Album Reviews: Skydiggers, Jonathan Warren & the Billy Goats, Hawk & Steel
The Skydiggers have been in the business a long time: the band’s debut release came out in 1990, the same year as Uncle Tupelo’s genre busting No Depression and not long after the Cowboy Junkie’s refreshing Trinity Sesssions. If Canadians invented Americana with The Band, the Skydiggers continue the tradition and deserve credit for the roots revival of the early 90s.
That the ‘Diggers are still together is a testament to the band’s talent, the respect they have amongst their fellow musicians and a dedicated cadre of fans who have sustained the legendary musicians throughout their careers.
The band’s latest album, She Comes into the Room, collects those musicians and fans and revisits some their old songs. The She in the title refers to a who’s who of female vocal talent that’s joined the band for a collection of eight updated recordings.
What a collection it is, too: the varied voices fit well with the band, and the strong lyrical writing remains as fresh as it ever has been. The version of Northern Shore recorded with the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins found here is worth the price of admission alone: her distinctive voice takes a gorgeous song and spins it into something unforgettable. Ramblin’ On with Jessy Bell Smith is a worthy update to the original, and Ivy Mairi’s version of Feel You Closer feels both fresh and familiar. Frankly, there’s magic in seeing a band that’s been in the business this long put to record the collaborative moments that have been happening on stage for years. Buy this.
She Comes Into the Room can be ordered from Maple Music.
Jonathan Warren & the Billy Goats – On This Very Evening
On This Very Evening from Jonathan Warren & the Billy Goats is the kind of album that you can throw into the mix pretty much anywhere, anytime–as long as your like your music loud and kinetic. The Boise, Idaho based threesome has a reputation for playing rambunctious live shows and the album showcases that well: it’s at it’s best when the tempo picks up and the band starts rocking on songs like album opener Greyhound, Angeline and the exclamation mark imbued Party! Cloudy.
The band mixes styles nicely here ranging from backcountry-twangy numbers to solid rockers and blues tinged material. It’s a testament to a band that knows itself that the album’s got a good solid coherent sound driven by solid banjo and fiddle work despite wandering through all these different styles.
Sounding a bit like the voice of Tom Waits meeting with a younger Steve Earle or the Reverence Horton Heat, On This Very Evening is the perfect collection to throw on for your next backyard bonfire or camping trip. I’ll bring the bottle of bourbon, you bring the mason jars. We might need more than one bottle.
Hawk & Steel – Danger Road
Hailing from Vancouver Island where they “get told to turn their amps down a lot” according to their Twitter bio, Hawk & Steel have been playing on the local scene for a while. Danger Road has been out since November of 2012 and the album does a nice job os showcasing the young band’s talent. It opens quietly with Matinee Idol and then quickly moves into “turn the amp down territory” which is pretty much where it stays for the duration.
A short trip into quiet on Love That I Need demonstrates that the band’s got a talent for it. Highlights of the album from the slightly louder side include Paperbird and Hot New Classics both of which bring the electric guitar to the front.
The songwriting here shows good promise, and if you’re a fan of the rock and roll side of Wilco or Ryan Adams’ work there’s much to like. Pick this one up and watch for the band’s next release which is being worked on right now.
You can order Danger Road from Hawk & Steel’s bandcamp site as either a digital download or a physical CD. Remember: no one ever got rich selling an autographed MP3 of a Hawk & Steel album on eBay–order the CD.