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August September

GILLIAN WELCH

The Harrow and the Harvest

WB Records

Genre – roots / country / American
Star rating 7/10


At last we have it and long awaited it is – Gillian’s first album for around eight years – the last one was ‘Soul Journey’ where she and David augmented with several other musicians. Eight years is a long gap between records so it’s possible that for Gillian & David it would be quite worrying – such an extended wait can lead to very high expectations.

The sound has been stripped right back for this one; it’s just the two of them with their guitars. For us what really stands out is David’s playing – the harmonic structures of the songs are uncomplicated – generally three chords and fairly standard structures- there is occasionally a fourth or fifth chord and most of the songs don’t have a bridge section. Yet David Rawlings never plays a clichéd phrase, in every song he weaves and colours, augments superbly, lyrically – it’s a consummate lesson in the art of accompaniment.

The songs are generally pretty downbeat – stories about the dark side of life – poverty, betrayal, callous acts carried out in desperation, people damaged by failed love affairs. Track 2 ‘Dark Turn of Mind’ is about the latter, it’s one of  the most poetic lyrics on the record – a song with a veiled warning against involvement with the person concerned ‘I’ve been in trouble before, and it left me with a dark turn of mind’ and ‘I see the bones in the river, I feel the wind through the pine, and I feel the shadows a-calling to a girl with a dark turn of mind’ it’s a dark song – quite chilling. Musically good though it is, the song depressed us and the record never really lifted us after that. Stepping back to the opening track; ‘Scarlet Town’ is a metaphor for every poor, depressed and crime-ridden town whether in the USA or the UK or anywhere else – ‘…but the things I seen in Scarlet Town done mortified my soul’ – there is some great blues / roots poetry here – the song is built on almost identical melodic / harmonic structure as the song ‘Caleb Mayer’ on their second album. In the song the person telling the story seems to be plotting a nasty revenge on one who ditched her. The third song is ‘The Way it Will Be’ and it’s at this point that it seemed to us that the quality the music lacks is humour – the opening metaphor ‘I lost you a while ago, and I still don’t know why, I cant say your name without a crow flying by,’ for some reason this recalled a TV comedy about an Irish priest who had his glasses stolen by a crow and had regular flashbacks of the incident. For sure Gillian didn’t intend this, maybe we’re being irreverent, but it indicates that something was needed to lighten the mood. The tempo rises a little for the fourth song ‘The Way it Goes’ it is fatalistic in its theme – the way it goes – apparently everyone is under such pressure that drugs, drink or suicide are unavoidable. The dark themes continue through to the final track ‘The Way the Whole Thing Ends’ – here the writer is observing someone who is crying having lost most of what they had in the way of friends and security, they used to be friends – but that’s the way the whole thing ends. It’s a slightly soporific and inconclusive end.

We’re huge fans of Gillian & David’s music but this, though excellently played left us deflated. We do not think it is quite the classic that some have said. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is. After all their other albums and albums by artists such as Diana Jones also deal with dark themes but also uplift the listener.
The answer may be in what the introductory publicity says ‘it’s the sort of songs you’d expect to hear issuing from some verdant wooded hole in Appalachia’. Well maybe – but in real down at the roots Appalachian music as in real blues there are always lighter touches songs with some joy in life, even if its only say ‘we’re still here’ often its expressed in instrumental tunes– but the balance of light and dark is always there that’s why such music has been the salvation of so many. Unfortunately we think this record, exquisitely played though it is, somehow lacking that balance. There’s only so much sitting reverently and nodding our heads that we can do.

Review Team

 

RECORD OF THE MONTH – AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2012

John Hiatt

Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns

New West Rock Records

Genre – Americana / Roots / Country
Star rating 10/10

John Hiatt

In a career spanning thirty years John Hiatt has always maintained a consistently high standard but on this album he excels himself. It’s easily his best in quite a while and we listened to the previous three albums to check that out. That’s not to diminish the previous albums but this one is special with some truly stand-out tracks and John’s vocals are superb. Maybe it’s because John had a producer to work with. This is produced by Kevin Shirley, a name usually associated with rock albums, but he’s done a great job here. For a band with relatively stripped down instrumentation he’s produced a big sound. It’s the sound of the great outdoors. Open spaces, the road, there is a sound wash effect that is really effective and the record overflows with great hooks. There is a very good opening track ‘Damn this Town’ – this is hard edged country-rock – the hook is in the guitar phrasing – it deals with an old guy for whom everything has failed and he’s blaming the town he lives in but the album really lifts and comes into its own with Track 2 ‘Till I Get My Lovin’ Back’ – it’s a gorgeous 6/8 country ballad with a lovely feel and perfectly placed steel guitar – it’s atmospheric and evocative of the great outdoors – superb.

John follows with very catchy ‘I Love that Girl’ it’s a simple pop tune with a contagious hook and on the way there are a few nods to classic Doo-wop. ‘All the Way Under’ is a nice mid-tempo blues shuffle with a country feel- the theme is loosely ‘I only trust anyone who’s walked a similar road to mine. I must say that  John’s vocals on the album are his best in a while and the voice really peaks on a couple of impassioned ballads ‘Don’t Wanna Leave You Now’ and ‘Hold on for Your Love’ – both very powerful and featuring the full range of John’s voice including the trademark  whoops to falsetto that he excels at. There are three travel songs and all three are crackers – with lovely movement and feel, great driving tunes that stand comparison with the very best that John has ever done; one is a car song ‘Detroit Made’ an ode the Buick Electra 225, ‘Train to Birmingham’ is a forty year old country tune again with a great feel and hook; and ‘Farewell to California’ is a beautiful wistful country tune about hitting the road back from the West Coast. The album closes with John’s song about 9/11 – it’s a very simple lyric and all the more affecting because of that. It’s a very poignant reminder and a piece of music that has considerable gravitas. It’s a weighty end to an album by a true master of the song-writing craft. It’ll make you think and it’ll make you feel good as well, we think its one of John Hiatt’s very best.

ReviewTeam

 

LESLIE WEST

‘Unusual Suspects’

Provogue

Genre – Blues/rock

8/10

 Leslie West

Leslie West is the famed guitarist and founder member of Mountain; this new album, entitled ‘Unusual Suspects’, is his first since 2006′s ‘Blue Me’. The boat has been firmly pushed out as far as guest guitarists go, Slash, Joe Bonamassa, Zakk Wylde, Billy F Gibbons and Steve Lukather join Leslie on at least one track each. This is not a mundane trawl through blues/rock- it’s each player having his own style that makes this album stand out, no two tracks are the same. If you add master session drummer Kenny Aronof into the mix, then stand by your beds! Each of the guitarists also has a deep musical and personal connection to Leslie West; Steve Lukather, who adds acoustic guitar to the piano-based boogie of ‘One more Drink for the Road’ has been friends with Leslie for decades. Billy Gibbons’ contribution, ‘Standing on Higher Ground’ reunites the pair from when ZZ Top opened for Mountain away back. Modern day metal guitarists Zakk Wylde and Slash both cite Leslie West as a great influence to their ‘brawny’ style, and Joe Bonamassa was so impressed with West’s rendition of the Willie Dixon/Eddie Boyd standard ‘Third Degree’ that he requested he play it on this album.

The album got its title from the fact that you could rarely get such an array of talent together on one album. Several of the new songs, including the aforementioned ‘One more Drink for the Road’ and ‘Legend’ were written by West’s long time friend Joe Pizza. Another unexpected turn is the version of Willie Nelson’s ‘Turn out the Lights’; this has West, Slash and Wylde weaving a triple threat of acoustic/electric guitars into the tune with such ferocity, that poor Willie might not recognize it !

For all its star turns, though, the heart and soul of ‘Unusual Suspects’ is the man himself. With his wildly original playing and singing, you get exactly what it says on the tin, thar is he knows how much to play without playing too much. This album is thoroughly recommended.

Review Team

 

BIG CHIEF

BIG CHIEF ON BROADWAY- Live at the Ealing Jazz Blues & Roots Festival 2010

Privately Produced

Genre – R&B / Ska / Township – Swing based

Star Rating 8.5/10

 Big Chief

Big Chief the North London Jazz / R&B outfit has trod the boards for over thirty years, they’ve produced good albums – but nothing ever caught them in performance like this one does. It’s a really special album and the review team here thought that the track ‘Drowning on Dry Land’ one of the very best Blues tracks of the year. The band is a North London institution led for three decades by Saxophonist John Fry and featuring Tony Reeves on bass. The eight piece unit has had some of the major names in British R&B and Jazz through its ranks – Dick Heckstall-Smith no less, and Adrian Paton of Curved Air – all part of a CV that fascinates. So thirty odd years on and a few decent albums they’ve produced their best yet – it crackles with life as the band plays a storming live set – the music is a mixture of R&B with brass, Township / Afro, Ska and some funky jazz edged tunes, some blues tinged classics written by such as Eugene McDaniels, Tom Waites and Randy Newman – it moves, it swings, it excites, it grooves and it really lifts the spirits, as you will hear it raised the spirits of the audience on that night.

The band is introduced by Essex Blues notable Tim Aves who also leads the demands for an encore – every track is good but for Blues fans especially ‘YOU GOTTA MOVE’ is real low down groove version of Fred McDowell’s classic and ‘DROWNING ON DRY LAND’ is truly outstanding; a real corker of a slow blues – with superb solos on Trumpet, both saxes and guitar –great dynamics and a soul filled vocal by John Fry that rings every ounce of desperation and regret from the lyric. Good as that one is the next one is the best track on the album – ‘AFRICA RAG’ written by John Fry and guitarist Barry Langton it’s an Afro groove and the percussion section is let loose to dazzling effect – it closes with everyone in the band and many in the audience playing something percussive and builds to an exhilarating climax that leaves the audience roaring for more. They get an encore a nice gentle Ska tune ‘Yellow Moon’. We recommend this record very highly indeed – it’s Big Chief at the very top of  their game – its an hour plus of really good music, and bookers get cracking and book these guys – they are a superb act.

www.bigchief.org.uk

Review Team

BLUES IS THE ROOTS

Al Price

Distilled Records DRCD003

Genre – Eclectic Roots / Blues

Star rating – 8/10

Al Price

This is a very interesting album from Al Price on the independent Scottish ‘Distilled Records label. He plays the Moothie; that’s Scot’s for harmonica and he takes the instrument and the listener to some very imaginative intriguing places. ‘Blues is the Roots’ is an apt title – because blues; or at least the five note pentatonic scale, is at the heart of all of the music on this; especially if you accept, as some argue, that all of the traditional folk forms are an expression of the ‘Blues spirit’. From that starting point this album takes us on is a very wide ranging musical journey. It opens with an impressionistic almost classical mood-piece ‘Christo Redemptor’ and then it touches traditional Celtic based music – ‘Lament for the Kerry Fisherman’. It stays close to traditional forms with ‘Devil’s Elbow,’ and Robbie Burns’ ‘A Man’s a Man[For a’ that]’, all the time adding imaginative textures to the traditional sounds. Al and co then touch real deep blues with Muddy Waters’ tune ‘Rolling Stone’ which has an excellent vocal by one Ernie Bell. 

There’s a strong jazz element in this work as the players explore Barney Kessel’s ‘Little Star’ and Mongo Santamaria’s classic jazz waltz ‘Afro Blue’. There’s a really good version of one of our favourite jazz numbers – Miles Davis’ classic 6/8 blues ‘All Blues’. Finally there is a nice touch to remind us all of where this album originated from; it’s an old-time Scots style piece ‘Thanks Mine’s a Pint’, this reminded some of us of our own personal experience of Scottish gentlemen doon here in the soft South where the phrase ‘mine’s a pint o’heavy son’ was oft heard. But seriously -the playing throughout is very good indeed and a quality example of ensemble playing – Al’s Moothie weaves in and out and his playing is outstanding. The whole work is imaginative with some highly original touches and will yield more on repeated listens. The record label ‘Distilled Records’ is a Scottish collective that supports and produces an interesting range of artists and there is a good community feel about the whole presentation. We reckon that Al and the guys on this enjoyed a good few bevies while making this; and we reckon they’ll enjoy a few more making the next ; if its as good as this is it’ll be well worth the wait; highly recommended

                                                                                                            Review Team

                                                                      

DIANE EDDY
Road Trip
Mad Monkey Records
Genre – Rock ‘n Roll
Star rating 8/10

Duane Eddy

 
Duane Eddy is a true rock ‘n roll legend and his music was part of the sound-track to the lives of some of our team here – this is, in a sense, a comeback record. This is Duane Eddy’s first album for twenty-five years and the production has captured the essence of his classic sound yet with modern sound quality. Richard Hawley produced this album in conjunction with Colin Elliott and Duane Eddy and they have worked a slice of aural magic to produce timeless sound – close your eyes and you’d be hard pressed to tell which era it comes from, the 50’s, 60’s or the 70’s or later. Richard Hawley’s imprint is clearly there in the ‘modern-retro style’ and in the evocative sense of place that permeates his own records, and this one. He takes Americana themes and imbues them with a sense of, in this case, the beautiful but bleak landscapes of northern England.

There are two particularly qualities to this record – melody and space – there are lovely memorable melodies all over and Hawley eschews all the clichés of modern production to allows the space for those melodies to shine. Duane Eddy’s playing is immaculate and he is inspired by the accompanying musicians who actually comprise Richard Hawley’s own band. Four of the tracks were written by Eddy and the other seven were written in concert with Richard Hawley and other band members. This album will transport you – there are echoes of film noire, James Bond, the American desert, the road, the peak district, American diners and English cafes, listen and you will paint your own pictures. The opening track is the humorous ‘The Attack of the Duck Billed Platypus’ – it recalls Eddy’s heyday of ‘Rebel Rouser’ and tunes of that ilk; ‘Twango’ recalls Django Reinhardt and Chet Atkins, ‘Road Trip’ is the American highway; ‘Bleaklow Air’ is the peak district and recalls a very sad occurrence; ‘Mexborough Ferry Halt’ is childhood holidays and cycling on open roads and is a truly joyous piece. The closer ‘Franklin Town’ is a melancholy sound picture of the aftermath of an American Civil War battle. A minor criticism of the record is that we would have liked something more ‘up’ to close it; but it, nonetheless, a wonderful record and will reveal more treasures on repeated listens.

Review Team

 

 

 

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