In 1979 I genuinely wore out my first copy of Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp LP and his Jumping Jive album got dusted off earlier this Summer; so I can see I am or at least used to be; a Joe Jackson fan.
When his ‘pop fans’ disappeared in the early 80’s I contrarily loved Night & Day and later Body & Soul; probably because I was going through my own ‘Jazz is Cool’ phase; and it’s a return to those halcyon days we find Joe Jackson thirty years later.
Originally meant to be 4 x 4 track EP’s the songs were all recorded in batches of four in cities as diverse as New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans; with each bringing a little of its own soul to the proceeding.
The New York section opens with the sensual title track Fast Forward featuring Jackson’s trademark laconic singing style as he tinkles an exquisite piano ala Nat ‘King’ Cole.
While I see this album fitting into my ‘Dinner Jazz’ section of my collection; it is never Easy Listening, and in the case of If It Wasn’t For You; it’s actually Uneasy Listening, but as a man who has been married for 38 years, sometimes words and tone can be mistaken for something they weren’t meant to be. I love the song; by the way.
For See No Evil, which is TV theme song the pace pick up into Jazz-Rock Lite, with Bill Frisell subtly stealing the show in the background on guitar, while the story neatly unfolds.
The NY section closes with the Scorsese meets Bob Hoskins Kings of the City. Jackson’s quintessentially flat English enunciation merges perfectly with the smoky Big City backdrop for the man who thought he would be 19 Forever but now knows; you have to grow up eventually.
We then move to Amsterdam for four more cosmopolitan songs; beginning with the windswept and interesting A Little Smile; which has some luscious swooping strings and marvelous piano playing throughout.
On Far Away we hear the breathtaking voice of 14 year old Mitchell Sink who will melt hearts throughout music land; with a voice straight from Heaven above; and on Poor Thing, which closes the section Joe also uses his voice to great effect on a really sad tale of hope and regret.
The Berlin section is arguably the most ‘interesting’ section. Don’t think for a second that this is going to be either Bowie or Kraftwerk influenced; but the overall sound of the four tracks is ‘heavier’ and ‘crisper’ than the other three sections, with Junkie Diva having a slight ‘disco/dance’ middle section and on Goodbye Jonny, you will be forgiven for thinking you are listening to a Randy Newman song from a London based musical. The song really is quite theatrical in the deliver; but none the less a lovely way to spend four minutes.
The album closes with the New Orleans section; and again Jackson doesn’t go for the obvious, choosing to use that cities Gothic and Bluesy traditions on Neon Rain and Keep on Dreaming is a jaunty little number masking a dark tale.
Fast Forward closes in New Orleans with Ode to Joy; a Cajun beat, English vocals, Mardi Gras percussion and a universal song of a broken heart – what’s not to like?
Joe Jackson has never sat well in the mainstream; and yet again he has delivered his own take on Adult Orientated Jazz/Rock and he has done it with style and a swagger.
Joe Jackson leads; others follow.
Frankie and the No-Go Road
All That is Good in Americana and American Folk.
Two years ago I was left dumbfounded by Rita Hosking’s previous and fifth album Little Boat and here she has managed to surpass those heady heights.
Loosely a series of song-stories that detail Frankie’s ‘journey’ (through life?) the album begins with the delightfully sharp A Better Day; where Rita’s voice has never sounded finer and a series of harmonica solos that will send shivers down your spine.
Some years ago I suffered from the little known ‘banjo fatigue’ but the instrument has subsequently gone out of fashion in Country music; but when Rita plucks the life out of hers on the emotional Power Moving In; you are hearing a Master-craftswoman at work and the passion in her voice comes through in every note.
The banjo is a lot more intricate on Mama Said; but the story is just as crisp and thoughtful; and Rita’s voice is warmer and fuller that I’d remembered; as it is on the evocative Resurrection; which brought back memories of the early Nanci Griffith albums.
Every time I’ve played this wonderful album one track sticks out like a poppy in a field of wheat; Our Land which opens with a Neil Young, Harvestesque harmonica and follows with a heart crushing song that is worthy of that genre defining album. Listen for yourself; it’s a pearl.
Not on the album; but you can get the new single Where the Grassroots Grow from the website http://www.ritahosking.com/new-single and wallow in her intricate observational details and gorgeous tune.
It’s a brave man who compares any singer-songwriter to Nanci Griffith in her heyday; but I can place my hand on my heart and say Rita Hosking is certainly a contemporary; and with Nanci’s health problems she certainly fills that void with aplomb.
I’ve been a fan of Johnny Winter for 40 odd years now and apart from his worldwide hit single knew next to nothing about younger brother, Edgar Winter. Apart from also being born albino and being famous for playing an electric keyboard like a guitar he had pretty much passed me by until last week.
The title track Rebel Road kick starts the album like an off-road Yamaha with a 6L engine!
The trademark Winter rasp is all over this funky rocking and rolling track like a rash; and the itch doesn’t go away, as ace guitar-slinger Slash sounds like his guitar is on fire.
To some degree Texas Tornado is autobiographical but could easily be a Jimmie Vaughan song; especially when the saxophone kicks in. Do you think that’s a coincidence?
Later Horns of a Dilemma, throws an almighty curve ball as Edgar produce a hell raising Country Rocker featuring Clint Black on co-vocals and red-hot harmonica about working ‘for the Man’ and it’s a belter that Hank Jr. would be proud of .
Clint joins in again on another high voltage ‘rocker’ – The Power of Positive Drinking; which has a chorus straight out of Rock n Roll High School and will have fans pumping the air with gusto.
Apart from the tip-top quality of every single track here; the biggest surprise is the diversity of styles Edgar employs; from the all out Rockers through the slower moodier tracks like Freedom and the homage to the Beatles; especially Ringo; whose All-Star Band Edgar has been part of. Peace and Love is an absolute delight; full of harmonies, melodies and choruses – something I never expected to hear from a Winter sibling.
Speaking of Winter siblings I have to mention the track that every reviewer will lead on; and in fairness Rockin’ The Blues is a truly excellent track, a white-hot Blues-Rocker that stands out like fiery beacon. Even without the casual listener knowing that it is elder brother Johnny Winter playing that blistering lead guitar; you know it’s a Master craftsman on the fretboard.
Edgar Winter has a voice just made for Rock and Roll and his keyboard playing is as cool/hot as was his brother’s guitar playing; plus the core supporting cast of drummers Jason Carpenter and Jimmy Paxon, bass player Koko Powell and guitarist Doug Rappoport show the Superstar guests that they too can play their respective instruments as well as anyone.
All in all an album well worth investigating for Blues and Rock fans of all ages and persuasions.
The Best and the Rest of Soul and Funk from the UK’s Master DJ
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to my brother about music in general and the albums that I’d recently reviewed when I flippantly said “I can’t remember the last time I listened to music for fun.”
We laughed at the time; but it preyed on my mind for the next few days. I absolutely love music; and I hope that comes across on the website; but not to listen to music is sacrilege surely?
By sheer coincidence this album appeared on the TV adverts and I decide to fork out my own hard earned cash to purchase it; and it acted as a bit of a ‘pallet cleanser’ as I played it non-stop on a return journey to London (5 hours plus, each way) and a couple of times this week as I caught up on some paperwork and reports as part of my day job.
For those outside the UK Craig Charles started life as poet in the halcyon days of Punk; eventually evolving into one of the nation’s favourite actors (well; in our house anyway) all the while spinning discs for the pleasure of Soul and Funk fans across the country on his national radio show.
At face value; there shouldn’t be any surprises here as Craig has been a musical taste-maker for many years; but there are gorgeous surprises lurking all over these three discs.
Disc 1 is pretty much a Classic Soul album with timeless hits from the Otis Redding, Temptations, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Jacksons and Freda Payne rubbing shoulders with leftfield tracks by Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone and the golden larynx of Al Green.
But we also get a smattering of Northern Soul from Edwin Starr with 25 Miles; and who among us will ever tire of listening to Al Wilson singing The Snake?
The rarities from Bobby Byrd, Maceo and Bill Withers are well worth listening too.
Craig gets his ‘Funk On’ with Disc 2; and this was where my ears pricked up; as this genre is still a learning curve for me.
Starting with a couple of crossover hits from Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave, I was soon in uncharted territory with Give Me a Little More Time from Chairman of the Board and Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You? Then the MFSB tune TSOP rekindled memories of Youth Centre discos and my mind was completely blown when I heard P-Funk by Parliament for the first time – Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!
I was thrilled to hear both Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings included as I love them both; but disappointed that there was no place for someone like the Commodores; although Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson performing Ain’t That a Bitch? Isn’t a million miles away from Brick House.
Surprises land left right and centre on this disc with British R&B stalwart Georgie Fame reinventing Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag and seriously making it his own; and it’s a similar story with Sandie Shaw’s oblique version of the Stones Sympathy For the Devil. Why the Hell have I never heard that track before? It’s bloody amazing!
Those of us who listen to Craig’s radio shows wouldn’t expect anything less than a couple of tracks from Gil Scott Heron and Terry Callier to be included; and they are, but not the obvious by any stretch of the imagination – the Gil track is Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) done in his own distinctive manner; and Terry Callier very nearly steals the show with Ordinary Joe.
Disc 3 is worth the entry fee alone; as Craig Charles introduces us to 20 brand new acts that you ain’t gonna hear anywhere else; and the world is a better place for hearing them.
Opening with the only hit here Aloe Black – I Need a Dollar, my groove was most definitely ‘on’ as we sublimely glide through things of rare beauty from Omar, Shaun Escoffrey, The Excitements (from Spain and I saw in a Newcastle club two years ago), Betty Davis and The Apples.
Elsewhere the Funk gets a Jazz injection on cool tracks by Cookin’ on 3 Burners, Mario Biondi and the High Five Quintet and the exquisite Nick Pride and the Pimptones; all of which will make you do a soft shoe shuffle as you cling on to the one you love.
The track selection, order and mix is so intricate and clever you might even think thought had gone into the balance; as nothing here jars at all as one track seamlessly slides into another; whether you’d heard of the act or not.
It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t highlight the one song that doesn’t quite work and sticks out like a sore thumb; and when I tell you what it is you will think I’ve lost my mind.
This version of RESPECT by the Sainted Aretha is actually a live track; and is presumably included because Craig loves the song but the fees for the original were too expensive. Sadly this version doesn’t do anyone any favours.
Three discs of this quality for plus or minus £10 is value beyond belief in my humble opinion.
May The Hunter Retreat
Roseberry Records RBR005
This is Folk Music Jim; But Not as We Know It.
I first encountered Skylark Song quite by accident a couple of years ago when I turned up early to see a Blues band performing on Record Shop Day. As the previous Punk Rockers noisily packed their gear away a very shy and young looking coupled nervously replaced them to entertain a crowd of Hipsters, children, inquisitive shoppers and assorted musos. Over the next thirty minutes you could have heard a pin drop as Emma and Alex McRae armed only with a guitar, violin and two amazing voices left us utterly enthralled.
Subsequently their debut album RELENT https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/cd-reviews-2014/skylark-song-relent/ was in exactly the same vein as that 30 minute concert.
Jump forward to 2015 and Skylark Song are releasing their second album of self-penned songs.
Knowing how much I’d enjoyed their first album it was with a deep breath that I pressed ‘on’ and heard the first whispers of Peaceful Alone. In fairness it has taken me several repeated listening to get over the sharpness in their voices and the traditional melody; but that investment has been well worth it as the song as evolved like a beautiful flower in Springtime.
Several other songs were much more ‘instant’ as they somehow manage to blend the styles of traditional Folkies Nick Drake, John Martyn and Jacqui McShane with the Americana Lo-Fi of Cowboy Junkies and Fleet Foxes; to create their very own distinctive sound.
Emma predominantly takes lead on the vocals with Mint and Green plus If I Close My Eyes both being simply outstanding; but Alex steps forward a couple of times and proves quite as deft a singer as he is guitarist on Hunter.
But; and I don’t say this lightly, their duets are as good if not better than any others I’ve heard in the English Folk world. Take a listen to Only a Thought and tell me I’m wrong; I dare you.
May the Hunter Retreat is Folk Music at it’s simplest – voices, guitar and violin with a tiny bit of mandolin, Cello, Double Bass and percussion added when; and only when deemed necessary.
Alongside the Magnificent McRae’s praise must also go out to producer Adam Sinclair who has done a job worthy of the biggest studios in London Town and Danielle Callaghan who was responsible for the beautiful artwork.
Apparently hailing from the windswept hills of Newcastle upon Tyne Skylark Song have created something of a Folk meets Lo-Fi Masterpiece.
The Greatest Show on Earth
Set the Controls for the Heart of California via Cumbria.
When I had my radio show in the olden days https://www.mixcloud.com/JumpingHotClubRadio/ one of the Kontiki Suite band members got in touch and nervously asked if I would consider playing a song they had recorded. I obliged; and the track (Magic Carpet Ride) was a big hit for us and got played three weeks in a row. The ensuing LP was a firm favourite with the listeners too and ensured them a place later that Summer on the Jumping Hot Club SummerTyne Festival stage; where they wowed a very knowledgable crowd.
Presumably living in a castle bought on the proceeds and profits of that first record; it has taken nearly three years for the band to reappear; and (spoiler alert) the wait has been more than worth it.
The album opens with the bands trademark ‘jangly’ twin-guitars and Ben Singh’s laid-back smoky vocals on the rather excellent Bring Our Empire Down.
Track two, My Own Little World is actually a bit of a step into a slightly more psychedilc area; but only in as much as their heroes The Byrds did in the Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde era; still keeping the glorious twin Rickenbacker sound but adding some delicious harmonica playing and intricate drumming to a bit of weirdness in the background. A great song with an even better title btw.
When I played this album in the car (my favourite listening spot) I was immediately transported to the Gulf Coast Highway in a soft-top Red Corvette when listening to the likes of Here For You Now and All I Can Say, rather than the back-roads of Urban Northumberland in the drizzle, driving my 7 year old Renault Laguna Estate; proving what a magical album this is.
Using the Byrds twin lead guitar as a template is no bad thing; but as I alluded to earlier, on this, their second album Kontiki Suite have seriously moved on; with a couple of tracks having a slight Allman Brothers feel (Keep Up With My Old Self springs to mind ) and on the bridge of Burned I swear I heard echoes of early Pink Floyd.
Favourite track time? That really is difficult as this is an album of Old School delights and qualities that should be listened to as a complete album in one relaxed sitting; but if you twisted my arm I would have to go for album closer; the sparkling Years Roll On; which has a wonderful story of a boy staying in his small town playing Rock and Roll; and being jealous of an ex-girlfriend who has left for the bright lights of a big city (surely not Carlisle?).
There are enough differences here from their debut album to prove their hiatus was well worth it; but thankfully Kontiki Suite have retained their sweet North-West Coast ‘sound’ and with a good tail wind; The Greatest Show on Earth should bring them to the attention of National Radio and TV very soon.
Some months I receive so much new music some albums can get lost in pile; and that’s what nearly happened here. INKY OVINE arrived as a download instead of my preferred CD format; but it still went onto the I-player; but without being heard. As regular readers will know a lot has happened in my life over the last four weeks; so I picked my music very carefully to suit my mood(s) so it’s with some embarrassment that it was only this morning that the title track Inky Ovine itself snuck out of the car stereo when I put the music on ‘random.’
Wow! Who the Hell is this? I pondered as I pulled the car over. I didn’t even recognise the name; but swiftly found the album and had my mind blown over the next half hour.
Opening track Harpy starts with a really ‘heavy guitar groove’ reminiscent of someone like Humble Pie or Free in their heyday; with Patrick’s rough around the edges voice; perfect for this strutting little Blues-Rocker.
Next track Party Line (Classified), opens with some sweet acoustic guitar before Patrick goes all Stanley Road era Paul Weller; but with a little more ‘oomph’ – so far; so bloody good.
The title track Inky Ovine (no I don’t know what it means either) opens with a sub-reggae beat before Jas Patrick totally raises his game on a luscious slice of Psychedelic- Britpop (?) that must surely be influenced by Stevie Winwood and Traffic and I absolutely love it; especially the UB40 groove in the middle.
I’m pleased to say the laid-back Little Bug; which follows, stays in exactly the same vein, only with some 12 string guitar and sweeping strings in the middle section are spell-binding; as is the song itself.
Didn’t Ask starts with some bizarre sound effects but once you get past that the track really showcases Patrick’s distinctive voice; which is very, very similar to Stevie Winwood circa 1980; although some of the guitar and keyboard playing could be lifted straight from the Blind Faith album; but I’m sure that’s just an influence 😉
The EP closes with the glorious Snow Day; which while similar in feel and approach to the other tracks somehow manages to be a couple of rungs better; perhaps it’s the lyrics or perhaps the funky bass line, but whatever it’s a peach.
What a find! So you ask, which part of God’s Country does young Mr Patrick come from….well it’s actually the Nashville part. Yes; my head spun when I got around to reading the bio; but that just aids this music in my book; because it must be all too easy to go along with the Americana/Alt. Country crowd instead of following your heart. In this case Jas Patrick has just done that and created the best British album (EP actually) that I’ve heard this year; and it took a Tennessean to do it!
Now bring on an actual album.
Hallelujah – No Nonsense Good Ole Fashioned American Punk-Rock & Roll
What witchcraft do the good people at Bloodshot Records employ to keep unearthing amazing bands and singers that never sound like anyone else; but all sound like Bloodshot artistes?
Out of the left field of the backside of nowhere the distinguished Chicago Record Label brings the world a trio from Denver Colorado called The Yawpers.
The album opens with the single Doing it Right and from the get go my pulse was racing and my fist preparing to punch the air. Taking ‘three chords and the truth’ to the Max, the Yawpers integrate the street Punk menace of the Ramones and MC5 with the sharp lyrics of someone like Jonboy Langford or even (early) Elvis Costello – I’m in for the long run!
Walter and the hyper Kiss It are in a similar sharp focussed vein – crashing guitar, power-drumming and Entwistle style pounding bass to create a glorious noise that will scare the horses.
Not everything is loud and proud; Tied is a really intense and dark piece of Alt. Country worthy of Nick Cave if he’d come from Nashville and later someone uses a Resonator guitar like a Gibson Les Paul on the raucous Deacon Brody and the same instrument cuts through the slow, mean and moody Faith and Good Judgement like a butchers knife.
The ‘nicest’ song here is Boulders which full of whip sharp acoustic guitars and rat-a-tat drumming alongside red hot lyrics about a kid leaving school and dreaming about leaving his small town for the bright lights/big city.
The Yawpers even throw Bluegrass into their heady Punk-Rock & Roll mix with Beale Street; it’s still got fire in it’s belly but it’s definitely Bluegrass – things like this can confuse a stupid person.
Now if I have one complaint about this album; it’s the song 9 to 5. The song itself is fine and dandy; erring on the side of Roadhouse Blues with a side order of Cayenne Rock; but surely I won’t be the only person expecting to hear the Dolly Parton classic!
Now for my favourite two tracks here; and two tracks that turn a great album into an exceptional one.
3 A.M is a sonic tour de force from start to finish detailing Teenage Angst in all its depressing glory. Imagine if you will Kurt Cobain doing a Country album and if he had, it would be chock full of songs like this; and who among us hasn’t experienced “Well maybe I’ll turn to Jesus/Maybe I’ll cash it all in/I can feel the darkness coming in/Sitting here at 3A.M.” Powerful words my friends, very powerful indeed.
But the song that shades it for my affections is the title track American Man which takes Springsteen’s Born in the USA and runs with the ball deep into the underbelly of American culture. The narrator undoubtedly loves his country but as sure as Hell hates what has been done to it at home and abroad by his elders and betters – in the name of Old Glory! It won’t matter if the Yawpers never make it out of the clubs and into stadium; this is a perfect anti-National Anthem and will soon become a concert closer that will have fans hugging each other, punching the air and screaming along with singer Nate Cook.
What more can I say? The Yawpers are, yet again, another rough diamond in the Bloodshot necklace and destined to be in the front row very, very soon.
Another Canadian Showing Us How to Write and Sing Great Americana Songs.
Why have I never heard of Gordie Tentrees before? He’s won Juno Awards, this is his SIXTH album and (my favourite fact) he is a 3 x Golden Gloves winning ex-boxer!
Let’s forget the past and stick with the present; this exceptional acoustic album of eleven self-penned songs.
One of the games my mates and I play (it’s in Hi-Fidelity too) is ‘Best Opening Tracks’ – well I’ve got a trump card with Tentrees’ (alongside Oliver Greer) Love In Ink! A very personal tale of a father working his fingers to the bone working a farm to make ends meet and have something to leave to his sons. The detail Tentrees includes is exceptional; and the rolling guitar and pedal-steel will sting your eyes as the story builds to a well constructed climax (#spoiler – it’s not a happy ending). Not afraid to use a melody to diffuse some of the darker tones here Tentrees really excels on Deadbeat Dad and the excellent Broken Hero; plus his way with words on Less is More will certainly make you think of Townes Van Zandt and Mary Gauthier whom he name checks.
Finding a favourite song is difficult as each I’ve mentioned previously have their merits as does the Hill-Country Keno City, the sad Alt. Country of Wrong Town; but if I can’t pick Love is Ink I’m plumping for the sweet Lost Guitar which has ‘earworm’ qualities and had me whispering the chorus
hours after turning the player off.
This is Blue Collar Americana-Folk music at it’s very finest; owing more to Slaid Cleaves and Otis Gibbs than Bruce Springsteen with Gordie Tentrees proving he has talent in abundance, singing, songwriting,guitar picking and; according to my wife, he is ‘very easy on the eye’ too!
English Rose Shows The Nashville Gals How It’s Done!
Sometimes I receive albums too early; which was nearly the case here as Mockingbird Lane arrived in mid August amid a glut of other albums. Knowing it wasn’t released until late October it kept getting put to the bottom of the pile and because the cover art made me presume it was a Folk record I was in no hurry to listen to it.
The opening guitar break on Long Way Home instantly caught my attention and then when Danni’s sultry voice slid in I was entranced. Like everything else here it’s a result of some excellent songwriting partnerships between Nichols and some American heavyweights and shows what a dynamic storyteller the young lady from Bedfordshire is.
Thankfully that high standard remains for pretty much the whole album, with the gentle Look Up at the Moon and Beautifully Broken hinting at a rising star in the making.
The album was recorded in Nashville, and Danni shows her love of Americana on the atmospheric Back to Memphis and the nod to Bluegrass Leaving Tennessee both of which could easily fit into albums by stars that win CMA Awards.
This is Danni Nichols second album and she’s managed to accrue some pretty impressive friends along the way with Will Kimbrough adding his trademark guitar licks to Where The Blue Train Goes and Brandy Zdan adding background vocals on three tracks.
As you’d expect a lot of thought has gone into the syncing of the tracks and the last two will have you begging for more.
The penultimate track Sad Swan will melt your heart from start to finish and album closer Travellin’ Man just may be a case of keeping the best until last! The most ‘Country’ song here is real toe-tapper with a chorus of “I am trading in my dreams for Dollar bills” and at last Danni finally shows us what her lovely voice is capable of.
Don’t make the mistake I made by judging this album on the artwork alone; hunt it down, as I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it like I did.