Black Tar Roses “Rebels, Rogues and Outlaws” (Independent, 2019)

There is sometimes a danger of folk albums – and especially those labelled in sub-genres such as Dark Folk, as the release notes for this debut offering from ‘Black Tar Roses’ describe the band – to be a touch homogenous, with songs too standardised and samey to enjoy listening to as a whole album. Fortunately, this is not the case with ‘Rebels, Rogues and Outlaws’, an album of songs with enough diversity to keep things interesting.
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Drivin N Cryin “Live the Love Beautiful” (Independent, 2019)

Not seen since 2009’s ‘Whatever Happened to the Great American Bubble Factory’, Drivin N Cryin are back with a powerful and accomplished album produced by Aaron Lee Tasjan. The album, ‘Live the Love Beautiful’ is a great rock album, edgy with punk in places, steeped in fantastic melodies and insightful lyrics. It feels like an album that should be heard live. Hell, it feels like an album that is live. This is testament to Tasjan’s production approach as many of the songs were recorded in a series of live takes at Welcome to 1979 Studio in Nashville, Tennessee.

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E.G. Phillips “At Home At Sea” (Independent, 2019)

As a singer/songwriter it’s always considered an advantage to have a distinctive voice – but can a voice be a little too “distinctive”? You can argue that a very distinctive voice never harmed the sales of the likes of Tiny Tim, Tom Waits, Neil Young and many more – but it will often polarise opinion; for every fan of Tom Waits’ signature growl there will be someone who is less than enthusiastic. Continue reading “E.G. Phillips “At Home At Sea” (Independent, 2019)”

Karen Jonas “Lucky, Revisited” (Independent, 2019)

“Hang on to your hats boys”… and so begins the first bit of advice from Karen Jonas at the start of ‘Ophelia’ the first song on ‘Lucky, Revisited’. It would be well to take heed because what follows is a rip-roaring hoe down played with the sort of gusto any thrash-metal band would be proud of. But instead of de-tuned distortion imagine Albert Lee circa ‘Country Boy’ backing the hollering lungs of Maria Mckee. The song offers guidance (Jonas’ second piece of advice on the album) to one of Shakespeare’s ‘you fell for a wrong’ un girl’ characters: Ophelia + Hamlet with enough fervour to make the bard’s quill quiver. The question to Ophelia “But honey, didn’t you read Romeo and Juliet?” is smart, funny and indicative of Jonas’ writing quality.
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Erisy Watt “Paints In The Sky” (Independent, 2019)

Although raised in Nashville, Erisy Watt has a voice and musical style that is a million miles away from much of what is churned out of Music City these days. Watt instead veers more toward the soulful, jazzy, folk sound of the likes of Norah Jones and, on ‘Paints in the Sky’, her debut album, she has created a thing of beauty, a veritable treat for the ears. Continue reading “Erisy Watt “Paints In The Sky” (Independent, 2019)”

Sam Baker “Horses and Stars” (Independent, 2019)

Coming 15 years after his debut album, ‘Mercy’, Sam Baker has released his first live album and ‘Horses and Stars’ is a corker of a record that captures everything that is great about his live performances. Recorded at the Imagine Event Center in Buffalo, NY in July 2018, Baker, in his own inimitable semi-spoken style, weaves his way through a selection of songs that paint evocative pictures of abandonment, alcohol, drug addiction, car wrecks and (especially topical in these days) illegal migrant border crossings from Mexico into the US.
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Ida Mae “Chasing Lights” (Thirty Tigers, 2019)

Chasing Lights‘ is the debut album from this British-born duo, and what a debut it is; showcasing a depth and breadth of talent as well as a range of styles, from tender folk to swaggering rock and roll. Now based in Nashville, the pair have their feet planted firmly in the fertile soil of American roots music. Even their band name, Ida Mae, comes from an old Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee song, and this heritage courses through the record with dazzling vitality. Continue reading “Ida Mae “Chasing Lights” (Thirty Tigers, 2019)”

Che Apalache “Rearrange My Heart” (Free Dirt Records, 2019)

“Now, you and I can sing a song / and we can build a congregation / but only when we take a stand / will we change our broken nation.” Those lyrics are lifted from ‘The Dreamer,’ the first single from ‘Rearrange My Heart,’ the new album from Americana/Latingrass/folk group Che Apalache. ‘The Dreamer’ chronicles the life of Moises Serrano, a DACA Dreamer born in Mexico and raised in North Carolina, also the home state of Che Apalache frontman, Joe Troop. Troop worked on the song with Serrano (who is also the subject of a documentary, ‘Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America’), and it’s the centrepiece of a powerful and diverse album that musically touches on everything from bluegrass, Americana, and folk, to Latin, jazz, swing, even rural Japanese melodies. Continue reading “Che Apalache “Rearrange My Heart” (Free Dirt Records, 2019)”

Western States “From The Center Out” (Independent, 2019)

I wanted to dig up old demons who still pull the strings…” declares Tim Lloyd, whose previous band The Doxies, were once hailed as “that rare creature, the great Midwestern rock band”. Now fronting the Western States, Lloyd continues to harness the Mississippi River winds, providing country-infused rock to the St Louis faithful around the old Soulard district and further afield. ‘From The Center Out’ is a collection of character-driven narratives on populist disillusion. Snapshots from the opposite end of the American Dream. Continue reading “Western States “From The Center Out” (Independent, 2019)”

Rickie Lee Jones “Kicks” (The Other Side of Desire, 2019)

This is Rickie Lee Jones’ fifth covers album if you include the ‘Girl at Her Volcano’ EP, following on from 2012s ‘The Devil You Know‘. As usual ‘Kicks‘ mixes ’70s rock covers with some jazz and standards. This one feels more of a mixture than some of her previous entries. The song choices are interesting, starting with one of her best ever cover versions in ‘Bad Company‘ featuring some fine electric guitar work from Jones herself. Continue reading “Rickie Lee Jones “Kicks” (The Other Side of Desire, 2019)”