Jim Keaveny. Put It Together.

jimkeaveny2This is an album that’s been kicking around for a couple of months and on arrival Blabber’n’Smoke was pretty excited as we had raved about Keaveny’s previous album, Out Of Time, one of our top ten albums of 2014. Sure enough, it’s a mighty fine listen but it somehow got lost in the pile of albums and it was only last week we were reminded that it was still sitting there, dying to be adored. So apologies to Mr. Keaveny but here we go.

Out Of Time was a tremendous listen and Put It Together is really no different aside from having a bolder touch of mariachi on several of the songs. Keaveny remains a fine singer and raconteur, his slightly worn voice still has a hint of Dylan (circa late sixties), and at times there’s a Basement Tapes whirl to the music especially on Check You Out. He also has the fine ability to make it seem so easy to conjure up a song out of almost nothing as on the opening track, What I Ain’t Got. Here he laconically lists his possessions, ranging from his rented house and things in his cupboard to eat to a list of his band’s instruments and equipment while admitting that he’s still missing that essential ingredient.  It’s a superlative song played with some excellence as the guitars dance around an accordion shuffle and really just typical of his laid-back style.

Is It You opens with a grand mariachi horn flourish and then darts along in fine style with a female chorus and the following The Grand Forks, an instrumental which again has (a wordless) female chorus and horns is somewhat akin to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack work on Duck You Sucker (AKA A Fistful Of Dynamite). Sticking to the Mexican influence Keaveny turns in the opaque love song, Limbo And Grim (Slight Return/The Mariachi Mantra) which opens with a sigh before he repeats a mantra over delicately plucked guitar and gliding pedal steel. The song then swells into a wonderful and lengthy coda, the band sounding like a dust stained funeral procession from El Topo as imagined by Calexico. Blown Away is another song with mariachi horns with Keaveny singing of a breakup with a swell degree of insouciance despite his protestations of rethinking the whole affair. Here he recalls John Prine while the band’s playing is just so impressive with whirling pedal steel, horns, accordion and splashing cymbals all meshed into one.

There’s so much to admire here. The chicken scratching roadhouse blues of Leave This Town, just perfect for the vampire brothel in From Dawn To Dusk. The sepia toned Blue Eyes which oozes with a longing for his lover while the gospel chorus infused confessional, Good Times, is wonderfully limpid in its presentation. The title song again employs Keaveny’s heavenly chorus who echo his existential urging to get it together as the song sweeps along with a fine cosmic country rock jumble of guitars and pedal steel.

Suffice to say that Keaveny has, yet again, produced an album that stands out amongst the slew of releases that might be considered Americana. He’s gifted and really should be more feted. If anyone asks you for a reason to listen to Texan music these days then just hand them this album and stand well back.

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Listen to Put It Together here

 

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Heather Lynne Horton. Don’t Mess With Mrs. Murphy. At The Helm Records

hlh-dmwmm-cd-cover-final-copyBlabber’n’Smoke has showered praise on Michael McDermott and his band, The Westies, in the past and we even suggested that his wife, the other half of The Westies, Heather Horton should record an album of her songs after hearing the excellent Like You Used To Do on their Six On The Out album. Well, here it is only it’s not an album of dusty country hurt. Instead, Horton has another palette she uses here in conjunction with Lex Price who produces, the result a shimmering set of songs, some personal, some somewhat agitating or protesting. Horton addresses issues of disability on one song and in a wider sense proclaims her rights as a female although it would be wrong to describe the album as a feminist diatribe as indicated in some of the publicity material. Probably the most directly feminist statement is on the album artwork which pictures a naked and hi-heeled Horton chained to a supermarket trolley by a pearl necklace, her fiddle and a keg of beer in the trolley, a darkly humorous nod perhaps to how she might be seen by some.

On the album, Horton inhabits several characters. A loving mother, an outraged wife, a kid caught up in romantic dreams and a woman caught up in a doomed relationship. She does this several removes from The Westies, replacing their mean streets bluster for a more intimate feel, Price’s musical textures wrapped around her excellent voice recalling the more baroque moments of some vintage singer/songwriters. The opening Murphy’s Law ripples and pulses like late era Joni Mitchell as Horton describes a woman in thrall to a man who basically wipes his feet on her while Coffee Cup  sweeps along with a grand Laurel Canyon feel as she sings of two opposites trying to find common ground in what is eventually a kitchen sink drama. I Wanna Die In My Sleep finds Horton sounding innocent and childlike (recalling Victoria Williams) but here the message is hopeful and optimistic as she paints an idyllic romance. Meanwhile there’s a very fine pop sensibility on the bouncy Did You Fell That , a song that seems to about a messy sexual encounter.

While there’s a short detour into disability rights on Wheelchair Man, a delicate and daintily delivered delve into the obstacles faced by those bound to wheels instead of legs the flesh of the album seems to be Horton’s relationship with McDermott however obliquely it’s delivered. Save The Rain  is a lullaby of sorts  to their daughter, Rain, while Horton borrows a title from The Westies’ with her Pauper Sky a response of sorts to McDermott’s Springsteen  like tale of urban shenanigans. More directly she confronts a groupie on the sardonic F.U. which is a withering put down delivered with a fine and woozy country shuffle as Horton bares her claws in an excellent fashion. It’s all grist to the mill I suppose as the album signs off with a bit of a joke on the “hidden” final song where Horton and McDermott offer up their take on the ultimate couple song, You’re The One That I Want.  An acoustic scrabble and a fine example of the pair’s chemistry it’s a fine pointer to the fact that the pair are touring the UK over the next few weeks and it’s in this set up we’ll see them. A post modern Sonny & Cher?

Horton & McDermott are currently touring the UK, all dates here and they have their one Scottish appearance at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Wednesday 27th September.

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John Murry, Broadcast, Glasgow, Monday 18th September, 2017

jm broadcastGlasgow has been basking in reflected glory since it became known that it was the setting for the meeting of John Murry and The Cowboy Junkies’ Mike Timmons that eventually led to the making of his second solo album, A Short History Of Decay. Never mind that the gig they played for Celtic Connections was bedevilled by sound problems (with Murry’s performance subjected to several letters to the local newspaper, The Herald) but recall that it was Murry with a band behind him then. Subsequent appearances, here and elsewhere have been low key affairs, duos for much of the time and while Murry always performs with a sometimes scary intensity the news that he was bringing along an ensemble on this tour was somewhat tantalising.

Oddly enough, it’s his 2012 album, The Graceless Age, that begged for a fuller stage presentation, the new album being more stripped down, raw and naked. However the set up tonight, an odd line up with two sets of keyboards, two drum kits and pedal steel with the musicians doubling up on bass and guitar was intriguing and surely enough they were able to capture both the garage band relish of A Short History of Decay and the hypnagogic swirls of The Graceless Age.  Murry, back again on electric guitar (although he also played acoustic and on occasion discarded both to just sing) was unfettered, able to rely on the band to deliver the sonic goods as he truly inhabited the songs.

A meander into Smokey Robinson’s Tracks Of My Tears opened the show with this classic morphing into One Day (You’ll Die) from the new album with the band immediately stamping their authority on Murry’s sardonic lyrics, the Sleepwalk snatch leading into a glorious conglomeration of noise. Southern Sky (from The Graceless Age) followed with the glowing keyboards and sliding pedal steel capturing the claustrophobic wonder of the studio version and it was clear by now that the audience were in for a special treat tonight. Silver Or Lead, from the new album, followed and hearing it live it was apparent that the new songs are a continuation of sorts of The Graceless Age as it was delivered with a similar sense of claustrophobia and was again sprinkled with some excellent keyboards and pedal steel. The menacing Intruder, a Peter Gabriel cover found Murry inhabiting the mindset of The Manson Family in their creepy crawly days with sonic squeaks and warbles from the band, a gruesome variation of Kraftwerk. Sonically adventurous and able to weave a fine tapestry around Murry’s songs the band (Pat Kenneally, Tali Trow, Dave Hart and Stephen Barlow) ebbed and flowed throughout the night as they multi tasked with some aplomb.

Murry switched to acoustic guitar for the haunting Wrong Man and then launched into Oscar Wilde, a song which he said was supposed to be on the new album but he forgot to record it. A man with a fine handle on life’s absurdities which he tackles with a wickedly dark sense of humour, his song introductions throughout the night provoked startled laughs from the audience, close to the bone as he often was. This dark matter carries into the songs and Perfume & Decay, a deep cut from a limited edition EP, cut to the quick with its litany of existential angst while the almost countrified delivery of Miss Magdalene belied some of the savagery of its words such as the biblical injunction which has Murry singing of cutting out his tongue.

There was a return to The Graceless Age as Nadine Khoury joined Murry for a rendition of The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid  before a quartet of songs from the new album began with Defacing Sunday Bulletins which was a magnificent clusterfuck of guitar groovieness followed by Countess Lola’s Blues (with a short lecture on arachnophobia in the introduction). Under A Darker Moon again saw the guitars firing off in all directions with a punk like intensity while Greg Dulles’ What Jail Is Like was grungy and powerful. There then followed the visceral centrepiece to all of the Murry performances I’ve seen so far, Little Colored Balloons, his own personal Calvary, and as always, it was powerful with Murry transfixed, gimlet eyes piercing from the stage as he relived his near death before abruptly departing the stage.

There was an encore and it was an unexpected and lengthy rendition of Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer which slouched and prowled with all the fire and fury of the original as the guitars sparked and burned. Once it was over the band were called back again and they launched into Townes Van Zandt’s Waiting Around To Die which was given a Stray Gators lurch before segueing into an anguished delivery of The Rolling Stones’ under the counter bootleg Cocksucker Blues. As we said earlier, Murry is close to the bone.

Always a powerful performer, with this line up and his latest songs, Murry is just devastating. Intense and yet endearingly vulnerable he continues to lay bare his soul on stage, a veritable rock’n’roll psychodrama.

The People. Storr. Astral Records

storrA five piece band with Scottish and Northumberland roots, The People are one of those bands who seem to take their time serving up their offerings. Storr is their third release but ten years have passed since their last album, Desire, The Devil And The Ghost. Storr, presumably named in honour of the rocky protuberance on Skye is an album that is cloaked in a Celtic mist although there is an undeniable American bent to some of the songs. Like many of our newer bands here in Scotland, they’re reclaiming some of the melodies and themes that travelled the ocean with settlers to the New World and bringing them home.

They open the album with the brief Hymn, an acapella, well, hymn, delivered like Amazing Grace with the band in devotional mood hymning heaven and hell. The very brief mood is then rent asunder by clangourous trumpet and thrashing drums, the introduction to a seven minute epic called Kaon Blues (Part 1). Now, looking up Kaon takes one into the weird and wonderful world of quarks and I’m certainly not qualified to talk on them but they seem to be strange little buggers, full of strangeness and I’m afraid that this applies to the song also. Over its seven minutes it mixes Pepperish trumpets, folky lilts and the sort of “big music” proffered by early Waterboys with the whole less than the parts. It’s a brave venture, especially as the introduction to the album but for this reviewer there’s just too much thrown into the pot.

Thankfully the remainder of the album is, for want of a better word, more straightforward.  Into The Wilds flows sweetly with rippling guitar and fine harmonies disguising the darkness in the lyrics which reek of elemental mysteries and portents of doom and the closing fiddle adds to the atmosphere. The River also roams within this dark hinterland with a melody that initially reminds one of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry but which soon turns into an excellent threnody laced with piano and weeping fiddle and which ultimately sounds as if it could have been plucked from The Child Ballads. It’s another lengthy number, over six minutes, but it grabs your attention throughout. Playing to their strengths they then turn in the bristling and witchy fiddle fuelled Henry ‘O which recalls the heyday of late sixties folk rock and the pagan melodies of The Wicker Man.

Aside from their fine attentions to dark and weird folk they offer up the excellent Ballad Of The Lighthouse Keeper which opens with a brief snatch of bluesy slide guitar before wandering into a sea borne lament which is interrupted by a scratchy snippet of the shipping forecast before the band weigh anchor for the remainder of the song giving it a mournful cast with a lonesome trumpet playing. Overall the album portrays the band in a fine light. One could argue the pros and cons of Kaon Blues all night but the remainder of the album is impressive indeed.

You can catch The People live at the upcoming Doricana Fest

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Asleep At The Wheel. Ten/Live & Kickin’/Western Standard Time/Keepin’ Me Up Nights. Retroworld

1566Asleep At The Wheel are a fine example of how musical fashions come and go. They kicked off in 1969 when many bands were coming down from their psychedelic highs and discovering their roots with even The Grateful Dead featuring pedal steel. Asleep At The Wheel, with Ray Benson at the helm, played Western Swing with Bob Wills their guiding light and the hippies loved them. Along with Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen they conjured up good times with beer, whisky and trucking their drugs of choice.

Punk and New Wave kind of took the wind out of their sails with resultant  line up changes but country punk and the nascent alt country scene of the late 80’s allowed the band to grow their audience once more as they themselves grew into an institution of sorts. Their tributes to Wills (which gathered the old guard and young upstarts together) and their collaboration with Willie Nelson are essential listening and they are the recipients of nine Grammy Awards.

This release is a two disc CD containing four albums Asleep At The Wheel recorded from 1987 to 1990 and, it has to be said, it’s a bargain. The first, Ten, from 1987, commenced  their renaissance as they delivered their usual good time Western Swing and applied it to writers such as Billy Joe Shaver, Joe Ely and Guy Clark while there was an audacious cover of Huey Lewis’ I Want A New Drug which knocks spots off of the original. Western Standard Time was recorded the following year and it delved deep into their Western Swing Roots kicking off with an excellent version of Chattanooga Choo Choo with Willie Nelson sharing vocals with Benson. Their big band sound (horns, pedal steel, piano, fiddle  along with guitar, bass and drums) really swells into its own here and there’s a thumping great version of Hot Rod Lincoln while Ernest Tubbs’ Walking The Floor Over You is a textbook example of homage. 1990’s Keepin’ Me Up Nights does pale somewhat in comparison but its 12 songs still swing with Boot Scootin’ Boogie and Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar) quite feisty while Dance With Who Brung You, a Ray Benson original, is yet another Western Swing gem.

Live & Kicking, as its name suggests, is a live recording from the late 80’s in their adopted homeland of Austin, Texas and it’s a perfect capture of the band in full swing. Rowdy and boisterous they rip through standards such as Route 66, Jambalaya, Choo Choo Boogie and Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens. Let loose from the studio the band let fly with the piano, fiddle and horns given free rein to extemporise. Again it’s Bob Wills who provides the inspiration for the best performance here as the band parlay an excellent take on Take Me Back To Tulsa/Stay All Night with Benson at his best, a laconic master of ceremony.

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Rich Krueger. Overpass

Krueger coverWe do love our mavericks here at Blabber’n’Smoke, folk who approach music from a slightly different angle and Rich Krueger seems to fit that bill. He was a member of The Dysfunctionells (who described themselves as “THE Butt-Ugliest Band in Chicago”) and who recorded at various times with Peter Stampfel and Michael Hurley, so, a good maverick pedigree there.

Krueger, who works as a neo natal doctor in Chicago, is readying two solo albums for release and this EP is a foretaste of what’s to come. Recently he was a finalist in the New Folk category at The Kerrville Folk Festival and Overpass opens with the fine fiddle fuelled A Short One On Life, a song about a female barfly who picks up strangers in bars. With gritty lyrics, Krueger describes her hard life, nights spent with, “one night wonder(s) with a heart of gold and a name for his cock that no thinking person would ever even name a dog” before some slide guitar from Seth Lee Jones adds some muscle to the song. In Between, Kingfish is a powerful song about homelessness with Krueger weaving Huey P. Long (AKA The Kingfish) and Sam Walton (founder of Walmart and born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma) into the tale, contrasting their respective philosophies. Over a lachrymose fiddle and weeping accordion (played by John Fullbright) Krueger achingly highlights the plight of the underprivileged and ends the song with a surreal vision of Long and Walton sitting in an abandoned car beside a derelict Walmart with Woody Guthrie and Franklin Roosevelt for company. A potent symbol for the death of the New Deal.

Next up Krueger takes a sharp turn on Yesterday’s Wrong (Green) which is coloured by tablas, sarangi, tanpura and kanjira giving it an undeniable Indian sound. It rambles for over six minutes in exotic fashion as Krueger seems to lament the loss of innocence that permeated the sixties and the ecological nightmare we all face. Recalling Donovan or The Incredible String Band it’s hypnotic. What Are We is perhaps the most straightforward song here in terms of its delivery as Krueger offers up a Randy Newman like piano song with soulful vocal backing. Here he sings of Nero setting Rome alight and suggests similarities with his present day President. A hidden song at the end, Kerrville, Oh My Kerrville, written back in 1991, finds Krueger with acoustic guitar identifying with his idols, musical and otherwise, on a humorous take on the festival which is somewhat tongue in cheek but stuffed full of arresting images.

It’s a tremendous listen and it bodes well for the forthcoming albums. You can buy the EP here

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Ian Felice. In The Kingdom Of Dreams. Loose Music

sl-117323The Felice Brothers are renowned for their ramshackle update on the kind of sounds The Band were making in the early seventies, recording in chicken coops and barns, a rough and ready bunch indeed. This reputation however has at times obscured how good a band they are and in particular, what a great writer Ian Felice is. Now he’s taken a leaf from his brother, Simone’s, book and delivered a solo album. Unlike Simone who left the band to forge a solo career, In The Kingdom Of Dreams appears to be a side project for Ian; he has the band play on the album and brother Simone returns on production duties. In comparison to The Felice Brothers the album is sparse and reflective, Ian’s voice tethering it to the Felice’s but it’s ultimately a more personal project, a result, says Felice, of basing the songs on, “Memories of my past…the pull between reality and unreality and also how time affects memory.” And while some of the songs are pulled from memories of growing up (In Memoriam recalls the death of his stepfather) others reflect his anxieties on becoming a father while there are some observations on the current state of America.

Aside from a brief convulsion on Road To America with its percussive drive, the album is a spare affair, Felice’s acoustic guitar and keyboards the main instruments. The opening title song sets the scene with a bizarre assemblage of arresting images (At the moonscape hotel the walls feel like hell and I don’t feel well/ I don’t like the moon when it’s a blood red balloon/ in this kingdom of dreams) which have an almost nightmarish quality about them. Like Eef Barzaly, Felice conjures up a surrealist dreamscape, a labyrinth that leads to one’s deepest fears. Will I Ever Reach Laredo is, on the face of it, more straightforward. A traveller, again under a “strangely tinted moon” yearns to get to his destination but is seemingly unable to move on; instead he ponders the possible hues of the moon while glimpsing the glimmering light of a distant city he has to pass by.  This stasis is again a dreamlike evocation, a Borgesian fable with no end in sight and the subtle throbbing guitar motif reinforces this sense of an endless cycle, an oroburus. 21st Century is an absurdist take on the current state of the nation in the States with Felice imagining an alien invasion while playing banjo as if he were on a 19th Century plantation as something like a Theremin hovers ominously. He returns to this topic on the animated Road To America which is stuffed full of plastic American icons such as Disney’s cartoon characters and, “politicians and businessmen placing bids/high as the pyramids,” a Dylan like word poem which contrasts the plastic dream with the realities of the Okies featured in The Grapes Of Wrath.

Amidst this fractured viewpoint Felice hones in on reality with Water Street almost like a diary entry as he sings of his wife and child and his daily chores while In Memoriam conjures up an idyllic past peppered with old ideals (I was walking down the tracks where the communist bees relax …). This mundane reality, his mother watching daytime TV as his step dad collapses and dies is given a delicious gossamer thin fragility in the playing as Felice invokes feelings of loss, personal and universal. Elsewhere, Felice delivers a brace of songs that are bittersweet indeed, fragile ballads that totter on the edge but always pull through. Signs Of Spring is an achingly beautiful love ballad while Mt. Despair is a beguiling threnody that recalls both the work of Tom Rapp from Pearls Before Swine and the stark narratives of Willie Vlautin. Ten To One again recalls the oddness and alt folk leanings of Pearls Before Swine; a mutant folk song of sorts. The closing song, In The Final Reckoning, has a Leonard Cohen  like combination of biblical imagery and bloody knives with Felice in full command of his narrative.

In The Kingdom Of Dreams is one of those records which are idiosyncratic and beguiling. A cult album in the making perhaps but you can get ahead of the future queue by getting it now.

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