AUK Shortcuts March 2023: Frances Luke Accord, Nicholas Johnson, Seamus Foley, Taradiddle, Nashville Ambient Ensemble, Brigid O’Neill and Daniel Meade…

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.

We kick off this month’s picks with the sweet and charming harmonies of Frances Luke Accord, the South Bend, Indiana duo of Nicholas Gunty and Brian Powers on ‘Safe In Sound’. Oft compared with Simon & Garfunkel, we think that it would be more apt to mention another duo, The Lost Brothers, as peers. Both groups are acoustically based, create wonderfully crepuscular songs and their harmony singing is at the forefront of those songs. The pair have been fortunate enough to have been favoured by Darlingside who assist on the closing song here, ‘In My Life. However, the pair are at their best on the softly pulsating ‘Sunnyside’ with its terrific string arrangement which gives the song a mysterious allure. Overall the album is quite beguiling and is well recommended.

‘Shady Pines Vol. 2’ is a brief (26 minutes) album from Cincinnati’s Nicholas Johnson. Describing the songs as mid west rust belt rock, Johnson turns in seven songs which, to be honest, don’t exactly raise the roof. He’s more Bryan Adams than Ryan Adams (one of those acts mentioned in the PR sheet) however if you dig some bluster along with E Street like urban grittiness then you might take a shine to some of the songs here. ‘Binghampton NY Is A Portal To Hell’ this reviewer’s pick as it reminds one of mid period Blue Oyster Cult but the EP’s closer New Vampireis the song getting the promotional push.

Also brief is Seamus Foley’s six song EP ‘Into The Night’, much of it recorded remotely during lockdown, which finds him in a somewhat melancholy mood. The lovely ‘Black & White’ is a tender acoustic meditation on love while the title number has pedal steel player Chris Hillman to the fore on a song which is suffused with wanderlust. That wanderlust leads Foley to ‘Colorado Skies which is the highlight here with Dobro colouring his salute to the wide open vistas of the USA. A fine listen.

What to make of Taradiddle? A Swiss based folk trio who embarked to Wales to record ‘Better Times’, their name seems designed to indicate earnest, finger in your ear, folk music. Instead, the album is a minor delight, jaunty and well played and with singer Franz Andres Morrissey’s vocal resemblance to the late Dave Swarbrick, a bit of a nostalgia trip. Singing songs traditional and by the likes of Dylan and Rabbie Burns, they cover the spectrum, but we especially liked their upbeat version of ‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ (Woody Guthrie via Wilco and Billy Bragg) and, in particular, their pedal steel sweetened rendition of Janis Ian’s ‘Better Times Will Come, a song for the times surely.

Ambient country had a moment when Uncut Magazine featured it on a cover CD a few years back but, aside from Suss, there hasn’t been much traction since. Fear not as the Nashville Ambient Ensemble release ‘Light And Space’, a shimmering and, yes, ambient collection of (mostly) instrumentals which remind one of Eno’s ‘Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks’ at times while there are also elements of Debussy’s more impressionistic work. The eight works here were composed to accompany eight paintings on show in the Nashville Frist Art Museum, visitors listening to the sounds as they contemplated the artworks. A deft Google search might allow the listener to vicariously enjoy that sensation but, on its own, the album is a calm oasis of balm. Check out Waveguidefor an example of how the album sounds.

Lucky Came To Town are a five piece Belgian band who like to wallow in a Jayhawks kind of melancholy and their five song EP, ‘December Sessions’ allows that they do that in some style. With some fine harmonies, well mannered piano and nicely jangled guitars, songs such as ‘Home Ground’ and ‘Hold Back Time do deserve to be listened to with the latter also reminding one of Son Volt. A very touching delivery of ‘Angel From Montgomery’ closes the EP perfectly. A band to watch out for.

Ireland’s Brigid O’Neill went to Nashville to record ‘The Truth And Other Stories’ with Neilson Hubbard in the producer’s seat. As such the album is a classy collection of songs which find O’Neill in excellent voice with some stellar backing which for the most part is not country, instead, reminding one of the studio perfection one expected from classic Asylum Records productions back in the 70s. There are rootsy numbers such as the fiddle laced ‘Prayers’ and the high drama of ‘You’re Not Gonna Leave Me Honey (which begs to be covered by Plant and Krauss) along with late night torch songs (‘Midweek Magic Club’) and, overall, the album allows one to recommend O’Neill to anyone who likes songwriters and singers of the calibre of Gretchen Peters.

From down under, Waiting For Brenda started life as a Billy Bragg covers band as they were fed up waiting for him to play Australia. They have moved on since then and ‘Friendly Disposition’ is a slightly grungy set of songs which remind one of the heydays of alt-country. The band are just on the right side of ramshackle with wayward fiddle and Dobro solos galore while singer Brenda Lee Kelly strikes just the right attitude. For a grand swatch of gothic country have a listen to ‘Closing Time At The Cemetery Gates and, for an insight into Brenda’s mindset, there’s the fast and furious ‘Punk’s Not Dead (It’s Gone Country)’. File next to The Knitters.

Squeezing James Howard’s debut album ‘Peek- A- Boo’ into an Americana music column is stretching things to breaking point but, hey, we’re a broad church and can surely make space for the sublime swirls ofCounty Line which does feature what sounds like pedal steel. The album is a stately procession of songs, in the main ballads, with Howard sounding like Richard Hawley on ‘Coles Corner’ but with a Scott Walker hat on. It’s lush and quite gorgeous, none more so than on ‘Family Values’, a song inspired by a 1960s Civil Defence booklet.

If you want to reminded what a broad church Americana is then have a listen to Glaswegian Daniel Meade’s latest album, a selection of songs from his albums of the past ten years or so which is entitled ‘An Essentially Non-Essential Compilation Of Recordings From The Last Ten Years (2013-2022)’. It might seem odd to point the finger to Glasgow for a definition of Americana but Meade is a bit of a musical polymath, as evidenced by the songs here. Fluent in rock’n’roll, blues, boogie woogie, rockabilly and country his talent has been recognised by the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Old Crow Medicine Show and Diana Jones. The opening song, ‘Keep Right Away’, indeed features Old Crow band members and Joshua Hedley on board and Meade’s ‘Sleeping On The Streets Of Nashville is a classic waiting to be discovered. If you’re new to the name then this album is definitely one to get.

About Paul Kerr 424 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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