Colin Hay, Union Chapel, Islington, London 4th April 2017

When a panel voted recently on the best Australian songs of the modern era, three of the top ten were penned by Scots. The Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind” topped the list, co-written by George Young whose brothers Angus and Malcolm were behind the number nine, AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to Rock”. Neither of these are overtly Aussie, which cannot be said of the song that came fourth, written by the man working the audience in
Upper St. tonight. Colin Hay, the solo troubadour behind the mike and behind the song in question (more of that later) was Men at Work’s founder and frontman who moved from Saltcoats in Scotland to Australia in his teens. However he has lived in California since the demise of the band, almost 35 years ago, making him more than qualified to deliver a new album “Fierce Mercy” where the influences of his adopted homeland come to the fore. He chats about inspiration – he cites Gene Pitney, the Walker Brothers and Roy Orbison but in addition to those, echoes of The Beach Boys, Jackson Browne and Bob Seger are all evident in this latest piece. Continue reading “Colin Hay, Union Chapel, Islington, London 4th April 2017”

Big Surr “In Business” (Independent, 2017)

Being in love is such fun, isn’t it? When it stops being you against the world and starts being us against the world. To be understood. And supported. And to go cruising in a car laughing at all the poor saps around you who haven’t got – and never will have – this glorious indestructible shield against the world. In Business opens with Alright, which freeze dries those feelings and drops them in your pocket. With her perfect disdainful popular girl vocals Helen Van gives the restrained cool version of these feelings, with the understated “Since I’ve been with you I’ve been alright, I’ve been alright” whilst the underlying guitar hooks provided by the band betray the thrill down the spine truth of her emotions.  Continue reading “Big Surr “In Business” (Independent, 2017)”

Alun Parry “Freedom Rider” (Independent, 2017)

The voice of Americana folk singer-songwriter Alun Parry bursts from the speakers in a bouncy, upbeat fashion. He loves to delve into themes rich in social injustice. Billy Bragg, Woody Guthrie and Roy Bailey among others of the ilk have no doubt been a huge influence on his music and helped him find a voice in the world. He sings and writes about real people, real situations and of what to some might be small  issues but shape lives, shape the world even, as in the case of the mid-paced title-track Freedom Rider where he speaks of the 1960s struggle for equality in the American South, and though a little lightweight Parry delivers the message. Give it a little Billy Bragg-esque fire to his vocals and lyrics and he would have a winner!  Continue reading “Alun Parry “Freedom Rider” (Independent, 2017)”

Louie Ludwig “I Got Nothin To Say” (Independent, 2017)

New Orleans singer-songwriter Louie Ludwig makes music that jumps off the page as he and his friends have put together an electric variety of sounds. Somewhat quirky, always original Ludwig and this fine set of Louisiana players serve up country, folk, blues, jazz with a hint of pop and 1970s American singer-songwriter.  There are major contributions from Chris Waterman (bass), Clay Parker (acoustic, electric guitar, banjo), Danny Kane (steel guitar) and Eric Reed (drums) plus slots from Gina Forsyth (fiddle), Bart Ramsey (piano), Patrick Sylvest (mandolin), Mike Rosato (harmonica) and brass from Derek Huston (saxophone) and Craig Klein (trombone) and others. Ludwig’s music is about a sound, a thoughtful cool as they come groove; his lyrics are simple, his homespun philosophy of the kind the listener can quickly become lost absorbing the gorgeous hues.  Continue reading “Louie Ludwig “I Got Nothin To Say” (Independent, 2017)”

Over The Rhine, Cecil Sharp House, London, Sunday 2nd April 2017

On Sunday night, Over The Rhine brought their uniquely American sound to the home of English Folk Music. The Kennedy Hall in Cecil Sharp House is an imposing room and appeared to be full. While their albums and live shows in the U.S often feature a full band the essence of Over The Rhine is Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler as a duo, mixing voices, piano & acoustic guitars. What struck me after hearing their live recordings was the emotional power of Karin’s singing on Born and Latter Days. On recent songs Linford shares the vocals more and this lends a warmth and intimacy to the songs, they often seem sing to each other as much as to the audience.

Continue reading “Over The Rhine, Cecil Sharp House, London, Sunday 2nd April 2017”

Imelda May “Life Love Flesh Blood” (Decca, 2017)

This is the first album from Imelda May since 2014 and it is impecably produced by none other than the legendary T Bone Burnett. The style represents a change of direction from the Dublin born singer who has emerged from the break up of her 18 year marriage with an album concentrating on matters of the heart. However, this is not introspective soul searching work but rather well thought out and intelligent songs about the human condition. Continue reading “Imelda May “Life Love Flesh Blood” (Decca, 2017)”

Ryan Lee “Always A River” (Independent, 2016)

Ryan Lee doesn’t perform like most singer-songwriters since he marches to the beat of a different drum. His style of work reminds me of the anguished torment associated with much of the work of the late Vic Chesnutt, as he weaves images awash in intricate artful beauty. Honest and unbending the lyrics are given flight by his interesting vocals and varied arrangements. Supported by guitars, piano, drums, percussion and harmony vocals Lee, who performs all duties apart from percussion on four tracks is said to have seen his life take an exciting turn when an unexpected love showed up, one to propel him into an exciting world of adventure, creative rebirth and wide-eyed optimism to the degree he now has an urgency to share his work with the world. Lee has grabbed hold of the opportunity to capitalise on the energy gained from this experience with both hands. On the song Simple he speaks of how he (and his love) are in the need of nothing or desire of the finer things such the feeling of contentment gained from them meeting.  Continue reading “Ryan Lee “Always A River” (Independent, 2016)”

Adult Karate “Indoors” (Plug Research, 2017)

This might be a hard sell, and to be straight from the outset there is not a shred of what most people would define as Americana in this release. Nor is there a touch of roots, or for that matter rocking. Adult Karate – which is for all intents and purposes KC Maloney – is an all electric band : yes, we’re talking synthesisers here. Continue reading “Adult Karate “Indoors” (Plug Research, 2017)”

South By Southwest Festival 2017. Austin, Texas

I normally advise Americana-loving friends who enquire about sxsw simply to visit Austin at any time of the year and check out venues like the Broken Spoke or the Saxon Pub to get the authentic Austin feel. You’ll be sure to see the likes of Jon Dee Graham, William Harries Graham, Bob Schneider, Darden Smith, James McMurtry and other such stalwarts of the scene. But there are certain sxsw American events that are unique to that week and are not to be missed.

The Yard Dog Gallery on South Congress has a yard at the back which is covered by a gazebo during sxsw and it is really worth spending a whole afternoon there, because the music is invariably top notch and the audience respectful and very much “up for it”. A common characteristic of all the places I shall describe is the superhuman amount of alcohol consumed. I’m by no means teetotal but I tell you, the amount these guys put away is mind-boggling. Nursing a three dollar local IPA, I was hugely entertained by a highly-wired Austin Lucas (whose Alone In Memphis always brings a lump to the throat), who also duetted with Mara Connor. Continue reading “South By Southwest Festival 2017. Austin, Texas”

Amelia Curran “Watershed” (Six Shooter Records, 2017)

Canadian singer-songwriter Amelia Curran utilises folk, country and pop in fine fashion. Her roving artistic style showing hints of Nashville famed acts Beth Nielsen Chapman and Rosanne Cash, and on the song No More Quiet I found traces of Shawn Colvin. Such the resolute feel of the song, the listener can’t help but be impressed with her work. Continue reading “Amelia Curran “Watershed” (Six Shooter Records, 2017)”