Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Jess Klein + Mike June - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham Monday 29th September 2014

Brandishing a new album full of introspection, honesty and renewed belief, Jess Klein returned to Birmingham to give a reminder of how fortunate we are to host so many fine Austin-based artists prepared to spread their talents far and wide. With the mission to nudge the fascinating experience of spending an evening in the company of such performers to more locals still work-in-progress, the task is made much easier when artists of the calibre of Mike June join the fray. Together Mike and Jess played a brace of enlightening sets to stamp an indelible mark on those selecting the Kitchen Garden Café for their Monday evening entertainment.

Jess’s new album LEARNING FAITH hit the airwaves earlier this year and represents a much deeper phase of her writing career with the second word of its title serving as the record’s inspiration. There is a more distinct blues infused sound to this release and, when hitting her stride, you could sense Jess getting deeper into the songs. Starting off on electric guitar which has so much appeal when turned down real low to match the intimate surrounding, Jess soon moved onto her trusty acoustic guitar and was at equal ease whatever her choice of accompaniment. Her vocals melted into the passion of each song and the chat was minimal yet incisive in parts. The latter included a glowing account of the spirit demonstrated from the power of protest and a reminder of the importance of the underdog role in furthering the cause of the neglected.

Politics was far more explicit in the songs of Mike June and it is great credit to Jess that his talents are being shared live with UK audiences for the first time. The lure of the song writing community of Austin, Texas proved too strong for Mike to resist but he draws on a lifetime experience from his Newark, New Jersey roots through extensive nationwide travel, currently with fellow Austin based artist Jon Dee Graham. There was a highly literate and perceptive grit in the song delivery of Mike which was focused on several memorable anecdotes documented in songs lifted from his pair of albums recorded in 2012. ‘Hard Times’ depicted a tough view of life courtesy of characters from small town North Carolina, while ‘Newark’ recounted love from the seedier side of life and ‘Charlie and Lily’ being a little more conventional. Whether or not Austin remains the permanent base of Mike June, he has acquired all the traits of what makes the town an exceptional source of song writing talent and the name of James McMurtry flirted across my mind a couple of times while enthralled by his half hour set.

Jess joined Mike on stage to sing harmony on one of his songs before building on the appreciative vibes circulating the Café’s dedicated gathering. As indicated earlier, Jess based much of her set around the new record but three particular tracks from the back catalogue still retain an integral charm to them. ‘Shonalee’ and ‘Soda Water’ were stand out songs when Jess played a nearby venue a little over twelve months ago and sounded just as good this evening. From the new record the title track ‘Learning Faith’ possessed great merit but was eclipsed by the fabulous ‘Dear God’, sung with such passion. One song you probably won’t hear on the radio is ‘So Fucking Cool’ but you’ll never forget the live version with its memorable source story and irony in the words of Jess that was probably better understood in the UK than Germany.

By the time Jess closed the evening with a return to simple low key electric and the beautiful ‘Bound to Love’, another successful gig packed with outstanding exported talent lodged itself in the memory banks of those present. The mission to educate those missing continues with evangelical endeavour but the music of both Jess Klein and Mike June ensures the process rolls on in fine style. A warm welcome will always be in place for such artists. 



Saturday, 27 September 2014

Girls Guns and Glory - Good Luck Lonesome Day Records

Follow the linear trail back of the sound of Girls Guns and Glory’s fifth album GOOD LUCK and your path will wind from modern day American roots rock, through post punk new wave, call at an outlaw honky tonk and end up at its straight down the middle-rock n’ roll source. Throughout its entirety, the album never loses sight of that long lasting country trait of mixing storytelling lyrics with a deep rooted melodic sound. This four piece combo from Boston, Massachusetts can be mightily proud of a record that sparkles with clarity and maximises frenetic guitar with clever melodies.

Led by vocalist, guitarist and prime songwriter Ward Hayden, Girls Guns and Glory pay their guitar dues on a record democratic in its name origin and just as eclectic in the moods it succeeds in conveying. Awash with potential stand out numbers, the song with the most profound poignancy is the spine tingling ‘Centralia PA’, a reflection on a town bled to death by the detrimental side of coal mining. The superb verse construction of this song helps preserve the memory of the place even in its inhabitable state. Like many of the songs on GOOD LUCK, Hayden has had a hand in its writing. In fact the only band non-original is ‘Rockin’ Chair Money’, a song recorded by Hank Williams which the guys take up the guitar scale leading the tune almost into crashing territory. Perhaps the band wishes their funding followed the same path as that of the song.

Lead off track ‘All the Way to Heaven’ is the perfect album opener and while it would be a pity if this was your only stop, it is a great feel good tune to promote the wares of Girls Guns and Glory. The tune most akin to the rock n’ roll source of the band’s sound is the nostalgic feeling ‘Shake Like Jello’, complete with your usual riffs, backing harmonies and altogether a neat little fiery number. If you like a serving of post punk new wave mash on your menu then ‘Be Your Man’ is your song and a number full of the ingredients which flavoured Jason and the Scorchers cowpunk movement. For a little more left field indie sound, then discovering ‘C’mon Honey’ will reveal the more alternative side of Girls Guns and Glory, while in contrast the following track ‘Built for Speed’ is a more conventional soulful blues stomper, however both tracks are held together by a heavy and prominent beat.

One of These Days’ and album closer ‘It’s Your Choice’ are both representative of the record’s less intense moments and blend quite comfortably with the faster paced songs. As with most of the album, the guitar work shines brightly amongst the lyrical content and you feel that the band are in complete control of what they want to achieve. The unusually titled’ UUU’ completes this ten song collection and is another slightly off centre track with vibes lifted straight from the late 70s/early 80s new wave movement.

Girls Guns and Glory have teamed up with fellow North East US artist Sarah Borges for a string of UK dates in October and music lovers who like the word ‘alt’ in the genre title will revel in the sounds radiating from GOOD LUCK. While this record has its release on Lonesome Day Records, you could envisage some fit with Loose or Clubhouse in the UK. Many people are aware of the quality from these labels and it is no small praise linking Girls Guns and Glory with them.


Sarah Borges - Radio Sweetheart Lonesome Day Records

Ok, not entirely relevant to the review but when news broke that Sarah Borges had returned to the studio and was bringing her new record to the UK, visions of her singing while standing on the bar during the last trip came flooding back. While not an act of drunken mayhem, it epitomized the energy of her show and the good news is that Sarah has lost none of her passion during this gap of a couple of years. A split from her backing band The Broken Singles led to this enforced hiatus but Sarah has dusted herself down and RADIO SWEETHEART is a blistering revival record which rocks more than rolls in the truest sense.

Renewed faith in Sarah was bestowed upon her by Kentucky based Lonesome Day Records and it is with fellow label artists Girls Guns and Glory that the UK return is arranged including a visit to the scene of the bar singing episode in Nottingham. The initial jolt to get the record in motion was a successful crowd fundraising activity and teaming up with producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame. Sarah’s writing is featured heavily across the ten tracks with only Lloyd Price’s ‘Heavy Dreams’ being a cover. This track is one of the rockier moments on the record which is prominently defined by Sarah’s ability to sync the Holy Grail trinity of soaring guitars, gut wrenching vocals and a reminder that music is highly palatable with a strong melody.

Hailing from Massachusetts, an area historically swarming with indie rock bands, Sarah very much draws her influence from the new wave sound of the early 80s which today seems to have merged into the alt-country/Americana scene. The stand out track has autobiographical potential in its title at least and ‘Start Again’ showcases Sarah at her best and harnessing the energy of her musical stimulation. This record is almost made to bypass radio and go straight to the stage such is the feel of the production which succinctly catches the emotion that only a live performance can deliver. There is no finer example of this than Sarah’s introduction to the storming album closer ‘Record on Repeat’ possessing everything a young person needs to free themselves from the world of saccharine pop and explore the excitement of adult oriented rock. Listeners of more advanced years will get flashbacks during this track.

Girl with a Bow’ opens proceedings with the unmistakable vocals of Sarah already bridging the years since her last release. This is followed by the title track ‘Radio Sweetheart’ which sees Sarah take her foot off the accelerator a little with a slight reduction in the album’s temperature and intensity. ‘Big Bright Sun’ is probably a better attempt to portray a more refined sound, although Sarah equally excels at adding a blues tinge to ‘Think What You’ve Done’. She probably digs deeper into her heart and soul, both lyrically and emotionally for this track which is immediately followed by the harmonica laced ‘Mind on Me’. ‘Hands and Knees’ is a mid-album track struggling to punch its weight among the meatier tunes, although ‘The Waiting and the Worry’ has no such issues with once again a fantastic melody attaching itself to a driving beat, all carefully crafted by Sarah and her band of talented musicians.

The world of female artists pushing their male counterparts to the limit in pursuit of an exciting brand of guitar driven alt-country Americana rock is stronger with the release of RADIO SWEETHEART. Of course supporting this record is imperative but is surely a tantalising taster to listening to it live. Whether performing on a stage, on a bar or in the studio, Sarah Borges has announced her return in fine style. 


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.