Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Record Reviews - Rhythms Sep/Oct 2016

Album reviews published in Rhythms magazine, September/October 2016

Anna Smyrk
Song Of The Silver-Tongued Magpie

With her second EP, Victorian singer-songwriter Anna Smyrk has crafted a slow-burning gem. Recorded in early 2015 but only released a few months ago (due to an opportunity to head to Cambodia to work with a non-profit), Song Of The Silver-Tongued Magpie is worth the wait – a heady mixture of lilting folk and dark Americana-style country, combining effortlessly.

Enlisting the help of dobro guitarist Dan Musil and banjo player Jimmy Power, Smyrk’s acoustic guitar and voice shine, the three focusing on quality over quantity, the songs sparse and simple, which makes them all the stronger. ‘House Of Straw’ showcases her voice best, a folky number; ‘Oh, The Wind’, with its piano intro, intricate and free. Opener, ‘Barefoot Shuffle’ is all dark and quiet country. A solid release, which leaves one awaiting her debut full-length with some anticipation. Samuel J. Fell

Coral Lee
The Weather Vane
Rhythm Bomb Records
Western Swing / Honky Tonk

Originally from Newcastle but these days based in Berlin, Coral Lee Farrow is one of this country’s finest purveyors of country-tinged tonkin’ hillbilly swing. New record The Weather Vane showcases this to a tee – steeped deep within the American southern musical tradition, the record throbs with an energy created by the amalgamation of myriad styles, which results not in a messy affair, but a foot-tapping melange of all the good stuff. Throw in her honeyed country tones and you’ve got a winner of a record.

Laid down in Berlin with a host of Germany’s finest players, the album keeps up a cracking pace, but never over-asserts itself. Some fantastic guitar playing from Axel Praefcke adds even more authenticity – if you thought an Australian and a host of Germans couldn’t replicate some damn fine American music, think again. Samuel J. Fell

M.E. Baird

Deeply evocative, M.E Baird’s first record under his own name in over two decades, is directly driven by emotion. Whether in the carefully crafted lyrics or the music itself, emotion drips from everywhere, it trickles down walls and pools on the floor, and as such the record is consumed by it. The album is built from hard times. It aches and hurts. And it’s beautiful. The emotion conveyed by Baird the reason Fall is as strong as it is.

Intricate string arrangement by composer Matiss Schubert backs a number of tracks, giving them a host of emotive weight, as does electric shimmer from Weeping Willows guitarist Andrew Wrigglesworth. The Willows have quite a presence on the record, with Laura Coates providing some fine backing vocals, framing Baird’s smooth voice nicely. Baird himself takes care of the acoustic guitar, leading the way on a record which is stripped and bare, the focus on the ‘song’ as opposed to getting swept up in the aforementioned emotion and piling too much on. Lead single in particular, ‘Full Of The Devil’, is a slow and sludgy outlaw country number, its sparseness a huge part of its appeal.

Dealing for the most part with some pretty heavy subject matter, these songs don’t seek to pull you down. On the contrary, there’s a quiet hope, a wry sonic smile evident. This is a fine record from Baird, marking him as a solo songwriter to watch more closely. Samuel J. Fell

White Boy White
Till I Find My Dyin’ Bed

Richard ‘White Boy’ White purportedly came to music later in life, having spent a good deal of his years up to that point as a visual artist. Always a lover of the blues however, it’s to that most hallowed of genres that he eventually turned, releasing an album as one half of the Pig Fat duo in 2013, closely following it with this, his solo debut, Till I Find My Dyin’ Bed.

A mixture of White originals and some choice covers (Robert Johnson’s ‘Hellhound On My Trail; Robert Petway’s ‘Catfish Blues’; Blind Willie McTell’s all-time classic ‘Statesboro Blues’), the songs oscillate between simple and direct (White’s version of ‘Hellhound…’) and up-tempo, almost with a rock twist (‘Shoe My Woman’). He’s no slouch on the guitar (there are some tasty licks peppered throughout the record) and has a voice crafted especially for the blues, deep and dark, which paints a layer of authenticity over proceedings.

The title track is a solid modern blues song; ‘At Least You Got A Job’ some good rag-time’; his version of ‘Statesboro…’ his own, but paying careful respect to the original. Till I Find My Dyin’ Bed is by no means anything new, but it’s a decent little blues record, no doubt. Samuel J. Fell

The Floyd Family Breakdown
Country Perk
Country/Western Swing

Recorded literally around the corner from the old Rhythms HQ, at Valiant Music in Brunswick Heads, the debut cut from Brisbane quartet The Floyd Family Breakdown resonates with the relaxed and down-home vibe that makes this small coastal village famous. Old mics and live takes, Country Perk harks back to the time it’s inspired by.

Rooted in the post-war, pre-rock ‘n’ roll era, the album is all warm strings and raggedy vocal harmonies, the continual guitar strum and double bass thump the foundation from which mandolin and fiddle are able to soar. Guitarist Paula Hackney and mando player Andrew Palmer share vocals (sometimes direct, sometimes echoy almost in the background), harmonies abounding when required. Tony Moore’s bass is the anchor, while the fiddle playing of Chris Gillespie is fantastic, adding that achy and acerbic sound to proceedings, which ties it all up, making it seem all the more real. Hard to believe it was recorded this century, good stuff. Samuel J. Fell

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