William Elliot Whitmore “I’m With You” (Bloodshot Records, 2020)

William Elliott Whitmore’s  ‘I’m With You’  is his first release of original material since 2015’s “Radium Death (ANTI-)”, and features energetic banjo playing, stomping bass drum sounds and some neat fiddle playing.  The most representative song on the album is the chugging upbeat single `My Mind Is Cruel To Me’.   Whitmore sees the piece as being “..about perception…Is the mind a separate entity from the body? At what point does it feel as though our brains are actually betraying us?”.  These are mighty metaphysical musings for a three-minute song.  This reviewer can only call on the riposte from a notorious Mancunian who sang “Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body / I dunno”.  Continue reading “William Elliot Whitmore “I’m With You” (Bloodshot Records, 2020)”

Old Sea Brigade & Luke Sital-Singh “All The Ways You Sing In The Dark” (Nettwerk Records, 2020)

‘All the Ways You Sing In The Dark’ lasts thirteen minutes and leaves you longing for more.  The four songs on the EP come from a collaboration between Sital-Singh and Ben Cramer last summer and retain that feeling of airy freedom.  The opener `Call Me When You Land’ is irresistible.  A gentle strumming guitar starts, the duo trade verses, plush strings emerge and Singh’s gorgeous high register carries the chorus. In a less fragmented musical market this would be one of those old-fashioned hits secretly enjoyed by the musical cognoscenti. Continue reading “Old Sea Brigade & Luke Sital-Singh “All The Ways You Sing In The Dark” (Nettwerk Records, 2020)”

JJ Shiplett “Crossed Fingers” (Red Buffalo Records, 2020)

JJ Shiplett gives us an intriguing take on his own material with “Crossed Fingers”, a mirror image of his “Fingers Crossed” album, released in March this year with the addition of a new song `Bluejay Highway’. The album presents the songs that feature in “Fingers Crossed” in a spartan and revealing setting, with Shiplett’s aim being to “..take away the drums, the solos and leave it to my voice. Like how I fell in love with music – simple and honest. No hiding. Just the song.” The previous album featured a full backing band, but here we have only piano or guitar, with the occasional background presence of harmonica or electric guitar. Continue reading “JJ Shiplett “Crossed Fingers” (Red Buffalo Records, 2020)”

Classic Americana Albums: Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Myer and Mark O’Connor “Appalachian Journey” (Sony Music, 2000)

Collaborations with classical artists are often an uneasy fit, a cue for an unholy alliance of partners.  Non-classical artists bask in the status and virtuosity of the conservatoire sorts, while the orchestral players demonstrate they are adaptable and groovy.  However, when it works it can provide luminous, unforgettable music.  This recording is a classic because it does that.  The world would be a diminished place without this meeting of musical minds and its gorgeous moments. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Myer and Mark O’Connor “Appalachian Journey” (Sony Music, 2000)”

AUK’s Chain Gang: The Milk Carton Kids “Hope of a Lifetime”

“Can’t Do Much” was the refrain of the last Chain Gang piece, and indeed there are times when the odds are overwhelming, and you will not overcome.  What music can express this and provide the soundtrack to a calm acceptance of fate?  Here is the answer. `Hope of a Lifetime’ is from The Milk Carton Kids’ second album “The Ash and Clay” and never has the extinguishing of dreams sounded so gorgeous.  The album itself has an honest focus on passing moments and loss, and it’s exemplified in this song.  The voices meld together in quiet resignation with a backing of intricate guitar work, and provide us with these lyrics; In the newfound reverie / Of quiet peace I found / Freedom comes from being unafraid / Of the heartache that can plague a man”.  This a duo that use words with a thought, and in this song they express a dry-eyed stoic acceptance that also provides solace.

Northern Belle “We Wither, We Bloom” (Die With Your Boots On Records, 2020)

“We Wither, We Bloom” is the third album from Norwegian septet The Northern Belle. Yes, you read that correctly. A Norwegian seven-piece. In addition, the record features a string quartet and the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. At this point you will be punching the air, saying “Yess! Bring it on! Norwegians! Strings! Hardanger fiddles!” and plumping the cushions on your favourite armchair in preparation for a musical treat.  However, before you put the kettle on, you should be aware that Norwegiana sounds very much like… well, Americana. Continue reading “Northern Belle “We Wither, We Bloom” (Die With Your Boots On Records, 2020)”

AmericanA to Z: Paul Robeson

In any pantheon of American music there should be a space for the monumental figure of Paul Robeson.  Whole biographies have deservedly been dedicated to describing his kaleidoscopic talents and a life of commitment and spirit.   It makes little sense to listen to his music removed from context so the following is a short precis of a titanic cultural figure;  an abbreviation of a life that seems to gather up the themes of the 20th century into one person. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: Paul Robeson”

Stacey McNeill and Jonathan Smith “Leaving Autumn Town” (Independent, 2020)

The title of Stacey McNeill and Jonathan Smith’s EP sets the musical tone.  It would be surprising to find power ballads and squealing guitar solos in a collection of music called `Leaving Autumn Town’ and indeed these songs are restrained and thoughtful; the embodiment of less is more. Composed and produced during lockdown with McNeill and Smith over 50 miles apart, these pieces concentrate on voices and delicate fingerstyle guitar.  There is the occasional addition of soft guitar lines, keyboard and drums; but the overall feel is of a duo playing the last numbers at a folk club and sending the audience home with a unique glow. Continue reading “Stacey McNeill and Jonathan Smith “Leaving Autumn Town” (Independent, 2020)”

Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie “Celticana” (Independent, 2020)

`Celticana’ is the second album from songwriter Steve Crawford and his compadre Spider Mackenzie on harmonica. The title sums up their intent to marry the music of their native Scotland with the U.S, and they succeed. Crawford provides nine songs that range from the rocky and chorus driven to the reflective. He sings with a clear laid- back voice that allows the lyrics to be heard clearly. Highlights include ‘After the Ceilidh’, which catches the blissful exhaustion following from any blow out. Continue reading “Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie “Celticana” (Independent, 2020)”

Lauren Calve “Wildfire” (Independent, 2020)

Lauren Calve’s music is at the bluesy, rockier end of the Americana spectrum. Here you will find riffing electric guitars, on-the-beat drumming, pulsing basslines and most notably Calve’s powerful singing. Her voice combines projection and emotion throughout the seven songs in her `Wildfire’ EP.  The rock and roll pieces include the title track; a song of lust that Calve courageously admits is full of silly metaphors. `Shock Time’, based on Woody Guthrie’s journals, reflects on the appropriate reaction to political change.  Continue reading “Lauren Calve “Wildfire” (Independent, 2020)”