Campfire Tales: April 2015

After a strong start to the roots music year, 2015 was bound to have a dip at some point and it might be that April is that month. A few debuts this month, with a disappointment or two along the way.

First up, and from diametrically opposite ends of the country music spectrum are Cale Tyson and Callaghan. On the authentic country side of the yin is Tyson, Texas born and traditional to the core, the 23 year old has made a record that sounds more than twice as old as he is. Covering the modern country-pop yang is English born singer Callaghan who’s made the kind of slick chart friendly record that’s popular in Nashville these days. Three years on from her debut the Boston - in Lincs not Mass - girl returns on the wave of country hype, supported by BBC Radio 2 sessions and a couple of shows at the C2C: Country to Country festival. She’s adept at breezy pop, as ‘Crazy Beautiful Life’ and single ‘Best Year’ show, and ‘Who Would I Be’ is a soaring, touching, ballad. Beneath that there’s not enough oomph. Pleasant though A History Of Now is, that's not enough in these days of music overload.

Much more potent is Introducing Cale Tyson; from the opening bars of ‘Honky Tonk Moan’ Tyson’s collection of his EPs so far is something special for fans. This is as authentic as it gets. Some stunning steel guitar playing alongside the Texan singer’s twangy vocals give the tales of solace (‘Lonesome In Tennessee’), lost love (‘Not Missin’ You’) and regret (the swinging ‘Fool Of The Year’) real pathos. There’s some pleasing double bass on the blues of ‘Long Gone Girl’ and aside from the quality, the surprise is that a record so steeped in the classics comes from so new an artist.

At the far end of the career ladder is Tom Russell who delivers a concept album that sounds strong on paper. The Rose of Roscrae turns out to be a disappointment though. There’s a lack of quality in the delivery, and it’s not as strong on story as it could have been. At a rear-numbing 52 tracks there is plenty of scope for variety though, and Russell successfully covers most genre bases. One for the purists - and patient fans - only though.

Much shorter - and far more welcome - is the debut EP from Cam. With her shock of blonde frizzy hair she’s one of the more memorable of the newest Nashville stars. It’s not all about the hair though: the four tracks on Welcome To Cam Country fizz with acutely observed lyrics, showing she can play it fun and loose on ‘My Mistake’ or slow and tender on ‘Burning House’. It’s a great start and bodes well for her future.

A couple of other traditional roots records come from Sarah Gayle Meech and Caroline Spence. Having spent the last five years in Nashville Meech’s second record, Tennessee Love Song, goes right to the very heart and history of country music. ‘Stormy Weather’ is steel guitar heaven, ‘Love Of Mine’ brings the fiddle, and both songs use the key themes of lost love and tough times. The Washington state singer also delivers one of the songs of 2015 in the reverby, playfully frothy ‘Watermelon And Root Beer’. Though riffs on romance and relationships are the order of the day, Meech delivers them with enough verve to keep from getting repetitive - ‘True Love’’s duet adds a new dynamic; 'Rain Song' is as sweet as they come, followed by the sassy confidence of 'No Mess'. Though mining the traditional country playbook, including the single mindedness of the likes of Loretta Lynn, the Nashville resident keeps things thoroughly modern and fresh.

Another migrant to Nashville, Caroline Spence, has already achieved some success by winning American Songwriter's lyric contest. Her debut Somehow was funded through crowdsourcing and sees Spence take a laidback and contemplative trip through relationship stories. Spence's songwriting shines most when she keeps it simple: 'Hello Tomorrow''s look at the mundanity of ageing and relationships or finding the perfect partner on 'One Man'. Straying into indie-rock on 'Kissing Ain't The Same As Talking' is far more generic. With support from some of Nashville's finest, including Andrew Combs and Anderson East on vocals, there's no doubting the quality here. Building more variety would lift her higher.

Perennial workaholics and jam band Gov't Mule are back this month with their third release of 2015 - all live cover versions of The Rolling Stones. It's pretty much what you'd expect from the Mule, rocking versions of 'Under My Thumb', 'Paint It Black', 'Bitch', etc, but is a departure from their reggae and jazz influenced records. Stoned Side Of The Mule is a continuation of their efforts to be the most diverse band on the planet. It's only available on vinyl and is really just one for the completists.

The Americana entry for the month is Lord Huron. Once a vehicle for frontman Ben Schneider’s concept of a musical and visual project, the surprise success of the band’s 2012 debut led to Schneider committing to a more traditional four piece line-up. Inhabiting the same worldview as that debut is Strange Trails, a collection of tales about characters and their adventures. Delivered with a lot of honesty and folky intent, it delves further into the dark side of Americana than their debut. 'Love Like Ghosts' shimmers with intent; ‘Until The Night Turns’ flies along on its breakneck beat; 'The World Ender' has a touch of From Dusk Till Dawn mariachi while the ebbs and flow of the running stream that kicks off ‘La Belle Fleur Sauvage’ are mimicked in the music, drawing you ever deeper in. It's the stories that make this special though; Schneider weaves a cast of characters and roots them in the atmosphere of his music. At times one track bleeds into another as themes continue. It's stirring, satisfying stuff.

Tom Russell - The Rose of Roscrae 4/10
Callaghan - A History Of Now 6/10
Cam - Welcome To Cam Country 8/10
Cale Tyson - Introducing Cale Tyson 8/10
Sarah Gayle Meech - Tennessee Love Song 9/10
Lord Huron - Strange Trails 8/10
Caroline Spence - Somehow 7/10
Gov't Mule - Stoned Side Of The Mule 6/10

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