Tag Archives: alt-country

Folk/country/Americana: album review – Marina Florance ‘Fly Beyond The Border’

Catching singer-songwriter Marina Florance live a couple of years ago she immediately impressed both with her heartfelt songs and the seemingly effortless but compellingly sincere country-ish vibe that she pulled off. Fly Beyond the Border is Florance’s third album, bringing together brand new material, some recent collaborations with other artists and some previously released singles.

Although coming late in life to a professional music career, the album sees Florance really hitting her stride as a song-writer of note. Her themes of life, love and relationships are universal but her honest, heartfelt delivery makes you want to hang on to every word.

Florance has been working with the lottery-funded Warm & Toasty Club’s Coast To Coast Project where she was commissioned, alongside co-writer Jules Fox Allen, to write three songs based on the memories of residents at retirement complexes along the Essex Coast. One of these songs ‘Sirens’, celebrating the tenacity of women in often very difficult circumstances, features on the album.

It’s not just the sensitive lyrics and Florance’s heartfelt delivery though. There’s some suitably impressive musicianship on this album, too. Alongside Florance’s guitar and mandolin there’s a fine group of accompanying musicians, including some lovely Americana-tinged fiddle playing from Mark Jolley that compliments Florance’s songs perfectly. Meanwhile, ‘The Blue Lady’, featuring some beautiful dobro and guitar from Ben Walker, is a definite highlight.

If you have not yet come across Marina Florance, there’s plenty for fans of folk, country, Americana or singer-songwriter to fall in love with and Fly Beyond The Border is well worth checking out.

Released: March 2018

https://www.marinaflorance.com/

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Related reviews

Album review – Marina Florance ‘This That & The Other’

Marina Florance – Emerging Talent Showcase

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Americana: album review – Orphan Colours ‘All On Red’

Back in the summer of 2010 I was one of many thousands at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival being wowed by the impressive talents and uplifting melodies of the then newly-formed alt-country outfit, ahab. Sadly, the pressures of holding it all together proved too much and the band split. Two of their number, Steve Llewellyn and Dave Burn, were not done yet, however. Together with ex Noah & The Whale guitarist Fred Abbott, Danny & The Champions of The World drummer Steve Brookes and bass player Graham Knight, they formed a new band Orphan Colours.

As Llewellyn explains, “At the end of 2013 both ahab and Noah & The Whale had been chewed up and spat out by the music business. We found ourselves out of a job despite both band’s upward trajectories. The toll of touring and hard graft was too much. Speaking for myself, I had a lot more to give and I wasn’t anywhere near done yet. I had a backlog of songs that weren’t fit for ahab and I wanted to get them out into the world. So despite having failed with ahab and the financial pressures I was under, I put every penny I had into this project.”

After a really promising EP ‘High Hopes’ in 2016 the band set to work on the live circuit but have now finally released their debut album. Compared to the up-tempo numbers of love and heartbreak from the ahab days, All On Red mines more of a classic, laid-back, country-rock vibe but the talent for strong melody, heart-warming vocals and infectious choruses is as evident as ever. The deliciously-sounding ‘Start Of Something’ which opens the albums gives you everything you would want from a great country rock song and from then on the album doesn’t falter.

“I had written my fair share of sensitive songs for ahab – about love and loss and all that, and there’s a few on here but I really wanted to bring a bit of rock n roll into the UK Americana scene and I feel like we’ve achieved a good balance on this record,” contends Llewellyn.

It was particularly nice to catch the band performing a few songs from the album as part of an in-store appearance at Bexhill’s Music’s Not Dead record store last Saturday (well three-fifths of them anyway – drummer, Steve Brookes, eschewing the chance to set up his kit on the tiny shop window stage and guitarist, Dave Burn, managing to damage his ankle falling of stage the night before). Gamely, the depleted gang honour the gig anyway and deliver an impressive, heartfelt performance. While only a small number of those crammed into the shop owned up to witnessing either Orphan Colours or ahab live before, it was encouraging to see that they had clearly won over a number of new fans.

All On Red is a very impressive debut album. Let’s hope the music world conspires to keep Orphan Colours around for a few years longer than it did their predecessors.

Released: 26th January 2018

https://www.orphancolours.com/

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Related reviews:
ahab at Cropredy 2015
Orphan Colours in London 2016
Dave Burn – solo album review

Americana: album review – Dave Burn ‘Arizona’

Dave Burn was guitarist/vocalist with former London-based alt-country outfit ahab and its associated spin-off after the band split, Orphan Colours. Arizona is Burn’s first solo album.

Now I’d always loved ahab’s sunny, infectious, upbeat brand of Americana and that was very much followed through with Orphan Colours who released a glorious EP last year. However, with both outfits you long suspected that there might also be a more reflective, more contemplative, singer-songwriter vibe within them. And here it is. Dave Burn has pulled that off with a really nice album.

In Burn’s own words: “I took a long job working on a documentary in the Yukon filming gold miners. I came back with a broken foot and a slipped disc in my back but fortunately enough cash to rent a studio, round up some great musicians and make the album I’ve always wanted to make, which I’m very proud of.”

He is right to be proud of it. His warm, heartfelt vocals are  perfectly suited to this type of material. And with Burn on acoustic guitar and mandolin, he’s pulled together a talented set of musicians, including some superbly atmospheric lead guitar from Fred Abbott (Noah & The Whale/Orphan Colours) on songs like opening track ‘Fine Company’. Abbott also contributes some beautifully authentic piano and steel guitar to the album. The old connections are not lost, either with Seebs Llewellyn (ahab/Orphan Colours) and Luke Price (ahab) contributing backing vocals.

Much as I’d like to see the ahab boys playing together again at some point in the future, clearly it was time for Burn to try his hand at coming out from a supporting role and taking centre-stage. A lot more laid-back than ahab but no less lovely, Arizona is a superb solo album from Dave Burn.

Arizona is released on 1 March 2017

http://daveburn.com/

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Related reviews:
ahab live at Cropredy
Orphan Colours live in London

Orphan Colours at The Borderline 4/3/16

Ahab were a brilliant London-based alt-country band who formed in 2009, shone brightly for a few years then promptly went their separate ways. Now two of their number, Steven Llewellyn and Dave Burn, are back with a new band, Orphan Colours, a new tour and a brand new EP, High Hopes. That sunny, infectious slice of Americana that Ahab were able to pull off so beautifully is all present and correct here once more. They are joined by Danny & The Champions of The World drummer, Steve Brookes, and Noah & The Whale guitarist, Fred Abbott, along with bass player Graham Knight. And as the little tongue-in-cheek blurb on their Soundcloud page spells out they are happy to be known as “your friendly neighbourhood Americana supergroup.”

Great tunes, sweet countrified lead vocals from Llewellyn, delicious harmonies, beautifully-played acoustic guitars and nice laid-back electric lead, this lot know how to capture the Americana vibe perfectly. One of the stand-out tunes is High Hopes, the title track of the new EP. From the unmistakeable drum intro for the first few seconds I think they’re about to do a cover of the Stone Roses’ I Am The Resurrection but it soon evolves into a catchy uplifting piece of poppy, folky, country rock, the sort of thing crowds always love singing along to under a beating summer sun in the festival season. Won’t Let You Down is another great song from the new EP, demonstrating Llewellyn’s gift as a songwriter for catchy, memorable yet somehow instantly familiar tunes.

Llewellyn shows no inclination to turn his back on his Ahab days and why would he? Indeed he celebrates the fact that some of his former band-mates are in the audience tonight to wish him well. And we get a couple of favourites from the Ahab days in the set-list tonight, too, like Lucy from the Wits End album, and Uptight from the Beautiful Hell album. Another unexpected highlight of the set was a stunning cover of Guns N Roses’ Paradise City, given a makeover as a beautifully laid-back alt-country ditty.

High Hopes is the name of Orphan Colours debut EP and this is a band I genuinely have high hopes for. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Llewellyn and co are wowing big audiences on the festival circuit.

http://orphancolours.com/

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Folk/country: album review – Marina Florance ‘This, That & The Other’

Folky, countryfied, bluesy, Americana, Marina Florance’s rich, velvety vocals and deft, expressive acoustic guitar playing have the effect of making every song she plays sound like a timeless classic. I first became aware of this extremely talented singer-songwrter at Folkstock’s Emerging Talent Showcase back in November. Her incredible voice and heartfelt songs bowled me over. Though not exactly a household name, Florance has been picking up more and more fans wherever she’s played and sung. Tom Robinson has championed her on his BBC 6 music show and she’s wowed audiences at the Cambridge Folk Festival.

The album opens with I Told You My Troubles. Florance has a knack of turning an initial world-weary and burdonsome vocal into a defiant and uplifting song of hope and joy. This is one of those songs, as is the next one, Little Black Cloud, a beautiful song which is the stand-out track on an exceptionally strong album.

Mostly, the album is just Florance’s rich, heartfelt vocals and her beautiful acoustic guitar-playing. But there are some nice guest contributions, too: some lovely melodeon on a couple of tracks and additional guitar from Ben Smith and alto-sax from Greg Camburn on one track. All of the songs are penned by Florance alone or with one of her writing partners. It’s testimony to her talents as a songwriter that an album as strong as this from a relative newcomer to recording succeeds without the need for a single cover version.

Let’s hope that 2016 becomes the year where Marina Florance comes to much wider public attention. This, That & The Other couldn’t be a better showcase for doing that. As soon as you put it on it has the sound and feel of a classic album, one that can happily sit by the likes of Alison Krauss, Joni Mitchell and Carole King in my CD collection.

Released: January 2016

http://www.marinaflorance.com/

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Previous review: Marina Florance at The Islington

Marina Florance at The Islington (Emerging Talent Showcase) 4/11/15

For sheer passion in terms of promoting new artists, there cannot be many outfits to beat Folkstock, the small “boutique” record label that’s helped bring a number of acts to wider attention. Tonight’s event in Islington is one of two nights that are being hosted under Folkstock’s “Emerging Artists” banner as part of the London Folk & Roots Festival. All of the acts showcased in the two live shows also feature on Folkstock’s “Downtown” album, which has a track contributed from each of the artists. Tonight the theme is Americana and we hear from three solo acts: Katie Rae, Marina Florance and Ben Smith as well as the headliners, five-piece band, Fred’s House.

With many artists you have a pretty rough idea of what they are going to sound like and a reasonable guess at what their musical style is going to be as soon as they take the stage. When the engaging but down-to-earth singer-guitarist, Marina Florance, takes the stage I have very little idea what to expect. But wow what an incredible, incredible voice. And in a strong field tonight, for me, she is the stand-out act of the evening. Florance came to live performance late in life but has been receiving plaudits wherever she’s played and sung. Her rich, heartfelt, expressive voice has been compared to everything from Stevie Nicks to Johnny Cash and is a joy to listen to, both on the more mournful, melancholic countrified numbers like Little Black Cloud (her contribution on the Downtown compilation CD) as well as the raunchier, bluesier songs like Big Legged Woman (from her latest EP: Triple A Side). Some great luscious, dexterous acoustic guitar-playing, too, compliments her voice perfectly. You can catch a video of her and the previous act, Kaity Rae, here

The only downside of an event like tonight is that when you do come across an emerging talent like Florance, you don’t quite get to hear enough of them before it’s time for the next act. Before she leaves the stage, however, the next artist, Ben Smith, joins her for a couple of songs. They make for a powerful musical combination and it’s gratifying to discover Smith plays on a couple of tracks on Florance’s latest EP.

She is the oldest of our emerging talent acts tonight by some way. But whoever said there was any age limit on when an artist can emerge: Marina Florance – I’m a fan!

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http://www.marinaflorance.com/

ahab at Cropredy 14/8/15

On my first visit to Fairport’s Cropredy festival in 2010 one of the upcoming bands that, for me, proved to be one of the highlights of that weekend was ahab. And it appears that many others that weekend felt the same way about this newly-formed alt-country band back then, too.

ahab went on to travel the world, make several albums, work with Stone Roses producer John Leckie, jiggle their line-up around a bit; and then, to the disappointment of many fans, promptly called it a day (at least temporarily as members each began to work on other musical projects). However, ahab acknowledge that Cropredy 2010 provided them with their big break. So five years later they are back, in their original line-up, to say thank you to the festival crowd that helped them on their way.

It’s a great performance. A classic slice Americana. Lovely harmonies. Upbeat melodies. Beautiful musicianship. And some great songs they’ve written, too, like Lightnin’ Bug and She’s Wearing Red as well as a brilliant cover of Wagon Wheel. Who’d have thought that they originated from Hackney not Tennessee?

The band were clearly very emotional to be back at the place where it all took off for them and seem genuinely moved by the warm  response they get from the Cropredy crowd. After a million thankyous to the crowd they then ask us the one question they perhaps shouldn’t have asked: “Do we look any older since we were last here?” “Yes!” we all shout back. “I love them,” whispered my friend, “but it looks like they’ve done a fair bit of partying over the last five years.”

A great sound, a great festival band and some great songs. It really would be a great shame if this really is the last we hear of ahab. Given the response the band get from the crowd and given how much they clearly enjoyed doing this gig, I doubt it will be. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Setlist:
Lightnin’ Bug
Lucy
Wish You
Run Me Down
Mischievous Side
Call a Waiter
Wearing Red
Uptight
I’ve Been Raining
Fathers Eyes
Rosalie
Million Reasons
Joanna
Rosebud

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Treetop Flyers at Cropredy 9/8/14

Treetop Flyers have been a popular fixture on the festival circuit for several years now and I was looking forward to seeing them again.  Singer, Reid Morrison, a regular attender at Cropredy in recent years as a punter, told the crowd he’d promised himself he’d get to sing on that big stage one day. And so he did…

Formed in London in 2009, the band’s influences are not The Kinks or The Small Faces or the Clash but rather the laid-back West Coast rock of bands like Crosby Stills Nash & Young. They are a young original band for the 21st century but one who carry that influence and musical heritage so well. And for sixty minutes or so those of us at the front were no longer in rural Oxfordshire in 2014 but transported back to Woodstock in ‘69.

Treetop Flyers (named after a Stephen Stills song) have perfected their sound and they do it beautifully. From Morrison’s expressive vocals, to the laid back harmonies, the countrified electric guitar licks, the melodic strumming of the acoustic guitar and the infectious boogie, they do sound good. And they’ve got a great collection of self-written songs, too. Rose is in the Yard, Things Will Change and Is it All Worth It are especially worth hearing and lapped up by the crowd, as was there cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary which fitted the mood of the set perfectly.

Still only one album in, 2013’s The Mountain Moves, I’m expecting to hear some truly classic material from this band over the coming years. In the meantime they are a great live band – catch them at a festival or venue near you.

http://treetopflyers.co.uk/

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Photo Credit: Shoot the Living