JIMMY LaFAVE – Peace Town (Music Road Records MRR CD030)

Peace TownA leading light of the Red Dirt country movement, LaFave succumbed to cancer last year, but not before laying down a 100 or so recordings over a three-day period. Twenty of them form Peace Town,  a double set worth of material. Both covers and three self-penned numbers, all recorded live and mostly first and only takes with very little by way of overdubs and reworkings.

It opens in unlikely form with his slowed down country strummed and organ accompanied take of Pete Townshend’s ‘Let My Love Open The Door’ proceeding to the first original with the soulful ‘Minstrel Boy Howling At The Moon’ followed by the swayalong title track, his setting of words by Woody Guthrie. It’s one of three, the others, over on the other disc, being the bluesy, organ-backed ‘Salvation Train’ and ‘Sideline Woman’.

Of the other LaFave credits, ‘Untitled’ and ‘A Thousand By My Side’ are both instrumentals while ‘Ramblin’ Sky’ is a mortality-themed Dylan-ish barrelhouse blues. Dylan himself gets three credits, a reflective ‘What Good Am I?’ a near seven-minute world-weary slow, piano-backed version of ‘My Back Pages’ and a no less melancholic ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ that take on an added resonance given that he was dying at the time.

There’s also a Dylan link opening Disc 2 with a soulful hurt-infused cover of Robbie Robertson’s ‘It Makes No Difference’, while other iconic names come with a late night bluesy interpretation of Leon Russell’s ‘Help Me Through The Day’, JJ Cale’s ‘Don’t Go To Strangers’, a jangly acoustic ‘Already Gone’ by Butch Hancock and, showing he could still rock it up despite his windpipe being pushed over, a romp through Chuck Berry’s ‘Promised Land’.

Elsewhere, lesser known titles and credits come with an equally rock ‘n’ rolling groove through Bob McDill’s singularly appropriate country boogie ‘I May Be Used (But I Ain’t Used Up)’, David Ball’s wistful strings-backed ballad ‘When The Thought Of You Catches Up With Me’, Bill Cunningham’s jaunty hillbilly stomp ‘My Oklahoma Home (It Blowed Away)’ and, closing everything on a lyrically poignant, but musically upbeat note of farewell, Tim Easton’s ‘Goodbye Amsterdam’. “I didn’t want to leave just yet”, he sings here, but, as his nephew, Jesse, points out, knowing he was going to go, he was going to go out on a high. Mission accomplished, Jimmy.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.jimmylafave.com

‘When The Thought Of You Catches Up With Me’ – live:

TUMBLING SOULS –Between the Dream And The Truth (Wee Studio Records WSTTS01)

Between The Truth And The DreamThe debut album from the country and bluegrass-influenced Hebridean eight-piece fronted by Willie Campbell, Between The Truth And The Dream has a firm emphasis on picking up your feet, getting you out of your seats from the start with the steady stomping mountain music rhythms of ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’, keeping you on the floor for the 50s mid-tempo mandolin solo shuffle of ‘Heart To My Soul’ on which they sound like a Scottish answer to Terry and Gerry. Fiddle enters the fray for the similarly mid-tempo ‘Knowing Where You Come From’, Campbell’s vocals again reminding me of Gerry Colvin as, indeed, he does on several occasions, especially the Celtic-coloured jaunty shanty stomp of ‘City of Adelaide’.

The introspective, self-examining ‘King Of The Moon’ shows their slower side, ‘Rain And Clay’ swiftly changing the pace for a tambourine-led handclappy bounce with the Iain Spanish Mackay, Paul Martin and double bassist Keith Morrison providing the backing vocals.

Guided by fiddle and Stephen Drummond’s accordion, recorded live ‘Dance A Little Better’ sports a Doug Kershaw ‘Lousiana Man’ Cajun influence while, with it’s a capella intro, ‘Wishing My Time’ takes wing to the Appalchians for another hoedown stamp ‘n’ stomp. The following three tracks slow the pace down, however, kicking off with slow waltzer ‘My Foundation’ and proceeding through the Merle Haggard-like religion-themed honky tonker ‘Torn In Different Ways’, and the double-bass grounded tick-tocking swaying rhythm nod to home and heritage of ‘Stornoway 2AM’. Finally, opening with a military snare, and summoning perhaps Proclaimer comparisons, it ends with the fiddle-swathed paean to enduring friendship bonds that is ‘Years Go By’. There’s plans to tour later this year or early next; I’d advise keeping an eye out and ensuring a place down the front.

Mike Davies

Artists’website: www.facebook.com/thetumblingsouls

‘Dance A Little Better’ – live in the studio:

A DIFFERENT THREAD – On A Whim (own label)

On A Whim

Originally a duo comprising Staffordshire’s Robert Jackson and North Yorkshire classical cellist Isaac Collier, last year they were joined by North Carolina songwriter and fiddle player Alicia Best, she and Jackson now the mainstays, although she remains based in the States. Following on from the High Time EP, on which Best made her first fully-fledged appearance after being one of the backing musicians on the earlier Home From Home, On A Whim is their debut album, all save for two numbers being self-penned.

Musically, it straddles English folk and Americana influences, Jackson taking lead on the mid-tempo, brass brushed waltzing (and whistling) title track about a kind of indolent restlessness. Jackson still on lead, they cross shores for the friskily scampering bluegrassy banjo number ‘Hold Me Down’ with Best showing off her fiddle frills.

She steps up the microphone for her self-penned traditional sounding ‘Potter’s Field’, Collier’s mournful cello and Jackson’s acoustic guitar underpinning a number about a pauper’s burial, and remains there for equally American folk shaded but slightly the more uptempo strum of ‘Rosa Rosa’. That’s followed by the sole actual traditional number, the the much covered ‘The Prickly Bush’, here with Jackson’s voice upfront and Best harmonising, although this offers a strikingly different arrangement that leans to fingerpicked gypsy jazz and Balkan mazurka influences with Alan Best on accordion and Jackson playing harmonica.

The slow strummed march beat ‘Honey And Fire’ has the feel of early Dylan and the Band, jazzy flugel horn and brushed snare colouring the shared wearied delivery of the frayed relationship song ‘Chairs Instead’ which harks to vintage Laurel Canyon days, while ‘Carolina Song’ is a lovely melancholic rootsy slow waltz that shows Best’s slightly dusty Gillian Welch-like vocals to good advantage.

It’s back to a traditional folk flavoured fiddle blazing stomp for the playful ‘Farmer’s Mistress’, Jackson also on lead for the simple acoustic fingerpicking of ‘High Time’, a slightly faster and slightly lyrically different re-recording from the EP.

They end with Dobro and upright bass on the moodily bluesy ‘Charlotte’, the duo sharing verses on the album’s most electric number, and, backed by strings and a circular acoustic guitar pattern, Best singing the simpler folksy ‘Not Good With Words’. A hugely impressive debut; buy it on a whim, keep it as a treasure.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.adifferentthread.com

‘Hold Me Down’ – live/official video:

TIA McGRAFF – Stubborn In My Blood (Bandana)

Stubborn In My BloodHer first full-length release since 2015 (though there was an EP last year), Stubborn In My Blood  is McGraff’s seventh album and again provides ample evidence of why she’s held in such high regard in Americana circles. Working as ever with husband Tommy Parham as co-producer/writer and guitarist, it kicks off in soulful country style with ‘Pilot of Change’, a call to kick off the chains that hold you back, a theme of taking charge of your life that percolates several numbers, most notably the gospel-shaded piano ballad anthem ‘Let ‘Em See You’re Strong’, a number that’s been adopted by the Me2 movement and other women’s empowerment groups, the uplifting Appalachian waltzing ‘Own Your Sunshine’ and the march beat swayalong autobiographical title track about her Scottish/Transylvanian roots with its banjo backing and whistle.

There’s more backwoods gospel to be heard on the banjo and fiddle shaped ‘The Faithful Ones’ and its call for a community of kindred spirits led by a vision of glory in the face of oppression. On a similar note, ‘Travelin’ By Guitar’ nods to a musician’s life on the road and the power of songs to transform lives, if only for the night.

On a more intimate note, the simply strummed ‘Hole In My Heart’ addresses emotional resilience and offering a shoulder to lean on, Parnham’s electric guitar adding subtle extra colour, the theme echoing in the warblingly sung ‘Here With Me Tonight’ while the Celtic-tinted fiddle backed ‘Faraway Man’ sings about not looking to hold on to things that won’t be held down.

There’s one cover included, the 1969 allegorical folk rock hit ‘One Tin Soldier’, originally recorded by Canadian outfit The Original Caste as a Vietnam war protest song the album ending with dreamy fairground waltzer ‘Forbidden’, a co-write with former Treehouse frontman and sometime Amy Wadge partner Pete Riley and Henry Priestman who, respectively, also play guitar and ukulele. Hook yourself up for a transfusion.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: www.tiamcgraff.com

‘Let ‘Em See You’re Strong’:

DAVID MILTON – Songs From The Bell Man (Story Records Strec1801)

Songs From The Bell ManProduced by and featuring Ange Hardy, this is the debut album by an affable chap from her home town of Watchet in Somerset who, in addition to running weekly shanty nights down the pub and being an established stone sculptor also serves as the local football referee and Punch and Judy Man. Not to mention, holding the position of Town Crier, hence the album’s title, Songs From The Bell Man. And, of course, that commanding voice.

Joined by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Archie Churchill-Moss on accordion fiddle player Tom Moore, and percussionist Olly Winters-Owen, with shanty vocal contributions from The Old Gaffers, it’s a collection of both traditional and self-penned songs documenting Watchet’s long history. Case in point being album opener ‘The Watchet Sailor’, a tale about hearts-stealing Jack Tars that he first learned when he was about eight, sung unaccompanied.

The first of the original material follows, accordion backdropping ‘The Last Shift In’, a catchy waltzer lament for the closing of the Wansborough Paper Mill, where he once worked, in 2015 after over 260 years, the intro of ‘Wasson Boy’ being a greeting at shift change to see if all as going well. A Celtic melody setting of Tennyson’s poem with Hardy on whistle, ‘Crossing The Bar’ tips the hat to a former Watchet crier, one Yankee Jack, it being one of his favourite songs. A familiar shanty, ‘Greenland Fisheries’ returns to traditional waters, the maritime imagery carried over into the self-penned ‘The Last Long Ship’, another Celtic mist melody carrying the poignant story him joining a recently widowed Watchet lady to bid farewell to her husband by consigning his ashes to a Viking funeral, a flock of geese flying past in perfect formation to the flickering flames.

It’s back to traditional shanty shores with the unaccompanied ‘Won’t You Go My Way’, another song learned from Yankee Jack, the Old Gaffers singing the title refrain and the number flowing into the lengthily titled Morris tune ‘Oh dear mother what a fool I’ve been. Six young fellows came a courting me. Five were blind and the other couldn’t see. Oh dear mother what a fool I’ve been.’

Another melancholic gentle waltzer with music hall influences, ‘Emma Louise’ dates back to Milton’s days working at the mill some thirty years back, a love song not to some young lass but a boat, or at least his fanciful imaging of two sail boats he knew about, the lyric another lament for something that’s come to end of its useful life.

The final Milton song, ‘Old Be’n, nods to another former member of the Court Leet, Ben Norman and the wealth of local history knowledge about Watchet harbour he carried with him. If you’re looking for comparisons, this one points to Stan Rogers.

It ends with two unaccompanied traditional numbers, ‘Row On Row On’ being a setting by Tim Laycock to words from the 1864 journal of a New Bedford whaler concerning fears of an approaching storm and arousing reading of ‘Bye Bye My Roseanna’, a shanty cocktail of Scandinavian and Mississippi versions of the song about a sailor’s ocean-roaming life. A fine album indeed, Oyez, oyez.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

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

CHRIS THOMAS – Bound To The Ocean (own label)

Bound To The OceanFormerly part of a Pink Floyd tribute show, the soft-voiced Devon-based singer-songwriter has being flying solo since 2013, Bound To The Ocean being his debut album. Drawing on folk, country rock and blues influences, it opens with ‘Whenever I Sing Georgia’, a breezy early Van Morrison-ish tribute to his late step-mother, a Ray Charles fan, family connections also behind ‘Gwendolyn Rose’, written for his then six-month old daughter, a jaunty, banjo dappled country number with John Denver notes.

The title track is a gently rolling nod to his hometown and a childhood spent diving into the sea, ‘Sun Kiss’ an ode to West Country summers, while, on a more melancholic note ‘Listen To Me’ is a slow piano waltz about the lonelinesss of the long distance musician trying to be heard over pub chatter.

There’s also the inevitable quota of relationship songs, ranging from the jaunty banjo led ‘Turning Stones’ and a folksy fingerpicked ‘If Not You’ to the goodtime bluesy swing of ‘Heart Is Broke’ and, again echoing early soulful Van, ‘So Long, Travelling Away’.

Following the atmospheric fingerpicked slow waltzing ‘Back Before The Storm’, a flute and Irish whistle coloured song about the dangers the ocean can pose, it ends on a more upbeat note with the skipalong Jack Johnston-vibe of ‘Wake Up Smiling’. “Hey why don’t you listen to me?” he sings. Sound advice if you ask me.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

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

‘Bound To The Ocean’ – official video: