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.
Scotland’s Sam Shackleton follows up his impressive debut, ‘Causeway Recordings’ with a six-song EP, ‘Scottish Folk Ballads of Freedom’, comprised of fiercely sung Scottish traditional songs. Accompanied by his claw hammer banjo playing, Shackleton nails his colours to the mast with his topical update of ‘Ye Jacobites by Name’ which becomes a nationalist cry for independence called here ‘Ye Scottish By Name‘. On energetic renditions of ‘Tramps & Hawkers’ and ‘MacPherson’s Lament’ Shackleton recalls the likes of Hamish Imlach and while you don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy the songs the EP should be a hit up north.
‘Prowlin’ Lobo Blues’, the second album by Eric Allen from Indiana, digs deep into the American hinterland with folk, blues and country all thrown into the mix. The title track is a rip roaring affair stuffed with vivid images and place names with Allen’s gruff voice and nimble finger picking bringing them to life. ‘Blackwater Buff’ is a southern slink reminiscent of Tony Joe White and ‘Fire In The Canyon’ is an atmospheric trip not dissimilar to the arid desert sounds of 3hattrio with Allen sounding like Baby Gramps.
Trophy Mules are a slick five piece outfit from St. Louis fronted by main writer and singer Corey Saathoff. Their third outing on disc, ‘No Sooner Than the Moon’, mixes country sounds such as on ‘Cure For The Common Blues‘ (sounding like a modern New Riders Of The Purple Sage) and ‘A Sense Of Me’, both with pedal steel to the fore along with an indie influence on songs such as ‘Full Speed Lobotomy’ and ‘Shatterproof Eyes’, both of which sound like they could have been crafted on a rainy afternoon in 1990s Manchester.
‘Don’t Look Down’ is the second album from The Burnt Pines, a trio comprising singer and lyricist, Kris Skovmand, Aaron Flanders on guitar and banjo and keyboard player and arranger Miguel Sá Pessoa. The first two are based in Boston while Sá Pessoa resides in Portugal. Their music is a frothy confection of pop and folk which can recall Paul Simon or The Housemartins. The pop element is perfectly captured on the opening song ‘Bring Out Your Book‘ but there is also an occasional sense of melancholy and regret as on the wounded refrains of ‘What Did You Come Back For?’ Fans of early Paul Simon should enjoy the lilting ‘Welcome Home’ while the trio do a surprisingly robust version of Jethro Tull’s ‘Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of The New Day)’.
‘Live at Fresh Brewed’ finds South Carolina-based country-folk artist Henry Luther in fine fettle as he and his band rattle through a set gathered from his four albums. Like many a troubadour he divides his time between lightly humorous songs and more pointed views on the current state of the world, in particular, the parlous state of America. This is evident from the start as he sings ‘The New National Anthem’ –“You get a gun and I’ll get a gun, welcome to America bitches” – while ‘Jesus Christ Second Amendment Blues’ finds the messiah returning only to be gunned down by a small town sheriff who is “afraid of a brown man.” A lo-fi live recording with the band somewhat ragged, nevertheless it’s an engaging listen with pleasant enough ditties such as ‘I Love Liquor (but Liquor Don’t Love Me)’ and the more substantial ‘Horry County Ballad’ tempting one to delve into Luther’s back catalogue.
‘Black Creek’ comes from Canadian Graham Nicholas and it’s a very attractive set of songs neatly balanced between organ led band workouts and more delicate back porch picking. ‘Weary Kind’ is one of the former and it finds Nicholas treading similar territory as one of his avowed influences, Gordon Lightfoot, while ‘Venice Is Sinking’ is a funky country number which has elements of The Band woven throughout it. On the mellower front, Nicholas visits an old nursery rhyme on ‘Dish And The Spoon’ a song which reminds one of the delicate pickings of Nels Andrews, a trick repeated on the wonderful ‘Every Dog Has It’s Fleas’. In between these there’s ‘Getting By With Less’, a fine slice of Topanga Canyon like whimsy (with a great saloon bar piano solo) and the excellence which is the honeyed country rock of ‘Squeaking Hinge’, an excellent song.
We head into a melange of folk and blues on Guy Tortora’s ‘Anywhere But Here’. Tortura, an American domiciled in London is a regular feature on his local live circuit while he has also played with and supported artists such as Eric Clapton, Pee Wee Ellis, John Cleary, Eric Bibb and Paul Jones. ‘Anywhere But Here’ is not your regular 12 bar blues, instead, Tortora inhabits the realms of JJ Cale and Mark Knopfler on this set of mellifluous songs with his guitar gliding instead of sliding much of the time. A song such as ‘Withered On the Vine’ is immensely Radio 2 blues night friendly and ‘Flower Street’ slowly unwinds with churchlike organ underpinning Tortora’s attractive voice on a song which could easily sit on one of Dylan’s latter day albums. A fine version of ‘Under The Boardwalk’ allows Tortora to showcase his finger picking skills while ‘Good Night And Good Luck’ is an attractive slide guitar instrumental, not dissimilar from Ry Cooder’s film soundtrack work. His relaxed blues vibe is showcased from the start on the opening song ‘High Tide, Deep Water‘.
Winding up this collection of reviews, we bump into Ted Silar, a veteran he says, and to which we respond, of what? Well, Silar seems to be a veteran of just about everything musical over the past 60 odd years if you read his bio. ‘Last Rose’ finds him trying his hand at writing a bunch of honky tonk country songs and, quite incredibly, recruiting star players such as Byron Berline, Dan Dugmore and Kristen Scott-Benson to remotely guest on his home played songs. There are only four songs here (with three remixes added on) and the closing song, ‘She’s The One’, isn’t quite honky tonk, more tin pan alley. But there’s no denying that ‘Why Have To Dream’ and ‘That One Last Rose‘ hit the target with their tear stained lyrics and weeping fiddles and pedal steel. An oddity but a very welcome one.