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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Adam Klein ‘Low Flyin Planes’ (Cowboy Angel Music, 2019)

This is Klein’s seventh album and with each release he grows into a more assured and distinctive singer songwriter. He describes this album as the ‘sonic follow up’ to 2013’s ‘Sky Blue Deville’, also reviewed enthusiastically on this site and that is exactly what this album is. There is a real sense of whole here – strong production touches, great harmonies and ear worm choruses but also there appears to be a clear game plan. Each track is beautifully constructed – be it the guitar solo on ‘Lead Guitar’ a great track about playing coffee houses alone despite the songs calling for harmonies and other embellishments. Or perhaps the subtle horns on ‘Look Out (Doraville)’ which supports the narrative with a constant counter point to the melody. Glorious and uplifting. Continue reading “Adam Klein ‘Low Flyin Planes’ (Cowboy Angel Music, 2019)”

The ACC “Beautiful, At Night” (Gypsy Child Records, 2019)

The Italian Americana scene is a bubbling, frothy affair and when mainstay band Lowlands dissolved, frontman Ed Abbiati got together with another of the mainmen of the scene – Stiv Cantarelli – and started to fashion some music shapes. Later on, Chris Cacavas, beloved keyboardist with Green on Red and many more, came on board and with a road hardened rhythm section featuring Joe Barecca and Antonio Pergini, the ACC were born and this is their debut disc. It is at the wild end of the spectrum – more Stooges than Sweet Nashville… Continue reading “The ACC “Beautiful, At Night” (Gypsy Child Records, 2019)”

Yo La Tengo, EartH, London, February 17th 2019

From the apologetic shuffle onstage and into the woozy beat driven ‘You Are Here’, Yo La Tengo made sure that the faithful who had gathered to see them in this extraordinary venue knew that they were witnessing true artists at work such was the low key nature of both entrance and performance. It fitted perfectly with the surroundings – a repurposed cinema where the stage was in everyone’s view and which had the sense of a scientific lecture as the audience disseminated every movement and instrumental switch made by the band. The feeling was heightened by the minimal lighting that often left the band in a murky darkness whilst the audience was bathed in purple. Continue reading “Yo La Tengo, EartH, London, February 17th 2019”