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Songs Of The Week 2023: Take 3

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

Neil Morton


Glory: Gabriels

His baritone is just as spine-tingling as his falsetto. When Jacob Lusk sings, the listener is transfixed or transported. There was no more fitting venue than London’s Union Chapel to hear his extraordinary vocal range on Friday when the trio Gabriels thrilled the congregation with their celestial soul. Our Song Of The Week at is Glory, and glorious it was.

The song, from their Angels & Queens epic, is a foot stomper evocative of the Sixties undiminished by the electronica flourishes which gave rise to the description of their music as retro-futuristic; a throwback and a forward drum roll. It begins, with a tinkling of piano, like a speeded-up version of their breakthrough single, Love And Hate In A Different Time, championed by Elton John (‘probably one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the last 10 years’) and Jools Holland. That track, a reaction to the killing of George Floyd with its echoes of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, was also lauded by my colleague Phil Shaw, who named it his Song of the Year for 2020 on this website.

We heard about Gabriels on the grapevine during Covid when Lusk, Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian consummated their unlikely association with a series of Zoom performances and an EP which has developed into a deluxe edition of Angels & Queens, with 26 tracks over one hour and 36 minutes and including their recent set at Glastonbury. Some of ballads on the album were informed by their own grieving over lost family members and friends during those grim times.

Glory occupies less than three minutes of that timespan but resonates long in the memory. As does the lyric…

Let me tell you a story

Of a girl up in Glory

She had the world in her hand

Even Hades was a fan

You can fake it for a little while

When you’re lying to yourself

You pretend and you try to hide

From the cards that you’ve been dealt

I might be down right now but I

Make do with what I got

Ain’t turn no water into wine

But I make do with what I got

I make a little a lot

‘Glory is inspired by the power of human spirit, taking inspiration from some of our favourite artists, our moms, even people of the night,’ say the band. ‘We all have had life corner us and had to make much out of little. We have all got some magic in our hands, and have the power to make a little a lot.’ Even the stripped-back version at Union Chapel, like Blame (Not a slave if I’m already free/ Not a captive if it’s where I want to be) and Bloodline, had the audience in raptures.

Lusk, who has moved from the back of a Baptist choir in Compton, Los Angeles, to the forefront of modern soul, first teamed up with producer and composer Balouzian and DJ turned film-maker Hope during the making of a commercial in 2016. At his church Lusk introduced them to the choir he directed but was armtwisted into doing the vocal role himself when they heard him sing. Hope, from Sunderland, provided this implausible songwriting alliance with their name, borrowed from his home street, St Gabriel’s Avenue. Hope was making techno under the Gabriels moniker long before Lusk’s astonishing voice cried out for an alternative path.

‘My friends were like, Who are these white people?’ the sharp-dressing singer with the outsized charisma, told the Guardian as he recalled his first trip to Palm Springs, California, to work at the studio owned by Balouzian, a classically-trained, Armenian- American violinist. Lusk’s strict religious upbringing meant he couldn’t display posters of his heroes on his bedroom wall; his influences were Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston (‘I wanted her to be my mom – sorry, mom’).

Lusk says in an interview with Hunger magazine that Gabriels’ chemistry works because the music composed by Balouzian and Hope provide him with the space to sing ‘whatever comes out of my mouth’. He refuses to be dictated to or be categorised by those in the music industry desperate to do so, whether that be soul, R&B, doo-wop, disco, gospel or jazz. He is 36 now so it has been a long road to recognition, made more fraught by an admirable refusal to compromise. There was a job with a sunglasses company to keep food on the table but his backing vocalist stints behind Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Beck and his mentor, the rapper Nate Dogg, helped raise his profile.

His fifth-place finish in the 2011 edition of American Idol should have been a leg-up too but social media was in its youth then and Lusk struggled with the experience and his identity. ‘I wasn’t gay enough, I wasn’t straight enough, I wasn’t man enough, I wasn’t black enough… Not being comfortable in my skin, not really knowing what I was. I was still a young person, still figuring it. Now I’m grateful that I didn’t win. I have grown so much. I’m where I’m meant to be.’

Fame was never a motivation. ‘I just wanted to sing and be able to pay my bills,’ he told London’s Evening Standard. ‘I was still trying to figure out who I was, but I knew I wanted to sing. Even with Gabriels, I didn’t see superstardom in this. I just thought, this is a place where I get to sing. I didn’t know that I was gonna get to be Beyoncé and they were Michelle and Kelly!’ Lusk repeated the Destiny’s Child joke at the Union Chapel Q&A session, and Hope quipped: ‘Destiny’s Adult.’

‘We’re all very individual people with quite different tastes but there is this middle ground,’ says Hope. ‘Each of us has this freedom to be ourselves, and that brings out the best in us. When it feels like a pure expression of me, him and him, it becomes something unique. What’s interesting is none of us were trying to be in a band.’ A lockdown discovery has truly arrived.

The Holiday and Simone parallels are powerful when you linger on the slower numbers on the album, especially the magnificent Taboo (‘Bible says it’s bad but not for me/ Don’t bring me fruit then say I can’t eat’). That track was missed at the Union Chapel, more so than the drums, string section and backing singers of their more expansive sound. But when Gabriels’ one-man choir skips through the octaves, they are excused. They make a little a lot.

Snakelife: Allison Russell

As the title of Allison Russell’s powerful new single suggests, Snakelife charms, slithers and bites. The Montreal-born songwriter with Grenadian and Scottish ancestry is finding new ways of gripping our senses with her captivating music. Once again, she provides us with our Song Of The Week at

Snakelife has an otherworldly groove, soul noir spiced with funk. The all-female supporting cast Russell calls her Rainbow Coalition, ‘my circles of chosen sisters’, serve up the perfect backbeat with guitars, bass, strings, piano, synths and percussion.

Russell’s vocal, and her own at times slightly delayed harmony which gives the impression of a spontaneous duet, is divine. This is a further mouthwatering appetiser following the title track and Stay Right Here for her second solo album, The Returner, scheduled for release on September 8. The title was inspired by the almost miraculous comeback by fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell with whom she performed at the Newport Folk Festival and at a more recent Joni Jam in Washington State.

‘I wrote a poem about Joni, and in it I call her Our Lady Returner,’ she told Variety. ‘I thought about how much grit and grace that she has as a human being to be able to come back from death, not once, but three times, and to relearn not just how to sing and play, but how to walk and talk.’

The last verse of Snakelife, according to Russell, is the mission statement for the entire album:

I used to dream but now I write

I wield my words like spindles bright

To weave a world where every child

Is safe and loved

Is safe and loved

Is safe and loved

And Black is beautiful and good

Snakelife is described as a haunting meditation on transformation. Russell’s poetic summary is worth repeating. ‘This song is conjuring. A summoning. A spell… How do we use our words? Who do we value? How do we love ourselves and each other? How do we turn dreams into reality? Growth, transformation, evolution are uncomfortable. We can handle it. We are stardust after all – energy indivisible and Indestructible.’ Note the nod to Joni and Woodstock.

We have discussed at length Russell’s astonishing back story – her transformation after a childhood of trauma and abuse by a white supremacist stepfather which forced her to live on the streets of Montreal, forever grateful for the help from others on the margins. As we wrote after the release of her deeply moving debut solo album, Outside Child: ‘It is difficult to grasp how a person could survive such an ordeal and recover sufficiently to create art this beautiful, this hopeful, this important.’ That album was a musical memoir; the written one she is working on is keenly awaited even if we might be seeking a stronger word than harrowing.

Snakelife was a writing collaboration with the duo known as Dim Star, her partner and Birds Of Chicago bandmate JT Nero and Drew Lindsay, who co-produced the album with Russell, recording it in six days at the old A&M (now Henson) Studios in Hollywood, where Mitchell recorded Blue and Carole King created Tapestry. Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Hozier and Wendy & Lisa make guest appearances.

Nashville-based Russell calls the album ‘a celebratory soundtrack for getting tired of hating yourself and deciding you’re worthy’ and ‘a body-shaking, mind-expanding, soulful expression of liberation, love, and self-respect that serves as a fierce declaration of joy for all survivors that have made it to the other side’. She adds: ‘My goal – sonically, poetically and spiritually – is a radical reclamation of the present tense, a real-time union of body, mind and soul. It’s a much deeper articulation of rhythm, groove and syncopation.’

After the distressing undertones of Outside Child, which followed her calls for social justice and a racial reckoning on the debut album by folk supergroup Our Native Daughters, she hopes people feel the sheer exultation of the new record. The opening track, Springtime, relays the message: ‘Adieu, adieu to that tunnel I’ve been through… My reward, my recompense, springtime of my present tense.’

Snakelife echoes the same theme of catharsis with its title explained by the opening lines:

I used to dream I’d shed my skin

And leave it lying on the ground

Crawl away from where I’d been

A new and wet and gleaming one

But every scar and every bruise

They shine like blue Botswana jewels

What did not kill me, fills me

With the power of a thousand suns

Resilience, redemption and now joy after all the venom. ‘It’s been unprecedented in my life, all these magical secret garden doors opening.’ It is a sensation she richly deserves.

Acadian Driftwood: The Band

Robbie Robertson’s fascination with history and passion for the cinematic combined to create perhaps his finest composition, Acadian Driftwood. In his memory, following his death at 80, it is our Song Of The Week at

It was the first song Robertson had written for The Band about his native Canada. It concerns the displacement of French-speaking people in the Acadie colony who refused to pledge allegiance to the British in the 1750s during their conflict with France over what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and most of Maine.

His powerful, evocative lyric was inspired by Longfellow’s 1847 poem Evangeline which describes the deportation of Acadians. The song has an expansive perspective, as much as his film scores with Martin Scorsese did in his post-Band era. Robertson traced the Acadian pilgrimage in his early days as a musician, travelling from Toronto to the Deep South like the nomads who would become known as Cajuns.

The track, which appeared on The Band’s 1975 album Northern Lights-Southern Cross, employs poetic licence in the same way as The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down did about the American civil war, the song opening at the end of the French and Indian conflict rather than at the beginning. As Peter Viney wrote in his forensic study of the song, which we would implore you to read, we are talking emotional truth here rather than historical accuracy.

It helps for the majesty of the song that Robertson, a masterful guitarist and story-telling songwriter, was able to lean on three of the most soulful singers in rock, Arkansas-born drummer Levon Helm who was the group’s only non-Canadian and a direct line to the South, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, to take turns to personalise the story of someone made to feel an enemy in his own country. Three lead singers. No wonder they called themselves The Band.

Robertson, so proud of his indigenous past, could fully comprehend the ‘gypsy tailwind’ that propelled Acadians in eastern Canada to their new homes, notably in southern Louisiana. As the son of a Jewish professional gambler and a Mohawk mother, he had experience of the plight of the picked-upon.  ‘The parallel is unmistakable,’ he told Something Else!  ‘I would’ve never thought of this, without taking my own journey into consideration. But in my attraction to the underdog in historical stories, the Acadians were way up there on my list.’

Garth Hudson is the sole surviving member of The Band, ever the elder statesman, and it was his arrangement of piccolo, keyboards and accordion enhanced by Byron Berline’s stirring fiddle which gave Acadian Driftwood its wonderful French-Canadian roots vibe.

They signed a treaty

And our homes were taken

Loved ones forsaken

They didn’t give a damn

Try to raise a family

End up an enemy

Over what went down on the Plains of Abraham

Acadian driftwood

Gypsy tailwind

They call my home

The land of snow

Canadian cold front

Movin’ in

What a way to ride

Oh what a way to go

In one of his last interviews Robertson was asked for his fondest memory of life with The Band. Rather than the making of their debut album Music From Big Pink or the tapes with Bob Dylan in the basement of Big Pink, he chose the recording of what became known as the Brown Album. They had converted the pool house at Sammy Davis Jr’s home in Hollywood Hills into a studio where they crafted songs which have resonated and influenced until today. He called it a brotherhood; as he so vividly and poignantly recalled in his memoir Testimony, it was a shame that tight relationship, particularly with Helm, should splinter and fracture.

It was Robertson’s life ambition to create songs with a lost-in-time quality, which could have been written on any day in any era. With The Weight, Up On Cripple Creek, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Shape I'm In, It Makes No Difference and especially Acadian Driftwood, he achieved that. Anthem after anthem.

Scorsese’s alliance with Robertson began with his direction of The Band’s farewell concert in San Francisco in 1976 for a stupendous rockumentary The Last Waltz, released two years later. His tribute was memorable.  ‘Long before we ever met, his music played a central role in my life – me and millions and millions of other people. The band’s music, and Robbie’s own later solo work, seemed to come from the deepest place at the heart of this continent, its traditions and tragedies and joys.’ Their last project together, Killers Of The Flower Moon, will be screened soon. More Robertson music to marvel at.

As Danny Baker says: ‘Arcadian Driftwood is one of the greatest songs of my lifetime, and that includes The Beatles, Irving Berlin and anyone else you can name. An epic as expansive as the talent of its author.’ We would not challenge that assessment. May Robbie rest on his masterpiece.

Bleary Winter: Olivia Ross

Bandcamp Friday has been a gift for struggling musicians, a day when fees are waived and they can benefit more fully from album and merchandise sales. Yesterday we were invited to sample the new single by Scottish fiddler and singer-songwriter Olivia Ross. Bleary Winter, our Song Of The Week at, is a beautiful introduction to her forthcoming album Grace The Blue; we hope she enjoyed a fruitful pre-sales day.

Listeners may be surprised to learn that this will be Ross’s debut solo album after almost 20 years of touring with influential Scottish band The Shee. We have waited too long for that rich, honeyed voice to be given a showcase like this, one that manages to embrace the tradition as well as more contemporary Americana tones.

While Grace The Blue confirms Ross’s stature as a songwriter, her advance single is a cover of a song composed by one of her heroes, the English balladeer Chris Wood in tandem with the poet and storyteller Hugh Lupton. Bleary Winter, which concerns the impact of the Enclosure Act, appeared on Wood’s 2005 album The Lark Descending. Wood plays fiddle as well as guitar and the track also features on a 2004 album, Ghosts, by his other project, the English Acoustic Collection. ‘With one swish of the legislative pen, the land was taken from under the feet of the people and the English Diaspora began,’ read the liner notes.

Ross conveys Lupton’s poetry exquisitely…

A lost breath blows the wood awake

Remembering griefs it used to know

The sparrow hawk has seized the song

I lost so long ago

While the living rub their eyes and wake from bleary winter

Ross has long been a Wood devotee. In a guest blog for Folk Radio UK in 2015 the Highlands musician explained why she had chosen Wood as a composing collaborator for a project entitled Continuum, premiered at Celtic Connections the following January, to celebrate the all-female band’s 10th anniversary: ‘I will always remember the first time I heard Chris sing in 2003. I was taken aback by his voice and power of communication. We constantly hear tremendous singers, past and present, where we are in awe of their vocal talent, but I feel it’s only once or twice in a lifetime in song that you hear someone who you feel is communicating directly to you, whether in the telling of a story or something quite personal, as if they know your thoughts, questions, your fears, dreams and yearnings.

‘Chris is so subtle in his performance yet so powerful and emotional; at times, making you smile with a deep contentment and then in the next song or even phrase, he makes you weep with such a sorrowful pain that it physically aches. I love how he is so true to his values, beliefs and understandings and won’t compromise.’

The song she singled out was Hollow Point from Wood’s 2010 album Handmade Life, a harrowing account of the killing of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005, named best original song at the 2011 BBC Folk Awards. For Continuum, however, The Shee commissioned new material from six of their favourite musicians and Ross delivered a haunting rendition of The Cradle Song, Wood’s setting of another powerful Lupton poem about birth and death.

For Ross’s solo album Bleary Winter maintains the magnetism of Wood’s work. Some of her Shee colleagues appear in supporting roles, including Signy Jakobsdottir on percussion and Laura-Beth Salter on mandolin and backing vocals, and the album is produced by one of the band’s founders Rachel Newton, harpist extraordinaire, who made the Bandcamp recommendation. Others in a stellar cast are guitarist Anna Massie, Rory Matheson on piano, James Lindsay on double bass and Calum Stewart on wooden flute and whistles.

A violin instructor who took up the instrument at the age of nine, Ross met her future Shee bandmates while studying for a folk and traditional music degree at Newcastle University. Her love of Bleary Winter can be traced back to those Uni days when she performed it as part of her degree final recital.

‘I had the privilege of getting to sing it as part of The Christmas Champions with Hugh Lupton, Chris Wood, Rob Harbron and John Dipper, and I knew if I ever recorded my own album it would be there.’ She has also played with Scottish supergroup The Unusual Suspects, and collaborated with Kathryn Tickell and Corrina Hewatt.

‘Working full-time as a string instructor left little time for writing. But changes to my work-life balance in 2020 allowed me to spend time writing and playing. I had always assumed that an album would consist mainly of traditional songs so I was quite surprised to discover I had enough material to make up the bulk of the album.’

We look forward to hearing more of her own compositions via the gift of Bandcamp.

That’s Where She Belongs: The Coral

The Coral’s love affair with the cinematic has inspired another psych folk-rock gem, That’s Where She Belongs, the third single to be unveiled from September’s feverishly anticipated release, Sea Of Mirrors, and our Song Of The Week at A melody to lift the spirits amid all the melancholy.

As one of the Wirral band’s songwriters, lead singer James Skelly, explains: ‘This was me chasing sunlit shadows, trying to capture the beauty of the summer. It didn’t work first time around but we took it into the studio and used some old tricks we’ve learned – editing the violins into the chorus, turning almost everything backwards and adding some Glenn Campbell guitars – and we came out with the hazy summer psychedelia the album needed to break up the intensity.’

The Coral’s last album, the lauded double offering Coral Island in 2021, centred around the ghosts of an imaginary fairground; this time they transport us from a hall of mirrors to their Sea Of Mirrors concept of a storm-lashed Sixties spaghetti western film set.

That’s Where She Belongs, which follows earlier delicious appetisers Wild Bird and Oceans Apart, is the bright height of the album, a shimmering introduction billed as ‘a harmony-rich anthem to ultimate freedom’ and laced with gorgeous strings, arranged by co-producer and High Llamas and Stereolab man Sean O’Hagan, who worked on The Coral’s 2010 album Butterfly House.

The signs above the houses

A summer girl, she’s in the street

She drifts through the entries

To where the sky bleeds to the sea

It’s been so long

Since I saw her

Standing in the sun

That’s where she belongs

That’s where she belongs

Sea Of Mirrors, the 11th studio album by a band of old high school friends entering their third decade of recording together, is a make-believe soundtrack to a film that never was. In an ambitious move, they will release a second album on the same day, a postscript to Coral Island entitled Holy Joe’s Coral Island Medicine Show, available only in physical formats, with the grandfather of James and drummer brother Ian, reprising his role as master of ceremonies, The Great Muriarty.

‘I was watching this documentary about Italian westerns and I liked this idea that they were a vehicle for creativity,’ guitarist Skelly told NME. ‘I thought I’d love to use that medium to make an almost surreal western, but as if Frederico Fellini had directed it. I just liked that idea of taking a genre and using it for whatever you want.’

Wild Bird was one of the first songs the Merseysiders – Nick Power (keyboards), guitarist Paul Molloy and Paul Duffy (bass) complete the line-up – had ready to fledge. ‘It’s so wrong, it’s so Coral,’ says Skelly. ‘Like most of The Coral’s best-known songs, it was written in about five minutes. Once the album concept was clear, this was us imagining the theme tune for an Italian western directed by Fellini with a Richard Yates-written script. It’s us asking ourselves: what would have happened if Lee Hazlewood had produced a Gene Pitney song written by Townes Van Zandt?’

Each album features walk-on parts by actors Cillian Murphy and John Simm.

O’Hagan had written the soundtrack for Murphy’s first film and he approached the Peaky Blinders and Oppenheimer actor for a spoken cameo towards the end of Oceans Apart, the album’s closing track. Murphy, a fan of the band, was happy to oblige. Life On Mars star Simm, an early champion of the band, contributes a voiceover to Drifter’s Prayer on the spin-off project. Love guitarist Johnny Echols is another star recruit.

Skelly recalls: ‘Cillian said it should be like an old sort of American actor like Bela Lugosi or Buster Keaton. The idea was these massive stars who ended up in B-movies. And they were like, Where is my life? That’s the idea, this internal thing of, How did I get here? He nailed it and we put it in the track and added some reverb.’ Former band member Bill Ryder-Jones receives a songwriting credit for the title track.

The Coral, ever adventurous, have created another world for us to wander through and wonder at, another nostalgic musical mystery tour of their imagination. Dreamland: that’s where The Coral belong.

Every Stranger: Jessie Reid

Indie folk has a new voice of empathy: Shropshire-born Jessie Reid whose latest single Every Stranger is a reflection on learning to cope during traumatic times. It’s our Song Of The Week at Introspection with a universal message.

Reid swears by the importance of talking openly about mental health, and Every Stranger is true to that belief. She began to write it while mourning a lost friend a few years ago ‘but I think generally it is an accumulation of ideas and feelings after losing someone, whether through the breakdown of a relationship or friendship or through death’.

We’ll navigate our days

Through the graveyard of glasses

Thrown away

You know the world will keep

On turning on, we’ll hold on

For the better days

‘For me, the grieving process consisted of doom-scrolling Instagram, drinking too much and seeing resemblances of the person I had lost in strangers as they passed by in the street. But ultimately this is a song of positivity and reflection – reflection on how we learn to cope during tough times and how we are stronger than we may think. The graveyard of glasses is always a sad sight the morning after but I felt it linked particularly well here to the idea of drinking too much when things get tough.’

I start to lose my head again

Keep thinking every stranger looks like you

Be falling hard, be falling fast but

In the end they’ll never be like you

The dreamy, vulnerable vocal, the harmony to her lead, the percussive guitar style and subtle piano in a stripped-back arrangement are all Reid’s work apart from producer Joey Walker’s synth pad flourishes. Unlike her last single, A Little Closer, an achingly beautiful duet with the French-born, London-based multi-instrumentalist Easymess, aka Adrien Latgé, which has enjoyed more than five million streams on Spotify. Comparisons with Ben Howard, Lucy Rose and Bon Iver have been made: Reid’s delicacy and understated approach are a strength that points to a songwriter wise beyond her years.

Reid, who studied music at Lancaster University, described A Little Closer as ‘quite an unhealthy love song. It’s about feeling a bit lost and unsure of yourself in a relationship and knowing that things aren’t right. Despite knowing this, you still want to feel a sense of comfort and love and to be held a little closer – to hold on to some sort of hope for a little longer.’

This theme of hope transcending grief is also explored by Widnes-born songwriter Jenny Colquitt on her new piano-led single, Without You, which showcases her powerful, soulful voice. She is a favourite of this website, having been our Song Of The Week choice for the stirring Soldier Of The Modern Day, which depicts the human struggle as a battlefield. ‘It’s a dialogue of a grieving person reaching out to the person they have lost,’ Colquitt says. ‘The dynamics of the song lend themselves to tell a story, the story of growing to learn that we can learn to cope with grief and turn our lives around from a period of sadness.’ After a difficult year for her family and a time of reflection, she knows that ‘one day I’ll turn this ship around’.

A Little Closer and Every Stranger will appear on Reid’s next project in early 2024 following the impact of last year’s mini-album, Other Hand, hailed as ‘visceral songs that cut deep into the core of our shared human condition’. She has opted to drip-feed us with singles such as Whole Heart, Give Me Love, Hearts On Fire, Time Goes By and A Little Closer, but a full album should not be too long arriving.

Reid told Atwood Magazine: ‘Other Hand is essentially a song about overcoming shyness. I think no matter how extroverted or confident anyone is, there is always some element of inhibition inherent in us all. There are people who truly know you and have a unique insight into your mind – they are the ones who can take you by the other hand and tell you that they understand. It’s a song about combating fears with the help of those closest to you and not giving up on bettering yourself.’

How do we end up so shy?

Too scared to even look him in the eyes

Start a conversation now

But the words keep eating you up inside

It’s the same old sorry sight

But we’ll try again

Lyrically, Other Hand should have been a hard act to follow but Reid’s poetic observations about matters of the heart continue to raise the standard.

Pull The Moon: Caitlin Canty

Nashville-based Caitlin Canty’s latest album is titled Quiet Flame, a perfect description of the roots artist and her gently smouldering music. Our Song Of The Week at is the bluesy Pull The Moon, a meditation on the fragility of the natural world and her own life on the road.

Apart from Canty’s elegant vocal, it is Brittany Haas’s fiddle, darting and dipping like a nightfly, that adds lustre to an urgently strummed melody. It was a masterstroke to recruit Sarah Jarosz for the album, for her octave mandolin and banjo work and her subtle harmonies.

Haas, a member of newgrass supergroup Hawktail and a recent addition to Punch Brothers, is described as ‘a flamethrower’ by Canty. ‘Her fiddle is an electric guitar,’ she says. ‘It’s grit and mournfulness – not sorrowful but defiant.’ Both those bands are central to the Canty story: upright bass player Paul Kowert plays for each of them and her banjo-playing husband Noam Pikelny, who produced her last album Motel Bouquet, is a Punch Brothers stalwart and features on plectrum guitar. For added Punch, their guitarist Chris ‘Critter’ Eldridge is at the dials on Quiet Flame.

The record is a celebration by a gathering of friends joyfully relieved to be playing music after a debilitating hiatus. The tornado that struck Nashville in 2020 missed Canty’s house by 30 feet; then Covid closed the world. Her first child was born a few months later. She told the Bluegrass Situation: ‘If the pandemic and that tornado taught me anything, it’s that all the things I thought I could control are out of my control. The natural world is beautiful. It’s also terrifying; it can crush you in a second.’

In Pull The Moon it is obvious that the Vermont native’s sense optimism has not dimmed. ‘I let go a lot of things I thought were my fault, or my responsibility, things I thought I could do everything about, or take care of, or succeed at. And what I found was an ability to be happy in devastating moments in time. Even when it gets dark and troubled, to find a way not to ignore that – to address it but to stay buoyant.’ As the chorus chimes:

Let it roll, let it ride

Let your sweet heart open wide

They’ll pull the moon out of the sky

Dam the river and drink it dry

You’re down to one headlight

Running headlong into the long night

Jarosz, who dovetails beautifully with Canty’s impressive lead, talked of her authenticity and rare ability to ‘sound like herself’. ‘My favourite singers sound like themselves when they’re talking – their singing voice is a genuine extension of them, their personality. Tim O’Brien has that, Gillian Welch has that. It’s almost like Caitlin’s voice is so true. It’s like it’s not an option for her to be anyone but herself.’

At the age of 41 Canty, who didn’t take up the guitar until she was 17, does not covet a record label or a manager, selling her own music and merchandise. The clubs she plays continue to be packed out. For her fourth album, following two EPs, she favoured an entirely acoustic approach for the first time for her intoxicating blend of country, bluegrass, folk and gospel. There is a parlour intimacy to these songs about resilience, perseverance and ‘finding satisfaction in the mess and the mundane’.

The gorgeous opening track, Blue Sky Moon, is Canty’s answer to anyone who thinks her career should be on a faster track. ‘I stepped off the wheel for a while and now it’s test-the-waters time again,’ she told New York-based ‘But I feel lucky. I’m owning the middle ground of being a middle-aged singer-songwriter, taking my time with this record. It’s not trying to grab your attention. If you feel like hearing it, it’s there for you. But I’m not trying to convince anyone to love me anymore.’ Our attention has been grabbed.

Breakneck boy goes speeding by

In a hellbent race to some finish line

I ain’t going with him

Canty’s double-tracked vocal on Wild Heart is affecting, with Kowert’s bowed bass deserving a bow and Haas’s fiddle heightening the beauty of the lyric. Another standout is Heart Of My Country whose lyric had so captivated Jarosz when she heard it in 2020 – it was released as Where Is The Heart of My Country? during the fractious US presidential election race. Jarosz, from the redoubtable trio I’m With Her, replaces Pikelny on banjo for the new version.

Radio tower’s red light warning carried on the wind

In the shadow of the mountain a church bell’s ringing

From California’s burning forests to the New York island

Can you hear the chorus of voices asking…

Where is the heart of my country now?

We recall her work with the delightful Darlingside, Pikelny and the duo Down Like Silver (with Peter Bradley Adams) as well as her solo offerings. Eldridge spoke of her humility: ‘Especially in this age of Instagram, when people are hungry to connect but spend so much time living on the surface. She goes deep. She has enormous craft but no artifice. She’s not interested in playing it cool, and she makes a roomful of strangers feel connected. Caitlin just has such a magnificent view of the world. It’s so strong and true and clear and honest. You just believe it.’

We believe it. The flame may be quiet but her torch songs and her talent are burning brightly.

Peace Inside: Track Dogs

If the latest album teaser released by acoustic roots band Track Dogs is a barometer of quality, we are guaranteed something special when Blind Summits & Hidden Dips reaches our ears on October 6. The Madrid-based quartet describe Peace Inside, our Song Of The Week at, as ‘156 seconds of feelgood, contemplative music; a circular path that attempts to reduce the complexities and confusion of modern life to a singular point of calm within’. Balm for the soul.

The video comprises iPhone images taken by the band on their recent tour with Show Of Hands and edited by Miguel Palomar. ‘We had the idea of sharing the world from our perspective, to look out as we also look within. As we went from concert to concert we came across places that struck a chord with us and we hope they will with you.’ The search for that seemingly unattainable state of inner tranquillity amid the turmoil outside will always strike a chord.

Garrett Wall’s distinctive vocal has a warmth that suits the soothing sentiment of the song…

Peace inside

Change everything

Peace inside

See what it brings

Change your mind to look within

Peace inside

That’s everything

No one knows the secret

So don’t be fooled

It’s only trial and error

And that’s up to you

No one’s got the answers

They can’t be schooled

We all learn the same

No matter what we do

Wall, one of two Irish musicians in this combo of expats (bass player Dave Mooney is the other), said the idea for the song had lived with him for some time. ‘I always thought the riff/melody and words of the chorus worked well. I felt it had a James Taylor quality to it. It eventually drew me back and although it’s a little different to our other new material it sits very well on the album and could possibly appeal to a wide range of listeners.

‘The circular chord structure which is the same for the verse and chorus felt quite mantra-like which suited the theme and overall message of the song. My wife is involved in meditation and she sent an early demo to some friends of hers who also liked what it evoked. Hopefully the music and message will resonate with folks in these times.’

Englishman Howard Brown’s gorgeous trumpet is the customary star turn, and the harmonies are as delicious as ever, but the magical addition is the strings, provided by violinist Chris Demetriou and cellist Adrianne Wininsky. The pair featured more frequently on Track Dogs’ impressive 2022 album Where To Now?; it’s worth checking out their cameo on the delectable She Sang Songs, a former Song Of The Week here.

The album’s title came courtesy of American cajón player Robbie K Jones, playfully poking fun at the northern road signs at a gig in Whitby. Although the name started out as a joke, it later gained credence as a reference to the ups and downs of the music industry and of life on the road. The well-travelled band’s name derives from the maintenance crews on the New York subway.

Peace Inside follows earlier singles Cover Your Tracks and The Way Of Things. The album also includes a stirring cover of the Stevie Nicks classic Rhiannon, with talented Spanish newcomer Lu Garnet taking the mic, that can be downloaded now. For variety of genres, this band are hard to beat: bluegrass, latino/fronterizo, Americana, folk and blues. ‘We were thrilled to have Lou Marini pop by the studio to record sax on Be Your Silver Bullet, the goosebumps listening to him play the soundtrack of our lives… Our good friend and Yorkshire folk goddess Alice Jones added some perfect harmonium to Robbie’s tribute to the wonderful Les Barker on Disaster At Sea.’

Ahead of the launch, The Way Of Things has become one of Track Dogs’ signature numbers, ‘sizzling along like a Tex-Mex fajita of rumba rhythms and latin-tinged trumpets’. A song for these times, it warns of worse to come. But there is always hope weaved into the feelgood fabric of Los Quatro Madrileños.

No wonder Glastonbury 2023 took to the debutants and their festival-friendly set with Show Of Hands’ Steve Knightley. After their high-energy performances of late, they deserve a little peace inside.

More Time: May Erlewine

There are few sounds more alluring than when May Erlewine curls up in her relaxed, soothing groove. Our Song Of The Week at is the contemplative More Time, the opening track of her latest album The Real Thing.

The album was produced by multi-instrumentalist Theo Katzman whose subtle stabs on the snare drum give the single its hypnotic heartbeat. Erlewine is supporting Katzman on tour here later in the year, and no doubt the pair will link up on the Michigan songwriter’s wistful compositions. Katzman has a new label, 10 Good Songs; Erlewine fulfils that brief to the last note.

A reviewer from roots magazine No Depression once said of her: ‘I’m going to have to file May beside all my Nanci Griffith albums because these two women are gold.’ We would add Mary Chapin Carpenter and early Nora Jones to the mood music. The Harvard Independent commented: ‘She has the sort of soul-baring voice that moves the Alan Lomaxes of the world to abandon the ivory tower for the back roads of rural America.’ Her music is an invitation to intimacy.

Erlewine, who hails from a musical family in Big Rapids (her father was a member of Michigan blues-rock band The Prime Movers and her uncle is a noted luthier), learned guitar, piano and violin at an early age and spent her late teenage years crossing the country by freight train or hitching rides to busk wherever she could, collecting stories to weave into her fledgling songs.

Her songs now specialise in breaking hearts and mending them; her favourite themes are love, wisdom, creative empowerment, connection, social justice and ‘community building as necessary work in our world’. Her environmental activism in 2007 led to her protest song A Letter from Downstream that spoke out against sulphide mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her stage alias then was Daisy May (she was part of the Earthwork Collective alongside her ex-husband Seth Bernard) and it was not until 2008 that she began recording under her full name instead of her childhood nickname.

On The Real Thing Packy Lundholm’s understated guitar, Joel Gottschalk on bass and keyboardist Phil Cook complete the backing line-up with the singer herself on acoustic guitar and piano. Katzman describes the album as ‘deep listening, deep feeling’ and believes Erlewine to be ‘as good as it gets as a songwriter and artist’. It was performed live in a room at Cinnamon Ranch deep in the Manistee National Forest. While the title track, Heroes and especially Where The Past Belongs are further evidence of its lasting resonance, More Time sets the captivating tone...

I can tell when I’m walking baby

The fit’s a little too tight

You know it’s gonna drive me crazy

If the feeling ain’t right

And I don’t wanna change your mind

But I could use some more time

Just a little more time could save me

And I can tell when I’m talking, maybe

There’s a shaking in my voice

The truth is gonna find us, baby

We don’t get a choice

As if to confirm her prolific songwriting, The Real Thing swiftly followed 2022’s acclaimed Tiny Beautiful Things, a celebration of the tenderness of the human condition, inspired by the Cheryl Strayed collection of letters during work as an advice columnist. The first track from that album, Easy – with Katzman on guitar – was revisited, again with Katzman, as a live single; another version with Anthony DaCosta appears on an Audiotree Live EP. ‘The song is about facing the truth. It’s that moment of looking in the mirror and choosing to do the hard thing, the righteous thing,’ she told American Songwriter. ‘Sometimes ideas of perfection get in the way of our progress. This song leans into failure as a way of moving through it. We get to make mistakes, and it’s not easy to face them, but in order to keep living life, we absolutely have to.’

That album, which included the gorgeous Lion Heart, a love letter to her daughter who had been bullied at school, was written and recorded remotely after the world had shut down. ‘I don’t look at difficult, emotional, painful times as negative. Because all of it leads to this life experience. That’s how I find balance – I don’t allow those more challenging things to be the only perspective I’m keeping. Even on my hardest days there is still beauty everywhere. What I didn’t really anticipate was that while I was making this record during the pandemic, we were all deepening our experience of connection through being less connected. That caused us to really reflect on how being together makes us feel more human.’

Erlewine, 41, is affectionately known as the Michigan Songbird, her 16 solo albums a testament to her standing in the Midwest and beyond. But still she flies under the radar on these shores. We should not need more time to start shouting about the whispered beauty of her storytelling.

Screaming Hallelujah: Far From Saints

Twenty years on from his debut at Glastonbury with Welsh rockers Stereophonics, Kelly Jones returns to Worthy Farm on Sunday with a new project, Far From Saints. Our Song Of The Week at is Screaming Hallelujah, a sound made for the festival.

Jones has teamed up with Patty Lynn and Dwight Baker of Austin band The Wind + The Wave for a multi-genre mix that captivates from the start of their eponymous debut album. The Texans began writing backstage with Jones when supporting him on his solo UK tour in 2019. After performing a stirring cover of Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’ Stop Dragging My Heart Around, they booked recording sessions at the end of each leg of the tour and completed an album in nine days. But the global pandemic and respective band commitments meant it has taken nearly four years to reach our ears.

Their refreshing blend of folk, country rock and Americana has the vocal interplay of Jones and Lynn as its foundation, a pleasing alchemy of two impressive singers who often employ a conversational style. We are well acquainted with the formidable gravel-ingrained vocal of the Stereophonics frontman but he is equally adept at enriching harmonies.

Lynn echoes Iris DiMent on the album’s opening track and further influences can be discerned on other soulfully sung tracks such as the outstanding We Won’t Get Out Alive (hints of The Civil Wars here), Let’s Turn This Back Around (‘If it’s love, why are we exploding all the time?’) and Let The Light Shine Over You (‘Pick up the things you love and put down the things you don’t’). ‘It was very validating for me – as a writer, as a singer, as an artist,’ says Lynn.

Screaming Hallelujah is Jones’s first co-write and was the band’s first completed track. It is a message of acceptance and grace towards a loved one who is experiencing a difficult period of transition. ‘I was thinking about how we should try to grow right along with them, because they’re still here,’ explains Lynn. Jones adds: ‘It’s about change and growth, but with all the struggles that come with that. With every song I write, I try to write about the whole struggle but leave a light at the end of the tunnel.’

The mood and emotions shift, swell and soar from gentle acoustic beginnings to the foot-stomping Mumford-style strut suggested by its title...

A death and reborn

What was is now gone

The version of you, I knew

Has grown butterfly wings and flown…

І’m bаrеlу brеаthіng, bееn trаmрlеd іntо duѕt

І’ll fіnd mу wау bасk

Whеn І drеаm І kеер ѕсrеаmіng Наllеluјаh

І јuѕt nееdеd tо knоw thаt І соuld fіnd mу wау bасk thеrе

On the alliance with The Wind + The Wave, a friendship dating back to 2013 when the Texans supported the Welsh band in the US, Jones says: ‘It was really great working on these songs. I’m used to singing and trying to blow the back wall off a stadium with Stereophonics, whereas here it’s a totally different way of singing. I’m singing down here and Patty’s above me. It’s about trying to make those two voices work together and intertwine in the songs.’

He told ITV Wales News: ‘I’d never written with anybody before. It was nice to stand back and be wallpaper for a bit... to have a few lines and then pass it to somebody else to finish it and vice versa. Trying to win an audience over from nothing is what I loved in the beginning of the Stereophonics’ career. It’s about trying to make the guy at the back reading the newspaper turn around and take note. The only way you can actually move people’s perception is by moving perception.’

It was Lynn who hit upon the band name during those nine days of recording. The trio had been playing with words on a white board when Lynn produced the great reveal; her partners loved it. It was only a little later they realised the other significance of the acronym FFS. The initials will of course appear on all their publicity and merchandise.

Baker describes their sound as classic: ‘A little Stones, little Fleetwood Mac, little Eagles, little Tom Petty and our own thing all thrown in a pot and stirred around.’ Jones adds: ‘I listen to the record as a fan and it’s like I forget I’m on it.’ Jason Mowery is a fine addition on lap steel on the album, and so is the strings section as witnessed on Jools Holland’s TV show Later.

The Cwmaman-born singer is not about to turn his back on the past, so what future is there for Far From Saints? ‘Stereophonics is where I come from and I’ll always do that,’ he says. ‘We all love each other as a band and we’ve got some big plans, probably for 2024 or 2025. So it’s not like that’s the end. It’s just a continuation of different types of music.’

Guitarist Baker quips: ‘It’s like going on a first date and talking about getting married or having babies. You don’t do that or they’re just going to run away. So, we’ve not talked about the future yet, so Kelly doesn’t run away!’ They sound as if they are all in it for The Ride. The Sunday congregation at the Avalon Stage are guaranteed to have a nice day.

Catterline: Kris Drever

To mark Scottish folk troubadour Kris Drever’s triumphant tour of the UK with his band promoting a Best Of compilation of his finest work, our Song Of The Week at is Catterline. A beautiful ode from one artist to another.

Catterline is one of three new songs included in the 36-track collection, a retrospective of a sparkling career. It is heartening to know that after five solo albums and collaborations with stellar trio Lau, John McCusker & Roddy Woomble, Éamonn Coyne and Boo Hewerdine that the Orkney-born, Glasgow-based singer-guitarist at a stripling 44 is far from finished yet. Not even half finished.

Catterline celebrates the paintings of Joan Eardley and her relationship with the little fishing village of that name near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire. Drever has a hazy memory of a TV documentary he once saw which inspired him to research his Sussex-born subject, who was only 42 when she died in 1963.

‘Her paintings are such a perfect description of the place; it seemed irresistibly elegant to echo them,’ he says. ‘I’m in awe of the way she gave herself to her artistic purpose and wish I had even an iota of the concentration levels she invested in her work. I used her own words where possible.’

The poetic lyric indeed echoes that elegance…

I anchor my easel

In the gales and the rain

I keep painting the same view

Nothing remains the same

I made a mark on the ground

While I was watching the world turn around me,


Waiting for the tide

And the shadows to grow long

God what a life

I hate it when our bodies go wrong

Drever’s band – co-producer Euan Burton on bass, multi-instrumentalist Louis Abbot on drums, guitars and keyboards and jazz singer Rachel Lightbody providing lovely harmonies  – has allowed him to reimagine the jewels of his treasure chest of songs and reflect the collaborative spirit at the core of his music.

Catterline, whose vibe evokes James Taylor’s Copperline, begins with the kind of earworm guitar hook Drever specialises in. His vocal, as smooth and warming a burr as honey blended with the finest malt, delivers a song as close to perfection as one can imagine.

‘Collaboration has always been at the heart of my enjoyment of music. I love the freedom of heading out on my own; I love the challenge of trying to realise full arrangements with just a guitar and a vocal. But nothing comes close to building those invisible cathedrals with my comrades. 

‘The excitement of real musical dialogue is overwhelming: the knowledge that something is happening in front of me that can’t ever be exactly replicated is fascinating and frankly, even after all  these years as a musician, miraculous.

‘We’ve found a route into songs from across my back catalogue, and in many cases opened them up in ways that I could never have figured out on my own.’

The other two originals on the compendium’s two and a half captivating hours are Dust In Light and Punchbag. Those contemporary offerings sit snugly alongside the more traditionally slanted material; celtic connections abound. There are so many standouts: the blissfully bleak Ghosts, Unquiet Grave and The Poorest Company, Where The World Is Thin (the title track of his award-winning 2020 album), Harvest Gypsies, When The Shouting Is All Over, Hunker Down/That Old Blitz Spirit and the enduringly magnificent Scapa Flow 1919.

If Drever had included tracks from the magical Spell Songs project and alliances with Rachel Baiman, Lucy Farrell and Aoife O’Donovan we could have been delightfully detained even longer. No matter, we are blessed here. Drever paints his own picture with Catterline. God, what a musical life.

Haul Anchor: Dominie Hooper

Indie alt folk singer-songwriter Dominie Hooper officially launches her new single, Haul Anchor, at the Shacklewell Arms in Hackney on Wednesday, the second to be produced by This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables following the success of the charming Robin at Christmas. Be ready to be moved again.

Dartmoor-born, London-based Hooper describes the song as ‘a personal anthem and a quiet victory’. It’s a story of heartbreak transformed into hope, recovery from a treasured relationship shattered by deceit and the discovery of ‘more inner strength than I knew I had’. A slow-burning, heart-melting track.

Love has soaked our shoes,

Healing the chill of life’s heavy rain

I’ve been breathing you in

Love has sailed us here, a clearing

And the ways we each could go babe,


‘Much of it was written in a puddle on my living room floor,’ Hooper says. ‘But the third verse came to me when I was back home in Devon, scrambling up through the woods searching for a vantage point and the truth in my heart. I found it. The song is not just about the painful ending of a relationship but about myself and the huge journey of experiencing utter vulnerability with another person; of uncovering the darkness within myself and letting it be seen by another.’ Solace for the self.

Here’s that beautifully expressed third verse…

I climb a hill higher

Through bramble and briar

The valley is an echo

The base falls away

I open my eyes, and see

The track builds splendidly from its sparse electric guitar base, Hooper’s restrained vocal gaining emotional strength for the mood change signalled by the arrival of a horn section and choir. Defiant optimism replaces melancholy as the uplifting voices take your breath away.

Hooper adds: ‘As our traumas play out, we feel worthless, unlovable. If you can let someone hold and love you through a moment like that, the healing is undeniable. To have experienced that just once feels like a massive gift. It was shattering when it ended but, far from undoing the good, I also learned just how much I value and love myself.’ From self-doubt to self-worth.

The singer, guitarist and cellist, a seasoned collaborator and in-demand session musician (Tom Odell, Yola, Band Of Burns, The Breath’s Ríoghnach Connolly and Alabaster Deplume), is a gifted lyricist too. There are clever couplets and memorable imagery – ‘I saw myself standing naked, troubled/ And the only way to clothe me/ Was take more away’ and ‘The nose on my cheek/ The warm on my feet/ A long time since they stepped away’.

Hooper’s wittily titled EP Anno marked the beginning of a new chapter, a solo career which will surely lead to a full album. She billed her first single, Robin, a recent Song Of The Week here, as ‘my lovely little queer Christmas song’ and ‘a message of solidarity with LGBTQ+ folks’. We predicted a breakthrough year, and Stables’ involvement bolsters that belief.

Stables’ first production project continues with Haul Anchor. She says of the song and working with Hooper: ‘Recording it was a particularly emotionally uplifting experience. It’s one of those songs that you have to try hard not to burst into tears while listening to – a perfect example of Dominie’s incredible talent for beautiful writing. Honest, wise, tender and raw. It’s a whopper and I love it.’

Stables herself joins the choir for the joyous, anthemic refrain:

Haul anchor now

Though there’s hands upon the bow

Baby, stay with your heart

There’s a soaring sense of excitement for what the future may hold. Audiences will warm to this enchanting chorus and take the song’s compelling message home with them: Baby, stay with your heart.


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