All good things must come to an end and so it happens that Ghosts is the final piece to be slotted into Dean Owens’ Desert Trilogy slipcase. A quick recap. Having recorded an album, Sinner’s Shrine, with Calexico in Tucson, Owens’ plans for its release were scuppered by Covid. Undeterred, the Edinburgh based artist used his lockdown time to record another bunch of songs with various members of Calexico and other Tucson luminaries and he’s been releasing them via this highly desirable collection.
All the EPs have a song from the album but Owens was keen not to short-change his fans so, overall, they contain eight new songs, all cut from the same cloth which inspired the original recordings, Owens’ love of the American Southwest. So far there has been critical acclaim for this new direction and Ghosts is certain to bask in similar glory.
As with the other EPs, it’s a song from Sinner’s Shrine, which leads off. The Hopeless Ghosts is very much in the vein of Calexico’s hot, dusty and claustrophobic desert shuffles. John Convertino’s drumming is instantly recognisable as is Jacob Valenzuela’s soaring trumpet and Paul Niehaus weighs in with his swooning pedal steel. As Calexico do much of the time, Owens achieves a cinematic effect here with visions of movies by Leone and Peckinpah summoned by the music and the words – there’s drama by the dirtload. It’s haunting (as most songs with Ghosts in the title should be), as Owens comes across like some high plains drifter, condemned to forever travel. In a nice touch, Owens explains that the idea of hopeless ghosts comes from a Townes van Zandt description of his songs. Anyhow, the song is a towering achievement which is lifted further aloft when Grant-Lee Phillips joins Owens on harmony vocals, especially when the pair vocally pirouette towards the end of the song.
Mother Road is much more restrained as Owens delivers a wearied narrative, inspired by a 93 year old barber who had a shop on Route 66, a road now seldom travelled once the Interstate opened. It’s a sepia stained portrait of past times, replete with lonesome pedal steel and mournful trumpet and it’s a fine example of how Owens can transport his evocative portraits of his home town to a foreign land. Even When I’m Gone finds Owens on his own on a song which was recorded in Tucson but which was inspired by walks with his dog in the woods near Edinburgh. Again, there’s a sense of desolation here although it’s tempered by the thought that once we pass, life will go on. The EP ends with a murder ballad which Owens says he had written for Johnny Cash but, with the man in black gone, he has to sing himself. Owens recorded his basic track in Scotland with Kevin McGuire on double bass before Convertino, Martin Wenk, Tom Hagerman and Naim Amor sent in their contributions from various locations. Fittingly, as the last song on this trilogy, it’s called The End and, yes, one can imagine Cash singing it on one of his latter albums. Like some Dostoevskian anti-hero on the eve of his execution, Owens reflects and ruminates on a life of crime as a baleful trumpet and tasteful shards of guitar lead him towards the gallows. It’s a very impressive song.
So, trilogy wrapped up, all we can do is wait for Sinner’s Shrine. The main course after these wonderful appetizers.
Long rumoured to be in the works, an album of Michael Hurley songs performed by others has finally emerged, blinking, into daylight. For those not aware of him, Hurley is one of the surviving links to, as Greil Marcus has it, that Old Weird Americana. From his first recordings in 1965 for Folkways, up until the present, Hurley has inhabited a domain where country, blues and folk collide and he has peopled it with an amazing array of characters, some grim and doomed such as his famed werewolf, others, cartoonish, bawdy and, at times, lascivious – check out Boone and Jocko. Above all, Hurley allows us to view his world via some stunningly beautiful songs. Some are raw, gnawed from his hinterland, while there are several which have a rich groove and then others which are just quite achingly tender. It’s no surprise really that such a unique artist has rarely troubled the mainstream but, equally unsurprising, he has gathered a cult following which has included a good number of musicians over the years.
Many of those musicians have paid tribute to Hurley on their respective albums, covers of his songs abound, especially amidst the weird folk movement pioneered by Devandra Banhart. Snockument, punningly named after one of his many alter egos, is however, the first bona fide collection of cover songs. It has Hurley’s stamp of approval, an important issue as previous attempts at delivering such an album were nixed by him. As he declared of one of the earlier submissions, “He didn’t have the melody, he didn’t have the words, so what did he have…? I didn’t want the song represented that way. I figured, ‘This is one of my best songs and I want it out there in the public like it is’.” So, the album gathers some songs from those previous attempts which did make the cut along with a couple of previously released covers and some recorded specifically for what we might call “Snockument – Take 3.”
Despite such disparate origins, the album is a joy to listen to and it flows wonderfully. Hurley has selected the songs and sequenced them such that there are no joins to be heard between sessions recorded back in the 1990’s to the present day. The 10 songs here are but a dip into Hurley’s immersive world but they will be more than familiar to fans and all are delivered with what appears to be a great sense of affection and connection with the man. There’s reverence and ribaldry here, quite fitting.
Cat Power’s version of Werewolf is probably the song which most folk will gravitate to immediately. Plucked from her 2003 album You Are Free, it is suitably spooky while Power deftly switches the werewolf’s gender so that it is a she who “loves the young man as I tear off his clothes.” If this sends folk back to Hurley’s stunningly crepuscular original version then the album has done its job. There are other familiar names on board. A 2004 Calexico offer a finely laid back Rue Of Ruby Whores which slides down the neck as easily as a glass of Knockando while Yo La Tengo transform Polynesia into a shimmering languid dream state and Cass McCombs, with guitarist Steve Gunn in tow, follows the original template of Sweet Lucy quite faithfully.
As befits Hurley’s underground reputation however, several of the acts involved here are hardly household names. Little Sue, a Portland singer, captures Hurley’s old time essence in her version of Somebody To Say Goodbye To and another Portland outfit, The Hackles, hack excellently into Hurley’s sense of wonder on Oh My Stars. The Chicken Chokers give Watertrain a fine string band delivery and Chicago’s Vernon Tonges packs some punch vocally into his bracing and slightly lop sided version of I Still Could Not Forget You Then. Perhaps the most imaginative cover comes from Manchester’s Daniel Bridgwood-Hill, recording as dbh. He takes Hurley’s saw fiddled Hog Of The Forsaken (as heard on TV’s Deadwood) and transforms it into a guitar, fiddle and whistled Antebellum lament which reminds one of Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell. It’s just lovely.
So there we have it, finally. Snockument comes in vinyl, dressed in a sleeve featuring a Hurley painting and with an illustrated gatefold booklet. There may be a CD release in the near future which might include an expanded set list but in the meantime, this handsome and very desirable limited edition is available from Dublin’s Blue Navigator Records
Friday sees the much-anticipated release of the second volume of Dean Owens’ Desert Trilogy – three EPs which each feature a song from his even more anticipated Sinners Shrine album (due for release in September) along with other songs recorded in or inspired by his recent Tucson liaison with Calexico.
Sand And Blood opens with Land Of The Humming Bird, co-written with Gabriel Sullivan of Tucson rockers XIXA (this EP’s sneak preview of the album). It finds Owens fully embedded in the southwest borderlands on a dark romantic song played with an effortless sense of swing. Sergio Mendoza’s piano playing here is excellent while Naim Amor adds some neat guitar grumbles, but it’s Gaby Moreno, duetting with Owens on vocals, who really steals the show here. Owens has a thing for hummingbirds but he’s never made them sound so exotic as he does here.
Dolina casts a darker shadow as the Calexico chaps shift into their most moody groove with staccato trumpets bursts and shards of guitar thrown out like gravel from under a juggernaut’s wheels. The lyrics are menacing, the sand and blood of the EP’s title are to be found here, and the coruscating distortion of Owens’ voice midway through is quite gripping, like watching a cinema giallo unfolding before your eyes. Ashes & Dust is one of the songs worked up internationally during lockdown with the musicians zooming in from Scotland, Texas, Arizona and Berlin. You certainly can’t see (or hear) the joins as it fits in perfectly with the atmosphere summed up in the previous songs. It’s a dustier and drier vision of the desert, summoning up the stark adobe peppered barren landscapes of Leone’s own trilogy. With Owens capturing the inner thoughts of a blessed and cursed individual, like a funeral procession, the song proceeds slowly, the protagonist approaching his own personal Golgotha.
It has to be said that Dolina and Ashes & Dust are both quite tremendous and that neither of them are slated for inclusion on Sinners Shrine just makes one wonder how good that album is going to be. Anyhow, the EP concludes with She Was A Raven which is an alternative take of the opening song. Here they abandon the refined pace of the original and instead sweat it out. Gone is Gaby Moreno, and in her place are Jacob Valenzuela’s rip snorting trumpet trills and Joey Burn’s scathing guitar solo adding up to an almighty rumble.
Sand And Blood is available on a limited edition CD here. The third volume of the Desert Trilogy, Ghosts, will be released in July.
While it doesn’t get the acclaim afforded to Nashville, Arizona’s Tucson is home to a vibrant musical community and has been the launch point for a host of Blabber’n’Smoke favourites including Giant Sand, Rainer Ptacek, Calexico and, more recently, XIXA. We were intrigued therefore when we heard of a new collection of songs recorded by a host of Tucson musicians in order to raise funds for Al Foul, a local legend, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and faced a hefty bill for medical treatment.
Al Foul – A Tribute To The One And Only is a digital album available from Bandcamp and features 29 songs, most written by Foul, performed by familiar names such as Howe Gelb, Jesse Dayton, Calexico, Kid Congo Powers and Gabriel Sullivan, along with a variety of acts previously unknown to us. While all were recorded in the past few weeks, there is also the poignant presence of a performance by Rainer Ptacek who succumbed to a brain cancer back in 1997.
Al Foul himself has been a fixture of Tucson’s music scene since moving there from Boston in the late 1990’s, playing in a rockabilly/ hard country style, often as a one man band. Like many US musicians, he also has a loyal following in some European countries, in particular France. When he disclosed his diagnosis recently, Tom Walbank, a friend and, like Foul, an immigrant to Tucson where he has established himself as a blues artist, reached out to fellow artists and began collecting the songs which make up the album. Local studios (including Gabriel Sullivan’s Dust + Stone and Jim Waters’ Waterworks) opened their doors and donated free time to record while Walbank comments, “I realized that because it’s a pandemic, not everyone wants to go to the studio and not everyone had a home studio, so it was a little tricky. So there are some songs which are done very intimate on iPhones and stuff like that.”
One of the many musicians contributing is Naim Amor who appears on two songs. French born, Amor relocated to Tucson in 1997 and he has since released several solo albums and soundtracks and has also played live with and appeared on record with too many acts to mention here. He has had a long association with Foul and he was happy to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke to support the tribute album’s release. First off, we asked him about Al as he’s not that well known over here in the UK.
Al’s originally from Boston, he moved to Tucson as a young adult. Although I’m not sure of the year, it was around the time I moved out here so he has been part of the Tucson music scene since the early 90’s. He is known a bit in France because of particular connections and friends. He can go to France and actually make money, he never had any offers in the UK that would make it worthwhile. Al plays as a one-man band, it largely depends on budget… he could have a bass player or a guitar player or both. Sometimes it’s a four piece band with drums. I have been Al’s friend since the late 90’s and started playing with him in the mid 2000’s. I also recorded several of his albums.
You appear on two songs on the album. Where did you record them given Tom Walbank’s comments on the general rush, in the midst of a pandemic, to get the recordings done?
I have a recording studio on my own that is located at Jim Waters studio (Waterworks). We have lots of space here, lots of studios.
Your first appearance is with Lola Torch on Shitty Little World. From what I’ve read about Al it seems somewhat autobiographical and his original is very like Johnny Cash singing a Shel Silverstein song but I love the way you and Lola perform it. How did that come about?
Lola is a friend. She is a singer, a burlesque performer and a seamstress (Hi Tiger Lingerie). She wanted to do that song, but she had no plans on how to do it as she doesn’t play any musical instruments. I immediately thought about a song which we quite often cover together “ Is That All There Is “ by Peggy Lee. I thought we could give Al’s song the same treatment and that worked out nicely. We thought about changing the person singing to a “He” instead of “I,” given it’s the story of a boy. But Lola decided to keep it in its original gender which in turn bends the gender in a surprisingly very natural way.
You also perform Flying Saucer with Thoger Lund and John Convertino. Why did you choose this song?
Well, there’s a limited number of songs and they had to be recorded pretty quick. But I always loved that song, I can give it a bit of a swing feel, jazz it up. It’s also a sweet song that is so typical of Al’s humor.
I was quite impressed by the wealth of collaboration on show on the album. Is Tucson the kind of place where all the music acts know each other and there’s a lot of cross-fertilization in terms of playing together?
Definitely! It’s not a really big city, but it’s an American city, 1 million people. However, the music community feels like a village. Lot’s of people play in different bands. It ends up creating a culture of how things happen, how people work.
On that note, how is the music community in Tucson coping with Covid and how have you been spending your time?
There’s no live music so people record, practice, start new projects. That’s my case, I have been practicing guitar like crazy and working with my jazz Trio, I learned and memorized nearly 90 jazz standards. We play in backyard. I also recorded an album with John Convertino last summer (Correspondents) that was released in Japan in the fall. Shaun Hendry is talking about putting it out in the UK on vinyl. I’m currently recording a project with Kid Congo Powers, a “rockabilly/drum machines” kind of thing.
Both of Naim’s contributions to the album are pretty swell but the same can be said of all 29 songs, all of which point to Foul being quite a pointed and direct songwriter. There’s delta blues, rockabilly, country and swamp rock and a good dose of Tucson idiosyncrasy. The album is available for the measly sum of Ten Dollars on Bandcamp and all proceeds go towards Al Foul’s medical expenses. We’ll leave the final words to Foul himself.
“The thought of everyone getting together to produce this tribute for me is beyond touching. Often people share negative memes on social media or express the attitude that choosing to be a working musician is some form of folly or a loser’s game…driving to the ends of the earth for nothing. But the outpouring of love I have received proves to me, that is absolutely wrong. Now I see that thirty years of playing music has left me with something so absolutely pure, beautiful, and beyond priceless that I will never see the craft the same way. I am so humbled by the love that I feel now. Those words ring true more every day.”
Al Foul – A Tribute To The One And Only is available here.
Here’s Al Foul singing Shitty Little World
And here’s the version by Lola Torch and Naim Amor
Marianne Dissard is probably best known as a sometime collaborator with several bands from the Tucson scene including Giant Sand and Calexico; most notably, she is the femme fatale on Calexico’s Ballad Of cable Hogue. A noted filmmaker and photographer in addition to being a chanteuse, Dissard recorded three albums in Tucson, the last being The Cat, Not Me along with two albums in what she calls her City Series, Paris One Takes and Cologne Vier Takes. Last year she relocated to Europe and this collection, culled from the above albums, is something of a farewell to her American years.
Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed L’Entredeux and The Cat, Not Me, albums that steered a course between European (and in particular French) pop tradition and American guitar rock. Despite the plethora of Tucson musicians the overall sense was of a continental bent, Serge Gainsbourg being an obvious touchstone, Dissard singing in French (and occasionally German), her voice usually somewhat sultry in the grand manner of the likes of Juliette Greco and Francoise Hardy. Her lyrics (handily translated on her website) sensual, poetic, dark, a mix of Rimbaud and French argot. Above all her words were wrapped in a polyglottal musical language, Mariachi, twang guitars and Chanson all thrown into the pot and this collection is a fine reflection of that.
The 13 songs gathered here are each and every one reason to make the listener search out the albums they are taken from. Dissard roams from the opening accordion jollity of Les Draps Sourds, the Bal Musette setting disguising the lusty goings on in the lyrics, to the nightmarish claustrophobia of Tortue. She almost purrs on the magnificent Pomme, a song that initially recalls Parisian cobbled streets before a grand, almost prog, middle eight weighs in. On the rock side there’s some ferocious guitar squabbles on the driving The One And Only, another fine guitar solo on the thrilling Election and Trop Express oozes sensuality over a funky Hammond organ riff. However Dissard can also come across like a Gallic Nico back in her Chelsea Girl days on the string laden acoustic ballad Cayenne or conjure up a glistening bucolic world on the sublime Les Confetttis. The crowning glory perhaps is the meandering musical map of Un Gros Chat with its spooky bowed saw and splashing cymbals, the lyrics abstractly erotic, Dissard like a whispered siren drawing listeners into her realm.
The album is an excellent entree into the weird and wonderful world of Ms. Dissard, a dizzying potpourri of sensual frissons seasoned with some wonderful music. The package itself is worth delving into. Packed full of pictures , tributes, poems and snippets of correspondence from the Tucson days it gives a measure of Dissard’s time there. In addition, with the deluxe package, Ms. Dissard has liberally garlanded each CD with golden confetti, some of which is still cluttering up the keyboard here.
Husband and wife team, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are quite the mythmakers. From the album art (which echoes the work of Saul Bass) featuring McClelland as a sixties leather clad spy girl and Doucet as a guitar toting gunslinger to the warped and twisted stories within the songs they create a fine melange of southern gothic, spaghetti western and James Bond glamour. Ably assisted by producer Gus Van Go (who co wrote three songs here and plays bass throughout), the pair go on a wild road trip with scorched guitars and fuzzed up keyboards backed by basic tub-thumping in the finest Moe Tucker style.
Leave No Bridge Unburned opens with the exotic rhythms of Baby What’s Wrong with its lecherous sway, lashings of twang guitar and hint of Calexico and Calexico’s desert noir is brought to mind again with mariachi horns adorning the border smuggling tale of You Get Older. Tame As The Wild Ones opens with a Morricone flourish before creeping into doomed romanticism with McClelland and Doucet coming on like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. The big guns however are brought out for the rousing and quite amazing Downtown which has a thumping Bo Diddley beat and features an insanely fuzzed Farfisa organ, searing guitar breaks and a brilliantly infectious chorus. Sweet Disaster is a dreamlike swoon of a sci fi fantasy with McClelland coolly singing “Galileo was bluffing, it’s just a mess out here. There’s no compass to guide us through the flashes of violence and fear”
as the drums pound and guitars swirl and burst like fireworks. While there’s some breathing space offered by the subdued and very pretty Dear Irony which is like the Everley Brothers meets Santos and Johnny, they switch horses for the highlight of the album on the Neil Young inspired Fake Your Death (And I’ll Fake Mine). Starting with a simple acoustic guitar and close up voices the rhythm section burps into life and a growly electric guitar starts to muscle its way in. The song sways along, returning to the simple melody then bursting into guitar flourishes recalling classic Young epics such as Zuma. They wrap the album up with the zany eclecticism of The Walls Have Drunken Ears which careers around like a ball in a pinball machine lighting up Dylan circa 1966 and The Beatles around about the time of The White Album.
Overall leave No Bridge Unburned is a rousing and energetic listen and it should delight fans of the late Twilight Hotel and Blanche.
Since 1998, The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival in south east Ireland has attracted some of the finest names in the Americana canon; acts like Calexico, Giant Sand, Ryan Adams,Alejandro Escovedo, Mark Eitzel, Guy Clark, Chuck Prophet, Ray LaMontagne,Richmond Fontaine, John Murry and Rodney Crowell. Last year it won the Irish Best Small Live Music Festival while one of its main venues, Cleeres won the Best Live Music Venue in Leinster award.
This year’s festival is from 1st – 4th May and is jam packed with some spectacular acts. Calexico, , Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, The Barr Brothers and Sons Of Bill and a songwriting circle of Aiofe O’Donovan, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz are just some of the acts announced to play. Also on the bill are Ryan Boldt, head honcho of Canada’s Deep Dark Woods, ace new country singer-songwriter Cale Tyson, Glaswegian Daniel Meade and a rare Irish date for the acclaimed US songwriter Eef Barzelay. US band Daddy Long Legs will close the festival on the Monday night with their unique brand of primitive rock n roll. In addition there will be a number of free gigs around the town all weekend as part of the Kilkenny Roots heritage trail. By all accounts this is a fabulous weekend with the Guinness flowing throughout and a great opportunity to catch some stellar acts in intimate surroundings and while Blabber’n’Smoke can’t make it this year we’re booking up for 2016 as we write.
Tickets and general information can be found on the website http://www.kilkennyroots.com and apparently the box office, Rollercoaster Records is, we are reliably informed, not only the best record shop in Ireland but the happiest little record shop in the world!
Naim Amor is yet another of those European artists lured into the lair of Tucson to collaborate with members of Giant Sand and Calexico and who forgot to return. A French native, Amor was quickly assimilated into the local scene along with his then partner, Marianne Dissard, releasing albums as part of Amor Belhom Duo and ABBC, before going solo. Retaining a European sensibility on his own albums, often singing in French and often reaching into the world of La Variete, that particularly French version of pop music, Amor can come across as an Arizona equivalent of Stan Getz in his bossa nova days. He delivers sumptuous candy floss sounds that caress the ears of casual listeners but which reward those prepared to dive in for a longer look (and listen) with the cream of Tucson musicians and producers all grooving to this sunny Mediterranean sound. It’s significant that at times one imagines Amor’s music sound tracking films by Jacques Tati and even early Roger Vadim as he has a fine sideline in composing film scores and has released a series of instrumental albums for imaginary movies.
Hear The Walls, Amor’s latest offering, features for the most part Amor on guitars and vocals with Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund on upright base. Recorded straight to tape with some string overdubs added later it belies its simple conception as the warm sounds caress (that word again but there’s no other way to say it) and envelop the listener. Using a variety of guitars Amor sounds as if he’s sitting beside you gently plucking or strumming while his voice is a hushed and evocative Parisian come on, as French as a pack of Gitanes, a youthful Serge Gainsbourg. It’s a sonic delight and credit must go to Jim Waters who recorded the album and Jim Blackwood who mastered it. Amor says of the album “When you turn the music off, you can hear the walls-the sound of one specific place, it’s nude ambiance that makes it so unique. This album fits the moment and the place when you decide to finally turn the music on again…and listen”
and it’s true that this is essentially an ambient album that can transport the listener to another place. The opening song Live For It inhabits the same universe as Angelo Badalamenti’s music for Twin Peaks, a surrealistic netherworld where people swim in thick air never needing to surface for breath. Turn The Magic On is a sound map to late night silence, that space when the music stops and one reflects on what was heard, a familiar feeling for those caught in the endless embrace of listening, a favourite album conjuring up moments past, moments lost perhaps. Seulement Toi echoes these solitary moments with liquid guitar sounds that recall The Durutti Column’s cascades while Over the Miles throbs with a warm heartbeat. As Fast As The Tall Ships Go is a magnificent instrumental with Lund’s bass playing adding a tenebrous sonority beneath rippling guitars with the end result not too far from a Nick Drake recording. In The Blue Waters Of My Mind could be on the Popeye soundtrack, its watery immersion reflecting clear blue depths. Cherches Dans La Brume continues in this vein but No Way Back then moves into neurotic chamber pop territory, pizzicato strings amplifying the anxiety in the lyrics. The most cinematic piece here, Au Large de Tres Bras is a halting and sombre moment with the strings foremost but careful listening reveals some discordant guitar trickery in the background that adds to an overall sense of menace such as that conveyed in Polanski’s Repulsion. Some might find that far fetched but several late night listens here have evoked that response on each occasion. Au Rouge De Ton Baiser is late night France, seductive and mysterious, a Brassai monochrome set to music and the album ends with two more evocative instrumentals which demonstrate Amor’s two worlds, Learning America welcoming a new country while Cours La Rejoindre seems to wave farewell to the past.
As we said above this is sumptuous music to wallow in, a delight to listen to, a late night offering that will have you dreaming of Parisian spires, cobbled lanes and films from Marcel Carne and Jean Vigo. Enjoy.
Fans of Giant Sand and Calexico should need no introduction to French singer and cinema auteur, Marianne Dissard. Director of the Giant Sand flick Drunken Bees and Joey Burns’ femme fatale foil on The Ballad Of Cable Hogue Dissard moved to the States in her teens when her parents relocated eventually putting down roots in Tucson in 1985. Aside from her appearance on Calexico’s albums Joey Burns composed much of the music on her 2008 album L’Entredeux while L’Abandon was a reaction to the breakup of her marriage to Naim Amor, another continental import to the Tucson music scene. Both albums featured Dissard’s odd combination of French “chanson” and dusty Tucson Americana, odd indeed but a sound that reflected the European influences on the likes of Calexico with their Morricone inspired vistas and harked back to the kinship shared by Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg, two artists who knew the alchemy of putting a sensual female voice over an impressionistic musical canvas.
Dissard decided to return to Europe last year but not before she recorded this, the third in her “Tucson trilogy.” On this occasion she recruited Sergio Mendoza from Tucson’s Y La Orkestra to write the music while Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund adds to the mix. The result is perhaps her most successful album to date, luxurious in its sumptuousness, molasses of music poured over her provocative voice as she bridges the Atlantic with some twang here and Bal-mussette there. There’s an analogue buzzing noise right at the beginning before Dissard leads us into the beguiling Am Letzen, a dreamy drifting ballad with multitracked vocals and a muted Nick Cave feel about it. With lyrics in French and German the European feel is also reminiscent of the Prague influenced Walkabouts. The spell cast is broken with Mouton Bercail, a neon lit rain slicked highway ride with spangled guitar bursts that sounds as if it sprang from a Davis Lynch movie. Loosely translated as Sheep Pen, O level French denies this listener the opportunity to understand Dissard’s urgent vocals here but the translation reveals lyrics that fit the lurid underworld suggested by the music such as ” I’ve done so many motels and basements/I’ve wasted so much time/so many dumps and shitholes/drooled so much blood/done so many fucked up things/made so many promises.”
Pomme lightens the mood somewhat with it’s childlike chorus before Je Ne Savais Pas hoves into view with vituperative lyrics and Gothic drama which would give the late Nico a run for her money. On Torture Dissard updates Serge Gainsbourg’s misanthropy singing “a tunnel with no lights, no smells and I walk barefoot in the mud under vaults that hang down. On the ground, soiled bodies, and cockroaches on the walls and rats that copulate under the drops.” Keyboard, horns and mellotron add to the melodrama. Election soars somewhat with snarly guitar solos and at the end a snapshot of La Marsaillaise on wheezy accordion. Salamandre is Gallic in the extreme, ponderous piano and accordion painting a doomed portrait, a Piaf in existential despair, a glorious and wounded sound that recalls the photographs of Robert Doisneau who captured the dying embers of Parisian decadence. The Lost Generation would dig this, its sensuality and despair as thick as Gauloise smoke. A parting gift from Tucson and a return to European roots The Cat Not Me bridges the divide with a handsome heft of Tucson musicianship and Dissard’s heritage.
Over the past few years it seems that the tsunami of talent that appears at the Folk Alliance International gathering in Kansas eventually laps up on our shores as promoters and distributers sign deals to release albums and set up tours in old Blighty. The first wave of 2014 is Mississippi’s Bronwynne Brent with her second release Stardust and if any that follow are half as good then we’re in for a treat.
The cover art portrays Brent as a flower garlanded hippie songstress with an ever so slight resemblance to Joni Mitchell back in the days. However one listen to her voice and thoughts of Mitchell fly out the window as Brent has an earthiness that forever eluded Joni’s rarefied atmosphere. Instead Brent has that seemingly untutored and effortless way of singing that borders on the idiosyncratic with the weight of emotion on its shoulders. Immensely attractive and engaging Brent’s voice is in the tradition of singers like Billie Holiday, Karen Dalton, Melanie and Alela Diane while at times there’s even a hint of the late Amy Winehouse on the more up-tempo numbers here.
The beguiling vocals are the entree to the album’s pleasures but Brent proves to have a way with words as she sings of loss and despair for the most part. The songs portray abandoned women, betrayed, trying to find some comfort in their inner worlds but condemned to relive their tragedies in their memories. It’s not a happy album but happily Brent has embroidered her words with some exceptionally fine music which ranges from the glacial folk noire of Devil Again to the rustbucket blues of Bulletproof and the tombstone Mexicana of Lay Me Down. She’s ably assisted in this by producer Johnny Sangster’s guitar skills whether it be twangy reverb or country picking while the drumstool is occupied by the unmistakeable cool of Calexico’s John Convertino, reason enough some might think to pick up the album. Add to this the presence of anther Calexico cohort, Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel on several songs and the album’s pedigree is impeccable. Well recommended.