Hope In High Water. Bonfire & Pine. Fish Records

430_5d68ea4159895This second album from Hope In High Water (who amusingly describe their music as “Mountain music from the flatlands of Milton Keynes”) expands somewhat on the simpler guitar and banjo songs which populated their debut from a few years back. Josh Chandler Morris’s guitar and Carly Slade’s banjo are aided and abetted by Luke Yates on violin and percussion with Darren Camp on drums but the primary difference is that the pair have dug deeper into the well of American music. There’s more soul and grit in these grooves, not in an old fashioned R’n’B sense but picking up on vibes cast by the likes of The Band and old folk hands such as Karen Dalton.

The Band come to mind on the opening song, Healed, a song heralded by Morris singing, “Started to feel comfort in my own skin, it took a healthy dose of psilocybin” over a fine and syrupy rootsy rhythm which could have come from an album such as Cahoots. Slade then takes the driver’s seat on the banjo led It’s Over Now proving that she has some grand vocal chops which have a hint of Maria Muldaur to them. The song rolls along in fine style with its old time, almost music hall, sing-along chorus bound to be a live favourite, somewhat at odds with its subject matter which concerns surviving childhood abuse, meanwhile, an accordion allows the song to have a slight anglicised whiff to it in the manner of Richard Thompson.

While not wanting to set the pair to feuding, it’s Slade one looks forward to hearing as the album moves along. Morris has an attractive strained husk to his singing and the pair do fantastic harmonies as on the title song. However, Slade excels on several numbers. She returns to the subject of abuse on Stronger Than You Know, a much starker number than It’s Over Now, with her voice dredged from the depths while her plaintive banjo has the air of Greil Marcus’s old weird America. She gets weirder (in a good way) on the haunting Alone, a song which is worth the price of the ticket in itself as the band throw in some excellent dark folk stylings, while Something Unnamed has the unadorned simplicity which characterises the best of American folk music.  Overall, very nice.


Vetiver. Up On High. Loose Music

vetiver_uponhigh_1500-loresAlthough they were linked in with that brief “new weird folk” movement of the noughties, Vetiver were always a much more straightforward concern than the likes of Devandra Barnhart. Their albums feature “nice” melodic folk songs which, at times, rock slightly, and so it is here on their seventh album, their debut on Loose Music here in the UK.

Up On High is mellow for the most part. An album to relax with as Andy Cabic’s slightly hushed voice wafts over lightly strummed guitars, the songs sweetly embellished with delicate washes of organ and pedal steel. There’s a sense of the past about it, not overtly nostalgic nor in tribute to anything in particular but the soft rock sounds of the likes of Bread along with the more harmonic psych pop bands of the sixties come to mind. This is most apparent on the title song which does kick off sounding as if it’s The Turtles prepping You Showed Me before Cabic veers off into a magnificent halting dreamlike confection. The closing moments here are just astounding.

There’s more of this blissful ennui on To Who Knows Where, another fluffy pillow of a song and on A Door Shuts Quick with its light footed guitar while Filigree (an apt title) ripples along with the freshness of a mountain stream. The good old Grateful Dead, circa ’72, are hinted at in the opening song, The Living End, while Swaying positively bursts with a sunburst jangled guitar exuberance. It’s unfortunate that there’s a slightly clumsy attempt at funk midway through the disc on Hold Tight as Cabic doesn’t have the vocal heft to carry this off but all is forgiven by the time the closing Lost (In Your Eyes) rolls along as it’s another dream like invocation to surrender to Cabic’s voice and the sumptuous playing.

Vetiver set off on a UK tour in December including shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow, all dates here.



David Latto. Show Me How To Feel

a1394778543_16It was back in 2014 that Blabber’n’Smoke last encountered David latto when we reviewed his band’s last EP. The David Latto Band were up and coming in the UK Americana scene with a fine album already under their belt but soon after, Latto kind of disappeared. According to the man, he had hit some kind of creative wall which led to him taking a couple of years out. Working away from the music scene for a couple of years, he was eventually tempted to dip his toes in the water again with a brace of new songs which veered away from the alt country he was known for, being of a more personal songwriter persuasion.

Re-establishing his presence via live gigging over the past two years, Latto now has the first fruits of his recent labours on show in this five song EP. It’s a polished affair, sometime a bit too polished for ears more accustomed to a rootsier approach but there’s no denying Latto’s songwriting skills and his warm honeyed voice. He opens with the title song, a shimmering confection of jangling guitars which strays a little bit too far into pop territory for this reviewer with its soaring chorus, although a close listen to the words reveals a song which is packed with emotional pain and, at times, despair as Latto sings of being, “A dead man walking.” We’re much more comfortable with the pedal steel layered lament of Blood & Whiskey and the feather light tones of Haunt Me which features some excellent percussion. Better Ways avoids the pitfalls of the opening song although sharing many of its sentiments. There’s some gritty guitar midway and the polished finish does just what it’s supposed to do, showcase an excellent song. Losing You closes the disc with a flourish as Latto, still somewhat despairing, harnesses the full power of his musicians and Mally Smith’s excellent backing vocals on a song which builds to a grand climax with a powerful percussive drive and soaring electric guitar. It’s a song which strives for greatness and, with its hints of Prefab Sprout and even U2, it could achieve that if it got onto enough radio playlists. All in all, a welcome return for this songwriter from Fife.

Show Me How To Feel was released at the end of October but there’s a live launch gig next Saturday, 30th November, at Brig Below in Edinburgh with vinyl copies of the EP on sale. Details here.


Jerry Leger. Time Out For Tomorrow. Latent Recordings

jerry-leger-time-out-for-tomorrow-album-cover-1024x1024Hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed retrospective collection, Too Broke To Die, compiled for the European market in view of his increasing popularity on this side of the pond, Jerry Leger excels on Time Out For Tomorrow. Harnessing his romantic troubadour persona to a mercurial band sound replete with sweeping organ and quicksilver guitars, Leger hits the bulls eye on each of the ten songs here.

Time Out For Tomorrow runs the gamut of classic Americana styled music. His band, The Situation, are quite superb throughout while the production (Mike Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies) captures every nuance. Consider the contrast between the opening Canvas Of Gold, a grand song borne aloft on swathes of slide guitar, and the crepuscular doings, singing saws and Romany guitar and fiddle on the dark ballad Survived Like A Stone. Both jump out at the listener allowing one to consider Leger equally adept at brash rock’n’roll and introspective meanderings. The album as a whole leans towards the former but when Leger turns inwards he offers us the glorious I Would, a glistening jewel of a song which floats over a simple country rock backbone with glowering guitar shadowing Leger’s achingly romantic lyrics. He takes to piano for another heartache on That Ain’t Here which is simply majestic. The song, so simple yet so memorable, has the tang of classic writers such as Lennon or John Hiatt.

There’s an undeniable whiff of classic rock throughout the album as Leger dips into the past to flavour his songs. Justine chimes perfectly with a mid sixties vibe, a conglomeration of visionary Dylan with sparks flying from guitar and organ as if Bloomfield and Kooper were sparring in the studio. Read Between The Lines rattles along as Leger testifies with an anguished passion over an excellent mash up of tin pan alley melodrama and a hip Chuck Prophet like insouciance. This potpourri allows Leger to deliver songs like Burchell Lake, a faded portrait of a once thriving community featuring snakelike slide guitar, along with, what is possibly the best example of the band’s mastery of dynamite dynamics here, the bustling romance of Corner Light, a song to savour. Leger closes the album with the sweet country rock themed Tomorrow In My Mind which has echoes of John Hartford woven within it. A lovely close to a great album.




Nels Andrews. Pigeon And The Crow.

a0088076799_16If you were lucky enough to have caught Nels Andrews on his recent UK tour, you’ll know that the gentle and wonderfully crafted narratives from albums such as Off Track Betting and Scrimshaw are true reflections of the man. That he was able to offer up his rhapsodies on nature and life in a solo setting, without the songs’ studio trappings, allowed them to shine just that little bit brighter.

Andrews was promoting his latest album, Pigeon And The Crow, a worthy successor to the magnificent Scrimshaw. Indeed the opening song here is called Scrimshaw and it sets the tone for much of what is to follow. Set to a wonderfully hazy and lazy beat with shuffling percussion, wheezy accordion, gliding guitars and fiddle, the song finds Andrews settling into his new home in Santa Cruz as he investigates the sights and sounds and explores its past. It’s an exemplary song with all the parts fitting together like a jigsaw without seams while there’s a slight Celtic touch which becomes more apparent as the album progresses. Recorded mainly in LA, there are contributions from across the globe with various friends such as Anais Mitchell and A.J. Roach joining in while it was produced by Nuala Kennedy.

There’s a hauntingly hypnotic quality to much of the album. The Celtic airs of Memory Compass and the title song remind one of Van Morrison’s more Hibernian moments as on Veedon Fleece while there are elements of Paul Simon to be heard on Holy Water and Embassy To The Airport. Andrews however transcends any such comparisons as he forges on to deliver the exquisite and poignant Eastern Poison Oak, a slow country waltz with delicate fiddle and mandolin, and the elegantly faded memories of Welterweight which almost weeps from the speakers. There’s a pleasant surprise at the end as an unlisted song  (Candidates Handshake) returns to the glories of the opening track

There are a couple of songs which don’t quite achieve the heights of their compatriots. South Of San Gregorio has a touch of the tropics to it courtesy of steel drums and Table By The Kitchen ditches much of the haunting qualities apparent elsewhere for a more straightforward radio friendly folk rock sound. These are however minor blemishes on an album which manages to transport the listener to a gentler world.

The album is dedicated to the memory of John (Biscuits & Gravy) Davy. A Scottish music fan, writer, and host to house concerts in the wilderness of Scoraig, he died last year. Davy was an early fan of Andrews and it’s a nice touch that he’s remembered here.


Awkward Family Portraits. Everything We’ve Done Up Until Now Except What We’ve Done Since. Holy Smoke Records.

a2637144493_16Belying their youthful appearance, Glasgow outfit Awkward Family Portraits, have done their time on the gig circuit, honing their chops (as they used to say). Steeped in old time American sounds, including folk, blues and western swing along with a swell dose of Parisian gypsy jazz panache, they have obviously done their homework as the 11 songs here, all penned by the band, are quite remarkable in their verisimilitude to many of the artists who are obviously the band’s touchstones. It’s a retro sound to be sure but it’s delivered with gusto and obvious delight while there’s a fine sense of humour threaded throughout, that sense of having fun amplified for example on the video to Ring, Ring, Angus.

One could say they’re following in the footsteps of Bob Wills, Dan Hicks, Bobby Romeo and numerous others although one suspects that recent practitioners such as Pokey LaFarge feature large. However, for a debut album, Everything We’ve Done Up Until Now Except What We’ve Done Since is absurdly assured and swings with a mighty heft. They open the proceedings with the AFP Theme which scats along finely with Julen Santamaria as the MC before launching into the bustling western swing of Keep On Keepin’ On which features some grand guitar from Timmy Allen along with some finely tuned dynamics. They do like to duck and dive within their songs which is a testament to how tight a unit they are – witness the switcharounds on the graveyard blues of Kick The Bucket while the syncopation and solos on Do Yourself A Favour are just perfect.

It’s not all jump and jive as they can swoon to a melancholy moon on a song such as Way The Wind Blows, guitarist Timmy Allen taking over vocals here from Santamaria, he’s obviously the romantic in the band. Meanwhile they even manage to sneak in some guitar playing which recalls the post punk pop of The Monochrome Set on Day Of A Lying Man and there’s a rockabilly element to Ring, Ring, Angus. The triumph here is the splendidly titled Don’t Drink Whisky It’s Risky. Aside from the title following in a long line of well-named songs warning of the dangers of the demon drink, it’s a perfectly realised slice of invigorating music with flailing fiddle and frisky guitar backing up Santamaria’s louche vocals. They close with the mellow and folky Come On Down, a hint that they are no one trick pony.

Ags Connolly. Wrong Again. Finstock Music

unnamed-16There’s no doubt really that Ags Connolly is the premier exponent of dyed in the wool traditional country music here in the UK. Since his 2014 debut album, How About Now, he’s carried the flag up and down the country becoming a firm live favourite while he has a growing following in Europe and also across the pond with his latest fan, none other than Tom Russell, singing his praises. Connolly’s allied to the Ameripolitan movement, helmed by Dale Watson, which champions traditional country as opposed to the pop acts who were taking over Music Row a few years back. There’s been some hope recently that the tide is turning as traditional acts such as Sturgill Simpson (initially), Tyler Childers, Joshua Hedley and, most recently, Jason James are becoming more prominent and, if that’s the case, then Connolly is perfectly placed to ride this wave.

Wrong Again won’t surprise anyone familiar to Connolly’s music. There’s the usual bucketful of tears and beers sad songs, all excellently delivered. Then And Now is essentially just Connolly and his guitar and it’s no exaggeration to say that this sounds like a long lost George Jones number as Connolly’s voice tugs at the heartstrings. In a similar manner, although with fiddle and pedal steel woven into a full band sound, The Meaning Of The Word is honky tonk perfection as is Wrong Again (You Lose A Life). Meanwhile, there’s a hint of the outlaw country of Waylon Jennings in the driving What Were You Going To Do About It with plenty of twang guitar along with swell pedal steel from Joe Harvey- Whyte (who plays a blinder throughout the album).

The Maverick’s accordionist, Michael Guerra, appeared on Connolly’s last album and he reappears here as Connolly delves into Tex-Mex on several songs. The opening number, I’ll Say When, sways with an intoxicating, south of the border, blend of exotic rhythm, liquid guitar and accordion as Connolly finds himself in yet another bar, surviving day to day in this foreign clime. On Say It Out Loud, Connolly magically transports miles of driving in his dearly departed Honda Civic from the M1 to Interstate 10 as he recalls passengers including a fellow troubadour down on his luck and a femme fatale of sorts. Finally, there’s the magnificent Lonely Nights in Austin , a song bathed in pathos with Guerra squeezing all the emotion he can out of his accordion.

Connolly throws in a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain which fits into the album’s general sense of loss and sorrow. It’s a grand version with some excellent fiddle playing but its familiarity kind of makes it stick out like a sore thumb here especially as it’s much more folky than the surrounding numbers. However, he wraps the album up with what is possibly the most upbeat number he has recorded so far as Sad Songs Forever rides along with a powerful western swing element to it with jazz guitar licks, lyrical pedal steel and sawing fiddle all adding up to a grand finale.