There isn’t any shortage of serious material on this album, Anna Laube’s third, but the one unusual ingredient is a sense of fun, both in the lyrics and the musical arrangements. It’s not about funny songs, far from it, but it sounds like at least some of the songs were written and played with a bit of humour. There are lots of references to albums and musicians and there’s an element of musical homage in there as well; it’s an album that might make you think, it might make you dance, but it will almost certainly make you smile.
References to a quest for self-knowledge run through the album, from the opening song “Already There” to the closer “Green”, both played in a California country/rock style with a close-miked vocal creating an intimate feel which permeates the entire album like a warm sunset. The album’s second song, “Chocolate Chip Banana Cup Cake” is a bouncy, jazzy shuffle with a lyrical theme of food as a displacement activity for romance (it’s strange, but there are more food references on this album than drugs and booze references on the average album) and it leads neatly into the even more jaunty nostalgia of “The Bike Song”. As a rule, I find megaphone-style vocals as appealing as scraping a piece of expanded polystyrene down a window, but they work within the context of this love song to a lifetime of cycling with its strange but gleeful references to ‘frozen custard’ and a scar in the shape of ‘Mike Campbell’s double-neck guitar’; it’s bonkers but incredibly engaging.
“Oh My (Oh Me! Oh Me, Oh My)” is about an infatuation and it’s set against a backdrop of a bar-room honky-tonk which seems to be constantly on the verge of breaking into Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”; again it’s great fun. The slow country feel of “This One’s for You” is perfect for the wistful remembrance of first love, where the emotional authenticity is enhanced by the reference to listening to “Blood on the Tracks” and “Harvest Moon”; it’s intimate and beautiful. “Sugarcane” is a clever and very catchy reworking of “Cocaine Blues” with another white substance replacing the devil’s dandruff. It pulls off the clever trick of making the reworking clever and funny without appearing twee.
“Satisfied Mind” is a cover of the Joe ‘Red’ Hayes and Jack Rhodes country classic and it’s a very brave choice because it’s already been covered every which way, by everyone from David Allen Coe to Ella Fitzgerald. Anna’s version (which has a female protagonist) slows the piece right down and relies on a minimal backing with heavily-reverbed guitar to underpin a beautifully controlled and intimate vocal; it’s gorgeous. “Sweet Boy from Minnesota” is another gentle piece which looks back to an earlier relationship with warmth and affection while “You Ain’t Worth my Time Anymore” stands out as a straight-up blues with Anna going for a much more raw vocal sound for the first time on the album. Like everything else on the album, it works perfectly.
“Anna Laube” is a hugely varied album which is held together by themes of nostalgia and self-exploration and Anna’s controlled and emotive voice. Unlike many Americana albums, it doesn’t reach out to other continents for influences, picking out various strands in recent American musical history for its inspiration, and it feels more cohesive for that restraint. Play this; it will make you feel good.
“Anna Laube” is out in the UK on July 31 on Aah…Pockets! Records (Aah…Pockets!01).
So, on to the second part of our mid-term report, and it kicks off with a band that the Riot Squad saw live a couple of times last year. Federal Charm released their debut album in 2013 and have been on the circuit trying to reach as many people as possible with their melodic blues/rock. This year they’ve also been recording their second album which is ready for release in the Autumn to coincide with a major support tour with Joanne Shaw Taylor in September and October. We’re looking forward to reviewing the new album and the live shows will definitely be worth seeing.
Phil Burdett’s album “Dunfearing and the West Country High” (again from Drumfire Records) was another MusicRiot favourite last year. It was the first part of Phil’s “Secular Mystic” trilogy, and a work of rare beauty. The second part of the trilogy, “Shaky Path to Arcadia”, is due to be released in late summer/autumn 2015 and based on the songs that the Riot Squad have heard so far at a couple of gigs in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, this is shaping up to be another classic. There’s also the first part of an acoustic trilogy which may be released later this year, but we’ll tell you more about that later.
Did we feature anyone from New Jersey? We did? Now that’s a surprise. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes have a new album which should be released later this year and that’s always something we look forward to here at Riot Towers. The album’s called “Soultime!” and the band has been previewing some of the songs at shows over the summer in the States; apparently they’re sounding pretty good. The one snippet we’ve heard from the live shows, “Spinning”, sounds like The Jukes at their very best with the band cooking on gas and the horns blowing up an absolute storm.
Bob Malone’s also from New Jersey, although he lives in California these days. We reviewed the “Mojo EP”, which was a sampler for his “Mojo Deluxe” album, last year. After a year of touring the States with John Fogerty and Europe with his own band, “Mojo Deluxe” is just about ready to go and he’ll be touring the UK later this year in support of the album. If the album lives up to the standards set by the EP, it should be a little bit special. As for the live shows, you really should get along to see one of those; we’ll give you some dates later in the year.
That’s it for the bands we featured in the predictions for 2015 and so far it’s looking pretty good for all of our selections. In the third and final part of the report, we’ll bring you up to speed with some of the great bands and artists we’ve seen for the first time this year who we think you’ll be hearing a lot more of.
Well, that’s another one for the bucket list. It’s taken a long time but I’ve finally had a conversation with someone who began a sentence with ‘Y’all…’, so thank you very much Hannah Aldridge from Muscle Shoals, Alabama for finally putting that one right for me. I was at Green Note to see Don Gallardo and Hannah on the last night of the UK tour to promote their respective current albums, Don’s “Hickory” and Hannah’s “Razor Wire”. Don’s band for the tour has been Travis Stock (playing bass, mandolin and guitar) and two musicians from the UK on keyboards and pedal steel, while Hannah has been delivering a stripped-back solo acoustic set of songs from her debut album, plus a bit of new material as well.
As always, the Green Note audience on this sold-out night was attentive and appreciative giving both artists a warm response. Don Gallardo played a set featuring songs from his new album including “Diamonds and Gold”, “Carousel”, “Ophelia, We Cry (Ode to Levon Helm)”, “The North Dakota Blues” and the superb “Down in the Valley”. Don’s easy geniality between songs created a warm atmosphere that was perfectly suited to the intimacy of the venue and the set came to a perfect close with Hannah joining the band on a cover of the Neil Young/CSNY song “Helpless”; it was one of many spine-tingling moments on the night.
Hannah Aldridge’s songs on her debut album “Razor Wire” are intensely personal and confessional; at times they’re brutally honest and even harrowing. The band arrangements on the album aren’t obtrusive, so it’s relatively easy to see how the songs would work as unplugged versions in a live setting, but Hannah also has a few curve-balls to throw, which is impressive under the circumstances; she’s been ill throughout the tour and has just started to recover and get her voice back to full power.
From the start of the set, Hannah pitched her between-song delivery somewhere between the real Hannah and the more strident, harder Hannah who appears on the cover of the album; you think it’s mostly a stage persona, but you probably wouldn’t push your luck to find out. She had a setlist prepared but after the opener “You Ain’t Worth the Fight”, all bets were off as the audience had their say and Hannah adjusted the dynamics of the set accordingly. “Rails to Ride” (from 2013) and the superb new song, “Gold Rush” were the only songs in the set not featured on “Razor Wire”.
The entire set was absolutely spellbinding as Hannah poured her soul into “Old Ghost”, “Razor Wire” and “Black and White”, but two songs stood out, for different reasons, from the rest of the set. “Parchman”, unlike most of Hannah’s songs, was inspired by something outside her personal experience; it’s about a female prisoner waiting to be executed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (known colloquially as Parchman Farm) for the murder of her abusive husband. The song pulls no punches, and had the audience enthralled throughout. For the final song of the set, “Howlin’ Bones”, Hannah left the security of the stage, and amplified vocals, to take the song direct to the audience, moving around the room to deliver a raw and genuinely unplugged version of a powerful song. You couldn’t call it easy listening, but it was raw and compulsive.
Although the entire evening was packed with lovely moments, Hannah Aldridge’s set confirmed my suspicion that she not only has a gift for turning life into art, but she’s also a hugely gifted and empathic performer who can project the emotional power of her songs. We may have missed out on the Jackson Browne cover “These Days” on the night, but this was a stunning solo performance of songs of the highest quality.
Watch out for her next UK tour, but check out “Razor Wire” in the meantime.
It’s unbelievable, really. We’re already halfway through 2015; how did that happen? Well, however it happened, there’s been an awful lot of it. At the start of the year, we made a few predictions about bands and artists to keep an eye on in 2015 and this seems like a pretty good time to have a look at how they’re getting on and maybe add a few more to the mix. So why don’t we start at the beginning because, apparently, that’s a very good place to start.
The first of our hot picks to shake some action in 2015 was the Billy Walton Band with “Wish for what You Want”, their first release on American independent label Vizztone in February 2015 after a series of self-released albums. We’ve been watching Billy Walton live since 2010 and he’s been steadily edging up the rankings. The band’s increased in size as well, from a power trio to a six-piece on the latest UK tour and the addition of sax, trombone and keyboards has emphasised their awesome live power while allowing them to move in new directions. Like his fellow New Jersey artists Springsteen and Southside Johnny (Billy has toured as an Asbury Juke in the UK a couple of times), Billy’s fond of taking the show in unexpected directions and these guys are easily good enough to follow him. They should be back in the UK later in the year, so watch out for them in your area.
Dean Owens is another artist the Riot Squad has been following for some time; well since the release of his 2012 album “New York Hummingbird” anyway. Dean has deservedly been acclaimed by those in the know (including Irvine Welsh) for some time now as a singer/songwriter but hasn’t ever managed to get the wider attention he really deserves; it looks like his 2015 album “Into the Sea” on Drumfire Records may have changed that. It’s generated a huge amount of media attention including a Bob Harris interview and live session for Radio 2 and an appearance on the cult BBC Radio Scotland football show “Off the Ball” presented by Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan. The album’s probably his best yet with some highly personal lyrics and memorable melodies backed up by a great group of Nashville musicians.
Next up was The Kennedys; Maura and Pete Kennedy are also from the East coast of the USA; New York City is their adopted home. They decided to celebrate their twentieth anniversary by releasing not one, not two, but three albums this year and to tour in support of the albums. Two of the albums have already been released, The Kennedys album “West” and Maura’s solo album (with lyrics from poet B.D. Love), “Villanelle” and they’re both exceptionally beautiful pieces of work. Still to come (in September) is Pete’s long-awaited solo piece “Heart of Gotham” a suite of songs inspired by New York City and its inhabitants. Pete’s poetic sensibilities, huge knowledge of the history of American music and quiet mastery of his instrument (or more accurately, instruments) make this another one to look out for.
Well that’s the story so far, but there’s more to come later in the year. Stone Foundation were obviously on the way up in 2014 when we reviewed their album “To Find the Spirit”, but 2015 has seen them providing the title track for the wonderful short film “Beverley”, trekking across Europe, signing record deals in Japan and the USA and recording the superb “A Life Unlimited” album which is released in the UK on August 7 this year. There’s a UK tour to promote the album, followed by a Japanese tour and some festival appearances over the summer. Pre-sales on the album have been very impressive and this looks like the year that Stone Foundation finally become an overnight success. Keeping the faith seems to finally be paying dividends.
Part Two coming soon…
It’s rapidly approaching the point where every album that’s released will have its own genre classification. It used to be so easy at Syd Booth in Mansfield (Nottinghamshire not Ohio) when all you had was racks of vinyl labelled ‘Rock’, ‘Soul’, ‘Easy Listening’, and a couple of Trojan compilations hidden at the back. But not any more, and “Here and Gone Again” is a perfect example. It’s music made in the American folk tradition and in a busking style, but there are hints of gypsy jazz, country rock, Eastern European folk and maybe even a smattering of pop as well. Top that up with a choice of two lead vocals, spot-on harmonies and any number of tempo changes and you can safely that no-one’s going to get bored listening to this.
Resonant Rogues have packed a lot into the two years since their formation, from New Orleans to the Balkans via France and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and most if it is evident in this release. The group’s two songwriters are Sparrow (vocals, accordion and banjo) and Keith J Smith (vocals, guitar and percussion) and they’re accompanied on “Here and Gone Again” by Craig Sandberg (upright bass and harmonies) and Drayton Aldridge (violin and harmonies) with guest appearances from Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Je Widenhouse (trumpet) and Honeycutters’ Matt Smith (pedal steel).
The album’s opener, “Make us Stay” is an upbeat, country/rock piece with lovely harmonies and some nice fiddle which sets the listener up nicely for eleven very varied songs. From the doom-laden, minor key atmospherics and fiddle solo of “Weary Head” to the frantic, uptempo mania of “Waiting for the Rain” (with accordion, trumpet and upright bass solo), the album covers a huge musical area. “End of the Day” and “Tomorrow” (the album’s closer) are both in waltz time, while “Break it Off”, “Everyday Blues” and “Overland” build up the drama by using tempo changes and dynamics. There’s even a nod to Latin-American dance rhythms in “Fall with Me”.
There’s a joie de vivre about the songs and the performances making the album an exhilarating roller-coaster ride through American and European folk music which never quite makes it over the line between very good and exceptional, although it holds out huge promise for their live performances.
Talking of which, if you want to see them live they start a tour of the UK and Ireland at the end of July with dates as follows:
Wednesday 29 London Jamboree, Cable Street Studios
Thursday 30 London Magic Garden Pub, Battersea
Friday 31 London Spiritual Caipirinha Bar, Camden
Saturday 1 Bristol The Bootlegger
Sunday 2 Bristol El Rincón
Wednesday 5 Bristol The Old Duke
Friday 7 Dublin Sweeney’s Bar
Saturday 8 Clonmel Busking Festival
Sunday 9 Clonmel Busking Festival
The UK release date for “Here and Gone Again” is July 24.
It’s the hottest July day in recorded history and I’ve chosen to spend ninety minutes on public transport to get to Islington to watch new bands play in a room that’s blacker than a politician’s heart; it could get warm. Thankfully, Upstairs at the Garage is air-conditioned. I’ve been invited along to see Jupe, a group of guys from Dublin, but I’m looking forward to watching all of the bands because it’s always (okay, usually) good to see and hear new bands.
So, a little bit about Jupe then. Well they’re from Dublin and after nine years, their line-up has stabilised at Tim Night (vocal and occasional guitar), Brendon Rennie (drums), Jeff O’Callaghan (keyboards), Kevin Rowe (guitar) and Voodoo Jonesy (bass). Musically they fuse together three strands of popular music to create something powerful and unique. There’s the impassioned, earnest rock (start with The Script and work your way back to U2), dance bass and keyboard sounds and a bit of pure boy band melodic pop. The sound they create is huge and they know how to write a massive, infectious chorus; they’re seriously good musicians writing and playing classy pop tunes and their onstage enthusiasm is totally contagious. They even had followers of the other bands on the bill bouncing up and down, and that doesn’t happen too often at showcase gigs.
And it wasn’t just Jupe that caught the attention. LUME, kicked the evening off with a power-trio set that was listenable and watchable; Henry Mata (guitar/vocal), Alex Holmes (bass/vocals) and Nelson Baia (drums/vocals) have some great songs which move from alternative towards prog territory; there’s probably even a hint of Muse in there as well. I’d certainly go and see them again.
Paper Circus are from East London and had the unenviable task of following a storming set from Jupe, but Alan Shaller (guitar/vocals), Kevin Curran (drums), Sara Shevlin (guitar) and Mickael Blanchet (bass) were up to the challenge with a bit of help from their faithful following. The musical styling was indie/alternative with strong songs and a powerful live performance; this is another band that I’ll be watching out for in future. Top night.
The new Jupe single “Rocket” is out on August 3.