It’s the fourth day of the 2018 High Fives series and the contributions from songwriters and performers are starting to come in. it’s always good to have something from Graeme Wheatley, bass player and songwriter with Deep Blue Sea and all-round nice guy. It’s great to see that Graeme has completely embraced the High Five brief – just five of absolutely anything. And there’s even some Shakespeare for you as well. All photos courtesy of Laurence Harvey.

What subject can I pick? Allan will have the gigs sewn up for sure. I think I did albums and musicians before.  I guess my answer is easy – it’s what I am doing right at this very moment. Or rather, it’s what I should be doing – but I am letting Allan’s request for an article distract me. Song writing.

I first thought I’d write a note about my favourite 5 songwriters – but none of them have written anything new this year – and it’s 2 years since Leonard decided to write no more. So I thought I’d write a little about some Deep Blue Sea songs – it might be self indulgent, it might be a bit arsey? But surely it’s not as bad as scoffing an entire tin of Quality Street tho of course, I might do that too.

2018 has been a year of writing songs. Deep Blue Sea started to write as a unit when Dre and Amanda joined Iago and me in March 2018. In the space of 3 months we got together, did a few gigs and then recorded a live album featuring 5 songs that were written in that 3 month creative burst. Since then we’ve probably written about 15 more and we’re in the studio over December and January recording them for a new album in 2019.

Seems like a good idea to take a look at the 5 songs we wrote over that 3 month period. I’m hardly qualified to go into great depth on the music – and the lyrics are totally open to interpretation – but here goes a few words of waffle and title tattle – feel free to disagree. One over-arching observation. A band is a relationship. Relationships start with an intensity. These songs happened fast and are part of the glue that we’ve created – part of the DNA of DBS. I hope you like this little tale –

“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Rock Star Status

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – There’s no point now cos everbody’s famous

It’s nobodys fault But everybody hates us – It’s nobodys fault  But nothings gonna save us

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – A little applause and admiration

15 seconds of adoration – A lethal dose of adulation

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – A pocket full of dreams and a ticket to Vegas

Hold on tight, you’re making the papers – O/D-ed celebrities are coming back to plague us

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – VIPs in the Palace of Gratis

Take a little taste of the breathing apparatus – A finger on the pulse of the phallic operators

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

All we ever wanted was Rock Star Stuff – Everything now and it’s still not enough

Keep it coming cos we’re Rock Star Tough – Keep it coming til we choke on the stuff

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

So, Iago had this little Stonesy type riff- except as always with Iago – the chords were weird, wired and inspired. I’d been to an art exhibition in Dulwich and there had been a painting I really liked. Couldn’t afford it of course, but there were some postcards of the painting free – so I took a couple. Got home later that day and looked at the picture. Surreal dreamscape with horses. Turned it over and the title was “All I ever wanted was Rock Star Status”. I knew I had a title. The lyrics flew onto the page – it was a job stopping them. When Dre started working on the melody she noticed nothing really rhymed very well. There’s the language barrier for you. You say Status and I say Status!!! We compromised. What’s it all about? You tell me. I’ve been wondering. Oh, by the way, the artist, Kate Pritchard, who painted the picture, came to see the band at our gig last week at 100 Club!!! Circle complete. That was a total new experience for us both – and a really good one. Life eh?

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

 

 

Dark days take pride of place – For the little girl with the smiling face

A smile that hides  – uncertainty

If her face seems so serene – Her hands betray a silent scream

And doubts about  – her sanity

Worlds of distorted noise – Distraction drinking drowning boys

Shaking shame  – and regret

Touch and  hold and then let go – Of something in her overcoat

One thing not – broken yet

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 

Black clouds hang down the face – of the little girl with silent grace

Reaching out for – sanctuary

Beneath the stones and dusty bones – words are falling all alone

To mourn – dignity

Might have seen might have beens, hopes are only dusty dreams

Bitter pills – memory

Moments passed nothing lasts, out of reach fading fast

Time kills – vanity

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 

She’s

Thrown in all directions – blown by recollections

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Drawn to all confections – torn by rare infections

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 “I have almost forgot the taste of fears; The time has been, my senses would have cool’d To hear a night-shriek.”

 Trev Turley writing a review of this song in Blues In Britain called the groove “invisible reggae” – I dunno what it means – but I like it 🙂

 I was driving along in the old band van awhile back, listening to the radio. There was a book review programme on and people were talking and I wasn’t listening until someone said “oh, her, the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it’s no more than you’d expect.” I knew I had a title for a song, but I didn’t know what the person meant by “no more than you’d expect.”

I got to thinking about a friend of mine who I am very happy to say is on the other side of the tunnel from her period as a manic pixie, but there was a time when several friends and I worried about this frail and beautiful butterfly. We saw her floating, we saw her shine and shimmer but we couldn’t do much to shelter her from the storms inside. She was fighting battles we had no weapons. 

 I wanted to try and capture the idea of a moment in time with her – where words don’t always mean what they appear to mean, where things tail spin off into other moments – the uncertainty at the core of a person in turbulence.  I’m so glad she’s still my friend. And in the weirdest ways the manic pixie dream days are not over but no longer laced with the threat of a long, long night.

The Thrill of It All

 

 

The little girl doesn’t know

If she’s alive anymore

No sense of fun – nowhere to run

Once there was a time

Happiness was no crime

Now she’s in a cage – No passion or rage

 

As the light starts to fall

 

She’s walking on the edge

Of everything unsaid

It hurts just to feel, doubt what is real

Standing by the side

Of the days of her life

See the falling tide – what’s left behind?

 

As the light starts to fall

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 

Here under the Sun

Hopelessly undone

How can feelings grow – From seeds she didn’t sow

Mem’ries made of  pain

She cannot explain

A hand in the flame – the nameless game

 

As the light starts to fall

know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 This song grew in the playing. Iago’s guitar solo can take us off anywhere. When Amanda got into the song and the feel of it – she started to push things and take risks. If you listen to the live album, there’s a few moments where we could all really fall on our collective bums as we get perilously close to the edge. I think that’s the one of the great things I love about playing in the band – we are a band. And I think we all love the risks. Nobody stays calm – we’re all in it together. Dre’s melody to the chorus transformed this song. It would not have been on the album if she hadn’t have lifted something special out of the void. I co-wrote the lyric with Emma Holman. I think she put some truly heartfelt emotion into the words and thank her for sharing. 

 Hole in your Soul

 

 

It’s only when u get here  u know this place exists

you’ve taken the wrong turn round every bend and twist.

u finally hit the bottom you have  one more thing to learn

no going back, this is the point of no return

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

When the vital spark of life in ev’ry leaf and tree

Is passed un-noticed By eyes that do not see

You look into the darkness – seek solace out of light

Cut out all sensation  – Taste and touch and sight

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

I climbed the highest mountain and looked down to the sea

I saw the miracle of life spread out in front of me

I look on all the beauty of night becoming day

When I saw that nothing moved me, I turned and walked away

 

You turn away from friends turn away turn away

Close down your heart. Nothing more to say

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

I climbed the highest mountain and looked down to the sea

I saw the miracle of life spread out in front of me

I look on all the beauty of night becoming day

When I saw that nothing moved me, I turned and walked away

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

“I begin to be aweary of the sun, And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone.”

It will come as no surprise to anyone who vaguely knows me that I am a massive Bob Dylan fan. This lyric started life as a Bob type song. The bridge part “I climbed…” – it’s not often that I will say something like that – something I haven’t done. I haven’t climbed the highest mountain to look down to the sea – and I’m prepared to wager that Bob hasn’t either – but it’s something he would claim to have done. So if you are going to tell a porkie – tell a big one, like Bob 🙂

Lyrically, for me, it’s a dark night of the soul song. Make of it what you will. Sara (our previous drummer – from The Pearl Harts) liked this one a lot – said it reminded her of Muse.  The line “This is the point of no return” was meant to have two meanings – but I realise one meaning is far more obvious than the other and unless I add an explanatory note, no one will see it. And who would be so tedious as to add an explanatory note? Duh!!!

All Our Yesterdays

 

 

Welcome to the great escape

No one’s gonna stop this big break

There’s a raging battle

Every single night

Someone’s give me half a chance I’m gonna set this place alight

So long to my sad old days

Don’t look back to those old ways

There’s a storm inside

Burning up my soul

Someone give me half a chance to make my life a whole

 

And the radio plays songs from a different day

Sing that song all night long wash your blues away

And the DJ plays All our yesterdays

So we say This one’s for the runaways

 

Welcome to this point of view

Somethings changed somethings new

Now we’re out the dark

Out into the sun

Some will stay and fade away but we are gonna run

 

And the radio plays songs from a different day

Sing that song all night long wash your blues away

And the DJ plays All our yesterdays

So we say This one’s for the runaways

And the DJ plays

All our yesterdays

So we say

This one’s for the runaways

So we say

This one’s for the runaways

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.”

This wee tale started life as a song I was writing with the ace guitarist Chris Walker while Chris helped keep the band afloat for a year or so, for which I am eternally grateful. It wasn’t easy keeping things going – but we had commitments to honour and he’s a great guy. We also had a dear friend Louise Davies making sure we kept the flame alight – she didn’t give either of us any other option. I nicked my own lyric to drop into Iago’s infectious confection of rockabilly roll. A song called All Our Yesterdays with a rock and roll groove seems to be made for each other and it’s kind of as close as we get to a bit of light relief. This is Dre’s favourite dancing song – which is great for her – cos she can dance – but the other two people standing on stage beside her both have 2 left feet!! We try not to fall over. That is the lesson for today folks. Dance, laugh, be happy, it could be so much worse. Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the floor and…..try not to fall over.

(all the quotes are from one small page of Macbeth

– the Scottish play – a nod to the McKay:)

The difficulty is knowing where to start here. Michael McDermott’s output over the last two years as The Westies and a solo artist has been prolific and profound. Making up for lost time; who knows? Michael’s four years clean and sober; 2016’s “Six on the Out” and “Willow Springs” made references to his lost years, while “Out from Under” tells the whole story from degradation through rehabilitation to redemption, pivoting around the album’s central song “Out from Under” and the decision to take responsibility for his life.

“Out from Under” isn’t just about the personal narrative; Michael’s been influenced by many different styles of American music and many of those influences surface on this musical journey. This is Michael’s story channelled through the American songbook. With a project this ambitious, you need a great team and it doesn’t get much better than Heather Horton on violin and vocals and Will Kimbrough on, well, anything with strings really.

The album opens with the brooding, menacing “Cal-Sag Road”; it’s about as low as you can get, a tale of drunkenness, sex and murder. It’s underpinned by Will Kimbrough’s atmospheric, ambient guitar sounds and the darkness of the arrangement mirrors the subject matter perfectly. The first half of the album runs through the ragtime resonator and banjo arrangement of “Gotta Go to Work”, the Southern boogie and “Sympathy For the Devil”-like backing vocals of “Knocked Down” to the Tom Petty-esque “Sad Songs”, depicting the malaise and lassitude of the music business. And then you hit the bottom.

“This World Will Break your Heart” is a pathos-packed series of vignettes pulling in dropouts, miscarriages and loneliness in old age. It’s the most heart-breaking song on the album and you know that things have to brighten up from here on in. And they do; It’s big, it’s anthemic and it has a hint of Springsteen. “Out from Under” is a floor-tom-driven monster of a song that’s as uplifting as anything you’ll hear this year. It’s the way forward, pointing the way for the second half of the album beginning with the idyll of “The Celtic Sea” where a sea voyage serves as a metaphor for the beginning of a redemptive relationship; it’s turbulent at first, but the crew pull together and the voyage looks set to succeed.

The three songs which follow are pure, joyous, celebration of love. “Rubber Band Ring” is a horns and Hammond Motown-style stomper, “Never Goin’ Down Again” sets a commitment to reform against a stadium rock background, while “Sideways” combines gorgeous Stax stylings with a lyrical style that leans towards Dylan or early Springsteen. And then you have the gentle acceptance of a new life in “God Help Us”.

“Out from Under” is a hugely ambitious album that follows Michael McDermott’s personal narrative and succeeds in combining an exploration of the highways and byways of American popular music with creative and poetic lyrics. I haven’t heard anything better this year.

“Out from Under” is released in the UK on Friday May 18, 2018.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to it here and then buy a copy.

Keegan McInroe’s last album, “Uncouth Pilgrims”, was very much a troubadour’s set of songs; tales of his travels and celebrations of life. This one’s a very different beast. You can probably guess from the title that it’s full of protest songs, like the ones that Dylan, Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie used to sing in the sixties and seventies. Since the US election last year, after the initial disbelief, the references to the administration onstage from touring American bands started to become a regular thing. The odd critical song started to appear on albums, but Keegan McInroe has gone all the way. “A Good Old Fashioned Protest” is nine protest songs (well, eight songs and a poem) with media manipulation, environmental exploitation, militarism and hypocrisy firmly in its laser beam.

The album opens with “Talking Talking Head Blues”, a strummed acoustic backing underpinning a headlong rush through the evils afflicted on us by the current US administration (and let’s not think we can be too smug in the UK), including biased news, the surveillance society, dumbing down and smoke and mirrors. The narrative opens with Keegan waking from a dream to hear a talking head on a news show; the dream is from the last song on the album, “Keegan’s Beautiful Dream”, which has all of the anti-establishment protesters banding together to render the system impotent. The album comes full circle and the cycle starts all over again.

I’ve had a beer with Keegan; he’s a lovely guy. He’s witty, he’s well-read, he knows his music and he’s really laid-back, but here the message is anger bordering on rage at the state of the world today. He targets environmental exploitation in “Big River”, militarism in “Bombing for Peace”, hypocrisy and self-righteousness in “Bastards and Bitches” (there’s no token single swear word here to get a parental guidance sticker here, this album is full-on) and the causes of radicalisation in “Timmy Johnson’s Living Brother”. The poem “Nietzche Wore Boots” deserves a special mention; it satirises the way the plutocracy divides and rules and points the way to an apocalyptic ending that will be just another tiny event in the history of the planet. And it’s the pivot before the two songs of redemption that end the album. And they’re still protest songs, just protest songs with a positive message.

Tyrants hate the arts and people involved in the arts. They know that artists and writers and poets are free thinkers who never just accept what they’re told by the establishment. They ask awkward questions and they create works that criticise the status quo because someone has to. Keegan McInroe has done that with this album; he’s pulled together a varied bunch of songs that will pull you in with their rhythms and melodies and make you stop and think about what’s really going on in the world; maybe ask a few questions yourself. That has to be a good thing.

“A Good Old Fashioned Protest” is released on Friday January 12.

Maybe you already know that Allan’s a bit of a Southside Johnny fan. Ok, a lot of a Southside Johnny fan. So, we decided to invite Johnny to contribute to the 2017 High Fives. And he did, with not one but four sets of High Fives chosen by our random category generator. That’s the kind of value you get at a Jukes gig. Take it away, Southside…

 

Steven Van Zandt

5 songwriting heroes

Cole Porter

Tom Waits

Steven Van Zandt

Bob Dylan

Smokey Robinson

 

5 places he’d play every night 

Paradiso Amsterdam

Paradiso, Amsterdam

Shepherd’s Bush, London

Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia

Stone Pony Summer Stage, Asbury Park, NJ

Anywhere in Cleveland, Ohio

 

5 people he’d like to meet 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Big Bill Shakespeare

Barack Obama

Willie Dixon

My mother’s father

 

5 favourite harmonica solos

Little Walter

Big Walter, “Walking By Myself”,

Sonny Boy Williamson “Don’t Start Me Talking”,

Little Walter, “Tell me Mama” and “Lights Out”,

Paul Butterfield, “Born in Chicago” and a thousand others.

 

5 covers he hasn’t done yet

Way too many to list.  Happy New Year!

 

I don’t know why the idea of Scandinavian Americana should have seemed so strange at first; significant numbers of Scandinavians emigrated to the USA in the nineteenth century and it’s reasonable to assume that they brought their own flavours to America’s rich musical stew and that there would still be a cultural connection. Turns out that Americana is big in that part of northern Europe, both in homegrown and imported flavours, and that’s where Buford Pope (real name Mikael Liljeborg) comes in. Although he references Dylan as a touchstone, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons with Neil Young (particularly the Stray Gators phase) because of the high, keening voice and the plaintive pedal steel licks that permeate the album.

For his seventh album Buford Pope has opted for the naturalistic approach; learn the songs, get the right technical set-up and go in and play them once. And it works, although the album’s opening song “Still Got Dreams” is a bit too lo-fi for my taste. The lyrics deal with familiar roots themes: guns, drinking, driving (sometimes both at the same time) and families all feature in the mix. The recording process gives the album an intimacy and immediacy that recording tracks separately can never quite capture and highlights the interplay between the instruments, particularly the combination of slide or pedal steel and piano on “Infirmary” and “No Man’s Land”.

Standout songs? Well, the big chorus of “Freewheeling” and the epic Al Stewart feel of “The Baltic Sea” certainly do it for me.

“Blue-Eyed Boy” is released on Friday September 22 on Unchained Records (BP2017).

Levi Cuss ScrollerLevi Cuss has quite a back story. He’s lived an eventful life, done things that he regrets and done some time as a consequence, but ultimately it’s all grist to the mill. He’s living a more conventional life now (if writing and performing songs can be called conventional), using some of the experiences from earlier days as material for his songs and using music as a means of redemption. And that’s all very well, but is the music any good? Well, it is, as it happens; the songs are strong and the musical settings are always interesting. Producer Steve Dawson has brought in some vintage (seventies mainly) instruments and soundscapes to bring a sense of historical perspective to the narratives.

The songs are across a range of styles, but the musical settings are firmly rooted in the early seventies; the lively JJ Cale cover “Bring it Back”, a story about bringing contraband across the Mexican border which probably won’t be released as a single in the current climate, is part “Spirit in the Sky” and part Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together”. It’s raucous and great fun.

Without sounding derivative, the album is infused with seventies references. The opening song “Red City River” hints at Dylan and The Band, “Cut my Teeth” is country-rock and “Pills” is pedal steel-laced country about the twisted logic of assuming that pills are better than alcohol because ‘Pretty  few songwriting people they take pills’. There are a few songwriting twists, “Saturday Night” is a laid-back, rather than lively take on the party night and “Grandma” is a tribute that celebrates a real life without sanitising it.

And that leaves a couple very interesting songs indeed. “Tecumseh” is a love song with a twist; where a man builds a relationship with the sister he murdered, and the closing song “Utumbo” which recreates a spacey retro synth mix of Pink Floyd and The Animals. It’s quite a way to close out an album that moves easily between retro styles with songs that have a strong autobiographical feel.

“Night Thief” is released on Friday March 10 and Levi Cuss will be touring the UK later in the year.

Willow Springs ScrollerIt’s only a few weeks since I was raving about the latest album from Michael McDermott’s band The Westies and he’s now releasing an album under his own name using most of the same musicians that played on The Westies album. Let me just cut straight to the chase here and say that “Willow Springs” is every bit as good as “Six on the Out”. It’s packed with powerful songs and creative but unfussy playing from Heather Horton, Will Kimbrough and John Deaderick; it’s every bit as powerful as “Six on the Out”, but “Willow Springs” is a very different musical approach to similar themes.

The album has a more intimate feel than the companion piece by The Westies; the album credits don’t list a drummer and although “Let A Little Light In” has all the punch of a mid-eighties Springsteen anthem, it’s not typical of the album. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle and harmonica, but also some subversive touches like adding synth pads to fill out the sound. There’s a desire not to be stereotyped and packaged, which is explicit in “Folksinger” particularly.

“Willow Springs” is, more than anything else, a deeply personal album, springing from a turbulent period around the death of Michael McDermott’s father. There are references to his heritage on “Six on the Out”, but here it’s right out in the open. “Shadow in the Window” is a painful look at the death of a parent and the soul-searching that follows in its wake. The song ends with the keening repetition of ‘I Love you’ gradually fading and slowing before “Willie Rain” opens with the spoken ‘I love you Daddy’ leading in to a relentlessly upbeat stringband arrangement of a song about his daughter. Placing the two songs together demonstrates the circle of life and the ultimately uplifting feel of the album. There are sombre tales, plumbing the depths of addiction (“Butterfly”) and small-time larceny (“Getaway Car”), but the final two songs of the album both look to the future with optimism.

It’s almost inevitable that Michael McDermott will be compared with Dylan, Springsteen and others; maybe that’s flattering but it’s not the whole picture. When he writes, sometimes in a very matter-of-fact way about gangsters, prison and drugs, you know it’s coming from first-hand experience. “Willow Springs” is the sound of that experience being processed and used up before moving on to the next stage; it never sounds less than authentic. Maybe the time has come for the next American songwriter.

“Willow Springs” is released on Friday July 22nd 2016 on Pauper Sky Records. Michael McDermott will be touring the UK later this year.

And if you won’t take my word for it, have a look at the video for the title track:

The Westies - 'Six On The Out' - cover (300dpi)It might be a bit premature to say this in May, but “Six on the Out” is already a strong candidate for my album of the year. Michael McDermott’s dark urban poetry of the dispossessed, the dying and the damned is big and ambitious piece of work. The characters that inhabit the songs live in a twilight zone where ‘The flawed and the favoured, the outlaws, the saviours, all work both sides of the line’ and there’s always a risk of paying with your liberty or your life. There are elements of autobiography, but they’re used as jumping-off points to create alternative pasts and futures where single decisions change the course of many lives. It’s harrowing and the pathos is almost unbearable at times; it’s the work of someone who’s been there and lived to tell the tale.

If you want to know where he’s been, have a look at the bio page on his website and you’ll start to get some idea. The core of The Westies is Michael McDermott and his wife Heather Horton, who plays fiddle and takes the lead vocal on the beautiful, sixties-sounding, “Like You Used To” which is immediately answered by McDermott’s exhilarating, Dylan-channelling “Everything is All I Want for You”. Along with the folky ballad “Henry McCarty”, McDermott’s take on the Billy the Kid story, the three songs in the middle of the album are an interlude offering a contrast with the despair of opening and closing songs.

The album opens with “If I Had a Gun”; subtly menacing acoustic and slide guitars create a brooding atmosphere for the first of several takes on the prisoner returning to society (“Parolee”, “Once Upon a Time”, “This I Know” and “Sirens” all explore different aspects of the same theme). It sets the tone for the album; you can deal with it, but you have to make the right choices. It’s only on the album’s bleak closer “Sirens” that McDermott allows the despair to triumph, but it’s only one of the possible outcomes of life in the margins; you can choose but the consequences are with you forever.

The musical stylings range from the full-band sound of “Pauper’s Sky” and “Santa Fe”, with drums and pounding bass evoking eighties American rock, to the lilting Celtic folk of the waltz-time “The Gang’s All Here” and the dovetail perfectly with the lyrical themes. Michael McDermott’s influences illuminate the album but he’s taken those and his own experiences to create a powerful piece of work that tells of desperate times and people without either condemning or praising. It’s not comfortable, and you’ll feel wrung out by the time “Sirens” ends but you’ll want to hear it again.

“Six on the Out” is released on June 3rd 2016 on Pauper Sky Records.

Michael McDermott will touring in the UK later in the year.

Home Sweet Hotel ScrollerAmelia White is from East Nashville. As Sam Lewis explained recently at Green Note, the distinction between downtown Nashville and East Nashville is one that means less and less the further you get away from Nashville, but it’s an important one. Downtown is the centre of the country establishment and East Nashville’s the edgy, hip satellite where you’re likely to hear something a bit out of the ordinary and “Home Sweet Hotel” certainly isn’t what you would call mainstream country. There’s a bit of a harder rock edge to most of the songs with a bit of overdriven guitar and some nice double lead guitar arrangements to spice the mix up.

The opening song “Dangerous Angel” is the first clue that this is a long way from mainstream country; there’s a slight emphasis on the offbeat which isn’t quite reggae, but it’s certainly leaning in that direction. From here on the album moves through a variety of musical stylings, including the uptempo country rock of “Leaving in my Blood” through the early Dylan feel of “Dogs Bark” to the slow sixties feel of “Right Back to my Arms” and “Six Feet Down” which close the album.

The lyrical theme running through the album is the performer moving along from town to town and it’s one that’s fairly common in current Americana. There’s no romance to being on the road, it’s just a succession of cheap motels and long drives and Amelia highlights this, and the longing to be back among family and friends (and with a lover). Her lyrical style is succinct; songs that seem to be densely packed with lyrics when you hear them turn out to be just a few lines long when you see them on the page. “Dogs Bark”, a warning against shooting your mouth off is a great example; it rattles along like some early multi-versed Dylan epic, but it’s really just a few very well-written lines (and some advice that Elvis Costello should have taken a long time ago).

Amelia sees herself as a songwriter first and performer second, and the craft in the construction of the songs is evident; there isn’t a word wasted and the lyrics are matched by the musical settings. And the East Nashville thing isn’t just about living there; Amelia creates a sense of place with references in “Rainbow over the Eastside” and the line ‘Hanging at The Family Wash’ from “Melissa”. It’s not just a place, it’s a way of life.

“Home Sweet Hotel” is out now on White-Wolf Records.

Shaky Path to ArcadiaEvery time I hear some delusional, no-talent wannabe on a TV talent show (not often, I admit) it should make me despair for music in the twenty-first century. The reason it doesn’t is that I know about people like Phil Burdett, a genuine visionary who’s about as far as it’s possible to get from the epicentre of what masquerades as the music business today. When I interviewed Phil about eighteen months ago in downtown Leigh-on-Sea, he told me that he was working an album to follow “Dunfearing and the West Country High” as the second part of the “Secular Mystic Trilogy”. Not only that but he was also working on another trilogy that would begin with “Humble Ardour Refrains”. So, on a budget of threepence-halfpenny and some lollipop sticks, he’s recorded two albums for Drumfire Records with some fabulous musicians from the Southend and Canvey area (more about the musicians later) and he’s releasing both of them at the same time.

“Shaky Path to Arcadia” carries on where its predecessor left off, looking west towards the USA from Cornwall, but it’s a metaphorical and musical destination and it’s not the only direction the album goes in, geographically or temporally, before returning to Cornwall to complete the cycle. Without slipping in to ‘sixth-form-literary-criticism’ mode, I’m going to say that there’s a lot going on lyrically and the deeper you dig, the more precious stones you’ll unearth. The lyrics are strewn with references to American music and culture; there’s no mistaking the reference point for “Christmas in Casablanca”, but elsewhere there are references to Joe Hill, Billie Holiday, Dylan, Little Richard and many, many more. There are Dadaist references, travel references (trains, boats and buses and almost a plane) and if you look really closely, a lot of references to Basildon. There’s a lot of autobiography in there, but you need to know where and how to look.

Even without the lyrical content, you could listen to the album and be enthralled by Phil’s rich, powerful vocals and the performances of the band over a wide range of styles. From the mainly acoustic opening song, “Returning to Earth” to the counterpoint vocals in the coda of the album’s closer “I Dreamed I Saw Carl Wilson Last Night”, the band sounds superb. It’s ensemble playing at its finest; particularly on “Hellbound & Innocent” where a melodic bass line from Russ Strothard, an insanely catchy clipped John Bennett guitar hook and Jack Corder’s drums recreate the clickety-clack of the train on the track to perfection. Dee Hunter’s piano is the perfect foil for Phil’s voice on the haunting “Christmas in Casablanca” while Steve Stott’s fiddle on “Come Out Without a Hat (It’s Bound to Rain)” and “New Greyhound Rag” give an authentic country/bluegrass feel to the songs. And let’s not forget Colleen McCarthy’s lovely backing vocals and producer Mark Elliott’s esoteric samples.

“Shaky Path to Arcadia” is an example of how good an album can be when it’s put together by people who love what they do and they do it very, very well. Put the players together with another superb set of songs from the polymath poet of Westcliff-on-Sea and you’ve got a very fine album indeed. Any proper record collection should have some Phil Burdett in it and this is as good a place as any to start. “Humble Ardour Refrains” coming soon.

“Shaky Path to Arcadia” and “Humble Ardour Refrains” are both available to pre-order now from Drumfire Records.