If we needed more proof that the music world has got over its obsession with tribalism, with clearly demarcated generic styles, with the strictures of past traditions, that even the often set in its ways country sound is exploring beyond its comfort zones, Sunshine provides it. With one foot definitely in the country zone, and the more rock and roll part of it too, the other is planted firmly in more broader commercial territories, more pop infused musical climates. And the result is something that will still tick a lot of boxes for those who know just how they like their country music to sound but which also has the power to take the genre to a whole new, younger and more broad-minded audience.
With a voice sounding like Stevie Nicks cutting down pine trees with a wood saw, singer/songwriter Amber Cross has a depth and strength to her voice that betrays her small frame. It conveys emotion and a wisdom that is difficult to find in other female singers from the Americana genre, you can hear the truth in her words and imagine the dirt under her nails because every word she sings sounds as if it comes from years of experience and living under the spell of the American wilderness.
It’s difficult to review an artist who is both singer and drummer without thinking of the inevitable comparison with a certain Genesis member but, that is basically where the comparisons end.
Listening to Sam Lewis’s latest album it’s immediately clear that this is someone moving in the right direction, the sound quality is crystal clear, the songs are well written, well produced and well-arranged. Everything oozes class and accomplishment.
On first listen – especially if you weren’t paying attention – you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is an album full of fluffy clouds, rainbows, optimism and sunshine all played out by a bright female voice and set against the back drop of Hippy-inspired dreams of unrealistic goals where people greet each other kindly and skip happily through the long grass of the world.
You’d be partially right.
Doug Collins has been described as a “man out of time” and, after listening to his ten-track album ‘Good Sad News’ it’s pretty clear what that means. Collins’ songs evoke the musical era of the jukebox, prom nights and broken-hearted teenage girls alone at home crying over their first love while sad songs play on their record players.
I think it’s fair to say, without the risk of sounding sexist, that the album currently playing on my stereo is one written by a female and largely intended for a female audience. It’s true that within most arenas of creativity, be it books, films, television shows or music that if you can capture the female audience, you’ve got a hit. We all remember the fuss surrounding the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ books, and ‘The Greatest Showman’, a film released quite recently, panned by critics but audiences loved it.
Having previously encountered David Schipper deftly parodying Bob Dylan as a solo outing, the perfect way to get to know the man better would be to take a listen to his work as a member of his occasional musical vehicle Lucky Dog, so this song landing in the review pile afforded me that perfect opportunity. The subtitle of “a new country classic” is very apt as it has all the hallmarks of the genres trademark style but also manages to put just the right twist on things, as you would expect from Mr S.
As we approach the end of the year, releases for 2019 start coming thick and fast, the Christmas songs slowly get tucked up tightly into their boxes for forced hibernation until next winter and thoughts of spring and the new year come along. At the start of February American duo Mandolin Orange release their sixth album and if you like harmonised vocals, thoughtful lyrics, fantastic musicianship and things a bit country, look no further, Mandolin Orange may well be your next favourite band.
The Southern states of America have always been reflected, and promoted, as where the honest, God-fearing folk of America live. The vast farmland for Texan beef, the arid desert land of Nevada and the communities based on industry and hard work.
Of course every story has a dark side; for every farmer there is a greedy developer, Nevada is dominated by Las Vegas and industry changes, often leaving communities isolated when the big companies move on.
Ahead of a forthcoming album, Bootleg, Russ Still and his country infused rock posse have given us a taste of what’s to come with the excellent Monkey See. It strides cowboy-booted along a perfect line between roots and rock, is packed with hooky grooves and wonderfully infectious choruses ticking boxes in country, commercial and rock camps as it does so.
The Krickets make music at a point where the Old World mets the New, where European folk meets country music, where Americana meets ethereality, where heaven bound harmonies join with traditional sounds and where delicacy meets drive. They work with familiar forms for sure but as always it “ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” And boy, the way that they do it is mesmerising. They call their deft musical blend “swamp-folk” and whilst it does sometimes run along the sultry and primal lines that such a name infers, it feels slightly self-self-deprecating for such rich and glorious music. Their previous release, Spanish Moss Sirens may have been closer to such a label but RedBird is built of more delicate and intricate stuff and the result is a rather elegant Americana sound.
Who I Am is the sound of the modern age being fashioned out of traditional strands. Those strands may be well established, country stylings, rock muscle and a pop accessibility but songs such as this are very much a modern sound. As old as country music is, this is it hitting its most unashamedly commercial stride, and why not, there is nothing wrong with selling records after all. It is the notion of rock music dropping all the cliche and bombast and just providing the engine to drive such a big sound. It also shows that even the most infectious of pop songs don’t have to follow the modern production line methods, that a popular song can also be musically astute and that you don’t have to strip down to your underwear to try to sell it.
Much has been written of the music lore of the Mississippi Delta. Less so The Thames Delta, an equally mercurial and mythical place and one that seems to have a strange ability to draw itinerant musicians from all over the old world and the new to its colder, murky environs. Musicians such as Bob Collum, who hails from Tulsa but who has called the Essex hinterland home for many years now. It is to be expected I guess. Take a age old global port add the influx of cultural music that goes with such industry, not to mention a thriving folk circuit and a home grown pub scene which re-invented American rock and blues for the pre-punk UK market and the seeds for a sort of global Americana musical garden were not only sown but have been constantly well watered.
Elton John once sang “sad songs say so much” and it’s probably safe to say that we all have a sad song in our list of all-time favourite songs, those are the songs we are often drawn to, we can sympathise, empathise and relate to these moments of emotional outpouring. We find comfort knowing some rich, famous singer in LA shares the exact same emotions that we do.
Michelle Lewis’s album has more than its fair share of sad songs, but they are mostly delivered with an optimistic outlook, yes, she’s been hurt but she’s still here and not only has she learnt from those heartbreaks she’s managed to channel it into songs and it’s pretty uplifting in parts.
Even on the first play of this album you come away with the feeling that these are songs forged by a very skilled writer and recorded by an experienced band. And you would be right, just one look at Mats Ronander’s resume reveals that he not only has a pile of solo albums behind him but is a go to, top flight session man and has toured as part of, not only home grown legends such as ABBA but has graced the ranks of the likes of Ian Hunter and Graham Parker’s live line ups. In short, the man knows what he is doing. And then some!
Having gathered around him an equally impressive cast of players he has created an album which mixes slick country grooves, polished blues and approachable rock, all shot through with accessible, soulfulness and infectious vibes. It’s where commercial possibilities meet rootsy traditions, where the sound of the American dream gets dressed up for an even bigger international audience.
At one extreme you have the purer Nashville infused sounds of the Karin Risberg led Nothing’s The Same, a song that just glistens with rhinestones and personal reflection and at the other The Bridge plays with big funky, soulful blues. The title track wanders through some latin inspired beats, Spare Me Some change is a bluesy plea and My World showcases the gospel harmonies which are never very far away from the proceedings.
It’s a fine album, deftly constructed, able to wander across genres yet deliver a consistent overall sound, one where rootsy underground music is taken from the truck stops and downtown blues bars and represented and repackaged for a slicker uptown audience. Purists might prefer their music with the rough edges still in evidence but Ronander’s ability to create such sounds for a much bigger stage is exactly why he has had such a successful career.
On an increasingly packed shelf of roots music stands an artist who is quietly going about his business, blending and blurring the lines between country, folk and blues and playing shows all over the place, and picking up friends and followers as he goes.
If you’re a follower of Mark Harrison, or keep an eye on roots music in general, I won’t be telling you anything new here, you’ve already had the scoop and it’s I who is the late comer, but for those who stumble upon the cd cover and think “that looks interesting” or have heard his music on Radio 2 or perhaps wandered past an acoustic stage at a festival and heard a song or two by him, read on…
The Panoramic View is Mark’s sixth album and is a wonderful dip into nostalgia, these songs could have been written sixty years ago but the great success is how these songs also feel and sound contemporary. The opening track title, ‘One Small Suitcase’, sums up the feeling of the album in three words, these are songs to accompany a railroad trip, sat on an old wooden crate, passing the fields of Idaho, watching the miles and hours drift by with nothing but the stories and imagery that Harrison effortlessly seems to conjure.
Harrison encourages the listener to go on the journey, pack that small suitcase, get on board that train and visit the father surrounded by children, the heart broken man wronged by his woman, the legendary railroad worker and the man living on a farm scratching a living and trying to avoid temptation and passing on his words of wisdom to the upcoming generation. I guess this is a metaphor for what Harrison is trying to do, a blues man at heart, he is repeating and retelling the music of the blues, so it can hopefully find a home among the pop tunes and short-lived celebrity acts. But if you’re hoping for screaming guitar solos, look elsewhere because this is subtle story telling that clings on by it’s nails long after the song has finished.
There are acoustic songs like ‘House Full of Children’, ‘Ragged’ and ‘John The Chinaman’ but there is a growly earthy centre that is found in the superb ‘Hooker’s Song’. Obviously none of this can be done alone, Harrison surrounds himself with some fine musicians, bringing the different tones to life with ease. One thing that particularly stood out was the brass work of Paul Tkachenko, hearing a tuba being played on any record puts me in mind of the silver bands of Northern England, yet hearing it here, on an album so obviously American-inspired allows these stories to feel more relevant to me somehow.
So, like I said earlier, if you have heard Mark Harrison before, I’m probably telling you nothing new here, the songs are good, the music is good and this is what you’ve come to expect from a musician writing and delivering this level of music, but if this is your first visit, you’re in for a treat.
Although it seems that summer may have only just disappeared and we have all the Autumnal delights to get through yet, plans are already being made for the Christmas holiday season. Katie Garibaldi may be the first Christmas song to land on the review pile but I think it is going to take some beating. As part of her Home Sweet Christmas album Safe and Warm mixes her already well established roots credentials with more devotional gospel vibes the result is the perfect match of seasonal and timeless.
Whilst many will be releasing songs which are either dry and formulaic or silly and sentimental, Garibaldi mixes the right about of delicacy and grace with clever sonic choices and deft composition. The layered harmonies are exquisite, the space in the song allows her own soft but effective main vocal to have room to soar, with the instrumentation only framing and embroidering the song rather than driving it any more than is necessary.
A seasonal song that you can play all year round? Absolutely!
Last time Amilia passed our way she was celebrating the joys of the Christmas holiday season in suitably buoyant and bubbly mood. This time out she offers up a gorgeous piece of ethereal country music, a song which seems to drift past your consciousness rather than engage the listener with anything more direct. Harlan is a simple song, gentle lyrics paint poetic reflections and the rhythms of the acoustic guitar are only minimally embellished by additional musical textures.
But like most simple songs it has the ability to be more effective than a more intricate rival. It is wonderfully open, direct and through the nostalgic and reflective lyrical imagery she presents a song that remains both fantastically compelling yet brilliantly vague. The simplicity of the music forces you to focus on Amilia’s vocals, not that you would have missed them, a combination of hushed late night tones and crystal clear delivery, drifting yet poignant.
Understanding what a song needs is a skill in its own right, knowing what to leave out requires an even more astute musical mind. Thankfully Amilia K. Spicer understands the power of understatement and Harlan is the perfect example of musical restraint making for a more compelling song.
There is an old adage (are there no young adages and if not should we fear for the future of adages? ) which says that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. The same is true of bands and anyone rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul McClure and The Local Heroes, Matthew Edwards and The Unfortunates or who invites members of Danny and The Champions of The World to guest on their album, are people that, even before I have heard a note, I know that I am going to get along with.
And as Always opens up the album, I am vindicated by Drew Morrison, his band and his music. A bit like the aforementioned Champ’s, there is something inherently soulful at the heart of the songs, more than just Morrison’s plaintive and worldly vocals but something sensitive and soothing whilst, ironically, often juggling the weight of the world. Or at least the weight of one man’s world. Intimate and emotive, Electric Notes Wild paints personal portraits, tells small stories that just happen to be universally relatable, is direct but gentle, romantic but restrained.
In typically British fashion it keep things manageable, people like Springsteen may have painted broad sonic Americana brush strokes to describe the nature of his own country, Morrison does the same for his through quite conversations, wistfulness and reflection. Musically the cloth is cut perfectly, the songs built of wonderful textures and interplay, it’s what you get when you put so many deft players behind such a delicate songwriter.
Let Me Break Your Heart Tonight is such a gorgeous song, its understatement and its sentiment reflecting everything I love about this album and Sad Music seems to exist somewhere near where the M1 crosses the Mason Dixon line. Like We Used To underlines the wonderful nostalgia that beats at the heart of the record and Islands describes the feeling of isolation that threads its way through many of the songs.
Less is indeed more and even though there is plenty going on musically on this album, the playing and arrangements are so finely woven, so carefully placed, that it never intrudes on the songs but instead subtly serves them. You can be assured that if a certain note, beat or word is on this album then it is the perfect one for the job, that it conveys just the right emotion or resonance. Quality control is something Drew Morrison and The Darkwood excel at and Electric Notes Wild is the perfect example of that.
There is a quote that comes with the press release of Grandview Station’s eponymous album noting that it has been described as “like finding an album in the basement from 1979 that was lost and never released.” To be honest, as a sound bite, that takes a lot of beating in its accuracy and succinctness. Rock music may be having a tough time trying to work out where its future lies, but sometimes it forgets that it is also okay to look to the past, to tip its hat, in this case most probably a dusty and battered stetson, to past glories too.
There is a big difference between plagiarism and torch bearing, between wholesale plunder and weaving gentle sonic tributes through your music and here we are definitely in the realms of wholly original music being made that just happens to walk with a certain familiarity. The songs are fresh and groove laden, they just happen to also leave you with a slightly nostalgic after taste. I think they call that the best of both worlds.
Country vibes, blues structures and rock muscle all blend effortlessly into music that fits on a time line anywhere between late sixties cosmic country outlaws to modern southern rockers, along the way taking in 70’s rock access, 80’s anthemics, 90’s directness and 21st century reinvention. A fine line between rock traditions and moving the ball forward. And even when they aren’t moving the ball forward, they sound like they are having a great time, and you will too. Isn’t that the whole point of rock music?
Crashing By Design feels like a long lost, mid-paced power ballad, a term which even as I write it seems to under sell how deft and dexterous this song actually is. Fall From Grace’s sultry sax intro heralds a subtle and supple mix of late night musical textures and rock vigour and Hate To Love You is that end of festival, fists in the air, sunset swan song. But Grandview Station really come into their own when they go for broke. Acid Rain is a frenzy of psychedelia and Dixie grooves, Where I’m Not Wanted goes on a crazy ride between Austin and Los Angeles, harvesting the raw blues of the former and the skyscrapping musical attitudes of the latter and It Won’t Be Me puts the album to bed with a wonderful dynamic mix of guitar excess and perfectly poised interludes and sounding oddly like James Taylor discovering hard rock….at last.
Music should always be forward thinking, but not at the expense of forgetting where it comes from and Grandview Station know exactly the path that got them to where they are today. Thankfully they are more than happy to use that as the perfect vehicle to drive into a bright future.
Known for creating the soundtrack of a generation, John Fogerty, in conjunction with BMG, is set to release two further albums from his extensive 2018 solo reissue campaign.
Released on the 26th October, ‘Eye of the Zombie’ and ‘Deja Vu (All Over Again)’ follow the critically acclaimed 20th anniversary release of Fogerty’s Grammy Award-winning album ‘Blue Moon Swamp’, the multi-platinum, Grammy nominated ‘Centerfield’, and the gold-certified Grammy nominated album ‘Premonition’, all released earlier this year.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary of John Fogerty’s Grammy Award-winning album ‘Blue Moon Swamp’. Originally released in 1997, ‘Blue Moon Swamp’ won Best Rock Album at the 40th Grammy Awards in 1998, with the song ‘Blueboy’ receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance that same year. The album would go on to receive gold certification by the RIAA with the album charting in 11 countries, reaching No.1 in Finland and Sweden.
As co-founder of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty’s career spans 50 years and he is hailed as one of the most influential musicians in rock history. As the writer, singer and producer of numerous classic hits including ‘Born on the Bayou’, ‘Green River’, ‘Proud Mary’, and ‘Bad Moon Rising’, Fogerty has been honoured as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, 100 Greatest Songwriters, and 100 Greatest Singers by Rolling Stone. Earning induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Baseball Hall of Fame, he is also a New York Times best-selling author for his memoir, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music.
The first thing that jumps out from Kat Danser’s new album is how familiar it feels, you’re in the company of someone that knows exactly what they are doing, this isn’t to say there is nothing new here or it feels tired, (there is certainly a knowledge and love for this style of music that sits proudly on top of blues, country, skiffle and rock n roll) but you immediately feel in safe hands.
It’s a ten-track journey through America’s musical heritage with a feeling that you’re either sitting in the back of the tour bus or travelling on a rickety train that eats up the miles while the songs – like the stations – come and go.
It’s no surprise that Kat lives and breathes this style of music, the authenticity in which the songs are presented reflects her knowledge of the genre/s (she has a PhD in Ethnomusicology so to say she knows her stuff would be an understatement). But does knowledge equate to a good record? In this case yes, her vocals lie somewhere between the jazz rasp of Diane Krall and 80’s singer Tanita Tikaram, this isn’t the poppy country voice of Miranda Lambert or Taylor Swift, Kat’s voice has a bass-y, bluesy quality that spring her descriptive, story-teller lyrics into life.
The album plays out like a guided tour of America’s southern states, Kansas and Memphis are mentioned in track names and there is a definite vibe of travel throughout the album. She dips into the sweaty, smoky blues with ease and it’s clear she is trying to recreate the sound and feel of the Delta blues players like Robert Johnson and Skip James but the problem with trying to authentically recreate the feel and sound of a music that is so ingrained into a certain part of the world as it’s people, history and geography is that in keeping that sound if can become limiting in what can be achieved. One step either side from the recognisable sound and you wander off into another genre. One way around this, and what is done so well here, is to bring in very good musicians that can subtly smudgethe rule book and breath new life into the tracks.
A special mention should go to harmonica and sax player Jim Hoke who not only plays some well-fitting harmonica but also some deftly placed sax, it adds a new character to the usual suspects of a blues band.
This album has been spinning around my cd player for a few days and it doesn’t show any sign of being ejected any time soon, so if you want to listen to some grown-up, educated blues and country music that will make your foot move and possibly make you think about a trip to America’s deep south then you could do much worse than giving this a try.
Those with their ear close to the grass roots end of the music spectrum, the place where jobbing troubadours and sonic dreamers wander with little concern for fame and fortune, have long been aware of the potency and potential of both David Celia and Marla for many years. One an expert in pop melodies and wry observation, the other a painter of rootys soundscapes and drifting folk eloquence, separate they are both great to say the least, together they become something much more the sum of those, already admirable parts.
Daydreamers is a document. A document of a long distant relationship, of the touring life, of their hopes for their own future as well as those for the world around them. It is also a document of the sound of the 60’s folk revival but one seen less through rose tinted retrospectcles and rather through the timeless and cyclical nature that music is beholden too.
The title track is built around a wonderful, innocent wide eyed hippy ethic which is sadly to often missing from our current dark and cynical age, Follow Me is a gentle piece of drifting acoustica, one that Crosby Stills and Nash would have, okay not quite killed for but may have given you a hard and unnerving stare, and Warming Words is a gorgeous slice of lilting country-pop. It is also an open and unabashed love letter to each other, I Am Her Man and Lover of Mine seeing the two of them trading their feelings for each other but doing so in a way that swerves the obvious or the mawkish and lands perfectly in the realms of timeless classic.
Musically it may look to the past for its references but in all other respect it is a forward thinking album, one that is graceful and celebratory, gentle, wonderfully open and honest and grafted with genuine affection both for each other and the music that they fashion to that end. How joyously refreshing.
It’s nice to know that in this age of meticulous studio production, where even the smallest amount of natural talent can go a long way with the right engineer and the right box of tricks, that some people are still making albums in much more honest ways. Tony Rose’s solo album is just such a musical beast with the main body of the tracks being laid down live in a single session. Best known as a member of globe-trotting folksters Two Dollar Bash, Tony finally decided that it was time to put his own album out and so a small bunch of musical cohorts were gathered, tracks were recorded and Medicine Tunes was born.
Unsurprisingly the musical paths that Tony explores on this debut outing are not too far removed from his main musical concerns and indeed many of the people who have walked with him down those roads, Mark Mulholland and Stéphane Doucerain from Two Dollar Bash/Impure Thoughts as well as long time collaborators Geir Voie and Sean Condron, appear here too.
What Tony Rose revels in is good, solid, unfussy roots tunes, songs that embrace the deft and dexterous side of the genre, mandolins and banjos lend a country lilt when needed, others such as Pieter’s Song come on like a good old British pub folk singalong. There is room for Tex-Mex campfire songs with the appropriately named South of The Border, Lost in The Valley blends in some Celtic melancholic poeticism and Song of The Angels is a lovely, emotive piece of sweeping balladry.
Tony has always kept busy, wandering around Europe and North America, playing gigs and releasing albums with a succession of renowned bands so I guess that is excusable that he has only just got around to releasing an album under his own name. I just hope that he finds time to do it again sooner rather than later.
If asked to name an exquisite songwriter, we could all roll a bunch of names off without hesitation. Questioned to name a brilliant performer and again we could do so with ease. If pushed for someone who plays with a timeless roots sound yet is still pushing those generic boundaries forward and we might find that to be a more difficult task, yet with a bit of thought we could probably all think of one or two. But if asked to name an artist who manages to tick all of those boxes and you are suddenly in difficult territory. There can’t be many artists able to excel in all those areas, who can be found in that small part of the Venn Diagram where all of these skills are present but Thea Hopkins is certain one of that select club.
Love Come Down is a collection of six songs which wander the American landscape, folk, blues and country rooted tunes that embrace social commentary, love balladry, universal truths and personal reflections. Add to that Thea’s evocative voice and an often wistfully melancholic but never overtly sad touch, jazz textures and lilting acoustica and you have an amazing suite of songs.
Almost Upon a Time is a gorgeous folk ballad, timeless, heartfelt and restrained, Mississippi River, Mississippi Town is a shimmering slice of country, one that eschews the Nashville template and makes more left-field and progressive choices and the title track is a wonderfully understated dreamscape using space and atmosphere as much as the instruments to get the job done. I would say that this is a future classic in the making but then again, why wait?
Bakersfield,CA always sat at a sonic crossroads. That scenes reaction to the slick, string lead, over-produced Nashville country sound of the time saw them embrace a sound based around the surf guitar tone and honky-tonk bar driven twang, a sound which would later influence the both pure country players, the West Coast psychedelic roots acts and even some of the British Invasion bands. Speedbuggy USA take that same rock and roll energy and those country textures and pay tribute to that legendary sound.
Kick Out The Twang is, for the most part, a full on, energetic meeting of those musical minds, it rocks like a bad ass (note the American spelling, just this once) is filled with wonderful washes of pedal guitar and grooves around accompanied by banjos and that trademark guitar twang. Throw in a bag of memorable riffs and sing-along choruses aplenty and you have the perfect blend of old and new. Even though there is a move amongst recent indie bands to re-appropriate country and folk music to create a modern hybrid, Speedbuggy USA sound so authentic that you would be hard pushed to sit them in any one particular decade from the last seven.
Long Gone is typical of their more hillbilly sound but they are just as likely to deliver some low slung rock and roll such as Rodeo Star and when they do they put you in mind of the likes of George Satellites, which is more than fine by me. Unchain My Heart sees them break out the soulful moves which along with the ballad-esque sounds of Shaky Town proves that they are just as good at tugging heartstrings as they are starting the party. They boogie, they rock, they soothe and they sway and they do each equally as well. This is country music for people who don’t realise that they like country music!
If there is one form of music that seems best equipped to do the whole love and longing, nostalgia and wistful romance routine, country music seems to have all the tools to hand, and Todd Barrow’s latest release is the perfect proof. But of course the art of getting such songs right is walking that fine emotional line. Stray too far one way and you end up with something a bit too personal something that doesn’t necessarily speak to everyone, too far the other and you find yourself in cliche and pastiche.
Thankfully Todd is the master of some fancy sonic and lyrical footwork and delivers a song which is romantic and reflective, with just the right amount of intimacy. It is a song that is both personal and yet ultimately relatable by anyone who has ever experienced that feeling of mild intoxication by just being close to someone you hold dear. Musically it is spacious and restrained which makes the lyrical message even stronger, framed by just the right musical motifs and clever attention to detail to delicately dress the song up but ultimately just allowing the lyrics to do their thing. And it is a thing they do with a combination of power and poise. Perfect.
Although previously pursuing a solo path associated with a more restrained countrified sound, Pieces not only marks a big stride forward, sonically speaking, but reunites him with the incendiary roots rock of his earlier days as a member of The Whybirds. As Luke explains, “ My first two records where made whilst The Whybirds were still active, and so I felt it was important for them to be sonically separate from the band.” With his formative band no longer a going concern and perhaps inspired by the fresh start of a relocation to New York, he comes out all guns…not to mention guitars…blazing.
Based around a core of rock driven songs with a few acoustic numbers just to not break all continuity with the sound of the last two albums, Pieces transcends the expected generic restraints, no matter how many words like post- or alt- you put in front of country, folk or roots labels and heads straight into Neil Young or Tom Petty’s territory of heartland rock. The Mf Blues is a suitable sweary and ragged bar room stomp, Requiem is a brooding dystopian rock workout and Batten Down The Hatches would give The Boss, that’s Mr Springsteen to you, a run for his money.
The deft and more delicate acoustic pieces such as Charing Cross and Ghosts offer some wonderful breathing space, just enough of a pause that the album doesn’t become too full on, though with Luke’s clever use of melody and dynamics even in his most stadium and (Gaslight) anthemic moments, the songs remain engaging rather than merely powerful. The title track being a good example of this, a clever blend of loud sing-along choruses and gentle verses and a sonic journey that builds in intensity and infectiousness as it travels to its final destination.
So it’s both a fresh start and a return to the past, music inspired by largely American icons finding its way back home, an album that can be big, blustering and full of bravado, whilst also able to be smooth and soothing. To be honest I can’t think of much he has missed out. Good work sir.