Ricky's Radio Blog

Willy Vlautin and The Delines

by on Jul.02, 2014, under general musings

I remember the night. It had been a strange call in the middle of the night. A friend needed me to be there and I drove over to see if I could be of any use. Habitually the CD player in the car just started up and in the dark gloom of this winter night the Delines album came on. I think I understood then this was how this record should be encountered.

From the man who made the beautiful analogy of the freeway sounding like a river comes an album full of songs celebrating the ordinary reimagined as a holy other. (The golden light from the oil rigs at night……) On Friday we catch up with the Delines in session and talk extensively to Willy Vlautin from Richmond Fontaine about this new project. If you’re unfamiliar with the album you might need to know the background. On the last RF album Willy had included Amy Boone as part of the Richmond Fontaine live ensemble and it occurred to him one night he’d like to hear her sing songs written for her. So we get The Delines featuring the songs of Willy, the odd Decembrist, the voice of Amy all coming from that creative corner of America’s North West, Oregon. For those of you who don’t know Willy is the author of four beautiful novels and his latest, The Free, like the other three is also set in that northern landscape. Since he was last with us The Motel Life, his first novel, has been made into a movie featuring Kris Krisofferson. So there’s a lot to talk about…..

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One of the interesting things Willy says is that this is in fact a late night album inspired by the likes of Bobbie Gentry and given Willy’s ability to write stories from the perspective of others it’s, as ever, a compulsive listen. I’m not sure that listening to Willy speak isn’t sometimes as hypnotic as hearing him sing or reading his prose. So I say only this…….it will be a very special night on the AC this Friday. Miss it at your peril.

We will celebrate some great new records…Old Crow Medicine Show, Holly Williams, Barr Brothers and something rather splendid from Nick Hakim. We will share all the country news worth sharing and, for those of you like me who haven’t had time to catch up with ‘Nashville’ on the TV I’ll give you Mr Murdoch’s ‘Nashville Facts you need to know.’

The blog is going to take a short summer break for the rest of July and August  as my weeks are getting more and more irregular with the arrival of our new album but fear not, the AC will carry on all year long. Country Music Never Sleeps.

To be honest…..there will be so much more but for that you’ll have to join us on Friday all starting from five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.

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In Praise of Dolly Parton

by on Jun.19, 2014, under general musings

On Tuesday night I accepted an invitation to see Dolly Parton at the Hydro in Glasgow. Her publicist had kindly asked us to come early so we could ‘say hello.’ I went along with my old buddy Davie Scott (of Pearlfishers fame) and we duly waited back stage to see at first hand the full Dolly machine in operation. We stood in amazed awe as Dolly stood for a good 30 -40 minutes meeting and greeting numerous fans. To each one she was patient and courteous and inquisitive. Photographs were taken and warm exchanges given. In this age of the VIP pass and the ‘added value’ ticket this was the first lady of country spending the best part of her pre show prep time with her fans. Like many things that come as surprises to me these days I found it quite moving.

I was slightly worried about the gig. The first time I’d seen Dolly was one of the great nights of my life. Up there with the best gigs of all time it had been her bluegrass show and the playing and singing had been exemplary. It had been at the Armadillo and I remember feeling slightly guilty that we’d been given tickets when people around us were spending huge sums of money just to be there. The next time I tried every available blag I know to get a ticket and failed…..(should have bought them early!) So I’d jumped at the chance of going to the SECC show a couple of years back. I enjoyed this less as it seemed to be more about the phenomenon (and she is folks) of Dolly than about the great singer/songwriter I know her to be. Nevertheless…there is always much to enjoy.

This time it was The Hydro – now one of Glasgow’s best assets – and the fit was perfect. Dolly was sublime. She played new songs, told brilliant stories – always with that knowing undercurrent of acknowledging exactly who she is and what her audience wants to hear – and reminded us in two brilliant hours why she is still at the top of her game. One telling moment was when the back projections reeled out a discography. It went from the sixties until now and it was incredible to think there really had been no time since she first broke through when she hadn’t been a major star. But more than anything else it was the songs….she did Jolene three songs in….that’s confidence! She played brilliant versions of Coat of Many Colours, Here You Come Again, Little Sparrow and great versions of Blue Smoke and Banks of The Ohio from the new album. She finished the show with I Will Always Love You and she graciously paid tribute to the late Whitney Houston – even though millions of people loved the song before Whitney’s world dominating version.

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This Friday I will give you more reasons to love Dolly but for now let me say this. A cliche is a cliche because it’s true and certain artists are massively successful because they are actually really great.

This Friday we will also let you hear new records from Jenny Lewis, Blue Rose Code, Peter Mulvey, Lindsay Lou and The Flatbellys and Strand of Oak. None of this should be missed it if you can help it. Join me if you’re free from five past eight this Friday on BBC Radio Scotland.

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The Book of John

by on Jun.12, 2014, under general musings

I remember standing in a pub in Belfast as a very good cover band did a very credible version of a current hit. I found myself splurging out to my near neighbour, ‘Great song.’ He smiled knowingly, like he’d had this conversation a million times, ‘ Well, good record.’

My friend was Ralph Murphy, British Nashville exile, songwriter and ASCAP point man. I nodded….Very true. There is a big difference. The difference perhaps is best exemplified when you leave a song bare. No harmony, no other instrument, just the piano or guitar and a voice. It’s melody words and a few chord changes and sometimes, if you’re lucky a killer riff…but often it’s just the melody and the lyric. It used to be a salutary exercise when a song was handed over to a remix ‘person.’ They’d take off everything – all your favourite twists and turns and voicings – and sit the bare vocal over something completely different. Hell they’d sometimes change the chords ….the were often not over fussy about the key! (viz You Got The Love, Candi Staton). Perhaps the best explainer of all of this is Randy Newman’s Songbook albums where he re records many of his songs with only his voice and piano accompaniment, in much the same way as he performs his repertoire live. It’s stark, honest and powerful and often very moving to have the emotional dissonance of the string lines removed to make the poignancy of the lyric slightly harsher and, often, crushingly brilliant.

So why the long recitative, Ricky, I hear you ask? Well, it all brings me to this man.

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John Fullbright’s new record is called Songs, and although he self-effacingly suggests that he’s not good with titles he also admits that the key to the record was the many songs he has left unadorned. It’s similar to that moment when you put the Christmas tree up and it looks and smells beautiful; there’s always a moment with me when I think, ‘it might be nice to leave it.’ You never do though. In this case John is made of stronger stuff and the aching simplicity of some of the fine songs on the epoymously titled album are repeated this Friday in session. Look out for some brilliant singing and playing too and listen in as John tells us all that has happened since receiving a Grammy nomination for his debut record.

Also new and wonderful things from Old Crow Medicine Show and their former singer, Willy Watson,The Howlin Brothers and something spectacularly from the great new Jack White album.

Mr Murdoch has found a great vinyl rediscovery which picks up a theme from last week’s show. There will be so much more….did I mention that Aoife O’Donovan will make a rather lovely guest appearance? Thought not.

It will all start at five past eight this Friday evening on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.

 

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There’s Something About Mary

by on Jun.05, 2014, under general musings

I want to day to pay tribute to our special guest this Friday, Mary Gauthier. Firstly because she has been our most frequent guest on the AC over the years we’ve been on air but mostly because every time she comes in I feel a little better about the world after she leaves. Mary never simply ‘delivers’ a new record. Her life is given over to songwriting and every twist, heartbreak and disappointment is catalogued remorselessly. As Neil Young once wrote, ‘my life’s an open book…’ except in his case it was nowhere near as true as in Mary’s.

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For many years she wouldn’t have considered herself a songwriter, singer or guitarist. It was a move she made in early adulthood after years in various jobs including being a cook  and running her own southern themed restaurant in Boston. That only came after she’d fled her Louisiana home via a stolen car and ended up in detox and jail in Kansas City aged 18. To say she has lived a bit doesn’t really do her remarkable career enough justice. When Mary was last with us she was talking about her autobiographically themed album, The Foundling, which highlighted her search for her birth mother; the hardest part being that there was no redemption in the search. When Mary finally caught up with what had happened in her early life she met a new rejection all over again. She ended up speaking on her phone only to discover that there would be no reunion. Then there’s alcohol.

Fish swim
Birds fly
Lovers leave
By and by
Old men
Sit and think
I drink

Mary’s stark appraisal of the disease of alcoholism is sometimes wholly misunderstood. But here’s what she says…

But here’s the beautiful part … I could not have written “I Drink” if I was never addicted. Writing “I Drink” required a perspective that an active alcoholic is not capable of, and a non-alcoholic cannot fully comprehend. I needed to go through what I went thorough to write it, and today I would not change a thing even if I could because for me, inside the curse— lives the blessing. The wisdom, vision and compassion that comes from taking a stroll to hell and back cannot be obtained any other way. I was lucky enough to find my way through to the other side of addiction and into recovery, and I continue to receive many, many blessings from all that has transpired in my life. Songwriting is one of the greatest blessings of all, and writing “I Drink” stems from recovery. Ain’t life interesting?

This time round Mary is facing another challenge. The break up of a long term relationship. Get ready for  a sad, honest, brutal but eventually life-affirming interview. Hopefully, this will also lead you to Mary’s excellent new record too. We’ll hear about Mary’s co writers, Ben Glover and Gretchen Peters. We’ll hear about the lost songs of Harlan Howard and how Nashville (the TV series) is giving Nashville (the music city) a well deserved boost through using songs by Mary and others.

Last Friday the Grand Ole Opry gave Mary a standing ovation. She was surprised but delighted. Here she is on stage at The Opry with Kathy Mattea, Radney Foster, and Marty Stuart.

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Since it’s a few weeks since we talked I got back in touch with her today and asked her to reflect on what that night  meant. She was kind enough, as I knew she would be, to take time to say this:

It’s hard to get these thoughts concise, and this is a bit long, so feel free to edit as you need to.
It was so much FUN, thats what I was feeling the most. The fun of it, having my friends Kathy Mattea and Marty Stuart and Radney Foster up there singing with me, and the amazing Opry House band, (we ran through the songs in the storage room 15 minutes before, and hit it off beautifully). I opened with Mercy Now, with the Opry singers singing ooo’s in behind me, and I felt surrounded by beauty and love. And I think I truly was! 
Another Train was my second song, and the chorus lifted off like a rocket ship with Kathy and Radney singing the 3 part chorus harmony with me, along with the Opry Singers behind them. It felt like blast off in a rocket ship. Then Marty Stuart walked on with his electric guitar and I felt an electrical shock go up and down my spine when he hit his first note. He sounded so GOOD! He plays Pops Staples electric guitar, and MAN, wow!
When I asked him to join me the week before he agreed to, but he wanted to walk on unannounced, and it was the right thing to do. He was amazing, he just slid in from stage left and killed it!!. 
What does all this mean? The standing ovation? The welcome arms around me? I dunno. I could say a lot of things, but they are just guesses. All I really know is that it was a hell of a lot of fun!! 
As well as that we’ll have new music from Otis Gibbs, Chatham County Line, Miranda Lambert, Bob Mould and a lovely vinyl surprise from Johnny Cash.
So, this Friday join me if you can for Mary and so much more from Five Past Eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
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Travels

by on May.29, 2014, under general musings

I’ve been travelling this week. A lot of the time has been spent with some great musicians and writers and I do realise there is really something special about being allowed to make music. My late friend Michael Marra once said to me, ‘No one can stop you making music.’ It was the truest advice I ever received when I was moaning, a long time ago, about something to do with the music business. But as I travelled around this week I remembered the joy of being able to get up in the morning and play the piano or spend some time exploring a chord sequence on a guitar. The thrill of turning on the computer to start creating a track and discovering that it’s nearly time for dinner and you can’t stop working on something because you’re so excited about it. I  hope I never lose sight of that.

Some of the music I’ve heard this week has been in lovely spaces with voices going out into rooms, reaching every possible nook and cranny of the space. I’ve also heard the voices of an audience as they get a song for the first time. That’s a thrill too. On Friday we’ll spend some time thinking about voices too. In this case we’ll think about what happens when family members sing together. We know it works – but we’re often not able to work out why we love it so much. It’s funny where these things start but this week Richard Murdoch got thinking of a very special double act:

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The Magic Numbers are back – thank the Lord – and have some great new songs. They are two pairs of brothers and sisters and we thought that double hit would lead us nicely into some other sibling based recordings. Look out for First Aid Kit, The Secret Sisters and our good friends The Mermaids.

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Sibling rivalries often take precedence over sibling harmony however so it also gives us a good excuse to celebrate a couple of difficult relationships. The Everlys are one of those but perhaps more intriguingly we will play a new track from the first record Dave and Phil Alvin have made together for 30 years. Given that Dave’s last album included a song called ‘What’s Up With Your Brother’ this is an event of some significance.

Also on the week that saw Maya Angelou slip away from this world we play something she’d have loved.

Finally I started this blog by talking about Michael Marra. As you may know his son and daughter are part of The Hazey Janes. I’m going to play you a track from their album which comes out on Monday which I think you will like very much indeed. I’m sure there will be more than this that will make you think, if that’s country – then I like it.

It all starts at five past eight on Friday evening on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.

 

 

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Something Of The Night

by on May.22, 2014, under general musings

When shadows fall where you lie sleeping in that dark hour before the dawn. Your breathing calm, your lone heart beating.Give me the strength to carry on.

Touchstone: Eliza Gilkyson

They say it’s the hours between midnight and 4 a.m. You know the feeling; the worst things you can imagine and your darkest fears all seem more troubling then than at any other time of day. It’s these worries and doubts that Eliza Gilyson chronicles on her brilliant new album, Nocturne Diaries. She’s in Scotland this week to play a show at The Fallen Angels Club and we couldn’t let her go through town without coming in to say hello.

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We’ll be talking to Eliza about Austin – her home town, her producer Cisco – who’s also her son and, to keep things familial, her father, the late Terry Gilkyson who wrote some songs you probably imagined were always there! She’ll be performing a song first performed by her father’s folk group, The Easy Riders as well as some other tracks from the Nocturne Diaries. “The songs that come in the night are very different than the daylight songs,” says Eliza. We’ll find out more on Friday.

As well as that we celebrate Bob Dylan‘s birthday as he releases the first song from Shadows Of The Night -a cover of a Frank Sinatra hit from 1945. We’ll hear some new music from our good friend Anthony D’Amato as well as another great cut from the new album from Holly Williams. We celebrate Mac Wiseman, Townes Van Zandt on vinyl and introduce you to a new country voice we think you might love. Leah Turner was discovered by Kenny Loggins at a ‘song writing class.’ ( I know) It didn’t work out for her in California so she moved to Nashville….then she released Take The Keys. We think you might love it.

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All this and one of my most personal favourites of the last few weeks. It’s a track from Ruu Campbell‘s new album which sounds like a heavenly collision of Nick Drake and Bon Iver.

So much music and only two hours. Join us for all of it from five past eight this Friday on BBC Radio Scotland.

 

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There’s So Much More to Sturgill

by on May.15, 2014, under general musings

Pardon me if I sound like a broken record, but we’re going to do something we’ve never done on the old AC this week. We are, in a matter of a few months, repeating a conversation that took place in late January with Sturgill Simpson. Since the day he came and recorded a brilliant session for us the world has woken up to the music being made by this exceptional artist. Last week he made his UK television debut and I’m hearing his music being payed in all the right places. As promised on that cold day back in January he has delivered a new album which – beyond all expectations – really shows the depth and strength of his songwriting and singing.

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Sturgill’s story is a remarkable one. A bluegrass musician who went off to join the US navy and nearly got lost to music, he had a two year sojourn  cowriting in Nashville until he made the (very wise) decision to follow his heart and just write the debut album himself. An Americana Award nominee who will be a very real possibility for a Grammy nod this year, Sturgill is suddenly everywhere and will be back this way soon as a guest at Southern Fried in Perth this summer. We thought you’d like to hear what all the fuss is about and we’re pretty certain you won’t be disappointed.

 

However there is so much more this week. We’ll celebrate a significant anniversary for this man…

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We love Buck Owens and his music doesn’t date for me. The Bakersfield sound is such a significant strand in country music that it’s great to remember country came out of California too. Talking of Bakersfield we’ll also hear a little of that other Bakersfield resident who was so influenced by Buck. Merle Haggard made a great duet with Marty Stuart a few years back and we thought it would make up the final sequence to a set of songs inspired by new country band  Massy Ferguson.

We’ll hear new songs from Pete Molinari, Miranda Lambert, The Lone Bellow, Blue Rose Code and a first play for Mary Gauthier’s great new album.

Also …..what extraneous sounds are allowed on your favourite records? This is my dog Alf who occasionally finds his way on to my home demos. I don’t really mind the odd extraneous noise. I’m hoping you might agree so we can  celebrate the art of the uninvited canine overdub together.

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There’s a lot to get in so do join me if you can at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland this Friday.

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Records

by on May.08, 2014, under general musings

I know I got on about this but there is still something magical about the album. A good friend of mine has been trying to think of ways to sell music in a new way. Something which finally excites and permeates as strongly as the album did back in the seventies,eighties and even, I suspect until the last glowing embers of the last century. Sadly, for young people, and I surveyed a couple of them round my kitchen table yesterday, that magic has disappeared. It’s nothing to do with their love or loathing of music and it’s nothing to do how important or unimportant they deem it to be. It’s just that the idea of sacrificing almost everything else so you can buy a new release doesn’t really make sense to them any more.

You have to say they have a point. The music business so miscalculated their public that they feared everything for two decades then took 180º turn and said effectively, ‘help yourselves folks.’ It has meant that the magic of the album has gone. No more the longing for release date, the saving-up, the bus trip to town, the purchase and the reading of the credits all the way home until you reached the turntable where nothing – nothing I say – got in the way until both sides had been absorbed. I’m glad I went through that time. It means I never pick up anyone’s record without knowing that love, passion and care went into making it. I relate to my fellow recording artists in the strongest way possible. Making records and playing records on the radio are two of the greatest things I’ve ever been allowed to do. Nowadays the thrill comes in discovering lots of recordings I suspect are unknown to many of you listening. It’s my pleasure to flag them up and enjoy seeing the posts and emails about how much you are digging different different things. It never fails to surprise me how people pick up on some of the more understated new records we play.

This Friday there will be no interviews, no sessions just me and a pile of records – many of them so far unheard on the radio – which I will enjoy sharing with you. here are some things to look out for.

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The new Sturgill Simpson album. It’s called ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’ and Sturgill is playing on Joolz this Friday too. He is reinventing country music in a great way. One of the most honest session guests we’ve had on the show he promised a new album within months of that interview in Janusary. He kept the promise and has delivered one of the best records of the year so far. We play a deeper cut – as the FM stations used to say – this Friday. Similarly – and coming calling to the AC very soon – Holly Williams-  has made a very fine record indeed. You will know that Holly is the grand-daughter of Hank and there is a reference to that amazing musical family within the lyrics of this new album.

We have spoken with Craig Finn before about the influence of Minneapolis rock music. We’ll hear the new single from Husker Du’s Bob Mould as well as significant new recordings from X’s John Doe and the new kid from New Orleans Benjamin Booker – soon to be opening for Jack White.

We’ll celebrate these guys….

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Johnny and Jack knew that some things sound better on vinyl. To prove the point we’ll play  something brilliant from another Hank on the new dedicated AC turntable. Now that it’s in the studio we’ve locked it down.

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Join me if you can. Friday from five past eight, BBC Radio Scotland.

 

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Harmony

by on May.01, 2014, under general musings

A while a pal told me about an indie kid who was working beside him. He claimed to love music but hated harmony (!??) We both found it rather intriguing ….It meant missing out some major pieces in the pop music cannon. Louvins, Everleys, Beatles, Beach Boys, Mamas and The Papas, The Byrds, The Jackson Five…you get the picture.

For me it’s always been the thing that can change a performance from good to sublime. Sometimes it’s just one voice adding that third to the melody line. Then sometimes it’s more. I was a huge fan of CSN& Y growing up and in those pre youtube days I used to spend time imagine how they went about their business on stage. Off all the groups I have never seen live they are the one I wished I’d seen most.

This Friday we are going to celebrate harmony singing because of our very special guests. It’s always a joy to welcome live talent to Studio One at PQ. It’s a wonderful space and being in the room as musicians do their work is a joy for me. This week we welcome The Mermaids.

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It will be their first session for us and also a session for BBC Introducing, the scheme which supports new artists to gain a wider audience.The Mermaids are Ellen and Rosie MacFarlane who came to our notice because their mother was kind enough to alert us to their debut album. Intriguingly recorded in one day it is a great calling card. Rosie plays ukelele and Rosie plays guitar and together they sing in joyous, beautiful harmony. I saw therm a few weeks back at King Tuts and I was very impressed. I suppose we’ve grown used to how good siblings sound together, but it’s great to be reminded again – especially when these young girls come from Galloway in Southern Scotland. They are twenty and sixteen years of age and I think you will be amazed at how assured their performance is and how strong their own songs  sound. You are also going to like the cover song they are planning to do.

So – we’ll play other Sisters – the Secret ones, celebrate a brilliant vocal track from Noah Gundersen, hear something new and excellent from Blue Rose Code and  hear what Dolly Parton has done next. We’ll also say Happy Birthday to an artist we love very much ………recognise him?

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There will be lots of nice surprises that would only only be spoiled if I told you everything now. So hear it all for yourself on Friday from five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.

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by on Apr.24, 2014, under general musings

Even this far into life – and believe me I’m far in – there is still a thrill at putting on a new record and falling in love with it. Last year the AC was sent the debut single by The Lone Bellow and, well, we fell in love. I’m not sure how many times we played ‘The One You Should’ve Let Go’ but it quickly established itself as our record of the year.

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The subsequent single, ‘Green Eyes and A Heart Of Gold’ was another slice of pop perfection too. Could the album be this good? A couple of weeks ago I finally got a chance to hear the whole thing and ~I realised these two singles were no flukes. There is a real depth to this band and there are many, many highlights on a very fine debut. Perhaps the most amazing thing is how far into the record they wait before revealing that debut single. This Friday we will be in converstaion with Zach Williams from the band who came in a few weeks ago to Studio One to record a session for the AC. Zach shares his own incredible story and will talk about the extended community of artists in their adopted Brooklyn home. A brilliant session with our new favourite band  is not to be missed.

As you know, we celebrated vinyl night last week and we’ve taken the logical decision to leave the record player up and continue to play some vinyl every week on the show. This week we venture into new territory with a track from a 10″ album from 1954. It’s an artist we hadn’t ever played on the show until our Country Juke Box night a month or so ago….we think you’ll like it.

We’ll also have a pile of new music from two new singer song writers from Ireland, something from Tom Ovans mesmeric and massive double/triple? album all recorded on a 4 track, some more from the wonderful Eliza Gilkyson and we’ll celebrate a significant anniversary for The Louvin Brothers.

We’ll also pay tribute to this man:

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Jessie Winchester died on April 11th after fighting bladder cancer. He was probably best known as a writer of songs for other people including Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris and Joan Baez.It’s fascinating to note however that his songs were still being cut as recently as the last couple of months by Rosanne Cash and Don Williams. We will pay tribute to the great Jessie this Friday.

Do join us if you can. It all starts at five past eight this Friday on BBC Radio Scotland.

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