Campfire Tales: June 2015 (part 2)
A big set of spring releases were too much for one monthly column to hold so we’re back with some more country, folky, bluesy, Americana-y, type records.
First up, a rocking country effort from Will Hoge, and boy, he delivers a whole lot of guitar and tunes about small town USA. (Probably should have been obvious from the title: Small Town Dreams.) Despite the theme being present on practically every song, Hoge brings enough passion and honest sweat to make you forgive the unoriginality but all the cool guitar breaks in the world can’t disguise the obvious lyrics of songs like ‘Guitar or a Gun’ and ‘All I Want Is Us Tonight’. Turning nostalgic a bit too often, tunes like ‘Growing Up Around Here’ and ‘They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To’ are blindingly obvious. Somehow though, Hoge makes his ninth record enjoyable, building songs to a crescendo of emotion that works more often than not. Nothing here hasn’t been done before, but the Nashville native does it well enough.
Also giving us a dose of something trad but honest are Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. At this point in their respective careers they're revisting familiar territory but with Nelson continuing his late career purple patch, Django and Jimmie is an excellent balance of nostalgia and storytelling. From the title track honouring the influence of title characters Reinhardt and Rodgers, through ‘Missin’ Old Johnny Cash’ laden with Man In Black anecdotes, to a cover of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ this is an unashamed nod to the past. Having launched his own brand of marijuana in California, it’s only fitting that ‘It’s All Going To Pot’ is a fun jamboree with Jamey Johnson adding vocals. The pair are in reflective mood too on ‘Live This Long’ and ‘Unfair Weather Friend’. Really though this is just a chance to hear two greats of country music having fun and cutting loose. Make the most of the 82 and 78 year olds while they’re still making records of this quality.
From experience to youth and promise - and debut records from John & Jacob, The Bros. Landreth, and The Deslondes. The former take a 60s pop meets 00s country approach; the brothers take on Americana with a blues rock slant, and the latter use traditional country blues as the basis for their sound. You might be familiar with John & Jacob if you caught Britpop-country band The Shires on their recent tour, or if you’re familiar with The Band Perry’s ‘Done’. Their self-titled debut is a happy little number, full of songs perfect for summer. The BBC Radio 2 playlisted ‘Ride With Me’ and ‘Be My Girl’ are the two highlights, and while ‘Goodbye’ and ‘The Weekend’ are catchy ditties it’s all a touch lightweight. There’s plenty of promise on show, some great melodies and winning harmonies, and the release is perfectly timed to hit British summertime.
Another self titled debut comes from The Deslondes, a New Orleans based band that pilfer from that city’s sound - the Bourbon Street jazzy-blues kind of vibe - and give it a country twist. The languid charm of ‘Fought The Blues And Won’; the harmonica and steel guitar laden ‘Heavenly Home’; the 100 second honky tonk blues of ‘Less Honkin’ More Tonkin’’. There’s plenty to get with on their first effort, and they share not only a key player, Sam Doores, but a spirit with fellow Big Easy alumni Hurray For The Riff Raff.
The Bros. Landreth, a mostly unknown quantity in the UK, do actually consist of brothers, Joey and Dave, along with non-brothers Ryan Voth and Ariel Posen. The bearded quartet’s Let It Lie is a triumph of big guitars and solid hooks, all played out in a blues rock stylee. Big riffing ‘Our Love’ introduces their love of the guitar break and sets the tone for the ten tracks that follow. The foursome do have a softer side, ‘Firecracker’ and the gorgeous title track slow things down, and they’re smooth like John Mayer when they want to be, ‘Made Up Mind’ has all the guitar flourishes of a Mayer track. Let It Lie heralds the arrival of a major new talent and the best roots rock record of 2015 so far.
An act with longevity is Giant Sand. Celebrating 30 years in the business, Howie Gelb’s mix and match troupe release their umpteenth record, and it’s a strange thing. A cocktail of styles, timings, lyrics, and themes deliver a conflicting set of feelings, from admiration to bewilderment. Much more straightforward is the first album from Barna Howard. The troubadour's
Something with a bit more oomph is Summer Forever, the sixth album from Nashville-ite Billy Currington. So much of a summer record it’s sunburnt, all frothy rock-pop hooks and melodies, Currington also knows what flies in Nashville today and hits every nail on its mainstream head. Simple titles like ‘Don’t It’, ‘Jonesin’’, ‘Wake Me Up’, are all catchy and all very now. The problem for Currington, if you can call it a problem, is that this could be Aldean, or Bryan, or any of those guys currently doing the tours of US football stadiums. Every so often, ‘It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To’ comes to mind, but there’s something a bit more here. Not often enough though, but to be compared to the biggest hitters currently in country music isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anyone looking for something a bit different should go elsewhere.
Finally, recorded in Nashville, but formed in Herefordshire is I Stand Alone, the latest record from a budding UK country artist. After the success of The Shires and Ward Thomas, over the last twelve months the British Isles are overflowing with country acts, with BBC Radio 2 playlisting country music like never before. Sasha McVeigh is forging ahead with no major label support and a debut record paid for by crowd funding. So did that crowd give their money wisely? Yeah, pretty much. McVeigh’s got a good ear for a harmony; signature tune ‘Mr Brown Eyes’ and live favourite ‘Stupid Girl’ show her way of writing relatable lyrics. It’s all very rounded for a 21 year old from smalltown England, and there’s plenty of potential. Hear ‘No Strings Attached Romance’ for evidence. A bit more grit and a little less of a positive outlook would help harden those edges and push Herefordshire's finest country music that extra bit further.
John & Jacob - John & Jacob 7/10
The Bros. Landreth - Let It Lie 8/10
Barna Howard - Quite A Feelin’ 6/10
Billy Currington - Summer Forever 7/10
Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson - Django and Jimmie 8/10
Will Hoge - Small Town Dreams 6/10
Sasha McVeigh - I Stand Alone 7/10
The Deslondes - The Deslondes 7/10