CERA IMPALA – Tumbleweed (own label CIDR03)

Tumbleweed“This CD is 100% guitar free” boasts the sleeve of Cera Impala’s fourth album, Tumbleweed. This may be bad news if you’re banjophobic but you can’t win ‘em all. Cera is a much travelled multi-instrumentalist singer and songwriter who plays indie-rock with Dark Green Tree and sings old-time jazz with The Bevvy Sisters. Her core band, The New Prohibition, is double bass player Joey “Jello” Sanderson and her husband and co-producer Dirk Ronneburg who was known to play fiddle with Southern Tenant Folk Union.

Tumbleweed tries to pull all these strands together with thirteen of Cera’s original songs. It opens with the swing of ‘Fingernail Moon’ and I was really enjoying ‘Little Bird’ until I realised that I was listening to ‘Long Black Veil’. It may have a generic chord progression but it’s not exactly obscure. ‘Ponderosa’ is nicely bleak, courtesy of Alan Ross’ harmonica and Ronneburg’s keening fiddle but, for me, far too much of the album lacks bite. ‘Caroline’ has that radio voice effect at the beginning but drops it quickly and it’s only ‘Magic’ that employs all the tricks and sounds really old-timey. Call me a traditionalist if you will but it’s the best song on the album.

The final track, ‘Home’, features some fairly pointless turntable scratching by Bríeuc Bestel. He doesn’t do enough to be radical and the song drifts along nicely and would do so without him. I’m sure I should like Tumbleweed a lot more than I do and that Cera’s fans will take me to task over it but, as I said, you can’t win ‘em all.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.ceraimpala.com

‘Home’ – official video:

DARK GREEN TREE – Secret Lives (Haven Records HAVENCD 017)

Secret LivesDark Green Tree are Jay Brown and Ross Cockburn, although since the album sleeve was printed vocalist Cera Impala has expanded the duo to a trio. However, I’d label this record as a labour of love by producer Boo Hewerdine who also co-wrote five of the songs and released it on his own label.

The band plays Americana and they have been likened to Buffalo Springfield and although Jay does a pretty good impersonation of the young Neil Young on the opening track, ‘Yearn For Love’, that doesn’t make it so. Hewerdine has called in a few favours to secure the likes of Mattie Foulds, John McCusker and Colin MacFarlane as support. In truth, you can’t hear the raw sound of Dark Green Tree at all and Ross seems destined for the Walter Becker role on this evidence.

Two songs are covers. The first is ‘Lay Me Down’ from Irish band The Frames which has a bit of drive about it and the second is Ryan Adams’ ‘When The Stars Go Blue’. The record is pretty and restful but I’m afraid that most of it, with the exception of ‘Sarah’, drifted past me without leaving much of an impression.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Lay Me Down’ – official video:

THE BEVVY SISTERS – Plan B (Interrupto Music IM004)

bevvyAcclaimed by the likes of Lau, Eliza Carthy and Dick Gaughan, Heather Macleod, Gina Rae, Cera Impala and honorary sister David Donnelly have been making waves on the Scottish acoustic music scene for a while, but now, with the release of their sophomore album (the first with the current line up) they’re setting sail into wider waters.

Their name nodding to such vintage female harmony trios as the Beverlys, Andrews and Boswells while also evoking the more contemporary likes of The Roches, The Be Good Tanyas and even soul act The Pointer Sisters, they trade in old school Americana, embracing folk, blues, gospel and swing with covers, self-penned and traditional material. Despite a sparse instrumentation of just banjo, guitar, whistle and double bass, embellished on the album with fiddle, drums and snatches of electric piano, theirs is a full and lively sound, signalled from the get go with a perky version of the gospel classic ‘Ain’t No Grave’.

They certainly breathe new life into old standards, augmenting the album’s trad inventory with a lovely slow waltzing take on folk murder ballad ‘Willow Garden’, a moody ‘Father Adieu’ accompanied by just bluesy guitar with the girls providing interwoven three-part harmony over which Donnelly sings in French and a capella album closer ‘Sylvie’, better known as the sexually euphemistic blues gospel ‘Bring Me Little Water Sylvie’.

Edinburgh songwriter Sandy Smith contributes two numbers, the bluesy ‘Six Degrees’ and the lazingly dreamy ‘Little Bird’, with Impala and Donnelly providing the remaining cuts. He’s responsible for and is vocally prominent on ‘Junkyard Band’, a bluesy gospel slouch carried on a handclap worksong rhythm and dirty slide guitar, and the double bass throbbing, finger-clicking jazz swing of ‘Devil May’ care, a number that really nods to those 40s trios. Perhaps because she’s the outfit’s banjo player, Impala’s offerings all hew to a more country sound with the huskily sung slow swayer ‘Whisky’ which features husband Dirk Ronnenburg on fiddle, the breathily uptempo mountain music fuelled ‘Higher Place’ with its brushed drums and banjo solos and ‘Row My Boat’, where western swing meets gypsy jazz and, a compliment of the highest order, sort of reminded me of Toy Hearts. What they do won’t be to every folk or Americana devotee’s taste, but if this is your tipple, then you should really have a bevvy or three, the effect is decidedly intoxicating.

Mike Davies

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Artist website: www.bevvysisters.co.uk