Lera Lynn. Resistor.

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While some folk might have caught a glimpse of Lera Lynn at Celtic Connections when she supported Sturgill Simpson most will probably know her through her work on the television series, True Detective. Just as season one of the series raised the profile of The Handsome Family when their song, Far From Any Road, was used as the theme music, Lynn has benefited from her association with the show. Several of her songs (some co-written with Roseanne cash and T Bone Burnett) appeared throughout the episodes while she also appeared as a “shadowy” bar singer. Folks expecting however a rerun of the languid country tinged songs that populated her last album, 2014’s The Avenues, might be somewhat surprised by the direction she’s taken here.

Resistor features Lynn and co-producer Joshua Grange playing most of the instruments on a set of songs that creep from the speakers, a bit like that Japanese ghoul from The Ring. There’s an emphasis on percussion and reverbed guitars creating an atmosphere that rumbles and roots around in that dark American hinterland; neon lit motels, dark highways and ghosts on the highway. There are moments that recall Twilight Hotel (the duo that featured Brandy Zdan), a whisp of the doomed romanticism of Chris Isaak and, on the opening Shape Shifter, a nod to bands like The Breeders.

Shape Shifter actually does the album a disservice. It’s a fair enough song with a fine guitar solo midway through but its robotic rhythm and routine verse/chorus shoehorned into a radio friendly groove doesn’t really cut it. The following songs fall into the same trap. What You Done with its lead bass line and Goth like darkness, Drive’s would be highway drama and Cut + Burn’s melodrama are songs that just don’t quite cut the mustard.  Things look up with Run The Night, the instrumentation is enhanced with some acoustic guitars in the mix while the percussion is more restrained, enhancing the song as opposed to dominating it and from here on in the album just gets better.

For The Last Time is a well paced and fully realised version of Lynn’s noirish dreamsongs. Her vocals are allowed to ride above the song and the guitars coil around her with a fine degree of menace. Fade Into The Black approaches that juncture where Roy Orbison and David Lynch intersect while Slow Motion Countdown is a dream like slow waltz tinted with an old time veneer reminiscent of The Walkabouts’ Prague wanderings. Scratch + Hiss continues in a similar vein, Lynn a chanteuse here, simpering over an opalescent backdrop of shimmering guitars.

Overall the album shows that Lynn isn’t one to rest on her laurels, some of her choices here somewhat daring in their refusal to go down a gravel road that would see her as just another singer wanting to sound like Lucinda Williams. However some of the songs lack passion while others show some promise. You can make your own mind up as she is touring the UK in May, all dates are here

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Whitehorse. Leave No Bridge Unburned. Six Shooter Records

Husband and wife team, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are quite the mythmakers. From the album art (which echoes the work of Saul Bass) featuring McClelland as a sixties leather clad spy girl and Doucet as a guitar toting gunslinger to the warped and twisted stories within the songs they create a fine melange of southern gothic, spaghetti western and James Bond glamour. Ably assisted by producer Gus Van Go (who co wrote three songs here and plays bass throughout), the pair go on a wild road trip with scorched guitars and fuzzed up keyboards backed by basic tub-thumping in the finest Moe Tucker style.

Leave No Bridge Unburned opens with the exotic rhythms of Baby What’s Wrong with its lecherous sway, lashings of twang guitar and hint of Calexico and Calexico’s desert noir is brought to mind again with mariachi horns adorning the border smuggling tale of You Get Older. Tame As The Wild Ones opens with a Morricone flourish before creeping into doomed romanticism with McClelland and Doucet coming on like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. The big guns however are brought out for the rousing and quite amazing Downtown which has a thumping Bo Diddley beat and features an insanely fuzzed Farfisa organ, searing guitar breaks and a brilliantly infectious chorus. Sweet Disaster is a dreamlike swoon of a sci fi fantasy with McClelland coolly singing
“Galileo was bluffing, it’s just a mess out here. There’s no compass to guide us through the flashes of violence and fear”
as the drums pound and guitars swirl and burst like fireworks. While there’s some breathing space offered by the subdued and very pretty Dear Irony which is like the Everley Brothers meets Santos and Johnny, they switch horses for the highlight of the album on the Neil Young inspired Fake Your Death (And I’ll Fake Mine). Starting with a simple acoustic guitar and close up voices the rhythm section burps into life and a growly electric guitar starts to muscle its way in. The song sways along, returning to the simple melody then bursting into guitar flourishes recalling classic Young epics such as Zuma. They wrap the album up with the zany eclecticism of The Walls Have Drunken Ears which careers around like a ball in a pinball machine lighting up Dylan circa 1966 and The Beatles around about the time of The White Album.

Overall leave No Bridge Unburned is a rousing and energetic listen and it should delight fans of the late Twilight Hotel and Blanche.

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The Jamie Freeman Agreement. 100 Miles From Town. Union Music Store.

Nudging the years end this album probably does itself a disservice as it hasn’t enough time to bed itself in the memory of all of those top ten compilers who are right now beavering away at their lists (present company included). A pity as it’s a strong contender for inclusion with some sublime moments especially for those who like melodic Americana laced with powerful guitar playing and handsome harmony singing.
Freeman (on lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, drums, organ and piano and brother of Hobbit actor, Martin, trivia fans, ) and the Agreement (Abigail Downs, backing vocals, Jessica Spengler, bass guitar, Jonathan Hirsch, electric guitar, banjo and Dobro and Joe Ellis on drums) are a tight unit, well able to conjure up a muscular melody as on Scrabble From Afghanistan which drives along with a powerful beat as the guitars chime gloriously. It’s Your Lucky Day is another guitar driven corker , this time adding a jangled haze to the mix while the venerable B.J. Cole guests on pedal steel for the soaring Steel Away which is a contender for song of the year. Joyful in its delivery despite its subject matter of a woman wanting out of a relationship it captures the spirit of pioneers in country rock such as Gene Clark and latter exponents like The Jayhawks. Swirling organ, chunky guitar and Cole’s ethereal steel playing coalesce as if under a California sun while Freeman is joined by co writer, the very fine Brandy Zdan (of Twilight Hotel) on vocals with the pair of them in perfect harmony, a superb song. Alas Zdan’s appearance here is her sole contribution to the album but Freeman is well served on the other cuts by Rachel Davies who adds some tremendous harmony and backing vocals throughout the album. Steel Away might be sublime Americana music but for much of the album Freeman steers a course between America and his homeland. The opening song, The Knight is graced by the presence of Larkin Poe sisters, Megan and Rebecca Lovell on lap steel and mandolin but the lyrics and driving mandolin are evidence of the influence of Richard Thompson. Even stranger, Key of Me harks back to the mysticism and power chords of Pete Townshend back when he was trying to capture the “vibrations” of music on his ill fated Lifehouse project. Nevertheless Key Of Me is a powerful song with some fine gospel like wailing from Davies. Elsewhere Freeman utilises English folk song with Message From Limbo a simple acoustic guitar led rendition of a poem by Amy Tudor (who also wrote Scrabble From Afghanistan) but there is a return to Americana sounds with Hey Mama sounding like an old Gospel song although it addresses a modern issue while I’ll Never Be The Same Again has some rippling mandolin along with the guitar chimes. So far Freeman has managed to straddle the Anglo/American divide but towards the end he dives in headfirst with the rockabilly strut of Two Sugar Baby which features some fine picking from Richard Smith and harmonies from The Good Lovelies and it will set your brothel creepers a tappin’. Annie Ran Away winds up the album with a windswept Ghost Riders in the Sky type pitch, heavenly harmonies included. Finally, and perhaps inspired by Zdan’s dark musings with Twilight Hotel, Freeman offers a blood soaked tale in Hey Hey Indianna! which is American Gothic in delivery and explains the album art.

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Brandy Zdan. Lone Hunter

Brandy Zdan first came to our attention as one half of Twilight Hotel whose fine album When The Wolves Go Blind we reviewed last year Lone Hunter is her debut solo release and is advance notice of her forthcoming UK tour (including a Scottish date at The Torpichen Inn, West Lothian on Saturday October 19) where she will be accompanied by Awna Teixeira of Po’ Girl and Cara Luft under the clumsy moniker of The ABC of Canadian Music. A six song strong mini album it truly is a solo effort as Zdan plays most of the instruments on the disc including guitar, percussion, lap steel, synthesiser and Wurlitzer. She is assisted by producer George Reiff on percussion and guitar on one song while Ricky Ray Jackson adds pedal steel to two others. In the vocal department Jamie Lin Wilson and Kelley Mickwee 0f The Trishas (with whom Zdan is a touring member) add backing vocals on O Where.
Zdan’s crystal voice rings throughout the disc and although she’s based in Texas these days several of the songs have that northern America/Canadian sense of frosty wide spaces that one imagines haunts artists from north of the 49th Parallel. The title song in particular is a bare boned haunting number that seems to be about loss and despair and an eventual longing to return to the earth and elements, perhaps an allusion to Into The Wild, a book about going into the wilderness to die.
This stark approach continues in I Remember When You Used To Love Me, a tear stained letter with dramatic percussion and Does Everything Break, another song about lost love that has a keening pedal steel that highlights the loneliness expressed in Zdan’s plaintive voice. Pedal steel is used to good effect again on O Where, another song of loss which features naive hope instead of despair as Zdan forlornly believes her baby will return “in summertime, when all is green.”
Two songs are more upfront in their delivery with an echo of the moodiness of her band Twilight Hotel on the opening song Mourning Dove (co-written with Dave Quanbury, the other half of the band) with its whammy guitar flourishes and noirish sensibility. Blood As The Ink stands apart from the other songs however as a burbling new wave like bass line and fuzzy guitar solos zip past in a flash somewhat disturbing the overall mood of the disc.

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Twilight Hotel. ABC2 Glasgow. 18/4/12


Apologies for the time lag in posting this. Originally intended for another website it got lost in a queue, so here goes…………..

This Austin based Canadian due brought their fairly unique blend of Gothic Americana for the first time to Glasgow on a quiet mid week night which might explain the meagre audience numbers but for those who came it was a sublime performance. Topped with a Baron Samedi styled top hat, Dave Quanbury wrung some fine spectral sounds from his guitar while Brandy Zdan proved to have a great voice and was no slouch on guitar and accordion. With additional kick drum and trombone from Quanbury and a mesmerising piece of lap steel playing from Zdan the two man band were able to capture much of the mystery and atmosphere of their most recent album When The Wolves Go Blind.
With songs ranging from the tango styled What Do I Know About Love to the Rockabilly Rattle of Ham Radio Blues there was variety in the set but the overall thrust was of a cold darkness with menace in the lyrics and the music. The Master was transformed into a David Lynch dark highway melodrama with both players meshing and mashing the guitar lines, thrilling stuff. Their rendition of Frozen Town, a paean to their hometown of Winnipeg had a wintry lonesome Neil Young feel to it and was the occasion for Zdan to embroider the piece with some fine sonic swoopings on her lap steel before segueing in to Ham radio Blues. The duo showed that they can rival some classic male/female vocal pairings with a rendition of Impatient Love from their Highway Prayer album but they were at their best when Quanbury was teasing out feedback crouched by his speaker while Zdan’s voice commanded attention. She’s a great singer and at times one was reminded of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins while listening to her. With some new songs including one called (I think) Blackbird Lips where shards of sound fell from Quanburys’ strings it bodes well for their next recorded outing.

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Twilight Hotel When The Wolves Go Blind.

A timely reissue for this third release from Canadian duo, Twilight Hotel as they embark on a short European tour in March and April. They should go down well as the tone of this album is not so much Americana as Europicana (a word I have just coined) in parts. What Do I Know About Love? could be the music for an Apache Dance with its louche accordion and stinging guitar while the title song and Poor and Hungry both hint at the European moodiness of The Walkabouts on their album Train Leaves At Eight. However Mahogany Veneer pulls them back slap bang into the States on an autobiographical tale of the longeurs of touring and their longing to return to their home turf of Winnipeg.
On Ham Radio Blues and Dream of Letting Go the guitar bluster and the harmonies of Brandy Zdan and Dave Quanbury at times recall the recently re-energised Cowboy Junkies. They do however manage to stamp their own identity on the hypnotic Frozen Town and especially on the brooding menace that is The Darkness, a song that could easily illuminate some of the seedier scenes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Overall the sound of Twilight Hotel is dark and menacing, guitars swoop and soar, razor sharp at times with echoes of Morricone, the percussion (by Stephen Hodges, ex Tom Wait player) is dynamic and sensitive, banjo, accordion and dulcimer add a gossamer touch to what is an aural gothic movie. This is perhaps best summed up on the closing song When I’m Gone, a macabre plea not to buried “underground in a wooden box with walls around. Leave my bones bare and I will become a river.” Superb stuff.
As part of their tour Twilight Hotel hit the ABC2 on 18th April.

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When I’m Gone