MIKE GROGAN – Too Many Ghosts (Poacher Records PRCD105 & PRLP106)

Too Many GhostsMike Grogan’s musical background spans many genres – rock, punk and indie among them. He became a solo artist in 2011 and released his first album in 2012. Too Many Ghosts is released on 10th February 2017 and will be his third solo release. Mike has written all the songs on the album.

Right from the first track, ‘Show Them What Love Can Do’, the album emphasizes how positive life and humanity can be “we’ll be solid in our stand for freedom…we’ll stand side by side when people need us/we’ll be something you can shout about”. The song has a chorus you can easily picture an audience singing along with on a live performance. This sets the scene for the album and a number of the other tracks have equally strong choruses that should go down well live and lyrics that also reflects positively on the human spirit – notably ‘Let Me Feel the Rain’, ‘The Way’, ‘Big Ships’, ‘Heaven Is Here’.

The promotional video below is introduced by Mike Grogan personally, “ Too Many Ghosts was written as a reflection on the baggage we sometimes carry around with us and in reality that baggage can stop us appreciating what’s in front of us”. You can hear this in ‘Hallelujah’ with its message that the superficialities of life won’t help in the long run and that we should leave the world better than we found it. It is also to be heard in the lyrics from the title song “If I could make life better for you/tell me what, oh what, should I do” (‘Too Many Ghosts’)

My personal favourite, capturing the generosity of spirit in these songs, and all the more powerful for its simpler arrangement is ‘Wish You’ where the singer is looking to the future on behalf of another (an ex-lover? an old friend? It’s not clear, but it doesn’t matter – what counts is that he sings of what he wishes to happen for them) “Don’t be looking backwards…..I wish you the world/I wish you the stars/ I wish you the life that you deserve, I hope you go far”.

Mike Grogan will be touring solo across the country in 2017 – just voice and guitar – and in the summer will also be playing festivals with a full band.

Mike Wistow

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 MIKE GROGAN – Too Many Ghosts 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.mikegrogan.co.uk

THE GRAHAMS – The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio) (Three Sirens Music Group)

Live In StudioAlyssa and Doug Graham have spent nearly their entire lives exploring music together. Friends since she was seven and he was nine, they became a couple in their teens, then husband and wife. Along the way, they also became The Grahams, a dynamic Americana duo. Their 2013 debut, Riverman’s Daughter, was followed-up by riding the rails. From this they got a studio album, a documentary and a live album – in venues from Sun Studio to the City of New Orleans train. The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio) is a collection of these songs, none of which have been previously released in the UK or Ireland.

The album opens with the bundle of energy which is ‘Glory Bound’. The lyrics tell, in theory, of regret for the things we do when we are young but the tune is the joy of youth not the downbeats of regret; the chorus is uplifting “These engines whine when the pistons sound/This train is glory bound”. Watch the video and you’ll see the threads of the album: the feisty female voice, lively Americana music, humour as well as seriousness, “Wish I hadn’t written my rebellion on my lungs”, desert, trains.

The next two tracks continue the energy and feistiness of the opener. In ‘Griggstown’ Alyssa Graham sings of pistols, horses, the dark side of town, bottles in hand. On ‘Gambling Girl’, “I might have been your girl once/But you’re never gonna be my man” and “You can’t trust a gambling girl”.

Then the album moves to a different place. ‘Lay Me Down’, ‘Tender Annabelle’, ‘Broken Bottle’, and ‘The Lonely Ones’ are gentler but still from life’s harder places “I sometimes get burned from the heat of beauty” (‘Broken Bottle’) “Keep me safe from any danger except for this/Take me out along the brink, Where I don’t need to think/Shut my eyes tender angel with a kiss” (‘Lay Me Down’). ‘Blow Wind Blow’ in particular balances the acoustic guitars with the singer’s strong voice and balances verses about family members against a chorus inspired by the line from King Lear that gives the song its title.

‘Biscuits’ is an invitation to the local boys to give up fishing so the singer can show them ‘”how the biscuits rise”. This is not a song about cooking. It has a jaunty tune, a knowing vocal, double entendres, references to Maybelline, and “I got something special cooking”.

The dream is to play with as many great people as we can, and share the music as much as we can”, said Doug Graham. The friends working with the duo include John Fullbright, Alvin Youngblood Hart, members of the Watkins Family and the Milk Carton Kids and many more.

At the end is a version of ‘City of New Orleans’. Like the whole album, you get the sense that it was great fun to record and that the duo are finding a path to their own version of the American dream as they travel both musically and geographically. The album is released on January 27th. Enjoyable as the album is, this feels like music to see live and the release coincides with a 14-date tour to England, beginning in Sheffield on February 22nd and closing in London on March 9th.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: http://thegrahamsmusic.net/about.html

‘Glory Bound’ – official video:

SON OF THE VELVET RAT – Dorado (Fluff and Gravy FnG037/Mint 400)

DoradoDorado is released on February 17th, the sixth album of husband and wife duo Georg Altzeibler and his wife Heiki Binder who left Austria to make their home in Joshua Tree, California in 2013. They had an impressive career with five albums to their credit and the description “best Austrian singer-songwriter ever”. The new album combines this mixture of European tradition with a modern American feel and a singing voice that draws you in to listen to the songs. Imagine a late Dylan voice, maybe Tom Waits or Nick Cave mixed with the songscape of Brel and Brassens and it will put you in the right territory. There are ten tracks and they take you into this area, a slightly off-kilter and edgy world. The voice is deep and the arrangement is almost jazzy, bluesy, slow pauses after the beat and almost a shuffling feel with a touch of Americana.

As for the songs, ‘Surfer Joe’ is the most obviously commercial and should get radio play. ‘Sweet Angela’ is a great love song to a beautiful girl glimpsed at a demonstration “waving a banner like a headline of your resume” – with the twist that the singer doesn’t actually know her name and has called her Angela so he can write the song. In general, you can hear the imagery as simply descriptive but it’s also metaphorical. You can hear the imagery of the album as simply descriptive but it’s also metaphorical. Take the opening two lines of the first song, ‘Carry On’, “Summer’s gone without a reason….Tell myself Fall’s just a season and not some strange kind of letting go”. Some of it is simply startling “She’s a scar on your eyeball” from ‘Tiger Honey’ or the impact of the last three words in this, from ‘Shadow Song’, “Skin to skin, bone to bone, thigh to thigh/So entwined and so alone”.

My two favourites, though are ‘Love’s the Devil’s Foe’ – with a yearning voice set against a late night tune – and ‘Blood Red Shoes’, the two voices complementing each other beautifully, a chorus that’s impossible not to hum along with, some laid back lead guitar, some gentle brass and lyrics like “I see you follow me and I‘ll follow you anywhere/From the killing floor all the way to the County Fair/You got blood red shoes”.

Oh yes, and even if the music were no good you’d want to read producer Joe Henry’s sleeve notes, an example being: “For some of us, songs are the only cards to play; the only thing our hands will ever hold or our hearts possess suggesting the possibility of bankable redemption.” The album won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you can picture (and like the thought of) listening at 1:00a.m. in a darkened European cellar bar with no desire to go home, I imagine this to be the ideal setting. In the meantime, the stereo does a pretty good job.

Mike Wistow

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 SON OF THE VELVET RAT – Dorado 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://sonofthevelvetrat.com

‘Blood Red Shoes’ – official video:

DOGHOUSE ROSES – Lost Is Not Losing (Yellowroom Music YLLWRM-010)

Lost Is Not LosingLost Is Not Losing came to me for review – I think you might like this, was the suggestion. For the past week it has been on continual play in my car.

Doghouse Roses are from Glasgow, a duo comprising Iona Macdonald and Paul Tasker who have written the songs on the album. Macdonald has a gloriously clear voice. Lost Is Not Losing is the duo’s third album but if, like me, you’ve not previously come across Doghouse Roses, then Macdonald’s voice has been likened to Sandy Denny. The album opens with ‘Pour’ “Pour me another, that’s what he said / For I’d rather be drunk or I’d rather be dead” and you are taken straight into a tangled tale of love and alcoholism. Tasker’s finger picking is equally a delight and the second track ‘To Decide’ gives you half a minute of Tasker playing alone in the introduction.

By now I was hooked. ‘Feed the Monster’, ‘New Year Rag’ and ‘After Sun’ are overtly political “Build an ivory tower for the worship of the few/ Trust them with your life like they’d do the same for you/Wasn’t it easier just to lose/Feed the monster, make it stronger”. Macdonald has said that politics isn’t about detached politicians. It’s about how we choose to live our lives every day and how we choose to treat the people and the world around us and these songs have a subtlety sometimes missing in protest songs.

On a number of tracks the duo are supported by Craig Laurie on drums and Stephen McGourty on bass and the album moves easily between the acoustic duo and the wider band songs: ‘Diesel Engine’ – where there is a guest co-lead vocal from Biff Smith of New International and lead guitar from Slovenian virtuoso Dejan Lapanja, ‘Weather the Storm’ and ‘Crooked Life’.

If you want an introduction to the duo, though, have a listen to ‘Fairground’, the ballad of a former prostitute told through the complex emotions of the lyric set against a lively melody and Jez Hellard’s harmonica.

Mike Wistow

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 Doghouse Roses 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.doghouseroses.net

Doghouse Roses talk about themselves and Lost Is Not Losing: