Sari Schorr – A Force of Nature


Sari Schorr
A Force of Nature
Manhaton Records

Stone The Crows! The Blues Just Found Another Red Hot Mama.

Although a Blues Rock enthusiast for over 40 years now; I can count on the fingers of one hand the female lead singers who actually stick in the memory…..but I think we’ve found a genuine Star here.
A Force of Nature opens with some sizzling guitar from Innes Sibun (Robert Plant’s guitarist no less!) but it was when the New Yorker’s sultry voice oozed out of the speakers after about 30 seconds that my ears actually pricked up. A Blues ballad par excellence in anyone’s book; Sibun is allowed a few cool but short solos as Schorr growls and pants in a way I’ve not heard since Maggie Bell first entered my teenage world many moons ago.
For a debut album, it comes out of the traps like a greyhound on steroids…..Damn The Reason featuring Oli Brown on guitar is a slow and sultry burner that had me mopping my brow at the end, and the legendary Walter Trout’s silky guitar coupled with the way Sari delivers Work No More conjures up the Soulful Blues of Robert Cray; but with a lot more edge to it.
Sari Schorr can do Roadhouse Blues too, as she proves with Demolition Man which has some cool electric organ challenging the guitar in the background; but with a voice like hers there is only ever gonna be one winner here. Yet again, it’s a clever song that has a message that can be missed the first time you hear it…but persevere, it’s worth deciphering.
There are a couple of cover versions seamlessly included, but Schorr not only rearranges Stop! In The Name of Love she rips it apart and finds a whole new significance to those amazing lyrics, as she sounds a lot more like James Brown than Diana Ross!
This girl certainly knows her history, as she takes Leadbelly’s Black Betty way back to it’s hypnotic acoustic roots before setting fire to it with passion and kerosene in a way the great man would no doubt be proud of. I’m sure this will be the encore number….or at least I hope so.
Just to show her diversity, and in doing so creating my favourite track here Kiss Me; as subtly sexy a song as I’ve heard in years and one that has several layers to it that only get peeled away on repeated listening.
A Force of Nature is produced sublimely by Mike Vernon and features a host of great Blues Rock guitarists; but this very much an album revolving around a great ‘voice’ and in Sari Schorr we appear to have found someone who can genuinely challenge Beth Hart for the title of 21st Century Queen of the Blues.

Released September 2nd 2016

Heidi Talbot – Here We Go 1,2,3….

heidi talbot

Heidi Talbot
Here We Go 1,2,3….
Navigator Records

Celtic Folkicana Never Sounded Finer.

We don’t much like Folk Music much here at Rocking Magpie Towers; but we always make an acceptation for the Princess of Co. Kildare who now resides in Bonny Scotland….Miss Heidi Talbot.
This is her fifth album and unlike her previous discs seems to have a more ‘International and even Cosmopolitan flavour’ to it.
The title track Here We Go 1, 2, 3 opens the proceedings with Heidi’s beautiful voice being complimented by the lone drone of a harmonium (?) in the background before a couple more acoustic instruments including some pleasing fiddle playing, glide into the background to create a lo-fi haunting backing.
Heidi’s songwriting has always been ‘interesting’ none more so than the gently intense The Year That I Was Born; which features husband John McCusker on harmonies, is the first track to transcend her British/Irish Folk background, as it sounds like an intoxicating blend of Appalachian and Canadian hill music.
This interpretation of Natalie Merchant’s Motherland is as deep and dark as I’ve heard on a Heidi Talbot album; featuring some exquisite acoustic guitar picking in the background as the singer sounds like she is fighting back the tears as she pledges her love as a mournful trumpet plays in the background.
There are three songs here that I’ve become rather smitten with; first is Tell Me, Do You Ever Think Of Me? A story that will resonate with many of us in our more doleful and lonely moments.
Then there is Chelsea Piers; a co-write with Duke Special and a bright new direction for Ms. Talbot as she sounds like several of my favourite 70’s bedsit singer-songwriters.
But my choice for ‘favourite track’ has to go to A Song For Rose (will you remember me) written for her Mother and featuring her and her elder daughter singing a soft lullaby at the fade. It’s been that kind of year for me where songs like this reduce me to mush…..and I can’t resist pressing ‘repeat.’
For me this album is best listened to late at night, with the lights down low and either a strong cup of tea or an alcoholic drink to hand. As many of the songs sound very personal; intrusive even at times which is no surprise when you find out the 8 songs Heidi contributed were written at a time while she was pregnant, subsequently giving birth to a second daughter, helping build the studio the album was recorded in at the same time she was nursing her dying Mother. None of which actually makes for a sad album. Even the outwardly sad songs always have an uplifting edge to them somewhere, making them bittersweet and easy on the ear (and heart) which is why Heidi Talbot is a very rare talent that should be celebrated by a much wider audience.

Released September 23rd 2016

Eli Barsi – Portrait of a Cowgirl

eli barsi b

Eli Barsi
Portrait of a Cowgirl
Red Truck International Records

Just Add Beer For The Perfect Saturday Night.

Although she looks young enough to be my Granddaughter this is Canadian Country singer Eli Barsi’s 13th album…..13!!!
The bright red album cover and intriguing title Portrait of a Cowgirl immediately caught my attention and in spite of a huge pile of albums by much more well known artists, I slipped this into the CD Player and the sweet banjo/guitar intro had me smiling even before Eli’s honey sweet voice seeped out of the speakers on a cracker of a Country song called Farm Girl; as she sings about living in the city but always being a Farm Girl at heart; and more power to her pen for her downright wholesome lyrics.
As I’d not heard of Eli before and the CD arrived without a Press Release I just listened to each ensuing song on their own merits for a change; and not only did songs like I See You Everywhere and the delightful Wild Flowers For Me have me smiling at every line, they had and still have me wondering how Canadians manage to make timeless Country Music 10x better than anyone I can think of in Nashville or Austin these days.
Obviously after a dozen previous records Eli knows how to construct an album and the balance of ballads and Honky Tonkin’ dance tunes is very nearly perfect by the way.
In her own way, to paraphrase The Blues Brothers Eli Barsi gives us a collection of both Country AND Western songs here, with Prairie Skies and Country Music Was Made For Saturday Night being straight from the Hotclub of Cowtown play book; yet the duet with Brett Kissel, A Real Partner, is the sort of modern Country song you would expect Rayna and Deacon to sing on the Nashville TV series.
The Western theme is probably at its best on God Only Knows when the singer delves into Patsy Cline or possibly even Doris Day territory on a tale of the lonely life of a Cowboy’s wife in a way I haven’t heard in decades; and sometimes miss.
As regular readers will know Mrs. Magpie is a big Country fan, so this album is right up her street and she very quickly made it clear that the title track Portrait Of a Cowgirl was her personal favourite track; but for me (and she very nearly agreed for once!) it has to be the slightly tongue in cheek Big Hat, No Cattle as it has a great sing-along tune and must be a show-stopper when played live as Eli puts the ‘Plastic Cowboy’ firmly in his place with some viperish put downs.
This is another one of those rare ‘finds’ that keeps me writing reviews, as Bless her; Eli Barsi certainly isn’t trying to compete with Adele or The Coldplays in the pretentious stakes; she just makes classy Country music for people to enjoy and not worry about what she means in-between the lines; and boy oh boy does she succeed!

Released February 2016

Libby Koch – Just Move On

libby koch 3

Libby Koch
Just Move On
Berkalin Records

Traditional Country Doesn’t Get Any Countrier Than This.

It’s been a busy few months trying to fit in as many reviews as possible; so this album very nearly fell by the wayside; but there was something about the inside cover photo of a smiling Libby Koch from Houston in a denim jacket cradling a gorgeous Gretsch guitar that made me think I would like the contents.
Country Music comes in many formats these days; and being the snob I am I hardly recognise most of it so when I heard the Twanging guitar and then Libby’s emotion dripping voice on the opening track Just Move On, I knew I was going to be in a tear stained Heaven….which is the Country Music I loves.
The song is a belter; a break up song with just the right amount of cracked pathos to keep you interested in the story but boy; what a great voice this woman has.
Just about every song follows in the Love-lost/break-up/Cheating/redemption format, and that’s right up my street.
Bring You Down is a real Honky-Tonky treat with an opening line of ‘Yes, y’all sometimes it feels good to be bad’….come on, what’s not to like?
Lady Luck, on the other hand is a sensitive break up song of the finest hue with some very intelligent songwriting to boot.
Back to Houston is a fascinating song; as the narrator looks back on a broken relationship that means she’s now ‘on a Highway back to Houston after bidding a farewell to Tennessee’; but the heartstrings are still tugging her back.
Oh Dear Lord; how good is You Don’t Live Here Any More? Libby’s voice sounds cracked and pained as sets her man straight in a way I’ve not heard since I discovered Bobbie Cryner all those years ago.
The album closes with a song probably written at the same time. Wish You Were Here opens with some delicious electric guitar followed by Libby’s droll voice “Bring out the bottle and pour me a shot/I thought I was better, but clearly I’m not/I can’t believe after all these years/As I sit in a bar-room/I wish you were here.’
It’s a timeless story that far too many women will feel was written about; and is just the type of song Martina, Faith and Trisha should have been looking for but perhaps it is ‘too Country’ for them these days.
Although very happily married Mrs. Magpie share a mutual passion for albums like this and for once we actually agree on our ‘joint favourite song’……the rocking and toe tapping Chance on Me. Another tale that will resonate with people of ‘a certain age’ as its along the lines of ‘be careful what you wish for’ as Libby sings ‘So suddenly I wonder If just the one I’m looking for has been beside me all these years’…..I’m not taking it too literally; but hey…..sometimes…….
Sometimes fate plays a hand in what I listen too and this album has been a real treat; and I really think you will like it too.

Released June 24th 2016

Ben Glover – The Emigrant


Ben Glover
The Emigrant
Proper Records

Acclaimed Songwriter Revisits His Celtic Roots.

As a Northern Irish Singer-Songwriter who now lives and works in Nashville, Ben Glover straddles two musical worlds that I am very passionate about.
While the majority of his work knows no International boundaries; this album is made up of songs from deep inside his very Soul.
For once I won’t start with the opening song; but the third and title track The Emigrant around which the album revolves. After living and working in America since 2009 Glover finally got his Green Card earlier this year; and got to thinking about what it meant to be an ‘Emigrant’.
Based around John McCullough’s simple and haunting piano playing Glover summons up the woes of thousands of people fleeing conflict in Africa and the Middle East for a ‘better life’ in Europe, this got him to thinking about his forefathers who emigrated to America for such a ‘better life’ and the horrors that they originally faced.
Even as an Americana UK Song of the Year Winner; I swear he will never write a finer or more heart breaking song than this…..and in the light of the current American Political climate should be played on National Radio on the hour, every hour!
Phew; back to the album itself.
With that song as a fulcrum Ben has selected four original compositions to sit alongside six traditional Folk songs that fit in with the theme; and his choices are more or less exemplary.
Opening with The Parting Glass, a traditional Folk song the mood is firmly set for a darkly beautiful evening; especially the addition of haunting Celtic instrumentation in the background.
Ben certainly goes back to his (Northern) Irish Folk roots on several songs; and on Ralph McTell’s From Clare to Here; better known as a Nanci Griffith song he manages to sound like the loneliest man on earth; surpassing every other version I own.
Somehow Ben also manages to blow new life into the Republican Anthem; Brendan Behan’s The Auld Triangle; a song he must have got sick of hearing as a teenager in the pubs and Folk clubs around the North. But here he somehow rekindles the fire Behan must have had all those years ago.
Of the new songs Dreamers, Pilgrims and Strangers encapsulates in just over a minute what poets and songwriters have failed to capture for years and the co-write with Mary Gauthier Heart in My Hand; is as good as anything the pair have written before….and they’ve written a lot.
As a regular visitor to the area I can understand Glover’s feelings when he selected The Green Green Glens of Antrim to close the album as it’s a gorgeous song in its own rite; and his sensitive treatment could easily be the basis of a beautiful TV advert.
But……by far and away my favourite song is one I only discovered myself a couple of years ago when I had a radio show. While collating tracks for a Remembrance Day/Veterans Day themed programme a friend sent me a download of a song by an Australian Folk Singer called Eric Bogle, called And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. On hearing it that first time tears poured down my cheeks; and they did again when I heard Ben Glover’s beautiful and stark rendition.
The song was and probably still is little known outside Australia; as it documents a dark day in that countries history, when thousands of their fine young men sailed to Gallipoli in WWI and only a few returned; and like the narrator himself, many returned thinking “I never knew there were worse things than dying.”
The Emigrant doesn’t make for easy listening; and nor should it; but it is an album that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Released September 30th 2016

The Beat (featuring Ranking Roger) -Bounce

the beat

The Beat (featuring Ranking Roger)
DMF Records

Fresh Faced Reggae-Ska Fusion With a Bit of a Message Deep in the Grooves.

Ranking Roger has been proudly flying the Beat flag for many years now; and while the live shows feature all the original hits; ‘this’ band has actually developed and evolved their very own sound and songs over 30 years on the road.
The album opens with the infectious Walking on the Wrong Side; which carries the trademark Beat ‘chunka-chunka’ Reggae-Ska chops; and Roger’s voice has never sounded better on a tale of the dangers black youth face on a daily basis.
The skanking continues with a vengeance over the next couple of songs; but The Beat enter heavy Bluebeat territory on Avoid The Obvious; a marvellous song just crying out for a Heavy Dub remix… my humble opinion.
My copy doesn’t make it clear; but I presume the dancelicious Talkin’ About Her is a duet between Ranking Roger and son and heir Ranking Junior (aka Matthew Murphy) and it works a treat; brining a little bit of Jamaican sunshine into my damp Summer.
To some degree I wish Roger hadn’t released this album under The Beat franchise; as he is selling himself short because this is very much is ‘his album’ with tracks like Work, Work, Work and My Dream owing more to Orange Street than New Street; and being all the better for it.
The endearing Reggae-Ska beats and melodies on offer here are all as fresh as a daisy; and only ever offer a nod to the past, with My Dream being a great example of a band being as tight as a badgers bum and top producer Mick Lister bringing the very best out of the crew.
Favourite track? Walking on the Wrong Side is the obvious choice for a single; but I love the heavier Roots of Close The Door which bookends the album and again features Ranking Junior Toasting in between Ranking Roger’s sweet voice on some fairly hard hitting verses.
While the album flows along very sweetly; two songs do stand out – Side to Side and My Dream, with both having a slightly heavier sound; and when you read that they were mixed by the legendary Dennis Bovell you will nod knowingly….. and I wouldn’t mind him having a go at remixing the whole album; or is that being greedy?
While I had my reservations when I first received this album; Bounce has been a delight from start to finish and has rekindled my love for Ska and Reggae music…..thank you Roger.

PS. The first time I saw this version of The Beat a young band from Leeds were third on the bill, and were laughed off the stage by us cool kids for ‘trying too hard’……whatever happened to the Kaiser Chiefs?

Released September 30th 2016

Elouise – Deep Water

elouise 4

Deep Water


So Very Dark and Gothic You Shouldn’t Listen Alone.

I often get asked why I make such a big deal about opening songs in my reviews; and I respond by saying that most people haven’t heard of most of the acts on these pages, so that song can be a deal breaker as to whether you will like the album.
If , like me you you ‘get’ I’ll Fly Away you are in for a rare treat; but if, like Mother Magpie you raise your eyebrows and walk out of the room muttering you may as well turn to another page right now!
Elouise are a loose collaboration of LA musicians who have come together because of their love of ‘Blackgrass’ and a better name I couldn’t have invented myself.
The atmospheric intro to I’ll Fly Away could come from a Peckinpah Western and when Elouise Walker’s world weary voice crawls from the speakers I was instantly hooked. The melody somehow blends Delta Blues with a Scottish Presbyterian Dirge and is quite wonderful!
If you are still with us by track #3 Saturn Bar, you are in for another rare treat. It opens with the sound of beer being poured then a funereal New Orleans style Jazz band slowly caress Elouise’s sultry voice on a gorgeously brooding tale of a seedy bar in the 9th Ward.
It’s a similar ‘feeling’ on Oh Lord! with Rich Dembowski joining her on lead vocals as the band pump it up like a church organ on a hot Sunday morning.
Oh my, oh my oh my……the track Evil is just a cello and double bass so low on the register your teeth will shake and a more fitting title there isn’t.
There are two cover versions here and Elouise’s dirty reconstruction of Amazing Grace will stay with you for a long, long time….I know it has me; and who the Hell would ever expect a low down Delta interpretation of Silent Night that will make this Christmas Carol never sound the same for you…ever? I absolutely love both songs btw.
This isn’t really the type of album that will transfer to the radio or the mainstream but Rich Dembowski’s crooning on the misogynistic love story I’ll Be Good To You could scrape into one of those cool late at night shows that only the cool kids know about.
I genuinely love this album; especially the dark Blues of Black Horses; with Elouise recounting her father’s terminal illness over another funereal tune that harks back to the days when Bessie Smith was the Queen of the Blues.
This album certainly isn’t for everyone, as Mother Magpie will testify; but if you spotted the monochrome cover in a record store and picked it up; you certainly wouldn’t be disappointed by the contents.

Released July 15th 2016


Billy Bragg and Joe Henry – Shine a Light

billy bragg joe henry

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry
Shine a Light
Cooking Vinyl

Unprocessed and Authentic Interpretations of the Other Great American Songbook.

Hmmm…..where do I start here? I like to think of myself as a Billy Bragg fan; or at least I certainly used to be ‘back in the day’ but in recent years his fascination with all things ‘Woody Guthrie’ coupled with age appears to have mellowed him; just when the world needs an angry Billy Bragg!
Which brings us to Shine On (Field recordings from the Great American Railroad) recorded with friend Joe Henry during a trip between Chicago and LA; where they would set up their minimalist recording gear in waiting rooms and occasionally in actual sidings; eventually recording their last song at dawn  in Union Station.
The album opens with the lonesome sound of a train before the duo reactivate Rock Island Line and the mood is set for a trip back in time; with a series of classic and less well known American Railroad songs from across the ages.
Some songs work better than others in this format; with the background noises in Railroad Bill adding a certain ‘something’ Billy Bragg’s rudimentary reading of this normally jaunty Folk song; but on Waiting For a Train he sounds like he is actually in a studio and the song is all the better for that; although I’m not sure he has a career as a professional yodeller any time soon.
Possibly because my expectation wasn’t quite so high for Joe Henry I much prefer the songs he takes the lead on, with Hobo’s Lullaby probably being the finest song here, with Bragg a perfect foil on harmonies.
Obviously musical experts will harrumph; but I’ve never associated Gentle on my Mind as a ‘railroad song’ but it most certainly is and fits in perfectly here with Joe Henry making it a world weary Folk Song and not the pop hit we all remember.
For me; the song that encapsulates the whole album is another contemporary song Early Morning Rain, which closes the album and has Henry on lead vocals and Bragg, picking the guitar and providing those ragged harmonies again, as the sounds of a lonely railway station buzz in the background.
I guess that this was a great idea by the two musicians and it works in the way they intended; but I doubt it will be in any Top 10’s at the end of the year nor get played much by fans of either or even railway fanatics a month after purchase.

Released September 26th 2016

Ruth Theodore – Cactacus

ruth 4

Ruth Theodore
Aveline Records

Left of Centre Songwriter May Have Invented Alt. Jazz

Because ‘time is of the essence’ for me at the moment; this album has sat on the shelf as it is best described as ‘challenging;’ that was until I was driving to work very early one morning and it was the soundtrack to a spectacular sunrise and….I ‘got it’.
The opening track Buffalo is a real brain twister combining her quintessentially British Folkish singing style with a Country-Jazz hybrid backing…..confused? You will be!
The following song, You Can’t Help Who You Love is a little bit easier to understand; with Ruth’s quirky and very individual voice finally winning the battle with the band who throw a little bit of everything into the mix.
Not everything here is quite so frenetic thankfully; as for me the finest moments are when Ruth plays at the piano and producer Todd Sickafoose allows her voice to flow like a mountain stream, with The Carcass and the Pride being a beautiful example of a singer-songwriter pouring their heart out in words and music.
My favourite song by far; is Wishbone and again is basically Ruth singing as she tinkles the piano. The song is absolutely stunning and had me wishing the whole album had been in the same vein as those two songs.
The album closes with another haunting beauty; Everything is Temporary; possibly the most conventional song here and yet again an intelligently written and constructed piece that will appeal to readers of the broadsheet newspapers.
As a man of a certain age; Ruth is the type of artist that would turn up in the middle of the Old Grey Whistle Test sitting at the grand piano with a hirsute guitarist beside her and would either be the time you took to make a cup of tea or the five minutes that turned her into your favourite singer of all time.
With hindsight it has been Ruth Theodore’s amazing voice that kept me hanging in here; while some of the poetic lyrics reminded me of Leonard Cohen’s earlier work (seriously) and the album itself sort of hints at Tori Amos and the Ben Folds Five at times; I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone quite like her before.
While this is British singer-songwriter Ruth Theodore’s fourth album, she has somehow passed me by until now; and as I said earlier, it took several ‘listens’ to finally come somewhere near to enjoying this album; but the effort was well worth it.


Released September 23rd 2016

The Americans – EXCLUSIVE Interview with Cara Gibney

the americans

The Americans
Today’s Rock & Roll from Yesterday’s Best

Ryan Bingham told me last year, “There’s a group of guys out here that call themselves The Americans. Some of the best song writing I’ve heard in years.”

It’s strong praise indeed, however Bingham (with whom they have toured at least twice), is not alone in endorsing The Americans. They’ve worked with Lucinda Williams, Nick Cave, and Courtney Love. And after taking part in the PBS documentary American Epic (produced by T Bone Burnett, Jack White, and Robert Redford), T Bone Burnett is quoted as saying “The Americans are part of this group, these genius twenty-first century musicians that are reinventing American heritage music for this century. And it sounds even better this century.”

Describing themselves as “original rock & roll with deep roots in traditional American music,” they started out as a jug band; all of them experienced players of the relevant instruments. Over the years however they have shape-shifted into roots based rock and roll, with a taste of rockabilly. Transforming back into devotees of deep American roots when so inclined.

“We always have a banjo, mandolin, and fiddles with us on tour” frontman Patrick Ferris told me. “Everyone in the band can play the banjo. And we still get a chance to do it every now and then, as we did in American Epic … Those influences are sometimes overt, like when we put a banjo or a pump organ in a song, or the way Zac, Jake, and I fingerpick on electric guitar and bass.”

For the band however, there’s more to it than the style of playing, or the choice of instrument. We’re more influenced by the emotional quality of old records, those moments in old songs that we all love deeply, than by the aesthetics or the instrumentation, Ferris continued.”

Indeed, you don’t need to listen too meticulously to hear how the essence of the traditional music from those old records holds sway on the contemporary sound that the band is creating. “Zac and I spend a lot of our free time learning old fiddle tunes, whose melodies can work their way into our own when we’re writing” Ferris explained. We drive everyone crazy with it, especially on tour. We have two songs – “Bronze Star” and “Foreign Land” – whose melodies Zac actually wrote on the violin, in the style of old fiddle tunes. Those took a lot of work to even figure out where I was supposed to sing. Writing our new song “The Right Stuff”, we wanted the choruses to chug along like an accordion on an old Cajun record.”

“The Right Stuff” is the first single from their forthcoming album I’ll Be Yours. It will be their second album after 2013’s Home Recordings, and their self-titled EP released in 2010. “It’s the first proper studio album we’ve released” Ferris told me of the up-coming record. “We recorded the EP and Home Recordings ourselves, the first in a barn to 1/4″ tape, and the second with three microphones in Tim’s basement in LA. This was the first chance we had to really get things sounding the way we wanted.”

However, don’t let that put you off any of their previous releases. “We’ve always been highly particular about the way we record music” he was keen to point out. “The sounds we like are elusive, and we’re always trying new things to get there, whether it’s rewiring guitar amps or recording in unusual rooms. We love the organic sound you hear on some records – not necessarily achieved organically, but that give the impression of a loud band all playing in a room together. The new album is a step closer to whatever it was we had in mind back when we first started the band.”

That love for those elusive, organic sounds all started with old records and their passion for music grew. “We’d been friends a long time, discovering old-time and early rock and roll records together” recalled Ferris. They went on tour with their friend Cody, “who didn’t have a drum kit, but beat a small suitcase with a soup spoon. I think it went pretty well.” They toured all over the country, playing small town bars and rural honky tonks. “We’d worked up hours of material from obscure rockabilly/early rock & roll records,” Ferris continued. “We mixed them in with the few original songs we had.”

Ferris plays guitar and is the main man behind the microphone. He, like each of the band, has a fascinating pedigree to bring to the music they craft. It was his father who showed him his first chords. “Once I got interested in the old records I learned the harmonica, banjo, autoharp, and later the fiddle. I never had any lessons.” Believe it or not his first album was West Coast hip hop artist Warren G’s Regulate, and his interest in more traditional music developed later on. “I didn’t start listening to folk or blues until I picked up the guitar … I started playing guitar when I was fifteen or sixteen.”

Zac Sokolow plays guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin. His father is a musician and Sokolow has been playing music with him as long as he can remember. Indeed, nestling in YouTube is a video of Mr Sokolow senior, and a young Zac, performing together (“Let Me Fall”) from around 2000. “When I was about 11 years old I started getting more serious about playing the banjo and guitar,” Zac told me, “and pretty much stopped caring about doing anything else.” From playing bluegrass gigs as a youngster, to the Cajun and Zydeco dances he went to with his mother, then the high school rock bands, Sokolow’s musical path has led him directly to where he is today.

Drummer Tim Carr is another multi-instrumentalist, playing “piano and pump organ in the band (guitar and banjo when we perform traditional country blues and folk music).” The musically curious Carr “began studying jazz and performing in various ensembles at school. This led to my interest in older jazz and traditional folk music” he explained. “I continued my music education at California Institute of the Arts studying jazz and West African drumming. This is where I met Jake and he introduced me to the rest of the band.”

Jake Faulkner is the band’s upright bass player, as well as guitarist, mandolinist, jug player, “and can fake it on a banjo.” He studied at California Institute of the Arts, and his first band was called the Black Jack Gypsies. “I ran around with long hair, no shirt, a sarong, and Doc Martins yelling about restraining orders, the pullout method not working, and other unfunny notions that delighted me when I was 15.” Nowadays he tends to spend more time writing poetry and publishing it on his own publishing company, Saint Parade Publishing.

Song writing is a group effort. “We write a lot of music together, and I tend to write the words” Patrick Ferris explained. “Jake and I each wrote lyrics to one for the new album. I’d say we tend to focus on getting the most we can out of something we really like, letting that dictate the song, rather than settling on a form. Sometimes I’ll bring in something I’ve worked out on my own. Other times we arrange everything together and build songs around abstract pieces of music we’ve been working on.”

Nowadays, when they’re not performing in their own right, touring involves supporting artists like Ryan Bingham, who initially asked the band to join him on tour after hearing them perform at a party. Seems it was a tour with a steep learning curve for the young band. “The first time we stayed out all night with Ryan’s band, we watched in dismay as his tour bus pulled away in the morning, realizing they could sleep the whole way to Alabama, and we still had to make the drive.” Their own form of transport being “a hillbillied out ’99 Suburban with the upright bass on the roof and steer horns mounted to the front.”

To be fair though, the lessons from that tour weren’t all so hard. “We played for big crowds for the first time, and that changed our perspective across the board. We were impressed with the way his band’s rhythm section filled up a room. You learn a lot watching the same band play night after night.”

However, Ryan Bingham isn’t the band’s only fan, and their involvement in the documentary American Epic added a bevy of names to their list of admirers. American Epic quite literally reconstructs the story of the first music recordings in 1920s USA: a groundswell in which record companies travelled throughout the country, capturing the evolving musical cultures that founded so much of what we listen to today.

To make this possible, the documentary re-assembled the recording apparatus that was used at the time, and with microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from the era, they recorded current artists straight onto wax, including Willie Nelson, Los Lobos, Blind Boy Paxton, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, and many more. “Jack White and T Bone (Burnett) produced the sessions. We were there every day, backing up musicians and contributing to arrangements” Ferris told me. And in being so instrumental to the making of the documentary, he was in prime position to explain how it all functioned.

“The filmmakers reconstructed from original parts the 1920s Western Electric amplifier and Scully lathe, which revolutionized the recording industry at that time. No one had used the equipment since the 1930s, and our job was to make the first recording on it since then, preparing ourselves for the film. Later Elton John, Jack White, Nas, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Beck, and Alabama Shakes would try their hands at it, but we got to go first.”

“Once the sessions were underway, we functioned as the house band, backing up various artists and suggesting songs for them to the filmmakers” he continued. “We did a song with the country singer Ashley Monroe (a descendent of the Carter Family and Bill Monroe), and the Detroit soul singer Bettye LaVette. Zac (Sokolow) played with Ana Gabriel, and Jake(Faulkner) must be the only human to ever play the jug behind Nas, for his version of a Memphis Jug Band song that we recommended.”

The Americans new album, I’ll Be Yours, is due for release later this year. The album returns them to 2016. They’ve shape-shifted back into the modern-day rock and roll band, writing contemporary music of their time, incorporating the kernel of their traditional roots, enhancing their rock and roll credentials with the “emotional quality” of music made generations earlier.

Their tour continues through August and September. Keep an eye on for info.