Angela Perley – 4.30
Angela Perley, self-taught guitarist and self-confessed night owl, grew up with folk giants and personal heroes such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young. She formed The Howlin’ Moons, an American rock band from Ohio, her demos getting her linked to Columbus-based musicians Chris Connor and Billy Zehnal. After two albums, slots at Nelsonville Music Festival (alongside The Flaming Lips, Randy Newman, Merle Haggard), AmericanaFest at Nashville, and opening for Lucinda Williams among others, this is her first solo effort, released August.
Co-produced with guitarist/ collaborator Chris Connor, Robbie Crowell contributes Hammond organ, Wurlitzer and piano, adding Al Kooper textures (Highway 61 / Blonde on Blonde era). Rooted in folk, cosmic country and indie rock, the stream of consciousness storytelling presented through sonorous vocals is well supported by expansive soundtracks of psychedelic delays, dreamy instrumentation or smoky tremolo. Not sure why, but I’m reminded of the Go Go’s/Belinda Carlisle at times in the upbeat numbers. Variety comes through driving or jangly guitar, perky electric piano, precision pedal steel, or soft and sweet folk and retro pop melodies. Lush.
Rod Picott – Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil
Born in Maine and living in Nashville since 1994, this September sees the latest release from former construction worker Rod Picott. With a searing desire for honest, raw and uncontrived music driven primarily by a health scare in 2018/19 (unidentified heart scare and spinal surgery), Picott home recorded all the tracks alone, then gave them to Neilson Hubbard to mix. The new album is completely acoustic, featuring only strummed or picked guitar, harmonica and Picott’s weathered vocals.
Already known for the intimacy and vivid narratives of his previous work, this album focuses on emotion not perfection, and on the human truth. Introspective, poetically open, he asks questions of survival in a cruel world, past and present. It’s sparse, it’s raw, his vocals require acclimatisation and it’s tricky to retain interest over a whole album when you are so exposed. Rugged.
Oh Susanna – ‘Johnstown’ (20th Anniversary Edition)
Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) is a 20th anniversary celebration of her debut. Originally released in 1999, she tells us: “In 1998, I recorded my first full length album. I chose to work with Peter J. Moore who loved the darkness in my music and believed in bringing women’s voices and stories to the fore. Bazil Donovan (Bass), Joel Anderson (Drums), Bob Egan (Guitar), and Veda Hille (Piano) were the core players …….” Johnstown was produced and recorded by Grammy Award winner Peter J.Moore (Cowboy Junkies, The Band, The Clash) at Beaconsfield Street, Toronto. The album gained UK traction through Bob Harris’s Radio 2 show.
It’s great to listen to something other than standard lightweight country or americana fayre. Contemporary folk-noir, there’s a melancholic beauty and feint menace throughout, a cinematic narration which complements the fictional setting of Johnstown, giving the songs a place to live and evolve which simultaneously warms the heart and chills the blood, and the weary yet powerful narrative vocals are supported by the perfect band and ideal arrangements. Suzie talks of the: ”themes of the struggle between darkness and light, destruction and creation, hate and love, imprisonment and freedom, death and life. The songs that have more light, hope and love in them were the ones I wrote after I started to live the life I wanted to live: the life of music.“ Deep.
Allison Lupton – Words of Love
An established and award-winning singer-songwriter in the Celtic tradition, she has recorded three solo CDs prior to this as well as originally performing with Killiecrankie. Based in Ontario, but recently in the UK to tour the Hebridean Celtic and Warwick Folk Festivals, her key band members are: Andrew Collins (mandolin), Shane Cook (fiddle), Tony McManus (guitar), Joseph Phillips (bass) and Ivan Rosenberg (dobro).
Timeless traditional and contemporary folk songs with a slight country feel at times, there’s an effortless grace in this music, with sterling performances all round, and I have to confess I am a sucker for well played pedal steel and dobro. And also flute and tin whistle, expertly played by Allison herself. And what’s not to like about fiddle played with skill and sensitivity in such settings? So you won’t hear any complaints from this quarter! Strong, sensitive compositions throughout show a clear respect for tradition. There are lots of positives to draw from this wholesome album. Homely.
Rachel Harrington – Hush The Wild Horses
Rachel’s 5th full-length studio album follows a self-imposed sabbatical to address issues from family loss, failing health and exhaustion. The album features hand-picked guest musicians: pedal steel legend Lloyd Maines (father of Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines) lends his twang and mood. Fiddle is provided by Grand Ole Opry staff fiddler Eamon McLoughlin (Emmylou Harris), while Laura Veirs and Shelley Short provide harmony vocals. Produced by Portland veteran musician Casey Neill, the album was recorded at Scenic Burrows studio.
By allowing music to take a backseat to health, and family life back home, Harrington regained health, energy and her muse. Album themes are farmed from the last seven years at home in Oregon, with poignant family stories, from horses to Graceland, from Vietnam to the sweet hereafter, from wagon ruts to the interstate, everything dusted with the American West and personal reflection. It’s an interesting listen, moving between rough and ready to delicate and sensitive, from good old bluesy rock ‘n’ roll (Drop Zone), bluegrass (Child of God), folk/songwriter (the Barn) to good ‘ole country self-pity (Drinking About You). Honest.
Mean Mary – Cold
This is the newest self penned and self produced release from musician/writer, Mary James. Mary provides the bulk of vocals and instrumentation to the songs, but brother, Frank James, adds his unusual guitar style and harmonies to four tracks, and Mother – award-winning writer, Jean James – is the co-writer on seven. Mary is a high-energy performer that thrives on variety, a songwriter that chooses unusual subject matters, anything from ghost pirates to demon guitars and is known for her lightning-fast fingers on banjo, haunting vocals, and intricate story songs.
The intimate, moody and almost gothic lyrics and heart-tugging melodies take the listener through the colder seasons of the year and of the heart. Slow-picked banjo and emotive accordion create an almost parisian evening mood on opener ‘I Fell into the Night’. The tone is set for an album of light yet dark songs from a chantreuse, where mood and story matter more than the initially sparse but effective instrumentationwhich builds through the closing jauntier yet perceptively mournful numbers. The vocals are with a level of emotion rarely found (Tori Amos, The Anchoress, Kate Bush) – spellbinding. And what a performance she gives across the octaves in ‘Sad November Breeze’. For those who recall the fragile sadness of Joan Armatrading or Suzanne Vega, there is something here for you. Haunting.