Dean Wareham and Cheval Sombre “Dean Wareham vs Cheval Sombre” (Double Feature, 2018)

Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500/Luna) and one man band Cheval Sombre (Chris Porpora) combine for an album they self describe as ‘Western Dreampop’. What they have brought together is a selection of tracks drawn directly or inspired by vintage C&W films, with much more western than country. Wareham states “I am quite sure it is not alt-country. Frankly I don’t really care for bands trying to do authentic Americana.” This is certainly a novel venture, with Wareham and Porpora alternating choices and vocals to mixed effect. Continue reading “Dean Wareham and Cheval Sombre “Dean Wareham vs Cheval Sombre” (Double Feature, 2018)”

Ben Leece “No Wonder The World is Exhausted” (Stanley, 2018)

When this Aussie’s previous band Delta Lions (think Replacements?) drifted to a close, Ben Leece decided his side interest of (alt) country could be his future, and set about some concentrated songwriting. The result is a very strong set of stand alone songs with a range of styles and influences made a coherent whole by outstanding production. Leece took his songs to Australian country stalwart Shane Nicholson who produced, engineered and played on the album, and essentially mentored Leece in his new direction. Continue reading “Ben Leece “No Wonder The World is Exhausted” (Stanley, 2018)”

Hearts Of Oak “Moves” (Deer Lodge, 2018)

When asked what the highlight of this record was, the band replied “It’s OK to take drugs and play music”. That might have been a thing a few decades ago, but the modern Americana listener surely prefers a bit more focus and less self-indulgence? There is a psychedelic feel throughout this backwoods atmosphere, but it doesn’t seduce enough to tempt joining their indulgences. They claim Spacemen 3 as an influence, but ‘Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs to’ was 30 years ago now, and a much more coherent listen. Continue reading “Hearts Of Oak “Moves” (Deer Lodge, 2018)”

Israel Nash “Lifted” (Loose, 2018)

This is Big Music. It’s all about the production, which seems to have everything, with bells on – figuratively on ‘Northwest Stars (Out of Tacoma)’. Kitchen sink isn’t actually listed as an instrument, but if it had been used it would have fitted as well as anything else on this glorious album. Orchestra, choir, endless layers of sound, multi-tracked vocals all lend to a symphonic effect, where the music billows and soars. Which is precisely Israel Nash’s intent. The montage album cover of ‘Lifted’ has clouds, planes, flowers in the air. He wants to have this music lift the listener to euphoria and succeeds; it’s all about positivity. Continue reading “Israel Nash “Lifted” (Loose, 2018)”

The Weight Band “World Gone Bad” (Continental Records, 2018)

Populated entirely by members of (later versions) of The Band and/or follow on/split off bands, The Weight Band are exactly what you would imagine – a band keeping the spirit and music of their legacy alive by, well, playing the music of The Band, if not the actual songs, then very close approximations of them. Neither a covers band nor precisely a tribute act, they carve a niche as a bequest group, but a mighty fine one. All the individuals are top class, and play and sing lovingly and enthusiastically together.  Continue reading “The Weight Band “World Gone Bad” (Continental Records, 2018)”

Gregory Alan Isakov “Evening Machines” (Dualtone, 2018)

Gregory Alan Isakov is the kind of artist of whom -if one were not a devoted follower – there would only be a vague awareness without quite knowing why. The distinctive name helps, but it’s his melancholic songs’ conspicuousness over the last decade that have seen various tracks perfectly utilised at poignant endings of US TV episodes, or seemingly slipped into every sad/quiet digital playlist. In fact, the tens of millions of plays various tracks of his now have on Spotify show there are more ways to reverence than the album/tour/album cycle. Continue reading “Gregory Alan Isakov “Evening Machines” (Dualtone, 2018)”

Claire Coupland “On The Other Side” EP (Independent, 2018)

For a self-released EP from an unestablished artist, Claire Coupland delivers a highly professional, and indeed astonishingly polished production. All 5 tracks are strong, individual and, whether it was intentional or not, go straight for the mainstream. Hailing originally from Vancouver Island, but now based in Toronto, Coupland has a beautiful, clear alto with both a powerful and tender delivery. Smooth and pure, her voice is the initial obvious talent, but this is backed by deft fingerpicking, strong songwriting and confident delivery. Continue reading “Claire Coupland “On The Other Side” EP (Independent, 2018)”

Ray Davies “Our Country: Americana: Act II” (Sony, 2018)

‘Our Country’ is the follow up to Ray Davies’s first Americana record which was itself preceded by his like-named memoir. The two albums’ artwork are identical other than the original Stars & Stripes silhouette replaced by the Union Jack, and this album has a sense of saying goodbye to a country Davies had long called home. The history of the Kinks in the US was mixed, including the ban for half of the 60’s which blew their chances of joining the British Invasion. Considering that 2004 brought the New Orleans mugging where he was shot and nearly died, he could be forgiven for cynicism, but bathos is the main theme here, even ennui? Continue reading “Ray Davies “Our Country: Americana: Act II” (Sony, 2018)”

Silver Lining “Heart and Mind Alike” (Independent, 2018)

Norwegian Americana? Reviewed in the UK? Why not, Americana is a broad and growing church, and all are welcome. Silver Lining are from Oslo, and have a very gentle approach, producing beautiful music with space and sparsity. With all members contributing songs and voice, harmonies are very much to the front, the acoustic and electric guitars blending nicely. At times the pedal steel sounds so ethereal as to seem divine. Acknowledged influences are Gillian Welch, Union Station & Laura Marling, flavours of which can be heard throughout. Continue reading “Silver Lining “Heart and Mind Alike” (Independent, 2018)”

American Aquarium “Things Change” (New West, 2018)

When, after a decade of constant touring with diminishing returns, the band members of American Aquarium all quit to take civilian jobs, leader BJ Barham would not have been judged for joining them. Newfound sobriety and imminent fatherhood, however, gave him new perspective and a stream of new songs flowed. So he recruited a new American Aquarium from scratch to have another crack at making it. He may well succeed, as this seventh album is by far the strongest and most consistent set of songs he has released, and the key word here is songs. Continue reading “American Aquarium “Things Change” (New West, 2018)”