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

 

John Alexander. Of These Lands album launch party. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Friday 19th May 2017 with Roseanne Reid.

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The south side’s Glad Cafe was as packed as I’ve ever seen it for this show celebrating the release of local musician John Alexander’s second album, Of These Lands. Introducing his set in front of a drum kit Alexander promised the audience a bit of a Neil young experience, some solo acoustic songs before the band kicked in. A mite grandiose one might have thought but by and large Alexander followed through particularly when he buckled on his Gibson Les Paul midway through the set.

The album’s an intriguing mix of country blues and folk tinged rock which allows his fine guitar skills and deeply grained voice a chance to shine and both of these were on show tonight as he delivered all of the songs from the album along with a few older numbers.

The first three songs were solo efforts. Perched on a stool that he worried was “a bit too wobbly” he opened with the delightful Used To Be A Friend Of Mine, a song that harks back to the sixties folk revival with echoes of John Martyn and Bert Jansch before Don’t Fail Me, a harrowing eulogy to fallen soldiers, cast a dark shadow upon the hushed audience.  Alexander followed this with the sly blues picking of This Side Or The Other which, in a similar fashion to the opening number was a reminder of the freewheeling take on the blues that was popular back in the sixties. Delivered with a whiff of Bleeker Street and The Gaslight Cafe it’s the sort of song that Dave Van Ronk did so well and it allowed Alexander the opportunity to lay down some fine blues picking on his guitar.

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Drummer Jim McDermott appeared for the next song, one of the highlights of the album, Hallowed Ground. Although McDermott plays on several songs on the album Hallowed Ground isn’t one of them but tonight he fashioned a primal percussive shuffle over which Alexander laid down his skeletal blues, his voice stained with Delta dirt before they launched into the gruff All My Angels Have Fallen with McDermott pushing Alexander’s gruff delivery to new heights.  The pair were then joined by bassist Nico Bruce for a bone rattling Take The Blame.

Strapping on his Les Paul Alexander was as good as his word earlier on when he mentioned Neil Young as the band launched into a grungy raw boned rendition of Skin (from his previous album) that saw Alexander shredding notes from his guitar over the solid rhythm section.  There was a fine and chunky Meet Me Where The River Flows and a magnificent rendition of A Little Daylight which was muscled up from the album version with a seventies  rock feel, halfway between The Stones and Humble Pie, the only thing missing from the into was some cowbell. They ended the set with a cover version from a man who, as Alexander said, “went to school around the corner” and sure enough they pumped up an excellent rendition of John Martyn’s Don’t Want To Know which sparkled with a true love of the man’s music as all three conjured up as fine a rendition as I can recall. Alexander’s voice eerily reminiscent of Martyn while Bruce’s bass was supple and evocative and McDermott shone on his cymbal work.

No encores, declared Alexander but the crowd demanded one more so as McDermott and Bruce departed we were treated to a gutsy rendition of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright which allowed a closing glimpse of the man’s fine voice and guitar work. All in all this was an excellent show.

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We must mention the opening act, Roseanne Reid. Ms. Reid is a graduate of sorts from the Steve Earle school of song writing and we’ve seen her in support slots several times over the past few months. Hailing from Edinburgh she disguises herself as an Appalachian waif as her songs recall the likes of Earle himself along with Mary Gauthier while she acknowledges writers such as Merle Haggard as an influence. Over the months she is building in confidence and she announced tonight that she is writing several new songs to supplant those from her EP she has been reliant on for so long. However with songs such as Sweet Annie, Amy and I Love Her So she’s already shown that she is somewhat special and an artist to watch out for.

Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio @ The Fallen Angels Club. Stereo, Glasgow, Friday 7th April

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Tonight was a welcome (and much overdue) return to Glasgow from Texan Alejandro Escovedo who is touring on the back of his acclaimed (and much overdue) album Burn Something Beautiful, his first in five years. A fascinating character and one who might conceivably be worthy of the accolade “legend” Escovedo straddles the worlds of punk, Americana, Latin and Mexicana music. His first band, the Nuns, were the support band in San Francisco for the final Sex Pistols gig and with Rank and File and True Believers he was a prime mover in the rootsy alt country scene of the eighties. Solo albums commencing with Gravity (in 1992) were critically acclaimed with No Depression magazine declaring Escovedo “Artist of the Decade” at the end of the nineties. A struggle with hepatitis in the new century threw a spanner into the works but with the assistance of some earnest fundraising from his musical community and beyond he returned to recording and live appearances. He has collaborated with numerous artists familiar to these pages including Chuck Prophet, Peter Buck, Carrie Rodriguez and for this tour Sacri Cuori’s Antonio Gramentieri.

So it can be reasonably argued that the packed crowd tonight were expectant, memories of previous shows in King Tuts and the Arches bandied about, expectations high and for the most part they were not disappointed. Escovedo, now in his mid sixties but as dapper as ever threw us a show that was high on energy; primal slabs of rock’n’roll with chest clenching bass notes rumbling away this was the Escovedo who briefly appeared on the bar band grooves of his 1997 side project Buick Mackane where he explored his inner Iggy Pop. The opener Can’t make Me Run was a slow burning inner city groove with guitar squalls and a squalid sax solo with the closing refrain of “Don’t give up on love”  overwhelmed by a cacophonous sax introduction into the raw rock riff of Shave The Cat which welled into a ferocious wall of noise, visceral and pummelling. Taking no prisoners they then slammed into Beauty of Your Smile quickly followed by an old favourite, Castanets, a mutant child of Chuck Berry with some glorious guitar riffing from Gramentieri.

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Time for a breather and as Escovedo strapped on his acoustic he said hello and offered some observations on Austin over the years which led (naturally) into a song he co wrote with Chuck Prophet, Bottom Of the World, with the versatile band turning down from 11 on the amps to deliver some sweet sounds. Sensitive Boys, which followed, was a slice of autobiography and a touching tribute to fellow musicians, some now fallen by the wayside. Sally Was A Cop opened with some inventive percussion as it sparkled into sight, the dramatic lyrics woefully resonant of our times before the slam-dunk guitar onslaught of Horizontal followed.

Curfew time approached but this was cast to the wind as Escovedo paid tribute to his backing band (which he had only met the day before the tour), his encounters with Bruce Springsteen (and the scary Little Steven) and of his friendship with tonight’s promoter, Kevin Morris, whose wedding Escovedo attended in Austin a few years back. The encores commenced with the panther like prowl of Everbody Loves Me before he discarded his guitar for a dub like version of Leonard Cohens’ A Thousand Kissed Deep followed by Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. With the band departed he then played a request, I Wish I Was Your Mother, reminding us that he’s as capable of pulling the heartstrings  as pummelling us into submission. A satisfying end to a very satisfying night.

As good as Escovedo was several in the audience were equally excited to see Don Antonio, AKA Antonio Gramentieri of Sacri Cuori unveil his new album which was released today. A wizard on guitar Gramentieri is also a master of texture and style, a rock’n’roll Morricone who grafts American music and cinematic Italian pop and rock creating a fairly unique sonic experience. As American culture conquered the West in the latter half of the last century, various nations devised their own versions with Italy being perhaps the most noteworthy especially in the sixties and early seventies when Italian cool was as hip as Hollywood cool and resonated worldwide for a while before the world moved on. Gramentieri plugs into this vibe with his music populated with dashes of Morricone and Rota along with a slew of Italian pop composers including artists such as Riz Ortolani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Umiliani, composer of the song forever associated with the Muppets, Mah Na Mah Na.

As Don Antonio,  Gramentieri was accompanied by Denis Valentini on bass (and sublime whistling), Franz Valtieri on saxophone and keyboards and Matteo Monti on drums and percussion. The quartet were later to prove more than ample as a shit kicking roots rock band as they laid down the law with Escovedo but for their own set they roamed across a fine palette of musical colours and textures, the percussion and keyboards especially inventive and intriguing. From John Barry like spy riffs to Morricone soundscapes and mondo Hollywood twist extravaganzas they were just jaw droppingly good. In between songs and tunes Don Antonio took us on a tour of what he called Italiana (“not Americana” he insisted). Explaining that as he grew up he and his peers all wanted to be Americans but finally decided that their tongues were more suited to delivering their own Adriatic version of the fabled land. The show was a through a kaleidoscopic sonic tour of his Italy and he was witty as he acknowledged that songs by the likes of The Scorpions and Simple Minds were not going to cut in the Romagna rock’n’roll circuit.

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They opened with the tingling Lontana, an immediate leap into Cinecitta sounds with sinister vocals, whistling and prowling sax as Don Antonio summoned up some dreamscape guitar. Coffee can percussion and amplified slaps on the sax led into a throbbing, almost psychedelic instrumental with shards of guitar splintering throughout which eventually morphed into a Dick Dale like groove with Valtieri allowed full rein on a shrieking sax solo. Sunset, Adriatico was a glorious swoon of a tune which recalled Brian Eno’s vision of astronauts listening to alien country music in space. We were brought back to earth with a bump de bump on the thrilling Baballo, a parped sax fuelled dance frenzy, a mutant variation of the twist which owed as much to Alan Vega as it did to Tin Pan Alley.

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An all too short set but a thrilling glimpse into the many-mirrored worlds of Don Antonio and his excellent band and judging by the audience’s reaction one opening set you really don’t want to miss.

 

 

 

 

Peter Bruntnell and Norrie McCulloch. Sounds In The Suburbs @ The Doublet, Glasgow. Wednesday 22nd March 2017

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At times, it seems like life is just one big shit storm, the past year a steady downpour of blows against the empire of anyone in their right senses. So any rays of sunshine are to be welcomed and one such was the welcome return of Peter Bruntnell (a cult hero according to The Guardian  to Glasgow just a few months after his last visit to the city. Back in September Bruntnell and his band tore the roof off as the guitars gyred and gymbled with some ferocity. As that Guardian article pointed out Bruntnell is not only a psychedelic guitar warrior but also a master of the perfectly crafted pop song. Tonight this side of his coinage was expected to be at the fore as he proffered the UK debut of The Peter Bruntnell Trio; Bruntnell on acoustic guitar, Scots string wizard Iain Sloan on pedal steel and veteran  Danny Williams (ex Black Grape and St Etienne)  on double bass.

The trio, packed into a corner of the tiny room with a capacity audience just inches away didn’t disappoint. The opening Clothes Of Winter was a winsome reminder that Bruntnell follows in the footsteps of writers such as Nick Drake, a sense reinforced by the following Sea Of Japan while Tin Streamer Song was suffused with memories of a lost way of life. The songs were delivered with a creamy melancholic air, Williams supple on bass, Sloan winding his way through the melodies and they turned in magnificent versions of Here Come The Swells and an awesome By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix. So far so sublime but the trio (despite this being their first time together) expanded their sound with Sloan picking up his telecaster and Williams proving to be quite adept at coaxing sounds from his bass with his bow with the first murmurings heard on John, a song that pays tribute to Mr. Cash that had some stormy guitar from Mr. Sloan. They ventured further into the hinterland with a stunning delivery of Cold Water Swimmer as Williams bowed a low droning backdrop before Bruntnell and Sloan added some fractured psychedelic haziness as the song slowly segued into the summery bliss of Domestico, tonight given a tougher approach than on the recorded version.

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Allowing his compadres a breather Bruntnell played End Of The World solo which was quite mesmerising, a quiet moment equal to the best of McCartney as on Blackbird. With the band back on St. Christopher flowed sweetly while Have You Seen That Girl Again dipped into power pop territory. The crowd were loving this but all too soon the curtain dropped allowing the one encore which surprisingly saw Bruntnell dipping into the catalogue of another English songwriting genius as he performed Roy Harper’s Another Day. A wonderful end to a fantastic show.

 

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The evening opened with Norrie McCulloch, Stirling based singer/songwriter who has recently released the excellent Bare Along The Branches. I saw Norrie play a very fine album release show a few weeks back but have to say that tonight topped that. Playing a 12 string acoustic for much of the show added resonance to his playing which was further aided by the electric guitar of Dave McGowan who came on stage for several numbers. The opening Calico Days (from second album These Mountain Blues) positively skipped with joy and celebration. It’s a song that increasingly reminds me of Fairport Convention’s Come All Ye, not sounding similar but a fellow jubilant hymn to comradeship. From the new album the languid Little Boat floated on McGowan’s liquid guitar fills, Frozen River rippled with a folky lilt and Around The Bend satisfied all with its down-home Neil Young like honeyslide harmonica intro. Best of all though was the closing song which was a tremendous performance from McCulloch and McGowan of Beggar’s Woods, a song soaked in memories and tonight glowing with McGowan’s silvery playing.

Mark Eitzel with Fernando @ The Fallen Angels Club. The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Sunday 12th March 2017

 

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Hailed by The Guardian some years ago as “America’s greatest living lyricist” Mark Eitzel has toiled at the coalface for around 30 years gathering a fiercely loyal following but steadfastly remaining under the radar of mainstream acceptance. There have been brushes with fame (when his band American Music Club almost charted in the early 90’s) and a brush with death when he suffered a major heart attack seven years ago.  Throughout all this Eitzel has released a series of albums that, aside from occasional forays into electronica, portray him as a poet of the streets with a mellifluous voice, an amalgam of Scott Walker and Jean Genet sometimes surrounded by an almost middle of the road musical swell. His latest album Hey Mr. Ferryman, produced by Bernard Butler, has been acclaimed as one of his best, a return to form although it’s a fair bet that the majority of the packed crowd tonight would argue that Eitzel has never lost his form.

It’s a sold out show and as we said, packed. Eitzel is playing with his band and Glasgow hasn’t seen that for some time now. The only problem tonight is that with such a full house and no stage as such the only folk who are able to see the band are those who arrived sharp and got to the front. A minor quibble however as there’s an intimacy to the show, an almost palpable sense of connection to the man who rewards the audience with a wonderful balancing act, his edgy, sometimes angst ridden songs leavened by a deliciously dark and at times ribald commentary. The band (Gareth Huw Davies, Patrick Nicholson and Stephen Hiscock) are well attuned to the tunes after six weeks of touring, tonight the last show of their European trek. They capture the sonic swells and dips of his music, his smoky croons and nervy rock squalls all perfectly delivered. Eitzel himself apologises for his perceived vocal limitations believing his voice shot after so many shows but to our mind he was still in fine voice as he closed the show with Jesus’ Hands (accompanied by the audience) and the threnody of Western Sky.

There was the LA smog ridden Mission Rock Resort and the cymbal splashed torch song of What Holds The World Together (introduced by Eitzel as “a song that doesn’t make sense, even to me”). A triumphant I Love You But You’re Dead showcased Eitzel’s mordant way with words as it slouched slowly from the band while a song from the new album, In My Role As A Professional Singer and Ham shimmered and burned with a visceral force. From the old days Firefly fired up the crowd and from the new album, The Last Ten Years was a defiant declaration that Eitzel can deliver soaring melodic rock.

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Opening the evening was the Portland Oregon based songwriter Fernando. Since overcoming a chronic illness two years ago Fernando has been touring like fury and this was his second visit to the city in just over a year. On record he is supported by friends such as Peter Buck and Paul Brainard dishing up rootsy rock not dissimilar to that of Alejandro Escovido. His melancholic opening number, White Trees set the scene for much of his 40 minute slot, his tender guitar and clear voice floating through the audience. The Devil’s In The Sky was another plaintive number showcasing Fernando’s talent for capturing emotions and setting them within a dark Western vista. Como Sueno, sung in Spanish, was a tribute to his union organiser aunt who defied Argentinian authorities in dangerous days while The Dogs was a blasted heath story worthy of Cormac McCarthy. His late colleague Jimmy Boyer was celebrated with a fine delivery of Three Sheets To The Wind, a slowly loping country song before Fernando returned to his own catalogue for the lonesome strains of Watchtower and a poignant Kingdom Come before closing with Fade Out, a song dedicated tonight to his grandfather and played with a quiet dignity. Altogether a wonderful opening set.

 

 

 

 

Norrie McCulloch. Bare Along The Branches Album Launch. The State Bar, Glasgow. Friday 24th February 2017

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With some excellent reviews rolling in for his third album, Bare Along The Branches, Stirling based Norrie McCulloch held three consecutive launch gigs in Stirling, Glasgow and Edinburgh, each one unique with a revolving cast of musicians. Those attending the Glasgow show saw McCulloch joined by two of the musicians featured on the recording, Marco Rae on bass and Stuart Kidd on drums along with Stirling musicians Craig Ferrie, Keiran Hughes and Scott William Urquhart at various moments. Playing together for the first time the ensemble had a bit of a raggle taggle approach to the songs but this  added to the informal feel of the evening with the ever affable McCulloch in fine form on and off the stage greeting each of the audience as they arrived, his huge grin ever present. I’m sure that the epithet raggle taggle will cause no offense as it relates to the late Ronnie Lane’s tag for his band Slim Chance and when the band opened with Shutter, the first song on the album, there was a touch of that gypsy caravan about them reinforced by the song’s affiliation to Van Morrison’s Celtic soul music. McCulloch was in fine voice, a touch wearied but with a hint of joyousness in the rousing refrain. Little Boat continues to mine the Morrison comparisons on the record with its soulful organ but tonight it was delivered as a plangent ballad with the band delicately prodding McCulloch’s warm voice. There was a nod to the previous album with a fine delivery of Ordinary Joe before the more upbeat Frozen River cheered up the audience as a mandolin was introduced into the mix.

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From here on in the band members came and went and there were stripped down deliveries of the poignant Safe Keeping, Townes Van Zandt’s Dollar Bill Blues and McCulloch’s tribute to Townes, These Mountain Blues. His solo performance of Turn To Dust, written shortly after his mother’s death was mesmerising, the audience transfixed. The band gradually reassembled for the lonesome harmonica led Around The Bend, a dusty masterpiece that limped along wonderfully with a Neil Young bent before the chilling epic of Beggars Wood with a lonesome McCulloch gradually enveloped by languid guitars over a doom laden beat. Show over McCulloch returned for a masterful encore of When She Is Crying Too, a song that surely proves he is one of our foremost songwriters.

For tonight McCulloch graciously offered opening slots to two of his band compadres. Craig Ferrie AKA December 91 suffered from some audience chatter unfortunately, his elvin appearance failing to capture their attention but from the front his mix of freak folk and indie rock was somewhat intriguing.20170224_204452-copy

While he sounded at times like Eef Barzelay his songs wandered into a weird world of naiveté and psychodrama deserving of a much more dedicated listen (which is possible if you visit here).

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Scott William Urquhart was a revelation, a guitarist obviously in thrall to the likes of John Fahey and Leo Kottke, he mesmerised the audience with several instrumentals that, had some joss sticks been available would have had us all back in the scented sixties. Again this was intriguing, the man himself admitting that this was the first time he’d played outwith Stirling. Do check him out if this stirs up any interest, he even sells small run bespoke vinyl editions of some of his tunes. I thought he was wonderful.