Charley Crockett + Jaime Wyatt, Broadcast, Glasgow, 5th September 2019

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Eight months after having heart surgery for a condition which threatened to derail him permanently, Charley Crockett seems fully recovered judging by the marathon set he played to a packed out Glasgow audience. Backed by the superb Blue Drifters, their name only the first of many Hank Williams’ nods throughout the night, Crockett took us on a roller coaster 90 minutes of country, blues, folk and soul;  his Texas and Louisiana roots guiding him all the way.

A brief instrumental intro led into a pistol packed flurry of songs with the band hardly taking breath until, after an explosive cover of The Race Is On, Crockett paused to say hello. By then we had seen and heard some of the variety of sounds Crockett and his Drifters can conjure with Charlie Mills, playing keyboards, trumpet and accordion adding to the colour. Next up was a real crowd favourite as they slinked into I Am Not Afraid, the audience singing along, while Crockett transformed the cellar space into a honky tonk with everyone clapping along to Borrowed Time. Introducing the title song from his forthcoming album, The Valley, Crockett spoke of his surgery and his need to lay down the song as, “I was maybe scheduled to die.” Having death knock on your door might not be the most pleasurable experience but it did inspire what is a great song with all the virtues of a classic.

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Given the very cramped stage space, the band managed to reshuffle their line up to stand around an old fashioned mic for a short “unplugged” song session to deliver an excellent brace of folky songs including Banjo Picking Man, A Stolen Jewel and Single Girl before Crockett did a couple of songs solo, Nine Pound Hammer being a bit of a barnstormer. The band crept back on to deliver an instrumental in a David Lynch lounge bar style before gearing up for the show’s lengthy finale which saw Crockett delving into blues and soul with some Texas sass. They ripped through L’il Girl’s Name and No Time To Lose while Ain’t Gonna Worry came across as if Bobby Bland was singing from the stage and the set closed with a rousing Going Back To Texas which recalled the late Doug Sahm’s many salutes to his home state.

There had to be an encore given the rapturous applause and Crocket reappeared giving us the driving narrative of 7 Come 11, another song from the new album. The band then reappeared as Crockett satisfied the numerous requests for Jamestown Ferry which had been thrown at him through the night. Another mass sing-along, it was an excellent end to what was a barnstorming performance.

As we said, the joint was jumping and packed to the gills and there was even a surprising number of folk gathered at the start of the evening for the support act, southern California’s Jaime Wyatt whose mini album, Felony Blues made a splash around two years ago. That disc basically recounted her time as a convicted felon in California penitentiaries – (she robbed her drug dealer and did time for it) – and here she was live, dedicating songs to the LA County jail and describing her time there as like being in a resort, “They gave me three square meals a day, did my laundry and even gave me free rides to the court.

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It was a short set with several songs drawn from Felony Blues, kicking off with the high country sounds of Wishing You Well and then the tough Waylon Jennings’ like Stone Hotel. Giving Back The Best Of Me glided along to start with before the band (her regular UK based backing guys) kicked in giving the song more muscle than the recorded version. Away from the album, Wyatt announced, “Here’s a song about whisky and blow,” as they launched into the badass Ain’t Enough Whiskey, another ornery and mean country rocker while she dedicated By Your Side to the late Neal Casal who laid down guitar when she recorded the song. Hurt So Bad, another new song, was like a raunchy Dolly Parton number, but it was the closing number, Wasco, with a lengthy preamble regarding Wyatt’s cell mate’s jail romance which crowned her set. This was real punchy outlaw country and we could have listened to Ms. Wyatt for twice as long had she not had to curtail it there. An excellent match for the headliner, Wyatt complemented Crockett’s set perfectly and it was cool to see her merch line matching his at the end of the night. These two plus hours of modern, hard hitting, country music perhaps bode well for the genre and we haven’t even mentioned the classy, sharp pressed western suits and impressive hats worn by Wyatt and Crockett. We’ll leave that to the fashion pages.

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Sounds in The South Part 2 – Martha L Healy, Al Shields & David Starr. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. 16th May 2019

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There was an undeniable sense of déjà vu around as this talented trio of singer songwriters reconvened for a night of storytelling and song singing,  almost exactly one year since they last appeared at The Glad Cafe. Aside from the three familiar faces onstage much of the audience seemed to have been at the last show and, on a night where Hayes Carll was also appearing in Glasgow, the trio pulled in a handsome crowd, filling the back room auditorium.

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Playing “in the round,” each performer singing and then passing the baton on, the show was not however a retread of last year’s performance. Sure enough, some songs were repeated but a quick perusal of a review of last year’s performance showed that much of the evening was fresh and, with as much attention given to the dialogue preceding a performance (an essential element of a songwriters’ in the round experience), there were anecdotes and stories galore. So, aside from insights into their songs’ gestations from all three, we were given a glimpse into the “back stage” manoeuvrings which assist in setting up shows such as this with sound files flying over the Atlantic in advance allowing, for example, Ms. Healy to sing harmonies on a new song by Starr. There were also laughs in abundance throughout the night, most of them instigated through the droll humour of Shields although Healy gave as good as she got with the pair of them bickering in the best fashion of The Handsome family with Healy’s driving ability questioned. Shields also had the funniest story of the night when explaining why several expected audience members hadn’t turned up; note to self: check your Facebook privacy settings.

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Aside from that, the trio were in top form musically. Starr had just stepped off his ‘plane from Colorado the day before and had only sound checked with his Glasgow and Leith based collaborators that afternoon, the first time they had played in a year. While the roundtable presentation is suited for solo performances, each musician was able to join in on songs be it on vocal harmonies or adding guitar with Shields and Starr both taking solos on many of the songs of the night. Shields sang the excellent Boys In The Band from his most recent EP but also reminded us that he’s been ploughing a bittersweet strain of Americana for several years with renditions of Way Back When and Johanna. There was a pin drop silence in the room as he sang the lonesome Counting The Hours with Starr commenting at the end on how good a song it was. Healy featured several numbers from her highly acclaimed album, Keep The Flame Alight, with the title song and Falling In Love Again resonating with the audience who hung on to every word. Her mini melodrama, Woman With No Shame, was preceded by some sparring with Shields whose interpretation of the song”s protagonist differed somewhat from Healy’s. The song itself is a masterpiece of social observation. Starr, with no evidence of jet lag, proved again that he is well versed in the grand traditions of American song writing kicking off with the deep romance of Edge Of The World and then dedicating No Time Like The Present to his wife Cindy who was in the audience. He unveiled some new songs, one from an ongoing project based on a novel written by his grandfather, Fred Starr. The novel, Beauty And Ruin, is set in late nineteenth century Arkansas and Starr is collaborating with John Oates, Dana Cooper and Jim Lauderdale among others to produce an album based on the book and tonight we were introduced to the title song. Another collaboration with Oates is the song, Rise Up, written by Starr after a post -op “morphine dream” which featured his father and grandfather. It’s another swell song which has a hint of classic Laurel Canyon singer songwriter in its bones reminding one of JD Souther.

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The trio concluded their two hour set with a nod to one of the foremost singer songwriters of our time as they delivered a sublime rendition of John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery. A great ending, but the crowd were hooting and hollering for more so our three intrepid songsters huddled up before launching into the Eagles’ Take It Easy, Starr piloting with Shields and Healy as his wingmen. The crowd loved it.

 

 

Hannah Aldridge with The Goat Roper Band. Nice n Sleazy, Glasgow. 26th April 2019

This perfectly bundled mini package tour rolled into Glasgow with both acts having new albums to promote and they both did a swell job of selling them to the good sized audience who turned up on a miserable rainy night. Hannah Aldridge seems to have found favour with Glaswegians with several reminiscing before tonight’s show of an especially raucous gig a few years back while the front row was packed with a bunch who had seen her the previous night in Stirling and who fully intended to be at her next show in Edinburgh.

Aldridge’s new release is a live album recorded in London with a varied cast of musicians and one of the acts featured on the disc is The Goat Roper Band from Wales and it’s the Goat Roper’s who are both the support act and her backing band on this tour. Having met at a show in Liverpool some years back they’ve kept in touch and met up just before this tour for a rehearsal before hitting the road. It’s a fine example of one of Aldridge’s creeds, “The undying love of music without boundaries,” as this blend of Welsh raggle taggle and southern soulful Americana fit together perfectly.

The Goat Roper’s played the first set with several songs from their new album, Tall Grass, featured. A very hirsute trio with a 1970’s Ladbroke Grove look to them, they’re an energetic bunch, kinetic on stage with double bass player Tom Davies particularly intriguing as he caresses and dances around his instrument. His brother Jim, plays a mean acoustic guitar, wringing the notes out while Sam Roberts keeps the rhythm going on his acoustic guitar. Straddling R’n’B, rockabilly and country (with a particular bent for those old cosmic country days) the band were in great form with Desert Flowers, Ask For Alice and Whiskey Lullaby all performed, the latter allowing them to show off well their harmonies which surely draw from the well of The Everlys. Best of all was Don’t Mind The Rain, the closing song from Tall Grass, which meandered wonderfully with skeletal guitar and offbeat harmonies. A chap standing next to your reviewer said it was as if The Grateful Dead had stumbled into Dylan’s Basement Tapes sessions, and that just about describes it. They closed with a hi-octane rumble in the shape of High Heel Blues with Jim Davies almost ripping his guitar strings apart.

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After a short break, The Ropers’s were back on stage with Ms. Aldridge for her set. Her performance, stripped of the studio sheen of her albums, allowed her words more space to impress but there was no let up in the fury on several numbers. Explaining that although she is influenced by classic writers from the seventies she is a child of the nineties and it was the likes of Smashing Pumpkins who she grew up with, she sang a song from her favourite of that period, the late Chris Cornell. It was Audioslave’s Like A Stone and she imbued it with a fearsome power as it grew in intensity with Jim Davies’ guitar playing impressive. Her own songs didn’t lack intensity as she rubbished an ex boyfriend on Old Ghost and delved into history for Born To Be Broken, written after she read about Andrew Jackson’s slave mistress and her sad demise, the song soaked with southern sadness. Lie Like You Love Me, a co-write with the late Randall Clay was masterful as it hit the spot straight from its arresting opening line.

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The band left Aldridge on stage for a solo set which included a grand thrash through Howlin’ Bones, an excellent hard scrabble Razorwire and a song Aldridge wrote with her Muscle Shoals songwriter father, Yankee Bank, a good old-fashioned tale of civil war bitterness. The boys in the band were back up for the set closer, Burning Down Birmingham, a city Aldridge confesses to not being too keen on (that’s Birmingham, Alabama folks so breathe easy down south). As is her wont, Aldridge invited audience members on stage to sing along with her and with the volunteers in place they delivered a stripped down version which was much more affecting than the studio version. There was room for an encore which included a cracking version of Gillian Welsh’s Red Clay Halo before Aldridge said farewell by way of Don’t Be Afraid which opened like a lullaby before ascending into a thrashing crescendo of guitars. A great end to a grand evening.

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.

 

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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