Daniel Meade. An Essentially Non-Essential Compilation Of Recordings From The Last Ten Years (2013-2022).

Whether you consider this generous helping of songs from the back catalogue of Glasgow’s Daniel Meade essential or not probably depends on how essential you consider Daniel Meade to be. Certainly, from Blabber’n’Smoke’s first encounter with the man (when he was supporting a then largely unknown Sturgill Simpson) we’ve been mightily impressed with him, as have a roll call of musicians such as the aforementioned Simpson along with  Old Crow Medicine Show and Diana Jones.

A bit of a musical polymath, Meade, after an early encounter with the heady world of rock’n’roll with The Ronelles (who were big in Japan), formed The Meatmen and then The Flying Mules, both forging a great live reputation before he set off on a solo career with As Good As Bad Can Be, the starting point for this compilation. The 21 songs here, handpicked by Meade, ranging from barrel house roustabouts, tear stained country songs and a handsome dash of well jollied honky tonk sing-alongs and whether recorded in Nashville or in Meade’s own front room, make for a great album which serves as a fine introduction for those not already in the Meade camp and as a handy quick fix for those who have the albums these songs are garnered from.

The album opens with Keep Right Away, the title song of his 2015 album, recorded with members of Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring Joshua Hedley on fiddle. It’s a fine example of Meade’s ability to mix rock’n’roll with country as the band skiffle along and he plays some Jerry Lee Lewis piano runs. The following Juliette jumps with a juke box jive with Meade channelling New Orleans greats such as Fats Domino while his regular guitar foil, Lloyd Reid appears with some scintillating guitar runs. There’s more of a pop sensibility to the next song, These Things Happen which, according to Meade, was influenced by his time supporting The Proclaimers. In the liner notes he states that the song is “not quite as good obviously” as anything the twins have delivered but he does himself an injustice here as it’s a grand guitar and horn fuelled number which has the crowd pulling effect of the Reid’s and is given a rumbustious delivery.

Three songs in and three quite different styles already. It’s a mark of Meade’s magpie ability to pluck treasure from wherever he lands and the remainder of the album confirms this. There are rousing live versions of It’s Not Your Fault It’s Mine and What You Waiting For along with a superb Bullets And Bones which all have a rockabilly heart while songs such as Let Me Off At The Bottom, Not My Heart Again and Sleeping On The Streets Of Nashville are country delights while there’s even a touch of Motown/Stax mod grooviness on the stomping By The Book. Dialling it down, Meade can deliver intimate moments as on the plaintive Fixing Quicksand and the tender love song which is Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears but one of the best moments on the disc is the very simple and very excellent Cocaine Jane which, once again, features the excellent guitar playing of Lloyd Reid. All in all, an excellent collection of songs.

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Terry Lee Hale. The Gristle & Bone Affair. Glitterhouse Records

This 14th album from singer songwriter Terry Lee Hale is an enigmatic affair. It seems a deeply personal record and it’s certainly an intimate listen. Hale’s voice, somewhat wearied, is not a million miles removed from the Zen wisdom of Leonard Cohen while the song arrangements are spare, allowing his words to flow unimpeded. The words envelop a world suffused with aging, memory and regret without ever plainly stating their case. The closest there is to a narrative is on Alive Inside as, over an impressionist soundscape, Hale details the locked in misery of dementia, but the majority of the songs are more abstract , poems almost, set to music, the words flowing. Hale sums it up when he sings, “Time is a river just running away.

Recorded with remote assistance during the pandemic Hale and his producer, Chris Eckman (of The Walkabouts) enlisted the support of Ziga Golob on contra bass for most of the songs along with occasional keyboard, pedal steel and violin input while an old Seattle buddy, Claire Tucker, sings on two of the numbers. Her multilayered contributions to Gone help to make this valedictory number the one song here most akin to Cohen’s latter songs while Hale invests it with a world weary, almost saddle sore regret. There’s a slight, oh so slight, cowboy lament to it as Hale bids goodbye to a lonesome stranger. The pull of the old west is also discernible in the opening number Oh Life where Hale waxes somewhat philosophically on our cradle to grave journey, his yearning vocals leaning towards Hank Williams, albeit with a Camus and Lou Reed bent, the latter recalled particularly by Catherine Graindorge’s violin with its echoes of John Cale’s Velvet Underground work.

The pensive and dream like Fish features some of Hale’s superlative guitar playing along with washes of pedal steel guitar (played by Jon Hyde) while Curve Away is dense and claustrophobic, the lyrics almost apocalyptic as they evoke a feeling similar to that of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s followed by the bluesy wallow of Time Is A River which, in an opaque fashion, seems to be about the eternal struggle to overcome adversity with Hale sounding as much as a sage as Dylan on Time Out Of Mind. The album closes with Hale on his own on All Fall Down, his take on our current affairs if we’re reading it right as he sings of scorched earth politics and the policies of cruel. You can make your own mind up about who he is singing about in the line, “Hard to get around the elephant in the room” but we’ve made our mind up already.

Following on from his excellent albums, The Long Draw and Bound, Chained Fettered, The Gristle & Bone Affair finds Terry Lee Hale in top form. He’s a unique songsmith who has crafted a signature sound which is deeply immersive, meditative and thought provoking.

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The Williams Brothers. Memories To Burn. Regional Records

Sometimes a story is just too perfect to believe and this fabulous record stretched our credulity almost to breaking point. A pitch perfect 10 song blinder with an Everly Brothers sound-alike set of twins singing a tremendous selection of songs (including two by Robbie Fulks) and backed by a great trio of Don Heffington on drums, Greg Leisz on steel guitar and Marvin Etzioni on bass and production duties, recorded in 1995 and only now seeing the light of day? Hard to believe.

Some Googling backs this up. The Williams Brothers (David and Andrew), nephews of Andy Williams (it just gets better doesn’t it) apparently did have some success in the late eighties and early nineties. How and why they then fell off the radar isn’t too clear but apparently they went their separate ways leaving this nugget waiting to be discovered.

Anyhow, the twins plus their stellar trio recorded these songs live in the studio straight to tape, trying to recreate a Sun Records type of vibe. Etzioni is at the helm throughout, writing four of the songs on display with the Everly Brothers clearly in his mind. The songs swing and vibrate with a classic fifties sound reminding one of Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett in their guise as The Coward Brothers, evident from the opening cover of Fulks’ Tears Only Run One Way which is nothing short of brilliant in its fulsome country lope with keening pedal steel and the twins singing as if conjoined. Obviously enjoying revisiting this age of rock’n’roll innocence, they tear through two songs which both have a heart of darkness to them as if they were playing a high school prom but then vintage rock’n’roll always had a bit of a death wish about it so their versions of Robbie Fulks’ She Took A Lot of Pills And Died and The Kinks Dave Davies’  Death Of A Clown fit right in here.

Etzioni excels on the title track which is the most Everly like song on the album although it twists its way through key and tempo changes in an oddly intriguing manner. You Can’t Hurt Me and Cryin’ And Lyin’ may be more straightforward but with Leisz’s pedal steel driving the songs they are so authentic they almost hurt. And speaking of hurt, Unanswered Prayers is the follow up to Love Hurts you’ve been waiting all these years for.

As befits an album steeped in a 1950’s vibe, the 10 songs here are delivered in a 22 minute blast but each minute counts and there’s no sense of being short changed. It’s a brilliant album and is highly recommended.

The Sons Of Adam. Saturday’s Sons – The Complete Recordings 1964-1968. High Moon Records

Occasionally Blabber’n’Smoke will wander off the roots music path to investigate other releases and when this fine compilation of 1960s garage rock popped through the door, we were definitely intrigued. The band’s name was familiar and, sure enough, there they were on one of the Pebbles LPs with a song written by none other than Arthur Lee of Love. That song, Feathered Fish, was a powerful slice of early pop psychedelia (with Lee revisiting some of it on Love’s Seven + Seven Is) and to have it here, in vastly better sound quality, was the gateway drug into spending some time with this disc.

For a band who released no albums and who really are no more than a footnote in the annals of Nugget styled punk/garage/psychedelia, they are treated very generously here. Available on CD or as a double vinyl release with a detailed 48 page booklet, it’s a very handsome package. Consisting of the A and B sides of their three singles, three unreleased studio songs and an eight song live set recorded at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1966, the album also contains six numbers recorded when the band were into surf music and went by the name of The Fender IV. Altogether, that’s around 70 minutes of prime mid sixties LA rock.

The disc kicks off with the live show which has them playing four of their own songs alongside typical beat group fare such as the Solomon Burke number Everybody Need Someone To Love, The Yardbirds’ Evil Hearted You and, of course, Gloria. The sound quality is quite astounding as the band pound through their set with guitarist Randy Holden sounding like John Cipollina as he eviscerates Gloria with all manner of mind bending guitar effects. They sound as tight as a duck’s ass on stage and the studio songs reinforce the idea that, had they taken off, they could have been major chart contenders. They sound confident and assured and there’s a definite punch, especially on the four songs produced by Gary Usher. They kick off with the Mersey beat influenced Take My Hand before looking to The Stones on Tomorrow’s Going To be Another Day. I Told You Once Before and Without Love sally into folk rock territory al la The Byrds or The Turtles and their take on You’re A Better Man Than I is much more muscular than The Yardbirds version while its B side, Saturday’s Son is a rocket fuelled belter.

The postscript surfing numbers by The Fender IV which complete the album are certainly not there just to pad out the album. Leaning much more towards Dick Dale than Brian Wilson they’re turbo charged with the guitars set to stun as on the thrilling Mar Gaya and Everybody Up while Lonely Surf Guitar is quite simply, just astounding. All in all, a fantastic collection and a must for anyone interested in garage/punk/surf/psych pop of the sixties.

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Ian M Bailey. You Paint The Pictures. Kool Kat Music

“If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” goes the old axiom and, in Ian M Bailey’s case he certainly adheres to it. A veritable one man band, Bailey has just about cornered the market in revitalised California inspired jangled pop and rock over the past couple of years and You Paint The Pictures reinforces this, albeit with more nods to the trippier side of LA than on his previous album Songs To Dream Along To.

Once again Bailey has co-written all of the songs with Glasgow’s Daniel Wylie, the pair seeming to be in, a word which has recently become all too familiar, lockstep. And, as before, their collaboration comes up with golden nuggets such as on the sunshine rays of Life Without You which is just about as perfect a candied California pop confection as one could wish for. In fact, several of the songs here inhabit a similar terrain with jangled guitar and heavenly harmonies coalescing as on Change Is Easy and I Wanted The Sun To Shine while I Don’t Want To Start Again zones into mid sixties Gene Clark territory and does so brilliantly.

The trippier aspect looms large on the instrumental The Year Of The Tiger, a mobius strip like repetition channelling The Doors with its groovy organ pulse while Brazil, a Mondo Hollywood like loose limbed slinky affair really should come accompanied by psychedelic lighting and painted go-go dancers being ogled by Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda. However, it’s the mini epic Dreams Of Love which really takes all of the honours here as Bailey wanders, wide eyed, through a psychedelic mindscape peopled by the likes of David Crosby and Curt Boettcher, creating a truly impressive trip of a song. Sure enough, You Paint The Pictures is coloured by the past, but Bailey and Wylie bring that past bang up to date with a super high definition fidelity. It’s a gorgeous listen.

Buy You Paint The Pictures here

Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra. The Party’s Over. Tea Pad Recordings

After the relatively inward looking Soul Of My City, an album which found these retro rockers adding some social commentary regarding their home town of Newcastle amidst their usual old time carousing, The Party’s Over might be considered as a coming of age album. The opening and closing songs (Go Home (The Party’s Over) and The Doctor Told Me) both deal with the perils of over indulgence and the inevitable reckoning while several other cuts are sung in the wake of break ups. However, anyone fearing a sober and sombre listen need not fear as the band inject the songs with their usual infectious joy.

They open with the hybrid jug band blues of Go Home (The Party’s Over) which romps along with Tom Cronin’s harmonica getting a starring part (reminding one of Jimmie Fadden of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and they bookend the album in a similar style (with more of a tongue in cheek attitude) on The Doctor Told Me although here the song eventually blows up into a grand New Orleans like bluster. In between, and as on previous albums, they sashay from style to style with some aplomb.

There’s the sax blown exotic sway of She Hypnotised Me which rivals the work of Leiber & Stoller’s songs for the Coasters, the zydeco strut of Snip Snap Snout and, quite wonderfully, a trip to the American south west on the Morricone influenced The Horse That You Rode In, a total hoot of a song with Heron tackling every cliché he can find (lyrically and musically) and doing so quite brilliantly, whip lash and all.  That song is followed by what might be the best one on the album which is the glorious rock’n’roll rumble of Dilly Dally Sally, a song which finds the band on fire with twanged guitar and urgent organ stabs pushing Heron’s frenzied vocals.

While there’s always been a great deal of fun to be had with Rob Heron’s previous albums, it’s very  tempting to say that The Party’s Over is his and The Tea pad Orchestra’s best yet. You can check for yourself as the band are currently on tour, all dates here.

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The Strange Blue Dreams. Simple Machine. Holy Smokes Records

Having survived the pandemic by hunkering down in one of their favourite spaces, The Twilight Zone, Glasgow’s Strange Blue Dreams emerge with a second album which is infused with glorious retro sounds and an unbridled sense of delight in being able to twang again. When Blabber’n’Smoke wrote about their first album we said that they celebrated “the worlds of Larry Parnes, Barry Gray and Joe Meek along with a touch of exotica garnered from the likes of Martin Denny along with Eastern and Balkan music” and it’s fair to say that on Simple Machine they remain true to that vision.

A five piece band, led by singer and chief songwriter David Addison, The Strange Blue Dreams swing, sashay and sway with some aplomb through the ten songs on display here. Kicking off with the title song which wanders in with an insouciant nonchalance, we are faced with a simple lamentation as sung by a hapless gizmo, the sort we were promised would serve all our needs by programmes like Tomorrow’s World back in the day – emphasized by the retro robot toy on the album artwork. Swathed in a retro blue velvet shimmer it’s a grand start to the disc. Strange Paradise takes this promised future to more exotic climes, a Tiki reminiscence of a holiday in Butlins perhaps, while For My Sins adds some eastern mystique to the mix with the song sounding as if it has been unearthed from a compilation of late sixties Turkish psychedelia. With some wicked and deliciously reverbed guitar twanging soaring throughout, it’s bound to become a favourite.

Whether crooning and then soaring into Tin Pan Alley territory as on the melodramatic It Sounded Like A Song or battering into big band sounds with the horn laden Wine And Circuses, time and again the band take time honoured song styles and sprinkle their unique take all over them. Gold In The Mountain is a wonderful blend of reverential Presley allied to a Staple Singers like vibe and the album closes with a sprinkle of stardust on the initially dream like Knock Three Times which rises to a wonderfully skewed crescendo, somewhat akin to a beauty queen wiping away her tears as she ascends to her throne. However, it’s not bathetic, instead, it shows that The Strange Blue Dreams have their finger on the pulse of the dynamics much loved by rock’n’roll pioneers of past times. Joe Meek would have loved this song and Gene Pitney could have sung it.

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Wynntown Marshals. Big Ideas. Wynntown Recordings

When Scotland’s Wynntown Marshals (“Europe’s best Americana band” – Americana UK) sat down to record their follow-up to 2015’s The End Of The Golden Age they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams that the title of that album would be somewhat prophetic. Big Ideas was first mooted back in 2018 but, and not for the first time, the band saw a shift in personnel which led to a settling in period which then of course was prolonged when the world shut down due to Covid. So, it’s been a long wait for this album but there’s an upside to that with the band having had the opportunity to polish Keith Benzie’s songs to perfection. It’s always difficult to improve on excellence but the listener, after a few plays here, might be correct in surmising that this is the most fully realised Marshals recording so far.

Front and centre is singer and songwriter Benzie who writes all the lyrics here, the first time since their debut album Westerner (which did have a cover of Ballad Of Jayne, An L.A. Guns number and an indication that The Marshals were not to be simply marshalled into a country rock genre). The music behind his lyrics is credited to the Wynntown Marshals, an indication that the band are speaking with one mouth here, leading to a more unified listen. For sure, they remain true to their core sound, generally a heady mix of Wilco like yearning allied to jangled Petty/Byrds like anthems along with a healthy dose of lesser known outriders such as Canada’s The Weakerthans, but that core sound is now undoubtedly that of The Marshals. They’re recognisable from a million miles away with Benzies’s voice the focal point.

Having said that, the return of Ali Petrie on keyboards is welcome, with his introduction to the opening song, New Millennium sounding not a million miles removed from Roy Bittan of Springsteen fame. The song soars from the start with Iain Sloan’s guitars chiming over the piano as Benzie sings an anthemic celebration of youthful hopes and ambitions. Those hopes and ambitions have somewhat soured on the following title song which, while still romping around with glistening and chiming guitars, is more pessimistic in its outlook. The band’s ability to hone in on pitch perfect jangled power pop is again evident on the excellent Learn To Lose which gradually builds to a Tom Petty like crescendo of crashing guitars and perfect harmonies with Sloan delivering some Byrds like solo guitar and there’s much more of that in Treat Me Right, a crunchy guitar driven number which finds Benzie ruminating on the tattered remains of a relationship, the band weighing in like, well, The Band, the song culminating with fiery guitar duetting as reminiscent of Wishbone Ash as it is of The Allmans.

On a gentler note there’s the warm melody of Tourist In My Hometown, a fine example of Benzie reminiscing on his past with the opening verse surely familiar to anyone who recalls their student days. On Keys Found In The Snow, Benzie extrapolates from a notice in a window to meditate on the possibilities and stories behind the lost keys, the band superbly restrained with Sloan’s pedal steel and Petrie’s electric piano adding just the right amount of light and shade. In a similar vein, although in a much more robust sense, the band create a hypnotic backdrop on The Missing Me which is not too far removed from the lyrical guitar epics of Israel Nash and Peter Bruntnell.

Most Marshals albums contain a history lesson of sorts and on this occasion Benzie visits the battle of Stalingrad on The Pocket. That he takes this grim tale of starvation and death and transforms it into a gorgeous lament, suffused with hope among the suffering, is quite remarkable. The album closes with the plaintive Full Moon, Fallow Heart with Benzie front and centre, his voice and guitar accompanied by piano. It’s a philosophical rumination on the choices we make, the mistakes and slight triumphs we gather over the years with Benzie musing that life is both perfect and less than perfect, an eternal conundrum.

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Steve Dawson & The Telescope 3. Phantom Threshold. Black Hen Music

Number two in a planned three album series for release this year, Steve Dawson’s second instalment finds him moving on from the rootsy guitar based songs on Gone, Long Gone to investigate the sonic possibilities of an instrumental album utilising, as usual, his armoury of all things stringed – acoustic and electric guitars, mandotar, national steel guitar, ukulele and, especially, pedal steel guitar. It’s quite a jump from the fatback tones of Gone, Long Gone to the ambient Americana contained here but with a little perseverance it’s well worth the leap.

Dawson has previously released several instrumental albums and the title of his backing band here (Jeremy Holmes -bass, Chris Gestrin – all manner of keyboards and Jay Bellerose – drums/percussion), alludes to his pedal steel based album Telescope which came out in 2008. Pedal steel is omnipresent in these tunes but it’s just one of the many sounds vying for attention as the quartet guilelessly wander through almost 50 minutes of music which is supremely contemplative.

A thread of pastoral, bucolic calm, runs through the first three numbers, reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s early, calmer days, and then a funky clavinet gives Ol’ Brushy a hint of southern sweat, not too far removed from The Meters’ early instrumental sides. The title tune has slight, oh so slight, washes of surf music in its veins and is followed by the most stripped back number so far, the basic pedal steel and accordion yearn which gives The Waters Rise an almost narcotic sea shanty lilt to it. That it’s then followed by the one cover version here, Brian Wilson’s You Still Believe In Me, begs one to look into how Dawson has put this album together and whether there’s more to it than meets the eye (or ear) but the familiarity of the tune is sufficient for a fine wallow in its sheer sumptuousness.

The temptation to allocate a sense of place or of some intent is difficult to resist when it comes to instrumentals so let us just say that there is a (very) slight touch of Hawaii in the first half of Tripledream – not too far removed from the exotica of Martin Denny – which is then punctured when the band are joined on cornet (by Daniel Lapp) giving the close of the tune a tipsy jaunt. Lily’s Resistor has 60’s spy movie guitar echoes and That’s How It Goes In The Relax Lounge is tantalisingly close to elevator music although, as with all of the tunes here, it’s much more textured and entertaining than the muzak it seems to emulate, especially when Lawson throws in an excellent electric guitar solo. Ending with a solo performance on a prepared Weissenborn guitar on Whirlwind, Dawson grounds the album somewhat, reminding one that he is au fait with the likes of John Fahey.

Instrumental albums (unless they’re by a universally accepted instrumental genius) are usually a tough sell and Phantom Threshold won’t appeal to all those who loved Gone, Long Gone. However, Dawson and The Telescope 3 have concocted quite a beguiling broth here and it will reward those who choose to partake of it.

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Laura Benitez And The Heartache. California Centuries. Copperhead Records

First thing to say about this album is that is a wonderful listen from start to end, full of glistening modern country rock, the band hitting all the touchstones – cosmic pedal steel, twangy guitars and keyboards full of soul. Add Benitez’s wonderful voice and her song writing skills to the mix and we have a disc which is bound to please. A fine example is the traditional sounding Are You Using Your Heart which sounds here like a jukebox staple from the glory days of Tammy and Loretta while also reminding the listener of fine tones of Laura Cantrell.

While it might be the most commercial song here, Are You Using Your Heart is just one of the winning melodies which Benitez has produced and on several of the songs she tackles weightier issues than simple heartbreak. The opening song, Bad Things, finds her in a baleful mood over a muscular country backing as she surveys the tidal wave of calamities which have occurred over the past couple of years, shocking some folk out of their “It can’t happen here” mindset. In a similar vein Gaslight focuses on the mass indifference to tragedies and scandals such as the epidemic of mass shootings, the #metoo movement and black lives matter, her point being that despite headlines, most folk just reckon it that only happens to other folk. Delivered in an almost folk style (although pleasantly beefed up with a sweet country arrangement), the song sounds like a Joan Baez for these days. The band are much punchier as they weigh in on Let The Dice Roll where the protagonist is indeed the recipient of bad news with Benitez singing, “Bad news hits you like a rig going 99.”

A couple of the songs are much more personal. A Love Like Yours is a joyful romp which pays tribute to her partner while All Songs was written as Benitez and her young daughter were ensconced in a trailer with the air outside polluted by smoke from wildfires. It’s a sing-along song of sorts which, like many of the others here is enlivened by swell solos on electric guitar and pedal steel, but on God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise the band go full on bluegrass for an energetic take on climate change while Invisible is chock full of Appalachian airs.

Having referenced the pandemic at the beginning of the album, Benitez celebrates her return to live music on the closing song, I’m With The Band, a fine loose limbed country roadhouse number with some tremendous pedal steel playing from Ian Sutton.  I’m pretty sure that a host of jobbing musicians on the road will empathise with the lyrics. A cool end to a great album which is unashamedly country at heart.

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