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Music Album reviews with Kevin Bryan, Tony Burke and Chris Searle

New offerings from John Wort Hannam, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Barre Phillips/John Butcher/Stale Liavik Solberg, The Last Inklings, Help Yourself, Bianco/Brackenbury, Connie Smith, Devin Gray/Ralph Alessi/Angelica Sanchez

John Wort Hannam
Long Haul
(Black Hen Music)
★★★★

AWARD-WINNING Canadian roots musician John Wort Hannam may not be a household name on this side of the Atlantic just yet, but fine albums such as this  should help to spread the word on behalf of the Lethbridge, Alberta resident and his warm and spontaneous brand of balladry.

The current pandemic situation meant that John and his long-term producer Steve Dawson were forced to assemble Long Haul remotely but they rose to the challenge admirably, with some top-notch players supplying the instrumental backdrop.

As Hannam took the opportunity to reflect on the vagaries of the human condition via a batch of consistently compelling ditties led by What I Know Now, Hurry Up Kid and Other Side of the Curve, with former John Prine and Nanci Griffith sidekick Fats Kaplin in particuarly fine fettle on fiddle, mandolin, banjo and harmonica throughout an excellent set.

KEVIN BRYAN

 

The Earl Scruggs Revue
I Saw The Light/ Live From Austin City Limits/ Strike Anywhere/ Bold & New
(BGO Records)
★★★★

BEST known for the 1949 breakneck bluegrass instrumental Foggy Mountain Breakdown used in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde and The Ballad Of Jed Clampitt — the theme to the ’60s TV show The Beverley Hillbillies — Flatt & Scruggs, having had a stellar recording and performing career, split in ’69 when Scruggs wanted to play country rock while Lester Flatt wanted to stay traditional bluegrass.  
Scruggs formed his Revue and cut some fine albums for CBS including these four from 1971 to 1978.

Across this double set are Bob Dylan, Mike Nesmith, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Delaney & Bonnie and Joe South songs plus original material by Revue members with guests Linda Ronstadt and the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band.

Extensive notes and recording details. Country music for hippies.

TONY BURKE

We Met — and then
Relative Pitch Records
★★★★★

VETERAN San Francisco bassist Barre Phillips, Norwegian drummer Stale Liavik Solberg and Brighton-born saxophonist John Butcher create a special tryst in their album, We Met — and then.

A truly internationalist trio of free improvising virtuosi, they forge extraordinary and hyper-inventive individual sounds from their instruments, while striking a co-operative discourse of new and fresh musical meanings.

Now aged 87, Phillips is a true sonic pioneer and griot, his astonishing range of notes radiating youth and the power of surprise and defiance of years. Solberg’s percussive magic holds orchestras of ringing surfaces in his palette and Butcher’s horn finds sound patterns never woven before.

Listen to the concoction and concord of the track Zero Tolerance — a debate of spirits in harmonies born of contradiction. Or Chaudron Profoud, where Phillips fearlessly plucks his bass to its highest limits. Such extreme and discovering musical encounters are indeed rare and precious.

CHRIS SEARLE

 

The Last Inklings
The Impossible Wild
(Gillywisky Records)
★★★

THIS beguiling collection was the brainchild of Leonardo MacKenzie and David Hoyland, a couple of multitalented musicians whose work is steeped in the spirit of contemporary folk while also offering some fresh new insights into the human condition in these troubled times into the bargain.

Classically trained cellist MacKenzie has paid his dues as an in-demand session musician for a decade and a half and both men were formerly members of Kadia, whose debut album, East of Alexandria was showered with critical plaudits when it first saw the light of day in 2015.

Their close working relationship continues to flourish today, as The Impossible Wild explores the role of nature, myth and superstition in the modern world.

The results are exquistely crafted and endlessly inventive as the duo weave their image laden narratives via richly rewarding tracks such as Hunter’s Folly, Sleeping Giant and Vespers.
KB

 

Help Yourself
Passing Through — The Complete Studio Recordings
Esoteric
★★★★

FORMED in 1970, as the backing band for singer, guitarist and keyboards player Malcolm Morley, Help Yourself were influenced by US west-coast rock.

They cut their eponymous debut set in 1971 for United Artists and went on tour with label mates Brinsley Schwarz and Ernie Graham (ex-Eire Apparent songwriter and guitar player). Graham joined them — but left half way half-way through recording their second album.

Working with Welsh rock legends Man, they became regulars on the pub rock and college circuit but UA dropped them after four albums — a fifth album from 1973 stayed in the can and so they called it a day in 1974.

The box set includes six studio albums (with varying line ups), unissued sides from Bob Harris’s BBC radio show plus a superb booklet with detailed notes, rare photos and memorabilia.
TB

Bianco/Brackenbury
Rising Up
Discus Records
★★★★★

JULIE COLE’S evocative sleeve painting holding this duo album by British violinist Faith Brackenbury and New York drummer Tony Bianco expresses the beauty and audacity of their album, Rising Up.

Three long improvisations comprise the album, with the title track pitching skyward from its first notes, Brackenbury’s bow and strings leaping like a soaring horn, and Bianco's bass drum, snares and cymbals digging down, crackling relentlessly.

The album radiates a sense of wonder that the musicians so unexpectedly discovered each other’s sounds and the artistry they could create together, for just two musicians make a new timbral world.

Brackenbury hopes this music “will be uplifting to people and invoke peace, love and justice in the world.” A pair of troubadours playing for millions, their message spilling out joyously from every note. Savour it like you would the title of the sumptuous track, Gypsy Shortbread.

CS

 

Connie Smith
The Cry of the Heart
(Fat Possum Records)
★★★

THE great Dolly Parton once remarked that: “There are really only three real female singers; Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending.”

Veteran country singer Smith has now recorded more than 50 albums during a lengthy career which now extends back to the early sixties, and her latest offering, The Cry of the Heart, finds the octogenarian performer working in close collaboration with her husband, producer and fellow Nashville icon Marty Stuart.

These two country stalwarts haven’t felt tempted to diverge too far from the timeless sound which has served Connie so well over the years and her first album since 2011’s Long Line of Heartaches serves up an appealing blend of freshly minted new material and heartfelt revamps of classic oldies and gems from the repertoires of artists that she has admired over the years.
KB

Various
Something Inside Of Me
Unreleased Masters & Demos From The British Blues Years 1963 – 1976
Wienerworld Records
★★★★★

FOUR CDs worth of unissued gems from the 1960s — when young, white blues fans packed into “blues clubs” wanting to hear the nearest thing we had to Mississippi and Chicago blues.

Included are demo’s by Fleetwood Mac’s Danny Kirwan’s first band Boiler House; unreleased tapes by The Nighthawks, (from the Surrey delta) and the authentic blues harmonica — guitar duo Simon Prager and Steve Rye; blues stalwarts Duster Bennett and Dave Kelly; piano blues and boogie-meister Bob Hall; country blues guitar wizards Graham Hine and Al Jones — and Hereford’s electric Shakey Vick’s Big City Blues Band.

With a detailed 150-page booklet, period photos, flyers and posters — as US blues pianist Curtis Jones instructed the short-lived Dynaflow Blues Band at a 1960s gig at Bath University: “Let’s jive!”
TB

Devin Gray/Ralph Alessi/Angelica Sanchez
Melt all the Guns
Rataplan Records
★★★★

BROOKLYN-BASED drummer Devin Gray leads a stellar trio with San Francisco trumpeter Ralph Alessi and Phoenix-born pianist Angelica Sanchez to make a bold sonic statement against US gun violence in the brief but defiant album, Melt all the Guns.

Alessi’s squeezed, taut notes are passionately rampant in the opening track Think About It, and rise abruptly on Jetlag. Through Micro Waves Sanchez’s hard-struck lyricism gives an underlay of rolling truth.

The title track carries a sense of mourning, broken by Alessi’s high-note challenge. The final improvisation, Protect our Environment, is laid bare by the concord and contradictions of Alessi's blues-filled horn, Sanchez’s undulant notes and Gray’s pounding, awakening drums.

“We need to expand awareness and work for a future free of gun violence,” says Gray. In this album three conscious, brilliant musicians fuse their artistry with a commitment to peace for their nation and world.
CS

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