STEVE CRAWFORD & SPIDER MACKENZIE – Celticana (own label)

CelticanaImagine a sound entirely its own (there’s a brilliant track about a ceilidh) but reminding you of early 70’s Laurel Canyon but additionally with some classic harmonica playing across the whole album. Celticana – the very name links Scotland to Americana – is released on June 1st and is Steve Crawford and Spider Mackenzie’s second album, a dozen years after their stripped back debut, 5a.m. By contrast, Celticana has both a rhythm section and also producer Chris Gage playing a range of instruments to create a fuller, warmer sound.

You’ll have to take my word for it, though, as there aren’t yet any updated videos. The link below is to ‘Sleepy Head’. It’s live, a tad echoing and distant in the recording. If it sounds that good on this video, imagine the quality of the album – for which they re-located to America for a while, developed the sound in Nashville and recorded the album in Austin, Texas. The result is as good a combination of vocal, guitar and harmonica as you’re likely to hear, decorating songs that remind me of the quality and easy skill of early Jackson Browne.

There are eleven tracks on the album, mostly written by Steve Crawford. The opener is ‘Whisky & The Stars’, a pulsating train-song-style, which is actually about whisky and feeling “like I’m never gonna die”. ‘After The Ceilidh’ is as good a description as you’ll ever hear of dancers, smokers, chat-ups, young men with fists, empty glasses, old friends. We’ve all been to one (or several), this song will take you straight back there. ‘Some Peace To My Worried Mind’ is a simple song made rather grand by the interplay between the vocal and harmonica – and one of several on the album (‘Glen Deskry’ is another) that the melody will stay with you. ‘Each and Every Minute’ has been called an open-road classic, and ‘Hands of the Devil’ taps the same seam.

On top of this, there are two harmonica-led instrumentals, written by Spider Mackenzie. ‘Bernera Blues’ mingles Scottish traditional sounds with blues-based harmonica. It sounds like it shouldn’t work; it does and I’d love to see it live. ‘Socks No Shoes’ is the other and you can hear why Spider Mackenzie is seen as one of the UK’s most established harmonica players.

There’s a creative tension in the best art, just holding together, like a tightrope walker not tipping to one side or another, and this album has it. Perhaps the best way I can give a sense of this is to finish on ‘Get Shit Done’, which has a steady driving tune, a wistful theme, a nice mix across the band and a lyric which combines the earthiness of “get shit done” with the poetry of “you’ve been feasting on that honeycomb”.

Good songs, skilled playing, nicely recorded – Celticana has been a treat.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://www.steveandspider.com

‘Sleepy Head’ – live:


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