David Banks was a member of The Whybirds who flew the flag for UK Americana until they called it a day in 2017. A band composed of talented writers and singers, it was only to be expected that we’d hear more from the members and drummer, Luke Tuchscherer, was first out of the traps with three excellent albums to his name. Now, Banks steps up to the plate with an album engorged with glorious guitar flourishes which straddles the chiming world of power pop and gliding country rock. With Tuchscherer in the drum seat, Banks and producer David Corney provide the myriad guitars, keyboards, mandolin and Dobro, the trio sounding much larger than one would expect.
Someone To Lean On launches the album with a joyous rush of guitar charged rock which has the energy and immediate rush of Tom Petty’s American Girl and it’s Petty along with other stalwarts such as Big Star who are brought to mind as the disc plays on. Call Me Up has big brash chords and California harmonies while I Think I’m Gonna Be OK buzzes with the energetic fizz which characterised the Long Ryders in their heyday. Putting the flash bang wallop to one side there are some mellower numbers including Apologies From Sun St. and You Never Knew, both in the vein of Big Star’s Thirteen while The Best Of Me is the best Eagles song never recorded by the Eagles (back in the days when Jackson Browne was writing their hits).
It’s easy to toss around all these names and while the influences are undoubtedly, there Banks is no mere copyist. He captures the sounds and, importantly, the vibrancy, which informs the artists we’ve mentioned and pours out some grand songs, much in the way that Bennett Wilson Poole did last year. Have a listen to the closing title song and see if you are not bowled over.
As she embarks on another tour of the UK and Ireland, it’s time to get acquainted with Hannah Aldridge’s latest album, released at the tail end of April when she was last on these shores. Aldridge, who grew up in Muscle Shoals, has certainly been a hit with UK audiences over the past few years, her live shows given rave reviews, so it’s nice to have a live album to ponder on. However, Live In Black And White is not a straightforward run through of a live show, rather, it captures selections from her two albums, Razor Wire and Goldrush, recorded at two locations – Tangled String in Huntsville Alabama and The Lexington in London. The Lexington show was particularly memorable as Aldridge offered the punters that night a variety show peopled with several acts, all of them performing at least one song with her and several of these feature here.
The first thing to say is that this stripped down acoustic version of Aldridge really allows both her songs and herself to shine. Both Razorwire and Goldrush suffered somewhat from overly energetic rock arrangements but listening to the perfect renditions here of Lie Like You Love Me (featuring Walt Aldridge, her dad and a well known songwriter in his own right) and Goldrush, which has Robbie Cavanagh singing with her, and you will realise that her writing is on a par with the likes of Gretchen Peters and others of that ilk. They’re both dark songs, alluding to Aldridge’s troubled past and she’s at her best when she’s digging into darker or more emotional territory as on the moving Lonesome or the scathing blues of Howlin Bones. Still dark but casting beyond personal woes is the death row story of Parchman while Born To Be Broken was inspired by the life of Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress. Listening to this one is really reminded that Aldridge is a child of The South with all that entails, her voice deep and impassioned.
As for the guests, Danni Nicholls joins in on Lace, a lingering and lascivious number oozing with desire, while The Black Feathers are fine vocal foils on Save Yourself. But it’s The Goat Roper Band’s joyous freewheelin’ knockabout on Rails To Ride which is the highlight here. Mind you, the closing rendition of Aldridge’s best known song, Burning Down Birmingham, is excellent. Aldridge is in the habit of selecting audience members to join her on stage to sing the rousing chorus but here it’s a mass gathering of all The Lexington musicians who lift the song.
Live In Black And White allows Ms. Aldridge to strip away her studio trappings and deliver her songs in a raw fashion and it’s all the better for that. Highly recommended and a must buy album for anyone who has been captivated by her live shows or enjoyed the studio albums.
For his sixth solo album, Mark Mulcahy takes inspiration from the literary world, in particular the short story form, after reading a collection by the Booker prize winning George Saunders, author of Lincoln In The Bardo. Saying that he has “upped his lyrical game” for the album, there’s certainly an element of storytelling in the songs but in the main it’s just another grand example of Mulcahy’s art.
He opens with the delicious Wicked World, an odd song featuring a lonesome plucked guitar and mournful cello as Mulcahy sings of an ordinary morning transformed by a shooting. Rain Phoenix harmonises with Mulcahy in her role as a disillusioned lover, the song ending with a muted rumble of feedback. Daisy Marie is much more traditional Mulcahy fare with its piping organ and guitar based rhythm as is the Dylan like sneer of I Won’t Tell Anyone But You which ripples along with some inventive percussion. People: Beware meanwhile tumbles along in a topsy-turvy waltz state with some fairground Wurlitzer thrown in for good effect as Mulcahy rails against “the squares” and seems to suggest that some mind alteration is not such a bad thing. Happy Boat is a reverie of sorts, cosseted as it is by dreamlike guitars and Later For The Box returns to the narrative style of Wicked World although here a mysterious mail delivery leads to a rumination worthy of Nicholson Baker.
Mr. Bell is a portrait of an upstanding citizen delivered with a heavy dose of irony. On the face of it it’s not too different from many songs of the sixties and seventies which ripped into the bourgeois lifestyle but the video of the song leaves us in no doubt as to who Mulcahy is pointing his finger at. Add in the grand rock guignol of Taking Baby Steps and the hip swinging amalgamation of Lou Reed and The Stones on What If I Go Off With Bob (which features J Mascis on guitar) and you have an album which goes to show that Mulcahy remains one of the most esoteric and vital artists out there right now.
If you’re a regular reader of Blabber’n’Smoke then you probably know that we hold Norrie McCulloch in high esteem, his trio of albums, Old Lovers Junkyard, These Mountain Blues and Bare Along The Branches, all essential listening. They are proof that he is one of the best Scottish songwriters around these days, his voice rooted in the soil even as he writes with an eye on the likes of Townes Van Zandt’s melancholic poetry or Jay Farrar’s deadpan Americana. Musically he roots around in the fertile sounds of British folk rock and classic singer songwriters of the seventies along with nods to the insurgent alt country bands which spawned No Depression. Compass, released last week, finds McCulloch harvesting the results of his immersion in those ill-fated troubadours of the early sixties, Tim Buckley and Fred Neil, buccaneering romantic troubadours both.
Recorded in close collaboration with McCulloch’s long time foil, Dave McGowan, the album is more fleshed out than its predecessors with guitarist and mandolin player Iain Thomson contributing to the sound while Shane Connolly takes over percussion duties on several of the songs from McCulloch’s usual drummer Stuart Kidd. There are a couple of songs which would sit comfortably on any of the earlier albums. Janey (When We Were Young) is classic McCulloch showcasing his guitar, harmonica and voice on a solo tour de force as he sings this heart-tugging tale of youthful love. Drinking Money has a skip in its step as Thomson’s mandolin leads this little ditty which recalls Ronnie Lane or even John Martyn’s folkier efforts while Hollow Love finds McCulloch aching romantically, conjuring delicious images in his words, over a languid liquid guitar.
Elsewhere, McCulloch makes the most of his expanded sonic palette as Thomson comes across as the equivalent of Lee Underwood or Bruce Langhorne, guitarists who lit up so many essential sixties folk albums. Dear Lady Blue opens with a delicious melange of 12 string acoustic and electric guitar as McCulloch opens up his heart to his muse, the song kicking off with this arresting couplet, “A crow is picking at scraps by the side of the road I’m driving alone. Felling like that old lonesome crow with no place to go and nowhere to call my home.” The song limps along over a halting rhythm as McCulloch waxes more poetically until a wonderfully restrained electric guitar brings it to a halt. The following Road Sign is infused with the spirit of early seventies LA as McCulloch’s Scot’s voice is accompanied by harmonies reminiscent of CS&N as he delivers a Scottish version of a California freewheeling highway song. She’s So Good is a magnificent ensemble piece with McGowan’s supple double bass burbling under Thomson’s cascades of electric guitar while With You In My Life, the closing song, is another song reminiscent of bygone LA troubadours. In this case McCulloch carries off the unbelievable as the harmonies, jangled guitars and the song’s repeated mantra places it on a par with David Crosby’s legendary album, If Only I Could Remember My Name. A bold statement perhaps but we’ll stand by it. As good as this is, it’s eclipsed by the album’s title song. Compass encompasses the likes of Fairport Convention’s A Sailor’s Life, the jazzy folk rock of Pentangle and the dizzying heights of Tim Buckley’s 1968 Festival Hall live performance. It’s simply mesmerising and somewhat awesome.
As it stands, Compass is surely McCulloch’s crowning achievement so far. It sets him at the forefront of the song writing talent we have in the UK these days and deserves to be in any respectable record collection. And, speaking of that, the album is available on limited edition vinyl and we can testify to how great it sounds. Head here to buy it before the edition runs out.
There’s not much you can depend on in these topsy-turvy days but when a new album from Seattle’s Massy Ferguson heaves into sight, you can be guaranteed an invigorating injection of classic American rock. There’s no pretence with this band, it’s balls to the wall Americana with an emphasis on rocking out; short sharp songs with guitars blazing away and Ethan Anderson’s voice roaring. Back to a four piece with the addition of Fred Starr on keyboards joining the bass playing Anderson along with guitarist Adam Monda and Dave Goedde on drums, the band dive headlong into the songs. The album is more focused than the previous Run It Right Into The Wall (which reflected their love of the likes of The Replacements, Wilco, and Son Volt) with more emphasis on stories within the songs. Anderson puts some of this down to reading stories by Raymond Carver, Willie Vlautin and such and several of the numbers are autobiographical as on the opening Can’t Remember which is an account of first meeting his wife to be.
Can’t Remember is a frantic opener with pedal steel added to the vortex of squirreling guitars with Anderson recalling his altered teenage state and the waitress who eventually stuck with him. This youthful abandon is revisited throughout the album. Don’t Give Up On Your Friends is a shout out the gang mentality of teenagers delivered in a style not dissimilar to that of The Lemonheads, while They Want That Sound struts with the cocksure bravado of a teenager out on the town as Anderson recalls glory days and the band ramp it up like a youthful E Street Band. Momma’s In The Backseat is the epitome of this teenage gang romance as it all goes wrong on a late night rumble with the hero just wanting to wrap himself in his Star Wars comfort blanket when he gets home but unable to admit to that.
The mature Anderson turns up on Wolf Moon, the most tender song here with keening pedal steel, languid guitar and stately piano as he reflects on life’s lessons while Drop An Atom Bomb On Me, a song which has the punch of the Drive By Truckers, is an angst-riven apocalyptic mea culpa. Alongside these there’s the coiled energy of Rerun with its staccato guitar bursts and power pop keyboards and the elegiac Saddest Man, a glorious slice of sound.
All in all Great Divides is another great album from Massy Ferguson. They’re touring the UK in July, all dates here.
It’s a real joy to hear a new disc from Peter Bruntnell, commonly regarded as one the best songwriters and performers around these days. It’s also commonly acknowledged that he is woefully unheard by the record buying public despite acres of news print over the past 20 years singing his praises. A peek into those archives would surely make him blush with all the superlatives lavished on him over the years and it’s certain that more will follow in the wake of King Of Madrid’s release. It’s one of those albums which make’s one’s heart melt a little as its sumptuous layers of sound swell around his lugubrious voice whether he be singing over jangled power pop or pastoral delights.
The album opens with a doleful church bell tolling over synthesised keyboards before blossoming into a gorgeous mix of piano and pedal steel guitar as the song, Broken Wing, glides perfectly, distilling all that is great about Bruntnell. There’s a melancholic beauty to the song which is perfectly poised between its driving acoustic guitar with piano and pedal steel flourishes and a closing electric guitar solo which fades far too soon. Bruntnell sings wonderfully and the harmonies are superb, it kicks off the album with a bang but it’s only a taster really for the feast which follows.
Bruntnell roams from rockers- the churning Beatles like guitar pop of Dinosaur and the chiming neo psychedelic glory of Thief Of Joy – to more contemplative numbers such as Widows Walk which has some of that fractured vulnerability one associates with Sparklehorse, and Memory Hood, a magnificent exercise in nostalgia worthy of Ray Davies. Reminding one of Bruntnell’s anti Trump song, Mr. Sunshine, on Nos Da Comrade, National Library takes aim at David Cameron and his foolhardy referendum along with those others who will sail on regardless of any Brexit outcome. There’s not one song here which doesn’t arrest the listener. King Of Madrid is a splendidly understated gem with creamy pedal steel from maestro BJ Cole, London Clay is another song evocative of Ray Davies’ Kinks and Snow Queen floats regally over a mesmerising mist of guitars and keyboards as Bruntnell again burrows into nostalgia with an opaque mix of Dennis Potter and Hans Christian Anderson.
With a basic crew of Bruntnell on vocals, keyboards and guitars along with Mick Clews on drums and Peter Noone on bass, there are appearances from BJ Cole and Iain Sloan on pedal steel, David Little on guitar and James Walbourne on keyboards. The album is a wonderful texture of sounds with electric guitar forever waiting to be let off the leash while acoustic layers wash the songs and keyboards add to the sonic tapestry. Foremost however is Bruntnell’s mastery of the song and his excellent delivery. Surely, one of the best albums we’ll hear this year.
So, what happens when two of our favourite Italian Americana artists, Edward Abbiati and Stiv Cantarelli, find themselves at a bit of a loose end? Well, they form a band, The ACC (The Abbiati Cantarelli Conspiracy), get a tough rhythm section in and, bada bing!, record a magnificent set of scuzzy rock songs which owe as much to Husker Du, Gun Club and The Stooges as they do to Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They’re aided and abetted in this endeavour by ex Green On Red keyboard player, Chris Cacavas, and lap steel player Mike “Slo Mo” Brenner, familiar to many from his playing with Marah, and the result is a grand holy mess, a churning broth of snarling vocals, wicked slippery guitars and muddy rhythms. As they sing on I Want You To Like Me, “Turn the music up, I want to freeze my brain.”
It’s not an album for the faint hearted especially as it’s best appreciated cranked up to 11 on the stereo and even then there’s a sense of, “Jeez, what would this sound like live?” but it’s not just noise as Abbiati and Cantarelli root the songs with melodious undercurrents and memorable choruses even as the guitars churn and boil in their cauldron, creating a mix of blues, hard rock, alt country and post punk grungy squalls. The opening Dog Beat The Devil snarls with slide guitar as they run pell mell through the song before the sludge like intro to the title song looms into earshot. With ominous organ work from Cacavas it’s like Crazy Horse battling Green On Red with the end result a draw while Richard Hunter’s harmonica work here adds a fly blown texture to the song. There’s a whiff of that so called “desert rock” in the twangy guitar reveries of Never Gave Up which sounds as if it was born out of Giant Sand’s Valley Of Rain album while Saturday Night is like a rumble in a juke joint which has R L Burnside playing on the jukebox as the guitars here flash and twist like switchblades.
They rumble on with I Want You To Like Me an evil sounding Stones’ like kick in the head, Crab Tree alternating between Flamin’Groovies like slide guitar and stoned harmony choruses, and delve into a nightmare world of drunken mayhem on the woozy Life’s Calling. The ace in the deck however is the final song, Old Satan Revisited. Based on an unreleased Townes Van Zandt demo recording, the words certainly have the familiar Van Zandt themes but the band go at it like hounds from hell. Magnificent.