Welcome to the Rocking Magpie – a home on the Internet for my thoughts and musings on a variety of music, be it CD’s, Gigs, books and the occasional DVD – usually; but not exclusively based around all things Americana, as I love Ska music..
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; but receive music from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and all corners of Europe (very little from my home region; 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. Plus there will be the occasional preview of albums and gigs that interest me; but primarily you will read EXCLUSIVE Country, Folk, Blues, Ska, Punk and indeed all things Rock & Roll reviews where the music has actually been listened to…not just the regurgitation of a Press Release.
Dig deep into the site; as the bonus is my old reviews (400+), some 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.
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The Rocking Magpie
5th December 2016
This show was something of a double-header for me as opening act Canaan Smith has been on my radar for a year or so courtesy of friends in the Americas, so a post-gig tincture was declined and we made our way into Hall 1 just as he was coming on stage.
The ruggedly handsome singer was attired in the obligatory beanie hat, double t-shirt, washed out jeans and battered Redwing boots combo that is deemed de-rigour these days as was his pal on guitar, albeit with a Trucker cap instead of the beanie.
Enough about the fashion; what about the music you ask?
They opened their set with a song about and possibly called Getting Old, which was lyrically razor sharp and right from the heart; gaining rapturous applause as it ended. This was followed with a cool song apparently inspired by and name checking Miranda Lambert, called You Crazy Girl. As it ended Mrs. Magpie was applauding loudly and grinning like a ninny; high praise indeed.
The duo genuinely captivated the audience for their full 40 minutes, with Smith’s fascinating and slightly self-deprecating stories interspersing a well balanced mix of Country Rockers and the occasional introspective songs.
The highlight by far, was Bronco, a song about Smith’s elder brother who died in a car crash when the songwriter was but a boy. The song leant itself to an acoustic setting (I’ve subsequently seen a Rocky version on YouTube which is just as good); but when he introduced it my wife wasn’t alone as she clutched her hands to her chest as the hint of a tear formed in her eye. The song was well worthy of the story.
Tonight Canaan Smith, in the guise of a cool Alt. Country singer-songwriter won the hearts and minds of 2,000 Geordie Country fans, and when he assured the crowd he would be back in 2017 with his band, the roar of approval was as loud as for his songs.
Aha; the Shires! It’s hard to believe that in July 2014 I saw them perform for free in front of about thirty people on the concourse of Sage Gateshead at the SummerTyne Festival; and now they have two massive hit albums under their belts and tonight’s show was deemed a 2,000 seat Sell Out a month ago.
Very slick and professional Crissie and Ben followed the band onto the stage amid screams from the younger members of the audience and set the turbo to ‘warp speed’ by opening with a rocking version of Nashville Grey Skies and it’s Country Girl/Country Boy belt-along chorus set the mood for the evening.
The quintessentially English duo neatly balanced songs from their established debut album with ones from the more recent My Universe, with fans singing along word perfectly to absolutely everything.
Even though I last saw them earlier this year, Crissie seems a lot more assured with the range of her voice and Ben sounds more ’rounded’ and ‘smoky’ and when they harmonise….. even the most cynical reviewer will go weak at the knees.
As ‘fans’ you would think it would be difficult for the Shires to still surprise Mrs. Magpie and myself, but no…..they threw curve balls all night.
Tonight’s version of Naked with Ben on the piano and Crissie ‘serenading’ him with her crystal clear voice was absolutely spellbinding, and who knew Robbie William’s Angels could ever sound fresh and exciting again? Well tonight it did.
As expected Mrs. Magpie and I differed as to what the ‘best songs of the night were.’ I chose the beautiful Daddy’s Little Girl (a real tearjerker) and Save Me, which was luscious from start to finish and a lot deeper lyrically than most Country songs coming out of Nashville these day.
Mrs. M surprised me by choosing the punchy and rocktastic All Over Again, which had a hardy bunch of 50 or so dancing in the aisles and Jekyll & Hyde which saw a National Steel make its debut in the shadows.
If The Shires have signature tunes they would probably be I Just Want to Love You, State Lines, Friday Night and the ever marvellous Made in England, which all got rolled out before the evening ended, some with new arrangements but all to the audiences obvious delight.
Regardless of your feelings this IS Country Music. Hank and George may not recognise it as such, and their wasn’t a pedal-steel or banjo within a 100 yards of the stage; but this IS Modern Country and every note and word is as good, if not better than what their American counterparts are producing; and now they have been signed to Big Machine, it will be fascinating to see how they fair in the home of the music we all love.
You can’t call what The Shires are spearheading a resurgence in British Country Music, as we’ve never had anything near the crossover success as what they and Ward Thomas are currently having; and I couldn’t be any prouder.
Big Label/Thirty Tigers
These days I’m not always sure where the demarcation line is between actual ‘singles’ and ‘album teasers’ but I can’t resist sharing this fabulous song from Aaron Watson’s highly anticipated 2017 album Vaquero.
A Silverado Family Christmas
Cool Yule Album From Even Cooler Record Label.
This has sat waiting unopened for nearly two weeks; but in all conscience I couldn’t listen to Christmas songs until December 1st at the very earliest🙂
Silverado Records was only launched earlier this year but their roster of artists is as astonishing as it is cool, and as is becoming of Country Record labels they have corralled those artists into the studio to record an obligatory Christmas album.
We start with one of three brand new songs, Snow Day by Zack Dyer and just when I thought I’d never hear another ‘new Christmas song’ worth listening too, Zack made my ears tingle with his flirtatious almost seduction song based around the weather being so bad he can’t get to work and has to stay at home with his young lady. ‘Radio friendly’ is an understatement as Zack carefully avoids the saccharine world songs like this normally ooze.
Track #2 is the legendary Joe Diffie, doing what Joe Diffie does best on the classic I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Okay, it’s not a whole lot different from most other Country versions, but hey this is Joe Diffie so it’s got to be worth a whirl.
It’s no surprise that staples Let It Snow, The Christmas Song and Blue Christmas are here too and there’s nothing wrong with any of them, especially Tony Winkler’s voice on the latter, which has me researching the singer. But Gabe Burdulis’ I’m Looking For Christmas is Americana/Alt. Country at its finest, with the young Wisconian producing a delightful, interesting and memorable song that proves you don’t have to be full of false bonhomie to enjoy the holiday season, just being with your family and the one you love to make it special. This well crafted song has made an instant fan out of me.
The other new Christmas song, to me here is Christmas Time For Me and You by Crystal Yates who is a new name to me; but judging by her smoky voice on this sensual love song sung from a wife to her husband she will be a household name by Christmas 2017!
The song is stunningly lovely, all wrapped up in love and the addition of crackles and pops of vintage vinyl do it no harm at all.
Does the world need another Christmas record? Of course not; but if if you are going to release one you may as well make one fans will play for decades to come and that’s what Silverado Records have done here.
Released December 2nd 2016
Yee Ha With the Ree-Vahs!
Love in a North Eastern Town Brought To Life In Song.
As I said last time, I’m not normally a lover of Folk Music; but when a band comes from my home town I’m prepared to give it more than a cursory listen, and I’m glad I did because The Ree-Vahs previous release Geordieland was a rare treat and came close to being in my 2014 Top 10.
Thankfully (for me) Andy Lee and band have carried on from where they left off; telling tales of a small once prosperous town in their local NW Durham flat dialect.
Sunshine which opens the album could be straight from the Bellowhead songbook; with a timeless ‘love through adversity’ story set to a classic Folky mix of acoustic guitars, fiddle, drums and possibly an accordion in the background.
A delightful piece of piano playing introduces the delightfully dark story behind Hundreds and Thousands. The third time I heard this song it genuinely stopped me in my tracks; as it was/is scarily close to my early relationship with the girl whom I was to marry; and like the narrator I’ve never understood why ‘with hundreds of souls in the village/you chose me.’ But also ‘Do I push you away/When I need you to stay/I never know what you’re thinking.’
If I could write songs I wish I could have written that.
While most of the songs here are about relationships, The Bouncer takes that theme to something of an extreme. A jealous man driven by ‘rage and jealousy/that’s not me’ knows she is going to leave him; and knows she should……but he tries to cling on. Lee’s voice sounds amazing as it comes near to breaking point more than once.
One song I love, but don’t fully understand is Spiderman. Using comic book superheroes as metaphors for ll of the characters inside his head, the singer knows his lifestyle will end in tears; but he can’t help himself……perhaps there’s a little bit of all of us here.
My favourite track; and it will surprise no one who knows me; is The Story of Us. To some extent a companion piece to Hundreds and Thousands; it’s a haunting love story of a couple told through the husband looking back on their life. The addition of cello, piano and guitars in the background make an ordinary Folk Tale quite extraordinary.
Another contender could easily have been Grandma’s Song. An epic narrative going from the couple meeting in 1933 and taking in being told he was killed in WW11 but arriving home ‘after 4 months dead’ and ‘hitting the heights in 75/a Triumph Herald in the drive’ then ‘recession took their house away/the wind blew hard as knives that day/the coldest winter of their lives/nineteen eighty five’.
Maudlin and beautiful hardly do justice to a song as well crafted and lovely as this.
Sadly domestic violence rears it’s ugly head in Black Eyed Susan; but Lee’s way with words and a melody couple to create a fabulous microcosm of a Small rural town that could be anywhere in the civilised world.
The Ree-Vahs and Andy Lee in particular have created a wonderful little album here and it would be a damn shame if it didn’t receive a world wide audience; so don’t let the Pitmatic dialect put you off, it’s not that different to listening to Texas drawl or a wonderfully rich Irish brogue.
#The only draw back is the town featured on the album cover is Stanley’s arch rival, Consett! Although I did take several tinctures in the Turf when I worked in Laws Stores in my younger days.
Released November 2016
Classy Modern-day Country From the Badlands of Scotia.
Yet again I’ve received a Country single that has blown me sideways.
Born and bred in Glasgow Kevin McGuire has written and recorded a song that sounds like it couldn’t have come from anywhere other than Nashville (or Austin at a stretch) but no; it is 100% British in origin.
The title track 3AM comes in two versions; the radio friendly one comes first with McGuire receiving ‘the 3AM call’ from the girl who he split up with one drunken evening. Razor sharp lyrics and a voice that will make young women go weak at the knees combine on a song that crosses over many musical boundaries and deserves to be a ‘hit’ (whatever that means these days).
Although not a lot different; I actually prefer the Acoustic version that follows. Sounding slightly edgier and frayed around the edges; you could easily imagine Gunnar or Will singing this in the TV show Nashville.
The third track Everything, is every bit as good and interesting as the title track; even sounding a little bit more developed in outlook, possibly.
With British Country Music on the crest of a wave at the moment; the future certainly looks bright for Kevin McGuire.
Released November 11th 2016
Battle For The Ballot
Self-Release/Manchester Peoples History Museum/Bandcamp.
The Most Exciting History Lesson You Will Ever Hear.
Although long deleted The Quiet Loner aka Matt Hill’s previous album, Greedy Magicians is still the most dangerous album I’ve ever heard; dealing as does with the political state of Britain was in in 2012 and sadly is even more relevant today in 2016.
He has finally followed that up with a very interesting project; and one I have followed keenly, albeit from afar. After becoming ‘Songwriter in Residence’ at the wonderful Peoples History Museum in Manchester Matt was tasked with ‘exploring the story of Universal Suffrage’ and take it around the schools of the area.
The subjects here are very dear to my own heart as in the early 1970’s I was a pupil in a newly fangled Comprehensive School and quickly dropped into the CSE stream which was meant to give us some qualifications at the end of 5 years; regardless of how meaningless they would be. The upside was History. While the Top 2 streams studied the Tudors and Stuart Kings etc. we learned about the Industrial Revolution and the seed was sown for a lifetime of Liberal Socialism……or something like that.
A better choice for this venture can’t be found; as Hill is a canny story teller and although he is a Folk Singer at heart, he has a nice soft expressive voice and has a very contemporary style making these tales very listenable indeed.
The album opens with the mildly anthemic duet with Tracey Browne, Nothing Less Than Revolution Will Do. Not exactly a ‘call to arms’ but, when you know it was written following Matt encountering the desk that Thomas Paine wrote the ‘Rights of Man’ in 1792, it becomes a wonderful preface for what is to follow.
Lulling you into a false sense of security the sweet sounding Manchester Rain follows; but dig deeper into Hill’s words and you will hear a dark story of a Manchester that Marx and Engels once inhabited.
Those songs neatly sum up The Quiet Loner’s ‘style’……contemporary and subtle, taking what could easily be a dull, dry story from history and making them sound fresh and still thinking about the content hours afterwards. Tear These Railings Down is a song about the workers never giving up their fight; and sung to an almost Country beat; there’s certainly a Twang to the guitar and it fairly rattles along, and I can only imagine the effect it will have on impressionable teenagers (who needs NWA?).
Hill even throws in a the jaunty Banners Held High in his quest to get his message across and somehow he makes the dry tale of the Chartist Movement into a toe-tapper; which is skill indeed!
The remarkable Tracey Browne gets the opportunity to shine when she inhabits the central character on the beautiful Hannah (about Suffragette Hannah Mitchell) and again on Paint This Prison (a contender for ‘favourite track btw).
That ‘Favourite Track’ title goes to the epic The Dust of St. Peters Fields. Wow! This shameful story of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre has virtually been airbrushed from our history; even in NW England, but The Quiet Loner describes the events in a modern Folk Rock style that would be worthy of Elvis Costello at his politico best. If Matt Hill never writes or sings another song ever again he can die a happy man for creating this masterpiece.
When Hill began writing these songs in early 2016 he would have no idea how important ‘The Vote’ would be in our lives; as the UK would go on to hold a Referendum to ‘leave the EU’ and the USA would have the most historical Election for many generations, with every single vote counting in each one.
Regardless of your feelings at those two outcomes; these ten songs help describe the fight that people had to get every single person the right to vote, regardless of race, creed, sex or colour.
Buy a copy and learn something; but most importantly if you have or know a teenager who loves music but is either apathetic or interested in politics…….give them a copy.
#NEWSFLASH This will be released as a full CD in April 2017!
Released November 27th 2016 (Download)
Shipcote & Friends
Hurrah! Friend of the Rocking Magpie and all around nice guy, Shipcote and his friends have made the daftest and coolest video of 2016 to promote the fabulous single Mr. Wonderful.
Here it is in all its Technicolor brilliance……EXCLUSIVE to the Rocking Magpie!
Long Time at Sea (single)
A Great Song for a Wonderful Cause.
‘Charity begins at home’ they say; and it’s true, but here at RMHQ there are a couple of causes that really tug at our heartstrings, with the current Refugee Crisis being at the very top of a short list.
It may not be on the TV News every night but these days but there is still a heartbreaking stream of families wandering around Europe looking for a home, and that’s not a home that you or I would call home…..primarily they just want to be safe from fear.
So, singer-songwriter Josh Coppersmith has been moved to write a song about these migrants, and all proceeds will go to these four amazing Charities –
Hand in Hand for Syria
Medecins Sans Frontieres
This is the link to the fundraising page
We Were Young
Very Classy Debut From Alt. Pop Singer-Songwriter.
So much music lands on the RMHQ doorstep that it can become very difficult to choose what to listen to and then review. Obviously some artists and labels will always take preference but occasionally I fancy a lucky-dip and randomly pick out a couple of CDs to take on a car journey; such was the case with We Were Young, the debut album from Billings, Montana bass player Parker Brown.
The first couple of songs were actually passing me by but I noticed Mrs. Magpie tapping her hand on her thigh along with the beat; meaning they had passed the first and most difficult test in the business.
I put the first track People Watching back on and took a deeper interest in proceedings. A bit more commercial and possibly ‘AOR’ than I would normally listen to; the Brown’s voice had a certain timbre that reminded me of those early Jackson Browne and Graham Nash albums that I pored over in my teenage bedroom.
As a professional studio musician and guitar/bass teacher it’s no surprise that each song is meticulously constructed and the playing is nothing short of perfect; but Brown’s songwriting is quite remarkable; he can tell a story in a way I’ve not heard a lot of since those heady days of the Brill Building.
Summer Day sounds like a charming bittersweet love song until you peel away the layers and a much darker tale lies beneath the surface; plus it has a magnificent Rhodes solo in the middle.
Hand Me Downs is a good old fashioned Soft Rocker in the style of Stevie Winwood, if any of you can remember him or Billy Joel when he was cool.
Once I’d ‘got into the album’ I too found myself tapping my toes; which isn’t always a good thing when that foot is on the accelerator!
The title track We Were Young is a really classy AOR song that would easily have been a ‘Radio Hit’ back in the 80’s or 90’s but today possibly needs stripping back a bit; possibly losing the tsch-tsch drumbeat but that could just be me, as Mrs. Magpie gave me a ‘look’ when I had the audacity to suggest such a crazy thing.
Now we are home two songs really, really stand out. Another Man’s Blues is a cool smoky late at night Jazzy/Blues crossover that showcases Brown’s sweet and expressive voice; while Hold On Sam was an expression we kept using all weekend as my Grandson Sam, kept walking and talking at 110mph! Even without that caveat this is a companion piece for Another Man’s Blues and best listened to with the lights turned down low and your mood on the right side of miserable.
Parker Brown has been around for a long time on the local music scene; and I’m not sure he intends this album being the gateway to International stardom but there are more than enough absorbing and interesting songs hear to bare repeated listening and make me want to hear a more stripped back second album.
Released September 2016
Call Me a Friend
Break Out Your Flares – Country Rock is BACK!
We don’t normally ‘do’ singles at RMHQ, as we are normally far too cool for disposable pap like that; but occasionally a song comes along that we can’t ignore and we feel the need to shout it’s glories from the Internet Rooftops!
Such is Call Me a Friends from Londoners The 27 who took their name from the infamous ’27 Club’ made up of musicians who died at the age of 27.
They make no bones about their love of Classic Country Rock with harmony rich vocals, multi-layered guitars (acoustic and semi-acoustic) all coming together to create 3 glorious minutes of sunshine to brighten up even the coldest, greyest days of Winter.
Based around the singing and songwriting of 23 year old Henry Parker alongside Tom Mitchell, David Page and drummer Alex Tschaikowsky The 27 have been honing their combined talents for ix years now and this wonderful song bodes very, very well for a full album in the New Year.
PS The video was recorded in Amy Winehouses’ former home in Camden and stars the beautiful Page 3 model Rhian Sugden.
Released June 14th 2016