Carrie Elkin. The Penny Collector.

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Carrie Elkin’s first solo album since 2011’s Call It My Garden is as diametrically opposed to its predecessor as one could possibly imagine. While Call It My Garden was full of chuckles and the sheer joy of playing The Penny Collector is a sometimes sombre affair. Written within a tumultuous year that encompassed the joyful delivery of her first child and the sorrowful passing of her father Elkin has delivered a meditative collection of songs with a wonderful production from Neilson Hubbard. Paying tribute to her father on several songs along with ruminations and memories, pain and loss and joy intermingled, the album gives full rein to Elkin’s glorious voice while red dirt Austin country gives way at times to an almost chamber folk sound filled with cello, violin and viola. The arrangements throughout are excellent as are the players. Producer Hubbard wields drums and percussion to great effect while Will Kimbrough on guitar is at times spectacular. There’s a heady mix of yearning ballads (at times reminiscent of Emmylou Harris’ best work), evocative American vistas and in the midst of these some sparkling, invigorating and punchy rock.

The album opens with the impressionistic Americana of New Mexico as a plaintive acoustic guitar is enhanced by Kimbrough’s atmospheric sunset squalls, the stage set for Elkins to embark on her voyage from birth to death as she sings, “I can feel the heart beat in everything around me,” her voice echoed by the harmony vocals of her husband Danny Schimdt. There’s a circle of sorts as Elkin closes the album with a similar sonic feel on the crepuscular Lamp Of The Body , the guitars again ethereal and the voices almost hymnal. In between Elkin revisits her youth on the excellent Tilt-A-Whirl which tilts indeed between quiet passages with Elkin recollecting the past and a defiant chorus suffused with the joy of youth. Live Wire is a tale of teenage rebellion with “daddy’s little girl” running off only to find it’s a wicked world and running back home. With an urgent pulse as the song progresses the band capture perfectly the restlessness and confusion of adolescence, the drums propelling the song, lyrical guitars slowing the flow mid song. My Brother Said rings with more confusion amidst an angry beat that is sweetened by a tremendous confection of keyboards and mandolin before a ferocious fuzz fuelled guitar erupts towards the end.

Elkin address directly the grim reaper on the sweeping ballad of And Then The Birds Came,  a song suffused with imagery that captures the emotions of bereavement, a moment of loss but also leaving space for those defiant saviours, memory and hope. It’s a sense that’s carried into the next song, Crying Out, which finds Elkin surveying her situation, hanging on to the blessings in her life, a man to hold, a baby on its way but still able to express her grief safely ensconced in her family.

The Penny Collector is an album of beauty. Wonderfully arranged and played, the songs nuanced, a mature reflection on the mortal coil. The album title came about as Elkin’s father was a coin collector and on his passing the family found his hoard of 600,000 pennies, all lovingly collected and preserved. As she says in the liner notes, “My dad had a way of finding value and delight in the tiny things that other people might walk past,” and Ms. Elkin has immortalised him with this excellent album.

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Glasgow Americana Festival 2015 : 7th to 11th October.

This week sees the ninth annual Glasgow Americana Festival and as always it’s an excellent opportunity to see and hear some top notch acts in an intimate setting far removed from the arenas and concert halls that often act as a barrier between audience and artist.

Festival director Kevin Morris will be no stranger to readers here as he is responsible for The Fallen Angels Club who promote shows throughout the year, his keen ear responsible for bringing the likes of Sturgill Simpson to Glasgow well before his star was in the ascendancy. The past week’s been a bit of a blizzard of last minute preparations for Kevin but he was kind enough to take some time to speak to Blabber’n’Smoke. We started by recalling the first festival back in 2007 which Kevin organised as a tribute to Billy Kelly, a key player in the local and national scene going back to the days of Mayfest and who was responsible for Big Big Country, Glasgow’s first Americana festival. Mary Gauthier appeared that year and was recorded in The Herald describing Kelly as “an angel,” his patronage among the significant stepping stones on a career that has taken her to Nashville as a major label recording artist.

Kevin: The Glasgow music scene sadly lost Billy in 2007 and he has been hard to replace ever since. Glasgow Americana has tried to fill the gap that was left after Billy’s sudden passing, and hopefully Billy is looking down us with an approving look at what we have achieved since we started in 2007. We always have a wish list year on year and go about trying to make it happen, we are lucky to have these amazing artists making the festival as part of their tours. We already have some ideas for both 2016 and 2017, so we will see what develops, but probably best to get the 2015 festival out the way first.

KM

Over the nine years there have been numerous artists performing but we wondered if there were any particular moments that stood out for Kevin

There have been loads and that it is a very good and a tricky question, I suppose one that does stand out was Alejandro Escovedo at The Arches in 2011. Also our Americana Saturday in 2012, we had Sam Baker playing the matinee show in The CCA and then Eliza Gilkyson play the evening show that year, that was a very special day indeed.

Kevin and his team are well known for their hospitality for the acts he puts on with many returning time and time again and who regard Kevin as a friend and not just the promoter. He told us a little bit about a special occasion for him earlier this year.

I have been very lucky with the people I have met through putting on shows, and have made so many friends from across the pond. Myself and my wife Lauren got married in Austin, Texas in June of this year. While we were there we met up with some musician friends that have played for us over the years, including Sam Baker, Eliza Gilkyson and Chip Dolan. On our wedding day we were very fortunate enough to have Alejandro Escovedo as a witness at our wedding ceremony over looking Barton Springs. Not your average day for a wee boy from Bothwell.

With that Kevin was back attending to business for what will be a busy week for him. The Festival kicks off on Wednesday 7th October with Bruce Cockburn playing at St. Andrews in the Square while Tom Russell plays the same venue on Friday 9th. Other venues are The Glad Cafe which has Danny Schmidt and Betty Soo on a matinee show on 10th October and Lewis & Leigh and Curtis McMurtry (son of James) that same evening while The CCA has Kathryn Williams and Michele Stodart (The Magic Numbers) on Thursday 8th October and a matinee show from Sam Lewis and Krista Detor on the11th.
The festival ends with Findlay Napier’s Hazy Recollections, his peripatetic event that showcases several acts and is hosted by Napier himself, the man responsible for one of the finest Scottish albums this year in his disc Very Important Persons. His VIPs for the night will be Sam Lewis, Dark Green Tree and Kera Impala and it’s shaping up to be a very interesting evening.

We’ll leave the final words to Kevin as we tried to get him to spill the beans on whether he had any particular artist or group who would be his ultimate Glasgow Americana catch, his “bucket list” as such. Kevin pondered on this before replying… Yes, but I’m not telling you anything else about that.

Full line ups and dates are here http://www.glasgowamericana.com/

Reviews of the latest albums from some of the acts are here
Sam Lewis
Lewis & Leigh
Tom Russell
Findlay Napier
Dark Green Tree

And finally here’s a clip of Sturgill Simpson closing last year’s Glasgow Americana Festival.

Danny Schmidt. Man of Many Moons.

Another album from Red House Records who are building up an impressive artist roster, Danny Schmidt is another Austin based songwriter who is touring the UK later this month. With fellow label artist Carrie Elkin and Raina Rose assisting on harmony vocals this is a fine, laid back acoustic stroll. Aided and abetted on occasion by Will sexton on bass and guitar, Ray Bonneville on harmonica and Keith Gary on piano the overall feel is limpid and relaxed with Schmidt’s vocals soothing in the main. For a writer who has penned ten of the eleven songs on show it might be considered disheartening for one to latch on to the only cover, a version of Dylan’s Buckets Of Rain initially. However it has to be said that this reading is sublime indeed. The weary delivery with some fine acoustic guitar interplay and a warm and sympathetic bass sets this up as one of the best Dylan covers I’ve heard, simply superb.
While Schmidt describes the album as a struggle “around the process of making peace with Commitment” (see his webpage for his detailed notes on the album and the lyrics) and speaks of the moon as a metaphor, always changing but always there, the listener can simply wallow in some fine meditations such as Guilty By Association Blues which starts out like a talking blues before going into a fantasy about capitalism (I think) and Almost Round The World which actually talks about the confusion raised by the previous song. When its references to parrots and pigs were taken up wrongly by animal rights activists he describes the effect this had on him and his family. Both are delivered in a mellifluous manner and invite repeated listening.
Overall this is an album that can induce a sense of calm, an opportunity to listen to some lyrics that merit some thought. The sprightly Ragtime Ragtime Blues slightly upsets the mood but other than that its a fine listen.
Schmidt plays in the UK at the end of June and the beginning of July including a date in Glasgow at Lauries Acoustic Music Bar on 5th July. I bet there won’t be a queue outside so go along and wallow in his moonshine.Other dates on his webpage

Almost Around The World