Issue 11

Joe Troop – Borrowed Time | Free Dirt Records

There are just two letters of difference between the surname of ‘Troop’ and that of Joe’s chief adversary, yet the two men are world’s apart in terms of ideology and personality.  Joe Troop has spent a good deal of the last couple of years campaigning for a better world, fearlessly pushing his ideological goals to the fore, yet the musician has found time in all this mayhem to create an absolute belter of a solo album, with the help and assistance of one or two key players on the acoustic roots scene.  Borrowed Time has so much going for it, certainly in its diversity, one minute steeped in banjo-led bluegrass, the next immersed in Spanish verse, with a vocal that hovers somewhere between Tim O’Brien and Stevie Wonder. The multi-instrumentalist is in exploration mode throughout, which brings to the album plenty of tangents and diversions, therefore plenty of musical scope.  Co-produced by Jason Richmond, the album features Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn, Tim O’Brien, and Charlie Hunter, each of whom add some of their own musical personality to the project.  With origins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the openly gay musician grew up playing bluegrass music in the South, where he managed to hone both his craft and his activism into something adventurous and fulfilling, standing up for what he believes in all the way.  This determination comes over in the songs on this album, especially “The Rise of Dreama Caldwell”, a paean to a the brave North Carolina Black woman, who after COVID struck her hometown, began organizing community support for those most in need and in the wake of the dreadful George Floyd killing, organized protests in support of Black lives and police accountability.  Having experienced life in both Argentina and Spain, Troop pivots between English and Spanish with some considerable ease, adopting the rhythms of the bombo legüero in the album opener “Horizon” and then again on the dramatic “Prisionero”, which features the Argentinean percussionist Lionel Sanders, then also the flamenco rhythms of “Sevilla”, each of which brings additional warmth to the album.  “Hermano Migrante”, another (of many) album highlights and certainly one that features one of the record’s finest vocal moments, is a moving ode to migrants and migration, which includes an appearance by the accordionist Rolando Revilla, a member of Baldemar Velazquez’s Aguila Negra band.  Migration is further addressed, albeit in English this time, with “Mercy for Migrants”, a heartfelt duet with Abigail Washburn, which is accompanied by a moving video promo.  As we wait for the world to catch up with Joe Troop, there’s really no hurry to put this wonderful album back on the shelf just yet. 

The Rise of Dreama Caldwell and Hermano Migrante are both included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Nanci Griffith (1953-2021)

The news of the untimely death of the Texas-born singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith at just 68 has come as an enormous shock to the music world, especially to those who knew her and worked with her over the years.  I didn’t know her personally, but I felt I knew her music intimately.  The news of her death was confirmed by her management and record label on Friday 13 August, though the cause of death at the time of publication has not yet been revealed.  Nanci was born in Seguin, Texas in 1953 and began her music career performing folk songs in the 1970s.  After moving to Nashville in 1985, Nanci’s reputation as a key singer-songwriter grew with the release of a handful of critically acclaimed albums, which included The Last of the True Believers (1986), Lone Star State of Mind (1987) and Little Love Affairs (1988) among others.  Towards the end of the 1980s, I made my very first visit to the long-running Cambridge Folk Festival, which was at the time celebrating its twenty-fifth year.  I went specifically to see Nanci Griffith and fellow Texan performer Lyle Lovett.  The so-called New Country scene was at its zenith at the time and Nanci was one of the genre’s leading lights.  Arriving in Cambridge just as the singer took to the main stage on a steaming hot summer afternoon, I could hear her familiar voice as I walked along Walpole Road from St Bede’s School, where the campsite was located back in those days.  I remember hurrying the kids along the usually quiet and unassuming residential street, knowing that time was ticking away and that Nanci’s set was growing steadily shorter by the minute.  Once inside the main arena, I saw Nanci for the very first time and from a distance, as she performed “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go”, with keyboard player James Hooker by her side.  I’ve since managed to see Nanci a few times but I will always remember that first moment, on that hot Cambridge afternoon, as she introduced some of her fine catalogue of songs to a relatively new audience and feeling very much at home at the same time.  Nanci Griffith will be greatly missed, yet her songs will live on forever. (Photo taken at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2012)

The Flatlanders – Treasure of Love | Rack ‘Em Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson

Back in 2009, a trio of living legends got together to record an album entitled Hills and Valleys. The LP was a great success, but what else would you expect from Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore?  Twelve years may have passed us swiftly by, and the youngest of the trio (Ely) is now heading for 75, but Treasure of Love proves that these three respected singer songwriters can still conjure up plenty of magic when convening in a studio.  The fifteen track album is a shimmering, electric guitar-laden production, featuring several songs from the pens of Hancock and Ely and a bevvy of covers of beloved numbers such as “Long Time Gone”, “Ramblin’ Man” and a punchy version of Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me”. The mood moves from laid back ballads, through jangling honky tonk to brawny country rock, with each artist taking turns at the mike and a palpable sense of joy and comradery sustained throughout.

The Ballad of Honest Sam is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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David Crosby – For Free | Three Blind Mice/BMG

Half a century has passed since David Crosby released his first solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name back in 1971 and plenty of water has flowed under the bridge since then.  There’s enough drama in those years to fill a HBO box set, with episodes that would no doubt include a plethora of political rants, several drug and weapons offences, a notable jail sentence, one or two health issues and plenty of squabbles with former band mates, some minor, some major, some terminal, yet even after all these turbulent years, Croz still has a credible voice even on the eve of preparing to blow out eighty candles.  Love him or loathe him, David Crosby is a legendary figure in popular music, whose relationship with music has always been of paramount importance, from his early days with Les Baxter’s Balladeers, then as a founder member of the The Byrds and the so-called supergroup Crosby Stills and Nash (and Young), through to the later CPR (Crosby, Pevar & Raymond).  For Free sees Crosby in collaboration with his own son James Raymond as well as such notable artists as Michael McDonald, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and the multi-Grammy Award-winning Sarah Jarosz.  In a way, this album could be considered a collaboration album, notably in regard to the working partnership with James Raymond, who not only produced the album but also collaborated on the song writing, significantly the album’s closer “I Won’t Stay for Long”.  Jarosz joins Crosby on the title cut, a duet version of a Joni Mitchell song that Crosby would perform alongside his erstwhile buddies Stills and Nash, notably on the trio’s 1983 album Allies, where the song appeared under the slightly longer title “He Played Real Good For Free”.   Crosby has made no secret of his admiration for Steely Dan and Fagen offers “Rodriguez for a Night”, a suitably jazz-infused number that wouldn’t really be out of place on The Nightfly.  Wrapped in a sleeve designed by Joan Baez, For Free is a timely demonstration that even at eighty, there’s no stopping the Croz.

For Free is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Suzie Ungerleider – My Name Is Suzie Ungerleider | MVKA

Many will know Suzie Ungerleider as ‘Oh Susanna’, a name the singer has been trading under since the late 1990s, releasing several albums and EPs during those years, which includes her fine debut  Johnstown (1999), Sleepy Little Sailor (2001) and more recently A Girl in Teen City (2017).  Beginning a new chapter in her career, the American-born, Canadian-raised singer songwriter reverts to her own birth name in light of the unsavoury connotations of her former pseudonym, borrowed from the old 1848 Stephen Foster song, which contains racist imagery that Suzie wants to avoid, and rightly so, but also with newfound courage to stand tall in her own skin and announce to the world with an assured confidence that her name is indeed Suzie Ungerleider.  With all these personal and political considerations now addressed, Suzie gets down to business and brings us another bunch of quality songs, three of which have already been drip fed to us via single releases in anticipation of the album’s August release.  “Baby Blues”, “Mount Royal” and “Pumpkins” demonstrated that a new name would have zero effect on the quality of the songwriting we have become accustomed to over the last twenty-odd years.  If there has been any change in Suzie’s outlook, it is probably the fact that Suzie is older, wiser and now possessed of motherly instincts, notably addressed in “Summerbaby”, a song that looks at her daughter’s premature birth and survival against the odds.  Produced by Jim Bryson, My Name is Suzie Ungerleider is a fine addition to an already impressive body of work.

Summerbaby is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Andrew Howie – Pale White Branches | Autoclave Records

The first full band album by the Stirling-based singer-songwriter Andrew Howie since Each Dirty Letter (2010), an album released under the Calamateur moniker, which Howie used between 2000-2013.  Pale White Branches is confidently produced, with plenty of bass and plenty of spirit.  The eleven songs, some of which are co-writes with such collaborators as Hannah Graham, Alan Kerr and Colleen Souness, are all solidly performed by a band that seems to know what it’s doing.  Echoing Northern Sky’s recent single review, “Sycamore” stands out as a highly melodic song that 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.  This kind of warmth is further explored in such songs as “Drip Feed”, “California” and “Echoes”, while “A Follower, A Fighter” and “Open Arms”, demonstrate Howie’s rock credentials.  A record to come back to, especially when spirits are in need of a lift.

Drip Feed is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Bard Edrington V – Two Days in Terlingua | Self Release

It wouldn’t really be far off the mark to refer to Bard Edrington V as the outdoor type, in fact it would be a pretty much spot on description.  Having spent the last thirteen years tending to his landscaping business, which he runs with his wife Zoe, the great outdoors is very much in his blood.  Born in Alabama and raised in Tennessee, Edrington takes as the starting point of his musical education the clawhammer style banjo playing of the legendary Doc Watson, together with the fingerpicking of the equally legendary Mississippi John Hurt, some of that influence already demonstrated in his work with his regular outfit The Hoth Brothers.  For his second solo album, Edrington keeps it in the family, a family line clearly indicated with the Roman numeral tagged onto his name, with ten original songs and a couple of poems from the hand of his great grandmother Mable.  The songs were recorded in a hundred year-old church in Terlingua, Texas at the northern tip of the Chihuahua desert, at the beginning of the looming pandemic, with a little help from Alex McMahon on lead and pedal steel guitars, Bill Palmer on bass, Jim Palmer on drums, Karina Wilson on fiddle and Zoe Wilcox on vocals.  The album is for all intents and purposes a live album having been recorded in just three takes in the sequence they appear here and with no further overdubs.  “Ramblin’ Kind” is a fine opener, its flat picked guitar ringing clear as the band falls immediately into place, as Edrington delivers the song in a voice that falls somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings, more than suitable for a tale of an ageing man on the run.  If the opener is reminiscent of the Texas troubadour, then “Property Lines” hits the Van Zandt nail on the head, a bluesy nod to the hard times, working the gold mines with some expressive gypsy fiddle adding to the mood.  The hard times are further reflected upon in the gentle and melancholic “Black Coal Lung”, while “Dog Tags 1942”, reflects on grandmother Mabel’s poignant war poem of the same name.   Nowhere on the album do we get a greater sense of the church in which the sessions were recorded, the opening few bars of “Strange Balloon” offering a taste of the ambient sounds beneath the band’s feet, its timber and stained glass holding everything tightly together.       

A New Day on the Farm is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Grace Morrison – Daughter | Self Release

‘Morrison’ is a familiar name in several genres of popular music, from the world of Rock & Roll (Jim/Van/Sterling), Jazz (James), Pop (another James), Soul (Junie), R&B (Mark), Scots Celtic (Fred) and Indie (Barb/Carla), therefore it stands to reason that there should be at least one Morrison in Country Music.  I’m sure there are more, but here we are concerned exclusively with just the one, a young Cape Cod-born singer-songwriter called Grace, whose early musical influences would no doubt have been augmented by the Atlantic Ocean lapping at the nearby Massachusetts shores.  Now relocated to Rochester, Morrison has carved out a career in music, which the singer likes to say falls somewhere between Lisa Loeb and Lori McKenna.  Originally planned as a five-track EP, the lockdown and all the free time that goes with it, especially in light of her now scuppered tour plans, Daughter has been allowed to expand into a full-blown twelve-track album, her third to be produced by Jon Evans.  Opening with the title song, co-written by McKenna and having the same sort of feel as Steve Earle’s “I Ain’t Satisfied”, (not exactly the same, but somewhere in the ballpark), the album gets off to a flying start.  Morrison is keen to point out that the album is not specifically a lockdown album, but the songs do tend to be thematically linked.  The country feel to the songs is exemplified further by the use of the steel guitar.

Things You Already Know is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Naragonia – The Guesthouse Sessions | Trad Records

Pascale Rubens and Toon Van Mierlo, otherwise known as Naragonia, are two multi-instrumentalists from Belgium, who for this project have gathered together a number of guests to help bring a few new melodies to life.  Working together as a unit for almost twenty years, Naragonia have a great sense of arrangement, using their basic tools of the trade, which includes diatonic accordions, violin, bagpipes, bombarde, flutes and soprano saxophone to great effect.  During lockdown, the duo came up with the idea of organising a series of ‘musical meetings’ with various guest musicians that would include Guy Swinnen, Philippe Laloy, Jo Zanders, Charlotte, Mathijs Van Mierlo, Simon Leleux, Maarten Decombel and Tristan Driessens, presumably in the duo’s guest house, hence the title The Guesthouse Sessions.  There’s a certain universality to the songs and tunes here, which appears to cover quite a lot of musical ground, from such improvisational tunes as “De Poort Van De 4 Vuren” and “Gooik” to songs of the calbre of “Songlines” and “The Swallow”.

Gooik is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Steve Ashley – Family Album Revisited | Talking Elephant

Employing the services of one of British Folk Rock’s premier bands, Steve Ashley once gathered together the current line-up of Fairport Convention with a handful of others to create what was effectively presented as a family album, complete with its curious group photo for the cover, reminiscent of the Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter sleeve, which was released a decade earlier.  Recorded in 1979, the album hung around for a couple of years before being released on the Woodworm label in 1982 and contains mostly Ashley originals.  There are moments of beauty in some of the songs, notably “Once in a While”, subtitled ‘the Grandmother’s song’, which is offset by moments of bizarre fun, such as the a cappella “Pancake Day” and the seriously worrying “Lost and Found”, which sounds like Vyvyan from The Young Ones after too many lemonades.  “Feeling Lazy”, a song later covered by the Arizona Smoke Review, remains one of the album’s highlights almost forty years on.  There’s a couple of changes to the original record, hence the addition of ‘Revisited’ to its title, which includes an outtake from the original sessions of “Somewhere in a Song” and a brand new song to close the album, “For Bruce”, a tribute to Bruce Rowland, remembered not only for his work with Fairport, but also for his work with Grease Band and Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. Nice to see the album back with us.

Once in a While is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Heisk – Heisk | Self Release

From the start the six members of this brand new traditional Scottish band are keen to point out that Heisk is a celebration of female empowerment, being made up of all female musicians and having been created, produced and released exclusively by women.  The ten instrumental tracks that makes up this debut self-titled album are unsurprisingly bold, full of energy and impeccably played; unsurprisingly in that anyone who doubts that an all-female band is capable of creating such music ought to open their eyes and ears a little more often.  Born in Glasgow, Heisk is made up of musicians from all over Scotland, with Becca Skeoch on electro harp, Catriona Hawksworth on keyboards, Lauren Macdonald on drums, Megan MacDonald on accordion, Rosie Munro on fiddle and Sally Simpson on fiddle.  Having worked together for some time, the band feels that now is the right time to record and release their first album, which will presumably be followed by a few festival appearances once this tiresome war is over, where such potential festival favourites could include “Kayak”, “Disco” and “Angus”.

Angus is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Kelly Bayfield – Vapour Trails | Peacock Butterfly Records

This is the first single from the forthcoming debut album by Suffolk’s Kelly Bayfield, produced by David Edward Booth and due for release in November, which just may provide us with a glimpse of what to expect.  Paul Sartin’s oboe gives the song its ethereal feel, underpinned by Beth Porter’s almost subliminal cello, whilst Kelly’s almost pleading voice asks some of the leading questions about our downward spiral as a species and our seemingly unconcerned attitude towards the survival of this planet and our insatiable appetite for power.  Good questions posed to a retro-folk melody which could just as easily have been recorded in the early 1970s, giving us perhaps a little more time to sort our mess out before it’s too late.

Vapour Trails is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Dan Webster – She Smiles | Paper Plane Records

The York-based singer-songwriter Dan Webster looks for hope in these otherwise hopeless times with an uplifting, optimistic and joyful single, albeit with a slight tinge of darkness hovering beneath.  Dan is very much part of a tight-knit northern acoustic music community, who works both as a musician in his own right as well as a producer, who offers his broad expertise to other musicians in the area.  For “She Smiles” Dan calls upon some of those friends and contemporaries, such as the noted mandolin player Polly Bolton (The Magpies, Trials of Cata), whose backing vocals only adds further joy, as well as Rachel Brown, whose cello intertwines neatly with Emily Lawler’s fiddle (who also sings), while Mark Waters and Liam Hardy provide a fine rhythm section on both bass and drums respectively.  This is a fine feelgood single with a rich acoustic feel throughout.

She Smiles is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Barney Hoskyns – God Is In The Radio | Omnibus Press

There’s always something of the unbridled enthusiasm whenever I read anything by the music writer and journalist Barney Hoskyns, whether it be in respect to his invaluable tomes on Tom Waits or The Band, the sunny reflections of the Laurel Canyon scene or the small town talk of the upstate New York retreats, or indeed the abundance of articles that have appeared over the years in the music press, many of which have now been collected in the highly informative Rock’s Backpages archive.  Barney knows his stuff, that’s for sure and for God is in the Radio, the author gathers some of his best writing from the last forty years, covering a broad musical palette, from Bacharach to Bjork, Sinatra to Spiritualized and Wonder to Winehouse.  I don’t agree with everything Barney says though, in fact I quite enjoy having my mini battles when his opinion becomes a little on the cutting side, when he sings the praises of Judee Sill for instance, but only by comparing her voice favourably over ‘Joni’s warbling of Chelsea Mornings’.  I found these little put-downs more so in Waiting for the Sun, though some of those sun-dwelling rich kids do perhaps deserve a good dressing down.  I’ve learned how to read Barney though, perhaps in the same way that I’ve learned how to listen to his Rock’s Backpages cohort Mark Pringle, who on one memorable occasion drooled deliriously over a little known soul singer’s version of “Jealous Guy”, while making sure he spat out ‘it pisses all over Lennon’s version’ with theatrical venom.  The way forward is to agree to disagree.  God is in the Radio, the title borrowed from a Queens of the Stone Age song, is full of surprises, with warm notes on Sandy Denny and Gillian Welch, a memorable meet up with Robert Wyatt and his wife ‘caretaker, collaborator and muse’ Alfreda Benge at their Lincolnshire home, an insightful ten-page appraisal of Laura Nyro and so much more besides.  It has its touching moments, none more so touching than the inclusion of a sketch of the author by his own mother from around 1964, which I’m sure most of us would like at the beginning of our book. This is a book that can be digested occasionally or fully feasted upon in one long sitting, with equally satisfying results and with no need of either hors d’oeuvres nor a dessert.

Paul Cotton (1943-2021)

Paul Cotton spent much of his music career as the lead guitarist, lead singer and one of the songwriters in the band Poco, and is probably best known for the band’s hit song “Heart of the Night”, which appeared on their eleventh album Legend.  Having already served as a member of the Illinois Speed Press, originally the Mus-Twangs, Cotton joined Poco in 1970 in time for the band’s third album release From the Inside, effectively replacing the recently departed Jim Messina who would soon form a successful partnership with Kenny Loggins, in the creatively monikered Loggins and Messina duo.  Cotton was born in Fort Rucker, Alabama and picked up his first guitar at the age of thirteen.  In 2010, Cotton left Poco having already released a handful of solo albums, which included Changing Horses (1990), Firebird (2001), When the Coast Is Clear (2004) and Sunset Kidd (2007).  Relocating to Key West, Florida in 2005, Cotton spent his later years fishing, sailing and relaxing in the sun, performing occasionally in the local community.  In 2018, Retroworld released Poco – The Songs of Paul Cotton, an album that features some of Cotton’s best known songs including “Ride the Country”, “Keeper of the Fire” and a live recording of “Bad Weather”, the album being reviewed in these pages at the time of release.  Paul Cotton died on August 1, 2021.  He was 78.

Heart of the Night is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Michael Roach at the Town Hall, Selby in 2011

Jeremy Lindsay of JT and the Clouds at the Wheelhouse, Wombwell in 2011

66. Dransfield – The Fiddler’s Dream | Transatlantic TRA 322 – 1976

I missed out on witnessing the folk siblings Robin and Barry Dransfield perform together live having arrived on the folk scene a little too late to the party.  After discovering one or two Dransfield brothers LPs in the early 1980s, I set about searching for them and I distinctly recall chatting to the elder brother Robin over the phone around that time, effectively begging him to consider a reunion with his younger brother, but alas it wasn’t to happen.  I subsequently heard that the siblings didn’t get along particularly well.  I did however get to see Barry in 1995 at the Cambridge Folk Festival, who although nice to see, was something of an anti-climax.  It was those two voices together that really made the difference.  In the mid-1970s, the brothers made this Folk Rock album under the moniker of The Dransfields, which was to become the final nail in the coffin for their professional relationship.  Pulling in different directions, together with the usual sibling rivalry and poor album sales, the partnership was just about over a good few years before my interest was sparked.  Such a waste.  Highlights on this LP are the opener “Up to Now”, “It’s Dark in Here” and the epic “Violin”.  Brian Harrison joins the brothers on keyboards and bass with Charlie Smith on drums.

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67. Free – Fire and Water | Island ILPS9120 – 1970

In 1970, you would probably have been either a hermit living in the remote Motuo County in China or a crown court judge, not to have heard of the British rock band Free.  “All Right Now” seemed to be on the radio constantly, which in those days would be located under the bed covers, tuned into Radio Luxembourg (or almost tuned in, as the case might be).  The same year saw the extremely young band play the Isle of Wight Festival alongside Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell amongst others, and lest we forget, they almost stole the show.  Fire and Water, the band’s third album, was among the first few LPs I ever owned and I still consider it a firm favourite.  Having been used to the single version of “All Right Now”, it initially came as a surprise to find the extended version on this LP that featured a little more Kossoff, which is never a bad thing.  There’s no other singer in the world quite like Paul Rodgers, whose soulful voice permeates the seven songs, notably the title song, “Mr Big” and the aforementioned “All Right Now” in particular.  It was just a shame that Mr Kossoff had his finger on the self-destruct button, as did many of his contemporaries at the time.

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68. Stealers Wheel – Ferguslie Park | A&M 68209 – 1973

Ferguslie Park is one of only three LPs I can think of to feature a cow on the sleeve, the others being Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother and the other being Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day.  There could be more.  My name happens to be scribbled on the inner sleeve of this Stealers Wheel LP, along with ‘73’, the year I must have bought it.  Despite a slightly hazy memory from this period, I do actually recall picking this album up immediately after its release as if it were yesterday.  Bearing in mind I was a huge fan of the earlier single “Stuck in the Middle”, a song which appeared on the band’s debut album the year before and many years before Quentin Tarantino chose the song for the soundtrack to his infamous Van Gogh routine in Reservoir Dogs, it would be just a matter of course that this LP would find its way onto my shelf.  The celebrated American songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller produced the LP, which featured amongst other things “Star”, a wonderfully melodic song and possibly one of the most underrated pop songs in the history of underrated pop songs, that in a perfect world should really have taken the top spot in the charts instead of the awful “Tiger Feet” back in February 1974.  Ferguslie Park is named for a housing estate in Paisley, Scotland, where both Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan (effectively Stealers Wheel) grew up, together with the man who designed all three Stealers Wheel album covers, the artist John Byrne.

66. The Faces – Stay With Me | Warner Brothers K16136 – 1971

It’s hard to believe that fifty years have passed since I first heard this song for the first time back in 1971.  A Ronnie Wood/Rod Stewart co-write, “Stay With Me” would serve as a backdrop to the proverbial mime I would act out before the bedroom mirror back in my early teenage years, yelling these raunchy lyrics into a hairbrush tied to the end of a stick, whilst simultaneously wielding a Fender tennis racquet, assuming the roles of both Rod and Ronnie in one go.  If Rita, the subject in question, was to indeed ‘stay with me’, then I would probably not have had the first clue as to what to do next.  The song was one of the first UK top ten singles to reflect the trashy rock and roll lifestyle of the time, with Rita’s red lips, hair and fingernails very much on display as Rod invites her upstairs to read Tarot cards!  Ah, a new world of euphemisms to explore at playtime.  This is Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones at their shambolic best.

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67. Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGee | CBS 7019 – 1971

Though written by the singer-songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee” has become very much associated with the late Janis Joplin, who recorded the song for inclusion on her 1971 LP Pearl, a few days before her untimely death at the age of 27.  The song’s lyrics were apparently inspired by Boudleaux Bryant’s Music Row secretary Barbara ‘Bobby’ McKee, who was referred to in a joke by Bryant, claiming that the only reason the song’s co-writer Fred Foster came to Bryant’s office was to see his secretary.  Foster pitched the idea to Kristofferson, who subsequently changed the subject’s name to McGee, and a song was born.  Kristofferson had no idea that Joplin had recorded the song until the day after her death.  The song went to number one in the US Hot 100 in the wake of Joplin’s death and became something of an unexpected classic.

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68. The Lemon Pipers – Green Tambourine | Pye International 7N25444 – 1967

Whenever I go through the motions of sifting through the singles collection here at Northern Sky, especially those from the mid to late 1960s section, there’s always the danger of pulling out an item that might be considered ‘bubblegum pop’.  In 1967 I was but ten years old, a mere nipper, therefore I can’t pretend that I would have been listening to progressive rock, modern jazz or the sort of floaty folk music that was around at the time, but instead, I would have been very much embroiled in a world of teeny bopper culture, with pop records as seen each Thursday night in black and white on Top of the Pops or heard on the newly established BBC pop radio channel Radio One.  The Ohio-based pop group The Lemon Pipers were actually quite distinctive from other such outfits though, in that unlike such bands as The Monkees, this band had their own songwriters within the band itself.  It was their producer however, Paul Leka, who penned the band’s biggest hit, in fact their only hit, which is to this day still regularly included at the top end of many a ‘one hit wonder’ list, not bad for a song about busking.

Playlist for Show 15.08.21 (#531)

She Smiles – Dan Webster (Single)
Things You Already Know – Grace Morrison (Daughter)
The Rise of Dreama Caldwell – Joe Troop (Borrowed Time)
Angus – Heisk (Heisk)
For Free – David Crosby (For Free)
Summerbaby – Suzie Ungerleider (My Name is Suzie Ungerleider)
Vapour Trails – Kelly Bayfield (Single)
Heart Of The Night – Poco (Legend)
The Ballad of Honest Sam – The Flatlanders (Treasure of Love)
Little Italy – Stephen Bishop (Careless)
A New Day on the Farm – Bard Edrington V (Two Days in Terlingua)
Once in a While – Steve Ashley (Family Album Revisited)
Gooik – Naragonia Invites (The Guesthouse Sessions)
Nothing Rhymed – Gilbert O’Sullivan (Himself)
A Lotus on Irish Streams – Mahavishnu Orchestra (The Inner Mounting Flame)
Sam Stone – John Prine (John Prine)
The Banks of the Nile – Fotheringay (Fotheringay)
Drip Feed – Andrew Howie (Pale White Branches)
Hermano Migrante – Joe Troop (Borrowed Time)

John Prine – John Prine | Atlantic SD8296 – 1971

Like many of us, John Prine came to us once again through the Old Grey Whistle Test and specifically the song “Sam Stone”, whose working title was the slightly more cumbersome “Great Society Conflict Veterans Blues”, with it’s instantly memorable chorus of ‘There’s a hole in daddy’s arm, where all the money goes’.  Whether there was a rush to go out the next day to buy Prine’s self-titled debut is anyone’s guess, but the song certainly pricked up many an ear.  There’s no mention of the Vietnam war in the song’s lyrics, though arriving at a crucial point in the conflict, it was hard to think otherwise.  The cover sees Prine perched upon a bale of hay, something he’d not done prior to this photograph and in effect, having the country hick foisted upon him unwittingly.  A more suitable cover would possibly have been something along the lines of Loudon Wainwright’s first couple of albums.  Stoic, unsmiling, serious.  Released on the Atlantic label after being spotted by Jerry Wexler at the BitterEnd, John Prine features song that would remain in his live repertoire for the best part of the next half century up to the singer’s death in 2020 of COVID, such as “Illegal Smile”, “Paradise” and the timeless “Angel of Montgomery”.

Sam Stone is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Gilbert O’Sullivan – Himself | Mam MAM-SS 501 – 1971

Himself is the debut album by the Waterford-born, Swindon-raised singer-songwriter Raymond O’Sullivan, otherwise known as ‘Gilbert’, which came hot on the heels of the hit single “Nothing Rhymed”, which closes the first side of the album.  Although the singer became a favourite of mums and dads as the new decade began, which was probably due to his irritating stage persona, an image that saw the singer approach his piano in short pants, braces and an oversized depression-era cloth cap perched upon his pudding basin hairdo.  It might also have had something to do with the jaunty music hall sing-along chorus aspect of his performance, but it has to acknowledged, O’Sullivan could in fact write a clever lyric and did so time and again, prompting at least one critic to suggest that he might be Swindon’s answer to Randy Newman.  Produced by Gordon Mills, who talked the singer into including full orchestral arrangements on this album, originally intended as a stripped down to voice and piano album, Himself soon reached number five on the British album charts and is also noted for the contributions from both Chris Spedding and Herbie Flowers.  Fifty years on, O’Sullivan has released nineteen studio albums and has now pretty much done away with the cap and braces.

Nothing Rhymed is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin – The Inner Mounting Flame | Columbia KC31067 – 1971

If there was ever a case for noodling, the debut album by The Mahavishnu Orchestra might well qualify.  From the opening piece, “Meetings of the Spirit”, The Inner Mounting Flame took jazz rock to new heights upon its release, with John McLaughlin’s guitar very much to the fore.  Did I say that McLaughlin was born a couple of miles from my doorstep?  By the time of the album’s release, the Doncaster-born guitarist had already notched up some credible collaborations, playing alongside the likes of Alexis Korner, Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, Brian Auger and even Jimi Hendrix before working with Miles Davis on his seminal jazz fusion albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, the latter which included a number entitled “John McLaughlin”.  If McLaughlin dazzled audiences with his sheer dexterity as a formidable guitar player, then much the same could be said of Billy Cobham, whose skills as a first rate jazz drummer were indeed very much the focus for some.  Add to this the remarkable playing of Jan Hammer on piano, Jerry Goodman on violin and Rick Laird on bass, The Mahavishnu Orchestra were something very much to write home about.

A Lotus on Irish Streams is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Playlist for Show 22.08.21

She Smiles – Dan Webster (Single)
Things You Already Know – Grace Morrison (Daughter)
The Rise of Dreama Caldwell – Joe Troop (Borrowed Time)
Angus – Heisk (Heisk)
For Free – David Crosby (For Free)
Summerbaby – Suzie Ungerleider (My Name is Suzie Ungerleider)
Vapour Trails – Kelly Bayfield (Single)
Heart Of The Night – Poco (Legend)
The Ballad of Honest Sam – The Flatlanders (Treasure of Love)
Little Italy – Stephen Bishop (Careless)
A New Day on the Farm – Bard Edrington V (Two Days in Terlingua)
Drip Feed – Andrew Howie (Pale White Branches)
Hermano Migrante – Joe Troop (Borrowed Time)

Much more can be found in our extensive archive by clicking on the panel above
All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated