AUK Shortcuts February 2023: Novelty Island, Rust Dust, Nolen Sellwood, Steve Stoeckel, D’Arcs Family Jams and Del Shannon…

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.

First up this month is a delightful slice of psychedelic whimsy with a strawberry fields flavour from Novelty Island, essentially the vehicle for Liverpudlian Tom McConnell. Recorded at Abbey Road, ‘Wallsend Weekend Television’ finds McConnell in a Beatles’ like mood with a tilt towards Lennon as opposed to McCartney. Awash with mellotron and phased drums and extremely melodic, the songs are not pastiche in the manner of The Rutles, they’re more a re-imagined psychedelic strain not dissimilar to Malojian’s ‘Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home’. Pick of the bunch is the lysergic drift of ‘Over & Over‘.

Much less sumptuous is the bare boned folk and blues of ‘Twere But It Were So Simple’ by Rust Dust, a one man band (Jason Stutts) who sings and plays guitar, banjo and trombone. Recorded in “an old brownstone in Sunset Park, Brooklyn NY” and mastered at Third Man Mastering this is primitive (and some might say eccentric) listening; think of Eugene Chadbourne and you’re on the right track. You might expect a cover of Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ to be a familiar gateway into the album but Stutts twists it so it fits right in with his idiosyncratic style. If you dig something somewhat off the beaten track then there is much to admire here. Both the title song and ‘Sky are quite mesmerising while ‘Must Be Jelly’ with its parping trombone is like the Marx Brothers indulging in some good old fashioned New Orleans blues.

From Rhode Island, Ben Shaw offers ‘Madeline’, a story based album accompanied by a novella which actually tells the story. ‘Madeline’ is the tale of a musician who, in a late night bar, gets into conversation with a faded ex beauty queen leading him to reconsider his take on life’s foibles. It’s perfect Willie Vlautin territory but Shaw never hits the heights (or depths) of Vlautin. The songs are a mite too polished, missing any true hardscrabble grit and sounding more as if they were destined for the soundtrack to an off Broadway production. Having said that, the album’s a comfortable listen with the title song the standout.

Nolen Sellwood, aged 19, hails from Minnesota and his debut album ‘Otherwise’ certainly belies his age. Sellwood cites Nick Drake as his primary influence and there is certainly more than a whiff of Drake and others from the Witchseason days in his meandering folk musings. His whispered vocals float over his accomplished guitar picking while the songs have arrangements which do recall those of Robert Kirby. There’s no fillers in the 10 songs on show here, all of them being of merit, but Going For The Sun  is perhaps the one to listen to in the first instance with its impressive guitar efforts and sweeping arrangement while ‘To Be Saved’ ebbs and flows quite wonderfully.

We jump deep into the heart of Texas to hear grassroots veteran Austin Mayse’s follow up to his 2009 debut album. Apparently Mayse is a fixture on the local Austin circuit but has rarely recorded for various reasons. ‘Bridges And Kerosene’ isn’t the album to catapult him into the limelight but it’s a decent enough collection of world wearied songs and the players are all well up to mark especially on the stand out song, ‘On My Way, which features outstanding guitar and pedal steel throughout. Also well worth a listen are Mayse’s tale of booze ridden years on ‘Wretch Like Me’ and the Carter Family like ‘Sober Light’.

The solo debut album from Steve Stoeckel, a founding member of The Spongetones, comes adorned with a power pop label in the publicity bumf and while ‘The Power Of And’ fits 15 songs into 37 minutes (as all good power pop albums should) it eschews for the most part any wham bang thank you mam power chords. ‘Christine and ‘Laura Lynn’, both Kinks like rockers, and ‘Mod Girl’ are the closest it gets but the latter’s zany guitar solos and off kilter beat are more Robyn Hitchcock than Big Star. There’s an Everlys’ touch to ‘Why’ (with Irene Peña on harmonies) and ‘Just One Kiss’ comes across like an outtake from the first McCartney album. Meanwhile, speckled numbers such as ‘Hummingbird’ and ‘If Then’ remind one of Graham Coxon’s album The Spinning Top.

Siblings, Jake D’Arc (vocals, guitar, keys) and Mike D’Arc (vocals, guitar, bass) comprise D’Arc’s Family Jam, following a stint in a band called Peanut Butter Lovesicle. They describe their music as “A mix-mash of psychedelic Americana sprinkled with motown flavors and ice cream parlor pop proclivities” but that’s somewhat misleading on this debut album as the majority of the songs here are quite downbeat. A couple of them evoke the more introspective aspect of The Band (‘Stickers’, ‘Rt 30 Billboard Jesus and ‘Mansion’) but then there’s the sweet country jaunt of ‘Regress’ to consider along with the closing ‘Sea Salt and Rattlesnake’ which is delivered in a fine sepia toned vintage fashion. Altogether, a very pleasant album.

We close this edition of Shortcuts with a mention of a mammoth Del Shannon collection (12 CDs, 302 songs) from Edsel/Demon Records. Now, AUK doesn’t normally mention 1960’s hit makers but Shannon, after his heyday with chart hits such as ‘Runaway’ went on to record several well regarded albums including a tribute to Hank Williams along with his contribution to psychedelia on ‘The Further Adventures of Charles Westover’. Come the 70s and 80s Shannon was recording with the likes of Tom Petty and Dave Edmunds and it was posited that he was being considered as a replacement for the late Roy Orbison in The Travellin’ Wilburys. His suicide put paid to that. ‘Stranger In Town: A Del Shannon Compendium’ has a wealth of songs, many previously unavailable on CD along with several never previously released. It’s a deep dive but a welcome reminder that Shannon was much more than a teen idol. Have a listen here to Shannon getting it on with Petty on his album ‘Drop Down And Get Me’.

About Paul Kerr 432 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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