Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Festive Fifteen 2011 - Down from Good Luck Mountain...

Another year over, and here's what I've done... the fourth Gilded Palace Festive Fifteen is with us! You can hear songs from each of the albums on this list on the current edition of the Gilded Palace radio show at www.totallyradio.com - the show will be free to listen (stream any time!) until December 23rd January 7th (a festive roll-over!). Happy New Year!

1 Good Luck Mountain – Good Luck Mountain (00:02:59)

Songs recorded for Drew Glackin, multi-instrumentalist with(amongst others) Tandy, who were helmed by Mike Ferrio. Drew passed away in 2008. With Drew gone, Mike was unsure what shape or name his future music would take, so integral was his friend and bandmate to the 'feel' of Tandy. It made perfect sense, then, when song ideas started to come which suggested a memorial to Drew was on the cards. And what a memorial! As high and grand and beautiful as (Mike tells us) is the crest in the Adirondacks of upstate New York that lends its name both to the band and the record.

The lyrics don’t really tell a story - not one we listeners can understand anyway. I have a strong feeling that Mike could piece one together for us though. However fleeting, the words do leave an imprint, so that after numerous listening you find yourself reciting lines about tweaking the tail of the Devil or children jumping through waterfalls. Out of context, you might wonder what it’s all about, but in the midst of the 40-odd minutes that this album bares itself, you 'feel’ it all makes perfect sense. In a lyrical and a musical sense, this album is an oasis of calm, affording time to reflect. At first you might set out to reflect on its own content and meaning, eventually - when this has eluded you – you realise just how much of your own experience is invested in listening. It has become ‘yours’ too. I think that’s something Mike (and Drew) would like.

Link track: Good Luck Mountain - The Perfect Circle from Ark PR's Soundcloud page:

Buy from: 00:02:59 Records site (US) on vinyl (limited white vinyl!) and CD Band Website: http://www.goodluckmountain.com/

2 Richmond Fontaine – The High Country (Décor/Diverse Records)

The High Country marks the point where Richmond Fontaine’s musical and literary (Willy’s books) efforts become one. It has been described to me as “Willy’s fourth book”, which in many ways it is. In fact it needs to be approached as such, at least in the first place: sure, there are enough echoes of Fontaine’s already eclectic musical palette (the thump of Safety’s Song For Dead Moon a template for On A Spree, the keening lament of Thirteen Cities’ Lost In This World mirrored in I Can See A Room), so fans can get a foothold, but this album could not be further from last effort We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River. Where that album was accessible and cohesive, this one is challenging and fractured – both of those are meant as compliments. I like challenging music; music that requires some effort on the part of the listener. No-one will understand this album on first listen; few will get it after the third or fourth. So many of Willy’s songs have been sung in the first person (him recounting what was happening to him – whether real or imaginary); here we get songs from all the characters in the story, whereby the work takes on a cinematic rather than simply literary quality (isn’t it easier to shift the focus between characters in films than it is in books?) So, what’s the story? I’m not telling: you wouldn’t believe me.

The tour undertaken to support the album added material that doesn’t appear on the record – including two of the story’s best songs. Timber Tom and C.H.A.I.N.S.A.W might arguably have stolen the (recorded) show; on stage, they proved that this is after all just a story and that the band don’t take it (or themselves) too seriously. The rest of the world are likely going to have to start doing that very soon...

Link Track: Richmond Fontaine - Lost in the Trees from Trash Aesthetics Soundcloud page

Buy from: Décor Records (UK) on CD - and Diverse Records (UK) on vinyl (superb pressing - and their shipping packaging is the best I've ever seen!) Band Website: http://richmondfontaine.com/

3 Danny And The Champions Of The World – Hearts & Arrows (So/Loose/Diverse Records)

Admittedly, Danny Wilson would probably have to make a drum and bass album for me to give it anything less than top marks. He hasn’t gone quite that far with Hearts And Arrows. I guess it was hinted at on last album Streets of Our Time, where Follow The River got more than a bit anthemnic, and maybe Danny’s tendency to improvise/divert into a Springsteen song or two at gigs should have given us a clue, but he has still made a record quite unlike anything he’s put his name to before. Opener Ghosts In the Wire throws down the gauntlet (If you’re gonna cut me down, you’d better make it count!) and there’s no let up until Danny reminds us he’s not Too Tough To Cry. If this all sounds a bit clichéd, it is: it’s meant to be!

This is a record born out of a love for Graham Parker, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Lowe: rock and roll with an R’n’B pulse (and I mean what Doctor Feelgood called R’n’B, not the hip-hop stuff kids are gorging on nowadays). Tight melody, punchy rhythm section, terrace-chant backing vocals, soaring saxophone solos: it is the E-Street Band by way of Canvey (rather than Coney) Island.

As ever, Danny is at his best when he sings from his heart. Brothers In The Night does that so well here with its passage about pretending to be the Beastie Boys and getting into mosh pits, but the standout track for this and so many other reasons is Every Beat Of My Heart. It’s an anthem for UK alt-country, referencing The Arlenes, Rockingbirds and Bucketful of Brains magazine against a backdrop of a heady, emotional night at London’s Borderline. Maybe I like it so much because I happened to be at the gig in question, maybe it’s just a brilliant song,

It will be interesting to see where Danny takes this next: the band and the songs are so strong it would be a shame not to make another album in this mould, but he’s a restless soul, every Champs album so far has been a little different. Maybe another of these wouldn’t hurt, to let people catch up – I get the feeling a lot more people have heard about him/them in the past six months or so. Next, 2012? Who do we call about the Springsteen support slots…?

Link Track: Danny & The Champions Of The World - Ghosts In The Wire from SoRecords' Soundcloud page:

Band Website: http://www.dannyandthechamps.com/

4 Elle Osborne – So Slowly Slowly Got She Up (Folk Police)

Timing is everything, so they say: so, it was appropriate to discover this record at a time when I was finding myself drawn more and more into English/British (as opposed to American) folk. I had been aware of Elle for a few years, quite liked her last record (we even promoted a show with her, alongside her friend James Yorkston). Hadn't seen her for a while, though, and wondered from time to time where she had got to. I was horrified to discover that she had been involved in a terrible accident in which she and her bicycle got the worse of a speeding car, and spent months recovering from both the physical and mental damage. That she came through that trauma to produce such a terrific record is testament to her strength of purpose and belief in traditional songcraft. Having learnt these songs the old way (first-hand) from the likes of Barry Dransfield and Shirley Collins, Elle gathered around her a cast of stellar (and sympathetic) players, including percussionist, Alex Neilson, (Trembling Bells).

Elle has made a record that is at once traditional but ground-breaking, that moves folk forward and that puts her alongside the likes of Yorkston et al. She deserves to be heard all over Radio 2 and a mooted live partnership (with Neilson and cellist Bella Emerson), could have many followers of Bellowhead and co. drooling with excitement when they see it.

Link Track: Elle Osborne - The Dalesman's Litany (from Folk Police Soundcloud page)
Buy from: Folk Police's Elle Osborne page (where there are also two more tracks to listen to) Website: http://www.elleo.com/

5 Richard Buckner – Our Blood (Décor/Merge)

It would be hard to imagine a record having a more troubled birth than Our Blood: tape machines dying, stolen laptops and homicide investigations bedevilled Buckner over a five-year period. It must have been for the good of the music: it’s hard to imagine him having made a better album. Even the title is appropriate – the feel of the record is a constant, pulsing presence (there are times when it feels so familiar you wonder if a song has been repeated – it hasn’t).

Stylistically, Our Blood shares a lot with other records on this list – in particular, Dolorean and Peter Bruntnell: lyrically it is similar to list-topper, Good Luck Mountain, with phrases appearing out of the mist of the music, becoming clearer (or, rather, having meaning invested in them) the more you hear them. “Near the start, spreading out and stranded somewhere, waving” only start to make some kind of sense when you’re familiar with them – and even then it’s not something you could explain particularly well. With Buckner’s vocals, it’s all in the delivery, his voice dipping and soaring with its customary (almost folk-like) phrasing, bending words as if to find new sounds and syllables. Where I think Our Blood works so well, is paring back the instrumentation to showcase his voice: less maybe is more after all. Perhaps this economy is out of necessity (recorded at the third attempt, time pressing etc.), maybe being forced to revisit these songs again made him realise how simple it could all be. Simple in execution, overwhelming in appreciation.

Arguably, his best record in a catalogue of great records, Our Blood feels like a synopsis of all that’s great about what Richard Buckner does. It has an immersive quality that gives the impression it has lasted twice the short 30-odd minutes it actually takes. Really what I suppose I want to say is I wish it would never end.

Link Track: Traitor (via Aquarium Drunkard site)
Website: http://www.richardbuckner.com/

6 Southern Tenant Folk Union – Pencaitland (Johnny Rocks)

When I first heard this album (on a CD-R, without the benefit of a sleeve or song titles) I immediately had to listen back a second time – I thought I’d heard a fantastic concept album, but was missing out of the story. Turns out I wasn’t (it’s not exactly a concept album) but I kept listening. This is STFU’s most ground-breaking, inventive work yet, and is essential listening – story or no story.

Having undergone substantial line-up changes, it was already interest to fans (like me) to see what STFU would come up with next. The change in line-up has been music’s wider gain, of course – Pete Gow now working wonders with Case Hardin, for starters - but with accomplished songwriters like him and Oliver gone, how would “STFU III” fare?

Good as versions I and II were, III are a revelation. Most surprising is an apparent move away from any Americana or bluegrass stylings they might have displayed before. Anyone who saw STFU I/II in full flight, would probably agree that it was one of the strengths of the previous incarnations. This material is so different and so strong it doesn’t miss the fiery breakdowns of old. Instead, the tempo drops in favour of some quite stunning arrangements: I’m not up-to-speed on the background of the new members, but I can definitely hear the influence of Pat McGarvey’s love of soundtrack music (he’s recently got his film-score band up and running again) – shades of John Barry here, Morricone there... this is definitely more than a ‘folk’ album. I’m reminded of Chatham County Line, another band who do more than simply kick up a belting hoedown, and who are also pushing a ‘traditional’ idiom (in their case, bluegrass) somewhere new. With work like this, STFU are threatening to doing the same with (British) folk. All accomplished players – singers too (some beguiling harmonies on here!) – they seem hungry to do something ‘different’.

So, no concept, then, but a definite ‘feel’ – the plight of the worker (working class) maybe? - maybe not an unusual theme, but here the protagonists speak with such clarity and force. Given the numerous and varied song-writing credits (everyone in the band) it’s further to their credit that they’ve created such a cohesive and consistently excellent body of work. STFU III have set the bar for themselves and everyone else.

PS Don’t worry, they still fire things up nicely now and again (Ida Won’t Go will fit alongside all the old favourites). Lovely bit of gob-iron too ;-)

Link Track: I Dream Of Burning Buildings (from Southern Tenant Folk Union site) Band Website: http://www.southerntenantfolkunion.com/

7 Dolorean – The Unfazed (Partisan/Fargo)

Dolorean do it again: and again, I wonder – more than all the bands that make these (my) lists – why aren’t they huge. They make accessible yet substantial music – easy to listen to, but properly emotionally engaging. That was never more true than on Unfazed’s opener, Thinkskinned, whose piano motif wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to Grey’s Anatomy or some other HBO-type drama. Rather than the music-as-substitute-for-decent-plot-or-dialogue, Al James has got the lyrical clout to tell the story too.

Maybe it’s as well that last album You Can’t Win didn’t scale the critical heights it deserved: it could well have proved an albatross in creating anything that followed (ha, yes, I’m trying to find positives here!). You Can’t Win is a masterful record – The Unfazed is too, but a more hopeful, resolute one. Whether writing from experience or empathy, Al James has perfected singing the underdog (Your life’s work is making me hurt…”) but here, things are set to change (“…it stops. Tonight!”). He’s moved out, he’s walking away, he doesn’t have to explain…

Instrumentally, too, things are strong: having drafted in Emil Amos for You Can’t Win, the long-standing core of the band (Al, Jay Bennett, Ben Nugent, James Adair) once again recruit stellar guitar chops – this time in the shape of Jon Neufeld (Jackstraw/ Black Prairie/ Laura Viers). It was a thrill to watch him play these songs ‘live’ when Dolorean came over back in February. The five of them work well together, expanding the ‘classic’ Dolorean sound with new ideas (even getting a little dub-wise on Black Hills Gold – excellent on record and ‘live’).

So, guys, you CAN win – you now know the obstacles that will be put in your way – this game isn’t over yet by a long chalk.

Link track: stream tracks from The Unfazed and others from earlier Dolorean albums...

Buy: from Partisan (US)

Band Website: http://www.doloreanmusic.com/

8 Peter Bruntnell – Black Mountain UFO (ManHatOn Records)

Another regular feature on our Festive Fifteen, Peter Bruntnell doesn’t know how to make a bad record. I’ll bite my tongue before I launch into a why-isn’t-he-huge rant and instead concentrate on why he should be – why you should buy this and all of his records!

Proving that you should never judge a book (or CD) by its cover, Black Mountain UFO looks like it will either be a Joe Meek tribute or a collection of B-movie theme tunes. While Peter may be Lost In Space to many in the music industry, he still manages to craft radio-friendly rock like St Christopher, Jack-Johnson-esque acoustica like Black Window and masterful pop like Bruise On The Sky. In the latter, he recounts the story behind the album title (abduction by aliens) and proves that old adage about some of us being able to sing the phone book. It doesn’t matter what you’re singing about (how weird, or how political), it’s nothing without the song. Reggie Perrin (one of two homages to British TV stars, along with Penelope Keith Blue) is simply gorgeous, its arrangement at once densely-textured and feather-light – how does he do it? And the title track is as show-stopping as the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain (if slightly more restrained).

So, with this album, he moves further away from (mis)categorisation as an Americana artist. Sure, that hasn’t done him any harm, and I don’t think he’s complaining, but after this and (previous album) Murder of Crows, it’s becoming more difficult to label him – psychedelia-folk maybe (does that make him Julian Cope?), but still a rocker (plenty of storming guitar here – both from Peter and long-time foil, James Walbourne – and they will still melt faces when you see them live.

It's so good, I'll even let them off for using Comic Sans on the record sleeve!

Link track: to follow...
Buy: direct from Pete's site... http://peterbruntnell.net/store.php

9 Malcolm Holcombe – To Drink The Rain (Music Road)

Here’s where I try to retain some critical integrity: otherwise, Malcolm would be at the top of this pile. I count myself lucky to have spent three tours with him so far, and can tell you that if I ever in my life have to choose just one last gig to attend, without hesitation I’d be heading for a Malcolm Holcombe show. Totally arresting, you never quite know what he’s going to do (although you can be assured he will play out of his skin). While all his records are played often at Gilded Towers, To Drink The Rain is the first (I feel) that allows Malcolm’s character to come to the fore. His voice and guitar-playing take centre-stage here, both wonderfully expressive instruments. Every grunt, wheeze and growl counts with Malcolm – the struggle to get his starched trousers on so perfectly conveyed on One Leg At A Time: priceless! He’s not all bluster though: tender moments like Mountains Of Home illustrate the importance (to Malcolm – to all of us) in knowing our roots, remembering what makes us who we are. Simple enough? Yes, but it takes an humble soul to sing about these things so honestly, without making them feel insincere. Malcolm is a real poet: he might seem to be singing about nothing in particular (Mighty City, Reckon To The Wind) but when his lyrics hit home, you really feel it. Every time someone mentions even mountains now, I hear that song. Woods? The same (Down In The Woods, almost certainly inspired by the countryside around his North Carolina home and the respite it offers when he’s back from touring).

Credit to Jared Tyler (Malcolm’s dobro player and – here – producer) and Fred Remmert (mix/mastering) for leaving some of the “dirt” on these recordings. Everything serves the song, supports Malcolm – subtle percussion, even traditionally showy instruments like fiddle and (Jared’s own) dobro are only given the spotlight when appropriate. In the end, it’s all about Malcolm – as it should be. Now, get behind me in that queue!

Link track: couldn't resist posting a video...

Buy: in the US/CAN direct from Malcolm or elsewhere distributed by Proper, just ask your friendly local independent...
Website: http://malcolmholcombe.com/

10 Josh Small - Josh Small's Juke (Suburban Home)

This is Josh Small’s second album (his first, Small, was also released on Suburban Home). I never quite ‘got’ Small; it’s as if Juke knew that because… oh, it’s got me!

Brain Van is a diverting enough start, Josh’s trilling, intricate guitar moving things along at a nice pace, builds to a fanfare But nothing could prepare me for Everyone’s Daughter. How do I describe this song? If Brown Eyed Girl had appeared on Astral Weeks, it might have sounded something like this. It is a head-spinning, kitchen-sink arrangement, the joy of which only becomes apparent when it’s almost over and you find yourself grooving to a one-note gob-iron riff.

The song sounds like it’s going to fall apart any minute, though: Small pushes the rhythm as fast as it will go without ‘breaking’ things – it almost sounds like two songs at once, sparring with each other, but it works so well. No matter how often I listen, I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around this alchemical song.

I don’t want to give the impression this is a ‘drum-heavy’ record: quite the opposite is true. Unless I’m mistaken, there isn’t a kick drum anywhere to be heard. Take the waltz-y Grace Inez, for example: straightforward enough start, you’re lulling along to what you think is the beat of the song, then in comes a simple snare rim-shot and hi-hat playing something completely unexpected and it’s a totally beguiling combination – again, don’t know how it works, but it does!

Josh’s voice is pretty unique too: the best I can come up with is a gravely Tim Buckley, so you should probably listen for yourselves. It is a perfect complement to his scuffed. primitive-sounding instrumentation (steel-bodied guitars, banjos).

I could rave about every song… the trippy Sing Song, the almost-African Diver Down (not even two minutes long – and magic!), the tabla-hazy Atonal I Love You, and 15/20 (wow!) manages to cram three ‘movements’ into two minutes ( maybe 15/20 gives us an insight into Josh’s approach to arranging songs… it might well be the song’s time signature). Closer Somebody’s Queen sounds like nothing less than Marvin Gaye sneaking in an outtake from What’s Going On onto Sgt. Peppers. OK, that is almost all of the songs – and at 26 and a half minutes it’s all over far too quickly. I should stop though, for fear of realising I should have placed this way higher on the list. Yes, it makes a mockery of maths in more ways that one…

Link track: stream the whole thing, then just try to resist buying it direct from Sub Home...

Website (of sorts...): http://www.myspace.com/joshsmall

11 Redlands Palomino Company – Don’t Fade (Clubhouse)

A frustratingly long in coming, Don’t Fade has been well worth the wait. Four years since their last record, their third proves ever more strongly that “The Redlands” are making classic alt-country that, by rights, should be whetting the appetite of anyone who claims to like (say) Ryan Adams, Jayhawks and other ‘bigger’ names. Now stabled (sorry, pun intended) at Clubhouse Records, this is another album released early in the year, and which has stood the test of competition in what I believe has been an excellent twelve months for music. This album is stuffed with killer songs – Call Me Up, Don’t Fade, Sirens, 1879... and the vocal interplay between Alex and Hannah (whether harmonising or call-and-response) raises goose-bumps on more than a few occasions. It’s diverse too; going from the tenderness of Sleep Song to the swagger of Sirens shows how confident they are. If the songs and the playing weren’t enough, the clever so-and-so’s produced the record themselves – and made a superb job of it. I wonder how long it will be before we’re seeing A Elton-Wall on the production credits of other artists?

A mention for Clubhouse Records too, who started a little over a year ago. Times are hard, we all know (we’re constantly reminded we’re all in this together aren’t we?) so I’m glad at least that these boys managed to get some money out of their bank before it collapsed. I mean, any bank willing to put it’s money behind starting up a UK-based Americana/country label, has to be two bales short of a haystack, right? Nice work: with Don’t Fade, you showed ‘em. Their money has been well spent!

Link track: from Beat Surrender blog's Soundcloud page, Don't Fade.
The Redlands Palomino Company - Don't Fade by beatsurrender

Buy: direct from Clubhouse Records: http://www.clubhouserecords.co.uk/shop/show/redlands-palomino-co-don-t-fade-album
Band Website: http://www.redlands.moonfruit.com/

12 Cowboy Junkies – Demons (Nomad Series Vol.2) (Latent/Diverse Records)

I count myself lucky to have spent time on the road with Vic Chesnutt (and Elf Power). Already a huge fan (of both bands) it was a treat to watch them play every night, and –during the day – chew the fat with Vic in the front of the van while most of the party slept in the back. After three weeks, there wasn’t much left unmentioned, I thought; even off-hand mentions of his earlier attempts to end his own life. “Oh, Zurich”, as we passed the Swiss city,”that was where I first tried to commit suicide”, shared with as much gravity as one might describe having had a bad meal on a previous visit. So, yes, in an admittedly short space of time we talked a fair bit. I never quite got over the awe of having this incredible songwriter/musician sat next to me, but I came to realise he was pretty awesome as a human being too. He lit up the time on the road, joking, teasing, even taking the piss out of himself (and his disability). He was fun to be with.

It became clear just how many of his peers missed him (tributes flooded in, all heart-felt) and I wondered who might be the first to make a tribute record. I learned around the end of 2010 that Cowboy Junkies, with whom Vic had already collaborated (and it goes without saying, struck up a friendship) would be making a record entirely of Vic covers in early 2011. Anticipation was high, and when I eventually heard the opening chords of their take on the album’s first cut, Wrong Piano, I was overwhelmed. As an opener, it is a show-stopper - Michael Timmins turns in one of THE great guitar performances, both musically and emotionally: it is truly cathartic, and symbolises all the frustration, anger at another’s suicide and sorrow felt by those left behind. It’s also remarkable how the material – taken from numerous albums spanning almost Vic’s whole solo career – feels so cohesive. He was something of a musical chameleon, a serial collaborator (and always seemed to adapt so well to whomever he chose to play with) so here we’re hearing the songs through one filter (as it were). They don’t put a foot wrong, either – even taking on recent compositions from At The Cut. Sometimes they’re faithful to the original arrangement (Betty Lonely, Flirted With You All My Life.. the latter already, bizarrely, one of his most up-beat songs – about suicide).

I do find myself wondering what Vic himself would have made of this: I recall a conversation about an album that had just come out at the time of our tour - I won’t mention names. It was an album of covers, a tribute to one artist. Most of us (me included) were raving about it, but he was insistent that the people concerned should be concentrating on writing their own songs. Maybe he was being Devil’s Advocate (he loved an argument!). maybe he really meant it (he was a serial songwriter himself, never lacking ideas). Maybe it’s appropriate that he’s not here to dismiss this tribute with a typical self-deprecating, sarcastic comment and so it can stand for what it is - as a towering tribute to a magnificent songwriter/composer/musician. I look forward to many more from others who were touched by him, The world will be a richer place for them.

Link track: stream the whole beautiful thing... then buy it!

Buy: From Latent in CAN/US http://latentrecordings.com/cowboyjunkies/demons-pre-order/ - oh, there's a bonus EP too!
Band Website: http://www.cowboyjunkies.com/

13 Deep Dark Woods – The Place I Left Behind (Sugar Hill)

Festive Fifteen regulars (second album, Hang Me Oh Hang Me, and third, Winter Hours, appeared in their respective years of release – we weren’t doing charts when the debut was released!), within the first 15 seconds of opener West Side Street it’s clear that The Deep Dark Woods have lost none of their class with a move to a bigger label. The harmonies, the keening sleep-walking vocals of Ryan Boldt, the flecks of fiddle and banjo, the shuffling drums: they’re all still there. In fact, if anything, this is a record made with a more restricted palette than the previous two: the pace rarely breaks a sweat (no ripping guitar solos to match Winter Hours’ Two Time Loser here). Instead, the variety comes from instrumental changes – organs and piano feature more heavily than (I recall) in the past. There’s what sounds like a Hammond on Sugar Mama that – set against some smooth picking, tambourine and trad/original lyrical motifs – provides a beautiful (dare I say groovy?) modern contrast to the rest of the performance. Existing fans needn’t worry though, the electric guitars still get a run out: the solo on Back Alley Blues wouldn’t shame Peter Green, with its poise and sonic economy.

Two tracks before the close, Dear John is something of a surprise, picking up the pace (to a trot) as well as switching lead vocals, but it’s back to the drama of epic Ballad of Frank Dupree and languid woe-is-me closer Oh What A Life.

Plenty of bands will try and combine banjos with guitar feedback, but few will ever do it with the effortless grace of The Deep Dark Woods. Like I said, this is a laid-back record. They sound like they’re in no hurry; people will catch on in good time.

Link track: Sugar Mama (stream from Sugar Hill's Soundcloud page; you can download the track West Side Street at the band's website in exchange for your email address... fair swap!)
The Deep Dark Woods - Sugar Mama by Sugar Hill Records
Band Website: http://thedeepdarkwoods.com/

14 Joe West – Aberdeen, S.D. (Stocktank Records)

I’m late to the party with Joe West, this being the first record of his that I’ve heard. Any frustration at missing out is tempered by the pleasure gained indulging in this release. Essentially a portrayal of a town and some of its idiosyncratic inhabitants; a musical soap-opera, if you like – and if it “was” a TV show, Aberdeen S.D would be Northern Exposure meets Twin Peaks. Join Joe as he walks to the store to pick up some milk, takes in a keg-party, meets Mark, the hoarder, and visits his storage units stuffed with ‘junk’ like a CW McCall CB box (no CB) and Toto cassettes.

While an over-riding sense of humour pervades the songs, Joe’s off-beat observations still manage to make you empathise with the characters – no-one here is a bad guy, they’re just different. So when he gets around to hanging out with “Old Friends”, you can feel them having a good time, accepting each other for what they are. Here too is where things get a little darker, when we the narrator confesses “the only thing different, the only thing new, we don’t talk about you” and before you know it – two tracks later - he’s pining for “Home”, a song that Willy Vlautin would have been proud to write and one which I can’t help but envisage as the soundtrack to the scene in The Swimmer where Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) completes his ill-fated journey. It is a gorgeously sad song: I confess a lump appears in my throat. There Goes Brooks does something similar – how can a field recording of a livestock auctioneer have you reaching for a tissue?!

Aberdeen SD is an album that works best listened to as a whole, but unusually for ‘story albums’ has enough songs that work individually. Reminiscent of Jim White’s Wrong Eyed Jesus or something Tom Waits might have come up with if he’d made Mule Variations and Closing Time in the same session. I can’t wait for the TV show!

Link track: two tracks are available to stream at Joe's site - http://www.joewestmusic.com/Aberdeen-SD.html - where you can also buy the album on CD... and cassette!

15 Tom Armstrong – Wine Soaked Heart (Carswell)

I couldn’t help myself: had this album barely a week and just had to include it on the chart. What can I say… some records are born great! I’m further convinced by the knowledge that Tom Armstrong’s last album (released all of ten years ago) remains a bona-fide Gilded Palace classic, and – being in the same vein – has every reason to join its predecessor. Why so, Scorch, you ask? This is tragic-comic honky-tonk firmly in the tradition of Porter Wagoner (and modern-day contemporaries Cornell Hurd and Southern Culture On The Skids). Even the sleeve is a nod to Porter’s celebrated mocked-up album covers (see Skid Row Joe Down In The Alley, The Bottle Let Me Down for references). At least, I hope Tom hasn’t spent the last decade on a discarded mattress with a brown paper bag disguising his whiskey bottle!

Since giving up the booze myself, I’m often at pains NOT to use it as a metaphor for the qualities of music. It’s too easy to call any song with a pedal-steel on it ‘whiskey-soaked’, after all, but there really is nowhere better to assess these tunes than from the bottom of a bottle. Alcoholic references abound: the title track, for starters, Champagne Taste (On A Beer Budget), The Bar With No Name and my personal favourite, Happy Hour (“if you said this was the best part of the day I’d agree, but whoever called it happy hour, never met a man like me).

The music is a perfect companion to the hard-luck lyrics; sympathetically produced by Rob Douglas (Tom’s long-time bass-player) and recorded by Pete Curry (Los Straightjackets). The players have done time with Hacienda Bros, Red Meat, Wanda Jackson and Dwight Yoakham - quality? You bet! A record that could please both country purists and hip young things alike, you’d be as likely to hear this on playlists next to Ray Price or Richmond Fontaine.

Tom’s previous albums ('Sings Heart Songs' and 'Songs That Make The Jukebox Play') were both licensed to Spit & Polish Records in the UK in 2003, and can still be found in discerning record shops and online outlets. He self-releases his music in the US on Carswell Records. The new album is yet to get a UK release, but you can pick it up on CD at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/TomArmstrong1 where you can also hear previews of all tracks

Buy: on CD from CD Baby's Tom Armstrong page or digitally at most online retailers...

Other accolades:
Gig Of The Year: Richard Buckner, The Basement, Brighton - 13th November
Reissue Of The Year: Life's Rich Pageant - REM

Monday, 10 October 2011

A quick recap on the playlist for the show broadcast from September 16th. Things were kinda hectic at the time, so I didn't get to post it when I should have. The new album from The Deep Dark Woods (The Things I Left Behind) is a stunner (these guys really do deserve to break through this time - maybe the hook-up with Sugar Hill will help that along...). And don't start me on Richard Buckner's Our Blood - phenomenal (and I'm very happy with the segue into Dolorean here)! And as for Joe West's Aberdeen, S.D... where the hell did that one come from?! Looks like the Festive Fifteen is writing itself... forming an orderly queue behind Good Luck Mountain, of course.

The Deep Dark Woods - West Side Street by Sugar Hill Records

Gilded Palace Playlist 16th Sept:
1. Deep Dark Woods - Back Alley Blues - Sugar Hill
2. Jennie Lowe Stearns - Pale Blue Parka - Jennie Lowe Stearns
3. William Elliott Whitmore - We Will Carry On - Anti
4. Josh Small - Diver Down - Suburban Home
5. Victoria Wiliiams - Why Look At The Moon - Mammoth
6. The Lucky Strikes - The Fight - Stovepony Records
7. Patrick Sweaney - Corner Closet - Nine Mile Records
8. Isreal Nash Gripka - Fools Gold - Continental Song City
9. Joe West - Home - Stocktank Records
10. Catherine Maclellan - Trickle Down Rain - True North
11. Sunshine Delay - Band Of Rain - Sunshinedelay.Com
12. Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion - Target On Your Heart - Ninth Street Opus
13. JT Nero - Roil Tide - Dishrag Records
14. The Carrivick Sisters - When Youre Gone - Carrivick Sisters
15. Elle Osborne - Fair Annie - Folk Police
16. Rita Hosking - Where Miners Sing - ritahosking.com
17. Richard Buckner - Gang - Decor (UK Tour in November)
18. Dolorean - Hard Working Dogs - Partisan/Fargo
19. Puzzleroot - Country Spiders - Puzzleroot
20. Jon Byrd - Alabama Asphalt - Longleaf Pine
21. Mike Cullison - Whiskey Memory - Breakin' Records
22. Otis Gibbs - Outdated Frustrated And Blue - Wanamaker Recording
23. Rod Picott - Your Fathers Tattoo - Welding Rod
24. Bill Bourne - Forever Truly Bound - Linus Entertainment
25. The Woodshedders - Viper James - Shepherds Ford
26. Tori Sparks - Tennessee Mine - Glass Mountain
27. Michael And The Lonesome Playboys - Selfish Heart - Black Water

Monday, 5 September 2011

On Returning

It’s increasingly common for bands with press agents to fill the pages of both magazines and websites, even more so for the bands to be on the books of those agencies with the leverage/roster to (shall we say) ‘persuade’ journalists to cover them. So, here’s an occasional feature on Four New(ish!) Bands I Think You Should (But Might Not Otherwise) Hear - and from whom no fee or other inducement was received (I just like ‘em – a lot!) Go on, give them a listen. It’ll make a nice change...

1) Have Gun Will Travel (http://www.myspace.com/hgwtmusic): newly signed to our favourite label, Suburban Home, HGWT (for short) are from Florida. Like Chatham County Line and Frontier Ruckus, they're not averse to mapping traditional instruments onto tunes that range wider than simply roots, taking in rock and pop influences.

2) Puzzleroot (http://www.puzzleroot.com): if I say ‘quirlky’ don’t run off, ok - this is smart, witty and off-kilter roots music. Primarily a trio of guitar, banjo and upright bass, Puzzleroot sound like Pixies on a relaxing summer retreat and evoke memories of cult acts like Colorblind James Experience. You can also listen to a lot of Puzzleroot over at CBC: http://radio3.cbc.ca/#/bands/Puzzleroot

3) The Bloody Hollies (http://www.bloodyhollies.com): admittedly at the fringes of what you’d expect to hear on the Gilded Palace, these guys are everything your garage-rock fan wants. Tracing a lineage from the MC5 to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, these guys do not mess about.

4) Good Luck Mountain (http://www.goodluckmountain.com): – barely a ‘new’ band, as they may be more familiar to some of you as Tandy. This is very much a fresh start for Mike Ferrio and his revolving cast of players though; inspired by (and indeed memorialising) lost colleague and friend, Drew Glackin, their self-titled ‘debut’ album is a stunning piece of work. Cannot wait for Mike Ferrio and Ana Egge's visit in October: tickets for the Brighton show here - http://www.wegottickets.com/event/127011
(No flashy videos needed!)

Gilded Palace Radio Show: playlist until September 16th:
Puzzleroot - They - www.puzzleroot.com
The Country Devils - Omaha - Porkchop Records
The Sweetback Sisters - Love Me Honey Do - Signature Sounds/CRS
Eilen Jewell - Queen Of The Minor Key - Signature Sounds/CRS
Carrie Rodruigez & Ben Kyle - Unwed Fathers - Ninth Street Opus
Society - Wheels A Turning - Brickhouse
Chatham County Line - Chip OF A Star - Yep Roc
Anna Coogan - Come The Wind, Come The Rain - www.annacoogan.com
Paul Curreri - Miles Run the Daffodil Down - City Salvage
Blueflint - The High Country - Johnny Rocks Records
Richmond Fontaine - The Chainsaw Sea - Décor
Peter Bruntnell - By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix - Slow River
Blame Sally - Throw Me A Bone - Ninth Street Opus
Sarah MacDougall - Sometimes You Win. Sometimes You Lose - Rabbit Heart
Have Gun Will Travel - Salad Days - Suburban Home
Frog Holler - Control Freak (I Know I Know) - Zobird
The Takers - Diamond Ring - Suburban Home
The Reid Brothers - Done And Dusted - Fat Hippy
The Bloody Hollies - John Wayne Brown - Alive!
Old Sledge - Aint No Ash Gonna Burn -www.oldsledgemusic.com
Richard Buckner - Witness - Décor
Peter Case - Steel Strings No 1 - Alive!


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Last Of The Neon Cowboys - in the Gilded Palace studio!

Apologies that this post got lost in the hub-bub of a fun, frantic summer with the family. For posterity (and such a significant visitor *should* be recorded) here's the skinny on a visit by a bona-fide Gilded Palace hero: Jason Ringeberg. Despite being a 'GPOS gig' regular for nigh on 8 years, this was the first time we'd managed to get Jason into the radio show. More recent visits have seen Jason's schedule packed out by not only a 'Ringenberg' show, but also one by his alter-ego children's performer, Farmer Jason. This time, with us out of the promoting game (and not on the road), the field was clear for a sit-down session with the man who is (thanks to his legacy with The Scorchers) responsible for my own love of the music we hold dear. I was an impressionable teenager when I first heard this... (and it looks like they're still cutting it 30 years later!):

Jason And The Scorchers: I Can't Help Myself (live in 2010):

The Scorchers are still a bench-mark band for me: anyone who tries to marry punk and country music has to pay their respects to the mould-breaking antics of these guys back in the 80's. Seek out their 'Reckless Country Soul' EP (the CD reissue, I think: the 7-inch original of 1982 goes for silly money), their 'Fervor' or 'Lost And Found' albums: they're still treading the boards, although in the past ten years or so Jason's been more active as a solo artist.

Jason Ringenberg: Last Train To Memphis (live in Germany, 2009):

Jason's three solo albums (Pocketful Of Soul, All Over Creation, Empire Builders) showcase a great country songwriter, allowing him to take his foot off the Scorchers' 'gas pedal' and bring wider emotional clout to the fore. As far as I know, all three are still in print (via Shoeshine Records (UK) and Yep Roc (US).

Remember, once this show has passed into the archive, you can still listen as subscribers (fiver a month? Nargain, eh...): http://www.totallyradio.com/show_pages/shows.php?show=66

Gilded Palace Radio Show: playlist until 1st September 2011:
Have Gun Will Travel - Sons And Daughters Of The Gilded Age (Suburban Home)
Josh Smaill - Somebody’s Queen (Suburban Home)
Jeffrey Foucault - Horse Latitudes (Signature Sounds/CRS)
Catherine Maclellan - Lines On The Road (True North)
Matt Urmy - The Old Photograph (The Red Light Library)
Betty Soo and Doug Cox - Dublin Blues (self-released)
Josh Taerk - Figure This Out (Josh Taerk)
Annabelle Chvostek - Devils Paintbrush Road (self-released)
William Elliott Whitmore - Bury Your Burden (Anti)
Richmond Fontaine - The Eagles Lodge (Décor)
Water Tower Bucket Boys - Meet Me Where The Crow Don't Fly (self-released)
Tori Sparks - There Is An Ocean (Glass Mountain)
Daddy - Early To Bed Early To Rise (Cedar Creek)
Farmer Jason - Whale Oh Whale! (live in studio) (to be released)
Todd Snider - Standing On The Corner (Aimless)
Jason Ringenberg - Last Train To Memphis (live in studio) (Shoeshine)
Jason And The Scorchers - Self-Sabotage (Mammoth)
Willard Grant Conspiracy - Marble (Slow River)
Richard Buckner - Ponder (Décor)
Richard Buckner - Witness (Décor)
Cory Branan - Troublesome Girl (Madjack)
Danny And The Champions Of The World - Henry The Van (Loose)


Friday, 29 July 2011

If you go down in the deep dark woods today...

Worth the wait (I hope) another belated edition of the Gilded Palace Radio show will be available this weekend and until August 13th. With brand new tracks from the wondrous Deep Dark Woods, Catherine Maclellan and the rejuvenated and reformed Jayhawks (!!) - not to mention William Elliott Whitmore and Richmond Fontaine – this more than makes up for a prolonged absence!

Danny And The Champions Of The World: (You Don’t Know) My Heart Is In The Right Place:

Gilded Palace Radio Show Playlist: 29th July 2011:
Danny And The Champions Of The World - (You Don’t Know) My Heart Is In The Right Place - So/Loose (ALBUM OUT NOW - AT LAST!)
The Jayhawks - She Walks In So Many Ways - Rounder
Jennie Lowe Stearns - Thieves - www.jenniestearns.com
Zoe Muth And The Lost High Rollers - Lets Just Be Friends For Tonight - Signature Sounds/ Continental Record Service
Josh Small - Everyone’s Daughter - Suburban Home
Paul Wassif - The Balllad Of Rose Connelly - Black Brown and White
Robert Brown - Road Dog (Acoustic) - Topers Rant
William Elliott Whitmore - Get There From Here - Anti
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion - Bright Examples - Ninth Street Opus
Richmond Fontaine - Let Me Dream Of The High Country - Décor
Richmond Fontaine - The Mechanic Falls In Love With The Girl - Décor
Dave Alvin - Run Conejo Run - Yep Roc
Michael Stegner - Friday Night - CMA Records
Water Tower Bucket Boys - Easy Way Out - www.watertowerbucketboys.com
The Woodshedders - Badger Blood - Shepherds Ford
Deep Dark Woods - West Side Street - Sugarhill/Sixshooter
Josh Harty - Sweet Solution - Magnolia Recording Company
Catherine Maclellan - Stealin’ - True North Records
Josh Taerk - Start Again - www.joshtaerk.com
Jane Gillman - Barefoot - High Road Records
Centro-matic - Solid States - www.centromatic.com
Jeffrey Foucault - Starlight And Static - Signature Sounds/ Continental Record Service
Miss Tess - I Don’t Wanna See You Any More - Miss Tess Music
Eilen Jewell - That’s Where I’m Going - Signature Sounds
Good Luck Mountain - Heaven In The Haze - 00:02:59 Records


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Folk is not a dirty word

A definite folk bent to the Gilded Palace this week, centered around the release of Southern Tenant Folk Union’s wondrous new album. Add Elle Osborne, The Carrivick Sisters; sneak in a brand new Richard Buckner track (woop!) and a decidedly un-folk tribute to ‘The Big Man’, Clarence Clemons. RIP.

Give yerself goosebumps #1: Elle Osborne (at Union Music, Lewes):

Give yerself goosebumps #1: Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band (featuring Clarence Clemons): Jungleland (Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ, 1978)... he's still playing that solo:

Gilded Palace Radio Show Playlist: June 24th 2011:
1) Bruce Springsteen And The E-Street Band - Badlands - Sony/Columbia
2) Woodshedders - Sand Grain - Shepherds Ford
3) Zoe Muth And The Lost High Rollers - If I Can’t Trust You With A Quarter (How Can I Trust You With My Hearrt) - Signature Sounds/ Continental Record Service
4) Dave Alvin - Johnny Ace Is Dead - Yep Roc
5) Cory Branan - Yeah So What - www.corybranan.com
6) Jennie Lowe Stearns - Blurry Edges - www.jenniestearns.com
7) Rod Picott - Rust Belt Fields - Welding Rod
8) Steve Earle - Ben McCulloch - Stony Plain
9) Tom T Hall - How To Talk To A Little Baby Goat - Red Beet
10) Farmer Jason - Moose On The Loose - Rhino
11) Fearing and White - You Can’t Count On Anyboydy - www.fearingandwhite.com
12) Oh Susanna - By Rope - Continental Record Service
13) Carrivick Sisters - Today Will Be A Good Day -
14) Peter Bruntnell - Bruise On The Sky - Man Hat On Records
15) Shirley Lee - Tomaki Drive - Missing Page
16) Southern Tenant Folk Union - Pencaitland - Johnny Rocks
17) Southern Tenant Folk Union - The Righrs And Interests of The Labouring Man - Johnny Rocks
18) Baskery - Tendencies - Blue Rose
19) Good Luck Mountain - On Returning - 00:02:59 Records
20) Richard Buckner - Traitor - Merge
21) Eilen Jewell - Long Road - Signature Sounds/ Continental Record Service
22) Sweetback Sisters - Thank You - Signature Sounds/ Continental Record Service
23) Ghost Shirt - Two Cow Garage - www.ghostsshirt.com
24) Two Cow Garage - Ain’t No Shame - Household Name/Suburban Home
25) Stewboss - Half Past Four - www.stewboss.com
26) Elle Osborne - Dalesman’s Litany - Folk Police


Monday, 13 June 2011

Storming Monday

I somehow managed to fit 27 tracks into the latest two-hour show, and with one of them clocking in near six minutes, I must have kept the chat to a minimum. I wish it were always possible to let the music do the talking – it would do a much better job than we mere mortals. See, I’m trying to avoid falling back on the grandstanding that has to accompany so many new releases, while at the same time alerting you to the fact that today (Monday 13h June) sees two significant releases by artists who consistently float the good ship Gilded Palace. It’s unlikely that either will trouble the charts, of course, and that’s a damn shame to say the least. Every home should have both…

Redlands Palomimo Company have made the album of their careers – thus far, I hope. Only their third, Don’t Fade (Clubhouse Records), is awash with so many great songs it should shame most other bands into issuing a product recall for their own releases. Self-produced too, clever buggers. My only gripe is that it took them this long. When you buy a copy in your local shop, check that they can get more copies later as you’ll no doubt be sending your mates along presently. Failing that, get one from the band at a show: album launch at London’s Lexington on July 28th, with a Brighton show the following night (Hydrant (Preston Circus), Friday 29th): tickets here… http://www.wegottickets.com/event/120428

Peter’s Black Mountain UFO (Man Hat On Records) is yet another showcasing his high-calibre of songwriting and apparently effortless (although I’m sure he and writing partner, Bill Richtie, work bloody hard at it) ability to pepper an album with hooks and still have substance. Ascribing genres would somehow cheapen this record: psychedelia? americana? pop? No one alone is sufficient... it is supreme. I was amongst those lucky enough to pick up a copy at Peter (and band)’s shows a couple of months back – I honestly haven’t stopped playing it since. Richmond Fontaine, Kurt Wagner and Kathleen Edwards cannot be wrong! He’s back on the road this summer and I cannot wait to see him again in Brighton (umm Hove, actually) (Palmeira, September 10th - tickets here… http://www.brighthelmstonepromotions.blogspot.com/

And if there was any doubt that 2011 is going to be a landmark year for UK music, well, next week I’ll be bending your ears about the new albums from Southern Tenant Folk Union and Elle Osborne… and we haven’t even mentioned Danny And The Champions Of The World yet!

Enjoy the show!

Gilded Palace Radio Show Playlist – until June 23rd:
Danny & The Champions Of The World - You Don’t Know (My Heart Is In The Right Place) (SO Records)
Rod Picott - Welding Burns (Welding Rod)
Old Man Luedecke - Yodelady (www.oldmanluedecke.ca)
Pokey La Farge & The South City Three - So Long Honeybee Goodbye (Continental Song City)
Micshya & The Broken Devils - Gimme A Pigfoot (Lucky Devil)
Hurray For The Riff Raff - Take Me (Loose)
Josh Small - Grace Inez (Hometown Caravan/ Suburban Home)
Peter Bruntnell - Penelope Keith Blue (Man Hat On)
Redlands Palomino Company - 1879 (Clubhouse Records)
Will Scott - Just To Ferry Me Over (www.willscottmusic.com)
Good Luck Mountain - On Faith (00:02:59 Records)
Elle Osborne - The Captain’s Apprentice (Folk Police)
Southern Tenant Folk Union - I Dream of Buildings (Johnny Rocks)
Greg Brown - Someday Man (Yep Roc)
Peter Case - Ballad Of The Minimum Wage (Alive! Natural)
The Breakers - The Jerry Lee Symptoms (Wicked Cool Records)
Cory Branan - A Girl Named Go (Jackalope)
The Orbitsuns - Drunk In The Pew (www.orbitsuns.com)
Mark and Mike - The Song Of The One-legged Chicken (Red Beet)
Jimmie Dale Gilmore and The Wronglers - Time Changes Everything (Neanderthal)
Amy Lashley - Lil’ Red Girl (Wanamaker Recording Co.)
Josh T Pearson - Woman When I Raise Hell (Mute)
Hiss Golden Messenger - The Snake Is Kind (Compared To Man) (Blackmaps)
Rory Ellis - Perfectly Damaged (www.roryellis.com)
Richmond Fontaine - The Mechanic’s Life (Décor)
Devon Sproule - I Love You Go Easy (Tin Angel)
Stewboss - Love Under Main Street Lights (www.stewboss.com)


Monday, 16 May 2011

Pick A Peter

#1: Peter One…

The new Gilded Palace Radio Show (up now) includes a rather lovely session from the fine PETER BRUNTNELL. Pete visited the studio when he was in town for his Brighthelmstone Promotions gig and as well as playing a couple of live acoustic tracks, filled us in on spear-fishing and alien abduction. Then he went and tore up the stage at the Hobgoblin; but that’s another story.

The show’s online now and, if you want to tell friends, available to ‘stream’ any time over the next two weeks (until May 28th)

Pete's new album, Black Mountain UFO, will be releasedjavascript:void(0) by Man Hat On Records in June.

Here's the man himself, playing the should-have-been-pop-smash-hit, Domestico (from Peter & The Murder Of Crows, Loose, 2009)

#2: Peter Two…

The next radio show will feature another Peter, who also happens to be an exceptional songwriter – PETER CASE! Now, we’ve had some special people in the Gilded Palace studio over the past couple of years, but I’m pretty sure even those artists would bow down to Peter Case’s songwriting legend.

Peter is on tour around the UK and hits Brighton on TUESDAY 17th MARCH at the GREEN DOOR STORE (right across the street from The Prince Albert, under the station) and then onto Exeter and Plymouth.
http://www.petercase.com/tour-dates.html (if you are in/near Brighton, Exeter or Plymouth)

Among the vanguard of the modern singer-songwriter movement with his debut solo album in 1986. I’ve been a fan since that record. Having Peter play a ‘double-header’ with STEVE WYNN for us back in 2004 remains a Gilded Palace highlight for me.

Peter has come through life-or-death heart surgery two years ago, to make one of his most compelling albums in Wig – a real, life-affirming raucous record. Through seminal punks The Nerves, seminal power-poppers The Plimsouls and his solo career, he remains (in my book) one of the truly great songwriters: you’ll often hear RICHARD THOMPSON, CHRIS SMITHER and JOHN DOE sing his songs and a recent tribute album confirmed others feel the same – contributors included JOHN PRINE, MARK MULCAHY, HAYES CARLL, RICHARD BUCKNER, STEVE WYNN ,TOM RUSSELL (I could have stopped at Prine, really: no greater recommendation). Peter's playing acoustic and electric as well as some beltin' gob-iron on this tour. Better than this it rarely gets. Evidence…

Ain’t Gonna Worry No More (Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, Yep Roc, 2007):

"Ain't Gonna Worry No More" by Peter Case from Tom Weber on Vimeo.

Two Angels (from Thank You St. Jude, Prima Records, 2006 and - earlier - The Man with the Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, Geffen, 1989!):

24 Hours (from Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, Yep Roc, 2007):

First Light (from Beeline, Vanguard, 2002):

House Rent Party (from Wig, Yep Roc, 2010):

And lastly, a little trailer for Peter's latest album, The Case Files - outtakes, covers, "stuff that fell through the cracks" - available on beautiful translucent pink vinyl (and CD).

Gilded Palace Radio Show Playlist (until 28th May 2011):
1. Peter Case - Kokomo Prayer Vigil (Alive!)
2. Rory McLeod - I Just Want To Be Loved (Talkative)
3. Des Horsfall’s Kuschtey Rye - Something’s Wrong (Valve)
4. Danny And The Champions Of The World - Ghosts In The Wire (SO Records)
5. Oh Susanna - Drunk As A Sailor (Continental Record Service)
6. Blueflint - High Bright Morning (Johnny Rocks)
7. Southern Tenant Folk Union - An Irish Airman Foretells His Death (Johnny Rocks)
8. Viper Central - Down In West Virginia (www.yipercentral.ca)
9. Foghorn Trio - Greetings From Virginia (www.foghornstringband.com)
10. Rory Ellis - 65 Pontiac (www.roryellis.com)
11. Austin Lucas - Sleep Well (Last Chance Records/ Hometown Caravan)
12. Redlands Palomino Company - 1879 (Clubhouse Records)
13. Marybeth D’Amico - Beneath The Rubble (Long Man Records)
14. Mountain Goats - Liza Forever Minelli (4AD)
15. Ian McFeron - Windchime (www.ianmcferon.com)
16. Peter Bruntnell - Black Mountain UFO (Manhaton Records)
17. Peter Bruntnell - Black Windown (live in studio) (Manhaton Records)
18. Peter Bruntnell - Cold Water Swimmer (live in studio) (Loose)
19. Peter Bruntnell - St.Christopher (Manhaton Records)
20. Thirty Pounds Of Bone - How We Applaud The Unhappiness Of The Songwriter (Armelodie Records)
21. Julianna Barwick - Bob In Your Gait (Asthmatic Kitty)
22. Diamond Family Archive - Happy Families (Beard Of Snails)
23. Gregory Alan Isakov - Dandelion Wine (Suitcase Town)


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Glided Palace Radio: Chew, Chew, Hungry, Macgrew, Charlie, Lucas, Case*

New radio show available now (and until May 14th), and another corker it is too! Highest of high-points include the forthcoming, stonking album from DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD, REDLANDS PALOMINO COMPANY and MEN DIAMLER. And on the 'live' front you really are spoiled for choice in the UK at the moment, with tours from PETER CASE, AUSTIN LUCAS, HUNGRYTOWN and HANS CHEW - all of these of course feature on the show too.

The madness of Record Store Day threw up an almost overlooked gem in the form of the BLACK TWIG PICKERS/CHARLIE PARR/GLENN JONES split-release (I'm awaiting delivery of Jurado's Live At Landlocked, so look forward to hearing that next time).

Oh, and in all the excitement I almost forgot - 45 minutes of 'live-in-concert' wonderment from MARK OLSON too (just getting you warmed up for The Jayhawks' visit in August :-)

Mmmm, makes me wanna...

Hans Chew - New Cypress Grove Boogie (he'll be 'solo' in Brighton May 7th, go here for details)

Gilded Palace Radio Show playlist (until May 14th 2011:
Danny And The Champions Of The World: Every Beat Of My Heart - www.sorecords.co.uk
Two Cow Garage: Come Back To Shelby - Suburban Home/Household Name
Hungrytown: Any Forgotten Thing - www.rebeccaandken.com
Peter Case: Underneath The Stars - Yep Roc
Austin Lucas: Sleep Well - Last Chance Records/ Hometown Caravan
Oh Susanna: Drunk As A Sailor - Continental Record Service
Ciara Sidine: Mercy Moon - www.ciarasidine.com
Redlands Palomino Co.: Sirens - Clubhouse Records
Hans Chew: New Cypress Grove Boogie - Three Lobed Recordings
Glenn Jones: Even To Win Is To Fail - Thrill Jockey
Black Twig Pickers With Charlie Parr: Eastmont Syrup - Thrill Jockey
Men Diamler: Emily - www.mendiamler.com
Good Luck Mountain: Reborn - 00:02:59
Shirley Lee: The Country Darkness - Missing Page
Ninja Gun: Roman Nose - Sabot Productions
Mark Olson: Live at Basement, Brighton (December 8th 2010) - www.markolson.com


* I almost wish I had found someone to play whose name rhymed with Macgrew so I could have made this work properly!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Gilded Palace Radio: That's What I Heard

Rather excited about the most recent playlist for the Gilded Palace radio show. Aside from the new releases from My Morning Jacket (already well documented elsewhere) and Southern Tenant Folk Union, I am still bouncing around like a space-hopper to the new EP from Ninja Gun. The first track 'That's Not What I Heard' is as perfect a (Georgia) peach of power-pop as you ever heard - and now has a video to accompany it. The track has a neat 'protest' theme running through it too, and the video plays with this neatly to avoid misrepresenting it a 'preachy' song. Having said that, I'd love to get hold of a copy of The Dummy Bunny's Guide To Starting A Revolution. Watch the video below, and download the full ep at Sabot Productions (Subscribers to Totally Radio can also listen back to the show last May when Jonathon Coody visited the studio to chat and perform two acoustic songs, including the title track of the new EP). I bloody LOVE this band: you should too (album Restless Rubes available in Europe via Gunner Records)

Ninja Gun: That's Not What I Heard (video by Sharkguts Design):
video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Gilded Palace Radio Show: playlist until April 29th 2011:
My Morning Jacket - Circuital (www.mymorningjacket.com)
Two Cow Garage - Sadie Mae (Suburban Home/Homwtown Caravan)
Israel Nash Gripka - Black And Blue (Continental Record Service)
Oh Susanna - So Long (Continental Record Service)
Gregory Allan Isakov - Big Black Car (Suitcase Town)
Rachel Harrington - Spokane (Skinny Dennis)
Hooray For The Riff Raff - Daniella (Loose)
Austin Lucas - Keys (Last Chance/Hometown Caravan)
Ninja Gun - That's Not What I Heard (Sabot Productions)
Peter Bruntnell - Penelope Keith Blue (Man Hat On)
Jim Jones - Winter Song (www.jimjones.co.uk/)
Redlands Palomino Co. - Call Me Up (Clubhouse Records)
Rebecca Pronsky - Mercury News (Nine Mile Records)
Otis Gibbs - When I Was Young (Wanamaker Recording Co.)
Amy Lashley - Ode To Middle Age (Wanamaker Recording Co.)
Hiss Golden Messenger - Lion (Blackmaps)
Good Luck Mountain - More Than A Feeling (00:02:59 Records)
Southern Tenant Folk Union - An Irish Airman Foretells His Death (Johnny Rocks )
Southern Tenant Folk Union - Pencaitland (Johnny Rocks)
Ian Seigal and The Youngest Sons - The Skinny (Nugene)
Rory Block - Kokome Blues (Continental Record Service)
Old Calf - A Gift A Ghost/Monday Alone (No Quarter)
Devon Sproule - I Love You Go Easy (Tin Angel)
Carrie Elkin - Dear Sam (Red House)
Danny & The Champions Of The World - These Days (Loose)


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Gilded Palace Radio Show/ Peter Bruntnell in Brighton

A new Gilded Palace radio is now available at totallyradio.com. This one will run until April 15th. Features new releases from Josh T Pearson, Good Luck Mountain (née Tandy), Hiss Golden Messenger, Carrie Elkin and a good few more. Pick of the new releases has to be Black Mountain UFO from Peter Bruntnell, due out in May on Manhaton Records. Known (if at all) for its association with blues artists (Eric Bibb, for one) they couldn't have picked a better album for a foray into a more mainstream world.

Peter Bruntnell? Mainstream? OK, relatively so: but there's nothing 'difficult' about Bruntnell's music, really. Seven albums of hook-y, under-stated, melodic pop genius - most still available from Pete at his new website: peterbruntnell.net. The kind of stuff that is still winning him new 'famous' friends - Richmond Fontaine the most recent converts to join Jay Farrar, Mark Eitzel and REM's Peter Buck.

He played a(nother!) blinding show in Brighton on Friday night, with the band in full flight. Yes, watching James Walbourne play guitar still feels like walking in on someone having sex (can't...look...away!), but Danny Williams - why does no-one ever talk about bass players? - was the star of the night for me. Loud (distorted - maybe turn your speakers down) video evidence of a great night below. These (Cold Water Swimmer/ Domestico) and other tracks from Murder of Crows were heavily rocked-up and wonderful in a very different way to the originals.
Peter Bruntnell: Cold Water Swimmer/Domestico: Brighton Hobgoblin, April 1st 2011:

Those of us at the show were lucky enough to be able to buy advance copies of the album (guess they're not worried about chart placings); if you weren't at a gig, I recommend you get yours as soon as it comes out if Sparklehorse-meets-Byrds sounds like it would fly your kite (or UFO!).

Pete also came into the Gilded Palace studio for an interview and to play a couple of songs. That will be on the next show - so I may blog about him again, who knows - nothing would give me more pleasure :-)

Gilded Palace Radio Show playlist - 2nd April 2011:
1. Good Luck Mountain - Perfect Circle (00:02:59)
2. Gregory Alan Isakov - Virginia May (Suitcase Town Music)
3. Amy Lashley - Emmett Till (Wanamaker Records)
4. Hiss Golden Messenger - Isobel (Blackmaps)
5. Rory Block - Write Me A Few Of Your Lines (Continental Record Service/Stony Plain)
6. Redbird - Phonebooth Of Love (Signature Sounds)
7. The Wiyos - Side By Side (Pie Records)
8. Two Fingers Of Firewater - Your Hands (Two Fingers Of Firewater)
9. Josh T Pearson - Thou Art Loosed (Mute)
10. Malcolm Holcombe - Evelyn (Echo Mountain)
11. Peter Bruntnell - Ghost Dog (Manhaton Records)
12. Devon Sproule - Evening Ghost Crab (Tin Angel)
13. Carrie Elkin - Landeth By Sea (Red House)
14. Faded Circus - Bumblebee Lament (Politely Fighting)
15. Wailing Jennys - What Has Been Done (True North)
16. Dave Roterhay - The Puffin And The Squirrel (Proper)
17. Foghorn Trio - I’m Troubled (Doc Watson) (www.foghornstringband.com)
18. Rebecca Pronsky - Hard Times (Nine Mile Records)
19. Larkin Poe - Spooked (2 Def Pig)
20. Jamie Freeman - Picture Of You (Union Music Store)
21. Laura Cortese Acoustic Project - Overcome (Cortese Music)
22. Brookes Williams - Frank Delandry (Frontier Promotions)
23. Cowboy Junkies - See You Around (Latent/Proper)
24. Two Cow Garage - Make It Out Alive (Sonic Rendevous)
25. Two Cow Garage - Jackson (Suburban Home) - live in Brighton 26th April


Monday, 28 March 2011

Malcolm Holcombe on The Gilded Palace Radio Show

Sheesh, almost two months since an update. As no-one seems to have noticed, I'll sneak back up to the plate with details of the latest Gilded Palace Radio Show playlist. The incredible Malcolm Holcombe is my studio guest, a second visit for this compelling and unique musician. Malcolm recorded a few live sessions for radio shows during his recent UK tour (Bob Harris, Robert Elms, Ralph Mclean, Judi Spiers (yes, her off Pebble Mill!) and having listened intently to them all, I have to say this one is my favourite. Well, I would say that, wouldn't I...?

In addition to radio sessions, he also paid a visit to a cool little venture in the West Country, called Songs From The Shed. The premise is simple (musicians perform their songs, acoustically, in a shed) and the execution couldn't be more basic (filmed on a hand-held digital camera, i.e. a 'photo' camera using video mode, no fancy lights, no mics/PA) but the results prove that great artists/songs need no 'dressing up'. Part of Malcolm's performance below: visit the site for more of him and the likes of Charlie Parr, Southern Tenant Folk Union, Thirty Pounds of Bone and Water Tower Bucket Boys.

Malcolm Holcombe: Comes The Blues (for Songs From The Shed, March 2011)

New album To Drink The Rain has been getting some excellent reviews, and I would implore anyone who's reading this (and thus, I assume, a fan of the music we cover) to get hold of a copy. Malcolm is a true one-off.

Gilded Palace Radio Show: playlist until Friday 1st April:
The Hiders – Marthaville (www.thehiders.com)
Society - Long Train (www.myspace.com/societymusic)
Old Man Luedecke - Lost John (Black Hen)
Carrie Elkin - Jesse Likes Birds (Red House)
Charlie Parr - South Of Austin, North Of Lyle (Nero's Neptune)
Larkin Poe - Free Like A Bird (2 Def Pig)
Wailing Jennys - Songbird (Bright Morning Stars)
John Wort Hannam - Requiem For A Small Town (Black Hen/CRS)
Gurf Morlix - Clay Pigeons (Rootball)
Malcolm Holcombe - One Leg At A Time (live in studio) (Music Road)
Malcolm Holcombe - Becky’s Blessed (Back Porch Flowers) (live in studio) (Music Road)
Malcolm Holcombe - Straight And Tall (live in studio) (Echo Mountain)
Ron Sexsmith - Love Shines (Cooking Vinyl)
Tandy - Becky California (Yellow Slipper)
Dead Rock West - Two Wings (Red River Records)
Hiss Golden Messenger - Drum (Blackmaps)
Elle Osborne - Wide Eyes (Folk Police)
STFU - Don't Take No Notice (Johnny Rocks)
The Wynntown Marshalls - Ballad Of Jayne (Charger Records)
Twilight Hotel - When The Wolves Go Blind (Cavalier)
David Williams - Hick Town (Trapdoor Media)
Peter Cooper and Lloyd Green (The Last Laugh Red Beet)
Austin Lucas - Thunder Rail (Last Chance/Hometown Caravan)


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"You do gotta want it!"

A quick heads-up about a couple of new releases. I don't plan to turn this into a release/review blog, but these are important to me and need every like-minded soul behind them to give them more exposure..

Austin Lucas has a brand new single released today.

Thunder Rail is released via Last Chance Records - direct link for the release is http://www.lastchancerecords.com/products/Austin-Lucas-%22Thunder-Rail%22-MP3-Digital-Single.html. It's also available on iTunes, but Last Chance will gift you a .99c rebate on the album when it's released: hey, dem's good beeble!

Speaking of albums, the new Dolorean I was raving about a while back, finally sees the light of day. The Unfazed is out on Fargo in UK and Europe (I know, we're *in* Europe...) and Partisan in the States. Blissful stuff for fans of Elliott Smith, Iron and Wine, Peter Bruntnell and Damien Jurado). Catch them on tour in February:
8th: Paris, France (with Deer Tick and Tift Merritt!)
9th: Gent, Belgium - Vooruit Cafe
10th: Haarlem, NL - Patronaat (with Ben Weaver)
11th: Leiden, NL - Q Bus (with Ben Weaver)
12th: Utrecht, NL - Ekko (with Ben Weaver)
13th: Ottersum, NL - Roepaen (with Ben Weaver)
15th: London, UK -  Lexington (Tickets)
16th: Nottingham, UK - Bodega (Tickets)
17th: Manchester, UK - Deaf Institute
18th: Oxford, UK - Bullingdon Arms (Tickets - dummies can't spell the band name. God help us!)

Finally, in just a couple of weeks, Malcolm Holcombe will release his new album - his first album for Music Road Records: To Drink The Rain is also the first produced by Jared Taylor, and (for my money) he really brings out the grit and fire evident in Malcolm's live performances - the humour too, the opening track 'One Leg At A Time' is hilarious! Catch Malcolm on the road in March: UK dates...

2nd: St Bonaventures, Bristol
3rd: Green Note, London
4th: Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter
6th: B-Bar, Plymouth
7th: Brighton, Latest Bar
8th: Musician, Leicester
9th: Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich
10th: Farncombe Tavern, Farncombe
11th: Gateshead Central, Newcastle
12th: Peacock Arts Centre, Aberdeen
15th: Links Hotel, Montrose
16th: Errigle Inn, Belfast
19th: Seamus Ennis Centre, Naul, Dublin
20th: The Highway Bar, Crusheen, Co. Clare
21st: March Cyprus Avenue, Cork, Ireland

(Ticket links for all shows on Malcolm's site: http://www.malcolmholcombe.com/shows.htm

You can also catch Malcolm online, playing live in Studio B at WCNW, this Thursday (3rd Feb) at 11am (think that's 4pm GMT, 5pm CET... right?) and then again on Saturday 5th on WETS 89.5 FM, Studio One Session at 1pm (is Tennessee in the same timezone as NC...? Better check your watches)

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Bump! Centro-matic video now available for public consumption!

Just bumping this to the top of the heap, as the previous (premature) posting may be missed. Brand new Centro-matic song/video, taken from new album due out in April. More on that soon... start saving your pennies, that vinyl looks sweet!

Centro-matic: Only In My Double Mind (Candidate Waltz, Spring 2011):

Centro-matic: "Only In My Double Mind" Video from Helms Workshop on Vimeo.

Meantime you can still download last year's digital-only EP, Eyas, from the band's site: seven songs (four Centro-, three South San Gabriel - including an ace cover of Lionel Richie's All Night Long... like this:

Centro-matic (South San Gabriel): All Night Long 'live': New Year's Eve 2010

Happy New Year, fellas!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Gilded Palace of Sin Festive Fifteen 2010

You can hear songs from each of the albums on this list on the current edition of the Gilded Palace radio show at www.totallyradio.com.

Where tracks are (legitimately) available to download online I've provided links to them, and also to places where you can buy the albums online. Of course, there's no substitute for a great record shop - I know we're spoiled in Brighton, but you should be able to find these in your local.

1 John Grant - Queen Of Denmark (Bella Union)
So much more than the sum of its parts (I was never a huge Czars fan and Midlake's latest left me cold);  Grant is on sparkling, cutting lyrical form here, and the boys from Denton remind us why we lauded them for their first two albums. I have not stopped listening to this record since May, when I first heard it. Simply no argument: this is classic songwriting to stand up in the company of everyone from Bacharach and David (popular/accessible) to Mark Eitzel (visceral/cathartic): the understated 'Caramel' is a great example, and potentially lost among the more attention-grabbing (but wonderful) comedy of 'Sigourney Weaver' or 'Chicken Bones' (aside: anyone else reminded - fondly - of Neil Sedaka by this one?).

I'm reminded of how heavily I fell for Rufus Wainwright's Want One, only to realise that the production carried so much of that record. Here Matt Pence is so understated, he is perhaps best referred to in the 'recorded by'/anti-producer terms claimed by Steve Albini. It really is all about the songs. All of them. 'Where Dreams Go To Die' swoons. The stream-of-consciousness 'I Wanna Go To Marz' is downright gorgeous. I could talk about every single one and still struggle to convey how much I love this album. When I listen to it, I listen at least twice through in each sitting. If you haven't already done so, buy it.

Oh, for the record, I do subscribe to Mojo, but I pay for it. Delighted that they made this their #1 too, but I was honestly telling anyone who'd listen in May that this was probably the record of the year. My conscience is clear :-)

Link track: Chicken Bones (mp3, via Dallas Observer)
Buy: Bella Union Store

2 Ninja Gun - Restless Rubes (Gunner Records)
This one had the benefit of a European release in 2010, although I've been head-over-heels for it since its US release on Suburban Home Records in 2009. Hailing from Valdosta, Georgia (hence the 'peachy' cover - that's nothing, you should see the coloured vinyl!), Ninja Gun pack more Big Star, Teenage Fanclub moments into this single album than any acolytes (of either or both) to date.

You might also compare it to early Foo Fighters (always a great pop band as much as anything, to my mind); they're Anglophiles too. Songwriter Jonathon Coody has definitely listened to Pete Townsend and Ray Davies, and the band (quite deliberately) opened their Brighton show with Wreckless Eric's Whole Wide World. Opener and title track, 'Restless Rubes' could have come off 'Who Sell Out' or 'A Quick One'.

Second track 'Eight Miles Out' is nothing less than a power-pop masterpiece, with hand-claps and harmonies to die for. 'Last Cowboy', 'Asking Price' and 'Front Yard Screamers' are all alt-country classics in waiting.  Consistently great lyrics ('Darwin Was a Baptist' is a favourite in this respect, managing to work in his religious upbringing and a mention of the Galapagos) and more killer melodies than any single band has a right to.

See, I've sat down to write a quick comment and ended up listening to the whole album! I've no idea what a Rube is. but this is a true diamond.

Link track: Restless Rubes (mp3, via Suburban Home Records)
Buy: UK/EU - Gunner Records or USA - Suburban Home Records

3 Danny & The Champions Of The World - Streets Of Our Time (Loose)
Danny Wilson perfects his 'road music', moving away (just a little) from the festival-friendly euphoria of the Champions' debut. I just realised that this was released all the way back in January: I wonder how many people compiling end-of-year lists cast their minds back that far?

It feels as though he hasn't turned down a chance to play live for the past couple of years, having enough confidence in his songs and his partners to perform as any number of Champ-configurations: The Champion of The World, The "Bluegrass Champs". When you see him (and whomever joins him) on stage, you realise this is where he's at home. Just as happy tearing into one of his own songs as he is to go off on a Springsteen-medley tangent  - he even dares to make Dancing In The Dark sound like one of his own.

Relentess gigging (restless feet?) appears to have given Danny a more direct edge as a lyricist - 'Henry The Van' may be an allegory but it's also a great song about (simply) a van breaking down (maybe my own incessant driving helps me identify!). I still haven't found out what 'Parakeets' is about - other than the exotic birds displaced to South London, of course. Now - more than ever - he is the Neil Young of New Cross, Springsteen via Surbiton.

Link track: Restless Feet (stream, via hypem.com)
Buy: from Loose Records' shop (for a ridiculously cheap £7!)

4 Damien Jurado - Saint Bartlett (Secretly Canadian)
Every time Damien Jurado releases an album I am reminded of how criminally overlooked he is. It is difficult to objectively compare Saint Bartlett with his other records, save to dwell on the decision to collaborate here with Richard Swift, rather than long-time compadres like Eric Harris. This makes for a 'different' sounding record, but still one that has unforgettable songs at its core.

That’s not to suggest I don’t like what Swift has brought to the party - quite the opposite. Opener 'Cloudy Shoes' has wonderful Spector-ish production and yearning call-and-response vocals: wonderful! 'Arkansas' has a similar feel, although you can still imagine it as a Jurado song of old. He (or perhaps both of them – I’m sure it was a collaboration they enjoyed) know when to keep a lid on the studio tricks though. They let 'Rachel And Cali' stand alone, coming over like a song Raymond Carver never wrote, and 'Beacon Hill' shines for similar ‘hands-off’ approach. The album weighs in at just over 36 minutes, betraying the brevity of the majority of the songs. They may be short, but there’s nothing slight about any of them.

I’d love to have seen the two of them performing together on their recent tour, but at least I got to see Damien play solo in Groningen, Holland. On a Take Root bill that also featured Wilco, David Rawlings & Gillian Welch, Chatham County Line, Old Crow Meh-dicine Show and the awesome Black Mountain, Jurado completely (and I mean completely) stole the show. I realized then that I’d never seen him play unaccompanied before – I’d urge you to do so first chance you get.

Aside: they let their indulgence reign free on a companion album of covers, tantalizingly called Other Peoples Songs: Volume One (suggesting there’s more fun to come). Comprising songs originally performed by everyone from Yes to Kraftwerk via Chubby Checker, it’s available FREE from their tumblr page: http://otherpeoplessongs.tumblr.com/

Link Track: Cloudy Shoes (mp3, via Secretly Canadian website)
Buy: Secretly Canadian (US)

5 Old Man Luedecke - My Hands Are On Fire (Black Hen)
Old Man Luedecke elicits a similar reaction from me as does John Prine: I honestly believe his songwriting is on that level. I haven’t heard a weak song from him in all his three albums to date... ok, there’s a fourth (his first) but it’s rare-as-hen’s-teeth now.

My Hands Are On Fire (great title for an album by a fearsome banjo player like Luedecke!) follows a similar template to previous release, Proof Of Love, employing numerous musicians to flesh out the melodies of his songs, but (I’m pleased to say) allows his banjo playing to shine throughout. He also has the distinction (along with Alicia Keys) of daring to rhyme ‘fridge’ with ‘bridge’ on 'Machu Pichu' (I heard my daughter listening to Empire State of Mind and almost choked on that couplet… had to reassess my scorn when I heard OML do the same!). In his defence, he’s far less earnest about it, as the song has an almost comical feel:

“I was climbing the stairs at Machu Pichu,
Found my cellphone and tried to reach you,
Sun went down on Macdonald Bridge,
I found your carrots in my fridge.
There was never a song that I couldn’t sing my way out of”

See, a classic Prine trick: humour to cover the tracks of the real emotion. Brilliant. He does this again, devastatingly so, on 'The Palace Is Golden': a song essentially about a couple struggling to conceive a child. It’s one of the most heart-wrenching songs you’ll ever hear.

Track link: The Rear Guard(mp3, via Black Hen Music)
Buy: Black Hen (Canada/US) or Amazon (UK)

6 Audra Mae - The Happiest Lamb (Side One Dummy)
I continue to be baffled by the ways of the music industry. I'm pretty sure this record was released in May in the UK as well as in the US (Audra Mae was certainly interviewed in the UK press), but I cannot recall seeing a single review nor - worse still - a single copy in a shop.

Even a first glance at her biography tells you Audra Mae is an interesting case: she’s signed to Side One Dummy (a label better known for its punk affiliations) but she’s best known (if at all) for writing a song for X Factor phenomenon, Susan Boyle. Touring with Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour just adds to the mix. it doesn’t let up, with Audra’s spine-tingling, haunting belter of a voice (a more theatrical Neko Case maybe?) front and centre, backed up by unfussy instrumental arrangements. Stand-out among all the great songs has to be 'The River': she opens with “I’ve been a bad girl, it’s ok…” and you’re hooked. She does it again with 'Sullivan’s Letter', telling the story of a soldier killed in the American Civil War.

Despite writing her own incredible songs, she’s not averse to a cover too: the album has a (straight but superb) reading of Dolly Parton’s 'Little Sparrow', and Audra’s already recorded 'Forever Young' for the Sons of Anarchy TV series. Her next release will be a covers EP, I hear.

I’m tired of people telling me that despite the hype I should be listening to Duffy (Chipmunks..or should that be Chipettes?), Adele (gobby sourpuss) or any number of the young female singers falling off the industry conveyor belt – bin the lot of them in favour of Audra Mae: she’ll knock 'em all into a cocked hat! She should be huge, if only people get to hear her. Where's the record? Where's the press?! Maybe there's a grand plan...hope so; we'll see. (Update: since writing this, only a week ago, I found real live copies of the CD in two Brighton record shops! OK, both of them were promo copies (technically not for sale), but it's a start... Side One Dummy, I think you need a new press team).

Link track: The River (ok, you have to join SOD’s mailing list: it could be worse!)
Buy: try Side One Dummy for stockists (other than second-hand shops flogging promo's, that is).

7  Glossary  - Feral Fire (Liberty & Lament)
Glossary makes album in vein of Thin Lizzy, Tom Petty et al - a real belter! And a second appearance on our list for producer-du-jour, Matt Pence.

Released on Liberty & Lament, the label formed by buddies, Lucero, this gave Glossary a chance to reach a new and bigger audience. They start the album like they mean business, giving us both barrels with opener 'Lonely Is A Town’ followed by 'Save Your Money For The Weekend' – that Lizzy tribute evident here more than any other track…dual guitar lines and everything… magnificent! I don’t think they’ve started an album so strongly since How We Handle Our Midnights.

I've got four Glossary albums and (cards on the table) I LOVE them all: Feral Fire though, has (forgive the pun) a fire in its belly - as if the band were intent on making a great Southern rock record. They succeeded.

'No Guarantee' is the first of two Todd Beene songs, giving the album a more collaborative ‘band’ feel (generally, historically, singer Joey Kneiser writes the songs). They really are a tight unit, everyone playing for 'the band' rather than themselves. I only sense anyone stepping into the spotlight towards the end of the album. It’s not all rockers either: 'Your Heart To Haunt', 'Sweet Forever' and 'Pretty Things' demonstrate their slower side. Not downers though: like the man says, “nothing kills you slower than living with regret”.

Previous album Better Angels Of Our Nature ranked on our Festive Fifteen for 2008, and is *still* available for *free* download: http://www.glossary.us/downloads/ . It’s now accompanied by free copies of two solo efforts by Joey and Kelly Kneiser. Glossary - the band that keeps on giving... and I can’t get enough.

Link track: Save Your Money For The Weekend (mp3, via www.ninebullets.net
Buy: via band (not sure where you'll get it in UK)

8 Chatham County Line - Wildwood (Yep Roc)
Undoubtedly Chatham County Line’s breakthrough came with their appearance on Later With Jools Holland in 2009: still the only regular music show of any substance on UK terrestrial televison, it introduced a whole new group of people to not only the band but also (probably) the ‘single-mic’ presentation of a performance. Accordingly their then-current album, IV, took off: ok, it didn’t trouble the Top 40, but it was easily their biggest seller. It was also their most musically-expansive to date. Both of these will be factors in people telling you that Wildwood is not as good as IV, and while Wildwood may not have a song to match 'The Carolinian' (surely a high-water mark for any songwriter?), as an album I really think this beats all their previous efforts, IV included.

Recorded at Echo Mountain in Asheville, North Carolina, the band took the decision to produce this one themselves – the last two albums produced by Chris Stamey. It has long been CCL’s ambition to be viewed as more than a bluegrass band, and Stamey definitely added a ‘pop’ sheen to the arrangements on Speed Of The Whippoorwill and IV. The band themselves take things a step further here with the introduction of (gulp!) drums: well, that’ll upset some bluegrass purists for sure! But far from simplifying their sound, the drums allow the other instruments to really take off (typically at least one of them would have held down a beat: John Teer’s restrained, percussive mandolin “chopping”, for example, is still evident on 'Heart Attack') while the others weave the melody. More than on previous records, I’ve become aware of Greg Readling’s pedal-steel and piano contributions (especially on 'Crop Comes In' and 'Out Of The Running'). Maybe this is the next stage of development for the band: bring in more instruments to the live set-up?

I’ve blogged already on how good I think this album is: 'Crop Comes In' still has me drooling over Chandler Holt’s banjo playing, and over the months other songs have also become firm favourites - an over-all stronger set of songs than IV, if that was possible – and consequently, they are still one of the most exciting bands (on stage and on record) around.

Link track: to follow...
Buy: Yep Roc (US)/

9 JBM - Not Even In July (Partisan)
One of the problems with end-of-year lists is having to remember everything you loved for the preceding twelve months. Things can get overlooked. Such was the case with Jesse Marchant’s Not Even In July in 2009, when he released the album himself and had a small amount of UK press support.

Luckily, it eventually caught the ear of Partisan Records (Dolorean/Deer Tick) and gained a ‘proper’ release in 2010, which caused me to revisit an album I’d already enjoyed. Nick Drake opening (sounds like the ‘Introduction’ to Hazey Jane), then his voice comes in – high, lonesome and drenched in reverb… Jim James meets Nick Drake: what’s not to like!?

Elsewhere, he reminds me of Peter Bruntnell in his quieter moments or Damien Jurado ('Cleo’s Song') - and elsewhere will do me just fine while we await the new release from Dolorean ('July On The Sound'). Ultimately these influences are broad enough to allow the album to shine on its own terms. The run of the last five songs on the album (from 'Going Back Home' onwards) is arguably as fine a sequence of music and atmosphere) as any on this list.

There’s little change from the steady, ambling pace of the first few songs (if anything, it slows down) so that by the end you’re so relaxed you almost feeling like you’re breathing along to the songs. Now you just need to recover the energy to get up and start the CD over again.

Link track: In A Different Time (mp3, via artist's website)
Buy: Partisan Records (US) - http://www.partisanrecords.com/artists/jbm/store/

10 Salter Cane  - Sorrow (self-released)
Salter Cane’s second album is further proof that some of the best music you can find probably exists right on your doorstep. To be honest, it bothers me that a band can make a record as good as this and still remain largely unknown outside their home-town. Luckily for me (and many other fans in Brighton), we not only get to enjoy their record (courtesy of our many excellent local record shops) but also to see Salter Cane play ‘live’.

This is a local affair, recorded at Brighton’s renowned Metway Studios, but made available to the world in general thanks to a Creative Commons licence, which means that the whole album is free to download provided you credit the songs to Salter Cane. There’s a ‘real’ CD too in case you pine for the days of holding your music in your hands – but really this deserves nothing less than a leatherbound, embossed, triple-gatefold sleeve with a pop-up paper guilloutine in the middle. It’s gory stuff: imagine The Decemberists' The Tain retold by Cormac MacCarthy, or the swamp-borne demons of John Connolly’s The White Road forming a band. Yes, there are still inevitable comparisons to Nick Cave, but I don’t think even the band themselves would deny his influence.

The dynamic romp of title track ‘Sorrow’ showcases songwriter Chris Askew’s powerful lyrical imagery: evocative of wind-swept, barren landscapes, peopled by characters probably best left confined safely in the words of a song. Stand-out tracks ‘Black Swollen River’ and ‘The Truth Is Nothing’ are a perfect marriage of his lyrics/vocals to thrilling foreboding music, the latter culminating in a menacing chant refrain that sounds like all hell broke loose in the studio.

Link track: Track? Download the whole album - free! http://saltercane.com/sorrow/
Buy: Physical CD from band at shows or from CDBaby (US)

11 Mark Olson  - Many Colored Kite (Ryko)
Since heading out as a solo artist on The Salvation Road, Mark Olson has been a more ‘spiritual’ proposition. It’s hard not to link this to events in his life (an apparently messy and painful separation from Victoria Williams), and to hear the effect of this in his songs: opener 'Little Bird of Freedom' kicks off with the line, “What would you do if you lost everything that was good?” Olson’s answer appears to be: make one of the most beautiful, reflective and downright honest albums of the year.

For want of a better word, there’s a ‘prettiness’ to the album that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea: I know some Jayhawks' fans who aren’t ‘getting’ it (that said, there are plenty who won’t be happy with anything less than an Olson-Louris Jayhawks reunion – looks like they may get their wish). 'Bluebell Song' is a song just waiting for The Jayhawks.

Apparently the album was almost called 'Beehive', and that song for me is the centerpiece of the album. Gorgeous string arrangements (courtesy of Michele Gazich) give way to Olson simply reciting the two-syllable title over acoustic guitar. The recent live shows (just Mark and Ingunn) were simply stunning - I honestly didn’t want the Brighton show to end, I was so lost in his/their performance (aside: watch out for a broadcast of part of the show on the Gilded Palace radio show very soon).

Guests abound: Jolie Holland comes on all Sandy Denny on 'Little Bird', wherein Neal Casal plays guitar (neat!) and Vashti Bunyan steps in on 'No Time Too Live Without Her' (again hard not to draw associations with Mark’s past), but overall he and Ingunn Ringvold are the core of a beautiful life-affirming record. Mojo, you were so wrong on this one...

Link track: no legit mp3's so here's a video shot in Belgium...


12 Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers - s/t (self-released)

First I heard of Zoe Muth was when this CD arrived early in the year, and as soon as the first song started I knew I was in for a treat. 'You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying' may be the strongest track on the album, but it’s so good that’s no slight on the rest of Zoe’s songs. You just know immediately that you’re listening to great musicians getting stuck into a brilliant song. Her voice is reminiscent of Iris Dement (especially on closing track, 'Never Be Fooled Again' - a show-stopping 8 minute epic) or Nanci Griffith. In other words, it sounds like she was born to sing country. And the band really are superb: dobro, fiddle, guitar all shine – and there’s some incredible mandolin and pedal steel. If you enjoyed Caitlin Rose’s album, you’re going to love this – and if you couldn’t get over Caitlin-mania, then maybe this one’s for you (hey, you can get in before she becomes “cool” :-P)

In the meantime, Zoe Muth has been signed to Signature Sounds, a label already enjoying positive press via Eilen Jewell, so I expect Muth to do well in 2011 too. I’m not sure if a new album will be released, or whether they will give this one a full(er) release. Either way, she’s a name to watch.

Link track: You Only Believe Me When I'm Lying (mp3, via KEXP Song Of The Day)
Buy: via artist

13 Caitlin Rose  - Own Side Now (names)
It took an awfully long time for me to hear this record. You know the way it is: hyped to the hilt, the “next-big-thing” (or, as here, the “best-thing-out-of-Nashville-in-years”); well, it can get the hackles up a bit… just imagine how an artist tries to cope having that kind of expectation?... it took a Daytrotter session to break the deadlock. And - later - watching a number of (semi-acoustic) shows, I realized how great some of these songs are (regardless of hype).

So, to the album, and the glittering arrangements that raise the material to real show-stopping heights. Granted it is an “expensive-sounding record” (© Matt Eaton) but when at it’s best it produces a lifetime-great song like 'For The Rabbits', who’s complaining? She also toured her bloody socks off this year (was it three tours of the UK and Europe?), and still I don’t tire of hearing the best of these songs. Very excited to see what comes next: the band assembled for the recent UK tour around Jeremy Fetzer and Spencer Cullum Jr (superbly intuitive guitar/pedal-steel interplay between these guys) could be the foundation of an excellent second album – no matter how much is written about it.

Link track: Song For Rabbits (For The Rabbits demo) (mp3, via You Ain't No Picasso)
Buy: Rough Trade (w. exclusive bonus disc)

14 Ben Weaver - Mirepoix And Smoke (Bloodshot)
Mirepoix and Smoke is Ben Weaver’s seventh album (and the guy’s only 31 years old). His early releases attracted attention not only for his gruff voice (think William Elliott Whitmore impersonating Tom Waits…then go lower), but also his stomping, battered blues-folk. Looking back and in the light of three subsequent albums, that early material (for all it’s power) sounds like the ‘young Ben’ was just finding his feet. This is a masterful album, harking back a little more to his folk roots ('Paper Sky' and 'Ax in The Oak' - albums #4 and #5 - being a little more experimental (great too, by the way!). No, here Ben takes a more elemental approach. Often little more than banjo (or guitar) and his voice – and lots of space. Genuinely poetic lyrics, simple melodies; you can add the rest yourself - Ben is on tour in the UK and Europe in February: I can’t wait to see him perform these songs. He explains the approach to this album here. Listening to it after the album, I think more artists should write their own press releases – and record them too.

Link track: East Jefferson (mp3,via Bloodshot Records)
Buy: Bloodshot Records shop ...vinyl too!

15 Dinah Brand - I Can Walk Through (Transduction)

Named after a character in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, The Dinah Brand are from Dublin, and this is their second album (their first for Transduction). I wasn’t aware of their first album, but was hooked by the news that Stars Of Heaven’s Stephen Ryan plays guitar for them. That was just the start of it...

This album puts me in mind of bands like Bitter Springs or sophisticated indie-pop like much of Sarah Records, Pale Fountains (without the Bacharach fetish) or Prefab Sprout; there's an 80's feel about it. I'm thinking the easy, polished feel of the slower moments on Rattlesnakes (Lloyd Cole & The Commotions): what the heck, there's a lot of 80's reverie around in the pop/indie mainstream, it's about time the less-celebrated bands of that era had a resurgence.

Highlights: apparently absurd lyrics like those of 'Go Inside', discussing an irrational fear of HP Lovecraft and a mistaken delusion of parenthood. Then there’s 'Seacats', about taking the Ireland-England ferry: probably not the subject of a song you’d normally get excited about... think again. Lyrically they remind me of another Irish artist I heard for the first time this year: Mumblin’ Deaf Ro (maybe he’ll figure on the list next year, when he releases his next record). Musically, the arrangements are delightful and nowhere more memorable than on 'What's Required of A Person' (link below), its horn refrain beautifully underpinned by Stephen Ryan's e-bow(?) guitar and harmonies lifted straight from Smile. Utterly gorgeous - I hope people get to hear this record.

Link track: What's Required Of A Person (mp3, via Transduction Records)
Buy: Transduction Records Shop

Gig Of The Year: The Sadies at Brighton Coalition, December 2010
Reissue Of The Year: Miracle Legion: Surprise, Surprise (Mezzotint) (download from their site)...just pipping Drag The River's Closed (Suburban Home)

Those that are missing: if you like, numbers 16 and on…
Two Cow Garage, Furnace Mountain, Besnard Lakes, Wolf People, The Sadies, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House, Steve Wynn And The Miracle 3, Adam Carroll, Chip Robinson and Yarn... all released damned fine albums, but just missed the cut. And Charlie Parr will be in consideration (a cert, I'd say!) for 2011, when the new album gets a UK release.

For the record, I haven’t been obtuse in excluding more well-known artists: I genuinely did not ‘get’ Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy, for example. Maybe others didn’t either, but maybe others still need to start listening further afield, away from the hyped releases… with the number of excellent independently-minded blogs writing about otherwise obscure releases, there really is no excuse. I’ll make it my New Year’s Resolution: to find a new source of music each month – I’m open to suggestions as to where to start.