Blabber’n’Smoke Signals : Guy Littell, Keegan McInroe, Rebecca Loebe & Findlay Napier

Guy Littell. One Of Those Fine Days

one-of-those-fine-daysWe first encountered Italian Guy Littell back on 2014 with his laid back release, Whipping The Devil Back. One Of Those Fine Days is a thrashier affair with more guitars (including a guest slot from Kevin Salem) than its predecessor giving the album a ragged jangled sound, at times recalling Rich Hopkins’ work. Littell’s fragile voice sometimes strains over the music but on songs such as his teenage reverie, New Records & Clothes, No More Nights and Song From A Dream (which features some fine guitar rumbles) he’s well able to put over his version of American rock informed by the likes of Steve Wynn and Neil Young. A couple of stripped back numbers recall the starker moments in Whipping The Devil with Better For Me a fine lonesome love song.  Don’t Hide starts with just Littell and his acoustic guitar before the band chug in briefly then depart leaving Littell and guitar alone again. It’s a grand song with some of Neil Young’s early poignancy in its veins. Meanwhile, Kevin Salem adds some very sweet guitar to the closing song, Old Soul. Website

Keegan McInroe A Good Old Fashioned Protest

a3328870291_16Texan Keegan McInroe has had enough and he lets us know on his aptly titled album with nine songs delivered the way Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and even Bob Dylan used to do it. Talking blues, gritty political protest and even some humour rub shoulders here as McInroe takes the world to task. He goes us back to the trenches of 1914 with a splendid narrative on the famous Christmas truce on Christmas 1914 while Bombing For Peace points out its evident contradiction with as much fervour and profanity as The Fugs, indeed the spoken word Nietzsche Wore Boots could have been ranted by Ed Sanders back in the days. Big Old River casts a cold eye on the current state of affairs accompanied by a gritty and gloomy organ groove and, presumably with a view to irony, McInroe uses a Kristofferson melody to cast his story of a young Egyptian radicalised on The Ballad Of Timmy Johnson’s Living Brother as a Western ballad.  The opening Talking Talking Head Blues is a superb stab at the media prophesising catastrophe and setting up bogeymen while feeding us with celebrity trivia and there’s a very brief return to this format on the one minute long Bastards & Bitches. McInroe does end the album on a defiant note with the upbeat anthem, Keegan’s Beautiful Dream, his very own We Shall Overcome. Old fashioned but incredibly topical the album is a tremendous listen and you can get it on a pay what you like basis from his website.

Rebecca Loebe & Findlay Napier. Filthy Jokes

a1311702386_16Hot on the heels of his Glasgow album Findlay Napier has teamed up with American songwriter Rebecca Loebe for this six song EP, released to coincide with their current UK tour. They met at a song writing retreat back in 2016 and just clicked and it shows here. All the songs are co-written and both take a turn on lead vocals while their harmonies are spot on. Four of the songs seem to concern romance whether failed or hopeful.  Napier offers some Glasgow based locations on the rueful Bad Medicine while Option To Buy, a delightfully woozy ramble, has him reluctant to tie the knot. Loebe meanwhile gives us the achingly beautiful Kilimanjaro which is somewhat opaque but to this listener seems like a settled couple having their youthful aspirations realised via their daughter’s use of Photoshop. Filthy Jokes is another attention grabber as Loebe sings of her wonder at a relative (or friend), a bit of a slob it seems whose sole talent was for telling filthy jokes (including that one about the aristocrats), finally getting hitched. An excellent strum-along it has brilliant ending with Ms. Loebe almost chuckling before a banjo plinks the song out. The EP is topped and tailed with two versions of a New Year song, Joy To The World, I Guess, the pair wrote with Loebe singing the opening version and Napier the latter. A bit late right now but this is a song to flag up once the festive season comes around again (and surely that’s the mark of a great festive song).  Loebe’s version is lightly sparkling, a Prosecco dappled version with the guitars bright and the harmonies sweet while Napier’s is more desolate with a true wintry feel. Both end in a brief rendition of Auld Lang Syne and both are wonderful in their own ways.  It’s definitely a temptation to see this pair on their brief dates this week on the basis of this EP. Meanwhile it’s available free (or for the price of a coffee) here.

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Guy Littell. Whipping The Devil Back

Wonderful thing the internet. One moment you’re writing about Dan Stuart and Antonio Gramienteri and next you’re contacted by an Italian songwriter who’s supported these guys in concert and who wants to send you his album. Blabber’n’Smnoke are an obliging crew so pretty soon Gaetano Di Sarno AKA Guy Littell was spinning in the player and we’re glad we replied to his email.

Signore Di Sarno is from South Italy, near Naples and has been writing songs since his early teens. He recalls a Damascene moment when listening to Neil Young’s My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) which led to him deciding to become a musician. After several years playing in various bands he stepped out on his own in 2009 with an EP release. Obviously in thrall to American culture he records under the name Guy Littell, a nod in the direction of Ward Littell, FBI man turned mob lawyer in Ellroy James’s Kennedy assassination novel, American Tabloid. The EP and following album, Later, created waves in the Italian music scene with Littell gaining prized support slots with visiting American acts including Steve Wynn, more of which later. However it’s a hardscrabble world and despite apparent acclaim (according to numerous Google translated reviews and interviews in the Italian music press) Littell has to take a night porter position to make ends meet and it was while doing this that he wrote much of Whipping The Devil Back.

The lonely life of a night porter, neon florescence, streaming videos on YouTube, informs a few of the songs on Whipping The Devil Back such as Lonely And Happy Night and Waiting For My shift To Start however the very starkness of the album provokes a sense of isolation and outsiderness. Littell’s high register invariably leads to comparison to Neil Young, one of his avowed heroes, and it’s Young’s fragile and cracked solo efforts of the mid seventies (Will To Love, Motion Pictures, Borrowed Tune) that loom large. With Littell playing guitar and “lonely piano” along with Fernando Farro on occasional electric guitar, synth and drums it’s a stripped down sound that occasionally effervesces with bursts of guitar or is warmed by keyboard support such as on the tender Deep Enough, one of the highlights here. While it’s not a lo fi album per se elements of Mark Linkhous and Will Oldham are present on some of the songs such as Cedar Forest where a lonesome guitar wails and piano drips aimlessly and on the closing song, You Disturb The Light, which is a wonderful wail of a song. Elsewhere Littell jumps headfirst into Neil Young territory with the excellent title song that lopes along in a fine manner with harmonica provided by none other than Steve Wynn.