BOO HEWERDINE – Before (Reveal Records REVEAL083CDX)

BeforeBoo Hewerdine never seems to do anything the obvious way and there can hardly be anything less obvious than Before. The basic idea is that the music has been recorded before it has been overthought, hence the title. The packaging is minimalist – an 18th century painting on the outside, plain green on the inside with just enough information to allow you to get started. Boo opens the door a little and lets you peek into the dimly lit space beyond but no more than that.

The fact that the design is minimal doesn’t mean that the music is although, in line with theme, it’s not over-arranged. It began when producer and percussionist Chris Popper acquired a dulcitone and, from that starting point, the record is almost a guitar-free zone. Boo doesn’t play one at all but there is a pedal steel and a “prepared” guitar played by long-time collaborator Gustaf Ljunggren. It turns out that Gustaf has a sizeable collection of instruments and he plays fourteen of them here, if you count the toy piano.

The album contains ten songs each one separated from the next by an instrumental interlude, some very short, so the record plays like a single composition. Except that Boo breaks his own rule so there isn’t an interlude between ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Old Song’. The first two songs, ‘Last Rays Of Sun’ and ‘Imaginary Friends’ could be played by a conventional band and sound good, as could ‘Reno’ but ‘Before’, for example, wouldn’t be the same with anything other than the piano and woodwinds that give it a thirties vibe.

One song that you might have heard before is ‘Starlight’, co-written with Eddi Reader. Boo builds it on vibes and glockenspiel – a contrast with Reader’s rich arrangement – and it feels so melancholy. Can I say that I prefer this version? Before is an unconventional album but it hangs together so well. I’d like to think that it will be there come prize-giving time.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://boohewerdine.net/

‘Last Rays Of Sun’:

WOOD, WIRE AND WORDS – The Boy With The Smile (own label)

The Boy WIth The SmileWood, Wire And Words are a trio from Portsmouth: lead singer and guitarist David Rozzell, who writes most of the band’s songs; Clare Rozzell, vocalist and double-bass player and Pat Francis who does most of everything else. The Boy With The Smile is their third album. David says that the group doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed with a genre but in that respect they don’t quite succeed. Regardless of the subject matter, this is Americana but with the exception of Pat’s Dobro they don’t overstep the line into the tropes of country. In fact, the combination of British subjects with the music of the Americas is central to their appeal. This is particularly evident in the single cover here; ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. Had Richard Thompson not included a mention of Box Hill in the song it could be set anywhere in the USA although James would probably have ridden a Harley. That’s the way Wood, Wire And Words play it and, you know, it’s the best cover of the song I’ve heard.

The title track, which opens the show, is a rural love song which mentions Morris dancers and was written for a Harvest Festival gig and David returns later to the theme with ‘Toast The Harvest’. The next two tracks, ‘I’ll Not Seek Pardon’ and ‘More Than A Train’, are definitely cowboy songs but the latter has a clever twist. Setting it in the UK, David points out that here you can’t jump a train and lose yourself in the wilderness, hence the title. You can get as far as Wick but there will be several changes on route – they’ll track you down.

A few more songs deserve special mention. ‘The Words You Can’t Find’ is an autobiographical piece concerned with living with chronic pain, depression and memory loss but it’s not as dark as that makes it sound. ‘Truth And Democracy’ is their political protest and very good it is too. They balance that with the humour of ‘There’s No Food In My Bowl’ – which is about a cat.

I like The Boy With The Smile a lot. David Rozzell has a mighty voice and a real talent as a songwriter, the playing is tight and the whole album is very easy to listen to – in the best possible sense of easy listening.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artists’ website: www.woodwireandwords.com

‘More Than A Train’ – live:

GALLERY 47 – Chaos Ensued (Bad Production Records)

Chaos EnsuedGallery 47 used to be a six-piece band from Loughborough but it/he is now just Jack Peachey working solo under the name with Chaos Ensued as possibly the completion of a trilogy. Or possibly not. The album came to me out of the cloud, as many do, and will be commercially available only as a download. Fortunately, I’ve got a rather sprauncy hand-made CD so thanks for that, Jack. I listened and was instantly knocked out by the opening track.

‘Rolling Tight’ opens with a guitar riff topped off with electric keyboard and then a mean lead guitar break before the song starts. It’s a very 1960s sound and it reminds me of something but I can’t quite think what it is. It’s a belter of song.  Jack takes things down a little with the piano-based ‘Embers’ and it initially seems that ‘Choices’ will go the same way until the drums come crashing in. It’s an odd juxtaposition of Jack’s fragile voice with a big arrangement but effective nonetheless.

Next we’re into some straight rock’n’roll with ‘Weeklong’ which sounds like one hell of a party followed by a contender for the album’s best song. I’m not sure what the principal instrument on ‘Rise’ is – if I said pizzicato bass ukulele you’d have me locked up – but it’s very catchy with a guitar break that sort of matches the whatever-it-is. Lyrically it’s very clever. Try this: “Would you reckon I was under-ripe? Would you put me in a fridge or a dustbin?”. It’s a song about ambition and lack of success as far as I can tell.

Jazz piano introduces the 12-bar ‘Downcaster Rivers’, a blues about depression in the modern world – just my interpretation, you understand – while ‘Going Steady’ begins with strange drones and hand-claps with Jack’s voice half-buried in the mix. ‘Give In’ is possibly about parents and children and the lack of understanding therein and with ‘Lay Me Low’ and ‘Song For Ben’ we are back to urban melancholy with almost minimalist accompaniments.

Chaos Ensued is a record that defies categorisation and doesn’t follow any rules, which is good with me, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/gallery-47

‘Rolling Tight’:

JESSE DAYTON – Mixtape Volume 1 (blu-elan Records BER1175)

Mixtape Volume 1Jesse Dayton wanted “to do cool versions of the songs that I thought the original writers would dig”. His new album Mixtape Volume 1 is released on August 30th.

After vinyl, and alongside it, came the cassette tape. For the first time you could take control of your music by selecting a dozen or so favourite tracks to play one after the other. As time passed, you could even play them in the car or walk around with them attached to your belt. Fifty years on and playlists make it all an awful lot easier to be your own DJ. However, along with that easiness is the loss of careful thought and selection, knowing you’ve spent hours picking favourite tracks from albums or singles and putting them in the (immoveable) order you want so they enhance each other.

Look at the album cover – this album isn’t a playlist, these songs are as carefully chosen as you would do if you were making a tape. Hence, presumably, the title Mixtape Volume 1. The songs? – I’m biased because mostly they’re straight out of music I bought in the seventies. That makes me potentially a harsher judge, but I have to say that this is a cracking selection, with songs by Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, The Clash, ZZ Top, Elton John, Dr Feelgood, AC/DC, The Cars and Bruce Springsteen. And Jesse Dayton hasn’t just picked these songs – he’s felt them and then he’s played them.

Dayton has a career of more than thirty years as guitarist for the likes of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash – and also for the punk bands. He has ten albums of his own. That’s a hell of a fusion of styles and experience in his locker and you can hear all elements in the choice of tracks, from ‘Bankrobber’ or ‘She Does It Right’ to ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ or ‘Redneck Friend’.

Even more staggering, while the songs are recognizable he makes them his own. The video link below takes you to ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – it’s not a heavy metal arrangement, but emotionally it’s as metal as the original and you just want to hear it live with mates and a pint or two, in a darkened cavern venue, the sound reverberating off low slung curved ceilings.

Like all good mix tapes, it’s hard to pick favourite tracks (a mixtape is a work of contemplated curation, nothing would be on there that you didn’t think was good) but I’d give a particular mention, not only to the uptempo Clash, Feelgood, AC/DC covers, but also to Dayton’s version of Elton John’s ‘Country Comfort’ and a great version of ‘Just What I Needed’, originally by The Cars.

The album I got for review was on CD but it’s available in a number of formats – including cassette. Dayton produced it himself and he is on tour in America currently.

Mike Wistow

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist’s website: https://www.jessedayton.com/bio/

PHIL LANGRAN – Skywriting (Longshore Drift LODR001)

SkywritingPraised by Kathryn Williams and produced by Boo Hewerdine, who also contributes guitar, harmonium and dulcitone to Skywriting, veteran Nottingham singer-songwriter Langram comes from the old school of troubadours, his keenly observed songs gentle, wistful and poetic, his voice seasoned with the years.

The bucolic ‘Bright Autumn Sky’ with its love of nature opens the album and sets the template for what follows and, while love song ‘World Enough’ sings of him shivering and shaking with emotion, the song itself is serene, a mood never broken by the ensuing eleven songs. ‘Leave To Live (Etechachan)’ sketches a portrait of a “barefoot child” as she “peels back the peat from the moorland” and ‘Time’s Dark Wing’ treats on mortality (“all the treasures we bring/Gathered under time’s dark wing”).

Elsewhere, there’s a disconsolate mood permeating ‘The Diamond Wheel’ where “we all dream or dreams alone”, while, on a more positive note, ‘Snow Angels’ talks of that, a Emily Dickinson might put it, certain slant of light when “The hours fall away/From the veil of time/To show the best of strangers/The way things were”.

At times he reminds me of the mellow aspects of Jim Croce while, Hewerdine on vibes, the jazz-shaded ‘Snow Angels’ conjures a mix of Al Stewart and Brian Protheroe.

Don’t come to Skywriting looking for social angst, but if you hanker after reflective songs that paint musical and lyrical landscapes, sharing the spirit of writers like Robert Frost and John Clare, then the slow waltzer ‘Snow on the Mountain’, the sense of wonder in the brief ‘Camera In The Sky’ (“Look up my little one/Look up on high/To all the future all around you”) and the fading relationship drawn in ‘Injury Time’ (”You hide your hand, I hide my heart”) will prove soothing balm.

Mike Davies

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist’s website: www.phillangranband.com

‘Bright Autumn Sky’:

 

MARTIN SIMPSON – Rooted (Topic TXCD598)

RootedDid you know that Ernest Shackleton considered a banjo essential to mental health on his expedition to the South Pole? Neither did I but it’s one of the fascinating facts I gleaned from Martin Simpson’s sleevenotes for his new album Rooted. Mental health is one of the themes of the record and, being a banjo player himself, I reckon that Martin has a head start on some of us. It’s one of the reasons why the album resonates with me.

As you might expect Martin mixes original compositions, traditional songs and covers. Here, Martin’s new songs lean towards the American traditional style so the opener, ‘Trouble Brought Me Here’ sounds like it could be a hundred or so years old. The second track, ‘Kimbie’, is traditional and includes some of those “vagrant stanzas” that he’s fond of. By this time, you’ll be relaxing into the music and the distinction really won’t matter.

Rooted boasts a fine supporting cast including Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr, John Smith and Ben Nicholls plus five backing vocalists but Andy Bell’s production and engineering ensure that Martin’s voice, guitar and/or banjo ride smoothly on top of the arrangements. I’m not totally convinced by one track and that is ‘Hills Of Shiloh’ which was very popular back in the 80s. It’s not the song but Martin takes it a little too quickly for my taste and the arrangement is rather too involved.

There are some great stories in these songs, though. ‘Ken Small’ tells of a man who laboured to unearth a tank from Start Bay left there after the disastrous Operation Tiger in 1944. ‘Joe Bowers’ came from Hedy West and is a relative of ‘Sweet Betsy From Pike’ and ‘Henry Gray’ is about a piano-player who was a member of Howln’ Wolf’s band and also worked with Elmore James and Jimmy Reed. Martin was invited to play with his band – what can you say? Robb Johnson’s ‘More Than Enough’ was a song that Roy Bailey played and Martin sang it with him in hospital just before he died.

The bonus disc is a set of instrumentals two of which are sung in the substantive set. I get the feeling that Martin let his hair down just a little – playing guitar is no joking matter – and invited the band to do the same. There are a number of songs that I haven’t mentioned; all as good as the ones I have and you’ll find that Rooted is a sublime record.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist’s website: www.martinsimpson.com

‘More Than Enough’ – with a story to tell: