You can’t deny that the last couple of years have been difficult times for musicians, but the creative impulse won’t be stifled. Artists will take the clay that’s available and use it to fashion their creations. The Trump years spawned many memorable albums, then musicians found different ways of working through a pandemic with very little personal interaction to help the process. Steve Dawson’s raw material for “At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree” came from a different place. Following a family tragedy, he took an extended sabbatical to decide whether he wanted to continue writing and performing. A songwriting retreat with Richard Thompson and Patty Griffin gave him the answer he needed and he found his clay (mainly) in his own personal experiences.

The album’s quite unusual in that it’s almost entirely the work of Steve Dawson; there are no co-writes or covers and only three other musicians make cameo appearances. Apart from Alton Smith’s piano on a couple of songs, Michael Miles’ banjo on “The Spaces In Between” and a Diane Christiansen vocal on “We Are Walking in a Forest”, every hook, lick and vocal is Steve Dawson. Quite apart from the instrumental versatility, showcases Steve’s vocal range from the easy, languid tenor into high falsetto. Steve’s voice evokes the classic American west coast country rock bands, sounding at times like Don Henley or Randy Meisner and there’s the occasional nod in the direction of Jackson Browne as the album pulls off the trick of sounding vaguely familiar while constantly introducing new ideas and sounds.

The settings for the songs are pretty laid-back, with nods towards sixties/seventies soul in “This Is All There Is”, psychedelia in “Beautiful Mathematics”, Crazy Horse in the title track and Jackson Browne on “Hard Time Friend”, which has a breakdown and restart two-thirds of the way through that feels a lot like the last section of JB’s “The Late Show” (one of Springsteen’s favourite recorded moments). The musical settings are incredibly varied, with some interesting keyboard instruments appearing (mellotron and dulcimer for a start), creating the perfect ambience for each of the songs.

The album could easily have been a fairly depressing experience, with songs about COVID deaths and forced positivity (“This Is All There Is”), dysfunctional families (“She Knew”) and the limitations of the forgiving gesture (“Forgiveness is Nothing Like I thought it Would Be”), but Steve leavens the mixture with the resoundingly upbeat “22 Rubber Bands”, a song about his love for his daughter, and “Hard Time Friend”, dedicated to his friend Diane Christiansen, celebrating the friends who are with us through times that are good or bad, happy or sad. There are two bonus CD and download songs which didn’t make the vinyl cut for reasons that have nothing to do with quality; “You’re Trying Too Hard”, which nails fake authenticity, and “However Long it Takes”, a reminder that we can always choose to see the good things in the world rather than the negativity which so often surrounds us.

Twelve tracks, fourteen if you buy the CD or download, and each one with an interesting arrangement and lyrics conveying ideas that are important to Steve Dawson, as they should be to all of us. It’s ironic to think that this bunch of songs were created by someone who had started to doubt his creative abilities.

“At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree” is released on Pravda Records (PR6419) on Friday July 16th.

Here’s the animated video for “22 Rubber Bands”:

Here’s a safe bet. I’m not going to hear anything even vaguely resembling “The Missing Star” this year; Lunatraktors blend of traditional folk instruments and influences with world percussion and even a Korg analogue synth. And nobody played guitar.

Lunatraktors are Carli Jefferson (vocals and percussion) and Clair Le Couteur (vocals with a four octave range, and harmonium, melodica, whistles, Korg Monologue and piano. On “The Missing Star” they’re joined briefly by producer Julian Whitfield on double bass, and Canterbury legend Geoffrey Richardson provides a string arrangement for a cover of the Leonard Cohen song “Lover, Lover, Lover”.

What’s unique about Lunatraktors is the fusion of what are very disparate musical elements to form a distinctive sound they call broken folk – traditional (mainly) English vocal ballad stylings are combined with complex and fractured rhythmic patterns created using a range of percussion instruments from various musical cultures, ambient samples, and augmented with some superb vocal harmonies. It’s a potent fusion and I’m willing to bet it makes for a stunning live performance.

The lyrics are a mixture of traditional, traditionally-inspired and original, dating from the beginnings of the folk tradition to stories of contemporary Britain. The theme linking the old and the new songs is a simple one: rebellion, whether it’s the cheap trickery of “The Exciseman”, sticking two fingers in the face of authority or the anti-establishment fury of the album’s opener, the harmonium drone-backed “Rigs of the Times”. The current government may have made satire redundant, but this song skewers the lying and the hypocrisy of the Brexit process and the handling of COVID perfectly, setting the tone for the album. The political and social anger runs through “The Missing Star”, which pulls together Conservative and Brexit party propaganda from 2020 to highlight the disdain the government shows for anyone daring to disagree with its policies, while “Unquiet Grave” takes aim at Employment Support Allowance, using the case of Elaine Christian, a woman in Hull who took her own life shortly before a medical appointment to assess her eligibility for benefits.

As for the non-political pieces, they range from traditional ballads like “The Blacksmith” and “Mirie It Is (Anemoia)”, an adaptation of the oldest known English folk song, to the experimentation of “Drone Code” (what it says on the tin, a Korg Monologue drone with Morse code singing bowl percussion) and “The Madness that Soothes” a HAPI tongue drum (not a drum played with the tongue) improvisation. So it should be no surprise when the album ends on a musical setting of lines from the first book of Ecclesiastes.

Lunatraktors have a unique vision, combining old and new, acoustic and electronic, and British and world music. Blend that with a searing critique of the current government and you have an album that you certainly can’t ignore.

“The Missing Star” is out now.

Here’s the video for “Rigs of the Times”:

My first proper exposure to the work of Kimberley Rew was when I reviewed the retrospective, “Sunshine Walkers”, in 2020. There’s a theme running through that collection and “Purple Kittens” as well; a celebration of Englishness. Not the populist, flag-waving, “Vindaloo”-singing Englishness. Not that at all. It’s real ale at a riverside pub with the sounds of a skittle alley and maybe a Morris side performing. That kind of Englishness; the kind that’s celebrated by songwriters like Roy Harper and Ray Davies. So it’s appropriate that the album’s opener is “Penny the Ragman”.

The song’s a tribute to Kimberley’s late cousin, Penny, who, among other things, looked after the uniforms for a Morris side (a position known as Ragman) and was inspired by conversations at her wake. It’s a pretty good companion piece for The Kinks’ “The Village Green Preservation Society” as a celebration of a vanishing lifestyle. However, there’s a lot more to “Purple Kittens” than nostalgia; both Kimberley Rew (guitars and vocals) and partner Lee Cave-Berry (bass and vocals) are natural songwriters in the Nick Lowe mould, creating great songs out of eternal themes or the most mundane events and situations, even out of one repeated phrase.

Which is exactly what “Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream” does. Against a spiky, punky riff, the only lyrics are the title (apart from a slight culinary diversion into rum and raisin) sung by both Kimberley and Lee, and a bass solo. It’s just a bit of fun, but it’s done really well. “Black Ribbon” is more serious; it’s a rocking tribute to Roger Smith, of the Cambridge band Jack, who died of COVID last year. It was written by his two grandsons (aged six and eight) the ribbon of the title isn’t a mourning accessory, it refers to the band he wore round his Panama hat.

The Soft Boys cover, “Kingdom of Love”, is progressive and psychedelic with Kimberley/Lee harmonies in the chorus that evoke Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, while Lee’s “Unsatisfactory Cats” is a whimsical Kirsty MacColl-tinted exploration of cat behaviour that cat owners/servants will identify with – I certainly did. “Wrong Song” uses the musician’s lot as a metaphor for our daily lives; live performance is a one-off thing and any mistakes are part of your history. You only get one try and you can’t fix it or remix it. There’s also a reference running through the song to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”. Finally, “Daytime Night Time”, which closes the album, runs through the mundane cycle of life, from birth to death, in under five minutes (and that includes extended guitar riffing referencing Chuck Berry and Francis Rossi). It’s a joyous celebration of life and rock ‘n’ roll music.

“Purple Kittens” won’t be troubling the national album charts, but that won’t keep Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry awake at night. They make albums and play live for the sheer joy of it; that’s what they do and that in itself is worth celebrating. “Purple Kittens” is twelve songs celebrating lives, ways of life and sometimes just cats and ice cream, created and crafted with skill and joy, and a real love for this country. I’ll take that, thank you very much.

“Purple Kittens” is out now on KL Recording (KKL016).

Here’s the video for “Wrong Song”:

It’s been a long time coming; after over twenty years of making music, Afton Wolfe has finally released a solo album. It’s worth waiting for. “Kings for Sale” is an album created by an artist with an intimate knowledge of the underside of the music business; its compromises, its failures and its occasional successes. This is an album of flawless songs (originals and interpretations) delivered in a rasping baritone over a wide variety of musical settings. The scope of the arrangements, the raw vocal and the subjects of the songs make the Tom Waits comparisons inevitable, but you can hear many other influences there, including a nod towards Greg Dulli’s solo soundscapes on “Cemetery Blues”.

There’s a lot happening instrumentally on “Kings for Sale”, although it’s more about atmosphere and ambience rather than a constant presence from the start to the finish of a song. Afton also uses speech samples and sound effects to create the perfect sonic settings, whether it’s spoken word intros or water flowing through a song. Everything’s there for a reason and nothing’s wasted. And this is probably the moment to get this out of the way; the unusual soundscapes and subject matter, and the rough-hewn baritone voice have more than a hint of Tom Waits. There, I’ve said it.

The album swings into action with a full band and horns on “Paper Piano”, a story of growing up poor and using imagination and creativity to deal with the poverty. It’s a great groove to catch the attention from the letter A and even has a Van Morrison-esque piano breakdown before the big finale. At the other end of the album is a song at the other end of the scale. “O’ Magnolia” is delivered in the style of a hymn by a church choir and is an exhortation to the state of Mississippi to change its flag to remove the old Confederate imagery and replace it with something more representative of the 21st century, namely the state flower, the magnolia*.

Between the opener and the closer, there’s a treasure trove of musical styles and lyrical themes from the slow country fiddle and pedal steel of “Carpenter”, using biblical imagery to tell a story of misunderstandings in crowded, alcohol-soaked rooms to the doom-laden grunge of B.W. Goodwin Jr’s “Cemetery Blues”. The lyrics are minimal, but the sonic treatment creates an atmosphere of menace and foreboding; it’s difficult and beautiful. A personal favourite, following on from “Cemetery Blues” is M.J. West’s “Mrs Ernst’s Piano”, a story of the tentative first steps on a journey to racial equality that’s still far from complete.

Nine songs and nothing resembling a damp squib; Afton Wolfe’s own songs and the carefully chosen interpretations combine to create a lovely blend of styles and lyrical themes. And there are a few thought-provoking references. The word ’cover’ appears twice, a reference to the compromises a musical innovator has to make to survive financially, while the opening line of the album, ‘Every good boy does a little bit better’ references the mnemonic used by educators to teach the notes on the treble stave. That’s the level of detail that you can pick out from these songs.

“Kings for Sale” is out now on Grandiflora Records. Here’s the video for “Dirty Girl”, a road trip down through Mississippi to New Orleans:

*The new Mississippi flag was officially adopted on January 11, and it looks like this:

It’s all worthwhile when you hear an album as good as this. Rachel Baiman has created a collection of ten songs with a range of Americana musical stylings that is intensely personal while also referencing current social and political issues in the USA (although the album was recorded in Australia). The other thing you’ll notice about the songs is that whether personal or political, they mainly address issues that directly affect women (Rachel herself, her sister, her sister-in-law and her grandmother). They aren’t all happy stories, but that’s the whole point; the various cycles of life have good and bad phases. The mid-tempo title song, with its distinctive layered vocal is a tragic and yet uplifting story of two generations of women from the same extended family binding together in mutual support to deal with a still-birth and then a difficult birth; it’s deeply moving.

The two overtly political songs sit side by side on the album. “Rust Belt Fields” is Rachel’s take on a Rod Picott/Slaid Cleaves song; the song’s ten years old, but still sounds relevant. The minimalist one-bar percussion loop creates the relentless feel of the automobile production line, lost forever to more cost-effective (exploitative) overseas territories. The song is a fatalistic acceptance of the corrosion of the Steel Belt to the Rust Belt and the unmourned loss of the jobs this entailed: ‘No-one remembers your name just for working hard’. “Wyoming Wildflowers” is a Rachel Baiman/Olivia Hally song that uses the theme of diverse colours in nature to skewer white supremacist views. The lyrics are set against a gentle country-rock arrangement and the message is emphasized by the repetition of the final two lines.

There are ten superb examples of the songwriter’s art on “Cycles” including another that pressed all of my buttons, “No Good Time for Dying”, which deals with watching someone you love suffer the indignities of a protracted death; it’s not pretty, but it’s the end of the cycle that starts with the opening song. The album’s final song, “The Distance”, tackles the way we habitually deal with recurring life situations in the same way because it’s easier than thinking about another way.

The Rachel Baiman/Olivia Hally musical arrangements and production on “Cycles” are deceptively simple while featuring ambient instrumental sounds and layers of vocals that always allow the songs plenty of room to breathe. There are hints at times of the vocal stylings of Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and even Rickie Lee Jones (on “No Good Time for Dying”) but the bottom line is very much Rachel Baiman, teasing out themes of family, work versus relationships, politics and even the “I Will Survive” sentiment of “Hope it Hurts”. This album is complex, sometimes painful and very rewarding.

“Cycles” is released in the UK on Signature Sounds Recordings (SIG-CD-2129 / SIG-LP-7038) on Friday June 11th. Here’s the video to “Joke’s On Me”:

SEO – search engine optimization; it’s a hugely important factor in having an online presence. This particular John Williams has spent a long (and hugely productive) time under the radar in the music business. Now he’s released an album under his own name and he has to compete with a world-renowned classical guitarist and an equally-renowned film soundtrack composer. John Williams of the John Williams Syndicate has plugged records, produced records and BBC sessions, headed up an A&R department and made his own records. So it’s about time to make a few calls to former clients, and a few new discoveries, and work on that solo project in the shed at the bottom of the garden.

There are a lot of things to admire about “Out of Darkness”; as you would expect, the quality of the playing is masterful and the standard of the arrangements and production is superb. As well as pulling in vocal contributions from Petula Clark and Claudia Brücken and a co-write with the legendary Iain Matthews, John also enlists upcoming singers Slicko DiCaprio, Amber Prothero and Isabella Coulstock for lead and backing vocals on the album. Which brings me to the only minor criticism I have; with so many different singers and varied musical stylings, it’s difficult to find a sense of musical cohesion across the album as a whole, although there is a theme of renewal, springing out from the penultimate song, “Nothing” which, unusually, has some lyrical popular culture references set against a seventies singer-songwriter arrangement (maybe a hint of Al Stewart) with a vocal that hints at Stephen ‘Tintin’ Duffy’s Lilac Time period. Everything else on the album is a consequence of this rebirth.

Picking out a few standout moments, “Spanish Song”, co-written with Adrian York, Isabella Coulstock and Slicko DiCaprio, is the most contemporary pop song on “Out of the Darkness” with a Latin tinge and some interesting Spanish/English counterpoint vocals. The album’s final song, “Don’t Give Up on Me”, also has a Latin feel; the lyrics are minimal, but the playing is outstanding with lots of mini solos, including a sax/trumpet counterpoint solo; it’s memorable. “You Got Me from Hello” is cool jazz with Latin rhythms in a Carlos Santana/Rob Thomas style, while the piano-led “Luminescent”, with programmed percussion, nods in the direction of early Kate Bush.

This album is a serious musical project from a serious player; even the packaging is lush, with a thirty-two page booklet containing credits, lyrics and some Tim Hobart abstract paintings. The contributions from the established musicians are predictably excellent, but it’s even more gratifying to hear emerging talents like Isabella Coulstock, Amber Prothero and Slicko DiCaprio taking the opportunity to shine.

“Out of Darkness” is out on Friday June 6th on Wulfrun Records (WULFRUN 1).

And just to give you a flavour of the album, here’s the lockdown video for “You Got Me From Hello”:

Suitcase Sam – a man with a deliberately cultivated air of mystery. Historical details are sketchy; even his website has him soaking up musical influences three years before he was born. What is clear is that a lot of soaking went on. There are musical elements on the ten songs on “Goodnight Riverdale Park” dating back to the 1920s and covering a wide variety of traditional American musical stylings. A couple of reservations here; this is a very American album and it also looks quite firmly back towards a bygone era. If both of those are your thing, then carry on reading.

In keeping with the retro stylings of the songs, the co-producer of the album, Walter Sobczak eschewed digital recording technology in favour of two and a half inch tape, creating a warmer and slightly rawer sound. More authentic, and that appears to be the main priority with “Goodnight Riverdale Park”.

The album runs through a variety of traditional American styles from the old country feel of “Friday Afternoon” and “Edge of Town” through the string band resonator-led instrumental “The Maple Leaf Stomp”, the Nashville country of “Morning Mail” (a story of waiting for news that never comes), the thirties ragtime feel of “Honey I Know” to the album’s closer, “Tattered Shoes”, a straight-ahead 12-bar blues that builds up to a slide-driven full rock band arrangement that ramps up the tempo for a big final chorus. The album’s opener “Growing Up” and “Frankie and Me” both nod in the direction of The Band with Southern Rock stylings. It’s an eclectic mix, moving effortlessly through styles and pulling in slightly unorthodox instruments such as alto sax, sousaphone, clarinet, piano and organ alongside the more usual string band, resonator, fiddle and pedal steel to provide for Sam’s Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams vocal stylings.

“Goodnight Riverdale Park” won’t be for everyone, but if your thing is authentic evocations of classic periods of American musical history, then give this a listen.

“Goodnight Riverdale Park” is released in the UK on Friday March 28th on Curve Music. Meanwhile, here’s the video for “Frankie and Me”:

Where do you start with an album like this? Probably with the straightforward stuff. Water Tower (formerly Water Tower Bucket Boys) is the creation of Kenny Feinstein trying to realise his artistic vision. If you take songs created in the bluegrass/string band tradition and throw punk and psychedelia into the mix, then you’re getting somewhere close to understanding this album. Just when you think you can see the shape of the curve, it veers off in a completely different direction. And if you’re interested in picking out influences, “Fly Around” is packed with them.

The first three songs wouldn’t sound out of place on any Americana album. “Fromage” is a traditional string band arrangement telling a story of busking in Paris and doing the Jim Morrison and Debussy tourist thing. “Fly Around” is a spirited piece of ensemble playing reworking a traditional tune, while “Bobcats” is a country/rock waltz featuring fiddles and Beach Boys harmonies. And then there’s a seismic shift.

“Come Down Easy” (a Spacemen 3 cover referencing 1987, Kenny Feinstein’s birth year) still has the fiddles and the harmonies but that’s where the resemblance ends. The rhythmic pulse pounds relentlessly through the wall of sound arrangement as a burbling synth line cuts through the murk and drawled vocals. Is it about drugs? Of course it is, it was co-written by Jason Pierce. After the brief interlude of “Town”, another gentle piece of country rock with a bit of synth, on the theme of moving on, the album goes stratospheric; literally. “Mile High Club” sounds a bit like a Steve Miller intro; Shags Chamberlain plays an analogue synth instrumental evoking the flight from Portland to LA that also features some audio samples of announcements from LAX. It’s a complete curveball, but it makes the following song, “Classic Misdirection” seem less incongruous. It’s a rock song that sets out to pack in as many musical and lyrical clichés as possible in just over three minutes and succeeds effortlessly. I’m not going to spoil the fun for you; just enjoy the cliché treasure hunt.

“Fly Abound” is reworking of the earlier “Fly Around” with new words and melody, while the uptempo string band arrangement of “It’s Wrong”, with its harmonies and mandolin solos describes that all-too-familiar feeling of knowing that something’s wrong, but doing it anyway. Which takes us nicely into the closer “Anthem”. The opening guitar chord has more than a hint of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” before the song erupts into furious folk-punk romp that pulls in elements from the rest of the album for a grandstand finish. The song may be about giving up drugs or starting the cycle again; it definitely leads us back to the beginning of the album, where the cycle starts all over again.

“Fly Around” is a genre-bending smorgasbord of musical and lyrical styles that constantly surprises on its journey from cultural exploration and drug abuse through relocation and back to the beginning of the cycle. You won’t be bored.

“Fly Around” is released in the UK on May 21st on Dutch Records (DUTCH016-2).

The pandemic may have decimated the live music scene around the world but it’s shown the resilience and adaptability of musicians and other creatives as they found new ways of working and recording that didn’t necessarily involve being in the same room or even on the same continent. Annie Keating’s eighth studio album, “Bristol County Tides” is a product of the pandemic, weaving together threads of the experience such as displacement, new places and relationships, and the importance of taking the positives whenever we can get them. There are a lot of very personal songs on the album, but it has its lighter moments as well.

The album opens with “Third Street”, introducing the small Massachusetts town where Annie moved to ride out the pandemic, and some of its characters. It’s laid-back country rock with some over-driven guitar fills, nice slide and a slightly raw vocal creating the ambience for the (mostly) intensely personal songs that follow, and introducing some of the local characters. “Hank’s Saloon” is in a similar vein, a waltz that celebrates escape from the everyday grind with beer, songs and friends, and builds up to a singalong finish with the same dynamic as a session in your favourite bar. Apart from the mid-tempo rock of “Lucky 13”, using gambling as a metaphor for life, the remainder of the album is intensely personal songs about the life in the time of a pandemic. This could be a depressing experience but, like many of us, Annie has managed to find some positives, creating songs that tease out some of the happier experiences of a short-time exile.

“Bristol County Tides” is a long album. There are fifteen songs telling the story of an involuntary exile, starting with the scene-setter “Third Street” and working through to the valedictory “Bittersweet”, “Shades of Blue” and “Goodbye”. “Bittersweet” sums up the tone of the album as the keening pedal steel emphasises the melancholy of parting from a place and people that have offered sanctuary while returning to a new normal. Another standout is “Doris”, a celebration of Annie’s mum and also a celebration of the immigration that made the USA the country it is. It’s also a beautiful tribute.

The remaining songs are beautifully-crafted expositions of aspects of pandemic life. “Kindred Spirit” is about the experience of finding a soul-mate, “Marigold” symbolises rebirth and renewal and “Nobody Knows” urges us to seize the day and appreciate the good things we have. There’s also a navigational theme running through the album with “Blue Moon Tide”, “Half Mast” and “High Tide” all alluding to piloting a way through the crisis. And absolutely no filler.

Annie Keating has produced a work that encapsulates her experience of the last year and it should ring true for most of us. The songs are well-constructed and the arrangements and musicians give each song the support and the space that they need to shine. Enough said.

“Bristol County Tides” is out now.

Here’s the video for “Marigold”:

One thing you can guarantee with a Bob Malone album, it will be packed with musical talent. That starts with Bob Malone himself playing acoustic and electric pianos, organ, synth, glockenspiel, stomp box and tambourine; and he’s a pretty good singer in a raw rock/blues style. He’s classically trained, an accomplished writer and arranger and he has a day job (when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic) as keyboard player, accordionist and unwitting pyrotechnics target with John Fogerty’s live band. His solo work reflects his varied musical background, pulling in elements from classical, soul, blues, rock, funk and jazz into a glorious fusion that’s pure Bob Malone.

“Good People”, in common with a lot of recent releases is at least partly a lockdown project put together from recordings at various studios and has a couple of lyrical themes running through it; gratitude for the things that have seen us through the pandemic and a sense of loss for friends and family that didn’t make it through, for whatever reason. The latter theme is particularly important on “Good People”; Lavonne Barnett-Seetal of The Malonettes backing vocal team died in December 2020. Her stunning voice lives on and “Good People” is a fitting tribute.

There are eight original songs on “Good People” and three non-originals; I’m wary of using the word ‘cover’ after a conversation with the wonderful Galician finger-style guitarist, Iago Banet, who makes a powerful case for using the word arrangements instead. Either arrangements or interpretations would be more accurate for the three non-originals on “Good People”. The first reworking is a brave choice of the John Fogerty classic “Bad Moon Rising”. The menace of the original is emphasised by a piano riff that mixes “Come Together” and “Crossroads” and a slightly changed melody. Appropriately enough, it has a real New Orleans feel. Another brave choice is building the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well” around a turbo-charged piano riff replacing the guitar of the original. It’s a stunning response to everyone who ever told him that “Oh Well” was a guitar tune that wouldn’t work on the piano. And the final non-original, which closes the album, is the long-time live favourite “Tangled Up in Blue”, which is funked-up, rocked-up, Leon Russell-like, show-closing version of the Dylan classic that leaves plenty of room for piano and guitar solos – this studio version has solos from six different guitar players; yep, that’s right, six.

After interpreting the work of classic songwriters such John Fogerty, Peter Green and Bob Dylan, do the Malone originals match up? They certainly do. Bob’s songwriting on “Good People” reflects the times that we’ve lived through since January 2020. The message of the title song is really simple; there’s always reason for positivity because there are always good people around. In a turbulent year like 2020, particularly in the USA, it’s a message that many have forgotten; many thanks for the timely reminder, Bob. The beautiful ballad “My Friends and I”, with its sparse (mainly) piano backing, building up to a gospel choir finish, tells a story of loss that’s familiar to many of us over the last year. It’s an incredibly moving song.

As is “Empty Hallways”, stripped back to piano and strings. The pathos of watching someone slip away is emphasised by Bob singing towards the top of his range and it’s an emotional ride. The Malonettes backing vocals feature heavily again on “The River Gives”, a slow ballad about the danger of depending on unpredictable and dangerous natural resources; it might even be a metaphor for life itself. But don’t get the wrong idea about Bob’s own compositions; they aren’t all downbeat. The instrumental “Prelude and Blues” is an opportunity for Bob and the band to show their prowess in a gentle jazz/blues piece, while “Sound of a Saxophone” using the sax as a metaphor for jazz and music generally builds up to a big full band arrangement with strings and, of course, The Malonettes in full swing.

“Good People” is an album that captures the experience of the plague year perfectly and I think it’s his best yet. It’s a mix of remembrance, numbness, regret and, ultimately, recovery. It’s a bunch of songs that perfectly captures the experience of the last sixteen months and finishes on a note of pure defiance with joyous “Tangled Up in Blue” that you really need to see live. Until that happens, get your ears around this album and prepare for a treat.

“Good People” is released on Friday May 21st, until then here’s a little video for you: