The Woo Town Hillbillies are a ramshackle musical collective residing in and around Worcester (or Woo Town, if you’re a local), uniting a combination of bluegrass, country and acoustic blues in a bid to become the counties (and beyond) ultimate roots party band and on the evidence of their debut album, Hay Fever they can’t be too far off.
The band use a combination of guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, double bass, harmonica, various percussion instruments and Kazoo to create an infectious, tongue in cheek, rustic riot, that’ll have even the most hardened cynic smiling like a cheshire cat whilst, trying in vein, to stop their foot tapping along.
Hay Fever opens with On The Road Again, a glorious collision of country blues and rock n roll, complete with twanging strings, rolling double bass, kazoo, washboard and a delightfully weathered yet infectious lead vocal that hooks you in from the off.
As the album continues the band showcase a varied array of influences, Dartmoor Girl could be the illegitimate son of Hayseed Dixie and The Beach Boys uniting frolicking banjo with sun-kissed harmonies, Do You, Do I? sounds like it could have been lifted from Blue Hawaii or from the Doc Pomus (Teenager In Love Fame) songbook as a lovely laid-back 50’s pastiche, Oval Room showcases the band’s instrumental skills with a brilliant slice of deep country blues noir, whilst both 4 A.M Girl and (the album’s lone cover) Salty Dog are both lusty, swaggering anthems perfect for a bar full of jubilant half cut punters in search for a good old sing-song.
Hay Fever is a fun fueled album full of bawdy country, good time roots, heartfelt sing-a-longs and more hooks than the Spanish Armada. Glug a beaker of moonshine, kick off them shoes and join the hillbillies, its party time in Woo Town.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
Catch The Woo Town Hillbillies Live In The Woo
10th April-Cap & Gown
18th-Cathedral Chaos with The Delray Rockets, Nigel Clark and Skewwhiff
25th-Rise Records CD Launch
Searching For The Supertruth is the second album by Oxfordshire based The Dreaming Spires (Robin and Joe Bennett), following on from the critically acclaimed debut, Brothers In Brooklyn, an album that further enhances the duo’s cosmic sound to incorporate indie, roots, harmony enriched 60’s pop and beyond, to create something that’s both timeless and yet somehow new.
The album opens in style with the mesmeric, Still Believe In You, a shimmering slice of cosmic swirling indie, complimented by brothers rich Byrds like harmonies and a lifting psychedelic pop melody that instantly grabs for attention, bringing to mind the likes of Tame Impala, or perhaps a 60’s west coast version of the Flaming Lips. The opening track instantly segues into the gorgeous, strummed acoustic and rolling drums intro of All Kinds Of People, before developing into a glorious widescreen combination of Americana and shimmering indie.
Strange Glue sees The Dreaming Spires change direction to deliver a hook-laden power-pop anthem, complete with an addictive vocal refrain and infectious fuzzy guitar riffs aplenty, creating a buzzing alternative pop anthem that could have been ripped from the annuals of Apples In Stereo (high praise indeed).
Further album highlights include the sun-kissed, pedal steel assisted, Americana groove of Easy Rider, the aching country of We Used To Have Parties, featuring the beautiful vocal harmonies of Sarah Cracknell (St Etienne) and the majestic seven minute finale, So Pretty with it’s simplistic piano motif, sawing violin (courtesy of Jackie Oakes) and Robin’s gorgeous vocal drawl.
Searching For The Supertruth is one of those rare albums that you find yourself surrendering to, an album that deserves total immersion, sure there are obvious hooks on the likes of Strange Glue and the funky When The Magic Comes, but there’s also a rich tapestry of layers waiting to be discovered on the aforementioned So Pretty, All Kinds Of People, etc. The Dreaming Spires have crafted a majestic and inventive album that straddles genres and magnificently ignores trends, an album to sit back and saviour.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
Black Country Boy, Doc Bowling & His Blues Professors CD
An unusual title for an album, given that the band is based around the London area, but the good Doc was raised on the edge of The Black Country. Its very much a blues album of today, plenty of political satire, and reference to our modern maladies. On that basis alone, it is the blues! dark humour is also present, as befits the subject matter.
First, ‘Black Country Boy’, takes a train ride, the rhythm of the tracks evident as the Black Country towns and scenery slip by. Soot belches out, covering all, its a bit of well crafted fun, rooted in our industrial past.
‘The Fal$e Prophet Blue$’, casts a much darker cloud over man’s intolerance, a fast buck, and consumerism at all cost. Narrated by a gruff-voiced Doc, to a riff that gallops along nicely, with Lawrence Davies, harmonica and Donnie Burke’s honeyed guitar making their presence felt. ‘Goodbye Mary Jane’, brings a country & western song that canters along, complete with chorus and the distinctive presence of Mademoiselle Chat Noir’s violin, it recalls love of a femme fatale, and lightens the mood. Even deeper into ‘cowboy’ territory, the violin more prominent, for a surgical, ‘Look Into My Heart’, based on an old Harry Jackson song. Time to move back firmly into blues territory, and a reflection on the dangers of the road. ‘Pedestrian Crossroads Blues’, turns, going down to the crossroads, into a whole new perspective. Of course it ends in death, as befits the blues, this time flattened by a truck! the car is king, as we listen to the Black Cats violin, layered over Donnie’s slide. Onto another updated blues subject, ‘Murder Suicide Blues’, the tale of death for love, its country blues with the delightful fiddle, rightfully taking the lead. The subject may be dark but the song is fine, with the Doc adding the gritty lyrics.
We up the pace with a more traditional blues riff, lovely slide, and dirty guitar chords, greed rules, beware, its the, ‘Biodiesel Blues’, the crop to fuel our lifestyle instead of feeding the people, serious social comment, befitting some serious blues chords, superb!
‘Church Going Blues’, is the gospel according to Muddy Waters, with lyrics inspired by this quote from the great man, ‘Phew you gotta go to church to get the particular things in your soul you know‘. Its a great, hard hitting sermon.
I’m trying to avoid conveying this CD track by track, but its not easy, the subject matter is a serious reflection on our collective morals and way of life today, it also happens to be very enjoyable. More slide, and a driving rhythm, from Simon Minney on base and Graham Chapman on drums, underscores ‘Wannabe Outlaw Blues’. With lyrics accommodating Daniel Craig, ‘Layer Cake’, Inland Revenue, and bank robbery, you know its going to be a good, a storming closure to the album. The tune is ‘Hi Heel Sneakers’ with some lyrics, ‘stolen’ from Dylan, the whole is excellent. Like cheating the taxman, this CD is a steal, from a band that entertains whilst making observations on the worlds plight, its the return of the protest song. I’m very pleased to have a copy in my hands, and recommend you check it out.
Words & Photo Graham Munn
Singer-songwriter and Nashville native, Andrew Combs, is something of a new name to me, however he’s already been making great strides both in his native US and indeed here in the UK. Last September Andrew performed at the acclaimed End Of The Road Festival, as well as headlining his first London show. Whilst Combs debut album, Worried Men (2012), released on a small indie label, Coin Records, was named as one of the years best by American Songwriter, whilst Rough Trade made the album one of their choices of the month. Andrew also made something of a name for himself when he accompanied Caitlin Rose on both her US and European tour.
After the attention and acclaim for Andrew’s debut, Americana label of choice (and perfect fit), Loose (here in Europe) picked up Andrew for his second album, All These Dreams. As you would expect with any release associated with Loose, All These Dreams has that rootsy country tinged sound, however there’s more to Andrew’s sound than battered acoustics, he weaves a timeless pop element and hints back to the classic songwriting and delivery of the likes of Orbison and Paul Simon, for Combs has a rich and welcoming sound that could have easily been lifted from yesteryear and yet still sounds fresh today.
All These Dreams opens with Rainy Day Song and the first thing that hit’s you is the glorious deep soulful croon that Combs possesses, his voice is expressive from the outset , whilst the musical arrangement of shuffling beats, acoustic and pedal steel guitars and strings provide a beautiful, lifting melody that instantly captivates. Nothing To Lose adds delicate keys and plucked guitars to proceedings, whilst a glorious sustained vocal hook led chorus brightens even the dreariest days.
All These Dreams offers up a few welcome surprises during it’s eleven track duration, Foolin’ is more of a driving rocker, Strange Bird is an out and out country number complete with whistled middle section, whilst the likes of Pearl and the folky tale of redemption, Slow Road To Jesus are both slowburning ballads that really highlight not only Andrew’s stunning croon, but also his ability to write compelling and visionary tales, drawing the listener deep into the heart of the song.
Andrew Combs maybe a new name to me and I expect you as well, but after listening to this timeless masterpiece, I doubt you’d forget his name again in a hurry, tales of love, sin and redemption haven’t sounded this welcoming in many a year, another essential addition to your record collection courtesy of Loose.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 10
In recent months Singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle’s stock seems to be on the rise, he released the critically acclaimed (and rightfully so), Single Mothers album, performed across the globe and has now returned with a brand new album, Absent Fathers.
The album was recorded at the same time as Single Mothers in view to the completed project being released as a double album, but as Justin began to sequence the tracks he felt that each half deserved to make their own statement and decided to split the two releases and deliver them a few months apart.
Obviously with the two albums being recorded at the same time, with the same line-up, sound wise they compliment one another quite beautifully, they both have that stunning blend of country, soul and understated rock and lyrically they both share that same autobiographical nature, where Justin lays bare his soul, his upbringing, love and loss on the duo’s confessional tales.
Single Mothers became something of a mainstay of my recent playlist and Absent Fathers is almost certain to much the same. From the opening Farther From Me, Justin captivates, his rich soulful tones tumble from the speakers over a wonderful slow and winding country-tinged ballad, featuring twanging guitars and an instantly infectious shuffling beat, from their pedal steel joins on the gorgeous, aching Americana of Why.
Least I Got The Blues, is a stripped back, world-weary country blues number featuring Justin’s voice over a sparse mix of strummed acoustic guitar and pedal steel, Earle sounds weathered and almost beaten as he delivers a delightfully fragile vocal. Elsewhere Day And Night is another beautiful, subtle, candlelit country soul number, where you can hear the emotion in Justin’s voice as he pours his heart out, both Round The Bend and Someone Will Pay showcase a rougher rock n’ roll edge, but yet despite the more upbeat sound he still unveils lyrical barbed couplets (Round The Bend) such as “And your momma’s only boy, your daddy’s only shame” alluding to his upbringing and absent father.
Absent Fathers much like its predecessor showcases a singer-songwriter very much at the top of his game, there’s no flashy arrangements or unnecessary flourishes, just stark, poetic portraits, compelling tales and Justin Townes Earle’s evocative worn vocals, stunning, simple and unforgettable.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 10