AUK Shortcuts April 2023: Lucy Farrell, Joe Forkan, White Rose Motor Oil, Burning Ferns, Michael Meeking, Mellisa Ruth, Lisa/Liza, The Kirals, Erika Olsen, Duncan Phillips and Innes Wilson’s Freightliner

Our latest Short Cuts, an occasional feature where AUK casts a brief eye and ear on several albums we’ve received recently which just didn’t make the cut for a full review. Like most major music websites we can’t mention every album or EP we get sent but we reckon the picks below deserve a nod. Click on the links to hear a song.

We kick off this month with a quintessentially English artist, Lucy Farrell, on her delightful debut album ‘We Are Only Sound’. A noted viola, fiddle and tenor guitar-player Farrell has played with a myriad of artists and bands including Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, Gluepot and Modern Fairies and in 2017 she won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Group with The Furrow Collective. ‘We Are Only Sound’ finds her gossamer like songs wrapped in some glorious arrangements, the band seeking out and finding sonic nooks and crannies which add to the wonderful atmosphere. While not sounding like The Unthanks, Farrell swims in similar waters. She’s superbly supported by Kris Drever (Lau) on guitar and vocals, Ben Nichols (Nadine Shah) on double bass, Tom Lenthall on piano, Neil McSweeney on bass and M G Boulter on slide guitar and the album was recorded at Much Wenlock Abbey, home to Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle who gifted the recording space – as well as the use of her brother’s instruments – through a mutual friend. Specifically, Nick Drake’s piano and guitar were used in the recording. ‘Suddenly (Woken By Alarms) is but a taster for what is an excellent listen.

White Rose Motor Oil are a two-piece “Alt-Country / Garage Country / Cow-Punk” band from Denver and ‘The Gift Of Poison’ is their second album. It’s certainly a hi octane mixture as the band slam through the set with grit and gumption. Comprised of married couple Eryn DeSomer (guitars and vocals) and Keith Hoerig-DeSomer (drums), they are reminiscent of acts such as Blanche and Twilight Hotel while their publicity invites comparisons to Loretta Lynn’s collaboration with Jack White on Van Lear Rose.  They certainly hit the mark on several of the songs here with ‘Red Light the standout track while ‘Blood Left To Bleed’ is a grand slice of Americana gothic.

Mentioned previously on AUK as one half of Alpha Mule, Joe Forkan’s album ‘Marquee’ is a fine example of a locked down musician reaching out over the internet to musical compadres across continents, hooking up to produce an album. I mean, who needs A.I. when we can do this? Anyhow, Forkan, in Calfornia, enlisted some of the cream of Tucson’s scene (including John Convertino, Thoger Lund and Naim Amor) along with Calexico’s Martin Wenk in Berlin and Paul Neihaus in Nashville for this engaging collection of songs which remind one of Howe Gelb in his Blacky Ranchette guise. For all the trading of music files involved, the songs are vibrant, at times the band sound as if they were recording live on a tumbledown porch. Ranging from the Calexico like drama of ‘Hangman, the country grunge of ‘In The Dark Of The Night’ and the joyful romp which is ‘Not Much’, ‘Marquee’ is quite a joyful listen and is highly recommended.

To Newport in Wales for Burning Ferns’ album ‘World of the Wars’, a record which, at times, reminds one of their fellow Welshmen Badfinger especially on the guitar chord-heavy opening song ‘We’re In The Wars’ which employs some cool harmonies and a fantastic coda. They add a dash of psychedelia to several of the songs but often the lyrics – supposed to be pointed- fail to match the energetic thrust of the music. That said, ‘Frustration’ is a dizzying description of the titular sensation while ‘Tell me Something I Don’t Know wanders quite wonderfully through its kaleidoscopic changes which successfully conjures up a quizzical Lennon circa ‘Magical Mystery Tour’

Anyone hankering after some good old fashioned blue collar rock anthems (as purveyed by Springsteen in his prime) need look no further than Michael Meeking’s ‘The Night Air’. Meeking, an Australian, seems unabashed in his admiration for and debt to the boss, his publicity quoting the man… “As Springsteen sang, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night,” but he’s no mere copycat. Cranked up loud, ‘The Night Air’ is actually a cracking collection of rock songs played with swing and vigour and, aside from Springsteen, there’s echoes of Alejandro Escovedo’s punkier side on ‘The Sunshine Is A Coming while ‘Little Miss Sydney’ captures a fine Tom Petty vibe.

In a similar vein, another Australian (actually a Scot, born in the Shetlands but now based in Melbourne) Duncan Phillips offers us ‘Home On A Saturday Night’. It’s another collection of classic Bruce inspired rock’n’roll and while it doesn’t quite have the brio of Meeking’s disc it rolls up its sleeves and delivers a set of songs, many of which should sound great in a hot and sweaty club. In addition, Phillips offers the easy rolling folk song ‘Making Memories’ which reminds one of Lindisfarne while the title song finds our singer relaxing, listening to Iris Dement on the turntable while looking after his kids, safe at home after a hard working week.

We dial things right down for the next offering. ‘Breaking And Mending’ by Portland artist (Portland, Maine that is), Lisa/Liza, is an introspective, folk laced album which posits her next to the likes of Vashti Bunyan and Alela Diane. Tender and hushed, the songs flow gently with a dreamlike sense of comfort, a sense reinforced by Lisa/Liza’s quietly ethereal voice. In the main it’s her voice and close miked guitar you hear but Peter Herman adds some exquisite pedal steel guitar on ‘Fight For You’, probably the song you’d mention to a friend if you were recommending the album. ‘John Prine’, a friable tribute to the late man, has good intentions but it does seem somewhat out of place here, amidst songs of the stature of ‘Kiss The Flowers’, ‘Held Together and the excellent ‘Wild Fox’.

We’re more used to hearing music from Portland, Oregon and it’s a short hop from there to Eugene where Mellisa Ruth recorded her fourth album, ‘Bones’. It’s another lockdown product as Ruth spent her pandemic time focussing on her own background and on the wooded terrain of her adopted state of Oregon. For the most part it’s a collection of muted songs, ably played by in a low key fashion, reminding one of the Cowboy Junkies’ ‘Trinity Sessions’. Ruth opens the album on the warm tones of ‘Edith Piaf’ with the song redolent of home comforts, warm love and listening to a favourite on the radio. Passage Of Stars’ finds Ruth reflecting on her life while ‘Nashi Lyudi’ delves into her father’s Russian heritage. More topically, ‘Logger’s Lament’ is an acute portrait of the enforced idleness experienced by Oregon’s woodsmen. Well worth a listen.

Erika Olsen is an American nomad, currently ensconced in Sussex. Her debut album, ‘This Is How I Pray’, finds her in fine voice (smoky, sultry, pick your choice) accompanied by Johnny Wright who plays most of the instruments (C.J. Hillman appears on pedal steel on one song). She sings primarily of domesticity and motherhood although, on one song, ‘Benefit Of The Doubt she captures well the problem of racism in early years. ‘Mom Life’ is a chunky slice of daily reportage from the front line of parenthood with Olsen coming across as a funkier Suzanne Vega while ‘Momma Ain’t Got No Time’ is a fine slice of southern soul country in the vein of Bobbie Gentry.

It’s always great to have some home grown Americana thrown our way so we say hello to Oxford’s The Kirals with their second album ‘Goodbye River’. A four piece acoustic band they’re kind of bluegrassy but they sing songs instead of just showcasing their instrumental chops. We have to say that they are like a breath of fresh air as their harmonies and incisive picking deliver the goods. John Prine pops up again as the band play tribute to him on the quite sublime ‘Ballad Of John Prine’ but elsewhere they are quite thrilling in their reclamation of folk rock. ‘Louise is just about a perfect song, dark and dappled with a sense of mystery and perfectly played, as if it were by Leonard Cohen backed by Pearls Before Swine. A lovely album and well worth delving into.

Time (and space) to include mention of a five song EP from Ontario’s Innes Wilson’s Freightliner, titled simply ‘Innes Wilson’s Freightliner II’, which is a pleasant enough listen, the band quite dextrous in an alt-country fashion. Pick of the bunch here is the seven minutes of ‘Sound Inhalation, a song which harks back to the likes of The Church and the flexi discs one used to get with Bucketful Of Brains magazine.

About Paul Kerr 422 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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