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Red Hook Rapids is the duo that was born during the recording of Ally MacLeod's wonderful solo album, Astor Place. I guess it was their shared devotion to a particular strand of American music that brought them together and resulted in this, their first album. It’s a hybrid of British and American music that is unique to these guys, their folk voices fusing with some country-influenced stylings and a romantic fascination with American landscapes. This being their first album together, it’s maybe not surprising that it feels like we have two halves that haven’t quite meshed yet. Only one of the twelve songs is a co-write; Donald Forbes contributes six and Ally MacLeod has five of her own songs. The fact that they resisted the temptation to include even a single cover is testament to their justifiable faith in their own material.

With Donald Forbes sitting in the engineer’s chair, playing lead guitar and taking the lead vocal on his own songs, his part in this project is pretty immense; I have to say that his guitar playing and arrangements bring a surprising amount of beef to songs that originate in an acoustic duo format. Sometimes, as on his own song Thanxalot, nothing much is added to the core sound but the fuller arrangements to be found on songs like Miss Fortune and Tennessee Bound sound really good. Drumming that is sensitive to the vibe of the song, some beautiful electric guitar and fine fiddling from Pete Robertson all make for a production job that sounds just right.

There is a strong contrast between the two voices here; whilst Donald’s voice has a slightly keening folk quality to it, Ally’s is warm, authoritative and immensely strong. Sometimes the juxtaposition can seem a little jarring and on their one co-write, Holding My Breath, they’ve worked hard on finding a way to mesh their voices together as they weave together around the melody. It’s a really beautiful, romantic song - it sounds like something Kiki Dee might have recorded around the time of Amoreuse – and you can hear that they’re getting close to something really good. To an extent it seems they’ve played around on this record, just for the fun of it, and all sorts of influences and echoes pop up. I’m not at all keen on the reggae-lite of Doesn’t Mean a Ting, but the guitar-picking that drives along IDAHAT is great fun, and the guitar-twang echo on Demons hints at a new genre, rockabilly-noir.

As on Astor Place however, Ally MacLeod’s singing stands out a country mile as one of the most astonishing things you’ll ever hear. As the old saw goes, she could sing the phone directory and make it sound good, because she brings richness of meaning to every phrase she sings. Whether she’s singing something that could be intensely personal (Demons) or one of her trips through the America of her memory/imagination, you believe every word like it’s come down from the mountain on tablets of stone. And when she cuts loose and really delivers the power in that voice, well… just check out the closing lines of Fortune Cookie. The power develops as the song progresses and there is just so much in that one long note when she’s going to “put the woorrrld to rights”, it’ll take your breath away. At the moment, it’s a tie between this song and Out of the Dark as my favourite on the album. Whereas Fortune Cookie features Ally’s singing at its most thrilling, Out of the Dark is a really powerful song, featuring a richly eloquent guitar accompaniment from Donald Forbes.

You feel that these guys are like a spring that’s been coiled for a long time and that finally they have a chance to put all that pent-up musical energy down on disc. Long may they run…

 

John Davy

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May 2018

1
John Prine
67 pts.
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records
JJC,MB,SP,RM
2
Levi Parham
58 pts.
It's All Good
Continental Records
CRS,JB,TK
3
Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
55 pts.
Texas, etc...
DollyRocker
HDB,CVL,DHO
4
Michael McDermott
54 pts.
Out From Under
Continental Song City
JDO,LK,BK
5
Sam Morrow
48 pts.
Concrete and Mud
Forty Below Records
MA,JBO,HB
6
Caleb Caudle
39 pts.
Crushed Coins
Cornelius Chapel Records
 
7
Western Centuries
36 pts.
Songs From The Deluge
Free Dirt Records
MF
8
Carter Sampson
34 pts.
Lucky
Continental Song City
 
9
Charley Crockett
30 pts.
Lonesome as a Shadow
Son of Davy/30 Tigers
 
10
Courtney Marie Andrews
28 pts.
May Your Kindness Remain
Loose Music
JV
11
Ed Romanoff
27 pts.
The Orphan King
Pinerock Records
 
 
Joan Baez
27 pts.
Whistle Down The Wind
Proper Records
HD
 
Pharis and Jason Romero
27 pts.
Sweet Old Religion
Lula Records
SZ,LM
14
Gretchen Peters
24 pts.
Dancing With The Beast
Proper Records
KG
 
Old Crow Medicine Show
24 pts.
Volunteer
Columbia Records
GF
 
Will Stewart
24 pts.
County Seat
Cornelius Chapel Records
 
17
Ben Reel
22 pts.
Land Of Escape
B REEL Records
GC,FC
 
Birds Of Chicago
22 pts.
Love In Wartime
Signature Sounds
 
 
Emily Herring
22 pts.
Gliding
Eight 30 Records
RST,RH
20
Jenny van West
21 pts.
Happiness To Burn
Independent
PJ,FS,JJ
 
Mary Gauthier
21 pts.
Rifles And Rosary Beads
In the Black Records
 
22
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers
20 pts.
Years
Bloodshot Records
FCE
23
David Starr
19 pts.
South And East
Independent
HM
24
Cold Tone Harvest
18 pts.
After You
Independent
 
25
Grant Peeples
17 pts.
Settling Scores vol. 2
Continental

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