AUK Shortcuts April 2024: Sean Walshe, The Gravel-Aires, RubyJoyful, AC Sapphire and Kat & Zach

Our latest Short Cuts, a monthly 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 we get sent but we reckon the picks below deserve a nod. Click on the links to hear a song.

We open with a good old fashioned chunk of American muscle, yearning and chest beating at times. It’s the debut album by 61 year old Sean Walshe which he has called ‘American Son’. Roping in an old friend who just happens to be the famed producer Rob Fabroni, Walshe hammers into his songs with some fury. Think of a blend of Steve Forbert and Bruce Springsteen. It opens with the title song which digs into an American everyman’s despair at the state of the country while ‘Highway 99′ continues to pile on the bile with Walshe pointing the finger at politicians. On a more personal note, ‘Epiphany #4′, a great song with hints of Dylan and The Band to it, is like a poison pen letter to an ex, as spiteful as Dylan’s ‘Positively Fourth Street’. There’s light relief of sorts on a brace of folkier songs such as ‘Emmet’s Song’ and ‘Since You Were Gone’ and he closes the album with a surprisingly groovy version of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, replete with gospel singers and horns. Well worth a listen.

If you wanted to create a family friendly roots rock band who can equally conjure up laid back funky country vibes and LA canyon good times then The Gravel-Aires, a Canadian outfit, have beaten you to it. ‘Westerly’, their third album, is chockfull of good songs which hit the button each time. It’s evident from the opening song ‘Afterlife’, a wearied country rock number with yearning harmonica and slippery slide guitars that these guys have the goods. Songs such as ‘Babylon Blue’, ‘Station’ and ‘You Lost Me’ are played superbly while singer Mark Branscombe has an incredibly appealing voice. Pick of the songs here are ‘Crows’ which has a country blues slouch with a hint of J.J. Cale to it and ‘It’s Slipping, a lovely balm of a song with sweet harmonica and pedal steel.

Aside from its cumbersome title, ‘The Pie Chart Of Love’, this debut album from Colorado’s RubyJoyful is a quiet delight with its rippling string band arrangements and laid back songs which are as refreshing as a cool mountain stream. The band is helmed by songwriter Dan Rubinoff and his partner and upright bass player Joice Moore, assisted by a raft of excellent musicians (including members of Leftover Salmon) accompanying them. Rubinoff sings in a leisurely fashion of simple pleasures, the best example being the supremely entertaining ‘Some People’ while the excellently titled ‘How My Lil’ Punk Girl Fell in Love with John Prine’ is apparently about how the pair got together. Aside from the love story aspect, Rubinoff actually manages to carry the spirit of Prine within the song which is acutely accurate and wickedly humorous in a manner which Prine would surely approve of. Whether hewing into old time mountain music as on ‘Fiddler’s Lament’ or riding the range on the fleet footed ‘One Long Truth’, RubyJoyful are quite magnificent and the album is highly recommended. As for that cumbersome title, it refers to the album artwork, a fairly cute declaration of Rubinoff’s love for Moore.

We said in the last edition of Short Cuts that there seemed to be an obligatory Portland, Oregon artist cropping up each issue and this month’s contender is AC Sapphire with her album ‘Dec. 32nd’, so called as her birthday is on 23rd December and she decided to reverse the number to make that less obvious. It’s a bit of a mixed bag as Sapphire seems rooted in a folky medium but dresses several of the songs in what, to these ears, is an over-egged production. Witness number one is the opening song, ‘Palmistry’ which starts off with acoustic guitar and Sapphire’s fine voice ringing out before she then multi tracks her vocals to close the song. Her massed vocals also dominate ‘Oblivion’, a song which one reckons might have been much better delivered in a starker set up. Having said that, ‘Thunderbird’ is a fine slice of cosmic American music as is ‘Chaparral Bottoms’ (written for Sapphire’s friend Victoria Williams) while ‘Weed Money, the simplest arrangement on the album, stands out as the best song here. It’s closely followed by the album closer, ‘Stringbreaker’, another stripped back song which reminds one of Alela Diane.

Alongside Portland, Chapel Hill in North Carolina is generally shorthand for quality and Kat & Zach don’t disappoint on their album ‘Cut The Wires’. They’re a duo but perform here with a full string band line up on what is a strong debut album. The opening song, ‘American Dream‘ is as good a song about the current predicament of the U.S.A. as we’ve heard in a while. While it’s not a protest song per se, it paints an impressionistic picture suffused with pessimism. With echoes of duos such as Gillian Welch with David Rawlings and The Lowest Pair, Kat & Zach delve into the roots of American folk music and come up with some gems. ‘Winterflower’ is quite delicious while ‘Firelight is a song which engages with our current environmental emergency with a passion and a restrained sense of anger, it’s a beautiful song.

About Paul Kerr 438 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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