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 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.




Lands End – The Border Sessions – Review

Interesting and expansive music from Lands End, a young five piece, the members of which represent five instruments, three countries, and an interesting mix of musical traditions.

The band revolve around the fulcrum of Sore Fingers, where they met and first performed. The annual workshop-cum-festival has seen the development of many a group within the UK and beyond, and after Lands End’s debut at the event, they have not looked back. The group’s members, Paddy Kiernan (banjo), Richie Foley (mandolin), Hubert Murray (guitar and vocals), Sam Rose (bass, guitar) and Bruno Pichler (dobro) originally made their homes in cities across Ireland, England and Germany, and indeed, ‘Lands End’ hints at the fact that each member comes from a different geographical location.

With influence from bluegrass, the band’s sound is not afraid to take in Irish and Baltic music, and perform sets of original material alongside versions of well-known tunes from America and Europe. They have put together an EP of songs available on Bandcamp and CD which feature the fiddle of Sam Draper, who is currently studying in Boston.

The Leadbelly song Out On The Western Plain struts and swings, and the Irish feel to the boys’ bluegrass is immediately obvious, especially in the lifting, lilting fiddle and mandolin. The lead vocals are especially strong, and the storytelling is handled with seriousness and poise as well as good humour. That the band know their licks is an understatement, and the playing is as good as the band’s origins would suggest.

There’s a definite swagger to be found throughout The Border Sessions, a sound of a band happy to be playing and picking, and the enthusiasm is infectious on cuts like Sunstreet, where the sound ventures slightly West, with influences from old time swing and cowboy music, and Hubert somewhat coming close to a modern-day Jimmie Rodgers (minus the yodelling, for now). The backing is once again firm and robust, with some exceptional dobro and fiddle touches. Equally, the flowing instrumental Salt Spring brings the bands dynamism into play, with the different sounds playing off each other, with a whole achieved which is the addition of all the parts and more.

The boys’ take on Wild Bill Jones is full of life, bringing the perennial bad man ballad into some serious modern territory. A strong sense of beat and rhythm pervades, as is a willingness to put themselves fully into the singing and playing. Lands End are proof not only of the power of the traditions that they tap into, but the ease with which the music is adapted and brought into the hands of the musicians who treat them with the respect they deserve.

Closer Run Buddy Run is another from the pen of Hugh Murray, whose songwriting ability is well rounded for one so young. The entire EP is highly professional, of a very high quality and sets their path for some very exciting times to come. I look forward to hearing more from this talented group in the future.



Lands End


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.

Corn Potato String Band – Corn Potato String Band – Review

Corn Potato String Band

Recorded (live, without overdubbing) in January 2014, the debut self-titled album from The Corn Potato String Band is now available. The trio – Aaron Jonah Lewis (fiddle, banjo, guitar, baritone fiddle), Ben Belcher (banjo and guitar) and Lindsay McCaw (fiddle, guitar, banjo, Hawaiian steel guitar and baritone fiddle), describe themselves as being  ‘dedicated to continuing the traditional fiddle and banjo music and dance of the Central Southern US’. The record contains a variety of different songs and, predominantly tunes, taking in hoedowns, rags, and Mexican pieces, all set off with twin fiddling and double banjo.

The timing, sense of both time and place, and outright fun of pieces like Bell & Anchor Rag is impossible to miss. I couldn’t help shuffling along in my seat as the tune unfolded. The Band manage to evoke, through their choice of music and how it is presented, soul, humour and feeling (Chesapeake Bay). The music allows you to feel the band having as good a time playing, as we are having listening. There is much to be said for the way in which they have been able to put their own stamp on the material contained on ‘Corn Potato…’, and ensure that the power of the traditions they uphold shines through.

The original piece Route 77 has a lovely Greek/Mediterranean feel, with a summery disposition you just want to tap into time and time again, whilst Peor Es Nada shows off playing which, in common with much on the album, is both thrilling and on the edge – but constrained at the same time. The tunes are played with verve, a little bit of daring, and a sense of what the band are doing and why. Echoes of other types of music spill over into all of the pieces here, showing how much music moves across human-placed borders, and how good bands are not afraid of mixing things up. Marsovia for example shows crossover into the classical realm, and how close traditional and art music can be, in the right hands.

There is much variety in the styles and paces of the dance tunes, with the walking Nola rubbing shoulders with hotter sets like Chinese Breakdown, which shows off the skills of the bands members. All of the tracks really are consummately played and delivered.

‘The Corn Potato String Band’ is a fun, sweet record, with razor sharp tunes played with proper old time feeling. The selection, and the repertoire displayed, is inspirational. Tunes like Going To Town really move, generating energy and enthusiasm through their musicianship.

The band are in the UK in the summer, and play the Stag and Hounds in Bristol on the 29th May, amongst other venues.