Martin Simpson “Trails & Tribulations” (Topic Records 2017)

Martin Simpson’s latest album rates as his best yet. As one of the foremost singers and inventive players on the folk circuit here, he has gained his reputation not only through hard work but through a deep understanding of what English and American music amounts to, and where its roots are. Consider the thirteen tracks and gleam the stories that linger behind them. The first track is Blues Run the Game: “Catch a boat to England…” Martin’s soft, distinctive and confiding voice and his finger style playing catch and hold their audience effortlessly. Continue reading “Martin Simpson “Trails & Tribulations” (Topic Records 2017)”

Alex Rex “Vermillion” (Tin Angel Records 2017)

Alex Rex (as Alex Neilson) is the singer, songwriter and drummer from Tumbling Bells. And that is just the start. In musical circles and beyond, this musician from Glasgow, has a huge reputation. Rhythmically, he appears unexpectedly, for instance, in Shirley Collins’ “Lodestar” where, on the first track he is playing cymbals, and, in “Pretty Polly,” the drum beats from half way through, are his!  But “Vermillion” is his debut solo album, and as such, should be taken note of, and applauded. The title itself is a clue to the colourful and often challenging nature of the songs Alex has written. His voice bears testimony to the value of his lyrics. Continue reading “Alex Rex “Vermillion” (Tin Angel Records 2017)”

Jinder “Kingsize Blackfoot” (Din of Ecstasy 2017)

This is Phil Dewhurst (Jinder)’s 10th album. He lives and works in Dorset, and by his own words has played, sung, recorded, engineered, produced and mastered this album himself at a studio in that county. The name of the album “Kingsize Blackfoot” has been adopted for this project to honour Jinder’s / Phil’s direct connection to Native American Blackfoot Sioux Roots, and also as a comment on his stature (6’7’’). Note also the classic album cover: a buffalo on the plains, with the sun rising.  Continue reading “Jinder “Kingsize Blackfoot” (Din of Ecstasy 2017)”

Red Moon Joe “Time & Life” (DBS Recordings, 2017)

Here is up to date, relevant, British, Liverpool-produced Americana at its best. The songs are confiding, forceful sometimes. As it says in the first track, “Every page and chorus sweet refrain/ Filled with joy and some… filled with pain.” All you need really! Red Moon Joe are: Mark Wilkinson, who is the founder member (originally forming the band in 1985), producer, singer, electric and acoustic guitars; Steve Conway, pedal steel, dobro, acoustic guitar; David A Smith, bass; Dave Fitzpatrick, harmonica, banjo; and Paul Casey, drums. Continue reading “Red Moon Joe “Time & Life” (DBS Recordings, 2017)”

The Gage Brothers “The Gage Brothers” (Independent 2017)

Here is a new Bluegrass band of great note. The Gage Brothers are brothers, Ben (harmonica, Cajon beat box) and Zach (lead vocal and guitar), now with Brendan O’Malley (mandolin) and Chris Volpe (banjo and pedal steel). The album was recorded in Cleveland where it was produced by Jim Stewart. These four musicians work together in a special way. The first track beds that thought. A confident and short a capella introduction, “Feed my desires with all you are.” It’s all here: banjo, mandolin, harmonica, with an infectious rhythm.   Continue reading “The Gage Brothers “The Gage Brothers” (Independent 2017)”

John Guliak “Fluke or Flounder” (Independent, 2016)

Dust, the first track on this outstanding album, is up there with the best of them. It has, all over it, the care and confidence of an expertly produced record. Here is homage to the dust and rain and the riven days on the Canadian prairies. John’s gentle voice centres movingly on the remembered details of small life there “where a girl’s eyes were the stars. /No need to look far for the sky”. Such understated storytelling, and simply expressed detail abounds in John Guliak’s songs. Continue reading “John Guliak “Fluke or Flounder” (Independent, 2016)”

Rab Noakes “The Treatment Tapes EP” (Neon Records 2017)

This is an outstanding and unforgettable record for two reasons: Firstly, it shines musically, and secondly, it tells the specific story of the discovery and treatment of Rab’s tonsillar cancer, diagnosed early in 2015. For both reasons the EP will appeal to most peoples’ inner sensitivity, drawing them in, in a particular and very personal way. This, musically and lyrically, is a short collection, but it takes you firmly along what could be a difficult path, where a “howling ghost” lurks, but ends up somehow in a place where a sense of hope survives, in whatever context you would allow it to blossom in. Continue reading “Rab Noakes “The Treatment Tapes EP” (Neon Records 2017)”