Carly Dow. Comet

cd_cover_concepts_presentation_final28129Carly Dow is a Canadian banjo player who first came to attention internationally in 2015 with her debut album, Ingrained.  On Comet, her second album, the banjo remains her primary instrument while she adds acoustic and electric guitar, along with piano, to her musical arsenal. More to the point, a fine array of musicians flesh the sound out, the songs here approaching soft rock at times although for the most part they are probably best described as folk rock.

Affairs kick off in a fine manner with an excellent brace of songs opening the album. Brightest Time Of Year has Dow’s clawhammer banjo picking surrounded by eastern sounding strings and evocative percussion adding an exotic air while pedal steel and electric guitar float throughout. The overall sense is evocative of Joni Mitchell and early Fairport Convention. Next, there’s the slight country thump of Sunlight Remembers with some Dobro snaking throughout while the title song is a pulsating radio friendly number with bass and drums gently driving the song along. Tiger’s Eye finds Dow back on banjo for the rootsiest track so far on a song which seems to be about finding a wild inner self. With shovelling percussion and Matt Filopoulos adding some magnificently skewed bursts of guitar, this is quite fiery and reminiscent of some of the work from that esteemed quartet of female banjo players, Our Native Daughters.

Next up there’s a trio of songs which sound somewhat diluted in comparison to those above. Dreaming Of You and the following Like Coyotes veer dangerously close to the radio friendly rock of Fleetwood Mac. They are excellently played and sung and there’s a sublime guitar solo on the latter.  Meanwhile, on Something Lost, the banjo and strings seems ill suited to each other. However, the album coasts to a fine end beginning with the breezy accordion laced lilt of Cut & Run which gives way to the moody Too Bright with its reverberating guitars and heady electric solo. Throughout the album, Dow uses allusions and metaphor to describe various relationships and the closing Constellations is no different. Her lonesome banjo picks out the opening before a sweet pedal steel creeps in as Dow faces her fears and eventually ends up howling at the moon and stars.

Overall, Comet is an album which sounds excellent, the playing and production well above par. In addition, and although they don’t sound alike, it’s an album which fans of mid 70s Joni Mitchell might find quite intriguing.

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Old Man Luedecke. Easy Money. True North Records

1b4e24aa191bd5f5b454cb5257d8488fThis latest album from Canada’s banjo playing folkster Old Man Luedecke is a deceptively sunny listen. Written mainly at a songwriter residency in the mountain resort of Banff in Alberta, the album, perversely, has a Caribbean feel to it with several songs using calypso rythyms while some of it slides down with the ease of a Pina Colada sipped to the strains of a Jimmy Buffet “yacht rock” classic. With a crack band behind him (including Fats Kaplan and Tim O’Brien),  Luedecke pilots a skilful course through his tropical sounds recalling similar ventures from the likes of Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal.

Skipping through some light hearted songs such as his ode to sardines and the mock piratical shanty song Money Pit, Luedecke addresses issues such as leaving his family behind as he goes on the road to earn a buck. Indeed, the album opens with his daughters asking him why he has to go away before he launches into the wishful rhapsody, Easy Money. This is followed by Dad Jokes, a delightful ditty on the perils of middle age which is delivered somewhat like Michael Hurley delving into the kiddie rap of 3 Is A magic Number while How Do I Deserve Your Love is  a bustling shuffle of banjo and  skiffle like rythym section. Lonely County and I Wanna Go meanwhile are more straightforward  bluegrass like numbers with a hint of The Carter Family and latter country rock in the grooves.

Dipping into tradition, Luedecke offers us a fine old seafaring ballad on The Mermaid which reeks of Greenwich Village earnestness and then launches into a French lyric version of Dylan’s Hard Rain, called here Le Ciel Est Noir which was a hit for Nana Mouskouri back in the seventies. Towering over the other songs however is one which Luedecke has written following the death of his father. Death Of Truth, in comparison to the rest of the album, is sombre, with a martial drum beat and mournful organ, Luedecke  sounding like Leonard Cohen at times as he says farewell to a man who would have been appalled by the current state of affairs and in particular, the spread of fake news.

Easy Money is an album you could play to entertain your guests as you fire up a barbeque but on closer listening it’s a finely crafted and intriguing listen.

Old Man Luedecke is currently touring the UK and Europe, all dates here.

Rod Picott. Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil. Welding Rod Records

fullrescoverRod Picott has carved himself a career, a stellar series of albums and consistent touring finally allowing him to give up his day job as a sheetrock hanger. Tagged as a “blue collar” storyteller he has recently branched out into the world of literature publishing his poetry and a book of short stories but he was almost derailed last year following a major health scare. He survived, thankfully, but that brush with mortality gave him pause for thought leading to this, his most stripped back and personal album so far. Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil is not solely about his illness but, as he says in his liner notes, “Confronting mortality, I asked myself a few questions. Who am I? Who have I been?” Some of the songs try to answer these questions, others delve into his past and a few are simply just excellent examples of his song writing as Picott bares his soul on what is a magnificent record.

The album opens and closes with a short rumble of thunder, a portent of doom perhaps, but otherwise it’s unadorned, just Picott, at home with a guitar and a harmonica laying down his truth. The opening song, Ghost, sets the scene as he posits himself as an invisible entity whom no one can hear, trapped in an existential quandary. A 38 Special & A Hermes Purse, a song Picott says was directly related to his heart problem, is a dark meditation on the will to live and the demons who can persuade one to end it all. A Guilty Man is a confessional, past behaviour alienating those around him leading to a lonesome life, although there is a chance of absolution.

These dark and intimate songs are surrounded by some spectacular notes on family memories which are unveiled with the authority of a writer such as Steinbeck as Picott recalls his father bailing out a flooded basement or putting on his Sunday best to go to church. On Mama’s Boy he sets out his family’s boxing heritage, makeshift rings for the kids to scrap in and then watching the likes of Clay and Liston on the family TV, the song becoming a meditation on masculinity as Picott sings, “Gonna turn that boy into a man.Mark is based on a memory of a high school friend who killed himself which Picott sees as a turning point from childhood to the cold reality of grown up life, his sixties benchmarks, Kennedy, The Beatles turning to dust. The song recalls Hunter S Thompson’s famous line on the death of sixties optimism, “You can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

On a wider plane, Picott has a riposte to the “glamorisation” of working class life on A Beautiful Light (co-written with Ben de la Cour), paints a gritty portrait of the dingy life of a bar band on Spartan Hotel and tries to summon up an angel for his demons on Folds Of Your Dress. Too Much Rain meanwhile is a murder ballad which is informed by his recent immersion in gritty southern fiction.

Packed with excellent songs and expertly mixed from Picott’s raw tapes by Neilson Hubbard, Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil is likely to be compared to the likes of Springsteen’s Nebraska due to its stripped down nature. It’s more than that however. It’s the sound of a master craftsman who has supped with his devil and lived to tell the tale.

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Tenement & Temple. Tenement & Temple. Thrum Recordings

a0680655913_16It’s been a while in the coming but this debut album from Tenement & Temple, the latest incarnation of Glasgow’s Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie, has been well worth the wait. Queen, in case anyone reading this doesn’t already know, has a voice to die for. There’s a compelling sense of innocence in her crystal clear delivery and it’s always tempting to describe her singing as angelic although she can belt out a rocker as evidenced on her and Smillie’s earlier recordings as Thrum. Smillie meanwhile, aside from being a superb guitarist, is a maestro in the studio as his lengthy list of production and arrangement credits will attest to.

While the pair have continued to buckle on the Les Paul’s and deliver the pulverising Crazy Horse like sturm und drang of Thrum on occasions,  it’s been the subtler (and quieter) acoustic duo format which has been the mainstay of their live appearances over the past few years. Blabber’n’Smoke witnessed an early incarnation when the pair opened for Steve Earle in what was the first of the Summer Nights shows in Kelvingrove around five years ago and then a proper Tenement & Temple gig at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival in 2016.  Superb as these shows were, they didn’t prepare one for the delights to be found within this disc.

Although it’s tempting to describe the album as mellow, there’s so much more to it than that. Gathering elements of country, classic sixties orchestral pop and swooning tin pan alley, it’s a gorgeous listen. Smillie keeps to acoustic guitar for the most part while Queen’s majestic vocals are occasionally enveloped in ethereal harmonies while the songs are wafted on a pillow of outstanding arrangements, some dreamlike, many evocative while remaining firmly within the Temple & Tenement universe, such is their unique calling card.

The album opens with the plaintive lament of Loving Arms with Queen summoning something of the spirit of the McGarrigle sisters over Smillie’s teardrop guitars. I Know adds some keening electric guitar to the mix as Queen’s spoken words counterpoint the angst fuelled desperation in her spiralling vocals on a song which comes across like an intense French torch song. Meanwhile, Your Sweet Face  is a hypnotic swirl of cartoon Disney like innocence replete with shimmering guitars and star spangled percussion and It’s Been A While Lord is a shimmering song of devotion. Smillie’s skills are all too evident on the short but effective 10 More Years which marries Nashville misery and French chanson alongside a whiff of lee Hazlewood while the excellent Ripa finds the duo in a Latin mood transporting the listener to sunnier climes.

They close the album with a magnificent triple whammy. One Room House is an archetypal tear jerker with Queen doing a Tammy Wynette like spoken word part as Smillie works his wonders on the arrangement which is quite sublime. Where The Wild Roses Grow allows Queen the opportunity to wallow magnificently in the depths of Appalachian doom and gloom before they close the disc on a collaboration with Glasgow’s Strange Blue Dreams on what is possibly the best ever rendition of Blue Moon that we have heard. Taking Presley’s version as a template they usher the song into a twilight zone of phantom guitars as Queen’s voice quivers oh so brilliantly. If David Lynch were to hear this, he’d probably have an orgasm.

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Fernando Viciconte. Traitors Table. Fluff & Gravy Records

cd_traitors-tableNow living in Portland, Oregon, Fernando Viciconte was born in Argentina but moved with his family to LA at an early age. In his teens he played the local LA scene in a band called Monkey Paw before launching a solo career in the mid 1990s. With a series of critically acclaimed albums under his belt he released what many consider to be a highpoint, Leave The Radio On, in 2010 with contributions from the likes of Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey and  members of Richmond Fontaine. Dogged by ill health for several years, nevertheless Viciconte toured the UK and Ireland on several occasions a few years back, receiving rave notices and building up a fan base here. Traitors Table, a much more stripped back affair than Leave The Radio On, is sure to build on the goodwill and affection gained  on those tours, its surefooted mix of garage rock, psychedelia and power pop driving an album brimful of anger.

Like Alejandro Escovedo, Viciconte is an immigrant in the US and of course, in this day and age that’s not a comfortable position. While Escovido used an entire album to address this, Viciconte dots his thoughts here and there throughout Traitor’s Table but when he tackles it it’s with a sense of bile and fury. He goes for the jugular from the start with the galloping bass and drums of Division Lines, a song which screams of injustice and berates the powers that be who see unity as a crime and seek to divide us. As Viciconte sneers the words the enemy he reminds one of Joe Strummer who would also sneer at the NME while the vicious descending melody recalls some of Syd Barrett’s work with Pink Floyd such as on Vegetable Man and Interstellar Overdrive. No Deal rumbles into view with an attitude. To a sluggish, almost power trio workout backing Viciconte gets all apocalyptic on us singing about eliminating the candidate – “He’s not real,” as, “Armies are gathering serving a wicked king, so kneel.” Sung from the perspective of a sniper who, in an act of murder, is actually serving good, this is powerful stuff. On a more personal note, Viciconte delves into his own history as an immigrant on I Don’t Know with the telling lines, “I was brought here as a child By no fault of my own I was warned to keep my mouth shut So no one could ever know I couldn’t speak the language So I started to sing. I guess that I needed the attention And all the love that it brings.” Fittingly, he delivers this  as if he were fronting The Psychedelic Furs, one of the bands presumably who caught his attention when he began his musical career.

Finally, Viciconte closes the album with Turned Away, initially a straightforward acoustic guitar based ballad, the lines, “Are you hearing voices that whisper in your ear? Are you waiting for the chance to make them disappear?” are chillingly reminiscent of pogroms over the centuries. Mid way through, the song erupts in a chaos of squalling electric guitars and feedback, an aural equivalent of Max Ernst’s painting, Europe After The Rain.

Reining in the terror, Viciconte allows the album some prettier moments, reminding one that he is a master of melody. There are echoes of The Beatles on The Company  and on Is This Normal, the former a loveable piano led jaunt, the latter much more psychedelic in a Tomorrow Never Knows way, amplified by the insertion of vintage reportage of an “ordinary” housewife taking LSD for a research study in the black and white 1950s. Quite astounding.  Next up there’s the pumping power pop of The Longest Wait , an exquisite love song regarding a pair dreaming of the good life in Hey Darlene and then a pair of  dreamlike acoustic meanderings in These Are The Days and Thirsty Man, both quite intoxicating.

Recorded by Viciconte and his long time buddy, Luther Russell in a shack on a four-track recorder in a week long burst of activity, Traitors Table is an audacious album. An iron glove in a velvet fist, it draws you in as it daintily displays its melodies and then hits you with some fearsome realities. Definitely an album to have.

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Jeb Loy Nichols & The Westwood All-Stars. June Is Short, July Is Long

22743ef8923c6dde838b8a26672a83b6“Ready now? Just keep it simple.” So says Jeb Loy Nichols to his band on the very brief opening Intro to June Is Short, July Is Long, an album which is a sun dappled slice of blue eyed soul and a balm to the ears. Nichols, a southern American expat who has made his home in the rolling hills of Wales, certainly believes in this mantra. There are no bells and whistles on the 11 songs gathered here as they were originally recorded as demos by him and his local band of All-Stars, all local Welsh chaps. Listening back to the songs, Nichols realised they were perfect just as they were and so, with some horn section overdubs added, here they are for our delectation.

While Nichols has had a longstanding association with UK reggae and dub his first love was soul music from the southern American states and many of the songs here reflect this. However he works from a broad palette and as such the album throws up comparisons to artists such as The Rascals, Ry Cooder, The Meters and Ben Sidran. Ultimately, the groove is the essence as the band, keeping it simple, vary from laid back funk, jazzy licks and blissful country vibes as Nichols’ engagingly wearied voice slips comfortably into the songs.

Mellow is the watchword as the album slips along. You Got It Wrong opens with a slight rumble before settling into a classy, almost lounge like, horn fuelled slice of soul adorned with a female chorus. Think I’m Going To Fall In Love Today is funkier in a honeysuckle sort of way sounding like a deep soul cut from the early sixties while Matter Of Fact is stripped down somewhat reminding one of Curtis Mayfield’s work with The Impressions. There are some more energetic moments here as on Last Train Home which rides on a zippy rhythm guitar riff while Black Rooster has the sort of loose limbed blend of funk and country exemplified by Little Feat. Best of all is the excellent How Can A Man (Live Without his Mother). Set to a lonesome harmonica wailing over a shimmering wave of guitar and percussion it’s a song which could easily have sat on a Ry Cooder album. Simply superb.

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David Banks. Until The End. Little Red Recording Co.

a2418294322_16David Banks was a member of The Whybirds who flew the flag for UK Americana until they called it a day in 2017. A band composed of talented writers and singers, it was only to be expected that we’d hear more from the members and drummer, Luke Tuchscherer, was first out of the traps with three excellent albums to his name. Now, Banks steps up to the plate with an album engorged with glorious guitar flourishes which straddles the chiming world of power pop and gliding country rock. With Tuchscherer in the drum seat, Banks and producer David Corney provide the myriad guitars, keyboards, mandolin and Dobro, the trio sounding much larger than one would expect.

Someone To Lean On launches the album with a joyous rush of guitar charged rock which has the energy and immediate rush of Tom Petty’s American Girl and it’s Petty along with other stalwarts such as Big Star who are brought to mind as the disc plays on. Call Me Up has big brash chords and California harmonies while I Think I’m Gonna Be OK buzzes with the energetic fizz which characterised the Long Ryders in their heyday. Putting the flash bang wallop to one side there are some mellower numbers including Apologies From Sun St. and You Never Knew, both in the vein of Big Star’s Thirteen while The Best Of Me is the best Eagles song never recorded by the Eagles (back in the days when Jackson Browne was writing their hits).

It’s easy to toss around all these names and while the influences are undoubtedly, there Banks is no mere copyist. He captures the sounds and, importantly, the vibrancy, which informs the artists we’ve mentioned and pours out some grand songs, much in the way that Bennett Wilson Poole did last year. Have a listen to the closing title song and see if you are not bowled over.

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