Jenny Pape leads a five-piece band from Carbondale. Where? This small town is in southern Illinois; I once spent a couple of days passing through on a bicycle. As I did my laundry and got my steed serviced it didn’t seem like a hot bed of roots music, maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough or simply dazed from dodging 18 wheeled coal trucks. Miss Jenny and pedal steel player, Dakota Holden, wrote or co-wrote the 12 tracks on this country americana album. Fortunately the use of the genre ‘americana’ is the ‘get out of jail card’ that covers the fact that you’ll find some tracks of soul, rock and western swing here.
Pape has a clear, characterful and mellifluous voice that lights up the album; whilst she’s handy on acoustic guitar she’s expertly backed up by a band that includes an upright bass, electric guitar, drums and the afore mentioned pedal steel. We start with I Used To Call You Mine,a country two-step with flashes of pedal steel and a solid rhythm of bass and drums before an easy paced guitar solo by Kyle Triplett complement Pape’s vocals. Years From Now continues the country genre with Triplett gently picking the banjo as the rest of the band play softly in the background while Pape laments her love life. Superb.
My Favourite Eldest daughter was instructing me how to prepare dan dan noodles when I, also thinking I was on a roll and might impress Ancoats’ answer to Nigella Lawson, added the weekend might also see me stretching to prepare chicken chasseur. The response started with her expressing incredulity at my developing culinary prowess and then recalling that she thought I survived on Birds Eye chicken pies and peas? (There is some truth in this). As an after thought she lamented that she personally hated chicken chasseur because it was always served at school. I’m now planning my next blog to be called ‘First World Problems with Private Education Menus’ with a foreword by Marcus Rashford.
The badger has returned with more lawn digging. Anna sought neighbourly advice and was advised that one villager had erected an electric fence around their lawn. This runs off a car battery, which I suspect nullifies the added benefit of converting the stout carnivore to a crisp. However, further solutions, literally, were promoted such as liberally covering the ground in male urine. This apparently isn’t Bertie the Badger’s favourite tipple. Given their nocturnal raids and my trips through the night this might not be an impractical arrangement.
I was discussing Sledmere House with Shirley. This stately home was out her way, eight miles north east of Driffield. It is a truly spectacular property not least for the first floor library that looks out on to magnificent sculptured grounds. The house and grounds and stables had a Downton Abbey feel. No sooner had I opened my big mouth than I was being handed across a c400 page book “that I might like to read”. Oh no! Anyway I thought, out of a basic courtesy I should have a look, not least so I could spout something from it (if not necessarily plough my way through it) when I handed it back. Well, what a page turner! The house was built, the first time in the 18th Century and the family and occupants led remarkable if not commendable lives. The family fortune came from originally being merchants in Hull and then it seems from being landlords over vast areas of East Yorkshire and the nice little earner of breeding champion race horses. Along the way we had periods in Parliament, illegitimate children, international travel, alcoholism, military service, prodigious production of children, a world class library, adultery, Spanish flu and entertaining Royals whether the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) or the last Queen Mother. Most of this before it burnt down. Not what I expected. You must go and see this palace, grounds and various buildings, including a chapel and stables, when the virus departs and maybe beg, borrow or preferably steal the book.
As a man with a PhD in procrastination then this gift can be balanced by suffering from that other male condition: hoarding. Lurking in the loft awaiting a day when I could be bothered to sort things out are a vast collection of old 16mm and 9mm cine films. These are mainly my grandfather’s from the late 1940s and early 1950s. The plan is to have them converted to a digital format for viewing.
There are also some Super 8 cine taken by my father that include hours of Valetta harbour wall from a boat trip when holidaying in Malta. Funnily enough he found it difficult to corral an audience to view his latest picture show after this epic. The intriguing/difficult part of viewing my grandfather’s cine film will be trying to recognise my long departed forebears. Hopefully my sister will have a clue; even Anna may be able to help. She’s been hard at work on ancestry.com putting together her (Pettersen) and the Ives family trees. Who knew I was able to trace Irish and Russian antecedents? I’m actually part Polish but the place they descended from was occupied by Russia at the time! (Old habits still die hard). On the cine boxes is the home address of my grandparents at this time in Leeds. How amazed they would be that I could sit at my desk and simply go to Google Street View and look at their old property today.
So more lockdown. We’ve cancelled exotic holidays, done the garden, spent £000’s on the house and even done some of those wearying chores that always remained on the ‘To Do List.’ Now excitement centres around trying to get to 10,000 steps or whether it’s ‘Alcohol Night’. The latter is a joyous event that comes around every other night in Acaster Malbis. We thought it unwise to allow a looser regime to help us through the incarceration. Fortunately I can ride my bike but the weather is increasingly wet, cold and dark. How long until spring and the vaccine? Pray for me.
James Ellis appears to have had a Damascene conversion in Austin, Texas. Whilst spending a month in the USA, four years ago, he was seduced by the siren sounds of honky tonk music (and the two-step dancing he saw). Returning to his native Melbourne he wrote and released his first album, It Ain’t Texas (But It Ain’t Bad) and two years on he releases Country Lion. The album title comes from a sobriquet bestowed on him by BR5-49’s Chuck Mead. Ellis has no idea where the name came from but judging by his prodigious thatch there may be a clue in his appearance.
Teaming up with Nashville’s Alex Munoz and Micah Hulscher, late of working with Margo Price and Jim Lauderdale, they produce and play various instruments throughout. This is a fine traditional country album that engages you with the quality of the eleven self penned songs and lyrics. We open with, “Sixteen Hours”, and as the pedal steel lights the way you know you’re going to be amongst friends while he tells you of his broken heart. In fact he’s a boy with the world on his shoulders judging by all break up and loneliness themed songs. Despite being a path well trodden by country artists he’s way more articulate than most. On the gently rolling “A Little Soul” he opines – “Through the day horizons pass / In the evening, clouds amass / Tis the season for a cold precipitation / And now sodden underfoot / I’ll take my heaving heart to nowhere / Fare thee well my old preoccupation” Eat your heart Luke Bryan, not a pick up or ‘cold one’ in sight.
“Take Me Back In Time” is a beautiful slow ballad with a delicious piano introduction from Micah Hulscher. Over flourishes from Steve Veale’s gentle pedal steel with the brush strokes of Daniel Brates’ drums we hear Ellis’ compelling but hard edged, slightly off kilter, vocals (Gram Parsons meets Robyn Hitchcock) with his Australian pronunciation. This track is one of the nicest things to accost my ears in 2020. With “Forever Close” we pick up the pace and a sound, and rhythm, reminiscent of the rockabilly of Dave Edmunds. It jives along with Tim Baker stepping into the spotlight to demonstrate his guitar chops. “Records In The Summer” is my favourite lockdown lament. Ellis longs for the days when he can resume the very pleasant pastime of meeting with friends and spinning some vinyl. Amen to that.
There’s a lot here that elevates this honky tonker from an also ran into a contender. Check it out, you will not be disappointed.