DYLAN LEBLANC – Renegade (ATO Records)

RenegadeDylan LeBlanc’s fourth album, Renegade, was released on June 7th – and it’s rather good.

LeBlanc’s publicity gives details of a pretty impressive back story – his first two albums included: acclaim as “the new Neil Young”; Emmylou Harris guesting on his first album; touring/ opening for Lucinda Williams and Laura Marling amongst others. All of which came early in life and led to “a blur of booze and self-doubt. Exhausted and damaged at just 23-years-old, Dylan came home to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to write a new life for himself”.

Renegade was recorded in Nashville. This is all a pretty rock’n’roll background. What makes this a better than average rock’n’roll tale is that the “blur of booze and self-doubt” doesn’t finish the tale but has led to a new discipline. The new album is just as worthy of the high praise as the early albums.

Renegade opens with the title track and you’re drawn instantly into LeBlanc’s world of great melodies supported by a rocking band – the signature highlights being Leblanc’s captivating higher range vocal and a slightly fuzzy lead guitar (hence the Neil Young references). ‘Born Again’ and ‘Bang Bang Bang’ keep you in this musical world and lead you into ‘Domino’ which is gentler, a picked acoustic guitar and LeBlanc’s vocal taking the lead above a quieter mix for the band.

‘I See It In Your Eyes’ and ‘Damned’ return to the rockier style of the initial tracks before the album closes with another four more acoustic songs.

Have a listen to the song ‘Renegade’ in the YouTube link below and you’ll get a good feel for the album. Gentler than the Neil Young tag that LeBlanc has been given and a guitar lead that’s not-quite-scuzzy, but it’s a damned good track.

The album is less than 40 minutes long but it keeps you listening all through and it’s got that kind of feel which is simultaneously both loud and intimate that I’d imagine works just as well on big stadium stages and in smaller clubs.

LeBlanc is touring in the USA and Europe for the next three months, including four gigs in the UK (London, Leeds, Manchester and Guildford) in the first week of September.

Mike Wistow

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‘Renegade’ – live:

OLD MAN LUEDECKE – Easy Money (True North Records TND731)

Easy MoneyThe Canadian folk artist Old Man Luedecke released his sixth album Easy Money on June 7th. Luedecke is a previous winner of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Juno awards and I suspect might get one or more nominations from this album.  He has written ten of the twelve tracks. The overwhelming sense is of an insightful songwriter who wears his profundity lightly and who is all the more acute because of it.

Luedecke has a singing voice which has a laugh not far from the surface in its intonation. Musically, the album has a strong sense of banjo and calypso; how can I put this – neither of these are creators of a mood of Wagnerian seriousness. The combined effect of all this is to create an album which is both delightfully fun and delightfully biting.

The second track, for example, has a jaunty tune and is called ‘Dad Jokes’ (which are “the death knell of the vestiges of cool”). It has a refrain “Ain’t it hard when all you want is more”. So far so amusing. But the verse in the middle is from a serious fool of a songwriter, able – like an Elizabethan jester – to be more incisive because of the musical style, jauntily delivering verses such as:

When I fell for you my love and wooed and won your hand
I gained the key for us to be in the promised land
But then came renovations and we had to pick a floor
Ain’t it hard when all you want is more”

Move over Randy Newman and Loudon Wainwright III.

Most songs are in this kind of territory, but there is also room for something totally light in ‘Sardine Song’ – a calypso influenced paean to sardines (yes, really) and including homage to toast, tomato, mustard sauce etc.

The most powerful song, though, is ‘Death Of Truth’. It is at the other end of Luedecke’s spectrum, it opens with a Cohen-intonation (the song was influenced in part by Cohen’s ‘You Want It Darker’) and is quite simply serious. It’s a personal song about the passing of Luedecke’s father, who died a week before the inauguration of the current US administration; it’s a political song about the death of truth in our politics. Luedecke interweaves the two threads in a track which is only twenty lines long and, while being very personal about the loss of his father, is as good a critique of current politics as I’ve heard in the past year or so. With its thoughtful tune and down-played arrangement, I think this all combines into a great song.

In addition to his own songs, the album is completed by ‘Le Ciel Est Noir’ (the French version of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ and the traditional song ‘The Mermaid’.

The Vancouver Folk Festival has described Luedecke as “a musical singularity to be savoured and shared”. He is on tour in the UK throughout August, predominantly at Festivals but also at Cecil Sharp House.

Mike Wistow

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‘The Death Of Truth’ – official video:

TERES AOUTES STRING BAND – Lo Rock ‘n Roll De La Mountagna (TERESCD2018)

Lo Rock'n' Roll De La MountagnaThe Teres Aoutes String Band are from the north-west of Italy and released Lo Rock ‘n’ Roll De La Mountagna in 2018. A couple of weeks ago the e-mail came through asking if I’d like to review it (“it’s sort of folk-baroque-rock and sounds good” – but also pointing out that the whole CD is in Italian). Italian is a language that I neither speak nor have any pretence at understanding, but nothing ventured nothing gained……..

And it does – it sounds good. More than that it’s imbued with a sense of enjoyment. I was wondering which track on YouTube to link to, but I chose ‘Rondeu Du Dahu’, a song with a tune that could be as much at home in an English folk club as it presumably is in Italy. I knew nothing about it other than it sounded like fun. The lyrics are about the dahu which “never goes up…never goes down”.

…..and then I found the video. Let’s face it, anyone making a video of themselves playing acoustic instruments in the snow, in a stone building and in a cow shed has to have a sense of fun. And then I researched it. The dahu is a mythical goat-like animal which has two short legs on one side of its body so it can circle around steep mountain slopes on an even keel. Musically, the first few bars might even have a nod to the famous rising notes in ‘Twist and Shout’. I rather like this band.

‘Rigopop’, the instrumental ‘Courenta Carletta’, ‘Bleus d’Aoste’ and the opening ‘Bouree’ are all instantly likeable. The lyrics (I confess, I was sent a translated sheet of lyrics) wouldn’t be out of place in English folk songs – the man coming home from the fields to find his wife in the arms of the priest and beating them both; the tune of ‘Dirty Old Town’ with lyrics about a man who kisses a beautiful blonde at a dance; ‘La Veca Danca’ another song about dancing and the relations between men and women.

Overall, then, Lo Rock ‘n’ Roll De La Mountagna has been a delight to listen to. Teres Aoutes String Band are a four-piece string band (mostly guitar, mandolin, violin, bass) that remind me how international is the language of music (remember, I don’t speak Italian). Have a listen to ‘Rondeu de Dahu’ below, while reminding yourself the dahu is a mythical goat-like-beast with legs shorter on one side of its body than the other so it can go round a steep mountain slope – and just enjoy the dances and songs of the western Italian Alps – this rock and roll of the mountains.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com

‘Rondeu Du Dahu’ – official video:

GAVIN SUTHERLAND – A Traveller’s Tales (own label GS003CD)

A Traveller's TalesGavin Sutherland released A Traveller’s Tales in early May. Sutherland had international fame in the seventies both in the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver and as a songwriter – Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ being the most obvious. In 1999 he began to release solo albums. A Traveller’s Tales is his sixth – and I rather like it. Sutherland is approaching his seventieth year and his voice has a timbre that you can only get through life – it’s as melodic as ever, but there’s a rough older man’s edge to the sweetness and it gives a depth to these songs.

The songs have a simplicity that comes from the clarity of knowing what makes a good song, how to play it and arrange it. ‘Righteous Road’ probably has the greatest orchestration on it (fiddle, piano, drums, double bass, synthesisers, pedal steel guitar, and the vocal harmonies that will come as no surprise to anyone who remembers the early work) – but it doesn’t feel like an orchestrated band song.

The Japanese have a word, shibumi, for ‘the true sophistication of simple things’ (if you think how easy it looked when Best kicked a football or Gower hit a cricket ball or the best musician you know plays something that gets you yourself in tangles, then you get the idea) – and A Traveller’s Tales is rather like that. The lyrics to ‘Righteous Road’ have a not dissimilar sense. I’d need to quote the whole song, so here’s a link: https://www.gavinsutherland.net/tales.htm. Sutherland produced the album himself and, although on first play I heard only simple songs, he’s produced an album that I keep playing it because it doesn’t tire.

Other songs have a similar sense of looking back; it’s almost as though an elder is talking to those around him. They won’t fully understand (because they haven’t lived the same life) but might just be helped to shorten the journey to get to a better place. My favourite of these tracks is probably ‘Picture On The Wall’ which has a simple arrangement, short lyrics and a belter of a tune.

The arrangements have been described as “bringing a country flavour to the writer’s rootsy approach to music making” and there are also elements of a gospel flavour (‘Wheels Are Rolling’) or a jazzy flavour (‘Gull With A Broken Wing’) or classic late sixties (‘The Bend In The River’). But I’ve just dug out 1972’s Lifeboat and played it for the first time, probably, since the seventies. Above all, what you have is Sutherland’s ability to write a cracking song undiminished by time, enhanced rather by life’s lessons along the way. If anyone decides to create The New Highwaymen, then Sutherland could be a founder member.

Sutherland’s own comment on the album is “The road gets rough for all of us from time to time, it’s a chaotic world out there, but I try to stay forever positive and optimistic. It’s the only way we can deal with it all and I think that comes through in the music.”

There are no videos yet of the songs on the album, so below is Sutherland playing ‘Believe In Yourself’ from 2013’s album Tango At The Lost Café.

Mike Wistow

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‘Believe In Yourself’ – live:

SCOTT LAVENE – Broke (Funnel Music SLFMCD007P)

BrokeScott Lavene releases, Broke, on June 7th. It’s an eclectic collection of nine songs, an album for the twenty-first century in the territory of, say, Ian Dury, Frank Turner, John Otway with song-poems of day-to-day life set to a slightly quirky musical style.

I can’t find a link on YouTube or on Lavene’s website to the opening track ‘My Stereo’ which is a shame because it fulfils all the promise of Lavene’s style. It has the bouncy tune of a man slouchily swaggering his way down the street; it’s got a catchy chorus (mosh-pit-of-a-festival-catchy); and it has some cracking lyrics right from the opening verse – both the serious “These days everybody seems to say everything/but nobody’s really saying anything” and the amusing “ ‘What do you know about stereos?’ ‘ I said well not much but you see I sure know how to turn it on’ ”. The delivery makes these lines partly the story of a guy who likes his music and partly a metaphor for an ostrich-like lack of activism and lack of interest in other people. Both these themes are developed as the song continues.

The next track is ‘Apples And Pears’. I take it someone has – rightly – irritated Lavene with this simplistic management phrase and he turns it into the chorus of a dystopian tune. ‘Superclean’ is rather clever, the rhythms of an early 80’s tune without the crass electronica.

‘Modern World’ changes the mood, quiet contemplative piano to a contrasting lyric “I don’t care for the modern world/Digital invitations to a party full of arseholes/Taking photos of each others pouty faces” while setting up the scene of moving to rural imagined paradise, posting pictures to the world on instagram (“me milking a cow” …plucking chickens in my vintage Levi shirt”) – but inviting friends to come across and bring such city delights as drugs and proper food. Among the gems are the descriptions of milk from their cow. They throw away this milk so they can buy better milk from M&S (“I’m sick of hearing cow bells”). Like the opening track, you get a sense that when Levene gets it right, there’s something really good here.

Have a listen to ‘Methylated Blue’ in the video below and it will give you a sense of Levene’s style – musical, conversational and with the wit that you can hear in the chorus “Girl, you’re really someone I can get used to/ She said ‘Boy you’re really someone I could get used to too’ ”. It’s not Romeo and Juliet – but it captures the couple beautifully. Like the best of, say, Otway or Dury, you’re simultaneously in the song sympathetic to the characters and seeing them from a third person perspective. Rather nice.

Overall, then, there are some great touches, both lyrically and musically, but I find Broke as a whole to be more mixed. The extended title track probably works much better live than it does on repeated listening, for example. I got the album to review on CD but my guess is that if I’d had the vinyl version, I’d keep playing side 1 much more than side 2.

Lavene has a number of gigs coming up between now and mid-June to launch Broke, his debut album. They’re not local to me, but otherwise I’d be keen to go and hear the best songs of what seems to be a distinctive and talented voice.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://www.scottlavene.co.uk

‘Methylated Blue’ – official video:

DODO STREET – Natural Selection (Extinct Records/Nimbus Alliance NI6369)

Natural SelectionDodo Street released Natural Selection, their first CD, on April 5th. The band are touring to four venues in June and a festival in July, details on their website. I put this at the start of the review because the only way you can get a feel for how gloriously skilled, inventive and fun this album is – is to listen to it or, I’d imagine, see them live.

As a taster, have a listen to ‘Larking’ on the video below – the sheer energy of the playing, the tightness of it at a million miles an hour and then, at twenty-eight seconds and elsewhere, the stop and the coo-coo call (Wikipedia tells me that the dodo is related to the pigeon) followed by a return to the vitality of the tune. There are slower pieces of which ‘Neil Gow’s Lament’ is a highlight, but the video gives a sense of what the album as a whole is like – and fortunately one of their upcoming gigs is near to me.

Dodo Street consists of five musicians. It would be a much longer piece to describe the background of the musicians in any way other than to quote from their publicity material. The band combine “unbelievable fiddle virtuosity from international star Adam Summerhayes; outrageous brilliance from world number one recorder genius, Piers Adams; incredibly high-ABV insanity from accordion master, Murray Grainger; positively feverish power from bass legend, Malcolm Creese; and dazzling bodhran playing from king of folk percussion, Cormac Byrne”. Any one of the five has a musical pedigree that you can only admire, collectively they work superbly together and it makes for a stunning sound (which they call Celtic Gypsy Klezmer) melding Scottish/Irish folk, gypsy and Eastern European tunes and rhythms.

The other aspect to mention is the humour. The album tracks are titled in some way to give a link to the dodo. To give a couple of examples: ‘Flight Of The Dodo’ is described as “Commemorating the invention of a mechanical flying machine by dodos in 1803 (and the subsequent suppression of the fact by humans)”; and Track 8 is called ‘ Historic 1632 recording of Dodo calls (Courtesy of the descendants of Midshipman Alex Whammond)’.

The publicity material is unusually self-deprecating and, of many gems, my favourite is the description of Cormac Byrne’s bodhran playing as complex morse-code-based rhythm patterns which he broadcasts from his bedroom to try and contact the intergalactic Space Dodos. You can only be this irreverent about your playing if you are very good or if you’re sufficiently novice that you’re unaware of it.

Dodo Street are definitely not a band of novices.

Mike Wistow

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‘Larking’: