FolkWorld #46 11/2011

CD & DVD Reviews

Peader King "The Shadowlands"
Own label; 2011

Who would have guessed that a songwriter from the island of Inishbofin off of the west coast of Ireland would have such a rootsy sound that combines classic Americana with his native Irish music. If anything, it leans more heavily to Americana, although there is that similar European feeling that one finds in Richard Thompson’s songwriting. These songs are easy to grab on to, yet have a nice depth to them as you listen to the thoughtful lyrics on top of the intricate arrangements. The string work is interesting in the title cut along with the bowed bass in “Dark Days”. “The Open Sea” is the most accomplished song here as it begins with its intricate keyboards, making way for a nice folk song that works in gutsy rock moves in between the verses. The band builds tension into the song in such subtle and moving ways. Songwriter, band and co-producer Fintan Moore all deserve a lot of credit for putting together this powerful album.
© David Hintz

Mike Scott "Saturation Point"
Bad Mood Records; 2011

There have been a surprising number of attempts to combine punk rock and folk ever since guys like Billy Bragg did it well. Nowadays, it is a field of older punk rockers mellowing out on the volume, but not the lyrics. There are also some newcomers who are open to using many different genres. Mike Scott appears to be in the latter group (although a little website reading shows he has played live with a couple guys in the former group, Kevin Seconds and Kepi Ghoulie). He easily blends biting lyrics with a somewhat quieter punk vocal delivery atop nice acoustic guitars and dreamy percussion and backing vocals. The backing vocals give this an ethereal, psychedelic feeling and really make this record a cut above the rest. “Saturation Pint” and “Retinas” showcase this technique best. The seventeen songs are a little on the short side and sometimes startle me by ending so abruptly. However, I got used to that quirky style and ultimately accepted this as a very accomplished record.
© David Hintz

Mike Zito "Greyhound"
Eclecto Groove Records; 2011

There is a lot of talk surrounding this record regarding it being a rootsy blues record. There certainly is plenty of that at the core, but the resulting flowers have more of a classic blues-rock feel. It is not far off from the possible sounds of Leslie West singing for the Drive-by Truckers. Full throated, both in guitar and voice, the eleven songs rock steady with plenty of bite. There are no keyboards, harmonicas, or saxophones anywhere near this studio, just a couple of loud guitars on top of a rhythm section. Tempo is varied a bit with a slower bluesy ballad-like moves in “Motel Blues” and “Hello Midnight” or a mid-tempo honky-tonk number like “Until the Day I Die”. So there is also enough variety to keep attention high, among blues lovers and hard rock fans.
© David Hintz

Gordie Tentrees "Mercy or Sin"
Yukon; 2009

The first thing I recommend here is to look up Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada to see where this was recorded. This is way, way north, southwest of Fairbanks, Alaska. I am not sure roads even connect the two towns. I am not sure anyone needs any further proof that not only is music everywhere, but good songwriting and recording capabilities also now show up just about everywhere. The music here is not surprisingly a good rootsy mix of blues, rock, and folk. I like the punch present in “Devil Talks” and the swinging melody in “Traveling Song Man”. These examples show a lot of skill and deserve a wider audience. This was a pleasant surprise that I will return to many more times.
© David Hintz

Dubtari "Live in Altona"
Own label; 2011

As the name implies, this is a full band reggae/ska/dub band rocking it out live. It is hard to know if or where the sound may be enhanced with studio add-ons. I rarely find live recordings accurately record the real fun of the live sound, so I usually opt for a studio recording. The lead guitar cuts through nicely, the horns are good and the rhythms keep things moving, so the sound is decent enough here. Vocals do not come off quite as well, but the breathy Eartha Kitt-like voice in “Rat Race” is welcome. The band keeps the tempo and energy up for 17 songs, so this is an enjoyable listening.
© David Hintz

Dreadnut Inc. "First Drop"
Own Label; 2011

Heavy rhythms and horns lead the way for the rock sounds of Dreadnut Inc. There is a reggae/Rhythm & Blues hybrid working with the vocals and rhythms as well. It is successful due to solid guitar work, good vocals, and the way the band pushes the material forward. That energy enlivens the material creating more of a dance vibe than most of this type of material I hear. The slower numbers do not pop up to the forefront as much, but most of the material has some pace and keeps things lively. Good solid effort here.
© David Hintz

Tom McBride "A Brief Headspin"
Humpback Records; 2011

Nice gravelly, yet smooth Americana immediately greets the listener on this new album from Washington DC’s Tom McBride. There is a blend of electric and acoustic instruments at work with nice surprises like glockenspiel punctuation in the opener. The keyboard runs are far from normal with some exotic waterfall-like sounds. McBride has a good voice that goes beyond the obvious rootsy Americana approach. The otherworldly qualities evident in the title cut take the song much further than a dozen other fine songwriters could do. Another gem, “Underneath the Sheltering Sky”, is more of mysterious indie rock song influenced more by REM than Bruce Springsteen. And if you are going to add a cliché to the ending, then pick a good one like a wailing harmonica straight out of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack (in this case, “Once Upon a Time in the West”). There are lighter rockers, straighter folk numbers with each song moving in a slightly different direction. The movement is never far enough away from Tom McBride’s individual epicenter of Americana folk-rock. He has made a fine album here.
© David Hintz

Haun’s Mill "Haun’s Mill"
Own label; 2011

The sparse but steady instrumentation is what immediately stands out and continues throughout this album. The main difference between this and other sparse folk albums is that this takes on a surreal tone that evokes rural Europe, dreamy landscapes, as well as the expected Americana touches. There is more depth here that is evident on further listens. It is the two vocalists, male and female, that really send this to the outer nether lands. Eliza Wren’s vocal work is particularly strident, although seemingly quiet. Even if you feel there is a whole lot of this music already, and way too much music from their home of Austin, Texas, I would advise to give this one two listens. You may only need the one for their magic to work.
© David Hintz

Seasick Steve "You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks"
Play it again Sam; 2011

This crusty old American-born bluesy-folk musician has become a wildly popular cult figure in the UK, Europe, and even Australia. The USA-based music cognoscenti have slowly come around but unfortunately I am in the caboose of this train. This fifth album is the first of his that I have listened to all the way through. It does not take too long to see why his music has become so popular. The first song features his deep, rich voice that sounds balanced somewhere in between Fred Neil and Leslie West with a hint of Tom Waits. But as quickly as the blues-folk vibe gets established, he has John Paul Jones and a drummer in on the second song and does a low-rent Jimmy Page impersonation. Well, not quite, but he does rock hard on the two cuts with Jones on bass. The album has a great mix of styles with his singing backed by solo guitar, solo banjo, guitar and drums and a few fuller band songs. It sounds great and should continue to grow his audience. The only negative I would point out is the rather pedestrian lyrics. Nothing insulting here, but perhaps it was not worth the effort of reprint in the CD booklet (although the pictures of his various guitars and banjos used on each song were a nice touch). If you were interested in seeing what all the fuss was about, I do encourage you to find out and this record will start you off right.
© David Hintz

The Long Ryders "Native Sons plus…"
Prima Records; 2011

Back in the early 1980s, punk rock had splintered into regimented categories, hardcore being the most extreme. Some bands dipped into alternate musical genres while keeping their DIY attitude and challenging lyrical content intact. Most famously, the Dils took their ferocious leftist hardcore punk sound and added the Nuns Alejandro Escovedo to form perhaps the first alt-country band, Rank in File. I never quite could handle the transition then, but have warmed to wider palette of sounds since. Therefore, I was anxious to hear what I thought of this excellent 24-song collection from the Long Ryders, another Americana band that had a foot in the California punk scene. This CD has the eleven-song LP, plus released songs from singles and EPs along with unreleased material making for a great package. And the music was even better than I expected mostly due to the influence of another California scene at the time that they were associated with—the Paisley Underground. Those were the neo-psyche sounding bands, which had some excellent bands and a couple that were overrated. But the Long Ryders really latched on to a great combination of easygoing California psychedelic pop and Americana rootsy folk-rock. The music is still lively and fresh and is welcome to those of us revisiting it or newcomers who want to hear what inspired many of their favorite artists today. So for old time fans of the Blue Things or the Golden Dawn; or newer fans of the Sadies or O’Death, give this one a listen or re-listen.
© David Hintz

The Wyld Olde Souls "Ensoulment"
My Generation Productions; 2011

Well here is a pleasant surprise. This band's record label noticed that I favorably compared a CD I reviewed here in Folkworld to an old Wyld Olde Souls EP that I still routinely play. I had acquired it from a since deceased collector who tossed it in with a big order I had made. I still play it as this US east coast band exemplified the best of UK-styled psychedelic folk music. They had a rich sound with strong vocals, interesting instrumentation and even did a superlative cover of a Gwydion song, "Sun God". Well I was delighted to learn that the band was back and their new label caught my reference and sent me a copy of the new record. And the band is indeed back with the gorgeous harmonies, acoustic guitars, and electric instruments. But with flute, mellotron, hurdy gurdy, and tablas, they still can put the psychedelic into folk music. Start with Chimera (UK), think of the Smoke Fairies and add a full band sound like a Mellow Candle, Americanize it a bit in the way of Gwydion and you have an approximation of the delightful sounds within this album. There are not quite the highlights here as on the previous record (a couple are close), but it flows majestically and not a wrong note is struck. This record should be gobbled up by any fan of the aforementioned classic folk-psyche bands. They are one of the few bands out there that truly keep the spirit alive. As for the songs, “Wyld Maiden” has a great counterpart guitar or bouzouki and violin working off of the serpentine melody with at least three killer female voices dancing in and out of the mix. I also loved “Where There is Light” with its mysterious flute sounds hovering over steady percussion and even some electronica sneaks its way in while still retaining classic psyche folk sound.
© David Hintz

Casey Shea "In Your Head"
Family Records; 2011

I had the pleasure of seeing Casey Shea recently in Washington DC and also interviewed him. He was a bright and friendly guy and he put on an entertaining set that really got the crowd involved. He was solo that night, but he mentioned that in New York he plays regularly with a band and that his album was recorded with them as well. Ergo, this is a full rocking album with a plenty of the classic singer-songwriter folk-rock style on display as well. It has a modern feeling, born out of a Soul Asylum type heartland sound that is as rocking as many heavy bands, but still holds on to a rootsy base. There are a few darker, quieter songs, which nicely balance this nine-song album. Casey Shea has the song writing chops and a great band and they have all done a great job with this record. There are a lot of fine young artists in this arena, but he has the ability to turn many ears in his direction.
The title cut has a tuneful poppy feeling, but the full-out rocking foundation of drums, bass and electric guitar won't let you settle back in your chair too comfortably. I also enjoyed “Battery” with its battery of bass and wild drums. Add ringing guitar and Shea's strong vocals and you have one great song that takes me back to classic Soul Asylum.
© David Hintz

Paul Armfield "Tennyson"
Artfull Sounds; 2011

This is the fourth album by full-time bookstore manager and part-time musician Paul Armfield. Ergo, it is not surprise that a literary theme is the cornerstone of the work. All the lyrics are from the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Armfield plays guitar and most of the other instruments in the mostly sparse arrangements. Song order was the first interesting thing to me with the opening number being light with bird noises--evoking a children's song. But Armfield's voice is deep with an intensity present so I was pretty sure that things would turn. And they did with the next song "Spiteful Letter". It was not all down and deep as he varied the arrangements nicely, clearly with the intent of interpreting the poetry. "Charge of the Light Brigade" has a rhythmic thrust with vocals bringing out the intensity of the battle. This record is not for people who want full flowing folk-rock and thick indie rock sounds. But if you enjoy Nick Drake's third album and the work of Leonard Cohen (all with a voice more like Gordon Lightfoot perhaps), you will hear some really powerful songs here.
Examples include “Poets Song”, which is a poem I remember from school. The arrangement has lots of interesting twists and turns in addition to fine vocal work.
Voyage also impresses and at nearly 11 minutes, it has epic qualities, but mostly in the lyrics and vocals. The light guitar and banjo lay down a dreamwork pattern where you really focus on the lyrics.
© David Hintz

Mott the Hoople "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople" [DVD Video]
Start Productions; 2011

This is a very well done documentary of a popular band that was always a bit of a square peg fitting in the proverbial round hole. The filmmakers, Chris Hall and Mike Kerry, do a great job of laying out the story of how this band happened and they get a lot more of the why they happened than I ever knew. The linear story is replete with full informative interviews from all the original and subsequent members of the band with the exception of the elusive Overend Watts. There are also many discussions with the crew and various other people who knew the band as well as a major fan like Mick Jones of the Clash and Queen’s Roger Taylor who had opened for them. I grew up with Mott the Hoople and knew the story of David Bowie giving them their biggest hit, “All the Young Dudes” just as they were planning on packing it in, but there were many other interesting things to learn. The role of Guy Stevens (producer of “London Calling” by the Clash) was interesting as well as pivotal to the band. It appears that Guy Stevens would make for a fascinating documentary himself. Mott’s role of transitioning classic rock’n’roll to punk rock through glam is explored and makes a lot of sense here, listening to the music and the discussions. Mick Jones discusses the breakdown of the usual wall between band and fans, which could easily be used again to describe the Clash nearly a decade later. The film has excellent music and some nice footage of the band as well. It was nice to see the full original band reunited at the movie’s close for a series of successful shows in 2009. I always enjoy a good music documentary and I feel the mark of a good documentary is one that you can recommend to music fans that are not necessarily fans of the band. I would recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a good slice of rock history as well as a good music story.
© David Hintz

Roger Matura "World Gone Wrong"
Ozella Music, 2011

One of Germany’s finest folk singers is back with another sharp tongued, easy listening folk album. Considering his first three Folkways albums from a couple decades back are titled “No More Nukes”, “Times are Going to get Harder”, and “The Outrage Grows”; it is no surprise at the title of this album. The voice is older, but there is great strength deep in his breathiness. It is not a surprise to hear some comparisons made to Tom Waits with the odd voice and folk-jazz lounge arrangements in some of these songs, but Matura seems a bit more the everyman than the outsider. This is pretty classy music, edgy but flowing. This is effectively a double album with 22 well thought out songs. My only complaint is that the lyric sheet and album notes in the book have all kinds of arty spacing rendering them far less accessible than the music. Old folkies should gravitate to this along with listeners that want a bit more in the way of arrangements than acoustic guitar, harmonica and voice. Just don’t expect watered down messages in these lyrics.
© David Hintz

Daithi Sproule "Lost River: Vol. I"
New Folk Records, 2011

German CD Review

This is traditional Irish folk music with a good modern feel. All the lyrics are from songs and ballads and all but a couple of the tunes are classic hand-me-down folk tunes. Sproule did write the music to a couple of the old lyrics, but the style remains similar to the older songs. You likely know Sproule’s guitar work with the excellent Irish band, Altan. And there is a taste of that here with one live Altan song to finish off this album. The rest of the album is mostly guitar and voice with some guests here and there. It’s no surprise that the guitar work is solid and Sproule’s voice is nice as well with a light Irish accent smoothly delivering the lyrics as opposed to the clichéd drunken pub singer (no names need be mentioned). It is more of an Irish Dave Cousins (Strawbs) at times. If anything is off, things are perhaps a bit too smooth at times and the music falls into a safe and comfortable mode. “Bold Doherty” offers a nice little jolt with its vibrant Irish swing and the guest whistle of Laura MacKenzie. Ultimately, this is a classy album and will be well received by Altan fans and Irish folk music lovers everywhere.
© David Hintz

Jennie Lowe Stearns & the Fire Choir "Blurry Edges"
Continental Record Services; 2011

Although there certainly is a lot more spooky western Americana bands working these days than every before, Jennie Lowe Stearns adds a lot of her own individuality to this new genre. Her music is filled with nice imagery delivered in interesting melodic lines. It could be arranged many ways and still be successful, but I am thankful she has added some psychedelic keyboards to the basic Americana acoustic guitar and rhythm section work. The atmosphere is one where you can focus on the grounded song or let go and float off into the poetry. Her voice is the real work of art here and makes everything come alive. I have not too many songs like “Under Water” where the conveyed message gives me such a cinematic feeling on the lyrics. I will be replaying this many times and expect to have different favorite songs each listen. But as good as the songs are, it is the fully developed world of the album as a whole the reaches me. The edges may be blurry (especially with the great fuzz guitar in the title cut), but they no blurrier than a Monet landscape.
© David Hintz

TD Lind "The Outskirts of Proper"
Dramatico; 2011

This album combines blues, rock, and singer-songwriter folk and even some pop music at times. The result is smooth and accomplished, although it veers a bit toward the safer side of the main stream. I believe it is safe to say that Loggins & Messina and Jesse Colin Young fans may like this more than Robin Williamson and Roy Harper fans. There are some nice cuts here that sound a bit more daring like “Coming Home” and “Head over Heels” so this one deserves a listen. It does get better the more you stick with it. And if you want a snappy rocker, the title cut will offer the pace with some nice guitar interplay between acoustic, electric, and slide.
© David Hintz

Chadwick Stokes "Simmerkane II"
Ruff Shod; 2011

Chadwick Stokes is a singer/songwriter who plays acoustic guitar, brass, and some keyboards. He is better known for a couple of bands he has been in--formerly of Dispatch and presently with State Radio. He has a strong electric band backing him who create a full sounding environment for him to display his wares. The opening number successfully has a strong rock base but leaves room for some astral exploration, which is my code for a touch of psyche. There are many of the modern indie rock moves within this record that remind me a bit of the Arcade Fire or the Decemberists, but Stokes has his individuality front and center. “Back to the Races” won me over with its changing dynamics between its introspective sparse moments and its full-blown rock-out moves. The album gets a little more comfortable in traditional folk rock/light indie rock moves as the music moves onward, but there are plenty of interesting arrangements scattered about. This is a rewarding listen and Chadwick Stokes is a name I plan to keep an eye on in addition to any band he is a part of.
© David Hintz

Rose Cousins "The Send Off"
Old Farm Pony Records; 2009

This is a nicely balanced record. It is proportioned equally between folk and country with maybe a ½ portion of rock in the mix. Rose Cousins has a good clean voice with just enough touch to grab at the emotion of her lyrics. The arrangements stay behind her but offer enough creativity to move beyond mere background music. The title cut moves me the most with its interesting rock moves that flow in and out of the song at different dramatic points. There are a few arrangements that seem to middle of the road such as the strings and electric piano in “all the time it takes to wait”. But the dirge qualities in “Mandolin Man” bring back enough of the creativity for me. This is a fine effort.
© David Hintz

Brian Wright’s "House on Fire"
Sugar Hill; 2011

“Striking Matches” strikes a chord with me with its catching lyrical phrasing. Whether it is Townes Van Zandt, Arthur Lee, or any creative lyricist of your choice, a unique vocal phrasing really jumps out at you if you listen to a lot of lyrical music like folk or country. There are also musical surprises such as the arrangement on “Accordion” with its odd percussive moments jumping out in between sparse vocal moments and full band twangy electric guitar led passages. Several of the 14 songs here have more standard American based folk-rock style arrangements, but the story telling and poetry of the lyrics still brings these songs up a notch over the rest of the pack. But then there’s the oddball “Had Enough” with an almost reggae/calypso beat and some pulsing electric guitar breaks within.
© David Hintz

Chris Cook "Remembering"
Tree O Records; 2010

There is smooth jazz, so why not smooth blues? Well, that is a little more contradictory for one thing, but this album comes close to making the contradiction work. There is some Americana in here and the arrangements and playing are not trying to invoke pure blues. But the blues spirit is there and the instruments comfortably work there way in and out of the rhythm that is deep in the mix. Perhaps Cook’s North Carolina roots gave him a musical locale to stay in between the blues and southern rock using both urban sophistication and rural spirit. His music is easy listening with purpose. I particularly liked the title cut and the moving “Ezekiel’s Wheel” with its splashes of electric guitar surrounding a steady folk rock tune with Cook’s clean voice. Not all of this works as well for me, but the highlights warrant a listen or two.
© David Hintz

Bleeding Hearts "Folk ‘n’ Glory"
Own label; 2011

There are quite a few variations of combining folk with heavier music. There are gypsy punk folk outfits, metal bands using native folk tunes, acoustic punk bands, and many more out there yet to be sampled. This English band features electric players cranking up the guitars and drums to punk pace and volume. The folk aspect is violin and mandolin. The resulting sound is like a more devious Boiled in Lead with a touch of Gogol Bordello attitude. The opening track “Concept: Economocracy” both establishes the punk themes, but also adds some interesting electronica before the full band takes over brandishing their instruments in their chosen format. No gimmicks here, musically or lyrically. This would be a blast live, but the record is enjoyable enough to go on my short list destined for many replays.
© David Hintz

Nick Lowe "The Old Magic"
Proper; 2011

The voice is a little more seasoned, but still handles the mix of styles here from folky singer songwriter to country-tinged rock’n’roll. “Checkout Time” sounds like classic Johnny Cash and does indeed showcase a bit of the old Lowe magic. Lowe has been a steady insider’s songwriter, not capturing a mass following but having a strong cult of music lovers as fans along with the full respect of musicians throughout the business. As usual his lyrics are a step above most songs with interesting themes where even the titles (“I Read a Lot” or “Shame on the Rain”) make you want to listen closely. “You Don’t Know Me at All” came off best for me with its deliberate walking pace, catchy vocal line, and nice brass and organ accompaniment snaking in and out of the song. If you are an Elvis Costello fan, Nick Tweedy fan, or Townes Van Zandt fan, you really don’t need me to tell you that you should listen to Nick Lowe. But for the fence sitters who are curious if he captures the old magic? Yes, Nick Lowe can still deliver.
© David Hintz

Candye Kane "Sister Vagabond"
Delta Groove Music, 2011

This is far more than a mere blues album. Ms. Kane has a background in punk rock and various rural and urban blues styles. It all balances out nicely on these thirteen songs. The album does not let you settle in. After a catchy little number like “Love Insurance”, she follows it up with a spookier psyche-garage blues song like “Sweet Nothin’s”. A few songs wander into tried and true straight blues territory but more often than not there are sprigs of creativity coming out of the mix and flowering into a good album at the end of the season. Laura Chavez is a key component to the sound on guitar and co-production. Aside from the creative songs, it will be Ms. Kane’s voice is what will move you or not at the end of the day. Count me among those that are moved.
© David Hintz

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