Thea Gilmore “The Counterweight” (Cooking Vinyl, 2017)

Thea Gilmore has been a song-writing heavyweight on the British circuit for a long time and has shown a knack for consistent quality and a down-to-earth music that fiddles with genre and tweaks the nose of expectation. Can her latest album live up to such heady appeal or has the magic touch run dry for the Oxford singer?  Continue reading “Thea Gilmore “The Counterweight” (Cooking Vinyl, 2017)”

The 4 Of Us “Sugar Island” (FutureCD, 2017)

The album cover does a tidy job of setting the scene for its themes: smiling mum in a floppy hat, car door open, four, maybe five kids squashed in the back, off on holiday in those Seventies days of laxer passenger restrictions and fewer collision avoidance systems. It most obviously relates to Going South, the second of 12 tracks on the veteran Northern Irish outfit’s latest long player, with its bored narrator killing time in the back of the motor “winding down a window so I don’t catch a share of cigarette smoke hanging in the air”.  Continue reading “The 4 Of Us “Sugar Island” (FutureCD, 2017)”

Nick Heyward “Woodland Echoes” (Gladsome Hawk, 2017)

Those of you who still remember Nick Heyward from his days fronting Haircut 100 (humorously described in the press release as a New Wave group) may be surprised by this record, but anyone who has paid attention to what he’s done since won’t be. Ever since his first few solo singles like Whistle Down the Wind, he’s been moving away from the itchy pop funk that made him, the only echo of it here being the opening bars of The Stars. This record is full of naturalistic images. So thickly does he lays it on that he makes Thomas Hardy seem like Elmore Leonard. There’s the sound of birdsong at the start of Beautiful Morning, which unfolds like a flower welcoming the sun, then goes mildly rococo with the detail, bucolic 100. Continue reading “Nick Heyward “Woodland Echoes” (Gladsome Hawk, 2017)”

Lost Harbours “Towers of Silence” (Liminal Noise Tapes, 2017)

This recording is many things – it is haunting and ethereally beautiful in places. It is well performed and produced. It is intriguing and often quite fascinating. What it is not, in any way, shape or form, is Americana. There’s been quite a bit of discussion at AUK recently about what actually constitutes the Americana genre of music and, while there’s a bit of disagreement about an exact definition, there is general agreement that Americana draws on American roots music – blues, country and folk. Continue reading “Lost Harbours “Towers of Silence” (Liminal Noise Tapes, 2017)”

Alex Rex “Vermillion” (Tin Angel Records 2017)

Alex Rex (as Alex Neilson) is the singer, songwriter and drummer from Tumbling Bells. And that is just the start. In musical circles and beyond, this musician from Glasgow, has a huge reputation. Rhythmically, he appears unexpectedly, for instance, in Shirley Collins’ “Lodestar” where, on the first track he is playing cymbals, and, in “Pretty Polly,” the drum beats from half way through, are his!  But “Vermillion” is his debut solo album, and as such, should be taken note of, and applauded. The title itself is a clue to the colourful and often challenging nature of the songs Alex has written. His voice bears testimony to the value of his lyrics. Continue reading “Alex Rex “Vermillion” (Tin Angel Records 2017)”

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires “Youth Detention” (Don Giovanni Records 2017)

This is the album that, despite the title, sees the combative and essential Alabama rock outfit who are more ‘punk’ than many of the modern bands who claim to be, hit full maturity. It is also an album that goes beyond any “protest” label and instead paints a picture of a fractured society from within, albeit one that offers no little optimism. Continue reading “Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires “Youth Detention” (Don Giovanni Records 2017)”

Juanita Stein “America” (Nude Records, 2017)

This record reminds me a lot of the Coco Hames record from early in the year; a solo debut that explores several styles is always a pleasant listen but lacks an essential sense of identity to mark it out from the crowd. At times where the songs need something to push them on, they drift. Stargazer is a case in point, it is lovely, her voice is good, the melody is satisfying but it just doesn’t reach out and grab me. Similarly Cold Comfort resurrects standard Country tropes, pleasantly – it doesn’t do anything, which is frustrating as she is clearly capable of more than just settling for these pleasant genre pieces. Continue reading “Juanita Stein “America” (Nude Records, 2017)”

Hard Working Americans “We’re All In This Together” (Melvin Records/Thirty Tigers 2017)

Hard Working Americans are what might be called a “supergroup” in some circles, with members being drawn from Widespread Panic and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The band’s musical credentials are impressive and they have a good sound, based fairly firmly in the southern rock genre. Formed in 2013 they’ve put out three albums prior to this new release without ever really making much impact outside the U.S. and it’s hard to see this latest release being the one to change that. “We’re All in This Together” is a live album (as was 2014’s The First Waltz) and it’s really one for the established fan. Continue reading “Hard Working Americans “We’re All In This Together” (Melvin Records/Thirty Tigers 2017)”

Mark Olson “Spokeswoman of The Bright Sun” (Glitterhouse Records, 2017)

If the marvellously vague and broad church that is Americana incorporates a wealth of musical genres then the latest offering by the critically acclaimed songwriter and ex Jayhawk Mark Olson undoubtedly has its roots firmly in the world of American folk. Spokeswoman of The Bright Sun was recorded in the summer of 2016 at the Joshua Tree home of Mark Olson and his wife and musical partner Ingunn Ringvold and it is that desert environment that has provided the driving narrative behind this new album. Continue reading “Mark Olson “Spokeswoman of The Bright Sun” (Glitterhouse Records, 2017)”

The Last Dinosaur “The Nothing” (Naim Records, 2017)

“The Nothing” is the long-awaited follow-up to The Last Dinosaurs’ debut album and it is evident from the outset that, that time has been well spent. The record opens with the short, gentle acoustic track Atoms accompanied solely by the whispered vocals of the front man and brainchild, Jamie Cameron, and a beautiful string arrangement to add some depth to an otherwise sparse track. The opener is a good indication of the overall sound of the record in terms of the musicianship and the themes explored throughout and second track Grow takes that formula and builds on it adding drums and another whispered vocal. Continue reading “The Last Dinosaur “The Nothing” (Naim Records, 2017)”