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
Holy Vessels are a Brighton based five-piece who first formed back in 2009, the band quickly managed to secure slots at the likes of Glastonbury, Big Chill and Lounge On The Farm festival with their winning combination of stripped down rock, psychedelia and infectious country.
Since the band’s formative years they’ve continued to perform numerous high profile shows taking in numerous Communion Record showcases along the way, the band have in recent times been hard at work, honing their debut album, Last Orders At The Marshall Arms with producer Iain Harvie (Ex Del Amitri, Maccabies, Eileen Rose, etc.
The album is set to be released later on this year, but as a free taster, Holy Vessels offer up the wonderfully appetizing single Springtime Bloom. The track is a warm, friendly combination of acoustic guitars, infectious piano melodies and hushed drums, all pinned down by a hazy, country-tinged psych groove and topped by a delicious vocal croon bringing to mind a rootsy Mumford And Sons whilst retaining a sound all of their own.
Springtime Bloom is a delightful opening gambit, it’s a lovely slice of ear friendly, stripped back, rootsy rock with a memorable hook, delivered by a band very much on the up. If the rest of the album continues in the same rich vein, Holy Vessels could well be onto a winner.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
Regular readers of Rhythm & Booze will have no doubt stumbled upon my recent Nell Bryden reviews (Live at the NIA and recent single Buildings And Treetops both covered in recent times) and will already have realised I have something of a real affinity for the Brooklyn songstress, that began with Nell’s debut album What Does It Take. The Mark Taylor produced (James Morrison, Cher, Lady Gaga) second album is set to continue my love affair with Nell’s mature blend of rootsy country, rock and pop as Nell delivers a wonderful twelve strong set further developing her already potent sound.
Shake The Tree opens with the glorious (and recent Rhythm & Booze live favourite) ode to death row, Mercy On Me, a gorgeous blend of rootsy acoustic guitar, driving riffs, galloping percussion and Nell’s passionate, bluesy country vocals. As openers go it sets the mood wonderfully, Nell’s vocals dip and soar majestically, whilst the widescreen cinematic instrumentation bring to mind the likes of Calexico (which is high praise indeed!!) at their best. The aforementioned recent single, Buildings And Treetops follows showcasing the poppier yet no less impressive end of Nell’s musical spectrum, where chiming guitars and those stunning vocal tone’s combine to create a contagious pop anthem.
From the opening two song salvo Shake The Tree continues in the same rich vein, from the slow building majestic ballad Sirens to the rootsy country rock of Fingerprints, Nell delivers a beautiful collection of ballads and rockers with highlights coming thick and fast. The title track is an infectious, groove-laden, powerful piano led blues number complete with rattling percussion, hand claps and soul stirring vocal delivery, Echoes is an expansive pop ballad with marching beats and pedal steel guitar, whilst If I Forget is a funky little country number that opens with a few lines of acapella vocal before Nell’s band add a shuffling beat and a certain amount of swagger, delivering a short sharp slice of pure playful and addictive roots fun.
Shake The Tree is a rich, spellbinding album full of drama, passion and spirit, Nell’s vocals soar, purr and ooze with emotion, whilst the dynamic arrangements and delivery throughout will have you scrambling for the repeat button over and over again.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
It would seem somewhat apt to be reviewing an album entitled Indian Summer as I’m sat here with the sun beating through the window and the temperature outside hitting a balmy 23 degrees (in May!!).
Auburn first formed back in the summer 1999, they performed their first gig to a packed house at Madame Jo Jo’s and since then have racked up plaudits from just about everyone from the mainstream radio to Classic Rock Society via The Evening Standard. The band formed and fronted by Liz Lentern released their debut album back in 2003 and toured Europe and the UK with Sophie Ellis Bexter in front of over 40,000, in 2005 Auburn hit top 5 in the UK indie video charts with Cry, afterwards the group decided to take a break.
Now a good few years later the band return with a stunning new album that see’s the band take in a number of musical influences to create a warm, intimate blend of stripped-down electro-acoustic pop.
The album opens with a gorgeous statement of intent, Shame On You, a song that instantly sets the mood with it’s blend of strummed acoustic guitars, groovy patted percussion, lush harmonies, Liz’s passionate smoky lead-vocal and the tracks infectious vocal hook, instantly hooking the listener from the opening few seconds. Auburn follow up the upbeat opener with the beautifully mature ballad, Strong, subtle beats, cello and delicate guitars combine to create a fragile slice of aching pop, whilst the lead vocal is a vulnerable heartfelt croon that wrenches at the heart strings.
From there highlights continue to come thick and fast from the languid, summery jazz of the title track to the bouncy pop vibe of Day Dreamin’ via the homely country-folk tinged, Eliza Carthy assisted Too Far From Home. Liz and the lads create an album that’s nothing short of mesmeric and even the album’s curve ball, closing number, Day Dreamin’ (Dub Mix) does nothing to dampen a wondrous collection of mellow grooves and sensitive laments, actually the bubbling remix showcases a new territory that the band could perhaps visit in the future.
Indian Summer is a lovely album from start to finish of intriguing laid back instrumentation, high spirited vocals and spine tingling harmonies, Auburn seem to serenade the listener, with Liz Lentern equally lulling and seducing from the outset. If your looking for a collection of mature melody infused pop look no further than Indian Summer.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 8
This week has been full of listening to wonderful new discoveries and reaquainting with a few old favourites, one such newbie (well to me anyway) is the wonderous stripped down sounds of Two Dollar Bash, a trio of singer-songwriters (two Scots and a Frenchman) combining to create delicious rootsy folk and stripped back country.
The band originally formed back in 2003, since then they’ve performed all over Europe and the US, taking in three successive years at the prestigious SXSW Festival in Texas along the way. The band have also found time to release three critically acclaimed albums before heading bak into the studios last summer to begin writing their fourth full length release, New Adventures. The band members took their time writing and recording their latest album, recording when time and location permitted (the three members are scattered across different continents),the band could have recorded their contributions separately but prefered to gather in one place when available, in a bid to make something more intimate.
And in truth the first word I’d use to describe this mostly acoustic affair would be intimate, followed by warm and perhaps spellbinding, you see Two Dollar Bash seem to have taken a 60′s era Laurel Canyon folk influence added a touch of straight up country, thrown in a few barroom dust kickers and come up with a uniquely organic, spirited and somewhat deliciously raw sounding roots album that lovers of say Guthrie, Cash, (Harvest era) Neil Young, CSN or Dylan will lap up in their droves.
The album opens a short snappy instrumental that features finger plucked banjo, acoustic guitars and sawing fiddle, setting the mood brilliantly for the rustic treats ahead. Two Dollar Bash follow up with the stripped back Americana of the Mark Mulholland helmed title track, complete with a lovely harmony enriched chorus and an instantly infectious melody that instantly compells your foot to tap whilst you gleefully hum along. Matt de Harp crops up next with the shit kicking straight up country of Blame It On Me, a track that could have been lifted straight out of Nashville with it’s combination of banjo, fiddle and world weary vocals.
From there on the aformentioned Mark Mulholland, Matt de Harp and fellow songwriter Joe Armstrong offer up a fine selection of prime time folk, stripped down country and rousing roots rockers from the gorgeous early morning sun-kissed San Francisco Morning to the twanging country rock of Same Old Lie via the Dylan goes country like duet (with Sister Chain) Floating Through and then there’s the driving Beatles-esque rock of Take It From You, showcasing a completely different side to the bands sound.
Whilst it would be easy to digest each and every morsel on here, it’s only right I leave something for the listener to discover for themselves, however I will say that no review of New Adventures would be complete with a mention of the traditional Irish drinking song influenced Rolling Down The Road, a rollicking folky tale of drinking and avoiding trouble or the brilliant heartfelt and poignant singer-songwriter fare of Foster’s Goodbye.
New Adventures is a real delight from start to finish as Two Dollsr Bash manage to combine all the essential elements of roots in one handy package.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 9
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