RED SKY JULY – The Truth And The Lie (Shadowbirds SHADOW7)

Red Sky July - TTATLFeaturing former Alisha’s Attic member Shelly Poole and her Texas guitarist husband Ally McErlaine alongside Charity Hair from The Alice Band), the trio released their eponymous debut back in 2011 following up with Shadowbirds three years later. For their third, they again set up shop in their Glasgow studio, where they were joined by Ross Hamilton supplying both parts of the rhythm section and Mark Neary on pedal steel alongside very special guest Beth Nielsen Chapman, the Grammy nominated singer-songwriter having previously enlisted them as your support.

There’s no major departure from past form, a pop-infused brand of Americana that has drawn comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, but which is more often probably more akin to The Dixie Chicks on the punchier numbers like the prowling title track’s slurred groove a sit talks of having the secret hots for your best friend. That said, opener ‘Jet Trails’ has very definite spidery Appalachian folk colours, an influence equally evident on the Nielsen Chapman collaboration ‘Strathconon’ which, despite a Scottish sounding title, suggests more Dolly Parton’s hills than the glens of their homeland. The scratchy banjo featured on the lyrically defiant ‘Dodge’ further deepens the association

In-between they serve up a melodic and catchy collection of radio friendly alt-countryish songs which wander between the familiar relationships territory of ‘Taking Myself Back’, and the tumbling chords and catchy chorus of ‘Walking Country Song’, a break-up number that shoehorns in the title of any number of genre classics in dividing the record collection. There’s also the more pointedly personal touch of ‘In Black’, a fiddle backed, mournful paced number inspired by the marital strain caused by McErlaine’s battle with a brain aneurism, sung in the voice of an “old American Little House on the Prairie mother type.”

But, while there may be themes of loss, the overall perspective is one of positivity, in looking to make the best of things, moving on rather than dwelling on misery (‘Long Time Dead’) or, as with the mandolin-led ‘Earthwards’, remembering the good times.

Ending on the close harmony stripped back love song simplicity of ‘Sway’, it’s an assured and accomplished album that, regardless of them singing “your song’s too strange for Nashville and your face is not a ten” should find the wide audience it most definitely deserves.

Mike Davies

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