Ags Connolly “Nothin’ Unexpected” (At The Helm Records, 2017)

Who doesn’t love Ags over-easy? Bob Harris really digs this new offering from Ags Connolly. He’s already played several tracks on his show and it’s easy to see why it has got him all stirred up. Ags has teamed up with a sterling group of musicians that includes Michael Guerra from The Mavericks on accordion, and Grand Ole Opry stalwart Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle.  Released on the tuned-in Brighton-based At The Helm label which specialises in releasing ‘un-scrubbed Americana music’, it has been three years since Ags’ first release, How About Now, but the wait has been worth it. Continue reading “Ags Connolly “Nothin’ Unexpected” (At The Helm Records, 2017)”

Bill Kirchen & Austin De Lone “Transatlanticana” (Proper Records 2017)

Bill Kirchen should be familiar to many here as a founding member of 70’s country rockers Commander Cody And his Lost Planet Airmen before going on to carve out a career that has led to his nickname of Titan Of The Telecaster. Austin De Lone? Well, he’s every bit as hallowed as Kirchin although the congregation might be somewhat smaller. He’s an American but one who first came to prominence (back in the 70’s again) with London pub rockers Eggs Over easy, one of those bands who kicked Prog in the balls with their return to the roots (and incidentally preparing the way for punk). The pair first bonded back in the 70’s and it would take a Pete Frame like Family Tree to describe their ongoing affiliations, partnerships and mutual connections, suffice to say that Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe loom large, the latter producing the duo when they were called The Moonlighters. Continue reading “Bill Kirchen & Austin De Lone “Transatlanticana” (Proper Records 2017)”

The Standing Waves “Early Reflections” (Independent, 2017)

Both standing waves and early reflections are terms to do with the physics of sound waves. The first sounds to reach a listener’s ears from sound waves bouncing off objects are the early reflections and I’m happy to report that the effect evidenced by these ten songs is a tidal wave of pleasure. They are polished and charming examples of a subtle mix of Americana genres – there are touches from all across the map from the reflective sweetness of Last First Person that reminds me of the collective bonhomie of Ida, wisps of Whiskeytown, the Jayhawks, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and even the Avett Brothers. Continue reading “The Standing Waves “Early Reflections” (Independent, 2017)”

Benjamin Folke Thomas “Copenhagen” (Louvaio, 2017)

Thomas’ opening gambit Good Enough For Me sparkles with lyrical ideas and has a few sticky hooks thrown in. The first line Wish I could come down from this pedestal strikes the right tone somewhere between two other great Scandinavian cultural icons the Norwegian TV series “Dag” (highly recommended – it has a wonderful soundtrack) and the writing of Karl Ove Knausgaard. Both deal with existential angst in similarly entertaining ways. Good Friend Again only deepens this impression, This is the day I’ll start drinking again, I need something to cope with these avenues of shame. There’s a brutal honesty, even if it is only fiction – it’s far from romantic. Continue reading “Benjamin Folke Thomas “Copenhagen” (Louvaio, 2017)”

Mandy Rowden “1000 Miles” (Independent, 2017)

Sometimes some records just don’t hit the mark… and from the drab artwork  to the confusion of the songs that dwell within, that seems to be the case here. It’s a dreadful shame – given some of the names Rowden has worked with in the past, this is a record that should have presented far more in the way of highlights. This, Mandy Rowden’s second album, owes much to Lucinda Williams and a bit to Tift Merritt, but lacks the conviction of either. The songs are relatively well put together and in the most part, decently executed, but just not exciting enough. Moreover, the apocalyptic imagery of a couple of songs, notably Flood Song and No Greater Silence,  and the social commentary and ramshackle romp of 5 O’clock World are difficult to take seriously. Continue reading “Mandy Rowden “1000 Miles” (Independent, 2017)”

Norrie McCulloch “Bare Along The Branches” (Black Dust Records, 2017)

There was that awful moment after Mum’s tiny, emaciated body had been lowered into the cold, hard ground with the St. Michael card I’d blu-tacked on the coffin-lid for protection and company; because we left her all alone in the windswept cemetery. Only when the silence became too oppressive did I force myself up into her bedroom, open the wardrobe door and begin to gather her clothes and other personal effects into cardboard boxes for their final journey to the charity shop in the High Street. Norrie McCulloch is also a member of that club no-one wants to join. He writes with such detail of his experience on Safe Keeping. What to give away and what to keep? He knows the excruciating pain that accompanies this task. Continue reading “Norrie McCulloch “Bare Along The Branches” (Black Dust Records, 2017)”

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)”

Robert Vincent “I’ll Make The Most Of My Sins” (At The Helm Records, 2017)

Of late fortune has smiled on Liverpudlian Robert Vincent. He was the first recipient of The Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award at the inaugural Americana Association UK Conference and Awards last year. He was also invited to be a showcase UK artist for Nashville’s Americana Fest in September and ended up in Rolling Stone’s list of “20 Best Things We Saw at Americana Fest”. On top of positive reviews for his debut album Life In Easy steps it seems it’s onwards and upwards for Mr. Vincent and consequently expectations for this album are quite high. Recorded in Liverpool and mixed in Nashville (with Ray Kennedy at the controls) I’ll Make The Most Of My Sins certainly meets these expectations although it’s an album that has a few surprises up its sleeve. Continue reading “Robert Vincent “I’ll Make The Most Of My Sins” (At The Helm Records, 2017)”

Johnny Parry “An Anthology of All Things” (Songs & Whispers, 2017)

Most records we get have such a limited scope and ambition that we can at least attempt to encapsulate them within a few hundred words. This record is of such ludicrous sweep and ambition that I doubt I could ever even start to detail its borders. It contains a chamber orchestra, a soprano (Donna Lennard) and the Bedford Arts choir. It consists of eight movements with the lyrics constructed from short statements submitted by the local community. It appears to be both a logistical nightmare and one of those projects that seem worthy of approbation but are seldom enjoyed. If it were American I’d be talking about Charles Ives, John Adams, Saul Chaplin, Michael Daugherty and how it fits into Americana in its broader sense. I have fewer British reference points, possibly Benjamin Britten, then I’m at the limits of my knowledge. Continue reading “Johnny Parry “An Anthology of All Things” (Songs & Whispers, 2017)”

Stanley Brinks and the Old Time Kanicks “Vielles Caniques/Nouvelle Caniques” (Fika Recordings 2017)

I don’t know how many records Stanley Bring aka Andre Herman Dune has been involved in or how many gigs he’s played, hundreds for the former and thousands for the latter. He’s completely at ease as a performer and these songs, like much of his catalogue (at least that much known to me), ooze a kind of infectious convivial bonhomie that immediately put you at ease, constantly referencing social situations, friends getting together and drinking and the love songs are everyday tales told from the perspective of a courtly lover, a man full of respect for his audience, his peers and the objects of his desire. Continue reading “Stanley Brinks and the Old Time Kanicks “Vielles Caniques/Nouvelle Caniques” (Fika Recordings 2017)”