Jerry Leger. Time Out For Tomorrow. Latent Recordings

jerry-leger-time-out-for-tomorrow-album-cover-1024x1024Hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed retrospective collection, Too Broke To Die, compiled for the European market in view of his increasing popularity on this side of the pond, Jerry Leger excels on Time Out For Tomorrow. Harnessing his romantic troubadour persona to a mercurial band sound replete with sweeping organ and quicksilver guitars, Leger hits the bulls eye on each of the ten songs here.

Time Out For Tomorrow runs the gamut of classic Americana styled music. His band, The Situation, are quite superb throughout while the production (Mike Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies) captures every nuance. Consider the contrast between the opening Canvas Of Gold, a grand song borne aloft on swathes of slide guitar, and the crepuscular doings, singing saws and Romany guitar and fiddle on the dark ballad Survived Like A Stone. Both jump out at the listener allowing one to consider Leger equally adept at brash rock’n’roll and introspective meanderings. The album as a whole leans towards the former but when Leger turns inwards he offers us the glorious I Would, a glistening jewel of a song which floats over a simple country rock backbone with glowering guitar shadowing Leger’s achingly romantic lyrics. He takes to piano for another heartache on That Ain’t Here which is simply majestic. The song, so simple yet so memorable, has the tang of classic writers such as Lennon or John Hiatt.

There’s an undeniable whiff of classic rock throughout the album as Leger dips into the past to flavour his songs. Justine chimes perfectly with a mid sixties vibe, a conglomeration of visionary Dylan with sparks flying from guitar and organ as if Bloomfield and Kooper were sparring in the studio. Read Between The Lines rattles along as Leger testifies with an anguished passion over an excellent mash up of tin pan alley melodrama and a hip Chuck Prophet like insouciance. This potpourri allows Leger to deliver songs like Burchell Lake, a faded portrait of a once thriving community featuring snakelike slide guitar, along with, what is possibly the best example of the band’s mastery of dynamite dynamics here, the bustling romance of Corner Light, a song to savour. Leger closes the album with the sweet country rock themed Tomorrow In My Mind which has echoes of John Hartford woven within it. A lovely close to a great album.

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Nels Andrews. Pigeon And The Crow.

a0088076799_16If you were lucky enough to have caught Nels Andrews on his recent UK tour, you’ll know that the gentle and wonderfully crafted narratives from albums such as Off Track Betting and Scrimshaw are true reflections of the man. That he was able to offer up his rhapsodies on nature and life in a solo setting, without the songs’ studio trappings, allowed them to shine just that little bit brighter.

Andrews was promoting his latest album, Pigeon And The Crow, a worthy successor to the magnificent Scrimshaw. Indeed the opening song here is called Scrimshaw and it sets the tone for much of what is to follow. Set to a wonderfully hazy and lazy beat with shuffling percussion, wheezy accordion, gliding guitars and fiddle, the song finds Andrews settling into his new home in Santa Cruz as he investigates the sights and sounds and explores its past. It’s an exemplary song with all the parts fitting together like a jigsaw without seams while there’s a slight Celtic touch which becomes more apparent as the album progresses. Recorded mainly in LA, there are contributions from across the globe with various friends such as Anais Mitchell and A.J. Roach joining in while it was produced by Nuala Kennedy.

There’s a hauntingly hypnotic quality to much of the album. The Celtic airs of Memory Compass and the title song remind one of Van Morrison’s more Hibernian moments as on Veedon Fleece while there are elements of Paul Simon to be heard on Holy Water and Embassy To The Airport. Andrews however transcends any such comparisons as he forges on to deliver the exquisite and poignant Eastern Poison Oak, a slow country waltz with delicate fiddle and mandolin, and the elegantly faded memories of Welterweight which almost weeps from the speakers. There’s a pleasant surprise at the end as an unlisted song  (Candidates Handshake) returns to the glories of the opening track

There are a couple of songs which don’t quite achieve the heights of their compatriots. South Of San Gregorio has a touch of the tropics to it courtesy of steel drums and Table By The Kitchen ditches much of the haunting qualities apparent elsewhere for a more straightforward radio friendly folk rock sound. These are however minor blemishes on an album which manages to transport the listener to a gentler world.

The album is dedicated to the memory of John (Biscuits & Gravy) Davy. A Scottish music fan, writer, and host to house concerts in the wilderness of Scoraig, he died last year. Davy was an early fan of Andrews and it’s a nice touch that he’s remembered here.

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Awkward Family Portraits. Everything We’ve Done Up Until Now Except What We’ve Done Since. Holy Smoke Records.

a2637144493_16Belying their youthful appearance, Glasgow outfit Awkward Family Portraits, have done their time on the gig circuit, honing their chops (as they used to say). Steeped in old time American sounds, including folk, blues and western swing along with a swell dose of Parisian gypsy jazz panache, they have obviously done their homework as the 11 songs here, all penned by the band, are quite remarkable in their verisimilitude to many of the artists who are obviously the band’s touchstones. It’s a retro sound to be sure but it’s delivered with gusto and obvious delight while there’s a fine sense of humour threaded throughout, that sense of having fun amplified for example on the video to Ring, Ring, Angus.

One could say they’re following in the footsteps of Bob Wills, Dan Hicks, Bobby Romeo and numerous others although one suspects that recent practitioners such as Pokey LaFarge feature large. However, for a debut album, Everything We’ve Done Up Until Now Except What We’ve Done Since is absurdly assured and swings with a mighty heft. They open the proceedings with the AFP Theme which scats along finely with Julen Santamaria as the MC before launching into the bustling western swing of Keep On Keepin’ On which features some grand guitar from Timmy Allen along with some finely tuned dynamics. They do like to duck and dive within their songs which is a testament to how tight a unit they are – witness the switcharounds on the graveyard blues of Kick The Bucket while the syncopation and solos on Do Yourself A Favour are just perfect.

It’s not all jump and jive as they can swoon to a melancholy moon on a song such as Way The Wind Blows, guitarist Timmy Allen taking over vocals here from Santamaria, he’s obviously the romantic in the band. Meanwhile they even manage to sneak in some guitar playing which recalls the post punk pop of The Monochrome Set on Day Of A Lying Man and there’s a rockabilly element to Ring, Ring, Angus. The triumph here is the splendidly titled Don’t Drink Whisky It’s Risky. Aside from the title following in a long line of well-named songs warning of the dangers of the demon drink, it’s a perfectly realised slice of invigorating music with flailing fiddle and frisky guitar backing up Santamaria’s louche vocals. They close with the mellow and folky Come On Down, a hint that they are no one trick pony.

Ags Connolly. Wrong Again. Finstock Music

unnamed-16There’s no doubt really that Ags Connolly is the premier exponent of dyed in the wool traditional country music here in the UK. Since his 2014 debut album, How About Now, he’s carried the flag up and down the country becoming a firm live favourite while he has a growing following in Europe and also across the pond with his latest fan, none other than Tom Russell, singing his praises. Connolly’s allied to the Ameripolitan movement, helmed by Dale Watson, which champions traditional country as opposed to the pop acts who were taking over Music Row a few years back. There’s been some hope recently that the tide is turning as traditional acts such as Sturgill Simpson (initially), Tyler Childers, Joshua Hedley and, most recently, Jason James are becoming more prominent and, if that’s the case, then Connolly is perfectly placed to ride this wave.

Wrong Again won’t surprise anyone familiar to Connolly’s music. There’s the usual bucketful of tears and beers sad songs, all excellently delivered. Then And Now is essentially just Connolly and his guitar and it’s no exaggeration to say that this sounds like a long lost George Jones number as Connolly’s voice tugs at the heartstrings. In a similar manner, although with fiddle and pedal steel woven into a full band sound, The Meaning Of The Word is honky tonk perfection as is Wrong Again (You Lose A Life). Meanwhile, there’s a hint of the outlaw country of Waylon Jennings in the driving What Were You Going To Do About It with plenty of twang guitar along with swell pedal steel from Joe Harvey- Whyte (who plays a blinder throughout the album).

The Maverick’s accordionist, Michael Guerra, appeared on Connolly’s last album and he reappears here as Connolly delves into Tex-Mex on several songs. The opening number, I’ll Say When, sways with an intoxicating, south of the border, blend of exotic rhythm, liquid guitar and accordion as Connolly finds himself in yet another bar, surviving day to day in this foreign clime. On Say It Out Loud, Connolly magically transports miles of driving in his dearly departed Honda Civic from the M1 to Interstate 10 as he recalls passengers including a fellow troubadour down on his luck and a femme fatale of sorts. Finally, there’s the magnificent Lonely Nights in Austin , a song bathed in pathos with Guerra squeezing all the emotion he can out of his accordion.

Connolly throws in a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain which fits into the album’s general sense of loss and sorrow. It’s a grand version with some excellent fiddle playing but its familiarity kind of makes it stick out like a sore thumb here especially as it’s much more folky than the surrounding numbers. However, he wraps the album up with what is possibly the most upbeat number he has recorded so far as Sad Songs Forever rides along with a powerful western swing element to it with jazz guitar licks, lyrical pedal steel and sawing fiddle all adding up to a grand finale.

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GospelbeacH. Let It Burn. Alive Natural Sound

a1627587888_16Let It Burn, GospelbeacH’s fourth album, is a thing of beauty tinged with incredible sadness. Shortly before its release, Neal Casal, who had recently rejoined the band, took his own life, a fact which can’t be ignored as one listens to the album. The opening number, Bad Habits, rams this home as the band sway through this sad ballad which is blessed with a beautifully realised and lyrical guitar solo while the lyrics, unintentionally of course, could serve as an epitaph for a troubled mind.

Casal had played on Gospelbeach’s first album but, with a finger in many pies, had only recently come back to the fold for the recording of Let It Burn. His presence is but one aspect here which allows one to suggest that the album is the best so far from Brent Rademaker’s reimagined California cosmic crew. There’s still plenty of punchy power pop and rock as evidenced on the excellent Tom Petty groove of Dark Angel, the snarling blend of new wave punk and west coast rock of I’m So High, and the organ swelled barrelhouse roustabout of Nothing Ever Changes while the closing song, Hoarder, slinks and shimmies with a Little Feat like sinuosity. Much of the album however is more considered and introspective with less of the jingle jangle as Rademaker and fellow songwriter, Trevor Beld Jiminez, delve into darker territory.

Good Kid is a badlands narrative delivered with a Steely Dan like flow but the meat of the disc is in three songs tucked away in the middle of the album. Baby (It’s All Your Fault) and Get It All Back are infused with the melancholic pop sensibility of Alex Chilton back in his Big Star days. The former has some wonderful guitar moments, George Harrison like slide alongside pedal steel, while the latter glides gracefully over swathes of mellotron. Fighter cries out with a defiant peal as Rademaker plays the outsider who refuses to lie down. It’s a big production number, swathed in strings with rippling piano and voice effects before closing with another epic guitar solo from Casal, a fitting legacy.

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Daniel Meade. Rust. Button Up Records

frontcovervinylGlasgow’s very own “Americana” star, Daniel Meade, returns to the fray with his latest release Rust, an album which finds him moving further away from the countrified songs which populated his breakthrough album, Keep Right Away, which was populated with a bevy of Nashville stars. While songs such as Always Close To Tears prove that Meade is well schooled in the way of honky tonk country, he’s always had more up his sleeve. Having cut his teeth on the rock circuit with his first band, The Ronelles, he moved into rockabilly and old time rock’n’roll with his band The Flying Mules and his cluster of album releases, whether solo or with various band combinations have always had an interesting mix of styles.

Rust follows in the wake of When Was The Last Time, an album on which Meade beefed up his sound, especially on the guitar front, with Townsend like chords and jangly power pop driving the songs. This time around, the guitars, while still in attendance, take second place to Meade’s first love, the piano, with the songs here bashed out at his home on his old joanna and recorded by him and then embellished with overdubs, all played by Meade himself. He says that many of these numbers were either written some time ago or were percolating in his head for a while, just waiting for the right time and circumstances to record them and, having exorcised some demons via the previous album, the time was now right. In addition, Meade has reached back to some of his original influences, rock’n’rollers and writers such as The Proclaimers and Gerry Rafferty and he even delivers several numbers in an unashamed Scots accent.

For a home produced and self-played album, Rust is quite astonishing. There’s layers and layers unfolding on many of the songs. Funny How The World Turns opens with some slick piano, not too far removed from Blue Note cool, before fuzzed guitar and trumpet like arpeggios take us into sixties psychedelia and Dreams Grow On Trees likewise has a warm fuzzy sixties feel to it with its massed voices. Elsewhere, Meade dives into fat sounding rock’n’roll bliss as on the rollicking Same Kind Of Crazy and the roadhouse blues of Another Conversation while the barrelling piano and guitar intro to Fanny Fanny Bang Bang is quite exhilarating. A “nonsense song,” according to Meade, Fanny Fanny Bang Bang is the sort of song which will appeal to anyone who thinks that the finest sentence ever written is, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”

It’s surprising to hear Meade open the album with the bar room piano jaunt Anywhy Anywhere Anyhow which he sings with his Glasgow accent (and vernacular) well to the front. But, with his curt dismissal of much that poses for Americana these days, it’s a fitting curtain opener to some of the preoccupations which populate the album. Meade’s been through the mill and seen the damage done and much of Rust is a farewell to those days. These Things Happen is a joyous song buoyed on parping horns, inspired by Meade’s time on the road with The Proclaimers and the title song is a glorious amalgamation of honky tonk piano and gnarly guitar al la The Stones with an uplifting chorus. Meade nails it however on the one stripped back song here. There’s just his guitar and voice on Workin’ On An Old Song, a manifesto of sorts as he sings “It’s good to run with old ghosts.” It’s comparable to Neil Young’s infamous Borrowed Song in some respects with Meade setting out his wares for all to hear.

Rust is available now and there is an official launch party for the album this week at Glasgow’s Rum Shack. All details here.

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My Darling Clementine with Steve Nieve. Country Darkness Vol. 1. Fretstore Records

mdc_country-darkness_cover_m-350x350The UK’s foremost country duo, My Darling Clementine, have been delivering their singular take on the popular male/female country duet since 2011. Over the years and with four albums under their belt, the duo, married couple Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King, have moved far beyond the affectionate tributes of their first release, How Do You Plead. Their last release, Still Testifying, while maintaining their hard-core love of classic country, had shades of soul and sixties pop in its grooves with the pair’s song writing  having more gravitas, more light and shade to it than when they started out.

Their latest project, as hinted at by the title, might be delving into darker corners of the country psyche but, more surprisingly, it also delves into the psyche of Elvis Costello as My Darling Clementine have taken to leafing through the great man’s songbook in order to record their choice picks. It’s an ongoing project and this four song EP is only the first fruit, but for anyone who, hearing of this, expected to hear a simulation of Costello’s most overtly country album, Almost Blue, prepare to be surprised. This is deep cut territory.

Joining My Darling Clementine on this voyage of Elvis discovery is none other than Steve Nieve, perhaps Costello’s longest serving accomplice. An Attraction and an Imposter, Nieve deservedly gets his name on the sleeve, his playing here a neat link to the originals aside from it being impeccable.

The EP opens with Heart Shaped Bruise, originally on Costello’s The Delivery Man with Emmylou Harris adding her vocals. My Darling Clementine and Nieve strip the original of its bar room country blush to expose its nerves. Nieve’s magnificent piano leads into strings, muted drum rolls and  dramatic vocals which take the song in the direction of mid sixties pop melodrama, The Walker Brothers, Roy Orbison and Dusty Springfield coming to mind. Next up is Stranger In The House, a vintage Costello song dating back to his first album sessions but best known as a duet on a George Jones album. It’s classic Costello country and also classic My Darling Clementine fodder with the added bonus of some delicious keyboard swirlings from Nieve which recall those early Attractions days.

Digging deeper into Costello’s catalogue, My Darling Clementine come up with a Paul McCartney co-write, That Day Is Done. Here they cleave more to Costello’s idea of the song (which he performed with The Fairfield Four) as they delve into gospel soul on a horn-laden powerhouse version. The final song is another co-write, this time with Loretta Lynn, a song which was snuck away on a little known Costello album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came finds Dalgleish given a more prominent role than Lynn on the original while the song is a perfect vehicle for the duo’s trademark duetting.

The frustration here is that the disc has only four songs but it’s a tantalising tease for the remainder of the project. In the meantime, it’s available on vinyl and we should mention here the artwork and design of the sleeve which perfectly captures the mood. In addition, My Darling Clementine have been in the habit of copying the old EMI habit of classifying albums in a “file under” direction on the back sleeve. Here the copy reads, “File Under: Country (Costello Country). A nice touch.

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