Willie Nelson “My Way” (Sony, 2018)

Willie has always been a crooner at heart. Sometimes overtly, with albums such as ‘Stardust’ and his recent Gershwin songbook record; more often simply in his oh so laid back delivery. No surprise really then that he presents us with an album of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, reinterpreted in fairly faithful fashion (aided by Trigger, used sparingly to solid effect) and, backed by a swing orchestra which nails every note. It’s his 68th studio album! Continue reading “Willie Nelson “My Way” (Sony, 2018)”

Ethan Hanna “Welcome to the Batlands” (Independent, 2018)

From Northern Ireland, though musically via New Jersey and the gutters of many a wrong part of town, here we have the debut album from Ethan Hanna. With a voice that blends Springsteen and Waits, you couldn’t say this is a cheerful record. Cheerful is hugely overrated anyway; it’s for the weak minded. The ‘rockier’ parts on offer are really quite heavy (‘Fire’), and the fractured guitar ballads are nicely sparse and deconstructed (‘Bad Dreams’). Continue reading “Ethan Hanna “Welcome to the Batlands” (Independent, 2018)”

Tom Baxter “The Other Side of Blue” (Independent, 2018)

It’s a precariously thin line that the singer-songwriter has to tread. The stripped away, intimate, acoustic guitar (or piano) and voice combination is so omnipresent in folk cum Americana; there are precious few new tricks at their disposal. Much of what they’ve got to offer hangs on whether they’re sincere or not – do we believe them? Or is it just trite and predictable? Where does Tom Baxter lie within this? Continue reading “Tom Baxter “The Other Side of Blue” (Independent, 2018)”

Gwenifer Raymond “You Were Never Much of a Dancer”(Tompkins Square 2018)

Firmly out of left field, this is a debut album stuffed full of hugely impressive Americana from the spectacularly talented multi-instrumentalist Gwenifer Raymond. She’s a Welsh native, has a Ph.D. and she looks ridiculously youthful. Sickening, isn’t it? The record is teeming with Delta Blues and Appalachian folky weirdness; Sergio Leone or Tarantino would dream of licensing all of these rolling, pumping American Primitive tracks for any movie soundtrack. Continue reading “Gwenifer Raymond “You Were Never Much of a Dancer”(Tompkins Square 2018)”

Luluc “Sculptor” (Sub Pop, 2018)

Here we have an ethereal, indie-folksy offering from the legendary Sub Pop label. Australians Zoe Randall and Steve Hassett (now Brooklyners) have a host of Grade A fans and collaborators (Sleater Kinny, The National, J Mascis) to call on. This is Luluc’s third album and it’s beautifully downbeat, or perhaps a downbeat beauty. Instrumentation is minimal and fractured throughout. Continue reading “Luluc “Sculptor” (Sub Pop, 2018)”

Murder By Death “The Other Shore” (Bloodshot Records, 2018)

A space western concept album? Really?  Apparently so. Murder By Death have been releasing records for the best part of twenty years and this, their eighth album release, tells the story of two lovers choosing different paths – fleeing a dying earth or holding out on terra firma for something better. All said a bold proposition. Luckily for us, the record delivers as a solid set of songs, whether you choose to buy into the story arc or not. Continue reading “Murder By Death “The Other Shore” (Bloodshot Records, 2018)”

Rebekah Rolland “Seed and Silo” (Sky Island, 2018)

Spoiler alert – the album title pretty much gives the game away here. Inspired in part by the original homesteaders of the Nebraskan prairies; also from Rolland’s involvement with the National Parks Service in the USA, this record is a fully immersed collection of rural American folk/bluegrass, delivered by the clearest, purest of voices. Continue reading “Rebekah Rolland “Seed and Silo” (Sky Island, 2018)”

Sarah Watson “A Mother’s Guilt” (Independent, 2018)

Twenty years is a long time away from making music to feel the urge to start over again. West Yorkshire based, Welsh born Watson has done just that. Brave. Here she presents a simple, uncomplicated set of five folk meets Americana compositions. Just vocals and acoustic guitar. Nothing here for the artist to hide behind. The opening, titular song is a happy-sad ode to her children. Despite some rudimentary production and occasionally faltering harmonies, it’s quite charming. Continue reading “Sarah Watson “A Mother’s Guilt” (Independent, 2018)”

Anne Elise Hastings and Her Revolving Cast of Characters “Anne Elise Hastings and Her Revolving Cast of Characters” (Independent, 2018)

New Orleans probably isn’t the first place you’d turn to when looking for contemporary folky Americana. However, if you can marry the jazz and blues sounds of The Big Easy with a foundation of folk and roots, then you might be on to something quite interesting. Which is what Anne Elise Hastings quite deftly achieves with this set of songs. Even where the NOLA influences aren’t greatly in evidence, the music still flies fairly high. Continue reading “Anne Elise Hastings and Her Revolving Cast of Characters “Anne Elise Hastings and Her Revolving Cast of Characters” (Independent, 2018)”

Jarle Skavhellen “The Ghost in Your Smile” (Nettwerk, 2018)

Scandinavian Alt Folk is a subgenre known only to a select few. However, Norwegian Jarle Skavhellen ably demonstrates that it warrants a far wider audience. This is a quirky, often dark collection of songs. Considering that it’s a debut album (albeit by an experienced musician) makes the record all the more intriguing. The opening, titular track is beautiful and disturbing in equal measure – if you poke my glass eye, I’ll be the ghost in your smile. Continue reading “Jarle Skavhellen “The Ghost in Your Smile” (Nettwerk, 2018)”