Jeff Finlin & Clive Barnes. Sounds In the Suburbs, Glasgow. Sunday 19th February 2017

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A dismal damp Sunday night in leafy Jordanhill, a wee bit off of the beaten track for Glasgow rock’n’roll but testament to the night’s players and the reputation of Sounds In The Suburbs that a fair crew turned up tonight almost filling the room. By day a douce clubhouse for post tennis or bowls drinks Woodend Bowling and Tennis Club doubles up as a warm and intimate setting for a musical evening and as such has hosted events for several years arranged by promoters Sounds In The Suburbs. It’s a measure of Blabber’n’Smoke’s general inertia that this was our first venture here despite a previous roster of highly acclaimed acts appearing so off we went, transport no problem with a rail station just around the corner, for what turned out to be a highly entertaining night.

Jeff Finlin is yet another one of these jobbing musicians who have skirted around fame (songs on telly shows and such) but ultimately remain just under the radar. Like so many of his peers Finlin is a master craftsman, a songwriter of note and talented performer with a back catalogue that rewards any investigation. His touring buddy Clive Barnes is an Irishman who may have sold his soul to the Devil at some desolate crossroad in the Emerald Isle given his mastery of blues guitar. Indeed he was awarded album of the year by the American publication Acoustic Guitar some years back, a fact he worked into a fine joke tonight. For tonight Barnes played electric guitar foil to Finlin’s thoughtful and provoking songs along with a solo slot mid show.

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Opening with Walking On Air (from the excellent My Moby Dick), a bluesy affair with Barnes adding some crunchy notes on a beautiful Gretsch White Falcon, Finlin delivered a set of swampy rock, folky narratives and yearning ballads. His voice had an element of Southern cool that at times recalled a mix of Sal Valentino (of The Beau Brummels and Stoneground) and Randy Newman with Postcard From Topeka perhaps the best example tonight of his ability to summon up that mid seventies ennui, the slightly blissed out LA smog and coke ridden country rock of the times. Songs such as The Perfect mark Of Cain, The Long Lonesome Death Of The Travelling Man and I Killed Myself Last Night allowed Finlin to stake his claim as a writer of note while Barnes coaxed and teased his guitar with some blistering solos while able to sweeten the songs sounding almost like a pedal steel at times. There was some boogie on the highway riproar of Jesus Was A Motorcycle Man while Sunday’s Forgiving came across as a brethren to Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down. What’s The Big Idea, originally penned for George Bush was tonight aimed at the 45th resident of The White House with Finlin acknowledging that he’d be happy these days to find Bush back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Finlin closed the show with a solo rendition of Alchemy which sounded tonight as if it were an outtake from Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, a bittersweet song of romance and regret.

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Barnes was a revelation in his short mid set solo slot as he mesmerised the audience with his superb lap steel playing summoning up the ghost of folk blues along with some supremely entertaining anecdotes. His list of dubious American place names along with his misadventures via his Hobbit of a booking manager in the States was hilarious. Above all however he showed that he’s up there with the likes of Taj Mahal and Eric Bibbs in terms of acoustic blues playing.

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express @The Fallen Angels Club. O2 ABC Glasgow. Wednesday 15th February 2017

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It’s a measure of Chuck Prophet’s standing that notice of his return to these shores led to a frisson of anticipation and delight amongst the Facebook and Twitter communities that Blabber’n’Smoke inhabits. While no one (as far as we know) went so far to mention a rock’n’roll orgasm several knowledgeable pundits and many devoted fans were firm in their belief that the Prophet Express live is guitar driven Nirvana.  Given that his latest album, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, is another triumph building on previous releases Let Freedom Ring, Temple Beautiful and Night Surfer it’s no wonder that the packed crowd tonight were tingling with anticipation and Prophet fulfilled all expectations.

He hit the ground running with the opening song the title track from the new album. A new song perhaps but already hard wired into the rock’n’roll hippocampus of the audience who joined in on the refrain as this classic slice of jukebox rifferama roared from the stage. Ramona Say Yes followed with a sleazy freak beat energy, jagged guitars and stomping drums driving the beat along before the chiming guitars of Lonely Desolation showed why some folk consider Prophet to be the underground answer to Tom Petty. Three songs in and already this is great when Prophet introduces Bad Year For Rock’n’Roll, his homage to Bowie with a cool tale about thieving Siouxsie Sioux’s equipment back in the days (he reckons the statute of limitation is up by now). It’s a snotty glam rock romp and it’s reinforced by the Mott The Hoople like glory that is Temple Beautiful which has the audience in a kind of ecstasy as Prophet orchestrated their contribution to the refrain. By now it was getting hot and sweaty with Prophet so close to the front line of fans that they were in danger of getting knocked in the head by his headstock as he prowled the lip of the stage ripping into the ferocious fury of Alex Nieto before allowing some breathing space with the groovy existentialism  of  Barely Exist. It’s a toss up as to who was enjoying themselves the most between Prophet and the audience as he strapped on his acoustic guitar for a tremendous (and hugely appreciated) delivery of Jesus Was A Social Drinker before  crowd favourite, You Did (Bomp Shooby Doobie Bomp)  hove into view. A song that has evolved from its almost trip hop original recording tonight it sees Prophet coming across like an evangelical preacher spreading the Gospel of rock’n’roll. His appropriation of classic grooves was well to the fore on the Alan Vega tribute that was At The Mausoleum (with Stephanie Finch stepping to the front here on vocals) and the garage thrust of Ford Econoline, another favourite that threatened mayhem at the front as the band went full throttle.

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We must mention here The Mission Express (James DePrato, guitar, Kevin White, bass and Vicente Rodriguez, drums and Stephanie Finch, keyboards, vocals and cowbell). All part of the gang and all fulfilling their role, DePrato sparring with Prophet, Finch his inspiration. They cooled it down for the eulogy that is We Got Up And Played (dedicated by Prophet to Dan Stuart) and offered up a fine loose limbed tribute to Leonard Cohen on the fairly obscure Iodine (from the legendary gun and drug-riddled album Death Of A Ladies Man). Summertime Thing flowed sweetly with the guitars overflowing as Prophet and DePrato casually swapped lines before they swooped into the bottleneck fuelled Countrified Inner City Technological Man and then dialled it down for the modern testifying of Wish Me Luck. The guitar chemistry swelled on the closing Willie Mays Is Up To Bat with Prophet and DePrato channelling their inner Thin Lizzies.

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By now two and a bit hours had passed but there was no sense of flagging as the band came back on for another shot of Bobby Fuller as they slid into a Mersey beat styled cover of Let Her Dance. The last gasp was a slow burning You And Me Baby which allowed Prophet to incorporate Memphis soul and noirish beat lyrics into his final testimony of the night, a night of rock’n’roll wisdom and joy.

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Support act Max Gomez from New Mexico had a job on his hands as a couple of hundred Prophet fans stared at him and his guitar when he wandered onto stage. However, his Arlo Guthrie like presence and troubadouring folky songs soon had their attention with the opener Good Friend Girl showing that he’s another songwriter following in the footsteps of the likes of Townes van Zandt and Steve Earle. Ball and Chain from his debut album and Joe from his latest EP were fine deliveries showcasing a strong finger picking style and he had a fine line in his song introductions. It was gratifying to see a queue form at his merch table at the end of his brief set.

 

 

Ags Connolly. House Concert @ Celtic Music Radio, Glasgow. Thursday 8th December

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Glasgow based community radio station Celtic Music Radio opened their doors for their second House Concert following the successful debut last month with Eef Barzelay. Tonight it was country all the way as Oxfordshire based Ags Connolly dropped in to open a very brief set of Scottish dates. 2016 has been a productive year for Connolly with his second album (recorded in Scotland and produced by Dean Owens) due for release in February while he had a successful sojourn in the States touring and playing with members of Pokey Lafarge’s band. His song When Country Was Proud was named among the Top 50 country songs of the last 30 years by Country Music People magazine. In addition, his self-released album of cowboy songs will be going into its second pressing with his initial run just about sold out. The few copies he had with him tonight were quickly snapped up.

Connolly is a fierce defender of traditional country music; the music of Hank Williams, George Jones and Merle Haggard and the outlaw crew of Nelson, Jennings and David Allan Coe. His 90 minute set, composed mainly of self penned songs, proved that he has the writing and performing chops to fight his corner with many of the songs sharing the lyrical beauty (and simplicity) of his forebears, the topics familiar to anyone who has listened to these masters, heartache, drinking and heartache. He opened with A Good Memory For Pain (from his 2014 debut album How About Now) which set the scene for most of the night with its George Jones like evocation of romantic loss and hurt. With several other numbers from the debut album such as the title song, Trusty Companion, I Saw James Hand and When Country Was Proud delivered throughout the night Connolly proved why one reviewer said of him that he is England’s answer to Willie Nelson.

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The intimate setting of the house concert seems to relax the performer and Connolly was in fine form as he spoke about his songs, his heroes and influences. He spoke of how before falling under the spell of his country wizards he was prepped somewhat by his love of writers working more in the folk and rock tradition before delivering two of the evening’s three covers. Loudon Wainwright’s I Suppose fitted perfectly into Connolly’s bag of hurt while his version of Leonard Cohen’s Heart Of No Companion (heard initially on a Ron Sexsmith album) was tender and heartfelt and really quite moving.

Looking to the new album the lead song I Hope You’re Unhappy showed that Connolly continues to mine the rich seam of country contradictions in love while Prisoner Of Love In A Neon Jail and When The Loner Gets Lonely should get him some award for song titles. The latter song was especially good garnering all the ingredients for a real old fashioned dusty beer stained lament. Nothin’ Unexpected, the title song of the forthcoming album is full of yearning for the supposed good old days with Connolly adding some unexpected Mexicali influences in the chorus. He explained this prior to playing another song from the album as he revealed that The Mavericks’ Michael Guerra adds accordion to some of the songs on the new album and certainly on tonight’s showing the new album will at least be the equal of its predecessor. Connolly ended the show with a song with a bang as he led the audience on a rousing version of I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock’n’Roll, a song he said he had to do at the request of his tour mates in the States as they all thought it a perfect example of UK country. They weren’t wrong.

Here’s a taster from the new album.

Cam Penner & John Wood. Fallen Angels Club @ The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Thursday 30th November

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One of the first shows we attended in 2016 was Cam Penner  & John Wood back in January at Celtic Connections. With a brand new album (Sex & Politics) under their belt they were a joy to hear back then and now they’re back in town, the songs truly bedded in, the result still somewhat astonishing.

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Penner & Wood record in a home built wooden shack in the wilds of British Columbia, a wooden cathedral of sound, tall pines looming on either side, and they evoke the primordial elements of their deep dark woods along with occasional shafts of sunlight in their unique take on rootsy bluesy country rock. Marrying technology and primitive strings and percussion Wood sets up from the start a spooky ambient background throb and thrum, the bedrock on which they deliver their songs. These in turn veer from honeyed acoustic laments with harmonica as creamy as Neil Young’s days in the middle of the road to guttural stomps and hollers, atavistic harbingers of dread and doom. At times the hairs on the back of the neck stand up as Penner wails away.

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There’s no showmanship but as the pair beaver away on stage, selecting guitars, sitting behind a simple drum kit, swapping roles, the ambient drone all the while like crickets in long grass soothing and insistent, there’s a workmanlike craft about them. Some of the sounds may seem primitive but there are keen minds behind them. The set didn’t vary too much from the January show leaning heavily on the last two albums and opening with the delicate whisperings of I’m Calling Out which crawled eerily into the tougher blues of I Believe with Wood moving from drums to guitar in the space of two songs. Wood is the cerebral side of the songs, hunched in the corner with his gadgets or laying down some sweet lap steel as the hirsute Penner commands attention but on several songs he slings on his guitar to lay down some liquid lines or throw out some gutbucket blues. They played familiar songs such as House Of Liars, Memphis, No Consequence with Trouble & Mercy given a particularly good delivery tonight.  There was less talk tonight although Penner remains a master of the understated joke as when he spoke of his song House Of Liars being featured on the BBC’s Stonemouth saying it was cool, he doesn’t make any money but cool will do.  And cool he is, the audience tonight treated to a magisterial show that had several facets but which ultimately proved that Penner and Wood are hard wired into a deep and dark old Americana, goosebumps and all.

There’s still a chance to see Penner & Wood as they play The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen on Friday 2nd December and The Traverse Bar in Edinburgh on Monday 5th.

 

Light Of Day Scotland. Charity Gig. The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Saturday 26th November

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Featuring Eddie Manion, Jeffrey Gaines, Joe D’Urso, Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, Doghouse Roses & The Rising

Light Of Day is a worldwide charity raising awareness of and money for research into neurological diseases. It takes its name from a film starring Michael J. Fox (who has Parkinson’s disease) along with a Bruce Springsteen song. Since its inception in 2000 Light of Day has been heavily associated with Asbury Park, New Jersey holding a winterfest there. There are also annual musical tours of the UK, Europe, Canada and Australia.

So there’s a heavy Boss vibe to the night the caravan rolls into Glasgow. Manion and Lopez have done time with Springsteen, the latter a founding member of The E street Band and subsequently an inductee into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame. Lopez is first up singing and drumming on four songs including a trucking number and some old time r’n’b supported by Rob Dye on guitar. After that there was a stage invasion with all of the musicians lining up on the stage (bar The Rising who played their set afterwards) for what was kind of like a cross between a jam session and a songwriter circle.

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It was great fun. D’Urso offered up some fist pumping rockers while Gaines proved to be a powerful performer. Manion sang on Dylan’s Forever Young and played an endearingly kitsch version of Town Without Pity. For this reviewer it was great to hear Doghouse Roses (Paul Tasker and Iona MacDonald) with a full driving band behind them. Thunder Of The Dawn hurtled along with Manion’s sax exploding towards the end. Weather The Storm was another of their songs that benefitted exceptionally well from the set up while MacDonald showed that she  can throw out a powerful blues vocal on Mean Mean Woman.

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As the set bowled on Manion led a sing-along of We Shall Overcome before D’Urso had the audience ecstatic with a thunderous performance of Springsteen’s Light Of Day. To end this part of the show The Rising were invited onstage as all cast members rang out on Because The Night.  Had the show ended there no one would have been disappointed as we had around 90 minutes of rock and roll thrown at us but after a short break The Rising Came on for a full set of their own take on the Boss. There was dancing and drinking.

Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts. Drygate Glasgow. Friday 25th November

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A welcome return to Glasgow for the Leith man with his fine band in tow, tonight’s show was an intimate affair despite the airy (and cool, temperature wise) bare girder barn like room in Tenants’ Drygate brewery. Set out cabaret style the tables were all taken by what seemed to be diehard supporters (as evidenced by requests for some deep cuts from Owens’ recording history); his own fault as he announced early on that they weren’t playing from a set list as such tonight. As such this was a show that was dramatically different from the last time Blabber’n’Smoke encountered The Whisky Hearts when they turned in a performance that leaned heavily on a country rock sound.

With drummer Jim McDermott absent tonight there was less rock but a whole lot more roll with Brian McAlpine’s accordion featured heavily throughout the show along with Amy Geddes’ fiddle playing. As a result guitarist Craig Ross only had a couple of opportunities to let loose on the strings instead adding some delicate touches and a steady rhythmic flow to a set that had a very folky touch.

They slid gently into their set with a gently swinging Valentine’s Day In New York with accordion and fiddle lending the song a sweet rambling vibe which, and not for the first time, reminded us of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. This was the first of a brace of songs from Owens’s latest album Into The Sea with Virginia Street, Dora and Kids all following, the last allowing Ross a chance to solo as the song gradually built up from its sombre opening into a classic rock sound. 10 Miles From Saturday Night was a new song which was classic Owens with its mix of Celtic Americana and memorable chorus and it was followed by a rare live outing for the title song from his album Whisky Hearts which was given a rollicking folky delivery which transported the audience into the taverns of Leith. Another blast from the past was a pair of songs from his My Town album, Northern Lights which again was given a fine folk lilt with Geddes’ fiddle well to the fore and Strangers Again with Giddes duetting with Owens.

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A grand host for the night, Owens was in fine form explaining the stories behind the songs and cracking some puntastic jokes while admitting that on the older songs the band were somewhat busking it, a task they performed with an admiral aplomb. There was gravitas however as he talked about the loss of his sister to cancer, a shadow that stalked the recording of Into The Sea and he paid tribute to her with an affecting delivery of Evergreen before unveiling a new song dedicated to her memory, Julie’s Moon. There was a similar sense of loss when they played, for the first time live, Sally’s Song (I Dreamed of Michael Marra), a lament for past times and lost Dundonian friends with a kick in its tail with the band conjuring up a couthy accordion led slow time waltz which brought a lump to the throat. A solo rendition at the start of the second set of The Only One was another reminder of Owens’ ability to render heartache clothed in a healing song, a gift he shrugged off as he talked of his reputation as only singing miserable songs. Cottonsnow, inspired by a visit to civil war battlefields in the US was offered as an example of his miserabilism but again here he grabs inspiration from desperation with the song a powerful declaration. While he detoured into Johnny Cash territory with a tongue in cheek rendition of Cash’s Delia’s Gone and a rousing The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin which had a fine Cajun belt to it there was no doubting the power behind the stirring version of Up On The Hill  they laid on us while with the fan’s favourite The Man From Leith had the audience singing along. Of course being in the dear green place there was no escaping Owens’ signature tune, the umbilical cord that ties him to his twin city and Raining In Glasgow closed the show proper, the audience on board for a song that is approaching legendary status.

It didn’t end there however as the band came back on for the first unveiling of Owens’ foray into the Christmas market with Home For Christmas, the audience happily joining in (and do have a look at the video here replete with kiddie chorus and jungle bells and a cracking good tune). Thereafter there was only the simple notion of satisfying a song request flung from the front row throughout the night as Owens came back on for a solo flight through Sand In My Shoes, another oldie that again had the audience joining in.

On stage for nearly two hours with every song perfectly crafted and delivered this was an excellent night. There are a couple of opportunities to catch Dean and The Whisky Hearts before they draw 2016 to a close as they play in Stirling and Edinburgh with Dean also playing Dundee and Aberfeldy. All dates here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eef Barzelay. House Concert @ Celtic Music Radio. Glasgow. Wednesday 9th November

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Glasgow’s foremost community radio station dipped into the burgeoning world of house concert hosting this week, opening the doors of their south side studios for an intimate evening with the esteemed Eef Barzelay. A bit of a catch for what might be the first of an occasional series of close up concerts, Barzelay with his band Clem Snide were one of the finest confections to come out of the States in the nineties. His light and resigned voice allied to music that was somewhat akin to a mash up of grungy power pop, folk rock and string quartet, the arrangements complex at times, the lyrics ranging from the confessional to absurd and surreal juxtapositions not unlike those of Robyn Hitchcock. Another in a long line of bands whose name was inspired by the writings of William Burroughs Clem Snide were probably too clever to catch on despite the occasional brush with fame as when their song Moment in the Sun was used as the theme song for a TV series. The band carry on having split and reignited on several occasions while Eef has forged on with his solo recordings creating a devoted fan base via his Bandcamp releases; he’s a prime candidate for The Guardian’s Cult Heroes column.

A canny decision then to have a bona fide cult hero play in your parlour and the cognoscenti responded well. The room filled with people spilling into the hall, those in the front seats almost inches away from the man, a situation Eef explained as we spoke during the interval that he enjoys, much of his time these days spent in concerts like this. A chance to play his songs to his fans out with the promotional circuit, up close, a meet and greet event even though he is no stranger to larger festival crowds still. On these occasions it’s personal, just him and his guitar, the audience transfixed with no bar sounds or coming and going during his sets.

Playing on the intimacy of the occasion Barzelay opened with a joke as he mentioned that he’d heard that Willie Nelson would lock into eye contact with an audience member and play just for her (it was usually a her) as he scanned the front rows before confessing he was kidding. His humour was a large element of the night, self deprecating, oddball and endearing. Humour seeped into some of the songs also but overall this was a master class in songwriting with Barzelay taking subjects on and applying his unique vision. At times reminiscent of the younger Loudon Wainwright particularly when he applied his mournful scat like mock trumpet he regaled the audience with bittersweet love songs recalling walking along Central Avenue high on ecstasy   while his song The Ballad Of Bitter Honey (inspired by MTV viewing while on tour) was soaked in Wainwright’s acerbic wit.  A new song, Angeline (another song with a TV link, in this instance the US show Catfish) was an anguished and powerful depiction of damaged people.

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An accomplished performer and obviously very comfortable in such close quarters Barzelay had the audience in stitches with his coupling of Jews For Jesus Blues, written from his perspective as an Israeli born Jew who sings “fake country music” followed by God Answers Back. Finding an audience member who actually came from San Jose he delivered a wonderful version of Bacharach and David’s Do You Know The Way To San Jose with a bossa nova beat and ran through Elizabeth Cotton’s old chestnut Freight Train with evident delight. He closed the night with his “almost hit” Moment In The Sun capturing the allure and perils of fleeting fame, a perfect summary of his ability to turn a song inside out with neurosis shining through a beautiful tune, before segueing into The Velvet Underground’s Who Needs The Sun, a perfect companion to his own song.

It was a great evening and a great opportunity to see, hear and meet a world class musician. Hopefully Celtic Music radio will continue to plough this not so lonely furrow.