TONY ROSE – Medicine Tunes (Cannery Row Records. CRR 1824/ CRR 1825)

Medicine TunesRecorded in just one session in the spring of 2017, Medicine Tunes is the debut solo album by Tony Rose. Moving away from his more frequented folk-rock sound, this album is about as country as country gets, musically and lyrically, and often dealing with subject matter such as loss and despair. However, the theme of hope occasionally surfaces at times, too and in a sense, much of this album’s purpose was born from the cathartic qualities of the songwriting process.

The musically refreshing, if at times lyrically biting, ‘When I Walk, Will You Follow?’ kicks off proceedings, followed by ‘Broken Heart And Sad, Sad Memories’. For an album which pretty much ticks every box of the country bracket, this song is uber-country; touching on themes of separation, tears, whiskey that “won’t wash this pain away”, a heart that “don’t get no comfort”, as well as a countrified false ending for good measure.

The light at the end of the tunnel, as it were, begins to make its presence known in the second half of the recording; in songs like ‘South Of The Border’ (a tribute to friendship and being helped through hard times) and ‘Last Days Of Summer’ a song of rebuilding, looking forward and shaking yesterday’s troubles.

Towards the end however, the darker clouds begin to creep in once more, particularly in Rose’s ode to adjustment and isolation, ‘Getting It Together’ and in the (arguably) darkest song of the collection, ‘What Do I Ask The Moon?’ concluding Rose’s debut solo offering.

Although the official portion of the album ends on this note, included in the release is a bonus disc; Roll High And Roll Good, a 14 track compendium of Tony’s songs covered by artists from Europe and North America; offering another , and at times, very interesting take on the works of this thoughtful and honest songwriter.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website: https://medicinetunes-tonyrose.bandcamp.com/

‘South Of The Border’ – live on the radio:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – 1989 Newport Folk Festival (Air Cuts AC3CD8060)

NewportHats off to the Air Cuts label for this box-set of the Ben & Jerry’s 1989 Newport Folk Festival – a near 30 year old recording, made to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the original 1959 event. While in many ways, this release harks back to the boxed editions of Newport Folk Festival recordings released on the Vanguard label back in the day, one of the most striking things about this set is the sheer completeness of it.

Indeed, it, quite noticeably, captures the ethos of Newport; fusing the old and new, while showcasing the variety of styles which the ‘folk music’ banner has to offer. Furthermore, while it would have been easy to cherry-pick the event’s best bits for one single record, we instead get three discs, each boasting a generous portion of live sets from the Festival’s contemporary headliners; along with a handful of stand-alone tracks from (then) up and coming talents and folk music royalty.

Disc one begins strongly, with a six track set from John Hiatt, featuring Ry Cooder on ‘Lipstick Sunset’. Very soon, we are given a taste of the vastness of the Newport soundscape; being presented with ragtimey numbers by Leon Redbone, a Russian Gypsy song – sung in Yiddish – by Theodore Bikel and the Cajun-influenced sounds of Buckwheat Zydeco. Interspersed among this, is one of the entire album’s standout tracks; ‘Mill Town’ by Cormack McCarthy, recorded on the Workshop stage for “today’s rising folk singers”. Disc two’s highlights include blazing sets from Laura Nyro and BB King, as well as shorter contributions from the Clancy Brothers and Odetta. The third and final disc employs a similar format and once again, (sizable and enjoyable) sets follow from John Prine and Emmylou Harris, along with a slightly shorter contribution from John Lee Hooker, while Pete Seeger closes both the Festival and the album with ‘Old Time Religion’ and ‘Sailing Up, Sailing Down’.

As a true reflection of Newport, this album is almost as accurate as it gets; something which most live festival-type recordings fail to express, let alone in quite so much depth. It is a really is a great set and whether it provides a re-visit of familiar material in a different setting, or an all-out introduction to completely unheard works, it is a very welcome release, and I hope, it is just one of many such sets to be issued by Air Cuts.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Label website: http://www.odmcy.com/catalog/index.php/catalogue/1-air-cuts

‘Lipstick Sunset’ – John Hiatt with Ry Cooder:

BOB DYLAN – Live NYC 1963 (Rox Vox. RVCD2130)

Live NYC 1963In early 1963, Bob Dylan was at the threshold of a career that would skyrocket him to previously unimaginable heights, in part, aided by his Freewheelin’ LP, released in May ’63. Although an implied ‘live’ recording, Live NYC 1963, is actually, more accurately, part of a radio broadcast from WBAI’s Radio Unnameable hosted by Bob Fass, featuring a genuinely unexpected visit from Dylan, who’d arrived with the intention of self-plugging his forthcoming release. Not only was this visit unscripted, but it was also completely unbeknownst to Columbia Records who had already earmarked a release date for the album with which Dylan had come armed; “Don’t worry Bob,” Fass jokingly tells his unexpected guest “nobody listens.”

From the early acetate, Fass selects ‘Oxford Town’, ‘I Shall Be Free’, ‘Corrina, Corrina’ and ‘Down the Highway’ for airplay; a retrospectively strange selection, considering the album would also boast ‘Blowing in the Wind’, ‘Don’t Think Twice…’, ‘…Hard Rain’ and an unfortunate one, seeing as these early pressings featured (among other abandoned songs) ‘Let Me Die In My Footsteps’ and the controversial ‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’, deleted from the official release two months later.

With this in mind, as a Dylan album, Live NYC 1963 is not exactly ground breaking, furthermore, Dylan appears on just over half of the show, yet that is not to say it is a recording without any sort of saving grace.

Firstly, with, or without Dylan, this recording is an undeniable artefact of countercultural history; it is one of the original episodes of Radio Unnameable, which began in early ‘63 and has continued to air over the last fifty-odd years. Secondly, we are offered a glimpse into (yet another side of) the young Dylan; and one not always apparent on record, as he banters away with his host and gets involved in a handful of comedy skits – adopting characters like ‘Rory Grossman’ and ‘Rumple Billy Burp’ for good measure. Thirdly, Dylan is accompanied on air by Suze Rotolo; his then-girlfriend (and the lady nestled into his arm on the front cover of the aforementioned Freewheelin’) and this recording, may actually be one of the only existing, audio fragments of the couple together.

Yes, in a musical sense, it is a shame that we do not uncover more buried treasure with this album, but what we do have is a very remarkable time capsule, and for the fact it has been liberated from the circles of bootleggers and tape-traders, and made more easily accessible, I think it is a release which should be commended.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’ – live:

MISNER & SMITH – headwaters (own label)

headwatersThe actor-turned-muso duo of Sam Misner and Megan Smith return with their fifth album, headwaters, due for release on June 25th, although it has been available in the States since October 2017. It is a little bit different from previous offerings such as Seven Hour Storm or Poor Player, and what exactly makes it different, is the fact that this one is entirely comprised of raw, laid-back cover versions from works by Paul Simon to ‘Talking Heads’.

Sounding weirdly Paul Simon-esque in his vocal (at times), Sam Misner takes the lead on ‘America’, followed by a straight forward, but effective, rendition of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ ‘Return of the Grievous Angel’. Indeed, the fact that both of these numbers were originally released as duets, only adds to the strength of these opening tracks; presenting the listener with a new version of something recognisable, but something that is also in-keeping with the Misner and Smith sound.

Following a very stripped-down arrangement of the Neil Young-penned, ‘Expecting To Fly’, we are gifted with Patty Griffin’s ‘Making Pies’; a reflective piece of everyday life, written from the female perspective, and the only song on the album in which Megan takes the lead vocal. If the album’s arrangement of ‘Coconut Grove’ isn’t exactly a million miles away from its 1966 original, the re-work of Talking Heads ‘City Of Dreams’, couldn’t be more different.

There are two particularly strong recordings which conclude the album; The Band’s ‘It Makes No Difference’ (a Misner and Smith live staple) and ‘Turning the Century’, by contemporary writers Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken, of ‘Dr Dog’ fame.

Bowing out at just eight songs, it is not a terribly long album, but it is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, from the listener’s point of view, it is a recording which is both enjoyable and somewhat unusual. Secondly, from the viewpoint of Sam Misner and Megan Smith, it is an important acknowledgement of the songwriters and musicians, past and present, who inspire and shine the guiding light upon the duo’s own musical journey.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: https://misnerandsmith.com/

‘It Makes No Difference’ – live:

JACK CARTY AND GUS GARDINER – Hospital Hill (It’s Dinner Recordings/ MGM GLWCD07)

Hospital HllAustralian musicians Jack Carty and Gus Gardiner collaborate to co-write Hospital Hill, which will be released on June 1st. While by and large, I would consider this a somewhat stripped back type of album, for the entirety of the record, Carty’s acoustic guitar and vocal takes are backed by a lush string quartet, featuring his partner in crime, Gus Gardiner on cello.

‘Facing South’ kicks off the album and it’s a strong, melodic opener that starts simply – sparsely even – before gradually building to the introduction of the strings, which quickly become a very familiar sound of this record. Following this number is title track, ‘Hospital Hill’, with its flowing build ups and flourishes, led by the slow, sad drones of the cello.

Indeed, it seems that the strings have two key roles on the album; firstly, and most obviously, their purpose is to enhance and colour Carty’s lyrics; this marriage of sweetness and melancholy is particularly apparent on the likes of ‘Hotel Rooms’ or ‘Apple Tree’ in particular. There are instances in which the melancholic sweetness gives way to a far more menacing tone, echoing some of Carty’s eerie imagery and bleak lyrics; see ‘The Road, A Snake’.

Another purpose of the strings, is that they rejuvenate and breathe new life into works which listeners, already familiar with Carty’s work, may know. Their presence on ‘Kindness is a Dying Art’ for example (originally recorded for 2016’s Home State LP) adds a further dimension to the song.

It is ’Stargazer’, that rounds off the album; with its upbeat tempo and warmer lyrics, in the best possible way, it feels very different from anything else on the rest of the disc, making for a most satisfactory conclusion.

Having been recorded as complete takes, Hospital Hill, retains a nice live feeling to it which isn’t always captured in studio albums. Furthermore, it does feel like a genuine collaboration and where Carty’s vocals tell the album’s stories, as it were, it is the Gardiner-led string section which really steal the show.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website: https://www.jackcarty.com/

‘Stargazer’ – official video:

PHIL MADEIRA – Providence (Mercyland Records. ML006)

ProvidenceProvidence is the brand new release from one of Nashville’s most seasoned veterans, Phil Madeira. It’s jazzy, it’s bluesy and as you’d expect from a man with Madeira’s credentials, the musicianship on the record, is second to none. In April 2018, it entered Billboard’s Traditional Jazz Chart at number 12 and it has only continued to gather critical praise ever since.

Seven of the album’s ten songs were written in just two months in mid to late 2016, while other titles like ‘Barrington’ began life in the early 1980s. Similarly, work on ‘Wicked Job’ first began in the mid-1990s, while, ‘Dearest Companion’, the most recent of the compositions, was only penned during the recording process of the album itself.

Two of the most striking things about the songs on the album are that they are i) directly biographical and ii) geographically, very site-specific; focussing mainly on Madeira’s home State of Rhode Island.

In album opener ‘Wicked Job’, Madeira reminisces about his experiences working in a “locally famous and now defunct” Rhode Island discount store called Ann & Hope; ‘Rhode Island Yankee On Jefferson Davis Court’ tells the story of Madeira’s relocation to the South, while songs like ‘Back In The Ocean State’ and ‘Native Son’ are really about coming home. This sense of homeward reflection is a key factor in Madeira’s song writing, illustrated through numbers like ‘Rich Man’s Town’ where he reflects on his upbringing in the Providence suburb of Barrington, much like he does in another directly biographical song of that name:

In Barrington I grew tall, Water danced where the sun would fall;
So many memories I recall of Barrington.
Now that’s left of my family tree, Is the patch of earth where my father sleeps
There’s no one left to welcome me, In Barrington.”

This focus on family and growing up continues right to the very end of the record’s last track; ‘Gothenburg’, a moving tribute to Madeira’s grandparents who emigrated from Sweden to Providence in the 1920s, as with Madeira bowing out on the line “This is a true story of long ago – I just wanted you to know” not only bringing this biographical album to a conclusion, but, all the way back home.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://philmadeira.net/

‘Rich Man’s Town’ – official video: