The Goat Roper Band. Tall Grass. Old Pup Records

gr-tall-grass-album-cover-front-250x250Tall Grass, the third album from Welsh “Cosmic Country Blues” trio, The Goat Ropers, finds the band in fine form with a swell collection of songs which allow their fairly unique line up of two guitars and a double bass to shine. Singer Sam Roberts’ voice can take some time to bed in but it actually fits the loose limbed and occasionally ramshackled approach the band take as they root around various varieties of roots music. At times they can be quite forceful, driving a song along with a powerful punch. Elsewhere, they can wander endearingly through an eccentric melody like a band of hippies in search of the lost chord.

Produced by Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers and with the trio – Roberts along with brothers Jim and Tom Davies on guitar and double bass respectively – augmented on a couple of numbers by organ, pedal steel and banjo, the album kicks off with a bang. Unwrap My Bones is a fine example of a parched desert number, not too dissimilar from the early days of Calexico. Roberts is finely deadpan as he sings over a perfectly assembled arrangement of strummed guitars, lonesome harmonica, swelling organ and sweet pedal steel. It’s a great start and they remain in the badlands with their fine mix of Tex-Mex border romance and doo-wop on Desert Flower before unwrapping the dizzying layers of Main Street which flits between a Beatles’ like melody and some shit kicking southern rock with snaking guitars funnelling away.

When the double bass starts to thump away at the beginning of High Heel Blues you know you’re in for a ride as the band whizz through a hi-octane number verging on rockabilly but it’s the only song here where they really let their hair down. Elsewhere, they delve into the country blues aspect of their self styled description. Keep On is one of those songs which just drifts along with a honeysuckle perfume in its trail while I Can’t Fly, featuring some sly guitar lines from Jim Davies, starts off with a laid back nonchalance before a degree of anxiety creeps in. Anyway Anyhow snaps and snarls with a good old fashioned jug band feel (along with a sniff of a neurotic Lovin’ Spoonful) and that old time swing continues in the sing along,  Ask For Alice,  which sounds tailor made for audience participation in a live setting. And just as they opened the album with a belter, they close with one, albeit in a totally different idiom. Don’t Mind The Rain is a meandering number which is spiked with atmospheric guitar notes over an organ backdrop with the harmonies soaked in a psychedelic haze. It sounds a little bit as if The Pretty Things had recorded SF Sorrow on psilocybin in an Arizona desert. Odd but weirdly compelling.

Good news is that The Goat Roper Band are currently touring and they are in Scotland this week playing shows with Hannah Aldridge in Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdour. All dates here.

 

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Danni Nicholls. The Melted Morning.

a2146905516_16On her excellent third album, Danni Nicholls offers evidence that she continues to grow as an artist while she has also taken the step of recording the album with a selection of female musicians and studio technician under the aegis of producer Jordan Brooke Hamlin. Hamlin built her own studio in Nashville to suit female artists and she has previously recorded The Indigo Girls and Lucy Wainwright-Roche there. The Melted Morning is a major achievement with Nicholls singing a number of glorious careworn ballads, all given lift with excellent arrangements ranging from southern soul touches to shimmering string arrangements. A couple of the songs are less orchestrated and more reminiscent of her earlier work and throughout the album her voice is never less than magnificent.

The album opens with the sweeping drama of Wild As The Water which swells from its tentative beginnings, spare piano and guitar, into a perfectly nuanced wide screen melodrama which allows Nicholls opportunity to flex her vocal muscles. Losing It then shifts into a more metropolitan late night neon sheen with glossy guitars gliding throughout it  on a song about love and regret  before another switch into a southern soul mode on the excellent Hear Your Voice. Here Nicholls is as soulful a singer as you could wish to hear and the band slouch along perfectly as The Secret Sisters add their gospel harmonies. There’s a return to this southern feel later on in Power To Leave while the closing Hopeless Romantic has more of a lonesome sound as Nicholls and her guitar are buttressed by a ghostly pedal steel which perfectly captures the sense of loss contained in the lyrics.

Nicholls shares the songwriting on many of the songs with a celebrated cast of writers. Ben Glover, Robby Hecht and Amelia White, among others, all pop up in the credits. As such, songs such as Frozen, Wish I Were Alone and Texas all stand up on theirown stead. A solo composition, Lemonade, attests to the fact that Nicholls can well carry the can on her own, the song being a fine metaphor for joy rising from sadness and delivered with sweetly melancholic piano and cello alongside her own fingerpicking.  But the centrepiece of the album is the breathtaking Unwanted. Here Nicholls and Hamlin pull out the stops creating an ambient atmosphere reminiscent of Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball album with some nods to the tundra sounds of Joni Mitchell’s Hejira. It’s certainly one of the best songs we’ve heard this year.

Danni Nicholls is currently touring and appears in Edinburgh and Glasgow on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. All dates here.

Jerry Leger & The Situation. Too Broke To Die: Retrospective 2005-2019.

jl-too-broke-to-die-comp-coverOne of Canada’s secrets until his breakthrough album of last year, Nonsense and Heartache, Jerry Leger is one of those artists who believes in getting the music out there, putting in the groundwork and letting his gigs spread the word. Indeed, last year when he was appearing in Norway around about the time of his birthday, he managed to get the promoters to find him a “cool pub” to play in on that date, “Just to play some music and have a hang afterwards.” His first UK tour last year was a success  and he’s coming back for more dates this month and this limited edition retrospective will only be available on CD at the shows although it is available as a download purchase for those not able to attend.

Too Broke To Die pulls together 19 songs from Leger’s 10 albums so far along with two previously unreleased numbers and it’s a splendid introduction to his fine blend of folk, rock and, for want of a better word, Americana. There are reflective ballads and balls to the wall rockers scattered throughout with the connective tissue consisting of Leger’s voice which is somewhat of a more mellifluous take on the late sixties Dylan coupled with an occasional resemblance at times to the vocals of Daniel Meade. Without any detailed info re the makeup of the album we’d guess it’s in chronological order as there’s a definite sense of the songs, arrangements and production values becoming more sophisticated as the disc plays. There’s a delightful brashness on the opening Red City which is part bar room rocker, part folk punk sneer while Old Shoes On my Feet retains that sneer while also stepping into saloon sing-along territory. See My Baby Run and Too Broke To Die expand on this with the latter featuring some ferocious rockabilly like guitar while Leger snarls away.

Beating The Storm and Round Walls bring the temperature down with jangling guitars recalling the likes of Nikki Sudden and The Jacobites while Wrong Kind Of Girl captures some kind of Texas styled story telling but it’s on You Got Away From Me that Leger has a stylistic leap of sorts. Here he’s still recognisably the guy who sang Round Walls a few songs earlier but here the song is swathed in an excellent sound with washes of organ, malleted percussion and sly slide guitar. His Dylan side is highlighted on Den Of Sin while Pass The Time recalls Lloyd Cole and The Commotions and on You Really Got It So Bad he manages the difficult task of joining up the sensibilities of Phil Ochs with a Lennon like melancholia.

There’s perhaps too many comparisons going on here so let’s  just say that the live version of Drive Away Tonight has the making of a country classic in it with its eternal themes of driving and lost love (and it’s a fine example of what to expect from Leger in a live situation). Factory Made meanwhile is a fine example of a film noir trip into the loss of the American dream (although of course Leger is Canadian) and The Big Smoke Blues thrashes away but in a much slinkier switchblade style than the earlier rockers. Leger’s well into his stride by now and songs such as Another Dead Radio Star and Thing’s Are Changing ‘Round Here are probably best described as sounding like Jerry Leger. He’s a rock’n’roll romantic and a bit of a poet by now and the closing songs all reflect this. The album is an interesting (and very listenable) portrait of his artistic arc and, as we said above, if you want a hard copy, you need to get to one of the upcoming shows including one at Glasgow’s Hug & Pint in 14th April. All the tour dates are here.

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Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson with The Tennessee Valentines. Amour. Stony Plain Records

artworks-fhet2l1vadbq-0-t500x500Let’s cut to the chase here and say that Amour is an album any right minded fan of American roots music should buy. It’s up there with Ry Cooder in the reclamation stakes, old chestnuts revived and, not so much tidied up, but given a fresh wind in their sails and expertly performed. Amour is the brainchild of the renowned Canadian guitarist Colin Linden of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings and Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars (and son of the infamous Jim). Together they have chosen a ragbag of vintage love songs plucked from blues, country, soul and rock’n’roll and recorded them with an ace band – Fats Kaplin, Bryan Owings, Dominic Davis and Kevin McKendree – who they have dubbed The Tennessee Valentines. To cap it they also enrolled several singers (Ruby Amanfu, Sam Palladio, Jonathan Jackson, Rachel Davis and Billy Swan) to sing the songs. Linden and Dickinson play the guitars and what a swell job they do. Dickinson describes their work ethic thus. “Colin and I are fellow guitar slinging, peace loving, freedom fighting romantics who jump at any and every opportunity to play guitars together… we both plugged into a shared guitar amp and though you can hear the different guitars popping thru here and there, it’s hard to tell who is playing what.”

It’s that skin of the teeth and, shucks-let’s do the show right here, kind of attitude which permeates the album. There’s a warm and inviting and, let’s say it, old fashioned feel to it; loose limbed with echoes of Sun studios and Memphis wax woven throughout. It’s raw in parts but elsewhere they explore the sonic possibilities of their guitars as on the closing I Forgot To Remember To Forget where Linden and Dickinson are listed as playing “outer space!” The opening number, an instrumental version of Careless Love, is another opportunity for the pair to show off as Linden’s electric Dobro and Dickinson’s electric guitar slide and burn, recalling the spookiness of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night before the familiar melody eventually surfaces. It’s an excellent start (and one wouldn’t mind hearing a whole album in a similar vein guys, if you are reading this) but it’s only the launch pad for the garden of delights which follow.

Despite the roster of singers it’s Linden who takes the lead vocal on the gospel tinged Don’t Let Go with Rachel Davis and Ruby Amanfu backing him up. With slinky and fatback guitars squirreling away and throwing in blues licks towards the end it’s reminiscent of John Hiatt’s excellent Bring The Family. Jimmy Reed’s Honest I Do is next out the trap with Davis singing as the band lay down that familiar lazy Reed blues walk. Once more, much of the pleasure to be had is in the guitar interplay as the band inject some vigour into a song which can easily be mishandled. Davis is again the featured singer as the band tone it down for a sweet Dobro inflected  and vocal revisit of Careless Love, the song as sweet as honeysuckle, and they keep it toned down for the superb seven minute Muscle Shoals styled version of Kris Kristofferson’s For The Good Times which has Ruby Amanfu on vocals. Amanfu comes back for another deep slice of southern soul on the excellent version of What Am I Living For which features some of that guitar popping Dickinson mentioned earlier as the two players don  electric guitars and play a musical version of tic tac toe with each other.

Linden is the musical director for the TV show Nashville and he’s roped in some the stars to sing for him here. Sam Palladio sings the Ray Price classic Crazy Arms which is given a wonderfully woozy honky tonk ambience while Jonathan Jackson is the disembodied voice on the ambient I Forgot To Remember To Forget mentioned earlier. The star vocal performance however is from Billy Swan who sings the hit song he wrote way back in 1962 for Clyde McPhatter, Lover Please, and which is here performed as a zydeco number with Fats Kaplin on accordion. Meanwhile Linden and Dickinson get their own chance to shine on Bo Diddley’s Dearest Darling, the rawest song on the album. Linden sings the song as the pair scrub and flail, their guitars sounding primitive as hell.

Amour might not surprise but will definitely delight as these two connoisseurs turn in one of the most enjoyable albums of the year.

Buy Amour here

Emily Duff. Hallelujah Hello.

a3538025104_16Following on from her successful foray into southern music on Maybe In The Morning, New York’s Emily Duff returns to the famed Fame studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama for another bite at the apple. In comparison to its predecessor, the album has more of a soulful gospel groove although that southern grit still hits hard. We had mentioned the likes of Bonnie Bramlett in our review of Maybe In The Morning and that comparison still stands while a host of singers, characterised as “southern soul belles” on one disc in our collection also come to mind. Names such as Betty Lavette, Irma Thomas, Etta James and Doris Allen, women who really were the equals of Redding and Pickett but who were sidelined at the time. Anyhow, that’s the pool that Duff is diving into and she comes back to the surface with some pearls.

The album gets off to a roaring start with the blistering southern rock of the title song which is scythed by its slide guitars while the chorus, with Duff supported by three singers, is rousing. It’s the type of song one wished Dylan might have recorded if he had ever stumbled upon the Allmans’ back in his Christian days. Next up is the biblical jaunt of Get In The Water which is just superb in the manner of The Staple Singers and it’s The Staples who are recalled again on The Day He Walked which is funky as hell (if you are allowed to say that in regard to a somewhat spiritual song). The spiritual bent is pursued on You Better Believe which is a foray into deep southern soul territory with a billowing horn section and female chorus rising above a rock steady Muscle Shoals rhythm beat with Duff really letting loose on the vocals. Trust The Lord follows a similar path but it’s more restrained, not so much southern swamp as southern church but Duff releases the dogs on the rollicking boogie of We All Need Saving Sometime, using some non biblical language here and there.

There are some contemplative moments. Jesus Loved This Tired Woman is set in a similar fashion to Kris Kristofferson’s early songs with its sly Dobro backing while Heaven Is Where I’m Bound comes across like a modern day Carter Family. Our favourite song here however finds Duff delving into Bobbie Gentry territory on the superb Eggs All Day. Here she captures the languid small town mind set one imagines of the south which is delivered with a sublime country backing, pedal steel smiling away.

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Suzanne Jarvie. In The Clear. Wolfe Island Records

a3420829329_16It was back in 2015 when Suzanne Jarvie, a mother and lawyer, released an excellent debut album, Spiral Road. The album was a wonderful collection of songs which recalled the early releases of Emmylou Harris with Jarvie writing in the wake of her eldest son’s trauma after a serious fall. Despite having only dabbled in music up to that point the incident unleashed a song writing genie within her which led to the album and then on to successful concert dates, often in the company of fellow Wolfe Island denizens such as Hadley McCall Theakston and Hugh Christopher Brown who produced this album.

In The Clear, as the title might suggest, continues to find Jarvie writing in the aftermath of her son’s brain injury with several of the songs dealing with the aftermath although she avoids autobiography, preferring imagery and allusion. Thus, the gritty Point Blank with its glowering guitar and film noir hard-boiled lyrics, was written apparently in response to her son’s mood swings while Headless Rider finds her imagining her daughter’s sense of displacement as her sibling lies stricken. It’s a wonderful song which comes across almost like a Larry McMurtry story in song and verse, the hint at a familial connection really is only available to anyone with access to the PR notes but armed with this knowledge it makes sense. Aside from that it’s just a fabulous song which Jarvie delivers with a sublime and sweet country vibe as the band flow wonderfully; acoustic guitars, pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and keyboards all swarming together, Jarvie’s very own Hot Band.

For someone who professes to be relatively new at the game, Jarvie manages time and again to hit all the buttons. Her songs are crammed with words to the extent that they all read like short stories. Take for example You Shall Not Pass, another gritty number with soulful Hammond organ and southern stained guitar licks which comes across like an Appalachian version of Lord Of The Rings  and then there’s the dust bowl dirt stained The Core. Featuring the legendary Mickey Raphael on harmonica, The Core might be one of the best songs we’ve heard this year, certainly a song to rival the best of Gretchen Peters and her ilk. Jarvie reaches similar heights throughout the album. Martyoshka and One It Finds are somewhat muted with a slight hint of Joni Mitchell while the title song is perhaps the closest we get here to the Emmylou comparisons with its superb Dobro from Burke Carroll. Perhaps the nearest to autobiography is the delicate All In Place which has a tiptoeing mandolin rippling away as Jarvie sings “I can see you’re worried it’s alright, I’m worried too and I’ve been up all night, watching the wipers cross the glass, all the minutes thunder pass.” The words will reverberate with anyone who has been in waiting for news of a loved one but aside from that the song’s arrangement is just so good and the playing so excellent. Slightly bluegrass, slightly LA canyon, slightly perfect.

Jarvie’s muse may have been born from tragedy but, unleashed, it thrives and In The Clear is a magnificent collection of songs, perfectly sung and perfectly played.

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Pete Gow. Here There’s No Sirens. Clubhouse Records

cruk0046cd_cruk0046lpThe Pete Gow we’re acquainted with is the frontman of Case Hardin, an edgy bunch of UK country rockers. Here, on his first solo album, Gow turns in a collection of songs which are personal and introspective, the country Americana of Case Hardin replaced by muted tones and sweeping strings. His voice is stained and regretful throughout as he wanders through a set of songs which recall musically, Elton John back in his Tumbleweed days, and lyrically, Guy Clark. It’s beautifully recorded by producer Joe Bennett who also played many of the instruments you hear as well as arranging the strings and horns, Gow played the guitars and Fin Kenny drums and aside from that it’s all Bennett.

The opening song, One Last Night Stand, sets the tone for the remainder of the album as tentative piano and spare acoustic strumming introduce the number which then swells with strings, organ and a sturdy rhythm section as Gow almost croaks out this bleak recollection of a tryst doomed from the start. Mikaela follows in a similar fashion although the story here is less abstract as it posits the protagonists as a later day Bonnie & Clyde in the sense that they were destined for each other while there’s a slight mariachi touch to the horn arrangements. Bennett’s arrangements reach their pinnacle on the tremendous title song which again grows from its spare beginnings to include a majestic string section which spirals around Gow’s resigned voice. Here he’s bereft and alone it seems but there’s solace in music as the strains of The Pogues’ Rainy Night In Soho waft from a radio and distract him from his solipsism and indeed the song closes with a scuzzy snippet of that self same song.

It’s a gloomy album to be sure but that never harmed the likes of Leonard Cohen. So we get the halting and  bittersweet country influenced TV Re-Runs and the stripped back folk of I Will & I Do, the most straightforward song here and the one which most recalls those Texas Troubadours. Pretty Blue Flower is a lengthy dissection of a relationship teetering on the edge and with its winsome country stylings and closing violin contribution is somewhat remarkable. The lead single from the album, Strip For Me, finds Gow examining the alarming double standards which still abound these days as he references the now infamous Stormy Daniels while singing from the perspective of a powerful white male. Again, this is clothed in a wonderful arrangement, the song sweeping on with an excellent sense of resignation and ennui. Here There’s No Sirens might be miles removed from Case Hardin but it posits Gow as one of our best songwriters about these days.

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