This week sees new releases from Tarras, Todd Snider, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials and Federico Ughi.
Tarras – Warn The Waters (Horsefly HFR001)
Exploding out of the Cumbrian borderlands in the early 1990s, the only thing holding Tarras back from world domination was timing. At a point when a teenage band associated with the F word – folk – couldn’t get arrested, the energy, technical skill, versatility and ingenuity so enterprisingly expressed on their two fine albums Rising and Walking Down Mainstreet disappointingly failed to achieve the widely predicted crossover breakthrough. They did, however, help to kick the door open for others and their return – albeit with a rather different line-up – is richly accomplished, especially now they’ve added maturity, exquisite harmonies, a guest appearance by Jackie Oates and an impressive welter of new self-composed songs to a fuller, heavier armoury that now strongly features drums and piano alongside cittern, violin, accordion and guitar.
Only two originals remain (Ben Murray and Rob Armstrong) and, perhaps mindful that their diversity may have previously confused the issue, they concentrate on a strongly contemporary approach, even while vigorously updating traditional themes like Joys Of Brotherhood and New York Trader. Welcome back people – the timing is now surely right. [Reviewed by Colin Irwin]
Anyone with more than a passing interest in the alt. country scene of the last 15 years or so should know the name Todd Snider – a composer and performer who’s won lots of friends with a selection of great albums and energetic live tours. As Todd is the first to admit, however, it is Jerry Jeff Walker to whom he owes perhaps the greatest musical debt, for it was the-then 19-year-old Snider seeing Walker perform in Austin, Texas, that set him on his way to a musical career. Todd finally gets to repay some of that debt to Jerry Jeff by way of his splendid new album.
Reuniting with producer Don Was, Snider offers up 14 excellent workings of Walker favourites; the mood relaxed, but purposeful. What’s apparent, as soon as the rollicking Vince Triple O Martin kicks in is that there is some serious good times being had here. Snider’s in fine voice, fronting a great band that swings and swaggers righteously. The swampy Moon Child has something of the Creedence smokiness in its late-night muted vibe, whilst Snider lets loose with an appropriately vulpine vocal howl. Of course, any celebration of Jerry Jeff Walker wouldn’t be complete without a version of the bulletproof Mr Bojangles, and Snider’s solo take is one of the best of a notable bunch, serving to remind you of what a moving, elegiac song it is.
Time As We Know It is a fine addition to the redoubtable Snider’s growing catalogue of recordings; Todd and Jerry Jeff make for a winning, irresistible combination. [Reviewed by Alan Robinson]
The eighth CD in 26 years by an always entertaining fiery quartet led by a little man with a big personality, rich voice, powerful guitar skill in the upside-your-head punch ‘n’ slide style, and a bag full of fresh slants on familiar relationship themes. Apart from a burnin’ revival of JB Hutto’s If You Change Your Mind, the other 13 tracks are originals credited to Ed and his wife Pamela (the muse behind the man?). Musically, the mainly upbeat pzazz is tight interplay throughout; lyrically No Fast Food (“Why eat hamburgers when there‘s prime steak at home?”) and Moratorium On Hate (“A veto on violence”) are but two examples of the wit and wisdom of Ed’s survival formula.
Ed’s Imperials – along with the guvnor’s determinedly independent stance – are a striking example of why Alligator Records has now been doing its do for far longer than any of its more famous predecessors such as Atlantic, Chess, Vee-Jay, Modern, King or even Motown. The old guard all sold up or out to corporate cover and amorphous back catalogue. The feisty indie Alligator crew still aim to put a tiger in your tank. [Reviewed by Cliff White]
Federico Ughi – Songs For Four Cities (Skycap Records CAP070)
Drummer and composer Federico Ughi came to Brooklyn via Rome and then London (with a brief, chilly stint in Montreal). His third album seeks to capture that journey. The geographical range is reflected in the music, which straddles the American and European jazz traditions.
In Through You, a New York piece with a bluesy tinge, Darius Jones’s alto sax runs the gamut from sonorous murmurs to raucous incantations reminiscent of John Coltrane. Meanwhile, in Pasolini The Painter, Eri Yamamoto’s piano lines, languid at first, gradually gather impetus in a way that echoes the late Esbjörn Svensson. Bassist Ed Schuller and Ughi provide a lean, adaptable rhythm section, quietly shimmering in Uno Fa Tanto and bristling with tension in Tolmin.
Many of the tracks are slow burners, at 7 or 8 minutes long, giving the quartet time to explore different corners of each territory. White, inspired by the Canadian winter, is highly evocative. After a sparse opening the pace picks up, with snow-like flurries from Jones and Yamamoto, before ebbing away into stasis and silence. Songs For Four Cities needs time to take effect, but its scope and intensity promise an exhilarating ride. [Reviewed by Orlando Bird]