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.

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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).

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