LONGSTAY – Calling Me Home (Goldrush Records, GOLDCD017)

Calling Me HomeCalling Me Home is the debut album from Longstay, a precocious Perth quintet, still with an average age of only 17 – and with four years’ experience already behind them. These super-confident players are firmly rooted in Country and Americana, with more than a hint of the ‘70s thrown in. Yet there’s an unmistakable Scottishness woven through it all, adding a distinct tang to their rocking sound.

From the off, the poppy ‘Mariah’ sets the tone for a slew of songs that show a strong instinct for a killer hook. Band songwriter Callum Campbell shows an easy ear for melody and some mature storytelling in the eight original tracks featured here. Campbell and Malcolm Swan together create an interesting vocal balance with impressive harmonisation, such as on the loping ‘Forever’ with its late-60s organ fills.

Where ‘Too Long’ is a full-on growling rockout (shades of Pearl Jam about the vocal), ‘My Turn’ is a swaggering bar-room strut. ‘Thoughts I Can’t Help’ and ‘Summerton’ are both slow-burners that flesh out as they go. There’s more vulnerability in the gentle keyboard refrain that starts ‘Remember’, a decidedly Scottish lament, brushed across with lap steel and telling a dark tale.

Of the covers, the train-like shuffle of ‘A Ring Of Fire’ (Munro/McElligott, not Carter Cash/Kilgore) features some hot fiddling from Dave Macfarlane. A driving version of John Fogerty’s ‘Lodi’ contains rhythmic hints of ‘Proud Mary’ – not surprising in a band much influenced by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Chris Stapleton’s more recent song, ‘Fire Away’ gets a swaying ‘lighters-aloft’ anthemic treatment which rather suits it.

The album ends with the uptempo, early-90s sounding ‘Leaving’ with its bright brass section that calls to mind bands like The Rembrandts, Deep Blue Something and their ilk. It’s another insanely catchy song rousing to an abrupt finish. You may well find your imagination filling in the ensuing silence with a crowd’s uproarious applause.

Longstay’s brand of Scottish-American contemporary country rock proves to be joyous, infectious and energetic. If this is the standard of where they are at now, let’s hope they will be in for the long stay: we should be in for a treat.

Su O’Brien

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‘Mariah’ – live:

VARIOUS – Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams (Slate Creek SCR0526172)

Gentle GiantsNow 78 and still going strong (his most recent album being in 2014), Don Williams is, both in person and on disc, one of the most laid back country artists you could imagine. Initially finding success as part of 60s folk-pop outfit The Pozo Seco Singers, whose hits included ‘I Can Make It With You’, ‘Hey Look What You’ve Done’ and ‘Excuse Me Dear Martha’, he embarked on a solo career in 1971, going on to score huge success with such song as ‘We Should Be Together’, You’re My Best Friend, ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’ and, only released as an A-side in the UK, ‘I Recall A Gypsy Woman’.

Inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 2010, he’s now the subject of a tribute album although, strictly speaking, it should The Songs Made Famous By Don Williams, since he’s better known as an interpreter than a writer

While curiously omitting ‘Gypsy Woman’ and ‘Best Friend’, it also doesn’t always go for the obvious crossover numbers, several numbers here likely to be familiar only to dedicated country fans, such as Keb Mo’s recording of US Country number 1 ‘Lord I Hope This Day Is Good’, Lady Antebellum’s string arrangement of Dave Loggins’ ‘We’ve Got A Good Fire Going’ and, a number 11 country hit in 1984, Loggins and Lisa Silver’s wistful story song ‘Maggie’s Dream’, sung here by Trisha Yearwood with Dan Dugmore on steel and electric guitars.

The collection opens with his 11th number 1, 1978’s uptempo ‘Tulsa Time’, given a suitably gutsy, going over by Pistol Annies with Mickey Raphael on wailing harmonica and tasty guitar by Colin Linden. Brandy Clark takes it into ballad territory for one of two numbers co-written by Roger Cook, 1980’s ‘I Believe In You’ waltzing lazily along on Guthrie Trapp’s resonator guitar. Three of his best known recordings come on a roll, kicking off with 1977 number 1 ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’, Jerry Douglas providing dobro to Dierks Betley’s vocals. Only ever released as a B-side, but, for many, one of his signature songs, Bob McDill’s ‘Amanda’ gets a stripped down and throaty dusty blues treatment by Chris Stapleton, wife Morgane on harmonies, recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry in 2013. Arguably the seminal Williams number, and one he actually co-wrote with Wayland Holyfield, Alison Krauss gives ‘Till The Rivers All Run Dry’ a gentle, beautiful, reflective acoustic reading with a lush string arrangement by Kristin Wilkinson.

The second Cook co-write, 1982 number 1 ‘Love Is On A Roll’, is actually performed by himself and his co-writer John Prine, Linden on electric slide, Raphael on harmonica and Cook also providing ukulele and joining Garth Fundis on background vocals.

The most recent Williams hit here comes from 1981 and was actually a duet with Emmylou Harris and, while it’s a bit cheeky to assign a widely covered Townes Van Zandt classic to the songs of Don Williams, the spare version of ‘If I Needed You’ featuring Jason Isbell and wife Amanda Shires more than warrants turning a blind eye.

The album ends with another McDill song, Garth Brooks stepping up to the plate for a faithful rendition of ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me’, a suitably mellow end to an album clearly made with love and affection for the true Texan gentle giant.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.don-williams.com

Don Williams himself – ‘You’re My Best Friend’: