Campfire Tales: January 2017
So technically it’s February (Ed: not "technically", it is February.) but this, although we’re late, is the return of Campfire Tales. As a reminder, since we’ve not been here since 2015, every month the latest country, Americana, blues, and folk will have an ear cast over them and a score attached. So without anymore pointless preamble here’s January, and seriously, it’s a goddamn humdinger.
Starting off with a three records that were released in 216 in the US but are now getting official UK releases, the bar is set high. Brent Cobb has been round and abouts for a few years now, writing for others (e.g. ‘Old Shit’ for Miranda Lambert), staying under the radar whilst cousin Dave takes the limelight, despite only producing. Well that changes with his first official record, Shine On Rainy Day . It’s great. A compellingly laid back mix of rootsy rock (‘Down In The Gully’), hazy days (‘Solving Problems’), and familiar co-writes (the title track with Andrew Combs). The Georgian songwriter sings with a bonhomie that show his Southern roots gleaming.
And that’s similar in many ways to Aaron Lee Tasjan. The Ohio native has a jolly approach to his mix of 60s pop and Americana, clearly demonstrated by ‘12 Bar Blues’ opening trawl through the titular drinking establishments. Honestly though, Silver Tears  is jammed full of fantastic songs and is one of the most fun, yet serious, records in recent times; “Smoking dope is dopey / Gets you busted by old smokey” is the opening line of the record, and ‘Hard Life’ really does set the bar high and happy. ‘Little Movies’ is all shimmering California pop, ‘Memphis Rain’ has shades of a polished Elvis and ‘Till The Town Goes Dark’ echoes an Arcade Fire album track.
The final 2016 release to see the UK in early 2017 is Arizona’s Courtney Marie Andrews. Her third record soars high above her previous output, adding some country licks to her folk base. Starting life in Belgium whilst Andrews was on a European sojourn Honest Life  is full of stories about people. At times singing with the cadence of Samantha Crain, at other with the indie rock abandon of a folky Courtney Barnett, the 26 year old makes the ten tracks totally cohesive. The folk-rock of ‘Irene’ is hooky as hell and ‘Table For One’ draws you close with its opening slide guitar before entrancing you with its soul baring lyric. This is terrific stuff.
The good stuff doesn’t stop there with Whitney Rose’s new EP South Texas Suite . The six track effort swings from the Texicana of ‘Three Minute Love Affair’ to the old school pedal steel of ‘Bluebonnets For My Baby’ and nostalgically brilliant ‘Analog’. It the perfect gap bridger between 2015’s Heartbreaker Of The Year and the new record pencilled in for later this year.
Bob Harris favourite Tift Merritt returns after nearly four years away with Stitch Of The World  and starts of well with the ragged rhythm of ‘Dusty Old Man’. There’s a real lack of killer songs in this ten track collection though, it’s a solid rather than spectacular return. Iron and Wine main man Sam Beam turns up on the final trio of tracks to add harmonies. Also hot on the harmonies are Londoners Worry Dolls. Their debut is nice. Now that’s not meant to damn with faint praise as Go Get Done contains some beautifully wistful country-folk.
Now you might think that Aaron Lee Tasjan and Courtney Marie Andrews, as well as having long names, are going to be the records recommended this month. And they are. But not the only two, as longtime songwriter Natalie Hemby released her debut record, Puxico  and it’s an amazing way to start the year. After a couple of years having co-writes on the latest records by Miranda Lambert (most famously ‘Automatic’), Little Big Town, Kacey Musgraves and the like, Hemby finally puts out her own long player. Though at nine track you’re left wanting more From the country strummer ‘Time Honored Tradition’ through the beautiful acoustic-ness of ‘Cairo, IL’ and heartbreaking ‘This Town Still Talks About You’ to the shimmering closer ‘Return’ every song is a complete and utter winner. It’s brilliant.
Finally, from the shiny sunshine country of Natalie Hemby to the gravelly excellence of Otis Gibbs latest. With a simplicity of sound that belies the complexity of the emotions the music contains Mount Renraw  builds on Gibbs well received Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth. Recorded in his home - called Mount Renraw - on his 50th birthday there’s a sense of history to the songs. ‘Bison’ recalls the time when the animal covered the great American plains and ‘Great American Roadside’ is a celebration of the truck stops, cafes, and giant string balls that cover the US highways. Best of all though is ‘Sputnik Monroe’, shining a light on a single person that helped to change the course of segregation in the US. It’s half sung / half spoken and has a simple but stunning chorus - “Standing on the ground where kings stood [x3] / On the right side of history”. All written by Gibbs, the songs are short, punchy and powerful, it’s effective and enjoyable.