mike davies march 2014


the great north light

Recorded in Portsmouth six years ago, GARY O’DEA contributes Crocodile Cryer to The Great North Light, a tribute album to the great and far too undervalued Martin Stephenson. Alongside his version of the 80s classic, the album also features contributions from such names as Helen McCookerybook, The Devlins, Gypsy Dave Smith and Paul Handyside.

Toy-Hearts-new-high-res

Back home after their six months in Austin, THE TOY HEARTS release the first fruits of their Texan sojourn in the form of Flyin’ Too High (Woodville), a four track EP that pays homage to both stars and lesser lights of Western Swing. Recorded in north Austin with Hot Club of Cowtown’s Jake Erwin joining Sophia, Hannah and Stewart on double bass, the numbers were all chosen from the set list of their live shows in Austin’s honky tonks and dive bars, all designed to keep the dancers on the floor.

Kay Starr provides the source for opener What Goes Up Must Come Down, an itch in the feet number that originated in the 1939 musical Cotton Club Parade, while, written by Marvin Moore and George Campbell and featuring Hannah in dreamily sultry form, the lilting cowboy flavoured Too Late To Dream was sourced from a version by little known west coast fiddler and singer Wade Ray, a longtime regular on the old Ernest Tubb TV shows.

There’s a Tubb connection behind the jitterbugging swing of Five Minutes Of The Latest Blues written by his son, Justin, though, as well as shifting from the original honky tonk arrangement, the Hearts have also opted not to feature the wrong note in the steel solo.

The final cut is one that’s been in their set for a while, a slinky fine and faithful take on Cindy Walker’s Baby, That Sure Would Be Good, a song she wrote for the 1974 Bob Wills album, For The Last Time featuring particularly fine steel and guitar solos from both Stewart and Sophia.

Once again, they’ve turned in a sound so relaxed and authentic, you’d swear they had ancestors at the Alamo, confirming their status among the elite of bluegrass and swing acts not just in the UK, but the world. Having spent a considerable time working and playing with Austin’s musical community, hopefully the next album will showcase the original material that resulted. I can’t wait to hear it.

early winters

Increasingly feted in America yet, frustratingly, still very much a cult name back home, CARINA ROUND returns with a second album as part of EARLY WINTERS, the collaborative project with fellow singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge, producer (and partner) Dan Burns and multi-instrumentalist Zac Rae. The equally self-released follow-up to their self-titled debut, Vanishing Act maintains their mostly acoustic and folk-hued pop approach, Round and Rutledge taking turns on lead vocals as well as harmonising and duetting. Again the musical atmosphere mirrors the band’s name, the melodies conjuring images of walks in the invigorating air of crisp, cool, clear and calm mornings, your breathe mingling with the condensation on window panes, although, having said that, the album’s catchiest, poppiest number, Love Won’t Leave Me Alone, a tumbling chord melody with a twang to both guitar and Carina’s voice (a touch Stevie Nicks, perhaps) and a crowd-friendly chorus line, has more of a summery vibe.

A breathy, echoey Rutledge kicks things off, singing lead on the rippling Vanishing Act and its pulsing guitar line before he takes the chorus and she the verses for the A Thing For You, a number that marries a Mac-like melody to a Velvets walking rhythm and also features vocals from Steve Stills’ son, Chris.

Carina’s first lead comes with the warm and dreamy Walking Through Fire and suggestions of the more romantic side of David Lynch soundtracks, its mood mirrored with the equally langorous drifting downriver Millionaire where English folk colours seep into the pallette. Keeping things down-tempo, Justin returns to the spotlight for the simple piano and guitar backed weariness of The Weight Of The World before Carina takes over again for the bluesy tribal rhythm chug of Up In Arms. Things turn relatively experimental with the electronic effects that intro the slow march, horns-kissed swelling sway of Let My Love Weigh You Down, a track that features another famous family name in the form of drummer Joey Waronker, son of legendary producer Larry and Bill Berry’s touring replacement in REM from 1998-2002.

A recurring image of being burdened (the cover perhaps hints at suicide) resurfaces on the Rutledge’s emotion-laden, almost gospel hymnal-like penultimate Without These Chains, a number that opens as sparse acoustic before gradually incorporating a steady drum beat, organ and throaty electric guitar as it gradually builds to a climax. His and Carina’s voices join in tranquil intimacy for the closing alt-country, gospel tinged Captives which, following an echoey desert noir guitar break, fades out into space on a spooked electronic note. Disappointingly, the chances of actually seeing them perform on these shores is remote and the album may only be available over here on import or as a download, but you really should make every effort for this vanishing act to make an appearance on your playlist.

Hazel-OConnor-Here-She-Comes

Now celebrating her 34th professional year in the music business, Coventry’s HAZEL O’CONNOR has never matched the commercial success of debut album Breaking Glass. That reached the top 5, but of her subsequent 16 studio albums only 1981’s Cover Plus charted, and that peaking at only No.32, on the back of her last Top 40 single, 1981’s Will You. Her lack of chart success is no reflection on her talent, and in recent years she’s successfully reinvented herself in the blues, jazz and cabaret genres.

She returns now with Here She Comes (Cherry Red), an all new collection that draws on her diverse musical strengths; Good Morning Heartache (not the Billie Holliday tune, but musically close) a smoky Lena Horne-like jazz cellar number with sparse upright bass, the chorus catchy I Call Out Your Name and gospel tinged My Friend Jack (not the 60s psychedelic number by The Smoke) harking back to her early days (like most tracks, suitably drenched in hot sax courtesy of Clare Hirst), the bluesy World Turned Upside Down (not the Leon Rosselson title) and Don’t Call Me Darling wrapped around a samba sway.

That’s partly sung in French and further reminder of her Piaf influences comes with a stark piano (by Sarah Fisher) cover of Ne Me Quitte Pas, again in French, and, while she may borrow titles elsewhere, Perfect Day is indeed a languorous version of the Lou Reed classic. Given her Irish heritage, the album closes with appropriately Gaelic flavours of soaring anthemic piano ballad Home, a number over which the spirit of Van Morrison hovers.

Disappointingly, it’s unlikely to sell in huge numbers or reach much beyond her loyal fan base, but it’s another solid reminder that, by rights, her name should be up there in the same spotlight as such revered British icons as Lennox, Moyet, Springfield and Armatrading.

roots-and-branches.com 2014