400 Bears “400 Bears” (2020)

‘400 Bears’ is the self-titled solo project of Paul Wilkinson from the band Mason Porter.  Wilkinson describes the album as being guided by the spirits of music his parents introduced him to when he was younger.  He states that “Dylan and Grateful Dead — were a gateway into all kinds of stuff.”  The songs on ‘400 Bears’ feel exploratory in nature dipping in and out of these frameworks introducing folk and country tones with some songs tipping into the arena of blues music.  Wilkinson’s vocal style is influenced by his childhood heroes but is individual enough that it adds to the canon of Americana music. Continue reading “400 Bears “400 Bears” (2020)”

Mike Stocksdale “If You Ask Me I’ll Tell You” (Saint in the City Records, 2020)

Mike Stocksdale has released his new solo album ‘If You Ask Me I’ll Tell You‘ which he self produced in his home studio and is a set of songs that he has been creating over the last three years.  According to Stocksdale this album was the result of stripping down his music to the basics and releasing music which sounded human with all of our inherent flaws.  The music feels inviting and relatable whether the songs are about love, his family, protest songs or general musings on life. Continue reading “Mike Stocksdale “If You Ask Me I’ll Tell You” (Saint in the City Records, 2020)”

Skittish “Savannah Sessions” (Independent 2020)

Skittish’s latest album was made by Jeff Noller (the primary member of Skittish) while he was in Savannah Georgia completing his film sound degree.  The music on the ‘Savannah Sessions’ is a mix of folk, rock with some indie sensibilities and classic melodies.  The songs are catchy on initial listen and provide greater depth on repeated plays. This is largely because Skittish has a lovely vocal tone which is both warm and inviting and soulful. Continue reading “Skittish “Savannah Sessions” (Independent 2020)”

Classic Americana Album: Mercury Rev “Deserter’s Songs” (V2, 1998)

Deserter’s Songs’ was released in 1998 by Mercury Rev, a band who appeared to be down on their knees expecting to be counted out.  The band had escaped to the Catskills to record their fifth album and were on the verge of imploding.  They needed to bring in a new drummer, the manager left, and the bandleader Jonathan Donohue was depressed.  Their previous releases only hinted at what was to come on this record.  ‘Deserter’s Songs’ was borne out of troubled times but ended up being one of the band’s most coherent, beautiful collection of songs they have released to date.  The album sounds timeless and effortless but has enough rough edges (scattered throughout) to allow the listener to find something new every time you hear it. Continue reading “Classic Americana Album: Mercury Rev “Deserter’s Songs” (V2, 1998)”

The Rivergods “Passages” (Good Sponge Records, 2020)

The Rivergods have been creating their mix of roots, blues and country music since 1997 and have released their seventh album ‘Passages‘ in 2020.  The band’s lead singers are a married couple (Nancy and Ben Parent, also the primary songwriter) whose harmony-filled hooky songs are strengthened by the band’s varied musical styles throughout the album. The Rivergods are very popular in their local area (Connecticut, USA) and have won a number of “Whalies” (the local equivalent of Grammys) since they started out. The music on ‘Passages‘ flows easily and it is evident that this is a band who enjoy playing together and who you could picture playing outdoors in a field (whenever that may happen again). Continue reading “The Rivergods “Passages” (Good Sponge Records, 2020)”

AUK’s Chain Gang: Dave Von Ronk “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me”

Following on from last week’s link in the Americana chain (The Milk Carton Kids’ ‘Hope of a Lifetime’) the Internet has been scoured to form the next addition. The song which has been selected is linked via the film ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ (2013) directed by the Coen Brothers. T Bone Burnett produced a live concert film of the movie called ‘Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis’ (2013).  The Milk Carton Kids performed in this live concert film. The movie ‘Inside Llewyen Davis’ (about a folk singer in Greenwich Village and their tribulations and travails) is based loosely on the life of Dave Von Ronk – a musician and social activist who played a range of styles of music including folk and blues. He may be best known for his version of ‘House of the Rising Son’ but I have chosen ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’ as it follows on thematically from the Milk Carton Kids’ song.  Von Ronk sings about his travels and it coming to a rather gruesome end by hanging (as you may have guessed from the title).  As he sings “I wouldn’t mind the hanging but the layin’ in a grave so long, poor boy. I been all around this world” you feel like he knows he is a condemned man but has accepted his fate.

Jordan Tice “Motivational Speakeasy” (Paddle Records, 2020)

Jordan Tice has made an album of music which draws upon the guitar fingerpicking tradition of earlier Americana artists like John Fahey and Leo Kottke.  Tice uses his own quirky lyrics and flashes of humour which are reminiscent of Jeffrey Lewis especially on ‘Walkin’‘ or Devendra Barnhart.  ‘Motivational Speakeasy’ is a solo recording relying on his guitar and vocals to present his music which is gentle and positive in nature showcasing his clean and clear guitar playing style. The songs are not flashy or written in an overly complex manner so have a homespun laid back feeling. The overall mood of the album could be summed up in a line from ‘Matter of Time’ – “just do what you can, move a little more down the line, you’re going to make it where you’re going in a matter or time.” Continue reading “Jordan Tice “Motivational Speakeasy” (Paddle Records, 2020)”

AmericanA to Z: The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip are the biggest (and some might say best) Canadian band to not make much of an impact outside of Canada.  The band from Kingston, Ontario consisting of five school friends who played together for more than 30 years, releasing 13 studio albums, could be viewed as a rock band by some but are much more than this.  They spent their time together celebrating Canadian culture and inspiring many bands in their wake.  Their first few albums probably fit best within the Americana tag consisting of bluesy roots rock with their sound developing into more commercial rock and more experimental music in their later years. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: The Tragically Hip”

Justin Wells “The United State” (Singular Records, 2020)

Justin Wells’ new solo record ‘The United State’ released on Singular Records is a narrative which Wells has written describing the journey between birth and death.  It is bookended by two short instrumental pieces with the songs in between detailing the path through life, choices made and roads travelled down and others avoided.  Wells has stated that he wanted the album to find the Universal in these divided times but to not be political in nature. This could have ended up an overblown concept album about the human condition but it is in fact an album which is full of hope, wistfulness and a really enjoyable listen. Continue reading “Justin Wells “The United State” (Singular Records, 2020)”

Jeff Kelly “When the World Was Younger” (Green Monkey Records, 2020)

The question which will be asked by future generations will be “What did you do during the pandemic of 2020?”.  Which most of us will be able to reply that we gained weight, tried to make sense of it all and found a way to cope in the altered landscape created by COVID-19.  Jeff Kelly found that like many of us he needed to adapt his plans.  Rather than wallowing in misery, he channelled his energies into creating and releasing ‘When The World Was Younger’ showcasing his love of Spanish and Portuguese culture. Continue reading “Jeff Kelly “When the World Was Younger” (Green Monkey Records, 2020)”