Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (Columbia)

Tucson Train Bruce Springsteen
Photo credit: Rob Demartin

Released today, Western Stars is Bruce Springsteen’s 19th studio album. A beautiful sweeping soundscape, which for me musically, conjures up the image of a rancher looking out over a large expanse of a Western dusty land. Stallions gently whicker to the sound of a transistor radio, playing sweeping Southern California pop records from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Its beautifully laid back, with themes of distance, travel, dusty highways, reflection and wanderlust. The opening track ‘Hitch Hikin’ gets under the skin of that ‘rolling stone’ spirit that Springsteen does so well, the characters that pick him up, the observations that are made along the way. Like the photos and mementos from a loved one on the dashboard or hanging from the rear-view mirror. The stories that are told on the ride, by the different faces of the drivers and the appreciation shared for the vehicle which bonds the strangers in some connected way.

‘The Wayfarer’ follows with itchy feet and a strings section to put distance between this town and the next, a tale of night travel when most are at rest, the ‘wheels hissing up the highway spinning round and round’ and dreams of moving on ‘When I go to sleep, I can’t count sheep for the white lines in my head’. There is a sense of longing and looking for that ‘one that got away’ as brass heralds the call for what is longingly missing as organ fades out.

Things then pick up a pace as the clicking percussion wheels on the tracks lead in to ‘Tucson Train’ with horn section announcing its arrival. Its probably the most ‘what you would expect a Springsteen track to sound like’ one on the album but then again, Western Stars is not your typical Springsteen album which makes it special. It’s a song of regret and ‘fighting hard over nothing’ and perhaps reconciliation is in the narrative as the words ‘my baby is coming in on the Tucson Trainsuggest.

Somewhere North of Nashville’ with its stripped back feel could have fitted well on The Ghost of Old Tom Joad album as it tries to recall that misplaced melody, somewhere down that lost highway, tallying up all the things that could have been done differently or better. As I said earlier, Springsteen digs lyrically deep on this record and perhaps there is no better example than ‘Stones’. Family and relationship, emotionally delivered ‘I woke up this morning with stones in my mouth – you said those were only the lies you told me’, just fantastic, interlaced with pining Orchestral strings.

“This record is a return to my solo recordings featuring character driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” says Springsteen. “It’s a jewel box of a record.”

The 13 tracks of Western Stars were recorded chiefly at Springsteen’s home studio in New Jersey, with additional recording in California and New York. Ron Aniello produced Western Stars with Springsteen and the album was mixed by Tom Elmhirst with contributions from more than 20 other players.

A many faceted, sublime body of work from the ‘Boss’, evoking a Nashville tinged sadness of nostalgia, mystery love, distance, the road and endless highways and cinematic open desert spaces. Its sweeping range of American themes are musically set to orchestral arrangements of strings, horns and pedal steel and grounded in themes of seclusion, community, home, hard work, family and hope. Its a real treasure to be treasured.

Darren Beech

‘Western Stars’ track listing…

  1. Hitch Hikin’
  2. The Wayfarer
  3. Tucson Train
  4. Western Stars
  5. Sleepy Joe’s Café
  6. Drive Fast (The Stuntman)
  7. Chasin’ Wild Horses
  8. Sundown
  9. Somewhere North of Nashville
  10. Stones
  11. There Goes My Miracle
  12. Hello Sunshine
  13. Moonlight Motel

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The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Cook-A-Hoop + Skeggy Interview

I sit here two weeks after The Great British Folk Festival with a Whitstable Bay Organic Ale in hand and I’m in good company as I have the new The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Cook-A-Hoop vinyl spinning on my turntable.

The album has made quite a journey from when it was first given to me by the band back stage after the interview we did in the early hours of Sunday 2nd December. The vinyl started its journey on top of a pizza box as Cush insisted it came along to the Oysterband back stage gathering (The MEN were playing on REDS stage outside of the Skyline Pavilion and Oysterband were in the Centre Stage complex and on at the same time). Like us, the new album couldn’t find its way there either as everything was locked up.  It took 20 minutes in the rain with TMTCH in tow to realise that the best destination was now 109 Gull Court in The Keys area of Butlins Skeggy. This was the place where the album, the half-eaten pizza’s, The MEN and us hangers-on could be reunited with some more alcohol. However, not all of us made it to 109 Gull Court as the pizza was offloaded on to Simon Care who happened to be wandering past at 2am in the morning on his way to bed.

Anyway, I digress… so let’s get back to the fantastic new album and that late-night folking TMTCH interview.

Cook-A-Hoop has thirteen tracks, two instrumentals, and eleven songs, five written by Paul Simmonds, three by Swill and three by Cush. Cook-A-Hoop is both minimalist and musically expansive.

The songs start with ‘Sirens’, with revolution and a call to arms Pogue-MEN-Style followed by an escapism tale imagined at the speed of an ‘Arrow’ flight. Then a tremolo panther prowls, like a young Bobby Seale and gives his greeting by way of Sunday Soul ‘Salutations’ with trumpet heralding in the arrival of Marvin.

Next, ‘Three Ships Sailing’ haul away, plundering oceans, flying colours with far of canon-shot drum beat judging distance. While half the world is living on ‘Pone’, the unleavened maize bread, this rocking song with mental saxophone and growling vocals shoves it down your throat and reminds us that some people don’t have a choice.

Mantle then shrouds the tale of ‘The Queen of Crows’ who surveys the night to gentle pining fiddle. We journey then to the city of the ‘Archangel’, riding on camels, playing snake charmer grooves, telling tales of devils, demons and shotgun shacks.

Finally, Cush gives us a ‘Kings Street Serenade’ in green bomber jacket, and tight drainpipe trousers. A homage to the glory days of Joe Strummer, Pogue Mohon and being in heaven.

So, to sum the album up… Right Time, Right Place, Right Song. All packaged up in ‘The Amazing Carrier Bag’ of broken dreams and Brexit chaos.

Yes, its classic MEN, so if you’re already a fan, you’ll love it. If you’re not yet, then you are in for a treat as it stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the rest of the back catalogue of 9 studio albums and over 139 songs.

Paul Simmonds has songs pouring out of him at the moment and Swill and Cush are on top song writing form. So, strap yourself in, fasten your seatbelts, you’re in for a TMTCH Cock-A-Hoop roller coaster of a ride of an album. The MEN continue to be, not just a band of brothers who have stuck together for 35 years through thick and thin but also a group that have survived their time and forged a new  musical strength out of the political, blood, sweat and tears of their glorious musical past.

However, the biggest revelation of all is that Swill wished he had written Bat out of Hell!

Darren Beech

Here is the interview that Paul Johnson and Darren Beech recorded with TMTCH after the show.

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Here is the video from the Gosport and Fareham Festival in 2008 that we mentioned in the interview.

Winter Union Bring December Tour Tidings of Comfort & Joy

Winter Union

Well they say Christmas is a special time of year for a Winter Union, when magical things happen, and this year’s Great British Folk Festival is no exception.

There was Darren and I merrily covering this year’s Skegness outing and we happened across Winter Union, a wonderful, hugely talented ‘folk super group’ and all round lovely bunch of chums from the folk scene, who treated us to a fantastic opening afternoon festive set on ‘REDS stage’ yesterday.

Winter Union comprises of Ben Savage, Katriona Gilmore, Jade Rhiannon, Hannah Saunders and Jamie Roberts, who are now in their 4th year as a festive get together.

This was the first date of their 2018 December tour. They played a stunning festive set, mixing traditional Christmas songs with an added blue grass lilt. Darren and I could not let this amazing sleigh ride pass us by without hopping on for an after gig chat in the bar. We also explored Ben Savage’s (or babe as I called him in a text typo) tale of ‘Christmas Ball Balls’.

Paul Johnson

This is what they had to say…..

Artist Website:

SHERBURN – BARTLEY – SANDERS – be.guile (own label SBS001)

be.guileIf like me, you tend to dig out the old Last Night’s Fun CD’s and wonder what would have happened if Nick Scott had been woven into a Fairy Queen folk tale, whilst being held in the arms of Chris Sherburn and turned three times into a snake, a lion and finally a suitably clothed, rather attractive and talented female fiddle playing singer in black leggings and floral dress, then you are in for a treat!

LNF always gave you a great night out, got you lost in those beautiful meandering tales such as ‘The Tinkerman’s Daughter’ and played raucous sets at the speed of a stream train. You always looked forward to Chris introducing the songs which would usually involve something Nick Scott related. From a scrapheap challenge reference as Nick assembled his pipes before a tune to Chris inviting the ladies in the audience to take Nick out on a date. In fact, the way Sherburn held the audience with his unique blend of impromptu observational banter made them much loved by festival audiences far and wide.

After the band split, Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley did a few festival and gig appearances as a duo and recorded a CD but it always left me wondering if another trio project was ever going to be on the cards again and if so, who it was going to be with.

Well even a pair of rough old diamonds like Chris and Denny sometimes need smoothing out and polishing up a little and what better way of buffing them up than introducing the lovely and talented Emily Sanders on vocals, fiddle and viola to the fold.

It’s really thanks to Terry Oliver that this project ever came together at all. It happened back in 2016 when the new trio played a Thursday afternoon concert at the Whitby Folk Festival and it was Terry’s suggestion that they record a CD.

be.guile is a fine record, it keeps that tried and tested Sherburn – Bartley formula of vocal, guitar and Wheatsone concertina and marries it together with Emily’s lead/ vocal harmonies and fiddle. The album also has some great guests, Andy Seward, Martin Simpson and Chris Miley together with Phil Beer in control of mastering.

The track selection and placing also works really well and is listed as follows:

  1. William Taylor (feat. Andy Seward on Double Bass).
  2. Next Market Day.
  3. Sammy’s Bar.
  4. Seven Curses (Feat. Martin Simpson on Slide Guitar).
  5. Adieu Lovely Nancy.
  6. New Railroad (Feat. Martin Simpson on Slide Guitar and Andy Seward on Double Bass).
  7. The Tinkerman’s Daughter/ The Holly Bush (Andy Seward on Double Bass).
  8. Bright Blue Rose.
  9. Bantry Girtls Lament/ Bulgarian Red/The Fisherman’s Lilt (feat. Chris Miley on Snare Drum).

Like the definition, the album sets out to charm and enchant, it may deceive you in to thinking about Last Night’s Fun but its actually a new day, spent in pleasant company.

Darren Beech

Artists’ website:

Here is a performance from 2017 of Emily singing ‘Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy’ from the Downend Folk Club

ALAN PROSSER – 5/4AP (Rafting Dog Records RD054)

5/4APWell then… if you listened to our interview with Alan Prosser backstage at Cropredy you will already know that Alan alluded to the fact that he would be sending me a copy of his new solo album 5/4AP where every song and instrumental was going to be in 5/4 time. I’m pleased to report that the man was good to his word, and the little beauty has now arrived in the post so I’ve finally been able to get my lughole’s around it and given it a spin.

I’m sure you all know, that Alan Prosser is a founding member of Oysterband, a really nice all-round bloke, a gigging musician for 45 years who has collaborated with the likes of The Albion Band, June Tabor, Brendan Power, Lucy Randall, Tim Edey, Chumbawamba and a host of other fiendishly good folk folk.

Alan told me that the album is a kind of homage to an EP made by Davy Graham and Alexis Korner called 3/4 AD that inspired him as a lad. He went on to say that he thinks the new records format may be a first, in the fact that no other artist or band have attempted a whole album in 5/4. It’s clever as well, as it does not throw you in at the deep end as the opening track ‘Ridingate’ is an instrumental that gently eases you in to the concept of the album and whispers promises of greatness through its famous Canterbury road gate.

There is a lot going in the second track “Simple Is Never Easy’, think ‘The Jasmine Corridor’ on Ian Anderson’s ‘The Secret Language Of Birds’ shaking hands (or rubbing elbows) with early Jethro Tull ‘Stand Up” era at a 1960’s Psychedelia convention promoting harmony and love for couples. Doctor Prosser then administrates another shot of ‘Ridingate’, a reprise this time to calm us down before having to deal with the fourth track, ‘Suicide Bomber’ with its stunning guitar playing and Keith James-esque ‘Lorca’ vocal work as the piece hurtling towards its fanatical conclusion. The format continues with another instrumental ‘Out Of Kent’, then a skippy-ditty little vocal number called ‘Amy Isn’t Waiting’ which for me, still left the narrative cheerful, even though Amy didn’t turn up. The ‘Stour Water’ instrumental follows and then ‘Mikey’s Song’ written for a previous Oysterband sound engineer which brought to mind the Pentangle influence which was another one of Alan’s inspirations for making this album.

‘Five For You’, a solo gig favourite follows which is a homage to ‘Take Five’ by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. To close, the album troops its colours to the name given to the average soldier in the first word war, Tommy Atkin as it closes with ‘Tommy Atkin’s March’.

The album was mastered by Al Scott (who also produces Oysterband) and it’s a fascinating project with monster playing by Alan and clever arrangements. Who would have thought that a whole album in 5/4 could be so diverse? Top job Mr. Prosser!

Darren Beech

Artist’s website:

We can’t find a video from the new album yet but here’s a taster of Alan’s playing:

ANNIE DRESSNER – Broken Into Pieces

Like Kurt Russell in ‘Escape from New York‘, Annie Dressner has legged it as well and made it over here to fair Albion even without the aid of an eye patch! Dressner been busy in Blighty, clocking up airplay on both BBC Radio Two and Six and earning herself festival appearances at Green Man and Cambridge to name just a few. Its no surprise then, that she now has a brand new spanking album, ‘Broken Into Pieces’ in the can and a huge heart and desire to share it with everyone.

Mates abound, with contributions from Polly Palusama and Che Bereford from Capercaille. Dressner’s husband Paul Goodwin also chips in on BV’s along with Dan Wilde and Jade Rhiannon Ward from the Willows. Matthew Caws from Nada Surf is also part of the project together with ‘Broken Into Pieces’ album producer Nigel Stonier (Thea Gilmore, Fairport Convention, Martha Wainwright, Waterboys and Abbie Ozard).

The album looks at the little fragile fragments of everyday life and its relationships. The melodies are folk/pop tinged, complemented by vocals pitched in a tone, slightly higher in a golden, “crisp Manhattan morning air”. It starts with ‘Fades Away’, which gently pulls the listener out of its opening hypnotic circular guitar and soft lullaby chrysalis, into a relationship butterfly of tinkering piano and meandering cello. ‘Don’t Go’, folk-pop-rocks it along with its little cheery whistling intro as it steams off into ‘sticky plaster’ patching up relationship territory, with one foot out the door whilst the head is jerked back around as its being persuaded to stay. ‘Heartbreaker’ has a great swinging pop-country homespun roll to it and looks back to what could have been. ‘This was how it was to be my love when you were my love‘, maybe all those gold flakes in the vodka bankrupted the poor fella!

‘Kentucky’, which you can watch in video below was the first track that jumped out and grabbed me. There is something very fragile about it, you feel like you are holding the heart of it and if you don’t hold on to it carefully enough, you may drop and smash it.

The more and more I listen to ‘Broken Into Pieces’, the more I find something new in it. Its a beautiful thing and its definitely a keeper.

Darren Beech

Artist’s website:

‘Kentucky’ – official video:

The album is available to order/download from the Bandcamp link below. ‘Fades Away’, ‘Kentucky’ and ‘Get Out’ are there to stream as well.