Best of 2017

OK, decorations are coming down, it’s back to work time but before that here’s a short list of the albums that have stood out over the past year. If there’s a link it will take you a review of the album. Looking back it seems that 2017 wasn’t a bad year for music in terms of releases but a total bummer in terms of Tom Petty leaving us. Here’s hoping next year is as good so, all the best for 2018.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

cp18cdIn the year of Brexit and Trump, Chuck’s sheer love of rock’n’roll shone throughout this album. Coupled with seeing him play two blindingly great gigs this year the album’s been a regular on the stereo and in the car while Jesus Was A Social Drinker is my song of the year.


Jeremy Pinnell, Ties Of Blood And Affection

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2While Stapleton gets all the notice I think there are numerous others who are bringing out better albums and Jeremy’s second solo album is the best of the lot this year. I was privileged to host a house concert with Jeremy and Ags Connolly and it was a great occasion.


Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life

cc752a_ccb74ac415f74324bdde66d0b5f81184mv2An album of glacial purity with glimpses of Joni Mitchell in its shadows.



GospelbeacH, Another Summer Of Love

500x500Jangled sunny California music which stretches from Petty to The Jam in its inspiration.



Nathan Bell, Love > Fear (48 hours in Traitorland)

love-fear-front-coverOld fashioned protest perhaps but Bell is a powerful writer and as good a champion of “blue collar” folk as Rod Picott. And, in concert, he’s funny with it (just like Rod Picott).


Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith

the-water-of-leithRoss Wilson continues his journey into the hinterlands of folk and jazz. A wonderful and evocative album.


Eric Ambel, At The Lakeside

61ceyom7fgl-_ss500It took 12 years for Ambel to come up with this one, a bunch of songs he imagined could have been on his pub’s jukebox. Guitar album of the year.


Don Antonio, Don Antonio

cs646897-01a-bigAside from his band, Sacri Cuori, Antonio Gramantieri has worked with Howe Gelb, Dan Stewart and Alejandro Escovedo. This solo album is a magnificent retro stew of sixties soundtracks and Italian cool.


Jaime Wyatt, Felony Blues

jaime_coverA true jailbird, Wyatt’s album is part outlaw country, part Laurel Canyon country rock. For me she just beats Margo Price


Malojian, Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.

a1294981180_16Irishman Stevie Scullion conjures up a slight psychedelic trip with McCartney like melodies and Harrison’s Blue Jay Way vibes.


Best reissue/compilation

The Wynntown Marshals, After All These Years

a2597450969_16A perfect introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before. A perfect keepsake for those who are in the know.



Also of note…

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost On the Car Radio

Margo Price, All American Made

Danny & The Champions Of The World, Brilliant Light

Ags Connolly, Nothin’ Unexpected

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock

Todd Day Wait, Folk-Country-Blues

Whitney Rose, South Texas Suite

Norrie McCulloch, Bare Along The Branches

Russ Tolman. Compass & Map

John Murry, A Short History of Decay

Jim Keaveny, Put It Together

Ian Felice, In The Kingdom Of Dreams

Gill Landry, Love Rides A Dark Horse

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears 

The Sadies, Northern Passages

John Alexander, Of These Lands

There are many others which could/should be mentioned here, apologies to those I’ve either forgotten about or overlooked. In the meantime here’s the song of the year.


The Wynntown Marshals. After All These Years.


In my opinion, the best Americana band not actually from North America hail from our own capital city.” So wrote Alan Morrison of The Herald when he included The Long Haul in his list of the top 50 Scottish albums of 2015, placing it at number 10. Back then we concurred (although we’d have bumped the album into the top five) but then Blabber’n’Smoke have been big fans of The Wynntown Marshals ever since we first heard them ten  years ago. Yip, ten years. If The Marshals were a married couple this would be their tin anniversary but instead of us buying them a gift they’ve offered one to us in the form of a retrospective album – 16 songs, 13 culled from their three albums, assorted EPs and singles along with three previously unreleased songs.

Rising from the ashes of The Sundowns (a fine band in their own right with their 2006 album Calabasas getting a 10/10 review from Americana UK), their first recording, a self-titled six song EP was a startling debut, confident and full of swagger. Their epic song about the ‘The Muckle Spate’ of 1829, 11:15, was an immediate classic and evidence that the band were able to sing about their Scottishness amidst any amount of pedal steel and twang guitar. Since then there has been three full albums and several EPs with After All These Years cherry picking from these and while the songs aren’t in chronological order it’s a fascinating opportunity to track their progress. While they have always acknowledged their debts to the likes of Uncle Tupelo and The Jayhawks, the various musicians who have populated the band over the years have left their mark as influences as varied as hair metal bands and more left field Americana acts such as The Weakerthans have inveigled their way into what ultimately is a Wynntown Marshals sound. Much of this is down to the one point of singularity throughout the records, singer Keith Benzie who has been there from the start and who was the band’s only songwriter in the early years. His voice identifies the band and it’s little changed from the early years, his relaxed and slightly worn vocals always winning (just listen to Being Lazy and be convinced).

Although The Marshals can be considered (on paper at least) to be a bit of a moveable feast with members coming and going, in reality there’s been a healthy heartbeat throughout with only occasional surgery required. Guitarist Iain Sloan was on board for the second album, Westerner, while bassist Murdoch MacLeod was well embedded by the time The Long Haul came out. Both added not only their instrumental talents but, along with Benzie, wrote songs with the result that The Long Haul was a major step up from Westerner while the trio along with newly added keyboard player, Ritchie Noble, and drummer Kenny McCabe achieved their summit (so far) with the excellent The End Of The Golden Age. By then the band had garnered enough accolades to be signed to the premier European Americana record label, Blue Rose, a significant salute.

To the album then and it’s notable that from the start The Marshals are fully formed. From Westerner, Snowflake is a cracking country quickstep while Thunder In The Valley is a fine example of Benzie’s narrative tales and a harbinger of things to come with the addition of keyboards. Of note is their reinterpretation of LA Guns’ Ballad Of Jayne which is transformed into a very fine slice of yearning country rock, the band fully cocked, guitars squirreling around sweet pedal steel and a sturdy rhythm section. Much of this was carried onto The Long Haul, the sound more fleshed out with more democracy in the writing and it’s MacLeod’s Tide which takes the accolades here as The Marshals roam around a carousel swirl of dreamlike guitars on an impressionistic tide of sound. It’s a live favourite and deservedly so but the snappy chiming guitar rock of Canada, the churning Low Country Comedown and the magnificent Curtain Call, a tale of Victorian magic gone wrong suffused with melancholic strings, attest to the mature nature of the album.

From The End Of The Golden Age, Red Clay Hill buzzes and burns with sizzling guitars as Benzie again salutes the local landscape turning a coal bing into a romantic destination and the title song is just a joyous slice of power pop with sublime harmonies that’s as good as anything Teenage Fanclub have turned out. Meanwhile the wistful Being Lazy floats on a bed of acoustic guitars, sublime pedal steel and gilded keyboards as Benzie emotes quite wonderfully.

If the above isn’t enough to pull you in The Marshals offer up three unreleased songs. Different Drug is a reworking of a song from the first EP and an opportunity to see how the band have evolved from a country rock combo into a more organic creature, the guitars more tantalising as the keyboards add colour and warmth.  Your Time  is in a similar vein to the songs from The End Of The Golden Age, guitar and organ to the fore as Benzie turns his hand to another fine (and perhaps autobiographical) tale. Finally, Benzie and the band offer up a sumptuous tale of unrequited love on the glorious Odessa replete with ecclesiastic organ and a restrained but emotive guitar solo.

So, 10 years of The Wynntown Marshals, encapsulated. To go back to the opening sentence here, they are the best Americana band in the land although they transcend that genre (especially as no one seems able to define it). Simply put, The Marshals have matured into a thrilling rock band able to spin an excellent tale over their multilayered sound – in fact they sound just like, well, The Marshals. Here’s to the next ten years.

There are two gigs to celebrate their tenth anniversary and the release of After All These Years. The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh on September 1st and then at The Hug & Pint in Glasgow the following night. The album is available to order here.


Static Roots Festival takes off

sr posterBack in the sixties Immediate Records (home to The Small Faces, The Nice, Humble Pie and others) had a neat little slogan which went, Happy To Be Part of The Industry of Human Happiness. Reason I mention this is because I recently had spent some time in the company of a German friend of Blabber’n’Smoke who just about epitomises that epithet especially with regard to music. Dietmar Leibecke is a tall (very tall) and wonderful human being who may be known to several readers given his habit of turning up all over the place whenever there’s some good music to be heard.

Dietmar lives in Mullhelm An Der Rhur in Germany and for the past ten years he’s been promoting Americana and roots music in Germany with a host of house concerts along with booking tours for bands we’re all familiar with. Last year Dietmar ventured into the dangerous waters of setting up a music festival which he called Static Roots. Held in Oberhausen it was a two day event that featured Leeroy Stagger (Canada), The Wynntown Marshals (Scotland), John Blek & The Rats (Ireland), Malojian (Northern-Ireland), Meena Cryle & The Chris Fillmore Band (Austria), The Midnight Union Band (Ireland), and Anna Mitchell (Ireland). By all accounts, it was a great time and he’s set to do it again this year. Intrigued by the thought of setting up such a venture from scratch Blabber’n’Smoke wanted to hear more so we spoke to Dietmar to learn his story.


The first Static Roots was held last year. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you did it?

Well last year was a year of anniversaries. First off, there was my Silver Wedding anniversary and it was also my 50th birthday. It was also ten years since we had started to promote shows and on a personal note it was five years since I had received a kidney transplant so there was a lot to celebrate. My wife and I wanted to do something special and we decided on the idea of setting up a small festival. Where I stay there wasn’t anything like that going on and I was completely influenced by the Kilkenny Roots Festival. They always have a great line up and it’s so much fun. Wherever you go you see great acts and it’s not just the music but it’s the people as well, a real community. So we were thinking about that and decided to go for it and we got in touch with some of our friends in the music business and asked them to come over and play and we got a great response. Artists we had met in Kilkenny like John Blek and The Rats, Malojian and The Midnight Union Band agreed to come and then my friends from Scotland, The Wynntown Marshals signed up. And then there was Leeroy Stagger from Canada who has become one of my best friends, I’ve known him for around ten years now. The one act we got who I didn’t know personally was Daniel Romano. I’d seen him live and thought he was great but in the end his satnav took him to another town called Oberhausen which was near Munich. He called and offered to come the next day but by then the festival was closing so we didn’t get to see him.

It sounds like quite an adventure but you’ve been promoting shows for around ten years now. How did that start?

It was another birthday, my 40th. Steve Wynn has been my biggest influence since I was young, his album with The Dream Syndicate, Days Of Wine and Roses was really the first record that blew me over and made me think that this was music that was made for me. It opened up a completely new world for me and it’s still one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to.  So I got in touch with Steve and asked him to play my 40th birthday and he said yes! He came with the Miracle Three and put on a fantastic show and that’s really how we got into the business of putting on shows. When Steve came over he introduced me to the idea of doing house concerts.  I hadn’t  really heard of the concept up till then but then I looked it up and found a couple of American bands who were open to playing house concerts so a little while later I invited Leeroy Stagger over to play our house. He was the first artist to play there and it was just so touching and so intense so we’ve continued to do it and so far we’ve hosted about 50 house concerts. We started off with solo acoustic shows but then we had Easton Stagger Phillips (Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips) come to play and we had to get a PA system for that. From then we went on to have full bands like Danny & The champions of The World and The Wynntown Marshals playing in our house. I think that Leeroy has been here the most, about five times. It’s great fun and nowadays I occasionally book tours in Germany for bands I want to see in my house. The house concerts, even with a full band are very intimate and it’s great to see the audience being so attentive and the acts can take their time and tell their stories behind the songs, it’s so much more than playing in a bar for them.


So how many people would you normally have at a house concert?

Well they always sell out and we have space for around 65 people there but it depends on the size of the band. If it’s a six-piece band we only let in 60 people but for a smaller band we can squeeze in maybe five more people.

You must have quite a large room

It’s not so big but we have a couple of beer benches, you know the traditional lederhosen and sauerkraut German beer benches so we have space for about 30 to 35 seats with the rest of the audience standing at the back of the room.

OK, you’ve got a full band, amplified, playing in your house. What do the neighbours think?


They are all invited! Last summer we had John Blek and The Rats over and it was loud but it was so hot we had to open all the windows and leave the door open and some folk came over to see what the noise was and ended up staying. We converted a few people that night and made some new friends. Sometimes it’s been so loud I’ve wondered if the police might show up but so far so good.


Back to Static Roots. Can you tell us a little more about that?


It’s held in an old zinc factory which has been converted into a theatre. It was built I think in 1904 and it’s a lovely building with old brick walls and some of the original fixtures. It looks really cool with huge windows, a big stage and a great sound and a great crew. It’s a nice big venue with a beer garden out front, burger stands and all and it really worked well last year. It holds around 300 people which I thought was a good number. I didn’t want to go for a bigger place because I knew it would be hard to fill it. Again I was thinking of Kilkenny where I think the biggest venue holds around 400.


Have you gone again for acts you know?

Danny and The Champions of The World, Peter Bruntnell and John Blek are good friends but we’ve also got David Corley who I saw last year at Kilkenny and Erin Rea and The Meanwhiles, both of them making their first appearances in Germany.

Hopefully this is not an insensitive question but do you expect to make any money from this?

Well last year, because it really was a celebration of our wedding anniversary and such it was an invitation only event in the main. We did spread the word around friends in the music world and asked them to donate to a fund we had set up for Doctors Without Borders (AKA Médecins Sans Frontières) so there was no ticket fee, just a donation and we collected around 9,000 Euros for the campaign. We covered the artists’ fees and the cost of the venue out of our own pocket. This year it’s a public event and we’re selling tickets for the show and so far it’s going fairly well with more than half the tickets already gone. We are getting some press coverage and we’ll see how it goes but I’m sure that the festival is going to be a success some day along the line. It will need some time to get established but it was so much fun last year and the audience was great. We had a bunch of folk who came over from Kilkenny, the Kilkenny Roots Family we called them and there’s a great bunch of Scottish people who came over as well. A lot of people I had met at shows before, there were so many friends there. It’s quite funny but also important that wherever you travel music wise you meet people, like minded people and you keep in touch and it’s such a great community of open minded people interested in music, peace, love. I love the idea of music bringing people together, I’ve been to Rambling Roots in High Wycombe, March into Pitlochry and Kilkenny Roots so far this year and I can keep all those memories for ever and I hope that Static Roots will be as good. I’m going to have the time of my life at it even if it’s been lots of work in setting it up but once the last note is played I’m going  to say, “Man, this was brilliant” and then it will be looking forward to next year’s festival.

Static Roots takes place on the 9th and 10th June at Oberheim  with the following line up

David Corley

Peter Bruntnell

John Blek & The Rats

Danny & The Champions Of The World

Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles

Torpus & The Art Directors

David Ford

Nadine Khouri

Jack Marks

Tickets are available here. It’s only a hop and a skip away.

Festival pictures by Klaas Guchelaar




Peter Bruntnell/The Wynntown Marshals. @Soundsin TheSuburbs. 13th Note. Glasgow. Friday 2nd September.


It’s been some time since Peter Bruntnell ventured north of the border with a band and news of this gig had veteran supporters salivating at the prospect. Bruntnell, hailed by The Guardian recently as an “alt country genius” in their cult heroes column is a superb performer solo, his songs, described in that same Guardian article as “classically constructed, melodically rich, lyrically ingenious and emotionally, intellectually affecting…,” delivered by his gentle voice and guitar playing always win over audiences. The prospect of a band show and in the sweaty and confined cellar of The 13th Note however was a dream come true for several of the audience as Bruntnell and his band line ups have been known to achieve heights  that recall the best of the crunchier power pop rockers and even Neil Young’s psychedelic guitar work outs. Tonight he and his band did not disappoint. The four piece (Bruntnell on guitar, David Little, guitar, Peter Noone, bass and Mick Clews on drums) stormed through a set that showcased several songs from the excellent Nos Da Comrade and cherry picked several highlights from the back catalogue. The intimacy of the small venue (a shame really as Bruntnell truly deserves a larger audience) allowed the crowd an experience that was at times transcendental, a rock’n’roll nirvana.

With the guitars cranked up they launched into the chunky rhythm of Ghost Dog with Little already burning on his solos before a wall of sound was launched from the stage on the perfect power pop of  Fishing The Floodplain, gears shifting smoothly leading up to a glorious chiming conclusion. London Clay, a song that was only briefly available via the ‘net continued in a similar vein, glorious harmonies and sun dappled pop with chiming guitars recalling the likes of The Lemonheads at their best but this was topped by the guitar refrains of Long Way Down From A Cloud which recalled The Byrds’ reappropriation of Bach.  All glorious so far  but the band were well able to swerve into darker territory with Where The Snakes Hang Out a powerful slow groove and the brooding epic of Yuri Gargarin a slow burning extravaganza of guitar workouts and pedal effects that was hypnotic in its burnished twists and turns, Bruntnells’ whispy vocals floating over the mesh of amplified strings and the propulsive rhythm section.

While well able to channel the guitar carnage of Neil Young and Crazy Horse Bruntnell is a master of melodic rock displayed tonight on the brisk delivery of City Star  and on two  songs which are perhaps his best known, songs which probably are responsible for his inclusion in that  alt country label mentioned by that Guardian article. Here Come The Swells and By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix are superior examples of UK Americana and tonight this was amplified by the inclusion of Iain Sloan (from support band The Wynntown Marshals) on pedal steel adding another dimension to the band. Hearing Sloan step into the shoes of Eric Heywood was a bonus, his pedal steel woven into the golden tapestry of both songs as Bruntnell took the opportunity to offer some pithy comments on Swells while Phoenix was just majestic, the guitars racked up for an astonishing finish. Coming to a conclusion there was a fine display of sonic wizardry (replacing the studio sitar effects) in the run up to Cold Water Swimmer which metamorphed into a shimmering white noise barrage before the punk infused thrash of Peak Operational Condition saw the band exit on a high.

The conditions were right, the band was right and the audience were rightly rewarded for their recognition of one of our “unknown heroes.” Do spread the word.

P1050608 copy

There was a fine bonus tonight in the shape of the supporting act, a two man version of The Wynntown Marshals featuring that man Iain Sloan on pedal steel and acoustic guitar with singer Keith Benzie, also on guitar. While the full Marshals line up is a clamorous vision of high end rock and country tonight the pair stripped back some of their songs, sieving the nuggets from their usual melodic mayhem, allowing Benzie full accord as an excellent singer and lyricist. Moby Doll carried a sense of ennui heightened by the pedal steel stylings while Low Country Comedown was a creamy country laden ballad and The Submariner was given a fine country lope. Curtain Call saw Sloan switch to acoustic guitar for this poignant tale and its deadly denouement, deliciously delivered by the pair. Their rendition of Red Clay Hill really allowed the lyrics to shine as it came across like an earthbound version of Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night? while their closing song The End Of The Golden Age was just sublime, Benzie in fine vocal form with Sloan harmonising excellently on a song that is on a par with the Jayhawks.

More pictures from the show here

Favourite albums of 2015


Well it’s that time of year again when we make up lists. Some get songs written about them (Santa’s naughty or nice one), some guide us around the supermarket, ensuring we don’t forget that all important stuffing. Blogs. Well, blogs do their “best of the year” lists so here’s Blabber’n’Smoke’s list of our favourite albums of the year. They’re not in any order (other than alphabetical) so there’s no number one and no losers, just some great music. 2015 was a bumper year for country music with young artists wresting the spotlight away from the ‘bros; back home there were some excellent releases that have received international recognition on websites, blogs and radio stations scattered across the globe. I’ve separated local releases simply because I think it’s important to highlight Scottish made music, had it been a straightforward top ten several of these would be in there. I’ve provided links to reviews where possible.

My thanks to all the artists, PR Agents and labels who have been kind enough to submit their efforts for Blabber’n’Smoke scrutiny, we love you. To them and to all readers have a happy festive season however you care to celebrate it.

Anna & Elizabeth. Anna & Elizabeth. Free Dirt records


Brent Best. Your Dog, Champ. At The Helm Records/Last Chance Records


David Corley, Available Light, Continental Song City



Danny and The Champions Of The World, What Kind Of Love, Loose Music



Justin Townes Earle. Single Mothers/Absent Fathers. Loose Music



Barna Howard, Quite A Feelin’, Loose Music



Sam Lewis Waiting On You. Brash Music


Jeremy Pinnell OH/KY Sofaburn Records, 2015


Michael Rank & Stag. Horsehair. Louds Hymn Music


Daniel Romano, If I’ve Only one Time Askin’, New West Records


Pharis and Jason Romero, A Wanderer I’ll Stay, Lula Records


Sacri Cuori, Delone, Glitterbeat


Cale Tyson, Introducing Cale Tyson, Clubhouse Records




Stevie Agnew & Hurricane Road. Bad Blood & Whiskey. Skimmin’ Stone Records



Dark Green Tree, Secret Lives, Haven Records



James Edwyn & the Borrowed Band – The Tower




Daniel Meade Keep Right Away. From The Top Records



Iain Morrison. Eas. Peatfiredog Records.


Findlay Napier. VIP Very Important Persons Cheerygroove Records.



Dean Owens. Into The Sea. Drumfire Records

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The Wynntown Marshals, The End Of The Golden Age, Blue Rose Records



Honourable mentions

Lewis and Leigh Hidden Truths EP.


Blue Rose Code Grateful



And that’s about it. Lots to look forward to in the New Year, not least albums from Norrie McCulloch and Blue Rose Code in the next few weeks and of course, Celtic Connections. See ya.

Ronnie Fauss. Built To Break. Normaltown Records

When Another Town, the opening song on Dallas based Ronnie Fauss’s Built To Break came banging out of the speakers for the first time Blabber’n’Smoke had a quick double take moment. Surely this was Scotland’s own Wynntown Marshals beavering away under a pseudonym? Turns out not to be the case but Another Town is a dead ringer for The Marshals, vocally Fauss sounds like Keith Benzie while the song belts along in similar fashion to Wynntown goodies such as Canada with big crunchy guitars and whip smart solos driving it along. Probably not the best way to start a review but the resemblance is striking and as regular readers of Blabber’n’Smoke will know a comparison to The Marshals is praise indeed. However Fauss is at heart a blue collar country rocker and a more apt comparison might be Robert Earl Keen, both documenting the other side of life in Texas red dirt life, case in point, the lyrics of Another Town…”well the neighbours said you made a big scene today Screaming that you would be damned before the state take your baby away And I remember that I swore I’d do my best But now I’m here in this hotel room stacking bottles on my chest.”

There’s more hi octane rocking on A Natural End and on the magnificent Eighteen Wheels, a trucking song where Fauss shares vocals with Rhett Miller (of the Old 97’s) which scoots along splendidly with frantic keyboards and a litany of musical heroes purifying the trucker’s soul as he heads for home. Old Life is a rush of words, fiddle, pedal steel and organ with lyrics worthy of Woody Guthrie which takes the wind out of the listener with its pace and energy. Elsewhere there’s the wild yearning country rock of A Place Out In The Country which has the lurch of vintage Crazy Horse and the dual guitar duelling of the Allman’s all coming to a boil towards the exhilarating climax.

Fauss takes his foot off the throttle on occasion delivering the fine Come On Down, a celebration of the working man and on The Big Catch, a song that hints at a dark secret in a kid’s past. Never Gonna Last is a delightful Dobro fuelled duet with Jenna Paulette that recalls country duets such as Dolly and Porter’s but Fauss goes all out on the subdued cover of a Phosphorescent song, Song For Zula which is just this side of sublime. His vocals and acoustic guitar are gradually joined by guitar and backing vocals over a gentle bass line giving the song a fine melancholic air without losing any of the pathos of the original. In addition it links Fauss again to The Wynntown Marshals who once sang a song about a gorilla in captivity. Weird coincidence.

Anyway, Built To Break is an excellent listen and well recommended.


The Wynntown Marshals. The End Of The Golden Age. Blue Rose Records

Over the past few years The Wynntown Marshals have gone from strength to strength. Their 2013 album, The Long Haul, was generally accepted as one of the finest examples of UK Americana music of the past decade and led to the band being signed to Blue Rose Records, a label whose roster shows that they are not easily impressed. Terrific as it was The Long Haul was conceived during some turbulent times for the band with drummer Kenny McCabe joining just before recording began and keyboard player Ritchie Noble climbing on board after the album was finished. The End Of The Golden Age follows two years consolidation for the current line up including a hefty slew of live shows (which get better and better each time Blabber’n’Smoke sees them). While The Long Haul portrayed a band triumphant in the face of adversity here they’re riding a wave of popular acclaim and success.
Fans of The Marshals will be gratified to find that there’s no major change in direction or sound here, instead there’s a sense that the band have shifted up a gear. Their roots are still to be found in the melancholic songs of Wilco and the fiery guitar bursts of Neil Young while singer Keith Benzie continues to mine a rich narrative seam that embodies classic American landscapes and his own experiences. Noble adds a subtle richness to the mix with his keyboard skills (on Hammond, piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, synth and glockenspiel) fully embedded, a sound explored by The Marshals on The Long haul but fully realised here. It’s perhaps best noted on the pale fire of Idaho where his piano is stately and measured as Iain Sloan’s pedal steel keens away with the song itself sounding as if Neil Young had discovered an outtake from Déjà Vu. Elsewhere some judicious horn additions from Bruce Michie add to the sonic palette.
The album opens wonderfully with a blissful guitar intro that actually recalls the bucolic Canterbury rock of Caravan on There Was A Time before Benzie’s hoarsened voice leads the band into a corkscrewed country rock song with organ swells and skirling guitars that betray their Celtic roots. Dead Sunflowers is a sinewy number that recalls Canada from the previous album. A fulsome tenor sax introduces the starry-skied regretful love song Being Lazy with Benzie sounding like Jeff Tweedy at his most laidback while the production captures each and every squeak of the acoustic guitars. With lyrics by bass player Murdoch Macleod, Being Lazy captures the band at their best; Benzie inhabits the song, the keyboards cosset the melody as the guitars strum along with an occasional whiff of pedal steel, a wonderful song. Red Clay Hill is a fiery burst of outright Americana rock with tough guitars and swirling organ as Benzie sings “Last night I dreamt that I took a walk in an Ansel Adams picture” before being joined on vocals by Hannah Eton-Wall (The Redlands Palomino Co). The song soars wonderfully and there’s a magnificent guitar mash in the middle firing in all directions. The Girl On The Hill inhabits the same territory as Being Lazy. A winsome dappled brook of a song, sparkling guitars and pampered keyboards lift it aloft belying the possibility that it’s actually a murder ballad, the lyrics pointing in that direction but somewhat coy regarding what actually happened.

Over the years The Marshals’ have generally provided a would be epic on their albums and here it might be the mysterious tale of a man’s involvement with a killer whale on Moby Doll. As usual it builds from a slow narrative into a propulsive thriller and hopefully it will be a killer live. The album ends with the celebratory (and joyous) title song, a brief memorandum from Benzie regarding a past relationship which celebrates joy and sadness buoyed by an uplifting jangle fest of guitars, a fine curtain closer.

The End Of The Golden Age is released in May and there’s talk of a vinyl edition as well. In the meantime they’re touring Germany before the album launch at The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh on 12th June.


Sons of Bill + The Wynntown Marshals. Stereo, Glasgow. Thursday 19th February

The first promotion of the year from Glasgow’s Fallen Angels Club was a rerun of an event featured last year as part of their tenth anniversary celebrations. Same two bands, same venue, pretty much the same crowd although tonight was fuller than last year so word must be spreading.

First up was Edinburgh’s Wynntown Marshalls with a seven song half hour set comprised of numbers from 2013’s excellent The Long Haul and three new ones from their forthcoming Blue Rose Records release, The End Of The Golden Age. Having spent several months recording the album the band seemed delighted to be back on stage and turned in a winning performance, gutsy and brilliantly played. Familiarity hasn’t dulled the pleasure one gets from The Long Haul Songs. The crunching rock of Driveaway dipped and soared with swirling keyboards before a thrilling (and loud) climax. Whatever It Takes allowed singer Keith Benzie to show he can give Jeff Tweedy a run for his money as a singer and songwriter as did Low Country Comedown which was given a fine country rock swagger with a Beatlish touch to the harmonies by the band before it segued with a wall of noise into Tide, bass player Murdoch MacLeod’s epic squall. I’ve seen the band play this song five or six times now and each time it takes on a different persona. Tonight, given the restrains of a support slot, it was tighter and shorter than it has been in the past but it remains a powerful piece with guitarist Iain Sloan cresting the waves with piercing guitar solos while the organ playing of Richie Noble steered it tonight in the direction of CS&N’s Long Time Coming. The three new songs from the forthcoming album (Red Clay Hill, Dead Sunflowers and the title song) all bode well for its release. Red Clay Hill was classic Marshals’ Americana with a fine jangled guitar chassis while The End Of The Golden Age came across as a fine slice of power pop with some barbed guitar and three part harmonies that were excellent, whetting the appetite for the new disc.


Sons Of Bill could do no wrong from the start with the stagefront packed. While they showed that they can whip up a storm with fiery numbers such as Bad Dancer over the course of the set the balance was in favour of the softer edged harmony tinged offerings from their last album, Love And Logic. They opened with their tribute to Chris Bell, Lost In The Cosmos, a brave choice as its delicate delivery demanded attention from the audience but there was an immediate hush. Road To Canaan slowly built up into a thunderous climax before Siren Song screamed into view. Joey’s Arm has grown into a powerful arena like rock ballad but tonight it was eclipsed by the muscular rendition of Brand New Paradigm, another song that opens with lilting harmonies before whipping itself into a bit of a frenzy. With the three brothers Wilson taking turns at lead vocals and Sam Wilson proving himself adept at finger picking sensitivity and gut crunching electric lead the crowd were lapping this up. A three song encore however was almost anticlimactic with Sam and Abe Wilson turning in a guitar and keyboard stripped back Find My Way Back Home before the band launched into the chunky Turn It Up with a final number, the funereal Hymnsong ending the night on a minor note. While I felt that the set tonight was not as gripping as last year’s I was in the minority as chat in the queue for the Merch table was unanimously positive. It has to be said that the Sons Of Bill have the chops, the looks and importantly, the songs that could catapult them into the bigtime. This is their second tour in the UK, when they come back grab the opportunity to see them as they have the potential to outgrow venues like this.

Wynntown Marshals website

Sons Of Bill website

Norrie McCulloch & Iain Sloan with Howie Reeve and Michael Anguish. Seven Song Club. Tron Theatre Glasgow. Friday 13th February


Norrie McCulloch’s Old Lovers Junkyard was one of Blabber’n’Smoke’s favourite home grown albums of 2014. Its honeyed country stylings coupled with McCulloch’s warm rasp of a voice and his fine song writing all added up to a winner, an album that’s been receiving ongoing radio plays and gathering new followers; certainly anyone we’ve recommended it too has been quite effusive in their praise. Friday was our first opportunity to see McCulloch in action as part of a trio of acts appearing at the Seven Song Club in one of Glasgow’s hidden treasures, The Victorian Bar at The Tron Theatre. All warm and woody it was a perfect setting for his heartfelt songs. An added attraction was that McCulloch was appearing accompanied by Iain Sloan of The Wynntown Marshals playing pedal steel guitar, an instrument he uses not only for the Marshalls’ jangled rock but also as the current dreamweaver for progressive rock band Abel Ganz. An intriguing set up we thought. Old Lovers Junkyard wallows at times in the pedal steel yearnings of Dave McGowan but a two man show, acoustic and pedal steel only remains a rare beast. Willie Vlautin and Richard Buckner have appeared thus in live situations but on record we can only recall the magisterial And The Hits Keep On Coming, Michael Nesmith’s 1972 album recorded with just him and Red Rhodes on board. While there’s a recording of Nesmith and Rhodes playing live live on The Amazing Zigzag Concert box set this set up is not one that you would generally come across. It intrigues in two ways; pedal steel is apparently difficult to master and naked might miss a tight rhythm section to bolster it. However, with its ability to change pitch and harmonics it’s almost unique in its ability to accompany human voice, to echo, support and cosset the singer.

Anyhow, waffle aside, McCulloch and Sloan fitted together like bread and butter. Seven songs, as advertised, wafted around the room, McCulloch assured, warm throated and ebullient, Sloan caressing the songs, creating wafts of billowing buttered sounds and occasionally soloing with a deftness and warmth that demonstrated the emotional capabilities of the instrument that Danny Wilson (of Danny & The champions Of The World) describes as the ironing board of love. Indeed as McCulloch sang Sloan appeared to be almost caressing his instrument, coaxing it into life, a winning combination indeed. As for the songs there was a fine mix of old and new, four from Old Lovers Junkyard and three from McCulloch’s current recording sessions. Old Lovers Junkyard itself was given a desolate and yearning feel with Sloan’s pedal steel weeping along to the forlorn lyrics while Too far Gone had some heart breaking pedal steel glissandos on this bitter sweet tale. Call Me Home was a lesson in frailty, the pedal steel keening away, McCulloch’s voice halting, reminiscent of seventies singer songwriter neurosis, questioning and wondering and adorned with an excellent steel led outro. Still Looking For You , the closing song on Old Lovers Junkyard and the closing song tonight had a warm, laid back country feel to it. Of the new songs New Joke was a hard luck tale written while travelling home from Bridge Of Allan had a harsher edge to the vocals with the pedal steel adding some bite. McCulloch was inspired to write These Mountain Blues on a road trip to see Townes van Zandt’s grave in Texas and the song does indeed inhabit TVZ territory as he sang about an oak tree next to the grave, achingly evocative it offered an opportunity for Iain Sloan to deliver his finest solo playing of the night. The other new song of the night bridged whatever gap there is between Ayrshire and Texas as McCulloch went solo and off mic to sing a song inspired by his grandfather’s toils in the mines, Black Dust. A powerful piece, this was the folkiest moment of the night as he sang, “he didn’t know he was digging his own grave” with guitar and harmonica and gusty vocals in the working class folk tradition.

A short set perhaps but throughout the show the audience appeared mesmerised, the combination of the songs and performance transfixing, McCulloch affable and commanding on stage in between songs. The queue for his album afterwards testament to the quality on show.

A mea culpa here regarding the other acts, both new to Blabber’n’Smoke but Howie Reeve was very impressive as he delivered a set of fairly challenging aural assaults, played on an acoustic bass which he banged, clattered, tweeked and plucked at times with some ferocity, at others a surprising tenderness. With lyrics that recalled the absurdities of Ivor Cutler or the surrealism of Robert Wyatt he was incredibly engaging, a cross between R M Hubbert and Eugene Chadbourne and he deserves some delving into his catalogue. Michael Anguish closed the night with a full band set that portrayed him as a fine performer who strays into Avett Brothers company at times. Loose limbed Americana styled songs flowed from the band with one in particular reminding us of the long lost Granfalloon Bus while there was also an element of 1970’s folk weirdness in the mix on the closing song.

Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Been a while since I heard from Ten Gallon Bratz, a band I reviewed for Americana UK back in 2006 but you can’t keep a good man (or band) down and Tales From The Long Shadows is a world away from their first tentative steps. Hailing from Greenock the Bratz are of a certain vintage that probably allows them to look back with some fondness to what passed for country rock back in the days before alt country kicked in. Their sound certainly reflects the likes of Poco, Guy Clark and the Eagles while there’s a Celtic tinge to some of their songs with Same Old Song seeming to come from time spent listening to The Waterboys.

A five piece band with three guitarists on board, they open the album with the guitar heavy stomp of Nothing Left To Say as the acoustics flail away and the electric guitar riffs in a Big Country style. It’s a big bold statement but in terms of the album somewhat misleading as what follows is more nuanced and dare I say, more interesting. Personally I’d prefer it at the end but there’s no doubt that it’s destined to be a crowd pleaser. The guitar crunching side of the band is revisited on the burnished bruise that is Fish Out Of Water, a shimmering groove that doffs its hat to Chris Issak and Jace Everett with its air of menace. For the remainder however the band allow their harmonies, allied to some fine picking, to showcase their talent and it’s here that that we find the heart of the band, one they offer live as testified some weeks ago when we saw them open for The Howling Brothers. While there’s a Ronnie Lane feel to the shuffling strut of Too Far Gone the band are at their best when they hunker down in their vision of American roots music. The addition of pedal steel by Iain Sloan (Wynntown Marshals) and fiddle (Alison McNeill, Reely Jiggered) fleshes out the sound on a slew of songs that drink deep from the Americana well. New King In Town has some very sweet and sorrowful Dobro and pedal steel flourishes as a relationship breaks down while All Fall Down swells musically despite the downbeat story. Brand New Old Fashioned Blues is a terrific tear stained lament with weeping pedal steel while Who’s Left To Save The Working Man delves into Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen territory in their stripped down Woody Guthrie guises. Here the Bratz strive to celebrate and commiserate with the downtrodden and they succeed as they really nail it here.