Western Centuries UK and Ireland Tour

Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer

Western Centuries head over to the UK and Ireland for the first time later this month with 18 shows penned in over a four week stretch. Exciting news given that their album Weight Of The World was a fixture in many of last year’s top ten lists with this fine quote summing them up quite neatly.

“If it seems crazy to compare any band today to giants like the Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers, then call me crazy, but Western Centuries is the country supergroup we’ve been waiting for: three first-rate lead singers, each of whom writes solid, heartwarming and heartbreaking country songs, together in one band.”    —Kristin Cavoukian, Exclaim! Magazine

 Comprised of Seattle-based country musician Cahalen Morrison, jam band veteran Jim Miller (co-founder of Donna the Buffalo) and bluegrass-by-way-of-punk rock songwriter Ethan Lawton, Western Centuries grew out of a solo project of Morrison’s called Country Hammer. Having enjoyed both the Country Hammer album and Weight Of The World Blabber’n’Smoke was glad to be offered the opportunity to speak briefly with Cahalen Morrison as he was  preparing for a show in North Carolina last week.

Acclaimed as one half of  acoustic roots duo, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, Morrison’s solo debut Country Hammer, released in 2014, surprised many given that it was a full blown country album with a band in tow. Regarding this apparent change in direction Cahalen explains, “That’s music I’ve played really since I was a kid and when I was in bands back home in New Mexico we played country music. I felt it was just a fun thing to change from an acoustic set up to rock and roll a bit”.  While Country Hammer was a solo project with all songs written by Morrison, Jim Miller played on the album and sang two of the songs and pretty soon it evolved. “Well Ethan was in the band as well playing drums and singing and we started bringing in tunes that both Ethan and Jim had written. So we decided to change the band name so it didn’t look like it was me and my band with some other folk just sitting in and singing some stuff. With Western Centuries it’s equal duties for the three of us.”

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There’s a great deal of variety on Weight Of The World with honky tonk songs, beer stained laments and cosmic cowboy observations all jostling for space. With three singers and songwriters on board reviewers have often made comparisons with The Band particularly with regard to Miller’s songs. Asked about this Cahalen replied, “I can see the comparison and it can be useful for people to hear that and get a hold of it and say, “Well I like The Band so maybe I’ll like these guys.” And we all love The Band and that kind of vibe of three writers and three singers all sharing and collaborating so I’d say that the comparison is pretty accurate. It makes the show great fun for us. To get to do all this different stuff, to be able to sing lead then have a break and sing harmony and then I’ll jump behind the drums and Ethan will get up on guitar and sing his songs and throughout the show we all switch around on electric and acoustic guitars”.  As for other influences that reviewers have mentioned such as seventies country rock bands including The Burritos and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band he stated, ” it’s hard to say what has influenced us because we’ve all heard bands like those. But we all listen to George Jones and things like that so it just all kind of seeps in and happens.”

When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Weight Of The World I mentioned that Philosophers and Fools was perhaps the first country song to mention the dating app Tinder thinking it to be a cunning pun that fitted in with the song’s imagery about love burning out but this theory was blown out of the water when I asked Cahalen about this. “I didn’t realise it when I wrote it but it does work out to be a funny little thing that accidentally happened. So I wasn’t singing about the Tinder app but it’s a funny coincidence”. And while some of Morrison’s lyrics are meaty such as “I’ve seen the weight of the world crumble with an easy equation. I’ve seen the weight of a man gone to hell, cryin’ he don’t understand,”  (he draws from writers such as Gabriél Garcia Marquez,  cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, and Cormac McCarthythey’re delivered with an undeniable sense of good time freewheeling fun so I asked Cahalen what the live shows are like. “We generally have a lot of dancers and most of the places that we play they’ll clear the chairs for a dance floor. We definitely have a good time on the stage and I sure hope the audience does too. They seem to.” As for the band’s debut visit over here, Cahalen is looking forward it. “I’m excited to be coming over with the band. I’ve been over so many times with Eli and I’ve got lots of friends that I’m excited to be seeing again. I really love Scotland, it’s my home away from home so to speak and I’m really excited about playing at Kilkenny Roots, I’ve heard really fun things about the festival. We’ll have Leo Grassi from Nashville on pedal steel and Travis Stuart from North Carolina on bass playing with us.”

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We ended our chat with Cahalen talking about future plans, “In August we plan to be recording in Louisiana for a new album which will probably come out next year. It should be fun, we’ll be down in Cajun country and I reckon some of that will rub off on the music.”

Western Centuries’ tour commences on 19th April in London and will include two shows at Kilkenny Roots Festival and five Scottish dates. All tour information is here.

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Courtney Marie Andrews and Will Oldham cover “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”.

Blabber’n’Smoke doesn’t normally post press releases  but this is so good we just had to share it.

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Started in conjunction with Secretly Group and 30 Songs, 30 Days, Our First 100 Days aims to raise funds for organizations supporting causes that are currently under threat by the Trump administration. Today we’re happy to be able to share the new duet from Courtney Marie Andrews and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Will Oldham. Andrews and Oldham trade vocals on Simone’s civil rights anthem, the hope seeping into every lyric and flourish. You can check it out on Consequence of Sound and head over to Bandcamp for the whole list of artists including and here for information on the project.

Andrews and Oldham had this to say about choosing this specific song to fit our times:

Courtney Marie Andrews says “”I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” is an amazing gospel tune that the incomparable Nina Simone covered and it became an important song for the civil rights movement in the 60s. A lot of these issues are still relevant today and I wanted to sing a song that had a palpable voice for those issues. I’ll never know what it was like to walk the rocky path that Nina did, but her power and unyielding strength was and is something to aspire to. “

“We figured to make a song that would keep folks’ minds, tongues & fingers in motion. James Baldwin: ‘This is not the land of the free. It is only very unwillingly & sporadically the home of the brave.’” – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

For more information on 30 Songs, 30 Days, Our First 100 Days see here

Five Years of Gravy: Celebrating 5 years of Fluff and Gravy Records

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Portland-based Indie label, Fluff and Gravy Records, is turning 5 years old. What started as a one off vehicle to release a record for a friend has come of age, with 36 releases under its belt and an international roster that includes 20 artists. They  celebrate with the release of Five Years of Gravy (cd/download). The collection of songs is not just a retrospective, but a compilation of new/unreleased tracks from 17 artists over the course of the label’s history. Standout tracks include “No Regrets” from Fernando Viciconte, “Run” by Nick Jaina (featuring Henry Ratcliff), “All Along” by Anna Tivel, “Shattering Sun” from Mike Coykendall, and the sure to go viral “It Ain’t Gay (to love Jesus)” by The Git Rights Gospel Revue. Five Years of Gravy is a sepia tone family snapshot, documenting a moment in time to preserve for the next generation.

Proceeds from this cd directly benefit The Jeremy Wilson Foundation, a musicians’ nonprofit health and services organization supported by friends, family and fans. Making it easy to directly assist individual musicians and their families during medical emergencies.

The album can be purchased on their Bandcamp page, as well as the usual (iTunes, Spotify, etc)

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Maiden Voyage Recording Company

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All aboard the Skylark…

It’s not every day that a new record company starts up. Even rarer when you hear that the cigar chomping head honchos behind the desk are folk you know. Maiden Voyage Recording Company is the brainchild of Danny George Wilson of Danny And The Champions Of The World (firm favourites of Blabber’n’Smoke and probably the best live band in the UK these days) and legendary PR man Del Day (who is responsible for alerting Blabber’n’Smoke to many of the artists we review). With their very own maiden voyage set for launch this week as they release their first album,  Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Del and Danny about the label.

First of all. Why set up your own record label? Aren’t there enough to go around and surely it’s a major task.

Del: Well I’ve worked in all just about every aspect of the music industry over the last 20 odd years, retail, marketing, distribution, PR, promoting and run a booking agency.  So it was only a matter of time I guess before I dipped my toe into the dangerous waters of running a record label. e4c8778786e5b91f46063c4602c6ebd5_400x400

Danny: I love making music because I love records and it seems like another great adventure to be a record company guy too. The best thing about finding great records is sharing them with your friends and this is all just an extension of that. danny-champ-in-warren-tee-shirt

Del: I’ve known Danny  for a few years now. Initially as a fan of his band which then developed into a great friendship. We both share an insatiable love of music and spend most of our time together either listening to records, sharing tracks and just chewing the fat I guess. So starting a label together seemed both hugely exciting and, in a weird way, the obvious thing to do.  Maiden Voyage Recording Company was conceived over many drinks at The Betsey Trotwood in London on a rainy Wednesday night.  We see the whole venture as an expansion of those drink and music fuelled nights, a way of sharing our love of music from all genres with likeminded people and musical explorers.

Danny:  When I was a teenager me and my pals would get on the bus to Beanos’ record shop in Croydon. We’d spend all our money and then read the liner notes and credits in those gatefold sleeves all the way back. I’d buy anything that James Burton played on or anything on the Stax labeI. I went through fads that covered everything from Delta Blues to Prog to Hip Hop to Jazz to Country music, my mind was literally crammed with useless but brilliant information. It still is although it’s just a little harder to summon nowadays! Later I worked in a famous London second hand record shop and played poker with my work mates deep into the night trying to win more staff vouchers to spend on that Big Youth or Big Black album…good times.

I’m presuming that you’ve named the label after the Herbie Hancock album of the same name given its seagoing theme? 71xlqirvzyl-_sl1300_

Del:  Indeed we did. We are both huge fans, well jazz fans in general

And all set to sail this Friday with your first release?

Del: Yes. The label’s first record, Henry Senior Jr’s Plates Of Meat. It’s a wonderful instrumental pedal steel album that flits between country, jazz, funk and Allman Brothers’ jam band wonderment. Henry is of course the pedal steel wizard for The Champs so it was the obvious first release for us both in terms of working with musicians who are friends and musicians we both respect and love. ed7b30_241646c3551142ac890d5843cb2a2de2mv2_d_2000_2000_s_2

I’ve had the privilege of hearing Plates of Meat and it’s really rather good. Funky pedal steel driven tunes that reminded me of bands like The Meters and Barefoot Jerry, two bands that probably aren’t too often lumped together. Wonderful as it is it’s hard to imagine that a record like this would get much attention from more established labels despite an obvious audience of music obsessive’s like us who can appreciate the album itself and its antecedents. I’m wondering what you have up your sleeve for future releases?

Del: It’s hard to say really.  Danny and I drew inspiration from the likes of Light In The Attic and Honest Jon’s, record labels who consistently release albums that excite and surprise. Those labels appear free form any sort of genre categorisation, and we like that. We will be releasing albums and hopefully singles for all genres in all sorts of formats. We will be doing a 7″ singles club next year and we’re also looking to release some old reissues that we feel have laid dormant for too long. We do have two definite releases, both ‘concept’ albums if I can use that phrase. First off there’s I Want Blood by the London-based band The Suburban Dirts. It’s an ambitious piece set in Kentucky circa 1800 that borrows from the legend of The Harpe Brothers who are infamous for being America’s first serial killers.  It’s just stunning. We will also be releasing Moondogs And Mad Dogs by Donald Byron Howard Wheatley, an album that’s been 15 years in the making.

To be honest the love of music in all its weird and wonderful forms is what keeps me alive and it’s also the one and only guiding factor as to how we want to run the label. It really is a label of love and one that we hope people will keep an eye out for. MVRC will hopefully become a mark of quality, that’s the aim. The first three records already feel like dusty relics drawn from some second hand bin and Danny and I love that! 

Danny: And we should say that Maiden Voyage Recording Co’s online shop is now up and running! You can pick up copies of ‘Plates of Meat’ on both 180g gatefold vinyl and CD or one of our super cool t-shirts!!

As Danny says, the shop is now open while Henry Senior Jr’s album has been picking up airplay already before its release on Friday. Blabber’n’Smoke certainly wishes Del and Danny well in this venture and we look forward to hearing what comes next. You can keep up the news on their website here

And here’s a taster from Henry Senior Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry. Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad. Cooking Vinyl.

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The Iron Horse, star of many a Western and a staple of American frontier culture, forging ever westward leaving in its wake communities enriched or split asunder. In cinema able to be the source of ribald humour as in Blazing Saddles or a carriage for depression era desperation as portrayed in Preston Sturges’  wonderful Sullivan’s Travels. Kerouac rode the rails, a brakeman for a time and Jimmie Rodgers was the singing brakeman. The Grateful Dead tooted along with Casey Jones, a far remove from the kiddie TV series starring Alan Hale, a series that was still being shown in the UK well into the late sixties. Did Billy Bragg watch this as a toddler? That we don’t know but Bragg certainly has the railroad bug, his love of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lonnie Donegan setting the points for this railroad Odyssey on which he is accompanied by his celebrated fellow hobo, Joe Henry.

Bragg and Henry, both keen to explore the tradition of railroad songs decided the best course for them was to hop on a train, guitars (and recording equipment) in tow and see where it took them. In this case they embarked in Chicago for a 2,728 mile ride to Los Angeles, a 65 hour long trip stopping at St. Louis, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Alpine, El Paso and Tucson. At the stops they hopped off, set up and sang, on platforms, waiting rooms and concourses, then hopped back on. A great idea and one that is faithfully captured here, ambient sounds and all. Bragg and Henry both sound great and they work well together, in harmony or in support of one another, even Bragg’s yodelling on Waiting For A Train passes muster. The 13 songs, all plucked from an Americana railroad gazetteer (if such a thing can be said to exist) roam from pining ballads to raucous skiffle like numbers, from the familiar to the obscure. Rock Island Line and Midnight Special rub shoulders with Railroad Bill and Waiting For A Train. There are songs a century old and newer ones such as Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain, the latter the last song recorded as the disembarked in LA at 4:30 am with the dawn chorus heard chittering in the background.

Not a polished album but all the better for that with the recordings clear as a bell, audio verite if you like and a fine salute to those pioneers in song and ultimately the spike drivers and others who built these iron roads.

The  website has an interactive map that discusses the songs recorded at each station along the way.

 

Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 2016

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Blabber’n’Smoke had a very pleasant afternoon at the official launch for this years Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival (SMHAFF) which takes place from 10th until the 31st October. It’s the tenth anniversary of this ground breaking festival which uses various artistic platforms (including theatre, film, spoken word, dance and music) to promote the importance of mental health issues for all in the community while drawing attention to the struggles and successes of people living with mental ill heath. With over 300 events across Scotland this year’s festival is the biggest yet with submissions for the International Film Competition reaching over 1,600 entries with the winners to be announced at the awards ceremony on 11th October at Glasgow’s CCA.

In terms of music the big news from this years festival is actually a play, the first commissioned by the festival, written by award winning playwright Alan Bissett. One Thinks Of It All Is A Dream is an account of Syd Barrett’s brief tenure in Pink Floyd before he was ousted due to his erratic behaviour. A brief preview I attended some month’s back had a scene with Barrett being taken by his band chums for a consultation with RD Laing, a plan scuppered by Syd refusing to leave their car. The play looks at the then attitudes to mental health and Barrett’s reputation thereafter. Was he a “casualty,” a victim of drug use, a sane man in an insane world? The play will be performed in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen throughout the festival while there is a 70th birthday tribute to Barrett hosted by music journalist Nicola Meighan which will feature the writer Alan Bisset, broadcaster and Barrett historian John Cavanagh and Barrett’s nephew Ian Barrett. A multimedia event it will feature discussion and insight into Barrett’s work along with video and artwork from Barrett.

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One Thinks Of It All As A Dream

Elsewhere Rick Redbeard and Admiral Fallow are appearing while there are various events across the country featuring local music groups and a showcase at Glasgow’s Barrowland in conjunction with Music On Prescription and Nordoff Robbins Scotland for unsigned bands.

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As for the launch itself, aside from introductions to various strands of the festival, the attendees were entertained with a couple of songs from Rick Redbeard and were greatly amused by the excellent performance poet Harry Giles.

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You can see a list of all festival events here

Website

My Darling Clementine Tour and Album news

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Blabber’n’Smoke is mighty pleased to report that My Darling Clementine (Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish) are returning to Scotland in September, their first dates here since their successful stint at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe where they performed their Americana mystery tale, The Other Half with crime writer Mark Billingham. An intriguing blend of Billingham’s narratives about characters whose lives revolve around a small time bar in a small time town and My Darling Clementine’s songs the show and accompanying album (review here) were acclaimed and the trio performed the show across the UK until the end of last year. While plans are afoot for their next album My Darling Clementine are playing six dates in Scotland starting in Edinburgh on 6th September and two of the shows (Glasgow and Stirling) will feature Billingham as they again perform The Other Half. You can  read about the genesis of this multi media show in this interview from last year.

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On the recording front My Darling Clementine confirm that they are recording their next album which will be one step removed from the classic country duet style that informed their debut How Do You Plead? and its follow up, The Reconciliation. There were hints of a more Memphis based sound on some of the songs on the latter and on the new album, provisionally entitled The 3rd and Final Testament, the pedal steel and fiddle give way to horns and funky guitar, more Delaney & Bonnie than George & Tammy apparently. With a due date of March 2017 we can only patiently await the release but in the meantime the tour offers the opportunity to see the pair who have, according to Country Music People,  recorded the “greatest UK country record ever made”

My Darling Clementine

The Other Half

Mark Billingham