The Rocking Magpie

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Welcome to the Rocking Magpie – a box-room on the Internet for one man and a couple of his friend’s thoughts and musings on a variety of music, be it CD’s, Gigs, books or the occasional DVD – usually; but not exclusively based around all things Americana and Roots; because I love R&B, Ska, Reggae, Soul and all things Mod too.

After many years writing reviews for numerous magazines and websites I decided to break up the band and go solo in 2014; putting everything under one roof on ……THE ROCKING MAGPIE.

Me? I live in the North East of England; but receive music from around the world….most noticeably  the UK, USA and Canada and our readership reflects this, with followers in over 100 countries across all 4 continents ; plus my data tell me that ‘occasional visitors’ from 148 countries have actually visited the site this year alone; which is mind-blowing when you think about it.

My priority, will of course be bringing you reviews of music that has actually been listened to and appreciated in one way or anothernot just the regurgitation of a Press Release like too many other websites.

Dig deep into the site; as the bonus is a myriad of my old reviews (400+), some dating back to 2010 which really are a snapshot in time – some I got bang on, others I raved about yet the album and artist still drifted into musical obscurity.

Keep in touch or on Twitter @RockingMagpie

Press the like/follow button for irregular postings of reviews that you can be read in the comfort of your own home…or workplace, or the train or the loo (or wherever the case may be).

FAO Bands, singers and PR’s…….like all other writers and bloggers I put an inordinate amount of time into these reviews; so please, please, please promote them on your websites, social media and the telephone ……they do actually lead to SALES….I have written proof!!!!

Alan aka The Rocking Magpie

If there’s one song that sums up our attitude to what we do and why we do it, it’s this……. Rex Bob Lowenstein by Mark Germino

Kris Barras Band LIGHT IT UP

Kris Barras Band
Light It Up

British Blues Rock With An RS Turbo!

My formative years; musically were spent listening to loud Rock Music …….. Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter and Free; to name but three; but the older I’ve got my taste has spread across numerous genres.
Yet, every now and again I need to feed my ‘Jones’ and give in to my desires for loud ‘n feisty guitar driven Blues Music that rocks like a Ford Escort RS Turbo on a winding road…… and boy, oh boy does the Kris Barras Band fit that description perfectly well!
Opening track What You Get comes out of the traps just like that aforementioned car; leaving the listener not just breathless, but clutching their chest too……. just in case it actually is a heart attack set to music.
I’d never heard of Kris Barras prior to his last release THE DIVINE and The DIRTY; so I can’t vouch for his earlier work; but that matters not a jot when the likes of the very apt Counterfeit People and Wound Up are available today …… who needs or cares about the past?
Even without reading the latest Press Release I already thought these kids were contenders for the title of Hardest Working Band in Britain; as their Social Media has been full of tours, support slots and Festival Appearances that implied they hardly ever sleep in their own beds.
There’s a helluva lot going on in the British (Blues) Rock World these days; but The Kris Barras Band somehow manage to take a ‘Classic’ guitar/bass structure and somehow turn tracks like What a Way To Go, Vegas Son and the down ‘n dirty Bullett into something almost contemporary and even complex in their construction.
What’s easy to forget here is what a wonderful voice Kris Barras has. Yes; of course his guitar playing is quite exemplary and even adventurous; but very few of his peers can actually sing a song as well as he can; stretching his larynx to its limit on Ignite (Light It Up), but also having the ability to break your heart on the sultry Pride is Forever and/or Let The River Run Through You.
Selecting a Favourite Song should have been easier than I’ve eventually made it. Right from Day #1 the heart-pumping and sizzling (Cracked Knuckles and) Broken Teeth didn’t just stand out from the pack; but grabbed me by the ‘dangly bits’….. so good it is.
But; just this morning 6 A.M sort of unraveled before my very eyes and ears, leaving me with a dilemma …… but hey; you choose when you hear them and let me know.
As I said earlier, I’m late to the party; but I can still tell that there’s a distinctive move forward here from the last album, with the band’s Trademarked British Blues Roots somehow now sounding like they can take on the American Giants on their own turf, without fear or favour.

Released September 13th 2019


Jared Deck
Bully Pulpit
Self-Release/Proper Music

Fun Times Rock & Roll Fueled, Gospel Tinged Americana

“Great American Breakdown” by Oklahoman Jared Deck, from his newest album, Bully Pulpit, is the song we’ve been waiting for. Cheeky, relevant, danceable. High-heeled sneakers for this politically dysfunctional generation. The best protest songs transcend their message to the point where people can sing along twenty years later, not caring what the song was really about. With a riff straight out of T-Rex (the most danceable of the glam rock bands) and some gospel-fueled shouting, this song rips and tears it up for a full three minutes before slamming the door shut with a satisfying clang.
Songs over, you can go home now, only Jared Deck and his band ain’t done yet, they still have more to say. The rest of this album is a mixture of jump and jive gospel, smooth country, a smattering of Randy Newman on speed, and even some Willy Deville. 
Deck is a farm-raised Oklahoma country boy with blue collar roots who ran for local election, (lost) played piano in a gospel church, and released his first album to much acclaim. He has a powerful voice that goes from cranked up Fender Bassman to comfortable country crooning with ease, with the gospel rockers giving him a chance to hoot and holler, where to me he seems more in his element. The country songs are fine, but the rockers have so much character and burn so hot that pretty much anything next to them pales in comparison. 
We do get a sad tear-jerker of a tale with “Make Your Mama Proud,” and some well-wrought anguish in “Tulsa Sound,” but my ears keep going back to the amped up gospel rockers, “There’s a Leak in This Old Building” and “Sometimes I Miss Being Lonely” both being vocal tours de force which must be fun for him and his band to pull off live — It ain’t showing off if you can pull it off!
“Money Back” utilizes familiar tropes and moves fast like a downhill train, and “I Don’t Know What You Come To Do” is that same train about to derail but Deck and his band are having a blast in the process knowing that to rock, is living life to the fullest.
Words courtesy the Legendary Roy Peak

Released UK September 13th 2019
Released USA January 2019

Jeremy Ivey THE DREAM and The DREAMER

Jeremy Ivey
The Dream and The Dreamer
Anti- Records

The Dark Heart of Alt. Country Gets a New Voice.

As is my won’t I’d played this album a couple of times before I read the Press Release; and yet again I’m pleased I did because what I hear bares very little in connection to the prose of some in-house underwriter.
For me opening track Diamonds Back to Coal is a real ‘breath taker’ in the most literal sense; as it’s a deep and powerful view on the state of America; but without all the shouty angst. Ivey uses metaphor, nuance and even melody to get his message across in a way that will make Bob Dylan proud.
To all intents and purposes this is Americana at its very best; with Ivey (and producer Margo Price who just happens to be Jeremy’s wife!) combining Alt. Country and Indie, with the odd splash of Folk to create a sound that shames more established artists (and producers).
The subject matter isn’t always ‘easy on the ear’; with the duet with Margo Greyhound, Story of a Fish and Worry Doll all being perfect examples; with sing-along choruses and bitingly pithy lyrics masking two dark stories.
Jeremy Ivey is certainly ‘left of centre’ in the way he creates his characters and their situations; and in my humble opinion the world needs more songs like Gina The Tramp and Falling Man, with their deceptively mellow tunes but so full of piss and vinegar you can taste them in the air.
This sounds like a very personal album to me; which makes choosing a Favourite Song a burdensome task; as each and every song here has its merits; but I;m going to toss a coin to decide between Laughing Willy and the piano led (and John Lennon influenced?) darkly observational title track The Dream and the Dreamer.
Both are quite exceptional and possibly even ‘timeless’; but somehow the bitter angst of Laughing Willy is exactly what I needed to hear this morning …… so it wins (today).
While Jeremy Ivey and Margo Price are inextricably intertwined both musically and in their personal life; I’ve heard enough here to realise that Mr Ivey has more than enough talent not just to be the ‘wind beneath her wings’.

Released 13th September 2019

Mediterranean Blues Cruise II with Joe Bonamassa and friends.

We don’t normally get involved in these things; as ‘Rock & Roll or Blues’ Cruises are normally in and around America; but this one is in Europe and features a whole host of RMHQ Friends.
Following six sold-out Caribbean cruises and a sold-out inaugural Mediterranean sailing – Joe Bonamassa, Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation, and Sixthman announce the second annual Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea Mediterranean II, sailing August 14-19, 2020 on the beautiful Norwegian Jade from Barcelona, Spain to Genoa, Italy and Cannes, France. Sign up for the pre-sale:

As with the previous United States-based sailings and the inaugural Mediterranean voyage, the second European cruise will feature music across multiple stages, meet and Greets with artists from the lineup, and one-of-a-kind collaborative sets from blues legends. In addition to non-stop music, the specially curated schedule of events offers a variety of music-centric activities including an activity with Joe Bonamassa. Beyond the onboard experience, guests will have the chance to explore two of the world’s most beautifully renowned cities. Attendees can spend the day at the waterfront town of Cannes famous for sparkling, sandy beaches and lush attractions, and explore the historic streets of Genoa, a remarkable gem of the Italian Riviera. In 2020, Jonny Lang, Walter Trout, Ana Popovic, The James Hunter Six have already been confirmed and many more will be announced to join Joe Bonamassa for the second voyage.

Geraint Watkins RUSH OF BLOOD

Geraint Watkins
Rush of Blood
Last Music Company

The Bar is Raised Significantly for British Country Music.

The title Rush of Blood is very apt for Geraint Watkins’ latest solo release; as that’s exactly how I and I’m sure hundreds of others felt when we heard this album was on the horizon.
I will forgive anyone under 40 for not knowing who he is; but shame on anyone over that age who doesn’t appreciate not just his actual music; but his contribution to what we now know as British Americana or indeed; British Country Music!
RUSH OF BLOOD starts with a 1950’s Country Love Song that doubles as the rousing title track. Man oh man! Watkins says more about ‘love’ in 4 minutes than I’ve managed in 50+ years; and he made my toes tap too.
‘Love’ is the golden thread that weaves through just about every song on this marvelous musical tapestry.
If you already know Geraint Watkins there’s nothing new here; ; but there’s plenty of beautiful trademark odes, sung in his trademark world weary, grizzled voice like the swoonsome Hold Back The Night and the heartbreaker I Got The Blues to make even the most cynical of old musos get swept along in Geraint’s gentle tidal wave.
But; anyone just discovering him will wonder why they’ve never heard of him before when they here the Twangtastic Middle of the Night and Reason to Live; both of which easily surpass anything you will hear on Country Hits Radio or the like this year; or any year.
For me personally RUSH OF BLOOD is chock full of potential singles, with each and every song having the ability to tug on the heartstrings in very different ways; but tug they will; especially On My Mind and the majestic Heart of Stone; which both take Modern British Country Music into a whole new stratosphere!
My choice of Favourite Song here is quite the tearjerker; and a contender for a song as my funereal epitaph. Watkins’s deft touch on the electric piano instantly catch your attention; but when her purrs Another Day Over in that velvety manner you know this is a man still gloriously love but ……… knows time is running out. 10/10
Or should I go for Geraint crooning (yes; crooning) the darker Jazzy Another Day Over (Reprise), which follows? Nah; I’m keeping that as a ‘secret love’ …….. don’t tell anyone I told you about it.
My copy has a Bonus Track; Wherever There’s Love which I hope yours has too as it’s a doozy; with Watkins on fine Country warbling form and the addition of some razor sharp pedal-steel that will make all those young and hirsuit Alt. Country kids think again about their career choices.
I haven’t got enough time to give you a pocket history of this giant among men; but this is a great place to start discovering this rare talent; then purchase yourself some Balham Alligators and you will get your life changed for the price of two pints of London beer.

Released 13th September 2019


Bruce Cockburn
Crowing Ignites
True North Records

A Guitar Masterclass That Defies Description.

There are quite a few ‘instrumental albums’ in my collection; predominantly of the Jazz persuasion, but one or two Delta Blues ones for good measure (one has 17 harmonica tracks on it!) plus a couple of ‘Experimental’ type things from Mahavishnu Orchestra among others; but nothing in the Folk idiom.
I say ‘Folk’; but that moniker doesn’t do justice to what Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has created here alongside a handful of friends.
The quality throughout Bruce Cockburn’s 35th album CROWING IGNITES (and second one of instrumentals!!) is of such a high standard I don’t want to just call them ‘tracks’ …… how about opuses?
The first of these ‘opuses’ is Bardo Rush and I was left spellbound the first time I played it; and again tonight Cockburn’s dazzling fretwork is almost peerless in the musical world I inhabit.
Okay; this was all recorded in a studio; with plenty of time for Take 2’s; but the playing on each and every track is absolutely flawless and, it has to be said exemplary too.
There are flourishes in Easter and The Groan* that will send a shiver down your spine as your lips break into a stupendous grin; such is the way Cockburn delivers a Masterclass in Acoustic Guitar playing.
Perhaps what has impressed me most here is that Bruce Cockburn manages to create music that could and should be in very different genres; but somehow manages to make the intriguing Jazz opuses Angels in the Half Light and The Mt. Lefroy Waltz sit comfortably alongside the delightful Ragtime ditty Sweetness & Light; a raw Blues tune like Blind Willie and the transcendental (?) Seven Daggers and make them all sound cohesive.
What a rare talent this man really is.
Selecting a single Favourite Track (or should that be opus?) is almost futile; but then again two tunes really do manage to stand out here.
April in Memphis is quite staggering in its very own rite; with Cockburn playing his guitar in an almost Classical fashion; and then I read that it was written on MLK Day 2019 and is dedicated to Dr. King; my heart skipped a beat.
The other is also a tad on the Classical side; but with a dramatic Celtic spine too, which combines to make Pibroch, The Wind In The Valley quite remarkable in many ways; which is why it’s probably taking the accolade.
For an album as beautiful as this, there were very few people involved in the making; all of whom; including Iona Cockburn; 7 year old daughter of Bruce who helped supply handclaps on The Groan; deserve a huge round of applause for creating such a magical and majestic body of work; that will certainly stand the test of time.

Released September 20th 2019


Distant Shore

It’s not altogether unusual that a mutual musician friend gave Yana my e-mail address; but what was unusual was when she mentioned that the ‘connection’ came from Ireland, while she lives in a town in the Czech Republic called Brno. I doubt you’ve ever heard of it; but I had…… because 50 years ago I had a pen-pal from that very same town!
My old pen-pal’s name meant nothing to Yana; but the connection certainly piqued my interest regarding her first single Distant Shore, from her debut EP; due out in the new year.
A more fascinating three minutes I’ve not had in a long time. Yana has a very deep, yet still feminine voice and her song is deeply mystical with simple and stark guitar playing juxtaposed against some delightful piano playing from Liam O’Maonlai.
Thankfully there are a number of radio stations around the world who have already given the single airplay; and it’s certainly a song well worthy of your attention and a delicious appetiser for the forthcoming EP, especially if it’s in the same vein.

Released September 9th 2019

The Orphan Brigade feat. John Prine; Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy)

The Orphan Brigade feat. John Prine
Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy)

In many ways; or at least in my little world The Orphan Brigade are something of a ‘Supergroup’, as they consist of RMHQ Favourites
Joshua Britt, Ben Glover, and Neilson Hubbard  plus a vast array of friends who regularly appear on these pages.
The new album, TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD comes out on 27th September; and to tease us they’re releasing CAPTAIN’S SONG (Sorley Boy) as a single …… and the world should rejoice; not just because it’s one of the finest songs on a very fine album; but features Living legend John Prine!

“For any history buffs, the song refers to the infamous local chieftain from the 1500s, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, who’s descendants still have strong connections with the Glens of Antrim.”  -The Orphan Brigade


Crow vs Lion
The Heart, The Time, The Pen

A Fascinating Folk-Rock Concept Album on the Cusp of Art-Rock

Well indeed! This is different; very, very ‘different’ and following Dan Gallagher’s intriguing original e-mail regarding this ‘concept album’ I’m damn pleased I read the accompanying EPK Press Release as I listened for the first time yesterday, or I’d have missed a lot of intricate subtleties tucked away in throughout these 13 songs; especially as the number 13 plays an integral part in the ‘concept.’
In a theatrical style, Gallagher splits the album into three seperate and relatively conflicting ‘acts’, The Heart, The Time and The Pen each seperated by a ‘jolt to the system’ in the manner of snippets of radio tuning or samples of music; but somehow they all manage to come together as a complete ‘work of art’ by the end.
The story begins with a radio being re-tuned until you hear Gallagher reading a short transcript from his Grandfather’s WWII Journal before and after a haunting and heartfelt Folk Song to and about his son, entitled Daniel Odin.
It doesn’t take a massive leap to presume that Daniel Odin is the central character in these ambitious songs; or at least that’s how I’ve interpreted them……. which makes sense; but I could be wrong.
This is followed by a more contemporary Folk song; Beg, Steal and Borrow which features some achingly beautiful harmonies and an almost militaristic drum beat on a song that will chill your heart.
Personally, I’ve found this a very challenging album to listen to; most notably because of the ‘interspersions’ between many of the songs; which I’m sure are integral to what Gallagher intended; but became increasingly annoying the more I’ve played the album!
Individually though; there are some wonderful songs here that actually transcend the complex story; especially Five, Six, Seven, Eight which reminds me of the Lovin’ Spoonful (once it gets going) and The End of Everything which is jaunty, yet as dark and Gothic as acoustic led Folk songs get.
Obviously as this is a ‘concept album’ that is meant to be a complete story that winds from beginning to end; and yes indeed, it works in that format; but there is still room for some very good and constructive songwriting that manages to beget two songs that are squabbling for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite; Red Ring is a classy Folk Rocker with a catchy and almost hypnotic refrain; and the very traditional title track The Heart, The Time, The Pen which pulls all of the threads together at the very end yet will also stand out when played on Root Radio.
My head is still spinning; and I’m not sure how well this all works as a ‘concept’ or how often I will play this album over the next few years; but there are certainly enough quality individual songs for me to cherry-pick for various playlists on my i-phone.

Released October 17th 2019

Rachel Harrington HUSH THE WILD HORSES

Rachel Harrington
Hush The Wild Horses
Skinny Dennis Records

Raw and Articulate Americana That Eases Between Shadow and Light.

It’s odd how ‘fate’ plays a hand in life, isn’t it? Or, as my father used to say; “God acts in mysterious ways.”
A few weeks ago I was having a beer with a friend I’d not seen in a year or so and during the conversation he asked, “Can you remember that woman we saw in that cafe in Tynemouth?” I scratched my head and eventually remembered her name as Rachel Harrington; and we both wondered whatever happened to her.
Two days later this album dropped on the hall mat!
Spooky, or what?????
Apparently she’s been ill and subsequently took a couple of years, that stretched to 8 ‘off’; and as part of her therapy began rescuing horses, which has rekindled her love of music …… which took her to a Mary Gauthier songwriting retreat and here is the result.
While I own two of her previous four releases I haven’t played them in years; and deliberately avoided them while listening this week, for fear of pre-judgement.
The first thing you will notice is the stark beauty of the recording; this is Americana in it’s purest form; starting with Hush The Wild Horses itself, which has a violently strummed acoustic guitar, militaristic drumbeat a maudlin fiddle accompany Rachel’s pained vocals.
It has to be said that ‘there aren’t many laughs here’ as Rachel delves deep into the darkest recesses of her heart for these stories; many of which sound quite cathartic; none more so than Child of God which finds the singer only barely restraining herself from screaming and possibly even crying as she tells a harrowing tale of a child’s sexual abuse (her own actually.) Truth really is stranger than fiction in this case.
I hadn’t noticed until earlier today how not just the dark subject matter of her songs, but the timbre in her voice and even the way she actually sings reminds me of Joni Mitchell circa Blue!
The other name that sprung to mind was Guy Clark; and it wasn’t until I finally read the Press Release that Rachel tells us that her beautiful song Susanna is actually a tribute to the Great Man; who is/was one of her all-time heroes. (Serendipity again?)
Which in its own way puts her powerful Vietnam based songs into perspective; starting with Mekong Delta, about on her own Uncle’s experiences in Vietnam and then the rocking and rolling Drop Zone; but most especially The Barn; a subtly deceptive tale based on a story about her Mother’s first love which will bring tears to a glass eye.
While there is more than enough shade here; there is also plenty of light ……. with Rachel pouring her heart out in the brittle love songs I Meant to Go To Memphis and the delightful Save Yourself; which is Americana in its rawest form.
I say ‘Americana’ which is the best way I can describe these songs, as they conjure up cinematic imagery in a way we associate with filmmakers as disparate as John Ford and David Lynch.
I’m actually selecting two songs as my joint Favourite Songs; If Wishes Were Horses and Drinking About You, which both transcend what we think of as Americana Music and even Country although both fit very comfortably into either genre.
While the subject matter here is often challenging, it will also resonate with many people of ‘a certain age’ and many of whom will find solace in Rachel Harrington’s words, while her Love Songs; not always easy on the ear manage to shine a light in a way very few modern songwriters can achieve in such an eloquent manner.

Released 6th September 2019