Ian Siegal. Stone By Stone. Grow Vision Records

While Ian Siegal is a name new to us here at Blabber’n’Smoke, we were intrigued when this album popped in for review and we listened to the opening song. We’re suckers for a sweet and sweaty mixture of R’n’B, gospel and Southern swampy gumbo music and this just fitted the bill. The album opens strongly with Working On A Building, not the Charlie Feathers’ song of the same name, but a wonderfully loose limbed rumble with gospel roots, sounding for all the world like Ry Cooder playing with The Staples Singers. Hoodoo harmonica and snakelike slide guitars underpin the myriad testifying voices which dart in and out, harmonising and interjecting and giving the song a “live” feel as if the band were playing at a gospel tent revival.

Hand In Hand walks a similar path with Shemekia Copeland’s guest appearance adding to comparisons to The Staples especially as the song is a hymn to brother and sisterhood, echoing their civil rights anthems. Staying with those gospel roots, Monday Saw, a percussive field holler is a more primitive cousin to Working On A Building while Gathering Deep dials it down somewhat while retaining a gospel feel with a fine and spare Appalachian touch to it.

Aside from the sermonising, Siegal delivers some excellent songs which range from straight forward acoustic blues (on Holler) and singer/songwriter introspections (Onwards And Upwards and This Heart) to the scabrous I’m The Shit – an excellent acoustic vamp which actually sounds as if Tom Waits and Cab Calloway were having fun together, singing about, well, shit. Siegal also tosses in a version of the weird and spooky Leon Payne song Psycho, delivering its murderous psychodrama with a delicious sense of the macabre while K.K.’s Blues (written by Jimbo Mathus who is present throughout the album) rivals the best of Willy Vlautin’s dirty realism. Overall, Stone By Stone, with its slippery and sinewy recast of classic roots and blues is a brilliant listen.

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Rod Picott. Paper Hearts And Broken Arrows. Welding Rod Records

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Rod Picott has never made a poor album and experience leads one to consider his statement regarding this, his 14th release, where he says “I don’t know if it’s the best album I’ve made but I know it might be” with a pinch of salt. After all, everyone says something of the sort about their latest offering. Nevertheless, Picott might be on to something here as Paper hearts And Broken Arrows, while not breaking much new ground, finds him delivering 12 songs which were all perfectly crafted during lockdown and then burnished to a fine shine by Picott and his spare set of accompanists along with producer Neilson Hubbard.

Picott describes the album as lush and also spare and this dichotomy holds true. When the band are present they are for the most part restrained. This creates a wonderful and warm hearted ambience, an up close and personal listening experience. Even more close up is when Picott plays solo on a couple of the selections; rarely has he sounded so intimate before. The closing number, Make Your Own Light, is a perfect example as he waxes quite brilliantly in a frontier metaphysical fashion asking, essentially,  what makes a man a man.

Ranging across love songs, narratives and personal reflections, there’s plenty of variety on show here. The album opens with a lonesome prairie wail, the singer’s empty heart amplified by the simple piano notes and the far off strains of aching pedal steel on Lover. It’s followed by the much more primal Revenuer with Picott growling over a mighty rumble of slide guitar, piano and drums on an Appalachian tale of moonshiners. The past is also wonderfully evoked in the solo delivery of Frankie Lee, a dirt farmer forced into crime, his story unfolding as he awaits the gallows. A much more recent tragedy is recounted in Picott’s magnificent celebration of the heavyweight boxer Sonny Liston, a man with “two big fists like pumping pistons” but whose triumphs in the ring were undermined by racism and his own demons.

Through The Dark is a full blooded and brooding rock song, delivered in a Springsteen like manner and Dirty T-Shirt finds Picott getting down and dirty indeed without any salaciousness, just an unbridled sense of sensual attraction delivered in a warm and comforting pedal steel sweetened swaddle. Bringing it all back home (and closest to Picott’s reputation as a “blue collar” songwriter) there’s the sepia stained recollections on Lost In the South where Picott sings about his blue collar daddy. Whether it’s autobiographical remains to be seen but it’s a striking song, stuffed full of arresting images. It’s followed by the spare colourings of Mark Of Your Father, a song which portrays a darker side of fatherhood, laid bare in the last verse which refers to the filicide of Marvin Gaye.

Whether this is Picott’s masterpiece is a tale yet to be told but Paper Hearts And Broken Arrows stands tall in its own right and posits him as one of the best singer songwriters around these days.

 

 

 

 

 

James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band. Highlights Of The Low Nights. Last Night From Glasgow Records

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Here at Blabber’n’Smoke we’ve been big fans of James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band since first hearing their debut album The Tower back in 2014. Since then we’ve been impressed by live performances and especially their second album, High Fences, released in 2017. It’s been a bit of a wait for album number three to pop up but here we have it in the shape of Highlights of the Low Nights and it’s fair to say that it’s been well worth the wait.

There’s always been more than a hint of classic California sounds in their previous albums and Highlights Of The Low Nights doesn’t shy away from revisiting this fertile ground. And while at times the band sound as if they were flying high on Asylum Records back in the days, they’ve added more soul to the mix which recalls the likes of Delaney & Bonnie and the relatively obscure Stoneground. There’s a lot of Memphis swampiness flowing throughout the album, primarily via the keyboards. Gasoline, riding on top of a fine guitar groove and funky electric piano, opens the album in a stealth like manner, the tension gradually building as the song progresses, albeit with the band initially sounding as if they are riding on the slipstream of The Doors, circa LA Woman. Edwyn’s voice is perfectly complemented by the harmonies from Emma Joyce and their vocals throughout are one of the defining elements of the album, heard to full effect on the funky Is It Enough which has a punchy horn section along with swathes of Hammond organ.

Tracks such as Buy Me A Ticket and Because Of You sound quite immense as the band pile in with their instruments set to stun, the latter achieving a Springsteen like level of intensity. Jeremiah, as biblical sounding as its name suggests, is a mini epic. Again, a Doors’ like introduction leads into a portentous heavy weight slice of southern rock’n’roll, half Dr. John, half Drive By Truckers, half Delaney & Bonnie (OK, three halves we know but they still add up to a great song). It’s followed by Love Too Late, a much simpler song but one which packs a fine melodic and vocal punch and which recalls their earlier album, High Fences as the instruments spiral towards the end.

The band kind of hunker down into an alt-country corner on the splendid Stargazer which reflects The Jayhawks while Blue goes the whole hog with a Neil Young like lonesome harmonica wailing over a wearied backbeat, although it’s fair to say that Edwyn’s voice carries much more soul in it than old Neil could ever manage. And, speaking of Neil Young, we have to mention the sparkling Sometime We Fade, wonderfully sung by Edwyn with the song featuring a fine mid tempo jaunt interrupted by a shimmering choral break –  a long stretch perhaps but this reminded us of the man back when he was in Buffalo Springfield. Memphis, Dan Penn (and Lloyd Cole) come to mind on the perfectly minted Hold On and, on a solo outing, Never In Her Eyes, Edwyn grounds the album, reminding one of what a fine guitar picker he is.

All in all, Highlights of the Low Nights trumps the band’s previous albums, fine as they are. Here, Edwyn and his borrowed band have delivered a wonderfully crafted and perfectly delivered set of songs.

Buy it here.

 

Emma Wilson. Wish Her Well

Hailing from Teesside, Emma Wilson has been making a name for herself in the UK blues scene over the past few years with reviewers and fans falling over themselves to praise her powerful and emotive voice. With more in common with classic southern R’n’B and soul singers than the likes of Janis Joplin or Maggie Bell, Wilson’s voice is warm and deep and perfectly suited to this collection of songs which stay well away from simple 12 bar blues workouts. Instead, Wilson, backed by an impressive band composed of well seasoned musicians (including bassist Mark Neary who co-wrote most of the songs here with Wilson) inhabits the sly funk of Memphis, the rhythms of New Orleans and smoky jazz tinged torch songs with the band playing for much of the time in a manner which recalls the best of early seventies jazz/blues/rock crossovers. At their best, as on the taut yet slippery Nuthin I Won’t Do, they recall the master rhythm grooves of The Meters.

The title song opens the album, an enticing vamp with oodles of juicy guitar that finds Wilson saluting her ex’s new girlfriend in a somewhat barbed manner. Mary Lou then dips into that Muscle Shoals/Meters clipped funk groove which is revisited, albeit in a more louché and looser manner, on Rack ‘Em Up which recalls the days when UK singers were able to call on the likes of Allen Toussaint or Lowell George to add some southern swampiness to their impassioned vocals. She Isn’t You and Then I’m Gone meanwhile allow Wilson to indulge in the sultry charms of singers such as Koko Taylor and Irma Thomas.

Elsewhere, Wilson and the band loosen up somewhat, rendering  Blossom Like Snow and Back On The Road with a live in the studio sound, the latter sounding not a million miles away from Christine Perfect with the original Fleetwood Mac. The one misstep on the album is the turbo charged Not Paying which has a cool Duane Eddy like guitar riff almost buried underneath the frantic delivery. It’s out of step with the rest of the album although it does sound like it might be quite awesome in a live setting.

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