Prinz Grizzley. Come On In. Shed Music

prinz-grizzley-2017-1One of the joys of attending a music festival is the unexpected discovery, an act, perhaps one you’ve never heard of, that just knocks you out. OK, it doesn’t happen that often but when Blabber’n’Smoke was at Kilkenny Roots earlier this year we did have such an epiphany when we popped into a hotel to see what the action was. On stage was a classic country line up playing classic country songs, the singer, well, his voice was immediately compelling, worn and wearied at times but able to soar and even yodel at times. It was Prinz Grizzley of course and it was something of a surprise when it transpired that the guys had travelled from Austria to play several shows over the weekend. It seemed to be a weekend well spent as Blabber’n’Smoke weren’t the only ones impressed with the band the most talked about act and even getting some PR representation from the jaunt.

Prinz Grizzley is the creation of Chris Comper, an Austrian who has been on the indie scene over there for some years before gravitating into his current country mode. The way he tells it he “Dug deep down in the rich grits of good ol´ country, folk and blues. The more he dug, the more he returned, back home to rural feelings that bound him to his roots in western Austria. Surrounded by rugged wild country, with god-loving, hardworking folk, whose simple living and gentle loving he finds an inspiration for songs that might have been written across the ocean.” And that pretty much sums up Come On In, the debut album – eleven songs which set Comper firmly in the Americana field as he ranges across country, honky tonk and romantic Western ballads. Listening to the album it’s clear that Comper did indeed dig deep, inhaling all he exhumed as he turns in a superb set of songs expertly crafted by his musicians with pedal steel weeping away along with some horn and string arrangements that elevate several of the songs. His lyrics (in English) are impressive, his love songs intimate and poetic while he also has a fine way with a story song. Many of the songs contain striking images and metaphors brought to life by his expressive vocal range.

The album opens with a classic sound, plaintive harmonica and softly strummed guitar introducing Wide Open Country before a lonesome pedal steel weighs in and the song slides into a slow waltz time affair. It could be an outtake from Neil Young’s Harvest days as Comper sings a song soaked in gratitude for being in love. The jauntier country lope of Give Me One More Reason shifts the band into saloon bar territory, fittingly enough as the song’s about betrayal as Comper sings, “I was worried about the signs Lord, she brought banc to our home. The smell of party and excitement lay upon her.” There’s more country heartache on the yearning I may Be Late, a cracking number with some superb curling pedal steel as the protagonist tries to persuade an old girlfriend to abandon her fickle man and come back to him. Again, Comper has a way with words here as he sings, “I heard he always spends your money in a topless bar, When you come home from the nightshift all you find is an empty jar.Personal Hell returns to the simple country rock lope of the opening song, albeit with a chunkier guitar propping it up, and again it’s an offer to be there in times of need and with the accordion accompaniment and Comper’s high lonesome voice it has echoes of The Band in it. For some reason Comper seems keen to play the other man at times. Fiery Eyes, an infectious number with horn arrangements sees him again trying to lure a woman from her man. Mind you, when he sings, “To be honest with you, I think leaving would be the right thing to do,” she would have to have a hard heart not to side with him.

Having proved he’s a dab hand with his country version of Don Juan, Comper turns his hand to some shitkicking rockabilly on the hard livin’, hard drinkin’ tale of Mountain’s Milk while Irene is a frontier song as a rancher in his dying days gives thanks to his better half and recalls their disappointments. Twang guitar and pedal steel evoke a wide-open space, almost Ghost riders in The Sky territory and Comper rides with his as his voice soars towards the end. Aging is the issue again on the powerful and glistening Walls, the pedal steel here gliding like a cosmic Jerry Garcia, as Comper inhabits a bedridden geriatric raging against the dying of his light. A couple of the songs are more intimate. I Can See Darkness seems to be another meditation on aging while the closing Tell Me Why finds Comper in a retrospective mood as he wallows through past memories, the delicate string arrangement adding a melancholy air.

The album confirms the impression we gained when we saw Prinz Grizzley all those months ago. Comper is an incredibly talented chap, tapping into a rich seam of country music and stamping his own personality on it. Word is that Prinz Grizzley will be touring the UK next year, if so, do be sure to go and see them.

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The Strange Blue Dreams. The Strange Blue Dreams. Holy Smokes Records

a4106934099_16Back in March 2016 Blabber’n’Smoke raved slightly over an EP from The Strange Blue Dreams, a Glasgow based combo who played songs which seemed to have been gathered from some Twilight Zone littered with rock’n’roll relics. Unlike many retro rockers, The Strange Blue Dreams pilfered from the past with some finesse, their songs, written by their crooning front man, David Addison, celebrating the worlds of Larry Parnes, Barry Gray and Joe Meek while the band delivered dreamily reverbed swoons along with a touch of exotica garnered from the likes of Martin Denny along with Eastern and Balkan music.

This debut album truly fulfils the promise of the earlier EP as its eleven songs shimmer and shake like jelly on a bone. They delve into a truly strange universe on songs such as Electricity and (yes) Twilight Zone while others swing delightfully in a manner reminiscent of such luminaries as Dan Hicks and Leon Redbone. It’s a heady mixture but it all hangs together with some style and a magnificent sense of cool which just exudes from the speakers.

With a very brief sound effect of sparks fizzing from a plug the album soars into being with the scintillating romance of Electricity which speeds along with a hint of Mink Deville’s Spanish Stroll in the harmonies as the guitars clash and clatter wonderfully. Reverberatin’ Love follows and as we said when we first heard it, it’s reverb set to stun, attitude to cool. If anyone asks you to sum up the band just play them this one. Twilight Zone dials down the frenzy as Addison croons wonderfully while the band lay down a Hawaiian backdrop replete with some fine mandolin from David Rae, it sounds as if Ry Cooder was zoning in from another universe. The Ballad Of The Sun And The Moon features Addison at his best, his unhurried voice clear above some frenetic fretwork as he sings of a tale of cosmic rivalry. Staying with celestial bodies, Up To The Stars is the first song to feature the band’s Eastern sympathies as they break into a Klezmer like rhythm, a style they revisit on the frenetic closing song, Anyway, a song which is bound to have audiences on their feet in a live setting with its cinematic evocations of films as diverse as Fiddler On The Roof and Cabaret.

Jungle Drums is a wonderful melange of surf music and Cotton Club like tribal drumming as popularised in the forties by Duke Ellington and others and there’s a nod to Buddy Holly on Towards The Warm Place although it’s the Buddy Holly from Mars, not Lubbock, that the band resurrect here. Meanwhile Lyrebird has a touch of Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks around it as it skitters along with some brio while Pretending Everything follows in a similar manner with the melody and delivery filtered through a fine production which suggests that the song again belongs to another dimension, one where Van Dyke Parks collaborated with the Sopwith Camel instead of The Beach Boys. Finally there’s the icing on the cake which is (That’s The Place) I’m Falling. Here the band pull in influences from Flamenco and Mariachi, Morricone and Tom Waits for a truly dramatic number.

The Strange Blue Dreams release the album with a launch gig at Cottiers Theatre in Glasgow this Friday. In the meantime check out their video channel, Tuned To The Moon, for a fine peek into their  weird rock’n’roll universe.

 

Jeremy Pinnell. Ties Of Blood And Affection. Sofaburn Records

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2When North Kentuckian, Jeremy Pinnell, released his first album, OH/KY, a few years back I reviewed it for Americana UK saying, “The ten songs here are all exemplars of Country tradition be it Hank or Merle or Waylon.Ties Of Blood And Affection reaffirms my thoughts back then as Pinnell spins nine songs with each and every one of them a stone cold killer, steeped in a tough country tradition and elevated at times by some killer lyrics. In his songs he inhabits badlands, honky tonks and whorehouses. His spirit is defiant and proud, past sins are to be accounted for but in the meantime there’s a life to be lived and his characters live pretty full lives.

The record swings with a brashness that harks back to Waylon Jennings’ Lonesome, On’ry & Mean; country music with a rock’n’roll heart, Jennings’ response back then to Nashville’s increasingly straight laced music, Hank Williams music for modern times. Jennings and his fellow outlaws won that battle back then but today, with Nashville again trying to lose country’s roots in favour of flavourless ‘bro country, it’s artists like Pinnell who are carrying the flag for an authentic take on what Jimmy Rogers called the white man’s blues.

An acoustic guitar leads us into the arresting opening lyrics of Ballad Of 1892 as Pinnell sings, “Laid up in the house full of hookers and wine, my baby’s in the back done committing a crime” before the band slink in with a solid country beat, slinky guitars and tough pedal steel flashing like a flick knife. Take The Wheel is somewhat sweeter despite Pinnell’s gravelly vocals on a road song that barrels along with gliding pedal steel before a road stop in a honky tonk on Feel This Right. Here Pinnell is in his comfort zone, a bar room philosopher declaring his hard won triumphs and his daily toils. He has to pay his bills but he’s got a kid and a good woman who calls him daddy and his musings are surrounded with a wonderfully realised fat backed, almost Western Swing, style, the band almost lazily laying down some excellent licks. Still in the honky tonk there’s the redemptive love song, I’m Alright With This, with Pinnell casting a gaze back on times in institutions and the days when he went to jail every time he had a beer before being saved by the love of a good woman. Again, Pinnell and the band just slay it with their nonchalant country insouciance, the guitars and pedal steel almost slipping from the speakers.

It’s this lived in aspect that makes the album so attractive. There’s a sense that this is a bunch of guys just laying down their tales, the art disguised by the ease with which they deliver the goods. Think of your favourite country song and there’s a fair bet that one of the songs here will match it. Different Kind Of Love is a sweeping declaration of affection with a Jennings’ like majesty and I Don’t Believe chugs along with some brio and a fine dose of machismo.  Ain’t Nothing Wrong is a master class in country rock with the guitar and pedal steel battling it out as the band approach the brilliance of Emmylou’s Hot Band way back then.

The album closes with another tough outlaw type song on The Way We See Heaven with Pinnell again throwing up some arresting lyrics. Here he foretells his hell raising days leading to an eternity below, not an issue as he’ll be with the ones who loved him. It’s delivered with a bewildering skewer of guitars, pedal steel and organ along with a steady outlaw country heartbeat.

The album’s out and Jeremy Pinnell embarks on a short tour of the UK, accompanied by Ags Connolly, this week. All dates here. 

Richard Thompson. Acoustic Rarities. Proper Records

arRichard Thompson’s decision, back in 2014, to record some of his back catalogue with just him and his acoustic guitar (Acoustic Classics) might be one of the best of his career. Hailed immediately by fans and critics he recently followed it up with Acoustic Classics Vol. 2, another cracker, and now, just two months later, he unveils a third instalment.  Essentially, there’s no real need to read further on if you enjoyed the previous volumes. Rarities stands beside them, tall and proud.

The format is the same. Thompson, voice and acoustic guitar, revisits his catalogue. Here the bait (if any was needed) is six previously unreleased songs and a few recorded by others but not previously by Thompson. Alongside these he digs deep into his recorded past revisiting Fairport Days, his obscure solo debut, Henry The Human Fly, and two numbers originally recorded with Linda Thompson.

Sloth, originally a lengthy electric folk dirge on Fairport’s full House, is stripped back but still sends shivers down the spine with Thompson’s unique guitar style a triumph. Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman (a song that was recorded for Full House but which didn’t make the final cut, only emerging some years later) allows Thompson to stake, yet again, a claim to be one of our finest troubadours in the folk medium. From the duo years with Linda, Thompson selects the dark Never Again and the even darker, End Of The Rainbow, the latter given a magnificent reading and as relevant today as it was back when it was recorded, a bleak prophecy for a fresh faced bairn.

Henry The Human Fly (his first solo album in 1972) was, allegedly, the poorest selling album ever released by US label Warner Bros/Reprise and Thomson was reportedly dissatisfied with it. This reviewer still has his copy bought back then and still thinks that The Angels Took My Racehorse Away and Roll Over Vaughn Williams stand amongst Thompson’s best songs. Here he selects The Poor Ditching Boy for a royal makeover with accordion accompaniment, a version which begs the question as to whether, for a future instalment, Thompson could deliver the whole of the album acoustically.

As for the unreleased songs, some will be familiar to gig goers over the years such as the humorous Alexander Graham Bell, here given some Django like guitar runs, while Push And Shove was a live favourite some twenty years ago. Rainbow Over The Hill was offered to The Albion Band and it’s a neat reversal of the rainbow metaphor from The End Of The Rainbow with its optimism. What If is a fine example of a spiky Thompson diatribe while She Played Right Into My Hands rolls along with a fine pub session folk feel and They Tore The Hippodrome Down wanders down a nostalgic alley. Best of all however is the stark folk ballad Thompson offered to Blair Dunlop, Seven Brothers. Here he revisits his reimaging of classic folk ballads that helmed Liege & Lief and Full house with a song suffused with portents of doom.

So, number three in an excellent series. Wholly recommended to Thompson fans and hopefully not the last of them to surface.

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Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards. California Calling. Compass Records

51soicuelml-_pjautoripbadgebottomright4-40_ou11__Boston’s Laura Cortese steps up a mark with this excellent album recorded with her all female band, The Dance Cards. It’s an adventurous disc, a mutant string band venture with fiddle and cello to the fore but adorned by an adventurous use of percussion and sympathetic synthesized sounds. It’s not avant garde nor is it downhome bluegrass. Instead, it’s a richly multilayered tapestry of sonic adventure underpinned with a strong sense of pop nous and Cortese’s lovely honeyed voice. The use of marimba, glass harmonica, synth bass and various keyboards add a touch that’s not so much exotic as adventurous with the resulting sounds recalling artists who were redefining the art of the singer songwriter back in the day such as Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, The McGarrigles and The Roches and even, at a stretch, Tom Waits. It’s bold and invigorating while still rooted in a folky and woody Americana vein.

Aside from the sonic adventures offered by the multitude of instruments and the earnestness of Cortese’s voice (and the excellent harmonies from the band) it’s the twin fiddles of Cortese and Jenna Moynihan which drive the album forward, the propulsive heartbeat if you wish. On several of the songs they just let it rip with the best example perhaps the explosive breakout mid way through the traditional Swing & Turn (Jubilee) which transforms the song from a harmony laden number into a barnstorming fiddle tune. Strident fiddle playing is again well to the fore on the two most upbeat numbers here, the immaculate joy of playing which is captured in Stockholm and on the more measured pizzicato strains of California Calling , a song which drags a Fleetwood Mac pop sensibility into the wonderfully realised concatenation of plucked strings and woody bowing.

With several songs linked by the uncanny sound of glass harmonica Cortese weaves her way through kitchen sink drama with an Appalachian touch on Three Little Words, breathes life into the heartfelt superstition of Skipping Stone while she and her singing partners harmonise to the heavens on the slow gospel beat of Rhododendron. Someday has a fine, Celtic influenced, timbre as Cortese wafts skywards in her vocals while Pace Myself (co written with Ana Egge) is a sophisticated number with a seductive bass line and electronic noodling adding atmosphere to a noirish tale of self exploration and doubt.

There’s no doubt however that with California Calling Ms Cortese steps up to the bench. The album flows wonderfully, the production is excellent and the band are fully attuned to her fresh take on what one can do with a fiddle and some strings. She’s currently touring the UK and on the strength of this she will be well worth seeing.

Tour dates here

 

 

 

Jim Keaveny. Put It Together.

jimkeaveny2This is an album that’s been kicking around for a couple of months and on arrival Blabber’n’Smoke was pretty excited as we had raved about Keaveny’s previous album, Out Of Time, one of our top ten albums of 2014. Sure enough, it’s a mighty fine listen but it somehow got lost in the pile of albums and it was only last week we were reminded that it was still sitting there, dying to be adored. So apologies to Mr. Keaveny but here we go.

Out Of Time was a tremendous listen and Put It Together is really no different aside from having a bolder touch of mariachi on several of the songs. Keaveny remains a fine singer and raconteur, his slightly worn voice still has a hint of Dylan (circa late sixties), and at times there’s a Basement Tapes whirl to the music especially on Check You Out. He also has the fine ability to make it seem so easy to conjure up a song out of almost nothing as on the opening track, What I Ain’t Got. Here he laconically lists his possessions, ranging from his rented house and things in his cupboard to eat to a list of his band’s instruments and equipment while admitting that he’s still missing that essential ingredient.  It’s a superlative song played with some excellence as the guitars dance around an accordion shuffle and really just typical of his laid-back style.

Is It You opens with a grand mariachi horn flourish and then darts along in fine style with a female chorus and the following The Grand Forks, an instrumental which again has (a wordless) female chorus and horns is somewhat akin to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack work on Duck You Sucker (AKA A Fistful Of Dynamite). Sticking to the Mexican influence Keaveny turns in the opaque love song, Limbo And Grim (Slight Return/The Mariachi Mantra) which opens with a sigh before he repeats a mantra over delicately plucked guitar and gliding pedal steel. The song then swells into a wonderful and lengthy coda, the band sounding like a dust stained funeral procession from El Topo as imagined by Calexico. Blown Away is another song with mariachi horns with Keaveny singing of a breakup with a swell degree of insouciance despite his protestations of rethinking the whole affair. Here he recalls John Prine while the band’s playing is just so impressive with whirling pedal steel, horns, accordion and splashing cymbals all meshed into one.

There’s so much to admire here. The chicken scratching roadhouse blues of Leave This Town, just perfect for the vampire brothel in From Dawn To Dusk. The sepia toned Blue Eyes which oozes with a longing for his lover while the gospel chorus infused confessional, Good Times, is wonderfully limpid in its presentation. The title song again employs Keaveny’s heavenly chorus who echo his existential urging to get it together as the song sweeps along with a fine cosmic country rock jumble of guitars and pedal steel.

Suffice to say that Keaveny has, yet again, produced an album that stands out amongst the slew of releases that might be considered Americana. He’s gifted and really should be more feted. If anyone asks you for a reason to listen to Texan music these days then just hand them this album and stand well back.

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Listen to Put It Together here

 

Heather Lynne Horton. Don’t Mess With Mrs. Murphy. At The Helm Records

hlh-dmwmm-cd-cover-final-copyBlabber’n’Smoke has showered praise on Michael McDermott and his band, The Westies, in the past and we even suggested that his wife, the other half of The Westies, Heather Horton should record an album of her songs after hearing the excellent Like You Used To Do on their Six On The Out album. Well, here it is only it’s not an album of dusty country hurt. Instead, Horton has another palette she uses here in conjunction with Lex Price who produces, the result a shimmering set of songs, some personal, some somewhat agitating or protesting. Horton addresses issues of disability on one song and in a wider sense proclaims her rights as a female although it would be wrong to describe the album as a feminist diatribe as indicated in some of the publicity material. Probably the most directly feminist statement is on the album artwork which pictures a naked and hi-heeled Horton chained to a supermarket trolley by a pearl necklace, her fiddle and a keg of beer in the trolley, a darkly humorous nod perhaps to how she might be seen by some.

On the album, Horton inhabits several characters. A loving mother, an outraged wife, a kid caught up in romantic dreams and a woman caught up in a doomed relationship. She does this several removes from The Westies, replacing their mean streets bluster for a more intimate feel, Price’s musical textures wrapped around her excellent voice recalling the more baroque moments of some vintage singer/songwriters. The opening Murphy’s Law ripples and pulses like late era Joni Mitchell as Horton describes a woman in thrall to a man who basically wipes his feet on her while Coffee Cup  sweeps along with a grand Laurel Canyon feel as she sings of two opposites trying to find common ground in what is eventually a kitchen sink drama. I Wanna Die In My Sleep finds Horton sounding innocent and childlike (recalling Victoria Williams) but here the message is hopeful and optimistic as she paints an idyllic romance. Meanwhile there’s a very fine pop sensibility on the bouncy Did You Fell That , a song that seems to about a messy sexual encounter.

While there’s a short detour into disability rights on Wheelchair Man, a delicate and daintily delivered delve into the obstacles faced by those bound to wheels instead of legs the flesh of the album seems to be Horton’s relationship with McDermott however obliquely it’s delivered. Save The Rain  is a lullaby of sorts  to their daughter, Rain, while Horton borrows a title from The Westies’ with her Pauper Sky a response of sorts to McDermott’s Springsteen  like tale of urban shenanigans. More directly she confronts a groupie on the sardonic F.U. which is a withering put down delivered with a fine and woozy country shuffle as Horton bares her claws in an excellent fashion. It’s all grist to the mill I suppose as the album signs off with a bit of a joke on the “hidden” final song where Horton and McDermott offer up their take on the ultimate couple song, You’re The One That I Want.  An acoustic scrabble and a fine example of the pair’s chemistry it’s a fine pointer to the fact that the pair are touring the UK over the next few weeks and it’s in this set up we’ll see them. A post modern Sonny & Cher?

Horton & McDermott are currently touring the UK, all dates here and they have their one Scottish appearance at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Wednesday 27th September.

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