Purple Mountains “Purple Mountains” (Drag City, 2019)

After ten years on the sidelines, David Berman has decided to chime in with a new album under a new name. If we take him at his word, ten years ago his biggest fear was that he might accidentally write the answer song to ‘Shiny Happy People’. Depending on what you think that answer is, you might find yourself wondering if this album is the product of Berman facing that fear. After all, who’s to say what the answer is… Continue reading “Purple Mountains “Purple Mountains” (Drag City, 2019)”

Various Artists “The Rough Guide To Country Blues (Reborn and Remastered)” (World Music Network, 2019)

This is an album that does exactly what it says on the tin. The exquisite notes that accompany this comprehensive study of country blues do much to set its place within the history of popular music of the 20th Century.  This is not an album for the dilettante. It is a measured exploration of a number of artists that not only defined a loosely coined collective term but some had a reach far beyond their wildest dreams when they set out as entertainers. Continue reading “Various Artists “The Rough Guide To Country Blues (Reborn and Remastered)” (World Music Network, 2019)”

Norman Salant “Always All Around You” (Northcove, 2019)

Norman Salant, the saxophonist and composer, has re-invented himself as a singer-songwriter, finding a fresh sense of creative freedom in the lyrical, verbal expressions on ‘Always All Around You’. Here are ten pop-folk songs that are consistently well-crafted and produced with clarity and precision by JP Bowersock, who has worked with The Strokes and Ryan Adams; that production helps to give the album a sense of coherence and identity and the listener experiences the songs best as a whole album, absorbed collectively. Continue reading “Norman Salant “Always All Around You” (Northcove, 2019)”

Jesse Dayton “Mix Tape Volume 1” (Blue Elan Records, 2019)

Jesse Dayton’s formative musical experience was apparently seeing The Clash supported by Joe Ely, and the spirit of both those artists is all over Dayton’s new album. Collections of covers can be tricky to manage, needing careful song selection and equally careful reworking to keep the spirit of the original while avoiding note for note recreations. Continue reading “Jesse Dayton “Mix Tape Volume 1” (Blue Elan Records, 2019)”

Book Review – Matthew Frye Jacobson “One Grain of Sand” (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)

There are some records that just seem to find their place in history – Neil Young’s ‘Ohio’ and the Kent State massacre, U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Country Joe McDonald’s ‘Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die’ and the Vietnam War – popular music has always tied in with political and social events but none more so than the album ‘One Grain of Sand’, a one woman soundtrack to the American Civil Rights Movement. Continue reading “Book Review – Matthew Frye Jacobson “One Grain of Sand” (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)”

Joe Kaplow “Time Spent In Between” (Independent, 2019)

Joe Kaplow is unlikely to be a name familiar to many. Living in what he fondly refers to as “the rich Santa Cruz music community” Kaplow has found himself a base from which he can devote himself to his songwriting craft. Recording his music within the very walls where he resides, Kaplow has now released his debut album. Continue reading “Joe Kaplow “Time Spent In Between” (Independent, 2019)”

Michael Clancy “Songbird” EP (Independent, 2019)

Michael Clancy is an English songwriter from Colchester, Essex. Now before you click on to the next review, please read on a bit. His five-track ‘Songbird’ EP reveals him to be a very accomplished songwriter. The words, ‘simple’, ‘gentle’, ‘easy’ or ‘soft’, in many reviews might be used as terms of denigration.  Clancy’s songs possess each of those qualities but don’t let that fool you into thinking that they are bland easy listening. Like the very best songwriters, Clancy has the ability to write in an economic style whereby less is more. There a few obvious hooks, yet the songs are deceptively catchy. They don’t grab you instantly but rather they subtly work their way inside you. Continue reading “Michael Clancy “Songbird” EP (Independent, 2019)”

Dry Stick “Annualis Naturalis” (Nordic Music Society, 2019)

Truth be told, an artist name evocative of trees and an album title in Latin more than likely sparks images of neo-hippies lamenting on their ukuleles. But don’t take that for granted, as Dry Stick delivers an edgy first album that sounds sweet as a dove, and still rocks big time. The puppet master behind Dry Stick is the Danish songwriter and brilliant instrumentalist Kudre Haan. Continue reading “Dry Stick “Annualis Naturalis” (Nordic Music Society, 2019)”

Dylan Stewart “The Scarecrow Sessions” (Independent, 2019)

They used to say that Leonard Cohen wrote songs to slash your wrists to and whilst Dylan Stewart’s fourth album ‘The Scarecrow Sessions’ isn’t quite in that league, it certainly isn’t an album to blow away the blues. Dylan Stewart is renowned for writing some of his best work in the dead of night, or when he’s in the depth of grief, and it shows on this collection of twelve numbers.  Continue reading “Dylan Stewart “The Scarecrow Sessions” (Independent, 2019)”

Mavis Staples, The Roundhouse, London, 4th July 2019

Mavis Staples can rely on a warm welcome in London – her live album of this year was recorded at a pair of Union Chapel gigs in 2018 – something which she alluded to tonight saying that she remembered us all from last year.  Well, yes, and then some, The Roundhouse being a considerably larger venue. Staples is on something of a roll at the moment, with studio and live albums hitting the streets at a regular pace since she signed with ANTI-, meaning that she has a lot of pretty new material to draw on, including this year’s studio release ‘We Get By‘. It still means that Mavis Staples can deliver a “greatest hits” set – it’s just that it’s the greatest hits of the recent years. Continue reading “Mavis Staples, The Roundhouse, London, 4th July 2019”