Tom Russell “Folk Hotel” (Proper Records, 2017)

In the 1990’s Tom Russell was, along with Dave Alvin, hailed as the architect of what came to be known as Americana music. Folk Hotel is album number 36 for Russell and, in 2017, he has surely delivered one of the Americana albums of the year. This is a storytellers’ album with every song a poem or a story in its own right. A year after the passing of one of the great song writing poets, Leonard Cohen, a song about New York’s Chelsea Hotel, Up in The Old Hotel, provides a fitting and high-quality opening. Leaving El Paso, a song about the journey Russell and his wife made following the route the Spanish took to Santa Fe some 500 years previously, features Eliza Gilkyson on vocals and some gorgeous Tex-Mex accordion from Joel Guzman.  Continue reading “Tom Russell “Folk Hotel” (Proper Records, 2017)”

Ian Felice “In The Kingdom of Dreams” (Loose, 2017)

Between two things there is often a dilution of each, a middle of the road but there is also the possibility of great fertility. I mention this as when listening to this record my first impression (and so far it’s an unshakeable one) is that on this record Ian Felice finds a beautiful sweet spot somewhere between Bob Dylan and Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel). There’s a wonderful off-the-cuff quality to the recordings (it was recorded quickly over 4 days produced by brother Simone and featuring other brothers fraternal and otherwise) as though the way the songs sound on here isn’t necessarily how they will sound again. There are strange lyrical flourishes – “Well the aliens landed on Election Day and they stole your mother’s lingerie” from 21st Century is one example – and at points an almost gleeful release, like it’s a creative cleansing. Continue reading “Ian Felice “In The Kingdom of Dreams” (Loose, 2017)”

Jesse Dayton “The Revealer” (Blue Elan Records, 2016)

Jesse Dayton has had quite the career, playing alongside true legends like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell, time spent making soundtracks for horror movies and even venturing into punk for a spell in the LA band ‘X’, it seems that he can turn his hand to almost anything and ‘The Revealer’, his ninth studio album, serves as a melting pot which sees him take something from each of these influences an blend them into his own sound. Continue reading “Jesse Dayton “The Revealer” (Blue Elan Records, 2016)”

Thea Gilmore “The Counterweight” (Cooking Vinyl, 2017)

Thea Gilmore has been a song-writing heavyweight on the British circuit for a long time and has shown a knack for consistent quality and a down-to-earth music that fiddles with genre and tweaks the nose of expectation. Can her latest album live up to such heady appeal or has the magic touch run dry for the Oxford singer?  Continue reading “Thea Gilmore “The Counterweight” (Cooking Vinyl, 2017)”

The 4 Of Us “Sugar Island” (FutureCD, 2017)

The album cover does a tidy job of setting the scene for its themes: smiling mum in a floppy hat, car door open, four, maybe five kids squashed in the back, off on holiday in those Seventies days of laxer passenger restrictions and fewer collision avoidance systems. It most obviously relates to Going South, the second of 12 tracks on the veteran Northern Irish outfit’s latest long player, with its bored narrator killing time in the back of the motor “winding down a window so I don’t catch a share of cigarette smoke hanging in the air”.  Continue reading “The 4 Of Us “Sugar Island” (FutureCD, 2017)”

Nick Heyward “Woodland Echoes” (Gladsome Hawk, 2017)

Those of you who still remember Nick Heyward from his days fronting Haircut 100 (humorously described in the press release as a New Wave group) may be surprised by this record, but anyone who has paid attention to what he’s done since won’t be. Ever since his first few solo singles like Whistle Down the Wind, he’s been moving away from the itchy pop funk that made him, the only echo of it here being the opening bars of The Stars. This record is full of naturalistic images. So thickly does he lays it on that he makes Thomas Hardy seem like Elmore Leonard. There’s the sound of birdsong at the start of Beautiful Morning, which unfolds like a flower welcoming the sun, then goes mildly rococo with the detail, bucolic 100. Continue reading “Nick Heyward “Woodland Echoes” (Gladsome Hawk, 2017)”

Lost Harbours “Towers of Silence” (Liminal Noise Tapes, 2017)

This recording is many things – it is haunting and ethereally beautiful in places. It is well performed and produced. It is intriguing and often quite fascinating. What it is not, in any way, shape or form, is Americana. There’s been quite a bit of discussion at AUK recently about what actually constitutes the Americana genre of music and, while there’s a bit of disagreement about an exact definition, there is general agreement that Americana draws on American roots music – blues, country and folk. Continue reading “Lost Harbours “Towers of Silence” (Liminal Noise Tapes, 2017)”

Alex Rex “Vermillion” (Tin Angel Records 2017)

Alex Rex (as Alex Neilson) is the singer, songwriter and drummer from Tumbling Bells. And that is just the start. In musical circles and beyond, this musician from Glasgow, has a huge reputation. Rhythmically, he appears unexpectedly, for instance, in Shirley Collins’ “Lodestar” where, on the first track he is playing cymbals, and, in “Pretty Polly,” the drum beats from half way through, are his!  But “Vermillion” is his debut solo album, and as such, should be taken note of, and applauded. The title itself is a clue to the colourful and often challenging nature of the songs Alex has written. His voice bears testimony to the value of his lyrics. Continue reading “Alex Rex “Vermillion” (Tin Angel Records 2017)”

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires “Youth Detention” (Don Giovanni Records 2017)

This is the album that, despite the title, sees the combative and essential Alabama rock outfit who are more ‘punk’ than many of the modern bands who claim to be, hit full maturity. It is also an album that goes beyond any “protest” label and instead paints a picture of a fractured society from within, albeit one that offers no little optimism. Continue reading “Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires “Youth Detention” (Don Giovanni Records 2017)”

Juanita Stein “America” (Nude Records, 2017)

This record reminds me a lot of the Coco Hames record from early in the year; a solo debut that explores several styles is always a pleasant listen but lacks an essential sense of identity to mark it out from the crowd. At times where the songs need something to push them on, they drift. Stargazer is a case in point, it is lovely, her voice is good, the melody is satisfying but it just doesn’t reach out and grab me. Similarly Cold Comfort resurrects standard Country tropes, pleasantly – it doesn’t do anything, which is frustrating as she is clearly capable of more than just settling for these pleasant genre pieces. Continue reading “Juanita Stein “America” (Nude Records, 2017)”