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Stay Gold

First Aid Kit


Having reviewed former single ‘My Silver Lining’ ‘ in these very pages, it is pleasing to hear that sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg have stuck to a winning formula comprising of alt-country blessed with heavenly vocals and lyrics of an introspective nature. The Stockholm-based duo sound closer to the rural south of America than their native Sweden, such is their song writing abilities and sincerity, which is captured once more by producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk). With the precursor that was the previously mentioned single to this latest release, lush strings and delicate melodies can often be heard throughout ‘Stay Gold’ as it’s brimming with confidence musically, with only a handful of lyrics giving the game away regarding a variety of anxieties professing to be “as big as the moon”. The trail of quality is most definitely hot throughout ‘Stay Gold’, as indicated by the sweetly addictive melody of ‘Master Pretender’, folk inspired ‘Cedar Lane’ with its huge aching heart, and topped by the waiflike and atmospheric qualities of the album’s title track. With a host of gigs and festival appearances imminent, First Aid Kit, on this current form, is the very definition of their album title as their success looks set to continue.

Released Out now



Miranda Lambert

Sony Music CMG

Miranda Lambert is back with the brand new album ‘Platinum’ that offers a blend of traditional country with elements of rock music. By combining these two genres is a means of trying to appeal to a broader audience and not just hardened country fans, but while some other artists’ efforts may sound forced, Miranda Lambert makes it all sound effortless as there is a seamless flow of consistency throughout her latest long player. Starting with the solid country rock of ‘Girls’ that immediately provides an example of the sheer power at the centre of her vocal chords despite not really manoeuvring out of second gear. The title track is almost portrayed in a country rap style, if ever such a thing existed, but thankfully it doesn’t fully resort to such measures as the song refers to the pressures that come with fame and success and, more tellingly, the reactions from others. There is room for collaboration as well as Miranda Lambert joins forces with Little Big Town and pulls off a delicate and spacious number that is full of nostalgia for simpler times. What begins as a lone instrument, coupled with Miranda Lambert’s vocal, gradually builds its momentum and in the process peels away a succession of insightful lyrics of a personal nature during ‘Bathroom Sink’, which paves the way for the humorous and rather clever ‘Old Shit’ (Yes, that is correct) that displays its passion for collectibles as illustrated by the background noise of vinyl static. If there is a standout track, however, then that honour falls to the marvellous rendition of western swing of ‘All That’s Left’ featuring The Time Jumpers which, in all honesty, would suit a full album’s worth if ever Miranda Lambert warms to such an idea.

Released Out now


Norwegian Classics

Charlie Rackstead & The Sticklesbergen Ramblers

Ramalama Production

What began as a slightly unknown commodity in this neck of the woods turned into an immense listening experience with Charlie Rackstead and The Sticklesbergen Ramblers with their take on a whole host of ‘Norwegian Classics’. By interpreting a variety of Norwegian popular songs via country and bluegrass music not only gives the selected songs a fresh perspective, but more notably for the use of the English language that really breathes new life into these compositions. Take for example the attention grabbing banjo introduction of the Dumdum Boys classic ‘Splitter Pine’ that moves along at a brisk pace and really pricks up the ears with its English pronunciation of the latter word held in the song title. Elsewhere, ‘If I Could Be Your Sunshine’ possesses lovely lilting qualities musically, and is full of wishful thinking in its pursuit of the opposite sex, only to be brought back to down to earth with the realities of ‘Free Life’ that plods out a more robust country rhythm, which portrays the carefree attitude at the centre of this song to great effect, with Charlie Rackstead’s vocal shining in the spotlight as well with a brief stint yodelling, and it’s truly wonderful stuff! Clearly, Charlie Rackstead and The Sticklesbergen Ramblers have done their homework as ‘Norwegian Classics’ contains a measure of all things that often make a good album as there is sincerity, humour, curiosity (‘Cow In The Tunnel’) and of course undisputed talent all of which make ‘Norwegian Classics’ a much have item.

Released Out now


Mystery Girl (Deluxe)

Roy Orbison

Sony Music CMG

As with the recent Johnny Cash discovery, another of the original Sun Records’ artists, Roy Orbison resurfaces by way of a deluxe edition of a former release with ‘Mystery Girl’. Marking its 25th anniversary in style, this new edition of ‘Mystery Girl’ includes all of the original ten tracks, but also nine previously unreleased studio works and demos. The accompanying DVD features a full-length documentary, in addition to a number of music videos that truly adds much weight to the overall quality of this reissue. Having received much critical recognition on its first outing, ‘Mystery Girl’ will no doubt revive fond memories for many Roy Orbison supporters, especially with the hit single ‘You Got It’ that has lost none of its vigour. Another facet to the appeal of Roy Orbison was the enigmatic and almost operatic delivery of his vocal that suited his often balladry style with songs such as ‘In The Real World’ and ‘A Love So Beautiful’. A welcome re-release with superb bonus material, ‘Mystery Girl’ has definitely stood the test of time and one that is still worthy of its former praise.

Released Out now


Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sturgill Simpson

Loose Music

Pulling a draw faster than Billy the Kid himself, Kentucky-raised Sturgill Simpson, who now happens to be a resident of Nashville, makes a swift return with second album ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’. Where debut offering ‘High Top Mountain’ excelled in tailing a steady line to the traditions of country music, as well as offering heartfelt emotions regarding family members or various frustrations concerning life’s career choices or lack of them, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ pursues more or less the same path, only the emotions expressed are those scraping the bottommost depths of despair. With songs alluding to such periods of hopelessness, often the result of experimenting with life’s darker side as well as suffering from depression (‘Life of Sin’, ‘Voices’, ‘Long White Line’), there are also moments of hope with ‘A Little Light Within’. However, far from being a miserable experience, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is nothing but an enthralling ride of traditional country, with some nice touches of additional strings during lead track ‘Turtles All The Way Down’, but also one that benefits from a rawer edge in the guitar department and best experienced from ‘Life of Sin’ and ‘Living The Dream’. The wildness truly reveals itself, however, when the appropriately named ‘It Ain’t All Flowers’ sets its reverse course with guitars sucked through a vortex amidst fevered howls as the comedown digs its claws in. The nostalgic trip down memory lane of ‘Pan Bowl’ is the perfect conclusion, considering all that has gone before, and further reason why ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is an extremely important record not only due to its inventive side, but for its honesty when chronicling life’s mistakes.

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Frankétienne & Mark Mulholland

Jezus Factory Records

It’s not every day that a Haitian poet, painter, novelist, playwright and actor decides to collaborate with an inspirational musician hailing from Scotland, but that’s exactly what Frankétienne and Mark Mulholland decided to do with the album ‘Chaophonies’. The duo’s combined efforts is an 11-track album of literary readings set to music consisting of (creole) folk, indie, blues and with a slight Celtic influence in places. Reading excerpts from his ‘Rapjazz, Journal d’un Paria’, Frankétienne creates a number of guises for the poetic tales of ‘Chaophonies’ that are delivered in an enthralling manner and accompanied by Mark Mulholland’s musical expertise. ‘Chaophonies’ reveals its class from the very start as ‘Mots et réves’ rises like steam from the cobbled streets of a remote village somewhere in the French wilderness during the peak of summer with an impassioned vocal and understated musical accompaniment largely comprising of accordion and acoustic guitar. The strings are wonderfully sombre during the atmospheric and almost western feel of ‘Ville Schizophonique’, which lends itself nicely to the old steam west portrayal of ‘Le petit train’ that sees Frankétienne powering this little number by nearly his lungs alone. Hopefully, the various tales throughout ‘Chaophonies’ are not consigned to a one-off deal, as clearly the Frankétienne – Mulholland partnership is one that has considerable mileage given the sheer quality and inventiveness of this combined effort.

Released Out now



Ray LaMontagne


Latest album from singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne sees a departure from his more straight folk roots sound as ‘Supernova’ lends itself to the psychedelic pop and country-rock sounds prominent during a late 60s and early 70s San Francisco. Producer Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) services were called upon to help with the sonic layers of ‘Supernova’ that is certainly a lot brighter as introductory song ‘Lavender’ indicates with its summery hazy feel created by use of reverb on the  vocal, gentle strumming of acoustic guitar and use of Mellotron. The opening bars of ‘Pick Up A Gun’ blooms into a kaleidoscope of sounds and sees LaMontagne taking several steps further into less familiar territory and one full of psychedelics as there is a real sense of wanting to forget. In keeping with the dreamlike qualities of several of the songs on offer here, the lyrics offer little by way of clues to their overall meanings as LaMontagne has suggested: “Some songs are like riddles, or puzzles, an unknown begging to be figured out,” only this may take some time. Whether ‘Supernova’ is the way forward for Ray LaMontagne only time will tell, as there will be those who lament this change of direction whereas others will undoubtedly welcome this fresh approach and openness to greater experimentation.

Released 12 May


Do Tell

Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson

Manhaton Records

A now husband and wife duo, Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson resurface with new album ‘Do Tell’ on Manhaton Records. Having been produced by legendary blues artist Jeff Lang, ‘Do Tell’ is an American roots album with a strong regard for the blues, and one that likes to reside in the past due to its ‘old-timey’ qualities but also retain two feet in the present considering the up-to-date feel of the shuffling beat fuelling such examples as ‘Stray Hat’. It is this very song that also showcases the compelling approach of one half of the duo – Hat Fitz who delivers his lines in a deep husky manner and sounding more a resident of New Orleans rather than his native Australia. In stark contrast, Cara Robison offers a sweeter sounding vocal but one that is also far-reaching considering the soulful belter that is ‘Gotta Love’, wonderfully aided by some dextrous blues guitar playing. Not content, however, to let her man steal all of the limelight, Cara Robinson has added various strings musically to her bow by taking up the sticks in addition to flute, tin whistle and, integral to every skiffle band, the washboard. A beautiful and beguiling combination musically and visually, Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson are fast shaping up to be the next creative duo with a strong roots flavour that will be on the lips of many people, especially when packing such quirky tales of lead song ‘Do Tell’  and tender beauties as ‘Long Dark Cloud’.

Released Out now


Idiot’s Hill

Basko Believes


Basko Believes, real name Johan Örjansson, is a Swedish singer-songwriter who took it upon himself to tap into his lifesavings and head out to Denton, Texas in order to record latest album ‘Idiot’s Hill’. With musicians willing to offer their services from the likes of The Polyphonic Spree, Israel Nash Gripka and Midlake, Basko Believes has created an album that nestles in the category marked Americana but at the same time allows for other influences consisting of soul, pop and indie guitar rock. Take the epic qualities of the inch perfect ‘The Waiting’; a song that steadily builds and seemingly grabbing an extra instrument along the way to add to the layers of narrative that is full of nostalgia and convincingly told by Basko Believes, who is a mixture of Van Morrison and Ray LaMontagne. There is a great tenderness at the centre of this latest album, but it is one that also draws on various anxieties as depicted by the song ‘Wolves’. While the majority of this album delights in a variety of ways it is the shimmering guitar beauty of ‘Lift Me Up’ and the letter of regret posted to one’s former dwelling rather than the act of physically travelling during ‘Going Home’ with its delicate rhythm of guitars and strings that sets up Basko Believes as a force to be reckoned with.

Released Out now


Poison (single)

Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen


Hailing from Bristol in Tennessee, USA, Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen is an eight piece ensemble with a multitude of instruments at their disposal that includes a knockout blow by way of leading Lady Kat Rush’s magnificent vocals. It is rather fitting that such a wealth of talent should desire a “don’t fence us in” attitude when attempting to apply a label to the music emanating from the Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen’s stable as there is a real melange of genres including aspects of rhythm and blues, swing, jazz and a fleeting drop of rockabilly that is reflected to a greater degree by the stylish appearance of Kat Rush. With a debut album currently a work in progress, first single ‘Poison’ is a strong concoction of seductive vocals and forceful brass that will have you smitten from the off and giddy with delight once under the intoxicating spell of the central narrative. Whether this is a safe haven only time will tell, but for now Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen have just created a winning formula as far as first singles go as there is no bitter edge to the ‘Poison’ they are peddling.

Released Out now


Artificial Natural

The Kokomo Kings

Grime Tone

A culmination of Scandinavian neighbours – Swedish and Danish to be precise – joining forces to carve out the largely blues influenced, with moments of rockabilly, that is ‘Artificial Natural’. Starting in fine fashion is the authentic rockabilly-blues of ‘Wrong Doing Woman’, which picks up a steady pace before letting the apron strings fly with some red-hot guitar that is equally complimented by the interesting spin of the narrative with the central protagonist being female (for a change) and possessing an unhealthy love affair for deviant behaviour. Elsewhere, ‘Hook, Line and Sinker’ plays a game of cat and mouse to a lively tempo and drawing more on a straight blues influence. There is humour present with ‘She’s So Skinny (She Can Hide Behind A Fishing Line)’ that is also a reflection of the changing nature of the generational eras that suggests a big difference in terms of the one these Kokomo Kings reside in mentally, and the one they actually find themselves in. Such a theme is taken up once more with the title track ‘Artificial Natural’ that finds the aptly-named Harmonica Sam severely scratching his cranium in a bewildered state due to an increasing trend for cosmetic enhancement. The charm offensive of ‘Charmageddon’ opens the door to rock ‘n’ roll, as it’s a riotous affair of guitars and harmonica with a flair for dark humour, “She’s so evil, she’s banned from hell”. A chance discovery, The Kokomo Kings ‘Artificial Natural’ is a thrilling ride of rockin’ blues with aspects of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, and one that is extremely perceptive of the changing nature of modern society as the band’s wicked sense of humour reveals. There is nothing artificial to report when it comes to The Kokomo Kings.

Released Out now


Heart’s On Fire (single)


Sony Music Norway

Beautiful as it is tender, there are no surprise revelations from Passenger (Mike Rosenberg) and new single ‘Heart’s On Fire’ as it offers a straight confessionary tale of one’s burning desires for another played to an acoustic guitar and various strings. With a new album on the horizon entitled ‘Whispers’, ‘Heart’s On Fire’ is not only a reminder of this man’s talents, but a strong indicator of the indie-folk sounds to come.

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