Eliza Gilkyson “Secularia” (Red House Records, 2018)

This might be the album that America needs to hear now more than any other. Musically, it is gorgeous folk/americana enhanced by a stellar cast of supporting musicians. Lyrically, it is by turns meditative, moving, uplifting – and deeply unifying. If only America would listen – riven as it is, in these troubled times, by tribalism, religious hatred and anger. Continue reading “Eliza Gilkyson “Secularia” (Red House Records, 2018)”

Leland & the Silver Wells “Leland & the Silver Wells” (Independent, 2018)

This lovely album of poetic music can seem portentous at first, but its depth and beauty reveal themselves on repeated listens. The tone is set by the opening track, ‘We Dissolve,’ which features almost orchestral instrumentation underpinned by heavy drumming and backing vocals that sound as if they were sung by an entire choir. Continue reading “Leland & the Silver Wells “Leland & the Silver Wells” (Independent, 2018)”

Rayland Baxter “Wide Awake” (ATO Records, 2018)

This album is wonderful musically, if somewhat inscrutable lyrically – at least initially. To write these 10 songs, Baxter set himself up alone in an abandoned rubber band factory in Kentucky, covered the windows, slept on a mattress and immersed himself in the creative process for three months. The music alternates between rock – propelled by thumping bass and drums – and softer folk. The themes involve life’s choices, both personal and political. The opener is the fully instrumented rocker ‘Strange American Dream’, and the album begins with the words, “Maybe I was born sick in the castle on top of the world/ Maybe the whole gang is better off making money out fighting a war/Terminal motion keeps spinning me around …   So I closed my eyes and realised that I’m alive inside this strange American dream.” Continue reading “Rayland Baxter “Wide Awake” (ATO Records, 2018)”

Ash Mountain “Boom” (Independent, 2018)

This three-song EP by the Mancunian band Ash Mountain is marked by music that is highly enjoyable but hardly original. It’s filled with jangly guitars somewhat reminiscent of The Byrds, and all three tracks sound similar. The instrumentation is full, the lead singer is often backed throughout by one other vocalist, and the tempo doesn’t vary that much. “The title track, ‘Boom’, leads off the EP. It appears to be narrated by a man whose woman repeatedly leaves him, then comes back, and boom goes his heart again. Until, at last, he appears to be unable to take it anymore and – spoiler alert – boom goes his gun. Apparently he does her in. Oops. Continue reading “Ash Mountain “Boom” (Independent, 2018)”

The Mammals “Sunshiner” (Humble Abode Music, 2018)

This album of fully instrumented folk is joyous, hopeful and highly political. An earlier incarnation of the group was active in the early 2000s but then took a nine-year break. The impetus for its return was, according to the band’s publicity material, ‘November 2016’ – a reference to the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. Virtually every track espouses a political cause – making the world a better place, caring for the homeless, rejecting artificial standards of female beauty, embracing environmental protection and so on. And the sound on many of the tracks comes close to being the folk version of the producer Phil Spector’s famed wall of sound. Continue reading “The Mammals “Sunshiner” (Humble Abode Music, 2018)”

The Magic Numbers “Outsiders” (Role Play Records, 2018)

This courageous and beautiful new album from The Magic Numbers rocks in ways perhaps unusual for this band, which, early on, drew a large following due largely to the beauty of its melodies. This departure is apparent from the opening notes of the first song, ‘Shotgun Wedding’, a bass-heavy rocker. The album is aptly named. Two of its four members are Romeo Stodart and his sister, Michele Stodart, who plays bass. The pair have felt like outsiders for much of their lives. They were born in Trinidad, but the family moved to New York when they were children. Then, in their teens, the family moved again – to Hanwell, on the western edge of London. Outsiders once more. Continue reading “The Magic Numbers “Outsiders” (Role Play Records, 2018)”

Ragged Union “Lay My Ghost to Rest” (Independent, 2018)

This EP rocks. Ragged Union are a five-piece band from Bristol; these guys have been around for years as members of various bands, and one thing’s for sure – they know how to play their instruments. The proceedings get underway with a bang: ‘Lay To Rest’ is pretty much straight-ahead, hard-ass country rock. The sound, like the others on this EP, is very full, brimming with electric guitar and driving bass, punctuated by a heavy backbeat. A fine guitar solo makes the track even better. Continue reading “Ragged Union “Lay My Ghost to Rest” (Independent, 2018)”

Chris Ronald “Fragments” (Borealis Records, 2018)

This lovely album on the folk side of Americana is a keeper. It’s based on Ronald’s clear-voiced singing and moving songwriting, augmented by fingerpicked guitar, fiddle, harmonica and the occasional banjo, mandolin and drums. Ronald is a Brit living now in Canada, and his music reflects the influence of folk music from both sides of the Atlantic – and the music of many eras, as well. He wrote 11 of the 12 tracks on the album. The lone exception is ‘Okanagan Sunset’, which was written by the author and poet Bruce Madole. Continue reading “Chris Ronald “Fragments” (Borealis Records, 2018)”

Don Gallardo “Still Here” (Southern Carousel Records / Clubhouse Records 2018)

This fine album of richly layered music on the country-rock side of Americana makes for enjoyable listening. The song-writing glistens, the musicianship is stellar, and Gallardo is a compelling singer. The songs deal with drinking, life’s travails, and the need to learn – and indeed, profit – from pain and mistakes. “The bottle puts it off until tomorrow/Then tomorrow blows in like a hurricane … Is this my curse/Or something I gotta learn,” Gallardo sings on the opener, ‘Something I Gotta Learn’. The song is country rock led by chiming electric guitars and a heavy back beat. One can hear female backup singers oohing in the background. The sound is very full indeed. Continue reading “Don Gallardo “Still Here” (Southern Carousel Records / Clubhouse Records 2018)”

Johnny Dowd “Twinkle, Twinkle” (Mother Jinx, 2017)

From beneath the waters of this dark and eerie sonic soundscape emerge some of the most well-known songs in the American canon. The songs on this fine album are as familiar as, well, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ – the title cut – along with ‘Tom Dooley’, ‘Oh My Darling Clementine’, ‘Red River Valley’, ‘St. James Infirmary’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun’. But it’s a safe bet you’ve never heard them done this way. Dowd is highly original, even eccentric. Sometimes these songs, familiar as they are, can be recognised only by the lyrics. Continue reading “Johnny Dowd “Twinkle, Twinkle” (Mother Jinx, 2017)”