Wesley Stace “Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding” (Yep Roc, 2017)

A dream combination – Stace backed by the Jayhawks. Novelist and compere par excellence, the former John Wesley Harding releases his twentieth record. This time around he’s enlisted the help of Minneapolis’s finest. Stace has always been an intelligent, witty lyricist. His voice is polite and restrained in tone; sitting well with gentler, acoustic song arrangements. Opening track I Don’t Wanna Rock ‘n Roll is unfortunately true to intent – it doesn’t quite rock ‘n roll. If anything it’s an easy listening soft rock exercise which doesn’t mesh too well with Stace’s vocal qualities. Better Tell No-One Your Dreams is much the same – by no means a bad song but not quite as good as it should be.  Continue reading “Wesley Stace “Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding” (Yep Roc, 2017)”

Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro “Static in the Wires” (Del Mundo Records, 2017)

Martin Harley, globally established badass of lap steel guitar, and Daniel Kimbro, upright bass player whose gig, venue, and collaboration credits read like a folk fanboy’s bucket list, are back with a new album. “Static in the Wires” is mostly a bluesy affair, well balanced between electric and acoustic textures, with occasional spaced-out echoes thrown into the mix. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Harley record without some upbeat folky finger picking. Continue reading “Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro “Static in the Wires” (Del Mundo Records, 2017)”

Wolf People “Ruins” (Jagjaguwar, 2016)

Wolf People hold a special place in the spectrum of what we called for a while “psychfolk”. Their albums, and Ruins is no different in this, have a strong folk edge – Jack Sharp’s vocals have a clear English voice that sounds like it’s destined for some future incarnation of Fairport Convention. Songs appear with Argus-era Wishbone Ash melodies. There’s some flute in the mix. And then the edgy-pastoral Wickermanesque songs which might be about treasure hunting using a Hand Of Glory take a mighty side swerve into a harder Witchfinder General territory as crunching guitars, pounding drums and deep booming bass reveal Wolf People as a band enamoured of that late sixties heavy rock sound. Continue reading “Wolf People “Ruins” (Jagjaguwar, 2016)”

Old Crow Medicine Show ‘’Best Of’’ (Nettwerk, 2017)

Old Crown Medicine show are known for their amazing and energetic live shows and a fantastic folk repertoire throughout their discography. This greatest hits package comes exclusively from their three albums released with Nettwerk, including O.C.M.S in 2004, Big Iron World in 2006 and Tennessee Pusher in 2008. “Best Of” kicks off with Wagon Wheel their original song made a mega-hit by Darius Rucker covering it, selling it as a multi-platinum single. Old Crow Medicine Show’s version is much more palatable, with real grounding in roots, dominated by fiddle, banjo and folk harmonies. Indeed, Old Crow don’t escape string-dominated roots music for any of the record, and indeed for any of their discography. Continue reading “Old Crow Medicine Show ‘’Best Of’’ (Nettwerk, 2017)”

Lowlands and Friends “Play Townes Van Zandt’s Last Set” (Route 61/Harbour Song Records 2017)

Italian band Lowlands have form in the tribute album area with their homage to Woody Guthrie from a few years back a fine reimagining of the old hobo’s songs. Here they celebrate the late great Townes Van Zandt with a song by song delivery of his last ever setlist, a show at London’s Borderline on 3rd December 1996 just four weeks before his untimely death on January 1st. Edward Abbiati, the Anglo Italian lynchpin of Lowlands was at that show, an experience he describes in the extensive liner notes where he also writes about why he recorded the album and records his gratitude to the stellar friends who joined in the project. It’s an impressive line up with Sid Griffin, Chris Cacavas, Rod Picott, Antonio Gramentieri, The Lucky Strikes, Cheap Wine, Kevin Russell and Stiv Cantarelli just some of the artists involved. Continue reading “Lowlands and Friends “Play Townes Van Zandt’s Last Set” (Route 61/Harbour Song Records 2017)”

Curtis McMurtry “The Hornet’s Nest’ (2017, Independent)

Born and raised in Austin, Curtis McMurtry is following to some extent in his father, Americana stalwart James’s musical footsteps. Pops himself is the son of writer/screenwriter Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove, and Brokeback Mountain). The Hornet’s Nest is Curtis’s second album, a follow-up to 2014’s Respectable Enemy. You might say the youngster has a lot to live up to! Continue reading “Curtis McMurtry “The Hornet’s Nest’ (2017, Independent)”

The Lumineers “Cleopatra” (Decca Records 2016)

It’s time to reevaluate any preconceived conclusions you may have drawn about the Lumineers over their tub thumping, chart topping Ho Hey past. Those halcyon days of devil may care presidential playlist fun and games were glorious indeed, but now it seems it’s time to get serious. Rather than cashing in on the neo-folk knees-up of their 2012 self titled debut these Colorado troubadours have detoured down an altogether more sombre sidewalk. It is, of course, a commercial gamble and yet it feels totally justified. Perhaps this is why they steered clear of all those major labels who tried to capture the bird and clip its wings.  Continue reading “The Lumineers “Cleopatra” (Decca Records 2016)”

Chuck Prophet “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” (Yep Roc, 2017)

“One Two Three Four,” Chuck chimes in. And we are away! This is his fourteenth album, as always, catching you unawares. The origins of the first, title track explain a lot: One day, sitting in his “office,” South of Market, San Francisco, listening to old records with poet friend, klipschutz, apparently, he picked up his guitar with the words, “I hear that record crackle, the needle skips and jumps,” and klipschutz, spontaneously filled in the rest: “Bobby Fuller died for your sins.” Continue reading “Chuck Prophet “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” (Yep Roc, 2017)”

Nadine Khouri “The Salted Air” (One Flash Records 2017)

With a list of influences that are as broad as they are intriguing, the debut by Nadine Khouri, promises a great deal: interesting Lebanese heritage, production by John Parish (the chap that made PJ Harvey, messed with Giant Sand and confused Sparklehorse), all recorded in a dimly-lit Georgian vaulted basement in Bristol, and rendered with the help of Adrian Crowley, Parish and Emma Smith (of James Yorkston’s band)… the record doesn’t exactly scream ‘Americana’ from the rooftops, but I guess you should never judge a book by its cover (or a CD by it’s press release?). Continue reading “Nadine Khouri “The Salted Air” (One Flash Records 2017)”

Frontier Ruckus “Enter The Kingdom” (Loose, 2017)

Frontier Ruckus are a band that I should love: they have all the ingredients to draw me in with an agreeable blend of Americana stylings with lively dashes of power pop, literate lyrics and fine melodies. What’s not to love? The lyrics, no not even that, the subject and the settings are fine. It’s the formal structures, the rhyming schema, too clever by half buried rhymes, or laboured trowelled on poetry, the kind that says I’ve paid for my education and I’m going to use it. It irks me because they are so close to something really wonderful. Gerunds is melancholic with a swooning squadron of strings – sure the vocals are a little underpowered but that doesn’t bother me, just the highlighted lyrical flourishes that grate. Continue reading “Frontier Ruckus “Enter The Kingdom” (Loose, 2017)”