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Stuff We Leave Behind

Wonky Tonk

Working Brilliantly

If you’re seeking something with a bit more originality behind it, then you’ve come to the right place with Wonky Tonk and the album, ‘Stuff We Leave Behind’. By holding a suitable moniker considering the wide array of influences skewered into the ‘Stuff We Leave Behind’, Jasmine Pool (aka Wonky Tonk) remains a fiercely independent artist willing to bend the rules when it comes to a number of genres by applying her own touches, and bringing out a largely country sound fused with elements of folk, indie and pop music. With her actual roots stemming from a love of punk music, the attitude of this genre goes some way to explaining the amalgamation of sounds making up Wonky Tonk’s latest album. With ‘Turn The Radio On’ providing a stirring entrance with it’s a cappella delivery, and then switching to the jaunty country-rock rhythm of ‘Cleveland’, complete with an audacious mix of 50s soda-pop backing vocals and a lead vocal that is definitely entrenched in the formerly mentioned punk roots, Wonky Tonk wastes no time in getting her influences across. The differing styles continue apace with ‘Billings, MT’ and ‘Montague Road’ possessing a 90s indie feel via Throwing Muses, Juliana Hatfield and The Lemonheads, before offering a reflective indie-acoustic number via ‘Denmark, which just happens to be one of the countries this Kentucky-bred singer songwriter has flaunted her music previously. Despite the various shifts in tone, ‘Stuff We Leave Behind’ works as a whole surprisingly well, and perhaps best illustrated with the honky tonk inspired ‘Washington Avenue’; gorgeous ballads ‘Tennessee’ and ‘One For The Juke’, and therefore making this album a rather essential acquisition.


Released Out now

 

Breathing In

Dan Lipton

Working Brilliantly

Picking up comparisons with the likes of Jeff Buckley, Paul Simon and Ray LaMontagne is the new album ‘Breathing In’ from singer-songwriter Dan Lipton. With a sound that fuses the traditional sound of Americana with story-based blues, in addition with Appalachian country and world music, Dan Lipton displays such influences throughout his current album comprising of twelve self-penned songs. The album ‘Breathing In’ was a lengthy process, having utilised a number of empty cabins from Maine to Virginia to seek the right atmosphere for each, and every track in terms of their recordings. What Lipton ended up with is a close intimacy that can be heard in such songs as the tender and sore ache of ‘Dark Water’, and softer pop tones of equally good ‘Come On Georgia’. There is great care taken with all the contents of ‘Breathing In’, which is echoed in the quality of the recorded works where songs can sound bright and colourful by way of its title track and near jaunty rhythm of ‘MTA’. For those seeking that singular moment with the songwriter, then the wistful ‘Wings Of A Crow’ is a fine place to start, with Lipton in fine vocal and occasionally supported by a faint yet soothing backing vocal. It’s Lipton’s song writing qualities that really impress throughout with his ability to name a song ‘End Of The World’ yet give it an upbeat feel, as well as transform the lonely isolation of ‘Television’ in to something warm and engaging via its country roots. A master in his own field, Dan Lipton has just delivered an album of supreme quality, and one that is definitely worth ‘Breathing In’.


Released Out now

 

Music City Heroes (Single)

Løiten Twang Depot

Baaten

Back with a fresh single, after last year’s album ‘Trouble Train’, Løiten Twang Depot set their sights on making a further splash in 2016. With the band having spent a busy time in the recording studio of late, the first sign of this period is ‘Music City Heroes’. Instantaneous in its appeal due to its upbeat rhythm that will lift those cowboy boots from the floor, Løiten Twang Depot pick up from where they left before with ‘Music City Heroes, only this time the band sound even more assured judging by the quality of this latest single. With references to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in check and lead vocalist Bjørn Flaaseth sounding more and more as if he was born out on the southern range of the States, Løiten Twang Depot is as close to an authentic American (outlaw) country sound one can get this side of Europe via ‘Music City Heroes’.


Released 29 January

 

When My Man Comes To Town

Hege

Rootsy

Back with a third album is Hege (Brynildsen) with, ‘When My Man Comes To Town’. This latest release follows after the audacious experiment that was ‘Till Harry’, which made use of the Swedish language to fill its songs, only it managed to exclude a number of would-be supporters due to its language restrictions as the album presented an engaging listen, and one that served as a supportive companion during the wee small hours. Despite this obvious disadvantage, Norwegian singer-songwriter Hege reverts to English in order to deliver ten new songs drenched in an authentic traditional country sound. With production duties being entrusted to Gøran Grini (Paal Flata, Chip Taylor, Tommy Tokyo) once more, and with the tried and tested musicianship of Omar Østli (guitar), Finn Tore Tokle (bass), Tor Hauge (drums) Lars Ivar Borg and Kristin Solli (choir), in addition to American multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin weighing in with a number of instruments, Hege remains as thorough as ever in terms of her preparation for ‘When My Man Comes To Town’. The evidence of this comprehensive approach is instantaneous as the album’s title track quietly saunters into town on the back of a spidery sounding organ, a restrained twang of the guitar, Hege delivering a poignant vocal that really adds to the emptiness felt, and where Halden is transformed into a desolate outback somewhere in the Wild West. From this remarkable start, the rest of ‘When My Man Comes To Town’ feeds on this loneliness and despair with ‘Oh Loneliness’ standing out as a prime candidate, and former single, ‘If You Have To Cry’, being another song where its desperation alludes to some form of wrongdoing without giving much away.  Elsewhere, any form of hopelessness reveals itself in heartbreak of the relationship kind, especially during the tender ballad ‘Lovely Charming Ways’ with Hege sounding full of regret and not too distant from a younger Dolly Parton , “I should have listened to my friends when they warned me, Not to fall for your lovely charming ways”. With songs aching with much sadness, and the instrumentation doing its upmost to keep up with these melancholic feelings (‘Please Remember Me’ is a perfect example), Hege marks this latest chapter in her recording career as one that will see her song writing gain new levels of respect because ‘When My Man Comes To Town’ is a truly wonderful achievement.


Released 22 January

 

Si Det Sånn (Single)

Marte Wulff

Propeller Recordings

The singer-songwriter Marte Wulff has experienced a very interesting career to date having been living and working overseas and now firmly back in her native Norway. In addition, Wulff possess an impressive back catalogue consisting of four albums which can be divided equally in terms of their choice of language used, with two of her albums having been performed in English, and the other two in her local dialect. Also, recognition of Wulff’s song writing abilities extends to film and television where a variety of her songs have been used, as well as being on the receiving end of much radio play. The next part of this musical journey is the brand new single ‘Si Det Sånn’ that sees Wulff revert back to Norwegian and probably due to her move back home as well. The single itself is a tender folk song that focuses on human vulnerability, and delivered in compelling fashion by Wulff’s natural sounding vocal and expert guitar playing from Fay Wilhagen. With the new album not due until April this year, ‘Si Det Sånn’ is a fine beginning and one likely to be placed on high rotation until the full album arrives.


Released Out now

 

Open Letter To The Blues

The Country Side of Harmonica Sam

El Toro

It’s rather ironic that a lot of the current European artists are outdoing their American counterparts when it comes to reproducing a sincere country sound. A fine example of this transition is The Country Side of Harmonica Sam and their current album ‘Open Letter To The Blues’, because it doesn’t come much more authentic than this when replicating country music from the late 50s and early 60s. With the countries of origin for this new long player stemming from Sweden and the UK, this latest guise for Harmonica Sam (real name Chris Wilkinson) is one that fits splendidly as the honky tonk sound of the aforementioned periods in history is resuscitated and delivered inch perfectly as if it never went away! Together with band members Peter Andersson (steel guitar), Johan Bandling Melin (lead guitar), Ulrik Jansson (upright bass) and Patrik Malmros (drums), Harmonica Sam sings with a genuine authority that makes these covers sound like his own compositions whether coming from Faron Young, Skeets McDonald or Ray Price, not to mention the band’s own song writing which can be found here as well. Setting the time period from the off is the excellent ‘A Double Shot of Heartache’ with compelling steel guitar and added fiddle from additional musician Johan Malmberg. The heartache really begins though, during ‘Forbidden Wine’, where you will hear a real sense of yearning at the centre of this song and one that makes those George Jones comparisons believable. The mood is lifted somewhat with ‘It’s Such A Pretty World Today’ as it’s a lovely mellow tune, with the steel guitar providing that extra tonic and allowing for a bit of sunshine to seep through the cracks between the blinds. Such a cheerful disposition doesn’t last long, however, as the blues return with a vengeance and finds Harmonica Sam soon drowning as suggested by the line, “Just because I’m smiling, it doesn’t mean I’m fine” and you instantly know where you are in terms of the context of this particular song (‘I Regret It Every Day’). From such compelling traits so often found in country music, with its melancholic song titles and habit of finding a rhythm that is more lively than it should be considering the misery involved, The Country Side of Harmonica Sam more than masters such feats. In fact, the song delivery is so convincing that it is likely to have any listener reaching for their copy of this record to see exactly when it was produced, because ‘Open Letter To The Blues’ is definitely not from the present era, that’s for sure!


Released Out now

 

Santa Is Real (Single)

Alexander Lindbäck

Safe & Sound Recordings

Alexander Lindbäck embarks on a solo jaunt with his first recording ‘Santa Is Real’. Taking inspiration from The Louvin’ Brothers’ classic ‘Satan Is Real’, Lindbäck spins a yarn on a darker Christmas tale that is more about taking rather than giving. Without wishing to put a dampener on the Christmas festivities with its more serious tone involving murder, drug misuse, prison and the lack of any real gifts being exchanged, ‘Santa Is Real’ possesses a sense of mischief and definite black humour in between the serious drama, especially considering  mum’s unfortunate fate via some gingerbread dough! With the song coming wrapped in a country styling that contains some lovely mandolin, pedal steel and piano, Christmas with Alexander Lindbäck is definitely one to savour for a number of different reasons, but most notably for his refreshing take on the traditional festive song that really brings to life ‘Santa Is Real’.


Released 14 December

 

Southern FM

Rob Williams

Evertone Records

Rob Williams has taken the long route to finding his feet in the world of music. Having established a career in education, a long held passion for music eventually persuaded Williams to enter the ring of song writing, which saw the release of his debut solo album, ‘A Place In The Sun’, in 2013. Since that time, Williams continued his role within academia, but the lure of song writing proved too strong once more, and a decision was made to record a follow-up album. ‘Southern FM’ is that record which saw Williams relocate from the comfy surrounds of his hometown and head for pastures new. This deliberate action resulted in Williams setting up camp in Dallas with producer Salim Nourallah (Rhett Miller, Old 97’s) in order to bring to life Williams’ love for a Southern acoustic sound that blends traditional and contemporary Americana. What the listener receives, as a result of this process, are a number of confessionary tales concerning relationships, that are sometimes interlaced with hardships à la ‘Henry and Maria’ for example. Such storytelling reaches its zenith during the gospel feel of ‘Best I Can Do’; a clever song, full of wisdom, reflecting on those in life who are less satisfied with their lot; “Some people climbing ladders have no idea what they’re even after, They hope someday to be on track.” There’s a breezy feel to the rhythm of ‘Where You Hang Your Heart’ with Rob Williams letting in a definite Bob Dylan influence, whereas ‘Sometimes It’s A Song’ casts a more downbeat shadow that creatively mixes references to the forces of nature with the struggles found in relationships. Elsewhere, ‘Sun Gone Down’ reveals another facet to Williams’ song writing with a touch of humour and slight eccentricity in both the lyrics and music, with the latter sounding more pop and rock influenced. For the majority of its contents ‘Southern FM’ is an inspired body of work, and one that is not afraid to break from the conformities of a musical genre by adding a variety of personal touches that provides that extra flavour. It looks like the radio frequency is going to be set to a ‘Southern FM’ sound for the foreseeable future.


Released Out now

 

If You Have To Cry (Single)

Hege

Rootsy

After the Swedish experiment that was ‘Till Harry’, Hege makes a welcome return with the single, ‘If You Have To Cry’. Taken from the forthcoming album, ‘When My Man Comes To Town’, this first offering from Hege marks a return to use of the English language, and one that will lift the restrictions for those who were unable to join in with the formerly mentioned ‘Till Harry’ long player. Where that previous album made heavy use of piano, the new single, ‘If You Have To Cry’, sees Hege opt for the more traditional rock and roll setup of bass, guitar and drums, with the addition of pedal steel because this is country music after all. The single itself is something of a mystery as the contents of the narrative makes for a compelling listen, with a closely guarded secret held between two central characters that alludes to some form of wrongdoing being the only giveaway. Repeat visits will only generate further questions as to the songs overall meaning, always a good sign when it comes to the art of song writing which, along with Hege’s emphatic vocal delivery that is suggestive of Dolly Parton with the slightest grain of Gillian Welch, are good enough reasons to keep coming back for more.


Released 6 November

 

My War / Whiskey Song (Single)

The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers

Safe & Sound Recordings

Coming together after the demise of a few former projects, the trio that is The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers see the release of their debut single this week. This first release is actually a digital only offering, with the tracks being presented as a double-sided single with ‘My War’ and ‘Whiskey Song’. As far as immediate impressions go, lead song, ‘My War’, hits the senses with an arresting vocal performance, in addition to a delicate and pensive musical accompaniment that also contains a few stings in its chords, magnificently expressed by the guitar hands of Thomas Bergsten and Kristine Marie Aasvang, who is also responsible for the aforementioned. Think Mazzy Star; think Cowboy Junkies, think a darkened corner of a barroom somewhere in the vicinity of Twin Peaks, and you’re close to an understanding of where the melancholic beauty of ‘My War’ resides. The second composition,’ Whiskey Song’, is the perfect companion, beginning with dreamy steel guitar and stunning vocal that holds a real sadness inside. This sadness becomes more apparent as the song wears on, as its tone becomes more resentful, to the point of almost mumbling, as it plots its revenge on a hapless former lover. The twist at the end of this song raises a wry smile, and is but one reason why a return visit to the music of The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers is a must the next time they’re in town.


Released Out now

 

I lag med deg (Single)

Erik Lukashaugen

Øksekar

Named as a strong favourite by a number of critics in his homeland is the current single ‘I lag med deg’ from Erik Lukashaugen. The song itself is taken from the full album ‘Tel si elga tid’, which has also been on the end of some very fine words indeed, that makes for an encouraging start to the current campaign for this singer-songwriter from Elverum. The favourable words are fully justified once the folk and light country tones of ‘I lag med deg’ immediately arrives at a mid-paced tempo, that maintains itself for the duration of the song, with Erik Lukashaugen singing of his affections for another without ever sounding twee. The feelings expressed in this song are given further credence with a delightful vocal coming from Linn Øftsaas, who adds to the warm intimacy at the centre of this (third person) team. ‘I lag med deg’ is likely to win you over without really trying at all because it’s such an infectious and warm song, and one that will continue to worm its way to your heart six months down the line and there’s no greater feeling than that when it comes to song writing. A job well done!


Released Out now

 

På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt

Finn Coren

Bard Records

Beautifully presented with the upmost care and attention to detail is the latest album by Finn Coren with ‘På Jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’ (‘Somewhere On Earth – Selected Nordic Poems’). With this being his seventh solo album, and the third in a separate series that focuses on Nordic poets, Finn Coren has arranged his songs to provide an interpretation of the poetry from fourteen different Nordic poets. The poems selected will be familiar to those who grew up in such surroundings, or those who simply have a taste for Nordic culture, as the poetry centres on a selection of well-known classics from these regions, in addition to a few lesser known choices. Considering the level of detail gone into making these songs, it comes as no surprise that the majority of these tracks have been under construction for some considerable time. That’s not to say that Finn Coren has not received additional help in order to bring this latest album to life, as no less than four other musicians including Øyvind Fossheim (piano), Gjermund Kolltveit (Hardanger fiddle, kanklės), Stian Omenås (trumpet) and Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Mellotron, Chamberlin) contributed to the making of ‘På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’. With the chosen poetry relaying themes – three core themes in fact – concerned with life, love and death and inspired by classical and folk music, Finn Coren breathes the poetic words in a hushed manner that complements the often pared back sound of the instruments. ‘Salme’ is one such example where the vocals and largely grand piano provides an intimate experience that, in its combined state, drowns out all other external interferences such is the song’s alluring power. The intimacy grows even further with the pairing of acoustic guitar and faintest of horns during ‘Innbying’, that sees the vocals flit between the already mentioned whispered tones to spoken word passages making for a stirring piece of work. Finn Coren blossoms somewhat during ‘Sång’ and is accompanied by gorgeous sounding strings, only for the mood to blacken with the funeral procession feel of ‘Alle veier bort fra dig’ that, musically, could find a home on a Tom Waits album. With jagged edges all round adding to the compelling narrative of ‘Havet’, and the opening ‘Salme’ given another outing via an instrumental reworking, ‘På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’ is an absorbing experience full of light and shade, and one that is skilfully managed by way of its musicianship and chosen poetry that marks out album number seven for Finn Coren as really rather special.



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