Jim Byrne. Ten Writers Telling Lies

bookimageTen Writers Telling Lies is an ambitious project. A book of short stories, an album of songs, a series of illustrations, all entwined and caught up in a lie which, in the end, is withheld from the reader/listener. It’s the brainchild of Jim Byrne, a Glasgow West End flaneur and songwriter who admits that he was somewhat tired of the normal “record some songs and release them cycle.” The light bulb moment occurred when Byrne was at a book reading, which ended with the author of the night and friends playing some tunes. Mulling this over afterwards Byrne decided to recruit some writers for a collaboration which would entail them writing a story or poem and lyrics for the songs he was sitting on. In addition he asked each of them to take a “selfie” each of which were then the basis for an illustration by Glasgow artist Pam McDonald. The results, all included in the book, follow in the footsteps of the renowned Alasdair Gray who typically would enliven his books with intriguing illustrations although McDonald sets her own style.

At the heart of the project was the somewhat nebulous idea of the lie. Here Byrne was somewhat ahead of the pack as he conceived of the idea long before the issue of “fake news” became commonplace. Anyhow, Byrne states in his introduction that all involved were to agree to lie about a particular aspect of the project to the extent of signing a document forbidding them from revealing this “lie.” It’s a tantalising aspect, a challenge to discover the lie (and which, so far, we haven’t fathomed) but ultimately there’s no need to go all Tin Tin and investigative as the package works brilliantly on its own two feet. You can consider it as an anthology of new Scottish writing (to which it stands up well) with an album of songs to listen to as you read or try to match up the hidden threads which bind the project together.

So there are stories and poems about adolescent courting, rural surgery, beatnik dreams, termination blues and cross dressing priests. As in all anthologies there are different styles and themes but it’s an enthralling read and, if nothing else, a fine introduction to each of the writers. As for the music, Byrne excels. As befits the collaborative element of the project there’s a fine degree of variety on show here although it’s all helmed by his fine voice, at times lugubrious, plaintive or occasionally crooning. There’s a lengthy list of contributing musicians, singers and spoken work participants and the songs range across gospel themed laments, Celtic airs, Ronnie Lane like folky jaunts, Mexicali border dustiness, creamy pedal steel country and finger popping rock’n’roll. Variety for sure but it all hangs together with the overall sense of the album a peek into the human spirit and the many ways in which it can encounter adversity and try to overcome it. From the weeping fiddle that opens Burdon Of Your Cross, a song that recalls Johnny Cash’s religious songs, to the closing Promise That We’ll Meet Again, sung by Elaine Fleming and delivered with a folk purity with Byrne finger picking on acoustic guitar it’s a joy to listen to. There’s tenement gallousness in the spoken parts on Sweet Gone Tomorrows, All This I Learn From A Kiss is a gloriously warped waltz and Blood On Your Hands is a heart melting country duet with Byrne and Dinny Shuff doing their best George and Tammy.

The writers are Stephanie Brown, Pat Byrne, James Carson, Samina Chaudry, James Connarty, Pauline Lynch, Calum Maclean, Gillian Margaret Mayes, Micheal Norton and Stephen Watt. You can read more about the project here.

For a man who says he was somewhat jaded this project has certainly invigorated Byrne. It’s warm, evocative and exciting and well recommended. There’s a launch show at Cottiers in Glasgow this Thursday with readings and music and the book and album are available here. 






Imelda May Life. Love. Flesh. Blood. Decca Records

life-love-flesh-blood-album-coverMuch has been made of Imelda May’s new direction following her marital split and her hook up (professionally) with T Bone Burnett for this album which promised to move on from her rockabilly with a bodhran premise. On stage she has ditched the fifties themed polka dots and teased hair coming on instead like Chrissie Hynde’s sister with rock chick chic but Live. Love. Flesh. Blood , despite trailing credentials to die for, remains resolutely in the middle of the road. As with her previous manifestation which was a somewhat diluted version of Cramps lite rockabilly, here she attempts to croon like  Patsy Cline or dive into the badlands of Mexicana but there’s little sense of daring and despite Burnett’s awesome heritage he fails to inject any real passion into the album.

Several of the songs just fail to achieve lift off. They may seem impressive but like Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose ambition defeats design and delivery. The vampish Bad Habit harks back to songs like Love Potion No 9 but it fails to swing and the thrash of Leave Me Lonely abandons all subtlety sounding somewhat like Cher. Similarly, Should’ve Been You has a drum sound that sticks out like a sore thumb while Imelda’s voice seems to stretch for the high notes without having undergone a warm up beforehand. Much more successful are the quieter moments, the opening Call Me a delicate late night murmur with some sweet guitar that recalls Van Morrison’s Crazy Love while Black Tears is a Patsy Cline like bar room swoon with guest guitarist Jeff Beck adding some swell retro guitar slide. Sixth Sense is a nod to May’s previous good girl gone bad rockabilly mode and it slinks along with a fine atmospheric patina while How Bad Can A good Girl Be is soaked in Mexicana romance. Levitate roams around in similar territory and here the band and May do conjure up a romantic moment with guitar and strings sensual and seductive. May closes the album with an acoustic based number that may be somewhat autobiographical on The Girl I Used To Be. With a very slight Celtic folk lilt to it, it kind of highlights May’s dilemma, straining for the mainstream while trying to retain some roots. Ultimately, the record is destined for fairweather listeners and as such will probably sell a bundle.



Curse Of Lono. Severed. Submarine Cat Records

subccd012_severed_pack-shot-300x300Curse Of Lono features Felix Bechtolsheimer and Neil Findlay (both from the late roots band Hey Negrita) along with Joe Hazell, Charis Anderson and Dani Ruiz Hernandez. Very much a vehicle for Bechtolsheimer the band were awarded rave reviews for their debut EP late last year and on Severed they  expand much of what was on show back then.  The album seesaws between glossy and slick rock grooves and a looser rootsy feel. One moment they’re heading down a Doors influenced LA freeway (London Rain), next they’re exhuming Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Earth for the introduction to Just My Head. It does make for a somewhat discombobulating listen at times as if the band haven’t quite decided what direction they should aim for and ultimately, for a band who have named themselves after a Hunter Thompson book, there’s no sense of Thompson’s Gonzo edginess here.

They do start off with a bang on Five Miles with Byrds’ like vocals and growling electric slide guitar over a pulsating bass beat before tribal tom toms introduce more growling guitars on Pick Up The Pieces. It’s an adventurous song, Adam and The Ants seguing into The Doors and packed with hooks as it chops and changes rhythm before a fine guitar solo and Manzarek like keyboards burst out before an abrupt end. Those keyboards feature heavily on the dark rumble of London Rain with Bechtolsheimer narrating in his best voiceover voice like De Niro in Taxi Driver. Send For The Whisky almost bridges the gap between the gloss and the roots as behind the pummelling drums and squirreling guitar there’s some tradition peeking through although the chorus seems somewhat indebted to The Stones’ Dead Flowers.

Each Time You Hurt is a fine and gentle acoustic ramble of the sort that The Lost Brothers do so well and He Takes My Place actually recalls the likes of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils from way back in the seventies, a soft rock version of mountain music. There are shades of The Felice Brothers on Welcome Home which has some wicked slide guitar before the gloom and glimmer of Don’t Look Down with its shimmering guitars and plaintive vocals closes the album.

Ultimately, Curse Of Lono are packed with potential. They have the chops to deliver some scintillating Americana themed rock’n’roll and by all accounts are a thrill to see live. Severed is a fine entrée and hopefully the band can go on to build on their strengths.


Watch ‘Saturday Night‘, a short film based on 4 songs by Curse Of Lono. Directed by Alex Walker. Starring Grant Masters.



Rising star Courtney Marie Andrews Discusses Melancholia and “The Crying Machine”


When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Courtney Marie Andrews at the tail end of last year we were awaiting the release of her album Honest Life with the promise of a tour to follow. Four months later and Ms. Andrews is the talk of the town. The album’s been a great success, reaching the number one slot in the Official Americana charts and her performances on her tour with The Handsome Family received critical acclaim. A measure of her success is that she was back in London for a two day stop last week to perform on the BBC’s Later…with Jools Holland, quite a coup for an artist on an independent label given that this show is just about the only televised music show on the Beeb these days.

The day after she recorded her appearance Courtney was gracious enough to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke during a brief coffee break before she set out to perform a short set at Rough Trade West later that afternoon.


First off, we should say congratulations to you. The album’s taken off, the tour was a success and finally you get to appear on prime time TV.

Thanks. It’s just been great. I really enjoyed touring with The Handsome Family and loved meeting so many people and then getting on to the show last night was brilliant. They only showed one song last night but we recorded two with Jools playing piano on the second one.

And you were accompanied by BJ Cole on pedal steel, a man who many folk would call a legend.

Yes, he was tremendous. Did you know that he played on Tiny Dancer?

He’s been on so many great records but that’s a great one. I love that scene in Almost Famous when they sing along to it on their tour bus.

Yeah, that’s a classic film.

It’s funny that you mention Tiny Dancer because Bernie Taupin apparently wrote that about his and Elton John’s experiences in California in 1971 and many folk have mentioned how your music reminds them of that time. Just yesterday I saw that you were asked by Albumism to pick a favourite album and you chose The Band’s The Last Waltz. You explain your choice there but I was going to ask you why this period of music talks to you.

Well, although I love classic country songs and singers my influences are mainly in that early seventies sound. The Band took stuff like the blues and old time music and Levon Helm influenced the other guys to write those country type songs. I really think that they were the first “alt country” or Americana band as they were doing this even before Gram Parsons when they sat down and did The Basement Tapes.  And the guys I play with in the band, we all kind of come from that rootsy background that comes across on their records so The Band resonate with me a lot.

Looking back over the past three months it seems you’ve been incredibly busy but you had the time to record a song with Will Oldham, a cover of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Is To Be Free.

There’s a project called Our First 100 Days and I wanted to do something with them. I’ve always loved that song and I wanted to do it as a duet and I really like Will Oldham so we called him and he agreed to do it! So the band and I recorded the song and then sent it over to Will and he did his vocals.

So you weren’t together in the studio? I thought that maybe you would have jumped into your old tour bus and searched him out.

That would have been great but we’re too far away from each other for that.

I’m only kidding. I saw the van in the video for Put The Fire Out and it looks really funky but not altogether roadworthy.   Do you really go on the road in that?

Yes, sometimes we do.

Well you need to fix the license plate at the front, it’s falling off

I know, it’s still like that.

In that song, Put The Fire Out you sing that it’s time to let down your hair and have a good time so has this year been fun?

Yes, I’ve been having a lot of fun. It’s been hard work but I’ve been feeling good about it. I’ve been so busy since the beginning of January but when I fly home I have two weeks off.

Some of Honest Life was written in the aftermath of a break up and the album has a somewhat melancholic air about it. In the wake of what’s happened since can we expect the next record to be a happier affair?

I think people will be surprised when the next album comes out, I’ve been writing for it a lot.  I think that I inherently have that melancholia in me regardless but I’m not afraid to explore other emotions. I think it’s important as a songwriter to really go with your feelings and not to stick with just one hyper sad song. Bob Dylan’s written about a wealth of emotions and I really respect it when people can do that so I never put that type of barrier on myself. I hope I can write songs that are not so melancholic but which are still great. I think that if I were to write Honest Life over and over again people would get quite tired of that so it’s important to kind of push yourself.

I was looking at your tour schedule and it looks pretty daunting. Tours of Canada, Australia and New Zealand before you come back to the UK in August and then zoom around Europe.

Well I’ve got a bit of time before I head out again and that will be time to write for the next album but after that I’ll be on tour until the end of the year. I’m really excited to get back to the UK and let folk hear the full band sound and we’re playing again in Glasgow at a place called The Hug & Pint.

Well everyone I know who saw you earlier this year is going to that although it’s such a small venue that once you and the band are on stage there might not be room for the audience. We’re looking forward to the full band experience although your show with Bryan Daste on pedal steel was wonderful. A  Blabber’n’Smoke acquaintance who also plays pedal steel was quite impressed with him and they’re now Facebook buddies.

Yeah, everybody loves the pedal steel and that’s kind of how the pedal steel world works. They have their own little forum where they talk to each other.

One of your label mates on Loose Music, Danny Champ, calls the pedal steel the ironing board of love.

That’s great. I’ve heard so many great terms for it but I call it the crying machine.

And with that we left Courtney to enjoy her coffee before heading off to do her instore show at Rough Trade. You can read a short review of her performance over at Americana UK. In the meantime I’d recommend that if you want to see her later this year to grab your tickets now as it’s unlikely she’ll be performing in such intimate venues again.


Tour dates

Update: 24/4/17. Due to a huge demand Courtney’s Glasgow show has been moved to a larger venue and she is now appearing at st. Lukes.






Sam Outlaw. Tenderheart. Six Shooter Records


On the back of his debut album Angeleno Sam Outlaw quickly became a critics and fan favourite with the record declared International Album Of The Year at the latest UK Americana Awards ceremony. He’s one of a new wave (sortish) of artists, male and female, who are eschewing the current Nashville wave of brash and brassy country pop rock preferring to dig deeper into the past. In Outlaw’s case he somewhat out on a limb as he’s out there in LA as opposed to East Nashville, Austin or North Carolina but he uses Los Angeles as a fulcrum for his music to the extent that he had the esteemed Ry Cooder produce Angeleno while LA Weekly stated that he was a “contender to be the biggest country star LA has produced since Dwight Yoakam.”

Tenderheart is less varied than its predecessor with the majority of the songs somewhat yearning although there are some muscular moments such as the guitar breaks on Diamond Ring. In fact much of the album has moments that recall the days when Waddy Wachtel or David Lindley were the guys propelling the songs and that leads us into the likes of Jackson Browne who Outlaw approximates on the excellent Bougainvillea, I Think which could have sat on Browne’s first album.

The album opens with the reflective Everyone’s Looking For Home which starts off well, brooding organ softly swelling with malleted percussion as Outlaw’s weary voice is cosseted by harmonies before a short crescendo of strings and horns disturb the peace briefly. Bottomless Mimosas is brimful of sweet country sounds, warm pedal steel and the soft shoe shuffle percussion waft the song along as Outlaw sings of a sense of ennui capturing perfectly the vacuity of everyday life. Here Outlaw captures perfectly his thoughts on Los Angeles. As he said recently to Rolling Stone, “There is something special about Los Angeles, a special sadness. There is a faded beauty that is here, that kind of strange following of dreams while dreams are being crushed in a regular basis.”

Outlaw roams across an LA musical topography. The title song is a soft rock ballad of the type that used to hit the charts but Trouble is more in keeping with the late Warren Zevon’s muscular approach although it lacks Zevon’s sardonic wit. Say It To Me  is dominated by some wonderful  zippy pedal steel over a heavy drum beat as it recalls the darker side of sun dappled Topanga Canyon days, latter day Byrds meets post Manson Terry Melcher. She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid Off) is a riff on the country tropes of Merle Haggard (and George Jones)  while Two Broken Hearts is somewhat akin to Gram Parsons zoning into the Bakersfield sound.

Towards the end of the album Outlaw offers the smooth pop of Now She Tells Me, a sunny breeze of a song that’s almost in Jimmy Buffet territory and which disguises the lyrical content of a stalker’s grim thoughts. This is a glorious song and testament to Outlaw’s writing skills. The album closes with a raw sounding recording of Look At You Now which has Outlaw and a female chorus singing over a stripped down setting on a song that is replete with accusation. All in all a fine album that on the surface is a friendly listen but with some delving reveals a darker side. Somewhat appropriate for a paean to Sin City.

A regular visitor to these shores Sam Outlaw is appearing at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival in July.



Western Centuries UK and Ireland Tour

Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer

Western Centuries head over to the UK and Ireland for the first time later this month with 18 shows penned in over a four week stretch. Exciting news given that their album Weight Of The World was a fixture in many of last year’s top ten lists with this fine quote summing them up quite neatly.

“If it seems crazy to compare any band today to giants like the Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers, then call me crazy, but Western Centuries is the country supergroup we’ve been waiting for: three first-rate lead singers, each of whom writes solid, heartwarming and heartbreaking country songs, together in one band.”    —Kristin Cavoukian, Exclaim! Magazine

 Comprised of Seattle-based country musician Cahalen Morrison, jam band veteran Jim Miller (co-founder of Donna the Buffalo) and bluegrass-by-way-of-punk rock songwriter Ethan Lawton, Western Centuries grew out of a solo project of Morrison’s called Country Hammer. Having enjoyed both the Country Hammer album and Weight Of The World Blabber’n’Smoke was glad to be offered the opportunity to speak briefly with Cahalen Morrison as he was  preparing for a show in North Carolina last week.

Acclaimed as one half of  acoustic roots duo, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, Morrison’s solo debut Country Hammer, released in 2014, surprised many given that it was a full blown country album with a band in tow. Regarding this apparent change in direction Cahalen explains, “That’s music I’ve played really since I was a kid and when I was in bands back home in New Mexico we played country music. I felt it was just a fun thing to change from an acoustic set up to rock and roll a bit”.  While Country Hammer was a solo project with all songs written by Morrison, Jim Miller played on the album and sang two of the songs and pretty soon it evolved. “Well Ethan was in the band as well playing drums and singing and we started bringing in tunes that both Ethan and Jim had written. So we decided to change the band name so it didn’t look like it was me and my band with some other folk just sitting in and singing some stuff. With Western Centuries it’s equal duties for the three of us.”


There’s a great deal of variety on Weight Of The World with honky tonk songs, beer stained laments and cosmic cowboy observations all jostling for space. With three singers and songwriters on board reviewers have often made comparisons with The Band particularly with regard to Miller’s songs. Asked about this Cahalen replied, “I can see the comparison and it can be useful for people to hear that and get a hold of it and say, “Well I like The Band so maybe I’ll like these guys.” And we all love The Band and that kind of vibe of three writers and three singers all sharing and collaborating so I’d say that the comparison is pretty accurate. It makes the show great fun for us. To get to do all this different stuff, to be able to sing lead then have a break and sing harmony and then I’ll jump behind the drums and Ethan will get up on guitar and sing his songs and throughout the show we all switch around on electric and acoustic guitars”.  As for other influences that reviewers have mentioned such as seventies country rock bands including The Burritos and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band he stated, ” it’s hard to say what has influenced us because we’ve all heard bands like those. But we all listen to George Jones and things like that so it just all kind of seeps in and happens.”

When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Weight Of The World I mentioned that Philosophers and Fools was perhaps the first country song to mention the dating app Tinder thinking it to be a cunning pun that fitted in with the song’s imagery about love burning out but this theory was blown out of the water when I asked Cahalen about this. “I didn’t realise it when I wrote it but it does work out to be a funny little thing that accidentally happened. So I wasn’t singing about the Tinder app but it’s a funny coincidence”. And while some of Morrison’s lyrics are meaty such as “I’ve seen the weight of the world crumble with an easy equation. I’ve seen the weight of a man gone to hell, cryin’ he don’t understand,”  (he draws from writers such as Gabriél Garcia Marquez,  cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, and Cormac McCarthythey’re delivered with an undeniable sense of good time freewheeling fun so I asked Cahalen what the live shows are like. “We generally have a lot of dancers and most of the places that we play they’ll clear the chairs for a dance floor. We definitely have a good time on the stage and I sure hope the audience does too. They seem to.” As for the band’s debut visit over here, Cahalen is looking forward it. “I’m excited to be coming over with the band. I’ve been over so many times with Eli and I’ve got lots of friends that I’m excited to be seeing again. I really love Scotland, it’s my home away from home so to speak and I’m really excited about playing at Kilkenny Roots, I’ve heard really fun things about the festival. We’ll have Leo Grassi from Nashville on pedal steel and Travis Stuart from North Carolina on bass playing with us.”


We ended our chat with Cahalen talking about future plans, “In August we plan to be recording in Louisiana for a new album which will probably come out next year. It should be fun, we’ll be down in Cajun country and I reckon some of that will rub off on the music.”

Western Centuries’ tour commences on 19th April in London and will include two shows at Kilkenny Roots Festival and five Scottish dates. All tour information is here.













Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio @ The Fallen Angels Club. Stereo, Glasgow, Friday 7th April

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Tonight was a welcome (and much overdue) return to Glasgow from Texan Alejandro Escovedo who is touring on the back of his acclaimed (and much overdue) album Burn Something Beautiful, his first in five years. A fascinating character and one who might conceivably be worthy of the accolade “legend” Escovedo straddles the worlds of punk, Americana, Latin and Mexicana music. His first band, the Nuns, were the support band in San Francisco for the final Sex Pistols gig and with Rank and File and True Believers he was a prime mover in the rootsy alt country scene of the eighties. Solo albums commencing with Gravity (in 1992) were critically acclaimed with No Depression magazine declaring Escovedo “Artist of the Decade” at the end of the nineties. A struggle with hepatitis in the new century threw a spanner into the works but with the assistance of some earnest fundraising from his musical community and beyond he returned to recording and live appearances. He has collaborated with numerous artists familiar to these pages including Chuck Prophet, Peter Buck, Carrie Rodriguez and for this tour Sacri Cuori’s Antonio Gramentieri.

So it can be reasonably argued that the packed crowd tonight were expectant, memories of previous shows in King Tuts and the Arches bandied about, expectations high and for the most part they were not disappointed. Escovedo, now in his mid sixties but as dapper as ever threw us a show that was high on energy; primal slabs of rock’n’roll with chest clenching bass notes rumbling away this was the Escovedo who briefly appeared on the bar band grooves of his 1997 side project Buick Mackane where he explored his inner Iggy Pop. The opener Can’t make Me Run was a slow burning inner city groove with guitar squalls and a squalid sax solo with the closing refrain of “Don’t give up on love”  overwhelmed by a cacophonous sax introduction into the raw rock riff of Shave The Cat which welled into a ferocious wall of noise, visceral and pummelling. Taking no prisoners they then slammed into Beauty of Your Smile quickly followed by an old favourite, Castanets, a mutant child of Chuck Berry with some glorious guitar riffing from Gramentieri.

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Time for a breather and as Escovedo strapped on his acoustic he said hello and offered some observations on Austin over the years which led (naturally) into a song he co wrote with Chuck Prophet, Bottom Of the World, with the versatile band turning down from 11 on the amps to deliver some sweet sounds. Sensitive Boys, which followed, was a slice of autobiography and a touching tribute to fellow musicians, some now fallen by the wayside. Sally Was A Cop opened with some inventive percussion as it sparkled into sight, the dramatic lyrics woefully resonant of our times before the slam-dunk guitar onslaught of Horizontal followed.

Curfew time approached but this was cast to the wind as Escovedo paid tribute to his backing band (which he had only met the day before the tour), his encounters with Bruce Springsteen (and the scary Little Steven) and of his friendship with tonight’s promoter, Kevin Morris, whose wedding Escovedo attended in Austin a few years back. The encores commenced with the panther like prowl of Everbody Loves Me before he discarded his guitar for a dub like version of Leonard Cohens’ A Thousand Kissed Deep followed by Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. With the band departed he then played a request, I Wish I Was Your Mother, reminding us that he’s as capable of pulling the heartstrings  as pummelling us into submission. A satisfying end to a very satisfying night.

As good as Escovedo was several in the audience were equally excited to see Don Antonio, AKA Antonio Gramentieri of Sacri Cuori unveil his new album which was released today. A wizard on guitar Gramentieri is also a master of texture and style, a rock’n’roll Morricone who grafts American music and cinematic Italian pop and rock creating a fairly unique sonic experience. As American culture conquered the West in the latter half of the last century, various nations devised their own versions with Italy being perhaps the most noteworthy especially in the sixties and early seventies when Italian cool was as hip as Hollywood cool and resonated worldwide for a while before the world moved on. Gramentieri plugs into this vibe with his music populated with dashes of Morricone and Rota along with a slew of Italian pop composers including artists such as Riz Ortolani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Umiliani, composer of the song forever associated with the Muppets, Mah Na Mah Na.

As Don Antonio,  Gramentieri was accompanied by Denis Valentini on bass (and sublime whistling), Franz Valtieri on saxophone and keyboards and Matteo Monti on drums and percussion. The quartet were later to prove more than ample as a shit kicking roots rock band as they laid down the law with Escovedo but for their own set they roamed across a fine palette of musical colours and textures, the percussion and keyboards especially inventive and intriguing. From John Barry like spy riffs to Morricone soundscapes and mondo Hollywood twist extravaganzas they were just jaw droppingly good. In between songs and tunes Don Antonio took us on a tour of what he called Italiana (“not Americana” he insisted). Explaining that as he grew up he and his peers all wanted to be Americans but finally decided that their tongues were more suited to delivering their own Adriatic version of the fabled land. The show was a through a kaleidoscopic sonic tour of his Italy and he was witty as he acknowledged that songs by the likes of The Scorpions and Simple Minds were not going to cut in the Romagna rock’n’roll circuit.

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They opened with the tingling Lontana, an immediate leap into Cinecitta sounds with sinister vocals, whistling and prowling sax as Don Antonio summoned up some dreamscape guitar. Coffee can percussion and amplified slaps on the sax led into a throbbing, almost psychedelic instrumental with shards of guitar splintering throughout which eventually morphed into a Dick Dale like groove with Valtieri allowed full rein on a shrieking sax solo. Sunset, Adriatico was a glorious swoon of a tune which recalled Brian Eno’s vision of astronauts listening to alien country music in space. We were brought back to earth with a bump de bump on the thrilling Baballo, a parped sax fuelled dance frenzy, a mutant variation of the twist which owed as much to Alan Vega as it did to Tin Pan Alley.

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An all too short set but a thrilling glimpse into the many-mirrored worlds of Don Antonio and his excellent band and judging by the audience’s reaction one opening set you really don’t want to miss.





Andrew Combs. Canyons Of My Mind. Loose Music

a0602568844_10Andrew Combs‘ 2015 album, All these Dreams, catapulted him to the forefront of modern Nashville pop music. Away from the turgid embrace of the country bro’s he was mining a rich seam of sixties melodicism inspired by the likes of Roy Orbison and Jimmy Webb. His follow up, Canyons Of My Mind (a nod perhaps to Bob Lind’s mid sixties hit, Elusive Butterfly), is a more complicated affair, a heady mix of his tried and tested melodies with strings along with a tougher, punchier approach. This is evident from the beginning as Heart Of Wonder opens the album in dramatic fashion as his wavering voice proclaims, “I have run through the valley, I have stormed the shore” over a portentous beat. Like a storm cloud the song darkens, Combs glowers like an old testament prophet as a gnarly electric guitar starts to crackle before bursting into an angry solo over a insistent jangled piano. Riding the waves the song dips and rises before bowing out with a fierce sax solo leaving the listener somewhat exhausted.

It’s a bold start, an indication that Combs has something on his mind and it turns out that much of the album is inspired by his readings of the likes of Charles Wright and Jim Harrison, poets who have hymned the American wilderness. So while there are moments of countrypolitan bliss as on the free flowing Rose Coloured Blues (which recalls Glen Campbell) much of the album is darker, informed by ecological concerns and the current state of his nation. The lead single from the album, Dirty Rain exemplifies this as Combs sings of, “Poison River, muddy water…plastic people stacked in towers with nowhere to go.” That he sings the song in a plaintive voice over a building sweep of strings is dramatic, the end result like Roy Orbison singing a lyric by JG Ballard. Blood Hunters is a cold glimpse into a feral dystopia, the song fuelled by jagged shards of guitar while Bourgeois King is a parable which rails against the bourgeois king who wants to build a wall to keep us safe and promises to make the country great again. No prizes for guessing who this is about but Combs delivers it with a huge sonic palette starting the song out as a jagged bluesy wail before it descends into a smorgasbord of unleashed strings and flute recalling the free jazz of the sixties.

These diatribes sit within a brace of songs that continue in the vein of the previous album. Aside from the aforementioned Rose Coloured Blues there’s the Sixties gaslight romance of Hazel, part Greenwich Village, part Parisian chanson. Lauralee is unabashedly romantic recalling the sound of David Gates’ Bread while What It Means To You is a good old-fashioned country styled waltz. There’s a further twist as Combs slips in two songs, Sleepwalker and Better Way, which have a fine full bellied band sound with a prominent bass sound, the latter in particular indebted to the sound of Joni Mitchell circa Hejira. All together they add to the variety on offer but Better Way especially might nod to another direction this eclectic artist might follow.

Canyons Of My Mind is unquestionably a move on from its predecessor, a songwriter flexing his muscles and casting his eye around. Given the results Mr. Comb is shaping up to be considered in the same breath as the likes of Jackson Browne if he continues to forge ahead.


Carrie Elkin. The Penny Collector.


Carrie Elkin’s first solo album since 2011’s Call It My Garden is as diametrically opposed to its predecessor as one could possibly imagine. While Call It My Garden was full of chuckles and the sheer joy of playing The Penny Collector is a sometimes sombre affair. Written within a tumultuous year that encompassed the joyful delivery of her first child and the sorrowful passing of her father Elkin has delivered a meditative collection of songs with a wonderful production from Neilson Hubbard. Paying tribute to her father on several songs along with ruminations and memories, pain and loss and joy intermingled, the album gives full rein to Elkin’s glorious voice while red dirt Austin country gives way at times to an almost chamber folk sound filled with cello, violin and viola. The arrangements throughout are excellent as are the players. Producer Hubbard wields drums and percussion to great effect while Will Kimbrough on guitar is at times spectacular. There’s a heady mix of yearning ballads (at times reminiscent of Emmylou Harris’ best work), evocative American vistas and in the midst of these some sparkling, invigorating and punchy rock.

The album opens with the impressionistic Americana of New Mexico as a plaintive acoustic guitar is enhanced by Kimbrough’s atmospheric sunset squalls, the stage set for Elkins to embark on her voyage from birth to death as she sings, “I can feel the heart beat in everything around me,” her voice echoed by the harmony vocals of her husband Danny Schimdt. There’s a circle of sorts as Elkin closes the album with a similar sonic feel on the crepuscular Lamp Of The Body , the guitars again ethereal and the voices almost hymnal. In between Elkin revisits her youth on the excellent Tilt-A-Whirl which tilts indeed between quiet passages with Elkin recollecting the past and a defiant chorus suffused with the joy of youth. Live Wire is a tale of teenage rebellion with “daddy’s little girl” running off only to find it’s a wicked world and running back home. With an urgent pulse as the song progresses the band capture perfectly the restlessness and confusion of adolescence, the drums propelling the song, lyrical guitars slowing the flow mid song. My Brother Said rings with more confusion amidst an angry beat that is sweetened by a tremendous confection of keyboards and mandolin before a ferocious fuzz fuelled guitar erupts towards the end.

Elkin address directly the grim reaper on the sweeping ballad of And Then The Birds Came,  a song suffused with imagery that captures the emotions of bereavement, a moment of loss but also leaving space for those defiant saviours, memory and hope. It’s a sense that’s carried into the next song, Crying Out, which finds Elkin surveying her situation, hanging on to the blessings in her life, a man to hold, a baby on its way but still able to express her grief safely ensconced in her family.

The Penny Collector is an album of beauty. Wonderfully arranged and played, the songs nuanced, a mature reflection on the mortal coil. The album title came about as Elkin’s father was a coin collector and on his passing the family found his hoard of 600,000 pennies, all lovingly collected and preserved. As she says in the liner notes, “My dad had a way of finding value and delight in the tiny things that other people might walk past,” and Ms. Elkin has immortalised him with this excellent album.



Cindy Lee Berryhill. The Adventurist. Omnivore Recordings


Cindy Lee Berryhill was a founding member of the “anti folk” movement in New York in the 1980’s before moving to California and delivering two albums that delved into the genius and naiveté of  Brian Wilson. Garage Orchestra and Straight Outta Maryville married her quirky songwriting to an equally quirky use of percussion, woodwind and strings not dissimilar to Tom Waits’ discovery of Harry Partch. The Adventurist is her first release in a decade, a decade in which much of her time was dedicated to her husband, the famed rock writer Paul Williams as he succumbed to an early dementia before dying in 2013. As is often the case and hurtful as it may seem a release from dementia frees loved ones to carry on, no longer the agony of trying to tease out a sense of recognition from the afflicted, a graceful end to a cruel disease. And so it was with Berryhill who, after Williams’ passing slowly returned to live performance and ultimately was able to record The Adventurist, dedicated to her late husband (and lovers everywhere) and which is a collection of songs described by her as “songs that reflected the love I had for him.”

The album revisits the Garage Orchestra era, the songs simple at heart but adorned with a variety of sounds, some exotic (strings, vibraphone, marimba, horns and glockenspiel), some mundane (including a dishwasher and a wall heater) but throughout Berryhill offers some fabulous melodies while her excellent vocals are often enhanced by some fine harmonies from friends such as Syd Straw. The lyrics deserve delving into, opaque as they are in not being simple love songs or memories apart from the fairly direct realities of caring for a loved one  on the sting driven baroque  pop of Somebody’s Angel. There are glimpses of the early rush of a new relationship within the lush guitars of Contemplating The infinite (In A Kiss) while the title song is a heady tumble into the unknown as Berryhill delivers an almost surrealistic fantasy that’s half sixties spy story and half safari, all contained within a dizzying spiral of strings and things, hammered plucked or picked.

There’s so much here to explore and the album repays repeated listening. There’s an immediate attraction to the opening song, American Cinematography, with its Beatles’ like guitar refrain (although the piano gets wackier as the song progresses)  and I Like Cats/You Like Dogs is a glorious slice of crunchy pop folk pumped up with magnificent scrabbled guitar dashing through the horns towards the end. Less immediate but ultimately as satisfying is the seductive swell of Deep Sea Fishing which floats on a fuzzy keyboard riff  and the towering Gravity Falls which is like slo mo grunge. Towards the end Berryhill strips her feelings down on the orchestral pop of An Affair Of The Heart, a melancholic yet defiant song which can be read as a farewell to her husband which pulses with the heartbeat of LA writers such as Gene Clark. The album closes with an instrumental revisit of Deep Sea Fishing retitled Deep Sea Dishing with Berryhill’s guitars set above the repetitive cycle of a dishwasher that mimics the sound of surf, a fine nod to one of her heroes and a reminder that at times The Adventurist recalls the minor classic that was Brian Wilson and Van Dykes Parks’ collaboration on Orange Crate Art.

The Adventurist ultimately is a triumphant return to the arena for Ms. Berryhill. It’s multilayered, challenging and exciting, her personal story transformed into art. A catharsis perhaps but it’s an album that would be worthy of the forensic pen of Paul Williams, the doyen of rock writing and a very fine memorial.