Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes. Howling Wolf, Glasgow. Friday 9th July 2017

20170609_234839 copyOh dear. The gods weren’t smiling tonight for Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes, the award winning Australian Americana trio who were playing their first UK date. First off, there was only two in this trio as guitarist and Dobro player Damian Cafarella’s flight was delayed meaning we had Bryan and bassist Shaun Ryan. Next up Bryan opened his guitar case on arriving at the venue and discovered that his acoustic guitar had been seriously damaged in transit and was unplayable. A call was sent out for a replacement and one did arrive, an electric guitar (which was gratefully received) but this put the opening of the set back somewhat and did change the sound we had expected to hear. Finally, the gig was in a very busy city centre bar late on a Friday night and the band were not the main attraction it seemed, so the show went on amidst a constant barrage of chatter (and here we should probably be grateful for the switch to electric).

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Nevertheless there was a dedicated row or two of folk who had come out for the band (and the crowd, to be fair, did applaud at the end of the songs) while Bryan managed to engage in some banter with a bunch of lads who were responding to some of his introductions (especially when he asked if anyone in the bar was there with someone else’s partner before playing The Secret I’ll Take To The Grave). For those who were listening there was evidence aplenty that Bryan has a barrowful of great songs in addition to a fine voice and both he and Ryan managed the circumstances with good humour, a great example of “the show must go on.” There might have been a temptation to just rock out and they did offer up some fine boogified moments. The opening 309, a fine and dark country rocker on disc, had the pair firing up the cylinders while You, Me And The Blues and The King And I were energetic and grabbed the crowd’s attention. Deathwish Country was given a fine sluggish Neil Young chug while Dragging My Chain sloped into the blues and saw Bryan firing out some sparks on his borrowed guitar. Murder ballads always go down well in Glasgow.

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It was a mite more complicated with what one might call the the quieter songs but to their credit the duo managed to get these out without losing too much of the subtleties one associates with  country music. Ballad Of A young Married Man, Afraid Of The Light and The Mountain did battle with the assembled crowd but ultimately (for those at the front) were quite affecting. Bryan delivered an excellent version of his hymn to a New Orleans voodoo temptress on Dugdemona and his closing Whistle And Waltz was simply superb with some of us singing along on the sweet chorus.

This was the first date for Bryan & The Wildes on their first UK tour and probably isn’t what they’ll sound like once they get properly set up but even so it was a fine night with the songs shining out.

Further tour dates here

 

R Mutt. The Dash.

rmutt2b-2bthe2bdash2bcd2bvinyl2bpack3Blabber’n’Smoke mentioned Milwaukee band R Mutt back in 2011 when we reviewed Leash On Life. An energetic combo who play no frills American rock’n’roll shaped by Bruce, Punk and Outlaw Country, the band reached out to us recently with their latest disc, The Dash, which follows the dictum of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it but there has been some tinkering under the hood since we last heard them.

There’s been some line up changes with Jim Dier and Ron Thornton now joined by Dave Smolarek on guitar and Matt Schreier on drums with both newbies well integrated and assisting in some of the songwriting. In addition, the band credit producer Kevin Blackwell for adding an edge to their songs that they feel was at times lacking in their previous albums. And although I’d hesitate to say that they sound more polished here there is a vibrancy to the recording while there is also a slight shift from the Springsteen like elements that was so apparent on Leash Of Life with the band delving further into the burnished rock of Blue Oyster Cult with dashes of MC5, grunge and even occasional power pop thrown in. Songs like Mystery and Hypocrite have radio friendly riffs with refined vocals and cascades of guitars, the latter adding an Elvis Costello like sneer.

The opening title song barrels in with lyrics that cast doubt on the American Dream with the band crashing around in a style reminiscent of the MC5. This is reinforced by the classic guitar intro into Pushing Tin which is Chuck Berry meets U2 with the subject matter the drudgery of an endless day at the coalface for little reward. On Never Look Back the band lock down into a pummelling rock groove that one could equally equate to The Stones and the better glam rock bands of the seventies and even, dare we say it, Kiss. BOC come to mind on the dynamic Glass Citadel and the pell mell frantic delivery of Queen Of Speed but the band are well able to wind it down somewhat with the slightly psychedelic tones of Captain Sidewinder which is swathed in Mellotron and languid guitars sounding for all the world like a Spirit outtake. It’s a different approach for the band I’d like to hear more like this. In the meantime, The Dash is a very fine album that proves there’s still a spirit of adventure in the American heartlands.

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Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes

slicks_folderlachlan_bryan_and_the_wildes_the_mountain_0915Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes pioneered the alt-country and Americana music movement in Australia. Their 2010 debut album Ballad of a Young Married Man was a critical and fan success and was followed by a Bryan solo album (Shadow of the Gun, 2012) before their third band album, Black Coffee, won several awards  including Country Album of the Year  and Best Alt Country Album at the 2014 Australian Country Music Awards. Abroad the band have completed two lengthy tours of the US with their appearances in Austin, Texas particularly feted while they have formed a solid bond with the music fraternity in New Orleans.

Now it’s the turn of the UK to hear songs from Black Coffee and its follow up, The Mountain, live as the band head over here for their first dates in this country culminating in an appearance at Maverick Festival. The tour kicks off this Friday in Glasgow with an Edinburgh date the following night before heading south and we took advantage of an opportunity to speak with Lachlan Bryan as he prepared to fly over. I had dug out my copy of Shadow Of The Gun (which has an amazing duet with Kasey Chambers, Whistle & Waltz) and saw that the press release of the time had mentioned that Bryan would play in the UK in 2012 so the first question I asked him was why he hadn’t.

Well the simple answer is that I got distracted by touring the States several times over the past few years. We’ve been through the East Coast, the Midwest and Southern States at least twice and people really seemed to like us so we’ve spent a lot of time over there. But I’ve been wanting to come to Europe for ages and particularly the UK although I have been there before. When I was a teenager I stayed in England where I played cricket for a year but I haven’t been back since then so it’s been a long time coming. It’s interesting that we open in Glasgow because my grandfather came from Glasgow and he played cricket while he was there for a team called the West of Scotland before he moved to Australia.

Growing up in Melbourne how did you get interested in American music?

It was a bit of a family thing. I was the youngest child of a youngest child if you know what I mean so I had aunts and uncles who were 50 years older than me and they were all like, Hank Williams fans. A couple of my uncles had been playing in bands in the sixties and back in those days a lot of Australian bands would cover songs that were hits in America and the UK and effectively pass them off as their own. This was way before the internet of course and the globalisation of music but they were obsessed with cowboy music so when I first picked up a guitar I would play with my uncles quite a bit and the songs that they taught me were by the likes of Hank Williams and Leadbelly. I suppose that’s why what I play isn’t strictly country music, Americana kind of covers it as it’s got some blues and folk music in there. Then when I was a teenager a lot of people my age were getting into Ryan Adams and although I didn’t get on that bandwagon for a while, a lot of my friends bought his records and went to see him when he played Australia. All of a sudden it was OK to play music that had a bit of a country flavour and I got caught up in that. I liked the storytelling aspect of it and it kind of suited the way I played guitar. Up until then I wasn’t really listening to the same music that people my age group were listening to. I was either into real old stuff that my uncles had taught me or singer songwriters like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, not music of my generation. But when the Americana thing started to take off I felt that I fitted in.

I read that you were a big fan of Tom Waits in particular.

When I was at school, my English teacher gave me Bone Machine. And after that, well some folk talk about the first album that really excited them, and for me the first album that I was really excited about and couldn’t wait to hear was Mule Variations which came out in 1999. I was still a teenager and it was the first album I bought with my own money. The beauty of that music was that it was a bit rough around the edges, it wasn’t pop music or country music. It just seemed really honest and sincere and no matter how weird he got his music just speaks to me.

Your last album, The Mountain, reflects the time you’ve spent in New Orleans particularly in the lyrics of Dugdemona and then the barrelhouse blues of Til We Meet Again. What attracted you to the city?

When you’re touring the places that stand out are those places where you really hit it off and for some reason we really did that in New Orleans with a group of people and we’ve kept going back there. It’s our base when we go over to the States and I spent Christmas and New Year there. It’s strange because our music doesn’t have much of a New Orleans feel to it and they’re not too well known for the Americana thing but we just had a really good time there and so we’ve kept going back. I’ve been doing some recording over there with The Roamin’ Jasmine who are also coming over to Europe in a few weeks. They’re more of a traditional New Orleans jazz  band and we thought it would be a good idea to make an EP together. They’re doing some of my songs in a New Orleans style and we did some traditional songs as well and we hope to release it sometime later this year.

So who’s playing with you in the band on this tour?

There’s Damien Cafarella who plays guitar and drums but on this tour we’re doing an acoustic set so he’ll be on the Dobro and guitar. And on bass there’s Shaun Ryan. Shaun’s the guy I’ve played with for the longest, he’s an original member of the band. We’ve just recorded a new album and we’ll be playing some of the songs from that along with stuff from The Mountain and Black Coffee.

It’s quite a varied tour. Halfway through you jump over to Europe to play in Germany and Switzerland before coming back to play at The Green note in London and then Maverick Festival. You’re also doing a house concert.

I’m really looking forward to Maverick, there’s a lot of great acts on there and I hope to be able to see some of them. But we’re also playing in some small clubs and pubs and I’m really looking forward to seeing a few British pubs and having a pint or two. We’ve done a few house shows in America but they’re not such a big thing over here in Australia. Rob Ellen told me about the concept some time back and it’s good fun doing them. We did one in Tulsa, Oklahoma and it seemed the whole neighbourhood came along to see us. And there was this huge guy who came up to me at the end and asked if I didn’t mind hanging around a while as he had something to give me, he just had to go back to his house and get it. He went off and then came back with a giant stuffed rattlesnake that he wanted to give us. So for the rest of the tour we had this huge snake with us in the tour bus kind of like a mascot or souvenir. We didn’t think we had much chance of getting it into Australia so we gave it to a friend in Nashville!

The tour starts this Friday at Glasgow’s Howling Wolf (with the band appearing around ten I think).

Tour dates

June 9 – The Howlin Wolf, Glasgow

June 10 – Athletic Arms, Edinburgh

June 11 – Woodend Gallery, Scarborough

June 13 – Bluesfest, Ingolstadt, Germany

June 14 – Restaurant Stockli, Berne, Switzerland

June 17 – The Pig and Pastry, York (with Dan Webster & Rachel Brown)

June 22 – The Green Note, Camden, London

June 25 – The Caledonia, Liverpool

June 30 – The Railway Inn, Billinghurst

July 1 – Maverick Festival, Suffolk

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Sean Taylor. Flood & Burn.

ST-Flood&Burn-Coverideas.inddLondon based Sean Taylor has released several albums over the past ten years which cast him as a folky troubadour with one foot in the blues and the other treading into beatnik territory. He’s been compared to John Martyn (reinforced perhaps by his regular collaborations with bassist Danny Thompson) and Blabber’n’Smoke has sung his praises when reviewing earlier albums, Walk With Me and Love Against Death. Flood & Burn, his eighth album, finds him at the top of his game as he delivers 12 songs that embrace pensive folk moodiness, jazz influences and country blues. Recorded in Austin, Texas with producer Mark Hallman (who plays bass, drums, keyboards and mandolin) several of the songs have a greater American bent than I recall from his earlier albums with the spritely Until The End Of Time skipping along with its twinkling guitars recalling The Byrds and The Sadies.

The album opens with the fog ridden Codeine Dreams, its lonesome sax evoking a film noir treatment of addiction as Taylor almost whispers the lyrics inducing a narcotic feel. It flows freely into the easy bass driven lope of A Good Place To Die which again has a cinematic feel to it as Taylor’s lyrics approach a Dylan like opacity with gutsy guitar solos and whirling organ bursting loose towards the end. From Dylan, Taylor moves into Tom Waits territory with the bristling God-fearing blues shuffle that is Run To The Water and he wades deeper into this territory on the title song which is suffused with biblical images with guitar, banjo and slide guitar providing a skeletal backbone for this delicious dip into an antebellum world. Even more Waits like is the boho bluesiness of Bad Case Of The Blues with Taylor evoking Bukowski and Townes Van Zandt over a blowsy drunken rhythm embroidered by Hana Piranha’s gypsy fiddle while the one cover on the album, Heartbreak Hotel, is given a gutbucket blues dress down, guitars snapping like coiled snakes with Taylor adding some fine blues harp as Eliza Gilkyson joins in on vocals. Taylor relaxes somewhat on the jazzy vibes of The Cruelty Of Man which is almost Tom Waits elevator music (not a criticism) as it slides along with ease, trumpeter Ephraim Owens adding some colour but this late night effervescence disguises the barbed lyrics which rail against the homogenisation of modern culture.

Elsewhere Taylor returns to his native roots on several songs with Troubadour a wonderful conglomeration of rippling guitars, pedal steel and piano that has the autumnal feel of Nick Drake and the gentle propulsion of Pentangle. Life Goes On is a hypnotic drone that does recall John Martyn’s work as it weaves and wends its way while Beautiful Mind delves even deeper into Martyn’s song poems. Taylor caps this with the closing song, Better Man, which features Danny Thompson on double bass on a song that seems to be about the travails of being a travelling musician. Whatever it’s a wonderful closure to what is a wonderful album.

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My Darling Clementine – Rewriting The Good Book (Of Love)

4-mdc-waist-up-_-lou-cigarThe course of true love has never run smoothly and never more so than in Country music. Back in the 1920’s The Carter Family were singing of a married woman rocking a cradle and crying in Single Girl, Married Girl before Hank Williams wailed that his son called another man daddy while Jim Reeves was inventing phone sex back in the sixties with He’ll Have To Go. The pinnacle of this war of the sexes was reached with the classic male /female country duos who flourished in the sixties and seventies. Some of them were married, others just business partners but the likes of George and Tammy, Dolly and Porter, Johnny and June (and Bobby Bare with a succession of partners including one album, 1966’s The Game Of Triangles, where he shared two women) fell in and out of love, kissed and made up, divorced and drank all to the delight of the listening public. This public sparring sparked some classic country songs and it was those sounds that My Darling Clementine sought to celebrate when they recorded their first album, How Do You Plead ? in 2011. Married couple Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, both successful musicians, adopted the persona of a troubled, loving and warring couple on the album and subsequent live shows, Dalgleish led to the stage like a bride, a heart shaped teardrop painted on her cheek.

Their second album, The Reconciliation, was in a similar vein, the pair reinvigorating the genre with wit and a genuine regard although that didn’t stop them from remarking on the subservient role for women that was oft expected back in those days. A successful collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham found the pair soundtracking his stories about a waitress in a rundown bar on The Other Half which led to a long run of multimedia shows based on the album before they embarked on their third album, Still Testifying, which comes out this week.

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On Still Testifying King and Dalgleish are still the quintessential country duo but they’ve moved on from the pedal steel and string swept weepies of Nashville to add some soul to their country with  horns and Hammond organ moving them closer to Memphis this time. Recalling the reinvigoration of artists such as Elvis and Dusty Springfield who made some of their best music with the Memphis Cats along with the southern soul sounds of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham with even a little bit of Bacharach and David thrown in the album is a fine progression.

On the eve of a major tour supporting the album release we spoke to King and Dalgleish about the album and started off by asking them about this step into the world of country soul.

MWK. Well we didn’t really want to carry on making the same record. When we did the first one we knew what we wanted to do and we really weren’t thinking that in a few years time we’d be up to album number three so it’s evolved somewhat. We’ve kind of stepped away from the classic country duet type of thing and in a way it seemed like a natural progression. It’s kind of strange really that recently a lot of artists are starting to work in this country soul vein, folk like Danny and the Champions Of the World, Emily Barker and Cale Tyson, all their recent records have been kind of country soul releases. It’s a long overlooked style but I’ve been listening to Dan Penn for over 20 years along with Donnie Fritts and Spooner Oldham, the originators, and I thought it was about time we let some of his influence seep into the music. You’ve got to try and keep things fresh, try to do something a little different and creatively it seemed right for us to head off in this direction. 

Although there’s a shift in the music from those classic country duets the themes are pretty much the same, people falling in and out of love and the fall out. The pair of you are still duetting and that’s the essence of the drama in the album I think.

LD. Well I’m particularly partial to the drama. When I’m writing the story tends to be more dramatic but if we stay together (laughs) and continue to write for each other then there’s an inevitability that we’ll write songs about couples. We’ll write about things we know and we’ll never run out of stories whether they grow out of things we’ve experienced or that we might imagine could happen to us or indeed any other couples in love. 

I read that Friday Night At The Tulip Hotel came about when you saw a couple acting somewhat furtively in a car park when you were on tour.

MWK. Yes. That grew from me seeing a couple in a car park and just imagining what was going on with them. Whether any of it is real or not we don’t know of course but we just wrote what we thought was happening with that couple. 

On a couple of the songs you’re referencing or, in the case of Jolene’s Story, answering an earlier song.

MWK. That goes back a bit to No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him) (on The Reconciliation) where there was a very poignant, almost protest message. 

LD. I just thought I should write a reply song to Dolly’s kind of in the same way as I wrote that one about Tammy. I just thought that Jolene probably had a story that needed to be told. There are two sides to every story and so I told Jolene’s. There’s no blame or fault here, I think maybe it’s just love and destiny and the way things turn out. 

Talking about both sides of the story on I’m Just a Woman you’re again looking at it from the viewpoint of the “wronged” woman.

LD. Here I wanted to reflect that line in Tammy’s song where she sings, “after all he’s just a man”, to put in a subtle reference against that song. Sometimes I can’t help myself when I’m writing a country song; the feminist in me just can’t keep quiet about that sort of thing. 

Two Lane Texaco isn’t a relationship song but more about faded communities and the loss of the ties that bound them, industries closing down and such. You sing here of the power of radio back then and as such it reminded me thematically of Dave Alvin’s Border Radio.

MWK. It’s a similar tale. The Shreveport tower I mention was one of the first to have that high wattage allowing it to broadcast across the southern states, shows like The Louisiana Hayride and The Grand Ole Opry. But the place I mention in the song, Megawatt Valley,  is actually an area in the north east of England with power stations and such and I just liked the name and it seemed to fit in with the song. It really all harks back to a time when radio was key with everybody listening to it and OK, it’s an American theme but at the same time a lot of small towns across Britain have lost their industries and community. When I was young I listened to the radio a lot more, it’s really a nostalgic song looking back to what maybe was a better time. 

I particularly enjoyed the lyrics on Since I Fell For You which have a lot of lines taken from other songs with a whole middle eight dedicated to songs that have the word walking in them.

MWK. I had written the first two lines and then realised they were actual song titles so I thought it would be kind of quirky and an interesting exercise to make all of the lines in the middle eight be song titles. There were plenty I could have used that feature walking – walking the floor over you, don’t walk away Renee, walk on by … the list goes on- but I settled on the ones you hear so thanks to Jimmy Bland, Ray Price, Helen Shapiro and The Searchers for the loan. On stage I refer to this section of the song, and how we “ran out of words so just used 60’s song titles” After we have played it we sometimes ask the audience how many they recognised? One thing we learned from our recent tour in the USA is that …. Helen Shapiro never had a hit over there!

Two of the songs, Friday Night At the Tulip Hotel and The Embers And The Flames, were on The Other Half album. Why did you rerecord them?

LD. On that album Mark Billingham picked songs from our first two albums that he thought would fit in with his story but we needed some more and so we wrote those two specifically for The Other half with Mark co-writing The Embers and The Flame. And then when we started on Still Testifying we thought that they needed more exposure as they were so new.

Was that because the originals were acoustic and you had the opportunity to add the band arrangements?

MWK. Well all the songs start that way. They’re written on acoustic guitar or piano. Tulip and Embers as you say were acoustic and we thought they could benefit from a fuller arrangement. We didn’t want them to kind of get left on that album so we decided to use them again.

The Embers And The Flame in particular gets the full bells and whistles production with the horns really driving the song along while the guitars and pedal steel give it an almost Flying Burrito Brothers’ feel and it fits right into the country soul aspect of the album. I was wondering if when you were writing the new songs for the album you were consciously trying to fit into a country soul bag?

LD. Well the new ones do lend themselves to more of a country soul approach. You can obviously hear that it’s country soul because of the horns and the organ but at the end of the day the song itself will give you the flavour of where it’s coming from. When we play them live, whether it’s with the seven-piece band or just the two of us this country soul edge will come through. Of course it will sound different but we’ve always been quite passionate about being able to deliver the songs fully just as a duo and we don’t hide behind the band. It’s the songs that dictate the genre more than the dressing up they get on an album or a band gig. 

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The album ends with Shallow which is a more stripped back affair and features your daughter, Mabel, singing.

LD. She’s very talented and becoming quite the multi instrumentalist. She been coming on the road with us for years and she knows all our songs and now she’s of an age where we thought we could put her to work! It’s not just us saying, “oh it would be nice to have our daughter on the record“, she has something to contribute and it was actually our producer, Neil Brockbank who said, “I think we should have Mabel on this” and afterwards I thanked him for being so nice to her he said, “I wasn’t doing it to be nice. She was the perfect fit for the song”. 

Well he did a great job with the production, the band sound great.

MWK. Neil’s got a great deal of experience and he and the band have worked with people like Elvis Costello and Van Morrison so they have a good understanding of soul and country. We had planned to record some of the album in America but that fell through but I don’t really think it matters if its Tooting or Tennessee as long as you can get that feel. It is much more of a mixed bag than the other records and hopefully that adds to the interest. We’re really proud of it and we’re really looking forward to going out on tour with the band. 

Finally can I say that the album packaging is excellent. The pictures of the pair of you are really evocative with something of a southern gothic touch and the photos of the religious items inside the cover are kind of spooky.

MWK. The photographs of us were taken by a well-known Dutch photographer, Marco Bakker. We always pride ourselves on the packaging of the albums. In these days of downloads the nicer and more tangible something is to hold and look at is important, it’s part of the creative element to making a record. As for the pictures inside the sleeve, one night we played in The Hague and the promoter put us up in what basically was a monastery. It was kind of scary really, long corridors full of dusty old religious iconography so I ran around taking pictures of it and we decided to use some of them inside the album cover as it kind of fits in with the whole Testifying gospel vibe we were looking for.

Still Testifying is released on June 2nd and My Darling Clementine tour through June and July, all dates here

Website

Photography by Marco Bakker

Neil Brockbank:  Just hours after this interview was published it was announced that producer Neil Brockbank had died. The band and many others are devastated by this news and Michael Weston King paid tribute to Neil with some touching words on his Facebook page. He produced numerous albums for many artists but is probably best known for his lengthy body of work with Nick Lowe. Our condolences to his family and his many friends.

Robyn Hitchcock. Robyn Hitchcock. Yep Roc Records

robynhitchcock_poster_mock_sm_1I don’t know if Robyn Hitchcock would appreciate being called a “national treasure” but for some folk his idiosyncratic take on psychedelic rock and his whimsical musings over the past 40 years have certainly placed him on some sort of pedestal.  Of course, being Hitchcock, this pedestal ideally would support a statue that, like Pygmalion’s, would come to life to inhabit a world half Hieronymus Bosch, half Dali, suffused with sea creatures and wondrous insects along with a peculiarly English  vision, all laughing bobbies and trolley buses surveyed through a kaleidoscopic lens. Since his days with The Soft Boys and then The Egyptians and a successful solo career Hitchcock has forged a singular path. His instantly recognisable voice, as English as Beefeaters and pillar boxes, has cut across songs that have tripped the psychedelic light fantastic and others which are delicate acoustic ruminations, all of them an opening into his mind’s eye. For some he’s picked up the baton from Syd Barrett and for a time he was considered a UK equivalent to REM.

This self-titled album finds Hitchcock ensconced in Nashville with producer Brendan Benson and the first thing to say is that it’s his most energetic disc in some years. In fact several of the songs hark back to the youthful vibrancy of The Soft Boys; the tsunami of guitars on Virginia Woolf taking the listener right back to their debut, Can Of Bees while Mad Shelley’s Letterbox has chiming guitars,  sitar like sounds and glorious harmonies that elevate the song to a psychedelic power pop heaven. Detective Mindhorn in particular is classic Hitchcock  as it pounds along in sixties freakbeat  style as he seems to sing of a TV detective with some peculiar powers, kind of like Sergeant Pepper meets Adam Adamant.

The opening I Want To Tell You About What I Want finds Hitchcock setting his wares on the table with some finesse. Here he leads the listener into his weird world, the band providing a muscular background with Hitchcock setting out a utopian/dystopian double barrelled wish list. Sayonara Judge starts out as gossamer spun delicacy with sublime pedal steel before the glistening guitars start to snarl towards the end on a song that makes full use of Hitchcock’s backing singers (who include Emma Swift and Gillian Welch). There’s a wonderful song that’s brimful of nostalgia as Hitchcock recalls a trip with his father on a trolley bus on Raymond and The Wires and this air of nostalgia is transported through the looking glass on the very trippy Autumn Sunglasses which is a perfect simulacrum of late sixties UK psychedelia.

There’s a nod to the Nashville location of the recording on the goofy country of I Pray When I’m When I’m Drunk which tries to marry Hitchcock’s surrealistic words to a honky tonk bar band but essentially it comes across a bit of a throwaway. More successfully, he delves into cosmic country territory with 1970 in Aspic which rings with a degree of authenticity.

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Steve Gardner. Bathed In Comfort

a0774927855_16Imagine you’re a songwriter who’s been doodling around for a while building up a pile of notebooks with lyrics and chords scored out, rewritten and revised, a body of work that you’re dying to unleash on the world but what’s the best way to do that? Well, Steve Gardner, a Hertfordshire based,  self professed “amateur” songwriter was pondering on that very question when, on a whim, he contacted one of his favourite musicians, a chap called Chuck Prophet, asking for some advice. As Gardner relates, “It was a speculative shot – scarcely more than fan-mail – and I was a little shocked when he wrote back saying he was “up for anything”.  Pretty crazy but true and as things progressed Gardner eventually found himself ensconced in a studio in San Francisco with Prophet and his band The Mission Express with Prophet in the producer’s chair. Bathed In Comfort is an odd album as there’s no disguising Gardner’s DIY background, a kind of post punk C86 era naiveté but producer Prophet, acting like an aural equivalent of those home makeover “experts” on the telly, clothes each of the songs in appropriate trappings. The end result is an album that hovers somewhat in the margins between Robyn Hitchcock, XTC and those C86 heroes, Stump.

There’s dark folk, pastoral whimsy, psychedelia and wigged out space rock crammed into the 12 songs onboard here. At times the guitars are revved up, elsewhere there’s a dreamy swoon like touch. And while Prophet and James Deprato on guitars, Matt Winegar on keyboards along with rhythm section Vicente Rodriguez and Kevin T White give it their all its Stephanie Finch’s vocals which stand out on several songs as she accompanies Gardner’s voice especially in the deadly folk ballad Miller’s Daughter where she inhabits the role of a long dead farmer’s daughter. The signature Mission Express sound itself is best expressed on the glorious Take Me Down with switchblade guitars and a pounding beat (although the song seems to owe something to Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand) and the powerfully mutant Bo Diddley freakbeat  of I’m Gone.

What Would I Do and I Forgot, both with sitar like guitar curlicues have an incense and peppermints aroma around them while Peter The Astrophysicist recalls XTC at times and I Can’t Walk Away also shimmers with a psychedelic glean with Finch again adding so much with her vocals. Throughout the album Gardner offers some delightful lyrics as he wanders from genre to genre but his description of a washed out rock star reduced to manning a vinyl market stall on Lance Gardino is spot on. Prophet drapes this sad vignette with an arrangement that rises and falls with Gardino’s career that is almost a mini pop opera in the vein of The Who especially towards the end when the band let rip with a riff that probably only exists in Gardino’s dreams. For those looking for some guitar thrills the opening Rosalie has some wicked slide guitar over a bucking banjo and finally there’s a kind of “novelty song” in the shape of The Day The Aliens Saved The World. It’s delivered twice here. A “country version” that trips along nicely but which pales alongside the “rock version” where Prophet kicks into his recent Suicide influenced speed freak rockabilly bent (as evidenced on In the Mausoleum on his latest record). It’s a total blast.

Having never heard the raw Gardner it’s difficult to say how much he’s been shaped by Prophet but he seems to be happy with the pup they’ve delivered and I’d definitely recommend a listen and even say that for Chuck fans it’s a must buy. Apparently Deprato thinks, “It’s weird”.  So, another recommendation then.

website

https://stevegardner.bandcamp.com/album/bathed-in-comfort