Not so much a gig review as a triumphant celebration, I think. On March 16 2017 I was talking to Martin Harley after a gig he’d played with Daniel Kimbro at The Forge in Camden. He told me that he’d booked The Union Chapel for a gig in March 2018 and he was hoping he could make it work because he’d always wanted to play there. That’s the kind of romantic idealism that will always blindside me; I was sold on the idea instantly. Flash forward fifty-one weeks and I was listening to Martin, standing in front of the stage at The Union Chapel two hours before showtime telling me that the night was almost sold out on pre-sales. It was a bit of a “Field of Dreams” moment; flying in the face of the best professional advice, he filled The Union Chapel and decided to film the event as well.

I suppose you want to know what actually happened on the night. Well, it was opened by Mike Dawes, an incredible finger-style guitar player who combined virtuoso-level technique and passionate playing with outrageous stagecraft and a wicked sense of humour. You should really make the effort to see him play; you’ll fall in love instantly. Just for trivia fans, his first ever gig was supporting Martin Harley eleven years ago.

As for Martin and Daniel, this gig was the perfect demonstration of what they do. They’re gifted songwriters, they have superb voices (Daniel’s sweet tones complementing Martin’s more bluesy and soulful rasp) and they each play a couple of instruments incredibly well, Martin playing acoustic guitar and Weissenborn while Daniel plays upright bass and acoustic guitar. The atmosphere on stage was so relaxed that a thousand-capacity venue had the intimacy of a house gig where the performers were sipping and chilling and just enjoying the vibe. The highlights are completely subjective, but Martin’s Weissenborn tour-de-force on “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” and Daniel’s environmental ballad “Loyston” are difficult to beat, apart from two very special moments.

The first was the opening song of the encore, an unplugged, stage-front-and-centre version of Martin’s gorgeous ballad “Winter Coat”. It was breath-taking. The second was the well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the encore; it was a celebration of a wonderful performance and an artist who had the faith to follow his dream. Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, I tip my hat to both of you. Book it and they will come.

You have to love Green Note. With my photographer’s head on I whinge about the lighting, but I’ve taken some of my favourite shots in there. Anyway, it’s about the overall ambience, and that’s unbeatable. There aren’t too many places that could drag me out of a lovely warm house on a bitter winter night without even the consolation of industrial quantities of alcohol but, within minutes of arriving at the venue and grabbing a coffee the effort felt worthwhile. And that’s before The Lynn(e)s even got near the stage.

Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles are two Canadian singer-songwriters. They decided to team up for their current “Heartbreak Song for the Radio” project (which is superb, by the way) and a tour featuring songs from the album and from their previous solo projects. They both have superb voices and play beautifully, although the Americana technology police might want to have a look at some of that hardware.

So, what was so good about this particular Sunday?  Well, some of the usual things; a bunch of powerful songs, two exceptional and complementary voices, some interesting twists on the arrangements (including a bit of electric twang and some haunting ebow effects) and a great rapport with the audience between sons. Stack all of that up and you have a pretty memorable night.

The tour was mainly about promoting “Heartbreak Songs…”, but, with two sets to fill, the Lynn(e)s featured songs from their albums either solo or as a duo. The quality throughout the two sets was one hundred per cent, but I’m going to try to pick out a few highlights. The gorgeous “Heartbreak Song for the Radio” has a very Carpenters feel and works perfectly in the live setting while the harmonies on “Cost so Much” are just superb, but there was one final trump card Lynn and Lynne had to play.

I’ve seen a few impressive unplugged encores at Green Note, but this one was sublime; after the first verse Lynne Hanson moved towards the bar while Lynn Miles stayed in front of the stage and the duo created perfect two-part harmonies across the venue on the lovely “Gotta Have Rain”. I’ve seen a few gigs at Green Note, but I’ve never seen an ending quite like this. Have a listen to their individual albums, but make a point of listening to this. You won’t regret it.


Korby Lenker is from East Nashville. To say East is a small distinction, but one that means everything to East Nashvillians. Anyway, it’s only marginally relevant because he travelled back to his native Idaho and many other places to record “Thousand Springs”, contrasting the natural settings with the modern technology he used to record contributions from a variety of artists in a variety of places. The process hints at montage or collage, but the final result sounds remarkably consistent considering the disparate nature of the components. The stories he tells, in a voice that almost cracks with emotion at times, are widely varied and have unexpected twists in the tale or the telling; not quite whimsical, but in the same ballpark.

The breadth of styles and subject matter is perfectly demonstrated by two songs that sit side by side on the album. “Last Man Standing” is by far the album’s most raucous song with a driving beat and some meaty guitar fills; it’s a tale of Sitting Bull and it was recorded on the site of his grave at Standing Rock. It’s thrown into sharper focus when it’s followed by the lighter “Book Nerd”, the story of a literary snob that comes on as a literary cousin to “Teenage Dirtbag” and demonstrates the clever, but never self-conscious, wordplay that permeates the album. There are a few twists on tired themes as well; “Late Bloomers” turns the overnight sensation idea on its head, bringing hope to all of us.

The album’s full of songs and arrangements that are clever and memorable but with little twists that are the hallmark of the truly original writer; small but evocative observations about coffee cups rolling around in the van, and the use of unusual arrangements and instruments (baritone ukulele, for example). There are some lovely harmonies throughout the album and contributions from a long list of luminaries of modern American music that help to create a very listenable and, at times, thought-provoking album. I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Twang Town anymore.

“Thousand Springs” is released on Soundly Music on March 16 2018.

Ronnie Scott’s: it’s not the first venue you associate with performances by American comedy legends, but Sandra Bernhard’s not your average American comedy legend and this was far from the average twenty-first century stand-up gig. The style and structure of the performance harked back to the jazz and cabaret clubs where music and comedy took equal billing across the night and often across individual performances; the band stayed on stage throughout the comedian’s set and often helped out with improvisations. This was how Lenny Bruce delivered his routines.

The stage line-up for “Sandemonium” is Sandra plus piano, drums and guitar; her act has developed over the decades from purely stand-up to a combination of songs, observations of everyday New York behaviour, politics (almost inevitably), showbiz stories, family stories and some stream of consciousness, Lenny Bruce-style riffing and spritzing. And that’s before you get to the impressions, which are seamlessly stitched in to the tapestry of the performance, not as stand-alone routines but as a way of smoothly moving the narrative along. Here’s an example.

The show opened with the usual introductions, Sandra talking about the greats who performed on the Ronnie Scott’s stage, segued effortlessly into a Nina Simone in Paris story that evoked the subject perfectly. And another; a routine about talking the subway to work on her “Sandyland” radio show led into a powerful interpretation of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train”. The framework of the set was tightly constructed but gave the impression of total spontaneity; that’s the work of an artist with a genuine gift and a commitment to hard work. The songs, you ask? Well, it was an eclectic mix that included “Little Red Corvette” and a Pachelbel’s Canon mash-up featuring “Let it Be” and “Take on Me” among others.

This particular show was the third over two nights as part of a short visit combining the gigs and a hectic promotional schedule. Even starting at 11:15, Sandra Bernhard gave her adoring audience a full-on, inspirational performance and was willing to spend time after the gig with every fan who wanted an autograph, a selfie or just to say hello. I’m converted.

Sure, the melodies and the arrangements are important; they must be if Neilson Hubbard and Will Kimbrough are involved, but with Rod Picott, the stories are always front and centre. “Out Past the Wires” is no exception, in fact it takes the narratives a step further. In addition to the album, Rod’s also publishing a book exploring the stories of some of the characters that appear on the album. Listen to the beautifully-crafted vignettes studded through the twenty-two songs (that’s right twenty-two songs; hope you brought a packed lunch for this one) and you feel that you’re just scratching the surface of their lives. The ageing racer in “Primer Gray”, the teen queen in “Hard Luck Baby”, the struggling musician in “Straight Job” and the labourer in “Store Bought”; you really want to know the back story, or where they move on to outside this particular moment. Listen to the album(s) and it all makes perfect sense.

Credit where it’s due to the other musicians on the album as well (Lex Price, Evan Hutchings and Kris Donegan) for creating settings that allow the songs to sparkle and shine, whether they’re sprinkled with underplayed atmospherics or a full-on, full-band workout. Whether the backing is a gently finger-picked acoustic, intertwined electric guitars, Lennonesque harmonica or a brooding rock feel with heavily-reverbed guitar. And then there’s Rod Picott’s voice, weaving its raw fibres through the fabric of the songs to conjure up passion, pain and even aspiration. He even manages to ease back to mellow with a touch of falsetto on “Blanket of Stars”.

At a time when ten-song albums are becoming increasingly common and EP or double EP is rearing its ugly head, it’s an utterly audacious move to release a double album, but it works. The standard of the songs is uniformly high across he two discs, but I’m going to hit you with a few that caught my personal sweet spot. “Primer Gray” evokes “Nebraska”/”The River” era Springsteen with the battered car symbolising the central character, “Hard Luck Baby” spins the downward spiral from teen beauty into drudgery and “The Shape of You” is a lovely poetic take on the void left in a life when a relationship ends. Listen for yourself; the choice is huge and I won’t be offended if you disagree with my choices.

“Out Past the Wires” is released on Friday February 16th on Welding Rod Records (CD, LP or download).

If you want to see Rod live, he’s touring Europe and the UK from March.

Here’s a little taster for you:

It’s about time we had a new album from Dean Owens, isn’t it? It’s been two and a half years since “Into the Sea”, not that he’s been resting on his considerable laurels, that’s not his style. He’s been involved in production, collaboration and loads of touring and somehow managed to fit the “Southern Wind” sessions in to the mix. Although the album’s released under Dean’s name, it’s fair to say that it’s more of a collaboration with his guitar-slinger of choice (and mine), Will Kimbrough. The musicians and production team are Dean’s regular Nashville crew and they all do the usual superb job, but the creative thread running through the centre is “Southern Wind” is the Owens/Kimbrough partnership.

They bonded over, among other things, a mutual love of Ronnie Lane and that’s the starting point for the album. “Last Song”, the album’s opener, wouldn’t feel out of place on any of the Faces albums with its loose rock feel and characteristic melodic basslines. It’s an homage and a tribute and it’s loads of fun; proof that Dean and Will can write an upbeat song (and it’s not the only one on the album).

Although the title track and “No Way Around It” have a slightly menacing Delta feel, “Southern Wind” still has very strong sense of time and place in twenty-first century Scotland and the stories of its inhabitants in difficult social and personal circumstances. “Elvis Was my Brother”, “When the Whisky’s not Enough” and “Bad News” all fit into this category, while “Famous Last Words” is a typical Dean Owens slant on the longest day of the year; that things can only get worse from here on in. Nights are fair drawin’ in, eh? “Anything Helps”, another Will Kimbrough co-write, fits neatly in to this little group with its Ronnie Lane solo era stylings and one of the album’s greatest lines ‘Took a swing at life and missed’.

There’s a place here for the intensely personal as well; the gorgeous “Madeira Street” looks back to more innocent times through a prism of grief and celebration, while “Louisville Lip” celebrates the life of Dean’s hero Muhammad Ali. “Mother” is a light-hearted sixties pastiche (just imagine it on the soundtrack to “Inspector George Gently” or “Call the Midwife”) with clipped guitar and a hint of Phil and Don, while “Love Prevails”, closing the album, channels The Chordettes’ “Born to be With You”, particularly in Will Kimbrough’s laid-back solo.

Dean Owens has that rare poetic ability to fashion perfect songs from life’s everyday stories and the ability to deliver powerful, plaintive performances of those songs. On this album, the partnership with Will Kimbrough and producer Neilson Hubbard has created perfect settings for both the melancholy and the upbeat songs. ”Southern Wind” is a fine piece of work from one of Scotland’s finest songwriters.

“Southern Wind” is released on Friday February 16 on At the Helm Records.

 And here’s a special little treat for you:

It’s about time for one of those disclaimers again. This is all purely subjective and it’s one person’s response to an album. Felt I had to say that because I had such an unusual response to this Rick Shea album. The first half of the album drifted gently over me, leaving no impression at all, whereas the second half, well, it didn’t get right up in my face and scream at me, but it certainly shouted ‘Howdy’ from across the road. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the first five songs, just that they didn’t light any fires under me; even “Hold on Jake”, a guitar-driven zydeco twelve-bar didn’t quite cut it.

Ironically, it was the slow, delicate “Trouble like This”, with its interwoven acoustic and electric guitars and vocal harmonies that was the first song to grab my attention, followed rapidly by the uptempo twelve-bar “(You’re Gonna Miss Me) When I’m Gone” with lovely harmonies again and a guitar solo that was dirty and satisfyingly unpredictable. It was all worthwhile by the time “The Angel Mary and Rounder Jim” came around; a country song with a narrative, simple but effective, of life and love on the road with pedal steel, solid harmonies again and a little bit of a Mexican twist. And “Guess Things Happen that Way” is pretty good as well, with a rhythm that’s powered along by floor toms, hints of Phil and Don in the melody and harmonies, raw guitar and another pedal steel solo.

There are a few very good songs on this album, and some classy playing; I’d just like to hear a little more grit in the mix.

“The Town Where I Live” is released in the UK on Friday February 2 on Tres Pescadores Records (TPCD-11).