Sunday, 5 February 2012

Alan West - The Way It Is - EP

Alan West

The Way it is EP

Tracks: 6

Alan West hails from Dorset UK, but without question sounds more as if he belongs with his American counterparts.  This EP is his third release on the Neo Records label and came about as the result of a trip to Nashville in 2010, working with Dean Barnes and Pat McInerny.

The opening track, Alaska (Take me Back), was written by West’s longtime friend and fellow musician, Steve Black.  The song captures perfectly that feeling of longing to be back in a place you love.  I think most people will relate.  I don’t feel the call of Alaska, but of a small town in Mississippi...wherever the place, the feelings are universal.

Steve also contributed the touching You’re On Your Own, aswell as It’s Enough to Kill Ya, which he co wrote with collaborator of old, Jim Almand; a rather cleverly constructed drinking song.

Jefferson Ross penned Hornet Hawkins, ostensibly the story of a man and land. Hugh Moffatt, brother of Katy Moffatt, wrote Whiskey Up.  I have to admit to initially thinking, ‘Oh great, another whiskey song...’ but I was pleasantly surprised...

However, without question, the stand out track, which is, in my opinion, worth the cost of the EP, alone, is Prophet Elijah. Without spoiling it, it is about a man, a belief, a prophecy, forgiveness;  it is almost a vision of who and what the world needs right now.  Just stunning.

Alan West is doing a show on in March, streamed live into your house via the wonders of the internet.  I’ll be tuning in with  hopes of hearing the story of Elijah delivered live!

The EP is available on iTunes or from his website:

The Proposition - King Snake Devil Shake

The Proposition

King Snake Devil Shake

The Proposition are a band new to me, who hail from Norfolk, England and this is perhaps the most intriguingly titled CD of the year so far!  The members of the band have clearly had quite some life experiences, resulting in a CD which leans towards a rootsy sound with a rough edge of Americana. Poduced by Nick Brine, who has also produced KT Tunstall, Seasick Steve and The Darkness, among others, the CD contains twelve tracks, quite eclectic in style and sound.  Well worth a listen if you want to support British music, but like it to sound more authentically American.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Thea Gilmore's Wintertide

Thea Gilmore’s Wintertide.
The Sage, Gateshead , Hall 2.

Thea Gilmore’s ‘Wintertide’ has become something of a tradition these past three years since the release of her Strange Communion CD. Tonight’s show had sold out weeks ago, which was great to see.
Her husband, producer and singer songwriter in his own right, Nigel Stonier opened the show, demonstrating great musicianship and a sense of humour to match. He took us through a selection of his songs, including Love and that Sort of thing, A rainbow is Enough andMessing with fire, which he wrote with Claire Teal, but delivers with less of a jazz edge.
Where dd I go Rightis a new song hw wrote with an older country gent in mind whilst I Hope I Always is a touching love song– you can’t help but wonder if he had Thea in mind when he wrote it. I love the line ‘I know the path of rightrousness, I just don’t there much.’
Talking of how much they both love The Sage, he moved onto what for me were the two stand out tracks of his set, Josef’s Train and the tongue in cheek, music industry party inspired, Whole Lot of Nothing Going On. Brilliant.
Taking leave of the stage, he joked that he would use the break to metamorphose into Thea’s guitarist, ready for her set.
Thea took her place on the stage, surrounded by Christmas lights, snowflake projections and her Cd playing in the background. Immediately she joked, ‘She has a sexy voice, doesn’t she?!’ She told us, very genuinely, how great it was to be back at The Sage and welcomed us to Wintertide, remarking, ‘Another alone on the stage, Thea delivered a stunning solo version of Yoko Ono’s Listen, the Snow is Falling.This song fascinates me as not only is it beautiful, but listening on the CD you would think that the effects in Thea’s voice are created by technology, but when you see her live it is very much apparent she creates the effects herself. Very clever.
Nigel and Fluff, Thea’s longtime fiddle player joined her on stage and a set of banter began which ended up more like a comedy sketch between them. Thea went onyear gone by, ey?’

Standing to explain that she was originally going to record a Waterboys Christmas song, but was persuaded, by them to record Yoko Ono’s instead. As a result, she now sings their song live.

As her keyboard player came out to join them, Thea spoke about Don’t Stop Singing, her recent project of putting music to some newly discovered Sandy Denny lyrics. In deciding whether to agree to take part, she told us she had to ask herself how she would feel as a writer to decide whether Sandy would have approved. Then followed a rousing version of Don’t Stop Singing,which in many ways seems to me to sum both women up.
Joking about how it seems to be seasonally prophetic every year as she always gets one, she and the band launched into Cold Coming, giving it an almost sinister edge, along with a brilliant ending. Talking about Strange Communion, Thea spoke of wanting to make a seasonal, rather than Christmas, album. She was brought up Catholic, went to a Church of England School and deems herself Agnostic, but admitted to loving the season of Christmas. I have felt from first hearing it that it is more a CD of winter music, and in many ways, the better for it, as she does very much capture the spirit of the season, and very articulately.
Following the revelation that it is now considered that Jesus was born in October, an explanation was given as to how the Christians took over the Roman feast of Sol Invictus– the feast of the unconquered sun. What followed was the most stunning a capella performance I have ever heard in The Sage - testament both to her vocals and the acoustics in the room.
Nigel returned for I’ll be Home for Christmas and as Thea returned to her guitar, a lovely surprise followed; their five year old son, Egan, who joined them to play fiddle, with Fluff, on their next song. He was full of smiles, very confident and extremely cute, clearly loving being out on stage with his Mum. He obviously takes after his two musical parents!
On the subject of children, Thea returned to Sandy Denny to sing a song she now finds difficult as a mother; a lullabye called Georgia, which she wrote for her baby daughter not long before she died. By this time Georgia was living with her father and Sandy was deemed ‘unsafe,’ yet it is obvious from the lyrics how much she loved that little girl. Very moving. You could almost sense Sandy Denny’s spirit in the room with us, singing along with Thea, very much approving of what she had done with the lyrics.
Glad Tidings of Comfort and Joy very much suited her voice and left me wondering if we might persuade her to do a second seasonal CD? This was followed by her telling us how in further evidence that the Sage are great, they had left mince pies in her dressing room. Wanting to share them, she designated a man in the front row as ‘mince pie monitor’ to send them round and give her mince pie status updates. This caused great hilarity and really, is just typical of Thea; she is so down to earth and in tune with her audience.
She sang December in New York for the people sat behind her, who she joked had had the less pleasant view all evening. I have loved this song from first hearing it before it also found its way onto Strange Communion. This was then followed with the upbeat You’re the Radio, from the Murphy’s Heart CD. I’ve been hearing this song in all kinds of places recently!
Speaking of which, it is an absolute mystery to me why the next song That’ll be Christmas, isn’t playing everywhere over the Christmas period. If ever a song deserved to become a seasonal classic…
The lights went out to create an ethereal setting for my favourite song of the evening, Midwinter Toast. To me this song somehow captures the bittersweet element of the season, especially New Year; ‘it’s been a crazy year, but through all the damage done, I have turned and I have learned to make next year a better one.’
The set ended with the very cleverly worded St Stephen’s Day Murders, delivered with more than just a hint of attitude!
As an encore Thea took us back in time to sing This Girl is Taking Bets, at the end of which she stepped back to allow Nigel and Fluff to trade ‘riffs.’ Asking if anyone fancied singing she led us into the gorgeous Old December, where she had us deliver the‘sing, sing, sing for old December’ part, over and over. I have to admit it did sound rather lovely.
Making a point of telling us how lucky we are to have The Sage (she’d love to take it with her), she also thanked us for supporting live music, recognising that she couldn’t do it with us. Wishing us a Merry Christmas, she left the stage, promising to be back soon, and leaving us to sing, sing, sing to old December. So, Wintertide next year Thea? We’d love to have you before then, too, incidentally…

Monday, 2 January 2012

Don't Stop Singing - Thea Gilmore and Sandy Denny

Thea Gilmore and Sandy Denny – Don’t stop Singing

I think it is fair to say that the origins of this CD are just a little unusual, to say the least.  Thea Gilmore was approached by the estate of the late Sandy Denny, with the request that she put music to new lyrics found in some of Sandy’s journals.  Despite having grown up with Sandy’s music, Thea admits to being hesitant about undertaking such a project; would Sandy want those lyrics turned into songs? Would she approve?  Eventually Thea’s husband, producer and guitarist, Nigel Stonier eventually asked her; if  she had written those lyrics, would she wasn’t them to find their way into the world?  Eventually, after much soul-searching, Thea concluded that as long as she made good music out of the lyrics, Sandy would surely approve.  Thus this trans-generational project was begun and it is clear from the CD’s title and the fact that both are pictured on the cover, that Thea has, from the beginning, considered it a collaboration between the two.

With all that said, I was still unsure of what to expect and never could have predicted the result.  What struck me from the opening song, Glistening Bay, is that the lyrics could have been written by, or for, Thea, so perfectly does her voice wrap itself around them, like she knows them intimately. For all the music was Thea’s remit, she has produced  very simple, subtle accompaniment, rather than music heavy songs.  The result is that this allows Sandy’s lyrics to shine through, via Thea’s unique voice, in all of their sadness, longing, hope and beauty.

Long Time Gone  wonders aloud if the man she loves will come home, whilst Goodnight takes on a more modern tone.  London has a more upbeat, almost Irish influenced sound, which equally works, and I think everyone can relate to the sense of longing to be somewhere else. Pain in My Heart  is enhanced by the addition of some lovely fiddle accompaniment and solos, enhancing this sad, sad song. A message to a sailor comes in the form of the aptly named Sailor and the stunning piano introduction to Frozen Time somehow develops an icy sound to match the song title. Stunning.

The intriguingly titled Song No 4  leaves you wondering whether it was named that, was a fourth draft, or was it just random?   Definitely a standout track on the CD, there is such irony in the lyric, ‘If I don’t make it before I die, then I just ain’t gonna die.’ In this song, Sandy speaks of travelling and being ‘pushed round in a wild goose chase..’   Equally ‘..get me a bottle of wine, I don’t wanna drink, get me out of my mind, I don’t wanna think,’ seems to encapsulate her state of mind, yet still demonstrates a determination to go on.  Who knows what could have been.

However, the absolute standout track for me, is the achingly beautiful Georgia, a lullabye to Sandy’s baby daughter, then months old, just before she died.  By this time, Georgia had been taken out of state by her father as Sandy was not considered to be in a good place to look after her.  Tragic circumstances really, as this song just echoes how much she really loved the child, leaving no doubt that had things been different, had she had a chance to turn her life around, she had the potential to be a great mother. Sadly, that was not to be.  Thea admits that being a mother herself, she finds this song incredibly emotional and difficult to sing.

I think Thea sings this so beautifully that any doubts about her choice to agree to the project are dissipated on first listen. Georgia, Sandy’s daughter, is part of her estate, and surely it is a gift to her to hear the song her mother wrote for her, and to her, rather than simply reading them in a book.

The final track on the CD is the title track; Don’t Stop Singing seems to be a celebration of music and singing.  ‘Don’t stop singing til you drop..’ – in many ways Sandy didn’t and it doesn’t seem to me that Thea will either – there is also a correlation in that it seems that music has gotten both women through some difficult times.  Equally, I can’t sing in a meaningful way, but don’t intend to stop singing along to the songs I love, so it seems to me that Sandy has left us some pretty sage advice, through the voice of Thea Gilmore.

Coming back for a moment to the question of whether Sandy Denny would approve of this CD.  Well, we can never know for sure can we?  However, I feel confident that she would not only approve but would want to thank Thea for breathing life into these songs and allowing the world to hear them.  I have a suspicion that she was somehow in the studio with Thea, perhaps even guiding her, somehow.  I would also like to think of her watching with pride as those very songs make people smile, or cry, one at a time.  After all, who is to say she didn’t play a part in those journals being found? So, on behalf of Sandy Denny and all of us who have loved listening to this CD, thankyou Thea, and please, Don’t Stop Singing.

Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers - Self-Titled

Zoe Muth adnd the Lost High Rollers


Tracks: 12

Another new name to me, but one I haven’t stopped hearing since this CD arrived, Zoe Muth immediately caught my attention due to the frequent comparisons to folk singer songwriter Iris DeMent.  Apparently the comparisons are justified.

Frequently, I caught myself forgetting I was listening to a recent CD and not one from back in the country music days of, say the sixties, such is Muth’s country sound; in many ways this seems at odds with her age, but it has worked for Elizabeth Cook and Sunny Sweeney before her. At times she also reminds me of Emmylou Harris and even Tift Merritt.  Dave Harmonson adds great touches with electric guitar and pedal steel and Ethan Lawton’s mandolin complements this perfectly.

There are some strong songs on this CD, despite the fact that for the most part they are quite sad; almost bleak at times. There is a very clever twist in You only believe me when I’m Lying, which I wasn’t expecting, whilst Never be Fooled Again, is a story of complete heartbreak, condensed into the time of the song. The standout track for me, however, would have to be Middle of Nowhere, with the brilliant line, “In the middle of nowhere at my own home address."  You really have to hear it. 

From the sounds of this CD, I think Zoe Muth and the High Rollers may well become high rollers on the music scene and am already looking forward to getting hold of their second CD to see where it takes them.

Hellbound Train - Delta Moon

Delta Moon – Hellbound Train

Ironically my first listen to this CD was on a train – thankfully not hellbound like the one in the song!  I had never heard of this band,but it seems they are well known as a nationally touring blues-rock band. In 2008, The American Roots Music Association named lead singer Tom Gray as Blues Songwriter of the Year; his songs having been recorded by such artists as Cyndi Lauper, Manfred Mann and Carlene Carter. This is a great, often fun, collection of songs, enhanced by great musicians on lap steel and slide guitar, creating a real Delta Blues sound. They sing of trains, love and being Stuck in Carolina – I can think of worse places.  An unusual choice is a cover of You Gotta Move, by Mississippi legend Fred McDowell, but it works.  Standout track, however, has to be Plantation Song, which evokes the Deep South that I love, the Delta, the cotton fields, as the story unfolds. This song alone is worth the price of the CD, showing the side to this band that I like the best.

Broken Land Bell - The Wiyos

The Wiyos  - Broken Land Bell

The Wiyos have been on the circuit for 6 years now, by way of New Orleans and New York, both of which heavily influenced their sound and performance; it is said that  theyfollow in the tradition of medicine show buskers and vaudeville acts.  This, their fourth CD, primarily blends country, blues and Western Swing, to create a rather unique sound.  The chorus of stand out track Angeline is even sung in French, whilst the toe tapping All Aboard takes on a more gospel edge.  Dontchaletmecatchya is delivered quickly, with a great sound which clearly comes from  New Orleans, taking us on a brief musical journey through some of the Southern States. Anyone looking for something a little different, musically, give this a try.