Bruce Cockburn. Greatest Hits (1970-2020). True North Records.

To be perfectly honest, we here at Blabber’n’Smoke were never too aware of Canadian Cockburn until we heard his 2017 album Bone On Bone which is an excellent set of mature and wise songs hewn from folk and blues. The album surprised us as what we had heard of Cockburn previously was his more radio friendly oriented rock from the 1980s where he came across as kind of a fellow traveller to Jackson Browne – similar political views – but Cockburn’s songs weren’t in the same class.

Greatest Hits (1970-2020) is a handy Cockburn companion then for those, like us, who haven’t delved into the man’s back catalogue. Cockburn has chosen the 30 songs (plucked from around 34 albums) himself and they are arranged in chronological order. Oddly, there are only five songs from this century, which is a pity as the elder Cockburn is much more to our taste than the young folkie of the 1970s and the AOR rocker of the 80s. Anyhow, the two discs serve to portray his journey pretty well, both in song and in the accompanying booklet which features portrait pics of him ranging from Warren Zevon lookalike to ear bejewelled new waver and finally the sage elder he now is. The collection also allows Cockburn to demonstrate his early (and longstanding) commitment to topics such as indigenous rights and environmental concerns for which he has been justly recognised receiving several honorary doctorates and honours while, musically, he is the recipient of 13 Juno awards.

The young Cockburn greets us with winsome folk songs (Going To The Country and One Day I Walk) and the Beatles like piano song Musical Friends, all from 1970-71 before heading into the blues on Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long, originally released in 1973 but delivered here as a live performance from 1987. For the remainder of the 70s he’s in troubadour mode, culminating in the mild calypso of Wondering Where The Lions Are but 1980s’ Tokyo introduces a fuller band sound which becomes increasingly slicker as the years progress with The Trouble With Normal featuring unfortunate (fashionable at the time) Fairlight programming. A pity as powerful songs such as If I Had A Rocket Launcher are diluted by the 80s production.

Things look up when T Bone Burnett gets into the producer’s chair in 1990 with Listen For The Laugh given a contemporaneous Dylan like rock’n’roll rumble but it’s another producer, Colin Linden, himself a prodigious Juno Award winner, who seems to have brought out the best of Cockburn over the past two decades. Night Train is an excellent song with Rob Wasserman’s elastic bass reminding one of Joni Mitchell’s forays into folk jazz and Last Night Of The World finds Cockburn almost returning to his roots although now more weathered and more wise. The final seven songs are the Cockburn we discovered via Bone On Bone, a man grown into his songs, somewhat akin to Nick Lowe or John Hiatt, two men who just get more magisterial as they carry on.

Despite our misgivings about the 80s sojourn, Greatest Hits is an impressive introduction to Cockburn’s music, however, we’d recommend that any deeper delve begins with the latter albums. You won’t be disappointed.

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Michael Hurley. The Time Of The Foxgloves. No Quarter Records

Approaching his 80th turn around the sun, Michael Hurley shows no sign of letting up on this latest release, billed as less lo-fi than his usual recordings. If that’s the case it’s more to do with him having more folk than usual involved – Gil Landry makes an appearance on several songs – as the overall feel here remains that of Hurley messing around wonderfully in folk and blues and country, all indelibly stamped with his unique personality. One listen to the enchanting rendition of Se Fue En La Noche allows that this nocturnal ramble, replete with cooing background singers, laidback rusty guitar and knockabout percussion, could easily have appeared on any number of Hurley’s 60s or 70s (or 80s, 90s and 21st century) albums. It’s essentially him, the essence.

There’s actually nothing here which wouldn’t fit on an earlier album but that’s not to say that Hurley is resting on his laurels. He’s always recycled songs (Love Is The Closest Thing here is a new version of The Time Is Right from Ida Con Snock) and, in the main, he’s always breathed new life into them. The majority of the songs here are new examples of Hurley doing what he does best. That is, being Michael Hurley.

Fans will need no encouragement to buy this album but, if you are unfamiliar with Hurley, prepare to delve into songs which sound as old as the hills, have a peculiar presence to them and which root around in the best of American roots music over the last century. At the centre of the album is an instrumental, Knocko The Monk which features just banjo and pump organ and which paints a picture so evocative of an American past – equally sepia toned and wide screen cinematic – that it transports you into your own favourite old time American movie. It’s followed by what is perhaps the best song on show here, Jacob’s Ladder. A bass clarinet and xylophone, along with Josephine Foster’s rhapsodies, accompany Hurley in this magnificent and somewhat wonky front porch Gospel song which should surely be included with every Flannery O’Connor book.

The album opens with Hurley in classic Hurley form on the easy going folk blues of Are You Here For The Festival which, with its addition of fiddle, bass and banjo to Hurley’s captivating guitar and vocal does add some gloss. Alabama, written by The Louvin Brothers, sounds older than the brothers would be these days and another cover, Boulevard (written by Rob Keller) finds Hurley returning to the band sound he had on Snockgrass while Blondes And Redheads and Little Blue River feature Hurley on vintage keyboards (an area he explored on Blue Hills). The album ends with a new version of Lush Green Trees (originally on Wolfways) which is accorded a fuller arrangement and, as we’ve noted throughout, is an example of classic, revisited, updated and also timeless Hurley. On The Time Of The Foxgloves, Michael Hurley just proves, once more, that there is only one Michael Hurley and for that we should be grateful.

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Matt Patershuk. An Honest Effort. Black Hen Music

If you’re looking for someone to write you a fantastic song about a horse, then look to Matt Patershuk. The Canadian singer/songwriter seems to have a weird predilection for songs about our equine buddies as witnessed on past albums and An Honest Effort adds another two to the list. Horses however are but one element in his bag as this album allows him to deliver a fantastic set of wonderfully warm and laid back songs which range in subject from downtrodden women, the aimless flight of a bullet, Shane McGowan’s dentures and the laws of thermodynamics.

As on its predecessor, If Wishes Were Horses (see, we told you so), Patershuk’s songs here are ably recorded by Steve Dawson who produces and plays guitar and pedal steel while Fats Kaplin offers sublime banjo, fiddle, ukulele and harmonica. Gary Craig and Jeremy Holmes are the subtlest of rhythm sections and Keri Latimer adds harmonies to Patershuk’s handsome voice on several selections. The overall feel of the album is somewhat restrained, the songs allowed to find their own level which, in the main, is immensely relaxed, an album to be savoured late at night, an unwinding of sorts as Patershuk beguiles you with his (sometimes tall) tales.

We’ll kick off with those horsey songs. Jupiter The Flying Horse is a Jerry Jeff Walker like number which incorporates the whimsical style of The Handsome Family. It’s a grand song but it’s beaten to the post by the extraordinary tale of Clever Hans, a true story about an early 20th Century attraction, a horse who could calculate, add and subtract and whatnot. It was, of course, a con, but Patershuk allows the colt some dignity as he tells the tale with Dawson adding sly guitar much in the manner of Ry Cooder on an early Randy Newman song. Staying within a realm of weird humour, Patershuk postulates that Shane MacGowan’s new dentures can pick up radio signals and, in a fine front porch manner, kind of like Steven Hawking hawking tobacco and playing banjo as he lectures to a bunch of locals, on The 2nd Law Of Thermodynamics, Patershuk explains that the universe tends to disorder.

Aside from the whimsy, a brace of songs are more down to earth and occasionally quite dark. The opening track, Johanna, a song dipped in molasses, has the heroine casting off her shackles to embrace a new life. Trepidatious to be sure but full of hope. Sunny, another song about a woman trapped, is more vague. She’s one of those abused women, the sort who feature in Willy Vlautin’s song stories, and Patershuck brings her to life with brushstrokes as evocative as those employed by The Delines. On the other side of the coin, Afraid To Speak Her Name is a shimmering joy with Dawson excelling on guitar and Weissenborn guitar as Patershuk paints a picture of an almost unattainable romantic memory.

Rounding out the album, Turn The Radio Up has a Tupelo Honey Van Morrison like lilt to it while 1.3 Miles is a return to front porch picking as Patershuk takes the listener on a bullet’s trajectory. An odd subject to be sure but, like Alice’s rabbit hole, a doorway into a wonderful series of vignettes. Stay With Me is a juicy slice of laid back country rock with rippling mandolin, fatback guitar and Kaplin’s harmonica surrounding Patershuk’s tender and nostalgic reverie with Latimer’s harmonies quite glorious. Finally, Patershuk pays tribute to his grandmother, a Liverpudlian activist, on the spare, banjo speckled Upright. Arrested aged 73 campaigning against the bomb and a fan of Fats Waller, she lives again on this affectionate song. It’s a magnificent end to what is a magnificent album.

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Starry Eyed & Laughing. Bells Of Lightning. Aurora Records

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We wanted to kick off the New Year with a bang and what better way to do so than with the turbo charged bass and 12 string blizzard intro to Set Me Free From This Lost Highway, the opening song on Starry Eyed & Laughing’s long awaited third album. Initially fuelled by The Byrds’ Eight Miles High, the song soars mightily and then incorporates CSN like harmonies alongside Hugh Masakela like trumpet sounds and stinging sitar like guitars. It’s bang on as it revitalises these treasured sounds from the past. Tony Poole, the Rickenbacker wizard, hauls the song into the present day with pointed lyrics which rail against that disgraced human anus who still believes he is the President of the USA.

Starry Eyed & Laughing’s last album release was in 1975 and they have been consigned to “lost legend” status for a long while. While guitarist Poole has kept the flame alive via a judicious selection of reissues and occasional low-key appearances with Iain Whitmore, bassist in the best-known line up of the band, the pair resolved to record a new album some years back. But then, stuff happens. Poole was laid low with a chronic illness for a time before getting a bravura second wind as one third of the excellent Bennett Wilson Poole. Revitalised, he and Whitmore set to the task but then Coronavirus bit. As we said, stuff happens. Nevertheless, the duo persevered and the result is this brilliant reclamation of jangled sixties rock, all dressed up for a new frontier as it were, post Trump, post illness, post Corona hopefully, as they fully intend to play these songs live at some point.

Starry Eyed And Laughing were always in thrall to The Byrds and CSN, no bad thing of course, especially if you can leap from that launch pad to deliver fine goods of your own. Their first two albums did that and Bells Of Lightning does it in spades. The influences are there and, for this listener, they amplify the joy of listening. Aside from the obvious nod to Eight Miles High in the opening song (alongside a less obvious nod to Going Down, the first song on their own first album) and the gorgeous Crosby inspired psychedelia of All Things Lost, there’s a trickle of memories for those who do remember those halcyon days throughout. Whitmore’s Come Home and You Feel Like Home have that winsome Topanga Canyon wind in their hair while Poole’s Stranger In My Time is quite timeless given that listening to it is somewhat akin to getting a shot of adrenaline straight into the memory muscle.

At the core of the album there’s a trio of songs which allude to Starry Eyed And Laughing’s ill-fated trip to the States. Dreamyard Angels opens with a cheeky nod to Simon and Garfunkel’s America before Poole offers us his tour diary in his best McGuinn style while delivering the most fully-fledged blend of The Byrds on offer here- it’s a real blast. Three Days Running is a Bakersfield like country romp with Poole’s E bender adding pedal steel like licks while Faith, Hope And Charity is a total zinger with the guitars twisting and turning every which way but backwards. Aside from these star spangled and cosmic outings, there’s a delightful and reverential ode to the forgotten Byrd, Gene Clark. The Girl In A Gene Clark Song is self referential to the nth degree perhaps, but it has the appropriate blend of LA optimism and melancholic lyricism.

Bells Of Lightning may have been a long time coming and a long time in its recording but Poole and Whitmore have come up with quite a joyous and brilliant listen. It’s quite astounding that the pair of them can conjure such a full-blooded band sound and hats off to Tony Poole for his studio wizardry.

Bells Of Lightning is available on CD and download here and there will be a vinyl edition in the near future. For the full lowdown on the album, check out our interview with Tony Poole on Americana UK.

Blabber’n’Smoke’s Favourites of 2021

Well, farewell 2021. It was nice while it lasted but you were too much of a tease, really, for it to go on much longer. We started going out only towards the end and then, when it seemed that we were getting on an even keel, you done went and got all frosty again, gigs gone, Christmas and New Year all but cancelled. One thing you did provide was a bumper crop of albums and for that we do thank you.

Here’s a list of Blabber’n’Smoke’s favourite albums of 2021 (although there are probably a couple we’ve forgotten). There’s a top ten, but not in any particular order, along with a list of runners up and special mentions at the end. Where possible we’ve linked the album title to a review (or interview in one case) of ours.

Only four gigs this year! Hopefully 2022 will bring us more great albums but more importantly and despite the dismal start, allow live music to live and breathe again.

A huge thanks to all the artists, promoters, PR folk, venues and fellow fans who all help Blabber’n’Smoke limp along. Happy New Year.

The Felice Brothers – From Dreams To Dust

Allison Russell – Outside Child

Charley Crockett – Music City USA

Peter Bruntnell – Journey to the Sun

Steve Earle & The Dukes – JT

John Murry – The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes

M. G. Boulter – Clifftown

Jason McNiff – Dust Of Yesterday

Malcolm Holcombe – Tricks Of The Trade

Robin Adams – Wrong Road Home

Also of note

Los Lobos – Native Sons
Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad of Dood & Juanita
Danny George Wilson – Another Place
David Huckfeldt – Room Enough, Time Enough
Maria Muldaur with Tuba Skinny – Let’s Get happy Together
JP Harris’s Dreadful Wind And Rain – Don’t You Marry No Railroad Man
Chris Eckman – Where The Spirit Rests
Bard Edrington V – Two Days In Terlingua
Steve Gunn – Other You
Nathan Bell – Red White And American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here)
Audrey Spillman – Neon Dream
Jenner Fox –Planet I’m From
Starry Eyed & Laughing – Bells Of Lightning
Aimee Mann – Queens Of The Summer Hotel
TK & The Holy Know Nothings – The Incredible Heat Machine

Although coming from vastly different directions, I really enjoyed these sets – Various Artists, Highway Butterfly- The Songs Of Neal Casal and Peter Stampfel’s, 20th Century In 100 Songs. There were also fine tributes in the shape of Party For Joey – A Sweet Relief Tribute To Joey Spampinato, and The Wanderer – A Tribute To Jackie Leven. Edinburgh’s Dean Owens appears on The Wanderer and he released three fine EPs this year, his Desert Trilogy, in conjunction with Calexico and various Tucson musicians- a taster for his forthcoming album, recorded with John and Joey and due out early next year.

Johnny Dowd. Xmas 2021. E.P. Mother Jinx Records

We don’t normally review Christmas music here at Blabber’n’Smoke. Aside from the fact that most of it is crap, most of it is also unbearably wholesome and cheerful and that’s something we really can’t tolerate. Now, Johnny Dowd, one of our favourite musical mavericks, is not someone you’d normally expect to be vying for airtime with Mariah Carey, Slade and Bing Crosby but, it turns out he has a small stash of Christmas songs scattered throughout his back catalogue and he gathers them together here along with a new recording of Silent Night.

There is of course, a good enough pile of decent Christmas songs, most of them melancholic or downright depressing, along with a fair few which are just so far enough from the formula to actually entice you in. Dowd’s festive five are probably in the latter category.

There are two traditional Christmas songs. Jingle Bells (which first appeared on The Pawnbroker’s Wife) comes across as if Funkadelic were given a spectacularly potent dose of acid and let loose in Santa’s grotto. While Silent Night has the pathos one associates with the recording of the homeless man repeating Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in Gavin Bryars’ work of the same name, there also seems to be a sardonic nod to Simon & Garfunkel’s recording of the song which included a newsreader’s litany of disturbing news stories. Here, Dowd has snippets of Spanish speech included as the song slowly limps into sight. The song of course, limps along splendidly throughout while Dowd then seems to take a leaf from Phil Spector as he wishes the listener a Happy Christmas (somewhat woefully) at the end.

Separate Beds is the most conventional song here as Dowd and Kim Sherwood-Caso trade vocals on this downbeat country festive song of a couple breaking up. There’s a hint of The Handsome Family in the delivery and the black humour. In contrast, Death Comes Knocking is a macabre mutant nightmare carnival song which wheezes and puffs in a Tom Wait fashion while Christmas Is Just Another Day is another dose of off kilter melody. Ostensibly, it has Dowd’s protagonist missing his late mother on Christmas day but there are hints (kinfolk come to visit me on Christmas, they come but cannot stay) that tempt one to consider that this forlorn son is locked up after topping his dear departed mother. Whatever, it’s deliciously dark as is the whole EP. You won’t be hearing this one wafting down supermarket aisles.  

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Orit Shimoni. Lorem Ipsum.

The last time we encountered Orit Shimoni, the nomadic Canadian singer/songwriter, her endless travels had, unexpectedly, ended. Covid had stranded her in Winnipeg, hunkered down, and forced to find a semi permanent place to stay – a strange state of affairs for a musician who, literally, had been on the road for 11 years.

Stuck in Winnipeg, Shimoni released the wonderful Strange And Beautiful Things, a collection of songs she had recorded earlier in Toronto with a full band line up. She follows it up with Lorem Ipsum, a truly solo effort recorded in her flat using “a failing, noisy laptop, a cheap microphone, and, free, basic recording software.” She admits that this was a time of deep despair, not only due to the pandemic but also the extreme polarisation, ignorance, and hate she was seeing across the world. Seeking some solace in her song writing she realised she had songs already written which fitted her mood and, having recalled 11 of them, she set to recording them in one all night session. The result is this lo-fi record which, in spite of its humble origins, positively speaks to the human condition and is yet another reason to consider Shimoni as one of the most under rated songwriters and singers of our time. On some songs here, blood and tears truly flow. Smithereens is a chilling description of the aftermath of a suicide bombing and is Dylan like as it encompasses empathy and condemnation. Another venerable songwriter, Leonard Cohen, comes to mind on It’s Good That You Died When You Did, primarily due to the song’s delivery and cadences but also in the fatalism on display. Horse, a stark portrait of an act of violence inflicted on an animal is delivered in a winning  amalgamation of both Dylan and Cohen. Mention of them does point to the album being akin to mid 60s folk and there’s a perfect example of Shimoni drawing on that tradition when she dips into whimsy to unveil the real violence visited upon people on Show Me A Picture as opposed to cartoon violence. While a bomb in a Roadrunner short might just be just a kaboom moment with no fatalities, in real life it maims and kills. Meanwhile, her notion that, in real life, liars’ noses should grow, just like Pinocchio’s, is a definite winner.

Shimoni bares her soul on several of the songs. It All Comes ‘Round Again finds her recalling The Holocaust with her parents reassuring her that it is in the past, only to see that, across the world, atrocities still occur with nations  still putting kids in cages. Maybe Tomorrow is truly a lockdown song, a claustrophobic nightmare. My Flying Shoes (the title a nod to her hero, Townes Van Zandt) is perhaps, the crack which lets the light in as she sings of getting back to doing all the normal things which we all took for granted before we were all locked down. The album closes with its most powerful song, Sing Back To Me, a metaphysical plea to join together, cast aside enmities and accept that we are all cast from the same mold. Here, Shimoni approaches the visceral and spiritual appeal of Patti Smith at her most mystical. Overall, Lorem Ipsum is a cry from the heart and it deserves to be heard far and wide.

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Robin Adams. Wrong Road Home. Holy Smokes Records

Normally a Robin Adams album leads one to search a thesaurus looking for alternatives to winsome, melancholic, introspective, sensitive and words like that. Adams’ albums have portrayed him as a singer songwriter very much in the folk/bedsit tradition with luminaries such as Bert Jansch and Nick Drake often summoned to serve as comparisons. Wrong Road Home is however a splendid change of direction as Adams delivers a lively, sometimes  raucous, elsewhere tender, collection of songs, delivered in a folk  and country style with a decidedly American bent. It’s noted that Canadian folk duo Kacy and Clayton appear on several of the songs.

The album is inspired by some of Adams’ favourite American songwriters – people such as Hank Williams and Michael Hurley (we’d add Woody Guthrie, The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers to the pile) – while the music is a wonderful mix of string band excellence and hillbilly musings. Banjo, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel, Dobro and, yip, a singing saw, all feature, giving the album an authentic patina of old time Americana and all that entails. There’s trains and crossroads and ghosts in these tales of bad luck and while the songs are a joy to hear there isn’t really a happy moment to be heard. Meanwhile, Adams’ drawings which adorn the sleeve and the lyric booklet are surely a nod to Hurley.

From the instance when lonesome banjo and harmonica wander in through the saloon like front door of the title song, sounding for all the world like two weary travellers looking for a drink, we’re transported to the old west as Adams wanders into a nether world peopled by talking dogs and crows and blind men shooting arrows at the stars. It leads him to what does seem to be a last chance saloon where, ordering beer, he is given absinthe while seated next to an artist with “a hole right through his chest” wondering why he isn’t dead. With ragged fiddle, lonesome pedal steel and a wearied lope in its stride it’s a tremendous opener. Deep Down follows in a similar style but it digs deeper into weird old Americana, freighted with menace emanating from “the old dark woods” where “gallows swing and the moon stays round.”

Listening to these two opening songs, the only clue that these haven’t been unearthed from some Appalachian archive is Adams’ voice which retains his Scots accent. It’s a fantastic balancing act which he maintains throughout the album and it offers the opportunity to think not only of the Americans he celebrates here but also those pioneers of the 60s such as Hamish Imlach and especially the original Incredible String Band. The fiddle sozzled blues of Broke Down Empire Blues here could surely sit on the first ISB album while the jug band like Nobody Blues is a song which Imlach would have had great fun with. The Scots-American union reaches its zenith when Adams transports Burns’ Tam O’Shanter to the Ozarks, yodelling away like Jimmie Rodgers on The Ballad Of Tommy Shanter. This is quite fabulous. The saw offers the requisite amount of spookiness but there’s so much else bustling away, the pedal steel, a fiddle sawing, swarms of accordion and burbling banjo, all jostle together and raise the song into the realms of greatness. It’s not hyperbole to say this really. If you doubt, then have a listen and keep an ear out for the way there’s a brilliantly brief burst of bowed double bass denoting danger towards the end.

Adams waltzes through the album excellently, unveiling gem after gem. Too Far Gone is a hum bucking slice of Western Swing and Hungry Bob reminds one of Burl Ives or Pete Seeger’s’ kiddie friendly songs (with a dollop of Shel Silverstein). While Your Games is a pretty, Jansch influenced, guitar trip which is more in line with his previous releases, Sing To Me As I Sleep is a trip into Carter Family territory and the closing song, Floorboard Blues is wonderfully rudimentary as Adams sings and yodels an old time waltz quite brilliantly.

It’s not often that an album stops you in your tracks but when we first heard this we were quite gobsmacked by how good it is. It’s a total diversion for Adams and it’s astounding that he’s pulled it off so brilliantly. It probably does help if you’re enamoured of old time Americana to begin with but, coming in at the tail end of the year, we reckon it’s one of our top ten contenders.  https://robinadams.bandcamp.com/album/wrong-road-home

Spell Songs II : Let The Light In. Thirty Tigers

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Originally gathered  to offer their musical take on some of Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane’s musings on our ever changing language in their book, The Lost Words: A Spell Book, Spell Songs have reconvened in order to convey their musical musings on the pair’s latest book, The Lost Spells. The collective (Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton,  Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux) were highly acclaimed on their first release and Let The Light In looks set to gain yet more accolades as its, ahem, spellbinding songs and performance look to gather pace with a series of live shows set to follow on from the album release.

The 15 songs here tap into current concerns re the environment and dovetail into a back to nature movement which has traditionally been associated with folk music and various campaigns against the destruction of our habitat. Each song celebrates creatures and plants which have long been a part of our diversified flora and fauna, many of them now endangered. While the album is solidly folk tradition at its roots, the players utilise studio to add layers of sound and effects, culminating in an album which is quite astounding to listen to. It’s both ancient and modern, it traverses borders and summons earth spirits throughout. The ensemble are electrifying at times as when they weld Afro and Celtic music on Jay, a magnificent song with Seckou Keita engaging in call and response with the massed female singers. Kris Drever’s Red Is Your Art darts and dips like a murmuration of starlings and, likewise, Swifts, a vocal duet from Drever and Rachel Newton gambols along quite merrily. The sinewy Oak, again featuring Drever, is rooted within a deep tradition of folk songs saluting the power of nature and the turn of the seasons.

Karine Polwart’s Bramble is cloaked in mystery and wonder, its woody timbre and martial drums enlivened by snippets of voice which are almost cartoonish in nature. As the band nimbly flutter and caress the song, it flows gently into Julie Fowlis’ St. Kilda Wren, sung in Gaelic and invoking ancient spirits. Beth Porter’s Gorse is a quite magical and fantastical voyage into a speckled wonderland – frosty and childlike, it transports the listener into memories of shadow land fairy tales. With Polwart singing supremely on the tip-toed delight of Moth and Fowlis delivering yet another wintry tale on Silver Birch, another song cloaked in wonder and mystery, Spell Songs have certainly delivered a spell binding and enchanting listen.

Ian M. Bailey. Songs To Dream Along To. Kool Kat Musik.

Following on for their collaboration on the Shots Of Sun EP, Ian M. Bailey and Glasgow’s Daniel Wylie have co-written this full length album which, as with Bailey’s (and Wylie’s) previous releases, is a quite joyous celebration of 1960’s sunshine paradise pop, as practised by The Byrds, The Beau Brummels, The Association and many others, and the soft rock sounds of the early 70s as exemplified by America, Seals & Croft and numerous offshoots of the whole Byrds/CSN/Burritos clan.

Bailey remains a one-man band, playing all of the instruments (aside from a string section on The Sound Of Her Voice) and, as before, it’s quite impressive that there’s no hint of this in the final delivery. The songs are fresh and show no sign of being assembled whatsoever and the harmony singing (again all Bailey) is outstanding. Listen to Everything Will be Alright and try not to imagine that it’s a band like the trio America singing it.

Bailey is an experienced practitioner in the art of 12 string Rickenbacker jangle and this is to the fore in the opening song, This Is Not A Feeling which opens with a Beatles’ like acoustic guitar strum before the 12 string sparks up and we are offered a Gene Clark like song which aches with a romantic melancholic feeling. Take It Or Leave It is in a similar vein with more mid 60s’ solipsism although here it’s less melancholic given the powerful thrust of the verses and the waves of keyboard which pump throughout the song. Further along the track list, Slow Down River and Just Like A Child (Dream Catcher) remind one of the latter day Byrds, their jangled pop reined in by the likes of Clarence White and Gene Parsons who brought in new sensibilities rooted in old American music. Meanwhile, I’m Not The Enemy, still suffused with gleaming 12 string, is more akin to the Paisley Underground bands who revitalised these sounds in the 80s, even though its lyrics remain rooted in the original psychedelic underground.

As we said, Laurel Canyon and its denizens also loom large and it’s easy to imagine songs such as A Place To Live, Everything Will be Alright and The Sound Of Her Voice being performed by a sensitive soul on The Old Grey Whistle Test back then. The latter in particular, with its sweeping strings, reminds one of Dan Fogelberg which, we have to say, is no bad thing. The highpoint is the delicately delivered and harmonious What’s Happening Now which is a dreamlike meander with gently flowing guitars along with a slight undercurrent of menace courtesy of a muted yet decidedly psychedelic electric guitar. There’s also fun to be had in the mock Eastern exotica of Midday At The Hope Lodge which can’t help but remind one of The Beatles’ flight from the murderous cult pursuing them in their movie, Help!

Despite the surplus of names we’ve mentioned, Bailey and Wylie have come up trumps with Songs To Dream Along To. It’s a glorious listen that certainly rises above its influences.

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