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Album Reviews H - P

Hazeldine - Digging You Up
Kate Jacobs - Hydrangea
Kate Jacobs - You Call That Dark
Nic Jones - In Search Of Nic Jones
Damien Jurado - Rehearsal For Departures
Bap Kennedy - Lonely Street
Michael Weston King - God Shaped Hole
Michael Weston King - A Decent Man
Kris Kristofferson - The Austin Sessions
Mark Lanegan - I'll Take Care Of You
Peter Mulvey - The Trouble With Poets
Nadine - Downtown Saturday
Beaver Nelson - The Last Hurrah
Tom Ovans - The Beat Trade
Chuck Pyle - Affected By The Moon

Digging You Up
The reputation of this band as purveyors of dark, brooding was enough to convince me that this was not an album to lift the depression of someone whose team had just missed out on a Wembley play-off final. However, duty called, so I bit the bullet, drank the lager, and got listening.Hazeldine are a four-piece, (75% female) band who came together in late 1994 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is their major label debut, following their first album How Bees Fly, released in 1997 on the German Indie label Glitterhouse, and is produced by Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Whiskeytown, Neal Casal).

Just why (Whiskeytown, The Handsome Family, The Willard Grant Conspiracy et al) should be so preoccupied with songs about death and depression is not clear. Maybe it's a reaction to the sickly and cloying sentimentality that so often pervades mainstream country, or perhaps it's just a case of reflecting life as it really is. As Thomas Hardy put it, "Happiness is but an occasional episode in a continual drama of pain." Certainly, this is an honest album with much of it clearly based on the personal experiences of the writers. A good example of this is the chilling "Daddy", written by one of the band's singer/guitarists, Tonya Lamm, which deals with family break-up.

Stand-out tracks include "Digging You Up", not quite as dark as the title implies, describing the inability to ditch a doomed relationship, and the hauntingly, menacingly beautiful "Dead Love", written by Lamm in semi-archaic style, and using the language of a traditional murder/suicide ballad, although musically it borrows heavily on Neil Young's "Running Dry". There are some lighter moments, in the form of the almost archetypal American 'automobile song', "Drive" with its line about "Driving in a beat-up Ford...". There's also a cover of Lee Hazelwood's "Summer Wine" which is about as "country" as Hazeldine get.

In the main, this is impeccably produced, mid-tempo American rock with solid guitar work and crystal clear harmonies. The album is well packaged with a booklet which looks as if it could have been printed on paper left over from the Gettysburg Address. OK, so my team's consigned to Div.2 for another season, but this album's a reminder, that things could be worse.

Bill Beaver (Originally published in Triste 1)

Kate Jacobs
(Bar None)
This is the third album from Hoboken, NJ resident Kate Jacobs, and it's very much a "Family Album", largely inspired by family letters and diaries discovered in the loft of her parents' 200 year-old Hudson Valley farmhouse. Her mother's forbears fled the Russian Revolution and apparently counted Chekhov and Tolstoy among their friends. Kate herself, although born in Virginia, spent her formative years in Europe, and the influence of European culture, conscious or not, has doubtless been an important factor in giving her work a greater depth than the usual folk/rock singer-songwriter fare.

Jacobs' lyrics are intelligent, often witty and ironic, and she certainly has a gift for melody. Often, the jaunty tune belies the dark lyrical content, as in 'Good Doctor', about a young girl with TB, who was treated by Kate's great grandfather in his Black Sea hospital. Other highlights include 'Eddy Went To Spain', about an uncle who fought in the Spanish Civil War and never returned, the reflective and wistful 'Late', co-written with multi-instrumental accompanist and engineer Dave Schramm, and 'Dream On' and 'Because I Have Forgiven Everyone', both inspired by the work of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Kate Jacobs entrusts these latter two pieces to childrens' choirs, a high-risk strategy, but one which succeeds here in producing two hauntingly beautiful pieces of choral music, co-arranged with James MacMillan.

Vocally, Kate Jacobs has no great power, and occasionally seems to be a little too far back in the mix; that said, her unaffected, often girlish voice is perfectly suited to the material. She is very well supported by, amongst others, the aforementioned Dave Schramm, whose tasteful guitar, piano and organ (etc) perfectly complement the songs, Peter Holsapple (The dbs, REM, Hootie and the Blowfish), also on organ, and ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson on backing vocals.

On first listening, Hydrangea is a gentle and pleasant folk/country-rock/pop album, but subsequent plays reveal greater depth, and a work of real warmth and intimacy. If there is any justice in the world, this album will be the one that brings Kate Jacobs to the much wider audience her talents clearly warrant; time will tell.

Bill Beaver (Originally published in Triste 2)

Kate Jacobs
You Call That Dark
(East Central One)
This album comes some six years after the release of the highly acclaimed Hydrangea. In the intervening years, Kate Jacobs has busied herself not just with writing and recording this follow-up but has married and had two sons.

Musically, the album is very much in the same folk/country-pop vein as its predecessor, with Kate proving that she has lost none of her gift for melody and storytelling. Again produced by long-time musical associate and multi-instrumentalist Dave Schramm, this is a wonderful collection of lovingly-crafted songs with memorable tunes and beautifully descriptive lyrics expressing heartfelt sentiments. Schramm’s production is as to be expected - imaginative and instrumentally varied, with the use of guitar, dobro, mandolin, organ, piano and even banjo and clarinet. Vocally, whilst there is a greater maturity, that endearing fragility remains.

The recurring themes of the album are farms, farmers, the landscape and family. There are laments on the decay of rural life, with the sell off of family farms (‘Pete’s Gonna Sell’, ‘Helen Has a House’) and wry and moving observations on family life (‘Your Big Sister’, ‘Lavender Line’). There is humour and quirkiness in such songs as ‘What a World, What a God’, the story of an old Gaelic speaking farmer who finds himself in hospital and misunderstands the nurses when they ask him if he has pain. Thinking they are asking for money, he repeatedly replies in the negative -to his painful cost; ‘If it’s an Elm Tree’ tells of an aged mechanic who works on almost equally ancient cars by hauling them up a huge elm, where ‘they do sway there gracefully’.

At the time I reviewed Hydrangea, I rather naively stated that if there were any justice in the world that album would be the one to bring Kate Jacobs to the attention of the wider audience her talents deserve. Whilst the album was critically acclaimed, that didn’t really happen. Now older and wiser (not to mention more cynical) I realise that there is no justice in the world. I wish the same for this album of course but realistically am more inclined to the view that Kate Jacobs is more likely to remain an undiscovered gem to all but a fortunate few. Hopefully I’ll be wrong this time.

Bill Beaver

Nic Jones
In Search Of Nic Jones
(Mollie Music)
Once the rising star of 70's Britfolk, Nic Jones's career was tragically cut short by a horrendous car wreck in 1982 and then having most of his recorded output trapped in a legal limbo. Thankfully, "Penguin Eggs", his superb swansong for Topic, is still available and "In Search Of Nic Jones" now doubles his section in the CD racks.

Compiled from field recordings sent in by well-wishers to aid his recovery, the recording quality varies, but the performances are uniformly excellent; from his unusual reading of "Seven Yellow Gypsies", to a haunting "Lord Franklin" and two of his own compositions. Not just a good cause, but an essential purchase for anyone into the Jansch/Renbourne/Martyn school of acoustic guitar folk. For details send a SAE to: Mollie Music, 52 Newland Park Drive, York YO10 3HP.

Iain Smith (Originally published in Triste 1)

Damien Jurado
Rehearsal For Departures
(Sub Pop)
As Damien Jurado has claimed that he's lately become interested in the works of Woody Guthrie (and other urban-folk precursors), it is no surprise when the opening track 'Ohio' comes on like a lost out-take from Springsteen's similarly influenced album - Nebraska. That's not a criticism, as the neat guitar picking and lonesome harmonica complement a well-told tale of a girl going off to Ohio to find her mother again. The theme of moving on and impermanence, as indicated by the title, is carried through the whole album, although Jurado expands on the instrumentation of the opening track to include drums, strings, and an assortment of keyboards while never straying far from the urban-folk template.

In general the faster songs performed with the band are the more successful - 'Honey Baby' and 'Letters & Drawings' rolling along particularly well, although the sparse acoustic guitar reading of 'Curbside', with its backing harmony vocals is also rather touching. Reflective, personal, sombre at times, Rehearsals For Departure never quite succumbs to despair.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 2)

Bap Kennedy
Lonely Street
(Dressed To Kill)
On his last album, Hillbilly Shakespeare, Bap Kennedy paid homage to his hero Hank Williams with a fine set of covers. On Lonely Street, he takes his obsession a stage further, with a suite of new songs inspired by the troubled lives of both Hank and his spiritual successor Elvis. After over 12 years on the Lost Highway himself, Bap's songs have an authentic, almost autobiographical feel and often transcend their time and place to tap into a more universal blues sensibility. The beguiling title track for instance, ostensibly about a disguised Elvis stalking the streets of Memphis after dark, could easily relate to any troubled soul on the moonlit mile. Bap also has some of Hank's rare ability to portray complex emotions with a few well chosen lines and a catchy melody, as on the deliciously maudlin 'Lonesome Lullaby'.

All this doleful subject matter is of course perfectly suited to Kennedy's warm, lived in vocals, awash as ever with Guinness-soaked melancholia. Add the sympathetic country-blues arrangements of his band and you have the perfect sound-track for that late night slide into post-pub narcolepsy.

Iain Smith (Originally published in Triste 3)

Michael Weston King
God Shaped Hole
Catharsis, the process where an artist can purge negative emotions by bringing them to the surface and expressing them through his/her work, can often be a less edifying experience for the listener/viewer than for the creator. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Tonight's The Night are two of the greatest cries of pain in the rock canon, but parts of them can still be hard-going when you're in the wrong mood.

When you consider the personal and business misfortunes that Michael Weston King endured in the year before recording this album, the bleak album cover photo and title, and the two prominent quotes by Kierkegaard, you brace yourself for a rough ride. Fortunately, God Shaped Hole is not as bleak as the portents suggest. There are moments of self-hate and disgust when you want to tell him to stop, but he just manages to keep abject self-pity at bay.

On a more positive note he also uses the album as an opportunity to tackle a wider range of musical styles, and in a more personal fashion, than he would be allowed within the protective embrace of his day job with The Good Sons. The heavy use of piano and cello gives a more formal and European feel to several of the songs. 'Don't Leave The Light On' has all the above, as well as featuring the high risk strategy of spoken verses, and still works. That's not to suggest that King has totally rejected his usual source of musical inspiration from across the Atlantic: 'Lay Me Down', his song for Townes Van Zandt, and 'Dear Lord, Why Did You Desert Me?' could both have fitted on a Good Sons record. The original songs on the album are bookended by Ronnie Lane's 'Annie' and a superb reading of Phil Ochs' 'No More Songs'.

God Shaped Hole might be a cathartic experience for artist and listener, but it's worth it.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)

Michael Weston King
A Decent Man
(Floating World)
An electronically treated trumpet fanfare greets the opening of Michael Weston King's second solo studio album before the dying notes blend into the upbeat opening track "Celestial City" (the title of which apparently refers to Birmingham!). Quite an apt start really, as King shows on this album that he seems to have finally found a style that successfully mixes universal themes, in an English setting, with an appropriate musical backing. That's not to say that he's totally thrown away the Americana influences that defined his early work with The Good Sons ("The Englishman's Obsession With America (Part 2)" gives country music lovers their fix and the title explains a lot), but that they're now fully assimilated. Part of this is probably due to the continuity of musical collaborators over recent years: Harry Napier, Alan Cook and Lou Dalgleish have all appeared on recent recordings, while Jackie Leven, who produces the album, has toured extensively with King. The production on the record is richer than most of King's earlier work, but Leven's tendencies to sometimes over-cook his own studio recordings are held in check here, creating a satisfying soundscape in which to set the songs – the horn and the vocal arrangements being particularly effective.

As is usual for King, the subject matter of the songs is grounded in the everyday – family, regret, failed dreams, the passing of time and his customary dig at music critics - and you get a feeling that an autobiographical strand lies not too deeply beneath several of these songs. There are few songwriters who can claim to be more acute observers of the commonplace and can chronicle the minutiae of everyday life in England from Airfix kits to the sorry internal pleadings of an ageing would-be lothario, but King is also not afraid to doff his cap to his influences and includes faithful covers of Neil Young's "Love In Mind" and Pete Townshend's ukelele outing on The Who By Numbers, "Red Blue And Grey". The result is King's most fully realised album so far.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 5)

Kris Kristofferson
The Austin Sessions
For a short time, at the cusp of the sixties and seventies, Kris Kristofferson hit a rich vein of songwriting form that led him to write half a dozen songs which can stand on equal terms with any popular songs ever written. His voice was technically poor even in a field where many of the greats (Dylan, Young, Cohen, Reed) could hardly hold a note, but his voice made up for its deficiencies with its emotional depth.

Three decades later, after a career spent flitting between acting and singing, the idea of re-recording his greatest songs with some crack musicians and guest vocalists seemed sound enough. Initially, the album seems to justify the idea: his voice has certainly improved and some of the arrangements have been tightened up, while still remaining relatively austere. As an introduction to his music for the novice The Austin Sessions provides a gentle way in. But something's missing: the sessions are just too comfortable, and few of the guest vocalists sing as if their life depends on it. Too many seems to treat it as another all-star bash. Where the original songs had an edge of bleak despair, the re-makes are just pale, emotional facsimiles.

'Sunday Morning Coming Down' sums up the album's failings. Steve Earle, with the baggage of his personal problems and his lived-in voice, should be the perfect vocal foil to Kristofferson on this song of dissolution; but any tension in their vocal performances is dissipated by a series of uninspired answering guitar licks, which come straight from the "chicken in a basket" cabaret circuit. Other performances from the likes of Jackson Browne, Mark Knopfler and Vince Gill fail to gel or add little extra to the originals. Only 'Why Me Lord' with a more pronounced bluegrass backing can compare with the original.

A nice idea, but seek out the originals again too.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)

Mark Lanegan
I'll take Care Of You
(Beggars Banquet)
If you're going to do a successful covers album then you should make sure that the selection of tunes covered are excellent in their own right and preferably not too well known. Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan's fourth solo album contains a wide assortment of folk, country, blues and soul, all arranged in low-key style and topped with his distinctively seasoned voice. Some songs are well-known, others less so, but all are excellent in quality and well worth covering.

On the slower, lighter tracks Lanegan's voice has echoes of Tim Hardin's blues-jazz vocal stylings and it is no coincidence that his version of Hardin's 'Shiloh Town' (from Tim Hardin 9) is almost a soundalike. Both 'I'll Take Care Of You' made famous by Bobby Bland and Eddie Floyd's 'Consider Me' get the full heart-felt soul backing. Other highlights include a sparse version of Gun Club's 'Carry Home' and an interesting take on the traditional murder ballad 'Little Sadie' where Mike Johnson provides some pseudo-authentic droney "violin" on electric guitar.

The other tracks, from O.V Wright to a couple of Fred Neil and Tim Rose's lesser known songs, are all admirably handled with only Buck Owen's country standard 'Together Again' failing to fully convince. All things considered - one of the more enjoyable albums I have heard in a long while.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 2)

Peter Mulvey
The Trouble With Poets
(Signature Sounds)
In an ideal world where talent and hard work are rewarded in direct proportions Peter Mulvey should by now be a household name; his songs marry a poetic lyricism and keen sense of observation, with a fluid musical style based on the extended harmonic possibilities found in open guitar tunings. In the real world, however, where marketing, fashion and luck count for so much more, Mulvey has to be content with a small but dedicated band of followers and a consistent string of one night stands.

The Trouble With Poets is Peter Mulvey's third studio album and his best yet. It successfully combines the studio sheen and funk of 1997's Deeper Blue with the looser acoustic guitar grooves that make up so much of his live performances. A great deal of credit for this should be given to Mulvey's long-time side-man David Goodrich who co-writes all, bar one, of the original songs, plays a variety of instruments and produces the album. The feel of the album is clean and modern, without being so much of its time that it instantly becomes dated: think of a less heavy-handed Daniel Lanois.

The songs catch hold of you without ever being too obvious, although the title track shares a little too much resemblance with Shawn Colvin's 'Sunny Came Home'. Tough and tender, as required, Mulvey's voice handles the varying moods well, but the duet with long-time friend Chris Smither on the philosophical 'All The Way Home' contrasts the latter's world-weary tones to extremely good effect.

Peter Mulvey is confident enough as a lyricist to use words like 'ruination' and 'deicide' without affectation and yet still rhyme 'day' with 'say', but the music's underlying rhythmic flow means the songs never feel academic - Mulvey is one poet you'll have little trouble with.

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)

Downtown Saturday
This is the second album from the St Louis - based alt country/rock outfit, following 1998's critically acclaimed Back To My Senses. Nadine are basically a three-piece, featuring Adam Reichmann (vocals, guitars, harmonica), Steve Rauner (guitars, organ,lap steel, vocals), and Todd Schnitzer (bass, drums, piano, guitar, vocals). Matt Pence and Wilco's Ken Coomer also help out on drums on this self-produced and self-penned album.

From the opening 'I sure would to...' of first track 'Closer', the inescapable first impression is: 'It's Neil Young!' However, the influence does seem less obvious as the album progresses; this is possibly because the ear becomes 'acclimatised', but the more likely (and kinder) explanation is that the overall quality of the songs holds the attention, so that you focus on them rather than the similarity.

Adam Reichmann's lyrics are interesting, often quirky ('Shelter' has the opening line: 'I was nothing more than a pipe-dream fitter..'!) and there's a deceptively laid-back, uncluttered, almost sparse feel to the album. Reichmann's pained vocal delivery, plodding, rock-solid drums and over-driven fuzzy guitars are the main components, although there is light and shade: 'Out On A Limb' shows they can rock as well as the next band, whilst 'Leona' borrows heavily from trip-hop. 'Deaf Blind And Dumb' features some glorious Hammond organ and piano and 'So That I Don't Miss You' and 'The Lines Are Down' are gentle, reflective, predominantly acoustic gems.

Glitterhouse clearly hope that Nadine will be carried along by the current wave of interest in American artists such as Neal Casal, Hazeldine and Wilco. If you're a fan of these artists (and of Neil Young!), there's every chance you'll like this album, which builds on the promise shown by Back To My Senses and should go a long way towards establishing the band as a force to be reckoned with on the alt country/rock scene.

Bill Beaver (Originally published in Triste 2)

Beaver Nelson
The Last Hurrah
When Beaver Nelson was being called a "teenage songwriting prodigy" by Rolling Stone magazine in 1991 and finding record companies queuing up to offer him various deals things looked a little too easy: they were. Over the rest of the decade Nelson was plagued with recording albums which were not released and then having his songs tied up in legal clauses. Nearly a decade on, his debut album has been released on the small label Freedom Records and though it's been a long time coming it seems that it's been worthwhile.

The album sees Nelson backed by a rough edged, but tight, little band on most of the tracks, and they handle the variety of styles with ease from the hot country rocking B-Bender workout on 'Landed In the Mud' to the more traditional country eulogy of 'Drive You Home'.

Nelson admits that he's a songwriter first and foremost and if his voice is a little thin at times - it's attractively gritty and obviously from the heart. Jules Shear co-writes and sings backing vocals on the tender 'Too Much Moonlight' and with Nelson's 'Drive You Home' and 'I'm Just Crying' are probably the most conventionally heart-rending songs on the album. Where Nelson really comes to the fore as a lyricist though, is in his more quirky self-deprecatory up tempo songs such as 'Strong As I Look', 'Landed In The Mud' and 'Things Get Shaky Round Midnight'. But the ultimate Beaver Nelson statement of intent occurs in the middle of the Stones-like rocker 'Stray Dog' - when he sings the phrase "I piss where I please" with a swagger - and the band whoop it up behind him as they head for the hills. Let's hope the next album has an easier birth - for Beaver's sake!

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 2)

Tom Ovans
The Beat Trade
Tom Ovans has made a career out of chronicling the underside of the American Dream. Where many writers talk of their own personal heart-aches, Ovans follows the likes of such illustrious predecessors as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and latterly Bruce Springsteen in evoking the communal sense of hurt and loss felt by the decent American working men and women.

The Beat Trade sees Ovans working quickly with a stripped down band and is all the better for it. The songs, in the main, could be described as semi-acoustic folk-blues with an apocalyptic turn of phrase, although there some tender ballads with that south of the border feel that Bob Dylan has used over the years. The inevitable comparison with Dylan must grow tiresome to Ovans after so many years. Yes, his voice could accurately be described as Dylanesque, but songs such as 'What About You' and 'The Monkeys Have Landed' deserve to be considered on their own merits. The latter's biting, satire on the US political system proving prophetically accurate and when was the last time you could say the same about Dylan?

Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)

Chuck Pyle
Affected By The Moon
(Bee 'n' Flower)
From the cover picture it's obvious that Chuck's a guy who's paid his dues and been round the block more than once. A few bars into the opening title track, "Affected by the Moon", and you're left in the hands of a true craftsman as laid-back and in control as it gets. The aforementioned track though is not wholly typical of the album's style, with its jazz structure and bursts of "Hot Club De Paris" fiddle. More often the smooth playing and excellent chord structure carry you along in effortless style in a manner reminiscent of early James Taylor. Immediate stand out tracks include "Outlaws Dream", which has very emotive lyrics, especially for the more mature listener, whereas, in contrast, "Inside Of My Face" is a strange oddball number with virtually spoken oblique phrases - no wonder Mr Pyle is known as the "Zen Cowboy". "Romancing The Moment" is a case study of the artist's guitar technique and evocative words, while "Cowboy's Christmas Dream", the final vocal track, is a lullaby with a great warm feel and chorus. The actual last cut is "Spank" a showcase for Chuck's excellent ragtime picking, but it goes on slightly too long and is possible self-indulgent.

There are one or two what initially sound like "filler tracks", but with thirteen songs not all can be classics. I believe this in his 7th album (the first I've heard) and like other journeyman (eg Bob Cheevers) who work round the circuit for years will go pretty much unnoticed by the majority: a great pity.

Andy Dickman (Originally published in Triste 5)


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