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!
#BuyDontSpotify
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 rockingmagpie@outlook.com 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

Little River Band ULTIMATE HITS & MASTERPIECES

Little River Band
Ultimate Hits & Masterpieces
Capitol/UMe

A Soundtrack To a Time of Fast Cars, Short Skirts, No Socks, Big Hair and …. No Worries!

WOW! This is a ‘blast from the past’ in many ways ….. not least because one of the first ‘freebies’ I ever received was a Cassette copy of their 1978 release SLEEPER CATCHER, which I got in a Goody Bag when I attended a Music Industry Fair alongside my mate who was a manager for FW Woolworth!
A lot of water and peroxide has flowed under the bridge for all of us since then; bringing us to this delightful and thoughtfully packaged release; coincidentally just in time for Christmas … isn’t that lucky?
Apart from that album 44 years ago; which I remember very little about, I know nothing about one of Australia’s foremost and groundbreaking bands, so this has been a journey of discovery.
The Triple Album/Double CD starts with an eight and a half minute opus called It’s A Long Way There and the harmonies are so lush you’d half imagine them to be sung by a host of Angels! A bit cinematic for my current liking; but once I’d took my socks off, rolled my jacket sleeves up and put my brain into Miami Vice mode I ‘got it’ and what follows made a lot more sense.
As I say I no nothing about Little River Band’s discography; so have to treat this as a whole new release; pretending it’s a soundtrack to some kind of 80’s themed Movie or TV show (cops of course!) from that period …. and doing that it’s been a bit of a blast.
I’m surprised how many of the 50+ songs stand up today; it’s almost as if the Punk Wars were all in vain.
On CD 1 Everyday of My Life, the chunkilicious It’s Not a Wonder and the atmospheric Down On the Border have quickly become RMHQ family favourites, especially when played loudish in the car on a long motorway journey recently.
On the same disc, it’s easily apparent from the strong and astute writing in You’re Driving Me Out Of My Mind (a personal favourite of Mrs Magpie it seems); the ballad Cool Change and Witchery why this band has stood the test of time.
CD 2 takes us on a slightly different journey; although the core band’s (Graeham Goble – guitar, vocals (1975–92), Glenn Shorrock – vocals (1975–82, 1987–96) Beeb Birtles – guitar, vocals (1975–83) and Derek Pellicci – drums (1975–84, 1987–98) ) still shines through, even with a variety of personnel changes including none other than John Farnham into the fold.
The difference tend to be in subject matter as much as it is the change from cinematic arrangements to something more Soft Rock …. which was a sign of the tomes of course.
Here we particularly like Broke Again, the punchy Just Say You Love Me and especially Sleepless Nights all of which would sound fabulous in either a concert hall or an arena.
The new ‘subject matter’ shines (if that’s the right word) on Don’t Let The Needle Win; which is sadly not about a tattoo addiction! There’s also a song here that amused me in a contrary way … the finely crafted Mistress Of Mine. I appreciate the sentiment and it really is a beautiful song; but how can a singer get up and sing that every night with his Missus in the audience?
I have tried desperately not to use the word ‘pretentious’ on a few songs here; but how else can you describe the wondrous Hard Life (Prelude) which precedes the Floydian Hard Life? But …. these songs were recorded decades ago and were exactly what the majority of the paying public wanted to hear ….. it didn’t do Queen or Fleetwood Mac any harm, did it?
As the songs come and go; you can hear how the band progress, in the nicest way …. which comes to the fore on Blind Eyes and I Know It (live) which must have been mind-blowing when they first came out.
With so much to choose from it’s been something of a sensory overload for me; especially as I haven’t listened to songs and albums like this in any shape or form this century.
But, I have enjoyed the whole package; not as much as Mrs Magpie it has to be said ….. so I’ve passed it over to her to select a Favourite Song …. on each disc.
On CD #1 she has chosen The Night Owls… which was a surprise, very much a ‘Big Hair’ Soft Rocker; but with hindsight I guess she was thinking of me as the main character in the song, but won’t admit it.
On CD #2 she went for the straight up Retro-Rocker Just Say That You Love Me ; another surprise from a woman full of surprises; but that’s the joy of discovering new music …. it’s always full of surprises.

Released 9th December 2022
https://reallittleriverband.com/

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Barbara Blue FROM THE SHOALS

Barbara Blue
From The Shoals
Big Blue Records

Slinky, Soulful and Swampy Blues Straight Outta Beale Street

I don’t know anyone in the Soul or Blues world that can sing a song the way Barbara Blue does.I’m not saying that she’s better or even shoulder to shoulder with the greats like Aretha, Diana, Nina or the like; but in this day and age she’s one of a kind and I love her and her music.
Back in the day; Barbara would surely have been on Atlantic Records; the coolest of the Big Three labels; and when you hear opening track The Shoals for the first time I’m sure you’ll agree. There’s a self-confident swagger in every note she sings and the band behind her, are all excellent keeping the funky melody in line with Barbara’s deep and sexy voice; never even coming close to crossing the line.
The second song won’t get radio play, simply because of the title; Nutthouse Blues and it’s fair to say the Queen of Beale Street plays on that innuendo with glee; but the Nutthouse in question is the name of the recording studio this was all recorded in.
The best of both Blues and Soul; which this album criss-crosses with ease can both be listened to in the quiet of your own home; and also be danced to on a Friday or Saturday night in a seedy club or bar that your Mother claims not to know about; but strangely the bartender knows her favourite drink!
Danceable Soul and Blues songs they are invariably meant for the end of the night when you slowly shake, shimmy and grind…. and that’s exactly what springs to mind with (Etta James’s) Tell Mama, Curse of Beauty and especially the sensual Nothing Lasts Forever which even has a hint of Disco in that phat bass line.
Of course there are a host of Lurve songs here; but not the usual teenage lovey-dovey type of our youth; Ms Blue is a fully grown lady and knows what she wants; even if it as as bittersweet as the stories and characters in the simmering ballads Severed and Too Far, which are probably best heard in a dark room; but will also drag hardened lovers onto the dancefloor to cling onto each other when the lights go low and the glitterball twinkles at the end of the night; and I guess Never Stopped Loving You falls into the same bag too …. as it’s a heartbreaker of the Deluxe variety.
The album closes with the beguiling epic; Trail of Tears; not your ‘obvious’ Blues song as Barbara recounts the story of a Native American woman set to a swampy Blues melody
I keep repeating myself that these days albums no longer need ‘obvious commercial singles’ on them; most especially when the target audience is a grown up one; but that doesn’t stop some songs being extra-special; which brings me to the two songs I can’t seperate for the accolade of Favourite Song.
The haunting Song of The River is deceptively ‘gentle’ with crackling sound effects and pristine bottle neck guitar leading into Barbara with a ‘talking Blues’ which is as hypnotic as it is poetic ….. different from absolutely everything here and an absolute stunner of a song.
The other is a more traditional Slide Man; and Will McFarlane’s guitar playing is as cool and dreamy as you’d hope on a song of that title; but the Slide Man in question is a lover not a ‘picker’ and the way Ms Blue describes her needs …. I’m ruling myself out!
There is absolutely everything you’d hope to find on an album of this quality; love, heartbreak, making up, dance tunes and even a little bit of a history lesson …. highly recommended.

Released January 27th 2022
https://barbarablue.com/

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Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton STARDUST SESSIONS E.P

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton
STARDUST SESSIONS
Rounder Records

Good Old Fashioned Greasy Rock n Roll plus a Beautiful Ballad.

What a treat, just before Christmas …. three glorious new songs from the latest Duo on the block; Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton and the news that it’s a teaser for a new 10 track album in the same vein due out in Spring 2023.
The opening track; Vince Taylor’s Brand New Cadillac which my generation will associate with the Clash version; opens with the roar of a car engine then takes us on a 2 and a 1/2 minute Drag Race …. hardly letting us catch our breath as the couple drive straight into the dangerous part of town the Bruce balked at entering …. man is this a sexy song!
Enough pure damn greasy Rock & Roll to make your hair curl into a quiff!
This is followed by another 90mph Rocker; Magic Sam’s stonking Feelin’ Good, now taking it’s lead from the Stray Cats while channeling both Commander Cody AND The Ramones as Samantha and Jesse trade off each other vocally and guitar wise too!
Last but not least, we have I’ll Be Here in The Morning which is a surprise of monumental proportions as Samantha and Jesse go all out Country on Townes Van Zandt’s rather beautiful and sensitive ballad; making the very best out of two fabulous voices; and some real nifty acoustic guitar work too.
I’d have been truly devastated if this was all there was; but of course there is the promise of the Jon Spencer produced all new, 10 track DEATH WISH BLUES due out in Spring time.

Released December 2nd 2022
https://www.samanthafish.com/about/
https://www.jessedayton.com/

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https://found.ee/SFJDStardust


Grey DeLisle BORROWED

Grey DeLisle
Borrowed
Regional Records/Hummingbird Records

Staggering and Cinematic Country Interpretations Of Old and New Contemporary Classics and More.

We do like a ‘cover song’ here at RMHQ with Bowie’s Pin Ups, Harry’s Nilsson Schmilsson which changed my life in the 1970’s plus everything by Joe Cocker and a host of individual tracks too.
So, where does a Country singer covering a variety of contemporary songs fit in?Well, dear reader; this album is going to be right up at the top of the tree!
As usual I hadn’t read the Press Release when I was downloading BORROWED and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I heard the the acoustic Country interpretation of The Floyd’s Another Brick in The Wall! Okay; it’s not a new idea as such; with a couple of similar entities on TV adverts on the run up to Christmas ….. but …. Bloody Hell man!
Grey DeLisle somehow manages to turn this Prog Opus into a Country Noir tale that both The Handsome Family and Bobbie Gentry would be doubly proud of!
This followed by a harrowing version of Tonight You Belong To Me; I say harrowing and it is, as Grey plays her autoharp and whispers the words in a seemingly threatening manner …. but, trust me …. she would easily wrap me in her web, singing like this.
The arrangements here can be staggering at times; the little known Marc Bolan song, Girl is swathed in strings making it sound like it could be from a re-make of Gone With the Wind; and the staggering re-make of You Only Live Twice is obviously waiting for Tarantino to come out of retirement and create a whole movie around this song.
This followed by a Marvin Etzioni song written for the album; You Are The Light and here Ms. DeLisle takes on a Dolly Parton persona to squeeze every drop of pathos out of a deep and sadder than sad Modern Country song.
As the album progresses I can’t quite put my finger on who Grey DeLisle’s simmering and expressively clear voice reminds me of. Patsy Cline? Ashley Monroe? Emmylou? Stevie Nicks?
Sometimes the stories behind Country songs can be as good as the songs themselves; and I’d love to know the reason for including the intrinsically beautiful Valentine. It’s a fabulous song …. but …. written by her ex-husband Murry Hammond! Go figure.
Another song that needs a mention; is Julie Miller’s All My Tears; which takes the original and makes it really, really more special … if that’s possible; and it appears it is.
I could throw a dart at the track list and find a song I’m in love with; but for these purposes I need to narrow it down, doncha think?
It really should be Another Brick In the Wall, mostly for the effect it had on me and the listeners to my radio show; but I’m going left as centre, as I’m contrary like that.
The co-write between DeLisle and producer extraordinaire Etzioni, Borrowed and Blue has to be a contender; as is the haunting Willie We Have Missed You which closes the package; but there is one other that has been truly spellbinding; and that’s her cinematic variation of Georgia On My Mind, which with the inclusion of Willie Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael certainly makes it a cut above the rest.
I’ve got nothing else to say; I’ve been in love with this album for weeks now; months actually and you now get the chance to hear it yourself and realise that I do know what I’m talking about.

PS Not only is Grey DeLisle a fabulous recording artist; but a ‘voice’ on over 200 animations; not least The Simpsons.

Released January 6th 2023
https://www.greydelislegriffin.com/

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https://www.greydelislegriffin.com/new-page



RMHQ Radio Show Ep31 @NovaRadioNE Newcastle

RMHQ Radio Show
Ep31
Nova Radio NE
Newcastle

SUNDAY 4th December 2022

Well; there’s a thing!
Every week I take a good while preparing the show, then everything stops family wise so I can do the radio show LIVE on a Sunday evening!

This week; because of England playing a key World Cop game that clashed, I did a pre-record on the previous Wednesday, something I did this once before in September when we were on holiday.
So, I was more shocked than anyone listening on Sunday night …. hearing Robert Plant & Allison Krauss instead of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins! There’s a sentence you didn’t expect to read …. and an easy mistake to make.
For some reason; the Nova Radio Super Computer re-played the September 4th Ep 17 show instead of the real one …. but fear not; here it is in all it’s glory.

Songs get played for a variety of reasons; as usual …. I started with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins after a casual conversation a week ago when his name cropped up about a pub with a jukebox in Glasgow; and then I finally found the Wilko Johnson song that I should have played last week, but the computer had lost!
The other thing of note this programme was Chrissie McVie from Fleetwood Mac died. Serendipity played a hand here, as I was always going to play a track from Rick Berthold’s new Tribute to Peter Green, so instead of following the musical ‘sheep’ and playing Songbird; I went with It’s You I Miss from the 1960’s Fleetwood Mac incarnation.

Also hours before going in the studio it was announced that someone had bought the Bloodshot Records brand and catalogue …. any excuse to play The Waco Brothers, Kelly Hogan and Tift Merritt!

The show finishes with a song I’d lost; Steve Dagget’s Ballad of Jimmy Forsyth; a legendary Newcastle photographer in the 1050’s, 60’s and 70’s, who documented the West End around Scotswood Road, Elswick and Benwell where the Nova Radio Station is based…. so I bought another copy of the album off eBay!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Forsyth_(photographer)


Screamin’ Jay HawkinsI Put a Spell on You
Wilko JohnsonKeep on Loving You
Julie ChristensonJimmy Reed is King of the Blues
Dust RadioProblem and Remedy
Rick BerthodJumping at Shadows
Fleetwood MacIt’s You I Miss
Eli ‘Paperboy’ ReedDoin’ the Boom Boom
Rocky BurnetteMystery Train
North Mississippi AllstarsNever Want to Be Kissed
Helen McCookerybookCoffee and Hope
James HodderWilderness Road
Peach & QuietShoreline After a Storm
Rod PicottWashington County
Emily Scott RobinsonOld Gods (Theatrical Version)
MalojianAll I Need
Waco BrothersAll or Nothing
Kelly HoganWhispering Pines
Neko Case & The SadiesRated X
Billy StringsLove Like Me
Family ShilohIts Gonna Be a Longhorn Day
Jarrod DickensonLong Hard Look
Brian BlakeBook of Life
Laura Benitez & HeartacheA Love Like Yours
M Lockwood PorterCraig’s List Song
Heather Lynne HortonI Wanna Die in My Sleep
ShipcoteSometimes You’re Up
Steve DaggettBallad of Jimmy Forsyth

Emily Duff TONIGHT EP

Emily Duff
Tonight EP
Self-Release

DADADA

Swaggering, Greasy NY Rock & Roll For Grown Ups !

In theory I still like Rock Music; but increasingly my tolerance of the L.O.U.D sort that passes passes for it in the Alt. and Indie world these days would have made the Who wince in their halcyon days.
So; thank the Lord for the current crop of New Yorkers, headed by Willie Nile, Jesse Malin and our very own Emily Duff who combine their Punk Rock/CBGB’s heritages with cool mature songwriting. Power Chords and Riffs that are easier on the ear but still feel like a punch to the jaw.
As a precursor to an album due in early 2023 Emily Duff has released a four track EP to promote the killer single, THE BOMB! and it’s come at just the right time for me on the run up to Christmas…. as my batteries were running flat; and I needed a boost to the system.
Opening track finds a feisty Emily part purring and part growling Tonight. Eric Ambel’s production is razor-sharp (throughout) allowing each instrument to portray the barely restrained energy we associate with NYC but also bringing the best out in Emily’s voice and words like herbs and spices in a gumbo or stew.
The actual single, The Bomb follows and is every bit as powerful and ballsy as the title would suggest; sounding like a young Lucinda fronting a mature Ramones …. if you can picture that! Emily really does ‘scratch the scab’ here; giving us a very mature song; only someone who has lived a fascinating life and come out the other end could write …. yet still make it sound as fresh as if she was still a hormonal teenager!
Billie Eilish eat your heart out!
The 4 song EP closes with the moody and noirish I Get Nowhere; again the backing band (Eric Ambel, Jeremy Chazky, Phil Cimino, Charlie Giordiano and Stan Harrison) give the impression that they have just come off the set of a Sopranos re-make; leather jackets, swagger and greasy hair slicked back …. but with all the subtlety of a chamber orchestra at the same time.
Then, there is the first song Emily sent me for the radio show …. My Misery, which has a melody that is NYC personified and a story that squeezed my heartstrings until I felt I was choking …. man; what a powerful song …… 50’s Rock & Roll channelled through a sleazy Memphis nightclub in the late 60’s and a silver thread of 21st Century angst holding it all together …. what’s not to like?
Like the very best Soul music, Emily’s EP works on many levels; not least turned up to 8 in the car; preferably with one dodgy speaker for added authenticity; but late at night with the lights turned down low and headphones on …. taking you to a world only you and Emily Duff understand.

Released December 9th 2022
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100060918412140

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https://emilyduff.bandcamp.com/album/tonight

Henri Herbert BOOGIE TILL I DIE

Henri Herbert
Boogie Till I Die
HH Records

Jazzy Classical Boogie Woogie Americana?

Even by our eclectic standards this is a Leftfield release!
I’d not heard of Henri Herbert before; and was still Googling him (& the release date!) with this on in the background when I had a metaphorical Eureka! moment ….. oh my giddy aunt!
What a brilliant pianist this man is!
Even today I’m still not sure how to describe his playing or indeed his choice of music ….. it’s tentatively aimed at the Americana audience; but Hell’s Teeth there is so, so much more going on here ….. Jazzy Classical Boogie Woogie Americana?
There are only two tunes with vocals, which I will get to later; and Herbert certainly ‘mixes it up’ on the way; starting with his very own composition, Boogie Till I Die, where he channels Professor Longhair via Jerry Lee Lewis to create a spellbinding four minutes that absolutely fly by in the blink of an eye.
This is followed by a 100mph piano duet with the legendary Chuck Leavell; Sixth Avenue Express and again, I was left mesmerised by the quality of playing and their ability to hold my attention ….. over and over again, as I couldn’t stop myself pressing ‘repeat’ several times.
The first of Herbert’s vocal performances comes next when he smashes it out of the park with a Honky-Tonk version of Otis Spann’s Must Have Been The Devil ….. and as well as ‘that’ amazing skill set on the piano, this kid can ‘sing a song too’ …. a raspy and smoky style that bodes well for any releases in the future.
Part of me really wants to talk about every single track here; but that will spoil the surprises won’t it … and everything really is a special surprise.
Damn it! I will anyway.
Sweet Lorraine drifts along like a Summer Breeze and could easily have been the “something of my own” that Sam said to Rick in Casablanca; it’s that timeless late-night feel my generation heard about being played in Jazz clubs; but hardly ever witnessed.
I didn’t recognise the following tune; as it’s performed so slowly at the beginning, it could easily be something by Handel or Liszt …. then the lights flicker on and Herbert cranks the gears up… and …. of course it is …. it’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) …. but the Duke never performed it like this.
Henri seamlessly slips in his own Fast Boogie Woogie (and it is!) before delightfully pulling the tone done with a staggering version of Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom; then it’s full gears ahead for something called Boogie Woogie Stomp (Amos Ammons?) then again; another one of his own when he combines Jazzy undertones with some fiery New Orleans piano on Guitar Boogie …. which could easily have been something taken from the Blue Note back catalogue.
The album closes with a beautifully toned instrumental version of Ray Charles’ Hard Times, which in my humble opinion should have been prefaced by Hymn to Freedom; as they are a perfect fit plus, the three Boogilicious tracks that surround Oscar’s opus, may benefit even more without the break in mood … and sequencing is ‘everything’ on an album…. doncha think?
That leaves one more ‘song’ and the second vocal performance here; I’m a fan; but certainly didn’t recognise Muddy Waters’ Long Distance Call; of which I own several versions; but the way Henri Herbert re-invents it, as a late night heartbreaker is very nearly mind-blowing and has become something of a ‘go-to’ for me this week; and is probably my Favourite Track by a gnat’s hair!
I have several piano dominated albums in my collection; mostly by Dr John, but a few Jazz and Blues ones too; but the only time I’ve felt like this when I first heard it was way back in 1978 when I bought the Boogie Woogie ’78 EP by a fledgling Jools Holland. I say ‘accidental’ as I had only just discovered Squeeze and didn’t have a clue as to what Boogie Woogie was …. bur soon learnt that night!

Released September 2022
https://www.henriherbertmusic.com/

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Brian Blake BOOK OF LIFE

Brian Blake
Book of Life
Self-Release

A Once In a Lifetime Americana Debut Telling a Blue Collar Family History

I’m never really comfortable reviewing ‘concept albums’ as I’m not always sure I ‘get’ what the songwriter is trying to get over.
Thankfully I do ‘get’ what Brian Blake wanted to convey here; a ‘family journey and tales thereof’ from the beginnings of the 20th Century right up to today; post-pandemic’ …. but fear not, dear reader it’s not as ‘heavy’ as that may sound; and plenty of individual songs will appeal emotionally to plenty of people who aren’t in any way related to the writer.
The opening song, Rice Field In The Distance is about Blake’s farmer Great Grandparents and how they struggled through the Great Depression and it certainly works as a story-opener; but also hints at the tales (the late great) Townes Van Zandt and Tom Russell have wove too, over the years and will leave plenty sniffling back tears.
If that’s you; those tears will fall during the following song Book of Life which follows on historically too; but could also be about families in the 21st Century who also have to ‘pack up’ and look for work across the other side of the country; and that country can just as well be the UK, Australia, Africa as well as the USA.
Just like everything that follows, Book of Life is a thoughtfully constructed song that uses a tight melody and delicate fiddle and guitar playing to squeeze the heartstrings.
While a lot subtler than Tom Russell’s The Rose of Roscree, which I loved; Blake’s stories aren’t as ‘theatrical’ in concept; yet could and should be seen and heard in the way they are on record; no doubt with associated back stories; but as I said, each and every one stands aloft on its own merits too.
I love the “Are we rolling” intro to the charming Meant To Be with its jaunty shuffling beat; I’m not sure which family member it’s about; and that doesn’t matter as it’s just a darn good Country song in its own rite.
Still with the ‘concept’ in mind; all families have dark sides and stories; and Brian Blake captures that bleakness exceptionally well in Wilson and the deep and intricate Little Boys; which both showcase why he is previously an Award Winning songwriter.
Be under no illusions, Blake’s family never go on to win the Lotto or become Hollywood Stars; these songs are all about the trouble and strife ‘everyman’ Blue Collar families face across the world; and each song could be about someone in your own family; which is how Move On J.D made me sit up and pay attention. Every family probably has a J.D in them; a veteran who returns scarred both physically and mentally; and lived in a time when these things were swept under the carpet and ignored …. and boy does Blake dig really deep on this harrowing tale.
Repeating myself again; as a ‘concept album’ this works very well; but so many if not actually every song stands on its own merits; which brings me to really special songs that have tied as my personal Favourites.
The album finale, Nothing Gold Can Stay is another that came along at the right time as Blake tells a tale of a small town dying and not knowing it; and I heard it the day after explaining to my son and his wife about how our family village was ‘officially graded ‘Category D’ (for death) in 1967 when the coal mine closed. Blake’s story mirrors our own and many more in NE England at that time.
The other, The Ott Hotel is just a cracking and indeed crackling Alt. Country/Americana song/story that again hints at being in the vein of TVZ or his antecedents, from Guy and Rodney to Steve and beyond ….. even making me lean forward at one stage so as not to miss a word or stark note.
This is an incredibly mature album for a debut; but when scratching the surface you find that Brian Blake has been near the top of the songwriting pile for quite a few years now; which makes me wonder why; on this offering it’s taken him so long to actually sing his own songs …. but the music industry has always been a mystery to me.

Released November 18th 2022
https://www.brianblake.net/

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https://brianblakeguitar.bandcamp.com/releases

Native Harrow OLD KIND OF MAGIC

Native Harrow
Old Kind of Magic
Loose Records

Transatlantic Cross Generational Americana Influenced Timeless and Beautiful Folk Songs.

Old Kind Of Magic’ is the fifth long-player from Native Harrow AKA Stephen Harms and Devin Tuel yet were pretty unknown to me until Summer 2022 when they seemed to play every Festival on the circuit, leaving friends and musicians I admire totally dumbfounded and unconditionally ‘in love’ with their music.
At this stage I must apologise; as while I too have enjoyed this album since I first heard it; I mis-filed it on my spreadsheet and I’m now posting a month after release.
There’s so much to like here; straight from opening track the winsome and windswept Song For Joan, which starts with the sound of the seashore and ends with Devin’s captivating pearlescent voice fading, somewhat tearfully off into the mid-distance.
For what is meant to be fairly ‘simple music’ i.e American Folk that straddles the Americana spectrum; there’s a whole lot going on behind Devin Tuel’s mesmerising vocals; not least the songs and stories themselves.
Most songs work on many levels; but Heart of Love and Long Long Road both signal very mature songwriters who know exactly how they want to write; and as a self-produced album ….. know exactly how they want to sound.
I’m pleased to say that there aren’t two songs even vaguely alike here; with Stephen Harms even experimenting with new ‘sounds’; here and there; and succeeding where others failed; most notably on the 60’s flavoured As It Goes, with sweeping and swooping Hammond organ ala Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll at their combined finest …. yet the song and Devin’s (in this case) smokily exotic vocals fit alongside everything else perfectly well.
This is immediatly followed by Magic Eye; again tinged with a 60’s ‘vibe’ …. but this time I was reminded of some of Marianne Faithful’s more recent releases which also mix and match the modern with the past; unpeeling influences on every play …. while never not sounding like Native Harrow.
The finale; Find a Reason is spectacularly timeless ….. beautiful lyrics matched with a vocal performance worthy of any great Americana or Folk singer you can think of; but yet again ….. it’s simply Stephen Harms and especially Devin Tuel doing what they do best; and that’s better than most.
For my Favourite song; and it is always the song I’m drawn to … not just the peripheral sounds of singer and musicians; no matter how good they are … and here they are much better than ‘good’; so I’m torn between the title track Old Kind Of Magic which is the prefect imaginative love song soundtrack to the sun coming up over a damp meadow, when the future can be anything you want it to be.
The other, I Remember is the type of bewitching Folk song that I would have no qualms pointing people (like me) towards who hadn’t heard of Native Harrow before and were wondering if they should tender their hard earned cash for something by them. It’s almost perfect and certainly an ‘ear worm’ which is an oddity in this word.
There you have it; while traditionally a cynic, I am an overnight convert to this couple originally from Pennsylvania and now living in rural Suffolk; one of England’;”s most beautiful yet forgotten counties.

Released 28th October 2022
https://www.nativeharrow.com/

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Steve Pledger WHAT TOMORROW KNOWS

Steve Pledger
What Tomorrow Knows
Self-Release

Bordering on Lo-Fi Folkiness With Brave Subject Matter and Songwriting.

Although he’s been treading the boards around the region for a few years I only became aware of Durham Lad and singer-songwriter Steve Pledger a couple of years ago via a charity project he organised on behalf of refugees coming to Co. Durham.
I’ve tried my best to see him in pone of his many gigs too; but so far never managed!
WHAT TOMORROW KNOWS appears to be his fourth full length album; and in this digital age he’s not shy coming forward releasing ‘downloadable’ singles too.
There’s an instant charm to opening track The Baptist’s Father; but on not necessarily the first listen; Pledger’s lyrics are razor sharp and keenly observed as he tells, what sounds like a personal story, about a young man ‘growing up’ and finding the strength to leave a religious family …. and I know a couple of (now) lapsed Catholics who will appreciate his raw sentiments.
When I review albums by (relatively) unknown artists I try to find similar more famous acts to compare them too; and with Steve Pledger that’s actually very difficult; as his subject matter can be quite left of centre; theatrical with The Stagehand’s Tale and the never twee familial story Sister Dear which again sounds like plenty who hear it will nod along ‘knowingly.’
Obviously there are ‘love songs’ here; but like Paul Simon and James Taylor before him; they are not ‘moon and June’ rhyming couplets; with Steve finding a whole new observational angle on Same Smile/Same Words …. is it a break up song or a song of hope; or both?
I love his bravery in tackling world events, especially as he never preaches or panders; yet Fields That Still Divide and the sparse Hope That Never Fades both take us down a dark path, but also offer a shaft of light at the end.
I regularly receive albums from singer-songwriters who tread a lonely path, and obviously some are better than others …. of which this Lucas Drinkwater produced album is certainly one.
I use, yet dread the term ‘Modern Folk’ but I can’t think of a more apt description of Steve Pledger’s ‘style’ of writing and possibly even singing, as he uses everything he can muster in the studio, but it still sharply comes across as a ‘less is more’ production ….. and I’m singling out Waiting to Hurt as a beneficiary of that modus operandi ….. everything about it;including a gentle saxophone and not least Pledger’s smoky and sultry vocals are spellbinding, which is something as rare as hens teeth in the Folk world.
If I didn’t know Pledger’s ‘heritage’ I’d have sworn that this album was Canadian; as it combines ‘effortless cool’ with ‘incisive’ and ‘cerebral’ songwriting …. what I would normally associate with the likes of Stephen Fearing, Steve Dawson and/or Terra Spencer who hall impressed me immensely in recent years.
Which brings me to the coin-toss between two songs for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; the densely passionate Revelation with its haunting fiddle playing and the deceptive Rise which will get lost in the tailspin the first few times you play WHAT TOMORROW KNOWS, but sooner or later this musical time bomb will catch your attention when you least expect it ….. and WHAM! It will hit you like a left hook to the jaw, leaving your head spinning and seeing stars.
For that very reason I’m going for Rise as my Favourite especially as it borders on the Lo-Fi Folkiness that I’d associate with Nick Drake or Bert Jansch; but you can’t slide a cigarette paper between the two.
Steve Pledger is an undoubted talent in the Singer-Songwriter/Folk field and on this evidence, M’lud …. will only need a little push or tiny slice of luck to make the great leap forward.

Released 28th November 2022
http://www.stevepledger.co.uk/

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