GospelbeacH. Let It Burn. Alive Natural Sound

a1627587888_16Let It Burn, GospelbeacH’s fourth album, is a thing of beauty tinged with incredible sadness. Shortly before its release, Neal Casal, who had recently rejoined the band, took his own life, a fact which can’t be ignored as one listens to the album. The opening number, Bad Habits, rams this home as the band sway through this sad ballad which is blessed with a beautifully realised and lyrical guitar solo while the lyrics, unintentionally of course, could serve as an epitaph for a troubled mind.

Casal had played on Gospelbeach’s first album but, with a finger in many pies, had only recently come back to the fold for the recording of Let It Burn. His presence is but one aspect here which allows one to suggest that the album is the best so far from Brent Rademaker’s reimagined California cosmic crew. There’s still plenty of punchy power pop and rock as evidenced on the excellent Tom Petty groove of Dark Angel, the snarling blend of new wave punk and west coast rock of I’m So High, and the organ swelled barrelhouse roustabout of Nothing Ever Changes while the closing song, Hoarder, slinks and shimmies with a Little Feat like sinuosity. Much of the album however is more considered and introspective with less of the jingle jangle as Rademaker and fellow songwriter, Trevor Beld Jiminez, delve into darker territory.

Good Kid is a badlands narrative delivered with a Steely Dan like flow but the meat of the disc is in three songs tucked away in the middle of the album. Baby (It’s All Your Fault) and Get It All Back are infused with the melancholic pop sensibility of Alex Chilton back in his Big Star days. The former has some wonderful guitar moments, George Harrison like slide alongside pedal steel, while the latter glides gracefully over swathes of mellotron. Fighter cries out with a defiant peal as Rademaker plays the outsider who refuses to lie down. It’s a big production number, swathed in strings with rippling piano and voice effects before closing with another epic guitar solo from Casal, a fitting legacy.



Daniel Meade. Rust. Button Up Records

frontcovervinylGlasgow’s very own “Americana” star, Daniel Meade, returns to the fray with his latest release Rust, an album which finds him moving further away from the countrified songs which populated his breakthrough album, Keep Right Away, which was populated with a bevy of Nashville stars. While songs such as Always Close To Tears prove that Meade is well schooled in the way of honky tonk country, he’s always had more up his sleeve. Having cut his teeth on the rock circuit with his first band, The Ronelles, he moved into rockabilly and old time rock’n’roll with his band The Flying Mules and his cluster of album releases, whether solo or with various band combinations have always had an interesting mix of styles.

Rust follows in the wake of When Was The Last Time, an album on which Meade beefed up his sound, especially on the guitar front, with Townsend like chords and jangly power pop driving the songs. This time around, the guitars, while still in attendance, take second place to Meade’s first love, the piano, with the songs here bashed out at his home on his old joanna and recorded by him and then embellished with overdubs, all played by Meade himself. He says that many of these numbers were either written some time ago or were percolating in his head for a while, just waiting for the right time and circumstances to record them and, having exorcised some demons via the previous album, the time was now right. In addition, Meade has reached back to some of his original influences, rock’n’rollers and writers such as The Proclaimers and Gerry Rafferty and he even delivers several numbers in an unashamed Scots accent.

For a home produced and self-played album, Rust is quite astonishing. There’s layers and layers unfolding on many of the songs. Funny How The World Turns opens with some slick piano, not too far removed from Blue Note cool, before fuzzed guitar and trumpet like arpeggios take us into sixties psychedelia and Dreams Grow On Trees likewise has a warm fuzzy sixties feel to it with its massed voices. Elsewhere, Meade dives into fat sounding rock’n’roll bliss as on the rollicking Same Kind Of Crazy and the roadhouse blues of Another Conversation while the barrelling piano and guitar intro to Fanny Fanny Bang Bang is quite exhilarating. A “nonsense song,” according to Meade, Fanny Fanny Bang Bang is the sort of song which will appeal to anyone who thinks that the finest sentence ever written is, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”

It’s surprising to hear Meade open the album with the bar room piano jaunt Anywhy Anywhere Anyhow which he sings with his Glasgow accent (and vernacular) well to the front. But, with his curt dismissal of much that poses for Americana these days, it’s a fitting curtain opener to some of the preoccupations which populate the album. Meade’s been through the mill and seen the damage done and much of Rust is a farewell to those days. These Things Happen is a joyous song buoyed on parping horns, inspired by Meade’s time on the road with The Proclaimers and the title song is a glorious amalgamation of honky tonk piano and gnarly guitar al la The Stones with an uplifting chorus. Meade nails it however on the one stripped back song here. There’s just his guitar and voice on Workin’ On An Old Song, a manifesto of sorts as he sings “It’s good to run with old ghosts.” It’s comparable to Neil Young’s infamous Borrowed Song in some respects with Meade setting out his wares for all to hear.

Rust is available now and there is an official launch party for the album this week at Glasgow’s Rum Shack. All details here.


My Darling Clementine with Steve Nieve. Country Darkness Vol. 1. Fretstore Records

mdc_country-darkness_cover_m-350x350The UK’s foremost country duo, My Darling Clementine, have been delivering their singular take on the popular male/female country duet since 2011. Over the years and with four albums under their belt, the duo, married couple Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King, have moved far beyond the affectionate tributes of their first release, How Do You Plead. Their last release, Still Testifying, while maintaining their hard-core love of classic country, had shades of soul and sixties pop in its grooves with the pair’s song writing  having more gravitas, more light and shade to it than when they started out.

Their latest project, as hinted at by the title, might be delving into darker corners of the country psyche but, more surprisingly, it also delves into the psyche of Elvis Costello as My Darling Clementine have taken to leafing through the great man’s songbook in order to record their choice picks. It’s an ongoing project and this four song EP is only the first fruit, but for anyone who, hearing of this, expected to hear a simulation of Costello’s most overtly country album, Almost Blue, prepare to be surprised. This is deep cut territory.

Joining My Darling Clementine on this voyage of Elvis discovery is none other than Steve Nieve, perhaps Costello’s longest serving accomplice. An Attraction and an Imposter, Nieve deservedly gets his name on the sleeve, his playing here a neat link to the originals aside from it being impeccable.

The EP opens with Heart Shaped Bruise, originally on Costello’s The Delivery Man with Emmylou Harris adding her vocals. My Darling Clementine and Nieve strip the original of its bar room country blush to expose its nerves. Nieve’s magnificent piano leads into strings, muted drum rolls and  dramatic vocals which take the song in the direction of mid sixties pop melodrama, The Walker Brothers, Roy Orbison and Dusty Springfield coming to mind. Next up is Stranger In The House, a vintage Costello song dating back to his first album sessions but best known as a duet on a George Jones album. It’s classic Costello country and also classic My Darling Clementine fodder with the added bonus of some delicious keyboard swirlings from Nieve which recall those early Attractions days.

Digging deeper into Costello’s catalogue, My Darling Clementine come up with a Paul McCartney co-write, That Day Is Done. Here they cleave more to Costello’s idea of the song (which he performed with The Fairfield Four) as they delve into gospel soul on a horn-laden powerhouse version. The final song is another co-write, this time with Loretta Lynn, a song which was snuck away on a little known Costello album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came finds Dalgleish given a more prominent role than Lynn on the original while the song is a perfect vehicle for the duo’s trademark duetting.

The frustration here is that the disc has only four songs but it’s a tantalising tease for the remainder of the project. In the meantime, it’s available on vinyl and we should mention here the artwork and design of the sleeve which perfectly captures the mood. In addition, My Darling Clementine have been in the habit of copying the old EMI habit of classifying albums in a “file under” direction on the back sleeve. Here the copy reads, “File Under: Country (Costello Country). A nice touch.


Doghouse Roses. We Are Made Of Light.

a0481311133_16As winter beckons, it’s just the right time to draw the curtains, stoke the fire and listen to the comforting sounds of Doghouse Roses. One of Scotland’s most acclaimed pairings, Iona MacDonald and Paul Tasker excel in delivering songs which are intimate and warm, MacDonald’s honeyed voice and Tasker’s superb picking skills are just what you’d want to listen to in a perfect folk session in a perfect pub.

We Are Made Of Light, their fourth album, fits this bill just perfectly. While their previous album, Lost Is Not Losing, was a varied affair which even had some rockabilly on it, here the pair build on  the foundations of classic folk rock from years bygone, fitting as the album features several songs which have been in their repertoire for some years but never captured in the studio. Often compared to the likes of Sandy Denny era Fairport Convention along with other luminaries from that era, Doghouse Roses here grasp the bull by the horns and turn in an amazing album which utilises their affinity with those past times while remaining contemporary in much of their subject matter.

While much of the album features just the duo, there are dashes of keyboards, percussion and strings on several numbers. The opening song Low is a gently flowing ballad, garlanded with strings over a sturdy rhythm section with Tasker’s low harmonies buttressing MacDonald’s voice. It’s reminiscent of Richard and Linda Thompson which is no bad thing, sharing that pair’s sense of pathos. Arsenic, their take on climate change, is not only a clarion call regarding this all too important topic but it revisits the spirit of protest from the sixties with the song having a fine west coast vibe to it, a mixture of The Youngbloods and Jefferson Airplane. Their mood darkens on the edgy Why We Fight which is another protest song of sorts but delivered here in a more pugilistic mode, the violins darting and screeching throughout as MacDonald turns in a sterling vocal which, at times, hits the sardonic excellence of Grace Slick. This full band approach reaches its pinnacle on the epic The Reckoning, a glorious conglomeration of percussion and strings, hammering and sawing away, as Tasker frantically picks on his guitar.

Away from the Sturm und Drang of a song such as The Reckoning, MacDonald and Tasker discard the band trappings allowing them to shine as a duo. One More For The Road is loaded with regret and opportunities missed, that next drink never taken, MacDonald’s voice peerless as Tasker performs several excellent acoustic guitar solos. First Of April is a shimmering elegy to the men killed in an infamous helicopter crash off the shores of Aberdeen while Elegy For A Seaside Town, a delightful banjo fuelled outing, recalls the lost glories of a day out. Tasker’s banjo also features on the album’s most adventurous moment, The Fermi Paradox, a band number which has MacDonald singing of the lure of a beckoning light, a beacon for the displaced. As the song builds in its intensity, it morphs into a unique version of Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well, a showcase for Tasker’s skills which is quite dramatic.

The album closes with a song which just about encapsulates the Doghouse Roses experience. All My Days glistens with Tasker’s guitars and MacDonald’s crystal voice. A bucolic number, it sums them up perfectly.

Doghouse Roses have an album launch show on Saturday at Glasgow’s CCA, details here, while they also play at Aberdeen’s The Blue Lamp this Friday.




Dumb Instrument. Doubt. Bad Tool Records

a3786848051_16Back in 2014 when the Scottish referendum debate was at fever pitch, there was an oasis of calm within its midst. For sure, it was quite a surreal oasis but Dumb Instrument’s Suffering From Scottishness, a wonderfully absurd and deadpan hymn to the nation was, for a while, the unofficial Scottish anthem. It’s too soon of course to say whether another bid for independence is on the cards but Dumb Instrument have gone ahead and released their third album, tired of waiting perhaps?

Anyhow, it’s great to be able to say that on Doubt (the title and album cover a joke in itself), Dumb Instrument remain stoically Scottish and singer Tom Murray’s humour is as pawkish as ever. The band, a seven-piece outfit led by co -founder Mikey Grant on piano and supplemented by a string section, provide some excellent ornamentation for Murray’s vocals. They delve into a breathtaking Latin styled workout on LadeDa and on Backwards Is The New Ways Forwards they’re next door neighbours to Robert Wyatt while That’s The way To Do It is an exhausting Klezmer like knees up full of parping horns and melodramatic keyboard flourishes sounding as if they were lifted from early Hollywood cliff-hangers.

Above all however, it’s Murray’s words which draw the listener in. Many of the songs are vignettes, some spinning into a tenement version of magical realism as on the driving opening song, High Jumper which is stuffed full of musical references in the lyrics amidst worrying references to skyscrapers and window ledges while the music is dizzying enough to induce a sense of vertigo. Backwards Is The New Forwards comes across as if one were reading James Kelman’s How Late It Was How Late backwards and Drunk In The Playground is an excellent capture of an incarcerated father imagining he’s waiting for his child as the bell rings. Perhaps the best of all on offer here is the excellently named, That Stupid Wee Lassie From Elderslie, an incredibly imaginative song. Here the protagonist is haunted by and goaded by a plooky wee schoolmate who wasn’t worthy of attention then. Almost in the same league is the simple guitar and vocals of Venus In A Cardigan which could be a mash up of Billy Connolly, Ivor Cutler and The Incredible String Band.

It’s important to say that Dumb Instrument are not doing comedy. There’s dark humour aplenty here but overall Doubt is an immersive experience, the music’s great and Murray has a winning way with his lightly spoken vocals. They don’t sound at all similar, but imagine if you can, if Ian Dury and The Blockheads came from the west of Scotland rather than Billericay or Upminster or where ever Dury pretended to be from, and then consider Dumb Instrument.

Doubt is available now and there is an album launch show on Saturday 19th October in Glasgow’s CCA where Dumb Instrument will unveil the album in conjunction with Doghouse Roses’ own album release.

Nathan Bell. The Right Reverend Crow Sings New American Folk and Blues

bell-right-reverend-coverTaking some time out from his superlative run of Family Man themed albums which salute the American dream and excoriate the mess it’s become, Nathan Bell has taken a feather from Hank Williams’ cap for this eight-song disc. Williams adopted the pseudonym, Luke The Drifter, for a series of songs which were not his usual honky tonk jukebox fare. In a similar manner, Bell becomes The Right Reverend Crow as he indulges his love of country blues and folk.

He opens with a tribute to that irascible Texas bluesman, Lightnin’ Hopkins, the subject of one of Bell’s usual on stage interludes. Retread Cadillac (Lightnin’) copies Hopkins spooky spoken word style along with his slyly brilliant walking blues guitar as Bell offers a condensed history of Hopkins’ career. Another Texas bluesman, Johnny Winters, features next as Bell delivers a magisterial solo performance on a series of vignettes all ending with him driving down the highway as Johnny Winter plays the blues. There’s some grand piedmont guitar picking on the jaunty New Cocaine Blues while Rolling Blues mucks around in early Muddy Waters before he became all electrified.

Bell’s on more familiar territory as he moves on to the folk side of the Right Reverend, the songs here not dissimilar to those which have seen him mentioned as a worthy successor to Guthrie, Van Zandt and Springsteen. Poisonous Snake inhabits the weird world of Pentecostal snake handling with Bell delivering it in true southern gothic style as if he were singing a short story from Donald Ray Pollack. The Ballad Of Bill Spaceman Lee has some Dylan like harmonica rasping from Bell on a song which has classic stamped all over it with its capture of youthful aspirations and their eventual dimming. The album closes with a retread of The Big Old American Dream, originally released on  Love>Fear which serves to remind us that Bell can write a grand narrative in the grand tradition of writers such as Guy Clark and imbue it with a true sense of from the ground up nobility.

Nathan Bell hits the ground running this week for a short trip around the UK and an appearance at Rambling Roots Festival in Utrecht. We shouldn’t need to say that if you are anywhere in the vicinity of a gig then you should go as you’ll be blown away. In addition, Bell will have the first copies of The Right Reverend Crow Sings New American Folk and Blues on sale at the shows along with a very limited edition 7” single featuring two new songs, Heavy As A Talent (Billy Shakespeares’s Blues) and
To Each Of Us (A Shadow).