Curtis Eller “A Poison Melody” (Independent, 2019)

Curtis Eller is a dynamic bandleader and banjo player who channels a great sense of vaudevillian Victorians to his idiosyncratic musical vision. Opening with ‘Radiation Poison‘, Eller sets the tone by throwing the kitchen sink at the song – shouted choruses, wild horns and above all a driving banjo that set the concerned lyrics into sharp relief. ‘No Soap Radio’ follows – this time driven by a scuzzy, wailing saxophone and a guitar riff as old as rock and roll itself.
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I See Hawks In L.A. & The Good Intentions “Hawks With Good Intentions” (Western Seeds Record Company, 2019)

California’s I See Hawks In L.A. and Liverpool’s Good Intentions met and became friends at a house concert in California back in 2012. Since then, the bands have shared stages in the States and here in the UK and along the way they began writing some songs together, the first fruits of their joint effort displayed on the Hawks’ last album, ‘Live And Never Learn‘, which had two songs co-written with Peter Davies of Good Intentions. Bouncing emails and mp3 files across the Atlantic they eventually came up with the ten songs on display here, sections recorded in L.A. and Liverpool with each of the bands’ contributions stitched together so well that the join is never seen. As it says on the sleeve, “Gleaming technology serving acoustic guitars and down home harmonies.” Continue reading “I See Hawks In L.A. & The Good Intentions “Hawks With Good Intentions” (Western Seeds Record Company, 2019)”

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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The Rails, The Lexington, London, 31 July 2019

When folk royalty such as Richard Thompson venture into the adjoining pub before this sold out show, it tends to ramp up the pressure somewhat. It’s a challenge that his daughter, the prodigiously talented Kami Thompson and her husband,  James Walbourne, seem more than ready to meet, however, as they perform an excellent show, showcasing no fewer than eight of the ten songs from their forthcoming release, ‘Cancel the Sun’. Continue reading “The Rails, The Lexington, London, 31 July 2019”

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)”

Josh Ritter + Ida Mae, Union Chapel, London, 23rd July 2019

It was another warm evening for this second night of a two-night stand at London’s famed Union Chapel – the record-breaking temperatures of the day trailing off with a long tail. Under the stage lights, Josh Ritter, with his full band backing him, was showing the effect of the heat but held nothing back on a set which revisited some of his back catalogue but was also a great opportunity to hear the really strong new songs from his latest album ‘Fever Breaks’ live. It was a setlist with two themes – respecting the venue, there seemed to be many of Ritter’s songs which make use of religious, and specifically Christian, imagery with a second strand of concern for American democracy. Continue reading “Josh Ritter + Ida Mae, Union Chapel, London, 23rd July 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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