The Americans at The Railway, July 3

A swift welcome back to a great band from LA.

“Genius twenty-first century musicians that are reinventing American heritage music for this century. And it sounds even better this century.”

T Bone Burnett Telluride Film Festival

“From the first rolling guitar notes, carrying sadness and defiance like dust, this sweeps me up: I want to know everything about where that feeling came from, and where it’s going.”

Greil Marcus Pitchfork

“Absolutely brilliant.”

Anthony Wall | BBC 6

“Some of the best songwriting I’ve heard in years.”

Ryan Bingham | No Depression

JON DEE GRAHAM and William Harries Graham, June 4

Jon Dee and William Harries Graham, new mini album and UK/Irish tour

“Jon Dee Graham is the Titan of American songwriters.” – Jason Isbell (Drive-By Truckers)

Knoxville Station, is a five-song mini-album that Jon Dee Graham knocked recorded in Tennessee backed by Knoxville rockers the Tim Lee 3 (guitarist Tim Lee, bassist/singer Susan Bauer, and drummer Chris Bratta). This is the follow up to his last studio record ‘Garage Sale’ in 2012 when he last toured the UK and Ireland with James McMurtry and Ian McLagan. It may only be 5 tunes but runs a breadth of his styles with a bluesy number, a sentimental ballad plus a full-on rocker.

Graham’s ability to land his punches comes not only from his prowess as a lyricist, but also from his inventiveness as a guitarist. Graham has been making mighty noises issue from his guitar since he joined, in 1979 at age 20, the pioneering Austin punk band the Skunks. The next two decades led Graham through stints with the True Believers and in the touring bands of X founder John Doe and Austin songwriter Kelly Willis. Graham also lent his guitar chops to records by the Silos, the Gourds, his former True Believers bandmate Alejandro Escovedo and the masterful Texas songwriter James McMurtry.

But it wasn’t until 1997, with the release of his first solo album, “Escape From Monster Island,” that Graham showed himself to be that rarest of musical combinations: an ace guitar player and master songwriter in the same body.

The three-time inductee into the Austin Music Hall of Fame and with 10 albums to his name Jon Dee continues holding down his remarkable 17-year Wednesday night residency at Austin’s Continental Club, a gig he typically shares with James McMurtry. The two writers are more-or-less lovable curmudgeons who seem ideally suited to share that legendary stage.

“I used to think I was a misanthrope,” McMurtry says. “Then I met Jon Dee Graham.”

Misanthropes, of course, see cracks in everything, but as another great songwriter, Leonard Cohen, once wrote, “that’s how the light gets in.” That Graham can so masterfully shine that light on the veins of gold that run through our everyday lives makes him, in his fans’ estimation, a national treasure.

Jon Dee will be performing with his son William Harries Graham whom also has an album out with the German Blue Rose records. Wired Magazine’s listed William as one of “World’s Top Changing Innovator’s: 50 People Who Will Change the World.” William’s music defies the contemporary labels, it is independent in spirit, American, but not Americana, a gorgeous and layered piece of work, which combines intelligent lyrics and powerful poetic imagery with a dreamlike wash of guitars and vocals, running down everything from glorious anthems to the most delicate weepers. Americana UK wrote that his debut “positions him towards the experimental end of Americana with copious nods towards the music that was called indie-rock. He has an aesthetic built around loud guitars, an ear for melody, a fondness for messing with time signatures, and if this record is any indication, a massive future. Music critic Tim Stegall noted William’s “protean talent,” saying that his sound is “as if sound poet Brion Gysin had diced up a My Bloody Valentine record and one by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, then almost randomly reassembled the pieces.” William has showcased at SXSW, Folk Alliance International, and headlined the Kerrville Fall Festival.

 

Lee Bains III And The Glory Fires, August 23

Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires are set to return to Europe for more festivals and shows August and Sept 2018. A successful run in August and Sept of 2017 in support of their third LP ‘Youth Detention on Don Giovanni records saw the band converting fans across the UK for one of the best live shows you will ever hear with one of the strongest messages.

The new double LP spans 17 songs, it is the band’s most ambitious work to date — a sprawling and visceral record given to both deep introspection and high-volume spiritual uplift. The Glory Fires’ music draws deeply from punk, but also soul, power pop, country, and gospel. The four piece from Birmingham, Alabama include Lee, Eric Wallace and brothers Adam & Blake Williamson. The band just finished touring across Europe with lead singer Lee Bains breaking his leg in the first week but no gigs were cancelled with the band hitting Holland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Norway.

Where The Glory Fires’ previous LP Dereconstructed (Subpop 2014) sought to dismantle one-dimensional notions of Southern identity and culture, Youth Detention has a similar, but more personal intent. “It’s about dismantling myself and the narratives that I’ve taken on,” explains Bains. “It’s an examination of youth and the processes through which we begin to consider ourselves, our identities, and what various communities we belong to or are in tension with.” Often, the songs detail moments in which cultural boundaries and biases become apparent — scenes in which systems of privilege and oppression become visible, particularly as they relate to race, class, and gender. Everyday settings — a church, a ballpark, a cafeteria — are revisited again and again, to explore these fleeting moments of revelation from different perspectives and roles. It’s a record defined by accumulation. Stories, images, and thoughts pile up to create confusion and cacophony in the narrative.

UNCUT magazine recently compared them to the best of Drive By Truckers Southern epic songs and says “Bains admits the influences of Britsh bands like The Kinks, Jam and Blur but also 80s college rockers such as The Primitons, Let’s Active and REM”

Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at Battletapes with engineer Jeremy Ferguson and producer Tim Kerr, Youth Detention captures the band in raw form. Each song was cut live to tape, with the four performing in the same room without headphones or baffling. The result is thoroughly human, Lynn Bridges’ mix retaining the band’s live energy and looseness at the expense of a few out of tune strings. It’s equal parts careful curation and geographic inheritance. “It’s the sound of my place,” says Bains. “I want to know it. I want to argue with it. I don’t want to be a band from anywhere that could be doing anything. For me, that’s what punk is about — figuring out who I am and how to be the best version of myself. I can’t do that by pretending to be something I’m not.”

The songs are deeply rooted in Bains’ experience of his hometown, Birmingham, AL. Youth Detention depicts a Southern city in the decades surrounding the turn-of-the-millennium: in the throes of white flight, urban disinvestment, racial tension, class struggle, gentrification, gender policing, homophobia, xenophobia, religious fervor, deindustrialization, and economic upheaval.

The lyrics could ring true anywhere, though. The South exists in the world and, like the South, the world is increasingly beholden to many of these same tensions and forces. The songs on Youth Detention are meant as small acts of resistance to those systems. Documenting minor moments — the refusal to sit quietly through a display of bigotry, the act of quieting down and listening to somebody’s struggle, sticking up for friends targeted for their difference — that, hopefully, serve as the beginnings of a more profound awakening.

Vera Van Heeringen Trio in the Swiss Cottage, July 6

It’s unusual to find someone who’s as good a songwriter as an instrumentalist. Vera van Heeringen is that person. A consummate guitarist, highly acclaimed by her contemporaries, she brings the instrument to life in way that is entirely her own. Vera also writes tunes and songs which deliver straight to – and from – the heart. Firmly rooted in Transatlantic traditions, her original contemporary Americana showcases both these skills: firebrand instrumental virtuosity and poignant, emotionally astute songwriting.

An early starter, raised in the bluegrass scene in her native Holland, Vera has long been recognised for her elegant yet gutsy guitar style – a skill which transposes to pretty much anything with strings! A musician with integrity and style in equal measure. In 2015, Vera released her second album, Proper Brew, which features a roll call of top-drawer musicians who share her musical aesthetic, and hold her in high esteem – amongst them Tim O’Brien, Dirk Powell, Rayna Gellert and Kris Drever. Vera’s now working on her third album.

Her live performances are intimate, understated affairs, allowing the music to speak for itself. Stripped back, potent, and full of groove. Outstanding flatpicking, fulsome fiddle playing, heartbreaking lyrics, and assured natural vocal tone and driving tunes are all integral to the show.

Currently Vera tours with a watertight acoustic trio featuring harmony king Dave Luke on guitar, vocals and mandolin, and double-bass stalwart Andy Seward. Dave has been the backbone of many hard-working country bands and toured extensively with Nashville singer songwriter Gail Davies, playing venues like the Grand Ole Opry. Musician and record producer extraordinaire Andy Seward was part of folk daling Kate Rusby’s band as well as working with Eddi Reader, Richard Thompson, Andy Cutting, Martin Simpson and Brooks Williams.

Go to the Swiss Cottage Sessions page for tickets.

 

THE RAILS plus special guest Sunny Ozell at the Railway, May 20 (note rescheduled date)

It would have been easy for The Rails to have picked up where they left off in the wake of their acclaimed 2014 album Fair Warning. And, had they done just that, who would have held it against them? Within months of its release, the debut set of songs by the duo comprised of Kami Thompson and James Walbourne had harvested myriad rave reviews and sundry other accolades, among them Mojo’s Folk Album of the Year award and the prize for Best Newcomer at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. But for a duo brought together by serendipity – they first met during sessions for an album by Kami’s mother Linda Thompson – there was never any doubt that the way forward was to stay open to the vagaries of chance and embrace new possibilities. Three years later, they’re back with an album that emphatically vindicates the pair’s restless curiosity.

Comprised of ten original compositions, Other People is a record rooted in change: both musical and circumstantial. For James, a ubiquitous presence on lead guitar for artists such as The Pretenders, Edwyn Collins and Ray Davies, it was time to inject a bit of voltage into the group he formed with Kami after they became an item in 2011. “With the first album,” explains Kami, “We decided to make a 70s sounding folk-rock record, but this time, we focused our energies on addressing what was happening around us.” In doing so, it became impossible to ignore the other changes that have swept through their immediate and wider environment. One of the earliest songs written for the record was The Cally. Both inspired by and written on the Caledonian Road, which connects Holloway to Kings Cross, the album’s reflective opening salvo took shape after James’ grandfather Sidney Walbourne told him about his drinking companions at The Cally pub, echoes of a pre-gentrified London in which the local boozer paid host to almost every kind of transaction imaginable. The song, which appeared fully formed in James’ head as he found himself walking along the eponymous thoroughfare, also served as a tender memorial to Sidney, who passed away soon after, aged 92.

In the wake of Sidney’s death, James and Kami found themselves pondering whether there was a place for them in the rapidly transforming city where James had spent all of his life. “Part of it was just working out if we could actually afford to live here any more, which is crazy, you know? But that was just a small symptom of a much bigger tragedy, that’s really heartbreaking.” It’s a tragedy the pair confront head on in Brick and Mortar, which sees James’ mourning the desecration of “old Soho”, in particular, Denmark Street, epicentre of the 60s beat boom and, for James, scene of many a teenage afternoon spent soaking up the ambience of its world-famous guitar shops. On the plaintive Leaving The Land – perhaps the most readily recognisable sonic link between The Rails’ first album and this one – Kami delivers one of her most affecting vocals to date. “In some ways, it’s a companion piece to Brick and Mortar,” she explains, “It’s one thing to see your favourite shops razed to the ground, but actually so much of what’s happening is tantamount to social cleansing. In Camden, you’re seeing entire estates pulled down and it’s not being replaced by social housing. It’s being replaced by luxury apartments.”

For James, the contradictions of this new era of austerity are confusing. “You’re surrounded by Keep Calm And Carry On imagery, which is somehow supposed to instil the idea that in tough times, people dig in and discover their sense of community. But sometimes, it’s hard to find evidence of that.” In trying to make sense of that contradiction, Kami and James found themselves writing the album’s title track, a cathartic sigh of exasperation which might just as easily be directed at tax-evading pop stars as the seated commuter too busy staring at his phone to notice the pregnant woman standing next to him. Here and elsewhere, The Rails’ second album is one which lays itself open to the stormy weather of life, be it when addressing the desultory self-justifications of an abusive husband in the broodingly poignant Dark Times, or the everyday ups and downs of James and Kami’s own relationship in Drowned In Blue.

“I think we both felt that the music had to complement what was happening in the words, this time around,” says James. “And that determined the way we were going to make this record.” Key to that process was finding the right producer. At the very top of James’ wish-list was Tennessee-based producer Ray Kennedy, who had impressed him with the “off-the-scale psychedelic country treatment” he meted out on Steve Earle’s benchmark 2000 album Transcendental Blues: “To my amazement, Ray said he’d be up for it. We travelled to his studio, knowing that we had seven days to nail it.” The pressure of the deadline audibly brought out the best in the players assembled to tease out Kami and James’ vision for the songs – a vision which they described to Kennedy as “folk-rock on steroids.” The synergy summoned by the players is abundant throughout Other People, be it Late Surrender, which seems to locate a perfect equidistant point between Roy Orbison and Lucinda Williams, or the yearning desolation of Kami’s vocal on Mansion Of Happiness.

“It was just a dream, really,” beams James. “Our drummer Cody Dickinson [North Mississippi Allstars, son of Big Star producer Jim Dickinson] worked with us on the first album, and we knew we wanted him back for this one. He’s the archetypal Southern gentleman – and y’know, whatever record you’re making, you know you’re gonna need someone who is incapable of being an arsehole!” Augmenting the line-up this time around was former Son Volt bassist and old friend Jim Boquist. With the core band in place, Ray Kennedy steered The Rails through a series of performances in which the only brief was to retain a sense of power, presence and intimacy.

Threaded throughout the whole thing, of course, are the psychically attuned harmonies that have become something of a calling card for Kami and James. In Kami, you can hear something of the lineage that she wears so lightly, in particular the same well of sublime world-weariness that her mother Linda Thompson plumbed both on her solo albums and her records with Richard Thompson. It’s a lineage most outside musicians might have been abashed about entering, but you only need to hear James play to realise that’s never been an issue. Described by Nick Hornby as “an unearthly cross between James Burton, Peter Green, and Richard Thompson”, Other People showcases some of James’s most inspired performances to date. “I think we were all just so relaxed,” he explains, “We wrote a lot before we entered the studio, so we knew the songs so well that it was just a matter of honouring the material.”

For both Kami and James, however, the real moment of payback comes when they get to take these songs on the road. “We’re both very excited about getting to play these songs with an actual band,” says Kami. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how that would work, because rehearsals alone are grounds for divorce, aren’t they?” James emits a rueful laugh. “We’re really quite horrible to each other! She’s like, ‘Just play the fucking chord, will you?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I will if you can just warm up your fucking voice!’ That’s another reason why it’s good to be touring with a band. They can prize us apart from each other if they need to.”

Sunny Ozell returns with her brand-new single The Garden ahead of the release of her highly anticipated second album later this year, Overnight Lows.

The Garden is a classic folk-blues masterpiece, showcasing a softer ballad-like tone, infused with her trademark sultry vocals. Released as a 7-inch vinyl, the b-side is single Take You Down. Both songs were co-written by Sunny alongside members of her extended musical family, as are all the tracks on her forthcoming record.

Released May 11th, the release comes ahead of a raft of shows, where she will be special guest to folk rock duo, the Rails, who are embarking on a UK tour to showcase their current album Other People.

The tour will see Ozell call at renowned venues such as London’s 100 Club and Manchester’s Night People.

Hailing from Reno, Nevada, Sunny began her classical vocal training at 10, and became the only child member of the Reno Opera Company at the age of 12. Following years of educating herself far and wide musically in Blues, Jazz, Latin music and everything else she could get her hands on, it was her move to New York in 2004 which proved a pivotal moment. Immersing herself in the vibrant music scene of the city, her time there helped to create a sound that’s indebted to the classic songwriting of old, while imbuing it with a fresh, youthful urgency.
This is the first new music from Sunny since her critically acclaimed debut album, 2015’s Take It With Me, which Songwriting Magazine called “A soulful blend of jazz, blues and Americana”, whilst the Mail on Sunday Event Magazine called it “… a gorgeous, moody late-night kind of a record”.
Summer 2018 marks Sunny’s return to UK soil, having presented Jason Isbell with a UK Americana Award for International Album of the Year earlier this year. She last performed a trio of shows in London, Manchester and Glasgow with Indie Folk’s Aaron Lee Tasjan in 2017.

The Rails

ZANDER out now!

Oliver Gray’s day job is writing school text books and non-fiction items, but his hobby is promoting live shows by visiting roots artists from the US and Canada. When contemplating his first foray into fiction, he was advised to “write about what you know about”. It’s therefore no surprise that “Zander” is set in the world of small-time music promotion.

When American roots musician Corey Zander sets out on his first UK tour, things start badly and rapidly get worse. Not even his drug-strewn rock and roll past could prepare him for the violence of his reception in provincial England.

We hope you will enjoy it.

BUY NOW FROM AMAZON! Or download the Kindle version.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Zander-Oliver-Gray/dp/1897609086

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