I first encountered the deft touches of British Americana specialist Mike Ross on the recent Redfern, Hutchinson and Ross release, Mahogany Drift (reviewed elsewhere on Bluesdoodles). Having since checked his back catalogue, I found two albums: Spindrift and Jenny’s Place which further cemented my high opinion of his skilful playing. OK, sometimes it isn’t the blues, but he underpins all of his music with a blues sensibility that is, mostly, intriguing. Plus, I have a similar history…I too hail from the beautiful County of Durham; I too now live ‘darn sarf’ and I too play the guitar…except that I live in the south-west rather than south-east…oh, and I am a rubbish guitar player while Mike is a genius…other than that, we’re the same!
His new album is part one of The Clovis Limit. Nope, me neither and so an explanation is due… this is how Mike explains it: “I found myself influenced by the dark, intense surveillance paranoia of SF author William Gibson’s work, specifically the novel ‘The Peripheral’ in which a post-apocalyptic culture connects with an alternate timeline to re-shape the past assisted by the proprietor of ‘The Clovis Limit’ (a store specialising in ‘Americana’ and located on a future imagining of Portobello Road where Nano-tech ‘assemblers’ deliver the most obscure of American cultural artefacts on demand). I was enthralled by the mental image of American ephemera stacked in endless tunnels of Victorian brick, meticulously catalogued and recalled at will.” Still not sure? Well, it stems from the Clovis Theory of early American migration and basically states that this influx resulted in an ever-evolving tradition of musical storytelling finally evolving into 20th-century musical forms such as blues, gospel, country, bluegrass, soul & even funk…we knew that, but I didn’t know it had a name!
It starts on a sort of Claptonesque note if Tom Petty was guesting and he was wont to employ ethereal lap steel. The Reason This Railroad is a countrified slice of blues that has a lilt and the acoustic and electric guitars add layers of sound that make it an enjoyable song. The accent shifts to an ingenious melding of jazz and early blues with Young Man. The guitars are simply lovely and the brushwork on the drums and subtle upright bass and fiddle add a country edge. It’s one of those that, on first hearing, I think I shouldn’t like…but after a few listens it is so infectious that it is impossible not to love. Ever After is different again as we enter the world of true backwoods country blues. It has depth and, for a Petty sounding ballad, it works rather well and the lap steel cries along with the lyrics…a solo would have been nice, though. Pick Up Our Anchor is erm, anchored firmly in blues with a soulful touch on the chorus. It has an electric riff and the sweet bonus of Elles Baily adding her silkiness as she duets with Mike. This has a sweeping, majesty about it as they sing together and separately, all the while the electric guitar adds an edge as the lap swirls away. It would have been even more special if it had an electric solo…the strumming outro nearly delivered. Scarlet Coat is an up-tempo country song that is a bit too country for my tastes (I cannot help but imagining Dylan doing a Parton cover when I listen to this…try it and I think you’ll see what I mean!) Blow Away is fiddle led country with the impossibly high range of the lap steel explored in a good way as the feeling that pervaded the previous track raises its head again…except we do get a guitar solo that is enthralling in construction and then the fiddle plays around with the melody to make it more than bearable. Lily starts with slide guitar and fiddle as we get a typically atypical country blues…by that I mean it has a recognisable template but stays far from cliché thanks to the inventive slide work, particularly in the central section. Grow In Your Garden is much more my chosen beverage as Mike uses a sort of slow Black Crowes approach to the blues as swirling Hammond and electric piano backs inventive guitar phrasing. Lee Of The Bay is a brilliant move into the folk-tinged and bouncy sort of country. It isn’t my normal fare but it is so infectious with its many layers of genres and sub-genres that just work and draw you in. The final track is Driftwood that floats (sorry!) on this lap led country ballad…the acoustic guitar and brushed drums add to the atmosphere and the lap and acoustic solos and a brief duet make it even better. There are then four “radio edits” which seem to have only had some time shaved off and do not improve on the full-length versions.
In summary, if you like country with a bit of blues or Americana with a bit of blues you will adore this album. If however, you are like me and prefer the country to remain outside, you can still learn a lot about music and enjoy some sterling performances from Mike, Elles and the whole entourage. I may not seek this out regularly, but it will suit many occasions when my heavier preferences aren’t suitable. Give it a try…it is a listen and learn experience.
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
- The Reason This Railroad
- Young Man *
- Ever After
- Pick Up Our Anchor
- Scarlet Coat
- Blow Away
- Grow In Your Garden
- Lee Of The Bay
- Driftwood *
Mike Ross – Vocals & Guitars
Brian Irwin – Drums, Bass on ‘Lily’
Smith Curry – Pedal steel & dobro
Andrea Young – Fiddle
Derek Randall – Fender Bass
Stevie Watts – Hammond Organ
Matt Dutot Slocum – Wurlitzer piano
Elles Bailey – Duet on ‘Pick up our anchor’
James Smith – BV’s & French guitar on *
Scott Warman – Double bass on *
Geoff Ansell – Snare & sizzle on *
Ben Paley – Fiddle on *
Written & produced byMike Ross