Here’s another remote working pandemic project for you. This isn’t a high profile, multi-screen Zoom video collaboration; Los Brujos a much more intimate and personal thing involving (mainly) Chuck Melchin of Bean Pickers Union and Michael Spaly of Green Monroe. The two obviously have a chemistry and have collaborated on projects over the last decade. The difference with this one is that everything has been done in their respective home studios in Michigan and New Hampshire and stitched together by producer Dave Westner in Massachusetts.

The “Alchemy” EP is five songs featuring mainly string band arrangements and some gorgeous four-part harmonies, played with great subtlety and style. What it definitely isn’t is a happy, cheerful listening experience, but I’m partial to a bit of melancholy in my music and it’s appropriate for the times we find ourselves in at the moment.

The atmospheric opener “Reckoning” features some nice harmonies to contrast with the brooding, haunted feel of the tale of a place filled with ghosts, while the gentle country feel of “Bronco” (the car, not the horse) typifies the EP with its story of a relationship break-up finalised by the ex-partner packing her belongings into a Bronco.

“Everything I Can” feels like a Leadon-era Eagles song with its gentle pace and banjo and fiddle fills, telling the story of a break-up caused by a desire to break out of stifling surroundings; it’s an apology delivered while looking in the rear-view mirror. “High Times” is the only question mark for me; it continues the previous track’s theme of the small-town outsider and the early part of the song features some tight four-part harmonies which, towards the end, become a bit too processed and psychedelic for my taste.

And the final song, “Bitter Blue”, is back to slow, laid-back country rock telling the story of the man compelled to keep making the same relationship mistakes. There you go; as Jim Steinman might have said, four out of five ain’t bad.

Five beautifully-crafted songs with lovely harmonies and some delightfully understated playing; I’ll take that any time.

“Alchemy” is released in the UK on Friday November 6th on Inseam Records.

Rackhouse Pilfer - 'Love and Havoc' - cover (300dpi)‘Why don’t we open the album with a song about busting out of prison, I mean it worked for Thin Lizzy, didn’t it?”. Well, it certainly did and just as “Jailbreak” set the tone perfectly for the album of the same name, “Dust on the Road” does the same for Rackhouse Pilfer’s “Love and Havoc”. The frenetic banjo and fiddle interplay drives along a tale of freedom or death that’s only resolved with the half-speed coda signifying success. By the end of the song, you know you’re in good hands. Rackhouse Pilfer is an Irish six-piece outfit and, if I can’t use the catch-all term Americana, I’d have to say they play original songs influenced by country, bluegrass and a hefty dose of seventies Laurel Canyon troubadours and another hefty dose of homegrown Irish fun. If you can carry that off, you’ve got something a little bit special and they don’t just carry it off, they heave it into the air and juggle it with one hand. OK, I admit it, we’re a bit behind the curve on this one; it was released in 2014 but it’s just popped up in the Riot Towers inbox ahead of a Rackhouse Pilfer UK tour.

“Another Dirty Joke” rattles along in the same light-hearted way with a theme of drunken and stoned escapism, but it’s not just about the craic; there’s a serious side to the album as well. “Me and a Polar Bear” is an uptempo piece with an environmental theme while “Angela” tells the story of a woman who wants to escape a relationship by murdering her partner. You can hear more traditional string band influences on the slow “A Sailing Song” with its mournful unison fiddle and mandolin and the rollicking “Shady Grove”, which gives all of the players a chance to show off their skills with short solos.

And the Laurel Canyon influence? Well “Two Oceans” evokes early Jackson Browne perfectly; the song, the vocal and even the title could have featured on any of his first three albums. You can hear an Eagles influence in the harmony-laden midtempo country-rock of “Calico Sky” and “I’ll Find a Way” (maybe a hint of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” in there as well) and “Bright Lights” could be Bernie Leadon era Eagles.

“Love and Havoc” assimilates a huge number of influences, weaves them into a bunch of diverse and memorable songs and tops the mix off with a touch of Celtic good humour. And I’m willing to bet they do a cracking live show, so maybe you should look out for dates near you on their UK tour.

“Love and Havoc” is out now.