Trembling Bells. Wide Majestic Aire. Tin Angel Records

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Trembling Bells are in the grand tradition of folk musicians who roam far and wide in their influences and subsequent styles. Perhaps best known for collaborations with Mike Heron (of The Incredible String Band) and Will Oldham they take elements of traditional music, sixties and seventies experimental folk, classical music, psychedelia and Velvet Underground fuzz blending it all together in their particular alchemical pot. Their last album, The Sovereign Self, was Stuart Maconie’s favourite album of 2015; Maconie of course is the curator of Radio 6’s Freak Zone and therein lies the rub. It’s all too easy to consign the ‘Bells to the “weird” zone, labelled as a tough listen but folk who remember (or are catching up on) albums such as Shirley Collins’ Anthems Of Eden, Kevin Ayers’ Whatevershebringswesing, Richard Thompson’s Henry The Human Fly or The Albion Band’s Rising Like The Sun will find much here to comfort them. Wide Majestic Aire doesn’t sound like any of these but the spirit of adventure and quest that informed works like these is very much alive here, the band unafraid to mix soaring guitar solos with pump organ sounds, unaccompanied voice and Baroque classical influences.

Wide Majestic Aire is a seven song mini album, its feet firmly anchored in two of the band’s (or more properly leader Alex Neilson’s) homelands, Leeds, his birthplace, and Carbeth in Scotland. The opening title song revisits Neilson’s formative years living close to the river Aire, reading Lorca and Blake as he walks the river banks, the dismal council estate he comes from replaced by Elysian Fields. The song flows like the river, a grand romantic sweep that takes him to the dreaming spires of Oxford, the buildings golden brown and ochre as Lavinia Blackwall’s voice commands attention, her mannered delivery nicely set against a rickety instrumental break. It’s an inspiring song and one of two here which most recall the pomp years of classic folk rock, Sandy Denny on Liege & Lief and solo recordings perhaps. The second song to do so is the closing Marble Arch. Again the band cleave to a rock sound, a solid rhythm section backing Blackwall’s majestic voice, guitarist Mike Hastings adding a fuzzed up guitar screech throughout.

No such firm footing on the capricious England Was Aghast, a song that veers from sonic rumblings with guitars and cymbals crashing to an electronic hornpipe of sorts as Blackwall declaims an England that is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Show Me A Hole (And I’ll Crawl In It) musically recalls the Incredible string Band as a reedy organ dominates although there’s a decidedly medieval feel present. Lyrically obscure there are some fabulous images conjured.  “There’s a line of beauty that starts at Roland’s wrist and ends at your mouth which I kissed and even Rodin showed an envy for that ruinous bliss” while later, up on Dionysian hills, “a butterfly dashed itself against a riot shield.” The organ pumps away until, towards the end, the band dash in in full prog folk glory, Celtic fuzz guitar and Keith Emerson keyboards to the fore. Swallows Of Carbeth is a simpler affair, a seemingly straightforward paean to the bucolic attractions of this off grid haven, the band nicely rolling and tumbling along initially. However it’s a lost love song, the delights soured by a leaving and the music darkens and becomes more frenzied, the fiddle blazing away. There’s more travelogue on the appealing I Love Bute, a lovely kenspeckled number that recalls the music that added so much to the original Whickerman. Finally Alex Neilson offers the unaccompanied voice song, The Day That Maya Deren Died, inspired, he says, from seeing The Watersons. As befits this unique writer however he gathers obscure references (Deyer was an avant garde filmmaker), place names (Kelvinside) and surrealistic images (a self immolated soldier) and weaves them into a song which kind of defies description but is also self referencing as it ends with the singer stating he’ll write a song about London’s Marble Arch, that song following and closing the disc.

Trembling Bells are out and about in April promoting this record. Dates are here.

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Caleb Caudle. Carolina Ghost. This Is American Music

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As Mike Nesmith said back in the days, “and the hits just keep on comin.” Nesmith was back then an unrecognised country music pioneer, a pop musician finding his roots and accidentally leading some folk into the world of country music. Here Caleb Caudle stakes his claim to be the latest in the run of young guns who are similarly revitalising the genre. Caudle, from North Carolina, gained some acclaim for his 2014 album, Paint Another Layer on My Heart. On Carolina Ghost, recorded following a return to his homeland and a decision to give up alcohol (18 months clear now), Caudle digs deeper into his country vein, the music creamy with pedal steel, gurgling guitars and a Southern bedrock of organ and piano.

This new wave of country music is a multi headed hydra. Some head into Hank territory, some dig Waylon and Willie while others hark back to the Countrypolitan sound. Caudle seems to be divining the smooth radio friendly sound of 80’s acts such as Randy Travis and George Strait with a nod to the seventies in the shape of Gram Parsons and the Eagles (back when Bernie Leadon was a member and before they cryogenically altered their nasal passages). As such some folk might think that this is somewhat lightweight music but a couple of listens allows one to see some muscle in here, lyrically Caudle is darker than one suspects while the music, sweet as it is, is a honey trap.

The trap opens with the honeyed melody of Gotta Be with Brett Resnick on pedal steel to the fore as the song sweeps along as Caudle sings with some yearning of his perfect lover. He then muscles up on the gritty Piedmont Sky, a song that seems to about his travails over the years singing,”waiting on an agent to call my number,” before heading back to his hometown. Carolina Ghost is sublime, a whisp of a song carried along on gliding pedal steel and subtle keyboards, Caudle hymning his native soil as he recalls earlier days with a hint of mystery. Broken Hallelujah flies on a similar breeze, again the song flows sweetly, the guitars just so fine, the pedal steel keening expertly over a cracking rhythm section as Caudle begs for a second chance. Midway through there’s some very fine duelling between the pedal steel and guitar, elevating the song somewhat.

There’s some honky tonk swing on the broken love song Wasted Thursday while Dobro dominates on the classic melody of White Doves Wings, the strained teardrop of Steel & Stone and the closing valediction of The Reddest Rose, a song that recalls John Stewart in his prime. In the midst of this feast Caudle offers the most heartfelt moment of the album, the bruised ballad that is Tuscaloosa. Here Caudle comes across like an Alabama Springsteen as he captures the languid flow of the South while he also evokes memories of Joe Ely and his Flatlanders pals flying into Dallas.

Carolina Ghost has the rebel sense of 70’s rockers discovering country music and finding out that radio folk actually liked it while at the same time it provokes a sense that Caudle, like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson is rescuing country music from the pop orientated pap so popular these days. If justice prevailed these songs would be wafting from the airwaves

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Blue Rose Code @Celtic Connections. Mitchell Theatre, Friday 29th January

Our last blast from this year’s Celtic Connections.

Blabber’n’Smoke is happy to stand on anyone’s coffee table in our scuffed boots to proclaim that Ross Wilson, AKA Blue Rose Code, is one of the most exciting acts to have emerged from the Scottish diaspora in the past few years. He simply is the best writer and performer about; having seen him in several guises (solo, small band, big band) he is a mesmerising performer while his songs are a continuation of all that was good about such luminaries as Van Morrison, John Martyn and Jackie Leven. Committed as we were to reviewing some Celtic Connection shows for Americana UK including this one we’re grateful to David Ferguson who sent us his review of what was a tremendous night.

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Blue Rose Code is the pseudonym of singer-songwriter, Ross Wilson, a native of Edinburgh and currently based in Bournemouth. 2015 was a particularly notable year for Blue Rose Code, including as it did a SAY Award nomination (Scottish Album of the Year) for The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, a series of successful tours, a number of sparkling performances on radio and television, lavish praise from celebrated broadcasters Ricky Ross, Roddy Hart and Edith Bowman, recognition from Ross Wilson’s beloved Hibernian Football Club and the acquisition of a celebrity fan in Ewan McGregor. The start of 2016 saw yet another ‘first’ for Blue Rose Code, in the shape of his first-ever headline gig at Celtic Connections, on 29th January in the elegant Mitchell Theatre. This special event had been arranged to enable Blue Rose Code to preview his forthcoming third album, …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing and to give fans the only opportunity to buy copies of the eagerly-awaited album prior to its general release in March.

Ross Wilson’s versatility is such that he is equally at home performing intimate solo gigs, as a trio or with a small band but, with up to eleven musicians on stage at any one time, this special gig was most definitely a case of “Blue Rose Code – max”. The line-up varied throughout the show, according to the arrangements and dynamics of each song. Ross Wilson revelled in the role of band leader, bringing the best out of the accompanying musicians and drawing great inspiration from them in return.

Ross’s customary beard was reduced, on this occasion, to a rather splendid pair of mutton-chop sideburns, all the better for the audience to witness his ever-widening smile as they roared their appreciation at the end of every single song. There was a richness and variety to the ten songs which make up the new album, yet they fitted together beautifully as a coherent whole. The set opened with an abridged version of the awe-inspiring gospel song, Grateful, featuring a quietly impassioned vocal from Ross Wilson, embellished by Angus Lyon’s elegant piano and feathery counterpoint vocals from Eliza Wren Payne. The majestic My Heart, The Sun featured pulsating rhythms, smoothly rippling trumpet and an anthemic chorus. The carefree swagger of Rebecca, a gentle country blues, gave way to one of the most achingly beautiful, tender and gracious break-up songs you will ever hear in Pokesdown Waltz, whose gently-whispered closing line surely brought a tear to the eye of most everyone in the room (”…the only regret that presides is that I do wish I’d kissed you goodbye…”). Ross Wilson then quipped that the next song, Glasgow Rain, would bring an end to “divorce corner” for the evening! This song was cinematic in scope, bringing a deeply soulful vocal from Ross (“…the rain fell like dominoes along Great Western Road….”) and a masterclass in cool and sweet jazz from the formidable combined talents of Colin Steele (trumpet), Nico Bruce (double bass), John Lowrie (drums) and Angus Lyon (piano).

In The Morning, Parts 1 and 2 was an extended tour de force, which started with the breezy country soul of part one and segued dreamily into the mesmerising ebb and flow of part two. The fragile beauty of Love, a perennial fans’ favourite which has finally made it onto an album, was notable for Ross’s ethereal vocal and delicate washes of cello, violin and trumpet. The free-flowing Favourite Boy was performed solo by Ross, with the rhythms provided by playful piano chords and foot-taps. In The Morning, Part 3 saw Ross’s vocals build gradually from pastoral lilt to passionate exhortation and featured an exquisite violin solo from Lauren MacColl and stunning ensemble playing from the full “caledonian soul orchestra”. At various points in the show, added musical textures and colours were provided by Graham Coe’s expressive cello and Signy Jakobsdottir’s bewildering array of percussion instruments and effects.

The main set came full circle to finish with an extended and intensified take on Grateful, with uplifting gospel choruses courtesy of Eliza Wren Payne and Emily Kelly, quicksilver blues guitar licks from “Wild” Lyle Watt and a series of beautifully-constructed and increasingly fiery trumpet solos from Colin Steele. There was still time to run through a couple of older favourites, including Edina, Ross Wilson’s affectionate and bittersweet tribute to his native city, which included another gorgeous violin solo. Sandaig was a quietly stirring and poetic evocation of the landscapes enjoyed by Ross during a memorable weekend spent in the Knoydart peninsula. As a final treat, and as this gig coincided with the seventh anniversary of John Martyn’s death, Ross Wilson paid a touching tribute to one of his musical heroes with a beautifully-judged cover of Fine Lines.

It was a sheer delight to hear the songs on the new Blue Rose Code album played in sequence, underlining the cohesion and uniform brilliance of this collection of songs. Having successfully come through several challenging periods in his life, Ross Wilson has attained a serenity which is reflected in the mellowness, elegance and grace of his songs and the warmth, assurance, charisma and inspiration which characterise his live performances. Ross Wilson’s instantly-recognisable brand of Caledonian Soul has reached a new level with this outstanding third album, which promises to elevate him to his rightful place among the elite of British singer-songwriters.

David Ferguson

Mike + Ruthy Band/The Karrnnel Sawitsky Trio @ Celtic Connections. Old Fruitmarket 17/1/2016

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Bright As You Can, last year’s debut release from The Mike + Ruthy Band was described by Blabber’n’Smoke as a “full blown folk rock album,” somewhat akin to the sound of Fairport Convention in their mid seventies incarnation with Jerry Donahue on guitar. Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar certainly have a folky past with Pete Seeger being one of their champions but with a rock solid rhythm section (and horns on occasion), they certainly rocked on the album. Tonight’s Celtic Connection show was their first and sole appearance in the UK for the time being and it’s fair to say that they rocked the house.

Fiddle, acoustic guitar and banjos may have been front and centre but the powerful bass and drums (from Jacob Silver and Konrad Meissner respectively) was the bedrock here allowing Ungar in particular to showcase her excellent voice on a thrilling and seductive Golden Eye, described by Ungar as “country disco” and the first time I’ve ever considered banjo playing as “sexy,” Ungar wielding it low slung on her hip like an Appalachian rock star. Adding some bite and some country soothing was pedal steel player Rob Stein whose licks were somewhat superb removing the need for any Telecaster twang. An unexpected bonus was the scratch horn section called upon to replicate the brass boom of the album on several songs, a job they handled well especially as it turned out they were from local band The Amphetameanies and had scant rehearsal time with the  Catskill New Yorkers. Their contribution to the soulful Rock On Little Jane was colossal, sheets of sound surrounding Ungar’s vocals which were impressive in their own right while the parps on Golden Eye were just perfect. Not to be outshone Merenda sang on a blistering take of What Are We Waiting For, a country rock soul bonanza.

Chasing Gold, sung by Mike, was a fine slice of chunky country rock, Ruthy’s amplified fiddle sawing through the beat and the song that most reminded one of Fairport Convention although their rendition of The Ghost Of Richard Manuel ran it a close second, the fiddle and pedal steel weaving wonderfully. There were rootsier moments, a sing-along on Simple and Sober and a fine lilting rendition of Ashoken Farewell (written by Ungar’s father for Ken Burns’ Civil War series and which she said paid her way through college). They covered Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning with some gusto and as an encore invited the horns and the support act back on stage for some infectious Louisiana laced gumbo. An excellent show.

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Karrnnel Sawitsky is one half of the duo Fiddle & Banjo who released the excellent Tunes From The North Songs From The South album last year. He was the fiddle; banjo was Daniel Koulak who was also present tonight along with guitarist and fiddler Trent Freeman. The ebullient Sawitsky was a fine host taking time to introduce the songs and tunes which flowed freely from their fingertips.

Again there were Celtic Connections galore, Koulak living close to Selkirk in Manitoba. Jigs and reels and old time waltzes were the order of the day here including two portions of a “rodent suite” dedicated to the woodchuck and the groundhog from the North/South album. Again from the album The Old French Set had Sawitsky and Freeman adding percussive footstamping with the audience clapping along, Rubin and Sally In The Garden were hauntingly delivered and Freeman offered one of his tunes dedicated to his newborn niece. At times sounding like ghosts from the past, at others the best barn dance band you could want the trio were a powerful reminder of musical tradition and great entertainment.

3hattrio. Dark Desert Night

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3hatrio, from Utah, invoke “the cultural traditions of the generations who have worked and lived on the deserts of the American southwest” as the influence for their peculiar brand of acoustic American music. It wears a similar patina as any Appalachian influenced recording but their approach (from their line up; fiddle, banjo, double bass to their slightly experimental touches) is somewhat singular. They describe it as “American desert music” and cite Ansel Adams’ photographs as a pictorial equivalent. The songs on Dark Desert Night are certainly evocative but listening to the album the pictures conjured up are moving ones from John Ford to Sam Peckinpah (and most strikingly Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller despite it being set in the snowy wastes of Washington State). Indeed, this band are ripe for picking for soundtrack work.

The 11 songs here are dark and evocative. There are two takes on traditional songs. The anglicised folkiness of Carry Me Away, a murder ballad recorded by John Lomax way back when betrays its origins with its dum dum di de rae refrain (as satirised by Tom Lehrer on his Irish Ballad). The tale of an 1881 cattle drive on Left Texas, another Lomax field recording, is delivered like a porch spun memory, the narrator recalling long ago events over a narcoleptic string band backing, fly blown and all but exhausted. The effect here is of hearing a Cormac McCarthy western tale told by one of his characters.

To their credit, the self-penned numbers equal or better these snapshots. Recalling at times The Handsome Family 3hatrio cast up scenarios of horses panicking in Sand Storm, the aftermath of a railroad disaster on Get Back Home and winter’s travails on White Pressing. But more often they marry their music to lyrics that just evoke a feeling, a moment, usually of something dreadful or portentous leaving the listener to fill in the gaps. Nothing, Tammy’s Sister and Off The Map are all tremendous pieces, musical jigsaws you have to make sense of although there is able assistance in the excellent playing of the band. A cold, wintry fiddle is the prominent instrument here while the double bass features as much more than a rhythm instrument, burbling and bouncing around the spare banjo and guitar parts. With two vocalists, the pained and strained Greg Istock and the wearied baritone of Hal Cannon, on board there’s a pleasing variety to the album although both are equally able to conjure up a mood. The mood overall being elegiac for a past when the desert was not somewhere to visit but a living presence with folk eking out some kind of existence on its borders.

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Favourite albums of 2015

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Well it’s that time of year again when we make up lists. Some get songs written about them (Santa’s naughty or nice one), some guide us around the supermarket, ensuring we don’t forget that all important stuffing. Blogs. Well, blogs do their “best of the year” lists so here’s Blabber’n’Smoke’s list of our favourite albums of the year. They’re not in any order (other than alphabetical) so there’s no number one and no losers, just some great music. 2015 was a bumper year for country music with young artists wresting the spotlight away from the ‘bros; back home there were some excellent releases that have received international recognition on websites, blogs and radio stations scattered across the globe. I’ve separated local releases simply because I think it’s important to highlight Scottish made music, had it been a straightforward top ten several of these would be in there. I’ve provided links to reviews where possible.

My thanks to all the artists, PR Agents and labels who have been kind enough to submit their efforts for Blabber’n’Smoke scrutiny, we love you. To them and to all readers have a happy festive season however you care to celebrate it.

Anna & Elizabeth. Anna & Elizabeth. Free Dirt records

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Brent Best. Your Dog, Champ. At The Helm Records/Last Chance Records

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David Corley, Available Light, Continental Song City

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Danny and The Champions Of The World, What Kind Of Love, Loose Music

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Justin Townes Earle. Single Mothers/Absent Fathers. Loose Music

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Barna Howard, Quite A Feelin’, Loose Music

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Sam Lewis Waiting On You. Brash Music

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Jeremy Pinnell OH/KY Sofaburn Records, 2015

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Michael Rank & Stag. Horsehair. Louds Hymn Music

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Daniel Romano, If I’ve Only one Time Askin’, New West Records

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Pharis and Jason Romero, A Wanderer I’ll Stay, Lula Records

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Sacri Cuori, Delone, Glitterbeat

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Cale Tyson, Introducing Cale Tyson, Clubhouse Records

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Homegrown

Stevie Agnew & Hurricane Road. Bad Blood & Whiskey. Skimmin’ Stone Records

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Dark Green Tree, Secret Lives, Haven Records

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James Edwyn & the Borrowed Band – The Tower

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Daniel Meade Keep Right Away. From The Top Records

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Iain Morrison. Eas. Peatfiredog Records.

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Findlay Napier. VIP Very Important Persons Cheerygroove Records.

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Dean Owens. Into The Sea. Drumfire Records

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The Wynntown Marshals, The End Of The Golden Age, Blue Rose Records

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Honourable mentions

Lewis and Leigh Hidden Truths EP.

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Blue Rose Code Grateful

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And that’s about it. Lots to look forward to in the New Year, not least albums from Norrie McCulloch and Blue Rose Code in the next few weeks and of course, Celtic Connections. See ya.

Paul McClure. Songs For Anyone. Clubhouse Records

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The self styled “Rutland Troubadour,” Paul McClure releases his second album, Songs For Anyone, in January. His debut album, Smiling From The Floor Up, released in 2014 was a fine affair, in the main one man and his guitar which Blabber’n’Smoke likened to an old favourite, Loudon Wainwright III, although we did note that the extra instrumentation on some of the songs added that little bit of chutzpah. It’s unlikely that this caused Mr. McClure to cast around for musicians for his follow up album but cast around he did and the results are generally cause for celebration.

Songs For Anyone, an album of ” songs about love; trying to get it, trying to keep it, trying to understand it, and just getting on with it…” according to the man himself, is a band album. It’s loose limbed at times, a hootenanny of sorts, the songs purveyed with a fine sense of the here and now. McClure’s apparently the man for house concerts and here he recreates one on disc although it would need to be a large room in order to accommodate the instrumentation. He plays several (acoustic guitar, harmonica, mandolin, ukulele and percussion) while producer Joe Bennett adds his panoply of strings and things (bass, lap steel, piano, organ, violin, banjo, trumpet and percussion). Along with Michael Monaghan on drums and Hannah Eton-Wall (from The Redlands Palomino Co) on backing vocals the stage is set for some excellent country, confessional folk and soulful love songs.

The freewheeling Gentleman’s Agreement opens the album with a flourish. Rooted in Laurel Canyon 70’s country style it glides along with the ease and comfort of early Eagles back when they were in torn denim. Unremarkable Me relocates from LA to Muswell Hill as McClure busks away on a song that details a humdrum life brightened by his partner’s forbearance that could have been penned by Ray Davies. Likewise I Could Be A Happy Man could have been plucked from the Kinks’ “country period” and here McClure paints a fine picture of a satisfied mind describing a late night jam with the band and outings with his family, the bumpy country vibe resonant of cobblestones, not freeways, with Bennett’s fiddle adding a nice indolent atmosphere.

Emboldened (and encouraged by his producer) McClure visits several styles on the album. There’s his harmonica playing troubadour set up on Holding A Ten Ton Load and My Big Head Hat Of Dreams, both slightly Dylanesque (with some Chuck Prophet thrown in on the former and some Mariachi on the latter). The introspective singer/songwriter is portrayed on the gentle Yesterday’s Lies, a string laden lament with some great harmonies, and Don’t Take Me Under which is one of the mightier songs here. Organ and stinging lap steel add some emotional heft to McClure’s vulnerable opening stanzas, his voice here passionate and yearning, similar to Elvis Costello but without the bile. McClure outdoes this however on the stripped back guitar ballad Everyday Is Mine To Spend where he and Eton-Wall sing together in best duo fashion (take your pick, Gram and Emmylou, George and Tammy) and they repeat this trick on the excellent So Long, a waltz of sorts that spins around some fine band playing with piano gently guiding the star crossed lovers amid some excellent percussion. A song to savour indeed but exceeded by the swoonful, Pink Floyd like (indeed) bucolic beauty of A Song For Anyone that is just, (excuse the bathos here) heavenly.

Songs For Anyone is a deeply romantic album that has its moments of joy and sadness, all wonderfully conveyed with some brio and hopefully Mr. McClure will have the resources to deliver it live with his compadres. On this showing, solo or accompanied, he’s one to watch out for in 2016.

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Lynne Hanson & The Good Intentions 7 Deadly Spins

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Canadian Hanson’s 2014 album, River Of Sand, was a riveting exploration of Southern music somewhat akin to the mood and atmosphere of Roseanne Cash’s hymn to the Mississippi on The South and The River. For 7 Deadly Spins Hanson has honed in on a particular theme of Southern music, the murder ballad. Her seven tales here are soaked in sin and blood, true confessions and lack of redemption all feature while the music is dark and alluring.

Shifting from languid, guitar heavy brooding to sparse finger picked and bare boned storytelling Hanson evokes a mood that would fit perfectly into the TV series True Detective. Her characters are caught up in modern morality tales, some are cold and calculating, others victims of circumstance. Black Widow is musical story telling of the highest order, the protagonist described perfectly in the opening lines, “Raven hair, long green dress, red lined lips, rose tattoo above her breast.” Married five times with “husbands who drop like flies” the widow is celebrated with a slinky Southern groove, the band shuffling along like an upbeat Handsome Family as she deals with husband number six. Wonderful stuff.
The album opens with the Tom Waits’ like blues of Gravedigger (complete with hammered anvil and swirling organ) and a mood is immediately conjured. Hanson is deadpan, her vocals dispassionate as befits a killer as she lays out her C.V.

Water’s Edge is as sludge filled as the Mississippi, gutbucket guitar bellowing as a husband is buried on the tide line. Hanson sings “He knocked me down, he got me to my knees. Shot of courage, kitchen knife, two timing man I took his life. He broke my heart so I made him bleed.” Her image, “Tattered dress, bloody hands, dirt covers my wedding band” says it all. My Mama Said is a death row confession, church bells tolling as Hanson inhabits the mind of a cold killer in the shadow of the gallows, a fate foretold by her mother. Cecil Hotel is the starkest song here, simple guitar and a forlorn horn motif highlight the spare existence of a god fearin’ farmer on the run after killing the rapacious landlord, bereft of family and waiting to be caught.

The last two songs up the ante in terms of the music, moving into blues boogie territory with Hanson exclaiming like a sixties Dylan on First One’s Free while Run Johnny Run is a fine swampy Ry Cooder like escapade but both are a bit of a letdown after the magnificence of the previous songs. Overall 7 Deadly Spins posts notice that Ms. Hanson is on a bit of a roll and is definitely not to be messed with.

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The Holcombe Family String Band present… Ragtime! Hokum! Western Swing! Gin House Records

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Seems like the old time music bug has hit Leeds as word reaches Blabber’n’Smoke of The Holcombe Family String Band, as fine an outfit as ever scrubbed a washboard. Regular readers will know of our affection for Pokey LaFarge and Woody Pines along with Newcastle’s Rob Heron. Well this outfit are mining a similar musical vein and doing it with some style and panache. This, their debut album, finds the five piece (C.D. Wallum, guitar, tenor banjo and kazoo; Rob Bromley, fiddle; John Scully, trumpet; Felipe Petry, double bass and Francis Watson, washboard, percussion with Benjamin William Pike adding some pedal steel) well versed in depression era music, playing, well, what it says on the tin (although I’d add some viper blues and old time country to the description). That they do it so assuredly is a measure of the fact that they’ve been treading the boards for a couple of years with support slots for the likes of CW Stoneking, Sheesham & Lotus & Son, Curtis Eller’s American Circus, Simone Felice and The Stray Birds under their belt. C.D. Wallum writes all of the songs here and again he’s spot on, capturing the rhymes and rhythms of pre war America to the extent that one is surprised to see that these aren’t retreads of old time hits. Indeed Wallum includes topical issues as on the song The Great Fire of Armley which relates to a conflagration in Leeds in 2014 (and interestingly Rob Heron and his Tea Pad Orchestra did much the same with their song Great Fire of Byker about a fire in Newcastle).

They open with the strutting Hard Times, a song that captures their syncopation perfectly, the instruments sweetly backing Wallum’s laid back vocals on a hard luck love song with some wonderful lyrics such as “When she dances , oh man I mean she really dances, she’s well dressed and fiddle like. Can’t lose, she’s my little goose, well I must have something right.” Times are tight but love endures says the song which has something of Buddy, Can You Spare A dime about it. The Great Fire of Armley continues in the syncopated jazz vein with some space for solos from the band before You Really Done Me Wrong‘s woozy and bluesy Big Easy styled tale of drunkenness.

Aside from the viper jazz the band shift into old time country on the gentle breeze of River, Black River, a song that evokes latter day Byrds as well as old time Carter family while The Captain is a rousing number that one might expect from The Mekons, the pedal steel adding some depth here. However it’s the celebration of old times that resonate most here, the Fats Waller styled Yo’ Hairs Too Long and the cod Hollywood Oriental mystery of Once I Was A Navy Man both excellent while Rag Mama Rag avoids the expected nod to The Band instead coming across like a mix of Tom Waits and CW Stoneking. Overall an excellent album and although it’s lazy writing to just throw out comparisons we’re tempted to say that this lot are on their way to being a UK equivalent to Pokey LaFarge. Songs so jolly they could persuade R Crumb to don a dress and jitterbug. And if you buy the album be sure to wait after the closing song for a wee skillet licking extra song.

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Blue Rose Code/ Norrie McCulloch. Fallen Angels Club. Drygate Glasgow Thursday 3rd December

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The hipster craft beer domain that is Tenants’ fine addition to Glasgow’s East End was pretty packed on Thursday night as fans of Blue Rose Code flocked to Drygate for the official (north of the border) unveiling of Grateful, the single that is formal notification of a new Blue Rose Code album due in the New Year. East and west were united here as the Edinburgh folk were through in droves joining the Glaswegians in what was something of a celebration, for once a hashtag (#grateful) taking on a real presence.

Ross Wilson who is Blue Rose Code was joined tonight by Wrenne on vocals, John Lowrie, keyboard, Wild Lyle Watt, guitar, Nico Bruce, double bass and Colin Steele on trumpet. A superb outfit, they came across as a whirlwind on the driving opener, In The Morning, Steele giving notice that his trumpet was going to be to the fore tonight before a mesmerising segue into Silent Drums, Watt’s guitar scattering notes galore. A fine reading of Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem Scotland followed before Wilson dipped into the new album for a glorious and rousing love song which displayed the chemistry between him and Wrenne as they vocally sparred. A fluid line-up, the band alternated between their full set up to a trio with some songs featuring Wilson alone on stage. Favourites such as True Ways Of Knowing, Come The Springtime and Pokesdown Waltz had the audience in thrall with the set closer I See The Light summoning up a fine communal sense of Celtic soul.

For an encore Wilson paid tribute to the late Michael Marra and his hometown for the night with a moving rendition of Mother Glasgow before welcoming another of his band of brothers, Angus Lyons, on stage for a heartfelt and very moving Grateful. It was a triumphant show with Wilson scattering all notions of east and west aside. Edina or Mother Glasgow, we’re essentially all the same and the crowd beamed with pride for this erstwhile son of Scotland who is invigorating, soulful and above all else a magnificent writer and performer.

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There was excellent support in the form of Norrie McCulloch, another artist on the verge of releasing a new album, the follow up to his excellent Old Lovers Junkyard. With Iain Sloan of The Wynntown Marshals on pedal steel and Dave McGowan from Belle and Sebastian/Teenage Fanclub on double bass McCulloch slipped comfortably into his set with the mellow Still Looking For You, his harmonica and the pedal steel yearning while Call Me Home featured a fine solo from Sloan. The trio conjured a wonderful bucolic sound buoyed by McGowan’s burbling bass lines with the steel guitar the sugar topping on the already sweet melodies. There were several songs from the forthcoming album, These Mountain Blues, including New Joke and the title song that reaffirmed this writer’s belief that McCulloch is currently one of our finest writers, his Ayrshire roots and working class background woven into superior countrified folk songs.