TRACK DOGS – Fire On The Rails (Mondegreen Records)

Fire On The RailsTrack Dogs’ Fire On The Rails is folky and funky with trumpets galore and the occasional violin that soars above the usual musical fray.

A flashback: there was a great world music band in the 90’s called 3 Mustaphas, whose motto was “Forward In All Directions”. And this album takes up that aegis and runs to score points into the goal posts of countless cultures. Yeah, this one is all over the geographical place.

The folk purity of ‘Love & War’ quickly morphs into a very Tijuana Brass and ethnic percussion mode, only to be matched with a fiery violin that checks the pop propulsion of the tune and shifts it into overdrive, while the vocals sing an earnest cause of, well, “love and war” passion. And ‘I Needed You’ is another urgent tune with a bouncy trumpet, great lyrics, and a vocal that pleads to the big heart of the world. The melody (sort of) conjures the memory of (the great) Phil Ochs and his song ‘Another Age’ from his Rehearsals For Retirement album. Nothing wrong with that! ‘Better Off  On Your Own’, again, has a vibrant trumpet and vocal melody that pulse the tune, while an acoustic guitar provides an unleavened anchor that recalls the human touch of a really nice Paul Simon Graceland period song.

And, quite frankly, the pop mastery of Billy Joel comes to mind. Again, nothing wrong with that!

It’s just an idea, but the trumpet graced sound will appeal to old folky types who loved Bruce Cockburn’s song ‘You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance’, from his Inner City Front record.

But the infectious mandolin graced ‘Dragonfly’s Castle’ makes all the crap I watched on the television today a distant and, thankfully, muted memory. It’s a really nice song.

Odd: the lyrics are often contemplative, but they are also laced with humour. ‘On The Last Night’ vibrates with ironic goodness, like a good Sir Raymond Douglas Davies tune that begs us all to “come dancing”. A banjo propels ‘Don’t Delay’. This is brilliant Nitty Gritty Dirt Band celebration stuff. Truly, Mr. Bojangles would dance to the tune. By the way, its banjo-fueled beauty rivals any song on CAAMP’s recent (and very nice) By & By album.

Now to be fair, ‘And The Piano Sings’ can’t even claim a distant cousin kinship to folk music, but it’s funky and gets tattooed in the brain. It’s a Freddie Mercury tribute. The chorus is catchy in a nice way and avoids any reference to Galileo, Figaro, or for that matter, anyone known as Beelzebub.

Ahh – ‘Abi’s Lullaby’ is a lovely acoustic folk tune that assures, “all your dreams are safe with me”. It’s a quiet respite from the quick pace of the album.

That said, the fast ‘When She Comes’ ups the ante, and with its folk-blues-ragtime combo-platter approach, recalls the music of The Red Clay Ramblers, who just managed to include every bit of America’s soul (and a trumpet!) in their music. That’s high praise.

The album ends with ‘All Clapped Out’, an all vocal and hand clap fest that puts a somewhat odd and enjoyable final punctuation point on the record.

Fire On The Rails bounces between the poles of pop and folk with trumpets and strings aplenty, all of which accent the urgent vocals and choruses that bob far and wide and make any Mustapha proud because this music, indeed, goes “forward in all directions”.

Bill Golembeski

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‘On The Last Night’:

SMITH & McCLENNAN – Small Town Stories (White Fall Records)

Small Town StoriesSmith & McClennan’s Small Town Stories is a beautiful folk record of oxymoronic depth. It’s authentic folk music which oozes (heaven forbid!) with commercial appeal. It also blinks cleverly between the Scottish west country and Americana Appalachian roots.

Just like Richard Thompson’s ‘Great Valerio’, this album “dances through the air” on a razor-sharp tightrope of deep emotion. There’s such folky grace to this album. ‘Firefly’ is an acoustic rifle shot that embraces the rough world of “stone cold fingers clinging to a cardboard home” which ends with some sort of redemption. It’s just an idea, but humanity is always predicated on redemption. Not only that, but fireflies do, indeed, spark with weird electric hope in any dark night sky.

‘Sailin’s A Weary Life’ is a traditional tune with banjo prodding. Odd: when I was younger, I thought there was a huge chasm between a pint in a Scottish pub and my own Wisconsin bar. Now, with this song, I’m not that sure. And with age, I’ve come to drink folk music that’s brewed with universal hops.

The album is filled with lovely acoustic music. Jamie McClennan (who wrote all but two of the songs) sings the beginning lead on ‘Hummingbird’. Emily Smith adds a joint vocal, and each voice embraces the other in the tender tune that’s driven by a dramatic drum. ‘The Sweetest Girl’ dips and sways with a backing violin, and it echoes the charm of an early Nanci Griffith album like Poet In My Window. ‘Leaving’, too, is a dual voiced tight-walked wonder of a song with pathos to burn for “a hand I wouldn’t hold and a friend that won’t grow old”. Then, ‘Bricks And Mortar’ answers that pain with the softest pulse of a melody that just begs “for one last dance and an old house that keeps us safe in every storm’. It’s a beautiful tune that conjures recalled comfort.

And, once again, the song is equally potent, whether I raise an Old Chub Scottish Ale or a Wisconsin brewed New Glarus Cabin Fever Bock.

Now, in all fairness, this record doesn’t play the Scottish poker hand of the traditional (oft times including a Robert Burns’ tune) songbook. “For a’ that”, look to Fiona Hunter (of Malinky fame), Julie Fowlis, and Mairi MacInnes with their gorgeous records. But this album certainly spins in the same orbit as Karine Polwart’s Faultlines.

That said, ‘Long Way Down’ rocks a bit. Perhaps, it sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song, circa Rumours. That also said, Willow Macky’s ‘Better Than War’ is a quiet throwback to 60’s optimism. It’s a cliché that prefers ‘wisdom’ to “war’, but perhaps, really decent clichés may be all we have to keep the campfire burning.

The last two songs, ‘Wait For Me’ and ‘One More Day’, once again, toss a coin betwixt a Scotch beer and an American brew. And it’s a beautiful coin toss that sings with the soul of an always acoustic heart. You know, fellow Scot Jackie Leven once sang about “walking backwards in the snow”. These songs, too, touch and retreat from the weather of the world. They cup all the storms and sing to the safety of any final melodic harbour.

Wonderful folk albums are sort of a dime (and/or a 10p coin) a dozen these days. But Small Town Stories is worth the time. It’s ages old, and it’s ages young. And then it treads a tightrope with the balance of melody, harmony, and passion that will always keep the audience’s attention, because this music, indeed, “dances through the air.

Bill Golembeski

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‘Long Way Down’ – official video:

SOFIA TALVIK – Paws Of A Bear (Makaki Music)

Paws Of A BearSofia Talvik’s Paws Of A Bear is wonderous backward glance to the singer song-writer halcyon days when melody, sincerity, and simple beauty sang to hushed coffee houses filled with attentive people with whispered attention.

Paws Of A Bear sings in the footsteps of fellow folkies like Joni Mitchell, Nanci Griffith, Tish Hinojosa, Bridget St John, Vashti Bunyan, and Moya Brennan (of Clannad fame). That’s great company. And these collective voices (figuratively speaking) all sing with the purity of the Euphrates River on the third day of creation.

Not only that, but to quote the great Richard Thompson’s tune ‘Meet On The Ledge’, “If you really mean it, it all comes around again”. And the music from Fairport’s Holidays late 60’s and early 70’s did “really mean it”. That’s the reason so much of the current music echoes those honest, artistic, and musical grooves. It was truly wonderful, and now, with a record like this, indeed, “it all comes around again”.

It’s just a thought, and perhaps I’m wrong, but I seriously doubt if the music and fashion of, say, The Thompson Twins and A Flock of Seagulls will ever be resurrected in the decades to come.

But to the album: the songs are deceptively simple. The title ‘Take Me Home’ conjures John Denver with “cakes on the griddle” and being “a glad country boy”. Well, not quite. No, this song is a return ticket of weathered thought that journeys past “the closed down school” and “ghosts” into “the sea”. It’s a lovely introspection framed by a lost and lonely steel pedal guitar. The same is true for ‘California Snow’, which is a wispy love song, yet the travel is in the midst of “breakdowns” and a nasty storm, both of which juxtapose the deep warmth of the tune. ‘Wrapped In Paper’ is an up-tempo love song (with really nice guitar work) that transcends the temporal. The Beatles once sang “Can’t Buy Me Love“. Yeah (yeah, yeah), it’s something like that.

And there’s psychological stuff. The piano-paced ‘Reflections’ delves much deeper into family archival passion than those ancestral DNA research commercials that promise famous relatives. It’s an amazing glance “into the mirror”. ‘Paws Of The Bear’ reaches into sincerity (and definitely Vashti Bunyan territory!) while the lyrics reach into the dark night sky. ‘Pharaohs And Friends’ bends fantasy into truth. Once again, the initial innocent sheen “of monsters and dragons” gets a curtain pull, only to reveal those “ghosts” and closed down schools” of sad reality,

‘Siren Song’ is cosmic/Celtic deep, as it travels into the soul of a dark and aged wood with tangled branches that touch tangled memories.

‘Blood Moon’ gets tough with electric guitar and (almost bluesy) passion while that constant pedal steel sings with such a lonely voice.

‘I Liked You Better’ is a great break-up tune. The song is sort of like finding a 51stway to leave your lover” (Thank you, Paul Simon!). This one bites with the poison of a lover scorned. Ouch! But, it’s a very human ouch that’s plaited with humour. Sometimes, great folk music does that.

The final song, ‘Die Alone’, circles back to the initial ‘Take Me Home’. It has a deceptive melody and blunt lyric that glances into the mirror of ‘Reflections’ and walks past “ghosts’ and into “the sea” of ‘Take Me Home’. Then it sings to the inner soul—an inner soul that will always seek “the truth for everyone.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, said of this record, “It’s warm enough to really enjoy the cold”. I agree. And it is music that reaches out to that “ledge” to sing about the tough stuff, while still never forgetting about a joyful (and quite necessary) memory of an ingenuous youth.

Bill Golembeski

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‘Take Me Home’ – official video:

TWELFTH DAY – Face To Face (Orange Feather Records OFR005)

Face To FaceTwelfth Day’s Face to Face creates a new element on the folk periodic table. There’s a nice current angle to this music that embraces traditional folk, classical, jazz, and off-kilt(er) Scottish sounds.

Years ago, Peter Gabriel’s first album was advertised with the promotion “Expect the unexpected”. Well, that’s the gist of this record, too. Twelfth Day is a dual of Esther Swift on harp and Catriona Price on fiddle, while both women share vocals. Well, I half-expected a rather folk purist Greentrax or Fellside recording. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that! I love those Wrigley sisters! And ditto for Fribo or anything ex-Ossian William (aka Billy) Jackson does. But this is a very different and a very “unexpected” Scottish ale.

The first song, ‘Keep Me’, sets the weird template: This isn’t pop music, but it hums into the brain. There’s an intersection of early Kate Bush, Kate Rusby, and jazz vocalist Norma Winstone. The song has a very modern folk pulse, which is fleshed out with percussion and bass.

The jazzy vibe continues. ‘What’s Real’, oddly enough, finds the main instruments—the fiddle and harp—propelling the music into folk cosmos, while the harmony vocals sweeten the take-off. This is simply lovely music that avoids just about any cliché that comes to mind. And the harp becomes positively percussive in its pluck! ‘Fact of Life’ goes deeper into the soft atmosphere of folk jazz. The same is very true for the wonderous ‘Deep Dark Beast’. This tune touches the fears of old sacred wood fires with the very best of catchy and clever fiddle music.

And then – Oh my! The brief ‘The Plough’ floats on cushioned tension. It’s a melodic glance at a falling star. ‘Oma’, too, is instrumental and flows with highland free spirit. Odd: the fiddle/harp interplay of these songs recalls the absolute beauty of the quiet King Crimson Larks’ Tongues in Aspic moments when David Cross’s violin slow danced in a glade of solace, which juxtaposed Fripp’s tough guitar logic. There’s also an echo of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ and its classical ethos. That’s heavy breathing for a folk album!

Now, speaking of mathematics (as one often does in the middle of a record review): Archimedes of Syracuse, known for his big “Eureka” comment after inventing the theory of water displacement, also (sort of) created calculus and its measured pursuit of circular perfection. That’s what this album does: As said, it’s musical calculus with a fresh folk angle that still sings harmony (even after all these years) with that old chestnut of a tune that hopes, with eternal passion, that “the circle will be unbroken”. We humans love that perfect circumference.

That said, ‘Superwoman’, again, bounces with un-expected jazzy exuberance. This one simply soars with vocals and a heavenly fiddle.

In contrast, ‘East’ is solemn and bobs like a life jacket in an un-forgiving sea. It touches the quietude of The Medieval Babes in their more spiritual moments.

The title track, ‘Face To Face’, certainly justifies its seven-minute multi-part (almost) classical folk groove. The tune is a pilgrimage into some sort of really nice shrine. Once again, the fiddle/harp dialogue orbits several planets, as two gifted folk players run through the moves of a pretty great chess game.

‘In a Bar’ is acapella heaven in its brief breath.

The curtains close with ‘Reset Butten’. The song stretches the folk rubber band a bit. The antenna needs to be adjusted. There are maudlin vocals and a minor key starched music hall melody that ends the record with an uneasy paintbrush stroke. Perhaps, that’s the point.

So, folk purists, “Expect the unexpected’ with this album.

Bill Golembeski

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‘Superwoman’ – official video:

ATLANTÆUM FLOOD – One Day (Schoolkids Records)

One DayAtlantæum Flood’s One Day isn’t really folk music, per se. Rather, it’s a (mostly acoustic) musical journey with wonderous electric guitar that is “the brainchild” of Steve Knott (who wrote the music) and involves none other than Marty Willson- Piper of The Church fame.

A bit of history.

You see, Mike Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells. It sold a ton of albums. And then the clarion call went out for similar instrumental mega-sellers. And, as a prog lover, I bought them all—Jade Warrior’s wonderous Island albums, Tom Newman’s Faerie Symphony, Gordon Giltrap’s Peacock Party, an Anthony Phillips record here and there, and stuff like Caravan’s one-time bassist John G. Perry’s Sunset Wading. Even the Finnish bassist Pekka Pohjola (of Wigwam fame!) was given a Virgin release with his Keesojen Lehto (aka The Mathematician’s Air Display) which featured the before-mentioned Mike Oldfield and his sister Sally. And, as an eternal prog devotee, I loved them all.

This album warms those historical progressive memories. It’s a thematically timed record that begins with ‘Sunrise’, moves to ‘After Sunrise’, goes through ‘Noon’, ‘Sunset’, and, finally, ‘Before’ and ‘After Midnight’. So, for lovers of that late 70’s breed of somewhat serene arty albums, this is a nice time machine ride to that truly beautiful sound.

And speaking of beauty, this record has gorgeous vinyl grooves that quietly burn. Oh my! This album simply begs and bleeds that instrumental charm.

Of course, it begins with the singing of birds and guitars that welcome any sunrise. That’s a pre-requisite for a musical trip into contemplation. Then ‘Before Sunrise’ gently surges upward, like the morning sun. Marty W-P’s guitar is warm and joyous. ‘After Sunrise’ is acoustic reverie, with even more warm electric guitar that rekindles the gentle thoughtfulness of an Argus era Wishbone Ash.

Granted, this is the stuff that sent late 70’s music critics into Sex Pistol shows, but I don’t care. I really like all that punk stuff, but the poet John Keats did write, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”, and this album chases those “unheard melodies”, so yeah, let the ‘soft pipes play on’.

The two ‘Noon’ tunes sing with Olivia Willson-Piper’s violin and Dare Mason’s percussion. Again, the absolute watery ‘Leaf and Stream’ charm of Wishbone Ash is echoed. And the second part of the song simply flows like a wah-wah winning poker hand flush, and then ends with an acoustic touch.

The ‘Sunset’ stuff is quick with a Spanish vibe. It’s a nice change of pace. That violin burns with the vibe of the first ending rays of any day’s sunset. And then the sun dims with a lovely electric guitar solo that conjures an emotional prayer like the playing of Andy Latimer of the great band Camel, circa Snow Goose.

‘Midnight’ ends the record with the odd intensity of a guitar and violin’s last dance. Two lovers struggle; it is the moment between all the days. And then there is a placid resolve, as the album spins into its own tranquility.

So, this album doesn’t rock. But it does sing about the day, any day in which “beauty and truth” still pervade the human heart with a glorious sunrise and a contemplative sunset. Sometimes music just dissolves into our circular sun. And this record simply plays that song.

Bill Golembeski

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If you can find a video of Atlantæum Flood please point us in its direction.

MATT PATERSHUK – If Wishes Were Horses (Black Hen Music)

If Wishes Were HorsesMatt Patershuk’s If Wishes Were Horses drinks from the fount of pure western Canadian country spring water—with a folky blues chaser. There’s nothing Nashville about this music. It wears the authentic Alberta gear.

There’s a full band ignition behind some tunes. ‘The Blues Don’t Bother Me’ is a tough tumble with Matt’s dice-shaking voice, bass, drums, electric guitar, and a wonderful organ. ‘Velvet Bulldozer’, an ode to Albert King (of Born Under a Bad Sign fame), struts with greasy acuity and sings from a blues man’s soul, a soul that works all day “making big cats growl” and then at night when he “makes his Lucy sing again”. Sure, go buy an Albert King record, but this is a pretty great tribute.

Just an odd idea: As a kid growing up in Midwest Wisconsin, the stores never stocked real blues records. So, I bought Ten Years After, CCR, Savoy Brown, The Groundhogs, Cream, and Robin Trower. Imagine my surprise when I finally heard Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley! Perhaps, this record, too, can enlighten the masses.

That said, ‘Ernest Tubb Had Fuzzy Slippers’ is a fantastic ballad, in the sense that it tells a tragic tale. Apparently, our Ernest had a problem with the drink. And, apparently (again!) he had a problem with one Jim Denny! A shot was fired, but drunken insight sometimes doesn’t quite align with a gun sight. And, of course, the rest is country music history, which is now detailed in this song. I’m not sure if this matches the tragedy of fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’ saga, but it’s still a pretty cool tune.

The Grateful Dead’s ‘Sugaree’ gets a rousing rendition that is dipped in yet another pure sip of Canadian spring water and then chased down with barroom booze, a slow boogie piano, and crushed Friday night peanut shucks.

Now, ‘Circus’ is simply a great folk song that’s driven with an urgent violin. It avoids the cliché, and sings with “fire in our bellies” that is worthy of a Bruce Springsteen nod.

Ditto for ‘Bear Chase’. Country, blues, and folk cross wires in the catchy tune.

There’s a repeated motif of four ‘Horse’ instrumental interludes. They all have parenthetical subtitles like ‘For Bravery & Good Fortune’, ‘For Lighter Loads’, ‘To Know the Future’, and ‘For Fond Remembrance’. It’s all a nice unifying motif for the record.

Matt P. also mines the rich vein of authentic country & western. ‘Alberta Waltz’ sings a not-so-high but really lonesome sound. That lovely pedal steel whines in the slow sway of the sadly stepped tune. Ah, and ‘Let’s Give This Bottle A Black Eye’ may quicken the pace, but it certainly doesn’t lessen the lonely load. The pedal steel and barrelhouse piano dance with any Sweetheart of any Rodeo. Then, ‘Walkin’’ slows the heartbeat and has sympathetic backing vocals that are worthy of the all-knowing Greek chorus, who for some strange reason, find themselves smack dab in the middle of a country twanged tune. No jumper cables are required: Age old tradition simply bumps to life.

‘Last Dance’ is an acoustic song with a glorious and profound melody.

It ends with really wonderful bluesy rock. ‘Red Hot Poker’ rocks and rolls with tough electricity and a cautionary sermon. Then it pulses with “a burning desire” as the guitar darts and dances and an organ fans the smoky fires. This is the final tug at the end of the line. Full stop. Dead stop. A bit of a burnt echo. So there!

If Wishes Were Horses is the real deal Canadian river that flows with the beauty of folky blues—with a country western chaser. It shakes hands with tradition, and then it plays a really decent poker hand, with weathered cards that curse sometimes, love some other times, play the blues in between too many heartaches, and just manage, somehow, to sing a bruised and very human song.

Bill Golembeski

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‘The Velvet Bulldozer’ – official video: