CORY FLYNN – A Boy Named Hunger (Long Way Home Music LWHM 003)

A Boy Named HungerCory Flynn, from Brighton, is just 16 years old, but has been performing both as a soloist and in bands for nearly six years. And on the 15th September 2017, his first studio album, A Boy Named Hunger, will be released. His web site tells us that his style is heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams, and another source is quoted as claiming that he “Writes like Dylan, sings like Cash, looks like Beckham“.

I can’t really hear Cash in his vocals – in fact, at times he sounds a bit like Phil Ochs but with less vibrato. If you need a 21st century reference point, I guess you might cite Jake Bugg: not that you’d mistake one for the other, but both have distinctive vocal deliveries that focus on the internal rhythms of the song rather than on ‘fine’ singing. However, the influence of Dylan (and perhaps others of the same 60s ilk) is certainly noticeable: not only in much of his songwriting, but also in his rhythmic flatpicking and, at times, his vocal delivery. However, it would be simplistic to see him as (to quote ‘Raiders of the Sun’) “a copy of a copy of a copy“. While his lyrics sometimes have a pile-up of somewhat surreal imagery reminiscent of late 60s Dylan, they have a satiric bite of their own that bodes well for his future work. It’s a pity there isn’t a lyric sheet included.

I generally try to avoid leaning too hard on comparing one artist to another in a review, but this is a ‘young’ collection of songs from a young artist who is still finding his own voice, and it’s not really possible to avoid mentioning his borrowings from earlier music. Nevertheless, there is much here to like.

The instrumentation here is minimal: except for ‘Raiders Of The Sun’, where he plays piano, there’s just Cory’s acoustic guitar, augmented on ‘Night At The Opera’ by Chris Clarke on bass.

  1. ‘The Firing Squad’ is the most obvious example of a performer who wears his influences on his sleeve: the structure of the song is a little too close to ‘It’s All Right Ma’ for comfort, though the lyric is not so remorselessly depressive: indeed, the last line of the first verse had me laughing out loud, though I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a comic song.
  2. The guitar and vocals of ‘The Hobbyist’ remind me a little of Alan Hull/Lindisfarne. The guitar intro has an unexpected delicacy, morphing into a driving accompaniment. Some sparing double-tracking on the vocals (the only instance of double-tracking on the CD, that I noticed) gives the chorus added punch.
  3. ‘Open The Gates’ has another Dylanesque intro: for a second I thought I was going to hear ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown’, though the body of the song goes in quite a different direction. On the other hand, since Dylan’s tune and accompaniment themselves borrow from Appalachian tradition, why not? The vocal delivery is also Dylan-ish, though plenty of singers have successfully gone the same route.
  4. ‘Raiders Of The Sun’, from which the album title is taken, substitutes piano for guitar. Despite the occasional lapse into Dylanesque vocal delivery, the song benefits from less mannered vocals. While there’s a harshness to his voice that will probably not be to anyone’s taste, it does show a range and a lower register I didn’t expect from the previous tracks. I’m getting rather fond of the couplet “To end her suffering/she must suffer her ending…
  5. The guitar and, in places, the vocal on ‘Gospel of Khan’ are kind of reminiscent of Phil Ochs, but the wordplay seems very much Cory’s own. Very interesting.
  6. ‘Clean Dirt’ has a very slightly flamenco feel to the guitar, though the vocal delivery is somewhere between Dylan and Al Stewart, or maybe a rougher-hewn Jeff Buckley. A little too rough-hewn for my taste, but the lyric is interesting. Well, all his lyrics are interesting.
  7. The lyrics to ‘A Night At The Opera’ comprise a story that would not have felt out of place on Highway 61 Revisited.
  8. ‘Rachael’ is a long (nearly 11 minutes) story song/allegory. Against the odds, it held my attention all the way through.
  9. ‘Foreign Storm’ harks back to the more straightforward social messages of early Dylan or Phil Ochs, with a very apposite message for those who think that saying how awful things are is the same as being socially responsible. It just about avoids being one of the diluted messages about ‘plastic people’ subsequently associated with the ‘pop protest’ songs of the late 60s. It’s also being promoted as a single.

My first reaction to this album, when I checked out the videos on Cory’s web site, was ‘raw but interesting’. Having lived with the album itself for a few days, I find it a little easier to see past the obvious Dylan influences and perhaps appreciate that he has a wider range of musical and poetic influences and interests to work from, as he finds a voice that is more his own. Even in the songs where the Dylanisms verge on parody – and let’s not forget that even good parody requires a gift for inventive wordplay – there are frequent glimpses of a different viewpoint and intelligence at work. This is a promising beginning to his career in the studio.

David Harley

Artist’s website: coryflynn.co.uk

‘Raiders Of The Sun’ – official video:

KEITH JAMES – Tenderness Claws (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2926)

Tenderness ClawsOn his web site, Keith James describes his career as esoteric and secretive, but he has actually attracted a good deal of respect for his sensitive interpretations of the songs of Nick Drake, John Martyn and Leonard Cohen, and his musical settings of his own poetry and that of well-loved writers like Lorca and Dylan Thomas. His new CD, Tenderness Claws, is almost entirely focused on settings of poetry: it’s the first time I’ve actually heard his work, but it’s finely crafted and played, exquisitely produced (mostly by Branwen Munn) and engineered, and repays close attention.

There can be a degree of implicit tension between the intentions of the poet and the composer when a poem is set to music. Housman took exception to the omission by Vaughan Williams of two of the verses from Is My Team Ploughing? Vaughan Williams responded that ‘the composer has a perfect right artistically to set any portion of a poem he chooses provided he does not actually alter the sense.’ (And made it clear that there were lines in the missing verses that he felt were best forgotten.)

Phil Ochs, though probably mostly remembered nowadays as a ‘protest’ singer, also composed several excellent settings to poems by Poe, Noyes and others. In his liner notes to I Ain’t Marching Any More he offered – if my memory doesn’t fail me – a sort of apology to John Jerome Rooney for his substantial changes to The Men Behind The Guns. (We’ll never know what Rooney would have thought about it).

Keith James clearly believes it appropriate that what Ochs called ‘the discipline of music’ should sometimes modify and shed a different light on an existing poem as it develops into a song. And the success of the settings here entirely justifies that belief.

Here’s the track-by-track summary:

  1. ‘Tyger Tyger’ is Keith’s setting of William Blake’s poem. This is the oldest poem set here, and the form is unequivocally strophic, by contrast with the freeform nature of the work of the ‘beat’ poets also represented here. However, it could be said that Blake’s writing was often a long way ahead of its time, and the arrangement is unequivocally modern, and in no way clashes with the more recent verse here. I particularly like Sarah Vilensky’s vocal work here.
  2. Although the insert and booklet state ‘All music composed by Keith James’, ‘White Room’ is actually the melody that Jack Bruce put to Pete Brown’s words on Cream’s Wheels Of Fire Though I remember the original with nostalgia, Keith’s is really rather a good version, benefiting from significantly more light and shade. The arrangement accentuates the dislocated tone of the lyric better than the in-yer-face wah-wah of Cream’s version – perhaps we’re just too accustomed now to the sound of frequency filtering to remember its impact in the 1960s – and Keith’s understated vocal compares well to Bruce’s.
  3. ‘Andalucia’ is based on a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca with which I’m not familiar. It combines a rhythmic arrangement that recalls flamenco, though the percussion and some of the changes hint at Latin America. Keith’s vocal delivery, though, is all his own.
  4. ‘A Process In The Weather Of The Heart’ slightly rearranges the poem by Dylan Thomas, but still feels through-composed. I don’t know what Dylan would have thought, but it works for me.
  5. ‘Decorated Cardboard Human Shapes’ sets one of Keith’s own poems, combining a wide range of haunting aural effects with a compulsive percussion track.
  6. ‘Daydreams For Ginsberg’ is set to an abbreviated version of Jack Kerouac’s poem. It works very well.
  7. ‘The Mask’ is based on Lorca’s Danza De La Muerte (Dance of Death). This time the poem, though significantly shortened, is left in Spanish, apart from the couplet that begins and ends this setting. As with ‘Andalucia’, the guitar is steeped in flamenco feel, but Rick Foot’s bowed double bass adds quite a different dimension. Beautiful.
  8. ‘Blue Angel’ sets a poem by Allen Ginsberg to guitar arpeggios that give the setting a slightly folk-y feel.
  9. ‘Lizard On The Wall’ is a guitar-driven setting of Keith’s own slightly surreal words, punctuated by gentle flamenco-tinged clapping. I like it a lot.
  10. ‘A Third Place…’ sets another of Keith’s own poems, hinting at a tragic backstory. In some way I can’t quite define, it makes me think of Brel.

Keith’s voice has a fragility that might not be to everyone’s taste, but is entirely suited to the material here, and I can see (or hear) why it would be suited to the songs of Nick Drake, for instance. But then his settings here of his own poems make for compositions that stand very well on their own, even in the company of the other writers represented here. Highly recommended.

David Harley

Artist’s website: keith-james.com

‘The Mask’ – live on the radio:

OCCIDENTAL GYPSY – 44070 (own label)

44070Occidental Gypsy is a band that combines the ‘Gypsy Swing’ feel of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grapelli with a range of material from other sources, notably the compositions of lead guitarist Brett Lee Feldman. Their CD 44070 (due for release in the UK on July 3rd 2017) includes three songs already associated with Reinhardt and Grappelli, one song by Scottie Kulman, and five compositions by Feldman. The other band members are Eli Bishop (strings, background vocals, and rhythm guitar on ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’); Jeremy Frantz (lead vocals, guitar); Jeff “JPhat” Feldman (bass); and Jon Chapman on percussion. The band is augmented here on some tracks by Evan Veenstra (bass) and Erick Cifuentes (percussion).

  1. ‘Gypsy Blues (She’s Back)’ was written by Scottie Kulman. I can’t altogether like the lyric or the vocal phrasing, but it’s very cleverly arranged, with ear-catching unison playing between guitar and violin in the vocal sections.
  2. The instrumental ‘A Day With Paula May’ was composed by Brett Lee Feldman, but has a very Hot Club feel with the composer in full-on Django mode in places. It features some interesting changes of mood and time signature.
  3. ‘Messalina (Lover Lamb)’ is another composition by Feldman. A very nice melody with changes reminiscent of 50s-60s guitar-oriented cool jazz. It also features some athletic bass soloing and nicely understated percussion (including a sample of Eli Bishop’s record-breaking clapping) over a riffing section. My favourite track.
  4. ‘44070: Song for Vrba’ is yet another Feldman composition. It’s a complex instrumental piece that “celebrates the story of Rudolph Vrba“. After his escape from Auschwitz in 1944, Vrba co-authored a report on the mass murders there that is credited with saving the lives of 200,000 people who would otherwise have been deported (like so many others) from Hungary. The piece has several distinct sections with echoes of Bach, Eastern Europe and even a phrase that reminded me of Dowland’s ‘Melancholy Galliard’, though I think that was probably accidental. An impressive composition and recording.
  5. ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ was composed by Isham Jones (with words by Gus Kahn, though this version is purely instrumental). The song was also recorded by Django Reinhardt with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and this version is obviously heavily influenced by the Hot Club recordings in its choice of tempo and guitar phrasing.
  6. The next track, ‘Tears’, was actually composed by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, and is a live studio recording. While the guitar is as strongly Django-influenced here as you’d expect, this version is by no means a straight copy, not least in that the violin is far more prominent than on the best-known Hot Club recording, and the track features some nice harmonic interplay between Feldman’s guitar and Bishop’s violin. The track also includes some nicely understated pizzicato.
  7. ‘Tonight’ is another composition by Brett Lee Feldman. A somewhat jokey song with a quasi-blues verse structure and nice interplay between the violin, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar. There’s also more of Eli Bishop’s intelligent use of pizzicato.
  8. ‘Children’s March’ is also by Feldman, and described as “an apology to the children harmed during the de-segregationists march that took place in Birmingham, 1963.” That’s Birmingham, Alabama, of course, where firehoses and police dogs are said to have been used against children taking part in the ‘Children’s Crusade’. Tuned percussion at the beginning gives a suggestion of the nursery, moving into a stately duet between the violin and acoustic guitar, which is less Django-esque than elsewhere on the album.
  9. ‘Over The Rainbow’ was composed by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, and was also recorded by Reinhardt and Grappelli. However, this version is more reflective and truer to the song’s movie origins, with a simple guitar and violin arrangement. It is, I guess, hard to take this approach without overdoing the schmaltz, and I can’t altogether like the touches of portamento and harmonics on the violin. There are some good moments here, but for me this is the weakest track on the CD.

If you don’t care for Gypsy Jazz with a strong dash of the Hot Club of France, this may leave you cold, though there’s a lot more to it than pastiche. In fact the use of electric guitar, bass guitar and upfront percussion takes the sound a good way beyond the ‘classic’ Hot Club sound. Certainly I look forward to seeing/hearing where Brett Lee Feldman’s eclectic compositions take them next.

David Harley

Artists’ website: www.occidentalgypsy.com

‘A Day With Paula May’ – live:

CALAN – Solomon (Sain Records SCD2749)

SolomonI was a little nervous about reviewing the CD Solomon by the Welsh band Calan, released on 14th April. After all, it’s been more decades than I care to think about since, as a student in North Wales, I picked up a few words of Cymraeg, and those few words are long gone. Fortunately, while most of the songs are sung in Welsh, the notes are in both Welsh and English, so I’m in with a chance of not getting my facts terribly wrong. Even more fortunately, there are some great sets of tunes as well as songs that feature lovely vocals and harmonies, so not understanding most of the lyrics didn’t impair my enjoyment at all.

Calan are Bethan Rhiannon (main vocals, accordion, step dancing, percussion), Patrick Rimes (fiddle, Welsh bagpipes, pibgorn, whistle, hulusi, vocals), Angharad Jenkins (fiddle, vocals), Sam Humphreys (guitar, percussion, effects, vocals), Alice French (harp, vocals). The band is augmented on this recording by Greg Sterland (saxophone), Josh Barber (trumpet), Lloyd Pierce (trombone) and Nigel Jenkins (reading an extract from his poem The Creation during the song ‘Kân’).

Track Listing:

  1. ‘Kân’ is “a patriotic song about the future of the Welsh language and culture“. If I didn’t have the review copy, I’d probably buy the CD on the strength of this song alone. Nigel Jenkins has one of those resonant Welsh voices – think Richard Burton. The chorus is based on a style of psalm chanting that used to be popular in West Wales, but don’t expect a churchy feel: here, it gives the recording added punch.
  2. The resemblance in the title ‘Ryan Jigs’ to the name of a certain Welsh football player is entirely intentional: this set of jigs is dedicated to the Welsh side, and comprises the traditional tunes ‘Crwr Da’, ‘Breuddwyd y Wrach’ (which you may know as ‘The Hag’s Dream’), ‘Y Facsen Felen’ and ‘Ffidl Ffadl’ (I love that name). And if that set doesn’t propel the team to further success, I don’t know what will.
  3. ‘#Deportationselfie’ is a set of tunes “inspired by Sam and Patrick’s adventures getting into the US” – a story of visa misadventure that attracted some attention on social media, as I recall. The individual tunes are the well-known ‘Black Joak’, plus ‘Chwi Fechgyn Glân Ffri’, ‘Ooh-Eeh, Nasty Devil’ (apparently by Patrick Rimes) and ‘Naid Dros Llannerch’.
  4. ‘Apparition’ is a Calan original in English, and while it’s “based on some entries in the diary of Edmund Jones speaking about the fairy realm in South Wales” there’s nothing twee or fey about it: it’s an excellent folk-rock-ish song.
  5. ‘Hayes and Quinn’s’ is also an original, described as “a wedding tune written for our dear American friends…” A very attractive tune and arrangement.
  6. ‘Madame Fromage’ is a set of tunes dedicated to Carrie Rimes, maker of the band’s own Calan Cheese. But there’s nothing cheesy about these tunes. ‘Madame Fromage’ is by Angharad Siân Jenkins, and Y Folantein is traditional.
  7. ‘Pe Cawn i Hon’ (If She Were Mine) is beautifully sung and accompanied by restrained and very effective electric guitar.
  8. The writer of ‘Yr Eneth Ga’dd ei Gwrthod’ (The Rejected Maiden) is unknown, though it is based on a true event of the mid-19th century: the sadness of the theme is evident even across the language barrier.
  9. ‘Synnwyr Solomon’ (The Wisdom of Solomon), a song learned from the collector/performer Meredydd Evans (Merêd), is rather less mournful, telling of a man who finds that the women of Wales are a little too feisty for him to marry.
  10. ‘Dennis, Polca!’ consists of three tunes: ‘Welsh Morris’, ‘Anastacia Riddles’ and ‘Polca Cefn Coed’. Described by the band as “a banging set” and I won’t argue with that. I’ve always felt happier sitting in the band than being out on the dance floor, but my feet haven’t tapped so much in decades.
  11. ‘Yr Hwiangerddi’ (The Lullabies) brings the pace down with a delightful set of traditional lullabies: ‘Y Lili Ymysg y Drain’ (Also known as ‘The Colour Of The Lily Amongst The Thorns’.), ‘Si Hei Lwli’, and ‘Mil Harddach’.
  12. ‘Big D’ is a “slamming” set of tunes that starts off with a clog dance. Which is a better idea than it sounds. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to finish a super CD. ’27 Club’ is written by Bethan; ‘Y Fasged Wyau’ is traditional; ‘Composition 11’ is credited to P E Rimes (I guess that’s Patrick); ‘Roaring Hornpipe’ and ‘Pibddawns Morfydd’ are both traditional.

If this is Brythonic folk-rock, I wouldn’t mind hearing quite a lot more of it.

David Harley

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 CALAN – Solomon 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]

Artists’ website: www.calan-band.com

‘Apparition’ – live and street-smart:

TERENCE WINCH, MICHAEL WINCH, AND JESSE WINCH – This Day Too: Music from Irish America (Free Dirt Records CTM-CD-002)

This Day TooThe CD This Day Too: Music From Irish America is very much what it says on the tin. It’s a collection of tunes and songs with a pronounced Irish accent, performed and in some cases written by musician and poet Terence Winch, his brother Jesse, and his son Michael, aided by a dozen other musicians who mostly hail from Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.

Regarding the performer credits below, I should explain that I wasn’t familiar with the use of the term ‘box’ to describe what appears to be a button accordion: my guess is that it derives from the use in Ireland of the term ‘an bosca’ (box) for a ‘one-row’ melodeon, though photographs on the CD cover show him with a two-row instrument, and the notes to ‘Cahercrea/The Ring Finger’ and ‘The Homes Of Donegal’ both mention a D/C# box’, which I’d guess to be a ‘semitone-apart’ system button accordion of a type often associated with Irish-American players in the 20th century. In any case, I’ve played safe and followed Terence’s use of ‘box’ in the rest of this review.

Track List:

  1. The album starts with a set of polkas: ‘Johnny O’Leary’s / Kilcummin Lasses / The Ballyvaughan Polka’. The first two are among the many associated with the Kerry button accordion player Johnny O’Leary, and the last was written by Terence Winch, who plays ‘box’, while Michael Winch contributes fiddle, Jesse Winch plays harmonica, Tina Eck plays flute, and Dominick Murray plays guitar. Very nicely arranged, making the best of the dynamic possibilities of instruments that come and go over the course of the set.
  2. The lyrics to ‘Lannisters’ Ball (Game Of Thrones here Song)’ were written by Terence Winch and set to the tune of ‘Lannigan’s Ball’ (but incorporating a break using ‘Brian Boru’s March’. I’ve never seen Game Of Thrones myself, so some of the humour may be lost on me, but I’ve seen enough references to the programme on social media to raise a smile anyway. Vocal and guitar honours go to Belfast’s Seamus Kennedy, with whistle from Tina, bodhrán from Jesse, and fiddle from Michael.
  3. ‘Lally’s Alley / Cat’s Tail & Gravy’ couple together an air and a hornpipe, both written and played by Terence, along with fiddle, bodhrán, guitar and flute from Michael, Jesse, Dominick and Tina.
  4. ‘Nelly, My Love, and Me’ is a song to be found in Moffat’s Minstrelsy of Ireland (1897) and P.W. Joyce’s Ancient Irish Music (1893), these words having been written by Joyce. Dominick provides lead vocal and guitar, with Madeline Waters on harmony vocal and cello, Michael on fiddle, and Terence on box.
  5. The next track is a set of reels – ‘Earl’s Chair / The Green Groves of Erin / Sailor on the Rock’ played by Michael on fiddle, Patrick Armstrong on flute, and Jesse on bodhrán, and seems to me to benefit from the sparser instrumentation.
  6. ‘Childhood Ground’ is a song written by Terence Winch about the “devastating impact” of the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway on many Bronx neighborhoods. Sensitively sung by Eileen Estes with harmony from Nita Conley Korn, with restrained accompaniment from Eileen herself (piano), Jeff Gruber (guitar) and Michael on fiddle.
  7. Terence and Jesse, along with Brendan Mulvihill on fiddle, then present a set of jigs: ‘Tommy Mulhair’s / Finish It Up / Boys of the Town’, the second of which is one of Terence’s compositions, fitting very well with the more widely-known tunes that bracket it.
  8. The reels that follow – ‘Cahercrea / The Ring Finger’ – are written by Terence Winch and Billy McComiskey respectively: Terence, Michael and Jesse are joined by Dominick on guitar and Tina on flute.
  9. The song ‘Welcome Home’, written and performed by Dominick, also features harmonies from Madeline Waters and Connor Murray, whose birth was the subject of the song. The instrumentation is augmented by Connor’s mandolin, Michael’s fiddle, and Terence’s box.
  10. The next track consists of two reels preceded by a relatively well-known hornpipe: ‘The Wonder Hornpipe / Austin Tierney’s / The Thunder Reel’.
  11. Terence’s song ‘Sinning’ is a “hymn to hedonism” is nicely sung without accompaniment by Brian Gaffney.
  12. The jigs ‘The Blooming Meadows / The Monaghan Jig’, played by Michael, Patrick, and Jesse, are fine tunes to be found in O’Neill’s Music Of Ireland.
  13. Terence’s song ‘This Day Too’ is sung by Nita, accompanying herself on piano, with harmony by Eileen, joined by Michael on fiddle and Jesse on guitar.
  14. The set of reels ‘In Memory of Michael Coleman / Hughie’s Cap / Forget Me Not’ is a showcase for Michael’s fluent fiddle, given extra impetus by Conor Hearn’s cittern-like chording on guitar. Probably my favourite track.
  15. The song ‘The Homes of Donegal’, with words written by Sean McBride to the tune more commonly known as ‘Tramps And Hawkers’ in Scotland, is at least as interesting historically as it is musically, as it begins with an informal performance from the ’60s by The Two Pats – PJ Conway and Patrick Winch – before the theme is taken up by Dominick, accompanied by Terence, Madeline (on cello and harmony vocal) and Michael on fiddle and tenor banjo.

As you’d expect, given the decades that the Winch family have represented Irish music in the US, this is a solidly-crafted collection of not-too-familiar tunes old and not-so-old, and the songs generally sit comfortably next to them. Though personally I prefer the more modern-sounding ‘This Day Too’ and ‘Childhood Ground’. (Still, I’m almost tempted to find a home for ‘Sinning’ in my repertoire, if only for the first line – “Oh when I was a young man I pursued every vice“.)

David Harley

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 This Day Too: Music From Irish America 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]

RODNEY CROWELL – Close Ties (New West Records 6354)

Close TiesWhile I’ve long been aware of Rodney Crowell’s talents as a songwriter, going back at least as far as Emmylou Harris’s 1975 recording of ‘Bluebird Wine’, his songs have always reached me as interpreted by other A-listers. So I jumped at the chance to take a closer look at his album Close Ties, due for release on the 7th April. And I wasn’t disappointed.

While the number of musicians participating in one or more of these ten tracks is too large for a complete listing here, it’s worth mentioning one or two names, their presence giving some idea of the regard in which Crowell is held by his fellow musicians. Besides vocal contributions from John Paul White, Rosanne Cash and Sheryl Crow, there are instrumental contributions from Tommy Emmanuel, Steuart Smith, and Jordan Lehning (who co-produced with Kim Buie) and others.

But there are also ghostly Nashville legends walking these lyrics, such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Dennis Sanchez – could ‘Newberry’ in ‘Nashville 1972’ be Mickey Newbury? – but also survivors like Willie Nelson and Buck White. Crowell has been quoted as saying “It’s a loose concept album … and the concept is related to how you tell stories about yourself.” That may sound self-indulgent, but this is not just a personal memoir but an insider view of a somewhat alternative Nashville that has given modern music some wonderful moments. If this suggests an easy listening experience, it isn’t meant to: Crowell’s often sardonic and sometimes bitter wordplay makes few concessions to “the petty politics of bliss“. It demands (and amply repays) close attention.

Here’s the customary track-by-track listing (all tracks were written by Rodney Crowell except where noted below):

  1. Crowell has expressed a hope that “my study of the blues is starting to show up in my music.” ‘East Houston Blues’ is by no means a 12-bar, but the lyric has a hard-times lyric sung feel over a blues-y shuffle beat, benefiting from Tommy Emmanuel’s classy acoustic lead guitar.
  2. ‘Reckless’ is a slow, introspective song, with clever but understated strings behind the acoustic guitars, harmonium and minimal percussion.
  3. In contrast, ‘Life Without Susanna’ has much more of a rock feel, with a hard-edged lyric about “A self-sure bastard and a stubborn bitch/Locked in a deadly game of chess“.
  4. ‘It Ain’t Over Yet’ is closer to country rock, with excellent additional vocals from John Paul White and Roseanne Cash. The uncredited harmonica play-out is sparse yet haunting.
  5. ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ chronicles disillusion over a riff that reminds me a little of early-ish Stones, with a touch of Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ towards the end of a harsh lyric.
  6. ‘I’m Tied To Ya’ was written by Rodney Crowell and Michael McGlynn, a ballad that also features attractive vocals from Sheryl Crow.
  7. ‘Forgive Me Annabelle’ is another ballad with piano and strings predominant in the accompaniment.
  8. ‘Forty Miles From Nowhere’ is another slow song that hints at a tragic backstory – “If there’s anything that we can do rings hollow down a telephone line“.
  9. ‘Storm Warning’ was written by Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr: it’s a rockier number, but maintains a mood of foreboding and very bad weather. “Ninety-five miles of twisted aftermath…
  10. The CD finishes with ‘Nashville 1972’, a look back at his arrival in “Old School Nashville“: a simple, almost folky song, though I could almost imagine Kenny Rogers singing it.

When I hear or read of a songwriter talking about poets and ‘poetic sensibility’, my first impulse is usually to turn the page or put on a different CD. But in this case, it’s not inappropriate. This isn’t the finely-tuned poetry of great literature – though Crowell can turn a phrase as neatly as any lyric writer I know – but it does have the rough-hewn passion and clear-sighted observation of the best Americana.

David Harley

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 RODNEY CROWELL – Close Ties 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.rodneycrowell.com

‘It Ain’t Over Yet’ – official video: