the mike davies column august 2017

will and bill

A mere 45 years after he wrote The Carlsberg Special for the B-side of Wizzard’s Ball Park Incident, BILL HUNT has come up with a follow-up. Released in a limited edition vinyl format under the name of The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers, El Original Brew is another perky harpsichord-based instrumental with brass, guitar, drums and strings, poured as a double B-side with The Kentish Town Song, an ELO-styled tribute to, er, Kentish Town by son Will Hunt and the Sundae Club.

And, speaking of ELO, Mick Butler returns with 24 Days, the latest self-released album under his SICKY moniker, which features his version of Telephone Line, a breathily sung acoustic reading that gradually swells as the instrumentations sweeps in towards the end. Not that he needs to trade on Jeff Lynne to get your attention, the album opening in fine style with the ballad Everything’s Electric (Just Plug Me In), all chiming guitar and a soaring chorus. It’s a more indie pop inclined release than the bluesier previous album, embracing big arrangements and Beatlesesque influences, as heard on Miracle, with the title track conjuring thoughts of Oasis’s chuggier moments and I’ll Send You The Dream a breathily waltzing big music number with part spoken lyrics.

18486259_1923027347973802_5778736754429549273_n

Having parked the & The Broken Hearts bit of the name, HANNAH JOHNSON is now trading solo with the release of debut album Shaken (Woodville), although the core-line up of herself, dad Stewart on lap steel and bassist Chris Shirley is the same. It’s the first release since sister Sophia moved to Austin, putting The Toy Hearts and what seems a permanent hiatus, but, it’s good to see that she’s still actively involved, both co-producing and contributing acoustic guitar.

Musically, it remains rooted in old school country, swing, the blues and honky tonk, the album comprising three original songs and eight covers. Of the self-penned material, Nowhere Train kickstarts proceedings with chugging Telecaster and an early example of how Johnson can switch from a silky purr to a gravel growl in the same line. The slow waltzing, steel weeping number Morning Cocktail is another original, about drowning the pain of a destructive relationship in alcohol, while the third Johnson number is Your Girlfriend Hates Me, a co-write with Sarah Sharp on a 40s sounding swing with Emily Gimble on piano.

Willie Nelson provides the first cover with a sultry swing and shuffle through Three Days, proceeding through Skeets McDonald’s honky tonker Gotta Get You From That Crowd, a Western Swing version of jazz pianist Richard M. Jones’ eight-bar blues Trouble In Mind, Roger Miller’s Not In Birmingham, Sooner or Later by Bob Wills and the rock n roll tinged, fiddle-flavoured old time country of Never No More.

The album ends with a couple of contrasting numbers, a gentle home on the range sway through Gwil Owen’s West Texas Lullaby and then, breaking out Bryce Clarke’s acoustic mandolin, the scratchy goodtime flapper flurry of Shake It & Break It Delta Blues legend Charlie Patton.

0010795449_21

My erstwhile studio engineer at BrumRadio for Alternative Roots, SAMUEL JAMES is also a pastoral blues singer-songwriter and guitar picker. Drunk In Love (available at https://samueljames2.bandcamp.com/releases) is his latest three-tracker, Sweetest Soul a softly sung, delicately played number with a circling guitar line evocative of Nick Drake. Hear Me Howling showcases his Delta blues influences and The Carved Moon is a sparse guitar instrumental that pitches its blues tent under open evening Southern skies.

12821405_965044050243299_4020166503068303649_n

Another DIY three track EP, PETERS & DOG release Madam Misery as the plug number, an acoustic baroque psych-folk number that showcases their early Floyd influences, not just musically but in the fact that’s a song named for and about the nickname given the Syd Barrett during the Floyd tours on account of his mental health issues making him withdrawn and the fact he took to wearing badly-applied women’s make-up. Both written and sung by Dog Walker, Girlfriend as shades of The Only Ones while, a Peters showcase and my favourite track, Why God Is So Slow To Punish The Wicked is a strummed protest number steeped, the chorus of which strongly echoes Lady Eleanor.

By way of contrast JUMP THE SHARK return with the rhythmically urgent and noisy Daisy Chains, its muscular funky riffs and guitar shards counterpointed by passages featuring the ethereal soaring vocals of Tasha Jones. They just keep getting better.

gerry back and forth

THE GERRY COLVIN BAND also return with Back and Forth, an album that features a mix of five new songs and six requested reworks. The regular line up featuring accordionist Trish Power, guitarist Lyndon Webb, upright bassist Jerome Davies and fiddle player Michael Keelan is augmented by Jack Keelan on cello and drummer Paul Johnston.

Taking the reworks first. you get the driving urgency of One More Week from Colin Quarmby’s A Short Walk To The Red Lion, the same album seeing a more rousingly passionate and fuller arrangement revisiting of the working man political anthem I Am The Bell (here The Bell) with Keelan’s fiddle getting due prominence. From Beth’s Electric Birthday comes one of his loveliest songs, Watching Feathers Fall, a gently dappled reworking that gives the acoustic guitar more prominence with Power on backing vocals, alongside his moody song about mental illness, The House of the Rising Sun, the guitar replaced by Davies’ double bass to give it a jazzier feel.

The Tragical Conceit of Captains Millbank and Kat is actually a retitling of The Ghost of the Black Lion from the QVC album the sea shanty story about Cutlass Cat, pirate captain of the Harridan, who, in her alter ego as Lady Fair, seeks revenge on Captain Millbanks, the man who cost her a treasure, by winning his heart, only to find herself falling in love but unable to reveal the truth. The final rework comes from his solo Jazz Tales of Country Folk, the wittily poignant song of putting an optimistic spin on underachievement, The Ninth Song.

It’s one of the new tracks that opens the album, Fate’s Fast Car a country folk strummer about mementos and memories followed by the scratchy guitar strum and accordion of the chorus swelling optimism anthem Light of the World. Someone Else’s Shoes harks to the border country colours of South American Dream while things slow down for the heartache country ballad The Man That She Left You For, sung in the voice of the man who took his best friend’s girl and one I could imagine Jim Reeves having done. The last number is the tumbling sung, accordion and fiddle led jig The Neverendum, which, as you might surmise, has a political thrust as the chorus gradually adds extra lines and he sings “did you ever get the feeling putting a cross in the box that you already know that the cause is lost?’ Fabulous.

roots-and-branches.com 2017