Dave Alvin “From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings” (Yep Roc, 2020)

The front cover’s black and white Dave Alvin playing his road-worn 1964 Fender Stratocaster, pretty much sets the tone for this round up of his songs that have escaped general release until now. On his Bandcamp page Alvin says “There are two types of folk music: quiet folk music and loud folk music. I play both.” The first song ‘Link of Chain’ is a pretty good example of his “loud” folk music, and not untypical of a Dave Alvin song. Following this however is his take on ‘Highway 61 Revisited‘. Originally recorded for Uncut Magazine’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited – Revisited’ compilation in 2005, if you missed it then, it is one of the must-hear songs of 2020. Alvin transforms Dylan’s song into the primaeval blues that was always there in the lyrics. The sparse backing, mostly bass and drums brings a menace to Alvin’s spoken delivery of the words that any Mississippi bluesman would have been proud of. Continue reading “Dave Alvin “From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings” (Yep Roc, 2020)”

Dillon Warnek “Fruit From Crooked Trees” (Independent, 2020)

This EP is Dillon Warnek’s first solo release. According to the bio on his Bandcamp page: “He assembled his friends and they came up with a plan to record it safely. The plan was write it quick, record it quick and release it quick”. The results certainly have a homemade feel, but that’s not a bad thing. The overall impression is similar to Mark Olson’s first ‘Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers’ album, with a feeling of space in the sound that suggests a group of friends sat around playing. Continue reading “Dillon Warnek “Fruit From Crooked Trees” (Independent, 2020)”

D.L. Marble “One Line At A Time” (Independent, 2020)

When D.L. Marble and producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, whose C.V. includes Steve Earle, Nils Lofgren and Joan Jett, were planning this album the conversation probably went something along the lines of, “keep it basic and simple, don’t tart it up”. ‘Ocean Beach’ kicks off as a straightforward country song, written from the point of view of a soldier on a tour of duty missing home. It is one of the more lyrically sophisticated songs. ‘Same Damn Thing’ “So good luck to the girls on the side of the stage. Boys at the bar makin’ minimum wage. Every lost soul out there on those interstates” and ‘One Line at a Time’ “I’ll write on this page to remind… I’m killing myself one line at a time” are more typical of the unvarnished style Marble seems to be aiming for. Continue reading “D.L. Marble “One Line At A Time” (Independent, 2020)”

Our Man in The Field “In the Company of Strangers” (Rocksnob, 2020)

Our Man in the Field, otherwise singer-songwriter Alexander Ellis, reports back from the London small gig scene (in the old world at least) with a set of songs created and evolved by being performed live “wherever the singer-songwriter and folk scenes would have me. It wasn’t always successful, people didn’t always listen, but I learned a lot about the songs; how to play them, how to sing them and what the words really mean.” Continue reading “Our Man in The Field “In the Company of Strangers” (Rocksnob, 2020)”

Joe Stamm Band “The Good & The Crooked (& The High & The Horny)” (Independent, 2020)

When an album kicks in, as the title song of ‘The Good & The Crooked (& The High & The Horny)’ does, with a brittle guitar riff and a voice that is quintessentially “country”, expectations start to rise. And when a Carl Perkins style solo chases the chorus to the song’s conclusion 3 minutes later, the feeling is that you are in for a treat. Any song that includes the shout “Yippee Eye Kai Ai” must score highly. The video’s good as well. Sadly, nothing on the rest of the album lives up to these expectations. Continue reading “Joe Stamm Band “The Good & The Crooked (& The High & The Horny)” (Independent, 2020)”

Sylvie Simmons “Blue on Blue” (Compass, 2020)

If Sylvie Simmons’ name is familiar it is probably as a writer for Mojo, The Guardian and of several books, including a particularly good biography of Leonard Cohen. Her press release states rather oddly that: “When she was in her fifties, Simmons came out as a singer-songwriter.” ‘Blue on Blue’ is her second album and like her debut has Howe Gelb producing and playing keyboards and guitar, with other members of Giant Sand in tow.
Continue reading “Sylvie Simmons “Blue on Blue” (Compass, 2020)”

Classic Americana Albums: Warren Zevon “Warren Zevon” (Asylum, 1976)

With his third album release, ‘Excitable Boy’ Warren Zevon hit the charts with the single ‘Werewolves of London’. It is still his best-selling album overall. But the self-titled album that preceded it set the seal on his reputation as a songwriter and performer. With the support of his producer Jackson Browne, he had a cast of the L.A. scene’s great and good to draw on and some fine songs of which Linda Ronstadt alone covered four. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Warren Zevon “Warren Zevon” (Asylum, 1976)”

Classic Americana Albums: The Band “The Band” (Capitol, 1969)

There are a number of albums that can claim to have kicked off Americana, Flying Burrito Brothers, Dylan, or CSN, but the one that really embodied the American spirit and turned it into a new sort of music was The Band’s self-titled second album. The context for this record was 1969 and the key albums were ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ by Iron Butterfly, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ and ‘Led Zeppelin II‘. Into this came an album with a cover picture that looks like Matthew Brady’s Civil War portraits, and an organic acoustic sound that contrasted sharply with the Mellotrons and fuzz guitars that dominated the charts. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: The Band “The Band” (Capitol, 1969)”

Review: Uncut’s “Wilco – The Ultimate Music Guide”

With their ‘Sounds of the New West’ compilations Uncut has always been the most likely of the major music magazines to cover “our” sort of music. They also publish a series of “Ultimate Music Guides” examining the career of an artist in detail. So far, they have mostly focused on people with the maximum shelf appeal in WH Smiths, Beatles, Dylan, Bowie. But now they are looking further afield and this time it’s the turn of Wilco. Continue reading “Review: Uncut’s “Wilco – The Ultimate Music Guide””