BILL MADISON – Only A Dream (own label)

Only A DreamThe Florida-based singer-songwriter’s follow-up to last year’s If I Had The Time is, like that, mostly self-penned, three again in collaboration with wife Nancy, and, again, offers a rootsy acoustic collection of folk and blues numbers. That said, as the title suggests, the opening track, ‘Barefootin’ Boogie’, finds him in rock‘n’roll mood, albeit very much in its original blues-influenced style with slide guitar.

Taking the non-originals, ‘Lord Franklin’ is, of course, the much recorded traditional staple, here refreshingly reimagined as a fingerpicked American folk tune, Madison’s voice once more conjuring thoughts of the great Stan Rogers, serving reminder that these songs can take on new life given artists keen to work outside of the familiar boxes. The other, and at nearly six minutes, is ‘Sammy’s Bar’, a cover of an unrequited love song (that ends with the girl dying in a car crash) by the late lamented Hampshire maritime and traditional folkie Cyril Tawney, originally recorded in 1960 under the title ‘The Last Boat’s A Leaving’, the bar in question being a haunt of submariners in Malta. Tawney’s version (and other covers) was in a shanty style, but Madison takes the tempo down for a slower, more melancholic fingerpicked arrangement.

Of the self-penned material, one, ‘Oceans of Love’, is a reflective Spanish guitar instrumental, the others variously a mix of the personal and political. Evoking Pete Seeger in his more solemn moments, ‘Trying To Be A Friend’ treats on isolation and lost love, ‘Friends In Love’ a strummed celebration of finding the right one, the circling pattern title track, co-penned with Scott Roby, reflection on a relationship that’s ended while ‘All She Wanted’ has him explaining to a self-absorbed man exactly why his lover left him.

The political comes with ‘Farm Boy’, an anti-war protest song about how it’s so often the blue collar youth that become a nation’s cannon fodder, the album ending back in midtempo slide blues gospel boogie with the ease on back when this life’s over ‘When I Get There’, Nancy providing the harmonies. There’s no fuss or frills here, just the relaxed come on over and settle down sound of an artist who has no need to prove his craft or musicianship, and whose company it’s a pleasure to share.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.billmadisonmusic.com

‘Lord Franklin’:

BILL MADISON – If I Had The Time (own label)

Bill MadisonUnlike his last release, the latest offering from the deep and dusty voiced New England singer-songwriter, his thirteenth, is, save for one number, all self-penned, either solo or in collaboration, Bill playing guitars, dobro, dulcimer and synth with contribution on drums and lead guitar from John Dudli and JP Kallio on just one track, the muscular, martial beat ‘When I Think Of Her’, co-written with his wife of many years, Nancy.

She also happens to be subject of both the title track love song, which, featuring bluesy dobro, opens the album and the melodically tumbling ‘Can’t Stay Away’ (which she herself-co-wrote), conjuring thoughts of both Tom Paxton and Stan Rogers as he celebrates their marriage and family.

The pair have one further co-write in the bluesy closing track. ‘That’s All Right With Me’, a song in praise of an honest day’s work written after setting up their landscaping business back in 1995.

The family also extends to the grandchildren, who get their own dedication with the jaunty Guthrie-esque old time folk blues ‘Doin’ Fine’, while the ringingly fingerpicked ‘Old Tockwotton’ is an ode to the Madison family’s ancestral farm and the generations that worked the land.

As on the last album, Scott Roby gets two co-write credits, the bluesy ‘Chasin’ After You’, about a thankless 45 year courtship, and ‘As Time Passes By’, a gentle celebration of two lovers growing old together, while the sole cover comes with Michael Sirois’ ‘You’re The Only One’, Dianna Zupan on backing vocals for what he describes as being a song about reliving teenage angst.

The remaining two track are both Madison originals, the lengthy ‘Look Homeward’ calling on his cowboy influences for a last round-up number as well as breaking out the dobro for another solo, and ‘The Wurlitzer Song’, a wistful nod to the country tradition of playing out lost love heartaches on the honky-tonk jukebox.

Seasoned and traditionally rooted, as before, there’s no concession to contemporary Americana trends, just the sound of man playing the music he loves for the people he loves. You could be one of them.

Mike Davies

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‘If I Had The Time’:

 

BILL MADISON – Rogues (Self-Released)

RoguesTagged by one review as a hippie-folkie-cowboy singer-songwriter, the New England troubadour simply describes himself as a singer songwriter interpreter of Americana Folk and Country. Having released his debut album back in 1973, he went on to form country rock outfit Them Fargo Boys, touring with them for almost 20 years before returning to his solo career. Rogues is his 12th solo studio album.

Featuring just his deep rich voice and acoustic guitar, it’s very much on the folk side of the Americana spectrum, a collection of self-penned stories, a couple of co-writes, three covers and two traditional numbers, ‘Days of 49’ (a song about the 1849 gold rush of which there are many lyrical variations, including one by Dylan) and a sonorous reading of the evergreen ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’.

He opens proceedings with one of his own, ‘South Dakota Town’, immediately laying out his storytelling credentials with a old school Western tale of a man seeking revenge for the shooting of his lover before turning to ‘Bound To Lose’ by fellow storyteller Scott Roby about two doomed losers (“the night that Johnny died, angels could not find them, even though they tried”), a number you could imagine Johnny Cash having sung.

Along with Madison and his wife Nancy, Roby also has a hand in writing restless traveller number ‘Mexico’, as well as collaborating with Madison on album closer ‘Old Oak Tree,’ a bluesy celebration of how all you need is a nickel and a song in order to be free (hence the hippie tag) that features an intricate arrangement of two guitars, the one providing the itchy rhythm and the other fingerpicking the chords over it.

The memory of boat burning after being struck by lightning (and essentially about moving on) ‘Bluemoon’s Waltz’ is the other Roby original, Madison recalling old school cowboy country names like Tex Ritter and Marty Robbins. Elsewhere, written by Jeffrey Reid, ‘Barcume’s Fishing Boat’ spins another nautical story, here recounting the tragedy of an old fisherman who doesn’t come home one night, his old boat found washed ashore, upside down.

There’s two other collaborations, Madison and John Cluley penning the bluesy strum ‘Tuxedo’, balancing the groom’s joy of his wedding day with the awareness that, at some point, death will separate them, while the Madisons team with Suzie Litton Wood for ‘Drifting’, a song about finding love and then being abandoned that opens on a Texicali note before shifting into first a folksy strum and then an almost chamber baroque mood with what sounds like dulcimer.

The remaining number is a Madison original and arguably the album’s finest moment. A former single, ‘Ben Graves’ returns to narrative for an echoey sung story of a man hunting down and shooting the titular fictional coward who fled the Battle of the Little Big Horn, though quite why his killer, Mac, is seeking vengeance perhaps remains a tale for another album.

Madison doesn’t make music that seeks to ride any current Americana trends, but then neither is he being self-consciously retro, he simply sings the music in his heart and on which he was raised. Look him up and invite him to your campfire CD player.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.billmadisonmusic.com

‘Rogues’ – album sampler: