Amy LaVere “Painting Blue” (Archer Records, 2020)

‘No Battle Hymn’, the striking first single from ‘Painting Blue’, the fifth album by Memphis-based Amy LaVere, is a timely anthem for a world in crisis. “No one’s ready to admit we may be out of time,” she sings, over a slick, yet moody, blues-pop groove, with some chunky organ riffs and mean electric guitar licks, coming across like an edgier Sheryl Crow. Although its lyrics tackle defeatism, it’s ultimately a hopeful song, which calls for unification: “We need a victory march in our hearts.”

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Matthew Francis Andersen “Pine River” (Independent, 2020)

The third album by Chicago-born Matthew Francis Andersen is a collection of songs themed around a fictional town called Pine River. From the off, it feels like this is a place that’s very familiar and has been visited countless times before. “Have you got another bottle?” he asks on the opener, ‘Absolutely’, a tired, bluesy, country-boogie shuffle that sounds like it was found lying on the floor of a touristy bar somewhere in Nashville or Austin – the album was recorded in the latter city. Continue reading “Matthew Francis Andersen “Pine River” (Independent, 2020)”

Matt McGinn “Lessons of War” (Binlid Records)

If there were an award given for the most earnest album of the year, then ‘Lessons of War’ by Matt McGinn would be a shoo-in. For his fourth record, the Irish singer-songwriter has collaborated with musicians from war-affected areas around the world on a 10-track collection of protest songs. The project, which took three years to complete, includes guest appearances by London-based Citizens of the World Choir – made up of refugees; Yazan Ibrahim, a flamenco guitarist from The Golan Heights, in south-Western Syria, and Seydu, a percussionist and philanthropist from Sierra Leone. Continue reading “Matt McGinn “Lessons of War” (Binlid Records)”

Andy Shauf “The Neon Skyline” (ANTI-,2020)

Imagine the scenario – you’re down the local with a mate and, suddenly, you find out that your ex is back in town. What do you do? Well, if you’re Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf, you write a concept album about it. All of the 11 songs on ‘The Neon Skyline’, which was composed, performed, arranged and produced by Shauf, are linked by a narrative thread and make up a simple plot, which, let’s face it, could be the basis of a flimsy rom com – the narrator goes to his neighbourhood dive bar, The Skyline, meets his friend, Charlie, hears that his former girlfriend, Judy, has returned to the area, and, after he spends some time reminiscing about her, inevitably, she shows up. What happens next? Sorry – no spoilers here. Continue reading “Andy Shauf “The Neon Skyline” (ANTI-,2020)”

AmericanA to Z – Gene Clark

When I was given the letter “G” in the Americana UK A to Z, I initially thought I’d write about Gram Parsons, but then I changed my mind and decided on Gene Clark. To borrow the title of a Byrds song – Clark was one of the band’s founding members – why? Well, I was reminded of an interview I did with filmmaker Paul Kendall in 2013, to tie-in with the release of his great documentary, ‘Gene Clark – The Byrd Who Flew Alone.’ Continue reading “AmericanA to Z – Gene Clark”

Saw Black & The Toys “Christmas In The Background” (WarHen Records, 2019)

Christmas albums should be approached with caution – most of them aren’t very good and, like an unwanted present, need to be discarded as soon as possible. Thankfully, ‘Christmas In The Background’ by US indie-folk/Americana singer-songwriter Saw Black, from Richmond, Virginia – the album is credited to him and The Toys – is one of those festive records that should be welcomed into your home, rather than left out in the cold. Continue reading “Saw Black & The Toys “Christmas In The Background” (WarHen Records, 2019)”

Bruce Springsteen “Western Stars – Songs From The Film” (Columbia Records, 2019)

Bruce Springsteen’s 19th studio album, ‘Western Stars’, which came out this summer, has found its way on to many critics’ ‘best of the year’ lists, and quite rightly so – it’s one of his finest records. Influenced by the Southern California pop music of the late ’60s and ’70s – namely Glen Campbell and Burt Bacharach – the songs are lush and cinematic epics, with sweeping strings and Easy Listening horns, and are inhabited by a cast of lost and lonely characters, such as a faded cowboy movie star and a veteran stuntman.

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Fallon Cush “Stranger Things Have Happened” (Independent, 2019)

The title of  ‘Stranger Things Have Happened’, the fifth album by Sydney- based power pop/Americana act Fallon Cush, is very apt – this record very nearly didn’t happen. Singer-songwriter Steve Smith, the brains behind the band, has admitted that after finishing their last long-player, 2017’s ‘Morning’, which was fraught with difficulties, he thought that it was the end for them. However, against all odds, they’re back and on the anthemic opener ‘Burn’, they’re in fine form, with big country-rock guitars, warm organ and a killer chorus. Continue reading “Fallon Cush “Stranger Things Have Happened” (Independent, 2019)”

Li’l Andy “All The Love Songs Lied To Us” (Sainte Cécile Records, 2019)

The ghost of Leonard Cohen looms large over the new album by Montreal’s Li’l Andy – in fact, the music for the title track, ‘All The Love Songs Lied To Us’, is based on Cohen’s 1984 song ‘Coming Back To You.’  The similarities don’t end there – like fellow Canadian, ‘Laughing Len’, Andy is a singer-songwriter with a rich, deep voice who tackles subjects such as love, loss and war.

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The Wolff Sisters “Queendom of Nothing” (Independent, 2019)

From listening to ‘Queendom of Nothing’, the third full-length album from Boston’s The Wolff Sisters, you get the impression that they’re a restless bunch. On the opening song, the moody and twangy country-rock of ‘Drive’, they’re asking to be taken down to the river and then driven through the mountains, while on the poppy ‘Come Back To Me’ they’re ‘on a sailboat ride under the indigo sky’. Continue reading “The Wolff Sisters “Queendom of Nothing” (Independent, 2019)”