Chance Meyer and the Bloody 98s “Ashdown” (Independent, 2019)

Coming from a classic Americana standpoint the Bloody 98s’ album ‘Ashdown’ is a thing of beauty. This is hewn from the same tree as The Rustlanders, Whiskeytown and Bruntnell circa ‘Shot from a Spring’ or ‘Here Comes the Swells’. Big, wide-open sounds, full band and fuller harmonies on the choruses, bruisy guitars, pedal steel and lyrics drenched in the blue-collar experience. Continue reading “Chance Meyer and the Bloody 98s “Ashdown” (Independent, 2019)”

M.Cambridge “Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man” (Kirkinriola Records, 2019)

This album is almost a thesis rather than an album in the conventional sense. It feels like an investigation rather than an entertainment. As well as some beautifully crafted songs there are tracks of exposition interspersed with the original numbers. The second track in ‘Shanties Ashore’, for example, opens with a description of sea shanties before Cambridge begins to sing his narration on ‘My Sailor Boy’. There is a further talking track concerning a sailor on a skiff owned by Neil Young! Continue reading “M.Cambridge “Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man” (Kirkinriola Records, 2019)”

Jason Tyler Burton “Kentuckian” (Independent 2019)

Kentuckian is a straight down the middle Americana roots album full of all the delights of the genre. Some stirring playing, acoustic rhythms and rhymes, some keening harmonies, strong blue-collar songwriting all topped off by Tyler Burton’s authentic voice. Starting with the upbeat ‘High Road to Harlan’ the bar is set pretty high as Burton Tyler lays his Ray LaMontagnelike burr over guitar and fiddle with subtle percussion to tell the tale of his 84-year-old father and himself and how the world they share has changed almost beyond recognition to the previous generation.  Continue reading “Jason Tyler Burton “Kentuckian” (Independent 2019)”

Karine Polwart “Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook” (Independent, 2019)

From the opening crystal clear repeated note pattern, this album sets about the whole notion of a covers album with a fresh and distinctive voice. This is original and stirring stuff. ‘The Whole of the Moon’ is completely reinvented as a joyous pean to life with gentle production and beautiful harmonies.  Continue reading “Karine Polwart “Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook” (Independent, 2019)”

Leslie Stevens “Sinner” (Thirty Tigers, 2019)

Jonathan Wilson is a hugely talented producer, as well as a solo artist in his own right, and when he produces an album the great and the good sit up and take notice (Dawes, Father John Misty, Roy Harper, Treetop Flyers et al). And this album by Leslie Stevens is no different. Possessed with a traditional, honeyed and heart-stopping voice (that could sing the phone book and make grown men and women cry) on ‘Sinner‘ Stevens also reveals a strong lyricism and an ear for a catchy tune. Continue reading “Leslie Stevens “Sinner” (Thirty Tigers, 2019)”

Curtis Eller “A Poison Melody” (Independent, 2019)

Curtis Eller is a dynamic bandleader and banjo player who channels a great sense of vaudevillian Victorians to his idiosyncratic musical vision. Opening with ‘Radiation Poison‘, Eller sets the tone by throwing the kitchen sink at the song – shouted choruses, wild horns and above all a driving banjo that set the concerned lyrics into sharp relief. ‘No Soap Radio’ follows – this time driven by a scuzzy, wailing saxophone and a guitar riff as old as rock and roll itself.
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Various Artists “The Rough Guide To Country Blues (Reborn and Remastered)” (World Music Network, 2019)

This is an album that does exactly what it says on the tin. The exquisite notes that accompany this comprehensive study of country blues do much to set its place within the history of popular music of the 20th Century.  This is not an album for the dilettante. It is a measured exploration of a number of artists that not only defined a loosely coined collective term but some had a reach far beyond their wildest dreams when they set out as entertainers. Continue reading “Various Artists “The Rough Guide To Country Blues (Reborn and Remastered)” (World Music Network, 2019)”

Jamestown Revival “San Isabel” (Thirty Tigers, 2019)

This glorious album opens with the strident and harmony-drenched ‘Crazy World (Judgement Day)’, a snapshot of the album’s themes and indeed musical muscle – driving banjos, Hammond organ and stomping chords. Ostensibly an acoustic album the Jamestown Revival’s close harmonies are in full evidence with their hints of The Avett Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel and even The Everlys.
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Thea Gilmore “Small World Turning” (Proper Recordings, 2019)

The first release for a couple of years ‘Small World Turning’ represents a return to the more acoustic stylings of earlier Thea Gilmore recordings. Opening with an a cappella cover of ‘Mockingbird’ that fades into the silence the scene is set for a series of narratives where the vocals are front and centre. ‘Cutteslowe Walls’ starts the ball rolling properly, alluding to divisions in society between the haves and the have nots.
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Josh Ritter “Fever Breaks” (Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers, 2019)

For his tenth studio album Josh Ritter has teamed up with the currently red hot Jason Isbell and his 400 Unit on production and playing duties and delivered an album that will only do all of them a lot of good. This is an Americana wet dream become real! All the cards are on the table from the opening groove of ‘Ground Don’t Want Me’, Ritter’s spoken-sung poetic lyricism, muscular Isbell guitars, stentorian piano shapes, chiming solo, chorus laced with harmonies and all of this wrapped in one of those tunes you are sure you’ve heard before but know you haven’t.
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