Monthly Archives: October 2018

Record Of The Week # 51

October 24, 2018

Colter Wall – Songs Of The Plains

Colter Wall’s second release Songs Of The Plains comes quickly after his 2017 debut. Judging by the 11 songs it appears that there was still a lot left unsaid. The images conjured in these lyrics continue his theme of being a drifter, whether today in his native Canada or the 19th Century American Wild West. The simplicity of the arrangements and, producer, David Cobb’s continued isolation and promotion of Wall’s unique and remarkable voice make this an intimate experience where the pace of delivery, timbre and the rising and falling is literally orchestral.

A simple chord pattern on his acoustic guitar starts “Plain To See Plainsman” and Wall declares, “I cut through the Rockies like some unholy blade”. We are placed in the Canadian outdoors learning of his love of the mountains, ocean and wheat fields. This is his home with its raw beauty, unforgiving winters and wide open spaces. He says that recent conversations in Europe and the USA confirmed how little his fans knew about Canada. With pride and sentimentality he immediately sets the record straight.

“John Beyers (Camaro Song)” was debuted on his last tour and recounts his planned retribution after three bullets were put into his prized 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. From here we learn about his impetuous past. “Wild Bill Hickok” tells the story of this Wild West plainsman legend. We end with Bill’s untimely demise after a disgruntled fellow gambler shot him. To achieve this full timeline in just over two and half minutes shows his gift as an economic wordsmith.

There are seven original compositions. However Wall walks the talk as regards his love of the catalogue of traditional North American folk songs. On tour he played Wabash Cannonball and Railroad Bill and on the album are “Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail” (with vocal duties shared with fellow Canadians Corb Lund and Blake Berglund), “Calgary Round-Up” and “Night Herding Song”. The latter is a traditional cowboy song; it didn’t work in his Nashville studio and so he recorded it live beside an outdoor fire. 

His compositions are the most memorable and the Western Swing of “Thinkin’ On A Woman” sees him joined on acoustic guitar by Cobb and Lloyd Green on pedal steel. Throughout the album other instrumentation is light of touch and always sits behind his powerful baritone voice. Special mention must go to Mickey Raphael on harmonica – it would be easier to list the luminaries who he hasn’t played with – always measured, sparse and evocative.

Despite the inevitable unrequited message this is one of his most upbeat songs. Others can be bleak and “Manitoba Man” covers the abandonment of another female “light of his life”. However the man in question is selling drugs at a garage in Manitoba and a visit is necessary before he flees. 

After his 2017 breakthrough with his eponymous album it wasn’t guaranteed that his star would continue to shine brightly in a very crowded marketplace of talent. Wall is armed with stories, the sympathetic husbandry of David Cobb and a unique voice that is commanding and sonorous. I consider this Volume 2 to his last release but whether you want more or he’s new to you then this is a wonderful record.

Capital Punishment (or cycling in London)

Matt Gray

October 13, 2018

There is a misconception (usually flung around by those who have no experience in the matter) that cycling in London is a fool’s errand, a sure-fire way to the hospital or the morgue. They believe that every driver in London is a killer, wishing to etch numerals onto their dash with every cyclist they maim, and equally that every cyclist is a menace to society with their renegade riding.

I have been cycling in London for four and a half years now, and the only time I have been injured was when I took a turning too swiftly in winter and misjudged the surface ice, bailing spectacularly. I skinned my side, dislocated the chain beyond the means of a simple roadside fix, resulting in a 30 minute walk in acute agony. To be a safe cyclist in London you have to simply have a different mindset to cycling elsewhere. It helps that my primary cycling experience has been in London; I barely cycled during my youth in the countryside. Then again, cars in the countryside have fewer obstacles to slow them down, meaning they drive roughly twice the average speed than they could ever manage in your average central London street.

To test the waters and decide if I even wanted to cycle in the city, I decided to take one of those ‘Boris Bikes’ which were then supported by Barclays, and are now supported by Santander, out for a spin. Why banks sponsor these things alludes me. I would imagine life insurance companies would be a better fit. After fiddling with the self-service machine, which promised me 30 minutes of ride for only a couple of quid (and emphasising the surcharge if you get unfortunately held up in traffic or find yourself miles away from one of their stations) I had the contraption in my grip. 

It’s a miracle I didn’t just abandon the idea of cycling then and there. No wonder people think cycling in London is so dangerous when you have this beastly bicycle beneath you pulling the strings. Within seconds I felt as though I were attempting to tame a wild horse.

For those who are lucky enough to have never been on one of these death traps, let me paint a picture: A large clunky frame that is pulled to the earth by such weight that steering is almost impossible. A chain lies protected behind a case that only adds to its already burdened heft. There are gears on these things but it takes both hands to crank the stiff mechanism so in the interest of staying alive in an already frightful endeavour I stuck to its preset, which might as well have been labelled ‘rigormortis’. They clatter over every small bump and chip in the tarmac to the extent one fears for one’s fillings. They stop at the pace of a snail traversing treacle. There were beeps, there were honks, there were fists and offensive hand gestures. And they don’t provide helmets with these things either. We don’t all have barnets like Boris.

I returned the contraption to the machine with minutes to spare vowing to myself never to board a Boris Bike again. And I haven’t since. Recently there has been a call for cyclists to register their bicycles and have registration plates tacked onto the back. Those calling for this claim that cyclists are a menace and cause death. This is false. Cyclists cause 0.01% of all road fatalities. Most of the time it is the cyclist themselves to watch out for, never the bicycle itself.

They can be a mad bunch, cyclists. Those hardcore cyclists who zip themselves to the nines in Rapha lycra thinking they are Geraint Thomas making the final push for the Tour de France as opposed to a twat simply on their way to the office. Those who skid behind you at lights, then swerve around and accelerate away, bemoaning your existence as though you are in the wrong for not knowing that red lights are government mind-control tricks. Those who flirt with your rear wheel in fourth while you saunter in second. Those who use the rule that if someone crossing between Belisha beacons is less than half way across they won’t mind if you don’t hesitate for a second before continuing on your way. After all, their cyclists in London and they simply must make record time wherever they go. 

So I guess my ultimate argument here is not to fear the cycle, but rather the cyclist, but I’d like to think that the vast majority of city cyclists are as careful as I am. They stop at red lights, allow people to cross Zebra crossings with a smile and a howdy do, are never going fast enough to even knock the wind out of a fly, and don’t have slanging matches. 

(Speaking of which, as a little side note, I once witnessed a taxi cut in front of a cyclist in Bloomsbury. It was not this sight that was of note; if the London cyclist has a prey larger than the red bus, it’s the black taxi. No, it was the reaction of the put-upon cyclist and the subsequent reaction. What began as a fervent hand gesture mutually shared soon became a hostile situation. I was following the action from ten feet behind, and observed the cyclist deftly reach one arrogantly fingerless-leather-gloved hand behind him and unzipped the side of his bag. From within he unsheathed a mighty spanner of considerable length. Such an obvious display of Freudian behaviour I had hitherto rarely seen. Then he accelerated to catch up to the cabbie, and began whomping the rear window with his whacking wrench. Glass in London is stronger than other cities, however, and the window remained intact. Both parties stopped and pulled over, but by this time I was overtaking and, alas, saw no more. I’d like to think they bonded over being natural enemies and perhaps shared a pint. At least until they glassed each other.)

There is something freeing about cycling in a city where most of the roads are at a standstill or a snail’s crawl, and people stressfully queue at bus stops at rush hour unsure of whether or not they will get a seat. I leave the house at the same time every morning to go to work and can tell you down to within thirty seconds or so exactly when i will arrive. I also get a seat, guaranteed every time. 

Record Of The Week # 50

October 11, 2018

Rich Krueger – NOWthen

Chicago based Krueger has balanced a career in the medical care of newborn infants and been part of the 5 piece band The Dysfunctionells since the 1980s. Despite the surprising combination then the reality is many of the artists on these pages have lives outside music: they need to eat. If there is a surprise then how damn good Krueger is.

NOWthen is his second solo release of 15 tracks and immediately leaps onto my list of year end contenders. A strong and plaintive voice with an attractive timbre and ability to hold a melody is the first draw. Then staggering yet often surreal stories unfold in long and articulate lyrics coupled to heavyweight tunes to make this a joy. Falling into the broad church of Americana. Krueger is close to a Singer Songwriter sound and I think he’d have few complaints to be compared to Randy Newman.

“Girls Go For Arse’oles” is a gentle acoustic melody with acoustic guitars to the fore whilst an organ holds long notes. Krueger’s voice has clear space to deliver a love song strong with eccentricity: “Let me start by saying I’m a liar, Can’t say how much of this is true, But if it makes things any better, I’ll swear by the copper in my tattoo, And you will watching me steal your heart.”

With “Por Que No Me Amas (Love Me)” we go a long way south of Illinois to cross the border. A Mexican melody with accordian recounts a suicide attempt (failed!). We join him after his incompetent drowning and his eventual re-emergence into the city. As always woman trouble underlines his “maladaptive behavior”. As we progress the accordian remains but a Mariachi band adds colour along with an upright bass setting the rhythm as Robbie Fulks helps him sing the chorus.

So up across the border we go Cajun with “O What A Beautiful Beautiful Day”. It takes us into Krueger’s other ‘office’: a maternity delivery theatre. Maybe not a promising subject? Nah, absolutely, as the whole album is soaked in humour and here he tells us of dad fainting, hospital bills, unspeakable pain and the fact that it is a day that all will remember for the right reasons.

Again in another genre switch “À Tout Jamais (Pour Eva)” we slow thing down and a ballad of stunning beauty unfolds. We place ourselves in a bleak European setting of a war. Apparently this song was once destined for a play in the mid nineties. Female voices act like sirens in the background above a chorues of other voices. Oh man…

“Me & Mr Johnson” is that Mr Johnson and we’re in Clarksdale with a full electric rock ’n roll band laying down a groove with full brass and a female chorus visiting the folklore of his swap with the  devil of his soul for guitar playing prowess.

Did I tell you about the engrossing story of “Don”? Well maybe another time as all the tracks are exceptional.

The lyrics read like short stories. Without doubt his writing is as strong as his music and can stand alone as something to enjoy without the soundtrack. He descibes himself thus “I’m a friendly and open smart and funny guy with a mouth and willingness to use it. I’m pretty much an iconoclast….NOWthen is full of real songs that are never ordinary”. How true.

Record Of The Week # 49

October 5, 2018

Dillon Carmichael – Hell On An Angel

Dillon Carmichael has a lineage of East Kentucky Country music forbears and, as they say, the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Now a Nashville resident he’s developed his song writing talents in collaborations. On his debut record he has co-written seven of these 10 compositions. It seems that to go from being a Nashville songwriter to a recording artist is the quality of the voice. It’s here that Carmichael kicks the ball out of the park with a rich and expressive baritone; I immediately thought of Jamey Johnson but Chris Stapleton fans will be drooling.

An atmospheric “Natural Disaster” leads us off – the voice powers through familiar troubles: “Just like an angry volcano, she blew me away”. A slow moving Stapleton arrangement that crosses Country, Southern Rock and the Blues into an Eagles confection is an attractive introduction. One of the singles off the album “It’s Simple” is a ballad drenched in pedal steel and eulogises about an uncomplicated life; you start to sense the old time feel pervading the album. If that wasn’t traditional enough for you then “Country Women” opens with the immortal lines: “I like girls that ain’t afraid of a tractor” and then by line three we get references to Haggard and honky tonks. As a tune, maybe a little Outlaw comes to mind with lively pedal steel and female backing singers giving this a feel good swing. 

The title track, “Hell On An Angel”, is another upbeat stomp and the lyrics tell you of hell raising: “Well I was hell on an angel, that liquor burned like gasoline, I had one foot in the fire the other steppin’ on her wing, Well that temperature was risin’ but I could not feel the heat, Well I was hell on an angel that loved the devil out of me”. Leroy Powell’s guitar playing on the album is immaculate and here we rock out with an Allman Brothers’ lick.

“Dancin Away With Heart” deploys that baritone and it stops you in your track. He puts into song a true story of playing a gig when his ex rolls up with her new beau. Needless to say he’s crushed by her appearance. This is an album highlight. A great melody that could be from the 1980/90s. Again sensational drums (Chris Powell) propels this along with discreet guitar solos and female backing. If this doesn’t make Country radio then nothing will.

Stapleton’s 2015 “Was It 26” was a unique reworking of a Charlie Daniels’ track by Don Sampson. Quite surprisingly, Carmichael’s “What Hank Would Do” misappropriates this arrangement with the distinctive guitar sound. I found this shameless and unoriginal. Dixie Againcloses the album with anthemic twin guitar rock. A slow build with more tales of dissolution and the pursuit of redemption. Lynyrd Skynyrd would be proud to call this their own.

This is mainly authentic and promising Country from a newcomer. Cobb is so sought after that he can pick ‘winners’ and turning his talents to producing this record, at Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio A, is maybe a sign that Carmichael is seen as one for the future. All efforts are behind that voice and we’re taken back a few decades where the melody and vocals have to do the heavy lifting. 

Unlike Tyler Childers who emerged from Kentucky last year to immense goodwill with an exceptional, authentic and original sound then he was still an outsider and singing about contemporary themes. Carmichael despite his tender years seems to have leap frogged this rite of passage phase and the industry has turned out a fully formed, at times, formulaic Nashville offering. 

Early days but I’m encouraged if the Nashville ‘machine’ is producing Country music again.

The Hairdressing Appointment – Week 38 : 2018

October 2, 2018

Slipping into the seat Jessica’s first question is whether I am a ‘number 2’ or a ‘number 3’. She refers of course to which attachment I would like run over my head. Always a number 3.

“So how are you, Jessica?” I address her in the strange manner people address those cutting their hair: through the large, unflattering mirror screwed into the wall, my neck suddenly locked up for fear of admonishment should it shift even an inch.

I’d say that she’s only 26 years old and from earlier conversations I know that she has two daughters and a partner. Her life is so different to mine (and my twin millennials of delight in London and Manchester). I do admire her ability to cope with a low wage, a family and run a home. Down to earth, phlegmatic and ‘just getting on with it’ is more than a fair analysis of Jessica.

“Well it was going alright until my daughter had to go to A & E at the weekend.”

Not really the opening I expected. I thought I’d get complaints of a slow day, a change in shift pattern due to absences at the salon or maybe a saga of repeated calls to Vodaphone to resolve a mobile phone contract. “What happened?”

“Well I was taking my mother and grandma for afternoon tea in Strensall when I got a call that she’d cut her chin at her aunt’s house. So I picked her up and off we went to hospital.”

“Cut her chin?”

“She cut her chin on some chicken wire. This wire is at the bottom of my aunt’s garden. She was playing with her cousins, who are older and little twats. They unlocked a gate in a fence that they were told not to go through. She’s such a goody goody that she wouldn’t but she looked through a gap and caught her chin on the wire. Off we went to A & E and spent three hours there”.

She displayed no outrage at this detour. (I wondered whether she had simply kicked into the caring mother mode where your time and priorities immediately switch or whether this was a typical weekend). I was concerned as this was distressing for anyone let alone a small child.

“They see you quickly to assess the injury and then you have to wait for the doctor? Was she bleeding heavily?”

“Yes, they gave us some bandages to stop the bleeding. When it was her turn they wanted to stitch it there and then. But she screams at the sight of blood and I wasn’t letting them give her a local anaesthetic.”

“Even worse was that my partner was in the hospital. Eddie was in another ward on a drip. So I was fucking about between both of them and that was why she was with her aunt rather than him”.

Eddie on a drip? This was a whole new storyline. Awful news, poor chap! However, I avoid exploring this interesting sub-plot.

(I’ve been known to swear (cough). So I’m not particularly offended but I worry that this is part of her everyday lexicon with all those who come into her life – including casual acquaintances plonked in her ‘office’).

“So what happened with her chin?”

“Six stitches, they did a very tidy job. She had to go back on Sunday morning for a general anaesthetic. That meant waiting fucking hours. After the five minute operation she was left for an hour and a quarter to come round.”

“Gosh, that made a mess of the weekend.”

There was a small time gap whilst she attended to my scalp and then stepping back said:

“That wasn’t the end of it.”

Wondrous timing.

“Really?”

“My sister in law. Err… well Eddie and myself are not married but you know what I mean. She keeps sending fucking texts that wind me up. This time she’s off on one about my looking after the kids. So I’ve had a right weekend and I’m sick of her with all this. So I decided to drop a bomb.”

“A bomb?”

“I told her that her partner had been sleeping with her best friend for the last two years.”

“Whoa” (Sinks lower in chair). I’ve been generous to Jessica, up to a point, with my description of her lot but you now start to get a closer a look at the mayhem that seeps into her and her family’s life. All these episodes make them more dysfunctional. Or maybe she’s just letting you know the stuff others keep secret?

“How did that go down?”

“Well everyone knows that I don’t give a fuck and say what I think about ‘owt.”

Well quite, I was starting to get a clear picture of her take on most things. “That’ll take a while before you’re speaking to each other again!”

“It got worse.”

She must be winding me up now knowing that I write a blog. This is comedy gold.

“Worse?”

“The police contacted me. She contacted them to say I was committing slander.”

Ah, the bar room lawyer in me now takes over. I might know something about this after other contretemps I’ve been in. “Oh, that’s going nowhere. You’ve got to prove injury”

“Yeah, well the police had to make the call and we agreed that anyone on Facebook would be breaking the law if they looked at it for slander (libel).”

Unfortunately at this point my haircut was complete and I had no time for the story to continue. I gave her a couple of pounds tip as it was the least I could do.

(Thanks again to Matt for his review, editing and additions)