Friday, 21 February 2020

Amy LaVere - Painting Blue

Rating: 5/5

A terrific album

Painting Blue is a terrific album, I think. I have enjoyed a lot of Amy LaVere’s work in the past and this is probably her best to date.

It is, as always, full of personal songs with excellent, intelligent lyrics and fine music. No Room For Baby, for example, is lyrically heart-rending and musically just great. There are also a couple of outstanding covers in John Martyn’s Don’t Want To Know and Robert Wyatt’s Shipbuilding, both of which stand very well beside the excellent originals.

Amy’s voice is wonderful; she has a slightly breathy soprano and a technique where she often slides onto a note rather than hitting it directly, which lends every song a distinct and engaging sound. She is also a very good bassist and combined with the fine band and excellent production, the album sounds really good throughout.

Amy LaVere is very highly regarded by critics and fellow singer-songwriters but is far less well known than she deserves. If you like a classy bit of Americana from a really good artist, you’ll like this – a lot, I suspect. Very warmly recommended.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Albert Ammons - Chronological Classics

Rating: 5/5

Truly great boogie-woogie

All three of these Chronological Classics discs of Albert Ammons are just brilliant. Ammons was a phenomenal pianist and probably my favourite among the great boogie/blues pianists of the time. His technique is breathtaking and the result is immensely enjoyable music which for me is often quite impossible to sit still to. The recordings are as good as we can expect from the period – which is pretty decent throughout – and this set represents an excellent collection of his work. (I confess that I don’t know how complete it is, but it’s pretty thorough.)

In my view, you simply can’t go wrong with these discs. Very warmly recommended.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

VA - American Tunes, Songs by Paul Simon

Rating: 4/5

Mixed but well worth it

Collections of cover versions like this are almost always a mixed bag. This is no exception, but for me it’s well worth having because there’s some terrific stuff on it.

It’s an extremely diverse collection, which is a very good thing. Naturally, these things are a matter of personal taste so plenty of people will like the tracks which I don’t like and vice versa. Some of my own favourites are Harpers Bizarre’s sunshine version of The 59th Street Bridge Song, Emmylou Harris’s soulful The Boxer and a wonderful, haunting rendition of Leaves That Are Green by Dorris Henderson and John Renbourn. On the other hand, The Tennors’ version of of The Only Living Boy In New York is horribly mangled, I can’t stand what Peaches & Herb do to The Sound of Silence and even as a huge Aretha fan I don’t think her interpretation fits Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Of course such a collection is going to provoke reactions like this in all of us and we’ll all have different responses – which is part of music’s delight. Everyone will find plenty to enjoy here and even the ones you don’t are interesting and you can always skip. Personally, I’d recommend this collection warmly.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

The Yearlings - Sweet Runaway

Rating: 5/5

A very good album

I think Sweet Runaway is a very good album indeed. I took a punt on it having heard a few samples and a couple of tracks and I’m very glad I did; The Yearlings write good songs and perform them very well.

The tone is generally pretty sad and yearning and often rather beautiful. Production is excellent – not too heavy, well balanced and thoughtful – and brings out both the quality of the songs and of the singing and guitar work. The overall effect is haunting and rather lovely. I’d recommend listening to some samples and if you like what you hear, don’t hesitate. This is a classy piece of work which I can warmly recommend.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Chris Stapelton - Traveller

Rating: 5/5

An outstanding album

Just to add my voice to the thousands who have already praised Traveller: this is an excellent album. Chris Stapleton writes exceptionally good songs with a good variety of themes and feel from tender ballads to driving country rock, and he sings quite wonderfully. He has a superb voice which he uses with real skill and emotion to bring out the quality in the material. The band and production are excellent and it’s a first-rate album all round.

This is an outstanding album and very warmly recommended.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Kate Rusby - Holly Head

Rating: 5/5

More class from Kate Rusby

Christmas albums are almost invariably dreadful, but among the exceptions are Kate Rusby’s wonderful seasonal offerings, of which this is the fifth. Holly Head is as good as its predecessors, which is possibly all that need be said.

Just to elaborate slightly, there is Rusby’s usual mixture of Yorkshire variants of Christmas carols and songs with a scattering of her original compositions. It’s beautifully done, as always; thoughtful production which is atmospheric without straying into sloppy sentimentality, excellent musicianship and Rusby’s lovely, distinctive voice. Personally, I love Lu Lay, a variant of The Coventry Carol, bit it’s all excellent stuff and there isn’t a weak track anywhere.

Kate Rusby is among the best we have. She’s been making quietly classy albums consistently for many years now and this is no exception. Very warmly recommended.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Come On Up To The House - Women Sing Waits

Rating: 5/5

Outstandingly good

I think this is an outstandingly good album. I know this is sacrilege to many people, but I struggle with Tom Waits; he’s a fantastic songwriter but that I’m-about-to-throw-up-and-then-I’ll-probably-kill-you delivery gets a bit much for me. Here we have some of the finest female Americana/country singers really giving his songs meaning and pathos.

A couple of favourites are Rosanne Cash’s performance of Time, which is quite magical and Ruby’s Arms by the great Patty Griffin, which is spellbinding and heartbreaking. I don’t think there’s a weak track on the album; everything is superbly performed and excellently, sensitively produced. My advice is to listen to a few samples and then snap it up. It’s an album of great songs, performed wonderfully – what more could you want?