Once A Day

Nick West's reviews for Bucketfull Of Brains and Rock'N'Reel

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Location: London, United Kingdom

Co-editor and publisher of Bucketfull Of Brains since 1996.

Friday, December 12, 2008



CAD 5010cd

This album has been out for the best part of nine months. Of the band who play on here only singer Paula Frazer remains. She's now touring a completely different ensemble under the same name, but not having seen them I'd have to reserve judgement. No apologies though for drawing your attention to this as it was one of last years must-haves, and you might have missed it.

The music has that marvellous quality that draws you close and then starts plucking strings in the memory, but nobody I know has quite been able to define it. 'Ambient Country', 'David Lynch meets the Cowboy Junkies', 'the female Gene Clark'. You know what they mean and none of them are wrong but they don't get to the heart.

And Tarnation do. These are aching songs of regret and loss accepted and embraced. Frazer takes the lead on all but three songs, Her voice, often more folky than country, combines the range and purity of Joan Baez with the raw emotiveness of Patsy Cline. The languid guitar and the ubiquitous lap steel conjure desert landscapes and the sparse often echoed sound acres and acres of desolation.

There are classics songs here. 'Big O Motel', the closest we get to a narrative, 'Two Wrongs Won't Make Things Right', and 'The Yellow Birds' all jump out at you and you know they're going to turn up on other people's records very, very soon. Other portions of lyric embed themselves in your psyche. 'I tow the line on this barge of a heart' from the Matt Sullivan-sung 'Listen To The Wind' has been in my head for months.

Time will show whether this was the classic line-up. Frazer is the writer so if the replacements she has found are good as these we can expect more music of this quality. Otherwise we'll make do with this moment of grace preserved in amber.

(from BoB#46 Aug 1996)



540 408-2

Their place in the pantheon secure, as the first and finest country rock band, we don't need to waste much time assessing the merits of the contents of this compilation. What you get is forty two stunning tracks, a seamless flow of brilliance, including the first two albums in their entirety. Music to party to, music to drink to, music to love. It's compiled by Sid Griffin who provides erudite and enthusiastic sleeve notes as one would expect. Not to mention whetting the appetite for his forthcoming BBC documentary on Gram Parsons through the tantalising references to various bits of film footage.

The documentary, I rather suspect, is the hook on which this collection hangs, and therefore its not aimed at the long time fan but as a new viewers start here project. If you already own 'The Gilded Palace of Sin' and 'Burrito Deluxe' there's no reason you're going to want them again in a jumbled order together with bits of 'Last of the Red Hot Burritos' and the various compilations. If you don't then you should really have them as they were originally intended.

If you're starting to get the idea that I'm carping ungratefully well I am. I would be quite happy to buy all the Burrito's stuff I already have again if it came as part of a complete package along the lines of the Velvets box set. This though doesn't add anything to the sum of my knowledge. If anything it confuses. The lack of order and track information mean you have to scurry off to other sources to piece this collection together. There is also a suspicion that this isn't quite the compilation that Sid originally submitted; I find it odd that after singling out 'Colorado' from the third album for particular praise it then doesn't appear.

So on that sour note I sign off. You won't find better music on many albums issued this year but at Bob Towers we demand more.

(from BoB#46 Aug 1996)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008



Yellow Moon YMCD 003


Yellow Moon YMCD 006


Yellow Moon YMCD 007

Yellow Moon Records carry out the valuable task of making readily available various bits of the Cale oeuvre that have either been out of catalogue or only released through foreign labels.

Unarguably the most important of these three is 1982's 'Music For A New Society' originally put out by Ze. A set of beautifully instrumented, lyrically complex songs which harked back to the ease and power of 'Paris 1919'; a number of them ('Thoughtless Kind', 'Chinese Envoy'. '(I Keep A) Close Watch') became staples of his solo shows a decade later. An extra song 'In The Library Of Force' augments the collection.

'Paris S'eveille' and '23 Solo Pieces' are instrumental works for film or dance. While never less than interesting it often seems Cale knocks this high class mood music off in his sleep. Also included on 'Paris S'eveille' is a truncated version of 'Booker T' by the Velvets from the April 1967 Gymnasium show, which Cale retains an hour long tape of, and 'Antarctica Starts Here'.

(from BoB#46 Aug 1996)



This Way Up 532 129-2

Dave Graney always seemed like he was going to be the one that got away. While the Go-Betweens, the Triffids and Mr. Cave were rightly acclaimed for bringing a antipodean otherness to the mid-eighties musical mix Graney ploughed a lonely furrow. The Moodists were respected rather than loved, an acquired taste but not by too many. His fine first solo album 'My Life On The Plains' slipped out; most people don't even remember his second, lost in the collapse of Rough Trade. After that he went home.

In Australia he's been gigging and recording regularly with the Coral Snakes, based around his drummer wife Clare Moore, guitarist Rod Hayward, and pianist Robin Casinader. In the process he's become a national celebrity, even namechecked on Neighbours. Now finally he's signed to a new British label and this 1993 recording is the first fruit of that.

'Wolverine' is a piece of rare maturity with a distinctive voice and timbre. Graney's powerful baritone delivering these dark melancholic songs over an often understated but precise backing whch at times complements, though at others counterpoints, the tale he tells. 'Mogambo', the evocation of a '50s film goddess, has an overwrought quality that conjures up absolutely the claustrophobic lust of those jungle epics in which she might well have starred. 'Three Dead Passengers In A Stolen Second Hand Ford', conversely, tells its tale of disaster over a jaunty tune manifestly unsuited to the situation, except that on closer listening it becomes clear that death is an incidental point. It's more important that the three victims have retained their style and their cool.

Throughout there's a sense of passion held at bay, and a distancing whereby Graney is simultaneously a part of and apart from these emotions. This is enhanced in live performance where he seems to affect the persona of the performer while ironically commenting on it. There's also a personal iconography which underpins what he's doing. You feel the references to Serge Gainsbourg, Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac are quite deliberate, and newer material heard in performance bears this out with its litanies of sung and unsung heroes of rock'n'roll.

The quality of this material makes it impossible to really single out songs. As you listen each in turn becomes your favourite. The resignedness of 'I'm Just Having One Of Those Lives', the gorgeous chorus of 'I Held The Cool Breeze' and the yearning of 'Maggie Cassidy'. They all have their moment.

Its great when people reappear in the way that Dave Graney has. I can't see him disappearing again.

(from BoB#46 Aug 1996)



Prima Records
SID 002


Prima Records
SID 004

Over the period that this organ has been missing in action our good friend Sid Griffin has continued on his merry workaholic way. Aside from his journalistic pursuits he's now got his Prima label up and running, and he's gigging regularly with The Coal Porters. Always great fun to see, the band give us a rollercoaster ride through their take on our shared back pages.

For the purposes of these two releases, from 1994 and 1995 respectively, The Coal Porters are a floating ensemble. The material was recorded at various times, at various places, between London, Nevada, and the West Coast. Contributions are provided by such good chaps as Billy Bremner, Dave Woodhead and Wes McGhee.

A combination of Long Ryders type rockers, sweet love songs, and pertinent archaeology; the playing , production, and songwriting is all high calibre stuff. Check the powerful start of 'Hope and Crosby'- the horn based 'Imperial Beach', The lovely 'Windy City' with its distant echoes of 'Get To You'. The Sir Douglas-like 'What About Tomorrow and the Ochsian inflections of 'Crackin' At The Seams'. Then there's the lost Gram Parsons song 'Apple Tree', affecting and affectionate, with McGee on dobro and Kate St John's cor anglais. The Great Enthusiast does us proud again.

(from BoB#46 Aug 1996)


Beggars Banquet BBL 2001 CD

BBL 2002 CD

BBL 2003 CD

BBL 2004 CD

BBL 2005 CD

BBL 2006 CD

There is a profound mystery at the heart of the Go-Betweens. Its why, like their songs, they remain a shimmering evanescent thing of beauty perceived by a few and missed by the many. Its why, seven years after their passing, they still have not yet been acclaimed as the great lost band of the eighties. Its why, now that their two singer-songwriters Robert Foster and Grant McLennan are performing together again as the Australian Go-Betweens, we still haven't seen them on a stage in London.

The answer may be their quality of timelessness. They share with the Byrds and Big Star that overwhelming sense of newness and freshness that remains no matter how familiar you are with their material. You wonder whether people just didn't realise they were happening now.

What the Go-Betweens had going for them was two supremely gifted, romantically inclined, creators of melody. They seemed to able to turn out exquisite songs almost at will. 'Sing Me A Lullaby' now sounds like the apprentice's first try-out but everything after that was assured and self-confident. 'Before Hollywood' announced them with its waves of nostalgia and loss highlighted in McLennan's aching 'Cattle and Cane'. 'Spring Hill Fair' is light, airy, sunny; lyrically mature and imbued with the knowledge that they were about to break big. The fact that they didn't, and had almost two uncertain years as record deals came and went, emphasised the dark hues which inform the more detailed 'Liberty Belle' and 'Tallulah'. They were never again quite so joyous until the pretty but relatively slight '16 Lovers Lane'.

This series of re-releases consists of the six official albums the Go-Betweens put out between 1982 and 1988. The first three have never been properly released on CD and all have been remastered. They come with the original art work plus extra photographs and comprehensive sleeve notes. Beggars Banquet need to be commended on doing it absolutely right, and we trust they will add to this a collection of all the singles, b-sides, radio tracks, and other assorted bits and pieces to complete the picture.

(from BoB#46 Aug 1996)


Look Up

Watermelon Records
WMCD 1050

When the secret history comes to be written Bobby Neuwirth is going to feature prominently. He floats through the various scenes that haunt the dreams of us rock obsessives. The cars, trains and hotel rooms of "Don't Look Back", the spaces of the Factory, the Chelsea Hotel of the early seventies, the psychodramas of Rolling Thunder. For encouraging and sustaining Uncle Bobby and Patti Smith alone he deserves our heartfelt thanks.

What is even less known about him is his music. There are good reasons for that. Neuwirth's first love is his painting, singing seemed to have been a hobby. Up till 1989 my sole acquaintance with his performing talent was two duets; 'Long Black Veil' with Baez from "Don't Look Back" and the raucous 'Vincent Van Gogh' with Dylan that they bashed out at some of the Rolling Thunder shows. Then in the space of eighteen months came two albums "Back To The Front" and "99 Monkeys". Collections of seemingly effortless songs that stayed in the memory and confirmed T-Bone Burnett's contention that "in many ways, he's the best pure songwriter of any of us". He also played a wonderful show at the Mean Fiddler Acoustic Room the night the Berlin Wall came down. And then pretty much silence.

So it was well out of the blue that "Look Up" appeared and what a glorious surprise it was. Neuwirth describes the album as a field trip, visiting friends and making music. What friends! What music!. Its variously recorded in places such as Austin, Lubbock, Santa Monica and Detroit. The pals include Peter Case, Butch Hancock, Chuck Prophet and Patti Smith. There is no let-up, the sixteen songs are all top notch and show Neuwirth as the consummate chameleon artist sliding between styles and genres.

Neuwirth's is essentially a country voice, rich, compassionate, lived in, akin to Willie Nelson's but less the stylist and more the storyteller or the messenger. With few exceptions these are songs of regret, of loss, and of starting over aware of the depredations of time and living. They are not without the gnomic aphorism of the "anything you really want to keep/first you gotta learn to give it away" variety. Picking highlights is difficult.'I Don't Think Of Her', with Bernie Leadon and Mickey Raphael's poignant harmonica is a close cousin to Dylan's 'Most Of The Time', and as with that song every nuance tells you don't believe a word. 'What's Our Love Comin' To', co-written with Billy Swan, verses traded with Rosie Flores, lead guitar from Chuck Prophet, is as good a piece of rocking country as you will hear and makes an interesting counterpoint to 'Nashville', a lament for the disappearance of "my music" from Music City, with aching pedal steel from Sandy Bull.

There are three co-compositions with Peter Case. Bobby Charles' 'Save Me Jesus' with an ensemble including Mark Olsen and Victoria Williams. Long time compadres David Mansfield and Steve Soles keep reappearing throughout. And then there's Patti, and here we need to take a diversion.

Patti Smith's return to the stage, to work, has been one of the most exciting developments of this last year. There has obviously been great encouragement from people like Neuwirth and Dylan, but it must be likely that this return emerged out of the coming to terms with the loss of husband Fred and brother Todd. 'Just Like You', recorded at her Detroit home, implies just that. Over a simple guitar strum Patti half recites, half sings, a testament. She has been low and fearful, despairing, "stumbling a path, so hard to be/littered with the heart's debris" but life, the sun, has called her back. "I woke up and so many fears/had died and dried/and in their place/ a crazy kind of hope embraced/ chased the tears across my face/ Work to be done, worlds to parade/ debts to be paid, debts to be paid/ the hard road glitters/ are you glad to go-/'fraid so, 'fraid so".

So we have to thank Bobby Neuwirth again for his generosity. But let's not lose sight of the fact that this is his album. It's a great return and we can but hope that its not just a slight one.

(from BoB #46 Aug 1996)

Saturday, December 06, 2008


I Wanna Go Backwards


As Sir Henry Rawlinson put it, in another context, Robyn Hitchcock is as “English as tuppence, changing yet changeless”. Across three decades, through the twists and turns of a solo career, the former Soft Boy has shown us a window to his macabre and beautiful world. A surrealist jester, folk-rock troubadour, psychedelic poet, and a much under-rated guitarist, he learnt well from his idols - Dylan, Carthy, Barrett, and McGuinn - and produced songs of wit, strangeness, love and regard. Singing of an old and new weird England he’s out of the same mould as Peter Hammill and Nikki Sudden.

Always better appreciated in the USA, he’s now found a berth at Yep Roc, that haven for many remarkable if uncommercial talents. Following his collaborations with Gillian Welch and The Minus 3 they have set him on a work of retrospection of which I Wanna Go Backwards is the first fruit. This five CD box comprises the first post-Soft Boys 1981 album, Black Snake Diamond Role, 1984’s I Often Dream Of Trains, and 1990’s Eye, along with two further discs of demos and outtakes entitled When Thatcher Mauled Britain.

It’s beautifully put together with replica sleeves, cartoons, poems, and short stories. There’s plenty of information and material enough to satisfy both the neophyte and the long-term fan. Hitchcock’s canon has always been a sea to be dived into anywhere and he thrives on serendipity. This collection permits both a random meander together with an overview of his journey through that low decade.

Black Snake was perhaps transitional, involving all the old Soft Boys plus Knox and Thomas Dolby, but it gave us ‘Brenda’s Iron Sledge’ his riposte to the Blessed Margaret. The mainly solo and acoustic I Often Dream Of Trains, brimming with sexual perversity (‘Uncorrected Personality Traits’) and public transport (‘Trams Of Old London’ and the title track) saw him reach his stride and left a generation of American indie kids in thrall to the romance of Basingstoke. By Eye he knew exactly what he was about and since then, absolutely, positively, he’s never looked back.


New Seasons


Here come those sweet stoners, the Good boys, again. Great musicians schooled out on the road; Travis with his dad in The Good Brothers and Dallas in assorted punk bands. Their live shows are a marvel; around 45 songs in an hour and a half and then back for 10 song encores featuring breakdowns, surf instrumentals, folk-rock, and cool covers.

This is their third album for Yep Roc following on from Stories Often Told and Favourite Colours. Both of those records hit the spot, embracing a Byrds-like, pantheistic psychedelia that flew off in many directions. New Seasons follows the same pattern, keeps Rick White as a co-writer, brings in Gary Louris as co-producer, and the extended family help out. It’s their glory and it’s the rub.

Sadly the law of diminishing returns seems to be kicking in. Where Stories captivated with its novelty there’s now a sense of being on familiar territory. While the playing is virtuoso, and songs like ‘Anna Leigh’ and ‘The Land Between’ genuinely affecting, you begin to feel they could make records like this for the rest of their lives without stretching themselves. For some that might be enough, but with these boys it would be a sin.


Jangle Waltz


The Psychedelic Cowboys come out of Los Angeles playing cosmic American music with the accent on cosmic. Imbued with the ambience of the Red Dog and the Acid Tests, Jangle Waltz seems fashioned like a vintage trip as applause, radio excerpts, and conversations float betwixt and between the music which conjures the spirit of Love (there’s a cover of “Alone Again Or’), the later Byrds, and Workingmans-era Dead.

The core line-up of the band is augmented by a host of other players identified as ‘cosmic dads, sons and daughters’. These include Chris Hillman, Probyn Gregory, Don Heffington, and Mike Stinson. They’re mainly playing originals from singer and guitarist John Harlan, but as well as the Love tune there’s a Johnny Horton song and Randy Weeks’ Last DWI’. Everything is warm, slow, and stringy; a gentle mood of dislocation pervades.

Instruments make short but striking appearances; a pedal steel in ‘Alone Again Or’, a harpsichord at the start of the unreconstructed ‘Don’t Lean On Me’, and beautiful flute in ‘Little Sipasake And The Fate Of Lonesome Wayne’. Meanwhile Harlan’s voice carries a tinge of rasp that keeps the attention while never jarring.

Friday, December 05, 2008


The Trumpet Child


It begins with brass; the raffish Neil Rosengarden briefly playing what sounds like ‘I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine’ and the intro to ‘Desperado’. These lead into the emotive ‘I Don’t Wanna Waste Your Time’ where Karin Bergquist sets out the seriousness of the enterprise she’s involved in. That it’s done in such sensual and enticing fashion means you’re likely caught before you know it.

The pairing of Bergquist and Linford Detweiler has been the core of Over The Rhine for nearly two decades now. For The Trumpet Child they’ve come together with Nashville wonder-producer Brad Jones and created a record that carries the possibility of lifting them to a much greater recognition. Overflowing with the fruits of classic American music they have taken the wreck of New Orleans as a starting point and the music of the Crescent City symbolised by Satchmo’s trumpet as a means of redemption.

This collection moves from sultry cabaret to hymn-like moments of transcendence; the title track does nothing less than posit a second coming. But they can equally celebrate the earthy in ‘Let’s Spend The Day In Bed’, and move into Lucinda Williams territory for the delightful ‘If A Song Could Be President’.


In Stereo


Jim McGarry ‘s Rainbow Quartz label has gathered together a fascinating roster of psychedelically inclined pop bands. The finest was, without a doubt, Cotton Mather whose Kon-Tiki sounded like late Beatles recording with a Brian Wilson who’d actually benefited from taking LSD. They came from Texas, but Jim will trawl the world for intriguing sounds.

Marmalade Souls hail from Sweden, though they have an Irish drummer, and really wanted to call themselves Marmalade Skies; that gives you a pretty good idea of their preoccupations. In Stereo is a record jammed full of 60s- saturated pop songs, and it’s carried off pretty well. The husband and wife team, Michael and Johanna Klemme, do good voices and there’s heaps of period guitar, hooks, and harmonies.

Most of the time they successfully avoid appearing too knowing, but as often with bands like these it’s the variety that gives them away. Thus they run from West Coast sounds on ‘It Won’t Be Too Long’, to a Hollies vibe on ‘Fall Into The Sky’, to a near-perfect Zombies take-off on ‘Say Goodbye’. Then they turn it around with the exceptional Blind Faith-like ‘Good Days’, hinting at a different direction it’d be interesting to see them take.


Live In London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973


Judee Sill was one of David Geffen’s Asylum also-rans; that’s no put-down as Gene Clark and Bobby Neuwirth are numbered in the same cohort. A troubled soul whose brief interlude between spells of addiction, the last fatal, spawned two fine albums of mystic grace.

As a songwriter she first tasted success with The Turtles’ recording of ‘Lady-O’ and this was followed up by the Judee Sill album of 1971. A certain kinship with the Joni Mitchell school was apparent but Sill had more of a religiously transcendent turn to her writing. Her concerns, though patently not her style, mirror those of latter-day, Blake-influenced Patti Smith.

These recordings come from her two trips to the UK in 1972 and 1973. They’re solo performances for three separate radio shows and feature exquisite readings of her most memorable songs; ‘Jesus Was A Cross Maker’, ‘The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown’, and ‘The Donor’ among them.

It’s a welcome addition to her small oeuvre, but not however the place to start. The studio albums are cheaply available on Rhino’s Abracadabra and essential. Come to Live In London after exploring those.


Real World


Fatal Shore is a trio of exiles based in Central Europe. Australians Bruno Adams and Chris Hughes were in Once Upon A Time whose majestic ‘Planetarium’ was recently covered by Mick Harvey. Yorkshireman Phil Shoenfelt has a long, diverse history that began with Khmer Rouge in early 80s New York. For their third album Real World they are joined by multi-instrumentalist and arranger Yoyo Rohm and a string section.

This Real World is certainly dark and intense. Its soundtrack combines something of the cabaret and something of the Australian gothic, taking in blues, soul, and balladry. A profound seriousness is reflected in Shoenfelt’s precise enunciated vocals, contrasting with those of Adams who tends to the slightest of country inflections.

Roiling, grunge-like frenzies such as ‘Rainy Sunday Morning’ and ‘Train Song’, sit next to beautiful serene pieces like the Cohenesque ‘Faithless’, the tender ‘Out Of The Sea’, and the reading of Brel’s ‘If You Go Away’. A Mariachi element (and a touch of Wise Blood) pervades ‘Blind Jesus’ while gypsy music accompanies both the tale of ‘Vivi The Flea’ and the opener ‘Black Venus’ which borrows its tune from the traditional gypsy song ‘Khamoro’.


Is It News


Doyle Bramhall has been a mighty figure on the Texas blues scene for almost four decades; his teenage band The Chessmen supported Hendrix back in 1968. A songwriter, producer, and drummer who has always worked with the cream of guitarists; in bands successively with Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

These songs cut over the last few years feature a plethora of the Lone Star State’s finest players; son Doyle II, Dylan’s current axeman Denny Freeman and, of course,Jimmie Vaughan. They come from different ages but allow Bramhall and co-producer C.C. Adcock plentiful opportunity to demonstrate ceaseless curiosity and invention.

They also show the fine drummer Bramhall is; witness his meticulous, percussion on the brief but tender ‘You Left Me This Mornin’ and the perfectly chunky intro to opener ‘Lost In The Congo’. And a singer too, as on the soulful ‘I'll Take You Away’. There the younger Doyle provides the solo. It’s one of the many highlights here, along with ‘Little Star (The Moon Is Shining)’, marked with the quintessential imprimatur of Jimmie Vaughan, and Freeman’s marvellous playing on the heart-felt lament for Stevie, ‘This Day’, written on the day he died in 1990.


Welcome The Arms Of Forever


Australian classic pop has long been influenced by the music of the American south, and there’s a tradition of collaboration between Australian and American popsters. The fruit of this was most recently manifested in The Orange Humble Band’s sublime Humblin’ (Across America).

It finds a fine companion in Welcome The Arms Of Forever. This second release from Coronet Blue, essentially a vehicle for the songs of John Rooney, is recorded in the belly of the beast, with Mitch Easter at the Fidelitorium in North Carolina. The sometime REM producer, Let’s Active main man, and all –round pop maestro co-produces and plays guitar. Don Dixon arranges and adds bass, and the band is rounded out by Ian McLagan and Simon Kirke.

So we’re talking supergroup here, and what they deliver is varieties of pure pop leavened with rock’n’roll and surrounded by shimmering strings. Elements of twang, an E Street Band tendency, blues, and R&B all hover, but the abiding impression is of dramatic and lush creations such as the emotionally-charged title track, along with some splendid vignette performances such as Jim Hoke’s harmonica and Georgina Johnston’s vocals on ‘Looks Like Love’.


Cautionary Tales


There are some dire warnings on Christopher Rees’ Cautionary Tales but none come as strong as this; don’t fail to hear it! Out of left field, out of the wilds of mid Wales, he’s come along with an album of remarkable songs to stir up the somewhat becalmed waters of Americana.

Rees is a pretty fine guitarist and does excellent things with a resonator slide; he’s also got a voice of singular variety. Comparisons to Jeff Buckley are generally grotesquely inappropriate, but Rees seems to be the exception that proves the rule. He’s not however a showy singer, always taking his cue from the song. His voice flies to high, lonesome peaks on the Appalachian-flecked ‘Bucket Full Of Holes’ but on the bluesy ‘How Did You Sleep Last Night?’ it’s more restrained.

These contrasts, which are reflected in the careful choice and spread of instrumentation, hold the interest throughout, as nothing is ever predictable. For the southern soul duet ‘Bottom Dollar’ he brings in strings and coaxes from Victoria Williams an unusually effective performance. And on the final, devastating ‘Until Love Comes Around Again’ he’s got Charline Rose doing Jane Birkin quite handsomely.


Hope On The Horizon


Martin Henrik Gustafsson is Boy Omega, or at least he was. Previously more of a solo operation, with a marked preference for electronica, these dozen songs are far more a collaborative effort and notably warm and manifestly human. Tender and fragile pieces with a marked affinity to the Conor Oberst/Sufjan Stevens school, they continually burst forth with swathes of measured yet powerful orchestration. A plethora of players and instruments are involved in this record which took two years to complete. Brass, strings, as well as melodica, mellotron, and music box feature.

There’s a thematic movement across the album, as many of the songs are concerned with loss and the resultant dysfunction, though interestingly there’s often a dichotomy between the upbeat nature of the settings and arrangements and the downer nature of the subject matter. It’s particularly noticeable in the opening of ‘The Blues And The Bee Sting’ and throughout ‘Suffocation Street’. Finally, in ‘The Good Times’, comes a curious turnaround as, like the cavalry in the last reel, the ‘hope on the horizon’ hoves into view. A surprising flurry of optimism that helps explains a lot.


The Vanguard Album

The murder ballad collection, World Without End, recorded with John Murry, has drawn attention to Bob Frank’s eponymous 1972 Vanguard release. Fortunately it hasn’t taken long for Décor to arrange its reissue, along with a batch of contemporary demos.

It shows him a spare and precise songwriter imbued with that same spirit found on Mickey Newbury’s Frisco Mabel Joy; the sense of defeat and aimlessness after the demise of the 60s dream. These are songs about winos, bums, and draft dodgers. ‘She Pawned Her Diamond For Some Gold’ is about persuading your girlfriend to sell her ring to buy dope, ‘Waitsburg’ tells what happens when you buy drink and go driving around. ‘Return To Skid Row Joe’, a marvellously constructed, poetic epiphany, shows the moment when you can’t avoid seeing what you’ve become.

Vietnam is an unspoken presence. ‘Cold Canadian Pines’, an affecting lament for the refuseniks in Canada, is contrasted with ‘When Johnny Was Called By The Draft Board’, just proving you’re damned both ways.

There’s also ‘Judas Iscariot’, a fine take on the Jesus story owing a debt to ‘Frankie Lee And Judas Priest’, and thus pointing to John Wesley Harding, a record this stands comparison to.




Now supposed one of the lesser lights of the Paisley Underground contingent of the early 80s True West’s reputation has languished outside the circles of the cognoscenti. While Steve Wynn and Sid Griffin have remained, if not household names, at least well respected and productive it’s been very different for Russ Tolman, Gavin Blair, and Richard McGrath.

A host of individuals passed through the band, including the purloined rhythm section of Thin White Rope, and a True West of sorts continued after Tolman’s 1985 departure, but this trio was the core of the band. They composed all the songs here, bar one early Pink Floyd cover, and it was Blair’s voice, a cross between Jeremy Gluck and Dan Stuart, and the guitar duels of Tolman and McGrath, so redolent of Television’s Verlaine and Lloyd, that made their name.

This CD contains everything they recorded; the pre-McGrath ‘Lucifer Sam’ single with Steve Wynn on lead guitar, the Hollywood Holiday mini-album, and the full length Drifters. A bonus is the three demos they cut with Tom Verlaine at Bearsville.

These songs chime with the joy in audacious guitar virtuosity that had been lost in the punk years, and while it’s true that Drifters did have some edges smoothed that doesn’t detract. Just listen to the icily plaintive ‘And Then The Rain’, The Barracudas-like ‘Throw Away The Key’, the stunning intro to ‘Backroad Bridge Song’, and the proto alt.country of ‘Ain’t No Hangman’, and wonder how these got away.


Dark Outside


Sigmatropic began in the late 90s as a floating ensemble gathered around the Greek musician Akis Boyatkis. Purveyors of a Hellenic-hued electronica, in 2003 they released 16 Haiku; settings of poems in English translation by the Greek Nobel laureate George Seferis. A cohort of sympathetic singers was recruited to the project including Alejandro Escovedo, Robert Wyatt and Carla Torgerson, and, if something of an acquired taste, it was fascinating.

Sigmatropic now appear to have a more settled line-up and have added the earthy blues-tinged vocals of Anna Karakalou, though they still employ other voices; Torgerson again, Howe Gelb, Robert Fisher, and Jim Sclavunos. Together they create an intriguing melange, like a combination of Portishead, The Walkabouts, and Lee Hazlewood. Vistas of heat and light, sea and sand, open up. There’s a definite European art movie ambience accentuated by the often-mellifluous lyrics of Boyatkis and Michael Willet.

Bright variety is the order of the day; Sclavunos impassioned on ‘Ours At Least’, Torgerson fragile on ‘Red Across The Sand’. Gelb and Karakalou contrast on ‘White’; he speaks she sings. Boyatkis, at times, adopts a style of sing-song storytelling, straight out of the nursery, most notably on the e.e.cummings’ setting ‘maggie and millie and molly and may’. It falls to Fisher to throw perhaps the biggest surprise in ‘The Blue Side Of The Sun’, less in the voice than the setting; a early 80s funk backdrop redolent of Pigbag, Wham, or somewhere in between.




The Mekons mark their thirtieth anniversary triumphantly with this Natural album. As individuals, since 2002’s Oooh! , they have produced work of quality and variety. Fortunately their collective best is kept for this inspiring and empathic collection.
The focus here is on the place of humankind in the natural process. It’s only in passing an environmental album; it’s more about the fact of mortality. If we must file it under something let it be dark, incantatory folk. It mainly features acoustic instruments; Susie Honeyman’s violin much in evidence along with harmonica, percussion, and occasional electric guitar. The sound is incredibly rich and textured, sliding in and out of our consciousness, at times dissolving or becoming disjointed.

The voices of Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Sally Timms have never worked together to better effect. In ‘The Old Fox’ they seamlessly alternate phrases; on ‘Dark Dark Dark’ Jon and Sally are the chorus behind Tom’s lead but they’re distinctly themselves.

‘Dark Dark Dark’ and ‘White Stone Door’ are both marked by echoes of the grave; “The dancers are all dead we know” sings Sally in the latter. ‘Dickie Chalkie And Nobby’ laments lost times and opportunities, and perhaps friends, and in its litany of dormant band members and helpers ensures they’re acknowledged while they’re still here.

But don’t believe it’s all downer stuff, there’s still room to dance. The vibrant reggae of ‘Cockermouth’ and the harvest home celebrations of ‘Give Me Wine Or Money’ are proof that The Mekons know there’s a time to everything.


Cotton Eyed Joe(The Loop Tapes) – Live In Boulder 1962


Karen Dalton remained for too many years lost in the shadows. Present in early 60s Greenwich Village, and immortalised in a marvellous onstage photo with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan at Café Wha in 1961, she was to record but two albums in her lifetime. She died forgotten in 1993 and initial CD reissues faltered through widespread indifference.

It was grossly unfair to a splendid singer with a unique voice; someone once described her as “the woman who sounds like a clarinet”. Taking traditional material, blues and jazz standards, accompanying them with guitar and banjo, she made them into entrancing and seductive siren songs. She strongly influenced people who went on to greater fame; Tim Hardin was especially taken by her and listening attentively you hear it.

These 1962 reel-to-reel recordings, raw live performances from Boulder Colorado, take us back to very early days before most of the folkies had even started writing. These are songs they all cut their teeth on like Guthrie’s ‘Pastures Of Plenty’, Leroy Carr’s ‘In The Evening’, and Lead Belly’s ‘Good Morning Blues’. There are traditional songs like ‘Katie Cruel’ and ‘Mole In The Ground’, and then two from Neil, ‘Blues On The Ceiling’ and ‘Red Are The Flowers’.

Dalton makes each of them new and special while reaching across the years to condemn us for our neglect. The survival of this time capsule speaks to some special beneficence for which we should all be suitably grateful.


Rewind: Unreleased Recordings


“We feel the time is right to share these recordings with J.J. Cale’s fans,” says the lady whose late husband sat on them for a quarter of a century. Just perhaps, the recent brand visibility of J. J. in consequence of The Road To Escondido, might be what has triggered the release of this deeply pleasant album.

Cale will always be best known for songs like ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After Midnight’; classic examples of his patented “Tulsa Sound”. A kind of laid-back, shuffling roots music pulling in equal measures of country, jazz, soul and blues. Music that’s impossible to dislike, but similarly impossible to get greatly enthusiastic about. Those two named songs were both covered by Eric Clapton and helped usher in his extended, three decades and still counting, easy listening phase.

The music here comes from various dates between 1973 and 1983. Some excellent musicians are involved; Richard Thompson, Glen D, Hardin, Spooner Oldham, and Jim Keltner. Their playing is brilliantly understated, and utterly unthreatening. Cale’s singing is, as ever, raw but not too raw. A couple of songs; Clapton’s ‘Golden Ring’ and Cale’s own ‘My Baby And Me’; reach towards southern soul and it’d be interesting to hear what Dan Penn might do with them.

Meanwhile Waylon Jennings’ ‘Waymore’s Blues’ presents itself as a cross between a country honk and a Garcia noodle and you recognise what this is; the perfect soundtrack to a long, mellow, stoned mid-Seventies afternoon.



(STEADY BOY) www.steadyboyrecords.com

A Texas legend and, in times past, an embellishment to London’s pub rock scene, Freddie Krc has awesome pedigree. Aside from drumming with Jerry Jeff Walker and Roky Erickson he’s led the wondrous Explosives, Texas’s foremost power pop band, and The Shakin’ Apostles, a majestic paisley pop concoction which seemed like a triumphant meeting of The Charlatans (the real ones) and Green On Red.

Unsurprisingly a great fan of the 60s British Invasion groups along with the American bands who tried to emulate them. His Freddie Steady 5 is, in part, a tribute to their music. 2006’s Freddie Steady Go! was a collection of covers of classic Texan songs like ‘She’s About A Mover’. Tex-Pop is mainly originals in the same vogue, with more than a nod as well to the 70s Stiff crowd.

There’s hooks-a-plenty and lashings of Augie Meyers-tinged keyboards. ‘Happiest Boy In Town’ is a bright, jangling Beatles/Byrds melange, while ‘If She Were Mine’ is like classic early Costello. ‘What’s So Hard About Love’ invokes the shades of the Brinsleys, while P. F. Sloan’s ‘Halloween Mary’ gets the full ’65 folk-rock treatment with cracking harmonica from Cam King.

Anglophile tendencies get full rein in ‘London’, and while it might be an ‘England Swings’ for our days it’s whole-hearted and delightful. And finally, to Freddie’s eternal credit, there’s an airing for ’Tin Whistle & A Wooden Drum’ from that greatest lost songwriter of them all, Jimmy Silva.


Just Fall To Pieces

(WELL WORN) www.wellwornrecords.com

You’re never going to get rich these days carrying the torch for Cosmic American Music, no matter how many times the cold ashes of Gram Parsons get stirred up. On the other hand, spiritually you’re never going to be poor, as can be witnessed by the waves of good will that flood around the place whenever The Ugly Guys come to town.

If you’re in the vicinity of San Francisco you satisfy your Burritos jones by catching Dave Gleason and the Wasted Days either playing in the poster lounge at the Fillmore or at any of a host of bars around Northern California. This is Gleason’s third album and like the previous two it’s packed full of honky-tonk weepers and country rock swingers that’ll have you crying in your beer and bouncing round the dance floor.

The Wasted Days have luminaries like Pat Johnson, once of the Wellsprings Of Hope and sometime collaborator with Penelope Houston, and Mike Therieau, who carries the Chuck Prophet imprimatur, among their number. They’re also joined by a host of excellent guest players including the out-and-out legend that is Albert Lee.

With titles like ‘The Good’s Been Gone’, ‘Neon Rose’, and ‘(Wine) Take Away My Mind’, and lashings of pedal steel, accordion, and twang, you’re getting exactly what it says on the tin. However in a milieu that’s damned by some pretty dismal pretenders these guys are the real deal.


Certain General: Invisible New York

(EASY ACTION) www.easyaction.co.uk

New York’s Certain General are one of the lost bands of the early 80s and long overdue for a resurrection. Old hands may just remember their London appearances and Faraway In America their shared album with Band Of Outsiders. Coming out of the end of no wave and post punk they shared tendencies with Dream Syndicate, early REM, and even The Cure. Intriguingly their 1982 EP Holiday Of Love was co-produced by Peter Holsapple and Michael Gira; an interesting pairing if ever there was one.

They set out to be a “pop version of The Contortions” but there’s a strong Television influence in both the sound and the inflections of Parker Dulany’s vocals. Patti Smith also seems to be a presiding deity as there’s very much a Radio Ethiopia/Easter vibe to songs like ‘Voodoo Taxi’. She along with Modigliani and Edgar Allan Poe get name-checked in ‘Keys In The Carpet’.

This double CD features much of their material from the early to mid-80s and then brings us forward to the turn of the century when various members, particularly guitarist Phil Gammage and Dulany, started working together again. Thus it runs all the way from 1981 demos through to recent recordings. The latter include a take on ‘New York New York’ with Lenny Kaye guesting, a cool version of Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘La Decadanse’ where Dulany duets with Twin Peaks chanteuse Julee Cruise, and a Scott Walker-like version of Alain Bashung’s ‘Fantaisie Militaire’.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


The Salvation Blues

(HACKTONE/RYKODISC) www.hacktone.com

This is the tale of a man set loose and wandering, through places like Cardiff, Bristol, and Poland, with time on his hands to accept, regret, and realise that things change. Experiences that engender a solo album finding the former Jayhawk in powerful, poetic mode presenting songs influenced by folk, literature, and experience.

“There’s such joy and sweet moments to be found in this world”, he sings in the title track and that understanding outweighs all the partings. Though so often Olson sings with a catch in his throat and there’s plenty of loss here; his wife (though that’s unspoken), his father (‘Keith’), and Sandy Denny. Denny, with her own song and who “wore a schoolgirl’s uniform”, standing for all the hopes of youth that life undoes

Produced by Ben Vaughn, and featuring players of the calibre of Tony Gilkyson and Greg Leisz, it’s classic-sounding alt.country retaining the feel of newness, promise, and sheer intelligence that flourished a decade ago. From the opening love song, ‘My Carol’, worshipful like ‘She Belongs To Me’, adorned with lines like “My love is like a speckled bird”, your heart is opened.

Moments of epiphany are scattered throughout; on ‘Clifton Bridge’, waiting for the ‘National Express’, and whoever thought a British bus could sound as romantic as a Greyhound? But possibly bettered by a moment of reunion; the joyful ‘Poor Michael’s Boat’, an unfinished Jayhawks’ song from long ago, now completed and sung in harmony with Gary Louris.

The Redlands Palomino Company

Take Me Home

Laughing Outlaw

For their second album the Redland Palomino Company take the pretty sound view that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. They carry on much in the same vein as on 2004’s By The Time You Hear This…We’ll Be Gone, and quite rightly so. That was a debut that fulfilled the promise of their solid three years of gigging. They’ve continued along the same lines and here’s another splendid set of road-tested country rock corkers.

They’ve even stuck with the policy of having a Rockingbird to produce. In fact, in Chris Clarke and Sean Read, they’ve used two. Sean also provides piano adornment to a number of the songs and throughout extra strings, trumpets, and accordion appear to pleasing effect.

Given the genre it’s unsurprisingly a collection strong on melancholy but that’s what Hannah Elton-Wall’s singing was made for. Husband Alex seems a deal more at ease with the roughness in his voice, and they do work well together. When they combine on the third verse of ‘Wasted On You’ it’s awesome.

One of the great things about them is they don’t pretend to be Yanks. They often write from their own experience; Alex’s ‘Coastline’ is a heart-felt recollection of childhood all the better for its lack of drama. Otherwise it’s the universal theme of loss that could happen anywhere, though there is a little thought that the epic title track might be set in Baltimore.

Penultimate track ‘Pick Up, Shut Up’ is the real all-out rocker of the set and features the guitar of Tom Bowen, once of Goldwing and now signed up to the Redlands full time. He’s going to add an interesting new ingredient to the mix from here on in but it’ll be building on something that’s damn fine already.

Michael Weston King

A New Kind Of Loneliness

Floating World

This is the first new collection of original songs from Michael Weston King since 2003’s A Decent Man; the only cover being of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again Naturally’, a song that he’s plainly very fond of. He continues his movement away from the alt.country stylings of his Good Sons’ days with these well-made, literate and intelligent songs. They’re all infused with that melancholy that’ s been long familiar to him but has now been exacerbated by a series of unavoidable life-changing events.

Loss, death, divorce, and breakdown are all here, but if that sounds too heavy and introspective be aware that its sound leavens its content. This is an ensemble album featuring a collection of fine musicians, notably the excellent Manchester-based pedal steel, dobro, and mandolin player Alan Cook. There are also guest appearances from Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen (‘My Heart Stopped Today’), Ron Sexsmith and Don Kerr (‘From Out Of The Blue’), and Jackie Leven.

It, of course, stands as a serious record. Weston King is always going to be that sort of songwriter and his voice doesn’t naturally lend itself to frivolity. He aspires to a confraternity with Cave, Costello and Van Zandt, and while that’s a big ask, from this it seems neither unworthy nor unattainable.

Kathleen Haskard

Don’t Tell

Howlin’ Hound

It’s nearly nine years since London-based, Californian exile, Kathleen Haskard’s previous album Into The Deep. In the intervening period she’s raised some children, tour-managed Chuck Prophet, and sung in the choir on Neil Young’s Living With War.

Now she’s signed up a couple of cool dudes, one the afore-mentioned Mr Prophet, to help produce her second album. The other is sometime Willard Grant Conspirator, sometime Grand Driver, Simon Alpin, whose production pedigree seems to be more enhanced by the week these days.

Recorded in London and San Francisco, mixed in San Fran, and mastered in Memphis, Don’t Tell is a record of rare quality. Haskard’s a smart and aware songwriter, radical both politically and emotionally, but her propaganda favours the latter. While both ‘Like A Pearl Necklace’ and ‘Will Someone Explain’ could be taken as commentary on Iraq they’re nuanced enough to transcend a simple reading.

Prophet adds guitar notably on ‘Second Star’, Alpin brings his lap steel and slide. There’s also Julian Wilson on Hammond and Tom Heyman on pedal steel. Meanwhile Haskard crosses the spectrum of emotions with her earthy but controlled singing. There’s a deep blues underpinning to her voice and a variety of expression. She’s particularly compelling with her sensual Patti Smith-like whisper on tracks like ‘Until It’s Time To Go’.

Best perhaps is ‘Losers Weep’ a co-write with Jack and Stacey Earle. Here she’s just supported by Alpin’s measured, deliberate guitar and Julian Wilson’s shadow vocals, in the exploration of a loss or maybe losses, that seem more poignant in their opaqueness.




Emily Haines is the singer with Metric and also in Broken Social Scene. Her father was Paul Haines, beat poet and librettist of the early 70s avant-jazz opera Escalator Over The Hill. This solo album, recorded piecemeal over the last five years with band mates, Scott Minor from Sparklehorse, and a string quartet is introspective and self-exploratory. Whether it’s an exploration anyone else would wish to share is a moot point.

Haines sings and plays rudimentary piano, and it appears everything else is then added. Her voice is stark but without too much character; it seems for a brief moment in the opening ‘Our Hell’ that she’s going to take on an interesting Lucinda Williams-like gruffness but that quickly passes. Lyrically it’s just not engaging. Lines like “Doctor Blind just prescribe the red ones”, “There’s a new crime, sexual suicide”, not to mention the sleeve image of a bottle of pills, suggest affectation and too much time with Sylvia Plath. Her father’s interesting lyric for ‘Sprig’ comes way too late, final track of fourteen, to save the proceedings.

That may seem harsh especially given two of these songs, ‘Reading In Bed’ and ‘Mostly Waving’, are responses to the 2002 death of her father, yet were it not for external information you wouldn’t realise it. In truth the only reason I’d return to this is my respect for Robert Wyatt whose glowing approbation appears on the insert.




2005’s Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet was spare, beautiful, and blues-laden. A collection bearing comparison with Dylan’s recent work and cementing Doe’s place in the first rank of American creative performers. Surrounding his uniquely raw tenor with the fundamentals of roots music he and co-producer Dave Way created a singular aural landscape.

Here they continue in the same vein but enlarge the palette. As before they employ singularly talented guests; wild rockabilly and frenzied slide guitar from Dave Alvin and Dan Auerbach, and Greg Leisz’s keening pedal steel. Doe learnt early that his voice showed well in duet and since Exene there’s been a host of partners. Here we find Jill Sobule, Kathleen Edwards, and Aimee Mann.

The record unfolds like a collection of vignettes of an unravelling relationship. The overheated ‘Hotel Ghost’, driven by Alvin’s guitar sets the mood. ‘The Golden State’, an anthemic duet with Edwards and perhaps the finest song here, lays bare the frictions and generalises them.

After two almost-pretty songs, ‘Darling Underdog’ and the regret-filled country song ‘A Little More Time’, there are perspectives of breakdown in ‘Lean Out Yr Window’, ‘Big Moon’ and ‘The Bridge’. Then the explosion of ‘The Meanest Man In the World’, rendering both a crime and the essence of its author.

‘Grain Of Salt’ plays out the album, starting small and growing into a devastating instrumental outro. Supposed to mirror the effect of the grain of salt gradually making a pearl, its fury leaves no certitude that this season in hell has any happy resolution.




Robbie Fulks has proved himself over the last decade to be a class act. Probably the closest alt.country has to an Elvis Costello, Fulks combines acerbic wit, eclecticism, poetic lyricism and a great ear for tunes. Not only can he write old-fashioned country songs, but also Harry Smith-type ballads olde folk pastiches, and glorious pop. His ‘God Is Not Real’ must be the finest song Willie Nelson’s never covered.

After five fine albums for Bloodshot, punctuated by a brief major label sojourn, he’s recently transferred to Glenn Dicker’s home-of-all-the-talents Yep Roc. This live double CD though is something of a curate’s egg. Bits of two shows, one electric, one acoustic, a few new songs, but mainly the back catalogue and personal enthusiasms. The opening barbershop sing-around ‘We’re On The Road’, with tongue firmly in cheek, explains its raison d’etre, and launches the electric disc. This includes the lovely west coast-tinged ‘You Don’t Mean It’ and an excavation of ‘Cigarette State’, with its splendid dig at Alabama, last seen on a Bloodshot sampler.

The acoustic portion spends time acknowledging influences. There’s Benny Martin’s ‘That’s A Good Enough Reason’ played in honour of John Hartford, and two public domain songs, ‘Bluebirds Are Singing For Me’ and ‘Away Out On The Old Sabbath met through, respectively, The Country Gentlemen and The Carter Family, and then there’s Cher’s ‘Believe’.
It’s all good fun, though how necessary will depend on how much you already like Fulks. Certainly it makes the undeniable argument that when he comes to town he’s well worth the ticket price.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007




Like they’re Austin’s answer to Kitty, Daisy & Lewis this bunch of under-16s are precocious and delightful beyond measure. Their eponymous debut album, produced by Texas legend Freddie Krc, shines with an authenticity and a spirit that harks back to the pioneering garage days of the 60s.

The six-piece came together at Natural Ear Music, a rock’n’roll summer school where youngsters got taught to play by ear, and this was where Freddie spotted them. In double-quick time he became their mentor, drummer, producer and record label boss.

As bandmate of Roky Erickson and leader of The Explosives and The Shakin’ Apostles Freddie is the apogee of cool, a devoted student of the genre and a guy to trust. He’s pointed these kids towards a bunch of great songs and got solid, natural and un-contrived performances out of them.

At 13 Jenny Wolfe’s already a feisty but subtle singer, and Steven Campbell plays some excellent keyboards notably in Augie Meyers-style on ‘Shakin’ All Over’. Claiming producer’s rights Krc has them do a few of his own songs among them the timeless ‘In My Head’, along with such as Erickson’s ‘Starry Eyes’, PF Sloan’s ‘You Baby’. Mike Nesmith’s ‘Different Drum’ and Graham Gouldman’s ‘For Your Love’.

They’re all a joy to listen to, a palate cleanser, a promise of a splendid future, and a reminder of class. Would that all 13 year olds had such an education.





If there’s one label in the UK that’s definitely thriving it’s Bella Union. Not only does it have an established roster with folk like The Dears, The Dirty Three and Midlake, it also has the priceless ability to keep on turning up new and interesting talents. Thus far this year, its tenth anniversary, it has given us those chiming Scandinavians The Kissaway Trail, and now it brings Stephanie Dosen.

In Dosen they have an artiste who contrives to tick two much-coveted boxes. With a lush, layered sound and her ethereal, though not fey, voice she harks back to the prime, now two decades ago, of The Cocteau Twins; or, as has already shrewdly been noted, to The Sundays; and she will also be garlanded by the tastemakers of the new psych-folk milieu.

A Lily For The Spectre is a beautiful album, of that there’s no question. Dosen’s voice is reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser and Harriet Wheeler, along with a few others. The harp-like guitars, the swirling strings, and the multi-voices create entrancing atmospheres as the songs flutter in and out of meaning, always suggestive of a rustic ambience.

Yet with the exception of the truly impressive ‘Lakes Of Canada’ individual songs don’t quite stick. There’s a bit more grit required, which is apparent briefly in ‘Only Getting Better’ where she begins to sound like Laura Cantrell. That said this is a more than pleasing introduction, and it’s certainly worthy of investigation.




The sweetly gravel-voiced Texan singer-songwriter Vince Bell lost years of his creative life in the aftermath of a shocking 1982 car accident. Prior to that he’d spent much of the 70s playing alongside the legends of the heart-worn highways and they recognised him as one of them. Townes Van Zandt, with whom he shared many stages, said simply, “Vince is a poet”, and Nancy Griffith reckoned him “the best of us”.

He resurfaced in 1994 with the Bob Neuwirth-produced Phoenix. Texas Plates followed in 1999 and Live In Texas in 2001. That live album saw him ably supported by Cam King from The Explosives, and King produces Recado. The judgement of his eminent peers is confirmed in the songs presented here; ten originals and a cover of Van Zandt’s ‘Mr. Mudd And Mr. Gold’. Bell’s songs are both precise and unknowable; seemingly simple but offering conditional views of his interior landscapes. When he writes about open spaces they tend to be stepping-off points to transcendence. In ‘Isla’ he offers a “welcome to my island”, but zen-like insists “if you’re gonna spend some time, spend some time”. In ‘Done That Too’ he declares, “I’ll stare into the face of God. Anytime he wants to”. The Townes cover is rough, strange and unusual, while ‘Gypsy’, his tribute to the late master, seems double-edged and thus truer to that troubled soul.

There’s a deal of unobtrusive support playing which may take a few plays to insinuate but then it’s much appreciated. The same can be said of these songs.





Bob Frank was a coffee house singer in 60s Memphis and a friend of Jim Dickinson. His take on ‘Wild Bill Jones’ appeared on Dickinson’s Dixie Fried album and it led to a Vanguard contract. An eponymous release of 1972 is now as rare as hen’s teeth, as were sightings of Frank for many years.

It transpired he’d been in Oakland and resurfacing with the new century he turned out three new albums, revisiting old songs and older companions. Dickinson produced 2002’s Keep On Burning.

Now for World Without End he’s teamed up with John Murry, sometime member of Lucero, and they’ve made a very singular recording. It’s a collection of murder ballads, freshly written and telling real stories in new ways. Macabre and eerie, their settings and arrangements sometimes support and sometimes contrast the tales being told; a couple of tracks have an almost carnival feel to them. They run the gamut from simple folk styles to post-rock dissonance.

It’s a parade of unreliable narrators, legendary outlaws, and mythical figures. From the killing of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, to the life and bloody end of Mexican outlaw Joaquin Murietta whose severed head passes around a saloon in a jar, to the matter of fact tale of Bubba Rose’s inexplicable slaying of his boss. Most shocking of all is ‘Jesse Washington 1916’. Be wary of hearing this tale of a lynching in Waco from the victim’s perspective; it’ll haunt your dreams.


Southern Tenant Folk Union

Southern Tenant Folk Union

Ugly Nephew Records UNR004

STFU surfaced in 2006 playing around the London clubs like Come Down And Meet The Folks, Honky Tonkin’ Sunday and What’s Cookin’. Initially they appeared to be a side project of Pat McGarvey, long-time sidekick of Sid Griffin in the various incarnations of the Coal Porters over the last decade. As the Coal Porters made their turn towards bluegrass Pat had become an accomplished banjo player and immersed himself in the genre. It didn’t see m surprising that he might wish find another outlet allowing more space to spotlight his own songwriting. How Dark This Earth Will Shine’s ‘Morning Song’ had shown the quality of Pat’s writing but inevitably the Coal Porters would predominantly feature Sid’s material and their musical direction would be primarily his.

What was immediately striking about STFU was that this was no pick-up band. There was a quality apparent from the get-go. Pete Gow and Eamonn Flynn, from Case Hardin and Foghorn Leghorn respectively, bought known track records of quality. But stand-up bassist Matt Lloyd, fiddler Frances Vaux and singer-guitarist Oliver Talkes, though comparatively unknown quantities, proved each to be rock solid. Talkes particularly, who’d really appeared out of nowhere, marked himself immediately as a voice of gravitas and grandeur with the timbre of an old soul.

Folk were inevitably impressed by the shows but nobody realised how fast things were going to run. Pat had sent a few demos out to Americana labels without much response but then he was contacted through MySpace by Ugly Nephew who wanted to put out a record and wanted to do it soon. He jumped at it, but it meant a process in which a band was learning to be a band while recording an album in a Harlesden front room on a two-track and while some members were still trying to familiarise themselves with the whole bluegrass dynamic. That gives you some idea of the achievement here.

Because the STFU album is an exceptional debut album featuring exquisite playing and very strong songs. They’re mainly McGarvey compositions; the timescale and the learning curves, made that inevitable; but Ollie Talkes, who’s never previously been on a record, takes possession of every song he sings. ‘Who Is Going To Love You Now’, ‘The Cold Flagstone’ and Flynn’s ‘Candle Waltz’ all turn up goosebumps. And the harmonising and the instrumentation throughout are similarly haunting; precise, textured, always riveting, and always emoting.

What was the catalyst to start this band? Was it meeting Oli?

Pat: I thought Oli had such a great voice so I wanted to do something with him. I had quite a few songs lying around, but about nine months before that I’d seen a band in America called King Wilkie at a big bluegrass industry showcase in Louisville. I saw them play in a hotel room and it was these six young guys in retro looking suits, playing old-style, quite Gothic sounding, but cool, and I thought there’s space for similar in the UK. So I forged ahead on my own and then thought I’ll just do it myself with Ollie and Pete singing lead vocals and I’ll build a band around those guys. Old timey, traditional sounding songs but not pastiche, not cheesy sounding songs. Try and write good material that reflects my experience of life, but using old time phrases and imagery.

So the voices provided the main thrust?
Pat: It definitely started with an idea for the sound of the vocals and then as I wrote more songs for the album and the other guys wrote songs they started to be geared more to who was going to perform them. It actually happened quite quickly. Eamonn Flynn from Foghorn Leghorn, I met him down at What’s Cookin’ one day and asked whether he’d be interested in playing mandolin, and he chased me up after that. I found Frances and Matt out of an advert in Loot.

How has everybody taken to playing bluegrass?

Pete: We all come from different places. Case Hardin are more like a standard rock thing, Fran comes from an acid jazz, Irish folk thing. But we’ve all immersed ourselves in the bluegrass sound, we’ve all tried to understand it, but then bring our own bits to it. We’re grounded in this tradition but then there’s people like myself and Fran and various other people’s influences trying to drag us away from it. It just makes quite an exciting sound.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jeffrey Dean Foster

Million Star Hotel

Angel Skull ASR –0818

Million Star Hotel is like a multi-faced diamond reflecting light into a hall of mirrors. It’s full of shimmers of sound floating phantom-like through the ether, suddenly becoming corporeal, solid, robust, and then as quickly bursting again into slivers and insubstantial after-sounds, then turning into before-sounds again.

A classic pop album from North Carolina, in the lineage of How Men Fail and Travels In The South, that unashamedly mines the tradition, the glories, of the greats. This is a record made by someone who grew up in the 70’s, whose teenage years must have been spent in cars with radios. You can hear late Beach Boys, Neil Young, Marc Bolan, Glam Rock, and you hear of a time when music and romance were inextricably mingled.

Put together over a number of years, as and when locale allowed, it’s a large project and a large album; 14 songs and nearly 70 minutes. They’re all real big songs, full of diversity, adventure, and surprise. Well-made songs of the night illuminated by those million stars but created like sculptures or collages; there’s always something more. Be it atmospherics, distortions or add-ons, there’s always another teasing little sound in the corner.

There are friends here too. Lynn Blakey, recently of Tres Chicas, sings, notably on ‘The Summer Of The Son Of Sam’, Don Dixon and Chris Phillips take brief turns, Mitch Easter plays guitar and steel and helps produce. But it’s Foster’s album and it’s his persona and his strengths that define it. His tender, warm tenor voice is always entrancing. He writes a good and memorable lyric: “bet her heart on a bobtail loser”, “can’t even count on losers anymore”, “you’re on the road but I’m on the street”. He can take classic lines and make them new; we know where titles like ‘Long Gone Sailor’, ‘All I Do Is Dream’, ‘When Will I Be A Man’ come from, and we smile with recognition and it helps us, but it wouldn’t change a thing if we came completely fresh.

The start is gentle. First an ambience, a little breaking whisper that gradually grows into the tale of a ‘Lily Of The Highway’. The major motifs are all here gathered; girls, cars, growth, loss. And its questing and its variance are the promise of what’s to follow. A promise absolutely redeemed almost immediately by ‘The Summer Of The Son Of Sam’. That summer was 1977, when Elvis and Skynyrd both fell to earth. Over six minutes the song rises from a quiet meditative night with cicadas, lit only by a dying star, into an epic.

Memorable moments persist; there’s a splendid twist in ‘Little Priest’ as it begins like glam rock, with echoes of T.Rex, and becomes a California surf ballad. ‘Don’t Listen To Me’ with its After The Gold Rush piano, might be channelling Danny Whitton. ‘Long Gone Sailor’ seems at least part-written under the influence of Holland, and if ‘Lost In My Own Town’ doesn’t allude to Big Star then I’m a Dutchman.

Yet every second of this remarkable album cries out to be listened to, experienced, and cherished. Everything here is always doing its part; it’s down to the careful listener to find and explore that everything. For these songs will never let that listener down and never stale. Always they’ll inspire, and always they’ll reward.