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.

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.