Quick plays: NATALIE MACMASTER & DONNELL LEAHY, DANNY SCHMIDT

NATALIE MACMASTER & DONNELL LEAHY One

NATALIE MACMASTER & DONNELL LEAHY One

You might well ask why GRTR! is reviewing a Celtic / Breton fiddle album?

And it would be a reasonable question to ask.  But there are ‘rock’ connections.  Firstly, one half of the main protagonists – Natalie MacMaster – has collaborated with the likes of The Chieftains, Faith Hill, Carlos Santana and Alison Krauss (OK, I know that’s a bit of a ‘stretch’, but only one step removed from Robert Plant!).

And secondly, the album was produced by legendary rock producer Bob Ezrin – Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and Kiss.  But, despite the album having a contemporary twist, that’s where the connections end.

MacMaster and hubbie Donnell Leahy are recognised as two of the foremost fiddle players in their field, and would be a disservice to all involved in this largely instrumental offering to describe it as ‘the Corrs without vocals’, but is does give you a general flavour of what’s on offer.  Although a Capercaillie comparison might be more apt.

Now, I like a jig and reel as much as the next man, but with no vocals providing light and shade, the overall feel is a purist one.  So, no matter how beautifully played and produced, and it is, you’re going to need a strong affinity for traditional Celtic instrumental music for One to register a direct hit.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

DANNY SCHMIDT Owls

Owls, by Austin, Texas based singer – songwriter Danny Schmidt harks back to the golden acoustic toting troubadour era of the late 1960s and early 1970′s.

It’s his seventh studio album, and after a self-released debut in 2005, his subsequent releases have all reached the top 10 on folk radio charts somewhere around the globe.  And on that circuit he’s amassed a cult following for his poignant imagery, drawing comparisons with the likes of Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt.

Owls is a laid back affair, recorded ‘live’ with a core band of Mike Meadows (drums), Andrew Pressman(bass), Dave Goodrich (guitars), Lloyd Maines (lap steel) and Carrie Elkin & Daniel Thomas Phipps (harmony vocals).

There are echoes of early James Taylor, hints of Neil Young, a dash of southern rock, and shades of the West Coast and Laurel Canyon, delivered in a breathy vocal style not dissimilar to that of Ray Lamontagne.  And although it strays into Americana, Owls remains a folk album at heart.

But commercial sensibility isn’t part of the equation and, as much a poet as a musician, ultimately Owl is unlikely to raise Schmidt’s profile above the folk circuit.  Accompanied by Carrie Elkin he visits UK shores for a short promotional tour in September/October.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

GRANT LANGSTON Hope You’re Happy Now

While Americana has been embraced by the mainstream – Ryan Adam’s eponymous 2014 release being the perfect example – Grant Langston’s Hope You’re Happy Now bears few, if any imprints of recent decades, instead harking back to the twang of Glen Campbell and the attitude of Johnny Cash.

Mothballing his Telecaster and the honkytonk of previous releases, Hope You’re Happy Now came about after Langston had put a band together to perform Willie Nelson’s 1974 Phases And Stages album. Inspired by the simplicity and subtlety of the material he decided to make an ‘old school’ country record focusing on ‘quiet stories and steel guitars’.

Recorded ‘live’ to 2″ tape in a vintage studio, the 12 melancholy songs on Hope You’re Happy Now certainly achieve that aim, stripping away any vestige of the current Nashville veneer and exposing it’s gnarled roots.

For me, it’s a little too ‘country’ but for those of a Campbell/Cash persuasion, Hope You’re Happy Now could be worth exploring.  ***

TELESMA Decade Dance

Telesma are a ‘psychedelic tribal visionary progressive rock band’ from Baltimore.  In essence, that’s probably enough information to form a judgment on whether their high octane dance music combining electronic and ancient instrumentation and mantras is likely to tick any boxes for you.

Frankly, it’s all rather hippy/trippy and ‘transcendental’.  In the 1970′s it would probably have been a wow in San Francisco and beyond.  Driving rhythms, chanted incantations overlaid with Joanne Juskus’s Judie Tzuke range vocals, and at times an almost, Hawkwind ‘vibe’.

It’s hard to see where today’s audience would be – rave, trance and beach parties?  Certainly, somewhere the transcendental ambience and hypnotic rhythms can take their collective grip.  Listened to stone cold sober, it rather seems to go on, and on.  And on.  Although the Enigma-esque ‘Be Here’ and with the thought-provoking line ‘If I should die tomorrow, I would still be here today’ is dreamily pleasant.

Deep, man.  Pass the spliff.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

LEATHER LEAF Aggravated

A project funded and masterminded by Austin, Texas based vocalist Melissa Madnezz, Aggravated is a something of a mongrel.

In gestation for 5 years, Madnezz started writing the material in 2011, and over the intervening years contributory players have come and gone but at its core are influences of Evanescence, Alanis Morrisette, hard rock, metal and biker music in general.

It’s clearly been a labour of love and she certainly she fronts up a bunch of paunchy, bearded and shaded, players who – with their tats and bandanas -  look like they’ve just dismounted their Harleys.  As for Ms Madnezz, she aspires to the biker chick look, but in truth none of the band look like strangers to a supersized Big Mac meal.

So, if the image could do with a bit of work out, what about the music?  Well, the first thing to be said is the production has clearly been done on a shoe string budget and the material is, to be blunt, a poor pastiche of NWOBHM.  And sadly the vocals aren’t the greatest in the world either.

The lyrics centre on hell raising, beer drinking and burning up the road.  There’s just too much wrong here for Aggravated to be right. You have to admire the commitment it’s taken to get this far, and Aggravated isn’t a bad concept, but the execution leaves much to be desired.  **1/2

Review by Pete Whalley

SETH AVETT & JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD Sing Elliot Smith

Most of us will have registered the name Elliot Smith somewhere deep in the grey matter.  But fewer will recall exactly why.

One, he’s one of those ‘rock’ stars who died before his time – in Smith’s case from knife wounds to the chest at the age of 34 in 2003.  He’d led the rock star lifestyle – drugs, booze, depression and the autopsy proved inconclusive as to whether his death was self-inflicted.  Secondly, he scored big with ‘Miss Misery’ in 1997/98 when the song was included in the film Good Will Hunting and nominated for a Grammy.

The combination was debatably enough to elevate his singer/songwriter status above what it might have been had he remained on this mortal coil, and naturally enough he has a cult following.  I have to confess to never having explored the man’s music so whether this collection of interpretative covers is a good place to start, others will be best placed to judge.

But what we have here is a ‘bedsit’ singer/songwriter re-visiting of 12 Smith songs culled in the main from his 1997 breakthrough, Either/Or, and his posthumous releases.  The songs are delivered in a stripped back fashion – the primary instrumentation being acoustic guitar and piano, supplemented by cello, violin, viola, banjo and strings – with Avett and Mayfield’s plaintive harmony vocals layered with almost ethereal effect.

In construction I was struck by the similarity to last year’s rather marvellous You + Me – Rose Ave, release by Dallas Green and Alecia Moore (Pink).  But whereas that, all too short, release was packed with fantastic songs, the strength of Smith’s material is his lyricism, rather than his ability to pen a catchy tune.

As a result, the melancholy that pervades this release is, for the uninitiated, unlikely to strike a chord.  If I was minded to be unkind, I’d call it ‘dull’.  **1/2

Review by Pete Whalley


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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)

Power Plays w/c 28 October (Mon-Fri)

COLLATERAL Mr Big Shot (Roulette Media Records)
BABY HUSBAND Stop Thinking About Tomorrow (indie)
OF ALLIES Off The Map (indie)
EXPLORING BIRDSONG The River (indie)
MARISA AND THE MOTHS – Slave (indie)
CATTLE AND CANE I Wish I Knew Jesus (Like I Do)
KING VOODOO Creep (indie)

Featured Albums w/c 28 October (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 UNRULY CHILD Big Blue World (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 REDLINE Gods & Monsters (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 WILDWOOD KIN (Silvertone/Sony)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

MAGNUM Sleepwalking (1992)



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