AUK shortcuts March 2024: Daniel Kemish, Sue Decker, Bill Dodds, Spencer Kilpatrick, Dalton Mills, Eric Stracener, Sugarcane Jane and Lance Cowan

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 we get sent but we reckon the picks below deserve a nod. Click on the links to hear a song. (And yes, we know it’s now April but the Easter weekend meant we couldn’t run this last Friday.)

Daniel Kemish doesn’t pull any punches on ‘Hard Times’ as he rattles through a set of vibrant rockers and no holds barred folksier numbers. There’s an urgency to the album, a sense of setting it down before we all go to hell in a handcart and it’s interesting to note that some of that “urgency” might be due to Kemish’s insistence on recording the album in a purely analogue style, from capturing the performance through to mixing and cutting the disc on vinyl. There’s an audible buzz at the beginning as Kemish presses “record” and commences with ‘Out Of The Cold’ which starts off in a spare fashion before gearing up into a hard rocker somewhat akin to a young Steve Earle. ‘Rat Race’ bristles with angry guitars and wailing harmonica and ‘Hung Out To Dry’ crashes in on a wave of blue collar angst amplified again by a crash of guitars and swathes of blues harmonica. He’s more reflective on the title song although his back is still to the wall as he ekes out his meagre pay while ‘Just Tonight’ has a skip in its step as Kemish dips into dark country territory. It’s a powerful listen overall and best listened to with the volume control up.

Sue Decker gets immediate points for recording ‘Keeping Time’ with guitar and studio ace Steve Dawson at his Hen House studios, usually a mark of quality and that’s the case here. She’s got a great voice, a little bit wearied with a hint of the younger Lucinda Williams to it while she’s no slouch on slide guitar, tossing off some great solos throughout the album. ‘The Lost Ones kicks off the album in splendid fashion with her guitar playing quite spectacular. That guitar then snakes through the bluesy ‘Hummingbird’ with echoes of Ry Cooder, an echo repeated on the clattering blues shake of ‘Cheatin’ Side Of Town’. On a lighter note there’s some country elements on ‘Never Asked To Be So Strong’, a darkly affectionate portrait of an old acquaintance.

Releasing a debut album at the age of 67 is a feat in itself but Bill Dodds, a retired railway driver from Newcastle manages to impress on ‘Closer’, a set of intimate songs produced by Dan Whitehouse. Late in learning the craft of songwriting, Dodds engaged in online workshops with the likes of Reg Meuross, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Boo Hewerdine during lockdown and started to perform as venues reopened. While his Newcastle roots are most evident on ‘Goodnight Vin (a tribute to Vin Garbutt) Dodds takes to Verona as he sings of those infamous star crossed lovers on ‘Fools And Princes’ while ‘The Kaiser And The King’ was inspired by war memorials Dodds visited on his lengthy bike tours. Overall it’s quite a delightful album reminiscent of early seventies English singer songwriters.

From Newcastle to a kitchen in Big Water, Utah where we find Spencer Kilpatrick recording his songs for ‘Daydream’, a 10 set selection of songs recorded solo in a DIY fashion. Kilpatrick cites Townes Van Zandt and Hiss Golden Messenger as influences but here he comes across as a rougher hewn version of Rod Picott, especially on ‘Day Dream’. With no bells and whistles to distract, Kilpatrick’s songs and performance are front and centre and they all pass muster. ‘Alright’ sounds like a front porch hillbilly digging a Bill Withers vibe and ‘Then, Now, Always‘ is a superior love song, carved from the heart. Still solo, Kilpatrick whips up a storm on the Woody Guthrie like ‘Thursday Night. Most folk cook in their kitchen but Kilpatrick just cooks.

Dalton Mills hails from Kentucky and was first noted by AUK when one of our readers nominated a song of his back in our Readers’ Picks section a few years back. ‘Good Place To Hide’ is his second album and it’s a worthy listen if you dig songwriters influenced by the likes of John Prine and Guy Clark and able to put their own stamp on their songs. ‘Redbird’ is a fine hymn to the great outdoors and ‘Margaret Allan’ is dark and spooky, sounding as if it were plucked from a Child Ballad. Some fancy guitar picking on the instrumental ‘Flyin’’ and a grand Prine like song in the shape of ‘Shakespeare In Boots round out the album nicely.

Hopping over to Mississippi we find Eric Stracener whose latest album, ‘Superchief’, was produced by Will Kimbrough and Neilson Hubbard. Its tone is set by the opening ‘Liar’s Waltz, a weathered ballad with lilting mandolin and snaking guitar woven throughout and Stracener maintains a finely tuned sense of country styled songs with a hint of bluegrass on ‘Gone And Left’ and ‘Heartbreak Vertigo‘. He’s no slouch on more delicate songs such as ‘Belhaven Blues’ (with actual foot tapping keeping rhythm) and  on the most impressive  song here, ‘The Sparrow’, which takes flight in a manner similar to Simone Felice.

Next we go to Alabama for Sugarcane Jane’s latest release, ‘On A Mission’. Led by Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee (with Crawford boasting an impressive CV, the most notable being his stints with Neil Young), the pair run through 11 songs here but overall they fail to demand much attention with many of the numbers best described as worthy but not particularly memorable. One gets the sense that if they ditched the rock’n’roll punch which adorns many of the songs this would be a better listen. As it is, the best of the bunch are ‘The Candle’ which features some cool guitar soloing and ‘Spirit Push’, the latter half of which shows that they can deliver the goods.

Another songwriter with a cool CV is Lance Cowan albeit mostly as a music publicist but also as a writer with his songs being covered by Joan Baez and Janis Ian. ‘This Heart Of Mine’ is his debut album, recorded with some prime Nashville pickers and is very much in the slipstream of hallowed songwriters such as Jackson Browne and Jack Tempchin. It’s an engaging listen with songs such as Little Johnny Pierce and ‘Currently Red’ both finely dappled tales but at times it’s a tad too laidback. Indeed, its most immediate moment is when Julie Lee takes over the lead vocals on a breakup song, ‘The Letter’.

About Paul Kerr 422 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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