ANNIE GALLUP – Lucy Remembers Her Father (Gallway Bay Music)

Lucy Remembers Her FatherIn what is, unquestionably, her finest solo work to date, Annie Gallup, one half of Hat Check Girl, has crafted an intimate, conceptual storytelling album about the past, mortality and the power and value of memory. Her musical and personal partner, Peter Gallway, contributes bass and keys, but otherwise this is all down to Gallup who plays the guitars, ukulele and lapsteel that make up the spare instrumentation. A poet and theatrical writer/performer as well as a songwriter, she often adopts a spoken approach to her work that prompts comparison with Laurie Anderson, notably so here on the beat poetry influenced ‘All The Money In The World’ and the vocally double-tracked hushed and confessionally delivered ‘Being Her Child’ on which a girl seeks to trace herself and her own identity in memories and photographs of her late mother, a theme to which she returns on ‘Understudy’.

It opens on ‘Paper’, which, in less than two minutes, sketches an image of fragility and emotional vulnerability (“Strike a match, I curl to ash in the kitchen sink”) yet also subtly conjures anger at an unreliable lover as she describes a chain of cut-out figures “joined at the fist a string of dolls each like the other girls you kissed.”

Featuring keening lapsteel, ‘Loyalty’ both illustrates her ability to weave an enchanting melody out of a minimal setting and to immediately draw you into her narrative, a reflective tale of perhaps misguided youthful allegiance (“I was hard to shake”) to those undeserving of it in the need to feel wanted, opening with the conversational “Back when we were friends she had a lover who was once an extra in a Woody Allen film, it might have been Manhattan. I never got to meet him. He was swept away. That was exhibit A of how she inspired passion. Exhibit B changed frequently, C was mythical and she was an unreliable narrator” as she goes on to talk of “the familiar ache of intoxicating cruelty” and of how “I was still terrified by everything I wanted.”

Her stories range freely, in ‘Bluebird’ the narrator is a WWII veteran who, following in his father’s footsteps, who fought at Amiens, recalls being injured at Normandy when his parachute snagged a tree, leaving him to “hang there helplessly with a shattered chest.” Whereas, ‘Strange Boy’ charts a doomed relationship with the oddball, lonely kid who grows up to become the singer’s commitment phobic cynical and unromantic (“I gave him a poem for a Valentine. He wrote suggestions and corrections in the margins”) lover and eventually a stranger who “stayed up all night to watch me sleep” but “was gone at dawn”, leaving behind, in an image linking back to the opening track, “a fleet of paper airplanes” which “had crashed into the sheets.”

Only one track exceeds the four minute mark, and yet Gallup packs in as much compelling narrative as a short story. The musically spooked, spoken ‘Coyote Highway’ is a case in point, a heartrending tale of a couple discovering, on her birthday, that he has a terminal illness, making the most of the remaining time together (described in mundane but moving imagery) that ends on an ominous note as, hearing the coyote’s that haunt the area, she wonders “Are they getting closer?

Before this becomes more of a literary essay than a review, let me just also direct you to the woozily dreamy, self-explanatory titled ‘Il Ne M’aimera Jamais (He Will Never Love Me)’ with a melody that evokes Civil War era folk and the plucked guitar album closer ‘Luminary’ with its wondering what might happen when old flames, meet again somewhere down the line, one having found fame, the other not.

More particularly, you owe it to yourself to listen to the album’s two 24-carat diamonds, the simply titled ‘Story’, a spoken four minute novella about a nine-year-old American boy who, his father dying on a quest to find a missing uncle in the slums of Lagos, happily becomes one of the streetkids until, finally found and returned to his mother in New York, now grown and pondering the existential questions “Who would he be if he had lived? Who would I be if I hadn’t been found?

And, of course, the quite magnificent title track as, backed by wheezing keyboards, the narrator’s lost in reverie of the father who left home before she was born but remained in her life, his housefull of strangers playing tune after tune”, their times together “Poor in existential angst and solitude. Rich in mosquito bites, moths around the porch light… Poor in long distance calls and cruises. Rich in homegrown tomatoes and river rocks.” And in a final line that transcends sentimentality to strike deep into memories of a life richly lived and loved, “Poor in pedigree and regrets.” A sublime work of profound emotion and evocative poetry enfolded in simple but intoxicating melodies it’s one of the finest releases this year; now, how about a novel?

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.anniegallup.com

THE HAWTHORNES – Cut & Run (own label)

Cut & RunThe second album from Cheltenham folk outfit The Hawthornes, Cut & Run, sees them with an expanded line-up, Sussex-born singer Louisa Gaylard, bassist Gordy Partridge and Jesse Benns on cajon, mandolin and soundbox percussionist now joined by Gregg Wilson-Copp, formerly of The Roving Crows, on trumpet. The change in their sound is evident from the outset, a burst of Andalucian-sounding brass launching the flurrying ‘Patience’, reappearing for another salvo towards the end. The track is typical of the urgency with which the band invest their music and Garland’s vocals, and even though ‘Turn Your Back’ starts off relatively restrained with its strummed acoustic, it’s less than a minute before scampering percussion appears, followed by trumpet and the chorus picks up the tempo. That said, ‘Little Games’, ‘Let’s Go’ with its fingerpicked guitar and raindrops of hollow echoey percussion and moody album closer ‘Vernon Place’ throw more ballad-shaped melodies, at least until the latter sees Wilson-Copp breaking out in a tarantella-like whirlwind.

Despite the end of relationship lyrics, they’re in ebullient musical mood for ‘Last Song’, trumpet again boosting the summery sparkle while, built on a simple strummed guitar, ‘Ball of Stress’ is a particularly catchy number with Garland, swooping over the notes, in softer vocal form, suggesting a folksy Lily Allen.

Elsewhere there’s the galloping gaucho rhythms and brass of ‘Happier State’, the nimble fingerpicked ‘Solidarity’ with Gaylard enthusiastically tumbling over the lyrics and ‘Sirius’, a “making our own way home” life on tarmac number that suggests a healthy future as an anthemic set closer. The title is an informal phrase for making a hasty departure when things aren’t going well. Something they won’t be doing any time soon.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.thehawthornesmusic.co.uk

‘Little Games’ – live:

OH SUSANNA – A Girl in Teen City (Continental Song City CSCCD1142)

A Girl In Teen CityWhether or not A Girl In Teen City is wholly autobiographical, Suzie Ungerleider’s concept album about growing up a teenager in the 80s in her hometown of Vancouver perfectly capture that adolescent search for identity, love and rebellion. Or, as she puts it on the album sleeve, “Falling in love, getting drunk, having her heart broken, hanging out with friends in bedrooms, basements and parking lots, sneaking into shows in burnt-out warehouses, watching the waves, walking home over bridges and railroad tracks in all that endless rain.”

The opening track, a sparsely strummed ‘Flashlights’, specifically recalls a night when she was 11, camping in the backyard with a friend, hanging out with some older boys from school and watching them dive into a local public pool, the start of her love affair with the freedom of the night.

Another love awakening comes with ‘Wolf Boy’, a gradually swelling piano ballad about falling for a boy from school who took on a new sense of mystery when she saw him in a movie theatre, coolly sitting by himself in a row behind her. There’s more falling in love for the first time in the less personal and more generic ‘Lucky Star’ with its references to assorted Vancouver landmarks, which leads quite naturally to ‘My Boyfriend’, a chiming pop rock tale of a guy who wants to sing in a high school band O (of which drummer Paul Brennan was a member) but, while he may have rock n roll dreams, he can’t sing in key while she “can sing circles around him.” The relationship probably didn’t last long.

Another piano-based number, but here with some reverb guitar midway, the slow sway of ‘The Darkroom At The School’ will strike a chord with anyone who used to make out somewhere the grown ups never suspected anything as going on. Two tracks recall going to loads of punk shows in Vancouver, ‘Tickets on the Weekend’ a jangly pop tune about being “baby-punks at the scene pretending we’re mean” that nods to the Ramones but is actually a memory of being busted by the cops for buying booze on their way to see D.O.A. ‘Getting Ready’, on the other hand, is a big guitar builder about how more time and energy was spent dressing up to for the gig than at the gig itself and comes with the great line “whatcha gonna do when your boyfriend’s prettier than you?

It’s back to the love of the night on the Cyndi Lauper-like ballad ‘Walked All The Way Home’ with its tinkling keyboards and memories of the beauty of walking home alone in the rain after being thrown out of the local bar for having no i.d. Another slow, melancholia-soaked number, ‘Waiting For The Blossoms’ is a love letter to all the female friends who saw her through tough teenage times, giving way to ‘Thunderbird,’ her swaggery guitar-led contribution to the boys, girls and cars genre, co-penned by David Ogler and telling the story of his 1968 Thunderbird and how cool it was to go cruising the city blocks, suite dup in jeans and leather, drinking red wine in the backseat, but also infused with the sense that, with college ahead, your lives were about to change.

The spare piano of ‘Puget Sound’ moves her from Vancouver to Seattle with memories of visiting her cousins, “the smell of teenage boys and Twinkies”, she and her friends “waving goodbye to our Canadian lives” and getting the chance to be an American for a while. It’s back home though for the album closer, the simply strummed ‘My Old Vancouver’ which she describes as a “song about the landmarks, memories and events of Old Vancouver before it grew up”, the very time and place specific lyrics recalling a patchwork tapestry of the ballroom where X, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys played, self-styled urban guerrillas the Vancouver Five and, another activist group, the Raging Grannies and the Shame the Johns campaign to name prostitutes’ clients who cruised the Dicks on Dicks venue, coming to the conclusion that the place wasn’t so grey after all. It may wallow in nostalgia, but, as Dean Martin once sang, “You can’t beat the memories you gave-a me.”

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 OH SUSANNA – A Girl in Teen City 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.ohsusanna.com

‘A Girl In Teen City’ – official video:

MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – Pretty Little Troubles (Gypsy Eyes Music )

Pretty Little TroublesHis voice croakier and gummier than ever, sounding as one review put it, like he’s wearing someone else’s teeth, even so Holcombe continues to deliver the goods when it comes to coal dust coated Appalachian blues. Pretty Little Troubles a quick follow-up to last year’s Another Black Hole.

Joined by Dennis Crouch on bass, Jared Tyler on mandolin and dobro, Verlon Thompson on acoustic and Resonator slide with producer Darrell Scott on pretty much everything else save percussion (Kenny Laone/Marco Giovio), as well as contributions by Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica, Joel Miskulin on accordion, strings-player Jonathan Yudkin (who comes into his own on the stomping ‘The Sky Stood Still’) and Uillean piper Mike McGoldrick, it’s essentially an album about either troubled times or women.

It’s the former that leads off with the bluesy, swampy ‘Crippled Point O’View’ with its clanky junkyard percussion, leading on to ‘Yours No More’, a slide guitar-backed song about America no longer extending its welcome hand to immigrants and refugees, the mood extending to more musically lively banjo picked ‘Good Ole Days’ with its call and response chorus and a reminder that rose coloured reflection often forgets things were not necessarily better back then.

As you might imagine, the pedal steel laced blues ‘Outta Luck’ with its line about how “poison lives in my blood” and talk of hot women, cold cash and drugs doesn’t exactly up the positivism ante. However, the gypsy flavoured ‘South Hampton Street’, a reminiscence of a girl with long black hair and a gypsy concertina busking on the street, has a more upbeat note, though the same cannot be said for another touring memory, ‘Bury, England’, a Dylanesque talking blues with Tyler on dobro about a gig where the venue “smelled like an old folks home inside”, he had “the worst cup o’ coffee” ever and the audience couldn’t give a damn.

The song mentions Guy Clark and there’s a definite echo of him to be heard on ‘Rocky Ground’ while other highlights include the title track’s Waits-like walking blues, the fingerpicked ‘Damn Weeds’, a wry state of the nation comment, and the McGoldrick-featuring Gaelic-hued talking blues ‘The Eyes O’ Josephine’ with its line about having “a pint or two in Belfast” and “an Irish girl forever curls around your heart o’ glass.” Another spin on “the hard times we been going;’ thru”, it’s no huge departure from what he’s been doing for years, but if you liked that, you’ll want a copy of this too. Unless you’re from Bury, of course.

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 MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – Pretty Little Troubles 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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Artist’s website: www.malcolmholcombe.com

‘Pretty Little Troubles’ – lyric video:

DARDEN SMITH – Everything (Compass 746812)

EverythingAfter the release of 2013’s Love Calling, his fourteenth album in thirty years, the Austin-based singer-songwriter considered calling it a day, unsure he had anything left worth saying or that anyone was even listening. Instead, he turned to exploring creative avenues outside of the traditional music business, writing an as yet unpublished book on artists’ perspectives on work, doing songwriting workshops and helping put together a non-profit group called Song-Writing-With-Soldiers, a program to bring professional songwriters and veterans together to write songs about combat and returning home.

This, in tandem with growing older and getting sick of the cynicism of those in power and feeling the need for compassion for strangers, sent him back to reconsider material he’d written over the past five years, both by himself and in collaboration with the likes of Bruce Robison and Matreca Berg. Narrowing the total down to twelve, he recruited a bunch of his favourite musicians, among them bassist Roscoe Beck, guitarist Charlie Sexton and the legendary David Mansfield and, with Beth Nielsen Chapman among those providing harmonies, went back into the studio, persuaded that, yes, he did have something to say and that hopefully someone out there might need to hear it, even if it only changed one person’s day for the better.

Everything is the result, and the self-reflection that went into its genesis can he heard on the lazing lope of the Radney Foster co-penned ‘Soul Searching’ as he sings about “trying to find where I belong” and “what I want to leave behind me when I’m gone”, that contemplation of legacy also to be found on the Simon-esque title track about making the most of life and “when I’m gone here’s a song I hope the angels sing.”

It’s upbeat tone is reflected in many of the songs, notable cases in point would be the repeated piano riff opener. ‘Blessings’. (“just remember that you make a difference and the world is better off that you are here”) and the celebration of individuality in the acoustic rippling ‘Against The Grain’.

Co-written with Berg, ‘Firefly’ is a love song with a classic Jackson Browne flavour while thoughts of mortality inform ‘I Love You, Goodbye’, another song of the heart, this time informed by a friend’s passing, about remembering to take the time to let people know how you feel while you still can.

A timely song about the need for human kindness, ‘Love Will Win The War’ is, Mansfield on mandolin, a strummed folksy march beat with a crowd friendly chorus of ‘hate may win a battle, love will win the war.”

Elsewhere ‘Carousel’, a gently waltzing reflection on a past relationship co-written with Robison, features Kelly Willis on harmonies, album closer ‘Can You See The Moon’ has a late night blues vibe while, another Foster co-write, ‘Forever’ reps the album’s only glimpse of hopelessness and despair, telling of a woman walking out of an abusive marriage and, quite possibly, walking into the water to drown , though it’s equally possible to see it as a cleansing and rebirth before she starts a new life.

Smith says he set out to make an album that brings people together, an affirmation in the face of a world that seeks to them apart. Everything is a whole lotta love.

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 DARDEN SMITH – Everything 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.dardensmith.com

‘Everything’ live:

MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS – Existential Beast (Invisible Hands IHCD74)

Existential BeastA quick follow-up to last year’s Echoes Of The Dreamtime finds the San Franciscan native and erstwhile Brian Jonestown Massacre member in often dreamy cosmic country mood, opening Existential Beast with the pedal steel laced gentleness of ‘Ashes and Seeds’ before getting a little spikier on the urgently flurrying rhythms and driving drums of the echoey sung ‘The Wildwood’ where folk and western colours come together.

It’s one of only two up-tempo numbers, the tranquil mood restored with ‘Lucid I Would Dream’, albeit with darker shadows to its woodwind spooked feel while the gathering sways of ‘Golden Gate’ recall the floaty psychedelic swirls of Laurel Canyon’s more lysergic moments.

Predominantly a capella with layered vocal harmonies, sweetly sung with just a hint of cobwebs, ‘Back To The Source’ is another folk influenced number as is the acoustic fingerpicked ‘Autumn Sun’ which, embellished with strings, brings together the pastoral quality of Nick Drake and the open skies of early Judy Collins.

The title cut is a languid six-minute affair with tasty electric guitar noodling and jazzy-blues solo midway while, by way of distinct contrast, the plucked strings and troubadour guitar styled ‘Oh Raven’ has a strong medieval folk quality and, the second of the more urgent tracks, ‘On The Outside of Heaven’ is a driving 70s rock radio number with circling guitars. It ends in epic form with the near twelve-minute traditional folk ballad styled ‘Another World’, adorned with acoustic guitar and subtle strings, its lyrics fully encapsulating the album’s political concerns about a divided world as its gently flows to its string section play-out. Lovely stuff.

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 MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS – Existential Beast 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]

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Artist’s website: www.mirandaleerichards.com

‘Colours So Fine’ – official video: