WHISPERS AND SIGHS SCHOOLKIDS RECORDS CDSMR067
Acclaimed American folk singer-songwriter David Olney was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1948. After moving to Nashville in 1973 he began selling his songs to record labels and went on to perform as a compelling and enigmatic solo artist, releasing more than 20 albums in a five-decade career. He was a friend and admirer of the great Townes Van Zandt and his superbly crafted songs have been covered by artists such as Emmylou Harris (Wrecking Ball, co-written with Daniel Lanois), Del McCoury, Tim O’Brien, Linda Ronstadt (Feels Like Home) and Steve Earle (Look Homeward Angel). He also wrote sonnets and starred at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival. Sadly, Olney died of an apparent heart attack during a performance on stage in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, in 2020, at the age of seventy-one. His haunting posthumous album, Whispers and Sighs, was made with the hugely talented Anana Kaye and her husband and musical partner Irakli Gabriel. It shows David Olney’s unique, introspective songwriting at its thought-provoking best. ‘A masterpiece, a parting gift from an imagination of genius.’ – Mary Gauthier. Olney clearly felt a kinship towards Kaye, a smoky-voiced Americana darling whose star is on the rise in Nashville. While it’s hard to escape the seeming cosmic significance of the album as a posthumous release, within it is an undeniable reminder that David Olney’s extraordinary legacy can never fade, while Anana Kaye’s star grows deservedly brighter by the day. Highlights include the prophetic and poignant My Favorite Goodbye, a smokily beautiful My Last Dream Of You, the rocking Last Days Of Rome, the lovely Whispers And Sighs, The World We Used To Know (a powerful letter home from a wartime soldier), the lush Tennessee Moon and the final track, The Great Manzini (Disappearing Act). Watch the video
LUCINDA WILLIAMS – GOOD SOULS BETTER ANGELS THIRTY TIGERS H2006
Three-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and started playing guitar at the age of twelve. Her first two albums for Folkways – Ramblin’ (1979) and Happy Woman Blues (1980) – received little attention but after moving to Nashville she gradually started getting more notice for her work as a singer and songwriter of rock, folk and country music. She made a series of acclaimed albums and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, released in 1998, broke her through into the mainstream when she toured with Bob Dylan. Following the reissue of her self-titled 1988 album, Lucinda Williams, to mark its 25th anniversary, she released the excellent Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone. Her latest album, Good Souls Better Angels, has resonated far and wide with two top 30 charts so far in Europe, and proves in no uncertain terms that art and speaking out are essential. Recorded in Nashville, this is her most rocking and bluesiest music yet, with splendid support from Butch Norton (drums), Stuart Mathis (guitar) and David Sutton (bass), with Mark T Jordan – (organ). Now an unlikely 67 years old, Williams has lost none of her passion or quest for new means of musical exploration. Highlights include the majestic Man Without a Soul, which may be about Donald Trump or any other hypocritical politician, the poignant Big Black Train, soulful Shadows & Doubts (‘These are the long dark days’) the righteous anger of Bone of Contention, and the gentle Good Souls. Lucinda Williams’s strong, emotional voice confirms that she will never lose heart even When The Way Gets Dark in a world where lies are venerated. Highly recommended.
AMY SPEACE – ME AND THE GHOST OF CHARLEMAGNE PROPER RECORDS PRPCD154
Discovered and mentored by folk-pop icon Judy Collins, Amy Speace left her career as a classically-trained Shakespearean actress and has become one of the leading voices of a new generation of singers, blending the best parts of American roots music – gospel, alt-country, folk, classic pop – into her own songs. Born in Baltimore and now based in in Nashville, Tennessee, she has released many critically acclaimed albums and played at the Glastonbury and Cambridge Music Festivals as well as at many other festivals around the world. Her songs have been recorded by Judy Collins including The Weight of the World, which was named as the #4 Best Folk Song of the last decade by NYC’s premiere AAA radio station, WFUV. National Public Radio described her voice as ‘velvety and achy’, comparing her to Lucinda Williams. Her seventh album, Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne, follows in the tradition of her earlier work but also shines its light on a new Amy Speace: a clear-eyed, re-energized songwriter who’s done with chasing things that don’t matter…but isn’t anywhere close to being done with her art. This is a collection of exquisite lyrical portraits in miniature that she says ‘is about life and death and the journey of all dreamers.’ Brilliantly produced by longtime collaborator Neilson Hubbard and recorded during the final weeks of Speace’s pregnancy with her first son at age 50, Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne captures the artist at her most nakedly honest, with sparsely-decorated songs that double down on her larger-than-life voice and detail-rich songwriting. It’s an album about the colliding of dreams and reality, full of characters making sense of their lives when something is lost and then found. The haunting title track was written on the road in Germany and Holland when she found myself asking, ‘Is this all there is?’ Other highlights include the lovely Grace of God, the instant classic Pretty Girls (reminiscent of Janis Ian’s At Seventeen), a highly personal Back in Abilene, and the peaceful Kindness (‘May those you trust be honest and real’). ‘Amy Speace is on a roll. Each new release has brought an expansion of her voice and her art, and she has reached the level of absolute mastery. Folk music doesn’t get any better than this.’ – Mary Gauthier.
GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS RETROWORLD FLOATM 6387
The late Gene Clark was a founder-member of Folk-Rock pioneers The Byrds (and before that The New Christy Minstrels). However, brittle interpersonal relationships and a fear of flying led to Clark’s departure in 1966. After briefly convening his own Gene Clark Band, he struck out on a solo career, recording this album in 1966. Producers Gary Usher and Larry Marks assembled some of the finest Los Angeles session musicians to help articulate Clark’s musical vision, including Glen Campbell (guitar), Leon Russell (keyboards), Doug Dillard (banjo, guitar), as well as The Byrds rhythm section of Michael Clarke (drums) and Chris Hillman (bass). The Gosdin Brothers – Vern and Rex (who shared management with Gene) – add strong, Country backing vocals to Clark’s lead. The album opens with one of the most ambitious single tracks that Clark ever recorded – Echoes, a lavishly-orchestrated (scored by Leon Russell) song rich in Clark’s poetic imagery and featuring a sonorous melodic lead vocal. What followed is a varied, but coherent mixture of sounds and styles, from the Country Rock of Think I’m Gonna Feel Better, the urgent Is Yours Is Mine, and the exquisite balladry of The Same One. This reissue adds three bonus tracks to the original eleven. Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers was not a commercial success when originally released, but the album now stands as something of a minor classic.
ALLISON DE GROOT & TATIANA HARGREAVES FREE DIRT RECORDS DIRT-CD-0092
Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves’ self-titled debut album is a powerful opening statement that showcases the spectacular musicianship of two artists on the leading edge of a generation of old-time players who are questioning old narratives, and acknowledging the diversity that has always existed in the genre. Allison de Groot, known for her intricate clawhammer banjo work with Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, joins forces with powerhouse fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves to create a sound that is adventurous, masterful, and original, while never losing sight of what makes the music endure. Since releasing her first solo album, Started Out To Ramble, in 2009, Tatiana has toured with musicians such as Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Laurie Lewis, Darol Anger and Bruce Molsky, showing a musical fluency that flows between old time and bluegrass worlds with ease. Allison de Groot combines love for old-time music, technical skill and a creative approach to the banjo forming her own sound – unique and full of personality. She has toured all over the world, performing at events such as Newport Folk Festival, Celtic Connections and the Folk Festival in her hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. ‘We are both drawn to the same types of tunes,’ says Hargreaves. ‘Ones you can really get lost in, that catch your ear in a different sort of way. We also improvise through them in the same way – taking elements from the source recording that stand out as bizarre, or perhaps even accidental, and exaggerating them.’ Their outstanding new album draws tunes from sources reaching to Mississippi, Missouri, and the Arkansas Ozarks, in addition to the Appalachian stringband music in which Hargreaves and de Groot are grounded. As well as their world-class instrumental work, the album also features their excellent vocals. Hargreaves’ plaintive delivery of bluegrass pioneer Alice Gerrard’s Beaufort County Jail renders an already chilling song even more affecting, and the duo’s playful harmonies on The Poplin Family’s I Don’t Want to Get Married are pure joy. Other highlights include the exuberant Eighth of January, Judy Hyman’s evocative Dry, the traditional Willie Moore, and the lovely Green Valley Waltz. Visit the website and watch the video here
TOWNES VAN ZANDT – DOWN HOME & ABROAD RETROWORLD FLOATD 6377
American singer-songwriter John Townes Van Zandt, better known just as as Townes Van Zandt, was born in 1944 in Fort Worth, Texas, to a prominent and wealthy oil family. Inspired by Elvis Presley, he started learning guitar from the age of 12 and by the 1960s was playing regular shows at the Jester Lounge in Houston for $10 per night, playing mostly of covers of songs by other people. His father, Harris Van Zandt, encouraged him to write his own songs, heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and Hank Williams as well as blues artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters and Blind Willie McTell. He earned himself a small and devoted fanbase, but after being diagnosed as a manic-depression his career was severely affected by substance abuse, especially heroin and alcohol. Consequently, he never had a successful album or single and it wasn’t until much later that his genius was made known to a wider public via cover versions of his song by people such as Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. Since Van Zandt died aged 52 on New Years Day in 1997 there has been a surge of interest in his work, which has been covered by artists such as Bob Dylan (a big fan), Steve Earle, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Laura Marling. His erratic career oscillated wildly from moments of brilliance and clear-eyed perceptiveness through to drug-addled, alcohol addicted despair. His was a talent that inspired real love and devotion from his many fans, yet a kind of self-destructive streak hamstrung his progress in music. Townes could go through periods where he was disciplined and together enough to tour the US and Europe, and this double CD set captures him in fine form. The first disc features a live show from The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, on April 18th, 1985, and then, on disc two, a show from The Tavastia, in Helsinki, Finland, recorded on June 18th 1993. The sets include such Townes Van Zandt classics as ‘a medley of his hit’ Pancho and Lefty, Lungs, Tecumseh Valley, Kathleen, Flyin’ Shoes, the beautiful If I Needed You, and many others. Townes is in fine voice, the audiences are enthusiastic, and the rich tones of his Gibson Jumbo acoustic guitar are prominent throughout. On disc one, he is accompanied by guitarist Mickey White, and flautist Donny Silverman. The Helsinki disc just features just Townes and his guitar, and is no less compelling – gripping stuff from a roots-rock master. ‘I just need an overwhelming amount of love. And a nap. Mostly a nap.’ – Townes Van Zandt.