Ryan Koenig (of Pokey Lafarge) Hospitalized After Accident

5cae4aad-97ea-4bc4-a020-3273827b9251_profileYesterday we received the news that Ryan Koenig, the harmonica and washboard player in Pokey Lafarge’s band, was in a serious accident. He’s in stable condition in hospital and is expected to recover. Over the years Blabber’n’Smoke has met Ryan several times. He’s always been very gracious taking time to chat and keen to share his love of old time and country music with us. He recently released his first album under his own name (Two Different Worlds) and we were expecting to see him again when Pokey tours the UK early next year, looks like he won’t be making those shows.

Anyway, given the state of US healthcare, he’s facing huge bills for his treatment and recuperation and his record label, Big Muddy Records has set up a funding page to help him out. Our best wishes and hopes for a swift and full recovery go out to Ryan, his wife, Kellie, his family and friends.
The Ryan Koenig Recovery Fund


Here’s the official press release from Big Muddy Records:

On Tuesday, December 5, beloved St. Louis musician Ryan Koenig was seriously injured in an accident in Charleston, South Carolina. He was struck by a vehicle on the sidewalk and has been hospitalized. He is stable and recovering. Ryan and his family would like to extend their gratitude and appreciation for the outpour of love and support. They also ask that the privacy of Ryan and his family be respected throughout this difficult time.

At the time of the accident, Koenig was on tour with Pokey LaFarge. Pokey said the following in a statement released on Facebook:

“Ryan will not be able to continue with us on this tour. Come out; dance and sing and help us play these shows without – but in honor of Ryan.”

Pokey and his band have stated that they will also be initiating their own fundraising efforts at upcoming concerts.

Koenig is a strong contributor to the St. Louis music scene and, in addition to being a full-time member of Pokey LaFarge’s band, he is known for his contributions to Rum Drum Ramblers, Southwest Watson Sweethearts, Jack Grelle, the Hooten Hallers, and more. He recently released his first full-length solo LP on Big Muddy Records.

Big Muddy Records would again like to extend the Koenig family’s appreciation to Ryan’s community and fans for their love and support. Any further inquiries can be directed to the press information below.

Chris Baricevic

Todd Day Wait on Serendipity and the Art of Busking


At the tail end of last year I heard this album from a guy from New Orleans called Todd Day Wait. It was an unassuming listen, no flash or fandango, just some very fine folk, country and blues which, incidentally, was the name of the album. There wasn’t that much info on Todd on the old interweb thing but lots of video of him and his band, Todd Day Wait’s Pigpen, busking around America. I described the album in a review  as ” a bit of a gem in the vein of a down home Leon Redbone or a pared back Pokey LaFarge with its roots in the pantheon of American roots legends” and it’s been on regular rotation over the months. The album, Folk-Country-Blues,  was released on a German label, Blind Lemon Records, which indicated some European interest and sure enough Todd announced a couple of months back that he was swinging through the continent over March and April. Strangely enough I heard about that via Ags Connolly, a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke and who turns out to be a buddy of Todd so when I eventually was able to talk to Todd on a day off in Vienna the first thing I asked him was how he knew Ags.

I met Ags when he and Jack Grelle did a tour in the States a year or so back. They came to New Orleans and stayed at my house, Ags is really good, he’s got a great voice and great songs, he nails it. And then when I was in the UK last year I played a couple of shows with him.

I was really taken by your album Folk-Country-Blues and thought that it was your debut but looking at your website I see that you have an earlier mini album, Travelin’ Blues available.



Yeah, that’s six songs I did in Georgia with upright bass and fiddle, no overdubs, just a couple of mics, the bare bones but I like to just capture the performance. Before that I had some demos I used to sell at shows but I’ve stopped printing them now I’ve these two discs.

So you recorded your first official disc in Georgia but then went to Germany to record Folk- Country-Blues?


Yeah, the owner of Blind Lemon Records saw me playing in North Carolina a few years back and after the show he came over and asked if I’d like to go to Germany to record an album so I said, “Sure, if you pay for it” and he said, “Of course!” And then at the start of this tour before we got on the road we went back into the German studios and recorded four songs which we’re planning to put out as a 45. And then when I get back to the States I’m going to record some more songs and again release them on vinyl so by the end of the year I’m hoping to have two 45s out.

You capture a fine old time feel and you mention folk like Jimmy Rodgers,  Charlie Poole and Lefty Frizzell as inspirations.

I really like stuff going back to the 1920’s when you had people like Jimmy Rodgers and Riley Puckett. You know white guys playing blues stuff and black guys playing white stuff and then there’s folk like Bob Wills and his Texas swing and then you go into the 1930’s and there’s Ernest Tubb and Floyd Tillman and I think that they all kind of started out from the same place and a lot of it goes back to Jimmy Rodgers.

So when did you start listening to music like that

I’m not really sure. My grandma played piano in the church and her aunt was a travelling vaudeville musician. So my grandma learned stuff from her and would not only play church tunes but would also play songs from the old days so I heard a lot of songs through her. The first show I went to was a Willie Nelson show in the nineties back when he was doing a lot of shows in farming communities as a part of Farm Aid. He played a show next to my grandma’s property and I really liked him and if you like Willie Nelson then you can backtrack with him into Texas music until you hit those singers like Tubbs and Frizzell and again back to Jimmy Rodgers. And through liking Willie I heard Merle haggard and that took me into the guys from the sixties. And listening to them I wondered what they liked, what they were listening to and so I looked into their influences. So really how I got into this music was really just backtracking.

When did you start playing?

I started playing guitar in my early teens but I remember writing little songs when I was just a kid. I remember singing little songs and writing them down and showing them to my sister and her then making fun of me. I’ve always thought that music and songs are a cool language, you know, writing your thoughts down and singing them and adding a melody. I’ve always loved doing that since I was young.

I read that you were living in Missouri but in 2009 you just decided to up sticks and go on the road so you just put all your possession on the kerbside and left.

Yeah. I’d been playing music for a couple of years by then. I’d quite often just travel. You know, jump in a car with my guitar and just go some place and I’d been doing that for several years but in 2009 I kind of just realised that I had to jump in all the way. There was no point in doing it just halfway so I just said that’s it. I took everything out of my house, put it on the kerb and within like five hours people came and took it away and I was ready to leave.

So did you have like a yard sale to get enough money to get up and go?

No, I just gave it away; it was just old furniture and stuff. I didn’t think about selling it but now you mention it maybe I should have. I’d saved up about $1200 but just a week before I was set on leaving I saw a Fender Rhodes piano on sale. It was $600 so I spent half my money buying that and I went from Missouri to California with the 600 I had left. I had an old white Chevy van and I loaded the piano, an amp and some other stuff and went off. I had a buddy who came along for a little bit. We went to California, spent some time out there and then I headed down to New Orleans.

So why New Orleans?

Well I went there in 2006 and then another couple of times before 2009 and I realised that you could make some money just playing in the streets in New Orleans, you don’t get harassed or arrested. And there’s just so much music there. Coming from Missouri, OK, there’s music there but nothing like what was going on in New Orleans. There’s music in the streets, all the nightclubs, and I realised I could live there pretty cheap. First year I was there I lived in my buddy’s kitchen. He had an apartment which was one room and a kitchen and a bathroom and he let me sleep underneath his kitchen table.

I’ve seen several videos of you busking. Do you have a regular group of people you play with or is it just whoever turns up?



I knew what I wanted to do but it’s kind of hard to convince other  people to do it for basically no money so what happens is when I’m in New Orleans I use people who live there, when I’m in California I use people who live in California. I’ve just developed this thing where I can claw people in when it works for them. It’s a lot easier for someone in New Orleans to just play locally rather than ask them to travel all over the mid west for next to no money.

What about this tour you’re currently on? You’re going through Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Switzerland. Have you brought a band with you on that?

Yes. This is my fifth time over here and I’ve brought a fiddle player (Lyle Werner) and a steel guitar player (Nikolai Shveitser). We’re using local upright bass players for some of the shows and then for the last two weeks we’ve got a bass player from Italy. So some shows as a three piece but most as a four piece.

The pictures I’ve seen on Facebook look as though the shows are going well.

Well I just love playing Hillbilly music and we throw in some country, jazz and swing.  I mean basically it’s all the same stuff and we’re playing songs from the twenties through to the fifties, songs with lots of lyrical content and then ones you just want to dance to. So I think that if you’re young or old, no matter what your background, you can come along and enjoy the show.

On the album you have two cover songs, one by Jimmy Rodgers, and one by Gus Cannon. How did you go about picking those?


Well I just love playing Jimmy Rodgers’ songs so there had to be one of those and the Gus Cannon song, well, Thomas had heard us play it and he wanted it on the record and if the boss man says he wants something I guess we gotta do it. It’s always good to have the boss man on your side.

And as you said earlier it was Thomas Schlieken who heard you play in a bar in the states and invited you over to record the album.

Yes, you never know how this crazy world works you know. Some of the biggest opportunities I’ve had have been in the most unlikely circumstances. I met the producer of my first disc at a farmer’s market in San Diego. His name is Mark Neill (producer of The Black Keys and Los straitjackets amongst others) and he’s helped me out ever since. It was just the sort of place where you’d never expect to meet someone like that. We were playing on a Thursday afternoon at this crappy farmers market. I’d found out that you could make some money just playing these farmers markets across the country, some are good and some not so good but this one was really terrible, we were standing in the glare of the sun in the dirt and sand and Mark saw us, you never know how this world works.

Serendipitous indeed. You must make a good impression if these guys just happen across you and say, “Hi, let’s make a record”.

Well I’m a big baseball fan and I just grew up knowing you can’t hit the ball if you just sit and wait. You got to get up to the plate and take your swing and you never know how it will work but you just need to give it your best swing and then you never know. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I was playing on my own and then as a duo, a trio and now there’s four or five in my band and the more people who see you  play and then maybe book you allows you to get more money to hire more people for the band and play more places. And people seem to like country music, the reason I’m in Vienna right now is that last time I was over here someone saw me and said, “I want you to come to Vienna next time”.

Any plans to come back to the UK anytime soon.

I’d love to. I plan to come to Europe at least once a year and I know that folk like Jack Grelle have a great time when they’re playing in Britain so I’d hope to come back hopefully next year. I’m hoping that these singles we’re bringing out get a few spins and spread the word. They’ll have a digital download code but I’m hoping people will like the singles themselves. That’s the way I listen to music, I don’t have a CD player so I listen to records and I think that more and more people are doing that. It’s a great experience, having your friends over and they go through your collection, to me that’s an ideal Friday night, let’s listen to records. It’s so much more tangible, singles, ten inchers and albums, I think people just like them.

So you’ve got a couple more dates in Europe and then it’s back to the States.

When we get back we’re going up to Cincinnati to play a Merle Haggard tribute and then it’s back to the west coast for a six-week tour so it’s a busy time of the year coming up.

We left Todd there but followed his tour adventures including two sold out nights in Paris. Hopefully he’ll make it to our shores in the not too distant future and there’s always the prospect of a couple of cool 45’s to look forward to.








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


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.

The Holcombe Family String Band present… Ragtime! Hokum! Western Swing! Gin House Records


Seems like the old time music bug has hit Leeds as word reaches Blabber’n’Smoke of The Holcombe Family String Band, as fine an outfit as ever scrubbed a washboard. Regular readers will know of our affection for Pokey LaFarge and Woody Pines along with Newcastle’s Rob Heron. Well this outfit are mining a similar musical vein and doing it with some style and panache. This, their debut album, finds the five piece (C.D. Wallum, guitar, tenor banjo and kazoo; Rob Bromley, fiddle; John Scully, trumpet; Felipe Petry, double bass and Francis Watson, washboard, percussion with Benjamin William Pike adding some pedal steel) well versed in depression era music, playing, well, what it says on the tin (although I’d add some viper blues and old time country to the description). That they do it so assuredly is a measure of the fact that they’ve been treading the boards for a couple of years with support slots for the likes of CW Stoneking, Sheesham & Lotus & Son, Curtis Eller’s American Circus, Simone Felice and The Stray Birds under their belt. C.D. Wallum writes all of the songs here and again he’s spot on, capturing the rhymes and rhythms of pre war America to the extent that one is surprised to see that these aren’t retreads of old time hits. Indeed Wallum includes topical issues as on the song The Great Fire of Armley which relates to a conflagration in Leeds in 2014 (and interestingly Rob Heron and his Tea Pad Orchestra did much the same with their song Great Fire of Byker about a fire in Newcastle).

They open with the strutting Hard Times, a song that captures their syncopation perfectly, the instruments sweetly backing Wallum’s laid back vocals on a hard luck love song with some wonderful lyrics such as “When she dances , oh man I mean she really dances, she’s well dressed and fiddle like. Can’t lose, she’s my little goose, well I must have something right.” Times are tight but love endures says the song which has something of Buddy, Can You Spare A dime about it. The Great Fire of Armley continues in the syncopated jazz vein with some space for solos from the band before You Really Done Me Wrong‘s woozy and bluesy Big Easy styled tale of drunkenness.

Aside from the viper jazz the band shift into old time country on the gentle breeze of River, Black River, a song that evokes latter day Byrds as well as old time Carter family while The Captain is a rousing number that one might expect from The Mekons, the pedal steel adding some depth here. However it’s the celebration of old times that resonate most here, the Fats Waller styled Yo’ Hairs Too Long and the cod Hollywood Oriental mystery of Once I Was A Navy Man both excellent while Rag Mama Rag avoids the expected nod to The Band instead coming across like a mix of Tom Waits and CW Stoneking. Overall an excellent album and although it’s lazy writing to just throw out comparisons we’re tempted to say that this lot are on their way to being a UK equivalent to Pokey LaFarge. Songs so jolly they could persuade R Crumb to don a dress and jitterbug. And if you buy the album be sure to wait after the closing song for a wee skillet licking extra song.


Daniel Meade Interview/Redneck Dinner Party


Regular readers will be familiar with Daniel Meade whose album Keep Right Away was released way back in January . Produced by Old Crow Medicine Show’s bassist, Morgan Jahnig and featuring Diana Jones on one song the album was well received with one Texan based producer getting in touch with Blabber’n’Smoke asking about “this guy from Glasgow.” Fast friends with Sturgill Simpson, Ms. Jones and the Old Crow boys, when he’s not gigging away (this year saw two tours in Europe and shows in England with Pokey Lafarge) Meade can be regularly seen at several regular pub and club residencies in the Glasgow area either in a duo setting with his wizard guitar buddy, Lloyd Reid, or with his four piece Flying Mules. In fact when I interviewed Pokey LaFarge at his last Glasgow gig he asked the first question, “Do you know if Daniel is playing anywhere tonight?”

So it was great news that Meade has a new release available, Redneck Dinner Party. A new release but not a new album as such. Recorded in 2008 when Meade’s band was then called The Meatmen it’s an eleven song burst of rockabilly and country thrash, all penned by Meade, in a similar vein to Keep Right Away’s lead single Long Gone Wrong. Inevitably it’s not as polished (although polished is not a word one would generally use here) as Keep Right Away although the sound is clear and vibrant, the bass thudding from the speakers as the band seem to be having a ball. This is evident from the start with the raucous title song, an uproarious paean to hillbilly cooking where it seems everyone in the studio (and the street outside) are involved in the backing vocals and general noises that punctuate the song. It’s like a Glasgow version of Robert Earl Keen’s Merry Christmas From The Family taken at a faster pace with the family hyped up on Buckfast (and without the Christmas element of course).

This souped up take on country music permeates the album as Meade delves into familiar themes (drink, love, infidelity) and brands them with his own mark. The songs barrel along with some ferocity, the Killer piano on My Band’s Better Than Your Band worth the price of admission alone. Songs such as Pie Eyed Joe, Sod’s Law and That Girl’s Old Enough To Be Your Mother are tremendous slices of old fashioned Sun Records rockabilly although it’s a fair bet that had they been recorded back then they would have sat in the vaults for years as Meade is earthier than those God fearin’ folk back then would have allowed with lyrics like “so get your hat on your head and your ass on home.” God knows what they would have made of Shitkicker Blues, the frenzied album closer which sounds like a demented Nick Cave hallucinating in a Gospel tent.

Aside from the Jerry Lee Lewis inspired rockerama Meade finds time to visit another touchstone, Hank Williams, on the graceful country of She Lost My Heart In New York and the tumbledown heartbreak of Sweethearts and Broken Hearts, the latter having the potential to become a classic of the genre.
For an album that was hastily recorded to sell at gigs Redneck Dinner Party is simply superb and more proof, if needed, that Meade has his finger on the pulse of classic roots American music. Happily he was available to spend some time with Blabber’n’Smoke to talk about the album and bring us up to date.


Redneck Dinner Party dates back to 2009, why have you decided to reissue it?

It’s not really a re-issue as such as it was never issued at the time it was made, it only ever made it to crudely home-burned CDs that we would sell at gigs to fund getting to the next gig. I came across it again by chance earlier this year when my parents were moving house and it was in amongst a box of old CDs. I hadn’t heard it in years but it still sounded great (to me), so I thought I’d just release it properly for old times sakes really.
The majority of it was written when I spent a few months in L.A when I was 22 or 23, and I was introduced to all this great country music over there. I was already getting into Old Crow Medicine Show and there was a lot of similar cool stuff happening, it was great to be around and I guess I brought some of it home with me.
We recorded it at TornFace Studios with our good friend Chris Gorman. I don’t remember too much about the session but I hear it was a lot of fun! It somehow managed to get into Mark Lamaar’s hands and he played ‘I Remember Now’ on BBC Radio 2, and I just remember thinking that was it, we made it! Oh to be young…

So who’s playing on the album with you?
We have Richard Anderson on bass, now of the Shiverin’ Sheiks, Danny Shepherd on drums and on electric guitar we have Lloyd Reid, of course. This was actually the first thing we ever worked on together, still going strong!

Listening to the album today what sort of memories does it conjure up?

Just good ones really, we were just young guys having a very good time and I think it comes across like that. It’s hardly the most accomplished album you’ll hear, lyrically or musically, but that doesn’t matter, it’s just a lot of fun. I think the album/song titles and content would suggest that it’s not going to be one to ponder over, just get a few tipples down your throat and go for it, and I’m glad to say a lot of folk did just that, on a weekly basis. We used to play two gigs every Saturday in Glasgow for a couple of years, Maggie Mays, 6-8, then The Butterfly and Pig, 10-12, and it was always a party. Good, mad times.

Back to the present is there any news on a follow up to Keep Right Away?

Well myself and The Flying Mules do in fact have a new album recorded and good to go, it should be with you in the Spring. More details to come soon.

As usual you’ve been busy this year, touring with Diana Jones, Pokey LaFarge and about to go out with The Proclaimers. You’ve been abroad in Europe, how did those shows go?

I’m glad to report they’ve all been great, different in their own ways and never two crowds the same. That’s why it’s so much fun heading out with other acts like Pokey, Diana and The Proclaimers, you never know what to expect from night to night, fair keeps you on your toes. Plus you get to watch them every night and that’s a privilege, especially with acts of their calibre. I mean last night we were watching ‘Sunshine on Leith’ being sang back at The Proclaimers by 1600 punters in Motherwell from behind the stage, that’s something special!

Last time we talked you said Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live At The Star Club was your favourite album. I believe you saw Jerry Lee Lewis when he played in Glasgow this year. How was that and are there any other performers you would fight your way through to see?

It was great, strangely emotional knowing that I probably won’t have the chance to ever see him play again but he was still amazing at 80 and I managed to briefly meet him, shake his hand and say thank you, and he said it right back! I’d waited a long time for that, if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be doing any of this so I’m glad I got the chance. My brother and I also met James Burton and Kenneth Lovelace, it was just one of those days..
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve seen most of my heroes live, but I’d still like to see Tom Waits and probably Tom Petty, there are probably more but not that I’d have a fight for, I’ve got soft knuckles and a softer nose so it would have to be someone ridiculous, probably someone raised from the dead, Big Bill Broonzy or Hank! Let me know if that happens cheers and I’ll gladly get in the ring.

Any plans for the New Year?

Taking a few weeks off actually, recharge and get to working on whatever’s next, whatever that may be. Any requests?

Redneck Dinner Party is available on CD although its a limited edition, you can purchase a copy from Daniel here while stocks last. It’s also available on itunes here

Pokey LaFarge. Glasgow Art School. Friday 9th October 2015


Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Pokey LaFarge in 2009 playing solo in a small church hall during the Edinburgh Festival. Armed only with his guitar, a plastic kazoo and his stentorian voice he was a revelation with dynamite songs that harked back to pre WWII America and a fantastic stage presence. Pretty soon Pokey was back on these shores only this time with his comrades The South City Three, a striking combo who fleshed out the songs, all master musicians themselves with Ryan Koenig soon becoming a crowd favourite with his amazing harp solos and washboard routines. It was somewhat gratifying to watch their elevation from small clubs to larger crowds, both here and in the States, their hard work and sheer entertainment value reaping its rewards.

As the crowds grew so did Pokey’s vision and three years ago he added a two-person horn section to the mix. Now, on the back of his debut album for Rounder Records, Something In The Water, the band have a drummer in tow, Matt Meyer, a man schooled in jazz and old time country music. He adds a mighty sense of swing to the now seven-piece band with the result that tonight was the raunchiest set we’ve so far seen from LaFarge.

As is usual these days the hall was packed as Pokey and the band powered their way through the set. From Dixieland jazz to jungle voodoo rhythms they delivered several songs from the new album with Underground a highlight, Meyer’s drums pushing the beat. Something In The Water was vampish and Goodbye Barcelona with its Latin melody turned into a sing along with the audience. There was space aplenty for old favourites such as La La Blues and Koenig still has his chance to show off his harp playing, his solos still getting the biggest cheers of the night.

While Pokey was on fire, hollering away and animated throughout, racing around the stage as his players soloed he also displayed his sensitive side; a tender cover of Warren Zevon’s Carmelita a nice surprise. His solo delivery of Far Away, again from the new album, as the first encore was superb and a fine reminder that he is as capable of writing ballads as he is at recreating the atmosphere of a Kansas City speakeasy.

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.


Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra. Talk About The Weather.

Carrying coals to Newcastle is a common expression denoting a somewhat pointless enterprise and one might reasonably ask why should youlisten to a jumpin’ jive old time blues and ragtime crew from “the Toon” given that the “genuine” article is not too hard to find. Not too hard perhaps but for the most part ragtime et al has been polished to a sheen and presented as preserved in aspic typically by the likes of The Pasadena Roof Orchestra. While Robert Crumb has valiantly championed old time music over the years credit must be given to Pokey LaFarge who has reclaimed the vibrancy and occasional loucheness of the genre. Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra follow the LaFarge route with their loose limbed (although tightly played) blasts from the past with their sights set firmly on the most important aspect of this vintage music, namely that it swings. No stiff suited formality here as Heron and the band stroll insouciantly through an album that incorporates western swing, scattting, Hot Club de Paris jive, zoot suit hipsterism and even some rockabilly.

Aside from their threads which portray the band as descendants of Richard Attenborough’s portrayal of Pinkie in Brighton Rock there’s a sense of dedication here as they delve into a monochrome and foggy world of slot machines and end of pier escapades. There’s a significant gear change from their debut with the band as synchronised as a well oiled machine while Heron’s writing has moved on apace. The opening Drinking Coffee Rag zips along with a fine sense of glee and finely honed guitar while the rhythm section and horns vamp wonderfully. Soleil is a bass driven and accordion laced weather report that struts magnificently while Junk On the Radio incorporates a clip clop western intro before Heron laments on the soullessness of modern media and a deranged keyboard approximates the fiddling about with wavelengths. There’s a hint of Slim Gaillard on Mr. Landlord along with some very sweet and fat pedal steel while Small Time Blues harks back to Hank Williams with some fine fiddle playing and Heron’s yodelling. It’s apparent by now that Heron and the band are well tuned into their lodestone but Killed By Love towers above its predecessors as the band vamp excellently and Heron dredges up biblical allusions on what amounts to an aural equivalent to a penny cinema show. Great stuff here. High Speed Train updates Lonnie Donegan with regard to the proposed high speed trainline to the north while I’m Feeling Blue will touch anyone who’s turned to the bottle after a setback. They finish off with the clattering blues of Penny Drop Mambo as if they were zoot suited on Brighton Pier and transported via Canvey Island to Rio De Janeiro while the Spike Jones type romp that is Don’t kick That Oven Door again zips along with some splendid percussive breaks that are just this side of zany.

Overall this is a great slice of old time music that beefs up its influences and points to a great time ahead. They’re slick, syncopated and swing. And in the end that’s what counts.


The Tillers. Hand on The Plow. Muddy Roots Music Recordings

Heading our way in support of the ever popular and always entertaining Pokey LaFarge Cincinnati based trio The Tillers unleash Hand on The Plow, an unabashed joyful stomp of an album that has fiddle and banjo flailing away over the 11 offerings on show. It’s old time string band music delivered with a fine degree of dexterity much like numerous other albums reviewed here but once again we find that the tradition is given a makeover in the shape of well written songs which are delivered in fine style by a charismatic frontsman, in this case Mike Oberst. Oberst wrestles with the songs beating them into submission with his powerful and dynamic vocals as witnessed in the excellent I Gotta Move which slinks along as Oberst repents of wallowing in cocaine and whisky, his voice hollering and pleading while guest musician, J.D. Wilkes (of the Legendary Shack Shakers & The Dirt Daubers) adds some fierce harmonica. Oberst is also able to portray a more vulnerable side as he sings of memories and more regrets on the sweetly flowing Weary Soul although his delivery maintains a sense of passion.
While guitarist Sean Geil gets a couple of numbers to sing it’s Oberst who remains the centre of gravity but the trio ( with new bassist and brother Aaron Geil replacing Jason Soudrette, sadly battling illness) gel well together and their ensemble playing is always spot on whether it’s the mighty fine The Road Never Ends, the lazy rhythms of Shanty Boat or the frenzied Tecumsah On The Battlefield. Geil does get to deliver the morbid ballad of Willy Dear, a fantastic tale of a sailor’s wife believing her man lost and hanging herself only for him to return a day late. This is something of a tour de force and demands repeated plays.
On the strength of this album The Tillers look like they might be a terrific live act and there’s an opportunity to catch them on their upcoming UK tour with some dates in support of Lafarge and some as headliners. Dates on here


Interview with Mike Oberst on the songs and recording of the album

September Songs

Gwendolyn. Bright Light

A child of California, Gwendolyn first came to Blabber’n’Smoke’s attention when she released Lower Mill Road, a 2007 album recorded in Scotland with players such as Chris Drever and John McCusker. With this, her fourth album she’s left the Incredible String Band influences evident on Lower Mill Road behind and welcomed country music with open arms. With a voice that is a cross between Melanie Safka and Dolly Parton she’s joined by her regular band who play an idiosyncratic selection of instruments including found percussion and glass harmonica. Despite this the overall sound is fairly traditional and throughout the album there is an impish and infectious sense of joy. The songs range from the Bakersfield country pop sound of Tater Tots and Whiskey Shots to the Nanci Griffith like Discover Me. Ably assisted by a clutch of guests including Tony Gilkyson, Josh Grange and some of I See Hawks in LA there are snatches of fiddle and guitars, both steel and twang, popping up when one least expects it. With all of the songs written by Gwendolyn she has produced an excellent set that harks back to tradition while stamping her own quirky personality all over. Listening to this I was reminded of Michelle Shocked’s Arkansas Traveller, another album that explored country roots. Gwendolyn’s effort is just as ambitious and overall is a tremendous listen with repeated hearings unveiling new delights. Well worth checking out.
Bright Light

Rum Drum Ramblers. Mean Scene

At the last Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three gig in Glasgow, washboard and harmonica player, Ryan Koenig pressed into my hand this fine album. Recorded by him and fellow South City Three member, Joey Glynn (upright bass) with Mat Wilson on guitar and vocals this will delight anyone who enjoys Pokey’s blend of old time swing and blues. The vibe is essentially the same and the third member of the South City Three, Adam Hoskins appears on slide guitar. The addition of the Funky Butt Brass Band on several songs offers a more pronounced jellyroll type jazz sound while Wilson’s vocals are mellower than Pokey’s. Comparisons aside the Ramblers are indeed a mean machine with some magnificent interplay between the instruments, a sly jive talking style and an obvious love of their influences. All 12 songs are gems with the standouts being Jack and Tom, a rattling introduction to the album, If It Have To Be with its vintage sounding blues guitar licks and Do You which has a decided Michael Hurley feel to it.
Well below the radar you’ll need to go to CD baby or Amazon to buy or download this but it’s a guaranteed winner.
Jack and Tom

Old Dollar Bill. Across The Tracks

When what appeared to be cash money came tumbling out of the envelope we thought that at last someone had figured out that payola should not be restricted to members of parliament. Unfortunately it was a fake dollar bill from our old friends in the east, Old Dollar Bill, the mighty Edinburgh duo of Ed Henry and Stephen Clark. Hot on the heels of their collaboration with the Wilders and Woody Pines comes this four song EP. Maintaining their expanded palette with guest musicians from the Edinburgh folk scene (Martin McQuade on double bass, Owen McAlpine, harmonica, Mairi Orr, harmony vocals and Tom McAweaney, an old, old friend of Blabber’n’Smoke on fiddle) Old Dollar Bill deliver a great little bundle of tunes that sound as if they could have been played by bunch of genuine hillbillies. Clark excels on mandolin, Dobro and banjo while Henry’s percussion and especially his use of the Cajon adds an extra layer of enjoyment to what are already fine songs.
The EP opens with Move On, a driving romp that warns of the perils of gold digging women. Bright Light is drawn from the tradition of Appalachian dirges such as Oh Death and has some spine tingling vocals and fiddle playing. Hats Off to Begg (dedicated to the late Bryan Begg, a musical compadre of the Bill) is a heartfelt tribute that has a soulful southern blues slink to it. The EP closes with The Cold Gin Waltz, an instrumental that highlights the Celtic influence on Americana and could easily have featured in a movie such as Cold Mountain.
Old Dollar Bill seem to grow in stature with each release and this one is well recommended. .
Myspace page
The offending Old Dollar Bill

Move On