Tim O'Brien: Pompadour

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Submitted By Iain Patience

It's a surprise to discover this is Tim O'Brien's first release since 2011 when 'The Crossing' launched to widespread acclaim.  Of course, O'Brien himself has been busy between takes as a soloist, and with his other pet projects Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers and Hot Rize, and as a member of the Jerry Douglas-led award winning country outfit The Earls of Leicester.

A well-established US Americana/modern country/bluegrass festival favourite, he is also a sideman of note and lends his multiple talents to countless other artists each year both vocally and instrumentally where he majors, it seems, on most acoustic instruments. Basically, if it can produce a tune, O'Brien can play it - banjo; guitar; mandolin; fiddle; bazouki - the list seems endless.

He's also a noted songwriter and many artists have cut their teeth with his tracks over the years. With 'Pompadour' O'Brien again produces an excellent album full of eclectic tracks and influences that range across the gamut of emotion, energy and genres. Around half the tracks are self-written while others reflect the dazzling diversity of styles this guy has mastered: Woody Guthrie, Michael Hanley, Dan Reader and even James Brown all get a look-in here alongside his ever-present, Irish traditional fiddle fun.

Michael Messer's Mitra

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Now, here we have that genuinely rare thing - a total original of wondrous cross-continental music that makes you pinch yourself and ask why it hasn't been done before.

Messer is a UK resonator/blues/slide guitar master with a positive pedigree in acoustic blues. For Michael Messer's Mitra, he has teamed up with two young Indian musicians, Hindustani, Manish Pingle on Mohan Veena (a new instrument to me) otherwise known as Indian slide guitar, and Gurdain Rayatt an English Tabla player of some distinction.

Messer says he has long been interested in the possibility of bringing this Indian sub-continent musical tradition into the studio to merge with his own love for traditional US blues music. With this extraordinary release, he has successfully done just that. Astonishingly, perhaps, the whole project was completed in a matter of a few days with virtually no overdubs and the result is little short of jaw-dropping.

Not since the Beatles teamed up with Ravi Shankar back in the day has there been such an experimental and inspired meeting of musical cultures. I've no doubt this album is going to be internationally lauded for both its musicianship and Messer's stunning vision. This is an album of pure, sparkling, sublime originality. Anyone with an interest in traditional acoustic blues will be inevitably bowled over by the seamless fusion of what could easily have been two clashing musical cultures.

Jeff Jensen Morose Elephant

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Jensen is a Memphis-based rock-blues guitarist/singer/songwriter. Morose Elephant is a hi-energy, rocking release featuring some excellent fretwork from Jensen himself and fine percussion from Robinson Bridgeforth, and Wurlitzer from band-member Victor Wainwright. This is the core of Jensen's band and a few other musicians also guest here on this eleven-track album.

'Morose Elephant' is an album that pounds along for the most part, with catchy riffs and licks galore pouring from Jensen's guitar.  Tracks move effortlessly from hard-rocking, guitar-led numbers to slower, soulful songs often Wurlitzer-fuelled  (frequently building nicely to a fast-moving, upbeat middle eight) that allow everyone to do their thing and add to the whole mix.

Jordan Officer: Blue Skies

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Submitted by Cashbox Canada

Jordan Officer is acclaimed not only for his virtuosity, but also for his unequaled sensitivity and sober elegance. Composer and singer, as well as guitarist, Jordan has the gift of blending blues, jazz, country and rock’n’roll into a single and personal style. And when he works his magic, the Jordan Officer sound is unforgettable.

Up until 2010, Jordan Officer was principally known as the jazz guitarist, cofounder of the “Susie Arioli Band featuring Jordan Officer". Their band, “discovered” at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1998 grew to be known throughout Quebec, Canada and internationally for its unique covers of jazz standards: Susie’s velvety smooth voice and Jordan’s powerful, yet understated jazz guitar. Over the next 12 years, they sold over 250,000 albums. Their album, Christmas Dreaming as well as their DVD Live at the Montreal International Jazz Festival both received Gold status in sales. Besides playing guitar and composing instrumentals on each of their albums, Jordan produced 4 of them: Learn to smile again, Night Lights, Christmas Dreaming, and All the Way.

Tim Williams: So Low

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Submitted by Iain Patience

An excellent ten track album of traditional acoustic blues from Canada, Tim Williams simply has to be one of the finest pickers on the planet these days. A former double award winner at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, this release highlights his captivating style and talent to full effect.

Both of Williams' previous recent releases, 'Blue Highway' and 'Evenings Among Friends' - a re-release of an earlier effort - were wonderful bits of striking resonator and acoustic guitar-led blues work.  With 'So Low' Williams confirms his clearly well-deserved place at the hi-end of the acoustic blues-tree.

Tracks covered include the jazz-inspired 'If You Live' from Mose Allison; Broonzy's 'My Big Money - a lesser-known gem; Blind Boy Fuller's 'Pistol Slapper', here titled 'Pistol Snapper', with Williams' own take on it as part of the ever-evolving folk-process; Johnny Cash's 'Big River'; and Tampa Red's classic 'The Witching Hour'. Many tracks are self-penned and showcase the guy's deep absorption in and understanding of the music and traditional blues in general.

Closing with his own composition, 'Lightnin',' a clear homage to his own personal hero, Texan Lightnin' Hopkins, this album is a genuine revelation, filled with neat guitar chops and intricate picking in styles that range through Delta to Piedmont, Texas to Chicago and most of the USA's notable blues-posts in between. A positive delight.

Auld Man's Baccie: Resonating With The Blues

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Auld Man's Baccie is an English acoustic blues duo with an evident love of and understanding for traditional acoustic blues music, with a ragtime background and grounding that bubbles through on most of the dozen tracks here.

Nick Phillips and Davey Curtis have only been playing together for just over a year or so but already they have an apparent, near-seamless empathy that makes their similar styles and approaches meld perfectly. 'Resonating With The Blues' is their debut release and has good support backing from a few of their blues buddies to lift the album out of the ordinary.

Tracks include colourful, skilled covers of Muddy Waters' classics like 'Can't Be Satisfied' and 'Champagne & Reefer', together with classic Jimmie Rodgers, Taj Mahal and Tampa Red.  As the title suggests, there's some very fine, slippery slide steel/resonator guitar work in the pot here and some equally fine and subtle harp-work from a buddy, Jim Bullock, and soulful backing vocals from Rhiannon Phillips.

This is one of those albums that manage to stand out from the crowd by dint of the passion, purpose and talent clearly on display. A positively enjoyable bit of work, ideal for lovers of that ole-style ragtime-blues music with a modern edge and timeless feel.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Maybe – The Broadsway

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

The ‘Broads’ are back – and this time it is with bells on – Christmas bells that is. The first CD to get reviewed this year with the holiday season approaching – and as always we thank Jane Harbury for always delivering the best product for review.

‘The Most Wonderful Time …Maybe’ is the second CD from the these talented women, their first release ‘Old Friends’ met with critical acclaim and great reviews. With the help of Danny Greenspoon and John ‘Beetle’ Bailey, Bernie Cisternas and Jono Grant on the recording side (recording live at the Jazz Bistro and in Studio) this is a great offering to get you in the holiday spirit.

Winter Wonderland’ is a jazzy, swing interpretation of this old classic, bringing back a 1940’s feel while keeping it new. The contrast in the girls’ voices really pulls this version together.

Carol of the Bells’ continues the great arrangements of what is usually a somber selection but the clever solo of ‘We Three Kings’(Colleen Allen) and the great piano playing of Diane Leah is refreshing.

Christmas Time is Here’ is more of a modern classic, and is so sweetly delivered, with soothing vocals and beautiful arrangement.

Julie, It’s Cold Outside’ (recorded live) shows the great banter of the girls, bringing the talent and their humour together, adding one liners to the tune turning it into an engaging song.

The Damned And Dirty: Hoodoo Down

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is a fabulous album of mostly resonator-fuelled acoustic roots and blues from a duet that is fast marking out its territory at the top of the European blues-music feeding chain.
From the Netherlands, The Damned and Dirty is a couple of top-quality Dutch musicians featuring Micha Sprenger on guitar and Kevin De Harde on Harp; both share vocals and writing credits for the dozen songs that make up this excellent release.

Guitarist Sprenger is easily one of Europe's finest younger pickers and De Harde is equally talented, blowing his soulful, blues-heart out here. This pair are very fast becoming central to the European blues-scene, representing their homeland on a now annual - it seems - basis in the open blues challenge in Europe to select a band for the January, Memphis International Blues Challenge awards.

It's hard, of course, to listen to this combination of players without thinking about Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, the US masters who single-handedly made this same guitar/harp duo-format very much their own with a lasting stamp on the groove and growth of the music.  But, despite this potential burden, The Damned and Dirty succeed in stamping their own style and brand on the twelve tracks in the mix. This is a pair of musicians clearly enjoying the life, producing absolutely winning music with a confidence and ease that shines with each new offering.
'Hoodoo Down' is simply a great album. Catch this one,don't let it slip away.

Dave Gunning: Lift

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

Call it the silver lining in the cloud of a brutally cold Nova Scotia winter. When acclaimed folk singer/songwriter Dave Gunning decided it was time to make his 11th solo album, he found the bleak weather outside a blessing, not a curse. “We were literally snowed in, but the power was on and I was good to go,” he says of the making of that album, Lift.

In his well-appointed home studio in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Gunning went to work. The follow-up to 2012 album No More Pennies, Lift came together “very quickly and organically,” he explains. “I wanted to maintain an honest acoustic sound to reflect my live shows. I did what I could on my own then I brought in some guests to spread out the gene pool, so there was enough to keep the listeners interested.”

The record’s sparse and acoustic template proves to be the perfect vehicle for Dave’s neatly-crafted and poetic material and gently expressive vocals. There are no drums on the record, and Gunning handles much of the playing himself, contributing fluent acoustic guitar, upright bass (“the same one I used touring in Stompin’ Tom Connors’ band,” he notes with pride), highstring guitar, and banjo. Talented pals JP Cormier, Thom Swift, Jamie Robinson, Darren McMullen and Asa Brosius take effective cameos on different tracks.

Cold Flame: A Stitch In Time

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Cold Flame is an English band with a driving, pounding feel and a sound that is reminiscent of seventies rockers like Deep Purple and a load of others who carved a neat niche for themselves back in the day.

'A Stitch in Time' is an interesting album that has the band repeating more than a few of the fourteen tracks with slightly different reprises that mostly work pretty well. A hard thing to pull off, without becoming too repetitive, boring or jaded.

Led by bassist Pat Rowbottom, who also wrote all of the tracks here, this is a band with a sense of ambition, purpose and power at its heart. Each track opens with heavy rhythmic poise and power, drum-laden, screeching lead-guitar and solid bass and keyboards/organ work. The nod to the seventies may best be found in the use of synthesizer by clearly accomplished keys-man Joe Orban.

Cold Flame is probably an outfit best caught in live performance where their dynamic, hi-energy vibe must no doubt be spine-tingling at times. In the meantime, however, this album might just prove satisfying enough for most hard-rock lovers with its relentless, rolling rock inspired mix.

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