Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Press Release: Chastity Brown


Check out a review of Chastity's album

Minnesota based musician Chastity Brown returns to the UK this September for a live tour kicking off at London’s Bush Hall on September 17th, 2014.

Her 2013 album, ‘Back-Road Highways’ gained huge critical acclaim (Independent 4*/Sunday Times Culture feature/Maverick 5*, 4*The Daily Mirror), and was a favorite amongst reviewers’ Top 10 end of year lists. The album’s lead track, ‘After You’ was featured in the BBC/HBO film, "Mary & Martha" starring Hilary Swank, and Chastity was also invited to duet with Michael Kiwanuka whilst supporting him at First Ave in Minneapolis.

Chastity’s style is a beautiful mix of Gospel, Roots & Soul, Jazz, Blues & Country, and it couldn’t work better. Chastity channels songs that are born deep in the American bone, the hunger, desperation and confidence that runs through our times.

Sweet as molasses and woodsmoke, clear and burning as summer sun, Chastity Brown casts magic. Her voice brings you to the crossroads with every turn, warms, comforts and challenges you. She is the inheritor of Leadbelly, Nina Simone, Bonnie Raitt and Roberta Flack.

Chastity, whose mother grew up in a large Irish family in Boston, and whose father was an African-American jazz/blues musician, was born in the north-easterly state of New Hampshire, and moved down to Union City in Tennessee when she was seven years old. Growing up near Memphis, just an earshot away from Appalachia, Chastity was influenced by Roots music from an early age. When she first began writing music she struggled with this influence as she was not exposed to many Soul musicians writing Folk music. Growing up in a full Gospel church was where Chastity found hervoice and passion.

‘Learning about Leadbelly’s influence on Woody Guthrie opened up a whole new world to
me, prior to this knowledge I felt alone in the music I was creating. I did not know how to
reconcile my storytelling impulse with my Soul-inflected vocal upbringing’

Chastity pulls from a diverse cross-section of talent for her live shows, playing with guitarist Robert Mulrennan, percussionist Greg Schutte, keyboardist deVon Gray (Heiruspecs) and bass player Jef Sundquist (Hildur Victoria), resulting in restless, electrifying and completely enveloping performances that never want to stop and linger long after the last note has quieted. A talent like this doesn’t appear overnight. It takes travel, it takes guts. It takes chance, work and luck. It takes love. Get ready to love Chastity Brown.



Wednesday 17th September 2014

Bush Hall – London
www.bushhallmusic.co.uk / 020 8222 6955

Thursday 18th September 2014
Exeter Phoenix – Exeter
www.exeterphoenix.org.uk / 01392 667080

Friday 19th September 2014
Chapel Arts Centre – Bath
www.chapelarts.org / 01225 461700

Saturday 20th September 2014
Victoria Hotel – Menai Bridge
www.vicmenai.com / 01248 712309

Sunday 21st September 2014
The Live Room @ Caroline Social Club – Shipley
www.theliveroom.info / 01274 594021

Monday 22nd September 2014
The Greystones – Sheffield
www.mygreystones.co.uk / 0114 266 5599

Tuesday 23rd September 2014
Band On The Wall – Manchester
www.bandonthewall.org / 0161 834 1786

Wednesday 24th September 2014
The Atkinson – Southport
www.theatkinson.co.uk / 01704 533333

Thursday 25th September 2014
O2 ABC 2 – Glasgow
www.o2abcglasgow.co.uk / 0844 477 2000

Friday 26th September 2014

Crawford Village Hall – Crawford
07966 243587

Saturday 27th September 2014
Cluny 2 - Newcastle
www.thecluny.com / 0191 230 4474

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Rising - Coming Home Renegrade Maverick Records

There can be a fine line at the point where country and Americana music merge into a straightforward mainstream rock sound. Belfast based band The Rising have demonstrated knowing its precise location and suitably positioned their album to pitch to listeners from those genres rather than the minefield of bland radio fodder. Make no mistake COMING HOME is a belt and braces rock album full of crashing guitars, riffs and solos but it also toys with some of the sounds emanating from Nashville’s stadium crop and the more indie elements that fuel the alt country music scene.

The intention behind this release was to adopt a more roots rock stance leading to guitarist Chris Logan adding banjo and mandolin to his armoury, although their influence can be a touch tricky to detect. What are undeniable are the raw passion, energy and integrity that exists within the ten songs that race along at a breathless pace. The Rising are effectively a slimmed down version of a deceased band formerly known as Exit with vocalist Tristan Harris and bassist Andy Morgan joining Logan to complete the trio.

The band hasn’t lost the knack of pursuing airplay with a rousing chorus attaching itself to the lead off track ‘Calling You’. However there are more substantial moments on the album such as the angry vocals bringing ‘Break the Chains’ to life and the more melodic ‘City by the Sea’. Although the stand out track ‘Highway to the Lost and Found’ possesses all the drive and emotion of new wave with more than a passing resemblance to Jason and the Scorchers firing on all cylinders.

The Nashville effect is in evidence on the track ‘Still Coming Home to You’ which is very much in the same vein sound wise as Keith Urban. As Music City was one of the recording locations alongside Los Angeles and Belfast, this is unsurprising but probably a result of working with Grammy Award winning engineer Hank Williams who numbers Urban amongst his clients. The press release is quick to namecheck Springsteen but there are definite traces of late 80s U2 in the backbeat to ‘Dreaming & Scheming’.

The final four tracks on the album never quite reach the same heights as the opening half a dozen as they occasionally wander into classic rock territory and some of the raw energy is lost. ‘Shadows on the Wall’ is probably the pick of this segment as the album switches to stadium and festival mode with the finale of ‘Return to the Moon’ especially skirting epic status.

COMING HOME by The Rising is a record that appears to have accomplished its objectives in the making. The challenge is now to engage the music listening public whose tastes are ready to savour this brand of rock music. Many from the country, roots and Americana genre who are ready to push boundaries in their listening habits will find merit in the release whether they seek a straightforward guitar bashing sound or something with a little more edge. 

Press Release: April Verch Band

The April Verch Band
UK Tour · August 2014

April Verch has never sounded more comfortable in her skin than she does now, in the second decade of her career as an internationally touring Canadian fiddler, step dancer and singer-songwriter. Her ninth album, Bright Like Gold (2013), captures a woman who’s fleshed out her identity and is in full command of her gifts, a woman who’s grown from a prodigy into an enduring artist - one of music’s most unforgiving public transitions - with grace and grit to spare.

The April Verch Band - rounded out by bassist and clawhammer banjo player Cody Walters and guitaristHayes Griffin - is an energetic, virtuosic, tradition-celebrating outfit, not to mention one that’s not soon forgotten when they depart the stage. It doesn’t hurt that the thrilling grand finale involves Verch fiddling and step dancing - and often executing two entirely different intricate rhythmic patterns - at once.

Something else that’s downright impressive is the range of material Verch, Walters and Griffin inhabit on the new album. She’s so fluent in folk traditions - the Canadian ones she was born into and the American ones she later found her way to - that old fiddle tunes like those featured in the Canadian medley ‘Dusty Miller’, ‘Fiddle Fingers’ and ‘Grizzly Bear’ and the Appalachian medley ‘Edward in the Treetop’, ‘Yellow Jacket’ and ‘Quit That Tickling Me’ sound positively reinvigorated. Originals like her instrumental waltz ‘Morris & Boris’ and country courting number ‘The Only One’ are clearly made to last.

What makes the latter song even more special is that Bluegrass Hall of Famer Mac Wiseman’s voice is on it, and he’s not the only guest of note. Premier old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky joins Verch for some handsome dual fiddling on ‘Evening Star Waltz’, and bluegrass banjo icon Sammy Shelor (Lonesome River Band) appears on ‘Davy Davy’ and ‘Folding Down the Sheets’. Griffin’s ‘Foolish Heart’ offers a playful take on western swing, Walters' ‘Raven In the Hemlock’ unfurls melodic surprises and Verch’s ‘Broken’ and ‘Sorry’ have real emotional heft. The fact that she also chose to include ‘No Other Would Do’ - the only song her dad’s ever written - perfectly completes the musical circle.

Verch, leader of this self-assured ensemble, is claiming her power as an artist and a woman, and taking charge of her recording process. Produced by Verch, Walters, Griffin, and their engineer Chris Rosser,Bright Like Gold is, quite literally, the album of Verch’s life.

April Verch Band ∙ UK Tour ∙ August 2014

Fri 8                     Sidmouth                           Sidmouth Folk Week, Ham Marquee              NB. Afternoon Show              Double header with Kris Drever & Eamonn Coyne
Weds 13                Broadstairs                         Broadstairs Folk Week, Concert Marquee    NB. Afternoon Show
Fri 15                   Saltairenr. Shipley              The Live Room @ Caroline Social Club
Sun 17-Mon 18       Whitby                               Whitby Folk Week
Fri 29-Sun 31         Castletownnr. Omagh          Appalachian & Bluegrass Music Festival, Ulster American Folk Park 

Review of April Verch show in Cookley in October

Red Molly - The Red Album Self Released

The Americana genre could well have evolved out of THE RED ALBUM by Red Molly. This potpourri of American roots music is wonderfully sang, exquisitely played and superbly assembled. It strikingly disproves the theory that different styles can be accommodated without being mastered. Listen carefully, which is mandatory, and influences of blues, rock, soul, jazz, country, folk, gospel and pop can be detected, all capturing the true spirit of Americana.

Red Molly has been in existence for ten years with the present trio being in place since 2010 when Molly Venter (guitar) joined Laurie MacAllister (bass) and Abbie Gardner (dobro). This latest release hit their home stateside market in late spring and gets its formal UK introduction on August 25. The added bonus for old and new fans alike is that the band are due to make their inaugural UK visit in October for a series of live dates and seal this welcome expansion into our market.

Produced in Nashville under the guidance of former Wilco and Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer, the girls have settled on a winning formula of eight originals and five covers of which the self writes match up exceedingly well against the more established numbers. The two most recognisable covers reflect the different ends of the folk spectrum as the works of Richard Thompson and Simon and Garfunkel are celebrated. Their version of ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ is long overdue for a band basing their name on a character from the lyrics and the bluegrass makeover with a stunning dobro intro does this destiny song full justice. ‘Homeward Bound’ is a conservative song to cover but a slight pause on the main chorus line and gorgeous vocals give this version credibility.

Photo by Whitney Kidder
Rather than dwell too much on the excellent covers, let’s focus more on the originals which have primarily come from the pen of Molly and Abbie. The record contains a pair of fantastic songs Abbie has written on the back of the Real Women-Real Songs project. ‘You Don’t Have The Heart For It’ is the Red Molly take on classic country and with stellar pedal steel, this tear jerker works to a tee. ‘Lay Your Burden Down’ is the other track, with a gospel flavour and inspirational qualities. Molly herself excels on three solo writing contributions including the rock n’ soul sounding ‘My Baby Loves Me’, ‘I Am Listening’ with its indie pop vibes and the tender harmonious ballad ‘Sing To Me’.

Several other key artists in the Americana world feature in the writing with Jonathon Byrd teaming up with Abbie to pen the jazzy blues sassy number ‘When It’s All Wrong’, while the Mark Erelli song ‘Pretend’ has all the show time trappings complete with brass. You won’t go far wrong with the inclusion of a Daryl Scott song and, with its excellent guitar accompaniment and folk Americana sound, ‘With a Memory Like Mine’ creates its own niche on the record.

Photo by Whitney Kidder
Hopefully by now the flavours of this record are starting to fill the air and the final three tracks to mention each make their own mark on the album. ‘Willow Tree’ is a co-write between Molly and Eben Pariser while another gospel influenced song opens the album in the A.J. Roach penned ‘Clinch River Blues’. Just when you think that the ‘a cappella’ style has been left out, the girls ditch the instruments for the final song and let their harmonies drool over ‘Copper Ponies’.

The excellent sleeve notes accompanying this release really help you understand what Red Molly are all about and extensive listens to THE RED ALBUM confirm why they are held in such esteem back in the US. This record is a joy to be acquainted with and the band’s long overdue venture into the UK market will be one of the autumn highlights. 


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Vena Portae - Vena Portae Label:Humble Soul

Although the name Vena Portae is new, it barely took a few bars into the first song to recognise the distinctive vocals of Emily Barker. Not wanting to confine herself to a solitary project, Emily has temporarily put the Red Clay Halo Band on one side for a short period to concentrate on this collaboration described in its press release as an ‘Anglo Swedish alt-folk band’. This self-titled debut album is an explorative effort full of melodious moments, beautifully sung and underpinned by a strong roots sound.

The evocative album cover and recording in a Swedish winter location suggested an element of darkness to reflect the harshness of the environment but this is a far from noir sound as a breezy thread weaves the refined folk sentiments with a concoction of roots infused instruments. The opening lead track and single ‘Summer Kills’ succeeds in endearing your musical senses, sets the tone for a record which demands attention and is a subtle link to the Americana vibes Emily captured so well on her acclaimed DEAR RIVER album.

The soothing brass sound of trumpet adorns the opening track and later competes with a multitude of other instruments ranging from banjo, piano, guitars and traces of blues laced harmonica. This latter sound appears on the slightly upbeat second track ‘Before the Winter Came’ which lightens the mood with some engaging interludes.

At this point it is polite to introduce the architects of the Vena Portae project which include British songwriter-theatre maker Dom Coyote and acclaimed Swedish artist Ruben Engzell. Emily herself now has very strong UK roots since her formative years spent in Australia and is quite content to share the vocals across the album in contrast to her previous solo and band projects. Without doing disservice to the gents, the strength of the album is erected on a pair of contrasting mid record tracks in ‘Transatlantic’ and ‘Flames and Fury’, both graced by Emily’s vocals. The former is a subtle, intrinsic number mixing harmonica and banjo, while the latter has a far more dominant vocal presence almost matching the mood of the title.

The mellow undercurrents on this debut self-titled album stem from the soft male vocals especially on ‘Solitary Wives’ and the duet with Christian Kjellvander on the final track ‘All Will Be Well’. Christian also appears on the nautical folk induced number ‘The Mapless Sea’ while a similar style prevails on the duet ‘Magpie’s Carol’. Of the remaining tracks ‘Foal’ possesses a good beat and an excellent harmony approach to the song, while the banjo gives a roots feel to ‘Stingrays’. ‘Turning Key’ completes this eleven track compilation with more folk sensibilities but always positioning itself on the alt side of the genre.

Emily’s strong commitment to touring is extended to Vena Portae and as soon as the record is released the band hit the UK for several late summer dates at some of our more refined listening venues including the Union Music Store, Square Tower, Green Note and Kitchen Garden CafĂ©. The anticipated addition of Jesper Jonsson on percussion makes the live listening of this album an even more enticing experience. The Red Clay Halo are back on the road later in the autumn but there is no more rewarding moment than letting the sweet acoustic drift of Vena Portae submerge your senses and spending a little time endorsing this project.

Vena Portae Facebook Page

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Sturgill Simpson - Bush Hall, London Thursday 24th July 2014

He draws on the depth of the blues; He sings the folk songs of the land. However most of all, Sturgill Simpson understands country music and performs it right from the inner sanctum of its very soul. He is unassuming and without pretence with a stolid humility grateful for the gift he has been presented and the current wave of adulation being bestowed upon him. On the back of a storming performance on the David Letterman show back home, Sturgill has once again returned to the UK for a further string of dates and is set to continue to adhere himself with our country music fan base.

Sturgill Simpson
The quaint and slightly worn grandeur surroundings of London’s Bush Hall steamed in a sultry environment more akin to a mid-west summer’s evening as Sturgill strode on to the stage backed by his newly acquainted sidekicks for this tour, Scotland’s very own Daniel Meade and Lloyd Reid. For the next hour and a quarter, a near sold out crowd had a glimpse of honky tonk heaven with Sturgill blowing away the notion that the past is irrelevant in 2014. The seamless mix of complementary covers and sizzling originals raised the tempo in a heady hall possibly reminiscent of venues in Bakersfield, Austin, Nashville and no doubt many in Simpson’s home state of Kentucky.

Daniel Meade
Life of Sin’, ‘Long White Line’ and ‘The Promise’, the latter an interesting cover of an 80s minor UK pop hit by When in Rome, all demonstrated why METAMODERN  SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC is raking in the praise from ‘the good and the wise’, while Sturgill himself showed no restraint in doing likewise to Lefty Frizzell. While he was slightly surprised to the general lack of awareness in the UK pop song he countrified, there was no such puzzlement when he introduced Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ as one for the ladies.

Prior to providing stellar support for Sturgill, Daniel and Lloyd played an exciting opening set to create the perfect environment for an evening of classic country indulgence. Fresh from making a record in the presence of the Old Crow Medicine Show in the US, Daniel played a straight acoustic driven lead role very much in the style of Justin Townes Earle, with Ian providing reams of guitar mastery. The latter continued in the same vein when backing Sturgill while Daniel reverted to the ambient evoking keyboards. The duo’s original material is worthy of a fuller press and their ‘it would be rude not to celebrate Hank’ version of ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ had the early arrivals tapping and singing along.

Lloyd Reid
On the topic of iconic songs, it may be a little early to laud Sturgill’s ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ in a similar light but as one of the year’s most talked about tracks, it continued to further intrigue this evening. Having teased the audience with the possibility of yet another explanation to this cosmic inducing number, Sturgill drew his chat to a halt and served up a stunning rendition of this classic in the making. The addition of this charisma alongside the awe inspiring vocals and the excellent pickin’ skills made this initial date of Sturgill’s mid-summer extended UK tour a resounding success.

Just before a bluegrass led encore, Sturgill acknowledged appreciation of the belief and investment showed in him by UK indie label Loose Music and promised to bring his full band with him when returning yet again to our shores in October. It is without doubt that by then the awareness and respect for Sturgill Simpson will have continued to grow. In the meantime for one hot and sweaty night in the cramped confines of Bush Hall, real country music graced London with its presence. 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Emma Jane - Workhorse Self Released

For somebody who recorded such an inspirational song in ‘Sunday, Monday Blues’ back in the summer of 2012, every subsequent Emma Jane release has to match up to this standard from a personal perspective. Since then a publishing deal has been secured along with some movement in the American market as Emma Jane started to guide her music in a more country direction. 2013’s EP release SILVER STREETS initially followed up her debut full length album PENILEE SONGS and she has further cemented her sound in this sphere with her latest recording WORKHORSE.

The title could well sum up the character of an independent artist who undertakes most of the record making duties right from writing though to doing the PR. Funds have probably limited this release to seven tracks but this doesn’t diminish the quality as Emma Jane continues to cultivate a unique UK take on the country, roots and Americana genre. Her vocals are the main contributors to this stance as their slightly worn effect perfectly matches the blues tinge to her music and owns the mood of the songs.

Along with partner Iain McKinnon, who wrote the lyrics to the more sombre number ‘Unforgiven’, Emma Jane has recorded a set of songs that owe more to the western extremities of Tennessee with a Sun-styled rock n’ roll beat driving the sound. Add in traces of soulful keys and a sparsely recorded gospel-like closing piece to stir in more southern flavours, and you start to further visualise the journey Emma Jane is undertaking without losing sight of her Glasgow roots.

Ears are initially drawn to her self-confessed personally inspired track ‘Carter Cash’ and she is certainly not the first to interweave this iconic couple into a song which rolls along to a guitar driven beat and stakes a case as the record’s standout track. On the topic of musical pairings, Emma Jane has teamed up with fellow Scottish performer Sean C. Kennedy to record a straight down the line country duet ‘Old and Grey’ which romantically explores the notion of eternal love. The track where Emma Jane successful nails the art of searching for that striking chorus melody formula is ‘Delicate Minds’, also one of the album’s deeper songs that searches for guidance.

The opening track ‘Run’ launches the record with a dose of twang as Emma Jane puts down an early marker of what sound she wants to define this phase of her career. Although describing this as a fun number in her song notes, Emma Jane has quickly drawn you into her mode of an infectious beat and the search for a killer chorus. ‘Tunnels’ carries on a similar vein without meeting the same chorus highs as the other tracks. The surprise closer ‘Hold On’ with its simple production and strong message gives the record that raw feel essential to any release with a roots claim.

One development that we are still waiting for from Emma Jane is a wider live presence around the UK with more expansion from her present South East base. While the practicalities may be challenging, the rewards will surely surface. In the meantime the good news is WORKHORSE does evidence progression and while that memorable tune from the summer of 2012 is forever ingrained in my mind, the future remains positive for an artist able to put a personal imprint of the country, roots and Americana genre.