record reviews march 2015

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL 

Still The King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (Proper)

asleep

Formed in 1969 by Ray Benson and Reuben Gosfield, the band were dedicated to reviving Western Swing music, in particular that of Bob Wills, through both covers and their own original material, scoring a US Top 10 country hit in 1965 with The Letter That Johnnie Walker Sent. Still going strong under Benson’s leadership, they’ve knocked up over twenty  studio albums, two of them tributes to Wills. This is their third, except this time Benson’s enlisted a whole bunch of guest singers and musicians to perform classics and lesser known songs from the Texas Playboys songbook, including, on the opening Texas Playboy Theme, Leon Rausch, who was their lead singer from 1958 to the early 60s and took over after Wills’ death in 1975.

Some  names, such as Katie Shore (It’s All Your Fault), Elizabeth Cook (I Had Someone Else Before I Had You), Pokey LaFarge (What’s The Matter At The Mill) and The Devil Makes Three (Bubbles In My Beer), may not be that familiar, but others are among the brightest stars in the country constellation. Among these you’ll find Lyle Lovett (the New Orleans brass  soaked Trouble In Mind), Merle Haggard (Keeper Of My Heart), Willie Nelson (joined by the Quebe Sisters for Navajo Trail), George Strait (South of the Border), Brad Paisley (My Window Faces The South), The Old Crow Medicine Show (Tiger Rag) and Carrie Rodriguez (A Good Man Is Hard To Find).

Benson himself shares the honours on three numbers, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (with Kat Edmondson), Brain Cloudy Blues (with Jamey Johnson) and Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas (with Robert Earl Keen), the album closing out with Playboys evergreen Twin Guitar Special (here featuring Tommy Emmanuel) and, of course, Waylon Jennings’ own tribute to the master and the Lone Star state, Bob Wills Is Still The King, featuring Jennings’ son Shooter, Randy Rogers and Reckless Kelly.

 Mike Davies

 

 CODY CANADA  and the DEPARTED 

Hippie Love Punk (Blue Rose)

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One of the leading rebel lights of  red dirt country with Cross Canadian Ragweed, Canada  also seeded those furrows with southern rock, punk and blues. And he carries that over to his new four piece outfit on an album that kicks out of the traps from the start with the edgy, throaty guitar southern rock boogie Comin’ To Me and proceeds to keep the wheels rolling with the riff rocking strutter Inbetweener, bluesy, guitar-twanging Texas country rock ballad Easy, driving power rocker Revolution and the punk spitting fire of Great Big Nothin’.  They do throw in some more laid back moments, like acoustic gospel blues Maker and album closer All Nighter, a drawled country waltz with Willie Nelson undertones, but it’s the pouring sweat that defines them. 

Mike Davies

 

 THE WHITE BIRCH 

The Weight of Spring (Glitterhouse)

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Dubbed the Norwegian Sigur Ros, The White Birch was a slowcore trio comprising Ola Fløttum, Hans Christian Almendingen and Ulf Rogde who, after ten years and four albums, called it a day in 2006. However, nine years later, having spent the interim composing film scores, Fløttum has resurrected the name for a new album on which he’s joined by classical composer Ole-Henrik Moe on violin, viola and singing saw, Pal Hausken on percussion and glockenspiel and Moren Barrikmo on woodwinds and sax. The latter two are both  members of Susanna Wallumrod’s Magic Orchestra and their boss also puts in appearance, providing vocals on the The Hours with its minimal icy piano accompaniment.

As you might imagine, it’s a fairly atmospheric affair with cinematic soundscapes and understated, brooding arrangements, although the nervy, piano-led Lamentation and the stirring crescendo to seven minute instrumental closer Spring do provide  momentary  contrast to such hushed and almost ghostly numbers as the pulsing New York, The Fall, Winter Bride and the almost operatic The Weight of Spring, on which Ingrid Olava provides vocals.

The band’s past work drew comparisons to the likes of John Cale and Nick Drake, the latter’s influence apparent on the sparse, strings-kissed Lay me On The Shore, and, if you like your ambience shaded with mists, frost and occasional shards of sunlight, then this is your kind of season. 

Mike Davies

 

 EMMA LOUISE 

Vs Head Vs Heart (Emma Louise)

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Released in her native Australia two years ago and now making its way to these shores, this is the Queensland singer-songwriter’s first full-length release, an ethereal, atmospheric, electronic-based  affair redolent of early mists, woodsmoke, wind through the trees and sea breezes. Built around themes of vulnerability, obsession, loss and tension, with, as on the choral-styled 17 Hours,  her voice rarely rising above a dreamy whisper, at times it risks sounding a little too other-worldly, not least because of the layered arrangements of which many of the songs are made. 

That said, Jungle pulses with urgent percussion as she conjures thoughts of a more rarefied Tori Amos, while Boy bubbles along on a synth-pop ripple and Freedom swirls with electro pop dance beats swathed in echo and reverb. Even so, like Stainache with its repeated piano note, the cosmic clouds of Braces and the ice sculptures of Cages, this is one for the chill out room rather than the dance floor. 

Mike Davies

 

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