Johns & Nowak “Johns & Nowak” (Independent, 2016)

johns-nowak-2016Debut EPs often function as a calling card for new acts, showing the range of what they can do and this five (six on CD) is no exception.  It has a couple of originals, three covers from Sean Watkins, Bill Monroe and Gillian Welch & David Rawlings and something of a curveball in a slowed down stark take on “Bad Moon Rising”.  Andy Nowak takes most of the lead vocals and plays guitar while Camilla Johns handles mandolin duties and the occasional vocal.  The style is stripped back and sparse, the vocal tone ranges from wistful to mournful and the results are classy and compelling. Continue reading “Johns & Nowak “Johns & Nowak” (Independent, 2016)”

The Lumineers: Hammersmith Apollo, London – 4th November 2016

The Lumineers burst onto the scene with a huge breakthrough hit Ho, Hey, and quickly found themselves pigeonholed alongside the likes of Mumford & Sons. Whereas that band had shot religious imagery right through their lyrics and clung to a “every song builds to a crescendo” formula, The Lumineers were more interested in girls and relationships and a stripped down musical vibe. All that was four years ago, now in 2016 for their second album, Cleopatra, they’ve teamed up with Simone Felice as producer and steered in a direction that’s slightly darker whilst retaining a distinct upbeat undercurrent. And it clearly has wide-appeal, this sold out appearance was the first of two nights at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo. Continue reading “The Lumineers: Hammersmith Apollo, London – 4th November 2016”

3hattrio “Solitaire” (American Desert Music, 2016)

3hattrio-2016I’d never be one to suggest that experimentation is of itself not a good thing, and 3hattrio’s music does offer something new – their blend of elements of roots Americana with a modern jazz sensibility and an affection for sound effects is certainly removed from the mainstream. But, as Doctor Frankenstein discovered, not all experiments are an unqualified success. So, whilst Texas Time Traveller will do little to shock those who have followed Howe Gelb’s more out there compositions and extended improvisations, 3hattrios banjo led bluegrass version of “Get Up Stand Up” may raise a few eyebrows. Continue reading “3hattrio “Solitaire” (American Desert Music, 2016)”

Amanda Rheaume “Holding Patterns” (Independent, 2016)

"Rheaume-Amanda-2016"Having explored her family roots on 2014’s acclaimed Keep A Fire Ottawa’s Amanda Rheaume moves into a more mainstream sound on Holding Patterns. With producer Jim Bryson (of Weakerthans and Kathleen Edwards fame) on board the album is a classy selection of songs that run the gamut from radio friendly AOR to sensitive meditations on social issues. Very much an activist and engaged in several worthy causes locally Rheaume weaves her social conscience into the album with its central song, the deeply affecting “Red Dress” addressing the alarming situation in Canada regarding poorly investigated deaths of indigenous women (with proceeds from sales of the song as a single going to the cause). Continue reading “Amanda Rheaume “Holding Patterns” (Independent, 2016)”

Jeff Crosby “Waking Days” (At the Helm Records, 2015)

a0963400895_16Jeff Crosby though still young has just enough living under his belt to qualify as a seasoned performer, and a voice dripping in character with the songs to match. His worth as a songwriter if weighed in gold would take more than one man to carry. “Carved In Sandstone” speaks of how Tennessee got the best of him. Restlessly, he breezes through a succession of vividly painted scenes likened to those from the silver screen, or an independent cross-country road movie.  Continue reading “Jeff Crosby “Waking Days” (At the Helm Records, 2015)”

Dolly Parton “Pure & Simply” (RCA, 2016)

Dolly Parton, 2016The undisputed Queen of ‘Big Hat’ country music, now deemed cool having worked with Jack White has 42 studio albums to her name, and with this record her first No.1 in 25 years.  She is so famous and well known that she has become mono nominture; like Pele or Freud, this record is no change to the Dolly formula and is no change to what she’s done the best in that 25 years. Continue reading “Dolly Parton “Pure & Simply” (RCA, 2016)”

Todd Snider “Eastside Bulldog” (Thirty Tigers, 2016)

"Snider-Todd-2016"Apparently, Todd Snider has a doppelgänger, an East Nashville musical hooligan who goes by the name of Elmo Buzz and who has three rules on playing music. 1. “Play the bones of some Fifties or Sixties-sounding thing and make it just barely original enough to start a song.”2. “Only sing about fighting, fucking, getting fucked up, kickass cars, East Nashville or Bocephus — all other songs are stupid.” 3. “When in doubt, yell, ‘baby,’ and see what happens.” Continue reading “Todd Snider “Eastside Bulldog” (Thirty Tigers, 2016)”

Modern Studies “Swell To Great” (Song, By Toad Records, 2016)

modern-studiesThe sea surges and froths throughout these songs. They have all of the delicate beauty of an early morning coastal mist, they drift and coalesce or coalesce then drift. Like tidal surges, the asthmatic wheeze of the bellows haunts them like a ghost ship at sea. Above the drones as the mist burns away it reveals beautiful music that leaks out, morsels of chamber pop lovingly orchestrated, swelling like a Sufjan Stevens song on ‘Dive-Bombing’ which is typical of Emily Scott’s vocals, drifting above marshy strings and woodwinds. Then ‘Bold Fisherman’ with male vocals and repeating patterns is more akin to the avant-folk of David Thomas Broughton; with minimal backing its prow barely breaks the waves. Continue reading “Modern Studies “Swell To Great” (Song, By Toad Records, 2016)”

Paul Goodwin “The Northern Lights In The Neon Tube” (Independent, 2016)

"Goodwin-Paul-2016"Four years in the making but The Northern Lights In The Neon Tube is not the result of endless hours spent tinkering in the studio, budgets be blasted. Instead the gap is explained by Cambridge musician Goodwin as due to him being, “incredibly slow at doing things.” Well, good things come to those who wait and Goodwin certainly delivers here with a melancholic set of songs that he has handcrafted virtually by himself as he plays all instruments bar drums, the songs recorded at his home. Continue reading “Paul Goodwin “The Northern Lights In The Neon Tube” (Independent, 2016)”

Virgin of the Birds “Secret Kids” (Song, By Toad Records, 2016)

virgin-of-the-birdsJon Rooney records are documents of how songs are captured at the moment of recording. I always suspect that the next time I hear the song it could be significantly different, and in this respect he’s like Howe Gelb. He shares the immediacy (but not quite the Bandcamp catalogue) of Car Seat Headrest, moving between lo-fi and art-rock seamlessly. Some songs are fully realised, and if they are not, they may be at some future point. There’s an affinity with the Silver Jews and Clem Snide and it is the mark of the man that Jon Rooney holds his own in such company. Continue reading “Virgin of the Birds “Secret Kids” (Song, By Toad Records, 2016)”