TYLOR & THE TRAIN ROBBERS – Best Of The Worst Kind (own label)

Best Of The Worst KiindOregon-born and Boise Idaho-based Tylor Ketchum is a distant relative of Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, a Texas outlaw and was part of the train-robbing Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, who serves as inspiration for the band’s name and the new album’s six-minute centrepiece, ‘The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum’. Part sung, part spoken in the titular character’s voice, set to a largely chugging rhythm and a Tennessee Rose Gretch guitar with the lyrics featuring the title line, it’s a narrative country number recounting Ketchum’s notorious career and Best Of The Worst Kind, which features his image on the cover, is released to coincide with the anniversary of his hanging.

The band comprises Ketchum, his brother Jason Bushman on bass, and the generation older Johnny “Shoes” Pisano on lead guitar and Flip Perkins on drums, the rest of the tracks are more of a Red Dirt country nature, opening with the ringing guitar work and steady drum beat ‘Lost And Lonely Miles’, a life on the road number, has him asking “did you take the hard way, was it the way to go? If you take it easy on yourself you might think you have nothing left to know.” The musical framework’s reinforced with the mid-tempo drawled escape-themed ‘Before It’s Too Late’ and the kickbeat strummed and twangsome shuffle ‘Good At Bad News’ about taking adversity with a stoical attitude.

Featuring lap steel, the reflective Storyteller, an ode to his grandfather celebrating a tale well spun, showcases the band’s slower, more acoustic aspects and squeezes in a reference to James Arness’s role as Marshall Dillon on 60s TV Western series Gunsmoke, as does the resigned closing strings-embossed ‘Place Like This’ where he sings “In a place like this, it’s easy not to give a damn” and the carry on and hope it works out ‘Pave Your Way’, on both of which Ketchum’s underlying John Prine influences make themselves felt.

For the most part, however, things move along at a mid to uptempo pace, the songs built around a memorable hooks-laden melody live, descending chords and a catchy chorus, Ketchum’s laid back delivery and voice at times reminiscent of Steve Earle or Mike Cooley from Drive By Truckers. ‘Still Getting High’, the melody of which in part calls early Guy Clark to mind, takes a swipe at organised religion, suggesting we’d all get along better without it “and see all there is to see before we judge” and how “this black and white world could use a little color”, and the train-time rhythm ‘Fumbling For Rhymes’ turns its eye on making music for a living, and wishing it paid better.

Things get a touch funkier for the bassline led ‘Construction’ (a song that will strike a chord with anyone who’s been delayed by roadworks on their way home) and the choppy Pisano licks and bluesy harmonica of ‘Hide Your Goat’, the title (and lyrical message) a reference to Steve Gilliland’s motivational book Strategies to Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You. The remaining track, ‘Few And Far Between’, sees Ketchum share the vocal spotlight in an acoustic-based, mandolin-flecked lovers parting duet with his fiancé, and Pisano’s daughter, Jennifer.

It doesn’t set out to push any envelopes or be more than what it is. What is it is being a solid, highly listenable album of Southern-streaked Americana crammed with hummable tunes and well-crafted lyrics that deserves to find a wide audience.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.tylorandthetrainrobbers.com

‘The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum’ – official video:

JESSIE BUCKLEY – Wild Rose (Official Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Island)

Wild RoseThe story about how ex-con Glaswegian single mother country singer Rose-Lynn Harlan pursues her dreams of going to Nashville, while I have reservations about the film, which too often resorts to cliché, has one epiphany too many and features a cringeworthy scene with Bob Harris, there’s no doubting either the performance or the singing by its star, Jessie Buckley.

As such, the OST serves as her debut album, in character, featuring the songs, some covers, others original, performed in the film. Irish-born Buckley, of course, is no stranger to singing. She was runner up in I’d Do Anything, the TV show competition to find a Nancy for a new production of Oliver! and went on to appear in the West End revival of A Little Night Music. Not a country fan before she got involved in the film, it’s become a passion and she pours herself into it.

Loaded at the end, four numbers are instrumentals, three bluegrass tunes by The Bluegrass Smugglers and ‘Le Petit Chat Gris’, a fiddle and foot stomp recording by Nashville’s Hillary Klug, the rest are all Buckley.

Things kick off with a punchy full-throated cover of Primal Scream’s ‘Country Girl’ setting the theme and the musical template, immediately reinforced by an equally muscular take on Chris Stapleton’s ‘Outlaw State of Mind’. The covers, many of which tie in with the film narrative, continue with solid readings of two Emmylou Harris classics, ‘Born To Run’ and a yearning ‘Boulder To Birmingham’, Kate & Anna McGarrigle’s ‘Going Back To Harlan’ (also popularised by Harris) John Prine’s ‘Angel From Montgomery’, ‘Covered In Regret (Blue, Black & Red)’ by UK country duo Little Blue Numbers, a fiddle-driven romp through Hank Snow standard ‘I’m Movin’ On’ and a brace of gospel-country songs by Wynona Judd, a reflective acoustic picked ‘Peace In This House’ and, underpinned by a tribal bass drum pulse, ‘When I Reach The Place I’m Going’.

The remaining tracks were written in response to the storyline by Buckley herself in collaboration with Simon Johnson, the guitarist with UK Americana outfit Southern Companion (and half of Little Blue Numbers), embracing the gutsy outlaw country of ‘Robbing The Bank of Life’, the drum thump, banjo-flecked driven bluegrass stomp ‘That’s The View From Here (Famous Folk Are Weird)’, and the gentle waltzing inspirational ballad ‘Alright To Be Wrong’. The two standouts, not just of the original material but the album as a whole, are the guitar ringing twangy swagger of ‘Cigarette Row (Five O’Clock Freedom)’, which (briefly heard in the film performed by The Southern Companion and hopefully scheduled for a stand-alone EP of non-Buckley tracks in the film) deserves to have others queuing up to cover, and the film’s gradually building closing showstopper, ‘Glasgow (No Place Like Home)’, a slow swaying track that fully showcases Buckley’s immense vocal talent and gets a live recording reprise as a bonus track at the end of the album.

This is unlikely to do a Star Is Born in the charts, but when it comes to singing country, Buckley can hold her own with Lady GaGa any day.

Mike Davies

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Website: www.wildrosefilm.co.uk/home/

‘Boulder To Birmingham’ – live on RTE:

BEAU – Damascus Road (Cherry Red BEAUDR1)

Damascus RoadCelebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of his debut album for John Peel’s Dandelion Records, Trevor Midgley follows-up Rattle The Asylum Bars with another playful but biting collection of 12-string led protest song commentaries that again reinforces his status as a British answer to Phil Ochs.

He kicks off taking a swipe at the back scratching that goes on in the world of Freemasonry – although clearly with wider implications – on jauntily catchy folk blues ‘Men of the World’ in which a wealthy, well-connected drunk driver gets his mates to pull a few strings to make things go away and, as a bonus, sends the bill to Her Ladyship.

The #MeToo movement spawns the sprightly waltztime ‘Kitten Kaboodle’, described as a “a traditional casting couch ballad” about a voluptuous blonde actress playing the game to land a part in a James Bond movie, the producer showing her his ‘thingamabob’ as “one of the perks of the job” and acceding to the director’s wandering eye and his penchant for ‘close-ups’. Of course, being who he is, he can’t resist courting controversy by suggesting that this is a two way game, since, “her Oscar performance, above and beyond/Brought Kitten a part in another James Bond”.

The punningly titled ‘Lacey Fayre’ muses on how the fight for female emancipation by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst has somehow ended up being manifested in the right of today’s liberated women to go out and get blasted on cheap vodka, getting fixed up in A&E, go clubbing and become social media celebrities for their lifestyles.

Meanwhile, political targets include duplicitous diplomats whose immunity puts them above the law (‘The Great Game’), subtle and covert Machiavellianism through which strong states dominate the weak in which wars are fought on very different battlegrounds (‘The Quiet Ones’), and, a particular catchy highlight, ‘Demagogue Rules’, a sort of primer for climbing the political ladder on the backs – or more particularly the fears – of others.

Inspired by an overheard conversation between a social worker and a rough sleeper, ‘Let’s Get The Show On The Road’ is one of two numbers that touch on tragedy where it’s the innocents that pay the price, the other being the sobering ‘Child Of Aberfan’, a reminder that corporate accountability remains a nebulous concept, just as when, back in 1966, Lord Alfred Robens, the then chair of the NCB opted to not visit the disaster until the following day as he had a more pressing appointment being installed as the first Chancellor of the University of Surrey. He also declined to fully fund the removal of other such coal tips and no charges of corporate manslaughter were ever brought. Did someone mention Grenfell?

‘Damascus Road’ itself is another number that draws on real events, here the 2017 massacre of 58 and the wounding of over 850 more when, in his room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Stephen Paddock opened fire, with an arsenal of legally owned weapons, on concert goers attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, for motives never ascertained. The allusions of the title and the lyric reference to Jesse James tell their own story.

Elsewhere, ‘Disciples’ addresses how, especially in the worlds of politics and entertainment, there’s always someone prepared to defend the indefensible, while ‘Rear View Mirror’ notes how history is written by the victors and collective (and personal) memory isn’t always attuned to the reality as myth becomes accepted as fact, a case in point being the fanciful legend of Washington and the cherry tree.

Ostensibly a true autobiographical tale, ‘The Ballad Of Tom Titterington’s Horse’ involves a fruiterer, his cart, a foul smelling horse, the narrator’s gran and a little matter of a child’s blackmail to get a top of the range new bike because “needs must when the devil drives”. The message about how the ends justify the means leads neatly to the final track, ‘The Party Must Go On’ which again touches on #MeToo and the way those captains of industry somehow think they and their actions are beyond the law when celebrations might get a little out of hand, because “Who is not entitled to a frolic and jape? / Ignore the gutter press equating fondling with rape”, but that, of course, leer in place, they should always “Remember, show our lady friends the utmost of respect”.

Unfortunately, even protest singers aren’t immune to the meddling of corporate discretion and of the need to be “awfully polite”, hence the original cover for the album (Saul impaled on a spear with a cowboy hat on it) being replaced by one more deemed less ‘offensive’ and more innocuous and bland. I look forward to a song about it on his next album.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.trevormidgley.com

‘Demagogue Rules’ – official video:

LOVERS LEAP – Lovers Leap (own label)

Lovers leapA coming together of Grammy-nominated bassist Shelby Means, singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist Mary Lucey-Cardine, guitarist Joel Timmons and slide guitar player Billy Cardine, this six-track EP marks their first recorded work. An acoustic-based collection it opens with ‘Walnut Tree’, a Lucey-Cardine number about connecting with nature inspired by a tree in her back garden and featuring her clawhammer banjo work and Billy’s dobro.

Means takes over lead vocal duties with ‘Red Dawn Awakening’, another nature-themed song she wrote as prayer for as friend struggling with cancer, a tempo shifting atmospheric dobro-coloured old school mountain folk number serving reminder that the light will follow the darkness.

Penned by Timmons and Means in their early courtship days and originally recorded by them under their own duo name as Sally & George, ‘Love Is Gonna Live’ has them duetting on a straightforward celebration of renewal and how “Love is gonna live in this house again.”

The similarly bluegrass infused but slightly more uptempo ‘Love Brewed Cold’, written and sung by Mary, continues the theme with a different spin of how, after things seem to have been done and dusted and the heart’s had time to heal, your lover comes back and it all sparks up again.

The last of the original material, the chugging groove ‘Great Expectations’ has writer Joel back on vocals and whistling, and the girls doing the oooh oohing on a song that came about after, while on tour with Sol Driven Train, the van broke down and they missed the chance of opening for Sheryl Crow in South Carolina, but ended up chilling at a small Ohio festival, the message being that things are what they’re meant to be and “it is what it is”.

Joel taking lead, they end showcasing their three-part harmonies, Timmons’ brushed snares and Cardine’s dobro on a fine cover of ‘California Stars’, the unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyric set to music by Jeff Tweedy, a relaxed and warmly snug end to a very promising debut. Take the plunge.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.loversleapband.com

‘Walnut Tree’ – live:

FIELD MEDIC – Fade Into The Dawn (Run For Cover RFC188)

Fade Into The DawnThe professional name of nasally voiced, lo-fi bedroom folk musician Kevin Patrick, this marks his first release of new material for the label, although he has self-released numerous singles and EPs, many of which were gathered on the Songs From The Sunroom. I guess if you’re looking for musical roadmarkers, the tradition that he most often evokes is the retro folk-country of vocals, strummed guitar and occasional drums of such names as Arlo Guthrie and Eric Anderson while more contemporary references might be Fleet Foxes.

The trials and tribulations of the grafting musician on the road are laid out in the first lines of album opener ‘I Used 2 Be A Romantic’ (“those fuckers talked over my whole set”) as he sings of having to flog the merchandise to make a buck, riding the transit, “a dude in a laminate” being blinded by the spotlights, having to play the old hits because the new material is too depressing and finding it hard to quit drinking when you need to drown out the emptiness.

Things don’t get much more optimistic as the album rides an emotional rollercoaster through the washboard stomp of ‘I Was Wrong’ , the title of which comprises the bulk of the lyrics, the saloon waltz of ‘The Bottle’s My Lover, She’s Just My Friend’, a blackly witty song in the fine tradition of Loudon Wainwright III as indeed is the end of the world scenario of the troubadour waltztime strum ‘Songs R Worthless Now’ replete with the gallows romanticism of “with my last breath I’ll kiss you as the bullet goes in.”

The lovestruck ‘Tournament Horseshoe’ (“for you I’d write a novel or else I’d carve you a statue”) is another catchy stomp, here accompanied by banjo while, by musical contrast, cymbals shimmer across the introspective ‘Hello Moon’ with its scuffed walking beat, ‘Henna Tattoo’ jangles guitars across a song about the insecurity and anxiety of “seeing you seeing him” and, returning to the life of the travelling minstrel, the on the hoof domesticity (“I’ll be hungover for weeks when I turn up at her door, but she lets me in to stay”) celebrated in ‘Everyday’z 2moro’, presumably with the girlfriend muse he talks about in ‘Mood Ring Baby’, is more inclined to indie alt-folk with its guitar and effect distortions.

He ends with the simple strum of the quietly desperate ‘Helps Me Forget’, in which he sings how those quiet or uninhibited moments can sometimes convince him that “someday soon I’m gonna wake up strong, bold, & brave” only for the shadow on depression to fall again as “I can’t help but feel I’m just broken…

Awash with neuroses, it’s probably the only album where the word Rorschach appears not once but twice, but, amid the end of tether disquiet and emotional self-lacerating, there’s still shines glimmers of hope. At one point, he sings “One day I’m gonna have me a calico kitty named ‘Joni’ named after my hero.” Buy this album and get the man a cat.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.fieldmedic.net

‘Used 2 Be A Romantic’ – live:

JEFFERSON HAMER – Alameda (own label)

AlamedaYou may know the name from Child Ballads, the album he made with Anais Mitchell back in 2014, while he’s also recorded with the likes of Session Americana, Laura Cortese and Sarah Jarosz, who, along with Hannah Read, provides harmonies. This, though, is the Brooklyn-based songwriter’s solo debut, a collection of ballads built around acoustic and electric guitars, fleshed out with drums, bass woodwind, strings and pump organ, variously written between 2006 and 2017, and graced with a cover photograph of his late grandmother riding a single chairlift in 1954 Wyoming.

Rooted in California, it opens with the title track, initially suggesting a post break-up lament about being rootless since things fell apart (“I haven’t had a place since Alameda moved away/I’ve got nowhere to go/I’ve got nowhere to stay”) but, beyond that, it addresses deeper concerns of unemployment through the failure of the crops, of itinerant workers being moved on by the police and of how “It’s dangerous in the open/It’s hard to trust your friends”.

Lives in transit are also at the heart of 2008-dated ‘Moving Day’, sung in a dusty whine with brushed drums and harmonica driving along a Guthrie-esque number about a family moving home and starting a new life, taking with them only the things that matter (“for a long hot two day drive/With nothing but each other”) to an uncertain future. The core theme continues on the CS&N Laurel Canyon chug of ‘Vagabond’ with its images of migration and displacement, Jarosz and Read on backing and Alec Spiegelman colouring the track with bass clarinet and alto flute.

The lengthiest track at almost six minutes, featuring whistle solo from Tim Britton, ‘Busker’ is a fingerpicked portrait of a handful of street performers and how music joins them together so that “the bright dream does not vanish” before it heads back on the road for ‘Champlain’. Heading out from Vermont in the summer of 2001 to chase the northern sun down highway 59, he’s befriended by a singer from Lake Champlain looking to make her name and, romance blossoming, they head off on tour to California and into Washington to the strains of Stan Rogers before, ten thousand miles later, “late night in the guest house she packed up in a rush” as things come to a personal and professional end.

However, as several songs suggest, it’s taking the chance that matters most, of following a dream wherever and however it may end, a conviction that underpins ‘Vision’ with its puttering drums, electric guitars and echoes of a cross between Lennon and early Neil Young as he sings “Every day has been in preparation/Your lifetime is about to begin” and how, while “No one will keep your candle burning/Brighter than you can”, he and other friends are there to “help you paint your portrait”. At times, it’s almost like a father’s words to a child.

Drawing on traditional folk flavours, etched on electric guitar filigrees, ‘The Man In Love With Everyone’ has a more downbeat tenor, the singer cautioning that the people pleaser the girl he loves is seeing may just flatter to deceive, although there’s also a suggestion of jealous obsession and perhaps even stalker tendencies simmering below the surface.

Featuring a la la la refrain evoking a similar Eastern European traditional folk backdrop as ‘Those Were The Days’ as well as a fairy tale reference to Rapunzel in her tower, it ends with the undulating rhythms and softly sung Youngian tenor resonances of ‘Wolves’, again with a lyric about making choices between those who wish you well and those who will do you wrong and again with a slightly unsettling undercurrent in “I’ve waited weeks now at the bottom of your stairs… unbolt the door/And choose the one you most adore”.

Addressing those in the fringes of society, it’s a darker album than it might initially appear, underling the subtlety and sophistication of his writing and, now that he’s stepped into the spotlight, surely destined to ensure he stays there.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.jeffersonhamer.com

‘Champlain’ – live and solo: