Steve Dawson- At The Bottom Of A Canyon In The Branches Of A Tree
Originally from San Diego, California the now Chicago Folk / Americana singer / songwriter, Steve Dawson, spent his teen years in Hailey, Idaho, where he learned guitar and started writing songs. After a few years at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Dawson moved to Chicago and formed the band, Stump The Host, with future wife, artist and singer, Diane Christiansen. Dawson teaches songwriting at the legendary Old Town School of Folk Music and co-wrote a book on songwriting and the creative process with Mark Caro called, Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You.
Imagine listening to songs more like Squeeze’s ‘Black Coffee in Bed’ or Elvis Costello’s ‘Good Year for the Roses’ or those Eagles songs sung by Timothy B Schmidt. He’s been called “one of the most underrated songwriters in American music”, I’ll nick some more of that write up and call it, “graceful, poetic songs akin to a volume of great short stories in their precise, exacting wordplay and soulful heartache.” Good stuff! Wholesome, solid, dependable, reliable, quality. Comforting.
Have – Haar
Hav is the Danish word for sea. Hav is singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Alex Ross, multi- instrumentalist/producer/ambient sound guru Jonathan Bidgood, and bass player Ian ‘Dodge’ Paterson. The trio met more than 20 years ago and have been taking time out from other projects to meet up, drink whisky and play music together ever since.
Haar is the meteorological phenomenon of sea fret; a dank, coastal fog; cold air from the North Sea meeting warmer air at the edge of land. Haar is an album about what is shrouded when the fog rolls in, and what is revealed when it rolls out. Haar features contributions from two incredible women; MG ALBA Scots Singer of the Year Iona Fyfe and BBC Glastonbury Emerging winner and critically acclaimed singer Bridie Jackson (formerly of Bridie Jackson and the Arbour).
This follows debut album ‘Inver’ with a collection of pieces, created over the course of the last three years, which chart their journeys into fatherhood, marriage and emigration, the responsibilities and challenges of family life, with its joys (and losses) and the renewed exploration of ideas of place, purpose, and what your “roots” really mean . Early recording sessions in Tuscany and on Jon’s off-grid olive farm in rural Catalonia shape the sound; natural world as much a part as melodies and lyrics. Dense textures and rich sonic landscapes draw the listener into a fragile and damaged world where all things are made new. A rich brew of field recording, sound manipulation, tape looping, traditional Scottish/Scandinavian folk and neo-classical composition, Haar is a single work in 6 parts. An inspired folk offering, mixing traditional folk forms with electronic ambient textures to produce a rich swirl of music, it is profoundly moving and expressive, atmosphere generating music. Intense.
Peter James Millson – the Accidental
The new studio album by this Bridport based songwriter-photographer follows his recent “Selected Works” primer compilation. If you remember, he’s a guitarist come photographer with exhibits in the National Portrait Gallery. About the album, he says: ” I’d had enough of writing and performing. I loved nothing better than finding rogue resonant frequencies in bad acoustic guitar recordings. So that’s what I did. I produced three records for artist friends, mixed various tracks for people, and an old school friend got in touch because he needed some loud guitar on his new record, so I did that, too. I was very comfortable with how things seemed to bounce from one thing to another. Only, in November, I looked around and found that I’d inexplicably and surreptitiously written and recorded seven new songs. I was even more surprised to find another four ideas waiting in notebooks. So I shoved it all down on ‘tape’, and stood looking at it……”
That’s why it’s ‘accidental’ then! It wasn’t too long ago I wrote about this talented chap. I said he deserves mention alongside Boo Hewerdine, Paddy McAloon and Lloyd Cole. And others of that pop-writing ilk. If I did have one comment, it might be that he is a better songwriter/arranger than singer – but there again, so was Dylan and many others! That subtle sophistication, ego-free focus on the gentle tune, the clean-cut melody, the clever arrangement and the song. This time round, full band arrangements add greater depth to the songs, and along with the welcome occasional low-key contribution, add delightful variety. I didn’t know you could get so many good tunes out of the 12 notes of the scale. Pop-tastic!
Yonder Boys – Acid Folk
Yonder Boys is a Berlin-based Americana band: David Stewart Ingleton (vocals, banjo) is Australian, Jason Serious (vocals, guitar) is American and Tomás Peralta (vocals, mandolin, lap steel, banjo, bass) is from Chile. Formed 2018, they have performed as support for many, including Billy Bragg. This debut was recorded in Berlin in 2019 and 2020 on analogue 8 Track then sent off to be mixed by renowned producer Tucker Martine (REM, Death Cab for Cutie).
The album title was inspired by the psychedelic feel the band’s ideas and experiments contributed to the overall sound, and you do get diversity: Americana, bluegrass-influenced banjo, 60’s Beach Boys influences and Sicilian chants matched by lyrics ranging from abstract and cynical to descriptive and melancholic. Performed on traditional folk instruments, they they defy genre, drawing on traditional old-time and Americana, interspersed with rock, Latin, pop and psychedelic influences. Sonically fresh, they create something new out of something familiar, CSN harmonies, catchy tunes evoking Californian pop nestled in pastoral folk and west coast psychedelia. Fresh.
The Little Unsaid – Lick the Future’s Lips
Take a look at the band and you get a sense of their bold differences: Mariya Brachkova – backing vocals, synths, Moog bass, organ, glockenspiel; Alison D’Souza – viola; John Elliott – vocals, piano, guitars, bass, ukulele, synths, programming; Tim Heymerdinger – drums & percussion. Recorded with the band over a week at a studio in London Fields, there’s a euphoria of being together making music for the first time after months of isolation. A feeling of gratitude and experimentation and playfulness.
The album’s songs revolve around a sense of impermanence. The idea that all things are in a constant state of flux, and how vivid and alive everything seems when we embrace impermanence and let go of our instincts to control. The songs were written during a time of global crisis, but songwriter John Elliott pushed against his own typical introvert response. Music made by people coming together, lost in the task of trying to capture something positive and celebratory about the current times. This band is inventive, intense, creatively diverse (technological meets organic, sadness meets joy, harmony collides with discord) and culturally astute. Deep.
Matthew Robb – War without Witness
This is the third album from an enigmatic storyteller who sees the emotional and social concerns of our times and uses the blues, country and folk genres to create gritty narratives. Robb lives in Germany, and the album sees him accompanied by Ekki Maas on bass, Wolfgang Proppe on keys, Marcus Rieck on drums and Tobias Hoffmann on guitar.
The music is down to earth, real, honest; the words are similarly honest and truthful; the songs are therefore articulate, immediate and an open heartfelt personal reflection. Well recorded and produced, good arrangements that are catchy without being flashy which lend a focus to the words. I’m not sure if I am supposed to, but if someone summarises it better than you, why waste words?: ““Musically he occupies the borderland between the talking blues of Townes Van Zandt and the folk excursions of early Dylan. ” (Uncut Magazine). Solid.