Category Archives: Music

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!

Record Of The Week # 125

Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal

Following his suicide in 2019, his friend and manager, Gary Waldman, decided to set up a charitable foundation and make this covers album as a tribute and revenue earner. Casal was the musician’s musician. Respected and well liked but despite 14 albums, either solo or part of a band, he’s better known as a guitar sidesman latterly for Ryan Adams and Chris Robinson. He was never a household name. 

Waldman wanted to create a lasting legacy and raise money to place musical instruments in schools as well as provide funds for mental health charities for musicians. At the start he thought they might get some major artists to chip in with the music if he could raise enough money to record it. To his surprise on Kickstarter he raised over $150k and found many artists coming forward. Eventually they had 41 songs (three CDs or 5 LPs) by the likes of Steve Earle, Hiss the Golden Messenger, Susan Tedeschi, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Shooter Jennings, Billy Strings and Warren Haynes.

It’s a large body of music: tuneful, easy rolling electric americana rock that curls around you like smoke such is the enveloping siren nature of these compositions. I never realised how many sumptuous melodies he’d penned. His gentle tenor and tasteful guitar passages provide a template that these songs generally follow. 

Highlights for me include Britton Buchanan, The Fruit Bats, Marcus King or Billy Strings. Strings brings acoustic magic to “All the Luck In the World”. His yearning vocal and a bigger arrangement centred around a shimmering, tinkling piano adds to the drama before he takes off on an elegant acoustic guitar solo. “Pray Me Home” is converted into a piano instrumental by Jason Crosby. The bright melody comes to the fore and seems like a welcome reflective ‘time out’ in this long work. Robbie Robb’s version of “I Will Weep No More” closes the album and includes passages of Casal talking about his early career. This adds chills to the brooding soundtrack of background wailing guitars and thunderous rhythm.

Given the tragedy his lyrics take on more importance. They’re very personal and in the main about relationships often dealing with his shortcomings, the aftermath and inevitable forks in the road.

This is a beautiful collection and a very easy listen. The use of one production team makes the whole work fluent and consistent. The quality of the songs speak for themselves. It’s depressing that Casal didn’t get the recognition he deserved by a wider audience. Slightly contrite at my ignorance of his catalogue I’ve been dipping into the originals and they’re superb. Over and above the devastation of a life taken so young you can’t help but reflect on what a loss he was musically.

Records Of The Year 2021

  1. Rory Feek – Gentle Man

I’d never heard of this Tennessean Country music singer songwriter until his latest album arrived in my inbox from Country Music People. I was blown away. The songs wrap around the sad reality that his partner, in life and song, Joey, died of cervical cancer in 2016. After a hiatus he recorded this album; a galaxy of Country stars all turned up to sing on the album, Lee Ann Womack, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton: probably because his loss had touched everyone. The sentimentality is remarkable. It’s traditional Country with stories of everyday rural American folk. The duet with Dolly of One Angel is literally a tearjerker. Bliss.

  1.   Tylor & The Bank Robbers – Non-Typical Find

Not much Americana comes out of Idaho but when it does then it can be remarkable. I’ve loved both their recent albums of Country Rock with a terrific acoustic rock vibe and engaging lyrics.

  1.   Jacob Tovar – Another Time, Another Place

This is an artist who makes a modest living around Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s not fêted on a big label. Tovar possesses a classic Country sound and this album of originals and covers hits the spot.

  1.   Ashland Craft – Travellin’ Kind

A winner of a US TV talent show. She has a voice that could break your heart whatever genre she sings. Here she’s got great Country pop songs with sublime tunes and a great band. She’s going to be stellar.

5. Emily Scott Robinson – American Siren

In the 70s she’d be called a ‘Singer Songwriter’ like Carole King or Joni Mitchell. In addition to great songs she has a distinct crystal clear beautiful voice. Again, this is the start of something special.

  1.   Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days

An enormously talented woman. Her latest was a another highlight of this year’s Americana where the arrangements, compositions and that pure, soaring and occasionally achy voice drew you in.

  1.   Altered Five Blues Band – Holler If You Hear Me

Blues Rock is a timeless genre. Take a mean electric guitar that can squeal, a solid rhythm section and some B3 organ; you’re nearly there. Next add Jeff Taylor’s voice and you have heaven

8  James McMurtry – The Horses and the Hounds

McMurtry inhabits a world of unvarnished Ameriocana takes on rural USA with the struggles and little victories told to you as if he was further along the counter sharing a beer. A complete master.

  1.   Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia

A pastiche of 1970s Southern Rock that mines the sound of Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allmans with a soupçon of Country. A wonderful album that shows there’s a market for this stuff.

  1.   Thorbjørn Risager & Emil Balsgaard – Taking The Good With The Bad

This Danish duo have been important international blues artists for a couple of decades. Usually part of a larger band here they’ve delivered a sensational traditional New Orleans fused piano driven gem.

Record Of The Week # 124

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raise the Roof

It was an unlikely pairing of bluegrass country/folk singer Alison Krauss with her ethereal and crystal clear voice and 70s rock icon Robert Plant with his remarkable range and phrasing for their award winning 2007 collaboration Raising Sand. The album’s success was likely built on their respective followings and a varied selection of accessible americana. This showcased their vocals with T Bone Burnett’s excellent song curation and production. In 2021 this team is back.

Plant’s seems to have spent 40 years (and 16 albums) attempting to distance himself from Led Zeppelin; his subsequent record sales are impressive but it’s that legacy that excites new and old listeners. He’s latterly ploughed an Americana roots furrow with world music rhythms. Krauss hasn’t been prolific and 2017’s delightful Windy City was her last album. Krauss has her roots in bluegrass but aside from the Union Station work I think of her songs as being country folk ballads where smooth heartfelt melancholy seems to be her signature.

Like Raising Sand here are a selection of covers from the likes of the Everly Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Hank Williams and Lucinda Williams. The album often has rhythms that find their origin in world music and it certainly gives the sound a greater vigour. There are a breadth of songs from different genres ghostly reimagined whether 1960s pop, folk, country, rock and rockabilly. Both take various lead vocals with the other picking up the chorus. The duets are few and far between. Plant’s leads are strident yet flexible, yet when he joins on the chorus he croons sympathetically in the background. Krauss takes the lead on songs that are quite similar to her existing catalogue and otherwise it is always the second voice you hear on a duet.

Continue reading Record Of The Week # 124

Record Of The Week # 123

Charles Wesley Godwin – How The Mighty Fall

After considerable critical acclaim for his 2019 release Seneca could Godwin come up with the goods again? The news is affirmative. Charles Wesley Godwin has a distinct voice that holds a tune with a a slightly tremulous effect adding warmth and expressiveness, some interesting story telling and melodies that he describes as Appalachian country/Americana. Godwin hails from West Virginia: a relatively poor and rural part of the eastern USA and the striving and rustic settings abound.

“Jesse” was inspired from some graffiti he saw whilst out for a jog. On a bridge support he read “Are you thinking of me like I’m thinking of you?” This stimulated his imagination to create a character who’s regretting their parting knowing the other’s moved on. Starting with acoustic guitar chords a picked banjo joins and it builds with pedal steel, strings and eventually the band. This is a voice that can carry the melody by itself but a restrained, yet full arrangement, makes this memorable and beautiful.  

Continue reading Record Of The Week # 123

Record Of The Week # 122

Emily Scott Robinson – American Siren

Robinson’s back story is one of a talented multi instrumentalist and singer who’s moved from North Carolina to Colorado. Here she was employed in social services whilst playing and further studying song writing. Eventually her breaks came and this is her second album, and her first, on a major label, it’s a joy. It’d be enough to talk about her voice: pure, crystal clear and mellifluous. However there’s considerable craft in her song writing and lyrics. She writes stories about classic country music themes such as cheating, missteps, unfilled ambitions and the military and it’s saddest days. She’s sympathetic and never judging but profound and engaging.

Jason Richmond produces (The Avett Brothers and The Steep Canyon Rangers), he ensures the mainly stripped back country arrangements are empathetic throughout. The backing to this divine voice varies between acoustic, electric and atmospheric. Richmond complements the songs with percussion, organ, bass lines, dabbles of electric guitar or sweeping runs of fiddle. “Let ‘Em Burn” is just Robinson on piano singing a delicate ballad. She says it’s “for anyone who thinks they’ve built a cage  they’ve learned to hate and wondering if they have the courage to ask for what they really want.” A sad but captivating listen.

“Every Day In Faith” is haunting and heartfelt, a hymn to seeing it through. Writing “Things You Learn The Hard Way” was novel. Robinson says she found the song title and chorus and then had to find the verses. In this case it was a list of things you learn the hard way (obvs). A bit stumped she asked her followers on Facebook and the illustrations tumbled in. From this assortment she selected the ones she liked most along with her own mistakes such as not avoiding talking politics with her grandfather! 

Continue reading Record Of The Week # 122

Record Of The Week # 121

Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days

This may be the most productive and commercially successful period in Brandi Carlile’s career. Her ascension to be the ‘Queen of Americana’ has not been an easy or quick climb, this is her seventh album. If pulling together the songs, the band and the producers isn’t a considerable task, in the meantime she’s been collaborating or producing other, much commended, country music masterworks with the Highwomen and Tania Tucker. Much of what she touches turns to gold and her 2019 By The Way, I Forgive You was worth all the Grammys and still remains one of my personal favourites.

Her voice is an incredible instrument with its range. She’s comfortable fronting an Elton John pastiche rock anthem (Sinners Saints And Fools) or cooing the whimsical lullaby of Stay Gentle. She’s expressive with exceptional poise, phrasing and occasional volume while admitting to relationship failures or continually self appraising her life and behaviour. Lyrically much of it is confessional and intimate and this is where comparisons to her idol and friend, Joni Mitchell, are worth dwelling on. The opener and album highlight, Right This Time, speaks of a contretemps with someone close and the song builds slowly to a dramatic finale. Mama Werewolf again dismantles her own, on occasion, bad tempered behaviour with her young children. She’d have you believe she’s not easy to live with but her insecurities and frankness are disarming along with her passion and selfless sharing. The boldness and directness of Mitchell’s lyrics are a brave template to follow. However, there’s little here that replicates Mitchell’s sound apart from the acoustic guitar and rhythm from Big Yellow Taxi on You And Me On The Rock. It’s an attractive appropriation or tribute. 

Carlile has worked with the Hanseroth brothers, who are part of her band and understand her well, not least by being very close neighbours in Seattle; this is an exceptional partnership. They collaborate on song composition and provide accompaniment on guitars, bass and harmonies. Like her previous album Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings produce and play. This results in sympathetic arrangements that give her space and ensure each track has a different sound depending on the needs of the song. I’d have liked more strings (only two tracks), I thought this added to the drama and emotion of the last album. They created an epic sweep to songs such as The Joke elevating them from good to instant classics.

Continue reading Record Of The Week # 121