Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck. Eden

Vermont based Bow Thayer takes a mighty stride forward on Eden, his third album with his Perfect Trainwreck set up. Originally from Boston Thayer has featured in several bands as he has pursued his version of a driving folk, country and blues sound with his weapon of choice these days being an electric banjo. Eden finds him on top form as he crafts a powerful album packed full of melodic hard rocking songs with his signature banjo, pedal steel guitar and occasional horn section combining to create a big big sound. While at times it’s not too far removed from the “jam band bluegrass” of the likes of Trampled By Turtles Thayer reins any excess in and instead drinks from the cup of The Allmans, The Band and Tom Petty, a southern soup of sounds which benefits from a fine production by Justin Coup, producer of the late Levon Helm (Helm himself having played on a previous Thayer release).

The album opens with The Beauty of All Things which could be a Mudcrutch number with its Petty vocal similarities. It’s a great driving pop song that happens to feature banjo and a great opener. It gives way to the urgent thrust of Blackstone Valley which resembles a hopped up Midnight Rider. The combination of Thayer’s banjo and the rock thrust of the rhythm section is exhilarating and the soaring pedal steel adds a majestic feel to the song. The banjo/pedal steel interplay is excellent throughout the album and when a horn section is added as on Inside Joke one is bereft of comparisons and the only thing to say is that it works and it works wonderfully. Chuck in some fine organ playing to this mix and Perfect Trainwreck come across as the type of band Little Feat might have become if Bill Payne hadn’t been so jazz orientated and preferred his funk. There’s a soul stew of songs here that simmer and bubble with the temperature cooked up by Little Feat on Oh, Atlanta or Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. Trials, a fast paced greyhound of a song again features horns while the title song chugs mightily like the Mississippi, churning away while Thayer conjures up a post apocalyptic vision. The Tide is a diatribe against pollution and features some magnificent slide guitar while the band swirls and eddies like the muddy Mississippi. The closing song, Happy Ending shows that Thayer and band can turn down the dials as they turn in an initially laidback performance that grows in intensity as Thayer again delivers an apocalyptic vision that howls eventually with a burning anger. Tremendous stuff.

Finally I guess it’s safe to say that Eden is something of a concept album with several of the songs portraying folk preparing for the end of the world and eventually emerging after a cataclysm to make some sense of what is left. In the centre of the album Thayer plays a mini song suite, Parallel Lives that could have been oh so pretentious and there is a slight whiff of the Eagles Journey of the Sorcerer in there. However he ties together the tale of an old man unburied due to the catastrophe and the end of rivers and trees with a sublime instrumental and a redneck rail against the injustice of it all. It’s not prog rock and the songs all stand on their own two feet so concept or not do dive in.



Midsummer Roundup

Catching up with some discs.

Rory Ellis. Perfectly Damaged.

Ellis is an Australian who’s released several albums of his particular take on rootsy rock. The first thing one notices here is his voice. A huge, deep throated booming voice, it dominates the proceedings. However Ellis is no slouch in the writing stakes either and several of these songs are top rate while the remainder are all finely crafted tales of traditional subjects. At times the influence of Kris Kristofferson is heard while PC Love comes across like a frisky J.J. Cale. While there are a couple of ballads these are less successful, partly due to the unsuitability of his voice to express tenderness. What it is suited for is the wide open soundscape of Jesus Lane, a banjo driven epic that sounds as if its from a Western soundtrack written by Lee Hazlewood. A big chunky guitar sound scrubs throughout while Ellis soars high. Banjo features again on the jaunty Waiting For Armaguard, told by a down on his luck guy contemplating robbing a security truck and on The Gravy Train, a rollicking romp with some tasty guitar licks. Street Angel House Devil snakes along with some fine lap steel guitar from Jim Hackett as Ellis recalls a nasty neighbour from his childhood. Finally The Gift is a great country romp based on a drugs bust in Devon, a great topic and delivered in a fine humorous fashion.
Ellis is touring the UK in June and July, dates on his website

The Gravy Train

Giles Robson and The Dirty Aces. Crooked heart of Mine.

Blabber’N’Smoke doesn’t usually review straightforward blues albums and those that are sent are generally fairly poor modern copyists replacing feeling with technique. That said the blues is a strain that runs throughout Americana whether it be the rural sounds of the pre war era or gritty roadhouse belters as delivered by the likes of The Blasters. So when this album tumbled into the nest hopes weren’t high especially after reading the ringing endorsement from Chris Evans. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Robson and his band deliver their blues with a deft touch, a degree of feeling and an insouciant sense of swing. While there are some piledriving moments such as on Stick To The Promise and Cooling Board these never tumble into 12-bar boredom. Robson and his harp lead a tremendous sounding band who are slick and tight, he sings without any mannered blueisms, at times the early Feelgoods are recalled but there are elements here also of the mighty Fall and local heroes The Primevils. Regarding his harp playing Sonny Boy Williamson the second and Kim Wilson appear to be influences and it’s tempting to say that The Dirty Aces might be the UK’s answer to The fabulous Thunderbirds. Of the songs Devil Led Evil, Magic Tricks and the opening The Mighty Incinerator are standouts. Sad to say Blabber’n’Smoke has to agree with Mr. Evans.


The Mighty Incinerator

Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck Bottom of the Sky.

The exotically named (at least for us in the UK) Bow Thayer hails from Vermont, New England and has released a slew of album over the years. He’s a buddy of Levon Helm and suitably his band deliver a pot pourri of modern Americana with a bunch of influences ranging from The Band, The Grateful Dead, Wilco, The Allman Brothers, Little Feat and the Drive by Truckers with a touch of Tom Petty. That said Thayer is no copyist, his songs all sound original and at times one is astonished that he has not achieved a higher profile. With Thayer on vocals, guitar, mandolin and banjo he is ably supported on drums, bass, keyboards and pedal steel. The addition of a Moog synthesiser and Mellotron adds a fine texture to several of the songs. Ranging from the country stomp of Your heart Is Not Your First Step with banjo to the fore to the opening visceral blast that is Buffalo Joe, heavy on the organ and piledriving drums Thayer covers all of the bases. Dawning is a tremendous shuffle that drinks deep from early seventies country rock with gliding guitars, while the title song flows majestically and betrays a pop sensibility that is almost McCartneyesque.

Bottom Of the sky

Amy Belle. Lost In the Shortcut

Finally a few words on Amy Belle. Tipped for stardom after Rod Stewart selected her to support him after seeing her busking she fell foul of record company shenanigans. Here however is her album, five years later. While we wouldn’t recommend it wholeheartedly there are some moments that show promise. The opening song Didn’t I Say is a fine bluesy shuffle not to far removed from the likes of Sheryl Crow however there is a pop gloss throughout that shows that she still hankers after that star spot. A rendition of I Don’t Want To Talk About It is rather poignant in the circumstances.


Didn’t I Say