We loved Ags Connolly’s debut album here at Riot Towers. We’re partial to a bit of country (or Ameripolitan to be more accurate) and “How About Now” is a great album. For our High Fives feature, Ags shares his favourite recorded and live moments of 2014.

Sturgill SimpsonSturgill Simpson live at St Pancras Old Church, London.

It’s been a huge year for Sturgill, with coverage in every major newspaper and US TV show propelling him to the high end of cult status. This gig was before all that though, in front of 30-40 people in a tiny church. Sturgill played solo and his voice and guitar were laid gloriously bare. I met Sturgill twice later in the year, and he proclaimed this gig to be one of his favourites. I of course agreed.

 

John FullbrightJohn Fullbright – “Songs” album and live at St. Albans Church, Oxford.

I’ve been aware of John Fullbright since his Grammy-nominated debut “From the Ground Up”, and this follow-up has taken him to a higher level in my view. His songwriting is incredibly mature and rounded for someone so relatively young. He reminds me of Randy Newman which is about as good as it gets in my view. The show of his I caught in Oxford was one of the best gigs of any type that I’ve seen in years.

Home is Where the Hurt IsHome is Where the Hurt Is” album -- JP Harris and the Tough Choices

There are a reassuring number of genuine, authentic country acts emerging at the moment, and JP Harris is at the head of the pack, having released his first album in 2011. This follow up is a full-on honky-tonk gem which deserves a bigger audience. Not a dull moment.

 

Jack GrelleSteering Me Away” album -- Jack Grelle

On the subject of real country artists who deserve a wider audience, Jack Grelle from Missouri made a terrific album this year. Having previously made old-time country /folk albums, Jack has decided to go hillbilly and the results are superb. Even if this album wasn’t great it would be worth checking out for the unexpected saxophone on “Chase You ‘cross This Country” alone.

 Jason EadyDaylight and Dark” album -- Jason Eady

Earlier in the year I named this my favourite album of the first half of 2014. It’s a concept album in the vein of ‘Phases and Stages’, but it stands on its own two feet. Another artist who deserves wider acclaim, Jason Eady has been around for a while but I think this album will be considered his best work so far.

Product DetailsQuick bit of background for you; Tinlin is made up of Alex and Rolf Tinlin and Jake Carrack (son of Paul Carrack); they also get a bit of help on this album from Eleanor Tinlin (oboe and cor anglais) and Steph Bloor (cello).  The Tinlin brothers write the songs, play a variety of fretted string instruments (guitars and mandolins mainly) and sing (beautifully).  There’s also some tasteful electric piano here and there as well.

“Shade of the Shadows” is the second studio album and is a pretty good snapshot of Tinlin in 2012.   There are a lot of things I like about this album, but there are also a few things that I’m less certain about.  Let’s start with the positives.

The playing on the album is very impressive; lots of nice guitar finger-picking and interesting chords, all of which gives the album a bit of a 70s troubadour feel.  After the opener “Do I Deny”, which is fragment from the closer “After the Rain”, “In These Arms” is reminiscent of Al Stewart at his least pretentious, making effective use of a cello to provide some extra bottom end and counterpoint to the melody.  “Steal” immediately reminded me of the quieter side of Extreme (anyone remember them?); lovely guitar work, melodic and with beautiful harmonies.

Play the Game” demonstrates the brothers playing at their best  with an intricate guitar and mandolin arrangement and perfect harmonies, while “Find a Way” is the most uptempo song on the album, the guitar chords creating a jazzy feel  in the intro and verses before a great chorus (complete with the usual harmonies).  “Haunted” opens with a typically understated, but very effective, keyboard riff which underpins the verse before another perfectly-harmonised chorus, and so the album goes on.

Northwest Light” is an acknowledgement of folkier, more traditional, influences in the instrumentation and lyrical themes (with just a little nod to Randy Newman) and is a delicate and fragile little gem.  The final track “After the Rain” includes the fragment “Do I Deny” from the beginning of the album as a coda to the song before a false ending leads to a “hidden” version of “Red Wine State of Mind” (imagine a polite acoustic version of “Mama Told me Not to Come”) which works surprisingly well; and another Randy Newman link for you.

I can’t criticise any of the playing or singing on the album; it’s all excellent and the songs are all well-crafted.  Lyrically, I would love to hear a move away from the traditional singer/songwriter themes of unrequited love, lost love and lack of worth; a bit less diffidence and a bit more bite would work better for me.  While the arrangements are always interesting, there might be a case for simplifying some of them and substituting a bit of attack for subtlety at times.  As a great example of effective interpretation of a Tinlin song, Paul Carrack’s version of “Make it Right” on “Good Feeling” is perfect.  He simplifies the riff to create a vaguely sinister feel while giving the vocal a soul interpretation and creating a cover which more than holds its own in a collection of great songs by great writers.

It’s understandable that Alex and Rolf want to play to their strengths and on “Shade of the Shadows” they have produced a really good set of songs played and arranged well but I’m sure we haven’t heard the best of Tinlin yet.