The Bottle Rockets
South Broadway Athletic Club
The Finest Purveyors of Sonic-Country are Back With a Vengeance!
When I first saw the Bottle Rockets at the Jumping Hot Club we still thought of this music as Country-Rock; but we all knew it was something a lot edgier and creative than anything coming out of California; didn’t we?
Here we are with the bands 12th album and it is still every bit as edgy and creative as anything I remember that steamy night on Newcastle Quayside.
My ears pricked up as the intro to first track Monday (Every time I Turn Around) was the distinctive sound of a Rickenbacker geetar; something I don’t associate with the Bottle Rockets. Apparently it is Brian Henneman’s new toy and it sure sounds like he cherishes it. The song itself is about the weekend flying by faster the older we get and I’m pleased to say Henneman’s voice sounds as cool and ragged as ever.
The classic Bottle Rockets ‘sound’ is here in all its glory on several songs – Something Good and the excellent Building Chryslers; which is full of dirty guitar licks that mask a blue collar protest song.
Henneman’s Rickenbacker makes a couple more appearances which take the band into un-charted but interesting Country territory; with Shape of a Wheel and Big Lotsa Love being the best examples and the latter song surely destined for any future ‘Best Of’ collection.
A bit leftfield for the Bottle Rockets but I love the accordion and acoustic based stomper Smile. I don’t know why; but it really does make you Smile. What more can you ask for?
Had to go back to Dog several times to detect what it was ‘really about’ but no; it simply as a song where he sings about his love for his dog – very Lovin’ Spoonful in my humble opinion.
Best of the bunch? It’s really difficult but the English Powerpop influenced XOYOU is a toe-tapping beauty that I’ve put onto a mixtape-CD for my wife.
So there you have it; the Bottle Rockets are back and the world is a better place for it!
Released October 2nd 2015
Candid Young Songwriter Pours Out His Freewheelin’ Desires
A couple of months ago the nice young lady excitedly contacted me about a new singer-songwriter that the label had signed; and she thought I might like him. She subsequently sent a Top Secret download and followed that up with some ‘rushes’ from his first video.
By nature I’m a cynical and grumpy old man; and make my own judgements on such matters; but it appears Julia knows my tastes all too well and I was immediately bowled over.
Those three months have been a bit of a nightmare ‘keeping a secret’ but Frankie Lee’s debut album American Dream finally comes out on October 2nd and I can share my thoughts with you and the world.
The album opens with High and Dry; and if I’d not heard those first two songs I would have thought I was hearing a lost track of Gram Parsons singing the best song Bob Dylan ‘never wrote.’ Yes I know that’s a brave statement; but Lee’s voice is as soft and warm as Gram albeit with a slight nasal drawl; and his use of words are as poetic as early Dylan – trust me.
Next up is the song that originally took my breath away – Where Do We Belong? To the uninitiated it’s a mid-paced slice of Americana featuring a chug-along beat and a pedal steel; but it is oh so much more. Lee sounds ‘world weary’ and takes us on a road trip through his thoughts, with his ‘best gal at his side’, conjuring up some of the most amazing Americana images you’ve ever heard on record.
The band and production are absolutely first class; and even my use of hyperbole hardly do them justice; but between them they make Frankie Lee sound like a 30 year veteran of the Alt. Country scene; which is quite a feat.
East Side Blues; which appears quite early has a beautiful haunting melody and the song is an absolute humdinger; worthy of Townes, Guy or Uncle Bob himself.
Buffalo was the the B-Side of his single and made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end when I first heard it; and here it’s a pivot in the middle of the album and guides us majestically into the second half of a great debut album.
While I am pigeon-holing this as Alt. Country; but Frankie isn’t afraid to go back into his record collection to create pure Country heart string pulling love songs like Honest Man and Horses.
Perhaps its where I am in my head at the moment; but the song I’ve gone back to most this week has been Black Dog; an introspective slice of Gothic Country (?) possibly to be taken literally; but possibly an excerpt from his dark imagination. Whichever; I love it.
The album closes with the title track American Dreamer; which perfectly sums up everything that has gone before in three piano encrusted minutes.
Lee’s own love of music is apparent throughout; but his distinctive voice and image laden songwriting make him a force not only to be listened to; but to reckoned with by his peers.
Released UK 2nd October 2015
Daytime Turned to Nighttime
Nine Mile Records
Cool and Sultry Southern Country-Soul
I really liked Sweany’s last album Close to the Floor https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/cd-reviews-2014/patrick-sweany-close-to-the-floor-2013/ but hadn’t played it in a long time; so receiving this on a particularly warm late Summer day rekindled some happy memories.
The laid back mood is evident from the opening bottle neck guitar on First of the Week; and when Patrick’s lazy drawl slides seamlessly into place; you know it’s time to kick back and open a cold beer; because you ain’t going anywhere for the next hour at least.
Yet again Sweany has surrounded himself with some cool, but cutting edge musicians that understand this type of music better than anyone.
Songs like Sweethearts Forever and Afraid of You will touch the hearts of lovers everywhere; especially ones who have been together a long time and need that touch of reassurance that rarely comes.
Personally I love the way that Sweany drifts from Soft Southern Rock through, Swamp music and into Gothic Soul, without blinking an eye. Of the latter the gorgeous Back Home and Too Many Hours are loosely in the Boogie style of Dr. John; but very much 100% Patrick Sweany.
Tiger Pride is an absolute footstompin’ joy; as Sweany discusses the type of music he grew up loving on the knee of his Mother who came from ‘Liverpool, England/She saw the Beatles below the street/she never thought much of them/The Swinging Blue Jeans were more her scene’ – now there’s an interesting and clever song with lyrics you never expected to hear in this lifetime!
My favourite track by a Country Mile though, is Here To Stay (Rock and Roll) which evokes memories of Dr. John, Tony Joe White and even John Foggerty but again, it couldn’t be anyone other than Patrick Sweany’s slow world weary drawl and delightful finger picked guitar leading a band straight outta Boone County.
What’s not to like? Patrick Sweany has a timeless voice in the manner of all the great Americana singers dating back to the Band and in my humble opinion, he can comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with all the household names that the genre has thrown up over the years.
Last thought – if and when they make another Michael Connelly ‘Harry Bosch’ movie set in the Louisiana swamps, I can’t think of anyone better to do the soundtrack.
Released October 23rd 2015
The Loneliest Man I Never Met
Avenue A/Thirty Tigers
Classic Album from an All-American Classic
I have to hold my hands up and say I’ve never been a fan of The Kinkster; finding his humour a bit too raw for my tastes and his songs too avant-garde.
So when this arrived I was spectacularly underwhelmed and stuck it in the to-do pile; almost forgetting about it until (as fate dictates) a random track popped up on my I-player.
That song was an almost note for note rendition of Tom Waits A Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis. The tune is note for note; but Kinky’s vocal presentation is slow and clear; meaning I can finally make out the words and story to one of my favourite songs. To say I was impressed would be a huge understatement! I instantly fell in love and pulled the car over so I could play the album in all its glory.
The album opens with Friedman duetting with Willie Nelson on the latter’s Bloody Mary Morning; and they create a rare thing of fragile beauty with only words and simple guitar strumming.
Next is ‘Christmas Card’ and the mood is cast, with Kinky Friedman releasing his first album in 39 years (yes THIRTY NINE) and using all of the knowledge of life he’s gathered to gently breathe new life into a few of his favourite songs and include a few of his own from the back of the drawer.
This album is nothing at all like Cash’s American series, apart from a man being at the tail end of a life singing songs for a brand new audience.
The title track sat gathering dust for 20 years; now finds Kinky narrating a story of a man staring death in the face; with no friends around him but still manages to squeeze a certain romanticism out of a very dark situation. Not many people can do that and I’m glad I’ve heard a Master at work.
I’m not normally a fan of profanity in music; but as a man of a ‘certain age myself’ going through my own medical issues; I punched the air when I first realised what Warren Zevon’s My Shit’s Fucked Up! was about then stuck it on repeat and played it damn loud for a solid half hour that first day. Kinky says its a commentary on the world we find ourselves in; but if you are over 50 and visit the bathroom in the middle of the night; you will play it loud too.
Accompanying himself on guitar and a doleful violin in the background, Kinky revisits Wild Man of Borneo and he drags the words out making it raw to the bone; but increasingly more and more beauteous the more I hear it.
I’ve got a few versions of Merle singing Mama’s Hungry Eyes and each has its own merits; but Kinky’s slow drawl and haunting harmonica could easily be a death bed poem; and will send shivers up your spine the first time you hear it.
Fate played an odd hand here too. A week before I received the album I was talking to a friend about songs from our childhood and I selected one he’d never heard of; yet with hindsight it could be a song that formed the template for my left-field outlook on music; then by sheer fortune it turns up here. As a child whenever Lee Marvin appeared on the radio singing (?) Wandrin’ Star my Dad would harrumph and try to turn it off; but I persisted and received a copy for my 10th birthday. Just like ‘Christmas Card’ Kinky manages to find something new and fresh in his extraordinary delivery and who’s going to deny me the opportunity to listen to song and think of my long departed Dad?
There’s not a bad song here although some are better than others; but all mean something to the Governor of the Heart of Texas and will mean something different to each listener; but is best heard as a complete album; and I defy Roots/Americana fans over the age of 50 to listen and not have tears in their eyes at one time or another.
Released October 1st 2015
Those wacky kids at the Jumping Hot Club in Newcastle have been promoting Roots, Country, Blues, Reggae, Alt. Country, R&B, Americana and World music for 30 years in early October, so the legendary Jumping Hot Club Radio Show has come out of retirement and put together an hour of music to celebrate!!
Live at Radio City Music Hall (CD)
A Diamond of a Blues Concert.
Critics of the Blues guitarist; and I used to count myself as one; should beware…..Joe Bonamassa has finally grown into his own multi-skilful persona and is currently making leaps and bounds beyond what anyone else is doing within the Blues field at the moment.
Joe was never one of the crash, bang, wallop – volume is everything, type of guitarist; but he was guilty of going off on long meandering guitar solos, yet recently he has developed a fluid ‘less is more’ style of playing; much in the style of the Three Kings, Freddie, Albert and BB,whom he even dresses a bit like rather than the long haired, sweaty British adrenaline fuelled players of his youth.
Then there is his ‘voice’ of which I was quite critical a couple of years ago. Joe was never going to be the new Howlin’ Wolf or Robert Plant, but on his last three albums (plus this one) he is a lot more curbed; in much the way his string bending is now and his records are all the better for it (in my opinion). He now uses his voice as an instrument rather than a weapon.
Which all brings us to Live at the Radio City Music Hall; a venue Bonamassa has dreamed of gracing since his childhood days.
The concert begins with the audience screaming their welcome as he enters the stage then the band kick straight into I Can’t Be Satisfied last heard on the Muddy Wolf album. At first I smiled when Joe sang ‘I felt like slapping my pistol in your face’ as there’s no one less likely to do such a violent thing; then I realised that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for’; and suddenly there was a lot more menace in the song.
As usual on his live albums and in concert; there’s virtually no chat nor introductions between songs; but that just leaves more valuable time for the music; which is loosely based around the recent the Different Shades of Blue album.
Everything is expanded from the original album versions (of course) but every track is enhanced by the additional soloing (from band members too) rather than the loose jamming you hear on a lot of Live Albums.
Just like on the album of the same name Different Shades of Blue is exceptional with Joe Bonamassa’s cultured right hand complimenting the majestic string pulling and pressing of his left; then there’s his velvetty voice which has never sounded more emotional, nor better I hasten to add; and it is a similar story with Dust Bowl, earlier in the concert.
The star appears to take a step back several times; allowing the band member to shine in the spotlight and I especially love the Hammond playing whenever it slides into earshot – it made Muddy Wolf a fuller sound than usual; and does it again here.
As a Master guitarist Bonamassa plays the simple stuff intricately well and the intricate parts very simply; and on Love Ain’t a Love Song his playing and singing prove he can do get down and dirty with the best of them; and come out on top.
The album closes with So What Would I Do? Coming in at over 9 minutes long; it starts as a piano led ballad before slowly reaching a restrained; but still a powerhouse crescendo at the end.
All in all Live at Radio City Music Hall is an exceptional album; sounding as perfect as a live concert can and coupling a handful of his better songs together; without being anywhere near a Greatest Hits. It’s much more than a simple record of a concert and bares repeated listening.
It’s as if he’s done this before.
Released October 2nd 2015
DVD Review to Follow