Scott H. Biram “The Bad Testament” (Bloodshot, 2017)

Biram peddles a scuzzy version of the blues, and on Set Me Free he sounds like someone who has lost their teeth the hard way and still comes up swinging. To his credit, he covers a lot of ground across these 13 tracks and, although the blues is at the heart of what he does, it certainly isn’t everything – he’s just as adept at more delicate forms. If Set Me Free is akin to cleaning your teeth with a wire brush, then Righteous Ways is a cleaner wrasse delicately flitting through the water, and Still Around contains signs of dexterity you might think beyond the reach of someone who can be so gut-wrenchingly amped-up punk as Train Wrecker. Continue reading “Scott H. Biram “The Bad Testament” (Bloodshot, 2017)”

Skram “Head Held High” (Independent, 2017)

Oh dear. I’m sure I’m not the only reviewer who sighed when catching sight of the PR sheet accompanying this album which describes Skram as “an Americana style Hypno Folk Rock family band.” The hypno bit is due no doubt to guitarist and singer Darren Marks’ day job as a hypnotherapist and sure enough it is a family band with dad Darren accompanied by his sons Adam (on banjo) and Ben (on drums). Ben is 13, Adam a bit older I think. A commendable idea to showcase the family talents no doubt but the problem here is that both boys are still beginners and really don’t get into any kind of groove at all throughout the album. The banjo just plinks at times and the drums (a full kit that is definitely out of step with the folk rock theme) are more suitable for a pub covers band. Continue reading “Skram “Head Held High” (Independent, 2017)”

Malcolm Holcombe “Pretty Little Troubles” (Gypsy Eyes Music, 2017)

For those not familiar with Malcolm Holcombe, he is somewhat of an institution. There aren’t many artists that can say they’ve had a career quite like him and after 20 years and 15 studio recordings, he’s still going as strong as ever and continuing to expand on the vast body of work he has built. The production on the record is crisp and clean and allows room for the impressive guitar skills of Holcombe to shine through along with some subtle and perfectly placed harmonica to compliment the gravelly, whiskey-drenched and rough-around-the-edges vocals we’ve come to expect from him. Continue reading “Malcolm Holcombe “Pretty Little Troubles” (Gypsy Eyes Music, 2017)”

Ray Davies “Americana” (Sony, 2017)

Ray Davies return with his first album in a decade, if we discount the various Kinks collaborations and choral reworking.  It stands as a testament that everything changes and nothing changes since Working Man’s Café dropped as the newly knighted Sir Ray turns his attention to the country which has had a profound effect on his life, America, yet still manages to return to the recurring themes of isolation reaction to change in the modern world. Continue reading “Ray Davies “Americana” (Sony, 2017)”

Bob Cheevers “Fifty Years Sampler” (Howling Dog Records, 2017)

In recognition of a half century of songwriting Bob Cheevers has pulled together a comprehensive 5CD, 83 song retrospective which covers, it’s claimed, ten genres of music, and taking a mix of songs from his albums as well as some unreleased recordings. I’m not completely sure what the ten genres are meant to be but country, western, folk, popular jazz, blues, rock, and singer-songwriter are all represented here on this ten track sampler. What it reveals is a hugely accomplished songwriter, and an idiosyncratic singer in the Willie Nelson mode. Continue reading “Bob Cheevers “Fifty Years Sampler” (Howling Dog Records, 2017)”

Brock Zeman “The Carnival is Back in Town” (Busted Flat Records, 2017)

Canadian musician Brock Zeman has had an excellent career and shows no sign of slowing up his output with his thirteenth release, the highly ambitious ‘The Carnival Is Back In Town’. 10 years in the making the album has already been scrapped once but Brock decided that it was worth taking a chance on and teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Blair Hogan and drummer Dylan Roberts alongside a number of other talented musicians, to have another go at bringing his carnival to life and it was well worth both his time and the obvious effort that went into creating it. Continue reading “Brock Zeman “The Carnival is Back in Town” (Busted Flat Records, 2017)”

Joe Martin “Small World” (Independent, 2017)

Youthful Red Rose native Joe Martin has crossed the Pennines to begin his musical adventures from a West Yorkshire base, physically at least. Spiritually he’s rooted in the 1970s American singer-songwriter world of Don McLean, Jackson Browne and James Taylor. These songs amply demonstrate that he’s worthy of a seat at their high table. Continue reading “Joe Martin “Small World” (Independent, 2017)”

Ha Ha Tonka “Heart-Shaped Mountain” (Bloodshot, 2017)

In which HHT continue to expand their brand of indie-Americana, sometimes resulting in excursions into areas that maybe should remain off limits. Mostly though they find a sweet spot where they find surging choruses that scream for a crossover hit and retain enough authenticity to not alienate a substantial part of their audience. So sensibly they kick-off with Race To The Bottom not so much driven by guitars but kicked and jabbed with a cattle-prod, with a chorus that you can sing along to on first listen (see below). They sound like the Kings of Leon without the disadvantage of the constipated vocals. There’s not a great deal of originality but they tackle everything gamely with huge enthusiasm and the proximity to Tom Petty I hear on Everything is easily shrugged away.  Continue reading “Ha Ha Tonka “Heart-Shaped Mountain” (Bloodshot, 2017)”

Oh Susanna “A Girl in Teen City” (Continental Song City, 2017)

Everyone has been, or will be, a teenager at some point in their lives and although we all have different personal experiences throughout those years, the feelings we have; the sense of hope for the future, the sense of adventure and as you grow older, the sense of nostalgia you have looking back is something that everyone can relate to. Oh Susanna makes an attempt to channel that sense of nostalgia into the twelve songs present on her newest release ‘A Girl In Teen City’ and she does a mighty fine job of it, so much so, that you feel like it could have been your story she is telling. Continue reading “Oh Susanna “A Girl in Teen City” (Continental Song City, 2017)”

Beth//James “All In Life” (Independent 2017)

Firstly, let’s remove one potentially confusing element of this debut EP. The clue’s in the double slash, it’s not Beth James the solo artist but Austin-based folk duo Mikaela Beth Kahn and Jordan James Burchill that we are concerned with here. I mention this only because you wouldn’t have been alone if you hadn’t yet seen the cover and been the victim of a double take on hearing Jordan’s unmistakably masculine, albeit tenor voice kicking off first track and single Lion Eyes. Continue reading “Beth//James “All In Life” (Independent 2017)”