Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty. Going Down.

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A Vancouver band, Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty are based around the talents of Mississippi born Connely Farr who, with his three Canadian band mates (Jay B. Johnson, drums; Ben Yardley, guitar and Jon Wood, bass, piano and organ) released a very fine slab of Southern rock on 2010’s Way Down Here. Going Down maintains the quality of its predecessor and in a similar fashion mines a sound more akin to the Deep South rather than what we might expect from the Canadian seaboard. As for Deep South we mean the guitar charged thrust of bands like The Drive By Truckers as opposed to soul or blues.

The album opens with the country rock strains of Trouble, a deceptive opener as thereafter we are in deep rock country but it’s a lovely song, Farr’s hoarse vocal delivery carrying just the right amount of hurt to counteract the sweet guitar lines. The title song follows and dives into a clangourous riff with a garage punk sneer; turn this one up as it will rattle the house. It’s So Easy pales in comparison with its relatively tame delivery although the sparring guitars midway are invigorating while Hurtin’ (written by Johnson) limits itself with a pile driving riff that recalls muddy seventies boogie bands without really going anywhere. Likewise Mexico, which despite some superb guitar squalls, lacks the originality and vigour of its compadre songs here.

All is forgiven however with the spectral guitars, gloomy organ and rolling drums of Dead & Gone and the brooding Country Boy which serves to deliver the heads of the Truckers and Neil Young on your platter. Here the guitars curl with a menace as the song heads into the swamps. Even better is Bad Bad Feeling where Jon Wood’s production recalls his work with Cam Penner, slide guitars sound as if they’re being scraped by rusty knives as Farr descends into an alcohol fuelled hell.

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Jim Dead & The Doubters. Pray For Rain

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Been a while since we heard from Jim Dead, Glasgow’s premier purveyor of dry gulch rock. His last missive from the missions was  I’m Not Lost back in 2013 where he and his compadre Craig Hughes plugged in with a crackling intensity. On Pray For Rain Dead has resurrected his occassional backing band The Doubters (on this occasion comprised of Stuart Begley on guitar; Frankie Coia on bass and Tommy Clark on drums ) and with his new posse in tow seems to have been spending some time in a bar with a jukebox populated with early ZZ Top and Creedence discs. It’s a cantankerous listen, scribbled with quarrelling guitars and a heavy bass/drum thud, Dead’s voice wailing like a biblical prophet. While his previous releases have always had a whiff of Morricone inspired dusty vistas here the gloves are off and the band are howling at the moon.

One of the highlights of Dead’s previous full length album, Ten Fires, was the loping death sentence of John Landstrom Must Die and it’s this song that is the template for Pray For Rain. Dead and Begley’s guitars spar throughout be it the on the jagged juggernaut that is the opening song, Wooden Kimono, the sludge ridden blues riff of the title song or the evil slide opening to You Coulda Said, the latter especially invigorating. There’s evidence of Dead’s allegiance to metal with Lovesick Blues sounding like an unholy marriage of Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer as Dead screams, “You don’t love me, I don’t like me too” over an almighty riff. And overall the riff is king here as Dead & The Doubters demolish the melodies on their steamroller ride with May The Road Rise an almighty example.

There are glimpses of Dead’s earlier incarnations. Crows On The Wire is a jaunty country rock romp (although it’s wired to the moon with its zinging guitar lines) and Home returns to his role as a shamanistic weatherman singing, “There’s a wind coming in from the west, woman by my side says she knows best. It’s taken all I have just to find a place where I can stop and have a rest.” It opens up with a resigned air, slowly jangled guitar over a slow beat before an excellent fuzzed guitar solo weighs in. This yin/yan dynamic persists throughout the song with Dead sounding increasingly desperate. The album closes with the slow burn of I’m Not Lost (a song that wasn’t on the EP of the same name) that harks back to the Neil Young like epics of Ten Fires. A seven minute long miasma of thrashing and squalling guitars with a Crazy Horse backbeat it pummels the listener into surrender.

Jim Dead & The Doubters will be playing at the album release show at the 13th Note in Glasgow on Friday 4th December with support from Craig Hughes’ Dog Howl Moon. If Dead can summon up the intensity he’s captured here it should be a fine night.

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Israel Nash – Reopening the Cosmic American Frontier

Fans of that old Hollywood hippie sound, the days of the blissed out David Crosby, tetchy Steve Stills and brooding Neil Young and the glorious nugget that is Gene Clark’s masterpiece, No Other, have recently had the opportunity to vicariously relive those days simply by purchasing a copy of Israel Nash’s latest album. Silver Season, released on Loose Records is a sun-blistered swathe of Topanga Canyon like songs, teased out on record, itching to be let loose live, the guitars crackling while pedal steel soars and swoops. Nash sings in a similar vein to a young Neil Young but it’s the music that is rooted in those bygone days, not a nostalgia trip but a feeling, espoused by Nash (who by the way is no relation to the fourth member of that supreme LA supergroup) that music can change, if not the world, then at least those who are listening to it. Recorded in his newly built home studio the album takes aim at gun crime (on Parlour Song) and delivers a wonderful hymn to the narcotic pull of Los Angeles on LA Lately and is a worthy follow up to Nash’s acclaimed 2013 release Rain Plains.

We caught up with Israel as he was heading to New York in the back of an RV. The phone line was tenuous to say the least but the following hopefully carries the gist of the talk which I opened by apologising in advance for the possibility of mentioning Neil Young et al ad nauseam. I asked him if he got fed up with the comparisons.

No, I’m alright with that. People like to talk about Neil Young anyway, he’s one of the big ones so go ahead.

Rain Plains and Silver Seasons seem to be much of a kin but Seasons is somewhat denser with a more psychedelic shimmer to it, would that be a fair enough description?

Well it wasn’t a major goal as such as it just developed that way. After Rain Plains we were playing the album live and it just got us into the way of looking at the album and taking it to another level so it’s like a transition. I look at the album and the music as a presentation. I think that I tried to blend myself as a listener and a writer with all the things I’ve been influenced by and that I’ve tried to grab the listener with everything I can – the artwork, the songs, the whole opportunity you have to suck a listener into this place for an hour.

It’s a huge sound, stratospheric one could say. I really dig the way the pedal steel plays around the electric guitars gliding here and there while the songs shimmer with a sort of heat haze.

That’s a big aspect of what we were working on, the balance between the melodic instruments, they just dance together throughout the record. Gram Parsons had this idea of cosmic American music and I guess the pilot’s just got a little more cosmic.

Parlour Song in particular reminds me of a couple of early Neil Young moments, the orchestrated Expecting To Fly from back in Buffalo Springfield days and towards the end the anger that was evident on Ohio with you shouting out. It’s quite visceral.

Yes, I think that over my years as a musician the songs have become more than just songs, I want to create a space that not only lets you listen to them but makes you go whoa! The beginning of that song is supposed to mimic a funeral precession and it’s really trying to get people in there and see what’s going on in their minds and what they feel like.

I was going to ask you about the introduction, it’s got a cinematic feel, like something from Morricone.

Well it’s inspired by The Godfather II. There’s a scene in it with young Vito in Sicily at his father’s funeral and Copolla does this cool shot with the sound of crickets and in the distance this rag tag band meandering through the hills. Those hills reminded me of the Hill Country in Texas and so I wanted to do something like that. So we recorded the crickets and then we tried to mimic the movie’s panned shot, we tried a bi aural set up, we put two microphones outside and played the track through speakers we carried as we marched about.

LA Lately is simply stunning and again there’s a short introductory passage which sets the scene.

That’s trying to introduce the emotional impact of leaving Texas and going to LA. It’s like, “where did all the hope go?” It’s trying to represent that feeling, a kind of brooding about getting ready to go out there but also the excitement of going away. And then LA represents that unease and unpredictability, again it’s an emotional journey. The song’s about our experience in LA. We played our first headline show there and we had a moment. It’s always exciting that I get to play music but I was overwhelmed that we had such a great show there. LA just has this thing, this history, like Steve Stills and Neil Young meeting on the freeway.

At the end of the album, on Rag and Bone you slip into a chorus of We Shall Overcome. Can I ask you why?

Well the rag and bone man, that’s a real British thing I read about. They seem to be like the least of us in society and to treat people like that, well for me there are a lot of themes across the album and one of them is the idea that there are so many things, man made conventions that we assume are important to society but which are actually not important at all in the grand scheme of things. Like money is made up, time is made up, all these things, they’re restraints that we’ve put on ourselves. The rag and bone men, well we just put them down but we should just change this with a little love, take a step back and make it a little simpler. It might seem like this is a hippie ideal but the older I get the more adamant I am about it, it’s not youthful foolish thinking because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen live shows with people around me catch this contagious atmosphere and as for the closing of the song the idea is that we can have a singalong at the end. I mean what’s wrong with a roomful of people singing we should love one another. It’s just another element of what I feel about music – it’s not just another guitar solo or some badass thing, it’s way bigger than that, it’s way bigger than just rock’n’roll, it’s relationships and it’s people

You recorded the album in your own home studio. Can you tell us about that?

Well we’ve got about 15 acres at Dripping Spring so that was always the plan to build a studio and it finally happened. I got a Quonset hut which is a metal building which has 20 arches and is held together by 3,500 bolts. The plan is to record my own music and produce other people’s records, a place where I can walk from my house straight to the studio to work on material.

That and your story of walking outside recording Parlour Song reminds me of Graham Nash’s story of Neil Young listening to the playback of Harvest using his house and his barn as speakers and yelling out More barn!

Yeah, that’s a cool Neil story.

I believe there are plans to come back over to Europe soon.

We’re going to go out, playing the album front to back, that’s what we have in store for Europe, playing the album as one full piece of music and we’re doing a London show early next year. Hopefully we’ll be back in the UK again after that.

Isreal Nash will be playing a set of European dates commencing in January 2016 with a London show on 15th February, all dates are here. Silver Season will be available on vinyl in November. You can read my review of the album here

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Crazy Horse. At Crooked Lake

Everyone reading this will know of Crazy Horse. Neil Young’s very own bone crunching band whom he wheels out when he needs to let his hair down. There’s no denying that they’ve been involved in some of Young’s most memorable moments and with their partnership going back over 40 years they are invariably caught up in Shakey’s story. Plucked from an LA band called the Rockets, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Danny Whitton became Crazy Horse for Young’s Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere before adding Nils Lofgren and Jack Nitzsche to produce their own album, one of the finest debuts ever. And for most folk that’s the end of the Crazy Horse story apart from their regular gig with the man.
Lofgren and Nitzche went their separate ways and Whitton OD’d and was written into musical history via Young’s Tonight’s The Night. With Young zooming towards fame with Harvest Talbot and Molina scrabbled together a new line up releasing Loose, an album that soon cluttered up cut out bins in record stores with Robert Christgau calling it “the most disappointing follow-up in memory.” Undeterred the Horse again regrouped adding brothers Rick (vocals, rhythm guitar, banjo) and Michael Curtis (vocals, piano, organ, guitar and mandolin) and Greg Leroy (vocals, lead guitar, bottleneck guitar) and recording At Crooked Lake which was released on Epic Records in 1972 to general indifference. Normally they shoot horses past their best but this one was pardoned when Talbot, Molina and new guitarist Frank Sampedro were recruited by Young for his Zuma album. Rejuvenated they even produced a cracker of an album, Crazy Moon with Young playing guitar all over it. Again it sank like a stone but is well worth checking out.
Anyway, this is all a fairly long winded way to say that At Crooked Lake is being reissued by Retroworld allowing folk who want to delve into the Horse to avoid exorbitant prices for previous out of print copies. “Is it any good?” we ask. Well our answer is a qualified yes. Anyone looking for the Whitton/Nitzsche brilliance of the first album will be disappointed and there’s none of the pile driving thunder demanded of Young. In fact apart from the presence of the Talbot and Molina rhythm section it’s probably best to ignore the brand name and approach this as an opportunity to hear another unearthed example of early seventies west coast rock. With the majority of the songs written by either the Curtis brothers or Leroy ( all of whom faded into history although Rick Curtis dallied with the fledgling Fleetwood Mac LA version) there’s a definite sense of the pot pourri music of the time as they dip their toes into country rock, FM friendly rock boogie and CSNY like harmonies. It has to be said that if you crank this up it does transport the listener to the early seventies with the band coming across as a blend of Poco and Grin. The opener, Rock and Roll Band, nails their colours to the mast with fine harmonies and guitar duelling, the type of music the fictitious Stillwater played in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous movie. It’s an invigorating start. Love Is Gone dapples acoustically with some fine acoustic slide while We Ride channels Steve Stills and Dave Crosby to a tee. There’s a couple of gurney country romps present with Outside Looking In sounding like a rough and ready Ringo Starr while 85 El Paso’s floats away on a boozy country vibe. Don’t Keep Me Burning unfortunately falls into generic boogie territory while Lady Soul is packed with clichés that don’t really hold sway these days. Don’t Look Back is a tub thumper of a song (although again the lyrics show their age) with some savage guitar licks but the overall beauty here is the simple acoustic ballad, Your Song which is graced by the pedal steel of Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
Overall a minor entry in the seventies soft rock canon but a welcome opportunity to grab a small piece of the Neil Young jigsaw for those inclined.

Wiser Time, Jeff Talmadge and Cam Penner

Three fine albums here, take your pick…..

Wiser Time. Beggars and Thieves.

First up are New Jersey band Wiser Time with their third release, Beggars and Thieves. Starting off with a rumbling guitar that smacks of Keith Richards’ exiled in the south of France the opening song Love and Devotion fails to live up to the wasted elegance that comprised Exile on Main Street but nonetheless is a fine slice of slide and piano driven boogie that ultimately recalls Little Feat. Main man Carmen Sclafani is obviously in thrall to the early seventies sound of such bands however this is not a retread of tired boogiedom and some of the better moments occur when the band ease back and rock gently with Sclafani dipping into a more mellow mood. Take Me back Home for example has some elements of Steve Stills’ solo work but with a sweet fiddle and mandolin backdrop and some fine guitar work this is a tremendous song. The B3 organ that comes in at the end adds a fine organic feeling and at times this sounds like an American roots version of a Steve Winwood ballad. The following song It’s Hard Letting You Go maintains this quality, a piano based ballad with Lowell George like slide guitar from Jimmy Somma it would fit perfectly on the soundtrack to “Almost Famous.” The album closes with a superb cover of the Bad Company song, Seagull which in our mind is an improvement on the original, less dramatic and enhanced by some very sympathetic percussion and mandolin, basically an encapsulation of the whole album, an affectionate nod to those far away days.
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Take Me back Home

Jeff Talmadge. Kind of Everything.

Talmadge was a Texas lawyer who packed it in to become an itinerant musician working very much in the Texan vein with clear routes back to Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark. While he hasn’t produced anything to match the best of either of these two he does provide a winning take on the genre on this, his seventh album. Armed with an attractive vocal delivery, warm but experienced, he spins tales of Texas folk buttressed by a superb line up of musicians that include Pat McInerney on percussion, Fats Kaplin, fiddle and steel guitar Freddy Holm, Dobro, Ray Bonneville, harmonica, Lloyd Maines, pedal steel and Tim O’Brien on mandolin. In fact anyone who likes acoustic albums laced with Dobro, steel guitar, mandolin and fiddle need read no more, just buy this.
While there are some upbeat songs including the opening If It wasn’t For the Wind, a David Olney cover and the jaunty Sometimes You Choose Love the meat of the album is in the moodier, darker moments with several that raise the album well above the average. One Spectacular Moon has a romantic yearning to it and features some fine fiddle playing from Kaplin. It’ll Sure be Cold Tonight is a stark tale of homelessness that raises goosepimples. Molly showcases Tim O’Brien’s mandolin on a tale that is straight out of the Townes Van Zandt stylebook. Summer Road is a classic of its sort, elegiac, wide screen nostalgia, this is dusty and vital. Finally He’ll Give Her Back This Town Tonight is a break up song that is delivered in a heartbreaking style with the band excelling on the oh so sympathetic backing, a song that could be destined for late night radio programmers everywhere.
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He’ll Give Her back This Town Tonight

Cam Penner Gypsy Summer.

Canadian Cam Penner has released several albums that can be considered “confessional.” Tender, despite his occasionally gruff voice his last release Trouble and Mercy was a stripped down affair. Here, despite recording the album in a cabin near the Rockies, he achieves a plush, warm, occasionally funky sound that is dynamic and engaging. Guitars and bass throb and thrum, strings (violin and viola) add to the drama at times and the percussion drives several songs with an almost J. J. Cale like shuffle. The title song unwinds slowly building to a crescendo that is spooky and evil sounding, as most songs with Gypsy in the title seem to do. Ghost Car has a strong pulse beat that drives the song which has a neon lit highway feel to it while the clash and clatter of My Lover & I is the sort of R’n’B shuffle that Ry Cooder has been fond of in the past, there’s a decidedly southern feel to this. The highlight of the album is the opening song Driftwood which starts off with a classic guitar /harmonica part so beloved of Neil Young. Perhaps it’s the title of the song but we find some of The Band’s influence here also as Penner delivers a downbeat tale of a relationship that’s taking some work to keep together. Here Penner and his band deliver a perfectly nuanced folk rock song. An instrumental reprise of the song towards the end of the album supports its claim to be a superior piece of music.
The closing song Come As You Are reverts to Penner’s stripped down style with just guitar, piano and voice and is reminiscent of Bill Callaghan’s work in Smog. A fine end to a fine album.
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Driftwood