Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Jellyman's Daughter - The Jellyman's Daughter Self Released

The market may be getting a little crowded with male/female acoustic folk duos but if everybody moves up a little, there is room for Edinburgh based outfit The Jellyman’s Daughter. While your search for electric influence will be futile, splendid harmonies are aplenty as well as luscious individual vocal pieces primarily from co-member Emily Kelly. What makes this duo stand out is the prominent role for Graham Coe’s cello and this is a particularly brave move for an instrument which can have a somewhat solemn feel to it when exposed. However The Jellyman’s Daughter succeeds in shaping their songs around the sound and exploiting its mood in an appealing way.

If The Black Feathers head the UK march to fill the finally deceased Civil Wars gap, then The Jellyman’s Daughter are not too far behind and now have a debut self-titled full release to chart their drive towards wider recognition. Their path to me was supporting Samantha Crain at a recent Edinburgh gig and it didn’t require too much effort to tune into the talents of this duo. While the stage presence relies on the beauty of the vocals and the impact of the cello, they have invested in additional banjo, fiddle, mandolin and double bass to give the recorded songs a fuller feel leading them further down their beloved bluegrass path.

Of the album’s eleven tracks, nine are self-penned originals with the two remaining numbers possessing an intriguing existence. Instruments are almost ditched for the duo’s rendition of the traditional song ‘Darling Corey’ leaving the vocals to flourish, while I challenge you to hear a more stripped back and alternative version of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ which they pull off with immense courage. The originals leap at you right from the first track with opening song ‘Blue Lullaby’ endorsing the sound of The Civil Wars with a hint of blues faintly adorning Emily’s vocals. Second track in ‘The One You’re Leaving’ hits the right note in the melody stakes and makes full use of the banjo introduction.

Initial listens to the album throw up a couple of stand-out tracks with probably the haunting and mysterious ‘Come Back to Me’ just shading the Americana influenced ‘Carolina’ and the band’s love of old time mountain music. This style was a perfect fit for The Jellyman’s Daughter to be invited to perform at this year’s Southern Fried Festival in Perth and further events south of the border would also embrace their style. ‘Anna’ is the track subject to a little video promotion and is one of two on the album to feature a slither of fiddle. The other is ‘Little Child’, a laid back number allowing Emily’s vocals to prosper and float in a haze of elegance.

All That’s Been’ heads the three remaining tracks with Graham leading off this duet and is one of a number of songs to replicate their stage presence and leave the session players on one side for a moment. ‘Slow Burn’ is an appropriate name for a track that does struggle to make an impact amongst the meatier songs on the album while ‘Seeing Red’ has a greater appeal with only double bass accompanying Emily and Graham.

Now that you have made room for the Jellyman’s Daughter in your listening repertoire, taking on board their semi-unique style will enhance your appreciation of acoustic roots music in the traditional folk and Americana style. Reviewed on the day of their referendum vote, this debut album reflects well on Scotland’s wealth of exportable talent, whether or not south of the border becomes an export market.

Luke Tuchscherer - You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense Little Red Recording Company

When played well pedal and lap steel can produce an emotion sapping accompaniment to songs designed to explore some of the darker places in our mind. Whether by experience or imagination, Luke Tuchscherer’s initial deep dive into the world of country music has risen back to the surface with an album capturing that sound and mood. With cultured arrangements and explicit songs baring the scars of life, YOU GET SO ALONE AT TIMES IT JUST MAKES SENSE is not an album to be consumed lightly but then we all know that the best records never shy away from a little pain.

Whybirds drummer Luke has stepped forward to go alone on this debut solo release and has the potential to create more than a ripple in the UK's Americana and alt-country community, although with its deep sense of tradition perhaps the alt tag should be dropped. This record is awash with top notch writing, stellar playing and more importantly connects instantly without the need to go down the grower route. Just as the press release was enlightening and free of superlatives, Luke’s writing is simple, plain but highly effective in conveying not just the message of each song but planting a measure of sincerity into the mind of the listener.

All twelve songs have a strong feel to them and a couple do leave the door slightly ajar for a brief glimpse of light. A breezy melody attaches itself to the dutiful and merciful track ‘Women’ which offers a little respite, just in the same way that ‘Two Ships (Caroline Please)’ recalls a fading optimism of what might have been. Leading the deluge of melancholic moments is the mournful ‘You Don’t Know Me’ drowning in morbid glorious pedal steel and the equally as depressive ‘Hold On’. Tears are delivered along with ‘Dear Samantha’ and it’s a song which makes you want to re-write history. Sitting at track eleven, if you aren’t engrossed in the album now and feel for the characters then perhaps another genre is the remedy.

Eleven musicians under the guidance of producer Tom Peters have contributed to the record leading the album down several distinctive sound routes such as a west coast 70’s feel to ‘When Day is Done’ and ‘Three Long Days’. Banjo and Dobro add an acoustic roots tinge to album opener ‘(Lord Knows) I’m a Bad Man’ while drooling Hammond organ sprinkles smidgeons of soul over ‘One of Us’. This song has been sent out into the wider world as the album’s scout track via Sound Cloud links and free downloads from Fatea with the intention of reporting back with new fans. With its cutting lyrics reflecting a spiralling existence, it certainly is up there with the album’s peak moments.

Additional musical influences on the album include some cello especially on the acoustic led ‘I Don’t Need You To Love Me’ and there is no finer string instrument to induce sound tainted with sadness. A full string arrangement by Johnny Parry enhances ‘(To Make It Worse) I’m Falling In Love Again’, while the album’s lengthiest track ‘Darling, It’s Just Too Hard To Love’ opens with subtly strummed ballad pretensions before launching into a concoction of instrumental delight missing only the earlier defining tones of pedal and lap steel.

The decision made by Luke Tuchscherer to follow his heart and veer down this path has been rewarded with a strong emotive album right at the core of what makes this genre so special. YOU GET SO ALONE AT TIMES IT JUST MAKES SENSE should possess two warnings: not for the faint heart but essential for those who know good music.

Oh Susanna - Namedropper Continental Song City

Over the last couple of years, enormous pleasure has been derived from delving into the Canadian folk, roots and country scene revealing a tight knit community spanning this vast land. Discovering new artists and then exploring their back catalogue has often proved to be a rewarding experience with the latest in a lengthy line being Suzie Ungerleider, or to be more precise, her recording name of Oh Susanna. Suzie had been on my radar for a while so the opportunity to feature her new album NAMEDROPPER is long overdue for such an established artist.

This new album sees Suzie take a break from writing, so fellow music enthusiasts using the release as an introductory tool will get an instant feel of her vocal talent and ability to interpret the songs of others. If the thought of a covers album leaves you indifferent, fear not as this is more of a commissioning project enlisting the great and the good of Canadian song writing talent. All fourteen tracks are seeing their recorded life for the first time and when the services of artists of the stature of Ron Sexsmith and Jim Cuddy are involved then the quality stakes are raised.

After an initial satisfying listen to the record, more intense scrutiny was applied to a trio of tracks originating from the pens of three personal favourites. The sultry sounding ‘This Guy’ possesses all the hallmarks of a Good Lovelies classic and Suzie’s near stripped down version shows a telepathic vision of how to interpret a song from Toronto’s favourite female trio. Many have enthused over the words of Amelia Curran and her gift of ‘Loved You More’ wraps your attention around its lyrical construction with Suzie breezing through the vocals. Another Maritime contribution, this time from Old Man Luedecke, gets the solo piano accompaniment with ‘Provincial Parks’ being one of the album’s more tender moments.

Suzie has aligned herself with Jim Bryson for this project and the challenge for the pair of them was to give each song the interpretation it deserved. If you appreciate a voice that glows with comforting warmth and values alluring appeal over aesthetic purity then Suzie will meet your approval. Indications are that her song writing skills will be rejuvenated after a brief enforced break and what better re-inspiration than the line-up assembled here. The musical arrangement and production under the guidance of Bryson is kept on the deft side without the need to overpower the vocals and providing effective interludes such as on Ron Sexsmith’s ‘Wait Until the Sun Comes Up’.

Although Suzie was raised north of the border and is an integral part of the Canadian music community, her Massachusetts birthplace sees her just short of citizenship and it was interesting to note another American artist getting a song writing credit in Angeleena Presley, who herself has an eagerly awaited upcoming release. The song in question is a co-write with Sexsmith, his second contribution, and album closer ‘I Love the Way She Dresses’. This follows perhaps the album’s strongest track and the punchy vibes emanating from Jim Cuddy’s ‘Dying Light’. The Blue Rodeo founding member pulls the heart strings in classical portions with this passionate song belted out by Suzie and serenaded by segments of glorious organ.

Strip away the negative connotations of the term NAMEDROPPER and you have an album ripe in collaboration, rich in song and regal in its presentation and projection.  Whether you are new to Oh Susanna or not, this record sets itself apart and will nestle in well alongside her own material. It is also a proud representation of the strength of Canadian music.

Full Track Listing with Writing Credits

1 Oregon (Jim Bryson)
2 Into My Arms (Joel Plaskett)
3 Goodnight (Royal Wood)
4 Cottonseed (Keri Latimer)
5 Wait Until the Sun Comes Up (Ron Sexsmith)
6 Mozart for the Cat (Melissa McClelland)
7 Provincial Parks (Old Man Luedecke)
8 Letterbomb (Luke Doucett)
9 Loved You More (Amelia Curran)
10 1955 (Jay Harris)
11 Savings and Loan (Rueben deGroot)
12 This Guy (Good Lovelies)
13 Dying Light (Jim Cuddy)
14 I Love the Way She Dresses (Ron Sexsmith/Angaleena Presley)

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sunjay - Sunjay New Mountain Music

With a streamlined stage name and guitar in hand, Sunjay Brayne ups his ante in the world of studio recorded music in the form of this effortlessly arranged ten track collection of songs spanning the world of folk and Americana music. Singer-guitarist Sunjay has gone down the simplistic route when naming this new album, a follow up to 2013’s live release ONE NIGHT ONLY, and each offering carves out its own niche. Several familiar songs ring fence the album simply titled SUNJAY but they far from diminish the excellent guitar skills and developing vocals which glow with maturity.

Having seen Sunjay play short sets several times in his role of Stourbridge Folk Club host, he rarely plays down his passion to explore and interpret the blues. However that particular style is toned down a touch on this album with the biggest nod to it being his version of the popular old blues number ‘Drop Down Mama’ which brings his pickin’ skills to the fore early in the album. Sunjay definitely has one eye across the ocean when it comes to song selection and there is no finer choice on the record than a superb take on John Hiatt’s cracking tune ‘Memphis in the Meantime’. Alternatively, closer to home influence and guidance is always at hand as former Bushbury Mountain Daredevil founder member and local Stourbridge publican/music organiser Eddy Morton has produced the album and provided the opening song ‘London Road’, a traditional feeling social commentary number sure to be a winner in folk clubs up and down the land.

Recorded under license to and in the studio of New Mountain Music, Sunjay has collaborated with a number of artists of which the most familiar to current gig goers are likely to be Dan Walsh on banjo and Kat Gilmore on fiddle and background vocals. Both have been guests of Sunjay at his club nights and were no doubt honoured to play their part on this entertaining and gifted record. Likewise Sunjay has paid his respects to some iconic songwriters with complementary versions of the James Taylor standard ‘Close Your Eyes’ and the much covered ‘You Don’t Mess Around with Jim’. It doesn’t take too much effort to sit back and enjoy Mark Knopfler’s tale of pioneering Americans in ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’, a song interpreted with consummate ease by Sunjay.

The Tom Rush penned ‘No Regrets’ taken to the upper reaches of the charts by the Walker Brothers needs little introduction and a further delve into American folk sees Sunjay deliver a stompin’ a cappella version of ‘A Folk Singer Earns Every Dime’ complete with a couple of subtle twenty first century references. Sunjay explores the American songbook a little further back in time with his arrangement of the traditional standard ‘Sittin’ on Top of the World’, recorded by many over the years including Doc Watson. On an album that is equally as pleasurable to explore the song origins as to enjoy Sunjay’s renditions, the educational process is completed by tracing ‘Going Down the Road’ to the pen of yet another American folk singer in Mary McCaslin.

The dates Sunjay has arranged to promote this self-titled album are extensive and the opportunity to hear so many fine songs under the spell of this talented performer is one not to be missed. Grab yourself a copy of the album as well and stretch your mind into the vast vault of inspirational song; arranged, sung and presented in a faultless style.

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood - Ort Cafe, Birmingham Friday 12th September 2014

“She has a string of live dates lined up throughout the summer and onwards, with hopefully the intention to keep writing and interpreting new songs to one day, be in a position to add to her catalogue of recordings.” These were the words that closed our review of Kim Lowings back in May and it was great to catch up with her and the band on this Birmingham date after a busy summer period. This included a prestigious opening slot at the Warwick Folk Festival, a residency at an Edinburgh Fringe venue and some extended recent coverage on Genevieve Tudor’s Sunday Folk show on BBC Radio Shropshire. The good news is also that new songs are taking shape and hopefully some of these will begin to surface in the New Year.

For this show at Birmingham’s eclectic Ort Café in the inner city suburb of Balsall Heath, it was very much business as usual for Kim as she served up her regular offering of intriguing interpretations of traditional numbers and plenty of innovative originals. One enhancement following that Stourbridge gig in the final days of spring was the return of Ami Oprenova on fiddle to give the Greenwood collective a more complete feel. She joined the usual combo of Andrew Lowings (guitar/bouzouki), Tim Rogers (cajon) and Dave Sutherland (double bass) with Kim confining herself to her favoured mountain dulcimer on this occasion. Together they produce a tight knit sound to present authentic roots music at its soul searching best.

A niggling minor ailment curtailed a few of Kim’s more vocal experimental songs on an evening promoted by Best Seat Sessions which presented local singer songwriter Malc Evans as the opening act. Kim soon hit her stride for a set lasting just over an hour with any temporary impediment being disguised in true professional style. A trio of her finest originals, ‘The Allotment’, ‘Off to Sea’ and ‘Deepest Darkest Night’ sounded as good as ever along with her memorable renditions of ‘The Devil and the Ploughman’ and ‘The Bonny Labouring Boy’.

For your musical record, Kim Lowings hails from the ‘creative hotbed’ of Stourbridge West Midlands, was schooled at the acclaimed Dartington College of Arts and to date has two major physical releases to showcase her vibrant and accomplished brand of folk music meeting the approval of both contemporary and traditional audiences. Sales of the debut album THIS LIFE have nearly depleted stocks of the initial production batch; while the four track EP DEEPEST DARKEST NIGHT is the perfect taster for people wanting to dip their toes into folk music. Alternatively Kim and the band are active in the digital world with a highly recommended live recording of ‘Annie Laurie’ being available on the world’s favourite video sharing site.

While this interim feature is designed to keep the flame flickering for Kim’s tried and trusted material, anticipation is growing to file some column inches on the next phase of Kim Lowings and the Greenwood. In the meantime there are still a number of Midland dates before the winter sets in including a support slot at the Kitchen Garden Café opening for BBC Radio 2 award nominees Josienne Clark and Ben Walker. Whether catching one of their live shows or sampling the recordings, marking the card of Kim Lowings and the Greenwood is a choice well worth making.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014




Saturday 20th September // Americana Music Conference, Nashville

The Americana Music Association UK is excited to announce its collaboration with British Underground, hosting The Bootleg BBQ at this year’s Americana Music Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The AMA-UK are thrilled to be jetting out to Nashville  to showcase the talents of three popular UK acts from its membership; Police Dog Hogan, Danny And The Champions Of The World, and finally, Emily Barker And The Red Clay Halo.

The Bootleg BBQ is a high profile industry showcase set up by British Underground to give UK acts performing at the festival an additional performance opportunity. It will also act as a fantastic networking opportunity for the growing number of UK delegates. The show takes place at the trendy Groove Record Store East Nashville on Sat 20th September 12.30pm – 17.30pm. The show will include additional performances from two rising US acts Israel Nash and Austin Lucas.

Food and drink will be on offer with a chance to indulge in delicious meat from the local butcher and beer donated by local brewery Yazoo.

The AMA-UK’s line up includes POLICE DOG HOGAN; a highly energetic, British, eclectic seven-piece band who combine fiddle, banjo, mandolin, drums and guitars alongside knockout four-part harmonies in an exuberant  fusing  of country, pop, folk, and rocking urban bluegrass. The Sunday Times described them as “wonderful”; the Telegraph named them one of its “favourite new bands” whilst Radio 2 called them “a band to watch”.

Next on the bill is another UK live favourite, DANNY AND THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD (5* Maverick 4* The Sun, 4* Q, 4* MOJO), a folk, rock and soul band that formed in London during the summer of 2007 by Danny George Wilson. The band are renowned for their live performance with Danny’s vocals sure to captivate any audience.

Finally we have BAFTA award-winning songwriter and performer, EMILY BARKER and The Red Clay Halo gracing the stage. The Times said of her album Dear River: ‘heartfelt songwriting... bridging the gap between folk, country and Fleetwood Mac” whilst The Guardian quoted “Emily Barker has a gift for great melodies”.

The Americana Music Conference is highly respected industry event run by the Americana Music Association (US) whose mission is to advocate for the authentic voice of American roots music around the world. It features numerous panels and seminars providing Nashville's most educational music industry forum. The event covers the interests and needs of artists, managers, labels, radio stations, publishers, agents, promoters, retailers, legal and business affairs executives, merchandisers and new media professionals – all enthusiastically attended and presented by music industry leaders.  The Americana Music Festival will feature approximately 165 live performances at over nine music venues in the vicinity of downtown Nashville. The programme begins with a spectacular awards ceremony held in the legendary Ryman Auditorium.

British Underground is an Arts Council England NPO working with export ready musicians and music-makers to help them maximize opportunities at international showcases and conferences. The organization specializes in genres outside the mainstream producing events at key platforms like WOMEX, Folk Alliance International, Americana Music Festival.

Review of new Police Dog Hogan album

Review of new Danny and the Champions of the World album

Review of Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo live in Bromsgrove

Justin Townes Earle - Single Mothers Loose Music

Whether you believe in nature or nurture, Justin Townes Earle has consistently used his talent to search for the true soul of Americana music. His five previous albums have been recorded amidst a host of personal barriers and, while commercial appeal has never been on the agenda, recognition for what he has been striving for has been forthcoming. Not an artist afraid to confront experimentation within the confines of his mission, the latest album SINGLE MOTHERS does reflect a maturity in the writing and outlook of a married man passing the threshold of thirty. Of course there is still fire in his belief that truly authentic Americana music needs to be made and has decided that the time has arrived to make a more laid back mellow version in search of the holy grail of contemporary roots music.

Despite an undulating rhythm and pace across its half hour, SINGLE MOTHERS is representative of an unhurried sound, placid in places but totally absorbing in ambience and effect. Pedal steel guitar reigns supreme on this ten track album, owning the softer parts of the sound and spearheading Justin’s delve into elements of classic country. However like all true Americana recordings it does possess smidgeons of blues, soul and a touch of soft rock.

In a bid to remove the potential of polluted tinkering, the album was recorded solely with his four piece touring band with minimum rehearsal and takes. In fact two of the more passive inducing songs feature just Justin and pedal steel guitarist Paul Niehouse, these comprise of the slightly solemn ‘Picture in a Drawer’ and the totally mesmeric ‘It’s Cold in this House’. In contrast both album closer ‘Burning Pictures’ and ‘Time Shows Fools’ are recorded with a little more upbeat and oomph but still retain the overall ethos of mild in overture and sentiment.

As you would expect the writing is deeply intense and personal but Justin leaves it open for the listener to decide whether to immerse themselves in the lyrics or kick back and enjoy the vibes. The latter has soulful tinges in ‘Wanna be a Stranger’ and ‘My Baby Drives’, while Justin flirts a little with the blues on his social commentary number and title track ‘Single Mothers’. Fantastic atmospheric pedal steel opens another heartfelt track ‘Today and a Lonely Night’ where Justin bares his sole and asks for nothing more back than a sympathetic ear.

Album opener ‘Worried about the Weather’ welcomes the listener to the milder and more conciliatory side of Justin Townes Earle to launch a seamless thread of music built to last. While there are a multitude of candidates for stand out track on an album pretty even in quality there is an ultimate soothing presence about the gorgeous ‘White Gardenias’ where once again pedal steel is king and Justin resonates with his new found contentment.

SINGLE MOTHERS has an open invite to join Justin Townes Earle on his new journey of discovery and an affirmative RSVP is an essential response. This phase of his career has seen him sign to Loose Music for the UK release of the album and he joins a growing band of artists exploring an area of country music where few dare to tread. Perhaps we are also a step nearer where the word Justin outweighs the other components of his name.