Fred Neil is probably most familiar as the writer of Everybody’s Talkin’, the song from Midnight Cowboy which was a smash hit for Harry Nilsson. Some folk might recall other songs from his heyday as perhaps the premier singer/songwriter of Greenwich village in the wake of Dylan while some might know that Neil just about retired from music in the seventies to spend his time on dolphin conservation in Florida, playing live occasionally in Coconut Grove. Neil died in 2001 but his reputation grows and this tribute album, featuring many who knew him, is a fine salute to the man.
The album was initially conceived by Jim Wurster who first saw Neil playing in Coconut Grove with Eric Anderson and Rick Danko and was smitten by Neil’s songs and presence. He’s gathered a fine assembly of artists from Florida and also managed to get the likes of Rodney Crowell, Eric Anderson, John Sebastian and Arlan Feiles to pitch in and the result is a finely varied collection of Neil songs, all worth hearing and hopefully an invite to listen to the man himself.
The artists delve into all the corners of Neil’s music. Blues on Crowell’s sly delivery of Candyman, the hard stomping Everything Happens from Diane Ward and Jack Shawde and the stripped back acoustic ramble of Vince Martin’s Handful Of Gimme. There’s the Village folk troubadour on Valerie C Firecracker’s excellent rendition of Bleeker & MacDougal and Bobby Ingram gives us a grand rendition of A Little Bit Of Rain while Arlan Feiles’ Be-De-Da shares an umbilical connection with Neil’s original giving one a true intimation of Neil’s delivery. Charlie Pickett rocks out on The Other Side Of This Life recalling the Jefferson Airplane version and Neil’s influence on Tim Buckley is plain to hear on I’ve Got A Secret, performed here by The 18 Wheelers.
Keith Sykes gets the flagship title song and he goes more for the Nilsson version and very nice it is too. Meanwhile, Neil’s other major song, Dolphins, is offered two slots opening and closing the disc. The first is from Eric Anderson (with John Sebastian on guitars and harmonica) and it’s a suitably respectful performance imbued with a sixties sounding delivery while Anderson’s baritone voice recalls that of Neil’s. The closing version, from Matthew Sabatella and Diane Ward, sounds more contemporary, the pair swapping verses and harmonising as the band come across somewhat like Mazzy Star.
As tribute albums go this is a fine affair which gives you a whiff of the main man’s work. On a nice note, net proceeds from sales are going to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, a project founded back in 1970 by O’Barry, Stephen Stills and Fred Neil. On a more intriguing note, Neil first befriended O’Barry when the latter was a trainer for the dolphins used in the television show Flipper. It’s weird to think that a show we watched as kids might have led to a song as awesome as Dolphins but then it’s a funny old world.
No Depression have a fine article about the album you can read here.
After the introspective ruminations of Lovers And Leavers, his 2016 album, Hayes Carll seems to have recovered his sometimes impish sense of mischief for his latest album, What It Is. Lovers And Leavers was of course a “break up” album and they’re not generally noted for being upbeat but here Carll is certainly on a bounce with several of the songs good old-fashioned Texan red dirt rockers while the quieter numbers are a fine indication of where his head is at right now. Co-producer (and fiancé) Allison Moorer has certainly settled his heart but he’s not so settled when it comes to the likes of racism and the fate of veterans, both the subject of songs here.
He opens with the nonchalant humour of None’ya, a sly nod to his current relationship which uses his Texas drawl to great effect before banging into the rambunctious rocker Times Like These which takes an oblique swipe at the White House as Carll delivers his own state of the nation address. There’s some more rock on the squirreling bar room blues of Beautiful Thing while If I May Be So Bold clatters along like a cross between Steve Earle and Johnny Cash. American Dream meanwhile finds Carll and his top class bunch of Nashville pickers on top form as they funnel some bluegrass licks into a jaunty rocker.
Jesus & Elvis is probably known to most folk who will buy this album as Carll has been playing it live for several years while it was recorded some time back by Kenny Chesney. It’s been worth waiting for Carll’s version as the songs takes on an almost classic status up there with some of John Prine’s work. Fragile Men also tackles a weighty subject, influenced as it is by events in Charlottesville but its somewhat portentous arrangement dims it in relationship to the songs surrounding it. However the quirky Wild Pointy Finger makes up for this as Carll sidles up to the mic over some inventive percussion and slinky finger picking on a song which seems to be pointing the finger at the eruption of ill advised and plain wrong social media commentary.
Throw in songs such as Things You Don’t Wanna Know, a fine southern soul influenced number and I Will Stay, an excellent love ballad and What It Is is on a par with the best of Carll’s albums. It would be unfair to say it’s a return to form after Lovers & Leavers as that was an exceptional album but it’s certainly a return to the Hayes Carll many people expect.
Hayes Carll is touring the UK in May including a Glasgow show. All dates here.
The story of The Delines (so far) could almost be the plot line of one of their songs. A band gets together, records an album of slow burning hangdog songs and then, just as they’re about to record a second, the singer is terribly injured when struck by a car. End of story? Except that the story doesn’t end there. Singer Amy Boone received severe injuries in the incident and is still recovering her full mobility but, three years on, she has recovered enough to record with and tour with the band who have just ended a triumphant UK tour.
The Delines are, of course, a vehicle (sorry for that but there’s no other word really) for Willy Vlautin’s songs, replacing the much lamented Richmond Fontaine. Boone had come on board the Fontaine’s to sing her sister’s parts from their album The High Country on tour and her voice got Vlautin to thinking that she could be an excellent conduit for some songs he felt he couldn’t really carry off. It’s a thought that is now fully fledged as The Imperial is as grand a listen as one could hope for with Boone’s magnificent voice breathing life into Vlautin’s wounded souls.
Vlautin has often gravitated to the faded grandeur of motel life and The Imperial can be considered a successor to The Fitzgerald, both run down establishments where life is somewhat murky and on the edge. Whereas Richmond Fontaine’s tales were dry and dusty, the stories here are delivered in a lush style which recalls both Memphis blue eyed soul and Kurt Wagner’s languorous outings. It’s an album to be wallowed in, the songs washing over you, a torch lit procession of glossy keyboards, supple bass playing, tentative guitar licks, sweet pedal steel and warm horn arrangements. With Boone’s achingly evocative voice on top The Delines are just superb here.
And of course, there are the songs, or stories, all perfectly written miniatures capturing the lives of Vlautin’s characters. He also breathes life into them, describing sometimes mundane situations, sometimes more dire straits, life’s trials and tribulations, while offering them a degree of dignity even as their self respect or self esteem is zero. Listening to the album, you can almost believe that you know Charley or Eddie and Polly or Holly, the latter in particular the subject of a devastating portrait on Holly The Hustle which is a screenplay in itself. Two quotes from the songs might sum up the album as Boone almost whispers, “Cheer Up Charley” at the beginning, most of the subjects having little reason for cheer. And then the repeated refrain of, “The party never stops/So the pressure starts” in Eddie And Polly indicates that our heroes and heroines are doomed to repeat their mistakes, trapped in the world of The Imperial, a hotel where it does seem that you can never leave.
We’ve always been partial to Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra’s jived-up take on old timey music, a grand blend of western swing, country blues and ragtime. They’ve reminded us at times of Pokey LaFarge (with whom they have toured) and it has to be said they do put on a grand live show. On Soul Of My City they continue to evolve with some elements of rockabilly and early sixties beat pop creeping in, but at heart they are still supreme evangelists for pre sixties music albeit that Heron has at times allied this innocent sounding music with current commentary on state of our nation and his home town of Newcastle.
Such is the case here with the title song ramming in with a stirring martial beat before Heron and the band slouch into a louche late night vamp as he rails against the so called “gentrification” of a bohemian Newcastle quarter, an excuse really for a moneyed land grab. There’s more social commentary on the lighter Lonely Boy In The Dole Queue which finds Heron solo and yodelling away in his best Jimmie Rodgers style. Meanwhile the syncopated swing and twang of There’s A Hole (Where My Pocket Used To Be) is a grand nod to hard luck songs of the past with its excellent and flamboyant delivery similar to that of local neon lit sonic gangsters, The Strange Blue Dreams.
The band roam across various styles in a grand fashion. Life Is A Drag is a cross dressing song given a stirring western swing outing, Une Bouteille De Beaujolais has a not unexpected Gallic touch while Holy Moly (I’m In Love Again) comes across like as if Hank Williams was being accompanied by an extremely dexterous bunch of Acadian musicians. They do vamp wonderfully on Fool Talking Man and One Letter Away From Lonely is a total swoon of a bobbysoxer song. There’s a bit more muscle in the rockin’ rumble of Let’s Go Back In Time, a big boned salute to old time music as Heron lists his favourites while singing, “That 21st century music man, it’s so watered down.” Like A Cuckoo teeters dangerously close to his cut off point as the band give us a finely attuned horn fuelled bop which could have featured on the soundtrack of the original John Waters’ Hairspray. Signing off with what is probably the first postmodern take on old time music’s occasional interest in sex, stymied at the time by obscenity laws and therefore couched in various terms, there’s Double Meaning, Double Entendre. It’s cool, it’s funny, and best of all, it rocks.
Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra are touring the UK in February and March including shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh. All dates here.
History is much more interesting on record than in a dusty museum and it seems that recently there’s been a slew of discs which reach back into the past in order to enlighten and entertain us. It’s certainly the case with Riverland, this trio’s collection of songs inspired by Mississippi, the state and the river, described in the liner notes thus, “Mississippi is a broken place. It is America’s Eden, if instead of banishment, God chose to flood the garden and wipe flat every last splinter that Adam and Eve ever erected.” It’s certainly central to much of the history and culture of the States, a state of mind as much as a place of mud, floods and slavery, and Brace, Cooper and Jutz do the legends and stories justice on this fascinating listen.
Avoiding the temptation to delve into delta blues the trio deliver a handsome set which doesn’t avoid civil rights issues but gives space to poverty stricken folk who tried to live off the land and some of the artists who have defined some of the Mississippi spirit in book and in song. Acoustic for the most part with resonator guitar well to the fore, they sing of pre steamboat punt driven keelboats, the devastation wrought by floods and the aftermath of the civil war when Ulysses S Grant besieged Vicksburg, the town capitulating on the 4th July leading to them refusing to celebrate the national holiday thereafter. The disc is chockfull of information like this and a handsome booklet leads the listener through the stories behind the songs.
The album opens with River City, a melancholic diorama describing the trials and temptations of the bright lights. It’s next on to the quick step old timey King Of The Keel Boat Men and then the powerful drama of Win Along The River, the Grant song, delivered with weeping fiddle and aching mandolin. There’s not many upbeat songs here, Southern Mule jaunts along in a mild western swing style while Fort Defiance, a song sitting towards the end of the disc, is simply a description of the delights to be had boat watching at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers although even here there’s a tug of melancholia in the song. They celebrate a renowned civil rights activist and preacher, Rev. Will D. Campbell, on the banjo speckled Old Tom T And Brother Will which is about his friendship with Tom T Hall and Campbell comes alive on the most powerful song on the album, Mississippi Magic, which concerns the enrolment of James Meredith as the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Elsewhere the Nobel Laureate, William Faulkner is recalled in It Might Be Hollywood and there’s a grand nod to John Hartford (and Mark Twain) on the Hartford inspired To Be A Steamboat Man (Hartford himself qualified as a steamboat pilot). The album closes with an elegy of sorts on Mississippi, Rest My Soul, a song which finds a son of the soil clinging to his stained heritage despite an exodus to the cities by his peers. It ties the album up as, from the excitement at the beginning through the trials and eventual tired present day, this talented trio really do sum up this blighted land.
Last week The Americana Music Association UK (AMA-UK) held it’s fourth annual awards ceremony. Over those four years it’s become a big deal attracting stars such as Robert Plant, John Oates, and the recipient of this years Lifetime Achievement award, Graham Nash. The MC for the occasion was the “godfather” of UK Americana and country, Whisperin’ Bob Harris. So it’s great to relate that the winner of the UK Song of the Year was Scotland’s very own Dean Owens, a lad from Leith who is now the owner of a much coveted “Woody,” a handcrafted wooden facsimile of a 7″ disc, commemorating his win.
The song in question was the title number of his Southern Wind album (reviewed here) which Owens co-wrote with Will Kimbrough in Nashville. Commenting on the award Owens had this to say, “ I’m delighted, it was a complete surprise. As the first Scot to receive an award from AMA-UK, it feels really special, and a huge honour to bring this back to Scotland. Apart from a cup for being Boxer of the Year as a kid, this is the only award I’ve ever won. I’m still in shock to be honest!”
His co-writer chimed in from Nashville to add this regarding the song, “Dean and I wrote Southern Wind in a flurry of creativity. Ideas were flying. I am from so far south that Nashville is eight hours north. Dean is more of a northern man. My Southern Wind calls me to a long left behind home; I like to think that Dean’s Southern Wind calls him South to create in Nashville. The lure of home. The lure of the muse. Both romantic and hard to reach. That’s Southern Wind.”
The award was presented to Owens at the star studded ceremony in London by Graham Gouldman, a founder of 10CC and writer of some of the most memorable songs of the sixties including Bus Stop which of course, was a hit for Graham Nash back when he was in The Hollies.
The Americana Music Association UK (AMA-UK) is a professional trade association representing and advocating for the voice of American roots music in the UK. Its membership comprises musicians, from the UK and overseas, plus professionals from all sectors of the music industry. https://theamauk.org/Nominees-2019
Mayonnaise is a bit of a pic’n’mix album from Rhode Island’s alt rockers, Deer Tick. It’s comprised of some alternate versions of songs released on 2017’s double disc offering, Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, six new numbers and a brace of cover songs they were prone to playing as they toured around the 2017 release. As on the two self-titled 2017 discs they switch from sensitive alt folk numbers to rockier affairs with ease which certainly adds variety to the album and posits it as a fine introduction to those not aware so far of the band.
On the covers, they wallop through The Pogues’ White City capturing perfectly Shane McGowan’s sneering vocals while giving The Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes a fine makeover delivering it as if a deadbeat Tim Hardin was fronting The Fugs. They also cover George Harrison on Run Of The Mill, which unfortunately just about lives up to its title. Their version of Ben Vaughan’ Too Sensitive For This World does stand out as it limps along wonderfully as a wounded, almost power pop, song with an neatly understated Alex Chilton feel to it.
And while they do rock out on the lurching Spirals and the poppy new wave Hey Yeah it’s that walking wounded sense which marks out the better of their own songs here. There’s a delicately rippled version of Limp Right Back and a ramshackled and loamy country rock ballad on Old Lady. Strange, Awful Feeling is a fractured anxiety ridden love song of sorts with wracked harmonies, End Of The World finds singer John McAuley offering some paranoid advice to a child and Memphis Chair is a late night lounge jazz instrumental which has some fine Twin Peaks vibes to it. They close the disc with a grand slice of pedal steel flavoured soft rock on Cocktail which sounds as if Jimmy Buffet was explaining a Margarita addiction to his local AA meeting.