AUK Shortcuts: SUSS, Morningbird, Honey On Our Tongues, Kacy Lee Anderson & The Waverley Pickers, JP Payton, Steve Hartsoe and M. Butterfly

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.

A few years back ambient country was on the tip of everyone’s tongues, partly due to an Uncut magazine CD which compiled the leading proponents of this odd genre. SUSS were at the forefront of this brief movement and they are still at it as their latest album “Birds & Beasts” attests. The seven instrumentals here waft by, delivering an exceptionally relaxing state of mind with delicate acoustic guitars surrounded by swathes of cosmic pedal steel amidst a murmur of, well, ambient sounds. The listener is reminded of Brian Eno’s cowboy astronauts in space mood music which featured on his “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks” album but SUSS are less stratospheric as they capture the languid heat haze and spiralling skies of American deserts. ‘Restless is as good a track as any on the album but it’s the two closing numbers, both over 10 minutes long, which allow for a full immersive listen.

The debut album from Minnesota’s Morningbird, “Echoes In The Meadow”, is quite the delight. The trio (Rob Wheeler on guitar and mandolin, Jill Burkes on guitar and violin and Josh Palmi on upright bass) harmonise well while all three take their turn at singing lead. Basically a string driven trio, they roam far and wide on the songs here, delving into tradition as on the Appalachian chant of ‘Thunder’, the storytelling of ‘Dig A Hole In The Meadow’ and the laid back blues of ‘Keep Your Lamp Trimmed’ while also hinting at more up to date habits as on the song ‘Reefer, albeit with a delicious slow vamp spiced up with some very cool guitar licks. They find time to include two songs which address the current state of America, the doom laden ‘The Wind’ which is followed by the much more jaunty ‘Time For A Change’. Overall, a very fine debut album.

Another debut and another fine album arrives in the shape of duo Honey On Our Tongues and their album ‘The Mountain Above Us’. Aside from allowing us to maintain the regular inclusion of music from Oregon (in this case from Eugene) Christopher Jeremiah Cullen and Mara Cook simply set out their wares on a set of songs stripped back to basics – guitar, fiddle and banjo and voices. They set these wares out on a bone bleached back porch, sounding as ancient as the hills at times as on ‘Hunter’. Songs such as ‘Goddess In Disguise’ inhale the same air as that breathed by the likes of Pharis and Jason Romero while ‘Sulfur & Gold’ will surely be appreciated by any fans of Gillian Welch. Most delightful of all the songs here is ‘Golden Field, a delicate tip toe of a song which, given its Portland origins, aptly reminds one of Michael Hurley.

“Early Hits” might be an optimistic title for a debut album from South Saskatchewan outfit Kacy Lee Anderson & The Waverley Pickers and, to be honest, it’s unlikely you’ll hear them blasting over the airwaves anytime soon. That said, the album is a delightful and kooky set of songs which at times reminds one of Victoria Williams or The Roches. The focal point of the band is Kacy Lee Anderson of Juno-nominated folk-duo Kacy & Clayton who recruited old schoolmates Brenna Lynn Kuffner and Callie McCrea to play local gigs in the first instance and then began to write songs for the trio. Their celebration of their roller skating days on ‘croptopnroll is hugely entertaining with fat-back pedal steel slithering throughout it while ‘Wrath Of Man’ is drawn from the Dolly Parton school of hard knock songs. They dip their toes into cosmic country on ‘To Dabble In Astral Travel’, a wonderfully skewed song which sways with an almost Latina swing as Clayton gets all sultry, almost moaning the otherworldly lyrics.  Well worth a listen.

JP Payton has previously graced AUK’s pages as one of the frontrunners of the band Freight. Their disc was described by us as a stomping rocky country funk album but on his solo debut, “MTN Blue”, Payton strips it all back to basics with acoustic deliveries of songs mostly suffused with regret and loss. He seems to be striving for a Townes Van Zandt like rough and ready raw quality but he never quite achieves that summit. Instead, Will Oldham is a more apt comparison as Payton, quite accomplished on guitar and with an attractive sense of weariness in his voice, sings about looking for an emotional lifebelt on ‘Somehow’ or recounts a tale of being stranded on ‘Wheels Falling Off’. At his bleakest, on ‘Sing Back’, he sounds is if he is forever shadowed by a black cloud hovering over him but there are lighter moments as on the full band delivery of ‘Starting Over Again’ which is given a lovely country rock treatment although, once again, the lyrics are somewhat regretful. The deft and bluegrassy finger picking of ‘6th January’ gives the song an upbeat feel but it’s the most forceful number here as Payton lays into the insurgents let off the leash by Trump.

Steve Hartsoe is a bit of a veteran having shared stages with the likes of Chris Isaak, Todd Rundgren, Mudhoney and Young Fresh Fellows when he was in the band The Raging Marys back in the 90s in San Francisco. He moved on to journalism but continues to play these days in his north Carolina neighbourhood and on “Faithless Town” he has enlisted a host of muso friends from his past to beef up the sound. It’s a bit of a mixed bag with muscular rockers rubbing shoulders with more intimate moments and it suffers from not having a killer punch. Sure enough, a song like ‘New Year’s Eve’ has a Tom Petty like jangle to it and ‘Broke Down’ swaggers with swathes of thundering drums and slippery slide guitar while ‘A Thousand Cuts’, with accompanying vocals from his wife, approaches the arid tones of Divine Horsemen. At its best, on ‘Rue Avenue, there’s more than a hint of Springsteen and even The Waterboys  but overall, there’s not much here to allow us to thoroughly recommend it.

We’ll always make space for the more left field acts out there and M. Butterfly, who hails from Brighton fits into that bill. His album, “The Lonesome Country Sounds of M. Butterfly” was   recorded on a Sony tape deck and is released on cassette. It’s just him, his guitar and his woes and it’s doubtful that anyone (other than his mates, if he has any) will be heading to the record shop to buy this. However, Butterfly’s songs have a resonance to them be it the Hank Williams like yearnings of ‘This Blue Heart Of Mine‘ or the dark country of ‘The Ecorche’, a song flayed well back. He’s got a fine line in song titles, the best being ‘The Sacred Art Of The Wedding DJ’ although the song bears little relation to the title. It’s a scuffed, distorted and hissy recording but we reckon that’s the true selling point here as M. Butterfly sets his wares out as a truly stained and battered bedsit artist.

About Paul Kerr 444 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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