Sugarfoot

In the Clearing

Crispin Glover

Sugarfoot’s latest represents a branching out: Unlike the Norwegian band’s earlier releases, the overall feel of the music has become “country prog” (for lack of a better term) more than simply “country rock.”

No doubt this has something to do with the fact that bassist Bent Sæther also is in Motorpsycho (not to be confused with Motorhead, although the former group did start out in kind of a prog-inspired hard rock vein before incorporating psychedelic, pop and avant-jazz elements).

Of course, founding members and guitarists Øyvind Holm and Hogne Galåen, who were in psych-pop outfit Deleted Waveform Gatherings, obviously are not ones to be tied to a mainstream musical genre either.

But perhaps the man most responsible for Sugarfoot’s evolutionary quantum leap is producer Lars Horntveth, himself a musician and composer with experimental jazz group Jaga Jazzist.

Galåen, when asked by email, was kind enough to tell Good New Music the story of how Sugarfoot ended up with such a strong producer:

“Lars Horntveth had collaborated with Motorpsycho earlier … and we needed to think fresh after two albums recorded at Rancho de la Luna, Joshua Tree,” Galåen explained. “We knew that Lars would have a different approach to this album just by knowing who he is as a producer, but also as a musician. We spent some days together before going to France and Black Box Studio and we hit it off right away. It’s fair to say that all the songwriters in Sugarfoot present songs to the band, which then either will be formed in style by every member or it will die there and then as an SF song, but this time we let Lars make all decisions regarding what songs to record. We ended up with 11 songs recorded in this amazing studio in rural France, two of which did not end up on the album, but were released as a bonus 7” with the (500-copy, sold-out) first edition of ‘In the Clearing.’ …

“After the week in the studio, we took a break from it, knowing that Lars would still be working on this from his hometown Oslo, and after a while the sessions started to reappear and we all knew that this was going to be something different. The rest of the backing vocals and percussion were finished and Lars took it to (Blanca Studio in Bergen, Norway) and mixed it together with Matias Tellez, who also did a fantastic job.

“You know, one special thing about this album is that the sound it has, is so big in the way that every tiny little detail is so clear. I’m absolutely stunned by how it came out. And the reception from the fans has been overwhelming. It is good to be in Sugarfoot at the moment and we’re gonna play as much as we can for the fans, but Norway is not the best country (in which) to be a touring band—cold snowy winters and long distances between the big cities combined with roads over big mountains. It’s surely not the best and pretty expensive but hey, in the long run it is worth it!”

Comprising another major factor in the album’s excellence are the pedal-steel stylings of member Roar Øien, whose playing sounds decidedly more non-country, perhaps even jazzy, this time around. GNM posited this perception to Galåen, who responded:

“Roar is the best pedal steel player I’ve ever heard! He can adapt to anything, whether it’s pure country or in (more of a Daniel) Lanois landscape.

“The first time we met Roar was when (Deleted Waveform Gatherings) still had some momentum. We were finishing a double album and he put down a few tracks on it. We fell in love with his playing right there and then, and he’s not just a fantastic player but also one of the best guys you’ll ever meet.

“On ‘In the Clearing’ he’s amazing. I believe Lars made an impact on him as well as all of the other members—like if our mantra was to really try to do something different, something we’d never done before. … This was really different for all of us.”

Opening track “Changing Times” is a perfect example of the newfound “country prog” motif—Jon Anderson-like vocal refrains, Chris Squire-ish bass runs, Tony Kaye-style organ riffs and even a mini acoustic guitar solo à la Steve Howe, all with the added delight of pedal-steel embellishments poking their little heads out like eels from their hiding places!

The title track’s structure and arrangement are mind-blowing and allow it to fluctuate in spirit between Poco in its finest spaced-out pedal steel hour (think “Driving Wheel” from 1974’s “Seven”) and Led Zeppelin during its Middle Eastern infatuation phase (i.e. “Kashmir” on 1975’s “Physical Graffiti”).

The pedal steel takes center stage for “Ladybug Fly,” serving as lead guitar on a light and airy song that also boasts impressive harmony vocals, acoustic strumming and a nearly military drum beat. A unique closing passage sees all the instruments except pedal steel slow to nearly a stop and then gradually resume their previous tempo, all while the vocals and pedal steel continue unabated.

Lead singer Holm hands the reins over to Sæther for the “The House on the Hill,” a Sæther composition that despite featuring a Clavinet in stark contrast to other, pseudo-electronica passages manages to overall have the feel of “Countdown to Ecstasy”-era Steely Dan!

Closing out the album is by far the proggiest track, “Foggy Town, Pt. 2—Noyant-La-Gravoyère,” named after the municipality in western France where Black Box Studio is located. It begins in earnest as a ballad, but after about four minutes the tempo shifts as the song becomes an instrumental and the keyboards morph into the sound of Tony Banks on early Genesis LPs such as “Nursery Cryme” and “Foxtrot.”

At the end of the day, Sugarfoot’s fifth effort is a fine updating of classic country rock, lending new meaning to the term “Cosmic American Music” in a way that genre pioneer Gram Parsons surely would have appreciated.

Tracks
1. Changing Times
2. Cotton Candy Clouds
3. In The Clearing
4. Ladybug
5. Just A Dream
6. The House On The Hill
7. Little Miss Darkness
8. Original Sin
9. Foggy Town, Pt. 2—Noyant-La-Gravoyère

Total time: 45:00

External links
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Crispin Glover Records (vinyl)

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Simon Flory

Radioville

self-released

More than just an outstanding, no-frills sophomore album from a down-to-earth Texas singer/songwriter with serious backwoods cred, “Radioville” represents can-do spirit and DIY philosophy — not unlike the sustainable farming and light industry found on some communes back in the ’70s!

And speaking of the ’70s: According to the back cover, Simon Flory’s new release was recorded on a 1970s Neve console using low-wattage tube amps and vintage microphones, live to a rescued tape machine, without click tracks or post-production corrections.

And in true communal fashion, Flory’s friends helped him out: Marshall Terry (son of Eric Clapton guitarist George Terry) engineered and co-produced. The recording was done at the Shaman Shack, a former reefer truck turned NBC remote-feed truck that Terry converted into a studio parked in a warehouse on the east side of Austin.

Jody Suarez, Matt Roth and Dan Patrevito served as the core backup group (drums, bass and Wurlitzer, respectively) on the album’s five full-band tracks.

From Flory’s liner notes:

“The full band tracks were cut June of ’17 in the midst of a central Texas heat wave. We couldn’t all fit in the truck, so we ran a snake out to the back corner of the stagnant warehouse lit with a few floodlamps, but no talkback mic to the truck. We’d holler after takes, reviewing before we rewound over the track or kept it. We only had six inches of tape left over at the end.”

Among the other friends chipping in for Flory’s all-original set of tunes were roots music singer/guitarist/songwriter Charley Crockett; blues singer/guitarist Dylan Bishop; country songstress Summer Dean; Guy Clark protégé Noel McKay; and multi-stringed-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Brennen Leigh.

The songs on “Radioville” are like short stories, and that’s the point. In an interview with Voyage Dallas magazine, Flory says: “I don’t want to be a living museum piece of ‘roots’ music, I want to shed a little light on the struggle of real human lives, not caricature them. My goal is to tell stories that find a home and make an impact of positive change in someone’s life.”

Kickoff track “American Ancients,” according to Flory’s Facebook page, is “a song based on conversations with the homeless citizens of Texas.” Channeling one such citizen, he sings, “My touch is radiation on your fingertips. When you hand me spare change, I feel it.”

An inmate and his wife exchange letters in “County Fair,” a stripped-down duet with Dean. “I never meant to hurt nobody. But for $27, I will miss you always,” the convict tells her, as a mournful pedal steel provides an acoustic guitar’s sole accompaniment.

In the title song, a narrator with an intentionally exaggerated drawl sets the scene (“There’s an old bowling alley just wasting away, where I played my only 100-point game”) before launching into a progressively plaintive talking-blues dirge about being stuck in Radioville.

Perhaps the best case for listening to the album can be found in the liner notes’ foreword by Taylor W. Rushing, who did the cover art: “Introducing the world to the first proletariat, hillbilly, folk-art honest person’s concept album that transcends commodity!”

Tracks
1. American Ancients
2. Radioville
3. Hard Luck Kid
4. Station Agent
5. Appalachian Sky
6. First Gear
7. Barefoot Mule
8. County Fair
9. Just Like That
10. Soft Gravel Stone

Total time: 39:26

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Adam Carroll

I Walked in Them Shoes

Gypsy Shuffler

The “less is more” philosophy isn’t lost on singer-songwriter Adam Carroll and his new album, “I Walked in Them Shoes.”

The instrumentation alternates between solo acoustic guitar and plus-one accompaniment — supplied via overdubs by either Carroll himself (who also plays harmonica and keyboards) or by producer Lloyd Maines (who provides rhythm, slide and well-traveled pedal steel guitar).

Carroll’s twangy and inviting tenor (picture a Venn diagram showing the overlap between Michael Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker and Mike Nesmith) could warm the coldest heart, and is a perfect fit for his friendly songs about rambling, weather, women, garages and shirts. Furthermore, the Texas troubadour spins his tales in a literary yet down-to-earth and sometimes humorous fashion, like a musical Mark Twain.

In the middle of the album are two particularly resonant tunes. The first, “Iris and the Lonesome Stranger,” relates the life of a former Las Vegas rodeo rider whose best friend is a bottle of cheap fortified wine. Having once only nearly won a golden buckle, her hangouts in the years since have morphed from Barstow nightclubs to L.A. truckstops to a Northern California bar called the Dew Drop Inn up in Grass Valley.

“The Drew Drop Inn that you remember and the one that I refer to in ‘Iris’ are one and the same,” Carroll told Good New Music by email when this reviewer (who used to live in Grass Valley) inquired. “My wife and I played there. … It has a kind of rough-and-tumble charm. … I wrote that song, with my wife’s help as a ‘scribe,’ when we were driving through your fine state last year. Chris noticed a sign by the side of the highway that said ‘Wild Iris’ somewhere, I think it was along Highway 101, and we started talking about making a song out of that highway sign. The words came to me as we drove back toward Texas. I tried to give Chris a co-writer credit, but she wouldn’t take it.”

The sad tale of “Iris” ends on a happy note when a stranger in town pulls up to the Dew Drop Inn and announces, “I got nobody, but I’ve got a lot of land.” Iris pours him some of her Irish Rose, holds his hand and then takes him by the hand.

The next track, “This Old Garage,” is sort of a sentimental piece Carroll wrote as a tribute to fellow Texas singer-songwriter Mark Jungers — but from Jungers’ point of view. Anyone who’s spent hours on end in a garage listening to music can relate, but the protagonist and the person to whom he’s speaking took it even further by writing songs and recording demos of them on a cassette recorder in their hallowed spot.

“(Mark) is kind of a jack of all trades,” Carroll shared with GNM, “and were you to visit his garage, you’d likely see his old tractor parked in there, in addition to lots of greasy engine parts and electrical stuff that I don’t have the slightest idea how to use. Mark liked to play records in there, and he and I have started and finished many a song in ‘The Garajamahal,’ as some folks have taken to calling it. … I guess you could say that I was imagining Mark giving a tour to an aspiring young songwriter, of what had gone on in his garage; as though it were a museum to his musician buddies.”

The rest of “Shoes” is full of tunes equally as creative and memorable, and Carroll meets Maines’ high bar for musicianship throughout. Pat Manske’s recording, mixing and mastering at The Zone takes the whole affair to the pinnacle of perfection.

Tracks
1. Walked In Them Shoes
2. Caroline
3. Storms
4. Crescent City Angels
5. Iris And The Lonesome Stranger
6. This Old Garage
7. Cordelia
8. My Only Good Shirt
9. The Last Word
10. Night At The Show

Total time: 32:34

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Grateful Dead

Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe It if You Need It

Rhino

This three-disc distillation of the concurrently released, 19-disc “Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: The Complete Recordings” arranges 20 songs from five of the six previously unreleased shows that comprise the Grateful Dead’s two short exploratory runs through the region.

Unlike the individually numbered, limited-edition (15,000) box set that goes for nearly $200, this $20 version is not chronologically sequenced. “Believe It if You Need It” instead hopscotches between June 1973 and May 1974, creating what could be considered a virtual-reality performance arguably even better than the real thing.

As with last year’s “Cornell ’77,” it’s exquisitely mastered in HDCD by Jeffrey Norman from original master tapes transferred and magically restored by Plangent Processes. This time around, the artwork is by First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers.

The 1973 and 1974 offerings on “Believe It” were recorded just before release of the group’s studio albums “Wake of the Flood” and “From the Mars Hotel,” respectively. Besides selections from those, there’s also a nice assortment from Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir’s first solo albums as well as a few from “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.”

Because multiple sources were used, some songs finish with quick but clean fadeouts. Tracks that originally segued from and/or into others are mostly left that way. An unexpected treat is “Eyes of the World > China Doll,” a stunning instance of poetic license in which two songs played four days apart are fashioned into a standalone fantasy medley — an impressive feat, especially considering that the former came from a “Trucking’ > Nobody’s Fault But Mine > Eyes of the World > China Doll.”

Another highlight is the 47-minute “Playing in the Band,” reputedly the longest ever performed; there are no side trips here, just a big fat midsection of unadulterated improvisation.

In 1973-74, the Grateful Dead were riding high. They’d just left Warner Bros. and started two of their own labels — Grateful Dead Records for group recordings and Round Records for solo projects — as well as designing the 600-speaker Wall of Sound for their ’74 performances. Those were undoubtedly heady times, and “Believe It” makes a strong case for the era being the band’s most exhilarating.

Tracks
DISC ONE
1. China Cat Sunflower (Portland Memorial Coliseum, Portland, OR 5/19/74) >
2. I Know You Rider (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74)
3. Bird Song (PNE Coliseum, Vancouver, British Columbia 6/22/73)
4. Box Of Rain (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 6/24/73)
5. Brown-Eyed Women (Hec Edmundson Pavillion, University of Washington, Seattle 5/21/74)
6. Truckin’ (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74) >
7. Jam (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74) >
8. Not Fade Away (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74) >
9. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74)
10. One More Saturday Night (Portland Memorial Coliseum, 5/19/74)

DISC TWO
1. Here Comes Sunshine (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73)
2. Eyes Of The World (PNE Coliseum, 5/17/74) >
3. China Doll (Hec Edmundson Pavillion, 5/21/74)
4. Playing In The Band (Hec Edmundson Pavillion, 5/21/74)

DISC THREE
1. Sugaree (PNE Coliseum, 5/17/74)
2. He’s Gone (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73) >
3. Truckin’ (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73) >
4. The Other One (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73) >
5. Wharf Rat (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73)
6. Sugar Magnolia (PNE Coliseum, 6/22/73)

Total time: 3:54:00

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Joe Goldmark

Blue Steel

Lo-Ball

After seven solo albums of pedal-steel instrumentals (all of which include decidedly non-country covers), Joe Goldmark switched gears two albums ago by incorporating vocal numbers.

His new tack began with 2007’s “Seducing the ’60s” (Goldmark’s second all-covers album — the first being 1997’s “Steelin’ the Beatles”), of which half the tracks variously feature guest vocals by two male singers and one female singer. “The Wham of That Steel Man!” was his 2012 follow-up, a two-CD multigenre exercise comprising an instrumental disc and a vocal disc made up entirely of tunes sung by a female singer.

Now comes “Blue Steel,” another outstanding 50/50 instrumental-and-vocal set enlisting a male and a female singer, with one or the other contributing to the non-instrumental numbers.

This time there’s an R&B/blues/soul theme, a unique approach for a pedal-steel album but not without precedence if the criterion were to be “any type of slide guitar”: Jeff Plankenhorn, who plays a custom-built electric dobro, released an all-soul album entitled “SoulSlide” in 2016.

“Blue Steel” opens with a lively original instrumental, “Night Flight.” Recalling such rockin’ steelers as “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow and Red Rhodes, it’s highlighted by guitarist Gary Potterton’s (Tom Fogerty, Kate Wolf) succinct Duane Eddy-esque solo toward the end.

The first of the vocal numbers is “All Night Worker,” a Rufus Thomas hit in 1964, here sourced from the 1966 version by Tex-Mex band Los Stardusters. Former Hoodoo Rhythm Devils singer Glenn Walters provides the voice. The Stardusters arrangement boasts a “She’s About a Mover” groove, which might not be a coincidence: Los Stardusters were on the Texas-based Tear Drop label, founded by Sir Douglas Quintet producer Huey P. Meaux.

San Francisco singer Dallis Craft handles the female half of the album’s vocal equation, beginning with a stunning rendition of “A Love So Beautiful,” the Roy Orbison-Jeff Lynne co-write from Orbison’s 1989 comeback album, “Mystery Girl.”

And so the album’s pattern is established, with the balance alternating between instrumental and vocal selections. The rest of the vocal tunes are also covers, a refreshingly eclectic collection of songs by Jimmy McCracklin (“The Wobble”), Graham Parker (“Howlin’ Wind”), Lefty Frizzell (“Look What Thoughts Will Do”), B.B. King (“Beautician Blues”) and Dallas Frazier (“True Love Travels on a Gravel Road”).

The balance of the instrumentals are mostly Goldmark originals, with two exceptions: Bob Marley’s “Natty Dread” (sourced from eight-string jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter’s 1997 instrumental reimagining of Marley’s 1974 album of the same name) and “I Want to Be With You Forever” (written especially for “Blue Steel” by Bay Area guitarist and Goldmark colleague Jim Campilongo, who also plays guitars on the track).

Tracks
1. Night Flight
2. All Night Worker (feat. Glenn Walters)
3. A Love So Beautiful (feat. Dallis Craft)
4. Ginger Ale
5. The Wobble (feat. Glenn Walters)
6. Warm Rain
7. Howlin’ Wind (feat. Dallis Craft)
8. Natty Dread
9. Look What Thoughts Will Do (feat. Dallis Craft)
10. Tacky Tango
11. Beautician Blues (feat. Glenn Walters)
12. I Want To Be With You Forever (Jim Campilongo — guitars)
13. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road (feat. Dallis Craft)

Total time: 41:34

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