JESSE DAYTON – Mixtape Volume 1 (blu-elan Records BER1175)

Mixtape Volume 1Jesse Dayton wanted “to do cool versions of the songs that I thought the original writers would dig”. His new album Mixtape Volume 1 is released on August 30th.

After vinyl, and alongside it, came the cassette tape. For the first time you could take control of your music by selecting a dozen or so favourite tracks to play one after the other. As time passed, you could even play them in the car or walk around with them attached to your belt. Fifty years on and playlists make it all an awful lot easier to be your own DJ. However, along with that easiness is the loss of careful thought and selection, knowing you’ve spent hours picking favourite tracks from albums or singles and putting them in the (immoveable) order you want so they enhance each other.

Look at the album cover – this album isn’t a playlist, these songs are as carefully chosen as you would do if you were making a tape. Hence, presumably, the title Mixtape Volume 1. The songs? – I’m biased because mostly they’re straight out of music I bought in the seventies. That makes me potentially a harsher judge, but I have to say that this is a cracking selection, with songs by Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, The Clash, ZZ Top, Elton John, Dr Feelgood, AC/DC, The Cars and Bruce Springsteen. And Jesse Dayton hasn’t just picked these songs – he’s felt them and then he’s played them.

Dayton has a career of more than thirty years as guitarist for the likes of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash – and also for the punk bands. He has ten albums of his own. That’s a hell of a fusion of styles and experience in his locker and you can hear all elements in the choice of tracks, from ‘Bankrobber’ or ‘She Does It Right’ to ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ or ‘Redneck Friend’.

Even more staggering, while the songs are recognizable he makes them his own. The video link below takes you to ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – it’s not a heavy metal arrangement, but emotionally it’s as metal as the original and you just want to hear it live with mates and a pint or two, in a darkened cavern venue, the sound reverberating off low slung curved ceilings.

Like all good mix tapes, it’s hard to pick favourite tracks (a mixtape is a work of contemplated curation, nothing would be on there that you didn’t think was good) but I’d give a particular mention, not only to the uptempo Clash, Feelgood, AC/DC covers, but also to Dayton’s version of Elton John’s ‘Country Comfort’ and a great version of ‘Just What I Needed’, originally by The Cars.

The album I got for review was on CD but it’s available in a number of formats – including cassette. Dayton produced it himself and he is on tour in America currently.

Mike Wistow

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Keeping It Live – Dan Jones @ Varaignes Chateau

Dan Jones
Photograph by Mike Wistow

There are gigs – and then there are gigs to remember when others have been forgotten – maybe it’s the music, the interaction with the audience, the setting, the day you met someone, the venue, the holiday you were on, the sound quality, the weather etc. Sometimes many things combine to create the memorable experience. I’m pretty sure this will be one of them, staying in the memory long after others have gone.

I’ll watch just about anything live, whether I know it before hand or not. On Tuesday I got a text to say “Can I draw your attention to a concert in Varaignes tomorrow evening? Dan Jones….is playing in the chateau courtyard…..and will be using at least one guitar made by our friends in the village”. How could I refuse?

So a day later, I arrive at a small French village with a chateau, mostly white stone, a small courtyard laid out for a solo concert, put on (if I understood the French introduction correctly) by people from the local commune. The ‘stage’ is set: it’s a simple space in front of the benches we sit on, archways behind it, pigeons muttering overhead and a simple layout of chair, footstand and microphone next to an open guitar case (with guitar) on the floor. We are given a programme for the event, a hand-printed sheet of A4 with a biography and a set list – a mixture of classical music and traditional music from various countries.

After a bi-lingual introduction, Dan Jones walks to the front, second guitar in hand, smiles, greets us and starts to play. Two pieces by Bach set the scene, followed by three Preludes on Occitan songs. People talk about spider exercises on learning guitar – these are played with the fluidity, not of an eight-legged spider, but of a centipede on each hand. We are jaw-droppingly hooked.

Before the break, one piece of Paraguayan music and three from Heitor Villa-Lobos follow. Intermingled amongst them are ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘The Water is Wide’. Click on the video below and picture this not in the studio but in a white stone chateau on a warm evening. Rather magical.

At the break someone asked Jones why he was swapping between the two guitars, (both made by Dan Jarvis who is local). The essence of the answer was that these are both exquisite guitars and I’m like a small boy in a sweet shop. Lovely.

To say the second half was more of the same is a great compliment. Along the way we are treated to tales of life as an itinerant musician. Over the years attitudes have changed, travelling with guitar used to be a badge of honour but Ryanair et al no longer see it the same way. Buying a seat for a guitar is now a lost opportunity for the airline to sell drinks, snacks and raffle tickets.

The Spanish pieces were described, in a great expression, as “going to the soul of the guitar”. From the British and Irish folk tradition, ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ were included in the set; Jones’ webpages have videos of both. If I understood his French introduction correctly, one of the more intriguing insights for me as someone who has enjoyed folk music for decades was Jones’ passing comment (in introducing ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’) that he had recently moved to spend time in Scotland and he has found the Scottish tradition. You can’t help being glad that he has. They were played as quite stunning solo pieces. At times in the concert Jones’ fingers were leaping over the guitar neck with the delicacy of a cat splaying its four paws as it jumps effortlessly from its position and lands elsewhere.

The evening finished with an encore, Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’ gently hummed along to by those who were present. He concluded by thanking us for turning up, thanking the Commune for putting on the event – and thanking Jarvis for his guitars, which were “vraiment magnifique”.

As ever with live music, there is always the potential to serendipitously find something wonderful – and this was one of those chance evenings.

Mike Wistow

Artist website: https://danjonesguitarist.com

‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ – official video:

YOKO PWNO – Artefacts (SRCDX006)

ArtefactsYoko Pwno (not a typo) released Artefacts earlier this year. The album is an enjoyable crossover between folk and modern electronic styles (also not a typo).

To quote from their publicity material “Fronted by the twin fiddles of whisky-fuelled folk maestro Lewis Williamson and classically trained RCS graduate Lissa Robertson, Yoko Pwno deliver a joyful fusion of original folk tunes, showstopping vocals and quirky electronic beats”. How to describe it? Imagine that the devil, instead of going to Georgia, went to a dance club in Scotland – he’d still lose; so would Charlie Daniels.

The video below links to ‘Shipwreck’, a techno beat opening moving not to electronic keyboard but to fiddle, the tempo moving from dance to country fiddle to soulful – the music topped off with an expressive vocal and a hypnotic refrain “I’m a shipwreck on the shores of you”. All this is matched in the video with fast cutting; images of modern dance and traditional promenade both getting a look in. It’s a pretty fair visual representation of what Yoko Pwno’s musical fusion can achieve across the whole of the album.

Artefacts is predominantly self-penned, ten tracks holding the attention. ‘GMoD’ and ‘The Airt O The Deil’ are both just over four minutes long but could easily become long extended dance pieces which wouldn’t tire in the early hours of the morning. ‘When I’m Wearing Thin’ moves from repetitive refrain, hidden almost rapped lyric, a voice appearing from out of the depths which hints at the band’s vocal power; ‘Drive’, the next track, highlights the vocal even more. ‘Feeding John Magnets’ is another instrumental, – traditional music stretched by a science fiction undertone; ‘BloodSexSugarDiabetes’ (still not a typo) does something similar, but this time with a vocal undertone, before it moves to driving drums which hold various leads together. ‘Prepaid Meter Blues’ takes us to Scottish folk-rap; ‘Bothy Rumba’ is another fusion, more chill zone than dancefloor – though the concluding fiddle would wake you if you were completely spaced out. The album closes with ‘Evolution’ on which Lissa Robertson’s soulful vocal and a steady drum beat pull the music into dance while the violins and whistle pull it into folk and the tradition. It’s a nice way to finish as this balance is emblematic of the creative tension of the album as a whole.

When I got the chance to review the album, I glanced at a few videos on YouTube and replied to the effect that, from a brief flick through, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it but I was fascinated. Multiple listenings later, I’m still fascinated by this fine fusion of influences – and I like it.

Mike Wistow

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‘Shipwreck’ – the single live:

THE SCHMOOZENBERGS – Awaken (Schmusic Records SCHCD01)

AwakenThe Schmoozenbergs are essentially a Gypsy Jazz band who have recently released their second album Awaken – and it’s a gently lovely listen. The video below is the opening track on the album, ‘Cortisol Swing’. If you click through you’ll hear a track with various tune and tempo changes embellishing the main theme – and that’s also when you start to wonder how eight hands and twenty strings (bass, violin, two guitars – all acoustic) can be so accomplished.

Allow me a slight digression and I’ll return to the album directly in a paragraph. It’s been oft remarked that there is something different about having a twelve inch vinyl album, a stylish sleeve and photographs – a tactile, tangible difference in handling such an album – let alone the debate about analogue sound compared with digital reproduction of music. There is then something more solid, classy about the whole 12” experience. I mention this because I first listened to Awaken in the car – several times – and thought it was ‘OK’ but didn’t get a strong sense of the band and their music. Back home, however, on the hifi something much more ‘rounded’ came through. My experience then is that the better the sound system you have – just use it, sitting and listening will repay all the time you take out your day and give to the album.

That said, the tracks also make for a pretty good accompaniment to whatever else you may be doing. If you’ve listened to ‘Cortisol Swing’ it’s a good and representative introduction to the whole album. There are eleven tracks, of which I particularly like the slight eeriness at the beginning of ‘Charmed Snake’, the exuberance of the title track and the mingling of the multiple influences in ‘The Finale’.

As their website puts it “Conjuring up the mood of 1930s Paris, fused with flavours of Eastern Europe and the energy of a campfire jam session, The Schmoozenbergs’ uplifting music will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step”.

The band have a number of concerts from September 5th to the end of the year, mainly in Derbyshire and the south/south west of England.

Mike Wistow

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‘Cortisol Swing’ – official live video:

Keep It Live – Dodo Street Band at Worksop College

Dodo Street Band

A few months ago I reviewed the Dodo Street Band CD, Natural Selection, and thought it was pretty good (read Mike’s review here). They didn’t have many gigs planned, but one was fairly near to me so booked the date in my diary.

People talk about going out for the evening to the theatre and mention the whole evening – maybe a meal beforehand, meeting up with friends, the expectation of maybe a London theatre, etc etc. With music, people I know tend to talk about the gig, not the whole event. So this is another occasional live review with a broader slant.

Generally, when I book something in advance, there’s more than a hint of excitement. This was certainly the case with gigs as diverse as, say, seeing the Rolling Stones in Roundhay Park in 1981, taking a friend for his sixtieth birthday to a stadium a few years ago to see The Who – but also things like seeing June Tabor live for the first time in a theatre in Scunthorpe (“a voice as smooth as a pint of Guinness” was a remark I overheard) or going to see a mate’s band play their first ever gig in a dodgy pub. But then, some days, other things just get in the way – and this was one of them. As the day approached I discovered I was working away, getting back home the night of the Dodo Street Band gig.

So on a Wednesday night a couple of weeks ago, I find myself driving after some long days away and hotel-bed-limited-sleep to a concert. The gig is in Worksop college, geographically about half an hour’s drive from where I grew up but in other ways, a couple of light years away from the factory towns, rural and pit villages where I used to play cricket. (I mention this simply because about the only thing I thought I knew about Worksop College was that Joe Root smashed to smithereens most of the cricketing records there.) Generally, my venue of choice to watch music is some kind of club/pub, – in the old days with dark walls, sticky floors, smoke and alcohol. I get the feeling I’m not going to be visiting that kind of place……

And it’s not, but it’s rather splendid. Easy to get to, easy to park, students politely pointing me in the right direction – past the cricket pitch on the right – and into the main building. Given work and the drive, I’m feeling too tired to be in the right place mentally for music. But the setting is pretty good, the room light and airy (and hence a long way from places like Sheffield’s Leadmill or Boston’s Axe and Cleaver where I used to watch my music) is fine and with great sound. The college also they fed us canapés and gave us a free drink at half time. My mental rehabilitation was getting fixed, partly because I was being well looked after.

And the gig? Sometimes you’re just glad you ignored the tiredness because you’ve been to see something unique. This was one of them. The band live are stunning as they trade tunes between fiddle, recorder, accordion, double bass – and in Cormac Byrne they have what I can only describe as a lead bodhran player. Like a live jazz band players sit bits out, they watch their fellow band members take the lead, they mingle the combinations of instruments in different ways so the sound varies – but what never varies is the skill and entertainment value. The humour of the Dodo Street Band’s website is translated onto the stage through entertaining introductions: the Dodo flying machine, for example – the Wright Brothers weren’t the first to create a flying machine, it was the escaping dodos.

What we saw that evening was the band members bringing to exuberant life the skills on the album….plus a bit. The skill of Adam Summerhayes’ fiddle playing being not only in the fingers moving fluidly, but in the way he manages – just – not to poke his colleagues eyes with the dancing bow; as well as bodhran, Cormac Byrne played spoons, bones and members of the audience – anything that could make a percussive sound; Piers Adams had a collection of recorders in what looked like a builders tool belt, switched expertly between them and even played two simultaneously (picture above); Malcolm Creese held the rhythm and played bass solo – and had the most deadpan introductory line – for the first tune in a set “which is called […pause…] ‘Tune Number One”; and a particular mention not just for Murray Grainger’s piano accordion playing but his focus as his young family wanted to join him on stage. They describe their instrumental prowess as playing: Scrapes, Bangs, Blows, Twangs and Bellows.

And Worksop College? A cracking setting, the concert room and the mix were both good, but I also have the unique memories of the rather grand hall where we had interval drinks and the cheery helpfulness of the students. There was also a fascinating conversation with the person who organised it all. I discovered that this gig was one in a series of musical events which Worksop College put on and which they open up to anyone who wants to come. The College seems to have a strong musical curriculum and, to my mind, the staging of music events of all genres and opening them up to the community is a great idea.

Lastly, Natural Selection, the Dodo Street Band’s album was good to listen to, but the live evening got me going, even after the drive and the start to the week I’d had. The evening as a whole? A highly talented – and fun – band in a great location. The venue and the band, then – both of them worth writing home about.

Mike Wistow

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‘Larking’:

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: