“Blood Brothers” has a very familiar sound; it’s the sound of 1970s Laurel Canyon. That’s not a criticism; the Canyon was a creative hub in the seventies California music scene and it’s no coincidence that Don Henley, a member of that scene covers Jeffrey Foucault’s songs in his live sets. The arrangements and stylings all have the feel of those classic Elektra/Asylum albums of the early 70s. Jeffrey Foucault also has a voice that’s straight out of that era with hints of Randy Meisner and Jackson Browne in there. And, like those albums, the musicianship is of the highest quality while being largely understated. No flash, just perfect settings that allow the ten songs to breathe and shine. And the whole thing was recorded directly to tape over three days in Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota.

The opening song “Dishes” sets the tone for the album lyrically and musically. It’s gentle, laid-back and extols the virtues of domestic simplicity, whereas the second song, the apocalyptic, end-of-days “War on the Radio” is less typical. It has a country-rock feel with more of an emphasis on the rock, and is driven along by fiddle fills as we look into the abyss.

The rest of the album has the same DNA as “Dishes”, gentle arrangements pulling out the best in stories of domesticity in small-town America peopled with the characters that we can all relate to: the frustrated singer-songwriter in ”Cheap Suit” and the father looking back at his wedding day (with the album’s second reference to washing dishes) in “Little Warble”, with its clever lyrical device of ‘warble’ appearing at the start of the song in relation to the car’s tape player and at the end in relation to the singer’s heartbeat.

“Little Warble” has a country feel, while the rest of the album is Elektra/Asylum (you’d swear David Lindley was there) apart from the Neil Young-tinged “Blood Brothers” and “Rio” which is pure “Harvest Moon” with picked guitar, drums with brushes and pedal steel. If you’re a fan of the Eagles/Jackson Browne school of music, then you’re probably going to enjoy this album.

“Blood Brothers” is out now on Blueblade Records (BB-006).

I’m sorry, I really am. I should have written this review about six weeks ago. What makes it even worse (and this wouldn’t ever cloud my judgement) is that the band are good friends of mine. And this EP’s quite a big event; you don’t get a studio release from Dana & the Stolen Band every five minutes and they’re worth waiting for. So, apologies again folks, and I hope this is better late than never. Let me tell you a little bit more about the phenomenon that is Dana Immanuel & the Stolen Band.

Easy bit first; where did the Stolen Band name come from? Dana looked out for great musicians and stole them from other bands. She did a bloody good job as well; she created an Appalachian string band with overlays of electric guitar and Eastern European and gypsy jazz fiddle and superb vocal harmonies. Seeing the band live always reminds me of Pennie Smith’s description of The Clash as The Bash Street Kids on a commando raid; but a female version with brighter clothes.

The songs? Thought you’d never ask. They’re all thoroughly road-tested and anyone who follows the band live will recognise them. The opening three songs are in classic Stolen Band style with banjo, guitar and fiddle duelling with harmony and dissonance over the creative and solid rhythm section of cajon and upright bass in support of the vocal. “Mama’s Codeine” isn’t necessarily literal, but it’s about the things we do to deal with the life we live, whatever they are; there’s even a distorted and atonal codeine coda. “Turn Up the Lights” is based loosely on an incident from a book by Cixin Liu, while “WD40 and Duct Tape” is an anthem to two of the three panaceas, the third being ‘Whisky for a broken heart’.

“Shady Grove” (which I originally typed as Shady Gove) is an old Appalachian folk tune which was the first banjo tune Dana learned, and which she played at her best friend’s funeral. Which just leaves the reprise of “Mama’s Codeine” to carry on where the deranged coda of the original finishes.

I would normally finish off a piece like this by saying that, yes, the songs sound fabulous in their studio versions, but you really need to see Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band live to get the full picture. They are a phenomenal live band, musically and visually and when the current situation is behind us, you should all go out and see them. You won’t regret it.

“Mama’s Codeine” is out now and you can get it right here in physical form or from all the usual online sources.

Is there a video? Of course there is, you’ll see what I mean about the coda:

 

At the risk of spoiling the impact of this piece and giving readers the chance to skip out before the end, I’m going to tell you what I think of this album straight away; it’s a lovely piece of work and, if you’re keen on a bit of melancholy (among other things), you’ve come to the right place. “Hi-Line” is Amberly Chalberg’s debut album and a huge amount of inspiration and dedication are evident in the finished work. If you want something to make you cry, you’ll find plenty of that here, but you’ll also find a few things to make you smile as well.

I touched on melancholy earlier and I just want to clarify something here. A lot of the songs on ‘Hi-Line’ are could be bracketed as ‘Heartbreak Country’. I don’t mean the sentimental, maudlin nonsense about having to shoot your horse or your dog, but songs about situations that real people face every day; broken relationships, deaths and fractured families. It’s real heartache and there’s nothing manufactured about it.

And one other thing. I’m a bit cynical about the practice of including a single swear-word to get a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker; that’s definitely not the case here. There are five songs on ‘Hi-Line’ with swearing featured, and I’d argue that in each case it adds to the power of the lyric, particularly on the cautionary “Slippery Slope” with its economically-drawn connection between ‘needles and dope’ and ‘fucking for dimes’. Throughout the album, no matter how smooth the arrangement may be, there’s a gnarly realism underlying the whole piece, from the bar pick-ups and casual sex of “Whiskey Song” and “Drunk” to the vengefully protective, Crazy Horse-like “Family’s Just a Word”. The album has its lighter moments; “Crazy ‘Bout You” neatly channels “These Boots Were Made for Walking” and “Harper Valley PTA”, while “Lil Bit Country”, with its country-rock feel pokes fun at some of the country stereotypes.

I’m guessing most of us won’t be seeing live music for a while, so you could do a lot worse than have a listen to this great set of powerful songs from an artist who understands how to write heart-breaking songs that you’ll remember for all the right reasons.

“Hi-Line” is released in the UK on Friday March 20th.

If anyone asks, I’ll always identify as Scottish. In terms of music, it’s a heritage that I tap into. There’s a Celtic feel to many Scottish writers and performers that strikes a chord and I guess it’s because of shared cultural references (it applies to books as well; I love Ian Rankin’s novels, among others). But enough about me; this is all about Dean Owens and his latest album, a greatest hits package titled “The Man from Leith”. Many of the themes of the songs are universal, but there’s also a clear Scottish theme that runs through the album (the title might be a giveaway).

Dean’s been releasing work as a solo artist for about twenty years now and, with a release about every three or four years (not including collaborations and side projects), that’s a substantial back catalogue. Although Dean’s an album, more than a singles, artist, there are still standout songs that have been tried and tested live and are consistently popular. These are the songs that Dean has played solo, as a duo with various guitar players and with various band configurations (with some incredible musicians) and they’ve been thoroughly road-tested; they’re all great songs.

Dean imbues his songs with a very clear sense of place, whether it’s Scotland or the arid desert of Arizona and he loves to tell a story. More than half of the songs on “The Man from Leith” are set in Scotland, particularly Edinburgh (with the obvious exception of “Raining in Glasgow”) and Dean has a genuine appreciation of Scottish songwriters who paved the way for the latest generation and might not be particularly famous outside Scotland (including luminaries like Rab Noakes and Michael Marra).

“The Man from Leith” is seventeen songs spanning Dean’s solo career, demonstrating the range of his songwriting skills from the intensely autobiographical (“Man from Leith” about Dean’s dad and “Baby Fireworks” about his daughter) to the anthemic Ronnie Lane/Ian McLagan tribute “The Last Song”, co-written with Will Kimbrough. If you’re not moved by those songs, your heart is a swinging brick and you shouldn’t even be reading this. And “Lost Time”, which closes the album, is a poignant reminder that we don’t get a second chance at life; make the most of it while you can. In fact the album closes with a run of three songs, “Raining in Glasgow”, “The Last Song” and “Lost Time” that bears comparison with any closing trilogy I’ve heard.

While I’m on the subject of song themes, not all songs are written in the first person; I’ve seen one review of this album get that really badly wrong. Great songwriters pull out themes from their own lives but also the lives of their friends and from stuff that they see on the news or in the papers; don’t make the assumption that everything’s autobiographical, there’s much more to songwriting than that. If you see Dean live, chances are he’ll tell you the stories behind the songs. That’s the best way to get an insight and you’ll probably get a laugh as well; Dean’s songs might be somewhere between melancholy and miserable but he has a wicked, dry sense of humour that you can only appreciate if you see him live.

So, is “The Man from Leith” the best of Dean Owens? It captures the breadth and depth of Dean’s songwriting from the autobiographical “Raining in Glasgow” to the historical WW1 song “Closer to Home” and everything else in between. There isn’t anything even resembling a mediocre song here, and I haven’t even mentioned the award-winning “Southern Wind” (co-written with Will Kimbrough) yet. Die-hard fans might pick out other songs that they think should be included, but this is a pretty good selection. If someone gave me this album and I hadn’t heard any of the songs previously, I’d be really chuffed. Is that good enough for you?

If I’ve met you at a gig, I might have mentioned that “The Last Song” is an absolute anthem; I’m more convinced of that every time I hear it live. Things aren’t looking too good for live music at the moment, but this will certainly give a good impression of what a Dean Owens gig sounds like.

“The Man from Leith” is available on CD and vinyl on Eel Pie Records from 20th March 2020.


To paraphrase rock snapper Allan McKay, ‘in the unfortunate event of Armageddon, the only survivors will be rats, ants and the Technics 1200 record turntable. And Dr. Feelgood.’

Starting out from Canvey Island in 1971, much has been made of the ‘no original members’ thing over the years. But you can trace the ‘blood line’ through this band going Way Back. As members have left or died, they’ve been replaced. Nothing ‘tributey’ about that. That’s reality. That, in part, is why I published “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” in the first place. Bass man Phil Mitchell and drummer Kevin Morris have been with them since 1983, and so both recorded and toured extensively with main man Lee Brilleaux. Guitarist extraordinaire Steve Walwyn has been with the band since 1989; and even relative ‘newbie’, vocalist and harp player Robert Kane has fronted the Feelgoods for over 20 years, celebrating his 1000th Dr. Feelgood gig as long ago as 2007.

So let’s have none of that ridiculous sniffiness. As George Michael once said, ‘listen without prejudice’ (though admittedly that didn’t turn out well).

First though, a bit of a larff.

John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett first entered my flat by stealth when in 1977 Polydor Records sent me a copy of a single called “Really Free”. Like many record labels they were desperately casting around for ‘punk’ acts to sign in ’76/77 and picked this lot up from Pete Townsend’s Track Records label as they were basically taking what amounted to a scattergun approach but amongst the dreck this decidedly odd little single stood out. We gave it some plays, radio picked up on it and within what seemed like five minutes the duo were ‘On Top Of The Pops’ in time-honoured fashion and it became a ‘proper’ top 40 hit in the days when that meant Selling Stuff. The only problem being that as far as his musical partner is concerned, John Otway is a Complete Prat. A most unlikely ‘pop star’, he took the fast route back to obscurity by winning an international gurning award on Top of the Pops, and famously making a complete ass of himself by unsuccessfully attempting to hurdle a PA stack on BBC 2’s ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ TV show and ending up with his knackers in a splint. It could have been A Lot Worse.

He then proceeded to pay for the rest of his ticket back to nowhere by releasing a full-on, big-production ballad, “Geneve”, which completely stiffed despite the record company spending eye-watering amounts of money on promoting it (and record companies don’t forget that sort of error of judgment in a hurry) and, to further compound spectacular failure, not telling his musical partner WWB that he had neglected to give him a ‘name check’ and it was in effect a solo record for no other reason than that he did SO want to be a ‘proper’ ‘pop star’. Mr. Barrett was on his way to a gig at the time with Mr. Otway when he heard it introduced on the radio. Strangely enough, he didn’t turn up to play the gig that night and the duo had the first of about 27 ‘splits’ thus far.

Back on stage together and both now either 70 or pushing it, on first appearances it is difficult to resist the conclusion that for some strange reason the ghost of author Roald Dahl has dyed his hair black and decided to tour with a grumpy version of half of Chas and Dave. And a Wheelie Bin. More later.

However, be that as it may, we are treated to a spirited gallop through ‘Louisa on a Horse”, their second single, sort of accompanied by a scraping, raking fiddle contribution by Barrett. This is followed by ‘The Hit’, which they make a monument out of, informing the assembled ‘this is as good as it gets – the bar is over there!’ and stopping part way through in order to drag five minutes out of the thing. By which time, half the audience are in hysterics and the other half are wide-mouthed and not necessarily in admiration.

“Beware of the Flowers” features Barrett on Wheelie Bin. When he wishes to make a contribution to proceedings he opens a brown wheelie bin which is strategically placed by his side which contains an FX machine from which emanates ‘rock guitar’ noises and other things, brilliantly timed with deceptively well-rehearsed comedy in the opening and closing of the bin (no, really! Very funny indeed. I will take the recyc out with some trepidation after this.)

They then make a spirited but ill-judged attempt to pay tribute to Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys”. I always thought seeing as Rolf had done a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, Robert Plant and his mates might have at least returned the compliment by having a shot at said tune, but no. It is left to Otway and Barrett to right a historical wrong. Which isn’t a good thing, necessarily…

Otway then explains the reasons for the 27th split being Barrett’s refusal to play encores so the audience are encouraged to go for the compromise which is that they’d stay onstage whilst the audience make a whole load of noise and then they’d do “Geneve” as a ‘not’ encore. During which shenanigans Barrett takes a tenon saw and tries to cut the acoustic he’s playing in half (whilst playing it), then assaulting it with a hammer before stomping all over it for no apparent reason. Then and once again inexplicably a set of bagpipes disguised as Bagpuss come into play. Otway then sweeps off like the ‘star’ he ‘is’ and Barrett is left onstage to offer the mangled cheapo acoustic, which cost him £30, to the first member of the audience to stump up £33 (inc artistic ‘tax’) as a charitable donation at the merch. Ermm…….I was only massively entertained. Never left a show which has Otway in it anything other than grinning like an idiot. And this was no exception. Folk meets pop meets rock meets country, somewhere around the crossroads marked English Eccentricity.

But let us not delay too long here as this is all about the Feelgoods. On the band march at the allotted time, to a Friday night ‘full house’ welcome and straight away you can see they’ve clocked this could be Very Good Indeed. There is already a sense that we’re Having It.

We start with a whole bunch of ‘oldies’; “Drives Me Wild” as a ‘sighter’ whilst they bring Robert Kane’s mike forward a bit in the mix, “No Mo Do Yakomo”, I Can Tell” where Steve Walwyn lets that flamethrower Telecaster loose for the first time tonight, “Been Down So Long” and “Down by the Jetty” which once again reminds the assembled what a wealth of great R and B songs this band have in their locker which very rarely troubled the UK singles chart (but goodness me, they shifted some albums).

The next segment of the evening’s proceedings features Steve Walwyn on slide guitar with some great blues vocals and harp stabs by Robert Kane. This guy is a great rock singer by any measure but can he sing the blues….it is no surprise he was with The Animals 2 before he joined the Feelgoods. Anyone who at any point found himself in Eric Burdon’s shoes is, we can perhaps agree, none too dusty, but the band reel off a vinegar version of Elmore James “Dust my Broom”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin” and of course whilst you’ve got the correct weapon to hand, “Back In The Night”, their mid-seventies jukebox shaker which introduced a whole bunch of Brit rock fans to the Joy of Slide, if Rory Gallagher hadn’t already done so.

This, then, is the first of the ‘juke box hits’ section of the show as we gallop in rapid sequence through a jumping, pulsating “Roxette”, taking a few minutes out for a slow blues band showcase in “Shotgun Blues” where all the band members show what they can do. Steve Walwyn makes a claim to be the best guitarist Dr Feelgood ever had (and not only the longest-serving) at this point (controversial, I know; when you’re talking Gypie Mayo and Wilko Johnson as the primary contenders) and Phil Mitchell’s rumbling, sinuous bass is absolutely killer here, and then we’re off to shake that jukebox again as we blast through a rabble-rousing if slightly misfiring version of “Milk and Alcohol”, and a spirited rip through the thoroughly ‘wired’ “She’s A Wind Up” followed by the sharp, ‘all elbows and knees’ jerkiness of “She Does It Right”.

Everything they do has that precision of the heavily-gigged professional rock act. This is no occasional run out, or a 20-date travelling circus. This is what they do and what this band has done, in venues of this size and bigger and smaller, since 1971. That’s nearly 50 years. And I shudder to think how many gigs the band has done in that time.

After that and in a perfectly-judged set there’s a mélange of what should have been a massive radio drivetime hit “Going Back Home”, “Down At The Doctors” (Got to number 48 on the UK singles chart…….hellowwww…..!) “Gimme One More Shot” and they’re off.

And of course they’re not going to get off that lightly. We do indeed get one more shot and it’s a spectacularly dense and intense “Mad Man Blues” followed by the flip side of Roxette back in 1974, the ultimate encore machine, “Route 66” and then they ARE gone.

Never mind all the sniping about who’s who. These lads are rapidly becoming a national treasure in a world of phonies and one-trick-ponies. From the greasy sleaze of the ‘sneaking out the back door with a grin’ stories to the workaday, careworn, bluesy lyrics, from the red hot and rocking juke-box smashes to the smouldering, powerful blues workouts, this is the way to celebrate the end of the working week alright. Need a shot of Rhythm and Blues? Go see the Doctor. He might be considering retiring. Or he might, in some incarnation, just go on for another hundred years. Because Dr. Feelgood is a sort of collective; a sort of ‘idea’, born largely out of the energy and vision and drive of one Lee Brilleaux. But despite the fact that Lee isn’t around to see how well his insistence the band carried on after his death worked out……why stop now?

Postscript: And in the pub across from the venue afterwards, the esteemed and venerable Nook, we fell across the lucky man who is now the proud possessor of a sawn – off acoustic guitar. They didn’t event throw in the tenon saw for his £33. 

Reckons it is going straight on e Bay. 

And I say – ‘Cor Baby, that’s Nearly Free.’
 

The first proper gig; it should be memorable, shouldn’t it? For some of us it’s the start of a lifetime of queuing in the rain twenty minutes after doors while the drummer gets his floor tom sound right, of missing the last train home and paying £60 for a cab and of explaining that you just spoke to the band’s manager twenty minutes ago and you are definitely on the guest list, besides the singer’s a mate of yours. All of those frustrations are forgotten when the sticks click and the band hits their groove (sorry anyone that doesn’t have a drummer, but you know what I mean).

Do you remember the first time?

I certainly do, and I made a reference to it on this very website nearly eight years as part of an appreciation of the wonderful Nick Lowe. Here’s the unedited album version.

It was the East Midlands in the mid-seventies: a time of industrial unrest and political instability. The UK had been in the Common Market for a year and in the US, Nixon was living on stolen time (he resigned almost six months later). On Monday 25th February 1974, none of that mattered; I was going to my first proper gig, to see a proper band that I’d seen on the Whistle Test and had already released five albums. And they were playing at The Civic Theatre in Mansfield of all places. I’m pretty certain the sixth forms from all of Mansfield’s grammar schools were in the audience, after visiting the pubs with the most lenient bar staff. Fair to say there was a sense of expectation.

With hindsight, I can see that there wasn’t a huge budget for the tour and that support bands were picked up locally. It makes financial sense, and a local support will bring along some of their fans to swell the audience and that’s a good thing, yeah? The support band this time was a local rock covers band called Care, whose singer lived on the same estate as I did and who were popular with the local biker gang. Any alarm bells ringing yet? They played their set, got a great response from their own fans and were actually pretty convincing. So, after a quick break to top up the alcohol levels it was on to the night’s headliners.

By this stage, following the 1970 Fillmore hype and the bad feeling it generated with the rock press, Brinsley Schwarz as a band were back on creative form but commercially pretty much finished. They had some great tunes were a superb live band on their night. What they weren’t, crucially on this night, was a heavy rock band; you would colour them moody blue rather than deep purple. The majority of the audience had paid to see Brinsley Schwarz and were perfectly happy to hear their well-crafted and crisply-performed soul-inflected pop/rock. Not the leather-jacketed fans of the support band; from the opening of the set they bayed menacingly about the lack of red meat and thud and blunder. The natives were restless and hammered; not the best combination.

The inevitable happened a couple of songs in when Mansfield’s finest mild boys took advantage of the lack of security to invade the stage in protest at the lack of power chords and screaming vocals. Everything happened surprising quickly and suddenly the stage was engulfed in greasy leather. It looked like a fairly even match between rockers and roadies until one deluded delinquent took a lunge at Nick Lowe, who was sporting his Gibson EB bass; and then he wasn’t. The rocker was wearing the headstock of the bass in his mouth and nose and spitting blood and teeth. Game over; Brinsleys 1, Mofos 0, shortly followed by the ignominy of the rockers’ retreat and vaguely threatening noises.

The roadies went back to the day job, got the stage reset for the band and the gig went ahead as if nothing had happened. The band were on good form and did the business for the rest of the set and then everyone went home happy, apart from a few broken bikers. As first gigs go it was memorable; a bit of underage drinking, a support band with a lead singer that I knew, a full-scale stage invasion and a great set from a band that I really wanted to see. And it happened in Mansfield of all places; I didn’t think for a second that forty years later I would be watching Brinsley Schwarz (with Graham Parker) and Nick Lowe (with his band and Geraint Watkins) at gigs in London, but that’s the way it panned out. That first gig showed me a way out of a small provincial town and the events of that night still influence my life now.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I wrote briefly about that gig eight years ago and a couple of interesting things happened. Someone else who was at the gig contacted me via a website comment and we’ve met up for a couple of beers in London, then Ian Gomm, who was the guitar player in Brinsley Schwarz, contacted me to say that the band never actually knew why the stage invasion had happened and were a bit concerned about getting a kicking outside. Unlikely; the rockers had probably retreated to their base in the Midland Hotel to compare war stories and intimidate the under-age drinkers that hadn’t gone to the gig.

 

 

There are a few people whose work always gets my attention; Sam Lewis is one of those. The first thing you need to know about Sam is that his voice is a phenomenon. He sounds great on the studio material but live he’s something else. His voice is equally convincing with soul, country and blues stylings and he writes a pretty good song as well. He’s been compared with the greats and he’s worked with quite a few of them as well. In a live setting he’s very laid-back, relaxed and happy to shoot the breeze between songs; the whole experience has the feel of someone doing something that he knows he’s really good at and doesn’t have to strain to get right in that environment.

The idea of a live album recorded on the floor at the famous Southern Ground studio has a certain logic to it. One voice and one guitar (plus good acoustics); there’s nowhere to hide and it’s a huge test of the quality of the songs when you take away the studio techniques and leave just the ideas and emotion. If you’ve seen Sam live you know that he can do it, so it’s just a question of getting the recording right and there you have it – bottled essence of Sam Lewis.

I’m guessing that the album is a start-to-finish record of Sam’s set; at nineteen songs, it feels like a single set, coming in at about the hour mark. It’s a pretty good mix of songs from across his three studio albums plus four previously unreleased songs; for any fan, it’s a great souvenir of his work so far and some of your favourite songs are bound to be there. Standouts for me were “3/4 Time” (which isn’t), “Virginia Avenue” and “Waiting On You” (which are all from my favourite Sam Lewis album, “Waiting On You”), but I was also spellbound by the autobiographical “Southern Greek Tragedy” from Sam’s first album, which unsentimentally tells the story of a broken family and an itinerant childhood. High fives to the audience as well; they listen when Sam plays and applaud when he finishes. I’m privileged to see a lot of gigs in ‘listening rooms’ where the audience knows the rules, but I know it’s not always like that.

Fans of Sam Lewis will love this. Sam knows how to pick good musicians to work with, but the bottom line is that he can do this all on his own and keep audiences enraptured; here’s the proof.

“Solo” is out now in the UK on Loversity Records and you can catch the Sam Lewis live experience on his current tour of the UK and Europe (details here).

This is the second time Track Dogs have crossed our paths at Riot Towers and it was always going to be an interesting experience. The line-up of Garrett Wall, Dave Mooney, Howard Brown & Robbie K. Jones (two Irishmen, an Englishman and an American, which sounds like it’s just waiting for a punchline) is resident in Madrid and created a bit of a buzz across European festivals last summer. There’s a reason for that; they’re great players across a range of instruments and three of them take lead vocals on the album as well as creating some lovely vocal harmonies; and that’s before we even start on the quality of the songwriting.

From the 2018 album “Kansas City Out Groove” we learned that you can rely on Track Dogs for esoteric influences and exotic arrangements; “Fire on the Rails” doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the band’s own extensive line-up of instruments, guest artists supply banjo, fiddle, mandolin and strings to create different textures and tonal colour. The net for the esoteric influences seems to have widened since their previous album; “Better Off On Your Own” is driven along by African rhythms and punctuated by a chorus that leans so heavily on the off beat that it’s firmly into reggae territory. The trumpet’s in evidence pretty much throughout the album, evoking South American sounds, muted melancholy and even hinting at easy listening at times on, for example, “On the Last Night”, which subversively creates a deliberately unthreatening arrangement for a song about the apocalypse.

There’s a tribute to Freddy Mercury in “And the Piano Sings” which has the catchiest of catchy hooks and a perfectly-formed trumpet solo, but the band save the best of the left-field inventiveness for the album’s final song. “All Clapped Out” (a play on words) is a cappella throughout with all the percussion coming from handclaps and footstomps and the harmony from the four voices. It’s novel and interesting and it rounds off the album perfectly.

“Fire on the Rails” continues where “Kansas City Out Groove” left off; packed with invention, unusual textures, hooks and memorable melodies. It’s out on in the UK on Friday January 24th on Mondegreen Records (MGR0120).

It’s the first album review of 2020 and we’re gently easing our way into the new decade. “Ohbahoy” (the title is taken from the name of Miles’ imaginary childhood friend) is an example of how to create a varied and very listenable album full of hooks without ever having to resort to vocal or instrumental pyrotechnics. The building blocks of this album are very simple hooks and riffs; the clever thing is the way the jigsaw is put together to create something that’s much more than the sum of the parts.

 

You won’t get very far into the album before realising that Miles has another useful songwriting talent; he knows how to take an influence and turn it into something that sounds vaguely familiar without sounding like a complete steal. And it’s not a criticism. I have a huge admiration for the musical magpies of the world; the people like Jeff Lynne and, more recently, Guy Chambers who recognise the tiny snippet that makes something work and morph it into their own compositions. The album’s opening song, “Hands Up”, is naggingly familiar, suggesting a distant relationship to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra” (and Steve wasn’t above nicking a riff or two himself, “Rock ‘n’ Me” for starters). The trick with this game is to blend the influences into something completely new, which is exactly what Miles does. There are nods in the direction of many influences, Tom Petty (particularly in the uptempo rocker “Overpass”) and the Beatles jump out instantly, but there are undertones of The Cars, Steve Miller, ELO and probably many others.

There’s a lot to like about “Ohbahoy”. It’s a bunch of strong songs that’s interpreted by a band with enough talent and versatility to make four-part harmonies, twin guitar workouts and perfectly-judged horn parts sound like just another part of the day job. I have a sneaking suspicion that they might just be a bit tasty live as well.

“Ohbahoy” is out now in the UK.

Allan reviewed Sam Baker’s album “Horses and Stars” this summer. It took him a few listens, but when he got it, he really did get it. Sam’s songs are powerful stories of the everyday triumphs and tragedies of ordinary Americans, ‘the single mothers, the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the widows and the guilt-ridden’, the people getting on with their lives whatever challenges are thrown in their direction. These are the real stories of contemporary America. So we were obviously pleased when Sam agreed to make a contribution to the 2019 High Fives feature with the music that he listens to while he paints (and some references to the background of these pieces). As a bonus, we also have an example of Sam’s artwork.

 

Miles Davis

Sketches of Spain (with Gil Evans)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sketches_of_Spain

 

Miles Davis

Kind of Blue

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kind_of_Blue

 

John Coltrane

The Gentle Side of John Coltrane

 

Bill Evans

Sunday At the Village Vanguard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_at_the_Village_Vanguard

 

Sam Cooke

Anything he sings especially with the Soul Stirrers

 

And some of Sam’s artwork to go with the list….