Finlay Morton “Only Half A Live” (Stoneroom Recordings, 2016)

Morton is yet another one of those Scotsmen who can deliver a well-crafted version of bluesy rock (see Tam White, Stevie Agnew, Jimmy Barnes), it’s in their working class bones you see. Well, that’s one myth that was popular at one point but it’s probably more likely that the 50ish long haired Morton spent his youth in Aberdeen listening to Cream, Rory Gallagher, Stone The Crows before moving on to Dire Straits and Chris Rea and to this day still spins discs of a similar nature. Continue reading “Finlay Morton “Only Half A Live” (Stoneroom Recordings, 2016)”

Tahoma “Hideaway” (Independent, 2016)

A five-piece band from Austin Texas Tahoma tread a melodic soft-rock path. While they mention the classic 70’s sounds of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and the Eagles in their brief bio as influences much of this album seems to be more akin to the current slew of young male chart toppers.  Now this may be doing Brandon Aguilar, singer and chief writer for the band a disservice and indeed the album is spikier than the likes of Ed Sheeran but despite the band tag here Aguilar is front and centre throughout and there is a tendency to slip into a soft soul bag on several of the songs. Continue reading “Tahoma “Hideaway” (Independent, 2016)”

David Crosby “Lighthouse” (Verve, 2016)

David Crosby’s new release is only his 5th solo album, a number that would no doubt be higher if it were not for the intervening CSN, CSN&Y, and Crosby-Nash albums that have appeared over the last forty eight years – not to mention the derailing of his musical talents in his bleak lost decade. It does represent an upswing in productivity though, appearing a mere two years after his last solo offering Croz. And if Croz seemed very much like a CSN album without the S and the N, but with such longtime musical associates as Leland Sklar, James Raymond and Shane Fontayne, then Lighthouse has the light jazzy feel that cropped up a lot on the last Crosby-Nash album (the imaginatively entitled Crosby & Nash). This is hardly surprising since Snarky Puppy bass man Michael League here contributes all kind of guitars, as well as being credited on most songs for music or lyrics or both, helmed the album as producer and adds vocals that are so very close to Nash that a couple of times the ear could be deceived. Continue reading “David Crosby “Lighthouse” (Verve, 2016)”

Various Guises “Tide Take Him” (Independent, 2016)

Various Guises are modern folkies – a duo featuring Blanche Ellis and Maya McCourt. ‘Tide Take Him Out’ is their debut EP. A short glimpse into a world of gothic flecked acapella suffused with sparse instrumentation. There is mournful cello beneath the intimate vocal harmonies and gently strummed guitar on the second track Green. Willow follows the same template with strong vocals and lyrics coloured by the cello played with a fierce verve. But this is not enough to develop these songs. There needs to be more of a palette to properly reflect the songs. Continue reading “Various Guises “Tide Take Him” (Independent, 2016)”

Jessica Rhayne “Song in Me” (Self Released, 2016)

You’d swear it was going to be Joni Mitchel from the opening bars, its achingly beautiful mid-tempo lament, with a china gong flourish landing like tears dropping in to a quickly emptying whisky glass – you know something special has landed.  It’s a record of the flourish, gorgeous embellishments that set this record apart, built like an old Merc, all hand finished leather upholstery and sweet tuned blocks.  Rhayne has gone that next step, great songs, great delivery, but with an ear that has fostered enough twang to feel Americana enough for the purist and pop enough to garner her widespread appeal. Continue reading “Jessica Rhayne “Song in Me” (Self Released, 2016)”

AJ Hobbs “Too Much Is Never Enough” (Independent, 2017)

Too Much Is Never Enough may be California-born and raised singer-songwriter AJ Hobbs’ debut full-length album but he also has two EPs to his name. His first Shit Just Got Real was released under the pseudonym of Carl King, and the second The Den Sessions was recorded in one day at musician, producer Ted Russell Kamp’s studio. Continue reading “AJ Hobbs “Too Much Is Never Enough” (Independent, 2017)”

Piano Magic “Closure” (Second Language Music 2016)

It’s a wee bit embarrassing to confess that despite a 20 year career, 12 albums and the late John Peel a fan of the band that this reviewer has never heard of Piano Magic. In defence they are not common or garden Americana UK fodder, their songs unfolding somewhat glacially over an electronic pulse that’s embellished by washes of guitar as Glen Johnson’s disembodied and almost spoken vocals slowly delve into existential conundrums. However there are several moments here when the songs positively soar, sometimes borne aloft on a waft of string arrangements.  Lyrically there are echoes of Nick Cave, L. Cohen and Momus while the arrangements have a mild whiff of The Go Betweens and The Walkabouts all adding up to some fine melancholic soul searching. Continue reading “Piano Magic “Closure” (Second Language Music 2016)”

Live: Ben Kunder & Sarah MacDougall – York House Concerts, 26th November, 2016

Image: Chris Priest

Playing as a duo in the round over split sets to an enthusiastic, if older, red wine sipping crowd Kunder and MacDougall win the room with, I would guess, a previously unknown set of songs, Kunder’s album, ‘Golden’ is one of the best of 2016 and its taught songwriting is always going to come away with the spoils. MacDougall, finger picked Martin and double denim, with songs about growing up reading Pippi Longstocking, living in the Yukon is full of unusual phrases and a very confused (and confusing) accent, reel the punters in, easily hooked.  Kunder is a wonderful blend of Young, Taylor, Simon and Van Morrison – he’s a hell of a songwriter, and his first trip to the UK is a definite success.  Continue reading “Live: Ben Kunder & Sarah MacDougall – York House Concerts, 26th November, 2016”

Country Lips “Till The Daylight Comes” (Independent 2017)

Country Lips – simultaneously entertaining and enchanting… although, on reflection, I can see that the term ‘enchanting’ may be at odds with the unsavoury preoccupations of several songs: heavy drinking, al fresco sexual encounters and impregnating groupies are hardly ‘enchanting’ in the Disney sense, but nevertheless the dubious subject matter is more than enough to raise a chuckle Continue reading “Country Lips “Till The Daylight Comes” (Independent 2017)”

Riddle & The Stars “New Coastline” (Songs and Whispers 2016)

Here is true international Americana collaboration of the highest order. Playing together are Ben Riddle, established singer songwriter from Australia, and Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes also well established musicians, from Southern California where they called themselves The Fallen Stars. They all met while touring in Germany. This is their second album and with them on drums is Tom Bremer. Continue reading “Riddle & The Stars “New Coastline” (Songs and Whispers 2016)”