Tag Archives: americana

Folk – album review – Birichen ‘Hush’

This review was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

Birichen are Catriona Sutherland (vocals), Iain-Gordon Macfarlane (fiddle and guitar) and Robert McDonald (dobro slide guitar) and this five-track EP is their debut release. Named after the settlement in the Scottish highlands that serves as their base, the trio’s music is steeped in the influences of Scottish folk but there are other influences at work, too, most notably Americana.

The EP opens with the sound of birdsong and running water, but regardless of whether it’s Drumnadrochit or Montana it really doesn’t matter, the opening song Holding On To Each Moment immediately transports the listener to somewhere that is soothing, laid-back and breathtakingly beautiful. Gordon-Macfarlane’s fiddle and McDonald’s slide guitar serve to clearly lay out Birichen’s musical mission from the outset and both players provide the perfect accompaniment for Sutherland’s clear voice and gentle, evocative delivery. The country influences come even more to the fore with a cover of Guy Clark’s LA Freeway but on the jazzy Gonnae Get Good and the poignant Smile In Your Sleep the emphasis is very much on Scottish history and culture, the latter an emotive lullaby recalling the brutal and traumatic impact of the Highland Clearances that touches on the history of the Birichen settlement and Sutherland’s own family history.

A beguiling blend of Scottish folk and American country Hush sees Birichen announce their arrival in splendid form. A fine debut EP.

Released: October 2018

https://www.facebook.com/Birichen/

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Folk/rock: album review – Crooked Weather ‘Are We Lost’

In spite of originating from the windswept landscape of East Yorkshire, you don’t need to spend very long at all listening to Crooked Weather to work out that the band’s spiritual home is so evidently the sun-blessed uplands of America’s west coast, circa 1969. Warm harmony vocals, catchy acoustic guitar melodies, delicious interjections on the slide guitar and that sunny laid-back country-meets-folk Americana vibe that combines musical intricacy with seemingly effortless execution, Are We Lost is an impressive and highly likeable album.

Based around the vocals and guitar playing of both Holly Blackshaw and Will Bladen, the duo are backed by a stellar cast of supporting musicians in the shape of of Rob Burgess, Beth Nicholson, Dave Tomlinson and Tom Skelly. Song-wise the album is mainly a vehicle for the talented writing of Bladen but there’s also a deeply lovely arrangement of the traditional English folk number ‘Hares On The Mountain’.

The album climaxes with Bladen and Blackshaw’s ‘Easy’ an undulating and dramatic slice of epic folk-rock which also serves as the band’s current single.

“Easy was one of those songs that just wrote itself and it’s hard to say where this kind of a song comes from. It had been fermenting away in the background for a while and ideas would come now and again when outside cutting the grass and things like that. Then one afternoon it pretty much came out fully formed. It’s probably best not spending too long thinking about where it came from,” says Bladen.

It’s not at all difficult to close your eyes and imagine these as summer festival favourites – and having had quite a few such appearances under their belts they will be well worth checking out if you have a chance to see them. And obviously, do check out this album, too.

Released: 12th April 2019

https://www.crookedweather.com/

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Interview with blues/Americana rising star Elles Bailey

This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

I recently caught up with blues/Americana singer-songwriter Elles Bailey to talk about her newly-released album Road I Call Home, about the impact of her critically-acclaimed debut and about her current tour.

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GRTR: Your debut album was fantastically well-received. At what point did you start to feel you had something really special on your hands? While you were writing? Or recording? Or mixing? Or not until you started to see the reactions and read the positive reviews?

EB: I guess it was when the critics and their fans got there hands on it and the reviews started to come in that I was like ‘hang on, I think folks are really liking this!’ I find it is really hard to be objective about your own music but I am really pleased that Wildfire got the reviews it did, across genres! That took me by surprise.

GRTR: You must have felt under quite a bit of pressure when it came to putting the second album together. What was your overall philosophy when it came to writing and recording Road I Call Home?

EB: Just be honest – I wanted to write an album that was honest, bare to the bones, not sugar-coating anything!

I guess there was a bit of pressure when it came to putting this album together but it was such a blur of a year I am not quite sure how it all happened! I’m currently sat in my managers office and looking at the vinyl…. And that’s weird, actually having it physically in my hand and thinking – ‘how the hell did this happen?

GRTR: What has the experience of co-writing with some of these iconic song-writers been like, compared to writing songs on your own?

EB: I love to collaborate when I write, its great being in a room with someone sparking off ideas and working with folks like Roger Cook, Bobby Wood and Dan Auerbach is kinda mind blowing. Every now and then I have to pinch myself just in case I am dreaming!!

GRTR: What’s been your most memorable live gig so far and how much are you looking forward to doing Ramblin’ Man in July?

EB: The album launch at The Lexington in London was totally off the chain. The album had been out a couple of days and had loads of people singing the words back to me! I felt like crying it was so emotional! I’ll never forget that gig!

Ramblin man….. I can’t wait and am so excited to finally see Beth Hart live!

GRTR: There’s a lot of different influences in your music – from blues to country to rock to soul. Name some of your favourite artists.

EB: Gosh I have so many but right now I am listening to Mavis Staples, Christ Stapleton, The Band, Larkin Poe, Hozier ( I love his new record) and Ida Mae to name a few.

Elles Bailey’s Road I Call home was released on March 8th. Review here

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Photo credits: artist publicity

 

Americana: album review – Elles Bailey ‘Road I Call Home’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After attracting a slew of favourable reviews with her debut album, 2017’s Wildfire, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Elles Bailey is back with a follow-up. Like its predecessor, recorded primarily in Nashville Road I Call Home is a slice of soulful, classy, bluesy Americana. With her husky, emotive vocals and a definite ear for a good song it’s not difficult to see why Bailey has been picking up fans and rave reviews across a range of genres – from rock to folk to country to blues.

Backed by some top class musicians from the Nashville recording scene the album just oozes professionalism and quality. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a suitably dramatic slice of country rock to open the album, while songs like ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’ perfectly capture the spirit of modern Americana. Some of the tracks, like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Foolish Hearts’ with their deliciously soulful organ and bags and bags of brass give an impression of being recorded not in Nashville but some 200 miles away and a several decades ago in Memphis’s Stax studio. But it’s that skilful yet instinctive blend of influences that has helped Bailey build a solid fan-base. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ meanwhile is a slow, smoky, heartfelt blues while the rock influences come more to the fore in the title track ‘Road I Call Home’ with its superb guitar solo.

Co-writing credits include renowned UK hit songwriter Roger Cook, these days firmly part of the Nashville music scene, along with Nashville’s own Bobby Wood who has written for Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield among others. Bailey explains the process as follows: “Road I Call Home is a year’s snapshot of being on the road. Eight of the 11 songs were written in two months. I’m very honest to what I write, and right now that’s what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to live this life.”

An incredible voice, some great songwriting and some seriously good musicianship, with Road I Call Home Elles Bailey and her friends in Nashville have given us an impressive album.

Released by Outlaw Music March 8th 2019

https://www.ellesbailey.com/

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Singer/songwriter: album review – JR Harbidge ‘First Ray of Light’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Involved in the Midlands music scene since his teens, in bands such as the grunge-influenced Third Bullet as well as production work for a variety of outfits, a change of direction, together with a change of location, has led to a new, more introspective approach for JR Harbidge. Out goes the harder-edged rock artist to be replaced by a soulful, Americana-tinged singer songwriter. The album itself has flavours of Bob Dylan, Crosby, Still & Nash and Neil Young.

There’s a distinctive feel to Harbidge’s vocals, some nice acoustic guitar work and some fine supporting musicians who capture that laid-back Americana vibe just perfectly. The thing about the whole singer songwriter routine, though, is that you really have to have the songs to pull it off. And I’m pleased to say Harbidge has more than delivered in that department. There’s a maturity about the song-writing that belies the fact this is a new direction for the artist.

Covering themes from the personal to the political, from relationships (‘The Side Of You That Cares’) to war and peace (‘I Won’t Support Your Wars’) the songs are engaging and the lyrics elicit empathy. Harbidge has an ear for a good tune as well: “I always try and bring out melody in everything because I live to sing along to songs. If I can’t sing along to a song I’m not interested in it.”

With a voice you can easily warm to, songs you can easily relate to and melodies you can hum along to this is a worthy solo debut for JR Harbidge. Well worth exploring further.

Released by Absolute via Universal/Sony on 5th October 2018

https://jrharbidge.com/

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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

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

The Equatorial Group at Music on the Bandstand, Bexhill-on-sea 6/8/16

Independent record stores that have managed to survive firstly the big chains, then the rise of Amazon then the downloading craze have tended to be the ones that made themselves far more than just a place to buy records and CDs. The Music’s Not Dead store in Bexhill-on-sea is a classic example. Its thirst for promoting music seemingly limitless and unconditional. Not only do they host regular live performances in store, they also hook up with the De La Warr Pavilion over the road to put on numerous events including this outdoor mini free festival on the terrace of the pavilion by the seafront. The first band on today The Equatorial Group particularly caught my eye.

“Sounding like Crazy Horse colliding with Fleetwood Mac on a dusty road” as their Facebook profile has it. Gentle acoustic guitar, some nice pedal steel, harmony vocals and some great laid-back lead guitar solos, their blend of slow, countrified Americana was just perfect for a hot August afternoon with a few beers by the sea. They’ve got some good original songs, too. And as you could pick up both of their self-produced EPs (2014’s Glebe and 2015’s Elvis) on CD for a fiver it seemed silly not to buy them and explore this band a little further. I’m impressed.

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The Eastbourne-based band have been around since 2011 and are now happily on my radar for the future. Anyone into this type of music is well advised to keep an eye out for them. And well done to both Music’s Not Dead and De La Warr Pavilion for giving a platform to acts of this calibre.

https://www.facebook.com/theequatorialgroup/?fref=ts

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Mick Bolton and Simon Shaw at Gecko, St. Leonards 10/4/16

One of the absolute joys about life in Hastings and St Leonard’s, and a key motivation for relocating here in the first place, is the proliferation of live music venues. There’s an extremely satisfying number of good-sized venues, like The White Rock Theatre, St Mary In The Castle, The Stables Theatre, The Kino Teatre and the nearby Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion. But it’s not just the larger theatre-style venues, live music in pubs and bars throughout the town appears to be as much part of pub life as pints of lager and bags of crisps. So my first actual gig as a bona fide, council-tax paying Hastings resident, as opposed to visiting music tourist, is to see Mick Bolton and Simon Shaw play an early Sunday evening set in the Gecko cafe bar around the corner from me on St Leonard’s seafront.

I’d seen keyboard player, Mick Bolton, who toured as part of Mott The Hoople in the early 70s, at a handful of Mott The Hoople-related events over the years but until tonight I’d never actually seen him perform live. He’s joined by Simon Shaw and Bolton’s pounding honky tonk style-piano and Shaw’s acoustic blues/Americana guitar make for a really nice combination. They give their own treatment to a number of well-known covers, including songs by Georgie Fame, The Beatles, The Band, Thunderclap Newman, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry. A good few of Bolton’s self-penned originals are thrown in, too, performed in a similar style (mainly) with a couple of slower numbers thrown in towards the end.

So for a couple of hours around thirty-odd of us are entertained for free in this pleasant little seafront cafe bar by two talented musicians who are clearly enjoying playing for us. My first gig as a Hastings local, but certainly not my last, and several more are lined up already.

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