International Folk Music Awards. On record and in concert the trio ((Maya de Vitry -vocals, guitar, banjo, fiddle, Oliver Craven – vocals, guitar, fiddle and Charles Muench – vocals, double bass, banjo) epitomised the new wave of Appalachian influenced folk music, the three of them bunched around a single mic, their songs rooted in tradition but addressing current issues.  de Vitry’s spectacular voice in particular has the ability to simultaneously make the past come alive and cause time to stand still for the audience who are transfixed.

For a band who seem to be on the up escalator it’s a brave move then to mess with the winning formula that got them there in the first place, however that’s exactly what The Stray Birds have done with Magic Fire. There are several firsts for them here. While they engineered and produced their previous efforts this time they’ve invited Grammy award winning producer Larry Campbell to helm the record.  In tandem with this the trio invited percussionist Shane Leonard to join them for the album while broadening their own music palette bringing in keyboards and electric guitar.  By luck or intention these bold steps have paid off in gold. Leonard, really a multi instrumentalist and songwriter in his own right fits right in, his various styles suiting the new direction while Campbell, a veteran who has produced Dylan, Willie Nelson, Levon Helm and Paul Simon, captures their new found folk rock sound with some panache, adding polish without smoothing out the grit.

There’s a transitional feel to the album. Several songs cleave to their established style. The opening Shining In the Distance has de Vitry proclaiming over a strummed guitar before  percussion and accordion weigh in on a spiritual song, de Vrity as impassioned as Odetta while her fiddle solo reminds one of their earthier roots. Fossil aches with plaintive steel guitar as de Vrity launches her rich loamy voice as on Best Medicine, her yearning verses leading into an uplifting chorus while Mississippi Pearl is a wonderful evocation of a woman’s voyage of discovery heading to “the edge of the world.” Here the new line up works brilliantly, the halting acoustic instruments, creamy pedal steel, restrained guitar breaks and sensitive drums gelling, the harmonies heavenly. It’s a song that here recalls the cream of 70’s LA country rock (Linda Ronstadt would have killed for it) but one can imagine the unadorned trio still captivating an audience without the sublime added instrumentation.

As for heading in a new direction there’s a sense that the band are at a crossroads. They head off in one direction with a gritty country rock feel, telecasters and fiddle over a shuffling beat recalling artists such as Wildflowers era Tom Petty on the instantly likeable Third Day In A Row (with Craven’s voice uncannily like Petty’s). The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band come to mind on the very danceable Sabrina and the deft quick step of Sunday Morning while Hands Of Man slides along with skirling fiddle to the fore and reminds one of Classic Fairport Convention. There’s a fork to the left leading to classic country pop as Craven and de Vrity hold hands on the Everly’s styled Somehow, adding themselves to the list of classic country harmony duos but they head back to the mainline for a couple of songs that do raise eyebrows on first hearing.

Radio is a wonderfully loose limbed approximation of a cocaine addled Fleetwood Mac. A soft percussive shuffle softly propelling the beat, guitars loosely entwined (here very loose) as de Vrity channels Christine McVie on a song that is slippery and supple, the subject possibly a sly dig at the airwave ubiquity of The Mac back in the days. Not content to let de Vrity get away with this bassist Muench then offers up his Where You Come From, another song that harks back to FM radio FM (Fleetwood Mac) dominance. Again, Leonard is propulsive on percussion, the guitars sparkle, the song a perfect fit for playlists. Unlike other acts who have received attention for their rootsy efforts and then turned tiller in order to get more attention here The Stray Birds approach the perch and look down, grab a few seeds and then safely deliver their own version, organic as opposed to mass produced, and somewhat wonderful.

It will be interesting to see how the band manage this transition in a live setting. As we said they play Glasgow Americana on 9th October in the midst of a major UK tour, all dates here.



The Handsome Family. Unseen. Loose Music.


The Gomez and Morticia of Americana, Brett and Rennie Sparks AKA The Handsome Family have long delighted with their singular vision. Rennie able to spin words from weird dreams, bizarre history and extrapolated incidents, Brett voicing these in his monotone baritone, all wrapped up in a strangely comforting low key country styled exotica with ancient keyboards and autoharp nestling amid the guitar and banjo.

Critically acclaimed and with a devoted following The Handsome Family burst out of the niche world of Americana when their song Far From Any Road (from way back in 2003) was chosen as the theme music for the hit TV series True Detective. Online at least they were stars, downloads and viewings of the song hitting millions, a gratifying tale indeed and hopefully some of the moolah has found its way to them. Certainly when Blabber’n’Smoke last saw them they seemed somewhat gratified by the episode but, comfortable within their unique universe, their first album release since the brouhaha, Unseen, carries on as usual with no hint of cashing in with only one song approaching the lush desert storm of Far From Any Road.  A case of Stay Calm and Stay Weird.

They open with that trademark sound on the glorious Gold, a border tale suffused with imagery, “Got a tattoo of a snake/And a ski mask on my face/But I woke up in a ditch/Behind the Stop-N-Go/Lying in the weeds with a bullet in my gut/Watching dollar bills go fly away in the dust.” An image sparked when a dollar bill blowin’ in the wind smacked Brett in the face in a car park, fine fodder for Rennie’s imagination. Indeed the album title came from another episode when Rennie, sitting in an airport seat was then sat upon by a businessman who failed to see her. Contemplating her invisibility, she writes as a detached, unseen observer, dreams, occurrences and false memories feeding her fantasies.

The Silver Light is a woozy neon lit country waltz which describes fly blown bar flies addicted to slot machines seeking nirvana in the reflected glow of the tumbling wheels hoping that their angels will line up. This netherworld, a reflection of hopes dashed appears again in The Red Door, a Hitchcock like admonition not to open the door under the stairs and on King Of Dust where the protagonist, hung upside down in his truck after a collision sees himself flying over the desert. Rather than going to a heaven all he sees is barren parched lands, bones bleached in the sand, an Icarus of despair.

Elsewhere they bemoan a lost innocence on Back In My Day and visit a funway in dashed expectations of seeing the world’s tiniest horse, the mournful fairground gaiety of Tiny Tina recalling a baleful clown’s sadness, a painted face hiding his pain. Gentlemen  is true gothic, a song swaddled in the bizarre psychedelia of Farewell Aldebaran as Brett sings of  a 19th century medium who hoped to vacuum up spirits like so much dust, inventing a machine to do just that.  They close with the yearning romanticism of Green Willow Valley which comes across like a wraith tempting his love to cross over into his world, a mirror version of The Green Leaves Of Summer, a love song that graced the John Wayne movie The Alamo. Here it’s a skeletal Wayne beckoning from beyond the grave.


An album begging for epithets such as crepuscular and spooky it transcends these. In short it’s another trip into the odd and extremely attractive world of Brett and Rennie Sparks. The duo are lining up UK dates for early 2017 and in the meantime you can get Unseen on a limited edition transparent green vinyl LP here.


Phil Ochs. Live Again. Floating World Records


A contemporary of Dylan, a protest singer who carried on protesting when Dylan decided to give up on “finger pointing songs,” Phil Ochs never achieved the fame accorded to his rival. Consider that just one year before Bob and The Band set out across The States for their Before The Flood tour, opening to 18,000 folk, Ochs was playing this show in an old stable in Michigan, three years later, he took his own life. His early demise and his reluctance to drop his political stance and move further into pop/rock have left Ochs firmly in limbo when it comes to general recognition, indeed he doesn’t even seem to have achieved “cult status”. Instead, aside from some devoted fans including Sean Penn, he is noted as a respected artist in the folk and protest movement with his later and more expansive work rarely mentioned. As a result there haven’t been any grand retrospectives or box sets of his work but recently there’s been a trickle of live recordings uncovered and Live Again is one that’s highly recommended.

Recorded in 1973 with Ochs sounding in fine spirit he performs alone with his guitar, the songs spanning his 10 year career. It’s a recording very much of its time with Richard Nixon firmly in his sights (the disgraced Tricky Dicky resigned one year later) but his preamble to Here’s To The State of Richard Nixon is alarmingly relevant to these days of clownish presidential hopefuls. Elsewhere he rails against CIA involvement in South America (of which he had personal experience, arrested in Argentina after a visit to Allende’s Chile) on Santa Domingo and hones in on the American art of assassination on the immensely powerful Crucifixion. There But For Fortune, Changes, Outside A Small Circle Of Friends and I Ain’t Marching Anymore retain their appeal revealing why Ochs was once considered an equal of Dylan back in the Greenwich Village days. In addition  several of the songs offer evidence that Ochs should stand shoulder to shoulder with his fellow sixties troubadours such as Buckley, Neil and Hardin with The Bells, Flower Lady, Changes and Pleasures Of The Harbour all wonderfully delivered.

With the shit storm that is the Middle East and the potential ramifications of the current presidential election Ochs sounds as relevant today as he did back then. Live Again is a must for fans of his music and works well as an introduction for newbies.

Here he is in 1969.