Emily Duff. Maybe In The Morning.



Country soul has been a genre percolating through several recent reviews here on Blabber’n’Smoke with My Darling Clementine, Danny & The Champions Of The World and Emily Barker all referencing the classic sounds that emanated from Alabama back in the late sixties and early seventies. The arrival of Emily Duff’s second album then was somewhat timely as this New Yorker actually went to the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals to record this soulful slab of wax. Duff is a new name to Blabber’n’Smoke but she’s got a fine pedigree along with a winning way of promoting herself. Her bio commences, “Emily was born in Flushing Queens and raised by a pack of cigarettes. Her Mama taught her 4 perfect chords and then ran off leaving Emily to figure out the rest on her own…armed with a hollow body electric guitar and enough anger to level a small country Emily carved a path straight to CBGBs and never looked back.” Who could resist such an introduction?

First coming to attention as part of Gary Lucas’ God & Monsters (replacing Jeff Buckley as his star briefly ascended) Duff eventually moved towards roots music with her trio Eudora before settling down with her own Emily Duff Band after taking time out for her family. Maybe In The Morning follows on from her 2015 album Go Tell Your Friends which had reviewers comparing her to Lucinda Williams and while one can see that in the new album, Duff delves much deeper into her early heroes such as Bobbie Gentry and The Staple Singers while the ghosts of The Allmans and Delaney & Bonnie are never too far away. Recorded with her regular band and a wealth of Muscle Shoals musicians including original “swamper” Clayton Ivey on keyboards, the album is chockfull of touchstones; Gospel harmonies, churchlike organ and liquid guitar solos that coalesce into the quintessential southern soul groove. Duff then takes this sound and adds her own vision which at one point is decidedly a New York state of mind as she sings on the title song about addiction as the band pulverise like The MG’s on speed.

She lays her wares on the table with the swampy and sultry Hypmotizing Chickenz which opens the album. A syncopated southern brew with a Meters like percussive precision, Gospel chorus and mighty slide guitar solo it’s as gritty as, well, grits. Please Don’t Do Me Dirty is somewhat breezier, the guitars gliding with the grit provided here by Duff’s throaty voice as she sings about the sexual undertones hidden by southern manners almost as if it were written by Tennessee Williams. Bomp Bomp bounces along like a pop confection from Bobbie Gentry with a hook made for radio play while one could imagine Everytime I Go To Harlem being a staple of Elvis’ Vegas shows as the band rock out with a sanctified middle eight. Alabama is a fast paced country rocker which sounds more west coast derived with the pedal steel gleaning away as Duff recalls a childhood visit to the State but there’s an immediate return to the swampy south on the glorious slow drift of Diamonds which has Duff’s fine vocals duetting with a male counterpart who sounds for all the world like Bobby Whitlock wailing away on the Layla album.

There’s so much to enjoy here with Needledrop Blues a witty dissertation on the current vinyl fascination delivered with some honky tonk vigour while Don’t is a ballad that builds on foundations laid down by the likes of Etta James back in the days. Daddy’s Drunk Again is a taut slide driven boogie with shades of Tony Joe White and Listen To Mama is a fine holy mess of cluttered rhythm section and muddy slide guitars colliding into each other as Duff stands tall and gutsy inhaling the spirit of Flannery O’Connor. The closing song, Somebody On Sunday, gathers all the antecedents together on a slinky southern groove that is so affecting one can almost smell the wisteria.

Sure, Maybe In The Morning is infused with that special moment in time that saw gems scattered daily from a bunch of talented Southerners, but to her credit Ms. Duff has created a vibrant and engaging album that doesn’t just rely on nostalgia. If there’s a new wave of country soul about to land then she should in the vanguard. You can buy the album here and there’s also a great interview here where she talks about her experience of recording in Muscle Shoals. As we said earlier she has a way with words so do catch her colourful descriptions of her time there.



Willie Nelson & Leon Russell. One For The Road. Retroworld Records

1577We’ve had an interesting batch of reissued albums sent in recently so over the next few weeks we’ll be indulging in a little bit of nostalgia. First up is this 1979 collaboration between Willie Nelson and Leon Russell recorded after the pair toured together. Russell, who died in 2016, was riding the coat tails of his fame by then while Nelson was gearing up his “outlaw country” persona breaking out of his Nashville straitjacket but the pair were even then old troupers and this album, originally a double vinyl release, finds them delving into country and tin pan alley standards.  As such it’s not what you might call an “essential” part of either man’s catalogue but it’s a rollicking good listen with Russell and Nelson trading vocals, their voices quite complementary while there’s plenty of Russell’s piano work while Nelson throws in some fine guitar parts.

The album opens with a fiery trio of songs – Detour, I Saw The Light and Heartbreak Hotel which rock as if they were playing in a Texas roadhouse (and apparently Heartbreak Hotel reached No. 1 on the US country charts, a feat Nelson has never again achieved).  Let The Rest Of The World Go By slows the pace on a typical Nelson tearjerker with strings and his sensitive guitar solo while Russell is content to tickle the ivories but it’s back to some barrelling boogie on Trouble In Mind with the pair sharing vocals with Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt (who also adds some wicked slide guitar). They seems to be having great fun on their take of the old chestnut, Don’t Fence Me In which is followed by a superb reading of Wild Side Of Life and they amble to the end of the first of the original discs with a sunny side up attitude on Riding Down The Canyon which is given a fine Western Swing feel and Sioux City Sue.

There’s quite a shift on the second half of the album as they drop the rock’n’roll for Russell’s arrangements of which include Danny Boy, You Are My Sunshine, Stormy Weather and Summertime. As on his own album of classic songs, Stardust, here it’s Nelson’s voice which is the main attraction but there’s no denying Russell’s skills with his arrangement of Summertime particularly grand. The closing One For My Baby and One More For The Road has some funkier keyboards than one normally hears on this old saloon ballad.

Retroworld website




Jaime Wyatt. Felony Blues. Forty Below Records

jaime_coverAside from those old time blues guys and gals who were at the mercy of the law every time they set foot outside the door, country musicians seem to have an affinity for brushes with the law. Or at least they would like you to think so. Look through the rap sheets and it’s full of misdemeanours, drink, drugs, more drink and the odd fight here or there, a suspended sentence or a night in the pokey. True, Billy Joe Shaver and Johnny Paycheck did actually shoot someone and then there’s David Allen Coe and Merle Haggard and mention of Haggard leads us to Jaime Wyatt. Ms. Wyatt was an aspiring musician who wasn’t getting the breaks and who drifted into drugs and robbery eventually serving time.  On getting out she resumed her music while being drawn to the likes of Johnny Cash and Haggard, partly due to their connections with the US penal system. A meeting with John Durrill who had penned a song, Misery and Gin, for Haggard led to her recording the song and eventually this mini album.

Misery and Gin closes the album with a mournful wail, weeping pedal steel and soft shuffled band backing recalling Emmylou Harris with the Hot Band at their most lachrymose although Wyatt’s voice is earthier than Emmylou’s. It’s as honky tonk as she gets here with the remainder of the songs adhering more to a breezier LA country sound and indeed she has fellow Los Angelino Sam Outlaw sing with her on the tough Bakersfield influenced Your Loving Saves Me while the opening Wishing Well sparks with spirals of guitar recalling the canyon days of Linda Ronstadt and her fledging band. Wasco is a spritely fiddle fuelled number with Wyatt embodying the romantic fantasies of an inmate with the song positively flying with a rebellious abandon that sucker punches Dolly Parton. Stone Hotel hammers in like a Waylon Jennings’ song and it’s as autobiographical as Wyatt gets as she relates her downfall while the band flail wonderfully around her with a full bodied outlaw country abandon.

She’s more reflective on the plaintive Giving The Best Of Me with its rippling acoustic guitar and sweet pedal steel again recalling that 70’s LA singer songwriter vibe. From Outer Space is an almost literal example of Cosmic American Music as Wyatt waxes wonderfully about celestial affairs, pedal steel swirling like a comet around her as the rhythm section humbly remain rooted in a very fine country shuffle. Overall a lovely record.



Raging Twilight Album Launch. The Glad Cafe. Glasgow 7th July 2017


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Jack Law and his henchmen turned in a fine performance to a capacity crowd in the Southside’s Glad Cafe last Friday as they presented their first album to the public. The album, reviewed here, is a fine collection of songs with a definite American bent with many of Law’s lyrics inspired by recent trips to The States. Indeed they opened with the most evocative song from the album, Iron Way, which was delivered with a great arrangement, bar room piano and mouth harp summoning up the south west with a Morricone tint. It was a great start but the band followed this with some of their jauntier numbers with folk and blues more to the fore as on second number Nothing’s There  while  the mandolin driven Old Glass Jar  and the skiffle/jugband like Dust Bowl Rust Belt Blues were real crowd pleasers.

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As guitarist Dougie Harrison strapped on an electric guitar the band dived into the Southern rock of Don’t Want A Lover before they sashayed into the sleazy Chemical Jayne with Duncan Sloan’s electric keyboards summoning up a whiff of The Doors. Dead Horse Point, a stark portrait of a blighted land was a highlight, the images somewhat akin to Cormac McCarthy’s desolate tableaux. Harrison took lead vocals on Hope Sails The River while bass and harmonica player JC Danti led the band into the gospel like opening of Hard Times Bad Times with the audience clapping along and they ended with the organ fuelled You Can’t Get To Heaven, audience singing with the chorus, before an encore of The Weight (which seems to be the go to song for encores recently).  Overall, the band were in fine fettle with several of the songs really brought to life in the live setting.

Support tonight was from Martin Stephen Jones, a Greenock singer songwriter who was a protégé of the late Danny Kyle. He had a strong firm voice as evidenced in his opening song, Looking For A Fairytale. Having spent some time in Valencia he delivered some songs sung in Spanish along with a tribute to his home town in Sugartown, written in a bout of homesickness. His set was all too short but he’s worth seeking out.




Danny & The Champions Of The World. Brilliant Light. Loose Music

165014One of the greatest live acts currently in the UK, Danny & The Champions Of The World are a wonderful conglomeration of Country, Soul and Springsteen-like blue collar rockers, an incredibly attractive mix that is intoxicating in a live setting but which they also manage to convey on their recordings. 2015’s What Kind Of Love leaned heavily on Danny Wilson’s love of classic soul singers such as Solomon Burke and Arthur Alexander with their then live show coming across almost as a Soul Revue, the band adopting several styles throughout the night, able to be soulful, sobbing or flying with some fine extended workouts. The expansive Brilliant Light (an album that was several months in the making as opposed to their usual tight studio schedule), finds the band drawing all the threads together. A supremely well drilled unit comfortable enough to take their time, collaborate more than is their norm and deliver a hefty double disc worth of what is, in the end, just about a perfect Danny & The Champs album.

Brilliant Light has 18 songs spread over two discs (on CD and vinyl) offering almost 80 minutes of unalloyed joy. The songs cover the spectrum, pedal steel honeyed country songs, soulful epics and even a brief jaunt into reggae rhythms. Wilson has, for the first time in several years, collaborated with various band members and others in the songwriting process with only one song here a solo effort. So there’s a poem by Will Burns set to music, a co write with John Wheatley while James Yorkston has two co writing credits with other numbers down to the likes of Chris Clarke and Paul Lush (who kind of kick-started this off as he worked with Wilson on a couple of songs on What Kind Of Love). Despite the all hands to the deck approach (and the addition of a brass section and numerous backing singers) the album is a cohesive whole with Wilson’s attractive slightly husked voice and the mellifluous sounds of the band never failing throughout.

It’s tempting to look at the album as four distinct slices of music (the way some double albums used to be) but in the end this theory doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. However a rough guide might consider side one as classic Danny & The Champs, side two the soul side and three and four a fine mix of the above. They open with Waiting For The Right Time, a vigorous mix of piano, organ, pedal steel, guitar and backing singers, the definitive Champs sound indeed as Wilson considers a gypsy like musical existence. Bring Me To My Knees is another fine glide into country rock with glistening pedal steel to the fore. The seventies tinged mix of reggae and blue eyed soul of It Hit Me startles at first but as the band (in particular organist Andy Fairclough) settle into the groove the song grows in stature and the overall playing as it runs to its end is just spectacular. You’ll Remember Me harks back to Rod Stewart’s glory days when he might have looked like a dandified scarecrow but was singing from his soul as Wilson commands this impassioned ballad and the band are slinky and soulful- it’s the slow dance song that used to close school discos if anyone can remember that far back. Wilson closes the side with his own dose of nostalgia on Swift Street, recalling his childhood in Melbourne, again with a hefty dose of soul in his voice while the band here are more akin to the Stax template with the drums in particular getting that snare snap just right.

Rather than go throughout all 18 songs it’s suffice to say that the standard of side one is maintained throughout.  Consider Me has the keyboards somewhat Stevie Wonder funkified although the pedal steel continues to glide throughout and Lush has a particularly fine solo while Coley Point (with words by Will Burns) is a fine impressionistic portrait.. There’s a Van Morrison bustle to the brisk It’s Just A Game (That We Were Playing) and some Little Feat funkiness on Waiting For The Wheels To Come Off and Long Distance Tears while Let The Water Wash Over You (Don’t You Know) opens with a guitar motif that recalls The Allmans and closes almost like a jam band with guitar and keyboards meandering in a fine fashion and Don’t You Lose Your Nerve is more silky seventies soul. The album closes with another classic Champs styled song, Flying By The Seat Of Our Pants, the glorious sounds generated grounded by Wilson’s on the road philosophy and a rejoinder of sorts to the opening song.

There’s so much to discover and relish here and, should you wish, you can buy a deluxe 3CD version which has an extra disc of instrumentals. In the meantime, I have to mention my favourite song from the album, Gotta Get Things Right In My Life. Here everything clicks, Wilson sounds wonderful, the chorus is mesmeric and the band just lock into a groove that will charm the socks off you. Here the Champs stake their claim to be considered in the pantheon of the greats as the song spirals through seven minutes of unparalleled beauty.


Hannah Aldridge. Gold Rush.

hannah_aldridge_gold_rushA child of Muscle Shoals (daddy is Walt Aldridge, one of the many talents to have worked out of the famed Alabama studios) Hannah Aldridge hit the ground running with her debut album Razor Wire back in 2014. While that album was a balls to the wall rock record Gold Rush is a slightly more varied adventure. Sure there’s the FM rock radio friendly Aftermath which opens the album with Aldridge challenging Jagger in the “born in a crossfire” stakes while the following Dark Hearted Woman comes across like Led Zeppelin covering an old Imelda May song, the listener bludgeoned into submission. No complaint here by the way as Aldridge strides these songs with authority, her voice blazing away, fiery and sultry. The remainder of the album however is where she really struts her stuff, her Southern roots on show, still fiery but the songs tempered, still rocking but not overwhelming and even at times coming across as tender and almost vulnerable. The mainstay lyrically throughout the album is Aldridge facing down demons from her past be it drug abuse, failed romance and the deep dark South.

Shouldn’t Hurt So Bad is a jangled guitar rocker that is up there with Mr. Petty while No Heart Left Behind is stuffed with lyrics that recall Patti Smith while the pummelling guitars and anthemic chorus are reminiscent of Springsteen with the song given a very fine outro as guitars fizz and burn amidst Aldridge’s wails and a powerful drum beat. I Know Too Much sizzles with some wicked slide guitar as Aldridge beats herself up singing, “It’s a dangerous place for a girl like me sifting through the ash and dust” as she contemplates a return to home. Home being Alabama and it’s here she sets one of the album highlights, Burning Down Birmingham, which roars with a vengeance somewhat like The Drive By Truckers, the South’s fables and dangers damned indeed. Living On Lonely, its shards of guitar and grandiloquent piano recalling classic Muscle Shoals sessions, is a stark portrait of being strung out as Aldridge attempts to exorcise her past.

The delicate acoustic finger picking on The Irony Of Love portends a shift in Aldridge’s campaign as she solemnly intones the opening lines of the song, again trying to make some sense of her past but here the band are muted and she is surrounded by a chorus of sympathetic voices. Lace is a chilling trip through a horrific tunnel of love as Aldridge dwells on bad decisions and abasement and rails mightily against them. It’s a rollercoaster of a song with plenty of sturm and drang fitting to be held in the same regard as some of Nick Cave’s efforts. Finally there’s the title song which again has Aldridge considering her decision to return home but its couched in acoustic guitar and swaddled slide guitar effects posting her as a songstress in the classic Americana sense, like Linda Ronstadt covering Little Feat.

Hannah Aldridge is currently touring the UK. All dates here with shows in Scotland including Southern Fried Perth.





Raging Twilight. Raging Twilight.

ScanSupport your local sheriff, or at least your local bands so it’s hats off to Raging Twilight who are a five piece band of veteran musicians grouped around the song writing talents of Jack Law. Law, a seventies folk rock musician, returned to his music after a successful career in health and social care with a solo album before getting involved with Raging Twilight. It’s no secret that these guys (JC Danti, Dougie Harrison, Colin Robertson and Duncan Sloan) along with Law are no spring chickens (in fact two of them play in a band called Nae Spring Chickens) and surely the band name is a nod to Dylan Thomas’ entreaty to grow old disgracefully. Whatever, the band have had enough time to hone their chops and they display them well across the album.

Law was inspired to write most of these songs on a trip to the States, in particular, Utah, New Mexico and Texas and his words convey a fine sense of the south west; farmers facing foreclosure, folk riding the rails and rivers, and characters named Hog Tie Charlie and Black Jack Ketchum. As befits his lyrics the band lay down for the most part a ramshackle conglomeration of bluesy swagger and folky abandon with a little bit of Gospel soul thrown in for good measure. At times they recall the looser elements of Lindisfarne (as on Dust Bowl Rust Belt Blues and Nothing’s There) and there are some moments that struggle with You Can Fall But you Can’t Stay Down failing to make its mind up as to whether it’s a full-bellied guitar boogie or a mandolin driven sing-along. Law’s folk influences are to the fore on The Slip, a powerful solo number that again recalls Alan Hull of Lindisfarne while Hope Sails The River could hail from The Tyne or The Clyde despite its mentions of New Mexico and its swirling Band like swing.

The band are at their best when they settle into their blusier side. The opening Don’t Want A Lover kicks off with some nasty slide guitar before the organ kicks in, the song a forlorn southern blues lament with a whiff of The Allmans about it. Old Glass Jar is a jaunty mandolin and harmonica driven hop that would go down a storm in an old fashioned barn dance while Iron Way finds Law deep into Western mythology as the band come across as if they were playing in an old saloon, the harmonica weeping and the piano as barroom as they come. Dead Horse Point, a lament for hard scrabbled farmers, is the closest the band get to classic LA country as laid down by Jackson Browne et al with its very fine piano playing and restrained guitar lines and although Law’s voice struggles with the high notes it’s a lovely song. They close the album with a more soulful feel. Hard Times Bad Times hums and hymns with the instruments almost toy like before organ and guitar sweep in while You Can’t Get To Heaven opens with a Gospel chorus before Law sweeps in with his take on the philosophy of life while the band play their best yet as they offer up their own take on The Band’s sweet soulful sound.

It’s not an album that will set the heather on fire but it’s a grand listen and given the band’s influences it will surely resonate with those of us who have been keeping the flame alive since those halcyon teenage years, just about the same time Jack Law was striding the boards.

There’s an album release show this Friday at The Glad Cafe, details here.