Texas Martha and the House of Twang. Long Way From Home

Texas Martha AKA Marty Fields Galloway is certainly a long way from home on this album which is probably the first honky tonk album to be recorded in Bordeaux, France. Sure enough, she’s Texan through and through but she has a hankering for France and spends much of her time there and, much like a country music magnet, she’s attracted a hot shot bunch of continental players who together make up The House of Twang. These are guys who’ve done their homework, the rhythm section of Serge Samyn and Hervé Chiquet stoke the beat solidly while Lionel Duhaupas bends and twists and twangs his guitars and plays a mean pedal steel. Together they’re a formidable outfit with Galloway belting out her roadhouse songs but able also to rein it in and deliver some soulful country.

The album gets off to a great start with the rip snorting Born To Boogie, Galloway’s powerful voice galvanised by the curling pedal steel and twang fuelled guitar bursts over a pile driving rhythm; even her transition into French lyrics midway through, initially a surprise, works. Take You Down is in a similar vein, again the music is punchy and defiant as Galloway hymns the South but there’s a change in gear on the following title song which takes us away from the honky tonk and onto the freeway. There’s a brisk acoustic thrust to the song with harmonica (from Christophe Dupue) threading throughout while the pedal steel hums like a train coming along the tracks, altogether the sense is of the wide open road. A Lover’s Lane is more countrified, the pedal steel keening away as Galloway sings of the tribulations of a young girl suckered into a tryst and then judged. It’s a great song but the vocals are just a mite too powerful for the tender playing and the song could be better if there was a sense of hurt instead of defiance in her voice.

No problems however with Johanna, another sad luck song which is boosted by the organ playing of Vincent Samyn while Strike is a sinewy blues number with Martha ballsy as hell while the guitars snarl. The album closes with another foot to the pedal barrel house boogie on Gotta Move but before that there’s a brief excursion into Southern Gothic territory on the tremendous Do As You Are Told which comes across like the Violent Femmes backing Bobbie Gentry in a story penned by Flannery O’Connor.

Hopefully with Texas Martha berthed just across the channel we can hope to see her and her crack musicians in the UK at some point, Blabber’n’Smoke will keep you posted.

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JP Harris and The Tough Choices. 13th Note, Glasgow. Sunday 24th May

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Alabama born Nashville raised JP Harris brought his road tested honky tonk sound to Glasgow last night for what was an exhilarating set in the hot and sweaty confines of the 13th Note basement. Holed up on the tiny stage inches from the eager crowd Harris, acclaimed by Rolling Stone and Saving Country Music for his latest album Home Is Where The Hurt Is, stormed through a set that was stone cold classic country, hard as steel and crunchingly loud.

With roaring yet sweet pedal steel and some clamorous guitar work from Adam L Meisterhans the band zipped through a selection of songs from their two albums along with a few choice covers. Give a Little Lovin’, Two For The Road and the truckin’ Gear Jamming Daddy (with a sizzling pedal steel solo) were countrier than country while South Oklahoma added an exotic touch of the Mexican border on a tale of a girl longing to leave the titular State. They covered Red Simpson’s Happy Go Lucky Truck Driver and transformed Jimmy Martin’s Freeborn Man from a bluegrass number into a magnificent maelstrom of clashing guitars and frantic pedal steel which broke through the dance barrier as some crowd members elbowed their way to the front to frolic joined thereafter by most of the audience. Beer was spilled and collisions ensued in the crammed space but the overall feel was one of joy with Harris obviously enjoying the atmosphere. Adding another feather to their bow the band went into Western Swing mode for an unrecorded Harris song written about a “high impact tractor crash” he was involved in. This was a highlight of the night with Harris and Meisterhans playing twin guitar lines towards the end after yet another zinging pedal steel showcase.

A rigid curfew curtailed the encore with only one song played however their version of Dave Dudley’s Six Days On The Road was as tight as the proverbial duck and a fine summary of their tightly honed country roots. A great night with the audience warmed up nicely by the incredibly hirsute Harry and the Hendersons who provided a fine rootsy Americana with harmonies to the fore and Have Mercy Las Vegas with their Celtic tinged foot stomping romps.

The tour continues in ireland, dates here

Magnolia Mountain/Mark Utley

We mentioned Cincinnati band The Tillers a week ago and this reminded us of another Tri State crew, Magnolia Mountain and the fact that we’ve been sitting on their latest release for far too long so time to unearth and examine it. In fact this exhumation from the pending pile unearthed two albums, Magnolia Mountain’s Beloved and a solo effort by the band’s front man Mark Utley, Four Chords and a Lie. Both albums were released simultaneously back in late summer and one might be surprised by Utley’s work rate if you didn’t know that his last two Magnolia Mountain albums were effectively doubles with 2012’s Town and Country released on a good old fashioned two disc vinyl edition.
We reviewed Town and Country calling it a smorgasbord of delights gathering together as it did “fiddle-laced romps, slide-driven rockers and devilish blues moans.” It’s diversity was a strength but Utley appears to have opted here for a leaner approach with the country side represented by his solo effort allowing the band to slink down south and simmer in a southern stew.
Beloved comes across as very much in the Muscle shoals vein with Utley sharing and at times delegating vocal duties to his co- singers Melissa English and Renee Frye. Their harmonies and duets recall the likes of Delaney and Bonnie or Kristofferson and Coolidge while the band serve up a funky and muscular beat that reminded us of Sal Valentino’s Stoneground with a hint of the Allmans’ thrown in for good measure. While Utley and guitarist Jeff Vanover play some fine licks and occasional gutsy solos its keyboard player Dusty Bryant who flows through the album whether on electric piano or funky organ. Altogether the sound is pretty much rooted in a seventies groove while the predominant theme is of break up and heart break. The peak is achieved on the tearjerker Ain’t Enough of Anything, a slow southern blues with achingly good guitar solos and a stellar female vocal singing “‘cos I can’t find a thing to help with the pain, no whisky or weed, pills or cocaine.Lonesome Train is another downer of a song this time with Utley bemoaning his fate as his sirens call behind him and the band slinks along buoyed some great organ playing. Going Out of My Mind is more up-tempo but again the band strike a fine groove with the keyboard sparkling as the harmonies fly. With a memorable hook and a loose arrangement this one sounds like it could become a stage favourite with plenty of room for stretching out.
There’s a couple of rockers here as well which suffer in comparison to the more soulful numbers but the opener Midnight Man with its crunchy guitar pretty much sets out the agenda as Utley sings “I like to go out drinking, I like to go downtown, I like those pretty women, I like to turn their heads around” as the band limber up and begin to growl. Toss in a Bo Diddley beat on Not That Much which celebrates a love them and lose them philosophy (from a female point of view) and you have pretty much a set which begs to be heard live in a hot and crowded bar or club.
Speaking of bars the opening bars of Utley’s solo album, Four chords and a Lie, set the listener squarely in a honky tonk dive as twangy guitar, barrelhouse piano and pedal steel try to sweep the cobwebs away. Although billed as a solo album there’s a good degree of miscegenation with Magnolia Mountain here as Renee Frye and Jeff Vanover appear on all of the songs. The album is just about 50/50 between stripped down efforts with Ricky Nye adding keyboards to the Mountain trio and the full blown honky tonk experience delivered by his country band Bulletville featuring Jim Gaines on pedal steel. The “solo” songs range from the sinister Little Black Dress where Utley is on the prowl for a bad bad woman to share his lust, delivered with just the right amount of sleaze and menace to Blackbird On the Wire which unfortunately has a strained and unfinished feel to it. He redeems this with the final song Say A Prayer For Me which could easily have been written and delivered by Bobby Whitlock on the Derek & the Dominos album. The Bulletville songs are all excellent with alcohol and bars featuring well to the fore. Waiting On Ruby Raye has Utley salivating over a favourite saloon singer while Not All Right Together is an almost perfect tale of a drunken love tryst. Gaines’ pedal steel shines here as it does on the tearful, beerful lament that is Nothing But Time, a classic country tune that had it been released in the sixties would have had the nation crying in their beers.

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Yvette Landry. Should Have Known

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Yet another in what has been a bumper bag of fine honky tonking country swing type albums from female artists that have arrived over the past few months. Should Have Known is a fine debut from Yvette Landry, a seasoned sidekick for numerous bands and artists but here standing tall on her own two feet.
The 16 songs are written by Landry and while they remain firmly in the tried and tested tradition of being about drinking, loving, heartbreak and fighting she proves that she can dip into tradition and come up with a set anyone of which could become a staple on country radio. One More Broken Heart is perhaps the best example of a song that drips with an old time Nashville feeling with fat steel guitar but the mention of “cougars in the night” brings it smack up to date. Although the tempo is varied with the lighting quick title song, Blue Moon Girl’s frenzied delivery and the bluegrass rush of Jack all perfect for the dancehall the standouts are the tearstained ballads. Better Days and Friday Night Special are made to be listened to late at night after a few drinks and perhaps in a morose mood. At times like these the mournful guitar playing of Richard Comeaux and Chas Justus are like teardrops falling from the songs.
While Landry can sound like a Loretta Lynn for these days her Louisiana roots are evident at times. The album was co-produced by Joel Savoy who plays some fine harmony fiddle while Betse Ellis (of the Wilders) handles the main fiddle duties (and provides some of the highlights of the album especially on the opening title song).
An above average debut and one which already is reaping praise and awards.

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One More Broken Heart – Yvette Landry by paulk