Findlay Napier. Glasgow. Cheery Grove Records

a31bbe_6a612d26cfae416f991e593997008c1emv2_d_1490_1491_s_2Celtic Connections is coming up and one of the first artists Blabber’n’Smoke is going to see is Findlay Napier who will be performing his latest release, Glasgow. An album that is part tribute to, part dissection, of his adopted hometown, Glasgow is a worthy successor to Napier’s VIP, an album that found him delivering wry biographies of some famous (and some not so) people.

Glasgow’s a notorious city (or so we Glaswegians think). On the one hand it has a reputation for poverty and violence, on the other, it’s the friendly and forward looking metropolis that has been a city of culture and which has its very own “style mile” (in reality just a bunch of the same department stores you can find in any city centre). What Glasgow does have and always had is a ready supply of talent ready to mythologize the grimy tenements, the gangs, the shopping, the culture, the football and the music and perhaps Napier’s greatest achievement here is that he isn’t one of those. Sure, there are moments on Glasgow when he is in thrall to the history and romanticism that does exist in this once called “second city of the empire” but overall here he is an oblique aural flaneur taking the listener throughout various aspects of the city that have influenced him. That he does it with such casual excellence is the icing on the cake.

With Boo Hewerdine supporting on guitar and piano and with occasional field recordings the album is less fleshed out musically than VIP, however this allows Napier’s clear and ringing voice full rein over the simple backings. He opens the album with tolling bells as he sings about the city’s central necropolis, a ghost story one might expect but instead Napier delivers a potted history of Glasgow’s patron saint while describing the Goths who frequented the graveyard when he lived nearby. As on VIP’s Hedy Lamarr, Napier gets a subject and takes it places one would never expect. Glasgow’s history of shipbuilding sails into view on the powerful There’s More To Building Ships with Napier railing against the faceless men who dismantled the industry while detailing the industrial illnesses endured by the workforce, here he reminds one of a powerful songwriter from Leith, Dick Gaughan. Pulling Wires is another social testament inspired by a documentary on Glasgow’s homeless who collect scrap metal and again it’s transformed into a memorable and hefty folk song. The Locarno, Sauchiehall Street 1928 pays tribute to a famous Glasgow dance hall and is imbued with a similar sense of wonderment and memory as VIP’s Valentina but Napier’s other slice of everyday life centres on a chip shop bang in the centre of town as he sings of an unrequited love affair with a girl who wraps the fries. Banality transformed into art it’s supremely underplayed.

As a musician who came to live in the city, Napier acknowledges others who have written and sung about Glasgow with a fine selection of covers. Chief of these is his rendition of Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice, a song popularised by the late Hamish Imlach and a great vehicle for Napier who gives it just the right amount of salaciousness. The Blue Nile’s A Walk Across The Rooftops, a reminder of Napier’s student days is stripped right down and sung as a delicate and tender love song, Napier posing as a Glaswegian Chagall. Michael Marra’s King Kong’s Visit To Glasgow manages to cram several tributes into one as it mentions The People’s Palace, Glasgow bands, footballers, Glasgow’s one time reputation (again) as “cinema city” and , most of all, to the writer, Marra, a Dundonian who wrote about Glasgow better than most Glaswegians. Football, and its unsavoury punch-ups, open Julia Doogan’s Glasgow but the song soon settles into a hymn of sorts to the Dear Green Place. Finally, Napier offers up a gorgeous reading of Emma Pollock’s Marchtown, a glorious song which addresses the history of an area, now called Strathbungo, historically associated with Mary Queen Of Scots, an area which Napier himself now calls home.

Glasgow is an album which any fan of Napier will love and for many Glaswegians it will strike a chord. From the excellent cover artwork with Napier recreating Raymond Depardon’s striking image of Govan kids in the 80’s (including a very sad shot of him standing in the doorway of the derelict Lyceum cinema, a haunt of Blabber’n’Smoke’s childhood) to the many totems mentioned in the songs, it just hums with the vibrancy that many of us believe still surrounds the city.

Findlay Napier performs Glasgow at Celtic Connections on Saturday 20th January while he also hosts the late night sessions at The Drygate and Hazey Recollections and he will be appearing with Shake The Chains on 31st January



Tim Henderson. Gone To Texas: The Legacy Collection (Vol.1)

timhenderson6For anyone interested in Texan folklore and the songs of Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock and Guy Clark this album is an intriguing listen. Tim Henderson, who died in 2011, was from West Virginia but moved to Austin, Texas when in his 30’s. Influenced by his grandmother who played mountain dulcimer Henderson took up music at an early age but once in Texas he joined in the budding musical scene there releasing his first album in 1978. While his fame never expanded much beyond the State’s borders, at home he was feted with Townes Van Zandt championing him as he won a best song award at The Kerrville Folk Festival in 1977 while he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Texas Music in 2011 for his “timeless contributions to Texas music.”

Gone To Texas is the first volume of a six album set which gathers Henderson’s recording together and, as the title hints, it concentrates on the songs he wrote about Texas history, culture and people. Released last year in The States it’s coming to our attention now due to the ministrations of promoter Rob Ellen who heard about Henderson when he was on the road with an artist Henderson mentored, Chuck Hawthorne. Ellen attended a concert celebrating the album release and was knocked out and amazed at the galaxy of Texas artists who turned up to pay homage and undertook to try and spread the word further. For that we say, Thanks Rob.

Listening to the album I was struck time and again as to why Henderson isn’t better known. His songs range from vibrant retellings of pivotal moments in Texas history to songs packed full of humour and wit. His Ballad Of Whiskey John (one of the songs that helped him win the Kerrville New Folk Competition – Van Zandt was a judge that year) is a folk tale, almost a talking blues, which recalls Loudon Wainwright and Kinky Friedman. Witch Of West Lynn, written in revenge against getting a ticket for running a red light, cackles with an absurd humour with Henderson roaring like Shel Silverstein while Jesus Would Have Loved El Paso is a sly dig at television pastors such as Jerry Falwell who delighted in calling Texans sinners and it’s delivered with a passion similar to that of Tom Russell.

Russell comes to mind again when Henderson dips into the border territory as on La Dona Maria and Maria Consuelo Arroyo, both replete with Hispanic sounds and the latter leading us into another comparison, this time with the rawness of Terry Allen’s Juarez. There really is so much treasure here (some not so polished, the living room recording of Texas Morning Ride gains from its lo fidelity) with songs such as Dust and Texas In His Ways truly embedded in the Texas tradition but our favourite is the magnificent Miss Amelia Harris, Spinster, a song which sounds as if you had bundled together all of the artists we’ve mentioned here and added a dollop of John Prine.

Gone To Texas is a tremendous listen and it whets the appetite for the accompanying volumes. Hopefully it and the other five discs serve to spread Henderson’s legacy further afield, we’d certainly love to hear more of the man. Thanks again, Rob.


Here’s some vintage footage of Tim Henderson…

And here’s Chuck Hawthorne singing Miss Amelia Harris, Spinster (just for good measure)



Mary Gauthier. Rifles & Rosary Beads. Proper Records

digitalcoverofficial3000x3000Mary Gauthier is no stranger to hurt and heartache, despair and gloom. Over the course of seven albums she’s relayed her own troubled past – adoption, drink, drugs, brushes with the law – and done so brilliantly rising to the top of the current crop of singer songwriters. Rifles & Rosary Beads is another album of troubles and woe with Gauthier’s wearied and resigned voice, as always, capable of conveying a multitude of emotions. The difference here is that Gauthier is relating the pain and trauma of war veterans, the songs having their gestation in a series of song writing workshops where she sat down with US veterans and transformed their experiences into song.

Songwriting With Soldiers is a non profit organisation started by Darden Smith which encourages veterans to share their experiences with professional songwriters. Weekend retreats feature workshops and the resulting songs are performed and recorded with participants given a CD to take away along with other memorabilia of the retreat. Download copies of the songs recorded are then made available to the public with the veterans involved and the artist given song writing credits Gauthier (along with a list of other well known artists) has been involved in the project for several years and Rifles & Rosary Beads is her “commercial” version of some of the songs she has co-created over those years, all of whom were consulted and agreement given that the record be made. A portion of the sales generated will go to Songwriting With Soldiers.

You can read an interview with Gauthier here which goes into some detail about the song writing process, however in the studio she has recorded the songs very much in her usual manner such that anyone not knowing of these songs’ gestation would just be marvelling at yet another very fine Mary Gauthier album, The War After The War and Morphine 1-2 could easily sit on any of her other albums – the former song was crafted when Gauthier sat with six spouses of veterans who explained their ongoing difficulties dealing with the emotional fallout from war on their partners (with all six listed as co-authors). While there’s a strident, almost martial edge, to the opening song, Soldiering On, the album as a whole is set in Gauthier’s familiar laid back style. Iraq portrays a female soldier’s experience of sexism from her supposed comrades, Rifles And Rosary Beads is a vivid picture of a soldiers totems and fears and It’s Her Love is a devastating portrayal of a veteran’s reliance on his partner’s support. The album closes with an anthem of sorts, a cry against the indifference meted out to many wounded and troubled service men and women as Gauthier sings that they are Stronger Together.

Rifles & Rosary Beads is a powerful and emotive listen. It’s Gauthier doing what she does and doing it well. Beyond that it raises the profile of the forgotten wounded (and surely here in the UK there’s a need also). You can hear many of the original songs recorded at the retreats here.


Best of 2017

OK, decorations are coming down, it’s back to work time but before that here’s a short list of the albums that have stood out over the past year. If there’s a link it will take you a review of the album. Looking back it seems that 2017 wasn’t a bad year for music in terms of releases but a total bummer in terms of Tom Petty leaving us. Here’s hoping next year is as good so, all the best for 2018.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

cp18cdIn the year of Brexit and Trump, Chuck’s sheer love of rock’n’roll shone throughout this album. Coupled with seeing him play two blindingly great gigs this year the album’s been a regular on the stereo and in the car while Jesus Was A Social Drinker is my song of the year.


Jeremy Pinnell, Ties Of Blood And Affection

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2While Stapleton gets all the notice I think there are numerous others who are bringing out better albums and Jeremy’s second solo album is the best of the lot this year. I was privileged to host a house concert with Jeremy and Ags Connolly and it was a great occasion.


Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life

cc752a_ccb74ac415f74324bdde66d0b5f81184mv2An album of glacial purity with glimpses of Joni Mitchell in its shadows.



GospelbeacH, Another Summer Of Love

500x500Jangled sunny California music which stretches from Petty to The Jam in its inspiration.



Nathan Bell, Love > Fear (48 hours in Traitorland)

love-fear-front-coverOld fashioned protest perhaps but Bell is a powerful writer and as good a champion of “blue collar” folk as Rod Picott. And, in concert, he’s funny with it (just like Rod Picott).


Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith

the-water-of-leithRoss Wilson continues his journey into the hinterlands of folk and jazz. A wonderful and evocative album.


Eric Ambel, At The Lakeside

61ceyom7fgl-_ss500It took 12 years for Ambel to come up with this one, a bunch of songs he imagined could have been on his pub’s jukebox. Guitar album of the year.


Don Antonio, Don Antonio

cs646897-01a-bigAside from his band, Sacri Cuori, Antonio Gramantieri has worked with Howe Gelb, Dan Stewart and Alejandro Escovedo. This solo album is a magnificent retro stew of sixties soundtracks and Italian cool.


Jaime Wyatt, Felony Blues

jaime_coverA true jailbird, Wyatt’s album is part outlaw country, part Laurel Canyon country rock. For me she just beats Margo Price


Malojian, Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.

a1294981180_16Irishman Stevie Scullion conjures up a slight psychedelic trip with McCartney like melodies and Harrison’s Blue Jay Way vibes.


Best reissue/compilation

The Wynntown Marshals, After All These Years

a2597450969_16A perfect introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before. A perfect keepsake for those who are in the know.



Also of note…

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost On the Car Radio

Margo Price, All American Made

Danny & The Champions Of The World, Brilliant Light

Ags Connolly, Nothin’ Unexpected

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock

Todd Day Wait, Folk-Country-Blues

Whitney Rose, South Texas Suite

Norrie McCulloch, Bare Along The Branches

Russ Tolman. Compass & Map

John Murry, A Short History of Decay

Jim Keaveny, Put It Together

Ian Felice, In The Kingdom Of Dreams

Gill Landry, Love Rides A Dark Horse

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears 

The Sadies, Northern Passages

John Alexander, Of These Lands

There are many others which could/should be mentioned here, apologies to those I’ve either forgotten about or overlooked. In the meantime here’s the song of the year.