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Steve Black: All The Best/Alan West: The Way It Is

 Old friends and collaborators, Steve Black and Alan West are two English country musicians with strong American connections; heading to Nashville together, they have made two albums that are enriched by the skills of a bunch of Nashville players, with the wonderful Thomm Jutz at the centre of things.

Steve Black is above all a songwriter, and his album gathers "all the best" of his songs and places them in the beautiful settings provided by these Nashville guys. I would say his style is heavily influenced by what you might call blue collar country music - the world as seen from the viewpoint of the regular Joe. Though his songs frequently have an obviously American setting, he somehow manages to retain his own accent, which is a good thing. He has a whisky roughened voice with a nice warmth to it, strong enough and confident enough to carry the mini-epicChildren of the Rodeo, which has a hauntingly melancholic arragement of interwoven guitar lines. The songs are strong, exhibiting the kind of craftsmanship that country music encourages - a story, a melody and not a thing out of place. The approach might vary: there's a harder edged modern country rock sound toMiss You So(could be Drive-by Truckers) whilst the jaunty story songCome on Home , featuring some fine country fiddle from Justin Moses, could have been recorded at almost any time in the last thirty years or so. The English accent sometimes gives more of a folk feel to a song but mostly what stands out about this album is the satisfying sense of a bunch of talented guys coming together to make something that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. 

      Alan West's disc from the same sessions amounts to just six tracks: three more Steve Black songs (including a co-write with Jim Almand), one from Texan Hugh Moffat and two from Jefferson Ross (including a co-write with Alison Mellon). Alan is rightly celebrated as one of the treasures of the UK country music scene. He has a wonderful voice, so rich and resonant, and possibly a little more Dick Gaughan than Townes van Zandt.  These songs understandably cover similar territory to Steve Black's album, and are similarly embellished by the apparently effortless skill of Nashville's finest. The standout song for me is The Prophet Elijah (the Ross/Mellon composition), delivered with suitably stately seriousness by Alan, sounding pretty much like a prophet himself. He's so good at shaping his voice to suit the song, and six songs should be plenty enough to convince you that he's a man you'd like to hear for a whole evening.

     All The Best and The Way It Is are just two more examples of what fine British Americana there is out there these days.

John Davy

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March 2018

Mary Gauthier
95 pts.
Rifles And Rosary Beads
In the Black Records
Ed Romanoff
89 pts.
The Orphan King
Pinerock Records
Dean Owens
43 pts.
Southern Wind
At The Helm
Marlon Williams
41 pts.
Make Way for Love
Dead Oceans
Rod Picott
39 pts.
Out Past The Wires
Welding Rod Music
Vivian Leva
39 pts.
Time is Everything
Free Dirt Records
H.C McEntire
38 pts.
Merge Records
34 pts.
Lord of the Desert
Okehdokee Records
Alela Diane
32 pts.
Allpoints Believe
Ben Miller Band
32 pts.
Choke Cherry Tree
New West Records
The Lynnes
32 pts.
Heartbreak Song For The Radio
Adam James Sorensen
30 pts.
Dust Cloud Refrain
Continental Song City
John Oates
27 pts.
Thirthy Tigers
Cameron Blake
26 pts.
Fear Not
Continental Song City/CRS
John Gorka
26 pts.
True In Time
Red House
I'm With Her
25 pts.
See You Around
Rounder Records
The Reverend Shawn Amos
22 pts.
Breaks it Down
Put Together Music
Beth Wimmer
21 pts.
Chris Smither
21 pts.
Call Me Lucky
Signature Sounds
Dayna Kurtz
21 pts.
Here, Vol 2
Kismet Records
Joan Baez
20 pts.
Whistle Down The Wind
Proper Records
Kacy & Clayton
20 pts.
The Siren’s Song
New West Records
Caleb Caudle
19 pts.
Crushed Coins
Cornelius Chapel Records
Ad Vanderveen
18 pts.
Denver Nevada
Ben Reel
18 pts.
Land Of Escape
B REEL Records
Bruno Deneckere

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