Various Artists – Tribute To A Songpoet: Songs Of Eric Andersen. Y&T Music/EARecords

Most folk, including us here at Blabber’n’Smoke, aren’t too aware of Eric Andersen. He is perhaps THE cult artist of the Greenwich Village years, rubbing shoulders with his much better known contemporaries such as, well, Dylan, and the rest. His songs have been recorded by the likes of The Grateful Dead, Judy Collins, Fairport Convention, Gillian Welch, and Linda Thompson but, now aged 80, he remains pretty much a secret, perhaps in part because he’s never had that one killer song which rises above all others.

This album, a three disc affair on CD, does its best to remedy the situation as a host of famous fans perform his songs. Most of them have been recorded specifically for the album but there’s a clutch of vintage recordings included and it’s one of those which opens the album. From 1970, Bob Dylan sings Thirsty Boots, accompanied by Al Kooper on piano and David Bromberg on guitar with the song sounding as if it were an outtake from New Morning. It’s a swell start to the collection but not really indicative of what is to follow. The 1972 appearance of Linda Rondstadt  (with her proto Eagles backing band) singing (I Ain’t Always Been) Faithful and Rick Danko’s live rendition of Blue River are most welcome, the latter particularly poignant, especially when it’s followed by Andersen himself singing Thirsty Boots at a club gig in 1982 which closes the album’s song cycle. Of the new recordings, they are much varied, several of them well removed from Andersen’s folkie perspective, but in the main they pay testament to his song writing skills.

Close The Door Lightly When You Go is perhaps the best known song here (thanks to Iain Matthews) and Richard Barone with Allison Moorer perform it quite deftly while Amy Helms delivers a soulful Blue River, the title song from his most successful album. Thereafter it’s pretty much a pick and mix affair as to what will capture one’s fancy but the doleful folk rock of Goin’ Gone by Richard Shindell stands out as does Foghorn by Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams along with Janis Ian’s powerful rendition of Hills Of Tuscany, a song which has a Dylan like intensity to it. Pick of the mix goes to Wesley Stace’s eight minutes of sparkling and jangled mystery on Time Run Like A Freight Train and Eyes Of The Immigrant by Lucy Kaplansky, a song written many moons ago but still relevant these days.

That leaves another couple of dozen songs we haven’t mentioned (and artists such as Willie Nile, Elliott Murphy, Happy Traum, Dom Flemons and Lenny Kaye) but, rest assured, all are worth exploring. What’s for certain is that this collection shines a welcome light on a mighty fine songwriter who has for too long has remained in the shadows.

Ash Gray And The Burners. Live 55.

It’s been a long time since Blabber’n’Smoke last heard of Ash Gray – nine years it turns out – but it also turns out that this Texan transplanted to Sheffield (his parents hailed from Yorkshire) has become a staple of the live scene in his adopted home and this live album finds him and his band, The Burners, somewhat on fire on their return to the stage as the Covid pandemic ebbed.

Live 55 was recorded  in a Sheffield pub, the Dorothy Pax , not a venue we’re familiar with but seemingly a well managed music venue (their website proudly states they have hosted two musicians who played at Woodstock). Given that, it’s a ridiculously well recorded album with the band sounding warm and close up with the audience present enough to applaud the songs but absent as the band are playing. And what a band. A tight knit five piece comprised of Gray on guitar and vocals, Jim Widdop on pedal steel, Tom Jarvis lead guitar, Johnny Griff on bass and Tom Townsend on drums, Ash and his Burners pretty much tear through a fabulous set of cosmic country rockers, sounding at various times like reincarnations of The Grateful Dead, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Poco, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and The Long Ryders. Towards the end they even toss in some 13th Floor Elevators Texan garage punk.

And while the band tear through the songs with a fine tie dyed in the wool vigour, Gray comes up with the goods on the songs. The opening number Jeremiah with its “Hey grandpa” refrain romps along in a breezy country-rock style with Widdop and Jarvis duelling excellently and Two Lane Blacktop has the band rolling along the highway with a skip in their step. While Gray’s not the strongest singer in the land he sounds quite impassioned throughout and he is most energised on the more dramatic numbers on show here. Billy, introduced by Gray as “a song about the old West,” is an excellent outlaw blues country tale with Widdop’s pedal steel snaking throughout and Chickenwire has a Calexico like dramatic sweep in its essence, the highlight of the album actually.

The addition of keyboard player Joe Newman and Liz Hanley on backing vocals add some more “oomph” to the last two songs. Back Alive snarls with a Texan proto punk attitude, the band attacking the song as if they were auditioning for a slot on Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation. The closing song, When The Devil Comes Home, finds Gray at his most impassioned while, over its seven minutes, the band show off their chops ending with a maelstrom of sound which reminds one of the eastern scales pioneered by Kaleidoscope on their Beacon From Mars album.

 As a live “warts and all” album, Live 55 is ridiculously good and definitely recommended. And if Gray and his Burners venture forth from Sheffield then get in the queue for tickets. You won’t be disappointed.


John Train. Cowboy Dreams. Chapter 7 Records

John Train was first of all a character dreamed up by Phil Ochs as he increasingly fell prey to delusional thoughts, telling interviewers he was Train and had killed the real Ochs. A sad story. This John Train are a bunch of Philadelphians who have been recording for several years with Cowboy Dreams their first album to be released on vinyl. It was released some months ago in the States and recently a copy arrived here at Blabber’n’Smoke. We always accord vinyl submissions the appropriate sense of respect but we were immediately taken by the album art by acclaimed artist Crystal Latimer, well known for her work celebrating Latin American culture. The cover reminds one of celebrated albums by The Byrds, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Poco and the music contained within doesn’t stray too far from the era of those bands.

Talking of the album, songwriter and lead singer John Houlon says that when the band went into the studio to record he decided to “Pull all of my horse related material together and call the collection Cowboy Dreams.” The band (Houlon – vocal, acoustic guitar, Mike Brenner – steel guitar, dobro, Mike Frank – bass, Bill Fergusson – mandolin, bouzouki, Mark Tucker – lap steel, various guitars, piano and Mark Schreiber – drums, shaky things) play in a loose limbed country-folk-roots fashion which reminds one at times of the acoustic Grateful Dead along with Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass combo Old And In The Way while Brenner and Tucker’s pedal and lap steel solos add a little more bite (and twang) into the equation.

The instrumental track, Sun Up At Belmont, sets the scene perfectly with a whiff of Calexico included, then Blood Horses races in with the band setting a cosmic country groove as Houlon sings of the thoroughbreds which run at the Kentucky Derby. A spiralling guitar solo cements the Dead connection. Closer to the Dead’s offshoot, The New Riders, there’s the sparkling trot which is Since She Started To Ride (a Jonathan Richmond song) while Further (written by David Halley) is a wonderfully slow paced country lament. Twister meanwhile is quite a jaunty number which sounds like an upbeat John Stewart.

Somewhat surprisingly the title song is actually a cover of a Paddy McAloon song and the band don’t dramatically change it, they just dial it down a bit while adding some honeyed lap steel. It fits right in here. Toss in a furious honky tonk instrumental (Cuttin’ Down on Cuttin’ Up, Tucker’s contribution to the album) and a closing riposte to the opening instrumental (Sun Down At Belmont) and you have an album which, were it a horse, would be a sure bet.

Cowboy Dreams is available on John Train’s Bandcamp page