Paul McClure. Market Town. Clubhouse Records

a1605324111_16An old Blabber’n’Smoke favourite, The Rutland Troubadour, AKA Paul McClure, returns to the trenches with a third album which is chockfull of carefully considered and artfully delivered songs. There’s less of his old troubadour style and Americana leanings here, instead, as one listens to the album, artists which come to mind include Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and even Paul McCartney. There’s a new producer (Joel Payne, who plays keyboards in McClure’s occasional band, Local Heroes and here plays keys, guitars and percussion) and a sense of maturity in several of the songs with McClure celebrating family life and domesticity  although there are still some more rambunctious moments and even some cod calypso on A Long, Long Time Ago.

The albums opens with possibly the strongest song on the collection, The Morning And My Love, with McClure pouring his heart out over a forlorn piano on a tremendous love song. It’s moving and perfectly arranged with speckles of electric guitar and a brief swell of vocal harmonies towards the end. McClure revisits this sombre mood on the delicate How Did You Know and the lengthy and powerful  Sing With Me, both love songs of a sort as McClure summons up the frailties, hopes and dreams of relationships.

Sing To The Stars is an earthy folk like and angry narrative which relates the tale of a wage slave who regrets missing his children growing up. Family life also features in the affecting Daddy Will You Hold My Hand, a McCartney like ditty (with some excellent slide guitar from Ally McErlaine of Texas) while the mild Caribbean lilt to A Long, Long Time Ago almost disguises McClure’s reminiscences of growing up and his present day domesticity. He also knocks off some more childhood memories on his solo rendition of Grandad’s Pants which closes the disc and he celebrates the wonders of ordinariness on the title song which is the most upbeat number on the album. Finally, the folky rocker, This must Be What They Mean (When They Sing About The Blues) is a grand loose-limbed jaunt with wheezy harmonica, bar room piano and Beach Boy/Beatles harmonies all thrown in.

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Charley Crockett + Jaime Wyatt, Broadcast, Glasgow, 5th September 2019

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Eight months after having heart surgery for a condition which threatened to derail him permanently, Charley Crockett seems fully recovered judging by the marathon set he played to a packed out Glasgow audience. Backed by the superb Blue Drifters, their name only the first of many Hank Williams’ nods throughout the night, Crockett took us on a roller coaster 90 minutes of country, blues, folk and soul;  his Texas and Louisiana roots guiding him all the way.

A brief instrumental intro led into a pistol packed flurry of songs with the band hardly taking breath until, after an explosive cover of The Race Is On, Crockett paused to say hello. By then we had seen and heard some of the variety of sounds Crockett and his Drifters can conjure with Charlie Mills, playing keyboards, trumpet and accordion adding to the colour. Next up was a real crowd favourite as they slinked into I Am Not Afraid, the audience singing along, while Crockett transformed the cellar space into a honky tonk with everyone clapping along to Borrowed Time. Introducing the title song from his forthcoming album, The Valley, Crockett spoke of his surgery and his need to lay down the song as, “I was maybe scheduled to die.” Having death knock on your door might not be the most pleasurable experience but it did inspire what is a great song with all the virtues of a classic.

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Given the very cramped stage space, the band managed to reshuffle their line up to stand around an old fashioned mic for a short “unplugged” song session to deliver an excellent brace of folky songs including Banjo Picking Man, A Stolen Jewel and Single Girl before Crockett did a couple of songs solo, Nine Pound Hammer being a bit of a barnstormer. The band crept back on to deliver an instrumental in a David Lynch lounge bar style before gearing up for the show’s lengthy finale which saw Crockett delving into blues and soul with some Texas sass. They ripped through L’il Girl’s Name and No Time To Lose while Ain’t Gonna Worry came across as if Bobby Bland was singing from the stage and the set closed with a rousing Going Back To Texas which recalled the late Doug Sahm’s many salutes to his home state.

There had to be an encore given the rapturous applause and Crocket reappeared giving us the driving narrative of 7 Come 11, another song from the new album. The band then reappeared as Crockett satisfied the numerous requests for Jamestown Ferry which had been thrown at him through the night. Another mass sing-along, it was an excellent end to what was a barnstorming performance.

As we said, the joint was jumping and packed to the gills and there was even a surprising number of folk gathered at the start of the evening for the support act, southern California’s Jaime Wyatt whose mini album, Felony Blues made a splash around two years ago. That disc basically recounted her time as a convicted felon in California penitentiaries – (she robbed her drug dealer and did time for it) – and here she was live, dedicating songs to the LA County jail and describing her time there as like being in a resort, “They gave me three square meals a day, did my laundry and even gave me free rides to the court.

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It was a short set with several songs drawn from Felony Blues, kicking off with the high country sounds of Wishing You Well and then the tough Waylon Jennings’ like Stone Hotel. Giving Back The Best Of Me glided along to start with before the band (her regular UK based backing guys) kicked in giving the song more muscle than the recorded version. Away from the album, Wyatt announced, “Here’s a song about whisky and blow,” as they launched into the badass Ain’t Enough Whiskey, another ornery and mean country rocker while she dedicated By Your Side to the late Neal Casal who laid down guitar when she recorded the song. Hurt So Bad, another new song, was like a raunchy Dolly Parton number, but it was the closing number, Wasco, with a lengthy preamble regarding Wyatt’s cell mate’s jail romance which crowned her set. This was real punchy outlaw country and we could have listened to Ms. Wyatt for twice as long had she not had to curtail it there. An excellent match for the headliner, Wyatt complemented Crockett’s set perfectly and it was cool to see her merch line matching his at the end of the night. These two plus hours of modern, hard hitting, country music perhaps bode well for the genre and we haven’t even mentioned the classy, sharp pressed western suits and impressive hats worn by Wyatt and Crockett. We’ll leave that to the fashion pages.

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Ana Egge. Is It The Kiss. StorySound Records

is-it-the-kiss-coverIs It The Kiss could be the album which finally lifts Ana Egge, a Brooklyn based songwriter of Norwegian descent, into what counts for the Americana big time. Followers will know that her previous albums are all excellent but she excels here, especially in the song arrangements which drape her wonderfully relaxed and warm singing. At times she reminds one of Joni Mitchell’s first forays into expanding her sound, folk songs becoming populated with jazz and blues influences.

The album starts off quite conventionally with Egge’s tribute to that great wave of singer songwriters who bounced out of Texas in the 70s. Cocaine Cowboys even sounds like a Willie Nelson song (and he really should cover it) as Egge sings, “They raise your spirits up and I hope they do, they make you feel less lonely if you’re feeling blue. cocaine cowboys turning rhinestones into diamonds with a song, cocaine cowboys keep you dancing and drinking all night long.”  Midway through, this simple song then grows wings as a string section burbles in, a harbinger of things to come. What Could Be is simply sublime as it kicks off on a slow soul shuffle with Egge sounding like Lucinda Williams before a chorus which sounds so much like early Mitchell comes in. There’s also a middle eight featuring a muted horn section, reminiscent of some of Court & Spark, and those spare and inventive horns adorn some of the best songs here. Oh My My adds some achingly sweet pedal steel to the mix although one’s ear is drawn to the walking bass which guides the song  as Egge’s feather light vocals are quite spectacular.

In the midst of this sonic bravado, Egge clings firmly to her storytelling skills. Teacake And Janey is essentially a murder ballad couched in mystery while James, a song adorned by odd bustles of percussion and strings, is an elegy for a gifted yet strange child. Chasing Rabbits In The Sun meanwhile is an oblique portent of violence delivered with an awesomely delicate balance of guitar, pedal steel and mournful horns which picks up menace when a heavy drumbeat is introduced. In a more conventional manner Egge offers up the laidback chug of Hurt A Little and the odd mix of baroque and Dixieland on Stay The Night while she gets quite rootsy on the fiddle laced country cover of Diana Jones’ Ballad Of The Poor Kid  on which she is joined on vocals by none other than Iris Dement.

Is It The Kiss is a perfectly formed album with Egge’s undoubted talents bolstered by the inventive and intriguing arrangements and is well worth investigation.

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