Mark Mulholland. Revolutions Go In Circles. Ports of Call Music

Mark Mulholland is a Glaswegian musician who has been a bit of a globetrotter over the years, spending time living and playing in European capitals such as Prague and Berlin while also being heavily involved in the burgeoning wave of African music including producing an album by Tamikrest. On Revolutions Go In Circles he bridges these worlds with a set of songs which in the main are jangled folk rock laced with subtle sub Saharan delicacies. With players such as Toumani Diabate and the late Tony Allen on board, along with musicians from the UK and the States, this truly is an international affair and it is quite an engaging listen.

The album is a collection of songs recorded over the past ten years in various locations. Lockdown allowed Mulholland the luxury of revisiting them and giving them a final polish with additional contributions sent in via the internet. It was nice to see a Blaber’nSmoke favourite, Orit Shimoni featuring heavily on the album adding backing vocals on several of the songs. One thing which struck us on listening to the disc was Mulholland’s stylistic similarity to another musician much admired here, namely Jason McNiff. The pair share a vocal similarity and also an affiliation to the songs of Bert Jansch and a song such as Silence Falling Snow could easily be mistaken for a McNiff song.  They are indeed fellow troubadours.

The album opens strongly with the brisk folk rock of Moving On, loosely based on a hitch-hike through Spain but really an opportunity for Mulholland to toss in a litany of literary and musical heroes which, unsurprisingly, will be familiar to most who were baby boomers and travelled bohemian highways in their youth. In a similar vein, Filling Up The Silence finds Sean Condron’s banjo to the fore on a song which recalls Mulholland’s days living in a dingy Berlin squat while Getting There is a jangled and bejewelled minor gem of a song which shares some of its melody with Another Girl, Another Planet but remains firmly within Mulholland’s troubadour orbit. His nomadic ways are addressed in the fine Celtic airs of Live Anywhere and youthful ambitions are recalled on the excellent Your Race Is Run, a laid back, Dylan like rumination.

A brace of songs rely more heavily on Mulholland’s African connections and the first of these is the bustling River Walk, powered by Tony Allen’s drumming and with Yacouba Sissoko’s variety of instruments including n’goni (an African harp like instrument) sounding much like it were Tamikrest backing the singer. Walk A While cleaves to a western notion of a folk song but it twinkles with delightful kora played by Diabate, a wonderful example of the fusion Mulholland seems capable of achieving. The album closes with an even better example as Mulholland, accompanied by Baba MD, sings 900 Miles, a traditional American song he first heard from a Bert Jansch version but here transported to Mali. It’s quite gorgeous.


Crosby Tyler. Don’t Call The Law On Me

It’s been a long time (eight years actually) since we last heard from Crosby Tyler, one of those American artists who really delve into the roots of Americana – folk, blues, country and all points in between. He’s come across as a hobo, a blue collar singer songwriter and a veritable one man band on previous releases and worked with the likes of Peter Case and Nickel Creek. Don’t Call The Law On Me (featuring Aubrey Richmond (Shooter Jennings) – fiddle, back-up vocals, Jeff Turmes (Mavis Staples) – bass, Dale Daniel (Hacienda Bros) – drums, Mike Khalil-pedal steel, electric guitar, Kimbra West – back-up vocals) is described by Tyler as  “Involving more pedal steel and Telecaster guitars — my most countryish album to date” citing influences such as Buck Owens, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, David Allan Coe, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Todd Snyder, Robert Earl Keen and Shel Silverstein. Quite a list but, sure enough, Tyler pulls them all together for what is an engaging, rough and ready listen.

The outlaw element is immediately apparent when the title song opens the album. Tyler’s well worn voice is enlivened by Kimbra West’s harmonies as the band work up a fine country rock sweat on a tale of a drunken fist fight. This rangy and nicely ragged sound, not a million miles removed from Doug Sahm’s rockier moments, is revisited on several songs including Tyler’s plea for world peace on the swinging Peace, Love & Beer and on his observations on the dark underbelly of rural life on Us Black Sheep We Ain’t Like The Others as he sings, “Us black sheep we ain’t like the others, We were born to be rowdy mother fuckers, Our blood’s hustling, dealing, stealing, and some days killing.” Best of all is the shit kicking country rock romp of Bikers, Hippies And Them Honky-tonkin’ Cowboys with its raunchy Telecaster and buzzing pedal steel. Tyler also tosses in a couple of truckers’ songs in the shape of Trucker On The Road and 18 Wheels Of Steel, both of them quite exhilarating.

Slowing the pace, Tyler turns in a brace of powerful songs including the jail house lament of Born A Bad Boy which rides on a menacing beat with Aubrey Richmond’s fiddle sparring with Mike Khalil’s keening pedal steel. That fiddle and pedal steel are then accompanied by some very tasty chicken picking country guitar licks on Stop Being An Ol’ Redneck, a sly dig at modern times – “The radio don’t play no David Allan Coe, It’s just Hip hop and this bitch, And it sure don’t twang my soul, Ye all on Facebook and Instagram.” Finally, there’s the excellent The Family I Never Had which finds Tyler singing about the remnants of a band who almost made it big but whose members are now either dead, in jail, serving in a food store or being Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s quite brilliant and Tyler’s delivery can’t help but remind this reviewer of Ian Hunter’s Ballad Of Mott The Hoople, although in this case the band in question were Tennessee bred.

Coming out of the blue, this album was a very pleasant surprise. Tyler has a gruffness in his voice which reminds one of John Hiatt and he writes with acuity on American dreams, most of them unfulfilled. Meanwhile, the band is a great little combo and a joy to listen to.


Jason McNiff. Tonight We Ride. Tombola Records

Having spent much of lockdown streaming his weekly Sundowner show (previously held in The Jenny Lind in Hastings), Jason McNiff grew to love the opportunity to play covers of songs he loved and those requested by his virtual audience. Hence, his first post pandemic release is this fine collection of handpicked covers. Given McNiff’s history there’s no surprise that two of his major inspirations, Dylan and Bert Jansch, feature twice and the inclusion of Townes Van Zandt won’t raise any eyebrows but the remainder are an eclectic bunch. What’s certain is that McNiff delivers all in his distinctive style, his wispy vocals, guitar wizardry and fleet footed folk rock are all present and correct and, just to remind you that he is a writer of some distinction, he includes two of his own songs, one of which actually stands out as the best of the album.

The songs feature McNiff  in solo mode and with a rhythm section (with two being more embellished) and much of the album highlights McNiff’s undoubted prowess on various variations of guitar – acoustic and electric, resonator and Spanish guitar. Lest one forget, one of the enduring tales of his formative years is that McNiff was a permanent fixture at the late Bert Jansch’s six month residency in London’s 12 Bar Club, soaking up the maestro’s style and so it’s fitting that the album opens with a song from Jansch, Running From Home, taken from his 1965 solo debut. It’s more jaunty than the original and flows with some zest, reminding one of the folk tradition blooming in the UK in the mid sixties in the wake of Dylan. In comparison, another Jansch song, The Open Road, originally recorded 30 years later is darker and much more rooted in a traditional folk idiom. McNiff, solo in this case, delivers a stark and chilling reading.

It’s interesting to hear McNiff sing a Townes Van Zandt song. The Texan’s gruff fatalism on My Proud Mountains seems more fragile and less defiant in McNiff’s rendition while the Texas dirt is replaced by a rainy London town feeling. Similarly, Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings, while it has a mid sixties organ swirl to it, sounds as if it would be more at home on a Pentangle album. Meanwhile, the other Dylan cover, Precious Angel (from Slow Train Coming), strips away the original’s sheen and is a delicately flecked confection of glistening guitars.

The guitarist on the original Precious Angel was Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits’ Tunnel of Love is one of the more surprising covers on show here. Suffice to say that McNiff performs much the same trick as on the Dylan number, the song stripped of its gloss and given a superb, primarily acoustic makeover. Even more stripped back is his resonator guitar led and gnarly rendition of The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues which, having heard it means this reviewer need never go back to the original as this is just perfect. McNiff has a knack for reducing songs to their basic elements and he delivers a wonderful solo rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Moving On, his Spanish guitar encompassing all of the original’s Grecian dressings, while The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows comes across like a hybrid from Donovan and the very early Jefferson Airplane. Reaching way back, a live rendition of Stephen Foster’s 19th Century song Hard Times harks back to Greenwich Village years, a delightful reminder of vintage times but, all too sadly, very pertinent to these present days.

The title number, a Tom Russell cover, is the most full on song here with the band in full flight. Less melodramatic than the original it’s more in keeping with Dylan’s Desire era outings. The band are also in fine fettle on McNiff’s own song, I Remember You. It’s a glorious song and played here with a sense of joy which, amidst some splendid song covers, might be considered to be the most memorable song here. Whatever, it’s the crown in what is an exceptionally fine album from an exceptionally fine artist.