JOAN OSBORNE – Songs Of Bob Dylan (Womanly Hips Records WHCD001)

Songs Of Bob DylanI should say from the outset that I’m a sucker for covers of Bob Dylan songs. Artists can and do so much with them and occasionally transcend the originals even though that may sound like heresy. So when Joan Osborne’s Songs Of Bob Dylan appeared on my horizon I practically demanded a copy at gunpoint.

Joan avoids the trap of going straight to the obvious acoustic titles – ‘Masters Of War’ is the oldest song here – and some of her choices are quite surprising. She opens with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, a country-rock treatment with that crack in her voice giving the song an edge of fatalism. Surprise number one comes with ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, stripped of that insane marching band and driven by Jack Petruzzelli’s electric guitar. ‘Buckets Of Rain’, very much a guitar piece in its original incarnation, is taken over by Keith Cotton’s piano before acoustic guitar picks it up at the end.

Surprise number two is in the shape of ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. Joan slows it down a fraction and turns it into a blues-rock shouter with an accompaniment that maintains sufficient elements of the original arrangement to make you smile knowingly. ‘Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’ begins with a late-sixties organ swirling through it, which is nice touch, before taking on a gospel vibe and ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’ comes close to transcending the original, partly because of the clarity of Joan’s vocals, but because she succeeds, for me at least, in painting a different mental picture.

If I must be critical I have to say that Joan misses the opportunity to take at least one song back to its bare bones until we get to ‘Masters Of War’ with its throbbing acoustic and piano and I find ‘Dark Eyes’, for example, to be rather too busy. That said, ‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’ has the kitchen sink thrown at it and works really well and ‘Ring Them Bells’ is a glorious finisher with Cotton’s piano ringing out and Joan’s voice clear and…well…bell-like.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ – live:


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 24MERRY HELL describe the title track of their new EP, Come On, England, as an alternative National Anthem. Needless to say, the song bears no resemblance to the chants of the football terraces or EDL marches. Instead Bob Kettle invokes the Diggers and the Levellers and “the spirit that will never lie down”. The song has a singalong roll that almost disguises its powerful lyrics. The second track is brother John’s ‘We Need Each Other Now’, also from the Bloodlines album, which complements ‘Come On, England’ as a rallying call. ‘Lean On Me, Love’ is a taster for the band’s forthcoming acoustic album – looking forward to that – and the set closes with a live version of ‘The War Between Ourselves’. It’s all inspiring stuff.

Singles Bar 24Based in Devon, VELVET & STONE line up as Lara Snowden and Roger Styles on vocals and guitars, Barry Muir on bass and double bass and Kathryn Tremlett providing violin and piano with producer Gareth Young on hand for percussion and Caroline Lavelle, who’se worked with Radiohead, Muse and Afro Celt Sound System on cello. The self-released ‘Raise Your Ghosts/Embers’ is a two track single taster for October’s EP and, while I’d have thought it would make more sense no release them all altogether rather than fans buying the numbers twice, it certainly whets the appetite. The first has definite mid-tempo Fleetwood Mac shades, or more specifically Stevie Nicks, while the second is a more reflective ballad, Lara’s soft vocals enrobed with strings as the song swells to a head. Nice stuff, but, as I say, waiting for the EP would seem the more sensible option.

The Things That Matter is the debut record from Irish/American duo THE 19th STREET BAND. Caolaidhe Davis and his wife Meghan are the principals, doing the singing and playing guitars, fiddle and mandolin, and are supported by Brian White, Patty Dougherty and Tom Verratti on bass, drums and banjo. Their sound is a mixture of Americana styles: ‘Jump In The Water’ is heavy bluegrass with modern lyrics while ‘Long Runs The Fox’ is sort of slide guitar blues – Meghan has a hell of a voice for that. ‘It’s True What They Say’ is a real shit-kicker; in fact, the pace barely lets up until the closing title track.

Singles Bar 24You’ve Been Away So Long is a self-released 5-track EP from Boston singer-songwriter and guitar picker  ALICE HOWE that winningly draws on such retro 60s American folk influences as Guthrie, Rambling Jack, Kate Wolff, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell, while, accompanied on dobro by Jeff Fielder, opener ‘Homeland Blues’ has definite echoes of Baez.

Described by folk singer Vance Gilbert has having a voice like “a broken angel’s bell”, she brings an emotional catch to ‘Nothing But You’, an elegy to her late father while, another Baez echo, the playful Appalachian-flavoured country waltz ‘Make A Fool Out Of Me’ pays homage to Steve Martin. Her fingers work the frets for ‘Don’t Worry Honey’, a cleverly ambiguous fatalistic love song and how “it’s always in the dark that I liked you best” that has her doing her best Joni soaring notes.

In the unlikely event you’ve not yet been won over, the closing title track makes resistance futile, Fielder on a Gibson L-1 archtop for a song about knowing yourself and being comfortable with who you are. Putting me in mind of Dar Williams’ ‘Mercy of the Fallen’, with its cascading melody lines and her wistfully dusty voice, it’s up there with the very best of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gretchen Peters and Williams herself, as well as those icons of her raising.

I confess I’d not come across her before and this is her first release in three years following an eponymous EP in 2009, her debut album in 2013 and the Tiger Lily EP a year later. I’ll be adding those to the collection and trusting a new full album will be down the road sometime soon.

Loose |EndsThe covering letter that accompanied Loose Ends, the second record from CHRIS FOX, asked if we’d consider reviewing it for fRoots. Ignoring the poor first impression, Loose Ends turns out to be pretty good. Chris does everything himself: finger-picked acoustic guitar, tasteful bass and percussion that make the record very easy to listen to. Chris wrote seven of the eight tracks and they are thoughtful, often witty – the line about lying drunk on the lawn “holding on to the grass to keep myself from falling” is particularly memorable: ‘Howl At The Moon’ is a cracking opener and says what a lot of us are probably thinking. The only non-original track is ‘Lord Franklin’, a gentle, reflective reading of the song.

Small WorldADRIAN BATES makes his recording debut with a four-track EP, Small World, of original songs supported by Chris Miley, Carl Leighton and David Leighton. The opener, ‘Hard Working Man’, is a particularly fine song, putting a 21st century spin on the age-old complaint of the put-upon worker. ‘The Apple’, featuring the Leightons’ violin and cello, is a reflective piece in which the writer laments that he has become what his father was and what he swore he would never be. In the final song, ‘Winding Wheels’, Adrian looks back on his childhood in the Yorkshire coalfields and, in doing so, laments the loss of an industry. An impressive start.

Singles Bar 24‘The Man Who Ate A Hurricane’ is the first single to be drawn from Standing Still Will Kill You, the third album from Essex based singer-songwriter OWEN WILLIAMS. It’s a gritty, hard-edged song with apocalyptic lyrics, supported by piano and backing vocals. We’re looking forward to the album.

A singer-songwriter from Swindon, ROB RICHINGS delivers a shuffle along busker-like song about not closing our eyes to the social problems around us with ‘Carry On Regardless’ (Crescent), its catchy loping crunchy percussion chorus about how “we all stick our head in the sand and carry on regardless” firmly lodging itself in those singalong neurons.

Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth – Poor Man’s Paradise reissued

Tracy Nelson

With a career that stretches back to the 1960s, vocalist Tracy Nelson has pursued her own path through roots music.

A skilled, acclaimed interpreter of songs, Tracy  Nelson was an early supporter of songwriters such as Steve Young, John Hiatt, and Eric Kaz. ‘Poor Man’s Paradise’ was originally recorded and released in 1973 on the Columbia Records label.

As Tracy says herself in the CD booklet notes, on the day of the album release, she was also released from her contract with the label, she and it being a victim of internal label machinations. A shame, because Poor Man’s Paradise is a fine collection that mixes Tracy’s fondness for Blues and Country, and shows her cultured vocal skills to great effect.

Poor Man’s Paradise is to be reissued on Friday August 4th 2017 on the Retroworld reissue division of North London indie label Floating World.

Label website:

Golden anniversary show at Cropredy 2017

Photograph by Ian Wright

Festival-goers attending Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire enjoyed three days of diverse music in fine weather when the event took place on 10-12 August.

“We had a really great three days,” said Festival Director Gareth Williams. “The music was terrific and our crowd loved the variety of the line-up.”

“During the run-up we were a bit worried about the weather,” Mr Williams continues. But luckily the rain held off for the festival and the ground had dried out by the time we opened.  Everybody was in great spirits, everything ran smoothly and there were no incidents to report. We heard a lot of great comments from people telling us how much they were enjoying themselves.”

‘Suzanne’ – Fairport Convention live at Cropredy:

Fairport is celebrating its golden anniversary this year and their marathon three-hour-plus show on the Saturday night reflected this landmark. Their Cropredy finale featured the current five-piece line-up, six former band members and four other guests from Fairport’s musical family.

This year’s festival completely sold out; in fact, it reached its capacity of 20,000 back in June. “Quite a few of people turned up on spec but, sadly, we had to turn them away,” said Mr Williams.

‘Reno Nevada’ – Fairport Convention live at Cropredy:

Next year, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention takes place on Thursday 9, Friday 10, and Saturday 11 August 2018.

Darren Beech’s full photo gallery of Cropredy 2017 can be viewed HERE

DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack (Acony)

AlmanackThe material is all new, but, in part because several are based on traditional stories and songs, the feel is ageless as David Rawlings evokes a sense of a vanished rural America in a similar gothic folk manner to his longtime musical partner, Gillian Welch who, as ever, joins him here.

She brings effective harmonies on the album’s leaving-themed train song opener, ‘Midnight Train’, Rawlings ably demonstrating his acclaimed acoustic fingerpicking. Next up, opening and underpinned with her handclap and foot percussion and featuring Willie Watson on banjo, ‘Money Is The Meat In The Coconut’ is one of several playful numbers, this derived from African roots but with a hoe-down feel, albeit the lyrics carrying an underlying anti-capitalist message about subsistence living.

Watson also lends his vocals to the brooding Appalachian drama of the Rawlings-Welch duet ‘Cumberland Gap’, the former’s restyling of a traditional number previously assayed by the likes of Guthrie, Seeger and Donegan, here filtered through the musical lens of CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio’ with its fierce electric guitars and ominous atmosphere.

‘Airplane’ shifts the mood to a yearning reflective ballad that, bolstered by Brittany has on dreamy fiddle, conjures passing thoughts of Guy Clarke as Rawlings passionately sings how “ life’s a bitch cause you don’t want me” and about having wings to escape from heartache. At five minutes the album’s longest track, ‘Lindsay Button’ is another minor key number. Featuring in his live sets last year, it’s a slow spiritual hymnal telling of the “pretty young girl” who “come’ down the mountain long time ago” and “carved two names in a white oak sapling” that essentially about the role of of folk music to preserve history.

Another steeped in old-time music, Kathy Secor on fiddle, ‘Come On Over My House’ is another upbeat good time track, the title pretty much speaking to the narrator’s intentions in inviting his honey to drop by. Things shift again for the electric guitar driven, nasally sung slow-paced southern country rock ‘Guitar Man’, not a Presley or Bread cover but with echoes of The Band clearly sounding as Welch provides the steady drum beat.

Two further playful numbers are set back to back, first up being the lurching rhythm ‘Yup’, Rawlings on scratch, Welch on bongos and Austin Hoke on saw on a tale about the devil visiting a farm to take away the scolding wife only to find she’s more than he bargained for, each line ending with Welch and Rawlings adding the titular interjection. The second also nods to biblical references with ‘Good God A Woman’, a jaunty jamboree spiritual romp about the “big man” needing to create woman from a rib bone to complete creation, saving the best until last.

Not a variation on Ry Cooder’s ‘Tamp ‘em Up Solid’, the album ends with ‘Put ‘em Up Solid’,  Rawlings on harmonium and Haas on fiddle for a simple acoustic folk hymnal about building a firm foundation, whether that’s for a building or a life. A fine companion piece to Nashville Obsolete, and, were it needed, a reminder that neither Rawlings nor Welch play second fiddle to the other.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.



Artist’s website:

‘Midnight Train’:

THE YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers (Hereteu Records YNGS17)

StrangersThe Young’Uns have come a long way in a few short years. Strangers is their fourth studio album, coming a mere three years after they turned professional. The trio are strong singers, they enjoy the sort of on-stage banter that only good friends can get away with and they have a fine songwriter in Sean Cooney. The theme of the album is, I think, that there are no strangers, or if there are it doesn’t really make a difference. Cooney’s songs in this set are full of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things on behalf of people they don’t necessarily know.

The album opens with ‘A Place Called England’ which suggests that we are now strangers in the country we thought we knew. They take it a bit fast for my taste but I’ve heard Maggie Holland’s original so many times that it feels “right” now. Next is ‘Ghafoor’s Bus’, the story of a grandfather from Teesside who converted a bus into a mobile kitchen and drove to Europe to feed refugees. To him, they weren’t strangers. Switching from accompanied harmony we have ‘Be The Man’ with David Eagle on piano and Michael Hughes on guitar with support from Rachael McShane on cello and a topping of flugelhorn from Jude Abbott.

‘Carriage 12’ tells the story of the terrorist attack on a French train two years ago. We’re back to unaccompanied harmony with a tune inspired by the familiar cadences of country music that suits the song perfectly. The four heroes of the attack could have run and saved themselves but they stood and fought. ‘Cable Street’ is a story familiar to all of us and ‘Dark Water’, the story of two refugees fleeing by swimming five miles of open sea, returns to the accompanied style and features Mary Ann Kennedy on harp.

Sean borrows the idea of pairing a jolly, singalong tune with a lyric that carries a serious message but he doesn’t overuse it. ‘Bob Cooney’s Miracle’ tells how fifty-seven men in the Spanish Civil War were fed from a loaf of bread and a tin of corned beef. OK, it’s not exactly Biblical but the humour makes it. Arguably, the best song is ‘These Hands’, the story of Sybil Phoenix, the first black woman to be awarded the MBE for fostering children in London but who faced racism throughout her life. The song is uplifting and ultimately ends happily. Finally we have ‘The Hartlepool Pedlar’, about a Jewish refugee named Marks who opened a shop in Leeds and took on a partner – and we all know what happened to them.

So The Young’Uns go from strength to strength with an album of great, thought-provoking stories and they probably have another forty years left in them yet.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the THE YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.


Artists’ website:

‘A Place Called England’ – live: