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)”

AUK’s Chain Gang: Hot Club of Cowtown “Pennies from Heaven”

The last Chain Gang featured Mark Lanegan’s version of Dylan’s `Man in the Long Black Coat’. As ever, Dylan provides us with those allusive, resonating lyrics. Is the man of the title referring to death, depression or the forthcoming apocalypse? Whatever the answer, it does seem the weather is at the least inclement, and it is likely it’s raining. Continue reading “AUK’s Chain Gang: Hot Club of Cowtown “Pennies from Heaven””

Darren Hayman “Home Time” (Fika Recordings, 2020)

Darren Hayman’s ‘Home Time’ is music that is likely to divide. For some it will be light and mannered with an ironic pose. For others it will be playful, charming and endearing. This reviewer sits in the latter camp. Mainly. ‘Home Time’ has a lo-fi indie-pop sound, with precursors including acts such as Violent Femmes and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. If you have these acts in your playlist along with They Might be Giants, you’ll enter Hayman’s abode with ease. Continue reading “Darren Hayman “Home Time” (Fika Recordings, 2020)”

Eric Long “Looking Up” (Independent, 2020)

Eric Long’s ‘Looking Up’ kicks off with `Everyday’, a song that sounds like the distillation of optimism. The guitar chops a rhythmic line, the stand-up bass chugs and thumps and you’re already feeling good. A shuffling beat and an improvising fiddle in the background arrive and your head is bobbing up and down. If ever there was a time for dancing in the kitchen it is now, and Long unintentionally provides the lyrics with “Why am I not outside dancing / Why’d it take so long to shake these blues”? With a classic call and response chorus it’s the sort of breezy sound that is isolation solace. Continue reading “Eric Long “Looking Up” (Independent, 2020)”

Chatham Rabbits “The Yoke is Easy, the Burden is Full” (Robust Records, 2020)

Chatham Rabbits are husband and wife duo Austin and Sarah McCombie, and their second album is full of sweet harmonies and a sense of quiet joy. It was recorded live in a lakeside cabin in Virginia and provides a sense of listening in the intimate surroundings that suit this music so well. The instrumentation is from the bluegrass tradition with fiddles, banjos, mandolins and pedal steels, and there are clearly fine players here. There’s an adroit use of the pedal steel throughout for emphasis and fills, but in the main the band back the material and the singing. Continue reading “Chatham Rabbits “The Yoke is Easy, the Burden is Full” (Robust Records, 2020)”

The Roseline “Good Grief” (Independent, 2020)

‘Good Grief’ is the sixth album by The Roseline; comprising of singer/ songwriter Colin Halliburton and accompanying musicians.  They describe themselves as “indie-Americana – for want of a better word”, but in truth it’s the most accurate description of the band. Songs such as ‘Ghost Writer’, ‘Better to the Bone’ and ‘Quartz to Digital’ have the requisite power chords, chiming guitars, driving beats and anthemic lyrics and ‘Inside Out’ is made for the moshpit. However, this material seems to sit uneasily alongside songs from the country music template like ‘I Guess That’s Just How It Goes’ and ‘Pheasant Feather’. Continue reading “The Roseline “Good Grief” (Independent, 2020)”

Nathan Evans Fox “Kindness” (Independent, 2020)

Nathan Evans Fox’s ‘Kindness’ gives us a poignant and realistic take on our individual and collective need for benevolence. These songs aren’t banal odes to empathy but an honest and adult version of kindness as an individual’s work in progress. The album’s 10 songs include two upbeat numbers but Fox’s natural home seems to be in the measured and reflective. Continue reading “Nathan Evans Fox “Kindness” (Independent, 2020)”