Album Review: Ward Richmond – Highly Meditated

“I was walking down a crowded street one night and suddenly I realized I might like being alone/I might have read a few psychosemantic expert books/I once passed a science test a took/so I think I’ll be alright on my own.” Well, have I got a pandemic for you! Everything comes across like a tongue-in-cheek kids song celebrating introversion and self-reliance – although the f-bomb is fairly adult, of course!

Photo Credit: Will von Bolton
Continue reading “Album Review: Ward Richmond – Highly Meditated”

Album Review: Ben Kunder – Searching For The Stranger

A whalesound song and a beat halts for an a capella interlude: “I was in Berlin on the anniversary of some forsaken tragedy/shadows of my past.” The instrumentation builds back up as he relates taking in the scene while taking in the advice of a loved one. Given the setting, “tear down the walls” is more than a metaphor as he embraces a new normal of coming to terms with the past and the persistence of memory.

Continue reading “Album Review: Ben Kunder – Searching For The Stranger”

Danny Schmidt’s lockdown lullabies

Even before we knew that the best way to test your eyes was to drive to Barnard Castle, Danny Schmidt had made the connection between this year and the standard for good eyesight.

2020 Vision was written during and about the COVID-19 pandemic so you should not be surprised to feel recognition and emotional resonance: “She’s holding her breath/she’s hiding her mouth/we’re walking on opposite sides….I cross the road and she crosses herself.”

It speaks to the sense of a year passing too quickly and too slowly, lost to tedium and tenacity, childcare and barely dressed remote working, shopping despite empty shelves, and compulsive hand washing. Many other artists have found metaphor in our shared experiences but Schmidt has documented how we have actually lived during this topsy turvy, turbulent time, all set to a lilting waltz.

Continue reading “Danny Schmidt’s lockdown lullabies”

Album Review: Sam Lewis – Solo

Lewis’ voice seems to bounce as much as the plucked guitar strings do in What Does It Mean, but it’s silky smooth too. “Let me tell you ’bout the shape I’m in” – are you ready? The audio fidelity is so pure that there’s initially no indication that this career retrospective record was recorded in front of a live audience at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville.

Continue reading “Album Review: Sam Lewis – Solo”

Album Review: Tales and Tributes of the Deserving and Not So by Kelly Steward

Tales and Tributes of the Deserving and Not So by Kelly Steward

Golden Sun’s instrumentation has a stalking Western feel, commensurate with the story about moving “West towards the sun” with a kid and a guitar. Steward’s vocal is a cross between country and traditional strident singer-songwriter. The departure is seen as a positive new beginning rather than an ending or a defeat. It’s reminiscent of early career, earnest Kelly Clarkson.

We’re southward bound for Mississippi Rising. It broaches how to approach a storm and impending deluge, both real and metaphorical.

Outlaw is a remarkably melodic depiction of manslaughter, life on the run, and trial. We won’t reveal the outcome, but we can assure you that it’s dramatically delivered to a bluesy shuffle.

Traveling Ghost slows things down with the help of a pedal steel wail. It’s a sympathetic but frustrated song about observing the depths of grief: “you’re fading out in your search to find every memory that lies behind you/don’t lose yourself amidst an afterlife.”

“I was born in the wrong generation” is sure right about Steward’s style. We hear steel and traditional sounds as she laments the loss of true rock ‘n’ roll and other soundtracks to a Midwestern childhood.

Heartbreak Heart express frustration about the restraining effect of a break-up: “if it wasn’t for you/I would be out there living free.” Despite the subject, it’s got an upbeat melody and catchy hook.

 

Blues licks abound as Steward identifies herself as the Restless Kind: “honey, I’m sorry I must hit the road/I’m growing tired and I’m growing old.” It’s  like a rebuttal to the previous song which is about the whiplash effect of an unexpected departure.

Earthquake is a sad but surprisingly engaging and compelling song about losing a loved on: “an earthquake took you away on your birthday.” Sadly, it was an inspired by a relative who died while helping in the aftermath of an earthquake in Haiti on 2010. A sober thought when you might get that morbid rhyme stuck in your head for days.

No Time For Loving You is a growling Southern rock meets honky tonk via Bonnie Raitt tune with a blistering pace matching her refrain. It seems to be a pre-emptive strike: “you will wake up one day and walk out of my life/love has a way of walking out that way.”

Channeling the drive and vocal talent of Laurel Canyon greats, Steward is something of an old soul exploring love, motherhood, memory and the Midwest.

Photos by Jasmine Rose

 

Album Review: If Wishes Were Horses by Matt Patershuk

If Wishes Were Horses by Matt Patershuk

“I cut my fingers on so many broken hearts” is compared to the desensitising effect of callouses. In that context, Patershuk sings that  blues are bearable in their ever presence. We get blues in sound as well as topic. Blues Don’t Bother Me has some nice melodic vocal rises from a low register starting point.

Ernest Tubb Had Fuzzy Slippers must take the prize for most unusual title and opening line of the year. It gets stranger still; Tubb, wearing  his slippers and dressing gown, heads to downtown Nashville with a gun. It’s based on a trust story. In 1954, the country singer, fired at – and missed – Jim Denny, who ran the Grand Ole Opry. The so laid-back it’s almost horizontal song meanders through a web of Nashville connections, laying out a morality play that has you siding with Tubb rather than the almost victim.

Harmonica segues seamlessly into the instrumental track, Horse 1 For Bravery and Good Fortune, which prowls like a Western soundtrack.

Patershuk’s version of Jerry Garcia’s Sugaree has soulful backing vocals and a jazz piano solo but a harsh message: “just don’t tell ’em that you know me.” The impression of a wise old con imparting survival wisdom to a “cool fool is reprised later on.

Circus has a surprisingly poetic description of carny life: “by the gasp of the crowd used to live brave and proud/risked our skin to pay our bills/started dancing in the big cat cage when I was only 17.” The narrator is nostalgic about the excitement of a bygone lifestyle and community. It has the observational details and pathos of a Springsteen classic: “fire in our bellies then/ice blood in our veins/three rings and one full heart/god, those were the days.”

Alberta Waltz is a mournful pedal steel ode to dancing which dances around regrets. After a short instrumental, we get the blues about guitar virtuoso Albert King who has to risk his hands daily to pay the bills.

Let’s Give This Bottle A Black Eye is a traditional style shuffle about a traditional theme: drinking away heartache.

The third of four horse themed instrumentals would be worthy of a Western or a Tim Burton film.

Bear Chase is a jaunty little tune about going on a bear hunt and sort of rooting for the bear. We never learn the bear’s fate but signs are good and we’re left hopeful. Not such a surprising topic for a musician living in rural Canada.

Walkin’ brings back that ol’ pedal steel, along with percussion that replicates an aimless walking beat. There’s an old timey harmony group to echo Patershuk’s heartbreak blues.

The final ‘horse’ coda is upon is; the final wish is fond remembrance. That’s what we get in Last Dance. As the slow narrative evolves we get a picture of a man recalling memories and trying to make new ones with a love who’s being lost to a degenerative brain disorder. “in case we don’t say goodbye because you’re gone next time I find you/I say goodbye each night we dance.”

There’s just time for one last rocky blues song: “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea/I can’t swim for a damn and he’s coming for me.” He preaches and strikes up the band like a firebrand, reminiscent of the Red Hot Poker the song describes.

If Wishes Were Horses shows Matt Patershuk to be a relatively young man with an old soul and serious talent. The album produced by Steve Dawson, is out now on Black Hen Music.

Album Review: True Native by Tony McLoughlin

Album Review: True Native by Tony McLoughlin

Hot damn, Blood On Blood will wake you from any slumber or funk. No quarter is given as we hear about “blood on blood in the darkest night.” It’s a tale of outlaws in the Badlands. There is Springsteenian storytelling and delivery, and much for fans of Dire Straits in the deep voice and resolute pacing. 

A rolling stone, a loving kind, an outlaw, and a child of God are just some of the descriptors given. The one that’s worthy of the title is Flying Bird. The key traits embodied are freedom, song and observation. 

The Colour Of Spring leaves the desert. It’s jaunty and loved up. While the protagonist still walks the night, love light guides him home. 

The title track True Native has a Springsteen sound vocally, rattling and shuffling instrumentation, and a stroll through American lands and history. It skirts anachronistic language and idealism though. 

Photo by Christine Simpson

Sharp electric guitars and a honky-tonk tempo carry a traditional blues rock number, but it’s still set in the Western Plains. We get some sense of the wanderer’s motivation: “I’m only running from you.” While it showcases some gnarly solos, the storytelling of the previous songs make us eager for some of the backstory. Instead we get a “that’s how it is/that’s how it goes” brush off. 

Treeline marries latter-day Americana-Springsteen vocals with a whimsical look at nature. 

Photo by Deone Jahnke

We careen from pedal steel to moody blues rock and a vocoder effect. The declaration “zero” comes in full force but echoed. It’s the apogee of “a lonely cry and a lonely tear I could not hide.” The refrain becomes Below Zero as things get progressively worse for the protagonist.

Next up is a gentle lounge shuffle cover of Butch Hancock’s If You Were A Bluebird which offers intriguing, atypical metaphors. Try “if you were a train stop, the conductor would sing low,” for example. 

Mercury finishes the short album with one final low register song over a simple fingerpicked progression accented with harmonica. 

This short record is a curious mix of brooding and jaunty. McLoughlin’s seventh album was produced by renowned veteran guitarist Philip Donnelly (John Prine, Everly Brothers, Nanci Griffiths, Donovan, Townes Van Zandt).

True Native is out now and available through Tony McLoughlin’s website. 

Album Review: In Constellation by West My Friend

In Constellation by West My Friend

Fall Knows opens with an arresting, timeless, pure a cappella vocal. The surprise appearance of the unaccompanied missive to open the album with a dynamic rise and fall and a sprinkle of jazz scatting in the centre is bookended by a sudden stop. In between are musings about the cyclical nature of nature and the seasons. It suggests a subtle message: this, too, shall pass, because it always does. 

Salt Water continues the eco theme. An aural assault soon dies down, but that’s just a temporary reprieve. Soon there’s choral backing to match the expansive vocal. The lyrics mix timeless folk imagery with modern day bewilderment and distraction: “I am afraid of passing by grace/head full of bees and heart preoccupied”

Next we get close harmonies for a duet about love over the seasons: “love is something that you tend as it grows/and fold in to sleep as fall comes and summer goes.” It’s as poppy and light as they’ve sounded so far but it’s still highlighted by string led orchestral flourishes.

Shape of Home returns to vocally led, nature themed tunes and explores what it means to be inclined towards nature in a time inclined against a direct personal relationship or easy access to it: “I don’t have a river to call my own…I don’t have mountains to hold me still.” She’s not done searching though: “I just need memories I want to keep and a little trust in the falls.” The instrumentation is strong and moody. It’s rather poetic, in fact: “there’s a hole in the shape of a home in my heart and I know  you know  I hope to fill it with you.”

Old Song is saying something when the themes and genres evident on the entire EP reflect those more common in the 1920s or earlier. She sings the praises of her musical predecessors in a song with its own melodic jazz cred. Thinking of more recent times, the jazz/pop crossover is reminiscent of Fiona Apple’s When The Pawn… album.

All These Things sees the band looking back on more recent history with memories of grandma’s love expressed through sharing food. There are horns and a joyful richness, like the big reveal and new equilibrium of a movie.

The album ends with An Education, which takes an interesting approach; regrets are memories with the benefit of hindsight having learned better, therefore regrets are positive because they speak to a more positive future.

In Constellation is a layered, complex, interesting piece. Exploring themes of  integration with the natural world and realigning human relations. These things have underpinned folk songs for centuries, yet sonically there’s just as much influence from modern jazz and orchestral worlds.

Album Review: You’re Going To Die by Paul Mosley and The Red Meat Orchestra

It’s time for You’re Going to Die, an album featuring titles like People Are Idiots and Because I Did Not Die Today. Looks like this one is going to be fun!

Hello Yellow Crow has a steady rhythm and an up pace vocal delivery reminiscent of the riddles it describes. It’s all rhymes and wordplay with strings to add highlights.

People Are Idiots starts out in the first person but, true to the proclamation of unflinching honesty, soon gets to the point: “people are idiots/you know that they are.” Gang vocals pick up observations about group behaviour and group think, set to junk percussion and sci-fi synths.

Couldn’t Love You More is an unabashed love song “soaked to the skin/ridiculous grin/’cause I’m here with you.” Strings surround his declarations until the ultimate twist “as the spell is broken/there on the sand/shadow of one young man all alone/always alone” The jaunty Jason Mraz tone had no indication it was heading to a downbeat refrain of “it’s a lonely, lonely life.” Gazing at the colourful balloons on the album cover overlaid with the cheery bubble font proclaiming You’re Going To Die!, the song, too, is an emotional rollercoaster reminiscent of Up‘s opening scene.

Judge Mosely is Presiding has more Jason Mraz style wordplay and significantly more pessimism: “kindness has brought us to this bitterness/oh, kindness sometimes really is just weakness.” There’s pan pipes, a slight reggae interlude, and a ’60s TV theme feel. SXSW New Folk Award winner Jack Harris testifies.

Next up is a slow musing on perspectives, contrasting a loved one’s memory of the happiness of a ticker tape parade with the reality of a “week of rain” and “weeks of pain” at the end of a life.

Midnight/Moonlight seems conventional and verging on optimistic, so it’s best to tread carefully in light of previous experiences! Having emerged from a low, it turns out the earlier state was more recognisable and almost welcomed by the protagonist: “beer after beer after beer/there’s that man I know/flirting and fighting and fists are flying…follow him into the darkness.”

By now it should be clear that on a contrary album, the title track would be thoroughly positive in tone: “you’re going to die and so am I/so why are we sitting here listening to all these lies?/Love is rare and happiness is rarer than that.” Just as you think you spot a change of heart, a softening – “people are everything” – Mosely pulls the bait and switch again. “People are everything that’s wrong with this world” he clarifies! There is a manifesto of a world view: “might as well laugh about it.” The song was a conscious effort to live up to a description in a review: ‘The Muppets meet Tom Waits.’

The 1970s sounds like a late ’70s driving song and that’s even before it includes lyrics like ‘I want you/I want you’ and ‘we are family.’ Half way through the 6 minute 25 epic the songs takes a turn commensurate with the narrative of the track as Josienne Clarke sings “sometimes you just want to sing along to the saddest songs on midnight radio.” A long pause then a return to the previous tune, as if switching channels. These  refrains switch place until a deliciously deep voice repeats the midnight refrain to end the epic.

Build Your Fire delivers on the hope for more serene vocals. Jess Morgan provides a beautiful harmony. The song itself is reminiscent of the introspective and ultimately accepting approaches of Idlewild and King Creosote: “you build your fire/but every fire burns out…all of our graves go untended/that’s alright.” It highlights the range of genres and tonal shifts on the record. It would be easy to produce an album of deep, pretty thought pieces like that, but we’ve also heard Holy Moly and The Cracker style ditties and intelligently comical observations like as if Simon Stanley Ward was having a really, really bad day.

Well Done Son is a character study over the course of a life in just a few strokes.. The tables turn as the boy who tries to please his mother who “really can’t be bothered” turns into a man who receives an unexpected letter of praise from her. The inference is that she doesn’t have long left; the hard stop at the end of the song all but confirms it.

The record ends with a Holy Moly-esque anthem Because I Did Not Die Today, tying up themes and motifs from the opening track. We get black crows, consequences and pondering on mortality: “they say live each day as if it were your last/what about the rest?” Keeping a promise to his mother, who is referenced directly and obliquely throughout the record, wailing blues harmonica adds to the big goodbye.

The 16 piece Red Meat Orchestra includes Tom Moth from Florence and The Machine on harp, Joe Peet of Costeau on double bass, and Colin Smith on bass, plus Catherine and Earnshaw and Darren Allford on gang vocals. Together, under Mosley’s direction and worldview in response to grief, they’ve create a surprisingly fun, hectic and ultimately life-affirming record.