Campfire Tales: November 2013

A lightish November for new releases means that we’re going to plough December’s selection into this month's column. We're crazy like that, always breaking the mould.

First up is an album that missed out on the October column, in fact it missed out on the October 2000 column! Patty Griffin’s second ‘new’ release of 2013, Silver Bell, is also her second amazing release of 2013. Apparently long lost and originally recorded 13 years ago, this is a rockier sound than May's well reviewed American Kid. The slightly spacey ‘Little God’, with its guitar solo and middle eastern flavours, kick things off. ‘Boston’ is straight up rock, ‘Pretty White Girls’ bring distorted electric guitar and scuzzy rock and the title track ‘Silver Bells’ is a brilliant rock tune, with a cracking bass riff. There are slower efforts too: ‘What You Are’ is rather listless but ‘Mother Of God’ raises the game. Griffin is clearly trying out different things across the fourteen track here, not all are successful, but those that are make this a worthy addition to her canon.

If you fancy something a little left field give Dan Hayward a turn. His Dapple (4th Nov) album is a set of short, serene tunes, mostly framed by wildlife noises - mainly birds. It won’t surprise you that he’s an ornithologist. The odd proper song, like the title track or ‘I've Got Heaven At My Door’ sound like they're being played on a lute. In a spring meadow. And the almost spoken vocal style fits with the sparse naturalistic style.

The Tillers arrive with their full-on banjo and harmonica country-folk album, Hand On The Plow (4th November). From the first note you know what you’re going to hear over the next forty minutes. The band sound like they’re having great fun and make sure we have as much fun listening. ‘The Road Neverending’ is catchy, ‘Shanty Boat’ is terrific fun, the banjo and fiddle of ‘Tecumseh On The Battlefield almost inhumanely quick. That pace is kept throughout, apart from the odd track like the bit more relaxed (‘Willy Dear’). This is really good, homespun folk.

The Tillers - "The Road Neverending" from Evan Hand on Vimeo.

With echos of Dylan and Springsteen ringing in your ears, Tim Grimm somehow manages to stay distinct. With some passionate harmonica sprinkled throughout, and a rough edged smoothness to his voice, The Turning Point (18th November) is both touching (‘Family History’) and great fun (‘King Of The Folksingers’). You’ll hear a hint of 'Tom Joad'-era Springsteen (‘Rovin’ Gambler’), stories of 17th century Dutch murderers (‘The Turning Point’), and raucous excuses (‘Blame It On The Dog’). This is proper Americana played by a guy living the life; Grimm owns a farm, and sings like he means it.

Kentucky born Ashleigh Flynn definitely wears her influences on her sleeve in the potpourri of traditional country (‘Dirty Hands And Dirty Feet’, ‘New Angel In Heaven’), languid Americana (‘The Devil Called Your Name’), jazzy ragtime (‘Prohibition Rose’), and rock (the wild west icon name checking ‘How The West Was Won’) that make up A Million Stars (11th November). There’s even what sounds like a kazoo on ‘Prove It On Me’. A brilliant collection of stories covering the spectrum of great American music, this is the real American Songbook.

The second left field LP this month comes from The Monks Kitchen. Music From The Monks Kitchen (25th Nov) starts as a strange concoction of thunder claps and low tone grumbling but moves into something a little more mainstream, although not really mainstream. Dinner party music for grown up goths.

Early December brings the religious bluegrass of The High Bar Gang, and their fairly interesting mix of country bluegrass and God. Musically you think of sweaty bars and cowboy hats; lyrically it’s all Jesus and The Big Man - as you might expect with titles like ‘Hand In Hand With Jesus’, ‘Walking In Jerusalem’, and ‘Sinners You Better Get Ready’. There are good tunes and some fabulous musicianship here, but if you’re not of a religious persuasion the imagery may feel a little heavy handed.

Ashleigh Flynn - A Million Stars 8/10
The Tillers - Hand On The Plow 7/10
Tim Grimm - The Turning Point 8/10
Patty Griffin - Silver Bell 7/10
The High Bar Gang - Lost And Undone: A Gospel Bluegrass Companion 6/10
The Monks Kitchen - Music From The Monks Kitchen… 7/10
Dan Hayward - Dapple 4/10

We'll be back in December with a few special treats. Get the mince pies in the oven!

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