2014’s been quite a year for Glasgow-based country and roots rocker Daniel Meade. His debut album, As Good as Bad Can Be, released last year, had led to BBC Radio Scotland airplay and a video of his radio session came to the attention of Old Crow Medicine Show’s bassist, Morgan Jahnig. Sensing a kindred spirit, Jahnig set wheels in motion leading to Meade travelling to Nashville to record Keep Right Away. In the interim, Meade played a support slot for the then relatively unknown Sturgill Simpson and the pair hit it off with Simpson — now just about the hottest ticket in country music — asking Meade to accompany him on his subsequent tour and then for Meade’s band, The Flying Mules, to play the support slot on his third and all-conquering trip around the UK. To cap all this, Meade is sitting at home back in October when his phone rings. It’s his new pals, the Old Crow guys. Their support act for their sold-out Glasgow show is stuck in Ireland with the ferries cancelled. Could Daniel oblige? Several hours later, Meade and his guitarist, Lloyd Reid, are astride the ABC stage as several thousand Glaswegians roar their approval.
You almost couldn’t make this up, but it’s testament to Meade’s talent that guys of the calibre of Simpson and OCMS are first in line to recognise it. In addition, his own work rate and dogged determination is now paying off. While it might seem that he’s sprung from nowhere, Meade has beavered away with a past that includes a brief shot at rock stardom with The Ronelles. Hooked on The Beatles from the age of 13, he delved into the past to discover artists such as Hank Williams, Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Jerry lee Lewis before hooking into current acts that shared his love of this music such as Old Crow Medicine Show, Justin Townes Earle, and Pokey LaFarge. When he’s not touring, he can be found playing several nights a week in local bars and clubs, solo, as a duo or with a band, honing his skills. Blabber’n’Smoke can testify, having seen him several times with audiences ranging from four folk and a dog to a room of 50 folk, a hall for 500, or a concert for 2500, that he delivers every time.
Testimonial over. What of the album?
True to his word, Jahnig produced and conjured up a dream team, including fellow Old Crow members Chance McCoy and Cory Younts, BR549’s Chris Scruggs, Joshua Hedley, fiddle player for Justin Townes Earle, and Aaron Oliva. Meanwhile, Meade’s long time guitar associate, Lloyd Reid, another Glasgow chap, adds his fine skills to the mix while there are guest appearances from Diana Jones and Shelly Colvin. The result is an untrammelled success, with Meade delivering 13 songs that draw deep from the well of traditional American acoustic roots music, with honky-tonk, sad waltzes, string band stomps, and rockabilly all featured. While his debut album had all these, here the bar is raised both in the writing and the performance, with the players lifting it up to another level. Perhaps the best example is the rollicking country romp of “Gimme a Draw”, with its honky-tonk piano, harmonica vamps, talking blues vocals and Western swing delivery. Similar in style (and content) to “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette”, it swings mightily.
Swing and rockabilly, and at times even skiffle, inhabit the uptempo numbers here, with the opening number “Long Gone Wrong” a classic take on ’50s rock and roll, when country musicians were shoved into studios with quiffed young studs and Gospel quartets. “Trying, Rising River Blues” and “Livin’ On Tootsie Time” are all cracking, skillet-lickin’ country romps with a lick of rock and string band shenanigans thrown in. Meade is particularly impressive on the tongue-twisting vocals of the latter, as he barn dances and barrels along and the band scoots magnificently. Meade releases the throttle to deliver “Always Close to Tears”, which cleaves to the Hank Williams’ songbook with a fine swagger. “Not My Heart Again” (with Shelly Colvin on vocals) is classic Williams’ honky-tonking with some fine humbucking guitar licks from Reid. “The Hangman Blues” is probably the song here that owes most to the influence of the Old Crow players, as it twists and turns with sly slide guitars. “Keep Right Away” recalls The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in the ’70s.
So far so good, but the album excels when Meade gets maudlin and weary. “Sometime’s a Fool’s the Last to Know” is a tears-in-a-bottle, Charlie Pride-like, countrypolitan lament. “Always Close to Tears” could have come from the George Jones songbook while the accordion colourings on “Mexico” remind one of Freddy Fender. The jewel here is the astounding duet with Diana Jones, “Help Me Tonight”, as Meade visits saloon bar territory with tacky piano stuttering along to this wearied love song that stands tall against comparisons to the great country duets with an antebellum feel and a sepia-stained sound. Finally, we need to mention Meade’s tribute to his forebears on “Sing It Loud” — a very fine loose-limbed and fiddle-laced shamble of a song that nails his colours to the mast and harks back to the outlaw country days.
Keep Right Away is released in January and already it’s looking to be one of the top albums of next year, certainly from a home-raised musician. Meade will be touring in support of the release and the dates are here. In the meantime, local folk should check their listings as it might be that soon enough Mr. Meade might not be so local if things go well for him.
Ortiginally posted on Blabber’n’Smoke