Joshua Hedley. The Fallen Angels Club @The Admiral Bar, Thursday 6th September

P1090142 copyThere were sold out signs tonight for Joshua Hedley’s only Scottish date on his first full UK tour since his album, Mr. Jukebox was released a few months back. Hedley is a Nashville musician who has been a mainstay of the local music joints for many years,  holding down a residence at Robert’s Western World while his fiddle playing has earned him many studio session slots and live gigs, touring with several name acts. Although he had dabbled in writing it wasn’t until he gave up some hard drinking that his creative muse began to flow leading to a contract with Jack White’s Third Man Records for his debut album which is a grand update of the smooth and sophisticated sounds of mid sixties Nashville.

From the moment Hedley and his band The Hedliners launch into Willie Nelson’s Night Life it’s clear that the packed crowd are in for a classic country music treat, his mellow voice caressing the song as sweet pedal steel and classic country guitar picking truckled along. Followed up by his own Weird Thought Thinker, his autobiography of sorts set to a wonderful waltz time tune, Hedley was already transforming this Glasgow cellar into an offshoot of his usual Nashville haunts and Counting All My Tears, a pleading ballad sung in a George Jones style surely cemented the deal. We were treated to sad songs and waltzes (to borrow from Mr. Nelson) for a good 90 minutes with Hedley and the band in top form as he easily slipped into humorous introductions (with a running joke about an infamous local beverage featuring throughout) while the band, dressed in matching white shirts and black neckties, were the focus of a truly great joke when Hedley announced that they would introduce themselves and the band left their instruments and shook hands with each other. Corny perhaps but incredibly funny.

While much of the night was focussed on the album with Hedley playing acoustic guitar he did pick up his fiddle for a fine rendition of Willie Nelson’s What A Way to Live and again on his own This Time, a song which stands up well against the many standards he sang tonight. Mid way through the set the band vacated the stage for Hedley to offer us the much vaunted crowd choice element of his Nashville shows. Asking the audience who their favourite country singers were he selected some answers and then played a selection plucked from Merle Haggard, George Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Conway Twitty and Ned Miller, the latter’s From a Jack to a King a real crowd pleaser. Hedley had prefaced this section by announcing that he was doing away with “the encore” saying, “It’s pretty silly going off and coming back on so I’ll do it now” and it was a good half hour of us experiencing the real live Mr. Jukebox in person. The band then came back on and the show finished with the dreamy Nashville pop of Let’s Take a Vacation and finally, as the man said, “it’s the only one I haven’t done yet so you know what’s coming” as they launched into Mr. Jukebox and the crowd hooted and cheered.

Hedley is a living repository of country music; as someone said at the end of the show, “He has a hundred singers in his voice.” He can write songs in the grand tradition but never comes across as a tribute act, instead he’s vibrant and punchy and on the evidence of tonight has one of the best shows to come along in a while. There was, at the end of the night, a thought that seeing him in such an intimate venue might not be possible for much longer.

 

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Rain Reserve. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow, 2nd August 2018

P1090013 copyRain Reserve are a duo comprised of Glasgow’s bluesy purveyor of swampy Americana, John Alexander, and Edinburgh’s mistress of jazzy interpretations of country music, Lorna Reid. “East meets west,” Reid quipped on stage as she introduced Beneath the Blue, a song she claimed was partly inspired by Alexander’s supposed frustration at having to endure the train journey required to write and rehearse with Reid in her native city. It’s much more than that of course as Reid sings of a universal yearning to connect with one another despite supposed differences over an almost languid guitar delivery from her and Alexander. With fine harmonies and a sly guitar solo from Alexander midway through, the song is a fine introduction to the duo’s talents.

The pair have been writing songs together since a meeting at “the hobbit house” at Moniack a few years back and first appeared at the Fringe but now, having recorded some songs, have set out on several live dates. Their songs are not country, blues nor jazz but are set in a classic acoustic duet setting with some of the songs tonight reminding one of Richard and Linda Thompson’s recordings with Drinking Alone in particular capturing some of that ill fated pair’s melancholy. “2am songs,” as Reid called them, flowed from the couple with Alexander’s gravelly voice nicely offset by Reid’s more dulcet tones while most of the songs featured Alexander wringing some notes from his guitar in various fashions, stinging blues runs, Chet Atkins like licks along with some jazzy Barney Kessel like runs. Some of the songs featured Alexander’s gritty southern inspired slopes into gothic Americana while Reid shone on a song she co-write with Darden Smith.

P1090004 copyIona MacDonald of Doghouse Roses played a short opening set which consisted in the main of songs from that acclaimed duo. Having just recently branched out on stage on her own she confessed to being nervous but once her glorious voice reached out to the audience she was home and safe. She opened with Fairground, her tale of a prostitute on her uppers before offering a powerful reading of Feed the Monster. Amid old and newer songs she offered an affectionate cover of Natalie Merchant’s Motherland and closed with the traditional Black is the Colour.

At the end of the night Alexander mentioned a friend who could not attend due to a “conflict of John’s,” Mr. Prine being the other John playing in the city tonight. As a salute to that great man all three musicians joined together for an unplugged rendition of Speed of the Sound of Loneliness with faultless harmonies as the audience sang along. A splendid close to a splendid night.

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Redwood Mountain. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Thursday 28th September 2017

20170928_201733 copy“It’s misery at The Glad Cafe,” quipped Dean Owens, as he described the contents of Run Boy Run, a song about slavery. It’s one of the songs Owens has revitalised from a book, The Penguin Book Of American Folk Songs, edited by Alan Lomax, which was given to him as a gift some time back. To accommodate his reimagining of the songs Owens has teamed up with Scots fiddler, Amy Geddes, the pair forming Redwood Mountain, a perfect vehicle for these songs from the past with Geddes’ fiddle the perfect transatlantic bridge connecting the Celtic roots of many of the numbers with the high lonesome sounds of the Appalachians and the plains.

Owens, a successful singer and songwriter in his own right, comfortably inhabits songs such as Katy Cruel and Rye Whiskey as he’s long had a strong American element in his songs, Celtic Americana he calls it. On the album they have recorded, and live tonight, he displays his affinity with his chilling delivery of On The Range Of The Buffalo. The song, which tells of the mass slaughter of the buffalo in 19th Century America, a ploy to starve the Native Americans, allowed Owens to lower his voice to a grim level before swelling in the cowboy yodel of a chorus while Geddes provided a mournful counterfoil to Owens’ vocals. Their rendition of East Virginia was another showstopper; another dark ballad, it summoned up ghosts of the past with a chilling intensity.

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It wasn’t all doom and gloom however as the pair joked back and forth between songs and even delivered a few upbeat numbers such as the stirring Railroad Man and Rye Whiskey while Delia’s Gone, perhaps the most familiar song of the night, was a delight with Owens delivering a very funny tale regarding the song. The audience sang along with Get Along Home, Cindy and Darlin’, a nonsense love song, not on the album but great fun indeed. Interspersed with the old folk songs were some Owens originals. Reservation Blues, another song inspired by the plight of Native Americans, tied in with the theme of the night while Strangers Again harked back to his first solo album. Geddes meanwhile offered up the wonderful instrumental, Amang The Braes O Gallowa before the pair delivered a beautiful version of Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song). Take It Easy, the one Owens original on the album and inspired by Woody Guthrie, ended the show on an upbeat note with the optimistic lyrics dispelling much of the gloom beforehand. Riding on the applause they then played on with a final song, This Land is Your Land, the audience joining in. A fine close to an excellent night.

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John Murry, Broadcast, Glasgow, Monday 18th September, 2017

jm broadcastGlasgow has been basking in reflected glory since it became known that it was the setting for the meeting of John Murry and The Cowboy Junkies’ Mike Timmons that eventually led to the making of his second solo album, A Short History Of Decay. Never mind that the gig they played for Celtic Connections was bedevilled by sound problems (with Murry’s performance subjected to several letters to the local newspaper, The Herald) but recall that it was Murry with a band behind him then. Subsequent appearances, here and elsewhere have been low key affairs, duos for much of the time and while Murry always performs with a sometimes scary intensity the news that he was bringing along an ensemble on this tour was somewhat tantalising.

Oddly enough, it’s his 2012 album, The Graceless Age, that begged for a fuller stage presentation, the new album being more stripped down, raw and naked. However the set up tonight, an odd line up with two sets of keyboards, two drum kits and pedal steel with the musicians doubling up on bass and guitar was intriguing and surely enough they were able to capture both the garage band relish of A Short History of Decay and the hypnagogic swirls of The Graceless Age.  Murry, back again on electric guitar (although he also played acoustic and on occasion discarded both to just sing) was unfettered, able to rely on the band to deliver the sonic goods as he truly inhabited the songs.

A meander into Smokey Robinson’s Tracks Of My Tears opened the show with this classic morphing into One Day (You’ll Die) from the new album with the band immediately stamping their authority on Murry’s sardonic lyrics, the Sleepwalk snatch leading into a glorious conglomeration of noise. Southern Sky (from The Graceless Age) followed with the glowing keyboards and sliding pedal steel capturing the claustrophobic wonder of the studio version and it was clear by now that the audience were in for a special treat tonight. Silver Or Lead, from the new album, followed and hearing it live it was apparent that the new songs are a continuation of sorts of The Graceless Age as it was delivered with a similar sense of claustrophobia and was again sprinkled with some excellent keyboards and pedal steel. The menacing Intruder, a Peter Gabriel cover found Murry inhabiting the mindset of The Manson Family in their creepy crawly days with sonic squeaks and warbles from the band, a gruesome variation of Kraftwerk. Sonically adventurous and able to weave a fine tapestry around Murry’s songs the band (Pat Kenneally, Tali Trow, Dave Hart and Stephen Barlow) ebbed and flowed throughout the night as they multi tasked with some aplomb.

Murry switched to acoustic guitar for the haunting Wrong Man and then launched into Oscar Wilde, a song which he said was supposed to be on the new album but he forgot to record it. A man with a fine handle on life’s absurdities which he tackles with a wickedly dark sense of humour, his song introductions throughout the night provoked startled laughs from the audience, close to the bone as he often was. This dark matter carries into the songs and Perfume & Decay, a deep cut from a limited edition EP, cut to the quick with its litany of existential angst while the almost countrified delivery of Miss Magdalene belied some of the savagery of its words such as the biblical injunction which has Murry singing of cutting out his tongue.

There was a return to The Graceless Age as Nadine Khoury joined Murry for a rendition of The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid  before a quartet of songs from the new album began with Defacing Sunday Bulletins which was a magnificent clusterfuck of guitar groovieness followed by Countess Lola’s Blues (with a short lecture on arachnophobia in the introduction). Under A Darker Moon again saw the guitars firing off in all directions with a punk like intensity while Greg Dulles’ What Jail Is Like was grungy and powerful. There then followed the visceral centrepiece to all of the Murry performances I’ve seen so far, Little Colored Balloons, his own personal Calvary, and as always, it was powerful with Murry transfixed, gimlet eyes piercing from the stage as he relived his near death before abruptly departing the stage.

There was an encore and it was an unexpected and lengthy rendition of Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer which slouched and prowled with all the fire and fury of the original as the guitars sparked and burned. Once it was over the band were called back again and they launched into Townes Van Zandt’s Waiting Around To Die which was given a Stray Gators lurch before segueing into an anguished delivery of The Rolling Stones’ under the counter bootleg Cocksucker Blues. As we said earlier, Murry is close to the bone.

Always a powerful performer, with this line up and his latest songs, Murry is just devastating. Intense and yet endearingly vulnerable he continues to lay bare his soul on stage, a veritable rock’n’roll psychodrama.

James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band + Steve Grozier. The Griffin, Glasgow. Friday 11th August

Almost three years on from their debut album, The Tower, James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band are poised to release its successor, High Fences. The Tower  made Blabber’n’Smoke’s end of year best of list back in 2015 so we were quite excited to get a taste of some of the new material at this show which was held to celebrate the release of the first single from the album, Passing San Ysidro.

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This was the first time I’d had the opportunity to see the band live and they put on a very impressive show honed by several appearances on the festival circuit over the past few months. They opened with a couple of songs from the first album with the peaceful easy refrains of Maslow up first, its mild folk rock feel at the beginning picking up some pace and power towards the end as Edwyn and Emma Joyce harmonised well on the catchy chorus. There was a similar dynamic to the second song, I Figure Son, initially a plaintive deathbed piece of advice to an offspring until a middle eight which then grew into a frenzied piece of rock’n’roll with swirling organ. Several other songs from their debut were dotted throughout the night with Across The Wooden Door a fine example of a slow country shuffle which has a touch of Ryan Adams about it. Again, Joyce was excellent in her harmonising while Scott Keenan’s stately keyboards added a touch of faded grandeur.  The Last Waltz (not the Humperdinck song!) was another fine wallow in country sadness but the effervescent On Meeting The Man In The Suit which came towards the end of the set was a thrilling update of skiffle with Edwyn showing off his acoustic guitar skills.

There were a couple of new songs, some of which might be on the new album, with Try Not To Think Of Now a fine rumble of a song with a throbbing bass line and grand organ sweeps and overall reminiscent of Jesse Malin. Get back Off tilted and swayed in a manner which recalled The Band with some Southern soul swept in for good measure. In addition, they broke a general rule not to do cover versions to offer up an excellent Midnight Special which was dedicated to Edwyn’s father who was in the audience.

Of course, the evening was there to salute the first single from High Fences which is Passing San Ysidro and which was delivered as the second last song of the night. It’s a powerful slice of what we used to call country rock with Ronnie Gilmour’s electric guitar chiming away over jangled acoustic guitar and a propulsive beat with the piano adding an E Street feel to it. Edwyn strode above the stirring music with a powerful vocal including an impassioned semi spoken interlude. It’s a great song and it bodes well for the album.

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Support on the night was provided by Steve Grozier who unfortunately had to battle against the somewhat noisy comings and goings at the back of the room as people were still arriving as he played. Nevertheless, he persevered offering songs from his first EP and his forthcoming one with Where The Roses Grow particularly engaging but it was his tribute to Jason Molina which really stood out.

Passing San Ysidro is available on itunes and you can preorder the new album here  and as part of Glasgow Americana there is an album release show at The Hug & Pint on 6th October.

Not to be outdone Steve Grozier celebrates the release of his second EP, A Place We Called Home, again at The Hug & Pint, on 1st September.

 

 

Static Roots Festival, Oberhausen, Germany, 9-10th June 2017

A few weeks ago we delved into the background of and the inspiration for the Static Roots Festival with Dietmar Liebecke. It’s a fascinating story and all down to Dietmar and his wife, Marion’s love of music. Well the second Festival has come and gone and unfortunately we weren’t able to be there. Fortunately, a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke, the inveterate gig goer Ken Beveridge attended and he was kind enough to pen this report for us. So, over to Ken.

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Mr. Beveridge in his usual habitat

Many of you will have heard of (or attended) The Kilkenny Roots Festival. One of the stalwarts of that festival is a seriously nice German chap, Dietmar Liebecke. So enamoured has he become of The Kilkenny setup he decided last year to have a go at organising a similar, but much smaller event in Oberhausen in Germany. The inaugural Static Roots Festival was held last June and was such a success that Dietmar set about putting together a second one, which was held on June 9-10th this year.

The festival takes place in one indoor venue in The Altenberg Zentrum, a former zinc factory turned cultural centre, with a beer garden, that hosts drama, concerts & parties. It is a small and intimate venue which houses around 200 people. The immediate exterior is a tree-strewn terrace with loads of seating and tables where festival-goers can sit, chat, drink and eat the most gorgeous of beef burgers or German pastries. It is a fantastic venue. The festival featured nine bands over the two days – three on the Friday evening and six the following afternoon and evening.

34924303630_6ca603e5f5_bThe opening act was the wonderful David Corley. David played a divine set featuring songs from his first album Available Light and the follow up Zero Moon (released this month). That David is even here playing is remarkable given that he suffered a major heart attack whilst playing onstage in Holland less than18 months ago. His whisky soaked voice, reminiscent at times of Tom Waits, holds the audience spellbound. Highlights include Available Light and the marvellous Down With The Universe from his latest release. Mention has to be made of the sublime keyboard playing of Canadian Chris Brown and the subtle drumming of Gregor Beresford (who came on as a half time substitute!)

34501937613_f8e1f98f0c_bNext on stage was the much-travelled Peter Bruntnell and his band. Your correspondent has seen Peter many times in various, mainly small, venues in the UK and Ireland. The larger stage here allowed Peter and his band (the magnificent Dave Little on guitar, Peter Noone on drums and Mike Clews on bass) to broaden their sound. His set contained crowd pleasers Here Come The Swells, his anti Trump Mr Sunshine, the mighty Yuri Gagarin from his latest album (Nos Da Comrade) and the show topping By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix.

35182344551_60aaa6fb03_bClosing the night were the Irish band John Blek and The Rats. Front man John O’Connor is a larger than life character whose frame belies the most gentlest of singing voices. He and his five piece band, including the brilliant Anne Mitchell on keyboards, presided over a rollicking set containing the sing-a-long Calling Out My Name, the poignant The Barman, The Barfly And Me and a magnificent rendition of Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down.

A great end to a great evening.

35289358266_4c5520e998_bA late night and the need for some brunch meant that I missed the first act on the Saturday – Nadine Khouri. By all accounts she performed a great set which I now regret missing. Next up was Jack Marks, a Canadian singer who was completely new to me, He and his two sidekicks – Leslie Ann Christi on drums and her husband, Alistair, on bass – played a faultless set featuring Americana ballads that could have been taken from The John Prine songbook. Brilliant story telling songs full of imagery that had me spellbound. A great new find and well worth looking out for.

35199960951_8e0949b545_bNext up was another new to me British artist, David Ford. In contrast to the previous act, David, played solo and entertained us with his wonderful set of strong gritty songs whilst backing himself via a loop system incorporating guitar, keyboards, drums and a variety of percussion instruments. His heart felt To Hell With The World had me mesmerised – think Bruce Springsteen meets Billy Joel. The song that he sang eschewing the rampant greed for stardom – the title of which I have forgotten – was worth the price of entry on its own. Another wonderful act which was followed by the incomparable Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles. This American songstress is in the mould of Iris DeMent and Kate Campbell Succulent, intimate, songs, sung in a wonderfully understated voice with backing vocals provided by her brilliant guitarist Jerry Berhardt. She sings to you as if you are the only person in the room, nay universe. The haunting Clean Slate is the pick from a most wonderful set. The need for food and the chance to have a chat with Erin Rae on the terrace means that I miss most of the following band’s performance. That which I did catch from the German band, Torpus And The Art Directors, was interesting. Fairly standard Americana stuff (hints of Wilco) with the quirky addition of a trombone-playing front man.

34960793870_8b5c0339fb_bAnd so to the highlight of the weekend. The ever popular, spectacularly hard working Danny and The Champions Of The World. I can’t count the number of times that I have seen this band. They never fail to deliver. In Danny Champ they must have the most effervescent front man in Roots music. They play with a tightness that only comes with much hard work on and off the road mixing songs from their soon to be released album with a host of crowd-pleasing favourites. Particular favourites on the night included (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket, Stop Thief, Clear Water and they finished with the ever popular, crowd sing-a-long that is Henry The Van.

The whole weekend was marvellously managed by Master Of Ceremonies, Canadian DJ, Jeff Robson. His obvious knowledge of each and every act and his enthusiastic cajoling of the audience to listen, enjoy and buy merchandise was spot on.

We finish as we started, out on to the terrace, where nearly every musician that has played during the day is hanging about talking and drinking with members of the audience. Not an ego in sight. If Roots music is your thing, look out for this festival next year. It really is The Business.

Thanks to Ken for his words and to Klaas Guchelaar for the pictures.

Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes. Howling Wolf, Glasgow. Friday 9th July 2017

20170609_234839 copyOh dear. The gods weren’t smiling tonight for Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes, the award winning Australian Americana trio who were playing their first UK date. First off, there was only two in this trio as guitarist and Dobro player Damian Cafarella’s flight was delayed meaning we had Bryan and bassist Shaun Ryan. Next up Bryan opened his guitar case on arriving at the venue and discovered that his acoustic guitar had been seriously damaged in transit and was unplayable. A call was sent out for a replacement and one did arrive, an electric guitar (which was gratefully received) but this put the opening of the set back somewhat and did change the sound we had expected to hear. Finally, the gig was in a very busy city centre bar late on a Friday night and the band were not the main attraction it seemed, so the show went on amidst a constant barrage of chatter (and here we should probably be grateful for the switch to electric).

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Nevertheless there was a dedicated row or two of folk who had come out for the band (and the crowd, to be fair, did applaud at the end of the songs) while Bryan managed to engage in some banter with a bunch of lads who were responding to some of his introductions (especially when he asked if anyone in the bar was there with someone else’s partner before playing The Secret I’ll Take To The Grave). For those who were listening there was evidence aplenty that Bryan has a barrowful of great songs in addition to a fine voice and both he and Ryan managed the circumstances with good humour, a great example of “the show must go on.” There might have been a temptation to just rock out and they did offer up some fine boogified moments. The opening 309, a fine and dark country rocker on disc, had the pair firing up the cylinders while You, Me And The Blues and The King And I were energetic and grabbed the crowd’s attention. Deathwish Country was given a fine sluggish Neil Young chug while Dragging My Chain sloped into the blues and saw Bryan firing out some sparks on his borrowed guitar. Murder ballads always go down well in Glasgow.

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It was a mite more complicated with what one might call the the quieter songs but to their credit the duo managed to get these out without losing too much of the subtleties one associates with  country music. Ballad Of A young Married Man, Afraid Of The Light and The Mountain did battle with the assembled crowd but ultimately (for those at the front) were quite affecting. Bryan delivered an excellent version of his hymn to a New Orleans voodoo temptress on Dugdemona and his closing Whistle And Waltz was simply superb with some of us singing along on the sweet chorus.

This was the first date for Bryan & The Wildes on their first UK tour and probably isn’t what they’ll sound like once they get properly set up but even so it was a fine night with the songs shining out.

Further tour dates here