Cam Penner & Jon Wood. The Fallen Angels Club @ The Admiral Bar. 21st November 2018

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Shoot! First time an artist has provided Blabber’n’smoke with the opening for a live review but here’s Cam Penner on Facebook just before he hit the stage…

“I wonder what people think when they see Jon and myself walk up on stage. Especially if they have never seen us before. The Bear. Pacing back and forth, machines whirling, ghosts, crashing, pedals creaking, the beat, falsetto, eyes closed. The Conjurer. Feet hovering over lights, notes rising, crooked fingers pulling wire, gripping, colours, coaxing, luring.”

Yip, that about sums it up. Penner’s a large guy and he does wander the stage picking up this and that, banging and strumming, in his element. And Wood does conjure as he deftly coaxes sounds from his set up, tape loops and sound effects which surround the pair and envelop the music. Ah, the music. There’s mystery and menace, love and humility, savage blues and tender romances, sounds one can imagine primitive man heard, allied with tribal ritual and chain gang hollers, delta moans and sylvan murmurs. All summoned up by these two Canadians armed with guitars, a drum kit and tape loops.

The scene was set from the start as Penner did indeed wander the stage before muttering “Come on people” into the mic and then looping it into a chant as the pair eased into Gather Round from their latest album, At War With Reason, the first of four songs from the disc played without interruption. With the looped chant sounding like a Curtis Mayfield refrain the song was hypnotic as Penner urged us to join together to combat the current mayhem before letting loose some on stage mayhem as East Side’s thunderous kick drum and scintillating guitar shards from Wood accurately summed up a state of urban warfare. East Side petered out with a burble of delicate keyboard and eased into the crepuscular Poor You which gradually built in intensity before erupting into a savage rendition of Lights On (High School Musical), Penner’s savage riposte to the spate of school shootings which has plagued America. With guttural guitar from Wood, Penner inhabited the world of rap here, the song briskly executed and ending with him declaring, “For the kids.”

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It was a stunning opening to the night’s set, a suite of songs perfectly delivered with a fierce honesty. Taking time out to tell the audience of his love for Glasgow (and he’s sincere in this), he went on to remind us of his singer songwriter roots without all the sonic trappings on Thirteen before launching into House of Liars, his song which featured in the BBC drama Stonemouth. Ghost Car, a rain slicked road song, and Cool Cool Nights (with Wood on lap steel) were another pair of what might be called conventional songs amidst the night’s primal screams, both outstanding. But it was soon enough that Penner and Wood dived into the swamp with an utterly brutal and eviscerating blend of Can’t Afford The Blues and Honey as the pair of them whipped their guitars into submission, blazing away for an eternity (or at least seven minutes). The night was ending and Penner visited his more tender side for an affecting delivery of Over & Over but the applause encouraged the pair to stay on stage for another visceral blues take on Memphis with his stentorian wailing somewhat akin to Howling Wolf. The skewed, almost Beefheart like, To Build a Fire followed bringing this awesome night to an end.

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Blabber’n’Smoke has seen this duo several times and will testify that their shows are a communion of souls as Penner, a humble and lovely man, and Wood, a musical maestro, take their audience on a trip into the vitals of roots music leaving no one unmoved. With all the sound effects and loops conjured up on the night each show is unique and as good as their albums are it would be mighty gratifying if one day they captured a show on disc in the hope that they also capture some of the magic and mystery they conjure up on stage.

 

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JP Harris & The Tough Choices/Miss Tess/ Trusty Buck’s Lone Star Revue. Nice N Sleazy, Glasgow. Tuesday 13th November 2018

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JP Harris tore into town for a night of hard-core country and honky tonk which just about blew the socks off of everyone at the show and dispelled all doubts about the current state of American roots music. Harris, originally from Alabama, is the real deal with a hobo background and who earns his crust by carpentry when he’s not riding the rails with his band. with a cracking new album, Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, under his belt, and sporting one of the finest beards in captivity played a powerful and joyous show full of riveting lyrics and twangtastic guitar to an enthusiastic crowd in the bowels of Nice N Sleazy.

Honky tonk was on his mind as the band swung into Two For The Road with guitarist Justin Mahoney twanging away as pedal steel player Thomas Bryan Eaton deftly laid out his delicious curling licks. There was pure dirt stained country on Badly Bent while I Only Drink Alone, from the new album, was a fantastic nod to the tear stained waltzes so beloved of bygone Nashville artists such as Ray Price but Harris showed that he can shine on poppier material such as the sixties folk sound of Lady in The Spotlight. It’s hard however to imagine any band right now who can hammer through songs such as JP’s Florida Blues #1 and Gear Jammin’ Daddy with such ferocious energy. The latter song received the most enthusiastic response of the night and with Eaton fairly soaring away on pedal steel it was well deserved. With the songs all packing a punch in less than four minutes each Harris and his band roared through the set with commentary kept to a minimum (although he did take a poke at Trump at one point). An encore of Jerry Reed’s Freeborn Man topped the night as they ran through all the red lights with the brakes off, trucking the highway and riding the rails with a fury and, it has to be said, a great deal of gritty country style. As we said earlier, JP Harris is the real deal.

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The evening opened with an inspired set from an impromptu conglomeration, a super group of sorts featuring local musicians from the Holy Smokes recording roster calling themselves Trusty Buck’s Lone Star Revue. A raggle taggle ensemble (composed of members of The Hoojamamas, Harry and the Hendersons, Awkward Family Portraits and Tom McGuire & The Brassholes – do check them all out), they played a short set which ranged from skiffle like numbers to Ronnie Lane inspired rambles. There was a wonderful song about flying to Peru which floated on some inspired lap steel guitar while there was a nod to local hero Les Johnson & Me (who was billed to appear but sadly didn’t) as they covered one of his songs. They finished with a fine version of The Stones’ Sweet Virginia with the audience singing along.

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Squeezed in between Trusty Buck and JP Harris, Miss Tess (who was handling bass guitar duties with the Tough Choices) ran through a short set accompanied by Thomas Bryan Eaton on guitar. An established artist in her own right Miss Tess set the scene well for JP as she had a fine twangy guitar presence along with a finely hewed sense of neon lit sadness as in her opening number Going Downtown. On Moonshiner, with JP’s rhythm section sitting in, she romped through a rambunctious salute to old time rebels with some fine country picking from Eaton.

 

 

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.

 

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.