Category Archives: Music

Mary Gauthier at The Crescent, York – November 23, 2022

Mary Gauthier saunters on to the stage and puts her hand over her eyes, looks out to the couple of hundred fans packed into York’s bijou venue, The Crescent, and asks, “York, have I been here before?” the audience chuckles. She picks up her guitar and continues, “I can’t remember where I’ve been…. but it’s good to be back!” and then we’re into The Meadow from her last release Dark Enough To See The Stars, the first of 13 songs and brief readings from her book Saved By A Song. This was the ninth gig on a 10 date tour of England with one appearance in Edinburgh.

Her life story has been tumultuous starting with her adoption and leaving home as a teenager. At a young age the path took in substance misuse, halfway houses and gaining acceptance for her sexuality before study, opening a restaurant and eventually pursuing her music career. She was 36 before releasing her first album. Now a multi award winning sexagenarian her demons have been long cast off and, with the audience in the palm of her hand, she seems wise, compassionate, comfortable, a poet yet still an independent, offbeat observer of life. Dark Enough To See The Stars, covers love and contentment but she’s sensitive to the recent loss of dear friends and the dislocation and challenges of modern times; this pours out from her songs. This includes the profound anguish and mental scars faced by returning soldiers from war zones. For her 2019 Grammy nominated album, Rifles and Rosary Beads, she worked with veterans, active military and their families. They were paired with songwriters and the result was an intimate and cathartic collection of songs. She sang The War After The War and Bullet Holes in The Sky, back to back, with an explanation of the project and how privileged she was to be involved. Her abiding memory was of everyone’s desire for peace.

Gauthier plays acoustic guitar with her partner, Jaimee Harris, also on acoustic and vocals. Harris takes the guitar lead when required and her singing voice adds a little sweetness and melody to Gauthier’s gruffer tones. Throughout Gauthier provides the background to many songs and dips into her book to explain her views on the world or her history. Within Nashville there was a community of artists she came to admire and dearly love. The loss of John Prine ands Nanci Griffith were blows and touchingly she recounts her first group song writing session with artists she was in awe of. They all played a song and eventually it comes to her turn to sing one of her own compositions.  She borrows a guitar, plays and then after finishing she starts to hand this upmarket guitar back to Nanci Griffith. Griffith backs away and insists she keeps it. From here we’re into a lament for these friends with Till I See You Again;she singsMay you rest in gentle arms till I see you again.”

The performance is near seamless, sentimental, illuminating and populated with some wonderful songs. In such a small venue disappearing from the stage to regroup for the encore is silly and so as the delighted audience hoot, holler and clap she raises her finger to indicate there will be one more song, Mercy Now. From here it’s to the back of the room to sign the merchandise and greet the fans as we file out in to the chilly air.

(The very talented Jaimee Harris played for a too brief 30 minutes, with a handful of songs, mainly from her upcoming album Boomerang Town released in February. That is something to definitely look out for.)

Record Of The Week # 138

Billy Strings – Me/And/Dad

Terry Barber, Strings’ stepfather, fulfilled everything a biological father could when he entered young Strings’ life; not least, got him interested in bluegrass music. Ever grateful, Strings has now ‘ticked off’ his bucket list making an album with him. With a stellar back up band they’ve recorded a selection of traditional and cover songs. Strings’ nimble fingers continue to make magic on his acoustic guitar and it’s a sound that fans will recognise and like.  This follows just over a year from Renewal, an album that cemented Strings reputation as one of the most interesting americana acts around. His emergence and promotion has helped bring bluegrass, as a genre, to a new audience.

His recent albums, whilst bluegrass, do dabble with other roots sounds and he’s not averse to a little folk or other worldly sounds. This variation with its unexpected twists, for me, is the hook with Strings. Me/And/Dad is a very traditional sound. Vocal duties can be shared and Barber’s rendition of Life To Go, originally by George Jones as straight country with pedal steel and a honky tonk piano, is a triumph as his care worn, strained vocals deliver the misery of an inmate reflecting on the wasted life and the fact that he’s not coming out ever again. However, family devotion can go a little too far; his mother Debra joins the duo on Heard My Mother Weeping and her vocal is badly out of tune.

All the tracks are hand picked and have been road tested over decades; it stood to reason the selection would delight. However, the album is truly elevated by the playing of Rob McCoury (banjo), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) and Grammy winner Michael Cleveland on fiddle. Throughout they all have their own space to solo but come together eventually to fit together like a glove. Your mind will wander to the young Strings sitting at Barber’s knee with a large acoustic guitar under his arm learning this catalogue of bluegrass. It was an important education and aside from the show of gratitude and affection it’s somehow appropriate that Terry now gets a short time in the spotlight.

Record of the Week # 137

Tyler Childers – Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?

(I publish reviews that I have mainly written for Country Music People. In the past it included The Americana Music Show. And then on occasion without a publisher I review albums I personally wanted to write up: I hope to get back to that. Anyway, within the following review I make mention, to the readers, that I like Progressive Rock. I suspect that if you’ve been reading my reviews you’ll know that in any case!)

Name me some memorable triple albums? I’ll give you a clue, Woodstock and the Last Waltz by The Band but after this we’re all struggling, aren’t we? In fact, personally, I’d have to dig into a dark past and a love of progressive rock but I worry that we don’t know each other well enough for me to go there. However, in a world where we stream then a triple album is a less expensive and bulky project to deliver but it’s a lot to listen to and care about. Is releasing eight tracks in three versions worth it?

The three sets of eight are split into the ‘Hallelujah’ then ‘Jubilee’ and then ‘Joyful Noise’ versions. The first is a sound akin to Childers’ first two album releases (and the albums that placed him on the pedestal.) The powerful yearning Kentucky siren of a voice takes centre stage and the songs sweep you away. He lets his band, The Food Stamps, slip their shackles and play some easy but powerful bluesy rock music as a foundation. In line with their new found freedom there are some long instrumental passages and the title track is the killer cut. The second album ‘Jubilee’ is similar and whilst strings are added throughout his vocal remains similar, and too distinctive to allow the songs to have a different identity. However the string arrangements are very old school and bring to mind Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music from 1962. They are delightful. Charles covered Hank Williams and the opening song on the three albums is another Williams song Old Country Church.

In fact Childers is very attached to the heritage of country music and the Christian values that formed him. He always speaks with sincerity and has importance as a curator of contemporary roots music. A lot of work went into the production with gospel singers providing support and occasional ‘modern’ touches with electronic sounds and some sampled spoken word. Both albums are interesting and whilst they’re not covering new ground for Childers it’s a welcome return to form after the inexplicable and scratchy Long Violent History that might have had a worthy ambition of speaking out on racism but for fans, who innocently shelled out their hard earned cash, it was a major disappointment.

If that was a poor investment then album three, ‘Joyous Noise’, is an indulgence and disposable. I like and have a lot of late 90s electronica and Childers knows the genre well judging by this. We get lots of rumbling bass dance beats with occasional interesting vocal samples but they drone on with you inevitably reaching for fast forward. His voice disappears on Disc 3 and frankly it would take a boxset of Miss Marple to try and identify and relate the versions of these songs to Discs 1 and 2.

He remains an interesting listen and there’s a lot to selectively like here. Be selective.

Record Of The Week # 136

Kendall Marvel – Come on Sunshine

It struck me, as I listened to Marvel’s third release in five years, about the lot of most of Nashville’s songwriters for hire. They ply their trade around the town, mostly in collaborations and by chance, and practise, they eventually write something exceptional. I’m sure many of the songs, or most of the songs, that these talented tunesmiths develop are excellent but probably nothing that may pay the future rent.He’s now directing his best material to his own releases with Come on Sunshine the latest to drop. This and his two preceding albums are loaded with attractive songs that are delivered with his pleasing and expressive baritone and on each album there are some gems.

Marvel writes in collaboration on all ten compositions and especially with Chris Stapleton, an old buddy. Stapleton also joins him on Don’t Tell Me How To Drink. This belligerent ditty is full of swagger and the title tells you all you need to know. In fact Marvel luxuriates in being a man of maturity and independence of thought; he’s not for following trends or doing much other than ploughing his own furrow. Songs such as Keep Doing Your Thing lay this out pretty clearly and despite his equable stance between the Left and Right it’s probably clear the way he votes.

In addition he’s also not past being sentimental and Fool Like Me is an exceptional blue eyed soul love song that immediately attracted a lot of stars in my iTunes library. Throughout the music has a hard outlaw vibe and pithy lyrics that back up the edge. Put It in the Plate has a funky southern feel with a stomping back beat and some squally guitar; the message is that despite all our missteps and temptations then celestial investment is advised to ensure a positive after life. Wading through the deeper issues that pass through his head then Come on Sunshine has the profundity of a man seeking calm and some light to make it through the night. A wonderful bit of soft rock with pedal steel that captivates.

Up until his late forties Marvel exclusively wrote for the great and the good of country music and enjoyed hits with Gary Allan, George Strait, Jamey Johnson and Chris Stapleton, amongst others. In 2017 he decided to focus on his own recording career and release solo albums. I look forward to every release. This is a fine collection well worth your time.

Record Of The Week # 135

Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville

McBryde’s new album is a collaboration. It really is a tour de force. The title Lindeville needs explaining and to lift her PR it was ‘Inspired by the writing methods of legendary Nashville songwriter Dennis Linde (Goodbye Earl, Burning Love, Bubba Shot the Jukebox), Ashley McBryde set out with a group of her favourite co-writers to work up a project they had no intention of ever recording or releasing.’ And this is what came from that week-long exercise in a rural cabin outside Nashville. 

Lyrically this is an album where you hang onto every word and musically it’s straight country with the songwriters finding excellent tunes whether sad, upbeat or amusing. A nod must go to John Osborne for his arrangements, sounds and the accomplished band that played throughout.

Her collaborators are several but include Brandy Clark, Aaron Ratiere and Brothers Osborne. Each track is a complete gem and occasionally interspersed with some 30 second joke adverts for the businesses in ‘Lindeville’ such as the diner, pawn shop and funeral parlour; if you were doubting this was a lot of fun then lyrics like ‘The cheapest destination / For two for one cremations / Forkem family funeral home’ may convince you, especially when sung à las Andrew Sisters! Brenda Put Your Bra On is a hilarious short story. The neighbour’s husband is messing with the babysitter and after being caught in flagrante delicto the wife’s now dismantling the siren of his desire. This rumpus has become a spectator sport and Brenda is urged to join the viewing albeit with her own support in place. It’s a near funky rock rhythm with McBryde, Caylee Hammack and Pillbox Patti replicating beautifully bitchy trailer park trash personas. Some of the lyrics are virtually unprintable, brilliant!

If this is earthy then the whole album is based on small town strugglers whether they’re the architects of their own downfall or simply victims. The Brothers Osborne’s Play Ball has the best of sentimental country lyrics: a lonely good man who has little but bad luck helping others and maintaining a positive attitude against all the odds. Clark sings If These Dogs Could Talk where she introduces the trailer park’s pooches and the infidelity, drug deals, discrimination and secrets that they discretely observe – ‘If these dogs could talk / They’d sure tell on you / We’re all lucky barkin’ is all they can do / They dig up your secrets, they know all your trash’. 

Benjy Davis takes on Gospel Night At The Strip Club; his plaintive vocals create a form of prayer vibe as he paints a picture of those in the club and their human frailties seemingly existing rather than much else. It’s lower than downbeat but the pathos and empathy for the characters he describes is profound and captivating. The collection of females who work on the album come together to sing Bonfire At Tina’s. It’s an anthemic song where McBryde leads Hammock, Clark and Pillbox Patti in a call and response about the injustices small town women suffer – ‘Got cheated on – light it up / Don’t get paid enough – light it up / Don’t get laid enough – light it up / You got a joint – light it up’. Spine tingling. After the earnest craftsmanship of these songwriters creating magic there’s an easy piece of alchemy when they take on the Everly Brother’s When Will I Be Loved with a joyous ‘get up on your feet’ arrangement.

One of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

Record Of The Week #134

Kameron Marlowe – We Were Cowboys

Kameron Marlowe, an excellent writing team and two accomplished producers have concocted a fabulous Bro-country debut with many memorable tracks. Marlowe’s terrific voice, despite his tender years at 25, is full of allure, expression and carries you along with his stories about growing up, heartbreak and small towns. His path from car parts salesman to a recording studio with Dan Huff involved some appearances on The Voice, where his vocal prowess was recognized. His talent also includes songwriting; he wrote his first single, Giving You Up, and co-wrote another nine songs on this album. (Brad Hall produced the earlier released single and EP’s swept up and added to this album.)

The title track is a cracking starter but Country Boy’s Prayer is even better; delicious couplets like ‘And I know I’ve left you hangin’ / Like that cross around my rear view’. At a stroke without explanation we know he’s a God fearing boy full of regret and probably driving a truck. Similarly Steady Heart – “When you mix my calloused ways with her sweet touch / She’s a candlelight in all my dark” is top-drawer wordsmithery. Humour can also be found, Granny’s Got A Garden (For G’maw Jan), is an affectionate portrait of his grand mother who reaches for weed  “When her back gets to hurtin’ / You might smell somethin’ burnin’ / It’s a different kinda sowin’ / More than just tomatoes she’s growing”.

The surge in quality that comes with the hiring of top songwriters and producers is immeasurable. Dan Huff’s worked with many country and rock acts and what he brings to his work is a selection of sounds. His rock band backing has genuinely interesting guitar breaks and funky rhythm patterns as opposed to the rock torpor purveyed by session men of slappy snare drums and recycled screeching guitar passages. In addition there are many acoustic moments and even some slide and fiddle, Fool Me Again starts gently and the band, when it arrives, is dialed down. Marlowe has a voice that needs complementing not accompanying. Runnin’ Out On You follows the same pattern: just drink up that voice. Sublime. Marlowe does completely rock out on the closer Long Way Down with a girly chorus and no pretence at country. 

Marlowe could be massive. It takes small but important differences to go from run-of-the-mill to stellar (and move away from the Bro-country crowd.) Marlowe has it all. 

Record Of The Week # 133

Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson – Various Artists

Anderson’s a Nashville songwriter/performer who’s well respected. He’s had his chart success over the decades but nowadays he’s only known to the cognoscenti. This compilation doesn’t come a moment too soon. The producers have done a remarkable job and the reason why is summed up by, co-producer, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) “We weren’t trying to piddle around and make the normal tribute record. It had to be the best singers with the best songs and the best arrangements, and they had to come into the studio. This wasn’t like, ‘Mail me the song, and we’ll put it together.’ I think it makes this record unique. I don’t think most tribute records are done like this. I think that’s why it sounds like a cohesive album. It feels like an amazing mix tape.” The song selection is excellent switching between singer songwriter, country and southern rock. The lyrics show Anderson’s gift to pen a pop chart country cliché or a weighty story dripping with pathos.

The stellar contributors include the Brothers Osborne, Tyler Childers, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Jamey Johnson and Ashley McBryde. No cost has been spared on the musicianship or arrangements whether it’s the strings behind the acoustic “I Just Came Home to Count the Memories” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or the southern rock funk à la Little Feat with mesmerising slide and honky tonk keys behind Nathanial Rateliff on “Low Dog Blues”. The main difference between the originals are the production qualities and the stronger voices of the covering artists.

The album starts with “1959″ sung by John Prine. (It’s wonderful to have a new track by this dearly departed legend). The lyric could have been written by him. He reflects on his young love, going to fight in Vietnam and the desertion of his lover. She’s previously written ‘I love you always’ yet  marries another while he’s away on active service. Years later he still thinks of her. Poignant and arresting. Luke Combs takes on “Seminole Wind”, a lament about the changes experienced by the Native American tribe as the marshy waters of Florida were drained. A solo piano introduction leads to a Southern rock arrangement and elevate this to a true rocking delight.

Ashley McBryde covers one of Anderson’s biggest commercial successes, “Straight Tequila Nigh”t. A tipple that gets the woman, at the bar, through the recurring heartache of a lover long gone. Brothers Osborne take on a classic country lyric of “You Can’t Judge A Book (By The Cover)”. The title says it all as they implore their quarry to give them a second look. An artist new to me, Sierra Ferrell, takes on Anderson’s 2020 composition, “Years”, a co-write with Auerbach, and this arrangement drops the original electric guitar and strings and becomes a country folk  stomp where the clear and pure mellifluous voice and fiddle create an earworm. Another album highlight.

This year has seen a few excellent cover/tribute albums of lesser known artists. Included in this are Neal Casal and Jerry Jeff Walker, both have been done justice and this is a very worthy addition but possibly more pleasing as Anderson is still around. The whole album’s top drawer. You must search it out.

Record Of The Week # 132

Steve Earle – Jerry Jeff

Earle has recorded and released tributes to Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and now he completes his ‘teachers’ with ten songs of his former friend and erstwhile employer, Jerry Jeff Walker. Earle played a concert celebrating Walker’s life and then took the Dukes to New York to record this album. Walker made a career purveying country outlaw music after starting out with the folk scene in New York. He eventually found his base in Texas. Whilst recording close up until his death in 2020 his main output was in the 70s. If his catalogue isn’t familiar to you then you’ll know his most commercially successful song: “Mr Bojangles”. This has been covered by everyone including Sammy Davis Jnr, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and Robbie Williams.

With the Dukes Earle covers a selection of songs and does justice to Walker’s work providing a platform to his interesting lyrics and generally upbeat rhythms and melodies. There’s no dramatic reinterpretation and the Dukes play beautifully in the background and the attractive female harmonies provided by Eleanor Whitmore add sweetness to Earle’s occasionally grizzled tones. The album sets off with “Gettin’ By” where the message asserts that getting by is his stock in trade. The song has a driving rhythm with some heavy snare pounding, swooping fiddle, tasteful pedal steel and delightful harmonies. 

In fact Earle gives full rein to the band and there are many fine solos from the band that colour all the interpretations. Walker had a curiosity for the working man and “Charlie Dunn” recalls a cobbler of enormous skill grafting in the back of a shop whilst the boss is ‘up front, countin’ his gold’. The curation of songs by Earle kept me engaged throughout and showcased Walker’s ear for a tune. The selection embraces some of Walker’s most rowdy songs such as “I Makes Money (Money Don’t Make Me)” to the delicate love song “Little Bird”. Melodies are obviously outlaw but there are some cajun flavours and the album finishes with the blues “Old Road” where Earle’s ragged harmonica gives it a raw edge.

It wasn’t a random pick of an artist Earle revered. Earle spent time with Walker as his ‘designated driver’. Earle was starting out learning his trade and playing whenever he got an opportunity. Walker was important as Earle learned his trade. Ultimately it’s an interesting spin of using ‘tribute’ as an excuse to produce a faithful covers album with the relative ease that entails compared to composing original compositions. However, ultimately, it does nothing to dimish Earle and adds to Jerry Jeff Walker’s memory.

Record Of The Week # 131

Mary Gauthier – Dark Enough To See The Stars

Gauthier’s 2018 release Rifles & Rosary Beads was rightly nominated and won awards. It was a cathartic and powerful album where she collaborated with US military veterans and created songs that addressed their traumas from operating in war zones. By way of her having the skill set and empathy to undertake such a difficult project then her personal history has been difficult and the journey character forming. As a consequence her work is always a deep dive and reflects her life, its vicissitudes and more importantly coming out the other side. 

Sonically this is a delightful listen with achingly beautiful melodies that compliment her lyrics. The arrangements and instrumentation, which include strings, are layered and sit behind her vocals. “How Could You Be Gone” has her literally disorientated as she attends a funeral in a fog of indecision and grief: it’s easy to relate to her distress. “Dark Enough To See The Stars”, a title she openly admits to having taken from a Martin Luther King quotation, has a crisp and clear vocal over an acoustic guitar and piano. She’s joined on harmonies by her partner Jaimee Harris. As their voices swoop and soar she looks to what those dearly departed friends, whether John Prine, David Olney or Nanci Griffiths, gave her during their lives to hold onto as a positive.

However there are also songs about love such as “Amsterdam” and “Fall Apart World” where she covers the quality of her partner and the joy and strength their bonds give her. “Thank God For You” has some strident piano. The tune and arrangement could be lifted from Randy Newman: no bad thing. Again her gratitude is set against the challenges she’s overcome of early abuse and drug dependency. She now has an unconditional love that gives her purpose and hope. Eventually a gospel organ joins the song; as we play out the only thing missing is an ‘Amen’.

I expected thoughtful lyrics about the human condition but probably not such a great sounding album. This is a very fine release.

Record Of The Week # 130

Willie Nelson – A Beautiful Time

So another Willie Nelson album. Apparently it’s his 92nd in a sixty year recording career, surely he’s got nothing new to say and he’s flagging? Not a bit of it, it’s an absolute triumph. Lyrically interesting (reflective and on occasion amusing) with thoughtful compositions. The band knows more is less and plays beautifully with a variety of paces and arrangements. We’re just left with the unanswerable question of how does he do it?  He must be well past wondering if he’s still cutting it, however, most assuredly he is. 

There are five joint compositions with his producer, Buddy Cannon, and like the remainder of the album these are all crafted. Whilst never maudlin “I Don’t Go To Funerals” is a humorous take on his eventual demise. He’s stating his disinterest in the Departure Lounge and if pressed on the subject he’s focusing on the welcome committee of country legends when he lands. “Don’t Touch Me There” is classic two step country. With a suppressed snare beat the pedal steel gives it a 1950 or 60s feel and Nelson picks some latino acoustic guitar runs. “Don’t touch me there / That’s where my heart lives / And it just ain’t fair /And if you care don’t touch me there”. My kind of country and a perfect two and a half minutes long.

The rest are compositions that fit him like a glove. Shawn Camp’s “A Beautiful Time” – “If I ever get home / I’ll still love the road / Still love the way it winds / Now when the last song’s been played / I’ll look back and say / I sure had a beautiful time”. You can see why it became the album’s title track. It’s a wistful vocal on a slow shuffle of a rhythm with piano underpinning the melody and a pedal steel providing delicious flashes of sentimentality.  “Dusty Bottles” in its title alludes to a certain vintage. This time the fine wine is Nelson, he says “Lord, I miss bein’ young” but wisdom, judgement and memories are attributes he savours and they only come with wrinkles. It’s an acoustic ballad with some melancholy harmonica in the background as he adeptly picks on his guitar.

The two covers include Leonard Cohen’s “Tower Of Song”. If ever there was a song for the older man this is the one: “I ache in the places where I used to play”. References to Hank Williams are also made for a country artist. Nelson’s cover never strays from the original and when you had perfection in the first place then why tinker. Legends are people who keep delivering year after year. Let’s hope there’s more to come. Peerless.

Record Of The Week # 129

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – Crooked Tree

I feel I should come clean. A lot of bluegrass is like lager to me. Always acceptable but seldom particularly memorable or varied. There, I’ve said it. However of late Billy Strings has caused a stir with his talent and less conventional background. This has enabled his music to be heard wider than the usual aficionados of roots music. Tuttle may have the difference to also make that major break out to a wider audience. She’s no newcomer; this is her third album. However rather than just showcasing her award winning musicianship on stringed acoustic instruments it’s her ear for a tune, thought provoking words and delightful vocals that captures you.

The title track was taken from a Tom Waits quote. He concludes that crooked trees survive and the other straight trees that get chopped down. That is, don’t follow the crowd. Tuttle’s also taken the road less well travelled and unique to herself. “Flatland Girl” has a vocal shared with Margot Price. Price has written about farming in the Mid West and they return to the subject with a lively tune and exquisite harmonies. “Dooley’s Farm” with Billy Strings has a little bit of outlaw sentiment, the farm’s a front for shifting cannabis. Returning to more predictable bluegrass topics Tuttle sings on “The River Knows” about murdering her one time errant lover. Her plaintive voice over a sparse acoustic guitar before strings arrive is spine tingling. It sounds like a very English folk song.

Old Crow Medicine Show join her on “Big Backyard” for a rollicking romp with a terrific chorus and harmonies. “Grass Valley” recalls her own introduction to bluegrass with her father at a festival, a sentimental gem. It’s inescapable that bluegrass isn’t a commercially successful genre for solo women artists. However, with her tongue firmly in her cheek she conjurs up some western swing and sings with Gillian Welch on “Side Saddle” that she wants to join the boys and be taken seriously. I think, for her, that battle has been won.

If you’ve been hesitant and assumed bluegrass was badly dressed bearded men playing acoustic string instruments (expertly) and usually singing about some ancient gruesome event involving a deep well, hard steel and an unrequited lover then take another look/listen. This mainly uplifting and joyous outing will be on a number of end of year lists and maybe mine.

Record Of The Week # 128

Paul Cauthen – Country Coming Down

Sonically this album swings from R&B funk, with sharp beats and psychotic lyrics, to more tender and reflective acoustic numbers. Cauthen seems a true maverick. His has been a been a turbulent journey including addiction and latterly reflection. However, he’s back from all that with high energy and a ‘bad ass’ attitude. He sports a Stetson and places himself in the world of country music. Given the other pretenders that inhabit this genre he’s maybe not a complete imposter but urban rock and shades of americana are more fitting. He’s ably supported by fellow Texans Jason Burt and Beau Bedford (The Texan Gentlemen). They create a variety of modern or traditional sounds and the arrangements are never overly fussy but just right for the message and sentiment.

“Country As Fuck” starts proceedings with a lyric bordering on doggerel and an irresistible dirty funk. (This needs to played at volume 11 on a busy sunny street in slow traffic with the windows down: mayhem.) Lyrically it seems to have been marinated in something illegal – “NASCAR, dive bar, fireworks, guitar / Riding mower, landowner, 83 Texoma / I was driving tractors before it got sexy / Real cowboys don’t rock to Kenny Chеsney.”  Amen to that. As the words go on to say then it’s ‘country’ based on his own definition! The video promoting this is well worth a look. It’s a dynamic start. The album has four other terrific funk numbers “Caught Me at a Good Time”, “Country Clubbin’”, “Fuck You Money” and” Cut a Rug” with a clunky guitar signature on a loop that’s pure Glitter Band in its stomping rhythm. 

When things calm down “’Til The Day I Die” and “Roll on Over” justify his self promoted soubriquet as ‘Velvet Voice’. They’re heartfelt love songs that give his voice a full workout. The choruses are anthemic and Lana Del Rey comes to mind as an inspiration for the arrangements. “Country Coming Down” has our man reflect on a life in the backwoods over an acoustic guitar backing. Such a stripped back tune shows that without the band and arrangements he can craft a winsome melody. It’s a fitting end to the high energy before it. It’s quite a ride and given the profanity it’s not going to make a lot of radio station play lists but I doubt he’ll care. Compulsory listening.

Record Of The Week # 127

Trisha Yearwood (Eponymous)

(Country Music People are running a 90s feature and asked the contributors to write up an album review from that decade. In truth I got interested in Country music in the noughties when we visited Florida seemingly annually with the children to mainly visit Disney. Country was on the TV and on the radio and it was a revelation to have such beautiful tuneful music in copious supply. I did literally return with armfuls of CD’s of Country music and I certainly bought all Trisha’s probably in one fell swoop on such a visit. Picking one album was tough but this one is a great place to start.)

The 90s was when I moved past the UK’s idea of country music, ie. Dolly, Glen, Kenny and Johnny and started to discover a whole new world of US country music. There were new stars for me to find such as Reba, Toby, Dwight and Garth. They were shipping millions of CD’s; why didn’t I know? I’d always liked a pop tune, a sentimental and interesting lyric and a tight band. If you added a voice to die for then Trisha Yearwood ticked every box. Today she’s still releasing albums but is also a TV chef. She has a voice that captivates me. Strong, expressive and possessing that magic that tells the story in a way that makes you believe she’s lived it.

Her debut sold two million copies and spawned a number one country chart single and three other subsequent Top 10 hits. The debut hit, “She’s In Love With The Boy”, gave me an insight into the rural ‘Merica of front porches, Chevy trucks, drive in movies, high school rings and daddies and mommas. Thirty years later the same tropes and stories circulate in any country pop record you hear. It painted a picture and one that I dreamt of and eventually did see at close hand.

To make a classic album you need the artist, songs, arrangements and production to be perfect. This has all of this. Garth Fundis’ superb production placed her voice central to the song. His credentials include Don Williams and Chris Whitley as well as several other Yearwood albums. With Matt Rollings’ prominent and seductive piano throughout we hear her beleaguered yet wordly wise take on life and love. It’s a voice that’s always in control and requires little other than the space for the artist to draw you in with her sumptuous tones. Magnificent.

Record Of The Week # 126

Buck Ford – I’m Gettin’ There

The first five minutes of research of any artist is the most revelatory. Some are corporate entities with fawning biographies and some are journeymen holding down two jobs who don’t have a web page! Less is more I find. Buck Ford may have a website but information is scant to say the least. He hails from Vacaville in north California probably most famous for the fact I once stayed there overnight as I descended the Sierra Nevada on my bicycle on my way to San Francisco. I may have stayed longer if I’d known something as sublime as this fellow was around.

Despite his tender years Ford has several albums to his credit and I’m Gettin’ There is bordering on perfect. He wrote or co-wrote the songs and lyrically we swing between the usual beer drinking and broken hearts. Musically it’s pacey 90s modern yet traditional country with lashings of pedal steel, picking guitar, fiddle and honky tonk piano. Maybe more critically he can sing, an expressive baritone that delivers the stories with the assurance of a seasoned and lauded star.6

There’s not a poor track here. Lonely relies on his vocal, a catchy chorus and some electric guitar that commands your attention. Honkytonk Ambition is a gorgeous melody. Harmonies and the fiddle give way to another James Mitchell (Willie Nelson and Cole Swindell) guitar solo before pedal steel joins. Michael Johnson’s (George Strait and Reba McEntire) pedal steel adds such beauty to all the compositions. This is a hot Nashville band and the elevation of the whole album is evident. As required by proper country, banjo and fiddle accompaniment is always to the fore.

Heart That’s Gonna Break leans on the pedal steel, fiddle and electric guitar as he sings of a city girl finding life tough in the country. It’s a winning easy rolling melody which only needs his voice to complete. Banjo kicks off the title track with a swooping fiddle before we learn of his accelerated drinking due to withdrawal symptoms created by his departing squeeze. It’s that type of ‘devil may care’ ditty with wry humour. This type of song is part of every mainstream male’s repertoire. Showing his versatility we get the album highlight a brisk two step I Don’t Know. Greg Cole’s close harmonies give this a splendid sound as acoustic guitar and fiddles weave around the vocals, a timeless piece of 60s joy.

I’m not familiar with his back catalogue but if it’s remotely as good as this I’m ashamed I missed out: ignorance is no excuse. The other missing piece of the jigsaw is why isn’t this artist getting the breaks and promotion similar to troubadours such as Cody Jinks, Cody Johnson or Charley Crockett? Whatever you do don’t compound the felony and miss out.

Long Faces In Selby, My Darling Clementine – Week 5 : 2022

Selby Town Hall welcomed one of the UK’s most respected country duos, My Darling Clementine. For those not familiar with Selby it has an industrial heritage and the industrial bit left decades ago; the town is now mainly a dormitory for workers and families in Leeds and York. The Town Hall is a cultural oasis and a credit to the organisers. They curate an interesting selection of acts including country, americana, bluegrass, blues, rock and stand up comedy. The acts veer between several worthy but unknown US acts to UK heritage bands from the 1970s or 80s.

Ordinarily acts play, surprisingly, to a full house. The ticketing arrangement is that if you buy three tickets you get a fourth free. Yorkshire knows value for money when it sees it and there’s not a better offer midweek in winter. However, this season the attendance has been dented by Covid hesitancy. Those who brave the cold and dark nights still often don’t match the acts they’ve bowled up to see in age group, taste or humour. Just as English comedians ‘died’ on stage at the Glasgow Empire then I’ve seen Selby break several creative hearts. California’s Dustbowl Revival were bemused at the indifference to their lively show, blues sensation, Sugaray Rayford wandered amongst the audience to check pulses and I’m surprised someone hasn’t quipped that the only thing that moves in Selby is the smoke from the crematorium chimney. However, whilst Colorado’s The Railsplitters’ bluegrass didn’t get feet moving they did provoke some outrage. The lead singer said she liked the ‘village’ of Selby. The natives grew restless and were quick to demur that the settlement was certainly larger!

So onto our erstwhile impressive duo. This was their first post pandemic gig and the start of a long tour that would see further UK nights followed by a European jaunt and then some dates in the US. In front of depleted numbers Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King trod the boards with a backing guitarist and ran through 20 songs from their back catalogue including some from their Elvis Costello covers album. King’s strong voice leads the way whilst Dalgleish, his wife, takes a number of leads clutching her red handbag and scarf. The traditional acoustic country is a delight and the voices meld well and often a special atmosphere is created by the poignancy of their lyrics.

King tries to engage with the audience and soothes any fears of anything too racy by confirming this will be a laid back show (how little he knows) to help them ease back into playing live after the pandemic lockdown. His first misstep was introducing “Our Race Is Run” from their 2013 The Reconciliation? by calling the Prime Minister a bastard and that this song was for him. I’ve sat through many acts apologising for Trump and even more cringingly an excoriation of Nigel Farage by Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie. What artists don’t realise as they fail to ‘read the room’ is that these UK politicians get a lot of votes in North Yorkshire. Whatever happened to not discussing politics and religion with strangers or in polite company? I digress, other musical highlights include a wonderful “Yours Is The Cross I Still Bear”. King attempts some bants with Dalgleish: if they’re enjoying it then the audience isn’t reacting. As we approach the break Lou implores the gathering to have a drink and return ‘pissed.’ With slumped shoulders they shuffle off for their own stiff drink. I feel their pain.

The second half sees the the adaptation, into duets, of several of Elvis Costello’s country songs. The strength and timbre of King’s voice approximates to Costello’s and the interpretations are superb, not least “Indoor Fireworks”. The explanation of the co-writers that Costello worked with from Jim Lauderdale to T Bone Burnett adds to their performance. King plays “I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came”, a Costello co-write with Loretta Lynn. He opines that this has  miraculously racked up 6,000 plays on Spotify in Russia and pertinently suggests ‘that maybe Vladimir’s gone country?’ When the audience prematurely applaud “I No Longer Take Pride” before the end, but after his vocal finishes, and before Dalgleish’s starts he ruefully comments that in the ‘duet game’ prenuptial agreement then both parties will have to sing on each song and we’d overlooked this clause!

The crowd is hardly on fire as the set concludes and King turns to another tragic crash. He notes that today is the 63rd anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death. Prior to the encore a rousing “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is sung as a tribute. I hope they recovered their mojo following Selby. They are superb and I’ll be checking out their quality catalogue. Oh yes, and this is the second time they’ve played Selby. Now that is the stuff of a song!