Richard Inman – Heartbroken Troubadour Of The Prairie Provinces

Richard Inman certainly does keep a low profile on Social Media (good for him) so I cannot go too much into the specifics of his background. I assume he’s First Nation, and, according to his only (as far as I’m aware) online presence on Bandcamp currently living in the small Alberta, Canada town of Pincher Creek.

Of course most of his songs can be found on YouTube, but fortunately there are also quite a few of his live performances to be found which are mainly acoustic solo performances which is fine by me, as that how I like his music best anyway. Just him, a guitar, and his more often than not excellent songs.

His first EP and LP are from 2015 and he’s also released another LP in 2016, but 2019’s Hasta La Vista is the earliest of his records I know (so far) and probably my favourite as it’s the most stripped-down and acoustic album. It does feature a whole load of outstanding and lovely songs. First track Thanksgiving Day is the first of his songs I got to know and loved it right away. It’s setting the scene for where he is coming from and what he’s writing about perfectly. As the name implies it’s about the yearly get together of a family, with reverence for the protagonists’s grandmother and a little mischief all rolled into one sentence ‘leave the beer outside behind the cars, grandma don’t like liquor bless her heart’ with a sparse backing of acoustic guitar, banjo and accordion. What I Did Wrong leads onto a well-travelled path throughout many of his songs, of lost love and regret, surely not new ground covered with that, but it’s done very well indeed and spiced up with the minutiae of small-town life in Western Canada’s prairie provinces. In which lies perhaps strong part of appeal in his music for me personally. I am not from that part of the world myself, but have travelled it a few times and what I observed on these occasions and the things Inman is writing about does encapsulate my perception of living there vividly. Sunday Morning, Pt. 2 is very much in the same vein, both musically and lyrically, but as can be said about pretty much all of the songs on the album, all the better for it. Corinna’s On Main Street in contrast is a bit more cheerful in a bluesyCountry kind of way and is dealing with his life on the road as a musician (with Corinna, I assume, being the small town prostitute) encountered in one town. No Rules is a brief taped answer phone machine/mailbox message with the opening chords of next rack Lilac played around them. Lilac itself is gorgeous. Brief, ruminative and simply accompanied (acoustic guitar and banjo) – a lovely song. Perhaps THE highlight however for me on the album is Joplin Blues (For Aaron R Schorzman) but don’t take my word for it, listen for yourself here.

Brilliant, right?

Album closer and title track Hasta La Vista is done again in a different and more band oriented arrangement on 2020’s Faded Love Better Days, as are Thanksgiving Day and Red River Racer. Especially the latter works brilliantly in this faster version (although I do love the more acoustic version on Hasta La Vista a whole lot too – it’s just a fab song). And it probably is the only song around written about a female stock car driver. Raining In December sounds perhaps a bit unusual compared with the other tracks on the album, sure it’s melancholic as hell, but the prominent lap/pedal steel guitar throughout the song does lend the lilting atmosphere an almost Psych-Pop-like touch, which is usually not heard in his music, but works very well indeed.

New Years Blues is an upbeat Country-Rock track (done even better imo in this acoustic version on YouTube ). The jaunty Truest Form Of Love somehow does remind me of John Print, especially lyrically. Like Prine, Inman has a knack for writing highly affective and accessible, musically rather simply built catchy songs. Although many of his best songs (especially the more folky ones). however, do remind me of Townes Van Zandt, but I guess he’s heard that before more than once. On this album it’s most obvious on the album closer Holding You Was Worth More, a sad melancholic Folk (although Inman apparently doesn’t consider his music Folk at all, but I guess that’s a matter of definition) song only accompanied by a fingerpicked acoustic and a beautiful Dobro as lead guitar – gorgeous.

His most recent album Come Back Through (2022) does flesh out the sound of the previous record further into classic Country and Roots Rock territory with galloping drums and a lot of steel guitar work, Loving’ Rose being the most pronounced example of the first with a guitar intro and solo straight out of Bakersfield ca. 1965. My favorite song on here for me is the sad 100000 Tears which once more deals with lost love, like many of his songs, but is appropriately arranged with only a fingerpicked guitar and harmonica – the classic folky way, once again reminiscent of T. Van Zandt, ending with the touching chorus ‘… so I sat down in the kitchen, I couldn’t bring myself to cry, you can only spend so many tears, asking yourself why’. Waiting On The River is a lovely mid-tempo song with a prominent fiddle, while Cut Fence (Let God Sort ’em Out) is about a forest fire threatening a man’s livestock, a song rooted firmly in the soil Inman is from. The Bottle Or The Truth is another standout track for me on the album with big chords strummed and a tempo that alternates between mid- and up-tempo in the verses and chorus respectively and an affecting melody, of which Richard Inman writes a great many. Listen here:

The last three songs on the album Come Back Through, Kings On The Corner and Pictures are all melancholic as fxxx with the first two sounding almost as good as Son Volt’s Tear Stained Eye and that is very high praise indeed coming from me. And Pictures is ending a very fine album on a more acoustic note (with a beautiful fiddle again).

Richard Inman certainly doesn’t break any new ground with his music compared with the few references I used above, but he does what he does damn well indeed, and for me is up with the best in the field between folky acoustic goodness and more downbeat Americana Roots Rock.

Greg Brown (& Bo Ramsey) Cold & Dark & Wet

I only recently came upon this fine track ( don’t even know which album the original can be found on). Given that it’s indeed cold, dark and wet outside where I live, I thought it fitting to post this today.

Also, Bo Ramsey (as usual) kills it on lead guitar – no lead guitarist I know can say so much with so few notes. Outstanding.

As an additional plus, the video and audio quality in this video are excellent (there are more Greg Brown videos of this gig from the same user, do yourself a favour and check them out also if you like this).

Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still

Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still has been a fave song of mine for a long time, ever since hearing Cordelia’s Dad’s storming version (from their self titled 1990 album, well worth checking out imo), my version sounds nothing like that one though, but I enjoyed learning it a lot.

Martin Simpson : Rooted

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Not really having heard about Martin Simpson until his previous album Trails and Tribulations but falling in love with his music immediately after doing so, I didn’t waste time buying Rooted upon its release back in August. Since then there (nearly) hasn’t been a day in which I didn’t listen to at least part of Rooted. Like Trails and Tribulations it’s an album of rare and pure beauty.

As before, I greatly admire his unique and exceptional style of guitar playing. The varied guitar (and banjo) sounds are once again brought to light very well by producer Andy Bell, starting with the first song Trouble Brought Me Here and ending with the equally wonderful More Than Enough. The latter was written by Robb Johnson and is a fine pointer to Simpson’s left leaning political views (don’t know if he’d call himself a Socialist, but from all I know it’s fair to assume he might). The song’s lyrics (appropriately reflected in the music) are both sad and a hopeful (‘… there’s always the money for missiles and tanks, there’s always the money for generals and banks, there’s always the money for new ways to kill but a limited budget for you if you’re ill…’), but ending on a rather more hopeful note (‘… if we’d learn to want less and love more there’d be enough for the poor, cause there’s more than enough for us all’ – truer word was never spoken)

These also come to light in his singular reworking of the (not very well known, but still) classic Ragtime Millionaire, here called Neo (Neo-Liberal Billionaire), it doesn’t take a whole lot of fantasy to figure out the sort of people he is talking about there (‘… trickle down, that’s what I said, it’s just me pissing on your head…’). Great, upbeat song that too, with the brilliant Dom Flemons (Ex-Caroline Chocolate Drops) on bones and a (rather unusual in that context) clarinet giving it a suitable swinging old-timey  feeling. Probably the most lovely song on the album is his version of the traditional Child ballad Who’s Going To Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot, which Simpson first heard by Woody Guthrie, I don’t know that or any other versions, but his, mainly played on acoustic guitar accordion (or melodeon) and strings, is utterly gorgeous. I just love his way of playing those incredibly intricate acoustic guitar melodies, accompanying and mirroring the tunes of the songs, very few guitar players I know of can do that similarly well, maybe Richard Thompson and Bruce Cockburn are in the same league.

A large appeal for me is the fact that his music is deeply rooted in both British and American traditions. A fine example of this is his version of the traditional Joe Bowers on which he’s (if I’m not mistaken) playing a Weissenborn (style) slide guitar, and of course that does sound wonderful (love those guitars myself). The whole album is an absolute feast for (acoustic) guitar aficionados, all of the guitar parts are recorded crystal clear (the sound overall is excellent too).

Another thing I love about his music is the creative way they deal with his apparent love of nature (on Trails and Tribulations it was the amazing Ridgeway) and on here it’s Born Human (excellent song that but not written by him) and his own composition Kingfisher – the latter about a walk (?) on a cold and clear winter morning, and it’s easy to visualise that morning listening to the song. That aspect (‘… tells me how alive and lucky I am…’) is also present in the album title and artwork with the front cover finding him nestled among the roots and branches of a large tree.

Perhaps most affecting in a quite understated way of all songs on here is the (true) story of Ken Small, who in 1984 (after a 10 year struggle) succeeded in having a Sherman tank from the 2nd World War pulled out of the ocean and placed in the Southwestern English village of Torcross (where it still stands today) as a monument to the about 1000 soldiers that were killed thereabouts during an military operation in 1944. Ken Small, after a nervous breakdown, spent a large amount of his time at the shore where he found ‘… truth and healing…’  and the song sounds suitably melancholic. That’s another of Simpson’s strength – in contrast to a lot of excellent finger style guitarist out there he’s not merely an outstanding guitarist, while he undoubtedly is that, he’s also a great storyteller in his own compositions, as well as being equally adept at choosing very fine  material for his singular and accomplished interpretations.

The rest of the songs I haven’t mentioned so far are by no means any less good (the catchy and upbeat Henry Gray and Fool Me Once are all brilliant as well) – I for one could (and indeed have) listen to them over and over again.

I was fortunate enough to get the bonus disc version, the second CD called Seeded featuring 7 instrumentals including two bluesy ones A Blues and Blind Willie McTell’s Mama It Ain’t Long (Blind Willie McTell), and acoustic solo versions of Queen Jane and Who’s Gonna… from Rooted and the wonderful Waenglapiau.

I almost forgot to mention the fine contributions of the other guests on the album, apart from the lovely strings on a number of songs, especially Andy Cutting on Melodeon and Accordion does deserve a mention here, as one Trails And Tribulations before, his contributions to Rooted play a big role in shaping the sound and making various of these songs as lovely as they are, like Simpson he’s a true master of his instrument.

As stated before I am not really familiar with his earlier work apart from Rooted‘s predecessor, but it’s safe to say that Martin Simpson clearly is on something of a roll right now, which I find all the more remarkable as he’s now at an age in which most other musicians have long surpassed their best work.

Just listen to that amazing guitar playing on Trouble Brought Me Here

 

 

 

Jon Brooks : Moth Nor Rust

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Moth Nor Rust, released in 2009 on Borealis Records, finally found its way into my home only yesterday. The first few listens already made me realise just how exceedingly fine an album it is. Yes, it’s Folk music, but somehow the musical style (as much as I am fond of it) is irrelevant, as the songs on here are quite simply that. Songs, and stories. Brooks could arguably be classified as a songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger or early Bob Dylan. No romanticising for the times of the Dust Bowl, Hobos and such to be found on here, though, his songs are firmly rooted in the early 21st Century.

At first listen his songs aren’t overtly personal, actually quite the opposite, as they are dealing with all kinds of people you meet on the streets. Whether these people are soldiers, working in a pub, an office or at Walmart, does scarcely matter – it’s their lives with all their contradictions, thoughts and problems these 10 songs are concerned with. Yet, for all this, they are highly personal stories too, Brooks’ convictions and beliefs permeate every one of them. So, you hear a lot of words such as justice, mercy, love, freedom and healing. Not many artists (whichever medium they are using) I can think of, can express their beliefs quite as eloquently and touching as Jon Brooks can.

Musically Moth Nor Rust is even more reduced compared with some of his other records (2014’s The Smiling And Beautiful Countryside and 2012’s Delicate Cages, still haven’t got the first two records of his) although these could hardly be described as lavishly produced either. On here it’s only him, his guitar and harmonica (and a bit of percussion, possibly only the body of his guitar). Still, the sound is clear, robust and rustic (but completely absent of traces of traditionalism and/or being ‘Country’), not in the least due to his resonant and muscular voice and the fine, natural guitar playing. Despite the lyrical themes and the often beautiful melodies (as on Small, War Resister, God Pt. IV, there is nothing maudlin or whimsical about these songs.

Moth Nor Rust is good for the soul. It’s a life-affirming record, making me believe the world has got the potential of being a slightly better place. All it does need is some more people taking his stance towards life and the world to heart, and doing the right things.

‘… if it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go..’ (When We Go)