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Ol’ Drake’s Travelin’ Medicine Show

the Harvey Steel show

Safe & Sound Recordings

If you tried squeezing any more musical references into the Harvey Steel show’s latest album, then the ship sent from Jupiter to Earth would’ve crashed and burned once entering the latter planet’s ether due to the sheer weight of the intergalactic space vessel transporting these Norwegian cosmic cats. As it stands, ship’s captain, Thomas Bergsten, proves a steady sort as he, along with his five fellow band members, expertly guides this magical musical vessel through bouts of turbulence and unpredictability that can be described as Captain Beefhart and Frank Zappa-esque, but altogether quite simply the Harvey Steel show. With a swift “Hello” and equally swift “Goodbye” to Ol’ red horns down under via former single ‘Shaky Hand Modifier’ with its short, sharp bursts of indie jazz blues, the band’s sound is definitely reined in tighter throughout the majority of this latest excursion. That’s not to say that the Harvey Steel show ease up on the creative pedal, far from it, it’s more that this six piece know when to shut up shop rather than letting the psychedelia take too much of a (pleasurable) hold. From the opening ‘Michael Hare’s Psychedelic Rabbit’ that scrapes samples of the inner workings of Donny Darko’s mind and projects these thoughts to all those present at a half-empty airport terminal where the standing conveyor belt has no ending, to the part smoky jazz and psychedelic folk of ‘Acid Trip To Spain’ with its eccentricities and sad ending, the band’s penchant for fusing various other art forms with music continues its exploration. Such ideas clash often where darkened corners reveal themselves via the jazz blues-rock ‘Mr Mystery’, but then throw up pretty patterns via ‘Reality Is Ideal’, which is probably the closest example you’ll ever hear of the Harvey Steel show going straight. By the way, it works tremendously! With the old-timey offering served up by the album’s title track, the Harvey Steel show has surpassed their debut album by some considerable distance, due to pulling tight on those creative reins and therefore delivering a more cohesive album yet somehow never losing that magical spark and creative edge that sets out this band as really rather special. It’s time to sample the wonders of ‘Ol’ Drake’s Travelin’ Medicine Show’!


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White Desert Blues

The Northern Lies

Lunheim Grammofon

Two years have elapsed since The Northern Lies critically acclaimed debut album ‘Midnight Medicine’ was released. During their absence, the band has evolved into a five piece which, along with original members Henry Johnsen and Håvard Stangnes, now consists of Ida Karoline Nordgård (bass/vocals), Erik Nilsson (keys) and Mikael Pedersen (drums/vocals). With the revised line-up in place, The Northern Lies set the task of writing and recording that ‘difficult’ second album. What transpires since that two-year layoff is ‘White Desert Blues’, which reveals a succession of songs that delve even deeper than its predecessor in an attempt to get to the bottom of the sadness that is causing so many restless nights. With various trials and tribulations providing the fuel for the lyrics, it is the natural elements and scenic landscapes of rugged mountainous ranges of the northern hemisphere, Tromsø (Norway) to be exact, combined with The Northern Lies authentic Americana sound that adds to expressions of loneliness and isolation felt during ‘White Desert Blues’. Evidence of such emotions and cold-isolated conditions can be ascertained from the album’s title track that is nostalgic just as it is confused and lost, which also stumbles accordingly in to the following ‘Wrong Turn’. If the sounds of Neil Young and Crazy Horse greatly appeal, and a vocal that is close to Townes Van Zandt on occasions (‘Too Damn Quiet’), then you have come to the right place as far as The Northern Lies is concerned. Just remember, however, where this band resides because it is a sound that they do well and will leave you yearning for more once the likes of ‘Love’s Lonely Rover’ and ‘Cold-Hearted Town’ touch your heart. It looks like Americana has firmly planted its roots in a far corner north of Norway where the ‘White Desert Blues’ exist and can be heard via The Northern Lies.


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Poor Man’s Dollars (Single)

Rich Evans & The Second Edition

Untitled

Far from this being a new experience for London-based singer-songwriter Rich Evans considering that he’s a veteran of the genres encompassing Americana, blues and folk, in addition to holding an impressive CV when it comes to performing live having undergone extensive tours in America and Europe and released albums for US record labels in Nashville. The latest venture for Rich Evans is the single ‘Poor Man’s Dollars’, which is part of the upcoming full album release this year ‘Left of Laurel Canyon’. The single finds a dual vocal performance that is beautiful in its execution as it quietly laments over the poverty-stricken state outlined in the central narrative, and given further weight by the stripped back feel of the country instrumentation. A strong start for Rich Evans before the main event as ‘Poor Man’s Dollars’ is an intelligent piece of song writing that deserves your upmost attention.


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Shaky Hand Modifier (Single)

the Harvey Steel show

Safe & Sound Recordings

After picking up a gong of sorts last year with their debut album earning a respectable position in the FLW Top 50 Records of 2015, those wild and weird misfits from planet Jupiter, the Harvey Steel show, reappear with the first seed of new material by way of the single, ‘Shaky Hand Modifier’. The noticeable difference compared to what went before sees the band’s sound reined in tighter with shorter, sharper bursts of a combined recipe involving blues, jazz and indie, but with less noodling as far as the psychedelia goes. That said, ‘Shaky Hand Modifier’ will delight those who’ve pledged their allegiance to this intergalactic band of musicians with a gritty, bluesy guitar forging a path from start to finish, and ably supported in the rear by a single trumpet and Kristine Marie Aasvang’s vocal strongly relaying the contents here with ship captain, Thomas Bergsten, adding the impish persona via the backing vocals .The devil is definitely sitting on the shoulder of this song, but rather than causing absolute mayhem serves as a motivational force keeping the Harvey Steel show on their toes in their attempts to ward off the shaky hand in question. If ‘Shaky Hand Modifier’ is the sign of what’s to come, then please sir, more of this edgy paranoia because it might just lead the Harvey Steel show to absolute greatness.


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This Life Of Mine

Jen Lane

Poor Kitty / Independent

Singer-songwriter Jen Lane has made a name for herself back home in her native Canada and, more specifically, the Western Canadian music scene. It was this very region of Canada that seriously took note of Jen Lane’s first two album releases, ‘Sleepless’ (1999) and ‘Injection’ (2002); with the former album receiving a nomination for a Prairie Music Award when the Canadian songstress was just 16 years of age. Further recognition of her musical prowess came by way of Lane’s self-titled 2006 album, and the 2010 follow-up, ‘For the Night’, with both albums being nominated for Western Canadian Music Awards. Bringing things up to date, Jen Lane’s new long player ‘This Life Of Mine’ arrives after some time on the sidelines due to a physical injury that saw many hours in and out of surgery. With that period behind her, Lane didn’t hesitate to recruit former collaborator and producer John MacArthur Ellis to produce once more, in addition to the musicianship of Nick Stecz in order to finish the songs making up her latest, and fifth album. By taking in elements of country, roots, folk and Americana, Lane has created an album rich in sounds, but one that also refers to a series of personal aspects from her life as well as observations of those around her. Starting off with the gentle country sway of ‘Waitin For You’, Jen Lane’s vocal is golden as are the instruments as there is a warm, welcoming haze surrounding this song. There is a country pop ambience to the fractured relationship of ‘Movin On’ that shifts from such a depressed state to one of frivolity via the ‘1st Day Of Spring In Saskatchewan)’. Taking a break from her own songwriting, a cover of Big Star’s ’13’ is thrown into the mix and it’s a more than admirable rendition. However, it’s Lane’s own compositions that are of most interest here, with the reflective country ballad ‘My Man’ and melancholic, yet beautiful ‘Hollow Heart’ that impress greatly, making ‘This Life Of Mine’ an album definitely worth owning.


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Lay Your Burden Down (Single)

Hege

Rootsy

Taken from her current album ‘When My Man Comes To Town’ that is picking up glowing plaudits from various critics including this very music publication, Hege makes the decision to issue ‘Lay Your Burden Down’ to offer another example of what all the fuss is about. With ‘Lay Your Burden Down’ containing a far chipper rhythm compared to a few of the other offerings from her latest album, the lyrics provide a shoulder to cry on, with religion playing its part here, and the band offering a welcoming sound with its references to western swing and gospel and, most notably, the steel strings, fiddle and Hege’s subtle tinges of Dolly Parton held in her vocal. There’s no other place to ease your worries right now than Hege and her new single, ‘Lay Your Burden Down’, because you will leave feeling enriched by the end of this experience.


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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.


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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’.


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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.


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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!



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