Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.
As well as old-time standards he also began introducing more of his own material into his live act and, over time, he’d picked up a group of collaborators and reinvented himself once more, now as frontman of John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies playing a new country/folk sound based on fretless banjo and electric guitar.
Divine Life of Punarvasu is the outfit’s debut album, showcasing eleven original songs written by John Edwin (Peter Danielsson). Irresistibly catchy melodies, pleasing vocals and that distinctive trademark blend of fretless banjo and electric guitar serve to make this and instantly likeable album and one worthy of repeat playing.
Lyrically, the album explores decidedly the non-redneck themes of Vedic astrology and yoga philosophy but are delivered with a sincerity and down-at-home ease that effortlessly rolls with the music whatever your spiritual (or non-spiritual) leanings.
A highly enjoyable debut.
John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies are:
John Edwin alias Peter Danielsson: five string banjo, fretless banjo, vocals & acoustic guitar Kenneth Bakkelund – electric guitars Pedro Blom – Ukuele bass Jörgen Andersson – snare drums
Waiting On You Tonight is the latest album from Texas-based singer-songwriter Beth Lee and the follow-up to her 2016 album Keep Your Mouth Shut released in the name of her roots rock ‘n’ roll band Beth Lee & The Breakups. This time it’s a solo album recorded not in Texas but in California.
Having toured with the support of Texas blues guitarist Chris Duarte over recent years, for her latest album Lee consciously set out to explore other avenues of her song-writing abilities. While the Americana influences that characterised previous releases are still very much alive and present, here she gives voice to a much wider set of musical influences. These range from her nineties love of the ethereal vocals of Hope Sandoval, to the pop-friendly melodies of sixties girl groups, to the southern soul of Stax Records to contemporary Americana artists like Nicole Atkins.
Lee’s soulful, heartfelt vocals and evident song-writing abilities are equally well-served by a top-class team of musicians in Julie Wolf, Vincent Rodriguez, James DePrato – the latter two being drummer and guitarist respectively for Chuck Prophet. Rodriguez also produced the album.
With Waiting On You Tonight, Beth Lee effortlessly distils generations of musical influences, from country to blues to soul to 60s pop to rock n roll, to deliver this gorgeous set of original songs that captures so much of what’s great about American music in its most golden age.
From Moseley in Birmingham, The Lost Notes are a five-piece acoustic outfit who fuse folk, jazz and bluegrass influences to create their own unique but accessible sound with their gorgeous three-part harmonies taking centre-stage.
Lowlifes and High Times is the follow-up album to the band’s well-received debut. Comprising eleven tracks plus a couple of bonus reworkings, the songs “celebrate the ups and downs of journeymen, despots, sleazeballs, fools, the planet and the consciously idle,” the band tell us.
The band are: Ben Mills: vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica; Oli Jobes: lead guitar, vocals; Lucy Mills: vocals; Silas Wood: double bass; and Max Tomlinson: drums. The key songwriters are Mills, a jazz fan, and Jobes, a folkie. Those creative differences clearly blend together well. There’s enough jazz on the album to really make it swing and instantly get your foot tapping but enough folk to ensure the songs are based around storytelling and catchy melodies. What it means is that things never get in the slightest bit self-indulgent but they never get worthy and dull either.
Notching up appearances at the likes of Moseley Folk Festival, Bromsgrove Folk Festival and Beardy Folk Festival, I can see exactly whey their irresistible blend of folk, jazz and Americana and those beautiful harmonies would go down a storm at festivals. Definitely ones to watch.
An album of soulful Americana Love Life is the latest album from US singer-songwriter Tawny Ellis.
With the title reflecting the theme that runs throughout the songs on the album, Ellis says:
“This record took about three years to finish. I can’t tell you why. It’s just the natural progression of it. The songs for the most part are very personal stories or perhaps stories I tell you about what I have observed in relationships. I built these songs mostly with three different people, Gio Loria – my husband, Jesse Seibenberg and Ted Russell-Kamp. I was lucky to have all of their extraordinary talent and input on board.”
Alongside her lush vocals and lyrical storytelling Ellis says she is known as ‘the girl with the weird instruments’ and her steel guitar an omnichord playing can be heard on the album, her talent for the latter developing when she borrowed an instrument that had originally belonged to Brian Eno, at the suggestion of her producer/musician friend Daniel Lanois.
“It’s a wonderful tool for writing and experimenting and I ended upwriting most of the record on it. It’s progressions opened up doorways for me, kind of like a key to the magic.”
Also featuring on the album are Jessie Siebenberg (guitar, steel guitar, drums, piano, keys), Ted Russell-Kamp (guitar, bass), Gio Loria (guitar), Kaitlin Wolfberg (violin, vocals), Scarlet Rivera (violin), Quinn (drums) and Brooke Lizotte (piano).
Released: 24th July 2020 by Music Building Records
John Jenkins is a well-known figure on the Liverpool music scene, once part of cult eighties band ‘The Persuaders’ but in recent years it’s been solo performances as a singer-songwriter or fronting his own band John Jenkins & the James Street Band. Two well-received independently-released albums ‘Window Shopping in Nashville’ and ‘Looking For That American Dream’ are now followed up with this latest release: ‘Growing Old (Songs From My Front Porch)’.
Inspired to write a selection of songs that could be performed solo, Jenkins reveals in the sleeve-notes that the working title for the album was initially ‘Songs for the Open Mic’. Thankfully, someone else suggested the slightly more Nashville, slightly less Norris Green title of ‘Songs From The Front Porch’. I don’t really care whether he’s got a porch or not to be honest – even if it’s only a metaphorical one it suits the feel of the album.
“I really wanted to record a selection of intimate songs that could resonate with the listener,” he says. “Stories of life, family, friends, good times, sad times, loss and happiness..”
All self-composed (bar one co-written with LA-based Kendra Boardman that emerged out of a songwriting retreat) the songs on the album explore those familiar themes of love, ageing, loss and loneliness. Jenkins’ lyrics have a nice turn of phrase to them and he can clearly turn out some really, strong memorable melodies, too.
Highlights include opening track (and the song that gives the album its name) ‘Growing Old’. Its contemplative mood and laid-back Americana feel sets the tone for the rest of the album rather nicely. Other highlights include the melancholic ‘Heartlands’ and the aforementioned co-write ‘This Mountain Between Us’ – performed here as a gorgeous duet with old friend Siobhan Maher-Kennedy taking us into classic country territory.
While the music might have a strong Americana feel to it Jenkins eschews a faux-American delivery and sings resolutely in his own voice. While I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily got the most distinctive of voices there’s a warm, engaging honesty about it that just works so perfectly for material like this.
Since Growing Old popped through my letterbox the other week I’ve been growing more and more fond of it. A fine album.
There have been some excellent new Americana releases dropping through my letterbox and into my CD player these past few months. Shadowland by Johnny Steinberg is no exception. With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album.
Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.
Steinberg takes up the story:
“If you had said to me eight years ago when I left my job, started songwriting and learned finger-style guitar that only five years later I would be recording in the US and UK to produce an album of my own songs I’d have said you were bonkers.”
Steinberg’s heart-warming story of his journey to Nashville and how he came to record an album with the likes of Boo Hewerdine (The Bible/ State of the Union) and Kira Small (Willie Nelson/ Garth Brooks/ Martina McBride) and other brilliant musicians is recounted in the extensive booklet that accompanies the beautifully packaged CD.
Steinberg has been gigging, either solo or with his band Johnny Steinberg and the Blue Fish, for some time now, garnering support slots with the likes of Graham Gouldman, Dave Swarbrick, Kathryn Williams and Reg Meuross. He is thoroughly deserving of the wider attention this album will surely bring him. Shadowland is pure class from start to finish.
Taking inspiration from that the likes of The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Buffalo Springfield, Lee Gallagher lays out his own take on that cosmic California sound with his latest album L.A. Yesterday. It’s all majestic-sounding piano, nifty guitar licks and laid-back California vibes. With Gallagher’s emotive, highly expressive vocals (he’s been compared to everyone from Steve Marriott, to Tom Petty to Neil Young) and his not inconsiderable songwriting skills it makes for an instantly appealing mix.
“The music I play is always centred on rock and roll,” Gallagher reflects. “It’s very much rooted in what was a period of awakening – the late 60s/early 70s. So many obscure artists. So many mega artists. Just a lot of great art.”
Gallagher began his singing career in the bars of Southern Ohio but making the move from the mid-west to the sunshine state he soaked up those west coast influences and eventually put together a band, The Hallelujah. An EP and a full-length album followed and, with a slight shift in personnel, L.A. Yesterday is the outfit’s third release.
Recorded at Palomino Sound, a vintage 70s Los Angeles studio, Lee Gallagher (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica) is joined by long-time collaborators Kirby Hammel (keyboards) and Jimmy Dewald (bass) along with new additions Jason Soda (lead guitar, slide guitar, acoustic guitar, 12 string guitar, mandolin and Hammond organ) and Will Scott (drums).
Combining elements of psychedelia, Americana and good old rock and roll L.A. Yesterday is a luscious slice of vintage California. As Gallagher says: “Play it very loud rolling down the highway or simply melting into your favourite chair.”
An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit.
Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. In the studio he worked with a stellar cast of musicians who had previously played alongside the likes of Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. Lightning in the Dark is the result, an album of breathtaking Americana with Celtic influences shining through. It’s a delicious fusion of styles. Dobros and banjos nestle with whistles and pipes to create something both beautiful and extraordinary – Celticana as Bregante dubbed it.
The sound is special but so, too, are the songs. Fairnie’s gift as a songwriter and easy-going but thought-provoking lyrics, many of them composed with songwriting partner and fellow poet Bob Shields, make this a standout-out album.
An absolute gem of an album. If you love Americana seek out Tom Fairnie’s Lightning In The Dark. You will not be disappointed.
Back Up To Zero is the third album from acoustic singer-songwriter duo Adam Amos & Noel Rocks. It comes after quite some gap since the first two though. Adam Amos and Noel Rocks recorded two albums together in the 1980s and toured around the UK and Europe. Their endeavours as a duo came to a premature end, however, when Amos relocated abroad. Two sell-out reunion shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 evidently encouraged them to rekindle their working partnership as a permanent set-up once more and they began working on Back Up To Zero in 2019, on Amos’s return to live in Scotland.
The album comprises eight original songs along with one traditional number and one cover. The duo (Amos guitar/vocals and Rocks guitar/banjo/vocals) say the songs are mainly drawn from their personal observations, with influences from Scotland, Ireland and North America.
They are joined by a number of guest musicians: renowned Korean born Su-a Lee (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mr McFall’s Chamber, La Banda Europa) on cello, David Paton (Pilot, Elton John, Albert Hammond) on bass and Kenny Hutchison on accordion and piano, who was also the album’s producer.
Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.
Wood Wire & Words are a three-piece from the south of England formed around 15 years ago. The trio are David Rozzell – songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist; Clare Rozzell – harmony/lead vocals, double bass and melodeon; and Pat Francis – Dobro, mandolin and guitar. Now on their third album, the band’s sound has been described as a blend of folk, bluegrass and acoustic Americana.
While their previous album (2015’s It’s a Barbecue Day) was a nice slice of home-grown Bluegrass/Americana, with this latest album ‘The Boy With The Smile’ I detect a much broader range of influences coming to the fore. Indeed, they kind of remind me of a Bluegrass-tinged interpretation of the modern-day incarnation of Fairport Convention. David Rozzell’s deep, rich vocal delivery is not unlike Fairport’s Simon Nicol’s, by the way.
Eleven of the twelve songs are Rozzell’s own compositions. He clearly has a fine ear for melody as well as being a forthright lyricist – with themes covering war, love, depression, politics and poverty amongst others. It’s not all sharply-observed social commentary, however. A couple nod to more pastoral themes in the folk tradition. ‘Toast The Harvest’ was written for Ely Cathedral’s harvest service, while ‘The Oak King Rises’ was originally written for a local pagan yule ceremony. The one non-original song is a beautifully mellow cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightening’.
Much as I enjoyed their previous album The Boy With The Smile feels like a significant step forward in the band’s creative journey. Anyone with an interest in folk or Americana will find much to like in this album.