Glasgow Americana Festival opens today

ga-and-creative-scotland-logo-2018-webThe 12th Glasgow Americana Festival kicks off today as Bristol based Yola Carter brings her hi-energy mix of soul and country to Cottiers Theatre. Carter, winner of UK artist of the year and Song of the Year at the AMA UK awards is just the curtain raiser for a splendid roster of acts pouring into Glasgow over the next five days. Emily Barker, well known to many for her theme song for the BBC drama Wallander and for her spot in the opening ceremony at the London Olympics, will be showcasing her Memphis influenced soulful blues album Sweet Kind of Blue while Kimmie Rhodes, a true red dirt Texan legend is also coming along.

Nathan Bell, winner of the performer of the year award in 2017 by the influential website Americana UK returns to the city which he took by storm at Celtic Connections some 18 months ago and another singular performer, Anthony D’Amato is at the HIP place to be on the south side, The Glad Cafe. Also coming to the Glad Cafe are the UK “supergroup” Bennett Wilson Poole for their first Scottish appearance. This trio of seasoned and bloody brilliant musicians have dominated the UK roots Americana scene ever since their album came out earlier this year and this gig is definitely worthy of “bucket list” attention.

There’s plenty of home grown talent on show as Martha L Healy and Starry Skies both have album launch shows (with Healy’s show apparently sold out, sorry folks) while The Hellfire Club’s show at The Hug & Pint promises to be a hot and sweaty intimate shindig. And for an interesting mix of local and American acts there’s the ever popular Hazy Recollections revue which includes Woody Pines and Adriana Spina on the bill which this year is being hosted by Glasgow’s answer to Whispering Bob Harris, our very own Mike Ritchie.  In addition to the main acts there are some great supports adding to the experience and the whole line up can be found here.

Check the links above for Blabber’n’Smoke’s thoughts on some of the acts and see some video evidence of the avalanche of talent coming this week. Get thee down there.

 

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Roseanne Reid gears up for her debut album release

rr copyThere’s a fair chance that if you’re a regular attendant at shows in the central belt then you’ve probably already encountered Roseanne Reid. The Leith born singer/songwriter has rapidly established herself as a rising star in the Scots folk/roots firmament to the extent that she seems to be the person to go to to add some local colour when major artists are hitting town. Now she’s ready to really step out on her own, a debut album on the cards with a plan to run a Kickstarter campaign over the month of October in order to fund the recording.

Reid has certainly captured the imagination of the audiences and local media with The Scotsman describing her thus, “Her singing and song craft displays a talent and maturity awesomely beyond her years” while she also has the cachet of being admired by none other than Steve Earle who has said she is, “An outstanding song writer.” Certainly one listen to her excellent song,  I Love Her So, proves that Earle is right on the button as Reid, sounding far older than her years, jerks at the heartstrings  with the song coming across as if it could be a deep cut from Lucinda Williams.

Poised to press the button to launch her Kickstarter campaign,  Ms. Reid was kind enough to take some time out to talk with Blabber’n’Smoke and we started by asking her about her background.

I was born in Leith but I live in Dundee right now. I guess I really started to get interested in music when I saw Martha Wainwright in concert when I was only 12. Rufus was actually the headliner but when I heard Martha it changed a lot of things for me and I really started to listen to things after that. But it was a couple of years later when I discovered Steve Earle for the first time. My brother had the Copperhead Road album and I think I was about 15 or 16 when I first listened to it. After that it was just a natural progression from Steve to Townes Van Zandt who was kind of like Steve’s mentor and that just led me onto a lot of other artists.

Going to a concert aged 12 seems like an awful early start but then you come from a musical family. It’s not something that you talk about but I’ve read in one interview you did a while ago that your dad is Craig Reid of The Proclaimers.

Well it’s not a secret and if anyone asks then I’m happy to talk about it. I did keep it quiet for a time and it’s only recently that people have begun to comment on it.

So when did you start wring and playing your own songs?

After seeing Martha I wanted to play guitar so I got one and my mum taught me a few chords and things and then I started writing some songs a year or so later. I can’t remember any of them, I haven’t kept anything from that time. I’d say I started to get a bit more serious about it when I was around 17.  I played at things like school assemblies and that but when I turned 18 I started to play in bars and folk clubs. Leith Folk Club were really good to me giving me my first support slot and it really just kicked off from there. They were the first to really support me as an artist and it gave me the confidence to move further afield and I started doing open mic nights in Glasgow in places like Nice’n’Sleazy. They had a really good open mic night and it was a great opportunity to improve your song writing and performance. Open mic nights aren’t easy, they can be really hard gigs to do, to capture the audience’s attention but they’re great places to cut your teeth and it’s an opportunity to meet more established acts and to make connections.

Talking of connections you seem to have established a good relationship with our local promoters, The Fallen Angels Club, I think most of the shows I’ve seen you play at were promoted by them.

Kevin Morris runs that and I actually got in touch with Kevin via email at first. I was wanting to get into a more Americana folk-based thing and when I looked that up on Google Kevin’s Glasgow Americana Festival was the first name to come up so I got in contact with him just saying I was looking for opportunities to play and Kevin was good enough to get back and offer me some slots. He’s been really brilliant for me and the shows I’ve played for The Fallen Angels have been with really quality acts. It’s been a great experience and I’m really looking forward to playing a couple of shows at the Glasgow Americana Festival next week.

You were nominated for a Radio Two young Folk Artist Award.

That was in 2015. My mum had heard about the awards when listening to the radio and she suggested I go for it. So I sent in a couple of demos and I was lucky enough to be selected by them to go down south  for a Young Folk weekend and then four acts from that were officially nominated and I was one of them.  It was a great experience, I played a live slot on Radio Two and it stood me in very good stead for making more contacts and getting my name spread around.

The year before that you attended Steve Earle’s Camp Copperhead, the song writing workshop he holds in the Catskills.

That was the first year it ran and I was really keen to go as I’m a huge fan. It was actually my 21st birthday present from all my family to send me off to it. It was brilliant, just the opportunity to spend a few days being able to listen to him talk about his songs and song writing. There were about 120 campers that first year and I sang one of my songs there and he must have seen something in it as in the years since I’ve been able to get scholarships to go back and help out so I’ve been to them all. It’s quite intensive over five days, you’re getting up early, he gives a two hour lecture every morning and in the afternoon it’s workshops looking at various things, poetry, guitar playing, writing and then there’s an open mic every night. We’ve had guest lecturers in like Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams.  And again I’ve been very lucky and Steve’s been really supportive helping me out with the scholarships so I can go back and assist with people attending for the first time. He wants me to learn, I know that for sure, so that’s been the deal for the last three years.

So when did you start to record.

After the Folk Awards I recorded an EP called Right On Time. I had quite a few songs together by then but I didn’t feel it was the right time for an album so I thought that releasing four songs was just about right. Happily, the CD run has sold out, I’ve only got one copy left but it’s still available as a download on Bandcamp.

So now you’re ready to record an album.

Well, I’ve kind of held off until now for a variety of reasons, working different jobs, various things happening in my life. There was no way I was ready to do this before now if I’m being honest but recently everything’s taken a turn for the better with me and now I’m really looking forward to it.

Teddy Thompson has offered to produce it and hopefully, if I can raise the money I’ll head over to New York to record it with him. I still wasn’t sure if it was the right time to do this but I’ve spoken to folk about it, asking for advice and Ross Wilson (of Blue Rose Code) said, “Well, it’s the album you’ve been writing your whole life and if you feel that Teddy’s the right guy for you then go for it.” I mean I’ve been writing these songs for the past ten years and they’re all sitting there ready to go.

Your EP is just you and a guitar. Will the album be more fleshed out with regard to instrumentation?

It’s going to be quite low key, maybe a bass player, some pedal steel and a few harmonies, quite basic, I just want a bit of a backbone to support me and the guitar.

And how do you describe your music?

The great thing about the Americana tag is that it’s quite a wide umbrella so I usually go with Americana Folk, I’m not purely folk, not wholly Americana, it’s about a 50/50 thing.

Who are you listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Sam Cooke as I want to try and get a more soulful element into my voice but my current favourite is definitely Blue Rose Code. Their new album is going to be phenomenal.

October looks to be a busy month for Ms. Reid as she launches her Kickstarter project while she appears at two shows in this year’s Glasgow Americana Festival in addition to her usual schedule of live gigs. The Kickstarter goes live at 6pm on Sunday 1st October and there will be incentives for those who sign up while she promises some surprise news regarding the project sometime next week.

Kickstarter page

Picture courtesy of Carol Clugston

 

 

 

 

 

James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band + Steve Grozier. The Griffin, Glasgow. Friday 11th August

Almost three years on from their debut album, The Tower, James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band are poised to release its successor, High Fences. The Tower  made Blabber’n’Smoke’s end of year best of list back in 2015 so we were quite excited to get a taste of some of the new material at this show which was held to celebrate the release of the first single from the album, Passing San Ysidro.

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This was the first time I’d had the opportunity to see the band live and they put on a very impressive show honed by several appearances on the festival circuit over the past few months. They opened with a couple of songs from the first album with the peaceful easy refrains of Maslow up first, its mild folk rock feel at the beginning picking up some pace and power towards the end as Edwyn and Emma Joyce harmonised well on the catchy chorus. There was a similar dynamic to the second song, I Figure Son, initially a plaintive deathbed piece of advice to an offspring until a middle eight which then grew into a frenzied piece of rock’n’roll with swirling organ. Several other songs from their debut were dotted throughout the night with Across The Wooden Door a fine example of a slow country shuffle which has a touch of Ryan Adams about it. Again, Joyce was excellent in her harmonising while Scott Keenan’s stately keyboards added a touch of faded grandeur.  The Last Waltz (not the Humperdinck song!) was another fine wallow in country sadness but the effervescent On Meeting The Man In The Suit which came towards the end of the set was a thrilling update of skiffle with Edwyn showing off his acoustic guitar skills.

There were a couple of new songs, some of which might be on the new album, with Try Not To Think Of Now a fine rumble of a song with a throbbing bass line and grand organ sweeps and overall reminiscent of Jesse Malin. Get back Off tilted and swayed in a manner which recalled The Band with some Southern soul swept in for good measure. In addition, they broke a general rule not to do cover versions to offer up an excellent Midnight Special which was dedicated to Edwyn’s father who was in the audience.

Of course, the evening was there to salute the first single from High Fences which is Passing San Ysidro and which was delivered as the second last song of the night. It’s a powerful slice of what we used to call country rock with Ronnie Gilmour’s electric guitar chiming away over jangled acoustic guitar and a propulsive beat with the piano adding an E Street feel to it. Edwyn strode above the stirring music with a powerful vocal including an impassioned semi spoken interlude. It’s a great song and it bodes well for the album.

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Support on the night was provided by Steve Grozier who unfortunately had to battle against the somewhat noisy comings and goings at the back of the room as people were still arriving as he played. Nevertheless, he persevered offering songs from his first EP and his forthcoming one with Where The Roses Grow particularly engaging but it was his tribute to Jason Molina which really stood out.

Passing San Ysidro is available on itunes and you can preorder the new album here  and as part of Glasgow Americana there is an album release show at The Hug & Pint on 6th October.

Not to be outdone Steve Grozier celebrates the release of his second EP, A Place We Called Home, again at The Hug & Pint, on 1st September.

 

 

Rising star Courtney Marie Andrews Discusses Melancholia and “The Crying Machine”

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When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Courtney Marie Andrews at the tail end of last year we were awaiting the release of her album Honest Life with the promise of a tour to follow. Four months later and Ms. Andrews is the talk of the town. The album’s been a great success, reaching the number one slot in the Official Americana charts and her performances on her tour with The Handsome Family received critical acclaim. A measure of her success is that she was back in London for a two day stop last week to perform on the BBC’s Later…with Jools Holland, quite a coup for an artist on an independent label given that this show is just about the only televised music show on the Beeb these days.

The day after she recorded her appearance Courtney was gracious enough to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke during a brief coffee break before she set out to perform a short set at Rough Trade West later that afternoon.

 

First off, we should say congratulations to you. The album’s taken off, the tour was a success and finally you get to appear on prime time TV.

Thanks. It’s just been great. I really enjoyed touring with The Handsome Family and loved meeting so many people and then getting on to the show last night was brilliant. They only showed one song last night but we recorded two with Jools playing piano on the second one.

And you were accompanied by BJ Cole on pedal steel, a man who many folk would call a legend.

Yes, he was tremendous. Did you know that he played on Tiny Dancer?

He’s been on so many great records but that’s a great one. I love that scene in Almost Famous when they sing along to it on their tour bus.

Yeah, that’s a classic film.

It’s funny that you mention Tiny Dancer because Bernie Taupin apparently wrote that about his and Elton John’s experiences in California in 1971 and many folk have mentioned how your music reminds them of that time. Just yesterday I saw that you were asked by Albumism to pick a favourite album and you chose The Band’s The Last Waltz. You explain your choice there but I was going to ask you why this period of music talks to you.

Well, although I love classic country songs and singers my influences are mainly in that early seventies sound. The Band took stuff like the blues and old time music and Levon Helm influenced the other guys to write those country type songs. I really think that they were the first “alt country” or Americana band as they were doing this even before Gram Parsons when they sat down and did The Basement Tapes.  And the guys I play with in the band, we all kind of come from that rootsy background that comes across on their records so The Band resonate with me a lot.

Looking back over the past three months it seems you’ve been incredibly busy but you had the time to record a song with Will Oldham, a cover of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Is To Be Free.

There’s a project called Our First 100 Days and I wanted to do something with them. I’ve always loved that song and I wanted to do it as a duet and I really like Will Oldham so we called him and he agreed to do it! So the band and I recorded the song and then sent it over to Will and he did his vocals.

So you weren’t together in the studio? I thought that maybe you would have jumped into your old tour bus and searched him out.

That would have been great but we’re too far away from each other for that.

I’m only kidding. I saw the van in the video for Put The Fire Out and it looks really funky but not altogether roadworthy.   Do you really go on the road in that?

Yes, sometimes we do.

Well you need to fix the license plate at the front, it’s falling off

I know, it’s still like that.

In that song, Put The Fire Out you sing that it’s time to let down your hair and have a good time so has this year been fun?

Yes, I’ve been having a lot of fun. It’s been hard work but I’ve been feeling good about it. I’ve been so busy since the beginning of January but when I fly home I have two weeks off.

Some of Honest Life was written in the aftermath of a break up and the album has a somewhat melancholic air about it. In the wake of what’s happened since can we expect the next record to be a happier affair?

I think people will be surprised when the next album comes out, I’ve been writing for it a lot.  I think that I inherently have that melancholia in me regardless but I’m not afraid to explore other emotions. I think it’s important as a songwriter to really go with your feelings and not to stick with just one hyper sad song. Bob Dylan’s written about a wealth of emotions and I really respect it when people can do that so I never put that type of barrier on myself. I hope I can write songs that are not so melancholic but which are still great. I think that if I were to write Honest Life over and over again people would get quite tired of that so it’s important to kind of push yourself.

I was looking at your tour schedule and it looks pretty daunting. Tours of Canada, Australia and New Zealand before you come back to the UK in August and then zoom around Europe.

Well I’ve got a bit of time before I head out again and that will be time to write for the next album but after that I’ll be on tour until the end of the year. I’m really excited to get back to the UK and let folk hear the full band sound and we’re playing again in Glasgow at a place called The Hug & Pint.

Well everyone I know who saw you earlier this year is going to that although it’s such a small venue that once you and the band are on stage there might not be room for the audience. We’re looking forward to the full band experience although your show with Bryan Daste on pedal steel was wonderful. A  Blabber’n’Smoke acquaintance who also plays pedal steel was quite impressed with him and they’re now Facebook buddies.

Yeah, everybody loves the pedal steel and that’s kind of how the pedal steel world works. They have their own little forum where they talk to each other.

One of your label mates on Loose Music, Danny Champ, calls the pedal steel the ironing board of love.

That’s great. I’ve heard so many great terms for it but I call it the crying machine.

And with that we left Courtney to enjoy her coffee before heading off to do her instore show at Rough Trade. You can read a short review of her performance over at Americana UK. In the meantime I’d recommend that if you want to see her later this year to grab your tickets now as it’s unlikely she’ll be performing in such intimate venues again.

Website

Tour dates

Update: 24/4/17. Due to a huge demand Courtney’s Glasgow show has been moved to a larger venue and she is now appearing at st. Lukes.

 

 

 

 

 

Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio @ The Fallen Angels Club. Stereo, Glasgow, Friday 7th April

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Tonight was a welcome (and much overdue) return to Glasgow from Texan Alejandro Escovedo who is touring on the back of his acclaimed (and much overdue) album Burn Something Beautiful, his first in five years. A fascinating character and one who might conceivably be worthy of the accolade “legend” Escovedo straddles the worlds of punk, Americana, Latin and Mexicana music. His first band, the Nuns, were the support band in San Francisco for the final Sex Pistols gig and with Rank and File and True Believers he was a prime mover in the rootsy alt country scene of the eighties. Solo albums commencing with Gravity (in 1992) were critically acclaimed with No Depression magazine declaring Escovedo “Artist of the Decade” at the end of the nineties. A struggle with hepatitis in the new century threw a spanner into the works but with the assistance of some earnest fundraising from his musical community and beyond he returned to recording and live appearances. He has collaborated with numerous artists familiar to these pages including Chuck Prophet, Peter Buck, Carrie Rodriguez and for this tour Sacri Cuori’s Antonio Gramentieri.

So it can be reasonably argued that the packed crowd tonight were expectant, memories of previous shows in King Tuts and the Arches bandied about, expectations high and for the most part they were not disappointed. Escovedo, now in his mid sixties but as dapper as ever threw us a show that was high on energy; primal slabs of rock’n’roll with chest clenching bass notes rumbling away this was the Escovedo who briefly appeared on the bar band grooves of his 1997 side project Buick Mackane where he explored his inner Iggy Pop. The opener Can’t make Me Run was a slow burning inner city groove with guitar squalls and a squalid sax solo with the closing refrain of “Don’t give up on love”  overwhelmed by a cacophonous sax introduction into the raw rock riff of Shave The Cat which welled into a ferocious wall of noise, visceral and pummelling. Taking no prisoners they then slammed into Beauty of Your Smile quickly followed by an old favourite, Castanets, a mutant child of Chuck Berry with some glorious guitar riffing from Gramentieri.

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Time for a breather and as Escovedo strapped on his acoustic he said hello and offered some observations on Austin over the years which led (naturally) into a song he co wrote with Chuck Prophet, Bottom Of the World, with the versatile band turning down from 11 on the amps to deliver some sweet sounds. Sensitive Boys, which followed, was a slice of autobiography and a touching tribute to fellow musicians, some now fallen by the wayside. Sally Was A Cop opened with some inventive percussion as it sparkled into sight, the dramatic lyrics woefully resonant of our times before the slam-dunk guitar onslaught of Horizontal followed.

Curfew time approached but this was cast to the wind as Escovedo paid tribute to his backing band (which he had only met the day before the tour), his encounters with Bruce Springsteen (and the scary Little Steven) and of his friendship with tonight’s promoter, Kevin Morris, whose wedding Escovedo attended in Austin a few years back. The encores commenced with the panther like prowl of Everbody Loves Me before he discarded his guitar for a dub like version of Leonard Cohens’ A Thousand Kissed Deep followed by Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. With the band departed he then played a request, I Wish I Was Your Mother, reminding us that he’s as capable of pulling the heartstrings  as pummelling us into submission. A satisfying end to a very satisfying night.

As good as Escovedo was several in the audience were equally excited to see Don Antonio, AKA Antonio Gramentieri of Sacri Cuori unveil his new album which was released today. A wizard on guitar Gramentieri is also a master of texture and style, a rock’n’roll Morricone who grafts American music and cinematic Italian pop and rock creating a fairly unique sonic experience. As American culture conquered the West in the latter half of the last century, various nations devised their own versions with Italy being perhaps the most noteworthy especially in the sixties and early seventies when Italian cool was as hip as Hollywood cool and resonated worldwide for a while before the world moved on. Gramentieri plugs into this vibe with his music populated with dashes of Morricone and Rota along with a slew of Italian pop composers including artists such as Riz Ortolani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Umiliani, composer of the song forever associated with the Muppets, Mah Na Mah Na.

As Don Antonio,  Gramentieri was accompanied by Denis Valentini on bass (and sublime whistling), Franz Valtieri on saxophone and keyboards and Matteo Monti on drums and percussion. The quartet were later to prove more than ample as a shit kicking roots rock band as they laid down the law with Escovedo but for their own set they roamed across a fine palette of musical colours and textures, the percussion and keyboards especially inventive and intriguing. From John Barry like spy riffs to Morricone soundscapes and mondo Hollywood twist extravaganzas they were just jaw droppingly good. In between songs and tunes Don Antonio took us on a tour of what he called Italiana (“not Americana” he insisted). Explaining that as he grew up he and his peers all wanted to be Americans but finally decided that their tongues were more suited to delivering their own Adriatic version of the fabled land. The show was a through a kaleidoscopic sonic tour of his Italy and he was witty as he acknowledged that songs by the likes of The Scorpions and Simple Minds were not going to cut in the Romagna rock’n’roll circuit.

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They opened with the tingling Lontana, an immediate leap into Cinecitta sounds with sinister vocals, whistling and prowling sax as Don Antonio summoned up some dreamscape guitar. Coffee can percussion and amplified slaps on the sax led into a throbbing, almost psychedelic instrumental with shards of guitar splintering throughout which eventually morphed into a Dick Dale like groove with Valtieri allowed full rein on a shrieking sax solo. Sunset, Adriatico was a glorious swoon of a tune which recalled Brian Eno’s vision of astronauts listening to alien country music in space. We were brought back to earth with a bump de bump on the thrilling Baballo, a parped sax fuelled dance frenzy, a mutant variation of the twist which owed as much to Alan Vega as it did to Tin Pan Alley.

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An all too short set but a thrilling glimpse into the many-mirrored worlds of Don Antonio and his excellent band and judging by the audience’s reaction one opening set you really don’t want to miss.

 

 

 

 

Adriana Spina. Let Out The Dark. Ragged Road Records

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It’s hard to believe that it was back in 2005 when Blabber’n’Smoke first heard Adriana Spina when her debut EP, A Thousand Lives was released. Since then the Scots singer/songwriter has been on the road gradually working her way up the ladder to the point where she has landed prestigious support slots for the likes of Joan Armatrading, Eddi Reader, Dar Williams and Sheryl Crow. On the recording front, she released her debut album in 2011 and now, after a successful crowd funding campaign, she unveils its follow-up, the highly accomplished Let Out The Dark with its lead single, Sparkle named as a single of the week by Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth.

Spina sits comfortably within the sphere of artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, her songs are modern folk tales set within arrangements that can be subtle or rock out with some finesse as on the radio friendly Disappear which appears towards the end of Let Out the Dark. With its surging guitars and Spina’s dynamic voice which manages the twists and turns of the song excellently it’s perfect for spinning on the road on a sunlit day. Hear It From You is another rocker that just fails to capture the heights of Disappear but it belts along with some vigour while there’s an REM glimmer to the guitars on Spina’s ode to refugees on See Another Day. There’s a similar brooding guitar delivery on the love gone cold tale of The Same Drum, a song that matches the best of many of her US contemporaries.

There are more introspective moments and the album opens with perhaps the best one, the slow toll beat of Home with Spina pondering on a relationship that’s perhaps damaged beyond repair. Her voice here is a delight, multitracked to provide her own harmonies while the band (Stuart MacLeod and Ross McFarlane) with Spina on acoustic guitar spin a delicate web that recalls some of Richard Thompson’s darker work reminding one of the album Shoot Out The Lights. Two Steps has a cold Northern feel to the music which is amplified by some of the images in the lyrics with Spina again reflecting on love lost and while one might initially think that Don’t Recognise Me, a delightfully simple rendition with only Spina and her guitar on show, is yet another ode to lost love the lyrics seem to allude to childhood and adolescent years with a family member.

Sparkle is a miniature gem, a Christmas song of sorts but one that finds Spina forlorn as the strains of Band Aid on the radio signal another year over and she ponders on whether she should surrender to the myths and jollity of the season. Throughout the album there’s a thread of abandonment and the closing song Where You Are  is a bare boned bedsit wallow with Spina turning the blame for a failed romance on herself as she echoes early Joni Mitchell in some of her phrasing. A lovely end to a very fine album.

To celebrate the release of the album Adriana Spina has a launch party at Glasgow’s The Flying Duck on March 24th before embarking on a brief tour around the UK. All dates here.

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Norrie McCulloch. Bare Along The Branches. Black Dust Records

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This third album in as many years from Ayrshire bred songwriter Norrie McCulloch confirms what Blabber’n’Smoke has maintained since we first heard his debut, Old Lovers Junkyard, that he is one of Scotland’s (and the UK’s) premier artists. Over the course of his three albums McCulloch, along with his superb studio band (Dave McGowan of Teenage Fanclub / Belle & Sebastian and Stuart Kidd and Marco Rea from The Wellgreen) has gathered from a well of inspirations (artists such as Townes Van Zandt, Jay Farrar, Fairport Convention, Van Morrison and John Martyn). By some alchemical process he has transformed them into his own noble spirit with songs that inhabit the past and celebrate the here and now, his attractive and slightly wearied voice with its mild Celtic burr anchoring him to his homeland whilst the music traverses oceans and genres.

Bare Along The Branches finds McCulloch continuing to peer into his roots and influences but with a new found confidence that is reflected in the more diverse instrumentation on show here. There’s an expansive edge to some of the songs with electric guitar and organ added to the trail mix that was on show on These Mountain Blues. Thus enabled McCulloch is able to capture for example the sheer joy of vintage Van Morrison Caledonia Soul escapades on songs such as Shutter with its repetitive refrain which is pure Morrison soulful scatting. The song itself concerns a tryst gone wrong in a lonesome cabin, a wonderful concatenation of images and sound with piano and organ fuelling the sheer exuberance of McCulloch’s lyrics. There’s more soul on the plaintive Lonely Boy with electric keyboards and Chi-Lites harmonies harnessing the song to seventies Top of The Pops memories of smooth harmony groups dressed in silk while Little Boat chugs along with some meaty guitar plunges and churchlike organ on another song that is reminiscent of Van Morrison.

While this affiliation to a hybrid Celtic soul music dominates the first half of the album McCulloch proves he can deliver ballads in the Americana vein with Safe Keeping and Frozen River evidence of his admiration for Jay Farrar, the former a halting  dust blown rust belt eulogy while the latter skips along almost approaching bluegrass. Never Leave You Behind meanwhile is a full blown dive into country rock with some fine lap steel playing from McGowan and McCulloch revisits the dusty troubadour persona of his previous albums on the tremendous Around The Bend. This is a glorious ballad in a Neil Young mode with banjo, harmonica and lonesome pedal steel combining to create a frontier feel while McCulloch’s lyrics are a form of old Western Zen acceptance. The album closes with the lengthy Beggars Wood, a stark meditation on a childhood fable that has followed the artist into adulthood and is only exorcised when he revisits the scene. As it progresses the song blossoms from skeletal guitar and voice into a soaring guitar solo that avoids bombast as it stutters to the end, the song proof indeed that McCulloch continues to explore new avenues for his muse. Three albums in and not one clunker, McCulloch has the talent to enter the mainstream if he gets the breaks so grab a hold of this and let everyone else know about it.

Norrie McCulloch has arranged several shows to launch Bare Along The Branches starting with The Tollbooth in Stirling on 23rd February. Next up is Glasgow’s State Bar on the 24th and then Edinburgh’s Bluebird Cafe on the 25th.

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