Rain Reserve. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow, 2nd August 2018

P1090013 copyRain Reserve are a duo comprised of Glasgow’s bluesy purveyor of swampy Americana, John Alexander, and Edinburgh’s mistress of jazzy interpretations of country music, Lorna Reid. “East meets west,” Reid quipped on stage as she introduced Beneath the Blue, a song she claimed was partly inspired by Alexander’s supposed frustration at having to endure the train journey required to write and rehearse with Reid in her native city. It’s much more than that of course as Reid sings of a universal yearning to connect with one another despite supposed differences over an almost languid guitar delivery from her and Alexander. With fine harmonies and a sly guitar solo from Alexander midway through, the song is a fine introduction to the duo’s talents.

The pair have been writing songs together since a meeting at “the hobbit house” at Moniack a few years back and first appeared at the Fringe but now, having recorded some songs, have set out on several live dates. Their songs are not country, blues nor jazz but are set in a classic acoustic duet setting with some of the songs tonight reminding one of Richard and Linda Thompson’s recordings with Drinking Alone in particular capturing some of that ill fated pair’s melancholy. “2am songs,” as Reid called them, flowed from the couple with Alexander’s gravelly voice nicely offset by Reid’s more dulcet tones while most of the songs featured Alexander wringing some notes from his guitar in various fashions, stinging blues runs, Chet Atkins like licks along with some jazzy Barney Kessel like runs. Some of the songs featured Alexander’s gritty southern inspired slopes into gothic Americana while Reid shone on a song she co-write with Darden Smith.

P1090004 copyIona MacDonald of Doghouse Roses played a short opening set which consisted in the main of songs from that acclaimed duo. Having just recently branched out on stage on her own she confessed to being nervous but once her glorious voice reached out to the audience she was home and safe. She opened with Fairground, her tale of a prostitute on her uppers before offering a powerful reading of Feed the Monster. Amid old and newer songs she offered an affectionate cover of Natalie Merchant’s Motherland and closed with the traditional Black is the Colour.

At the end of the night Alexander mentioned a friend who could not attend due to a “conflict of John’s,” Mr. Prine being the other John playing in the city tonight. As a salute to that great man all three musicians joined together for an unplugged rendition of Speed of the Sound of Loneliness with faultless harmonies as the audience sang along. A splendid close to a splendid night.

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Best of 2017

OK, decorations are coming down, it’s back to work time but before that here’s a short list of the albums that have stood out over the past year. If there’s a link it will take you a review of the album. Looking back it seems that 2017 wasn’t a bad year for music in terms of releases but a total bummer in terms of Tom Petty leaving us. Here’s hoping next year is as good so, all the best for 2018.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

cp18cdIn the year of Brexit and Trump, Chuck’s sheer love of rock’n’roll shone throughout this album. Coupled with seeing him play two blindingly great gigs this year the album’s been a regular on the stereo and in the car while Jesus Was A Social Drinker is my song of the year.

 

Jeremy Pinnell, Ties Of Blood And Affection

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2While Stapleton gets all the notice I think there are numerous others who are bringing out better albums and Jeremy’s second solo album is the best of the lot this year. I was privileged to host a house concert with Jeremy and Ags Connolly and it was a great occasion.

 

Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life

cc752a_ccb74ac415f74324bdde66d0b5f81184mv2An album of glacial purity with glimpses of Joni Mitchell in its shadows.

 

 

GospelbeacH, Another Summer Of Love

500x500Jangled sunny California music which stretches from Petty to The Jam in its inspiration.

 

 

Nathan Bell, Love > Fear (48 hours in Traitorland)

love-fear-front-coverOld fashioned protest perhaps but Bell is a powerful writer and as good a champion of “blue collar” folk as Rod Picott. And, in concert, he’s funny with it (just like Rod Picott).

 

Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith

the-water-of-leithRoss Wilson continues his journey into the hinterlands of folk and jazz. A wonderful and evocative album.

 

Eric Ambel, At The Lakeside

61ceyom7fgl-_ss500It took 12 years for Ambel to come up with this one, a bunch of songs he imagined could have been on his pub’s jukebox. Guitar album of the year.

 

Don Antonio, Don Antonio

cs646897-01a-bigAside from his band, Sacri Cuori, Antonio Gramantieri has worked with Howe Gelb, Dan Stewart and Alejandro Escovedo. This solo album is a magnificent retro stew of sixties soundtracks and Italian cool.

 

Jaime Wyatt, Felony Blues

jaime_coverA true jailbird, Wyatt’s album is part outlaw country, part Laurel Canyon country rock. For me she just beats Margo Price

 

Malojian, Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.

a1294981180_16Irishman Stevie Scullion conjures up a slight psychedelic trip with McCartney like melodies and Harrison’s Blue Jay Way vibes.

 

Best reissue/compilation

The Wynntown Marshals, After All These Years

a2597450969_16A perfect introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before. A perfect keepsake for those who are in the know.

 

 

Also of note…

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost On the Car Radio

Margo Price, All American Made

Danny & The Champions Of The World, Brilliant Light

Ags Connolly, Nothin’ Unexpected

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock

Todd Day Wait, Folk-Country-Blues

Whitney Rose, South Texas Suite

Norrie McCulloch, Bare Along The Branches

Russ Tolman. Compass & Map

John Murry, A Short History of Decay

Jim Keaveny, Put It Together

Ian Felice, In The Kingdom Of Dreams

Gill Landry, Love Rides A Dark Horse

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears 

The Sadies, Northern Passages

John Alexander, Of These Lands

There are many others which could/should be mentioned here, apologies to those I’ve either forgotten about or overlooked. In the meantime here’s the song of the year.

 

John Alexander. Of These Lands album launch party. The Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Friday 19th May 2017 with Roseanne Reid.

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The south side’s Glad Cafe was as packed as I’ve ever seen it for this show celebrating the release of local musician John Alexander’s second album, Of These Lands. Introducing his set in front of a drum kit Alexander promised the audience a bit of a Neil young experience, some solo acoustic songs before the band kicked in. A mite grandiose one might have thought but by and large Alexander followed through particularly when he buckled on his Gibson Les Paul midway through the set.

The album’s an intriguing mix of country blues and folk tinged rock which allows his fine guitar skills and deeply grained voice a chance to shine and both of these were on show tonight as he delivered all of the songs from the album along with a few older numbers.

The first three songs were solo efforts. Perched on a stool that he worried was “a bit too wobbly” he opened with the delightful Used To Be A Friend Of Mine, a song that harks back to the sixties folk revival with echoes of John Martyn and Bert Jansch before Don’t Fail Me, a harrowing eulogy to fallen soldiers, cast a dark shadow upon the hushed audience.  Alexander followed this with the sly blues picking of This Side Or The Other which, in a similar fashion to the opening number was a reminder of the freewheeling take on the blues that was popular back in the sixties. Delivered with a whiff of Bleeker Street and The Gaslight Cafe it’s the sort of song that Dave Van Ronk did so well and it allowed Alexander the opportunity to lay down some fine blues picking on his guitar.

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Drummer Jim McDermott appeared for the next song, one of the highlights of the album, Hallowed Ground. Although McDermott plays on several songs on the album Hallowed Ground isn’t one of them but tonight he fashioned a primal percussive shuffle over which Alexander laid down his skeletal blues, his voice stained with Delta dirt before they launched into the gruff All My Angels Have Fallen with McDermott pushing Alexander’s gruff delivery to new heights.  The pair were then joined by bassist Nico Bruce for a bone rattling Take The Blame.

Strapping on his Les Paul Alexander was as good as his word earlier on when he mentioned Neil Young as the band launched into a grungy raw boned rendition of Skin (from his previous album) that saw Alexander shredding notes from his guitar over the solid rhythm section.  There was a fine and chunky Meet Me Where The River Flows and a magnificent rendition of A Little Daylight which was muscled up from the album version with a seventies  rock feel, halfway between The Stones and Humble Pie, the only thing missing from the into was some cowbell. They ended the set with a cover version from a man who, as Alexander said, “went to school around the corner” and sure enough they pumped up an excellent rendition of John Martyn’s Don’t Want To Know which sparkled with a true love of the man’s music as all three conjured up as fine a rendition as I can recall. Alexander’s voice eerily reminiscent of Martyn while Bruce’s bass was supple and evocative and McDermott shone on his cymbal work.

No encores, declared Alexander but the crowd demanded one more so as McDermott and Bruce departed we were treated to a gutsy rendition of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright which allowed a closing glimpse of the man’s fine voice and guitar work. All in all this was an excellent show.

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We must mention the opening act, Roseanne Reid. Ms. Reid is a graduate of sorts from the Steve Earle school of song writing and we’ve seen her in support slots several times over the past few months. Hailing from Edinburgh she disguises herself as an Appalachian waif as her songs recall the likes of Earle himself along with Mary Gauthier while she acknowledges writers such as Merle Haggard as an influence. Over the months she is building in confidence and she announced tonight that she is writing several new songs to supplant those from her EP she has been reliant on for so long. However with songs such as Sweet Annie, Amy and I Love Her So she’s already shown that she is somewhat special and an artist to watch out for.

John Alexander. Of These Lands

a0817967281_16I first noticed the name, John Alexander, in the credits of the latest Doghouse Roses album where he contributed some fine guitar. And then this album, Of These Lands, popped through the post with some roles reversed, Doghouse Roses’ Paul Tasker and Iona McDonald credited with vocals and guitar on some of the songs. Their presence certainly ticked some boxes, marking the album as one to have a good listen to but, and I think it’s fair to say, I wasn’t expecting the rollin’ and tumblin’ excitement that was to follow.

Alexander is a Scottish musician but he’s welded to and wades in muddy waters, the delta sort to be more accurate. Some of the songs on the album follow in the line that stretches from Taj Mahal to Keb’ Mo’ with a vibrant attachment to country blues, the guitars evincing a spritely fingerpicking blues style while Alexander’s voice has a very fine smoke stained patina that at times sends chills up the spine. The best example here is on the spooky Hallowed Ground (with Tasker on slide guitar) which recalls the magisterial ground zero of old time blues, Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground. It’s the starkest moment on the album but the voodoo swampiness of Meet Me Where The River Flows (with Jim McDermott on drums and Nicholas Blythe on bass), the zinging guitar sparks of Take The Blame and the fiery solo rendition (with Alexander on acoustic and electric guitars) of All My Angels Have Fallen are rooted in the blues tradition with the latter recalling the late John Campbell.

Less one think this is just a blues album Alexander has some more tricks up his sleeve. An accomplished guitarist he is able to cross the ocean from the Mississippi delta back to the motherland and in particular those artists who picked up on blues traditions and transformed them into a sixties folk blues boom. Hence we have the nimble A Little Daylight which with its vocal harmonies could easily have sat within a Pentangle album while Used To Be A Friend Of Mine sounds like an outtake from an early John Martyn album.  Seven Cold Curses takes a slight curve into a rootsier Americana with a whiff of Townes Van Zandt while Hold On is a powerful and taut ballad that recalls the dustier edges of 70’s country rock  such as Guy Clark or Steve Young. On the closing This Side Or The Other Alexander draws all of his influences together as his grainy voice demands, “a double shot of whisky and a ham on rye”.  The song is a laid back and wonderful conglomeration of folk and blues (and beyond), Greenwich Village meets the delta and a smoky London town. A delightful end to a very fine album.

There’s an album release show at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe this Friday, 19th May. Tickets here

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