The Get Ahead “Deepest Light” (Jullian Records, 2019)

The ‘Deepest Light’ from Portland-based quintet The Get Ahead, is a difficult album to categorise. Embracing the sounds of americana by way of some floaty ’70s disco rock: songs catch you unawares. Not overly disconcerting, it all keeps you interested and wondering where they’re taking you next. The variety of genres in The Get Ahead is in part due to the unique makeup of the band. Comprising two married couples, Juliet Howard and Nathan Earle (who leads on vocals) along with Angie (sax, violin and backing) and Danny Johnson (drums). They are joined by friend, Sean Farrell (bass). The resulting three-part harmonies underpin some of the band’s most delightful tracks. Continue reading “The Get Ahead “Deepest Light” (Jullian Records, 2019)”

Izzy Heltai “Only Yesterday” (Sleeper Cave Records, 2019)

Izzy Heltai is an indie-folk, singer-songwriter from Northampton, Massachusetts. His new four-track EP ‘Only Yesterday’ tells tales of love and loss that perhaps belie his 22 years. Arrangements on this record are deliberately simple with layering of guitar, piano, trumpet and fiddle kept to a minimum: Heltai wanted to explore how uncomplicated instrumentation can support songs that are lyrically rich. There is a line between lyrically rich and overly wordy, and some tracks, particularly ‘Mountain’ and ‘Common Sense’ struggle to get the balance right. This results in a slightly clunky, discordant listen.

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Darlingside “Look Up & Fly Away” (More Doug/Thirty Tigers, 2019)

Darlingside’s latest release is an EP of outtakes from 2018’s ‘Extralife.’ It’s fair to say though that any of the songs on ‘Look Up & Fly Away’ would have been well-deserving of a place on that album. This is an exceptionally delicate listen; the intricate wording and stories in the songs are like a peek into someone’s private life, into their passing through life and beyond. It feels a little intrusive at times, but ultimately you feel lucky to have been allowed into something so special. Continue reading “Darlingside “Look Up & Fly Away” (More Doug/Thirty Tigers, 2019)”

Megg Farrell “Megg Farrell & Friends” (Independent, 2019)

It’s easy to imagine you are listening to a live set in a smoky dive bar in the French Quarter, New Orleans when you hear ‘Megg Farrell & Friends.’ Led by Brooklyn-based Megg Farrell, the album is a mix of covers and originals set to a mix of jazz, ragtime and country. Farrell has a strong, bluesy voice reminiscent of Billie Holiday and it comes through in songs like ‘New Orleans Waltz’ and ‘New York Love Song.’  Obvious in both these song topics is her attachment to place and her bio indicates she’s travelled the length and breadth of the USA as well as living a while in Paris, France. Continue reading “Megg Farrell “Megg Farrell & Friends” (Independent, 2019)”

The Cactus Blossoms “Easy Way” (Walkie Talkie Records, 2019)

Would you ever get sick of being compared to the Everly Brothers? Praise doesn’t get much higher when we’re talking about tight, sweet harmonies and the kind of blending of sound only possible when siblings sing together. This is something that The Cactus Blossoms, half-brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey, know very well. Their debut album, 2016’s ‘You’re Dreaming’, was packed full of Everly-style, country music, a sweet trip down memory lane. So, what does new release ‘Easy Way’ bring to our ears? Continue reading “The Cactus Blossoms “Easy Way” (Walkie Talkie Records, 2019)”

Jason Ringenberg “Stand Tall” (Courageous Chicken Music, 2019)

A few years back I had resigned myself to the fact that my days as a recording artist were probably over”: so begin the sleeve notes to Jason Ringenberg’s new album ‘Stand Tall’. And fans of his music were probably expecting this too: his previous solo album, ‘Empire Builders’, was released in 2004. So, what changed? It turns out that spending a month in isolation as artist-in-residence at Sequoia National Park in northern California does wonders for your songwriting. Continue reading “Jason Ringenberg “Stand Tall” (Courageous Chicken Music, 2019)”

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra “Soul of my City” (Independent, 2019)

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra go out of their way to make it hard to pigeonhole them to a specific genre. Their fourth studio album, ‘Soul of My City’ is a case in point. Almost vaudevillian in approach, there’s yodelling sitting neatly beside ragtime blues and country. The only nod to being categorised is on their own terms; they’ve been known to claim the term ‘Geordie swing’ to describe their eclectic mash up. So there we have it – the cat’s out of the bag. Even though they’d be at home strumming on a Mississippi steamboat, Rob and his Orchestra live in Newcastle upon Tyne. Continue reading “Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra “Soul of my City” (Independent, 2019)”

Gordie Tentrees and Jaxon Haldane “Grit” (Greywood Records, 2019)

It’s probably unfair to start listening to an album from the third song on the track-listing but, c’mon, the song is called ‘Craft Beards and Man Buns.’ It had to be done. It would be easy to write this off as a bit of a comedy skit. But it’s far from it; what shines through are some great guitar and banjo playing along with some well-observed and tight put downs. The delivery is just the right side of judgy and you can picture Gordie gently shaking his head as he sings: “Craft beards, man buns, just leave it alone my son / You’ll regret that, when you look back, like a tattoo on a roll of fat”. Continue reading “Gordie Tentrees and Jaxon Haldane “Grit” (Greywood Records, 2019)”

David Berkeley “The Faded Red and Blue” (Straw Man, 2018)

The Faded Red and Blue’ is a five-track EP from Santa-Fe based songwriter,  David Berkeley. It was written in response to the political landscape in America: he began writing in the aftermath of the presidential election in November 2016 and completed the songs just after the shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018. The EP is in part a comment on the topics that naturally stem from this time: gun violence, immigration, the world (as in the environment, but also humanity), however, Berkeley successfully steers away from being angry and ranty and instead leads us into a place of love and potential healing. Continue reading “David Berkeley “The Faded Red and Blue” (Straw Man, 2018)”

The Black Lillies “Stranger to Me” (Attack Monkey/Thirty Tigers, 2018)

What’s striking about ‘Stranger to Me’, the fifth album by The Black Lillies from Knoxville, Tennessee, is how tight it’s all sounding: they’ve had a bumpy few years. Multiple line-up changes (going from a six-piece to four), the loss of all their equipment in a robbery, and a shift in responsibilities across the band (previously Cruz Contreras operated as sole front man, singer and songwriter, he’s now ably joined by Sam Quinn (The Everybodyfields)). Continue reading “The Black Lillies “Stranger to Me” (Attack Monkey/Thirty Tigers, 2018)”