It’s a logical progression I suppose. I’ve heard a few stripped-back lockdown singer-songwriter albums recently, usually the one voice/one instrument variety and they’ve all been very good. Iago Banet takes it one step further; just guitar, no vocal. Iago’s been playing live around the UK and particularly the south east for a few years now, solo and as guitar player with ColorColour (formerly Deep Blue Sea). With the band, he’s the Les Paul-toting, all the way to 11, rock guitar player and he’s a great player. The solo material’s also very good, but very different from the band dynamic.

For a start it’s all instrumental and it’s mainly acoustic; there are hints of influences from a huge variety of musical styles but it’s all built around Iago’s Galician finger-style playing, a combination of finger-picking, flamenco and soundboard tapping and slapping. And that’s the groundwork right there for Iago’s second album, “Iago Banet”. The album has nine tracks, eight originals and one very interesting (and brave) cover and it demonstrates Iago’s ability to evoke a scene or a feeling with his writing and playing. Here’s a quick run through a few of the album’s highlights.

Sitting right in the middle of the album is “Octopus One”, probably the least typical track. It has a much more jazz/blues feel than the rest of the album and it’s a load of fun – it’s the sound of a guitar player cutting loose and having a good time. Where Iago excels is in capturing and evoking a mood or a scene, whether it’s the slow, moody, delicate finger-picking and soundboard slapping of “Morning at Greenwich Park”, the frantic flurries of notes evoking the bustle and madness of “Rush Hour” in London or the Chet Atkins styling and jazz/country fusion of “There’s a Mouse in My Kitchen” capturing the movement of a mouse skittering across a kitchen floor. Which brings us to the cover version of “Moondance” – yes, that “Moondance”.

This cover demonstrates Iago’s range of techniques with percussive picking pulling out the bass, the melody and rhythmic chords and progressing to Galician finger-style, string slapping and harmonics. Like the Van Morrison original, it swings and it’s another bit of fun to end the album.

So there you go; nine tracks of guitar artistry. The guitar techniques alone make this a stunning guitar player’s album, but it’s the mastery of melody and rhythms and the ability to paint a picture of a scene that make this an album for everyone. It’s a perfect stocking-filler for the music lover in your life and you can get a CD copy here.

“Iago Banet” is out now on all platforms. And while we’re on the subject, Iago’s first album “A Sunset Wine” is also available on his website and I thoroughly recommend that as well.

When things get back to something resembling normal, you really should make the effort to go and see Iago live; you won’t regret it.

We seem to have an outbreak of singles this year; mostly it’s albums coming through the letterbox or into the inbox, but 2020 has seen a few singles, notably three from Danny Schmidt over the summer and one from Tim Grimm in October. In turbulent times, artists will respond with creativity and these have been turbulent times on both sides of the Atlantic. There’s been plenty to write about from both a social and personal point of view and it’s a challenge that’s been taken up by Danny and Tim, and now Ed Dupas.

Just so you know, I’m a big fan of Ed Dupas; he’s a superb songwriter with a rough-hewn, lived-in voice and a good acoustic and electric player. We’ve reviewed three of Ed’s albums here over the last few years and generally the songs lean towards melancholy and are very personal, with a few notable exceptions (the stunning “Flag”, “Too Big to Fail” and “State of the Nation”); “This Old Heart” is very different. It’s a mid-tempo song with an uplifting cajun feel (with a synthesised accordion sound, apparently) and it’s a song of immense hope.

The song was started at around the beginning of the COVID outbreak and then set aside until it began to reassert its presence several weeks later as a song of renewal and redemption. The pandemic is far from over, but the presidential election might offer some hope of healing. Who knows? It’s certainly an opportunity.

“This Old Heart” opens and closes with symbolic sounds – it begins with highway noise and an engine igniting to represent the start of the journey, builds up from an acoustic intro to a full band sound, and closes with a heartbeat. What happens in between is the shift from a time of no hope (‘It’s been a long night for a long, long time’) to a future where we might just be able to help each other along. I’ll raise a glass to that.

Check out Ed’s website as well. In addition to the regular music site items, there’s also a blog featuring Ed’s thoughts on many other subjects, which is thoughtful and fascinating.

“This Old Heart” is released in the UK on Friday November 20th.

One voice, one guitar; it can be that simple, but only if the songwriting, the playing and the voice are good enough. You’re in luck here because “Lamentations” is a set of twelve superb songs by an internationally-renowned writer, who plays acoustic guitar with flair, superb technique and finesse and has a rich and mellow voice that works perfectly for the folk troubadour style of this album. Rupert Wates takes the simplicity a stage further here – the twelve songs on “Lamentations” were recorded in one evening with no overdubs, creating the warmth of a live gig recorded faithfully at studio quality. It’s a challenge to create variety across twelve songs without any band arrangements, harmonies or studio trickery but Rupert Wates aces it with “Lamentations”.

“Lamentations” isn’t a concept album as such, but there are themes that run through the whole piece. The opening song, “The Carnival Waltz”, weaves in the first theme of the circle of life in the form of the carnival carousel endlessly repeating the same cycle with different riders. It’s life; some of us are on the way in and some are on the way out, some of us are going up and some are going down. The guitar backing is finger-picked in 3/4 time, which captures the motion of the carousel perfectly and it demonstrates the way Rupert creates intricate rhythms with his picking styles throughout the album. The circle of life theme is reinforced with songs representing the various phases of life, including birth, which feeds into the theme of songs for Rupert’s new son, Gabriel, passing on the lessons of experience.

Two end-of -life songs towards the end of the of the album demonstrate the versatility of Rupert’s playing. Most of the album is finger-picked, but the lament “Now The Harvest” is strummed, or hit, to imitate the rhythm of a funeral march; it’s a dirge in the true meaning of the word. “Farewell and Adieu” is a fairly simple strummed rhythm pattern backing a poignant farewell to old friends that will never be seen again. “Waiting for a Friend of Mine” backs up the vocal with picked arpeggios in 6/8 time that give a nod in the direction of “House of the Rising Sun” while the intricately-picked “Lamentations” might yet be an epitaph for Donald Trump; who knows?

The two songs written for his new son, “From Where You Are” and “And You Shall Have the World”, both feature master-class finger-picking. The first imagines the jumble of impressions meeting the newborn and a promise to help and support, while the second is an exhortation to avoid materialism and focus on the things that make you happy. I could go on, but I’d really like you to check this out for yourself.

Taking the most basic elements in the performer’s toolkit, one voice and one instrument, Rupert Wates has created an album that fizzes with acoustic guitar mastery and beautifully-crafted songs. Check out some of the individual links here or even the entire album. It’s pure class.

“Lamentations” is released in the UK on Friday December 4th 2020 on Bite Music (BR12115).

Here’s another remote working pandemic project for you. This isn’t a high profile, multi-screen Zoom video collaboration; Los Brujos  is a much more intimate and personal thing involving (mainly) Chuck Melchin of Bean Pickers Union and Michael Spaly of Green Monroe. The two obviously have a chemistry and have collaborated on projects over the last decade. The difference with this one is that everything has been done in their respective home studios in Michigan and New Hampshire and stitched together by producer Dave Westner in Massachusetts.

The “Alchemy” EP is five songs featuring mainly string band arrangements and some gorgeous four-part harmonies, played with great subtlety and style. What it definitely isn’t is a happy, cheerful listening experience, but I’m partial to a bit of melancholy in my music and it’s appropriate for the times we find ourselves in at the moment.

The atmospheric opener “Reckoning” features some nice harmonies to contrast with the brooding, haunted feel of the tale of a place filled with ghosts, while the gentle country feel of “Bronco” (the car, not the horse) typifies the EP with its story of a relationship break-up finalised by the ex-partner packing her belongings into a Bronco.

“Everything I Can” feels like a Leadon-era Eagles song with its gentle pace and banjo and fiddle fills, telling the story of a break-up caused by a desire to break out of stifling surroundings; it’s an apology delivered while looking in the rear-view mirror. “High Times” is the only question mark for me; it continues the previous track’s theme of the small-town outsider and the early part of the song features some tight four-part harmonies which, towards the end, become a bit too processed and psychedelic for my taste.

And the final song, “Bitter Blue”, is back to slow, laid-back country rock telling the story of the man compelled to keep making the same relationship mistakes. There you go; as Jim Steinman might have said, four out of five ain’t bad.

Five beautifully-crafted songs with lovely harmonies and some delightfully understated playing; I’ll take that any time.

“Alchemy” is released in the UK on Friday November 6th on Inseam Records.