The Bills “Trail of Tales” (Borealis, 2016)

Five days before his death from typhoid fever and the final tertiary stage of syphilis in November 1828, Franz Schubert requested that a friend, Karl Holz, bring his string quartet to his deathbed and play for him Beethoven’s sublime String Quartet in C Sharp Major Op. 131. This divine sound was the last music Schubert ever heard, and he was reputed to have said: ‘Now, I can die happy,’ before he drifted into unconsciousness and death. Canadian ensemble The Bills have a distinctive chamber music sound infused with their frontier roots music. It’s a magnificent blend and it’s apparent that several, if not all of their number learnt their consummate skills from a classical background. If I was on my death bed, I would send word to The Bills to serenade me. The delightful melody of ‘Wonders I’ve Seen’ would enable even Lazarus to take up his bed and boogie. Continue reading “The Bills “Trail of Tales” (Borealis, 2016)”

Eagle Johnson & Clean Machine “Tennessee Beach” ( Independent, 2018)

Faecal Microbial Transplant. There. I’ve said it. I’m not saying that this debut album from Eagle Johnson & Clean Machine is shit. In fact, the opposite is true: it’s excellent! It’s just that when I say I have a gut feeling about this band, it reminds me of the feeling in his gut that Jeff Leach, anthropologist and founder of the Human Food Project, and American Gut, experienced whilst out on a field trip with the last hunter-gatherers on the planet – the Hadza of East Tanzania. Now, some might say that East Nashville, where Eagle flies, or East Tanzania, ain’t that different in their own sweet, way. They’re both pretty wild. Ask Todd Snider! Anyhoo, engaged with his quest to research the human microbiome, in his enthusiasm, out in the bush, Jeff scooped up a steaming pile of fresh poo, deposited by one of his Hadza guides, with a turkey baster and fired said ca-ca deep into his own rectum and gastro-intestinal system. Continue reading “Eagle Johnson & Clean Machine “Tennessee Beach” ( Independent, 2018)”

The Phil Langran Band “The Distance” (Folkwit Records, 2018)

There’s a scene in Werner Herzog’s film My Best Fiend when the head man of the Machiguengas tribe, who have been cast in the film Fitzcarraldo, after witnessing yet another of Klaus Kinski’s frequent, apoplectic hissy-fits, goes to Herzog and asks in all seriousness, if he would like his warriors  to kill Kinski for him. Herzog says, “No, for God’s sake! Leave him to me. I still need him for shooting.” It’s unlikely that such an episode has ever happened to PhilLangran; if perhaps, an unruly band member has exhibited Kinski-style histrionics, because Langran, a massive Herzog aficionado himself, keeps a very steady hand on the tiller. If Phil had been captain of the SS Molly, it’s very unlikely it would have floundered on the Pongo rapids, the way it did under Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald’s (no relation) stewardship. Continue reading “The Phil Langran Band “The Distance” (Folkwit Records, 2018)”

Gem Andrews “North” (Market Square, 2018)

I was doing the washing up listening to ‘North’ on my CD Walkman, when I heard Gem Andrews sing ‘there ain’t no such thing as a straight life!’ “Go there, Sister!” I yelled in solidarity, punching the air with my Brillo pad, soap suds scattered everywhere. Losing my rubber gloves, I picked up the CD cover. It transpired the track is actually called ‘Straight Lines’ – (originally a poem written by Julia Darling) – as in ‘there ain’t no such thing as a straight line’. Gem, I think you’ll find that my Technical Drawing teacher at school, Mr Ravenscroft, would have something to say about that! He’d usually bellow, “Fitzgerald! You blithering idiot! Can’t you even draw a straight line?” Before hurling his metal ruler like a javelin where it would -DOINNGGGG!!! – as it dug deep into the drawing table, all of a quiver. Continue reading “Gem Andrews “North” (Market Square, 2018)”

John Calvin Abney “Coyote” (Black Mesa Records, 2018)

Girlfriend or girl-fiend? There are some excellent break-up albums around at the moment. Lilly Hiatt’s gorgeously rocking ‘Trinity Lane’ is written in blood and self-recrimination and now along comes Coyote from John Calvin Abney, who offers up the tattered remnants of his broken heart. If you’re a fan of John Moreland, you will already be aware of Abney, Moreland’s dependable and extraordinary band member who plays guitar and keyboards, not to mention a gorgeous pedal-steel. They grew up together in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have each other’s backs. Abney will be in the UK in June when he will be hitting the road with John Moreland and before performing as a duo with Moreland each night, Abney will be playing a solo set. Continue reading “John Calvin Abney “Coyote” (Black Mesa Records, 2018)”

Trailhead “Keep Walking” (Requa Records, 2018)

Never go walking with The Proclaimers – it’s really tiring! But if you do fancy trekking 500 miles or so, according to Lonely Planet, the sure-fire way to avoid blisters whilst walking the Camino de Santiago is to wear a pair of women’s stockings under your socks. I’m not sure if Berlin-based musician Tobias Panwitz followed their advice when he trudged along the Camino, but one thing he did do, was compose an album of songs using the rhythm of his 500 mile walk as the basis for a basic backing track, and wrote down the lyrics that flooded his noggin mid-hike, before he got back to Germany, and went into the studio with his band. Recording under the name Trailhead, ‘Keep Walking’ is his third album under this name.  Continue reading “Trailhead “Keep Walking” (Requa Records, 2018)”

Coal Minor Canary “The 3:42 EP” (Independent, 2017)

I’m down with the legendary Quentin Crisp. The great man once said that “There is no need to do any housework, because after four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.” I agree wholeheartedly. Just what is it with dust? You wipe it up. Then, a few days later, you have to do it again. Where does the bloody stuff come from? Crisp also said: “I never spend time doing anything today that I’ll have to do tomorrow.” What a great philosophy. Perhaps if I was a Canary flying through the trees, I would be liberated from the mundane task of housework. David Hage is a singer-songwriter from North Eastern Pennsylvania who records under the moniker of Coal Minor Canary. He knows a thing or two about dust: coal dust. He describes his tunes as being “dusty, black diamond music.” Continue reading “Coal Minor Canary “The 3:42 EP” (Independent, 2017)”

Zervas & Pepper “Wilderland” (Independent, 2017)

Cabin fever! Jack Kerouac spent 63 days working as a fire watch, on top of Desolation Peak in the North Cascade Mountains in 1956. Zervas & Pepper spent 28 days in a remote cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado late last year. Kerouac went on to use the material gained from that experience for The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels. Paul Zervas and Kathryn Pepper spent the time writing songs for Wilderland, their triumphant new album, and also going for long walks, enjoying the tranquillity of undisturbed absorption in nature and relishing their solitude away from the distractions of mobile phones and the internet.  Continue reading “Zervas & Pepper “Wilderland” (Independent, 2017)”

Ron Pope “Work” (Brooklyn Basement Records, 2017)

Ron Pope is living proof that if you can find a job you love, then you never do a day’s work in your life. Though paradoxically, to borrow a phrase from James Brown, Pope is currently one of the hardest working musicians in show business. “I wanted to work to live, not live to work,” says the braided singer who doesn’t work for The Man, but who runs his own Brooklyn Basement label (he used to be based in New York) from East Nashville with the help of his wife, Blair. Continue reading “Ron Pope “Work” (Brooklyn Basement Records, 2017)”

Heather Lynne Horton “Don’t Mess with Mrs Murphy” (At The Helm, 2017)

“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch!” so Bette Davis remarked some years ago. Thankfully things have improved since then. Not so much third wave feminism, perhaps nearer to a new wave of alt-country, Heather Lynne Horton has championed the maxim – Women are equal to everything – for just as long as Lord Hale has. Continue reading “Heather Lynne Horton “Don’t Mess with Mrs Murphy” (At The Helm, 2017)”