Hook & Anchor – Hook & Anchor – Review


Hook & Anchor are a new Portland, Oregon-based band with something of a pedigree. Bringing together Blind Pilot’s Kati Claborn, Luke Ydstie, and Ryan Dobrowski with veteran old time specialist Gabrielle Macrae (of The Macrae Sisters), and Erik Clampitt of Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck and Power of County, all of the individual members of the band add in touches of their own personal style, with Claborn on banjo and guitar, Clampitt electric guitar and pedal steel, Macrae fiddle, banjo, guitar and Ydstie and Dobrowski on bass and piano and drums respectively. Different members of the band add lead vocals at different times, with the overall feel one of ‘country, folk, and rock and roll, with every track pushing definitions across a new border’.

The new album has been recorded in a mostly live setting with Type Foundry’s Adam Selzer on production duties. After the country stylings of opener Famously Easy, we are presented with the clawhammer banjo of Wild Wind. The five-string blends with the rock feel of the track, which later reaches almost Fleetwood Mac heights, before descending into Macrae’s old time fiddle. The record really gets into its stride with the joy of Concerning Spectral Pinching, which begins with an old time/bluegrass feel to it, with the vocals fitting in with the fiddle and bass of the intro, only to restart with more pace, converting to a rambling, country style – an interesting juxtaposition which shows how the band can handle both sides of the coin together. The song works well – flowing, soaring, and positive – with the reach of styles well controlled, and the band holding a power over the music and their arrangements.

Light Of The Moon is a great song, direct, capable, and thrilling, which both taps into the spirit of the music and takes it to new places. Resounding fiddle moves the sound up and out, resulting in a warm, happy feeling as the music reaches further into your soul. The feeling continues with the more lonesome, contemplative No, It’s Not, as the drums move in around the stringed instruments, allowing the song to rise up, and outwards, with a hymnal quality which is a feature of Hook & Anchor. This hymnal idea continues on Hammer, with the bands’ voices intertwining to produce an elegiac feeling.

Blackbird shows how deep the band’s commitment to their music runs, with both strength and depth to a country arrangement which will pull at your heart, and Fine Old Times proves that they can pull off delicate and subtle as well. The album closes with the heavenly, angelic Rock, Salt & Nails, which has a simple, traditional feel to it, reflecting the real life, real songs and real music of the entire project.

Hook & Anchor is a strong, sweet record, evocative and full of emotions, played out using a number of different combinations of sound which work really well, and that the band have obviously thought in great detail about. The sound is convincing (as evidenced on songs like Hard Times), and the interesting line up and songs should serve as a model for other bands.

The album is released July 22, 2014, via Jealous Butcher and Woodphone Records.


Strictly Roots Top 5 at 5 – w/e 22/06/14

Good evening one and all, welcome to this week’s selection of roots music from across the world. On my personal jukebox this week has been old time songs from Kentucky, English traditional pieces and some very nice rootsy bluegrass. Let’s open up this week’s box, and see what we can find.


The Hickory Nuts – The Louisville Burgler

The Hickory Nuts seem to have been a group put together by the Okeh Record Company, and here they are performing The Louisville Burglar, way back in 1927. The song is a variant of the more widely-known Boston Burglar, and is a piece I have examined for a forthcoming piece on Louisville.com. A really nice example of some old time string band music, enjoy.




Eliza Carthy – Just As The Tide Was Flowing

Eliza’s long been one of my favourite singers, and this is one of her best songs. Containing all the requisites for a traditional piece, sweetness, longing, and some of the best language I’ve found in song in a long time, this is one of the song’s on Eliza’s 2002 album Anglicana, which still sounds great today. I urge you to add it to your collection if you haven’t already done so. Just As The Tide Was Flowing.



Jack Old Dog – South Australia

This next one is just fantastic. Jack Old Dog is a Bristol-based singer, who performs traditional and contemporary material with a range of bands around the city. This great video was made in one of the shipyards on Bristol’s harbourside and really captures not only the essence of the song, but also Jack’s charm and performance style. There are more video of Jack, made by the filmmaker, Michael Sides, due to come, so keep an eye on this great singer.



Anna & Elizabeth – The Devil’s Nine Questions/Billy In The Lowground

I mention Anna & Elizabeth in my latest Beacon piece, about how song aids culture and tradition to continue. They are taking forward the traditions they have learned, and are doing it in unique, but at the same time reverant ways. Here, they perform The Devil’s Nine Questions and Billy In The Lowground alongside one of their ‘crankies’, which are art pieces which contain and contribute to the narrative of the story. Check it out, it’s just lovely.



Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys – The Fix

I recently discovered the music of Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys whilst reviewing for AmericanaUK. I noted their “pretty authentic roots sound which more than reveals their own angle and take on the music.” This is the video for their track The Fix, which shows off a good aesthetic which is captured on, and shows off, the music. As with all the cuts on the Top 5, I urge you to investigate, grab and spread wherever you can.



Chatham County Line – Rendezvous – Review


Ahead of their new album, Tightrope, which is out now on Yep Roc, North Carolinians Chatham County Line have put together a very special collection of songs hand-picked by the band from throughout their twenty-odd year career. The time has seen them release six studio albums, seemlessly blending their take on the traditions which they are part of and their strong sense of southern musical heritage.

The CCL sound is strong and distinctive, made up of Dave Wilson (guitar), John Teer (mandolin, fiddle), Chandler Hold (banjo), and Greg Readling (bass), with the different parts fitting together like the cogs of a trusted machine. The way the instruments ‘drop in’ together on opener The Traveler is something to behold, with the song acting as a memory of the experiences of travelling and realising that there is nothing in the world like lost love. Wilson’s is more than just another guitarist-lead singer, with real range and depth to accompany the sliding guitar and popping, rolling banjo.

The CCL sound rolls and ranges, adding blues harp to Out Of The Running. Here, the addition of steel guitar sends the song into slightly Simon & Garfunkel territory, all longing and bittersweet, blending country and bluegrass together in a natural fit.

I really did experience a sensation of shock, wonder when I heard The Carolinian – shock and wonder as to how good it is, and how real the story and the emotion feels. The song takes you right into that place, onto that train, into the mind of the character, as he ‘began to wish my life away…’. It’s helped by a perfect bluegrass backing – the way Hold’s banjo drops in unites the  classic and the modern in the genre, as we reflect on life’s chances and opportunities, wondering how it would be if things had been different.

By The Riverside is a more relaxed, lazy ode to kicking back, letting go of responsibilities, and  doing what you want, whilst we return to train stories with the stately Louisiana Freight Train. The story may be one of regret, but the harmonies and instrumentation shows the completeness of a  band in total control of their work.

Chip Of A Star is just great, epic music, rolling along as a mirror to life. Conjuring summery highways and meadows and relaxing evenings with incredible, real music, the banjo roll and chopping rhythm is risen above by the soaring voices. A loving, reverential tribute to a ‘beautiful friend’, it is yet more evidence that the band offer bluegrass and more – and that’s the way CCL does things others don’t

Wildwood has a more classic sound, which introduces other sounds in the form of a piano line around a constant fiddle and banjo presence, and closer Let It Rock, as the title suggests, hangs loose with a live, rock approach. This fun, tongue-in-cheek outro evokes the Byrds or the Eagles, just with bluegrass instrumentation.

Rendezvous is a treat, for fans old and new, showing off the style and versatility which have made Chatham County Line enduring favourites throughout their career. It contains some wonderful songs, played and sung quite brilliantly. Make sure you check it out, and also pick up their new album, which is available now.



Swingbillies – Hillbilly & Western Swing On Modern/Colonial/Flair 1947-1952 – Review



Time for something a little different on Strictly Roots. Instead of a new album, I want to go back and take a look at a compilation which came out back in 2003, a compilation which brings together some fantastic hillbilly and western swing music from the formative years after WWII. The Modern, Colonial and Flair labels where affiliated enterprises run by the Bihari brothers in Los Angeles, which dealt in blues and r&b, making occasional inroads into the country and hillbilly fields. A select number of tracks captured on Swingbillies were released, but many remain unissued by any of the labels in the fold. The compilation, issued by the long-standing Ace label, contains tracks from a wide range of artists, many of whom went onto become major stars in the 1950s and ’60s. The tracks capture the sounds of the period from Louisiana, Texas and California.

The album concentrates on a small range of artists of the time, which clusters of songs from Jimmie Dolan and his Texas Ramblers, Homer Clemens and his Texas Swingbillies and Rocky Morgan and his Tripe R Boys, with interjections from other bands and their leaders. As with many collections of music of this time, the musical and cultural continuum and exchange which they contain is of most note, in an era before set boundaries where either applied or enforced. Music labelled ‘hillbilly’, ‘country’ and ‘swing’ interacted in both artists’ choices and listeners’ minds. The music itself in simple, direct and has a lonesome (in the main) beauty and subtlety to it.

The album contains a great deal of both entertaining and historically interesting music, highlighting the creative and cultural exchange which was at least implicitly (if not always explicitly acknowledged) occurring at the time. Jimmie Dolan’s I Knew That You Were Foolin’ All Along provides a benchmark for the swing sound, but still has a beguiling hillbillyness to it, simultaneously incorporating a drum shuffle and chours-verse-break structure from the world of jazz. Rocky Morgan’s You Can’t Rope A Steer In A Taxi provides a spiky, driving backing to a comical number which shows the full range of his band’s sound – country, jazz, big band and swing in one package, but One Million Railroad Ties From Home (Dolan again) favours, the walking, doleful side, which can perhaps more easily be labelled ‘country’. (Here, as everywhere, genre titles are a guide, and nothing more.)

Both vocal numbers, like the fun, uptempo High Geared Daddy, by Tommy Little And The Sunshine Rangers, and some of the instrumentals and pieces for dance show influence of the blues in their timing and phrasing. Amongst these pieces are Holiday For Guitar (Jimmy Bryant And The Sons Of The Saddle) – where it is easy to see how pieces like this influenced others in turn, the funky, chugging Dust Road Boogie (Jack Tucker and Dusty Rhodes), and the almost surf-esque Pine Club Boogie (Louie Hooks and his Rhythm Five).

Although the music on Swingbillies is of a type, and the songs, in the main have similar forms, they do exhibit a great range of styles, from the humour and lightness of Turn That Gun Around (Rocky Morgan), to the more traditional maudlin topics of loss and heartbreak (Just You Wait And See, Chuck Guillory And His Rhythm Boys). Trusting You (Bill Woods) is as archetypal Western Swing in its form and lyrics as you could find, whilst The Honey Jump (Jody Webb And His Round Up Boys) blends r&b, jazz and swing, and Boogie Barn Dance (Jimmy Bryant) shows the dynamism of these bands which set trends for a generation.

The roots of rockabilly and rock & roll can be found throughout Swingbillies, especially on moments like Lover Boy (Ted Shelton And His Bryan County Boys), which very neatly preshadows the transition between the jazz-influenced breaks and their disappearance in later forms. The collection is rounded off by a very different version of T For Texas from Jimmie Dolan, and the Cajun-influenced Kooche Kooche (Papa Cairo And His Boys).

Swingbillies is an important historical record, of time, place, trends and society. It is also filled with fun, dynamic music that makes you move, makes you dance, and makes you think.