Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Song Review - "Dear Country Music" by Lars Pluto and The Reavers

Our recent Silverball Country Awards – “The Silver Balls” saw us recognise Lars Pluto as our Male Singer of the year.  His Georgia accent means that anything he sings will always sound country, but with Lars it goes much deeper than that – as his new singe “Dear Country Music” explains

Starting off as a country lament this song very quickly -  having firmly established the theme - kicks up a gear into a very up tempo country number, with the unmistakable traditional sounds of tick tock percussion, fiddle and pedal steel

There can be no doubt when listening to this that not only is Lars the real deal in terms of his country sound but also that he believes strongly in the country sound being the Real Deal -  there's certainly nothing electronic on this track, just traditional country sounds for a country song lamenting and demanding to know how and why the music that is called country music seems to have changed so much

Through the song Lars switches from questioning and mocking the almost plastic country fan image of trucker and trucker cap to pleading with country music for an answer, for an explanation for the change from the old days, for what has perhaps been lost

If you want to know how country music should be Lars will tell you throughout the song - the themes, the instruments, the style - but it doesn't come across as a lesson, it doesn't come across even as ranting because “Dear Country Music” actually comes across as a feel good look back at traditional country music. I first heard Lars sing this live and felt from that first time that it is very listenable - you cannot listen to this without tapping your foot and singing along, although with some of the language used maybe don’t sing it in front of Grandma!Top of Form

Lars himself describes the song as

 a letter to the greatest love of my life which seems to be going through an identity crisis
And reminds us that

“somewhere right now there's a honky tonk band tuning up and getting ready to pick and grin all night long for the hard working and hard drinking folks who like to hear their country music the way it's meant to sound. No snap tracks, no auto tune, no sampled drum beats, no dishonest swindlers trying to sell us on how "country" they are. It's three chords and the truth. So tell the truth.

Three chords and the truth – the way Country Music should be?  Lars Pluto thinks so

“Dear Country Music by Lars Pluto and the Reavers is released on Thursday 24 January – Lars’ 40th Birthday
Now Y’all know what to buy him as a present!

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Song Review - "Girl" by Maren Morris

This week saw Maren Morris showering us with gifts as though it were Christmas all over again - a massive world tour with dates across the UK - PLUS the first single from her new album - both bearing the title "Girl"

The song is driven by a guitar based beat which complements her slightly Indie Rock voice and lens power to the message of the song.  "Girl" is a reminder to all girls (especially to Maren herself) that they don't need to judge themselves against others, or feel that they need to compete with others - but what you do, and what you are is good enough!

Maren doesn't give this message in a sentimental way, or even attempting to somehow preach it, but uses the song more of a reminder of what is already within

A positive message then, but one that seems very well timed when the Country Music Charts are so bereft of Female singers.  Once again Maren has delivered a song that is great to hear, great to sing along to and is also worthy of listening to closely for the message within that applies to us all

Maren's first album Hero was equally uplifting in its message  - but again in a quite in your face style! - with "My Church" having a  real resonance.

We are already looking forward to the tour in a few months time - tickets go on sale on Friday 25 January, so all the alarm clocks will be set at Silverball Country! The new album will also be downloaded the second it is released

Francesca and Rik at the last tour - "Hero"

Monday, January 7, 2019

Gig Review - Nashville Sounds In The Round November 2018

If you haven't been to a Songwriter's round then you have missed a treat!  Songwriter's rounds - or "Guitar Pulls" as they are also known - are becoming more popular and provide a fabulous opportunity to see artistes talk about their music, and also to hear them performing in a stripped back/acoustic style

Birmingham based band Gasoline & Matches have been hosting a songwriter's round every three months for the past year or so - and this was actually the reason that Rik first met them and became friends!

November 2018 saw a round with guest performers Lisa Wright, Jade Helliwell (with Luke Thomas) and Darren Hodson from the Southern Companion

Lisa Wright opened her contribution with her single “Tennessee” - her singing voice belies her Essex roots - when she sings you'd swear she is native of America. Tennessee is a great song, and the others in the round couldn't help but join in! Lisa followed up in the second round with Back to You", more of an autobiographical song which interestingly made her voice sound more "Essex", perhaps because the song was so close to her heart! The third round was covers and Lisa chose one of her favourite songs, Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" - not a country song, but it certainly sounds country when Lisa sings it

BCMA female vocalist of the year Jade Helliwell opened with her song "Repeat" accompanied by co-writer and also BCMA award winner Luke Thomas. I'm more used to seeing Jade on a big stage, but the intimate setting really allows you to appreciate her voice and the amazing Country quality that it has. The song is faintly reminiscent of The Shires - but they didn't win any BCMAs this year!
Jade followed up with a very emotional song of break up and heartache, amusingly preceded by a minor playful domestic with "current partner" Luke.

The covers round was opened by Gasoline & Matches with a Shania Twain cover - Jade hadn't warned Luke about this before they followed up with "Man, I feel like a Woman", with Luke - a big Shania Twain fan - playing guitar and taking a verse as an unusual (for him) solo demonstrating that as well as being Musician of the Year he also has a great voice! The whole line up were playing and singing were the audience!

Next along the line was Darren Hodson from The Southern Companion. From the stories he told it is clear that Darren’s songwriting is influenced by being a husband and a father! Darren explained that he comes to rounds with no preset play list, changing his next song influenced by what others have sung before him, (a regular theme on rounds) He chose to play a song about his own life experience - playing a dream gig in Nashville but just wanting to talk to his wife when he was back in his hotel room. Darren's cover wasn't another Shania Twain track, instead he opted for a great rendition of Chris Stapleton's "Either Way"

Darren has a fabulous, mature country voice and I am very much looking forward to his return to the Kitchen Garden Cafe with his full band in March of 2019

Nashville Sounds In The Round returns to the Kitchen Garden Cafe on 21 February.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Song Review - Tequila's A Healer by Gasoline & Matches

After an amazing breakthrough year, opening at festivals, playing huge stages and bagging Duo of the Year at the BCMA British Country Music Association Awards, Gasoline & Matches have given us all a Christmas Present this year by releasing their latest single on Christmas Eve.

More stripped back than the rest of the EP, Tequila's A Healer really brings into focus Sally Rea Morris' vocals with Steven Marks harmonies and a stunning, almost plaintive, guitar solo
The co-star of this piece is the 40 year old 12 string Epiphone guitar - although its our heart strings that are tugged and plucked in this song of lost love and memories of those loved ones

The song is raw and emotive, in Sally's own words:
"‘We all lose someone we love, and there’s always those things that remind you of them. It’s those memories that keep them alive in your heart and I hope this song helps remind you of that.” 

Do yourself a favour, download this track and play it while sipping a glass of a smooth bourbon, whilst toasting those lost loves, (Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey for us)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Gig Review - Kacey Musgraves "Oh What A World Tour" Birmingham October 2018

Sunday night saw Rik and Francesca off to the 02 Academy in Birmingham to catch Kacey Musgraves' Oh What A World Tour

An "interesting" choice of support act - Soccer Mommy were the most downbeat openers I have ever seen. We were encouraged to dance, but with every song lacking any tempo, that was never really an option. Lead singer Sophie took to the stage alone to sing a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" - and managed to slow it down even more than the Boss ever did! 

Fortunately Kacey took the stage and livened up the room. Although "Golden" is not - in my opinion - as good as her first album the show was certainly enjoyable throughout, with some great audience singalongs which will hopeful convince Kacey to stick to her Country roots, rather than the Pop Princess path she is toying with. Entertaining and enjoyable - I wasn't blown away as other artistes have managed, but I was certainly thrilled to hear Kacey Musgraves live

Francesca and Rik - Silverball Country

Gig Review - Carousel Tour 2018 At The Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham

I thought I was just popping out for a bit of music on a Tuesday night, with no great expectations from two acts that I had not heard of or heard anything by. I was in for a double surprise.

Support act Alex Ohm took to the stage, just a guy and a guitar, but reminiscent of one of those "surprise" X Factor auditions his voice soared and powered through the small room, almost plaintive at times, much in the style of the current crop of male singers but managing not to sound like just another boy and guitar.

Starting with his own compositions he switched -as many new artistes do - to a cover, but in this case it was a slow, acoustic version of "You're the one that I Want" - yes, the end track from the movie Grease! Did it work? You bet your life it did.

Whilst perhaps not a flawless set, it was a very enjoyable and quite unexpected opening slot, and Alex seemed to warm up as his set went on, cracking jokes about "I feel like one of Westlife sitting on this stool - but with an instrument" . A member of the audience instantly replied "And with talent" – a very fair summation of this local opener.

Styling themselves as Americana, the first thing I noticed about Carousel is the collection of instruments on stage - not a collection normally seen on any stage outside a trad folk show! A harmonium, fiddle, a mandolin and a 10-string cittern as well as the two guitars you'd expect from most live bands.

Opening with their song "Seconds" Carousel blend strident guitar, fiddle and harmonium to great effect, backed with a stunning three-way harmony on the chorus.
"Dead Horse" picked up the pace with harmonium swapped for a mandolin, and the fiddle giving a superb soaring counterpoint to the vocals and again, the stunning harmonies.
Listening to "In the Wild " which featured the cittern, you realise that Carousel are a real fusion band, cleverly blending traditional instruments with acoustic and electric guitar, blending their complementary voices and blending folk, Americana and their own personal experiences.

Sarah took lead on her self-penned "Smile", showing that even lead vocal is easily interchangeable with this quartet.

"My father's son" showed not only the Americana influence, but also the rockier side to Carousel and included 4 voices in perfect harmony and a true rock guitar solo from songwriter Tom, who dedicated the song to the support of his own father.
"Over the wall" got the audience clapping and stomping the intro - getting a small weekday crowd involved shows the charisma of this four-piece from Southend (And the mention of their hometown elicited an ironic cheer) the song itself relied more on the voices than the instruments.
“Doug's song” is about Sarah's bow tie wearing dog, the introduction to this song featured great banter between the band members and the audience, as Toby tuned his cittern while bemoaning it as an instrument.
"Firesong" is their latest single, released while on this tour, followed by the less serious, toe-tapping "Man on the Run" which was apparently inspired by the tv show "Sons of Anarchy”
This show was day 6 of their first headline tour, although Tom was convinced it was only day 5; the band were thrilled that a number of people had found them and come out to see them play. Listening to the band discuss and bicker about the "frog line" in "Don't let it die" showed how comfortable they are together and that they clearly enjoy what they do. - and it's a great song!
"Comfortable Skin" touches on mental health, and being there for someone, really showing the maturity of this young band.
"Porcelain" has Sarah again sing lead, with Tom and Chris on backing sounding almost like one voice, to the extent that I had to look and check they really were both singing, with Sarah expertly leading the audience in a sing-a-long.
After some heartfelt thank-yous the final song "These hands" was a great up-tempo party track and had the whole crowd clapping along with the band.
Carousel demonstrated a new take on walking off for an encore - just turn your backs (the Hare and Hounds isn't really big enough for a proper walk off/walk back on).
The encore song was "Show" which really kept the party feeling going from the previous song and left everyone wishing the party could carry on longer!
Tom asked everyone if they would come to see them again. From me personally a resounding "yes"!
On a cold night in Birmingham these guys from Southend have definitely won a new set of fans, even ones with "funny accents" (Thank you Sarah) and I will be amazed and disappointed if I don’t see them featured at any of next year’s UK festivals

The Silver Balls - Silverball Country Awards 2018 pt 2

Part 2 of our Silver Balls - the awards for the best we saw in 2018....

Best Duo

At Silverball Country we are big fans of all Country music - new and old, established acts and the new, independent artistes. These awards are focused on acts that we have seen and heard, and on those who are promoting Country Music in the UK. There aren't many "big" acts from the UK yet but one duo in particular can probably claim to be the face (at the moment) of UK Country. 
Our award for *Duo of the Year*, in recognition of the music they make, the albums they have sold and the mainstream attention that they bring to UK country music goes to the biggest act on the list - The Shires

Best Musician

Lets face it - all these singers are nothing without the bands behind them! There are some amazing musicians on the UK country scene, whether it is Johnny Pedals on the pedal steel, Steven John Marks making a guitar do things I didn't know they could do, or Luke Thomas playing guitar for...well, almost everyone...we are spoiled by the talent out there. One performer though is a class above. Rik first saw this musician at Buckle & Boots Country Festival when he was told that he really MUST go to the main stage. Francesca was already there and loved the show, and was able to confirm this at the BCMAS 2018 when we sent some time chatting after the show
Our Silver Ball for best musician goes to Sarah Jory

Group Of The Year

Some of these categories were really tough to judge because there are so many potential winners, and this category is no exception! One of the myriad wonderful things about Country Music is the fact that so many performers are in bands, with combinations of instruments bringing out a different or bigger sound.
One such UK band combine music and voices so well, change up the tempo and are getting the recognition they deserve, both across UK festivals and even on Radio2 where Michael Ball is a self confessed big fan.
Our Silver Ball for Group of the Year goes to The Wandering Hearts

Entertainer Of The Year

We weren't sure about including this category - because we weren't entirely sure what it means, but it did get us thinking. 
Live music performances in our opinion - is not simply down to musicianship, its about putting on a show, getting the crowd going and really leaving an impression. Whether it is on stage banter, sheer energy, coming into the audience singing 80s pop tunes, we'd probably all want to see an "entertainer". 
Phil Vassar provided all of these things on his recent tour - long intros to songs, engaging with the crowd (there was no set list!) and a cracking after show in Bilston, we would therefore like to award Entertainer of the Year to the amazing Phil Vassar

Best Female Vocalist

We wanted to choose a solo artiste for this award, someone known for performing as them self, rather than fronting a band. With this in mind, and based n 2018 there was really only one choice. With a fantastic voice whether on a big stage, a small event or even on a street corner with a busker (!) our Female Vocalist Silver Ball goes to Jade Helliwell

Best Male Vocalist

Same criteria - and a this one is a bit...unexpected? There were some obvious contenders - runners up if you will. Gary Quinn, Darren from the Southern Companion - both excellent singers (Darren is singing solo quite a bit now) and both great songwriters.
There is one artiste that Rik has met a couple of times but Francesca hadn't heard of. Francesca then started to talk about an Artiste she had seen on one of the stages at C2C, a guy with a genuinely Country voice, a country style. Its a voice that can ONLY sing country. On checking the video, it was the same guy! If you haven't seen it, check the vie of him singing "Oh Holy Night"
Our Silver Ball for best Male Vocalist goes to Lars Pluto

Best Gig of 2018

I'll be honest, we argued. We talked. We discussed. We argued some more.
How do you decide what is the best gig? Or even what constitutes a gig rather than an event?
Francesca had a great time at the Brothers Osborne, the energy in the room was amazing. Rik saw Luke Combs in Birmingham - it was one long party
Francesca thought that Live In The Living Room was such great value for money, but sadly under-attended. Rik has met so many new (to him) artistes at Gasoline and Matches' Nashville Suns In The Round, Jenn Bostic's album launch for Revival was a great evening, Carousel at the Hare and Hounds was our first formal review
So many great gigs and events, so many new friends made over the past year that we simply can't award a Silver Ball - so to you all, feel nominated! We look forward to a new year of music, gigs and friends and if you are planning a gig - please drop us a line, we'd love to come, see you and write it up afterwards!

The Silver Balls - Silverball Country Awards 2018 Pt 1

We at Silverball Country wanted to give our own awards for standout Artistes that we have seen and heard in 2018, plus events we have been to - kind of our review for the year!

The awards were carefully thought about, discussed and voted n by our panel of experts - both of us!

Not everyone will always agree with awards when they are announced - so why not tell us who YOUR nominations would have been!

First announced on our Facebook page SilverballCountry, here is the full list of the Silver Balls 2018!

Best Event

We wanted this to reflect anything that wasn't a "gig", and we have both been to a range of events this year. Nashville Meets London was a great day out an a chance to meet up with lots of friends (the picnic blanket needs to be a more official meeting place next year!) Live in the Living Room was a fabulous day that Francesca really enjoyed - (although it would have been nice to see a bigger attendance)

But in terms of both of us having a fantastic time, meeting friends and making new ones, working long hours but going to bed each night smiling - the crown and first ever "Silver Ball" goes to.....

Buckle & Boots Country Festival - with our massive thanks to Laura, Jan and Karl Hancock making us feel so welcome and valued!

The Buckle & Boots Buckle!

Best Video

We don't necessarily see a lot of videos as we are both big fans of live gigs - and we've been to a lot of those! There was an absolute stand out video this year though. Rik was delighted to meet this band at Buckle & Boots Country Festival and get an early copy of their EP, and Francesca has met the boys on a couple of occasions - including meeting up with Yannick at the NYE bash at Under The Bridge.
The Silver Ball for best video is awarded - without any argument at all - To Backwoods Creek for their incredible video to "When I Grow Up" A great song, a great message, a great story and a great sentiment

Album of the Year. 

There have been a couple of stand out albums - The Lounge Recordings by Gary Quinn is worth a listen or three, and Revival by Jenn Bostic is a huge step in her career but for us the award goes to an album so good they released it twice -

The Wandering Hearts with "Wild Silence". We saw and met these guys this year, and they are fabulous live AND recorded!

Song of the Year

Between us we have had an amazing year hearing a huge number of artistes singing a huge number of amazing songs. Some of them make us dance, some fill our eyes with tears. 

One in particular made us stop, listen again...and again and again. It is quite different from the rest of the band's catalogue, and that is why we have agreed that the song of the year 2018 is
Backwoods Creek with "When I Grow Up"
Beautifully written, so evocative with the lyrics and performed with so much feeling - it stands out even without the Silver Ball winning video

Backwoods Creek with Francesca and Rik of Silverball Country

Best Newcomer

We were tempted to award this to ourselves, as 2018 was the year that Francesca and Rik really became immersed in the UK country scene - and that means that we have been able to watch some new artistes grow over the past 12 months

We met Danny McMahon at Buckle & Boots Country Festival 2018 when he camped next to us, and again when he performed on the Paddock Stage. An unassuming guy with floppy hair and bags of talent, Danny has discovered and grown his love of country music - and it shows in every performance. From Paddock stage to headline UK tour and appearances at songwriters events all over the country Danny McMahon is destined for big things and therefore he is the obvious choice for the Silver Ball for best Newcomer

Danny McMahon performing at the BCMAs

One To Watch

We felt that we had to add an award at this stage. Both of us have seen - at different events - a new artiste who is doing an excellent job of establishing himself, although he is yet to release any music. With a very distinctive singing style, we are certain that we will be seeing an awful lot more of Stevie O'Connor in 2019 - and we are looking forward to catching up with him again, so a special "One To Watch" award goes to Stevie O'Connor

Stevie O'Connor at Live in The Living Room