Driftwood Soldier “Stay Ahead of the Wolf” (Bloodshot Records, 2019)

Describing themselves as “Gutterfolk for the masses” this duo from Pennsylvania may have created a new category of Americana. If by ‘Gutter’ they mean sticking up for the underdog, that looks right. And in its context of absorbing stories ‘folk’ is accurate too. Whatever, Driftwood Soldier draw from their personal experience to a broader observation of injustice. Sonically they are on the verge of combustion with vocals that rasp their lyrics and around mandolin, bass and foot percussion their sound redefines stripped back. At times their force overwhelms but Driftwood Soldier certainly leave a lasting impression. Continue reading “Driftwood Soldier “Stay Ahead of the Wolf” (Bloodshot Records, 2019)”

The Dead South, Brixton Academy, 27th February 2020

A bluegrass band selling out the Brixton Academy? That’s right, but this is the Canadian acoustic four piece The Dead South, so add punk, rock and folk, all at a furious pace. It does not take long to understand why they are called, “The Mumfords’ evil twins.” Visually they exude menace and foreboding. Their stage is sparse, a porch light in front of each mic with ghostly arched windows behind. Into this setting ambled four men clad in white shirts, black braces and trousers, wide brimmed hats, looking like a bunch of hucksters walking into town, intent unknown but probably not benign. Without a word they strapped on their instruments as the mysterious ‘Act of Approach’ raised the tension. The crowd loved it when the mournful first notes of Danny Kenyon’s bass cello made way for lead singer Nate Hilts’ rasp, “My baby wants a diamond ring”. Continue reading “The Dead South, Brixton Academy, 27th February 2020”

Cabane “Grande Est La Maison” (Independent, 2020)

‘Grande Est La Maison’, is an astounding sweep of orchestral folk/pop that bears similarities to meditation. Though hard to achieve, being in the moment brings about a deep sense of relaxation and calm. Listening to Cabane  requires similar focus to let in the layers of melancholic vocals that flow around anything from a string quartet to full-on pop. It is demanding, but keep trying and the effect is correspondingly serene. Continue reading “Cabane “Grande Est La Maison” (Independent, 2020)”

Stephen Fearing & The Sentimentals, Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington, 9th February 2020

Having had what he described as “a biblical journey” as he battled through the worst of Storm Ciara, Canadian troubadour Stephen Fearing noted that the setting of this show, a church converted into a thriving arts centre, was somwhat appropriate, shelter from the storm indeed. ‘As The Crow Flies’ was a well chosen opener for an artist who has spent a life on the road. Settling in with his perceptive observations, trenchant views and wry humour, Fearing held his audience from the start. Continue reading “Stephen Fearing & The Sentimentals, Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington, 9th February 2020”

Transatlantic Sessions, Royal Festival Hall, London, 6th February 2020

In its 17th year with little change to the formula, how do the Transatlantic Sessions keep packing out some of the larger venues up and down the country? Quite simple; hosts and musical directors, respectively, the dobro and fiddle aces Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain, have pulled together a formidable “house band” of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic around whom they invite new guests each year. Douglas and Bain’s good humour and light touch is infectious. With minimal rehearsals they put on shows of such cohesion that all these musicians sound as if they’ve been together for years. Continue reading “Transatlantic Sessions, Royal Festival Hall, London, 6th February 2020”

AmericanA to Z – Mandolin Orange

M is for Mandolin Orange, who are Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz. This duo’s fresh blend of acoustic bluegrass, folk and country to tell stories of profound feelings, frequently around love and loss, pulls together many of the strands that define Americana. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z – Mandolin Orange”

Grant Nesmith “Between Tides” (Harvest Records, 2020)

If the grey days of the UK in late January are getting you down then ‘Between Tides’, the debut solo album from Grant Nesmith, will conjure up basking on a beach with the sun relentlessly beating down. Before embarking on a solo career Nesmith was in a band (Ocean Forest) who described themselves as “psychedelic/surf”. On his own there is plenty of both. To Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers add Blue Rodeo and you are on Nesmith’s beach. Continue reading “Grant Nesmith “Between Tides” (Harvest Records, 2020)”

The Teskey Brothers, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, 23rd January 2020

When it comes to roots there is no disputing the authenticity of Australian blues and soul band The Teskey Brothers. Behind their own inventive style lies a deep inspiration from Memphis to Muscle Shoals via Melbourne.  The Teskey Brothers are guitarists and vocalists, Josh and Sam with long standing friends Brendon Love (bass) and Liam Hough (drums). Their two albums of blues and soul sound like a Stax back catalogue.  Continue reading “The Teskey Brothers, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, 23rd January 2020”

Hope In High Water “Bonfire & Pine” (Fish Records, 2019)

Americana music defies geographic boundaries but “Mountain Music from the flatlands of Milton Keynes” might give even the most travelled aficionado pause for thought. Listen to ‘Bonfire & Pine’ and Hope In High Water’s sparse, haunting sound will take you far from concrete England to the clear mountain air of Appalachia. Josh Chandler Morris and Carly Slade complement each other perfectly. To his slightly twangy voice she adds a purity straight from those mountains. Together they play stripped back acoustic folk, no more than guitar, banjo and upright bass with equally modest percussion. Continue reading “Hope In High Water “Bonfire & Pine” (Fish Records, 2019)”

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters “Christmas On A Greyhound Bus” (Organic Records, 2019)

Christmas records can be a risky business – some become legendary but so many others should come with a gift receipt. Listening to ‘Christmas On A Greyhound Bus‘ from Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters is like opening a present from someone whose gifts never disappoint. Platt is a superb songwriter, a skill she applies to Yuletide without descending into the sentimentality trap that claims so many artists on the same mission. She and the Honeycutters continue to play their own brand of traditional country with just enough festive decoration. Continue reading “Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters “Christmas On A Greyhound Bus” (Organic Records, 2019)”