Doghouse Roses/Joseph Parsons. The Hug & Pint. Glasgow. Friday 8th April 2016

A welcome return to Glasgow for one of our favourite duos, Doghouse Roses. An extremely packed venue saw singer (and guitarist) Iona MacDonald and guitarist Paul Tasker unveil some songs from their forthcoming album (with some early teasers available via a tour only EP). In addition, Tasker has just released his first solo album, Cold Weather Music, but he was modest enough to only mention it once and only play one tune from his instrumental disc.

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First up was Joseph Parsons, an American living in Germany whom the Roses had befriended on their continental jaunts. Parsons, accompanied by the very nimble fingered Freddi Lubitz delivered a fine set of songs that saw him savage George Bush Jnr. and pay tribute to friends who were victims of the AIDS epidemic on the touching Roman & Michael. He opened the set with the excellent regretful love song, Guess I’m A Fool Again and offered some noirish LA sheen on Dume Room. With Lubitz on second guitar, playing his solos with a refined touch on the effects pedal, Parsons conjured up some fine sounds. Broken Vows, based on an Irish Gaelic poem was a particularly powerful performance.

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The Roses’ duo gave a fine, relaxed and freewheeling performance, obviously pleased that the fans came out. With a mixture of old and new songs Iona MacDonald showed why she is one of the best singers around while Tasker continues to shine on guitar. He’s probably fed up with the Bert Jansch comparisons but from the off the opening bars of the opening song, Thunder Of The Dawn begged for it, the song as a whole an impressive opener. A couple of new songs were next unveiled, Pour, a fine lament on alcohol abuse and Feed the Monster a political message, both promising for the new album but they really hit their stride on the magnificent Woodstock (a different song) which showed why the pair might be considered a weird amalgamation of early Jefferson Airplane and The Pentangle.

There was a fine air of jollity around, a running joke regarding Iona’s guitar playing, Paul, the tutor, explaining the chords for some songs but there was no doubting the gravitas of a song like Fairground, the story of a prostitute. They ended the set with a tremendous rendition of Gone There, Tasker’s guitar rippling away as MacDonald’s voice soared, a fine example of all that is best about the pair.

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The night ended with a good old-fashioned encore. Not the type where the band run off and then back on again but a genuine addition to the night’s pleasure. All four musicians came on stage and after a wee bit of fiddling about launched into a trio of covers which the crowd lapped up, an opportunity for a singsong.  The Dead’s Friend Of The Devil and the traditional  I Know You Rider  were great fun but it was the closing cover of Lowell George’s Willin’ which really hit home. The band and audience as one as we all sang along. A cracking end to a cracking night.

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Joseph Parsons

 

 

Norrie McCulloch – These Mountain Blues live at Tron Theatre, Glasgow 18th March 2016

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Such is the way of the music business that it’s been four months since Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Norrie McCulloch’s second album, These Mountain Blues which only is released this week. It’s a beautiful album, the songs warm and expertly crafted, an opinion only reinforced last week when the limited edition vinyl album was delivered leading to several further listens.

The album was given an official release show on Friday night at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in the fine setting of their Victorian Bar. Part of the regular Seven Song Club nights, McCulloch was given special dispensation to go over the usual seven song limit, the album unveiled in all its glory and played by the cast who recorded it. With Stuart Kidd on drums and Dave McGowan and Marco Rea swapping piano and bass duties through the night before a sold out crowd there were a few nervous moments from Norrie particularly when one of his guitars appeared to be somewhat recalcitrant when being tuned. However the band stepped up to the mark, their camaraderie obvious as they gamely held the song aloft as he found his stride. The audience, it must be said, willing him on.

These Mountain Blues has been receiving rave reviews across the board and it was a treat to hear the songs tonight. The musicians have lived with these songs for a while and their expert playing offered a fine sense of grandeur to McCulloch’s song writing while he delivered the words with grace, his voice warm, able to sound weary or joyous, stained with his memories.

Calico Days was an excellent opener, a clarion call to believers much in the way that Fairport Convention rallied their listeners on Come All Ye on Liege & Lief, its punchy drive and elegant piano nailing McCulloch’s colours to the mast. This bracing folk rock vibe was continued on Pass By My Door again with the piano prominent particularly on the closing melody and it was the fine interplay between McCulloch’s guitar and McGowan’s stately piano playing that elevated the following These Mountain Blues into a thing of wonder. Written by McCulloch after a trip to Townes Van Zandt’s grave it’s the beating heart of the album and the standout tonight although it was run a close second by McCulloch’s solo rendition of Black Dust, a song written for his grandfather who was bruised and eventually died from his coal mining exertions. A song that could well have come from the pen of Van Zandt was given a local bearing as McCulloch’s voice was more noticeably Scottish here while his words recalled the late William McIlvanney’s stout celebrations of the stoic Ayrshire working man.

The songs flowed sweetly. The grim acceptance of fate on Hard To Be The Man You Are Not and the plaintive loss of New Joke (here given a lengthy rendition) and The Old Room were testament to the band, the songs and the singer as they floated from the stage. Cloudberry Flower was a brief return to a more upbeat feel before they closed with the heartrending When She Is Crying Too and Heart’s Got To Be In The Right Place. The latter tentative at the beginning but as we said earlier it was gently guided by the band into its rightful place as a grand finale to a superb suite of songs.

The Seven Song Club generally features three acts, each confined to seven songs. Tonight’s set was opened by Alan Tempie, a chap you might encounter busking in the city centre. Playing guitar and using a harmoniser pedal on his vocals he sang a mix of his songs and some covers. His renditions of The Divine Comedy’s Lady Of A Certain Age and Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talking certainly pinned him to a late sixties troubadour style, a style he carried off well with hints of chaps as varied as L. Cohen and Peter Sarstedt. His own Florence Foster Could Not Sing, a song about a 1940’s socialite who self funded her recording career in spite of her lack of talent, was a delight, a song that could sit easily on Findlay Napier’s VIP album.

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Everywhere were up next. A grizzled three piece they parlayed some songs that one would have termed “pub rock” back in the days, some funk, some Merseyside sparkle with guitarist/singer Jimbo MacKellar laying into his guitar. They then stretched back into a psychedelic haze that recalled The Pretty Things at their most deranged before ending with a cracking deconstruction of Bowie’s Jean Genie, the verses slowed down amid whip smart bursts of the chorus, the guitar shredded this time.

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Although the spotlight was on Norrie’s album launch, the two acts here offered up some fine appetisers.

 

Findlay Napier. Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Wednesday 2nd March 2016

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Findlay Napier hit his hometown in the midst of an extensive tour promoting his current release and drew in a packed crowd tonight. He’s flying solo on this tour but the lack of his VIP Band didn’t hinder what was a happy homecoming, Napier on top form, ebullient, and the crowd, all seemingly well versed in the material, all too happy to be honorary VIPs’ for the night, coached on the choruses of several songs by the persuasive singer.

He’s a hard worker, two 45 minute sets with a brief interval, the bulk of the material garnered from his album and EP project, Very Important Persons. For those who don’t know, Napier, in partnership with Boo Hewerdine has crafted a set of songs that can be described as potted biographies of several characters, some famous, some less so. That description however fails to capture the art and craft of the songs, the subjects a springboard for Napier’s reflections on life, his observations and couthy wit. There was no sense of tonight being an aural equivalent of Madame Tussaud’s with Napier wheeling out one famous character after another. Although he’s quite open about his original research tool being Wikipedia he has been living with these characters for the past two years and in a sense they could now be considered family. This was apparent early in the set on the moving Hedy Lamarr, a beautiful song which focuses on Lamarr’s enforced contribution to the war effort as a pin up girl and starlet, her undeniable scientific skills cast aside.

There were several such moments throughout the night, Napier able to deliver his songs in a tender, almost frail manner. Princess Rosanna Drowned In The Clyde was a perfect obituary for an unknown victim of an unknown act, the song itself inspired by some graffiti Napier happened upon while Show Folk was an evocative sepia stained tale that conjured up images of flickering newsreel. There was celebration also, The Man who Sold New York was a vigorous performance, the bare faced cheek of con man George C Parker (who sold NY landmarks to unsuspecting tourists) given a boisterous run through while the folky singalong of After The Last Bell Rings (surely a folk pub standard in the making) captured late night revelries.

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Aside from the VIP material there was a good helping from his back catalogue that provided mirth and merriment aplenty along with a reminder that Napier was winning folk awards back in the mid noughties with his band Back Of The Moon. One For The Ditch is a classic drinking song that recalls The Dubliners and Gerry Rafferty and tonight the audience were well in tune singing along with some gusto. Napier delved into his bag of memories for songs such as George, a song that Phil Lynott might have written were he raised in Granton On Spey. He’s Just A Sweetie, a flat sharing song of student lust and loss was preceded by a hilarious account of Napier’s own flat sharing days which included the presence of a bus stop in the hall, purloined on a drunken outing, a logical step up from a traffic cone.

The songs poured out, Napier was full of fun, perhaps making use of the stand up comedy routine he’s recently explored. He encored with a fine Mickey take on the “art” of encoring before his excellent delivery of the traditional A Wee Drappie O’t transforming the Glad Cafe into a Howf for a precious short time. He ended with a roaring version of Rab Noake’s Open All Night, a song he professed to be his favourite before pointing out he plays it at every show. The esteemed Mr. Noakes, in the audience tonight, wasn’t available for comment but the crowd did love it.

You can read an interview with Findlay  here

Dan Stuart, Tom Heyman, Fernando Viciconte @ The Fallen Angels Club. Glasgow 25/2/16

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That sardonic grin, the black humour and occasional snarl can only mean one thing, Dan Stuart is back in town. With a new album under his belt, the invigorating slice of punk/garage rampage that is Marlowe’s Revenge, recorded with Mexico’s Twin Tones, Stuart is carousing around the country and further abroad with what he called tonight an old-fashioned variety show. No jugglers or performing animals, no comedians or showgirls but some comedy and political satire was promised. Fancy words for what was in reality Stuart and chums (in this case and for the rest of the UK dates Tom Heyman and Fernando Viciconti) but there was an element of an old fashioned package tour in there, Stuart the MC, providing the introductions (and the comedy) as he goofed about and mugged unashamedly before getting down to business. There were laughs and chortles aplenty, an impression of a besotted fan (with a Cockney accent) who remembered seeing a gig back in ’86, an ongoing argument with his amplification pedal, the occasional (and noisy) plumbing in the venue and his infamous brush with spear guns in an Edinburgh hotel just some of the pearls thrown to the crowd.

For those who want the wasted youthful Stuart from his days in Green On Red or who have honed in on his well publicised meltdown and incarceration in a mental institution prior to his flight to Mexico this larger than life and invigorated presence must have come as a bit of a surprise. For sure Stuart has a chip or two on his shoulder and there’s still an element of danger, of teetering on the edge about him but over the past few years he’s produced an amazing body of work. The sublime Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings record, an EP of home demos and the raw vitality of the new album along with his “false memoir” which is as good a rock’n’roll binge as any published since Ian Hunter’s Diary of A Rock’n’Roll Star. Tonight he appeared fit and limber, racing around the stage, energy in abundance and if there’s a devil on his tail then it’s going to have its work cut out trying to keep up with him.

With the introductions done Stuart introduced Fernando Viciconte on stage. Argentinian born, now domiciled in Portland Oregon, Viciconte has only recently returned to the recording studio after some health problems. Portland buddies, Peter Buck, Paul Brainard and Scott McCaughey are all on his new album, Leave The Radio On and tonight, armed only with his guitar he offered some insights into the album, in particular a moving Kingdom Come. He delved into his Latin roots for a sweetly affecting song sung in Spanish before a muscular reading of True Instigator from his 2011 album of the same name. However his most powerful and moving song was his closing tribute to the late Jimmy Boyers, a stalwart of the Portland music scene who recently passed away. Here Viciconte sang Hank Williams’ Angel of Death imbuing it with a Johnny Cash like gravitas.

Next up Dan Stuart introduced us to Tom Heyman, an SF musician by way of Philadelphia who has a CV to die for (Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovido, Go To Blazes, John Doe) and who recently released the excellent album That Cool Blue Feeling. Stuart’s introduction provided us with one of the lines of the night as he tried to describe Heyman’s music ending with the immortal words, “It’s not fucking Americana!” Perched on a stool and hunched over his acoustic guitar (with a very interesting headstock) Heyman parried Viciconte’s high and lonesome leanings with his bluesy and folky urban cool opening with Time and Money from the new album. Cool and Blue showcased his fine guitar picking on a wistful love note while Always Be Around saw him ringing notes from his instrument. A fine raconteur himself Heyman added to the merriment of the night when he spoke about his shared experience with Stuart, both having played with the mighty Chuck Prophet and both then suffering from PTCD, that is, post traumatic Chuck disorder. Black Mollies sounded like something that Bobbie Gentry might have recorded had she been on steroids and he topped his set with a great delivery of Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks, a song that, to my mind, does touch all the Americana bases (we could argue this all night), whatever it’s a tremendous song. Heyman again closed his set with a cover, a fine and heartfelt rendition of Phil Ochs I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.

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Time then for the ringmaster to jump into the spotlight and with Heyman remaining on stage to add his guitar to Stuart’s the man launched into the aching Over My Shoulder from the new album. The Whores Above was the snarling Stuart beloved of old and was followed by a cover of Lou Reed’s Vicious, Stuart’s riposte to one of the reviews of his latest disc and a riff he defiantly returned to throughout the night with him deriding the reviewer prior to Name Hog. While he and Heyman were able to whip up some fine storms on their guitars there were quieter moments, his emotional scars on show on Why I Ever Married You and there was a tender reading of The Greatest, Stuart’s paean to Mohammed Ali, one of his heroes. Heyman was sterling on guitar throughout, whether punching out taut lines or adding some cutting slide and bottleneck and abiding Stuart’s rather random approach to guitar tuning. And of course, despite his disdain for the rock’n’roll ride, Stuart delivered several songs from his past, songs that once were pulverised by the garage abandon of Green On Red but now sit finely in his canon. Rock’n’Roll Disease, Baby Loves Her Gun, 16 Ways (with Heyman really on the ball here), Gravity Talks and Time Ain’t Nothin were all delivered, the latter less of a punk sneer now, more a reflection on the arrogance of youth. Scattered throughout the set, for some these songs might have been the gravy on the pie and there’s no denying the frisson of hearing Stuart revisit these but overall the new songs show that he still delivers and he does so in spades.

There was another cover to end the night, Fernando bounded back on stage for this “unholy trinity” to delight us with their rendition of The Stones’ Dead Flowers, some of the audience joining in on this song that perhaps, many years ago, set the young Dan Stuart on his wayward path. A fine end to what was a fantastic evening. Mr. Stuart is on the road for several more weeks, the dates are here, if he’s near you then do go and see a man who is rock’n’roll to his fingertips and prepare to be amused, transfixed and mesmerised.

Blue Rose Code @Celtic Connections. Mitchell Theatre, Friday 29th January

Our last blast from this year’s Celtic Connections.

Blabber’n’Smoke is happy to stand on anyone’s coffee table in our scuffed boots to proclaim that Ross Wilson, AKA Blue Rose Code, is one of the most exciting acts to have emerged from the Scottish diaspora in the past few years. He simply is the best writer and performer about; having seen him in several guises (solo, small band, big band) he is a mesmerising performer while his songs are a continuation of all that was good about such luminaries as Van Morrison, John Martyn and Jackie Leven. Committed as we were to reviewing some Celtic Connection shows for Americana UK including this one we’re grateful to David Ferguson who sent us his review of what was a tremendous night.

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Blue Rose Code is the pseudonym of singer-songwriter, Ross Wilson, a native of Edinburgh and currently based in Bournemouth. 2015 was a particularly notable year for Blue Rose Code, including as it did a SAY Award nomination (Scottish Album of the Year) for The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, a series of successful tours, a number of sparkling performances on radio and television, lavish praise from celebrated broadcasters Ricky Ross, Roddy Hart and Edith Bowman, recognition from Ross Wilson’s beloved Hibernian Football Club and the acquisition of a celebrity fan in Ewan McGregor. The start of 2016 saw yet another ‘first’ for Blue Rose Code, in the shape of his first-ever headline gig at Celtic Connections, on 29th January in the elegant Mitchell Theatre. This special event had been arranged to enable Blue Rose Code to preview his forthcoming third album, …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing and to give fans the only opportunity to buy copies of the eagerly-awaited album prior to its general release in March.

Ross Wilson’s versatility is such that he is equally at home performing intimate solo gigs, as a trio or with a small band but, with up to eleven musicians on stage at any one time, this special gig was most definitely a case of “Blue Rose Code – max”. The line-up varied throughout the show, according to the arrangements and dynamics of each song. Ross Wilson revelled in the role of band leader, bringing the best out of the accompanying musicians and drawing great inspiration from them in return.

Ross’s customary beard was reduced, on this occasion, to a rather splendid pair of mutton-chop sideburns, all the better for the audience to witness his ever-widening smile as they roared their appreciation at the end of every single song. There was a richness and variety to the ten songs which make up the new album, yet they fitted together beautifully as a coherent whole. The set opened with an abridged version of the awe-inspiring gospel song, Grateful, featuring a quietly impassioned vocal from Ross Wilson, embellished by Angus Lyon’s elegant piano and feathery counterpoint vocals from Eliza Wren Payne. The majestic My Heart, The Sun featured pulsating rhythms, smoothly rippling trumpet and an anthemic chorus. The carefree swagger of Rebecca, a gentle country blues, gave way to one of the most achingly beautiful, tender and gracious break-up songs you will ever hear in Pokesdown Waltz, whose gently-whispered closing line surely brought a tear to the eye of most everyone in the room (”…the only regret that presides is that I do wish I’d kissed you goodbye…”). Ross Wilson then quipped that the next song, Glasgow Rain, would bring an end to “divorce corner” for the evening! This song was cinematic in scope, bringing a deeply soulful vocal from Ross (“…the rain fell like dominoes along Great Western Road….”) and a masterclass in cool and sweet jazz from the formidable combined talents of Colin Steele (trumpet), Nico Bruce (double bass), John Lowrie (drums) and Angus Lyon (piano).

In The Morning, Parts 1 and 2 was an extended tour de force, which started with the breezy country soul of part one and segued dreamily into the mesmerising ebb and flow of part two. The fragile beauty of Love, a perennial fans’ favourite which has finally made it onto an album, was notable for Ross’s ethereal vocal and delicate washes of cello, violin and trumpet. The free-flowing Favourite Boy was performed solo by Ross, with the rhythms provided by playful piano chords and foot-taps. In The Morning, Part 3 saw Ross’s vocals build gradually from pastoral lilt to passionate exhortation and featured an exquisite violin solo from Lauren MacColl and stunning ensemble playing from the full “caledonian soul orchestra”. At various points in the show, added musical textures and colours were provided by Graham Coe’s expressive cello and Signy Jakobsdottir’s bewildering array of percussion instruments and effects.

The main set came full circle to finish with an extended and intensified take on Grateful, with uplifting gospel choruses courtesy of Eliza Wren Payne and Emily Kelly, quicksilver blues guitar licks from “Wild” Lyle Watt and a series of beautifully-constructed and increasingly fiery trumpet solos from Colin Steele. There was still time to run through a couple of older favourites, including Edina, Ross Wilson’s affectionate and bittersweet tribute to his native city, which included another gorgeous violin solo. Sandaig was a quietly stirring and poetic evocation of the landscapes enjoyed by Ross during a memorable weekend spent in the Knoydart peninsula. As a final treat, and as this gig coincided with the seventh anniversary of John Martyn’s death, Ross Wilson paid a touching tribute to one of his musical heroes with a beautifully-judged cover of Fine Lines.

It was a sheer delight to hear the songs on the new Blue Rose Code album played in sequence, underlining the cohesion and uniform brilliance of this collection of songs. Having successfully come through several challenging periods in his life, Ross Wilson has attained a serenity which is reflected in the mellowness, elegance and grace of his songs and the warmth, assurance, charisma and inspiration which characterise his live performances. Ross Wilson’s instantly-recognisable brand of Caledonian Soul has reached a new level with this outstanding third album, which promises to elevate him to his rightful place among the elite of British singer-songwriters.

David Ferguson

Jenny Ritter Band/Sarah Hayes @ Celtic Connections. Mitchell Theatre 22/1/16

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It’s somewhat telling of the immense amount of talent that descends on Glasgow for Celtic Connections that tonight’s show featured a full account of a 40 minute thematic song cycle from a “pop star” as the support feature. Sarah Hayes, best known for her work with indie band Admiral Fallow, is a classically trained musician and well regarded in folk circles. Her piece, Woven, was originally commissioned for Celtic Connections’ New Voices series in 2014 with Hayes releasing a CD of the work in late 2015, tonight essentially it’s its second debut if you will. With Hayes on keyboard and flute accompanied by fiddle, accordion, guitar, double bass, drummer and percussionist, she explained to the audience that they would perform the piece without a break, the way she intended it to be heard.

What followed was an intriguing, at times hypnotic and always interesting blend of songs and airs cloaked in tradition, some old, some new, interwoven with instrumental passages and a recurring motif most often played by Holmes on keys and then echoed by one of other of the instrumentalists. Unfamiliar with the piece it was easy enough to sit back and luxuriate in the musicianship, enjoy Hayes’ voice as she harked into the traditional songbook and roll with the flow and eddies as the piece lurched from accordion led melodies to flute interludes and some powerful percussive moments. It was a bold move, at times recalling those tense moments at a classical concert when the audience is unsure whether to applaud and indeed some audience members did suffer premature applaudication as the piece moved from one movement to the next. Nevertheless, there was no sense that this was a wish for the piece to end, merely a lack of bearings within the overall scheme. Having had a chance since to listen to the album and read about Hayes’ theme, weaving family, history, her Northumbrian roots and the weaving industry into one, we would contend that this is a classic piece, one that will grow in stature and going by the number of discs flying from the merch table after the show that growth starts from now.

After a short break headliner Jenny Ritter and her band had it all to do, a sense acknowledged by Ritter (who had watched the Hayes set from the front stalls) saying that she thought she should be the support act. False modesty however as evinced by the sheer delights she and her compadres unleashed for the next hour or so. With a new disc under her belt, the magnificent Raised By Wolves, simultaneously glacial, chunky, folk and country, an album that is both confessional and steeped in the wilderness of British Columbia, she proved up to the task. With fellow Vancouverians Adam Iredale-Gray and Ryan Boeur on fiddle and guitar (both from Fish & Bird) and New Yorker Nate Sabat on double bass Ritter handled banjo and guitar as she took us on a tour of the album.

From the opening Museum Song it was clear that Ritter is a fine songsmith, the words poetic, her voice light as her banjo rippled through the melody. Effervescent throughout the show Ritter spoke briefly about her upbringing in a log cabin before singing the excellent Wolf Wife, a song she described as being about seeing the world through different eyes. It’s a song that takes the listener into Ritter’s world of wonder where “there are things I do in dreams I would never do in life.” Perfectly borne aloft by Iredale-Gray’s pizzicato fiddle playing and Bouer’s tender electric guitar caresses it flowed sweetly by. Ritter remained in her inner hinterland for You Are Also Them, a more down home fiddle led number where she sang, “If I am a light in the dark and I am a road through the hills…I also know how to kill,” bowed double bass adding to the woody sound here.

Reminiscent at times of fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell in her invocation of nature Ritter was more upbeat on the “spaghetti western” twang of Turn Your Thoughts and on a duet with Iredale-Gray, an old song from their days in The Gruffs, Sharing Smokes. She revisited her first album, Bright Mainland, for a song written about her early days in Vancouver, Five Nights, the words evocative of the loneliness one can feel despite being surrounded by people but the highlights of the night were two powerful performances of the closing songs on Raised By Wolves. Remember The Life crept along with a crepuscular feel, Ritter’s voice carried to the night stars as Bouer’s guitar added some sinister sparks. Lost and Found was even better, an epic opening guitar sweep leading into this elegiac number, Ritter sounding forlorn yet hopeful as she sang, “I’m slowly sifting through some old debris and I’m throwing out what’s troubling me.” As on the album the song ended with the vivid portrait of an old piano laid to rest, notes turned into firewood even as the performance was chilling in its delivery.

Ritter ended with a fine chunky folk rock delivery of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold and returned to lead the audience on We Must Sing, her tribute to the power of song. All in all a great performance.

Cam Penner & Jon Wood with Rayna Gellart @ Celtic Connections Saturday 16th January 2016

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Cam Penner and his sonic wizard sidekick Jon Wood transformed the Tron theatre  into a magical space for an evening, Wood setting up a constant thrum and throb with his array of tape loops and sound effects. Akin to the background ambience found in nature, birdsong, wind rustles, trees creaking, the eternal hum of Mother Nature, the effects underpinned the music played and framed the pair’s perambulations across the stage as they chose their  instruments with Penner offering lengthy, wise and humorous introductions to several of the songs.

For music carved in a home built wood shed there’s a great deal of technical wizardry involved but at its heart is Penner’s voice which can change from a tender whisper to a threatening holler and Wood’s lap steel and jagged electric guitar playing. Rudimentary percussion is banged and kicked, Penner plucks a tiny guitar and the loops of sound loop on. The opening song, I’m Calling Out (from the new Sex & Politics album), evoked nothing less than the sweet soft country sound of Neil Young back in the days before it segued into the frenzied alarum of I Believe, Penner summoning ghosts of secular and sacred music hollers, Wood ripping notes from his guitar. Continuing with the new album Broke Down had Penner in a fragile state, his voice a croaked plea while Wood sprinkled the song with slight burbles of sound, almost like faint raindrops. Again the pair then shook up the atmosphere with anther howl of a song, the chain gang like wail of Hey You (Lovers of Music).

Four songs in before Penner addressed the audience who were by now desperate for a breather after this impressive opening. His beguiling tales of dick shaped missiles, his love for RL Burnside and Public Enemy and how he came to be featured on the BBC series Stonemouth punctuated the remainder of the set, his beaming grin and obvious joy at being on stage endearing him to the audience. A brace of songs from To Build A Fire were delights, House of Liars the aforementioned song from the telly and No Consequence a spooky wail dredged from the swamp. A rousing Bring Forth The Healing had the emotional heft and strength of ancient spirituals, Penner showing why some folk have described his music as shamanistic.

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Support act, Rayna Gellert was a delight. Playing fiddle and guitar along with her partner Jeff Keith on guitar she epitomised the connection between Celtic music and the new world as she spoke of the Scottish settlers in North Carolina. Playing her own tunes and songs from Uncle Dave Macon and Washington Phillips she reminded one of John Hartford at times, her fiddle jigs and waltzes soaked in old time charm while her rendition of Black Eyed Susie, a favourite from her days in Uncle Earl (and arranged by her father Dan Gellert) was rousing. Singing more these days Gellert was joined on stage for several numbers by Scots singer Siobhan Miller who added some excellent harmonies to Phillips’ Take Your Burden To The Lord and a striking In The Ocean from her album Old Light.

Jim Dead Pray For Rain album launch. 13th Note, Glasgow. 4th December 2015

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When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Jim Dead‘s new album  Pray For Rain  a few weeks ago we called him a “shamanistic weatherman.” We was only joking, honestly, but of course the album launch took place on one of the filthiest nights of the year, gale force winds blowing horizontal sheets of rain that numbed your cranial nerves. Think his next album should be called “Here Comes The Heatwave.” Anyhoo (as Mr. Dead likes to say) a grand crowd donned appropriate gear and headed to the basement of the 13th Note, attracted perhaps by the prospect of seeing three fine bands and getting a copy of the new disc all for the princely sum of a fiver, one bright spot on such a dreicht nicht.

The bloody weather actually meant your intrepid reviewer missed the opening act, Traquair & the Tranquilizers although verbal reports from the early birds were all positive. We were in time to be stunned (in a nice way) by the sonic ferocity of Dog Moon Howl, Craig Hughes’ power trio, who slammed into a set of bone crushing psychedelic blues wails. Like an early ZZ Top prowling in werewolf mode Hughes’ guitar at times sounded like a jet airplane taking off with Blues Like A Hammer the standout here although their version of Hendrix’s Manic Depression was just about as close you could get these days to seeing the man himself. I didn’t see any ears bleeding but that’s not to say it didn’t happen. A fine example of the visceral power of rock music and recommended if you want your Mojo recharged.

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Last time we saw Jim Dead playing with The Doubters there was a Crazy Horse vibe about them. Tonight it’s a different set of Doubters and the dynamic compass points more towards the primal rock vibe of bands like the MC5 or The 13th Floor Elevators. The songs are relatively short, no lengthy guitar wanderings, instead shards of notes splintering the beat. They opened with the opening song on the album, Wooden Kimono, its chunky rhythm spellbinding, a revamped Redbone ghost dance. Bone Blue Moon, an older song, followed with a radical makeover. Previously an exploration of the guitar’s meandering possibilities (as on Neil Young’s Zuma) tonight it was spikier with the guitars exploding instead of wandering. May The Road Rise was a low riding menace of a song, liquid guitars at times recalling Television’s punk plasticity while Lovesick Blues hammered in with Dead and The Doubters sounding like a more unhinged version of Roky Erickson and his Aliens. Some oldies (a fantastic Jim Langstrom Must Die) and more from the new album proved that Dead has the potential to move from the pool of local talent into open waters.

 

Blue Rose Code/ Norrie McCulloch. Fallen Angels Club. Drygate Glasgow Thursday 3rd December

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The hipster craft beer domain that is Tenants’ fine addition to Glasgow’s East End was pretty packed on Thursday night as fans of Blue Rose Code flocked to Drygate for the official (north of the border) unveiling of Grateful, the single that is formal notification of a new Blue Rose Code album due in the New Year. East and west were united here as the Edinburgh folk were through in droves joining the Glaswegians in what was something of a celebration, for once a hashtag (#grateful) taking on a real presence.

Ross Wilson who is Blue Rose Code was joined tonight by Wrenne on vocals, John Lowrie, keyboard, Wild Lyle Watt, guitar, Nico Bruce, double bass and Colin Steele on trumpet. A superb outfit, they came across as a whirlwind on the driving opener, In The Morning, Steele giving notice that his trumpet was going to be to the fore tonight before a mesmerising segue into Silent Drums, Watt’s guitar scattering notes galore. A fine reading of Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem Scotland followed before Wilson dipped into the new album for a glorious and rousing love song which displayed the chemistry between him and Wrenne as they vocally sparred. A fluid line-up, the band alternated between their full set up to a trio with some songs featuring Wilson alone on stage. Favourites such as True Ways Of Knowing, Come The Springtime and Pokesdown Waltz had the audience in thrall with the set closer I See The Light summoning up a fine communal sense of Celtic soul.

For an encore Wilson paid tribute to the late Michael Marra and his hometown for the night with a moving rendition of Mother Glasgow before welcoming another of his band of brothers, Angus Lyons, on stage for a heartfelt and very moving Grateful. It was a triumphant show with Wilson scattering all notions of east and west aside. Edina or Mother Glasgow, we’re essentially all the same and the crowd beamed with pride for this erstwhile son of Scotland who is invigorating, soulful and above all else a magnificent writer and performer.

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There was excellent support in the form of Norrie McCulloch, another artist on the verge of releasing a new album, the follow up to his excellent Old Lovers Junkyard. With Iain Sloan of The Wynntown Marshals on pedal steel and Dave McGowan from Belle and Sebastian/Teenage Fanclub on double bass McCulloch slipped comfortably into his set with the mellow Still Looking For You, his harmonica and the pedal steel yearning while Call Me Home featured a fine solo from Sloan. The trio conjured a wonderful bucolic sound buoyed by McGowan’s burbling bass lines with the steel guitar the sugar topping on the already sweet melodies. There were several songs from the forthcoming album, These Mountain Blues, including New Joke and the title song that reaffirmed this writer’s belief that McCulloch is currently one of our finest writers, his Ayrshire roots and working class background woven into superior countrified folk songs.

John Murry/Grum Gallagher/Bobby Deans. Fallen Angels Club. The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Thursday 5th November

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John Murry sure picked a fine night to revisit Glasgow. Richard Hawley was playing up the street, it was bonfire night and local team Celtic were playing a European fixture. Never mind, the Murry afficiandos were having none of that and it was gratifying to see a full house turn out for the man whose album, The Graceless Age, is generally considered to be one of the best albums of the last decade.

Currently residing in Ireland, Murry was accompanied by a musician he had met over there, Grum Gallagher. When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to John a few months back he described Grum as “someone completely on the same wavelength (as me),” something that in an interview set up might be considered to be just PR puffery. Well, anyone who was at this show can attest to the fact that indeed the pair go together like the proverbial horse and carriage, Gallagher a perfect foil for Murry’s wounded tales. On past occasions Murry has been electrifyingly scary, his songs a catharsis of sorts describing past trials and tribulations including a near death experience. Tonight he appeared more comfortable, still spilling out with a passion but with a sense that he is playing the songs rather than reliving the past. He remains however a riveting performer; there’s blood and guts in his Southern Gothic, the songs still sting but tonight he nailed it balancing pain with performance brilliantly.

With Gallagher on guitar, a wonderful beat up Eastwood electric which he’s modified over the years, coaxing and caressing a variety of effects and sympathetic soundscapes Murry effortlessly captured the mesmerising pull of his records. As always the between song banter was a deadpan drawl of dark humour and self deprecation, at one point suggesting he and the audience pack it in and all go to see Hawley instead. There was no chance of that as he opened with a tender and heartfelt version of What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted and then covered The Afghan Whigs’ What Jail Is Like pitching some barbs at Greg Dulli in the introduction before launching into his own songs. While there were magisterial readings of some of The Graceless Age’s gems including California, The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid and Southern Sky, all graced with Gallagher’s sonic grumblings Murry unveiled several new songs that are equally as haunting. The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes (as Murry quipped, He’s shooting at us) was a powerful diatribe with some profane language and vivid imagery, Oscar Wilde celebrated the outsider and The Wrong Man continued his habit of his soul searching positing Murry as the last man to depend on with the delivery tonight challenging Springsteen as the blue collar troubadour; here the audience was rapt, hanging onto every word. Glass Slipper, a song co-written with Chuck Prophet was another show stopper, muddy as the Mississippi and as mesmerising as a death cell confession.

There were more covers, a fine medley of Tracks Of My Tears and Do You Want To Dance given the Murry treatment, Dylan’s contribution to the Wonderboys soundtrack, prefaced by Murry’s comment that anyone who really likes Dylan is diagnosable and, a nod to the location tonight, Abba’s Super Trooper which mentions Glasgow in the lyrics and which had the crowd singing along. Tonight Murry seemed less wounded, more on a roll.

Excellent guitar foil to Murry he may be but Grum Gallagher gave notice of his talent earlier with a short solo set that portrayed him as an excellent writer and performer. Playing guitar with a mellifluous dexterity, keeping bass notes throbbing throughout some jangled melodies, he is a troubadour in the Nick Cave fashion (at least this is one thought, much of the conversation after his set was regarding who exactly he reminded one of with several names, Momus, Tom Waits, Robyn Hitchcock and, yes, Richard Hawley, mentioned). In fact His baritone voice and his dark and strange lyrics (e.g. it’s not safe to steal the lamplight from the defecator’s mouth,” I think I heard this line) can bring to mind many of the above but it’s at least good company to be in. He gave us a grand sea shanty, played with a Brechtian gusto, a fine tale of a drink fuelled apparition of the Virgin Mary in his song Anthracite (along with a fine tale of Ireland being like Mexico, a land where statues move) and finally an excellently absurdist tale about doctors and pills, this song being the one which led to the Hitchcock comparisons. A very talented guy and Blabber’n’Smoke will be looking to return to him in the near future.

First support slot of the night was filled by local singer/songwriter Bobby Deans. Playing a nylon stringed guitar he was at his best on a song about the homeless called No Rest with some nice key changes and a refreshing lack of polemic. An engaging character he was brave enough to sing a song about his own past and his mother whom he never knew which was delivered in a restrained fashion until the end when he was wailing away at the ghosts he had conjured up.