Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Live in 2014: Emmylou Harris & Daniel Lanois - The Colston Hall, Bristol Tuesday May 27th 2014

From the mid 1980's to the early 1990's Canadian Daniel Lanois was on top of the world as a record producer - having produced albums such as U2's Joshua Tree, Peter Gabriel's SO and Robbie Robertson's eponymous debut. His ambient and atmospheric approach to sound helped many of these artists to reinvent themselves for their audience.

In 1994, it was Lanois' debut solo album Arcadie and his production of Bob Dylan's No Mercy that brought him to the attention of Emmylou Harris.

From the 1990's, Emmylou's profile was staring to slip as the radio programmers switched their attention to the younger CMT influenced Country Artists.
But in 1994, Emmylou got together with Daniel Lanois and in 1995 recorded one of the best albums of the  90s. It was called Wrecking Ball.

So this very short UK tour is a 20 year celebration of that album, which has been re-released in a deluxe format.

Emmylou says during the show that this was the album that reignited her love for music and it shows in the performances tonight.

The show opens with Dnbiel Lanois taking to the stage to play a pedal steel guitar - it featured his now trademark echo and sustain and was a precursor of the delights to follow. I, like most of the crowd probably, had wondered how he would achieve the atmosphere that is on the record. He has his own small box of tricks that he uses with his guitars and recreates some terrific sounds, which just goes to prove how little keyboards are actually used on the original album. He does a sterling job with just himself, Steve Nistor on drums and Jim Wilson on bass.

Daniel then performs his own set of songs from his albums such as the French infused Jolie Louise and ended his set with an improv song which he entitled Bristol Town. 
The set warmed up the crowd nicely and after a short break, Emmylou appeared for the main event. The performance of Wrecking Ball in it's entirety. The album has a timeless quality to it. It's not really Country and it's not really rock.

The songs absolutely shimmered and glowed tonight as Emmylou and the band worked their way through the album.

One of the many highlights for me was the title track Wrecking Ball where Emmylou's tremulous and delicate vocal breathes new life new into the Neil Young penned song.

photo courtesy of

Many of the songs on the album have been written by the best songwriters that music has to offer including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Earle & Lucinda Williams.

It was a brave decision to take back in the 90s but the results were to colour the pallete of many of Emmylou's future solo recordings such as Red Dirt Girl & Stumble Into Grace.

After the last song - Waltz Across The Ocean - there was a tremendous applause and then Emmylou went on to talk about the reissue and what the album meant to her. She had also recorded two of Daniel Lanois' songs from his Arcadie album in the recording sessions for Wrecking Ball. And she the preceded to give her interpretations of Still Water & The Maker - both excellent tracks at least one of which deserved a place on the original release - although both can be found on the new deluxe version of the album.

photo courtesy of

After the obligatory standing ovation and encore, Emmylou and the band came back to give us the classics Boulder To Birmingham from the 75 album Pieces Of The Sky and & Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty from 77s classic Luxury Liner.

She then remerged to give a gorgeous version of  Calling My Children home before finally completing the show with the Jesse Winchester song, Songbird. Which is wrought with emotion as Jesse only passed away in April after a long fight with cancer.

But this just gave added poignancy to an evening dedicated to a classic album sung and played with integrity and emotion. 
Come back soon Emmylou. The audience loved you. 

Twitter - @ EmmylouSongbird  @daniellanois 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Albums of 2014: Blair Dunlop - House Of Jacks

At the beginning of 2013, I heard an album that I believed could be the best debut album I'd ever heard.

It was by a young male artist. And his name was Blair Dunlop.

The album was Blight & Blossom. And it was one of my favourite albums of 2013.

Then, at the end of 2013 I got to see Blair live for the first time. And he was as good live as he was on record.

Blair & Macwood

Before the show I managed to have a decent chat with the man and we discussed how the follow up to Blight & Blossom was coming along. He played 3 songs that would appear on the album that night. They were Song Of Two Bridges, The Station and 50 Shades Of Blue. And they were ALL excellent.

I also asked him how the new album differed from Blight & Blossom. He said that the new one was more electric and that his Telecaster had been dusted off and given a bit more action for the new album.

Well, I have waited patiently (well, not really patiently) and finally it is with us. 

And the album is House Of Jacks.

So, has House Of Jacks lived up to the promise of Blight & Blossom. You bet your life it has. And more.

Where Blight & Blossom was a delicate, beautiful, poetic work, House Of Jacks is a much tougher and dynamic proposition. Anyone who has heard Blair's work with the institution that is The Albion Band, will know that there's more to the man than just delicate finger picking.

With some beautiful artwork and photography by the talented Elly Lucas and production by Mark Hutchinson at Rooksmere, House Of Jacks opens up with the first single Something's Gonna Give Way, which sets the tougher tone of the album. It's a contemporary song about a boy who is being bullied at school and leads to some dark places. And indeed, Blair DOES get the Telecaster out.

It would be a disservice to call House Of Jacks a folk album. Yes, it has Blair's folk roots in terms of instrumentation and approach, in that a lot of the songs tell a story but it is SO much more than a folk album.

Next up is the first of two tracks which come at the beginning and end of the album called 45s (69) & (14), which are two songs that relate to the clubbing scene in Soho in 1969 & 2014.

45s (c'69) is a quietly rocking song that showcases Blair's electric playing and is almost Americana in feel. Blair has been working on his lyrics and this track, together with it's companion 45s c14, show he's investigating more interesting ideas than your normal singer/songwriter fare.
'And I've never been to Heaven but there's Rickenbackers there'

I orginally heard the next track 50 Shades of Blue when I saw him live in Swansea and it's lost none of it's beauty in it's transfer to the album.

 The title track of House Of Jacks starts off with some lovely organ work and finds Blair revealing a doomed love affair, again with some very nice electric guitar work and a lovely fiddle break.

But I can happily reveal that Blair has not ditched his acoustic Takamine and he uses it to great affect on the next track, Chain By Design which almost sounds like a Country ballad. It's a really beautiful song and reveals Blair's growing confidence and maturity as a vocalist. The last two years on the road has certainly strengthend his voice. 

I've been looking forward to hearing House Of Jacks so much, there's always a small doubt in the back of my mind whether Blair could match Blight & Blossom and more to the point how he would move his music forward. The next track answered my question and is currently my favourite track on the album. 

Different Schools starts off with a lovely electric guitar riff and swirling organ before it is joined by mandolin picking. It is almost Prog rock in feel and has echoes (?) of, dare I say, Pink Floyd, with lovely harmonies and Blair's falsetto, before being joined by a fiddle layer. Very far removed from what could be perceived as folk, and totally brilliant. It reminds me of  Jeff Buckley in his Sin E days.

I don't know whether it was by design, or just to highlight his background, but the next track is Viola's Reverie and it is very much a folk instrumental which shows just what an accomplished guitar player Blair is and he's joined on melodeon by Simon Carre. And with the fabulous Nic Jones as one of his heroes and influences, he's getting better by the hour.

For House Of Jacks, Blair is ably supported by vocalist Rebecca Lovell & multi instrumentalist Guy Fletcher who also appeared on his debut and Angharad Jenkins on violin & Jacob Stoney on Keyboards who are the other parts of the recent Blair Dunlop Trio, together with Tim Harries on Bass.

Anyone who has followed Blair will know of his love of Italian football (and Spurs) so it's not surprising he's found a way of slipping it into the album. He does this with The Ballad Of Enzo Laviano. It's a story song about an Italian footballer and I'll leave you to discover the story yourself. But it's based on an a Bluesy electric guitar driven tune with some nice backing vocals by Rebecca Lovell and producer Mark Hutchinson.

If any track on House Of Jacks could have fitted easily onto the debut it is the next track, The Station. And it's an absolute gem. With sublime backing vocals from Rebecca. It's an acoustic guitar driven beauty of a song with Blair again in sensitive mode - with some brilliant lyrics from the young man, 'I bet Nietzche didn't let his hair down like I do, but ideas, he had one or two.'

The second part of 45s comes next with the Club in question now in 2014. The track is also an electric guitar based rock track which describes the Club in it's 2014 incarnation. Let's just say it's not as attractive as it was in the 60s - 'It's easy to find a girl to occupy'. And it's a long way from Blair's folk roots. 

It's great to see Blair branching out into new territory and not being afraid to seek out new inspiration and I just love this new rockier Blair, as he still has his sense of poetry and melody, but electric.

I've been trying to avoid mentioning Blair's well known dad as I think he has firmly stepped out of his shadow but Ashley Hutchings has written the last song, together with Ken Nicol, the beautiful Song Of Two Bridges.

It's another track very much in the feel of the Blight & Blossom album. Blair singing at his most crystalline and accompanied by his solo acoustic guitar. A touching and delicate song and a perfect ending to the album.

photo courtesy of Songs From The Shed

I feel I must give producer Mark Hutchinson a mention for his beautifully sympathetic production which lifts the album above the average folk album. And it's no flash in the pan as he's done a similar job with just voice and guitar for labelmate Fabian Holland.
There are more colours and textures on House Of Jacks than Blight & Blossom and Mark has used the extra instrumentation and wider pallete to work his magic.

House Of Jacks is a worthy successor to Blight & Blossom and shows Blair's progress as a songwriter and performer of note. It's a move away from his folk roots and shows that Blair can seek out new sounds and experiences to move his art forward. Apparently, he's already thinking of album number 3 - I would whisper just two words in his ear - Different Schools. Oh, and if I might suggest Blair, get a copy of Live At Sine E and Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk.

Twitter - @BlairDunlop

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

New To Me: Fabian Holland

Last year I bought an album that might have slipped through the net for a few of you music lovers out there.

It comes from the Rooksmere Records stable and is a debut album by singer/songwriter Fabian Holland.

Recorded at Rooksmere Studios and released on Rooksmere Records with producer Mark Hutchinson at the helm, the debut has been deliberately kept simple.

Just Fabian and his guitar.

photo courtesy of

The majority of the album contains Fabian's songs with a brace of Traditional tunes Banks Of The Dee & Dr Price and a Blues standard, Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.

His songwriting style is very much in the story-telling vein, similar that that of fellow labelmate Blair Dunlop and he has a lovely fluid guitar style honed over many years of playing.

Fabian is currently working on album number two, so if his debut has passed you by, it may well be time to investigate further.

photo courtesy of Songs From The Shed

Twitter - @fabianholland

Sunday, 18 May 2014

New To Me: The Self Help Group

At the end of last year I came across an album that make my ears prick up.
It was called Not Waving, But Drowning. It's by a band called The Self Help Group.

I'd never heard anything about them before.

So I bought it. And it was excellent.

The Self Help Group are based in Brighton and consist of Mark Bruce who is singer, guitarist & songwriter together with Paddy Keeley on guitars, Ian Bliszczak on bass, Jamie Fewings on drums and sisters Sarah Natalie Wood & Clara Wood-Keeley on vocals.

Their music is a mix of Folk, Americana and maybe even a bit of Country. It's an eclectic and interesting mixture. Very much acoustic in flavour with guitars,banjo, tuned percussion, strings and beautiful harmonies. The harmonies bring to mind bands such as Fleetwood Mac and CSNY with ladies. 

Most of the songs on the album are based on stories. Not your usual June,Spoon,Moon fare.


It's a warm and welcoming record which deserves to reach a wider audience.

So if you're looking for something a bit different which is also a treat for your ears then you could do a lot worse than to give The Self Help Group a listen.

Twitter - @thegroupies

Monday, 12 May 2014

Live in 2014: YES - The 3 Albums Tour - The Hippodrome, Bristol, Sunday 11th May

Over here in the UK it seems as if we've been waiting forever for this tour. YES have been playing the 3 albums tour for 2 years over in the USA and Canada and have finally brought it here.

With new vocalist Jon Davison now firmly on board, it was a chance to see what the YES 2014 sound like live.

The 3 Album Tour consists of the YES albums Close To The Edge, Going For The One and The Yes Album being played in their entirety in the original track order. There has been a change from the US dates where The Yes Album has been moved to the final album played due it's more upbeat nature.

I've seen YES many times over the years and I've never been disappointed. 

So, the big question among the fans I talked to before the show was, is Jon Davison up to the task as vocalist of YES? 
I'm delighted to report that the answer is a resounding YES!

YES will ALWAYS be associated with Jon Anderson as vocalist but he has been one of five YES vocalists over the years. Since Jon Anderson there have been Trevor Horn, Trevor Rabin, Benoit David and now Jon Davison. 
Indeed, if you look at the albums by these new vocalists, they have always been excellent - DRAMA - 90125 - Fly From Here. So the track record has been positive when a new vocalist comes to town - more of that later.

Taking the stage to the now obligatory Firebird Suite by Stravinsky, the band launch into the title track of Close To The Edge and all reservations are banished. Jon Davison more than holds his own. He is a revelation. It is always a huge task trying to fill those Accrington shoes but he is more than up to the task and brings a fresh energy into the band. The standing ovation at the end of CTTE was well deserved and the band and audience relaxed and continued to perform the Prog Rock classic in style and with some aplomb.

YES 2014 consists of Jon Davison on vocals, Chris Squire on Bass, Steve Howe on Guitars, Alan White on Drums and Geoff Downes on Keyboards.

The band go on through the rest of Close To The Edge and show just what excellent musicians they are, playing these complex rhythms and time signatures. Steve Howe in particular is on fire tonight and improvises on well established solos throughout the evening.

Chris Squire has become the Keeper Of The Flame for YES and is now obviously Band Leader and as always, relishes his time in the spotlight. And his bass playing and vocals are impeccable. And both Alan White and Geoff Downes provide outstanding musical ability to showcase these excellent songs.

It's a testament to the writing that these albums can sound so fresh and vibrant up to 40 years since they were recorded.

Next up was my favourite YES album, Going For The One.

It is here that Jon Davison really shows what he can do as a vocalist. From the rocky title track and the stomping Parallels to the delicate Turn of The Century, Jon shows his vocal range and engaging stage persona. It's great to see a bit of energy come into the band. Youngsters, eh?

Talking of youngsters, it was also great to see some young faces among the middle aged faithful tonight. As Jon Anderson said, YES music is bigger than the band. This is true.

The moment I had been waiting for came just after the hit single Wonderous Stories.

It was the mighty Awaken. My favourite YES song. And it was totally amazing. Jon Davison's vocals were just superb and he also played keyboards and guitar. He's an excellent find and fit for the band.

Awaken got the biggest ovation of the night and rightly so.

After a 20 minute intermission, YES come back to the stage for the final album of the evening The YES Album. It proved a wise decision to move this album to the later slot as the songs are rockier and more direct than the earlier two albums. 

From the opening Yours Is No Disgrace, the band were now rocking with a vengence.

The Clap with a solo Steve Howe was always going to bring the house down. And so it did.

It was also great to hear A Venture live again after so many years in the wilderness.

The final song was Perpetual Change with Jon Davison again proving how well he has fitted into the band.

Steve Howe and Chris Squire gave it one last blast to finish the show on a high.

But there is always an encore. And it was the crowd pleasing Roundabout from the Fragile album that finally had ALL of the crowd on their feet with a bit of encouragement form Jon.

So an amazing 3 hours of YES music and a fully satisfied audience. Even the band looked especially pleased at the response.

Oh, and by the way, the show was filmed :) - so look out for the DVD coming soon.

YES begin a new tour in the US in the summer. They will be playing the Close To The Edge & Fragile albums along with the new album they have recorded with Jon Davison on vocals for the first time, called Heaven & Earth.

The band have said that the recording went really well with producer Roy Thomas Baker and that Jon has contributed in the writing of the music and lyrics. If tonight was anything to go by, we can expect another special album by a new vocalist.

Views among the fans of the band seem to be in agreement that the 3 albums format is an excellent choice and with such a wealth of material to chose from another 3 albums tour would be another sell-out.

It seems the fans want Fragile, Relayer and Drama - I wouldn't disagree one iota.

Twitter - @yesofficial

Friday, 9 May 2014

Albums of 2014: Jones - To The Bone

Let me start by saying that I have thought long and hard about posting Albums Of 2014 so early in the year - but I know what I like and I like what I know (that sounds vaguely familiar in a Prog sort of way) - so for Albums that I know are going to make the list, well why not get them in early to give everyone an opportunity to seek out and get a few months more enjoyment if they feel so inclined as to invest

There are a few select artists that I will buy blind. That is, buy their music without even hearing it first.

Miracle Mile is one such band. Well Duo actually. Consisting of singer/songwriter Trevor Jones & multi-instrumentalist and producer Marcus Cliffe.

Since hearing them with their 2001 album Slow Fade, I've been a huge fan. Indeed their latest album, In Cassidy's Care, was MY Album Of The Year 2013

In 2009, Trevor Jones released his first solo album under his surname Jones, called Hopeland. It was conceived in Corsica and comprised of songs linked by spoken poetic passages.

He built on Hopeland with his second solo album two years later called Keepers. This was a lush album with strings and a depth of instrumentation.

However, during the genesis of To The Bone it became apparent that Trevor wanted to keep the instrumentation sparse and fairly limited. It's probably the nearest he will get to an acoustic album - despite my protestations.

Trevor has always been a 'hopeful' romantic and the album deals with friendship, nostalgia and romance. 

There is always a lot of emphasis placed on the words in Trevor's songs both solo and with Miracle Mile and you can always hear every word of his songs. And you need to, as they are the key to the experience. 

Marcus Cliffe is also on hand to provide the colour and delicate production on the album.

The album opens with Phil The Hat. A nostalgic look back at friendship and an earlier life. Trevor loves to build word pictures and you can see them in your mind as you listen to the music. It's easy to create your own mind movies to Trevor's songs.

Dream Horses is a lovely piano led ballad which is complimented by some lovely string sounds and pedal steel guitar.

Next up is Pardon Me, another simple piano led ballad with Trevor's quavering almost breaking beautiful vocal to the fore.

An influence on the album is Mid Air by Paul Buchanan - with it's gentle approach and almost vignette type songs, with six of the fourteen tracks coming in less than 3 minutes long. 
Almost sketches on the canvas or opaque colours at least.

Some Kind Of Surrender features a backdrop of bells and tuned percussion to an almost Morricone like tune.

Books To Bed opens with the sound of distant police sirens before a keyboard backdrop leads into a piano and guitar while Trevor heartrendingly sings 'or we could just make love' - A truly beautiful song.

It is definitely a Midnight Album

'Well sometimes you need silence to hear the silence in your voice' is the opening line to Man Behind The Moon which is one of the most 'Miracle Mile' tracks on the album and clocks in at a sparse 1.37 - but it's none the worse for that in this album of brief encounters as passing images,

Angelicana is the track that sounds most like Americana - hence the title with its's slide guitar, pedal steel, rimshot drums and bells.

Trevor recalls Hopeland with the next song as he uses spoken word to introduce Cabin Fever - 'a new day is dawning and my heart is beating fast' - a simple song with basic acoustic guitar and atmospheric keyboard backdrop.

I can also sense a Sigur Ros influence in several of the songs but without their icy remoteness.

Indeed, the album is one of intimacy, like someone whispering sweet nothings in your ear.

Next up is Fullness Of Time. 

'It's magic we crave, explosions of wonder, make heavens above of the grey skies we're under' - the gentle almost waltz -like Fireworks shimmers like light on the ocean.

Glimpsed & Gone - is a plaintive piano instrumental with some what sounds like nighttime sounds. It's very Edward Hopper!

The title track To The Bone is the most unusual song on the album - it has Trevor's clear vocal against a tune with multiple voices, organ and electric guitar to an almost football-chant like tune.

The penultimate song on the album is the most 'complete' song on the album and the one that sounds most like what you would expect from a Miracle Mile/Trevor Jones album - the magnificent Somewhere North Of Here.

For me, Trevor has kept the best song until last.

Row begins with a piano and pedal steel refrain and is a love letter to his lady. It is very touching and sounds very personal - as if we should not be listening to these private thoughts. The ending is lovely and I don't want to spoil it by describing it here but it almost broke my heart with sound. 
To The Bone is beautiful, delicate, like whispers in the wind or that glimpse from the corner of your eye. It draws you in and seduces you with both sounds and words. It's Trevor Jones' most simple and perhaps honest record - emotions stripped down 'to the bone' and the stripped down feel to the album compliment the music perfectly. 

If you hear a more beautiful album this year then I'll eat my Marshall gigging cap.

If you want to delve a little deeper into Trevor's music, this is a indication of what Miracle Mile can bring to your music collection.

Trevor also writes a brilliant blog and wrote about To The Bone when he was recording it, so it's well worth reading - but listen to the album first.

If you can't wait for the official release date on 16th June - then you can get it here 

Twitter - @hissytrev