John Wort Hannam’s eighth album,“Long Haul”, is another album that, inevitably, has been touched by the pandemic. The album’s eleven songs came together during an enforced period of reflection while locked down early in the pandemic, which brought a new emphasis to John’s songwriting with the realisation that he could write about his own life. You don’t to be a hell-raising, bar-trashing roughneck to have the raw material for songs; everyday life can provide the material if you look hard enough. The evidence for this is clear, the majority of the album’s songs are about everyday life. The other conscious decision he came to was to attempt to inject some humour into the album and that’s not the easiest thing to do; it can fail spectacularly. No spoilers, we’ll come back to this later.

The first half of the album shows no signs of moving away from country stylings, from zydeco-influenced title track to the old country string band arrangement of the duet “Beautiful Mess” which is a nod in the direction of Johnny and June’s “Jackson”, which is also the first injection of humour as a relationship apparently about to end is revealed as merely a bit dysfunctional and the only one thrown out is the ’god damn cat’. There’s another turn-around song as well; “Hurry Up Kid” explores the paradox of dashing through life trying to experience everything set against relaxing and taking time to fully appreciate life. The song’s in the form of advice to a child, starting in the womb and developing into an adult. With some nice organ fills and a gentle country feel it’s a great song, getting over an important message without any unnecessary fireworks.

There are a few familiar song topics on “Long Haul”; “Wonderful Things” celebrates life’s little pleasures, while “What I Know Now” is about the benefits of hindsight, with a nod in the direction of Ronnie Lane’s “Ooh La La” and Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind”. The song that takes the album out of the hundred per cent country bracket is “Twilight Diner” which tells the story of the bar we all know where all the misfits hang out; the musical styling with its Ray Manzarek-like piano and organ is pure Doors.

Talking of interesting characters hanging out in bars, the album’s other humorous song is full of them. “Meat Draw” has some gentle fun with the characters assembling for the weekly meat draw at the weekend. The styling is early Johnny Cash again with banjo and resonator solos towards the end; it’s great fun.

As a change of direction and emphasis, “Long Haul” works perfectly. John Wort Hannam (with a lot of support from multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson) has proven to himself and the rest of us that his daily life can become the subject of memorable songs.

“Long Haul” is out now on Black Hen Music (BHCD0095).

Here’s the video for “Beautiful Mess”:

Ian Siegal at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek. Photo by Allan McKay (@allan_mainlygigpics)

Some time in the early nineties our Northern correspondent, Steve Jenner, was working in local radio in Nottingham. He interviewed a young blues guitar player and singer named Ian Siegal shortly before Ian set off for London as the next step in his career while Steve built up a local radio empire in Derbyshire and the Peak District. Flash forward nearly thirty years to the Foxlowe Arts Centre in Leek (Staffordshire, not the Netherlands) and the two are in front of a microphone again before Ian plays a Saturday night headline gig at the Leek Blues and Americana Festival.

So, what’s Ian been up to during that time? No spoilers, you’ll have to listen to the interview to find out. Let’s just say that Ian has a story or two to tell:

Steve Jenner and Ian Siegal at Foxlowe Arts Centre, 02/10/21

There’s no denying the musical lineage of “Mercury Transit”. The melodic style and chiming guitars go all the way back to the Merseybeat scene of the early sixties and the songs have more than their fair share of the sus4 and sus2 chords that characterise that particular era. Taylor Young certainly isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last to be influenced by this purple patch in British pop history; the thread runs through the work of The Byrds, Alex Chilton, Flaming Groovies, Tom Petty, The Pretenders, The La’s and Teenage Fanclub and probably many more. Taylor’s in pretty good company there.

It looks like a step change from Taylor Young’s previous incarnations as drummer in the psychedelic band Hi-Fi Drowning and singer in folk-rock duo, The O’s but, in reality, it’s more of a combination of the two sets of influences with the addition of great harmonies and melodic bass lines to create a new style of twenty-first century power pop. You won’t find any penetrating political insights here, but you will find ten uplifting country-inflected pop songs built around traditional pop themes – love, loss, and drinking, of course.

The album starts with a statement of intent. “Get Around” opens with a La’s-style jangly guitar intro and packs a West Coast punch that doesn’t overstay its welcome at two minutes twenty. A bit like Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe a Word”; if you can pack everything into that time, why add any unnecessary embellishments. The following song, “Make You Wanna Stay” goes right back to the Merseybeat roots of jangle with a melodic bass line, nods to the Fab Four and a slightly hurried vocal delivery that’s typical of sixties UK pop.

Most songs on the album seem to be a hat-tip in the direction of a follower of the jangle-pop style. The optimistic “Five Cents” has a strong feel of James Honeyman Scott-era Pretenders, while “Rattled”, after a synth intro, is pure Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The album’s closing song “Drinkin’” bucks the trend slightly by sticking to a more country style while Taylor’s voice is pitched slightly lower as he tells the familiar tale of the drinker blaming everyone else for his woes while slipping in a reference to Garth Brooks as well.

This album has unashamedly retro influences while sounding very contemporary. If you’re going to wear your influences on your sleeve, the ones mentioned above are a pretty good set. If this album doesn’t make you feel good, I’ll eat my chapeau.

“Mercury Transit” is out now on Hand Drawn Records.

Here’s the video for “Rattled”: