CD Reviews by Peter Stevenson
THE GLENHAIN GOLD RESERVE
Note Records THCD 12201A
Note Music has an ever expanding and reassuringly familiar catalogue operating across the blues, jazz and soul spectrums. Here we find a couple of their very best teaming up for a project which features a mix of blues and reggae and quite often an interesting fusion of the two.
Both men are unsung heroes of the blues scene but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that there’s plenty of pedigree. Tim Hain has already turned out similar offerings for Note and is the smoothest of blues pickers, with a malleable voice that adapts to the pre-requisites of the two musical forms. A Barcode by any other name, Alan Glen brings his expressive cool harmonica to the feast, while other luminaries from Note’s mix and match cast of thousands provide the accomplished backing.
Take the relaxed rhythms of reggae and fuse in some smooth blues lines and riffs - it couldn’t be any easier, especially when some of the UK’s best musicians are on board. Polished performances all the way and an album that is unlikely to disappoint.
Nil Desperandum -
Psalm Reader Records Psalms 1-12
Someone, somewhere has gone to a lot of trouble to put together this conceit - the accompanying publicity complete with vague recollections concerning a Coventry duo who laid down a number of tracks at various studios in the late 60's and early 70's. Identities unknown their work finally surfaces, hopefully to rapturous acclaim and the discovery of a lost classic.
Unquestionable reality or an extravagant claim? I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in-between and it’s certainly easy to believe that these tracks have emerged from the vaults, given their authentic period feel. In this sense the album is quite an achievement and has captured all of the requisite rough around the edges, stripped down garage psychedelia and simplicity, typical of the time, complete with swirling keyboards and fuzzy production values. There are some fine pieces of period pop on offer here and if I suggest that some of them sound as if they didn’t quite make the cut for Love’s classic album Forever Changes, you might have a better grasp of all that these ecclesiastical hoodwinkers have achieved.
Throw in a (not so) grainy black and white film of the band - check out the video of the excellent Moneylender on You Tube and you have all you need to know. Embrace this track and chances are you’ll be up at dawn for matins and embracing the whole daft concept. Not so much the Mysterious Monks as the Mischievous Monks.
Sonnet Cottage are a winsome threesome comprising singing sisters Rachel and Torey Russell, accompanied by pianist/keyboard player Kent Heckaman, who is also the musical composer and chief lyricist. This might suggest a stripped-down approach, which to a degree is the case but there’s a host of studio musicians on hand to add colour and texture to the edges of their songs.
With an undoubted folky root to the music, the album offers ten songs with a rather breathy and harmonious vocal style - the Russell’s have something of a fragile yet mirrored approach and I certainly struggled to tell the voices apart. Only on a couple of occasions do they choose to pick up the pace, preferring a contemplative and peaceful ambience, a whimsical and breezy spring pastoral if you will, all of which drifts along on a rippling tide of gentle instrumentation.
Their formulaic approach only shifts at the close, with the guest vocals of Jed Duvall and a country-tinged sign-off. Slightly askew when compared to all that had passed before, this is still an accomplished debut and plenty more will be found on the trio’s website at - www.sonnetcottage.com
Songs For Mrs Beautiful -
Tree Trunk Records TT005
Rosa Rebecka is an engaging singer-songwriter - UK based but with a Swedish/American ancestry, it allows her to draw directly from a wide heritage and assemble folk traditions and instrumentation from further afield.
Songs For Mrs Beautiful is her third studio album and it is her skill as a storyteller that is initially noticeable. Rosa’s songs have all of the finest ingredients of the story-telling tradition - haunting, atmospheric tales, imbued with a poetic and playful lyricism. Coupled with her narrative vocal phrasing, a number of the songs brought to mind the best work of Anne Lister. Rosa’s beautiful voice is the perfect compliment to the music, although in the interests of balance I fancy that her singing and the overall presentation might be a touch too twee for some tastes.
Rosa herself is a multi-instrumentalist but first and foremost an accomplished guitarist, while a host of guest artists with exotic instrumentation add plenty of depth and texture to the overall soundscape behind the songs. And what songs … Mrs. Beautiful’s Guitar, effectively the title track, is the closest to home and tells the tale of Rosa’s guitar-playing great-grandmother Katrina, whose surname, Fhager, is an old-fashioned Swedish word meaning beautiful. Her guitar has passed down through the generations, and the voices of her descendants contribute to this moving piece.
I also particularly liked Giftasvisan, a traditional Swedish marriage song, (sung in Swedish and English), while Rosa’s duet with Tobias Jacob on Night Song is also a captivating delight. Closing proceedings is the sumptuous Not A Lullaby - its massed choir caressing the listener with a velvet touch that is not unlike the sort of thing one might find on a Mediaeval Babes album.
I must admit that it took several plays for this album to really register but I’m glad that I persisted and reaped its warm rewards.
Riding With Mr. Blues - PB103
Following a number of years performing as a duo and a four-year recording hiatus, The KingmiXers return as a trio for their latest release. Yet another emerging talent from Canada, the staple line-up of Gary Preston - harmonica, keyboards, vocals and Anita Bonkowski - bass and drums, has expanded with the addition of David Schade - guitar and vocals. Quite how the one-woman rhythm section copes in the live environment I’m still wondering.
Riding With Mr. Blues is notable for it’s eclectic range of blues styles and sounds, and there are some radical shifts as the album progresses. Expect your ears to be pleasured by a range of soulful Chicago-style blues, rocking boogie and blues, swinging jump and jive, with jazzy infusions and the odd standard thrown in for good measure. At the forefront is the blistering harmonica of Gary Preston, behind which sultry guitar interjections add tasteful atmosphere, while the ease with which the trio roll-off their rock-steady rhythms ensures the tightest of sounds.
It probably should be noted that both vocalists do have a very precise vocal style and with the crispest of productions, every word and intake of breath can be heard. This does make for a “cleaner” blues sound than one might normally expect but for sheer musicality and variety I’ve no complaints and the album is an enjoyable ride from start to finish.
More to be found at www.garypreston.ca or www.facebook.com/TheKingmixers
The Geriatric Delinquent
Despite suggestions of advancing years, Jimmy Adams is full of country energy with a slightly of rough around the edges voice to match. It’s the perfect accompaniment to his world weary view, which he brings to life with his bar room songs, rejoicing under titles like This Old Spouse, Mr Barstool and Eatin Boiled Eggs.
Accompanying information is scant and it’s unclear whether Jimmy is playing all the instruments as the songs are presented with a full backing, which gives the impression of the tightest of bands in full swing. Whatever the situation, I can’t fault a single word or note of this tongue in cheek, honky-tonk parade.
My only gripe is that it’s such a short affair - just six gritty songs bookended between Jimmy’s affectionate but brief asides to his handsome bulldog Frank. Despite the self-deprecating elements, age generally brings wisdom and experience and that’s certainly the case with this little slice of homespun country pie.
Check out the old dog at www.madeloud.com/artists/jimmy-adams/music
TALES FROM TULGEY WOOD
Pennyless release their third album in as many years and like its predecessors, which were reviewed within these pages, it is every bit as good. A trio from South Lincolnshire, they are steeped in the atmosphere of the local landscape and provide a balanced mix of traditional music, folk rock with pep and zest and occasional influences from further afield.
Tales From Tulgey Wood largely features original songs and instrumentals and to these ears at least, much of it seems to hark back to the inventive post-revival days of the late 60s and early 70s. Indeed, it’s all the more refreshing for its somewhat innocent approach, which incorporates all manner of plucked, blown, and percussive instrumentation. This is not a slight - the trio are clearly in control of the approach and are competent musicians in all departments.
Vocal duties are shared between Penny Stevens and Les Woods - the former plaintive and fragile, the latter as smooth as sandpaper but ultimately ensuring there’s plenty of aural contrast above the flickering sounds and textures.
Further information and availability can be found at
Time On My Hands -
Wise Axe WA-080312
Herington is a veteran touring and recording guitarist, who has previously played with the likes of Steely Dan and The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue (with Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald and Donald Fagan). Lead singer and guitarist for his own three-piece band, Time On My Hands is his latest release and features a superb album of driving blues tinged rock, with an eye clearly focused on the live environment.
Ten original songs reveal that Herington’s voice and guitar are in perfect harmony - both sound so effortless, his fluid guitar style quite sublime. Here is a man who understands about the economy of playing - no need to be flash and expansive when you can deliver killer riffs so succinctly.
Highlight of the album might just be Sweet Ginny Rose, where an inventive sitar lead-in is soon echoing along to an irresistible ringing guitar. Elsewhere, soul and funk flavours emerge, while Herington even manages to instil his blues into the infectious rhythms of Runnin’ Out Of Time, which is a stripped down 60s pop song by any other name.
With a fantastic crystal clear production to match the quality of performance, I can’t help but mention that Herrington might just be Fabio Capello’s long-lost twin brother. Can it be true? Visit www.jonherington.com & facebook.com/jonherington to discover the truth.
Australian Portrait -
Cala Records CACD77013
The HD Duo comprises two virtuoso musicians - Michael Duke/saxophones and David Howie/piano, who present a collection of diverse and uncompromising compositions on their album Australian Portrait. Those folks at Cala really do like to challenge the listener and in every sense this is a musical picnic at hanging rock.
Oh yes, it’s a challenging project all right, for both musicians and audience alike. Much in the manner of Arthur Smith and “difficult” jazz, I’m out of my depth here. It’s almost impossible to describe the six pieces of music without sounding terribly pretentious, so perhaps the simplest approach is to fling a few adjectives and run for cover. Let’s try vivid, striking, sombre and discordant for starters and I’m only scratching the surface.
Messrs Duke and Howie are clearly very skilled musicians and the rhythmic interplay between soloist and accompanist, their interpretation, improvisation and impressionistic interludes, jostle like angry wasps in a jar. By now the penny should have dropped - if you’re looking for a breezy tune or melody, then search elsewhere. The accompanying sleeve notes do help by setting the scene for each piece and I’m sure there are those out there who can (un)comfortably access this type of music. Me? I’m rather lost and gasping in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain.
Way Up On The Hill -
Union Music Store UMS003
Sussex based Hatful of Rain deliver this issue’s hands-down winner, album of the month if you will, and it’s an absolute gem of a recording. It features an irresistible bluegrass acoustic/roots fusion from an accomplished group of musicians. While it’s difficult to single out anyone for particular praise, James Shenton’s fluid and expressive violin is likely to catch the ear and with the attractive Chole Overton fronting proceedings, this four-piece outfit is blessed with an excellent singer.
Stylistically, this album has it all and amongst an array of moods you’ll find up tempo Appalachian bluegrass, dazzling instrumentals and melancholic and emotive country ballads. With one exception, the songs and tunes are contemporary creations by the band but so authentic, it’s hard to believe that they don’t possess a historic pedigree. The opener, Way Up On The Hill along with Winter Rose particularly demonstrate Chloe’s skills as a songwriter and highlight her plaintive singing. The album concludes with a fabulous version of the standard Angelina Baker, which features a flat-footing guest spot by Alice Cade. It’s well worth checking out the short clip of her rhythmic and percussive dancing accompaniment on You Tube.
If this is your type of music then you can’t go far wrong with this band. They are getting quite a lot of airplay at the moment and have been championed on radio by both Mike Harding and Bob Harris. Quite simply a scintillating crossover album from an accomplished UK act.
Yorkshire Street is the debut album by Lancashire based singer songwriter Rose Greenwood, which features an album of ten original compositions. With one exception it’s Rose’s own work - all the lyrics and most of the music, although there is the reassuring presence of guitarist and co-producer Mick Wright throughout, who chips in with a single composition.
It’s a debut full of promise - a single voice and two acoustic guitars working harmoniously to produce an uncomplicated folky sound, which drifts lightly and amiably along. The stripped back arrangements are a deliberate construct, nudging listener concentration towards the voice and the subject matter of the songs. Rose has a pleasant voice which is certainly in keeping with the subtlety of the presentation, while the contemporary nature of the songs address all manner of personal stories and social issues.
The duo may be constrained by the limitations of their current abilities but as a career launching pad this is an album to be proud of.
More at facebook.com/rosegreenwood.mickwright
STACEY J. DOUGLAS - From China
Stacey-Jane Douglas is a guitar playing singer/songwriter, currently residing and performing in Singapore. Previously based in the UK, it was on home soil that her career was launched and an earlier album released.
One might expect that the experiences of a black British musician, living and playing on a distant cultural fringe, would tap into a rich vein of source material. Despite the title suggestion, that does not really appear to be the case here - with one possible exception, Stacey’s songs explore the facets of everyday life, leaning heavily of love and relationships and the emotions that a broader spirituality can awaken.
Musically, the songs are a unique blend of jazz styling, interwoven with folk influences and presented with a relaxed and soulful vocal delivery. At times the singing of Joan Armatrading came to mind - there’s an undoubted vocal dexterity at work, which is used as an expressive affectation, likely to catch the ear but without overly forcing the issue. In the live setting, Stacy-Jane sings with a trusty acoustic to hand but here the added attraction of a little extra instrumentation adds mood and atmosphere. I particularly liked Rick Smith’s smooth guitar interjections, which brightened proceedings but without causing distraction.
A mellow affair from start to finish, the nine songs on this album are thoughtfully constructed and well played. If you like songs rendered soulful and jazzy, there’s every chance that Stacey-Jane’s music will leave its mark.
For her website visit www.staceyjanedouglas.com while Stacey’s earlier travels and gigs are entertainingly described and excellently photographed at staceyjaned.blogspot.co.uk
HOOKS AND LINES -
Big Bear Records BEARCD52
Will Johns has been performing his brand of sizzling blues and rock for more than 15 years but emerges here with a new band and a sparkling debut recording. Formed in 2011 and based in Brighton, Johns delivers a most energetic mix of raw blues and early 70s flavoured rock.
It’s probably his take on the rocking blues that will initially catch the ear. An irresistible slamming opener best typifies this approach, revealing both expressive vocals and a relentless guitar with the grittiest of edges. It’s a format to which he returns throughout, sometimes opting for a subtle slide approach, while the slower numbers with their organ and saxophone, offer more soulful, funk-ridden renditions. In days of old Frankie Miller was at home with similar material and Johns also has a voice that is capable of effortlessly switching through the styles.
Original compositions form the bedrock, although a couple of covers round off proceedings. I wasn’t overly taken by Glen Frey’s Smuggler’s Blues but you can’t go far wrong if you sign off with the emotional tones of Need Your Love So Bad, which really cranks up the dial on the angstometer.
1-Stop-Experience is the latest in a line of ska incarnations led by Jennie Mathias, former vocalist with The Belle Stars, who some readers may recall enjoyed a number of UK and world-wide pop hits in the 80s, most notably the infectious Sign Of The Times.
With energy levels set to maximum, 1-Stop-Experience deliver an enjoyable high-octane ride, with fourteen slices of infectious and accomplished ska. Jennie always was a fine singer but reveals here that she also an excellent songwriter, and has a claim on every song.
From start to finish and with great tunes a-plenty, the musical mayhem is propelled along on a wave of spikey rhythmic guitar with pumping brass to the fore. Fame Game (Knows Your Name) is a wonderful Latino ska hybrid, and given the right airplay would make for a great single. Skip “Little Axe” McDonald is notable amongst the assembled band of musicians and with the sharpest of productions, a great time was clearly had by all.
If Hippies Ruled The World - Dodgy Tickets Records Dod G 61
No strangers to the pages of this magazine, Coventry’s Crokodile Tears return with a sparkling new album and another slice of eclectic, home-spun, electro-pop but this time their wry observational commentary and lyrical humour, is flavoured with their (sometimes slightly twisted) messages of love.
Crokodile Tears are quite an idiosyncratic outfit and there’s an extent to which the title track conveys their philosophical approach. Chris Sidwell is the songwriter-in-chief, a guitarist cum vocalist and seemingly the main motivating force. He was clearly influenced by much that he saw and heard growing up in the late 60s and there’s a degree of resultant shaping to the oft-times anarchic musical approach. Multi-instrumentalist Alf Hardy and Amy Guigan complete the line-up, the latter’s vocal exchanges and aural contrast an integral part of the sound.
Songs like The Girl With The Throw-Away Eyes and Girl On A Train are succinct little slices of well-constructed, accessible pop but at the other end of the spectrum Legs Akimbo and My Big Fat Mate are of a more frivolous construct. In musical terms they move the band on in time by a decade and certainly slipped past the PC Police.
A couple of songs didn’t quite hit the mark, while the only non-original, I Can’t Let Maggie Go (She Flies Like A Bird) was an interesting choice for a cover. A little less nimble than it ought to be, it might have benefited from some double-tracked vocal harmonies just to give it bit more lift. Minor quibbles aside, there’s still plenty here to enjoy.
Further information will be found at www.sonar-records.co.uk and www.myspace.com/crokodiletears
AN ARTISTS’ TRIBUTE TO NANCI GRIFFITH -
Paradiddle Records CD01007
From 1984 and on through to the late 90s, Nanci Griffith released a string of near faultless albums and seemingly continues to do so. For the best part of a decade her music formed a personal soundtrack and while the little love affair eventually faded, a soft spot inevitably remains.
I must admit that I’m a little unsure about these tribute albums, which have become something of the vogue in recent times. I don’t begrudge any artist a stab at someone else’s material - there are plenty of excellent cover versions around but who actually buys a whole album’s worth? Invariably, such ventures can be hit and miss affairs and if I really like an artist, it’s one of their original albums that I would prefer to play.
No surprise then that this release ticks some of the boxes but is a little wide of the mark for others. Perhaps it’s just personal preference but with fourteen different singers on hand, not all of their interpretations will satisfy, especially with some radical reworkings on offer. Sarah Hickman opens proceedings in sparkling form and is followed by the likes of Tom Russell, Julie Gold, Jerry Jeff Walker, Carolyn Hester and the engaging Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart, although a couple of names were new to me.
Whatever my reservations, this is a worthy venture, for all profits from the sale of this album benefit MAG (Mines Advisory Group) which Nanci supports. The album comes in a six-panel fold-out cardboard sleeve, half of which is given over to musician Pete Kennedy’s rich prose and loving appreciation of Nanci’s musical legacy.
Beaujangle Recordings DB 0041
Bev Pegg is a musician who can seemingly turn his hand to a myriad of styles, from country to skiffle,from rock ‘n’ roll to rhythm and blues. Throw in a little jazz, bluegrass and humour, offer solo and band engagements and seemingly you have an unstoppable one-man entertainment industry.
The rendezvous here is with sounds largely American and the album has an undoubted country feel but not exclusively so. I don’t think that Bev would claim to be the world’s greatest singer (he probably doesn’t claim to be Stourbridge’s either) but his voice has a certain rough around the edges world-weary charm, that fits the music just perfect. He’s also adept across a range of different instruments but with a number of associates to hand, Rendezvous presents the sounds of a band in full swing.
A good chunk the songs are Bev’s own, of which the title track is as good a road song romance as you’re likely to hear east of Route 66. Covers include a version of Wildwood Flower, interestingly sung from the male perspective, while Learning The Game, a much underrated Buddy Holly song, is delivered with all the poignancy it deserves. A couple of instrumentals add to the overall diversity on show, with a fine version of Apache displaying Bev’s unerring skill at precision mimicry.
Over fifty years in the business and Bob shows no sign of tiring just yet - for his website visit www.bevpegg.co.uk