The Rocking Magpie

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Welcome to the Rocking Magpie – an Internet home for my thoughts and musings on a variety of music, be it CD’s, Gigs, books and DVD’s – usually; but not exclusively based around all things Americana.

After years of writing reviews for numerous magazines and websites, I thought that the time was right to put everything under one roof on my own blog/website.

I live in the North East of England; and receive music from the UK, USA, Canada and all corners of Europe (very little from my home town; which is sad).

The priority here, will of course be bringing you the reviews of CD Reviews as soon after I get them and usually before anyone else on the web – which is a source of some pride. Plus there will be the occasional preview of albums and gigs that interest me; but primarily you will read EXCLUSIVE reviews of all things Country, Folk, Blues, Ska, Punk and indeed all things Rock & Roll.

Dig deep into the site; as the bonus is my old reviews (400+) dating back to 2010 and they 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.

As of September 2016 we have ‘followers’ in 26 countries around the World who receive e-mail updates when reviews are posted; plus my data tell me readers from 106 countries have actually visited the site!

Keep in touch; let me know what you think and what you want to read more of – or on Twitter @RockingMagpie

Press the like/follow button for irregular postings of reviews that you can read or not as the case may be🙂

The Rocking Magpie

Wayne Hancock – Slingin’ Rhythm


Wayne Hancock
Slingin’ Rhythm
Bloodshot Records

‘The Train’ Rattles Along In Admirable Style.

Aha! Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock really is a ‘one off’ sounding quite unlike anyone else, especially all the pretenders to his self-made throne.
I only discovered his magnificent 1995 debut album Thunderstorms and Neon Signs a couple of years ago when I had my radio show. A friend with impeccable taste asked for the title track to be played on one of the very first episodes; and the album became a favourite of our listeners; but that’s in the past.
Three years since his last album hasn’t seen Hancock resting on his laurels; no sirree! Averaging over 200 gigs every year where he has honed these new songs like a razors edge; and the time is finally right for another dose of good time, Juke-Joint, Hill-billy, Swing with assorted love songs for good measure.
The album opens with Hancock introducing the title track Slingin’ Rhythm then counting the band in and …phew we then get the coolest, autobiographical ‘road song’ you will ever hear; and more than a smattering of red hot gee-tar…Mister!
While Wayne Hancock certainly has a distinctive ‘sound’ based around a head mix of Western Swing and Classic Country with a spine of Rockabilly in there too; but he somehow manages to never repeat himself.
Wear Out Your Welcome; even features some sweet guitar that owes more than a nod in the direction of Les Paul and Chet Atkins; but certainly doesn’t sound dated.
What may or may not be overlooked with Hancock is his song-writing and story telling which gets over shadowed by the way he sings. Divorce Me C.O.D is a very clever song based around a very Country ‘theme’ going back to Hank, George and the rest; but Hancock’s turn of phrase never sounds dated.
Dirty House Blues is a stunning little number featuring some absolutely sizzling pedal-steel alongside a chunka-chunka 4/4 back-beat that will have toes a tapping and fingers clicking all over the world.
OK I’m a sucker for a love song; always have been and always will be so the short and sweet, Love You Always is already a favourite at RMHQ, but there are two other songs that certainly take Wayne Hancock to another level.
Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine is the type of Country-Gospel I would normally associate with Hank Williams but this song has more than a hint of Woody Guthrie in it too and was spine-tingling the first time I heard it.
But….by far the favourite song at RMHQ is the Murder Ballad ‘Killed em Both;’ a fabulous song that has all of the hallmarks of a show stealer wherever and when ever Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock comes to town.
Dog Day Blues and Small Bouquet of Roses are both the type of song that would have been Top of the Hit Parade in the late 50’s or early 60’s perhaps; but are probably ‘too Country’ for Modern FM Radio….but with the upsurge in specialist Digital Radio I’m sure you will hear them and just about all of the other songs here somewhere on the World Wide Web.

Released October 26th 2016

EXCLUSIVE Ruth Theodore Interview by Cara Gibney


Ruth Theodore Interview
by Cara Gibney

The shrewd carved words Ruth Theodore pens in her songs are intonated in a light, easy and smoothly versatile voice. It is English-accented to the bone; poems to music?
Her September ’16 release ‘Cactacus’ finely illustrates this, along with her own very unique guitar technique and specific tuning – born from the school of self-taught and perfected on streets and pubs while busking and gigging regularly as a teenager.
Hers is a story of kicking against the odds. Of being told as a child that the guitar was something she would never be able to play; of an accident that left her unable to speak, never mind sing. These just seem to have helped make her stubborn, more determined. There was “definitely an element of proving people wrong” she told me … “There’s nothing like being told you can’t.”
Later, one of the calmest, happiest times of her life was while rough sleeping in a shop doorway. “You know when people make those clever photographs where one person is still and other people are moving blurred around them? That’s how it felt,” she explained. “I felt calm. I had time. Becoming transparent is almost a position of privilege to me. I still walk the streets late at night trying to find a place where nobody will notice me slowly digesting and learning and writing and observing. Fuck I’m creepy.”
For the past decade though she has been based on a small narrow boat in London, and has converted a second boat into a recording studio through which she has managed to create an important music hub for musicians of different hues to meet, play and create. “We rehearse there, I develop my ideas there, we do live shows there and we have hosted some impressive international acts. It’s a relatively small space and initially people laughed at my idea of using it for all these things, but again, there’s nothing like being told you can’t!”
When Theodore was opening for folk-feminist-icon Ani DiFranco she became aware of “Cactacus’ producer-to-be Todd Sickafoose. “I spent a while listening to other records he’d produced and absolutely loved his style, she explained. “We were mutually excited by each other which was the perfect balance. A month or so later I was living in his home. Amazing really!”

The truth of the matter is that it isn’t all that amazing. Looking back over the years one can see a build-up of events and characteristics that have brought Theodore to this point. Right from the wordy, thoughtful child that she was, to the truly unique talent that she grew into. “I was always in some kind of trouble and always having accidents” Theodore told me. “I was a deep thinker and I loved words and would write poetry all over the walls.”
Despite the trouble though she came from a household where her uniqueness was appreciated. “I was lucky enough to be encouraged to be myself and express myself so long as I wasn’t hurting anyone else.” By the time she was 14 she was writing her own material and performing. “The first song I wrote was ‘Over-expanding’ which I wrote whilst busking. I was 14 I think and had minimal guitar skills. I released it years later, to my own surprise.”
That bespoke tuning and technique has been key to her style ever since. I asked her how it began. “I figured out quickly that I could play almost any hit song on a guitar with one finger if I de-tuned it, and so this was how I began busking. I was earning money for myself before I knew how to play, which is definitely a blessing. It also allows me to experiment with more variables and step out of the mould.” And this is the point. Anyone acquainted with Theodore’s music will know that being outside the mould is fundamental to her writing. With her own guitar tuning, the basis of her initial compositions is an alternative to the norm. “These days I use around 9-10 different tunings or more and I won’t deny that it can make the stage performance a rubix cube sometimes but proportionally that’s fairly insignificant.” When she works with other musicians they work by ear. “I’ll sing their parts and they’ll find it and play it and so it doesn’t really matter what tuning I’m in. But sometimes a musician will ask me to give them an A so they can tune, and I look down at my frets and go “errrrmm…”

ruth 4
Her September 2016 release ‘Cactacus,’ produced by Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco, Anais Mitchell) and released on the shiny new label Aveline Records, is her fourth album. It is a collection of nine folk-based tracks, shaded with Americana, woven with pop textures, throwing blues, jazz and other flourishes into the mix, helping the album to swing boldly from big landscapes, to love, to bone-deep feeling; from social vultures to whimsy.
The name came from a session “Sitting up late with producer Todd and his partner discussing album titles” Theodore explained. “It’s kind of a mix between Cactus and Spartacus and also mixed with wine and the inability to be able to pronounce our words properly! We all just fell in love with the word and that was that.”
Presented through her voice, her guitar, piano and backing vocals, there is a thread running through the album – of nature, of bare to the bone primeval call and response to our animal surroundings. The imagery of the songs – cinema screen scenery of buffalo, scavengers, carcasses, bones. Of temporary, ever changing settings, shifting with seasons. “My writing tends to always be quite brutal even if it’s gentle in delivery. My life at the time was yearning for something which I describe using these thirsty arid landscapes.”
Yearning in its most romantic form is offered in the album’s “Kissing in Traffic” and “Wishbone.” But when it comes to yearning, one cannot imagine a stronger example than the gorgeous “You Can’t Help Who You Love,” which took four years to write. It is a story of dealing with cancer, written from the perspective of the carer. “Oh I just managed to finish the damn thing!” Theodore responded when tentatively asked why it was a four-year piece of work. “It was a hard song to write because I would upset myself and have to stop, or I would feel like I wasn’t doing the subject justice. I feel a big sense of responsibility with such delicate subjects like cancer. You have to remember delicate people will listen and so when I felt I had done my very best with it. I let it out.”
Her cutting, shrewd commentary on the growing threat that the wealthy are to local communities in “Scavengers” brings us back to that arid landscape. There’s a yearning for fairness, shifting landscapes, the deep dark hue that change is not always for good. Theodore explained. “When I moved to the area I live in now there were only ten of us, all self-employed, skint, creative types looking for quiet and we would share coal and wood and brandy in the winter and the spirit of what we were doing kept us there. But in the last 2 years there is more than enough evidence that communities like ours and other alternative or minority communities are being driven out by wealth, and the wealthy are trying to buy what we made. Which is something that isn’t for sale. I like progress but I like politics and people more.”
Theodore and her band will be touring nationally in 2017, spending the latter part of this year writing and draft recording new material. Next year will be a busy year. “We’re busy hatching plans, so bring it on,” she told me. “Bring it on.”

Interview by Cara Gibney

Photos Courtesy Jeff G


LeBarons – Alliston (EP)



The Heart and Soul of Small Town Canada in Words and Music.

We loved last year’s 7” single Trains, from Toronto band LeBarons and have waited impatiently ever since for the follow up; and whoopee-doo it’s actually a 6 track EP.
The atmospherically claustrophobic sound on that single continues on opening track Think Of You, with vocalist (and songwriter) Chris MacDonald and the band sounding like they were recording in the tiniest booth in the world, creating a song that sounds both intensely intimate and passionate in equal measures.
Track #2 The Brave has a slow and brooding opening with MacDonald baring his heart to a lover who may, or may not feel the same way. Band-mates Evan Levy on lead guitar, Casey Irvin on lap-steel, Po Karim on drums manage to create a pensive almost death-rattle behind him, as Megan Tilston provides ghostly harmonies. Tragically beautiful, is the best description I can come up with.
Things perk up with the inclusion of I’ll Come Back, a rollicking bar-room stomper full of grunge guitar, a fiery pedal-steel and machine-gun drumming rattling along behind MacDonald and Tilston.
That exceptional single Trains, is added and sounds just as wonderful as when I first heard it; but gets overshadowed by two new songs.
The album closes with a mournful and bittersweet Freightliner, that is quintessentially Canadian; effortlessly blending Lo-Fi sensibilities with an Alt. Country freshness and Celtic Folk story telling.
But; by far our favourite track, and the one on heavy rotation this morning is Oh California. The song rattles along like a Classic Muscle car on a sweeping highway, and MacDonald’s way with words (written and sung) is perfectly matched by Megan Tilston’s harmonies and a band playing as one.
LeBarons are one of those bands that are probably, sadly destined to be a ‘cult band’ with a hardy bunch of fans who pore over their every utterance…..don’t let that be the case… this EP….tell your friends… a copy for your parents/lovers Christmas Presents….whatever it takes. Make them stars!

Released October 10th 2016

Malojian – This Is Nowhere (2016)


This Is Nowhere
Rollercoaster Records/Self-Release

Surf’s Up At Last For Northern Irish Troubadour.

I will never tire of boring people of the day I ‘discovered’ Stevie Scullion aka Malojian. I was reviewing the maiden Belfast Skyline Festival in 2013 when both Bap Kennedy AND Anthony Toner recommended him to me as ‘the one to watch,’ and they weren’t wrong.
He stole the show that day and really has gone from strength to strength with his previous two albums; and now just as he appears to think World Wide Musical Domination (or at least being popular in England) is beyond him, by solely concentrating on the Irish market (North and South) he has gone and released this record so low key I nearly missed it.
Earlier this year Malojian threw caution to the wind and flew to Chicago, in the Americas to record these songs at Electrical Audio under the tutelage of legendary producer Steve Albini and the results are…..bloody amazing!
Although I knew this ‘Folk Singer’ always had Pop sensibilities I certainly wasn’t prepared for the title track This Is Nowhere (Aren’t You Lonely?) which opens the record. The harmonies, jaggedly guitars and not least Malojian’s voice, now with a hint of vibrato has all the hallmarks of the only Beach Boys album worth listening to….Surf’s Up but with a very modern twist.
This is immediately followed by I’ll Be Alright, and my head was spinning as I grinned like an idiot. ‘Beautiful’ only goes part of the way to describe this sub three minute multi-layered mini-masterpiece.
Just like on his previous albums Malojian includes a lovely piece of whimsy in the shape of Calling Borneo; although I’d love to read the lyrics s I think there may be a hidden message here somewhere.
I’ve now spent three days listening to snippets of this album at every opportunity and last night was the first time I was been able to listen from start to finish and in that context a couple f songs really took my breath away. I’ll Be Alright with it’s jaunty beat over a deep story touched me in a way very few songs can; it’s as if it was written about me, now. I’m sure many others will feel the same way about it.
I know a lot of time and effort is put into sequencing albums; but it’s normally wasted on the likes of me; but tracks 4 and 5 could be a mini Love Story set to music and are two of Malojian’s finest songs. The first Lean On Me has some very touching lyrics and as it seamlessly glides into You’re a Part of Me my heart was swelling to the size of a football. The latter is my favourite song here; and is absolutely perfect for late night radio with the lights turned down low and you are all alone with your thoughts.
I can’t help thinking Stevie had spent the previous few weeks immersing himself in both Surf’s Up and The Beatles’ Revolver before allowing Steve Albini to provide a Master-class in production and engineering; adding luscious strings when necessary, but only to emphasis the beauty of the song and there is no better example than the finale, where we find the Northern Irish singer-songwriter at the piano on a song that has echoes of Harry Nilsson ….The Great Decline which showcases every single quality this young man has from his voice through his way with the English Language and especially the way he combines both.
This is the album I’d hoped but never dared dream Malojian could and would make and it deserves a much wider audience than just the Emerald Isle…..World Dominance awaits. Trust me!

Released October 7th 2016 (CD, Download and ltd. Edition 12” Vinyl)

Slim Chance – The Poacher (2016) EXCLUSIVE


Slim Chance
The Poacher

‘The Poacher’ was first released in 1974 by Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance and current bass player Steve Bingham had the great pleasure of actually playing on the original; and has has re created the same iconic bass line on this updated version and also sings lead vocal, accompanied by the fabulous Fishpool Philharmonic which is of course Charlie Hart and Steve Simpson doing a remarkable job! All three musicians played and recorded with Ronnie Lane during the 1970’s.
The single will be a digital only release apart from a small number of special edition single CD’s which the band will sign and be available at their forthcoming gig at The Half Moon Putney on Saturday November 12th so do come along and grab one if you can!

If you’d like to order your copy you can pre-order on Itunes.

Released NOVEMBER 4th 2016

Anna Elizabeth Laube – Tree


Anna Elizabeth Laube
Ahh..Pockets! Records #4

The Joy, Beauty and Power of the Singer-Songwriter Gift Wrapped On One Record.

One of the annoyances of being a reviewer is trying to find ‘pigeon-holes’ for the music on offer. When I was a lad and discovering Grown Ups music in the seventies Anna Elizabeth Laube* would have simply been described as a singer-songwriter and I can’t think of a more fitting description.
As I’ve said several times recently I’m under fire from the Post Office these days with albums arriving every day; sometimes three at a time; which makes selecting albums to listen to and then deciding which to review a bit of a chore… each obviously has its merits.
In the case of Tree by Anne Elizabeth Laube the pretty girls face with the enigmatic smile initially caught my attention on the cover; and Anna’s pleasing and toe-tapping cover of Dylan’s Wallflower which opens the disc, certainly lived up to the Album artwork.
The title track Tree follows and the singers warmly expressive voice took me me back to two of my favourite Singers from those halcyon days in the 1970’s when I would sit in a darkened bedroom trying to untangle the mysteries of the Universe by listening to Melanie Safka and (check her out) Twiggy. Yes, the original Supermodel was a singer too, with a voice that made me go week at the knees; in the same way Anna Elizabeth Laube is doing in 2016.
As with all of the best singer-songwriters Ms. Laube can tell a magnificent story with the subtlety of the finest poets, as is best captured in the title track Tree.
I’m a man of ‘a certain age’ but can still remember what it felt like to be in the first flush of love; and Anna captures that magical time so well on All My Runnin’ which features some gut wrenching pedal-steel from Dan Tyack; and on I Miss You So Much; the soft Alt. Country vibe is augmented by haunting harmonies and a maudlin harmonica intro and outro.
There is another interesting cover version tucked away in the middle; even though I’ve never heard the original! Anna Elizabeth has turned Beyonce’s pop hit XO into a very brittle love song; worthy of Joni Mitchell circa Blue.
For some reason; possibly because it’s quite dull, grey and rainy here at the moment, the song that has captured my heart is the gently swinging Sunny Days, which is as sweet as a lemon drop but also deep enough to bring a tear to the corner of my eye….although that may be dust (or not).
I wasn’t aware of Anna’s previous three albums before discovering her delights here; and judging by the gushing praise on the Press Release from some reviewer/critics I admire I will certainly be hunting them down like a mad woman on the first day of the Next Sale.

*Laube is pronounced – ‘Lau’ as in ‘now’ & ‘be’ as in ‘be’.

Released October 21st 2016

Song for Saturday. Skin & Bones – Act Tough


Skin & Bones
Act Tough (single)

We’ve just received this fabulous single from Skin & Bones and loved it straight away so though we must share it ASAP!
Skin & Bones is comprised of Taylor Borsuk on guitar, vocals, and suitcase drum with Peter Blackwelder on violin. The boys met at an ill-fitting house show after Peter had moved to California from North Carolina, and Taylor had returned from a three month trip to Europe with a reinforced faith in his musical abilities.

Website –

Henry Senior Jr. – Plates of Meat


Henry Senior Jr.
Plates of Meat
Maiden Voyage Recording Co.

Hot Rats! Pedal-Steel Player Puts the Jazz Into Country-Funk.

I now own three instrumental albums; and all are by pedal-steel players. How bizarre is that? Or is it?
The other two are by the legendary Buddy Emmons and Bloodshot ‘go to guy’ Jon Rauhouse and both of those albums, like this debut album by Henry Senior Jr. from Danny & the Champions of the World are eclectic beyond belief and take my second favourite instrument* in the world into a whole new stratosphere.
Surprisingly enough; unless you know the people involved Plates of Meat is the first release on brand new label Maiden Voyage Recording Company; a collaboration between Danny George Wilson (from those Champions of the World) and Del Day, founder of Ark PR who promote a myriad of Roots and Americana act around the UK.
HEY, HO…enough about the history lesson.
This album of earthly delights opens with Green Fingers a delicious slice of British Funk….yes…F.U.N.K that nods in the direction of Booker T. Henry takes his pedal-steel on a journey that even Buddy Emmons would have worn a crash helmet for; and the electric piano that he run into time and time again, is simply wonderful.
That soulful funky mood continues over the next couple of tracks, especially Goodbye Bowler Hat and Better Left Unsaid, with Champions Sax player extraordinaire ‘Free Jazz’ Geoff Widowson taking the lead and taking the album down a Hot Rats era Frank Zappa path…..and by golly, gosh it sounds as exciting as a series of electric shocks.
Not everything is quite so left of centre, Senior Jr. does let his Country Roots show on occasion with Cat Doggin’ swinging into town straight outta some Oklahoma Honky Tonk, and In The Presence of Namaqua sounding like something Tarantino would use on a Spaghetti Western soundtrack as Henry goes all Technicolour.
I don’t really know why, but I simply love Along Came Molly and the title track Plates of Meat which keep that Funky beat going, and either could and should be the theme tune to any remake of the TV Cop Drama The Sweeney (or Miami Vice or NYPD Blue or…..).
Well, Plates of Meat is different, very different from the normal fair I listen to and review but is now worthy of a place in my ‘special drawer’ in the office alongside my Chet Baker, Jon Rauhouse, Augustus Pablo, Nick Pride and of course Hot Rats CD’s for emergency use when my musical brain needs a detox.

Released 9th October 2016
*my favourite instrument is the harmonica btw.

EXCLUSIVE Video. Broken Witt Rebels -Georgia Pine.


Oh Lordy! We really loved and still like on a regular basis, Broken Witt Rebels’ debut EP Georgia Pine; and…do you know what? They’ve only gone and made a video for the title track  and let us show it to you EXCLUSIVELY.

Not only…but also they are about to go out on a UK tour in November with another RMHQ favourite King King! What’s not to like?

King King November UK Tour with special guest Broken Witt Rebels

Brighton, The Old Market

Wednesday 9 November

Norwich, The Waterfront

Thursday 10 November

Southampton, The 1865

Friday 11 November

Frome, The Cheese and Grain

Thursday 17 November

Bilston, The Robin 2

Friday 18 November

Cardiff, Tramshed

Saturday 19 November

Exeter, Phoenix

Sunday 20 November

Aberdeen, The Lemon Tree

Thursday 24 November

Edinburgh, The Queen’s Hall

Friday 25 November

Chester, The Live Rooms

Saturday 26 November

Clitheroe, The Grand Venue

Sunday 27 November

London, Islington Assembly Hall

Tuesday 29 November


Jack Ingram – Midnight Motel


Jack Ingram
Midnight Motel
Rounder Records

Intimate and Carefully Crafted Stories From The Road and The Heart.

One of the many joys of running this website is discovering artists like Jack Ingram. Even though this is his EIGHTH album in 20 years I’d never even heard his name before; but now he could be one of my favourite songwriter and storytellers of all time.
The title track Old Motel which opens the record, starts with the band ‘counting in’ in the studio; before leading into Ingram’s road weary voice comparing love to a broken neon sign and an empty swimming pool. It’s the type of well written song and story I’ve loved all my life; and throw in a band that are as tight as a drum and I knew I was going to love the rest of the album too.
Oh Lord Almighty; my jaw nearly dropped the first time I heard It’s Always Gonna Rain, a sad and beautiful song in equal measures that compares a breaking relationship with a farmer constantly checking the skies during a drought. The farmer and the lover both know the bad days won’t last forever; even if it feels they will….as ‘The wind starts blowing/it takes away the pain/Rain/It’s always gonna rain’.
Ingram’s way with words shines through on songs like What’s a Boy To Do? And Can’t Get Any Better Than This. Both are bittersweet will tug at even the hardest heartstrings but make you smile at the ironic way he describes situations.
There’s a bit of an oddity here too; with the inclusion of The Story of Blaine; about a promoter in San Angelo. It’s a fabulous story, in the manner of RMHQ Slaid Cleaves about the night he was booked to support Merle Haggard; and leads delightfully into the song Blaine’s Ferris Wheel. The story bodes well for my researching his previous Live Albums; but while funny, wears very thin after the third time you hear it on this album.
I’ve absolutely loved this album and discovering Jack Ingram and two particular songs stand out like sunflowers; although sunflowers on the wane via a similar theme. I’m Drinking Through It and I Feel Like Drinking Tonight are both timeless Country songs that will appeal to and resonate with most people reading this review. Sadly we’ve all ‘been there’ but never been able to express our feeling as eloquently as Jack Ingram does.
The album closes with an acoustic version of the title track Old Motel; and somehow Ingram manages to squeeze out even more pathos from this sad, sad story with this more intimate arrangement.

Released USA August 26th 2016
Released UK October 14th 2016