Blitzen Trapper “Wild And Reckless” (Lojinx, 2017)

The thing which saved Blitzen Trapper from being run of the mill was their embracing of risk: they can be joyous and frustrating, and on this record they are no different, only, in common with their recent releases, less so. They start with the blue-collar Americana of Rebel and then they hit paydirt of sorts with the title track which hits the spot somewhere between the Drive By Truckers and Bryan Adams, which is not meant to sound snide. The song is a fist-pumper, balancing a strain of nostalgic melancholy with an uplifting chorus that cuts straight to the point. It should be the sound that pours out of a thousand convertibles. Continue reading “Blitzen Trapper “Wild And Reckless” (Lojinx, 2017)”

James Summerfield “Doubt” (Say AARGH Records, 2018)

Birmingham man James Summerfield’s sixth album both conforms to and belies its title. Conformity comes from the earlier songs, where he explores and, I fear, chronicles from personal experience, struggles with mental health. But as things progress one, two, more cracks appear and the light gets in so that by the end things look, if not rosy, certainly distinctly more positive. Such subject matter might appear unpromising and the fare on offer here is certainly not light but it is uplifting and inspiring, in both its honesty and its hope and the music, regardless of the subject matter, is simply glorious. Continue reading “James Summerfield “Doubt” (Say AARGH Records, 2018)”

The Wailin’ Jennys “Fifteen” (True North Records,2017)

Six years after their last album The Wailin’ Jennys (Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, & Heather Masse) reconvened for a five day recording session. The title? Well – it’s fifteen years since the original trio (Carla Luft had the gig before Heather Masse) got together for a one-off show in a Winnipeg guitar shop. Once they realised just how well their voices blended in gorgeous three part harmonies it made more sense to carry on performing together – a decision that led on to two Juno awards and a clutch of well received albums. Continue reading “The Wailin’ Jennys “Fifteen” (True North Records,2017)”

Martin Rὅssel. “Don’t Blame Me” (Erik Alx Sund Records, 2017)

For an album that’s been ten years in the making, Sweden’s Martin Rὅssel’s Don’t Blame Me turns out to be a relatively taut affair. Turns out that Rὅssel is an in demand producer in Sweden and elsewhere and was continually sidetracked by various projects. As he says in the liner notes, “Deadlines are tough but sometimes good, and I had none.” However he eventually had the songs in ship shape order and managed to recruit an army of around 30 musicians (including Marty Wilson-Piper on guitar) for the recording. Despite the plethora of players Rὅssel turns in a tightly wound selection of songs with several of them saluting the bands and artists he grew up hearing. Continue reading “Martin Rὅssel. “Don’t Blame Me” (Erik Alx Sund Records, 2017)”

Jim White “Waffles Triangles & Jesus” (Loose, 2017)

Jim White’s first couple of records are classics of the genre; they were strange missives and they heralded a new voice. It’s frightening to think that it is 20 years since Wrong-Eyed Jesus and this latest record – with a title that’s almost a parody of a Jim White record title – tries hard but ultimately falls short. White is an engaging performer and live he often bends his songs into interesting new shapes. White doesn’t make bad records, he doesn’t write bad songs, but he didn’t used to write ordinary songs and he does now, and that’s what is disappointing. Continue reading “Jim White “Waffles Triangles & Jesus” (Loose, 2017)”

Tom Russell, The 100 Club, London, 1st December 2017

It doesn’t pay to be late to a Tom Russell gig, you might miss the opening act who takes the stage to do a little “guess that tune” as he plays snippets of road songs. A little bit of Pancho and Lefty, a little snippet of Guy Clark, it could be anything, even Leonard Cohen.  Since he’s a gruff voiced seventy year old American in a cowboy hat with an easy line of patter then you really don’t want to miss the support. Having warmed up both the audience and his own voice it was time for Tom Russell to emerge from his carefully crafted disguise as himself – a gruff voiced seventy year old American in a cowboy hat, with an easy line of patter. Continue reading “Tom Russell, The 100 Club, London, 1st December 2017”

Various “13 Days Of Xmas” (Bloodshot Records 2017)

Christmas comes but once a year and for the country community it’s the perfect excuse to drip an extra tear into the beer and mourn another year of lost love and lonely hearts. 13 Days Of Xmas is a compilation of artists with one thing in common – the festive season blues. The relish which Bloodshot Records upholds the tradition of good ‘ol guys and gals in the gutter certainly stays true to the Western character. Bloodshot have served the alternative music community out of Chicago since 1994 and are this year offering up an Americana album of various label family members along with their usual festive bargains. It’s touted as a “Thirteen-song compilation of off-kilter original Christmas songs and unlikely covers” and the darkness is there for all to see (sic). Continue reading “Various “13 Days Of Xmas” (Bloodshot Records 2017)”

Ian Felice + Gill Landry, The Borderline, London. 27th November 2017

Pretty much a sell out at the revamped Borderline for Ian Felice’s first solo foray to these shores. It’s been a busy period what with a new baby, propping up the excellent Conor Oberst’s album and tour and now an excellent new album full of image soaked Americana and a tour to support it. The crowd ( including Loose alumni Danny Champ and label boss Tom – here as a fan as much as management) can’t wait, but they have to for tonight it’s no tacked on support but a full blown talent in his own right. Continue reading “Ian Felice + Gill Landry, The Borderline, London. 27th November 2017”

Rhiannon Giddens + Kaia Kater, The Stables, Milton Keynes, 21st November 2017

Sometimes the frequent gig goer gets lucky and catches a big performance with a full band in a smaller, more intimate venue that results in a truly fabulous night.  Rhiannon Giddens, on her latest tour, was clearly playing to 1000+ venues with a 7 piece big name band which must have made very little economic sense in the 400 seat Stables.  Built by Cleo Lane and Johnny Dankworth as an intimate jazz venue with phenomenal acoustics, The Stables is a really enjoyable place to see live music – lots of parking and friendly volunteers who staff the hall make it a warm and comfortable music lover’s delight. Giddens has had an amazingly busy year with almost nonstop touring building on the huge success of her Freedom Highway album which was produced by T Bone Burnett and which cemented her departure from the far more roots based Carolina Chocolate Drops.  She has really spread her wings and soared, winning multiple awards and even a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation worth $625k. Continue reading “Rhiannon Giddens + Kaia Kater, The Stables, Milton Keynes, 21st November 2017”

Imelda May, Royal Albert Hall, London, 22nd November 2017

On the last night of her UK tour Imelda May walked onstage to rapturous applause for her first headline gig at the Royal Albert Hall and performed a stunning stripped back rendition of Call Me.  This immediately demonstrated both her confidence and her clear and strong vocals.  The respectful silence showed that the crowd were spellbound which was confirmed by the reception she received once the song had finished. Her latest album Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, produced in Nashville by the legendary T Bone Burnett, has been the most successful and critically reviewed of her career. She showcased many tracks from the album and it was easy to see why she has won several awards this year and been nominated for International Artist of the Year for the UK Americana Awards 2018 Continue reading “Imelda May, Royal Albert Hall, London, 22nd November 2017”