Apparently they’ve worked together and been friends for years, Will Kimbrough and Brigitte DeMeyer, and their first duo album “Mockingbird Soul” was the logical place for that friendship and working partnership to go. As a duo, they’re a formidable force; both have outstanding voices and long pedigrees as songwriters and Will Kimbrough has a reputation as a master of pretty much any fretted instrument. If he played fiddle, we’d be comparing him to David Lindley (or maybe he does and he’s kept it quiet). That’s an awful lot of talent shared between just two people. And shared is exactly the right word; the songwriting’s shared in all sorts of combinations (with the exception of the Incredible String Band cover, “October Song”) and the lead vocals are shared. Did I mention the harmonies? They’re gorgeous.
With a few exceptions here and there, this is just about two voices and Will Kimbrough’s array of stringed instruments and harmonica (did I forget to mention that?). It’s not a big production number, it’s all about capturing the magic of two artists working together, doing what they do best and having fun. Brigitte’s the acknowledged singer of the pair and takes most of the lead vocals, sounding equally at home with the gospel feel of the title track and raw acoustic country/soul hybrid of “Rainy Day” which is part Bobbie Gentry/part Dusty Springfield.
The duets, including the opener “Everything”, are close harmony at its very best; the two voices apparently locked together through the melodic twists and turns. The lovely “I Can Hear Your Voice” is a perfect example, the harmonies emphasising the song’s message of wisdom passed on from generation to generation. And there are a couple of Will Kimbrough lead vocals as well, just to show that it’s not just about guitars and harmonies. He has a strong voice in the high tenor range, which has more than a hint of Randy Meisner and works perfectly on the country rock of “Broken Fences” and swamp ragtime of “Running Round”.
The album’s a great demonstration of everything that Will Kimbrough and Brigitte DeMeyer do so well; strong songs across a variety of roots styles, outstanding vocal performances and playing that’s often understated but always superb. Predictably, I’m going to say that you should see them live, and you’re lucky because they’re in the UK to support the album in March and they’ll be playing these dates:
Thursday March 23 The Kenlis Arms, Barnacre, near Garstang
Friday March 24 The Argyll Hotel, Glasgow
Saturday March 25 Haile Village, Cumbria
Monday March 27 Green Note, Camden
Tuesday March 28 Kingsmead House Concerts, High Wycombe
Wednesday March 29 St John’s Church Music Club, Farncombe, Surrey
Friday March 31 St George’s Hall, Bewdley, Worcestershire
“Mockingbird Soul” is released in the UK on Friday February 17 on BDM Music.
It’s been three years since Ags Connolly released his debut “How About Now”. A long time maybe, but “Nothin’ Unexpected” reflects the work Ags has put in during that time, getting himself out there, playing gigs here and in the States, headlining and supporting, and writing and honing this bunch of songs. It’s an album of interesting combinations; songs influenced by music from across the Atlantic, written and sung by someone from Oxfordshire and recorded in Edinburgh with a bunch of Scottish musicians. And that’s just the start.
“How About Now” was a very good debut album; “Nothin’ Unexpected” is a superb follow-up. The opening song’s a good indication of what’s coming on the rest of the album; the title “I Hope You’re Unhappy” sounds bitter, but the twist in the lyric is that it isn’t bitterness, it’s longing to rebuild the relationship. The album’s full of contrasts like that, on the surface the songs are robust reflections of everyday life, but dig a little bit deeper and they’re full of clever, delicate ideas; “Fifteen Years” would still be a great song it told the story of one relationship, but it’s actually the story of three different interwoven relationships. The deeper you dig, the more gems you unearth.
The songs are pure quality, featuring some regular Ameripolitan themes like the lone drinker, bars in general (with a particularly British twist on “Haunts like This”) but it’s when Ags applies his own poetic twist to songs like “Do You Realise That Now?”, intertwining the idea of his lyrics about a lover being heard a century later and having the same power, with a Latin-tinged arrangement that could have come from “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle”, that you realise how good he really is.
And while we’re talking about arrangements, the production on the album is flawless. Whether the ideas came from Ags, producer Dean Owens, or the musicians involved, particularly Stuart Nisbet (playing just about every fretted instrument known to man) every song receives exactly the right treatment. Apart from the full band near-rockabilly of “Neon Jail”, the Nashville feel of Loudon Wainwright’s “I Suppose” and the Appalachian string band styling of “Slow Burner”, the songs are generally allowed plenty of room to breathe, with judicious addition of just the accordion on “When the Loner Gets Lonely” and acoustic guitar and vocal treatments of “Fifteen Years” and the album’s closer “I Should’ve Closed the Book”. It’s the perfect demonstration of the power of the songs that they don’t need huge amounts of embellishment to bring out their power.
Well, that’s the difficult second album out of the way.
“Nothin’ Unexpected” is released on Friday February 3rd on At The Helm Records (ATH198214).
The more I hear of Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, the more I realise how perfect the combination is; it was a good day for fans of real music when these guys first met up. Not only are they supremely gifted individuals, but when they play together the total is much more than the sum of the parts. Martin Harley’s developed a well-deserved reputation as a Weissenborn player, but this album constantly reminds you that he has a cracking blues/soul voice that puts him in the top division of singers in that genre. I don’t think Otis Redding’s too fanciful as a comparison, or maybe Frankie Miller if you want something a bit closer to home. And that’s just Martin Harley; Daniel Kimbro’s a master of his craft as well, plucking, bowing, rasping, slapping and generally coaxing some very interesting noises out of his stand-up bass while backing up Martin’s voice with some sweet harmonies. I don’t often look forward to bass solos, but I make an exception in Daniel Kimbro’s case. Every time.
The songs then; they must be the weak point, no? Afraid not; this isn’t just about showcasing some excellent playing, Martin’s writing’s spot-on as well, pulling in influences from all over the world and melding them into authentic twentieth-century roots music that includes love songs like the Southern soul-tinged “My Lover’s Arms” with its lovely guitar fills running through the song and even some honky-tonk piano, and the poetic “Postcard from Hamburg” with lines like ‘The sky’s crying diamonds’.
The honky-tonk feel of the album’s opener, “One-Horse Town” and the uptempo country blues of “Feet Don’t Fail Me” ease you gently in to the album with some lyrical and instrumental invention before giving way to the homesick blues of “Postcard from Hamburg” and the ominous, louring despair of “Gold” and its escape into a soaring solo. I could tell you more about the wizardry of “Dancing on the Rocks” and the claustrophobic atmospherics of “Mean Old City (Part 2)”. I could go on about how good this album is, how it’s a perfect combination of two players (and singers) at the top of their game, and about the great understanding they have and how I don’t understand why people aren’t raving about Martin Harley, but I have a better idea. Instead of taking my word for it, go out and see them on their tour of the UK, Europe and Canada (details on the Martin’s website). That’s better than any recommendation from me, and then you’ll definitely buy the album.
“Static in the Wires” is released in the UK on Friday February 10th on Del Mundo Records.
Lasso Moon is an amalgamation of two Liverpool bands Broken Men and Sankofa and “Kimota Codeine” is their first single, coming out towards the end of January. The press release describes it as a love song to codeine, but I’m not buying in to that. The minimalist arrangement in the verses of drums and a picked guitar line (and the black and white one-shot, static video) hint at pathos, desperation and addiction rather than any joyous high. Codeine’s an opiate painkiller and highly addictive; this is about addiction to oblivion and shutting out the world. The song and the video show a bleak world where there are no highs or lows, only monotony, and codeine is a desperate attempt to shut that world out, however briefly.
None of this is a criticism of the song, which evokes this twilight world perfectly, with downbeat verses and choruses which are marginally more positive. Combined with the video it creates a stark vision, where the illness is only slightly worse than the cure.
“Kimota Codeine” is released on Friday January 27th.
Do turbulent social and political conditions create a fertile environment for artists? It’s a theory that’s had some support and I suspect we’re about to see and hear a lot more evidence over the next few years. The inauguration hasn’t taken place yet but I’ve already heard a couple of anti-Trump songs. Rita Hosking has replied to the infamous pussy-grabbing comments with a song that suggests a prompt and effective remedy of a toecap to the testicles, and Stephen Fearing’s song “Blowhard Nation” on “Every Soul’s a Sailor” neatly skewers the braggadocio of the president-elect and the motives of his supporters. The Merle Haggard/outlaw country arrangement of the song stands apart from the rest of the album, highlighting the song’s message as a contrast to the gentler themes elsewhere.
Stephen Fearing is a genuinely great singer/songwriter/guitar player with an equal emphasis on all three elements. The lyrical themes of the songs range from the elegaic “Gone but Not Forgotten”, through the melancholy regret of “Red Lights in the Rain” (as powerful an image as I’ve heard for leaving a relationship) to the regret for a passing era of “Things We Did”. The musical stylings are equally varied, from the AOR feel of the opener “Put Your Money Where your Mouth Is” to the raucous, rambunctious rebel stylings of “Blowhard Nation” which has maybe a hint of uptempo Jim Croce stylings thrown in as well. Each song has the perfect arrangement to emphasise its lyrical content and, whether it’s the skiffle/rockabilly feel of “Love Like Water” with acoustic guitar and stand-up bass, to the album’s closer “Every Soul’s A Sailor” with a close-miked vocal, two electric guitars and no bass or drums. It’s an unusual voicing, but it’s just right for the song, and that’s what it’s all about.
This is an album where the standards are high throughout whether you’re interested in well-constructed and inspired songs, evocative arrangements or outstanding vocal performances. There are no weak spots and dozens of highlights.
I’ll leave you with a lyric from “Blowhard Nation” concerning politicians generally:
‘Make no mistake, when they’re showing you the cake, they’ll never let you eat it now’ We might just be entering a new era of protest songs.
“Every Soul’s A Sailor” is released on Friday February 3rd on LowdenProud Records (LOWD60161)
Let’s just say that my preconceptions have been well and truly shaken up. Two songs in to the latest offering from Wille & the Bandits, and I was on the verge of filing it under ‘generic Southern rock/slide guitar’, but we don’t give up that easily at Riot Towers. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the slide and Hammond (courtesy of Don Airey) of “Miles Away” or the Dire Straits meets Pink Floyd of “Hot Rocks”, with its congadelic breakdown, but they have the feel of a starter before the main course, “Scared of the Sun”, which brings all of the elements at the band’s disposal into play.
The dynamics are perfect, from the quiet intro with gentle keys and to the full-on anthemic chorus. We hear the full range of Matt Brooks’ six-string bass, particularly at the upper end of the register acting as a second guitar part, Andy Naumann’s drums power the verse and chorus along and Don Airey adds some Vangelis-like like sounds to the mix. Meanwhile Wille Edwards is doing his guitar thing (ok, things with electric, acoustic, lap steel, Weissenborn and Dobro) and delivering a vocal that’s as close to very early Bob Seger as anything I’ve ever heard. And here’s the real surprise; it’s a song about global warming. I’m not an expert on Southern ‘rawk’, but I’m guessing that environmental concerns aren’t high on the list of lyrical topics. It’s probably quite a way behind highways, Harleys, guns and Saturday night.
The instrumental inspiration for the album is the American south in the seventies, so the song “1970” should come as no surprise; driven along by drums and a pumping bass, it mourns the passing of that era while extolling its virtues (‘Good times, love and peace’) in a seventies rock style. If the environmental concern wasn’t enough of a shock, there’s a song written from the point of view of a refugee from a war-ravaged country. “Crossfire Memories” begins with quiet acoustic guitar and builds through the addition of a Matt Brooks string arrangement and slide fills to a big slide solo to close out the song; it’s powerful stuff.
The playing is every bit as good as you would expect from the people involved in this album, and it’s worth listening to for that alone, while the presence of some lyrical content that steps out of the usual limits of the genre gives it an undeniable edge. I have a sneaky feeling these guys will sound even better live.
“Steal” is released on Friday January 20th on Jigsaw (SAW 6).
Remember the High Fives feature we run throughout December each year? Come on, it’s only a few weeks ago. Well, when we got in touch with Sound of the Sirens, they were really busy (as they were for most of the year) and promised to get back with something in the New Year, and they did. This came through in a series of messages yesterday and all we had to do was reconstruct it. Abbe and Hannah have had another great year and 2017’s looking pretty good as well. Got to say I love the way they seamlessly slipped in that plug for the new album in the second paragraph.
We are doing our top 5’s with pictures of our year. In March 2016 we were given the opportunity to go on tour with the nicest man in Pop. He and his team were so welcoming and friendly and we learnt so much on the road with them all. Every night we got to play to an audience of a 1000+ in some of the UK’s most beautiful and prestigious venues. Rick Astley’s crowd are super loyal and have followed him for decades and yet they welcomed us as his support. We sold tons of CDs every night and talked to the fans and met some lovely, lovely people. It was the perfect opportunity to try out new material to a friendly and big crowd every night for weeks. We loved every minute of it. We also met our new best mate Dave ….Rick Astley’s Stage Manager who adopted us and looked after us. Thanks Rick x
In June we set out to record our new album which is out on May 5th 2017. We are now under the watchful eye of DMF records and they put us in touch with a great producer called Mark Tucker. We’ve written many new songs but have taken 3 old songs and tweaked them with a bit of production. It’s been a brand new way of working for us and has really helped us to grow as artists. For one song we invited friends, students and general Siren support round to ours to create a choir. This has been included on the new album and we love that our friends are in on the act. Thank you to the Sirens choir!!!
In July we were asked to play at The House Festival in Twickenham. It was unbelievable to say the least. We were invited to play a small set in the Ebay corporation tent and when we had finished we were let loose into the most extravagant playground. We could help ourselves to cocktails, play on the carousel, eat olives and cheese until it was coming out your ears, have your hair done, glitter your face, make a music video and hang out with giant people on stilts …..and then Kylie arrived along with Tinie Tempah. It was a surreal day.
In August we were invited to play on the main stage at the very popular Cropredy Festival. We weren’t quite sure what to expect and whether we would be received well. Upon arrival we were given a dressing room, given drinks, they took our pictures, we did interviews, they wouldn’t let us carry a thing. The set went so well and we enjoyed every second. Afterwards we did our first signing in a tent and it was such a great experience. For an hour solidly we spoke to people, had pictures, heard stories and we laughed alot. We sold all of our merchandise (a first for us) and we felt euphoric. Cropredy …..pleeeease have us back . It was our first whole day of ‘working’ at a festival. If we can call this work then we are lucky girls.
In August we played at Carfest to another big and exciting crowd. It’s been an incredible year for us. We knew Bryan Adams was playing and we couldn’t wait to see his set. After our set we were asked if we would like to join our friend for a tequila in one the backstage rooms. Whilst we were sat about swapping stories and sharing drinks in walked the one and only Bryan Adams. Our jaws dropped and we both hugged him. This is definitely one for the album. 2016 you were a right cracker ……roll on 2017. Let’s fill the rest of our album x x x.
It’s a bit of a thing at the moment, the ‘live in the studio’ album, and why not? If you’re good enough and the engineer’s good enough, you’ll have the satisfaction of creating something the way we did in the good old days before that pesky Les Paul invented multi-track recording. And with a bit of luck it might capture a bit of magic that would be lost in a song built up part by part. The Grahams have taken a slightly different direction with the concept; they’ve taken a bunch of songs from their “Glory Bound” album/“Rattle the Hocks” film project and re-recorded them in the studio with some friends, taking the opportunity to rearrange and rework the songs (sometimes more than once). And those friends: well, John Fullbright, North Mississippi Allstars, Alvin Youngblood Hart and David Garza are a pretty good start.
The songs from this collection have already featured on two US albums by The Grahams, but none have been released in the UK in these versions, and I hope you all got that, because I’m not repeating it. Does the idea work? Well, mostly. “Glory Bound” is the obvious opener for the album, introducing the theme of the railroad with its ‘clickety-clack of the train on the tracks’ rhythm, stripped-back acoustic guitar, bass and drums arrangement and harmonies imitating a train whistle. Most of the original “Glory Bound” songs are reworked on this album, with the notable exception of “The Wild One” (for my money the best song on the album) and the gradual build-up of the beautiful ballad “Lay Down” to a massed choir ending, the gospel treatment of “Mama” and the counterpoint vocals at the end of “Blow Wind Blow” are all particularly effective.
The supernatural ballad “Tender Annabelle” comes in a couple of different flavours, first with a mournful, menacing harmonica, electric piano and heavily-reverbed backing vocals, then with New Orleans horns to close the album. There’s a lot to be said for each treatment, although the first appearance of the horns on the rollicking “Kansas City” seems to lack a bit of punch.
Minor quibbles aside, this is an album that’s worth listening to whether you’ve heard “Glory Bound” or not. The songs are powerful however you arrange them, and the live recording process catches some genuine moments of magic.
“The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio)” is released in the UK on Three Sirens Music Group on Friday January 27th 2017.
If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have sought out this album, but there’s a perverse enjoyment in stepping out of your comfort zone and finding out that the world hasn’t ended. The press release didn’t help by referring to Chris’s work as a revival of traditional fiddle music; it’s not so much a revival as someone carrying the torch to pass it on to the next runner. What Chris does, with style and impeccable technique is to create original tunes and songs based on (mainly) British and Irish folk styles with the occasional modern twist. He does a lot of it as well; this is his second album in three months. It’s music that’s created to make people dance, but the sheer quality of the playing and the strength of the melodies means that you don’t have to be whirling around a barn to feel its power. Be warned; it will make you tap your toes, at the very least.
The sleeve notes very helpfully identify the various dance forms each tune’s associated with so you can give yourself a little online lesson in Gaelic music (I did and I know the difference now between jigs, reels and hornpipes – I managed to work out the waltz for myself) while appreciating some truly outstanding ensemble playing featuring fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bodhran, flute, penny whistle and uilleann pipes. The three vocal pieces on the album are a pretty accurate summary of what this album is all about; “Wicklow” and “Cape Horn” have pastoral Irish and seafaring lyrical themes that are straight out of the folk tradition, while “Small Wonder” retains the traditional stylings with modern lyrical references. “Cape Horn” is a great example of the of the influence of Celtic music on modern styles; you can hear similarities to John Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, which was in turn influenced by traditional Celtic-infused early American music. There’s also a very slight nod to Chris’s Irish heritage with the beautiful lament “Gibraltar 1988”; if you don’t get the reference, just stick the title in a search engine.
This album is a fascinating combination of the traditional and the modern, with Chris Murphy’s fiddle taking centre stage as the ensemble creates a backdrop with their intricate melodic patterns. I might not be dancing, but I’m certainly listening.
“The Tinker’s Dream” is released in the UK on Teahouse Records (THR003) on Friday January 27th.