Americana music

THE BYRDS - LIVE AT THE FILLMORE FEBRUARY 1969     RETRO WORLD: FLOATM6294

BYRDS LIVE AT THE FILLMOREThe Byrds formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964 and went on to become one of the most influential rock band of the 1960s. Influenced by The Beatles and other British bands, The Byrds pioneered folk rock by bringing together contemporary sounds with traditional folk music. As the 1960s progressed, the band also pioneered psychedelic rock, raga rock and country rock with an irresistible blend of harmony singing and Roger McGuinn’s trademark twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar. This superb high-quality live recording dates from February 1969, when the band line up featured Roger McGuinn (vocals, guitar), Clarence White (guitar), John York (bass) and Gene Parsons (drums). The set features predominantly country rock as well as gems from all points in the band’s career to that date, such as So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, He Was A Friend of Mine (a traditional tune reworked as a poignant tribute to John F Kennedy), and a magnificent version of Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom. The greatly underrated guitarist Clarence White is in superb form, effortlessly morphing styles from country picking on items like the Buck Owens favourite, Buckaroo, through to impressive work on the Turn! Turn! Turn! / Mr Tambourine Man / Eight Miles High medley. Roger McGuinn is in similar fine shape vocally and with his celestial electric 12-string guitar, whilst the York / Parsons rhythm section acquit themselves with understated brilliance. The Byrds Live At The Fillmore stands as an impressive memento of the band at an overlooked point in their story, and is a timely reminder of the genius of guitarist Clarence White, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1973, at the age of twenty-nine - a musician of rare quality who had so much more left to give.

ANNA COOGAN - THE LONELY CRY OF SPACE & TIME   

Anna CooganAmerican singer and songwriter Anna Coogan was born in Boston, Massachusetts. After studying opera singing in Salzburg, she went to work as a Limnologist in Seattle. Influenced by her Austrian classical music training, as well as her father’s protest albums by Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, she spent her twenties busking in Pike Place Market before filling larger venues in the region. After several efforts with her Pacific Northwest-based alt-country band north 19, a pair of influenced by her Austrian classical opera training as well as her father’s protest albums by Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, she spent her twenties in Seattle, busking in Pike Place Market before filling larger venues in the region. After several efforts with her Pacific Northwest-based alt-country band North 19, she released two well-received indie solo albums: The Nocturnal Among Us and The Wasted Ocean, inspired by haunting tales of shipwrecks and isolation. Her new album, The Lonely Cry of Space and Time, is something of a stylistic breakthrough. Musical shape-shifter Coogan sings about the rising oceans, seeking other worlds, collateral damage, and how we sink or swim together. An anxious darkness that has followed her throughout her life is reflected in her powerful guitar playing, balanced with hope, light and beauty in operatic interludes and optimistic lyrics. The title track, with its praise for scientific reason and rationality and its intimations of extraterrestrial life, was originally composed to accompany Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov’s 1929 Aelita, Queen of Mars, which likened an alien invasion to the Russian Revolution. Two of the goth set pieces, If You Were the Sun and A Wedding Vow, evoke a childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme, both created to accompany French director Jean Epstein’s grisly 1928 horror film, La Chute De La Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher). Anna Coogan explains that much of this apocalypse-now-fueled album was written and recorded during the run-up to the historic 2016 election, a reaction to such topics as inflammatory campaign rhetoric (Collateral), the implicit threats to immigration (Wishing Well), the environment (the title track) and Middle East unrest (the first single, Burn for You). A distinct stylistic change from her previous work, The Lonely Cry of Space and Time features Willie B on drums and Moog bass, combining with Coogan’s three-octave soprano vocals, electric guitar soundscapes and pointed social commentary to create a fierce cohesive piece which combines the personal and the political, in a musical hybrid of rock, country, pop and classical opera. Her new direction was born from her series of performances in her adopted hometown of Ithaca, NY, in which Anna and Willie B created live musical accompaniments for vintage silent films. Watch video

TEXAS RAIN / FLYIN’ SHOES       CHARLY F 808 / CHARLY F 838

American singer-songwriter John Townes Van Zandt, better known just as as Townes Van Zandt, was born in 1944 in Fort Worth, Texas, to a prominent and wealthy oil family. Inspired by Elvis Presley, he started learning guitar from the age of 12 and by the 1960s was playing regular shows at the Jester Lounge in Houston for $10 per night, playing mostly of covers of songs by other people. His father, Harris Van Zandt, encouraged him to write his own songs, heavily influenced by Bob TEXAS RAINDylan and Hank Williams as well as blues artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters and Blind Willie McTell. He earned himself a small and devoted fanbase, but after being diagnosed as a manic-depression his career was severely affected by substance abuse, especially heroin and alcohol. Consequently, he never had a successful album or single and it wasn’t until much later that his genius was made known to a wider public via cover versions of his song by people such as Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. Since Van Zandt died aged 52 on New Years Day 1997 there has been a surge of interest in his work, which has been covered by artists such as Bob Dylan (a big fan), Steve Earle, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Laura Marling. January 1st 2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the death of this great Texan troubadour and the acclaimed ongoing Charly Records reissue campaign of his recording catalogue, including The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, continues with two of his finest albums – Texs Rain and Flyin’ Shoes. At the turn of the ‘90s, he began recording a series of duets in Texas with some of his long-time admirers, including Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Jeff Walker, Freddy Fender and Doug Sahm. The full-band sessions sought to breathe fresh air into the lungs of some of his best-known songs. Initially given a limited release in America on CD only in 2001, Texas Rain has now been newly remastered to all physical and digital formats and repackaged with a full-colour 20-page booklet, in-depth sleeve notes and revealing interview with original producer and manager Kevin Eggers. The vinyl version has been pressed as a double LP limited audiophile edition. All formats feature a bonus track – the beautiful No Place To Fall, a duet with close FLYIN’ SHOESfriend Willie Nelson, and Texas Rain serves as one of Van Zandt’s defining works. Other highlights include the classic If I Needed You (with long time associate Emmylou Harris) and Brother Flower (with Kimmie Rhodes). ‘This was the cream of the cream. Texas Rain is a timeless record. We really felt that we’d made a huge breakthrough in terms of our creative collaboration, the level of musicianship, the quality of the tracks and the energy we had. It was a golden time in our lives.’ - Kevin Eggers. Flyin’ Shoes, first released in 1978, is one of Van Zandt’s most profoundly moving and introspective sets, with spare arrangements providing the simplest of backdrops for his melodic and lyrical predilections to soar. Recorded in Nashville, the title track is a rich, evocative song showcasing Van Zandt at his most profound – the chilly, wintry imagery presenting a vista of emotional desolation that has a deeply affecting resonance. No Place To Fall is a song of lovelorn reflection that lingers long in the memory, but there is also a lightness of touch and moments of playfulness (his version of Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love, for example) which also add light to the dark ruminations displayed here. Other highlights include the opening tribute to Loretta and the reflective title track. All the original Poppy and Tomato albums which Townes Van Zandt recorded at the peak of his career are being restored, newly remastered and lavishly repackaged and released as Definitive Edition Remasters on gatefold SleevePac CDs, limited edition 180g heavyweight coloured vinyl, digital download and Mastered For iTunes formats as part of Charly’s reissue programme celebrating the legacy of this revered artist. Essential listening.

HAYES CARLL - LOVERS AND LEAVERS   HWY 87 RECORDS

Hayes CarllBorn Joshua Hayes Carll in 1976, Grammy-nominated Texas singer and songwriter Hayes Carll received his first guitar at the age of 15 and began writing songs, influenced by Bob Dylan, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson and the Beat novels and writings of Jack Kerouac. After graduating with a history degree he gained a loyal following playing his own material in the Texas bars before releasing a debut album, Flowers and Liquor. His second album, Little Rock, reached the top spot on the Americana charts in 2005. After two releases for Lost Highway, Lovers and Leavers, has now been released on his own Highway 87 Records. Produced by Grammy-award winning producer and musician Joe Henry, the ten-track album was recorded live over five days in Los Angeles during the winter of 2015. Highlights include the melancholy beauty of Drive, the rueful Good While It Lasted, warmly reflective The Love That We Need, the lonesome Love Don’t Let Me Down and beautiful Jealous Moon. ‘Carll extends a worthy Texas tradition: the weathered, hard-drinking, weary but clear-eyed troubadour.’ - New York Times.

RED SKY JULY - THE TRUTH AND THE LIE      SHADOWBIRDS RECORDS SHADOW5

Red Sky July - The Truth And The LieAward winning trio Red Sky July’s new album, ‘The Truth And The Lie’, features ten moving, uplifting songs covering subjects such as love, life, death and everything in between. Red Sky July are husband and wife duo Ally Mcerlaine (ex-Texas guitarist) and Shelly Poole (ex-Alisha’s Attic) along with Charity Hair (The Alice Band and The Ailerons). Greatly influenced by alt.country and americana, their gorgeous harmonies and classic guitar sounds on this recording bring out the depth of their carefully crafted songwriting. Recorded in the band’s own studio, they were joined on the album by twice Grammy-nominated, Nashville based singer songwriter, Beth Nielsen Chapman. Ross Hamilton provided the rhythm on the bass and drums, and long time collaborator Mark Neary, who has worked with Noel Gallagher, U2 and Adele, among others, added some authentic country twang on pedal steel guitar. Dave Etherington played Wurlitzer electric piano and percussion. The band recorded, mixed and mastered everything themselves and lyrically the album is both considered and deeply personal. Highlights include the gorgeous title track, In Black’ (an autobiographical account of Ally McErlaine’s battle with a brain aneurism), the tough-talking ‘Dodge’ and celebratory ‘Long Time Dead’, their latest single ‘Walking Country Song’, finding the strength to leave bad relationships with head held high., and ‘Strathconon’, a beautiful Appalachian-style folk lullaby featuring Beth Nielsen Chapman. ‘Another reminder of their pleasantly slick musicianship and fine female harmonies.’ - The Guardian.

THE ESSENTIAL GRETCHEN PETERS      PROPER RECORDS PRPCD134P

Gretchen Peters - EssentialSinger and songwriter Gretchen Peters was born in Bronxville, New York, in 1957 and raised in Boulder, Colorado. She moved to Nashville in the late 1980s and found work as a songwriter, composing hits for Martina McBride, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Anne Murray, as well as for rock singers Neil Diamond and co-writing songs with Bryan Adams. She won the Country Music Association Song Of The Year award for ‘Independence Day’ in 1995, was twice nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Song, and was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014. In addition, she has released seven studio albums of her own, including 2015’s Blackbirds, which debuted at #1 on the UK’s Official Country Album Chart and led to a sold-out UK tour as well as spots on European festival stages from Glastonbury to Roskilde. The Essential Gretchen Peters combines career-defining tracks with rare outtakes, demos, and B-sides to provide a two-disc snapshot of her remarkable journey as a singularly fearless and creative talents. Highlights include recordings of her own takes on classics like The Chill Of An Early Fall, On A Bus To St Cloud, and Independence Day, as well as a previously unheard collaboration with Bryan Adams and unreleased demos and outtakes from throughout her career. Listeners can also trace the evolution of her work with keyboard player Barry Walsh, who began recording on Peters’ demos in 1990 and appears on every one of her albums (the two were married in 2010). Though Gretchen Peters is a songwriter of the highest calibre, she also uses this Essential collection to showcase her talent for interpreting the work of others that have influenced her, including a cover of John Lennon’s Love and a gorgeous rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” performed by Wine, Women & Song, her touring group featuring fellow Nashville icons Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg.

THE LATE GREAT TOWNES VAN ZANDT       CHARLY F 835

The Late Great Townes Van ZandtFollowing its release of the Texas Roubador box set, Charly Records press on with their exploration of the American singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt catalogue with a fresh digital remastering of one of Van Zandt’s finest recordings, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. This contains original takes of the classics Pancho and Lefty, If I Needed You and No Lonesome Tune, and the reissue (also available as a deluxe white vinyl edition) contains four previously unavailable tracks - early mixes of Pancho and Lefty and the wonderful If I Needed You, as well as alternate versions of the haunting Snow Don’t Fall and Heavenly Houseboat Blues (The vinyl edition does not contain the CD bonus tracks). The album was originally released by Poppy Records in 1972, and is one of the most consistent and rewarding albums of Townes Van Zandt’s turbulent career. The 12-page booklet has detailed sleeve notes by manager Kevin Eggers. 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of his first professional live shows, and this reissue celebrating that anniversary is a suitable tribute to a great lost songwriting talent.

TOM RUSSELL - LOVE AND FEAR / SONG OF THE WEST     RETROWORLD FLOATM6237

Tom RussellThe music of Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter Tom Russell is in the Texas Country tradition, incorporating folk, blues, Tex-Mex, and the cowboy music of the American West. Many of his songs have been recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, k.d. lang, Nanci Griffith, Iris Dement and Suzy Bogguss, and Russell is also a painter and writer, including a detective novel and a book of letters with Charles Bukowski. He began his musical career in earnest in the early 1970s in Vancouver playing strip bars, then later relocated to Texas and formed a band with singer-pianist Patricia Hardin before moving to San Francisco. He and Dave Alvin, were tagged as the architects of what came to be known as ‘Americana’ music, with their Merle Haggard tribute ‘Tulare Dust’, the record which initiated the Americana charts in America, and remained number one for a year. Russell has recorded with the groundbreaking roots band Calexico and recent releases include his epic The Rose of Roscrae and Aztec Jazz. North London indie label Retroworld, the reissue division of the Floating World Records, has now released this excellent value two-disc set featuring the albums Love & Fear (originally released in 2006) and Song of The West (1997). Song of the West features some tracks recorded live and has a thematic quality. The songs centre around cowboy stories, peopled with colourful characters and vividly realised by Russell and a fine backing band that includes Andew Hardin, David Mansfield, Hank Bones and singer Katy Moffatt. Love & Fear is an eleven track collection of original material that reflects Tom Russell’s wisdom and experience, including the resigned Beautiful Trouble and The Sound of One Heart Breaking, co-written with Sylvia Tyson.

DAVE ELLIS - WITH ANY LUCK BUT BAD   LITTLE VILLAGE LVF101

Dave EllisWee Willie WalkerAs a boy raised outside Taft,California, Dave Ellis at 10 years old was already working with horses. His father worked in the oil fields in nearby Bakersfield and later Dave would follow along in his footsteps, working in the oilfields just like his dad. In the 1950’s he was witness to the birthing of The Bakersfield Sound and saw people like Rose Maddox, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard perform in rowdy joints so rough and tumble they had steel doors. His horsemanship is unsurpassed, evolved out of the Mexican Vaquero tradition, and his songs on this album, with affecting additional vocals by Jody Grimm, paint a vivid picture of a form of cowboy life that still exists in the American West. Dave Ellis is the real thing - not a drugstore or movie star cowboy but a real working hand and a good guy. The beguiling manner in which he depicts this life in story and song is compelling. Highlights include the gorgeous You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma and the epic campfire tale about Will James, Curly Fletcher and the Strawberry Roan. This is one of four new releases from the Little Village Foundation, a non-profit label that supports artists from non-traditional backgrounds. All have deep roots in American popular and roots music, many with ties to California (with the exception of Twin City soulman Wee Willie Walker). Chicago-raised keyboardist Jim Pugh, founder and guiding force behind Little Village, records artists and helps connect them to the broader musical community, as well as their own. ‘It’s like pebbles on the beach,’ he reflects. ‘You pick up one Ron ThompsonLos Tres Amigosand it’s beautiful, but when you hold four together the commonality emerges. It’s breathtaking, and the bigger picture - what America really sounds like - leaps out at you.’ A lifelong champion of blues music, Pugh once booked Koko Taylor for a school dance, back when he was 14. As a young man and aspiring professional musician, he sat in with amazing artists in Chicago and played birthday parties for farmworkers in rural California. In a career spanning over 40 years, he has recorded and performed with a star-studded array of musicians including BB King, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray and Van Morrison. After he retired from his touring career, he began looking around for music that held its own outside the mainstream, by musicians who were unsung. IF NOTHING EVER CHANGES (LVF104) features Wee Willie Walker, who cut a few singles for Chess and Goldwax and is a slow-burning soul sensation with a voice rich in experience. SON OF BOOGIE (LVF102) includes twelve tracks by Ron Thompson, whose nimble guitar growls with rocky, raucous blues. He also sings and plays harmonica, with fine backing from Jim Pugh on Hammond organ and D’mar and Scott Griffin on drums. SNUVIKO (LVF103) features Los Tres Amigos - The Three Friends from Where The Clouds Descend, with rare instrumental tales from indigenous Mixtec tradition by musicians living in California. These indigenous Mexicans spoke little Spanish or English and worked as agricultural labourers. Los Tres Amigos all hailed from the Oaxacan village of Snuviko, or ‘where the clouds descend’ in Mixtec.

TOM RUSSELL - THE ROSE OF ROSCRAE     PROPER RECORDS PRPCD130

The Rose of RoscraeTom Russell’s ambitious new double-album takes a fascinating look at the epic history of the American West and traditional cowboy and folk music, through the story of an Irish kid who travels to the United States in the late 1880s to become a cowboy. Produced by Tom Russell and Barry Walsh, The Rose of Roscrae features many great Americana icons including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, David Olney, Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Augie Meyers, Fats Kaplin, Barry Walsh, Jimmy LaFave, Gretchen Peters, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Walt Whitman, Moses ‘Clear Rock’ Platt, Jack Hardy, David Massengill, A.L. ‘Bert’ Lloyd, Finbar Furey, Sourdough Slim, Blackie Farrell, Tex Ritter, Glen Orhlin, Pat Russell, John Trudell, Henry Real Bird, Thad Beckman, Maura O’Connell, Eliza Gilkyson, The McCrary Sisters, Ian Tyson, Bonnie Dobson, Lead Belly, Guy Clark, Dan Penn, Gurf Morlix, and Pat Manske. The album’s overture is performed by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, arranged by Mats Hålling, composed by Tom Russell. For over four decades and 28 album releases Tom Russell has continued to live up to his status as ‘one of the best singer-songwriters of our time’ (Washington Post). In the 1990s, Russell and Dave Alvin were hailed as the architects of what came to be known as ‘Americana’ music after their Merle Haggard tribute, Tulare Dust, remained a number one hit for a year. Tom Russell’s songs have been recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and The Rose of Roscrae is his third in a series of acclaimed folk operas, following The Man From God Knows Where (1999) and Hotwalker (2005). He has also composed film scores, published five books, and is an accomplished artist whose paintings are featured in: Blue Horse/Red Desert: The Art of Tom Russell.

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL - STILL THE KING       PROPER RECORDS PRPCD127P

Still The KingThis album of irresistible music honours the legendary Bob Wills - ‘The King of Western Swing’ who is one of the few artists ever to be inducted both into the Country Music and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Bob Wills (1905-1975) and his Texas Playboys performed thousands of shows across the United Sates for nearly six decades and recorded prolifically in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. Early stars of American country music, they were a dance band with a country string section that played pop songs as if they were jazz numbers. For over 40 years, Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel have been the chief practitioners, conspirators, and caretakers of Western swing, carrying Wills’ traditions well into the 21st century, reaching both their contemporaries and the next generation of artists inspired by the great bandleader. This album marks the band’s third full-length Bob Wills tribute album following 1998’s Ride with Bob and 1993’s A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills, with four Grammy awards and over half a million copies sold collectively. This excellent new album features genre-spanning collaborations with critically acclaimed artists, old friends and new favourites including the great Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley (My Window Faces The South), Jamey Johnson, Merle Haggard (a gorgeous duet with Emily Gimble on Keeper of My Heart), George Strait, The Avett Brothers (The Girl I Left Behind), Amos Lee, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Time Jumpers (the beautiful Faded Love), Lyle Lovett and Kat Edmonson (I Can’t Give You Anything But Love). Based in Austin, Texas, Asleep at the Wheel formed in Paw Paw, West Virginia in 1970. The band has since won nine Grammy awards, released more than 20 studio albums and charted more than 20 singles on the Billboard country charts. Asleep at the Wheel has been awarded ‘Touring Band of the Year’ (CMAs, 1976) and the ‘Lifetime Achievement in Performance’ (Americana Music Awards 2009).

GRETCHEN PETERS - BLACKBIRDS       PROPER RECORDS PRPCD124P

BlackbirdsSinger and songwriter Gretchen Peters’ new album, Blackbirds, was recorded in Nashville and features a who’s who of modern American roots music, including Jerry Douglas, Jason Isbell, Jimmy LaFave, Will Kimbrough, Kim Richey and Suzy Bogguss. But it’s not the guests that make Blackbirds the most poignant and moving album of Peters’ career; it’s the impeccable craftsmanship, her ability to capture the kind of complex, conflicting, and overwhelming emotional moments we might otherwise try to hide, and instead shine a light of truth and understanding on them. During the summer of 2013, when Gretchen Peters began writing songs for Blackbirds, she found herself drawn to artists courageous enough to face their own aging and mortality in their work (Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Lowe), and the eleven tracks on this album show that she is unafraid to face down mortality with a dark grit and delicate beauty. ‘Aging seems to be a taboo subject for female singer-songwriters, in part because our value has depended so much on our youth and sexuality. I want to write about that stuff because it’s real, it’s there, and so few women seem to be talking about it.’ Rather than dwell on the pain of loss, the music finds a new appreciation for the life we are given. Highlights include the title track (with reprise), When All You Got Is A Hammer, the lovely Jubilee and The Cure For The Pain. Highly recommended.

CASSIE & MAGGIE MACDONALD - STERLING ROAD

Sterling RoadBorn in Halifax, but raised in the little seaside village of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, within sight of both Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, sisters Cassie & Maggie MacDonald are heirs to the traditions of Maritime Canada. On their new album, Sterling Road, they show a remarkable deftness for interpreting these traditions, from the fiery reels of Cape Breton to the lilting polkas of their home region, the old Irish and Scottish songs that nestled into old seabord towns on the coast, and the traditions of Scottish Gaelic that still have a home there. The MacDonalds’ music is a winning blend of all these Celtic sounds, anchored by the powerful, lively fiddling of elder sister Cassie MacDonald and the fine guitar and piano work and clear-as-a-mountain-spring vocals of her younger sister Maggie. This is the kind of family music that has always fueled the Maritimes and leaves you with a warm glow. There is a real closeness in this music that can only come from siblings making music together. Sterling Road was produced ots musician Andrew Collins, who keeps the focus on the remarkable energy and power that Cassie & Maggie MacDonald generate on stage. Highlights include the opening track. ‘Jimmie’s’, which Cassie MacDonald wrote for her uncle and the family farm in Antigonish, and the exhilarating ‘Hurricane Jane’, which is Cassie’s nickname for her sister. ‘Starlight Waltz’ honours the sisters’ celebrated fiddling grandfather Hugh A MacDonald, who recorded the tune in Montreal in 1935. ‘The King’s Shilling,’ is a beautiful traditional ballad lamenting the cost of war, and ‘Buain A’ Choirce’ (Reaping the Oats) is Scots Gaelic milling song. The lovely ‘Sweet Melodies’ reworks an ancient song of two sisters torn apart by the love of a man.

ANNIE LOU - TRIED AND TRUE

Tried and True - Annie LouBritish Columbian roots songwriter Anne Louie Genest a.k.a. Annie Lou, has spent years chronicling the rural lifepaths of Canada, writing songs to tell the tales of the hard-hit, hard-won victories of these everymen and women. With her new album, Tried and True, she returns to these backroads again, bringing her knack for storytelling and her keen eye for the small details of Canadiana that give her songs such life. There’s not a song on the album that won’t get your toes tapping, and each is honed with the careful craft of powerful songwriting that has garnered Annie Lou international attention. Annie Lou’s songs move across the range of emotions, looking to touch on something deeper. As Anne Louise Genest says, ‘This music has an edge to it – in the voices and in the playing is the lament we all carry as people trying to get by. Joy and grief are two sides of the same coin. The older music expresses that tension so perfectly.’ On this latest latest recording, Tried and True, her goal was to explore the songs in a broader musical context, beyond strictly stringband instrumentation, while keeping them rooted in the older traditional music that she loves. The result is an irresistible collection that showcases her ongoing evolution as an artist, inspired by classic country, mountain ballads, early southern banjo, bluegrass and old time tunes, all with a modern feel that appeals to a wide range of audiences. This is original music, rooted in tradition, and a vibrant celebration of a culture which moves the heart as well as the feet.

JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE - SINGLE MOTHERS     LOOSE RECORDS VJCD218

JUSTIN TOWNES EARLEAmerican singer-songwriter and musician Justin Townes Earle was born 1982 and grew up in South Nashville, Tennessee. He is the son of alternative country artist Steve Earle, who gave him his middle name in honour of his mentor, Justin’s God-Father Townes van Zandt. Justin played in two Nashville bands and spent some time as guitarist and keyboardist for his father’s touring band, the Dukes. He developed a hybrid style of music by mixing folk, blues and country and received the Americana Music Award for New and Emerging Artist of 2009. Once compared to a man who wears many suits, in thirty-two short years Justin Townes Earle has experienced more than most, both personally and professionally. Between releasing four full-length-critically-acclaimed albums, constant touring, multiple stints in rehab, a new found sobriety, amicable and not-so-amicable break-ups with record labels, and facing the trials and tribulations of everyday life, he has quite the story to tell. His fifth album, Single Mothers, serves as the perfect platform for such narrations. The ten tracks show why Justin Townes Earle is considered a forefather of Contemporary Americana. As a recently married, sober man JTE writes newly found maturity and contentment on an album that is raw, honest and personal. It was recorded live with his four-piece touring band with only days of rehearsal in order to keep the ideas fresh. Single Mothers creates a nostalgic feeling as JTE takes listeners journeys through some of his most personal stories on what can only be described as an authentic country record.

LUCINDA WILLIAMS - DOWN WHERE THE SPIRIT MEETS THE BONE  HIGHWAY 20 RECORDS H2 001

Lucinda WilliamsThree-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and started playing guitar at the age of twelve. Her first two albums for Folkways - Ramblin’ (1979) and Happy Woman Blues (1980) - received little attention but after moving to Nashville she gradually started getting more notice for her work as a singer and songwriter of rock, folk and country music. She made a series of acclaimed albums and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, made in 1998, broke her through into the mainstream when she toured with Bob Dylan. Following the reissue last year of her self-titled 1988 album to mark its 25th anniversary, Lucinda Williams has now released her 11th studio album, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone. This is the first release on her own Highway 20 Records label and is Lucinda Williams’s most ambitious creation yet. Over the course of two discs, her wonderfully lived-in voice leaves no emotional crevice left unexplored in 20 songs that overflow with delta-infused country soul. Highlights include the funky grooviness of Protection and Foolishness, the gloriously beautiful heartbreak of Cold Day in Hell and This Old Heartache, the bluesy Wrong Number, the sultry Temporary Nature (Of Any Precious Thing) and the resignation of It’s Gonna Rain. The opening track, Compassion, from which the album takes its title, is based on a poem by her father, Miller Williams. The impressive array of musicians involved includes longtime Elvis Costello collaborators Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher, guitarist Bill Frisell, iconic Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen, guitarist Stuart Mathis from the Wallflowers, vocals from Jakob Dylan and the distinctive guitar tones of Tony Joe White. Her longtime rhythm section of David Sutton and Butch Norton provides a rock solid foundation. ‘An intimate, end-to-end, night-drive companion.’ - Q Magazine.

THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE - MENDED WITH GOLD   PAPER BAG RECORDS PAPER088

rural alberta advantageIn 2006 singer-songwriter Nils Edenloff, percussionist Paul Banwatt and multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole came together to release their debut self-titled EP as The Rural Alberta Advantage. This was followed by two full-length albums, widespread critical praise, numerous award nominations, and a hard earned reputation as an impressive live band. The RAA’s latest album, Mended With Gold, features twelve songs that push the band to heights. While maintaining the heartfelt lyrics, fetching melodies and explosive percussion that won them a loyal following worldwide, Mended With Gold makes it clear that The RAA have reached another level. The songs were wrutten at a remote cottage up in the Bruce Peninsula and recorded at Toronto's Candle Recording with the band's long-time live engineer Matt Lederman and co-producer Leon Taheny. The ideas and moods created tie back to the album title Mended With Gold, embracing the idea that the breakage and repair of an object becomes part of its unique history and ultimately makes it more valuable instead of a blemish to disguise. The Rural Alberta Advantage have taken all of their successes, losses, adventures and heartbreaks over the past few years, forging them together into a powerful work of beauty. Highlights include the powerful This City and 45/33, The Build, a heartfelt Vulcan, AB, and the soulful final track, ...On the Run.

ADAM COHEN - WE GO HOME      COOKING VINYL COOKCD594W

Adam CohenSinger-songwriter and musician Adam Cohen was born in Montreal in 1972 and is the son of Canadian legend Leonard Cohen. After his parents separated, Adam Cohen lived with his American expat mother in France, the Greek islands, Greenwich Village and Los Angeles. He taught himself to play guitar, drums and piano by age 12 and in 1996 he decided to focus on a music career, signing with the same label as his father, Columbia Records. His elegant, intimate and commercially successful album Like A Man reflected his deep personal as well as his musical relationship with his father. We Go Home, his fifth album, was recorded in the little white house on the Greek island of Hydra, where he spent much of his childhood, as well as in the house in Montreal where he was born and spent his earliest years. Some of the themes on We Go Home continue the conversation that Like A Man began. ‘I want the songs to speak for themselves’, says Cohen, ‘but what I can say is that the songs on this record mostly chronicle conversations I’ve either had with my old man, or want to have with my boy’, Adam’s seven-year-old son Cassius, ‘and a few conversations I’m having with myself. And, of course, there are love songs.’ What’s different is the tone - richer, fuller and more diverse, making the most of the three-piece band and three-piece string section from his tour. The nylon-string guitar is still there, but there are also piano songs - the title track’s tenderness and self-mocking humour recalling one of Cohen’s other great musical influences Randy Newman. Adam Cohen’s European tour, featuring the band and string section, culminates at London’s Bush Hall on 15th October.

LARKIN POE - KIN    RH MUSIC

Larkin Poe - KinThey say that madness runs in the family, as do creativity and passion. That’s good news for Larkin Poe’s sister duo Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who are descendants of tortured artist and creative genius Edgar Allen Poe. Lead singer/guitarist Rebecca, who also plays mandolin and violin, explains that, ‘There were a lot of creative, hotheaded and intelligent branches that went against the grain in our family tree. Our great, great, great, great grandfather, Larkin Poe, was a Civil War wagon driver turned historian and a distant cousin to Edgar Allen Poe. Growing up with their crazy stories deӿnitely shaded our perception of normal.’ Megan, who contributes lapsteel and dobro, says that they wanted to pick a band name that had familial signiӿcance and decided to give a nod to their ancestors by calling themselves Larkin Poe. The Atlanta-based sisters celebrate their unique genealogy and eccentricities with their debut full-length album, Kin, produced by Chris Seefried in Los Angeles and Damien Lewis in Atlanta. Rebecca states proudly that this is the ӿrst Larkin Poe album where they were able to bring a bit less ‘politeness’ and more of their stage show into the studio, capturing some grittier, edgier stuff while preserving their exceptional vocal harmonies. Megan adds that musically they have dabbled in many styles, growing up playing classical violin and piano, listening to classic rock albums by the likes of Fleetwood Mac and The Band as well as blues, bluegrass and folk. ‘After a few years of searching and experimentation, we’ve ӿnally found a way to piece the fragments of our artistic personalities and musical tastes together. We’ve found our voice.’ Highlights include the rocking opening track, Jailbreak, the sultry Stubborn Love, the excellent guitar work on Sugar High, the love song Jesse and the beautiful Overachiever.

CLASSIC AFRICAN AMERICAN SONGSTERS    SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS SFW40211

CLASSIC AFRICAN AMERICAN SONGSTERSBlues, spiritual and gospel music have been hugely influential but the African American musical scene of the early Twentieth Century also included ballads and ragtime as well as folk and popular songs. These were noted by professional and amateur folk song collectors who classified and published them, designating their singers ‘songsters’. This was a term that originated in Europe over a thousand years ago and meant a woman who sang, or a songstress. Other usages included simply one who sings, a poet, and beginning around the 18th century, a cheap book of ballads or other popular songs. But by the early 20th century the term also acquired a more specific racial meaning, referring to African American singers. This collection brings together 21 classic tracks - five previously unreleased - from the marvelous Smithsonian Folkways’ archives. The songs include ragtime, country, Tin Pan Alley, pre-blues songs, blues hybrids and old-timey string band music. Artists such as Pink Anderson, Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Lead Belly, Peg Leg Sam, Mississippi John Hurt and many others set show here that there is much more to the African American secular song tradition than the blues. Highlights include Candy Man by the Reverend Gary Davis, a joyous version of Froggy Went A’Courting by Arthur ‘Peg Leg Sam’ Jackson (a veteran of many medicine shows), John Cephas and Phil Wiggins ‘Going Down the Road Feeling Bad’, Mississippi John Hurt’s ‘Monday Morning Blues’, Marvin Foddrell’s enigmatic ‘Reno Factory’ and John Jackson’s ‘Don’t Let the Deal Go Down’. The excellent 40-page booklet has extensive notes and evocative photographs that add to the enjoyment of this richly varied music.

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III - HAVEN’T GOT THE BLUES (YET)    PROPER RECORDS PRPCD122P

Loudon Wainwright - Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet)The unique Loudon Wainwright III has been making records for over 40 years and has earned himself a special place in the American Songbook. His poignant songs are searingly honest and heartfelt, with often highly personal lyrics, biting humour, passion and an underrated gift for melody. Instantly recognisable for his voice and for his fine guitar playing, he takes traditional forms of music such as folk, blues and ballads, and transforms them with idiosyncratic wit and offbeat charm into works of delightful surprise. Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet) is the acclaimed troubador’s 26th album, brilliantly produced by long time collaborator David Mansfield. Wainwright’s sharp wits and compassion are fully in evidence on these 14 songs that deal with such varied subjects as depression, drinking, senior citizenship, gun control, heartbreak, dog-walking, fatherhood and New York City’s arcane practice of alternate side-of-the-street parking. Highlights include In A Hurry, an unusual reflection on homelessness, and a jaunty trip to The Morgue. Harlan County features the vocal harmonies of singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan and backup vocals by Wainwright’s daughter Martha can be heard on I Knew Your Mother. The other musicians here include ace banjoist Tony Trischka, saxophonist Steve Elson, drummer Sammy Merendino, bassist Tim Luntzel and Chaim Tannenbaum on background vocals. Wainwright toyed with calling the album Town & Country, then saw the cover photo of the famous forlorn clown Emmet Kelly, after which Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet) became the title track. Depression Blues invokes great blues men Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sleepy John Estes, as well as Shakespeare and ‘old Sigmund’. His new seasonal favourite, I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas, is an eloquent response to the Newtown shootings. Essential listening.

JOE PURDY - EAGLE ROCK FIRE    MUDTOWN CRIER RECORDS MCREC-013

Joe PurdyArkansas-born singer/songwriter Joe Purdy is a prolific recording artist whose writing process is heavily influenced by the environment that surrounds him. His albums act as a travel guide for his experiences and this latest one is no exception. When told to evacuate his California home because of nearby forest fires, he didn’t pack up his dog Smalls and a couple favorite guitars. Instead he sat down and started writing a song: ‘Warn all the horses, warn all the riders, that the fire is coming down.’ He finished the song and the evacuation warning passed. The song is the title track on Eagle Rock Fire, his thirteenth record, released on his label Mudtown Crier Records. Purdy, age 34, runs a staunchly independent music career in spite of getting major TV placements and having sold over 1,000,000 singles. On Eagle Rock Fire, he’s taken an analog stance. Not only did he make the record on tape, mix on tape, and cut the lacquer mastered from these tapes, he had all computers removed while recording and mixing down the record. This is Purdy’s second time living in the Los Angeles area. He had moved back to the comfort of Arkansas living, but a couple years ago realised he just couldn’t stay away from a city where people really valued making art. He found himself a hilltop spot surrounded by Pine trees - a place that feels a little like Arkansas in the heart of a creative city - and spent the past few years carefully collecting vintage audio equipment and working with bassist and analog audiophile ‘Matty D’ DelVecchio painstakingly restoring each component. They even got pedal steel guitarist ‘Jolly’ Chris John Hillman, who Purdy met while touring with Billy Bragg, soldering on the porch. These three are the only musicians featured on the new album, whose songs tell of the life of a country boy living in the city. Highlights include the lovely title track with its yearning pedal steel guitar, the unsettled L.A. Livin, a world-weary Waiting For Loretta Too Long, the regretful Good Gal Away, a rueful, funny BA Girl, the delicate This American, and the generous-spirited Wildflowers. Joe Purdy’s music is deceptively simple - thoughtful, often poignant lyrics and easy melodies allied with his expressive voice, fine guitar work and intimate delivery to make his songs both memorable and affecting. No wonder he has received the glowing endorsement of Pete Townsend, who invited him to duet on his ‘In The Attic – Pete Townsend and friends’ concert series.

LONG TIME...SELDOM SCENE      SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS SFW CD 40199

Seldom SceneThe Seldom Scene are an influential American bluegrass band that first started in 1971, after crafting their sound in jam sessions in the banjo player’s basement. The group’s burgeoning popularity took a back seat to its members’ full-time careers so making music was reserved for weekly performances at clubs, sporadic album recordings and the occasional concert or festival. The Seldom Scene began playing regular shows at the former Bethesda, Maryland, music club the Red Fox Inn, before switching over to the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia, where they established a residency. During this time, bluegrass was riding a second wave of mainstream popularity, particularly in Washington, D.C., where it had been long enjoyed by Appalachian transplants. The Scene made a lasting impression with their smooth vocal harmonies - a departure from the nasal twang of bluegrass singers past - melded with founding member Mike Auldridge’s dobro, adding a fresh sound to the group’s already-eclectic bluegrass versions of country music, rock and classical pop. More than four decades later, the group has weathered line-up changes (only banjo and guitar player Ben Eldridge has been present since its inception), untimely deaths (singer and founding member John Duffey passed away in 1996) and the inevitable challenges of maintaining a fan base in a niche genre while holding down a 9 to 5 job. According to lead singer Dudley Connell and bassist Ronnie Simpkins, the secret is that it’s all about having fun. The other current members of the band are Lou Reid (mandolin/tenor vocals) and Fred Travers (dobro/lead vocals). The Scene’s carefree nature belies their indelible influence on the bluegrass world, and with this new album the band has returned to its roots by re-recording 16 old classics. Emmylou Harris guests on Gram Parsons’ lovely ballad Hickory Wind and the heartfelt With Body and Soul. The Punch Brothers’ Chris Eldridge (Ben’s son) and founding member John Starling join the band for the beautiful Wait A Minute, and other highlights include a poignant version of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Bill Monroe’s Little George Rose and the wistful Hazel Dickens song, My Better Years (watch video). This is fine collection of timeless songs that gets better with every listen.

JONAH TOLCHIN - CLOVER LANE    YEP ROC 2364

Jona Tolchin - Clover LaneSinger-songwriter Jonah Tolchin’s Yep Roc debut, Clover Lane, gets its name from the street where he grew up in New Jersey. In his younger days, this self-described ‘rebellious child’ ended up dropping out of high school, running afoul of the law and lapsing into depression. He spent a year being homeschooled on Clover Lane while honing his guitar skills. Produced by Marvin Etzioni and engineered by Anderson East, the album was recorded quickly and spontaneously in Nashville, Tennessee with an impressive cast of characters that include Chris Scruggs, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), John McCauley (Deer Tick), and Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson). As a songwriter, Jonah Tolchin bridges the gap between classic folk self-sufficiency and punk’s DIY defiance, playing everything from roots and Americana music to old time folk and acoustic blues. He says, ‘I am a believer in a deeper meaning behind life. This record is a passionate manifestation of the cosmos in perfect harmony. The house I grew up in on Clover Lane is the center of the spider’s web from which the interconnected strands have been woven into these songs and recordings.’ Highlights include the stomping opening track, Mockingbird, the soulful Midnight Rain, a rootsy Hey Baby Blues, the lilting philosphy of Diamond Mind, driving Atlantic Winds, the rueful, beguiling harmonies of Low Life, the sexy groove of 21st Century Girl and a sadly resigned I’ll Be Gone. Highly recommended.

ZOE MUTH - WORLD OF STRANGERS      SIGNATURE SOUNDS SIG2064

Zoe MuthFirst making her name in the Pacific Northwest, where she’s been called ‘Seattle’s Emmylou’, Zoe Muth played bars and cafes as a young pre-school teacher, saving up her minimum wage earnings and beer bucket tips to pay for her 2009 debut album, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers. That album, and her 2011 follow up, Starlight Hotel, earned praise from the international press and showed her to be one of the best songwriters to come out of Washington State. Her third full-length album, World of Strangers, features ten heartrending tales of the leaving and the left behind in her trademark style of infusing moments of despair with hope and levity. This time around she has made some changes, uprooting herself from Seattle to record in Austin, Texas, channeling a wider array of influences that range from classic country ballads to early folk-rock. With producer and bassist George Reiff she assembled a studio band of some of Austin’s most talented musicians, including Brad Rice (Keith Urban, Son Volt), Martie Maguire (Dixie Chicks) and legendary Texas songwriter Bruce Robison, who duets on the delicately beautiful Somebody I Know. Grammy-winner Steven Christensen assisted in mixing. ‘Many of these new songs had been in my head for a long time, and I needed a change of scenery and sound to let them find their way out,’ says Zoe Muth, whose compelling voice is heard to great effect here. Mama Needs a Margarita and Waltz of the Wayward Wind are pure country but the lovely Annabelle uses cello, piano and violin, subtly underscored with twinkling indie organ effects. The influence of early Fairport Convention echoes in Ronnie Lane’s April Fool, and Taken All You Wanted features superb guitar work by Brad Rice. With her yearning, compassionate voice and sensitivity, it’s easy to see why Zoe Muth has been called ‘Seattle’s Emmylou’.

MARY GAUTHIER – TROUBLE AND LOVE      PROPER RECORDS PRPCD123P

Mary GauthierMary Gauthier (pronounced ‘Go-shay’) was born in New Orleans in 1962. Given up at birth by a mother she never knew, she was adopted by an Italian Catholic couple in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Aged 15, she ran away from home (stealing her parents’ car) and drifted between drug rehabilitation, halfway houses and living with friends, spending her 18th birthday in jail. She studied philosophy at Louisiana State University before dropping out due to drug problems and moved to Boston, where she eventually became manager of the restaurant where she worked as a dishwasher. Financial backers paid her way to Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and she opened a Cajun restaurant called Dixie Kitchen (the title of her first album). She wrote her first song at age 35 and sold her share in the restaurant to finance her second album, Drag Queens in Limousines, after which she began to play at major folk festivals. Mary Gauthier music has been acclaimed by Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, and her songs have been recorded by many other artists. Trouble and Love, her first studio CD since 2010, was co-produced by Mary with Patrick Granado and recorded in Ricky Skaggs studio outside Nashville. Guitarist Guthrie Trapp, keyboardist Jimmy Wallace and bassist Viktor Krauss are joined by guests such as Darrell Scott, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Ashley Cleveland. One track, the achingly lovely How You Learn To Live Alone, was co-written with Gretchen Peters and features guitar legend Duane Eddy. As well as the title track, other highlights include the agonised When A Woman Goes Cold, False From True, the wryly reflective Worthy, and the heartbreaking beauty of Walking Each Other Home and How You Learn To Live Alone. This is an outstanding collection of eight songs that reflect human experience with honesty, courage and hope.

LUCINDA WILLIAMS              THIRTY TIGERS

Lucinda WilliamsLucinda Williams’s self-titled 1988 album has been released via her new independent label in this special two disc 25th Anniversary reissue. Often referred to as ‘The Rough Trade’ album (the UK label that originally released it), Lucinda Williams has been out of print for 10 years. The new package includes a remastered version from the original master recordings, which had been missing for over 20 years, as well as bonus features that include an unreleased 1989 live concert recorded in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and six previously released live bonus tracks. The expanded booklet includes never before seen photos and two new sets of liner notes: one written by Rough Trade A&R man Robin Hurley and a second set written by respected US music writer Chris Morris. Lucinda Williams was the artist’s second album of original songs, many of which have been covered by major artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter (the Grammy Award-winning Passionate Kisses - 1994 Country Song Of The Year), Emmylou Harris (Crescent City) and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers recorded (Changed The Locks). This early album is a fascinating insight into the work of an artist who has matured to become one of the finest contemporary singer-songwriters, her country and blues roots offset by a fresh, contemporary treatment.

KINKY FRIEDMAN - LASSO FROM EL PASO     RETROWORLD FLOATM 6207 

Kinky FriedmanAmerican country singer, songwriter, novelist, humourist, politician and former columnist for Texas Monthly, Richard Samet ‘Kinky’ Friedman was born in Texas in 1944. He formed his first band, King Arthur & the Carrots, while a student at the University of Texas and his second band was named Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys. Arriving on the wave of country rock following on from Gram Parsons, Friedman originally found cult fame as a country and western singer. After touring with Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue in the mid-70s he recorded Lasso From El Paso. The opening track from the album (Sold American) was recorded live on that tour and features the likes of Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson and T-Bone Burnett. The amazing cast of musicians also includes Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr (as the voice of Jesus), Lowell George, Ron Wood, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Dahrell Norris and Howie Wyeth. The outspoken, independent-minded and idiosyncratic Kinky Friedman was never going to become part of the mainstream and this witty, politically incorrect album helps explain why. He was simply too awkward and outspoken to play the game enough, annoying both the Country Music mainstream and the hippies in equal measure. Nevertheless, it was a fun ride and the music still stands up, with a wealth of good jokes and fine music. Friedman is still around too, in recent years having established himself as a writer of cult detective fiction, as well as engaging in politics. Following in the line of popular American satirists such as Will Rogers and Mark Twain, he was one of two independent candidates in the 2006 election for the office of Governor of Texas and was placed fourth.

TOM OVANS - LAST DAY ON EARTH     FLOATING WORLD FW038

Tom OvansItinerant songwriter Tom Ovans has long been an outsider, a restless traveller on the spin. Born just outside of Boston, Massachusetts in 1953, he’s lived a life on the margins. If music has been his one constant, still he has always faced what had to be faced, done what had to be done - whether that was carpentry, painting or roofing, working in construction, factories or warehouses. Prissy, overwrought singer-songwriters everywhere, today as always, can talk the big talk, but craftsmen think with their hearts and work with their hands. As a chronicler and troubadour, Ovans has trod a rough and ragged musical path across the States. In the early ‘70s in New York City he walked the walk with a junked-out Tim Hardin and knocked-out loaded Phil Ochs. Over the years he has drifted, been homeless, stood proud, lain low, dug deep but always moved on. Following stints on the east coast, west coast, a short spell in New Orleans and 18 long years in Nashville, Tom Ovans landed in Austin, Texas, ten years ago with his painter wife Lou Ann Bardash. Together, they continue to live on the edge, away from the spotlight, fame or glare as he only rarely gigs or tours. This new double CD release is breathtakingly good and features 34 terrific self-penned songs, each one a revelation. Often sounding uncannily like classic period Bob Dylan, these atmospheric lo-fi recordings reveal Ovans’ outstanding talent as singer, guitarist, harmonica player and writer of fine songs with thoughtful, finely-honed lyrics. Highlights include the powerful title track, the tender Caroline and California’s Not What It Used To Be, Kiss Me Softly, the touching Northlands, and the wonderful Still Ain’t Bound. Every word rings true and Tom Ovans is a compelling performer who deserves a much wider audience, though perhaps his low profile is the saner option. Highly recommended.

CAHALEN MORRISON & ELI WEST - I’LL SWING MY HAMMER WITH BOTH HANDS

Cahalen Morrison & Eli WestYoung Seattle duo Cahalen Morrison and Eli West are making a fine reputation for themselves in the world of old-time music and Americana. Their music seems effortlessly simple, but is complex enough to reach far beyond the usual way we listen to roots music. Cahalen Morrison’s assured songwriting is as much informed by the dark lyricism of Cormac McCarthy as it is by Appalachian stringband songs, and Eli West’s angular, racing arrangements owe as much to the speed and aggression of early jazz as they do to bluegrass greats like Bill Monroe. With their new album, I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands, Morrison & West have perfected their chemistry as a duo, falling into long-form instrumental grooves and threading their vocal harmonies together as tightly as a weaver. Produced by Grammy-winning artist Tim O’Brien, they recorded the album at the Colorado Rockies, assisted by fiddlers Ryan Drickey and Brittany Haas. This is music with true authenticity, drawing from the well of American tradition and reshaping it into beautiful new forms. Highlights include traditional songs such as Alice Gerrard’s slow dirge Voices of Evening and The Louvin Brothers’ heartfelt Lorene. As a songwriter, Cahalen can be heard on the excellent James is Out, about an ornery mule, and Livin’ In America, a fun yet biting song about American privilege. The powerful Fiddlehead Fern and Down in the Lonesome Draw showcase his uncommon ability to use evocative natural imagery to channel human emotions. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West’s superbly crafted music is suffused with country, bluegrass, old-time and blues influences, resonating profoundly with American tradition. These are the kind of sounds you would hope to hear sitting on the porch on a warm summer evening, listening to songs about things that matter - love, home, family and God. Highly recommended.

LAURIE LEWIS - GUEST HOUSE & THE GOLDEN WEST     RETROWORLD FLOATM6186

Laurie LewisBorn in Long Beach, California, in 1950, Laurie Lewis is a gifted bluegrass fiddle player as well as a fine guitarist, songwriter and singer. She fell in love with folk music as a teenager at the end of the 1960s folk revival, listening to the likes of Doc Watson and the Greenbriar Boys Berkeley Folk Festivals. The bluegrass scene of Northern California was then a powerful mix of historic progressivism and ardent devotion to musical tradition. Lewis played with various bands in the Bay Area, including the all-female Good Ol’ Persons, and in the late 1980s she formed Laurie Lewis and Grant Street. Since then she has recorded solo and duo albums, often accompanied by mandolin maestro Tom Rozum. Lewis is a Grammy award winner, has twice won California’s Women’s Fiddling championships, and has appeared as a musical guest on Garrison Keillor’s Radio Show. This excellent value set from the vaults of Hightone Records includes two classic albums by ‘the queen of West Coast Blue Grass’. On Guest House, originally released in 2004, Laurie Lewis showcases her vocal talents and is joined by Tom Rozum (mandolin), Scott Huffman (guitar), Craig Smith (banjo) and Todd Phillips (bass). Together they create a unique blend of bluegrass, folk and country known as California bluegrass. The album features a selection of original songs as well as covers of songs by Bill Monroe, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jimmie Rodgers, Albert Brumley, and Billy Joe Shaver. The Golden West, released in 2006, features the same talented musicians in a wide range of styles from bluegrass to folk to country. Guest musicians include Todd Sickafoose (string bass), Craig Smith (banjo), Nina Gerber (lead guitar), Mike Marshall (mandocello, guitar) and Tom Sauber (banjo). Linda Rondstadt sings harmony on the gorgeous Laurie Lewis song A Hand to Hold.

BETH NIELSEN CHAPMAN – UNCOVERED       BNC RECORDS

UnCoveredSinger-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman was born in Harlingen, Texas. Her father was an American Air Force Major father so the family moved several times and settled in Alabama. Chapman started playing guitar and piano as a child and in 1976 she played and sang with the pop group Harmony before gaining increasing acclaim as songwriter with hits for artists such as Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Willie Nelson (Nothin’ I Can Do About It Now; If My World Didn’t Have You), Tanya Tucker (Strong Enough to Bend), Mary Chapin Carpenter (Almost Home), Alabama, Suzy Bogguss, Crystal Gayle, Waylon Jennings (Shine On Me), and Bette Midler (The Color of Roses). Chapman has had eight singles is one of the most charted Adult Contemporary artists in America and her last album, Back to Love, BBC Radio 2’s ‘Album of the Week’ in January 2010. Her new release, UnCovered features songs Beth Nielsen Chapman has written and never recorded before but which have been big hits for others. Recorded in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and her own ‘Tree House’ studio in Nashville, the tracks include Simple Things (with backing vocals by Kim Carnes) and the wonderful Shine On Me (with legendary guitarist Duane Eddy). Vince Gill duets with Beth on Here We Are, Darrell Scott sings and plays on the ballad Maybe That’s All It Takes, Gretchen Peters, Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg contribute background vocals on the brilliant Almost Home (written with longtime collaborator Annie Roboff, who co-produces several tracks on this collection) and Bekka Bramlett plays blistering tambourine and backing vocals on the bluesy Meet Me Halfway. Chapman’s wide range of styles shines through on this collection, from the infectious pop sensibilities of This Kiss and Simple Things, to the strains of bluegrass and country in Five Minutes, Strong Enough To Bend and Nothin’ I Can Do About It Now. In performing these songs herself Beth Nielsen Chapman effortlessly makes them her own again.

GURF MORLIX - LAST EXIT TO HAPPYLAND

HappylandMusic captured Gurf Morlix’s imagination from an early age growing up in Buffalo, New York. On hearing the Everly Brothers singing Cathy’s Clown for the first time, he found his mission in life and after seeing the Beatles make their US debut on The Ed Sullivan Show his fate was sealed. Starting out on bass and moving to guitar, he was playing professionally by his mid-teens, mastering new sounds and instruments. Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell became major influences and by the time Morlix finished high school and went to Austin, Texas, he had a rich musical vocabulary that included rock, country, blues, folk and R&B. Through more than four decades, he has distinguished himself with his innate musicality, taste, creativity and assured songwriting, working with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Warren Zevon, Ian McLagan, Patty Griffin, Robert Earl Keen, Buddy Miller, Mary Gauthier, Tom Russell, Jim Lauderdale and Slaid Cleaves. Last Exit to Happyland showcases his gifts as a musician, producer, songwriter and singer. He plays everything on it but the drums, ably handled by Rick Richards, and is joined by Patty Griffin, Barbara K and Ruthie Foster on harmony vocals. Morlix’s trademark grit, soulfulness and authenticity suffuse the album, representing the ‘muddy’, as he calls the creative junction where the many strains of American roots music meet and mingle. Highlights include the superb Crossroads, reflecting on Robert Gurf Morlix Finds The Present TenseJohnson’s alleged meeting with the devil, The wistful She’s a River, the mesmerising swamp rock of Drums From New Orleans, and End of the Line – an instant classic. GURF MORLIX FINDS THE PRESENT TENSE is the gifted singer-songwriter’s latest release and his first solo album of new material in nearly four years. His inimitable, honest style is evident throughout and the album also features appearances by Ian McLagan, Nick Connolly, Patterson Barrett, Gene Elders, Ray Bonneville, Rick Richards and Eliza Gilkyson. The ten new songs of desperation, desire and heartbreak include the brilliant opening track, My Life’s Been Taken, the darkly passionate Series of Closin’ Doors, the delicate Small Window, You Walk Away, and Bang Bang Bang, an indictment of America’s gun culture. Highly recommended.

DAVE VAN RONK - DOWN IN WASHINGTON SQUARE    SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS SFW40213

Dave Van RonkCalled ‘The Mayor of MacDougal Street’, Dave Van Ronk was a leading figure in the acoustic folk revival of the 1960s. As part of Greenwich Village music scene for more than four decades this charismatic, larger than life figure presided in an avuncular way over coffeehouse folk culture, becoming a friend and tutor to many up-and-coming artists. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of blues music and inspired and promoted performers such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell and Suzanne Vega. His own work includes a wide repertoire of songs and guitar techniques, ranging from old English ballads to Bertolt Brecht, blues, gospel, rock, New Orleans jazz, ragtime and swing. Down in Washington Square includes 16 never-before-released recordings coupled with tracks from the Smithsonian Folkways archive, spanning early live recordings made in 1958 to his final studio recordings in 2001, a few months before his death. Highlights include the lovely Dink’s Song and Van Ronk’s arrangements of Please See My Grave Is Kept Clean and House of the Rising Sun, both of which were purloined by Dylan for his first album. The collection shows the full range of Van Ronk’s musical artistry and celebrates the genius of a legendary performer who inspired audiences and countless musicians. A new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s life and this new release will surely bring his music to a wider audience. The three CD box set from Smithsonian Folkways features 54 tracks - nearly three hours of music - and 40-page booklet with extensive notes. ‘I copied some of his recordings phrase for phrase. Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I loved his style. He was what the city was all about. In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme.’ - Bob Dylan.

TOWNES VAN ZANDT - TEXAS TROUBADOR   CHARLY SNAJ729CD

Townes Van ZandtThe years between 1968 and 1973 were Townes Van Zandt’s most prolific period, during which he released albums such as Our Mother the Mountain, Townes Van Zandt, Delta Momma Blues, High, Low and in Between, and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. This excellent four-CD box set contain all seven albums Townes Van Zandt recorded for the Poppy and Tomato labels between 1968 and 1973 plus live tracks and rarities. Among the meticulously crafted, often poignant songs here are Colorado Girl, Tower Song, To Live Is to Fly, Snow Don’t Fall, Pancho and Lefty, and If I Needed You, one of the most simple yet profound love songs ever written. The words and music have a timeless quality and Van Zandt’s voice is filled with tender sincerity. This superb four-disc collection comes with a 36-page booklet that includes a detailed biography of a troubled genius. Highly recommended.

THE CIVIL WARS              COLUMBIA

The Civil WarsAmerican singer-songwriter Joy Williams was born in 1982 and grew up in a Christian family in San Jose, California. After recording three Christian music albums and several EPs of popular music she formed the Grammy Award winning duo The Civil Wars with Alabama-born John Paul White, in 2009. The two met during a Nashville, Tennessee, songwriting session and released a live performance album as well as a four song EP. Their first full length album of organic folk-pop ‘n’ rootsy harmonics, three-time Grammy Award-winning Barton Hollow, was released in 2011 to universal acclaim. Their eponymous sophomore album was recorded in Nashville at the end of last year, with Charlie Peacock again producing, and was created amidst a gruelling tour schedule and exhausting workload. This resulted in disruptive internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition so a dark tone of foreboding on evident some tracks. Southern Gothic atmosphere, murder ballads and ‘a sweet lament, of loss and the belief’ are the album’s key features, not to mention a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm. Highlights include the touching The One That Got Away, the brilliant I Had Me a Girl, the reflective Dust to Dust, a gospel-tinged From This Valley, Oh Henry (with a soaring vocal by Joy Williams), and the charming Sacred Heart, which brings to mind 1960s French chanteuse Francoise Hardy.

RED TAIL RING - THE HEART’S SWIFT FOOT       EARTH WORK EW8503

Red Tail RingRed Tail Ring is a duo from Kalamazoo in the heart of Michigan who play fine acoustic American roots music with an engaging authenticity. On their latest album, The Heart’s Swift Foot, Laurel Premo’s voice sounds like a swift clear mountain stream. It almost seems as if there’s a current to her voice that keeps pulling steadily at you while you listen. Michael Beauchamp’s voice meshes beautifully with Laurel’s high, shimmering vocals. He sounds more rooted to the earth, more grounded in the grit of the traditional music that inspires them. With the drone of Laurel’s fiddle, the rolling picking of her banjo, and the steady, rock-wall formations of Michael’s guitar, you might think at first that you’re listening to music coming straight out of the Appalachian mountains, but you can tell that this is only one inspiration for this duo. Red Tail Ring has rebuilt their Southern old-time influences into finely crafted acoustic roots music. This is Americana in the sense that it flies free over the landscape of American folk music, keeping a constant eye to the rivers and pathways that map these traditions but moving unfettered across the land. The 11 tracks on this new album are all written by Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo except for Hazel Dicks’ delicate My Heart’s Own Love and a haunting version of the traditional ballad St James Hospital. Other highlights include the evocative Ohio Turnpike, the lovely Queen of the West, a ringing Suffer Every Sound and the tenderly sung A Clearing in the Wild. The duo’s love of this music, superb musicianship and integrity shine through and this enchanting album is highly recommended.

DIANA JONES - MUSEUM OF APPALACHIA RECORDINGS     PROPER PRPCD111

Diana JonesThe music of singer-songwriter Diana Jones is informed by the themes that have run through her life - love, loss and redemption. Adopted as an infant and raised in New York, Diana left home at the age of 15 in search of her roots. Unlike most of her friends, she was attracted to the music of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, as well as contemporary artists Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. It wasn’t until she was reunited with her birth family and the music of the Eastern Tennessee hills some years later, that she discovered why that music had always moved her. This new new CD of music inspired by the sounds of old-time Appalachia was recorded at The Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee. Featuring eleven original songs recorded live with two musicians and a crackling fireplace in the background, Museum of Appalachia Recordings harkens back to a day when music was played and recorded live, and not adorned with the latest tricks in recording technology. Accompanied by fellow musicians Matt Combs and Shad Cobb, Diana Jones offers an astonishing set of original material. Widely known for her songwriting expertise, Jones’s storytelling reaches new heights as she explores timeless subjects that are as relevant today as they were in the last century. Her singing is that rarest of gifts: a warm, pure and original voice that is unmistakably her own. Among the 11 beautifully performed and arranged songs featured here are the tender Song for a Worker and Orphan’s Home, the blues-influenced Sparrow, timeless Tennessee, and the uplifting final a capella track, The Other Side. As well as singing, Diana Jones plays fine guitar and is accompanied by an excellent group of musicians - guitarist Matt Combs, multi-instrumentalist Shad Cobb, Joe ‘joebass’ DeJarnette, Laurelyn Dossett and John Lilly.

KRISTINA STYKOS - WYOMING TERRITORY     THUNDER RIDGE RECORDS

Wyoming TerritoryMusic producer, recording engineer, songwriter and performer Kristina Stykos is based in Vermont where her recording studio, Pepperbox Studio, is solar, wind and generator powered and fully off-the-grid. The first of her self-produced releases, In The Earth’s Fading Light (2005), was designated ‘Best Vermont Album of the Year’ by the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Since then the multi-talented artist has engineered and produced over 15 albums for herself and others, many released on her own indie label: Thunder Ridge Records. These include two collaborative projects, Beautiful Blood (2013) with singer-songwriter Steve Mayone of Boston, and Raven (2011) co-produced with Grammy-nominated pianist Philip Aaberg of Montana. Her ambitious new solo album, Wyoming Territory, subtitled the Ecstatic Landscapes of Kristina Stykos, evokes landscapes inspired by her time out west. Intelligent, poetic lyrics combine with natural, seductive melodies to create songs that tell of love and reflection. Highlights include the moodily atmospheric Watershed, the beautiful Jackson and Highway marker 9, defiant Angelino, The Last Track and the encompassing conclusion of Freedom. As well as the excellent guitar playing and strong, sensitive voice of Kristina Stykos the album features a supporting cast of stars from the East Coast roots scene, including rocker Bow Thayer and Mark Spencer of Son Volt. Highly recommended. Look out too for the earlier albums by Kristina Stykos and The Lost Tapes, a collection of her songs recorded between 1982 and 1992. More information and stories on Kristina’s website: http://www.kristinastykos.com including her evocative video for Jackson.

TOM RUSSELL - AZTEC JAZZ    PROPER RECORDS

tom russell aztec jazzLos Angeles-born singer-songwriter Tom Russell’s Aztec Jazz moves Americana into a new realm. Recorded as a live concert in Halden, Norway in 2012, this album features the excellent 32 piece Norwegian Wind Ensemble and guitarist Thad Beckman. Russell’s classic songs, including St Olav’s Gate, Nina Simone, Guadalupe, Stealing Electricity and the lovely Goodnight Juarez, performed on acoustic guitars against a lush backdrop of oboes, trumpets, saxophones, French horns, trombones and percussion. This larger, ethereal canvas brings Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain to mind in great orchestrations by award-winning Swedish composer Mats Halling. For over three decades and 28 albums Tom Russell has produced outstanding, adventurous music and Aztec Jazz moves his acclaimed song catalogue into newly charted territory. ‘One of our greatest songwriters of our time.’ - Washington Post.

VALERIE JUNE - PUSHIN’ AGAINST A STONE  SUNDAY BEST

Valerie JuneValerie June is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Tennessee in the United States. As a child growing up in Humboldt, she was exposed to Gospel music at her local church and R&B and soul music via her father. Other influences on her sound include blues, folk, Appalachian and bluegrass music. After relocating to Memphis in 2000, she began recording and performing at the age of 19, initially with her then husband in the duo Bella Sun. After her marriage ended she started performing as a solo artist, combining blues, gospel and Appalachian folk in a style that she describes as ‘organic moonshine roots music’, and learning guitar, banjo and lap-steel guitar. In 2012 she performed in the UK for the first time, playing at Bestival and appearing to much acclaim on Later... with Jools Holland. After self-releasing three albums, her debut album as a signed artist, Pushin’ Against a Stone, includes several songs co-written with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who co-produced it with Kevin Augunas. Highlights include the superb single and opening track, Workin’ Woman Blues, as well as Somebody To Love, the yearning Tennessee Time, the old-tyme gospel of Trials, Troubles, Tribulations, gutsy You Can’t Be Told, featuring some great guitar work, and the lovely final track , On My Way. Highly recommended.

EMMYLOU HARRIS – HEARTACHES & HIGHWAYS   RHINO R2 73123

Heartaches and HighwaysBorn in 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama, Emmylou Harris received a scholarship for drama to the University of North Carolina, where she began also to study music, greatly influenced by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. She released her first record, Gliding Bird, in 1969 and three years later was introduced to Gram Parsons by Chris Hillman of the Byrds. Emmylou began touring and recording as a backup singer for Parsons until his death in 1973. Her first album for Reprise, Pieces of the Sky, began a series of highly successful mid-70s albums on which her sound combined traditional, folk-rock, country and singer/songwriter styles. Heartaches and Highways is the first-ever comprehensive single-disc collection to span her career and features twenty tracks, including the a new recording, The Connection. Highlights include the classics Love Hurts (with Gram Parsons), the elegiac Boulder To Birmingham, Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho And Lefty, a fifties pop hit by the Teddy Bears, To Know Him Is To Love Him (with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt), the gospel style Green Pastures, the traditional Wayfaring Stranger, the a capella beauty of Calling My Children Home, Gillian Welch’s Orphan Girl, and the lovely Michaelangelo. With her prolific and wide-ranging output, any compilation of Emmylou Harris’s work is sure be incomplete but this album is the perfect introduction to an artist whose beauty, impeccable song selection and cool, crystalline voice have proved irresistible over more than three decades.

ROGER MCGUINN - BORN TO ROCK AND ROLL    FLOATING WORLD FLOATM6169

Roger McguinnRoger McGuinn is best known for being the lead singer and lead guitarist on many of The Byrds’ records. Previously calling himself Jim McGuinn (he was born James Joseph McGuinn III in Chicago, Illinois, in 1942) the revered singer-songwriter was elected a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with The Byrds and also made many impressive recordings of his own after the band finally broke up in 1973. Born to Rock and Roll is a compilation album, originally released on Columbia Records in 1991 following the success of the mighty McGuinn’s comeback solo album, Back from Rio, earlier that year. Born to Rock and Roll contains songs from all five of his underrated solo CDs of the 1970s - Roger McGuinn, Peace On You, Roger McGuinn and Band, Cardiff Rose, and Thunderbird. Highlights include Tom Petty’s Byrds ‘homage’ American Girl, the traditional Water is Wide (arranged by McGuinn), a driving version of Joni Mitchell’s Dreamland, the swaggering Jolly Roger, a cover of the Bob Dylan song Up To Me, and the jaunty title track. Famous friends on board include Gene Clark, David Crosby and Chris Hillman (background vocals), Bob Dylan (harmonica) and Mick Ronson (organ, guitar, etc). Essential listening for all Byrds/McGuinn fans.

RACHEL BROOKE - A KILLER’S DREAM   MAL RECORDS MAL001

Michigan-born Rachel Brooke is from Michigan, where she grew up with parents who played bluegrass music, and spent much of her adolescence playing in various punk-rock bands. Over the years, the young songwriter’s talent grew to involve country, goth and rock influences. Her direct, bluesy style has been called country-soul, reflecting personal experience as well as a respectful understanding of musical tradition from Jimmie Rodgers and Bessie Smith to Fats Domino. A Killer’s Dream features The Queen of Underground Country with Florida’s excellent Viva Le Vox as her backing band, and a duet with Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards. The album was recorded at Rachel Brooke’s brother’s Halohorn Studio in Traverse City, MI, and released in limited edition 100 red vinyl copies, black vinyl, CD, cassette, and digital formats. ‘I am very excited about this record because I think it’s my best one yet, by a long shot. The sound we captured is something I’m very proud of, and I think there are some cool surprises on it.’ From the brief opening track (Have it All) to the rocking title song, you would need a heart of stone not to be seduced by this beguiling brand of moody blues that sounds fresh yet timeless. Highlights include The Black Bird (watch the video), Fox in a Hen House, Late Night Lover, Every Night About This Time, Life Sentence Blues, Old Faded Memory, Ashes To Ashes, the yearning Only For You, and some superb slide guitar on the defiant Serpentine Blues. Highly recommended.

JOHN HIATT - MYSTIC PINBALL   NEW WEST RECORDS NW6260

Mystic PinballThe brilliant Indianapolis-born guitarist, pianist, singer and songwriter John Hiatt has played many musical styles, including blues and country. He was working as a songwriter in Nashville when his song ‘Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here’ was covered by Three Dog Night and became a top forty hit, earning him a recording contract with Epic Records. Since then he has released twenty studio albums and Mudslide Hymns, as well as two live albums. John Hiatt’s 21st studio album, Mystic Pinball, finds the multi Grammy Award winning tunesmith at a new peak in his songwriting achievement. The twelve tracks effortlessly run the gamut from the stomping, wryly humorous opener (We’re Alright Now) to rocking blues wailing (My Business), plangent, deeply moving Dylanesque balladry (I Just Don’t Know What To Say), the reflective I Know How to Lose You, the tenderness of No Wicked Grin, and the outrageous Wood Chipper. The album was produced by Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley who also produced Hiatt’s highly praised Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns, and the exceptional musicians here include Doug Lancio (electric guitar, mandolin, Dobro), Kenneth Blevins (drums and percussion) and Patrick O’Hearn (bass). ‘One of rock’s most astute singer-songwriters of the last 40 years’ - Los Angeles Times.

JOHN HIATT – THE OPEN ROAD      NEW WEST RECORDS NWA3049

John HiattJohn Hiatt’s songs have been covered by by among others Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, Iggy Pop, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, as well as by long time admirer Bob Dylan. Looking at life through the rear view mirror was the inspiration for this album, The Open Road, Hiatt’s most energetic outing in years. Gritty, intelligent songs sizzle with the heat from two-lane blacktop on a summer’s day. Hiatt sings with real heart and soul, and with his touring band (Kenny Blevins on drums, Patrick O’Hearn on bass and Doug Lancio on guitars) he has produced a terrific set of eleven songs that gives ‘Garage Rock’ a new meaning. Outstanding songs include the opening title track – an instant classic – as well as the beautiful, Dylanesque Haulin’, the epic blues of Like A Freight Train, Homeland, the reflective Movin’ On and the last track, Carry You back Home. Highly recommended.

DAVE ALVIN - KING OF CALIFORNIA/INTERSTATE CITY   FLOATING WORLD FLOATM6146

Dave AlvinDave Alvin - Blackjack DavidDave Alvin, one of the undisputed leading lights in what has come to be called ‘Americana’, is a compelling writer, poet and recording artist whose work can move and inspire. Born in 1955 in California, the Grammy award winning guitarist, singer and songwriter was formerly a member of roots rock band The Blasters (with older brother Phil), X, and country band The Knitters. Alvin recorded King of California, an album of acoustic music, in 1994, and followed this two years later with Interstate City’. This Double CD from Retroworld’s reissue indie label Floating World comprises both these albums that show Alvin’s canny knack for combining thoughtful lyricism with melodic song structures. Dazzling shifts in mood and tone can go from heartbreak balladry to full-tilt rocking in a heartbeat. BLACKJACK DAVID/OUT IN CALIFORNIA (FLOATING WORLD FLOATM6159) features two more Alvin reissues from 1998 and 2002 respectively, released as a bargain price double CD set. Highlights on the mostly acoustic Blackjack David, produced by long-time associate and steel guitarist Greg Leisz, include the outstanding title track and Abilene, the beautiful Evening Blues, California Snow and The Way You Say Good-Bye. Out in California is a live recording that includes a nine-minute medley of Alvin’s Little Honey and Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love as well as the honky-tonk country of Highway 99. The excellent band includes drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks, bassist Gregory Boaz and keyboard player Joe Terry. Dave Alvin is one of America’s great unsung songwriting heroes and these classic albums are a fine introduction to his impressive body of work.

MATRACA BERG - LOVE’S TRUCK STOP  PROPER RECORDS PRPCD107

Matraca Berg was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1964, soon after her mother, Icie Berg, had moved to there to seek her fortune as a singer and songwriter. Icie found only limited success in the music industry but encouraged her daughter to take up songwriting. Matraca’s early successes when co-writing with Bobby Braddock included Faking Love. Sung by Karen Brooks and T. G. Sheppard, it topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts on February 19, 1983. Since then Berg has released five albums as a singer and songwriter and written hits for, among many others, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker, Trisha Yearwood, the Dixie Chicks and Sweethearts of the Rodeo. In 2008, she became one of the youngest people ever to be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Her music reflects on the exultance of love and strength in troubled times, honestly exploring the depths of human emotions. Love’s Truck Stop is a collection of songs that celebrate the spark of the human spirit, the resilience of women and the joy of being alive even when it’s difficult. Co-produced by Cowboy Junkies veteran David Henry, the album also features former missionary/activist turned roots musician Jason Goforth, David Mead, Over The Rhine, Mindy Smith and Yo La Tengo, as well as vocals by special friends such as Emmylou Harris, Kim Carnes, Pat McLaughlin, Pistol Annie’s Ashley Monroe and Berg’s husband Jeff. Harris appears on the chilling Magdalene, inspired by the Magdalene Project which helps get prostitutes off the streets and into mainstream society. Other highlights include the scalding Cajungrass Black Ribbons, the lovely Foolish Flower, the affecting My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again, Love’s Truck Stop, Her Name Is Mary, and the elegiac final track, Fistful of Roses. These tender, heartfelt songs show compassion for the downtrodden, the long gone and the outcast - all strung across lean tracks that evoke the mountains, the coffeehouses and those cracks in the walls and sidewalks where lost souls often find themselves. ‘One of Nashville’s most graceful singer/songwriters.’ - USA Today.

BANJO DIARY: LESSONS FROM TRADITION  SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS SFW40208

American folk musician, writer and researcher Stephen Wade grew up in the 1950s and 60s in Chicago, where he heard some of the vernacular musicians who had moved north to the city from the Mississippi Delta and the Southern Appalachians. Wade started playing blues guitar at age eleven then switched to the banjo, taking lessons with Fleming Brown and Doc Hopkins. He immersed himself in the banjo, traditional music and American folklore, travelling across the United States to meet with musicians in the field and later developing critically acclaimed theatre shows combining storytelling, traditional music and percussive dance. His many essays, reviews and articles have appeared in publications such as Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post and his 500-page book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience, was recently published by the University of Illinois Press. Banjo Diary is the book’s companion CD exploring musical knowledge passed across the generations. Inspired by traditional players such as Chicago’s Doc Hopkins and Fleming Brown, the music is performed by virtuoso banjoist Stephen Wade accompanied by a group of gifted musicians: Mike Craver, Russ Hooper, Danny Knicely, James Leva and Zan McLeod. Various instruments and styles mine new creative possibilities with pump organ, piano, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, Dobro, washboard, rhumba box and bass. The banjo can be plaintive and sad, as here on the beautiful Arcade Blues and Rocky Hill, but its irrepressible cheerfulness won’t be kept down for long. This is an instrument that can’t resist a dance, as on the traditional Southern breakdown, Cotton Eyed Joe, and the joyous Old Country Stomp. From ragtime to reels, lyric songs to mountain blues, from Irish American to African American, across moods spanning brooding to jubilant, sentimental to stark, the banjo and its many voices finds new vibrancy on these recordings. The eighteen tracks are accompanied by a booklet with fascinating notes and photographs. ‘A wondrous artist’ - Time magazine.

THE CIVIL WARS - BARTON HOLLOW  SONY 88691941852

Barton HollowProduced by Charlie Peacock, Barton Hollow became the No. 1 downloaded album on iTunes as well as No. 1 on the Billboard Folk Albums chart and No. 2 on the Billboard Rock chart, selling 25,000 copies in its first week. Highlights include the plaintive Poison & Wine, the gentle C’est La Mort, the jangling title-track, The Violet Hour and Falling. Barton Hollow won Grammys in the Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance categories and the band has gone on to international fame. This Deluxe Edition of the album contains six rare bonus tracks, including covers of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean (live) and Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love. Highly recommended.

TIFT MERRITT - SEE YOU ON THE MOON     CONCORD

See You On The MoonGrammy-nominated singer-songwriter Catherine Tift Merritt was born in 1975 in Houston and moved with her family to Raleigh, North Carolina, when she was two. She learned guitar from her father and after high school worked as a waitress and played local gigs before attending the University of North Carolina. There she met Zeke Hutchins, who encouraged her to start a band and has been her drummer ever since (they were married in 2009). Friend and fellow North Carolina musician Ryan Adams helped get Tift a record contract and her debut album, Bramble Rose, was released in 2002. Since then, her music has been widely acclaimed and she has toured extensively with her band. See You On the Moon focuses on her poignant writing and performing skills with songs that reflect a steady pursuit of new places. Joining the recording sessions were, among others, celebrated pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz and Jim James, who adds hauntingly beautiful harmony to album centerpiece, Feel of the World, which tells the story of Tift Merritt’s grandmother’s recent death through the eyes of the grandfather she never knew. The opening track, Mixtape, is a tender, analogue-fuelled love letter to the handmade cassette tape. The brilliant, life affirming Engine To Turn swells with a melody both simple and beautiful, and the driving Six More Days of Rain is a haunting meditation on the beauty of human resilience. Merritt has an unerring eye for detail, an evocative voice, and a steely desire for emotional breakthrough and musical growth. Her understated version of of Kenny Loggins’ Danny’s Song is a masterpiece and other highlights include a lovely, heartbreaking The Thing That Everybody Does. Her voice is sensuously beautiful and this thoughtful, passionate music speaks of personal things that have a universal relevance. Highly recommended.

TIFT MERRITT - TRAVELING ALONE  YEP ROC RECORDS 2291

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Catherine Tift Merritt was born in 1975 in Houston and moved with her family to Raleigh, North Carolina, when she was two. She learned guitar from her father and after high school worked as a waitress and played local gigs before attending the University of North Carolina. There she met Zeke Hutchins, who encouraged her to start a band and has been her drummer ever since (they were married in 2009). Friend and fellow North Carolina musician Ryan Adams helped get Tift a record contract and her debut album, Bramble Rose, was released in 2002. Since then, she has toured extensively with her band and sang the Star Spangled Banner for Barack Obama at his campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, before he won the 2008 US presidential election. Her 2010 album, See You On the Moon, received universal acclaim. For her new one, Traveling Alone, Merritt knew - and got - exactly the musicians she wanted with her on this 11-track trip: legendary guitarist Marc Ribot, Calexico drummer John Convertino, steel player extraordinaire Eric Heywood, acclaimed jazz and rock multi-instrumentalist Rob Burger, and longtime cohort Jay Brown on bass. The sound is both spare and luxurious. Nothing to hide behind, no distractions, no sense trying to be everything to everybody. There’s a beautiful economy of motion on Traveling Alone. ‘I’ve always had a taste for traveling alone’ Tift Merritt sings in the gentle title track, and proves it by calling the shots and letting herself go wherever she needed to go when she was a free agent without label or manager. Highlights include the gorgeous Sweet Spot, Drifted Apart (with a Roy Orbison-like vocal accompaniment by Andrew Bird), the delicate Feeling of Beauty, the irrestible To Myself and the reflective closing track, Marks. ‘Traveling Alone is about the roads on the inside, those places that are hard to see and not easy to send postcards from.’

MARY GAUTHIER - LIVE AT BLUE ROCK  PROPER RECORDS PRPCD106

This album is Mary Gauthier first live recording, made at Blue Rock Artists Ranch near Austin Texas - ‘the finest live music listening room in a private home in America’. Essentially a Greatest Hits package, selections include music from her groundbreaking albums as well two new songs and a beautiful ‘hidden’ track at the end. The singer is joined by Tania Elizabeth on fiddle and Mike Meadows on percussion and among the highlights are the moody opening track, Your Sister, a heartfelt version of I Drink and the classic Drag Queens In Limousines. Highly recommended.

TOM RUSSELL - BORDERLAND / MODERN ART  FLOATING WORLD FLOATM6145

Tom Russell’s albums in recent years have been greatly influenced by his current home city, El Paso/Juarez. Borderland (2001) features strong Tex-Mex influence in its songs about life on both sides of the border, including the tender California Snow and the powerful What Works Is. It’s re-released here in a double CD set with his 2003 album Modern Art containing three duets with Nanci Griffith. Floating World Tom Russellrecords as also released a double CD set of Tom Russell’s work - INDIANS, COWBOYS, HORSES & DOGS / HOTWALKER (FLOATM6152). Indians, Cowboys etc sees him visit songs of the Old and New West, including the Marty Robbins classic, El Paso, a unique version of the Bob Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, and two othe songs assocaitaed with Dylan - Seven Curses and The Ballad of Ira Hayes. Fellow musicians include Eliza Gilkyson and Joe Ely. Hotwalker (2005), subtitled ‘A Ballad for Gone America’, is a conceptual work inspired by his correspondence with author Charles Bukowski. The album features songs and spoken word pieces, many delivered by another friend of Bukowski, circus midget Little Jack Horton, and there’s an elegiac tribute to Dave van Ronk. The sampled voices of Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, among others, are also heard in this musical collage lamenting the passing of the America of Russell’s childhood and the Beat generation. Although Russell has never enjoyed massive commercial success in his own right he is widely recognised as a ‘songwriter’s songwriter’ of real quality. These two collections are a perfect introduction to music that is shot through with real-life experience and lessons learnt the hard way, transformed into gritty, romantic images and vivid stories of America.

LERA LYNN - HAVE YOU EVER MET LERA LYNN?  FLOATING WORLD FREEM5038

Award-winning alt. country star Lera Lynn was born in Texas and moved to Georgia at age five. When this gifted singer/guitarist takes the stage, there is an undeniable sense that she is something very special. Lera Lynn’s sultry voice has a way of wrapping around her melodies, enveloping the listener. Her lyrics are rife with a plainspoken, yet cutthroat honesty and when combined with her chordings – which are distinct, original and timeless nonetheless – what is revealed is a songwriting craftsman, already well on her way to establishing a niche her very own. Her debut solo album, Have You Ever Met Lera Lynn? features a handpicked Lera Lynn’s collection of songs written over the previous decade. The music is a painstaking inventory of past experiences, as well as artistic challenges in her present pursuits, and her hopes for the future. It’s a richly atmospheric album, full of shadows like an aural approximation of a David Lynch movie, showcasing an artist who can craft a tune and write engaging, often allusive lyrics to complement it. With an excellent band of musicians and great arrangements, the standout tracks include Lera Lynn’s award-winning song Bobby, Baby as well as the brilliant Happy Ever After, Paper Archer, the racy Good Hearted Man and Leonard Cohen’s I Tried To Leave You.

MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER - ASHES AND ROSES   ZOE 01143-1150-2

Mary Chapin Carpenter has always chosen her own path. From her first gigs as a rising star on Washington DC’s folk scene in the early 1980s, she has made a reputation as both a singer and songwriter with a mind of her own. Over the course of an 11-album recording career, she has won five Grammy Awards and sold over 13 million records. Carpenter has achieved the same success as a live performer, having toured nationally and internationally for nearly two decades, and has remained immersed in humanitarian work throughout her career. Mary Chapin Carpenter describes her new album, Ashes and Roses, following 2010’s The Age of Miracles, as ‘a record about grief and loss, but it has an arc. It does go from night into day. I feel like it travels through some of the hardest, most difficult territory to a place of renewal. It speaks to that journey as it tries to describe what is seen and felt and experienced along the way. And one does get to the other side. I’m not entirely convinced that I’m through it all, but I am walking and talking and moving on with my life.’ Her recent experiences, including divorce, serious illness and the death of her father and depression, have resulted in a highly personal collection of songs. Recorded in Nashville and superbly produced by Matt Rollings, these songs are sad, beautiful, wistful and occasionally optimistic, as with New Years Day and Soul Companion - a duet featuring James Taylor. Other standout tracks include the title song (an instant classic), the scene-setting Transcendental Reunion, What To Keep And What To Throw Away, the epic drive of I Tried Going West, Old Love, Don’t Need Much to be Happy, Chasing What’s Already Gone, and the elegiac Jericho, accompanied by Matt Rollings’ solo piano. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s sincerity and intelligence, together with her warm, intimate style, produce music that can break your heart and stop you from feeling alone. Highly recommended.

MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER - THE AGE OF MIRACLES  ROUNDER 43113321

Mary Chapin Carpenter began writing the songs for this album in the summer of 2007, shortly after she had suffered a life threatening pulmonary embolism which forced the cancellation of all touring and performing for that year. With time on her hands, she was inclined to look inward and try to answer the question ‘what now?’. Recorded over the past three years, The Age of Miracles is a personal exploration of regret and resilience from the world-renowned singer-songwriter as a well as larger, more universal expression of wonder at the times we are living in. Co-produced by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Matt Rollings, the album features a great line-up of musicians, including longtime collaborator Rollings (piano, B-3 organ), Russ Kunkel (drums), Duke Levine (electric and acoustic guitar) and Glenn Worf (bass), with guest vocals from Vince Gill and Alison Krauss. Highlights include the title track (expressing the need to invest in optimism and the hope that the world can teach lessons of humility and grace), Mrs. Hemingway (about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, using her voice to look back at the lost years of the Lost Generation) and and the defiantly positive I Put My Ring Back On. These fine, reflective songs, infused with a poignant awareness of mortality, are superbly performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter with her usual warmth, tenderness and honesty.

MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER - THE AGE OF MIRACLES   ROUNDER 43113321

Mary Chapin CarpenterMary Chapin Carpenter began writing the songs for this album in the summer of 2007, shortly after she had suffered a life threatening pulmonary embolism which forced the cancellation of all touring and performing for that year. With time on her hands, she was inclined to look inward and try to answer the question ‘what now?’. Recorded over the past three years, The Age of Miracles is a personal exploration of regret and resilience from the world-renowned singer-songwriter as a well as larger, more universal expression of wonder at the times we are living in. Co-produced by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Matt Rollings, the album features a great line-up of musicians, including longtime collaborator Matt Rollings (piano, B-3 organ), Russ Kunkel (drums), Duke Levine (electric and acoustic guitar) and Glenn Worf (bass), with guest vocals from Vince Gill and Alison Krauss. Highlights include the title track (expressing the need to invest in optimism and the hope that the world can teach lessons of humility and grace), Mrs. Hemingway (about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, using her voice to look back at the lost years of the Lost Generation) and and the defiantly positive I Put My Ring Back On. These fine, reflective songs, infused with a poignant awareness of mortality, are superbly performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter with her usual warmth, tenderness and honesty.

TINA LIE - FREE ENOUGH TO FALL    SIWU MUSIC

Tina LieAward-winning singer-songwriter Tina Lie (pronounced Lee) was born in Olso and grew up playing the piano and singing in a children’s choir. Her singing career started when she met her husband and guitar player Brede Vestby and formed the Tina Lie Band. As well as playing in her native Norway, she has performed at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club and toured many times in the USA, where audiences are mesmerised by her powerful and heartfelt voice. Tina Lie’s latest album, Free Enough to Fall, was produced by Nashville’s Byron House, who has worked with artists such as Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. Also featured on the album are Mauro Magellan, Shaun Murphy, Keith Sewell, Grammy Award-winning Native American flautist Bill Miller, and celebrated multi-instrumentalist Fats Kamplin. Tina Lie brings a European sensibility to Americana on this great collection of songs. Highlights include the seductive Black Swan, the beautiful Gambling With The Stars, a fine version of Do Right To Me Baby (one of Bob Dylan’s less-covered songs), the rocking Pirate’s Heart, the wonderful Freedom Child and the closing track, Winter Moon. Another standout track, Twilight Hour, will be released as Tina Lie’s new single on 15th October. Often compared to Janis Joplin, Lie has a distinctive voice that is all her own and performs with rare passion and conviction.

JOHN FAHEY - TWILIGHT ON PRINCE GEORGE’S AVENUE   ROUNDER 01166190932

American fingerstyle guitarist and composer John Aloysius Fahey was born in Washington, DC, in 1939. He pioneered the steel-string guitar as a solo instrument and his style has been hugely influential. Fahey borrowed from the folk and blues traditions in American roots music, and later incorporated classical, Portuguese, Brazilian and Indian music into his work. In 2003, two years after his death, he was ranked 35th in Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’. John Fahey laid the foundation of an entire school of folk-based instrumental guitarists, from Leo Kottke to Peter Lang and Will Ackerman, but there’s no mistaking the mesmerising feeling and sound of the original. Released here in the excellent Essential Recordings series are some of the best solo guitar pieces Fahey recorded for Rounder’s subsidiary label Varrick. Although recorded when he was struggling with poor health and poverty, his virtuoso guitar playing here remains as fresh and gloriously inventive as ever. Highly recommended. See more Essential releases here

BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO - LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL    ROUNDER 01166122112

Buckwheat zydecoFrom Lafayette, Louisiana, accordionist and zydeco musician Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Dural has taken the Creole zydeco sound to audiences around the world. Born in Lafayette, Louisiana, Dural acquired his nickname as a youth, because, with his braided hair and looked like the character Buckwheat from Our Gang/Little Rascals movies. Buckwheat’s father, a farmer, was an accomplished, non-professional traditional Creole accordion player, but young Buckwheat preferred listening to and playing rhythm and blues, adapting these influences to Zydeco - a form of American roots music that evolved in southwest Louisiana in the early 19th century from various forms of Creole music. Tom Moon, in 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, selected the Grammy-nominated recordings on this rousing album as Buckwheat’s best. ‘When they hit the sweet spot - see Hot Tamale Baby and Zydeco Boogaloo - it’s the musical equivalent of a high-revving big rig that’s just discovered a previously untapped cruising gear. And intends to roll that way all night.’ Other highlights in this life-enhancing collection include Walkin’ To New Orleans, made famous by Fats Domino, and the traditional Lache Pas La Patate. ‘A down-home and high-powered celebration, meaty and muscular with a fine-tuned sense of dynamics…propulsive rhythms, incendiary performances.’ - The New York Times.

KRISTA DETOR - COVER THEIR EYES        CORAZONG 255 102

Cover Their EyesKrista Detor is a singer/songwiter/pianist from Bloomington, Indiana, whose first album, MUDSHOW (CORAZONG 255 087) was released in 2006. With great songs such as The Ghosts of Peach Street and The Hampton Sisters (Glory) it received international critical acclaim and reached the top of the Euro-Americana Chart. Her music defies genre, but the quality of her writing has been compared to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell. Cover Their Eyes, made together with partner and producer, David Weber, features a collection of brilliantly provocative and compelling songs that push the edges of genre while remaining close throughout to the lyrical thread that defines her work. The album spans era and style, incorporating the musical influence of some of the places in which Krista Detor has lived and travelled – the southern USA, the Midwest and Europe. All distinct on their own, these regional and cultural influences are woven together in a continuous pattern of sound and story. This is a writer with the rare ability to convey her songs, layered with affecting images, via a mesmerisingly beautiful voice and acute musical sensibilities. Sultry, introspective, melancholy and poetic, these twelve new songs are richly textured and soulful. Highlights include the smoothly laid-back Pretty Horses Run, The World Is Water, the lovely Robert Johnson Has Left Mississippi, a jazz-tinged Dinner With Chantel and the highly personal title track. Krista Detors voice and piano accompaniment are backed by sypathetic arrangements and an array of excellent musicians, inluding Dave Weber (guitar, vocals, cajon) and Steve mascan (bass). Krista Detor will be in the UK for a Charles Darwin songwriter workshop this month and will play a concert in Black Heath Halls on March 20, 2009, at 8 pm.

CHARCOAL - INNEKE23 & THE LIPSTICK PAINTERS   CORAZONG CRZ 255113

The enigmatically named Belgian singer/songwriter Inneke23 was bass player in the legendary garage rock band DeBossen, and a member of female punk band Hari’Kiri. She is now part of alt. country/roots band Inneke23 & The Lipstick Painters, performing music inspired by such country and Americana artists as Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Mary Gauthier, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and The Carter Family. The name Lipstick Painters apparently came to Inneke23 in a dream in which she had missed the show of her favourite band. Her friends tried to cheer her up by telling her that upstairs in a little room a great band - ‘The Lipstick Painting’ - would be playing at the after show party. Unfortunately she woke up before the show started, but the name of the mysterious band has stuck. The aspirations and ambitions of Inneke23 are reflected in her personal, intelligent, warm and varied songs, which range in mood from sadness to aggression, from joy to mystery and from dreams to heartache. Her voice is assured, sometimes wistful, and the band is as tight as they come. Standout tracks include Sweet Headed Girl, a cover of the Stranglers’ No More Heroes and the brilliant Happy In The End - ‘Sad stories without liars can be happy in the end.’ As the album cover says, ‘some of the words appear to have been written for nobody ’cept you.’ Highly recommended.

MARY GAUTHIER - GENESIS (THE EARLY YEARS)    PROPER PRPCD035

Mary Gauthier (pronounced ‘Go-shay’) was born in New Orleans in 1962. Given up at birth by a mother she never knew, she was adopted by an Italian Catholic couple in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Aged 15, she ran away from home (stealing her parents’ car) and drifted between drug rehabilitation, halfway houses and living with friends, spending her 18th birthday in jail. She studied philosophy at Louisiana State University before dropping out due to drug problems and moved to Boston, where she eventually became manager of the restaurant where she worked as a dishwasher. Financial backers paid her way to Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and she opened a Cajun restaurant called Dixie Kitchen (the title of her first album). She wrote her first song at age 35 and sold her share in the restaurant to finance her second album, Drag Queens in Limousines, after which she began to play at major folk festivals. Her third album, Filth and Fire, was named indie CD of the year by the New York Times. Genesis (The Early Years) is a compilation of thirteen songs from Mary Gauthier’s first three CDs, with the added bonus of two previously unreleased live tracks (I Ain’t Got No Home and I Don’t Know Nothing About Love). Gauthier’s difficult early experiences provide plenty of material for her songs, which often resemble vividly told short stories showing compassion for the disenfanchised and forlorn. Standout tracks include her autobiographical Drag Queens in Limousines, Camelot Motel and the haunting I Drink (a favourite of Bob Dylan).

EILEEN ROSE & THE HOLY WRECK - LUNA TURISTA  FLOATING WORLD RECORDS FREEM5020

Luna TuristaItalo-American Eileen Rose’s fifth album was recorded in Berlin and in her adopted home town of Nashville, Tennessee, with her relatively recently acquired backing The Holy Wreck that includes the excellent Rich Gilbert on electric guitar and pedal steel and Nate ‘86′ Stalfa on drums, with fiddler Joshua Hedley and Aaron Oliva appearing on several tracks. Luna Turista features nine of Eileen Rose’s own compositions plus a tender version of Waylon Jennings’s Luckenbach Texas. Her beautiful golden voice has gained impressive conviction and versatility and is heard to great effect on an album that reveals Rose’s most accomplished work to date and could finally earn her the mainstream recognition she has long deserved. She moves with impressive ease from reflective tracks such as Third Times a Charm and the lovely Silver Ladle to the defiant rocking of All These Pretty Things. Other outstanding songs include the moving Sad Ride Home, reflecting personal losses Eileen Rose has experienced recently, such as the deaths of her brother and her father, and the Dylanesque Strange, which also appears on a bargain-priced sampler album from Floating World Records - THE WORLD IS YOURS (WORLD 1). The other 17 tracks on this one include some of the latest work by the label’s admirably eclectic roster of artists, ranging from veterans such as Detroit’s Mitch Ryder, the legendary Gary U.S. Bonds, ace guitarist Robin Trower and ‘the greatest Cajun band in the world’ Beausoleil, to newer names such as Eef Barzeley, Umphrey’s McGee, Sharon Robinson (a fine version of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows), the soulful Toni Childs and an inspired final track by Ravi Coltrane, son of jazz greats John and Alice. First class.

MADISON VIOLET - NO FOOL FOR TRYING    TRUE NORTH

Madison VioletHailing from Scottish small towns in Canada, Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac have chosen a musical path that channels their parent’s vintage record collection comprising the likes of Neil Young and Dolly Parton. The duo’s collective identity, Madison Violet, came into being nine years ago after a chance meeting at an appropriately titled restaurant, ‘The Green Room’. Since then, they have gradually developed a sound of their own, which has been described as both city-folk and tumbleweed pop. Their first two CDs - Worry The Jury and Caravan - were widely acclaimed, earning them two ECMA awards nominations in the ‘Folk album of the Year’ and ‘Best Group Recording’ categories as well as a Canadian Folk Award nomination as ‘Vocal Group of the year’. The accomplished singer-songwriters have also toured extensively, supporting artists such as Ron Sexsmith, Chantal Kreviazuk, Indigo Girls and The Temptations. This new album has taken them down a road lush with gorgeous harmonies, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and upright bass. The songs are infused with heartache and loss but the listener will always find an uplifting twang in their sound, one that may invoke the essence of Lucinda Williams or Steve Earle. Highlights include the opening tale of life on the road, Ransom, the quietly emotional yet devastating ‘Woodshop’, the countrified Best Part of your Love, the jaunty Lauralee, and the beautiful title track. Smoothly produced by Les Cooper, these intimate, well-crafted songs are performed with subtle restraint and true feeling. Madison Violet will be making a welcome tour of the UK early in 2010 and details of this can be seen here

STEVE MARTIN - THE CROW        ROUNDER CDROUN0647

This is comedian, actor, author and virtuoso banjo player Steve Martin’s first musical recording since his 1978 hit, King Tut. The new album is no novelty record by a man with an arrow through his head though. After playing on the Grammy Award winning Foggy Mountain Breakdown with Earl Scruggs, Martin began writing a string of new banjo songs, some with lyrics and some as instrumentals. Forty-five years in the making, The Crow features some of the best 5-String banjo music around as Steve Martin is joined by friends such as Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, the legendary Earl Scruggs, Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka and Mary Black. Martin wrote or co-wrote all of the bluegrass-style songs, many of which are likely to become future classics. ‘I have loved the banjo my whole life,’ Martin says. ‘The songs on this record represent the influence of a dozen players and a thousand tunes, and I thank them all. But it’s the banjo itself I thank most for generating nostalgia for experiences I never had, joy I was yet to experience, and melancholy that was yet to come.’ Recorded in Dublin, Hollywood, Nashville and New Jersey and produced by John McEuen, The Crow comes with a 24-page booklet featuring Steve Martin’s writing on the role the banjo has played in his life, along with his inspiration for each song that appears on the album. Highlights include the down-home opener, Daddy Played the Banjo, a breakneck Pitkin County Turnaround, the quirky Late for School, an Irish folk-influenced Freddie’s Lilt, the lovely Words Unspoken, Pretty Flowers (on which the great Dolly Parton duets with Vince Gill), a delicate Clawhammer Medley, Mary Black’s vocal on Calico Train (also appearing in an instrumental version), Blue River Waltz and the title track, The Crow. Irresistible stuff.

JEFF & VIDA - SELMA CHALK       ROSEBANK RECORDS

In eleven years of playing together, Jeff Burke and Vida Wakeman have performed at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, the main stage of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and even Malaysia’s Rainforest World Music Festival - all part of their rigorous tour itinerary, which often has them on the road for over 200 dates a year. Vida Wakeman’s unmistakeable voice has been compared to everyone from Loretta Lynn to Gillian Welch, but none of the comparisons are quite accurate. Her delivery is a home-grown, rootsy style with just enough twang and just enough toughness. Although they have lived in Nashville since Hurricane Katrina devastated their New Orleans home, she and musical partner Jeff Burke have carried the musical roots they discovered and nurtured in The Big Easy to Music City - strong songwriting, solid performances, and a love and dedication to their craft. To record their long-awaited fourth album, Selma Chalk, she and musical partner Jeff Burke brought together some of Colorado’s best country and bluegrass pickers, including banjo renaissance man Jake Schepps and remarkably young fiddler Justin Hoffenberg. The album starts with the rollicking Heartache Train and other standout songs include the Alabama Sky, the wonderful Sharp as a Knife, the breathless Little Sara and Time Will Heal Your Wounds, which already sounds like a classic. Blending traditional bluegrass and modern alt-country, these songs have that elusive, genuine front-porch feel. ‘In a city that values its rhinestones, they are managing to make music that is real and true, the thing itself as opposed to a parody of the thing’ - New York Times. Jeff & Vida are on tour in the UK until 26 September.

STEPHEN FEARING - THE MAN WHO MARRIED MUSIC   TRUE NORTH TND527

Stephen Fearing was born in Vancouver on Canada’s west coast but grew up in Ireland, having moved there at the age of 6 to live in Dublin. Now resident in Ontario, the multiple Juno Award winning singer-songwriters is one of the foremost performers in Canada. Mixing powerful lyrics, creative arrangements and great guitar work, Fearing has built up a loyal international audience over a couple of decades with a wide range of songs - from his 1988 release ‘Out to Sea’, to his most recent album, ‘Yellowjacket’. A founding member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, he has also collaborated with artists such as Richard Thompson, Sarah McLachlan, Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Suzie Vinnick. ‘The Man Who Married Music’ is a ‘Best Of’ collection, with tracks handpicked by Stephen Fearing to feature some of the best music he has released over his career as well as two brand new tracks - No Dress Rehearsal and The Big East West. The well-crafted songs tell memorable stories and his deep voice is backed by fine virtuoso guitar playing. Stephen Fearing will be touring the UK in October – see the website at www.stephenfearing.com

RIBBON OF HIGHWAY, ENDLESS SKYWAY   MUSIC ROAD RECORDS MMR CD 101

Woodrow Wilson ‘Woody’ Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912 as the second son of Charles and Nora Belle Guthrie. His father - a cowboy, land speculator, and local politician - taught Woody Western and Indian songs as well as Scottish folk tunes. Woody Guthrie’s musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children’s songs, ballads and improvised works. Many of the songs are reflect his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, when he travelled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs along the way. The ‘Dust Bowl Troubadour’ was married three times and fathered eight children, including folk musician Arlo Guthrie. Guthrie died in 1967 from complications of Huntington’s disease, a progressive genetic neurological disorder. During his later years, in spite of his illness, he served as a figurehead in the folk movement, providing inspiration to a generation of new folk musicians, including mentor relationships with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan. The Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway concert has received rave reviews over the ten years that this special tribute performance to the great singer-songwriter and folk musician has been touring. Featuring Jimmy LaFave and a rotating cast of guest musicians, Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway incorporates some of Guthrie’s impressive prose writings into the show along with his music. This double disc showcases the best of the tour and features Bob Childers, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Ellis Paul, Kevin Welch and Michael Fracasso, with special appearances by Pete Seeger and Fred Hellerman. A warm, informative and enjoyable treat for any Woody Guthrie fan. ‘Woody is just Woody...He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people.’ - John Steinbeck.

HIGH WIDE & HANDSOME – THE CHARLIE POOLE PROJECT   PROPER RECORDS (2ND STORY SOUND) PRPVD052

The American old time banjo player and country musician Charles Cleveland Poole was born in 1892 in Spray, in the northern part of North Carolina, near the Virginia border and in the heart of the cotton mill belt. His father worked in a mill, and, by the time he was twelve, so did Charlie, changing bobbins 60 hours a week for a $3 wage. He learned banjo as a youth and also played baseball. His three-fingered playing technique was the result of a baseball accident when he characteristically bet that he could catch a baseball without a glove. He spent much of his adult life working in textile mills but his talent for singing and playing the banjo freed him, for a while, from the noise and lint of the spinning room. Wandering as far west as Montana and as far north as Canada, he busked at train stations, courthouses and general stores. He picked up a couple musicians on the road and in 1925 his band, The North Carolina Ramblers, went to New York City to record for Columbia Records. Their 78 of ‘Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues’ sold an astonishing 102,000 copies at a time when there were only 600,000 phonographs in the Southern United States, though the band only received $75. Between his first and second sessions for Columbia, Charlie Poole sold half a million records. The Ramblers played schoolhouses, theatres, barn dances and speakeasies, with Charlie livening up the act by means of somersaults and buck dancing, as well as jokes, stories and humorous asides. Meanwhile, his wife back in Spray never knew where he was or when he was coming home, except for the odd telegram. By 1931, with record sales crippled by the Great Depression, Poole’s career seemed to be over. He found himself back in Spray, working in the mill, and his drinking took on marathon proportions. One day he collapsed on the street and died in an upstairs bedroom in his sister’s log house. He was 39 years old. High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project is the 20th studio album by American singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. This lovingly created album, complete with an excellent 70-page booklet, pays tribute to the legendary singer and banjo picker. The 30 tracks include new versions of songs made popular by Poole from 1925 through 1930 as well as original songs by Wainwright and producer Dick Connette reflecting the artist’s life and times. More than 25 performers contributed, including Wainwright’s children, Rufus, Martha and Lucy. The songs and musicianship are superb, full of life, humour and reflection, making this a touching tribute to a true original.

THE ROOTS OF BOB DYLAN     PROPER PROPERBOX 150

Roots of Bob DylanBorn on 24 May 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, Robert Alan Zimmerman grew up in nearby Hibbing. ‘The Greatest Songwriter Ever’ has released more than 40 albums since his 1962 debut began to change the world’s perceptions of popular music. Around five hundred songs later (Like a Rolling Stone was voted the best song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine and the NME) Dylan continues to surprise, challenge, mystify and fascinate in equal measure as he pursues his ‘Never Ending Tour’, having performed thousands of shows around the world in a career spanning five decades. Dylan not only represented the future of music in the Sixties but was also a standard bearer for all of the great American musical genres that preceded his arrival on the scene. Throughout his career he has taken various elements of Folk, Country, Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Bluegrass, Western Swing, Rockabilly, Pop and just about anything else he has heard and forged them together into his own unique style. This superb CD set chronicles Dylan’s personal journey and features some of the most famous artists of all time, including Bessie Smith, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Charley Patton, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Little Richard, together with less well known music by people such as Charlie Poole, Blind Blake, Clarence Ashley and the great Bukka White. As well as 60 lovingly selected tracks on three CDs, the box set also includes an informative booklet and a lengthy DVD, ‘Talkin’ Dylan’, featuring interviews with Joe Boyd, Sid Griffin and Mike Marqusee. An indispensable treat for all self-respecting Dylanologists.

SAM BAKER - COTTON    MUSIC ROAD RECORDS MRRCD104

CottonSam Baker grew up in the prairie town of Itasca, Texas. In 1986, at the age of 32, he was travelling to visit Machu Picchu in Peru when the train he was riding on was blown up by a terrorist bomb. Several passengers were killed, including a family sitting next to him, and Baker almost died from horrendous injuries, including shrapnel in his leg, renal failure, brain damage, hearing loss and a permanently mangled left hand. Somehow he overcame these obstacles to develop his quietly powerful performance style and the long physical, emotional and spiritual journey helped form his quiet and passionate view of the world. He had to re-learn to play guitar left-handed in order to sing and play his unique, compelling and original songs. Cotton is the third album in a masterful trilogy that also includes Mercy (2004) and Pretty World (2007). The cost of forgiveness is weighed against the cost of not forgiving. Other characters walk onto the stage: a field hand, a pulp wood logger, a serving girl, a young Mennonite. Once again beauty is a constant. Outstanding tracks include Moon, the beautiful Angel Hair and the wonderfully poignant Snow. Cotton is even more profound and touching than the earlier albums and completes the trilogy triumphantly. Highly recommended.

CATHERINE MACLELLAN - WATER IN THE GROUND    TRUE NORTH 

Water In The GroundSinger-songwriter Catherine MacLellan comes from Prince Edward Island and has become one of the most respected names in the Canadian roots scene. Her pure, ethereal vocals and poetic lyrics have inevitably brought comparisons to Joni Mitchell, and she has built up a loyal fan base and been a hit with critics worldwide. Her previous album, Church Bell Blues, was top of the iTunes Canada Roots charts and this new release, Water in the Ground, is an outstanding collection that features some of the most prominent musicians in Canada, including Treasa Levasseur, Justin Rutledge, David Baxter and cellist Phil Sedore. A lighter and more cheerful mood is prominent throughout most of the CD. From the jaunty first track, Take A Break, to the poignant finale, Flowers on Your Grave, Catherine MacLellan creates spacious, dreamy soundscapes that allow the listener get lost in the songs and musical conversations. The Water In The Ground package also includes a copy of MacLellan’s debut, Dark Dream Midnight, previously only available by mail order. The songs here are much less sunny, with the highlight being the lovely though melancholy Until One Of Us Goes.

SAM BAKER - PRETTY WORLD     sambakermusic.com

Pretty WorldSam Baker’s 2004 debut album MERCY gained critical and popular acclaim, making him one of the biggest underground Americana success stories of recent years. With his 2007 follow-up, Pretty World, this unassuming Texan moved triumphantly from cult-hero into the mainstream consciousness. His raspy vocal style and intelligent, delicately phrased lyrics are supported by a sparse and carefully arranged backdrop of music. At times he almost talks through the songs, with his gravel tones inflecting deep humanity into the miniature short stories he tells. Produced by Walt Wilkins and Tim Lorsch, this outstanding album also features such fine musicians as Joel Guzman on accordion, Lloyd Maines on dobro and steel, with Gurf Morlix, Marcia Ramirez and the excellent Chris Baker-Davies adding vocals. Baker’s musical influences include fellow Texan songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, as well as John Prine, Leonard Cohen and early Dylan, but his work is as much influenced by literary heroes such as Faulkner and Hemingway. Pretty World is an exceptional album filled with compassion, insight and great lyrical beauty.

JOAN BAEZ - GONE FROM DANGER   PROPER RECORDS PRPCD046

American folk singer and songwriter Joan Baez has performed publicly for fifty years, releasing more than thirty albums. Usually considered a folk singer, her music has ranged from rock and pop to country and gospel, and she has always been a passionate activist in favour of nonviolence, civil and human rights, and the environment. Famous for her early relationship with Bob Dylan, she is has recorded many of his songs, including Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word and Farewell Angelina, and has been an outstanding interpreter of the work of artists as varied as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Kris Kristofferson, The Beatles and Stevie Wonder. Her 1997 album Gone From Danger has songs by less well-known writers - Betty Elders, Sinead Lohan, Richard Shindell and Dar Williams - all of whom toured with Baez over the next year or two. Following the acclaimed Day After Tomorrow album, her first new studio recordings in five years, this collector’s edition reissue features the original Gone from Danger album together with a bonus CD of Mountain Stage performances of the same songs, minus Lily and Mercy Bound. Each songwriter joins the lineup for their particular compositions, apart from Baez’s opening solo version of of Dar Williams’s If I Wrote You. There are also three songs that not on Gone From Danger - Long Bed from Kenya (written by Betty Elders), You’re Aging Well (a duet with Williams, minus the band), and Bob Dylan’s classic To Ramona. The songs demonstrates Baez’s admirable ability to find talented new writers and performers and unselfishly bring them to the attention of a wider audience.

NANCI GRIFFITH - THE LOVING KIND      ROUNDER

Nanci GriffithNanci Griffith was born in 1953 in Seguin, Texas. At the age of 6 she began to write songs and at the age of 14, when a campfire turn at the Kerrville Folk Festival caught the ear of singer-songwriter Tom Russell, she was on her way. Griffith’s career has spanned a variety of musical genres, predominantly country, folk, and what she terms ‘folkabilly’. From the mid to late 1980s, she has released a string of albums that have influenced a generation of other artists. Since her Grammy-winning Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993) she has since battled cancer twice and this new album (her 19th) is a fine return to form. The Loving Kind features 13 new songs, often with a political bent, and features producers Pat McInerney and Thomm Jutz on drums and guitar respectively, together with Matt McKenzie on bass, Barry Walsh on keyboards, Shad Cobb on fiddle and Fats Kaplin on pedal steel guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Nanci Griffith is at the top of her game as both songwriter and singer on these thirteen songs - nine written by her and four well-chosen covers. Two are by early mentor Dee Moeller - the rowdy Party Girl and Tequila After Midnight. Gale Trippsmith’s Money Changes Everything is a jaunty look at greed and the album closes with Edwina Hayes’ reflective Pour Me a Drink. The title track sets the tone, telling the true story of how for a mixed-race couple love triumphed over the social injustice that prevailed in the United States until 1967. Other outstanding songs include the upbeat Across America, a tribute to Townes Van Zant (Things I Don’t Need), the poignant Not Innocent Enough and the wonderful Cotton’s All We Got. As with Joan Baez, Nanci Griffith’s sensitive voice has grown huskier with time and this album, with its strong melodies and simple instrumentation, is her best in years.

RACHEL HARRINGTON - CITY OF REFUGE   SKINNY DENNIS RECORDS

Reared among the Pentecostal pines of Oregon, Rachel Harrington has been doing things in the wrong order for quite some time. She received extensive radio play before performing her live show, and was opening for Grammy winners and nominees before releasing her first record. Now, soon after her critically acclaimed 2007 debut, The Bootlegger’s Daughter, Harrington surrounds herself with a fine cast of supporting musicians for her latest album, City of Refuge. Tim O Brien features on old-time fiddle, Zak Borden on mandolin and guitjo (a six-stringed banjo with the neck of a guitar), Mike Grigoni on pedal steel and dobro, Jon Hamar on upright bass, Dayan Kai on clarinet, and backing vocalists include Holly O’Reilly and Pieta Brown. The songs tell of characters seeking respite, escape or salvation, relating personal and mythical stories from the American West. The tales are inspired among other things by the memoirs of prostitutes during the Alaska gold rush (Karen Kane), the cantankerous Harry Truman of Mt. St. Helens, and the work of short story writer Raymond Carver. A sepia-toned cover photograph depicting a field on which a circus is being erected sets the tone for this bluegrass influenced music. Rachel Harrington conjures up an authentic, rough-hewn country voice that does full justice to melodic, understated songs that touch on love and death.

KIMMIE RHODES - WALLS FALL DOWN   SUNBIRD SBD 0015

Texan singer-songwriter Kimmie Rhodes grew up in Lubbock and began her singing career at the age of six with her family gospel trio. She moved to Austin in 1979, where she met DJ and producer Joe Gracey, an instrumental figure in the Austin progressive country scene, who she eventually married. In 1981 she recorded her first album, Kimmie Rhodes and the Jackalope Brothers when Willie Nelson invited her to use his studio. Since then she has recorded a total of twelve acclaimed solo CDs and her multi-platinum selling songs have been recorded by such star names as Willie Nelson, Wynonna Judd, Trisha Yearwood, Waylon Jennings, Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris. A creative and prolific artist, she has also written and produced three musical plays as well as hundreds of songs, and co-authored a novella/cookbook with Joe Gracey. Walls Fall Down was recorded with an international cast of musicians including John Gardner (percussion), Glen Fukunaga (bass), Gabe Rhodes (guitars, keyboards), Brian Standefer (cello) and Kieran Goss and Ann Kinsella on backing vocals. Co-produced by Kimmie and Gabe, the CD was recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe Gracey in Kimmie Rhodes’ studio in Austin. In typically eclectic fashion, the songs range from the political (Your Majesty) to cosmic imaginings (Last Seven Seconds), to straightforward Americana (Make the Morning Shine, co-written with Ireland’s Kieran Goss and Brendan Murphy). Other highlights include the the gorgeous title track, a version of the Townes Van Zandt classic If I Needed You and a reinterpretation of The Beatles’ Fool on the Hill. In 2005, Sunbird also released TEN SUMMERS (Sunbird SBD 0012), a compilation CD featuring ten years of Kimmie Rhodes’ favourite recordings. Included among them are memorable duets with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and her friend Emmylou Harris. With her gentle songs, angelic voice and engaging personality, Rhodes is a truly outstanding artist. ‘Kimmie has the voice of a beautiful child coming from an old soul. She touches us where the better angels of our nature dwell, and I believe we need that now more than ever.’ - Emmylou Harris.

JOAN BAEZ - DAY AFTER TOMORROW    PROPER RECORDS PRPCD034

American folk legend Joan Baez has recently found considerable success with songs by Steve Earle, who has produced and plays guitar on this outstanding album. The other musicians include bluegrass veterans Tim O’Brien (mandolin, fiddle, and bouzouki) and Darryl Scott (guitars, dobro, banjolin, bouzouki), as well as bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer/percussionist Kenny Malone. Three of the ten songs are written by Steve Earle, including his philosophical God Is God and an a cappella Jericho Road. Other highlights include an emotional version of Tom Waits’ Day After Tomorrow, Eliza Gilkyson’s lovely Rose of Sharon and Requiem, Elvis Costello’s Scarlet Tide, Patty Griffin’s Christian allegory Mary, and the wonderful Lower Road by British singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore, who recorded her harmony vocal in Liverpool. Joan Baez’s remarkable voice has become pleasingly smokier with age and she brings her usual sincerity as well as a touching vulnerability to these perfectly chosen songs. Highly recommended.

UNCLE EARL – WATERLOO, TENNESSEE     ROUNDER 1161-0577-2

The American band Uncle Earl was formed by KC Groves (mandolin, guitar and vocals) and Jo Serrapere, who has since left to pursue a solo career as a songwriter. The current line-up includes KC Groves, Abigail Washburn (banjo and vocals), Rayna Gellert (fiddle and vocals) and Kristin Andreassen (guitar, fiddle, banjo ukelele, vocals and clogging). The band’s old-time music sound has profound echoes of the rural Americana and this new album, Waterloo, Tennessee, is marked by a grandly elegant sense of loss; the breaths of something wistful escaping, bloodied but unbeaten, from the throes of a dying European empire. The music points toward the roots of stringband music (Scotch-Irish ballads, Celtic fiddle tunes, the blues), but by including original material and opening their sound to an array of influences past and present, Uncle Earl arrive at something haunting and timeless, yet instantly appealing and accessible. Waterloo, Tennessee was produced by rock legend John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and the album’s standout tracks include the traditional fiddle tune Black-Eyed Susie, The Last Goodbye, the beautiful One True, Wish I Had My Time Again (a traditional song taken at breakneck speed), the delicate My Little Carpenter, the irresistible Sisters of the Road, D & P Blues (Drinking and Promiscuity), The Birds Were Singing of You, Bob Dylan’s Wallflower and the bittersweet I May Never. Guest musicians include Erin Youngberg, John Paul Jones, Eric Thorin and Gillian Welch. The g’Earls are in great form and their winning contemporary take on old-time music is artfully reflected in this collection of traditional and original songs. Highly recommended.

THE FELICE BROTHERS - YONDER IS THE CLOCK   TEAM LOVE TL-39

The Felice Brothers (Simone, Ian, and James) and their long time friends and bandmates Greg Farley and Christmas Clapton, hail from New York’s Catskill Mountains, where a homegrown sound has been working its way through the bloodlines for generations. After months of living in a 1987 special education bus, with arrests and genuine panhandler fun, a free-lance music writer Gabe Soria stumbled upon them singing and barking their wares at a farmers market in Brooklyn. One thing led to another and now the band travels the world performing their homegrown and gritty music as if they were hosting a sing-along on their front porch or in the backroom of a dusty tavern. Their rambling so far has brought them from busking in New York City subway stations to tours across the world that have included enthusiastically received performances at major music festivals. This latest album, Yonder Is The Clock, titled with a phrase drawn from the pages of Mark Twain, is a nod to all of the American ghosts that lend their narrative and characters to the music. The band’s studio was built from the remains of an abandoned chicken coop and it was there over the summer and fall of 2008 that they wrote and recorded this collection of folk-tinged alt country songs. Yonder Is The Clock is filled with marvelous tales of love, death, betrayal, baseball, train stations, phantoms, pandemics, jail cells, rolling rivers and frozen winter nights. The music’s disaffection and rough-hewn poetry brings to mind the authenticity of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, and this rootsy album is sure to earn The Felice Brothers an enhanced reputation.

THE BELIEVERS – LUCKY YOU      CORAZONG RECORDS

Craig Aspen and Cyd Frazzini met seven years ago in bar in Seattle, brought together by their love for old school country music. Prior to becoming a Believer, Craig Aspen moved between New York City and New Orleans writing songs by day and bar-tending by night. Cyd Frazzini left her home in Denver, Colorado, and began performing in rock bands until she was re-introduced to bluegrass music and became determined to pursue and learn more about the Appalachian style and its influences on American folk music. Within weeks of meeting, Aspen and Frazzini were writing and recording songs and soon produced two critically acclaimed albums. As The Believers they have toured extensively throughout USA, UK and Europe, living for a couple of years in Nashville, and have now made their first for CoraZong Records. Co-produced with Steve Adamek and mastered by the TwangTrust’s Ray Kennedy, who produced albums for Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams amongst others. Lucky You effortlessly blends rock, country music and pop hooks while keeping one foot firmly planted in American roots. Highlights include the punchy opening title track, the rootsy Higher Ground, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, the beautiful Read It & Weep, Who’s Your Baby Now, the irresistible Ring, Ring, Ring, The Day the Circus Left Town and a gorgeous bonus track, Long Way to Heaven. Influenced by the likes of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, the Believers’ fine song-writing and assured harmonies also bring to mind Fleetwood Mac at their most convincing.

KATHLEEN EDWARDS – ASKING FOR FLOWERS    ZOE CDZOE 1115

Asking for FlowersThe acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1978. Her attractive blend of country, folk and pop has made her a rising star on the alt country music scene and Asking for Flowers is her third studio album to date. It features eleven new songs, all written by Edwards, and finds her performing at the peak of her creative powers, supported by a group of excellent backing musicians, including keyboardist Benmont Tench from The Heartbreakers, drummer Don Heffington, bassist Bob Glaub, guitarist Colin Cripps and pedal steel master Greg Leisz. The songs tell indelible, clear-eyed stories of hope and resignation, humour and death, unconditional love and brazen inequality. Standout tracks include the title song about a beleaguered wife (‘Don't tell me you’re too tired, 10 years I’ve been working nights’), The Cheapest Key (in which many bridges are angrily burned), the controversial Alicia Ross, I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory, the poignant Oil Man’s War, Run, the driving Oh Canada and Scared At Night. Sounding at times like a cross between Lucinda Williams, Tom Petty and fellow-Canadian Neil Young, Kathleen Edwards bravely tells it like it is, with real emotion and an underlying fragility that makes her bittersweet music all the more convincing. Asking for Flowers, which she co-produced with Jim Scott, is her most accomplished album yet, revealing an artist who is reaching maturity as both songwriter and singer. Highly recommended.

GILLIAN WELCH – SOUL JOURNEY       ACONY 50466 6868 2

Singer-songwriter Gillian Welch was born in New York City in 1967 and moved to Los Angeles at the age of four with her adoptive family. By the age of seven, she had learned to play the guitar and later discovered bluegrass music while studying at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Her eclectic musical style combines elements of bluegrass, traditional country, Americana, old time string band music and folk into a rustic blend that she calls ‘American Primitive’. All of her recordings feature the close-harmonies and unconventional guitar work of her long-time musical partner, David Rawlings. Gillian Welch is perhaps best known for her work on the hugely successful soundtrack of the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? - in which she also had a cameo as a girl in a record store trying to buy a copy of the Soggy Bottom Boys’ recording of Man of Constant Sorrow. This uncompromising musical renegade with four critically acclaimed albums and a Grammy Award writes and performs mostly with David Rawlings. The duo’s haunting songs are like rock and roll chamber music, with two acoustic guitars and voices blended together, and their third album, 2001’s TIME (THE REVELATOR) ACONY 50466 6875-2-4 marked a divergence from Americana towards a skeletal kind of rock and roll. Soul Journey finds Welch and Rawlings getting creatively looser, with a back-up band to flesh out the sound. The result is a blend of traditional songs such as Mississippi John Hurt’s classic Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor with self-penned tracks like One Monkey and the exquisite One Little Song. Other highlights include a Band/Neil Young-influenced Wrecking Ball, the unique and the reflective I Had A Real Good Mother And Father. Gillian Welch’s soulful and expressive voice is in fine form on an album that brings warmth and relevance to the American tradition.

PAULA FRAZER AND TARNATION – NOW IT’S TIME   BIRDMAN BMR 095

Paula FrazerSinger-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paula Frazer grew up in Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Her father was a minister and her mother taught piano and played organ in the church so Paula grew up singing in the church choir and playing piano and guitar. After playing guitar and singing in various bands in Arkansas she went to San Francisco aged 18 started playing in bands such as Pleasant Day, Faith No More (guest guitarist) and Virginia Dare. She started Tarnation in 1991 and put out several records under this name before dropping it in favour of her own for such albums Leave The Sad Things Behind (BIRDMAN BMR078). On her newest recording, Now It’s Time, Paula Frazer reconvenes Tarnation for the first time in ten years. The band consists of Frazer, long-time collaborator Patrick Main (piano) and Jasmyn Wong (drums). With Now It’s Time, Paula Frazer and Tarnation reconnect with their past, presenting an olde tyme sound with whisping swirls of guitars and strings, framing Paula’s sweetly angelic voice. The songs depict loss and sorrow but seek and find solace, warmth and comfort in the act of music-making. The immediacy of the writing and production (it was recorded partly in her classic Victorian house in San Francisco on a 1/4" 8 track tape machine) add a pure and fluid sensibility to Frazer’s beautiful voice. Highlights include the opening track, August’s Song, the sad and beautiful Sleeping Dreams, Pretend (with string quartet), the sumptuous First Sign, Nowhere, and the gently resigned title track. With touches of Patsy Cline, Nick Cave and Joni Mitchell, this is a terrific album by one of the loveliest voices in contemporary alt country music.

TIM GRIMM - HOLDING UP THE WORLD    CORAZONG CRZ 255107

Tim Grimm has toured and recorded with his friend, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and appeared with Harrison Ford in the film Clear and Present Danger. His songs and performances have established him as a unique voice in Americana music as he walks the fine line between folk and country, while maintaining a strong footing in tradition. He grew up in the woods and small town settings of southern Indiana, and he now lives with his wife and sons on an 80 acre farm close to where he grew up. His songs are full of the rural rumblings that have shaped his life - rich with descriptive details, and sung with warmth and intimacy. Holding Up The World, Tim Grimm’s fifth solo release in the past decade, is flavoured by the rural Midwest places and people he knows so well. The production is simple and he records his songs ‘live’ with guitar and vocal before layering instruments and voices to suit the song. Jason Wilber plays electric guitar, banjo and mandolin.  Most of the players hail from Indiana, including Kristta Detor (vocals, piano), Jan Lucas (vocals, harmonica) and Jennie Devoe (vocals). Holding Up The World examines what it means to be human, with songs that thoughtfully express anguish, uncertainty and yearning. Grimm has been compared to Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen, but his wise, reflective songs stand on their own. He even risks covering Bob Dylan’s Blowing’ In The Wind and gets away with it. Other highlights include the contemplative title track, Long Way Round, Heart So Full and the beautiful Krista. Highly recommended.

MERMAID AVENUE - BILLY BRAGG & WILCO      ELEKTRA 62204-2 / 625522-2.

Billy Bragg and the highly talented American band Wilco combine admirably on these recordings that set some of the legendary Woody Guthrie’s lyrics to music for the first time, producing two outstanding albums. Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy take turns on lead vocals, and the group’s sound reflects the folk and country rock tradition made popular by Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons. Outstanding tracks on Volume One include Walking Guthrie's World War II, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, and the flawless Ingrid Bergman). Among Volume Two highlights are Hot Rod Hotel, Secret of the Sea, the playful I Was Born and an atmospheric Black Wind Blowing. Beautiful music that pays true service to Woody Guthrie’s memory and integrity.

 

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