Best of 2017

OK, decorations are coming down, it’s back to work time but before that here’s a short list of the albums that have stood out over the past year. If there’s a link it will take you a review of the album. Looking back it seems that 2017 wasn’t a bad year for music in terms of releases but a total bummer in terms of Tom Petty leaving us. Here’s hoping next year is as good so, all the best for 2018.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

cp18cdIn the year of Brexit and Trump, Chuck’s sheer love of rock’n’roll shone throughout this album. Coupled with seeing him play two blindingly great gigs this year the album’s been a regular on the stereo and in the car while Jesus Was A Social Drinker is my song of the year.

 

Jeremy Pinnell, Ties Of Blood And Affection

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2While Stapleton gets all the notice I think there are numerous others who are bringing out better albums and Jeremy’s second solo album is the best of the lot this year. I was privileged to host a house concert with Jeremy and Ags Connolly and it was a great occasion.

 

Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life

cc752a_ccb74ac415f74324bdde66d0b5f81184mv2An album of glacial purity with glimpses of Joni Mitchell in its shadows.

 

 

GospelbeacH, Another Summer Of Love

500x500Jangled sunny California music which stretches from Petty to The Jam in its inspiration.

 

 

Nathan Bell, Love > Fear (48 hours in Traitorland)

love-fear-front-coverOld fashioned protest perhaps but Bell is a powerful writer and as good a champion of “blue collar” folk as Rod Picott. And, in concert, he’s funny with it (just like Rod Picott).

 

Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith

the-water-of-leithRoss Wilson continues his journey into the hinterlands of folk and jazz. A wonderful and evocative album.

 

Eric Ambel, At The Lakeside

61ceyom7fgl-_ss500It took 12 years for Ambel to come up with this one, a bunch of songs he imagined could have been on his pub’s jukebox. Guitar album of the year.

 

Don Antonio, Don Antonio

cs646897-01a-bigAside from his band, Sacri Cuori, Antonio Gramantieri has worked with Howe Gelb, Dan Stewart and Alejandro Escovedo. This solo album is a magnificent retro stew of sixties soundtracks and Italian cool.

 

Jaime Wyatt, Felony Blues

jaime_coverA true jailbird, Wyatt’s album is part outlaw country, part Laurel Canyon country rock. For me she just beats Margo Price

 

Malojian, Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.

a1294981180_16Irishman Stevie Scullion conjures up a slight psychedelic trip with McCartney like melodies and Harrison’s Blue Jay Way vibes.

 

Best reissue/compilation

The Wynntown Marshals, After All These Years

a2597450969_16A perfect introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before. A perfect keepsake for those who are in the know.

 

 

Also of note…

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost On the Car Radio

Margo Price, All American Made

Danny & The Champions Of The World, Brilliant Light

Ags Connolly, Nothin’ Unexpected

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock

Todd Day Wait, Folk-Country-Blues

Whitney Rose, South Texas Suite

Norrie McCulloch, Bare Along The Branches

Russ Tolman. Compass & Map

John Murry, A Short History of Decay

Jim Keaveny, Put It Together

Ian Felice, In The Kingdom Of Dreams

Gill Landry, Love Rides A Dark Horse

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears 

The Sadies, Northern Passages

John Alexander, Of These Lands

There are many others which could/should be mentioned here, apologies to those I’ve either forgotten about or overlooked. In the meantime here’s the song of the year.

 

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Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith. Navigator Records

the-water-of-leithBlue Rose Code is the shape shifting ensemble chosen by Ross Wilson to deliver his songs, the vehicle for “that fusion of folk and jazz and where it intersects with song writing,” as he said in an interview with The Herald. Since coming to prominence in 2014 when his second album, The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, was nominated for the Scottish Album Of The Year Award, Wilson has blazed a trail across the country, constantly touring, the band swelling from three to ten or so members depending on who is available and where that night’s gig is. This musical caravan has picked up many fellow travellers along the way and on The Water Of Leith, the fourth album from Blue Rose Code, Wilson has assembled a fine array of them to assist him on what is probably his most assured piece of work so far, the album an almost transcendental journey into the hinterlands of his Hibernian soul.

An exile from his native Scotland for several years, Wilson returned home in 2015. Despite his years away there was always a “hameland” aspect to his songs while he has always used his mellow Scots burr when singing (a perfect example; True Ways Of Knowing from The Ballads Of Peckham Rye). The Water Of Leith is a culmination of this prodigal son’s return with much of the album rooted in a Celtic twilight vision while elements of two of his musical heroes, Van Morrison and John Martyn, loom large. Morrison, after a six year absence from his native Ireland, recorded his wondrous stream of Irish consciousness, Veedon Fleece, following a rest and recuperation holiday in the south of the island.  Martyn, originally a folkie, increasingly immersed himself in improvisation, adding free jazz drummer John Stevens to his live shows for a period of time, the results a spontaneous explosion of musical exploration. Here Wilson follows in their footsteps, the album a hymn to his native land while it is, at the same time, sonically adventurous. His plaintive ballads surrounded by sweeping epics with string arrangements and horn and wind charts. An Odyssey of sorts charting a newfound domestic comfort and the pull of a mystical land of glens and lochs, a land of seers and Kelpies; the sweep of the album is just majestic.

The album opens with just Wilson and piano gently introducing the concept of being home again on Over The Fields, the song gently swelling as female harmonies (from Beth Nielson Chapman and Eliza Wren Payne) join in along with a very delicate band and string arrangement. It’s difficult to describe just how powerful an emotional tug this song is. Suffice to say that Wilson sings wonderfully, the Morrison comparisons, as on his emotive Listen To The Lion, surely fitting here. Dedicated to the late John Wetton who played bass on Peckham Rye, it’s a magnificent song. The warm tones of Bluebell follow, the band inhabiting a fluent mix of jazz and folk as Wilson delivers a  belated love song soaked in memories, good and bad, the band soaring towards the end while the vocals again recall Morrison’s Celtic scat murmurings. Ebb & Flow rides on a more formal horn section blowing like a soul band on a jauntier number which, and apologies for bringing up the name again, recalls Morrison’s lighter numbers such as Cleaning Windows.

Wilson absents himself allowing the haunting Gaelic voice of Kathleen MacInnes, astride acoustic guitar, accordion and fiddle, to paint a gentle evocation of the Scottish hinterland on Passing Places which then flows gently into Wilson’s masterful pastoral impression of boat journeys along the west coast islands on Sandaig. Here Wilson breathes new life into an old kailyard tradition, his words transforming stereotypical Scottish scenes into a hopeful new future, a clarion call for a bold new country. Pushing the boat out Wilson offers several songs and instrumentals that are impressionistic. The ten minutes of The Water, another occasion where he absents himself, allows James Lindsay on double bass, John Lowrie on piano and Colin Steele on trumpet full rein to inhabit a fine mixture of Debussy like piano and Miles Davis Lift To The Scaffold jazz noire while To The Shore, the twin song to The Water, aches with Wilson’s hopes for the future, a new life on the way after a tumultuous voyage. An 18 minute song suite combined, the two numbers are an audacious assault on the three minute pop song but the tumultuous Hispanic jazz leanings on the latter song (another nod to Miles Davis?) complement the noirish tones of the former.

Julie Fowlis pops up on the fiddle fuelled folk remedy of Love Is…  while On The Hill Remains A Heart is an energetic swirl enlivened by the whistles and pipes of Ross Ainslie as Wilson sings of war widows, both examples of Wilson’s canny ability to write a fine melody with some heft to its heart. He closes the album with the affecting Child. Another straight from the heart song, similar to Pokesdown Waltz, with a heart in the throat like wallop. Here Wilson hunches over his piano like a  Scottish version of Randy Newman, a true humanitarian singing from the depths of his soul.

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The Men From Leith: Blue Rose Code, Dick Gaughan, Dean Owens. Queens Halls Edinburgh, May 6th 2016

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First off an explanation of sorts regarding this show for those who might not be familiar with Leith. Until 1920, Leith was a separate borough from the neighbouring Edinburgh and even today some Leithers will consider Edinburgh to be a separate entity. This sense of pride in what was a fiercely working class area ( home to the docklands, infamous as the main location of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and still possessing a distinct character from the net curtains of Morningside despite two decades of attempted regentrification), was the thread that ran throughout the show. All three artists have their roots in Leith and tonight they offered up a tribute of sorts to the area in song and words be it the reminiscences of Gaughan, the regrets of ill spent times from Blue Rose Code or the celebration of the working class spirit from Owens. It was a slender thread perhaps but there was a palpable sense of celebration and memory throughout, reinforced by the MC, John Paul McGroarty, Artistic Director at Leith Theatre.

The Men from Leith

Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

With three headline acts on the bill the sets were necessarily somewhat shorter than one might ordinarily expect, not a bad thing as such as the audience were treated to concise, almost “greatest hits” shows from the two bands. That’s not to say this was a run of the mill exercise, the first act, Blue Rose Code choosing to open with the extended suite In the Morning, a bold move. One of the many pleasures of seeing Blue Rose Code, the vehicle for Ross Wilson‘s talent, is that it’s a fluid enterprise, he can be solo or a four, five or even 11 piece set up, his words and melodies and his emotive vocals the nucleus around which the players revolve. Tonight it was a four-piece band well able to conjure up the mists and airs of Wilson’s Celtic romanticism as on the opening number and his setting of Robert Frost’s Acquainted With The Night. Wilson’s introspective ballads, the heartbreak of Pokesdown Waltz and a new number, another paean to lost love called Nashville Blue, tore at the emotions. Ghosts Of Leith, a song of regret recalling Wilson’s time caught in the throes of drink was played with Wilson later apologising for the song and explaining that he then wrote his wonderful salute to Leith (and Edinburgh), the song Edina, as a riposte before launching into it to a hugely appreciative audience.

The Men from Leith

Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

While Wilson and Blue Rose Code offer a poetic folk jazz tinged Celtic freewheeling spirit Dean Owens, tonight supported by his excellent band, The Whisky Hearts, is a more robust affair. Owens is as much rooted in the USA as he is in Leith with the result an exultant mix of Celtic Americana, the stirring opener Dora giving notice that Owens and his band are able to provide a punchy, almost Richard Thompson like clarion call. Fiddle and accordion add a “raggle taggle” folk feel to some of the proceedings while guitarist Craig Ross can bend his strings in best Clarence White fashion. While songs from Owens’ latest album Into The Sea formed the majority of the set (including his warm memories of his late sister on Evergreen) there was of course a huge response from the audience for the song that lent its title to the night, Owens’ Man From Leith. An anthem of sorts, the song transcends its familial origins (having been written by Owens for his father) as it captures the pride of the working man. Tonight’s rendition was powerful, the audience singing along with the chorus. There was a first live airing of Owens’ latest single, the Civil War tale of Cotton Snow given a fine chunky alt country feel while Up On The Hill proved that Owens has a gift for writing memorable and rousing melodies. Throughout the set one was reminded of Owens’ song writing prowess, the songs stirring and emotive and instantly memorable with the closing number, Raining In Glasgow, the proof of the pudding.

The Men from Leith

Dick Gaughan – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

Sandwiched between Blue Rose Code and The Whisky Hearts was Dick Gaughan, the fulcrum for the evening. Despite being born in Glasgow Gaughan epitomises much of what folk imagine of Leith and its working class traditions. Recovering from illness Gaughan doesn’t cut the powerful figure he once did but any loss of vitality was more than made up for by his venerability and he stamped his authority with a ferocious rendition of No Gods and Precious Few Heroes, a fitting song for the day after a parliamentary election which saw a resurgence of the Scottish Tory party. His Leith tale lay in the middle of his song Why Old Men Cry, again, a call out to past generations not dissimilar to Owens’ nods to the past.  A lengthy spoken preamble to his closing song saw Gaughan recalling his early days in Edinburgh’s folk scene and his discovery that there was no shame in singing and speaking in Scots despite his teacher’s disapproval. This led to his spine chilling rendition of Freedom Come All Ye, a song written by his mentor, the late Hamish Henderson and a fine end to his brief set.

The show, part of Edinburgh’s Tradfest (yeah, another Edinburgh festival), was a tremendous success, the only murmurings heard on the night being some questions as to why it didn’t actually take part in Leith itself. A fully refurbished Leith Theatre, currently in the offing, would be an apt space for a return show.

All pictures courtesy of Marc Marnie.

 

 

 

Blue Rose Code. And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing

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The third instalment of Ross Wilson’s testament to the glories of life and living, And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing is a magnificent listen; a collection of songs with a beating heart, flurries of melodies with Wilson’s voice an instrument in itself. There is hurt and heartbreak, emotions that give the album some of its most affecting moments, but above all there’s a sense of celebration, a celebration of just being alive, of seizing the moment. The album title (from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), a reminder that life is fleeting so be grateful for each day. Wilson and his cast of supremely talented musicians have crafted an album that dips and soars like a murmuration of starlings offering the listener a myriad of delights.

There’s an organic flow to the album, the songs almost weeping into each other, the opening glimpse of the majestic single, Grateful, here in an abridged state, setting out Wilson’s agenda. Thereafter it’s a thrilling ride through folk and jazz tinged celebrations and wallows, the sinewy bass note that opens the free flowing box of memories that is Brave Cedars & Pied Wagtails returning later on the free form closing moments of In The Morning Parts 1 & 2, a nod perhaps to one of Wilson’s heroes John Martyn and his experimentation on songs such as Bless The Weather. In The Morning returns in the guise of Part 3 as the closing song here, this time with Colin Steele’s trumpet leading into Wilson’s closing remarks which are blessed with harmonies from The McCrary Sisters, the Gospel troupe who raised Grateful from the great to the magnificent. There’s a thread here. Musically it’s Wilson’s debt to Martyn and Van Morrison (and if anything there are moments here which recall Veedon Fleece) while lyrically Wilson takes us from his first moments of recovery into his marital breakup and his current sense of purpose.

The billowing breeze of Brave Cedars & Pied Wagtails leads into the confessional My Heart, The Sun, a false dawn of hope, the gentle pummel of percussion and lonely trumpet harbingers of what is to come. Rebecca is a spritely love song with some fine guitar work from Wild Watt Wyatt, a respite of sorts as Wilson then heads into the brokedown palace of Pokesdown Waltz, his naked exploration of his marriage ending, a song that bursts with regret, the words so emotive, the delivery stunning. Steele’s lonesome trumpet and Danny Thompson’s burbling bass introduce the centrepiece of the album, Glasgow Rain, an impressionistic journey though the West End as desolate as watching rivulets of rain running down a window as a storm lashes around you. Here Wilson unleashes his love of jazz and experimental music, trumpet, double bass and piano delicately tracing his voice before swelling into a mild cacophony as John Lowrie’s scattered percussion and Lauren MacColl’s violin join in, a ghostly spoken part here delivered by actor, Ewan McGregor. The music then gradually subsiding into rain swept sound effects with a final farewell from the bass and piano washed away like chalk on a pavement. A song of misery and self loathing with Wilson pleading “I try and I try and I try but I told you darling, I’m no good” it’s elevated into a thing of beauty as his voice trembles and pleads, the repetition and phrasing recalling Van Morrison on classics such as Listen To The Lion and Linden Arden Stole The Highlights. Aside from Morrison the song recalls the work of Robert Wyatt and his collaborations with Michael Mantler and Carla Bley while its rain swept Glasgow vista will also beg comparisons to The Blue Nile.

It’s truly a testament to the wonder of this album that even after the emotional blitz and sonic adventure of Glasgow Rain the listener can be transfixed by the following songs. In The Morning Parts 1 & 2 returns to the spritely breeze of Brave Cedars and Rebecca, the band skipping along with a refreshing spring in their step as Wilson and Wrenne and The McCrary Sisters celebrate a new dawn, the words uplifting as Wilson describes a rebirth of sorts. It’s a joyous song and as it heads towards its dissolution in a welter of bowed bass, skittering keyboards and gliding pedal steel, the vocals just peeking through, there’s an undeniable sense of willing Wilson on,  urging him to carry on and cast his demons aside. The following track, Love, alleviates this concern as he delivers a most tender and affecting paean to Cupid’s arrow, the mournful, almost brass band opening giving way to a song that most recalls the late John Martyn with Wilson sounding at his most vulnerable. The chorus with Wrenne wrapping herself around Wilson’s voice like a bountiful siren is just gorgeous, the band’s playing hypnotic, a song to savour. Favourite Boy is an almost playful aside, a Harry Nilsson like ballad balancing shadow and light, hopeful for the future but with a sense of gloom ever present. Again The McCrary’s are on hand to enhance the song. The curtain draws with the closing In The Morning Part 3, Steele’s trumpet coolly recalling the likes of Miles Davis before Wilson looks to the future over a lonesome picked guitar, the band gradually joining in, fiddle to the fore and The McCrary’s back in the fold for the blossoming swell at the end. The words here, as throughout the album are poetic and inspiring, indeed, had we quoted some of the gems from the album this review would be twice as long. Suffice to say that Wilson here sings, My best days they still lie before me, a sentiment that his very dedicated following will surely subscribe to.

And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing is an album of import, a personal statement from Ross Wilson which is suffused with a humanity and grace that one generally attributes to a great novelist. Wilson is a rare animal these days, his music vibrates with a life-force sadly missing in much of the music offered to us. On stage he has an uncanny ability to draw an audience into his world, an Odyssey of loss and redemption and the album does capture that. A definite contender here for album of the year.

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Blue Rose Code @Celtic Connections. Mitchell Theatre, Friday 29th January

Our last blast from this year’s Celtic Connections.

Blabber’n’Smoke is happy to stand on anyone’s coffee table in our scuffed boots to proclaim that Ross Wilson, AKA Blue Rose Code, is one of the most exciting acts to have emerged from the Scottish diaspora in the past few years. He simply is the best writer and performer about; having seen him in several guises (solo, small band, big band) he is a mesmerising performer while his songs are a continuation of all that was good about such luminaries as Van Morrison, John Martyn and Jackie Leven. Committed as we were to reviewing some Celtic Connection shows for Americana UK including this one we’re grateful to David Ferguson who sent us his review of what was a tremendous night.

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Blue Rose Code is the pseudonym of singer-songwriter, Ross Wilson, a native of Edinburgh and currently based in Bournemouth. 2015 was a particularly notable year for Blue Rose Code, including as it did a SAY Award nomination (Scottish Album of the Year) for The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, a series of successful tours, a number of sparkling performances on radio and television, lavish praise from celebrated broadcasters Ricky Ross, Roddy Hart and Edith Bowman, recognition from Ross Wilson’s beloved Hibernian Football Club and the acquisition of a celebrity fan in Ewan McGregor. The start of 2016 saw yet another ‘first’ for Blue Rose Code, in the shape of his first-ever headline gig at Celtic Connections, on 29th January in the elegant Mitchell Theatre. This special event had been arranged to enable Blue Rose Code to preview his forthcoming third album, …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing and to give fans the only opportunity to buy copies of the eagerly-awaited album prior to its general release in March.

Ross Wilson’s versatility is such that he is equally at home performing intimate solo gigs, as a trio or with a small band but, with up to eleven musicians on stage at any one time, this special gig was most definitely a case of “Blue Rose Code – max”. The line-up varied throughout the show, according to the arrangements and dynamics of each song. Ross Wilson revelled in the role of band leader, bringing the best out of the accompanying musicians and drawing great inspiration from them in return.

Ross’s customary beard was reduced, on this occasion, to a rather splendid pair of mutton-chop sideburns, all the better for the audience to witness his ever-widening smile as they roared their appreciation at the end of every single song. There was a richness and variety to the ten songs which make up the new album, yet they fitted together beautifully as a coherent whole. The set opened with an abridged version of the awe-inspiring gospel song, Grateful, featuring a quietly impassioned vocal from Ross Wilson, embellished by Angus Lyon’s elegant piano and feathery counterpoint vocals from Eliza Wren Payne. The majestic My Heart, The Sun featured pulsating rhythms, smoothly rippling trumpet and an anthemic chorus. The carefree swagger of Rebecca, a gentle country blues, gave way to one of the most achingly beautiful, tender and gracious break-up songs you will ever hear in Pokesdown Waltz, whose gently-whispered closing line surely brought a tear to the eye of most everyone in the room (”…the only regret that presides is that I do wish I’d kissed you goodbye…”). Ross Wilson then quipped that the next song, Glasgow Rain, would bring an end to “divorce corner” for the evening! This song was cinematic in scope, bringing a deeply soulful vocal from Ross (“…the rain fell like dominoes along Great Western Road….”) and a masterclass in cool and sweet jazz from the formidable combined talents of Colin Steele (trumpet), Nico Bruce (double bass), John Lowrie (drums) and Angus Lyon (piano).

In The Morning, Parts 1 and 2 was an extended tour de force, which started with the breezy country soul of part one and segued dreamily into the mesmerising ebb and flow of part two. The fragile beauty of Love, a perennial fans’ favourite which has finally made it onto an album, was notable for Ross’s ethereal vocal and delicate washes of cello, violin and trumpet. The free-flowing Favourite Boy was performed solo by Ross, with the rhythms provided by playful piano chords and foot-taps. In The Morning, Part 3 saw Ross’s vocals build gradually from pastoral lilt to passionate exhortation and featured an exquisite violin solo from Lauren MacColl and stunning ensemble playing from the full “caledonian soul orchestra”. At various points in the show, added musical textures and colours were provided by Graham Coe’s expressive cello and Signy Jakobsdottir’s bewildering array of percussion instruments and effects.

The main set came full circle to finish with an extended and intensified take on Grateful, with uplifting gospel choruses courtesy of Eliza Wren Payne and Emily Kelly, quicksilver blues guitar licks from “Wild” Lyle Watt and a series of beautifully-constructed and increasingly fiery trumpet solos from Colin Steele. There was still time to run through a couple of older favourites, including Edina, Ross Wilson’s affectionate and bittersweet tribute to his native city, which included another gorgeous violin solo. Sandaig was a quietly stirring and poetic evocation of the landscapes enjoyed by Ross during a memorable weekend spent in the Knoydart peninsula. As a final treat, and as this gig coincided with the seventh anniversary of John Martyn’s death, Ross Wilson paid a touching tribute to one of his musical heroes with a beautifully-judged cover of Fine Lines.

It was a sheer delight to hear the songs on the new Blue Rose Code album played in sequence, underlining the cohesion and uniform brilliance of this collection of songs. Having successfully come through several challenging periods in his life, Ross Wilson has attained a serenity which is reflected in the mellowness, elegance and grace of his songs and the warmth, assurance, charisma and inspiration which characterise his live performances. Ross Wilson’s instantly-recognisable brand of Caledonian Soul has reached a new level with this outstanding third album, which promises to elevate him to his rightful place among the elite of British singer-songwriters.

David Ferguson

M.G. Boulter. With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie. Harbour Song Records

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Aside from his duties with The Lucky Strikes and his in demand session player status (with Simone Felice and Blue Rose Code among others) M.G. Boulter is the poet laureate of the Thames estuary detailing the (often) sorry dreams and aspirations of those who populate the faded grandeur of Essex’s Southend and Clacton and hymning the meeting of water and land. His 2013 album The Water Or The Wave was a captivating collection of bittersweet songs with a somewhat folkish feel to several of the songs and with lyrics that at times recalled the sardonic strokes of Richard Thompson’s pen. For With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie Boulter has forsaken his estuary for a trip up north to Sheffield where he recorded the album with producer Andy Bell and a fuller backing band including woodwind and strings giving the album a more layered and at times sumptuous sound than its predecessor. Indeed much of the beauty here is in simply letting the arrangements wash over you while Bell has captured the bass and drum sound perfectly offering a solid base for the lilting and lifting guitars that float through the songs.

Boulter’s pedal steel colours the opening songs, both brisk, almost country rock numbers, their breeziness belying the dark lyrics contained within. Opener Sean or Patrick tells of a down and out character seeking refuge in booze and prone to grandiose notions comparing himself to Hemingway while the protagonist of In Sight of The Cellar is resigned to his delivery job, vicariously sharing life from outside bay windows with silent TV flickering but refusing to succumb to despair. This sunny side up musical mask is henceforth abandoned however as the music becomes more introspective and the arrangements more elaborate.

His Name Is Jean features a wonderful string arrangement over a fine woody double bass as Boulter sings of a parent reminiscing with pride regarding the son called Jean. Lyrically reminiscent of Loudon Wainwright there’s an ambiguity here with Jean/Gene’s gender not fully disclosed, nor is the manner of his “moving on” but there’s no doubting the tenderness and fragile beauty of the song. Lalita is a dreamlike trip into Boulter’s own memories, of a girl who followed his band and the murder of an acquaintance although the memories are vague and there’s a sense of regret that we don’t make more effort to know people. The string arrangement here is suffused with sadness, the vibraphone tying the song somewhat to sixties singer songwriters such as Tim Hardin.

There’s another burst of energy on the frantic The Last Song which races along with a fine soaring chorus and some nifty guitar work but the pop baroque keyboard of The Defeatist’s Hymn and rolling percussion amid the mysterious rhythms of Some Day The Waves are the highlights of the latter half of the album. Indeed Some Day The Waves throbs with mystery and slowly reaches its climax in a manner that suggests a weird combination of ESP act Pearls Before Swine and Fairport Convention circa A Sailor’s Life while the lyrics are poetic and again quite mysterious, WB Yeats sunk in ghosts and woods and trees. Nature and visions inform many of the songs. Starlings is a startling piece that is like Red Riding Hood reimagined as a self cutting girl at the mercy of men who prowl while Carmel Oakes is a girl sick of life who offers hope to a hopeless commuter who may be the man at the station referred to in Some Day The Waves.

Despite the grim subject matter Boulter offers glimpses of light. The promise that one day life will get better in Carmel Oakes and the cry to raise your sights and see the sun on Brother Uncles is reinforced on the closing Let Light In where he references the biblical quote the album is named for. It may be reading too much into the album but that’s the sense we get from the words, like Dylan they are open to discussion. However you approach it With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie is a beautiful listen and one that will repay repeated immersion in its wayward and woody intricacies.

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Harbour Song records

 

Favourite albums of 2015

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Well it’s that time of year again when we make up lists. Some get songs written about them (Santa’s naughty or nice one), some guide us around the supermarket, ensuring we don’t forget that all important stuffing. Blogs. Well, blogs do their “best of the year” lists so here’s Blabber’n’Smoke’s list of our favourite albums of the year. They’re not in any order (other than alphabetical) so there’s no number one and no losers, just some great music. 2015 was a bumper year for country music with young artists wresting the spotlight away from the ‘bros; back home there were some excellent releases that have received international recognition on websites, blogs and radio stations scattered across the globe. I’ve separated local releases simply because I think it’s important to highlight Scottish made music, had it been a straightforward top ten several of these would be in there. I’ve provided links to reviews where possible.

My thanks to all the artists, PR Agents and labels who have been kind enough to submit their efforts for Blabber’n’Smoke scrutiny, we love you. To them and to all readers have a happy festive season however you care to celebrate it.

Anna & Elizabeth. Anna & Elizabeth. Free Dirt records

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Brent Best. Your Dog, Champ. At The Helm Records/Last Chance Records

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David Corley, Available Light, Continental Song City

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Danny and The Champions Of The World, What Kind Of Love, Loose Music

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Justin Townes Earle. Single Mothers/Absent Fathers. Loose Music

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Barna Howard, Quite A Feelin’, Loose Music

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Sam Lewis Waiting On You. Brash Music

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Jeremy Pinnell OH/KY Sofaburn Records, 2015

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Michael Rank & Stag. Horsehair. Louds Hymn Music

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Daniel Romano, If I’ve Only one Time Askin’, New West Records

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Pharis and Jason Romero, A Wanderer I’ll Stay, Lula Records

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Sacri Cuori, Delone, Glitterbeat

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Cale Tyson, Introducing Cale Tyson, Clubhouse Records

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Homegrown

Stevie Agnew & Hurricane Road. Bad Blood & Whiskey. Skimmin’ Stone Records

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Dark Green Tree, Secret Lives, Haven Records

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James Edwyn & the Borrowed Band – The Tower

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Daniel Meade Keep Right Away. From The Top Records

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review

Iain Morrison. Eas. Peatfiredog Records.

a1422141892_16

review
Findlay Napier. VIP Very Important Persons Cheerygroove Records.

cover170x170

review

Dean Owens. Into The Sea. Drumfire Records

dEAN id fILE.indd

review

The Wynntown Marshals, The End Of The Golden Age, Blue Rose Records

0004931771_10

review

Honourable mentions

Lewis and Leigh Hidden Truths EP.

lewis-and-leigh-ep

review
Blue Rose Code Grateful

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review

And that’s about it. Lots to look forward to in the New Year, not least albums from Norrie McCulloch and Blue Rose Code in the next few weeks and of course, Celtic Connections. See ya.