Slaid Cleaves, Still Fighting The War ****
This Texas-based singer-songwriter operates in much the same sort of musical territory as the much better known Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen, highlighting the trials and tribulations of small town life in the U S of A. with an empathy and perception which is sadly all too rare these days.
Cleaves’ meditations on the plight of returning war veterans and factory workers cast adrift by the effects of globalisation are delivered with an intimacy and unaffected charm which should have elevated this unassuming master craftsman to rock stardom long ago, and devotees of superior Americana would be well advised to lend an ear to tracks such as Texas Love Song, I Bet She Does or Still Fighting The War itself.
Out now (Music Road Records MRRCD 015: £10.50)
Big Deal, June Gloom ****
The follow-up to 2011’s eponymously-titled debut set finds this Anglo-American duo exceeding all expectations with a splendid package which blends subtle introspection and soaringly-extrovert guitar work in near perfect proportions.
Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe have also injected a healthy dose of muscularity into their effortlessly tuneful sound with the addition of a rock solid rhythm section, and the potent new musical hybrid that they’ve created is captured at its most compelling on Golden Light, In Your Car and the CD’s powerful finale, Close Your Eyes.
Out now (Mute Records: £7.59)
The Paul McKenna Band, Elements ****
McKenna and his cohorts have been hailed by discerning pundits as the best folk band to emerge from Scotland during the past two decades.
Their third Greentrax album adds to the impressive body of work that this inventive Glaswegian outfit has assembled since they signed to the label in 2006.
The contents deliver the familiar blend of captivating original material and solid traditional fare which has helped to cement their reputation during the past few years, including skillfully crafted acoustic gems such as Lonely Man, the dramatic fiddle driven narrative of Michael Hayes and a heartfelt cover of the great Nic Jones’ deeply poignant Ruins by the Shore.
Released on June 24th (Greentrax CDTRAX 373: £13.00)
Arcane Roots, Blood and Chemistry ****
Arcane Roots’ eagerly-awaited debut set takes listeners on a voyage of musical discovery as the post-hardcore trio unleash a no holds barred assault on the senses, blending inventively progressive passages with the odd moment of quiet melodic reflection.
Held Like Kites and the epic You Keep Me Here bring together the various disparate elements of Arcane Roots’ vibrant sound most successfully and the two tracks provide an ideal introduction to one of the most interesting rock albums that I’ve come across this year.
Out now (Play It Again Sam: £8.37)
Blues’n’Trouble, Try Anything Twice ****
No less a luminary than the great B.B.King has apparently hailed Blues’n’Trouble as “The best white blues band in the world,” and this gritty Scottish outfit have certainly amassed a wealth of experience during their thirty years together, having worked with such giants of the genre as Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and King himself.
The band deliver their hard-driving version of the Chicago blues with the swagger and bravado which has become their trademark as they revive golden oldies such as Slim Harpo’s King Bee, Bo Diddley’s Cadillac and the Count Five’s 1966 garage band classic, Psychotic Reaction alongside some typically muscular new creations from the pens of guitarist Sandy Tweeddale and soulful frontman Tim Elliott.
Out now (Moonbeam Music MB012: £12.00)