There’s no denying the musical lineage of “Mercury Transit”. The melodic style and chiming guitars go all the way back to the Merseybeat scene of the early sixties and the songs have more than their fair share of the sus4 and sus2 chords that characterise that particular era. Taylor Young certainly isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last to be influenced by this purple patch in British pop history; the thread runs through the work of The Byrds, Alex Chilton, Flaming Groovies, Tom Petty, The Pretenders, The La’s and Teenage Fanclub and probably many more. Taylor’s in pretty good company there.

It looks like a step change from Taylor Young’s previous incarnations as drummer in the psychedelic band Hi-Fi Drowning and singer in folk-rock duo, The O’s but, in reality, it’s more of a combination of the two sets of influences with the addition of great harmonies and melodic bass lines to create a new style of twenty-first century power pop. You won’t find any penetrating political insights here, but you will find ten uplifting country-inflected pop songs built around traditional pop themes – love, loss, and drinking, of course.

The album starts with a statement of intent. “Get Around” opens with a La’s-style jangly guitar intro and packs a West Coast punch that doesn’t overstay its welcome at two minutes twenty. A bit like Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe a Word”; if you can pack everything into that time, why add any unnecessary embellishments. The following song, “Make You Wanna Stay” goes right back to the Merseybeat roots of jangle with a melodic bass line, nods to the Fab Four and a slightly hurried vocal delivery that’s typical of sixties UK pop.

Most songs on the album seem to be a hat-tip in the direction of a follower of the jangle-pop style. The optimistic “Five Cents” has a strong feel of James Honeyman Scott-era Pretenders, while “Rattled”, after a synth intro, is pure Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The album’s closing song “Drinkin’” bucks the trend slightly by sticking to a more country style while Taylor’s voice is pitched slightly lower as he tells the familiar tale of the drinker blaming everyone else for his woes while slipping in a reference to Garth Brooks as well.

This album has unashamedly retro influences while sounding very contemporary. If you’re going to wear your influences on your sleeve, the ones mentioned above are a pretty good set. If this album doesn’t make you feel good, I’ll eat my chapeau.

“Mercury Transit” is out now on Hand Drawn Records.

Here’s the video for “Rattled”:

Here’s a strange coincidence that brings a bit of musical history solidly back into the present. I had almost finished this piece and was in the process of editing, stepping away from and tweaking when I felt the need to go and photograph some live musicians again. On most Sundays during the summer months, you can catch some solo performers and duos at Eccleston Yards near Victoria Station in London. The gigs are organised by Talentbanq, a company that promotes unsigned musicians, mainly in small venues and you can usually find its hands-on CEO Ray Jones there as compere and sound engineer. The first performer on stage was Erin Bowman, from New Jersey via California, playing a mixture of classic rock interpretations and original material. I was hooked from the start by her laid-back acoustic version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”, but the last song in the set was the one that did it. In London, in 2021, Erin was doing her version of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind”, originally released in 1980. Never underestimate the staying power of a great song.

If you’ve been seriously into music for over fifty years, then you’ve had an artist (or a few) that got away. The ones you were convinced would be massive but didn’t make it at all, or only in certain territories. One of mine was Bob Seger, with or without The Silver Bullet Band. I knew he deserved be a UK Top 20 artist, but it took about twenty years to prove me right (sort of).

It’s been a long journey, but where did it start? Nottingham’s commercial station Radio Trent in 1974, I guess. I heard “Get Out of Denver” blasting out of a tiny radio speaker and I was hooked. No doubts, no second thoughts, this was the mutt’s. Was it a Chuck Berry rehash? Of course it was, but Chuck could never have written those lyrics and his laconic drawl wouldn’t have allowed him to fire and spit them out the way Bob Seger did. This was “Tulane” on steroids and I was hooked, although it would take a couple of years before I was finally reeled in.

Bob Seger spent years grinding round the Midwestern circuit building up a massive and loyal live following before first troubling the US singles charts in 1967 and 1968 respectively with “Heavy Music” and “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” which both went on to become huge live favourites. He was a classis seventies example of building up a live fanbase to help (eventually) sell records. During the period between ‘68 and ’75, his band went through personnel and name changes and moved from Capitol to Reprise and back again. Reprise had tried to break him through into the mainstream, even trying to break the UK, but they were only reaching musicians and the committed (“Get Out of Denver” was covered by Eddie and the Hot Rods and Dave Edmunds and “Rosalie” was covered by Thin Lizzy). So back to Capitol again.

What happened next was really interesting. The first Capitol album, “Beautiful Loser” was the blueprint for what was to come over the next ten years. It was a combination of up-tempo rockers (“Katmandu”) and slower, more nostalgic pieces (“Fine Memory” and “Momma”), the well-chosen cover (“Nutbush City Limits”) and the classic wistful mid-tempo pieces (“Beautiful Loser” and “Jody Girl”). Its peak chart position in the US was 131, but it went on to hit double platinum certification. It wasn’t perfect, but everyone involved knew that this was the template; more of the same would do very well indeed, but there was a way of building up a head of steam before the next studio album. The mid-70s was the era of the double live album; if you had a band that could reliably turn it on live and you put them in front of a friendly crowd you had an instant hit, so that’s what Capitol did.

“Live Bullet” was the clincher; a classic example of a live band at their peak. You got Bob Seger originals, including the classic-to-be “Turn the Page” (later covered by Metallica) and covers of “Nutbush City Limits” and “Let It Rock”. It went quintuple platinum in the US and now no-one was looking back. In the space of a year Bob Seger had arrived, at least in the US. It was always a mystery to me that no-one else in the UK seemed to get this but, with hindsight, it was just too American for the time. In 1975 Bob Seger stood a chance of being bracketed with the better bands breaking out from the pub rock scene, but was doomed in the UK after the insular and inward-looking punk explosion. It wasn’t stopping me; I grew up in a town where any sort of escape, to London or Detroit, was a good thing. And if I’m honest, the inner music snob in me likes to support an artist/band that no-one else has heard of.

As far as the North American continent (and later, Australia) were concerned, Bob Seger had made it. In the US alone, he sold over 30 million albums between 1975 and 1991, and that’s people who went to their local record shop and parted with cash for vinyl, cassette, eight track (remember that) and, towards the end, CD. The stars had aligned; the formula for the albums had been established with “Beautiful Loser”, the songwriting was perfectly honed, the production was superb (and don’t underestimate the importance of the backing vocalists from “Night Moves” onwards), Capitol was 100% behind the artist and The Silver Bullet Band was the perfect vehicle to go out and sell the songs to a live audience. Between 1975 and the peak, when “Against the Wind” hit Number One in the US album charts in 1980, Bob Seger could do no wrong in his home territory, Australia and big chunks of Europe, so why not the UK? Two obvious reasons.

The first one is about economics. Despite a reasonable amount of radio play, only the albums “Stranger in Town” and “Against the Wind” made any impact on the album charts and the singles did even worse. It was the wrong kind of music for the UK at that time despite being huge across the pond. It didn’t really make any economic sense for Capitol/EMI to invest huge amounts in touring the UK if it didn’t significantly add to record sales, and they were probably right. The Silver Bullet Band only played five gigs in Britain and I was at two of those; Glasgow Apollo (14/10/77) and Wembley Arena (21/11/1980). I’m slightly biased, but both were stunning gigs that were well-attended by wildly enthusiastic audiences and they were his first and last UK gigs. Unfortunately, you couldn’t break the UK market with five gigs. If you were counting the beans at Capitol/EMI, why would you invest any more in a territory like the UK when you could tour arenas in the USA and Canada promoting new albums and selling shedloads of merchandise. I understand that completely.

The second point is a bit more controversial, and more stalwart Bob Seger fans might want to stop reading now. I’m still a huge fan, but I couldn’t honestly say that there was one album that I wouldn’t want to skip an odd track on (with two exceptions, coming later). From 1975 onwards, Capitol/EMI were pitching Bob Seger at the traditional album market and they didn’t seem to see that the material wasn’t always even. “Night Moves”, “Stranger in Town” and “Against the Wind” had more than their fair share of classic songs, but they weren’t consistent or consistently excellent. You want reasons for that? Pressure to write brilliant new songs for albums every eighteen months while touring constantly, using the Silver Bullet Band for part of each album and The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section for the other part, or maybe just burnout. The albums had to keep appearing regularly to satisfy the public, whether they were perfect or not. After “Against the Wind”, sales started to slow and gaps between albums increased as Seger’s family life became more important. And that should have meant the last chance for UK success, but you never know, do you?

In the summer of 1996, I was in the Pub on the Pond in Swansea having lunch with my mate Bekky when I heard a familiar voice from the CD jukebox (remember them?). It was Bob Seger and I had to go over and check it out, because it wasn’t a song I’d heard him play. It was a storming cover of the Chuck Berry classic “C’est la Vie”/”You Never Can Tell” and the album was “Greatest Hits”, released in the UK in 1994 which sort of proved my theory that Bob Seger had a huge number of classic songs but they weren’t all on the same album. It reached Number 6 in the UK and also spawned the first UK Top 40 single with “We’ve Got Tonite”. It probably helped that the songs were all FM radio-friendly and continued to be played on pockets of UK radio long after their initial release. There was a certain irony that Brits nostalgic for the 70s were buying into an album that was packed with nostalgia for 1950s/60s America. It’s a near-perfect album and the UK marketing worked like a dream.

There was another Seger album I would happily listen to all the way through, and it was intended to be the swansong. “Ride Out” was released in 2014 and it would have been a fitting famous final scene; it’s a classic album that I would recommend to anyone. Only it wasn’t the final album; as a response to the death of his long-time friend from Detroit, Glenn Frey in 2016, he released one final album, “I Knew You When” as a tribute, in 2017. That was the second encore and Bob Seger had finally left the building.

As a long-time fan, it was a validation that he finally achieved success in the UK even if it was a little late. If the run of albums starting with “Night Moves” had started a year earlier or five years later, things might have been very different, but it won’t keep him awake at night – he sold over 75 million records worldwide, wrote songs that were covered by almost everyone (there are over sixty covers of “We’ve Got Tonite”) and finished his career on his own terms. He wrote classic songs that we could all relate to and, if “Against the Wind” isn’t played at my funeral, will you all please deal with the people responsible. If you already know his work, you’ll probably understand why I’ve written this; if not, you could do a lot worse than check him out anyway. Rock and roll never forgets.

We first reviewed one of Anna Laube’s albums in 2015. She’s grown since then; since her 2016 album “Tree”, she’s now Anna Elizabeth Laube and her latest album, “Annamania” is a compilation of songs from her four previous albums dating back to “Outta My Head” in 2006. The song choice is heavily skewed towards the newer material from “Anna Laube” (2015) and “Tree” (2016) and also includes three songs previously either not released or given a limited release, including Anna’s reimagining of Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On”. Apart from this, it’s originals all the way.

The Tom Petty cover is a great example of making a song your own. Tom Petty’s original sounds like, well, Tom Petty, but Anna gives it a different spin, creating a piano arrangement with a Rickie Lee Jones twist and adding French horn tracks for an even more distinctive feel. It’s perfect.

The album has the variety and pacing that you would find on any of the previous four albums as Anna demonstrates her instrumental versatility and ability to move effortlessly from a pure, unadorned vocal (as on the album’s opener “Sweet Boy from Minnesota”) to the rasping, lo-fi twelve-bar blues of “If You Build It”.

“Annamania” is a perfect showcase for Anna’s work. It demonstrates her multi-instrumentalism, her perfect voice and her ability to create memorable songs across a wide range of subjects, from the innocent love song that opens the album to the environmental message of its closer, “Tree”. Her geographical and musical wanderings have all contributed to the eclecticism of this and Anna’s four previous albums. There are hints of Rickie Lee Jones in the Tom Petty reworking and also in “Oh My! (Oh Me Oh Me Oh My)” a mid-tempo shuffle that evokes Rickie Lee’s “Danny’s All-Star Joint” from the eponymous first album. The achingly beautiful “Please Let it Rain in California Tonight” even has a nod in the direction of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” in the chords leading into the verse. There’s a lot to love about this album.

If you haven’t listened to any of Anna’s previous albums, “Annamania” is a pretty good place to start. The songs are strong and the album clearly shows Anna’s variety of vocal stylings, multi-instrumental skills and studio expertise. Anna Elizabeth Laube is a unique talent and “Annamania” is a perfect introduction.

“Annamania” is released to download and stream on Friday January 22nd.

It’s drizzling, freezing and absolutely miserable in the UK at the moment, so that would be the perfect time to listen to an album straight out of 1970s Laurel Canyon via 2020s British Columbia. There are more influences on the album than the Jackson Browne/Eagles/Linda Ronstadt coterie but the album still glows with sunshine of The Golden State, even though its creators Heather Read and Jonny Miller have fairly nebulous Californian connections but, hey, the first two Eagles albums were produced by Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London, while Peach & Quiet’s “Just Beyond the Shine” was put together with the help of producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson in Nashville, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. All of the songs are written by Heather, Jonny or both apart from the album’s closer, “Seven Daffodils”, written by Lee Hays and Fran Moseley.

The sun breaks through from the opening notes of the Byrds/Tom Petty-inflected opener, “Empty to Fill” and its poetic exploration of the contradictions and complexity of human beings. From there it’s almost constant Oakley and Ray-Ban stuff, with the exception of the slightly menacing Southern-influenced “Shoreline After A Storm” likening a bad relationship to a storm – they can both inflict terrible damage and leave a messy aftermath. There’s a little hint of “I Put A Spell on You” in there as well.

The songwriting is superb throughout, from the fairly straightforward love song “There’s A Very Good Chance” with its lovely Everlys harmonies to the more complex “Flowers”, which is based on the children’s book “Mr Cat and the Little Girl” which deals with love and loss which has a folky Byrds styling with a relatively complex arrangement that even features a bit of glockenspiel, courtesy of Steve Dawson.

There are themes running though the album; lyrically it’s all about love, whether it’s love for a partner who’s on stage every night (“Lucky in Love”) or for a place (“California Way”). The song arrangements are in the Eagles/Linda Ronstadt mode with layers of electric and acoustic guitars and some absolutely gorgeous harmonies, either as duets or as multi-tracked layers. There’s absolutely nothing out of place on this album.

And, as I finish this review, there’s no rain, and the sun is shining; that was pretty impressive work, guys. This album’s combination of superbly-crafted songs and subtle Laurel Canyon-era  arrangements is the perfect antidote to winter on either side of the Atlantic.

“Just Beyond the Shine” is released on January 15th 2012 on Peach & Quiet Music (P&QCD001).

Here’s the video for “Empty to Fill”:

 

This is the final album review of the strangest year I’ve had in a very, very long time. It’s quite unusual to release albums of original material in December; it’s normally a time for retrospectives, compilations and TV personalities singing Christmas songs. This year, however, all bets are off as the virus has closed so many doors while opening a few new ones. Musicians have been adapting to a rapidly-changing environment throughout this century, so what’s the big deal about a pandemic? Home studios have been with us for a long time and it’s routine now to share huge audio files online; you can make an album with dozens of musicians without ever meeting them.

The album “Mayone”, by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Steve Mayone, has a couple of reference points. The uncertainty generated by COVID 19 gave the Steve the impetus to get this album together, and the first Paul McCartney solo album “McCartney” (fifty years old this year) gave him the inspiration. The parallels between the two aren’t just around the experience of working alone in the studio alone as therapy; Steve has echoed the ebb and flow of Paul McCartney’s album, and some of the themes as well (more about that later).

The first listen to this album left two lasting impressions; that it was a guitar player’s album and that it had a very seventies feel. Before reading the press release, I felt that the album had the feel of a solo Beatles project (right) and that the solo Beatle was George Harrison (wrong). It’s definitely a guitar player’s album, though; there are multiple layers of acoustic and electric guitars throughout the album, with the additional spicing of mandolin, banjo, ukulele and lap steel. I’m sure one of Steve’s aims was to make people revisit “McCartney”; it worked in my case and I’m recommending it to you as well.

“Mayone” has thirteen tracks (as does “McCartney”) and mixes up instrumental soundscapes with some beautifully-crafted songs. The instrumentals are perfect little vignettes scattered across the album, starting with the finger-picked acoustic, “The Sweet Suzanne” referencing McCartney’s “The Lovely Linda” even down to the alliteration in the title; Steve Mayone is paying serious attention to detail here.

There’s a huge variety to the songs here, from the no-prisoners-taken rock of “Sweet Little Anchor”, hinting at Bob Seger and Tom Petty to the melancholy “Airport Goodbyes” and the archetypical Christmas song (with an ironic drunken stupor twist), “Happy Alcoholidays”. These are all great songs but the perfect McCartney match is still to come. “Stuff” is a takedown of consumerism on a personal and global level that moves McCartney’s “Junk” on by fifty years, but Steve takes it a stage further. The McCartney “Junk” appears in a vocal version on track six and as “Singalong Junk” (an instrumental) on track eleven; guess the track sequencing of the “Stuff” vocal and instrumental on Steve’s album?

Steve Mayone has created an album of material that’s totally original, while cleverly referencing and emulating McCartney’s “McCartney”. “Mayone” is a 2020 classic; let’s hope it lasts as long as “McCartney”.

“Mayone” is released in the UK on Friday December 18th on Mayone Music.

 

When we’re inviting people to contribute to our occasional features, there are two questions we ask. Do they have experience of the subject? Can they write about it in an interesting way? Ray Jones, CEO of Talentbanq , formerly Business Development Director at Time Out qualifies on both counts. He is passionate about live music and he knows how to write. It’s also fair to say that he’s seen a few gigs as well. So here’s what he came up with when we asked him to write about a memorable gig (and we certainly will be inviting him back):

 

“The Windshield Wipers Slapping Time” – it was pouring as we waited in line to board the ferry to the Isle of Wight. 

“I’ll take the 4×4” said my mate Bilko – and thank God he did. We were about to experience mud that made Glastonbury look a picnic. Fortunately we were also about to experience one of the best festival lineups of all times. The American Trilogy with nightly headliners – Tom Petty, Pearl Jam and The Boss.

With the ferry queue moving slowly – my 16 year old son CJ – heading for his first festival with dad, jumped out of the car with Bilko to get hot coffees.  “Forward” shouted the guy from P&O so I jumped into the front and drove onto the ferry – and sailed away – without them.

The first of many memories from that wonderfully soggy weekend. Cars were being towed INTO Car Parks – tents were afloat on a sea of mud and wellies were getting stuck in the quagmire. And yet in amongst the mud, the blood and the beer were the smiles of people soaking up GREAT music.  

Tom Petty on Friday night was a masterclass. The discomfort of rainwater trickling down our backs ignored as we took in the genius on stage.

I can’t remember when we saw Black Stone Cherry but they ripped it up, while the steamy wood-chip floor of The Big Top marquee seemed to be fermenting.

We met up with more friends. I have known Damian since we walked to primary school together. He and his wife were in one of those pre-sited Yurts. That’s the equivalent of The Ritz at IOW – and we did not let them forget it.

We partied quite hard to Madness on Saturday and Noel Gallagher was a fine warm-up on Sunday for what happened next – and that’s really what I had to share.

I’ve seen The Boss at Wembley, Hyde Park, The Olympic Park, Paris on the 4th of July and most memorably in his home state of New Jersey, but when he and the East Street Band walked out on stage at IOW2012 something magic happened.

The next three hours are a blur of singing, hugging, drinking, dancing and total admiration for a man and his band that delivered way beyond 100%.

We were exhausted when Mr Springsteen announced with a broad smile “We have a fucking boat to catch”

I have no idea if he made it because he broke into a massive, firework-festooned finale of “Twist and Shout” that had about 100,000 people partying in a way I had not seen at a festival before.

As we walked back to our tent my son said “Hey dad, this weekend has been the best thing I’ve ever done”

You can’t buy memories in Harrods! But you can make them at great festivals.

Thanks to wonderful people like John Giddings at Solo and Sarah Handy at Hard Rock I have many more memories of good times spent on the Isle of Wight, but those stories will have to wait. Maybe Music Riot will invite me back. 

And here’s a little bonus from The Boss:

 

 

It’s the first album review of 2020 and we’re gently easing our way into the new decade. “Ohbahoy” (the title is taken from the name of Miles’ imaginary childhood friend) is an example of how to create a varied and very listenable album full of hooks without ever having to resort to vocal or instrumental pyrotechnics. The building blocks of this album are very simple hooks and riffs; the clever thing is the way the jigsaw is put together to create something that’s much more than the sum of the parts.

 

You won’t get very far into the album before realising that Miles has another useful songwriting talent; he knows how to take an influence and turn it into something that sounds vaguely familiar without sounding like a complete steal. And it’s not a criticism. I have a huge admiration for the musical magpies of the world; the people like Jeff Lynne and, more recently, Guy Chambers who recognise the tiny snippet that makes something work and morph it into their own compositions. The album’s opening song, “Hands Up”, is naggingly familiar, suggesting a distant relationship to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra” (and Steve wasn’t above nicking a riff or two himself, “Rock ‘n’ Me” for starters). The trick with this game is to blend the influences into something completely new, which is exactly what Miles does. There are nods in the direction of many influences, Tom Petty (particularly in the uptempo rocker “Overpass”) and the Beatles jump out instantly, but there are undertones of The Cars, Steve Miller, ELO and probably many others.

There’s a lot to like about “Ohbahoy”. It’s a bunch of strong songs that’s interpreted by a band with enough talent and versatility to make four-part harmonies, twin guitar workouts and perfectly-judged horn parts sound like just another part of the day job. I have a sneaking suspicion that they might just be a bit tasty live as well.

“Ohbahoy” is out now in the UK.

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.

Twenty songs over a double CD (well, nineteen actually, one’s a bonus download); you’re never quite sure what message that sends. The official line is that some songs work with band arrangements, some are best as solo/duo arrangements and that’s the way they’ve been split. Personally, my response to studio double albums is one of wariness; could it have been better as a single? We’ll see.

The common theme across the two albums is obvious. It’s not just Texas, but the southern states and the mentality of small-town America. The melodies are good, Jeb Barry’s voice is striking, cracking with emotion at times, but the real power is in the lyrics. He knows how to tell a story and how create a memorable phrase, a lyrical hook that’s as potent as the melodic ones. In “El Paso Sucks”, there’s a reference to the woman being ‘sideways on champagne’ while “Southern Oak” (taking the opposite tack from the marvellous “Speedtrap Town”) makes the observation that ‘hell and high water make good roots’. And let’s not forget the observation from “Miss Mississippi” that ‘drunk and stupid’s no excuse’.

The playing on the album is all in the service of the songs. You won’t find any lengthy solos or massive riffs, everything’s there to get the message of the song over, whether it’s lovely harmonies or the good old sus4 to create a Byrds/Tom Petty feel on “If This Heart Had Walls”. There’s nothing to take a strong dislike to and there are plenty of strong songs. The download-only song “Speedtrap Town” is a real standout, warning of the literal and metaphorical dangers of straying away from the highway.

And that thing about double albums? Well, I’m still not convinced. I would love to hear a single album edit of this set of songs, but I wouldn’t want to fall out about it.

“texas, etc.” is released on April 27th on Dollyrocker Records (DR-2018-01).

This was the first album I listened to on January 1 2018. Kind of appropriate really; after hearing so much beered-up musical stodge over the festive period, this is the perfect aural January detox to accompany the real thing. The Wailin’ Jennys (Heather Masse, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody) have been together fifteen years (hence the title), but this is their first album in six years. It’s worth waiting for; it’s gorgeous. They interpret nine very different songs but the common thread running through all of them is those three fabulous voices and the heartbreakingly pure harmonies. It’s possible I might mention that again at some point.

Everything is built around creating a setting for those flawless voices to deliver interpretations that are technically and emotionally perfect. Generally speaking, the musicians have a fairly light touch throughout the album; this is all about putting those three voices straight upfront and centre. When full string band arrangements are used, they tend to build up in layers to push the song to a higher level, which works particularly well on the timely cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and the Jane Siberry song, “The Valley”. “Boulder to Birmingham”, Emmylou Harris and Bill Danoff’s plaintive elegy to Gram Parsons has a full band sound with some lovely two-guitar picking and percussive upright bass; none of it threatens to overwhelm the vocals.

For all the subtle and delicate playing, the a cappella or virtually a cappella material that really shines brightly. Paul Simon’s “Loves Me like a Rock” gets the handclap and fingerpop treatment, Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” begins with a solo vocal before the stunning harmonies join, but the best is saved till last. The album’s final song is an a cappella cover of Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues from Waitin’” which not only has the expected beautiful three-part harmonies but features some incredibly precise three-part glissando harmonies. I have honestly never heard that done with such precision.

So now you’re going to ask if I like it, yeah? What a great way to start the year. But you don’t have to take my word for it; a click on any of those song links will take you to Spotify where you can hear it for yourself.

“Fifteen” is released on True North Records on Friday January 5 2018.