Moonsville Collective EPs “I” “2” “3” (Moonsville Records 2017)

These three EP’s are the first three instalments of a planned quartet of releases, and there’s nothing startlingly different about each record. They are all super competent Americana, aiming foursquare for the middle ground, populated by the likes of later period Avett Brothers, five tracks each, short and sweet punches, drawing no blood but spraying sugary harmonies with each jab landing. Continue reading “Moonsville Collective EPs “I” “2” “3” (Moonsville Records 2017)”

No Thee No Ess “California” (Folkwit Records, 2017)

The Welsh psychedelic wizards relax the weirdness (a bit – the opener Mind Flow Bender is still far out into a universe where Hawkwind are a little bit tame) and head towards Americana. California (the title song) is all harmonies and restraint, the music remaining mannered, bubbling away without boiling over into a soup of noise but with enough seepage towards another dimension to keep things interesting. Florid Peaks is even gentler; it simmers, the vocal melody is full of sunlight and when we reach the instrumental interlude, again though, there are enough hints that things could get weird, so that they don’t have to, it can just be pretty without having to apologise for it. Continue reading “No Thee No Ess “California” (Folkwit Records, 2017)”

Various “Sing And They’ll Sing Your Song” (Megaphone, 2018)

This album provides a retrospective of the twenty years of Megaphone records, founded by Stephane Bismuth after putting together Shack and Arthur Lee for a tour. The label released The Magical World of the Strands and a host of other eclectic artists. This record provides a cross-section and starts quite rightly with Something Like You by Michael Head, which I’m assuming you are all familiar with. You are, aren’t you? Continue reading “Various “Sing And They’ll Sing Your Song” (Megaphone, 2018)”

Mary Gauthier “Rifles & Rosary Beads” (Proper Records, 2018)

Mary Gauthier wrote this record with US Army veterans as part of a program to help those affected by their experiences of war – with those for whom wars do not stop when they come home, those for whom the scars and the horrors endure. These honest raw songs push right into the dark hearts of these veterans, the problems that war brings and the wars they continue to fight once they get home, also giving a voice to the wives and partners who also serve but are unrecognised, those who deal with their broken loved ones. There’s a line from the opener Soldiering On, which sums up the record: ‘what saves you in the battle can kill you at home’. The song drives this home with slabs of drums, guitars and strings, teetering on the ugly as befits the subject matter. These aren’t simple issues and Gauthier never treats them as such; this is a nuanced stripping bare of the problems faced by veterans. Continue reading “Mary Gauthier “Rifles & Rosary Beads” (Proper Records, 2018)”

The Captain of Sorrow “Racetrack Babies” (Musikministeriet, 2018)

Late of the Danish band Racetrack Babies, Hans-Christian Segaard Andersen wanted these 12 songs to sound like 12 different bands and the title of each song is meant to be a possible name for a band. It doesn’t make for continuity but it does make it interesting. Buzzword Surfers is a decent name for a band, and a decent song,  restrained with all of the ingredients folded in together, a little like Arcwelder as the song reins in and then releases the power. Hollow Empty Void is a noisy buzzing song; sounding like it might have been on Amphetamine Reptile Records if it were a little more truculent. Continue reading “The Captain of Sorrow “Racetrack Babies” (Musikministeriet, 2018)”

Cheap Wine “Dreams” (Independent, 2017)

These Italian stalwarts have been pumping out Americana records for two decades now; this is their twelfth and the third in a trilogy that began with Based On Lies. This record, and the previous Beggar Town, share the same characters. These characters have endured hardship and are now finally looking beyond the dire economic circumstances to find redemption in love and dreams. Like all of their records this is pretty down the line roots rock, the biggest influence that I can discern being the Walkabouts, who are deservedly huge in Europe. Cheap Wine as the name suggests don’t have the subtlety of the Seattle band, they lack the light and shade but these are stark line drawings as songs that are effective in their own way. Continue reading “Cheap Wine “Dreams” (Independent, 2017)”

Nahko “My Name Is Bear” (SideOneDummy Records, 2017)

The bearable parts of this record are rendered unbearable by the spoken word interludes that are snippets of (a lack of) insight usually centred on smoking weed and trivia from his life as a touring musician that I wish I’d not had to hear. Nahko – formerly of Medicine for the People – sounds at times like the Avett Brothers (who themselves are moving ever nearer the insufferable). Nahko has already completed that journey for them. Creation’s Daughter concludes the case for the prosecution in any plagiarism case. Dragonfly the lead single is Avett-lite crossed with Disney movie. Same with Goodnight, Sun: it is sub-sixth-form poetry, now I’m aware that a lot of these songs were written between the ages of 18 and 21 but you have to be able to censor and edit yourself. Continue reading “Nahko “My Name Is Bear” (SideOneDummy Records, 2017)”

Howie Payne “Mountain” (Full Stack Records, 2017)

This album was recorded in just four days with a band that had never played together before and most of the songs were done live in a couple of takes; given that genesis, the record sounds remarkable with subtleties that you’d only expect from painful rehearsal and painstaking planning. As ever, Payne’s songs are tightly constructed. It’s hard to pick them apart as everything slots together so seamlessly. They aren’t overly ambitious and they stick to a quite narrow genre but they do exhibit differences in texture, tempo and melody, which keeps everything fresh. He works in the borderlands between folk, country and rock with a spattering of gentle psych thrown in, at his most folkish on After Tonight a gentle troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a gentle touch. Continue reading “Howie Payne “Mountain” (Full Stack Records, 2017)”

Lee Ann Womack “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone” (ATO Records, 2017)

Even if you really enjoy camping and spend most of your holidays enjoying the benefits of communing so close to nature, it still feels wonderful when you spring for a night in a five-star hotel and make the most of the luxury that it affords. That’s how I feel about this record. I spend most of my time listening to records that are made on micro-budgets with less than optimal equipment and with, quite frankly, a lack of proficiency. I’m usually privileging ideas over execution, so listening to this record reminds me that it is quite possible to do things well and still have an outcome that is worth the indulgence. Continue reading “Lee Ann Womack “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone” (ATO Records, 2017)”

Blitzen Trapper “Wild And Reckless” (Lojinx, 2017)

The thing which saved Blitzen Trapper from being run of the mill was their embracing of risk: they can be joyous and frustrating, and on this record they are no different, only, in common with their recent releases, less so. They start with the blue-collar Americana of Rebel and then they hit paydirt of sorts with the title track which hits the spot somewhere between the Drive By Truckers and Bryan Adams, which is not meant to sound snide. The song is a fist-pumper, balancing a strain of nostalgic melancholy with an uplifting chorus that cuts straight to the point. It should be the sound that pours out of a thousand convertibles. Continue reading “Blitzen Trapper “Wild And Reckless” (Lojinx, 2017)”