Billy Bragg & Joe Henry @ The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry @ The Marlowe Theatre, CanterburyOn a day when it seemed the world had gone mad and America (well, around a quarter of Americans) elected a racist, sexist, homophobic self-publicist to be their next President, what better way to soothe the soul than to spend a couple of hours in the company of one of the UK’s most outspoken socio-political commentators?

Billy Bragg is touring the country with Joe Henry, the American singer-songwriter he met in New York 30 years ago where they bonded over a shared love of Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and Leadbelly. Tonight they’re at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre – deep in Kentish pro-Brexit country – with their collection of US railroad songs collated and recorded during a 2,700-mile train ride from Chicago to Los Angeles.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Bragg live over the years – Red Wedge, Artists Against Apartheid, Glastonbury’s Left Field Stage – and tonight I took along my 22-year-old daughter. Also a huge Bragg fan, I’d found her crumpled on the sofa in tears at 5.30am that morning, unable to believe that Trump had beaten Clinton to the White House. She was hoping to hear Help Save the Youth of America amongst tracks from the pair’s ‘Shine a Light’ album, and she wasn’t disappointed (though even that brought a tear to her eye).

Bragg’s inevitable commentary on the day’s events was surprisingly optimistic. He returned to the stage alone after the interval to profess that the majority of Americans didn’t want Trump any more than most Brits wanted Brexit – and neither result should be viewed as an indictment of such.

Cue ‘Between the Wars’, followed by ‘Help Save the Youth of America’ and ‘Accident Waiting to Happen’, before a topical cover Anais Mitchell’s ‘Why We Build the Wall’ and the unifying anthem ‘There is Power in a Union’.

Bragg was on form tonight, admitting he and Henry were wired after a day spent soaking up election news and declaring himself “genre fluid”. Tonight’s audience certainly seemed to confirm the fact that he can’t be pigeon-holed – an eclectic mix of teenagers, forty-somethings and comfy shoe-clad folk fans.

So what of the material we’d really come to see? Bragg’s love of Woody Guthrie is well documented with his Wilco collaborations – beautiful arrangements of songs such as ‘California Stars’ and ‘Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key’.

But this collection is more stripped-down, the only connection between the songs being references to the great American railroad. The Carter Family’s ‘Railroading on the Great Divide’ and Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ share a stage with Hank Williams’ ‘Lonesome Whistle’ and Guthrie’s ‘Hobo’s Lullaby’.

The pair’s voices make a comfortable mix, although Bragg’s baritone efforts on a couple of numbers seem almost comedic, and their warm on-stage exchanges ensure the evening strolls along at a gentle pace.

The stories are as entertaining as the music – especially the one about the train line on the Mexican border where the towns on either side of the track appear decades apart.

John Hartford’s ‘Gentle on my Mind’, a 60s hit for Glen Campbell, is a touching encore and Bragg leaves us with the mantra “Don’t moan – organise”, emphasising the strength and power of community.

An uplifting end to a demoralising day.

Eric Taylor Escudero debut album, We Were Young And It Was Morning

Eric Taylor Escuderob - We Were Young And It Was Morning
Eric Taylor Escudero – We Were Young And It Was Morning

Brazilian born Eric Taylor Escudero debut album, We Were Young And It Was Morning, reflects his emotionality, incorporating themes of love, loss, nostalgia and the difficulties of living modern city life. The album has a predominantly traditional folk feel and uses a diverse range of instruments such as the harmonica, mandolin, guitar, concertina, glockenspiel and violin, allowing Eric to experiment with arrangements, creating wistful, immersive folk music.

Having been influenced by 1960s and 1970s folk-rock from an early age, it’s no surprise that Eric’s music has blossomed in the way that it has, his impressive vocal delivery is comparable to some of the leading folk artists this country has to offer, conjuring memories of the likes of Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble and Johnny Flynn.

We Were Young And It Was Morning sees Eric collaborate with Ana Luísa Ramos who performs on backing vocals, her voice complimenting Escudero’s perfectly, as their soft, harmonious vocals merge beautifully, particularly on tracks such as We Were Young and It Was Morning – Part 1 and The Uncountable Colours of The Sky.

Since deciding to go solo Eric Taylor Escudero has released three EPs – Lines We Wrote in Spring, Northern Lights or Summer Skies, and Big City Lights.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBXETfVTxFU

We Were Young and It Was Morning combines Eric Taylor Escuderos previous EPs into a creatively arranged package. The album was recorded in Austin, Texas and features Eric Taylor Escudero (vocals, guitar, harmonica, mandolin), Ana Luísa Ramos (vocals and keys), Marco Minoru (bass and acoustic guitar) and Tomás Telles (drums).

Having already made a name for himself in Brazil with features in publications such as Brazil’s Metro News and 505 Indie, Eric is excited to share his emotive, affecting music with the rest of the world.

Eric Taylor Escuderob debut album, We Were Young And It Was Morning is out now via City Lights Produções.

The Frisbys’ release second EP The Cause on Dantobaccus Records

The Frisbys’ beautiful EP The Cause is out now via Dantobaccus Records
The Frisbys’ beautiful EP The Cause is out now via Dantobaccus Records

The Frisbys’ beautiful second EP The Cause is out now via Dantobaccus Records.

The six-piece have gone from strength to strength since the release of their debut EP Philosolve two years ago, evolving their sound along the way and, as the band have grown, so has their music. The Cause reflects this perfectly with its collection of stunning stand-out tracks that will resonate with you for days.

The Frisbys have also released two videos for their double A-side single Born and Raised / Give in to the Dark

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7bzZmVBhFU

The Frisbys describe Give in to the Dark as a hopeful song about supporting a loved one through dark times and Born and Raised as “light hearted and upbeat…almost a countrified version of ‘No Scrubs’ by TLC”. The other tracks on the EP carry a similar theme and are filled with utterly stunning harmonies and musicianship throughout. If you’re looking for something to warm you up this Winter then this EP will definitely do the trick.

Helen and Nicola have been singing and playing music together since they were old enough to speak. Having performed as a duo for many years honing their incredible vocal harmonies, it took a boredom call from a broken-legged Marc Robinson (piano, guitar) to convince them to start a full band. The three were joined by Sam Keer (acoustic/electric/slide guitar), and later, Will Cattermole (bass) and Tom Finigan (drums). They have been producing haunting and emotive music ever since.

Singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters new album ‘Blackbirds’

Gretchen Peters new album 'Blackbirds'
Gretchen Peters new album 'Blackbirds'

Gretchen Peters is an American singer-songwriter.  She was born in New York in 1959 but spent most of her life in Colorado, before moving to Nashville in the late 1980s.

In Nashville she has made a name for herself writing for the likes of Neil Diamond, Martina McBride and Etta James and co-writing songs with Bryan Adams; and releasing no fewer than seven studio albums of her own.

In 1995 she won the Country Music Association Song Of The Year award for Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” and in October 2014 Gretchen Peters was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. On 9th February 2015 Gretchen Peters is set to release her new album ‘Blackbirds.’

Co-produced with Doug Lancio and Barry Walsh and recorded in Nashville, the album features a who’s who of modern American roots music: Jerry Douglas, Jason Isbell, Jimmy LaFave, Will Kimbrough, Kim Richey, Suzy Bogguss and more. But it’s not the guests that make ‘Blackbirds‘ the most poignant and moving album of her career; it’s the impeccable craftsmanship, her ability to capture the kind of complex, conflicting, and overwhelming emotional moments we might otherwise try to hide and instead shine a light of truth and understanding onto them.

The eleven tracks on ‘Blackbirds‘ face down death with a dark grit and delicate beauty.

“During the summer of 2013 when I began writing songs for ‘Blackbirds,’ there was one week when I went to three memorial services and a wedding,” remembers Peters. “It dawned on me that this is the way it goes as you get older – the memorial services start coming with alarming frequency and the weddings are infrequent and thus somehow more moving.”

She found herself drawn to artists courageous enough to face their own aging and mortality in their work (Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Lowe), but noticed all the material was coming from a male perspective.

In an atypical and unexpectedly rewarding move, Gretchen Peters teamed with frequent tour-mate Ben Glover to co-write several tunes on the new album, which evokes the kind of 1970’s folk rock of Neil Young, David Crosby, and Joni Mitchell that Peters grew up listening to, albeit with a more haunted, country-noir vibe simmering just below the surface.

Geographically, the album leaps around the country, with particularly heartrending stops in southern Louisiana at the scene of a crime (“Blackbirds“), Pelham, New York, where Gretchen Peters probes the hidden darkness of the leafy suburbia in which she grew up (“The House On Auburn Street“), and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where a fisherman lays his wife to rest after losing everything in the BP oil spill (“Black Ribbons“). “When All You Got Is A Hammer” is the story of a veteran struggling to adjust to life at home after fighting overseas, while “The Cure For The Pain” takes place in the waning days of illness in a hospital, and “Nashville” brings us back to Peters’ adopted hometown.

Despite the varied locations, the songs on ‘Blackbirds’ are all inextricably tied together through their characters, whom Peters paints with extraordinary empathy and vivid detail.

Gretchen Peters new album ‘Blackbirds‘ via Proper Records scheduled for release on 9th Feb 2015.

Authour & Alcoholic Mishka Shubaly to Release Album, Coward’s Path – Chronicling Wasted Years

Mishka Shubaly to Release Album, Coward's Path - Chronicling Wasted Years
Mishka Shubaly

“If you ever thought about committing suicide at happy hour, then this is the songwriter for you. This is the alcoholic soundtrack to my lonely, pathetic life.” — Doug Stanhope

Everyone loves a comeback story. On February 3, 2015 the underdog Mishka Shubaly releases his third full-length album, Coward’s Path (In Music We Trust Records), a document of Shubaly’s wasted years—songs he wrote about getting messed up that he was too messed up to record.  Twelve tracks of drinking songs, snapshots from a life careening out of control—tunes about death and darkness and failure and the cold comfort of oblivion. Somehow, it’s also incredibly funny.

“The title refers to a time in my life where I took the path of least resistance to the end of the line,” admits Shubaly.  “In one of the first copyrighted blues songs from 1912, Lee Roy White says ‘the blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad.’ Coward’s Path is the sound of a bad man feeling bad.”

In 2008, singer-songwriter Mishka Shubaly was falling apart. His 2007 release, How To Make A Bad Situation Worse, had suffered the curse of being critically acclaimed and largely ignored. He had won a great fan and advocate, the renegade comedian Doug Stanhope, and Stanhope had flown him all over the country, opening for the biggest shows of his life. But his appetite for drugs, alcohol, and chaos alienated even Stanhope. After losing a series of jobs, bands, friends, and girlfriends, Shubaly finally bottomed out. In the spring of 2009, he got sober.

Early in his sobriety, he began publishing his writing with Amazon. To date, he’s published six best-selling Kindle Singles, a collection of the singles with the foreword by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, gotten his name on the front page of the New York Times, and landed a book deal. His biggest seller, “The Long Run,” a mini-memoir detailing his rocky transition from blackout druggie to sober ultra-runner has sold more than 80,000 copies and been translated into German, Spanish and Polish. Not bad for a guy who used to work off Craig’s List.

Five years later, he’s back with a vengeance.  He recorded the bare bones of Coward’s Path on an 8-track reel-to-reel in an unheated, condemned squat in Long Island City in 2008, then sat on those basic tracks for years.

“My life fell apart and it took me a couple of years to put it back together. Once I was no longer out of my head, well, I was sober and I wasn’t sure what my relationship was to these songs. So they just sat on tape while my writing took off,” says Shubaly of the delay. “After four years sober, I knew that I was proud of the writing and that the songs didn’t have the power to derail me. I also knew that I had neither the time nor the patience to sit in a studio twiddling knobs to give these songs the life they deserved.”

Shubaly brought the 8-track recordings to his longtime friend, composer/engineer/producer Erik Nickerson. They dumped the tapes onto Nickerson’s computer and began talking about what to do with the songs.

“I’ve been discussing music with Erik for more than twenty years. He’s been blowing my mind for the same amount of time. I tried to hold back from giving him specific instructions like ‘play this part’ or ‘use this instrument.’ We talked about the vibe of each song and then I left him alone with it. The album drifted to me in the course of a year in rough mixes that we’d bicker over. We developed a vision of what we wanted things to sound like, sort of The Flamingos playing a Rolling Stones country song on the bottom of the ocean.”

Thanks to the help of his old friend, those songs have been fully realized on Coward’s Path.

“Many times in my life,” Shubaly says, “I’ve had people I trusted say ‘just jump—we’ll catch you.’ It has always ended terribly. This was the exact opposite experience.”

The result is a record that is less stripped-down rock ’n’ roll, like his previous releases, and more ensemble work, featuring accordion, upright bass, mellotron, vibes, weird percussion, maracas, bells, tape hiss, and even the sound of a passing airplane. Shubaly’s black-hearted paeans to inebriation and annihilation shimmer with damaged glory.

“I’d like to think that with this record, I’m completing the journey I started with my first two records. Thanks For Letting Me Crash is sort of like Happy Hour – you’re still shaking off the cobwebs from the night before, kicking back, easing into the darkness with a couple of beers,” he says.  “On How To Make A Bad Situation Worse, the liquor starts flowing, the night gets darker and louder, it’s starting to feel good. You know that it’s dangerous to feel good but you still get behind the wheel or drunk-dial your ex so you can let her know how you really feel.

“With Coward’s Path, well, you’ve drank the bar closed, they’ve kicked everyone else out and pulled the gate down so it’s just the bar staff and their friends. The drugs come out. You’re drinking top shelf liquor for free but it’s costing you more than if you paid for it because you’re tipping so much. Everything gets better; everything gets worse. The party turns weird. The party turns bad. Shit gets totally out of control. And then you have to stumble out into the daylight and confront what you’ve done.”

Shubaly will admit that it’s a little awkward releasing these songs into the world now that he’s sober.

“The record has a disclaimer on it and when I started playing out again, I felt like I would have to issue a disclaimer every time I played. I’ve since relaxed. Not every song has to be about where you are, it can be about where you’ve been. Not everyone needs to be sober. If you wanna destroy your life, that’s fine, go and have a blast doing it and yes, this is absolutely the record for it. But don’t come crying to me when it hurts.”

Shubaly has been back on the road with his old friend Doug Stanhope, singing, playing and performing better than ever. It’s too early to tell—Shubaly has an uncanny way of dodging success—but this broke down singer-songwriter may finally get his due.

“Forever a favorite! Sublime.” — Johnny Depp