Roots in February

The Magpie Arc – EP2

EP2 is the second release of three from cross-Border Folk/Americana band, The Magpie  Arc, featuring Nancy Kerr and Martin  Simpson, Adam Holmes, musician and producer Tom A Wright (previously with The Albion Band)  and bass player Alex Hunter. Recorded at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield and produced by Tom A Wright this follows previously reviewed and popular debut, EP1, and takes their twist on 60/70 UK and US folk/rock, adds a touch mroe State-side spice. 

Beautiful melodies are enhanced with multi-voice harmony singing, subtly clever electric guitars, gorgeous fiddle lines and solid bass and drums are enhanced by New Orleans chugging in The Band-influenced Roll Your Stone Away, a nod to 70’s rock with Darling Charms, laid back Americana in I Should Have Walked, and almost psychedelic, syncopated groove in Cinnabar. Nancy Kerr’s voice remains impressive as ever. Solid.

K B Bayley – Little Thunderstorms

What we have here is an English songwriter and guitar player who writes and performs his songs on dobro, lap steel, acoustic and cigar box guitars as well as an old upright piano, with a compelling collection of engaging storytelling narratives and expert playing, instilled with a sprinkling of melancholy which could have come straight out of Austin or Nashville. His influences straddle two time zones, years apart, the ‘Laurel Canyon’ period of James Taylor, John Prine and Jackson C Frank (with whom KB shares a soft and introspective vocal style) and the more recent explosion in contemporary roots songwriters such as Jason Isbell, John Moreland, Jeffrey Foucault, Kelly Joe Phelps and Ben Glover (guest vocals on the album).

As he summarises, “I wrote these songs over the last two years – and they’re just about the stuff that happens to us. Big, small, tragic, uplifting, seismic, significant, everyday – ‘the sky is full of little thunderstorms.’ Then 2020 happened and the songs ended up being recorded in a locked down back room at home, surrounded by coffee cups and second-hand gear bought on eBay. But somehow the record ended up sounding just like I had always imagined it.” So you have a sound that is both ‘ancient’ and modern – dusty acoustic instruments with lyrics that speak of changing times, shifting sands and silent streets outside the window. You get atmosphere, confession, redemption and lyrical imagery. Engaging.

Rick Shea – Love & Desperation

The Southern California Americana artist’s 12th album is the product of unique recordings sessions after the challenges facing musicians in 2020. A rich topic for songwriters! Singer-songwriter-guitarist Shea has a formidable résumé going back decades. His instrumental and vocal talents were in the late Chris Gaffney’s Cold Hard Facts and Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men, and he’s worked with singer-songwriter Katy Moffatt and rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson. This album began in 2019 at his home studio Casa de Calora in Covina, employing top-flight talent such as drummer Shawn Nourse (Dwight Yoakam, I See Hawks in L.A.) bassist Jeff Turmes (Mavis Staples) and longtime collaborator Dave Hall. Then remote work commenced because of you-know-what. Nourse cut new drum parts at his own home studio Nourse by Northwest; accordionist/organist Phil Parlapiano of Dead Rock West tracked at his Electricdog Studio; Skip Edwards, (Dwight Yoakam’s longtime keyboardist) worked at his Studio 401; and accordionist David Jackson laid down his parts at StudioDave.

The results? Rockabilly and then through every imaginable roots style, ranging from country and folk to norteño and Cajun two-steps. But mainly blues. Some of the songs have a definite autobiographical bent: “‘Love & Desperation’ is a bit of family history, dramatized for folk song effect – my folks were not great at being parents, but I was kind of a wild kid, so I never held it against them. ‘Juanita’ takes its title from the name of my wife Susie’s mom; the song is how I imagined it might have been between her and her husband Johnny, Susie’s dad, when they were just dating.” and “Every album feels like sort of milestone or a marker for where you are at that time, musically and in life in general. I feel very fortunate to have been able to play music for most of my life, I am beginning to think of things I’d like to be remembered for, and this album would be one of them.” Allsorts!

Kat Danser – One Eye Open

One Eye Open continues Danser’s on-going collaboration with veteran guitarist and producer Steve Dawson, and features a core band of Dawson (guitars), Gary Craig (drums) and Jeremy Holmes (bass) assembled remotely. Yet, the results are as organic, intuitive and in the moment as anything these veterans have ever recorded. Extensive travel, study and immersion in Cuban culture leave their mark on the songs on One Eye Open. The full horn section on six of the album’s ten tracks reflects her passion for Afro Cuban jazz and its link to traditional New Orleans music. The section, Dominic Conway, Jeremy Cook and Malcolm Aiken was produced in real time from Nashville, the players 15 feet apart from each other in Vancouver as Kat watched the whole session on Zoom from home in Edmonton.

There’s a trail that runs from the dead heat of the Mississippi Delta, through the winding alleyways of Havana, to the smoky confines of a cigar club in Edmonton. Kat Danser has spent most of her life trawling the backstreets of the blues and this album reflects the fruits of her explorations. From an old string band melody passed down from the twenties, to a lyric written the night before the pandemic shut the world down, the past rides shotgun with the present on everything Kat sings and plays.  The enduring emotional power and relevance of the blues pervades. Road house swagger; deep, slow blues; reflective, soulful tunes; swinging & rollicking; soulful or even punkish – each track a window into blues geo-history. When asked about the ongoing appeal of blues music, Kat Danser offers, “the blues gives us a place to bring all of our hope and sorrow.” Agreed. Uncompromising.

Gerry Spehar – Lady Liberty

A bunch of artists support this EP: Joe Berardi (drums and percussion), Paul Lacques (electric guitars), Rick Moors, Marc Doten (bass) alongside Gerry (acoustic) with other collaborations: co-producer Paul Lacques on lap steel, and at engineer Mitch Zelezny’s studio, Javi Ramos and Gerry on acoustic guitars, Erinn Bone on trumpet and Christine Spehar on vocals. Finally Gabe Witcher on fiddle.

The EP completes the mission of his 2018 protest album Anger Management. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie, the album took direct aim at Donald Trump and his apologists, focusing poignantly and sharply on issues of war, immigration and economic and social injustice that plague the country. Lady Liberty celebrates the triumph of American democracy over its greatest challenge in our lifetime, and of hope over hate. It is a rich coming together of influences – from John Prine inspired folk to anthemic rock. The title song, ‘Lady Liberty, Day One’, is an anthem dedicated to two American icons: the Statue of Liberty and John Lewis, a giant of Civil Rights. ‘Laura Dean’ is based on the real-life trauma of the healthcare workers and their daily pandemic risk. Musically, it is in the acoustic folk tradition of John Prine, who died of COVID 19. The three song ‘Immigrant Suite’ is based on the real-life stories of three Central American kids seeking the promise of America, but experiencing family loss and re-connection. Eclectic.

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