Dropkick. Longwave. Pretty Olivia/Sound Asleep Records

a0612184924_2Never mind the clocks going forward, the arrival of a new Dropkick album surely heralds that summer is a coming. Always a band of a sunny disposition, Dropkick are so popular in Spain these days that it’s surprising the disc doesn’t come with a tube of sun cream but it is being jointly released via Spanish label Pretty Olivia Records although it was recorded in the band’s Edinburgh studio.

Andrew Taylor remains front and centre here as he has done over the course of 14 albums and his song writing is as melodic and snappy as ever. Over the years the remainder of the band has seen several changes and Longwave sees Edinburgh’s Al Shields (here given his Sunday name, Alan) take on bass guitar duties. The songs continue in the vein of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star among others but Taylor adds enough sonic variety and twists and turns to remind one that this is a Dropkick album with his wispy voice the lynchpin while the band’s harmonies are just glorious. There are several straight ahead power pop crackers on show here starting off with the corkscrew jangle of guitars on the opening number, Out of Tune, the jolly romp of All I Understand and the crunchy Fed Up which has a slight Velvet Underground grind while the outro is decidedly Chilton like. Pedal steel (courtesy of Tim Davidson) is used to fine effect on the sunny pastoral reverie which is Blue Skies and the delicate piano led ballad Faraway Places while Giving Way opens with a burbling synthesiser before a walloping bass line and chunky guitar chords drive the song forward before a warm fuzzy guitar solo buzzes in and the song descends (ascends actually) into a closing stramash of backwards sounds, guitar and synth.

There are some clouds obscuring the sunny side of life at times with I Thought I Was OK a wistful portrait of a pessimist, a theme continued on It’s Still Raining although here it’s bolstered with a sparkling delivery. See You There positively drips with melancholy and the chiming Even When You’re Gone hides the sadness in the lyrics with some fine George Harrison like guitar licks. Taylor addresses the seasons and the advent of winter on the tender acoustic closing song, Turning Of The Tide. A lovely little number which recalls McCartney’s acoustic contributions to latter day Beatles it ultimately ends on a note of optimism.  So, another Dropkick album and hence, another cause for celebration, embrace them before they decamp to Spain forever.

Dropkick are playing this weekend at Glasgow’s Hug & Pint and Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s. The Glasgow show is sold out but they are also doing in store appearances at Love Records and Assai Records each day. They return to Scotland for several shows later in April, all dates here.

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Bennett Wilson Poole. Aurora Records

largeIt’s difficult to be objective about a record that, since its announcement a few months back, has had one panting in anticipation to hear the music inscribed in its groove. Hearing that Danny Wilson of Danny & The Champs, Robin Bennett from The Dreaming Spires and Tony Poole, the estimable 12 string maestro of Starry Eyed & Laughing Fame (and a true Blabber’n’Smoke hero) had joined forces was somewhat equivalent to being told that everyone had lied and that Santa Claus did exist. Well, maybe some exaggeration there, but the concept was exciting and intriguing and as some songs and videos emerged along with reports of their initial live shows the die was surely cast, this might be something special.

How did three songwriters, all steeped in American music, two of them with a particular penchant for the west coast variety and one of them armed with a particularly lethal 12 string Rickenbacker, get together? Wilson, an inveterate songwriter, had teamed up with Bennett writing songs together over Facetime and they decided that Poole, who has produced both of them in the past, was a perfect fit for the songs. So, roped in, Poole had a bunch of songs in his own grab bag which were added to the mix and he recorded the basic tracks in his home studio over a bunch of weekends. The result is this 11 song collection which, for several reasons (a trio, the name of the band, the album cover) has seen them being compared to Crosby Stills & Nash (and Young although there are only three of them) but we’d hazard that a more apt comparison is to The Travelling Wilburys, another talented bunch of blokes who kind of came about when George Harrison just wanted to make an album with “some of my mates.”

The Wilburys’ influence is evident from the opening rush of Soon Enough which has a sheer joie de vivre in its Tom Petty like power pop jangle but the band transcend any such comparison as the song powers on with references to Junior Parker’s Mystery Train and a blistering 12 string raga rock solo which blasts the song into the 5th Dimension. And so it goes throughout the album. It wears its heart on its sleeve pumping a rich stew of influences – Beatles, Kinks, CS&N, Byrds – throughout, but the whole is greater than the parts as the trio’s songs stand up well on their own two feet, there’s not one dud here and the musical architecture supporting them is just the icing on the cake.

It would take a hard heart not to appreciate the chiming beauty of Funny Guys with its backward guitars, Searchers like Merseybeat beat and Wilson’s soulful voice as he takes the song on a left field turn into outer space. Elsewhere they deliver some delicious low key delicacies draped in a mild psychedelic fuzz with The Thing That You Called Love approaching Gene Clark’s baroque folk rock melancholy and The Other Side of The Sky recalling Lennon circa 1970 while Hide Behind a Smile goes further back quoting The Beatles’ In My Life on guitar towards the end. Meanwhile there’s a nod to The Kinks’ unique take on whimsical psychedelia on Wilson General Store.

The band do lean towards the west coast on several numbers.  Ask Me Anything weighs in with a chunky riff and lyrics redolent of the idealism of the late sixties with the guitar solo as tortured as anything Steve Stills came up with while the harmonies (as throughout the album) are classic. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the political assassination of MP Jo Cox, is an almost direct lift of Neil Young’s Ohio (a lift Poole readily admits to), his anger and dismay the equivalent of Young’s way back then leading to a fiery blast of disgust borne out with some ferocious guitar work. Finally there’s the closing Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), a song written by Poole after reading an article about refugees which was next to an article on the selfie phenomenon. The indignation at the absurdity and implied equivalence of disaster and life style choice burns brightly here as the band wig out on this lengthy outing with the spirit of David Crosby hovering close by. Imbued with the apocalyptic vision of Wooden Ships and bolstered by the broiling guitar broth and mantras which informed Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, it’s a monumental song and one which the band apparently turned into a 15 minute epic on their run of shows in London the other week.

Despite the plethora of names above, Bennett Wilson Poole rise above their antecedents. The album talks to today as much as it talks to the past and the band are to be congratulated for such an endeavour. A certain contender for album of the year.

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Chatting about the chimes of freedom with Tony Poole

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This Friday sees the release of one of the most hotly anticipated discs of the year in the shape of Bennett Wilson Poole’s debut album. Ever since news of the trio was  announced the web has been buzzing with a frisson of delight at the prospect of hearing what in effect has been dubbed a UK Americana “supergroup.” A carefully managed lead up to the release with notable video productions and a handful of live shows has only whetted the appetite. BWP, as we shall henceforth call them, consist of three very talented musicians –  Robin Bennett of The Dreaming Spires, Danny Wilson from Danny & The Champions of The World and Tony Poole, best known for his seventies star jangled band, Starry Eyed & Laughing, and a producer and arranger of note, widely acknowledged for his prowess on the Rickenbacker 12 string guitar.

Blabber’n’Smoke has been lucky enough to have encountered all three previously in term of record reviews and, like the rest of the Americana blogosphere, was somewhat giddy at the prospect of hearing their collaboration. Happily, the album more than lives up to the expectations  with the band creating some excellent music and in the meantime building up a singular image as inheritors of the precursors of Americana with their sly nods, musically and visually,  to the likes of The Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash amongst others. The trio are uncanny in their evocation of those past times while at the same time adding their own personalities to their songs along with a topical protest touch which again reflects their predecessors’ ideals.

The trio have spoken at some length on the genesis of their partnership in two fine interviews with Lonesome Highway and Say It With garage Flowers so when Tony Poole agreed to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke we thought that, rather than regurgitate the same old questions, we’d concentrate on the live shows the band played in London two weeks ago and try to figure out why BWP are currently the bees knees. So we started off by asking Tony why he thought that the album had whipped up so much excitement and anticipation.

I think it’s a couple of things. The three of us have our own backgrounds and people who know us through them so there’s a fan base already there. When we had finished recording the album I sent out CDRs to folk we knew like Nick West of Bucketfull of Brains and Pete Frame of ZigZag magazine and the reaction we were getting back was really positive. Danny knows this guy Phillip Mills who manages Emily Barker and others and he’s been amazing. We hired him to coordinate the project back in November and again the feedback was so positive and so we built up quite a lot of advance anticipation. It was quite a surprise because I’ve been working away for ages chucking stuff out and never got that sort of feedback. We were all excited as well and Danny’s reaction in particular was so good. He was texting me every day saying he hadn’t had as much fun ever listening to a record he had made and that sort of reaction seems to have followed through with other folk. It’s hit some sort of spot which I couldn’t begin to explain and it’s even carried over to the live shows although we’ve only done five, they’ve all hit that spot also. It’s been a joy so far and, OK, all of this has been happening in a kind of an echo chamber that the three of us live in comprised of people we all know and who like our kind of stuff so I don’t know if when the record comes out it will get much further beyond that but it’s been wonderfully rewarding so far.

Part of the build up has been the three videos you’ve released.

Robin has been the mainstay here. It was his idea to do a Two Ronnie’s’ type thing on the first video, Welcome To The Wilson General Store, while he conceived the train video as a direct homage to The Wilburys’ End Of The Line. We’ve been really lucky to have Martyn Chalk and his brother Barrie of Chalkstar films on board and it was Martyn who came up with the spy video idea for Ask Me Anything and the Ice Cold In Alex ending. As for Danny and myself, we just do what we’re told to do. 

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There’s been a great response to the three shows you played in London at The Betsy Trotwood the other week.

Well they were the first shows we did with a full band with Joe Bennett, Robin’s brother from The Dreaming Spires and Fin Kenny who has drummed with the Spires and who is just the most amazing drummer. We only had two days to rehearse but I’d sent them the songs beforehand and they were amazing. I don’t know if you know the Betsy Trotwood? I’ve got a journalist friend who remembers it when it was kind of like an old man and his dog type of pub but this guy Raz has turned it into a great venue. It’s got an upstairs room which I’ve played solo in a couple of times and a basement which I hadn’t appeared in before but that’s where the band played. It’s a great venue, when you come in it looks a bit like The Cavern, all old arches and such and I couldn’t resist singing Some Other Guy once we were in there. It only holds about 60 people so there’s a great atmosphere. The place was rammed and the shows went fantastically well, there was a great sound guy so that really helped.  We played the album from start to finish. I sequenced the album and I think it holds up really well when you’re listening to it but live it really worked. The last song (Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself)) is a kind of wig out jam sort of thing and on the first night we played it about the same length as the album version but by Friday it was about 15 minutes long.

The response has been wonderful. You’re always unsure as to how well a live show will go down and I haven’t played three nights in a row for a long time so by Friday morning I could hardly talk but a little bit of medicinal whisky got me back singing that night. Along with the album we decided to add on a couple of songs each from our back catalogues including what was Starry Eyed’s “hit,” One Foot in The Boat, a couple of Danny’s including Old Soul and one from Robin’s old band Goldrush along with The Dreaming Spires’ Searching For The Supertruth which was really great because I played on the original. When we were rehearing we had so much fun trying out songs like The Wilburys’ Handle With Care, Find The Cost of Freedom and 100 Years From Now so we did them as well. And then Danny’s such a musical person, he’s always got a guitar in his hand, always playing some music, in fact I think he wrote a couple of new songs while we were rehearsing but he just started off playing Michael Nesmith’s Different Drum and we all joined in and I’d forgotten what a great song it is so we threw that in as well.

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People have of course compared BWP with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young). How do you feel about that?

I’m easy with it.  I mean I’m too old to be bothered by that sort of thing. But even things like the album cover, well that was an accident. We were taking some photos at Truck Festival last year with John Morgan and we saw this temporary saloon bar they had put up for some of the smaller bands to play in and we took about six pictures there. When we were planning the album cover Danny was a bit concerned about the similarity however and he had another idea which led to us doing another photo shoot where we were on the surface of the moon but it looked like we were Kraftwerk or something. Anyway, we went with the saloon shot and I’m totally happy with it. One of the things that’s been good about the reviews that have come in is that people have said that we’re not pastiche and that we’re not coming across like a tribute band. There is a sixties feel to some of the album and when I was doing the arrangements I consciously put in some quotes that kind of reinforce that. At the end of Hide Behind a smile I put in a lick from The Beatles’ In My Life while one of my guitar solos on the album is actually just the start of the melody of the middle eight of I Am The Walrus. There’s lots of little pointers in there but hopefully I won’t get sued for plagiarism!

One of the things that struck me is the sense of how much fun the three of you are having playing together; it really comes across in both the album and the videos.

I’ve known Danny for about 10 years and Robin just a little less and we really get on well together. Somebody said that you had to have some conflict in order to produce greatness but I’ve never believed that, I think you need some harmony. The making of the record was just so easy, they had their songs and when they came to me I had a few bits and pieces, mainly finished songs, and they just slotted in. I’ve always thought, even back in the day, that it’s the intention of what you are doing when you are recording something rather than the perfection of it that matters. Music is such a powerful thing and I think it connects on a subliminal level and it’s great if you can pick that up when listening to the album. When we were recording it was just so smooth. We were in my little room with three mics set up, Robin and Danny were playing acoustics and I was laying down an electric kind of guide guitar and we spent just three weekends laying down the songs and then I had the time to think about the arrangements. I’d never aspire to compare myself to him but I felt a little like Jeff Lynne.

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With all this publicity do you think that it will rekindle folks’ interest in Starry eyed & Laughing?

That’s funny you ask because I’ve just spent a few days with Iain Whitmore (Starry Eyed’s bass player) and we were talking about that. We’ve always kept in touch, Iain and I, and we actually started recording some songs back in 2013 for a new Starry Eyed album but then I developed this thing called polymyalgia and it floored me for some time and we had to put the project on ice. But I’m hoping that the awareness due to this will help us, it’s a bit like when the internet started up and I began to get emails from some fans and that started a bit of resurgence then.  I mean we’ve beaten David Crosby’s record for the longest gap between albums, our last one came out in 1975!

So Iain and I have been working on a new Starry Eyed project over the past six months or so but when Bennett Wilson Poole played the Union Chapel Ross McGeeney, our guitar player came along to see us. I’d last seen Ross at the funeral of our drummer Michael Wackford, we hadn’t kept in touch but we spoke after the show and I’ve met up with him since then. It adds another possible dimension to a new Starry Eyed & Laughing album, I did get in touch with our original drummer but he doesn’t play anymore. Anyway we’ve been working on it and one of the things we wanted to do was revive the tradition of having other musicians come in to play with us. Our producer in the 70s, Dan Loggins, brought in Russ Ballard, he was quite a character, and B. J. Cole. I saw B. J. last summer at a festival in Woodstock in Oxfordshire and he’s agreed to be on the new record and I’d like Danny and Robin to be on it. Obviously there are people who are fans of Danny and Robin who haven’t heard of Starry Eyed & Laughing, I’ve met a few at the gigs who had no idea of us so getting the name back out there is a great thing. We were only together for about three years but we did play a lot of gigs and we were on a major label so we did make a few waves. But then again when we were on CBS their biggest act was The Wombles.

Bennett Wilson Poole is released on Friday and can be purchased (on vinyl even) at The Wilson General Store. They play at this weekend’s Ramblin’ Roots Revue in High Wycombe and are appearing at Kilkenny Roots Festival in May while further festival appearances over summer are in the offing.

You can read more about the adventures of Starry Eyed & Laughing and buy their records here

Thanks to John Morgan for his excellent BWP photographs

Erika Wennerstrom. Sweet Unknown. Partisan Records

a1556881509_16With her Austin based band Heartless Bastards on a hiatus, Erika Wennerstrom allows her full bodied voice an outing on a solo debut that is the result of a period of introspective soul searching, sparked off by a hallucinogenic experience in South America. She’s taken her time in crafting these nine songs which alternate from scorching rockers to more laid back country tinged songs with all of them relating to her self confessed anxieties and what she sees as a sort of spiritual and physical recovery from years on the road. Having said all that the album is a buoyant affair for the most part despite lyrics which can be dark such as, “I crack so deep, cracks that went right down to the bone,” and, “I’m searching for a place to feel like home, a place where I could breathe.”

There’s a centrepiece in the shape of Be Good To Yourself and Staring Out The Window, two songs which sound weirdly enough like Patti Smith singing with the Velvet Underground but before these Wennerstrom storms the barricades with slabs of guitar and pounding bass on the opener Twisted Highway and Extraordinary Love, an overarching vista of her trip to the jungle and her “mind expanding” experience. Coming out of the rabbit hole on the other side there’s a redemptive quality of sorts in the mildly psychedelic groove of Good To Be Alone while Like A Bird finds Wennerstrom in an LA country rock mood. The sparkling Letting Go is another LA canyon influenced song and Time, with a mellotron added to the mix, ripples along nicely with Wennerstrom again reminding one of Patti Smith in her vocal delivery. The only issue with the album is that for such a confessional outing Wennerstrom’s words are sometimes lost within a torrent of sound.

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Ramble on down to The Ramblin’ Roots Revue

ramblin-roots-revue-2018-905016388-300x300We’ve mentioned previously a couple of the newer (and smaller) festivals which have been popping up over the past few years. The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, held in Bucks University Union in High Wycombe, has its second outing this year from the 6th -8th April and will be featuring a host of acts who are Blabber’n’Smoke favourites so we spoke to organiser Tristan Tipping about the weekend’s events. First of all we asked Tristan why he decided to dip his toes into the perilous waters of organising a festival.

Why did we start Ramblin’ Roots? I guess we’re just gluttons for punishment.  We really just wanted an excuse to have a big weekend surrounded by lots of people we knew while enjoying some great music.

You run Clubhouse Records with your brother Danny but I believe that the festival is a separate entity. Aside from yourself who else is involved in setting it up?

Ramblin’ Roots is really myself along with Noel Cornford who runs Earbelly who do pop up stages for acoustic acts and Jamie Alexander who is the events manager for Bucks University Union where we hold the event. Last year we got off to a real flyer, we were pleasantly surprised both in terms of ticket sales and the feedback we got so we decided to try and have it as a regular event. We don’t really see it as a festival; it’s just a big get together of like minded people who are into the same type of music, not muddy fields and bad camp sites. It’s all indoors in an award winning venue with some great bars and food. We’re all in our forties so the idea of standing in a wet field for days doesn’t really appeal, personally I don’t want to be more than 15 feet away from a bar.

It certainly seems to be a bargain in terms of the ticket prices.

Yes, it’s under a pound per band if you buy a full weekend ticket. We’ve got 36 artists playing and it’s only £32:50. We’ve tried to keep it reasonable and the drinks and the food are all sensibly priced,  having it in the Union keeps costs down and we’re not out to make a huge profit, we just need it to wash its own face. We want an event that attracts folk so we’ve kept the prices as low as we can manage. It’s great if you think that it’s a bargain, I hope other people see it that way. It’s difficult to get people to get out of their house to come to events but I think we’ve chosen a good weekend to hold it on, there’s not a lot of other things going on near us then. It is hard work and there is a bit of a risk in putting anything like this on but as I said a lot of people turned up last year and we’re getting really good support and good mentions.

And it’s not dependent on the weather as it’s indoors.

We’ve got three stages. There’s the acoustic stage which is actually outside and two indoors, the main room holds around 600 people and the other is more of a traditional bar setting. We never have more than one act playing at the same time so if you’ve got the stamina for it you can actually see all the bands that are playing.

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It’s a great line up, I presume it’s a lot of hard work to assemble such a cast but how do the three of you choose who is playing?

Well obviously it is down to availability but aside from that it’s important to us that there’s a mix across the Americana genre so that there’s a degree of variety. I mean it’s a broad church so we have some of the more traditional folky and bluegrass stuff alongside more alt country music and some almost psychedelic West Coast sounds.  So there is a common thread there and all three of us have worked in the industry long enough to have some great contacts and a lot of mates so it is a community we’re tapping into. We want to be surrounded by acts we enjoy but the main common denominator is that they are all excellent live acts. Between us we’ve seen all who are coming to play and we know they can offer a great experience on the day.

Looking back at last year’s festival I see that aside from the music there was a pie eating contest!

Yes although it’s a bit of a hazy memory. I think it was my brother who won it. I mean it’s all about the music over the weekend but we’re trying to make the whole event an experience with the food and drink just as important. We’ve got lots of food stalls with free tastings and we wanted to have a bit of fun as well which is where the pie eating came in.  I’m not sure what we’ll do this year, someone suggested horse shoe throwing!

This is maybe an unfair question but who are you looking forward to seeing?

That’s a tough one but I’m really looking forward to The Midnight Union Band who I’ve seen at Kilkenny a couple of times and then The Raving Beauties and The Hanging Stars are right up my street as I really like that West Coast type of thing. But it’s all quality from top to bottom. The act who most people seem to be really looking forward to are Bennett Wilson Poole who are just starting off and who release their album the weekend of the festival.  The other set I’m excited about is the Clubhouse All Stars tribute to Tom Petty. We actually did that at Truck Festival five years ago and with Tom passing away quite a few people asked if we could do it again. We’ve got a wealth of people who can come on and sing their own personal tribute so it should be a great show.

The Revue has a charity partner this year, Ridin’ The Roots.

We’re supporting our good buddy Del Day who is doing a sponsored cycle ride from Lewes to Kilkenny to raise money for Cancer Research. It’s in memory of Willie Meighan who was at the heart of the music scene in Kilkenny and who I had the pleasure to meet when I was at Kilkenny Roots. We’ll be having a collection at the shows and Del will be there to tell folk all about it. It’s a pleasure to do our little bit to help.

Tickets for The Ramblin’ Roots revue are available here

You can read about and support Ridin’ The Roots charity cycle here.

Courtney Marie Andrews. May Your Kindness Remain. Loose Music

a4286792715_16If many listeners felt that the spirit of Joni Mitchell hovered around Courtney Marie Andrews‘ hit album of last year, Honest Life, the broader palette of this follow-up should be food for thought. True, Andrews can still evoke Joni’s austere tundra ballads but May Your Kindness Remain is of a richer texture than its predecessor, less inclined to wander a folksy trail, preferring instead to delve into Gospel, soul and country rock. Produced by Andrews and Mark Howard and recorded mostly live in a house in LA the organ work and sinewy guitar recalls The Band at times while Lowell George’s Little Feat surely inform at least one song here. As for muses, this reviewer indeed muses that Aretha Franklin and Laura Nyro may have been on Andrews’ mind when she recorded these songs.

If Honest Life was a set of personal observations  then May Your Kindness Remain casts its net somewhat wider as Andrews delves into what she sees as a nationwide malaise with  relentless redevelopment, anti immigration forces, opioid dependency causing untold grief while she also inhabits the personal political with some atypical love songs. Above all she continues to sing in a glorious manner while her songs remain elegantly crafted, each one here pitched to perfection with memorable hooks and intriguing melodies and all wrapped up in a warm production somewhat akin to Daniel Lanois’ infamous ambient feel as on Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind.

The album opens with the elemental surge of the title song couched in Gospel tones as it builds in intensity from its reverential opening into a glowering guitar solo and then soaring to the heavens with CC White’s gospel voice adding some heft to Andrews’ voice. Next up is a song which could easily sit within Honest Life, Lift The Lonely Heart, while at the same time it could as easily have featured on Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball.  Andrews does recall Emmylou here in her singing while the reverbed guitar and swooning organ are evocative of that album. Lyrically Andrews revisits her lonesome travails of the previous album and altogether the song puts paid to any notions that May Your Kindness Remain is a Judas moment for those who wanted a remake of honest Life. In a similar vein Took You Up is a travelogue come love song, a long distance romance with some glorious guitar work from Andrews while Rough Around The Edges is a stark American version of a kitchen sink drama with a saloon bar like piano adding to the desolation.

There’s so much to savour here as Andrews gets into a chunky country rock vibe on the vividly painted death of the American dream that is Two Cold Nights In Buffalo and then slips into Little Feat territory with her tale of a racist sheriff on Border while This House is a homily to the idea of home redolent of sweet memories with a whiff of both Little House On The Prairie and the white picket fences in David Lynch’s blue Velvet. There’s more country soul on the powerful Kindness Of Strangers, a song written after a musician friend died from an overdose, a song of hope despite despair and then there’s the initially upbeat I’ve Hurt Worse with Andrews listing the reasons she likes her honey which soon dissects the relationship portraying it as bereft of mutual respect leaving her stoically enduring his selfishness.

The album closes on a high note with Long Road Back To You which is stuffed full of American yearnings; a road song, a love song, the romance of Kerouac and all who ride the roads waiting for money wired at gas stations and cheap motels. The song glides along with a soulful feel with CC White again on backing vocals and one imagines that it’s a song which could enter the canon as it sums up a scenario as succinctly as the likes of The Last Picture Show did in film. It’s simply superb and a perfect closer to a sublime album which cements Andrews’ status as a major artist.

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Blabber’n’Smoke Signals: Harry & The Hendersons, The Dead South, Johnny Dowd

Harry & The Hendersons. The Method of Matchstick Men

matchstickmethodcover1005pm-1Listening to the seven piece Glasgow band Harry and The Hendersons is a bit like time travelling back to the early seventies when the bands had groovy clothes, long hair and were interested in Eastern mysticism. Taking elements of LA hipness (CSN&Y and such) and Notting Hill squats (Quintessence, East of Eden) they conjure up a fine pot pouri of sounds on their debut album. A string section introduces the opening number Transcendental Meditation with the band’s excellent harmonies well to the fore before the song  settles  into a guitar based groove with echoes of Dave Crosby’s work woven into it. Meanwhile Matchstick Men, the second song, is more baroque in its delivery, the harmonies again one of the main features here while the strings dance around a gritty guitar figure ending in a guitar/fiddle duel of sorts and the addition of flute to the fluttering freak folk of Chromophobia harks back to the seventies while also challenging the work of peers such as Trembling Bells.  There’s even a five piece suite, Apollo’s Vision, which allows the band to wander hither and thither with willowy flute, Crosby like scatting and Tolkien imbued fantasy. There’s a wonderful moment in the segue between the sections, Medieval Weather Report and The Milkman, where they perform an audacious handbrake turn from prog folk to a Grateful Dead guitar noodle. Had this album been released on Vertigo or Deram back in ’72 it would be a collector’s item but it’s here and now and, having seen The Hendersons live, we can confirm that they can carry off this time travelling lark excellently on stage. Website

 

The Dead South. Illusion & Doubt

14676493_1665812647012609_4563089150667915264_nThe Canadian four piece punky bluegrass outfit’s 2016 album gets a UK release to tie in with dates coming up in April. A frenetic collection of songs peopled with some ghastly characters knee deep in mud and blood and gore this is a tremendous listen. While songs such as Dead Dog Isle rattle along with a grim fury reminiscent of The Violent Femmes there are also numbers such as Smoochin’ In The Ditch and Time For Crawlin’ which are almost pure bluegrass while Miss Mary vamps along like a jug band on amphetamines (along with some particularly gruesome lyrics).  There are some epic tales on show here. The Massacre of El Kuroke adds a Morricone touch to their sound with some sly slide guitar adding to this very cinematic song while Gunslinger’s Glory, the closing song, weaves between a bone rattling gallop and a woozy funereal waltz with strings adding a macabre touch. It’s all great fun with the band firing on all barrels and one suspects that these songs will fly from the stage with fire and fury.  Website

 

Johnny Dowd. Twinkle Twinkle.

twinklecoverforsite460wJohnny Dowd continues to eviscerate Americana on this wonderful collection of popular songs from the past which are chewed up and spat out by Dowd in his unmistakable style.  The album opens with a manifesto of sorts on the updated Execute American Folklore (Again) and it’s hard not to express a chuckle when this Residents like  caustic surge of electronica mutates into  Dowd’s delivery of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. We all know this lullaby but here it’s a bad dream vividly reimagined, more akin to Der Struwwelpeter than Disney with Anna Coogan’s operatic voice adding to the disquiet. Like a mad scientist let loose in a laboratory of steam punk synths Dowd plays all the instruments on the album; farts, parps, clangs and ominous hisses permeate the disc sounding like Krautrock meets the Clangers at times. Songs such as Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, Red River Valley and Tom Dooley are punched into submission. St. James Infirmary Blues is spoken like a beat poet suffering from a benzo famine and John The Revelator is full on biblical fury as the synthesized sounds beep and warble while there’s more biblical darkness on Job 17:11-17 with Dowd coming across like a Manson type prophesiser although the song morphs from its biblical origins into an electro funk invitation to a Friday night funky party.  Dowd’s reworkings of these songs are bizarre and challenging but  he’s  continuing in the tradition of others, taking the songs and adding his own distinctive twist. I challenge anyone not to listen to his take on My Darling Clementine without a smile appearing. Website