Midsommar Roundup – Arkansauce / The Panama Picnic Orchestra / This Much Talent

Ain’t no cure for the summertime blues…. Except maybe this footle around the magic sack of releases.


The jamband bluegrass field is on a bit of a gusher, it feels, there seeming a rich and never-ending seam deep in the hills of rural America. Not that I am complaining, with now, this further new to me quartet, breaking international cover for this, album number five. Their deal gone down is one of contemporary songs, their own, indelibly stained in hillbilly dew and pumped out proud, banjos and mandolins to the fore, guitar and bass to keep it level. If the name weren’t already taken, these daredevils from the Ozark Mountains could have had themselves a different name, but the hot sauce aromatics of the one chosen will do just as well.

It is with flickering mandolin that this disc opens, the vocal all very reminiscent of Ray Dorset, the extravagantly sideburned face of Mungo Jerry, that actually not such a bad reference, if with more moonshine. Up On The Shelf is an instant toe-tapper that has a holler creep unselfconsciously into any listener’s throat, the banjo and mandolin running rings around each other, over a solid bottom line acoustic choogle. A song about a wild night out, it morphs into a reflection on relationships. Ethan Bush, the mandolinist wrote it and possibly sang it, vocal credits far from clear. Followed by the first of several instrumentals, Big City Chicken, it eschews the rule all bluegrass must be helter skelter, instead a mellow and reflectful melody, which does indeed mimic the bird in question. Yes, it upcanters midway, but without too much sweat and it all builds together, the banjo, by Adam Collins, mirroring the mandolin as it draws to a close. First Night Of The Tour is then a road song; many of them are, that being where the band spare more time than not, and with the line “Everybody knows that you don’t get drunk the very first night on the road“, one senses it a lesson learnt from experience. Another back porch vocal is just so darn comfy, with a first taste of that effortless guitar picking, Zac Archuleta, that seems bred into mountain boys.

Coldiron, which while occupying a more sombre subject, is all runaway train in rhythm, the band again excelling in the swaying cadence their interplay provides. These guys are good, and warrant filing up there alongside the Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon and more. And if you ever wondered whether bluegrass musicians ever trouble to think about drummers and/or their absence, catch Bim Batta, which endeavours to address the absence. Without one, that is, as it is the other instruments that “play” the drums on this quirky instrumental. As you might expect, the bass, from Tom Andersen, is mighty on this one.

I’ll Be Yours seems a slighter effort, but with lyrics that can’t be argued with, around supporting the underdog. The tune is pretty instant to stick, mind, proving the old less is more adage, it becoming a favourite, and one I can hear them closing their sets with. Audience participation, even. Early Bird, with a touch of piano to welcome it in, reminiscent of Bruce Hornsby, is a maudlin song of eventual hope, another that calls out for a bleary, boozy audience chorale: “Remember, my dear, you are one of a kind.” If The Funky Gorilla is a relation of the Goodies’ Funky Gibbon, it is hidden well, if the closest to filler here, autopilot dexterity creeping in for the first time. But, maybe for a purpose, as the song that follows, How Time Flies, is perhaps the standout song, a gentle saunter that could easily have graced American Beauty or Workingman’s. The chord progression is perfect, the banjo euphoric. A lovely song.

They could pretty much get away with anything after that, and My Home In Arkansas, whilst more than that, is a straight into hoedown template central, with some great picking to set the sights above generic. The final track, a fourth instrumental, manages the odd feat of marrying Duelling Banjos with a 15th century madrigal, in a weird and evocative fusion, the banjo channeling a lute. So, a little unexpected, and none the worse for that, as well as a pretty damn good way to end an entertaining listen. And, without a fiddle in sight, I challenge you to even notice that absence.

Try First Night Of The Tour:

Arkansauce: Website / Facebook / Instagram


Picking on a plethora of styles that have never gone out of style, if never, also, quite in enough style to stick, PPO are a trio of musical vets who can wrestle any genre you can name, and win, tackling gypsy jazz, Hawaiian swing, a touch of klezmer and some Palm Court jass (no zeds here), all with aplomb. Add in a second generation guitar whizz and there you have it. So who are these vets? First up is JC Grimshaw, who has spent the last thirty years plus, ploughing an idiosyncratic furrow against the prevailing tides of music trends, in bands, duos and trios engaged in country, folk, blues and jazz, with a special interest in the fringier margins of those scenes: how many people get labelled the best exponent of hula slide this side of the Atlantic? (Hula slide? Think Hawaii.) Next is Chris Jones, one-time drummer for, remember them, the Mega City Four, the trio completed by Jon Thorne, stand up bass supremo, a genre atheist who has played with everyone from Lamb to James Yorkston (Yorkston/Thorne/Khan), Green Gartside to Justin Sullivan (New Model Army), let alone stints with Donovan and Jon Hopkins. That’s eclectic. But they are not just a trio, as JC’s son, Sol, is also in the band, bringing a maturity of guitar play to put even his father to shame. Guests also appear, as and when.

With all songs coming from the pen of Grimshaw Senior, aided and abetted by Junior, the show starts with Love Comes to Town, picked guitars and bowed bass, together setting a balmy sunset scene, before lurching off into a cha cha cha, JC with one of those voices that sound rubbed the wrong side of a washboard, rendering the smoothness appropriately roughened up. The musicianship is sterling, the lyrics a tongue-in-cheek pewter, thwarted love amidst the derring do. I’m In The Mood For Love is pure 1920 dance club, some wondrous trombone coming courtesy Magnus Hawker-French, duelling with Sol, while Daddio sounds like he has a trumpet mute attached his mouth. Thorne’s bass is mighty, the repettitive strum of guitar and Jones supplying just as much rhythm as is necessary. Sweet Annabel sticks to this template, this time with the clarinet of Richard White, swooping in between any and every gap. This time the vocals are pure Palm Court, in that breathy European style the Bonzos began with by emulating. The incessant strum strum strum becomes infectious. Lazing Around is, appropriately, a lazy rumba, the first entry of a dozy slide guitar catching moonbeams. By now the template is firmly established, a fondly nostalgic recreation of the early 20th century by troupers not yet born, but with a likely unhealthy passion for ’78s.

Never Meant To Be is a slow blues of the sort George Melly would entertain with, a close relative, in tune, to a slower Ain’t Misbehavin’. White offers another doozy of a clarinet solo, and this is the style that is perhaps their forte. Songbird then reeks of the jump jive of Louis Jordan, missing only some call and response vocals, although you could substitute Peanuts for the wailing refrain of the title. Sol Grimshaw’s fingers are aflame as he burns up and down the fretboard. Just One Kiss is as romantic as it sounds, an old style ballad, the guitar determinedly Spanish. Knowing it is going to leap off into a sidecar shuffle, it does just that, with the introduction of third guest, David Hences, with some splendid gypsy fiddle, leading you to reconsider the gestation of the guitar, the Romani -Belgian of Django perhaps more apposite. Thorne drops in a neat bass solo and all is well. Down By The River opens with a suitably melodramatic flourish, and already you know it isn’t going to end at all well. “I went down to the river that night; why, why, why” sort of tells you all you need to know. My favourite track here, with the second guess of the narrative spelling it all out slowly, lugubrious ‘bone adding to the impending likely doom of the protagonist, whispered verses adding to the tension, as does the gradual encroach of choral vocals, echoing the why, why, why. “I’ve been reading the bible, I’ve been drinking gin” has also to be one of the best lines across the whole album.

That track having added a limber to the overall flow, Long Way To Heaven is swift soft shoe shuffle with an engaging rhythm that has you check your feet, and Sundial is more Mediterranean whimsy, with flamenco flavouring to the lyrical guitar, an instrumental, Sol on the guitar and JC on mandolin, which, when it breaks through, is quite delicious. A second highpoint. Lime Time, as opposed to Lilac Time, brings back the fiddle and recalls somewhat Lets Call Off The Whole Thing (And Dance). The playing is great but it is beginning to feel a bit derivative, however good, and it is, that fiddle is. Closer, Shine A Little Love On Me pushes that sense back a step or two, mind, as, despite the stereotypical strict tempo progressions, has sufficient charm to restore the balance, as well as giving the main members a final chance to parade their chops.

Maybe not for all, but, if in the mood for some well-constructed throwback, this could well appeal, when all else gets a bit too, you know, modern. The vocals do take a step or two to get used to, an overnight relistening placing the bar higher than an initial listen had supplied, and which, by the third and subsequent, they seeming just the job. But there is no such doubt around the calibre of the playing, which is the real strength of this well-evoked period piece.

Panama Picnic Orchestra: Website / Facebook / Instagram


Finally a desirable oddity, forty years in the making, from journeyman guitar man and stage wrangler, Shane Kirk. Anyone who has ever been to Maverick, Suffolk’s bijou Americana fest, and I can recommend it, will have come across Shane, either onstage with local giants, Helen and the Neighbourhood Dogs, or, more likely, often manning the first come, first served Jimmie Rodgers stage, where stars and punters alike book in for a brief showcase, just because they can. Breaking through from his role as a neighbourhood dog, he has applied himself to his personal muse, with a myriad of influences absorbed along the way, enrolling a host of luminaries from the East Anglicana corral. This EP consists but three songs, but are no less worth the exposure.

Stop That For A Start has, as well as an intriguing title, some steel that instantly beguiles the listener with intent, Kirk’s croaky voice that of a storyteller, the bass bubbling beneath him. Uncertain if an autobiographical tale, it is a narrative of discomfiture and possibly self-loathing, with an attractive lilt, picking up on the ridiculousness of it all. Some neat mandolin drifts in, and I minded of the Rockingbirds.

A promising start that leads into another clever title, The Merchant Of Venus, a good ol’ cowboy song in the style of the Sons of the Pioneers, some backing vocal giving a flavour of Nancy and Lee. Wordy but literate, is that a flute solo, a strangely effective addition? A twangy guitar picks up for the next instrumental interlude, ahead the flute flying back in. I like this! All to swiftly, Showtime closes the triad with a touch of mariachi. Slipping back into a woebegone strumalong, some organ giving some gravitas, whether needed or not. Mark Knopfler might be a reference for the guitar in this one, maybe too the vocals, but they are little too polished, with grit to give that extra shin, rather than to carry that quite off. Back come the horns and I am hooked on this all too brief introduction. Give this man a contract. The song fades with the mariachi gradually becoming Sally Army and I am bewildered, in a good way, wanting to hear more, much more. And no, I don’t know what a Belgian whistle is, almost afeard to ask……

This Much Talent: Website / Bandcamp

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