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Americana Round-up: September 2014

Fraser Lewry on new releases from John Fullbright, Elvin Bishop, The Levon Helm Band, Hiss Golden Messenger and John Hiatt

John Fullbright: Songs

A man’s gotta process a certain amount of arrogance to call an album Songs, a statement-of-fact title that’s both throwaway and a challenge, tempting the listener to search for weaknesses in the delivery. Good luck with that, for the follow-up to 2012’s Grammy-nominated From The Ground Up is a doozy. Songs is a more sparse affair than Fullbright’s debut release, and while this removes some of the band dynamics that turned that album’s Jericho into a totem of modern Americana, it does shine a light on the delicate craft involved in assembling ballads like Write A Song and When You’re Here – both tracks are stark, stunning and utterly beautiful. The highlight is High Road, which is John Steinbeck rendered in song – a harrowing tale of love and tragedy that starts out bleak, continues with a good dollop of abject misery, and ends in a clever, surprising piano coda. (910)

**Elvin Bishop: Can’t Even Do Wrong Right **

Don’t send me no e-mails, send me a female,’ jokes Elvin Bishop on Old School, and it sums up the album (and the man) perfectly: frisky, funny and somewhat old-fashioned. Can’t Even Do Wrong Right is an unspectacular, solid collection of rollicking, good-time R&B that makes up for what it lacks in ambition with plenty of good humour. (610)

The Levon Helm Band: The Midnight Ramble Sessions Vol. 3

With a cast of big-name contributors, including Chris Robinson, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, this set of live performances is immaculately played but frustrating. The tracks are brilliantly delivered but fail to form a coherent whole. A horn-driven funk take on Willy Dixon’s The Same Thing is the highlight. (710)

Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness Of Dancers

Burdened by one of the silliest names in popular music, HGM are a very serious proposition, and MC Taylor – to give him a human name – has produced an extraordinary album. With a voice pitched neatly between Petty and Dylan, the music is quirky, textured Americana with a hint of the mysterious, notably on the rapturous Tuareg blues of Southern Grammar. (810)

John Hiatt: Terms Of My Surrender

With that craggy, cigarettes-and-sour-mash voice and a collection of songs that frequently ponder the passing of time, it’s almost a surprise that John Hiatt isn’t 112 years old. Indeed, he’s younger than Springsteen, but you’d never know it from this collection of wise, world-weary blues’n’ballads. It’s lush, grown-up, thoughtful, funny and very good. (810)