2021 CATCH UP REVIEWS. PART 1 – PHIL ODGERS, CHRISTY MOORE, JIM LINDBERG, DAN WALSH

Here’s hoping you all had a great Christmas and New Year.  Despite everything it’s been another great year for music. Maybe not quite as much of it but things are picking up and the end of 2021 saw us caught in a deluge of music we couldn’t keep up with. Any regular reader will know we prefer to do detailed reviews and even though we can’t do them justice here are some notable release we simply had to mention before the end of the year.  Each one impressed us immensely and are worthy of your time so go ahead and check them out. We start with Part 1 and a bunch of solo artists.

PHIL ODGERS – Ghosts Of Rock’n’Roll  (Bandcamp)

Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers has been one half of the legendary joint vocal strike force of legendary folk rebel rockers The Men They Couldn’t Hang since the early 80’s and has recorded under many various monikers over the years. In fact this is his fifth solo album. In February TMTCH announced the sad death Of Swill’s fellow vocalist Stefan Cush and many wondered where The Men would go from here. Well The Men still continue to perform and Swill put out Ghosts Of Rock’n’Roll in September after a successful campaign to raise the necessary to release it. Eleven tracks of acoustic folkiness accompanied by guests galore including Sid Griffin and The Men fiddler Bobby Valentino. The music itself owes much to The Men perhaps inevitable given Phil Odgers distinctive vocals. Of the songs here the opening ‘The Serpent, The Maiden and The Bear’ kicks off with a county-ish happy-go-lucky jaunty banjo led song with the warm vocals telling of guiding your way home from reading the stars.

The following song, a cover of Phil Ochs, ‘Flower Lady’ is another high point standing out from the more Folky songs with its R’n’R guitar while it is ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ that is most memorable. A beautiful study in aging and dementia originally written by Joe Solo. Ghosts Of Rock’n’Roll is like a Men album it that it does encompass several distinct influences and also like a Men album it is both uplifting and sobering. Though the sadness of the death of Cush hangs over the album is dedicated to Cush and is a fitting memorial to him.

CHRISTY MOORE – Flying Into Mystery   (Here)

A ‘proper’ new album from one of the last remaining true legends of Irish music. Christy Moore’s first studio album since 2016 features twelve songs Christy has brought to life and made unique even if some we have heard before. For the first time (with the exception of health induced breaks) since 1969 Christy’s life hasn’t revolved around live performances and so as he says “all my focus has been on this album”. As is common with a lot of his work the album consists of his own interpretations of others and a handful of his own compositions. There are Gary Moore’s ‘Johnny Boy’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘I Pity The Poor Immigrant’ among the better known but also the less well known like the chilling ‘December 1942’ by Cork singer/ songwriter Ricky Lynch telling of the arrival of a train from the Warsaw ghetto at Auschwitz “to unload its human cargo/met by demons and by devils and their savage dogs”. While I do sometimes despair of the dreaded ‘celebrity opinion’ and their desire to stay relevant Christy’s politics at least come from the heart and on the album’s lead single ‘Clock Winds Down’ he sings of the mess the planet is in. Written by American singer Jim Page who was also covered by The Moving Hearts when they recorded his anti-nuclear classic ‘Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Russian Roulette’.

This is followed by another harrowing song, the traditional ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ telling the cautionary tale of a young lad Henry tried and convicted for poaching and sentenced to transportation to the horrors of the British penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).

“Young men, all now beware, Lest you are drawn into a snare”

My own favourite here is one of his own songs and ‘Bord na Móna Man’ is always the kind of song I think of when I think of Christy Moore. A comic tale and a tribute to the art of turf cutting and turf cutters. Their was a time when it was a feature of Irish national life but these days the government would rather import it from overseas.

Their is something very familiar about this album. That mix of trad, modern covers and rowdy self penned numbers is very much the Christy formula but he does it with such style that the whole thing still sounds fresh and new.

JIM LINDBERG – Songs From The Elkhorn Trail (Here)       

Here’s another ‘Punk’ vocalist taking time out from his usual duties to lay down a solo album but unlike Cush this is the Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg’s first album. Known for shouty Pop Punk friendly anthems he takes a far more reflective turn here and once again the subject of getting old comes up and again is handled beautifully. His father passed away in 2018 from Alzheimer’s Disease and was obviously a huge influence on his life supporting him in his career with Pennywise and even buying him his first guitar. The album cover depicts Jim playing guitar by his old mans Palm Desert home by the Elkhorn Trail and on the cello infused ‘Don’t Lay Me Down’ he opens his heart to us

“Drove to the desert house to say my last goodbye / I ran every light, didn’t make it there in time … A toast to those who gave us life”

Some of the songs here are over twenty years old and the upbeat music often disguises something more serious. The opening track ‘The Palm Of Your Hand’ is a great rousing start and call to sort ourselves out despite the pain we may hold.

On ‘You’re Not Alone’ Jim keeps it catchy as hell, poppy even with an inspiring message keeping the cringe at arms bay. ‘Hello Again’ is a gentle number that verges on exploding into something else but is reigned in magnificently. The words of a man who loves a drink while he reminisces about his Dad before the piano led ending. A truly lovely song though dark as much of the album is. The full band ‘Not One Of Them’ comes as close to a rock-song as possible here but still retains a country-ish feel to it while ‘Good Enough’ also comes close but in acoustic way. On such a good album it may be hard to pick a standout track but along with the two songs featured here a special mention for the strings laden ‘It’s Only’ and an emotional journey through the life of a life well lived.

Not being much of a Pennywise fan I was initially reluctant to give this a spin but I am glad I did and I am sure it will connect with many people in the same way it has with me. The album features some star guests in Social Distortions David Hidalgo Jr. on drums, The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones Joe Gittleman on bass, Dropkick Murphys / Walker Roaders guitarist Marc Orrell and award-winning record producer, musician, and songwriter Ted Hutt working the knobs. Lindberg will be celebrating his Mammy’s Irish roots supporting the Dropkick Murphys for their St. Patrick’s home town gigs so no doubt plenty of you will be lucky to see him then.

DAN WALSH – Live at the Floodgate   (Here)

There ain’t many instruments so suited to Celtic-Punk as the banjo is and while this is a Folk album there is plenty to love about the way Dan Walsh plays for everyone. Since his debut album, Tomorrow’s Still To Come, in 2009 Dan has made a considerable impact n the UK music scene with collaborations with all sorts from The Levellers to Seth Lakeman but he is more than just a ‘banjo to hire’ and his own material displays influences from some pretty imaginative sources! Born into a Irish family in the English town of Stafford Dan has been playing since 13 when so impressed by the likes of Barney McKenna and Gerry O’Connor he begged his parents to buy him a banjo and he has never looked back since. Now several album’s in he has recorded a live album ‘Live At The Floodgate’ at a pub in his own home town.

Recorded just before the first lockdown but only recently released, Live At The Floodgate sees Dan re-visiting all five of his previous albums as well as some new material and also some of his favourite covers like his outstanding version of Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’ that he has never released before. He kicks off with a thoughtful and tentative instrumental ‘Over The Border’ which ever so slowly builds into the equivalent of banjo Motorhead! The first time we hear Dan’s voice is on ‘Still A Town’ about gentrification and perhaps the destruction of the kind of places where this kind of music can still be heard. There’s a couple of auld Saw Doctors tracks ‘The Suilin’ and ‘At Least Pretend’ while ‘Late Night Drive’ at half way through the album begins to show Dan’s confidence as he plays with such speed it’s incredible and all note perfect too. You can hear from the audience too that the excitement is building. Two of the previous reviews have touched on the treatment of the elderly and here Dan puts the banjo down for acoustic guitar as he tells the moving story of an elderly man in a care home on ‘The Song Always Stays’. The song was actually inspired by a visit to Scots singer Glen Mason in a Surrey care home. Glen was often visited by musicians, whose repertoire would sometimes include his own songs, up to his death in 2014. The beauty of music eh? One of the highlights is the epic (over seven minutes!) ‘Joxers Set’ which starts off with you expecting another ballad before speeding up several times to the point where you cant imagine he can go any faster… before getting faster! Dan could have left it there but returns for the obligatory encore and the alcohol has flowed enough even for some audience participation as he sends his appreciative fans home (no doubt with the song playing in their heads for the following couple of days!) to Lester Flatt’s ‘Sleep with One Eye Open’

The live album can be very much a mixed bag but here Dan plays with such an intensity and comes across as so likeable that it’s impossible not to get drawn in. Over an hour that shows him at his very best and with the varied material here this is an album that anyone could love even them as don’t like banjos. If such a person does exist?

WATCH OUT FOR PART 2 COMING THIS WEEKEND!

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