Michael Roberts “Mixed Emotions” (Lost Honey Records, 2019)

Michael Roberts, leader of alt country band Wooden Dinosaur, steps up into the spotlight for his debut solo album, ‘Mixed Emotions’, a collection of nine songs written by Roberts himself. I’m guessing he simply felt that it was time to start recording under his own name, since his solo output doesn’t sound too far removed from that of the band, which was really a vehicle for him as a singer/songwriter anyway. Continue reading “Michael Roberts “Mixed Emotions” (Lost Honey Records, 2019)”

Book Review – Michael Washburn “Southern Accents” (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)

Here we have the latest in Bloomsbury Academic’s excellent 33 1/3 series. For those of you not familiar with these books they are, basically, album liner notes on steroids! For anyone that really wants to get inside a favourite record these books are among the most comprehensive analytical writing you’re likely to find. Artist biographies will often touch on details of certain keystone recordings, as the excellent Warren Zanes’ ‘Petty’ does with ‘Southern Accents’ (and Michael Washburn references Zanes’ book) but they will never go into the details that you find in these exceptionally well written books. Continue reading “Book Review – Michael Washburn “Southern Accents” (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)”

Mike Frazier “Where The Valley Kissed The Sky” (Geneva Records, 2019)

Mike Frazier hails from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and it’s this region that informs and infuses his new album ‘Where The Valley Kissed The Sky’, with the singer/songwriter drawing on his observations -living and working in and around various towns in the valley.

The Shenandoah Valley is, apparently, an area that encompasses a range of communities from college towns to rural farms and is, by all accounts, a region that has experienced a lot of rapid cultural and economic upheaval in recent years and it’s this that provides a loose concept for Frazier’s songs; a concept that serves the album well. Continue reading “Mike Frazier “Where The Valley Kissed The Sky” (Geneva Records, 2019)”

Book Review: David Berman “Actual Air” (Drag City, 2019)

It seems poetry books are a bit like buses – you wait ages for one and then two come along at once! Following on from our recent review of Doug Hoekstra’s ‘Unopened’ we now have David Berman’s acclaimed ‘Actual Air’ to evaluate – and this is quite a different beast! To start with, Berman’s book is a re-issue; originally released in 1999, this collection of modernist poems saw Berman hailed as a natural successor to Wallace Stevens and drew major critical acclaim from the likes of The New Yorker and G2. Twenty years on the impact of these poems has not diminished in the slightest. Now it is being re-issued, initially as a limited edition (one thousand copies) hardback, with a paperback run scheduled to follow. Continue reading “Book Review: David Berman “Actual Air” (Drag City, 2019)”

Book Review: Doug Hoekstra “Unopened” (Five-Minute Books, 2019)

“In the unfinished basement
past stainless steel filing cabinetshumming humidifiers and stacks of yellow magazines
I reach two racks of records promised to us both; My heart can only take a few, including “Memories of a Middle-Aged Movies by the other Ray Charles, unopened, never played…. purchased at Rose Records for 77 cents, my father killing time on a 60-minute lunch hour
40 years before.” Continue reading “Book Review: Doug Hoekstra “Unopened” (Five-Minute Books, 2019)”

Gold Light & Snakemusk “Shadows in the Shallows” (Bailey Park, 2019)

Americana often produces some great voice combinations, especially with male/female duos – think of Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, Johnny & June Cash, The Civil Wars and many more; it’s a long list. Now it’s time to add one more duo to that long list of great voice combinations, if not of particularly good names! Gold Light and Snakemusk, or Joe Chang & Beau Campolong (surely “Joe & Beau”, or vice versa, has a better ring to it?) as they’re known to family and friends have been singing together since 2017, though both were working solo prior to teaming up, brought together by a shared love of classic country-tinged songs of love and loss. ‘Shadows in the Shallows’ is the first recording from this new collaboration and it’s an assured debut that should see them continue to explore making music together. Of the two singers, Campolong has the more interesting voice, being quite ethereal but also having a world-weariness about it that works well on these songs. Joe Chang’s voice is a good light tenor, which is very listenable but nothing outstanding on its own. Continue reading “Gold Light & Snakemusk “Shadows in the Shallows” (Bailey Park, 2019)”

Caroline Spence “Mint Condition” (Rounder Records, 2019)

One of the most exciting “new” artists on the Americana scene, Caroline Spence has been making great music for some years now and ‘Mint Condition’ is her third album. It seems hard to believe she’s racking up her third release just as people are just starting to take real notice of her and the talent she brings to her writing and performing. This album may be her best yet; working with producer Dan Knobler and engineer Gary Paczosa who, between them, can boast impressive credits for the likes of Sarah Jarosz, Gillian Welch and Lake Street Dive among others, Spence has really crafted this album and it shows. Even though our original review copy was an unmastered version the quality just shines through, and subsequent updates with fully mastered tracks add the cherry to the icing. This is a very good album indeed. Continue reading “Caroline Spence “Mint Condition” (Rounder Records, 2019)”

A Picture Made “Heal” (Goodspeeed Records, 2019)

On first hearing “Heal” seems a slight, meandering work that’s difficult to pin down – but this is an album that rewards repeated listening. The band’s music is quite difficult to describe, but it’s more indie than Americana, and the band themselves are quite elusive. They originally came to prominence in the 1980s and toured with the likes of The Replacements and The Call but they don’t seem to have any real online presence and information on the current status of the band, other than that it is a fourpiece and originated in Kansas and Missouri, seems thin on the ground! Continue reading “A Picture Made “Heal” (Goodspeeed Records, 2019)”

Tylor & The Train Robbers “Best of the Worst Kind” (Independent, 2019)

There’s a pleasant “open-ness” to some of the best Americana – that feeling of room to move, where you can clearly hear all the instrumentation and the lyrics and yet still see spaces in the songs. Tylor & The Train Robbers have really nailed that sound on this, their second album. The production is crystal clear and it gives the listener the opportunity to hear just how good this band is. Well written melodies supported by some fine playing, guitars and pedal steel weaving together to create exactly the backing these story based songs need. Continue reading “Tylor & The Train Robbers “Best of the Worst Kind” (Independent, 2019)”