THE BLUSHIN’ ROULETTES – Old Mill Sessions (Self Released)

OldWellSessionsBased out of their new home in western North Carolina, Angie Heimann and Cas Sochacki are souls of the land, years spent living on his family’s farm in Mendocino with the album recorded at the titular studio in the Northern California redwoods and mountains.

You can almost smell the air and hear the crystal waters running in the couple’s music, stripped down acoustic roots etched out on her guitar and his Dobro with backing from pianist Luke Stone (who gets his own solo interlude), guitarist Buddy Stubbs and the late  Jubal Stedman (he unexpectedly passed this February) on drums as well as contributions from Kate Lawler on cello and Gwyneth Moreland providing harmony. Heimann, who also writes the material, is the lead vocalist, her high lonesome drawling vibrato (heard to good effect on opener ‘Sadness Thief’) having been likened to Iris DeMent (though with less warble), though Sochacki’s twangy baritone pitches in on playful relationship number ‘Let It Roll’ where they sound a little like a backwoods Nancy and Lee. Continue reading THE BLUSHIN’ ROULETTES – Old Mill Sessions (Self Released)

NANCY CASSIDY – Memphis (Twitter Twatter Music TTMCD107)

nancyAlthough she’s had the most success (at least in the States) with her albums for children and young families (you may not know the name, but she wrote ‘Chicken Lips And Lizard Hips’, better known through Springsteen’s live sets), the Californian also has a respected career as a folk singer and songwriter, her voice warm and soulful with shades of the more seasoned Judy Collins, Tracy Nelson and even a little Baez while listening to the melody line of the plaintive acoustic ‘We Walk With Grace’ you might suspect that John Prine numbers among her influences.

Although rootsy Americana is the bedrock, she delivers a varied set of bruised love songs, opening with the gentle sway of ‘Backwater Blue’, echoing its mood with the wistful, cello and pedal steel accompanied ‘Déjà Vu Of The Skin’ and the slow waltzing ‘Fire In The Night’, but also turning in the finger-snapping tuba, clarinet, trumpet  and piano Dixieland jam ‘Come On In’, a blues gospel ‘Salvation In The Truth’ ‘Broken Wing Blues’’ piano boogie and the piano back soulfully drawled title track with its swelling trumpet flourishes, soaring harmonies and melodic evocation of Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ taken at a  slower Robbie Robertson tempo.

After keeping the little ones entertained for so many years, it would be a pity if more grown ups didn’t discover her too.

Mike Davies

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THE ACCIDENTALS – Bitter Sweet (Self Released)

AccidentalsNot to be confused with the New York a capella choir (or indeed several others) of the same music terminology name, Katie Larson and Savannah Buist are a pair of Michigan high school multi-instrumentalists (cello, violin, piano, ukulele and glockenspiel all loom large) who share lead (both have an engagingly sweet trill, though Susannah’s is possibly the huskier) and harmonies on an infectious, upbeat 15 track collection of indie folk.

This is their second album in as many years and, while most of the tracks are fleshed out by a variety of other musicians providing the likes of bass, drums and keys, it’s the girls, who also arrange their own material, who hold everything together.

If you’re seeking comparisons, then perhaps a cocktail of The Roches, First Aid Kit, early Indigo Girls, Regina Spektor  and Juliana Hatfield might be a reasonable description; as both the finding love in the grocery aisle tale, Miso Soup (one of the two tracks featuring just the duo), and clattery stomp Grisly Bear show, they certainly share the sense of playfulness and fun that characterises all of the above.

They offer plenty of variety too, opening with the bustling ‘The Silence’ and fluidly flitting from the breathy  title track’s jazzy shaker percussion sway and the swampy blues ‘Ghost Of A Lie’ to the pizzicato folk pop of ‘Brake’, the sparse acoustic ‘Golden Lantern’’s cobwebby mood and the languidly narcotic, slow waltzing ‘Lemons In Chamomile’.

As if their musical talents weren’t precocious enough for their young age (both come from musical families), they’re also accomplished songwriters, although Buist’s more melancholic, reflective offers take the lion’s share of the credits with particular highlights being the emotional vulnerability of  the strings-brushed ‘Bulletproof Glass’, the anti-war themed ‘Blessed’ and ‘City Of Cardboard’ where she sings “One day it’ll burn and the lesson you’ll learn is your paper holds nothing but words and records.”

They graduate in May, after which time they’ll be setting off to spread the word with a summer tour of Europe. I’d recommend keeping a sharp eye out for the dates, these girls are going to become very much in demand.

Mike Davies

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THE MEN WITH STRONG ARMS –Sunshine Street (Own Label)

Strong armsComprising Jonlondon, Andrew McCabe and Paul Gunter, the Hove trio is relatively big in Brighton and around the South East.  However, the chances of them translating that to a more national following are slim. That’s got nothing to do with their music or abilities, both of which have the maturity and seasoning of years of experience, but, as they themselves acknowledge, they’re no spring chickens nor do any of them have a notable pedigree that would make them folk veterans for whom age is no concern. Add to this the problems of getting their music played on anything other than local specialist shows when  national broadcasters rarely look beyond the established and the trendy new names, the difficulty of getting far flung gigs to  build word of mouth when you need word of mouth to get the gigs  in the first place and the lack of any substantial promotion machine to publicise the album, which is only available through their website and online retailers, and you can see what they’re up against.

However, it’s bands like these who are truly the lifeblood of the folk circuit, not just pulling in crowds to their local venues but sometimes travelling the country to play to a handful of people without even covering expenses. Without  them, as rising stars price themselves  out of consideration and leave their roots behind, folk clubs would find themselves struggling for bookings, Band like these can be relied on to always fill an empty slot and deliver a solid night’s entertainment, keeping the clubs alive. They may even shift some copies of their CDs on the night.

The trio play contemporary folk with shades of jazz, rock and bluesy Americana, but with a very British lyrical sensibility that shares kinship with names like Ray Davies, Vinny Peculiar and other observers of ordinary lives. Listening to their mini-album, I’d not be surprised to learn their combined record collection included work by Iain Matthews, John Martyn, Ralph McTell and Steely Dan while songwriter Jonlondon’s voice occasionally reminds me of Gerry Colvin from Colvin Quarmby.

They open with the song from which they take their name, the acapella intro laying out the ensuing tribute to those who build the country, working on the railroads, in the shipyards and down the mines, putting in ‘hours that would cripple you and me’  while Nial Brown provides moody jazz-blues keyboard backing. With its cascading chorus line and circling guitar pattern, the midtempo ‘Precious Times’ is more lyrically intimate, a call to make the most of small moments, while, showcasing their tight harmonies,  the title track  paints a nostalgically idyllic picture of small town suburban and village life with their visiting libraries, milk floats and women’s coffee mornings. At five and half minutes, it’s slightly overlong and could have profitably lost a verse and chorus, but that’s a minor niggle.

The three remaining numbers are no less engaging; the jaunty jazzy swing of ‘My Bread And Wine’ with its clever imagery of love as food, the moody insomniac  rumble of ‘Sleep’ and the rainy night and streetlamp haze atmosphere of  ‘Late Walk Home’’s introspective isolation.

They probably need to vary the sound and mood a little next time round, but this is an assured debut that deserves to be heard beyond Brighton’s borders. These strong arms warrant a big hand.

Mike Davies

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THE APRIL MAZE – The April Maze (Own Label A-MAZE 005)

april mazeAn Anglo-Australian husband wife duo comprising Todd Mahew on guitar and banjo and Sivan Agarn on cello and guitar, it’s a fair bet that no one outside of the Antipodes, or indeed Melbourne, would have heard of them until a couple of years ago when their sophomore album, Two, registered on Spotify’s Top 100 most popular new releases and they went on to rack up some 70,000 hits.

Their self-titled UK debut draws on their two Australian releases to showcase their indie alt-folk, much influenced by the sound (and fashions) of 70s San Francisco, Agam’s voice a rich cocktail of dark molasses and sweet honey (particularly bluesy on ‘Tumbleweed’) while Mahew provides warm harmonies and counterpoints. Wisely, she dominates, with her other half only taking lead on three numbers, uptempo strummed folk rocker ‘I’ve Seen The Rain’, released as a single last year and one of the two new tracks, Winter’s story of his brother’s romantic travails and  ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ which, taken at a slower pace and rhythm than the original, is one of two Beatles covers included.

Although his banjo makes its presence felt (especially on the slow waltzing, stripped down ‘Salt Water’), as with Sivan’s  vocals, it’s the cello that dominates, giving a dark, earthy tone, fleshed out with violin, mandolin and bouzouki on several tracks, the latter pair evident alongside upright bass on the jazzy cabaret rhythms of ‘The Protest Song’.

The second Lennon and McCartney choice is album closer, a faithful acoustic guitar reading of  ‘Two Of Us’, while a third cover comes with a rather lovely homespun folk account of the Hooters’ classic ‘And We Danced’. The other non-album inclusion was also a single release, ‘Don’t Let the Bastards Bring You Down’, a blend of traditional  and tribal folk with orchestral flourishes inspired by Agam’s experience of bullying. They say that one of the best ways of beating bullies is to rise above them. She and their music can look down from great heights.

Mike Davies

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CLUTCHING AT STRAWS – Come What May (Straws Music B00HCLMHZQ)

Come-What-MayHailing from Robert Plant’s stomping ground, Kinver, this mini album is the first release from the  fledgling contemporary folk rock quartet comprising James Wheeler (guitar, violin, mandolin), James Baskett (cello, bass), Thomas Simm (piano, guitar, ukulele) and Jake Mahal (percussion). I can assure you, it won’t be the last. This auspicious debut quietly slipped out late last year, but is deservedly getting another push and should, if justice is done, make them one of the most talked about names on the scene.

Lazy comparisons will automatically mention the Mumfords (though including a cover of ‘Little Lion Man’ in their live set does kind of make it inevitable), but their DNA also shows strands of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Dreaming Spires, Seth Lakeman and upcoming Birmingham outfit Boat To Row.

Although Wheeler handles the lion’s share of the lead vocals, it’s Simm’s tremulous tones that  take the spotlight on the ridiculously infectious title track which, with its scampering rhythm,  should get any lethargic festival crowd on their feet. Not that the other numbers are sloppy seconds by any means. Nodding to trad and shanty influences in its shifting tempo, Forged Tales shows off their terrific harmonies while an equally catchy ‘Look At You Now’ adds tonal colour with some tasty gently lapping banjo ripples courtesy of  fellow Staffordshire stalwart and acclaimed maestro Dan Walsh.

Taking down  the mood and pace, ‘Love Lost Sold’ has an almost medieval air to it reminiscent of early Jethro Tull while ‘The Price You Paid’ strips everything back to a simple acoustic guitar and interlaced vocals and, introducing clarinet to their palette, ‘Through Your Eyes’ winds things up in magnificent form, building from  an almost hymnal yearning to a full blooded chorus singalong that defies you not to raise your hands to the sky and sway along. With wry wit, they take their name, of course, from the proverb about drowning men and hopeless last acts of desperation. But in a sea too often tossed by waves of mediocrity, they’re a real life raft.

Mike Davies

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If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us. Ordering through / helps us to earn a few pennies to contribute to the sites running costs.