M.G. Boulter. With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie. Harbour Song Records

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Aside from his duties with The Lucky Strikes and his in demand session player status (with Simone Felice and Blue Rose Code among others) M.G. Boulter is the poet laureate of the Thames estuary detailing the (often) sorry dreams and aspirations of those who populate the faded grandeur of Essex’s Southend and Clacton and hymning the meeting of water and land. His 2013 album The Water Or The Wave was a captivating collection of bittersweet songs with a somewhat folkish feel to several of the songs and with lyrics that at times recalled the sardonic strokes of Richard Thompson’s pen. For With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie Boulter has forsaken his estuary for a trip up north to Sheffield where he recorded the album with producer Andy Bell and a fuller backing band including woodwind and strings giving the album a more layered and at times sumptuous sound than its predecessor. Indeed much of the beauty here is in simply letting the arrangements wash over you while Bell has captured the bass and drum sound perfectly offering a solid base for the lilting and lifting guitars that float through the songs.

Boulter’s pedal steel colours the opening songs, both brisk, almost country rock numbers, their breeziness belying the dark lyrics contained within. Opener Sean or Patrick tells of a down and out character seeking refuge in booze and prone to grandiose notions comparing himself to Hemingway while the protagonist of In Sight of The Cellar is resigned to his delivery job, vicariously sharing life from outside bay windows with silent TV flickering but refusing to succumb to despair. This sunny side up musical mask is henceforth abandoned however as the music becomes more introspective and the arrangements more elaborate.

His Name Is Jean features a wonderful string arrangement over a fine woody double bass as Boulter sings of a parent reminiscing with pride regarding the son called Jean. Lyrically reminiscent of Loudon Wainwright there’s an ambiguity here with Jean/Gene’s gender not fully disclosed, nor is the manner of his “moving on” but there’s no doubting the tenderness and fragile beauty of the song. Lalita is a dreamlike trip into Boulter’s own memories, of a girl who followed his band and the murder of an acquaintance although the memories are vague and there’s a sense of regret that we don’t make more effort to know people. The string arrangement here is suffused with sadness, the vibraphone tying the song somewhat to sixties singer songwriters such as Tim Hardin.

There’s another burst of energy on the frantic The Last Song which races along with a fine soaring chorus and some nifty guitar work but the pop baroque keyboard of The Defeatist’s Hymn and rolling percussion amid the mysterious rhythms of Some Day The Waves are the highlights of the latter half of the album. Indeed Some Day The Waves throbs with mystery and slowly reaches its climax in a manner that suggests a weird combination of ESP act Pearls Before Swine and Fairport Convention circa A Sailor’s Life while the lyrics are poetic and again quite mysterious, WB Yeats sunk in ghosts and woods and trees. Nature and visions inform many of the songs. Starlings is a startling piece that is like Red Riding Hood reimagined as a self cutting girl at the mercy of men who prowl while Carmel Oakes is a girl sick of life who offers hope to a hopeless commuter who may be the man at the station referred to in Some Day The Waves.

Despite the grim subject matter Boulter offers glimpses of light. The promise that one day life will get better in Carmel Oakes and the cry to raise your sights and see the sun on Brother Uncles is reinforced on the closing Let Light In where he references the biblical quote the album is named for. It may be reading too much into the album but that’s the sense we get from the words, like Dylan they are open to discussion. However you approach it With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie is a beautiful listen and one that will repay repeated immersion in its wayward and woody intricacies.

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Harbour Song records

 

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Best of 2014

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There’s a lot or pros and cons when it comes to listing end of year best ofs or favourites. Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke eventually plumbed for the pros outweighing the cons so this is the third time we’ve presented what, when it comes down to it, is an arbitrary choice of remembered listen. Albums that have stood the test of (a relatively short) time, the ones we’ve returned to or recommended to others in the pub. Above all it’s been fun to look back, read the reviews and see if they still stand. So with this in mind the following are the official Blabber’n’Smoke 2014 picks, in alphabetical order.

Blue Rose Code. Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Birds Of Chicago. Live From Space
Fire Mountain. All Dies Down
Bradford lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys. Somewhere Far Away
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands
Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap
Michael Rank & Stag. Deadstock
Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
John Southworth. Niagara

Random honourable mentions go to

Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone,
The Johnny Cash Native American album reboot, Look Again To The Wind,
Danny and The Champions Of The World’s Live Champs!
Dan Michealson & The Coastguards Distance
Cale Tyson’s EP, High On Lonesome,
Luke Tuchsherer’s debut You Get So Alone at Times It makes Sense,
Petunia’s Inside Of You,
Ags Connolly How about Now,
Chris Cacavas & Edward Abbiati. Me And The Devil along with Abbiati’s band Lowlands who delivered the excellent Love Etc.,
Zoe Muth. World Of Strangers,
Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz .
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.
Simone Felice. Strangers.
Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.
Sylvie Simmons. Sylvie (allowing an honorary mention here for Howe Gelb who produced).
The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream.
Lynne Hanson. River Of Sand.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue. Last To Leave.
And finally John Murry’s EP, Califorlonia which is brilliant and hopefully just an appetiser for his follow up to the majestic Graceless Age.

Digging through the archives it’s been noticeable that there’s been a fine contribution this year from Scottish acts who dip into or draw from an Americana well to a greater or lesser extent. While Blue Rose Code’s Ballads Of Peckam Rye features above the following are all stellar contributions to the local scene.

Dropkick. Homeward
Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard (with the Scottish song of the year, Suffering from Scottishness).
John Hinshelwood. Lowering The Tone.
The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP
Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard
The New Madrids. Through the Heart of Town.
Red Pine Timber Company. Different Lonesome
The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams
Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Although his album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012, Fraser Anderson is a major find of the year while another local lad, Daniel Meade unleashes his Nashville recorded Keep Right Away in January. Hopefully folk will have long enough memories to recall this when it comes to compiling the 2015 lists. In the meantime it can be first on the New Year shopping list.

Simone Felice. King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow. Friday 11th April 2014

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With his second solo album safely under his belt Simone Felice is rapidly conforming his status as one of the finest purveyors of Americana around these days. Fortunately (for us) he remains somewhat under the mass radar allowing audiences to see him in intimate settings such as the hallowed King Tuts, a perfect space to see and hear his shamanistic offerings. A mesmerising performer tonight he possessed a leonine grace, prowling and genuflecting, iconic at times and all the while with that voice, a pure unsullied adult choirboy, soaring to the heavens, tender, affecting. While this might lead one to believe the evening was a worshipful event the reality is that Felice balanced his arching and aching ballads with a fine and earthy dose of rock’n’roll while his rapport with the crowd was engagingly down to earth especially as he repeatedly acclaimed ( and imbibed) the local water of life, singing some songs with a whisky tumbler in hand. It was notable that after the second encore he was off stage and at the merch table before the band had finished, greeting each and all as if they were long lost friends.

Backed by cellist Gabriel Dresdale and guitarist/Dobro/mandolin player Matt Green Felice hopped between his acoustic guitar and a small drum kit throughout the set. A squall of noise from guitar and cello opened the show before New York Times showed Felice as the impassioned balladeer, pleading and plaintive, foot stompingly percussive and matching the drama of the recorded version. Bye Bye Palenville followed and when, halfway through the song, Felice moved to the drum kit to shift the song up several gears it was clear we were in for a treat as proved by a vibrant rush through Molly-O! while an infectious You & I Belong had the audience joining in on the chorus. Sublime renditions of If You Go To LA, Shaky and Radio Song followed with Felice prowling like a panther on the latter as his band mates soloed before he welcomed support act Emma Jane up to accompany him on Running Through My Head. Encoring with a crowd favourite, Wild Mountain Thyme, dedicated to cellist Dresdale’s late stepfather the band then dunked into an excellent medley of Neil Young’s Helpless and Knocking On Heaven’s Door both of which tonight seemed to have been tailor made for Felice’s voice. An excellent evening which appears to have been professionally filmed so keep an eye open for that.

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Simone Felice. Strangers.

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Where to start with this second solo album from Simone Felice, the poster boy of current Americana with a honeyed voice, great songwriting chops and a back story that could fuel several LA screenwriters for the next few years? Famously near dead on two occasions Felice transcended the (very fine) roots rock of his brotherly band in his guise as the Duke and The King before he delivered the Cri de Coeur that was his initial solo album. Two years on and he sounds less pained, not as vulnerable but as transcendent as ever.

The opening romp, Molly-O! is a fine slice of blue eyed country pop soul with the zest of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl in its DNA and sets one up for a sun kissed celebration of life. Instead we get a tremendous collection of metaphysical ruminations expertly played and always with Felice’s voice singing to the heavens. He drapes himself in a Gene Clark cloak for If You Go To LA, a banjo led and orchestrated hymn to the city of Angels which emphasises its spiritual emptiness while Running Through My Head carries on in this vein with Biblical allusions, the opening lines paraphrasing Psalm 23. Our Lady of The Gun is a powerful and visceral dissection of American calamities combining school shootings with armed forces lost in a desert war both trying to find some sense in their teachings about God and the Devil. With pummelling percussion and heavenly harmonies it comes across as a secular hymn to much that is wrong with America today.

Felice is sure footed throughout the album as he delivers the sepia toned Bye Bye Palenville and the velvety Heartland which recalls David Lynch’s trick of peeling back the white picket fence of normality revealing a dark cocaine fuelled underbelly. Finally he strips away the veneer for the initially stark Bastille Day which swells with vocal arrangements as Felice attempts to escape the turmoil with his “skin on skin” lover before the closing song The Gallows where Felice offers himself as some sort of sacrificial lamb, transcendent and ascendant. One is tempted here to wonder whether Felice suffers from some messianic complex, taking on the world’s guilt and figuring he can atone (given that he has been resurrected) but there’s no doubting the beauty of this and of the album overall. Suffice to say that Felice sings like an angel and that the songs sound heavenly. Happily enough he’s bringing the songs to the UK with a short tour. Tour dates are ;
April

Wed 2 Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
Thu 3 Leeds, Brundell Social Club
Fri 4 Bristol, Louisiana
Sat 5 Nottingham, Maze
Sun 6 Manchester, Deaf Insitute
Wed 9 Brighton, Komedia
Thu 10 London, Bush Hall
Fri 11 Glasgow, King Tuts
Sun 13 Newcastle, Cluny
Tue 15 Edinburgh, Electric Circus

Simone Felice unveils first song from his forthcoming album

Taken from the forthcoming new album Strangers, set for release through Team Love Records in the UK on March 24th, Simone Felice returns with the record’s opening single, Molly-O! Draped in the additional vocal talents of Wesley Schultz & Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers, the song is described by Felice as “a song where we get to go off the rails a bit”. Of the single and album he says;

“Isn’t it wild how, when it comes to matters of the heart, we can start out so fanatical, so certain, only to end up as strangers in the end? Remote even to ourselves over time, strangers in the mirror…
Molly-O! is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek salute/requiem to the itinerant panhandler I was as a kid, an exercise in not taking one’s early sins or one’s current self too seriously. In the studio we had the core band as well as my brother James on accordion and harmonies, and were lucky to have a friend Zach Alford (Bowie, Springsteen) on the kit (I play drums on most of the album but sometimes you just have to give up the seat), as well as a drunken horn section. I want it to be a song where we get to go off the rails a bit, as we all seem to posses the need to lose ourselves from time to time by whichever vehicle: Love, pills, technology, booze, lust, music… pick your poison.”

Listen to Molly-O! here: