Ronnie Costley. A Matter of time. EP

jcalb01815482Those of us somewhat long in the tooth may remember The Kissing Bandits and their lead singer, Ronnie Costley. The Bandits were majot players in Glasgow in the 80’s, playing a grand mix of garage rock, post punk and power pop with Costley a commanding presence on stage with a hint of Lux Interior present. Despite being signed to WEA, the Bandits never hit the big time and they went their separate ways with Costley locating to Ireland where he still lives. He continues to make music and Blabber’n’Smoke, alongside deejays such as Iain Anderson, were impressed by his album, Souvenirs & Scotch Mist, his recollections of growing up in the west of Scotland which came out a few years back.

Matter Of Time (as was Souvenirs & Scotch Mist) was recorded with many of Costley’s  compadres in the Glasgow music scene and here he offers us a countrified collection of four songs, all distinct from each other and all, in their own way, quite entrancing.

The EP opens with the title song as a zippy acoustic slide guitar glides into this rippling slice of upbeat jangled celebration. Costley here achieves the almost impossible task of recalling Gene Clark as he sings, “When rhyme and reason seem impossible to find and dreams are shackled to the past, you have to realise it’s just a state of mind and you can let it go, no need to make it last.” Allied to these Zen like words of wisdom is some fantastic playing as the song is buoyed along on a welter of acoustic guitars and banjo along with some whip smart electric guitar solos. No Money Coming In is a much simpler song which recalls the early work of Gerry Rafferty (especially on his debut album, Can I Have My Money Back) with Costley singing of the monetary woes of being a working musician. We were especially intrigued here by the opening farmyard birds squawking as a lonesome piano played some bars from Rally Round The Flag.

Away from the farmyard, Costley then launches into the eminently danceable Hey, You Want To Dance With Me which lurches magnificently with full-blown mariachi horns over groovy organ and licktastic guitar. It’s short, over almost before it begins, but it captures some of that joi de vivre which The Mavericks do so well, and if, god forbid, it gets out into the wild, could be the wedding song of next year. It’s a pity there’s only four songs here but the last one certainly leaves the listener with some puzzlement. How’s The World Treating You is an odd conglomeration of tin pan alley, syrupy country and gonzo rock with a dash of The Kinks thrown in. Aside from Costley’s acute capture of a lonesome drunk there’s creamy pedal steel guitar buttering his lyrics along with a demented guitar solo midway which is allied to a heavenly chorus. Odd indeed but strangely addictive.

Matter Of Time is available here.

 

 

Libby Koch. Redemption 10 – Live At Blue Rock. Berkalin Records

redemption-10-album-coverWhenever she tours here in the UK, Texan singer songwriter Libby Koch is greeted with enthusiasm by the select band of followers who know of her. Live, she’s a treasure – warm and friendly, slightly sassy and with real red dirt roots – while her song writing is not to be sniffed at. Much of this is captured on Redemption 10, a live album (recorded in Blue Rock studios with an invited audience) which is essentially a remake of her first album recorded 10 years ago when she was still working as an attorney at a law firm in Houston. That album was a tentative toe in the water moment for Koch who has now released four studio albums, and while it might be egging the pudding to say it was a Damascene moment for her, its reception led to her swapping the courts for a life on the road.

Redemption was a stripped back affair, Koch, her guitar and harmonica, that’s all. Here, with a five-piece band behind her, it’s instructive to compare the discs. On the debut the songs sing out but Koch is somewhat restrained whereas here her voice has filled out and swings with her Texan accent, listen to way she now manages the undulations of How Long with a consummate ease as opposed to her more formal studio recording. Meanwhile the addition of the band gives the songs a great lift, a Technicolor scheme as opposed to the monochromatic original.

Opening with the sweet pedal steel and fiddle laced Houston, Koch sweeps through the album with aplomb. Just The Way has a Dylan (circa Desire) arrangement to it and Can’t Complain, a hardscrabble tale of red dirt living is quite magnificent, a song to rival many of Koch’s more famous peers and it’s followed by another excellent song, Redemption.

Time here to mention the stellar playing on fiddle by Javier Chaparo, guitar from Bill Browder and pedal steel wizard Patterson Barrett, all three concocting a swinging and smooth country rock backing. Barrett gets behind the piano for a raucous delivery of Down, unrecognisable from its parent album as Koch comes across as feisty as Linda Gail Lewis. Closing the album (as on the original) with Johnny Cash’s I Still Miss Someone, Koch and the band sound superb, leaving one wishing that someday Ms. Koch might be able to bring such a line up over here. In the meantime, the album’s an essential addition to any Koch fan’s library.

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Hope In High Water. Bonfire & Pine. Fish Records

430_5d68ea4159895This second album from Hope In High Water (who amusingly describe their music as “Mountain music from the flatlands of Milton Keynes”) expands somewhat on the simpler guitar and banjo songs which populated their debut from a few years back. Josh Chandler Morris’s guitar and Carly Slade’s banjo are aided and abetted by Luke Yates on violin and percussion with Darren Camp on drums but the primary difference is that the pair have dug deeper into the well of American music. There’s more soul and grit in these grooves, not in an old fashioned R’n’B sense but picking up on vibes cast by the likes of The Band and old folk hands such as Karen Dalton.

The Band come to mind on the opening song, Healed, a song heralded by Morris singing, “Started to feel comfort in my own skin, it took a healthy dose of psilocybin” over a fine and syrupy rootsy rhythm which could have come from an album such as Cahoots. Slade then takes the driver’s seat on the banjo led It’s Over Now proving that she has some grand vocal chops which have a hint of Maria Muldaur to them. The song rolls along in fine style with its old time, almost music hall, sing-along chorus bound to be a live favourite, somewhat at odds with its subject matter which concerns surviving childhood abuse, meanwhile, an accordion allows the song to have a slight anglicised whiff to it in the manner of Richard Thompson.

While not wanting to set the pair to feuding, it’s Slade one looks forward to hearing as the album moves along. Morris has an attractive strained husk to his singing and the pair do fantastic harmonies as on the title song. However, Slade excels on several numbers. She returns to the subject of abuse on Stronger Than You Know, a much starker number than It’s Over Now, with her voice dredged from the depths while her plaintive banjo has the air of Greil Marcus’s old weird America. She gets weirder (in a good way) on the haunting Alone, a song which is worth the price of the ticket in itself as the band throw in some excellent dark folk stylings, while Something Unnamed has the unadorned simplicity which characterises the best of American folk music.  Overall, very nice.

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Vetiver. Up On High. Loose Music

vetiver_uponhigh_1500-loresAlthough they were linked in with that brief “new weird folk” movement of the noughties, Vetiver were always a much more straightforward concern than the likes of Devandra Barnhart. Their albums feature “nice” melodic folk songs which, at times, rock slightly, and so it is here on their seventh album, their debut on Loose Music here in the UK.

Up On High is mellow for the most part. An album to relax with as Andy Cabic’s slightly hushed voice wafts over lightly strummed guitars, the songs sweetly embellished with delicate washes of organ and pedal steel. There’s a sense of the past about it, not overtly nostalgic nor in tribute to anything in particular but the soft rock sounds of the likes of Bread along with the more harmonic psych pop bands of the sixties come to mind. This is most apparent on the title song which does kick off sounding as if it’s The Turtles prepping You Showed Me before Cabic veers off into a magnificent halting dreamlike confection. The closing moments here are just astounding.

There’s more of this blissful ennui on To Who Knows Where, another fluffy pillow of a song and on A Door Shuts Quick with its light footed guitar while Filigree (an apt title) ripples along with the freshness of a mountain stream. The good old Grateful Dead, circa ’72, are hinted at in the opening song, The Living End, while Swaying positively bursts with a sunburst jangled guitar exuberance. It’s unfortunate that there’s a slightly clumsy attempt at funk midway through the disc on Hold Tight as Cabic doesn’t have the vocal heft to carry this off but all is forgiven by the time the closing Lost (In Your Eyes) rolls along as it’s another dream like invocation to surrender to Cabic’s voice and the sumptuous playing.

Vetiver set off on a UK tour in December including shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow, all dates here.

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David Latto. Show Me How To Feel

a1394778543_16It was back in 2014 that Blabber’n’Smoke last encountered David latto when we reviewed his band’s last EP. The David Latto Band were up and coming in the UK Americana scene with a fine album already under their belt but soon after, Latto kind of disappeared. According to the man, he had hit some kind of creative wall which led to him taking a couple of years out. Working away from the music scene for a couple of years, he was eventually tempted to dip his toes in the water again with a brace of new songs which veered away from the alt country he was known for, being of a more personal songwriter persuasion.

Re-establishing his presence via live gigging over the past two years, Latto now has the first fruits of his recent labours on show in this five song EP. It’s a polished affair, sometime a bit too polished for ears more accustomed to a rootsier approach but there’s no denying Latto’s songwriting skills and his warm honeyed voice. He opens with the title song, a shimmering confection of jangling guitars which strays a little bit too far into pop territory for this reviewer with its soaring chorus, although a close listen to the words reveals a song which is packed with emotional pain and, at times, despair as Latto sings of being, “A dead man walking.” We’re much more comfortable with the pedal steel layered lament of Blood & Whiskey and the feather light tones of Haunt Me which features some excellent percussion. Better Ways avoids the pitfalls of the opening song although sharing many of its sentiments. There’s some gritty guitar midway and the polished finish does just what it’s supposed to do, showcase an excellent song. Losing You closes the disc with a flourish as Latto, still somewhat despairing, harnesses the full power of his musicians and Mally Smith’s excellent backing vocals on a song which builds to a grand climax with a powerful percussive drive and soaring electric guitar. It’s a song which strives for greatness and, with its hints of Prefab Sprout and even U2, it could achieve that if it got onto enough radio playlists. All in all, a welcome return for this songwriter from Fife.

Show Me How To Feel was released at the end of October but there’s a live launch gig next Saturday, 30th November, at Brig Below in Edinburgh with vinyl copies of the EP on sale. Details here.

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Jerry Leger. Time Out For Tomorrow. Latent Recordings

jerry-leger-time-out-for-tomorrow-album-cover-1024x1024Hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed retrospective collection, Too Broke To Die, compiled for the European market in view of his increasing popularity on this side of the pond, Jerry Leger excels on Time Out For Tomorrow. Harnessing his romantic troubadour persona to a mercurial band sound replete with sweeping organ and quicksilver guitars, Leger hits the bulls eye on each of the ten songs here.

Time Out For Tomorrow runs the gamut of classic Americana styled music. His band, The Situation, are quite superb throughout while the production (Mike Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies) captures every nuance. Consider the contrast between the opening Canvas Of Gold, a grand song borne aloft on swathes of slide guitar, and the crepuscular doings, singing saws and Romany guitar and fiddle on the dark ballad Survived Like A Stone. Both jump out at the listener allowing one to consider Leger equally adept at brash rock’n’roll and introspective meanderings. The album as a whole leans towards the former but when Leger turns inwards he offers us the glorious I Would, a glistening jewel of a song which floats over a simple country rock backbone with glowering guitar shadowing Leger’s achingly romantic lyrics. He takes to piano for another heartache on That Ain’t Here which is simply majestic. The song, so simple yet so memorable, has the tang of classic writers such as Lennon or John Hiatt.

There’s an undeniable whiff of classic rock throughout the album as Leger dips into the past to flavour his songs. Justine chimes perfectly with a mid sixties vibe, a conglomeration of visionary Dylan with sparks flying from guitar and organ as if Bloomfield and Kooper were sparring in the studio. Read Between The Lines rattles along as Leger testifies with an anguished passion over an excellent mash up of tin pan alley melodrama and a hip Chuck Prophet like insouciance. This potpourri allows Leger to deliver songs like Burchell Lake, a faded portrait of a once thriving community featuring snakelike slide guitar, along with, what is possibly the best example of the band’s mastery of dynamite dynamics here, the bustling romance of Corner Light, a song to savour. Leger closes the album with the sweet country rock themed Tomorrow In My Mind which has echoes of John Hartford woven within it. A lovely close to a great album.

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Nels Andrews. Pigeon And The Crow.

a0088076799_16If you were lucky enough to have caught Nels Andrews on his recent UK tour, you’ll know that the gentle and wonderfully crafted narratives from albums such as Off Track Betting and Scrimshaw are true reflections of the man. That he was able to offer up his rhapsodies on nature and life in a solo setting, without the songs’ studio trappings, allowed them to shine just that little bit brighter.

Andrews was promoting his latest album, Pigeon And The Crow, a worthy successor to the magnificent Scrimshaw. Indeed the opening song here is called Scrimshaw and it sets the tone for much of what is to follow. Set to a wonderfully hazy and lazy beat with shuffling percussion, wheezy accordion, gliding guitars and fiddle, the song finds Andrews settling into his new home in Santa Cruz as he investigates the sights and sounds and explores its past. It’s an exemplary song with all the parts fitting together like a jigsaw without seams while there’s a slight Celtic touch which becomes more apparent as the album progresses. Recorded mainly in LA, there are contributions from across the globe with various friends such as Anais Mitchell and A.J. Roach joining in while it was produced by Nuala Kennedy.

There’s a hauntingly hypnotic quality to much of the album. The Celtic airs of Memory Compass and the title song remind one of Van Morrison’s more Hibernian moments as on Veedon Fleece while there are elements of Paul Simon to be heard on Holy Water and Embassy To The Airport. Andrews however transcends any such comparisons as he forges on to deliver the exquisite and poignant Eastern Poison Oak, a slow country waltz with delicate fiddle and mandolin, and the elegantly faded memories of Welterweight which almost weeps from the speakers. There’s a pleasant surprise at the end as an unlisted song  (Candidates Handshake) returns to the glories of the opening track

There are a couple of songs which don’t quite achieve the heights of their compatriots. South Of San Gregorio has a touch of the tropics to it courtesy of steel drums and Table By The Kitchen ditches much of the haunting qualities apparent elsewhere for a more straightforward radio friendly folk rock sound. These are however minor blemishes on an album which manages to transport the listener to a gentler world.

The album is dedicated to the memory of John (Biscuits & Gravy) Davy. A Scottish music fan, writer, and host to house concerts in the wilderness of Scoraig, he died last year. Davy was an early fan of Andrews and it’s a nice touch that he’s remembered here.

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