GRETCHEN PETERS – Dancing With The Beast (Scarlet Letter/Proper PRPCD148P)

Dancing With The BeastHaving enjoyed her biggest success to date with the Ben Glover co-penned southern gothic ‘Blackbirds’, it is, perhaps, not too surprising to find echoes in Dancing With The Beast. In terms of narrative, the slightly swampy ‘Wichita’, which Glover also co-wrote and which features Jerry Douglas on Dobro, is another murder ballad, this time round a mentally handicapped 12-year-old girl taking a gun to protect herself, her dysfunctional divorced mother and little sister from an abusive man as she sings “I hope I was the last thing that you saw that night in Wichita”.

More specifically, the politically pointed ‘Lowlands’ traces a similar melody to the Grammy winner’s refrain on a song written in response to the 2016 election with lyrics reflecting the sense of disquiet about a man who “lies just for the sake of lying.. sell you kerosene and call it hope.” This one’s not written with Ben Glover, but he does have three co-write credits, the first up being the album’s opening number, a three-way split with Matraca Berg, a melancholically, world weary reflective song about growing old and times changing as she sings “I get lost in my hometown, since they tore the Drive-In down”, perhaps carrying with it hints of incipient Alzheimer’s.

Throughout the album, she’s backed by Doug Lancio on guitar and synths, guitarist Will Kimbrough, keyboard player Barry Walsh, bassist and John Gardner on drums, the songs populated with a variety of female characters and driven by a feminist perspective. The moods vary. On the dreamy, piano-backed ‘The Boy From Rye’, steeped in the insecurities of female adolescence, it’s one of wistful reflection on a summer romance with a boy from out of town who, “His smile knowing and ironic” divided friendships as “One by one he broke our virgin hearts/And set us one against the other”. In contrast, the more musically muscular but equally poignant ‘Life Is A Disappearing Act’ turns its gaze on a middle-aged woman who, widowed after fifty years of marriage, having lost two babies at birth and a son to the Iraq war, mentally and emotionally rather than physically, now finds herself alone, lonely and isolated, trapped in a “dark cocoon” and “crying at the kitchen sink” , “if Jesus is comin’ soon And if he is, he better make it quick”.

She turns the mirror on herself, and any touring musician, for the whisperingly sung ‘The Show’, which, accompanied by a simple acoustic guitar and piano, reflects on life on the road, “somewhere between Bend and Birmingham”, drinking hotel coffee that “tastes like kerosene”, saving up the energy for “Nineteen songs and one more night to go”.

Clearly, it can take its toll (“I clutch this guitar to my chest and wonder just what I’ll have left/When all of this hard traveling’s finally done”), especially on sustaining a relationship, and she reprises the theme on ‘Lay Low’, where, “a good three hours to Aberdeen”, she sings how “Tonight I’ll call to say hello, but your phone’s just gonna ring I know” and of the need to take some time out to recharge.

The other two Glover co-writes play back to back. Like ‘Blackbirds’, they’ve both recorded their own versions, the title track here to be found on his current Shorebound album, both swelling towards the end and featuring a nervy acoustic guitar line, but her’s without the prominent strings and the drums held back until towards the end and Kim Richey on background vocals. A song about that voice that whispers in your ear that you’re no good or you can’t do it, be it depression, a sense of insecurity or whatever, and how the best way to deal with it is to “circle round the room together /Seal this devil’s bargain with a kiss.” However, lyrics like “It isn’t that he doesn’t care about me/If anything it’s that he cares too much /It’s only that he wants the best for me /It’s only that I don’t try hard enough” also lend themselves to an interpretation of an abusive relationship that chimes with the #MeToo movement, especially given the confessional and emotionally bruised way Peters’ delivers the lines.

The second, underpinned by Walsh’s piano and again echoing Blackbirds’ melody line, is ‘Truckstop Angel’, a variation on ‘Honky Tonk Angels’ that addresses prostitution and self-respect as the character sings of being unsure if she’s predator or prey, but that “One day I’m gonna leave here /Gonna hit my lucky streak, Gonna spread my gorgeous wings and fly/Above all this concrete”.

At the end of the day, this is an album about rising above the weight and the burdens, imposed by both others and yourself, a simple humanity and moving epiphany found in the gorgeous ‘Say Grace’, Douglas on dobro and Richey on backing, taking refuge in faith or friends as the lost, the despairing, the bruised and the broken are welcomed to share in prayer at shelter by the bus station depot, the lesson of the day being “Forgive yourself for all of your mistakes You can start all over if that’s what it takes… You are not a loser, you are not a hopeless case” .

It ends with just her and a fingerpicked acoustic guitar for ‘Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea’, a song that, born of a dream about her late mother in which “she held my hand and she said, ‘You know, honey, there is love that makes a cup of tea’.” In many ways an echo of the blessing in ‘Kindness’ on Glover’s album, it’s a celebration of how, for all the big dramatic moments, of “love that moves a mountain” or “love that fights for justice knowing justice won’t be done”, sometimes the smallest, simplest human moment can be the most profound. There is sadness, there is weariness, there is trepidation, but, as the conclusion to Lowlands notes, at the end of the day there is also hope, because “We get a lot of clouds here in the lowlands /But now and then a little light gets through.” This is a beacon.

Mike Davies

Artist’s: website: www.gretchenpeters.com

‘Disappearing Act’ – official video:

CONNOR WALSH AND SAM RYAN – Double Album Launch – The Sorry Head, Exeter August 26th 2017

Connor Walsh And Sam Ryan
Emma, Connor and Sam – Photograph by Jean Camp

A double whammy album launch with best friends Connor Walsh and Sam Ryan launching their EP’s to the world, The Hardest Part and The Traveller respectively at the Sorry Head in Exeter, and it was a very busy affair. They clearly have their fans and supporters as the venue was packed.

Kicking off the proceedings was Sam’s sister Anna, who has an amazingly powerful voice for a 16 year old. She was very confident and sang a mixture of cover material and her own songs. The audience loved her and she was very pleased with how she had been received, rightly so. She was joined by brother Sam with a rap song, and by Olive Simpson – and they sang one of Anna’s own songs. I was told by Sam after the gig that Anna can be found in a trio entitled Stepcoat Hill, definitely a lass to watch.

Sam then took the stage, promoting his debut EP – The Traveller. Although he did start the set with an Arctic Numbers set, just because he wanted to!

‘Men’ from his EP was aired, and all of the guys at the front just launched into audience participation of dancing and clapping. The same thing happened with the second song of the EP – ‘High’. Sam was very confident and loving the chance to air his work. So did the revellers.

Change of tempo then to ‘The Beach Of Camlann’, a sad tale of death, and then ‘Shield Wall’. A very powerful and racy number, filled with percussion of clapping from the audience who knew the song, including the shouting of “yay” in the right place. Connor was seen throughout the set supporting his friend from the audience. A couple of songs followed including one that was so new he couldn’t remember the lyrics. Great stuff! More in the pipeline! Sam graciously thanked his family and friends for their support.

A short intermission ensued after which Connor literally bounced onto the stage! He had been very excited all evening and at last had his chance to unleash his EP on the world! As he started playing, a string broke on his guitar, so had to borrow Sam’s but didn’t seem fazed at all, and continued some banter while sorting all this out.

Connor started with ‘Remember Me’, a number I don’t know but got us all in the mood, and we had an impromptu drummer who used the bar for percussion, he was clearly having a good time. Emma Mcelhinney who plays violin and bodhran on the album was on stage with Connor, and a very talented musician as she played both and the keyboard during the launch plus violin and played the Cajun drum with a foot pedal while playing something else! Sam and his friends took over the dance floor space in front of the stage and were having a great time. Again plenty of audience participation, we didn’t have a choice, and HAD to join in! Connor is a very strong presence on the stage, you don’t start playing on your mobiles while he is playing, he is too strong a personality. Emma played keyboard on a song I hadn’t heard before, ‘I Cant Go Back’, and sang too – lovely harmonies.’The Dance of Death’ fuelled the dance revellers, ‘The Call’ came next, after which Connor decided his waistcoat had to come off!

‘Hold On’ off the album slowed the tempo, Connor then played a mandolin for ‘Fellow Man’ from the album, which has an Irish feel. The last song was ‘Down The Line’ and had everyone dancing including Connor’s Grandad – Barry Walsh – who helped to sponsor the album along with Rev Hammer. Barry also was dragged into the main area of dancing and he did a very good pogo dance with plenty of stamina! Well done Barry!

Sam joined Connor on stage and gave a very heartfelt thanks to his dad – Rev Hammer for his tremendous input into the album financially and mentoring, for his faith in both himself and Connor and also thanks Barry Walsh, Alex Johnstone for producing the album, also sister Anna for opening, not forgetting Emma and The Sorry Head for allowing them to use the venue for the launch. Connor thanked his grandad Barry for all his support, they clearly have an amazing bond, also his father, his own girlfriend Charlie too for all her support, and I saw her afterwards doing the ‘roadie’ bit while the lads were basking in glory and talking to their fans.

These two are going places. Keep a good watch out for them. They are both very visual so a live gig is a must! Buy their EP and support them, as they are up and coming talented singer/songwriters.

Jean Camp

Follow Conner on Twitter: @gutterratking and Facebook: www.facebook.com/gutterratking

You can purchase the digital download by contacting Sam on his Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/sam.ryan.3720 and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SamuelRyan8

Tom Russell – The Rose Of Roscrae

RofR

Double CD album out 13th April 2015 on Proper Records

Tom Russell’s ambitious new double-album The Rose of Roscrae takes a fascinating look at the history of the American West and traditional cowboy and folk music, through the story of an Irish kid who travels to the United States in the late 1880s to become a cowboy.

Produced by Tom Russell and Barry Walsh, The Rose of Roscrae features a who’s who of legendary Americana icons including: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, David Olney, Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Augie Meyers, Fats Kaplin, Barry Walsh, Jimmy LaFave, Gretchen Peters, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Walt Whitman, Moses “Clear Rock” Platt, Jack Hardy, David Massengill, A.L. “Bert” Lloyd, Finbar Furey, Sourdough Slim, Blackie Farrell, Tex Ritter, Glen Orhlin, Pat Russell, John Trudell, Henry Real Bird, Thad Beckman, Maura O’Connell, Eliza Gilkyson, The McCrary Sisters, Ian Tyson, Bonnie Dobson, Lead Belly, Guy Clark, Dan Penn, Gurf Morlix, and Pat Manske. The album’s overture is performed by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, arranged by Mats Hålling, composed by Tom Russell.

For over four decades and 28 album releases Tom Russell has continued to live up to his status as “one of the best singer-songwriters of our time” (Washington Post). His previous two  studio releases, Blood and Candle Smoke (2009) and Mesabi (2011), are considered his strongest composed works yet and were, in part, recorded with the groundbreaking roots band Calexico. In the 1990s, Russell and Dave Alvin were hailed as the architects of what came to be known as “Americana” music after their Merle Haggard tribute, Tulare Dust, initiated the Americana charts in the U.S. and remained number one for a year. Russell’s previous release, Aztec Jazz (2013), moved Americana into a new realm and his acclaimed song catalogue into uncharted territory.

Tom Russell’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, and others. The Rose of Roscrae is his third in a series of acclaimed folk operas, following The Man From God Knows Where (1999) and Hotwalker (2005). Russell has also composed movie scores, including songs for the Monte Hellman movie The Road To Nowhere and published five books, most recently 120 Songs of Tom Russell. An accomplished fine artist, Russell’s paintings are featured in: Blue Horse/Red Desert: The Art of Tom Russell.

Artist’s website: http://www.tomrussell.com/

‘The Rose Of Roscrae’ trailer video: