The Equatorial Group – The Broadoak Sessions

The Equatorial Group are from Eastbourne, East Sussex. However, on the evidence of their new session, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they hail from East Nashville. Featuring some fine steel guitar playing on a couple of the tracks, there’s a lovely mood to all of the songs in the set. Kudos to the Broadoak Studio for capturing the sound and the images so well. The Equatorial Group – one to watch out for in 2017.

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Joe Sampson – Chansons de Parade

Joe Sampson is a label mate of Kramies on Hidden Shoal. He’s a singer-songwriter in the spirit of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen. In September he released a 5-song EP, Songs of Delay. It featured a track with Nathaniel Rateliff of the Night Sweats fame. Now, there’s a full album. Entitled Chansons de Parade, it hallmarks Sampson’s fragile-sounding style. But it’s not bedsits and microwaves. There’s a playfulness to the lyrics and a lovely chiming quality to the guitar sound that lifts the songs.

Songs of Delay is available as a free download from Sampson’s Bandcamp site. Chansons de Parade is also there and for a name-your-own-price deal. As a taster, here’s Joe Sampson and Nathaniel Rateliff singing ‘Songbird’ from the Songs of Delay EP.

She Makes War – Direction of Travel

She Makes War is the creation of the incredibly talented Laura Kidd. Based in Bristol, she was recently touring Europe with The Levellers. Earlier in the year, she released an album entitled Direction of Travel. Packaged with some amazing artwork by Alex Bertram-Powell, the sound will appeal to those, like me, who appreciate artists such as Lykke Li and Bat For Lashes. With a great hook built around some gorgeous strings, one of the stand-out tracks is ‘Stargazing’. Direction of Travel shows that Laura Kidd is more than a writer, performer, or musician. She’s all of these for sure, but she’s also someone with an all-round vision of what she wants from She Makes War. I like that.

There’s much more about She Makes War from her website. You can get a copy of Direction of Travel from her Bandcamp page along with previous material. And here’s the video for ‘Stargazing’.

St Mojo – Sacramental Wine

In July, St Mojo released an EP called Sacramental Wine. It’s a genuinely fine debut release that deserves to be on the best-of-the-year playlists. Written by guitarist and singer, Michael Jacob, the songs feature the steel guitar playing of Robby Turner, who has worked with pretty much every Nashville legend that comes to mind. It says a lot that Turner’s willing to give up his time to play with the band. But, listening to the EP, it’s not too surprising. Michael Jacob has a great voice. The stories he tells are really strong. And, boy, these guys can play. I can’t recommend Sacramental Wine highly enough. I’m really looking forward to hearing some more material from St Mojo in the new year.

You can find out more about St Mojo at their website. They have a Facebook Page. And here’s one of the stand-out tracks from the Sacramental Wine EP.

Rick Barry – Curses, Maledictions and Harsh Reiterations

Rounding off the year by giving some time to a few artists who have been kind enough to bring themselves to my attention over the last few months, and who deserve to reach a wider audience.

To start with, here’s Rick Barry. His most recent album, Curses, Maledictions and Harsh Reiterations, came out a couple of months ago. It’s a really nice collection of songs. The mood is mellow, but the emotions are intense. With some help on vocals from Nicole Atkins, some lovely fiddle, dobro, and mandolin playing by Larry Campbell, and contributions from Bon Iver band member, C.J. Camerieri, on horns, the sound is really rounded out. Recommended.

You can listen to Curses, Maledictions and Harsh Reiterations on Soundcloud. You can buy a hard copy from his website. You can also find his earlier work on Bandcamp. In the meantime, here’s a lovely animated video for the song ‘Wanderlust’ from his fine album.

Best of 2016 – 1/4

The waiting is over. My favourite albums of 2016. All instant classics.

Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

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An album of two halves, both of them exceptional. Not a single bad track and all of them delivered with real emotion. But why can’t I stop calling her ‘Angle’?

Marissa Nadler – Strangers

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If you like your indie artists communing with black metal merchants, then Strangers is for you. Marissa Nadler has come a long way since Songs III: Bird on the Water.

Damien Jurado – Visions Of Us On The Land

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I literally lost the plot a couple of albums ago. But Damien Jurado rounds off an epic trilogy with his very best offering to date. What’s next? A prequel? Yes, please.

Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To

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On their valedictory album, Richmond Fontaine add another essential release to their catalogue. If you don’t feel sorry for Little Joe on ‘Wake Up Ray’, then you’ve no heart.

Jim James – Eternally Even

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MMJ’s It Still Moves was already one of the standout re-releases of the year. But the Yim’s second solo album exceeded all expectations. And they were already very high.

Best of 2016 – 2/4

David Bowie – Blackstar

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It’s difficult to separate the music from the loss, but what a way to bow out. It’s worth adding ‘No Plan’ from the Lazarus soundtrack to the playlist.

Bat For Lashes – The Bride

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The Bride is an exhausting but exhilarating journey into the restless imagination of Natasha Khan. The songs may be full of elemental imagery, but the tone is quiet.

Wye Oak – Tween

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Outtakes from their last two albums presented as a new offering. It’s not the most promising start, but this collection shines nonetheless.

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

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When the actual singing saw kicks in, you start to run for cover. It seems like it’s really out to get you.

Band of Horses – Why Are You OK

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Deceptively casual. Behind the seemingly good-time songs, demons were lurking. It wasn’t a confessional album, but it was more than just the soundtrack to a house party.

Best of 2016 – 3/4

Here’s a selection of vaguely Americana-themed albums that made the grade this year.

Miranda Lee Richards – Echoes of the Dreamtime

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If you like your Americana to take you on a trip, then Miranda Lee Richards is for you. Echoes of the Dreamtime was a sublime mix of moods, styles, and continents.

Bob Weir – Blue Mountain

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Talking of taking a trip, Bob Weir released a beautiful album this year. Largely written with or by Josh Ritter, the songs were wistful and the voice was wonderfully earthy.

Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos

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The Todd Snider-led supergroup released their second album. This time, the songs were mainly self-penned. Good choice. These guys work hard and play loud.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like A Levee

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HGM just get better and better. Perhaps it’s because MC Taylor writes from such a personal place. But then the songs sound gorgeous too. Good combination.

Treetop Flyers – Palomino

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Treetop Flyers wear plenty of influences on their sleeve, but Palomino weaved them together in a very satisfying way. And the lyrics were striking too. Looking forward to more.

Best of 2016 – 4/4

It seems to come around annually. It’s time to report the best music of the year. Here’s the first part of my 20 favourite albums of 2016. More to follow.

Dan Michaelson and The Coastguards – Memory

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With so many great musicians leaving us and with all sorts of political nightmares coming true, Dan captured the mood perfectly. Truly one of my most cherished artists.

Conor Oberst – Ruminations

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If you’ve just listened to the Dan Michaelson album and feel like you need a little musical pick-me-up, then don’t play Conor Oberst’s 2016 offering. It’s sparse. And good.

Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

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Andrew Bird answers his own question on this album. He is very serious. In fact, I passed by him on a very narrow corridor at a gig earlier this year. He was indeed very serious.

Devendra Banhart – Ape In Pink Marble

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By contrast, Devendra Banhart sounds like someone who’d liven up any party. Ape In Pink Marble was quiet, but a real hoot.

The Colorist and Emiliana Torrini

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The Colorist play all sorts of organic, recycled, authentic instruments. Emiliana Torrini sings a selection of her best songs. It’s a match made in heaven.

Neil Young – Peace Trail

Neil Young – Peace Trail

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The new Neil Young album includes one sure-fire instant classic, some could-be-great protest songs, and only a couple of tracks that don’t quite fit. That’s not bad for another in-and-out-of-studio-in the-wink-of-an-eye release. The sure-fire instant classic is the title track. It’s the equivalent of ‘Goin’ Home’ from Are You Passionate? The track that lifts the rest of the album to a better place. It’s also a track that could be played in plenty of different ways live, from a scorching guitar-led Crazy Horse/POTR track right through to a more reflective acoustic solo ballad. That’s the sign of a great Neil Young song. Aside from ‘Peace Trail’ itself, there’s also a bunch of could-be-great tracks. In fact, there’s a really powerful protest album trying to fight its way out of this set of songs. Standing Rock is a common reference point, making the album a sort of The Monsanto Years for the Dakotas. But there are other themes too, notably Black Lives Matter. The disappointment, though, is that while most of the songs in this category – ‘Show Me’, ‘Indian Givers’, ‘Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders’ – have great potential, most are not sufficiently well realised to make their point as forcefully as they might. And in some cases, the presentation is more than a little approximate. ‘Texas Rangers’ being the worst offender in this category. Only ‘John Oaks’ really matches the title track for its compelling mixture of the message and the music. And then there are the tracks that don’t quite fit. ‘Glass Accident’ is strange. The melody sounds eerily like ‘Sail Away’, but the subject matter is more personal than anything else on the album. It’s a good song, but one that belongs in a different place. As for the closing track, ‘My New Robot’, this could have been a sort of protest song too, providing a sense of the anomie of modern-day living. However, with its Trans-era Vocoder sound, it just doesn’t deliver. Peace Trail is a deceptively simple album. It may include only one great song, but it’s well worth a listen. And as a commentary on Trump-era America, indeed contemporary life pretty much everywhere, it has a serious point to make. And that can’t be said of every new album, never mind one from a 71-year-old Canadian.