Daniel Meade. Ever Wonder Why You Get Out Of Bed? From The Top Records

Following on from his successful “back to the roots” album, If You Don’t Mind, recorded with long-term guitar partner, Lloyd Reid, Daniel Meade returns to his one-man band set up for his latest opus. Ever Wonder Why You Get Out Of Bed? is a disc which sees him continuing to pursue a fuller sound while retaining much of the spirit which has inhabited his recent releases.

It’s evident from the beginning, as the title song opens the album with a whistling wind behind Meade’s lonesome voice and strummed acoustic, before swelling into a grandiloquent mix of synths and fiery guitar, that Meade is aiming high. He paints a dystopian picture, a wail of despair really which includes a litany of life’s losers and villains. His words and the delivery are quite reminiscent of Pete Townshend’s work circa Who’s Next. Townshend comes to mind again when Sometime The Rain Don’t Get You Wet erupts into view with its guitar power chords, although, as it powers along, the presumably synthesised horns threaten to overpower what is in essence a cracking slice of power pop which is just begging for some 12 string Rickenbacker jangle. It’s a fine double whammy to open the album but thereafter Meade dials it down (slightly) and begins to roam, which is where the fun really begins.

By The Book comes across like Jerry Lee fronting  Booker T & The M.G.s with its turbo charged guitar while Watcha Doin’ To Me roots around in garage band exuberance, joining the dots between the Sir Douglas Quintet and the sneering punk ridden Costello & The Attractions. Meanwhile, planted at the piano, Meade rips through the exuberant rockabilly roustabout of I’m Too Tired To Sing The Blues. He dresses this song up with snatches of found sounds and radio excerpts but, at root, it’s a grand showcase for his exceptional keyboard skills, up until and including the final trill. There’s more roustabout piano (along with a soaring guitar solo) on the amped up vocal duet with Cara Rose on Look No Further which simply rips along, just awaiting its turn to be picked up by some enterprising film director looking for the perfect song for his Scots road movie, a follow up to Restless natives perhaps?

There’s a loose limbed Stones cum Faces’ like rumble on Now I Laugh but heading back into his roots, Meade offers the clap along strum of The Choices That You Make which makes more sense of the Scots male psyche than any number of learned papers. Topping these however is the glistening ode which is To The Lovers, a glorious glitter ball swirl of sounds with a wonderful air of resignation in its refrain.

The album is available on CD and vinyl and download, see here.

Mr. Alec Bowman_Clarke. A Place Like Home EP. Corduroy Punk Records

When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed the then Mr. Alec Bowman’s album, I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot, we said, “It’s a brave album. It’s dark, but then without dark we wouldn’t have any light. And beyond the darkness, the songs, arrangements and performance are quite superb.” Light and shade continue to colour his music on this five song EP which was recorded in three days with Bowman_Clarke accompanied by his now wife Josienne Clarke (who produced and played on I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot) along with Lukas Drinkwater, both of them playing several instruments. The EP is not dissimilar to the previous album with Bowman_Clarke’s voice still somewhat world wearied, dispassionate almost. Comparisons to Cohen remain tempting but here there are also moments when the likes of Syd Barrett and Lou Reed come to mind.

Were he just a sound-alike, singing bedsit songs to cast out his demons, Bowman_Clarke would still be worth a listen, but he ventures forth here with a quite glorious set of songs which almost limp from the speakers, bruised and friable, on the verge of falling apart. Josienne Clarke adds her voice, saxophone and clarinet to the mix, providing some colour to the overall sense of chiaroscuro, but this is downbeat music with a capitol D.

A sound effect, we think of an old-fashioned film splicer, opens and closes the first song, Deleted Scenes. Here Bowman_Clarke searches for meaning within the mundane – the discarded memories and cast offs which constitute one’s experience as we hurtle from cradle to grave in what is essentially an existential soul search. The abrupt end to the song might be seen as high comedy – the editor wearied of Bowman_Clarke’s murmurings, cutting him off and discarding him – or a nod to the fact that, search as we may, the end can come out of the blue.

The Ghost Of Mistakes recalls the folkier elements of I Used To be Sad & Then I Forgot with its simple melody and breathy clarinet, as Bowman_Clarke burrows into domestic bliss and its precarious harmony. It’s a path riddled with past mistakes which have to be delicately managed but overall, it’s gently optimistic. Speaking Of Guns is the starkest song here with the guitar quite scabrous and slashing away as Bowman_Clarke dissects his song writing with a reference to Checkov’s principle that, if you mention a gun in a story then you should end that story with the gun being used. That aside, the song comes across like Lou Reed singing a seriously sad Syd Barrett song.

A Red Light In A Darkroom revisits some of The Ghost Of Mistakes territory, carrying forward that slight hint of light at the end of the day, and the disc closes with the title song which is decidedly Leonard Cohen like, especially with its hotel reference at the beginning. Sounding like a subdued out-take from Death Of A Ladies Man, it’s a song of solitude and longing, the singer insomniac and stranded, his lifeline the phone and the promise of home comforts. It’s a terrific close to what is a very impressive set of songs. Not your regular moon in June type by a country mile but an intriguing insight into the current state of mind of Bowman_Clarke and a fine retort to Dorothy’s belief that there’s no place like home.


Matt Hill. Greedy Magicians II – Return Of The Idle Drones. Quiet Loner Records

Return Of The Idle Drones was initially conceived as a follow up of sorts to Matt Hill’s 2012 live album, Greedy Magicians, released under his previous moniker, Quiet Loner. Of course, Covid intervened, leading him to describe it as “a live album without the audience.” Undeterred, Hill and multi instrumentalist James Youngjohns went ahead and recorded anyhow in a studio based in a 19th Century Mancunian mill. Greedy Magicians was, in essence, a political album and its successor is very much in the same vein as Hill delivers a set of songs inspired and occasionally disgusted by contemporary events and historical injustices.

Hill has been ‘songwriter-in-residence’ at the People’s History Museum in Manchester and two of the songs here  (Strike and Build Us Something More) were written during that sojourn. They are typical of the subjects which interest Hill, the first being a song about the match women’s strike in 1888 and their role in the creation of the trade union movement, the latter, a celebration of the post war mood which saw the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. Much of the album is in similar territory as Hill topples social media mobs, the super rich and our current wave of populist (and dishonest) politicians as if they were pigeon crap encrusted statues.

Reading the above you might imagine that Return Of The Idle Drones is full of spittle specked angry rants but that’s not the case. Hill knows who the enemy is and presumes that his audience do too. Hence he might point fingers but he doesn’t come out and call Blowjob Johnson a bastard on Born To Rule. He doesn’t need to when he can sing lines like “privileged and titled, superior and cruel, there’s not a shred of doubt, he was born to rule.” He uses satire and sarcasm excellently and at times offsets the darkness within the songs with decidedly upbeat and melodic music. Hill cites Randy Newman as a song writing inspiration and says that 60’s singers, Scott Walker and Glen Campbell were sources for some of the sounds on the disc. We’d add that there’s more than a hint of a youthful Elvis Costello lurking here also, especially on Talking It Out. In addition (and maybe this is where Walker comes in) there’s a sense of European balladry on several of the songs, in particular, on the jaunty The End Of The World Is Here.

Hill is accompanied throughout by JamesYoungjohns who plays guitar, harmonium, lap steel and percussion along with Adam Gorman who plays piano. This provides plenty of light and shade on the album but it has to be said that the closing song (aside from two bonus tracks) Build Us Something More pretty much eclipses all which came before it in its aching beauty.

Return Of The Idle Drones is available as a download and as a limited edition CD, only from Bandcamp. Hill states, “I am not releasing the album to platforms like Spotify, Deezer, iTunes etc. I have to pay them for the privilege of having my music on there and in return they pay miniscule rates of return. Instead the only place you will find it is on Bandcamp -a platform that gives a fair deal to the artists it relies on. For some artists this could be commercial suicide but I believe that my small but committed band of supporters will not be phased by it.” For those who buy the CD, it contains two bonus songs including what Hill calls his Brexit song, Pound Shop Albion. Another Costello influenced number, it’s well worth going for the CD as opposed to the download.


The Wanderer – A Tribute to Jackie Leven, Cooking Vinyl

Something of a labour of love, The Wanderer is a two disc tribute to the late Jackie Leven, curated by Michael Weston King on the tenth anniversary of his friend’s passing. Calling on a wide range of Leven admirers, Weston King has compiled 22 songs, all Leven covers bar his own self-penned tribute to the man along with songs by Levi Henriksen & Babylon Badlands and Liam Carson with Knut Buen.

As with most tribute albums there’s a wide variety of takes on Leven’s styles on show and some are more successful than others while we reckon it’s fair to say that what the album is really missing is Leven himself, given that he was such a unique and powerful character. Weston King is perhaps (and somewhat ironically) the one who gets closest to Leven on The Final Reel which captures some of his Celtic vagabond ways. Meanwhile it’s Scots crime writer Ian Rankin (who collaborated with Leven on several projects), accompanied by Dean Owens, who sounds most like Leven on the spoken word Edinburgh Winter Blues, one of our favourite moments on the album.

The two discs are subtitled Gentle Man and Hard Man, reflecting the conflicting dual personality which most folk attribute to Leven, but aside from a couple of more raucous numbers on disc 2, there’s little to distinguish them from each other. What they do portray is what a fine songwriter Leven was. Leven’s partner, Deborah Greenwood, offers a beautiful version of Universal Blue, and is quite touching on this extremely tender and aching song. Almost as touching is Boo Hewerdine’s plaintive delivery of A Little Voice In Space and Kathryn Williams proffers an ethereal and dreamlike version of The Crazy Song. Two sublime songwriters offer up sublime readings of Leven in quick succession as Arksong (Marc Pilley) and then James Yorkston delicately pick their way through Honeymoon Hill and Empty Square In Soho respectively. Meanwhile the other half of My Darling Clementine, Lou Dalgleish is quite majestic on her solo piano delivery of One Long Cold Morning.

The Hard Man disc opens with Andy White’s rocked up Standing In Another Man’s Rain which wrestles with fuzzed guitar and bagpipe like squirls, emerging sounding like The Go-Betweens on amphetamine. That said it does recall Leven’s version of “the big music” trumpeted by The Waterboys, that widescreen Celtic sound. Tom Robinson tries something similar but with less success on his version of Classic Northern Diversions but for a truly left field take on Leven it’s hard to beat Johnny Dowd’s unhinged robotic Farfisa fuelled romp through Farm Boy – it’s classic Dowd and one reckons that this might have been Leven’s favourite number here were he to have heard it. The Membranes hark back to Doll By Doll days on their splenetic delivery of More Than Human but Henry Priestman calms the waters with his boho delivery of Paris Blues which sounds like a beatified busker on a Paris Boulevard. There’s a theatrical heft to Eliza Carthy’s Brechtian take on The Garden but several of the artists simply take a song and deliver it in their own style. Jeb Loy Nichols’ laid back Caribbean vibes on The Working Man’s Love Song is a joy to hear while fellow Fifer, Rab Noakes, drills into Leven’s roots on the docudrama which is Poortoun with Noakes handing in a gloriously handmade performance, fleshed out with acres of acoustic guitar and double tracked vocals. Another Scottish act, Dogtown Roses are in excellent form on the banjo driven Elegy For Johnny Cash which seems to have been hewn from Appalachian rock with flashes of dark Americana Gothic.

Weston King has certainly honoured the memory of Jackie Leven well with this tribute which serves in its own right as a highly enjoyable listen. If it inspires folk to explore Leven’s own albums then all the better, and with a “best of” collection, Straight Outta Caledonia, recently released along with a forthcoming reissue of his first solo album, The Mystery Of Love Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death, due in November from Cooking Vinyl there’s no better time to do so. In addition, proceeds from this album will benefit the Westminster Drug Project (WDP) a charity that continues the work of Jackie’s own charity, The CORE Trust.


Jim Byrne. 4 Country & Folk Songs. Fox Star Records


Glasgow’s Jim Byrne is something of a musical chameleon. Over the course of four solo albums and a couple of EPs as a member of The Bearpit Brothers, he has rooted around various pop, folk and tin pan alley styles while he will be fondly remembered locally for his fledging years in Clydebank playing punk and garage rock, including a stint in The Primevals. So far he has been firmly in the independent camp when it came to his recordings but for 4 Country & Folk Songs, he finds himself on the roster of Fox Star Records, a situation which allows him to proudly (somewhat tongue in cheek) proclaim, “59 year old songwriter signs his first record deal.”

Following in the footsteps of musicians as varied as Dan Hicks and Richard Hawley, Byrne delves into past sounds and reinvigorates them. Be it on the fragile and broken down country waltz of The Yellow Clock or the twanged telecaster thrums on The Holy Ghost, he sets the scene and then peoples it with his fine baritone croon and keen lyrics.

The four song EP opens with an eerie fiddle introduction to The Yellow Clock, a haunting song which inhabits the thoughts of a daughter returned home from her mother’s funeral. Surrounded by mementos, she surrenders into a reverie, almost hypnotised by the ticking clock. With rustic fiddle (by Kurt Baumer) and harmony vocals from Lesley O’Brien, Byrne paints a perfect miniature of grief and loss. This Heart Of Mine Is A Blind Blind Fool, in contrast, is quite jaunty as Byrne looks to Hank Williams and his ilk for inspiration, adding in a mild Jambalaya of swampy Cajun sounds with O’Brien again joining in on vocals.

Tell The Devil I’ve Stole His Crown Of Pain is a grand melodrama which neatly sits within murder ballad and Child ballad idioms. The culprit here is a shadowy and somewhat supernatural figure who is “born with the devil’s charm,” the type of character you’d be well advised to avoid never mind entering into a contract with him. It’s wonderfully realised with a lonesome fiddle providing the melody over a repetitive guitar rythym while Byrne comes across like Nick Cave channelling Johnny Cash. Cash comes to mind again, along with Lee Hazlewood, on the concluding song, Holy Ghost. It’s cinematic, almost widescreen, as it boils down religious symbols, spaghetti westerns and an old fashioned love story into one great pot boiler. If Quentin Tarantino is still on the lookout for songs to put on his next pulp film, then he’d find some salvation here.