Cheshire Carr “Odds And Ends” (Independent, 2017)

CC are a Montreal-based folk collective, with the collective aspect shown by the many different voices and the mix of styles and textures. The album has a kind of collective identity but also a compilation feel. At its best, it is a fine mixture of contemporary Americana. This Song, bristling with suppressed energy, has vocals redolent of Night Beds or even Perfume Genius, and contains both hints of modern pop while being deeply rooted in more traditional forms. Water Rising is mostly a traditional folk song using traditional instruments, but also manages to sound contemporary. Continue reading “Cheshire Carr “Odds And Ends” (Independent, 2017)”

Stewart Legere “Quiet The Station” (Independent, 2017)

Legere is a craftsman, one who understands the mechanics of songwriting and is able to create densely layered free flowing songs that flirt with many genres without really committing to any. There’s much to admire and much to enjoy, much to pick apart and to explore – these are songs densely packed with flourishes, nooks and crannies, lyrical narratives, classic singer-songwriter fare. He reminds me of another Canadian, Ron Sexsmith, someone who will be more admired for their craft and will garner more acclaim from his peers and receive less attention from audiences than he deserves. Continue reading “Stewart Legere “Quiet The Station” (Independent, 2017)”

HAV “Inver” (Folkwit Records, 2017)

HAV mix traditional folk forms with electronic ambient textures to produce a rich swirl of music that clings to the memory like mist clings to heather. On Ffald-y-Brenin the fiddles gently sway, and it is easy to imagine the music being used to soundtrack a documentary about a stoic crofter or, more likely, a fisherman. The documentary feel is reinforced by the use of field recordings like The Young Man’s 21st Birthday, which give space to the recollections of the older generation. Continue reading “HAV “Inver” (Folkwit Records, 2017)”

Scott H. Biram “The Bad Testament” (Bloodshot, 2017)

Biram peddles a scuzzy version of the blues, and on Set Me Free he sounds like someone who has lost their teeth the hard way and still comes up swinging. To his credit, he covers a lot of ground across these 13 tracks and, although the blues is at the heart of what he does, it certainly isn’t everything – he’s just as adept at more delicate forms. If Set Me Free is akin to cleaning your teeth with a wire brush, then Righteous Ways is a cleaner wrasse delicately flitting through the water, and Still Around contains signs of dexterity you might think beyond the reach of someone who can be so gut-wrenchingly amped-up punk as Train Wrecker. Continue reading “Scott H. Biram “The Bad Testament” (Bloodshot, 2017)”

Ha Ha Tonka “Heart-Shaped Mountain” (Bloodshot, 2017)

In which HHT continue to expand their brand of indie-Americana, sometimes resulting in excursions into areas that maybe should remain off limits. Mostly though they find a sweet spot where they find surging choruses that scream for a crossover hit and retain enough authenticity to not alienate a substantial part of their audience. So sensibly they kick-off with Race To The Bottom not so much driven by guitars but kicked and jabbed with a cattle-prod, with a chorus that you can sing along to on first listen (see below). They sound like the Kings of Leon without the disadvantage of the constipated vocals. There’s not a great deal of originality but they tackle everything gamely with huge enthusiasm and the proximity to Tom Petty I hear on Everything is easily shrugged away.  Continue reading “Ha Ha Tonka “Heart-Shaped Mountain” (Bloodshot, 2017)”

Aimee Mann “Mental Illness” (Superego Records, 2017)

The work of Aimee Mann has decorated the pages of this site almost from our inception. Mann is one of our touchstones, a yardstick for other female performers. Her work is rarely less than exceptional, and this effort is no different. It is softer and gentler, more acoustic, but the barbs and the songwriting are as strong as ever. If you had to characterise her work in one word, I’d go for melancholy and here You Never Loved Me is melancholy in a nutshell, quiet, elegant with a simmering ache of strings and velvety violent percussion, nailing those feelings; hangs, draws and quarters them. Continue reading “Aimee Mann “Mental Illness” (Superego Records, 2017)”

The Life And Times Of The Brothers Hogg “Celestial Emporium” (TLATOTBH, 2016)

After listening to this record for a week I assumed it had been made by a bunch of hillbilly misfits from somewhere like Harlan County. I was taken aback when I found it came from the same part of the country that had squirted me into existence, North East Lincolnshire. There are of course parallels between the post-industrial devastation of Grimsby and the blighted former coal-mining areas of Kentucky but it doesn’t explain how CE came to sound like they do. Straight out of the traps is St Deceiver, which on its own, merits a special mention, a raucous broken-toothed sing-a-long, full of detail like a Donald Ray Pollock short story, the life and times of the disenfranchised high on Oxycontin in dirty motel rooms, the piano played with abandon that makes Jerry Lee Lewis seem like Bobby Crush. If that were their only trick it would be a good one but it’s not typical, what follows is a superb multi-faceted collection of songs that transcend their genesis. Continue reading “The Life And Times Of The Brothers Hogg “Celestial Emporium” (TLATOTBH, 2016)”