THE HOT SEATS – Stupid Mountain Too Big

Stupid MountainNot only is Stupid Mountain Too Big a great title, but it is also the first album in three years from the Virginia-based Hot Seats. Heavily influenced by the much rustified sounds of old-timey, shellac recordings, the original mission of this album was to conjure up the false sense of nostalgia created by those works, by dealing with the typical subjects of love, death, mountains and railroads and other such subject matter, prominent in old timey music. During the writing process, the plan changed somewhat and other elements were introduced to the mix, resulting in a collection of songs, which tell the broader story of human life…or as the Hot Seats describe it: “from procreation all the way to the inevitable realization of the inconsequential nature of existence”. The result? Two records merged together to form one 17 track monster album that is part concept and part traditional. Furthermore, rather than sub-divide the tracks into ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, both the traditional numbers and the original ‘concept’ pieces co-exist and make way for one another.

The album kicks off on the traditional side of things with ‘Ida Red’; a piece made famous in the late 1930s by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, although this rendition is more akin to a 1927 version recorded by Dykes Magic City Trio.

Following this is the first of the album’s ‘concept’ pieces; ‘Springtime’. Inspired by spotting shoals of gar fish in the Chickahominy River, in the east of Virginia, the song, in its post-winter setting, deals with what happens before life begins and the blissful ignorance of what lies ahead. Mirroring life, what quite literally, what lies ahead is ‘Bad Decisions’; an upbeat ode to humankind’s collectively poor decision making abilities. From here, the idea of ‘everyday life’ continues to flow in and out for the duration of the album; the catchy and clever ‘When You Were Young’ laments fleeting youth while ‘Compliance’ is a commentary on 21st Century living (done, of course, in an old-timey style). ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘Life Story’ kind of do what they say on the tin while the lyrics and outlook of ‘Briney Foam’ manage to successfully combine grim, with weirdly uplifting:

One of these days, you’re gonna go to sleep/ You’re not gonna wake up again
You’re gonna open your eyes and to your surprise / You’ll be free as a bird floating overhead
All of your friends will weep and mourn ‘bout where you’ve gone / Pretty soon they’ll be talkin’ like you never were born
And although your hair and teeth grow when you’re down below/ You can’t take nothing with you when you go.”

For the most part, the observations made by the Hot Seats are funny because they’re true, in the case of ‘Gun Crazy (In The USA)’ the fact that the observations are (albeit, a little exaggerated but) generally so spot on, makes the song quite sad. Essentially the song ironically suggests that the solution to all of life’s problems is to acquire a firearm; if your “Daughters always on the phone…Neighbour’s lawn is overgrown…Line up and get yourself a gun!

Following this, is a borrowed fiddle-led instrumental, ‘Old Bunch Of Keys’, from the discography of turn-of-the-century Appalachian musician, Tommy Jarrell. In total, there are four instrumental tracks on the album: ‘Benny Martin Special #2’, ‘Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase’ and a lovely and lonesome banjo and yodelling trumpet arrangement of the Jimmie Rodgers staple ‘Miss The Mississippi’.

While it is a long album, there is so much to it that it doesn’t feel like a drag. Furthermore, it is a grower. Things which didn’t jump out initially begin to do so after a few listens, causing songs, lines and runs to get stuck in your head, prompting yet another listen of the record, where things take shape, make sense and generally just come together.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artists’ website: http://thehotseatsrva.com/

The Hot Seats live at Grateful Fred’s:

DUNCAN McCRONE – Land Of Gold (Greentrax CDTRAX398)

Land Of GoldA well-established veteran of the Scottish folk scene, Duncan McCrone returns with Land Of Gold, his fourth solo album, and his first on the esteemed Greentrax label. It is a record of new and revisited songs; some recent originals inspired by old stories, a few recordings of older writings and a fine selection of covered material; which fit seamlessly with Mr McCrone’s own songwriting style and (at times) the album’s subject matter. While this is no concept album, there are certainly recurring themes; nautical themes, geographical themes, themes of wishing, travelling and searching to find…but sometimes never finding.

The title track opens the record with its beautiful melody, lyrics and imagery, telling the story of the “Hebridean Klondike Kate”, who left behind her home in Scotland to seek her fortune in the Yukon Valley, at the time of the gold rush. While this track deals with the song’s protagonist leaving Scotland, McCrone later deals with songs in which the lead protagonist is arriving in Scotland; namely ‘The Pioneers’, which tells the story of Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Asian MSP who emigrated from Pakistan to Scotland as a 21 year old, in 1961.

Throughout the album, McCrone takes the opportunity to showcase his ability to retell engaging stories through music. This can be seen, particularly, in numbers like ‘Song of the Skylark’ (an ode to a small sailing vessel which saved over 600 lives during the Second World War), ‘Honeymoon Bridge’ (about a husband and wife, reunited after four years, tragically killed en route to their belated honeymoon), ‘Harbour Wall’ (where the souls of deceased mariners wait for their true love) and ‘Resurrection Road ( A Clydeside Carol)’ featuring Rab Noakes, which juxtaposes nostalgic images of Christmas time in Glasgow, with the harsh, grittier images of the realities of homelessness in the city.

Between these numbers, it is the well placed selections of cover material which fill in the gaps.

Love songs and industrial ballads by Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)’ and ‘My Old Man’ respectively) are done tremendous justice by Mr McCrone, as is Eric Bogle’s ‘If Wishes Were Fishes’ and Matt McGinn’s poignant masterpiece, ‘Magic Shadow Show’. However, it is Graeme Mills anthem for dreamers, searchers and ‘nearly men’ titled ‘My Eldorado’ which is perhaps the most bittersweet song on the entire record.

This is an album that is rich in great talent, with finely crafted songs, punctuated by the incredible musicianship of some of the most respected names on the Scottish folk scene. What is even more impressive, is that it is a recording by an artist whose already noteworthy musical resume must date back some 40 years, and Land Of Gold might just be Mr McCrone’s best work yet.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website: http://duncanmccrone.com/

‘The Surf And The Silver Fishes’ – live:

CHRIS RONALD – Fragments (Borealis Records BCD 248)

FragmentsWith a solid body of work since 2004’s Pacific Time, the English-born/Canadian-based singer-songwriter, Chris Ronald has just issued album number four, titled Fragments. On this album there are traces of 1960s styled folk revivalists, 1970s singer-songwriters, contemporary writers, country and bluegrass music, bound together with Ronald’s contemporary songwriting and John Ellis’ modern production.

The wonderfully descriptive, ‘Everything Goes Green’ kicks off the album, which despite its autumnal and wintery imagery, carries an uplifting message, that everything comes to pass and that “…everything goes green…again…before too long”.

Many of the songs in this record have the sound one may typically associate with a recording from the singer songwriter ‘bag’; the nostalgic ‘Sons of Summer’, the lyrically moving ‘Grandpa’s Wedding Ring’ or the bleak and beautiful ‘Continents’, for example, in which Mike Sanyshyn’s violin sets the tone and steals the show. The mournful ‘Rain City Blues’, continues this approach, with Roland being joined by no less than four other vocalists to tell the song’s ‘story’ as it were.

But Ronald doesn’t just stick with this tried and tested formula, and even early on, numbers like ‘Get Back In The Game’ introduce a ‘bigger’ sound to the album. While this track provides mere hints of alt. country, this approach remains prominent throughout; particularly on the likes of ‘Freedom Train’ and ‘Retirement Plan’.

Fragments is an enjoyable collection of songs by a critically acclaimed folk singer. With the exception of ‘Okanagan Sunset’, all of the songs are directly from Roland’s own pen and the once nominated Songwriter of the Year proves his worth on this record. Whether this recording is your introduction to Ronald’s music or merely just an addition to the collection, it’s a good shout and likely one you will tend to revisit.

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: http://www.chrisronald.com/

Album teaser:

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).

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: 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).

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.

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).

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.

‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’ – live: