KALYN FAY – Good Company (Horton Records)

Good CompanyAfter international critical recognition for Caroline Spence and Courtney Marie Andrews, it’s time for the Tulsa-born singer-songwriter to step up to the plate and take her deserved place in the spotlight. Following on from her 2016 debut, Bible Belt, which was rooted in her father’s Cherokee heritage and her mother’s Christian beliefs, featuring John Fullbright on keys, Jesse Aycock on guitars, dobro and lap and pedal steel, and Carter Sampson and Jared Tyler among those providing harmonies, Good Company both consolidates and expands her prowess as both a writer and a singer on songs that explore her relationship with her home state of Oklahoma, looking forward rather than back.

It opens with her “staring out the window of this beat up old Camry” on the slow paced, wearyingly sung title track, seeking to break free of a life just running to stand still and how “we’re all just looking for something” though, for her, not, like her friend, settling for marriage and a family simply because that’s what you do. ‘Wait For Me’ has a more soulful edge to its sway as, accompanied by muted resonant guitar, she asks “will you miss me when I’m gone?”, underscoring the urge to get away but also the need to hold on to ties.

Riding a chugging rhythm and electric guitars crafting an open desert ambience, ‘Highway Driving has an appropriately more uptempo approach with its hints of Gretchen Peters and again talks of hitting the road even if you’ve “got no place to go and nowhere to run” in the hope that something or someone will turn up to provide a distraction.

Inspired by seeing both her friends and parents working through rough patches in their relationship, ‘Baby, Don’t You Worry’ is a slow, accordion-coloured barroom waltz about taking it slow, easing into the similarly paced, late evening bluesy post-break up ‘Come Around’ as she sings about “missing things I can’t seem to get over”, wondering whether “it’s pride I feel or an ache that I suffer” and planting her feet on steady ground, sustaining the mood with the pedal steel ache of ‘Long Time Coming’ and trying to put the past behind.

‘Oklahoma Hills’ lifts the pace slightly for a bluesy, organ-backed number about becoming tired of the road and thinking of things left behind as the seasons change and the songs of home are whispered in the wind and she pointedly admits “maybe I’m just a mess.” Another organ-paced slow waltz, ‘Alright In The End’ again has thoughts turned homewards and of “stars shining over Tulsa” and the hope “that they’re shining over you too.” Starting quietly, ‘Faint Memory’ maintains the reverie with thoughts of missing “slow dancing close in the living room and the record skips while it plays our tune”, remembering “the good times when life didn’t seem so bad”, and reflecting on how “sometimes it’s hard to see what you had”.

Veined with hints of The Band, the penultimate organ-based number, ‘Fool’s Heartbreak’, speaks of the challenges of moving on when you’re not even sure that’s what you want (“Feels like I’ve been working hard but I’m not sure what for/What’s the point of fighting if you don’t want the war”), waiting on the good times but “stuck in the chains of love” caught between “hell and the heavens above”.

It ends, a candle in the window, with the hauntingly lovely, dobro and accordion-stained ‘Dressed In White’, a song enrobed in grace and redemption, forgiveness and rebirth “calling for the best her father offered” as it gathers to a hymnal fall.

If there’s a criticism it’s that, because of the thematic nature of the songs, it can feel a little one-paced, and a little musical uplift might not have gone amiss, but, regardless, this is company you will want to keep close.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.kalynfay.com

‘Come Around’ – official video:

THE GRAHAMS – The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio) (Three Sirens Music Group)

Live In StudioAlyssa and Doug Graham have spent nearly their entire lives exploring music together. Friends since she was seven and he was nine, they became a couple in their teens, then husband and wife. Along the way, they also became The Grahams, a dynamic Americana duo. Their 2013 debut, Riverman’s Daughter, was followed-up by riding the rails. From this they got a studio album, a documentary and a live album – in venues from Sun Studio to the City of New Orleans train. The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio) is a collection of these songs, none of which have been previously released in the UK or Ireland.

The album opens with the bundle of energy which is ‘Glory Bound’. The lyrics tell, in theory, of regret for the things we do when we are young but the tune is the joy of youth not the downbeats of regret; the chorus is uplifting “These engines whine when the pistons sound/This train is glory bound”. Watch the video and you’ll see the threads of the album: the feisty female voice, lively Americana music, humour as well as seriousness, “Wish I hadn’t written my rebellion on my lungs”, desert, trains.

The next two tracks continue the energy and feistiness of the opener. In ‘Griggstown’ Alyssa Graham sings of pistols, horses, the dark side of town, bottles in hand. On ‘Gambling Girl’, “I might have been your girl once/But you’re never gonna be my man” and “You can’t trust a gambling girl”.

Then the album moves to a different place. ‘Lay Me Down’, ‘Tender Annabelle’, ‘Broken Bottle’, and ‘The Lonely Ones’ are gentler but still from life’s harder places “I sometimes get burned from the heat of beauty” (‘Broken Bottle’) “Keep me safe from any danger except for this/Take me out along the brink, Where I don’t need to think/Shut my eyes tender angel with a kiss” (‘Lay Me Down’). ‘Blow Wind Blow’ in particular balances the acoustic guitars with the singer’s strong voice and balances verses about family members against a chorus inspired by the line from King Lear that gives the song its title.

‘Biscuits’ is an invitation to the local boys to give up fishing so the singer can show them ‘”how the biscuits rise”. This is not a song about cooking. It has a jaunty tune, a knowing vocal, double entendres, references to Maybelline, and “I got something special cooking”.

The dream is to play with as many great people as we can, and share the music as much as we can”, said Doug Graham. The friends working with the duo include John Fullbright, Alvin Youngblood Hart, members of the Watkins Family and the Milk Carton Kids and many more.

At the end is a version of ‘City of New Orleans’. Like the whole album, you get the sense that it was great fun to record and that the duo are finding a path to their own version of the American dream as they travel both musically and geographically. The album is released on January 27th. Enjoyable as the album is, this feels like music to see live and the release coincides with a 14-date tour to England, beginning in Sheffield on February 22nd and closing in London on March 9th.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://www.thegrahamsmusic.net/

‘Glory Bound’ – official video:

The Grahams – new album

The Grahams

Dynamic Nashville-based Americana duo The Grahams announce the release of The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio), a combined collection of songs from Rattle The Hocks (the soundtrack from the film), and the deluxe edition of their 2015 album Glory Bound, none of which have previously been released in the UK or Ireland.

Their friends include Cody & Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), Sara & Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek, Watkins Family), John C. Stubblefield & Rick Steff (Lucero), Kenneth Pattengale (Milk Carton Kids), John Fullbright, Davíd Garza, Alvin Youngblood Hart and many more.

The original Glory Bound album, produced by Wes Sharon and largely co-written with childhood friend Bryan McCann, was inspired by the Grahams’ rail-riding expedition into the heart of American roots music. At the time, Doug Graham explained, “The dream is to play with as many great people as we can, and share the music as much as we can.” They certainly achieve the first goal with these songs, which feature some of the finest talents in folk/Americana.

“It was pretty much a free-for-all in the studio for five days,” Alyssa says. “People were popping in hourly and picking up all kinds of instruments.” They’re not even sure exactly who did what in some cases, but there’s no mistaking the voices of John Fullbright, Sara and Sean Watkins, the Milk Carton Kids, Susannah Choffel and Garza, who trade leads and harmonies as featured artists.

Rattle The Hocks, directed and produced by Cody Dickinson (son of late auteur, legendary James Dickinson and founding member of the North Mississippi Allstars) is a musical documentary that captures The Grahams relentless journey to explore the relationship between railroads and American roots music-though what’s inadvertently captured is a husband and wife obtaining their American dream.

“There is a special connection between American folk music and the railroad that has no parallel elsewhere in the world. Rail lines stitch together the sprawling fabric of American song. As writers of Americana music, our goal is to draw on the deep, recurring sources of American folk culture, giving them new shape.” The Grahams

Alyssa and Doug Graham have spent nearly their entire lives exploring music together. Friends since she was 7 and he was 9, they became a couple in their teens, then husband and wife. Somewhere along the way, they also became The Grahams, a dynamic Americana duo who’ve married their love of adventure with a desire to build on foundations laid by their musical predecessors. Their first song-crafting expedition, along the Mississippi’s Great River Road, became their 2013 debut, Riverman’s Daughter. For its follow-up, Glory Bound, they rode the rails – and wound up recording not only a studio album, but Rattle The Hocks, a documentary and live album recorded on the move and in venues from Sun Studio to Amtrak’s famed City of New Orleans train.

Artists’ website: http://thegrahamsmusic.net/

“Doug’s mastery of the resonator guitar is matched by Alyssa’s spectacularly dexterous vocal chords ensuring their blend is beautifully matched to the breadth and scope of their music” American Roots UK

‘Glory Bounds’ – official video:

Turnpike Troubadours The Turnpike Troubadours (Bossier City Records)

Turnpike Troubadours The Turnpike TroubadoursTaking their name from the Indian Nation Turnpike, a 105-mile parkway stretched across southeastern Oklahoma, having tickled the Billboard 200 with their last album, Goodbye Normal Street, which peaked at #57, the quintet’s eponymous fourth album saw a dramatic breakthrough, reaching #17 on the Hot 100 and going Top 3 on the US country charts. Now getting a release outside their native shores, they should further boost their already substantial UK and European following with their high octane mix of Red Dirt, roots country and rock.

Opening with the slow Cajun waltzing ‘The Bird Hunters’, a song about friendship and returning home, Evan Fekler (who took over from John Fulbright, returning here to contribute banjo, accordion and piano) providing the engaging twangy tenor and storytelling lyrics, it deals with themes of love and loss, always rooted in their home state soil. Harmonica blowing stomper ‘Bossier City’ (revisited from the debut album of the same name) contrasts its lively bounce with a tale of a mill worker blowing his pay on gambling and drink to escape the life he lives, while Danny, the narrator in the first track, resurfaces on the fiddle (Kyle Nix) and steel (Ryan Engleman) bolstered mid-tempo ‘Down Here’ offering support to a friend returning, broke and busted, from the big city. Indeed, the band make a point of having their characters part of the same Turnpike universe, turning up on different songs and different albums. Take ‘The Mercury’, for example, a punchy, guitar riffing rocker with distorted Telecasters that pays tribute to their favourite watering hole, the Mercury Lounge in Tulsa, where the customers have previously been featured in ‘The Funeral’ off Diamonds & Gasoline and ‘Good Lord Lorrie’, from the last album.

They also return to their debut album to revive and musically update ‘Easton & Main’, another going back home number with Gram Parsons/Byrdsian echoes, the lure of the girl back home and the toll of a life on the road that ambition necessitates (“you want something bad you gotta bleed a little for it. You gotta look it in the eye, you gotta call it out by name”) also underpins ‘Long Drive Home’.

On Old 97 cover, ‘Doreen’, they show just how much of a dust storm they can kick up, rattling through its paranoid jealousy lyrics like an express train while the relationship fireworks (“combustible as roman candles“) of ‘Ringing In The Year’ (“cheap champagne don’t know the pain of ringing in the year, wondering if you think of me at all”) is the sort of ringing mid-West guitar folk-rock that makes you want to roll down the windows, crank up the volume and sing to the open sky. But they’re equally at home on the quieter, more reflective numbers as strikingly illustrated by the folksy acoustic ballad ‘A Little Song’ and, penned by bassist RC Edwards, the slow waltzing ‘Fall Out Of Love’ (“why did it wind up so bad, were the good times all that we had? We laughed and we loved, but when push came to shove why did it end up so sad?”). Long may the road rise with them.

Mike Davies

JOHN FULLBRIGHT – Songs (Blue Dirt Records)

SongsThe Oklahoma native made his recording debut in 2009 with a live album, three years later his first studio outing, From The Ground Up, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album. Now comes his starkly and unequivocally titled third release, a reflective troubadour collection that, putting his piano playing front centre and conjuring thoughts of Randy Newman, should firmly establish him as one of the finest new songwriters out of America in the past decade.

As well as pouring more of himself in musically, handling guitar, keyboards and occasional percussion with Wes Sharon, David Leach and Mike Morgan variously contributing bass and percussion, there’s also more personal investment in the lyrics, many of which seem to be the outcrop of a broken relationship while others pertain to the actual act of songwriting. Indeed, the opening drawled and slouching (and a touch John Prine) ‘Happy’combines the two when he sings “every time I try to write a song I always seems to start where we left off.” Then there’s actually a sparse number titled ‘Write A Song’, although lines like “write a song about the very song you sing” and “think a thought about the very thought you think” are, perhaps, pushing self-reflexiveness a little far.

In terms of the heart, while there’s blood over ‘Until You Were Gone’, which features just acoustic and steel guitar as he sings ‘I didn’t know I was in love with you until you were gone”, there’s a vein of optimism pumping away. It might not seem so from ‘Going Home’, a catchily simple 60s folk pop (Beatles?) flavoured number with harmonica and whistling, where he and love may have “agreed to disagree” and he seems to be throwing in the towel (“I’m all through walking”, but, as he notes on the spare acoustic ballad ‘Keeping Hope Alive’, while that may be like “running on a razor blade”, it’s a fight he’s prepared to take on.

On piano ballad ‘When You’re Here’ (where he sounds uncannily like a cross between the young Billy Joel and Elton John), he’s punningly noting that while “some are lovers, some are leeches, summer flings on sandy beaches” and that there’s a scarecrow in his heart that “chases everything he loves away”, at night there’s also “a bluebird on his shoulder and he whispers that he’ll hold her one bright day.”

Likewise, while on the full band treatment of the mid-tempo ‘Never Cry Again’ he notes “there were nights I knew I’d be alone”, he also adds “I’m glad you took the time to remember you still had my number in your phone.” In similar manner, even though he gravelly intones how he’s feeling cold and naked and a long distance relationship means “the odds are stacked against us” on the wistful, slow swaying classic Jackson Browne-like ‘The One That Lives Too Far’, he asks her not to “forget the one that lives too far”.

He’s more openly positive on piano ballad ‘She Knows’ (“a thing or two about me”) where his lover “washes away my pain” while the Wurlitzer-accompanied, hymnal-like ‘All That You Know’ he soulfully preaches that we should cherish what we have while we have it and “love all that is real, love all that you know”. If there was any doubt that, whatever may have happened, he still believes in the durability of love, then it should be settled with the seven and a half minute ‘High Road’, a song written in his late teens, in which (hinting at The Band and closing on the piano notes of ‘Loch Lomond’), he tells the tragic story of young farming couple, the woman never remarrying after her husband’s killed in a tractor accident.

The album ends on the redemptive notes of ‘Very First Time’, another hymnal sounding ballad with solo piano that he calls the most honest song he’s written, where, needing only themselves and the wine, two lovers leave the phone and door unanswered as “between love everlasting and meaningless rhyme sits feeling good for the very first time.” There may be hurt, but at the end of the day, these terrific Songs have a feelgood attitude. And, as he says at the start of the album, “what’s so bad about happy?”

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.johnfullbrightmusic.com

Watch the official promo video: