Toronto native Josh Taerk (pronounced Turk) is a new name to me but, with heavy-hitting support on his bio from E-Street Band drummer Max Weinberg and John Oates of Hall & Oates fame, my guess was his new ‘Stages’ EP would be well worth checking out. I’m pleased to report this assumption would prove to be correct as ‘Stages’ is a little gem.
The Taerk story actually goes right back to 2010 and includes two previous album releases ‘Josh’ and 2015’s ‘Here’s To Change’ which was recorded in Nashville with a host of quality players and John Oates adding backing vocals. I’m quite surprised that Josh is a new name to me as he’s toured regularly here in the UK. I’m not sure how I missed that, too much music and too little time I guess.
The first thing you notice about Josh Tuerk circa 2017 is the positivity of his lyrics. Opener ‘Learning to Let Go’ looks at how life experiences shape the people we become “Are we living life to live it, or casting judgements from the side lines” is something to which we should all be able to relate. The positivity of the lyric is enhanced by an uplifting chorus and some nicely played slide guitar. ‘Learning to Let Go’ is a co-write with producer / guitarist Teddy Morgan (Kevin Costner & Modern West). ‘Anywhere That Love Took Us’ is next up and comparisons to Modern West are valid. If you like your country rock to be relaxed, tuneful and well played (nice guitar licks here) this should work well. Teddy Morgan has put together a terrific band here with Modern West alumni Park Chisolm (bass) and Richard Medek (drums) alongside Jon Coleman on keys with top session drummer Greg Morrow (Blake Shelton / Luke Bryan) adding his skills to two tracks.
Gentle acoustic guitar ushers in ‘After the Fall’ and we shift gears into big epic balladry, complete with orchestral backing. ‘After The Fall’ originally appeared on Josh’s ‘Here’s To Change’ album so it seems a little odd that it makes another, admittedly very welcome, appearance here. Am I missing something?
The reflective lilt of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ features fine interplay between guitar and organ, with the highlight a really nicely rising guitar solo, the lyric again looks at the life choices we make which is very much a theme of ‘Stages’. The closing track ‘Neverland’ benefits from gentle tremolo guitar parts and brings ‘Stages’ to an early end that leaves you wanting more. Throughout the EP it’s apparent that Josh Taerk knows his way around a song and exhibits a real knack with a hook. He seems equally comfortable with a foot in both pop and country camps and the merging of genres seems very natural to him.
Josh returns to the UK in early 2018 with a show lined up in London at the Academy Islington on January 13th which should be well worth checking out.
A decade and a half ago, Tom Baxter, was riding the wave of an acoustic singer-songwriter renaissance, championed by the New Acoustic Movement and Roadworks tours, which played a part in the successes of Tom McRae, Ben & Jason, Polly Paulusma and KT Tunstall. Like Tunstall, Baxter landed a major label deal but Columbia didn’t invest in him as a long-term prospect (Tunstall was, conversely, carefully developed by Relentless). Baxter was dropped after his debut Feather & Stone failed to cut the commercial mustard; a criminal state of affairs, given that the album was an incredible, hit-riddled record, dripping with giant string arrangements and emotional energy. The independently recorded yet equally strong Skybound followed in 2007 and spawned the single ‘Better’, a cover of which - for better or worse depending on your view - was a big hit for Boyzone a year later. Fast forward to 2018 and Tom Baxter - having been married, divorced and married again in that time - is back with The Other Side of Blue, a record that is devoid of all the whistle-and-bellery that adorned his first two outings. Every song features just a solo vocal with only guitar or piano for company. Brave? Foolish? Let’s find out…
After a spell touring as a duo, Dublin-based Lucky Bones have returned to a full band sound for their third album Matchstick Men. Rocky and reflective in equal measure, the record doffs its hat to some musical heavyweights and doesn't pale in comparison. It also offers us a glimpse of songwriter Eamonn O’Connor’s gift for pitching downbeat emotion against a decidedly upbeat musical sensibility.
When Glenn Frey passed away in 2016 he left a legacy of music of which any artist would be proud. Over the years his work as a solo artist and with the Eagles seems to have divided opinion, for every Eagles fan there seems to be hater just around the next corner, a situation I’ve always found very surprising. ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Their Greatest Hits 1971-75’ (the latter of which is the second bestselling album of all-time with 29,000,000 sales in the USA) are a fitting tribute to Frey and his talents. After forty years I’ll still happily spin 'Hotel California' and those early hits, which I consider to be solid gold classics, and I’m pleased to report the Library of Congress selected the hits album for preservation as "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" so I’m in pretty good company. The 3-CD + 1-DVD set ‘Above The Clouds’ finds us venturing far from those early country rock roots as Frey the solo artist seemed content to follow his muse wherever it took him, generally in a soft-rock / soul / R&B direction. The results, especially looking back in the cold light of day, are uneven but not without some genuinely standout tracks, all of which are presented with a professional sheen when maybe, on occasion, a little grit would have been welcome.
Scott Matthews is one of those artists I just can’t imagine not being there. His solemn, haunting vocal style has been winning over fans ever since his acclaimed debut, Passing Stranger, was released in 2006. Back then, amid the acoustic singer-songwriter boom of the 2000s, there emerged a handful of acts that may no longer make huge commercial waves but still continue to make exquisite, interesting records. New releases from the likes of Polly Paulusma, Tom Baxter and Tom McRae - all contemporaries of Matthews - are a comforting reminder that great songwriters can and do endure, regardless of time or fashion. A new album from Scott Matthews (or any of the above) is the sort of thing that, even before I hear it, helps to restore my ailing faith in humanity.
This band’s moniker may make them sound like a municipal leisure centre but, thankfully, an unassuming supergroup is actually what lies behind the name. BWP are Robin Bennett, Danny George Wilson and Tony Poole. Many readers will know Danny Wilson from his time fronting Grand Drive and Danny & The Champions of the World and some will know Robin Bennett from his work with The Dreaming Spires but BWP’s secret weapon is veteran guitarist and producer Tony Poole. Poole was one half of Starry Eyed and Laughing who released two records in the mid-1970s earning a reputation as the ‘English Byrds’. If you pair Poole’s pedigree, and famed mastery of the 12-string Rickenbacker, with Wilson and Bennet’s background in contemporary harmony-driven Americana you’ll already have a decent idea of where the band are coming from.
The RGM inbox is visited daily by up-and-coming Canadian acts trying to spread the word about their new records here on this side of the water. We love nothing more than to hear all this fantastic new music but, unfortunately, we can’t possibly cover it all. However, two recent (and very different) releases that mustn’t pass without a mention have come in from Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Dom Fricot and the artful five-piece Oh Geronimo.
With a career that effectively straddles the entire history of popular music, Joan Baez is an artist for whom the legendary tag was probably invented. Baez made her debut at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and released her debut album in 1960 (an album selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Recording Registry) and was one of the first artists to recognise the talent of an aspiring Bob Dylan before she closed out the 60’s with a performance at Woodstock. Her recording career has continued to this day with over thirty albums and songs performed in a range of languages. Alongside her musical achievements, her political and social activism has shone a light on many areas including the civil rights movement, human rights and the environment. Joan is one of very few artists who can claim (not that she would I’m sure) to have made a difference and her legacy is assured. Refusing, at 77, to rest on her laurels she’s back with a new album ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ her first release in almost a decade.
Possibly the most shocking statistic I’ve come across in recent times is the following: It is estimated that 7400 current or former members of the United States Armed Services take their own lives annually. This is obviously not just a problem specific to the USA, here in the UK military personnel face the same challenges on active duty and when their tours end. SongwritingWith:Soldiers is a non-profit organisation, founded in 2012 by singer-songwriter Darden Smith, which pairs veterans and active duty military with songwriters to hopefully confirm the old idiom “A problem shared is a problem halved.” With this in mind Mary Gauthier’s ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ could well be the most important album you’ll hear this year.
Dane Joneshill and I have a few things in common: we both write songs and make records; we are both slightly ill-at-ease with social media; we’re the same age and we both know the simultaneous joy and pain of life as a domestic dad. Obviously, I shouldn’t let this sense of kinship colour what ought to be an objective appreciation of his debut album, Everything That Rises Must Converge, but it’s just possible it might.
Between Two Shores is Hansard’s third solo album and, rather than finding him adrift as its title might suggest, it sees him grounded as a solo artist for the first time. Plenty of the songs from his first two outings would’ve passed unnoticed as Frames songs but this album really seems to put an end to all of that. I will always associate Glen Hansard with the raw crunch and visceral angst of ‘Pavement Tune’ and the Zeppelin crashings of ‘The Stars Are Underground’ (that said, I do always seem to be about twenty years behind the times) but that urgent, exploratory rock of youth has totally given way to an effortless songwriting maturity and an altogether more seasoned approach to making records.