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:

 

We’ve been keeping Allan really busy this year forcing him to go and listen to loads of live music and take pictures of musicians. We really don’t know why he puts up with it. To show how grateful he is, he’s put together a highlights package of his favourite gigs this yeqr, in no particular order. We think it’s a sneaky way of shoehorning more of his photos in.

Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro at Camden Forge – I’ve seen Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro before. They’re stunningly good individually, but more so as a team; the two voices, Daniel’s upright bass and Martin’s acoustic guitar and Weissenborn are a perfect combination. Even the verbal sparring between songs adds to the entertainment. As an added bonus, The Forge has a gallery overlooking the stage that they allow polite photographers to use, which gives a unique view of instruments played on the lap. The two sets flew by as the moved seamlessly from originals like “Winter Coat” to energetic covers like “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” and Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus”. I knew it was special when I looked at my gig-buddy Paul and saw him staring in awe during one of Martin’s solos – he’s not easily impressed and that’s high praise indeed. Great songs and great performances.

Martin Harley

 

Hannah Aldridge and Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band @What’s Cookin’ – It’s an interesting venue in a room above a working men’s club in Leytonstone, but it’s only a bus ride away from home, so it’s a no-brainer. Now, I take every opportunity to see Hannah Aldridge. She’s a gifted songwriter with a powerful Southern rock voice and she’s someone I love to photograph because she has a different visual image every time. The night looked even better when I discovered that the headliners hadn’t turned up and the short-notice replacement was Dana Immanuel. Hannah did a great job, picking songs from her latest album “Gold Rush” and a few old favourites to win over the crowd and even managed to fit in a bit of audience participation during “Burning Down Birmingham” and then it was time for Dana Immanuel. The instrumentation of the all-female line-up gives a hint of the eclecticism to come – cajon, electric guitar, banjo, fiddle and upright bass. It’s part country, part klezmer, part pop, part rock – you name it. Dana’s own songs have a very original voice and she doesn’t mind throwing in a cover or two including a mad closing version of “Viva Las Vegas” and “Chocolate Jesus” (again). The band was so good, I booked them to play at my birthday party.

Hannah Aldridge

Michael McDermott & Heather Horton @Water Rats – You can find Michael McDermott’s history online; it’s worth reading because it gives some clues about the origins of his most recent songs. The two albums he released in 2016 are superb, one focussing on prison, addiction and the road to recovery, the other dealing more with life in the present as a sober father and husband. I’d seen Michael before playing a solo show, but this was great opportunity to see him with his wife Heather, who also did a support set. The addition of Heather’s vocals and fiddle to Michael’s vocals, piano and guitar added another dimension to the songs adding poignancy to “Shadow in the Window” energy to “Stolen Car” and joy and exuberance to “Willie Rain”. Michael’s a great songwriter in the mould of Dylan and Springsteen (with a bit of the Boss’s penchant for the wide screen) and working with Heather he creates a very intense performance. I’m guessing he’ll be back in the UK in 2018; you really should make the effort to see him.

Michael McDermott

Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough with Dean Owens @Green Note – A big night out for the Riot Squad, this one. Brigitte and Will are long-time songwriting partners and Dean and Will have collaborated on an album to be released in 2018. For fans of trivia and connections, Will also played on Michael McDermott’s Westies album “Six on the Out”. Dean played his usual excellent set with a little help from the headliners before Will and Brigitte did their thing. Will’s known as an extraordinary guitar player with a huge list of session credits, but he also has a great line in high harmonies – I’ve been lucky with the talented partnerships I’ve seen this year. The set featured mainly songs from the latest album and was a masterclass in understated delivery of great songs, particularly when they were joined by Dean for some beautiful three-part harmonies. Absolutely gorgeous.

Brigitte DeMeyer

Henrik Freischlader @The Borderline – This was the second time in a year I had seen Henrik, and it was very different. Earlier in the year it was as part of a trio playing some intense blues rock as a tribute to Gary Moore, this time it was as part of an eight-piece band out to have a good time, play a few originals, a lot of covers and generally take the focus away from Henrik by giving the whole band a little bit of the limelight. Every band member was either given an extended solo or featured vocal and a chance to show what they could really do, and they each grabbed it with both hands. It was one of those gigs where everyone, band and audience, could do nothing but grin all the way home. A pretty good result considering the band couldn’t get their gear truck into the load in, had to hire equipment locally and didn’t get a soundcheck. That’s how the pros deals with setbacks.

Editor’s note – Martin Harley has booked The Union Chapel to promote his own gig on Saturday March 10th. He’s taking a huge risk to play a venue he’s always wanted to play and we think he deserves some support. The Riot Squad will be there, we’re hoping you will too.