Kevin Bryan reviews new music, re-released gems and compilations.
Ewan McLennan: Stories Still Untold
Ewan McLennan’s rousing rendition of his own Whistling the Esperanza was one of the highlights of BBC4’s excellent Transatlantic Sessions series, and the Scottish singer-songwriter’s third Fellside album is another musical tour de force, showcasing a finely judged assortment of self-penned songs and haunting traditional material.
A Beggar and the Chartist hymn Song of the Lower Classes are particularly memorable efforts, and Ewan also invests compelling ditties such as Prince Robert and Granite Cage with a power and passion which puts me in mind of the great Dick Gaughan in his pomp, and you can’t really ask for a higher recommendation than that.
Mike Zito and the Wheel: Songs from the Road
Missouri-born Mike Zito was a founding member of the highly regarded Royal Southern Brotherhood and his new solo career should continue to flourish on the evidence presented by Songs from the Road, a highly enjoyable CD/DVD package which captures the singer-guitarist in his natural element, regaling his euphoric Texan audience with a live set featuring some of the most visceral bluesy rock that you’ll be likely to hear in this or any other year.
Zito’s interplay with saxist Jimmy Carpenter is a joy to behold as he serves up fine tracks such as Rainbow Bridge and Pearl River alongside a surprisingly effective cover of Prince’s Little Red Corvette.
Mark Harrison: The World Outside
Roots music enthusiasts won’t need me to remind them about this stylish guitar-picker’s timeless approach to the charms of the acoustic blues.
Mark’s third album is arguably his finest offering to date, tackling topics as diverse as New Orleans funerals, the optimism of youth and the arcane workings of the economic system with grace, subtlety and charm, aided and abetted by the excellent backing band who’ve served him so well in the past.
Panic Attack, Your Second Line and the autobiographical Long Long Way To Go are particularly fine efforts.
Various: Ruf Records 20 Years Anniversary
Thomas Ruf’s excellent blues label celebrates its 20th birthday with the release of a nicely varied two-CD anthology focusing attention on some of the top-notch performers who’ve recorded for it over the years, including luminaries such as Jeff Healey, Spin Doctors and Kim Simmonds’ Savoy Brown.
Ruf Records was originally founded to create an outlet for the under-valued talents of the late Luther Allison, and the soulful Chicago bluesman closes proceedings with what proved to be his final recording, a spirited cover of the Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want incorporating the backing vocals from Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side.