Jason Ringenberg. Stand Tall. Courageous Chicken Music.

final-pack-shotOn the eve of a UK tour by the legendary Ringenberg, THE Jason of Jason & The Scorchers, it’s heartening to hear this latest album from him and even more heartening to report that it is a humdinger. It fairly zips along with typical pizzazz, country, folk, and punk licks all rolled into little balls of fire with his familiar voice at the helm. What’s not so heartening is the revelation in the liner notes that Ringenberg had resigned himself to never recording again in this “internet driven music world.” His ennui was dispelled when he was given the opportunity to be artist in residence at Sequoia National Park in California. He spent a month in the wilderness, dwarfed by the arboreal giants, tracked by bears, and found songs tumbling out of him. Energised, he returned to his own roots in Southern Illinois and recorded most of this album with chums he’d played with back in his college days there before finally completing it in Nashville.

The album opens with a tune obviously indebted to his month in the wilderness, the wonderfully cinematic instrumental Stand Tall. It’s music for a western movie with Morricone and Tiomkin like splendour, banjo, fiddle and twangy guitar battling it out with a horn section over a galloping beat. The splendour of the sequoias informs the gentle folky rhythms of Here In The Sequoias with Ringenberg saluting the majesty and tranquillity of these giants while John Muir Stood Here is a scorcher (sorry) of a song which commemorates the famous Scottish naturalist who kick-started nature conservation in the States.

Elsewhere Ringenberg tears through some cracking country rock as on Looking Back Blues with its searing pedal steel and Almost Enough, a song written by an old Illinois comrade, Hugh Deneal, while Many Happy Hangovers To You is a wonderfully loose-limbed confection with squirreling guitars and pedal steel driving the song along. In a gentler mood, he turns in a fine reading of Jimmy Rogers’ Hobo Bill’s Last Lament while Dylan’s Farewell Angelina closes the album. He recalls his own past when supporting The Ramones on a tour back in 1983 on God Bless The Ramones, a punk infused blast with some scorching (sorry again) lap steel playing while the excellent John The Baptist Was A Real Humdinger basically recasts the hapless water dunker as a wild west hero. Overall, we should be grateful to those sequoias for inspiring the man to record again as Stand Tall is an excellent album.

Jason Ringenberg is touring the UK in March including a Glasgow show on 28th, all dates here.


Findlay Napier & Megan Henwood. The Story Song Scientists. Dharma Records

5aab257b-ed75-45c6-b919-01d15a8e6a71Having penned the cabinet of curiosities which was VIP and then eulogised his adopted city of Glasgow, Findlay Napier seems to have now gotten into the habit of releasing EPs with a selected partner. The first of these was his collaboration with Rebecca Loebe on Filthy Jokes and now here’s a six-song disc written with Megan Henwood, a BBC 2 Young Folk award winner. Napier is a huge champion of the art of song writing and subsequently either runs or attends writing workshops much of the time and it was at one such event he met Henwood and casually asked her if she fancied, “Writing a song about maths?”

It’s one of the many attractions of Napier that he can pluck a subject almost randomly and turn it into a song which is not esoteric but rather intriguing. We’re not familiar with Ms. Henwood’s oeuvre but the songs here are all co-written and her warm voice works well with Napier’s while she opens some other dimensions for Napier aside from his typical investigations. The opening song is Unnamable Radio, based on a 1971 event when a phone in radio jock kept a suicidal man on the line as emergency services eventually located him. It fits well into the vignettes and biographies which have peppered Napier’s albums, as do a couple of the other songs here, but elsewhere the duo bustle about other matters.

Shepherd has Henwood to the fore vocally and it’s a wonderfully realised modern folk song which glistens with some superb guitar work while arching back to the likes of John Martyn, Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny. The harmony singing here is sublime and the song cleaves to the hinterland of folk music, pastoral, mystical and downright spooky. There’s more mystery and weird folkiness on North Pond Phantom which is about a Thoreau like hermit who subsisted on food stolen from homes around his hermitage for 27 years. It’s another true story and Napier and Henwood breathe life into it gracefully and with an empathetic tenderness. But these guys are supposed to be scientists so it’s only fitting that they write a song about a German mathematician who wrestled with the concept of infinity, much to the consternation of his peers. End Of Numbers is another song which could have fitted onto VIP as is the powerful and driving pulse of Wild Wild Country which one presumes is about the ill-fated Rajneeshpuram cult in Oregon. They close the album with The Last Straw, an ecological plea which is the most intricate number on the disc with percussion and some great retro effects. Whether it’s a stylophone or not which produces the cheesy sounds it’s a neat effect cleverly juxtaposing a sixties sci-fi plastic future and the current concerns over plastic waste in the oceans. Whatever, it’s a cracking finale to what is a very good EP.

And finally, you just have to love this video…

Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules. Live Mules

52664478_1467149073420858_131174455907975168_nYou have to admit that Glasgow’s Daniel Meade has several strings to his bow. Run through his back catalogue and you’ll find country, country blues, rockabilly, hillbilly, boogie woogie, honky tonk and good old fashioned rock’nroll all rubbing shoulders. A compulsive (and very talented) songwriter, Meade also has an eclectic approach to recording with some of his albums being entirely home made one man band productions while others have entailed trips to Nashville and collaborations with the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show, Diane Jones and Joshua Hedley. What we can say with some certainty is that all of the albums are well worth grabbing a hold of, while we can also say (again with some certainty) that if Meade has a natural element to be in then it’s when he’s onstage with his regular band The Flying Mules. Of his seven albums there’s only one credited to Meade and The Mules but anyone who has seen this band live will know that their high-energy rockabilly/skiffle approach allows Meade’s songs to leap out. In addition, in guitarist Lloyd Reid, Meade has the perfect foil as Reid’s mastery of his Hofner guitar adds an excellent touch to the songs channelling the likes of Barney Kessel and Les Paul.

There’s a degree of serendipity in this live album from Meade and The Flying Mules. They were playing in Shetland back in 2016 and the sound engineer was trying out a new rig so he recorded the show. Fast forward to last year and Meade was rummaging through some stuff and came across the recordings and reckoned they were good enough for a “warts and all” guerrilla release, a quick smash’n’grab affair perhaps but anyone buying this is not going to complain. It’s a short show (just over 30 minutes, they were the support band that night) but it’s well recorded and a grand document of the band in their live glory. There’s a swagger about them as they run through ten songs  with a delightful sense of energy and glee, the audience cheering them along throughout with Meade’s laconic Glasgow wit on show in the introductions. They swing mightily, the rhythm section of Mark Ferrie on double bass and Thomas Sutherland on drums, loose and tight (as Meade says), driving the songs while Reid rips out several scintillating solos.

Take a listen to the opening bars of Back To Hell and try to tell us that this is not the sound of Sun Studios back in the Memphis glory days as the band pick up a head of steam while Long Gone Wrong is surely summoning up the ghost of Lonnie Donegan. Meade has a knack for excellent song titles with There’s A Headstone Where My Heart Used To Be one of the best and they do it full justice here. Let Me Off At The Bottom takes the foot off the throttle slightly allowing Meade to come across in a jaunty Hank Williams style while Please Louise rumbles mightily with slightly risqué lyrics recalling the pre bowdlerised days of rent parties and juke joints. While the sources of much of Meade’s music is American he successfully transports the idiom to Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street on the energetic bash that is What You Waiting For which paints such a vivid portrait you can almost smell the vinegar wafting from The Blue Lagoon. However his roots are to the fore on  Rising River Blues, a tremendous hucklebuck which harks back to the numerous songs commemorating river floods in the American south while the band close with a cover of a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee song, Hooray, Hooray. The fact that it fits in perfectly with the rest of the set shows that Meade is indeed rooting around in the same fertile ground as these blues pioneers and keeping alive a precious tradition.

As live albums go this is top deck, immensely entertaining and vibrant. It allows Meade to showcase The Flying Mules on several songs he recorded without them and they certainly rise to the occasion. If you have seen the band live then this is a tremendous souvenir. If you haven’t, then this is a tremendous introduction.

This isn’t from the album but was recorded by the BBC around the same time.

Various Artists. The Social Power Of Music. Smithsonian Folkways

sfw40231For all its shortcomings, the USA administration has one definite shining point, the mighty archives of The Smithsonian Institution. Irrespective of governments of whatever hue the Smithsonian has endured and within its Center For Folklife And Cultural Heritage it curates a massive collection of roots music from across the world. Smithsonian Folkways, set up following the donation of Moe Asch’s Folkways recordings to the Smithsonian, have an enviable reputation, releasing current recordings (such as the Rhiannon Giddings’ project, Songs Of Our Native Daughters), and important collections such as this one, The Social Power Of Music. It’s a four-disc set with extensive liner notes documenting what they choose to describe as, “the vivid, impassioned, and myriad ways in which music binds, incites, memorializes, and moves groups of people” or, more succinctly, “The song can be mightier than the sword.” Has any song ever changed the world you might ask? Probably not but again one of the essays states, “Has a song ever changed something for the better? Probably not, but groups of people do. A good song can change people’s understandings of something and motivate them to take political action.” Taking the long view, there’s no doubt that many of the issues addressed in songs here either have been overcome or are now socially unacceptable so perhaps if we all continue to sing together we can eventually affect change. If nothing else, the set is a reminder of the indefatigable spirit of humankind, even when mortally threatened there’s a song to be sung.

The publicity blurb describes the thematic set up of the collection perfectly well so rather than rehash it, here’s what it says…

Disc 1: Songs of Struggle channels the visceral power of the fight for civil rights, featuring household names from Folkways’ archives including Woody Guthrie, The Freedom Singers, and Pete Seeger, and songs that defined a generation. Disc 2: Sacred Sounds presents music from many religions and spiritual practices, in some cases drawing from rarely heard or known ceremonies. Disc 3: Social Songs and Gatherings shows how we use music to come together, often in celebration. Disc 4: Global Movements looks to the use of roots music in key political movements around the world, tapping into anti-fascist verses, odes to the working class, and polemics against governmental corruption and violence.

Disc one will be the most familiar to those with a passing interest in folk and protest music with some very familiar songs included such as We Shall Overcome, This Land Is Your Land and Deportee. It’s not just a collection of well kent folk songs however as it roams much wider. De Colores is the theme song of The United Farm Workers, led for many years by the charismatic Cesar Chavez while Peggy Seeger’s Reclaim The Night is a powerful feminist anthem. Kristin Lem’s Ballad Of The ERA is a tremendous song in support of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US constitution with Lem coming across as a feisty performer. The rights of Asian Americans, Chicanos and union workers are addressed within the 22 songs here and even the UK gets a look in with Ewan MaColl and Peggy Seeger’s Legal/Illegal unfortunately still relevant.

Sacred Sounds on the second disc is the most “anthropological” set here consisting as it does primarily of field recordings of chants, hymns and ceremonies. It kicks off with a spine tingling Amazing Grace, recorded in an east Kentucky Baptist Church, and this, along with several others in a similar vein (including the following Come By Here by Barbara Dane and The Chamber Bothers) resonate today in light of the memory of Barack Obama singing this in the wake of the Charleston shootings. Will The Circle Be Unbroken is broken out as is Peace In The Valley but we also get chants and rain dances from Native Americans, Sufi calls to prayer and contributions from Buddhism and Jewish tradition. While this might be the disc which sits in the box for much of the time it is a fascinating listen particularly when combined with perusal of the essay and song notes.

Meanwhile, Social Songs And Gatherings could be the one disc here you could take along to a party and expect folk to dance to it as from the start it jumps and jives as Clifton Chenier gets down into a mighty fine groove. OK, it’s not all jump jive but again the sweep of the songs collected here is impressive with the likes of Tony DeMarco’s Irish jigs and Janie Hunter’s kiddie rhymes on Johnny Cuckoo sitting alongside some blistering stuff. The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra, basically a wedding band serving the California Jewish community, sound as if they would be joy to see and hear while a fine selection of New Orleans based numbers including a Mardi Gras medley from the Rebirth Jazz Band which hooks in Professor Longhair tunes is infectious. Throw in some western swing, polka, zydeco and good old-fashioned Chicago blues, and the set list for your party is all there.

The first three discs are indeed eclectic but the net is cast further awide for the fourth in the set which might be considered as a worldwide companion to the first disc, the difference being that many of the songs here were written and sung in times of mortal danger and actual combat. Pete Seeger kicks off the set with his arrangement of a Spanish republican song and it’s followed by an anti fascist Italian song originally popular amongst the resistance in the second world war. Crossing continents, the disc visits Africa, Latin America, Turkey, Greece, Indonesia and the Middle East. Some of the songs revisit the past as in Cantor Abraham Brun’s delivery of a ghetto song retrieved from Nazi occupation times while others remind us of ongoing struggles as in Marcel Khalifé’s astounding epic The Passport, a song about the tribulations of the Palestinian people.

On first sight, a collection such as this might be considered as a dry and dusty excavation of the past but it’s not. Indeed, it’s a vibrant collection of powerful messages gathered across time and continents which deserves investigation and for those who investigate it is truly rewarding.

There’s more info on the set here.




Simon Stanley Ward & The Shadows Of Doubt. Songs From Various Places

s-s-ward-tsod-songs-from-various-places-300x300Long a mainstay of the London pub gigging scene Simon Stanley Ward released a fine debut album a few years back but since then he’s developed a career as a stand up comedian so it was with some trepidation that we bunged this on the player. The first song, Jurassic Park, is about, well, you guessed it, the movie Jurassic Park. Over a pumped up new wave backdrop Ward sings about how he wished he was Jeff Goldblum in the said movie. It ‘s the type of song a band like The Vapours could have slain Top Of The Pops with back in the eighties which is fine but it doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the album.

Thank heavens then that the remainder of the songs are built on stronger foundations although there’s little of the Alt Country feel of Ward’s debut. They are light hearted in the lyrical sense as he sings about Beluga whales and the import of water and stylistically they wander from fifties rock to grungy Spanish Stroll like riffs with only one song venturing into country territory. It helps immensely that Ward has assembled an ace band composed of some familiar names including Paul Lush (who also produced), Henry Senior, Tom Collinson, Geoff Easeman and Neil Marsh – have a look through your collection and you’ll find those names in there.

The ramshackle honky tonk, I Heard It All, on the perils of voicemail and ensuing paranoia, recalls some of the work of Phil Lee and it’s our favourite number here purely because it reminds us of the first album. However, the next song, Wow, is an absolute cracker as it zooms off like a Thin Lizzy and Hawkwind merger. Here Ward recounts a true event when an astronomer working on the SETI project believed he had received an alien message (look it up). The band zoom into outer space as Lush lets rip with some stratospheric guitar solos before it all boils down with some interstellar warbles. Grand stuff. Beluga Whale is more restrained, the band laying down a fine beat as Ward imagines himself one of these clown like leviathans while laying down a nice plea regarding the fate of these beasts. Meanwhile Water (You’ve Got To Have It) comes across as an environmental lecture being delivered by a somewhat dishevelled Bob Dylan (with his heart in the Highlands) as Ward does his best impression while the band wheeze and heave mightily with some excellent accordion from Gill Frost.

Settling into the album there’s the sublime Mexican tinged Goodbye, the glowering funk of Set In Stone and the sunny delight of A Friend (Who Isn’t Me) with pedal steel and chunky twang guitar giving it a fine swagger. All fine songs and quite smart lyrically but we’ll reserve the last words for the closing Wine. It returns to a new wave type of style but here it’s more Joe Jackson than The Vapours as Ward meditates on the results of spilling his last glass of Rioja into his bath as he soaks. Again, the band are a salve as they revolve around Ward’s words with a great degree of empathy. If Elvis Costello is looking for a new backing band he should start here.

Overall Songs From Various Places is an odd album but there’s no doubting the craft that’s gone into the making of it. After listening to it over the past few days we’d actually love to see Ward do a 1980’s TOTP video for the opening song, skinny ties and all and he could maybe persuade Jeff Goldblum to do a cameo.



Reverend Screaming Fingers. Music for Driving and Film, Vol. III.


a0393409566_16Someone just knew that we here at Blabber’n’Smoke have a soft spot for music that is dry and dusty and reeks of gulches and sand storms. Sure enough, we’ve reviewed plenty of albums which can fit into that bill, ranging from the “erosion rock” of Giant Sand to the monumental shifting sandscapes of 3hattrio, and so when we were sent this superb slice of cinematic instrumentals, hewn from the mystical Joshua Tree National Park where the Rev. currently resides, it fit right in.

As the title indicates this is the third in a series of albums intended as (and in some cases used for) soundtracks with the tunes often inspired by long drives through inspiring landscapes. The Reverend, real name Lucio Menegon, is an intriguing character, according to Google, fitting into both avant-garde and Americana circles with perhaps the closest comparison being Marc Ribot. Whatever, this album is on a par with any  soundtracks released by Ry Cooder with Menegon’s guitar slipping wonderfully from low-bellied twang, atmospheric slide and liquefied mercury runs. Behind his versatile guitar there’s an incredibly simpatico band laying down the bedrock with inventive percussion to the fore with the overall sound not dissimilar to that achieved by the Italian band Sacri Cuori or the fairly obscure UK band, A Small Good Thing.

Aside from the excellence of the playing it’s the atmosphere conjured up by the tunes which really makes an impact. From the start on No Destination we’re in desert territory with Menegon’s guitar rippling over fuzzy rhythm and battering drums, the Monument Valley tune here. Chaparral Kiss in contrast opens with a strummed acoustic guitar before a skewed mandolin is inserted over some tentative keyboards, the effect almost oriental. This effect is fully blown on the following Dream Of The Desperado, a lengthy meditation suffused with slide and pizzicato guitar over an insect buzz of percussion reminding the listener of that weird hybrid of Zen Buddhism and Westerns that was David Carradine in Kung Fu. Whether it’s intentional or not, the basic riff on Lost Alien Highway recalls the melody of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme while the sound effects on Funereal, a rainstorm pouring from the speakers, summons up visions of muddy farewells in fields of broken homemade crosses. But perhaps the best evocation here is in the fly blown and sun scorched Yuma Interlude where the guitar is almost tearful. Listen to this and surely your head will be infused with images from movies going back to High Noon through Morricone up to Tarantino. It’s quite spine chilling.



Everybody’s Talkin’- A Tribute To Fred Neil.

xgalb01383532Fred Neil is probably most familiar as the writer of Everybody’s Talkin’, the song from Midnight Cowboy which was a smash hit for Harry Nilsson. Some folk might recall other songs from his heyday as perhaps the premier singer/songwriter of Greenwich village in the wake of Dylan while some might know that Neil just about retired from music in the seventies to spend his time on dolphin conservation in Florida, playing live occasionally in Coconut Grove. Neil died in 2001 but his reputation grows and this tribute album, featuring many who knew him, is a fine salute to the man.

The album was initially conceived by Jim Wurster who first saw Neil playing in Coconut Grove with Eric Anderson and Rick Danko and was smitten by Neil’s songs and presence. He’s gathered a fine assembly of artists from Florida and also managed to get the likes of Rodney Crowell, Eric Anderson, John Sebastian and Arlan Feiles to pitch in and the result is a finely varied collection of Neil songs, all worth hearing and hopefully an invite to listen to the man himself.

The artists delve into all the corners of Neil’s music. Blues on Crowell’s sly delivery of Candyman, the hard stomping Everything Happens from Diane Ward and Jack Shawde and the stripped back acoustic ramble of Vince Martin’s Handful Of Gimme. There’s the Village folk troubadour on Valerie C Firecracker’s excellent rendition of Bleeker & MacDougal and Bobby Ingram gives us a grand rendition of A Little Bit Of Rain while Arlan Feiles’ Be-De-Da shares an umbilical connection with Neil’s original giving one a true intimation of Neil’s delivery. Charlie Pickett rocks out on The Other Side Of This Life recalling the Jefferson Airplane version and Neil’s influence on Tim Buckley is plain to hear on I’ve Got A Secret, performed here by The 18 Wheelers.

Keith Sykes gets the flagship title song and he goes more for the Nilsson version and very nice it is too. Meanwhile, Neil’s other major song, Dolphins, is offered two slots opening and closing the disc. The first is from Eric Anderson (with John Sebastian on guitars and harmonica) and it’s a suitably respectful performance imbued with a sixties sounding delivery while Anderson’s baritone voice recalls that of Neil’s. The closing version, from Matthew Sabatella and Diane Ward, sounds more contemporary, the pair swapping verses and harmonising as the band come across somewhat like Mazzy Star.

As tribute albums go this is a fine affair which gives you a whiff of the main man’s work. On a nice note, net proceeds from sales are going to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, a project founded back in 1970 by O’Barry, Stephen Stills and Fred Neil. On a more intriguing note, Neil first befriended O’Barry when the latter was a trainer for the dolphins used in the television show Flipper. It’s weird to think that a show we watched as kids might have led to a song as awesome as Dolphins but then it’s a funny old world.

No Depression have a fine article about the album you can read here.