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
A few years back I got to see Danny & The Champions Of The World perform at a small basement club in Cheltenham (Subtone) supporting their recently released album, Hearts And Arrows, the band were a revelation, the album was damn good, but the live experience was on another level completely. That night the band blended rootsy Americana with soul and the rock ‘n’ roll attitude of Springsteen, every song hit the mark, every morsel lapped up by an audience at fever pitch and even now I’d regard it as one of the best gigs I’ve attended among literally hundreds over the years.
So when the chance popped up to review a double live album (recorded this year at the Jazz Cafe, Camden) by Danny George Wilson and maverick band, I leapt at the chance to don my headphones and disappear into a world of stripped down rock, strummed acoustics, parping sax, rich harmonies and pedal steel guitar.
The album opens with the band building up a wall of sound before dropping down to a gorgeous slice of drums and pedal steel guitar before Danny delivers his gorgeous folky (Dylan-esque) croon. (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket is a glorious opener, instantly showcasing that rich and rootsy sound that could hark straight out of Woodstock (think the organic sounds of The Band!!). only with an additional inspired sax solo, stretching the sound into a cosmic soul direction.
Cold Cold World follows, adding vocal harmonies to an already potent sound creating a 60’s pop feel, whilst the combination of the aforementioned pedal steel and acoustic guitar keep the rootsy sound very much at the forefront. Let’s Grab This With Both Hands is a stunning soul number with Danny really letting his expressive voice go over rolling beats and horns that could have been lifted from a best of Stax compilation, highlighting those various influences that make Danny & The Champions Of The World such an experience.
The first CD continues in much the same vein, stripped down Americana colliding with big soul and timeless rock ‘n’ roll effortlessly, from the rousing, eleven minutes plus of Colonel & The King with it’s “Elvis is a flaming star” refrain and squalling electric guitar and sax solo’s to the organ drenched, country soul of Darlin’ Won’t You Come In From The Cold, to the band’s tale of the road and firm fan favourite, Henry The Van, a gorgeous folk lament of touring and the band’s old mode of transportation, which even had me singing-along months later in the comfort of home.
The second CD opens with a pounded beat, those stunning pedal steel tones and a quite breathtaking twelve minute plus take on Other Days that again showcases the depth and musicality of the band’s sound, with each of the members of the Champions being allowed to express themselves, whilst Danny introduces the band.
From there the band take it home with a further five tracks that simply blow your socks off, beginning with the one-two winning combo of Every Beat Of My Heart and You Don’t Know (My Heart is In The Right Place) where the band unveil their inner E-Street Band fantasies with a couple of slabs of prime time, driving rock ‘n’ roll that’ll have the most restrained music fan punching the air in salute.
The band could have finished there, but no, Danny and the boys somehow muster the energy to unleash a thirteen minute take on Restless Feet with support act for the night, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou joining the band for additional vocal harmonies whilst the band weave their magic, with thrilling solos and driving riffs aplenty (checkout the stunning sax solo by Geoff Widowson). whilst the crowd show their appreciation clapping, hollering and crooning along gleefully.
There’s still time for a show stopping encore of Been There Before and a wonderfully ragged, stop-start, grand finale of These Days (again assisted by Trevor and Hannah on vocal duties) leaving the crowd (and me) baying for yet more.
Live Champs is a mind-blowing live album, the band are in glorious form throughout, Danny’s vocals are incredible from folky croon to soulful holler, whilst the song selection highlights the rich and varied sound of the band’s back catalogue. As for production, well it’s so crisp, you can almost smell the cider from the punter by the bar, few live albums truly capture a live atmosphere, but this one does and then some, it leaves you elated, drained and desperate for a repeat performance, like all memorable gigs do.
If you buy one live album, no scrap that one album period, this year make it Live Champs, the perfect document of the best live act in the UK right now.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 10
Wildest Dreams, Matt Woosey, Album Release November 3rd
Most of you who have seen and heard Matt Woosey perform, either solo, or with his band, will know him to be a talented blues man, acoustic guitarist and an excellent writer. Matt does not need to fill his set with blues classics, though sometimes the odd song may be slipped in. He is also gifted with an excellent voice, capable of gentle, melodic country songs or spitting out the grit when a bit of passion is required. His last full album, ‘On The Wagon’, has provided plenty of material for a Woosey gig, a follow up EP bridged the gap to this new release, Wildest Dreams. This is where we find new elements to Matt’s work, the style is more expansive. There is still a blues connection, its an anchor that does not lift easily, but the album opens into new areas, Matt is spreading his wings. My initial thought on first play through was, wow, this is bloody good. Dissect it and you will certainly find blue veins, but you’ll also find a a massive heart, pumping out rock, country, maybe even some gypsy jazz. It starts with a beautifully written and performed,’Exactly As We Please’, a song about shared moments alone with someone you love. Then comes Wildest Dreams, bags of reverb opening with Tom Tom, and finding an ethereal Matt, evoking feelings of Woodstock and an almost forgotten era of peace and love.
‘I’ve Seen The Bottom’, starts slightly sullen and blue, but quickly bursts into a glorious rock anthem complete with Hammond Organ, and great, emotive, one liner lyrics. ‘Don’t Tell Nobody’, is a deliciously dark tale of forbidden fruits, and is, quite simply, superb.
Here we switch to the near 3 minutes of mesmerising gypsy jazz finger picking guitar lead in to, ‘Love Is The Strangest Thing’, where the lyrics float in like a sea mist, and still that guitar plays on. Two songs are lifted straight from The previous EP, always destined, I suspect, for an album, ‘Hook Line & Sinker’ is joined by ‘let It Flow’, both very worthy inclusions. This album was recorded, mixed and mastered in 4 days flat, at Monnow Valley Studio under Tony Hobden. Dave Small on percussion, was also joined by Paul Quin on Hammond, and Rob Newell on bass. Including ‘Hook Line & Sinker’, is pretty appropriate, because that is exactly how it grabs you. Its difficult to select a favourite or stand out track, they are all that good, but I do particularly like the steamy, ‘Don’t Tell Nobody’. This is a long way from being a formulaic album, the genre are varied, with the common thread of Woosey talent stitching it all together. To record this in just a few days, points to the select group of collaborators and the inspiration engendered by Lisa, Matt’s partner.
I cannot find the words to do justice to this CD, it is stunningly good, it deserves to find a much wider market than the blues genre alone, can provide. Matt has long demonstrated his musical credentials, a good vintage has matured into a premier Cru.
Words Graham Munn
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
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