Scott Matthews – The Great Untold

Scott M

Scott Matthews
The Great Untold
Shedio Records

Considerate, warm, and full of grace.

The Great Untold is the sixth studio album from the English singer-songwriter Scott Matthews, which finds him once again recording at home (and the occasional church) which enables him to get an intimate and personal document of this collection of modern folk hymns.
With a clean, clear falsetto voice, along with with impeccable finger-picking, comparisons to Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake are not out of place, but I also hear quite a bit of John Martyn and even a touch of Paul Simon, and dare I say, Priscilla Ahn, in Matthews songs too, which aren’t sparse as much as they’re spared the weight of complications. Easy, yet not empty, there’s a dreamy cathedral quality to the music. Not religious, per se, but spiritual, sanctified, as if the subject matter is too close and personal for Matthews that he won’t take chances with. Why clutter up something that means the world to you?
“You’ll be mother’s precious gold, And I’ll see new reasons through your eyes,”
he states on the title track, obviously a paean to a newborn child, but it could also be about these ten songs, reverent as he is towards them.
There’s an evenness throughout this album too, but it’s purposeful. These are delicate elegies and descants, some thoughtful, others darker and more potent, full of depth and lyrical poetry. Take the gossamer-like musical shifts throughout “Lawless Stars” which give it a graceful integrity, the fun bounce of “Silence,” betraying its meditative subject matter. “Cinnamon” is warm sensuousness wrapped in softly picked electric guitar notes and lush synths, while the folksy harmonica and pedal steel of “Chapters” end the album in an upbeat, thoughtful mood.
This is a considerate and reflective album full of affirmations and grace, which should warm any heart.

Guest reviewer Roy Peak

Released April 27th 2018

http://www.scottmatthews.uk/

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Annie Keating – Ghost of the Untraveled Road

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Annie Keating
Ghost of the Untraveled Road
8th Street Studios

Difficult to Express Emotions Somewhere Between Regret and Resolve.

I like it when artists use the EP format to do something different, perhaps release a few songs that really don’t fit on any oth album they have, but still fit together, the misfit songs, maybe even one that’s out of character for the artist. After The Graceless Age, John Murry released Califorlornia, an EP with a few sensitive songs mixed in with “The Murder of Dylan Hartsfeld” which is scary/devastating in a way similar to Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop.” Murry’s song wouldn’t have worked on the album that came before or after but on an EP it somehow made sense.
At times it’s also refreshing to just hear an EP from an artist rather than an entire album. Nowadays albums are, sadly, becoming passé, as no one hardly buys CDs anymore and vinyl is such a niche market, and many albums are becoming just filler. When an artist chooses to just release a single, is one song enough for a listener to make a decision on whether there is something musical worth pursuing? Practically anyone can record at least one good song, but what about three or four? Remember acts like Jesus Jones, Simple Minds, or Joan Osborne? One worthwhile song was pretty much all they had.
Now, after seven full albums, we have Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Annie Keating releasing Ghost of the Untraveled Road, a five-song EP of love songs, longing, memories, and dreamy what-ifs. At times Keating’s voice reminds me of a time-worn and breathier Tanya Donnelly, at others a huskier and softer-voiced Nanci Griffith. Whichever, Keating makes the most of her voice with wry melodies over top understated acoustic guitar.
Keating isn’t blazing new trails into uncharted territory here, but that’s okay, as this is country-folk, not Sgt. Peppers. Mandolin, fiddle, and pedal steel all add support to these tunes, weaving in and out from one another to form a fine netting around Keating’s guitar and voice. Personally I feel that perhaps a little more variation on the instrumentation from one song to the next might have made things a bit more interesting, but I get the impression this EP is meant to be representative of Keating’s live shows. We’re getting the living room treatment here, which is fine.The title song, Ghost of the Untraveled Road, sets the pace here with a song about wondering what the past may have been like if only she’d done things a bit different:

“Should I think of you fondly, or not much at all?/Shall I cherish confessions of bury them all?”

But Keating still sees a glimmer of fond hope here, a wish that perhaps this dream can still be realized. “Sting of Hindsight” utilizes a fun, bouncy melody and carries the theme of longing for the past even further. “Forever Loved” is a well meant toe-tapper, and “Kindness of Strangers” is purposely languid, but it’s the closing song, “Forget My Name” which hits me as the best song here, mainly because of its bite. There’s real pain here, you can hear it in the crack in Keating’s voice from the very first line, the longing referenced in the earlier songs now replaced by a difficult to express emotion somewhere between regret and resolve. A darker tone to the pedal steel and some knife thrusts from the guitar help drive this tune home—if home is a dark and possibly dead end street. I’m hoping Keating goes for more of this next time, as this one stands out from the other songs on this EP, fine as they are.

Review courtesy the legendary Mr Roy Peak.

Released 25th May 2018

http://www.anniekeating.com/

Nautical Theme FLOAT

nautical theme 1

Nautical Theme
FLOAT
Self-Release

Duo Rock The Folk Out of Acoustic Music.

It’s been a busy few weeks inside and outside RMHQ so this new release from Tesia Mallory and Matt Shetler aka Nautical Theme from Dayton Ohio has sat inside the computer metaphorically ‘gathering dust’ until last Monday when I heard a track on Leader’s American Pie radio show and thought “that’s cool….I wonder who they are?” Only to realise the following day I already had the album…..DOH!
For a male/female duo they sure make a lot of noise on opening track Couldn’t Have Said; not White Stripes ‘noisy’ just powerful and loud; with Matt singing from the darkest recesses of his his lungs while Tesia provides cool tinkling on the piano and gorgeous harmonies.
Matt stays at the mic on the next song One Long Day and Night; a breathy and almost breathless road-trip of emotion and perhaps unrequited passion? A really punchy production matches the lyrics too, by the way.
Now I’ve mentioned them I can’t shake the White Stripes comparison, which is odd as Nautical Theme are a Folk duo; well Alt. Folk with a smattering of Indie Rock in the shadows if I’m being honest……I can’t imagine them singing the Wild Rover, that’s for sure.
Tesla gets to show what an emotional singer she is too, with the pair duetting in the old fashioned sense on Long Day and Night and Can’t You Just, two really intensely bittersweet love songs of immense proportions, baring in mind only two people are involved.
Primarily it’s Shetler who takes the lead and what a distinctive voice he has; as it soars and swoops like Charlie Brown’s kite on Wanted More and the powerful and profound Jump Out of the Water.
It’s difficult to imagine a duo recreating this ‘muscular sound’ on stage; but songs like the sensitive Have a Little Fun and What We Deserve may even benefit from an occasional ‘softening up’ but I do like the way both sound fiery and even angsty on this record.
For a couple of days I presumed that I would select one of two opening tracks as our ‘favourite track’ but earlier today the final track So Long Dear finally caught my attention and made me press ‘repeat’ three times so that I could wallow in the beauty of both voices intertwining on an almost evangelical acapella song, which is truly outstanding and therefore collects the RMHQ Favourite Track accolade.
Probably because FLOAT is an acoustic album it will be filed under Folk but there is so much more here that I could also be in the Indie, Alt. Rock and singer-songwriter sections of your local record store too.
I fervently stand by my White Stripes comparison but there are elements of Simon and Garfunkel, Little Big Town, Richard and Linda Thompson and even the Civil Wars here too; but Nautical Theme are very much Nautical Theme on their own terms, and should be very proud of this debut album and there will be a few headline acts that will regret booking them as a support, because they have the ability to blow a few bands off the stage,

Released April 20th 2018
http://www.thenauticaltheme.com

Birds of Chicago – ROLL AWAY (Single)

birds of chicago CD V 2018

Birds of Chicago
ROLL AWAY (Single)
Signature Sounds

March 6, 2018 – Today, Birds of Chicago announce May 4th as the release date for their upcoming album Love in Wartime on Signature Sounds, and share the first track “Roll Away”. Led by JT Nero and Allison Russell, Birds of Chicago are known for their seamless combination of rock n roll meets “near perfect Americana” (No Depression). Nero and Russell recently recorded Love in Wartime, an album envisioned as a cinematic rock n roll suite, with producer Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars)at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago.

The first single “Roll Away” was written as a shot in the arm for the heartsick, hibernating or otherwise embittered, and invokes the rites of spring with the very real sense that there’s no time to lose.

Here’s a live version…………….

http://www.birdsofchicago.com/

Joan Baez – WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND

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Joan Baez
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND
Proper Records

The First Lady of American Folk Still Surprises, Astonishes and Delivers.

For once I don’t have to do an introduction do I? This is Joan Baez after all…..what else do you need to know?
Well; to coincide with Ms. Baez’s final ever Tour this album is yet again made up of songs written by her favourite contemporary songwriters; with a couple of delightful surprises along the way.
The Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan song Whistle Down The Wind, which doubles as the title track opens proceedings and the first thing you notice is how beautiful Joan’s voice still is on this pleasing almost Celtic rendition of the song from Bone Machine.
Joan covers another of the couples more poetic songs; with the words of Last Leaf (on the tree) sounding uncannily perfect for Joan who is now of a ‘certain vintage’ herself.
With a million songs to choose from, only another couple were already familiar here at RMHQ with
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s The Things That We Are Made Of now becoming almost anthemic and Josh Ritter’s delicate Be Of Good Heart and Silver Leaf both sounding like they could have been on Joan’s debut album in 1960, thanks to the ethereal production from Joe Henry.
One of Henry’s own songs makes an appearance too; and Civil War takes on a whole new resonance in the hands and voice of American Folk Music’s First Lady…….’beautiful’ only comes close to describing the way she performs his words.
The major surprise for me though are the songs I’d never heard before; Eliza Gilykson’s The Great Correction is another timeless song that sounds like Joan could have recorded at anytime in the last 60 years as is Tim Erikson’s I Wish The Wars Were All Over; which is a stunning way to close this wonderful collection of songs.
Then of course I’m obliged to pick a ‘Favourite’ which in the light of today’s political shenanigans in the USA I can’t look past he stunning words of Zoe Mulford on The President Sang Amazing Grace. I’d not heard of Zoe prior to hearing this song…….but WOW……and indeed WOW……if the rest of her songs are half as powerful as this one song; she’s a very talented writer indeed and Joan Baez sings it as if her very life depends on you hearing it.
So, there you have it; Joan Baez’s 25th studio album and first in 10 years and she still has the ability to surprise with her choice of songs and, more importantly the way she delivers the words on a silver platter is astonishing after all of this time.

Released March 2nd 2018
http://www.joanbaez.com/

 

I’m With Her – SEE YOU AROUND

im with her

I’m With Her
SEE YOU AROUND
Rounder Records

The Perfect Soundtrack to the Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer.

I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘Supergroup’ these days especially in the Roots world; but a combination of Sara Watkins, Aiofe O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz must surely deserve such a title, shouldn’t it?
The short history is that these three musicians got together for an impromptu show in 2014 which was such a success (surprise, surprise) that the trio have played together as often as schedules have allowed in the intervening years, receiving incredulous reviews and eventually the recording of this album in London with Ethan Jones at the controls.
It’s easy to see from the opening song See You Around what all of the fuss is about. At face value it’s a simple Country-Folk song; but when you actually ‘listen to it’ the intricate harmonies should normally only come from siblings; but the three disparate voices don’t just compliment each other but sound like a Summer breeze blowing through a field of wild flowers; and the ladies’ musicianship is nothing short of exemplary too.
You could easily play this one song over and over again and still be happy; but no there is more and…..even better to come.
As you would expect the lead vocals and songwriting are shared around fairly equally; and it would be a little unfair to single out any single singer for high praise; as it’s the ‘overall sound’ that this album is all about; playfully moving seamlessly from the more traditional Folk songs like Pangaea and Ryland (Under The Apple Tree) through to a more contemporary Country Folk ‘feel’ on Game To Lose, Crescent City and I-89 without you ever seeing the joins.
Personally I’ve appreciated but never really got into the solo work by these three ladies over the years; but together they have certainly won my heart here; with two songs in particular making my heart beat faster than it is meant to.
Close It Down is a very clever song when you pick apart the lyrics; but that doesn’t come until you have had your senses left tingling by the way the three voices swoop and soar like butterflies in the Garden of Eden; and that’s not even my favourite song here!
Regular readers and my friends will tell you that I’m no lover of Folk Music; but if it all sounded like Ain’t That Fine I would grow a beard and start wearing badly fitting jeans in an instant! That said, a lot of this record actually reminds me a bit of the early Dixie Chicks….so is it Country? Country-Folk? Who the Hell cares what pigeon-hole it might fit in; because it doesn’t…….it’s ROOTS MUSIC at it’s best.
I’m writing this review on a bitterly cold February afternoon with heavy snow forecast for the next few days and SEE YOU AROUND is the perfect soundtrack to a day just sitting in the living room just as much as it will be in Spring and more importantly those hazy, lazy days of Summer.

Released 23rd February 2018
https://www.imwithherband.com/

 

Gem Andrews – NORTH

north gem andrews

Gem Andrews
NORTH
Market Square Music

Exquisite Inter-crossed Country-Folk From a Northern Industrial Town.

Don’t feel sorry for me but I have very few ‘friends’ in the music industry; not even casual ones; as I’ve made it a policy to keep away from the cliques that dominate the national and local scenes; leaving me free to review albums and gigs without the fear of upsetting someone who thinks I owe them a favour.
But; the musical stars have aligned on this latest release from adopted Geordie and recent resident of Berlin, Gem Andrews, who actually is a friend of mine and the cover artwork (a truly beautiful photo of Gem *plodging in front of St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay) by my mate David Wala and the crystal clear production and mixing is by local legend Ross Lewis……so can I be impartial?
The album opens with Letter a brooding love song that encompasses all that is I love about Gem’s music in under three and a half minutes. Just like everything which follows this song comes from a Folk Singer who has immersed herself in Country Music and turned herself into a good old fashioned and timeless Singer-Songwriter.
Sing Your Song follows and I soon found myself slouching in my chair desperately trying not to breathe too loudly in case I missed a word or phrase and would regret it for the rest of my life. It’s that type of breathtaking song.
I particularly like the way the fabled Tim Dalling has arranged Julia Darlings poem Two Lighthouses; keeping a Folk spirit to it that makes people like me fall in love with the words and sentiment, without realising it’s actually a Folk Song.
Hmmmm…..selecting a ‘favourite song’ is never easy; and here it’s nearly impossible with the tigerish Lungs being an early contender but Feather & Skin somehow stands out like poppy in a field of golden wheat. Ross Lewis’s simple production truly displays Gem’s pearlescent voice and the restrained way the musicians (aka The Mush Collective) come together in an almost Classical manner without ever threatening to overshadow the singers hushed tones is genuinely admirable.
One other song deserves a mention if for no other reason than the delightful Come a Long Way which closes the disc features some of the finest ‘cardboard box whacking’ from Dora & Macie Keddie-McLaren that you will ever hear.
When I hear albums like this, and especially songs like Bare which features some spellbinding violin from Bernard Wright and the Countrylicious Medicate I find myself despairing at the British music industry; because if Gem was from the Appalachians or indeed some tiny village in North Ontario the Press and indeed Mr Bob Harris himself would be falling over themselves to tell you about ‘the next big thing;’ but Gem is British and more importantly NORTHERN so has to plough her own furrow at her own expense and depend on sites like this to get her songs out into the wider world.
There’s not a bad song here; with Gem’s voice, writing and it has to be said her guitar playing have matured beyond all expectations…..perhaps marriage suits her.

*plodging = local dialect for paddling in the sea.
PS….The pedal-steel player? ‘The’ Chris Hillman?

Released February 16th 2018
http://www.gemandrews.co.uk/

Crayon Angels – POSTCARDS (EP)

CRAYON ANGELS X

Crayon Angels
POSTCARDS
Submarine Broadcasting

Well Crafted and Quintessential English Pop/Folk Crossover At It’s Finest.

I have to hold my hands up here because Crayon Angels not just appealed to my vanity when they got in touch asking if I would review this, their second EP (saying really nice things about RMHQ) but also resorting to ‘payolla’ by including a cool badge with the CD …..and I do like a badge!
In fairness that only goes so far with me; as my time is far too precious to waste on music I don’t like; so it was a lovely surprise to hear opening track The Last Leaf sounding uncannily like mid-period Beautiful South; with singer Natalia Castiglioni’s warmly absorbing voice winning my heart in an instant on a quirky love song.
As they say themselves this trio from the Essex Hinterlands are very difficult to pin down; as they are undoubtedly a Folk Group at heart but with over-riding Pop sensibilities in the best of British traditions; as the title track proves. Delicious harmonies; a Spectoresque production coupled with intricate instrumentation and a deep and meaningful kitchen sink drama of a song combine to create a track that is quintessential English Pop music at its best.
The EP comes to an all too quick closure with the haunting Colour & Sound; which had me scratching my head until it dawned on me that it reminded me of the long forgotten River City People and Siobhan Maher-Kennedy that I loved to bits twenty odd years ago; a timeless soft-rock sound that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio.
Then I have to swoop back to track #3 Your Sorry Self for my ‘Favourite Track’ accolade; and one of those songs that stopped me right in my tracks the first time I heard it.
Perhaps it was the mood I was in that day, or it could be the exquisite production but this tale of indiscretion really touched my heart; and really and truly showcases Natalia’s stunning vocals.
It’s discovering gems like The Crayon Angels that makes all the hours I put in on the website worthwhile. Artistes like this trio are the heartbeat of the music industry and deserve a much wider audience than the Folk Clubs of North London and the Essex Borders; but you know that don’t you….because you know a singer or band in your local area that is wasting their time singing to one man and a dog on a Tuesday night; when Ed Sheeran and Coldplay can sell-out football stadiums in 3 seconds flat.
Hey ho; trust me, this EP is a beautiful little thing and needs to be loved and cherished by people who appreciate well crafted and heartfelt music. Buy it ASAP.

Released February 5th 2018
http://www.crayonangels.co.uk

 

The Ree-Vahs – MAN OVERBOARD

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The Ree-Vahs
MAN OVERBOARD
Folk Me Records

The Broken Heart of Northern Folk

When Andy Lee from the Ree-Vahs got in touch to say a new mini-album was in the offing I got quite excited; as I love their previous two albums; and because they come from my home town of Stanley, Co. Durham and sound a bit like me; it’s a pleasure to give whatever help I can……but…..and it’s a very big ‘but’…..when he told me the background to the songs, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it at all.
The Ree-Vahs are, or should be brothers Andy and Paul Lee; but Paul sadly took his own life as the band were in the final stages of putting this record together.
So; knowing that, the title track MAN OVERBOARD comes in two versions with the first being an eerily prophetic snippet from a home recording by Paul several years ago in his bedroom and the finale is a full band version recorded after his death.
Mercifully this is followed by a more upbeat and slightly anthemic song Pack Your Bags, featuring some classy fiddle and cello from local lasses Catherine Geldard and Katie Hall. It’s not altogether clear what or whom the singer is moving on from; but the sentiment will touch even the coldest of hearts.
The  spirit of Paul Lee flits in and out of several songs; especially so on the biographical Jigsaw and Sing Our Songs in the Dark with it’s sub-calypso beat; and a story about the magical feeling of playing records in your bedroom as a teenager.
Andy even includes a love song to his brother with Under The Wheels; a Northern Soap Opera told through the memories of a brother with depression and weaknesses. This is what Folk Music does best; and this song will reduce grown men and women to tears.
Baring in mind the tone and background to this album, I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do to choose a ‘favourite song’ but when the songwriting and presentation as as good as this it’s hard not to; so I will make it a tie between the finished article MAN OVERBOARD, which has echoes of Mark Knopfler around the edges and if you were to hear this song by accident it will truly take your breath away.
The other is Stronger Than Me (non-binary) another beautifully bleak tale; and this one is about teenage bullying and the helplessness it forces on all of the adults around the child.
There’s not many laughs here; but what there is is bundle of songs that are written from the heart and destined to tear at your heartstrings.
Don’t let this record drift into obscurity…….try it, buy it…….cherish it.

Released January 19th 2018
http://www.theree-vahs.co.uk

Tommy Emmanuel – ACCOMPLICE ONE

tommy emmanuel bb

Tommy Emmanuel
ACCOMPLICE ONE
Mascot Label

A Guitar Masterclass From a Legendary CGP and Friends.

Here’s a thing; several of my friends are huge fans of Tommy Emmanuel and one is an actual friend of his; with Tommy staying at his home when he’s in the Region, but I’ve never heard his work until now.
Shame on me.
For a man with a huge cannon of work already under his belt this is a fascinating project for the Australian who is a Chet Atkins inspired CGP (Certified Guitar Player) as he plays alongside 16 world class singer-songwriters on an eclectic series of songs.
Emmanuel’s trademark picking opens track #1 Deep River Blues and when Jason Isbell’s distinctive voice glides into the mix the world suddenly becomes lovely again. When Tommy also adds his own cracked voice to the song, my mistake at never hearing him before becomes all too evident.
What a great way to start any album; and it’s fair to say……things actually get better and better.
Song and Dance Man with Ricky Skaggs adding mandolin and vocals follows and I was left bewildered as I tried to find the words to describe it……Country? Tick. Folk? Tick. Bluegrass? Tick. A joyful combination on a beautiful tune…..find your own pigeon hole.
There are household names littered throughout this album, with Emmanuel not just sharing the stage with Mark Knopfler on You Don’t Want To Get You One Of Those and Rodney Crowell on Looking Forward To The Past but outshining them too. There are many lesser names too; but ones very familiar to RMHQ readers like Amanda Shires and Suzy Bogguss who both sparkle and shine on their contributions in ways I’ve not heard from either in years.
The real joy though is the series of surprises from artists I’m not aware of, let’s start with some instrumentals C-Jam Blues with JD Simo & Charlie Cushman and Keeping it Reel with Clive Carroll, Purple Haze (yes…that one) with Dobro Maestro Jerry Douglas and the sublime Djangology with Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo; all three showcase world class playing and should be a Masterclass for any aspiring guitar players out there.
But the surprises don’t just stop there; I didn’t think the world needed another version of Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay but the duet with JD Simo breathes fresh life into this beautiful classic and the cutesy opening to Rachel’s Lullaby brought tears to my eyes and Emmanuel’s picking alongside Jake Shimbukuro on Ukulele is almost Classical in essence but very easy on the ear.
But the biggest surprise here is also my ‘favourite track’ and we have to go back to the Rodney Crowell song Looking Forward to The Past; which finds a new spark in Crowell’s voice as Emmanuel and the band evoke memories of the Emmylou’s Hot Band on a firecracker of a song.
There’s not a lot else to say here as there’s not a bad track here with a few being truly amazing and I must now backtrack and delve into Tommy Emmanuel’s immense back catalogue immediately.

Released January 19th 2018

http://tommyemmanuel.com/