It kind of takes your breath away when the first thing you read in the PR blurb for an album is that the artist is the recipient of 27 Grammy Awards. Apparently that’s the case with Alison Krauss and it ties her with Quincy Jones as second most winner (Conductor George Solti is at the top with 31). Krauss of course has won most of these in the Bluegrass category, her work with her band Union Station considered to have been a major force in the recent resurgence of Bluegrass especially via her contributions to the soundtracks of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and Cold Mountain. Originally it was her fiddle playing that made people stand to attention but increasingly she has concentrated on singing with her album recorded with Robert Plant, Raising Sand, a major success.
Windy City is her first solo album in 17 years and it marks another signpost in her career. In tandem with her producer, the Nashville veteran Buddy Cannon, Krauss has selected ten songs that sing to her for various reasons, the majority of them recorded before she was born. The result places Krauss in pole position if we ever need a replacement for Dolly Parton, a singer with significant country chops but who is able to offer up radio friendly fodder without descending into mindless pop. A couple of the songs here are delivered in a mainstream ballad style (both of them associated with Brenda Lee, Losing You and All Alone Am I) that are just a wee bit too stage musical for comfort and Roger Miller’s River In The Rain taxes her voice at times but elsewhere Krauss and Cannon deliver the goods.
The delightful honky tonk drive of It’s Goodbye And So Long To You with its curling pedal steel and rinky dink piano offer Krauss an opportunity to dive in with an unalloyed joy before she delves into the classic tear stained Windy City. Dream Of Me is a fine slice of Nashville pop with the band expertly delivering some twang guitar, sweet pedal steel and nifty piano as Krauss croons the lyrics. Apparently this was a song she chose not knowing that it was written by producer Cannon and once decided on Cannon and his daughter Melanie sing the background vocals. Whatever, it’s a perfect vehicle for Krauss as is Poison Love, another pedal steel fuelled swoon of a song with some added exotica in the Mexican stylings of the guitar solos. While the majority of these covers might be considered somewhat obscure Krauss breaks out two that will be familiar to most. John Hartford’s Gentle On My Mind is given a fine run through with the arrangement more in tune with Hartford’s original as opposed to Glen Campbell’s version and Krauss manages it with flying colours. Willie Nelson’s I Never Cared For You is given an appropriately dramatic arrangement, the vocals soaring over this darkly romantic song. Closing the album Krauss revisits the ballad treatment we dismissed earlier on but on You Don’t Know Me (recorded by Eddy Arnold and Ray Charles), she dips into Patsy Cline territory as she swoons and croons and the band lay down a tearful country backdrop.
There are certain musicians who have accompanied Blabber’n’Smoke throughout the journey from adolescent to gray haired wisdom and Richard Thompson is one of them. From his days in Fairport Convention to the fabulous pairing with then wife Linda which produced classic albums I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and Shoot Out The Lights, followed by his lengthy solo career he’s always been one of our favourites. Perhaps the quintessential UK guitarist he’s been a beacon for an Anglicised rock and folk sound since the sixties so we were intrigued to hear that for his upcoming release, Electric, he’s teamed up with Buddy Miller, ace producer of numerous Americana icons. Miller produces and guests on the album include Alison Krauss who of course, with Miller and Robert Plant delivered the very fine Raising Sand album a few years back.
Electric’s not released until next February but here’s a sneak preview of one of the songs, Good Things happen To Bad People. which will be released as a single. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the album.
Thompson will be touring in support of the album release, no Glasgow date so far but he does play Edinburgh’s Usher hall on February 28th.
The chattering classes may have been well impressed by Tom Jones and his recent “gospel” album however for an education on how to marry rock with gospel here’s a primer that swings and wails with a holy rolling beat.
Dead Rock West are currently a duo consisting of Cindy Wasserman and Frank Lee Drennan. Their debut album Honey and Salt was a mixture of LA rock with rootsy Americana and evidenced a strong X influence. Here they take this one step further with X members John Doe and Exene Cervenka helping out on vocals on several songs and D. J. Bonebrake on drums throughout. Digging into old time spiritual songs the duo eventually decided to “get back to the simplicity of life by connecting with the source.” Their masterstroke was to enlist Peter Case as producer and as anyone who has heard his latest album Wig would testify Case is a master at rootsy American music. In addition Case plays guitar and adds vocals on several songs. In the main however guitar duties are handled by Ron Franklin who impresses mightily on the opening song Ain’t No Grave and throughout the disc.
From the onset the scrubbed guitar and pounding drums on Ain’t No Grave bode well with Doe duetting with Wasserman on a song that can’t avoid comparison with latter day X. However it’s a tremendous curtain raiser, all fire and brimstone with the band stoking the fire as if their lives depended on it. The rhythm section are on fire all through this album with Bonebrake sounding like a freight train, pummelling, barrelling and firing on all cylinders. It’s a brave move putting such a tour de force at the beginning of an album but believe it or not there are several other gems that match it. Second song, God Moves On Water has a Bo Diddley beat that hypnotises the listener with enough clatter and clutter in the engine room guitars to satisfy anyone who misses Ry Cooder’s forays into this genre. Overall this is like listening to a hi octane version of the Robert Plant /Alison Krauss album. The infectious gospel harmonies, shuffled beat and stinging guitar of Two Wings are straight from the Staple Singers stable and one is left wondering how, after this tremendous opening trio of songs Dead Rock West can better this. The answer is that they don’t but for the most part they maintain a firm hand on the tiller with several other songs that are on a par with these. Wings of Angels has Mark Olson (Jayhawks) singing with Wasserman on a fine spiritual stomp while Tell The Angels and This Might Be The Last Time are stone cold solid updates on spiritual gospel with glorious harmonising and dread filled backing all in place. The production here is perfect with gutbucket bass and drums thudding away while the guitars and organ speak in tongues.
A surprising rendition of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s God Help Me fits well into the overall feel of the album and even has a touch of their signature feedback guitar noise but the rendition of Case’s Beyond The Blues smacks perhaps of hubris on the part of the producer. While it’s given a fine telling it does seem slightly out of place here and the album would not be any the less for its omission.
Overall a tremendous piece of work that carries on the work that the likes of Cooder, Plant and Krauss or even Woven hand do. Dead Rock West are in Glasgow on March 8 at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, maybe a fine night.
Dead Rock West- Two Wings by paulk
Husband and wife duo, Adam and Shannon Wright from Georgia had a taste of stardom when they were caught up on the coat tails of Adam’s uncle, country superstar, Alan Jackson with their debut album released on a major label and touring in the big time. Unfortunately their second album was nixed by their label leaving them to find their feet again as independents.
A classic couple they complement each other in the grand tradition of Gram and Emmylou or most recently Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. There are moments on this fine release when one could be fooled into thinking this is indeed the follow up to Raising Sand. Apart from the vocal interplay there is some sublime guitar playing not too far removed from the contributions Marc Ribot added to the Plant/Krauss collaboration and the production is on a par with T Bone Burnett’s.
The nine songs range from the haunting opener Since You Left Me to the rockabilly rhythms of The way That I’m Living. Special mention however goes to Flying Home which is a polished diamond of a song, sweet as the early Eagles where lush guitars sweep the song along and We were Made to Love, a haunting song, soft and hushed. Above all there is a shared affinity with The Everly Brothers tradition, a tradition that is shared by Plant and Krauss and Parsons and Harris
All in all a gem of an album that deserves to be heard.
Since You Left Me