This week sees new releases from Mary Gauthier, Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three, Lau and Big Boy Bloater.
Mary Gauthier – Live At Blue Rock (Proper Records)
It is often said that songwriters grow into their profession and often lack the life experience when they are starting out. This is certainly not the case with Mary Gauthier who was abandoned in New Orleans by her mother shortly after her birth. She was adopted by a chaotic family where her father was an alcoholic and both parents were suicidal, which goes some way to explain why at the age of 15 she stole her parents’ car and left home. After periods of jail and drug abuse, Gauthier took control, got some cookery training and opened a Cajun restaurant called Dixie Kitchen.
The restaurant’s name became the title of her 1997 debut album, which also marked her career switch from restaurateur to singer-songwriter. After 15 years, she has produced a wonderful body of work over six studio releases and material from most of them appears on this live album, recorded at the Blue Rock Ranch in Wimberley, Texas.
Gauthier draws on her turbulent past to wonderfully articulate stories of addiction, desperation and isolation. Some are autobiographical, such as Blood Is Blood, I Drink and Drag Queens In Limousines but she can also write insightful lyrics about others in difficult or desperate circumstances, such as Sugar Cane and Karla Faye. Gauthier’s most famous song, Mercy Now isn’t included in the live set, but the studio version is a hidden track at the end of the CD.
Fiddler/vocalist Tania Elizabeth and percussionist Mike Meadows augment Gauthier’s guitar in an intimate performance that perfectly conveys the emotion and poignancy of Gauthier’s songs. [Reviewed by Michael Hingston]
Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three – Live in Holland (Continental Song City)
Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three are a magnetic, tightly honed live combo, writing and performing their own brand of early 20th century American roots music – country blues, western swing and jazz – shaken up in one irresistible cocktail. This live album captures Pokey and the guys on fine form at legendary Dutch venue Paradiso in Amsterdam, recorded in April this year.
Drawing on material from last year’s album Middle Of Everywhere and Pokey favourites, Live In Holland is bursting with great songs and zinging solos: Brick Thieves finds archtop guitarist Adam Hoskins picking those hot Gypsy jazz lines, Drinkin’ Whisky Tonight and Hard Times Come And Go are filled with the quartet’s sweet harmony vocals, while their magnificent take on the traditional In The Graveyard Now has Ryan Koenig going full tilt on harmonica, Pokey hamming it up, Adam Hoskins picking his way to perfection while Joey Glynn slaps that bass, all hollering along the way. For contrast, Pokey wrings out every last drop of the quietly, soulful Cairo, Illinois, follows it with a wacky kazoo solo on Claude Jones and turns La La Blues into the perfect sing-along set closer.
Pokey & the boys are back in the UK & Ireland from 20th October 2012, till then, grab yourself a copy of this live set for an instant pick me up. [Reviewed by Sofi]
Lau – Race The Loser (Reveal Records)
Multi award-winning, experimental folk trio Lau know no bounds when it comes to the world of sound exploration and their third album is by far their most adventurous. With US producer Tucker Martine (Sufjan Stevens, the Decemberists, Laura Veirs, REM) at the controls and electronic fuel in the tank, the band sets off on another ear-expanding journey.
While songs of industrial decline and poverty sit against cinematic strings and accordion swells, there’s much more bubbling away under the surface. Far From Portland kicks off with the percussive electronic effects that are a feature of this album, providing a striking complement to Kris Drever’s eloquent guitar playing and Aidan O’Rourke’s lilting fiddle lines. The Bird That Winds The Spring is classic Lau with instruments and vocals sparking off one another, sampled hand claps providing percussion. The moods change constantly, often within each track. Green & O’Rourke hang a deliciously enigmatic melody around Drever’s guitar picking on Save The Bees, the pace then increases as they head into the realm of trad dance tunes before the listener is whisked off into more funky territory (Wurlitzer a la Green Onions), dropping into the cyclical world of Steve Reich before bowing out with electronic effects. There’s much to love here, not least the gorgeous Throwing Pennies, the beautiful Noltland Castle and the quirky closer, Beer Engineer. It’s one hell of a journey! Catch them on tour from 18th October 2012. [Reviewed by Sofi]
Big Boy Bloater & The Limits – The World Explained (Azan)
The Big Boy has been a bit of a fixture of the London rhythm & blues scene for some years, as a tireless performer, sessioneer, guest and pick up guitar-slinger for some of the touring blues nobility. Championed by the likes of Jools Holland, Mark Lamarr, Craig Charles and more recently Imelda May, his growl of a voice is as big as the man himself and his stinging Strat style goes a long way to explain why he’s so busy.
Rather than simply rehash standards and milk the nostalgia circuit, he’s intent on writing all of his own material and The World Explained presents a wry, wittily lopsided take on doing what the title says. So in Leonard Cohen, our hero simply can’t escape the stare of the moribund songster. She Gets Naked For A Living is self explanatory, Double Whammy uses the guitar’s whammy bar to disorienting effect. Stop Dragging Me Back and Evil Twist grind and shuffle through the trials of ‘making it’ and betrayal, while the album finishes sunny side up with the instrumental Black Sambuca, into Insanely Happy and Hey Funky! In groovesome style. [Reviewed by Simon]