Back to General Archive

Album Reviews A - G

Ryan Adams - Demology
Ben & Jason - Hello
Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue
Karl Broadie - Nowhere Now Here
Buchanan - Stars A' Fallin'
Buchanan - The Picture
David Celia - Organica
Bob Cheevers - One Man One Martin
Guy Clark - The Dark
Slaid Cleaves - Broke Down
Leonard Cohen - 10 New Songs
Guy Davis - Butt Naked Free
Matt Deighton - You Are The Healer
Johnny Dowd - Pictures From Life's Other Side
Dr Robert - Flatlands
Drive Dy Truckers - Pizza Deliverance
Bob Dylan - Love and Theft
Fred Eaglesmith - Dusty
Kathleen Edwards - Failer
Joe Ely - Live @ Antone's
Freakwater - Endtime
Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man - Out Of Season
Golden Smog - Weird Tales
Nanci Griffith - Other Voices Too

Ryan Adams
(Lost Highway)
The story of this album's genesis is already well-established in legend. From December 2000 to October 2001 Ryan Adams records at least four albums worth of material with a variety of line-ups, styles and locations and then wants to release them all. Common sense prevails at the record company and the highlights are cherry-picked for the aptly titled Demology. This album is the result.

With such a background it's small wonder that the album is a mixed bag - "Nuclear" and "Starting To Hurt" see Adams trying, and failing, to master the rock-bombast style favoured by bands like U2; "Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby)" is a failed experiment with synths and drum machines, while the observation about the named State in "Tennessee Sucks" is equally true of the song itself. On the plus side the good songs are very good indeed. The vocal duet with Gillian Welch on "Tomorrow" is almost as tender as anything Gram ever managed with Emmylou; "Chin Up Cheer Up" is the closest Adams has been to getting back to the country in years, while "Dear Chicago" is a classic in the admittedly small genre of epistolary songs.

The relatively stripped down format of the demos plays to Adams' strengths and makes the album a more enjoyable listening experience than its rather over-bloated predecessor Gold. Now we have to see which way Adams springs next.

Steve Wilcock (Exclusive to Triste website)

Ben and Jason
Whereas Beth Orton is happy to try to rub off a little of that Witchseason magic by using John Wood to capture that sound on her album Central Reservation, Ben Parker and Jason Hazeley have managed to trump her hand, in the singer-songwriter authenticity stakes, by luring arranger Robert Kirby out of semi-retirement to write the score to one of their songs.

Kirby is probably best-known as the Cambridge University friend of Nick Drake, who arranged strings for Drake's first two albums. Here he scores the strings for "Joe's Ark", the epic lead track on Ben and Jason's 8 track mini-album. The eastern-tinged strings throb away behind the heavily strummed acoustic guitar while Ben Parker sings his heart out.

At its best Parker's voice resembles the falsetto ranges of Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke, and on first hearing, at least, you feel that you're listening to some of the manic intensity and invention that defined Jeff Buckley's Grace.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album cannot quite maintain this high level, although "This Is Our Song" boasts a catchy chorus after a very Thom Yorke-like verse; while on the good-natured, easy tempo of "On Days Like Yours" Ben Parker's vocals take on a warm George Harrison tone.

Ben and Jason are an interesting partnership who are pursuing a musical direction which offers a lot of scope for success, but also ample opportunities to stumble into mannerism and pretentiousness. With increased consistency in the future, and keeping a weather eye on any latent portentousness, they seem to be heading the right direction.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 1)

Billy Bragg & Wilco
Mermaid Avenue
"All you can write is what you see". So said Woody Guthrie, who crammed a whole lot of seeing and writing into his relatively short, and largely tragic, life. Legend has it that Woody often wrote songs at the rate of one per day; certainly he left hundreds, if not thousands of 'songs' behind when he died. If these songs ever had tunes, Woody took them to the grave with him. More than likely, he would have set them to old traditional folk melodies, passed down over centuries, as he did with most of his songs. The genius of Woody Guthrie was not in his melody writing, but in his words, be they political, humourous, tragic, or poetic.

Woody's daughter Nora, in charge of the Guthrie Archive in New York, gave one-time English Red Wedger, Billy Bragg, access to the vast collection of unpublished lyrics Woody left behind, and asked him to write new tunes for them. This must have been an exciting, if daunting, challenge to Bragg, who wisely enlisted the help of critically acclaimed rockers Wilco for the project. The whole thing could easily have thrown up a dog's breakfast of an album. Happily this was not the case, and the end result, 'Mermaid Avenue' (named after the street where Woody and his family lived in the late 1940's) is a warm, humourous and often uplifting piece of work. The melodies, written by either Bragg or Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, are, in the main, in sympathy with the lyrics. There are some real gems here, notably 'California Stars', 'Walt Whitman's Niece', the wistful Dick Turpin fantasy 'Unwelcome Guest', and the charming song about Woody's Oklahoma childhood, 'Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key'. Guests Natalie Merchant, Corey Harris and current sweetheart of 'new' English Folk, Eliza Carthy, ably support the main protagonists.

What Woody Guthrie would have made of it all is anybody's guess, but hopefully he would take some satisfaction from the fact that his words, largely ignored during his life-time, live on, and in many cases are just as, if not more, relevant today:

"Every year we waste enough to feed the ones who starve,
We build our civilisation up, and shoot it down with wars".
('Christ for President c.1946)

Bill Beaver (Originally published in Triste 1)

Karl Broadie
Nowhere Now Here
(Laughing Outlaw)
Musical roots are often more tangled and tortuous than are readily apparent at first. Van Morrison famously outlined his theory that soul music originally came from Scotland and Ireland and then proceeded to back up hisown argument in song with his three-decade-long investigation of "Caledonian Soul". Mike Scott consciously continued the search for the Veedon Fleece with the Waterboys and in his solo work, but also drew deeply from his love of Dylan. It should come as no surprise therefore that when Karl Broadie, a Scottish singer-songwriter now transplanted to Australia, went off to make his debut album proper that it would echo some of the above.

Nowhere Now Here is a fine collection of melodically strong songs with a loose, relaxed folk-country feel that evokes Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance or, more recently, some of Wilco or even Bap Kennedy's work. And there lies the main weakness with this album: too often you hear the ghost of others in some of Broadie's songs and arrangements. To be fair, Broadie is more than aware of this, cheekily pointing out his lyrical steal from Dylan in one song, while borrowing his song title elsewhere, a hint of a melody line there and other lyrical fragments somewhere else. Ryan Adams' Gold album didn't suffer too badly from critics playing spot-the-influence and Nowhere Now Here will probably be one of the stronger debut albums you will hear in 2003. If Broadie can build on this foundation and transmute his influences into something unique to him (as all his heroes have done) then this should be the start of an interesting journey.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 5)

Stars A' Fallin'
Buchanan are a country-rock band from the Northwest... of England.

For those still reading this review (i.e. those who don’t subscribe to the view that the only genuine country music comes from the US), this is Buchanan’s debut album, although members of the band have been mainstays of various English country-rock bands over the years, including the critically acclaimed Gary Hall and The Stormkeepers. All are highly accomplished musicians and could doubtless make a good living playing the clubs doing Eagles covers. It is to their credit then that they have gone for the far from safe option of writing and performing their own material, drawing on influences from Hank Williams and Buck Owens to Gram Parsons and Jay Farrar.

Recorded at the said Gary Hall’s Voodoo Rooms studio in Preston, the album is a melodic and nicely balanced collection, mixing driving country-rockers like ‘Gold Chains’ and ‘Bad Dreams and Regrets’ with more sensitive and traditional acoustic numbers such as ‘Nothing at All’ and ‘Beautiful, Honest and True’. The instrumentation is classic country, with Steve Conway’s pedal and lap steel providing a wistful backdrop to mandolin and some wonderfully catchy, twangy and tastefully distorted guitar figures from James Fildes. Lyrically, in keeping with the genre, the overriding theme is ‘the sound of love walking out the door’. Mark Wilkinson’s rich baritone takes lead on most numbers and is well supported in 3 or even 4 part close harmony from Messrs Fildes, Conway and bassist David A. Smith. Dave Wells holds everything together with some solid and uncluttered stick work.

This is an album that gets better and better the more you listen to it, with melodies that linger long to make it one of the most enjoyable collections I’ve heard for some time…from either side of the Atlantic.

Bill Beaver

The Picture
Apparently, Buchanan hate their music being labelled ‘’-which is understandable, as there’s nothing remotely ‘alt’ about Buchanan’s music. As you’d expect from a band who list their influences as ranging from Cash and Haggard to Parsons and The Jayhawks, it’s good, honest, straight-down-the-line country; nothing groundbreaking, simply well-crafted, melodic songs, written, played and sung with a passion only possible if you have a real love and feel for the music. The band may hail from England’s North West rather than America’s Southwest but listen to a track like ‘When the Sun Shines Bright’ - with Telecaster and pedal steel trading chicken-pickin' licks in the style of Messrs Burton and Perkins on Parsons’ ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ - and it’s clear that Buchanan are the real deal.

Since their debut album, 2004’s Gary Hall-produced Stars a’ Fallin’, the band have shared bills with the likes of Asleep at the Wheel, Dwight Yoakam and Marty Stuart and that album was always going to be a hard act to follow. However, The Picture in no way disappoints. This time self-produced, the result is another excellent collection of strong originals, with a good mix of song styles from across the country music spectrum. With songs such as the earlier mentioned ‘When the Sun Shines Bright’, the infectious, dobro-driven honky tonk number, ‘Rough Equivalent’, the Tex-Mex tinged ballad ‘Wrong Kind of Love’, the rocky ‘At Least I know I’m Alive’ and the stark, poignant waltz-time title track, this is truly an album that renders the skip button redundant.

It’s no easy life for a British country band-a constant battle for recognition and respect from an all too often dismissive and prejudiced record-buying public but anyone willing to take a chance on Buchanan certainly won’t regret it. In The Picture the band have an album that will hopefully see their star continue to rise.

Bill Beaver

David Celia
(Seedling Music)
Canadian David Celia's debut album Organica sizzles with pop energy and invention. He's obviously drunk deeply from the well of classic 60's English harmony pop - most of the songs are between two and three minutes long and boast strong melodies and hooks - but manages to avoid the danger of creatinng pastiche pop, although "Procrastination" could almost be a lost Who B-Side from 1967 (that's a compliment, by the way).

Celia handles most of the instrumentation (except for the drums) on the album and is talented and tasteful enough to accomodate three instrumentals without either showing off or destroying the mood. Some of the lyrics need to have as much care spent on them as the music gets, but overall Organica is a strong debut.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 5)

Bob Cheevers
One Man One Martin
(Inbred Records)
It can be a disappointing experience to listen to a CD purchased from a singer songwriter you’ve just seen 'unplugged' to find that the songs you’ve enjoyed are swamped in a welter of over-production. There can be no such complaints with this latest album from prolific Nashville-based Bob Cheevers, which gives the listener precisely what it says on the cover: one man, one Martin (guitar).

Any artist who releases such a stripped-down album needs real confidence in his ability as a solo performer and most of all confidence that his songs are strong enough to stand virtually alone with minimal embellishment. For a seasoned craftsman like Bob Cheevers, this confidence is well placed on both counts. His guitar style is varied -encompassing delicate folk-style picking and a more muscular approach where the song demands it. His voice has a sonorous, world-weary quality about it (at times reminiscent of Willie Nelson) and the songs are well crafted with lyrics, melodies and arrangements that grab and hold the listener’s attention.

Bob is a superb storyteller and the album introduces vividly drawn characters such as ‘The Horseshoe Man’- who numbered Billy The Kid as one of his customers - and ‘Vincent and Elaine’, two lonely people who eventually find each other - and true love. There are also a number of very personal ‘relationship’ songs and (perhaps befitting someone who turned 60 last year) a clutch of songs reflecting on life, death and the hereafter, which are particularly moving. ‘Free Now’, written from the point of view of a free spirit, speaking from the other side (‘I don’t worry, I’ve forgotten how’) is a tribute to the spirit of Bob’s girlfriend’s mother who died last year after spending many years in a nursing home in virtually a vegetative state. ‘Hell is Rolling Down’ was inspired by the last words of Bob’s friend of over 40 years and is him imagining what his friend may have gone through on his journey from this world to the next.

One Man One Martin is a studio album as close as you will get to a live performance and certainly doesn’t disappoint. The only thing lacking is Bob’s engaging between-song chat, which is such a feature of his live shows. To remedy this, a live album would be a welcome addition to the ever-growing Cheevers discography. Next time maybe?

Bill Beaver

Guy Clark
The Dark
(Sugar Hill)
When the stars of modern day country are considered, Guy Clark often gets forgotten amongst such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle et al. However, that's a shame because Clark is a master at putting poetry into his observational lyrics about life in the deep south of the US. The Dark adds to his high quality, if less than prolific, collected works.

In line with his more recent output, he is happy to collaborate on songs. For example, the opening track here, 'Mud', and the closing title track are fine co-compositions with Buddy Mondlock. The former features Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on backing vocals though, generally, the music mainly comes from old pals Darrell Scott and Verlon Thompson. These are fine men of multi-instrumental talent. The songs feature everything from the traditional 'Soldier's Joy, 1874' to a song about the 'son of a bitch' that shot his dog, 'Queenie's Song'. There are love songs or, perhaps, I should call them women admiration songs such as 'She Love To Ride Horses' and 'Arizona Star' with it's 'shining like a diamond, she had tombstones in her eyes' tale. There are others that tell of loneliness, 'Magnolia Wind', and tackle social neglect in 'Homeless'. Add all this together and the result is another fine record.

Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 5)

Slaid Cleaves
Broke Down
I'd never heard of Slaid Cleaves before Broke Down dropped through the door. The CD got played, but didn't immediately click. Not an unusual state of affairs for me (being known amongst my friends as "a slow listener"). Then, one day, I thought that I'd better give it another listen and... bang... I realised that this was a fabulous collection of storytelling songs. Some of the songs are in much the same story telling mould as folk ballads. For example, the self-penned 'Breakfast In Hell' is a tale of the danger in the logging industry and how a log jam gets broken. He wrote this song after a challenge from his friend, Gurf Morlix, who explained on a fishing trip to Sandy Gray Falls how the area had got it's name. The country tinge to Slaid's music means that we get plenty of songs about being down, the title track for starters, as well as plenty of reference to the demon drink. My favourite being 'Horseshoe Lounge' with it's line about 'the sorrow and smoke'. Sounds like every bar I've ever known.

Though the record mainly has Slaid's own compositions, he picks some choice covers. 'Lydia' written by Karen Poston is an absolute beauty painting images of an old lady sipping gin in the kitchen, while she smokes and grieves for her long departed husband. The album is rounded off by the Del McCoury song, 'I Feel The Blues Moving In', which provides an opportunity for some sweet harmony vocals. Live, I saw a stunning performance of this song with the PA turned off and the vocalising done to the max. Accompanying him were Gurf Morlix and Ivan Brown who both appear on this record. The latter provides some tasty double bass whilst the former adds guitar as well as taking control on production. Roles that Morlix has played for Lucinda Williams and, if you ask me, Slaid Cleaves deserves to be as well known as Ms.Williams.

Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 3)

Leonard Cohen
10 New Songs
Seven years after Cohen's last studio album (1994's The Future) and after several years at a Buddhist retreat on Mount Baldie in California Columbia executives could have been forgiven for not expecting any new additions to the Cohen discography. But the album delivers precisely as it says on its front cover - ten new songs from Leonard Cohen. In fact all the songs are co-credited to Sharon Robinson, a long-time collaborator who seems responsible for most of the music on the album and shares the front cover with the Canadian poet, but after even a cursory listening the album proves to definitely be a kosher Leonard Cohen album.

After the earnest political predictions of his last album Cohen returns to the area where he's at his strongest: as the ultimate prophet of the heart. His voice, now as deep and stately as a 16th century Spanish galleon, glides alongside the modern synth backing (which is actually much warmer than on his previous two albums) and the lyrics recall the best of his early 70's work in a manner that encourages, yet defies imitation.

Probably his best album since Songs Of Love And Hate three decades ago.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 4)

Guy Davis
Butt Naked Free
(Red House)
As time takes its toll on our older blues players, we should give thanks for the likes of Guy Davis. He's one of a number of young blues players to have emerged over the last few years. However, there is a maturity with him that shows a broad understanding of a variety of blues styles. The opener, 'Waiting for the Cards to Fall', is a rocking acoustic blues which gets followed by the bluesy ballad, 'Let Me Stay a While'. Then, up comes the classic slow blues of 'Writing Paper Blues' complete with drums from The Band's Levon Helm. This sweep between different styles typifies the album, which swings back and forth between blues of different tempo and mood.

The aforementioned 'Writing Paper Blues' is the only track which is a cover, as it is a Blind Willie McTell composition. The rest of the fourteen tracks are written by Guy himself, though one track borrows its tune from Gary Davis. So, not only can Guy play, but he writes good quality material, too. Certainly, if you look for something different in your music with new styles, instrumentation, etc., you should give this record a wide berth as it stays true to blues traditions. On the other hand, if you have worn holes in your old blues recordings, this young man is worth a spin.

Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 3)

Matt Deighton
You Are The Healer
(Barley Wheel)
Matt Deighton seems to live a schizophrenic artistic existence. Originally noted as the leader of acid jazzers Mother Earth, he later found himself co-opted into Paul Weller's circle and more recently, with a shave and haircut, has found himself touring Europe as Noel Gallagher's replacement with Oasis. At the same time he has been pursuing a parallel solo career as a sensitive, pastoral balladeer.

In 1995 he released the album, Villager, which perfectly captured the lush feel of prime period Nick Drake without resorting to outright mimicry. A similarly styled follow-up was recorded early the following year but, with the record company folding, it has taken until now for Deighton to regain the rights to the masters and to finally release You Are The Healer on his own label.

You Are The Healer builds on the template of Villager without ever losing the "getting your head together in the country" vibe of the latter. The songs and arrangements are looser and sound more the result of communal jamming. Extended solos on sax, flute and guitar feature more prominently, and the addition of ace veteran Hammond organ player Brian Auger on songs such as the the title track and 'So Are You' combine to give the impression of Traffic circa 1968.That's not to say there's no room for the more meditative songs such as 'Next Year' and 'Twisted Wheel' which so characterised Villager.

Essential accompaniment for sleepy, sunny summer evenings in the garden with a bottle of ice cold beer when you want to get just that little bit closer to nature.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)

Johnny Dowd
Pictures From Life's Other Side
(Munich Records)
As any of you who heard last year's Wrong Side of Memphis will know, Johnny Dowd's brand of blues/country is not what you might call 'easy listening'. As the new album's title says, it's music which portrays Johnny's "pictures from life's other side". In pictorial frame of mind, you might describe Johnny's style as the musical equivalent of Edward Munch's painting, 'The Scream'. Like the painting, the subjects can be disturbed and disturbing but Johnny investigates them with sensitivity.

His style has moved on somewhat from the first record which was starkly presented with some simple blues and country styles. Taking on board a band which includes sweet female vocals and spookily atmospheric keyboard work on organ and synthesiser, you'll find that new dimensions have been added to the music. These show up on tracks like 'Worried Mind' and 'Vietnam', though the style of occasional tracks like 'Wish I'd Been Honest' comes from the mould used for the first album.

Like the first record, this isn't a winner from back to front as the music can sound mannered at times. However, the wins are by a large margin with a style that you'll hear nowhere else. Hats off to a guy breaking new ground. Check this out if you can cope with dark songs of death, stalking and a variety of other taboo subjects which others shun.

Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 2)

Drive by Truckers
Pizza Deliverance
(Zane Records)

Given that Athens and Austin seem to be engaged in heated competition as to which city is the music centre of America; laying claim to being at least the second best band from Athens, Georgia is no mean feat. On the evidence of Pizza Deliverance, I'm not going to argue with the claim.

Rather like The Handsome Family, these boys like to wander along the darker side of country music where murder, suicide, sex, drugs and alcohol swirl around in a psychotic mixture. 'Nine Bullets', for instance, takes us through where the bullets from a room mate's gun ought to be heading. One for the boss man, etc.. Well, you get the picture. Again, like The Handsome Family, they avoid the musical path trodden by earlier dark country acts such as The Carter Family. But there, the comparisons end. Drive by Truckers play music which rocks and swirls around in a manner which pulls in a lot of influences. Country with a slice of punk attitude underpins a lot of it but after that you can feel the influences of The Band on 'The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town', The Flying Burrito Brothers on 'Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)' and, of course, (early) REM on 'Uncle Frank'. All in all, a heady little cocktail of an album. The "handle with care" warnings should go out to those of a sensitive nature but this record should leave you stirred not shaken.

Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 3)

Dr Robert

Many English (as distinct from "British") songwriters have half-jokingly moaned about how their native land lacked the ready-made romance afforded by using American place-names in song. The more committed songwriters from Lennon and McCartney to Morrissey and beyond have managed to surmount these perceived obstacles often by using places and names made mythical by first being encountered during childhood.

Flatlands sees ex-Blow Monkey Dr Robert going back to the Fens, the landscape of his youth, as the source of inspiration for this loosely themed album. He notes the similarity between the Fens and the Mississippi Delta - not just in their precarious physical position on the margins of water and land - but also in how the sheer strangeness of the landscape affects the people who choose to live there. As Graham Swift writes in 'Waterland', his best novel, "To live in the Fens is to receive strong doses of reality... Melancholia and self-murder are not unknown." Dr Robert chooses to reflect this brooding sense of place by conjuring his own Anglicised take on Louisiana swamp blues To recreate the blues form exactly would have been futile, but Robert subtly extracts the feel of the music and applies it to a range of styles which vary from tender ballads such as 'The Sky Is Falling' and 'I Can't Remember The Last Time I Cried' to the stately progress of the title track. Only during the final instrumental does a standard blues structure make an appearance.

The melodies grow on you after a while and although the album's lack of an organic edge on some of the more upbeat numbers betrays its small studio origins, the album holds together well as an intimate meditation on England's Flatlands.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 2)

Bob Dylan
Love and Theft

First love often runs deepest, and many people still hold their earliest musical memories with an affection that cares little for the limits of what is now commonly regarded as being critically correct. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that sexagenarian Dylan's childhood favourites should just as likely include Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra as Muddy Waters and the Stanley Brothers. It also should be less than surprising that when Dylan feels relaxed enough to reveal his roots through his own songwriting, as he does on Love and Theft, he should include nods to swing numbers and Tin Pan Alley ballads, as well as the more 'acceptable' blues, rock and roll, country and folk influences he has mined so successfully over the last 40 years. "Love and theft" indeed!

Every new Bob album is invariably judged against the peaks of his earlier work; the usual benchmark being "his best since Blood On The Tracks". Well, Love and Theft can't claim to be in contention for this dubious honour, but, judged on it's own merits, it is a good album (very good in parts) and probably better than we have any right to expect from a songwriter with more than forty predominantly self-composed albums to his credit. Love and Theft is the sound of Dylan reversing out of the bleak terrain that was 1997's Time Out Of Mind and starting to have a little fun again. That's not to say that Dylan's recurring themes of death, morality, oblivion and futility are not still present - they are - but there's an almost an audible smile as he alternately croons or grunts out his inimitable lyrics. In fact, Love and Theft has more instantly quotable couplets than any Dylan album in recent years.

One of the main reasons for Dylan's playfulness is that his touring band (alongside long-time friend Augie Meyers and his "magic" Vox organ) receive the very rare reward of playing with him on record. Their live performances over the last few years have demonstrated what a versatile group of musicians they are and the hundreds of performances have allowed them to hone their ability to read Dylan's moods and second-guess the direction the music's going. When you're working with an artist who is renowned for either capturing a song in a couple of takes or else becoming bored, empathy and understanding are of higher importance than other more traditional musical attributes.

Love and Theft contains little that is not enjoyable, if perhaps featuring a couple of generic twelve bars too many. Dylan's voice is conventionally shot, but lends itself admirably to the gut-bucket 12 bar shouters and slightly salacious crooning which make up most of the album. The stand out tracks however, tend to be styled a little differently. "High Water (For Charlie Patton)" is a foreboding jeremiad driven along by banjo and reverb, while "Sugar Babe" and "Mississippi" are instantly familiar as prime Dylan, yet resist immediate identification with earlier classics.

Part way through "Summer Days" Dylan deliberately misquotes Jay Gatsby's famous comment about repeating the past, but when he's in this mood, why would he want to?

Steve Wilcock (Originally Published in Triste 4)

Fred Eaglesmith

I’m guessing the same applies to CDs as to books: never judge by its cover. However, why someone would allow such off-putting artwork - this time, a much too close close-up of our hero and text in garish citrus font - is beyond me. And sadly, my initial negative judgement stayed with me throughout. The opening track was the nearest I came to aural enjoyment. ‘Dusty’ opened like a film score, with a drone from the string section and tortured vocals as if to encourage reflection on battlefields, like Braveheart or something as serious and blockbusting as that. Unfortunately, the line ‘You’re just dusty/There’s flies on you’ broke the illusion and had me laughing out loud.

Perhaps if the listener enjoys dominating voices that have no real capability of dynamics, then Fred J Eaglesmith will fulfil all criteria. However, by the second track, especially due to the artificial drumbeat and irritating bleeps, apparently from the horrifically named ‘Wurlitzer Funmaker’, Eaglesmith’s voice had hit crooner territory. I could only think of entertainment at Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, particularly once the synthesised ‘oohs’ were introduced.

There was little differentiation between tracks from then on. The Wurlitzer Funmaker continued to make its different noises and Eaglesmith’s voice persevered in its domineering manner. This was a shame principally for track eight which could have broken the monotony. ‘Hey Baby’ began promisingly, with a faster pace and what sounded like real drums instead of synthesiser, and later we were treated to a nice organ solo. Yet, Eaglesmith has no subtlety, and this song, judging by its lyrics, needed a little more tender treatment.

It’s an easy and poor pun to make on the part of journalist, but at least Eaglesmith got one thing right - this album will be dusty once it is inevitably left on the shelf.

Sophie Parkes

Kathleen Edwards
(Zoe Records)

Already feted as the next big thing in a two page write up in The Sunday Times, I could feel the "oh, yeah?" surfacing in me. However, from the opening pop flavoured chords of "Six O'Clock News", I figured that I'd better pay some attention. As I'm a sucker for great titles, the next track, "One More Song That The Radio Won't Like" was always looking good and I'm pleased to say that the melody didn't let the title down. Only three tracks in and "Hockey Skates" begins with a delightful guitar figure introduction that suggests this record is going to be a rare treat. In lines like "Do you wish that your nose was longer, so you would have an excuse not to see past it?" the lyrics have the ability to amuse and absorb at the same time.

Overall, the lyrics are very much about relationships that fall apart in an inevitable way for the self-obsessed "failer". Titles like "The Lone Wolf" and lyrics where the daughter gets traded for a National steel guitar indicate the vein of sadness that runs through the record. However, there are moments of upbeat abandon with tracks like "Westby" and "12 Bellevue" which help to break up the mood. Without doubt, one of the best debuts that I've heard this year.

Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 5)

Joe Ely
Live @ Antone's

Just like Van Morrison Joe Ely likes to report at decade-long intervals on his intense live shows. Live @ Antone's finds Ely recorded in top form in an Austin roadhouse with a tight band behind him and a varied and wide-ranging set-list.

The set is pretty evenly balanced between Ely originals and covers of songs by Texan songwriters Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell, as well as former Flatlanders Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The rockers are powerful, as you would expect from a man who once supported the Clash, with Jesse Taylor providing suitably muscular lead guitar lines. To my ears, however, the more interesting songs are those with a pronounced Tex-Mex feel to them, such as 'Nacho Mama' and 'Gallo del Cielo'. On these songs Teye on flamenco guitar and Joel Guzman on accordion stretch out without having to compete with over-amped guitars. Ely also manages to pump life into the old standard 'Rock Salt and Nails'.

To end the set Ely brings it all back home with an energetic cover of Buddy Holly's 'Oh Boy!' It sounds like the kind of gig you'd have loved to have seen.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)

End Time

Quietly, oh so, quietly, Freakwater have released a number of albums of dark country ballads. End Time, their 5th album by my reckoning, has slipped out in the UK as relatively unannounced as its predecessors. Yet, the music is top quality.

You'll find classic country ballads like 'Good for Nothing' mixed with the occasional humourous piece such as 'Dog Gone Wrong' proving that every dark star has its lighter moment. Based around strong harmony vocals from Janet Bean, Catherine Irwin and David Gay, their music sits in the sort of territory covered in the past by The Carter Family and today by Gillian Welch. (The latter, surely, a big fan of Freakwater?) In contrast to such "Johnny come latelys", Freakwater's band sound is now well developed with pedal steel, fiddle, Hammond organ and all the usual culprits in place.

Indeed, dare I say that End Time is so well developed that it sounds slightly smoother than earlier records? Normally, a thought like this should have me and you stampeding to the hills with our Hank Williams records. However, in this case, a little extra smoothness means a slightly tidier production still leaving that "down home, recorded on your back porch" feeling in place. If you haven't heard them before, you might as well start here!

Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 2)

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
Out Of Season
(Go Beat)

Beth Gibbons, on vacation from her day-job as chanteuse with Bristol trip-hoppers Portishead, links up for a one-off project with Paul Webb, (aka Rustin Man) who, as a member of Talk Talk, helped make Sprit Of Eden one of the very few albums to approach the dream-like feel and magic of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. On paper the collaboration seems certain to produce a work of stately, melancholic, beauty, but often the creations of these artistic liaisons are still-born affairs. Fortunately, the resulting album this time, Out Of Season doesn't disappoint.

The title and the cover artwork suggest a preoccupation with time slipping away and this theme is fully explored throughout the album as Gibbons displays her vocal abilities on a set of acoustic ballads which nestle comfortably in the folk-jazz-blues nexus. If this description reminds you of Nick Drake or Sandy Denny, then you won't be far away from the sound of the majority of the album - in fact Gibbons and Webb acknowledge this debt with a track in the characteristic "Riverman" tempo of 5:4 being simply titled "Drake".

Portishead fans hoping for trip hop beats will be disappointed, although the single "Tom The Model" does echo some of the more cinematic works of the group, and raises the volume a little in the process. Gibbon's presence looms large over the album and it is only at the very start of the album and on the closing track "Rustin Man" that you really hear the influence of Paul Webb's former band as the songs break free from conventional structure and take on a more ambient approach.

Out Of Season is a most bewitching album, which sustains a mood as well as any of its more illustrious forebears. To be played when thoughts turn autumnal.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 4)

Golden Smog
Weird Tales

Usually when a group of musical friends come together to make an album the material used consists of either their favourite covers, edited jams, or if you're extremely lucky, a few songs which didn't make the respective writer's last album. In this case the songs are so strong that there is no hint that the material is recycled, second-rate cast-offs.

Many of the best tracks tend to prominently feature Gary Louris (Jayhawks) who was involved in writing half the songs and contributing lead guitar and back up vocals to most of the tracks. He co-writes the Byrds-like "Until You Came Along" and the Neil Young Harvest era "Fear Of Falling". Wilco's Jeff Tweedy's "Please Tell My Brother" is a classic acoustic guitar and vocal lament and he also sings lead on the late-night country groove of "All The Same To Me". With other members Dan Murphy (Soul Asylum) contributing the classic power pop "To Call My Own" and Kraig Johnson (Run Westy Run) the reflective, acoustic "Making Waves" the album is a real team effort with a surprisingly coherent feel to the tracks despite the mix of writers and backgrounds. Mention should also be made of the classily designed CD packaging.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 1)

Nanci Griffith
Other Voices, Too

With a 'Thanks to' list that reads like a 'Who's Who' of transatlantic folk/country music, you would expect this album to have class, and it doesn't disappoint on this score. Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Odetta, Harlan Howard, Richard Thompson, Iain Matthews, Clive Gregson... these are just some of the singers and musicians assembled by Nanci to duet with her and back her on this follow-up to Other Voices, Other Rooms. The album features songs covering almost a century and a half, by such legends as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash, as well as contributions from newer writers like John Grimaudo and Saylor White.

There is a distinctly informal, spontaneous, 'down home' feel, which gives the album a warmth often lacking today. In the main, the songs are melancholy by nature, with Stephen Foster's mid 19th Century lament for the poor 'Hard Times', a stand-out, although the mood is lifted by spirited renditions of Richard Thompson's 'Wall Of Death' and the Seeger-Hays penned Trini Lopez hit, 'If I Had A Hammer'.

Bill Beaver (Originally published in Triste 1)


Site last updated 22/11/06

Site Meter