Doghouse Roses. Lost Is Not Losing. Yellowroom Music.

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Back in March Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Paul Tasker about his solo album Cold Weather Music. We also spent some time discussing the exciting news that Doghouse Roses had a new album recorded, their first in six years with Paul promising a November release. True to his word, Lost Is Not Losing hits the streets this week and, several listens in we can confirm that it’s been well worth the wait.

Comprised of Tasker on guitar and the glorious voice of Iona MacDonald, Doghouse Roses are one of those bands who are critics’ favourites with a devoted following both here and abroad especially in Europe. Critical acclaim however doesn’t always butter the bread and following their excellent 2010 album This Broken Key they had a hiatus of sorts.  An invitation from cult US art rockers Television to open for them on a European tour in 2014 was a kind of kick starter and it paved the way to this album. They’ve been back on the road and released two EPs in the past two years and finally with Lost is Not Losing they emerge triumphant.

Since their tentative string laden debut and the woody Americana of This Broken Key Tasker and MacDonald have matured as songwriters and while they still tread in the footsteps of artists such as the Pentangle family, Gillian Welch, Fairport Convention and John & Beverly Martyn the pair confidently march forward. The album is a fine mix of assured and melodic folk rock along with strong ballads and even some mild rockabilly. Gathering around them a sympathetic crew of musicians and vocalists the album is fully realised, the songs throughout balanced perfectly.

They open with the liquid gravitas of Pour, a lambent lament on the effects of alcohol on a relationship with Tasker’s electric guitar slowly burning as MacDonald commands the voice of a wounded soul, battered but proud, the song akin to an early Fairport number when Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny were ascending to their heights. With drums and bass from Craig Lawrie and Stephen McGourty gently propelling the song along with harmonies from Jo Shaw and Biff Smith the song is a fine declaration from Doghouse Roses that they’re back. To Decide displays the pair unadorned, Tasker’s guitar wizardry and MacDonald’s voice welded to each other on a wistful ripple of a song which seems to have had its genesis in late night post gig decisions. The pair delight again on the old time New Year Rag, a song that has a political context delivered with the breezy sassiness of the likes of Malvina Reynolds while the starkly beautiful After Sun addresses an environmental collapse and Feed The Monster tips against global avarice and the indifference which allows it to grow unfettered.

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Elsewhere the basic duo sound is gently expanded to include mandolin ripples (from Laura Beth Salter) on The Whistle Song offering a fine folk lilt and an opportunity for Tasker and Salter to indulge in some duelling string playing. Jez Hellard adds some excellent and earthy harmonica to the tale of a prostitute on Fairground and there’s a full band set up for the breezy folk rock of Crooked Life which in a blindfold test could easily be assumed to be an outtake from Fleetwood Mac’s witchy Stevie Nicks. There’s some electric guitar muscle on the driving rock of Weather The Storm (courtesy of John Alexander), the song itself wonderfully arranged in its dynamics and vocal performances in the middle eight especially. Perfect radio fodder as is the chunky retro groove of Diesel Engine with the Roses’ letting their hair down somewhat as various guitars slip and slide and snarl, the lead on this occasion handled by Slovenian guitarist Dejan Lapanja.

The album draws to a close with a song that sounds as if it’s been summoned from the halcyon days of sixties folk. Days Of Grass And Sun displays the duo’s strengths with MacDonald’s voice crystal clear and assured as Tasker lays down his intricate finger picking and flourishes. The song itself has the perfect mixture of simplicity and memorable melody that characterised the likes of Tom Paxton, Fred Neil and even Joni Mitchell in her Clouds era. It’s a wonderful ending to what is a wonderful album throughout.

Lost Is Not Losing is released this Friday with a launch event at The State Bar in Glasgow. They appear again the next night at The Admiral Bar as part of a Light Of Day charity gig  before the band head off to Germany for a short tour. Dates here

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Doghouse Roses/Joseph Parsons. The Hug & Pint. Glasgow. Friday 8th April 2016

A welcome return to Glasgow for one of our favourite duos, Doghouse Roses. An extremely packed venue saw singer (and guitarist) Iona MacDonald and guitarist Paul Tasker unveil some songs from their forthcoming album (with some early teasers available via a tour only EP). In addition, Tasker has just released his first solo album, Cold Weather Music, but he was modest enough to only mention it once and only play one tune from his instrumental disc.

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First up was Joseph Parsons, an American living in Germany whom the Roses had befriended on their continental jaunts. Parsons, accompanied by the very nimble fingered Freddi Lubitz delivered a fine set of songs that saw him savage George Bush Jnr. and pay tribute to friends who were victims of the AIDS epidemic on the touching Roman & Michael. He opened the set with the excellent regretful love song, Guess I’m A Fool Again and offered some noirish LA sheen on Dume Room. With Lubitz on second guitar, playing his solos with a refined touch on the effects pedal, Parsons conjured up some fine sounds. Broken Vows, based on an Irish Gaelic poem was a particularly powerful performance.

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The Roses’ duo gave a fine, relaxed and freewheeling performance, obviously pleased that the fans came out. With a mixture of old and new songs Iona MacDonald showed why she is one of the best singers around while Tasker continues to shine on guitar. He’s probably fed up with the Bert Jansch comparisons but from the off the opening bars of the opening song, Thunder Of The Dawn begged for it, the song as a whole an impressive opener. A couple of new songs were next unveiled, Pour, a fine lament on alcohol abuse and Feed the Monster a political message, both promising for the new album but they really hit their stride on the magnificent Woodstock (a different song) which showed why the pair might be considered a weird amalgamation of early Jefferson Airplane and The Pentangle.

There was a fine air of jollity around, a running joke regarding Iona’s guitar playing, Paul, the tutor, explaining the chords for some songs but there was no doubting the gravitas of a song like Fairground, the story of a prostitute. They ended the set with a tremendous rendition of Gone There, Tasker’s guitar rippling away as MacDonald’s voice soared, a fine example of all that is best about the pair.

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The night ended with a good old-fashioned encore. Not the type where the band run off and then back on again but a genuine addition to the night’s pleasure. All four musicians came on stage and after a wee bit of fiddling about launched into a trio of covers which the crowd lapped up, an opportunity for a singsong.  The Dead’s Friend Of The Devil and the traditional  I Know You Rider  were great fun but it was the closing cover of Lowell George’s Willin’ which really hit home. The band and audience as one as we all sang along. A cracking end to a cracking night.

Doghouse Roses

Joseph Parsons

 

 

Paul Tasker. Cold Weather Music. Yellow Room Records

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It’s been a while in the making but here’s the debut solo album from Doghouse RosesPaul Tasker and it’s been well worth the wait. Tasker, most folks reading this will know, is a guitarist of some renown. Originally an acolyte of the work of Bert Jansch his guitar playing is a joy to hear (and see) while he’s also a dab hand on banjo and mandolin. Doghouse Roses, the band he shares with Iona MacDonald are currently emerging from a near five year hiatus, a new album recorded for release later this year and tour dates coming up in April but prior to these the fruits of his labour over the past two years are now unveiled.

Blabber’n’Smoke recently spoke to Tasker about the album with him revealing that this release is his third attempt at the album. Recordings in 2010 and again in 2012 fell short of what he was looking for and it wasn’t until last year that he hunkered down in an analogue studio in Glasgow and the pieces all fitted. With Tasker on guitar and banjo the album also features guitar from Dejan Lapanja along with pedal steel & Weissborn guitar from Thomas Marsden. Luigi Pasquini handles percussion while Jo Shaw and Corran McArthur play flute and cello respectively. The collective appearing in various combinations throughout the album.

All instrumental, the album works on several levels. At its simplest it’s a wonderful and contemplative set of music, perfect to listen to while relaxing, a guitar and banjo led example of Brian Eno’s theory of ambient music and indeed there’s a whiff of Eno’s cosmic astronaut cowboys (as on Deep Blue Day) on the opening number here, Husker’s Theme, with pedal steel suitably evocative. Flute adds a “Northern Skies” touch a la Nick Drake to the wistful Sky Train while Blooms In The Autumn could well have been plucked from a John Renbourne medieval rhapsody. The album may be called Cold Weather Music but it begs to be listened to in front of a roaring fire with a suitable libation to hand, the coals crackling echoing the occasional snap and slither you can hear of Tasker’s fretboard work.

A deeper listening reveals the musicianship on display here. Tasker’s guitar playing is at times breathtaking. The whorls and winds of Gorlitzer are hypnotic, his fingers dancing on the strings, while Ne’er Day alternates flurries of melody and sharp chording. He uses banjo to add a layer of patina on some songs evoking bygone times. Valve Oil  huffs and puffs laying down a backdrop for some nimble slide guitar work and InE sounds as if it was originally recorded on an American civil war battlefield, a threnody for the fallen. Of course here one thinks of pictures and in particular moving ones and one is inevitably reminded of soundtrack albums, in particular the work of Ry Cooder and also Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The McGuffin here is that Tasker has written several of the songs with a soundtrack in mind, his comrade, James Morrison, had asked him if he had any music suitable for a screenplay he is developing, a western with some Celtic leanings. Much of the record then was inspired by a road trip they took to the Highlands and the accompanying booklet is composed of photographs taken by Morrison around Scotland, each tied to one of the tunes. The movie is yet to be made but in the meantime the album is here and it’s one to savour, to wallow in and allow it to conjure up your own visions in your head. It’s simply beautiful.

Available on CD and vinyl (a lovely package) here. Doghouse Roses are playing several dates in April, details here

 

Talking about imaginary westerns and Doghouse Roses with Paul Tasker

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It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Doghouse Roses, the duo of Iona MacDonald and Paul Tasker whose two albums and several EPs showcased Tasker’s mastery of the acoustic guitar and MacDonald’s sublime singing voice. Collaborations with The Willard Grant Conspiracy and shows with acts as disparate as Raul Malo and Pokey LaFarge culminated in the excellent 2010 album This Broken Key, described by one reviewer as, “Perfection, or as near to perfection as we might reasonably expect.”  Since then however the band have kept a low profile, only surfacing for the occasional gig until, galvanised by a support slot for US cult rockers, Television, they went back into the studio in 2015 and also embarked on a tour of Germany. A tour only EP was released but now they have a new album (Lost Is Not Losing) in the can and will be playing a set of dates in April. In addition, Tasker is releasing a solo album, an all instrumental record called Cold Weather Music, at the end of this month. In anticipation of this flurry of activity Blabber’n’Smoke managed to meet up with Paul Tasker to speak with him about his album but we kicked things off by asking for an update on the Doghouse Roses album.

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It’s been nearly six years since Broken Key. What have the band been up to in that time?

We worked really hard from 2007 through until about 2011 and we really just burned out, we weren’t really enjoying it anymore. We didn’t stop as such, we still did small gigs here and there. There was never a plan to start it up again but then some serious gigs were offered to us including a BBC television slot and we enjoyed rehearsing and playing again and some new songs came out of that so we decided to give it another go. As I said, we never stopped but we didn’t have the heart back then to go through the stuff to make another record because if you’re going to do that you really need to want to do it. It’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of obstacles. So we eventually decided to go into La Chunky studios in Glasgow’s Hidden Lane and we worked with Johnny Smillie for four days, we had a German tour booked at the start of 2015 so we did a tour only EP for that. After that we recorded the album with some guests on it, Laura Beth Salter on mandolin and Dejan Lapanja from Slovenia on guitar. We have bass and drums from Steff and Craig from the New International and Jo Shaw and John Alexander are also on the album. Playing as a duo live is one thing but on a record, well, the pinnacle is Gillian Welsh and Dave Rawlings but look how much they’ve played live together and yet they only do an album every six or seven years. I think it’s difficult to hold interest throughout a duo type album.

Is there a release date for Lost Is Not Losing?

It’s finished but because I’ve got my album coming out we don’t want to release this one until later in the year and we want to have a properly  thought out plan leading up to that. That was one thing about Broken Key, we didn’t really have a plan. We just put it out and hoped for the best but it’s a hard world out there and things just get lost. You really need to start the ball rolling, the PR stuff from the moment you get into the studio. I really don’t check out stuff like Facebook as much as I should but you can see bands there who are constantly updating what’s going on, what they’re doing and, needless to say we didn’t do that. Now we have a news page on the website but people have to find that whereas Facebook finds you. We’re hoping for a November release but a lot depends on our touring plans as we want to be able to promote it properly.

So after six years can we expect a different sounding Doghouse Roses?

Well, when me and Iona recorded this we did it live, sitting next to each other and it worked out really well. Before, when we recorded, we were separated, we could see each other but we weren’t close together and I think that’s made a difference. The majority is acoustic guitar and voice with four songs featuring a band. It’s still us writing the songs but I think it sounds a bit different, a bit fresher. And we recorded it using all sixties gear so that adds something to the sound.

I thought the song you’ve previewed from the album, Diesel Engine, had a “retro” feel to it, a nice early sixties, even fifties snap.

I bought a 1958 Harmony Rocket and I used it on Diesel Engine and it has that sort of sound. It was a really strummy number when we did it live but when we were recording it we slowed it down so it had a kind of groove rather than a drive and I put probably far too many guitar layers on it.  But there’s some nice harmonies in there. I’m working with another band, Colour Of Whisky which is like a vocal band so we got all them in to do harmonies. It turned out quite nice.

While we’re waiting for the April shows from the band and the release of Lost Is Not Losing there’s your solo album, Cold Weather Music, to look forward to. Can you tell us about that?

It’s been a couple of years in the making. I’ve basically made the album three times now. The first time was in 2010 but it I really didn’t get down what I was hoping for although it was a good learning curve of sorts. So I tried again in 2012 with Luigi Pisquini, a recording engineer, and we hired this place called the Recording Cottage in Inveraray. This time it was closer but still not quite there although a couple of the tracks from this session are on the album. Eventually I ended up at Green Door studios, an old analogue recording place and it was just the right space so essentially I’ve made the album three times before being happy with it. It’s all instrumental, two of the tunes, Husker’s Theme and Tundra Plane feature banjo, Sky Train and Ne’er Day are duets with flute and guitar, Blooms in the Autumn and InE are guitar duets, that’s me and Dejan, and the others are just me on guitar.

I believe that you’ve said that it’s like a soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t been filmed.

Well when I was working on some of the pieces, James Morrison at Whisky and Milk was writing a screenplay for a Western and he asked me if I had some music that sounded American as well as Scottish so I tried a few things on the banjo and one of them turned into Husker’s Theme. I worked from some pictures James had taken and I tried to evoke the scenes and we took a little road trip up to the Highlands and that’s where most of the artwork in the album comes from. So yes, it’s a bit like a soundtrack for a film that, as you say, hasn’t been made yet.

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Why’s it called Cold Weather Music.

When we were away in 2009, I think it was in Denmark, someone came up and said, “You guys play cold weather music, no one would ever think you come from a place like Spain” and I quite liked that. A lot of the music I like, people like Ólafur Arnalds, you can tell it’s from a cold country. Although I like Samba and Tango and such I can’t really relate to it.

Aside from the album being available as a CD and digital download you’re also releasing it on vinyl. I take it that you’re a fan of the format.

I actually got into records just when it was changing over to CDs. There was a place called Borderline in Galashiels and one day I went in and instead of just having the odd piece of vinyl they had boxes and boxes of it. Someone had traded in their collection and there were some classic records there.  I remember there used to be a ton of records shops on Byres Road, you could do a record shop crawl. Those days are gone although they do seem to be coming back in a small way.

The album’s a wonderful evocation of the landscapes featured in the photographs, the banjo and pedal steel adding, as you said, an American touch to the Highland mists. It will probably surprise folk who always compare your playing to the likes of Bert Jansch.

Well Jansch was my first touchstone. That’s who I wanted to sound like when I first started playing but these days I’ll find myself playing something and I’ll think, “Oh, that’s just like third rate Jansch,” so I’ll cut that bit out. When I started to play it was the height of Brit Pop and I thought that was god-awful and then I saw Jansch at The Press Club on West Nile St. and I thought he was brilliant. Before that I had no real direction to follow on the guitar but after that show I tried to find his albums. Back then Bert and a lot of others like him were having a real dip in popularity, I mean there were only about 30 people at the gig and his records were hard to find.  But I got as many as I could find and to me it was a whole new mysterious world of playing the guitar, trying to figure out how he did that and then trying yourself to do it. And so when I started writing songs I wasn’t actually lifting his stuff but I was “borrowing” things so that the first Doghouse Roses songs did have that Jansch type sound to them.

What guitarists do you listen to these days?

Well these days I think I listen to more piano players than guitarists. I really like Nils Frahm and Oscar Peterson. When I play guitar these days I try to think of it more as a piano than a guitar

So 2016 is looking to be a busy year for you.

Well first off, we’ve got Joseph Parsons coming over from the US and we’re doing four shows with him in April.  It will be nice to get out and get back to playing; Iona’s really looking forward to the shows.  I’m so glad to have the solo album done, it had become a bit of a millstone, but I’ll be playing some of the tunes from the album at these shows. I’m also doing a solo show on the 15th at Woodend and then hopefully later in the year I’ll be able to gather all the players for a show to play the album in full. After that we can concentrate on the run up to the release of Lost Is Not Losing.

Dates for Doghouse Roses April shows are here. Blabber’n’Smoke’s review of Paul Tasker’s Cold Weather Music will be here soon, in the meantime he’s playing at Woodend  Bowling Club for Sounds In The Suburbs tomorrow, 15th March supporting Locust Honey. You can buy his album here

Doghouse Roses website