I’ve seen Hannah around at various events over the last couple of years, but somehow managed to avoid hearing her songs or seeing her play live. I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to put that right this year. I loved her latest single “Chanel and Cigarettes” and managed to find the beautiful song “1954” as well. Late to the party, but I’m making the most of it now I’m here. Anyway, after finally meeting Hannah for the first time a few weeks ago, I invited her to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives. I’m well chuffed that she agreed – Allan.

Amelia White

East Nashville based singer songwriter Amelia White’s music is, without question, my favourite discovery of 2017. Her album Rhythm of the Rain is one of those gems that you’ll find yourself playing over and over again, finding new diamond moments with each listen.

For me, she brings together all of the best elements of Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams and Martha Wainwright, but very much has her own style. I had the pleasure of seeing her live twice this year on her UK tour. She is the real deal, authentic, talented and gracious with an effortless rock star quality that is rarely seen these days. I’ve since fallen in love with Rhythm of the Rain’s predecessor Home Sweet Hotel and am very much looking forward to delving further into her back catalogue

Loud Mountains

Oxford based ‘Loud Mountains’ were the highlight of Truck festival this year for me. They deservedly played on the main stage which I unfortunately missed, but luckily caught their second set at the Saloon stage the following day. The atmosphere during their set at the Saloon was absolutely electric – jam packed with fans as their infectious hooks and perfect harmonies reinforced by their rocking band shook the walls. The best live act I’ve seen this year without doubt

Newton Country

I am very, very excited by Bath based 3 piece band Newton Country, I had the pleasure of playing the same bill as them back in March at The Golden Lion in Bristol and they are just lovely people and extremely talented. With their fresh energetic vibe, lead singer Roisin’s Neko Case-esque vocals and thoughtfully crafted songs they are ones to watch for sure in 2018.

James Hodder

I first heard James Hodder perform back in February when we both played the Resonance FM fundraiser at Aces and Eights, I was completely blown away and I admit I was ashamed that I had not heard him perform before. Having known James for a couple of years  (the presenter of ‘Tin Can Hodder’  – a fabulous radio show on London’s ‘Resonance FM’)  as someone who champions roots music and musicians, and is particularly supportive of us struggling indie musos it is wonderful to see him gain much deserved attention for his own music. Velvety vocals, carefully crafted songs with intelligent and moving lyrics- in my opinion, he is the UK’s answer to Jason Isbell.

Society

Crawley based ‘Society’ were my highlight of this year’s inaugural ‘Rambling Roots Revue’ festival in April which was an absolutely fantastic three day festival in Buckinghamshire choc full of the finest acts in the Americana scene. Society (Matt Wise, Fin Scott Kenny, Thomas Collison and Ben Lancaster) were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing the most and they did not disappoint. Their perfect close three part harmonies, Matt Wise’s gravelly vocals and storytelling, the musical calibre of every band member (including a singing drummer!) and the chemistry between them all made for one of the most exciting and enjoyable performances I’ve seen this year.

Phil PenmanPhil Penman is the MD of the independent label, Drumfire Records, and all-round good bloke with years of experience in the music business. We were really pleased that he was able to contribute to this year’s High Fives and we’re happy to say that he’s going to double Drumfire’s 2015 output very early in 2016; we’ll be bringing you some news about that in the very near future. It’s just possible that Phil Burdett could be involved.

 

 

Into the SeaAlbum of the Year (aka I Love My Label)

In the literal sense Dean Owens’Into the Sea” was my album of the year because it was the one and only release on my label Drumfire Records. It occupied my time, endeavour and thoughts for much of the time, but most importantly of all, it is indeed a great album – Dean’s best to date – and due to his indefatigable manager Morag Neil and my own efforts as well as Dean’s, he’s had a really good year, including supporting Rosanne Cash at London’s Union Chapel, a Bob Harris Country session, 3 consecutive BBC Radio Scotland playlists, and now deserved appearances in a slew of end-of-year best-of lists.

 DartsI Love My Job Sometimes

Last year in this category I talked about how proud I was of my work on the first box set by The Sound. Volume 2 followed and was equally brilliant. I worked on a number of special projects, but the one I would call a labour of love is the 6 CD boxset “The Complete Collection” by my wonderful friends Darts. I managed to bring together all their released recordings for Magnet Records, alongside their self-released Choice Cuts records, and dozens of unreleased studio recordings. Huge Fun.

Sleaford ModsKeeping The Fires Burning (aka One That Nearly Got Away)

Every year I trawl around trying to hear something new; something different; something exciting; something challenging. I am always dismayed by the endless stream of predictability and mediocrity in so-called ‘new’ music. I had resisted listening to this band, convinced by their name, image, and hype, that I wouldn’t like them.  Controversial choice I’m sure, but when I finally stopped to listen to Sleaford Mods, I was hit in the face with the stark aggression, simplistic beats and total listenability.  Honourable mention here also to the folk band Stick in the Wheel for doing it their way.

 Hannah Rose PlattBright Young Thing

One nomination for this category of mine this year.  I met the lovely Hannah Rose Platt in 2014, and in 2015 she released her debut album “Portraits” and we were delighted to welcome her in Twickenham as support for a show we hosted with Martin Stephenson. Her album is well worth getting a copy of. Oh yes, and she also got married this year.

 

Death Cab for CutieReturn to Form

Several albums that I enjoyed this year were I thought not quite as good as previous releases:  John Grant, Jason Isbell, Ron Sexsmith, Patty Griffin – all very good but just a little disappointing. The one I saw as a return to form was Death Cab for Cutie’sKintsugi”.

 

The next contributor to 2015’s High Fives is on one of my favourite independent UK labels, Drumfire Records, along with Dean Owens and Phil Burdett. Ags Connolly has had a pretty good year as word has spread about his 2014 debut “How About Now” and he’s played just about everywhere. As Ags hasn’t said anything about this in his contribution, I’ll just mention that he supported Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal in Leeds earlier this year.

Doug SeegersDoug Seegers – Live at Southern Fried Festival, Perth, 1st August

I’d already been enjoying Doug’s album “Down to The River’” so I was glad to see his UK debut would be at Southern Fried, a few hours after my set opening for Dean Owens. Doug’s live show was, in my view, even better than his star-heavy, Nashville-produced album. An interesting line-up of bass, drums and fiddle behind vocal and guitar gave a surprisingly big sound and Doug’s vocals were excellent. Doug is absolutely huge in Sweden and I tried to persuade him and the band to try the rest of the UK soon. Let’s hope they do.

J1545closed_GLUEohn Moreland – “High On Tulsa Heat”

I’ve been aware of John Moreland since his album “In the Throes” began to bubble under in 2013. He is easily one of the best new songwriters I’ve heard in years. I was excited to hear his new effort, “High on Tulsa Heat” and it didn’t disappoint. It’s filled with strong melodies and excellent lyrics. I do think his previous album was marginally better, but that’s a bit like comparing a massive box of sweets with another massive box of sweets. Looking forward to seeing John open for Jason Isbell over here in January.

Grand Ole OpryGrand Ole Opry show, 27th February

In February I made my first trip to the Grand Ole Opry and I picked a pretty good date. A country radio seminar was keeping a lot of the more modern acts busy that week so we were treated to a show including older legends such as Ralph Stanley, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, John Conlee, Bill Anderson, The Oak Ridge Boys and Jim Lauderdale. It was a very enjoyable experience and showed, reassuringly, that country music as we used to know it is still alive in some corners of Nashville.

Justin TrevinoJustin Trevino – “Sings Johnny Bush

If you put a gun to my head and asked me to name the best traditional country singer alive today I’d say Justin Trevino. I’d probably say it without the gun, to be honest. This new album of him singing songs he learned from his hero, Texas legend Johnny Bush, is possibly his best. The opening track is the self-penned “One Night at a Johnny Bush Dance” and it fits perfectly with classics like “Whiskey River”. Trevino is about as staunchly traditional as you can get, and this album is one of my favourites this year.

Jeremy Pinnell and Max FenderJeremy Pinnell and Max Fender – UK tour, October

This October I had the pleasure of hosting and playing two shows with Ohio/Kentucky artists Jeremy Pinnell and Max Fender (lead singer of the band Alone at 3am) on their UK and Europe tour. I was already a fan of both guys but seeing them live was special. Jeremy reminded me of Guy Clark while Max was somewhere between Jon Dee Graham and REM. Both deserve a wider audience and I hope they make it back soon: credit to their road manager and label owner Mike Montgomery for getting them over here this time.