Welcome to 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.
Northern Irelands’ Mark Crockard’s ‘Hotel America’ is his first solo album after two releases under the name of Willow Springs. Despite a tendency to lapse into a tin pan alley type of old fashioned romanticism at times there are a couple of well fashioned rockabilly rockers on show. ‘I’ve Lost The Woman I Love’ and ‘It Serves Me Damn Well’ chug along with a fine degree of swing while ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ has a touch of hoodoo attached to it. Crockard’s best song here is ‘The Big Snow‘, a well constructed and well played nostalgic ballad which recalls the likes of Bruce Cockburn and Clive Gregson
Another singer songwriter venturing into solo territory is Cooper Stoulil from Seattle. Formerly one half of alt folk duo Dravus House, Stoulil’s debut album, ‘Someday In The Light, Again’, is not a huge departure from their sound. His voice, like warmed honey, flows across these late night murmurations along with delicate flutterings of electric and acoustic guitars and some fine string arrangements. At times reminiscent of Tim Hardin and also the late lamented UK band, Hobotalk, Stoulil shines on songs such as ‘All Around‘ and ‘Stand Back’. Highly recommended.
Jeb Lipson cleaves to the strained quality of dust blown semi acoustic songs, think of Butch Hancock and you’re halfway there. And while Lipson is no Hancock, he captures perfectly the south west sound which has been ranging out of Tucson and Texas for a couple of decades on ‘Reclamation’. Guitars are slid and scraped as Lipson drawls out stories woven from the history of this parched land. ‘American Prayer‘ is particularly impressive, had it been on a Steve Earle album it would be receiving numerous plaudits. As it is, Lipson delivers 12 songs which are all well above par. From the opening organ driven swell of ‘Room To Roam’ to the delicate closing song, ‘Woken By The Wind’, Lipson impresses throughout.
More polished is Kenny Shore’s ‘Time Stands Still’, a collection of well crafted songs which, with some fine Hammond organ playing, has at times a Muscle Shoals feel to it. A big fan of John Prine, Shore follows in his hero’s footsteps on the opening number ‘Put Yourself In My Shoes’ and Prine gets a name check on the excellent ‘Almost Like Heaven‘ which features some fine mandolin playing from Andrew Marlin of Watchhouse.
Stefan Prigmore is also a fan of John Prine and on ‘Everything Is At Least Both’ he just about nails Prine’s style on his song, ‘CV One Nine’. And while echoes of Prine remain in several of the numbers, Prigmore sets out his own stall with some very tempting songs. ‘Kramer’s Song‘ is a picture perfect red dirt snapshot of small town life while ‘Devil Dog & The Rattlesnake’ is an excellent band effort with slivers of Dobro and slide guitar snaking throughout. Prigmore has a brilliant voice, stained and strained, and he uses it to great effect on the sinewy acoustic blues of ‘Lacretia’ and on the Band like ‘Gunpowder And Wine’. Well worth a listen.
Marsh And The Reluctant Friends are veterans of AUK’s Twang Factor so it’s nice to hear an album from them. ‘Songs From The World’ bristles with energy and indignation from the start with ‘Marching On This Road‘ based on lead writer Paul Mallet’s participation in various demo marches. They describe the album as folk songs written and performed with Americana influences and this is best portrayed on ‘Bristol Town’ which finds the band welding their sound together from a mixture of The Levellers, Alabama 3 and the Violent Femmes.
According to Simon Linsteadt, his latest album ‘Mud Season’ is named after a Maine term for early spring when the ground is, simply put, muddy. There’s nothing muddy however in this fine set of acoustic songs, many of them with a seafaring sense to them. These include ‘Lonesome Low’, a traditional English folk song along with ‘Golden Hinde‘, a song written by Linsteadt in response to the selfish captain of the earlier song while on ‘Our Wooden Ship’ he sounds like a good humoured David Crosby (if such a thing exists). With 19 songs included, Linsteadt packs much more than sailing into the album. ‘Simian Line’ is a brief meditation on his palm indentations and ‘Bloodhounds’ is a descent into dark dreams. If you like Nels Andrews then you’ll like this album.
If you hanker after good old fashioned western swing we can point you in the direction of ‘West Side’ from Sam Platts & The Plainsmen. A husband and wife team, Sam’s great baritone voice is well complemented by his wife Lilly’s fine fiddle work while double bass and arch top guitar fill the sound up. That they emphasise both the western and the swing element in their songs is easy to hear in their performances of well trodden songs such as ‘Whoopee Ti Yi Yo’ and ‘Saint James Infirmary Blues’ while there’s an element of the late Dan Hicks in the jazzy ‘If You Haven’t Met The Wolf’. The centre piece of the album however is the fine prairie tale of ‘Canadian Line’ which comes across as if Peter Rowan was backed by a 1970’s Grateful Dead.