The Rocking Magpie

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Welcome to the Rocking Magpie – a box-room on the Internet for one man and a bunch of his Roots Music loving friend’s thoughts and musings on a wide variety of music, be it CD’s, Gigs, books and the occasional DVD. Usually; but not exclusively based around all things ROOTS:- Americana, Folk, Blues, R&B, all variants of Country, a bit of Ska, Reggae and Soul too.

After many years writing reviews for a variety of magazines, newspapers 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 all around the world….mostly  the UK, USA and Canada and our readership reflects this, but we have followers in over 130 countries across all 4 continents; plus my data tells me that ‘occasional visitors’ from 173 countries have actually visited the site so far; which is mind-blowing when you think about it.

Our priority is bringing you reviews of music that has actually been listened to and appreciatednot just the regurgitation of a Press Release  (like too many other ‘household name’ websites!).
We do this because we want you to get an Independent view from someone just like yourself; and in theory this will make you want to actually buy a copy not just scam a free listen on the likes of Spotify and Apple Streaming!
As of May 2022 we have returned to the radio on NOVA RADIO NE in Newcastle on Sunday 6pm to 8, with each two hour broadcast available the day after ……

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

To ‘Follow’ us, press the like/follow button for irregular postings of reviews that you can be read in the comfort of your own home…workplace, train or the loo.
FAO Bands, singers and PR’s…….like all other writers and bloggers we put an inordinate amount of time and effort 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 song……. Rex Bob Lowenstein by Mark Germino

Fenton Robinson SOMEBODY LOAN ME A DIME (Re-Release)

Fenton Robinson
Somebody Loan Me a Dime
Alligator Records

A Cool & Classy 50 Year Old Blues Album That Sounds Like It Was Recorded Last Week.

As is my won’t; I hadn’t read the Press Release until I was playing this album for the third time; and when I did I was stopped dead in my tracks …. as I had no idea that it was a Re-Release and …. even allowing for some 21st Century re-mastering; there’s absolutely nothing in the production or the way Robinson sings or plays guitar that sounds like it could be nigh on 50 years old!
Apparently SOMEBODY LOAN ME A DIME was the fifth ever release on this now esteemed label and came about after Alligator head honcho Bruce Iglauer saw Fenton Robinson at Pepper’s Lounge on the South Side of Chicago and instantly felt that this virtually unknown player was perfect for what he had in mind for his new label.
As has often been the case; Iglauer was right!
The sumptuous title track, Somebody Loan Me a Dime opens the album and sets the scene for what is about to follow; fluid guitar playing, a rich and velvety vocal, a band that sounds like the members were born to play the Blues and a bunch of songs that sound like they come from the heart of a man who has had his heart broken a thousand times; but keeps bouncing back.
If I’m honest I have never heard of Fenton Robinson; so when I first played the album; tracks like You Don’t Know What Love Is, Gotta Wake Up and The Getaway made me think that this ‘young’ guitar slinger had obviously been influenced by Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker and Keb’ Mo … but it turns out, they must have been influenced by Robinson; not just in the way they play guitar but the way they all write songs too.
Robinson plays Chicago Blues like virtually no one else; maybe you can hear a bit of BB King in Directly From My Heart to You; but that’s no problem at all to these ears.
I want to keep shouting “I can’t believe this album is half a century old!” but need to restrain myself; it is …. but won’t feel that way to 99% of the people who buy it in 2023.
The only thing that hasn’t been much of a surprise is the soulfulness in Robinson’s singing and writing; as most of the Chicago Bluesmen of that time were playing both genres quite naturally; and that comes to the fore on the enigmatic Going To Chicago and Checking On My Woman where he sounds like a young Smokey Robinson fronting Albert Collins’ touring band.
Speaking of Bluesmen who may have been influenced by Fenton Robinson; check out Texas Flood; a re-make of a Larry Collins single that Robinson had played guitar on; but I can imagine a young Stevie Ray Vaughan listening to this on repeat in his bedroom.
This album has been an exceptional voyage of discovery for me; and two songs in particular have struck me as Gold; the sick and sultry Country Girl which sent a shiver down my back the first time I played it; and the song that follows it, Gotta Wake Up, which is as edgy as Fenton Robinson gets alongside a brass section that is so subtle you forget it’s there; but the song would be nothing without its glorious interjections alongside some of the most majestic guitar playing I’ve heard in years … and I’ve heard a lot.
I’ve got nothing else to say apart from, if you like any of the players I’ve namechecked you are going to love this album ’til your dying day.

When Fenton Robinson passed away on November 25, 1997, the blues world lost one of its truly exceptional artists.

Released June 6th 2023


RMHQ Radio Show Ep:53 @NovaRadioNE #Newcastle

RMHQ Radio Show
Episode 53
Nova Radio NE

Saturday 27th May 23

My Sunday evening radio show was transferred to Saturday afternoon this week; as the Premier League football season was coming to an end with 4.30 ko’s on Sunday. At the time of planning we all thought the excitement could extend to Newcastle United; so a three hour programme was pencilled in.
Thankfully (?) on the Monday night a draw meant they couldn’t drop out of the European Cup places so Sunday would be a ‘dead rubber’.
The Music!

As it was going to be a very sunny afternoon I planned to play ‘fun’ music from the Rootsy genres; but as usual that plan quickly went adrift, starting with Tina Turner who sadly died a couple of days before broadcast and ending with Tom Petty’s ‘Refugee’ for pretty obvious reasons if you follow UK politics!
In between we had loads of new tracks and singles coupled to a few older songs that I re-discovered tucked away on the Nova Super Computer.

Tina TurnerNutbush City Limits
Wily Bo & ED BrayshawLive With Me
Guy DavisGot Your Letter in My Pocket
Chuck ProphetFelony Glamour
Kyshona TrioWe The People
The Countess of FifeHumans Are a Bad Breed
Stefan GrossmanVestapol
Ruthie FosterWar Pigs
Marty StuartThe Sun is Quietly Sleeping
Margo PriceShotgun Willie
Casey James PrestwoodDay Drinking
Amanda Shires & Bobbie NelsonSummertime
Zach AaronTruth is a Mirror
Bella WhiteWorth My While
Dean MuellerLife Ain’t All Roses
Ben HemmingThe Devil’s Dance
Lee HunterThe Sycamore’s are Turning
Cowboy JunkiesMike Tyson (Here it Comes)
Stephen FearingGone But Not Forgotten
Beau JenningsI Know The Guys
Chastity BrownLoving the Questions
Tom BlackwellKill Me With Kindness
Malcolm HolcombeBits & Pieces
Annie KeatingCowgirl in the Sand
Helen McCookerybookCoffee & Hope
The ByrdsSo You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star
Tom PettyRefugee

Chastity Brown & Tom Blackwell @ Jumpin Hot Club #Newcastle

Chastity Brown & Tom Blackwell
Jumpin Hot Club
The Cluny II
Thursday 25th May 2023

First up was Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Tom Blackwell, looking very dapper in a suit and pristine white shirt. He opened with the slow and simmering I Can’t Help It, which seamlessly went into Paradise Blues without missing a note.
With only 40 minutes to showcase his back catalogue and imminent new release; Tom was like a magician the way he changed harmonicas and re-set his acoustic guitar between songs; generally with some self-depreciating quips to entertain the appreciative crowd.
Just over half way through he played the title track, Regency Cafe from the new album; and while I have my own review copy at home; I only realised how much he reminds me of the solo work from Ray Davies in the way he arranges and sings his songs; the subject matter is similar too.
The other two new songs found him dipping his toes into the Americana waters with Tom Trouble and what he introduced as his ‘daft song’ Kill Me With Kindness which was filled with wheezy harmonica bursts ala Neil and Bob which merited two stars in my notes.
For a virtual unknown this far East I was pleased to hear Tom receive a request for The King of Doubt, from the back of the room, which was actually one of the highlights of a razor-sharp set.
Tom has recently re-located to the NE, so hopefully I will get to see him a lot more in the near future.

I’ve seen Chastity Brown a few times over the years so was surprised to see a drum kit as the back of the stage; which was filled by an intricate lady drummer called Tara who wonderfully Chastity’s ‘Jazzy set’.
You will have to forgive me as we go forward, because not only did I become immersed in the music; occasionally forgetting to scribble notes; Chastity didn’t introduce any songs; bar one …. and her set list, which I photographed seems to be written in some secret code!
Her opening song, Cult Classically set the tone for the Jazzy vibe that prevailed all evening; intricately soft drums accompanying some clever piano or guitar; but with Ms Brown’s stunning vocals very much front and centre.
This was followed by Boston from the latest album; and the sparse guitar and drums with an intense vocal performance took a beautiful song into a whole new dimension.
Wonderment from the same album followed and Chastity’s choppy guitar breaks were quite astounding at times; which while I know she can play guitar, tonight she used her Semi-Acoustic as a lead instrument which was a great surprise.
On previous visits Chastity was accompanied by a pianist, but tonight she played it herself and just like her guitar playing, left me stunned as she channeled her inner Carla Bley at times with her passionate all encompassing playing as Tara watched her like a hawk for key changes.
As the gig ebbed and flowed, Chastity introduced a new song; Mosaic as a ‘work in progress’ for a project she’s working on with the Minnesota Orchestra …and sort of beggared belief as she played it solo on the piano which was beautiful; but I haven’t got the imagination to think what it might be like with a full orchestral backing.
One of the joys of watching music being played live, is when something goes slightly wrong ….which occurred tonight when Chastity got her verses mixed up in a song …. no one else in the world apart from us witnessed it, which I think is rather cool and special.
After 60 very special and intimate minutes Chastity and Tara thanked us for being there; then left the stage only to come back on for an obligatory encore, a particularly ‘heavy’ version of Curiosity, which was met with reverential silence from the audience then a torrent of applause at the end.
This was a really special evening of music from two very talented singer-songwriters who chopped and changed songs into barely recognisable from their recorded versions; but proving that there’s never just one version of a song.



Lee Hunter & The Gatherers
Between Nothing All
Bird Tale Records

Quality Americana, Folk and What We Used to Call ‘Bedsit Music’.

It’s been a long slog from the day I finally broke free from writing reviews for an unappreciative website/magazine and flying solo as the Rocking Magpie on my own. From Day #1 I presumed I could push out a review a day, Monday – Friday; and here we are 10 years later and I have to dismiss a lot more albums than the ‘team’ can actually listen to and then write insightful reviews after actually ‘listening’ to the music.
With no disrespect to the Major Labels we now work with; nothing excites me more than receiving a courteous e-mail from an artist asking if we will listen to their self-released album … which is what we have here from a friend of a friend who recommended RMHQ to her.
What little I know about Lee Hunter; and I really don’t need to know much more is that she lives in Jacksonville and has been ‘making music’ for a good few years now.
So with no pre-conceived ideas Track #1, I Want To Know Your Story is/was an absolute delight, Lee Hunter’s voice isn’t as sad as the song may suggest but strong and wise keeping the listener’s attention from start to finish.
This is followed by the wistful and piano led The Sycamores Are Turning; when it feels like Lee is using nature as a metaphor for life; and if I didn’t know better she sounds like current crop of cool singer-songwriters I’m listening to from Canada.
Even the first time I played this album, the songs felt like I’d known them forever; as Lee glides between Americana, American Folk and what we used to call ‘bedsit music’ with ease.
Whoever arranged these songs has done a great job; as Ms Hunter’s supporting musicians whom I’ve never heard of are quite exceptional; only ever adding subtle flourishes to their combined depth in the background that pushes Lee’s gorgeous vocals to the fore.
I’m mostly thinking about Joe Craven’s sweet violin on Listen and later the piano solo and pedal-steel that cuts through For a Little While too; but there are other examples too.
Lee Hunter’s ‘Folk background’ comes to the fore on tracks #5 & #6; My Johnny Was a Shoemaker and The Pirate and his Ship; which are both swathed in a Sothern Gothic blanket to give them a contemporary Americana ‘feel’.
I love a good ‘cover song’ and Lee Hunter certainly doesn’t disappoint on her re-make of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine which caught me by surprise the first time I played it and let out a loud “Oooooh” much to Mrs Magpie’s delight.
While this primarily an album for kicking back and immersing yourself in; there are still a couple more songs that stand out to me and therefore tie to be my Favourite Songs.
The intense Ready For The Storm again, sounds like it comes from a Folk heritage (reminding me of British acts Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention) as the electric guitar and violin fight for dominance as Lee Hunter takes what could be an ordinary song into a whole new arena with her expressive vocals.
The other is most certainly a modern Americana Folk Tale; as Out Of The Shadow makes you sit and listen intently in the way Gretchen Peters and Mary Gauthier do; and this song certainly sits alongside the best of their work in my humble opinion.
As I implied earlier, I love receiving albums from ‘Household Name’ acts from big labels; but nothing excites me more than discovering singers, songwriters and musical acts like Lee Hunter; and it makes the long hours listening to ‘average music’ worth it when a pearl pops into my life like this album has.

Released October 2022


Li’l Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin BACK TO BATON ROUGE

Li’l Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin
Back to Baton Rouge
Nola Blue

Classy and Classic Sweet Southern Blues From an Unknown Master of The Craft.

Even in the bio on his website Leon Atkins, aka Lil’ Jimmy Reed is very vague about his back story, apart from being born in a shotgun shack in Louisiana sometime in the late 1930’s and being re-named Li’l Jimmy Reed in 1958 when he stood in at the last minute for the original Jimmy Reed.
Constantly touring since the late 1950’s in a variety of bands, I think Atkins/Reed seems to have concentrated on this part of his career rather than releasing albums; as only three others are listed.
I think the backstory is important to give you all an inkling as to what to expect on his latest album; which is classy and classic Southern Blues in the style of …. well, just about everyone I can think of, which all rolls together to create an very personal and distinctive style of playing; both his guitar work, singing style and his note perfect band.
The opening track Down in Virginia is a nigh on perfect introduction as to what follows; Reed’s voice is both luxurious and deeply emotional, the guitar playing errs between what we know from Muddy Waters but with some slick riffs that would make Buddy Guy proud; and when he puffs and wheezes into his harmonica you will be whisked back to Chicago when Little Walter was holding court.
This is followed by the salacious and slinky They Call Me Li’l Jimmy; when Reed reads out his CV, including how he got his name in 1958 as a way of seducing any ladies in the audience. Cool? Huh?
On Cincinnati’s the Place To Be; Reed’s guitar playing changes into an edgy format alongside a hypnotic bass that will have even those with two left feet shuffling around the dancefloor/kitchen.
When you hear songs like his take on In The Wee Wee Hours or Mailbox Blues and especially the slow burning title track, Back To Baton Rouge you; like me will wonder why Li’l Jimmy Reed isn’t much better known as the arrangements and actual stories are exemplary, making them every bit as good as most current household names hawking their acts around the world.
I love the shuffling beat, John Lee Hooker delivery and metronome timing on Engine Light, while Jimmy apologises to his young lady passenger when the car ‘breaks down’ and he wonders how they ae going to fill in their time.
This followed by another tale of skewed passion and high jinks with I’m The Man Down There, which features some sizzling harmonica playing, which edges it into the running for RMHQ Favourite Song; but is pipped at the post by the majestic A String To Your Heart, which would be a favourite even without the inclusion of some Deluxe Harmonica and ‘Pinetop Perkins’ style piano playing in the middle.
While I have to admit that Reed’s ‘style’ offers not a lot that’s new here; but as I said at the beginning his songs are all Classy AND Classic in the way he performs them; so “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it!” is as good an adage as I can think of to describe this rather excellent bunch of timeless Blues Songs.

Released 19th May 2023


Graham Nash NOW

Graham Nash

A Gleaming, Fresh Bundle of Engaging Folk-Rock Songs from a 60 Year Veteran

This is the year my mum turns 80: whilst any significant birthday can be a time of reflection, nostalgic serendipity is fuelling me towards this first new release in seven years from a music veteran; nay LEGEND.
The common thread?
We all grew up in Salford, my mum as a youngster marched alongside Mr Nash in the same Whit Walk Parades, my Nan served their school dinners.
So, it feels quite remarkable some 70 years later that I am delving into a bunch of shiny, brand-new songs that represent this same landmark junction for him as it does my Mum, and I’m curious to find out how this artist is taking stock of his own life, far away in time and space from those cobbled streets.

After just one listen, it was clear this album should be a winner with his fans: the songs giving a respectful musical nod to what has gone before, whilst lyrically providing a fresh, honest perspective and insight into his past and present mindset. Don’t get too comfy though as sprinkled in are some heavier weighted surprises: Graham Nash is showing no signs of putting his feet up anytime soon.

So how does this artist weave a trail of six musical decades within a new album?
Buddy’s Back encapsulates the early days of The Hollies, a buoyantly pure Rock n Roll pleaser: he’s not the first musician of course to pay tribute to this fifties legend but accompanying on backing vocals is his fellow founder member bandmate Allan Clarke, giving this track extra gravitas.
It’s sure to sit well in a live set.

Moving forward a decade sees him plucking an instrumental piece from a soundtrack by Alan Price to the 1973 film ‘O Lucky Man!’ all these years later, adding lyrics to create In A Dream.
Bordering on musical theatre territory, this is not my usual bag, but this soft, reflective orchestral ballad has a message that love can make everything alright and who am I to argue with that?
Sad strings are once more used for dramatic effect on I Watched It All Come Down where he gives a personal take on the rise and pitfalls of the Crosby, Stills and Nash years:

I watched it all come down
To reflector shades and telegrams at dawn
Changing highways on and on
I’m gone, been there too long
And although I’ve watched it fall
I want you to know, I’ve seen it grow, let go

The backbone of the album for many will be the heartfelt vintage folk pop tracks: A Better Life poignantly recognising the passing of time and contains a direct message for us all to try and leave behind an improved World for the next generations.
It Feels Like Home, complete with an emotive, old-school harmonica intro, is wrapped up with the right amount of country twang to make even the most adventurous folk homesick: it’s a feel-good love story that catches me off guard, evoking memories of my own early Salford years, making it an unexpected favourite.

The recurring theme of love provides affirmation that a point of personal contentment has been reached, whilst acknowledging there is always more to learn when it comes to matters of the heart.
The soft picking Ballad Love Of Mine conveys a touching regretful apology to his partner, with vocals upfront and confessional, whilst the piano led When it Comes to You is tenderly open about the sweet emotional place he is in:

You’re teaching me all that I thought I knew
Free from doubt, free from fear
I know what I need to do
When it comes to you’

Homelife aside, there are political frustrations voiced with the bluesy Golden Idol and Stars And Stripes which both convey Graham Nash’s thoughts on the MAGA era as he sings
I won’t fall for this illusion,
Just tell me the truth’.

In fact, the two songs jostling for the top slot both serve as a reminder this album is as contemporary as it is nostalgic.
Right Now is the upfront, rocky opener of the album, setting the gauntlet down with a punchy guitar rift designed to uplift and energize as the artist assesses his next steps, he’s still evolving:

Trying my best to be the man I know I am,
I’ll try to take it easy, moving right ahead’

By a tiny margin the boisterous ‘call to verbal arms’ track Stand Up wins the day.
Urging us to speak out against injustices, this one caught me by surprise and spirited me to a virtual ‘90s indie mosh pit!
In my book, a dead cert crowd pleaser for his upcoming ’60 years of songs and Stories’ tour, demonstrating just how worthy this album is to be the latest addition to Graham Nash’s musical timeline.
Glad to have checked back in after all these years, just as I’m planning my mum’s first visit back to Salford post Pandemic.
We’ve all come a long way and this album inspires us not to slow our journey down just yet.

Review by Anita Joyce

Released May 19th 2023


Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives ALTITUDE

Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives

A Byrdsian, Garage-Rock,Twelve String Trippy Delight.

Anyone who caught Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives on his UK/EU visit last year will appreciate that the man and his band are masters of any Country form (and others – Surf music too) they choose to turn their hands to. On this occasion, Mr Stuart is dipping his pen into late period Byrds twanging psychedelia.

Instrumentals “Lost Byrd Space Train” (“Scene 1” and “Epilogue”) bookmark the album and set the tone.
The opener is a rumbling, trippy ride which nigh-segues into the scorching “Country Star”, a sort of response to “So You Wanna be a Rock’n’roll Star?” yet much tougher and harder – it’s has echoes of a Creedence style road song and is bound to be a live favourite.

Twelve string, Beatle-esque melody and Byrdsian harmony takes over on “Sitting Alone” – has anyone seen Marty and Bennett Wilson Poole in the same room?
“A friend of mine” keeps up the pace – although more in mid-60s garage rock territory and would have sat perfectly in any of the Nuggets compilations with its driving bass and surf guitar riffing – definitely an air guitar showpiece.

There’s then a trio of single-word title songs “Space”, as its name suggests is slower and atmospheric – based around sitar and a lyric about being an outsider, it comes from the sort of place that the Thirteenth Floor Elevators might have frequented. Title track “Altitude” is much more cosmic country – it takes the path that the Flying Burrito Brothers were pursuing and I can almost visualise Marty S. doing the Gram Parsons facial twitch while singing it. The Parsons connection continues with “Vegas” which is a close cousin of “Ooh Las Vegas” – it even has the “oohs” and a copycat rhythm!!

The song titles get some extra words again with “The Sun is Quietly Shining”, a more reflective soundtrack to one of those films shot on Super 8 with lots of lava lamp projection effects.
It’s hippy-trippy heaven.
Early Pink Floyd anyone?

There’s a brief instrumental revisit to the “Lost Byrd Space Train (scene 2)” before the wig-out slow boogie of “Nightriding” with its grungy bass tones.
Tempo-wise things kick off again with “Tomahawk” which has its roots in old Blues stompers and late 60s Acid-Country.

“Time to Dance” is perhaps a bit of a late declaration because there’s been plenty to shake your bits to prior to this 12th track – choice of dance to this track?

Probably the Twist.

Last “full” track “The Angels Came Down” is the most laid-back on the album, with Stuart’s close-mic-ed saturated vocal framed by warm picked guitar and sweet harmonies, before the gentler trip-out of the final “Lost Byrd Space Train (Epilogue)”.

Once again, Marty Stuart shows that he’s the King of whatever he wants to turn his hand to, musically speaking – as a scholar of the genre he knows his stuff and its seeps into his music.

In the case of “Altitude”, Marty Stuart’s playing what he most obviously loves, not what the mainstream might dictate and that gives it all the more life and vibrancy.

Fans of the aforementioned Bennett Wilson Poole will love this – both albums are coming from very similar places – maybe we’re seeing a Paisley revival, revival?!!

Review by Nick Barber

Released 19th May 2023


Rocking Magpie Radio Show Ep:52 @NovaRadioNE #Newcastle

Rocking Magpie Radio Show
Nova Radio NE

Sunday 21st May 2023

Summer’s here … and while it’s not quite time for Dancing in The Street, tonight’s show seemed to take on a life of its own with ‘Summery’ type tracks virtually picking themselves; even the new singles; a couple of which were ‘Exclusive First Plays’ for RMHQ alongside some absolute Classics starting with Buddy Holly and ending with ZZ Top!

Buddy HollyRave On
Sara PetiteBringing Down the Neighbourhood
Wily Bo & ED BrayshawMen Without Shadows
Abe PartridgeCoffee on the Counter
Anna Elizabeth Laube  How Could We Not Believe?
Withered HandCrippled Love
Daniel MeadeDon’t Look Back
Laura CantrellJust Like a Rose
Orion Express Ride a White Swan
The Rumble (Mardi Gras Indian band)Trouble
Matthew AlexanderSpanish Harlem
Silver Lake 66  Angeline
Drive-By Truckers Wilder Days
Blackie & The Rodeo KingsKick My Heart Around
Desmond GrundyDrop the Gloves 
Cowboy JunkiesSweet Jane (Live)
Graham Nash Right Now
Iris DementI Won’t Ask You Why
Elvis CostelloTonight the Bott;e Let Me Down
Hurray For the Riff RaffLake of Fire
Allison RussellPersophene
Howe Gelb & The Band of Gypsies4 Door Maverick
Dean Owens & CalexicoWeeping Skulls
Jace EverettBad Things
Roseanne Reid (Steve Earle Tour)All I Need (LP Lawside )
The Hanging StarsI Don’t Want to Feel So Bad Anymore
Li’l Jimmy ReedWee Wee Hours
Grainne DuffyRise Above
ZZ TopCheap Sunglasses

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton DEATH WISH BLUES

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton
Death Wish Blues
Rounder Records

A Whip Sharp Deadly Duo Push The Boundaries of Blues Rock and Alt. Country Flavoured Rock Music.

It’s been a fun ride from this odd coupling to get this far; with Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton releasing singles and an EP a’plenty over the last year or so teasing us on the route towards this final Album release.
Some of those songs; but not all as there are quite a few brand new tracks here that sound like the deadly duo are not just challenging each other but the listener to.
If you are reading this review I presume you don’t need me to delve into the couple’s diverse backgrounds but mutual admiration do I?
The music! Let’s talk about the music!
Opening track Deathwish comes at you like a sleazy lothario on a Friday night in a bar on the wrong side of town, just before closing time. The bass line is incredibly ‘heavy’ and the guitar interplay errs on that side too; but Dayton’s riffs are straight outta Boone County as Samantha takes her own distinctive vocals into an arena I’d never have expected from her.
As the album title alludes to; these songs are predominantly Bluesy in creation and dark too; but there’s so much more going on in the shadows; starting with Track #2 Down In the Mud when Jesse takes over the lead vocals on a song that will hit you like a punch to the gut.
Because the couple are coming at these songs from opposite ends of the music spectrum; even if you’d heard the previous EP’s you still wouldn’t expect to hear arrangements and songs like the salacious No Apology or the Funkalicious Supadupabad which starts where Sly Stone and James left off; or may even have been too afraid to attempt!
With that in mind, legacy Fish and Dayton fans really have to have an open-mind when playing this album; as there’s very little hear that could fit into either performer’s own albums; but surely that’s the point? Samantha and Jesse sound like they are having an absolute blast here; trading off each other guitar wise and lyrically too …… the ‘breakup song’ Trauma is a perfect example with the couple singing ‘at’ each other like a pumped up Sonny & Cher; which is a sentence I never expected to type!
I’ve ‘liked’ both Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton for quite a few years; and regardless of the Awards both; and especially Samantha has/have won along the way there are so many surprises on this album that I’ve had to list six songs as contenders for ‘Favourite Song’ status … and that’s a first.
The current single, Riders finds Jesse and Samantha extolling the delights of various cities on their touring agenda but treating each as a lover of the one night stand variety, then moving on to the next with barely a look over the shoulder; and boy oh boy is the guitar playing bordering on the indecent!
Which reminds me; DEATH WISH BLUES could easily be described as a ‘guitar album’; it most certainly is in every which way; but that’s doing a discredit to the songwriting and singing here; which all gives you plenty of fun discovering new delights every time you play Dangerous People and/or the pugnacious Flooded Love.
Then you have Settle For Less, which in other less vanity driven hands would easily be guitar wig-outs; but here courtesy of Jon Spencer’s tight and often claustrophobic production actually highlight and showcase the thoughtful and erudite songwriting … and singing too.
With appointing a ‘Favourite Track’ on my mind; I’ve had to dig deep to choose between the beautiful; and enthralling ballad You Know My Heart which closes the album; and finds Samantha channelling her inner Aretha to Jesse Dayton’s Stevie as the song smoulders until finally catching fire during the last verse.
When it comes to ‘surprises’ Rippin’ and Runnin’ has them from the cool acoustic slide intro through to the crude and lewd finale; which is why it just shades the Grand Title of Favourite Track by a single point.
There’s a feeling of fun and mutual respect all through Death Wish Blues, with Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton allowing each other the room to swagger and strut without ever adding even a note too many that could detract from the other one’s lead; be that singing or playing guitar.
While the album and the songs themselves deserve a huge audience; they will actually be best heard when you are all alone, be that in the car or your own home; and played live …. it’s got to be a sold-out sweaty club at the height of Summer when you can hardly breathe as Jesse and Samantha give it 101% on stage for your mutual pleasure.

PS I’m going to see then in wonderful and acoustically perfect theatre later in the year!

Released 19th May 2023



Roy Holdren
Once Upon a Time In a Barroom
Gopher Broke Records

Soundtrack From a Closed Down Honky Tonk Bar That Still Lives In The Memory.

Don’t panic, Mr. Mainwaring! Don’t panic!”
Yes; this is a ‘concept album’, but one that transcends that much maligned format; yes, all of these songs from Roy Holdren are about his much missed Lee’s Liquor Bar in Minneapolis, which closed down in the recent past.
The good news is he captures the magic that only a handful of bars in all our lives have; and makes these songs remind us all of the ‘special times’ we had there; usually in our youth.
In my case it was the Broken Doll, in Newcastle which was scruffy, sweaty and had more atmosphere than 100 Arenas could ever reproduce.
Apart from the diverse bands I saw play there, my abiding memory was popping in for a pint one tea time and the bar was full of guys in suits having a quick one after work, a band meeting prior to driving to some Godforsaken town for a midweek gig; half a dozen members of a biker gang, some skinheads, a couple of fellas squeezing the last drops out of a beer they couldn’t afford and some ladies in the corner blunting their senses before a night standing on street corners…the only thing missing was Han Solo and Chewbacca!
The title track Once Upon a Time In a Barroom; which sets the scene in a pretty similar fashion to my description of The Doll; and that bar you were thinking of too …. all to a maudlin and Twangtastic melody as Holdren remembers
the floors that could have been eaten from to the gold tuck and roll covered speakers‘,
Holdren’s eye for such detail and a Country melody is quite exceptional on Devil’s In The Detours, when he inhabits the body of a man who can’t stop ‘stopping off for a quick one’ that leads to one more ….. and if you don’t know someone like that, he might just be singing about you.
More often than not Holdren’s song-titles let you know what the following story will be; and that’s certainly the case with the haunting Pandora’s Bottle and I Can’t Remember Her Name which is as full of intimate detail that would do Hemmingway proud.
While this is intrinsically a Country album; it certainly errs on the Alternative edges and Holdren delves deeper into his Americana sensibilities than might be good for him at times.
Holdren is particularly clever the way his one verse song Once Upon a Church bleeds into Between a Church and a Bar; where he compares the two buildings and lists the things that they have in common and what both bring to his damaged life.
The way Holdren builds his stories and delivers them sounds like a man who has lived this type of life and knows others have too.
Once Upon a Time In a Barroom, draws to a fascinatingly well observed close via Bourbon legend and the pedal-steel seeped and stained The Cleaning Crew that describes the story of what happened at Lee’s Liquor Bar in the hours after the last time that the doors were locked; and that croak in Roy’s voice sounds real to these ears.
I heartily recommend that you play this album in the order that the songs come on the CD/download and you will get the best out of the songs; but that doesn’t stop two particular songs sounding like the type of songs you pray to hear on the car radio and if you did; you’d head straight to a Record Shop to buy the CD to complete the rest of the journey in its company.
Both are the type of Country Music that those kids wearing Trucker Caps, Redwings and a Cash T-Shirt think they are making; but miss the target everytime; but Holdren sings with 100& accuracy on Bakersfield 1965 which details one of my own fantasies, which is walking down a strange street in an even stranger town and hearing music from a jukebox or stage drifting out of the open doors …. only Holdren did know that bar; and it was in a back street in Minneapolis.
The other, Alcoholiday is an absolute belter as Holdren purrs his story with more pathos and raw honesty than you’ve heard since the days of George and Hank were dropping singles of this class on a bi-monthly basis; making Alcoholiday my Favourite Song by a whisker.
There’s nothing else to say really; apart from go BUY THIS ALBUM!

Released 19th May 2023