Published on September 12th, 2016 | by Mike Ainscoe0
Mike Ainscoe’s September 2016 Round Up
Festival season over and the new releases are coming thick and fast, so time to have a look in the postbox at some of the albums we’ve been playing on The Bandwagon and some which might not have made it that far.
BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY – ‘SHINE A LIGHT’: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad
Another album whose title rings a bell. Apart from the ‘cor blimey guvnor’ Del Boy Trotter-ness of the cockney saying, Martin Scorsese took the same well known phrase for his Rolling Stones film a few years back. With his right on, red wedge, cockney bravado days seemingly a lifetime away Billy Bragg seems to be one of the old guard, a hip part of the establishment, in the current climate, acknowledging his real roots. His version of ‘Shine A Light’ sees him buddying up with Joe Henry, taking a road trip and recording a set of railway themed classic work songs made famous by Hank Williams, Lead Belly, Glen Campbell and beyond.
‘Field recordings’ they call them, and was anything never more in the field that setting up recording equipment in waiting rooms and by the trackside during breaks in an almost 3000 mile journey across the States, a four day trek from Chicago to Los Angeles. While it seems strange at times to hear the Bragg voice in a different context, the album is perhaps the most significant and satisfying set he’s done – certainly not what he could or would have done back in the eighties. Working as producer on Bragg’s 2013, ‘Tooth & Nail’, Joe Henry is the perfect companion in paying tribute to railroad songs which remain at the bedrock of American popular music Yet it’s the skiffle of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ which opens the album sounding the knell as the musical spark to a series of work songs with a tinge of world weariness, done in the most rudimentary way earning a full badge of authenticity.
The pair probably had a huge blast making the trip and recording the songs – something which would have been perfect for a TV documentary. Look on it as a sort of mission, a rite of passage, a road trip they probably were destined to make and admire a set of songs which have been a while in seeing the light of day.
ALLAN YN Y FAN – ‘NEW iD’
Steam Pie Records
‘Newid’ being the Welsh for ‘change’ – signifying maybe a change in direction for Welsh music as it make inroads into the mainstream, particularly in the folk area. Sera Owen and 9bach have been on the radar recently, while Alln Yn Y Fan’s sixth album continues to promote a strong identity with the Welsh language, culture and history playing a formidable part of the record.
It’s a rustic folk sound if there ever were one, with the blend of the Welsh language giving the songs an ethereal feel. Rustic too as in providing a soundtrack straight from the greenwood – the ‘coeds’ – where you can picture lively frolics and romps, particularly early doors with ‘Sbaen Wenddydd’
Merges into a medieval feel and combined with the acapella harmony work they combine interpretations of traditional tunes as well as the first recording of a mid 19th century protest ballad – beware 19th century iron masters! The use of the Welsh language might alienate some listeners in terms of accessibility but kudos to anyone who remains true to their own culture and especially to a band who remain dedicated to sticking a Welsh flag firmly on the folk map.
THE JIGANTICS – ‘SECONDS OUT’
We’ve featured The Jigantics on The Bandwagon way back in the past with songs from their 2013 album ‘Daisy Roots’. Despite the fact that their new album lifts/uses the same title as the classic Genesis live album from 1977 – there can be only one ‘Seconds Out’ – we won’t hold it against them. So be prepared to count down the boxing puns as we see what happens when you get in the ring for another round with The Jigantics. Once again, adding a few interesting cover versions to material from the band’s own Martin Fitzgibbon, there’s a familiarity to the opening ‘Take Me For Longing’ whose Casey Jones’ railroad shuffle sounds like it’s cut from the same cloth as Seth Lakeman’s ‘The Last Rider’.
Added variety and interest comes in the form of the excellent covers, most notably, Ryan Adams’ ‘Invisible Riverside’ and an interesting diversion with ‘Rebel Yell’ – yes ‘that’ one, as well as a slow paced, ‘Crow On The Cradle’ which fans of Show Of Hands will recognise. The Steel Drivers’ ‘Blue Side Of The Mountain’ starts off with a rock rhythm before picking up a bluesy bluegrass country groove whilst Karen Matheson’s, ‘I Will Not Wear The Willow’ is a dreamy string laden production featuring a guest appearance from Christine Collister.
Not to undermine any of the original material on the album, for which Martin Fitzgibbon takes much credit. ‘Frankly’ is probably the one that gets the thumbs up, lyrically biting with social comment and combined with the sporadic yet quality vocals of Marion Cole, it addresses the balance back towards the band’s original work.
BEN BEDFORD – ‘THE PILOT AND THE FLYING MACHINE’
A title which has given me an idea for a new children’s’ book…anyway… also the title of Ben Bedford’s fourth album with its Heath Robinson styled cover design. Helping the Bandwagon go country yet moving into pastures new with different themes, sounds and arrangements.
Recorded in the confines of Douglas Avenue United Methodist Church, in Springfield Il, it’s a relaxed singer – songwriter collection themed around the flight and journey motif which run through the songs. Songs of travels and traverses, rolling cross the vast United States and of his own great great great grandparents’ crossing from England to settle in the US. It blends the country style with a folky Americana ambience as the subtle instrumentation of acoustic guitar blends with the occasional strings and a tad of bass adding some depth. This is songwriting rooted in the tomes of classic American literature while namechecking in song the American song standard bearers – Woody Guthrie, Dylan, Patty Griffin and Townes Van Zandt. He conjures up a landscape of dustbowls and voyages into the unknown with a resigned world weariness yet carrying a bold message, one impinged on the frame of the album cover’s flying machine – “this is not my last flight.”
BLACKLIST UNION – ‘BACK TO MOMO’
Street rock from the streets of San Francisco courtesy of Tony West and Todd Youth – described as “two of rock and roll’s most controversial outlaws” which is quite some label, which Messrs Tyler & Perry might dispute and considering some of the mavericks who passed in and checked out of rock and roll’s halls of notoriety.
An album – their fourth – is full of dirty electric rock and roll and packed with name dropping, addiction, romance friendship, birth , death and sexual innuendo, plus a healthy dose of big fat tongue in cheek. It fits the bill perfectly as far as rock and roll outlaw-ism goes. ‘Alive-N-Well And Smack In The Middle Of Hell’ struts confidently as the opening track and sets the bar with a sneering vocal line which might be classed more along punk ‘n’ roll lines. Raw and sleazy becomes the template with the big riffs of ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘Rock And Roll Outlaw’, all attitude and brassy in yer face delivery. Think of the big American rock bands – G’n’R, Motley Crue, Poison and you’re in the same ballpark. With the confidence oozing, you get the feeling when they do the line “mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” the mirror probably doesn’t have much choice in its reply.
APPLE OF MY EYE – ‘THE BEAST BELOW’
Pear O’ Records
Formed over a love of songwriting, harmony, storytelling and cider (the band name is a giveaway), the Bristol based seven piece have crafted a set of songs in the alt-folk tradition; i.e., not traditional songs are harmed in the recording of this album. Songs which follow the recurring theme of following small characters facing insurmountable odds, occasionally coming out on top or at least not going down without a fight. The light and light hearted, the sad and the riotously vibrant are all covered.
Recorded in two days flat at London’s Snap! Studios, ‘The Beast Below’ has a strong live feel. Not surprising as the band stood in an intimate close circle to record around two microphones.
‘Polar Bear’ appears more left field and bizarre while the thoughts of a convict on the ominous journey to Australia in…’Australia’, provide a more thoughtful response albeit accompanied by a jolly tune. ‘Tap On The Door’ is a lovely little pseudo classical guitar diversion and it’s that classical feel that occasionally surfaces with the use of strings in a chamber-ish way – check out ‘Dug In The Clay’, whereas a more traditional folky fiddle leads the folk-y charge in ‘Brother James’. The low key comes in the form of the handsomely arranged trio of ‘Hackney Brook’, ‘Honest Man’ (which has a touch of the Elbows and the doleful Garveys about it) and ‘The Escape Artist’. A combo which sees out the album in a more shadowy and darker tone.
CERA IMPALA – ‘TUMBLEWEED’
An interesting mix of roughly edgy folk and swing combined with a rich and soulful vocal delivering themes of sex, magic, friendship and healing. Add the playful claim that the album is “100% guitar free” yet tempered with the fact that as an alternative, Cera shifts between ukulele and banjo… Fortunately, the combination as a core trio (The New Prohibition) with Dirk Ronneburg on fiddle and Joey Sanderson’s double bass gives a rootsy and stark feel to proceedings. There are plenty of guest appearances too to add to what people call the sonic palette. There’s even some turntable scratching on the electrocoustic ‘Home’ – not something you see every day. In fact it’s typical of a variety which comes as an unexpected surprise.
That comes in the form of the Gallic swing of ‘Fingernail Moon’ , moving to intense murder ballads and the lounge jazz of ‘Roll A Joint’, all the while avoiding the usual banjo clichés, apart from maybe a lapse in ‘Blackbird’ where you can forgive some of the cottonpickingly devilish fingering. There’s a low fi bluesier tinge, possibly what fits the term ‘Hillbilly noir’, which creeps into several tracks while the title track is pure country.
Like the run down whitewashed cottage with its rusty corrugated iron roof pictured on the sleeve, ‘Tumbleweed’ is about getting down to bare bones. Simple, stripped back and doing a grand job in promoting the philosophy of less is more.
THE RUMJACKS – ‘SLEEPIN’ ROUGH’
A rebellious punk aesthetic blended with the band’s Scottish and Irish heritage is a heady mix for the Sydney quintet. The Scots / Aussie combo didn’t do any harm for the likes of AC/DC, although ‘Sleepin’ Rough’ is much more fiery folk punk rather than rock and roll boogie. Inevitably, with the folk punk label, will come the comparisons with The Pogues, The Levellers, Ferocious Dog etc, so having done the predictable, we should mention that the folksiness comes more from the whistles and mandolin rather than any fiddles and of course the thrash of acoustic guitars and relentless drum beat from the opening flurry of songs. The songs occasionally vary into the furious and frantic, less than a minute blast through ‘Dead To Me’ to the off kilter ska of ‘Kathleen’.
Not so much aggressive and antagonistic, lyrically, the songs are more based around a sense of affability and fun with the occasional and excusable profanity thrown in for good measure. Lively characters abound in the songs and their titles – ’Fact’ry Jack’, ‘Eight Beers McGee’ and ‘Les Darcy’ and you can’t help but get the first impression that The Rumjacks are going to be a riotously convivial band you want to encounter live – small room or festival. When ‘Fistful O’ Roses’ kicks in it’s impossible not to swing your pants while trying not to spill your Guinness.