John Cowan Sixty

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Bassman Cowan hits three score years and celebrates with this fine release from Compass Records.  Jam packed with Nashville slick and Cowan's crystal, soaring vocals, the guy who virtually singlehandedly reinvented and reinvigorated  Bluegrass with New Grass Revival in the early 1970s, is joined by most of his revered Nashville buddies here: Rodney Crowell; Alison Kraus; Sam Bush; Chris Hillman; Kenny Malone; Alison Brown; Viktor Krauss; Huey Lewis, and many more. The result is a winner.

The twelve tracks include a searing take on the old Marty Robbins classic, 'Devil Woman', where Cowan's voice hits the highest of notes and holds them till you're gasping for air, and Charlie Rich's 'Feel Like Going Home'. There's even an old Beatles track covered to great effect. Lennon & McCartney's early title, 'Run For Your Life', from 1965, is a surprising addition but one that sits comfortably in the mix and romps along nicely with driving pace and ensures pretty much that there's something for almost everybody included on this release.

There's a cracking version of 'Miss The Mississippi (And You)', here dedicated to one of Cowan's personal music mentors and heroes, the late Doc Watson and his family.

Sixty is one of those albums that can be played repeatedly without ennui ever taking hold. There's always something here to enjoy, to please the senses and tickle the musical taste-buds, as Cowan takes us on a whistle-stop tour through his life and musical influences.

Clint Bradley Riding After Midnight

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Clint A Bradley is an acoustic guitarist, singer-songwriter from the UK with his boots firmly rooted in the plains and hills of American country music. He could as easily be in Tennessee as the South of England.

Riding After Midnight is an eleven-track album of mostly self-penned country music with howling honky tonk and heartache waiting round every corner. Excellent Dobro work by Nick Evans, fits the mood here to perfection. This is a genuinely solid, quality bit of that rare thing these days, good ole Country & Western music. Each track tugs and tears, heartfelt songs that capture the very essence of a near-lost era, when Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizzel and Marty Robbins still rode the Nashville range.

Recorded in London, a music city seldom, if ever, associated with Country & Western, the production values are positively top dollar, right down to the high-gloss CD cover booklet where Bradley explains the scorn he fell victim to in his youth as he tried to track down as much of this music as he could while most of his buddies and the rest of the world moved steadily towards modern Rock'n'Roll and syrupy pop. That he has survived is a blessing, retaining his fervent love for a music form and narrative that now seems almost archaic at times, even in Nashville itself.

Paul Brady: The Vicar St Sessions Vol. 1

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Paul Brady is one of those guys, a man always guaranteeing quality in most everything he does or has done for the past 40 years or so. More than just another singer-songwriter, he's a revered Irish institution with an astonishing knack, an ability to put together cracking support bands, great albums and top dollar live performances.

The Vicar St Sessions (Vol 1) is his latest release, due on April 27th, and again shows us just why he remains such an important figure on the international music stage. Over the years his own written material has been played and recorded by the likes of Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Carole King,  Joe Cocker,  David Crosby, Cliff Richard, Trishia Yearwood, Phil Collins and a host of others - a list as long as a proverbial arm with a remarkable range of musical styles, tastes and output of similar size.

On this excellent 13-track offering he's gathered a few of his buddies to join in the fun with a live recording from a session in 2001 that only now is seeing the light of day. Dire Straits former frontman Mark Knopfler is joined by Sinead O'Conner, Van Morisson, Bonnie Raitt - an old friend who guests on two numbers - Curtis Stigers, Ronan Keating, Friday & Seltzer and Eleanor McAvoy. The result is a wonderful, at times raucous sounding live performance where the crowd are clearly loving every minute and being treated to a singularly fine evening's entertainment.

Malcolm Holcombe: The RCA Sessions

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Submitted by Iain Patience

With Holcombe you can always expect the unexpected. A true original, a singer-songwriter with a flair for the unconventional, searing, raw emotion and lyrics and a voice that could stop a bull-elephant in its tracks. With The RCA Sessions, he again pushes the boundaries, a man with an edge in his fretwork, voice and music at all times.

For my money, there's little not to like on this album, a full 16-track offering giving bang for buck and sterling material to the table. His tortured, gravelly vocals only just manage to push his fine finger-picked fretwork to the side and not content with just another CD, Holcombe here also releases the first DVD performance of his playing, riding musical shotgun with a fine bunch of sidemen including Jared Tyler on Dobro and lap-steel; Dave Roe on Upright Bass; Ken Coomer on Drums; Tammy Rogers, Fiddle & Mandolin, and Jelly Roll Johnson on Harp. Siobhan Maher-Kennedy helps with the vocals, as does the powerhouse Irish singer Maura O'Connell.

Recorded at Nashville's legendary RCA Studios, this album features tracks from each of Holcombe's previous ten albums plus a few others, all rerecorded in Nashville - Holcombe often prefers home recordings - especially for this project.

I must lay my cards on the table and say I'm a huge fan of this guy and his music. He sounds like a 60-a-day kind of guy, and at times sounds like he's working his way through those very smokes while simultaneously recording and singing.

Jon Ben Berger Life Is Beautiful

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a debut offering from a veteran singer-songwriter and guitarist of some note. An American, Berger has for many years been resident in Stockholm, Sweden, where this album was produced by another US Swede and veteran musician, Brian Kramer.

Berger penned all of the eleven tracks here, which are well-paced and reflect his personal philosophy in spades. As an intro, he affirms his belief that….'Life is really beautiful….But it doesn't give it up easily.'  At its core this album has a stirring, strident, ringing rhythmic pulse that grabs the attention from the outset and carries you with it to the close of play.

The essence of a live performance at a casual but intimate gig shines clearly and brings weight to the project, with Berger's pulsing rhythmic Jumbo Guild guitar roaring ahead throughout. With the late, great Richie Havens as a personal mentor (Berger was with Havens at his legendary opening performance at Woodstock back in 1969) it comes as no surprise to find the same sense of driving rhythm at the core of this CD. Indeed, the closing track, 'Look Up To The Havens' is a pun-inspired tribute to the great man himself and echoes strongly Berger's lasting love and admiration for his mentor and friend from his early days in New York's Greenwich Village.

A damn fine debut and an album that shines and sings out loudly.

Kyle Carey: North Star

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Submitted by Ian Patience

This is truly a beautiful album. Every track is serenely imagined, performed and pitched, leaving a lasting impression of tranquility, melody and beauty. A second release from a US singer-songwriter with strong Scottish influences at her heart, North Star is an album that merits discovery for anyone with an interest in traditional Scottish roots music and/or modern Americana.

The twelve tracks included are virtually all, save one, written by this young folkie, a gal with an extraordinary pedigree: From New York, Carey travelled North on a Fullbright Fellowship to study Scottish Gaelic and traditional fiddle in Cape Breton, Canada, before pitching up on the Isle of Skye on Scotland's battered Hebridean coast to pursue her passion, a love for Gaelic culture, language and song. The result is this wonderful release which Carey christens appropriately, perhaps, 'Gaelic Americana'.

The strands she weaves together encompass modern country/Americana, Irish-American traditional roots and Scottish-Gaelic traditional music and lyricism. Somehow, she succeeds in putting her own stamp on this unusual mélange to produce an album of haunting original music steeped in a timeless traditional vat of bubbling beauty. This is music that comes from deep traditions but with a reverent twist of modernity that adds appeal and emphasis.

White Cowbell Oklahoma Mixto Sixto

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Fifteen years of Southern fried rockin’ from stages and flatbed trucks all across the nation and judging by Mixto Sixto, this T.Dot based crew of rowdy rogue rockers inna mariachi state of mind be still caaarazzzy after all those years. As you suspected, Mixto Sixto is the band’s sixth album and, as befitting its anniversarial status, it’s special in that WCO intended to put out an album "showcasing the road-honed latest line-up, sounding exactly the pulverizing way we sound live."

The approach is kinda like the dudes stroll into a genre bar, strap on and put that genre through the White Cowbell Oklahoma treatment. Loosey-goosey classic rock doesn’t sound any better than "Kansas City Pity," the psychedelic heavosity of “Keep It On the Rail" does exactly that with an almost tender ferocity and a nice shot of greasy old-school blues on "I'm Screamin' for It", referencing “This Cracker,” from the Bombadero album. WCO shows respect for the sources with a couple of sparkling, boogie spattered covers, Deep Purple's "Speed King" and closing out with Frank Zappa's "Magic Fingers." 
 both sounding weirdly at home with the original material.

Ruthless Ones: That Static

Ruthless Ones Courtesy of Shane Parent Exclaim.jpg

Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Toronto proto punks Ruthless Ones are back and the good news is they haven’t mellowed any. Ok, maybe just on the one song, but from lead singer Murry Robe’s shout out “Ok, one two three four here we go” and the first blast of fuzzed out guitar which intros “Andante”, there’s no question which band this is. The four tracks making up That Static show evidence of the crew’s growing melodic capabilities, with accompanying  improvement in the musicianship and dynamics.

The four piece debuted last year with a 10-track burst of punk that was classic in both the musical sense and the socially conscious ‘tude which informed the material. Both come back in That Static, bigger and bolder.

The sizzling “Andante” is followed by “3 Day Tale”, a living on the edge number with jittery guitars and ominous bass rumblings on which Robe goes deep lyrically and uncovers DNA linking “3 Day Tale” to seminal hip hop track “The Message” Dial back the music and check where the kid’s going on this one. So’s not to leave anyone out, it’s also tres danceable. The production here from Chris (Blue Peter) Wardman weaves a claustrophobic atmosphere, intensifying the mood of the song.

Shad Live at Massey Hall

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Submitted by Lee Fraser
Photo Credits: Live at Massey Hall Series

This is not your parents’ Massey Hall. Now in its second season, “Live at Massey Hall” is a series that features up-and-coming Canadian artists in the iconic venue.  Not every episode converts the centenarian into a throbbing night club, but that was certainly the case when Shad headlined on Friday, March 27. The tip off was when the programming director took to the stage pre-show to say something to the effect of ”Things can get a little crazy at shows like this, so we’re asking that you please keep the centre aisle and the front of the stage clear for the camera crew.”

The evening got under way with Zaki Ibrahim. After an intro by her guitarist, the lights came up as the percussion and vocals grew louder;  Zaki stood before us in a stunning dress, singing in French.  After only one number, people in the audience were exclaiming “Wow.”  The show that Zaki Ibrahim presents is aurally, visually and emotionally stunning.

Whitney Rose: Heartbreaker of the Year

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Submitted by Lee Fraser

This is a love story.  It’s a love story in three parts, about a girl and a city and chance encounters.  On April 21, Whitney Rose will release her second album on Cameron House Records.  Its ten tracks of alternating rollicking good fun and utter heartbreak.

Whitney Rose grew up in a small town on Prince Edward Island.  The type of small town where everybody knows each other, and in Whitney’s case, everybody adored that little girl that loved to sing.  Two generations of nurturing and encouragement are the first part of this love story.  Whitney grew up belting out Patsy Cline and Connie Francis;  it’s no wonder that she developed a talent for writing country songs.  The right mix of genes and influences gave her the ability to write engaging lyrics and develop clever song structures.

But artists with big ideas don’t stay in small towns for very long.  Barely out of school, Whitney packed it up and took that giant leap to move to a city with more opportunities.  She was lucky enough to find herself ensconced in the supportive nest of the Cameron House.  Not only were there opportunities to exhibit her talents, but there were also fabulous musicians to play with, a welcoming audience and management that was on the same page.  Whitney fell in love.

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