Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes. Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music

300052Ever since hearing Lachlan Bryan’s solo album, Shadow of the Gun, back in 2012, Blabber’n’Smoke has always welcomed new music from this Australian troubadour. Schooled as a kid in Hank Williams by his uncles who played in bar bands and then inspired by the “alt-country” bands of the eighties along with a hero of his, Tom Waits, Bryan and his band The Wildes are one of Australia’s premier roots music outfits winning a prestigious Golden Guitar award for Alt-Country Album of the Year back in 2014 with their album Black Coffee.

Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music is the band’s fourth album and it’s released here this week to coincide with a UK tour. It’s very impressive. Bryan and his Wildes (bass player Shaun Ryan and drummer/producer Damian Cafarella ) turn in an excellent set of songs, some dry and dusty, a few country waltzes tinged with a hint of sadness and some Willie Nelson like ballads. Several of the songs feature harmony vocals from Imogen Clark while Bryan’s warm voice duets with Shanley Del and with Lindi Ortega on two of the songs.

You kind of know that an album is pretty special when it kicks off with four spectacular songs and that’s the case here while Bryan adds to the tension as he tackles some weighty subjects on the first two numbers. The opening I Hope That I’m Wrong was inspired by the #MeToo movement with Bryan introducing the song singing,

“Women do what you must for there ain’t a man in the world you can trust to go into battle for the things that you need, things that you got a God given right to receive. And I’m afraid that it’s all to you I believe but I hope that I’m wrong.”

Sung over a simple acoustic guitar strum with a baleful bass line and slight washes of telecaster string bending it’s a protest song for today as Bryan goes on to add a litany of dismay on the environment and various injustices visited upon many of us these days. Things then get sinister on the creepy A Portrait of an Artist as a Middle Aged Man which slouches like some beast borne aloft on a cranky banjo with swathes of atmospheric electric guitar as Bryan sings of a guy in some mid life crisis and his Lolita like attachment to a much younger girl, the song suffused in premonitions of doom. The mood then lightens on the breezy Careless Hearts, a song which ticks all the boxes in how to write a country love song with Bryan singing the yearning words wonderfully while the band chug on, Bryan on piano guiding them while a wheezy harmonica puffs away. Next up is a delightful duet with Shanley Del on The Basics of Love, again a master class on how to write a country love song based on the template of George Jones and Tammy Wynette as two barflies join up while Bryan and Del swap this wonderful chorus,

“On the radio Waylon is preaching the basics of love, like pillars of wisdom descending on them from above, like gentle reminders of all that the things that they love, basics of love.”

These four songs are worth the price of admission alone but there’s so much more to enjoy here. Don’t you Take it Too Bad finds Bryan singing with Lindi Ortega on a wonderful tear stained waltz written by Townes Van Zandt and Van Zandt is recalled on the chilling Peace in the Valley. The spirit of Willie Nelson hovers closely around the piano led ballad of Sweet Bird of Truth, the downbeat Dobro driven tale of troubled teenage girls on Stolen Again and the closing Someone You Know So Well where Bryan and an out of tune piano limp along wonderfully. Finally there’s the hugely impressive The Cemetery Near my Hometown, a slowly unwinding cinematic song stained with the patina of Sam Peckinpah. Listening to this one can just imagine the stony visage of Warren Oates gazing on a lonesome hilltop of crooked wooden crosses as he prepares to meet his doom.

It really goes without saying that Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music is an essential listen. We’d say it’s his best yet and here in the UK there’s the chance to see him and The Wildes over the next few weeks including two Glasgow gigs this weekend and two slots at Maverick Festival.  All dates here.

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Parker Millsap. Other Arrangements. Thirty Tigers

613t20bttl-_sl1200_When a tremendous crash of electric guitars rang out as this CD began to spin I thought it was the wrong disc playing. Where was the folkie Okie one was expecting? The song, Fine Line, thrashes about with Millsap ripping ferocious chords from his guitar and snarling the words coming across like Jack White. It is surprising but there’s some wild fiddle flailing away throughout the song reminding us that this is supposed to be country as opposed to rock. As the opening song (and the lead single) of the album it’s mildly misleading however as the remainder of the album, although pretty chunky as it shows off its muscle, is nowhere as wild as this.

Careful perusal of the disc allows that Millsap is still writing and singing about his deep rooted southern concerns much as he did on his first two albums but here the songs are dressed up. For the most part this works. There’s a wonderful southern soul feel to Your Water while Tell Me is a fine and fluid bluesy workout which adroitly avoids becoming a 12 bar lumber adorned as it is with fiddle and a string section. Coming On, with its female backing chorus, harks back to Leon Russell days and She, a delightful salute to a perfect partner, sashays wonderfully with inventive guitar parts twinkling from the beginning as Millsap performs some fine vocal acrobatics. Let A Little Light In meanwhile is a whip smart power pop song which is quite exhilarating in its light and shade dynamics and the title song is a tremendously sinewy slice of country tinged rock with fiddler Daniel Foulks stamping his mark over the muscular guitars on a song which approaches a Little Feat like discipline.

It has to be said that Singing To Me, which opens promisingly with Millsap singing over a simple acoustic guitar, loses its way somewhat with a somewhat syrupy arrangement. And right now the jury here is out on Gotta Get to You, a frenzied thrash which to our ears sounds like a juvenile Springsteen although there’s no doubting the powerful bass and drums which drive the song.

Millsap sounds like Millsap as we know him on Good Night and on Come Back When You Can’t Stay but they are relative islands of calm within the stormy waters he churns up elsewhere. This is an album which we initially struggled with but over time it’s grown in our affections and it would be interesting to hear it in a live setting given that Millsap and his band are reputed to be the bees knees on stage.

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The Jellyman’s Daughter. Dead Reckoning. Boat Duck Records

a2210496979_16This second album from the Edinburgh duo comprised of Emily Kelly (vocals, mandolin and guitar) and Graham Coe (Vocals, cello, mandolin and guitar) is a huge step onward from their debut release of a few years back. The pair here have at times an expansive sound, bolstered in the studio by various players who add assorted guitars, banjo, fiddle and double bass to the mix while an entire string section is employed to great effect on several of the songs.

The open with the sweeping melodrama of Quiet Movie, a sumptuous string laden effort with Kelly’s voice multitracked on the chorus on an incredibly moving song which sets the bar high for the remainder of the album. They take a different tack on the following I Hope which is a much more jaunty number despite the hesitation inherent in the lyrics. It comes across almost as a Scottish bluegrass number with Coe’s cello taking an excellent solo while banjos plink and plunk throughout over massed fiddles. Oh Boy dials down the excitement although the stirring harmonies and the finely balanced cello and strings add some drama to the song while recalling some of the more adventurous string bands coming from Americana such as The Punch Brothers and Head For The Hills. This heady mix of complicated time signatures and the pairing of classical playing with a more traditional approach is exemplified on Giving Up, a song which twists and turns with Kelly adding some jazz like intonations in her vocals while Coe’s cello is wonderfully woody and abrasive. They cap this style with a somewhat amazing and amusing instrumental called The Shoogly Peg which comes across as the sort of tune John Hartford might have recorded if he had played cello instead of fiddle.

Elsewhere the pair delve into Gillian Welch territory on the plaintive lament of The Worst of it All, a song which is particularly apt in these troubled times, while the title song is a slight return to the expansive and ethereal delights of the opening number with the string arrangement perfectly complimenting the vocals. Kelly’s voice truly shines on the haunting melody of You Don’t Know Love which again has some wonderfully fibrous cello woven throughout it. A cover of Jimmy Newman’s Cry, Cry, Darling again recalls the spookier side of Gillan Welch and Dave Rawlings as does the closing delicacy, the crepuscular White Shadows which is the most unadorned song here with superb harmony singing over delicately plucked strings and just the slightest murmur of strings. A fine close to an excellent album.

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Static Roots 2018

34016858_857835087737260_3737381984364658688_nRound about this time last year we spoke to a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke, Dietmar Leibecke, from Germany, about his Static Roots festival which he had set up in 2016. Seeing as it seems we share the same pair of ears when it comes to music, Static Roots seemed to be the place to be mid July and this was confirmed when another good friend, Ken Beveridge, wrote a fine review of the weekend. Well it’s that time of year again and so we dialled up Dietmar to ask him what was on offer this time. Read on to see what he has in store for those attending in 2018.

It’s your third year of putting on Static Roots, is it gaining a foothold on the musical calendar over there?

Well it’s a bit early to say but we are getting some more publicity with invites to talk about the festival from some radio shows here in Germany and I’ve even spoken about it for a London based show when I was over there two weeks ago. Certainly when we offered up our early bird tickets they sold out almost immediatley and since then the sales have been building up. Funny thing is that a lot of them are going to people from outside Germany but I’m hoping that with the recent publicity we can get some more local folk to come along.

I know that you have been closely linked with Ireland’s Kilkenny Roots Festival so is it a bunch of Irish folk going over?

A lot of my friends from Kilkenny Roots will be there but they come from all over, Ireland, England and there’s a big Scottish contingent. Many of them have been there for the past two festivals and when they come it’s like a big family gathering but for everyone else they’ve really enjoyed the atmosphere. We have a great venue, an old factory which has been converted into a really nice venue with a beer garden outside selling great food and great beer so there’s plenty of opportunities to meet people and share the experience.

Sticking with the Kilkenny connection I believe you are going to be paying tribute to the late Willie Meighan.

Willie came to the first Static Roots before he became unwell. When I was thinking about setting up the festival I got a lot of advice from Willie, he was a great inspiration and really a mentor to me. We had a lot of discussions about the bands I wanted to put on and he had some great suggestions. There was a band who wanted to play but I wasn’t sure about how they would fit in even though I knew their name would sell a lot of tickets so I spoke to Willie and he said, “Stay true to what you feel is right”, so I didn’t book them in the end and instead stuck to the acts that I knew would go down really well. Willie was my role model and such a great influence, such a lovely, friendly, polite and funny character so we’ve decided to have a special slot in the festival dedicated to him. And really there was no one better to play that slot than Kilkenny’s Midnight Union Band, I think of them almost as Willie’s children as he supported them so much.

So who else is on the bill?

On the Friday we open with Hannah Aldridge who is just tremendous. She’s playing solo but she can really grab the stage on her own and then there’s the Steven Stanley band from Canada whose album was produced by Christopher Brown on Wolfe Island. The Midnight Union Band are on next and then to close the night we have Terra Lightfoot with her full band. I’ve only seen her solo before and I was really impressed but the videos of her with her band are brilliant so I’m really looking forward to that. And then on Saturday we are lucky to have Justin Osborne from Susto opening the show  before we head to Nashville with Anthony da Costa and Charlie Whitten and then into London with Donald Byron Wheatley. I really loved Donald’s album which sounded at times like Dylan in the sixties when he was playing with The Band, I’m really looking forward to that but I think that the last three bands on will just blow people’s mind’s away. We have Bennet Wilson Poole, your new supergroup of sorts who are just brilliant and then Prinz Grizzly who have really progressed since I first saw them at Kilkenny last year. And then I’m really excited that we have managed to get The Cordovas over to close the show.  I saw them last year almost by accident. I was in Groningen  watching Hurray for the Riffraff and when they finished I was going to another stage to see the Cactus Blossoms but I had to pass another stage and there were these five hippies on it just starting to play so I stayed to see what they sounded like and they were tremendous, guitars, pedal steel and three singers doing some great harmonies. In the end I watched the whole show, I don’t think any of them stopped to retune a guitar or anything, they just played and they were so much fun so I missed the Cactus Blossoms and I decided I needed to have them at Static Roots so I spoke to them after the show and we agreed to see if we could manage it. And then I met with Paul Spencer who organises the Maverick festival and we decided to see if we could coordinate some things which resulted in us having The Cordovas coming to play for us. Hopefully Paul and I can continue this and bring some more of the bigger acts over.

Aside from the music what else is going on?

As I said there’s a really nice beer garden outside and we have breaks so that people can go outside and grab a bite to eat.  Our friend Ken Beveridge who has written a book about all the gigs he’s gone to since 1966  will be doing a book signing at some point. I’ve also asked Anthony Griffin, a really good photographer, to come over but not to take shots of the bands but to concentrate on the audience. He did that for Kilkenny Roots and he can really capture that sense of wonder you get when you’re listening to some great music and really being part of a community. And really aside from the music we are arranging a sort of cultural outing for anyone who comes early on the Friday, the Static Ruhr Tour, a trip to some historical sites around Oberhausen along with some stop offs to experience a real currywurst stall and sample a few beers on the way.

Static Roots Festival happens on Friday and Saturday 13th and 14th July, all info here

And here’s a sample of Dietmar’s latest find, The Cordovas…

Mishka Shubaly. When We Were Animals

Art copyBack in 2015 we wrote about an album which seemed to epitomise that old Wildean quote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” That album was Mishka Shubaly’s Coward’s Path, a dark and at times shambolic collection of drug fuelled misanthropy compared to which the likes of Nick Cave and Mark Lanagan sounded like top 40 popsters. Well Shubaly, a man who has probably the most chequered past of anyone we’ve reviewed has done it again with When We Were Animals, another dive into the depths of despair and again delivered with a voice sounding like Barry McGuire has had throat surgery.

It’s not for the faint hearted. No radio station is ever going to play World’s Smallest Violin, a song which kicks off with a punk rock throb sounding like a testosteroned Lou Reed looking for a fight as Shubaly describes a pretty sordid carnal encounter in a bar seesawing between GG Allin like explicitness and wry humour. You just have to love a line like, “When I pulled down my pants, that look on your face like you had lost a bet, “showing that Shubaly is at least not going to boast of his penile prowess.

So, fair warned, what can one expect from the remainder of the album? Well, pretty much more of the same, the music ranging from a mutant form of freak folk to spikier rock songs but the subject matter pretty much focussed on degradation and regret. Never Drinking Again is a bluesy hangover filled with regret as Shubaly populates the song with an exhaustive list of substances that he’s never going to do again before singing, “I’m never going to talk to you again,” indicating a partner as destructive as the drugs. By the end however he’s still in thrall to this person, the relationship reminiscent of Bukowski’s Barfly. The opening song Forget About Me, another loutish punk like thrash sets out Shubaly’s take on relationships as he looks for a cross between an angel and a demon while Animal is a slow growler of a song with Shubaly joined by an anguished female singer as they sing about down and dirty coitus. There’s a hint of Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries in the drug fuelled night out recalled (or not as the case may be) on Death In Greenpoint with Shubaly again transforming a calamitous one night drug fuelled Odyssey via his fantastic words on the final lines, “Well I think I’m going to go with a headfull of blow, in a Polish disco, in Greenpoint.” Meanwhile there is a tender moment on the Farmer John referencing Destructible which, while remaining quite dark, reminds one of The Handsome Family.

Just in case you’re wondering how far entrenched into the drugs world Shubaly was engaged in he offers us a loaded cover version of Little Feat’s Willin. Whereas the original was a brilliant delivery of those days when smuggling drugs had a fine and breezy outlaw vibe to it, here Shubaly invests it with a menace more akin to the murder and mayhem we’ve seen via shows like Narco. Just brilliant.

Mishka Shubaly is currently touring the UK. All dates here including a show at the 13th Note in Glasgow this Saturday.

 

Jamie Freeman. Hasia Dreams EP. Union Music Label

hasia20dreams20cover_724x724-837a8aIt’s been a while since a Jamie Freeman disc slid through the letterbox, his last release being 2013’s 100 Miles From Home. Despite being a familiar name down south in the UK Americana world as a musician and a behind the scenes mover and shaker he’s not well kent up here which is a bit of a pity. 100 Miles From Home (recorded with his band The Jamie Freeman Agreement) roamed around jangled power pop, English folk and dark Americana creating what should really be considered as a bit of a lost classic. There are certainly elements of the first two on this EP but there’s also a healthy dash of patchouli scented psychedelia with Freeman admitting that several of the songs are influenced by his favourite sixties bands.

The EP was recorded in Nashville and the UK with The Jamie Freeman Agreement playing on the UK songs while the Nashville tracks feature Larkin Poe and The Wild Ponies but aside from the opening number you’d be hard pressed to tell which was which. Hasia Dreams is that opening song and it’s a wonderful evocation of English psychedelia, the backwards guitars and  raga rock scales reminiscent of bands such as Tintern Abbey and (the UK) Nirvana. It’s a delicious listen with Lucy Powell’s voice weaving around Freeman’s vocals and while it may seem like a lysergically influenced song it’s actually a pretty grim tale of a refugee’s perilous journey fleeing Syria as she clings to happier days in her dreams.

Shiprock is another song which visits childhood memories although here Freeman’s template is The Who as he offers a Townshend like exploration of a dysfunctional family with the prodding keyboards recalling the synth additions to The Who’s Next album. With its muscular guitars and punchy propulsion the song soars towards another psychedelic moment on its bridge before climaxing with wailing guitar and an eventual sonic breakdown. You really need to listen to this one with the volume way up. The shimmer of Rum and Smoke then wafts into view and its clear by now that Freeman is exploring in these songs the adult influences on the psyches of their children as here he  inhabits the mind of the child of an alcoholic father. Incredibly poignant, the song clothes the child’s formative memories in a bittersweet delivery which at times recalls early Traffic.

Damaged children can find redemption and it’s tempting to see the last two songs as evidence of this. Make Do With England has the protagonist finding a partner who is helping him to cope despite his frailties with Freeman singing, “Baby you taught me how to care, yeah, well I taught you how to swear.” It’s not all plain sailing as he thinks the idea that she would marry him must mean she’s crazy while their union doesn’t always lead to bliss with the title of the song (I think) a nod to that old adage of lying back and thinking of England. Whatever, Freeman again sets the song against a magnificent and rousing delivery which slowly builds in grandeur from its folky beginning to the swell of guitars and percussion towards the end. There is a happy ending as Freeman and the band throw out a rollicking almost rockabilly number on Wedding Ring and a New Tattoo which sounds like a cross between Dwight Yoakam and Ian Dury believe it or not.

The only quibble here is that there’s only five songs. Hopefully now that Freeman has divested himself of his record store in Lewes we can expect to hear more of him in the future. Fingers crossed.

Hasia Dreams is available here

 

The Arisaig Americana Festival takes its first steps

arisaig-festival-1The West Highlands of Scotland may well be one of the most beautiful places on the planet and there’s been no shortage of music emanating from the area over the years, most of it in the traditional vein and reflecting the rich culture of this historical landscape. Now, an enterprising musician, Mairi Orr, wants to see the West Highlands, or, more specifically, the village of Arisaig,  on the romantically named “road to the Isles” to become a beacon for Americana music in Scotland complementing the sterling work carried out by the likes of Celtic Connections in Glasgow and Perth’s Southern Fried Festival. Orr (whose music we’ve discussed here) recently moved to Arisaig after living in Edinburgh and she’s decided to use her contacts to set up a festival which she hopes will grow into a popular attraction. Obviously that’s a long term goal and on the understanding that great oaks from little acorns grow this year’s inaugural Arisaig Festival is a small (but perfectly formed) affair. Intrigued as to why and how Ms. Orr set about this Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to her and we started off by asking her why she decided to have a go at setting up the festival in the first place.

I moved back here three years ago, not long after I released my album. It’s a lovely place but I found that I was kind of missing the music scene I’d been around in the big city. There are some amazing musicians up here but it tends to be mostly Scottish and traditional music and while the musicianship is second to none I felt that there was room for more Americana type music and importantly, that there is an audience for it, so I decided to see if I could kind of kick-start that, get it off the ground. I’ve always loved being up here.  Before we moved here permanently I visited a lot because I’ve got family here and I always thought it would be great to have some sort of event here. It’s a popular tourist destination, absolutely mobbed in the summer and there’s a great appetite for cultural events, music and such. When we got here I had my baby girl and that obviously took up my time but I started thinking seriously about setting up an event at the beginning of this year. In reality I’ve set up this first festival in a ridiculously short time but I’ve got a three year plan where I want to build the festival up, hold it over a couple of days and hopefully get some American musicians to come up and join in. So this year is really just to get it off the ground, put the word out and gauge the reaction.

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So this year is pretty much dipping a toe in the water and seeing how it goes?

As I said it’s really just a launch pad for what I hope will be a bigger festival next year. We’re holding what is the main event on the Saturday night but before that we will be having musical workshops for guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, on the Saturday afternoon. There’s also going to be what I’m describing as a big pub session on the Sunday and I know there’s going to be a lot of musicians turning up for that, a good mix of people I hope.  A lot of local people have expressed their interest since we announced it and we’ve received some funding from a local trust fund and it’s great to get their support. There will be tourists around looking for something to attend and then folk I know in the music scene have also said they’re coming up, they’ll join in the session so that should be good fun.

 

Tell us who you’ve got lined up to play

Well I’m really pleased to have The Wynntown Marshals as our headliners as they are one of Scotland’s best known “Americana” bands. They’ll be playing here as an acoustic trio which suits the hall we’re holding the concert in although I’ve asked Iain Sloan to be sure to bring his pedal steel with him. We also have The Jellyman’s Daughter, an excellent duo who have just released their second album and for this they’re bringing some friends with them to add bass and banjo on stage so that should sound great. Then there’s The Daddy Naggins who will be rounding off Saturday night with some good old foot stomping bluegrass. They’ll also be around earlier in the day as they are going to be helping out on the afternoon workshops.

You’ve missed out an act, the Crow County Pickers, which, after some extensive research, turns out to be yourself and some chums!

OK, that’s me with David Currie, Craig McKinney and Alan Finn. David is a fantastic Dobro player who did several shows with me when I was out playing my album. We hadn’t played for sometime after I had my daughter but we got back together a little while ago and started working on this and Craig is bringing along his mandolin while we’ve got Alan on bass

It seem to me that aside from the concert you’re trying to inject an awareness of roots type music, folk, Americana and such in a place that’s probably more used to trad fiddle sessions and pipers galore.

Well there’s a lot of music students up here who are learning trad music along with a lot of “closet” players out there who would probably love to have a go on the banjo or mandolin. We’re just trying to expand the idea of folk music to encompass more than trad so the workshops are aimed at them. One of things I like about Americana music is that it’s really open and friendly and inclusive, I’m hoping that if you play guitar or banjo or mandolin or anything really you can come along and join in. The workshops will be free as will the session on Sunday, bring an instrument or just come along to hear the music. The Sunday session is being held in a great bar where they’re really encouraging to musicians and I’m getting feedback that a lot of folk will be coming to that.

It is a small festival, we don’t have a great capacity in terms of the venues but I really want to grow it over a couple of days and bring artists up here who probably don’t come to this part of the world that often. Really we just want this year to put us on the map, there are musicians who come to the West Highlands but not often enough. I’ve been talking to some other promoters to see if can start to join the dots as it were for American acts coming over here so that they don’t just play the cities, to see if we can make it attractive enough for them to play a bit further afield.

Which bring us to my final question. A lot of folk will thing that Arisaig is out in the sticks, cut off from the mainstream as it were. If we were to go would we have to hike there or get a helicopter?

Although we look as if we’re out in the wilds there are good transport links. There’s a steam train that comes from Fort William, it’s actually the one you see in the Harry Potter films which goes over the Glenfinnan viaduct. That’s the tourist way of getting here but you can get the train from Glasgow while buses run from Glasgow and Inverness. I think most people will drive and we’re only about three to four hours away from most cities in Scotland. It is a bit of an effort to get here but it’s such a beautiful part of the world it’s well worth the effort. We’ve already got a successful trad festival here, Feis Na Mara, which is held in October and it always sells out and that’s in the off season so there’s no reason not to come.

The Arisaig  Americana Festival takes place on 23-24 June. Their website is here and tickets are available here.

And here’s some video of Mairi in action. She’s sure to give The Marshals’ a run for their money.