Campfire Tales: January 2014

New year, new music, same fantastic column (cough). On the album front, this inaugural edition for 2014 has a heavy leaning towards country, while on the live news front there are plenty of acts doing the rounds at this time of year. Skip to the end, if you're so inclined, for a mega round-up of dates.

If you haven’t gone down to the gig section and are still with us, and you feel like a dose of Bellowhead and Kodaline medicine then the latest album from Canada’s Little Suns is just for you. Their Normal Human Feelings (6th Jan) makes for a strange bedfellow alongside the less manic end of the folk fiddlers' output and the maudlin pop-rock of the Irish band. Sometimes veering between the two in one song, at other times sticking with the style through a song (as on solemn piano-led oddity ‘Antichrist’), on the odd occasion they totally overdo it (the near eight minute opening tune ‘Sunboat’). It all makes for a weird listening experience, the upshot being that it’s not easy to recommend. Saying that, there’s no doubt there’s a market for it - somewhere down the middle of the road.

Better, or at least more straighforward, are the country stylings of Susan Cattaneo and Haunted Heart (13th January). Whatever you’re looking for there’s a touch of it here, whether it’s country (‘Lorelei’), blues (‘Worth The Whiskey’) or ballad fare (‘Memory Of The Light’). Cattaneo has a great tone to her voice and can certainly write a tune; however, it’s just all a bit too safe. But if you like your roots easy listening and non-offensive then this is a disc (or download) is for you.

It’s may be a bit previous, after all we’ve eleven months of music to go, but there’s a good chance that Oklahoman Samantha Crain’s third album Kid Face (13th January) will end up being one of our favourite albums of 2014. Why? Well, simply because of its damn fine songs! Right from the first track, the catchy ‘Never Going Back’, through the fragile voice and simple beauty of ‘Paint’ (“I’m almost young this year / Now I am older”) and the thumping bass and feeling of tribute to the late Jason Molina, ‘For The Miner’ (“Did you get used to it / Or are you still up with the demons all night”), the list goes on. It would be quicker to list the tracks that aren’t great - but there aren’t any. Simple roots music at its best and highly recommended.

Lincoln Durham's blend of baritone vocals and blues-rock music brings some warmth to these cold winter days. The Texan channels the spirit of rough edge, electric blues on second album, Exodus Of The Deemed Unrighteous (13th January). ‘Rise In The River’ belts the kick drum and gospel preaching, ‘Annie Departee taps and talks (“This here’s a little story about a girl that can’t seem to quit killin’ men”) it’s way into a scuzzy blues guitar story. At just ten tracks it doesn’t hang about, running through angry, amped up blues stories of jilted and abused women (“Big bad wolf in pretty sheep's skin showed his teeth when he took to the drink / Little bitty girl is capable of terrible things when she's pushed to the brink”), murderers, greed, revenge, and death - lots of death. They’re vivid stories and the running feeling throughout is best summed up by the image of a dead, strung up crow on the album cover. Don't be mistaken though, this is exhilarating stuff that thrills the ears from beginning to end.

Finally, a greatest hits package with a difference. The new one, UnCovered (20th January) from Beth Nielsen Chapman, is a collection of songs that she wrote for other people, and has now recorded them herself. Songs like ‘Here We Are’, previously a pop-country top 10 hit for Alabama, now a sweet country duet with megastar Vince Gill. In fact, country is where it’s at, the Titanic-soundtrack influenced ‘Pray’ aside. ‘This Kiss’, made famous by Faith Hill, is a little less pop, a little more authentic, summing up the whole feel. Chapman has brought a ton of fiddles, plenty of pedal guitar, and her tuneful voice to the party, bringing a fresh dimension to her own songs. A nice way to get some credit for her own songs.

And now onto the tours for this month and beyond. Late Winter is a fruitful time for anyone in the UK wanting to catch some top quality American music. There’s Cory Chisel and Lindi Ortega, two favourites of this column, currently doing the rounds, while Samantha Crain is playing some tiny venues in the next couple of weeks. In February, Laura Cantrell gives us a quick visit, while Drew Holcombe is playing some shows with Police Dog Hogan. Beth Nielsen Chapman is touring throughout the month, and Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke (a proper band!) are visiting Manchester, London, Wolverhampton, and Glasgow in late February. A little further on and country bad boy Eric Church has a couple of dates in March. For full dates for all these artists, Google is your friend!

Little Suns - Normal Human Feelings 5/10
Susan Cattaneo - Haunted Heart 6/10
Lincoln Durham - Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous 8/10
Beth Nielsen Chapman - Uncovered 7/10
Samantha Crain - Kid Face 13th January 9/10

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