Does it make you happy?

Cynics might say that there is nothing in the music industry and hasn’t been done before. That everything turns in a great circle and that the only new ideas are actually those that are being recycled from the past. …. And perhaps that is why my blogging hiatus was longer than I planned. I’ve learnt from hard experience that it is best to shut up if you have nothing to say. (Often it is pretty advisable to keep quiet even if you have, but that is another story)

Of course those cynics have probably not heard of the Hope & Social.

Indeed the Ironbath felt as if he needed to play catch-up when they first entered the radar last year. The strangest thing is that for a band which has been so prolific and so innovative that they seem to have had so little recognition. The Ironbath is afraid that there is no natural justice in the world of music, because if there were the Hope & Social would be superstars.

Here are 4 of the most innovative ideas that the band have come up with so far – each one is better than any idea I’ve seen come out of the mainstream music arena. Although, of course, it is not just the concept but the aplomb that the Hope & Social are able to deliver their idea that makes them so inspiring.

 

#1 – Get some mates and record a few cover versions.

Okay, that doesn’t sound so original, but it ain’t what you do but the way that you do it. You need to remember the aplomb!

First find some really talented multi-instrumentalists like the Wilful Missing (another band from the same town that are equally talented and equally under recognised. Next find a classic song from your adolescence and make a whole new arrangement that makes the original classic seem like a half-hearted effort. Avoid the ironic cover and jump in with both feet (and kazoo). Find a really neat place to record this song….. I don’t know, …. may be a crypt underneath a working church. And then film the enterprise for release via a multitude of social media formats.

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#2 – Rent a bus and take all your fans for a day out at the seaside.

To be seen is to be believed! The Hope & Social did just that. They rented a bus and took their supporters for a day out. The crafties also videoed the escapade, and with a little fancy editing turned it into a music video.

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This video is unashamedly joyful, and who cannot fall in love with a band that has so much fun. These days musicians have to build a rapport with their audience that transcends the artwork from a cd case and makes the fans feel as if they are part of the band. And so what better way than to have some fun.

You can read the full story of the day out on their website.

 

#3 – Invite your audience to participate in your Christmas record.

As the Ironbath said before, it is not what they do, but the aplomb with which they deliver their ideas. When the Hope & Social wanted to record a Christmas song (technically a new year song) they invited their audience to provide instrumental support to the piece with hand bells … several hundred hand bells.

This video perfectly captures the fun that they share with their audience during the performance.

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#4 – Bring the Happy

This one is going to take some explaining. Let’s have them try.

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Hope & Social, along with a local arts project, the Invisible Flock, took a lease on a shop in the market of their home town of Leeds. They invited anyone that was passing to drop in and share a happy memory that they had, mark the location on their map and rate it out of 10.

They took these most happiest memories and turned it into a stage show and an album by taking those memories and creating anecdotes played to music. They are funny and they are powerful. They are tearful and they are personal.

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(Listening to Hope & Social and sharing their adventures on my blog, Springfield Mill, 9½ out of 10 – Ironbath)

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Golden Bath’s 2013: Moments of the Year

Gold BathSo far the Ironbath has given awards to Jason Isbell for Album of the Year, Bella Hardy for Song of the Year and Ethan Johns for Concert of the Year, but there are more awards to be given for those people and events that caused a musical moment in 2013. And there were plenty of amazing moments to choose from .

Everyone is a winner in this list, but none more so than the Ironbath himself, who, by the grace of god and the magic of mastercard got to experience these moments in 2013. There is no order in this list, all 10 were exquisite moments – Well 9 were exquisite, at least.

The AMA Award Show, The Ryman, Nashville, Sept 2013.

AMA - Day 1 (988)When you see these star studded award shows on TV, especially those from another country, it seems unreal, but the Ironbath got to see the 2013 awards 2 hr live broadcast show for himself at the Ryman. The experience was made so much more potent by the accompanying friends from Cayamo. It was an amazing moment.

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Rodney Crowell, Songwriting Talk, Country Music Hall of Fame

AMA - Day 4 (62)The Ironbath started this year by reading ‘Chinaberry Sidewalk’, Rodney Crowell’s memoir, which is an amazing piece of literature about a poor kid growing up in 1950’s Houston who got to see Hank Williams & Johnny Cash live. Then the Ironbath met Rodney on Cayamo, both at Breakfast in the Great Outdoors, and saw him rock out in the Stardust. At the AMA awards the Ironbath saw Rodney perform a beautiful duet with Emmylou Harris, and then the highlight was listening to Rodney talk so eloquently about song writing right in front of him at the Ford theatre in the Country Music Hall Of Fame. It is memory that shall live on for a long time.

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Paul Kelly, Stories Of Me, Nashville Public Library

AMA - Day 4 (157)The Ironbath first saw Australian, Paul Kelly, at the Edmonton Folk Festival in 2003. A few years later the Ironbath befriended an Australian who had been a friend of Kelly’s in Apollo Bay, Australia. Then the radar went silent until autumn 2012 when he saw the Ozzie legend at a small music club in Bristol. The AMA festival included the US premier of a documentary about Kelly, Stories of Me. After the showing Paul Kelly was interviewed and played some songs live. It was a great moment, and one that occurred just an hour or so after the Rodney Crowell moment.

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Amy Speace, Miami, Jan 2013

Cayamo 2013 (30)Cayamo has connected the Ironbath to music on a far more personal level than he could ever have imagined. This went a level further when he got to introduce Amy Speace onto stage at the unofficial Cayamo pre-party in January 2013. It was a lesson learnt by everyone involved in the operation that if you are going to promote a concert it is best done many 1,000’s of miles from home, in a venue that you’ve never seen, run by people you don’t know. Oh, and if it coincides with longest ever game of American Football, then all the better! That was a moment that the Ironbath will remember!

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Dawes & Richard Thompson, ‘Calvary Cross’, Pool Deck, Cayamo, January 2013

There was only one Cayamo gig  on the Ironbath’s Concert of the Year list, but that is largely because Cayamo is more about ‘moments’ than concerts. One of those moments was seeing Richard Thompson join Dawes on the pool deck stage one evening. It was just a perfect musical moment.

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Jim Bianco, Stardust, Cayamo, January 2013

Another moment from the same week was the midnight Jim Bianco show on Cayamo, and not just for Grandma Jane’s interpretation of ‘That’s what she said’, but because this show was such a comic relief from the rest of the performances that week.

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Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, ‘Cinnamon Girl’, Daytrotter, January 2013

The Ironbath is a great advocate of Daytrotter. In fact, in the year he received an email thanking him for the numbers of people he has introduced to the site. Occasionally you can listen to the sessions as they are being recorded. With the time difference this is rarely a feature that the Ironbath uses. The first and only time was when he stumbled onto the epic 3 hr 20 live recording of a session by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals just as they recorded a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’. It took a couple of takes but the unravelling of what turned out o be one of the best songs, from the best Daytrotter session of the year was a most memorable musical moment.

You can replay the live stream here, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ starts at the 45 min mark, or you can listen to the finished session here.

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Meghan Arias, Atlanta, Sept 2013

The Ironbath first knew of Meghan Coffee (as she was back then) in the early days of 2008 when they first begun a conversation on MySpace that continued on the first Cayamo expedition. After many years they got back in touch via Facebook, and so when the Ironbath found himself in Atlanta last year he got to meet Meghan, and her husband, Zach, for the first time in over 5 years. He even got to see their studio in Decatur. That was one of the best moments of 2013.

This is Meghan’s music page, and a previous article I wrote about Meghan is here.

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Buddy & Jim, Atlanta, Feb 2013

Buddy and jim

The Ironbath made 2 visits to Atlanta last year. The first was a flying visit after The Rock Boat to surprise fellow Cayamoan’s at the Buddy (Miller) & Jim (Lauderdale) show at the Variety Theatre in Atlanta. A dinner was organised before the show, and we found ourselves in the same establishment that Buddy & Jim were visiting. Jim came and welcomed us all personally to his show!

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Farrisgate, 3rd & Lindsey, Nashville, Sept 2013

AMA - Day 4 (756)Not every moment was a good moment in 2013. There was the time at the final showcase of the AMA Festival that Mike Farris stopped his set in the middle of his somewhat over-the-top, egotistical rendition of Mary Gauthier’s ‘Mercy Now’, to point out that the Ironbath had no rhythm in front of 1000ish people….. Wanker!

Posted in Americana Music Festival, Amy Speace, Bella Hardy, Buddy Miller, Cayamo, Dawes, Devon Sproule, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Johns, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Hank Williams, Jason Isbell, Jim Bianco, Jim Lauderdale, Johnny Cash, Mary Gauthier, Meghan Arias, Meghan Coffee, Mike Farris, Neil Young, Paul Kelly, Richard Thompson, Rodney Crowell, The Rock Boat | 1 Comment

The Golden Bath’s 2013: Concert of the Year

Gold BathIt has been quite a year for live music. With Cayamo, The Rock Boat, the Americana Music Award’s and with gigs around the country (UK) the Ironbath has seen something like 200 sets, from hot new bands like The Lone Bellow & St Paul & The Broken Bones to established acts like Van Morrison Rosanne Cash. Bands you might not have heard of like Scars on 45 & Saints of Valory and some you might not ever hear again (best left un-named!). This is the Ironbath’s personal choice of favourite sets during the year. Where possible actual concert video is shown.

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10 Saints of Valory – The Rock Boat, Feb 2013

The energy and excitement from this 4 piece rock band was a revelation on The Rock Boat.  (Actual concert video)

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9 St Paul & The Broken Bones – AMA Festival (The High Watt), Sept 2013

Music is a feeling, and this midnight show in Nashville was the perfect end to one of the most perfect days of music.  (Actual concert video)

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8 John Fullbright – St Bonaventures, Bristol, April 2013

The Ironbath saw John Fullbright three times in 2013. The first time was in a small club, and he was sat just at the side of the stage where you could hear a pin drop as this 26 year old sang the most intense, deep songs.

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7 The Lone Bellow – AMA Festival (Downtown Presbyterian Church), Sept 2013

The Downtown Church, made famous by Patty Griffin’s album of that name, was the most spectacular backdrop for the Communion Records showcase that featured The Lone Bellow. As they belted out their songs the sound filled the church.

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6 Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires – Thekla, Bristol & The Bodega, Nottingham, Nov 2013

These 2 shows, both in small clubs, separated by a few days and 150 miles showcased songs from Isbell’s Southeastern along with his previous work, with just the accompaniment of Amanda Shires on fiddle. (Actual concert video)

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5 Scars On 45 – The Rock Boat, Feb 2013

Although from Bradford, Scars On 45 have made a bigger splash in the US. And they made their biggest splash on The Rock Boat when they performed twice in the Atrium, and put on a great set in the Stardust. (Actual concert video)

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4 Rosanne Cash – AMA Festival (3rd & Lindsey), Sept 2013

Rosanne Cash played her forthcoming album in full during her showcase set accompanied by John Leventhal & Cory Chisel. It was truly a wonderful, unique experience. (Actual concert video)

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3 Amy Speace – AMA Festival (The Rutledge) & The Musician, Leicester & The Tunnels, Bristol, Sept 2013

Within a week, or so, the Ironbath saw Amy play with her full band in Nashville, then solo in a pub in the UK, and then dueting with John Fullbright in Bristol. Listening to the mixture of sets and arrangements was a really amazing experience.

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2 The Milk Carton Kids & Joe Purdy – Cayamo, Jan 2013

The interaction between Joey & Kenneth, with Joe Purdy was one of the most unexpected highlights from Cayamo. The Ironbath bumped into The Milk Carton Kids, just after their Atrium performance on the first day of Cayamo, and they seemed amazed that anyone had come to see them. By the end of the week they’d appeared on so many stages with so many performers and were clearly really enjoying the experience. (Actual concert video)

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1 Ethan Johns – The Glee Club, Birmingham, Feb 2013.

Ethan Johns is son of Glyn Jones producer of The Rolling Stones etc, and producer in his own right of Ryan Adams & Laura Marling. He had one of his first live performances on a snowy night in February. The Ironbath nearly turned back for fear of getting stuck, and twice his car skidded dangerously on the ice. Once inside it felt as if he was sat in Ethan’s studio, where the audience was so quiet they held their breath during this intense collection of songs. It was, in so many ways, the most amazing, hair raising, experience.

Posted in Amanda Shires, Americana Music Festival, Amy Speace, Cayamo, Ethan Johns, Jason Isbell, Joe Purdy, John Fullbright, Laura Marling, Milk Carton Kids, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Adams, Saints Of Valory, Scars On 45, St Paul & The Broken Bones, The Lone Bellow, The Rock Boat, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison | 1 Comment

The Golden Bath’s 2013: Song Of The Year

Gold BathThe next category for the Golden Bath of 2013 is Song of the Year. Here are the nominations in the Ironbath’s order of appreciation.

12 Steve EarleThe Low Highway

Heard an old man grumble and a young girl cry
Brick wall crumble and the white dove fly
And a cry for justice and a call for peace
Force of reason in the roar of the beast

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11 Amy SpeaceThe Fortunate Ones

We are the drunks and the dreamers
The criers and cheaters
The ones you’ll find down on our knees
We are the fortunate ones

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10 Brandy ClarkTake A Little Pill

If you ever lose a lover
Or you wanna lose some weight
What you can’t cure
You can medicate

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9 Over The RhineAll Of It Was Music

The night was bending in a grin
As streetlight shadows tattooed skin
Whatever we were tangled in
All of it was music

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8 Jason IsbellElephant

There’s one thing that’s real clear to me
no one dies with dignity
We just try to ignore the elephant somehow
We just try to ignore the elephant somehow

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7 Lindi OrtegaTin Star

Well if the music wasn’t running
Through the blood in my veins
I might  just walk away
Oh I would walk away

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6 Chris WoodNone The Wiser

Out here in our market towns with our pound shops and our bookies, the Argos catalogue is our tormentor
Saw a young lad and his mum, he all but held her hand as they went  in to the army recruitment centre
I just had my monthly meet with the job clerk supervisor, as she signed me off I was none the wiser.

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5 The Milk Carton KidsMemphis

Now the sun goes down over Dolly Parton bridge
The one-time home of Soul takes our country’s final breath

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4 London GrammarWasting My Young Years

I’m wasting my young years
It doesn’t matter here
I’m chasing more ideas
It doesn’t matter here

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3 Amy Speace with John FullbrightThe Sea & The Shore

Said the Sea to the Shore, I swore that I’d return
And here I am with all that I have learned
I can hold you now with arms of foam spray
Touching you the coming of dusk and the breaking of day
Smoothing out the fold on every stone
Said the Sea to the Shore, don’t leave me here alone”

Said the Shore to the Sea “You’ve said all these things before
And I tell you, I can’t hear them anymore
Oh, there was a time once I’d have given in
I’d hear your savage white caps rolling in
Your troughs would come up slow beneath my chin
Your mist would kiss me softly on my skin
Leaving the salty trails where you had been
My legs would give out in your undertow
Oh but Sea, that was a long, long time ago”

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2 Jason IsbellTravelling Alone

And I’ve grown tired of traveling alone
Tired of traveling alone
I’ve grown tired of traveling alone
Won’t you ride with me?

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1 Bella HardyThree Pieces Of My Heart

So a warning take by me
Don’t share your love for free
For men will lie as surely as there’s salt in the salt sea
Posted in Amy Speace, Bella Hardy, Brandy Clark, Chris Wood, Jason Isbell, John Fullbright, Lindi Ortega, London Grammar, Milk Carton Kids, Over The Rhine, Steve Earle | Leave a comment

The Golden Bath’s 2013: Album Of The Year – Part 3 of 3

These are the albums that stood out above all the others. It is impossible to say which is better than the other, so these are all tied for second place as the Ironbath’s favourite album of 2013.

Product DetailsPatty Griffin ‘American Kid’

This is Patty’s most cohesive album to date, and reflects the happy place she is in now. The Ironbath thinks that much of this confidence has come from her association with The Band Of Joy through which her musical mentor, Buddy Miller, introduced Patty to her partner, Robert Plant.

Plant joins her on one track ‘Ohio’, which has his distinctive imprint and ‘Highway Song’. But his presence has perhaps given her the confidence to fully develop her writing, and explore her childhood and colourful family history in the album.

Product DetailsAmy Speace ‘How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat’

‘We Are The Fortunate Ones’ as Amy Speace reminds us on the first track of this superb album. Crowd sourced funding allowed her to produce the album exactly as she wanted, and the Ironbath thinks that this is the product of an extremely well thought out master plan. The album is partly inspired by the works of Shakespeare, although this isn’t immediately obvious, however every song has a dramatic feel.

It’ll be hard for her to match this album in her future work. Her duet with John Fullbright on the complex love song ‘The Sea And The Shore’ is sublime. The hardness of his voice is beautifully tempered by the delicate harmony that Amy provides.

In 2013 the Ironbath introduced Amy onto stage at the Cayamo pre-party (during which time he learnt far more about American Football than he ever needed to know), saw her play with her full band at the Rutledge in Nashville, then solo on a small stage in the UK, and a couple of days later when John Fullbright joined her for the first ever live performance of ‘The Sea And The Shore’.

Product DetailsEmmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell ‘Old Yellow Moon’

There are certain albums which just should be made, and this is one on them. ‘Old Yellow Moon’ is the coming together of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell after 30 years. Their choice of songs suits their mature vocals beautifully and it has become a classic country album; and probably the best that either have recorded for many years.

There is a delightful mix of tempos on this album with Rodney leading on some, and Emmylou leading the others. The standout track on the album is their version of Matraca Berg’s ‘Back When We Were Beautiful’, which has the best vocal performance by Emmylou since ‘Red Dirt Girl’. Everything about this album is just perfect.

This album is not particularly original, nor contemporary, but it is done very well and will still sound like a classic in 10 years time. And this is why it got the Ironbath’s vote in the AMA Awards this year.

Product DetailsBella Hardy ‘Battleplan’

Bella Hardy has taken over the crown as the queen of the English Folk scene with her contemporary-traditional folk ballads. This is her sixth studio album in which she has taken the broadest latitude of folk influences. From the up-tempo polka ‘Whisky You’re the Devil’ she launches straight into the solemn, down-beat murder ballad ‘True Hearted Girl’, whilst ‘Three Pieces Of My Heart’ is a thoroughly contemporary song.

She lives in a world of folklore, faeries and fables and blends traditional songs reimagined and reengineered for her purposes with her own compositions. It is impossible to distinguish what is new from songs many generations old, as everything sounds so modern. Her third album ‘Songs Lost & Stolen’ was previously a contender for Album of the Year in 2011.

So, with very little surprise, the Ironbath presents his Album of the Year to ……

Product DetailsJason Isbell ‘Southeastern’

There was no doubt that the Ironbath’s album of the year should go to Jason Isbell’s ‘Southeastern’. From its first track ‘Cover Me Up’ it is clearly the Americana album of the time and moment. Musically it is a natural progression from the critically acclaimed predecessor ‘Here We Rest’. It remains relatively sparse and there is plenty of pain in these lyrics. The songs cast vivid imagery that sometimes appears biographical and always personal, yet the Ironbath hopes that even at his lowest, his life wasn’t this pitiful. ‘Travelling Alone’ is a love song tied up in the burdens of a man who is struggling to cope with life. ‘Elephant’ is a perfect dramatization of a horrific scenario. “No one dies with dignity” indeed.

It seems as if Jason’s anger is contained in the first part of the album. ‘Different Day’ is a more wistful track. ‘Live Oak’, ‘Songs that She Sang In the Shower’ and ‘New South Wales’ are full of acceptance. ‘Super 8’ is a loud release of tension and the last 2 tracks are more positive. “There is always something to be grateful for, my angry heart beats relatively easy”.

There is a demo-like quality about this album. It doesn’t attempt to flow from one track into another, and it has a ragged roughness, as if it has only just been turned out from its foundry mould. This is not a concept, it is just a collection of songs about a hard, tough life written with skill and performed with all the emotion of someone who has lived that pain, and worse. It is shocking that ‘Southeastern’ wasn’t nominated for a Grammy, but perhaps this diamond is too rough for that audience. It might not be the perfect album, but it is the best Americana album of 2013, and it is the Ironbath’s album of the year.

Posted in Amy Speace, Band Of Joy, Bella Hardy, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, English Folk, Jason Isbell, John Fullbright, Matraca Berg, Patty Griffin, Robert Plant, Rodney Crowell | 1 Comment

The Golden Bath’s 2013: Album Of The Year – Part 2 of 3

So this is the list of 20 albums that the Ironbath thought were pretty damn good in 2013 – but didn’t quite reach the shortlist. They are not in any order of merit, but are roughly alphabetical (at least in the way that iTunes thinks the alphabet works).

Product DetailsThe Band Of Heathens ‘Sunday Morning Record’

This is a new band for the Ironbath. This album has the feel of a classic alt-country album from the late 1970’s. Something that is visualised to be playing as you drive down the Nevada freeway. It is warm and familiar and each song slowly builds and stretches into an anthemic ending. The final song ‘Texas’ is particularly splendid.

Product DetailsBrandy Clark ’12 Stories’

Brandy is everything that Ashley Monroe is hyped as. These 12 stories are such accomplished novellas of life reflected in Nashville Americana music.  Her rhymes are delightful and the words fall into place as she sings them. This is the folk music of people who live in trailers, or come home to find their husband in bed with a platinum blonde, To be honest infidelity is a strong theme in her music, and the Ironbath thinks that it would be best not to cross Brandy Clark.

Product DetailsCaitlin Rose ‘The Stand-In’

Caitlin’s full length debut ‘Own Side Now’ was magnificent, and made her the darling of the music industry. On her second album she turns up the temperature. It has a rockier edge and the songs are harder. However, she maintains her delicate vocal and she is clearly enjoying every moment of her time in the spotlight. Like many great albums it is uncharacterisable. Is it country or rock? Modern or traditional? Who knows. Who cares?

Product DetailsChris Wood ‘None The Wiser’

Chris Wood has been a stalwart of the English folk scene for 30+ years & 20 something albums. He is associated with Andy Cutting & Martin Carthy, and was a founder of The Imagined Village & The Darwin Project. The Ironbath has seen Chris Wood many times, mainly in various muddy fields during summer folk festivals. Then landed this CD and all the history was wiped away by a stunning – career defining – album. Perhaps it took all those years travelling from gig to gig to build up the bile and contempt for modern life that is evident in these songs.

Product DetailsThe Civil Wars ‘The Civil Wars’

A couple of years ago The Civil Wars burst on to the music scene with an elegant series of harmonies that sounded like immediate classics. They would throw in a range of covers from Michael Jackson to Portishead in their live shows, then during a European tour at the end of 2012 it all fell apart as those close harmonies shattered into irreconcilable differences. Except that in 2013 they managed to release a live album ‘Unplugged at VH1’, a soundtrack with T-Bone Burnett ‘A Place at The Table’, and this their second, and probably their last studio album. It was recorded before the split, with post production completed in early 2013. The antics of Joy Williams & John Paul White have left a lot of people cold, and the Ironbath would have been happy to miss this off the list, except that, well, it is a pretty good album. It runs fairly similar to ‘Barton Hollow’ but if anything is technically better. The songs sound deeper.

Product DetailsDevon Sproule & Mike O’Neill ‘Colours’

The Ironbath was struck by Devon’s quaint vocal style and peculiar songs some 5 years ago, so any new album is a must have. This album, where she duets with Mike O’Neill is more difficult to enjoy than previous offerings, but perhaps just takes a little longer to understand, and there is beauty in this collection. It is worthy of a place on this list because it is challenging, although it was a close call.

Product DetailsEmily Barker & The Red Clay Halo ‘Dear River’

Emily lives just down the road from the Ironbath, and at Easter he saw her in a modern yurt constructed at a local pub, then in September he saw her in her first US performance in Nashville. Emily is an Australian by birth and her music is a thoughtful harmony of Anglo-Australian folk, and this album is loosely a conceptual reflection of the journey she has taken.

Product DetailsHem ‘Departure & Farewell’

Every Hem album is a delicately beautiful piece of art created by Dan Messé and sung by Sally Ellyson accompanied by a range of talented musicians. The Ironbath saw Hem for the first time in October, and sitting there in a delightful old theatre it felt as if he was holding a hot water bottle onto his heart. This is music to inspire and to feel good about love and friends and everything that is godly in this world.

Product DetailsKim Richey ‘Thorn In My Heart’

The Ironbath was woefully late to the Kim Richey fan club, and it wasn’t until he saw her during the AMA festival in September that he noticed this album. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that gems like this can easily be overlooked. Kim has a wonderful voice, equal parts strong and sensitive, that dominates this album as she tells stories that relate to her life. These aren’t the songs of a young woman, but have a solidity that is derived from bitter experience, yet are resolutely positive.

Product DetailsLaura Marling ‘Once I Was An Eagle’

It would be too easy to dismiss Laura Marling as an art-folk artist who rides the popularity of fashion, but in her 4 albums (she is still only 23) she has developed her own unique style of intelligent, delicate folk, tinged pop, gaining 3 Mercury Music Prize nominations. The last two albums have been produced by Ethan Johns, and they are a perfect match, delivering sharp, sparse compositions. ‘Once I was an Eagle’ includes 16 tracks split at the mid point with an interlude, which is needed to allow the brain to recover from the complexity.

Product DetailsLondon Grammar ‘If You Wait’

London Grammar are described as an ethereal trip-hop trio who met at University and went from small club to YouTube viral sensation to just missing out on a number 1 album in the UK. Hannah Reid, the vocalist, has a vulnerable quality that is complimented by the production-light sound track. This is especially shown on the stunningly affected ‘Wasting My Young Years’. The Ironbath expects that this may well prove to be their best album as it is likely that their sound might deteriorate as they succumb in major label production and develop their own confidence. But for the time being this is a wonderful, naïve band that has gone from nothing to defining the sound of 2013 within a year. What if all pop music was this well crafted?

Product DetailsThe Lone Bellow ‘The Lone Bellow’

The Ironbath saw The Lone Bellow play to an absolutely packed High Watt in Nashville after the AMA Awards Show, and a few days later in the Downtown Church. Both times they sung their hearts out with catchy songs to the captivated audience. This is Brooklyn folk, the type of music that can still be heard in the noisiest of New York bars. It is the most ballsy of all the debut albums this year.

Product DetailsLori McKenna ‘Massachusetts’

This collection of songs is so distinctive that they can only come from Lori McKenna. It is her most confident album to date and features beautiful songs. She described the process for this album as ‘The goal was emotion not perfection’, but the emotion is perfect, and as the song says she ‘Makes Every Word Hurt’.

Product DetailsLucy Wainwright Roche ‘There’s A Last Time For Everything’

The Ironbath stumbled across this album just 2 weeks ago when he bumped into Lucy (who unbeknownst was supporting Neko Case) and was able to purchase it directly from her. There is a purity in her voice and an ever-present need for reassurance. Lucy is a natural cynic who always seems surprised that anyone is listening yet her music is an utter delight. This album is even better than ‘Lucy’, her debut, and there is a simplistic complexity to her poetry.

Product DetailsThe Milk Carton Kids ‘The Ash & Clay’

The Milk Carton Kids have reinvented the sound of Simon & Garfunkle on this, and their previous albums, and it would be a pastiche were it not that they are so skilful. They are so unassuming about their talents yet they have been nominated for a Grammy for this album. It is a timeless album and the guitar work is reminiscent of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings on their finest creations. Their previous album ‘Prologue’ finished with a spectacular composition called ‘Michigan’. This album finishes with an equally magnificent ‘Memphis’. The Ironbath wonders what will conclude their next album ‘Miami’, ‘Missouri’ or perhaps ‘Mobile’?

Product DetailsOver The Rhine ‘Meet Me At The Edge Of The World’

The only thing better than a brand new Over The Rhine album is a brand new Over The Rhine double album. The Ironbath got to preview a number of these tracks on Cayamo in January. This is just about as perfect as music comes – technically proficient, lyrically complex and soulfully thoughtful. It also has one of the best album titles of the year.

Product DetailsSarah Jarosz ‘Build Me Up From The Bones’

Vying against The Milk Carton Kids for the Best Folk Album Grammy is this album from Sarah Jarosz. You needn’t get into a discussion of what is folk, and if this is folk, to appreciate that this album deserves an award of some type or another. It has an understated quality that is easy on the ear and  striking to the soul.

Product DetailsSteve Earle ‘The Low Highway’

A new Steve Earle album can never be ignored, and he maintains his purple patch with ‘The Low Highway’, which has a more traditional country feel to it than of late, and was clearly written for his full Dukes & Duchesses band. Earle has musically moved away from his Washington Square home down to New Orleans where he has appeared as a street musician in Treme, whilst remaining pure Steve Earle thick with social references.

Product DetailsSturgill Simpson ‘High Top Mountain’

If the award was given purely on twang, Sturgill Simpson would be a clear winner. This is pure ‘Life Ain’t Fair And The World Is Mean’ country, which, coincidentally is the title of the first track of the album. The Ironbath missed his opportunity to see Sturgill whilst in Nashville, and whilst he is visiting the UK in February the Ironbath will be on Cayamo. This album doesn’t get far from the groove cut by a 1,000 country albums that have gone before but it is solid and what it does, it does very well.

Product DetailsWillie Sugarcapps ‘Willie Sugarcapps’

They’ve made the ridiculous sounding band name stretch to the album title and the lead track. It comes from a truncation of Will Kimbrough, Sugarcane Jane (Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford) and  Grayson Capps. Somehow they left Corky Hughes out of name, but not the band. Let’s just be blessed they didn’t call themselves Corky Willie Sugarcapps. The album sounds great, pulling on the strengths of each of its component members. The peddle steel gives it a timeless quality and Savana’s vocal adds beauty to ‘Oh, Colorado’.

The Ironbath’s final 5 greatest albums of 2013 will follow on tomorrow. Can you guess the albums on the list?

 

Posted in Andy Cutting, Art Garfunkle, Band Of Heathens, Brandy Clark, Caitlin Rose, Cayamo, Chris Wood, Devon Sproule, Emily Baker & The Red Clay Halo, Ethan Johns, Gillian Welch, Hem, Kim Richey, Laura Marling, London Grammar, Lori McKenna, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Martin Carthy, Michael Jackson, Mike O'Neill, Milk Carton Kids, Paul Simon, Portishead, sarah Jarosz, Steve Earle, Sturgill Simpson, The Civil Wars, The Imagined Village, The Lone Bellow, Willie Sugarcapps | 2 Comments

The Golden Bath’s 2013: Album Of The Year – Part 1 of 3

Gold BathIt wasn’t even half way through the year that it became evident that the Album Of The Year was going to be a race for second place. But enough of that for now, this is the process that was used to select the best 25 albums.

The Ironbath has painstakingly searched through the 106 albums in his collection that were released in 2013. This is where the first omissions were spotted. Unexplainable oversights have left Ethan Jones, Stephen Kellogg & Lindi Ortega off of the Ironbath’s iTunes to date. Some albums failed to meet the criteria due to a technicality. For example The Staves ‘Dead, Born & Grown’ was a 2012 release in the UK, but 2013 in the US, so featured on the Ironbath’s (as yet unpublished) 2012 list.

It was a year that delivered so many stunning albums, many from new artists, although with some legendary exceptions too. It is getting to the point where it is becoming impossible to digest all of the great music that is released. A couple of years back it was estimated that it would take several years, non-stop, night & day to listen to every English language cd released in that year. It must be double that by now, and it shocking how low the play count is for some of the albums considered by the Ironbath to be the best.

These are some of the albums that failed to make the list, not because they aren’t any good – they are all fine – but perhaps they just didn’t lodge on the Ironbath’s radar during the year. AMA nominated Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis didn’t make the cut, Holly Williams missed out as the Ironbath thought her previous album ‘Here With Me’ was better than ‘The Highway’ despite the critical praise it has received in other camps. The Black Lillies may well have made it on a different day.

Richard Thompson’s ‘Electric’ isn’t on the list – not least because most of the songs sound better when he performs them acoustic. Billy Bragg’s ‘Tooth & Nail’ isn’t there as there wasn’t anything new on the album.

The Ironbath just hasn’t had enough exposure to Griffin House, Hey Marseilles, Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Last Bison, Seth Glier, Local Natives and a dozen more. Each of which may deserve a place on this list. Ruth Moody, Aoife O’Donovan, Court Yard Hounds, Alela Diane, Samantha Crain & Nora Jane Struthers released wonderful albums this year and the Ironbath has no excuse for not including them.

Brits: Lucy Ward, Heidi Talbot, Hannah James & Sam Sweeney, Ahab, Gabriella Aplin, Lisa Knapp have all been left out. They are all fine albums but in all honesty it hasn’t been the strongest year for British music – despite the continued invasion in to the US pop charts. The Ironbath nearly included Birdy’s ‘Fire Within’, but just felt it didn’t find it’s direction despite some exquisite songs. There are some great British albums included on the list, though.

Enough with the what could have been, let the Ironbath show you his 25 favourite albums of the year. They are presented in 2 sections. The Top 5, and the next best 20. They aren’t in any particular order, other than that, as it is hard enough to define which album is better than another.

And still the Ironbath thinks he has left one out.

Btw If you arrived at this blog by googling “Golden Bath” then you may well be most disappointed. Sorry!

Posted in Ahab, Aiofe O'Donovan, Alela Diane, Billy Bragg, Birdy, Bruce Robinson & Kelly Willis, Court Yard Hounds, Ethan Johns, Gabriella Aplin, Griffin House, Hannah James & Sam Sweeney, Heidi Talbot, Hey Marseilles, Holly Williams, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Lindi Ortega, Lisa Knapp, Local Natives, Lucy Ward, Nora Jane Struthers, Richard Thompson, Ruth Moody, Samantha Crain, Seth Glier, Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers, The Black Lillies, The Last Bison, The Staves | Leave a comment