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.
We ease our way into this month’s selection with the laid back grooves of David Deacon’s ‘Good Day Good Night’. Deacon, now in his seventies, has a chequered past, from writing and painting in Paris to a nearly fatal crash as a motorcycle racer to becoming a champion race car driver then musician. Based in Toronto he has a one of those voices made for TV adverts selling male middle age crisis products, deep and gravelly. It’s all a bit AOR but there are hints of Dire Straits in the lead single ‘Soldiers Of The Universe’ while a couple of the songs swing with a soulful blues touch. His interpretation of Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door‘ is a fine encapsulation of Deacon’s voice and style so have a listen to that first.
From grizzled wisdom to youthful aspiration, Joe Martin releases his debut album ‘Empty Passenger Seat’, a 12 song selection which, strangely enough for a debut, finds him inspired by his “trials and tribulations as a working musician on the road.” Again, this is more polished than the rootsier music this reviewer prefers but Martin hits a sweet spot in his late night meditations such as ‘Born To Die Young’ and ‘Way I Need You’ while ‘Full Time Dreamer’ is a fine, if predictable, tale of a waitress aspiring to me a music star. Martin is assisted by his vocal similarity to Jackson Browne (although not nearly as capable a writer), heard to best effect on ‘Crocodile Tears‘ which has a slight Eagles’ vibe to it.
The Rite Flyers from Austin, Texas have previously had some good press from AUK, apparently being favourably compared to The Jayhawks. While we wouldn’t go so far as that, ‘Butterfly On A Bomb Range’ does have some great harmonies on top of well fleshed out songs which rush by in a flurry of jangled guitars and pumping propulsive bass. While songs such as ‘Meteorite’ and ‘Help Yourself’ have a Teenage Fanclub like pop sensibility it’s more muscular numbers such as ‘Me And The Bean’ and ‘The Man who Would Be King‘ which jump out. Oddly enough there’s a trippy psychedelic ode to ‘Captain Sir Tom’, the veteran who rose to fame with his sponsored walk around his garden (before his name was recently tarnished). Butterfly On A Bomb Range’ is recommended.
Licking the Moose from Norway are another outfit AUK has smiled upon in the past and on their fourth album ‘Hangover Gospel’ they continue to deliver a fine variety of country/rock/blues and soul songs. ‘Quick Fix‘ is an organ smothered stomper and ‘Beware Of The Devil’ has a wild west twang with spooky guitars and a soaring chorus straight out of ‘Ghostriders In The Sky’. For out and out gothic darkness delve into ‘Stone Cold Nightmare’ and then come up for air with the happy clappy gospel country of ‘Narrow Gate’. It’s all great fun, perfectly delivered (one suspects with a slight sense of irony) and is another recommended listen.
More of our back pages as AUK has reviewed Dusty Stray previously, generally giving a thumbs up and ‘Fire Place’ continues in that tradition. It’s more expansive than the earlier discs which were pared back expressions of dark Americana. Here, Jonathan Brown who is basically Dusty Stray employs electronic/folk musician and producer Stuart Cullen to fill out the sound giving the album a breezy and bright feel. At times the electronics almost overwhelm as on ‘Lists’ but elsewhere there’s almost a touch of Sparklehorse on the title song and on ‘Special‘ while ‘Gray Again’, a song about a lost romance has a moving mix of melancholy and joy. The same can be said for Brown’s acoustic rendition of Skip James’ ‘I’m So Glad’ (famously covered by Cream) which is perfectly delivered.
We head off to Australia to give a listen to The Heart Collectors on’ The Space Between’. A collection of new songs and several reworked from their first (now unavailable) album along with three live cuts, the album finds this quartet singing orchestrated “cosmic” folk which is rooted in the lighter aspects of1970’s acoustic music. This is fully expressed in the three live songs which close the album – Stephen Stills’ ‘Helplessly Hoping’, Joni’s ‘Woodstock’ and Paul Simon’s ‘Kathy’s Song’. On these the group harmonise excellently over acoustic guitar backing and this simplicity would have been appreciated on many of the studio numbers. The opening song ‘Energy’ has a fine baleful edge to it and ‘Sirius B‘ is, well, kind of star struck with a dreamy Cowboy Junkies like feel to it. However, some of the time they come across like The Carpenters covering Klaatu’s ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’.
Jonny Morgan comes with the Whispering Bob Harris seal of approval and his debut album features some of the cream of the crop of UK players including Jamie Lawson, Bailey Tzuke, Holly Carter and Joe Coombs. ‘Good Luck With The Music’ is a well polished album which treads lightly in the Americana idiom, sounding more like singer/songwriters of the past such as Gallagher & Lyle and Ralph McTell. Having said that, it’s a very pleasurable listen and very late night radio friendly. Dappled numbers such as ‘If You Love Her, Let her Go‘ and ‘Sometimes It’s Grey’ are fine bedsitter romance fodder but Morgan is more engaging when he revs it up a bit as on ‘Straight And Narrow’ and ‘Getting Out Of My Mind’.
Of Jordan Nix there’s precious little information available about him on that old world wide web. He does seem to reside in Texas and has three albums under his belt, ‘Dirge‘being the latest. Recorded around his producer’s kitchen table using “the stuff we had lying around which was mainly some mics, an acoustic guitar, a piano, a fiddle, and some harmonies” it’s a quiet album which shouts out to be listened to. With hardscrabble tales such as ‘A Little Bit Of Joy’ along with the fiddle laced ‘Not With You’ (a song which could easily be pitched to Nashville chart toppers) Nix can certainly write in the Texas tradition. In addition, he’s great at sounding miserable as on ‘Happy Meal Mondays‘ while a duet with Shelby Stone on ‘Air It Out’ is quite spectacular as they paint a picture of a warring couple at the end of their tether.
At the more traditional end of countrified Americana, Montana’s Little Jane and The Pistol Whips churn up a fine lather on the honky tonk and western swing strains of ‘Long Road Ahead’. Name checking Waylon, Willie and Hank on the opening song ‘Keep It Simple’ kind of sets out their stall and while there’s little here which will startle the listener it’s a solid album of solid songs with Little Jane herself an engaging and highly listenable singer (she chortles wonderfully at one point on the opening number. So, lots to enjoy here on uptempo songs such as ‘Little Gold Heart’ and ‘In my Past’ but they can also slow things down with style as on ‘Untied‘, a gorgeous confessional with weeping fiddle and tearful guitars.
While blues music doesn’t generally find its way onto the pages of AUK we couldn’t help but be entertained by ‘Damn The Rent’ from The Dig 3. This is down home blues with a skiffle like quality which reminds one at times of the early Fabulous Thunderbirds. Opening with the Bo Diddley beat of ‘Take A Ride’ and then boogieing quite excellently on ‘All The Love That I Got’ this trio put some fun into their take on the blues. It’s infectious and bound to get your hips swivelling. Ronnie Shellist on harmonica stands out but Andrew Duncanson sings a cool authority and their one man band rhythm section Gerry Hundt ties it all together. you also have to love the cover art which is a hilarious take on Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
Finally, we have another blues album (yeah, I know I said AUK doesn’t cover the blues) which would churlish to ignore as all proceeds from sales of ‘Shine’ by ‘The Liam Ward Band’ will go to the Stroke Association charity. Ward’s father died aged 54 and the album is dedicated to him, a man said by Ward to have had “the best record collection of anyone I ever met.” Again, the music here cleaves to the classic age of the blues with the title song sounding as if it were brewed in the Chess Studios in Chicago and most of the songs are in the uptempo juke joint style. As such it’s quite joyous and it’s only when they stretch out ‘Everything’s Going To Be Fine’ to nine minutes plus that the band fail to, ahem, shine.