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www.charlierothmusic.com

Well I haven’t heard all of Charlie Roth’s previous six albums, but I suspect that Cactus Tartan Heart is his best work yet. Inspired by his recent troubadour travels around the British Isles, Charlie seems to have distilled his own particular melange of Celtic, country and folk music into something that touches the pure source of these things, threading the strands together so that his version of Wild Mountain Thyme can sit comfortably alongside his own bottom-of-the-bottle honky tonk song, Lonely Bar, and sound like natural company for each other.

        Half of these songs are Charlie’s own work; two co-writes, two from the (British) tradition and one each from Jack Hardy and Tim Henderson complete the line-up and, in a subtle way, every strand of folk music seems to make an appearance. Social commentary, sentimentality, love songs, humour and a strong feel for the core truths of life are married to gently beautiful music making. Charlie’s knack for a natural melody and the understated beauty of his guitar playing (and that of his sidekick, Kurt Rodman) is at the heart of the music but, in a quiet sort of a way, this is a really rich production. More than a dozen other musicians play their part in these songs, participating in arrangements that gently enhance each one. There’s an ironically cheerful shuffle on the hard times song, Baltic Avenue, that features some nicely boozy trumpet playing from Tom Pattock; we get the full Irish monty, complete with whistle and bodhran, for Jack Hardy’s fine song about an Irish migrant worker, Uley Mill Song, and on the song that closes the album, Cactus Heart, an elegant arrangement of acoustic guitar, viola and bodhran keeps things warm and intimate. The cherry on the top of it all for me is Charlie’s take on Wild Mountain Thyme. This is possibly the best version of this old standard that I’ve ever heard; Charlie’s vocal is utterly sincere, he really sounds like he’s crooning to the lass of his fancy, whilst the arrangement is utterly gorgeous. There’s some beautiful playing on the hammered dulcimer from Paul Imholte that sounds like a mountain burn in springtime – absolutely excellent stuff.

         Sometimes you become aware that it’s Charlie’s singing that is the real star of this album. For a mid-western American he sounds remarkably Irish to me when the song calls for it. I don’t have Irish ears, obviously, but he seems to be able to inhabit the world of his Irish songs quite as comfortably as he sings his more obviously country/Americana numbers.  He travels from the wry humour of Wadayagonado to the desperate pleading of Holy Mother of God and sounds completely at one with the feel of the song – and with the tradition of each idiom – every time. I was fortunate enough to be witness to Charlie’s pied piper charm when he was over in the Highlands last year and I’m so pleased he’s been able to nail on record what makes him such an engaging performer; he has an absolute devotion to song and a child-like enthusiasm for all the wonders that the world of song can unfold, so these twelve songs are just a sample of what he can do, and just possibly the finest slice of transatlantic folk that you’ll hear this year. Finally, an added bonus is that the cover of the cd features one of Danny Schmidt's many excellent photographs; Danny is a fine songwriter himself and keeps a photoblog that is a joy to follow.

John Davy

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September 2018

1
The Devil Makes Three
70 pts.
Chains Are Broken
New West
FC,JB,RK,TJ,LK
2
Jimmy LaFave
65 pts.
Peace Town
Music Road Records
PKO
3
Malcolm Holcombe
48 pts.
Come Hell Or High Water
Gypsy Eyes Music
FB,JBO
4
Cody Canada & the Departed
47 pts.
3
Blue Rose Records
CVL,DHO
5
Jeffrey Foucault
43 pts.
Blood Brothers
Blueblade Records
MB,SZ
6
The War And Treaty
42 pts.
Healing Tide
Thirty Tigers
FCE,AL,MG
7
Martha Fields
40 pts.
Dancing Shadows
Independent
SP,DH,RST,RW
8
The Weight Band
35 pts.
World Gone Mad
Must Have Music
DD,CRS,BM
9
David Olney
32 pts.
This Side Or The Other
Black Hen Music
LM
 
The Black Sorrows
32 pts.
Citizen John
Blue Rose Records
 
11
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis
31 pts.
Wild Wild Wild
Bloodshot Records
GS
12
Hadley McCall Thackston
28 pts.
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
 
 
Nathan Bell
28 pts.
Er Gwaetha Pawb a Phopeth
Angry Stick
PK
14
Curse Of Lono
26 pts.
As I Fell
Submarine Cat Records
MM,JF
15
Ryan Martin
25 pts.
Gimme Some Light
High Moon
 
 
Stephen Simmons
25 pts.
Gall
Locke Creek Records
TK,HDB
17
Jason McNiff
23 pts.
Joy And Independence
At The Helm Records
 
 
Jim Lauderdale
23 pts.
Time Flies
Yep Roc
 
 
Kevin Gordon
23 pts.
Tilt and Shine
Crowville Media
MP
20
Eliza Gilkyson
21 pts.
Secularia
Red House Records
KG,JJC
21
Boz Scaggs
20 pts.
Out Of the Blues
Concord Records
BH,JSM
 
Lucero
20 pts.
Among The Ghosts
Thirty Tigers
JJ
 
Melissa Carper & Rebecca Patek
20 pts.
Brand New Old-Time Songs
Independent
MW
24
The Jayhawks
17 pts.
Back Roads and Abandoned Motels
Legacy
 
25
Lori McKenna
16 pts.
Tree
Cn Records

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