Thursday, October 31, 2019

Single Review - Whiskey Eyes - Alan Finlan

Alan Finlan gave one of the standout performances on the Paddock stage at Buckle and Boots 2019, attracting a crowd of new friends and fans – as well as being a very noticeable character around site for the whole weekend, including helping out as a relief bartender. He has now taken the chance to show us what he has got with the forthcoming release of his first single Whiskey Eyes.

With a surprisingly clear voice this song really shines a spotlight on Alan’s song writing skills.  Backed by a powerfully strong beat throughout from the guitar and drums this really is beautiful storytelling in the country tradition. The words provide the imagery that lets you really picture that bar and that empty barstool, with the bartender leaning over to ask the guy if he’s alright/needs another shot.  A great example of Alan’s clever wordplay is the double meaning of “give you a shot” – reflecting both the person and the drink.

Don't worry the song doesn't endorse drinking; but a fair few of us can tell you that we find the answer at the bottom of a glass. The theme is a Country favourite – it’s a song about loss and only truly realising what you have when its gone. 

This song could relate to a bar/person anywhere in the world, the feeling is the same, the loss and the hope.

The inclusion of Kinsey Rose on this track really is a bonus – both for her harmonies and her own vocals
The other bonus is that she actually comes back!

Whiskey eyes in the first studio single from Alan.  A very entertaining live performer, it will be interesting to hear more of his original music

Whiskey Eyes by Alan Finlan is available download/stream on 7 November

Alan can be found on facebook, youtube and nursing a shot by an empty barstool…

Monday, October 28, 2019

Album Review - Fire & Brimstone - Brantley Gilbert

First announced back in March (2019) FIRE & BRIMSTONE has been eagerly awaited. It’s been three years since Brantley Gilbert released an album: THE DEVIL DON’T SLEEP, and ten years since his debut A MODERN DAY PRODIGAL SON; in those years, the life of the Georgia native has changed dramatically, becoming both a husband and father.

With six number 1 hits behind him Brantley is an established artist; confident in his relationship with both the music and his fans: the outsiders, outliers and zest-for-life livers, collectively known as the BG Nation. This has granted him confidence and a sense of freedom for this album, an album that Brantley claims has allowed him to grow up musically.

The album features a series of powerhouse collaborations with some of Country music’s finest artists such as Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson and Colt Ford. In fact, if you haven’t heard track 4 “What Happens In A Small Town” a duet with Lindsay Ell, where have we been?  The ballad about never being able to shakes the places or people that shape us has already received incredible feedback including a 2019 CMA nomination for Musical Event of the Year.

So, as expected the tracks have a rocking backbeat, with honest lyrics that are relatable. There’s a total jam session going on in Welcome To Hazeville, and you have to listen to the banjo in Fire’t Up. 

The 15 tracks on the album take us on a journey, moving through life and love.

Fire’t Up starts this album full of energy, ready for a good night, tearing it up, that DGAF attitude is still there! It’s almost destiny that from that night out, living it up that we find that person we want to be with. Perhaps the tracks are a little out of order with She Ain’t Home higher than it should be, but it leads to a well love country favourite – the redemption song: Lost Soul’s Prayer, before we move into trying to win love: Laid Back Ride, how it can empower us and makes us want to be better: Man Of Steel and finally the admirations seen in a child’s love: Man That Hung The Moon.  

The album reflects Brantley’s more sentimental side, the changes in his life and that family means a lot to him. There’s a hint of spiritism in the album as expected by the title but it is more about accepting who you are and not judging others.

Some might say it doesn’t live up to its name, but I doubt the BG Nation will be disappointed, the album doesn’t betray Brantley’s style but shows a more mature and vulnerable side to him. It highlights a range of musical influences and therefore should appeal to both rock and hip-hop fans. Personally, I loved it!

The tracks:
1. “Fire’t Up” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brandon Day, Justin Weaver)

2. “Not Like Us” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rhett Akins, Brock Berryhill, Amy Wadge)

3. “Welcome To Hazeville” (featuring Colt Ford, Lukas Nelson and Willie Nelson) (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rodney Clawson, Andrew DeRoberts, Colt Ford)

4. “What Happens In A Small Town” (featuring Lindsay Ell) (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rhett Akins, Brock Berryhill, Josh Dunne)

5. “She Ain’t Home” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brian Davis, Justin Weaver)

6. “Lost Soul’s Prayer” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Andrew DeRoberts)

7. “Tough Town” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Blake Chaffin, Andrew DeRoberts, Josh Phillips)

8. “Fire & Brimstone” (featuring Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss) (Written by Brantley Gilbert)

9. “Laid Back Ride” (Written by Brantley Gilbert)

10. “Bad Boy” Written by Brantley Gilbert, Andrew DeRoberts, Josh Phillips)

11. “New Money” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rhett Akins, Brock Berryhill, Brandon Day)

12. “Breaks Down” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Jaida Dreyer, Josh Mirenda, Justin Weaver)

13. “Man Of Steel” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brock Berryhill, Cole Taylor)

14. “Never Gonna Be Alone” (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brock Berryhill, Erik Dylan)

15. “Man That Hung The Moon” (Written by Brantley Gilbert)

The 2020 Fire’t Up tour starts in January in Ontario Canada, but unfortunately there are no UK dates.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Gig Review - Brandy Clark - O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

With stiff competition on a Friday night during Country Music Week, we chose to head to the O2 Empire at Shepherds Bush to see Brandy Clark.

Sat in uncomfortable seats, we got a true theatre announcement that the support act would "start in 5 minutes".

Two guys, two guitars. Although normally performing with a six-piece band, Kyle Daniel, with his best friend Seth Rentfrow accompanying him, took to the stage in London declaring it to be a dream come true. As is often the case with a Brandy Clark gig, you feel like you are in a smoky Nashville honky-tonk, despite the venue size, the gig has that intimacy. The dream theme was carried through to their last song American Dream. The boys made time to meet fans in the interval to chat, take selfies and deliver hugs – or “herrgs” as Kyle’s Kentucky accent has it!  A fabulous and friendly pair who are playing again as part of Country Music Week (at Bush Hall on Sunday 27 October) we hope that this won’t be the last time we see them!

After the interval it was time for Brandy Clark. Probably one of the most talented but underrated singer songwriters (in the UK at least) it was a joy to see her play with a full band and to a sell out crowd in her only UK appearance this year.

With typically no fuss or fanfare the lights came up as Brandy and her band launched into Girl Next Door. We had been promised Brandy’s new music, but we were all very happy to hear her previous music, and she played through Big Day In A Small Town, Love Can Go To Hell (which sounds amazing with the addition of a Cello), a fabulous guitar solo into Get High and You’re Drunk before switching to her new music.

Brandy Clark is only playing this one UK date this year but promised to return in 2020 with her new album. This was greeted with much delight – underlining her comment that playing in the UK feels like a hometown show

The new album promises to carry on with what we are used to from brandy, expert storytelling in a truly traditional country song writing style – Love Is A Fire, Take a Long Walk, Pawn Shop and Who You Thought I Was were all very well received, and when Brandy sang Pray To Jesus you could hear the whole audience singing along almost like a choir – and word perfect for every song! A story about the movie Jaws was the intro to new song (recorded with Randy Newman) A Bigger Boat – and it felt like an intro that only a storyteller like Brandy could pull off.

A set of covers featuring Brandy on stage with just her guitar showed her incredible singing voice and her influences, then the band re-joined for her revenge songs featuring Daughter and ending the set with the gentle Hold My Hand and the more raucous Stripes. One single song for the encore, a solo rendition of Three Kids No Husband.

Brandy Clark, together with her band, delivered a no fuss set of incredible music – old favourites, covers and tracks from the eagerly awaited new album, but she still feels like a well-kept secret, and surely she deserves to be playing bigger venues to bigger acclaim.

In keeping with the intimacy of the gig, the party carried on in the nearest pub, with Kyle and Seth drinking with fans and Brandy’s band amused to hear one of their songs played by the DJ!

Roll on 2020 for the new album and a UK tour!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Single Review - Rootless - Megan O'Neilll

Having met Megan backstage at the recent British Country Music Festival, I can certainly testify that she has been incredibly busy over the past year or so, and has no intention of slowing the pace, so it is perhaps fitting that the first track of her new album is Rootless.

Opening with fabulous instrumentation, guitar and drum with a hint of a Celtic influence, the melody serves as a fitting backdrop for Megan’s distinctive and beautiful voice, which is the absolute focus of the track.

A song about belonging nowhere could be interpreted as a lament, a sad story but in fact Megan is singing more of the freedom to roam and to live the life she is destined for.  Written in London and recorded in Leeds, one has to wonder if it is semi-autobiographical- even if inadvertently- for the singer who has now returned to her native Ireland!

Megan has been touring extensively in the last year or so, both on her own tour and supporting Sir Tom Jones, and has an exciting new tour coming up, so the line “let the wind take me there” certainly seems apt. Megan is always on the go, but loves what she does – and this new track seems to reflect the rootless nature of her career whilst celebrating the sheer joy of being able to travel, perform and live a fulfilling life.

So not a lament -  an uplifting anthem to being a free spirit – so lets go!

Rootless, the new single from Megan O’Neill is available to stream and download from all major platforms from 25 October

Find Megan on facebook, online and on the wind….

EP Review - One For Sorrow - Josh Beddis

Josh released his first single 'At The End Of The Day' in May 2018, his new, and first, EP 'One For Sorrow' keeps his Americana style and words of wisdom; probably beyond his actual years. 

Just 10 seconds of acoustic guitar before you hear Josh's voice, it contains a sorrow that matches the description of The Old House, and a hint of a classic country warble.  

The female voice sings along to the chorus "With a little bit of love this house could be fixed " adding that silver lining that I love and makes great country music. Throughout the ep this style is continued – Americana/Country storytelling.

City Lights looks back and reflects on the difference between the city and the country; it's a “grass isn't always greener” song where we have to lose something to experience its worth. The harmonica brings a new sound to If I'm Dreaming; probably the most uplifting song of the EP even so, Josh's voice maintains that plaintive edge. She Sleeps Among the Bluebells & Pines as you guessed is the song about a lost love, but interestingly she cheated and the loss is really retribution.   Should we act so quickly? 

Is there any better song than Amazing Grace? Josh has used a harmonised 20 seconds as his introduction to The River, a song encouraging us to seek redemption; a surprisingly catchy song, almost in a Gospel style, but with Josh’s own style. 

This is a very grown up album, quiet and reflective. 

Not one to get the party going but if you want to reflect on what you have, take a drink (something mellow and smoky suits the EP) you'll soon get lost in a train of thought triggered by the music and the stories.

The new EP from Josh Beddis, One For Sorrow, is available to preorder from 25 October and is released on 30 October on all major platforms

Find Josh on facebook, and reflecting...

Monday, October 21, 2019

Gig Review - Brad Paisley - o2 Arena London

What will get me on a plane flying from Houston to London you ask.

Only a Brad Paisley concert!

So, despite my jet lag here’s my review of the night:

Bang on 9pm Brad and his band appeared on stage accompanied by huge cheers and the lower floor taking to their feet.  The set began with Southern Comfort Zone. 

One of today’s biggest country music stars Brad gave a master class in stage presence; quick wit, humour, high energy, quality vocals and some awesome guitar playing underlying everything. Every new song sees a guitar change - Brad has quite a few - and you can expect to see every colour of the rainbow.

Brad asked who was in love and confessed to being in love with our beautiful city (London), with our beautiful faces and funny little accents. If you haven’t heard Brad’s British accent, you have missed out; its strangely very good.

In this gig, he gave away 2 signed guitars, both to young boys with the request that they exchange numbers. He reckoned that with practice he could be opening for them in a decade’s time and they might be the next Beatles.

We were even treated to a Director’s cut and heard some of the lyrics that didn’t make it on the recording of She’s Everything; I can agree that the lines “she’s passive aggressive” and “she snores like a train” wouldn’t have had the same effect.    

The concert had been opened by Chris Lane, a fellow American from North Carolina who return to the stage to perform A Country Boy Can Survive / I’m Still a Guy with Brad.  This song ended with Brad taking a selfie of the two of them on a fan’s phone, but it wouldn’t be Brad if he didn’t have a quick look through her Instagram account and make a comment!  Be warned.

Brad threw in a couple of covers to demonstrate the range of his talent and to get the audience singing along:

·        Last Time For Everything w/ Purple Rain (Prince)

·        Chattahoochee (Alan Jackson)

Old Alabama saw Brad take to the small stage at the back of the room, in memory of his concert days. 

Brad praised how big country had become in the UK, to the extend that we have started to grow our own talent. This was the introduction to welcome Ward Thomas to the stage to accompany him singing Whiskey Lullaby.

A Kiss Cam and even an On-Stage proposal were included in the set before the biggest surprise of the night – Keith Urban came to Jam to The Mona-Lisa, Workin’ Man Blues and the finale Alcohol accompanied by Ward Thomas and Chris Lane.

The 2 hours flew by, this was a party not to be missed even if those of us higher up couldn’t join in the Mona-Lisa conga.  

I was totally entertained and cannot wait to see the white Stetson wearing showman again.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Gig Review - Jess and the Bandits - Under The Bridge

Jess has taken a year off from performing to deal with the small matter of a new baby bandit – and rather than ease herself gently back into our minds, she has stormed back in like a Texan tornado.  With a new EP out in digital format next month, a new single which has already dropped, Jess also decided that she needed to get out on the road and remind us all that she is back!

Winding its way around the country, the tour ended at a venue which is fast becoming synonymous with Country party nights in London – Under The Bridge at Chelsea FC’s home Stamford Bridge.

Before Jess took to the stage though, there was quite a line up of support acts – all of whom have previously been reviewed by Silverball Country!

Binky was first up, delivering a confident, assured set. Still relatively new to the scene it was a pleasure to actually meet her in person and have the chance to see her performing live -  having previously only heard her studio material.  Binky mixed her own compositions with a notable cover of Maren Morris’ “My Church” plus a song dedicated not – as many people seem to think -to a man but to the immortal Jack Daniels and it seemed that her voice improved from start to finish of her set.

A very quick changeover saw Two Ways Home take to the stage, performing tonight as a four piece. It is always a joy to see how versatile and adaptable Isi and Lewis are, and tonight was no exception. Kicking off with Isi playing the mandolin (please play it more often!) and showcasing tracks from their forthcoming album – Speed of Anything and Out On The Road which is released on 18 October.  I’ve seen two Ways Home in many settings – but this was an absolute stand out performance for me, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!

When The Fatherline came out for the final support slot, Tim P-J started by asking the crowd if anyone had seen them play before. A fair question as this was only the fourth gig they have played – but Silverball Country have managed to be at every one of them! I can’t tire of watching Tim’s quite incredible stagecraft, fantastic banter and quite stunning vocals. The Fatherline may be a new band, but Tim’s experience and training really shows as he delivers such a polished and confident performance every time.

And so to our headliners – Jess together with her bandits for their last night touring.  Jess hit the stage with pure energy, as if she had never been away, and certainly as if she hadn’t just toured the UK with a 6 month old baby in tow! The whole set was at the same level and just so enjoyable!  Some stand out moments:
  • Hearing new single Love Don’t Give A Damn (which Francesca previously reviewed here) live – as predicted in the review, it sounded amazing!
  • Jess introducing her song Bullet which is about her now husband “pursuing” her – at which point he had to leave the room with a crying baby!
  • New music – Riding Shotgun, which quickly had everyone dancing and singing along

Add to the mix a very Country cover of Mama Told Me Not To Come featuring a Luke Thomas vocal solo, a t-shirt and ep give away and a final song Ready Set Drink which ended the main part of the show with as much energy as they started.

How do you top that for an encore?  You bring your six month old son on stage with you!

From start to finish, Jess and The Bandits delivered a barnstorming set, leaving us in no doubt at all that Jess Is Back!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Single Review - Out On The Road - Two Ways Home

When we spoke to Two Ways Home recently they told us that every song on their forthcoming album would be a stand alone track – and with this second release they are certainly living up to that promise.

Having been travelling the country on a Caffe Nero tour, alongside other dates it seems fitting that the next single is Out On The Road.

With Lewis providing harmonies, the song really highlight’s Isi’s voice in what is a quite uptempo track combined with some quite heavy instrumentation and a frankly awesome guitar solo with a real throwback sound reminiscent of the 70s/80s country rock groups.

In their own words

Out on the Road is a song we wrote in Nashville with Ben Jones. We were on tour at the time around America, enjoying the open road and drawing from how we were feeling about the places we’d seen. The main message of the song is that everything is alright as long as you are with the ones that you love. For us it is reminiscent of songs like Take it Easy by the Eagles with 3 part harmony parts and the very relaxed guitar solo.

We have mentioned before that Two Ways Home are a truly versatile act, having seen them do acoustic song writers rounds, take to the stage at Nashville Meets London, perform on the acoustic stage at TBCMF and play full band for Country In The Afternoon, and the music they are releasing from the album really supports that.  

On Out On The Road Isi really sounds like she is having a great time singing, and Lewis loves a chance to cut loose on guitar – he is surely one of the most talented guitarists on the UK Country/Americana scene.

Its no surprise that these guys have been named Caffe Nero’s Artist Of The Month, and I’ll be looking forward to not just the album, but every chance to see them performing this new music live.

Out On The Road, the new single from Two Ways Home is available on 18 October on all major platforms.

Catch Isi and Lewis on Facebook, Twitter, and of course, Out On the Road….

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Single Review - California Calling - Molly-Anne

As autumn kicks in we all dream of sunshine and holidays, thinking about sunnier climes and perhaps remembering places we have been and loved – and that is exactly what Molly-Anne is doing in her new song California Calling.

With a strong acapella opening followed by the introduction of guitars, drums and keys, and then Molly-Anne’s distinctive vocal style it is hard – if you must – to pigeonhole this into a specific genre.  As with her previous single Bristol Boy Molly-Anne blends a folksy voice with country-esque instrumentation and an uplifting, quite bouncy melody

The acapella chant is back towards the end, absolutely begging for an audience to clap along – clearly a song that will sound great live, on a festival stage!

It’s a love song – Molly-Anne is in love with California, and all that goes with it, the sunshine, the lifestyle, the adventure…

California, I hear you calling me, I’m on my way back to you

California Calling was written by Molly-Anne Chinner and produced by Andy Guy at Doghouse Studios,  and is the title track to her forthcoming EP 

Molly Anne has been busy on the road, touring with some of her folk heroes, and appearing at Festivals including Buckle & Boots, The British Country Music Festival, and co-headlined a tour with Danny McMahon

California Calling is available to pre-order today and is released on all major platforms on 15 October

Find Molly-Anne on facebook, online and gazing wistfully through the windows of her local travel agents….

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Single Review - Traveller - Traveller

Gritty, husky, melancholic. All words to describe the sound of Traveller, the latest, self-titled single from the Americana influenced band Traveller

The track is focussed very much on the lead vocal, the words are focussed on his story.

The instrumentation is great, relatively simple and straightforward, but you want to listen to it – and the story is the same, simple and straightforward. As the title suggests it is a story of a travelling man, but clearly a weary one.  Will you listen to him, will you help him?

Traveller are a three-piece band from Scotland - you can hear a slight Scottish lilt in there -   and although this is their third recent single, it is the first time I have heard them, and as an introduction to their music it is superb.  The pace and the delivery showcases that great lead vocal and the range of instruments gives a promise of more to discover

Well worth a listen, well worth checking out their previous singles – and look out for more to come

The new self-titled single from Traveller is available now to stream and download

Find Traveller on Facebook, on Twitter and on the long, weary road...

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Gig Review - Buckle and Boots Present It's Your Round - Birmingham

Buckle and Boots are bringing a songwriters round to town, and bringing with them two international artists – Sophie Hanson from Sweden and Amber Kamminga from Holland.

I was able to grab a few minutes with these two ladies ahead of the show to find out a little more. Hailing from two countries with not much in the way of a country scene, both said that they were looking forward to performing for UK audiences who are renowned for listening to the songs, apparently unlike Swedish and Dutch crowds!

With such a small scene at home, both Sophie and Amber are also looking forward to meeting new people and making contacts among UK country artists.  For any performer and songwriter it is important to have a network to talk to and bounce ideas off.  As Sophie said

In Sweden I don’t have anyone to call, because no one there is doing what I do.  I don’t have any musical friends because everyone is a doctor or a lawyer

There was an awkward moment when Amber reminded Sophie that she is in fact a lawyer when not writing and performing music!

This very much echoed Karl Hancock’s reasons for putting on the tour
We want to try and get artists that people haven't seen, giving them a platform in the UK which will then give UK artists a platform in Europe! You always need to have a contact, so artist to artist is a great way to promote Country Music

So who are Sophie and Amber?

Dutch singer/songwriter Amber Kamminga didn’t grow up with Country music – or even with music at all.  As her parents have never really been into music, Amber gained her musical education from her sister, and then came to Country via Avril Lavigne and from there more and more into Country!  The Netherlands doesn’t have much of a country scene, although it is growing and even had a C2C concert last year. Amber felt like she “came out of the closet” at the age of 19 and realised that Taylor Swift was a girl of her age writing about what happened in her life – and so it wasn’t such an unusual thing to do!

Hailing from just outside Stockholm Sophie Hanson had a slightly more traditional route into Country Music, as her parents did listen to music, and notably artists such as Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton.  Discovering Led Zeppelin and Aretha Franklin, Sophie cites a number of influences in her music, although she says that the Swedish Country scene is 
Horrible actually! Its terrible, we don't have any country music in Sweden, we don't have a radio station for it or anything

So, to the performances.  Both of the ladies were nervous of a songwriters round – as they are usually playing with a big band – but songwriter Amber and self-professed rock chick Sophie were both looking forward to it

There was no need for any nerves!

Ably hosted by the very experienced Sally Rea Morris of Gasoline and Matches, the round followed a short intro set from Gary Quinn who has put the tour together with Karl Hancock.

Amber Kamminga quickly settled into the style of story telling and demonstrated not only her song writing skills, but her humour, honesty and emotions. Encouraging an audience sing along to her newest single “In The Name of Love” she was very honest in the way she talks to the audience and equally honest in her songs.

Sophie Hanson was accompanied by her partner Richard on guitar and backing vocals – and the two of them blended to perfection.  Singing six songs across the evening Sophie demonstrated an incredible versatility in her voice, matching her vocals to each song, with a very clear blues influence in some, rock and country in others

If you are thinking of going to either of the remaining dates – do!  With excellent local hosts (Raintown in Glasgow, Gary Quinn in Manchester) these evenings will be entertaining and a chance to welcome both Amber and Sophie into our UK Country Music family!