Blue Rose Code/ Norrie McCulloch. Fallen Angels Club. Drygate Glasgow Thursday 3rd December

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The hipster craft beer domain that is Tenants’ fine addition to Glasgow’s East End was pretty packed on Thursday night as fans of Blue Rose Code flocked to Drygate for the official (north of the border) unveiling of Grateful, the single that is formal notification of a new Blue Rose Code album due in the New Year. East and west were united here as the Edinburgh folk were through in droves joining the Glaswegians in what was something of a celebration, for once a hashtag (#grateful) taking on a real presence.

Ross Wilson who is Blue Rose Code was joined tonight by Wrenne on vocals, John Lowrie, keyboard, Wild Lyle Watt, guitar, Nico Bruce, double bass and Colin Steele on trumpet. A superb outfit, they came across as a whirlwind on the driving opener, In The Morning, Steele giving notice that his trumpet was going to be to the fore tonight before a mesmerising segue into Silent Drums, Watt’s guitar scattering notes galore. A fine reading of Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem Scotland followed before Wilson dipped into the new album for a glorious and rousing love song which displayed the chemistry between him and Wrenne as they vocally sparred. A fluid line-up, the band alternated between their full set up to a trio with some songs featuring Wilson alone on stage. Favourites such as True Ways Of Knowing, Come The Springtime and Pokesdown Waltz had the audience in thrall with the set closer I See The Light summoning up a fine communal sense of Celtic soul.

For an encore Wilson paid tribute to the late Michael Marra and his hometown for the night with a moving rendition of Mother Glasgow before welcoming another of his band of brothers, Angus Lyons, on stage for a heartfelt and very moving Grateful. It was a triumphant show with Wilson scattering all notions of east and west aside. Edina or Mother Glasgow, we’re essentially all the same and the crowd beamed with pride for this erstwhile son of Scotland who is invigorating, soulful and above all else a magnificent writer and performer.

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There was excellent support in the form of Norrie McCulloch, another artist on the verge of releasing a new album, the follow up to his excellent Old Lovers Junkyard. With Iain Sloan of The Wynntown Marshals on pedal steel and Dave McGowan from Belle and Sebastian/Teenage Fanclub on double bass McCulloch slipped comfortably into his set with the mellow Still Looking For You, his harmonica and the pedal steel yearning while Call Me Home featured a fine solo from Sloan. The trio conjured a wonderful bucolic sound buoyed by McGowan’s burbling bass lines with the steel guitar the sugar topping on the already sweet melodies. There were several songs from the forthcoming album, These Mountain Blues, including New Joke and the title song that reaffirmed this writer’s belief that McCulloch is currently one of our finest writers, his Ayrshire roots and working class background woven into superior countrified folk songs.

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Blue Rose Code. Grateful EP.

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We’ve been eagerly awaiting the new album from Blue Rose Code and this week a taster was unveiled in the shape of a four song EP, Grateful, in anticipation of And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing which will be released in January with a launch show at Celtic Connections. Following on from the acclaimed The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, Grateful is further evidence of Ross Wilson’s magisterial song writing while the performances are simply stunning.

The title song is a sumptuous slow-paced celebration of life with Wilson crooning in best John Martyn style over stately piano and keening pedal steel, his voice superbly buttressed by the graceful presence of Gospel singers, The McCrary Sisters. It weeps and exults equally and bodes well for the new album. A video of the song has been released comprising snippets sent to Wilson by fans who were asked to record their reasons for being grateful: it’s quite moving.

Midnight’s Mass In Suffolk’s Breast has a Christmas theme and its spritely pace with no sleigh bells in sight is reason enough to welcome it but again Wilson comes up with a winner. The jazz tinged folk verses recall Robert Kirby’s arrangements for Nick Drake especially on the piano playing while the chorus soars with celebration. My Heart, The Sun is a remix by James Yuill (who remixed Blue Rose Code’s Whitechapel some years ago), its throbbing beat and synthed sounds showcasing Wilson’s eclectic tastes while his words remain poetic. The EP closes with a magnificent performance of In The Morning recorded live for Radio Scotland’s Roddy Hart show. Playing as a six piece with piano, cello, drums, double bass and guitars the piece billows gently along on a perfect breeze of Celtic folk, it ripples and eddies wonderfully and captures well the live Blue Rose Code experience.

A fine taster then for the forthcoming album, the EP is available here and Blue Rose Code are launching it with shows in London and Glasgow on the 2nd and 3rd of December. All tour dates are here

 

Best of 2014

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There’s a lot or pros and cons when it comes to listing end of year best ofs or favourites. Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke eventually plumbed for the pros outweighing the cons so this is the third time we’ve presented what, when it comes down to it, is an arbitrary choice of remembered listen. Albums that have stood the test of (a relatively short) time, the ones we’ve returned to or recommended to others in the pub. Above all it’s been fun to look back, read the reviews and see if they still stand. So with this in mind the following are the official Blabber’n’Smoke 2014 picks, in alphabetical order.

Blue Rose Code. Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Birds Of Chicago. Live From Space
Fire Mountain. All Dies Down
Bradford lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys. Somewhere Far Away
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands
Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap
Michael Rank & Stag. Deadstock
Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
John Southworth. Niagara

Random honourable mentions go to

Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone,
The Johnny Cash Native American album reboot, Look Again To The Wind,
Danny and The Champions Of The World’s Live Champs!
Dan Michealson & The Coastguards Distance
Cale Tyson’s EP, High On Lonesome,
Luke Tuchsherer’s debut You Get So Alone at Times It makes Sense,
Petunia’s Inside Of You,
Ags Connolly How about Now,
Chris Cacavas & Edward Abbiati. Me And The Devil along with Abbiati’s band Lowlands who delivered the excellent Love Etc.,
Zoe Muth. World Of Strangers,
Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz .
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.
Simone Felice. Strangers.
Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.
Sylvie Simmons. Sylvie (allowing an honorary mention here for Howe Gelb who produced).
The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream.
Lynne Hanson. River Of Sand.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue. Last To Leave.
And finally John Murry’s EP, Califorlonia which is brilliant and hopefully just an appetiser for his follow up to the majestic Graceless Age.

Digging through the archives it’s been noticeable that there’s been a fine contribution this year from Scottish acts who dip into or draw from an Americana well to a greater or lesser extent. While Blue Rose Code’s Ballads Of Peckam Rye features above the following are all stellar contributions to the local scene.

Dropkick. Homeward
Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard (with the Scottish song of the year, Suffering from Scottishness).
John Hinshelwood. Lowering The Tone.
The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP
Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard
The New Madrids. Through the Heart of Town.
Red Pine Timber Company. Different Lonesome
The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams
Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Although his album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012, Fraser Anderson is a major find of the year while another local lad, Daniel Meade unleashes his Nashville recorded Keep Right Away in January. Hopefully folk will have long enough memories to recall this when it comes to compiling the 2015 lists. In the meantime it can be first on the New Year shopping list.

Blue Rose Code/M. G. Boulter/Wrenne. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Wednesday 1st October.

Blabber’n’Smoke has to admit that it’s a bit of a latecomer to the music of Blue Rose Code, the vehicle for Edinburgh born Ross Wilson’s song poetry. A chance hearing of Boscombe Armistice on Celtic Music FM a few weeks ago stopped us in our tracks as this winsome pedal steel laced gem wafted from the speakers and Wilson’s Scots burr crooned about his granny saying he’d start a fight in an empty hoose. I suppose we’re much more used to hearing Scottish accents in songs these days with The Proclaimers leading the way while you wouldn’t contemplate King Creosote or Aidan Moffat adopting a transatlantic drawl. But there was more here, the song conjured up memories of Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece and even Astral Weeks with its haunting quality and impressionistic feel. In these instant internet days the album The Ballads of Peckham Rye was almost immediately summoned up and pretty much floored me. A magnificent trawl from Leith to London with side trips to the corner of the northern isles to the peak of the antipodes the album is a psychogeographic trip as Wilson summons up a mystic Celtic hinterland finely balanced by a couthy Scottishness that would be familiar to readers of The Broons. As for the music it inhabits that folk/jazz hybrid that Morrison invented on Astral Weeks along with nods to Jackie Leven and John Martyn, helped indeed by having the legendary Danny Thompson on double bass duties.
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The Ballads Of Peckham Rye came out on CD a few months ago but this week was given a vinyl release and in tandem with this Wilson assembled a road troupe for a short tour. The show at The Glad Cafe was packed to the rafters and accordingly blisteringly hot, however the audience stalwarts were rewarded with a show that surely rates as one of the best of the year. A mini revue almost, both support acts were plucked from the Blue Rose Code line up with Wilson introducing them. First up was Wrenne, a singer he first encountered “playing a nylon strung guitar, barefoot, at a Secret Garden Party.” Singing songs from her forthcoming album along with a cover of Steven Merrit’s The Book Of Love her voice impressed, an opinion confirmed later as she sang some magnificent harmonies in the main set. Next up was M. G. Boulter, pedal steel gunslinger for the likes of Simone Felice when he’s in town. Boulter’s pedal steel graces The Ballads of Peckam Rye but he’s also a solo artist and a member of Southend’s The Lucky Strikes. His acoustic set saw him in a line of succession from Loudon Wainwright III and Alan Hull, bare boned songs that have a bleak yet hopeful outlook. Descriptive of Southend On Sea, chip shops, ice cream men (and their demise) featured but his best was the wonderful and evocative Once I Was from his fine album, The Water Or The Wave.

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The stage was well set then for Blue Rose Code, tonight a five piece with Wilson at the front, Boulter on pedal steel and Dobro and Wrenne on harmony vocals along with Nico Bruce on double bass and Lyle Watt playing acoustic guitar and mandolin. From the off it was obvious that this was going to be something special. Rippling guitars introduced Silent Drums before Bruce’s bass burbled into action sucking the audience into the slipstream. Wrenne’s vocals slipped and slid around Wilson, recalling that other vocal duo Birds Of Chicago, as the band gently billowed like a fine wind pushing the ship forward with Lyle Watt’s guitar embroidering the sound. Wilson took us on a journey that went back to his childhood with Ghosts Of Leith via Edina up to his London travails on Whitechapel (where he slipped in a Drumchapel to some applause). Come The Springtime was described as a hope for the future and comes across as a magnificent update to what one might imagine to be a traditional Scots song. Norman McCaig’s poem, True Ways Of Knowing was acknowledged by Wilson as an example of his late flowering into the highways and byways of Scottish literature and it’s an excellent example of written poetry set to music, a feat repeated later in the encore.

Introducing Matthew Boulter earlier Wilson declared that he had always wanted some pedal steel on his records but later said that he was reluctant to participate in the Americana Music Awards as he “wasn’t country.” The Right To Be Happy was his attempt to write a country song and tonight it swung with a fine country heft while several other songs certainly cantered into a country trot. The Hibernian folk swing persisted through the night and culminated in the first encore with Wilson and Wrenne delivering a powerful rendition of Hugh McDiarmid’s poem Scotland. Finally the band came out to perform the excellent This Is Not A Love Song which allowed them to stretch out and improvise, recalling Soho folk blues such as Pentangle in their heyday although Wilson brought it back to earth with his couthy declaration ” time after time it’s the same old shite,” a wonderful mishmash of folk purity and Scottish bare faced cheek. Overall the impression was of a magnificent warm and enveloping wit and humanity with Wilson and his players producing the finest night of the year so far.