YLIAS Mid-Summer Picks: Sarah Jane Scouten, Zephaniah OHora, The Secret Sisters

LifeInASong_UK

There has been a slight pause in the mainstream release calendar so it’s time to highlight three albums that you might have missed….

SARAH JANE SCOUTEN – ‘WHEN THE BLOOM FALLS FROM THE ROSE’

We’ve got bro-country, R&B country, pop country and probably every hybrid possible. This can be filed in the folk-country section.

There are a number of Canadian country singers emerging. Colter Wall. High Valley and Linda Ortega to name a few. Add Sarah Jane Scouten to the list. She originates from Bowen Island in British Columbia. This is her third album and was recorded in Toronto.

Her breakthrough came when she was asked to attend Vancouver label Light Organ Records, where she made an EP that became part of a series of releases known as the Railtown Sessions. Its reception garnered a nomination for Roots Solo Artist of the year by the Canadian Country Music Association. ‘When The Bloom Falls From The Rose’ is her full length debut album for Light Organ Records.

It’s a 12-track collection, 10 of which are originals and two covers, albeit two songs that won’t be familiar to anyone who isn’t well versed with Canadian roots music. It’s an album that offers diversity, appeal and satisfaction and it’s difficult to pin her to any mast. Just when you think you may be figuring her out, she takes a course that you barely expected.

It can be said that those courses don’t always lead where you feel you should be going.

An early single from the album ‘Bang Bang’ is the album’s up-beat moment with its rockabilly beat and retro production. Contrast this with the starkness of the 60’s folk song ‘Britannia Mine’, with its minimalistic haunting violins, and you can see that this is not an easy album to pigeonhole.

The opener ‘Acre of Shells’ with its hook line “how can I ever love somebody else when you’re in the world” has the emotive lyrics and style that seems straight out of the Sam Outlaw song writing manual. Her traditional country persona emerges with ‘Every Song I Sing’ which is basically about as country as it’s possible to get. Fortunately for those of us with a traditional country persuasion, it’s not unique on an album that is not afraid to utilise the fiddles and pedal steel.

She’s also happy to stretch the boundaries historically. ‘Coupe De Ville Rag’ pays homage to the old time music halls. If the Andrew Sisters did country, it might just have sounded like this. She’s paying us a visit in October and will be appearing in all four corners of the UK. A great chance to learn a little more about Sarah Jane Scouten.

ZEPHANIAH OHORA AND THE 18 WHEELERS – ‘THIS HIGHWAY’

Country music from New York. Not something you hear too often. Zephaniah Ohora probably won’t be too familiar to you either. If this guy appeared at a UK country festival he would probably receive an early billing. That might be about to change, because ‘This Highway’ may just be an album that classic country followers will embrace as a gem.

11 songs that individually represent just why it’s not impossible to revisit the styles of bygone times. Collectively they merge into a very fine album. It has a timeless feel, helped hugely by the production of Jim Campilongo and Luca Benedetti, but also due in no small part to the songs, which could have been recorded any time in the last 50 years.

It will have little or no appeal to country fans who have been raised on the output of country radio. You won’t be hearing any of these songs at your next Nashville Nights fix, but that market is well served.

Let’s just savour someone who creates classic country music in the style of Ray Price, Marty Robbins and Ernest Tubb, or just about anyone from the golden era. Zephaniah Ohora is the real deal.

THE SECRET SISTERS – ‘YOU DON’T OWN ME ANYMORE’

The lack of ‘family acts’ in modern country music is a little curious. In the current country charts you will only find the Swon Brothers and Brothers Osborne. Where are the country equivalents of the Osmonds, the Gibbs or the Jacksons? Dolly Parton was raised in a family containing a number of singing sisters but her fame came as a solo artist. Hillary Scott has recorded and had huge success with an album recorded with her family, but this was only whilst she was on hiatus from Lady A.

We have Ward Thomas, our singing sisters from Hampshire, but there aren’t too many examples of female family duets. The Secret Sisters are Laura and Linda Rogers. They began their careers brightly and signed with a major label, Republic Records. Unfortunately, poor sales and an indifferent response to their last album ‘Put Your Needle Down’ has led to a change of direction.

They are back with an album that reverts to the very essence of their early output which was good, traditional, rootsy folk-country.

They have found a new home with New West Records who have allowed them the creative freedom to produce an album of harmonies and stories.

It gets a little downbeat and melancholy in places but that’s to be expected when the subject matter strays into life’s trials and tribulations. The sisters’ trials and tribulations in the music buisness will no doubt provide rich pickings for more than this album. Not only were they shown the door by their former record company, they were then involved in a messy management dispute, had to file for personal bankruptcy and made ends meet by cleaning houses.

Fortunately for us, the talent didn’t desert them and they have been given a second chance with ‘You Don’t Own Me Anymore’. The album was partly crowd-funded and is a fine example of the “you get knocked down but get up again” approach that is light years away from the euphoria felt when they burst onto the scene 7 years ago, when they were aided by the production of Dave Cobb.

It’s good to have them back and there is a gaping hole for singing sisters to fill.

Graham Wharton

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