Archive: Recordings 2021

Various Artists – Home is Where the Art Is (15 Years of Reveal Records) | Album Review | Reveal | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.01.21

A rather generous overview of Reveal Records, which features no less than 38 tracks (57 on the digital version), culled from the numerous albums released on the label since 2006 as well as a good few previously unreleased live tracks and radio edits.   Over those fifteen years, the label has grown in stature and has built up a strong and impressive roster of artists, which includes within its ranks Eddi Reader, Lau (both the group itself and each of its individual musicians as soloists), Boo Hewerdine, Blue Rose Code and notably, Joan Wasser, otherwise Joan As Policewoman, who kicks this collection off with a live take of “Valid Jagger”.  The Connecticut-raised musician was instrumental in getting the label off to its start back in 2006 in partnership with the independent record shop owner Tom Rose and on this collection, brings along some high profile pals to give the project even more creedence, as if it needed it, with duets with both Rufus Wainwright on “To America” and Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons fame) on “I Defy”.  In a way, Home is Where the Heart is can be seen as being reminiscent of all those iconic sampler albums of the early 1970s, where the majors would showcase their artists in the hope that listeners would go out and buy some, if not all, of the albums represented. Here, Reveal Records treat us to more than just the one representative song, indeed rather more a fair selection of each of the artists’ output over the years, including Lau’s “Himba” and “Ghosts”, Eddi Reader’s “Vagabond” and “Wild Mountainside” and Drever, McCusker, Woomble’s “The Poorest Company”.  If the label does at this point seem to towards the Scots alt-folk side of the fence, the label also champions other artists from around the world including the indie rock of Gramercy Arms and the songwriting of Benjamin Lazar Davis (both New York based), the electronic vibes of Berlin-based Grip Tight and the full blown orchestral work of the Derbyshire-born Richard J. Birkin.  With other notable inclusions of Martin Green with Adam Holmes and Becky Unthank, The Little Unsaid and  Nels Andrews, Home is Where the Heart is stands as a fine introduction to Reveal Records as well as a perfectly well structured overview of the label’s triumphs thus far.

Judy Fairbairns – Edge of the Wild | Album Review | Wild Biscuit | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 02.01.21

Having already brought to life the feel and atmosphere of the Inner Hebridean islands of Scotland in her stories as a published author, Judy Fairbairns now reflects on her place in the world, namely the Isle of Mull, in song.  Delicate in places, Judy has the knack of bringing the listener into her world, from the freedom of being an ‘island wife’, captured in the sleeve photography, to the simple domesticity of writing lists, baking cakes and making the occasional call. There’s a rich tapestry of influences built into the fabric of Judy’s songs, not so much in her musical influences, but certainly in the forces of nature that surround her, in the weather and the seasons, in the gentle landscapes around her and presumably what lies within her inner spirit. The songs are like melodic meditations that are simply constructed, such as the delicate “Who Are You” and the haunting “Girl on a Train”, yet are in places pleasantly unafraid of incorporating modern technology ala Portishead on “We Made the Rain” for instance. Tender and meditative, Edge of the World soothes.

Merry Hell – Emergency Lullabies | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 03.01.21

Several boxes are ticked here, in the crowd pleasing stakes that is, something we’ve come to expect from one of the UKs most vibrant live acts.  There’s really no disputing that Merry Hell are a great live band, their full-on stage presence does seem to give some of our younger bands a good run for their money, yet the last few months have effectively stopped the band in their tracks on the live front. Their sixth album to date, Emergency Lullabies, comes at a time when we most need cheering up, while at the same time it addresses some of our most concerning issues, something Merry Hell do so well.  The dithering rhetoric of Brexit is touched upon in “Three Little Lions”, which in a way could be seen as a companion piece to the similarly titled football anthem of yore, where instead of football coming home, we’re all coming home, as the jokes and sneers continue through the debate.  Merry Hell deliver quality records that always include songwriting of a highly conscientious  nature, whether it be on the subject of conservation “Sister Atlas”, with a Swedish schoolgirl heroine as a focus and the title song “Emergency Lullaby (Wasting Time)”, which is a reminder of the relatively little time we have left (if we’re not careful, which we are clearly not) to “Beyond the Call”, our debt to the NHS, a sure, dead cert winner with future live audiences, echoed again in “We Are Different, We Are One”, which would both have made for great doorstep choruses a few months ago. Both songs can also be found on a new EP released by the band along with a new song, “When We Meet Again” (not on this album), featuring The Social Isolation Choir, a 300 voice collective who contribute their voices via email.  Among all the thought provoking anthems, comes a throwback to our lamented Music Hall days, where humour is resurrected from its forced exile, with the joyful “Violet”, the kind of song Virginia Kettle ought to reserve for her fallback career, as the new Gracie Fields.

Catfish Keith – Blues at Midnight | Album Review | Fish Tail Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 04.01.21

A good catchy moniker has always served some of our blues men (and women) well, whether the name derives from a physical disability (Blind Boy Fuller, Peg Leg Howell), a town or city from whence they came (Memphis Minnie, Mississippi Fred McDowell), a description of their actual physique (Arthur Big Boy Crudup, Slim Harpo),  or in one notable case, an entire Indian mausoleum (Taj Mahal). In the case of this particular blues man from Indiana, it appears to be a preferred delicacy.  Catfish Keith has been around the block a few times and has laboured his acoustic Country Blues around the world, releasing no fewer than nineteen album along the way. His trademark gruff vocal and assured finger picked guitar playing style are both prominent throughout Blues at Midnight, with little assistance from anyone else, other than a little violin on “Move to Louisiana” courtesy of Randy Sablen and a fine harmonica solo on “Oh, Mr Catfish”, delivered by Peter Mudcat Ruth. Eliciting the assistance of no fewer than thirteen different guitars on these recordings, ranging from a 1927 Gibson Nick Lucas Special to a more recent 2018 National Reso-Phonic Exploding Palm Baritone Tricone, which I’m in no doubt shines like, well the Mississippi Delta I suppose, the songs offer certain sonic differences.  Catfish Keith’s long career has been captured here in just thirteen songs, written throughout those forty years and still sounding relevant and punchy today. Blues at Midnight should serve established fans and new listeners alike, until such a time we are able to see him tour again.

Ross and Ryan Couper – An Den Dey Made Tae | Album Review | Couper Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 05.01.21

People talk of sibling harmonies quite a lot, that special familial connection which makes for such enduring musical partnerships from the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers to the Dransfields and the McGarrigles. This empathy and musical dove-tailing can also be found in instrumental music, where two players instinctively know what each other is striving for and this fine debut by Shetland’s Ross and Ryan Couper is proof of that. Named for a popular local saying, where stopping for a brew is a frequent occurrence, An Den Dey Made Tae is a fine example of high quality instrumental music and I dare say plenty of the old Island Botanicals was consumed during the making of this album. A good fine blend of traditional, contemporary and original reels, waltzes, hornpipes and other tunes make up this pot, with an unexpected Billy Joel cover, “And So It Goes”, via an arrangement courtesy of virtuoso guitar player Tommy Emanuel.  The brothers are from a family of musicians and their sister Mariann Allan takes to the piano stool for the final set of tunes, under the title “Da Foula Reel”. Uplifting for the most part, An Den Dey Made Tae will probably see you putting the kettle on at some point.

Rupert Wates – Lamentations | Album Review | Bite Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 06.01.21

The twelve new songs that make up Lamentations, the tenth album release from the British-born, now New York-based singer songwriter Rupert Wates, whose fragile voice and delicate finger-picked guitar have something of the Nick Drake about them, looks at the cycle of life, from birth to death, dedicating the opening song “The Carnival Waltz” to his own newborn son Gabriel.  Recorded in just one evening, much in keeping with a live recording, Lamentations has an intimate feel throughout, full of warmth and sensitivity, with just that little extra spark of something else, something difficult to describe but easy to understand once you hear it.  In places reminiscent of such performers as Antony Hegarty, Steve Tilston and Tom Baxter, the songs have a dream-like quality that makes repeated plays essential, certainly “California One”, “In Time of Breaking” and the title song “Lamentations”.  Though the cover shot and accompanying photos celebrate the beauty of motherhood, the Old Guitarist Picasso pastiche that fronts the accompanying booklet, expresses precisely what you hear in these songs. 

Various Artists – Sounds Like Knockengorroch | Album Review | Birnam | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 07.01.21

In lieu of last May’s popular Knockengorroch Festival, artists gathered for an interactive live stream in an attempt to capture something of the atmosphere of what is usually experienced up there in the Carsphairn hills in south west Scotland.  The organisers of the long running event, determined that the show must go on, have now released a double CD compilation featuring some of the music that would no doubt have been heard over the weekend.  The two discs also feature tracks that were especially recorded after the virtual event as well as some pre-release items from artists who are included in this year’s line-up scheduled for May.  The one thing we immediately sense when listening to these tracks is the musical diversity, from the ever vibrant Afro Celt Sound System, whose “Lockdown Gorroch Reel” is obviously written in honour of the festival. Contemporary electronica underpins the “Good Karma” of Samson Sounds & Dandelion, while songs from the tradition are represented by Kaela Rowan’s gorgeous reading of “As I Roved Out”.  The Poozies turn to their wonky Caledonian Reggae roots for their perfectly off-beat “Fresh Blood”, the promo video of which could easily be a sketch from The League of Gentlemen, while Twelfth Day’s Catriona Price and Esther Swift take to the dance floor with their colourful “Keep Me”.  Eilidh Ross and Ross Martin go all Country with their lilting “Stoned Again”, the whole thing ending with what else but bagpipes, with Awry’s psychegaelic “An t-Orceastrian”, something we can all imagine going down a treat at this little festival.  Hopefully it won’’t be long before the festival is up and running again.

Dave Thomas – One More Mile | Album Review | Blonde on Blonde Direct | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 08.01.21

By the time we reach track five “I Want the Blues”, there’s a strong sense that we’ve begun to accept that this new album by Dave Thomas is pretty much entrenched in the urban blues of Chicago, albeit from the docklands of Newport in South Wales.  The soul-drenched opener “It’s My Own Fault”, complete with full brass section, tear-stained organ and Lucille-styled guitar runs, probably misleads us as to what to expect later in the album.  Yes, those first five songs are as blues as you might wish to get, yet further listening invites a completely different stylistic approach in the acoustic “You Danced in My Kitchen”, as different as, let’s say, Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” is to “All Your Love”, the iconic Otis Rush tune that opens that classic Bluesbreakers album circa ‘66.  “There’s a Train” continues in the same vein, songs that showcase Dave’s sensitive side.  Two thirds of the way in, it feels like we’ve discovered Dave Thomas’s true calling, that of a rock God, completing the album with three riff-laden rockers from an entirely different era, sounding for all intents and purposes like John Cale backed by Paul Kossoff and Duane Allman.  Plenty for everyone then.

Mossy Christian – Come Nobles and Heroes | Album Review | One Row Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 09.01.21

When the first few notes of the opening tunes “Market Rasen Feast” and “Louth Quickstep” rang out of the speakers, I thought I’d inadvertently put on something from the folk revival era, if not the original source singers and musicians from the turn of the century, and that’s not the last one either.  Mossy Christian foregoes the modern era, of samples, awkward time signatures, bits of electronica, tuned percussion and other assorted devices that apparently make folk music hip these days and chooses instead to go straight for the less hip tenets of traditional folk music and song.  Accompanying himself on fiddle, Anglo concertina and one row melodeon, Mossy makes an authentic noise, which you can imagine accompanying vintage flickering sepia footage of men in plus fours skipping around ladies in long frocks in a random Surrey garden.  For his debut album, the Lincolnshire-born singer and musician focuses on the music from his own neck of the woods, leaning towards the singers and musicians who have influenced him, Harry Cox for instance with “The Thresher’s Maid”, or Bob Roberts in “Homeward Bound” or indeed Jack Holden with “The Young Sailor”.  I didn’t initially think I was going to take to this album but surprised myself by listening to it all the way through and thoroughly enjoying it in the process.  In fact, I think I’ll give it another go right now.    

Stan the Band – Love | Album Review | Big Bright Beautiful Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 10.01.21

First appearing on the thriving North East music scene around twenty years ago, Stan the Band, (formerly The Stanhope Street Creatures, for about five minutes), has maintained a knack of writing instantly memorable rockers, infused with a soulful and bluesy edge, not unlike some of the stalwarts of the bustling pub rock scene of the early 1970s, just prior to the arrival of Punk.  Formed by drummer Dave Pipkin, the four piece band is led by the hard hitting vocals of Colin Burrows, with guitarist Dave Kennedy and bass player Rob Tickell making up the team.  Opening with the slow burning “Stay”, the band soon finds its groove and makes good use of its traditional basic rock band format, where each of the players provide just the right ingredients, with just a little additional keyboards courtesy of Dom Pipkin. The inner sleeve shows a photograph of the band in action on a big outdoor stage, where I’m sure the band works its magic best, though I suspect a small intimate space is equally fulfilling.  Sandwiched between a song about little soldiers and one about the Devil, the band want to talk about love, with four songs in a row on the subject.  “Looking for Love”, “Right Kind of Love” and the title song, simply entitled “Love”, investigates our strongest emotions without any obvious sentimentality, while “Right by Your Side” and “Got a Life” looks at the role of the radio in our carnal adventures, with songs that pour out of the speakers like fire on the airwaves.  I like Stan the Band; it’s good, clean, unpretentious rock and roll, and it should be heard. 

Peach and Quiet – Just Beyond the Shine |  Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 11.01.21

Staples of the Vancouver Island music scene, Jonny Miller and Heather Read, otherwise Peach and Quiet, create a certain warmth with their songs, each one treated to inviting arrangements and gentle harmonies.  The duo’s debut album was created in trying times, yet their hopes for a brighter future shines through in these songs, embedded in their desire for social change and a better world. “Will You” asks all the right questions at the right time, while “There’s a Very Good Chance” anticipates lasting love, in a most tender manner.  The songs range in style from the straight country style of “California Way” to the Byrds-like opener “Empty to Fill”, with the occasional venture in to the bluesy back waters of “Shoreline After a Storm”.  Having both been raised on a healthy musical diet, Jonny’s father being a Reggae DJ in the US and his mother a radio engineer, who often invited musicians home, while Heather honed her craft singing in her dad’s band in the legion halls of Ontario, their shared parental influence certainly seems to have paid off handsomely in these nine memorable songs.  Kudos also to the sleeve designer Wrycraft, for the clever use of the mouth watering fruit in question. 

Boo Sutcliffe – Blink | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 12.01.21

Fuelled by a renewed and reinvigorated interest in songwriting, the Huddersfield-based singer songwriter describes himself as a ‘recovering drummer’ and now takes centre stage to deliver his own self-penned songs, drawing from innumerable influences.  Brought up on a diet of pop records from the collections of his two brothers, together with older standards from his mum’s LPs, Boo mixes all this up into a new and personal whole, the result sounding not unlike a hybrid of Neil Diamond and Willie Nelson with the Goo Goo Dolls behind them.  Unafraid to share the spotlight, Boo invites singer Ruth Bostock to join him for “Running Man”, while also bringing in further assistance from bassists Corey Clough-Howard, Paul Heckingbottom and Paul Melleney, with guitarist Roger Kinder and harmonica player Jason Kerry helping to make “Promises” such an infectious pop tune.  If the opener “Meet Me In…” employs the lush string arrangements of Andy Wright, then the closing title track brings it all around full circle, this time with a steadily building chorus of voices, effectively book ending a bunch of songs that offer but a glimpse at this promising talent.

TRADarrr – Strange News | Album Review | Hedge of Sound | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 13.01.21

At a time when it becomes increasingly difficult to categorise the various directions folk music has taken over the past few years, which is certainly no bad thing, it still comes as a pleasant surprise to hear an album that delivers on its promise and presents precisely what it says on the tin.  Indeed, each selection on this third album by TRADarrr has ‘Trad.arr’ to its credit, that is, a traditional folk song reworked and arranged around a rock band’s instrumental arsenal and then delivered with almost tangible excitement and with an additional thrust of urgency.  “The Rose of Allendale” was sung so many times in the folk clubs of the 70s and 80s, that I inadvertently cultivated an aversion to it, that is until Marion Fleetwood came along with this fresh approach.  Instead of abandoning the album at this point, I instinctively knew to continue listening and stay with it right through to the end.  There’s plenty to go at, with equally fine performances by Gemma Shirley, notably her tasty arrangement of “The Blacksmith”, which utilises her classically trained voice and complements Marion’s throughout the album.  PJ Wright offers some fine lead guitar playing, an essential ingredient in what we’ve come to know as Folk Rock, which is right up there with, and to the standard of, a Richard Thompson or a Jerry Donoghue.  No Folk Rock outfit can survive without a good rhythm section and with Mark Stevens, who also produces, on bass and Brendan O’Neill on drums, the band can consider itself grounded, especially on “Shore to Shore”, a song that could easily be mistaken for a recently written contemporary pop song, until further inspection that is. Gregg Cave, Guy Fletcher and Mike Stevens should also be mentioned for their invaluable contribution, which I’ve somehow foolishly missed from the above, but better late than never.

Western Centuries – Call the Captain | Album Review | Free Dirt Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 14.01.21

Cahalen Morrison possesses a voice that would raise the eyebrows of Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield were they still alive to enjoy Call the Captain.  On “Barcelona Lighthouse” and “Before That Final Bell” – two of the highlights from the latest album by Seattle-based country outfit Western Centuries – Morrison leads the band into sultry, soulful waters, but he’s not the only captain here.  Fellow vocalists Ethan Lawton and Jim Miller are also on hand to navigate the album towards some impressive territory indeed.  The rhythm is slick and the lap steel lithe on “Lifeblood Sold”, and with “Sarah and Charlie” it’s difficult to resist the urge to get right up and dance to the song’s infectious shuffle.  And then there’s the superb “Heart Broke Syndrome” which will not only please fans of The Band, with its respectful nod to Levon and the boys, but will have them rushing out to collect all three of Western Centuries’ outstanding LPs.

The 19th Street Band – Diamond in the Rough | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | 15.01.21

The 19th Street Band are an Irish band who have nailed their own blend of authentic sounding hi-energy Country Western Swing.  The four piece, playing a host of instruments between them, recorded in Silver Spring Maryland and Clonmel Tipperary Ireland manage to sound like a Celtic Acoustic Orchestra.  “I Just Had To Say” opens with a frantic protest folk rock strum, before Meghan Davis’ sweet mandolin pulls it into infectious Western Swing with tight harmonies, but that tension and energy remains.  Razor sharp harmonies and playing with edge and attack until Davis’ spacey violin takes it somewhere else in this upbeat love song.  Caolaidhe Davis’ twanging guitar and a sublime brass arrangement make the opening of “Nothing To Do (All Day To Do It)” a delight.  Again The 19th Street Band are masters of a bouncing dance middle section and heavenly slower passages all carried by soulful and tight vocal performances.  This is millimetre tight, soulful, smile on the face music.  “Firefly” has a whiff of Klezmer and strutting vaudeville music hall.  The lyrics and delivery have a little bite this time, but the harmonies sweeten it as does the sublime guitar and instrumental ending.  “Hillbilly Boy” is a raw, earworm of a song, so infectious and natural, you are convinced it’s a cover or a standard, not a Davis composition.  Tongue in cheek, moonshine infused chorus and a beat that gets in your marrow with another feel good songs. “Away From Our Happy Home” is a train song, the percussive guitars, drums and brushes patter out the rhythm of the rails and the voices and violin are the distant prairie train whistle on this melancholic love song.  “True Love” is carried by Caolaidhe’s huge guitar, the sweetest harmonies outside The Eagles and a chorus refrain that nods to The Chemical Brothers “Hey Girl Hey Boy”.  I guess dance music is dance music as love is examined and unpicked. “The Cajun Rock and Roll Stanza” is a John Prince Philip Donnelly composition.  Carried by the rhythm section of Greg Hardin and Patty Dougherty the band’s Celtic Cajun Country sound gains a little classic American songbook, a touch of The Band or Little Feat’s dirty gumbo.  “Your Love Is Like The Lone Ranger” is another Prine Donnelly composition with a left field lyric and Meghan summoning the Bluegrass spirit of Dolly in a fine vocal performance.  This is the weird alt country of The Handsome Family with a a crowd pleasing bounce, Celtic Swing not Western Swing is very much a thing.

Wood and Wire – No Matter Where It Goes From Here | Album Review | Blue Corn Music | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 16.01.21

One of the great things about modern country outfits is that you get to pick out the many influences that have gone into the making of their music.  Listening to No Matter Where It Goes From Here, the latest album by Texas-based foursome Wood & Wire, is like sipping a well-aged bluegrass wine, with its notes of Bill Monroe and Peter Rowan, its aromas of Ricky Skaggs and Bela Fleck and its hints of Tim O’Brien and Tony Rice.  But what makes a truly great country band – which is what Wood & Wire absolutely are – is their ability to take those ingredients and give us something new.  Indeed, to see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savour this, the band’s fifth album since their 2013 debut, is to generously indulge one’s palette.  But enough of the metaphors.  Let’s just get blind drunk on this outstanding collection of songs which moves from the cheerful trickle of “John” and “Can’t Keep Up”, with their hot banjo and creamy harmonies, to more adventurous and bewitching takes such as “My Hometown” and the haunting “Roadies Circle” which shows off its influences by including an appearance from the great Peter Rowan himself. The best is saved until last, however, as the nine-minute instrumental “Clamp’s Chute” shows off the band’s outstanding musicianship.  Tony Kamel’s acoustic guitar shimmers, Dominic Fisher’s double bass purrs like an engine, Trevor Smith’s banjo is wild and exploratory whilst Billy Bright’s mandolin manages to go where no such little instruments have gone before.  There’s no doubting that No Matter Where It Goes From Here is good to the last drop.

Mairi McGillivray – In My Mind | EP Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 17.01.21

Sadly, young musicians around the world who are making their first forays into recording are continually having to face obstacles in their path during the current crisis, which affects such things as live appearances, studio restrictions and crucially, album and EP launches.  One can only sympathise and offer a socially distanced congratulatory heads up while popping a few bob their way in exchange for a sample of their hard labour.  This debut EP by Scots Gaelic singer Mairi McGillivray is a case in point.  Hailing from the island of Islay, just off the west coast of Scotland, this fine singer releases four rather splendid songs, a couple delivered in Gaelic “Tha Fadachd Orm Fhìn” and “Tàladh na Beinne Guirmeand”, and the other two in English, “Kelvin’s Purling Stream” and “Sea of Men”, each of which give us a glimpse into Mairi’s potential as a new major talent on the traditional music scene.  Graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland last year with a First Class Honours in Traditional Music, Mairi’s hopes and anticipations for the launch of her career in music haven’t been completely derailed, just slowed down slightly and this EP will hopefully bridge the gap between her graduation and her rightful place in front of audiences in concert halls and on festival stages up and down the country, which I’m certain her music is destined for.  This is not the kind of EP you play just the once and repeated plays has its own rewards.  Helping Mairi out are Seán Gray on guitar, Isla Callister on fiddle, Graham Rorie on mandolin, Charlie Stewart ion double bass and Paul McKenna contributing backing vocals, all of which makes it a very special debut.

Lucero – When You Found Me | Album Review | Thirty Tigers | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 18.01.21

Formed in the late 1990s, Lucero has held tight to a solid rock base over the years and has released ten studio albums, gone through one or two personnel changes and has maintained no small measure of Punk attitude along the way.  For their latest album When You Found Me, the Memphis-based band has borrowed from the sounds Ben Nichols heard during his formative years, not so much a retro record or indeed a pastiche of what has gone before, rather a simple nod towards it.  Also consisting of Rick Steff, Brian Venable, John C. Stubblefield and Roy Berry, Lucero is made up of musicians who appear to know what they’re doing, drawing from their country roots, yet offering a punchy rock backdrop to some of the songs, including the opener “Have You Lost Your Way”, which sounds not unlike Steve Earle singing over a Black Sabbath backing track.  Rick Steff’s pursuit of collecting vintage synthesizers is put to good use in some of the tracks, which adds to the overall sound, while avoiding the urge to create over-cluttered or overpowering arrangements.  Now a father himself, Nichols continues to address family issues, such as in the case of “Coffin Nails”, which addresses four generations of his own family, going back to the Great War.  Released in a time of extraordinary unrest, the album also includes “A City on Fire”, an obvious inclusion that appears to be filled with the pessimism we’re all currently feeling, rescued temporarily by the closing title song that offers a glimmer of optimism.  Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis with producer Matt Ross-Spang once again at the helm, When You Found Me was made under all the usual lockdown rules, the band maintaining distance and wearing masks during the sessions.

Special Consensus – Chicago Barn Dance | Album Review | Compass Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 19.01.21

Whilst 2020 was busy being a pain in the ass, the superlative bluegrass band Special Consensus marked their 45th anniversary with Chicago Barn Dance, a celebratory album that provides some much-needed joy in these dark times.  Produced by the wonderful Alison Brown, the album shows us precisely why this bluegrass band has endured all these years.  Greg Cahill’s uniquely sprightly banjo, Rick Faris’s agile guitar, Nate Burie’s trickling mandolin and Dan Eubanks’s noble bass are all here and firing on all cylinders, but there’s also some welcome contributions from fiddle virtuosos Mike Barnett, Becky Buller, Michael Cleveland and Patrick McAvinue as well as former Consensus guitarist and vocalist Robbie Faulks and the magnificent Rob Ickes on dobro.  As well as a few originals, such as Robbie Faulks’s “East Chicago Blues” which was written for the album, there’s a handful of superb covers here including Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah’s “Lake Shore Drive” and a foggy mountain take on “Sweet Home Chicago”.  But it’s the band’s rendition of John Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” which will have me returning to this lively and engaging album for years to come.

Robert Hale with the 8th Wonder Band – Blue Haze | EP Review | Pinecastle Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 20.01.21

The Beatles have provided many a bluegrass outfit with the potential for countless good covers, probably because a large percentage of their two hundred and twenty songs lean in a country direction. Robert Hale’s rendition of “Help!” is one of the finest, not just because the song is another one of those astonishingly versatile Lennon-McCartney wonders, but also because Hale and the 8th Wonder Band are deft interpreters.  Blue Haze presents seven versions of well-known songs, beginning with the classic Fab Four track, each with a zesty twist of bluegrass.  The Rolling Stones and Bobby Womack are represented via a chugging version of “It’s All Over Now”, there’s a harmony-smothered reading of “House of the Rising Sun”, which also benefits from the nimble banjo of the 8th Wonder Band’s Scott Vestal, and probably the sweetest rendition of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr Bojangles” you’re ever likely to hear.  And whilst the musicianship is top-notch and the content consistently appealing, the EP’s not-so-secret ingredient is Robert Hale’s voice, which has always been one of the main reasons to love Wildfire, the bluegrass band that Hale has fronted for the past twenty years.

The Wilder Blue – Hill Country | Album Review | Hill Country | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 21.01.21

After the first spin of The Wilder Blue’s Hill Country, I refused to believe that this was the band’s debut album.  Indeed, I found myself staring at the CD player with the expression of a man who was being played for a fool.  Surely, I’d heard this record before.  The truth is that these twelve delicious slices of Americana are brand new and this Texas-based quintet is a force to be reckoned with. Of course, the reason why these songs sound so familiar is that Zane Williams, the band’s front man and songwriter, has clearly spent the last four decades steeped in country music and southern rock.  Just listen to the album’s opener “River Roll”, with its nods to Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Taylor, The Allman Brothers and Stephen Stills.  This is music with a big old family tree and the roots are clearly showing.  “Palomino Gold” shimmers like a Wim Wenders film, “Evergreen” introduces a welcome bit of bluegrass to the sprawling record whilst “Adios” takes us to the Mexican border for a painterly song which owes much to the likes of Tom Russell, Guy Clark and Peter Rowan.  There’s also an achingly beautiful country waltz entitled “The Last Dance” which would have been a lovely inclusion at my wedding all those years ago.  Maybe I should get married again.

The Sad Song Co – Saudade | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 26.01.21

The latest offering from The Sad Song Co (Nigel Powell), comes with the enigmatic title Saudade, which translates from the Portuguese for a deep emotional state of longing or missing, which some of us might just be feeling at present.  Having spent a period of time as part of Frank Turner’s touring band Sleeping Souls, recent circumstances have re-opened doors for Nigel to concentrate on his own dramatic music, some of which is revealed here in eleven new songs.  Utilising all the tools in the toolbox, the musical palette is varied, with rich sonic textures throughout, that range from minimalist Terry Riley-like arpeggios of “These Tears Won’t Cry Themselves” to the power chords of “Hold”, the short but sweet Debussy-like impressionism of “Makarska Sunset 25th May 2018” to the pulsating rhythms of “Feeding”, each of which provides perfectly pitched backdrops for Powell’s confident vocals and punchy lyricism, well with the exception of “Makarska”, which is an instrumental interlude.  Highly melodic in places, Saudade provides for a good listening experience, with a surprise around every corner.

Ron Jappy – Vincular | Album Review | Bow Fiddle Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 27.01.21

Findochty’s Ron Jappy describes this album as having been drawn together from the viewpoint as an accompanist, his most important role in music, or so he believes.  The variety of styles brought together here confirms this notion and the ten songs and tunes included probably offer something for everybody, those already in tune with Celtic music and those completely new to it.  Whether self-penned, traditional or contemporary, each of the selections represent the various styles and genres that have influenced this much sought after musician and arranger over the years.  The opening set “Trouble”, incorporates three jigs, the first composed by Jamie Smith, the second by himself and a third by Graham Mackenzie, yet all sounding pretty much unified as the set builds.  A fine opening set, yet not indicative of what follows further along into the album.  The gorgeous “A Place Called Home” for instance, a song co-written with and featuring a fine vocal courtesy of Ainsley Hamill, couldn’t be further from the strident pipes-laden opener, nor could the impressive “Mairead Nan Cuiread”, delivered in Gaelic, which tells the story of angry young girl responding to false accusations.  The slow airs have all the grace associated with music from north of the border, notably “Northburn Creek” and “A Day to Remember”, a waltz written as a wedding gift to friends.  If someone wrote a tune so beautiful for me, I would be more than chuffed (in fact, in my case any tune would actually do!).  Plenty to go at then with this fine debut, which features an array of fine musicians who’ve helped to shape this musician’s musical vision.  

Luke Jackson – Of the Time | EP Review | First Take Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 28.01.21

It really doesn’t seem all that long ago since the young Canterbury singer songwriter Luke Jackson emerged on the British acoustic music scene with his debut album More Than Boys, yet almost ten years have flown by, during which Luke has honed his craft to a standard that some of his peers might envy.  Since that initial Martyn Joseph produced debut, Luke has released a further four albums, one of which is a live album and the most recent, Journals, an award winning album.  For this EP, Luke returns with a generous seven songs, which in itself could almost be considered an album and certainly a mini-album and is packed with no filler originals, each delivered in his highly distinctive voice and crisp guitar accompaniment. “I Am Not Okay With This” is one of those songs with a title that appears to say it all, as the writer deals with how ‘nature changed her script’, but adds an optimistic tone with the notion that ‘maybe we could learn from this’, which is perhaps our only real saviour.  Perhaps the highlight of this EP is “Retrain”, which reflects on the present government’s suggestion that musicians who have laboured over their art should just look for something else to do, referencing Bob Dylan’s anthemic “Blowing in the Wind” to drive the point home.  I’m having difficulty thinking how different my world would’ve been had Mr Zimmerman been given similar advice back in 1962.  Luke addresses serious issues with the grace of a poet and the tenderness of a dreamer, nowhere more evident than in the beautiful “Blinding”, which closes this rather exceptional EP.

Giulia Millanta – Tomorrow’s a Bird |  Album Review | Ugly Cat Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 29.01.21

If you were to scan the name Giulia Millanta on the internet, there’s a good chance you will soon come across some good tunes and a demonstration of how to make a delicious Pasta del Contadino (with sausage and tomatoes and not forgetting a glass of dry white wine).  Now based in Austin, Texas, the Florence-born singer songwriter joins forces with Gabriel Rhodes for an album of ten original songs, with a little help from a cast of musicians that includes David Pulkingham, Brian Standefer and Joey Shuffield.  Songs and cookery are not Giulia’s only attributes, with other ventures that include being a traveller, writer, nomad, dreamer and occasionally, a comedian.  Her songs are delivered in a sharp and confident voice, which I imagine would be equally at home in the field of Country and Americana as it would in the field of Post Punk.  Tomorrow’s a Bird is Giulia’s seventh solo album to date and comes at a time when we are all busy reflecting, re-evaluating and taking stock and this certainly comes across in these songs.  Take them, listen to them and trust what’s on the box.

Ian M Bailey – Shots of Sun | EP Review | Green Tea Productions | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 30.01.21

Just after basking in the delights of the Lost Doves debut album Set Your Sights Towards the Sun , Ian M Bailey’s collaboration with Charlotte Newman back in September, Ian is back with another collaborative effort, this time with the Cosmic Rough Riders songwriter Daniel Wylie.  Just four tracks, but four tracks that cover some ground, each co-written and treated to a highly melodic and sumptuous arrangement and each exploring various influences, from REM to CSN and The Jayhawks to the Byrds.  “Slow Down River” certainly has that distinctive Roger McGuinn feel, not just in its immediately recognisable 12-string Rickenbacker sound but also in Ian’s semi-fragile vocal, which threatens to break at the end of each verse.  Recorded in Ian’s Small Space Studios in Preston, the vibe is very much five thousand miles to the west of the Lancashire town as the crow flies, with the feel of a foot on the pedal and a warm breeze on the freeway.

Steve Tilston – Such Times | Album Review | Riverboat Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 31.01.21

It’s almost fifty years ago to the day since Steve Tilston released his debut album, An Acoustic Confusion, back in 1971 on the Village Thing label, which effectively saw the young musician join the ranks of guitar totin’ troubadours like Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Wizz Jones and Ralph McTell.  With half a century’s worth of material under his belt, songs that just seem to keep coming, Steve has maintained a high standard along the way, occasionally popping one or two traditional songs into his repertoire as well as the odd Elvis cover.  His latest album does nothing whatsoever to hinder or harm Steve’s enduring reputation, in fact a good few of the songs on Such Times are right up there with the best of them.  Look no further than “Satellite’s Decree” to start with, a humdinger of a song, which this reviewer first heard almost exactly a year ago during one of Steve’s last gigs before the virus came along to spoil the party.  “Daylight Rising” is a fitting opener, a moment of optimism in the face of adversity, with a hopeful end to the long nights and ill winds in sight. For “A Million Miles Away”, Steve reaches once again for the banjo, an actual banjo that is, and not the generic term for any stringed instrument that his father once referred to, while “Waters of March” adopts the Latin rhythms of Brazil with a lilting take on the early 1970s Antônio Carlos Jobim composition. Steve reaches back on at least a couple of occasions by revisiting his own “Living with the Blues” for good reason, and “Dust From My Heels”, one of Steve’s most joyous songs, though perhaps now tinged with sadness, in that those towns once visited are now temporarily out of reach. With a cover shot that so accurately depicts such times as these, a visiting performer arriving on time, with guitar in hand, poised to deliver, but with the absence of an integral ingredient.  Such times indeed.

Brennen Leigh – Prairie Love Letter | Album Review | Self-Release | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 02.02.21

Guy Clark once said that “Brennen Leigh plays guitar like a motherfucker”.  I’d wholeheartedly agree with Guy, and I’d be inclined to add that she sings and writes like a motherfucker, too.  Indeed, her latest album Prairie Love Letter makes me think that she’s one of the best motherfucking singer, songwriters and guitarists we have.  And whilst Leigh’s songs have been recorded by such eminent artists as Rodney Crowell, Lee Ann Womack and Charley Crockett, there’s really nothing quite like hearing their author attack them with style, grace and a voice that is drenched in the Minnesota/North Dakota borderline that bore it.  Prairie Love Letter brims with tales from this intriguing region of America, a place that remains embedded in Leigh’s heart.  “The North Dakota Cowboy” for example is a gorgeous song about a childhood sweetheart, whilst “I Love the Lonesome Prairie”, featuring harmonies from Texan songwriter Noel McKay, sounds about as old and as captivating as the American landscape which inspired it. And then there’s the wonderfully infectious “Elizabeth Minnesota”, a lazy Western Swing number that encapsulates all the joy and wonder of old timey Americana.  Like a tumbleweed rolling across the Drift Plains, Leigh’s constantly charming and stunningly presented record moves nimbly from foot-tapping bluegrass songs, such as “The John Deere H” and “Little Blue Eyed Dog” to such enchanting and melancholic songs as “Prairie Funeral” and the utterly delicious “You’ve Never Been to North Dakota”.  It’s a truly engrossing concept album which will transport you to the sprawling landscape of Leigh’s songwriting and ensure that at least a little bit of you remains there.

KB Bailey – Little Thunderstorms |  Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 05.02.21

Something special can often happen once a sideman moves centre stage and Little Thunderstorms is evidence of KB Bayley’s credentials as a fine solo performer in his own right, whose gentle songs come at a time when little thunderstorms are the least of our worries.  As we continue to weather our own storms of varying strengths, the UK-based singer songwriter delivers nine originals, together with a Jeffrey Foucault song and an instrumental version of the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger”, utilising the dobro, lap steel, acoustic and cigar box guitar, along with an upright piano.  Though credited as a solo album, Claudia Stark’s contributions come over more as duets than mere backing vocals.  “Cold Rain” for example, which effectively invites us in with its two soothing voices, perfectly exemplifies this notion.  Elsewhere, the noted songwriter Ben Glover (Gretchen Peters, Mary Gauthier, Kim Richey) joins KB on “Blood Red Lullaby”, providing another empathetic voice for its chorus.   Despite Tom Waits being a huge influence, there’s little evidence of this in KB’s smooth delivery, although “Night Dogs” could easily be an outtake from Nighthawks at the Diner, with its late night lounge jazz feel.  Closing with Jeffrey Faucault’s ode to the songwriter, the short but sweet “Cheap Suit”, which completes a rather enchanting album and once again, a lockdown album with a credible feel of close collaboration, something musicians are getting pretty good at these days.

Tamil Rogeon – Son of NYX | Album Review |  Soul Bank Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 06.02.21

Robert Wyatt once said “When I reach my lowest I can always pull myself out by thinking, ‘Well, there’s always Jazz …you can’t knock it’ ”  I tend to agree that at a time when we all seem to be reaching for something to cling on to, a good jazz album can sometimes do the trick.  Tamil Rogeon’s latest album has the ability to smooth out the creases in our daily lives with six lengthy pieces, threaded together by the Melbourne-based musician’s expressive viola playing.  Unlike other instruments such as the piano, the sax and the trumpet, the viola is a relatively rare lead instrument in jazz.  Stéphane Grappelli may have made the violin swing in the post war period and Jean Luc Ponty would certainly have taken his bow to some of Frank Zappa’s complex arrangements by the late 1960s, but the larger, lower, deeper member of the violin family is probably due for a long awaited curtain call.   The six pieces on Son of NYX not only showcase the instrument itself, but is also a showcase for a musical conversation between the other instruments invited along for the ride.  Gathering the cream of Melbourne’s jazz fraternity, keyboard players Sam Keevers and Daniel Mougermann, Danny Fisher on drums, Sam Anning on double bass and Javier Fredes on percussion, Rogeon allows room for some empathetic musicianship throughout.  Added to this are the almost subliminal vocal textures, provided of Allysha Joy, Jace XL, Ladi Tiaryn Griggs and Rita Satch.

Iain Matthews and the Salmon Smokers – Fake Tan | Album Review | Talking Elephant Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 11.02.21

Of the twenty plus songs considered for this album, the former Fairport Convention singer, together with the four-piece Norwegian band The Salmon Smokers, have narrowed the selection down to just eleven songs, ranging from a handful of familiar songs from Iain’s solo back catalogue, a couple of covers, including a Matthews Southern Comfort classic, a brand new song and one or two familiar to us from his live appearances over the years.  Taking no less than three songs from Matthews’ debut solo album, 1971’s If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes, including Richard Farina’s “Reno Nevada”, together with “Southern Wind” and the title song, we instinctively know that we’re in trustworthy territory from the start.  Okay, Sandy’s voice is absent from “Thro’ My Eyes”, but you kind of hear it anyway, transmitted through the ether.  Revisiting Joni’s “Woodstock” seems to have echoes of the Matthews Southern Comfort hit version, with that distinctive opening riff very much re-established, as opposed to the recent MSC voodoo vocal version, which is also worth checking out.  The band’s musicianship is in evidence throughout each song, which no doubt pleases Matthews as much as it does the audience.  Bob Dylan’s mid-Sixties “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry”, is treated to a blues noir arrangement, with weeping guitar motifs that seem to traverse the city’s underbelly, while the funky “Something Mighty”, puts a sprightly spring into Matthews’ step, with some tasty dobro courtesy of Freddy Holm.  “I Threw My Hat In”, a brand new song,  demonstrates that Matthews still has something to say, as he allows us a peek into life on the road.  With the combined efforts of Freddy Holm, Eivind Kløverød, Finn Tore Tokle and Omar Østli, Iain Matthews is still very much a contender and not quite ready to rest on his laurels.  

Broon – Cosmic Ceilidh | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 12.02.21

Much instrumental wizardry from Arisaig multi-instrumentalist Steve Brown, otherwise Broon, who I assume has gone under this moniker since his pre-teens, but I’m just guessing here.  Having been involved in music since the early 1990s, it beggars belief that this is Steve’s debut solo album, having played in a variety of rock bands over the years.  Not solo in the sense of a purely solo Mike Oldfield album, in that Steve invites onboard John Whyte on trombone, Pete Harbidge on cornet and Eoin de Paor on fiddle, whistle, flute and bass, but the rest of it is all his, as he picks up the mandolin, several guitars, the accordion, piano and bass, along with some customary programmed drum loops.  Cosmic Ceilidh appears to be a suitable title for this album, which is made up of fifteen instrumentals, one or two of which are themed, notably Hope Parts I, II and III, or “Soar”, “Skye Cottage” and “Seeds Beneath the Snow”, each linked by a thematic guitar motif.  The range is broad and we find everything from the sensitive classical guitar solo “A Timeless Love” to the full tilt “Arisaig Boogie”, a scrappy little number which apparently divides tastes.  As a long time supporter of the Canadian band Rush, it must have been thrilling for Broon to have the late Neil Peart on three of the tracks, notably “The Devil Came Down to Glenuig”.   A potpourri of styles and genres, Cosmic Ceilidh’s chief focus is on the expressive mandolin playing by someone who obviously loves the versatile junior member of the stringed instrument family.  We’re advised to file the album under World Music, Celtic Fusion and Prog Croft, which makes perfect sense, though you might consider not filing it away at all, but instead have it close to your player for when the mood arises.

Rick Shea – Love and Desperation | Album Review | Tres Pescadores Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 13.02.21

This is the twelfth album to date by Southern Californian’s Rick Shea, whose twangy electric guitar spars effortlessly with Phil Parlapiano’s swirling Cajun-flavoured accordion, a sound that immediately shifts from Shea’s Southern California roots to the Bayous of Louisiana, the opener in particular, “Blues Stop Knockin’ on My Door”.  The dozen songs included here are predominantly originals and effectively take us on a journey through the southern back roads and honky tonks, with a healthy mixture of slow tempo blues to up-tempo juke joint stompers. From the tender “A Tenderhearted Love” to the Flaco Jiminez-like accordion flurries of “Juanita Why Are You So Mean”, which I should imagine goes well with the tequila.  “Love and Desperation” is straight out of Townes Van Zandt territory, in both its feel and its title and once again demonstrates Shea’s musical range.

Chuck Johnson – The Cinder Grove | Album Review | Glitterbeat | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 14.02.21

When we think of the pedal steel guitar, we probably first think of how the instrument enhances country songs with moments of both joy and sorrow as the notes giggle and weep to form easily identifiable and often clichéd patterns.  I’m thinking of course of The Byrds version of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, The Flying Burrito Bros’ “Christine’s Tune” or perhaps Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Teach Your Children”, each of which is certainly enhanced by the pedal steel’s iconic sound.  For The Cinder Grove though, Chuck Johnson looks deep into the fabric of the instrument in search of it’s expansive tonal range, much in the same way as Fred Frith investigated the guitar’s possibilities in the early 1970s.  Adopting a minimalist approach, not unlike the work that Brian Eno made for airports, the world of the pedal steel is slowed down, its inviting arpeggios and melodic flurries reduced to sustained notes that evoke both the melting ice caps of Antarctica or the sand drifts of the Mojave Desert, there’s a stillness in the compositions that is both highly meditative and relaxing at the same time.  This is music that you can listen to in a state of eyes closed repose or with a good book.

Various Artists – Between Islands | Album Review | An Lanntair | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

Initially intended as a series of collaborative events for both Shetland Folk Festival and Heb Celt in Lewis, featuring singers and musicians from Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides, the Between Islands project joined countless other events scuppered by the COVID-19 disaster.  Rather than shelving the project altogether, the artists involved pooled their respective talents for this generous thirty-track double CD, which features such artists as Kris Drever, Saltfishforty, Willie Campbell, Julie Fowlis, Kathleen Macinnes and others.  The CD is divided into three different sections, the first being a series of lockdown studio takes, beginning with three collaborations from each of the islands under the premise of ‘Island Tracks’, “Out on the Islands” performed by Western Isles musicians and led by Ado Matheson, “Summer Sun” by Shetland musicians and representing the Orkney’s, Kris Drever’s “I’ll Always Leave the Light On”.  This section is followed by five songs under the heading Project One, recorded by Willie Campbell, Kris Drever and Arthur Nicolson, and finally a second disc, Project Two, consisting of fifteen live recordings that feature Maggie Adamson, Louise Bichan and Jane Hepburn Macmillan among others.  The focus throughout the album is on collaboration and here we see Julie Fowlis paired with Arthur Nicholson, Kris Drever with Linda Macleod and Saltfishforty with Jane Macmillan.  There’s plenty of variety throughout, with songs performed in both English and Gaelic and some fine sets of dance tunes and slow airs.  It all comes across in the end as a celebration of the quality of music from this musically fertile part of the world and provides those taking part as well as those who planned to attend any of the events with something special to help heal the wounds.

Kat Danser – One Eye Open | Album Review | Black Hen Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

Just the mention of both New Orleans and Cuba in the same sentence brings on involuntary bodily movements, which start at the shoulders and soon find their way down to the feet.  Kat Danser pitches things just right from the start on her new album One Eye Open, with a brassy intro that invites us to the dance, while at the same time effectively setting out her stall; that she is ‘a lover, an all nighter, the fuel in a butane lighter’, which comes over loud and clear in her confident vocal delivery.  Backing up this confidence are a bunch of musicians who appear to relish in the party atmosphere, albeit from an unfortunate distance, the album having been produced in lockdown.  The late night blues vibe of “Lonely and the Dragon”, sounds for all it’s social distanced perseverance, a tightly knit band effort, with ghostly organ and guitar interplay, both electric and acoustic, courtesy of Kevin McKendree and Steve Dawson respectively, with an empathetic horn section and the informed rhythm section of Gary Craig and Jeremy Holmes, who hold things together perfectly.  Kat takes giant strides between genres, notably midway through the album, where she jumps from the gospel tones of Rhiannon Giddens on “Get Right Church” to the sheer post punk Patti Smithness of “One Eye Closed”, which not only sound like they belong to completely different albums, but could also be delivered by two completely different singers.  If “One Eye Closed” might be a little out of Kat’s comfort zone, then her take on Gus Cannon’s “Bring It With You When You Come”,  places her right there in the middle of it and wrapped in a blanket to boot, a performance that doesn’t only echo the popular songs of the 1920s, but also plays to the same homage bracket as Ry Cooder’s mid 1970s Jazz album.  We need albums like One Eye Open, especially numbers like “Frenchman Street Shake” and “MI Corazon”, if only to remind us that life is good, despite the frequency of seismic interruptions.

John Blek – Digressions 2 Grounded | Album Review | We Are Rats Recordings | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

One of the few refreshing aspects of the state we currently find ourselves in, is the manner in which some of our artists address their own predicament, when the most valued element of their craft is in fact missing, the people that is, who occupy the seats in front of them.  John Blek is currently at home, isolated and I suppose, grounded.  When children are grounded for their minor infringements, they have the choice to either sulk or lick their proverbial wounds and become highly creative.  For Digressions #2 – Grounded, the Cork singer songwriter is very much engaged in the latter, much the same as he was last year, with the release of the first in this series.  Here we have ten new songs, delivered with his familiar gently picked acoustic guitar accompaniment and occasional banjo, with one or two complimentary electronic instruments, something new to John’s body of work.  There’s a sense that these embellishments are John’s companions in these lonely times, which both enhance the sound and provide new and exciting textures to the norm, despite the additional help from multi-instrumentalist Brian Casey, and both Davie Ryan and Peter O’Sullivan providing some of the beats.  Even the instrumental piece “Walk On” benefits from its ‘Penguin Cafe’ treatment, while the spoken word “My Father’s Son” is a kind of update on Kipling’s ultra famous poem If.  John promises further additions to the Digressions series, which will include live recordings and conceptual pieces, each in further pursuit of new musical goals.  A positive note of optimism then, in these increasingly troubled times.

Janet Simpson – Safe Distance | Album Review | Cornelius Chapel | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

The name Janet Simpson probably doesn’t jump out at us quite as readily as, let’s say, Lucinda Williams or indeed Rosanne Cash, though this is probably more due to the fact that this singer songwriter seldom releases solo material under her own name, but is rather more familiar to us through such projects as Delicate Cutters, Teen Getaway, Wooden Wand, the World War IV and Timber, the duo she formed with fellow Birmingham, Alabama musician Will Stewart.  It’s over twenty years since Janet Simpson’s debut album and Safe Distance perhaps comes along at the right time.  Opening with “Nashville Girls”, which asserts from the start that Janet is no ordinary country tinseltown girl, but something else entirely.  We could start with such songs as “Awe and Wonder”, “Ain’t Nobody looking” and “Black Turns Blue”, each of which demonstrate her sensitivity as much as “Nashville Girls” shows us her playfulness.  “Reno” then turns our attention to Janet’s ballsy assertiveness, with a stomping performance, each guitar chord a steadily beating heart, each chorus a road back to the bottle.  The jaunty title song is a vibrant statement in waltz time, again one that demonstrates Janet’s assured command over her material, much the same as with the radio friendly “I’m Wrong”, a possible single perhaps?  Concluding with the thoughtful questioning of “Wrecked”, which leaves us perhaps wanting more of the same.

Luke Concannon – Ecstatic Bird in the Burning | Album Review | The Movement | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

The main focus here is on the former Nizlopi front man’s confident voice, which comes over with some determination on each of the ten songs.  There’s an immediate desire to join in on the call and response of the opening number “Absolument”, which seems to invite your involvement.  It’s guaranteed to nudge your groove and get your shoulders moving, even if your on the top deck of the number 32.  Ed Sheeran is a fan we’re told midway through “Doing Nothing”, which actually shows in the megastar’s subsequent output.  Concannon had his own moment in the spotlight with the Marmite release “JCB Song”, a good fifteen years ago now, in which we of a certain age were reminded of Bruce Lee movies and the A Team from our youth.  Ecstatic Bird in the Burning is Concannon’s second solo album, following his debut eight years ago Give It All (2013).  Written on Anais Mitchell’s farm, the songs are both honest and personal, with some tender moments such as “Feel You in My Arms”, which features some spine tingling harmonies courtesy of Stephanie Hollenberg and Hannah Meloy.  There’s also a moment of stripped down splendour, with an a cappella “Denial”, a possible throwback to his Irish roots.  Closing with a brief political blow out, completely removed from the rest of the album’s tender love letter, Concannon goes all Billy Bragg on us, providing his future gigs with something the audience will delight in joining in with.

David Myles – Leave Tonight | Album Review | Little Tiny Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 01.03.21

When it comes to producing singer songwriters, Canada seems to be extremely fertile. Indeed, when I conjure up an image of the country in my mind, it’s not long before the pretty scene is peopled with the likes of Joni, Neil, Gordon, Leonard, Alanis, Kate, Anna, k.d., Ron and Robbie. I’ve never been north of New York, but I imagine lots of guitars, plenty of lyric sheets and countless impromptu jams in twinkly little rooms.  That’s probably why I knew I would come to love David Myles when I first popped one of his CDs in the player. Last year, the New Brunswick-based artist released Leave Tonight, his fourteenth album since his 2005 debut, and it’s another wonderfully chilled and beautifully produced collection.  Stand back from this fine album and you’re likely to see a country landscape, but Myles’s songs are so very nuanced and defy any attempts to pigeon-hole. “For the First Time”, for example, which includes vocals from Toronto singer Lydia Persaud, sits somewhere between jazz and folk, whilst “Kind of Like It” is a chugging and funky nod to the music of JJ Cale and Larry Jon Wilson. “Loving You Is Easy” is a stunning acoustic piece which could sit just as comfortably on a Ron Sexsmith album, and the stunning “Home” is surely one of the best sounds that 2020 made.  However, the shining stars of this notably tranquil record are the songs that are firmly rooted in honky tonk; “Can’t Look Away” glistens like a sun-kissed Arizona landscape whilst “Consider This Goodbye” begs a final slow dance as the bar tender shuts the place down. In true eclectic style, Myles then closes the record with a tone poem; “Weight” is a deliciously haunting hymn, backed by a distant drone, that leaves the listener floating halfway between Canada and the clouds.

Eamon O’Leary – The Silver Sun | Album Review | Reveal | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

Originally from Dublin, this New York-based singer songwriter appears to create a similar beguiling vibe to that of his contemporaries Sam Amadon and Bonnie Prince Billy, with an almost uniformly relaxed, almost whispered vocal and gently picked guitar throughout.  Once the pump organ intro to the opening song “The Living Stream” begins, played by co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis, it takes little time to dissolve into an almost ethereal feather light feel, especially on “Bernadette”, a song from which the album draws its title, which as O’Leary states, could quite easily have been ‘Signal Fires’, although, there’s also a case for ‘A Tremble in the Night’, which could have likewise been a contender.  Lyrically, it doesn’t stop there, with a wealth of key lines peppered throughout the nine songs, each enhanced further by Elsie Leavy’s empathetic, almost ghost-like complimentary voice.  Recorded in Brooklyn, The Silver Sun is a Sunday morning record, served best by an open window, with the flickering sun filtering through the trees.

Mari Joyce – Dear Moon | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

Dear Moon is a rather fine debut from the Norwich-based singer songwriter Mari Joyce, whose ethereal voice and restrained delivery make for rewarding results.  Written in a wooden hut by the river Yare in Norfolk, the eleven songs are rich in both texture and atmosphere, each one treated to uncluttered accompaniment, courtesy of Alex Hobbs on cello, Alex Patterson on violin, Iestyn Griffith on percussion with singer Johanna Herron providing an essential additional vocal, which seems to melt in with Mari’s.  Enclosed in a sleeve designed by Alex Patterson’s fellow conspirator Christina Alden, who also designed Alden, Patterson and Dashwood’s three albums, Dear Moon features songs that are upon first hearing, fine examples of how to write, arrange and deliver songs that simply entrance, certainly “Blue Moon Brother”, “Home” and the title song, but the rest too.  No difficulty in recommending.

Araluen – And There It Is | Album Review | Kaloo Kalay | Review by Marc Higgins | 01.03.21

From the first moments of “Into The Arms Of Another” Araluen present an intoxicating mix of Soul and Americana.  Henry Senior’s pedal steel, Thomas Collison’s retro keyboards and Angela Gannon’s from The Magic Numbers’ rich vocals deliver languid melancholia, a touch of The Delines or a big band 60s Cowboy Junkies through fine tracks like “Killing Time” and “The Girl Will Do”.  The whole album drips with regret and the slow tempo of melancholic Country glass half empty songs of regret.  The knowing, world weary “An Nice Idea At The Time” is lifted by Gannon’s fine vocal and some crunchy guitar from Paul Lush. “Things I Wanted To Say To You” and “What Made You Change Your Mind” just smoulder, imagine 80s Texas if they’d gone gritty Country instead of international polished pop.  Again there are killer guitar licks from Lush who permits himself some restrained lead flourishes.  “Oh Yeah” bucks the mood with some gloriously dirty guitar funk that nods to the raw Texas origins of ZZ Top, you can hear the jam band nods between Lush, Collinson and drummer Steve Brooks as they get a kind of George Frame, Traffic vibe going on.  OH YEAH indeed.  The album, And There It Is, is beautifully sequenced with a mood building through the set of songs and the heat steadily rising, so like the instrumental “Only For Tonight” burns, all big guitar chords and huge vocals.  The title track uses space with a hypnotic sparse drum beat and sweeping pedal steel to create atmosphere around Angela’s tightly charged vocal.  That same languid, dragged time permeates through “The Only Hearts Alive Tonight” you can feel that Muscle Shoals damp heat coming off the speakers on another late night road house slow dance.  “It Was Real To Me” features the album’s most incendiary guitar as Paul lets it fly. Guitarist and songwriter Luck describes Araluen, his collaborative band of Danny and The Champions Of The World, Muttonbirds, Treetop Flyers and Magic Numbers members as a vehicle for his songs and having a fluid lineup.  To this listeners ears, this line up sounds tight and right on the money with real legs and potential for more albums together.

John Renbourn Group – A Maid in Bremen | Album Review | MiG Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

It’s always a delight to discover newly unearthed recordings from practically anything involving any of the five prongs that make up the Pentangle family, whether that’s rare Bert Jansch concerts, the odd Danny Thompson collaboration, anything associated with John Renbourn’s guitar playing and chiefly, anything featuring the highly distinctive voice of Jacqui McShee, perhaps the main feature of this new release.  Recorded on St Valentine’s Day in 1978, the John Renbourn Group were sounding very much the successor of the Pentangle, albeit with a move towards eastern influences, especially in the songs that focus on her voice.  The recording, lifted from a radio broadcast of a live performance in Roemer, Bremen, does include one or two scrappy performances, notably “To Glastonbury”, which sounds either under rehearsed or far too ambitious, and indeed the band’s crack at the blues, with both “Turn Your Money Green” and “Kokomo Blues”, sounding a little weak and failing really to ignite, even with the relentless flute warbling and the clearly out of place tabla.  The tabla is very much more suited to the experimental side of Renbourn’s playing, notably the sprawling instrumental “Sidi Brahim”, which has its moments.  Where the set really excels though, is in the traditional fare, such as “I Am a Maid That’s Deep in Love”, “The Maid on the Shore” and especially “Cruel Sister”, for which Jacqui invites the audience to join in each refrain, which fortunately they don’t, or if they do, it’s thankfully inaudible.  Concluding with one of the most beautiful melodies in all of folk music, if not music in general, “Will of Winsbury” sees Jacqui at her best, backed by some delicate guitar playing and this time, a slightly more restrained flute.

Peter James Millson – Selected Works | Album Review | Reveal | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

Essentially a ‘best of’ collection that effectively covers the story so far as the title succinctly suggests.  Selected from three of the Bridport-based singer songwriter’s previous albums, though curiously nothing from his debut Sweet the Love That Meets Return, the songs serve as a suitable primer for those not yet familiar his work or indeed those earlier records, five from The Red Café (2016), a couple from Mobile (2017) and three from his most recent album Low-Key (2019).  Lyrically sound, the songs are both suitably crafted and accomplished, each of which gives us a sense of the scope of Millson’s achievements thus far.  Two new songs are also included in the collection, the optimistic feelgood folk pop of “In The Real World” and the utterly gorgeous “Here”, ‘If you took away the seasons and gave me only winter, there would still be summer in my heart’, a moment of reflection, where time appears to stand still.  Selected Works, if nothing else, prepares us for what’s in store, a songwriter with more to say I have no doubt.

Junior Sisk – Load the Wagon | Album Review | Mountain Fever Music Group | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 01.03.21

Junior Sisk is one of those artists who is so steeped in the traditional music of his native Virginia that bluegrass appears to issue from him like water from a Blue Ridge mountain spring.  After setting out his stall as a songwriter in the early Nineties, Sisk went on to define the modern bluegrass sound in such outfits as BlueRidge, Lost and Found and Ramblers Choice.  More recently, Sisk has released two superb records under his own name, the first being 2018’s Brand New Shade of Blue, which benefitted from contributions by Del McCoury, Marty Raybon and Tim Massey, and the second Load the Wagon, which features fiddler Doug Bartlett, mandolin wizard Jonathan Dillon and banjo man Tony Mabe. However, it’s Heather Berry Mabe’s vocals that make this album sizzle.  Take “Hooked on Bluegrass” and “Lily Dale”, for two examples, which rattle along in foot-tapping locomotion whilst demonstrating the magic of Sisk and Mabe’s harmonies.  There’s also a brilliantly satirical song entitled “Best Female Actress” as well as exquisite moments such as “I’m Going There” and “He Died a Rounder at 21”, in which the band takes a break so Sisk can show us exactly where the coals fire the engine.  The album closes with a chugging rendition of the old Sonny Osborne song “Mend This Heart of Mine” which clips along at such a rate that you’ll find yourself gasping for breath.

Adjiri Odametey – Ekonklo | Album Review | Africmelo | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.21

The soothing and often meditative sound of Adjiri Odametey’s voice alone renders this album irresistible, together with the multi-instrumentalist’s musical arrangements of seemingly simple, yet compelling songs.  Born and raised in Accra, Ghana and having ties with such groups as the Pan African Orchestra and the Ghana Dance Ballet, this musician brings a taste of his Ghanaian roots to the fore, with a crisp and clean guitar sound, which compliments his velvet vocal delivery on such songs as “Akootse”, “Kaafu” and “Oyaa”.  By way of embellishing these arrangements further, Adjiri further employs the use of the more traditional African instruments, including the Mbira, the Kalimba and the Kora, each of which has the effect of sprinkling rich textures over the songs throughout, giving Ekonklo an ever deepening warmth.  The rhythmic patterns that permeate “Religion” appear to enhance the song’s message, while at the same time conveying a powerful trance-like quality that is both dreamlike and enchanting, the longest track on the album but oddly enough, appearing like the shortest.  Emmanuel Okai plays bass guitar and Kwesi Asare provides drums, while Nii Odai Mensah adds percussion.  On a couple of tracks, Sosu Kante steps in with some Balaphone and Ngoni touches.  Lovely.

Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne – Rakes and Misfits | Album Review | Grimdon Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.03.21

Rakes & Misfits comes four years after Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne’s debut solo album Outway Songster and finds the young singer once again accompanied by a growing collection of concertinas and melodeons, but not necessarily all at the same time.  As one third of the folk trio Granny’s Attic, Cohen has further developed his appreciation of English traditional folk song and folk tunes, who includes several such songs here, notably “The Jolly Highwayman” and “Strawberry Lane”, a derivative of the “Elfin Knight” ballad.  The entire album has been recorded live from the floor as it were, with no overdubs, giving it an overall live feel throughout.  It really does sound as if he’s in the room there with you.  One of Cohen’s new adventures is in his own developing song writing credentials, evident in such songs as “Tom King” and “Countryman in Birmingham”, both of which are delivered in a style that fits in perfectly with the rest of the material on the album, an album of songs that look at some of the characters who don’t necessarily toe the line or conform to the norms of their day.

Hoth Brothers Band – Tell Me How You Feel | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | 15.03.21

The cover mixes Dorathea Lange styled dust bowl photography and huge cinemascope credits lettering.  Hoth Brothers play a languid effortless Americana, like a bruised Gillian Welch track, with the three vocalists giving a warmth, integrity and grit to the music.  The trio with three musicians, three voices and Erdington and McCutcheon’s blend of cinematic and folk writing offers up a wealth of material.  “Judith” the opening track is alive with the front porch Appalachian feel of The Carter Family.  “Tell Me What You’re Thinking” mixes questions with some sharp current comment that deliver barbs within the warmth of the call and response song.  “Cliff Fendler” is a beautiful native US flower, not a County session pedal steel player.  The song is one of those wonderful slow songs The Hoth Brothers do well and a really fine tune.  “Slickhorn” has a little studio presence on Boris McCutcheon and Bard Eddington’s vocals, with the duetting voices having a touch of Springsteen in Tom Joad or Nebraska mode.  This song for the San Juan River and kicking back has real atmosphere and presence.  Two vocals and Greg Williams drums are the build, with the addition of Sarah Ferrell’s voice is the beautiful reveal.  “The Passage” is another song steeped in Gothic atmosphere and space, like the best of The Willard Grant Conspiracy it crackles with electricity.  WGC and a slow Bob Dylan flow through the wonderful “Poor Man’s Light” with sharp lyrics and some strong duet vocals from the band.  “Volendam” is a gentle blues dance with that languid lope that the trio do so well. “Cherry Pits” with a very real false start, some splendid slide notes from Bard’s guitar and Boris’ vocal is a deeper Delta Blues.  “Trouble and Desire” is a perfect Country song with a huge vocals and sweet guitar and mandolin picking.  The arrangement and interplay between the trio is smooth and effortless perfection, almost telepathic.  “Pappy’s Last Drive” is a joyful romp about the passing over of beloved dog, the playing and some Emmylou like harmonies build beauty into the telling.  “Boogieman Mesa” is a rich short story or pen picture from the New Mexico Town whose life flavoured and titled Boris’ fine 2020 album.  “One Hard Rain” has a tension between the beautiful acappella voices and the almost biblical cautionary tale of the last twelve months.  I bet this is a real “hairs on the back of the neck” moment live. Sarah delivers a superb lead vocal on “Wilding Of Robby” dripping with atmosphere against string bass, guitar and Mandolin.  The track builds Bard’s Gallows Pole banjo riff with a great trio vocal part.  Final song is written by Lewie Wickham.  Hoth reckon Wickham’s song writing captures the spirit of New Mexico like no else can.  The fact that the words, with Bard’s delivery sit perfectly on the album, suggests a shared vision and that the trio are being a little modest.  Songs like “Sam Hill”, “One Hard Rain” and “Poor Man’s Light” place current trials and troubles in a wider folk continuum, giving the album a timeless feel.  The Hoth Brothers trio create an eternal appealing music, their almost telepathic empathy and timing as players, along with tenderness and a little of a rough ragged edge to make it real is just a delight.

Adam Beattie – Somewhere Round the Bend | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.03.21

Known for his recent work with PicaPica, the Scots singer songwriter takes centre stage with his new album Somewhere Round the Bend, as both producer and multi-instrumentalist, while taking care of most of the parts himself with the help of a select few.  When PicaPica released their debut album on Rough Trade Records, all eyes and ears appeared to be on the two lead singers Josienne Clarke and Samantha Whates, but what of the seated figure to the side?  A dark horse among us.  Discovering Adam Beattie’s music has been a revelation, an artist clearly in command of his own art, which he approaches with a gentle cracked vocal and a clear understanding of melody and song structure.  Taking his early jazz, blues, country and traditional folk influences as a starting point, Adam gives his stories an almost cinematic treatment, in some cases reminiscent of Sergio Leone or Wim Wenders movies, the landscapes becoming more vivid upon each listen.  “Stripped to the Bone” for instance, which uses as a backdrop to the refugee crisis, the Temple of Zeus, a powerful and dominating visual force.  There again, Adam can take a simple almost burlesque musical theme for the short burst of “Grottammare” as a prelude for the tender “Sickle Red Moon”, for which Adam borrows his Chet Baker influence to good effect.  Delving further into the songs on this album requires a spoiler alert, just like the movies.  Perhaps it would be better to just check this one out and enjoy the journey. 

Magpie Arc – EP3 | Collective Perspective | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.03.21

The third in a series of three EPs that serve as an introduction to The Magpie Arc, a five-piece Sheffield/Edinburgh band made up of Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson, Adam Holmes, Tom A Wright and Alex Hunter.  Once again an EP that comes with its surprises, notably a fine reworking of Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta”, with Adam taking the lead, accompanied by Nancy’s Cajun-style fiddle and Martin’s searing electric guitar.  It’s Folk Rock with a refreshing new angle, revealing to us once again a band that really needs to be seen live at our (and their) earliest convenience.  The most refreshing thing about The Magpie Arc is that it sets out as a new band and not as a project, something that has become a little bit twee now, much in the same way as the ‘concept album’ became the nail in the coffin for the Prog era.  Back to basics, back to proper ‘worked in’ music and back to developing a style without all the pretense of a funded ‘project’.  The four-track EP also features a new Nancy Kerr song “Greenswell”, reminiscent in style of Fairport’s Liege and Lief era, notably “The Deserter”, together with a new reading of Dick Gaughan’s “What You Do With What You’ve Got”, with Martin reminding us once again of his late father-in-law Roy Bailey’s fine repertoire.

Ninebarrow – A Pocket Full of Acorns | Album Review | Winding Track | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.03.21

I really shouldn’t be surprised at the quality of this album, having heard all the duo’s back catalogue and having caught one or two of their festival sets over the last few years, but in a strange way I am.  This is a superb record, which is a demonstration of two musicians at their very best.  The fourth album by Dorset’s Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, otherwise known as Ninebarrow, is released in exceptional times, yet the quality of the arrangements and the delivery is exceptional.  “Under the Fence”, a derivative of the traditional “Cold Haily Windy Night” is both dramatic and atmospheric as it draws our attention to not only the duo’s dove-tailed voices and instrumental prowess, but also to their hand picked collaborators, Evan Carson on percussion, Lee Mackenzie on cello and John Parker on double bass.  If “Come January” had been released in 1970, it would probably have been considered for Simon and Garfunkel’s final studio album, to sit comfortably alongside Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “The Boxer”, if that’s not being over complimentary.  Jon and Jay have a similar vocal communication, which is never taken for granted.  The assurance of the voices on the opening song is followed by a more fragile vocal that introduces “Nestledown”, which is both affecting and tender, evoking the fragility of the Dartford Warbler, which the song is a tribute to.  The well known “John Barleycorn” is treated to a fine unaccompanied intro, which with the assistance of Jon’s reed organ, maintains a hymnal quality throughout.  To top it all, Jon and Jay include a restrained shanty towards the end, “Farewell Shanty”, which will no doubt please those relishing in the sudden enthusiasm for such things, followed by “Sailor’s All”, which brings this remarkable album to a fine conclusion.  

SomeRiseSomeFall – No Simple Highway | Album Review | Fitzz | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.03.21

Led by project director Michael Fitzgerald, the SomeRiseSomeFall project sets out to assist organisations to help those facing mental health and other challenges.  What better way than to involve music and songs of a sensitive nature, to find, rework and re-imagine some of the finest songs around, with the help of an impressive collective of young Irish musicians.  No Simple Highway features some surprising results, as these singers breath new life into songs that might otherwise have escaped our notice, Anna Mitchell’s beautiful reading of both Country Joe McDonald’s mid-60s “Thought Dream” and Roy Wood’s mid-70s “The Rain Came Down On Everything” for example, assured performances both.  John Blek chooses a more faithful route for Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run the Game”, which sounds like it could’ve been performed at an all-nighter at Les Cousins in 1965.  Other songs given the SomeRiseSomeFall treatment include Joanna Newsom’s “Swansea” interpreted by Kevin Herron, albeit via a Bombay Bicycle Club arrangement,  The Milk Carton Kids’ sublime “Years Gone By”, delivered by Dylan Howe and a fine interpretation of the old Grateful Dead number “Stella Blue” by Marlene Enright, as you imagine her perform in a smoky Belgian bar, leaning against an upright piano, illuminated by a single light from above.  These songs are guaranteed to take you somewhere else, and probably somewhere special.

Daphne’s Flight – On Arrival | Album Review | Fat Cat | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.03.21

It was at the 1995 Cambridge Folk Festival when Daphne first took flight, with five extraordinary women joining forces to pool their equally extraordinary voices and their songwriting chops, all of which would be captured shortly afterwards on their self-titled debut album.  Those five women, Chris While, Julie Matthews, Melanie Harrold, Christine Collister and Helen Watson would spend the subsequent twenty-odd years working on their own solo, duo and band careers, coming together once again in 2017 for their follow up album Knows Time, Knows Change and a mandatory live album the year after.  Now we see the arrival of a third studio album, which features ten original songs from the pens of these five women.  There’s the highly inventive “Turn the Microphones Off”, a scream in the dark for these times, with the ever perceptive Helen Watson delivering a message that really should be heeded.  Christine Collister flexes her muscular soul-drenched vocal cords all over her own smouldering “You Got Me Going”, which evokes a mixture of Sister Rosetta and Aretha all rolled into one.  Julie Matthews, no stranger to a good melody and fine poetry, brings us “Be Amelia”, which tips a hat in gratitude to those extraordinary women from our past, while long time musical partner Chris While brings Charlie Dore into the frame, for the co-written “Saturday With Mr Rameer”, which includes one of those spine-tingling melodies that stays with us.  Melanie Harrold draws the sisterhood together in “This Woman Today”, an anthem that could be taken to church, where rafters would be raised with ease.  All the right ingredients are here, songs with a point to them, injected with humour and soul and delivered in voices that mean business.  With the fearless Dave Bowie Jr adding double bass to an otherwise exclusively female pool of talent, On Arrival has certainly arrived, and not a moment too soon.

Katie Spencer – Hurt in Your Heart | EP Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.03.21

Over the past few years, Katie Spencer has found that healthy collaboration with others has been the key to her meteoric advancement as a singer and musician in her own right, the singer songwriter having been seen working with both Danny Thompson and the late Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Rory Gallagher drummer Ted McKenna, while taking those influences seriously.  For her new EP, Katie pays tribute to the late John Martyn with three mid-period songs and this time with the help of two of the musicians who have worked with Martyn during his long and successful career, Alan Thomson on fretless bass and Spencer Cozens on piano and synth.  The Hurt in Your Heart EP captures the spirit of John Martyn, not so much the late Sixties folk singer, or the playful joker, nor indeed the hard drinking tough guy, but the essence of the soulful performer he could often be.   With a couple of songs from Martyn’s late Seventies One World period, “Couldn’t Love You More” and “Small Hours”, together with the title song from his slightly later Grace and Danger album, Katie captures the feel of Martyn’s most sublime work perfectly.

John Baumann – Country Shade | Album Review | The Next Waltz | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 15.03.21

Whether arriving at the music of John Baumann via his band The Panhandlers or as an acclaimed solo artist, what you’re sure to find is a gifted Texan songwriter who manages to find poetic turns of phrase in the dust and grit of everyday life.  Baumann’s latest album Country Shade, his third solo LP since his 2014 debut, will please a wide demographic of listeners from New Country fans to dyed in the wool Rockabillies.  “Flight Anxiety”, for example, is rock n roll whilst the more tender “Daylights Burning” and “If You Really Love Someone” are sprawling country love songs, each containing gorgeous melodies and harmonies.  Whilst the highlight of the album for this reviewer is the wonderfully infectious “Homesick for the Heartland”, with its tight rhythm and weeping lap steel guitar, it would be remiss of me to overlook the album’s closing track.  “Grandfather’s Grandson” is one of those timeless, heartfelt songs that could only come out of the Lonestar State, and one that places Baumann beside the likes of Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell in that long line of true greats.

Harbottle and Jonas – The Beacon | Album Review | Brook View Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

The fifth album release by the Devon based duo Harbottle and Jonas seems to have been a long time coming, with a steady drip feed of single releases leading up to its release.  The anticipation has been almost breath-taking.  It’s not only the four single releases that have made this album so eagerly awaited, it’s also the duo’s four previous albums, all of which have contributed to a steadily built body of work, the results of which have been mightily impressive so far.  Dave Harbottle and Freya Jonas know what they’re doing musically and The Beacon is testament to that, even after just one run through, it’s immediately evident.  Joined by Annie Baylis, whose presence is certainly felt, with some fine violin, viola and vocal contributions, the arrangements seem even more complete than before, though to be honest there’s no song more complete than the brilliant “Hall Sands” from the duo’s last album.  The heart of this latest album is the titular beacon, the song inspired by the Ugorough Beacon, an important local landmark close to where the musicians live.  The suggestion of nature is pronounced here, notably in the wing of a butterfly on “Every Creature is a Book” to the swallows and berries on “I Make a Nest”, together with the red breasted creature commanding our attention on “Whenever You See a Robin”, a delightful song that recalls the anecdotal stories of the late Simon Cauty, a father with a tale to tell.  Freya takes a moment to express her inner conflict of the simple everyday act of swimming in a cold river, baring her soul temporarily during “Anam Cara”, both in its poetry and in the following tunes written by Annie.  Real life people are represented with tender reflection, not only the late Simon Cauty but also Freya’s own grandfather in her song “F.C. Jonas”, a beautiful tribute to a much loved family member.  There’s obviously a lot of thought gone into the making of The Beacon, which not only offers hope to these three musicians, but to all of us I should imagine.

Tommy Coyle – Incomplete Control | Album Review | Fat Cat | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Thirteen original melodic songs make up this second offering from Yorkshire-born singer/songwriter Tommy Coyle, though a couple of songs included here may very well have made the journey from the first album Voodoo Sessions, notably “Ahmed”, which continues to resonate, especially in these much more socially aware times.  A well-travelled musician, Tommy has found his way back to his old stomping ground, having tasted the air in several locations from London to the other side of the world, where he’s spent a good deal of time reflecting on some of the big issues, such as addiction, depression and death as well as parenthood, each treated here with equal empathy.  The full band sound he employs on such songs as “Monday Morning”, “Self Development Blues” and “No” points directly towards Tommy’s indie rock roots, the latter which features the voices of label mates Chris While and Julie Matthews, while “Before You Give Yourself a Heart Attack” reveals a much more rootsy sensibility, a track that features the noted Kentucky banjo player Steve Cooley, who helps sign the album off with a fine touch of Bluegrass.

DeFrance – Second Wind | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Fans of the famous Hypgnosis art department will probably recognise something familiar about the cover of DeFrance’s second album release, Second Wind, which bears a resemblance to Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, in that both album sleeves depict a farmyard animal enjoying the contrasting blue skies and green meadows of a bright clear day.  Admittedly the lamb appears to be enjoying itself considerably more than the Friesian, it has to be said.  This is where the similarity ends though, unless we are willing to find a correlation between such song titles as “Funky Dung” and “Fat Old Sun” with “Runaway Heart” and “Fireball”, though each of the latter slightly easier to comprehend.  Instead of early Seventies weirdness though, the Arkansas four-piece deliver a much healthier dose of bluesy rock in a succession of songs with hardly a moment of breathing space between the tracks.  This is an album to enjoy from start to finish, with no ballads to break the inertia, therefore an album to keep the party going.  With both Drew DeFrance and Andrew Pope looking after the guitars and Connor Roach and Daniel Stratton Curry taking care of bass and drums respectively, the classic rock band line-up demonstrates a hint of Tom Petty here, a bit of The Byrds there, some classic era Stones thrown in, especially the band’s use of horns, together with a healthy dose of the ever-vibrant Southern Rock we expect from a southern rock band and with not one psychedelic breakfast to be seen.

Steve Jinski – Hope Street | EP Review | Lucky Smile | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Hope Street is probably the only thoroughfare we should contemplate, especially in times like these.  There is optimism in its title, for which the singer/songwriter Steve Jinski offers hopefulness in five new original songs, each of which has been written in the midst of chaos, yet each imbued with a beam of light at the end of the tunnel, something to hold on to so to speak.  “Something Good Will Happen” spells out this message, a message that would in a perfect world be conveyed by our media, instead of the wall to wall doom we’re fed each waking hour.  The eastern flavoured “The Earth and the Clear Blue Sky” is probably the stand out song here, its infectious pulsating rhythms once again pointing us in the direction of good things.  If the sparse piano-led “Building the House”, takes a reflective tone midway through, it prepares us for the uplifting gospel sound of “To the Saint of Lost Causes”, which employs the assistance of an empathetic choir, reminiscent of something like Van Morrison’s “The Eternal Kansas City” for instance, providing us with something to lift the spirits, which most of us need after all.

Paul Hutchinson – Petrichor | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

We might not immediately recognise the word ‘petrichor’, yet we’re all only too familiar with what the term stands for, that is the scent produced when rain falls upon dry soil.  The word also forms the title of the latest album by accordion wizard Paul Hutchinson (Belshazzar’s Feast), as does the delicate opening tune, a piece in 5/4 time, written at the start of lockdown.  Lockdown is another new word, which all of us now sadly recognise all too well.  For the eleven pieces, Paul invites an array of musicians from around the world to help out, musicians from Sweden, Belgium, Australia and the US as well as one or two from the UK.  It’s difficult to avoid getting completely lost in such pieces as “The Oregon Trail”, with its sweeping clarinet flurries, courtesy of Karen Wimhurst, and the almost sombre “Promised Land”, which was inspired by the sight of armed guards and barbed wire fences at the port of Calais, a reminder of the inhumane migration restrictions so close to home, a theme echoed in the closing piece, “Minicab Road”, cleverly named for the Brexit Secretary in anagram form.  On a lighter note, the fleeting pleasantries of springtime are captured in the utterly sweet “Cuckoo’s Lamb”.  A lovely album.

David Leask – Voyageur in Song | EP Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

The central focus of this mini-album by Scots singer/songwriter David Leask, is his relationship with the unique guitar he uses throughout, the so-called Six String Nation guitar, which has been given the nickname Voyageur.  Crafted from a variety of fragments from historical items, including a bit of Wayne Grezky’s hockey sticks, a chip off John Ware’s cabin and another off Nova Scotia’s Pier 21, not to mention a piece from Nancy Greene’s Olympic ski, the guitar is rather up there as far as home-made axes go.  Very much a symbol of Canada itself, the guitar brings to the album a sense of time and place, which in effect makes us pay more attention to the six songs, each of which take us on a journey through the fragments of wood that form the very fabric of this special musical instrument.  The opener, “Against the Grain”, makes the first reference to the instrument within its lyric, a song that centres around the Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii, which is used for the top of the instrument.  The handle of the shucking knife mentioned in “The Legend of Joe Labobe” forms another part of the guitar, a song which tells the story of the Mi’kmaq fisherman, an ordinary man, who takes his chances.   The manner in which David interweaves each song through its component parts keeps our attention throughout and adds to the lyricism in the suite of songs, notably the story of the liberty-seeking Christian pacifists who flee Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, which is beautifully linked to a simple piece of wood from a Saskatchewan grain elevator.  This is by no means the Voyageur’s first outing, its creator Jowi Taylor pointing out that countless musicians have already used the instrument for many a performance, but these particular songs seem to provide a purposeful voice for its many cultural fragments.  It’s a good idea and it’s been realised with noble intentions.

Michael Feuerstack – Harmonize the Moon | Album Review | Forward Music Group | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

The fifth album release under his own name, having previously recorded under the pseudonym of Snailhouse for several others, finds the Montreal-based indie rock singer/songwriter in a mellow mood once again.  Feuerstack claims this album to be the product of some ‘beautiful alone time’, the lockdown offering a period of reflection, for which he visits some of the material originally planned for future projects.  Our attention is immediately drawn to the delicious sleeve design, courtesy of Paul Henderson, whose artwork echoes the heyday of album art, when the actual sleeve aesthetic was just as important, and in some cases, even more important (to some) than the music itself.  This suggests care and attention to detail, something that resonates in the songs we find within.  It doesn’t surprise me that Feuerstack is extremely proud of this record, the songs have a personal quality, almost as if they’re being performed just for you.  With almost random snippets of studio noise between the tracks, Harmonize the Moon includes some instantly memorable songs such as “Time to Burn” and “I Used to be a Singer”.

Jake Ian – Everything Has Holes | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

There’s something evidently neglected in the cover shot of Jake Ian’s new release “Everything Has Holes”, a dilapidated truck stop amidst the overgrown weeds, making it difficult to reach the clearly out of use and tilted public telephone box.  Perhaps a sign of our times, the now deserted outer limits of a once thriving nearby town, a dusty landscape that provides a suitable backdrop for this Edmonton singer/songwriter to tackle in ten new songs.  Stripped down to the basics, there’s a lonesome feel to the material, each song delivered in an almost cracked and submissive voice, notably the last line of the title song, in which Ian confesses that all his faith is gone.  With a furrowed brow, Ian purrs out his lyrics to a gently strummed, sometimes finger-picked guitar accompaniment, with occasional harmonica blows, essentially the almost whispered thoughts pondered upon during these difficult times.  Does everything have holes and if so, could they be similar to Leonard Cohen’s famous cracks, somewhere for the light to get in?  

David Olney and Anana Kaye – Whispers and Sighs | Album Review | Schoolkids Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Unfortunately, this is to be David Olney’s final album, a collaboration between the noted Rhode Island-born singer/songwriter and Anana Kaye, the chosen band name for Georgia natives Anana Kaye and Iraki Gabriel; Georgia the country that is, not the southern American State.  Produced by Brett Ryan Stewart of Wirebird Productions, Whispers and Sighs, sees Olney on tremendous form, especially on “Lie To Me Angel”, with its closing Billy Graham-like evangelical coda, fire and brimstone and all that.  In places, Kaye’s sultry vocal is possibly more sultry than necessary in daylight hours, notably “Thank You Note”, with its accompanying gypsy violin, courtesy of Derek Pell.  The tender moments are all the more tender in view of Olney’s passing in January 2020, especially “My Favourite Goodbye” and “Behind Your Smile”, both of which remind us of his extraordinary sensitivity.  

Son of the Velvet Rat – Solitary Company | Album Review | Fluff and Gravy | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Joshua Tree’s Son of the Velvet Rat, the duo consisting of Austrian husband and wife team, Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder, return with ten songs, each of which are treated to a full-bodied, full-blooded and full band sound.  Dominated by Altiebler’s gravel voice, which is at times so mannered as to become almost a caricature of itself, notably on the title song, where the affectation becomes a little unsteady, reminiscent of the sort of inflection Donovan adopted for “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, the delivery occasionally suffers from being a little too forced to take seriously.  “Stardust” though, is given an almost cinematic Ennio Morricone treatment, so convincing that we almost expect Lee Van Cleef to peer around a cactus at any given moment.  For “When the Lights Go Down”, the almost theatrical ever changing vocal inflection turns to a depth that Leonard Cohen would’ve been proud of, almost spoken as many of Lenny’s later recordings were.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be making facile comparisons, but one can’t help but notice a similarity in chord structure between “The Only Child” and the well-trodden “Hey Joe”, which is difficult not to hear once the Hendrix worm enters the ear.  I’m not overly convinced really.

3hattrio – Lost Sessions | Album Review | Okehdokee | Lucky Smile | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

With a title that could easily have been something along the lines of The Lost But Miraculously Retrieved Sessions, the Utah Desert band 3hattrio deliver some of their most experimental work to date, with ten selections that explore the outer reaches of Americana.  Having almost lost the audio files when a piano fell on the hard drive, causing what was thought to be irretrievable damage, by some quirk of fate (and a little TLC), the files were restored to their former glory and Lost Sessions began its little journey as a miracle child.  In places, the songs venture into minimalist trance-like territory, such as “No In-Between” and “Disquieting”, with only the very occasional drift back into what might be considered standard song form, “In Or Out” and “Miss Tilly”  for instance.  Much of the album is sparse and daringly explorational, but this is its strength, especially some of its more eerily dreamlike moments. 

Brigitte DeMeyer – Seeker | Album Review | BDM Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Dividing herself between her native Califiornia and her adopted home of Nashville, singer/songwriter Brigitte DeMeyer takes a virtual detour South to flex her vocal cords with a delicious album of sultry blues and barroom ballads.  Seeker features lots of rattling bottleneck guitars, some gospel-tinged piano and one or two bluesy and steamy organ runs, together with an informed understanding of where good songs should go.  “Louisiana” is a good enough place to go as any, especially with music of this flavour, much of which suggests that vocally, Brigitte might be right at the top of her game at the moment, with each line delivered with honesty and believability.  Occasionally playful, notably the thoroughly absorbing “Cat Man Do”, Brigitte appears to be enjoying every minute, especially while being assisted in no small measure by co-writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, who puts the groove right there in the grooves.  A fabulous album.        

Oka Vanga – Oka Vanga | Album Review | Crazy Bird | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Angie Meyer and Will Cox return with their third album, exploring their folk/Americana roots in seven original songs, together with a fine arrangement of a well-known traditional song (“The Cuckoo”) and a couple of delightful sets of tunes.  “Beneath the Apple Tree” is a good opener, which introduces us once again to Angie’s very distinctive voice, a voice that takes command of any song it touches.  The arrangements are full-bodied, with no unnecessary excursions or meandering, remaining focused throughout.  “Bows of Yew” and “Whiskey for Sorrow” are both a showcase in informed phrasing, each line delivered with assurance and idiosyncratic flair, with Will doing precisely what a good musician should do, that is to add spice and texture to each song without getting in the way.  Helping the duo along are such guests as Patsy Reid on violin, viola and cello and John Parker on double bass.  Perhaps Oka Vanga’s best yet.    

Various Artists – Edo Explosion Vol I | Album Review | Analog Africa | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

If there’s a better name for a band than Sir Victor Uwaifo and his Titibitis, I would like to know it.  Edo Funk Explosion Vol. 1  is a sprinkling of sunshine in an otherwise bleak time, which brings three legends of the Benin City sound together, a dozen tracks gathered together on one vibrant compilation.  Vol. 1 suggests that there might be more to come, which would be something we could all look forward to, but for now, we hear Osayomore Joseph and the Creative Seven offering up some enthusiastic Edo rhythms on the opener “Africa is My Root”, while Akaba Man, the so-called philosopher king of Edo Funk, reaches for an explosion on the dance floor, full of determined energy, with some fine under-pronounced brass lifting the rhythms midway through “Ta Gha Hunismwen”.  Democratically shared between each of the outfits, who share a third of the disc, in terms of tracks, the four that feature the aforementioned Sir Victor are as quirky as they are hypnotic, with “Aibalegbe” dying to burst into “La Bamba” at any given moment.

The Direct Hits – The Broadway Recording Sessions | Album Review | Optic Nerve Recordings | Review by Marc Higgins | 01.04.21

Mod Revival band The Direct Hits have a sound that comes straight from 60s guitar bands, a bit of The Kinks, The Who and jaunty Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd.  In 1982 the trio of Colin Swan, Geno Buckmaster and Brian Grover had a recorded and released one single “Modesty Blaise” on Dan Tracy of The TV Personalities Whaam! label.  Interestingly the label’s appropriation of 60s cache via the title of Lichtenstein’s Pop Art mid air dog fight, predates George Michael’s, leading to a payoff from the pop duos management.  The Direct Hits, keen to capitalise pooled resources to pay for one day in Broadway Sound a tiny studio in Tooting.  The small window their finances afforded might be partly responsible for the feel of this first session.  The songs themselves were well rehearsed, given the trios busy live schedule.  “Ride My Bicycle” has the rawness and vocal harmonies of early Who with that clipped through a Dansette mono sound.  “I Start Counting” and “Too Shy” have those strong harmonies and a guitar sound resonant of the 60s underground.  “Leander, By The River” is more tense and chaotic with Brian Grover’s manic drum rolls and guitar riffs Syd Barrett would have been proud of.  “Naughty Little Boy” is, part Mod revival part Psych freak out with a, strange switch in the middle.  “What Killed Aleister Crowley” has a dark atmosphere and the twisted macabre story telling of early Caravan or Floyds’ “Arnold Lane”, but shot through with the raw edge of The Jam.  “I’d Rather Stay Than Go” has a pop sweetness with Colin Swan and Geno Buckmaster’s tight harmonies. “Sweet Honey Girl”, “I Feel The Earth Move” and “Start Living” were recorded at a later session after the marathon one day session that delivered the first nine tracks and with a friend producing they have slighter fuller sound, lusher pop vocals and a little more polish.  Listen for the bigger drum sound, the hand claps on “Start Living”.  In the end, the recordings didn’t see the light of day until now, with the band releasing Blow Up, on Whaam! as their debut in 84 and history treating the 82 sessions as demos.  Some of that 60’s rawness and crackle was gone replaced by a touch of Squeeze or The Jam pop sheen and New Wave jangle, making these earlier recordings an interesting document of a start on The Direct Hits journey.

Buck Meek – Two Saviors | Album Review | Keeled Scales | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 01.04.21

Buck Meek is one of those artists whose songs, like well-composed paintings or photographs, manage to perfectly capture mood and atmosphere.  Even the moment of their recording is preserved in amber, with hisses and background sounds adding to the character of each vignette.  Two Saviors, the Texas-born and New York-raised songwriter’s latest album, is a veritable gallery of curious little pictures, each awash with the gentle strokes of Meek’s charming vocals.  The album was recorded over seven days in an old house in New Orleans, with no second takes to spoil the spontaneity of the piece and risk the loss of that aforementioned character.  “Candle” has a wonderful fragility, even when bolstered by electric piano, pedal steel and some exquisite harmonies.  “Pocketknife”, whilst simple and sweet, manages to pack all the majestic punch of a hymn.  The album’s title track is, however, the standout track on this wonderful follow up to Meek’s 2018 debut, boasting a melody and chord structure that would have turned even George Harrison green with envy.

Kirsty Cox – No Headlights | Album Review | Mountain Fever Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 01.04.21

I often recall that wonderful feeling of hearing Alison Krauss and Union Station for the first time in the mid-1990s.  Bluegrass had never sounded so good. Since then, hundreds of artists have experimented with their guitars, banjos and mandolins in an effort to craft countless bold and gutsy albums from one of America’s oldest and most treasured forms of music.  It’s both striking and exciting, then, to hear an Australian artist dragging bluegrass back to that enchanting place where I first found it, all those years ago.  Over the last decade, Kristy Cox has been earning herself an impressive reputation on the Australian bluegrass scene and has quickly become a familiar name worldwide.  It’s easy to see why, especially when you recall songs such as “Just Me Leaving” on 2018’s Ricochet and the gorgeous “You Walked In” on 2016’s Part of MeNo Headlights presents more of the same, which is just what most of us bluegrass fans look for in our record collections.  Songs such as “Running Circles (‘Round Your Memory)”, “Train” and “Finger Picking Good” which, incidentally, features the amazing Tommy Emmanuel, all help to make this a record worth grabbing.

The Trials of Cato – Bedlam Boys | Single Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.04.21

When The Trials of Cato first burst upon the UK folk scene two or three years ago, they hit a nerve with their own specific brand of acoustic roots music, which garnered enthusiastic comparisons to Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols, in attitude rather than style it has to be said.  Their musical clout should in no way be diminished by the arrival of mandolin ace Polly Bolton (Stillhouse, The Magpies) into their ranks, who replaces the outgoing Will Anderson.  Ahead of this current line-up’s forthcoming album due for release later in the year, comes the first single, an expressive, yet almost laid back take on the usually rampant “Bedlam Boys”, a 17th century tale that has its origins in the poem Tom o’ Bedlam, and a song that has been recorded and performed widely, notably by Steeleye Span back in 1971 for the band’s Please to See the King album, an almost medieval take on the song subliminally sampled as an introduction here, a homage perhaps to their forebears.  Polly immediately puts her stamp on things with her slick mandolin playing, which appears to infiltrate itself seamlessly into the sound that Tomos Williams and Robin Jones have successfully made over the last few years.  I can only imagine good things ahead for this superb trio. 

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner – From Poets to Wives | Album Review | Talking Elephant | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

There’s something of the proverbial elder statesman about Peter Knight, in terms of his place in music, which cannot be overstated.  It’s not just in the quality of his playing, which now comes across in more defined terms than previously, due in no small part to his highly inventive work with Gigspanner, but also, in the dignified manner in which he carries himself as a major league musician whose work stretches well beyond traditional folk music.  There’s a focus on the sheer inventiveness of Peter’s playing, in the adventurous arrangements he shares with his collaborators and in his musical leadership.  The latter end of this abysmal war we find ourselves in is probably a fitting time to release a compilation of some of the trio’s finest work to date, a fine primer then for those new to the band’s work as well as a timely reminder to those fortunate enough to have been around since the band released their debut album back in 2009.  Named for the span of time between the band’s debut Lipreading the Poet (2009) and their most recent album (as a trio) The Wife of Urban Law (2017), the compilation From Poets to Wives begins with the epic eight-minute epic version of the traditional “She Moved Through the Fair”, which is a perfect place to start, an instrumental that emphasises Gigspanner’s skilful credentials as fine arrangers, with a steady build that grows into an almost euphoric climax, as Peter’s fiddle skitters like a bird throughout, held together with the glue that is Roger Flack’s guitar and Vincent Salzfaas’ informed percussion work.  It’s almost Vaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending in its sheer virtuosity.  “Si Bheag Si Mhor” and “The Blackbird” likewise focus on the art of arrangement, with fine performances from each of the musicians involved, the latter which features percussionist Sacha Trochet, the band’s newest member at the time.  To emphasise the point that Peter Knight’s Gigspanner is not just a great studio band, but also a remarkable live band to boot, “The Butterfly” demonstrates this well as one of the trio’s notable live takes, a piece that originally featured on the band’s first live album Doors at Eight back in 2010.  Once we’ve absorbed the instrumentals, then it’s up to the songs to complete the picture, all of which are equally accessible and each featuring Peter’s unfussy, almost laid back vocal on such songs as “Bold Riley”, “Bows of London” and the well-trodden, yet in this case ingeniously revitalised “Hard Times of Old England”.  From Poets to Wives is by no means the whole story, but it covers some of the best parts of the story so far.  If it’s reasonable to assume that every good record collection requires at least one Gigspanner album, then it might as well be this one.

Honey and the Bear – Journey Through the Roke | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

Named for the East Anglian word for the mist that rises from the marshlands and meadows of Suffolk, Lucy and Jon Hart, otherwise Honey and the Bear, take a close look at their own environment with a dozen beautifully crafted songs.  Following their acclaimed debut Made in the Aker, their latest album once again showcases the duo’s command over melody and arrangement, with a strong focus on close harmony singing and informed song craft.  With inspiration drawn from the newly discovered joys of the great outdoors, one of the positive results of our current situation, the duo began to craft these songs keeping a keen eye on the county they call home, together with its rich history and its engaging stories, interweaving at the same time the natural world around them.  The stories have gravitas, especially those that address real life events, such as the 1953 floods that devastated the eastern coastline, which took the life of at least one local Suffolk resident Frank Upcraft during his attempts to help his community.  “3 Miles Out” relates to the distance from the shore of Southwold, from where Upcraft’s boat The Ivy was eventually dredged over a quarter of a century later.  “Buried in Ivy” takes a look at another pressing issue, that of preserving the environment, with a clear message to those seemingly unconcerned about future generations, the duo going one step further in dedicating a song to David Attenborough and his endeavours to get this message across over the years.  “Life on Earth” is a note of appreciation in a time of widespread ignorance.  Perhaps it’s time for the roke to be lifted from our eyes while we still have a chance.

Boo Hewerdine – Selected Works | Album Review | Reveal | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

Selected and sequenced by label owner Tom Rose, Selected Works delves deep into the more recent back catalogue of one our most respected songsmiths, arriving at a generous twenty-song compilation that includes some of Boo Hewerdine’s best loved later work.  Both metaphorically and geographically, Boo Hewerdine has made a steady journey to the top, moving from London to Cambridge and then more recently to Glasgow, where he appears to move ever more closer to the top of the world, a place that he must occasionally feel is very much now in reach, judging by the quality of his songs.  If we consider “Birds are Leaving” to be easily as good as many a Beatles song and “American TV”, to be something that wouldn’t seem out of place on, let’s say, the Summer Days (and Summer Nights) album, as it captures the heyday of the Beach Boys sound, albeit in a sort of pastiche manner, then it wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine Boo taking his material in any direction.  If we know anything about Boo at all, then it’s his penchant for collaboration and here we find one or two fine examples of joined-up working, notably with both Kris Drever and Brooks Williams on the gentle “Bluebirds” and “Why Does the Nightingale Sing” respectively.  Possibly Boo’s best known collaborator is the singer Eddi Reader, and though not present here personally, the songs Eddi sings are represented, notably “Follow My Tears” and “It’s a Beautiful Night”.  One female singer who does make an appearance here is Rosalie Deighton, who helps out on “Write”, just one of Boo’s instantly accessible and memorable songs, of which this collection contains a multitude.   

Samba Touré – Binga | Album Review | Glitterbeat | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

From the first few notes of “Tamala” we can almost pinpoint precisely where we are both musically and geographically, as the spirit of Ali Farka Touré lives on through the infectious rhythms of Samba Touré.  Having grown up in Dabi, a small village in the Tombouctou region of Mali, we instinctively know that this music is deeply rooted, evident in the conversational hand percussion and trance-like guitar motifs that dominate the songs.  It’s desert blues in its rawest form.  Samba’s connection with his former mentor Ali Farka Touré runs deeper than that of a mere follower or fan, or indeed student, Samba’s mother having been one of the first women to sing with the late musician.  Listening to Binga brings strong reminiscences of first hearing Ali Farka Touré’s music back in the 1990s, with the same sonic references ingrained in the chords, which carry optimism in the face of adversity.  In light of cancelled shows due to the current crisis, Samba manages to remain optimistic, which is demonstrated in the uplifting “Sambalama-A”, a song of positive energy, which strives to beat a positive path through all the difficulties.  The  socio-political crisis in Mali has probably strengthened the country’s leading artists and musicians resolve in order to get through many a crisis, which comes over in the quality of music from this particular region.  Songs like “Fondo” ask pertinent questions of why young people desert their families and land in search of a better life only to find the grass is seldom greener on the other side, a notion told in an almost mournful soliloquy.  The mixture of optimism and pessimism is almost tangible.  Samba is joined by Djimé Sissoko on ngoni, Souleymane Kane on calabash, Richard Shanks on harmonica and Philippe Sanmiguel on various percussion, while Djeneba Diakité provides the backing vocal on the album opener “Tamala”.  Superb.

Grainne Brady – Newcomer | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

The delicate sound of the tide’s ebb and flow, together with the distant call of a gull provides a fitting opening for Newcomer, the second album by the Co Cavan fiddle player and composer Gráinne Brady, as Jack Houston reads from Patrick MacGill’s The Rat Pit, the story of Norah Ryan, which forms the backbone for this significant project.  Following her impressive debut album of 2019, The Road Across the Hills, which is also based around the writing of MacGill, Newcomer features spoken word, cinematic instrumentals and one or two songs, each of which bring to the album a sense of narrative, a sense of place and time and a sense of the natural world around us.  Recorded in Glasgow with producer Mike Vass at the helm, Newcomer features an array of empathetic musicians, each of whom provide exemplary performances, adding touches of French horn, cello and flute in strategic places, to perfectly complement the guitar, accordion, piano, violin, viola and percussion.  If the narrative of the spoken word and the lyrical nature of the songs help tell the story, the instrumental passages serve equally as mood setters, especially on such contrasting pieces as “In the Lane” and “Abyss”.  If this album serves any purpose at all, other than providing a demonstration of fine musical collaboration, it has every possibility of taking the listener to somewhere restful, calming and hopefully warm.

Charley Crockett – 10 For Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand | Album Review | Son of Davy | Review by Liam Wilkinson

James “Slim” Hand, often referred to as “the real deal”, sadly died in 2020.  The heart of the Texan country singer and purveyor of finest Honky Tonk music beat its last in his hometown of Waco back in June, marking the end of a notable though all-too-short recording career.  Thankfully, his young protégé Charley Crockett has ensured that Hand’s legend lives on with this outstanding ten-track tribute.  Crockett is one of the several contemporary artists who are ensuring that Honky Tonk lives on in this new century.  His last few albums have owed much of their style to the likes of Earnest Tubb, Hank Williams and Webb Pierce, with each song telling tales of hard times, hard drinking and hard-hearted women.  10 for Slim sustains Crockett’s evocative style to breathe new life into the songs of James Hand, including the dust-kicking “In the Corner”, the hauntingly sprawling “So Did I” and sweetly relaxed “Over There That’s Frank”.  The late James Hand would, I’m sure, be delighted to know that Crockett has ushered his listeners into a dark and smoky saloon for a very worthy tribute indeed.

Jason McNiff – Dust of Yesterday | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

The seventh album by Bradford-born singer/songwriter and fingerstyle guitar player Jason McNiff takes us on a journey through the past from his Yorkshire beginnings to the darkened corridors along the capital’s Tin Pan Alley.  Now resident in Hastings after a spell in London, where he would frequent the twilight clubs from which he picked up much of his craft, notably through the informed fingers of Bert Jansch, sitting at the guitarist’s feet during his residency at the famed 12 Bar Club just off Soho, the musician reflects on past peregrinations, the troubadour life and the midnight gigs along Denmark Street.  There’s something of the old Les Cousins about this album, with Al Stewart, Jackson C Frank and Wizz Jones waiting in the smoky wings and possibly the spirit of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” hovering over the reflective “A Load Along”.  Produced by Roger Askew and recorded at his studio in Eastbourne, each of the songs are delivered with an almost fragile voice, an assured guitar accompaniment and one or two tasty electric guitar licks reminiscent of the playing of Philip Donnelly.  Dust of Yesterday is also treated to some unfussy cello and violin accompaniment courtesy of Beth Porter and Basia Bartz respectively.  A taste of Bohemia with a pinch of nostalgia.

Crimi – Luci E Guai | Album Review | Airfono | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

Luci E Guai sees the healthy cross fertilization of styles from Algerian raï, New Orleans funk and Sicilian folk song, together with more than just a nod towards Afrobeat, to agreeable effect on this, the debut album by the four-piece French group Crimi.  Julien Lesuisse takes his twenty-odd year musical experience as a noted sax player to weave together some of the most delicious rhythms on this exhilarating eight track album, enhanced by some fine guitar and vocal sparring, the two ‘voices’ seemingly made for one another, especially on the stirring “La Vicaria”.  Lesuisse introduces his distinctively conversational sax playing on “Conca d’Oro”, as a prelude to a highly emotive vocal performance, which has an almost  pleading quality.  “Quetzalcoati” offers a moment of hushed reflection before “Ciatu di lu Margiu” lifts the spirits in an explosion of sound, with a groove that would have both David Byrne and Tom Verlaine sitting up and taking note.  The line-up is completed by Cyril Moulas on guitar, Mathieu Felix on bass and Bruno Duval on drums.  This is a very good album and well worth investigating further.

Mike Clerk – The Space Between My Ears | Album Review | Wardlaw Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

The Space Between My Ears is the debut solo album by the former frontman of The Lost Generation, in which Mike Clerk aims to ‘mend the after effects of historical over indulgence’.  After a period of inactivity, Clerk returns to music having scored a publishing deal with Wardlaw Music, whose impressive roster continues to draw attention.  Going solo is by no means going quiet, nor an opportunity to become withdrawn or contemplative.  There’s no rustic soul searching here, although the acoustic guitar is employed to good effect on both “Come Down With Me” and “You When You”.  Instead, for the most part, Clerk ups the volume and thrashes out ten bold songs with a true alt.rock sensibility.  ‘Who’s My Enemy? is a question tentatively asked during “Do Something New”, a song from which the album’s title derives and an invitation for those who might not necessarily be quite onboard with the idea of a solo Mike Clerk yet.  The songwriting is robust throughout, with seasoned guitar licks mixed with short bursts of electronica and a determined drum beat.  The album should serve existing followers and newcomers alike.

Ben De La Cour – Shadow Land | Album Review |  Flour Sack Cape | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

After setting the volume to a reasonably generous level in order to fill the room with the gritty sound of Ben De La Cour’s new album, my immediate thought midway through the opening song, “God’s Own Son’ was Ennio Morricone and his memorable cinematic western scores, largely due to the heavily reverb’d ghost whistle and the threatening sound of a rattlesnake.  Once I eyed the accompanying press release, it occurred to me all over again that great minds tend to think alike, with the comparison already made.  Shadow Land is a bold album, created by a songwriter who means business.  The initial introduction to an outlaw in the first song seems to set the level for the gritty stories to follow in its wake.  “High Heels Down the Holler” takes us from the open space of the prairie to a lively downtown Friday night, with its sleazy, almost sneering fiddle signifying a Devil at play, probably before he makes the trip down to Georgia.  Ben De La Cour used to be a boxer before he hung up his gloves and sharpened his fingernails, to become a guitar slinger, yet maintaining a menacing furrowed brow, ready for the fight.  The fights with the bottle are reflected upon in “The Last Chance Farm”, for which Ben gets up close to the microphone to address his first day in rehab, as if whispering into just the one ear.  Sensitivity is rarely expressed in such convincing terms.  Perhaps the album’s show stopper is “Swan Dive”, a song that addresses suicide with both passion and conviction. 

Ray Cooper – Land of Heroes | Album Review | Westpark Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

Opening with the mandolin-led instrumental, “The Burning Pile”, inspired by the grizzly events of a 17th century witch trial in Ray Cooper’s adopted home of Sweden, which in a way serves as an overture to the songs that follow, the former Oysterband multi-instrumentalist looks at who our heroes might be today in the age of growing concern.  Known as the cellist who by ditching the chair while also adding a harness to his instrument, made it entirely feasible for Woody Allen’s character in Take the Money and Run to indeed play in a marching band.  There’s more to Ray Cooper though, who delivers these songs in a voice no dissimilar to that of Steve Knightly, especially in the spoken passages, bringing with it an almost preachy aspect.  Locking himself away in his log cabin over summer, coming out only for the occasional swim in the nearby lake, Cooper has woven together these songs of consciousness, looking at such concerns as journalist whistle-blowers, the angel nurses and the occasional beast.  ‘Welcome to the Middle Ages’ the singer announces at the beginning of “The Beast”, in a voice as confident as a circus ringmaster,  considering how history repeats.  Cooper finds heroes closer to home, notably in “Circles” where he fondly recalls a promoter friend, who went above and beyond the call of duty when booking gigs for the musician in Europe.  Our friends and family members can be considered heroes, it doesn’t always have to be those in uniform or those on the posters upon our walls.  Thought provoking in places.

Roberto Cassani – Ansema We Stand | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

With a title that almost predictably translates from the Lombardy dialect of Rivoltano as ‘together’, the new album by Roberto Cassani is a potpourri of musical traditions, each selection delivered in Cassani’s native tongue, which by all accounts is a first, therefore quite unique.  Known chiefly as a double bassist, Cassini crosses borders to bring together the spirit of his native homeland of northern Italy with the sounds and nuances of his adopted Perthshire home.  As an occasional comic performer, some of the fun element is added to his musical palette, certainly on “La Santissima” and “Eviva”, where you can imagine precisely what would’ve happened had Francis Ford Coppola invited a bunch of Scots for the wedding scene in Godfather One, yet the heart of the album comes with such sublime numbers as “L’Arcobalena” and “L’Ada”, both of which are really quite gorgeous.  Helping out on the album is a handful of notable Scots musicians including Anna Massie, John Somerville, Steve Fivey, Ross Ainslie, Hamish Napier and Greg Lawson.

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers – Vol 2 | Album Review | Stony Plain | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

For the second installment of these blues sessions recorded back in 2007 but not released until now, we see the late Jim Dickinson once again surrounded by his two sons Luther and Cody Dickinson, together with noted bluesmen Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart and the ex Squirrel Nut Zippers’ frontman Jimbo Mathus, each musician keen to wear their blues sensibilities on their respective sleeves.  As with the first ten songs that were released on Vol 1 last year, there’s a live feel to the sessions, which took place at Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch, with each of the musicians forming a circle as they jammed in earnest.  The liner notes use culinary metaphors a-plenty and you do indeed get the feeling that something was definitely cooking during these sessions.  Charlie Musselwhite takes the lead on the opening number, his harmonica written all over his own blues workout “Blues for Yesterday”, before Alvin Youngblood Hart puts in an excitable reading of Doug Sahm’s mid-1960s 12-bar “She’s About a Mover”.  Jimbo Mathus takes the lead on one of the session highlights, “Searchlight (Soon in the Morning)”, with some fine harmonica playing courtesy of Musselwhite, who spars effortlessly with Dickinson’s piano.  Jim himself takes the piano to the church with the pleading “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atom Bomb on Me”, offering one of the most mournful performances of the entire session.  There’s some between song banter, which indicates that these musicians were having fun at the same time.  Wrapped in almost identical sleeves, differentiated only by the ink stamped branding Vol 1 and Vol 2,  the two discs could easily be released as a double album.

Jason Ringenberg – Rhinestones | Album Review | Courageous Chicken Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

Spurred into action by the COVID-19 situation, Jason Ringenberg popped on the Stetson and presumably the cowboy boots and got himself rhinestoned.  Among the originals, such as “The Freedom Rides Weren’t Free” and the autobiographical “My Highway Songs”, Ringenberg has selected one or two familiar covers, including the Carter Family’s “The Storms Are on the Ocean”, with a guest appearance by Kristi Rose and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Time Warp”, a sort of rockabilly horror show line dancing masterpiece, together with a nod towards Hank Williams with the bluesy “You Win Again”.  The famed Lakota war leader gets a mention in “I Rode with Crazy Horse”, an almost manic ballad, which tells of the legendary warrior from the perspective of an unnamed cousin who allegedly rode with him in the 19th century.  The general ethos for all this can be found in the chorus on “Stoned on of  Rhinestones”, ‘I’m stoned on rhinestones with a telecaster in my hand, I’m gonna find a satisfied mind pickin’ in a hillbilly band’.  Have your rhinestones ready for the party.

The Ciderhouse Rebellion – The Whitby Rose | Single Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

Under the guise of The Ciderhouse Rebellion, Adam Summerhayes and Murray Grainger explore the intricacies of their respective instruments once again with a brooding instrumental entitled “The Whitby Rose”, named for a boat built by the fishing company that Adam’s grandfather partly owned.  Some of the construction of the boat was filmed by Adam’s grandfather and this piece of music developed with that footage in mind.  The two-part arrangement allows for plenty of improvisation, during which the fiddle and accordion converse, the first part a relatively slow air followed by a slightly more dramatic second part, which brings with it all the tension and mystery of the rugged coastline.  Certainly worth further investigation.

Andrew Howie – Sycamore | Single Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

“Sycamore” is the initial single release from Andrew Howie’s forthcoming album Pale White Branches, a highly melodic song which features the album’s title within its lyric.  Written from the perspective of someone dealing with the ongoing struggle of a partner, while maintaining a hopeful and optimistic message throughout, “Sycamore” is a mature pop song written and performed in the mould of Emitt Rhodes, with a message that seems to say that all’s not lost, citing the sycamore as the relationship’s overriding bonding factor.  There’s a warmth to the melody, with tender lyrics as Lucy Cathcart Frödén provides backing vocals to Andrew Howie’s confident lead.  The single is produced by Iain Hutchison. 

Suthering – Gather | Single Review | Bessie Records  | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

The wheatsheaf illustration that adorns the cover of the new single by Suthering, the newly adopted name for the established Devon-based folk duo Julu Irvine and Heg Brignall, illustrates the notion of gathering admirably, as the duo look at the changing seasons.  The interweaving voices, augmented by a gentle piano accompaniment and soothing cello marks an exciting phase in this duo’s journey, with a new name taken from an eye-catching word in Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks who quotes John Clare’s poem The Autumn Wind: ‘The Autumn’s wind on suthering wings’.  This is nothing short of a fantastic single and I see good things ahead for Suthering.

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Suzie Ungerleider – Baby Blues | Single Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

Formerly Oh Susannah, the American/Canadian singer/songwriter Suzie Ungerleider now embarks on the next phase of her career, reverting to her birth name, having ditched the moniker in true Chicks and Lady A fashion.  The Northampton, Massachusetts-born, now Vancouver-based singer aims to name her forthcoming album My Name is Suzie Ungerleider as if to emphasise the point further and releases “Baby Blues” in advance of its planned release in August.  Putting all the political correctness aside, we are left with the same singer, the same song writer, who continues to create the same superb music, in this case a slow ballad with a strong confident vocal and lush strings, reflecting on childhood trauma from the vantage point of maturity. 

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Mike Vass – Threes | Single Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.04.21

During the opening few bars of the new single by Nairn-born composer, musician and producer Mike Vass, a discordant Thelonious Monk note is dropped in, just to give us something to think about.  This is just another in a long line of rewarding surprises that this highly creative musician has brought to the table over the last few years, notably the song based album Save His Calm, which came unexpectedly after a series of purely instrumental albums, Decemberwell, In the Wake of Neil Gunn and Notes from the Boat.  With “Threes”, Mike returns to instrumental tunes based on traditional Scots dance music, which can be enjoyed equally from the dance floor as from the futon.