GHALIA & MAMA’S BOYS – Let The Demons Out (Ruf Records RUF 1250)

Let The Demons OutGhalia & Mama’s Boys are, to all intents and purposes, the New Orleans band Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys acting as the studio band for Belgian singer/guitarist/songwriter Ghalia Vauthier. The resulting CD, Let The Demons Out is released on the 20th October 2017. It’s a 21st-century take on the sort of butt-kicking R&B that pushed me towards my first electric guitar in the early 1970s. And very good it is, too, though the sound here is probably more Chicago than New Orleans. The rest of the line-up consists of Johnny Mastro (a.k.a. Mastrogiovanni) on vocals and harmonica, Smokehouse Brown on guitar and backing vocals, Dean Zucchero on bass and backing vocals, and Rob Lee on drums and percussion. Songs are by Ghalia unless otherwise indicated.

  1. ‘4AM Fried Chicken’ is probably not about KFC. He said, blushing slightly. Nice medium-paced rocker that wanders in and out of a 12-bar format.
  2. ‘Let The Demons Out’ is slower, and bears little resemblance to the Edgar Broughton Band, still less the Fugs, though the lyric shares an obsession with the expelling of demons out. Rather good: I’m not surprised they made it the title track.
  3. ‘Press That Trigger’ is another raunchy lyric with several metaphors to add to Robert Johnson’s lemon squeezing and Bessie Smith’s sugar in the bowl. Though this probably isn’t what Sondheim had in mind when he wrote that line about “got a rocket in your pocket
  4. ‘Have You Seen My Woman’ relates the predicament of a free-spirited woman and a possessive man over a suitably repetitive riff.
  5. ‘Hoodoo Evil Man’ – well, I suppose you can’t record blues in New Orleans without some sort of reference to Louisiana Voodoo.
  6. ‘Addiction’ takes the pace way down in a slow-burning song about romantic obsession, with tasteful, atmospheric harmonica and slide guitar. My favourite track at the moment.
  7. ‘All The Good Things’ was written by Ghalia Vauthier and Paul Niehaus. The arrangement reminds me a little of John Lee Hooker, which is never a bad thing. I love the way the vocal is tracked by the harmonica in the playout.
  8. ‘I’m Shaking’ is a very effective cover of the Rudy Toombs number first recorded by Little Willie John in the early 1960s.
  9. ‘Waiting’ is a medium-paced 12-bar written by Johnny and Lisa Mastrogiovanni: the vocals are shared here between Johnny and Ghalia, and framed by some tasty slide. Good harmonica break, too.
  10. ‘See That Man Alone’ retains a blues feel, but over an interesting descending chord sequence.
  11. In ‘Hey Little Baby’ the minimalist lyric is augmented by heavy drums and fuzzy slide.
  12. ‘Hiccup Boogie’ is a quirky topic and lyric – words by Ghalia, music by the whole band, though it’s hard not to hear Canned Heat in that underlying riff (and it’s actually spoken most of the way through). What’s more, “I got the hiccup boogie” reminds me irresistibly of Spike Milligan and “I’ve got those rheumatism blues“, while the call-and-response section of the playout almost recalls the swing era. Still, it’s great fun and well-played.

So, is it folk? Well, not really, but then many of the CDs that reach me for these reviews would fail to meet a purist definition of folk. Though it’s certainly in the blues idiom, it isn’t ‘authentic’ (or meant to be): it does, though, suggest the tight ensemble work of many 1960s R&B bands, with carefully-considered harmonica and guitar solos ornamenting the song and the singer, rather than the song being a launching point for extended solos. Not that Ghalia’s powerful and versatile vocal work would be easily overshadowed, and while her accent sometimes makes some words hard to follow, the lyric sheet makes up for that. (And the lyrics fit the idiom very well.) In fact, there’s something slightly English about the harmonica here (think Paul Jones or John Mayall), but Ghalia’s songs are already well beyond the cover versions of early English R&B, and I look forward to hearing how her writing develops in the future.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.facebook.com/ghaliaandmamasboys/

ROBBIE CAVANAGH – To Leave / To Be Left (At The Helm ATH 99021)

LeaveOriginally from Portland, Maine and now based in Manchester, Cavanagh’s second album, To Leave / To Be Left, explores, as the title succinctly puts it, the end of relationships and what’s taken away and what remains behind. As such, it opens with ‘Get Out Alive’, a full-bloodied slice of guitar-driven Anglicana that sparkles with hooks, tumbling melody lines and punchy chords as he sings “We took our time and then we screwed it up, but it we screwed it together. There’s no use pretending it was good, but there’ll come a point where we both regret it.”

However, save for the shuffle along feel of ‘Reverence’, this is atypical of what follows and he quickly rings the changes, taking the tempo and the volume down for the fragile, falsetto-voiced mid-tempo ballad ‘Godsend’, his voice taking on a softer, more vulnerable note for its euphoric awakening of salvation found in love. It’s a mood that continues through the more soulful, organ-backed ‘Love Comes Quickly’ where he slightly recalls the Eagles circa their first two albums mingled with hints of Dobie Gray and Van Morrison.

Indeed, the lyrics often more impressionist than narrative, the rest of the album continues to mine this quieter, more reflective side. ‘Still Talkin’’ is again an organ-backed soulful number with a steady slow repetitive drum beat that briefly swells midway before falling back into aching melancholy while ‘Let You Down’ offers a simple acoustic guitar backdrop to its lyrics of regret and pessimistic view of love’s eventual collapse with ‘Fool’ another bluesily soulful slow sway that gradually builds on almost gospel waves towards the end.

Interestingly, ‘Roles Reversed’ offers a tangent to the dominant theme of fractured romance in a poignant vignette about a son and his ageing father and the onset of dementia as he sings “We have all the time that the lord can give, but the lord’s time is running out. Your hands are strong and your eyes are sure, but I can see in your smile that the memories are blurred.”

Although I think breaking up the pervasive languid musical mood slightly in the latter half of the album might not have been a bad idea, that in no way reflects on the material, closing with an emotionally wrenching picture of the disintegration of a dysfunctional relationship in the pedal steel-streaked finality of ‘He’s Alone’. It may not be the most optimistic and affirmative album you’ll hear this year, but it will surely strike a chord in anyone who’s known that there is best part of breaking up.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.robbiecavanagh.co.uk

‘Scars’ – official video:

DAVY GRAHAM – Large As Life And Twice As Natural (Bread And Wine BRINECD-2)

NaturalIf you want to know why Davy Graham was such a unique and influential artist just listen to the first track on Large As Life And Twice As Natural, his third studio album. Actually, listen to the whole record but the first track will tell you all you need to know.

That track is ‘Both Sides Now’, yes, the Joni Mitchell song, although initially you wouldn’t recognise it.  In 1968 it was known from the Judy Collins cover; Joni wouldn’t release it for another year. For Davy it must have seemed like a blank canvas. He begins with a bass drone, then introducing a guitar instrumental with wordless vocals which is reminiscent of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ or possibly ‘Blackwaterside’. Only after two minutes or so does he burst into a high energy version of the song with his band in full cry.

I should tell you that the “band” consists of four of the go-to sides-men of the time: Danny Thompson, Jon Hiseman, Harold McNair and Dick Heckstall-Smith, all capable of playing anything that was asked of them be it folk, blues, jazz or whatever and, on this record, Graham asks a lot. He follows it up with the traditional ‘Bad Boy Blues’, a musical form that he was irresistibly drawn to. Here you’ll find four blues songs and a couple more that come close but Graham is musically restless so the third track is ‘Tristano’, a solo guitar composition.

There are two of Graham’s famous ragas, both different in character and using his original tunings. The first is the appropriately named ‘Sunshine Raga’, which starts slowly as though coming up with the dawn waking up the bass and drums as it rises while a very western melody emerges. The second, which closes the album, is ‘Blue Raga’ with its beautiful echoey opening phrase and Hiseman’s percussion running alongside the guitar.

As if these delights are not enough, there is the Moroccan-inspired ‘Jenra’ and a solemn version of the traditional ‘Bruton Town’. You come away with the impression that these musicians could do just about anything and you can see why Large As Life And Twice As Natural is held to be one of Graham’s finest works.

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 DAVY GRAHAM – Large As Life And Twice As Natural link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

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You can hear more of Davy Graham at https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/84b35dee-b1d6-4bf6-8748-8bb9918bebaf

and there is a nice feature at http://www.folkblues.co.uk/artistsgraham.html

No film as such but listen to ‘Blue Raga’ anyway:

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JEREMY TUPLIN – I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut (Folkwit Records f0141)

AstronautJeremy Tuplin released his debut album, I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut, on September 29th and it will be launched at Paper Dress Vintage in London on October 26th. The album has been described as part of a new genre, “space-folk”, because of its “retro-futuristic feel” and blend of “electronic and synthesised sounds with acoustic and organic instruments”. It’s early days (there have been two EP’s but this is a debut album), but there are indications of a talent much better than that kind of narrow-alley-cult description suggests.

You know you’re in a different world when the opening track is called ‘Albert Einstein Song’ and the first verse, which follows the best part of a two minute introduction, is “Here’s to Albert Einstein and the vision he bestowed/To the few things I have learned and all the things I’ll never know/Like why the universe is even here/For what reason is it employed/Or how energy is neither created nor destroyed” The track then goes into an image of David Bowie’s death and a related spiritual musing that we may be part of “something bigger than you, something bigger than me”. On ‘Anybody Else’ Tuplin takes us to a similarly contemplative place while singing an unforced rhyme between hubris and this “I’m just a figment of my ego’s imagination/Must I resign myself to hubris/A twisted sense of self-entitlement and frustration/Mixed with I’ve never known anybody quite like this”.

The melodies are strong so that the lyrics don’t overwhelm them. Tuplin has a clean picking and strumming style. The songs are recorded with electronic instrumentation (the keyboard sound that gives rise to the genre description of space-folk) that moves towards orchestration and drums that give the songs a steady fullness or, in a couple of instances, turn them into something rockier. The video below, ‘Astronaut’, gives you a good feel for Tuplin’s musical locus but have a listen also to ‘Oh Youth’ for the rockier sound.

The voice is unique. There are elements of Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen in it in that Tuplin sings in deep tones, with a calm timbre of serious matters. But then there’s also a faint tinge of Jake Thackray or Viv Stanshall – just to be clear, this is a compliment. In ‘Did We Lose The Fight’, the vocal subtlety allows Tuplin to deliver lines like “A scratch mark’s nothing more than a battle scar…..I down my drink because I can’t stand this any more/Then I drink until I can’t stand any more…….I admit that I still long for those days/We don’t fight like that any more/Can it be that we’ve both got nothing left to say…. I presume we’ll be going our separate ways” and simultaneously capture the passion of a tumultuous relationship, the seriousness of it falling apart, but also a perspective, a sense that there is more to this world and that this is just two people ‘losing the fight’ (with all the complexity inherent in that phrase).

There’s some rawness on the album – given the reprise of vinyl at the moment, I’m not sure whether the crackling sound on one track is deliberate, but I assume the cough on another isn’t; the image of the puppy playing piano (‘Feel Good Hit’) will probably not appeal to many – but I’d rather have it raw than bland and these are small quibbles about a fascinating and well put together CD.

Give it a listen, it is just possible that this is the debut album of someone who is going to be filling halls and festival stages in the coming years.

Mike Wistow

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 JEREMY TUPLIN – I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.jeremytuplin.com

Following the album launch in London, Tuplin is on tour in Spain and the UK in November.

‘Astronaut’ – official video:

ADRIAN NATION – Anarchy And Love (Laburnum Ridge LABAN040)

AnarchyAdrian’s fourth solo album (one of them is live), Anarchy And Love, began with the death of his father some four years ago. In a brief sleeve note he says that his father left many things behind and on the record are “some of the songs he left in me”. Happily for all of us this is not an album filled with grief but one that radiates optimism. Sure, the road isn’t always an easy one. The title track comes from Adrian’s time in Athens during the protests in 2012. Amongst the chaos he saw a small, but encouraging, seed of hope. You can call it a protest song, but its targets are not necessarily the obvious ones and the protest continues with ‘Dying Of Democracy’.

If Adrian wanted an uplifting start for the album he couldn’t have chosen better than ‘Rocket To The Moon’ in which the Scottish exodus to the New World “made this nation great”. It’s impossible to imagine the feelings of despair felt by the people setting out into the unknown but they did OK. Of course, the Macdonald brothers hadn’t heard of Donald Trump back then. The final song is another cover, Robert Burns’ ‘A Man’s A Man’, which encapsulates the same idea on a personal level – “The honest man though oh so poor is king of men for all that”.

Adrian is lauded as an acoustic guitar master and there are three solo instrumentals here but he’s now expanded his repertoire to include electric guitar. In the modern fashion, Anarchy And Love was recorded with musicians in several locations, notably Sardinia, Scotland and Canada where he’s developed quite a following in recent years and something has rubbed off on him. It took four or five tracks for me to work out what I was hearing in the back of my mind. It shouldn’t have taken so long since Adrian has cited Bruce Cockburn as one of his inspirations but sometimes he really channels the man.

Adrian is, to quote Burns, a “man of independent mind” and, while there is a bit of Bruce in ‘The Benderloch Stone’ for example, the ideas and the words are definitely Adrian’s. This is another excellent album from a writer and performer who really should be much better known.

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 ADRIAN NATION – Anarchy And Love link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.adriannation.com

‘The Benderloch Stone’ – live:

MARK T. – From Blues To Rembetika (Circle Of Sound COS330CD)

From Blues To RembetikaFrom Blues To Rembetika neatly encapsulates the two strands of Mark T’s music and his love for both the resonator guitar and the bouzouki although there is rather more of the former than the latter here. Rembetika is an urban music from Greece and Turkey which spawned the bouzouki music of the early 20th century. Mark finds a parallel between the two musics; both coming as they do from the poor communities with their own language and conventions.

The album is topped and tailed by ‘An Old Road’, a short solo instrumental, and immediately dives into the old blues with ‘Worried Life’, co-written by Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mike Cooper, who Mark credits as a big influence on his music. That’s followed by a Mark T original, ‘Going Down The Road’ again in the blues form.

Finally Mark turns to rembetika with two original compositions, ‘Taxim/Shirts Of The Earth’, recorded live at The Troubadour last year. The two tunes employ the opposite ends of the bouzouki’s range to good effect. A taxim is a solo instrumental improvisation, a musical form that Mark has used several times on previous albums.

Four more tracks were recorded live at the Troubadour: Son House’s ‘Death Letter’, Woody Guthrie’s ‘Dust Pneumonia Blues’, ‘Ain’t Going Down The Well No More’ – another original – and Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’’. After the latter Mark returns to rembetika with a long set of original tunes, ‘Erinaki’, featuring Charles Spicer on cor anglaise which really adds a richness to the music. It’s probably my favourite track on the album and just flashes by.

Although the album is generally quite sparse, there are three percussionists helping to drive it along: Iqbal Pathan on tables, Mysterious Bob playing bongos and congas and Fran Wood who also provides backing vocals. Mark’s approach to the blues is pretty authentic – that’s an all-wooden National Triolian on the cover – but I’m not expert enough to judge his rembetika. I just know I enjoy it.

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 MARK T. – From Blues To Rembetika link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.circleofsound.co.uk

‘Going Down The Road’ – live: