Landmark Album For Country’s Wagonmaster.
While I wouldn’t say I was a ‘fan’ of Jim Lauderdale, I do own three albums that I still play occasionally and when I had my radio show would play the occasional track, and at least twice as the subject of requests; so I was thrilled last week when this, his latest release dropped onto the hall carpet.
Opening track Sweet Time is a delightful Country shuffle in the mode of someone like Charly Pride or Vince Gill; and it wouldn’t take too much of a leap to imagine any of today’s ‘Hat Acts’ covering in a bid to add authenticity to an album. The title London Southern comes from Lauderdale recording he disc in the Goldstar Studios in London, England with his friend Nick Lowe’s band and when you know that; you can hear a slightly different tone to Lauderdale’s regular approach on songs like the stunning Different Kind of Groove Sometimes and Mrs. Magpie’s favourite song here, What Have You Got to Lose with its sumptuous background harmonies.
Tucked away towards the end of the album is deep and meaningful song; when Jim gives us a full throated Country warble, along with some Memphis style soulful trumpet and sax…..I Can’t Do Without You is trademark Lauderdale but somehow as fresh as a daisy too.
The Twangtastic Don’t Shut Me Down and You Came to Get Me will both make feet all around the world get the urge to dance, and show that Lauderdale can still write great songs in any style he desires.
It’s fascinating to realise that this songwriters-songwriter isn’t afraid of a challenge; as shown by the choice of co-writers on a couple of songs included here, not only has he wrote two with the legendary Dan Penn but another pair with the ‘Blue Eyed Soul’ star John Oates and it’s one of those If I Can’t Resist; which reminded me of Wicked Game by Chris Isaak; and certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.
Love songs come at you from all directions on this record; but the late night piano, heart stopping double bass and sweeping strings that accompanying a crooning Jim Lauderdale on I Love You More just melted my heart the first time I heard it and there’s been a tiny tear in the corner of my eye each subsequent play. I’m not aux fait with every song he has ever written; but I doubt he’s ever written one more beautiful, making this easily my favourite song here.
It’s shameful to discover that after 27 previous albums and too many hits for other stars too numerous to mention spread over a career spanning 27+ years that legendary songwriter Jim Lauderdale’s solo albums have only ever troubled the Country Music Charts twice; and then only at #47 & #67!
Will London Southern fare any better? Who knows; but if I’m any judge I’m pretty sure it will go Top 10 in the UK AMA Charts pretty damn soon after release; showing what great taste British Country Music fans have 😉
Released February 3rd 2017
The Hornet’s Nest
A Late Night, Avant Garde Approach to Alt. Country.
Earlier this year I had been really looking forward to Curtis McMurtry’s first appearance at the Jumping Hot Club but had to cancel at the last minute due to ‘work commitments’. Talking to friends in the following weeks drew interesting comments; with no one going as far to say that ‘they had actually enjoyed’ the night, which made reviewing this, his second album even more ‘exciting’ for me.
First of all Curtis McMurtry’s approach to what we know and love as Americana/Alt. Country/Roots music is certainly ‘different’…..left-field, if you will.
Hard Blue Stones which opens the disc is a raw folk song played out against a brittle sounding banjo, and isn’t always easy on the ear.
Smooth as Thorns which follows, isn’t a million miles away in ‘feel’ but the addition of some finely textured cello shadowing his voice, plus a trumpet from the Chet Baker School of trumpet playing makes for an interesting juxtaposition of styles.
There are left turns at every juncture, with the almost romantically Latin flavoured Wrong Inflection being sandwiched between the Western Swing of Loves Me More and the Spanish guitar on the traditional Folk ballad Coward. Yet; it works …..I don’t know why; but it does.
The ukulele makes an entrance alongside Nathan Calzada’s sweet trumpet on the sweet sounding lullaby Together For Now; but listen more than twice and you will find a heartbreaking story that will bring a tear to your eye.
Tracker is as interesting as it is puzzling; reminding me at times of David Olney’s excursions into Film Noir a couple of years ago but also conjuring up mad thoughts of what Scott Walker might sound like if he made a Rootsy album. A dark, gloomy and ultimately a beautiful song.
I get the feeling that Curtis McMurtry would be devastated to know I was going to pick a ‘favourite’ here; as The Hornet’s Nest appears to be a ‘complete work’ in the mode of a theatrical story; not necessarily telling a story; but all of the narratives coming together to create a ‘mood’; but I feel the need to point you towards the pensive Shot At The Title or Rebecca as snapshots of what lies around them.
Everything here, from the delicate balance of the instrumentation through to McMurtry’s intelligently barbed lyrics are challenging; and they are meant to be; with McMurtry’s delightful voice being the singular constant that holds everything together.
As my knowledgeable friends intimated, The Hornets Nest won’t appeal to everyone; but fans of the Handsome Family, Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen will probably be attracted to the dark delights that abound here.
Released 24th February 2017
The Devil Don’t Sleep
Valory Music/BIG MACHINE
Nu-Country That Rocks Like an 80’s Chevy on Methanol.
I’m a bit ‘late to the party’ here; mostly because I think I like this album for all of the wrong reasons.
At first I got excited because Gilbert is on the hottest label in Country Music…. Big Machine and receiving lots of very high praise from the national press and Maverick magazine in particular.
The first day I played this I was seriously underwhelmed…..sorry guys….but I was. Apart from his breathy and grizzled voice, the music just isn’t Country as I understand it and memories of the last 4 or 5 disappointing CMA Award ceremonies sprang to mind.
But there was still ‘something’ about it that I thought deserved a second chance and with a long car journey in the itinerary I decided to give it a second chance and listen with a more ‘open mind.’
I’m glad I did.
Played LOUD on the open road……I get IT now!
First song in Rockin’ Chairs actually opens with some delightful slide guitar before the big guns pile in; and the song itself about ‘making memories’ that you can look back on is really quite good, and perfect for FM radio.
The power-ballad You Could Be That Girl also starts with some slide and goes into crashing guitars; but like Tried To Tell Ya too; just because there aren’t many banjos or a pedal-steel they can all still be ‘Blue Collar Country’ if you stretch your mind.
Or…..and this is when I started to like The Devil Don’t Sleep……..forget the ‘Country’ tag and think of Brantley Gilbert as the new Bon Jovi rather than Tim McGraw!
The stifling mood on Smokin’ Gun and the acoustic Outlaw in Me are great songs in any genre and if Sturgill Simpson covered the latter song the Americana press would wet their pants with excitement.
The Bon Jovi ‘feel’ comes across deep and wide on the timeless ‘anthemic’ rockers It’s About to Get Dirty and Way Back with guitar licks that Ritchie Sambora would be proud of.
We’re Gonna Ride Again and Bullet in a Bonfire both showcase Gilbert’s distinctive voice but also show what a great way he has with imagery in his lyrics too.
One song that took me by surprise was The Weekend, mostly as I presumed it would be ‘4 to the Floor’ Fist-Pumping boogie; still a ‘rocker’ but Gilbert throws a curve ball even giving it a bit of raw ‘punk’ feel around the edges……which may or may not reflect his own teenage years.
By the end of that three hour journey around the highways, by-ways and hills of rural Co. Durham two songs stuck in my head like ‘ear worms’; the intensely muscular Bro Code (which actually does feature a banjo!) and the title track The Devil Don’t Sleep which finds Gilbert in a reflective mode and sounding all the better for it.
Brantley Gilbert and BIG MACHINE won’t lose any sleep over my reservations about which rack to put this disc into in a record shop; as it’s destined to be a million seller by default; but my humble words might find him a couple more open-minded music snobs…..like me.
Released 27th January 2017
Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers
British Pub Rock Really Did Invent Alt. Country!
From the 60’s we have always had our own Blues infused Pub Rock scene in the NE; but in the mid 70’s London developed it’s now legendary Pub Rock scene. Every Thursday I would look enviously at the pages of Melody Maker and see exotically named bands like Eggs Over Easy, Ducks Deluxe, Brinsley Schwarz, Bees Make Honey and of course Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers, but because of my tender age and that there London being 300 miles away I never actually got to see them.
Over the years I’ve collected a few VA albums featuring these bands; but very few of their actual LP releases have been transferred to the new fangled Compact Disc format; which is why this release has really excited me.
Let’s start with the album sleeve…..OOHEEE! A Barney Bubbles image on the outer sleeve is certainly eye catching; and the accompanying 24 page booklet really does capture a ‘moment in time’ and kept me enthralled all last night.
For Chilli aficionados this release is made up of both LP releases, Kings of the Robot Rhythm and Bongos Over Balham plus the I’ll Be Home Sessions and live recordings plus one unreleased track.
For the rest of us…..here goes….
CD 1, the Kings of Robot Rhythm plus some demos open with Living Out of My Suitcase; a luscious slice of what we now know as Americana but must have been mind-blowing in 1972, when Buffalo Springfield and CSN&Y albums were out of the reach of the average man in the street.
The fiddle and harmonies on Window Pane sound rudimentary today must have been groundbreaking back then; certainly I wouldn’t have heard anything like it at the time. Nashville Rag still stands up today; and I love the way they turn That’s Alright Mama into a bit of a Country Reel.
With this re-release I’d love to hear one of the New Wave of British Country bands have a go at recording Drunken Sunken Redneck Blues and/or the closing track from the debut album A Page in History. Both are still relevant in 2017.
Friday Song was recorded as a single but didn’t get released; which is a bit of a shame as it’s a glorious concoction of Hall & Oats, Gram Parsons and Poco all rolled into one magic carpet ride.
Of the demos, several went on to be included on Bongos, but the delightful Don’t Hurt The One You Love appears to have been lost in the mist of time until now; and the world is a better place for it.
CD 2 is the second album Bongos Over Balham plus some outtakes and live tracks from that era.
The very first song shows a radical change in direction by opening with a rip-snortin version of the Jive classic Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie, and then Desert Island Woman sounding like something you would have heard on Miami Vice.
As you would expect after 40 years, not everything has stood the test of time; but plenty have with Jesse Winchester’s Midnight Bus appealing to me on a personal level and Truck Driving Girl is a joy from start to finish, plus All In a Dream and 9-5 Songwriting Man, while harking back to the first album, show a maturity in the actual songwriting.
This disc is then made up of ‘other sessions’ demos and live versions’ of more or less the same songs, with only Fire On The Mountain, which out fiddles The Charlie Daniels Band, the Rockabilly swing of Pinball Boogie and the new song Papa and Mama Had The Blues baring repeated listening; and I will repeatedly listen to them!
Then of course we have their ‘signature tune’ and title of the best compilation from this era, Goodbye Nashville (Hello Camden Town) which is one of those songs that every songwriter must wish they had written.
At 44 songs in total this could have easily been edited into a tip-top Best Of; but obviously REAL SHARP is aimed at ‘collectors’ while priced to attract casual music fans like me; so works on every level.
RELEASED 24th February 2017
The Backyard Devils
Honky Tonk Heartbreaker
Just Add Cold Beer and Whisky For a Perfect Saturday Night.
I guess it was the cover art that caught my eye last week when I was looking for something to play while I did the ironing (honest!) and after five or six songs I actually found myself doing an involuntary two-step!
The 90 mph Twang-attack that opens track #1 Rambling had me raising my eyebrows and when Erik Arsenault’s gravelly, road-worn voice kicked in I knew I was going to love this album…..let that be a lesson kids; Cover Art and the first track is ‘still all important.’
On paper there’s not a lot different between The Backyard Devils and 99 other Hillbilly/Bluegrass/Old-Timey bands I receive music from; but the joyous way this band sound on the break-up songs, especially The Stanley Brothers’ How Mountain Girls Can Love and their own Pack Your Bags makes for a very special group of musicians indeed.
The musicianship here is outstanding from start to finish; but I must congratulate the Devils themselves and George Belliveau for the razor sharp production that highlights every single instrument without ever overshadowing the vocals.
Somehow; and this is the magic that a great songwriter can create, songs like Gospel, All I Want to Do and the lonely heartbreaking ballad Feeling Stoned instantly sound like you’ve known them all your life; although they were all written just for this album.
For Sons of Canada these guys manage to out-Country most Americans I know on
For what it’s worth I don’t think there are nearly enough Truck Driving songs in Country Music these days; but the Devils rectify that wrong with two absolute belters…..Hard Times is as good as anything I’ve heard since Commander Cody made Truck Driving sound sexy; and then Scott H Biram’s aptly named Truck Driver had me smiling and (mentally) punching the air on every chorus.
Baring in mind where Country Music comes from I can’t remember the last time I heard a Cowboy song; and yet again that wrong is righted here with the sadly romantic Cowboy; which is certainly a contender for ‘favourite track’ and could also be great funeral song; but don’t tell Mrs. Magpie!
Oh Lordy Lord! If there is a TV producer out there considering making a programme in the vein of The Dukes of Hazard I’ve found the theme tune for you…..and the story therein has all the hallmarks for the script of the first episode……Bernie Mountain Sinners is that very song and you will love it too; trust me.
I’ve I’ve raved about all of these songs, my ‘favourite song’ must be special, mustn’t it? Hell yes! I’m So Easy is….well…..I think I once met the girl he falls in love with; but I managed to escape her clutches…..and what a cool tune too.
There you have it; an intoxicating mix of Bluegrass, Honky-Tonkin’ Country and a smattering of fancy dan Rockabilly ……..what’s not to like……some days I love my job!
Released UK 20th February 2017
Released Canada 17th Dec 2014
The Best of the Dualtone Years
A Consummate Collection Of A Master’s Latter Years.
Guy Clark? Where do I start? On a recommendation from the owner, a retrospective of his early recordings (priced £5.99) was one of the first Americana CD’s I ever bought in the long gone Goldrush Records, Perth Scotland and proved not to be just a gateway into his work, but that of Townes, Rodney, Nanci and Steve Earle….. and the rest is history.
By the time Guy signed for Dualtone Records in 2005 he was something of a ‘forgotten man’ and the industry probably presumed his best years were long gone.
As this retrospective of the Dualtone recordings proves…..how wrong they were!
This perfectly balanced Double Album opens with Rain in Durango, then saunters through Hemingway’s Whisky and My Favourite Picture of You……PHEW……find me a songwriter in the last 20 years who has wrote a better song than any of those three and I will be surprised….and remember this was meant to be the ‘tail end’ of Clark’s career!
Since his death in 2016 he has been mentioned a lot in the Press Releases I receive as an ‘inspiration’ and occasionally a ‘mentor’ for many much younger singer-songwriters; and you can hear and feel why that would be the way he couples simple observations with a beautiful way with words on songs like Out In The Parking Lot and Tornado Time in Texas to draw the listener in and keep them entranced.
Not a young man when he recorded Cornmeal Waltz but his voice sounds timeless and almost ethereal as he recalls the heady nights of his youth…….and I pretty much guess that there was a twinkle in his eye whenever he sang it.
For younger listeners there’s even the addition of four of his earlier/classic songs with The Cape, Dublin Blues, L. A. Freeway and the quirky Homegrown Tomatoes from his 2011 Songs & Stories album……which is well worth checking out for the stories alone.
As the vast majority of existing Guy Clark fans will already have the four albums these songs are culled from the ‘carrot’ for them is the inclusion of three previously unreleased songs.
I’m normally cautious about such things; but all three ‘demos’ fit in perfectly with what has gone before, with the first being the simple and haunting Just To Watch Maria Dance, then a co-write with Hal Ketchum The Last Hobo but Time, a collaboration with Marty Stuart shows that not all the good songs made it onto disc.
I could push a pin into the track list and tell you that song was my favourite; but I will point new readers to two songs that encapsulate everything I love in Guy Clark’s writing and singing.
As a master-craftsman who spent many long days making…..no creating handmade guitars, The Guitar is a love song that only a true musician could write and his attention to minutiae is astonishing; as is his own guitar playing.
The other is one of the ‘live recordings’; The Cape …….”A song about jumping off a garage” as Clark introduces it is…..well, just you go and find it and tell me you didn’t have tears in your eyes too.
Guy Clark will be sorely missed; but his legacy lives on in these songs and others; all of which will be studied and played for decades to come.
RELEASED March 3rd 2017
Scott H Biram
The Bad Testament
Red Raw and Blistered Country-Blues From The Pits of the Heart.
I only discovered Scott H Biram 3 or 4 years ago when a good friend too me to The Cluny to see an ‘un-named’ singer after making me promise not to check the listing guides.
Suffice to say John is a wise man and knows my musical tastes……..I was absolutely blown away that night. Very, very few solo singer-songwriters can silence that noisy bar but Biram’s powerful and passionate songs and indeed their ‘delivery’ did just that and the applause each received was deafening.
Can that ‘magic’ be transferred to disc?
The album opens with a crackling radio message before ‘the band’ (Biram plays EVERYTHING himself) kicks in with the muscular Set Me Free; a freewheeling Country Rocker to stir the soul of every sinner out there.
This is followed by Biram playing acoustic guitar and pouring his heart out on the cold-hearted Still Around, showcasing some incredible guitar picking too, btw. Normally these two songs would be like chalk and cheese; but like the rest of the album Biram neatly balances styles and moods like the pharmacist in Breaking Bad.
I had to look twice to see that the rusty love song Crippled & Crazy was actually Scott, as he sounds uncannily like Willie Nelson after a good night out. Red Wine is in a similar vein and is just perfect for playing on the jukebox at five minutes to closing time.
Biram plays his guitars with guts, gusto and guile but its his way with words that make him stand out; Righteous Ways is intricately clever and beautiful in equal measure while Long Old Time is a multi-layered slice of Country-Blues that will have you pressing ‘replay’ over and over again.
Suffice to say music like this isn’t for everyone…..”What the Hell was that?” said Mrs. Magpie as I played the fire and brimstone infused Train Wrecker at full blast just as she walked through the door! Imagine Lemmy and the Waco Brothers rediscovering Bo Diddley…….or Jason and the Scorchers on steroids! She didn’t like it btw.
Me? Love it to bits!
Just because he can, and just because he doesn’t give a damn Scott even includes a couple of Country stomping, grin inducing guitar instrumentals with Hit The River and What Doesn’t Kill You blowing that Seasick Steve out of the water!
At times Biram manages to put the Alternative into Alt. Country, with Long Old Time being the sort of harmonica soaked song you would normally associate with both Townes Van Zandt and Merle Haggard without ever sounding like either.
My favoured song here really is a singer-songwriter at the pinnacle of his career; Swift Driftin’ is one man and a guitar but just like that balmy night in Newcastle is spellbinding; and the way Biram growls “It takes a real piece of shit to be a real piece of shit/ You should really just be headed on your way.” Perhaps it’s just the mood I’m in, but that song really does speak to me.
I don’t really know Scott H Biram’s 9 album back catalogue; but I’m pretty damn confident that his fans (acolytes?) will think of this as some kind of masterpiece; and if it’s not his other albums must be amazing!
Released 24th February 2017
I Got Your Medicine
The Good Doctor Prescribes Listening To This Funky Soulful Delight Daily!
This arrived in a week when I was inundated with CD’s to review yet I was instantly drawn to the cover artwork, showing a hirsute young man looking not unlike a young and natty Dr John, so into the player it went.
OOOOHHHEEE BABY! God sure does act in mysterious ways.
The title track I Got Your Medicine immediately swoops from the speakers the New Orleans gumbo music of Dr. John immediately sprang to mind as ex-Gourd Kevin Russell croons in a deep and loaded and, it has to be said….slightly sexy manner over a jazzy groove with plenty of Doo-Wop too from the backing singers. If I had heard this song on the car radio, I would have had to pull over.
I seem to be listening to a lot of Rhythm & Blues at the moment; and the world is a better place for it especially with amazing songs like Trouble, Trouble and the nod to Louis Jordan, Ambulance being out there in the ether just waiting to make your life a little bit better.
Music effects people in many ways; but I personally don’t listen to enough ‘happy music’ and that is the best way to describe
Shinyribs very much wear their influences on their sleeves, with I Gave it All Up For You being a delicious Fats Domino/Otis Redding hybrid……trust me it’s a rare song that gets me miming along while including dance moves and facial expressions, but this one did and still does.
I only wish I had the imagination and vocabulary to have described this style of music as Tub Gut Stomp & Red Eyed Soul; but thankfully Russell has and did as that is the title of one of the stand out tracks tucked away in the middle of the album.
Kevin Russell is a glorious songwriter but still includes three covers here; the heart-shredding interpretation of Ted Hawkins’ I Gave Up All I Had could easily be mistaken for Otis or Marvin in their heydays (as does the mournful Nothing Takes The Place of You); but another made go “What the Hell”, “No…it can’t be…it is” Shinyribs turn the RMHQ favourite the Yardbirds, A Certain Girl into a late night Bluesy Soul Destroyer…..which is probably what songwriter Allen Toussaint originally intended and it becomes a thing of rare beauty here.
Oh man; choosing a favourite is nearly impossible with the slow burning Hands on Your Hips being a contender; but the tongue in cheek ‘I love you and I hate you and can’t live without you’ call and response between Kevin Russell and Alice Spencer…..I Don’t Give a Shit is the winner by a funky country mile. It’s sure not made for radio but will be a guaranteed showstopper when played live.
Tinkling piano, an amazing voice, sexy backing singers, horns a plenty and meticulously groovy rhythm section all combine to make all of these dozen songs into a classic album that will more than likely be included in my Top 10 albums of the year.
Released February 24th 2017
The Black Lillies
Jumping Hot Club at The Cluny
Friday 17th Feb 2017
I first ‘discovered’ the Black Lillies when I reviewed their 100 Miles of Wreckage album in 2010 and I’ve waited (impatiently) for them to come to the UK and with the latest release Hard To Please finally getting a local release they came mob handed to promote it.
The night got off to an ‘interesting’ start with local legend and ‘Friend of the Jumping Hot Club’ Archie Brown; of Young Bucks fame, making a rare appearance in a ‘quartet format’ alongside long time cohort Pat Rafferty on accordion and one of the worlds finest (honestly) classical violinists Bradley Creswick from the Royal Sinfonia Orchestra on…..fiddle!
Many in the fuller than usual audience knew Archie of old; as like me they spent many hedonistic nights in the 70’s bopping along to his band in the local bars and clubs.
They opened their short set with a intense song called Just a Little Weakness; showcasing Brown’s distinctive voice which has matured over the years like a fine whisky.
As 99.99% of those reading this will never get to see Archie Brown; let’s just say he inhabits every word in every song not unlike Joe Cocker; but what was once Blues Rock has evolved into Folk Rock with a Bluegrass heart……Geordiegrass?
Highlight of the 40 minutes? An old favourite of mine from nigh on 40 years ago; the punchy Prisoners from the quirkilly named Bring Me The Head of Jerry Garcia LP.
Even more strangers piled into the basement venue during the interval creating a charged atmosphere for the six piece from Tennessee who packed onto the tiny stage then hit the ground running and by third song in, The Fall the crowd were in the palm of Cruz Contreras’ hand.
While the show predominately revolves around singer and front-man Contreras, the Black Lillies ‘Rhythm and Country sound’ actually revolves around the brilliant playing of Mike Seal on guitar…..this guy really is extraordinary, sounding more like Duane Allman than Chet Atkins yet is content to stand at the back in the shadows.
Very few songs were actually introduced; so you will have to forgive me if I miss some crackers out or get titles wrong……I was too busy enjoying myself!
New co-singer Haley Cole proved to be the perfect foil for Contreras; as she has a gorgeous ‘Country warble’ to her voice, and helped rip my heart to shreds with the couple’s duets more than once.
Of the songs I wrote recognised, the intense and almost Gothic sounding Bound to Roam,the rocking 40 Days and 40 Nights and the instantly recognised Dancin’ were all outstanding and all received rapturous responses from the audience; as well as spontaneous bouts of actual dancing from women AND men!
For me, the two highlights were, You’re Hard to Please with Cruz and Haley performing a ‘call and response’ while he played piano in the style of Jerry Lee!
The other was the title track from that first album I reviewed 100 Miles of Wreckage…..nicely dusted off and gussied up for a Friday night in Newcastle; cue more outbreaks of dancing.
As expected they did the will they/won’t they play an encore charade before Cruz and Haley returned to do a tight and romantic duet before the band returned for a rip-roaring’ cover of Honky Tonk Woman!
What a night…..I had to squeeze past a deliriously happy crowd at the merch desk to get out; which is always a good sign.
It’s nights like this that make me remember why I love music.
Bare Along the Branches
BLACK DUST RECORDS
Classy Contemporary Folk Songs That Transcend Boundaries and Borders.
I loved; and still love Norrie McCulloch’s last album These Mountain Blues released less than a year ago so was very surprised when this ‘follow up’ album arrived in late January.
So, it was with a modicum of trepidation that I slid the shiny disc into the office hi-fi and sat back cradling a piping hot cup of tea.
It took less than two minutes of opening track Shutter for a smile to break out and I breathed a sigh of relief. Norrie’s voice sounds even warmer and more ’rounded’ than on the previous album; and the ‘sound’ that surrounds a delightfully brittle bittersweet love song obviously comes from a band of musicians who know each others strengths intimately and gel like a well oiled machine.
Historically I steer away from the F Word; but this is Folk Music Jim; just not as we know it.
McCulloch’s voice is definitely Scottish; but to the uninitiated…. quintessentially ‘Celtic;’ and songs like Safe Keeping and Around The Bend are from the Folk idiom; but just like his heroes Guy Clark and Bobby Dylan the way McCulloch interprates his own lyrics is way beyond the ‘finger in the ear’ ballads and shanties that still get played in Folk Clubs around the world.
McCulloch is obviously well travelled; and he has picked up ideas for stories and songs along the way; making Frozen River and Little Boat just as relevant in Australia, Appalachia and Airdrie…..which is quite some feat, in my humble opinion.
Dig deep here and you will find the Lo-Fi dark delights of Beggars Woods and Turn To Dust; written shortly after the death of his Mother and are both as Southern Gothic as they are Scottish Presbyterian in essence.
Then, just when I thought I had a handle on Norrie’s ‘new direction’ he throws a couple of left-field curve balls with the ‘Folk Rockers’ Never Leave You Behind (featuring some sublime pedal-steel from Mr Ian Sloan) and Lonely Boy.
Like all of the best singer-songwriter albums through the ages, Bare Along The Ashes is best listened to alone, preferably with the lights down low and a refreshing brew to hand; which brings me to my two stand out tracks…….the stark and brooding piano led This Time is absolutely spellbinding but the one I keep going back to; and the one ‘shuffle’ on my I-pod keeps playing is Safe Keeping. A very simple melody masking a very complex and timeless song that could be about my own life in a ‘small town’ and looking for a road out.
This is Norrie McCulloch’s third album in as many years; and for such a prolific songwriter there’s not a weak song here and the self-confidence in his storytelling and way with words is quite astonishing really.
If you like quality songwriters like Guy Clark, Richard Thompson and the like I’m pretty sure you will love this album by this proud son of Scotland too.
Released February 24th 2017