In my ever expanding quest to report on roots music in other parts of the world, this week our attention is turned to what's happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Again, we have Scotland's Carol Graham to share her insights, enthusiasm, and photographs of Americana and other roots artists she has discovered. Carol is not only steeped in the tradition, she annually travels to the US for several weeks of musical exploration, including AmericanaFest.
We always get together when she's over, compare notes, and invariably catch some of the same shows. So whenever she says someone merits my attention, I take her assessment to heart. Americana knows no geographical boundaries; it is a state of mind. Here now is what Carol has to share with us.
Scotland and the US have a long, shared history, with Scottish immigration to America dating back to Colonial times. Celtic music remains a strong influence in America. American bluegrass and folk music styles also have roots in Appalachian culture that is linked to Scotland and Ireland. These musical evolutions continue to this day, in both directions.
Glasgow is home to the world’s largest roots music festival, Celtic Connections, and its infamous "Transatlantic Sessions." Last year it expanded to include a multi-city tour of America. We’ve also experienced the best Americana artists from the US taking their first steps in the UK, from Sturgill Simpson playing solo in a small basement bar to Jason Isbell’s memorable performance in Glasgow’s tiny King Tuts venue. It’s therefore no surprise that there has been a strong influence of Americana on the music originating from Scotland. Over the last 5-10 years there has been an explosion of exciting new "Scots-Americana" music, clearly influenced by country and bluegrass and folk, that would be equally at home in Nashville as Glasgow.
I’m spoiled for wonderful live music in Glasgow. What follows are my top Scots-Americana bands, and they are amongst my top bands ever, full stop. While it’s been nice to have them as my Scottish "secret," they truly deserve a much wider audience.
The Jellyman’s Daughter
Singer-songwriting duo Emily Kelly and Graham Coe combine a sweet and unique mix of vocal harmonies with passionate cello and accomplished guitar and mandolin. They have just released their second album, Dead Reckoning, which adds banjo, double bass, and fiddle, and even a 16-piece string orchestra. The Jellyman’s Daughter are about to embark on a tour of US and Canada, so look out for them. (www.thejellymansdaughter.com)
Reid is definitely a voice to watch for the future. With a voice that is both smoky and seductive, producing cleverly crafted lyrics and melodies, she has already been selected several years in a row for a prestigious Steve Earle scholarship. She also recently won the International Songwriting Competition for her stunning lyrics. Frustratingly for her many fans, there have been no albums to date. But that will soon change as Reid has just completed her long-awaited first album, produced by Teddy Thompson. Rumor has it that Steve Earle appears on a duet.
The Doghouse Roses, Iona Macdonald and Paul Tasker, are Glasgow’s answer to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Their latest album, Lost is Not Losing, is simply wonderful. I could sit and listen to Iona’s vocals and Paul’s guitar for hours – and often do. (http://doghouseroses.net/)
Blue Rose Code
Edinburgh-born Ross Wilson is the musical tornado behind Blue Rose Code, a collective of stellar musicians that never stop improvising and re-inventing themselves. Now with an extensive catalog of music, Blue Rose Code’s last three albums have been prominent in my annual Top Ten. Wilson’s hand-picked band regularly includes Lyle Watt, one of the best guitarists in the UK, and Iain Sloan (also of the Wynntown Marshals and Peter Bruntnell Trio), who could easily be counted alongside Paul Franklin for his melodic pedal steel. (https://bluerosecode.com)
The Wynntown Marshals
I only discovered the Wynntown Marshals last year, although the legendary Bob Harris has been championing them since 2010. The Marshals have merged Americana with pop, with stellar musicianship at their core. Their 10-year back catalog combines exceptionally well-crafted songs with perfect narratives. (www.thewynntownmarshals.com)
Scots songwriter McCulloch has a wide range of influences and musical genres. His These Mountain Blues album was written during a road trip from Austin to Nashville, the title track atmospherically recalls McCulloch’s pilgrimage to visit Townes Van Zandt’s grave in Texas. Listen to his new album Bare Along the Branches on Soundcloud, or better still buy it. (www.norriemcculloch.com)
Paisley-born Jackson is currently receiving rave reviews for Are We There Yet?, her long-awaited fifth solo album. This is toe-tapping country, some rock and roll thrown in, centered by the voice of an angel. (http://www.jilljackson.co.uk/)
Ending on a sad note, I just learned that Scotland’s premier Americana venue, 02 ABC, was severely damaged by the fire that destroyed the Glasgow School of Art, including the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed library. Carol and the rest of Glasgow are devastated. My heart goes out to all of them.
Now, let's put some faces and instruments to the above-named artists in a slideshow of photographs Carol has taken, including some from the 02 ABC venue.