Sam Lewis – Solo
Sam Lewis has collaborated with the likes of Leon Russell and been dubbed “a modern Townes Van Zandt”. Following a nomadic youth throughout the south-east USA, he began calling Nashville home in 2009. To date he has released a self-titled debut (2012), Waiting On You (2015), and Loversity (2018), in the process rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson, Neil Young), Darrell Scott (Robert Plant, Guy Clark), Will Kimbrough (Jimmy Buffett, Rodney Crowell), Gabe Dixon (Paul McCartney) and the McCrary Sisters (The Fairfield Four) and more recently JT Cure and Derek Mixon (Chris Stapleton) and the transfixing guitars of Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams) and Dan Cohen (Bruce Hornsby). His music has been described as,“… seventies psychedelic soul, with a storyteller’s eye, a swampy Southern groove and an emotional, political punch.”
With a decade of touring behind him, performing mostly solo Lewis is a seasoned storyteller (some have even compared his voice to molasses),and this latest release is a solo-acoustic album featuring a mixture of new material alongside reimagined songs from across his back catalogue. Lewis also echoes a common theme “we are all trying to get somewhere – all running from something or toward something; we’re all in it together, though.”Often labelled with some form of the word ‘soulful’ and with a genre-spanning style, he’s hit a rich seam of feel-good music meeting social commentary. Recorded at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville in front of a live audience in September 2019, SOLO is an intimate snapshot of Lewis in his element. Up close.
Neil Bob Herd & the Dirty Little Acoustic Band – Every Soul a Story
This is the debut solo album from the former guitarist / vocalist / songwriter of “alt Bluegrass” band, The Coal Porters, adding a little more twang and electricity to the ‘Porters acoustic palette, but with the same songwriting acumen, wry humour and sideways observation of the human condition, its cast of real and invented characters pondering faith, reincarnation, betrayal, hope and plain old “getting friendly”. Every Soul a Story was recorded “Basement Tapes” style in the band’s East Kent “gang hut” with producer Dan Swift (Snow Patrol, British Sea Power). Neil’s first solo effort involves him plugging in and turning up with fellow ex-Porter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Fitzgerald and seasoned Kentish / Caledonian rhythm section Glenn Lamberton (bass) and Gary Smith Lyons (drums). Guest players include Lucy Edwards (accordion, ex-Well Oiled Sisters) and Gemma White (fiddle, another ex-Porter).
His performances are in muscular and earthy roots/Americana style delivered with a distinct brogue, from the rural idyll gone south of ‘Bad Land’, to the elegiac WW1 lilt of ‘Colour of History’, via the brotherly affection of ‘Leave Only Love (Old Dog)’ and ‘Coming Back as Jason’ to the laconic romance of ‘Exactly What I Wanted’, the idealistic longing of ‘Light a Single Candle’, the time travelling satire of ‘Well, Well’ and the headstrong rocking love-rush of “As Much As I Need To’ and ‘Best Song’.“ Rocking, rolling, rockabilly, rough and ready. Shakin’ Stevens cousin?! Retro.
Stephen Fearing – The Unconquerable Past
Multi-JUNO Award winner and co-founder of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, Stephen Fearing is known as one of Canada’s great musical storytellers and acclaimed guitarists. Born in Vancouver, he was raised primarily in Dublin and returned to Canada in his late teens. After living in Guelph, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Fearing now calls Victoria in British Columbia home. The Unconquerable Past can be seen as embracing and transcending the labels and genres simultaneously: “I’m always intrigued by unknown territory, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone,” he says. “For this record I had a concept of leaning in a specific direction, but in a simple way – using a palette of potential sounds, instruments drawn primarily from Country-Americana and Roots music, and with frequent, deliberate glances over my shoulder to the golden era of analog recording.“
With a fresh perspective and a new batch of songs and stories drawing deeply from over thirty years of writing and playing, it’s a striking example of a restless creative spirit in the widescreen world of layered instruments and arrangements. Fearing wrote most of the songs in a condensed, creative burst and the album is a reflection on both where Fearing is in life and where society and the planet are right now: “Even within the recording industry we are in such a period of transition…the past has so many good things to offer us that we are in very real danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. Topics of religion, transgender love, dark conspiracies, emigration, empathy, understanding, and tolerance. ‘Stay with Me’ shakes things up with a post-punk, post-Trump re-imagining of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. Deep.
Kit Hawes & Aaron Catlow – Pill Pilots
The seeming simplicity of fiddle, guitar and voice can provide a rich, historic depth. So it is here with this, the duo’s second album after 2016’s The Fox. Musicians, writers and arrangers, they’ve experience of the likes of Seth Lakeman, Afro Celt Sound System and Roni Size, with acclaim from Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe.
Recorded live in a single room, its evocative of the past and yet fiercely current. Nine tracks, six traditional with their considered arrangements and three self-penned of an equal quality, I remain constantly impressed that guitar and fiddle, together with vocals, can arouse such unbounded joy, reflective maudlin, and every emotion in-between. Nine tracks which entertain, impress, provoke and inspire. Modern. Trad.
Ian Carr & The Various Artists – I Like Your Taste In Music
Widely considered to be one of the best and most original guitarists of his generation, Ian Carr has worked with the likes of Kathryn Tickell, Kate Rusby and Eddi Reader, Following on from his critically acclaimed 2015 album Who He?, I Like Your Taste In Music is an eclectic mix of musical styles that features Maria Jonsson, Steph Geremia and Gustaf Ljunggren among others.
Songs based on quirky life experiences and life in Falun, Sweden, where he lives, generate an extreme diversity with art rock, rockabilly, polska, trad folk, waltz styles and celtic influences among others. It’s an interesting album, almost artistic in the broadest sense, such are the orchestral soundscapes painted with thought and care. And yet is is earthy and homespun, devoid of that polish which removes all emotional connection. You’ll need to listen to this one to realise you like Ian Carr’s taste in music. Eclectic.
Nels Andrews – Pigeon and the Crow
Now living in Santa Cruz, California, Nels Andrews’ album was produced by traditional Irish flautist Nuala Kennedy. The bones of the album, Andrews’ fourth studio endeavour, were assembled during a three-day live tracking session at Whispering Pines Studio in Los Angeles. Andrews, along with Kennedy, Sebastian Steinberg (Fiona Apple) on bass, and Quinn on drums/percussion (T-Bone Burnett), were joined by a mix of traditional players from Kennedy’s past along with some of Andrews’ newest old friends like Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers, as well as guest appearances by fellow songsmiths Anaïs Mitchell, AJ Roach and Anthony Da Costa.
The result is ten ethereal yet substantial tracks of life stories from a place beyond innocence but perhaps still before wisdom: an actress in her sunset years, a husband folding now-soft wedding sheets, a shipwrecked Scottish fisherman fighting to survive in the frosty north Atlantic, a father meditating on love and selfishness, and ghosts of former relationships. There’s wistful resolve, a steady backbone, and a love affair with home’s landscape as he gracefully weaves morning fog, redwoods, and his beloved oceanside into his songs. It’s a songwriter’s record in the spirit of Van Morrison with a breath of texture, rhythm, and longing, brimming with literary wordplay, mixed with sway, shimmer, and adventure. Thoughtful.