Paul Kerr

Paul Kerr

Paul Kerr

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Southern Fried. Perth. Friday 29th - Sunday 31st July 2016

Southern Fried. Perth. Friday 29th - Sunday 31st July 2016

Southern Fried, the annual celebration of American roots music held in the fair city of Perth goes from strength to strength, this year adding more venues and introducing an indoor acoustic stage to complement the outdoor stage (which was introduced two years ago). Over the three days of the festival these two stages hosted a total of 24 acts, an incredible opportunity to see artists from the States, Europe and the UK up close and for free. And while the major names were to be found at the paid for gigs there was a fair dollop of well known acts dotted around these three days including Appalachian archaeologists Anna & Elizabeth, UK Americana Award nominees The Dreaming Spires, singer-songwriter Norrie McCulloch and ex Thrum duo Monica Queen and Johnnie Smillie. For most folk attending however their abiding memory will be the debut performance from Texas Martha and her band of expert pickers, all French, The House of Twang. With telecaster twang, Dobro and banjo picking and Martha's joi de vivre they blew away the clouds that shadowed the opening act Shady Pete & The Blues Concessions.

Read more...

Gordie Tentrees and Jaxon Haldane

Gordie Tentrees and Jaxon Haldane @Celtic Connections. Glasgow art Club. 31st January 2016

It's the luck of the draw I suppose. On the last night of Celtic Connections with the drawing power of Robert Plant appearing just down the road, Canadian Gordie Tentrees was battling against the odds to pull people in. The fact that the venue was about half full was gratifying, Tentrees has been hard at work over the years building up his fan base, this being his eighth or ninth Euro tour and reviews for his latest album, Less Is More, have all been positive.
Tentrees was joined tonight by fellow Canadian Jaxon Haldane who played a short support slot armed with banjo and his collection of fine cigar box guitars.

Now living in Oklahoma Haldane proved himself a fine fingerpicker and writer, his story of the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, James Butler Gray an excellent song in a Gordon Lightfoot manner. He was jocular in word and song singing a fine number that name checked Charlie's Parker, Daniels and Feathers but there was a darker edge on his delivery of Crystal, a fine analogy of drugs as a cruel mistress. He ended with a tribute to his late mentor, Willie P Bennett on Old Vessel, singing the spiritual into his guitar well to create an eerie echo as Bennett used to do.

Haldane remained on stage to handle banjo and lap steel (cigar box) guitar for Tentrees and proved to be a great foil. Launching into a raucous rendition of Keno City the pair of them summoned up the energy and abandon of the original Holy Modal Rounders duo before Haldane switched to mandolin for the Guthrie sounding Tired Of Time, the song swaying woozily around the old time chorus.  Lost Guitar had an Eastern tinge to some of the guitar licks but Tentrees excelled with his story telling of the Canadian government's somewhat cackfisted treatment of Yukon natives which he then sang about on the moving Ross River. His introductions to his songs were at times lengthy but delivered with an infectious humour whether it be about life as a father or lying in Towne's Van Zandt's bed thinking of Mary Gauthier. There was poignancy when he spoke about accompanying his wife to the Boston marathon that was a terrorist target, an event that inspired Somebody's Child. Elsewhere Tentrees played his somewhat worn looking resonator guitar for some gutsy hillbilly stomps, evoked the goofy side of Loudon Wainright on the lop sided Dead Beat Dad , a feat he repeated on the encore where he sang about his wedding. The highlight however was a fine rendition of Mary Gauthier's Camelot Hotel with Haldane on musical saw creating a spookiness that enveloped the room.

Read more...

Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens @Celtic Connections. Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow. 27th January 2016

It may be that an appearance on Jools Holland's New Year Hootenanny bumps up audience attendance at live shows but the astute Celtic Connections hordes were snapping up tickets for Rhiannon Giddens long before she appeared on out tellies. Indeed, expectations were high for this show, Giddens a favourite of the Glasgow crowds with a particular affinity for Scotland.  Her tour de force delivery of some Gaelic mouth music astonished the audience at her last concert in Scotland at Perth and it astonished here also. That an artist should celebrate (and do it so well) local culture is bound to be appreciated but Giddens is much more than a musical magpie; as an ambassador for roots music, in particular songs laid down over the years from the era of slavery up to Dylan and Odetta, she celebrates her own heritage as an African American and pays homage to the female writers who have preceded her.

She has charisma by the bagful. Sparkling on stage she takes time to describe the roots of the songs she is singing, explaining their genesis and how she came across them. She discovered Sister Rosetta Tharpe in a record shop in Edinburgh, an example, she notes, of Americans' lack of awareness of their own culture. Opening the show with her version of Dylan's Spanish Mary and then Dolly Parton's Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind she then veered into the slow country waltz of Patsy Cline's She's Got You; three songs in and the audience were transfixed. Her signature version of Odetta's Water Boy then sailed into view, its powerful rhythm eliciting hollers from the audience then it was into the jazz era with a slinkily sultry Underneath The Harlem Moon. It was clear by now that we were getting a master class in roots history and Giddens' moved on to Canadian and Applachian fiddle tunes before a thunderous Cajun stomp on Louisiana Man which had some of the dynamic ferocity of Led Zeppelin's version of In My Time Of Dying. The band, led by Hubby Jenkins and augmented by Old Crow Medicine Show's Chance McCoy on guitar were superb throughout, well honed on what was the last night of their European tour.

Giddens continued to enchant, enthral and exhilarate, Come Love Come soaked in slavery's injustice but with the spirit shining through, the aforementioned Gaelic number (S'iomadh Rud tha Dhith Orm/Ciamar A Ni Mi 'N Dannsa Direach if Google is to believed) rousing the house. She played a whirling dervish fiddle introduction to Hit 'Em Up Style before returning to her Dylan covers and her banjo on Duncan & Jimmy to end the show. An encore of sister Rossetta's Up Above My Head, given a rousing Gospel thump, ended the night, Giddens' triumphant, the crowd stomping and certainly one of the highlights of this year's festival.

Read more...

Blue Rose Code

Blue Rose Code. Celtic Connections Mitchell Theatre Friday 29th January

Yet another sold out show and tonight there's an almost palpable feeling from the audience urging Ross Wilson AKA Blue Rose Code to come up with the goods. Wilson has garnered a fiercely loyal support and for them tonight promises to be something special, the first opportunity to hear the forthcoming album, And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing and as a bonus to buy the disc two months before its official release.  

Stepping out on stage with his ten-piece ensemble Wilson announced that he would be playing the album in its entirety before opening with the brief glimpse of his last single Grateful which opens the running order on the new disc, he and vocalist Wrenne tantalising us. The band, a moveable feast as members came and went, all orchestrated by the beaming and increasingly animated Wilson who remained front and centre throughout, then bustled into the glorious sweep of Brave Cedars & Pied Wagtails, burbling double bass and woody cello driving the beat with some fine guitar runs from Lyle Watt, Wilson's Leith laden voice couthy as he and Wrenne weaved around the words. My Heart The Sun was a vibrant and pulsating drum driven rollercoaster with Wilson, guitar discarded, emoting like an evangelist, pleading and testifying as the song's dynamics shimmied and shifted.

The band departed aside from pianist Angus Lyons and fiddler Lauren McColl for the epistolary nakedness of Pokesdown Waltz, a song of sadness and loss, a moving violin solo and Wilson's almost whispered closing lines of regret hushing the auditorium. Glasgow Rain continued in this vein as Wilson roamed the streets of Glasgow in some despair, again the lost or last kiss bitterly regretted, the shimmering keys and glacial trumpet (from Colin Steele) reinforcing the alienation and self despair as Wilson sang, "I told you I'm no good." It was back to the full band line up for the tour de force that was In The Morning, a full  (trumpet) blown blast of freewheeling Celtic soul mixed with some Mariachi madness. Fast and frenetic, discordant guitar strums, Wyatt's scrabbling runs and a wild free form coda that was like John Martyn digging some free jazz all added up to an exhilarating ride. Love was a wistful and wonderful breather, embellished by the tinkling percussion of Signy Jakobsdottir while the cello evoked memories of Nick Drake before Wilson, solo on keyboards offered up Favourite Boy, another song that harks back to Wilson's troubled past and which  judging by the beatific grin from Wilson at the end and the huge applause was a winner. By now we'd reached the end of the album and the full band gathered for the closing song, In The Morning Part Three, a more mannered continuation of the earlier song, the trumpet cutting like a knife through the Celtic lilt of the violin and cello.

Decrying the usual encore setup Wilson ended the show with some favourites. His wonderful evocation of his time in Scotland's hinterland on Sandaig and a fine rendition of One Day at A Time before he delivered the awesome Edina, his hymn to his hometown that increasingly reminds one of Van Morrison's tone poems on Belfast. He then paid tribute to the late John Martyn who died seven years ago to the day with a moving rendition of Fine Lines, his voice and guitar shadowing Martyn with Wyatt on slide and ebow adding the ambient sounds. From there it was on to the grand finale of a full production number of Grateful, a full bodied, Gospel fuelled, horn filled slow boat slide into Wilson's dharma gratefulness, his closing words, "Glasgow, I am grateful," just about summing it up.

Read more...

Kimmie Rhodes / Rod Picott

Kimmie Rhodes/Rod Picott | Celtic Connections Royal Concert Hall 25th January 2016

Sold out notices for this show which is heart warming given some of the other shows on elsewhere tonight. There are many threads to Celtic Connections; as one would expect there's Celtic music (be it from Scotland, elsewhere in the UK or from bastions across the globe. There's world music, Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, Asia, the Antipodes, all have been here but it's also been a haven for Americana (or whatever you wish to call it). It might have been Burns night tonight but not a haggis was to be seen as we wallowed in some Texas nostalgia courtesy of Kimmie Rhodes while Rod Picott offered some tough and tender acoustic musings.

Rhodes, accompanied by her son Gabriel (guitar and baby grand piano) did mention her latest album Cowgirl Boudoir on one occasion prior to playing the album's  Always Never Leave but most of the evening consisted of her going through her extensive back catalogue with a tale to tell before each song. She was charming, warm, fun and funny (and an inveterate namedropper but she has a right to be so) as she took us from her origins in Lubbock, the early music with The Jackalope Brothers and her initial meetings with Willie Nelson up to the present day. No stranger to Celtic Connections she told us how she loved the "craic" (pronounced crack) and also how she loved to say that here as back home it meant something else entirely. While lengthy at times the stories all served the music and over a lengthy set Rhodes proved that she has every right to consider herself as part of the Texas music pantheon.

Opening with West Texas Heaven the Lone star State featured heavily throughout  with the Buddy Holly inspired I've Been Loved By You (introduced with a story about her babysitter playing her Holly records) following. Later on there was a cover of Doug Sahm's collaboration with Dylan on Wallflower and a tremendous version of Townes Van Zandt's White Freight Liner but it was Rhodes own songs that towered here. Just one Love was enhanced by her son's slide guitar playing but it was his piano that caressed Love Me Like A Song, here the audience were word perfect as they sang along. Continuing with her stories Rhodes introduced Just Drove By, a hit for Wynona Judd, as a financial saviour at a time when she was finding life a hard scrabble. The cheque, she admitted, was fulsome but after paying her creditors all she had left was enough to buy a vacuum cleaner which she named Wynona. She dipped way back into the past for a tremendous rendition of Contrabandistas with Gabriel handling the Texicana guitar solos with gusto and again we were reminded that Rhodes mucked around the Texas scene when all but the cognoscenti were tuned in.

Completing the family line up daughter with Jolie Goodnight joining Kimmie and Gabe towards the end there was a fine bluesy rendition of Cindy Walker's You Don't Know Me, a family harmonised Wallflower and a fine blast on Towne's White Freight Liner with Jolie recovering well from a missed vocal cue. They encored with a nod to Scotland on Donovan's Catch The Wind before finishing with a touching cover of Raining In My Heart. The crowd lapped all of this up and we last saw Ms. Rhodes at the head of a very lengthy queue meeting and greeting her fans. A lovely show in all.

Rod Picott has a reputation as a blue-collar singer songwriter but tonight he promised, "less welding, more break up songs." As this was just before a brisk delivery of the Steve Earle like Elbow Grease methinks he was just joking with us and his between song humour throughout endeared him to the audience, his lengthy introduction to Uncle John, the black sheep of his family, led up to a fine one liner involving a member of the crowd. However his new album, Fortune, has its share of bad luck stories and heartache and Picott proved himself to be as able a poet of the heart as well as the workplace. Maybe That's What It Takes was tender while Alicia had the audience transfixed as Picott's words flowed like teardrops. Jeremiah was introduced as a "private protest song" as Picott delivered what is essentially a eulogy for those killed in war and for those left behind to carry on, his words to the audience at the end, "politics is a fucking mess in the US," showing which side he is on.

Proving he has a rock'n'roll heart Picott played his Howling Wolf tribute Until I'm Satisfied (which segued cleverly into a verse or two of Fever) while he dug into his back catalogue for Stray Dogs, a Springsteen like urban teen tale which he delivered with an impressive swagger. Again he was somewhat swamped after the show signing discs, several audience members new to his music expressing their newfound delight.

Read more...

Sturgill Simpson and Lera Lynn

Sturgill Simpson and Lera Lynn. Celtic Connections. Glasgow O2 ABC. Friday 15th January

There was a welcome surprise for those attending what was billed as a solo show from Sturgill Simpson on this, the second night of Glasgow's Celtic Connections. Simpson, no stranger to Glasgow and perhaps aware of the cavernous nature of tonight's venue, elected to perform with a backing band and who better than his local chums, The Flying Mules. The Mules have a history with Simpson going back to his second Glasgow appearance in February 2014 in The Admiral Bar courtesy of local promoters The Fallen Angels Club, early champions of this now feted country star. The support that night was Daniel Meade, singer and pianist with the mules and the pair struck up a friendship that saw Meade and his guitarist Lloyd Reid accompany Simpson on his next UK tour with the Flying Mules then being the support act on Simpson's first full band tour over here. S no Chuck Berry pick up band scenario here, the Mules were familiar with and fired up to play Simpson's songs.

This was apparent from the start when they slammed into sitting Here Without You, the song gaining a rockabilly stride courtesy of The Mules. Long white Line had a boom chikka boom beat and opened out into a lengthy coda allowing Reid to show off his guitar skills before a raucous Some Days which had a rough and tough country beat, Meade able to hammer the keys like Hargus “Pig” Robbins who appeared on Simpson's debut album. It wouldn't be fair to expect these local lads to compare with Simpson's usual band but despite having only had a 30 minute run-through prior to the show they passed with flying colours. Lloyd Reid was especially impressive on Life Of Sin and Living The Dream, Meade meanwhile emulated Jerry Lee Lewis' country style on the tearstained lament (one for the ladies said Simpson), I'd Have To be Crazy. Mention must be made of Mark Ferrie and Thomas Sutherland on double bass and drums for keeping the pace going.

Although Simpson apparently has, a new album ready for release tonight consisted of familiar songs from his two albums and some fine covers of Willie Nelson, Porter Waggoner and the Stanley Brothers. His pronounced country drawl powered through the up-tempo numbers but he was impressively seductive (at least according to the female shouts from the front) on The Promise. Midway through the band left the stage and Simpson delivered three solo numbers including a surprise version of Van Morrison's Slim Slow Slider, inspired he said by his recent visit to Belfast. With the band back on there were fine workouts on Railroad Of Sin, Turtles All The Way Down and Listening To The Rain before Simpson returned to the stage for a four song solo encore. He paid tribute to his roots with the Stanley Brothers' Medicine Springs and a magnificent rendition of Waggoner's Your Old Love Letters, his guitar ringing out here. He added some soul in the form of You Don't Miss Your Water before ending with Roy Orbison's Crying, his voice ringing out to the rafters.

A great show and a one off as befits Celtic Connections, a festival which thrives on unexpected pairings. Simpson has had a stratospheric ride to the top since his first appearances over here a mere two years ago but it's nice to see he hasn't forgotten his Glasgow buddies.

Support act Lera Lynn is on the up and up following her presence on the soundtrack to True Detective. Appearing with guitarist Joshua Grange the pair did seem a little lost on stage as the crowd mostly milled about waiting for the main act however her sultry songs were well received by those who were listening. It was when Grange moved to pedal steel for renditions of Bobby Baby and Whiskey that Lynn seemed to be most comfortable, the songs coming across like an amalgamation of Bobbie Gentry and Lucinda Williams. I'm sure she'd be superb in a smaller setting with a full band behind her.

Read more...

Dean Owens

Dean Owens has been a major player on the Scottish Americana scene for the past two decades going back to his country rock days in The Felsons who released two albums in the nineties. He's since released six solo albums culminating in the critically acclaimed Into The Sea released on Drumfire Records earlier this year. Receiving the best notices of his career so far, the album was conceived during a difficult time for Owens who suffered a series of bereavements in 2014, friends and comrades and, most difficult of all, his sister, Julie, who died from cancer. The album was a conduit for Owens' feelings, capturing his portraits and memories of his loved ones giving the record a powerful emotional tug especially on the song Evergreen, written for and about his sister. 

The album was recorded in Nashville, produced by Neilson Hubbard (recently acclaimed for his work with The Orphan Brigade) and featuring luminaries such as Will Kimbrough, Kim Richey and Suzy Bogguss. Following its release Owens and his revitalised band, The Whisky Hearts have played a slew of triumphant shows throughout the UK including a barnstorming performance at Perth's Southern Fried festival. Their last performance of the year was at a St. Andrews Day event in Edinburgh which didn't go altogether as planned as Dean slipped off an edge of the stage during the piano break in the encore (Buck Owens' Love's Gonna Live Here).   His trusty Guild guitar broke his fall, but it still resulted in three broken ribs. In true rock'n'roll Dave Grohl style he managed to pick himself up and get back to centre stage in time to finish the song and the band didn't miss a beat. The guitar, you'll be glad to hear, was undamaged.

Still nursing his cracked ribs Dean was able to speak to Americana UK about the album, his year and his future plans.

Into The Sea has been really well received with more reviews and mentions than any of your previous releases. Given the circumstances around its writing it must be gratifying to see that it's connected so well with so many folk.

The album came out at the end of May and it's been incredible. It's been really well received right across the board, all the feedback and reviews have been good. Most artists probably believe their latest thing is the best but I genuinely felt once it was finished that it was great, I was really chuffed with it and I'm glad that others feel the same, they've been supportive.  The feedback on the various songs has been great. It was a difficult time for me when I was making the album for various reasons and a lot of that I poured into the song writing and people seem to have picked up on that. It's quite an emotional record; well, I suppose all records are emotional but it was a time in my life when a lot of unexpected things, tragic things were happening and as a songwriter that comes through in your craft. 

Although it's six months old I'm hoping it's got a good bit of life in it yet. These days with records you need to get as much out of them as you can, it's not like the seventies or eighties when big label support allowed you to record album after album. You need to get a good couple of years out of a record and I think that Into The Sea has just started its journey. People have picked up on different songs and the airplay has been fantastic, I've had great support from the BBC and various stations. Every single has been play listed by Radio Scotland and Ricky Ross has been unbelievably supportive. And when someone like Ricky picks up on that, you know, he's not just a radio presenter, he's a fellow songwriter who's achieved a lot with his own music and to get accolades like that just gives it that wee bit extra weight.

The album's full of memories, songs about friends and family, people you knew and loved. It was recorded in Nashville but it's not what you might expect from a Nashville album, it's not country exactly, it seems much more home grown.

Well I go to Nashville a lot. I like it as a city and I've got good friends there who just so happen to be great musicians as well. So I go there to meet them and to work. It's funny, I recorded Whisky Hearts (Dean's 2008 album) there as well and if you put Whisky Hearts and Into The Sea together they're probably my most "Celtic" sounding records. There's a strong folk and roots thread in those albums, I'm writing about local people and friends but I've just gone over the water to record them. When doing Whiskey Hearts I had this song, The Man From Leith, which I'd written about my dad and I wasn't going to put it on the album. I felt it was too parochial but when I played it to the band they were saying, "No, it has to go on." They do add a bit of twang and I think it's just a really good blend and that's why I feel comfortable describing the music, especially on Into The Sea as Celtic Americana. I'm a huge fan of American music and culture, books, films, the landscape; I've travelled a lot over there so I'm able to add that to my local roots.

Can I ask about Dora, the opening song on Into The Sea? It reminded me a little of Richard Thompson's work but it's actually about your grandmother who was in a travelling circus.

Well, my great great grandfather, Ambrose Salvona, came over from Italy in the 19th century and he died around 1918. He started a circus and he was the lion tamer. I didn't know much about him other than that he was buried somewhere in the Highlands. This sparked off Dora which was about my grandmother who was born into the circus. The song's part fiction, part fact, I could only go with the few things I knew from the family tree but when the album came out a BBC journalist was intrigued and did some research and was able to locate Ambrose's grave in Inverness. Me and my dad went up to visit the site and were able to piece together more of the family story and actually it seems I managed to get most of it right in the song. The BBC broadcast a news item about the story and a couple of newspapers covered it and since then I've had all these distant relatives getting in touch, I think there'll be another song coming out of that.

Speaking of the BBC your session with Bob Harris was broadcast recently

Yeah I recorded that a wee while back but Bob's got a huge backlog of sessions so I'm glad it's finally seen the light of day. It was a good session, it went really well.

You were playing solo on the session for Bob but you've been touring a lot with The whisky Hearts. The show I caught was quite impressive.

Yeah, The Whisky Hearts have not been a regular band in the past but we've settled on a more stable line up recently and it's been great. You mentioned in your Perth review that there was a wee bit of Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance's raggle taggle approach in our performance and Ronnie was certainly one of my big influences. I've never been fond of the slick approach preferring to capture the soul of the music so when we play as a band it's a wee bit rough around the edges.  We've just added Brian McAlpine from The Pearlfishers on keyboards and there's Craig Ross on guitar, he's a real find, he's from a band called Broken Records. Then there's Amy Geddes on fiddle.  Amy comes from quite a different folk music background so she adds that element, again kind of like Slim Chance or The Waterboys. This maybe goes back to my family roots with that circus blood in there, a travelling raggle taggle show.  And with Jim McDermott and Mike McCann on the rhythm section we can really go. 

Right now you've rereleased your 2010 song Snowglobe with the money going to the mental health charity MIND.

Yes. It's a Christmas song which I recorded a few years ago and I like to promote it around this time. I thought that with my profile a bit higher due to the album's reception then I'd be able to raise a bit more money for MIND. I've been around a lot of people who have had issues with their mental health especially depression but we've all got these demons. I spoke about this the first time I released it and I think that especially at this time of year people are struggling. It's a download only single and the aim is not to shift my units but to raise a wee bit of money for the charity and to raise awareness.

I think your next big show is at Celtic Connections in January where you're supporting Patty Griffin.

I'm really chuffed about that. It's always great when you get teamed up with someone you admire and I'm a big fan of Patty.  I've supported her in the past and I became good friends with JD Foster through that as he was playing bass in her band then. Funnily enough I mentioned him on Valentine's Day In New York from Into The Sea, "Had a beer with JD in McSorleys." 

And you've a couple of other things lined up I believe.

There's a few exciting things lined up for next year.  I'm doing a show called The Men From Leith with Dick Gaughan and Blue Rose Code on May 6th in Edinburgh.  Again the idea for this kicked off with the song Man From Leith when my manager Morag suggested getting three Leith songwriters together.  I know Dick from doing the Cash shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and of course Ross is great. That should be a great night. Then I'm going over to the States to start a new project with Neilson Hubbard, who produced Into The Sea, and Joshua Britt. They've just recently done The Orphan Brigade and we're looking to do a similar thing tying up music, film and such but this time in New Mexico. 

This has been a good year especially after all the stuff that went down last year with my family. Hopefully next year will be even better.

Read more...

Blue Rose Code

The tale of Ross Wilson AKA Blue Rose Code is one of redemption. Several years ago his music career seemed to have gone down the plughole due to an ever-depending reliance on alcohol. Wilson has spoken candidly about this in several interviews along with his path to eventual sobriety leading to his current position as one of our most acclaimed writers and performer. His 2014 album The Ballads Of Peckham Rye was listed for the Scottish Album of the Year Award and live he has been described as "stunning," be it in a solo acoustic setting or in a variety of band line ups that have included up to nine musicians. 

Often filed under "folk music" Wilson defies easy categorisation.  He freewheels between folk and jazz in the manner of classic artists such as John Martyn and Pentangle (his relationship with the legendary bassist, Danny Thompson providing a link to both of them) while his Scottish roots shine through on several songs, vocally at times but more so in the images and emotions evoked by his vision of Celtic soul, a vision he shares with vintage Van Morrison and the late Jackie Leven. Wilson himself shrugs off these comparisons saying that his favourite description of his music was from a review that declared him a cross between The Proclaimers and Marvin Gaye! What can't be denied is the sheer humanity of his work. Wilson is one of those rare writers who, having plumbed the depths, grabs each day as a new beginning, sees beauty in the banal and rejoices in everyday goings on. He writes with a humility and grace that can astound, his hymn to his hometown Edinburgh on Edina, a case in point.

Currently Wilson is gearing up for the release of his third album, And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing, due to be released in January with a showcase concert at Glasgow's Celtic Connections. This week the first taster for the album was unveiled in the form of a single, Grateful. Recorded with American Gospel singers The McCrary Sisters, Grateful is a four minute distillation of Wilson's raison d'être, a song that could have sat comfortably on John Martyn's Solid Air. The accompanying video comprises a selection of fans' reasons to be grateful which proves to be a heart warming and emotional experience guaranteed to break down even a seasoned critic's defences. Grateful is released on a four song EP on 30th November and there are launch gigs in London on 2nd December at St. Pancras Old Church and in Glasgow on 3rd December at Drygate. In anticipation of these shows Americana UK spoke to Ross Wilson about the single and the forthcoming album.

 

Hi Ross. Can we talk about the new single, Grateful. It's a wonderful song, beautifully played and sung. Forgive me if I'm wrong but the lyrics I think can be seen as a sort of personal statement from yourself, your misgivings, your past and your current place in the world. Are you in a comfortable place right now?

Life is good, and when it’s not so good it’s a chance to learn and grow. I’m an enthusiast. I see many of my contemporaries wearing their angst like a badge, faces like smacked arses like it’s uncool to be happy. I choose to be happy, I’ve spent too many years of my adult life dousing my light. I’m not reluctant to say that I have experience; I mean real life experience of what it means to struggle with a variety of circumstances and situations. For me, pathos is not a yo-yo toy to be rolled up and down for amusement. I’m blessed and grateful to have a chance to write, to play, and chiefly to connect, that’s how I make my daily bread. 

The backing vocals by The McCrary Sisters are wonderful. How did you get them to come onboard for the song? I read somewhere that it was via a mutual friend, Nico Bruce.

Having worked with two of my own influences on the last couple of records; Danny Thompson and Karine Polwart, I’ve learned that there’s no harm in asking. It was through Nico that I discovered the Tennessean tornado that is the McCrary's and you can’t help but be moved by their power and conviction. I was gigging up in Perth and the McCrary’s UK agent, Andy Shearer, and I got to chatting about when the Sisters would be back. I half-jokingly pitched to Andy that perhaps we could get the ladies in the studio on a rest day and Andy just looked at me, very seriously, in his unique inimitable style, and then said he’d “see what he could do”.

The video to accompany the song is quite moving allowing folk to record their own reasons to be grateful. Did you get a lot of submissions for the video and how did you go about choosing what to put in the video? There's a lot of family and relationships in there but also achievements and even a wee nod to Hibs.

We got over a hundred submissions and, of course we were just not able to feature all of them. The concept of gratitude is a genuine life preserver for me. The song itself took little more than a day to write. When they come that quickly there’s almost a Joycean grace and magic involved. I’m still getting messages and photos, most recently from a gent and his pal who’d just had a kidney transplant. I mean, to connect like that, to truly communicate on that level with an idea, a theme, it’s the unifying force that we all seek, surely?

The new album is called And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing which I believe is taken from The Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam. It refers to the fleetingness of life I believe so can you tell us why you chose it as the title?

Most of my teens and all of my twenties are a blur, waiting it seems like an eternity for the arrival of these halcyon days we’re all promised. I’ve lived so long in retrospect, yearning for something I’ve never known. The thing is, "this is it, yeah?" Now is happening, I mean, NOW IS HAPPENING. I am responsible for my choices and this idea from the Rubayyat “The bird of time has but a little way to fly, and, Lo! The bird is on the wing.” Well, we all just fucking better get on with it, right? It’s a strong thematic link that runs through a lot of the material. Impermanence, the brittle glimpses of contentment that we look to pin down but which in my experience can end up strangling you to death. 

The album was recorded in Biggar as opposed to The Ballads Of Peckham Rye which you did over a period of time and several separate sessions. Has this made any difference to the way you recorded the album, how you feel about it or just the overall sense of it as a piece of art?

If one looks at the three albums together ‘North Ten’ was quite poppy as a piece and then its successor, ‘Ballads’, moved leftfield. ‘And Lo!’ is even farther to the left again. I think it’s challenging at points, it is precisely the album I wanted to make this time and, artistically, I couldn’t be happier with it. 

It is an album, a cohesive body of songs, it’s a record for musicians and music fans. To be honest, I may have just cut my throat but, I love it. Neil Young famously said he makes music for himself. I think, particularly in light of Sandigate, we could all take a moment to reflect on that nugget of wisdom from Mr Young. 

Over the past year or so you've been playing with an assortment of line ups, the full band set up and smaller variations of that. Can you tell us who is playing with you on the album? I presume Danny Thompson is in there and I've heard rumours of a guest slot for some actor guy.

Well, it is a privilege to welcome back big Danny, one of three bassists along with the aforementioned Nico Bruce and the amazing Euan Burton. Both Colin Steele and Dave Milligan return, playing much bigger parts, allowing me to tap into that thread of jazz crossover that I’d always dreamed of. From the folk world, the very talented Ms Lauren MacColl and my co-producer on the record, Angus Lyon, who plays box and a bit of piano.  MG Boulter is on pedal steel. The McCray's we’ve mentioned and then there’s the small matter of a Hollywood a-lister, Ewan McGregor, who features on ‘Glasgow Rain’. 

You're a Scot living in exile, well in London, but you've delivered some wonderful songs that capture aspects of Scotland or parts of it, Edina being a prime example. People have mentioned a "Caledonian" feel to your work and this year you mention that you have found a "spiritual home" in the Shetlands. How much of this has worked its way into the new album?

That’s an interesting question because, although a great deal of the material was hot housed on a croft in Culswick in Shetland, geographically this time fewer places in Scotland are name checked. There’s a song that I wrote, travelling from Glasgow to Edina, ‘Glasgow Rain’ and a couple of other references but I’ve spent a lot of time in Dorset this year that tells in my writing. 

Continuing with the Scottish theme you recorded Norman McCaig's True Ways Of Knowing and live sang a MacDiarmid poem. Do you have any Scots' poetry on the album and are you still involved with the project by The Saltire Society you mentioned some time back?

Ewan McGregor’s involvement came from my asking him to read an Edwin Morgan poem at the conclusion of ‘Glasgow Rain’, the poem was called ‘Kiss Me’ and fitted the song perfectly but we didn’t receive permission in time and so Ewan agreed to read a poem of mine instead. It really sounds great. I am absolutely still working on the poetry project and the Saltire Society continue to be great supporters, I’m very grateful to them. I’ve been working on a Goodsir-Smith poem recently and we recorded McDiarmid’s ‘Scotland’ during the sessions but I want to save it for the poetry album. 

Looking at the EPs you've released there's been several remixes of your songs on them. How do you decide on these, do you approach producers or do they approach you and what do you look for in a remix?

I love music, all types, from Taylor Swift to McCoy Tyner, via Ghetts. It's about the songs, only ever about the songs. I’m a fan of electronic music and it is a really exciting process to give over your song for reimagining by another artist. James Yuill and I used to play the open mic circuit in London together many years ago, in fact he remixed the 7” of ‘Whitechapel’, back in the day. 

I work with people whose music I love and, I have to tell you, Ben DeVries just delivered me a remix of ‘Glasgow Rain’ which blew my mind. I mean it is great. It’ll be a bonus track on the next single, can’t wait to share it actually. Hiatus, who remixed ‘Edina’ so superbly will return with a remix and I’ve been in the studio with him singing on a couple of songs for his mighty new record. 

It really is only about the songs. 

Finally, you have two release shows for the EP, can you tell us who will be appearing with you at these?

Oh yes, cannot wait, London and Glasgow are my favourite gigs (sorry Edina). Quartet of Wrenne, John Lowrie and Wild Lyle Watt, with myself in London and for Glasgow we’re joined by Nico Bruce and Colin Steele, too. The tickets are almost gone, though, don’t mug yourself off. 

 

Read more...

Blue Rose Code

The tale of Ross Wilson AKA Blue Rose Code is one of redemption. Several years ago his music career seemed to have gone down the plughole due to an ever-depending reliance on alcohol. Wilson has spoken candidly about this in several interviews along with his path to eventual sobriety leading to his current position as one of our most acclaimed writers and performer. His 2014 album The Ballads Of Peckham Rye was listed for the Scottish Album of the Year Award and live he has been described as "stunning," be it in a solo acoustic setting or in a variety of band line ups that have included up to nine musicians. 

Often filed under "folk music" Wilson defies easy categorisation.  He freewheels between folk and jazz in the manner of classic artists such as John Martyn and Pentangle (his relationship with the legendary bassist, Danny Thompson providing a link to both of them) while his Scottish roots shine through on several songs, vocally at times but more so in the images and emotions evoked by his vision of Celtic soul, a vision he shares with vintage Van Morrison and the late Jackie Leven. Wilson himself shrugs off these comparisons saying that his favourite description of his music was from a review that declared him a cross between The Proclaimers and Marvin Gaye! What can't be denied is the sheer humanity of his work. Wilson is one of those rare writers who, having plumbed the depths, grabs each day as a new beginning, sees beauty in the banal and rejoices in everyday goings on. He writes with a humility and grace that can astound, his hymn to his hometown Edinburgh on Edina, a case in point.

Currently Wilson is gearing up for the release of his third album, And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing, due to be released in January with a showcase concert at Glasgow's Celtic Connections. This week the first taster for the album was unveiled in the form of a single, Grateful. Recorded with American Gospel singers The McCrary Sisters, Grateful is a four minute distillation of Wilson's raison d'être, a song that could have sat comfortably on John Martyn's Solid Air. The accompanying video comprises a selection of fans' reasons to be grateful which proves to be a heart warming and emotional experience guaranteed to break down even a seasoned critic's defences. Grateful is released on a four song EP on 30th November and there are launch gigs in London on 2nd December at St. Pancras Old Church and in Glasgow on 3rd December at Drygate. In anticipation of these shows Americana UK spoke to Ross Wilson about the single and the forthcoming album.

 

Hi Ross. Can we talk about the new single, Grateful. It's a wonderful song, beautifully played and sung. Forgive me if I'm wrong but the lyrics I think can be seen as a sort of personal statement from yourself, your misgivings, your past and your current place in the world. Are you in a comfortable place right now?

Life is good, and when it’s not so good it’s a chance to learn and grow. I’m an enthusiast. I see many of my contemporaries wearing their angst like a badge, faces like smacked arses like it’s uncool to be happy. I choose to be happy, I’ve spent too many years of my adult life dousing my light. I’m not reluctant to say that I have experience; I mean real life experience of what it means to struggle with a variety of circumstances and situations. For me, pathos is not a yo-yo toy to be rolled up and down for amusement. I’m blessed and grateful to have a chance to write, to play, and chiefly to connect, that’s how I make my daily bread. 

The backing vocals by The McCrary Sisters are wonderful. How did you get them to come onboard for the song? I read somewhere that it was via a mutual friend, Nico Bruce.

Having worked with two of my own influences on the last couple of records; Danny Thompson and Karine Polwart, I’ve learned that there’s no harm in asking. It was through Nico that I discovered the Tennessean tornado that is the McCrary's and you can’t help but be moved by their power and conviction. I was gigging up in Perth and the McCrary’s UK agent, Andy Shearer, and I got to chatting about when the Sisters would be back. I half-jokingly pitched to Andy that perhaps we could get the ladies in the studio on a rest day and Andy just looked at me, very seriously, in his unique inimitable style, and then said he’d “see what he could do”.

The video to accompany the song is quite moving allowing folk to record their own reasons to be grateful. Did you get a lot of submissions for the video and how did you go about choosing what to put in the video? There's a lot of family and relationships in there but also achievements and even a wee nod to Hibs.

We got over a hundred submissions and, of course we were just not able to feature all of them. The concept of gratitude is a genuine life preserver for me. The song itself took little more than a day to write. When they come that quickly there’s almost a Joycean grace and magic involved. I’m still getting messages and photos, most recently from a gent and his pal who’d just had a kidney transplant. I mean, to connect like that, to truly communicate on that level with an idea, a theme, it’s the unifying force that we all seek, surely?

The new album is called And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing which I believe is taken from The Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam. It refers to the fleetingness of life I believe so can you tell us why you chose it as the title?

Most of my teens and all of my twenties are a blur, waiting it seems like an eternity for the arrival of these halcyon days we’re all promised. I’ve lived so long in retrospect, yearning for something I’ve never known. The thing is, "this is it, yeah?" Now is happening, I mean, NOW IS HAPPENING. I am responsible for my choices and this idea from the Rubayyat “The bird of time has but a little way to fly, and, Lo! The bird is on the wing.” Well, we all just fucking better get on with it, right? It’s a strong thematic link that runs through a lot of the material. Impermanence, the brittle glimpses of contentment that we look to pin down but which in my experience can end up strangling you to death. 

The album was recorded in Biggar as opposed to The Ballads Of Peckham Rye which you did over a period of time and several separate sessions. Has this made any difference to the way you recorded the album, how you feel about it or just the overall sense of it as a piece of art?

If one looks at the three albums together ‘North Ten’ was quite poppy as a piece and then its successor, ‘Ballads’, moved leftfield. ‘And Lo!’ is even farther to the left again. I think it’s challenging at points, it is precisely the album I wanted to make this time and, artistically, I couldn’t be happier with it. 

It is an album, a cohesive body of songs, it’s a record for musicians and music fans. To be honest, I may have just cut my throat but, I love it. Neil Young famously said he makes music for himself. I think, particularly in light of Sandigate, we could all take a moment to reflect on that nugget of wisdom from Mr Young. 

Over the past year or so you've been playing with an assortment of line ups, the full band set up and smaller variations of that. Can you tell us who is playing with you on the album? I presume Danny Thompson is in there and I've heard rumours of a guest slot for some actor guy.

Well, it is a privilege to welcome back big Danny, one of three bassists along with the aforementioned Nico Bruce and the amazing Euan Burton. Both Colin Steele and Dave Milligan return, playing much bigger parts, allowing me to tap into that thread of jazz crossover that I’d always dreamed of. From the folk world, the very talented Ms Lauren MacColl and my co-producer on the record, Angus Lyon, who plays box and a bit of piano.  MG Boulter is on pedal steel. The McCray's we’ve mentioned and then there’s the small matter of a Hollywood a-lister, Ewan McGregor, who features on ‘Glasgow Rain’. 

You're a Scot living in exile, well in London, but you've delivered some wonderful songs that capture aspects of Scotland or parts of it, Edina being a prime example. People have mentioned a "Caledonian" feel to your work and this year you mention that you have found a "spiritual home" in the Shetlands. How much of this has worked its way into the new album?

That’s an interesting question because, although a great deal of the material was hot housed on a croft in Culswick in Shetland, geographically this time fewer places in Scotland are name checked. There’s a song that I wrote, travelling from Glasgow to Edina, ‘Glasgow Rain’ and a couple of other references but I’ve spent a lot of time in Dorset this year that tells in my writing. 

Continuing with the Scottish theme you recorded Norman McCaig's True Ways Of Knowing and live sang a MacDiarmid poem. Do you have any Scots' poetry on the album and are you still involved with the project by The Saltire Society you mentioned some time back?

Ewan McGregor’s involvement came from my asking him to read an Edwin Morgan poem at the conclusion of ‘Glasgow Rain’, the poem was called ‘Kiss Me’ and fitted the song perfectly but we didn’t receive permission in time and so Ewan agreed to read a poem of mine instead. It really sounds great. I am absolutely still working on the poetry project and the Saltire Society continue to be great supporters, I’m very grateful to them. I’ve been working on a Goodsir-Smith poem recently and we recorded McDiarmid’s ‘Scotland’ during the sessions but I want to save it for the poetry album. 

Looking at the EPs you've released there's been several remixes of your songs on them. How do you decide on these, do you approach producers or do they approach you and what do you look for in a remix?

I love music, all types, from Taylor Swift to McCoy Tyner, via Ghetts. It's about the songs, only ever about the songs. I’m a fan of electronic music and it is a really exciting process to give over your song for reimagining by another artist. James Yuill and I used to play the open mic circuit in London together many years ago, in fact he remixed the 7” of ‘Whitechapel’, back in the day. 

I work with people whose music I love and, I have to tell you, Ben DeVries just delivered me a remix of ‘Glasgow Rain’ which blew my mind. I mean it is great. It’ll be a bonus track on the next single, can’t wait to share it actually. Hiatus, who remixed ‘Edina’ so superbly will return with a remix and I’ve been in the studio with him singing on a couple of songs for his mighty new record. 

It really is only about the songs. 

Finally, you have two release shows for the EP, can you tell us who will be appearing with you at these?

Oh yes, cannot wait, London and Glasgow are my favourite gigs (sorry Edina). Quartet of Wrenne, John Lowrie and Wild Lyle Watt, with myself in London and for Glasgow we’re joined by Nico Bruce and Colin Steele, too. The tickets are almost gone, though, don’t mug yourself off. 

 

Read more...

Pokey LaFarge

On the face of it, St. Louis musician Pokey Lafarge has been on an upward curve over the past five years. Here in the UK his popularity rocketed following his appearance on Jools Holland's New year Hootenanny show in 2012 while in the States Jack White became somewhat enamored of his music leading to releases on White's Third Man Records. Pokey and his band mates, The South City Three seemed to become fixtures at just about every large musical gathering going on and they captured the Independent Music Award for Best Americana album in 2010 and 2011 for their releases, Riverboat Soul and Middle Of Everywhere. 

A red-hot live unit, Pokey and the South City Three delivered a blistering take on ragtime music, country blues and what most folk call "old time" music, a term that Pokey has not been especially keen on. A walking encyclopedia on American roots music, Pokey had ambitions to expand his sound and in 2013 the band grew with the addition of a horn section who recorded on the album Pokey LaFarge (released on Third Man Records). There was a further expansion of the basic Pokey sound on Something In The Water released earlier this year and the first fruit of his new relationship with the venerable Rounder Records. The album features a host of musicians and wanders with a fine sense of swagger over several styles with a jazz element becoming more evident and on tour the band has expanded again to include drums.

We caught up with Pokey on the second date of his latest European tour in Glasgow following an eight-hour road and ferry journey from Dublin. Despite the journey and an approaching show time, Pokey was gracious and a fine host taking his time to talk about the new album and his future directions while pointing out that the heavy workload of the past five years has taken its toll and him and his band of brothers.

 

Hi Pokey, how’s life treating now that you’re “rich and famous?”

Well, you can feel rich and famous in a city like St. Louis. It’s a small place especially in South City where we all live. All over the city, I’m humbled by the tremendous support from all the community and it's not an expensive city so even if you don’t make a lot of money you can afford to live relatively well.  However, it’s been a hard year, not just for me but for close friends for a plethora of reasons. We’ve been working hard, really hard this year with the new album and we've had six or seven years touring straight with me and the core of the band, three years with the horns added. The horns, we’re going to be parting ways next year, I’ll be adding new musicians, new horns and possibly a piano player next year. Me and the core band we got a little burned out there for a little while, we had some things we had to talk about and figure out, I  myself was going a little insane so I’ve changed some things in my life to help with my happiness and ultimately my efficiency. 

You don’t have to be depressed to write a sad song, experiences will give you the tools for that, the writing I mean. But overall stress and anxiety doesn’t help and the road is the place that will definitely cause stress, anxiety, depression, it keeps you away from your family, away from your home, you don’t get to eat the things you should, your regular diet, you don’t exercise the way you might want to. We’re getting older now but we still have late nights. I mean we’ve all slept maybe two, three hours the past three nights. We were in Dublin for two nights, a big show there last night and we started to party, you know.

Yeah, I read a piece in the Guardian recently about a study that showed that life on the road was not conducive to well being 

I read that, yeah. Away from friends and family, healthy eating but the sleeping is the tough one, there’s no regular sleeping pattern.

But creatively I’m so invigorated by changes that have happened in my life. I’m writing my best stuff ever, I’m really going to push the envelope in the next year. I’m really looking forward to experimenting, we’re going to take some time off, maybe do about 50 shows which is about a third of what we’ve been doing the last five or six years, getting a studio, writing, recording. Me and the band are really looking forward to digging deeper, taking the sound to the next level.

Has signing with Rounder Records allowed you some more space, some “time out” to do that?

Well, Rounder is a great label, an institution. I feel for them because the record business is so hard these days and they’ve supported me, they believe in me. The last album there were so many musicians but there was a budget for that and it helped

And with the larger band now, has that changed the way you write?

Well over the past few years I’ve changed the way I write. The band, they’re my brothers but I don’t want to think of the instrumentation first anymore, that has limited my songwriting. I’ve put a lot of focus on the soloing and because I have such great instrumentalists - I mean I wouldn’t be here without them - we’re a great team but just for me as a songwriter I have to trust what’s got me here too and that’s my songwriting so it’s a matter of striking a balance, everyone’s got to get something out of it. I mean I’m honoured to have everyone step up there every night, every night after two or three hours sleep and an eight hour drive and play my songs. So I want to make them happy but I can’t do that if I’m not happy first. So this album (Something In The Water) was different in that I wasn’t writing for the musicians as much. I’ve been pretty prolific, an album a year almost for the past eight years but I feel as if I’m just getting started you know. Your writing style changes and you look back and you’re just embarrassed by some of the stuff, no offense to my listeners but I listen to some of the early stuff I recorded and I’m just aghast.

I was going to ask you why you rerecorded Cairo, Illinois on the album.

That was a song that, when you get in the studio with a producer, doing preproduction stuff, playing a bunch of stuff, throwing g it up to see what sticks. We've been playing that song for years, it was originally on Beat Move and Shake, some seven years ago, and it's changed so much and people enjoy it so I thought it would be a good one to put on the album.  You know this album was about deepening the groove of the songs hence having a drummer and the three and four part harmonies which is the direction I really want to push forward. 

That’s really apparent on Underground.

That’s definitely a jungle beat, a bit like Duke Ellington with Barney Biggard on the clarinet. There was a guy who was the king of the jungle trumpet, his name is Bubber Miley and he’s the guy who plays trumpet on that early Ellington stuff. The way I started writing that, the lyrics were first, the way it came about was I was thinking about the United States, well, North America, it’s such a huge place and you have floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, forest fires, hurricanes, blizzards and they all can be happening at the same time in different places. It’s always about this time of year that you can have forest fires going on out west, tornadoes in the south east, hurricanes starting out so it just seemed natural that this end of the world type song should have a kind of a wild jungle minor groove.

The album cover and the video for the title song were a bit of a departure as well.

It was a concept I came up with based on the title track. The cover was like a photographic Norman Rockwell meets John Waters hence the idea of making the mum kind of look like Divine. The photographer, Joshua Black Wilkins, he’s the guy who did the covers for my last two album, he’s a really talented photographer from Nashville

Speaking of Nashville you recently played the Grand Ole Opry, how was that?

Well we’ve played the Ryman Auditorium a couple of times, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry but this time we played the Gaylord Opry centre and it was incredible. They treated us so well and we were received so well by the crowd. That was one of the gigs I was most nervous for and I don’t get nervous a lot. Then we played Hardly strictly Bluegrass, it’s nuts, you have 250,000 people around you! Tons of bands, top quality and it's all free and then from San Francisco we flew to Dublin.

So Dublin was the start of a big European tour?

Dublin, Glasgow tonight and then Newcastle and then The Union Chapel in London which I’m very excited about. We’re doing 11 countries, 22 shows in 24 days. I’m excited to be going back to Barcelona to play Goodbye Barcelona which I wrote the day after I left there last time. I hope they like it.

 

And with that Pokey had to get ready for the show which went down a storm, the horns and drums adding to the rich musical heritage that is present when Pokey and the band hit the stage. There's more colour, a vibrant celebration of just about any sort of music that swings. It will be interesting to see what comes next from this restless adventurer. 

 

 

Read more...

Search americanaUK