Gill Landry. Love Rides A Dark Horse. Loose Music

unnamed-39A bit of a dark horse himself when he was a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, Gill Landry seemed uncomfortable with the crowd pleasing antics of the band, preferring to deliver a more complex and somewhat darker vision via a series of acclaimed solo albums. Love Rides A Dark Horse was written in the aftermath of a time when Landry had, “destroyed all the pillars of my life intentionally and by accident.” A broken romance and disillusion with OCMS led to some revaluation with Landry thinking of the future as, “looking like an exhaustingly long walk through a knee-deep tunnel of shit ending in death,” however he describes the album as “more of ‘a map out of the darkness’ than ‘an invitation to it’.” Over the course of nine songs his attractive baritone leads the listener into a world of mournful reflection, a slew of ballads smoked in the ashes of loss, embellished with softly murmured arrangements, organ, lonesome harp and pedal steel to the fore.

There’s a rich velvet feel on the opening song, Denver Girls, with Landry delivering a tale that seems steeped in the past as the band add a cinematic feel not dissimilar to early Calexico. Taken at a fair clip, it’s the most up tempo song here with the remainder of the album slowing down allowing Landry to wallow in some fine miserablism. Bird In A Cage, a halting and haunting number with weeping pedal steel, finds Landry imprisoned in a downtown bar ruminating on where it all went wrong while Broken Hearts & The Things We’ll Never Know sets his failed romance as a screenplay replete with sorrowful fiddle. This sense of life being a screenplay is revisited in Scripted Love with Landry unable to live up to his lover’s romantic notions while there’s a plea to rise above this in The Woman You Are, an optimistic yet gloomy reverie with Landry singing, “remember when you asked where were going and I thought that I followed you.” The refrain, “you whispered soft in my ear, let’s get the fuck out of here” as simple and wishful as a get out of jail card.

Berlin is a brief respite from the wallow as it returns to the brisk tempo of the opening number with gliding pedal steel and fine keyboard work adding to the atmosphere. The One Who Won The War finds Landry sounding strangely like Billy Bragg at times on a trumpet infused number which dissects the aftermath of an affair. The Only Game In Town is a crack in the darkness as Landry considers, tentatively, a future love, his lyrics again referring to a “movie in the mind,” as he recommends a slow start. The album closes with a return to the cinematic feel of the opener. A lengthy instrumental introduction to The Real Deal Died, Spanish guitar and pedal steel offering a borderline landscape, leads into Landry’s one verse on this five minute song. He sings briefly of a man robbed of his identity although his essence remains. Listening to this one can’t help but think of the image of Travis Henderson stumbling through the desert in the opening scene of Paris Texas.

It may have been conceived in a dark place but on Love Rides A Dark Horse Landry has delivered a rich and sumptuous slice of melancholia. As the late L Cohen said, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

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Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules. Let Me Off At The Bottom album release show. The Rum Shack, Glasgow, Saturday 29th May.

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Lady Luck’s been smiling on Glaswegian Daniel Meade, either that or several years of hard graft is paying off as his song writing skills and musicianship are making waves well beyond his hometown. Following rave reviews for his independently released and Nashville recorded album, Keep Right Away, at the beginning of 2015 and support slots with artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Pokey LaFarge, Diana Jones and Old Crow Medicine Show Meade was signed to the well respected UK label At The Helm Records (joining an illustrious roster that includes Brent Best, John Moreland, Austin Lucas and Good Luck Mountain) earlier this year. The first fruit of this union, Let Me Off At The Bottom was released last week with some very positive press reviews in the run up to the day and the weekend saw Meade and his band The Flying Mules launch the album in fine style in Glasgow’s South Side.

Let Me Off At The Bottom is Meade’s third official release and the first to feature the band. Recorded in Glasgow (with mixing done by Morgan Jahnig in Tennessee) it’s a fine capture of the raucous hillbilly rock’n’roll and honky tonk country that Meade and The Mules (Lloyd Reid – guitar, Mark Ferrie – double bass, Thomas Sutherland – drums) excel in. Meade’s songs drink from the well of Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis (among others) and The Mules (who have notched up several hundred gigs over the past two years) are a well oiled music machine (not in the sense of well drunk). Their recent stint at The Kilkenny Roots festival in Ireland (five gigs in four days) is a contender for the festival highlight.

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Anyway, a capacity crowd turned up for the album launch. A good number were aware of the band but the audience was swelled by the show’s inclusion in Glasgow’s South Side Fringe Festival. This allowed the opportunity to see several folk, who before the band came on ask what sort of music they played,  pretty soon get up and join the party. And a party is what is was, the band in great form, the music infectious and impossible not to sit still for. There’s a great deal of nuance in Meade’s songs but live it’s much more primal as they cram sixty years of folk, blues, country and rock’n’roll into the set. With a batch of songs from the new album and some favourites from his back catalogue Mead and the band certainly ripped the joint.

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The band ripped into the opening trio of songs, Back To Hell, Not My Heart Again and There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used To Be creating an instant buzz before Meade sang the plaintive He Should Have Been Mine, a switch in mood but one which had the audience captivated. As far as I recall this was the only ballad of the night, the remainder being full blown rockabilly rock although the occasional country lope hove into view. With no  piano to hand Meade stuck to guitar for the night, showing some fine picking skills on Lock Up Your Daughters, a song which also included fine breaks from guitarist Lloyd Reid and bassist Mark Ferrie. Please Louise is a definite crowd pleaser, the bawdy lyrics going down a bomb, the girls at the front checking that it wasn’t their big behind Meade was singing about. If It’s Not Your Fault (I Guess It’s Mine) showed off the band dynamics starting off as a skifflish railroad beat before picking up steam. By the end there were dancers at the front and the back of the crowd (more space there to jitterbug I presume) and there was a definite (and justifiable) swagger about the band as they launched into Long Gone Wrong, a song that just about sums them up with its Sun Records rhythm and harmonies along with Meade’s lyrics that nail the travelling musician’s life. The set ended they offered one more song, a fine rendition of Sonny Terry’s Hooray, Hooray, a fine end to the night.

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There was an opening set for the evening from Sorbet, a guitar/bass/drum trio who ventured into the avant-garde as they responded to a backdrop of films which included the first two parts of Jean Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un Poète. They were followed by guitar/drums duo The Rivers who describe themselves as “country grunge”.  An exciting pair with jangled guitar and frantic percussion there was a Buzzcocks like rush to a song that I think was called your Love Is On My Side while their new single, Nine Miles High is worth checking out.

Murder Murder. From The Stillhouse.

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Oh well, another category to file beside rock and pop and insurgent country doo-wop (and if you have any of the latter please let us know). This time it’s Bloodgrass, defined by Northern Ontario band Murder Murder as bluegrass +outlaw country +murder ballads. A six piece shit kicking acoustic set up Murder Murder certainly flail along at quite a pace, the bass and drums propelling their guitars, fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and banjo with some abandon, indeed the occasional break from their breakneck numbers here are welcome respite, a chance to catch some breath.

The songs are frontier tales, bloody revenge, double crossed lovers, death dealing bootleggers and hellfire preaching all included. Written by the band the songs are graphic, with none of the coyness that was sometimes used in the good old trad days. On Half Hitch Knot the brother of a woman beat up by her man hogties him singing, “You’re a polite cocksucker with your hands tied up, like a barnyard pig just about to get stuck” while Bridge County’s bootlegger metes out punishment to a rival, “I found him standin’ by the old ash woods, I cut that fucker down right where he stood”.  Sung with some panache, indeed relish, the vocals are rousing while the band is like a well oiled machine, the instruments meshing splendidly, the songs packed with dynamic shifts in tempo that add to the drama.

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They do rein it in on a couple of numbers. When The Lord Calls Your Name preaches repentance for a life of sin, the melody similar to that of A Satisfied Mind while Bridge County flows slowly, the vocals dramatic, the fiddles scraping over a steady drumbeat, the tension building as the song culminates in a bloody battle with the law. There’s one cover, a poignant choice given recent news, as the band deliver Guy Clark’s The Last Gunfighter Ballad, the tempo upped somewhat from the original but lyrically it fits right in with the band’s own writing skills. Indeed, they even throw in a lusty shanty of sorts about gay pirates on Duck Cove, of course, it ends in murder and mayhem.

There’s a rabble-rousing element to the album, like Old Crow Medicine Show or even Dropkick Murphys music these songs should take to the stage like a duck to water. You can see if that’s the case as Murder Murder are currently on their first tour of the UK. All dates are here and include Edinburgh at Stramash on 28th May and Glasgow’s McChuill’s on the 29th.

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Asleep At The Wheel. Still The King. Proper Records

Celebrating The Music of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys runs the banner under the album title and aside from that there’s precious little to say about this fabulous album; if you’re a fan of Asleep At The Wheel or Western Swing then you’ve probably already bagged this one. However there are folk out there who might not be so enamoured of the genre and who might be persuaded to dip a toe in the water, if so then this is as fine a place to start as any.

Western swing was a jazzy big band country pop phenomenon in the late thirties and forties, fiddle and pedal steel taking the place of sax solos and Bob Wills And His Texan Playboys were the kings of Western Swing. Asleep At The Wheel, led by the irrepressible Ray Benson appeared from the Austin, Texas melting pot of the early seventies, swinging with a vengeance and have been doing so ever since. Still The King is in fact their third tribute to Wills and pretty much follows the same formula, a roster of well-known country artists backed by Benson and the band. With several of the songs featured on all three albums (along with a few of the guest artists) one might wonder why Benson continues to record these. Well, Still The King features some of the younger country musicians who have come to prominence over the past decade with Old crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers and Pokey LaFarge all making an appearance. As Ray Benson told Rolling Stone recently “This album is just me trying to get younger and older Bob Wills aficionados together. Every time we put one of these out, I always say it’s the last one. But I shouldn’t say that because it’s not like this music ever died.”

So here we have 22 Western Swing classics, every one a winner really. The old timers are all here, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Del McCoury, George Strait, Robert Earle Keen, Lyle Lovett along with two surviving members of the original Texas Playboys, vocalist Leon Rausch, now aged 86, and sax player, the 92 year old Billy Briggs. There’s a host of others, all bringing something unique to the project but we only have space to mention a few favourites. The Avett’s have great fun with The Girl I Left Behind Me as they get back to their roots. Lyle Lovett croons as only he can on the bluesy Trouble In Mind while Brad Paisley does a great job on My Window Faces The South. Robert Earl Keen dives headfirst into the tongue twisting Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas with Benson duetting (and a special mention here for the very fine pedal steel solo, sublime!). Old Crow Medicine Show deviate somewhat from the overall sound as they basically overlay their own act over Texan swing pedal steel on their fiddletastic and frantic version of Tiger Rag. Of the youngsters Pokey LaFarge perhaps comes out tops as he really lets rip vocally towards the end of What’s The Matter With The Mill, small wonder as he’s been playing this type of music for the past decade. As for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, well, they stamp their authority on their respective numbers (Navajo Trail and Keeper Of My Heart) and both are excellent.

Sure, the songs are somewhat corny but these days corny might actually be hip and there’s no denying that throughout these 22 songs the playing is exemplary with some excellent fiddle, mandolin, piano and pedal steel all present. If you dig classic country then this is a no brainer. Buy it, get the other tributes and then seek out other Asleep At The Wheel classics and maybe some Bob Wills originals, you’ll be a satisfied soul.

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Daniel Meade. Keep Right Away. From The Top Records.

2014’s been quite a year for Glasgow based country and roots rocker, Daniel Meade. His debut album, As Good As Bad Can Be, released last year, had led to BBC Radio Scotland airplay and a video of his radio session came to the attention of Old Crow Medicine Show’s bassist, Morgan Jahnig. Sensing a kindred spirit Jahnig set wheels in motion leading to Meade travelling to Nashville to record Keep Right Away. In the interim Meade played a support slot for the then relatively unknown Sturgill Simpson and the pair hit it off with Simpson, who is now just about the hottest ticket in Country music, asking Meade to accompany him on his subsequent tour and then for Meade’s band, The Flying Mules, to play the support slot on his third and all conquering trip around the UK. To cap all this Meade is sitting at home back in October when his phone rings. It’s his new pals, the Old Crow guys. Their support act for their sold out Glasgow show is stuck in Ireland with the ferries cancelled. Could Daniel oblige? Several hours later, Meade and his guitarist, Lloyd Reid are astride the ABC stage as several thousand Glaswegians roar their approval.

You almost couldn’t make this up but it’s testament to Meade’s talent that guys of the calibre of Simpson and OCMS are first in line to recognise it. In addition his own work rate and dogged determination is now paying off. While it might seem that he’s sprung from nowhere Meade has beavered away with a past that includes a brief shot at rock stardom with The Ronelles. Hooked on The Beatles from the age of 13 he delved into the past to discover artists such as Hank Williams, Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Jerry lee Lewis before hooking into current acts that shared his love of this music such as Old Crow Medicine Show, Justin Townes Earle, and Pokey LaFarge. When he’s not touring he can be found playing several nights a week in local bars and clubs, solo, as a duo or with a band, honing his skills. Blabber’n’Smoke can testify, having seen him several times with audiences ranging from four folk and a dog to a room of 50 folk, a hall for 500 or a concert for 2500, that he delivers every time.

Testimonial over, what of the album? True to his word Jahnig produced and conjured up a dream team including fellow Old Crow members Chance McCoy and Cory Younts, BR549’s Chris Scruggs, Joshua Hedley, fiddle player for Justin Townes Earle and Aaron Oliva. Meanwhile Meade’s long time guitar associate, Lloyd Reid, another Glasgow chap, adds his fine skills to the mix while there are guest appearances from Diana Jones and Shelly Colvin. The result is an untrammelled success with Meade delivering 13 songs that draw deep from the well of traditional American acoustic roots music with honky tonk, sad waltzes, string band stomps and rockabilly all featured. While his debut album had all these, here the bar is raised both in the writing and the performance with the players lifting it up to another level. Perhaps the best example is the rollicking country romp of Gimme A Draw with its honky tonk piano, harmonica vamps, talking blues vocals and western swing delivery. Similar in style (and content) to Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette it swings mightily. Swing and rockabilly and at times even skiffle, inhabit the uptempo numbers here with the opening number Long Gone Wrong a classic take on 50’s rock’n’roll when country musicians were shoved into studios with quiffed young studs and Gospel quartets. Trying, Rising River Blues and Livin’ On Tootsie Time are all cracking skillet lickin’ country romps with a lick of rock and string band shenanigans thrown in with Meade particularly impressive on the tongue twisting vocals of the latter as he barn dances and barrels along and the band scoot magnificently. Meade releases the throttle to deliver Always Close To Tears which cleaves to the Hank Williams’ songbook with a fine swagger while Not My Heart Again (with Shelly Colvin on vocals) is classic Williams’ honky tonking with some fine humbucking guitar licks from Reid. The Hangman Blues is probably the song here that owes most to the influence of the Old Crow players as it twists and turns with sly slide guitars while Keep Right Away recalls The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in the seventies.

So far so good but the album excels when Meade gets maudlin and weary. Sometime’s A Fool’s The Last To Know is a tears in a bottle, Charlie Pride like, countrypolitan lament, Always Close To Tears could have come from the George Jones songbook while Mexico‘s accordion colourings remind one of Freddy Fender. The jewel here is the astounding duet with Diana Jones, Help Me Tonight, as Meade visits saloon bar territory with tacky piano stuttering along to this wearied love song that stands tall against comparisons to the great country duets with an antebellum feel and a sepia stained sound. Finally we need to mention Meade’s tribute to his forebears on Sing It Loud, a very fine loose limbed and fiddle laced shamble of a song that nails his colours to the mast and harks back to the outlaw country days.

Keep Right Away is released in January and already it’s looking to be one of the top albums of the year, certainly from a home raised musician. Meade will be touring in support of the release and the dates are here. In the meantime local folk should check their listings as it might be that soon enough Mr. Meade might not be so local if things go well for him.

The Dirty Beggars. Time To Reminisce E.P. Wayward Sounds Records

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Borders’ band The Dirty Beggars have been busy honing their skills with gigs a plenty including several festivals since we mentioned their superb debut album Bite The Bullet back in January 2012. A very talented bunch indeed they came across as a local version of Old Crow Medicine Show and importantly had the writing chops to back up this claim without a traditional song in sight. Well they’ve been back in the studio and the first fruit is this excellent E. P. of three songs all written by vocalist Kieran Begbie. From the opening bars of Bury The Past it’s clear that the Beggars are on fine form as they skittle their way through this uplifting number. With banjo and fiddle well to the fore and some fine harmony singing the song is driven by well scrubbed guitars while Begbie’s voice has a well worn quality to it. It’s an assured, jaunty number with a fine hook in the chorus while the lyrics capture the sense of an elder offering advice to the young. A damn fine start. Unforgiven begins with a burial as the singer regrets his hell raising days and tries to get on with his new life as a farmer. It’s a powerful song with wonderful hints of penance and redemption on what is an almost cinematic tale. From the baleful opening the harmonies rise and momentum builds up as the band pile in. The fiddle playing here is particularly fine resonating with a lonesome howl. Come Away With Me closes the disc with Begbie inhabiting a younger soul looking to make a future for himself away from a dead end life. Again the Beggars nail it with a sound that’s as old as the hills and a fine sense of a rural America that’s slowly dying as its young are forced to look for work away from their small town existence looking for a paradise just a few States away. A melancholic desperate air pervades the song despite the optimistic goal with fiddle soaring as the guitars and banjo drive on and Begbie sings with an authenticity that beggars belief.

All in all this is a collection that builds on their debut with the band portraying an uncanny ability to capture a sound and feel that one can only imagine they’ve picked up from some dedicated listening. We look forward to hearing what they do next.

The E.P will be available from the 29th November and The Dirty Beggars have a launch gig at The Classic Grand that day.

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Coyote Grace Now Take Flight.

A Seattle based trio Coyote Grace began as a duo busking at the famous Pike Place Fish Market while more recently their profile was raised on several tours in the States supporting the Indigo Girls. Now Take Flight, their fifth album, certainly supports their claim to wider acclaim packed as it is with some fine playing and above all excellent songs. The trio (Joe Stevens, Ingrid Elizabeth and Michael Connolly) impress with some fantastic harmonies while Stevens and Elizabeth both have distinctive and attractive voices. The overall sound is not too far removed from the likes of Larkin Poe, Old Crow Medicine Show or indeed the Indigo Girls themselves. Acoustic based with plenty of frills in the shape of mandolin, banjo, ukulele, accordion and fiddle these are not country songs but a very pleasant set of intelligent songs that have a radio friendly approach that would please those whose idea of roots music is the Avett Brothers.
The main strength here however is in the songwriting. Stevens produces several gems including the delicate Flowers and the superb These Gray Days which captures perfectly the feel of winter malaise and which features some very impressive upright bass playing by Connolly. Elizabeth is no slouch in the songwriting stakes although she favours an earthier touch which is apparent in the bluesy stroll of Born Blind while she gets downright dirty on the slinky organ driven Kansas which manages to reference the Wizard of Oz on a tale of a groupie chasing her chosen star. Fact is all of these songs are great including a choice cover of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. Well recommended.

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