Will Varley – Kingsdown, Sundown

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Will Varley
Kingsdown, Sundown
Xtra Mile Recordings

Raw and Intelligent 21st Century Folk Songs.

While this is Will Varley’s fourth album in five years, it’s his first for Xtra Mile Recordings and shows a sharper, edgier sensitivity to his finely crafted songs.
Some very judicial programming places To Build a Wall as the opening track. The first couple of times I heard it I resumed it was a metaphorical description of a crumbling relationship; and it may well be…..but in the light of last week’s staggering USA Presidential Election results; the song could easily be about Donald J Trumpet’s proposed Wall that will separate America from Mexico; but Varley’s clever way with words means the song can also be about the way the world is dissolving around our ears by the minute……or, it just may be a ‘broken love song’ as I first thought.
Track #2 Something is Breaking really is a political Folk song, with Varley’s voice virtually a croak as sings about ‘cowards that hide behind a digital mask’ as ‘children die in the water’ as well as taking pot shots at ‘corrupt politicians.’ He paints a very bleak picture, but by the careful use of prose manages to create a beautifully fragile song.
Recorded in the basement of a pub in Deal, Kent Will Varley writes and sings dangerous songs, dangerous as they make the listener ‘think about what is going on around them’ and there’s not enough music around today that does that.
We Want Our Planet Back is a darkly tongue in cheek poke in the ribs for the people who read and believe the populist newspapers and then without thinking about the consequences voted to leave the EU here in the UK, and more recently voted in a new President in the USA on the back of over simplistic slogans rather than studying the socio-economic implications both events will/may have. Hence the simplistic chorus ‘We Want Our Planet Back’ sung in a flat muscular manner.
Varley’s sandpapered larynx comes into its own as he paints pictures with words on the timeless Back To Hell. A song that could easily have been on any of the British bedsit singer-songwriter LP’s that I immersed myself in between 1969 and 72 and if I had a time machine Will Varley would be found singing this song on the OGWT with Whispering Bob nodding and looking enigmatic in the corner.
While I’m in that mood, When She Wakes Up and Wild Bird are the type of enigmatic love songs that John Peel loved before he discovered Punk.
There aren’t many laughs here; but that is the point, some of us need music that makes our brain work; which brings me to my favourite song here, One Last Look at The View which while dealing with loneliness and imminent death, there are some lines that will make you smile ruefully.
Kingsdown, Sundown close with the merest hint of optimism. We’ll Keep Making Plans certainly isn’t a gung-ho approach to life, more a nod at the human condition which sees us all through the terrible things that life hurls at us.
Perhaps it’s the mood I’m in at the moment, but I’ve loved this extraordinary album from start to finish…….thank goodness for songwriters like Will Varley who have the courage to write and sing from the heart, regardless of the commercial consequences.

Released November 4th 2016

http://www.willvarley.com

Jesse Dayton – The Revealer

jesse-dayton

Jesse Dayton
The Revealer
Blue Elan Music

The Heart of Of Old School Country With The Cool of Modern Americana.

Some days I absolutely love this job!
It pains me that this is the first of Jesse Dayton’s albums that I’ve ever heard; but it certainly won’t be the last.
Dayton is one of those names that has been around my musical sphere for years but never to the fore so it was with great interest that I put this disc into the player.
Was I surprised when the rat-a-tat beat of Daddy Was a Badass filtered out of the speakers. Dayton sings with great pride about his ‘oilfield White Trash/Honky Tonk Dancer/40 a Day/Beat Cancer/Purple Heart Winning’ Badass Daddy.
The love for the man comes through in every note and word as Jesse paraphrases the man’s life and how he was ‘tamed by Momma!’
Although a great start to the album; for me track #2 Holy Ghost Rock & Roller would have made a better opener; simply because it features an old radio broadcast about the Evils of Rock & Roll as it’s intro…..and it’s an intro and song that sums up Dayton and his music; Rocking Country Music that will bring out the juvenile delinquent in all of us.
The biggest surprise for me has been discovering that Jesse Dayton plays good ole fashioned Classic Country, the Honky Tonk variety that I absolutely love and have done for many years. The man has a masterful way with words on songs like Match Made in Heaven, which certainly has echoes of George Jones at his peak, and the rather odd I’m At Home Gettin’ Hammered (while she’s out getting nailed.) Who knew that a song about cuckoldry would be so catchy and thoughtful?
I’m a fan of many of Dayton’s compadres, especially Hayes Carll who he co-wrote 3 Pecker Coat with. Yet another Classic Country song that will have your toes a’tappin and your hips a wigglin’ as you swig a cold beer…..even in the comfort of your own home.
While this is as good a Country album as I’ve heard this year; my two favourite songs aren’t Dayton’s normal rocking and rolling style; Possum Ran Over My Grave is a sweet acoustic love song about the effect George Jones has had on the songwriter over the years and Dayton’s words will touch Possum fans all over the world.
The other; and by far my ‘stand out track’ here is Mrs. Victoria (Beautiful Thing). Here we find Jesse alone with his Resonator guitar. Phew; just when I was thinking Dayton was a foot to the floor Country Rocker he managed to take my breath away with this delightful and occasionally stunning song about the family maid Mrs. Victoria; a ‘Black old lady who was my best friend/made me who I am today.’ To some degree this is a cliched story about ‘the South’ which we’ve all seen in the movies, but the way Dayton’s words ooze from his lips and the maudlin way he picks his guitar you just have to believe that this is a true story; brothers and sister you have to BELIEVE!
There’s another song here that I will dedicate to musicians all around the world; The Way We Are is a song only a songwriting troubadour could write. Dayton has his tongue firmly in his cheek as he sings ‘Last night we Sold Out/We had it wired/Tonight we couldn’t get arrested/If we set ourselves on fire’ yet the band still loads the gear and drive hundreds of miles to play for ‘drinks from the bar’…..if you are a musician reading this, you’ve been there…right?
Jesse Dayton released his first album in 1995 and I’ve only discovered him in 2016…….and he’s a welcome inclusion in my world.

http://jessedayton.com/

Released September 23rd 2016

JHC Radio Show with Bap Kennedy INTERVIEW

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Back in 2012 I fronted a radio show for the Jumping Hot Club, first on NE1FM then later on Hive Radio in the North East.
The show lasted 3 years and was a wonderful time – who would ave thought I enjoyed the sound of my own voice?
Just like the website we brought music to the airwaves before just about anyone else, plus several singers and bands recorded exclusive songs for our ‘themed programmes’ (Valentines Da, Remembrance Sunday and Xmas Shows) bringing in listeners from across the Globe when the shows were posted on Mixcloud.
One of our regular supporters was our friend Bap Kennedy, who kindly let me interview him for one of the earlier programmes……here it is.

Chip Taylor – Little Brothers

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Chip Taylor (AKA James Wesley Voight)
Little Brothers
Train Wreck

Beautiful and Thought Provoking Songs From Legendary Songwriter.

Chip Taylor? Not heard of him? You have. Wild Thing, Angel (Of the morning), Try and Any Way You Want Me are just four songs that he wrote and topped various Hit Parades or at least are being played somewhere on Planet Earth on a Gold Radio Station as you read this.
Yet the one time professional gambler doesn’t rest on his laurels sipping cocktails from a golden chalice; no he still tours endlessly and records albums with songs that are touching and mindful.
The opening track is fascinating as it’s actually a spoken story of Alice playing in golf tournaments for kids set to music. It was only on the fourth or fifth time of hearing it that the story of ‘Barry taking his Granddaughter to the various tournaments’ began to unravel. I’m not going to spoil it by giving the last verse away, but Taylor really is a Master Craftsman.
That last sentence really does sum up Chip Taylor; he can tell a story and tell it in his soft, homely Grandpa style like no one else. St. Joan is a tale that stopped me in my tracks and made me listen intensely to every single word, then press ‘repeat’ each time it ended.
Book of Hope is really absorbing, although it’s vaguely about Religion and International Politics…..the way Taylor’s provocative lyrics slowly pour from his lips will make you realise that there really is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’…..if you look for it.
One track that should work but doesn’t work is Enlighten Yourself; basically because of the itro which finds Taylor rambling about people who “tell him to ‘Relax’ but never explain how to.” To emphasise his annoyance several lines are prefaced with a car horn; this happens again mid-way through. Probably a good idea that should have been left in the studio.
Then again Chip also ‘introduces’ two other songs that are actually enhanced by his spoken words set to music; the first is the title track Little Brothers. For those who don’t know Chip Taylor was born James Wesley Voight. That surname may ring a bell as his eldest brother Barry is a world famous expert on volcanoes. No? Possibly you know his other brother Jon; one of the finest actors of his generation. Yes, that Jon Voight!
The three are the boys featured on the cover and the story/song is absolutely glorious the way Chip puts some family minutiae to music; yet the thread will resonate with many of us too.
Regular readers will now my fondness for a ‘love song’ and Taylor delivers one here that brought a lump to my throat the first time I heard it. On Time Goes By the singer declares his love for his wife of many, many years in a whisper but the sentiment screams from the speakers. This is as good a love song as I’ve ever heard!
My absolutely favourite song here; and one that really tugged at my heartstrings also features a spoken introduction and one that is an integral part of the song that follows.
In these troubled times (I am writing this post-Brexit and the evening after DJ Trump became American President) the song Refugee Children is beautiful/touching/clever/relevant in equal measures. Taylor doesn’t hit you over the head nor sugar coat the tale but he gets the ‘message across’ in a way 99.99% of other songwriters can ever manage.

http://trainwreckrecords.com/artists/chip_taylor.html

Released September 23rd 2016

Hat Fitz and Cara – After the Rain

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Hat Fitz and Cara
After the Rain
MGM Distribution

Frazzled Rootsy Country Blues to Stir The Soul.

Every couple of years the Aussie/Irish duo Hat Fitz and Cara make a pilgrimage to the Jumping Hot Club in Newcastle (other venues are available too) and put on a red hot show that defies the fact that there are only ever two musicians on stage; and I can’t recommend their gigs highly enough.
But, can they transfer that magic to disc?
Well; no……and yes.
While this album is nowhere near as frantic as their stage shows, on record they create a different kind of magic….the kind that stirs the soul and warms the heart.
Opening track Going Home sees Irish born Cara Robinson in Southern Soul mode, as she allows her voice to swoop and soar as she and Fitz create a sultry sound straight from the swamps. Think Chrissie Hinde fronting Creedence Clearwater Revival….seriously.
Next out of the traps is the rather lovely single Doing It Again, with Cara’s golden voice joined by Fitz on harmonies as he makes his Resonator Mandolin sizzle as Ms. Robinson taps out a neat beat on her drum kit.
To some degree this is an album of two halves as the duo share lead vocal duties, with Car being much easier on the ear…..don’t get me wrong I absolutely love hearing Hat Fitz’ grizzled larynx performing acrobatics on songs like Tank Man and I Won’t Bow Down; with the latter really, really showcasing his skills on the guitar.
It makes my teeth itch when I see Hat Fitz and Cara billed as ‘old-timey.’ Classic – yes. Timeless – definitely! They cover so many Rootsy genres they are difficult to define, listen to the fabulously sensual title track After The Rain and tell me it’s Country, Blues or Soul……it is all three with a military style drumbeat to boot!
Speaking of which the Blues has hardly sounded any funkier than on Running Man as Cara swaggers like a ‘red hot Mama’ in down-town honky-tonk and Fitz plays the dirty end of his fret board. My, oh My…..this song really makes me all sweaty and hot.
Finding a favourite track is as difficult as ever with every song here being a joy in its own rite; but I think I will point you towards the Try. Obviously the title will make you think of the Janis Joplin song of the same name, but the way Cara handles the vocal department is quite staggering as this lady can SING…..not just shout, and the production is Silver edged making the duo sound like a full on ensemble. 10/10
The nine tracks and 32 minutes come to a swinging close with the sing-along, toe-tapping, smile inducing Keeping On and I can’t think of a better way to close this rattling trip through the roots of Country and Blues music.

http://www.hatfitzandcara.com/

Released December 5th 2016

 

Yola Carter – Orphan Offering (EP)

yola-orphan-offering

Yola Carter
Orphan Offering
Ear Trumpet Music

A Beautifully Powerful Voice That Transcends Musical Boundaries.

Yola Carter first found fame with a band called Phantom Limb, while critically acclaimed they somehow never found the fortune that they deserved. Yolanda then seemed to disappear from the scene until a couple of years ago when she turned up at the Sage Gateshead SummerTyne Americana Festival, leading their Gospel Choir on a Sunday lunchtime.
To say she left me gob-smacked would be a gross understatement…….I’m no God Botherer but if it meant hearing that amazing ‘sound’ again. I’d be back to chapel in an instant.
Again, she disappeared into the shadows with rumours of an immanent album on the horizon. Then, jump forward to SummerTyne 2016 and the larger than life, ever smiling singer headlined the Jumping Hot Club Stage on the Sunday afternoon and absolutely stole the show, combining Country, Soul, Blues, Gospel and Rock & Roll in a way the crowd won’t forget in a long time.
So fast forward to today and that ‘imminent album’ is now an EP but the wait has certainly been well worth it.
A gentle acoustic guitar intro leads us into the delightfully brittle opening song Home. The intricate and intelligent words ooze from Yola’s velvety throat with enough emotion to sink a battleship, and when the backing singers seep in I was reminded of the first time I ever heard Aretha Franklin……and that is an honest comparison from a huge fan of Aretha.
Her first love, Country Music comes to the for on track #2 What You Do, with Yola sounding more like she was born in the SW of America instead of SW England, and the song itself is as deep as a well, and the more you listen to it the more the layers reveal a really dark story.
The title track, Orphan Country comes in without any warning at #3. Dear Lord this is a story within a song that will crush even the hardest of hearts and Yola’s pearlescent voice sounds on the verge of breaking into tears at the end of each line…….leaving the listener a quivering wreck.
Don’t think for an instant that this is a ‘sad album’….it’s not, even though the stories are sad. The pristine production on songs like Heed My Words take a mournful tale and make it a thing of beauty and grace, which pretty much sums up Yola Carter’s singing style.
The short and sweet EP closes with the powerful and evocative Fly Away which finds the songstress giving full flow to her voice while a crunchy acoustic guitar and almost Grapelliesque violin add to the melodrama in the background.
Which all brings us to track #5 Dead and Gone which caught me by surprise at the absolute right/wrong time in my life. I’m pretty sure you have all ‘been there’ at one time or another, but I’ve personally never heard someone sing about depression in such a beauteous and emotional way. Yola cuts through all of the fog surrounding this disease with words that are not just from her heart, but presumably from her life and she has created a song that deserves to be heard free of charge on the National Health Service.
Phew, this is Grown Up music that can and should appeal to fans of Aretha, Dusty, Joni and  even Adele; but be prepared to have your heart broken and your Soul stirred.

Released October 31st 2016

http://www.yolacarter.com

 

Martha Ffion – The Mining Institute, Newcastle

martha-lil-vik-mi

Martha Ffion
The Mining Institute, Newcastle
28th October 2016

Martha Ffion appearing at The Mining Institute was always going to be a magical affair and with a stellar line up of supports it really was a special night last Friday.

Durham based, Soham De is an artist who comes across as a ‘nice guy’ with a cheeky grin. Having seen him a few times before, he always delivers a ‘nice set.’ Nothing wrong with that however, but tonight there was an air of difference too – perhaps an extra boost of confidence? His sets are always very honest and not just in the lyrical sense with songs such as, We are Alive, which is about anxiety and then relationship woes with Fool I Am and Closure. Tonight the latter was delivered as a rap, something I have never witnessed Soham do before. Something about this performance makes me excited for this guys future.

Sticking with the chilled out theme, Afnan Prince delivered a very slick performance in both song and conversation. Afnan commanded his audience with vocal acrobatics and humour, introducing ‘Ice Cream Spoons’ – ‘the song with a weird title’ but as it is his song he can ‘call it whatever he wants.’ This makes Afnan an even more likable character, if his charm had not already taken you. A brilliant surprise during his set was when Shannon Powell of local duo YUMA joined him for a beautiful duet on Memories which he performed on the keyboards. Hearing their harmonies blend together was emotionally heartwarming.

Tonight, the final support of the night, Lake Komo (who are normally a Massive Attack sounding four piece) come to us as a two-piece, as the drummer had been taken ill. Half of the Lake Komo set was an acoustic affair, which silenced the crowd as they took in the vocals of guitarist, Jay, as the keyboards from Jess blended in with him. Lake Komo, or at least this version, let the music do the talking. There were no introductions to the songs with the exception of the last, Milwaukee, which had the Mining Institute transfixed.

After three supports of chilled out acoustic sounds, Martha and The Homemakers then brought the sound and turned up the volume a few extra notches as they kicked off with the opening track of the TRIP EP, School Nurse which morphed into the 1960s soulful indie-pop sound of Wallflower. The energy of Martha and her band from the get-go was electric and brought the crowd that were pushed back for the supports closer to the front (but not too close!) and Martha as a front lady engaged them with her small talk filling the room with a buzz of excitement as those familiar with the songs sang along to the mini back catalogue. This buzz was fed back to the band as drummer Lewis lost his glasses half way through Punch Drunk Love. Ever the professional he did not even miss a beat as Martha and her boys carried on.

New songs like Real Love and Take Your Name made the set, which cements the sound of Martha Ffion making her a more recognized name in the music industry. It’s a sound that so many are trying to achieve yet failing. It is that 1960s feel with a fresh noughties vibe too. This is very apparent when Lead Balloon kicks off sounding a bit like the Archies, Sugar Sugar then they turn up the rock element, going straight into No Applause as the night was wrapped up with murmurs from the crowd of how ‘tight the sound was’ in these magical surroundings, as portraits of the Mining and Mechanical Engineers of the North East’s Industrial past look down on us as we were awed in Martha’s music.

Victoria Ling

http://137imaging.co.uk