Friday, 20 April 2018

Courtney Marie Andrews at Summerhall 20 April 2017

Courtney Marie Andrews is frankly at the top of her game right now. No two ways about it her show tonight was one of the best I've seen with the warmest and most enthusiastic reception from her growing audience.
Last time I saw Courtney Marie Andrews she was touring solo and previewing the songs from her new album 'May Your Kindness Remain'. Between January and now with the addition of her band those songs have grown and the blues country soul vibe has distilled into that much sought after but rare thing that I can only describe a cosmic American music - ok I've stolen that - but I think it is apt in describing the combination of her songs, their arrangements and the sound the band cooks up. There were moments tonight where I was thinking of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Band. This was especially evident during the evenings closing number a cover of Little Feat's 'Willin'.

The whole set was beautifully paced starting with last two tracks from the new album 'Long Road Back to You' and 'I've Hurt Worse' both of which pulled the crowd in and showed that these songs may be new but have more than connected with her audience. People were singing along and clearly love these songs and the ones that followed.
To say that Courtney Marie Andrews has hit her stride would be an understatement of monumental standards. She's been touring constantly both solo and with her band, writing all the time and she keeps coming up with the goods. This is her time but you can't help feeling that the best is astonishingly still to come.
She has songs which are audience favourites like 'Near You' and 'Sea Town' which have not appeared on albums but remain mainstays of the live show. Sea Town in particular has featured in every CMA gig I've been at. That's five in total and the performance of the song has moved from a plaintive lament into a rocking celebration of returning.
We were treated to eighteen songs tonight in Summerhall's 'Dissection Room' showcasing the best of the new album and its predecessor 'Honest Life'. Her songs clearly touch a common core across the ages that was evident tonight with a very mixed age range. Live she always engages with the audience with humour and charm between the songs and then that voice soars. More, Courtney Marie, more!

 Note: in the heat tonight an audience member fainted, thankfully recovering. Courtney Marie stopped the show immediately and took a respectful break.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Caroline Spence - the Voodoo Rooms 21/02/2018

Caroline Spence is one of a slew of new singer/songwriters breaking out of the US right now. Based in Nashville Caroline followed a well worn path of songwriters drawn to the city in search of the song that would provide the 'hit' that would break her. Her aim was to write songs for others to record and perform but like many before her she found that in order to hawk her songs performing was the best route to get those songs out there. And there was a living to be had there if you're willing to follow the road.

On her first visit to Scotland Spence played an intimate stripped back set in the Voodoo Rooms speakeasy accompanied by English electric and lap steel guitarist Chris Hillman. As well as telling stories with her songs she entertained the audience with stories about the songs and her life in Nashville and on the road - don't order a Chinese takeaway in Texas! Her set contained a choice mix of songs from her albums 'Somehow' and 'Spades & Hearts' with a couple of covers - Gram Parsons 'Hickory Wind' (appropriate when your guitarist is called Chris Hillman) and night's closer Springsteen's 'Dancing in the Dark'. 

Opening with 'Heart of Somebody', followed by 'Hotel Amarillo' it's clear her own songs have a quality that should set her in good stead to grow her audience. She seems genuinely touched by the number of people who've turned out mid-week to see her play. 'Whiskey Watered Down' is her love hate sideswipe at the music industry in Nashville; 'Hotel Amarillo' a tale of motel life and fast food on the road; 'Train's Cry' and 'Bless Your Heart' stand out too.

In the second half of the set there are more gems as she works through more of her recent 'Spades & Hearts' album. Standouts include 'You Don't Look So Good (Cocaine)' 'All the Bed's I've Made' and 'Southern Accident'. She catches the zeitgeist with 'Softball' a reflection on her realisation that the world is different for girls it's a story of her discovery as a baseball crazy child that she could only go so far with her playing before the coach won't put her in the baseball team because its not for girls -softball is. Catch the video for 'Softball' for a who's who of the talented women singer/songwriters that are working in America right now.

Fortunately for us many are making it across to Scotland where they are finding a warm welcome from audiences keen to hear them perform. Caroline Spence is one of a new wave. She's one of the best and next time she's here go see her. Meantime give her a listen wherever you find your music.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Courtney Marie Andrews - in praise of Leuven Letters

Courtney Marie Andrews burst into my consciousness when I heard a track from her breakthrough album 'Honest Life'. The song was 'How Quickly Your Heart Mends' her witty heart-worn tale of surviving love and finding life.
'Honest Life' is an album packed with songwriting of the highest calibre that speaks of the years that Courtney Marie has spent as a travelling musician playing with bands and as a solo artist building her skill and craft. Amazingly a veteran of 6 self funded albums by the time of her breakthrough she'd been touring for ten years.
Listening to the older work there has been a astonishing refinement of her songwriters craft, her confidence as a writer and that key skill of telling her stories straight and connecting with her audience.
Her previous full length album 'On My Page' mapped a route to 'Honest Life' with key songs 'Blue Woman' and 'Woman of Many Colours' still mainstays of her live set and tales that sit well with her later output. That said 'Honest Life' is a huge step forward in her writing and in the realisation of her muse. There's a brevity and directness to the songs and a honesty in the delivery that pushed open the door to that wider audience that she so thoroughly deserves.

What brought about that change, that clarity? I'd contend that the limited release 2014 mini album 'Leuven Letters' played a large part in leading Courtney Marie to the directness of 'Honest Life'. The six tracks she recorded in Belgium contain only one song from 'Honest Life' - the aforementioned  'How Quickly Your Heart Mends' which encapsulates the new pared back direct voice that points towards the sound and honesty that makes 'Honest Life' the important album it is. The backstory to 'Leuven Letters' is that it was written and recorded in the aftermath of a relationship breakup. The songs work as a group describing the confusion, the hurt, the frustration, the yearning and the keening heartbreak of love along with the redemptive quality of rebirth as a careworn experienced liver of life. It closes with the heartfelt 'A Song for Amy Ross' a song about the loss of a friend that may sit outside the canon of break-up songs that precedes it but shares that direct way of telling the story that is as real and affectionate. It too is about unexpected loss and the hurt the sheering of a friendship to an abrupt end.
'Leuven Letters' is a exceptional suite of songs and maps out clearly the template that Courtney Marie so assuredly realised on 'Honest Life'. It deserves to be seen as the pivotal work that it clearly is paving the way from the old Courtney Marie to the new and playing its part in showcasing her voice both vocally and in the words and music that those of us who have fallen for her spell love so much.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Glen Campbell: Still within the Sound of his voice

I can’t remember when I first heard Glen Campbell sing. It’d be the early 1970’s and maybe before that. I do remember that my first long playing record purchase was an album entitled ‘By the Time I get to Phoenix’ on the Music for Pleasure label. And so, started a love of Glen’s voice and his song interpretations that lasts through to his death and no doubt beyond. Not long after that first LP I got a copy of another album entitled ‘Wichita Lineman’ again on the Music for Pleasure. Both albums gave me a mix of Glen’s back catalogue, both were compilations headed by huge worldwide hits. 

Not long after that I received a present of Glen’s album ‘Reunion: the songs of Jimmy Webb’ which was and is a wonderful collection of some of Webb’s most introspective songs plus a wonderful song from Webb’s sister Susan the incredible ‘About the Ocean’ and a cover of Lowell George’s ‘Roll Me Easy’. These non-hit songs showed a young teenager music with more shadows that the bright widescreen hits that I was used to from Glen Campbell. His performance on this album is a testament to his interpretive powers. They might be Jimmy Webb songs but after Glen had wrapped his voice around them they became his.

It was this talent for spotting songs and then through his interpretation and recording of them getting inside them and inhabiting them as if they were his life-force that mark Glen Campbell out as one of the greatest popular singers of his time.

An example of that talent with a non-Jimmy Webb song came with his worldwide smash and comeback hit ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, a song by Larry Weiss that Campbell took to and breathed his magic into. I have the original Rhinestone Cowboy album on cassette, now unplayable through constant use over four decades. Another was his last big hit ‘Southern Nights’ an Allen Toussaint song. Like ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Campbell took an already exceptional song and added to it setting the standard by which any other version would be judged.

When he found a song and there are many examples – John Hartford’s ‘Gentle On my Mind’, Randy Newman’s ‘Marie’ or Webb’s ‘The Highwayman’ those songs became his. His voice was remarkable and gave those songs an identity and strength that made those records so compelling.

Many of the songs that Glen Campbell inhabited so well spoke of enduring loneliness and longing with huge cinematic canvasses that touched people the world over. I’m glad I found my way to his music early and that it has endured and enriched for so long. Thanks for the songs Mr Campbell.  

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

I am the audience - Ned Roberts at Leith Depot

It was one of those cold winter nights in early spring that Scotland is famous for with added hail. Wednesday night too. However that really is just an excuse and a lame one at that. But I'll get back to that.

I first heard of Ned Roberts when he was playing support for Anais Mitchell a few years back and he'd impressed me with his songs and his voice. It being the modern age I downloaded an e.p. to my iPod and listened for a while before other more insistent voices and music made my memories of this engaging singer fade.

Fast forward a bit and somewhere I discover that Ned has a new album coming and that he's touring. even better he's playing in Leith!

Now back to that audience. You see Ned was playing Leith Depot on a night organised by local singer songwriter Kat Healy and there was support from a local singer called Purdie. I turn up two songs from the end of Purdie's set. There's not a huge crowd and it's early I say to myself. As the evening continues through Kat's set of finely observed songs of relationships I begin to piece together who the groups of people in the room are. Purdie has a group of friends with her who are thankfully settling in for the night (it's Baltic outside so who could blame them). Over by the bar is a group who are with Kat. So that leaves me and three other people.

The headliner takes to the stage and works his way a mesmerising mix of his old and new songs. He's got a rich voice that works well on his well crafted songs like 'Drifting Down' 'Hazy Days' 'Angel Station' and 'Lights on the River'. There's some nice guitar playing and that rich deep voice works well with the songs that recall Nick Drake, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen and a bit of Dylan (a
fair bit of moothie accompanies the playing and singing).

Of course he's not a household name but you can't help thinking, well I can't help thinking that after playing a full Pleasance Theatre a few years back albeit supporting the more established Anais Mitchell he should be pulling in a few more punters.

For now I feel like I'm glad to be part of the small group who came along to see him. I have to say he doesn't disappoint and would say unreservedly that you should seek out his music and certainly his gigs. There's room.




Kat Healy

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Playing Old Games - Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles, Hug and Pint Glasgow

I'd only listened to a couple of songs by Erin Rae McKaskle before going to see her. Those songs 'Playing Old Games' and 'Clean Slate' gave me enough to guess that a full set would be more than rewarding.
Good guess! I lucked out. In the dark and cramped basement of the Hug and Pint Erin Rae's songs shone. She worked her way through a wonderful set of old and new songs. All show a refective thoughtfulness and keen insights into the human longing, frailty, joy and loss.
What made the sound of Erin Rae's high clear voice even more stunning were the harmonies provided by her two bandmates. They echoed old time bluegrass country but were altogether modern and truly sublime.
Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles are playing small venues on this tour, building their audience. Should you join that audience you won't be disappointed.

Leith Depot - the next night.

On my home turf I just could not miss catching Erin Rae again. It was a similar sized venue and size of audience. The set was familiar and again I was struck by the quality of the songwriting and how the themes are well trodden there seems a particular insight that Erin Rae brings to her songs. 'Playing Old Games' remains my favourite but I am liking 'Wild Blue Wind', 'Futile Attempts' and 'Monticello'. Good news too that there is a new album in the offing with a number of new songs being showcased on this UK tour. This is a singer songwriter who is building up a body of work of high quality and is one to watch.

Wild Blue Wind live video

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Promised Land Sound – Sneaky Pete’s 4/02/2017

Nashville’s Promised Land Sound are a band that are hard to describe. Don’t get me wrong they have a ‘sound’ big, compelling, and distinctive. And that’s it – distinctive – I struggle to find them like anything else I’ve listened to.

I’d heard the comparisons to the Byrd’s and Big Star but never really got that despite the soaring harmonies. What good are comparisons anyway when you’re listening to a band as good as Promised Land Sound?

Showcasing songs from their new album ‘For Use and Delight’ they cook up a muscular and sophisticated sound topped with high harmonies and squalling guitars. At times driving and then languid as on ‘She Takes Me There’ the band create their own sound.

The crowd in Edinburgh’s postage stamp sized venue/club Sneaky Pete’s were treated to an evening of melodic effervescent rock from a band that rocks out when it suits and throughout display a range of colour and tone that suggest that there is more to come, much more to come from this young band.

Catch this band if you can, they will repay your attention.