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.

Keegan McInroe. Uncouth Pilgrims.


Anyone with a hankering for some good old-fashioned Texan singer/song writing in the fashion of Michael Murphy or Terry Allen would be well advised to check out this fourth album from Keegan McInroe. McInroe has a knack for producing simple sounding songs that are melodic and memorable, honed by years of solo troubadouring through the States and Europe. Simple sounding perhaps but lyrically he garlands them with acute observations and well-crafted tales with much of this album inspired by events on his travels (the album title is a nod to Mark Twain’s European travelogue The Innocents Abroad).  He may be an old-fashioned solo troubadour on the road but here there’s a band of fellow travellers well able to summon up a fine rootsy folk feel or dive into a soulful swampy groove. It’s a lengthy cast list so suffice to say that fiddle, pedal steel, harmonica, mandolin, Dobro, ukulele and keyboards are all added to the basic guitar bass’n’drums set up. Overall the set up works but there’s a dichotomy here with some songs veering well away from the well-travelled folksinger mode.

McInroe nails his colours to the mast with the opening Country Music Outlaw, a witty number in which he maps out his life in terms of his heroes while admitting that he’s just another “shaggy singer of songs”.  Tonight is reminiscent of Terry Allen (particularly in the piano playing) and introduces a theme of sorts to the album, the transient romances common to travellers with Begona, a lovely pedal steel infused song, and Verona, with Dobro and accordion adding colour, continue in a similar manner, the latter alluding to the Shakespearean connections enjoyed by Verona.

McInroe offers up a fine story in a Townes Van Zandt style on the lengthy Woody & Ruth and on Give Me The Rain he recalls Randy Newman both in the melody and delivery. For the remainder of the album McInroe dips into a beefier sound which overall is less successful than the folkier offerings. I Got Trouble works well, a jagged bluesy guitar and gospel chorus and organ combine to create a sense of panic, late nights and drink fuelled paranoia, a theft in Barcelona. There’s more menace in Nikolina, a late night spiked trip down a blowsy jazz ridden blues that could be Tom Waits in his cups. Here McInroe is as far removed from his folky image as can be imagined but he pulls it off, the song quite powerful. The title song however is a pounding jackhammer blues effort that just jars in comparison to its siblings.

McInroe concludes the album with another summary of sorts on the jaunty Lay Down where he details his own travels, no need for heroes here, just him and his guitar, city to city, looking for some love.

Keegan McInroe embarks on another European tour this month with some UK dates included, see here.