AMBER CROSS – Savage On The Downhill (own label AC03007)

Savage On The DownhillBorn and raised in rural Maine, the daughter of a smalltown pastor, where she first sang in her local church (her live debut album of gospel country was titled My Kind Of Church), now, when not singing, Cross roams the California forests as a hunter and fisherwoman. No surprise then to find the songs on her third album linked to nature and her lifestyle, indeed, sung in her distinctive raspy twang, the slow march title track, co-penned by producer Ray Bonneville and featuring Gurf Morlix on guitar, refers to a type of hunting rifle and how it should be held to avoid getting dirt in the barrel when going downhill and was inspired by a wild boar she frequently encountered while hunting, extending to serve as a metaphor for being trapped in and escaping a controlling relationship.

Album opener, the mid-tempo, brushed snare trot ‘Pack Of Lies’ with Bonneville’s twangy guitar solo, trawls similar territory about being haunted by past acts and regrets (“I made this bed where I lay in the shame/Memories of you oh they haunt my mind…There’s no way around how careless I’ve been/Selfish and blind, facade of love, loss of a friend”) while the slow waltzing ‘Eagle & Blue’, where the singer revisits old haunts, also involves a disintegrating relationship, the last verse taken from a poem by veteran roots country singer Bodie Wagner.

Itchy feet stroll through the harmonica coloured barroom shuffle of ‘Leaving Again’ (“Can’t I live with myself, his poor heart in my hands/I tell him I tried but he don’t understand/I know this is home but it don’t feel that way/He don’t want me to go but he drives me away”) and, keeping the theme going, ‘Echoes’, which, laced by Mike Hardwick’s pedal steel, melodically sound like a slow lope take on ‘Jackson’, reflects on a marriage grown stale over the years now that the kids have gone (“Tell me again just why are we still together/Lying next to you I never felt so alone”), but, in this case also looks to find a reason to believe and a fight to regain the spark.

‘Trinity Gold Mine’ strips it down to just her and an acoustic guitar, a rural story song about an outsider and hidden pasts (“My friends say I’m a real nice guy/But they don’t know about me”), the pace picking up to a marching beat again with Morlix on baritone guitar for the heartaching Bonneville co-write ‘Tracey Joe’, another story-song, again about escaping abusive relationships, and of a mother remembering the son she’s lost touch with.

Tim O’Brien adding fiddle, the slow waltzing ‘Storms Of Scarcity’, on the other hand, talks of finding permanence together in times of hardship (“Somehow I’ll get though with you by my side”), while, the last of the self-penned songs, memories are at the heart of ‘One Last Look’, a classic country twanged guitar, walking beat nostalgic reflection of returning in her mind to “places I will never see again” and of freeing yourself by bidding a fond farewell and letting go (“I’m going to walk right in and say hello, set my spirit free”).

The album ends with a shuffling cover of Bonneville’s lonesome looking back on what’s gone, call of the road themed ‘Lone Freighter’s Wail’, the man himself providing pensive echoey electric guitar, a fine conclusion to an album that has its sights honed, its barrel clean and its chamber fully loaded.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.ambercrossmusic.com

‘Trinity Gold Mine’ – official video:

John McCusker – new album

John McCusker

In celebration of his 25th Anniversary as a professional musician, John McCusker will release Hello, Goodbye on April 29th 2016 and tour the UK in April and May. A wonderfully evocative set of compositions, Hello, Goodbye is John’s first solo album in thirteen years, the first on his new record label Under One Sky Records and the first recorded in his state of the art studio, built over the last 2 years in a bothy dating from 1779, which neighbours his Scottish Borders home. Designed by legendary record producer and studio designer Calum Malcolm, the new studio is a winning combination of the traditional and the new, much like John’s music itself!

Hello, Goodbye was composed while John was on a world tour with Mark Knopfler. The core musical group for the album is an all-star cast of handpicked musicians with whom John has been fortunate to work over the past 25 years: James Mackintosh, Drums/Percussion (Shooglenifty, The Blue Nile, James); Ewen Vernal, Bass (Deacon Blue, Capercaille); Ian Carr, Guitar (Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Swap); Michael McGoldrick, Whistle (Mark Knopfler, Capercaille, Sharon Shannon); Andy Cutting, Melodeon  (The Who, June Tabor); Tim O’Brien (Grammy Award Winning US bluegrass star); Phil Cunningham MBE, Accordion (Bonnie Raitt, Nicola Benedetti) and acclaimed Irish singer Heidi Talbot.

Born in Bellshill, near Glasgow, John began playing whistle and fiddle as a child and joined the legendary folk outfit Battlefield Band aged 17. During his 11 years with the band, he also released his first two solo recordings, 1995’s self-titled debut and 2000’s Yella Hoose. His most recent albums include Under One Sky and the reissues of Yella Hoose and Goodnight Ginger re-mastered deluxe.

John has long been renowned for his skill at transcending musical boundaries: striving to keep his music fresh and exciting, never leaving the past behind but always embracing new sonic adventures. As a live and studio guest he has shared stages with Paul Weller, Paolo Nutini, Teenage Fanclub, Graham Coxon and Eddi Reader. Since 2008, he has been a member of Mark Knopfler’s band, playing arenas around the world including a double bill with Bob Dylan at The Hollywood Bowl and 20 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

An expanding portfolio as a producer features debut albums by Kris Drever and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. He’s also manned the controls for top folk chanteuses Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot, Eliza Carthy and Linda Thompson. Film and TV work includes soundtracks for the movie Heartlands (2002) and 16 Years of Alcohol (2003), Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand (2004), Jennifer Saunders BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem (2008) & Starlings sitcom for Sky TV (2012).

John was awarded the coveted BBC Radio 2 Musician of the Year in 2003 and also The Spirit of Scotland Award for music in 1999 and again in 2009.

The John McCusker Band, featuring some of the finest traditional musicians including Andy Cutting, Adam Holmes, Innes White and Toby Shaer, will embark on an extensive UK tour in April/May:

“One of the UK’s most gifted and versatile musicians in any genre, John McCusker is equally in demand as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer.” The Guardian

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‘Muireann’s Jig/Farewell to Whalley Range/Roddy McDonald’s’ – The John McCusker band live:

 

Artist’s website: www.johnmccusker.co.uk

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Singer Songwriters From Home (Hemifrån MFH 1501)

Singer Songwriters From HomeHere’s a Swedish label celebrating the art of the singer-songwriter with the music of four US exponents: Greg Copeland, Keith Miles, Barry Ollman and Bob Cheevers – all experienced but not well-known outside their home country, hence the tag “Hidden Treasures”.

The compilers and artists have worked hard to avoid the clichés of the genre but even so a good many of the songs fall into the gentle and thoughtful category. The first selection: Copeland’s ‘Wait for Me’, Miles’ ‘Playing Your Guitar’, Cheevers’ ‘These Are My Words’ and Ollman’s ‘Longtime Friend’ fall more or less into this grouping and Cheever’s strays dangerously close to the “you’re my woman etc etc” category. I’ll forgive him that for coming up with the first track that really sets the album alight – ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow’, a rousing re-telling of Washington Irving’s story. It’s preceded by ‘Roughhouse Boys’, Copeland’s reflective Civil War song, and followed by Miles’ country-rocker, ‘Homeland’, recorded fifteen years ago by Kenny Rogers.

Ollman’s ‘Murmuration’ takes a new look at something we’ve all seen at one time or another. It features Tim O’Brien’s mandolin and other guests sprinkled throughout the record include Patrick Sky, Spooner Oldham, Larry Knechtel, Jackson Browne, David Lindley and Garry W Tallent. Of the four, Ollman is the only performer I’m certain that I’ve heard before and while the album is enjoyable enough it lacks the bite I want from a singer-songwriter. A little early Phil Ochs or even Tom Paxton in protest mode wouldn’t go amiss.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: www.hemifran.com

CAHALEN MORRISON & ELI WEST the musician’s musicians…

C&E header 2014(1)It means something that the word about Americana roots duo Cahalen Morrison & Eli West spread first among musicians. Their debut album was passed around the ranks of some of the best American roots bands and seen as a model to strive for in songwriting and musicianship. In this way, you could think of Cahalen & Eli as musician’s musicians. This is because their music seems effortlessly simple, but is complex enough to engage us far beyond the usual way we listen to roots music.

Cahalen Morrison’s songwriting is as much informed by the dark lyricism of Cormac McCarthy as it is by Appalachian stringband songs, and Eli West’s angular, racing arrangements owe as much to the speed and aggression of early jazz as they do to bluegrass greats like Bill Monroe.

With their new album, I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West have perfected their chemistry as a duo, falling into long-form instrumental grooves and threading their vocal harmonies together as tightly as a weaver. Produced by Grammy-winning artist Tim O’Brien, they recorded the album at the Colorado Rockies, assisted by fiddlers Ryan Drickey and Brittany Haas.  Together Cahalen Morrison & Eli West make music that draws from the well of American tradition, but reshapes these traditions into beautiful new forms.

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Artists’ website: http://cahalenandeli.com/

Irish Songstress Heidi Talbot Announces Angels Without Wings

Heidi Talbot Angels Without WingsIrish Songstress Heidi Talbot Announces Angels Without Wings

Former Cherish The Ladies Vocalist’s New Release Features Collaborations with Mark Knopfler, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien and More

Acclaimed Irish songstress Heidi Talbot presents Angels Without Wings, a new collection of stunning original compositions, many co-written with  long time collaborator with Boo Hewerdine, featuring some of the most notable players and singers from the worlds of folk, pop, rock and bluegrass.  The new album will be released by the Compass Records Group on January 29th.

When Mark Knopfler and Jerry Douglas offered to play on Heidi Talbot’s new album, they thoughtfully recorded their parts in several different styles – some were instantly recognizable, others more low-key. Talbot’s husband, producer and band-mate John McCusker joked, “you’ve got the best guitar players in the world and we’re blending them in?” But both musicians knew that for Talbot, the song always comes before the name.

Subtlety is Talbot’s magic ingredient – from her gossamer voice to the delicate re-working of traditional and contemporary material that earned her rave reviews for her 2008 breakthrough In Love And Light. The girl from Ireland’s Co. Kildare, who spent several years in New York as a member of the Irish-American super-group Cherish The Ladies, slips effortlessly between musical worlds but retains a personal penchant for traditional folk.

Talbot began writing songs on her 2010 album The Last Star. In just two years she’s become a master of the art, sometimes composing alone, sometimes with McCusker and Boo Hewerdine(who form her touring band). Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) became a new creative foil for Talbot recently. The pair became a song-writing team recently after discovering a mutual admiration for each other’s music: “He was asked to pick his fantasy band for The Independent and he picked me and Morten Harket from A-ha on joint lead vocals,” Talbot laughs. She conceived the melody for “Button Up” – a brooding, urgent acoustic love song – with Anderson in mind, and he sent back his own lyrics.

“At home we listen to Belle And Sebastian and Teenage Fan Club as much as we do The Fureys and Mary Black,” she says, of her song-writing’s broad appeal. The best modern folk music gets right to the heart of human drama while remaining oblique about time and place: “Wine & Roses” is a poignant contemporary reminiscence about young lovers “holding hands and rubbing noses”; “I’m Not Sorry” is a mini-psychodrama written from a single moment of reflection – “I felt it, so it can’t be wrong to sing about it.”

And while the timeless language of traditional folk will always be an inspiration, there are traces of Americana in “When The Roses Come Again” (featuring Mark Knopfler), a delicate country-tinged duet with bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien, and Parisian romance in the unforgettable title track by Boo Hewerdine, laced with vintage accordion.

Talbot and McCusker were keen to capture the spontaneity of performance: the album was recorded live in Glasgow’s new Gorbals Sound Studios with her regular team including Ian Carr (guitars), Phil Cunningham (accordian), Michael McGoldrick (flutes/whistles), James Mackintosh (percussion), Boo Hewerdine (acoustic guitar) and Ewan Vernal (bass). “If people made mistakes we’d just keep going,” says Heidi. “On some of the tracks you can even hear the harmonium creaking. These guys are friends, they all give their opinion. They’ll say, “That’s it! That’s the take!’”

Talbot’s close-knit creative environment has fostered her confidence as a songwriter while allowing her to welcome in surprising new collaborators. These ever-evolving musical relationships can be heard on this, her most sophisticated and vibrant recording to date.

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