Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton “Been On Your Side” (Free Dirt Records, 2018)

This is the debut album offering from two friends and fine musicians who have honed their art in the industry for a number of years. Courtney Hartman was until very recently part of Della Mae a five-piece all-girl bluegrass group from Boston and a nominee for the 2017 Americana Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year award for her guitar playing, whilst Taylor Ashton is from Canadian roots group Fish & Bird and a superb clawhammer banjo player.

The duo who met in New York have individually written eleven of the twelve songs on this record which is a lovely piece of work with truly majestic picking. Anyone with a soft spot for a banjo will love this, allied to clever lyrics delivered through a masterly blend of their voices. The feel is of an album put together very naturally with the artists having fun along the way.

‘Wayside’ kicks matters off nicely with that banjo to the fore featuring some lovely duets and the title song ‘Been On Your Side’ is one championing the singers’ fierce friendship despite the fact that the object of that friendship is not always returned in kind: “I was a bridge you couldn’t burn heaven knows how hard you tried I’ve always been on your side” insists the singer. This is a song echoing the style of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s exulted company with which these two certainly belong. ‘Loving Hands’ is a touching and tender love song which has a brass solo refrain in the middle of the track, whilst the duo surpass themselves in terms of songwriting in ‘Dead To Me,’ a hilarious exchange between two soon to be ex-lovers, the man playing the passionate one whilst the girl rejects his overtures hence the juxtaposed Heaven To Me / Dead To Me.

Demonstrating that they have more to their armoury than guitar and banjo the duo provide an a capella number on ‘Hold Still’ a track accompanied only by ambient background noise and a distorted guitar at the end, conjuring up the feel of a lazy humid summer day. There is much to commend this album which, while essentially gently acoustic, flickers with energy throughout.

8/10

Summary

Excellent guitar and banjo picking accompany lovely vocals in this high-quality debut

Author: Michael Farley

Living in North London allows me access to many great music venues so I can get to see as many Americana and Bluegrass (yes I love Bluegrass!) acts as I can. My other passion is football and I follow the North London team with the Cockerel as it's badge. Thankfully I have a fantastic wife who shares these obsessions or else I would probably be single by now!

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