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.
Following the release of his debut album (reviewed here) back in April, the alt-folk musician James Auger aka A Choir of Ghosts releases a new single. ‘Skin & Bones’ is released on November 20th with an accompanying video.
“The song is about the realization that you can’t always ‘fix it’ for the people you love. Sometimes they have to solve it themselves, and you can’t do anything but watch and hope for the best. In order for things to grow to its full potential, you sometimes have to let go,” says Auger.
“It’s a hard realization but I think a lot of people can identify with the feeling of sudden emptiness, when you come to something in your way that you cannot share, but rather have to go about alone. Your only hope lays in that once the obstacle has been passed, you can rendezvous on the other side.”
A spring 2020 European tour was cancelled due to Covid-19, but Choir of Ghosts has now sprung back into life with this gentle, longing beautiful song and atmospheric video filmed deep in the Scandinavian forests.
Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’.
“Inspired by all around me, the beauty of nature, the weather, the seasons, the moon-tides, the people in my village, something someone said in passing,” says Fairbairns, “these songs are formed from my thoughts about what I see, what I feel, what I long for and what I already have.”
Recorded over a three-year period ‘Edge of the Wild’ is Fairbairns’ debut album, and makes full use of an obvious gift for language and she serves up some heartfelt highly personal lyrics, beautiful clear vocals and instantly appealing melodies.
Production is courtesy of Scottish producers Wild Biscuit and instrumentation is from John Saich. Technology and beautiful piano playing combine to provide a suitably atmospheric and highly evocative backdrop for Fairbairns’ singing. ‘Edge of the Wild’ is an immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.
From trad folk to prog rock to avant-garde pop there are many influences at play on Flowers Where The Horses Sleep, the latest album from singer-songwriter, Joshua Burnell.
Following his well-received folk-rock interpretations of traditional song on his two previous albums, Burnell returns to original compositions.
“Having dedicated the past three years to rearranging traditional material, I wanted to build on that experience to produce an album of folk songs for a modern audience,” says Burnell. “The songs were all inspired by people past and present and explore humankind’s remarkable ability to find beauty, even in the hardest of times.”
Nicely packaged with beautiful cover art, the album takes its title from the recollections of a Japanese-American woman who was interned during World War II and spoke of the prisoners growing flowers in the stables they were obliged to take residence in, bringing beauty to the ugliness surrounding them.
Burnell himself is a talented multi-instrumentalist and his impressive musicianship is as much in evidence on this album as his gentle but beguiling vocals. Guests on the album include Frances Sladen on lead and backing vocals, Nathan Greaves on electric guitar and Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandarin.
Flowers Where The Horses Sleep takes us on quite a musical journey from the gentle acoustic strumming of opener ‘Labels’ to the lush grand piano of closing track ‘Two Stars’ with many detours along the way. It’s testimony both to Burnell’s creativity and his love of traditional material, however, that for all the quirky left-field musical influences, these freshly-composed songs still manage to retain a strong folk sensibility.
Canadian singer-songwriter Garnett Betts‘ work springs from a folk/roots sensibility but there is no shortage of other influences, too, from jazz to blues to country to easy listening. With Highfield, his latest album, the result is some compelling story-telling in the best singer-songwriter tradition mixed in with some cool, laid-back jazz-tinged piano.
Featuring Betts on vocals, guitar and penny whistle, the album also includes Rick May on bass, Karel Roessingh on piano and keys and Alex Campbell on hand percussion.
“I definitely think that an up beat and more energetic feel runs through this album than my past work,” says Betts.
Betts’ story-telling really comes to the fore on ‘Smart Guys Don’t Fade Away’ described as a tale of unsolicited advice from youth through to maturity and one of the stand-out tracks on the album.
‘Farther On’ one of the two instrumentals on the album takes on a more overt folky feel with some atmospheric penny whistle giving the track something of a Celtic touch.
The more upbeat ‘Rendezvous’ meanwhile, with its catchy melody and slightly bluesy feel, immediately puts me in mind of one of those classic, mid 70s albums with that sun-kissed, west coast vibe and is another stand-out track.
A singer-songwriter with plenty to say and a diverse set of musical influences distilled into an interesting and coherent album. Check it out.
Crystal clear vocals and songs that veer between folk and country with just a sprinkling of smooth slightly jazz-influenced pop Are You Listening is the latest release from London-based singer-songwriter, Saskia Griffiths-Moore.
The first of two-album deal with Suzanne Marcus Collins Foundation, it includes re-workings from her back catalogue as well as two brand new songs and a Leonard Cohen cover.
Whether or not you are familiar with her back catalogue Saskia turns in some fine renditions of her older material here, backed by David Ian Roberts (guitar), Thomas Holder (double bass), Ali Petrie (piano) and Gabriella Swallow (cello) giving the whole album a gorgeously mellow acoustic feel. Of the brand new songs both the optimistic and upbeat ‘Best of You’ and the sad and wistful ‘Come Comfort Me’ compliment the older material nicely.
I do like Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and here Saskia sings it well. However, I’m not sure it’s entirely essential on this album given there are so many Cohen songs that haven’t been covered quite so many times. Never mind, she does sing it superbly.
A beautifully-recorded album and a fine showcase for Saskia’s burgeoning talents as a singer-songwriter – yes: we’re listing. An impressive album.
Paths & Stories is the debut EP from Liverpool-based folk singer-songwriter Alison Benson. The five-track release comprises five of Benson’s own songs, each looking at the life of an individual, both real and imagined. From a tragic Victorian fortune-teller to a First World War conscientious objector to the heroine of a pioneering piece of 1950s lesbian fiction, Benson draws from a wide range of historical and artistic sources for her inspiration, be it paintings , novels or local landmarks. And she produces some quite unique and utterly captivating folk storytelling in the process.
“Folk music doesn’t exist without stories,” says Benson. “Whether real, mythical or fictional.”
“Focusing on one person’s experience, for me, is a way to get even deeper into a story – to empathise and think about motivations. Singing songs in the first person, as someone else , also gives the narrative a different quality.”
Showcasing her distinctive and appealing vocals, Paths & Stories is pretty much Benson, her songs and her ukulele. I’ll be honest and say that this is not normally my favourite instrument but Benson’s technique is such that any preconceptions about overly-upbeat enforced jollity and cloyingly twee melodies are instantly cast aside as soon as you hear her playing. Gently evocative, the ukulele in Benson’s hands makes for the perfect accompaniment to her thoughtful and poignant storytelling.
And what storytelling there is. Well-produced and highly listenable this is a lovely EP from a singer-songwriter who is clearly emerging as a serious and noteworthy talent.
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.
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.