Best of 2014

albums

There’s a lot or pros and cons when it comes to listing end of year best ofs or favourites. Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke eventually plumbed for the pros outweighing the cons so this is the third time we’ve presented what, when it comes down to it, is an arbitrary choice of remembered listen. Albums that have stood the test of (a relatively short) time, the ones we’ve returned to or recommended to others in the pub. Above all it’s been fun to look back, read the reviews and see if they still stand. So with this in mind the following are the official Blabber’n’Smoke 2014 picks, in alphabetical order.

Blue Rose Code. Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Birds Of Chicago. Live From Space
Fire Mountain. All Dies Down
Bradford lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys. Somewhere Far Away
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands
Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap
Michael Rank & Stag. Deadstock
Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
John Southworth. Niagara

Random honourable mentions go to

Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone,
The Johnny Cash Native American album reboot, Look Again To The Wind,
Danny and The Champions Of The World’s Live Champs!
Dan Michealson & The Coastguards Distance
Cale Tyson’s EP, High On Lonesome,
Luke Tuchsherer’s debut You Get So Alone at Times It makes Sense,
Petunia’s Inside Of You,
Ags Connolly How about Now,
Chris Cacavas & Edward Abbiati. Me And The Devil along with Abbiati’s band Lowlands who delivered the excellent Love Etc.,
Zoe Muth. World Of Strangers,
Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz .
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.
Simone Felice. Strangers.
Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.
Sylvie Simmons. Sylvie (allowing an honorary mention here for Howe Gelb who produced).
The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream.
Lynne Hanson. River Of Sand.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue. Last To Leave.
And finally John Murry’s EP, Califorlonia which is brilliant and hopefully just an appetiser for his follow up to the majestic Graceless Age.

Digging through the archives it’s been noticeable that there’s been a fine contribution this year from Scottish acts who dip into or draw from an Americana well to a greater or lesser extent. While Blue Rose Code’s Ballads Of Peckam Rye features above the following are all stellar contributions to the local scene.

Dropkick. Homeward
Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard (with the Scottish song of the year, Suffering from Scottishness).
John Hinshelwood. Lowering The Tone.
The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP
Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard
The New Madrids. Through the Heart of Town.
Red Pine Timber Company. Different Lonesome
The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams
Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Although his album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012, Fraser Anderson is a major find of the year while another local lad, Daniel Meade unleashes his Nashville recorded Keep Right Away in January. Hopefully folk will have long enough memories to recall this when it comes to compiling the 2015 lists. In the meantime it can be first on the New Year shopping list.

Hank Wangford and The Lost Cowboys. O2 ABC Glasgow. Thursday 15th May.

wangford

With his fine new double album, Save Me The Waltz, safely in his saddlebag veteran Hank Wangford ambled into town with his posse, The Lost Cowboys, in tow looking to entertain the folks on Sauchiehall Street.

Seriously this was a welcome return to Glasgow for Wangford who has roots in the city (which was his mother’s birthplace) with several audience members recalling fabled Mayfest community shows in the likes of Castlemilk Community Centre (although the primary recollection there was of the band having much of their gear nicked!). Tonight Wangford was backed by a stellar line up which included guitar and pedal steel wizards Martin Belmont (Ducks Deluxe, Graham Parker and The Rumour, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Carlene Carter) and BJ Cole (Cochise, Deke Leonard’s Help Yourself and innumerable sessions including Elton John’s Tiny Dancer along with appearances with REM, David Gilmour and Iggy Pop). Rock history in person! Aided and abetted by drummer Roy Dodds (ex Fairground Attraction) and bassist/harmony singer Anna (Spanner) Robinson (The Hallelujah Trails) the five piece set up was at times magnificent with Dodds and Robinson setting the pace with some aplomb while Belmont and Cole showed why they are so sought after as throughout the night they pulled out some astonishing licks.

Aside from the sheer pleasure of hearing some top notch musicians doing what they do best Wangford remains a singularly good frontman. Wearing his years very well (and looking as if he could well take up Kris Kristofferson’s Hollywood role as the wise and grizzled cowpoke should Kris ever retire) he commanded attention as he related his love of the country waltz and offered potted histories of some of the legends who wrote the songs including the unfortunately named Bollick Brothers who eventually saw sense and renamed themselves the Blue Sky Boys, as Hank said “you don’t have to make this up, it’s all out there.” With particular attention to Willie Nelson and George Jones, Wangford proselytised on their behalf and as the songs poured out the attraction was plain to see. Nelson’s Permanently Lonely and Half A Man along with Jones’ Brown To Blue and Golden Rings were well served while the essential banality of song titles such as He Forgot To Tell You He Was Married and Let’s Be Lonely Together Tonight was undermined by the heartfelt delivery.

Mischievous as ever Wangford delighted in picking up his ukulele and teaching the audience the choruses of several of the songs pointing out their simplicity all the while celebrating that self same simplicity. The audience duly sang along as the sorrowful waltz time songs surely invited some tears in beers in the back rows. With some fine low strung twang guitar and country runs along with weeping pedal steel or Dobro the venue was slowly transformed into a south west honky tonk. Ms. Robinson took lead vocals on the excellent Insured Beyond The Grave while Cole was afforded the opportunity to beguile us with an inspired dreamlike rendition of Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk , a tune that inspired him (along with Peter Green) all those years ago. And while most of the night was an invite to waltz with Wangford there were some moments when the band let rip with Baby In Black conjoining Nashville and Liverpool while He Forgot To Tell You He Was Married rocked with the energy and feel of Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen. A magnificent night.

Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz.

Pioneering UK country veteran Hank Wangford has been on a mission for the past thirty years to inform the public that country music is not all rhinestone and showbiz smiles. He’s been smitten by the dark underbelly, the god fearing singer who behind closed doors is a raging drunk pilled to the gills, a monster who writes beautiful songs about death, divorce and drunkenness. Introduced to the music of the patron saint of drunks, George Jones by Gram Parsons (whom Wangford knew at the tail end of the sixties) Wangford was singing country to punk audiences well before Costello went all blue and The Mekons hightailed it to Chicago.

Now Hank wants to reclaim the waltz, the 3/4 signature that fuels the majority of sad country songs. Typically seen today as “middle aged and suburban” as Wangford notes in his short essay in the album booklet, the waltz was seen as decadent when first introduced to English society by Lady Caroline Lamb in 1816 with dancers touching each other’s body, “sex on legs.” He goes on to say “the saddest country songs are in three four. It’s certainly the best rhythm for a slow drunken shuffle in a honky tonk bar with some voluptuous intertwining of limbs.”

So Save Me The Waltz is a double album of slow sad country songs that share that three four rhythm as Hank and the excellent Lost Cowboys take the listener down a lost highway littered with broken souls, cripples, plane wrecks, heartache and sin. A double dose of misery that will delight any connoisseur of the genre( and timely for those who enjoyed My Darling Clementine’s recent albums) as Hank delves into his favourite writers as well as delivering some fine tearjerkers of his own. Willie Nelson scores four covers here while The Louvins, Dallas Frazier, Woody Guthrie and Wayne Kemp get one apiece. More up to date Gram Parsons and Lucinda Williams and surprisingly Lennon/McCartney are also covered.

The band sail through the first disc (entitled The Light with disc two, The Dark) splendidly with the rhythm section (Kevin Foster, bass and Roy Dodds, percussion) laying down an unobtrusive backbeat while Martin Belmont and BJ Cole add lilting pedal steel, throbbing heartbreak guitar and breezy Dobro as Anna Robinson accompanies Wangford on some excellent harmonies. It’s delightful to sit back and wallow in this with the lazy fat guitar of Half A Man and the dappled Appalachian Dobro of Get Acquainted Waltz swim hypnotically in your head. Wangford’s title song itself is somewhat sublime with Belmont curling his guitar licks around the words while Cole lurks mischievously on Dobro and Hank and Anna twirl wondrously around each other on vocals.

Disc two (The Dark) is less comfortable, edgier and, well, darker. Waltzing With Sin features Larry Love of the Alabama 3 ( thanked in the liner notes for sounding like Richard Burton on acid) and it’s a big production number with fuzz guitar and space age cosmic pedal steel, fantastic. Baby’s In Black is another fuzz fuelled pedal steel driven epic (think Sneaky Pete here, hot railing the Burritos) with some pummelling percussion. It’s notable that Wangford penned most of the songs here and by and large they stand up to scrutiny compared to the covers. Lies is tied to the roots of Nelson and Jones while Lonely Together is a fine riposte to Willie Nelson’s Permanently Lonely as Wangford injects some hope and optimism while maintaining the sad slow waltz melody. While Lonely Together is one of five songs on the album previously released it fits the concept so well we have to pause while the beauty of this song hits home and listen to it again as The Lost Cowboys deliver a master class in aching country music. Mention should be made of two songs recorded with Billy Bragg in the eighties (and released as B sides to Bragg singles), a fine rendition of Sin City and a heartfelt Deportees which sit well within the album.

Save The Waltz is obviously a labour of love for Wangford who in his 73rd year could reasonably be expected to be sitting at home, pipe and slippers to hand. Instead he’s hitting the road with The Lost Cowboys and he’s in Glasgow next week (Thursday 15th May) at the 02 ABC. With Martin Belmont and BJ Cole in the band you get three legends for the price of one. Other tour dates here

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Soundcloud won’t let me uplift some songs for some reason so head here to listen to two of the songs.