Screaming Orphans (from the album Sunshine and Moss available as a self-release) (by Chris Wheatley)
On the face of it, Screaming Orphans are a PR man's dream; four sisters who sing, play and write their own material. Even a cursory glance into their background, however, and you can firmly put to bed any thoughts that this might be a superficial outfit. Hailing from Bundoran, County Donegal, Ireland, Angela Diver (bass, violin) and sisters Joan (drums), Marie Thérèse (keys, accordion) and Gráinne (guitar) possess both a heavyweight pedigree and a refreshingly honest approach. These are talented, committed players who have, among many other achievements, collaborated with Sinead O'Conner, Peter Gabriel, and Joni Mitchell. Most interestingly, they have also toured and recorded with Senegalese wonder, Babba Maal. Screaming Orphans describe their own music as ‘reflecting our Celtic roots, but crossing many cultural boundaries’. Sunshine and Moss was recorded at their childhood home ‘on very basic equipment during this past springs' lock-down’.
Sunshine and Moss (a beautifully evocative title, if ever there was one) is clearly a product of the unique circumstances in which it has evolved. In times such as these, it is perhaps natural that we instinctively return to an era when (real or imagined) things were simpler and more innocent. To that end, the album contains many traditional classics, which the sisters grew up with. “My Grandfather's Clock” is a prime example. In some hands, this seasoned song could easily come off as mawkish. Screaming Orphans manage to find something new here, injecting a classy sheen with ringing, chiming piano, breathtaking harmonies, and subtle twists and turns. “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier” sparkles beneath a ghostly shroud. Ominous acoustic guitar and sparse arrangements contrast with the sunshine and hope conjured by magical vocals sung with heart and longing. The second half of this track shifts gears into up-tempo Country Pop which, it must be said, works brilliantly.
The sister's musical prowess is clearly displayed throughout this set. The production is simple and plain, which is eminently suited to the choice of material. Little rough edges add a bucolic charm, but the quality on offer bursts through. Marie Thérèse's piano playing is mercurial without ever sounding showy, weaving decorative borders with ease; her accordion adds pleasing variety. Joan's drums and percussion are stirring and swaying, marshalling the assembled players and driving the music when needed. Angela's bass provides the glue that binds them all; the more you listen to her playing, the more impressive it gets. Gráinne's guitar slides and plays (seemingly) effortlessly. Combined, they make for an enchanting listen.
“Ye Jacobites By Name” is a rollicking, bouncing track, full of musical nuance. Powered by rhythmic banjo (as a fellow-player of the five-string, it's great to hear) and, again, those sublime harmonies, this track is a highlight. “Pat Murhpy's Meadow” has an almost sea-shanty air as it lilts and gently sways. “Factory Girl” shows us exactly why the sisters are in such demand as singers. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Hayes Carll (from the album Alone Together Sessions available on Dualtone Music)
A new coat of paint never hurt anything except the old coat of paint. Even songs sometimes need that , a little change to the hue to breathe some different life into tunes we all love that may find another life with some new zip. That’s the treatment Hayes Carll is giving a chunk of his songs, recruiting Darrell Scott and a load of others pals on the Alone Together Sessions, some Carll gems being taken for a new spin around the block.
Album opener “Arkansas Blues” is sad and somber as Hayes Carll sings of ‘broken hearts and busted strings’, his acoustic partnered with atmospheric pedal steel guitar. Ray Wylie Hubbard jumps in for the duet of “Drunken Poets Dream” as the two create a seedy scenario of ‘cigarettes, papers and dominoes’ while a temptress the world is better without sings ‘you be the sinner honey, I’ll be the sin’. Both “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” and “Down The Road ” are slowed down, the former becoming a weepy Blues ballad, the latter’s change putting a welcoming light on Carll’s characters, from the ‘Van Zandt groupies’ to the ‘freight train mommas’. “The Sake of the Song” is a dive bar dose of acoustic lounge music, and the closer in “Wild as a Turkey” is Hayes Carll being honest, cocky, and confident amidst subtle self-deprecation. Twang drives the dirty Folk, Hayes Carll’s lazy drawl ever inviting; he is that pal cracking you up with a late night beer, the buddy you don’t need when he gut-punches and breaks your heart, both knowing you are better off for it.
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Reckless Johnny Wales (from the album Red, White, and Reckless available on Amerikandy Records)
The life of Reckless Johnny Wales is the stuff of legend, and has been documented time and time again, so there is little I can add to it. What supports the man and his beliefs is Red, White, and Reckless, the recent release from Reckless Johnny Wales. Rather than taking his words from today’s headlines, Reckless Johnny Wales talks back to the talking heads with opening tune “(Won’t You) Drive Up to the Country (with Me)” asking ‘now do you find it kind of hard to keep a smile on your face?’. The tune puts politics into a simple request to go for a drive, matching the tone to its audio mates on Red, White, and Reckless. While Johnny can get as deep as any other musician with a guitar, he realizes that figuring out his message is not as important as coming up with a plan. To fulfill that goal, Reckless Johnny Wales takes aim, fires, and hits his mark saluting the flag with pride, reminding of our intentions as he lists the obstacles with “America, You’re Beautiful”.
A slide guitar begins the groove for “Always Was, Always Will” when Reckless Johnny Wales ascends the podium and targets gun control while he issues a warning as the beat stomps towards the barricades for “Everybody Get Real” while he is the three chords and the truth version of a man of science in “If Climate Change Don’t Change Your Mind”. Stepping to Latin rhythms for the Blue Jazz of “Desperate” Red, White and Reckless strikes a somber note(s) for “They’re Dying to Come Home” and struts in a Rock’n’Roll backbeat for “We’re the Boomers”. Rosemary Fossee duets on the noir cabaret of “Am I a Fool” while Reckless Johnny Wales stands alone behind the claim ‘I’m the reckless one, I am the carefree prodigal son’ as a dry, dusty desert symphony backs his commentary in “Not About Nice”.
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Bobby Rush (from the album Rawer Than Raw available on Deep Rush Records)
Bobby Rush has a lot of love to go around with his recent release, Rawer Than Raw. Bobby’s adopted home state of Mississippi is tributed on the album through the songs of some of its favored musical sons. The acoustic album goes back to Blues pioneers such as Skip James (“Hard Times”) and Robert Johnson (“Dust My Broom”), nodding to Bobby Rush contemporaries Howlin’ Wolf (“Smokestack Lightning”) and Sonny Boy Williamson III (“Don’t Start Me Talking”). Bobby Rush moved to Jackson, Mississippi in the 1980’s with family connections going back several generations in the state. The album was from his heart, Bobby recalling that ‘although I was born in Louisiana, I’m proud to call Mississippi home. I’m saluting Mississippi guys because they, to me, stayed truest to their roots. If you want to get the real deal of the Blues, get it from the Bluesmen who are from Mississippi. Whether they migrated somewhere else like Chicago or Beverly Hills, if they are from Mississippi you can hear the deep roots of Mississippi in their stories’.
Opening Rawer Than Raw on his own composition, Bobby Rush strips backing to his harmonica and footstomp for “Down in Mississippi”. The cut joins four other original tunes from Bobby Rush on Rawer Than Raw, the beat tapping out against picked six strings in “Let Me in Your House” while mortality is framed by sharp notes for “Sometimes I Wonder” and morning answers a wake-up with “Let’s Make Love Again”.
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Jerry Joseph (from the album The Beautiful Madness available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Roots rock and roller Jerry Joseph has always had a lot to say and a pouring-off-the-page to-do list, whether it be recording his next record or delivering guitars to the underprivileged in war torn parts of the world. The current state of affairs provides Jerry Joseph with plenty of lyrical fodder, words that spread across the songs of The Beautiful Madness, his latest effort produced by Portland, Oregon neighbor Patterson Hood. and backed by Hood’s long-time band, Drive-By Truckers. The right choice to back Jerry Joseph on The Beautiful Madness, DBT support his dark, deliberate, and at times delicate, recording.
Album opener “Days of Heaven” is both hard and hopeful, driven by a chug-a-lug rhythm, followed by “Bone Towers”, a slow burner of contemplation where Jerry Joseph admits ‘all this self-reflecting can’t be good for the soul’. “Sugar Smacks” is a spoken word blast of beat poetry over a dusky melody, a musical state of the union where Jeery Joseph namedrops David Bowie and Joe Strummer, dishes on other current realities, and references bath tubs full of drugs where ‘everybody wants a bath but no one’s getting clean’. “Dead Confederate” rolls slow and seedy, a Country Goth cut addressing very real southern issues, Jerry Joseph providing the perfect drawl over the slide guitar of Jason Isbell. Worthy of the stacked accolades, Joseph has put together a record current events. Musically its dang near perfect, the DBT’s providing a necessary bed of Southern Soul to live under Jerry Josephs soul-checking narrative. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Fay Hield (from the album Wrackline available on Topic Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
‘I have made, thought about and organised music to varying degrees my whole life’ says Fay Hield, on her official page at the University of Sheffield, where she holds the position of Senior Lecturer, Ethnomusicology. Hield, who earned her PhD with a thesis on ‘English Folk Singing and the Construction of Community’ is one of those rare souls who have been fortunate enough to turn their passion into a day job. Fortunate in terms of opportunity, of course, but talent is the defining element. Throughout her musical career, Fay Hield has gained plaudits from all corners. She spent two years touring and recording with folk 'super-group' The Full English (Seth Lakeman , Martin Simpson , Nancy Kerr , Sam Sweeney , Rob Harbron and Ben Nicholls), during which time Hield earned Folk Awards for Best Group, Best Album, and Folk Singer of the Year.
Fay Hield's new solo album Wrackline is a tantalizing release. This is her first foray into songwriting and features musicians from the top of the Folk tree, including the aforementioned Harbron (concertina); master-fiddler and former Bellowhead alumni, Sweeney; the brilliant, peripatetic Nicholls on double bass, and the much-lauded multi-instrumentalist Ewan MacPherson. Wrackline is a concept album; twelve original pieces exploring that most traditional of folk themes, the 'otherworld' of ghosts, fairies and animal-spirits. ‘Perhaps’ explains Fay Hield ‘in these strange times it’s particularly important to understand how stories can help us make sense of the world around us, both the world we can see and also those darker, less tangible things’.
The album opens with “Hare Spell,” an adaptation of a traditional number, which showcases some beautiful acoustic guitar. Instantly you can hear why Hield's vocals have garnered awards. She is possessed of the classic English folk-song voice; affecting, lilting and hypnotic, seeming to transcend time and repute all modern ills. As expected, the musicianship is sublime. Fiddle, soft drums, guitar and voices blend into an organic creation. 'If it doesn't sound old and it doesn't sound new, then it's folk music' goes the running joke. Wrackline fulfils that brief completely. The production is crisp and clear but not over-polished. The arrangements are a delight, moving easily from the sparse to wide-open vistas. Of particular note is Nicholl's bass, which is so much a part of the whole that on first listen it could be easy to miss. On repeated listens it becomes clear just have vital that bass is to producing the spellbinding results. It is fascinating to learn, from Hield's own notes, that “Hare Spell” is based on an actual witch trial of 1662.
Fay Hield injects a fair amount of variety into this collection. “Jenny Wren” bears traces of classic American Country with its strident guitar riff around which is woven a tapestry of strings. “Night Journey” is almost chamber-like; a melancholy refrain of bowed and plucked notes with splashes of Jazzy colour and well-utilized stereo attack. Lyrically, Wrackline also has a lot to offer. ‘He waits and wonders while he watches, are you the one he's waiting for?’ As with all the best art, the apparent simplicity is deceptive. There's plenty to unpack and it's a pleasure to do so.
The wonderful, scatter-shot of colour which is “Pig Song” defies its title to meander whimsically and mesmerizing, a balloon-ride adventure over a patchwork land through sunshine and shadow. “Wing Flash” which largely features just guitar and voice, reflects, explains Hield, ‘the loss of my mum in my teens. I am still unsure how much to cling onto and what to let go’. This is the power of art – to connect us to shared experiences, a universal healing process. “Wing Flash” is moving, both musically and lyrically. “When She Comes” provides a fitting end to this impressive record. Co-written with Sarah Hesketh, it is a slowly unwinding cloud of drawn-out notes and drones, through which Fay Hield's voice floats and flashes like the proverbial silver lining.
Wrackline is a beautifully crafted album which more than lives up to its promise. Fans of thoughtful, accessible music will find much here to savour. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Two Bird Stone (from the album Hands and Knees available on Wondermore Records) (by Brian Rock)
Two Bird Stone carves out their own niche of Celtic Folk-Grass on their debut album, Hands and Knees. Founded by band leader Liam Thomas Bailey just last year, the group plays with a tightness that usually takes several years to achieve. With banjo as an unabashed lead instrument, Two Bird Stone display their Bluegrass bona fides. The backing fiddle strains are more Celtic than Appalachian, and add a flair of international texture without being overbearing. The themes and rhythms explore traditional Folk and Country terrain. The cumulative effect is a sonically satisfying new sub-genre of Americana.
The title track sets the tone for Hands and Knees, leading off with pastoral banjo strumming as Bailey sings ‘one day I’m gonna come back home again’. The theme, that rambling and adventure are never as fulfilling as the loved ones you leave behind, is perfectly accentuated by the warm tones and lilting rhythm of the music. The use of accordion in the background also helps set the mood. As the lyrical tale unfolds, Bailey comes to realize ‘when I’m burned up from being gone, when I get tired of moving on... I hope to God that you’re still free when I surrender. By and by, I will surrender’.
Bailey’s Drew Holcomb meets John Hiatt vocal sounds friendly and familiar as he sings songs of love and home and family. On “Me and My Friends”, Two Bird Stone sing of the special connection between friends that endures even when there are miles between them. “I Already Know What’s on Your Mind” is an acknowledgement of the unspoken connection between lovers that speaks without words. “The 99” is a twist on Jesus’ parable of the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to save the lost one. In this version, a man stricken with wanderlust asks his lover if she’d leave her family, friends and home to find him if he goes astray. “Drive It ‘til the Wheels Fall Of,” is the reward for those who sacrifice for love’s sake. Bailey and company ‘give you the keys to my heart. And you can drive it till the wheels fall off’. “Needle and Thread” is a spritely metaphor that sums up the theme of the album: those we love are the needle and thread that weave our quilt of extended family. The banjo and fiddle interplay in this song work together just like the needle and thread of the title. The band then extends the concept of family in “When Somebody Can See Your Soul”. Two Bird Stone describe the unexpected jolt of connection that we sometimes feel when we look into a stranger’s eyes for the first time. That feeling of recognition reminds us that, in the larger sense, we are all family.
Two Bird Stone venture into Folk Rock territory on “If You Wanna Come Back” and “Shoebox Money”. The former starts off slow and builds tempo and intensity as they assert ‘you gotta go away if you wanna come back’. “Shoebox Money,” finds Two Bird Stone approaching the tones of their Celtic Rock cousins, Carbon Leaf. A simple celebration of love outweighing everything else, they sing ‘you make me want to spend my shoebox money. I can’t remember what I was saving up for’. Indeed, what could be more worthy of our earnings than love?
With so many songs of love and family, and with the familiar melodies of the Appalachians and the Emerald Isle, Hands and Knees is every bit as comforting as the quilt they weave in “Needle and Thread”. And, by inventing their own sub-genre, Two Bird Stone, assures that they are the best Celtic Folk-Grass band you’ve ever heard. (by Brian Rock)
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New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers (from the album New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, Vol 1 available on Stony Plain Records)
A dozen years ago, musicians gathered for a jam. The sessions were completed in 2008 and the production was completed in 2009 before producer and band member Jim Dickinson’s passing. The 2008 sessions began when brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) sat for a jam with Jimbo Mathus (solo, Squirrel Nut Zippers), Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and their dad, Jim Dickinson, producer, piano player, and all-around musical maestro. The songs were collected over a series of late nights, the band sitting in a circle, the recording perfectly capturing the in-the-studio groove for the cover cuts collected on New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, Vol 1. The album opens featuring Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica with “Baby, Why You Worry Me”, slowly the rhythm to a smoldering rumble underneath Jimbo Mathus for “Night Time”, toe-tapping for the Front porch Folk that Alvin Youngblood Hart puts into “Stop and Listen Blues”.
Band leader cues along the lines of ‘okay, somebody else play’ accent and endear New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers and the beautifully chaotic music they create when Jim Dickinson takes the lead on “Come on Down to My House” while he stomps and hollers out a version of “Let’s Work Together”. Sonically, New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, Vol 1 is a joy. The loose rhythms and playful leads testament to the talent and innovations of the band. New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers are street corner buskers when Alvin Youngblood Hart trots out “Pony Blues” as he stays behind the microphone for a feral version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free”. Charlie Musselwhite gets his mojo working walking through “Strange Land” as he hums over the raw Folk of “K.C. Moan” while New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers follow Jimbo Mathus as he shouts outs the band name dance step ‘jelly roll’ in “Shake It and Break It”.
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Dan Penn (from the album Living on Mercy available on The Last Music Company)
Soul is timeless. It can’t be manufactured anymore than it can be taken away with age. Dan Penn is proof, offering a new release, Living on Mercy, to prove the point. The title track opens Living on Mercy, Dan Penn immediately melting the ice around hearts. He gives a gospel feel to a tune penned for songwriters Mecca with “Down on Music Row” as he checks into “Blue Motel”, introducing a cast of lovers on their way up and down, in and out. Living on Mercy is warm Southern Soul, strumming a rhythm under the regrets of “See You in My Dreams”, strutting to a full stop with the words of love in “Didn’t Hear That Coming”, and shuffling towards an exit in closing cut, “One of These Days”.
A dictionary entry for Blue-eyed Soul, as a songwriter Dan Penn co-authored hits such as “I’m Your Puppet” (James & Bobby Purify), “Dark End of the Street” (James Carr), “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (Aretha Franklin), “A Woman Left Lonely” (Janis Jopin), “Cry Like a Baby” (The Box Tops) as well as tracks for
Percy Sledge and Clarence Carter in addition to producing The Box Tops break-through hit, “The Letter”. Dan Penn is charming in his vocals, making promises that his honest delivery verifies in “I Do”, boasting of his luck in love with “Soul Connection” as he walks the highwire act balancing on the “Edge of Love” and becomes a wiseman doling out advice on matters of the heart in “What It Takes to Be True”.
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Molly Tuttle (from the album ….but I’d rather be with you available on Compass Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Bluegrass music continues to present virtuosos to the world, and, in turn, those master players taking on the responsibility of pushing the genres boundaries. Or reimagining Bluegass all together save for some ripping solos, as Molly Tuttle has done on …but I’d rather be with you, a collection of quarantine recorded covers laid down via Tuttle’s newfound Pro Tools skills. With a clean pop hand on a repertoire from Indie and Avant Garde, Pop and Classic Rock, Molly Tuttle played and captured her parts, then sent the pieces off to Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridges) for further production and added instrumentation. Tuttle’s guitar work is at wizard level and Berg’s additions result in Molly being backed by a smoking band she’ll likely never pick with in a live setting.
Her take on The National’s “Fake Empire” sticks close to home, Molly Tuttle’s vocal soft and earnest while The Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow” is sunny and breezy, a delicious dose of golden Pop music. Molly’s guitar takes the place over the cello as the melody maker in Arthur Russell’s “A Little Lost” and her version of the Rancid track “Olympia WA” pumps at the same pulse as the original, delivered fast and urgent. …but I’d rather be with you namechecks the Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia penned “Standing on the Moon” in its title, Molly Tuttle staying the course of the original with dreamy, light and lofty vocals backed by ambient and airy pedal steel, and The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Zero” is pure 21stCentury pop music. Throw in cuts from Harry Styles and Cat Stevens, Karen Dalton and FKA Twigs, Molly Tuttle’s song selection makes you want to take a scroll through her entire record collection. That scroll would likely reveal a musician unafraid to dig into a flavor of the week and comfortable hanging out with the left of the dial crowd. (by Bryant Liggett)
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