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 Murry, Broadcast, Glasgow, Monday 18th September, 2017

jm broadcastGlasgow has been basking in reflected glory since it became known that it was the setting for the meeting of John Murry and The Cowboy Junkies’ Mike Timmons that eventually led to the making of his second solo album, A Short History Of Decay. Never mind that the gig they played for Celtic Connections was bedevilled by sound problems (with Murry’s performance subjected to several letters to the local newspaper, The Herald) but recall that it was Murry with a band behind him then. Subsequent appearances, here and elsewhere have been low key affairs, duos for much of the time and while Murry always performs with a sometimes scary intensity the news that he was bringing along an ensemble on this tour was somewhat tantalising.

Oddly enough, it’s his 2012 album, The Graceless Age, that begged for a fuller stage presentation, the new album being more stripped down, raw and naked. However the set up tonight, an odd line up with two sets of keyboards, two drum kits and pedal steel with the musicians doubling up on bass and guitar was intriguing and surely enough they were able to capture both the garage band relish of A Short History of Decay and the hypnagogic swirls of The Graceless Age.  Murry, back again on electric guitar (although he also played acoustic and on occasion discarded both to just sing) was unfettered, able to rely on the band to deliver the sonic goods as he truly inhabited the songs.

A meander into Smokey Robinson’s Tracks Of My Tears opened the show with this classic morphing into One Day (You’ll Die) from the new album with the band immediately stamping their authority on Murry’s sardonic lyrics, the Sleepwalk snatch leading into a glorious conglomeration of noise. Southern Sky (from The Graceless Age) followed with the glowing keyboards and sliding pedal steel capturing the claustrophobic wonder of the studio version and it was clear by now that the audience were in for a special treat tonight. Silver Or Lead, from the new album, followed and hearing it live it was apparent that the new songs are a continuation of sorts of The Graceless Age as it was delivered with a similar sense of claustrophobia and was again sprinkled with some excellent keyboards and pedal steel. The menacing Intruder, a Peter Gabriel cover found Murry inhabiting the mindset of The Manson Family in their creepy crawly days with sonic squeaks and warbles from the band, a gruesome variation of Kraftwerk. Sonically adventurous and able to weave a fine tapestry around Murry’s songs the band (Pat Kenneally, Tali Trow, Dave Hart and Stephen Barlow) ebbed and flowed throughout the night as they multi tasked with some aplomb.

Murry switched to acoustic guitar for the haunting Wrong Man and then launched into Oscar Wilde, a song which he said was supposed to be on the new album but he forgot to record it. A man with a fine handle on life’s absurdities which he tackles with a wickedly dark sense of humour, his song introductions throughout the night provoked startled laughs from the audience, close to the bone as he often was. This dark matter carries into the songs and Perfume & Decay, a deep cut from a limited edition EP, cut to the quick with its litany of existential angst while the almost countrified delivery of Miss Magdalene belied some of the savagery of its words such as the biblical injunction which has Murry singing of cutting out his tongue.

There was a return to The Graceless Age as Nadine Khoury joined Murry for a rendition of The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid  before a quartet of songs from the new album began with Defacing Sunday Bulletins which was a magnificent clusterfuck of guitar groovieness followed by Countess Lola’s Blues (with a short lecture on arachnophobia in the introduction). Under A Darker Moon again saw the guitars firing off in all directions with a punk like intensity while Greg Dulles’ What Jail Is Like was grungy and powerful. There then followed the visceral centrepiece to all of the Murry performances I’ve seen so far, Little Colored Balloons, his own personal Calvary, and as always, it was powerful with Murry transfixed, gimlet eyes piercing from the stage as he relived his near death before abruptly departing the stage.

There was an encore and it was an unexpected and lengthy rendition of Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer which slouched and prowled with all the fire and fury of the original as the guitars sparked and burned. Once it was over the band were called back again and they launched into Townes Van Zandt’s Waiting Around To Die which was given a Stray Gators lurch before segueing into an anguished delivery of The Rolling Stones’ under the counter bootleg Cocksucker Blues. As we said earlier, Murry is close to the bone.

Always a powerful performer, with this line up and his latest songs, Murry is just devastating. Intense and yet endearingly vulnerable he continues to lay bare his soul on stage, a veritable rock’n’roll psychodrama.

John Murry. John Murry Is Dead.

front_cd_cover

Don’t worry, that’s not a headline, just the name of the latest EP from Mr. Murry compiled to tie in with his recent short tour down South. Regular Blabber’n’Smoke readers will know of Murry’s trials and tribulations, his past addiction issues and more recent hassles with the recording business. More importantly they’ll know that he is capable of making music that is emotionally direct, his thoughts tumbling out over confessional ballads and scorched earth waves of sounds. His 2012 album The Graceless Age, surely in the running for top ten status at the end of this decade, remains the foundation for most fans but anyone lucky enough to have seen him live in the past few years will testify to his ongoing ability to transfix an audience, even reduce to them to tears with the power of his performance.

It’s not been an easy road for Murry since the triumph of The Graceless Age. Rather than reiterate it here I’d advise you to head over to his revamped website where there’s an eloquent summary written by Oliver Gray, one of the folk who have been unfailing in their support of Murry. The good news is that things are looking up. The follow up to The Graceless Age is as good as in the can, Murry having headed to Canada to record with Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. He’s been granted residential status in Ireland and is happily ensconced in the small city of Kilkenny, there’s a documentary on him in production and he’s bringing out a graphic novel that will portray episodes from his life so far.

While we await the album John Murry Is Dead is an EP produced to tie in with his recent short tour of England. Hard copies were available at his concerts and it will soon be available to buy digitally via his website. For the most part it’s the result of Murry’s involvement with the Tamalpais Research Institute (TRI) , a state of the art studio and web platform set up by The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir who produced one of the songs here, Murry’s anguished cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s What becomes Of The Broken Hearted. Cloaked in ecclesiastical organ fills, Murry croons his pain away here. Weir also turns up on the centrepiece of the EP, Murry’s current magnum opus, Oscar Wilde. On a song that most definitely captures the feel and range of those on The Graceless Age Murry describes a society under surveillance, swayed by the media, driven to home grown terrorism as Irish wit Wilde looks down. At least I think that’s what some of it is about but it’s delivered excellently, revisiting The Graceless Age’s “sumptuous narcotic pillows of sound that swirl and beguile the listener.” Piano, organ, violin and pedal steel guitar slither throughout the song as Murry’s voice pleads and intones brilliantly. Weir appears at the very end here on a strangulated and brief attempt to play Dixieland on trumpet.

The Wrong Man opens the EP and it captures Murry at the top of his game. Again his voice shines, he sounds vulnerable, wounded, the music a delightful confection of Wurlitzer keyboards and dreamy guitar over a smattering of cymbals. He then covers Peter Gabriel’s creepy crawly Intruder, the drums here recalling the original but overall it’s much murkier recalling the Manson clan’s habit of invading homes without alerting the sleeping occupants. It’s claustrophobic and menacing. Finally there’s the intriguing One Day, billed here as a Rick Vargas remix of As I Lay Dying (Vargas one of the engineers at TRI and who produced several of the songs here). A blizzard of effects, wonky guitars and keyboards blitz the song , reminiscent at times of Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse  as Murry, buried but still audible proclaims his resurrection from his addiction days but accepts and indeed proclaims that in the end we’re all dust.

A very welcome addition to the Murry canon then and hopefully just a taste of what’s to come. The EP will soon be available here along with a previous EP, Perfume and Decay and an odds and sods collection The Resurrection of John Quixote, both also well recommended.

Here’s an earlier version of The Wrong Man…

John Murry/Grum Gallagher/Bobby Deans. Fallen Angels Club. The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Thursday 5th November

murry live

John Murry sure picked a fine night to revisit Glasgow. Richard Hawley was playing up the street, it was bonfire night and local team Celtic were playing a European fixture. Never mind, the Murry afficiandos were having none of that and it was gratifying to see a full house turn out for the man whose album, The Graceless Age, is generally considered to be one of the best albums of the last decade.

Currently residing in Ireland, Murry was accompanied by a musician he had met over there, Grum Gallagher. When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to John a few months back he described Grum as “someone completely on the same wavelength (as me),” something that in an interview set up might be considered to be just PR puffery. Well, anyone who was at this show can attest to the fact that indeed the pair go together like the proverbial horse and carriage, Gallagher a perfect foil for Murry’s wounded tales. On past occasions Murry has been electrifyingly scary, his songs a catharsis of sorts describing past trials and tribulations including a near death experience. Tonight he appeared more comfortable, still spilling out with a passion but with a sense that he is playing the songs rather than reliving the past. He remains however a riveting performer; there’s blood and guts in his Southern Gothic, the songs still sting but tonight he nailed it balancing pain with performance brilliantly.

With Gallagher on guitar, a wonderful beat up Eastwood electric which he’s modified over the years, coaxing and caressing a variety of effects and sympathetic soundscapes Murry effortlessly captured the mesmerising pull of his records. As always the between song banter was a deadpan drawl of dark humour and self deprecation, at one point suggesting he and the audience pack it in and all go to see Hawley instead. There was no chance of that as he opened with a tender and heartfelt version of What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted and then covered The Afghan Whigs’ What Jail Is Like pitching some barbs at Greg Dulli in the introduction before launching into his own songs. While there were magisterial readings of some of The Graceless Age’s gems including California, The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid and Southern Sky, all graced with Gallagher’s sonic grumblings Murry unveiled several new songs that are equally as haunting. The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes (as Murry quipped, He’s shooting at us) was a powerful diatribe with some profane language and vivid imagery, Oscar Wilde celebrated the outsider and The Wrong Man continued his habit of his soul searching positing Murry as the last man to depend on with the delivery tonight challenging Springsteen as the blue collar troubadour; here the audience was rapt, hanging onto every word. Glass Slipper, a song co-written with Chuck Prophet was another show stopper, muddy as the Mississippi and as mesmerising as a death cell confession.

There were more covers, a fine medley of Tracks Of My Tears and Do You Want To Dance given the Murry treatment, Dylan’s contribution to the Wonderboys soundtrack, prefaced by Murry’s comment that anyone who really likes Dylan is diagnosable and, a nod to the location tonight, Abba’s Super Trooper which mentions Glasgow in the lyrics and which had the crowd singing along. Tonight Murry seemed less wounded, more on a roll.

Excellent guitar foil to Murry he may be but Grum Gallagher gave notice of his talent earlier with a short solo set that portrayed him as an excellent writer and performer. Playing guitar with a mellifluous dexterity, keeping bass notes throbbing throughout some jangled melodies, he is a troubadour in the Nick Cave fashion (at least this is one thought, much of the conversation after his set was regarding who exactly he reminded one of with several names, Momus, Tom Waits, Robyn Hitchcock and, yes, Richard Hawley, mentioned). In fact His baritone voice and his dark and strange lyrics (e.g. it’s not safe to steal the lamplight from the defecator’s mouth,” I think I heard this line) can bring to mind many of the above but it’s at least good company to be in. He gave us a grand sea shanty, played with a Brechtian gusto, a fine tale of a drink fuelled apparition of the Virgin Mary in his song Anthracite (along with a fine tale of Ireland being like Mexico, a land where statues move) and finally an excellently absurdist tale about doctors and pills, this song being the one which led to the Hitchcock comparisons. A very talented guy and Blabber’n’Smoke will be looking to return to him in the near future.

First support slot of the night was filled by local singer/songwriter Bobby Deans. Playing a nylon stringed guitar he was at his best on a song about the homeless called No Rest with some nice key changes and a refreshing lack of polemic. An engaging character he was brave enough to sing a song about his own past and his mother whom he never knew which was delivered in a restrained fashion until the end when he was wailing away at the ghosts he had conjured up.

Catching up with John Murry

JM beach 2

 

Way back in 1971 Kris Kristofferson wrote a song, The Pilgrim; Chapter 33 , the lyrics of which could be applied to a man who was to come to folk’s attention some 35 years after the song was written.
He’s a poet and he’s a picker/He’s a pilgrim and a preacher/ and a problem when he’s stoned/He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction/Takin’ every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

If nothing else John Murry is a poet and a picker and he’s documented his drug habit in some harrowing songs. As for the rest; well he has confessed to making up some absurd tales for his pal Chuck Prophet’s newsletter and at times he does seem to be a bit of a lost soul casting around for some stability. The latest chapter in his life sees him living for the time being in County Kilkenny, Ireland and setting out this week on a tour of UK dates accompanied by Grum Gallagher, guitarist with Kilkenny rock band, Duende Dogs. John was kind enough to take some time out to speak to Blabber’n’Smoke about his latest adventures.

I believe that you’re living in Ireland for the time being. How did that come about?

Well, Willie Meighan (promoter and record shop mogul in Kilkenny) set up six or seven dates here for me back in March and back home well, I’m getting divorced. I guess things just became so contentious I felt the best thing to do was just to stay away for a while. I don’t know if I intended to stay here but communications were going wrong, getting mixed up. There were recordings I had made in Australia and Oakland and here and even if I could have salvaged them and put them together I don’t think it would have made any difference because the feelings about them were just too claustrophobic and I didn’t think that anyone cared about getting them finished.

So, in terms of your recordings does that mean that you’ve scrapped them and are having to start over again?

Yes but I’m OK with that. Well, no I’m not. I’m not OK with how difficult it is to have to do that and I’m pretty frustrated with how the whole thing has played out. It’s all a bit confusing for me. The way support from labels and management was supposed to be, I thought I could finish the record but when I met with the people it became clear that there had been kind of, bad blood happening. I mean if I could do anything else I swear to Christ I would, anything other than make up songs and play them. I had no idea it would become as difficult as it’s become.

You’ve been living in Kilkenny then since March. How have you been finding that?

It’s an amazing place, I mean it’s smaller than Tupelo Mississippi where I grew up and there’s so much going on all the time. People have been so supportive and it’s amazing that even with the way the Irish economy, the whole European economy, being the way it is that they put on things and people go to shows. They really do support the arts here, it’s really phenomenal. From 2007 when Bob Frank and myself first came here, there’s something about the place that does feel like home. It wasn’t a bad place to land up in.

You’ve been playing quite a few shows in Ireland, how has that been?

It’s been good, I’ve met Grum Gallagher whose been playing with me and who’s going to be doing the tour with me. It’s given me time to find people around here that I really like playing with and who do it for the same reasons I do, especially Grum. So it’s a bit like getting to start over again and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s given me a chance to go through the songs and hear for myself which ones actually stand up on their own as songs as opposed to what I was doing, getting locked into creating something and then continuing to work on it without thinking about what it would sound like if I was just playing it on my own or with just one other musician. That’s really what I wanted to do, effectively write things I could play alone or with one person and that would be enough. So that’s weeded out some songs. It actually feels a bit like when I was younger when I used to play a residency at the Hi-Tone in Memphis.
You see, things like record labels, well, I don’t think they really matter. You have to think to yourself, what am I actually getting from this relationship and what are they getting? I think there’s a kind of desperation in the industry right now to define itself and when that kind of desperation kicks in it shapes what people are willing to do, there’s a lot of games that actually get in the way of getting anything done. I think I’m blessed to have made the record with Tim (The Graceless Age), it’s let me play dates in the UK and eleswhere in the world, OK it may not be with an agency but I can still do it. Ultimately it’s not agents and managers I need, it’s the people they hate that I need. Every middle man that comes between an audience and the music is effectively nothing more than a distributer and the way that people listen to music these days has changed things. So there’s a desperation in the industry to maintain a place that they’re not able to control anymore.
I mean if you’re born cursed to make music then you’re going to do it and if people are damned enough to have to go to shows then they’re going to go. It’s always been that way. Booking agencies and record labels be damned.

That’s a terrible curse, being damned to listen to good music.

Yes, it’s a horrifying curse, especially if it rains and you’re outdoors in Scotland. Why do they have outdoor things in Scotland? I mean Ireland’s that way too but they just throw up a lot of tents, and the Norwegians, they just pass out in the mud and then they come to and they realise there’s more music and they go for it again until they pass out again.

Talking about new songs, you released a video of one called The Wrong Man, just you and your guitar. Is that the direction you’re heading in?

Yeah, that’s one I wrote that stands up as a song that can be played with very little accoutrements, it works in that way. The others I’ll be playing on this tour are all in that vein. I mean people keep saying shit about Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska but I don’t know if I necessarily hear it that way, I can hear the anger and frustration in it and maybe that’s what people are comparing but I think it’s just a soul song in half time.

To me Springsteen is more blue collar, workmanlike

Well right now I’m kind of trapped in influences from way back, from when I moved to Memphis and had access to all that Stax stuff, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham; I fell in love with that stuff. And that’s what I’m trying to do and it seems to come naturally to me and that’s what disturbs me. I mean that song came so quickly and easily that I thought, oh, this can’t be good because I didn’t have to try very hard.

Maybe that’s what we call talent

Well, we’re all talented I guess in some ways but it’s the only one I’ve got that’s stuck in my craw since I was a little kid. It’s the thing I can’t get away from because I love it too much and if that’s the case then that’s what I’m going to do. A lot of what I did before was experimentation, playing around with a lot of ideas to then create a song or to layer things into a song. I’m really curious about sonics but I’m equally curious about songs and about pushing myself as a person who writes them. I don’t like that word songwriter though. Did you know that’s the number one claimed occupation on tax returns in the United States?

No I didn’t, maybe songwriters are the only folk who pay their taxes over there! Anyway, you’ll have Grum Gallagher with you on the tour.

Yes, I’m coming over with Grum, he’s playing guitar and keys and he’s just brilliant. When we first met we became friends really quickly but I had no idea that we would sort of, get each other the way we did. We played a handful of shows together at Carroll’s Bar in Thomastown, a great place, John Martyn used to play there a bunch. They revamped the place and we opened it up and it was a great honour for me that they let me do that. Anyway, when we played the shows it just kind of felt like I had found a Warren Ellis, someone completely on the same wavelength. There’s very little we need to talk about, it’s something that we both hear and get and don’t really have the language to discuss it. It’s really been a blessing as it’s the kind of thing I’ve lacked in my life and musically for a long time, someone who isn’t outside the music being created but an integral part of it, in the middle of the battle.
We’re touring at the end of September and then we’re back in November and there are still dates being added. I’m going to be seeing places in Scotland I’ve never seen before as I’ve only played Glasgow and Edinburgh in the past so I’m really excited to be able to see the islands and things like that. We’re going to, how do you say it, Stornoway?

Make sure you take your winter woollies, it’ll be cold

Yeah, I really need to get a good jacket, I didn’t think this through. I did intend to go back to the US but then it just occurred to me that the safest thing to do was to stay here. I don’t know if I was right or I was wrong but I’m here for better or worse. I need something rainproof.

You can catch John and Grum at the dates below and apparently there will be a limited edition live album of John’s show at the 2013 SXSC Festival available at the shows. The disc will also be available for a limited time via The Swiss Cottage Sessions, contact them via Facebook for details John has also been working on a new EP in Ireland.
September
25th – St Mary’s Church, Guildford
26th – Private show, Winchester
27th – Upstart Crow Festival, – London
28th – The Prince Albert, Brighton
November
3rd – The Fox and Newt, Leeds
4th – The Cluny, Newcastle
5th – Admiral Bar, Glasgow
7th -The Ceilidh Palace Ullapool

Thanks to Garrett Kehoe for his assistance in setting up the interview

Tom Heyman. That Cool Blue Feeling.

Not a name that’s overly familiar perhaps but check out albums and tour bands from the likes of Chuck Prophet, John Murry, Hiss Golden Messenger and John Doe and it’s a fair bet that Tom Heyman has been involved. Following the breakup of Go To Blazes, his 1990’s Washington roots rockers band Heyman relocated to San Francisco where he’s been in much demand as a sideman with occasional forays into solo recording with a ten year gap between his last album and this third one, That Cool Blue Feeling.  Happily we can report that it’s been well worth the wait as Heyman delivers an album that fulfils his intention to find a sound that “combines the loose late night low down groove of JJ Cale and the melodic storytelling of Gordon Lightfoot.” From start to finish this is an album that slowly burns into the listener’s ear with Heyman’s laid-back vocals pouring over some tasty yet subdued guitar licks. Recorded in Portland Heyman plays guitars (acoustic, electric, slide) and organ and is supported by Rusty Miller on drums, bass and piano and Mike Coykendall on drums and bass. They fuse wonderfully and the production (by Coykendell) is warm, capturing a feel of spontaneity that is heard to best effect on Time And Money where the guitars churn and the percussion thumps like a heartbeat heard through a stethoscope.

The album prowls into view with the slow burning blues of Black Top, a Southern inflected moan that sounds as if it has crawled from the swamp. Cool And Blue is a delicate and fragile attempt to fan the flames of a failing relationship, cooled by wintry references in the lyrics but warmed by a very short but tremendous guitar break in the centre of the song. In The Nighttime World carries on with this mundane existence, a world-weary Muscle Shoals type shuffle sees the relationship over with the singer reduced to smoking dope and buying gifts for his ex via late night TV shopping channels. There’s more moping on the snarly Always Be Around, a fine sidewinder blues swatch, a last gasp attempt to win back his girl but it seems unsuccessful as on the last song Heyman bares all on the naked acoustic of  Losers Like Me.

Aside from this domestic disharmony, Heyman throws in a couple of classic Americana styled portraits. Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks has Paul Brainard on pedal steel decorating a set of lyrics that capture the chills and thrills of hitching a ride in the deepest South. Jack And Lee is a robust portrait of a drinker trying to hold his shit and his marriage together while Number 9 burrows into a methadone user’s method and madness while it rolls along like a bona fide trucker’s song.

Overall the album sounds great, warm and vibrant. Heyman’s guitar playing is at times scintillating and the songs are all top class. It’s an album to be savoured, perhaps late at night and perhaps with a beverage but it does burrow in.

website

Kilkenny Roots Festival 2015. 1st – 4th May 2015

Since 1998, The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival in south east Ireland has attracted some of the finest names in the Americana canon; acts like Calexico, Giant Sand, Ryan Adams,Alejandro Escovedo, Mark Eitzel, Guy Clark, Chuck Prophet, Ray LaMontagne,Richmond Fontaine, John Murry and Rodney Crowell. Last year it won the Irish Best Small Live Music Festival while one of its main venues, Cleeres won the Best Live Music Venue in Leinster award.

This year’s festival is from 1st – 4th May and is jam packed with some spectacular acts. Calexico, , Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, The Barr Brothers and Sons Of Bill and a songwriting circle of Aiofe O’Donovan, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz are just some of the acts announced to play.  Also on the bill are Ryan Boldt, head honcho of Canada’s Deep Dark Woods,  ace new country singer-songwriter Cale Tyson, Glaswegian Daniel Meade and a rare Irish date for the acclaimed US songwriter Eef Barzelay. US band Daddy Long Legs will close the festival on the Monday night with their unique brand of primitive rock n roll. In addition there will be a number of free gigs around the town all weekend as part of the Kilkenny Roots heritage trail. By all accounts this is a fabulous weekend with the Guinness flowing throughout and a great opportunity to catch some stellar acts in intimate surroundings and while Blabber’n’Smoke can’t make it this year we’re booking up for 2016 as we write.

Tickets and general information can be found on the website http://www.kilkennyroots.com and apparently the box office, Rollercoaster Records is, we are reliably informed, not only the best record shop in Ireland but the happiest little record shop in the world!

Here’s a video made for the 2013 Festival

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.

John Murry. Broadcast, Glasgow. 25th February 2014

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John Murry’s 2012 album The Graceless Age has gathered an impressive pedigree since its initial release here in the UK. With staggered worldwide licensing and with a limited two disc version available it’s appeared in end of year top lists in the UK for two years in a trot. Recorded during Murry’s “lost years” when he was in the grip of an addiction it remains a startling and powerful listen, redemptive despite the harrowing tales it tells. Murry himself appears to have a love/hate relationship with the album with tales of emotionally wracked live renditions alternately confounding or amazing audiences.

Glasgow had a brief glimpse of the live experience last year when Murry and his band played at Celtic Connections. However the venue selection of Kelvingrove Art Gallery proved to be ill conceived as the cavernous galleries swallowed up the sound and regurgitated it with booming echoes making it almost impossible to listen to. Tonight was a different story. The cramped (and packed) basement bar allowed Murry and his accompanist Will Waghorn the intimacy to directly confront the audience with his psychodramas which proved to be emotionally wrenching, for him and the audience, with several of the songs from the album mesmerising. Murry’s voice ached and broke as he relived his traumas while his guitar playing and foot stamping added a sense of urgency to his need to confess. Waghorn on drums added colour with a delicacy that was very impressive and it’s clear that the pair have a bond that’s been forged on the road. While much of the show maintained Murry’s burning intensity he leavened the night with a wry sense of humour and a fine line in self deprecation that at times had the audience in fits of laughter. Playing to the gallery he regaled a tale of a lost passport then announced that he’d rather play some covers and asked the crowd to vote for their favourites from Neil Young, Neil Finn, John Prine or Bruce Springsteen. Arguing over the result, in the end he played a song by each of them. He also paid tribute with covers of songs to Mark Linkhouse of Sparklehorse and Tim Mooney, the late producer of The Graceless Age.

The set opened with a new song, co-written with Chuck Prophet, called Glass Slippers that continues in the vein of songs like Photograph with Murry totally enveloped in the delivery. Another new song, The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes was a lyrical delight and was propelled by some fine propulsive percussion. The meat of the evening however were the songs at the core of The Graceless Age. Photograph featured some visceral guitar playing while Ballad of The Pajama Kid, stripped of its narcotic fuzz, blazed with Murry’s vocals ragged and powerful. California (introduced as a happy song compared to its predecessors and spelled out as KKKalifornia) built to a powerful climax as did Senor Malverde as Murry delved into his past mistakes and misadventures. Little Colored Balloons, the centre piece of the album and the most naked of his songs ended the show. With Will Waghorn managing percussive rolls while playing a restrained Euphonium Murry poured his all into this cathartic tale of his overdose and resuscitation. In its recorded state it’s an arresting song but live it seems almost as if the mournful horn is a funereal accompaniment to Murry’s death and rebirth as he wrenches the words out riveting the audience. Astonishing and electric in its delivery Murry conspires with the audience in his pain here and it might seem hyperbole to pronounce this as one of the best performances this writer has witnessed but then, you had to be there. Fortunately for us all he’s survived and while able to invite us into his world, his own personal Calvary, hopefully with the new songs he’s able to move on and news that he has an EP in the works will allow us to listen to a great songwriter who has turned his life around.

Celtic Connections: Cowboy Junkies/John Murry. Kelvingrove art Gallery and Museum. 23rd January 2013

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Celtic Connections uses a variety of venues spread over Glasgow and the prospect of a show in this venerable Victorian pile was tantalising. Unfortunately, the reality was that as a venue for live rock music it failed dismally. The seating arrangement for anyone in the back half of the hall meant that the view was of some upper torsos of the artists. Worse was the sound, lost in the echoing galleries it was muddy and indistinct, similar to what I imagine the sound in a swimming pool might be like. Nevertheless the prospect of seeing John Murry, high on the acclaim of his debut solo album, The Graceless Age was indeed a tantalising prospect and despite the sound problems he put on a fantastic show. Backed by a three piece band (Sean Coleman, guitar, Michael Mullen, keyboards and Will Waghorn, drums and horn) Murry played several songs from the album and engaged in some lively banter with the audience (or at least the front rows who could hear him). He cut a clumsy and uncoordinated figure in between songs, fiddling with his pedals, at one point unable to choose which guitar to play, but when he played he did so with a passion that burned through the muddy sound and reminded the audience that he has lived the majority of the songs he played. The graceful and well produced elements of the Graceless Age were ditched in favour of a raw naked power with the guitar solos and feedback on Southern Sky raising hairs. At one point he asked if we wanted to hear a thin Lizzy guitar song and blasted into a frenzy of Neil Young like guitar thrashing which morphed into Penny Nails before climaxing with a Thin Lizzy type duel guitar workout. This was tremendous stuff. Murry paid tribute to the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse with a tender version of Maria’s Little Elbows but none of the songs had prepared the audience for his final piece. Introducing it as “a true fucking story”, he put down his guitar and sang Little Colored Balloons, a song which documents his near death from a drugs overdose. Without his stringed breastplate he seemed uncomfortable and unsure as to what to do with his hands. However his delivery of this harrowing and beautiful song was spine tingling as, voice wracked with emotion, he seemed to be reliving the trauma. This was raw, close to the edge drama, powerful and unsettling and when Murry abruptly left the stage leaving the band to close the song there was a small niggle at the back of one’s mind wondering if the emotional effort on show was just too much, too close to home. As a performance this was riveting and made one think of Neil Young’s stark Tonight’s The Night tour, teetering between brilliance and disaster. Oh to have seen this in a proper venue.

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After the psychodrama of John Murry The Cowboy Junkies were like a juggernaut that ploughed on despite ongoing sound problems. The lengthy blues soaked Working On A Building, all crashing guitars and cymbals, was the template for much of the night with Shining Moon featuring a harmonica solo that seemed to last forever. While there was plenty of Sturm und Drang, supplied by guitar, electric mandolin and drums throughout the set with Sweet Jane introduced by a thunderous rumble and clatter the best moments were when they eased up and laid back a little. With the middle section of the set dedicated to a brace of songs from their recent Wilderness collection two Vic Chesnutt covers, See You Around and Square Room were delivered with an appropriate delicate touch. Damaged From The Start benefited as a mainly acoustic piece and when Margo Timmins, brother Michael and Jeff Bird on mandolin delivered Townes Van Zandt’s Lungs and their own Remnin Park as a trio the instruments sparked as Timmons sang beautifully. Back to a full band they gave a fine rendition of Blue Moon Revisited while the encores, Misguided Angel and Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down showed that by then they had got to grips with the sound and had the audience enthralled. A very static band compared to Murry’s hyperactivity The Junkies surely pleased their fans and Margo Timmins was a commanding and gracious presence. However on the way out most folk I overheard were talking about Murry and his astonishing performance.