400 Bears “400 Bears” (2020)

‘400 Bears’ is the self-titled solo project of Paul Wilkinson from the band Mason Porter.  Wilkinson describes the album as being guided by the spirits of music his parents introduced him to when he was younger.  He states that “Dylan and Grateful Dead — were a gateway into all kinds of stuff.”  The songs on ‘400 Bears’ feel exploratory in nature dipping in and out of these frameworks introducing folk and country tones with some songs tipping into the arena of blues music.  Wilkinson’s vocal style is influenced by his childhood heroes but is individual enough that it adds to the canon of Americana music. Continue reading “400 Bears “400 Bears” (2020)”

Wayne Graham “1% Juice” (Hometown Caravan, 2020)

Wayne Graham, a musical partnership between brothers Kenny and Hayden Miles, badge themselves as an alt-country/Americana group, and this self-produced twelve-track album lives up to the billing, with a foot firmly in both camps. With roots in the music of East Kentucky, Central Appalachia, the band formed in 2010 and have half a dozen album releases to their name. Their latest release blends a wide range of influences, while never losing their Americana core. Continue reading “Wayne Graham “1% Juice” (Hometown Caravan, 2020)”

Matt Owens “Scorched Earth” (Independent, 2020)

Take a large portion of Willie Nile, add a soupçon of Neil Young, a dash of Tom Petty and a pinch of The Pogues. Then stir in some folk, a little rock, a mournful harmonica, Celtic fiddle a funky guitar solo or two and an ethereal female voice,  some double-tracking and reverb, stir vigorously and add a little seasoning to taste. That should be the recipe for a great album but in the case of Matt Owens’ second solo record ‘Scorched Earth’, the sum isn’t greater than the parts and to beat  (pun intended) the analogy to death, it doesn’t really rise and falls a little bit flat. Continue reading “Matt Owens “Scorched Earth” (Independent, 2020)”

Tyler Ramsey “Found a Picture of You” (Fantasy Records, 2020)

Tyler Ramsey has been pursuing his solo career now for long enough and with sufficient rigour for us to approach his music without any thoughts of his previous band. The new covers EP ‘Found A Picture Of You’, is his fifth solo release and as far removed from his previous equine related activity than he has ever been. The record comes with a very clear philosophy of its own; Ramsey himself explaining that the project was “purely for fun” and that he wanted to avoid anything overwrought in bringing these songs together in a way that acknowledges the impact they have had on him over the years. Continue reading “Tyler Ramsey “Found a Picture of You” (Fantasy Records, 2020)”

Martin Simpson “Home Recordings” (Topic, 2020)

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Martin Simpson needs no introduction. The most nominated individual in the history of the BBC Folk Awards, Simpson is well known as an outstanding writer and musician. He had planned for his next album to be a live one, but a global pandemic put paid to that. Unable to perform or head into a studio, Simpson began to revisit and revise songs he had been playing for years. He has said that the absence of a live audience added a new level of intimacy to the process, and he spent long months repeating and finessing arrangements. The aptly named ‘Home Recordings’ is the ultimate result of this process, and it is a delight. Continue reading “Martin Simpson “Home Recordings” (Topic, 2020)”

Darren Jessee “Remover” (Bar/None Records, 2020)

In ‘Remover’ Darren Jessee communicates a deep introspection through his direct lyrics and expansive sound. There is a sequence to the tracks so to fully appreciate Jessee’s musing and sonic scope listen from start to finish without interruption or distraction. Jessee’s musical career has been varied. Many will recall him as the drummer in the 90’s indie band Ben Folds Five, after which came Hotel Lights, Hiss Golden Messenger and work with War on Drugs and Sharon Van Etten. His debut solo ‘The Jane, Room 217’ was a great deal more meditative, a direction he has taken further with ‘Remover’. Continue reading “Darren Jessee “Remover” (Bar/None Records, 2020)”

Golden Bear “Dear Texas” (C-Side Records, 2020)

Golden Bear want to take you on a journey across the band’s home state of Texas. As implied by the title, the album is declared as a love letter to the lone star state. Recorded during lockdown, with all band members contributing their individual parts from home, the theme of wanting to be out on the road and travelling through the great wide-open spaces of their homeland is ever present. Continue reading “Golden Bear “Dear Texas” (C-Side Records, 2020)”

Doug Schmude “Mileposts” (Independent, 2020)

Doug Schmude has flown under the radar for seventeen years, producing four studio albums and now this EP. If you have not yet heard the previous you can start here. Born in  Louisiana, but residing in at least eight different states so far, Schmude’s music is as hard to place as his accent. A multi-instrumentalist, Schmude plays acoustic and electric guitars, bass, mandolin, lap steel guitar, Dobro, and even performed drums on one track on the EP. Continue reading “Doug Schmude “Mileposts” (Independent, 2020)”

Laura Fell “Safe from Me” (Balloon Machine Records, 2020)

It’s fair to say that 2020 has been a pretty tough year for all, so we might all be able to benefit from seeing a therapist right now; step forward London-based Laura Fell with her debut album. As a psychotherapist by day, she is sharing some of her wisdom, alongside her own journey of self-discovery – despite people assuming she already knows all the answers. Continue reading “Laura Fell “Safe from Me” (Balloon Machine Records, 2020)”

Wills and the Willing “London Country” (Absolute Records, 2020)

Ian Wills, the driving force behind Wills and the Willing, has certainly led a colourful life. A heroin addict at 13, he survived a suicide attempt at 15. Later he made money as a wheeler-dealer, including famously flying to the USA to buy up a job lot of Former MI5 agent Peter Wright’s ‘Spycatcher’ book that the 1980s Thatcher government had banned in Britain, and then selling them on to people prepared to pay “stupid money” to obtain a copy. He is now an established business figure. Wills’ money and contacts have enabled him to assemble an impressive array of musicians to play on this his fourth album, including ex-Style Council member Mick Talbot. There are also guest appearances from ex-Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech on drums and footballer turned Hollywood actor Vinnie Jones on backing vocals. All very well I hear you say – but is it any good? Continue reading “Wills and the Willing “London Country” (Absolute Records, 2020)”