Sunday, July 31, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 44 - Xylaroo - Sweetooth

Sometimes I hear something and the penny just drops. I then need to find out more as soon as possible. Xylaroo is one such act. Sometimes this happens live, at festivals and usually on the smaller stages or opening-acts on larger ones. It was not the way in this case. I heard a track on Amazing Radio. That I sought more and liked what I found is a given; so is the fact that this is now an act that is very high on my list of ones to see live.
That song happened to be  Track A' Lackin', and it turned out to be the opening gambit on their début album.

Sweetooth - Xylaroo (Sunday Best Records, 2016).

Xylaroo - Sweetooth
  • Track A' Lackin'
  • Consume Me 
  • Sunshine 
  • River of Love
  • Heavenly
  • Danger
  • On My Way
  • Boom, There Goes The Sun
  • Narwhal
  • Set Me On Fire And Send Me To Canada
  • Lonpela Taim
  • Devil In Me
Sisters Holly and Coco Chant have an enviable background from which to draw experiences for songwriting.  Currently London-based, it ranges from Papua New Guinea to Switzerland via Hong Kong and also a lengthy spell in Maidstone, Kent, UK so it is best left to them to explain that in their own words. They do that here.

What does Sweetooth sound like? Why did it immediately catch my attention? What might I compare it to?

To be quite honest it took me straight back to an evening in early September 2009. I was sat in the (then very small) Tipi stage at End Of The Road Festival and the band slated to play next was one that I had never even heard of; two sisters from Sweden, Johanna and Klara Söderberg, that went by the slightly strange moniker of First Aid Kit. They were awkward performing live back then but it was a good call and, looking back, it worked out very well indeed.

This isn't the same but it could possibly be just as auspicious. There is, I think, the palpable impression of artists making the music that that they wish to make rather than that they feel that others might wish them to make.
It's not really folk, roots or Americana and it isn't world music in its accepted sense. It is all of these things and yet none of them. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Saloon stage - Truck Festival 2016

I've been here before. You might already know about my liking for the Saloon Bar stage at Truck Festival...
Yet again I failed to see every act on that stage over (this year for the first time in the stage's existence) three days. On the other hand I came far closer than I have ever done before over just two days. Here is some of what I saw, heard and pointed my camera at.  It is not in chronological order, because over three days that makes no real sense anyway. There are also a few things that belong in that world which, at festivals in particular, is largely forgotten or used for trips to the facilities or for food: the hiatus between acts can also be an interesting time for people-watching and photography.

Multi-cultural Oxfordshire, complete with cider-drinking rancheros. What was that stuff about Brexit all about?

This was his first ever UK performance and the start of his tour to promote recently released LP 'Silver Line'.
All the way from Austin, Texas came Chuck Hawthorne. A man, his guitar and some very fine songs.

Headlining on Friday was a trio that I have mentioned before - Applewood Road. It is trio formed of UK-based Australian Emily Barker and US artists Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace. (R - L, below).

Three-part close harmony acapella in a corrugated metal agricultural shed.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the self-titled album 'Applewood Road' will appear in a number of year-end best-of lists. The Telegraph, which has recently been one of the most reliable reviewers in this regard, gave it the accolade of a full five stars. I'm not minded to argue with that.

Another coup for the organisers of this small stage was someone who is better known as the front man of American Aquarium. This was Saturday evening.
BJ Barham was however sans band and over in the UK (also for the first time) a week before the release of his début LP 'Rockingham'.

On Saturday the stage was opened at 12:15 by Hannah Rose Platt, whom I posted about last year and who is the creator of 'Portraits', one of the best début albums of 2015, and already a brilliant storytelling songwriter.

Another artist, whose début LP 'Cracked Picture Frames' I reviewed here last year but had previously failed to see live, played early Friday evening. More storytelling... welcome to the often rather dark world of Robert Chaney.

Because of the prevalence of children in the audience he refrained from playing 'The Ballad of Edward and Lisa' and it was as well; it makes most murder ballads sound reasonably humane. Astonishing though it is I was fairly pleased not to hear it again myself, if I'm quite honest.

Returning after a very solid set on the same stage last year, shortly before the release of début LP 'Bow out of the Fading Light', this is Brighton-based The Delta Bell.
The second full-length comes soon and we got to hear a couple of tracks that might be on that. Suffice to say it's sounding rather good. It's not possible to cover everything I saw on this one stage in a single post. I have already written about Rachel Laven here.

This however cannot go without a further mention. I was looking forward to seeing Speedbuggy USA live from the moment I discovered the band was playing. To say that I was not disappointed would be misdemeanour by litotes.
Never mind the fact that this is an original 1930s 'National Resophonic' resonator mandolin.

To finish here are two more photos that don't directly involve the music. The first is that it is wonderful to see so many kids getting involved. Even if they fall asleep...

... and when the adult audience doesn't even notice that the camera is pointed towards them.

Now we are back to that hiatus-between-acts thing; when the all cowboys have left the saloon...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 43 - Flatt Lonesome - Runaway Train

Good things, like troubles and London buses, come in threes. 
Here is the last in a trio of acts from America that are little known in the UK. The current excitement stateside is that they have fairly recently recorded and released a bluegrass version of the main theme to 'Game of Thrones'.
That's interesting, I suppose, but this is not really about that at all. It is about Flatt Lonesome, the band, and their latest album on which the aforementioned track is not included. It is however quite splendid in its own right and, as bluegrass is in part derived from Celtic tradition, here it is:

Looking and listening beyond that introduction, Flatt Lonesome is an acoustic six-piece composed of extended family and it is based in Tennessee.

Flatt Lonesome - Runaway Train (Mountain Home Music Company, 2 October 2015).

I have been listening to a great deal of modern bluegrass in the last year or so and a sizeable proportion of that is not of US origin. This however is and, while US reviews suggest it is very well received - it is their third LP - it appears to be little known over here.
There are no long songs on this - the twelve tracks run for a total of just 37 minutes. The final, and title track, does however illustrate my assertion that American roots and folk artists have a predilection for writing railroad-related songs, if only used as a metaphor and, despite some claims to that effect, it is not a cover of the Soul Asylum track of the same name!
This is the play list:

Flatt Lonesome - Runaway Train
  • You'll Pay
  • Still Feeling Blue
  • You're the One
  • In the Heat of the Fire
  • Don't Come Running
  • In the Morning
  • Road to Nottingham
  • New Lease on Life
  • Casting All Your Care on Him
  • Mixed Up Mess of a Heart
  • Letting Go
  • Runaway Train
What I did not expect yesterday, UK-time, was this announcement in which Flatt Lonesome features prominently. The nominations for the IBMA 2016 Awards.
IBMA is the International Bluegrass Music Association, just in case you were wondering.
The full list of categories, and the nominations within each of them, is here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 42 - Amy Lashley - Daredevils, Strugglers and Daydreamers

Here is another artist rather little known in the UK. Amy Lashley hails from small-town Indiana - the kind of place where, as she recalls it, truck keys were routinely left in the ignition and houses never locked. Delving into the lyrics of the eleven songs suggests that there was another side to this apparent idyll; 'Cotton Flower' in particular hints at the darker side of life.
This is her third full LP release. It follows 'For What It's Worth' (2008) and 'Travels of a Homebody' (2011). This latter garnered many very favourable reviews and the latest seems to be following that path too. 

Amy Lashley - Daredevils, Strugglers and Daydreamers (Wanamaker Recording Company, 2016).

  • Just A Goner 
  • Semi Tire 
  • Blame the Wind 
  • I Knew It 
  • Cotton Flowers 
  • Daredevil 
  • Fall So Far 
  • Dirty Old Man 
  • West Coast Lament 
  • We Still Smile 
  • Rich Folks
This LP is produced by fellow Indianan, and her partner, Otis Gibbs. He also plays guitar here but her songs are quite differently presented. Indeed it is a fine idea to listen to both artists - it is an astonishing example of individuality and respecting each other.
The problem, as regards finding a wider audience, is that she suffers acutely from stage fright. Otis, whom I have seen play live, quite clearly doesn't.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 41 - Rachel Laven - Love & Luccheses

Yesterday morning I returned from Truck Festival, a fairly small festival held on a farm in Oxfordshire, that has as its smallest stage (there were seven stages this year) The Saloon Bar. I have mentioned it many times; to be quite honest it is pretty well the reason that I go to Truck Festival. Here is an artist, new solo album in tow, that I saw play there on Sunday afternoon with family members The Lavens (mentioned here).
I don't normally buy albums immediately after hearing an artist or act live for the first time. There are exceptions and this was destined to be one of them.

Rachel Laven - Love & Luccheses (self released, 16 May 2016 in the US).

  • Finish Line
  • Each Other's Shoes
  • Do You Dare
  • Love & Luccheses
  • Only Thing Familiar
  • The Moon (Rachel Laven & Jana Laven)
  • Don't Put Me In A Town
  • Something Like Heaven (Walt Wilkins)
  • Someone Like You
  • Wrong Time
  • Song For Mary (Rachel Laven & Mary Cooper)
Eleven songs, all by Rachel Laven except as noted above, on which she sings lead vocals and plays guitar. 

Rachel Laven - live at Truck Festival. Sunday 17 July 2016.

I don't have the equipment to do live video. Indeed I think that I if I had I really wouldn't bother because I'm there to listen to the music. Still photography doesn't impinge on my enjoyment but I think that trying to record video certainly would. This therefore is not my work. It is the title track of the album and also explains 'Luccheses'. I didn't have the faintest idea either but at least I could ask there and then!

Rachel Laven is currently on tour in the UK. Dates and venues are here.

Note added 14 June 2017:
Rachel is touring England and Scotland in July and early August 2017, including a gig on The Saloon Bar Stage, at the sold-out Truck Festival 2017 on 22 July. The full list of dates and ticketing information is here.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 40 - Brigid Mae Power

Only last week was I expressing my appreciation for the breadth and quality of new music coming out of Ireland. Well here I go again with the self-titled début from Irish (but London-born) artist Brigid Mae Power.

Brigid Mae Power (Tompkins Square, June 10 [US]/July 8 [UK] 2016).

A multi-instrumentalist, Mae Power plays piano, harmonium, accordion and baritone ukulele as well as the guitar. For me though it is her voice that is the most powerful instrument here. It is clear and confident, but not overwhelming, and the rest of the instrumentation, which incidentally doesn't always conform to the templates of traditional folk, provides a lush background to the songs.
The feeling it carries is of pastoral bliss, but the fact that nature is cruel is never very far below the surface of the eight songs. The principle collaborator on this work is Oregon-based songwriter and singer Peter Broderick and the impression of symbiosis permeates.

Brigid Mae Power:
  • It's Clearing Now
  • Sometimes
  • Let Me Hold You Through This
  • Is It My Low or Yours
  • Lookin at You In a Photo
  • I Left Myself for a While
  • Watching the Horses
  • How You Feel
It is compellingly persistent and involving yet a thread is left loose with final track, 'How You Feel'.  Neither a question nor proscribing, it is simply the state in which things are perceived.

Friday, July 08, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 39 - Miss Tess - Baby, we all know

Here is the highlight of the week in newly released recorded music, at least for me. I don't expect this to find its way in to the UK charts anytime soon but I'd love to be wrong about that. It may well not bother the mainstream American charts but we needn't worry about that either. It's quite beyond that kind of label nonsense anyway. It is released on Rights Records, via CDbaby.

Miss Tess - Baby, we all know (Rights Records, 8 July 2016).

It is eleven original songs that, along with her band 'The Talkbacks', expound a take on the delta and swamp blues from another perspective --- that of a young, white female. This is not her first release and that is a line of inquiry well worth pursuing. In the meantime I'm going with this one from the latest LP, despite the fact that I think that it will not remain my favourite.

There is also *that* acoustic guitar sound. It sounds old, far older than its player however adept she may be, because it is:

It is a Weymann archtop that is fast approaching its centenary. It is still doing exactly what it was made for.

Here's a question for you all:
Why do American artists still write so many songs about catching trains (which they can't/don't) while UK artists writing in similar genres (
who do/could) have never really done so to any great extent?
If frustration and anger is a source of songs, and it seems that it is, we should have an unimpeachable canon of railway songs - unfettered in prospect - from the mid-nineteenth century to today...
Tell me.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The map has been redrawn.

When I last wrote, just over two weeks ago, I suppose that I was doing one of those most-British-of-things that is hoping-for-the-best and that everything would work out fine. 

It didn't and it is all our own fault. All of us - not just the 52% that voted leave - for sleepwalking to this point over a period of approximately twenty-five years.

Reading now what I posted then only serves to make me think that, five days before the referendum, I had more grave reservations about the outcome than I was prepared to admit, even to myself. This isn't a blog about politics it is one about music, but conveniently the two are inextricably linked.
A new journey is starting and nobody can tell how it will play out or where it will lead...
The Leave campaign used the slogan...  'I Want My Country Back!' ...whatever that actually means. I just want to share my country with whoever from wherever can see the tolerance, diversity and virtues that it really has.

The UK has long been at the cross-roads of music; absorbing, assimilating, creating and exporting with the whole work-piece on repeat-play. I'm pretty sure that this situation isn't about to change at all. Indeed the sense of fracture and of political upheaval may well spawn new creative directions. Music, whether making or consuming, is a good use of anger and disaffection.
The question right here is what music do I choose to illuminate this and where to start?
It is US Independence Day, which event we didn't much like at the time, so that was one possibility. I'll return to that but have decided to start by looking across an narrower stretch of water to a country that we have screwed-over more times than any other. It's almost certain that, in ignorance, we've just done so once again.
About this time last summer I became aware of a couple of acts from Ireland that prompted me to pay more attention to what has been developing there over the last couple of years. This is where I shall start.

September Girls - Age Of Indignation (Fortuna Pop!, 15 April 2016).

This is the second LP from the Dublin five-piece, and the sequel to 2014 LP 'Cursing The Sea'. Their music combines a range of trends from 1980s guitar and synth rock to 1960s girl bands. It is on this album that they find their own recipe for that cocktail, musically and also in the subject matter of the songs. It concerns a number of the ills that have affected, or in some cases have simply continued to afflict, their home country since the financial meltdown of 2008. It isn't about "Brexit" or what might happen in coming months and years.

It may possibly prove to be something of a template. Either way it is a mighty fine piece of work and this is a band that is currently very near the top of my "need-to-see-live" list.

On the other hand we now have some very stark home-grown divisions within the UK, and not just between its constituent parts. I have wondered for the last ten days or so what new music might be being worked up in response to all of this. Whatever it is I'm looking forward to hearing it...

I am well aware that I am writing from the seat of my pants here, and that I might tweak a few raw nerves in so-doing but, after almost ten years and 1200 published posts, I feel that if I don't let go and air my thoughts right now then I probably never will. I may regret doing so; but the alternative is far worse.
This next LP is one that is about the rather numerous parts of England that are far less beautiful or glamorous than the paeans to cultural tourism such as Stonehenge, Stratford on Avon and York. Some of them are just as interesting, in so far as concerns the wider cultural situation, as well as being a whole lot more authentic and edgy.

Kate Jackson - British Road Movies (Hoo Ha Records, 20 May 2016).

Kate Jackson was once the lead vocalist of The Long Blondes, a Sheffield five-piece whose members had all attended university in that city. She is originally from Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. This LP has been a very long time in the making - Jackson and Bernard Butler (he plays guitar and co-produces) have been working on this sporadically since late 2008. It's time might be now.

I rather think that I should have started with the next track 'The End Of Reason' instead.