The Rocking Magpie

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

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

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

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

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

Keep in touch rockingmagpie@outlook.com or on Twitter @RockingMagpie

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

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

Alan aka The Rocking Magpie

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

Rod Picott Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil.

Rod Picott
Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil. 
Welding Rod Records

The Heart of Americana Unchained and Intimate

It wasn’t until I read the Press Release that I found out RMHQ Favourite Rod Picott had had some pretty serious health problems, including a ‘heart scare’ last year; but thankfully he’s come through it all with a new spring in his step and more importantly; it’s helped him create this, his latest album.
The first thing you will notice is the sparsity of the production; well…… there’s basically no ‘production’ at all, as Rod recorded every song at home and just went with his gut (and newly mended heart) as to when to press ‘record’.
There’s a definite intimacy right from the beginning, as Ghost is everything you would hope and want as a fan; from such a harrowing backstory and yes; it is as brittle and beautiful as anything Picott has ever previously recorded; in my humble opinion.
I wish I could tell you that there were surprises here; nope ….. this is just one of America’s finest songwriters doing what he does best; sometimes with his long time friend Slaid Cleaves; and when they combine their talents on Mama’S Boy the result is, as usual quite staggering. This particular tale is about the ‘overtly masculine’ world a young boy finds himself in; and it really does tug at the heartstrings.
Even though some the stories here are as grey as they are stark Picott’s warm voice brings Too Much Rain and Bailing totally engrossing for casual listeners and lifelong fans alike.
As expected Rod Picott sings about and his first hand stories examine the ‘blue collar/working man’ life better than most out there; and here he takes a couple of left turns that even by his high standards are quite staggering. I’m particularly thinking about the lament John Wallace; A 38 Special and a Hermes Purse and Spartan Hotel with it’s simple guitar and harmonica arrangement, which lesser reviewers will say sounds like Brucie circa NEBRASKA, but Rod was doing this years before Springsteen picked up an acoustic guitar; and that long apprenticeship pays off in diamonds here.
It’s particularly odd to hear Rod Picott’s voice without any technological wizardry behind it after all these years; and it’s fair to say A Guilty Man and The Folds of Your Dress benefit from this format.
Then, of course I have to select a Favourite Song…… and that’s not easy at all; especially as the quality that oozes out of every single track here means each is a contender, but my trusted ears and heart keep coming back to A Beautiful Light, mostly because the combination of wheezy harmonica, strummed acoustic guitar and a voice on the brink of cracking up plus a story means it’s something most of his peers can only ever dream of writing and recording.
It’s been a bugbear of mine for many years that far too many singer-songwriters fill their albums with all kinds of ‘bells and whistles’ that can’t or won’t be available ‘in concert’; so Rod has given us the album his talents have threatened us with for many years……. it’s all about the songs kid; and that’s all you get………. and that wonderful voice of course.

http://rodpicott.com/
Released USA July 19th 2019
Released UK sEPTEMBER 6TH 2019

Alice Howe VISIONS

Alice Howe
Visions
Self-Release

Classy Singer-Songwriter and Interpreter of all That is Roots Music.

As has happened a couple of times this year; I’ve received this album from two different Publicists; and this time they couldn’t be more disparate …….. the American Connection is primarily known for Blues music and the British one Folk; and there lies my dilemma …….. where does Alice Howe fit in to my little world?
Opening track Twilight wafts lushly across the whole Americana spectrum; like a pretty musical butterfly and finally lands on warm and colourful folksy flower, whereas the next song Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes certainly has a delightfully sweet Blues timbre to it; as it should because it’s written by Taj Mahal, who has maybe influenced this version in many ways too.
According to the attached notes Alice has a ‘mezzo-soprano’ voice …… I wouldn’t know; but it is bloody lovely, and she sure can catch your attention with it!
The mix of self-penned and cover versions is intriguing; with Alice’s own songs Still on My Mind and the funky and feisty Getaway Car standing proudly alongside some veritable classics that span the generations.
Without worrying too much about a pigeonhole to put this album in to, I’ve just sat back and let myself get immersed in the delightful Too Long at the Fair and the Rootsy Celticana of You Just Never Know. Plus I’m suitably impressed by more of Alice’s choices of songs to cover ; ooohhhh oooohhhh and oooh; she turns Muddy’s Honey Bee into a late night sultry seduction ode, while Don’t Think Twice Babe gets dusted off, polished and a whole new age group are set to discover Uncle Bob’s skills via this album; and if there wasn’t another song here that made me crumble like a baby learning to walk, Ms Howe’s impressive rendition of Bring It On Home to Me would surely have been the RMHQ Favourite Song here by a mile.
As a sucker for a good old fashioned Love Song, I always have; dating back to my teenage years pining over Tamla and Stax 45 RPM singles in my cold and lonely bedroom; so it will come as no surprise to find that the tantalizing What We Got Is Gold which is heartbreaking, heartfelt and even uplifting in equal measures is the official RMHQ Favourite Song here.
After spending the afternoon in a sunny back garden listening over and over again; let’s just settle on Alice Howe being a timeless Singer-Songwriter in the mould of Nanci Griffith, James Taylor and Joan Baez ……. laid back, thoughtful and most of all classy.

Released USA May 17th 2019
Released UK July 15th 2019

https://www.alicehowe.com/



Harry Harris I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME

Harry Harris
I Feel Drunk All The Time
Self-Release

Scottish Americana that Criss-Crosses Indie, Folk-Rock and Classic Folk.

It seems like 100 years ago that I reviewed Harry Harris’ debut album (2010) for a magazine (which shall remain nameless!) and out of nowhere he got in touch a couple of weeks ago asking if I’d give his latest and 3rd release an airing.
Well dear reader, a lot has happened to young Harry in the intervening years; he no longer resides in Wales….. now it’s Ye Olde Edinburgh where he sells himself as a singer/songwriter/journalist now; where the latter job includes RMHQ Favourites Nylon, Vice, Mundial and more.
While I vaguely remember the first album as being on the cusp of the Folk bracket; now I’ve played I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME quite a few times I’d definitely now describe him as being an all encompassing Singer-Songwriter as the songs here are a lot more rounded and contemporary with a foot in several camps, starting with the powerful Marathon; a deep, dark and brooding tale that uses that ‘sport’ as a metaphor for dear life itself; and it manages to tick a lot of Americana and Post-Indie boxes too.
Perhaps the use of a saxophone in the Memphis gives it a hint of Grown-Up Blue Eyed Soul; but don’t think you can really dance to it; as it’s the type of song you will find yourself wallowing in late at night while you try to mend a broken heart with a bottle of wine.
Harris’ songwriting is universal, and as this album more or less came about following the death of his best friend at an unfeasibly young age; everyone will find not just solace but a kinship in Bloodletting and the title track itself I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME, and the gently rolling guitar in the latter l take your breath away.
For a Welshman; there’s a distinct Scottishness to the whole album; as it sounds like it couldn’t have been written or recorded anywhere else with the starkness of Things John Hated and Free Italian Food managing to take melancholy into a stratosphere originally inhabited by Donovan and Bert Jansch but more latterly Eddi Reader and Kris Drever.
When you have such a rich and expressive voice as Harry has, ‘Folk Music’ is always going to be the first thing you think of; the bouncy Deadliest Warrior and All My Worst Ideas (both with a band in tow) criss-cross Indie, Folk-Rock and even the latest wave of Scots-Americana with ease and indeed, rhetoric.
To a greater or lesser degree I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME has caught me ‘at the right time’ as my ‘head hasn’t been in the best of places recently’ and one song in particular caught me off guard and has had me going back to it again and again; making the bucolic and brittle Making a Go Of This my Favourite Song here; although the off-kilter subject matter may not appeal to everyone; but the sentiment will keep you coming back peeling away the layers until you crumble like house built on sand too.
It may sound odd calling this collection of deeply personal dark and brooding songs a ‘pleasant surprise’; but it has been as Harry Harris is a mighty fine songwriter and singer too; and I’d have been very disappointed if I’d missed this rather beautiful and brittle album.

Released June 21st 2019
http://www.harryharrismusic.com/
https://harryharris.bandcamp.com/




Memoirs of a Ska Librarian (Magazine/biography)

Personally I’ve loved Ska music ever since ……… well, before I knew it was Ska music. What I now know to be Ska turned up every now and again on the radio in the late 1960’s and in the early 1970’s Desmond Dekker and Little Millie spring to mind and an LP called This is Ska (or Jamaican Ska?) bought in Woolworth’s was a staple at teenage parties alongside Tamla Motown LP’s too, of course.
Then; along came Madness, The Specials and The Beat!
It was these two bands that caught the attention of a young Kevin Flowerdew who would sit mesmerised alongside younger brother Sean every Thursday night watching Top of the Pops in the hope that their heroes would be on with their latest singles.
As Two-Tone etc. took over the UK the young Kevin went to weekly School Discos in his cherished red Harrington and skanked his young life away unaware how much this new music would take over his life.
Kevin came into my life about ten years ago with his fabulous Skazine Do The Dog, which points me towards tours and releases from across the world; and now about 40 years after sitting wide eyed watching TOTP he has pulled together his memories in a magazine format biography.
Much like my favourite ever biography, broadcaster Robert Elm’s look at his life via the clothes he wore at various times, Kevin chooses music.
The story begins with the records he bought, then the gigs he got to go to in London Town; and here he captures the thrills and excitement very articulately as the he feels like a young outsider from a dormitory town suddenly being thrown into a cauldron full of big inner-city skinheads!
It’s a fascinating and even ‘life changing’ time for many people; and I love the way Kevin tries to shoehorn in as many band names as possible; most who have come and gone without trace; but at the time were very nearly Pop Stars.
One such band is Flowedew’s very own Bakesy’s Midday Joggers (I wonder where that name came from!!) who still occasionally play and record now; but the memories of small-town gigs one day followed by huge festivals in Germany the next will resonate with musicians the world over.
Now with a Fanzine called Rude keeping him immersed in ‘the scene,’ like many aspiring musicians, the day job got in the way of world domination so the band disbanded in 1994,
Fanzines more or less started with Punk; so it was a natural progression for them to turn up within the Ska Scene; and the way Kev describes sending letters to bands and record labels for singles and albums to review, then waiting patiently for the post to sometimes deliver that request to his front door (sometimes not) and then typing everything on a typewriter, cutting and pasting onto A4 paper then photocopying into the wee small hours echoes my own experiences doing something similar with a football fanzine; and is a snapshot in time that will make many of my generation smile wistfully; but baffle anyone under 30.
Flowerdew’s story then jumps to the close of RUDE and the formation of Do The Dog, because he wanted to promote the new wave of British Ska bands …… but the immediate success in a news starved world meant it quickly became the World’s #1 Skazine (in my opinion at least).
Alongside Kevin’s 8 page Memoirs, are four copies of RUDE magazine with each detailing a year in the magazines’ history; and again the memories they bring up are often tear inducing but mostly it’s smiles all the way; and you will find yourself running backwards and forwards to your record collection to blow the dust off CD’s you ain’t played in years.
With each magazine coming in at 7 or 8 pages long, don’t think that this is a quick read at all…….. I’ve had to come back to bits n pieces three or four times to digest everything here; and I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of other bits out too; so it will be my reading on the train to London next week too.
My one criticism; and it’s a big one, is that the actual Memoirs of a Ska Librarian is far too short; and Kevin Flowerdew doesn’t give himself enough credit for his pivotal role in the UK Ska Scene over the last 30+ years; and he has only dipped his toes into his memory bank and a full 300 page biography would surely do him and the Ska justice they both deserve.

https://dothedogmusic.tumblr.com/skazine

https://dothedogmusic.tumblr.com/memoirs



Samantha Fish BULLETPROOF (Single

Samantha Fish
Bulletproof (Single)
Rounder Records

RMHQ favourite Samantha Fish  releases her new single ‘Bulletproof’ today. The single is taken from her upcoming album Kill Or Be Kind – released on Friday 20th September on Rounder Records and distributed in the UK by Proper Music – which is now available for pre-order worldwide here – https://found.ee/SFBulletproof . When pre-ordering the album, you receive ‘Bulletproof’ as a free MP3 download.

Ida Mae CHASING LIGHTS

Ida Mae
Chasing Lights
VRR/Thirty Tigers

Transcendental and Emotionally Raw Songs from Britain’s Musical Roots.

Ida Mae’s website tells you nearly as much as the accompanying Press Release about this enigmatic duo …….. nothing!
So, a tiny bit of detective work has discovered that the married couple of Stephanie Jean and Chris Turpin were the mainstays in a British Blues Rock band called Kill It Kid (3 albums) but have now gone renegade in a quest to make the music of their heart’s desire; which is a twist on Rootsy Americana, if my ears don’t deceive me.
WOAH THERE!
I certainly wasn’t prepared for the loud and raucous grittiness of opening track Boom, Boom, Boom (although the title should have been a clue) …….. this is raw 21st Century Rock n Roll that sounds like the White Stripes covering an Imelda Mae song; and it’s followed by My Girl is a Heartbreak; which is much slower and a lot more intense but Turpin’s vocals are just as powerful and gritty, in a velvety manner.
You are in for a treat, as the couple’s songwriting is quite extraordinarily ‘good’, with clever narratives and tips of the hat towards poetry on a couple of songs too, plus the guitar playing throughout is deceptively brilliant at times too.
It took me a couple of plays to understand the highs and lows of the mood swings that Ida Mae deliberately create here; with the dark ballad Easily in Love following the magnetic drum heavy and hypnotic Higher Than the Light, and preceding the swelling harmonies of Love is Still a Hard Road, which sounds like the couple are singing too and with each other without a care that anyone is listening.
‘Love’ in all its mysterious guises features in many, if not all the songs here; sometimes it’s ‘what it says on the tin’ via the title; the raw Delta Blues of Sick in Love and If You Don’t Love are obvious choices, but never cliched, with Chris ringing every ounce of emotion out of both.
But, such is the articulate and smart way the couple create a song, the heartfelt Rightfully, Honestly will feel like a stiletto to your heart when you hear it for the first time; yet on Reaching Chris sounds like he could explode as he hits notes that only dogs will hear; but the delicate title track Chasing Lights has the ability to make you stop breathing while you listen and take in the duos compelling story.
That song was very nearly the RMHQ Favourite song; but then I listened again to final track Baby Be Mine, which has Stephanie Jean taking lead and Chris supplying winsome harmonies; and…. well……. it falls just short of being a tearjerker; but I think it won’t be long before I’m reaching for it one cold evening just as I uncork a bottle of wine.
As well as Chris and Stephanie Jean Turpin; a huge round of applause must go to the simple bass playing of Nick Pink and the extraordinary guitar interludes from one Dweezil Zappa but most of all the understated production by Ethan Johns, who also supplies drums, keys and even ukulele too!
If you don’t already know Ida Mae; as I didn’t, but they cover a heady mix of sounds that will remind you at different times of the White Stripes, The Civil Wars and even John Martyn and Nick Drake; so strap yourself in for a bunch of songs that will not just challenge your emotions, but make you sing, dance and every old thing, too!

Released 12th July 2019
https://idamaemusic.com/



Allman Betts Band DOWN BY THE RIVER

Allman Betts Band
Down by the River
BMG

The Future of Southern Rock is Safe in These Hands!

Any band carrying the monikers Allman AND Betts has a lot to live up to, and it also has to be an exciting prospect for a reviewer who was a huge fan of Southern Rock, and in particular The Allman Brothers Band in his teenage years.
This incarnation of the franchise consists of Gregg’s son Devon, Dickey’s son Duane plus Berry Duane Oakley; offspring of Allman’s bassist Berry Oakley Sr. alongside a bunch of stalwart and road ready pro’s.
I may lose some readers here when I state that this band don’t even try to sound anything like their forefathers; and while this is Southern Rock Deluxe ……. The Allman Betts Band have their own distinctive ‘sound’……… which sounds hardly anything like the Allman Brothers…… or anyone else, thankfully.
I smiled when I first heard opening track All Night begin with its mighty clarion call ….. “1, 2, 3…..4!” followed by some seriously crunchy guitar from two leads and a rhythm player who all know exactly what they are doing and whoever that *singer is has a deep, dark voice that could frighten a horse!
(*my download doesn’t detail who sings what here ….. and the actual CD won’t arrive until Thursday).
While I’m sure all three guitarists will get to noodle to their hearts content when they play these songs in concert; mercifully the solos here are measured in seconds not minutes; and when they arrive in the tightly wrapped Try or the monumental Long Gone and even the magnificent Autumn Breeze you know that the genetics have been passed down safely by the Gods of Rock.
I’ve loved the laid back way the band casually drop in quality songs like Good Ole Days and Down By The River with a nonchalant ease; when we all know that creating songs like this barely come along once in a generation; if at all.
There’s also the obligatory ode to the South, which we’ve come to expect from any band hailing from South of the Mason-Dixon Line; and while The Allman Betts Band aren’t exactly waving Old Glory, the ballad Southern Accents (which features Mr Chuck Leavell on piano) and its sentiments just might divide opinion across the States; like Skynard and to some degree Tom Petty did back in the day; but hey ……. it’s only Rock & Roll kids; don’t sweat it!
Finding a Favourite Track hasn’t been as easy as it could have been; as Long Gone has all the hallmarks of being a Classic as the years go by; but I’m closing my eyes and crossing my fingers and selecting the boogielicious stomper Melodies Are Memories, which is absolutely everything I’ve loved about Southern Rock for nigh on 50 years encapsulated in four wonderful minutes …….. especially Oakley’s tremoring bass-line that will drown out the broken suspension on your truck!
Although I have reservations about the band name, which will raise expectations far too high in the wrong direction; The Allman Betts Band have rekindled a fire that has lain dormant for far too long; and I firmly believe they will take the Festival Circuit by storm this Summer and the future of Rock is safe in their combined hands.

Released UK & Europe July 12th 2019
Released USA 28th June 2019
https://www.allmanbettsband.com/



Curse of Lono 4AM and COUNTING

Curse of Lono
4am & Counting
Submarine Records

An Alt. Country Game-changer From London’s Finest.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I opened the package to find this album by the Curse of Lonos…….. then my heart immediatly sank when I realised that it was a ‘re-hash’ of the last album.
Now, a month later I’ve moved back to being very close to that original state of euphoria as the band seem to have found some weird new alchemy in this almost acoustic and stripped to the bone re-recordings; done ‘Live’ in the famed Toe-Rag Studios.
Track #1, Tell Me About Your Love is just as enigmatic as ever; but perhaps the judicious use of legendary pedal-steel player Sir BJ Cole gives it a really authentic Country ‘feel’ which I somehow missed on previous incarnations.
BJ turns up again on I’d Start a War For You, which follows and that ‘tone’ coupled to the songs trademark harmonies and imaginative playing gives it a sense of the feeling you get when there’s a big black cloud in the sky and you fear an impending storm…….. but it never actually materialises.
I’m going to have to take a deep breath now ………. even though I’ve been a huge fan, supporter and very vocal promoter of Curse of Lono since that very first EP Felix sent me……. but……. listening to Going Out West, Way to Mars and even the magnificent Pick Up The Pieces on heavy rotation for a week or more; I feel they are …….. gulp…….. even better than the originals!
There; I said it.
One thing’s for sure on 4am Curse of Lono certainly shrug off those lazy Doors and Velvets comparisons, as without all the post-production jiggery pokery; there is a distinct ‘Alt. Country’ swagger to the sleazy Blackout Fever and The Affair now becomes becomes something Wilco or Son Volt would have been praised to the sky for had they recorded it in this manner.
Even the epitome of British Gothicana, London Rain is freed from its claustrophobic shadows and oozes Americana charm as it now simply sizzles with sexual tension in a way I’d never thought possible.
It has to be one Hell of a song to beat London Rain or I’d Start a War For You to the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song here; but Don’t Look Down, which closes the album evokes the lost spirit of George Jones in both words and deeds, with Felix never sounding finer and the harmonies almost spiritual as Charis’s bass and Neil’s delicate drumming create a golden thread for Dani to create a ghostly shadow on the keys and Joe to deliver an understated masterclass in the shadows with his guitar; but the addition of BJ Cole (again) and Dani gives this song a special gravitas that will make it live on forever and will surely give Curse of Lono a foothold in the American market?

Released July 12th 2019
https://curseoflonoband.com/

PS On the CD inside cover there’s a long, long list of people the band want to ‘thank’ …….. while the whole Bob Harris family inc. some cousins and their paperboy appear to be included; NO Rocking Magpie!

Buford Pope THE WAITING GAME

Buford Pope
The Waiting Game
Unchained Records

Grown Up Monochromatic Americana Imagery in Words and Music.

We all have ‘favourite artists’ that no one else has ever heard of; and Buford Pope (from Gotland, Sweden) falls into that camp for me; with this album being his fifth that I’ve reviewed and each one has been a veritable cornucopia of musical gems.
His love of all things American and Americana comes across in not just the opening song the gloomily atmospheric America; but the dark imagery in track #2 Hey Hey Aha too, and also as a golden thread that holds this whole album together.
Pope’s songwriting style should make you think that he was born and bred in some small claustrophobic town in Middle America; not a rain swept island in the North Sea; but hey …….. at the end of the day it’s all about the songs; isn’t it?
It’s a personal thing, but I love the intensity in Buford Pope’s songs; with Five Minutes To Midnight and Can I Be There For You capturing in words the thoughts many of us; or perhaps just me have …… but can never articulate at the ‘right time’ and with Hard Life he gets to speak for the ‘everyman’ in all of us these days.
One of the other things I especially like is Pope’s pearlescent singing voice; which neither sounds Swedish nor American; just his very own.
Without delving back to those first two albums I reviewed in 2011 and 14; it’s difficult to tell how much his songwriting has evolved; but his use of instrumentation to take us on a musical journey certainly has; as Stoned and the majestic Tell Me What I Am will testify. This is multi-layered grown up music; for astute grown ups; in a way you would associate with Randy Newman or Leonard Cohen, that’s for sure.
Yet again this is an album with no obvious ‘commercially radio-friendly- tracks on it; but I’ve found myself pressing ‘repeat’ on In My Hometown and First Blood a few times in the last few days; and even more so with Wanna Say I’m Sorry Before I Die; which has really touched my heart and soul in a very profound way; hence it being the RMHQ Favourite Song here.
I hope Buford Pope makes a handsome living from his music; but more than that I just wish he could get the adulation that his words and music deserve.

Released July 12th 2019
http://bufordpope.com/