Openness ScrollerIt’s only a couple of years ago that Henrik Freischlader announced his retirement, going out with an album and a farewell tour in 2014. Since then he’s concentrated on production duties for his Cable Car Records label, releasing albums by Tommy Schneller and Layla Zoe. The good news for guitar fans is that he’s back, with the new album “Openness” and a tour to support the album. He’s back to working in the power trio format with Carl-Michael Grabinger (drums) and Alex Grube (bass) and sounding as good as ever. There are some clues in the lyrics as to the reasons for the sabbatical but, hey, it’s good to have him back; there aren’t many players who can boast his technique, power and soul.

The album’s opening song, “Openness”, sets the scene perfectly with a huge funky riff, a rasping blues vocal and a lyric about escaping from the past (he’s ‘overdue to be back on track’) and a squalling solo beginning and ending with waves of feedback. There’s a downshift for the second song, “Early Morning Blues”, which shuffles along through some interesting chord runs with a languorous vocal and a clean jazz tone for the solo. You know you’re in the presence of a master, and there’s confirmation when the ‘dust my broom’ reference heralds a blistering slide solo in “Lord Have Mercy” and in the chugging, overdriven riff of “Business Straight”, leading up to a wah wah solo that builds through slow chord runs to single notes flying out in squalls and flurries.

The album’s next three songs develop the lyrical themes of rebirth, redemption and responsibility that permeate the album, particularly the jazzy “Master Plan” with its unpredictable solo and rhythmic switch and walking bass towards the end of the song. The slow ballad “Never Really Left You” demonstrates Henrik’s powerful soul voice and could be addressed to a lover or the audience he gave up for a short time, while the riff-driven “Nobody Else to Blame” talks about ‘falling in love with me’.

“Techno” is a plea to bring back more of the raw edges and imperfections to life, driven along by a massive riff and emphasising the rawness with a clanging, atonal solo and “High Expectations” is a power trio blues about the difficulty of living with a professional musician, while the funky “Today I’m Gonna Change” channels the great Albert Collins with jazzy chords and a cleanly-picked solo. The two slower songs towards the end of the album, “Senses” and the resonator-backed “His Love” suggest that Henrik’s found a meaning or a purpose, whether it’s a god or something else to believe in and give meaning to his life.

Whatever he’s found, it’s working really well for him. “Openness” shows all of Henrik’s versatility as a guitar player, singer and songwriter. Welcome back; we’ve missed you.

“Openness” is out now on Cable Car Records (CCR 0311-47).

 

Starlight Highway ScrollerI could review the new Corinne West album in one word: seductive. Of course then I’d have to go on to explain that I didn’t mean seductive in the dim all the lights, pink champagne and Barry White sense of the word. “Starlight Highway” seduces the ears and the soul with playing that’s subtle and restrained and harmonies that will melt the hardest heart. The album’s opening song, “Trouble No More” sets the tone with a gentle combination of mandolin, Hammond B3 and Corinne’s multi-layered harmonies augmented by the voice of guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps to create a perfect setting for the pure and seemingly effortless lead vocal. And that’s only the first song.

The album never shifts too far from a laid-back Americana/country feel, although there are slight shifts of emphasis, including the jazz-tinged “Gypsy Harbor” and the delicate strummed guitar and subdued piano fills of “Find Me Here”. The stylistic shifts aren’t allowed to undermine the unity of the album, which is held together by the quality of the playing and, particularly, the two main voices working together to deliver perfect harmonies and just the right degree of contrast for the duets that dominate the album, from the delicate “Audrey Turn the Moon” to the classic Nashville sound of “Cry of the Echo Drifter” and the slow country-rock of “A Night Falls Away Singing”. Shades of Gram and Emmylou.

The title track is a mandolin-driven uptempo country song with the message that music can be an escape for us, with an additional twist of synaesthesia in the lines ‘Mother she’s a rainbow, Father’s made of sound’ emphasising the multi-sensory nature of music and the visual arts. It’s a great collection of songs (ten in total, all superbly constructed and delivered) and vocal performances to die for from Corinne West and Kelly Joe Phelps.

The album’s out in the UK on Friday April 29th on MAKE Records (MAKE7447) and she’ll be touring the UK for the first time in four years from mid-May to early June.

Amplify ScrollerIt’s just under three years since the gentle, acoustic Tess of the Circle debut, “Thorns”, was released and reviewed here in 2013. You would expect the band to move on in that time, but this is a radical departure, a bit like Dylan going electric, but no-one here at Riot Towers is crying ‘Judas’. The clue’s in the title; “Amplify” is the sound of Tess Jones and Lee Clifton picking up electric guitars, turning up the volume and exploring the more rambunctious side of their music. Powered by the creative rhythm section of Ben Drummond (bass) and Paul Stone (drums), the band has produced an eclectic, riff-driven, powerhouse of an album.

 The seventies influences are impossible to ignore, with elements of rock, prog and even a bit of folk in there as well, but Tess and Lee’s playing combined with Tess’s raw and slightly vulnerable vocal put their original stamp on the album as it moves through rhythmic changes and interesting chord patterns. If you’re looking for some common ground between this and “Thorns”, you’ll find it in the lyrics, taking an introspective look at relationships; some are working, some aren’t and some are over.

 The album opens with “Love is the Drug that You Crave”, a monster guitar riff underpinned by a melodic bassline, organ and massed harmonies in the chorus. There’s just a hint of Atomic Rooster in there, if anyone remembers them. As the album unfolds, there are psychedelic references in “I’m Not Ashamed”, folk/rock vocal intonations and call and response on “Face the Changes” (maybe a hint of Roger Chapman without the vibrato) and a drift from unison guitar riffs on “Drowning Without You” to solo with a heavy Indian influence; on a raga tip, you might say.

 The final three songs move back towards the stylings of “Thorns” with the gentle lead vocals and some lovely backing vocals of “Summer Rain”, the string section on “The Waves Break us Down” and the mandolin-led arrangement of the closer, “This Higher Ground”, creating a feel of the song cycle spread over the two Tess of the Circle albums.

 Tess Jones has taken the impassioned songs of his first, mainly acoustic album, dialled up the power, and created an album that stays true to his singer/songwriter roots while introducing twin lead guitars, Ginger Baker/Keith Moon drums and various rock and folk stylings to spice up the mix. It can stand alone as a rock album or be seen as an electric companion piece to “Thorns”. Either way, it’s a fine piece of work.

 “Amplify” is released on 22nd April on Cadiz Music (VINVOC016).

 

 

 

Josh ScrollerCome on London, you can do better than this. The lovely team at Green Note put on an eclectic bill of excellent Americana diaspora for a measly seven oncers and the room isn’t even half full; even I can do the maths on that one. Eighty people; that’s all it takes to fill the upstairs room at Green Note; sort yourself out London. To be fair, the audience was attentive, but it’s nice to have a full house. End of rant.

London-based Robert Chaney opened the show with a lovely set of introspective, off beat and melancholy songs. He has a superb voice which was offset perfectly by the harmonies of Laura Tenschert, who joined Robert three songs into the set. There wasn’t a bad song in the set, and “The Cyclist”, “Corazones Amarillos” and “(Broken) Beyond Repair” stood out as highlights.

Next up, string band Tildon Krautz injected some fun into the evening. With a traditional Appalachian line-up of double bass, mandolin and fiddle and guitar and banjo, the trio treated Green Note to some superb musicianship and lots of random gags between songs. “Adele Koslovsky” was a standout song and Gabi’s slap double bass playing was a joy to hear.

Josh Harty was touring in support of his new album “Holding On”, although the early part of the set focused mainly on older material, including “Round and Round”, “On my Mind” and the beautiful “Whisky and Morphine” and was laced with anecdotes about his hometown of Fargo and his preacher father. When the new material was introduced towards the end of the set, Josh’s picking and percussive guitar style added a power that the album, with its full band arrangements never quite achieved; “Holding On”, “The Kind” and “English Rain” all worked superbly in the one voice/one guitar format. And Josh did his tribute to Merle Haggard, whose death was announced that day, with his version of “Mama Tried”.

In just a few hours we were taken from surreal melancholy through manic multinational ensemble playing to a set of high octane acoustic songs. You couldn’t fault this line-up on quality or variety; shame about all those people who stayed at home and missed it. The great music’s still there, you just have to get off your butt and go out and find it.

The Storm ScrollerIt’s an EP. You’ve got six songs to let the world know how good you are, so you have to grab the listener right from the start and that’s exactly what Velvet & Stone have done here. The first song, “Fisherman’s Blues”, opens with a combination of fiddle and Dave Gilmour-like electric guitar before settling into a more reflective verse pushed along by the bass line and decorated with a descending piano line that could have come from “Riders on the Storm”. But I suppose you want to know about Velvet and Stone. OK, here we go.

Lara Snowdon, Holly Jo Gilbert-West and Kathryn Tremlett met in a Devon pub less than two years ago (what is it about Devon at the moment?) and within a very short time won a recording session at the wonderful Convent studio and venue complex as a prize in a singer-songwriter competition. And that’s where they recorded the six songs on this EP, with some help from Ben Nicholls and Andrew Tween (bass and drums) and producer Jack Henderson (also playing guitar and keyboards). The additional musicians have added some deft touches, embellishing without overpowering and leaving the songs plenty of room to breathe.

Lara and Holly have the classic mix of voices, one pure and clear the other slightly more unconventional with a hint of Bjork, and have a folk background in common, while Kat brings her classical influences to the mix: someone also managed to sneak a bit of jazz in there as well. Despite the variety of instruments on the EP, the songs never sound cluttered and the vocals are always allowed to shine through, creating ethereal musical dramas.

Forget About the Rain” has a hypnotic Celtic feel with some very melancholy violin, “Patchwork” contrasts an almost military drumbeat with piano and violin fills and ethereal vocals and “Same Old Record” has a gypsy jazz feel emphasised by the walking bass and violin while “That Road”, backed mainly by acoustic guitar evokes the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” taken at a slower pace. The title song builds gradually with rolling piano thunder and swirling violin rain before reaching its peak and slowly fading away; it’s about a real storm, but it’s a metaphor for something on a more personal level as well.

As a sampler, this ticks all the boxes. There are six strong songs, the stylings are varied and the two voices are excellent whether they’re singing together or solo; you can’t ask for much more than that.

And the Devon thing? Velvet & Stone have already supported those Riot Squad favourites Sound of the Sirens this year and it looks like it might be their turn to break out now.

“The Storm” is released nationally in the UK on Friday April 18th.

As a special bonus, here’s a live clip from The Convent:

Josh Harty - 'Holding On' - cover (300dpi)Josh Harty; he’s a genuine, actual, one hundred per cent son of a preacher man. From the age of five, he performed in Lutheran churches around the Midwest with his father and he’s been a travelling evangelist ever since, only now, he’s spreading the word about his music across the USA and Europe. “Holding On” is Harty’s sixth album, following three solo albums and two collaborations with Blake Thomas and it’s full band effort with a core of Scott Beardsley (drums), Chris Boeger (bass), Chris Wagoner (guitar, mandolin and violin) and producer Blake Thomas (guitars and keys). The versatility of the line-up (and the quality of the players) allows the band to move seamlessly across the wide variety of Americana styles from the banjo, mandolin and Hammond-led title track to the high octane driving beat of “Shiver in the Dark”, pushed along by a pulsing rhythm section and a chugging guitar part.

The basic tracks were recorded live in the studio, giving the album a very immediate, cohesive feel despite the wide range of stylings. The playing’s relaxed and self-assured; there are plenty of nice licks and the arrangements fit together perfectly without any of the musicians ever hitting the loud pedal. “The Kind” is a perfect example, with delicate piano and guitar fills creating a beautiful backdrop before the uptempo chorus kicks in.

“Holding On” is a bunch of songs written on the road over the last few years, and that shows in the lyrics, with running or driving away as common themes and the centrepiece of the collection is the slow ballad, “Learn to Fight” which displays Harty’s laconic voice at its most powerful and vulnerable. “Holding On” works well as a self-contained unit, pulling in elements from across the Americana spectrum and sprinkling them across the ten songs to great effect.

“Holding On” is out on Friday April 8th and you can see Josh on his UK and Ireland tour over the next few weeks. You should make the effort; it’s worth it.

 

Strut ScrollerNo, seriously, is there really anything better than a bunch of stonkingly good musicians at the top of their game just doing what they do best; playing the tunes they want to play and having a great time as well? They’re just doing their own thing; no label affiliation and everything controlled from Strut Central, so how do they do it? It’s easy; they are the absolute mutt’s nuts. Individually, they’ve worked with just about everyone, live or on record, and, as a unit, they’re funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter.

The unusual suspects forming Brother Strut are Paul Turner (bass), Frankie Tontoh (drums), Otha Smith (guitar), Sam Tanner (vocals and keys) and Stevie Jones (sax and vocals). I’m not going to tell you what they’ve all done in the past; you can find that out for yourself, and this is about what they’re doing now. And that’s releasing their second album, “What We got Together”, this week (Friday April 8th) on their own label.

The album’s a joyous mix of all of their sixties and seventies funk, soul and r’n’b (when that actually meant rhythm and blues) influences and there are even some Latin beats thrown in as well. When the opening track “Chri$$ie” fires in like the Average White Band covering “Funkin’ for Jamaica” you just know this is going to be an interesting ride.

The album’s not big on songs, as such, focusing more on gargantuan grooves with full-band chants in classic funk style, but when the songs do come along they’re belters, with Sam Tanner proving that he’s not just a stunning keyboard player; he has a superb soul voice as well. “Everyday Joe”, with its seventies wah-wah guitar and story of a refusal to fit in with the nine-to-five, and the lovely “Song for Marvin” (and we’re talking Gaye not Hagler here) are as good as anything I’ve heard this year.

The musicianship’s so strong that changes of style present no problem; the Latin-inflected “De Donde Eres” and “Love and Only” are totally natural and convincing with some great percussion adding authentic accents. The ensemble playing is tight as everyone locks on to the funk grooves, while the fills and solos are outstanding examples of musicianship that don’t sound like a ‘most-notes-to-the-bar’ competition.

This is one that’s going to hit you right on the funky bone; don’t miss it.

What We Got Together” is out on Friday April 8th and the band is touring the UK in May and June . You shouldn’t miss the album or the tour.

And just as a special treat, have a look at this as well:

 

Cotton SnowIt’s not a great time to be involved in the arts at the moment, particularly if you’re hoping to make a living out of it but, somehow, people just keep on plugging away at it, grabbing any opportunity that comes along to create something that will enrich the lives of people who see, hear, read or touch it. Dean Owens is one of those artists; constantly touring, recording, promoting and generally getting his songs out there. He knows that you have to take every opportunity that comes along and that’s why a breakfast in a Nashville greasy spoon with guitarist/producer Dave Coleman led to his latest single.

Breakfast led to a quick visit to Dave’s home studio, swapping a few ideas and Dave creating a moody and magnificent backing track featuring drum loops, live drums, bass and an eclectic guitar arrangement which Dean completed with vocals recorded in Edinburgh. Dean’s always been a superb chronicler of emotions and personal history, but recently he’s built a few songs around historical events, particularly on his EP “No Man’s Land” and “Cotton Snow” is a song in that vein, telling the story of a soldier realising the futility of the Civil War, or any war. And cotton snow? When the cotton gins and fields were bombed, the cotton fell back to earth like snow. It’s a sombre and beautiful piece of work that enhances his growing reputation.

If you want to see Dean live, he’s taking part in a fabulous event called The Men from Leith on Friday May 6 at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh featuring Dick Gaughan, Blue Rose Code and Dean with his band The Whisky Hearts.

“Cotton Snow” is out on Drumfire Records on Friday April 15th.

And just as a wee treat, here’s the video:

Paul_Handyside_Tide_Timber_and_Grain coverPaul Handyside’s been around for a while; thirty years, give or take, and producing work that’s almost impossible to pigeonhole; maybe ‘quality songs, beautifully delivered’ would work. This is a long way from the jangle-pop of his eighties band Hurrah!, displaying the maturity that comes from surviving the pop business and going on to create the music you want to make. Music with a more subdued palette but much more room for subtlety and finesse and a rich vein of melancholy. The album’s first song, “Flowers Won’t Bloom”, contains the line ‘the things that we planted are waiting to die’, it’s infinitely sadder than dead plants, and sets the tone for a lot of the album.

The album runs through a range of styles; all ten songs are Paul Handyside originals, although most of them could have been plucked from another era. “True Love” and “Goodnight Lover” have a strong late fifties/early sixties resonance evoking Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers in their simplicity and purity, while the apocalyptic “All Will be Revealed” could be a late sixties protest song. “Desperate Days” taps into the melancholy singer-songwriter vein as does “Let Me down Easy” with vocals at the baritone end of his range, delicate electric guitar figures and subtle harmonies which build up as the song progresses.

“Fond Farewell, and “Should I Leave your Side” are both in the English folk tradition with picked guitar and Paul’s north-eastern accent breaking through, but it’s another two songs that really shine in this idiom. “Woodcutter’s Son”, with its a cappella intro, lovely harmonies and spurned childhood sweetheart theme is the first. The second is the sprawling “A Whaler’s Lament”, an epic, many-versed folk ballad telling the story of a young man between the years of 1905 and 1915 as he moves from whaling to mining and finally (very finally) to the wartime merchant marine. It’s a flawless piece of folk narrative.

With the assistance of Rob Tickell (guitars and percussion) and David Porthouse (double bass and melodeon), Paul Handyside has produced a hauntingly melancholy album using a variety of (mainly) traditional instruments to provide a framework for his marvellous voice; it’s a powerful combination.

“Tide, Timber and Grain” is released on Friday April 1st on Malady Music (MALCD005).