Freakwater. Scheherazade. Bloodshot Records

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This album’s been out for a while now but with Freakwater playing in Glasgow tonight it deserves a mention. Essentially a vehicle for Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin’s love of ancient sounding Appalachian and American Gothic sounds Freakwater set the standard for a bare boned and raw Americana sound in the nineties, Old Paint being a particularly good example. Scheherazade is their first album in ten years and while the vocal pairing of Bean and Irwin remains the focal point the album is their fullest yet in terms of arrangements with their long term bass player, David Wayne Gay, augmented by a host of Kentucky musicians and pertinently Warren Ellis, presumably happy to be ensconced in the badlands yet again.

From start to end the album is a glorious collection of blood soaked tales and grim narratives. The opening What the People Want recounts a violent and bloody encounter, a woman “split from stern to stern” and thrown down a well as Ellis’ spooky fiddle scrapes away. The lullaby Rock A Bye Baby is transformed into a vertiginous nightmare replete with squalling guitar battling an unhinged banjo on Down Will Come Baby. There’s a crepuscular element in the sly guitar lines on Falls Of Sleep, a song that foreshadows an execution while The Asp and The Albatross derives from Coleridge and Shakespeare as the band deliver a powerful folk rock sound which recalls the singular oddity that was Farewell Aldebaran, Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s psychedelic folk masterpiece.

Bolshevik and Bollweevil and Take Me With You are more akin to the Freakwater of old, the voices prominent over a restrained backing but sitting in perfect harmony with their sibling songs here. The album as a whole is a fine addition to what was already a fine canon.

Freakwater are playing Broadcast, Glasgow tonight. On the strength of this album it looks like a night to remember.

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Chip Taylor. Little Brothers. Train Wreck Records

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Where do you start with Chip Taylor? Well. First off he’s one of the headliners at this week’s Glasgow Americana Festival playing Friday at the Classic Grand. Simple, go get a ticket. After that it gets weird. On one level Taylor is connected, star wise, Hollywood firmament stuff, his brother is Jon Voight, his niece Angelina Jolie, he should be larging it up in Malibu. More pertinently he’s the guy who wrote the sublime Angel Of The Morning and the classic garage punk perennial Wild Thing, yes, that Wild Thing, covered by The Troggs, Hendrix et al. In fact, he was a regular one man Brill Building back in the sixties and early seventies churning out hit songs for numerous artists. Then he packed it all in and became a professional gambler (told you this was weird) only returning to music in the late nineties. A series of albums recorded with Carrie Rodriguez were classic dusty Americana while Chip himself rolled out his discs including the immense triple CD The Little Prayers Trilogy. Across these discs Taylor delivers his songs and spoken words like a sage Walter Brennan addressing you by a campfire. Words of wisdom suffused with a humanity which is occasionally tempered by an anger at the ways of the world. The albums are a comfort and a delight and this latest release is no different.

Addressing the plight of refugees, documenting a dream about his brothers (Jon and volcanologist Barry) and offering up a self-help mantra of sorts Taylor softly spins his wisdom across the album. The songs are laid back, guitarist John Platania (renowned for his days in Van Morrison’s Caledonia Soul Orchestra) and keyboardist Goran Grini delicately supporting the slim melodies. The album opens with Taylor delivering a narrative about his brother Barry and his granddaughter driving to a golf tournament for kids then driving back. A simple tale but one invested with a sense of dignity and pride as Taylor’s homespun voice delivers the story before coming to the conclusion that, “we all need some great rides home.” Similarly a dream about Taylor and his brothers in a taxi spins into a meditation on their relationship, their shared Yonkers background and their occasional differences on the title song. As Time Goes By, dedicated to his wife, is an affecting love song that acknowledges the passage of time and the deepening bond that develops, a wonderful song.

Over the course of his albums Taylor has displayed his wry sense of humour and also his deep love of humanity and both are well displayed here. Enlighten Yourself has Taylor delivering a lecture of sorts with an occasional mantra (which is reprised at the end of the album). Sounding almost like Mr. Magoo as he stumbles through his guide to becoming enlightened he highlights the absurdity of many gurus while pointing out the simplicity of just being yourself and enjoying the simple things in life.  Refugee Children is prefaced by Taylor setting the scene as he recalls a tour in Sweden and coming across a group of refugees. The song again is simple, painting a picture of the children fishing in a brook but Taylor makes his point midway as he reads from the Human Rights Convention relating to the status of refugees. Simple but effective.

As we mentioned up above Chip Taylor is appearing this Friday as part of the Glasgow Americana festival. It’s his first appearance in Glasgow for 15 years and a rare opportunity to see one of the legends of American music.

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Unfortunately none of the videos from the album are available here in the UK but just this week Taylor released this new song he has recorded with Carrie Rodriguez.

 

 

 

 

Ben Glover. The Emigrant. Proper Records

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Although Blabber’n’Smoke hasn’t previously reviewed any of Ben Glover’s albums his is a name which has cropped up several times.  He co-wrote Gretchen Peters’ wonderful Blackbirds, winner of ‘International Song of The Year’ at the UK Americana Awards back in February and he was one third of The Orphan Brigade who released the very fine Soundtrack To A Ghost Story around a year ago.

An Irishman who has lived in Nashville since 2009 Glover was drawn to consider the theme of migration as he was going through the process of getting his Green Card. Of course Ireland has had waves of emigrations over the centuries but the current political climate, dominated by the plight of refugees across the globe and the ensuing backlash and rise of xenophobia assures that this resulting album has a topical purpose. For all that it’s far from a polemical album. Instead Glover has reached back to popular and traditional Irish songs that evoke feelings of displacement and exile  and to these he has added four songs, three co-written with Gretchen Peters, Mary Gauthier and Tony Kerr, the title song, commenced in Ireland and finished in collaboration with Peters being the starting block for the album.

Co produced with fellow Orphan Brigadier, Neilson Hubbard, the album stays close to its Irish roots, the instrumentation is spare; acoustic guitar, piano, fiddles, Uilleann pipes, whistles the primary instruments. Glover skilfully wrests the traditional and cover songs from any cosy sense of familiarity, the arrangements breathing new life into them while the presence of his own songs prevents the album from becoming a set of “well kent” Irish songs, the album as a whole a powerful listen.

Opening with a stirring rendition of The Parting Glass, the upbeat tempo belying the air of farewell within the song, Glover immediately takes us into an Irish heartland, a fiction perhaps of a jolly lot managing their loss through alcohol, oft posited by numerous screenplays. Aside from a slight return to a toe tapping moment on the traditional Moonshiner, another song with drink at its centre, the rest of the album is a more sombre affair, the reality of alienation and loss hitting hard. A Song Of Home, one of the originals is a magnificent effort, glover’s voice yearning, at times approaching Van Morrison’s stream of consciousness repetitions, the song celebrating the landscapes, mists and mysteries of a remembered homeland. The title song follows opening with plangent piano, a Tom Waits’ like moment considered perhaps but it then swells with Uillean pipes as Glover dissects with his poet’s scalpel the curse of the emigrant, “to be cut loose from all you knew, beyond the pale, beyond the blue…the restlessness, the discontent…” It’s a deeply moving song that stakes its claim immediately to be considered part of the folk canon. The co-write with Mary Gauthier, Heart In My Hand, is a roving fiddle fuelled ramble while Dreamers, Pilgrims, Strangers is a very brief reiteration of the lines inscribed within the album sleeve, Glover’s alternative to Emma Lazarus’ words welcoming emigrants to the USA.

Woven between these bitter pills are the familiars. Ralph McTell’s From Clare To Here, Glover more impassioned than McTell’s original, more bereft. The Auld Triangle wrings out all the emotion it can from this well travelled song with a touch of Shane McGowan to be sure in here. The Green Glens Of Antrim closes the album and again Glover summons up ghosts and memories, an emigrant looking back through rose tinted glasses, delivered here like a Hibernian Tom Waits. Finally Glover manages the almost impossible task of breathing new life into a song that through familiarity has somewhat lost its original impact. He tackles Eric Bogle’s And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda with a raw vocal and a tremendous arrangement, half Waits, half Weill as he snarls and rages, finally collapsing into a bereft croak, the band playing on.

It’s not that often that an album captures such a terrible zeitgeist but Glover here lays down a powerful challenge to those who just see immigrants taking up their council houses and jobs. Several of these songs should accompany news items but that’s too grand to ever happen. Still, there’s social media there to spread his message. On a more local level we should mention that Glover is appearing at next week’s Glasgow Americana Festival performing in the round with Boo Hewardine and Roddy Hart (information here).

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