Grant-Lee Phillips “Widdershins” (Yep Roc Records, 2018)

With this record G-LP sounds confident, spontaneous, relaxed and angry – it’s a heady brew and provides the fuel to make this his best set of songs for some time. Each song is a stinging jab with lyrical barbs and musical hooks, a riposte to the current political situation. Make no mistake, these are protest songs, subtle and cutting.  Recorded over four days they have an immediacy; they haven’t rehearsed the soul out of the songs which smoulder and often catch fire. Continue reading “Grant-Lee Phillips “Widdershins” (Yep Roc Records, 2018)”

Kyle Craft “Full Circle Nightmare” (Sub Pop, 2018)

Listening to this record is like mistakenly making conversation with a drunk that you can’t get away from, only this drunk has some great stories to tell. Like the bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Lou Reed he’s imbued with rock and roll – with the mythology, he’s a crumple-suited romantic, forever nursing a broken heart. The opening line of Heartbreak Junky just about sums up his worldview: “So you fell in love, and it wasn’t with me” – love is never easy, love will always break your heart and love is just another addiction. Craft really bangs the songs out, guitars, piano, organ and brass all entwined all rooted strongly in classic songwriting and with such energy and such conviction that you do end up listening to every word. Continue reading “Kyle Craft “Full Circle Nightmare” (Sub Pop, 2018)”

J. Briozo “Deep In The Waves” (Swallow The Music, 2017)

J.Briozo is in fact Jeff Crandall, the lead singer of Swallows, who found himself writing a parallel set of songs as Swallows recorded their third album. He invited his band mates along to fill in the framework of the songs and J. Briozo was/were born. The stylistic diversity of the record is probably a result of him trying to do things differently from Swallows. The sounds are more eclectic and less roots based, the standout Beautiful Mess sounding so much like an Elliott Smith song that I had to check it wasn’t, but in fairness to Crandall he does start by mentioning Miss Misery so the resemblance is not coincidental. Continue reading “J. Briozo “Deep In The Waves” (Swallow The Music, 2017)”

Great North “Golden Age” (Independent, 2017)

With access to music being so easy these days and with so much competing for attention, it is easy to completely overlook so many things that are worth listening to. This husband and wife duo from New Zealand (currently located in London) has a fine pedigree (winners of NZ folk album of the year), and yet most of us will be completely ignorant of them and their work. And on the evidence of this record, that’s a great shame. Continue reading “Great North “Golden Age” (Independent, 2017)”

Tim Hart “The Narrow Corner” (Nettwerk, 2018)

Hart is Australian. I’m not sure why but I expected to be able to discern this from the music. I couldn’t, though there are some explicit lyrical references that make this clear. Musically the record is of that ilk that are not really anything, not country, not folk, not pop, not Americana, not singer-songwriter, just elements of all of them with that mellifluous sheen of modern production. The kind of record that sounds good without ever making a real impression. Continue reading “Tim Hart “The Narrow Corner” (Nettwerk, 2018)”

H.C. McEntire “Lionheart” (Merge, 2018)

Sometimes records seem to be the obvious culmination of everything that has gone before, so it is with this first solo record from the Mount Moriah frontwoman. The journey from indie-rocker to consummate Country star is completed. She’s assimilated generic tropes and has managed to create songs that pay homage and also sound fresh. Everything is in place from the very beginning. A Lamb, A Dove contains elements of gospel with the massed backing vocals – it’s a graceful song, the backing gentle, the voices really setting it apart: you can hear each backing singer individually and they all fall together beautifully. Continue reading “H.C. McEntire “Lionheart” (Merge, 2018)”

The Hanging Stars “Songs For Somewhere Else” (Crimson Crow, 2018)

THS are carving out a nice niche for themselves. They sit somewhere between the Broken Family Band and the Rockingbirds with a dash of psychedelic hot sauce. At their most esoteric they are able to combine traditional Country sounds with something a little less traditional: Dig A Hole starts off with steel guitar leading the way in a country shuffle then a middle section that relocates Calexico to Heckmondwike which changes the perspective before the steel guitar once again cascades over the song like a river of molten lava, for the last section the brass and steel flash against each other. Continue reading “The Hanging Stars “Songs For Somewhere Else” (Crimson Crow, 2018)”

Moonsville Collective EPs “I” “2” “3” (Moonsville Records 2017)

These three EP’s are the first three instalments of a planned quartet of releases, and there’s nothing startlingly different about each record. They are all super competent Americana, aiming foursquare for the middle ground, populated by the likes of later period Avett Brothers, five tracks each, short and sweet punches, drawing no blood but spraying sugary harmonies with each jab landing. Continue reading “Moonsville Collective EPs “I” “2” “3” (Moonsville Records 2017)”

No Thee No Ess “California” (Folkwit Records, 2017)

The Welsh psychedelic wizards relax the weirdness (a bit – the opener Mind Flow Bender is still far out into a universe where Hawkwind are a little bit tame) and head towards Americana. California (the title song) is all harmonies and restraint, the music remaining mannered, bubbling away without boiling over into a soup of noise but with enough seepage towards another dimension to keep things interesting. Florid Peaks is even gentler; it simmers, the vocal melody is full of sunlight and when we reach the instrumental interlude, again though, there are enough hints that things could get weird, so that they don’t have to, it can just be pretty without having to apologise for it. Continue reading “No Thee No Ess “California” (Folkwit Records, 2017)”

Various “Sing And They’ll Sing Your Song” (Megaphone, 2018)

This album provides a retrospective of the twenty years of Megaphone records, founded by Stephane Bismuth after putting together Shack and Arthur Lee for a tour. The label released The Magical World of the Strands and a host of other eclectic artists. This record provides a cross-section and starts quite rightly with Something Like You by Michael Head, which I’m assuming you are all familiar with. You are, aren’t you? Continue reading “Various “Sing And They’ll Sing Your Song” (Megaphone, 2018)”