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.

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.