Tim Henderson. Gone To Texas: The Legacy Collection (Vol.1)

timhenderson6For anyone interested in Texan folklore and the songs of Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock and Guy Clark this album is an intriguing listen. Tim Henderson, who died in 2011, was from West Virginia but moved to Austin, Texas when in his 30’s. Influenced by his grandmother who played mountain dulcimer Henderson took up music at an early age but once in Texas he joined in the budding musical scene there releasing his first album in 1978. While his fame never expanded much beyond the State’s borders, at home he was feted with Townes Van Zandt championing him as he won a best song award at The Kerrville Folk Festival in 1977 while he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Texas Music in 2011 for his “timeless contributions to Texas music.”

Gone To Texas is the first volume of a six album set which gathers Henderson’s recording together and, as the title hints, it concentrates on the songs he wrote about Texas history, culture and people. Released last year in The States it’s coming to our attention now due to the ministrations of promoter Rob Ellen who heard about Henderson when he was on the road with an artist Henderson mentored, Chuck Hawthorne. Ellen attended a concert celebrating the album release and was knocked out and amazed at the galaxy of Texas artists who turned up to pay homage and undertook to try and spread the word further. For that we say, Thanks Rob.

Listening to the album I was struck time and again as to why Henderson isn’t better known. His songs range from vibrant retellings of pivotal moments in Texas history to songs packed full of humour and wit. His Ballad Of Whiskey John (one of the songs that helped him win the Kerrville New Folk Competition – Van Zandt was a judge that year) is a folk tale, almost a talking blues, which recalls Loudon Wainwright and Kinky Friedman. Witch Of West Lynn, written in revenge against getting a ticket for running a red light, cackles with an absurd humour with Henderson roaring like Shel Silverstein while Jesus Would Have Loved El Paso is a sly dig at television pastors such as Jerry Falwell who delighted in calling Texans sinners and it’s delivered with a passion similar to that of Tom Russell.

Russell comes to mind again when Henderson dips into the border territory as on La Dona Maria and Maria Consuelo Arroyo, both replete with Hispanic sounds and the latter leading us into another comparison, this time with the rawness of Terry Allen’s Juarez. There really is so much treasure here (some not so polished, the living room recording of Texas Morning Ride gains from its lo fidelity) with songs such as Dust and Texas In His Ways truly embedded in the Texas tradition but our favourite is the magnificent Miss Amelia Harris, Spinster, a song which sounds as if you had bundled together all of the artists we’ve mentioned here and added a dollop of John Prine.

Gone To Texas is a tremendous listen and it whets the appetite for the accompanying volumes. Hopefully it and the other five discs serve to spread Henderson’s legacy further afield, we’d certainly love to hear more of the man. Thanks again, Rob.

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Here’s some vintage footage of Tim Henderson…

And here’s Chuck Hawthorne singing Miss Amelia Harris, Spinster (just for good measure)

 

 

Billy Marlowe. Show Me The Steps

It seems somewhat fitting that in the wake of last year’s rediscovery of the likes of Sixto Rodriguez and Bill Faye that Blabber’n’Smoke was sent this album of songs recorded (and only briefly released) in the eighties by an unknown musician. Were Billy Marlowe still on this earth it’s a fair bet that there would be a demand to see and hear him play these songs and catch up on the acclaim that’s been missing for so long. Unfortunately, unlike Rodriguez, Marlowe is gone, dead at the age of 53 after what appears to have been a troubled life although his sister’s description of him as an eternal optimist seems apt given the life affirming sentiments contained in these astonishing songs.
Having left home in the sixties Marlowe lived an itinerant lifestyle eventually going to Canada to escape the Vietnam draft. However on returning to the States he was jailed for two years. In 1983 he pitched up in response to a small ad in the Village Voice placed by Steve Satterwhite who was looking for an artist to test run his new recording studio and over the space of a year this album was built, released briefly on vinyl it soon disappeared.
With a sound that recalls a soulful Dylan or a metropolitan Butch Hancock Marlowe recorded these songs with a select few NY musicians (who have gone on to work with numerous artists including Dylan, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen). They provide some superb backing with inspirational fiddle licks and gliding steel guitar decorating the songs. In addition a freshly arrived in New York Shawn Colvin sings on several of the cuts. At the heart of it all however is Marlowe himself. It’s as if having struggled for years he has been let off the leash and grasps the opportunity wholeheartedly. His songs are bittersweet poems and he delivers them in a voice that can resemble Dylan’s at times although he carries a truckload of emotion compared with Dylan. In addition several of the songs are so sure of themselves, so perfectly formed that it’s hard to believe that they emanate from a man who had spent most of his life stumbling from one obstacle to another. Born Again (take that, Dylan fans) is a major work, a song that is almost perfect with a stately arrangement as Marlowe sings of being “ragged, tattered and torn, wishin’ I was born again.” There are several other songs that approach this summit. Mama Was Right tugs at the heartstrings as the violin soars into the blue. You Got My Heart is a simply sung simple love song that should be ringing out from radio stations galore. Finally the vibrant and driving Salvation Railroad is four minutes of soar away bliss where the steel guitar shimmers, Marlowe sings with a magnificent wearied abandon and the female voices flutter around him.
All in all an astoundingly good album that’s been unfairly buried for so long and which captures a lost innocence that was buried under so many wasted lives in the seventies and eighties. Read more about Marlowe including a fine testimony from his sister here

Latest Blabberings

Here’s a few of the albums which have been rocking this joint over the past week.

Betty Soo and Doug Cox Across the Borderline: Lie to Me.

Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Betty Soo a few months ago. Now she’s teamed up with ace guitarist Doug Cox to produce a fine, simple and superb album of covers. Soo is of Korean stock and hails from Texas while Cox is Canadian. Meeting at a guitar camp (indeed, do such things exist?) they appear to have shared a mutual admiration for Doug Sahm (whom Cox worked with) and soon Cox was touring with Soo. Together they cooked up the idea for this album wanting to share their favourite songwriters with the listener. Hence an album of songs by the likes of Loudon Wainwright, Butch Hancock, Sahm and Guy Clark along with lesser known talents such as Jeff Talmadge and Betty Elders.
Stripped back, the album features the pair on vocals with Cox’s fine resophonic guitar playing shining throughout. It’s an intimate affair, perfect for late night listening and the song selection is spot on. While the goofy country of Big Cheeseburgers (by Blaze Foley) and the bluesy Boxcars (Butch Hancock) are superb readings they excel on a pair of ballads. Betty Elders’ Light in Your Window showcases Soo’s fine clear voice while Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues ends the album on a high note.
Soo and Cox will be touring the UK in September and appear in Scotland for three dates.

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Brothers Reid. Top of the Old Road

Brothers Reid are a band from Aberdeen who take Americana by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake. A busy bustling band this debut might be a little muddy in its production but they have a fine line in their mixture of West Coast influenced rock with some folk influences thrown in. Starting off with Done and Dusted the harmonies and sinewy guitars hint at evenings spent listening to old Steve Miller and Moby Grape albums. Flea Circus continues in this vein but it’s the third song, Farmboy Blues which catches the listener’s ear. While it has a hint of the Grateful Dead’s country leanings the band steer it away from homage with an extended coda that has some fine guitar and strings. The outright folk embellishments on the following song City Lights come as a bit of a shock at first but are a brave reminder that the band hails from Scotland and not California. Despite that California is never far from the mind as they deliver their epic Roll On, a guitar churning slow flowing piece that sounds like it might be a killer heard live. Similarly the closing title song, a blues boogie whose harmonica parts recollect Canned Heat could have an audience on its feet yelling for more. Promising.

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JD Malone & the Experts. Avalon

For a debut album his is a bit of a behemoth. Based in Philadelphia Malone and crew have produced a package that one generally expects from established bands. Comprising of two discs, the actual album on CD (with 13 tracks and five bonus cuts) and a DVD of them rehearsing in the studio it looks mighty impressive. Best of all however is the fact that Malone et al pull this off with no sign of filler throughout this bar the repetition of one song, Just Like New which has a “radio edit” version tacked on. Fitting perhaps as this band are nothing other than radio friendly with their version of blue collar American rock. Ringing and stinging guitars, sweet pedal steel and a rocking rhythm section back up Malone’s impassioned vocals on a series of songs that sound as familiar as hell after a few listens. The jangling intro Silver From is straight out of Earle county while the spooky Emmit Meets a Demon recalls the Byrds’ forays into swamp rock. Leave Us Alone has hints of the Jayhawks as has the Ballad of Mr. Bardo.
Covers of Creedence’s Fortunate Son (a great version by the way) and Tom Petty’s I Should Have Known It (on the DVD) show where the band are coming from. While they won’t win many awards for originality they do deserve an award for delivering this fine slice of energetic and rocking Americana.

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Greg Trooper Upside-Down Love.

For every Steve Earle or John Prine there are a dozen of other singer songwriters who don’t shift as many units or garner as much press acclaim. You could call them second division but essentially that’s unfair. Time after time I’ve been pleasantly surprised and on occasion gobsmacked by an album that is simply terrific but which struggles to get out of the starting gate. There’s a vast hinterland out there, jobbing musicians, troupers indeed who might not have the killer touch or the luck to be plucked out and cast into the spotlight. Instead they carry on, delivering quality songs to a small but discerning audience who benefit from a unique relationship with the artist, mingling after a gig, communicating via the big old interweb and most recently helping to finance the recording and delivery of an artist’s album.
If a police artist was asked to produce a photofit of someone fitting the above description then it could very well look like Greg Trooper. With several albums under his belt since the mid eighties he’s had his songs recorded by Steve Earle and Vince Gill and been produced by Buddy Miller and Dan Penn. Setting up his own label, 52 Shakes, he’s used kickstarter to finance this album with donations from his fanbase. Well, his fanbase kicked in and here’s the result, released in time to prime UK fans for a tour in April and May.
While the album doesn’t blaze any trails Trooper is a confident and assured writer and he’s gathered a band that deliver a sweet, slightly southern soaked slice of Americana with a Muscle Shoals organ and guitar sound on many of the songs. This results in the driving Time For Love and the J.J. Cale groove of Nobody In The whole Wide World, both guaranteed to have the hips swinging. Elsewhere Trooper’s singer/songwriting roots are well displayed on a brace of songs that deliver the goods in the tradition of Guy Clark and Butch Hancock. First True Love is a delicate love song while Everything Will Be Just Fine could be used as a template for a perfect Americana troubadour song.
The good news is that Trooper is touring the UK from late April with some Scottish dates including Laurie’s in Glasgow on 30th April. Check the others on his website.

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Everything Will be Just Fine