Friday, 29 April 2011

The Black Lillies - Whiskey Angel/100 Miles of Wreckage

The Black Lillies Thesis

Whiskey Angel
, and the most recent 100 Miles of Wreckage, exemplify all that's good with country/americana [to direct towards a style] but I'd want to stress that it's simply brilliant music - whatever the tag - with accomplished musicianship, rock-solid songwriting, and glorious harmony vocals.

It's the same with both albums, but starting with their debut, I guess you have to have an affinity for rather than aversion to Country steel and strings because that is a powerful underpinning feature. Opener Whiskey Angel posit its other Country requisites with banjo and fiddle, along with steel guitar, but it's the close harmonies that impress immediately. Second track See Right Through is a slower acoustic number with Cruz Contreras' solid vocal again ably supported by Leah Gardner's backing: superb songwriting. There's Only One heightens the pace with electric bottleneck blues guitar, whilst Goodbye Mama Blues returns to ol' time country roots a la Old Crow Medicine Show. Indeed, it's natural to search for echos and precursors and here it would always be a compliment to find complementary suggestions, so I would also mention Buddy and Julie Miller if you wanted a similar reference point before deciding for yourself with an actual listen. Another significant track is Where the Black Lillies Grow and the song mirrors the title with its slow brooding burning growing to ignited emotive ending.

When released in 2009 it garnered plenty of deserved accolades and these are fully justified through the recent follow-up album 100 Miles of Wreckage. This is more of the same - again, a simple but strong compliment - and songs like The Arrow already sound like classic country balladry [with the Buddy and Julie Miller reference apt again]. A track that has already broken into my all-time favourites is Tall Trees where Contreras' vocal is particularly pleasing, performing at a slightly higher register than normal, and the song is really a two-parter where half-way through it breaks into quite a traditional thumping country standard, this time a la Don Williams, and which places the title '100 Miles of Wreckage' as a key line, but it is the sustained 70s rock guitar lick seeing out the song that nails it for me. The album finishes on a genuinely pretty lullaby Go To Sleep - and if you can get away with this so endearingly there has to be a bedrock of musical credibility and I think this supports my thesis, presented elsewhere, that such 'country' artists are so often at the vanguard, or at the very least sustaining, of the writing and performing of some of the best current music.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

John and Beverley Martyn - Stormbringer/The Road To Ruin


John and Beverley

If you're a fan you'll have these. Glorious.

Just listening to John Live at the Town and Country Club 1986. Glorious

Monday, 25 April 2011

Steve Earle - I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

Earle Encore

I'm posting a fuller review of this album compared with my recent previous if anyone is interested - it's because I've been posting reviews on amazon co. too and occasionally, as with this one, write in more detail:

The art of platitude, twice: Steve Earle is a brilliant songwriter; every Steve Earle album is superb. That nutshells the man and his latest album, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. Surely Earle has usurped the 'outlaw' mantle from Waylon by now, and this album continues the raw and robust countryblues of his oeuvre to date, adding, as always, folk and bluegrass to complete a full palette of musical narratives. The 'outlaw' tag has more credibility with Earle too in his political commentaries, here represented by the acerbic Little Emperor that places George W in his proper political place [and this isn't satire; it's sincere judgement]; and The Gulf of Mexico which is a more reflective but nonetheless serious observation on the BP oil spill and its consequences.

My personal view is that Earle's finest song to date is My Old Friend the Blues from debut album Guitar Town, and on this latest T-Bone Burnett produced collection - Earle's first since his tribute to Townes Van Zandt - the ballad Every Part of Me challenges in its beauty, both musically and lyrically. It declares a more positive force in life compared with the former where 'Lovers leave and friends let you down'. In a hard life - heroin addiction, time in jail, married 7 times - to now write 'I love you with all my heart, all my soul, every part of me; it's all I can do to mark where you end and I start' reflects that Earle has found a blessing when he 'didn't think this kind would ever find me'.

Other wonderful tracks on this album are Lonely Are The Free, I Am A Wanderer, and Heaven and Hell, a duet with wife Allison Moorer who is the subject, presumably, of the most puissant line from Every Part of Me: 'I can't promise anything except my last breath will bear your name.

Those who might query the 'outlaw' tag would presumably point to his more popular sojourns into cameo performances in The Wire and more recently Treme. This would seem pretty churlish given, as I have already referenced, Earle's clear and sustained commitment to political views and causes. I mention this because of closing song This City written for Treme. However, this also carries the full weight of sincerity and the artist's craft not being compromised by commercial considerations. I watched the final episode of Treme this week and as This City played out the closing credits it was particularly poignant because it empathises so completely with the story. There is a wonderful cameo in this episode where Earle is in the process of completing his writing of the song.

Johnny Boy Would Love This

John Martyn tribute album - Johnny Boy Would Love This

With the imminent release of John Martyn's posthumous album Heaven and Earth there is also the tribute album scheduled for release on 12th July to look forward to.

As a taster you can download a lovely cover of 'You Can Discover' by Cheryl Wilson. Here is the link for this -

This is a beautiful track and Wilson's voice is excellent [I don't know her as an artist] and, though I'm bound to say this, it is the perfection of the song itself from album Sunday's Child that carries her fine vocals. John is on guitar too, and just after a fluffed start he says 'My fault entirely', whilst at the end of the song he is also heard to comment, in that typical Martynesque understatement, 'Think you might have it there': genuine praise indeed.

There is an affectionate but certainly candid review of John Martyn's album Heaven and Earth by Graeme Thomson in the June issue of Uncut. The following pullquote reflects the honest assessment I guess of this, though fans like me will not care about any negatives, agreed or not, and relish another recorded chapter of this great man's musical gifts: 'Heaven and Earth is flawed, undeniably, but rudely, robustly alive.....'

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Vintage Trouble - The Bomb Shelter Sessions

Vintage Indeed

Having referred to vintage Steve Miller in the previous post it is apt to comment on the same adjectival sounds of new band Vintage Trouble in this one.

Like many, I saw this tight outfit performing brilliantly on both editions of this week's Later....With Jools Holland, Friday night's giving us a full blast of their superlative rock n soul. Again like many, no doubt, I have downloaded the album [from Amazon] and am revelling in the exuberance and excellence of it all.

The scorching rock guitar riffs and solos of Nalle Colt are complemented by the ballsy bass of Rick Barrio Dill and the succinct drumming of Richard Danielson. Vocalist Ty Taylor has both a roaring as well as sweet soul voice: tracks 'Blues Hand Me Down' and 'Nancy Lee' - both aired - present the raucous side; the glorious 'Gracefully' reminds me of Otis and Sam in this vintage reincarnation of that traditional sound. In performance, James Brown will kick to mind.

Indeed, Taylor's vocals remind me of another 'then' new kid on the block, Terence Trent D'Arby who didn't attain the popular or critical success he deserved for his singing at least, and I trust this won't be the case with this band because there is so much more I'd want to hear over the coming years, not least seeing them live which is the palpable real treat.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Keep on rockin' me, Miller

Steve Miller Band - Live at the Philipshalle, Dusseldorf, Germany; October 15, 2010

This is brilliant and there's plenty of mileage still in Miller: tracks from 'Bingo!' and then the hits with a stunning spaced-out version of 'Fly Like An Eagle' - tick tock tick. It's a bootleg of an fm broadcast and can be downloaded on this page from this excellent site: [or you can click on the track no. links]


Track 01. radio intro
Track 02. Take The Money And Run
Track 03. Mercury Blues
Track 04. Hey Yeah
Track 05. Don’t Cha Know
Track 06. Serenade
Track 07. Abracadabra
Track 08. Come On Let The Good Times Roll
Track 09. Rock’n Me
Track 10. Jungle Love
Track 11. Fly Like An Eagle
Track 12. The Joker
Track 13. radio outro

Friday, 22 April 2011


Hot Tuna - Steady As She Goes

Steve Miller Band - Let Your Hair Down

Nazareth - Big Dogz

Uriah Heep - Into The Wild

Four blasts from the past making their contemporary mark by resurrecting in 2011 the sounds that made them special, or at the very least, recognisable. It is a potential recipe for embarrassment, but in all cases I think these are solid repetitions, and as you know what to expect you will not be disappointed.

Both Nazareth [*] and Uriah Heep are the least surprising in the way they re-present the heavy rock that defines their existence. It is the simple but effective surge of 3/4 part riffs pounding out a steady core around which to build stereotypical hardrock songs. No disruptions or alterations to the musical timewarp continuum here.

Similar could be said of the Steve Miller Band's Let Your Hair Down. Hot on the heals of Miller's other fine 2011 release Bingo!, this is blues revival at its solid best, 10 consummate blues standards played with the expertise that comes with age and empathy. 'Just a Little Bit' and 'No More Doggin'' also bear the Miller signature singing [those harmonies], the latter resonating some unintended comic effect when considering what 'dogging' means on these shores.

The only surprise in what isn't surprising is Hot Tuna's Steady As She Goes. That's a personal paradox because having said in a previous post I didn't rate this band I have been genuinely engaged in this offering, and it is the most varied album though probably because it is the least formulaic in nature. There's the gospel blues of 'Children of Zion', a ghost of Dire Straits in the fine 'Angel of Darkness', the acoustic simplicity and beauty of 'Second Chances', and the funkblues in 'Mourning Interrupted'.

True, 'Man's yesterday may ne're be like his morrow; nought may endure but mutability', but some things are reassuring for staying the same.

[*] Cursory comments after a cursory listen are a little unfair to their album and I have listened again more intently: Dan McCafferty's vocals are as vital as ever, and two tracks, 'Ride'/'Tide and Time', are nostalgic and reflective songs that not only give the album more musical variety than I acknowledged, but also add meaningful reminiscences on the past, time's fleeting features, and how this impacts on sustaining a rock career. It's not philosophy, but it's earnest enough.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Principal Edwards Magic Theatre - Soundtrack

Hitching a Story

A number of my posts on this blog have been 'prompted' by some catalyst from here or there. With this album being one of my favourite favourites, I am a little surprised that it has taken such a nudge for me to post this now.

Today's prompt has been reading a best friend's nostalgic story about seeing PEMT in performance which involves a hitch-hiking episode as one narrative device, and reality. Up until today I always felt I had my own great hitch-hiking tale - the time when a school mate and I aged 15 met up early one morning on the A12 out of Ipswich to try and get a lift to the 1969 Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert. Having thumbed unsuccessfully for a long long time, a Bedford van filled with hippies from Harwich and going to the concert pulled up to coolly and amiably offer us a ride. These were men and women and we were boys and I think they felt a care and concern for the two of us in addition to any inherent hippie code of sharing and help. This was confirmed - and the potent point of my hitch-hiking story - when they insisted that we meet up after the concert so they could take us back to Ipswich, which they did.

In my friend's story, he and his then prospective girlfriend not only got a lift in the Principal Edwards Magic Theatre tour bus, they also went to their gig, helped unload equipment, watched the performance, shared an Indian meal afterwards with cast and crew, and were then taken back to the PEMT farmhouse to spend the night - and in the romantic denouement that presages their relationship for well over the three decades I have known them - well, you'll have to read the story, but the narrative requires little in terms of device or imagination. Needless to say, this hitch-hiking event trumps mine, and if I wasn't so enamoured by the endearing story of the incipient love of two wonderful friends, I'd be peeved rather than prompted.

The album Soundtrack is unique. Championed and produced by John Peel on his label Dandelion it is a rich mix of folk, rock, spoken word and, in performance, dance and recital. Vocalist Vivienne McAuliffe has that pure folk voice of the time, but the distinctive sound, different to both obvious comparisons like Pentangle and Fairport Convention, has the rock elements interrupt the folk narratives in at times heavy metal snatches rather than structured accompaniment [plainsong meets Black Sabbath]. That does rather simplify, but it is part of the band's unique take on the folk/rock marriage. Root Cartwright, who writes/co-writes all the material, engages in longish guitar solos that give it a more progressive sound at times

The gatefold album cover has the 14 ensemble members posing in front of Exeter Cathedral, and the velvet and scarves and floral patterns establish the sound before it is even heard. Inside has lyrics on the left to song titles like 'Enigmatic Insomniac Machine', 'The Death of Don Quixote', and 'Third Sonnet to Sundry Notes Of Music' [with credit to Shakespeare, thus establishing the learned roots as well]; and on the right there is a photo montage of facial close-ups, on-stage footage, Stonehenge and more flowers.

The music is brilliant. There is a raw and live sound at times. The singing is, as I've said, simply beautiful, or it can be punctuated by sudden screams or more unrefined occasional male vocals [Martin Stellman?]. I love this album but imagine that seeing them live will have been the perfect and intended experience - reading the members' credits that cite 'choreographer, writer, dancer, arranger, designer, lights, spoken voice' and so on you are reminded of the theatrical nature of this group.

Of course my friend and his then prospective girlfriend did get to see them live. And hitch a memorable ride. Have their shared curry. Sleep on that single mattress. Begin that partnership in the context of a love for music we both share.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Roisin Murphy - Ruby Blue/Overpowered

Good Poison Roisin

Having had a surprise injection of Moloko I became seriously infected by Roisin Murphy's distinctive singing, as covered in the last post, so decided to take on a full dose by visiting both her solo albums, the 2005 Ruby Blue and the 2007 Overpowered.

The latter is, apparently, the more popular/successful, but whilst Murphy's vocals will always make her work attractive and significant, there is just too much disco/dance for me with a heavyhanded 80s synth presence throughout, especially those shite synth drums that sullied so many good quality artists who fell for its transient charms in that problematic musical decade. We really don't need to resurrect these.

Ruby Blue, however, is superb. Produced and composed by Matthew Herbert, this is full of electronic vitality and vocal/electronica ingenuity, for example in the opening track 'Leaving the City'. There are jazz grooves in 'Sinking Feeling' and smooth trumpet backing in both this and 'Night of the Dancing Flame'. There is the funky 'If We're in love', the admittedly weird 'Ramalama [Bang Bang]', and the occasional fuzz of the title track 'Ruby Blue'. The album ends on the beautiful piano ballad 'The Closing of the Doors' which is Bacharachesque in its melody and mood. All the time Murphy's vocals are full and fulfilling, naturally.

What a way to go.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Moloko - Statues

Fun in Moloko

I pulled this off the cd shelf recently for listening in the car and was reminded of just how brilliant this band/[duo] are, and especially the singing of Roisin Murphy. I think I was first influenced by them with their third release Things To Make And Do - songs like 'Pure Pleasure Seeker', with its baritone sax lead, reminded me of rock and prog bands of the late 70s, and Murphy's voice always reminded me a little of both Julie Driscoll and Sonja Kristina; and then there's 'Indigo' with its chanted lyrics 'Rameses, Colossus, Rameses, Colossus' and other pseudo-psychedelic nonsense - this was a musical distillation of so much that I liked from the past now starting the new millennium. I subsequently bought Moloko's first two releases as well - Do You Like My Tight Sweater and I Am Not A Doctor which are more dance oriented as well as lyrically playful.

But TTMAD and Statues are favourites with great songs that Murphy collaborated in writing with then boyfriend Mark Brydon. From the latter, the ballad 'Statues' is itself beautiful and foregrounds Murphy's wonderful vocals. '100%' reflects the writers' range with its big band jazz intro and bossa nova rhythms. 'I Want You' presents a further nuance on Roisin's vocals with a soulful solo opening and then what I guess is a double-tracked core. Opening track 'Familiar Feelings' has an organ intro that reminds me of Procol Harum [just until the slapped bass cuts in!] but the repeated 'Nothing can come close' rises to a crescendo that halts in a King Crimsonesque peak before continuing into the main song.

Amazing how it's been years since I listened to this. I've put that right tonight. Great fun.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Josh T Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen

Gentlemen prefer bombs

This is explosive stuff in its angst and anger, love explored in all its darkest manifestations with the pain and regret and recriminations and hatred and spiritual ennui of living this romantic nihilism.

I'm not sure if this can accurately embrace such a complex album but it gives you a gist of the songs' candid and confessional narratives, either from Pearson's real experiences [a relationship disaster and a ten year break from his last major musical endeavour, one part of the unique Lift To Experience countrypunk trio] or those of assumed personas, even then informed by Pearson's dark personal thoughts.

The songs are long and seemingly stream-of-consciousness diatribes, weaving along unknown roads where the occasional hidden landmines are triggered and the softly picked acoustic guitar is blown into a flurry of strumming. The lyrics mirror this dynamic paradox. In Woman, When I've Raised Hell.... the pleading 'Honestly, why can't you just let me be and let me quietly drink myself to sleep' is sung slowly and, although obnoxious, suggests an inner defeat, but this rises to an ominously defiant 'because honestly you are my queen but you had better leave or I will be forced to be king ...' and the once soothing strings also climax into a momentary anger. And it is absolutely beautiful.

In Honeymoon's Great - Wish You Were Here Pearson sings of loving a woman who 'simply ain't my wife'. This is the script for Country, but here there are no twee platitudes and homespun rhymes - in another even longer outpouring of candour at 13 minutes, the song tells and retells the simple but insuperable agony of loving another woman for whom he will not leave his wife [such gentlemanly behaviour in a world where this wouldn't normally matter]. The harsh honesty is contained in lines like 'And it'd be kinda funny if it weren't so damn true. I'd gouge my eyes out if I thought it would help me not to see her when I look at you'.

In the battle between melody and melancholy the latter wins but that is what will ultimately make this album outlast pretty and catchy music because it demands such concentration and tolerance when listening - and then the desire to return to empathise in the cathartic unravelling of each song. You won't be whistling these tunes, but you might end up whittling away at your own doubt and despair.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Alive and well

Steve Earle - I'll Never Get Out Of This Alive

The art of platitude, twice: Steve Earle is a brilliant songwriter; every Steve Earle album is superb.

That nutshells the man and his latest album, released on 26th April. All I'll add is that his finest song to date is 'My Old Friend the Blues' from debut album Guitar Town, and on this latest T-Bone Burnett produced collection - Earle's first since his tribute to Townes Van Zandt - the ballad 'Every Part of Me' challenges in its beauty, both musically and lyrically. It declares a more positive force in life compared with the former where Lovers leave and friends let you down. In a hard life - heroin addiction, time in jail, married 7 times - to now write I love you with all my heart, all my soul, every part of me; it's all I can do to mark where you end and I start reflects that Earle has found a blessing when he didn't think this kind would ever find me.

Other wonderful tracks on this album are 'Lonely Are The Free', 'I Am A Wanderer', and 'Heaven and Hell', a duet with wife Allison Moorer who is the subject, presumably, of the most puissant line from 'Every Part of Me': I can't promise anything except my last breath will bear your name.

Gregory Porter - Water


Last night's Later With Jools Holland played host to a cameo by Gregory Porter with a fuller sampling to be aired on Friday's lengthier version, or you can access a BBC online offering of Jools and Gregory rehearsing together.

Porter is an imposing figure - he had a college scholarship as a linebacker - and his voice is the significant part of that presence. The album Water is a wonderful collection of jazz standards and self-penned tracks like '1960 What?' which evokes civil rights unrest in 60s Detroit and, on a wider arc, the killing of Martin Luther King: it is more soul vocal than jazz and its politically charged narrative is delivered over 12 minutes of hypnotic thrust and repetition.

Opener 'Illusion' establishes Porter's fine jazz vocal, and the subsequent 'Pretty' introduces the scatting - only an occasional feature - that echoes Kurt Elling, as well as instrumental support from a collection of excellent musicians including saxophonist James Spaulding.

Another self-penned song, the title track 'Water', presents Porter's craft as lyricist with its metaphoric thread, and the album finishes as it should on an acappella performance of the standard 'Feeling Good', sealing the vocal imposition of this big and talented artist.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Paula Nelson - Little City


I wrote recently about Lukas Nelson, son of Willie, and have a while back referred to Teddy Thompson and his familial lineage - now it is a brief return to the Nelson tree and Paula with her solid and confident album Little City.

She has a fine voice with some natural vibrato but, unlike Lukas, there isn't the dynastic Willie tonal genes. However, dad does add his dueting imprint on the straight and faithful version of John Fogarty's 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain', both in vocals and idiosyncratic guitar solo. Beautiful. Another memorable track is the rocker 'Drink' with accompaniment by friend Carolyn Wonderland.

It has made a most pleasant evening's listen.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Leon Thomas - Blues and the Soulful Truth

Time travel

It's back to 1972, and here the 'blues' is again consumed within other sounds, this time soulfunk and jazz, as Leon Thomas, who sang with Pharoah Sanders, sets down vocal grooves with the impressive support of Cecil Payne, Pee Wee Ellis, Larry Coryell, Stanley Clarke and many others.

This is spaced-out in its own varying momentary rights, and the Blues get their best gutsy representation in 'C.C. Rider' with smoothcool violin by John Blair.

We have arrived.

Samsara Blues Experiment - Long Distance Trip

Blues trip

Things to do, but thought I'd take the journey instead, I guess because I can.

This is a 2010 release so brings us and the blues up to date, and the 'blues' is stretched here to be refracted through a grunge/stoner psychedelia, mainly instrumental, with long fuzzed-out wah-wah and other electrified guitar solos moving relentlessly forward, Sabbathesque at times, until arriving at planet Blues in the universal interpretation these German spacerockers launch for us.

Far out. See you later.

Groundhogs - Black Diamond/Crosscut Saw

Groundhog day, in a way

Having started with Baldry's blues, it is a repetition of sorts to continue the day with the Groundhogs, though this is the '76 reincarnation of the band, and these two combined albums contain as much rock as blues, often merged of course. Tony McPhee's guitar playing is as significant as ever - virtuoso and wild on 'Fulfilment'; the foot-stomping acoustic blues of 'Mean Mistreater'; Troweresque on 'Eleventh Hour' - though across these recordings it is probably less intense when compared with the earlier Hogs days where McPhee and the band ground out their expert British hard-core blues.

Long John Baldry - Long John's Blues

Long John Morning

I arrived in England in 1967 and one of the great English pop ballads that occupied radio, TV and teenage ears at the time was Long John Baldry's 'Let the Heartaches Begin'.

It wasn't until much later that I rediscovered Baldry and his blues roots and the breadth of his musical experiences and recordings. And this morning I have been listening to Long John's Blues, his debut album recorded in 1964.

Stand-out tracks from a stellar whole are 'You're Breaking My Heart' with great band support and Baldry's bluesy vocal range in full play; a moody and punchy 'Bring My Baby Back'; 'Five Long Years' with my own harmonica accompaniment adding much self-satisfaction, and the sultry 'Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You'.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Soul testimonial

Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
Bing Ji Ling - Shadow To Shine
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears - Scandalous

A trio of recent releases all fitting the 'retro-soul' appellation with aplomb. I'll keep this short - there are lashings of funk and fuzz and sweet soul harmonies and lush orchestrations and the echoes of Temptations, Isleys, Isaac Hayes and so on and so forth. New to me, these guys have applied superb production values to each album and there is an empathy for soul's past as well as instinct for its future. I recommend them all, without reservation.