Will Varley “Kingsdown Sundown” (Xtra Mile Recordings, 2016)

will-varleyVarley’s music is likeable, decent, his sentiments are heartfelt and humane, he chips away at the status quo like a young Dylan. He doesn’t shy away from issues; these are protest songs (mostly) and in their own modest way they are uncompromising. He explores the ills of the contemporary world on songs like ‘To Build A Wall’ or ‘Something Is Breaking’ concentrating on trying to articulate the issues, rather than making them palatable. His direct honesty, his guitar playing and voice are humble instruments that help to draw the listener in. Continue reading “Will Varley “Kingsdown Sundown” (Xtra Mile Recordings, 2016)”

Red Sky July “Voyager” (Shadowbirds Records, 2016)

red-sky-july-2016Hot on the heels of their album “The Truth And The Lie”, released in March, comes this six track EP from Red Sky July.  The trio has pedigree, with Ally McErlaine being the guitarist in Texas, Shelly Poole once of Alisha’s Attic and Charity Hair of the Alice Band.  Sadly said pedigree doesn’t deliver anything memorable here but rather a nicely produced, tastefully played and but ultimately unmemorable listening experience. Continue reading “Red Sky July “Voyager” (Shadowbirds Records, 2016)”

The Slow Show “Dream Darling” (Haldern Pop Recordings, 2016)

The Slow Show-2016Quirky and eclectic the music and vocals of Rob Goodwin are undeniable. In many ways The Slow Show breathe fresh air into the scene as the five-man unit take the listener away from the predictable and sometimes mundane work of all too many bands. The band’s debut album of last year, White Water was a more aggressive and urgent album in comparison, but such is the compelling manner of Goodwin’s story-telling, and spare instrumental arrangements provided by band members Fred Kindt (keyboards), Joel Byrne-McCullough (guitar), James Longden (bass) and Chris Hough (drums) the listener becomes trapped the instant the needle drops into the groove. Added to the above as a bonus Goodwin is joined on vocals on “Hurt” and “Last Man Standing” by Manchester vocalist Kesha Ellis. On the latter he speaks with no little passion of a man jilted-at-the-altar and of ‘the tears in his eye’.

Continue reading “The Slow Show “Dream Darling” (Haldern Pop Recordings, 2016)”

Brady Harris “Ukulele Days” (Lampshade Records, 2016)

brady-harrisThe title pretty much sums up the concept – Harris ukulises some originals and a whole bunch of covers. It’s not just Harris and his trusty instrument, there’s plenty of diverse instrumentation here – though strangely when it’s just Harris and the ukulele things pick up markedly. The ukulele is the folksy thread stringing the songs together and after a while it proves to be the weakness, the reliance on it rendering everything else as a sideshow and bringing the ear back to the novelty element. The record sounds like a drunken idea that wasn’t discarded the next morning. Continue reading “Brady Harris “Ukulele Days” (Lampshade Records, 2016)”

Tommy Hale “Magnificent Bastard” (Holiday Disaster, 2016)

magnificent-bastard-250-x-250The opening, title, track stops and starts you in your tracks. Tommy Hale, from Dallas, sings, “It seems I’ve let time slip away. It goes over the hill like a wild dog.” Here is the celebration, a eulogy of misspent youth. And so the album advances, with a wider, and varied list of themes and stories. Recorded in Wiltshire, maybe initially for a UK audience and so, perhaps, the record needs a proper introduction: “Magnificent Bastard” in American English is someone who is intelligent, capable, supremely competent, and always in control; the sort of person who gains grudging admiration, from friend and foe alike. Continue reading “Tommy Hale “Magnificent Bastard” (Holiday Disaster, 2016)”

Johns & Nowak “Johns & Nowak” (Independent, 2016)

johns-nowak-2016Debut EPs often function as a calling card for new acts, showing the range of what they can do and this five (six on CD) is no exception.  It has a couple of originals, three covers from Sean Watkins, Bill Monroe and Gillian Welch & David Rawlings and something of a curveball in a slowed down stark take on “Bad Moon Rising”.  Andy Nowak takes most of the lead vocals and plays guitar while Camilla Johns handles mandolin duties and the occasional vocal.  The style is stripped back and sparse, the vocal tone ranges from wistful to mournful and the results are classy and compelling. Continue reading “Johns & Nowak “Johns & Nowak” (Independent, 2016)”

3hattrio “Solitaire” (American Desert Music, 2016)

3hattrio-2016I’d never be one to suggest that experimentation is of itself not a good thing, and 3hattrio’s music does offer something new – their blend of elements of roots Americana with a modern jazz sensibility and an affection for sound effects is certainly removed from the mainstream. But, as Doctor Frankenstein discovered, not all experiments are an unqualified success. So, whilst Texas Time Traveller will do little to shock those who have followed Howe Gelb’s more out there compositions and extended improvisations, 3hattrios banjo led bluegrass version of “Get Up Stand Up” may raise a few eyebrows. Continue reading “3hattrio “Solitaire” (American Desert Music, 2016)”

Amanda Rheaume “Holding Patterns” (Independent, 2016)

"Rheaume-Amanda-2016"Having explored her family roots on 2014’s acclaimed Keep A Fire Ottawa’s Amanda Rheaume moves into a more mainstream sound on Holding Patterns. With producer Jim Bryson (of Weakerthans and Kathleen Edwards fame) on board the album is a classy selection of songs that run the gamut from radio friendly AOR to sensitive meditations on social issues. Very much an activist and engaged in several worthy causes locally Rheaume weaves her social conscience into the album with its central song, the deeply affecting “Red Dress” addressing the alarming situation in Canada regarding poorly investigated deaths of indigenous women (with proceeds from sales of the song as a single going to the cause). Continue reading “Amanda Rheaume “Holding Patterns” (Independent, 2016)”

Jeff Crosby “Waking Days” (At the Helm Records, 2015)

a0963400895_16Jeff Crosby though still young has just enough living under his belt to qualify as a seasoned performer, and a voice dripping in character with the songs to match. His worth as a songwriter if weighed in gold would take more than one man to carry. “Carved In Sandstone” speaks of how Tennessee got the best of him. Restlessly, he breezes through a succession of vividly painted scenes likened to those from the silver screen, or an independent cross-country road movie.  Continue reading “Jeff Crosby “Waking Days” (At the Helm Records, 2015)”

Dolly Parton “Pure & Simply” (RCA, 2016)

Dolly Parton, 2016The undisputed Queen of ‘Big Hat’ country music, now deemed cool having worked with Jack White has 42 studio albums to her name, and with this record her first No.1 in 25 years.  She is so famous and well known that she has become mono nominture; like Pele or Freud, this record is no change to the Dolly formula and is no change to what she’s done the best in that 25 years. Continue reading “Dolly Parton “Pure & Simply” (RCA, 2016)”