A four piece from Michigan, Cold Tone Harvest remind one of an earlier manifestation of what we call Americana these days. Listening to their muscular amalgamation of rock rhythm with banjo, fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and pedal steel we were reminded of bands such as Granfaloon Bus, Hazeldine and even Whiskeytown who were blazing trails just before the turn of the century (writing it that way does make it seem a long time ago). Anyway, this isn’t a “country” album by any stretch of the imagination but it surely does qualify as Americana as it bops and weaves along with some mighty playing on show, the songs sometimes dusty, sometimes cold, several of them squirreling right into the brain with Random Stance the best example. A slow brooding number with grumbling guitars over gently rumbling percussion it slowly drifts from the speakers with Andrew Sigworth’s vocals summoning up a cold and forbidding picture, it’s quite wonderful.
The opening Frozen Ground is another pensive song in a similar vein to Random Stance and Healing Roots ups the tempo with the band sounding not dissimilar to the much missed Thin White Rope especially towards the end as electric guitar squeals and squalls. There’s plenty of light and shade here however as the band show they can play country tinged upbeat numbers such as Adeline and the pedal steel fuelled Daniel.After You, a eulogy for Sigworth’s late brother, is a halting number reminiscent of Smog with a sonorous cello underpinning the pathos while he wrings out a fine guitar solo towards the end. Best of all however is the magical moment when the very tender Electric Modes, a wonderful combination of weeping steel guitar and dappled mandolin, segues into a sluggish and emotive version of Neil Young’s Out On The Weekend. This knock out performance worth the price of entry on its own never mind the quality of the songs which accompany it. Highly recommended.
Glasgow’s Daniel Meade has made his reputation on the back of a series of impressive albums which reached into the hinterlands of American folk, country and rockabilly aided and abetted by names such as Old Crow Medicine Show and Diana Jones. When Was The Last Time is a different kettle of fish in many respects however as Meade delivers a set of songs that positively explode from the speakers with a full bodied rock sound full of clangourous guitars and driving rhythms. He’s been on tour for a while with Ocean Colour Scene (playing keyboards) and perhaps some of their stadium filling sounds have seeped into his soul while some folk will remember his days as the jangle meister guitar player (on Rickenbacker even) in The Ronelles.
The genesis of the album was in a series of letters written by Meade to himself when he was going through a period of self evaluation in an attempt to ward off episodes of anxiety and depression, a self help therapy of sorts which allows the writer to reflect on their self beliefs and sometimes distorted image of themselves. Here Meade went one step further and decided to transform these letters into song, their therapeutic value to be expressed with a sense of positivity and hope, as he says about the album, “I felt the arrangements and production had to capture this same positive and hopeful feeling, so we went for big and driving for the most part.” Delving into the album there’s still a sense of darkness here but Meade beats it around the head with a big stick and some major chords, coming up with this fairly triumphant epiphany, the healing power of crashing guitars and letting it all hang out.
The album opens with an almost Townshend like clutter of acoustic guitar slashes and electric power chords on As Good As It Gets, a song which reflects on pill addled days and declares that clarity is the better option. It’s a chiming declaration of independence with a glorious outro. Nothing Really Matters continues in a similar vein with the guitars pummelling along as Meade delivers a fairly ferocious manifesto which whips along like Fleetwood Mac with teeth bared while Oh My My Oh sounds like a Travelin’ Wilburys’ offshoot with a deft nod to The Beatles in some of the vocal refrains. The Wilburys’ come to mind again on When Was The Last Time, another jangled rocker with harmonies so reminiscent of those wrinkled rockers who cast some light on some of their members final days. There’s a darker edge to If The Bombs Don’t Kill Us, another full blooded guitar fest which recalls the classic sound of bands such as The Comsat Angels and The Sound, an apocalypse draped in reverbed sounds.
It’s not all sturm und drang however as Meade comes across like an upbeat Gene Clark on the frenetic The Day The Clown Stopped Smiling which has a bar room piano and banjo underpinning its jauntiness along with a casually tossed in Sun Records like guitar solo midway through. Meanwhile there’s a slight return to the traditional American sounds which Meade has mastered with So Much For Sorrow harking back to chain gang work songs while How High We Fly is a classic song which lyrically recalls the emergent Loudon Wainwright in its yearning with its spare arrangement adding a sense of alienation. Meade ends the album with the folky lament of Don’t We All, a song which reaches across Celtic and American folk influences, one can imagine The Clancys, Phil Ochs or Pete Seeger singing this to a crowded pub audience with the audience joining in on the chorus in a reverential mood. In fact, and on closer listening, it’s not too absurd to suggest that Don’t We All would not be out of place on a Dylan album from around 1964. Whatever, it’s a grand end to a brave album.
When Was The Last Time is certainly not what one expected from Daniel Meade but it’s bold and adventurous. The fact that these spangled rock arrangements and intricate harmonies are all performed by the man himself with only Ross McFarlane (from the band Texas) playing on drums is quite astonishing and Meade certainly carries off this trip into rock’n’rolldom with some aplomb.
Back in 2014 Blabber’n’smoke was very taken by Trent Miller’sBurnt Offerings comparing him with Gene Clark even. Well, the Italian born, London based singer/songwriter has done it again with the follow up, Time Between Us, another fine collection of songs which again show Miller’s affinity with the late Clark. While it doesn’t quite match the heights of Burnt Offerings, being less adventurous overall, there’s still an aching and deeply romantic touch throughout. However, with the album written in the throes of a divorce, the overall mood is dark and reflective, many of the songs referring to a lover leaving while the singer hides in dark corners in bars nursing his wounds.
Miller plumbs the depths of despair in a couple of the songs here. Moonlight Cafe is a dreamlike swoon into a world of regret and refuge with an arrangement which recalls The Blue Nile while Motel Rooms of Ocean Blue has the singer drifting between bars and his lonesome motel room, his solipsistic musings amplified by the mournful strings and horns adorning the song. Still dark but somewhat leavened by more upbeat arrangements there’s the shimmering guitars of After The Great Betrayal and the Beatles’ like lyricism on the closing She’s Leaving The Place For Good.
The remainder of the album is more akin to its predecessor. The title song cracks the album open with Dylan like harmonica over a fine folk rock scrabble as Miller delivers an excellent song suffused with regret despite its surging chorus and surely the similarity in the title to The Byrds’ Time Between is no accident. Miller’s similarity in his vocal style to that of Gene Clark’s is immediately apparent in the sweeping and string laden How Soon is Never and he revisits this on the mainly acoustic Bonfires of Navarino Road, a rendering, it seems, of his first encounter with his ex, which blossoms into another string laden lament. There’s more shades of Clark on Lady Margaret Street although here the band shift into a muscular chunky mode and then there’s the jangled glory of Days in Winter which is not dissimilar to some of the songs on the recently released Bennett Wilson Poole album. With a definite Dylan touch in the jumble of guitars, organ and harmonica which inhabit Since You’ve Gone and a slight sense of a mellow Guy Kuyser on the gentle waves of Lament Of The Sea Miller continues to set his compass to those of his influences but, as before, he treads his own path only this time it’s a somewhat forlorn trek.
Never mind the clocks going forward, the arrival of a new Dropkick album surely heralds that summer is a coming. Always a band of a sunny disposition, Dropkick are so popular in Spain these days that it’s surprising the disc doesn’t come with a tube of sun cream but it is being jointly released via Spanish label Pretty Olivia Records although it was recorded in the band’s Edinburgh studio.
Andrew Taylor remains front and centre here as he has done over the course of 14 albums and his song writing is as melodic and snappy as ever. Over the years the remainder of the band has seen several changes and Longwave sees Edinburgh’s Al Shields (here given his Sunday name, Alan) take on bass guitar duties. The songs continue in the vein of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star among others but Taylor adds enough sonic variety and twists and turns to remind one that this is a Dropkick album with his wispy voice the lynchpin while the band’s harmonies are just glorious. There are several straight ahead power pop crackers on show here starting off with the corkscrew jangle of guitars on the opening number, Out of Tune, the jolly romp of All I Understand and the crunchy Fed Up which has a slight Velvet Underground grind while the outro is decidedly Chilton like. Pedal steel (courtesy of Tim Davidson) is used to fine effect on the sunny pastoral reverie which is Blue Skies and the delicate piano led ballad Faraway Places while Giving Way opens with a burbling synthesiser before a walloping bass line and chunky guitar chords drive the song forward before a warm fuzzy guitar solo buzzes in and the song descends (ascends actually) into a closing stramash of backwards sounds, guitar and synth.
There are some clouds obscuring the sunny side of life at times with I Thought I Was OK a wistful portrait of a pessimist, a theme continued on It’s Still Raining although here it’s bolstered with a sparkling delivery. See You There positively drips with melancholy and the chiming Even When You’re Gone hides the sadness in the lyrics with some fine George Harrison like guitar licks. Taylor addresses the seasons and the advent of winter on the tender acoustic closing song, Turning Of The Tide. A lovely little number which recalls McCartney’s acoustic contributions to latter day Beatles it ultimately ends on a note of optimism. So, another Dropkick album and hence, another cause for celebration, embrace them before they decamp to Spain forever.
Dropkick are playing this weekend at Glasgow’s Hug & Pint and Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s. The Glasgow show is sold out but they are also doing in store appearances at Love Records and Assai Records each day. They return to Scotland for several shows later in April, all dates here.
It’s difficult to be objective about a record that, since its announcement a few months back, has had one panting in anticipation to hear the music inscribed in its groove. Hearing that Danny Wilson of Danny & The Champs, Robin Bennett from The Dreaming Spires and Tony Poole, the estimable 12 string maestro of Starry Eyed & Laughing Fame (and a true Blabber’n’Smoke hero) had joined forces was somewhat equivalent to being told that everyone had lied and that Santa Claus did exist. Well, maybe some exaggeration there, but the concept was exciting and intriguing and as some songs and videos emerged along with reports of their initial live shows the die was surely cast, this might be something special.
How did three songwriters, all steeped in American music, two of them with a particular penchant for the west coast variety and one of them armed with a particularly lethal 12 string Rickenbacker, get together? Wilson, an inveterate songwriter, had teamed up with Bennett writing songs together over Facetime and they decided that Poole, who has produced both of them in the past, was a perfect fit for the songs. So, roped in, Poole had a bunch of songs in his own grab bag which were added to the mix and he recorded the basic tracks in his home studio over a bunch of weekends. The result is this 11 song collection which, for several reasons (a trio, the name of the band, the album cover) has seen them being compared to Crosby Stills & Nash (and Young although there are only three of them) but we’d hazard that a more apt comparison is to The Travelling Wilburys, another talented bunch of blokes who kind of came about when George Harrison just wanted to make an album with “some of my mates.”
The Wilburys’ influence is evident from the opening rush of Soon Enough which has a sheer joie de vivre in its Tom Petty like power pop jangle but the band transcend any such comparison as the song powers on with references to Junior Parker’s Mystery Train and a blistering 12 string raga rock solo which blasts the song into the 5th Dimension. And so it goes throughout the album. It wears its heart on its sleeve pumping a rich stew of influences – Beatles, Kinks, CS&N, Byrds – throughout, but the whole is greater than the parts as the trio’s songs stand up well on their own two feet, there’s not one dud here and the musical architecture supporting them is just the icing on the cake.
It would take a hard heart not to appreciate the chiming beauty of Funny Guys with its backward guitars, Searchers like Merseybeat beat and Wilson’s soulful voice as he takes the song on a left field turn into outer space. Elsewhere they deliver some delicious low key delicacies draped in a mild psychedelic fuzz with The Thing That You Called Love approaching Gene Clark’s baroque folk rock melancholy and The Other Side of The Sky recalling Lennon circa 1970 while Hide Behind a Smile goes further back quoting The Beatles’ In My Life on guitar towards the end. Meanwhile there’s a nod to The Kinks’ unique take on whimsical psychedelia on Wilson General Store.
The band do lean towards the west coast on several numbers. Ask Me Anything weighs in with a chunky riff and lyrics redolent of the idealism of the late sixties with the guitar solo as tortured as anything Steve Stills came up with while the harmonies (as throughout the album) are classic. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the political assassination of MP Jo Cox, is an almost direct lift of Neil Young’s Ohio (a lift Poole readily admits to), his anger and dismay the equivalent of Young’s way back then leading to a fiery blast of disgust borne out with some ferocious guitar work. Finally there’s the closing Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), a song written by Poole after reading an article about refugees which was next to an article on the selfie phenomenon. The indignation at the absurdity and implied equivalence of disaster and life style choice burns brightly here as the band wig out on this lengthy outing with the spirit of David Crosby hovering close by. Imbued with the apocalyptic vision of Wooden Ships and bolstered by the broiling guitar broth and mantras which informed Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, it’s a monumental song and one which the band apparently turned into a 15 minute epic on their run of shows in London the other week.
Despite the plethora of names above, Bennett Wilson Poole rise above their antecedents. The album talks to today as much as it talks to the past and the band are to be congratulated for such an endeavour. A certain contender for album of the year.
This Friday sees the release of one of the most hotly anticipated discs of the year in the shape of Bennett Wilson Poole’s debut album. Ever since news of the trio was announced the web has been buzzing with a frisson of delight at the prospect of hearing what in effect has been dubbed a UK Americana “supergroup.” A carefully managed lead up to the release with notable video productions and a handful of live shows has only whetted the appetite. BWP, as we shall henceforth call them, consist of three very talented musicians – Robin Bennett of The Dreaming Spires, Danny Wilson from Danny & The Champions of The World and Tony Poole, best known for his seventies star jangled band, Starry Eyed & Laughing, and a producer and arranger of note, widely acknowledged for his prowess on the Rickenbacker 12 string guitar.
Blabber’n’Smoke has been lucky enough to have encountered all three previously in term of record reviews and, like the rest of the Americana blogosphere, was somewhat giddy at the prospect of hearing their collaboration. Happily, the album more than lives up to the expectations with the band creating some excellent music and in the meantime building up a singular image as inheritors of the precursors of Americana with their sly nods, musically and visually, to the likes of The Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash amongst others. The trio are uncanny in their evocation of those past times while at the same time adding their own personalities to their songs along with a topical protest touch which again reflects their predecessors’ ideals.
The trio have spoken at some length on the genesis of their partnership in two fine interviews with Lonesome Highway and Say It With garage Flowers so when Tony Poole agreed to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke we thought that, rather than regurgitate the same old questions, we’d concentrate on the live shows the band played in London two weeks ago and try to figure out why BWP are currently the bees knees. So we started off by asking Tony why he thought that the album had whipped up so much excitement and anticipation.
I think it’s a couple of things. The three of us have our own backgrounds and people who know us through them so there’s a fan base already there. When we had finished recording the album I sent out CDRs to folk we knew like Nick West of Bucketfull of Brains and Pete Frame of ZigZag magazine and the reaction we were getting back was really positive. Danny knows this guy Phillip Mills who manages Emily Barker and others and he’s been amazing. We hired him to coordinate the project back in November and again the feedback was so positive and so we built up quite a lot of advance anticipation. It was quite a surprise because I’ve been working away for ages chucking stuff out and never got that sort of feedback. We were all excited as well and Danny’s reaction in particular was so good. He was texting me every day saying he hadn’t had as much fun ever listening to a record he had made and that sort of reaction seems to have followed through with other folk. It’s hit some sort of spot which I couldn’t begin to explain and it’s even carried over to the live shows although we’ve only done five, they’ve all hit that spot also. It’s been a joy so far and, OK, all of this has been happening in a kind of an echo chamber that the three of us live in comprised of people we all know and who like our kind of stuff so I don’t know if when the record comes out it will get much further beyond that but it’s been wonderfully rewarding so far.
Part of the build up has been the three videos you’ve released.
Robin has been the mainstay here. It was his idea to do a Two Ronnie’s’ type thing on the first video, Welcome To The Wilson General Store, while he conceived the train video as a direct homage to The Wilburys’ End Of The Line. We’ve been really lucky to have Martyn Chalk and his brother Barrie of Chalkstar films on board and it was Martyn who came up with the spy video idea for Ask Me Anything and the Ice Cold In Alex ending. As for Danny and myself, we just do what we’re told to do.
There’s been a great response to the three shows you played in London at The Betsy Trotwood the other week.
Well they were the first shows we did with a full band with Joe Bennett, Robin’s brother from The Dreaming Spires and Fin Kenny who has drummed with the Spires and who is just the most amazing drummer. We only had two days to rehearse but I’d sent them the songs beforehand and they were amazing. I don’t know if you know the Betsy Trotwood? I’ve got a journalist friend who remembers it when it was kind of like an old man and his dog type of pub but this guy Raz has turned it into a great venue. It’s got an upstairs room which I’ve played solo in a couple of times and a basement which I hadn’t appeared in before but that’s where the band played. It’s a great venue, when you come in it looks a bit like The Cavern, all old arches and such and I couldn’t resist singing Some Other Guy once we were in there. It only holds about 60 people so there’s a great atmosphere. The place was rammed and the shows went fantastically well, there was a great sound guy so that really helped. We played the album from start to finish. I sequenced the album and I think it holds up really well when you’re listening to it but live it really worked. The last song (Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself)) is a kind of wig out jam sort of thing and on the first night we played it about the same length as the album version but by Friday it was about 15 minutes long.
The response has been wonderful. You’re always unsure as to how well a live show will go down and I haven’t played three nights in a row for a long time so by Friday morning I could hardly talk but a little bit of medicinal whisky got me back singing that night. Along with the album we decided to add on a couple of songs each from our back catalogues including what was Starry Eyed’s “hit,” One Foot in The Boat, a couple of Danny’s including Old Soul and one from Robin’s old band Goldrush along with The Dreaming Spires’ Searching For The Supertruth which was really great because I played on the original. When we were rehearing we had so much fun trying out songs like The Wilburys’ Handle With Care, Find The Cost of Freedom and 100 Years From Now so we did them as well. And then Danny’s such a musical person, he’s always got a guitar in his hand, always playing some music, in fact I think he wrote a couple of new songs while we were rehearsing but he just started off playing Michael Nesmith’s Different Drum and we all joined in and I’d forgotten what a great song it is so we threw that in as well.
People have of course compared BWP with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young). How do you feel about that?
I’m easy with it. I mean I’m too old to be bothered by that sort of thing. But even things like the album cover, well that was an accident. We were taking some photos at Truck Festival last year with John Morgan and we saw this temporary saloon bar they had put up for some of the smaller bands to play in and we took about six pictures there. When we were planning the album cover Danny was a bit concerned about the similarity however and he had another idea which led to us doing another photo shoot where we were on the surface of the moon but it looked like we were Kraftwerk or something. Anyway, we went with the saloon shot and I’m totally happy with it. One of the things that’s been good about the reviews that have come in is that people have said that we’re not pastiche and that we’re not coming across like a tribute band. There is a sixties feel to some of the album and when I was doing the arrangements I consciously put in some quotes that kind of reinforce that. At the end of Hide Behind a smile I put in a lick from The Beatles’ In My Life while one of my guitar solos on the album is actually just the start of the melody of the middle eight of I Am The Walrus. There’s lots of little pointers in there but hopefully I won’t get sued for plagiarism!
One of the things that struck me is the sense of how much fun the three of you are having playing together; it really comes across in both the album and the videos.
I’ve known Danny for about 10 years and Robin just a little less and we really get on well together. Somebody said that you had to have some conflict in order to produce greatness but I’ve never believed that, I think you need some harmony. The making of the record was just so easy, they had their songs and when they came to me I had a few bits and pieces, mainly finished songs, and they just slotted in. I’ve always thought, even back in the day, that it’s the intention of what you are doing when you are recording something rather than the perfection of it that matters. Music is such a powerful thing and I think it connects on a subliminal level and it’s great if you can pick that up when listening to the album. When we were recording it was just so smooth. We were in my little room with three mics set up, Robin and Danny were playing acoustics and I was laying down an electric kind of guide guitar and we spent just three weekends laying down the songs and then I had the time to think about the arrangements. I’d never aspire to compare myself to him but I felt a little like Jeff Lynne.
With all this publicity do you think that it will rekindle folks’ interest in Starry eyed & Laughing?
That’s funny you ask because I’ve just spent a few days with Iain Whitmore (Starry Eyed’s bass player) and we were talking about that. We’ve always kept in touch, Iain and I, and we actually started recording some songs back in 2013 for a new Starry Eyed album but then I developed this thing called polymyalgia and it floored me for some time and we had to put the project on ice. But I’m hoping that the awareness due to this will help us, it’s a bit like when the internet started up and I began to get emails from some fans and that started a bit of resurgence then. I mean we’ve beaten David Crosby’s record for the longest gap between albums, our last one came out in 1975!
So Iain and I have been working on a new Starry Eyed project over the past six months or so but when Bennett Wilson Poole played the Union Chapel Ross McGeeney, our guitar player came along to see us. I’d last seen Ross at the funeral of our drummer Michael Wackford, we hadn’t kept in touch but we spoke after the show and I’ve met up with him since then. It adds another possible dimension to a new Starry Eyed & Laughing album, I did get in touch with our original drummer but he doesn’t play anymore. Anyway we’ve been working on it and one of the things we wanted to do was revive the tradition of having other musicians come in to play with us. Our producer in the 70s, Dan Loggins, brought in Russ Ballard, he was quite a character, and B. J. Cole. I saw B. J. last summer at a festival in Woodstock in Oxfordshire and he’s agreed to be on the new record and I’d like Danny and Robin to be on it. Obviously there are people who are fans of Danny and Robin who haven’t heard of Starry Eyed & Laughing, I’ve met a few at the gigs who had no idea of us so getting the name back out there is a great thing. We were only together for about three years but we did play a lot of gigs and we were on a major label so we did make a few waves. But then again when we were on CBS their biggest act was The Wombles.
Bennett Wilson Poole is released on Friday and can be purchased (on vinyl even) at The Wilson General Store. They play at this weekend’s Ramblin’ Roots Revue in High Wycombe and are appearing at Kilkenny Roots Festival in May while further festival appearances over summer are in the offing.
You can read more about the adventures of Starry Eyed & Laughing and buy their records here
Thanks to John Morgan for his excellent BWP photographs