In Cassidy's Care (MeMe Records)
In Cassidy's Care, Miracle Mile's ninth album, started life as an observation of the effects of the collapse of a relationship on a character who became known as Cassidy. It moved from there, possibly simultaneously, to become a novella (available to download to Kindle) and this suite of songs. Put like that it suggests concept album and the conceit of seventies art rock which it is emphatically not. No one, to my knowledge, was ever moved by the emotional depth of a Camel collection.
But this is a record of great heart, a combination of Trevor Jones' emotionally rich vocals and carefully wrought lyrics lovingly placed by musical partner Marcus Cliffe into memorable melodic settings that fuse classic pop with modern textural production and moments that recall potent snippets from film and easy listening. I first listened, quite enraptured, some months before the official release date whilst speeding through Kent on a late night train and noting that the duo were 'orchestrating intensely personal emotions that you've possibly never endured'. I stand by that though the subject matter here, that of a failing relationship and the fallout, is close to home and this soundtrack brought a tear to the eye. Still can in fact. It is indeed fortunate that with the celebratory Beach Songs that there is a sense of reaching emtional dry land.
The simple fact is that over nine records Miracle Mile have continued to develop and Cassidy's Care adds to that growth. It is a wonderful thing indeed. It may be a final paragraph cop out to suggest that the territory once occupied by Prefab Sprout, Crowded House, The Blue Nile et al has been all but abandoned these days and that Miracle Mile are the natural choice for all left longing by that abandonment but if it suggests purchase to the wary and elevates the band, rightfully, to the elevated status that I place those outfits in then it's a cop out I make gladly.
The Whipsaws (Blue Rose)
Life can be tough in Alaska, so folk there tend to live hard and play hard. Coming from Anchorage, this lost are exactly the sort of combo you might expect to find in one of the bars where people get ripped on a Friday night. Working between the bases of rock and country, they’ve been likened to Drive-By-Truckers and Neil Young, cranking up punchy beer-drinking riffs but also laying down whiskey tears ballads.
The former kicks things off with Took My Tears and, after a deceptive alt-country intro, the Southern rock jam of Wait It Out with things like the rowdy Shutdown Checklist (which sounds like Jean Genie being played by Ted Nugent) and six minute closer Daylight with its twin guitar solos where they come on like a hard rock Wilco.
Those who prefer the softer side of the hangover will be more inclined to numbers such as the pedal steel coated acoustic Coralee, keening slow waltzer What Are The Chances with harmony vocals from Bonnie Whitmore and the folk Americana of Lay Down By Me with its mandolin and banjo.
It doesn’t travel as well as some of their like-minded contemporaries, but if you’re ever in their neck of the woods you’ll know to check out which bars they’re playing.
Caldera (Self Released)
The jazzier side of the rootsy fence, there’s hints of Maria Muldaur to her honeyed sensual vocals as they wrap themselves around the late night, jasmine-scented breeze of opening number Secret while the gospel shades of Swing Wide The Gates (where Paul Curreri adds his vocals) with its strings and semi-spoken delivery points more towards Victoria Williams without the nasal warble.
She does uptempo on the friskier I Lost It and Trouble, but she’s at her best on the more relaxed, breathy numbers, most notably Apostle, I Am Listening and the slow march Hands with is dreamy melody and moody guitar solo. Redolent of the early 70s, it’s one to immerse yourself in rather than snatch bites here and there, but you’ll appreciate the time spent unwinding.
Back-Road Highways (Creative and Dreams)
This is actually the Tennessee-raised, Minnesota-based Irish-African-American singer/songwriter’s fourth album, but only the first to find its way to these shores. A marriage of folk and R&B, it’s no surprise to learn Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie both figure on her influences list.
The chain gang rhythm of House Been Burnin’ sets the mood nicely with its blues and gospel undertones before a Dylanish harmonica introduces the organ backed world weary languor of the When We Get There with its story of a foreclosure, repossession and a broken promise land.
Her stories are steeped in deeply felt and deeply lived honest emotions, just listen to the violin-accompanied slow blues Solely where she talks of a journey to pay her last respects, the open-hearted pledge of love on Leroy with its the mud-bubbling banjo, the old school soul that is Could’ve Been On A Sunday or the devotional hymnal closing If You Let Me.
She digs into authentic acoustic blues for I Left Home and draws on her African roots for the rippling After You, the breezy number which prompted the album’s release after being featured on the BBC film Martha And Mary, switching style with the same grace and ease she brings to the entire album. She’s been likened to Nina Simone, Roberta Flack (listen to Slow Time), Bonnie Raitt and even Lucinda Williams, but the fact is that, sounding like a voice you’ve known all of your life and beyond, she’s very much unique onto herself. Expect this to be on many a Best Of list come December. Mike Davies
RODDY HART & THE LONESOME FIRE
Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire (Middle of Nowhere)
Big in Scotland, Hart and his six piece band’s eponymous debut (Hart’s actually released four solo album) trades in classic epic rock with huge anthemic hook-laden melodies, massive choruses, soaring guitars and chest-swelling, emotion choking vocals. Think U2, Springsteen, The National, Waterboys and Coldplay, the latter particularly pertinent since they share the same producer as the latter’s X&Y.
They set the bar with opening track Days Are Numbered where Hart packs Bono and Chris Martin into his lungs and lets rip, and then they take it up a few more notches with Cold City Avalanche, a number that makes Arcade Fire sound like Leonard Cohen. It’s an exhausting, relentlessly grand scale sonic assault with the likes of Ghost Of Love, the clarion calling Bright Light Fever, Queenstown, Not Nervous Anymore, stadium swayer Forget Me Not and Bad Blood’s rumble on the streets never contemplating anything less than an IMAX sized impact.
So it’s something of a relief to find that, on the strings-soaked High Hopes and the folksy acoustic finger-picked Tree Of Darkness, they can rein it in too, as capable of hitting the target with a blowpipe as they are a rocket. With songs to match their sound and a frontman who doesn’t lack for confidence (he curated the 70th Birthday Tribute to Dylan at Celtic Connections 2011), they’re clearly a fire set to blaze a path of glory.
DELBERT & GLEN
Blind, Crippled & Crazy (New West)
A name to be reckoned with in the 80s when he enjoyed a US Top 40 hit with Givin’ It Up For Your Love, earned a Grammy nomination for Live From Austin and won one for a duet with Bonnie Raitt, prior to his solo success Delbert McClinton had recorded two Americana bluesy rock albums with fellow Texan Glen Clark.
Now, 40 years later, they’ve reunited to make a third which, aptly opening with Texas shuffle Been Around A Long Time (which also sets the tone for some self-deprecating lyrics about getting old), is a lived-in set of country-tinted rock and blues with plenty of piano and guitar licks. As you might expect from such experienced veterans, the music is slick and smooth, whether pumping up the rock n roll boogie on Whoever Said It Was Easy, laying down the dirty blues for World of Hurt. Riding the desert country trail for the JJ Cale-like More And More, Less And Less, or stomping round the honky tonk for the Chuck Berry-ish Peace In The Valley. It’s a pity there’s only the one ballad, Just When I Need You The Most, a sort of soulful Eagles with a dash of Willie Nelson, but after 40 years I guess they just didn’t feel like putting their feet up and talking.