VOLK – Welcome To Cashville

Yesterday was Valentines Day. If I was a blogger of any note, I would have found the most loving, schmaltzy piece of music to share and then praised it to high heaven. Anything to increase the hits, eh? There are artists who release Christmas songs because they think that such tactical consideration is the path to fame and wealth. Those that drown you with their saccharine love on February 14th take such cynicism to a whole new level. I chose instead to take a day away from blogging. 

One suspects that VOLK are pretty unlikely to sell their souls to the PR machine. I ask the raucous, cowpunk duo from Nashville what they’d like to see happen in 2021. 

Naive thought, but we’d get rid of all the algorithms and money obsession in the music industry and allow artists to truly follow their passions and creative whims,“, they offer. “That’s got to be better than following fads and mimicry, trying to figure out the next Instagram hack or to become a tik tok viral sensation. Honestly, it feels more like we are PR agents rather than artists these days.

That anger with parts of the music industry spews out in Chris and Eleot’s recently released single, ‘Welcome To Cashville’. If you’re looking for a tune to help dislodge the Monday morning cobwebs, this could well be the one. Rough and rambunctious, deliberately messy and boisterous, this is a song that neatly mixes rock ‘n’ roll riffage with hard-living Country. Legends of yesteryear such as Townes Van Zandt are heralded whilst the acts that depend on autotune and DJ mixes are dispatched to the garbage. Healthily theatrical, OTT and sarcastic, you can’t help but be drawn to a band who observe that “2020 has sucked more than a Nickelback double live album on loop.”

VOLK were clocking up more than 200 shows per year before the pandemic raged. It’s no surprise what Chris and Eleot want to do more than anything else right now. “The first thing we are gonna do at each of our shows after the pandemic is hug, drink with, and laugh with our good friends on the road!

Have a Rocking Monday y’all… 

Lori Triplett – Coming Home Alone

Christmas songs – I’ve never been much of a fan and I guess that’s why they have hardly ever featured on Sonic Breakfast. Many of the most popular are forced-fun frenzies; I can think of nothing worse than it being Christmas every day if I’m honest if it means warbling with Mariah. 

It probably says much about the person I am but I’m much more drawn to the sad Christmas song. Characters who were lonely last Christmas seem somehow more attached to the reality of life than those who are ringing bells as they dance around the mistletoe. This feeling is amplified in 2020 when the prevalence of the disease means the sensible thing to do is to cancel it all until next year. Bah Humbug. 

Lori Triplett agrees with me about sad Christmas songs. “I’ve always loved them”, she says before acknowledging that 2020 was exactly the right sort of year to be releasing ‘Coming Home Alone’. The Country-based singer-songwriter breaks all of our hearts with her tender tale about a relationship going pear-shaped just in advance of the big day. The excitement of taking your significant other home to meet your family and friends melts as the friendship fades. 

Lori has the perfect vocal delivery for this sort of desolation. She never once over-eggs the sadness; it’s raw and simple, painful and clear. For those of us who have had sad Christmases (all of us?), this is all too easy to relate to. When the strings kick in, I want to weep for Lori’s plight. 

Happy Christmas beautiful people. 

 

Abby K – All Good

I don’t talk much about my day job within this blog. It’s pretty much been an unwritten rule since beginning Sonic Breakfast that I would rope off some aspects of my life and rarely discuss them. I’m not sure why it’s developed that way.

For those that don’t know, I work for a charity that distributes funds to youth homelessness projects. I work as part of a team that’s helping to create new homes for young people who don’t have that security. Get beyond the day to day routine, rigmarole and frustrations that are part of anybody’s working life and it’s a pretty rewarding place to be.

But, I still walk past people sleeping rough (or did before 2020) and barely bat an eye. If challenged my well-rehearsed lines still stand up to my own scrutiny. “It’s better to give my money elsewhere“, I say before spending it that evening in the pub. “You’re not really getting to the root cause of the problem“, I say before spending the day talking with friends about the latest exit on I’m A Celebrity. “I need the food myself“, I say before putting nothing in the food-bank collections and going home to write a blogpost about my expanding waistline.

Despite thinking that I care about others and actively do good when I really think about it what do I really do? My emotions are hardened, my tears trained not to fall and my life, as a result, is all good.

This is the situation that Abby K describes in her latest song and video, All Good. Released in the build up to the US election, it served as a call for Americans to vote for change. Asked specifically about this track, Abby says, “the idea that we are privileged and turn away from the ugly truths of our world is a powerful notion. Something’s got to change or something’s going to give! When tears refuse to stream the way they should, I guess that means, life’s all good? It’s time to MAKE things all good.

A gentle country-folk song for a Thursday, Abby’s delivery has none of the rage that you might traditionally expect from a protest song. Like a calm and collected schoolteacher taking an assembly, the singer-songwriter carouses and encourages us with her unique voice into looking at the world differently. 

The cynic in me finds this so easy to dismiss as idealistic, hippie twaddle. Maybe, thinking about why I have that response and taking a good look at what I’ll be doing to make things better today is the more appropriate way forward.

Kären McCormick – Retro

Friday must be the day of the week when most new music is released. I honestly have no idea when is the best time to release music to give it the best chance of hitting the heights of the charts but my own mailbox always booms with press release a-plenty when the weekend’s cusp comes. 

Perhaps finally accepting old age with grace I now like nothing more on a Friday evening than sitting down with a glass of wine (or water in sober months – the alcohol is not important) to listen to those PR promoted tracks. 

I indulge in light banter with friends who say that all music released in this century is dull, uninspired and not as good as it was when we were young. I sympathise to some degree with their assertions but feel certain that they’re wrong. 

Because every Friday (and every day in total truth) my mailbox bulges with beautiful new jewels. 

Music that makes me grin, music that sparks memories, music that connects or simply music you can dance along with whilst singing the catchy chorus out loud. 

This new track (and video) from  Kären McCormick ticks all of the boxes above. Yes, Retro is cheesy and probably designed to be a massive hit on the Nashville radio airwaves. It doesn’t push any musical boundaries and some of my friends (see above) would argue that they’ve heard it all before. 

But Kären brings a positivity and breeziness to the fore in Retro. Like many good, well mannered, clean living  Country girls who have gone before she urges her new beau to take it slow, to court her and write her love letters in an attempt to date like in the pre-app old days.

The video also features a landline and we already know how partial I am to those. (Here)

It’s delivery is sweet and spritely – you suspect that Kären has got more in her tank if she really wants to let rip – but I can’t help dancing and singing along to the wide-eyed innocence within and I’m sure that many readers of Sonic Breakfast will be no different. 

Here’s to a weekend full to the brim with new music. 

J.E. Sunde – Love Gone To Seed

 

J.E. Sunde has been building up to the November release of his new album, 9 Songs About Love, by teasing us all with some great singles from it. It’s going to be a late contender for album of the year if the quality of those three tracks is typical of the rest of the record. 

I took some time out after work today to have a look at the video for ‘Love Gone To Seed’. This third single is a sublime piece of jaunty, country-influenced folk. It’s got the anguished simplicity of a Buddy Holly heartbreaker and the melodic beauty of Paul Simon at his least complicated. 

Sunde says it’s about “a relationship ending. Probably one whose ending is for the best. However, the fellow can’t really see that and is futilely attempting to hold the relationship together when the other person isn’t interested in that. It also mentions, seemingly as justification for the end of the relationship, the tempting lie that for love to be true and worth pursuing there should be no need for you to compromise in any way”.

We’ve all been there right? That unspoken desperation that characterises a relationship coming to an end, the unseemly addictiveness of the push-pull that gives a sliver of joy within a vista of hurt. In truth, I’ve not been there for a good, few years now and my memories of it are probably more distant than Jonathan Edward’s (that’s what the J.E. stands for) but I can still relate to the feelings when two atoms repel.

 

The Second single, I Don’t Care To Dance, is on the surface, a more melancholy piece, a slow, woozy dance late one evening, aided by gin and tonics. Sunde’s voice goes all Andy Shauf on us (this is a very good thing) as he ponders how the effects of a toxic masculinity influence his being. 

As J.E. says, “It’s about a man finding hope that love might be possible for him after having resigned himself that it wasn’t. It also speaks to the broken expectations and models that are given to men in how they should pursue relationships. Models and expectations that so often turn toxic”.

There is hope. This is music that helps me to smile, to cry and to fly. I hope you’ll like it as much as I. 

 

JP Harris – Ent Shed Bedford – November 17th 2018

I feel robbed by the imposter. JP Harris has surely given a sort of shout-out to me from the stage of Bedford’s Ent Shed and  somebody else, a nemesis in a front row seat, has just claimed the glory. 

“We’ve got somebody who’s travelled all the way from Spain tonight to see us”, he offers, mirroring some text we’d previously exchanged. “It’s a great country – we’ll get there next year”, he might say in his Southern drawl but I’m distracted, already reeling from the blow. 

JP now thinks that I’m that distinctly uncool person sitting to his right, the one waving at him like a deranged, drunken harlot. She clearly doesn’t  know the words to his tunes like I do; she’s not getting his references to great Country songwriters of the dim and distant past; FFS, I bet she’s never even been to Spain for longer than that week in Benidorm. 

My anger isn’t healthy. There’s little that can be done. I temporarily toy with the idea of standing up and arguing the toss but “No, I’m your Spanish fan”, seems like a foolish intervention. I anonymously slink into my chair and resolve to get on with enjoying the gig. 

And enjoying yourself at a JP Harris gig is an easy pastime. This is a songwriter who’s at a pinnacle of sorts. His latest album, Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing, sees the slightest of diversions from the out and out country that’s made his previous records so great. But the variety, the veering into blues, soft-rock and folk, simply makes this two hours in his (and his astonishingly talented bands) company more palatable. And ultimately it does still feel like we’re being transported to a backstreet bar in Nashville.

The Ent Shed is a new venue for Sonic Breakfast; it’s an impressive community hall, an extended skittles alley in the backwaters of Bedford. Attached to the Gordon Arms pub, it’s a place to love, cherish and value. Capping capacity at 100 people, it seems to be building a fine reputation in promoting these sorts of gigs. The plethora of punters in cowboy shirts and wrangler jeans have clearly clocked on that if they want their fix of slightly under-the-radar Nashville quality this is the place to be. 

The sound could be better. JP’s songs come alive with the lyrics, sometimes poignant, often sad but mostly true stories about past misdemeanours and struggles. Happier tales do surface from time to time. If only his vocal was slightly elevated within the mix we could engage more. As it is, we marvel at the playing and at the tunes without quite getting the full blow by blow account.  

His banter is engaging between songs. Hirsute with the best of beards, authoritative and tattooed to the hilt, you’re inclined to accept his murmured wisdom without question. He talks genuinely about the extreme hassle that women face in the music industry before launching into set highlight, ‘Lady In The Spotlight’. A curious explorer,wanderer and reveller, he talks of leaving home when young and the impact it had on his Mum. Crazy tours of the past, lost love, mistakes, regrets, solitude and his battles with alcohol also come to the fore. ‘When I Quit Drinking’ and ‘I Only Drink Alone’ being gut-wrenching statements of his stark honesty. 

I’d hate to give the impression that this is all navel-gazing therapy though; for the most part it’s a rollicking ride, a bar-room blitz, a storming hoot. The pedal steel merges with the guitars and drums to create a pretty party on this Saturday night. 

Miss Tess supports. Part of JP’s band, her set is a gentle prelude to the main event. Clearly a Nashville name, she duets acoustically with Thomas Bryan Eaton (also JP’s pedal steelist) giving a showcase of her cabaret-country tunes. Like JP, she’s also an entertaining raconteur moaning that her professional touring life gets in the way of her love life. She glows when telling all that a marriage proposal came her way earlier on this tour in Scotland and delights in disappointing Bedford’s Tourist Information Office by questioning the greatness of the castle. I didn’t know Bedford had a castle. I won’t now go. Essentially though, the songs stand up to scrutiny and I resolve to check out more when I get back to Spain. 

Like all here, I’ve loved my night out in Bedford. I’ll head back to Spain happy. As the gig draws to a close I think about waiting around to put right the wrong and to claim my prize. I realise such behaviour would simply be churlish and head out to the car with a spring in my socks. 

 

 

 

 

Michael Nau – Michael Nau & The Mighty Thread

I miss my headphones. When I was working back in England, I never travelled anywhere without my Sennheisers. Comfy to wear, I got through many train rides to far-flung towns by simply putting them over my ears and allowing myself to drift away.

My headphones half-broke quite early in my Spanish travels. They still work and it’s probably nothing that a good coating of super-glue wouldn’t fix properly. The foam cushion has detached from the ear-speaker thing. I have to hunch my neck a bit now if I want the full headphone listening experience.

And mostly there’s no need for them over here. The villa is so remote from others that there’s little risk of complaint should I turn my speakers up to 11. I enjoy the peace and quiet and listening to the sounds of nature but when I need to blast music out it seems to impact upon nobody. 

In cases of emergency, I have a pair of Apple earplugs. They’ve improved since the early I-pod days and slot into my ears quite neatly. I couldn’t wear them for long periods of time though. 

This weekend, I’ve been listening to Michael Lau’s latest album through them. It’s a dreamy, reverb-laden Country soul thing. There’s a sort of laconic fuzz that drifts across the album and it draws you in. You want to get closer to the action, to hear the vocals and the pedal-steel close up, and headphones become a natural choice. 

Lyrically, it’s a record open to interpretation. The best I can deduce is that Michael feels on the edge of something. In the Autumnal ‘Shadow On’, the second tune on the disk, that something is hanging by a thread, the final leaves are falling and you wonder if Michael Nau and The Mighty Thread might be setting itself up as a break-up album. 

But as the album progresses, there are signs that whatever has been failing has turned a corner. “The shit from here on in isn’t going to be so hard”, he sings on No Faraway Star as the mood of the record lightens. The reconciliation continues during ‘On Ice’, a highlight of the album and a song about separate beds and the power of the lampshade in fixing what has gone before. 

“Could you let me help you smile?” asks Michael on ‘Funny Wind’ and you sense that the journey is nearly complete before album closer (and another highlight), ‘Smudge’, throws a bit more doubt into the mix with lines like ‘walking together, walking apart’ and ‘another sinking boat’. That all builds towards the final lyric of the record, “waiting for something to never end“. And you realise that this is probably the point of the record. 

Life drifts; there are few clear-cut beginnings and endings. That’s the preserve of films and books. For the rest of us, we wander, often aimlessly, through things. We’re curious about our future and reminiscent about our pasts. We’re all ‘waiting for something to never end’. 

 

JP Harris – When I Quit Drinking

It might be rash of me to say that I’m going to quit drinking for October. But, at present, nine hours into the month when many are going sober for charity, I’m also part of their club. 

Truth is that after a skinful on Saturday night, it’ll take a while until I fancy another drop. But, probably not a month.

I’ve got a lot of respect for those that are able to give up for months on end. I did it once one January. It wasn’t so much the lack of alcohol that got me, rather how incessantly humdrum life got in those desperate four weeks. 

Given my acknowledged dependency, I suppose that I really ought to give more attention to abstinence. 

As JP Harris has. ‘When I Quit Drinking’ is a prime cut from his record, ‘Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing’, that’s due for release this week. It’s a fine country tune from a songwriter who’s consistently been turning heads for a few years now. It’s as authentic as a Hank Williams reprise with the timbre of his voice perfectly capturing the dilemma a drinker feels when not drinking.

If his press release is to be believed, JP has lived quite a life. He “doesn’t fancy himself a musician as much as he does a carpenter who writes country songs. He left home on a Greyhound bus in the middle of a summer night and since then has consistently worked hard in every sense of the word. Hitchhiking and hopping freight trains while making his living as a farm labourer, shepherd, woodsman, and carpenter, among many other titles, he has also forged his own path in the world of raw country music.”

JP’s album is fabulous. When he breaks into the soft and tender gentle balladry of ‘I Only Drink Alone’ one doesn’t know whether to weep or holler. That’s just the way it is for us drinkers. 

 

Gregory Alan Isakov – Nottingham Bodega Social – March 27th 2017

I’ve got a busy week of gigs coming up. I’ll be reviewing some for the Leicester Mercury and some directly for Sonic Breakfast. If they’re all as great as the one I went to last night, Gregory Alan Isakov, then it’s going to be a fine, fine time. 

(Click on page 2 for the review)

Catherine McGrath – Starting From Now

I’m not sure I care too much about discovering the new ‘Taylor Swift’. It’s not that I’m particularly dismissive about her music. She’s just somebody who’s largely passed me by. I could be wrong but I’d file her under the sort of Country crossover music that rarely registers above insipid. She’s the one they’d cover on X Factor if they wanted a week away from the R’n’B’ standards, right? I concede I’m probably doing Ms Swift a disservice.

 

So – when I receive a set of press E-mails about Northern Irish singer-songwriter, Catherine McGrath, and mention of Taylor is prominent within each release, I’m reluctant to give it a fair shot. She might be the rightful heir to the Taylor Swift crown but that don’t impress me much. Somebody reminds me that I was an early endorser of Ward Thomas (here) but I maintain that’s a different kettle of fish.

 (Click on page 2 for what I really think about Catherine)