Nathan Bell tour and record news

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A firm favourite of Blabber’n’Smoke, Nathan Bell returns to the UK and Europe for a short tour commencing on 9th October. We first came across Bell when his third album, I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love was released in 2016 but, grand as it is, the album didn’t prepare us for the intensity of his live act which we first experienced at Celtic Connections in 2017. Since then, we’ve seen him live on several occasions and he continues to astound. He has also released three more albums (one a live recording) which confirm that the readers of Americana UK were spot on when they voted him Male Artist of the Year at the tail end of 2017, and then as the runner up to Jason Isbell in the same category in 2018. We can pretty much guarantee that if you catch Bell on one of the upcoming dates you’ll be blown away. Trust us.

bell-right-reverend-coverAs an additional lure, Bell will have copies of a very limited edition 7” vinyl single for sale at the shows, along with a new eight track EP. The single, on yellow vinyl, is a tour exclusive and features two previously unrecorded Bell originals – ‘Heavy As A Talent (Billy Shakespeares’s Blues)’ and ‘To Each Of Us (A Shadow)’, recorded in Santa Cruz, California. The same studio sessions also spawned the EP, titled The Right Reverend Crow Sings New American Folk And Blues, which finds Bell inheriting the mantle of revered characters such as Woody Guthrie and Lightnin’ Hopkins (if you’ve seen Bell live you’ll know that he reveres old Lightnin’).  Co-producer Brian Brinkerhoff says of the EP, “Rarely does an album title give you a perfect depiction of the music contained within. There’s a Blues side and a Folk side here – four songs that fit into each of those broad categories and yet hang together seamlessly.”

We’ve had a sneak preview of The Right Reverend Crow Sings New American Folk And Blues and can confirm that Brinkerhoff is correct as Bell delves into classic acoustic blues and folk territory. It bodes well for these upcoming dates.

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Tour Dates:

 

WED OCT 9 KINGSMEAD HOUSE, HIGH WYCOMBE
FRI 11 PI GIGS @ CAFÉ CWTCH, PEMBROKE DOCK*
SUN 13 HARBOUR ARTS CENTRE, IRVINE*
MON 14 TRAVERSE THEATRE, EDINBURGH*
TUES 15 PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE, KILBARCHAN*
WED 16 THE BLUE LAMP, ABERDEEN*
THURS 17 FALLEN ANGELS CLUB AT THE ADMIRAL, GLASGOW*
SAT 19 RAMBLIN’ ROOTS FESTIVAL, UTRECHT

* with Canadian singer-songwriter
DAVID LEASK in support

Amy Speace. Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne. Proper Records

as.ccdcoverprintListening to the title song which opens Amy Speace’s latest album, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a newly discovered relic from the heydays of singer/songwriters, that halcyon time when Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Judee Sill were really at the cutting edge. Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne is a starkly beautiful piano ballad with a striking string arrangement, written when Speace was in the city of Aachen where the bones of the emperor are entombed. It’s a magnificent capture of road travel weariness, the comedown after the gig, asking ultimately the question, why?

Aside from the singer/songwriters mentioned above, the treatment of the song recalls the baroque folk of Judy Collins who is credited with discovering Speace many moons ago and this album confirms once and for all that Collins is a talent spotter par excellence, remember, she “discovered” Leonard Cohen. Anyhow, Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne, coming after a string of excellent albums from Speace, is perhaps her pinnacle. Recorded in the final days of her first pregnancy (she dedicates the album to her son, “In my belly as I was recording”) it is at times quite intense as she rails against various injustices or soul searches, while there are also some sublimely tender occasions, some of those however having a sting in the tail. Listen to the initial 60’s folk like naiveté of Pretty Girls which finally erupts with crashing guitars as Speace obliquely comments on this Instagram age.

There’s a defiant grandeur in the wonderfully recorded pulsations of the “protest” song, Standing Rock Standing Here, her commentary on the long standing Native American tribe’s struggle with the US government at Standing Rock. Back In Abilene strips back the music to just acoustic guitar and sparse piano in a snapshot of the days following the assassination of JFK. Meanwhile there are more intimate moments as when Speace uses words written by Emily Dickinson on This And My Heart Beside to create a pastoral love letter while the closing song, her version of Ben Glover’s Kindness (described by Speace in the liner notes as, “the most beautiful lullaby I’ve ever heard”) probably touched her then unborn child’s heart as much as it will you, the listener.

Produced by Neilson Hubbard and with contributions from Will Kimbrough, Beth Neilson Chapman, Ben Glover and Eamon McLoughan, Me And The Ghost of Charlemagne is the work of an artist who is at her prime. Mature, thoughtful, engaging, and it sounds wonderful.

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The Orphan Brigade. To The Edge Of The World.

orphan-sleeveAs if they were following some musical ley line, The Orphan Brigade – Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover and Joshua Britt- have, since their formation, recorded in the field in various locations. They inhabit a location, drink in the associated history and legends and transform these into singular songs, leaving their mark and adding to the legend. To date they have dwelled in a supposedly haunted civil war plantation house for their first album, Soundtrack To A Ghost Story (and taking their name from the  Confederate troops stationed there) and gone all troglodyte in ancient caves situated under a small Italian town on Heart Of The Cave. There was also a slight detour when Hubbard and Britt joined Dean Owens and Audrey Spillman to record Buffalo Blood in the native American heartlands of New Mexico.

To The Edge Of The World finds this intrepid trio perched on the briny coastline of Antrim in Northern Ireland, Glover’s homeland. As is their wont, they burrowed into the local scene, the rugged locations, the stories told over the years and set down to writing their impressions before recording the album in a 15th century church. As with the previous albums they haul in collaborators although here, there are fewer celebrities. Aside from John Prine and The Henry Girls, they turn to local musicians and even a primary school choir to garland their songs, giving the album a firm sense of its birth land with Hibernian undertones pulsing throughout The Brigade’s take on this mystic Irish coastland.

They set the scene immediately as a brief snatch of an Uilleann pipe tune wafts in from the mist before a clattering Bo Diddley beat leads into the driving Madman’s Window. A glorious amalgamation of rootsy American thrust and skirling Irish pipes,  Glover recounts the tale of an Irish youth who remained at the location of his sweetheart’s drowning for the rest of his life. The song was written at the actual location where this supposed tale occurred and several other songs on the album are tied into stories and places they visited. Under the Chestnut Tree sprang into life as the trio visited The Armada Tree, the burial place of a Spanish nobleman, drowned as the doomed Spanish Armada came to grief in the Irish coastline as they fled after defeat. Again, the band deliver a rousing blend of bustling mandolin driven Americana with a whiff of Celtic mysticism and it’s this winning combination which gives the album much of its drive. The title song is a muscular and pulsating modern folk rock song with echoes of Nick Cave while Banshee swings with a junkyard beat as if Tom Waits were wandering through an Irish graveyard. Fairhead’s Daughter, inspired by a location used in Game of Thrones, thrashes around somewhat excellently with big Townsend like guitar bashing.

While these rambunctious offerings are quite exhilarating, there’s a welter of songs here which, while just as stirring, cleave more to a folk idiom. Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy) finds John Prine adding his voice to a dirge like shanty and Isabella is blessed with some wondrous harmony singing as they bring the Appalachians to Ireland. On a similar note, St. Patrick On Slemish Mountain rings out an with old time Americana sound but it’s the closing song, Mind The Road, which really hammers home the band’s affiliation to the Celtic muses they encountered on this road trip. It’s a breathy and whispered confection of fluttering flute over a bustling double bass with rippling guitars and mandolin dipping in and out. It’s reminiscent of Van Morrison’s glorious Veedon Fleece and as such, sets the seal on The Orphan Brigade’s immersion into the myths and legends of this rugged and untamed historic coastline.

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Roberto Cassani. Oh!…L’Amore!

a19ff59c-74cb-4519-bf7a-adbaa9ff2dd8The Perthshire based, Italian born, double bassist and arch humorist, Roberto Cassini, has certainly tickled our ribs over the years. Aside from being spectacularly funny on stage, he has penned numerous songs which manage to achieve what many “novelty” songs fail to do, that is, they are humorous and also listenable, to the extent that you can actually enjoy the musicianship involved. Cassani is usually accompanied by some fine musicians, in particular he has forged a fine relationship with the maverick Scots guitarist Owen Nicholson, but on Oh!…L’Amore! he plays all the instruments himself on an album which, in the main, eschews the humour as he delves into autobiography. The album does contain its fair share of Cassani’s impish words and light-footed playing but he does address some serious issues which have impacted on him including illness, migration and bereavements. He says that while he was somewhat reluctant to bare so much of his soul, he was encouraged to go for it by the legendary Danny Thompson whom Cassani worked with for some time last year.

So, Oh!…L’Amore is Cassani’s voyage from childhood in Milan to reflections on his current state of mind having buried his father. He opens with The Moon (La Luna) which includes some doo wop harmonies (alluding to the Marcels perhaps?), the silvery night time disc something of a talisman, comforting this “quite weird” child as it has accompanied him throughout his travels. He then drops in some cod reggae on Milano, Estate 1998, singing here in Italian much of the time on an effervescent little number before the downbeat Goodbye To Mamma allows Cassani to inject some pathos into his story. Over fractured guitar and a booming double bass, Cassani bids farewell to his adolescence and to his mother as he takes off for a new life in the UK which is represented initially by the brisk variété styled Kyer, 70 Maybank, set in Birmingham. It’s in Birmingham where he meets his wife to be and he recounts their romance on And I’m In Love, the one song here where Cassani’s tendency to joke overcomes the song.

With only nine songs on the disc, it’s obvious that Cassani can’t give us a blow by blow account of his years so he fast forwards somewhat for the remaining four numbers. I Found My Eyebrows On My Pillow addresses a cancer diagnosis he received and here his humour is perfectly placed. Dark, obviously, but pugnacious, as he rages against the illness and finds an upside as his family gather round radiating love. He celebrates his daughter on Lullaby For Ruby, a lovely song which manages the difficult job of sounding as if it came from a Disney film without any of the associated mawkishness (a whole album of songs such as this would surely be a great kids album). As the album grows in stature with these latter songs, Cassani delivers a wonderful salute to his late father on Ale’ Marino which seesaws between grief and joy. There’s the solemn description of the funeral (although Cassani still slips in some one liners) accompanied by a lively knees up as he imagines dad having a party in heaven boasting to St. Peter of his family as he opens bottles of prosecco. Cassani keeps the best for last as he delivers a summary of sorts on the title song. Here, he’s straightforward, no jokes, just an honest ode to life and love. If Cassani had a grittier voice, one could imagine this was a song by Paulo Conte.

Bravely personal, played with some brio and, at times, quite affecting, Oh!…L’Amore! deserves to be heard beyond the confines of the novelty songs Cassani is best known for.

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Chuck Hawthorne. Fire Out Of Stone. 3 Notches Music

fire-out-of-stone-album-cover-w-borderA couple of years ago a record producer got talking to an imposing ex Marine from Texas, carrying a guitar case, while both were waiting for a flight in Chicago. The end result was Chuck Hawthorne’s impressive debut album, Silver Line, produced by Ray Bonneville, a fine instance of happenstance. Since that album came out Hawthorne has toured the UK twice, building up a fan base with his John Prine like delivery of folk Americana and finally he delivers a second album which will not disappoint those who have been waiting in expectation.

The opening song, Such Is Life (C’Est La Vie) pretty much sets the tone for what is to come as Hawthorne plants his feet firmly in the grand tradition of Texan singer songwriters, the song opening with this vivid portrait, “He smelled like marijuana, two finger cologne, he smoked his regal cigarettes through an ancient saxophone.” Rolling on to tell the tale of a biker’s last stand it’s Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson territory for sure and Hawthorne inhabits this territory comfortably throughout the album. Bonneville sits out production duties this time although his impressive harmonica playing graces several songs, sounding for all the world like Mickey Raphael. Listen to his playing on Hawthorne’s tremendous elegy to war veterans, New Lost Generation, and just wonder at his playing.

New Lost Generation might be the most striking example also of Hawthorne’s songwriting but throughout the album he proves that he can capture a time, story or emotion in three minutes with unerring excellence. Amarillo Wind sends shivers up the spine as Hawthorne evokes a free frontier spirit while Arrowhead & Porcupine Claw, (spoken and sung in a similar manner to Guy Clark’s Texas-1947) is somewhat magisterial in its description of a native American’s rite of passage. Sara’s All The Way is a grim tale of an Austin woman in the gutter but still looking for stars, its forlorn delivery contrasting with the spritely fiddle laced Broken Good which gathers together a cast of “salty and sweet” ne’er do wells.

Graced with subtle backing from pedal steel, Dobro and fiddle and with Libby Koch adding some excellent harmony vocals, Hawthorne’s songs and words hit home time and time again. He chooses however to close the album with a cover of I Will Fight No More Forever, written by Richard J. Dobson. A member of the original outlaw country scene, Dobson passed away in 2017 and Hawthorne’s cover serves as a fine epitaph as Dobson’s elegiac song influenced the writing of Fire Out Of Stone.

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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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