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Blind River Scare are a South Wales based four-piece that play a combination of original Americana and alternative country. The band have been playing live around the area whilst honing their sound.

Point Of No Return is a six track self-released EP that showcases their brand of back-porch roots, combining acoustic guitars with Pedal and Lap steel to create a warm and inviting sound, whilst frontman, Tim Manning delivers a fine country-tinged drawl that instantly grabs the attention, whilst his lyrics draw the listener further into their evocative mix.

The EP opens with the title track and instantly showcases the band’s alternative country credentials with an instantly infectious rolling rhythm and that aforementioned delightful combination of lap steel and acoustic guitar. The track moves along at a fair old pace and hints at the dusty Texan border with it’s almost Calexico like use of drum and bass, whilst the story compels and encourages the listener onwards.

Whether you enjoy the follow up track, Could I Be A Different Man would be down to personal taste, I’m not a big traditional country fan so to be honest despite a decent vocal and some nice harmonies, the track leaves me a little cold, as it’s all a little to slow and safe for my liking. Third track Gideon appeals a great deal more, with it’s (for the most part) solo acoustic guitar and weathered vocals, whilst the lyrics again capture the imagination and when the twanging pedal steel joins it peppers the track as opposed to dragging it down that tried and tested traditional route.

No Remorse, Guilt Or Shame sees the band at their most musically muscular with loads of tasty finger plucking complimenting the strummed acoustic wonderfully, whilst Damage Is Done begins as a stripped down affair complete with a wonderful warm and weary vocal, a harmony enriched chorus and a welcome change of pace during a short yet infectious middle section.

Overall Point Of No Return is an interesting and often contagious showcase of Blind River Scare, Tim’s vocals and lyrics are for the most part slow burning, rich and welcoming whilst the band create a tasteful country backing, if you want something raw and ragged look elsewhere but if you want to hear well played inviting roots you’ll find a great deal to admire about Blind River Scare.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 7

www.blindriverscare.co.uk

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Here’s a somewhat strange concept, a covers album of Bob Dylan in what, most people would declare, the poets weakest era (Bob suffered both critically and commerically throughout the decade!!), in fact most music fans maybe fairly ignorant to the majority of Dylan’s 80′s output with the likes of Saved, Knocked Out Loaded and Infidels barely registering on all but the hardened Dylan fans radars.

However producers Jesse Lauter (Elvis Perkins, The Low Anthem) and Sean O’Brien (Dawes, Papa) have set about addressing the forgotten era of Dylan by collaborating with a number of artists and Dylan fans to showcase what you may have been missing.

The album not only is an awareness raising affair for Dylan of the 80′s but also set’s to help raise funds for a fantastic charity, Pencils Of Promise (an organization that builds schools and eductational opportunities in the developing world) by donating a portion of the proceeds of the sale of this album. a win-win situation where purchasers are introduced to some brilliant music and give to the needy.

The compilation itself features a number of big names from the aforementioned Elvis Perkins to Deer Tick, Slash, Craig Finn (Hold Steady) and Dawn Landes & Bonnie “Prince” Billy among others all delivering rousing performances and highlighting the pen of Bob Dylan in the forgotten decade.

The album open’s with a gloriously ramshackle, rustic rendition of Got My Mind Made Up (from Knocked Out Loaded) by Langhorne Slim & The Law who weld together boogie woogie piano, handclaps, strummed acoustics and a raw, rousing,  infectious vocal delivery that sets the mood brilliantly. From there on in we’re treated to a variety of styles and approaches as the various artists reintrupt to their own strengths.

Highlights come thick and fast, from the likes of the gorgeous blissed out soul/reggae version of Brownsville Girl (Knocked Out Loaded) by Reggie Watts, the aforementioned Craig Finn with a brilliant piano led (Springsteen-esque) Sweetheart Like You (Infidels), the twanging country of Ivan & Alyosha’s You Changed By Life (Shot Of Love Outtakes), the beautiful folk lament of Dawn Landes & Bonnie Prince Billy’s understated Dark Eyes (Empire Burlesque) and the glorious alternative indie and muted horn assisted Series Of Dreams (Oh Mercy Outtakes) by Yellowcard. Whilst there’s no way you can review this album without mentioning the wonderfully the ahem, more warped, percussion friendly version of Waiting To Get Beat (Empire Burlesque) by Tea Leaf Green and the insane take on Wiggle Wiggle (Under The Red Sky) by Aaron Freeman (Ween) & Slash, which quite frankly has to be heard to be believed.

The seventeen track affair (24 if you manage to track down the deluxe vinyl edition with the bonus download code) is intriguing, captivating and at times surreal journey through the lesser acclaimed works by the most important songwriter born of this world. And if, as the album’s title suggests this only the first volume, sign me up for the subsequent releases now!!

Rhythm & Booze Rating 10

 

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Ward Thomas are a pop tinged country duo hailing from the unlikely location of Hampshire, a twin sister act who grew up on a rural live-stock farm from a family line of authors and artists. The sisters embraced rural lifestyle and along with it the rustic sounds of American mainstays Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood among others.

The duo were heard by renowned Nashville session musician Bobby Blazier, who embraced their sound and encouraged them to record over in the country state with a number of country’s top musicians as well as Grammy winning superstar Vince Gill, resulting in an album set to be released later on in the year as well as this, their debut EP, Footnotes.

Now if you like radio friendly country with pop hooks, Ward Thomas are the band for you, this four-track affair serves as a nice introduction to the stunning close harmonies and obvious pop hooks.

The EP opens with the rowdiest number, The Good & The Right, a blustery country rock number that’s simply hand built for day time radio with it’s instant hook, infectious vocal and long lasting swagger, that does bring to mind the aforementioned Dixie Chicks or perhaps The Wailin’ Jennys. From their the band strip back their sound, turn up the country influence and deliver the harmony enriched twanging title track, Footnotes. Take That Train is a true story based on love lost and redemption inspired by a chance encounter on a train, that once again showcases that sisterly bound with, it’s touching harmonies and rich melodies.

Ward Thomas finish up with a nod to their influences with a heartfelt and passionate rendition of Dougie MacLeans classic, Caledonia, that see’s the girls majestically cooing, making the often covered number very much their own.

Footnotes is a lovely showcase of the many attributes of Ward Thomas, from their close knit harmonies and intelligent instrumentation to their radio friendly pop hooks and heartfelt lyrics, the sisterly duo have certainly whetted the appetite for their forthcoming full length album.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 7

www.wardthomasmusic.com

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Emily Smith is a Scottish based singer-songwriter and traditional folk interrupter of the highest standard, since her formative years she was highly regarded, named as BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician Of The Year back in 2002 as well as winning and being nominated for numerous other awards throughout her career to date.

Emily’s previous four albums have all been critically acclaimed and on the back of those successes, see has been seen gracing stages across the world taking in prestigious slots at the likes of Cambridge Folk Festival along the way.

In recent times Emily has also been seen on television for her part in the esteemed Transatlantic Sessions, BBC’s songs of praise and on a sky arts program dedicated to Emily.

After releasing a best of compilation last year, Ten Years, she returns with a brand new album that also see’s Emily returning to her love of traditional song. The album also see’s a number of high profile collaborators join to help realize Emily’s vision, with the likes of Jerry Douglas, Kris Drever and Aoife O’Donovan complimenting the gorgeous tones of Emily. Together they’ve helped form an album that weaves a majestic rootsy album that hints at both Emily’s obvious Scottish roots and perhaps more surprisingly a Nashville country twist.

The album opens with the stunning, understated Reres Hill, a beautiful yet somewhat dark ballad that instantly showcases Emily’s mesmeric vocals over a sparse, stripped down mix of plucked and sawed strings, all complimented by a distinctive country flavoured twang and half-murmered male vocals. As opening gambits go, Reres Hill is a simply jaw-dropping, intoxicating track that sends tingles down the spine and urges the listener to fully embrace the full depth of Echoes.

From such glorious beginnings, the album continues in the same rich vein with The Sower’s Song which sees delicate acoustic guitar blend effortlessly with tender heart felt vocal harmonies to bewitch the listener further. King Orfeo showcases that traditional folk/country crossover further with Emily taking a traditional song and giving it an original twist with shuffling drums and lap steel twangs creating a dustbowl Nashville feel.

The album continues on the roots trail with a murder ballad of sorts in the shape of Twa Sisters, that despite the subject matter, has quite an uplifting feel, with it’s hum along melody and effortless vocal refrain. Whilst The Open Door and the piano led, Clerk Saunders are both gorgeous slices of stripped majestic beauty, both showcasing Emily’s heart-wrenching and passionate vocal to full effect, over the spellbinding yet never obtrusive musical arrangements.

Emily Smith’s fifth album, Echoes is a bewitching album from start to finish that should become a firm favourite of roots lovers the world over, whether it’s folk, country or just a love of stripped down acoustic music there’s a great deal to embrace here.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 9

www.emilysmith.org

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John Wheeler may not be a household name but if any of you have had your finger on the pulse in the past few years may recognise the multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter as the frontman of Hayseed Dixie, the world’s finest puveyours of Rock Grass and perhaps one of the most infectious and fun live acts known to man.

Un-American Gothic is John’s debut solo album and though it still contains a little of that tongue-in-cheek charm of the aforementioned ‘Dixie, a winning combination of rock, bluegrass, folk and stripped down rootsy Americana, John also delivers a number of biting slabs of social commentary (be it with a knowing side order of wit) on the likes of Deeper In Debt.

The album opens with the Down At The Exit, which serves as a brilliant statement of intent as John delivers a driving rootsy rocker complete with an addictive strummed acoustic, a killer melody and a winning contagious chorus that instantly warms the listener setting the stall for the treats ahead.

From such an instantly likeable opening salvo, John cranks up the guitars, throws in some sawing violin and hammers the crap out of the drumkit for a gloriously rowdy and stirring rocker in the shape of Doomsday Dance, that comes complete with a false ending and a wonderful fiery fiddle solo that’ll have the likes of The Levellers dribbling with envy. In direct contrast but no less impressive is the first of two inspired covers, in the shape of The Jam’s Eton Rifles, a track that see’s John strip the song to it’s bare bones, to deliver a stunning a (near) solo piano led version that manages to find a brand new dimension to the the well-known crowd-pleaser without losing any of it’s charm.

Highlights continue throughout the duration of Un-American Gothic, from the folky celtic-tinged ballad Kuss Mich Noch Einmal (yes I know German lyrics and Celtic influences do sound like a contradiction, but seriously check this out it works wonderfully), to the unexpected strong and beautifully soulful vocal delivery of Street Sweeper Lullaby, a track that simply oozes with emotion and longing, whilst Black Forest Skies again see’s John deliver a stunning dreamy turn, tinkling the ivories once more and It would be hard not to mention the ragged strum of the album’s second cover in Masters Of War which John makes Dylan’s tune his own, with an impassioned almost  feral take.

Now I have to admit, I’m already a fully paid up member to the Hayseed Dixie fanclub (well not literally but you know what I mean), so you can imagine my intrigue when I read about John Wheeler’s first solo trip, but I can honestly say, I never expect such a varied, inspired and intoxicating collection of songs and styles, Un-American Gothic is something of a masterpiece, a genuine classic roots rock album with numerous twists and turns, countless hooks and more passion than most performers muster in a life time and though I hope Hayseed Dixie continue to flourish, this could well be John Wheeler’s most defining moment in music.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 10

www.johnwheelermusic.com

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