DARLING WEST – While I Was Asleep (JANSEN 097CD)

While I Was AsleepDarling West released their third album, While I Was Asleep, in February. The band are from Norway and have been played on that country’s mainstream radio channels and at its biggest festivals. Their previous album won a ‘Norwegian Grammy’ (a Spellemann Award). While I Was Asleep (sung in English) sits fairly squarely at the crossroads between country music and delicate pop – splendid gentle melodies with a country-ish band arrangement.

The album opens with the title song, a reflection on death after life and what that sense of mortality means for us, lively drums and harmonica capturing the attention. It’s also the first chance to hear Mari Kreken’s voice, gentle enough to make you relax to its melody, strong enough to keep you listening. ‘Rolling On’ has some lovely picking to keep you captured and moves into the more Americana feel of ‘Loneliness’ and its neat refrain “If this is what heartbreak feel like/I’ve never been broken before”.

‘Better Than Gold’ continues the album’s Americana feel. ‘Always Around’ (“I am the woman who’s always around…..Unlike the good old times, tonight I’ll drink slow”) has a bewitching vocal as the singer reflects on how a relationship has developed, her thinking sparked by a song on the jukebox from the relationship’s early days. ‘Traveller’ is another lovely vocal and finger-picked song, Kreken’s vocal soaring against guitars and strings on a song she describes as “the story of a restless soul, who made some choices in the past and are still haunted by them. Most of us entertain that thought sometimes, ‘What would have happened if…?’ But for some it turns out to be a moment that they will always carry with them” – what if she’d accepted the second dance and not become a traveller? – “The road back to you/Is taking me a lifetime”. The link below takes you to a lovely acoustic version of the song. You only have to watch this song in the traditional echo chamber of a stairwell to imagine how good they’d be in a concert venue.

‘Traveller’ is followed by ‘Ballad Of An Outlaw’. The title alone tells you it’s another Americana flavoured song (though based on the tale of Norwegian outlaw) and again there is a theme of a life unsettled contrasted with what might have been “Will they all weep when they hear I am dead/Or will they salute a killer instead/I know I’ll rest when they lower me down”. The album closes with the driving ‘Don’t I Know You’ and the banjo-inflected ‘How I Wish’.

Darling West have spread their reach from their home country having recently played in Germany and at festivals such as South by South-West in Texas and Americanafest in Nashville. As the video shows, the songs are melodic and easy to listen to, gentle vocals set, predominantly, against finger-picked guitar and banjo. They are currently on tour in Germany and Norway.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://darlingwest.no/english/

‘While I Was Asleep’ – official:

OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW – Volunteer (Columbia Nashville)

VolunteerFrom the opening notes of their latest album, Volunteer, the first to feature electric guitar in 14 years, you know the Grammy award-winning outfit have a good time in store for you, even if the song lyrics aren’t necessarily always as upbeat as the tunes. That said, the footstomping, handclapping ‘Flicker & Shine’ is a fast and furious anthem to unity as they sing how “All together we fall together we ride together we’re wild together All together we fall together every little light will flicker and shine” the song, almost impossibly getting even faster towards the close.

There’s not much community spirit going down though in ‘A World Away’, its jaunty harmonica chugging melody couching a refugee-tinged lyric about being the perpetual one on the other side of the door trying to get in, be it at the party or the pearly gates.

Taking a bluesier turn and again featuring Ketch Secor’s harmonica chops, the choogling midtempo ‘Child of the Mississippi’ pretty much speaks for itself and its lyric about “a barefoot boy born in Dixieland” growing up on and missing the muddy banks. It’s followed by another celebration of being raised and living and loving in the south, Rockingham County to be precise, twangy guitar and Morgan Jahnig’s upright bass underpinning the honky tonk line-dancing flavoured, whistling along ‘Dixie Avenue’ with its call to “rattle our bones before they lay us to rest.”

Secor’s love of the South is also to the fore on the slower, more meditative ‘Look Away’, echoes of The Band in evidence as he sings how “this is the land where salvation ain’t a dirty word” while fiddle, 12 string guitar and pedal steel colour its sweet and sad lyrics and, yes, the title refrain does evoke Dixie’s unofficial national anthem.

It’s back to a handclapping, foot stomping, holler out hoe down with the fiddle blazing ‘Shout Mountain Music’ as Critter Fuqua takes on lead vocals for its party on call to boogaloo your blues, cut a rug and swing your partners until the sun comes up. It stays in a party mood but shifts towards Western Swing with Kevin Haynes singing lead on his own ‘The Good Stuff’, another number that sums itself up in the title as Cory Youts tinkles the saloon ivories.

There’s only two story songs here, the first up being ‘Old Hickory’, again evoking The Band (notably ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’) in its tale of Virgil Lee, a flatwoods boy who could play guitar and channel the pain of the blues like an Opry star but “mistook the devil for a dear friend” and “ultimately got too big for (his) britches” and now “nobody remembers his name.”

Written by Secor, ‘Homecoming Party’ is a sort of negative zone ‘Gentle On My Mind’, to which the melody has a presumably intentional resemblance, reversing the sentiments of John Hartford’s lyrics for a song about a travelling musician coming home “weary and wasted”, taking a sleeping pill so he won’t hear the kids calling him and wary of waking the wife (“when our bodies touch I’ll pull away and not disturb her/Even though I long for love so much it hurts”), and hoping that “Maybe we won’t argue in the morning.”

The traditional ‘Elzick’s Farewell’ provides a fiery instrumental featuring fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitjo before things close up on the second narrative, the pedal steel streaked gently rolling along ‘Whirlwind’, Chance McCoy on electric guitar, conjuring the folk-country musical spirit of Steve Goodman and Gordon Lightfoot in a love song about surviving the hardships and celebrating the joys of twirling twister of life (“There were babies died and babies born, flood and drought and world war…and every town another chance To try and build a winning hand, even when the cards were stacked against”) defying the storms to go “racing home down rainy streets.” Enlist now.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.crowmedicine.com

‘Flicker & Shine’:

ROBERT LANE – Only A Flight Away (own label RGL 03)

Only A Flight AwayFollowing his excellent EP/mini-album, Ends And Starts, Robert Lane has been touring and writing and is back with a full length album with a startling cover design. Made on a crowd-funded shoestring with producer Matthew Pinfield again supporting on drums, bass and piano, Only A Flight Away adds one new name, Lucy Phillips, to the cast and turns the wick up.

Where Ends And Starts was largely acoustic with electric bits, Only A Flight Away is mostly electric. It opens with a bit of prog nostalgia, a short instrumental called ‘The Hundred House’ which gives Robert a chance to show off his electric guitar. At first, you may wonder what you’ve let yourself in for but Robert is a clever and inventive song writer and it always pays to wait and listen.

‘Man Of The Moment’ starts in the same vein. It’s an unveiled attack on a certain US politician but these days you can pick your own target. The clever thing is that, having blasted it’s way through three minutes it suddenly ends in a few bars of a solo acoustic something – probably guitar, but I’m not entirely sure. Having brought things down, Robert switches to the bluesy finger-picked ‘Baby Knows’ and then builds up again through the acoustic opening passage of ‘Right By My Side’ into a rich string-drenched song..

‘Far Too Busy’ has one of the best opening couplets I’ve heard in years. ”She won’t say dirty words, you find they stick in her throat/But she will do dirty things, she never said that she won’t” suggests one kind of song but I think it’s about isolation in the modern world and is probably the best song on the album. The title comes from the penultimate track, ‘Bill Frost’s Flying Machine’, a philosophical song with just a touch of whimsy, and finally we have ‘Who Do You Think You’re Talking For’, a sort of companion piece to Man Of The Moment’. Actually, this could be the best song on the album, too.

It’s a cliché, but Robert and Matthew use the studio like an instrument with multiple overdubs and tracks merging into one another. There are just three musicians here constructing a variety of sounds and styles. I doubt that this album can be reproduced on stage but the songs are strong enough to stand alone with just an acoustic guitar. This is a bloody good record.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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

There’s nothing on-line from Only A Flight Away so here’s an oldie – ‘Break My Heart Blues’ live:

PATRICK SWEANY – Ancient Noise (Nine Mile Records NMR0091)

Ancient NoisePatrick Sweany has seven critically acclaimed albums to his credit. His latest album Ancient Noise will be released in the UK on July 6th. Sweany began as an acoustic musician, having absorbed his father’s collection of 60’s folk, vintage country, soul and blues – but then moved on from an intricate finger-picking/slide guitar style to form a band. You can hear the range of influences in this sparkling album.

Ancient Noise opens with a couple of raw tracks, heavy on the bass drum, staccato guitar and hollering vocal. These two are tracks to get the crowd’s attention at the start of a gig and take their mind off the previous band; they do the same for the album. You can hear the second track, ‘Up And Down’, in the video link below.

Our attention thus grabbed, the third track ‘Country Loving’ is just that – a smoochy, country, piano song with a feel of gospel vocals and soul in the mix. The interplay of styles here isn’t just because of Sweany’s formative influences; the album was recorded (by Grammy Award-winning producer Matt Ross-Spang) at Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis – a place to record (the place…?) from the time of the early rock and roll legends.

‘No Way No How’ and ‘Outcast Blues’ move us through lively funk and blues to ‘Steady’, another change of place – slow and yearning and really a rather lovely love song “I know it’s a matter of action/To keep the dawn from turning black/ I spend my life not losing you…Even if hard times do come back/Your loving man is here to stay”. Sweany says he took himself out of his comfort zone with this album, the slower songs in particular taking him to new places of vulnerability. They work, though.

‘Get Along’ is again funky and leads to ‘Baby Every Night’ and ‘Play Around’ reminiscent of the best of 50’s/60’s soul music as developed later by Southside Johnny et al. These are two great tracks, Sweany’s vocal phrasing sitting beautifully above the band (lovely snatches of organ, bass, lead guitar – even drumsticks – decorating the songs in turn) and female harmonies. I defy you not to sing along to these, either in your head or out loud

The penultimate song ‘Cry Of Amede’ is about Amede Ardoin, a pioneering creole musician beaten in 1934 for accepting a handkerchief from a white woman. The album closes with ‘Victory Lap’, another gem, starting slow and building to another chorus. Again, I defy you not to sing along with this track. The song ends with a pause and then a crescendo of a finish, a great song to finish an album.

As the press notes say, “Ancient Noise …. finds Sweany in top form, willing to push himself stylistically to great effect”. He is currently on tour in America.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website: http://www.patricksweany.com/news.html

 

‘Up And Down’ – live:

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS – Sole Mates (The Orchard)

Sole MatesFisherman – Sole. See what they did there. After avoiding groan-inducing puns for five albums, I suppose the Cornish collective can be excused for finally indulging, especially given yet another fine and rousing assemblage of sea shanties. Currently an eight-piece line-up, the most recent addition being veritable youngster Toby Lobb, their former sound engineer who joined the vocal ranks in 2015, once again they’ve trawled the shanty songbook to reel in both familiar favourites and less well known numbers.

They kick off with an evergreen in the form of the boozy sexual innuendo swayalong ‘Blow The Man Down’ with new lyrics by Jon Cleave, following swiftly by breaking out the squeezebox for the cautionary tale of deceptive floozies, ‘Oh You New York Girls’. Elsewhere, other well gnawed chestnuts include: a wholly a capella ‘Whip Jamboree’, complete with whoop, though it could well be a hiccup; ‘The Bonny Ship The Diamond’, a whaling song inspired the titular whaling ship which, in 1830, along with sixteen other whaling ships, was caught in the ice of Melville Bay, causing the loss of both the vessels and many lives; and ‘Fire Down Below’. The best-known of course is ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’, a lament popularised by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and notably covered by The Dubliners and The Pogues. As you’d expect, the classic chorus is no less rousing here but, unlike most versions, taken at a slower tempo, the reading of the verses bring out the poignancy and sadness at the heart of lyrics about the narrator leaving behind the city and woman he loves.

Band members Cleave and Billy Hawkins contribute character sketch ‘Capt. Stormio’, (complete with seagulls) and Cobb provides the lyrics to an arrangement of ‘Strike The Bell’, itself a maritime adaptation of Henry Clay Work’s 1865 song ‘Ring The Bell Watchman’, a celebration of the Union victory in the American Civil War.

Not shanties as such, ‘Being A Pirate’, a playful ditty about losing your body parts, sounding like something from Gilbert and Sullivan, comes from Canadian singer-songwriter Don Freed (originally titled ‘You Can’t Be A Pirate’) and its subsequent rework by Tom Lewis, while, featuring squeezebox, strummed guitar and clicking percussion ‘Jamaica Farewell’ is actually a Caribbean folk song calypso (popularised by Harry Belafonte), here in medley with band member Jason Nicholas’s contribution to the genre, ‘Green Banana Johnny’.

It ends with two shanties proper, ‘The Mermaid’, sometimes known as ‘The Stormy Winds’, or ‘The Waves On The Sea’, a popular number in the American folk tradition, though the lads do sneak in a mention of Port Isaac, their home base, as well as Padstow which, in turn, gets the final honours with the unaccompanied mortality-themed shanty gospel ‘The Padstow Leaving Shanty’. An unpretentious and hugely enjoyable catch.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: https://thefishermansfriends.com/

‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ – live:

GARETH OWEN – Rolling By (own label)

Rollng ByWhen I first moved to South Shropshire a few years ago, I found myself living just a couple of doors away from writer and broadcaster Gareth Owen. And then I realized that I was also living by country legend-in-his-own-mind Virg Clenthills, Gareth’s country-singing alter ego. I even played guitar for Virg occasionally, and even acting as body double – well, picking-hand double –on a Virg video. So when Gareth’s CD Rolling By rolled by my mailbox, I was expecting at the very least a collection of excellent songs, and I wasn’t disappointed.

All the songs and lead vocals here are Gareth’s, ably backed by producer Ed Begley on keyboards and backing vocals, Ruby Turner on backing vocals, James Kitchman on guitars, Matt Park on pedal steel, Ruth Goller on basses and backing vocals, and Tony Bianco on drums and percussion.

  1. ‘Lady Whiskey’ is a desperate story of a man in the process of losing everything to alcoholism.
  2. ‘Ashes And Diamonds’ is a quintessential country and western ballad. Nicely done.
  3. Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently reviewed Forever Words that ‘Nowhere’ reminds me a little of Johnny Cash, both the song and the delivery. But it’s an excellent song and performance in its own right.
  4. ‘Walk Out The Door’ has some of the feel of early country/rock and roll crossover songs like Hank Williams’s ‘Move It On Over’. I particularly like the pedal steel here.
  5. ‘Jesse James And The Barber’ is very much in the Virg Clenthills mould, quirky and facetious, much of it spoken rather than sung. Thematically it might remind you of ‘I’ve Danced With A Man Who’s Danced With A Girl, Who’s Danced With The Prince Of Wales’, yet it has a serious undertone that Farjeon’s 1927 song never aspired to.
  6. ‘Nothing Better To Do’ is one of those femme fatale/Jezebel/devil-woman songs, performed effectively enough.
  7. ‘Dream River’ is another heart-tugging country ballad.
  8. ‘Telling Lies Like This’ is a little rockier, a little reminiscent of Dylan on recent albums like Together Through Life.
  9. ‘Before I Get To Heaven’ is, for me, the best song on the CD, telling the story of the last hours of Hank Williams set against sparse keyboards and acoustic bass.
  10. ‘Rolling By’ is a song of reminiscence with a catchy chorus. A good end to the album.

It’s no surprise that one of Gareth’s influences was Tom T. Hall, a country singer noted for his storytelling in song. That said, some of his lighter material – such as ‘Jesse James And The Barber’ here – is also somewhat reminiscent of Shel Silverstein, though Gareth’s vocals are nearer to a lighter-toned Johnny Cash than Silverstein’s off-the-wall vocalizing.

While the CD is issued under Gareth’s real name, there’s a lot of Virg here, in both the repertoire and the vocal delivery. Without Virg’s patter, the darkness behind some of these stories has more of the impact they deserve. Perhaps the slightly OTT vocal delivery here and there hints at the parodic drama that makes Gareth’s alter ego’s stagecraft so entertaining, though. Which makes me wonder whether Virg should get a CD of his own, rather than selfie-bombing Gareth’s. Nevertheless, this would be a worthy souvenir of a Virg/Gareth gig. And a wider range of country lovers might be enthralled to hear what sometimes comes out of the hills of South Shropshire.

David Harley

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: www.garethowen.com

It’s hard to find videos of Gareth so here’s Virg Clenthills with ‘A Song For Hank Williams’: