Josh Kimbrough “Slither, Soar & Disappear” (Tompkins Square, 2020)

A side effect of lockdown is how many of us have begun to notice nature either for the first time or perhaps just more than usual. If that curiosity extends to how these perceptions might be set to music then listen no further than ‘Slither, Soar & Disappear’ by guitar virtuoso Josh Kimbrough. Leading with his acoustic fingerpicking style backed by flowing strings and minimal percussion Kimbrough takes us into the woods and skies that lie beyond his North Carolina home. With the absence of any lyrics he strengthens that natural connection. Continue reading “Josh Kimbrough “Slither, Soar & Disappear” (Tompkins Square, 2020)”

The Mammals “Nonet” (Soundly, 2020)

‘Nonet’ is compelling listening for these locked down times. In their blend of classic folk and Americana The Mammals, Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar plus an ensemble of seven, ask searching questions about our environment and society. What makes The Mammals so compelling is the optimism and good heart of their lyrics and their rich Americana sound. The apt title refers to this being their ninth album and recorded live with a group of nine. That is a large group but they switch deftly between gentle acoustic folk and country-rock. Continue reading “The Mammals “Nonet” (Soundly, 2020)”

Muzz “Muzz” (Matador Records, 2020)

Not just the band’s name, ‘Muzz’ perfectly describes their sound. Fortunately that was the intention according to producer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman who wanted to describe the texture of the group’s sound without being pinned to a particular genre or time. They chose well. There is a richness to the expansive layers of cosmic and psychedelia that they blend with full-on indie rock in their debut, and for good measure, eponymous album. Continue reading “Muzz “Muzz” (Matador Records, 2020)”

Classic Americana Albums: The Ozark Mountain Daredevils “The Ozark Mountain Daredevils” (A&M, 1973)

Mention the Ozark Mountain Daredevils these days and most responses would be along the lines of “didn’t they have some soft, country-ish single in our charts years ago?”. Yes, that was ‘Jackie Blue’ in 1974 but their repertoire contained far more than 1970s country-pop. For the real Daredevils go back a year to their debut, eponymously titled, album. ‘The Quilt Album’, as it became known, is classic Americana because it takes country-rock as in The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers not to Nashville but deep into to the real roots of their Missouri home. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: The Ozark Mountain Daredevils “The Ozark Mountain Daredevils” (A&M, 1973)”

Lesley Barth “Big Time Baby” (Clandestine, 2020)

‘Big Time Baby’ is about the importance of realising who you are and being that person. Lesley Barth tells her own story with sincerity and a lightness in the style of Joni Mitchell or Carole King. Alarmed by how much she was conforming to the accepted obsession with achievement Barth decided she had to change. “You can’t perform and live life at the same time” she admits so out went the corporate job to concentrate on music. As Barth confronts this stranger she has become she connects with her real self while offering the listener opportunity to do likewise. Continue reading “Lesley Barth “Big Time Baby” (Clandestine, 2020)”

Pinewood “All Things With Symmetry” (Independent, 2020)

Pinewood is songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Kempe whose debut EP ‘All Things With Symmetry’ is the perfect lockdown music. Listening to these four atmospheric folk-rock pieces feels like breaking through dense woods into a brightly lit glade. From Athens, GA, Kempe describes his own route as one of many paths. Having started as a bassist he turned his hand to production. Adding banjo and mandolin among other instruments he layers his folk, rock and bluegrass influences to create a sound of many textures. Lyrically he seeks light by delving deep into his mind to protect against the return of dark. Continue reading “Pinewood “All Things With Symmetry” (Independent, 2020)”

Sadler Vaden “Anybody Out There?” (Dirty Mag Records / Thirty Tigers, 2020)

Sadler Vaden is best known as lead guitarist and vocalist in Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit. He said recently, “I live and breathe it. And I think I’m pretty good at it. I just love rock and roll”. And that is about all you need to know about his second solo album ‘Anybody Out There’. Before joining Isbell’s outfit in 2013 Vaden was in the uncompromising Drivin’ N Cryin’. But having been in the music biz for nearly two decades he now seeks a more human connection in our technology-obsessed world. Vaden’s influences come through loud and clear; Neil Young, The Who, Joe Walsh and most noticeably, Tom Petty. Continue reading “Sadler Vaden “Anybody Out There?” (Dirty Mag Records / Thirty Tigers, 2020)”

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)”