Mary Chapin Carpenter “The Dirt And The Stars” (Lambent Light/Thirty Tigers, 2020)

The Dirt And The Stars’  is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s first collection of new material since 2016’s ‘The Things That We Are Made Of.’ Her last record, ‘Sometimes Just The Sky’, which came out two years ago, saw her celebrating her 30-year career with new versions of some of her most loved compositions, as well as one new song – the title track. Continue reading “Mary Chapin Carpenter “The Dirt And The Stars” (Lambent Light/Thirty Tigers, 2020)”

Jake Winstrom “Circles” (Independent, 2020)

New York resident Jake Winstrom says his first solo album, 2018’s ‘Scared Away The Song’, suffered from too many “serious songwriter” type songs and not enough fun, uptempo, jangly rock ‘n’ roll. Rest assured, on the follow-up, ‘Circles’, the former frontman of Tennessee band Tenderhooks, hasn’t made the same mistake twice – recent single, ‘What’s The Over/Under?’ is a fantastic, irresistible power-pop tune, with 12-string guitar, soulful horn blasts and a killer chorus that could’ve been written by Fountains of Wayne, while on the chugging, glam rock boogie-meets-country of opener ‘Come To Texas She Said’, reedy-voiced Winstrom does his best Marc Bolan impression. Continue reading “Jake Winstrom “Circles” (Independent, 2020)”

Little Sparta “Lost Boat Party EP” (Grey Gallery Records, 2020)

British alt-folk trio Little Sparta have reunited with Sally Timms, the Chicago-based singer from post-punk outfit The Mekons, for this four-track EP. The first time they collaborated was on the ‘Best Intentions’ single, in 2008, although Susie Honeyman, violinist in Little Sparta, is also a long-serving member of The Mekons. The new record has a troubled background – prior to it being made, Little Sparta’s guitarist and vocalist, Alan Boyd, had been in and out of hospital with a debilitating ear condition and then, to make matters worse, he suffered a heart attack. While he was recovering, he started writing songs, which eventually ended up as the ‘Lost Boat Party’ EP. Continue reading “Little Sparta “Lost Boat Party EP” (Grey Gallery Records, 2020)”

Classic Americana Albums: John Murry “The Graceless Age” (Bucketfull of Brains, 2012)

I owe a lot to Uncut magazine. In September 1998, the publication gave away a compilation CD called ‘Sounds of the New West’, which opened my eyes – and ears – to alt-country and Americana. A couple of years later, Uncut turned me on to Ryan Adams’s first album, ‘Heartbreaker’, now one of my favourite records of all time, and then in 2012 it published a review of John Murry’s ‘The Graceless Age’, calling it a “masterpiece.”
Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: John Murry “The Graceless Age” (Bucketfull of Brains, 2012)”

Mr. and Mrs. Garrett Soucy “According Lines” (Independent, 2020)

US husband-and-wife folk duo Mr. and Mrs. Garrett Soucy (Garrett and Sirri) describe themselves as ‘singing rescue boat lyrics, pulling souls from the wreckage of meta-modern let down.’ Heavy stuff, eh? They live in rural Maine, with their nine children, so you can imagine there’s a lot of wreckage to deal with – just keeping the house tidy must be hard enough, let alone finding the time to record ‘According Lines’, which is an album of self-penned, religious-themed songs, as well as obscure hymns. Continue reading “Mr. and Mrs. Garrett Soucy “According Lines” (Independent, 2020)”

Home Life: Matt Hill

UK singer-songwriter Matt Hill’s latest album, ‘Savage Pilgrims’, is the first one he’s put out under his own name – his previous four releases were credited to Quiet Loner. He may no longer be a ‘quiet loner’, but, as his new record demonstrates, Hill will always be an outsider and difficult to pigeonhole – he’s part Americana, part protest singer and part folk artist. Continue reading “Home Life: Matt Hill”

Ismay “Songs of Sonoma Mountain” (Independent, 2020)

Ismay – aka singer-songwriter Avery Hellman – is named after a small US town in the Northern Great Plains of Montana, which, at the last count, had a population of only 19. But, judging by her debut album, ‘Songs of Sonoma Mountain’, you get the feeling that the place she takes her moniker from might just be a tad too busy for her liking, as this ‘back-to-nature’ concept record was inspired by the five years she spent living and working on her remote family ranch in rural California and it was also recorded there, on Sonoma Mountain, in a 100-year old sheep barn. Continue reading “Ismay “Songs of Sonoma Mountain” (Independent, 2020)”

AUK’s Chain Gang: Bob Dylan “One More Cup of Coffee”

One of the things I’m missing most during lockdown is a decent cup of coffee – I have a local café that makes a great latte – so when I read last week’s Chain Gang article, which was written about ‘Instant Coffee Blues’ by Guy Clark, it really hit the spot, so much so that I wanted to get another fix of caffeine-themed Americana. Continue reading “AUK’s Chain Gang: Bob Dylan “One More Cup of Coffee””

John Baumann “Country Shade” (The Next Waltz, 2020)

On his third album, ‘Country Shade’, Texas-based singer-songwriter John Baumann spends a lot of time pondering change – whether that’s the changing state of rural America, or changes in relationships and circumstances, but, after hearing the first few songs, you can’t help but wish he’d change things up a bit, rather than plough the same furrow of over-earnest, plodding, slick yet soulless, mid-paced and middle-of-the-road country rock. Continue reading “John Baumann “Country Shade” (The Next Waltz, 2020)”

A Choir Of Ghosts “An Ounce of Gold” (Greywood Records, 2020)

According to his press biog, Sweden-based, British-born ‘alt-folk’ singer-songwriter James Auger has spent several years trying to find his place in the world. Judging by his debut album, ‘An Ounce of Gold’, released under the pseudonym A Choir Of Ghosts, he still doesn’t know what, or where, he wants to be. Things get off to a strange start with the opening instrumental track, the unimaginatively named ‘Intro’, which begins with low humming and weird, garbled voices – a choir of ghosts? – but then erupts with huge, cinematic strings and massed, angelic vocals. It’s as if we’re being welcomed into heaven. Continue reading “A Choir Of Ghosts “An Ounce of Gold” (Greywood Records, 2020)”