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         English singer/songwriter Jamie Freeman produced a debut album a couple of years back which sounds like it may have been focussed on his solo performance. Not so this ambitious, bright, exuberant follow-up. The full band are there to give things beef but a lot of studio time and some mighty guests from across the Atlantic (Larkin Poe, The Good Lovelies, Brandy Zdan and transplanted English finger-picker Richard Smith) all add up to a sound that is bursting at the seams with great musicianship.  Mark Chadwick from The Levellers helped with the production, which might lead you to expect a stronger English folk element than is actually manifest. No, this album springs firmly from a host of American influences: there is twang, there is swing, there’s rocking country, white gospel and even something of a muscular rebel yell going on.  Is it too broad, too unfocussed? Not at all, because this is a record of full-blooded commitment that sweeps all quibbles aside and leaves you smiling at this guy’s enthusiasm for his chosen art form.

            There are occasions when you feel the kitchen sink has been chucked in for good measure – the soaring gospel vocals on Key of Me, for example, are pretty wonderful but detract from an equally wonderful break on the electric guitar which is played, I think, by Jonathan Hirsch. Mostly though, I find myself appreciating the time spent on details that add some new unexpected pleasure. On the same song, Rachel Davies sings a harmony vocal on the opening verse that lifts the whole thing marvellously. In fact, she contributes a vocal performance to nearly every track here and sounds pretty special – a great voice with a talent for fitting her voice to those around her.

             The music might be distinctly American but the lyric writing has a quirky, down-to-earth Englishness to it most of the time. There are three co-writes: one with Brandy Zdan and a couple with poet Amy Tudor. One of those is called Scrabble in Afghanistan and sounds like the most obvious single here – on the strength of it’s punchy, exuberant verve rather than the slightly unlikely title, which unfolds as the tale of a soldier in Afghanistan escaping the strains of his posting with occasional on-line word games.  It is perhaps typical of the songs here in the sense that the thought tends to get ahead of the emotion which makes him sound over-earnest at times. He compensates for that, though, with a dedication to his craft that makes this a pretty special album, a tour-de-force tour of Americana from an English perspective. 

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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