WOOD, WIRE AND WORDS – The Boy With The Smile (own label)

The Boy WIth The SmileWood, Wire And Words are a trio from Portsmouth: lead singer and guitarist David Rozzell, who writes most of the band’s songs; Clare Rozzell, vocalist and double-bass player and Pat Francis who does most of everything else. The Boy With The Smile is their third album. David says that the group doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed with a genre but in that respect they don’t quite succeed. Regardless of the subject matter, this is Americana but with the exception of Pat’s Dobro they don’t overstep the line into the tropes of country. In fact, the combination of British subjects with the music of the Americas is central to their appeal. This is particularly evident in the single cover here; ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. Had Richard Thompson not included a mention of Box Hill in the song it could be set anywhere in the USA although James would probably have ridden a Harley. That’s the way Wood, Wire And Words play it and, you know, it’s the best cover of the song I’ve heard.

The title track, which opens the show, is a rural love song which mentions Morris dancers and was written for a Harvest Festival gig and David returns later to the theme with ‘Toast The Harvest’. The next two tracks, ‘I’ll Not Seek Pardon’ and ‘More Than A Train’, are definitely cowboy songs but the latter has a clever twist. Setting it in the UK, David points out that here you can’t jump a train and lose yourself in the wilderness, hence the title. You can get as far as Wick but there will be several changes on route – they’ll track you down.

A few more songs deserve special mention. ‘The Words You Can’t Find’ is an autobiographical piece concerned with living with chronic pain, depression and memory loss but it’s not as dark as that makes it sound. ‘Truth And Democracy’ is their political protest and very good it is too. They balance that with the humour of ‘There’s No Food In My Bowl’ – which is about a cat.

I like The Boy With The Smile a lot. David Rozzell has a mighty voice and a real talent as a songwriter, the playing is tight and the whole album is very easy to listen to – in the best possible sense of easy listening.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.woodwireandwords.com

‘More Than A Train’ – live:

GALLERY 47 – Chaos Ensued (Bad Production Records)

Chaos EnsuedGallery 47 used to be a six-piece band from Loughborough but it/he is now just Jack Peachey working solo under the name with Chaos Ensued as possibly the completion of a trilogy. Or possibly not. The album came to me out of the cloud, as many do, and will be commercially available only as a download. Fortunately, I’ve got a rather sprauncy hand-made CD so thanks for that, Jack. I listened and was instantly knocked out by the opening track.

‘Rolling Tight’ opens with a guitar riff topped off with electric keyboard and then a mean lead guitar break before the song starts. It’s a very 1960s sound and it reminds me of something but I can’t quite think what it is. It’s a belter of song.  Jack takes things down a little with the piano-based ‘Embers’ and it initially seems that ‘Choices’ will go the same way until the drums come crashing in. It’s an odd juxtaposition of Jack’s fragile voice with a big arrangement but effective nonetheless.

Next we’re into some straight rock’n’roll with ‘Weeklong’ which sounds like one hell of a party followed by a contender for the album’s best song. I’m not sure what the principal instrument on ‘Rise’ is – if I said pizzicato bass ukulele you’d have me locked up – but it’s very catchy with a guitar break that sort of matches the whatever-it-is. Lyrically it’s very clever. Try this: “Would you reckon I was under-ripe? Would you put me in a fridge or a dustbin?”. It’s a song about ambition and lack of success as far as I can tell.

Jazz piano introduces the 12-bar ‘Downcaster Rivers’, a blues about depression in the modern world – just my interpretation, you understand – while ‘Going Steady’ begins with strange drones and hand-claps with Jack’s voice half-buried in the mix. ‘Give In’ is possibly about parents and children and the lack of understanding therein and with ‘Lay Me Low’ and ‘Song For Ben’ we are back to urban melancholy with almost minimalist accompaniments.

Chaos Ensued is a record that defies categorisation and doesn’t follow any rules, which is good with me, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/gallery-47

‘Rolling Tight’:

MARTIN SIMPSON – Rooted (Topic TXCD598)

RootedDid you know that Ernest Shackleton considered a banjo essential to mental health on his expedition to the South Pole? Neither did I but it’s one of the fascinating facts I gleaned from Martin Simpson’s sleevenotes for his new album Rooted. Mental health is one of the themes of the record and, being a banjo player himself, I reckon that Martin has a head start on some of us. It’s one of the reasons why the album resonates with me.

As you might expect Martin mixes original compositions, traditional songs and covers. Here, Martin’s new songs lean towards the American traditional style so the opener, ‘Trouble Brought Me Here’ sounds like it could be a hundred or so years old. The second track, ‘Kimbie’, is traditional and includes some of those “vagrant stanzas” that he’s fond of. By this time, you’ll be relaxing into the music and the distinction really won’t matter.

Rooted boasts a fine supporting cast including Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr, John Smith and Ben Nicholls plus five backing vocalists but Andy Bell’s production and engineering ensure that Martin’s voice, guitar and/or banjo ride smoothly on top of the arrangements. I’m not totally convinced by one track and that is ‘Hills Of Shiloh’ which was very popular back in the 80s. It’s not the song but Martin takes it a little too quickly for my taste and the arrangement is rather too involved.

There are some great stories in these songs, though. ‘Ken Small’ tells of a man who laboured to unearth a tank from Start Bay left there after the disastrous Operation Tiger in 1944. ‘Joe Bowers’ came from Hedy West and is a relative of ‘Sweet Betsy From Pike’ and ‘Henry Gray’ is about a piano-player who was a member of Howln’ Wolf’s band and also worked with Elmore James and Jimmy Reed. Martin was invited to play with his band – what can you say? Robb Johnson’s ‘More Than Enough’ was a song that Roy Bailey played and Martin sang it with him in hospital just before he died.

The bonus disc is a set of instrumentals two of which are sung in the substantive set. I get the feeling that Martin let his hair down just a little – playing guitar is no joking matter – and invited the band to do the same. There are a number of songs that I haven’t mentioned; all as good as the ones I have and you’ll find that Rooted is a sublime record.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.martinsimpson.com

‘More Than Enough’ – with a story to tell:

WE BANJO 3 – Roots To Rise Live (own label WB3CD006)

Roots To Rise LiveWe’ve been through this before but… We Banjo 3 are two pairs of brothers, the Howleys and the Seahills who play a sort of Irish-Americana. They mix traditional songs and tunes with original compositions which they rely on more heavily these days. Roots To Rise Live was recorded in front of enthusiastic audiences over two nights in Ann Arbor, Michigan earlier this year. This isn’t their first live album but it’s the first one I’ve heard and it came as something of surprise. For their studio albums We Banjo 3 employ guest musicians and everything that a studio can offer and I’ve sometimes found their arrangements rather too dense although tightly controlled. I was expecting, therefore, that the volume and speed would be cranked up. How wrong I was. Stripped back to just what the four of them can do, I’d venture to say that Roots To Rise Live is the best We Banjo 3 album I‘ve heard.

The album opens with ‘Shine On’ which exhibits just the right level of freedom to set the album on its way. That’s followed by the instrumental set, ‘Puncheon Floor’, the title track from their most recent album, Haven, and the waltz, ‘Marry Me Monday’ from the same set. ‘Little Liza Jane’ is a real crowd pleaser and so is ‘Wynne’s’ as the pace builds up but, before that, ‘This Is Home’ settles things down a little. The set, as it’s presented here, is beautifully constructed so that by the time we get to ‘Prettiest Little Girl’ the guys are really rocking. ‘Trying To Love’ doesn’t let up and the traditional instrumental set, ‘Good Time Old Time’ sends the crowd home in a very happy mood.

If you weren’t in Ann Arbor back in February, and it’s probable that you weren’t, this is a perfect record of what you missed.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Prettiest Little Girl’ – live:

ALISTAIR BROWN – When Fishes Fly (Prospect Records PC005)

When Fishes FlyWhen, in the post-Brexit dystopia, you can no longer afford a trip to your local folk club When Fishes Fly is one of the records you can play and remember how things were. Alistair Brown is a veteran Scottish singer and concertina player (now living in Cornwall) and he’s supported by Peter Wray on guitar and cittern and George Chippendale on fiddle and guitar. This is a veteran set as well, in the sense that a mixture of traditional songs and covers such as this is what we’ve been singing since the 60s.

Alistair begins with three traditional songs. The first is ‘Rue’, a relative of ‘Oh No Not I’ and tells of the use of the herb as an abortifacient often with fatal results for the mother. ‘The Glasgow Barber’ is an almost comic song concerning an immigrant from County Mayo who doesn’t like the hairstyle imposed on him by the titular hairdresser and ‘Braw Sailing On The Sea’ is a classic bothy ballad, much recorded in recent years.

Next come two real comic songs. ‘The Ballad Of Lidl And Aldi’ is written by Mickey McConnell and if you haven’t yet heard it see if you can guess the chorus before you do. ‘The Glens’ is something of a favourite of mine, loaded with punning rhymes, on the subject of whisky. Alistair moves then to ‘Shining Down On Sennen’ by Mike O’Connor which is a sort of cousin to Steve Knightley’s ‘Cousin Jack’ and a lovely song but then switches back to two more humorous songs which, I feel, overload the album a little  His version of ‘Get Up And Bar The Door’ is different as is ‘The Working Chap’, sometimes known as ‘Work Life Out To Keep Life In’ and songs by Dave Evardson, Gordon Bok and Karine Polwart do much to balance to humour.

Yes, When Fishes Fly is a good old-fashioned folk-club set and none the worse for that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.alistairbrown.com

‘The Lass Of Patie’s Mill’ – live:

SHEILA K CAMERON – River To Sea (Glalell SKC1709CD)

River To SeaSheila K Cameron has systematically reissued some of her early recordings over the last few years. She is a Scottish songwriter and singer who has lived for much of her life on the island of Haida Gwaii off the coast of British Columbia. Her style is a mixture of folk, blues and jazz and River To Sea is a combination of two sets arranged by Wild Biscuit (John Saich and Mags Russell).

The first seven tracks were released in 2016 under the title More Like A River Than A Road. Some of the songs are little more than sketches but it seems that Sheila recorded just about everything she wrote and these tracks were those selected for polishing. ‘Last Night I Dreamed About Doris Lessing’ and ‘Somehow (Everything From My Suitcase Has Got Scattered On The Road)’ give you a glimpse into the quirkiness of her writing.  These tracks were written on Haida Gwaii and are linked to the Tlell River referred to in the title.

The second half the album began on Haida Gwaii and ended on Tiree where ‘All You Need Is The Sea’ was written. These are more recent tracks, more developed and with bigger arrangements. ‘Another Dream’ and ‘Moxie Blues’ are real gems. If Sheila is aiming for a comeback this album should give her a push in the right direction.

Dai Jeffries

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Read Su O’Brien’s review of another of Sheila K Cameron’s reissues, Alone On The Road here.

‘All You Really Need Is The Sea’ – official video: