AUK shortcuts August 2023: Christian Parker, Davie Knowles, Dan Blakeslee, Shannon Clark and the Sugar, Crowes Pasture, Eric Long, William John Titus Bishop, Chris Murphy, The Family Wash, Paul J. Bolger and Richard Townend And The Mighty Bosscats

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 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’s offerings with a bit of an oddity (or a labour of love perhaps). A virtual clone of The Byrds’ ‘Sweetheart Of the Rodeo’ from New Yorker Christian Parker. ‘Sweethearts’, as it is called, revisits all of the original album’s songs and adds three more numbers associated with The Byrds -‘I Still Miss Someone’, ‘Satisfied Mind’ and ‘Drugstore Truck Driving Man’. It’s a terrific listen with Parker sticking close to the original arrangements and with the band (including Earle Pool Ball and Jaydee Maness who played on the original) on great form. We particularly enjoyed Parker’s version of ‘I Am A Pilgrim with its fiddle break and Jennifer Kessler’s harmony vocals. Kessler also sings (quite wonderfully) on ‘Hickory Wind’, foreshadowing Gram Parson’s work with Emmylou Harris. If it begs the question as to why buy this when the original is easily available, rest assured, it’s not a mere copy, instead it breathes new life into the songs.

Best known as a hard rocking blues guitarist, Davie Knowles unveils another side to him on the home recorded and stripped back to the bone acoustic songs on ‘If I Should Wander’. Playing a 1932 National Triolian resonator guitar but eschewing the blues idiom, here Knowles is in a pastoral folk mood recalling the likes of Bert Jansch and Nick Drake with some John Fahey to be heard in the finger picking. It’s an introspective album with Knowles singing about his family, his relationships and his perceived shortcomings in a charming and disarming manner. The title song and Broken Time are the current favourites here but the whole album is perfect downtime listening.

Another man and his guitar is to heard on Dan Blakeslee’s ‘Road Hymns’, a series of field recordings which saw Blakeslee visit various locations in New England which were, in his words, “places that have been sacred to me throughout my musical career and my life.” As such you can hear waves lapping the shore in Ogunquit, Maine and hear birdsong as he recorded under a lilac tree in an arboretum. The songs however roam across the States with Blakeslee in fine form on the early Dylan/Arlo Guthrie like ‘Almost In Mexico’ while ‘Pacific Ghost reminds one of lost ‘60s troubadours such as Ed Askew. It’s a curiosity but well worth listening to if you dig left field folk music.

It’s tempting to lump Shannon Clark and the Sugar into the new breed of southern country rock bands. Sure enough, they open ‘This Old World’ with a swirling Hammond organ on the radio friendly stomp which is the title song. Close inspection of the lyrics reveals a Trojan horse as the band are actually singing about disenfranchised and put upon minorities. The remainder of the album is more down home as they come across like a back porch Fleetwood Mac on the fleet footed ‘Like The Stars’ while’ Thistle’ is a moving portrait of a victim of domestic abuse. They slope back to the southern rock sound on the fine ‘Cool Waters’ with Shannon almost rapping (back to the radio friendly sound) on a song which definitely has its roots in The Band’s latter recordings.

Soft folk rock is the order of the day on Crowes Pasture’s album ‘Don’t Blink’ with Monique Byrne and Andy Rogovin’s harmonies well to the front. We might be accused of damning them with faint praise but overall it’s a pleasant listen with rippling folk songs which might remind the listener of Nels Andrews and the like. They do inject a fair amount of drama into ‘Agree On’, a mournful song with an admirable fiddle solo on top of a brooding organ drone while the plaintive ‘Take Back The Red White And Blue‘ is an admirable song as it tackles the dangerous MAGA movement.

Eric Long’s ‘Seadreamer Vol. 2′ is a collection of songs delivered in the dusty American troubadour style, peppered with fiddle, barrelhouse piano and snaking guitars. Long cites Jerry Jeff Walker as an inspiration and it’s fair enough to say that he resides in the same musical neighbourhood as the late Walker especially on the mighty fine south western waltz of ‘Silhouette Cowboy’. There’s also a touch of John Hartford and Guy Clark on the upbeat ‘I Guess It’s Time To Grow Some Pot’ while the good life continues on the rambunctious ‘Just One More Beer’ which is a bit of a hoot.  Overall, ‘Seadreamer Vol. 2′ is quite an excellent album with Long trucking quite wonderfully on the thrilling country rock of ‘The Drifter’ and then taking it down on the yearning ballad which is ‘Shining Down’. A highly recommended listen.

Just mentioning William John Titus Bishop and his album ‘I Hope That You’re Keeping Some Kind Of A Record’ takes up a fair amount of the wordage we’re afforded here. Nevertheless, Bishop, a classically trained double bassist here dabbles in a very lo-fi type of introspective folk, sounding as if he were recording in an underground labyrinth. There’s little structure to the songs which are acoustic with some adventurous double bass sounds and random percussion  which is oft at ends with the song, the overall effect being quite disconcertedly dizzying. It’s all very experimental but quite beguiling with Bishop coming across like a missing link between Tom Rapp of Pearls Before Swine and Daniel Johnston. It’s a challenging listen but for the more brave hearted it’s well worth a listen. You can make your own mind up by spending some time with ‘A Few Good Men.

On much more solid ground we have the good time shenanigans of Chris Murphy and his Celtic infused folk rock on ‘The Road And The Stars’. Bang for buck, fiddler Murphy and his crew aim to be crowd pleasers with their amped up jigs and reels, perfect for creating a cèilidh atmosphere in rock venues. There’s definitely an audience for this sort of thing and we have to say that it’s impressively performed with Murphy’s fiddling skills rivalled only by the more American influenced guitar playing. Is it bluegrass Celticana? Who can say? It’s definitely good time music be it the impressive instrumental prowess on show on ‘Red Mountain Blues’ or the skirling  strains of ‘Cape Horn.

The Family Wash are a band from AUK’s home town of Liverpool and on ‘Dirty Laundry’ they play a muscular, blue collar brand of American influenced rock’n’roll along with a more countrified element on a couple of songs. Think Springsteen or Michael McDermott staring across the Mersey towards the Wirral and you’re halfway there. They open with the exuberant ‘I’ll Bring The Stars To You’ and at the  tail end there’s some sparkling pedal steel sweetened rock on ‘From The Crowd’. In between these the band kind of stumble around various styles with the infectious ‘Catch Of The Day’ the most memorable.

It’s generally a mark of quality to see that an album was recorded in Henhouse Studios in Nashville by renowned Producer/Guitarist Steve Dawson and so it is with Paul J. Bolger’s latest album ‘Beware Of Trains’. After returning to his Irish roots on ‘Hard Truth’, on ‘Beware Of Trains’ Bolger, especially with the assistance of singer Siobhan Maher-Kennedy, turns in a powerful and eminently listenable set of songs which hum and spark with smoking guitars and muscular arrangements. There are hints of Jackie Leven in the lyrics and the band bond together in the manner of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings. The album opens in fine style with the low slung guitar and organ fuelled ‘All By Herself’ and reaches its apogee on the spoken word ‘Dance To Where You Stand‘ with Bolger sounding uncannily like Dave Alvin.

We close this month’s Shortcuts with the latest album from Richard Townend And The Mighty Bosscats, a crew we’ve always been kind of fond of with their three previous releases all welcomed on these pages.  ‘Are You The Person You’ve Wanted To Be?’ maintains this trend as it slips oh so easily into the listener’s ears with a laid back groove JJ Cale would be proud of. It’s reminiscent of that period when UK players were challenging the Americans as to who could be the swampiest, most soulful and grooviest, with bands like Ace and singers like Jess Roden almost winning the competition. American import Jeb Loy Nicol still flies that flag and The Mighty Bosscats are here to support him on the joysome grooves of ‘How’s It All Come To This’ and the bluesy ‘How Many Times’. Best of all is the witty take on modern dating on ‘Several Ways To Replace A Lover although it has to be said that when they belt up and put on boots and braces on ‘Weatherman’ they strike out quite mightily. Overall the groove is boss here and for that Townend is to be thanked.

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