Campfire Tales: May 2014

Sometimes there’s an album that’s just too big for this column to contain, as hard as we might try. This month it was Sturgill Simpson’s quick fire second album that broke out, go read about Metamodern Sounds In Country Music via the link. We’ve also got the second in our Questionin’ series with Brits folkers Danny and the Champions of the World. Lots to get through then so let’s crack on.

One of this month’s relatively new artists is Blair Dunlop and his pleasant acoustic guitarness. Almost wholly made up of the Chesterfield born singer and his guitar, House Of Jacks is a beautifully constructed piece. Dunlop turns his hand to a number of genres: catchy English-accented country on ‘Something’s Gonna Give Way’; the pop stylings of clever companion pieces ‘45s (C,’69)’ and ‘45s (C.’14)’ musically and lyrically describing a London club in 1969 and then in 2014; soft balladry of ‘Fifty Shades of Blues’; and acoustic instrumental of the continental flavoured ‘Violas Reverie’. The young Northerner has a great ear for a melody, with similarities to the more talented of our American soft rock cousins. With a voice to compliment there’s plenty to recommend.

For traditional music fans we’ve got Brigitte DeMeyer and Tumbling Bones, with differing takes on the format. After four years as a Nashville native you’d expect DeMeyer to be pretty well versed in tradition and she doesn’t disappoint. The layered drama of ‘Savannah Road’ and ‘Conjure Woman’ contrasts with the acoustic simplicity of ‘Say You Will Be Mine’; the New Orleans jazz of ‘Big Man’s Shoes’; smokey blues of ‘Please Believe Me’, and power voiced funk of ‘Honey Hush’. DeMeyer’s husky voice traverses the styles easily, she can sing anything. Tumbling Bones mix a more straightforward bluegrass sound with traditional folk, but almost match the variety that DeMeyer shows. The four guys from Maine play heavy on the banjo and fiddle. Hear the infectious ‘Bound To Ride’ for proof, on debut Loving A Fool. The more folky ‘Broken Things’ shows the other side of their coin, there’s some rockabilly on ‘I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby’, a bit of a capella on ‘Shady Green Pastures’ reminding you of a barbershop quartet. ‘Red, Red Rose’ is what really shows the marriage of their bluegrass playing style and their folk lyrics off best, although album highlight is the fantastically fun bluegrass-swing combo ‘Just Because’.

The real lo-fi moment of the month is New York’s Amen Dunes, back with a third album of minimalist music. And it’s all a bit of a mess to be honest. We all like a bit of lo-fi at times but this just sounds off. Right from first track ‘White Child’ - which sounds like a rough cover version of early Oasis - it’s a tough listen. ‘Lonely Richard’ is a trudge through a muddy drone, and ‘Sixteen’ and ‘I Can’t Dig It’ sound like they were recorded in a toilet stall. A touch more listenable are ‘Lilac In Hand’ and eight minute closer ‘Love’.

Far better is the surprise of the month, the debut from Brooklyn’s The Bones of J. R. Jones. His rough-edged blues on Dark Was The Yearling are great. Lulling you into a false sense of acoustic security before firing up the electric country blues of ‘Good Friend Of Mine’ give you a sense of what he’s about. Like a younger, more dextrous Seasick Steve Jonathon Linaberry (the alter ego of Bones…) has a soulful voice that can pull off the quieter, calmer tunes like ‘St. James’ Bed’ and Hawaiian-hued ‘Hearts Racing’. Listening to those, and other simple, traditional tracks like ‘Broken Land’, you wouldn’t think the New Yorker comes from a hardcore punk background. Then you get into ‘Black Letter Day’ and you begin to get it. A surprisingly tender blues roots release, Dark Was… is a quiet success.

We might be a bit late to this particular party but Vikesh Kapoor’s debut release is full of timeless stories. It’s an understated album full of traditional instruments and sounds, Kapoor’s voice has an old time feel to it that compliments each song. The Ballad of Willy Robbins’ title track sums all this up in one four-and-a-half minute story of a man’s life - superb stuff. Tales of hard working Joes (‘I Dreamt Blues’) and changing towns (‘Ode To My Hometown’), thematically there are lots of similarities with the king of blue collar music, Bruce Springsteen, but the choice of delivery are at opposite ends of the scale, Kapoor is simple, clear, and small, where the boss is big, powerful, and stadium ready. When a debut is this impressive there’s plenty of room for both.

Finally, P.J. Pacifico is at the pop-folk end of the spectrum. His five track Overlooking The Obvious release is pleasant enough but a little light on substance. Song titles like ‘Just Like a Lover’ and ‘This Is My Heart’ give you a flavour of their sickly sweet nature.

Questionin’ this month is with London’s Roald Dahl-respecting folkers Danny and the Champions of the World, whose latest album Stay True is out now.

What you sellin'?

We're selling good times and good old rock an’ soul, giving it all we've got! We're just at the end of a three week run of shows in Scandinavia, heading to Spain next week and then back to the UK for a load of festivals. Then a big UK tour in October. Our latest album Stay True is a good place to start…

What you listenin'?

As we speak we're listening to Scott.H.Biram’s latest. Sturgill Simpson's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is on very heavy rotation. Loving all of Tedeschi Trucks Band and just a load of great soul and country records.

What you sayin'?

Don't be too cool for school...when you forget about all that shit, life is so much richer. Get out there have a go! Big love, folks x

Blair Dunlop - House Of Jacks 7/10
Brigitte DeMeyer - Savannah road 8/10
PJ Pacifico - Overlooking The Obvious 4/10
Tumbling Bones - Loving A Fool 7/10
Amen Dune - Love 2/10
The Bones of JR Jones - Dark Was The Yearling 8/10
Vikesh Kapoor - The Ballad Of Willy Robbins 7/10

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