TYLOR & THE TRAIN ROBBERS – Best Of The Worst Kind (own label)

Best Of The Worst KiindOregon-born and Boise Idaho-based Tylor Ketchum is a distant relative of Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, a Texas outlaw and was part of the train-robbing Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, who serves as inspiration for the band’s name and the new album’s six-minute centrepiece, ‘The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum’. Part sung, part spoken in the titular character’s voice, set to a largely chugging rhythm and a Tennessee Rose Gretch guitar with the lyrics featuring the title line, it’s a narrative country number recounting Ketchum’s notorious career and Best Of The Worst Kind, which features his image on the cover, is released to coincide with the anniversary of his hanging.

The band comprises Ketchum, his brother Jason Bushman on bass, and the generation older Johnny “Shoes” Pisano on lead guitar and Flip Perkins on drums, the rest of the tracks are more of a Red Dirt country nature, opening with the ringing guitar work and steady drum beat ‘Lost And Lonely Miles’, a life on the road number, has him asking “did you take the hard way, was it the way to go? If you take it easy on yourself you might think you have nothing left to know.” The musical framework’s reinforced with the mid-tempo drawled escape-themed ‘Before It’s Too Late’ and the kickbeat strummed and twangsome shuffle ‘Good At Bad News’ about taking adversity with a stoical attitude.

Featuring lap steel, the reflective Storyteller, an ode to his grandfather celebrating a tale well spun, showcases the band’s slower, more acoustic aspects and squeezes in a reference to James Arness’s role as Marshall Dillon on 60s TV Western series Gunsmoke, as does the resigned closing strings-embossed ‘Place Like This’ where he sings “In a place like this, it’s easy not to give a damn” and the carry on and hope it works out ‘Pave Your Way’, on both of which Ketchum’s underlying John Prine influences make themselves felt.

For the most part, however, things move along at a mid to uptempo pace, the songs built around a memorable hooks-laden melody live, descending chords and a catchy chorus, Ketchum’s laid back delivery and voice at times reminiscent of Steve Earle or Mike Cooley from Drive By Truckers. ‘Still Getting High’, the melody of which in part calls early Guy Clark to mind, takes a swipe at organised religion, suggesting we’d all get along better without it “and see all there is to see before we judge” and how “this black and white world could use a little color”, and the train-time rhythm ‘Fumbling For Rhymes’ turns its eye on making music for a living, and wishing it paid better.

Things get a touch funkier for the bassline led ‘Construction’ (a song that will strike a chord with anyone who’s been delayed by roadworks on their way home) and the choppy Pisano licks and bluesy harmonica of ‘Hide Your Goat’, the title (and lyrical message) a reference to Steve Gilliland’s motivational book Strategies to Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You. The remaining track, ‘Few And Far Between’, sees Ketchum share the vocal spotlight in an acoustic-based, mandolin-flecked lovers parting duet with his fiancé, and Pisano’s daughter, Jennifer.

It doesn’t set out to push any envelopes or be more than what it is. What is it is being a solid, highly listenable album of Southern-streaked Americana crammed with hummable tunes and well-crafted lyrics that deserves to find a wide audience.

Mike Davies

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‘The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum’ – official video:

DAN WALSH – Trio (Rooksmere Records RRCD118)

TrioI’ve always liked Dan Walsh ever since his debut album, Tomorrow’s Still To Come. It was perhaps unpolished by modern standards but the potential shone through every note. Sadly, I was disappointed by his previous album, Verging On The Perpendicular, but I’ve always thought that Dan was at his best with someone to spark off. At first it was Will Pound, then the UFQ and his partnership with Alistair Anderson was something to be seen and marvelled at. Now his trio with Ciaran Algar and Nic Zuppardi have committed themselves to record and, for me, everything is back on track.

All the material is Dan’s except for the closing ‘Sleep With One Eye Open’ by Lester Flatt. We’re told that it’s a bluegrass classic but it seems oddly hard-bitten.  The opener is ‘Late Night Drive’, a real knees-up with Algar’s fiddle and Zuppardi’s mandolin sharing the second lines. Next is the first song, ‘Life On The Ground’, about homelessness and inspired by a lady Dan met on the street. It holds a political message if you listen carefully. ’80 Years Of Pleasant Half Hours’ is a funky tune which lets Ciaran stretch out a bit and ‘Same Time Different Place’ was inspired by a street cleaner in Stafford.

‘Dizzy Heights’ is a real show-stopper, allowing the chaps to explore their jazz leanings and giving Nic a chance to show off, although there are chances to do that a-plenty throughout the record. Dan gets really country on the next song, ‘The Light Of Day’, and reflects on the life of a touring musician on ‘When I’m Back Around’. It’s a familiar theme but done very well in this song. Two more instrumental sets bring us to the Lester Flatt closer. If I were to be critical I might say that it’s an odd note to finish on but it’s such a good song and it’s great to hear Dan, Ciaran and Nic firing on all cylinders.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: https://www.danwalshbanjo.co.uk/

‘Late Night Drive’ – live:

JESSIE BUCKLEY – Wild Rose (Official Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Island)

Wild RoseThe story about how ex-con Glaswegian single mother country singer Rose-Lynn Harlan pursues her dreams of going to Nashville, while I have reservations about the film, which too often resorts to cliché, has one epiphany too many and features a cringeworthy scene with Bob Harris, there’s no doubting either the performance or the singing by its star, Jessie Buckley.

As such, the OST serves as her debut album, in character, featuring the songs, some covers, others original, performed in the film. Irish-born Buckley, of course, is no stranger to singing. She was runner up in I’d Do Anything, the TV show competition to find a Nancy for a new production of Oliver! and went on to appear in the West End revival of A Little Night Music. Not a country fan before she got involved in the film, it’s become a passion and she pours herself into it.

Loaded at the end, four numbers are instrumentals, three bluegrass tunes by The Bluegrass Smugglers and ‘Le Petit Chat Gris’, a fiddle and foot stomp recording by Nashville’s Hillary Klug, the rest are all Buckley.

Things kick off with a punchy full-throated cover of Primal Scream’s ‘Country Girl’ setting the theme and the musical template, immediately reinforced by an equally muscular take on Chris Stapleton’s ‘Outlaw State of Mind’. The covers, many of which tie in with the film narrative, continue with solid readings of two Emmylou Harris classics, ‘Born To Run’ and a yearning ‘Boulder To Birmingham’, Kate & Anna McGarrigle’s ‘Going Back To Harlan’ (also popularised by Harris) John Prine’s ‘Angel From Montgomery’, ‘Covered In Regret (Blue, Black & Red)’ by UK country duo Little Blue Numbers, a fiddle-driven romp through Hank Snow standard ‘I’m Movin’ On’ and a brace of gospel-country songs by Wynona Judd, a reflective acoustic picked ‘Peace In This House’ and, underpinned by a tribal bass drum pulse, ‘When I Reach The Place I’m Going’.

The remaining tracks were written in response to the storyline by Buckley herself in collaboration with Simon Johnson, the guitarist with UK Americana outfit Southern Companion (and half of Little Blue Numbers), embracing the gutsy outlaw country of ‘Robbing The Bank of Life’, the drum thump, banjo-flecked driven bluegrass stomp ‘That’s The View From Here (Famous Folk Are Weird)’, and the gentle waltzing inspirational ballad ‘Alright To Be Wrong’. The two standouts, not just of the original material but the album as a whole, are the guitar ringing twangy swagger of ‘Cigarette Row (Five O’Clock Freedom)’, which (briefly heard in the film performed by The Southern Companion and hopefully scheduled for a stand-alone EP of non-Buckley tracks in the film) deserves to have others queuing up to cover, and the film’s gradually building closing showstopper, ‘Glasgow (No Place Like Home)’, a slow swaying track that fully showcases Buckley’s immense vocal talent and gets a live recording reprise as a bonus track at the end of the album.

This is unlikely to do a Star Is Born in the charts, but when it comes to singing country, Buckley can hold her own with Lady GaGa any day.

Mike Davies

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Website: www.wildrosefilm.co.uk/home/

‘Boulder To Birmingham’ – live on RTE:

JUNE TABOR – Airs And Graces (Topic TTSC004)

Airs And GracesAs you must know by now, to celebrate their 80th birthday Topic are re-releasing a series of classic albums in deluxe editions. Airs And Graces is among the first tranche and is arguably one of the most important. When June Tabor first appeared on the scene I’d just moved into the area and was still finding out where the folk clubs were – it was word of mouth in those days – thus I read about her long before I’d seen her on stage or heard her on record. I’ve made up for it since but coming back to a remastered issue of this debut is a real delight.

From this vantage point in time most of the songs are familiar enough but I’m certain that June introduced the world to ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and it was several years before we could get our hands on Eric Bogle’s first album. Airs And Graces opens with the dancing sound of ‘While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’ – that’s Nic Jones on guitar. He was one of the few guitarists who could have matched the liberties June, who was brought up singing unaccompanied, was wont to take with the rhythm of a song. This is still my favourite version of the song. Nic appears again on ‘Bonny May’ which is also decorated by Jon Gillaspie’s sopranino recorder and I must admit that I’d forgotten Jon’s atmospheric accompaniment to ‘Young Waters’ – probably the only use of a roxichord in traditional music.

Next is ‘Plains Of Waterloo’ and June follows Shirley and Dolly Collins in recording it. It’s gobsmacking to think that this was only the third freely available recording of the song. ‘Bonny May’ is a relative of ‘The Broom Of The Cowdenowes’, which I didn’t know until now but I think everyone knew ‘Reynardine’ by then. In fact, June had a remarkable ability to find a song, then find a variant of it and then make it popular. ‘Young Waters’, ‘Waly Waly’ and ‘The Merchant’s Son’ are familiar stories in folk-song but when did we hear them first, I wonder.

There are four bonus tracks, all predating the recording of this album and essentially field recordings. ‘The Fair Maid Of Wallington’ includes the words “silly sisters”, which were to become famous later and ‘The Royal Oak’ was recorded at the venue of one of those folk clubs that I didn’t know about. Sadly, it wasn’t released on the LP that Stagfolk issued. Two others did and good luck with finding them.

We are used to hearing a rather more sombre June Tabor these days but even forty years ago she couldn’t be called a flibbertigibbet. That voice was magnificent and could deliver a song like few others.

Dai Jeffries

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Label website: www.topicrecords.co.uk

There weren’t many videos in 1976 but this may suffice:

BEAU – Damascus Road (Cherry Red BEAUDR1)

Damascus RoadCelebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of his debut album for John Peel’s Dandelion Records, Trevor Midgley follows-up Rattle The Asylum Bars with another playful but biting collection of 12-string led protest song commentaries that again reinforces his status as a British answer to Phil Ochs.

He kicks off taking a swipe at the back scratching that goes on in the world of Freemasonry – although clearly with wider implications – on jauntily catchy folk blues ‘Men of the World’ in which a wealthy, well-connected drunk driver gets his mates to pull a few strings to make things go away and, as a bonus, sends the bill to Her Ladyship.

The #MeToo movement spawns the sprightly waltztime ‘Kitten Kaboodle’, described as a “a traditional casting couch ballad” about a voluptuous blonde actress playing the game to land a part in a James Bond movie, the producer showing her his ‘thingamabob’ as “one of the perks of the job” and acceding to the director’s wandering eye and his penchant for ‘close-ups’. Of course, being who he is, he can’t resist courting controversy by suggesting that this is a two way game, since, “her Oscar performance, above and beyond/Brought Kitten a part in another James Bond”.

The punningly titled ‘Lacey Fayre’ muses on how the fight for female emancipation by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst has somehow ended up being manifested in the right of today’s liberated women to go out and get blasted on cheap vodka, getting fixed up in A&E, go clubbing and become social media celebrities for their lifestyles.

Meanwhile, political targets include duplicitous diplomats whose immunity puts them above the law (‘The Great Game’), subtle and covert Machiavellianism through which strong states dominate the weak in which wars are fought on very different battlegrounds (‘The Quiet Ones’), and, a particular catchy highlight, ‘Demagogue Rules’, a sort of primer for climbing the political ladder on the backs – or more particularly the fears – of others.

Inspired by an overheard conversation between a social worker and a rough sleeper, ‘Let’s Get The Show On The Road’ is one of two numbers that touch on tragedy where it’s the innocents that pay the price, the other being the sobering ‘Child Of Aberfan’, a reminder that corporate accountability remains a nebulous concept, just as when, back in 1966, Lord Alfred Robens, the then chair of the NCB opted to not visit the disaster until the following day as he had a more pressing appointment being installed as the first Chancellor of the University of Surrey. He also declined to fully fund the removal of other such coal tips and no charges of corporate manslaughter were ever brought. Did someone mention Grenfell?

‘Damascus Road’ itself is another number that draws on real events, here the 2017 massacre of 58 and the wounding of over 850 more when, in his room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Stephen Paddock opened fire, with an arsenal of legally owned weapons, on concert goers attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, for motives never ascertained. The allusions of the title and the lyric reference to Jesse James tell their own story.

Elsewhere, ‘Disciples’ addresses how, especially in the worlds of politics and entertainment, there’s always someone prepared to defend the indefensible, while ‘Rear View Mirror’ notes how history is written by the victors and collective (and personal) memory isn’t always attuned to the reality as myth becomes accepted as fact, a case in point being the fanciful legend of Washington and the cherry tree.

Ostensibly a true autobiographical tale, ‘The Ballad Of Tom Titterington’s Horse’ involves a fruiterer, his cart, a foul smelling horse, the narrator’s gran and a little matter of a child’s blackmail to get a top of the range new bike because “needs must when the devil drives”. The message about how the ends justify the means leads neatly to the final track, ‘The Party Must Go On’ which again touches on #MeToo and the way those captains of industry somehow think they and their actions are beyond the law when celebrations might get a little out of hand, because “Who is not entitled to a frolic and jape? / Ignore the gutter press equating fondling with rape”, but that, of course, leer in place, they should always “Remember, show our lady friends the utmost of respect”.

Unfortunately, even protest singers aren’t immune to the meddling of corporate discretion and of the need to be “awfully polite”, hence the original cover for the album (Saul impaled on a spear with a cowboy hat on it) being replaced by one more deemed less ‘offensive’ and more innocuous and bland. I look forward to a song about it on his next album.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.trevormidgley.com

‘Demagogue Rules’ – official video:

NAVARO – So Long Wichita (Leading Horses Records LHREC02)

So Long WichitaIt’s been far too long since we’ve heard from Navaro. Steve Austin has posted lots of pictures from his narrowboat where the majority of So Long Wichita was recorded but there hasn’t been much music. This is their third album and is rather stripped down from its predecessor, Home Is Where Your Heartlands. The songs are, in the main, short and this time Navaro haven’t printed the lyrics but that isn’t really a problem – the vocals are crisp and clear.

The trio have three distinct voices and styles. The opener, Pete White’s ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, is up-beat and poppy and laden with harmonies and if it was aimed at radio play, it’s a cracker. His second song in the set, ‘If Only’, is in the same vein as is ‘One Day At A Time’ but I can’t help thinking that there isn’t an established place for bands like Navaro. Fifty years ago they would have given Peter, Paul and Mary a run for their money but they don’t have the resources of a big record company behind them.

So Long Wichita is a fine album that whips by in a flash and that may be its weakness although in these days where digital music prevails and you can select a single track to buy it may be a strength. OK, enough philosophy. The second track is Steve’s romantic ‘In Midnight Sky’ decorated by James McNair’s lead guitar. Steve has a smooth voice that suits this style of material but he allows Beth Navaro to take the lead on the more up-tempo ‘Poetry In Motion’. The title track is inspired by a “close encounter” with Jimmy Webb but whether this was walk-by or something more meaningful we aren’t told. In keeping with its inspiration it quotes from Joni Mitchell, which always worries me, but I guess that it’s only us oldies who would still recognise the sources.

Mark Stevens adds drums to seven of the ten tracks and PJ Wright plays a grumbling rocky lead guitar part on ‘One Day At A Time’ but otherwise it’s down to the multi-instrumental talents of White and Austin.  It’s great to welcome Navaro back again.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Slipping Through My Fingers’: