Everything is Fine – Amigo The Devil (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

There are moments when the wonderfully named Amigo The Devil sounds like the dark, balancing counterpart of Damien Rice, times when he sounds like the alt-folk version of Danzig but mostly he sounds like Amigo The Devil. For all the space and drifting atmospheres of the former and the intense, diabolical edges of the latter, he manages to plough a furrow through murder ballad territory in his own inimitable style. This is Southern apocalyptic country music, gothic folk, blasted and blighted rock music…it’s the music that is playing as you wait for the world to end.

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Beginners – Angus McOg (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

Angus McOg is a strange creature, after listening to the album, and struggling to find a classification for the music, I decided to dip my toe into the waters of the internet to see what he (and others) say about him. Obviously, there is the social media stuff, giving a brief – but interesting – biography but the most detailed information I found was from an Americana music review site, but this confused me further because on first listen what you hear isn’t strictly Americana so the review describes the album differently from what I was hearing.

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Songs from the Age of Ruin –  Twilight Fields (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I have spent not an inconsiderable amount of time over the years morning the passing of the political song. It seems odd to me that at a time when the world seems more divided, more intolerant, more entrenched…that rather than such concerns be reflected in the music being made we instead seem to revel in the vacuous, the shallow, the easily digested and the effortlessly consumable. Luckily we have acts such as Twilight Fields to show me that things may not be as bad as I make out.

Continue reading “Songs from the Age of Ruin –  Twilight Fields (reviewed by Dave Franklin)”

Look Up – Me and My Friends (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

It’s often interesting to read the press release for albums that fall into my paws, sometimes the description that has been put forward is at odds with the finished product that finds itself booming out of my speakers. Descriptions like ‘life-affirming’, ‘game changing’, ‘powerhouse’ and ‘the next great act’ accompany these albums so it’s sometimes wise to ignore the blurb and just judge for yourself.

Continue reading “Look Up – Me and My Friends (reviewed by T. Bebedor)”

Laika  –  Angus McOg (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

There is something wonderfully Gilliam-esque about the video that accompanies Angus McOg‘s Laika, that same strange, surreal cut and paste style that used to break up the sketches of Monty Python’s Flying Circus all those years ago. But there is nothing absurd or throwaway about the music that it represents. Five years on from previous album Arnaut, Laika acts as a taste of follow up album Beginners, set for release in January next year.

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EP One –  Mat Caron (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

There is a wonderful and inherent bleakness to Mat’s music in general and this latest release in particular. But where as many artists seem to force such a vibe into their songs, here it seems to be a natural state of affairs. And again where many would create such a feeling by employing age old tricks and overworked cliches, this brand of gothic folk is attained more through what is left out rather than what is put in. I Think I’m Getting Used To This is built from hypnotic, minor key repetition, sparse and poignant lyricism and delicate middle distance musical details. Throw in a haunting, disembodied choir of fallen angels and you have the sound of sadness rather than despair, melancholy rather than misery. And it is his ability to stay on the right side of those lines which avoids the musical traps and obvious pitfalls.

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Paper Thin – Simon Lynge (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

A couple of weeks ago Simon Lynge’s brilliant album ‘Deep Snow’ popped into my stereo and a positive review quickly followed. The relationship between ‘Deep Snow’ and my stereo hasn’t ended, they get together on occasion and I have a cheeky listen to a few songs here and there, so it’s no great surprise that when the chance to watch a video of one of the songs from the album came my way, I took it.

Continue reading “Paper Thin – Simon Lynge (reviewed by T. Bebedor)”

Be Still My Heart – Chris McEvoy (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

For every few hundred singer-songwriters who thinks its enough to buy a wide-brimmed hat, grow a week’s stubble, slip into some black jeans with professionally distressed knees and rattle off a few James Bay inspired ballads, you come across people like Chris McEvoy who are really exploring what the format has to offer. The very term singer-songwriter might be a much maligned label these days but Be Still My Heart reminds us of classic writers such as John Martyn or Roy Harper who wove warm and sophisticated musical strands into exquisite albums.

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Deep Snow – Simon Lynge (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

Occasionally an album comes along that, as soon as the first note plays, you instantly know you’re going to like it. It’s a rare thing but another reason why we love listening to new music; to make new discoveries and, hopefully, share these with others.

‘Deep Snow’ is the unassuming album from Simon Lynge and covers subjects such as birth, life, the environmental impact and fragility of life, death and all things in-between but it never feels preachy or negative. There is a character to the songs that allow them to flow from one to another without any feeling out of place or misguided.

Continue reading “Deep Snow – Simon Lynge (reviewed by T. Bebedor)”

Sweet Nothings –  Eliot Dean Baker (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

tumblr_pfuazmVbLb1rll5k4o1_500Considering how far we have come since the singer-songwriter became a staple part of  the modern music canon, how many songs have been written largely around one voice and one guitar, you might be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t much more to do with such a format. But as is always the case it is not the format but the creativity of the artist, the singer not the song. Eliot Dean Baker is proof of just such an idea and using just the basic ingredients he is able to create something rather compelling.

Following a slow burning journey from gentle picking, emotive strings and a spacious beat he manages to steer the song along a dramatic and dynamic path mainly though deft construction rather than a layering on of overt and obvious sonic textures. The song does gain weight as it travels to its sudden conclusion but only slightly, the odd bit of guitar embellishment here, some beguiling vocals there but largely this is about the song, the vocal delivery and the way he alone wanders between quiet atmospheres and triumphant crescendo.

My go to artists for songs such as this are often the likes of Damien Rice or David Gray, not exactly break through acts but neither have been bettered that often and their ability to do so much with such a sparse musical tool kit is reflected in the way Eliot Dean Baker works too. Baker weaves the same smoke-like and transient sounds around him, the same air of the otherworldly, an ethereal grace matched buy a very human condition. I’m not saying on the strength of this one song messers. Rice and Gray should set an extra place at the table just yet but they might want to make sure that there is a coffee brewing in case guests do drop by.

Coulds and Shoulds – DK1 (reviewed by T. Bebedor

51pADsv4gAL._SS500This album was described to me as electro-acoustic folk, sounds interesting enough, and two genres that could sit quiet nicely together, and they do. The songs are acoustic based but given a little extra atmosphere and ‘body’ with the electric treatment and, often, it works.

The songs sit nicely on the periphery of the subjects they tackle, often being the observer and posing questions – particularly on ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ where we’re asked to describe our world to visiting aliens – about human nature. He tackles personal issues such as dating as a middle-aged man, the effects of prescription drugs on your outlook on life and trying to ignore those voices in your head that seem to add caution to every decision and prevent us from doing things.

I think the best place to start with DK1’s album is the voice; singer/songwriter/musician/ producer Daniel Kent has a voice like Marmite, some will like it, others won’t. It’s a gentle, fractured, soft voice but won’t be for everyone.

Music wise the album covers folk but also takes in gyspy jazz and straight forward acoustic songwriter fare, the album starts well, ‘Itty Bitty Sh**y Committee’ is a strong opener, ‘Skinny Jeans’ takes a humorous look at modern day dating and ‘Bump’ sounds like a track from 90’s band St. Etienne, not a bad selection considering at this point the album is only five songs in.

There seems to be a deep well of talent around at the moment, blurring the borders of genres and challenging the listener to do something more than simply to listen, DK1 does just that.

Coulds and Shoulds is released on 1stOctober on F&G Records.



Vanessa Peters – Foxhole Prayers (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

a3021777516_10Throughout history, creative minds have always responded to injustice or outrage in their own way – Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica immediately springs to mind – and music is a powerful platform to air one’s own feelings on certain subjects.

Music can be political but at the same time still needs to be heard, so getting the balance between getting the message heard and remaining entertaining is tricky but this tightrope is expertly handled with Vanessa Peters’ 11thstudio album. She tackles broad subjects like politics and growing violence but also brings the listener into her more private world, sharing her self-doubts and fears.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a tubthumping political ride, it’s a creative mind writing about the world around her.

Like most solid albums the songs grow and evolve the more you hear them, and the result is something very homely and comforting but something that also has the intelligence to keep you on your toes knowing that dark times are just around the corner.

Peters’ voice is surprising resilient, not the strongest, but it sits just as happily in the softer moments as well as the rockier songs and her delivery is honest and invites the listener to come along for the journey, it’s a voice that you want to listen to.

The album’s opener, ‘Get Started’ is a gentle kick in the pants and a call to arms, yes things aren’t always buttercups and crumpets but we have a hand in our own path so make a choice and stick to it, no matter what stands in the way. This positivity runs throughout the album, even when she is laying her fears bare on ‘Fight’, it is quickly followed by ‘Lucky’, another slice of positivity. ‘The Riddle’ sounds like the best Radiohead song that Radiohead didn’t write, it has the acoustic guitar, the dreamy melody and distorted effects that the Oxford band produced during the 90’s.

The title track acts as an intersection midway through the album, announcing a slight change to atmosphere and, interestingly, the album seems to get better as it goes along, three of the final four songs are wonderfully up-tempo and reinforce what a strong and varied songwriter Peters is. ‘Carnival Barker’ is an almost humorous metaphor for the current American president and the sideshow that surrounds him (reminding me a little of the Talking Head track ‘Democratic Circus) and ‘Trolls’ rattles along before a return to more familiar ground in the albums closer, ‘What You Can’t Outrun’.

In this world of commentators, bloggers, vloggers and whoever else people listen to now it’s clear that songwriters are still powerful voices and I’m yet to think of a reason not to listen to this one.

Nature Makes Amazing Shapes –  Julie Anne McCambridge (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

13906777_1092970170738503_641623144377933452_nFolk music has wandered down some interesting pathways of late. Like any genre it needs to move with the times and although there are always going to be the “folk police” – normally a bearded guy called Brian in a June Tabor tour shirt – trying to dictate what is and isn’t folk music, change, or at least evolution is inevitable. In recent times folk music has been seduced by the indie chic and Camden cool of the likes of Mumford and the Whale and more latterly emerging names such as Brona McVittie and Rowan Coupland have shown that there is a shimmering dream-pop inspired route for it to take.

But sometimes I miss the more fun, the more story telling, less mystical, the more lyrically accessible and often slightly wonky approach to the genre. If you feel the same, that you want to enjoy the songwriting rather than the soundscaping or how zeitgeisting, faddy or fashionable a record is then Nature Makes Amazing Shapes will be just what you are looking for. Because it deliberately isn’t trying to fit in and be on trend, it can cover a lot of ground and of course if you are never in fashion how can you ever be out of fashion?

Reverse is a strange, almost lullaby slice of innocent folk meets world pop, Jezebel is a jaunty confessional built on infectious bass grooves and This Sweet Delusion is a spacious plea whose simple lines leave McCambridge’s strident vocals the focal point. Just Said No is more in keeping with what you might expect from the folk tag, musically straight-forward, lyrically poignant and designed to have you singing along before the first chorus is even over and Hooligan reminds me of the ragged and roots musical machinations of The Violent Femmes, not a point of reference I get to break out very often but I’m always pleased when I do.

It’s a great album, on reflection it might not even really be a folk album after all. It’s more than that, its musical scope may touch base there more often than not but it also skirts world music, singer-songwriter stylings, warped post-punk and indie music. And of course anyone seeming to channel the spirit of Jonathan Richman, at least in approach and attitude, is exactly what music, not just folk music, needs right now.

Brian is going to hate it which is exactly why you should buy it!



Gregory Alan Isakov premieres ‘Dark, Dark, Dark’ at Billboard

mail-1.jpegGregory Alan Isakov’s new song, ‘Dark, Dark, Dark,’ has just premiered publicly. Of the album, Billboard proclaims, “The 12-song set wound up sounding more characteristically ruminative…blending a gentle spaciousness with dusky atmospheres and carefully nuanced textures.

‘Dark, Dark, Dark’ is the third track unveiled from Isakov’s anticipated new album, ‘Evening Machines’. The release, his first in partnership with Dualtone Records, is due October 5th and is now available for pre-order.

The album’s previous single, ‘Caves,’ was recently featured at Paste, who called it, “Enchanting…Essential to the song’s boundary-less feeling is the enchanting vocal layering—the layers reach out in every direction to create the sense that they extend forever, but you are still somehow at the center of it all.” The first single, ‘Chemicals,’ which surpassed 3.8 million streams this week, has garnered critical acclaim from Rolling Stone, who praise, “[the song] unfolds at a gentle pace…[it] is the sound of befuddlement turned into beauty.” PopMatters furthers, “‘Chemicals’ is a penetrating narrative that explores the complexity of the human condition. It’s almost overwhelming to ponder what the rest of the album will reveal.” Earlier this month, Isakov was the subject of an Inc. story on balancing both his career as a musician and working his own farm, see the full interview here.

Recorded at a converted barn studio located on Isakov’s three-acre farm in Boulder County, CO, the twelve-track album was self-produced and mixed by Tucker Martine (Neko Case, The Decemberists) and Andrew Berlin (Descendents, Rise Against).

Of the record—his fourth full-length studio album and first in five years—Isakov comments, “I’d work really hard into the night. A lot of times I would find myself in the light of all these VU meters and the tape machine glow, so that’s where the title came from. I recorded mostly at night, when I wasn’t working in the gardens. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, morning or afternoon, this music always feels like evening to me.

All with Joe Purdy

November 20th—Brussels, Belgium—Orangerie Botanique
November 21st—Hamburg, Germany—Uebel & Gefaehrlich
November 23rd—Oslo, Norway—John Dee
November 24th—Stockholm, Sweden—Nalen
November 25th—Copenhagen, Denmark—VEGA
November 27th—Amsterdam, Netherlands—Paradiso
November 28th—Groningen, Netherlands—De Oosterport
November 29th—Berlin, Germany—Passionkirche Kreuzberg
November 30th—Cologne, Germany—Gloria
December 1st—Zurich, Switzerland—Mascotte
December 2nd—Paris, France—La Maroquinerie
December 4th—London, UK—O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
December 5th—Bristol, UK—SWX
December 7th—Dublin, Ireland—Academy
December 8th—Glasgow, Scotland—Saint Luke’s
December 9th—Manchester, UK—Academy 3


The Belligerent North Star  –  White Robot (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1119491985_16After such a long time of writing music reviews you sort of get an inkling, a first impression before even listening to the music of an album as it falls out of the review pile and under the pen whether it is going to be merely another day at the office or it will end up as the latest addition to your own record collection. Okay, the name White Robot might sound a bit rock or dance but anyone calling their album The Belligerent North Star has my interest piqued immediately. I also like tasteful artwork, spacious music, genre-splicing, graceful harmonies, ambient vibes, female vocals and music which looks forward to new horizons rather than past glories.

In fact if I wrote a list of all the features that would make for the perfect album for me, this not only ticks them all but throws in a few that I hadn’t even thought of. Don’t you just love it when an album comes out of nowhere and knocks you to the floor with its strange beauty? To say that this is merely a folk album would be to grossly understate what’s going on here although restrained rootsy sounds, ambient folk and hushed country lilts certainly beat at its heart. Paranoid Rose is a perfect example of where they verve off from convention, a hazy, cosmic country piece but the strange drifting electronica sign-posts things to come.

And the strangeness fully arrives with James, a strange homage to James Earl Jones, or perhaps a band in joke, it doesn’t really matter, enigmatic is also on the list. Moving from haunted folk to alt-rock, it throws around some fleeting funky brass and then returns to the musical delicacy as if nothing has happened requiring the listener to suddenly ask “did I just imagine those strange interludes.” And that, perhaps more than anything explains the beautiful oddness that inherits the music. For the most part it is happy to follow dusty folk paths and gothic country routes but there is also a wonderful thread of musical lunacy that weaves its way through the otherwise gorgeous music. But it is these purposeful imperfections, these unique inclusions which give the music its own personality. Without them it is Lisa Hannigan, with them it is PJ Harvey making a folk album after a night on the red wine listening to her Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits albums back to back.

The Belligerent North Star has to be a contender for my favourite album to come my way this year, and made all the sweeter by the fact that it was totally unexpected. A gorgeous blend of beguiling beauty and odd quirks, of vocal grace and disarming charm, of understatement and unexpected outbursts. If this album were a woman I’d propose to her right here, right now.

Dead Can Dance new album and tour

mailDead Can Dance have announced details of a brand new album entitled ‘Dionysus’,

which is set for release on 2nd November via [PIAS] Recordings.

ACT I : Sea Borne – Liberator of Minds – Dance of the Bacchantes

ACT II : The Mountain – The Invocation – The Forest – Psychopomp


Pre-order the album and find tour dates & tickets here:


Formed in Melbourne in 1981 by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, the style of Dead Can Dance over eight previous studio albums can be described as compelling soundscapes of mesmerising grandeur and solemn beauty that has incorporated African polyrhythms, Gaelic folk, Gregorian chant, Middle Eastern mantras and art rock.

Ever since the group’s inception, the duo have also been informed by folk traditions from all over Europe, not solely in musical terms but also by secular, religious and spiritual practises. The idea behind ’Dionysus’ comes from this backdrop and was shaped as Brendan Perry explored the long established spring and harvest festivals that originated from Dionysian religious practices, a journey that brings to the fore rites and rituals that are still practised to the present day.

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Odetta Hartman, new album and tour

mailOdetta will perform at The Islington, London on 24th September. She’s also just announced a string of European shows in support of Micheal Nau & The Mighty Thread*.

‘Old Rockhounds Never Die’ is a bonanza of beautiful contradictions: intimate yet fiercely internationalist, spiritual and yet tangible, sweet and also sexy. It convenes with the ghosts of the past while marching relentlessly forwards

Drawn from experiences as far-flung as riding a train from San Francisco to Chicago with an old-style, rootin’-tootin’ cowboy for company (‘Cowboy Song’), to experiencing the intense natural beauty of Icelandic waterfalls (‘Dettifoss’), it’s a record that taps into the musical traditions of the past while being a collection of songs about living in the moment.

Tuesday 18 September  – Kantine am Berghain – Berlin, DE * – TICKETS

Wednesday 19 September – Loppen – Copenhagen, DK * – TICKETS

Friday 21 September – Ekko – Utrecht, DK * – TICKETS

Saturday 22 September – AB Salon – Brussels, BE – INFO
Monday 24 September – The Islington, London – TICKETS

Thursday 27 September – Le Pop Up du Label – Paris, FR * – TICKETS

Saturday 29 September – East Side Tavern – Dublin, IR – TICKETS

Raised by pioneering parents on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NYC, Odetta’s milieu was a “colourful culture of artistry,” that included early exposure to community activism, renegade film screenings, poetry readings and trips to CBGB’s. Inchoate punk and hip hop were aural wallpaper, as were the 45s spinning in the household jukebox featuring her dad’s extensive collection of soul and afrobeat records, as well as her Appalachian mother’s classic country selections. A classically trained violinist with a penchant for back-porch banjo, Odetta combines these variegated sounds of her childhood with her personal passion for folk music and the musicological legacy of Alan Lomax. Lomax is writ large on ‘Old Rockhounds…’ at least in spirit anyway. Odetta plays all the instruments on this and her debut ‘222’.

Continue reading “Odetta Hartman, new album and tour”

London Irish – Linda Em (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

906782It would be very easy to just peg Linda Em as being a female Nick Cave, she has the same blends of musical tradition and outsider thinking, and whilst that makes for an easy musical hook to hang my reviewers hat on, it would only tell part of the story. Taking bluesy ballads and heart aching torch-songs, she draws a line from 50’s jazz divas to punk poetesses (you know the one) to modern blues nostalgists, but the real charm here is that there is so much authenticity on show that this feels less like a backward glance to a certain time and a certain style and more a long lost recording, one that was a bit more experimental, a bit further ahead of its time than its better known contemporaries.

Wild Fire, the first single from the EP, is a brilliant boy-girl vocal two hander, all hushed atmospherics and pent up energy, plaintive piano notes, beautifully restrained yet full of powerful intent when it wants to make a point and hit home. By contrast Two Hands is a thing of understated grace and a song that you could imagine the likes of Patsy Cline or Nina Simone having a hit with back in the day and Little Lightmaker wanders right out of the early Nashville book of standards that never was…but should have been.

White Horse takes us back into her own unique territory, a sound that you can’t quite put your finger on. Is it an old classic reworked? Is it a modern tribute? A collection of sounds which are separately familiar and identifiable but  positioned in new ways to create something wholly original. Not many artists or bands can revisit and reinterpret the past this brilliantly whilst pushing their own musical agenda, Mazzy Star perhaps did it best, and that ability to unpick the strands of familiar musical patterns and weave them into something even more intoxicating is exactly what Linda Em excels at.

Tomberlin releases new track “I’m Not Scared”

mailTomberlin, the rising Louisville, KY-based artist, has released “I’m Not Scared,” the latest from her Saddle Creek debut album, At Weddings. DIY, who premiered the song today are calling it “deeply emotive and touching.” At Weddings is available for pre-order and due out 8/10 via Saddle Creek.

Of the song, Sarah Beth Tomberlin says “It is abrasive, heavy, but packaged delicately. I feel like many people view women as such — shrill and emotionally burdensome but responsible for consistently presenting themselves pleasantly. Gentle and affable – their warmth a tool to heal often with no regard for the state of the body and mind that warmth permeates from. Women, and especially queer, trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming people, have such a capacity for pain. Physical, mental, emotional, psychological pain.

This is a hymn-like song in the way that it moves melodically. A reflection on that suffering. I didn’t realize the full meaning when I wrote it. The weight of the song didn’t hit me until I was listening to the final recording. It is kind of like leaving a person or situation that is really abusive and not realizing how much it affects your psyche until you’ve removed yourself completely. You look back and you realize you are strong, even though that is the last word you would use to describe how you feel.”

Scene and Heard – CCCLV : Otherside – The Olsten Brothers Band (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15027604_1334401366570030_6836583186537314742_nRegular perusers of this site will know that we are not so hot on covers of songs. They rarely bring anything new to the table and if they try to there is a certain arrogance in thinking that you can take established songs and make them better. Apart from Kirsty McColl’s majestic reworking of Billy Bragg’s iconic A New England, and only then in the extended 12” format ….remember them kids…and the breath of new life that Jeff Buckley gave to Hallelujah, few covers have come close to justifying their existence. The Olsten Brothers Band may just have snuck onto that shortlist.

If the RHCP original was uncharacteristically brooding and intense in place of their usual hi-jinx, art-punk for high school jocks, TOBB takes things even further. Coming at things from a bleak, washed out country vibe this rendering is a blasted, dystopian version of the genre, a gothic cowboy anthem for an apocalyptic America. 

Remember when Johnny Cash released his American Recordings and album that took on not only expected outlaw country selections but the likes of Nick Lowe and Glen Danzig too…this version of Otherside fits right into that mentality. Dark, spacious, majestic and ultimately eerily terrifying. How great is that?

Homeless – Fred Abong (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2251088038_16.jpgAnyone who shows up in the review pile with a CV that includes Throwing Muses and Belly, as Fred Abong does, is going to get a free pass to the front of the queue. After all, why would any sane journo’ want to be writing about some mumbling bedroom rapper or vacuous pop wannabe when they can be revelling in new music by someone who literally helped define the art-punk, alt-rock landscape? Why indeed?

Homeless is a collection of six songs delivered as wonderfully ragged acoustica, infused with edge and emotion and sitting at the end of a line that runs through the likes of Buffalo Tom, Elliott Smith, Iron and Wine and understandably sharing both spiritual and sonic space with Kristin Hersh.

Opening salvo Plum is raw and hypnotic, a blend of dexterous picking and a world weary vocal style and Rattler wanders dynamically between a confident troubadour busk and lulling and emotive lows. But it isn’t all edge and alternative acoustic pathways, Hi Avalon takes those same rough ingredients and mixes them into a sweet serenade, wonderfully honest, brilliantly intimate, proving that it isn’t how much you put into a song but how truly the sentiment comes from the heart. Any one of these songs carries more integrity than your average wide brimmed hat sporting, chart bound folk-popster could muster up in 5 full albums.

Sometimes it is the simplest things which are the most powerful. Why over complicate, over polish or over think things when all you need to do is record what comes from within, the real you? A lesson that many of those chasing fame fail to learn. What good is the platform that fleeting, mainstream success affords when you have nothing to say? So many rhetorical questions?

The Limits of Men – Nicholas Merz (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

848008In many ways the idea of masculinity and the male role in modern society is undergoing a lot of examination and reevaluation. As women edge closer in the direction of equality, though I am by know means saying that they are anything like close yet, what it means to be a man today is something which a lot of people are thinking about. The archaic and stereotypical roles that have been the accepted norms for millennia are blurring and crossing into each other and just as women are having to redefine what it is they can be in todays society, so are men. And this is the theme that lies at the heart of The Limits of Men.

This is Nicholas Merz’s debut album, though he has released six with Seattle’s Darto, but it is an album that has been slowly forming in his mind all the while, since his teens. As the son of country band players he admits that he has had an odd relationship with the genre, both put off by the image and the attitudes of many to be found in its orbit but secretly drawn to it sonically. And whilst you wouldn’t call this a country record in the strictest sense, there is an undeniably countryfied heart beating at its core.

But this is tempered by many other factors, a starkness and introspection, a dark folkiness and a delivery that owes as much to Nick Cave as it does to the more expected man in black, Johnny Cash. Bulled Rose is a raw, heartfelt examination of men being born into traditional physical roles, all pent up energy and violins that seem to saw through the track at right angles and Neon Figures is a hypnotic, off kilter, waltz. The Great American Tale is an examination of the racial devisions still found at the sharp end of American life, a song that seems to be built of claustrophobia and gathering storm clouds as much as it is beat and chords whilst Fashion deals with other forms of division and cultural expectations. 

If ever there was a time when music and musicians should join the political, social and cultural conversation it is now. In the past movements such as folk music, hip-hop, punk and grunge have risen out of the dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement of certain sectors of society yet as the world seems heading down a dark route once again it seems only to have given us conformity and obedience via TV music contests and reality shows. Thankfully Nicholas Merz gives us much to mull over whilst listening to his often dark, deft and dulcet tunes.

Arrow – Ciara O’Neill (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

aWA2ihNr_400x400With her previous album being well received amongst critics and buyers alike and the double single of Hurtin’ /Dreamer already hinting at the delicate folk goodness that her second full album was going to deliver, Arrow’s promotional work had largely already been done for it. Definitely a case of a product being able to sell itself. Ciara O’Neill trades in timeless, noirish and understated folk sounds and vocals with just enough of a Celtic echo to place her geographically but working in the shifting and slightly genre-less musical waters that eschews tradition and rules in favour of exploration and emotion.

Using striking and brooding cellos, and haunting violins to punctuate the core sound of rhythmic guitars and her outstanding vocals, it is an album which is less about solid structures and standard progressions and more about music which floats and moves about on the breeze. Storms Comin’ takes this idea into more minimalist country territory with its twanging guitar, dark vibes and lilting drive, Equal and Opposite is built on the same transience and emptiness as the music of fellow Irish artist Damien Rice and Everything is almost a pop ballad in its accessibility and commercial potential.

She follows in the traditions of hosts of names who have combined elusive and compelling music with the ability to penetrate the mainstream, The Civil Wars, Lisa Hannigan, Glen Hansard and the dear departed Eliot Smith and there is no reason not to think that Arrow will easily find a chink in the armour of the narrow minded record executives and media money men who profess to know exactly what the punters want. Arrow is exactly what the more discerning punters want, it is just that they may not yet know it is what they want. Believe me it is.

Don’t Be Alarmed  –  Olivia Awbrey (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

546499e7-45f7-4b18-b796-61e0a4b7686bThe real charm of Olivia Awbrey’s music is the multi-tasking that goes on. It is enough that she deftly hops genres – alt-rock, psychedelia and punked up folk all going into the mix as well is shouty gang vocals, pop infectiousness, indie cool and college rock wonkiness – but lyrically she is typically mercurial too. Don’t Be Alarmed mixes wit, wisdom and whimsy taking in everything from political machinations, climate change, social commentary, particularly the creeping gentrification of her Portland base, not to mention bacon…all in just over five minutes. That’s quite a full itinerary.

Long associated with a more folk sound, this single is the perfect stepping stone between those more considered sonics of the past and what next year’s sophomore album promises to be all about. Over the next few months she will be playing both the Pacific North-West and a run of shows in Colorado before heading to the UK in September.

June 16th Steamboat Stringband Jamboree Olympia, WA
June 22nd Turn! Turn! Turn! Portland, OR
June 30th House Show Fort Collins, CO
July 1st Paths of Heart Fort Collins, CO
July 6th Full Cycle Bike Shop Boulder, CO
July 7th Venue TBA Denver, CO
July 11th Firkin Tavern Portland, OR
July 21st HiFi Music Hall Eugene, OR
August 12th SAGE Music Festival Corvallis, OR
September 6th The Green Note London, UK
September 7th TBA Derby, UK
September 8th TBA Bolton, UK
September 9th The Exchange Bristol, UK
September 12th St. Pancras Old Church London, UK
September 13th TBA Brighton, UK
September 14th The Lamb Devizes, UK

Cowboy Junkies release All That Reckoning

PRPCD149webCowboy Junkies will release All That Reckoning, the band’s first new recording since The Wilderness (2012) on July 13, 2018 via Proper Records.

Whether commenting on the fragile state of the world or on personal relationships, this new collection of songs encourages the listener to take notice. It also may be the most powerful album Cowboy Junkies have yet recorded.

Their now classic album, The Trinity Session celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. On its release in 1988, it was like a whisper that cut through the noise and Cowboy Junkies proved that there was an audience waiting for something quiet, beautiful and reflective, selling more than a million copies. For over 30 years, Cowboy Junkies have remained true to their unique vision, creating a critically acclaimed body of work that has endeared them to an audience unwavering in its loyalty.

In addition to The Trinity Session, albums like Pale Sun, Crescent Moon (1993), Lay It Down (1996) and more recently, Open (2001), and At the End of Paths Taken (2007) chronicle a creative journey reflecting the independent road the band has elected to travel.

Cowboy Junkies will make a very welcome return to the UK for live dates in November as follows:

Nov 9 Glasgow, Mitchell Theatre

Nov 10 Manchester, RNCM

Nov 11 London, The Bridge

Josh Okeefe announces summer dates with Lindi Ortega

Josh-Okeefe-credit-Heather-LeRoy-690x460US / UK troubadour Josh Okeefe is delighted to announce a busy summer schedule of festival appearances and live shows with the singular Lindi Ortega.

The aspiring singer-songwriter from England via Tennessee will be supporting Lindi at a string of UK dates kicking off at Sheffield’s The Leadmill on 5th June 2018 through to her final show at The Garage in London on the 14th June.

However, extending his visit with a number of festival appearances across the land, there’ll be many more chances to catch Josh throughout the month as he calls into the likes of Fire In The Mountain Festival (Aberwrystwyth), and other festivals across the summer. Full dates and details below.

Turning heads with his first tour of the UK last summer, Josh returns following a year of near constant travelling across the US and omnipresently performing with artists across the Nashville scene at noteworthy spots like Layla’s and Roberts Western World on Lower Broadway where one could see him either taking centre stage or playing the harmonica for someone else. On his ongoing quest to pen songs founded on substance, the last year has seen Josh notably put in emotional performances at Grenfell Tower’s Wall of Truth (a public space collating first hand accounts, facts, testimonies and statements created by and for members of the community affected), as well as performing at a gathering for Black Lives in Tennessee (as reported on by Huffington Post); both of which have been hard-hitting and inspirational new chapters in Josh’s own living songbook.

Continue reading “Josh Okeefe announces summer dates with Lindi Ortega”

A Snake’s A Snake –  The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

28378687_2010874879232426_4378226701800052749_nThe wonderfully named Two Man Travelling Medicine Show wander some long forgotten music byways. You find them exploring dusty paths that result in some archaic and awesome blends of punked up bluegrass, sideways Americana and European gypsy folk to create a new form of world music. It is the sound of a culture which never existed but if it had would have been found at the point where the Mason-Dixon Line runs along the M4 Corridor. Just about where Memphis and Membury Services touch.

This time out they seem to also take in a strange alt-ragtime musical hall jazz to compliment their already eclectic weaves of raw and raucous rootsy rhythms, frantic folk frolics and blustery and buoyant blues. Hey, I’d forgotten just how much fun alliteration was. A Snake’s a Snake is a rant about honesty and ethics and like all great songs has a chorus that you will have down pat by the time it comes around for the second go. Throw into that some groovesome beats, layers of strange musical detail and detailed musical strangeness…banjo, accordion, fiddle and any number of wheezing and wonky sound textures adding musical hues and sonic cries, and you have the perfect party tune of the decade. Not this decade obviously, probably more like the 1890’s before Simon Cowell, electronic instruments and Hoagy Carmichael came along and ruined everything.

Scene and Heard – CCLXXX : On The Radio –  James Donnelly (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0377525900_2There is an art to making music which seems to buzz with contemporary vibes yet echos with the sounds of the past but that is exactly the mix that James Donnelly manages to bring to On The Radio. In an era where pop music, because this is pop as much as it is folk or roots or music hall or anything else, seems to ever more seeking to re-invent the tools that it uses to make its sound, here is something different. Not only is it music forged from traditional instruments, it is forged from instruments, ukulele, accordion, piano, which are either associated with more niche genres or bygone eras. Yet this is as fun and funky as anything else you will find doing the rounds today.

On The Radio is a homage to the power of music, specifically, as the title suggests, music emanating from the radio, music chosen by a third party, a seemingly random event that in this planned and predictable world where all media seems to be at the control of the listener, still has the ability to deliver the present surprise of a tune you weren’t expecting to hear. There is also something of the mercurial blend of Caribbean sass and urban cool that Paul Simon was a great exponent of in those early post S&G days and that is always going to be a good thing.

It is this blend of urgent folk, roots and a post-modern take of what popular music sounded like in the past, from early jazz dancehall tunes, to folk-revivalist troubadours to the current re-examination by artists of many of those core sounds. It is spacious and even through it drives along with energy and groove, there is plenty of room for each of the musical elements to have room to breath creating a wonderful mesh of interlocking yet identifiable sounds, rather than the usual pop wall of noise. Hats may be tipped to the past but this is certainly a song for today, for the young, discerning and hip.

In short it is music made with no limits, geographically or generically and exists in the present only because it has one foot in the past and the other in the future. Maybe if we spent less time trying to decide what music should be and how it is made and just let it all naturally fuse together ignoring rules and tradition, fashion and fad we would end up with more albums like this. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

As Long As Needed and No Longer – Mat Caron (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0811388311_16Although essentially just another guy with an acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter these days, Mat Caron seems miles removed from the usual gap year, troubadour with the designer-distressed, skinny black jeans giving us the benefit of his world experience garnered in the six months since he moved out of home. Mat’s voice alone creates an air of world weariness, of experience and a life lived, dulcet tones delivering semi-spoken, bitter-sweet nuggets of wisdom, personal world views and edgy narratives.

Add to that simple, direct, rhythmic and often hypnotically repetitive guitar work and he creates something wonderfully at odds with the current musical zeitgeist, instead feeling more like an off shoot of nineties, American college rock, the sort of thing that would sit comfortably alongside the likes of an acoustic Sebadoh or a chilled out Bob Mould.

Audience Song exists somewhere between Leonard Cohen and John Martyn, a blend of the hushed and the hazy, the sonorous and the subdued, and Long Wind is a more frantic, melodic drive, an introspective wander through thoughts and opinions, a confessional, therapists chair outpouring, lyrically poignant and mesmerising. And between these two sonic points he describes his musical world. Transference (Still Moon) has a downbeat Portishead trippiness rooted to its core and A Learning Curve reveals his resonant vocals to be the indie successor to Johnny Cash.

But more than anything it is the language he uses that sets him apart from the modern pack, the fact that he doesn’t shy away from delving into the depths of modern society, contemporary life…his life… and talking about its dark underbelly. If you have had enough of the perky pop and the shallow nature of modern artists, if you are looking for a darker take on the human condition, something both personal and self-examining yet universally relevant and more than anything else brilliantly honest, then Mat should be your next port of call.

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