Martin Stephenson and the Daintees
LIVE at Newcastle City Hall (Dec 2015)
This was the first Daintees Christmas Party that I’ve missed in years; but thanks to the kind people at Daintees Towers it is being released initially as a two part download on Bandcamp; and (fingers crossed) if there’s enough interest as a proper Double CD and possibly LP later this year.
I hope that you are not already a Martin Stephenson fan when you read this; because you really do have a treat in store if you’re new to his music.
MG Stephenson wouldn’t recognise me if I bumped into him in the ASDA; but we have mutual friends dating back to his school days and every musical incarnation over the last 40 or so years.
This album download is split into two; with the music making up one ‘album’ and the between song ‘patter’ (an important part of any Martin Stephenson ‘show’) is available separately and is…….FREE!
For logistical reasons I will only tell you about the songs; but will say that when listening to ‘The Patter’ I giggled so long and hard I nearly wee’d myself on the X10 bus.
Enough! You say; tell me about the music.
Martin Stephenson and the (Penny) Daintees released their first album, Boat to Bolivia THIRTY YEARS; at the height of Thatcherism and the songs from that sound just as fresh and relevant when heard today in this concert.
The evening kicks off with a rather punchy Neon Skies which allows all four band members to get rid of any dust and cobwebs from their respective instruments.
Second song of the night is Little Red Bottle. Little Red Bottle??? I ask you. Many of this bands peers don’t have songs this good that they have to keep for their encores.
Then after a bottleneck drenched Crocodile Cryer, it’s the eye wateringly beautiful Coleen. Howaay man; my emotions are already in tatters and there’s still over an hour to go.
Over the years I’ve seen Stephenson’s albums in the Folk, Folk-Rock, Country, Soft Rock and Singer-Songwriter sections of records stores; which is both a good thing and a chore; as the man is impossible to pigeon hole (did I tell you that the Free download is bloody funny?) but covering all of those genres; plus having a guitarist in the legendary John Steel who can switch from Surf-Guitar to Western Swing in a heartbeat; means no two shows are ever the same.
Apart from being a mighty fine singer, songwriter and guitarist himself, Martin has surrounded himself with three excellent cohorts – guitarist extraordinaire John Steel, the North East’s finest thrombassist Chris Mordy and; drummer to the stars Ms. Kate Stephenson.
Speaking of which; there would have been a set-list at the outset but Martin’s brain works like a firework and a man’s shirt or a woman’s hairdo in the audience can set him off on a tangent only known to him…..and his magnificent bandmates.
If you think Dylan and Springsteen are the only ones who change the key or lyrics to suit their mood; check out Martin at various times tonight, when he will stop mid note because something has popped into his head and he simply must share it. The band stop on a sixpence to accommodate his whim; but pick up the beat in a nano-second. Can you think of anyone else that good? Me neither.
While I adore his last 5 or 6 albums; it’s these early songs that the fans filled the iconic City Hall to hear. Me & Matthew, Rain, Running Water and Look Down (featuring cousin Jamie who he cajoled onto stage).
Home town gigs always include references to family and friends that will be lost on tourists; but the intro to Home, which he originally wrote for his Mam, is turned into a eulogy for his Dad who had died only six weeks previously. This was the story I nearly wee’d myself listening too.
There are obviously an assortment of older less well known songs here too; the delightful Old Church, which I can’t remember hearing before; Love For The First Time (with a pretty chunky Ska back-beat) and my personal favourite, Loui’s which is about the days Martin and friends would sit in the renowned Sunderland cafe drinking frothy coffee and smoking tabs, putting the world to rights and watching the world go by on their way back from College. We all have a place like that in our memory bank; and these words speak for all of us.
All good things must come to an end I suppose; but the final three songs here are as good as music gets…..the anthemic Salutation Road, then the gentle Country swing of Look Before You Leap and finally Martin Stephenson and the Daintees signature tune….Wholly Humble Heart.
What a night, what an album and it will all be repeated in one form or another in a town near you sometime soon; because Martin tours non-stop, sometimes solo, sometimes as a duo; but because this isBoat to Bolivia’s 30th Birthday; expect to see the band in all its glory too.
Concert – https://daintees.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-newcastle-city-hall
Patter – https://daintees.bandcamp.com/album/newcastle-city-hall-the-patter
Live in Concert
Proper Records/Goldmine Records
A Rather Lovely Career Retrospective
Not normally a fan of Traditional Folk Music in any of its formats; I came to Diana Jones music quite late; and only when I reviewed her previous album Museum of Appalachia Recordings in 2013.
Proving you don’t have to spend six months multi-tracking in an expensive recording studio; Diana Jones has proved yet again that there is no substitute for talent; in this case her distinctive voice and a songwriting talent; unsurpassed in her field.
Although born and bred in suburban New York Ms. Jones always had a fascination with the Folk music of her forefathers in the Smoky Mountains; and that love comes through in every song in this collection.
While it’s not clear from the review copy of the album that I have; nor the accompanying Press Release is from one concert (I somehow doubt it; judging by the between song editing); the simplicity of the songs; one voice and two guitars highlights the quality and complexity of her writing.
The first song, Willow Tree is as traditional as Folk Music gets; but Diana Jones somehow makes it sound fresh and fascinating in equal measures; which is quite a challenge.
Taking songs from all four of her studio albums Diana straddles the boundary between Traditional American Folk Music and what we now know as Rootsy-Americana with ease.
I particularly like the rolling guitar into to I Told The Man; and later on Rain and Cold Beau Stapleton’s mandolin playing is exquisite as he accompanies Diana on a truly passionate song.
Fan favourites like Lay Me Down, the atmospheric The Day I Die (which is one of the few songs to get an introduction) and Cold Grey Ground all get an airing here; alongside a couple of my own favourites.
Evangelina is another song to benefit from some scintillating mandolin playing; but the song itself sounds like it should come from a John Ford Western. I wasn’t previously aware of Henry Russell’s Last Words; but had to take a deep breath the first time I heard it. I don’t really know why but it has qualities of early Bob Dylan’s writing to it. You know when he was a Folk-singer? Perhaps it’s just me.
While I’ve always been a sucker for a coal mining song; so Appalachia, about how strip mining is blighting the beautiful countryside; will always appeal, my actual highlight; is another song I hadn’t heard before; Better Days Will Come, which evokes memories of my Methodist and Socialist upbringing in the coal mining community of Co. Durham. Sadly the sentiment is still relevant today in 2016.
Putting 19 well loved songs together in an uncomplicated live setting just might be a Master-stroke, and bring Diana Jones back catalogue to the attention of a whole new generation of fans. Here’s hoping.
Released 19th February 2016
The Ghosts of Highway 20
Uneasy Listening About Our Broken Society.
When Lucinda Williams first came to prominence with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road in 1998; she already had four albums under her belt; and still the critics didn’t know how to describe her music.
It wasn’t what they knew as Country, Rock or even Country-Rock and she wasn’t what they knew as a singer-songwriter either.
Even now, 37 years after her first release Lucinda still isn’t really an Americana act or strictly Alt. Country as we know, it because she still tills her very own musical furrow.
Side One opens with
‘There’s a sadness so deep
The sun seems black
And you don’t have to try to keep the tears back,’
on the spine tingling Dust and the mood is set (in stone) for what is to follow.
When I first listened to this album I flippantly dismissed it as “not having very many laughs in it;” but now I realise – that’s the point!
What unfolds is a series of songs where Lucinda takes on the role of the downtrodden and lonely in a way that Springsteen, Young etc. can only dream of doing these days. At times the singer sounds so tired she can hardly finish her words and sentences; but you will already be ahead of her and it it, therefore isn’t always necessary.
Take a deep breath before you listen to the first two lines of I Know All About It; because it will leave you in no doubt about the life of the woman in the story;
‘You’ve been living on the Jazz side of life
Carrying your pain in your back pocket.
‘ How eloquent and descriptive is that?
Even the love songs; if that’s what you can call them, are as dark as the pits of Hell.
In Place In My Heart; Lucinda tells her lover
‘Even though you make me blue
I got room enough for you
No matter what you do.’
Sadly I know all too many women caught in that situation; and Lucinda tells their tale with gut wrenching honesty.
Two songs which virtually bleed into one; the almost hypnotic mantra of Death Came and then Doors of Heaven, which follows begins with a jagged guitar and Lucinda humming before crying;
“Open up the doors of Heaven
Let me in
I think I’m finally tired of living
let me in.”
Who else can you think of that can get inside the underbelly of our broken society in such an articulate manner?
Side Two of this rather remarkable Double Album, starts with the austere and atmospheric title track; Ghosts of Highway 20; When I first fell in love with Lucinda she was a very angry woman and her songs reflected that; on this song she finally sounds beaten down and world weary as she describes a town and its inhabitants left to rot; in the name of progress.
The jauntiest track on the whole album; Bitter Memory only masks yet another sad tale of a rotten relationship; but the woman is angry that the Bitter Memory is stopping her moving on with her life.
I’d listened to this album three times before I realised that Factory was actually the Bruce Springsteen song. With the aid of Bill Frisell on a guitar that will frighten the pants off you; Lucinda deconstructs an already threadbare song and makes it the cornerstone for the whole record.
To some degree it’s scary to think what ‘kind of place’ Lucinda was in when she wrote these songs.
Her voice during Can’t Close The Door on Love, sounds close to breaking point as she lurches into yet another ill fated love affair;
“I know we fight and we can raise some Hell
But I’m gonna be with you for the rest of my life.”
Side Two and therefore the album, closes with, perhaps two songs of hope that get people like this from one day to the next.
If There’s a Heaven is a hymn like affair; as someone sits at the bedside of a loved one who is about to pass. The one left behind cries
“I will be lost when you cross over the other side”
“But when you go
Let me know there’s a Heaven out there.”
If not what was all the suffering for?
It’s a fair question.
Then the theme continues with the epic 12 minutes and 42 seconds of Faith and Grace, which brings everything to a crumbling close. A jazzy-blues beat shadows Lucinda who takes the role of someone taking more hits than a punch drunk boxer; but who still believes
‘My burden is hard to bear
And no one to help me share
But I know when I make the call
Cause I know God will hear.”
Lucinda’s voice is barely more than a whisper at times; and you will strain to hear her words, but you will feel emotionally drained at the end.
I’m no lover of Double Albums as they are normally ‘vanity projects’ with numerous songs shoehorned in to make the numbers up.
That is not the case here.
Every single song; no matter how unhappy the content, all go together to create a story that simply had to be told and should be heard in schools and parliaments around the globe.
Sadly; many die-hard Lucinda Williams fans will struggle to get past Album one; because of the dark and miserable story lines; but if you persevere you will hear an album that is the equivalent of the Dutch Masters in the art-world; and could easily be the album that Lucinda Williams is remembered for in fifty years time.
Released February 5th 2016
Jumping Hot Club
27th January 2015
For once I actually arrived at the venue early; but when I walked into the larger of the two halls at the Cluny, it was alrfourabout 70% full, which speaks volumes for Lindi Ortega’s current standing in the world of music, and the Jumping Hot Club’s new ‘aggressive’ marketing campaign.
Opening act; the fop-haired Jordan Klassen could have passed for Jack Black’s younger brother and his very dark, introspective songs and intricate guitar playing kept the ever growing crowd enthralled from start to finish.
Klassen has something of an ‘interesting voice;’ and I can’t think of anyone else whom he particularly sound like apart from rising Geordie singer-songwriter Richard Dawson. While obviously there to see the headline act the audience so reverential, you could even hear the clinking of beer bottles behind the bar; and for the first time in years there was almost no chattering while the young man from Vancouver performed his intense and occasionally poetic songs.
Two songs in-particular stood out; Gargoyles (which was much nicer than the title would suggest) and Firing Squad which closed the set.
Remember the name; Jordan Klassen, you will certainly hear it again in more exalted circles than this.
The last time Lindi Ortega performed at the Jumping Hot Club it was in A a less than full Cluny II; but by the time she came on stage with her band; all clad in black apart from her ruby red cowboy boots; the House Full sign was put on the door, as the 350 capacity had possibly already been exceeded; but don’t tell the man from the Council.
To a huge cheer she opened the show with the cryptic Run Down Neighbourhood and followed it with Dying of Another Broken Heart; and the tone was set for a night of ultra-cool Alt. Country that was one part Southern Gothic, one part Classic Country, one part Bobbie Gentry, two parts Dusty in Memphis and all swirled around in a glass full of melancholic Durham gin.
I’ve got three of the Canadian’s albums and love them dearly; with songs from Cigarettes and Truckstops and being very popular when I had my radio show; but nothing prepared me for hearing her sing them live.
It helped that her band were excellent; especially ‘Champagne’ James Robertson, who made his Fenders, sizzle, howl and moan like a ten bob whore, whenever necessary; but the tight drumming and mellow semi-acoustic bass kept the backfield in motion too.
The first time most people heard of Lindi Ortega was probably because the good people of Nashville were aurally shocked that this young lady had the audacity to mention…..marijuana in her lyrics! Well I ask you; how dare she? George Jones? Willie Nelson? Hank II anyone?
Anyway; the references were there tonight; but no big deal was made of it; why should there when the songs are as good as Demons Don’t Get Me Down?
There wasn’t a lot of chit-chat; but Lindi did introduce the title track from Faded Gloryville by explaining it was a fictitious town with a fictitious hotel that ‘tired and emotional’ musicians and actors visit when things aren’t going too well in their careers. Some stay longer than others; and some stay forever – the song itself was as gloomy and beautiful a piece of Southern Gothic as you will ever hear; and I’m a fan of both Nick Cave and the Handsome Family!
With four albums to choose from; it was possibly surprising to hear three cover songs included tonight; but fans who follow her on You Tube will know she is quite prolific in this area and her choices tonight were exemplary. Cher’s Bang-Bang was particularly eerie; and the Bee Gees To Love Somebody has been covered by some truly great singers; but I can’t imagine anyone has made it sound like a stalkers mantra before.
Another song from the much maligned Faded Gloryville album; Tell It Like It Is; took on a whole new life tonight; with Lindi becoming a predatory temptress as she inhabited the character she was singing about.
The near two hour set; flew by, and the three encores were all highlights of an exceptional concert, with her take on Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home (To Me) making tears well up in my eyes, and Tin Star was almost anthemic; but the song that ended the evening was an absolute doozy. It’s a brave singer who takes on Ring of Fire; and then have the audacity to change the tempo so she can wring every last drop of pathos out of it; but Lindi Ortega did just that and made this tired old song as sharp as a tack and pretty damn beautiful.
Lindi Ortega – watch this space; as she is about to take a leap into the Big Time very, very soon.
Photo-set courtesy Harrisonaphotos http://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/Lindi-Ortega/
The New Sound Of Seattle is Easy on the Era.
Twenty years ago, Son #1 had a period in his life when he wore unwashed jeans, tattered Converse and over-sized check shirts; and the least said about his hair the better; constantly listening to Seattle bands like Pearl Jam, Mud Honey, Alice in Jeans and The Soundgardens on heavy rotation in his darkened bedroom.
Thankfully he eventually discovered girls preferred boys who showered and the rest is history.
Why is that relevant? Well; Ian McFeron is the ‘New Sound of Seattle.’ Well; in my opinion anyway.
I first discovered the young singer in 2011 when I reviewed Summer Nights, giving it 5 Stars in a publication that I wrote for.
Somehow I missed the follow up album in 2013; but I’ve spent a silly few days listening to his 10th album, RADIO on heavy rotation like that delusional teenager.
I was instantly hooked as soon as I heard Gotta Have Faith; which opens the album. McFeron’s charismatic voice could easily become my ‘Sound of the Summer;’ and the message in the song is probably just what I need at the moment too.
This isn’t no ‘happy-clappy’ album by any means; Song To The Night is everything you would expect of a title like that; and Russ Pahl’s pedal-steel in the background sounds more like heart strings being plucked than a musical instrument.
Diesel Grease which follows; is a sweet Country song of the left side of Alt. variety. Bittersweet and just perfect for listening to as the sun goes down over the yard arm.
I actually had to fast forward to Moses; when I saw the title on the album sleeve. Thankfully it’s not the Religious song I feared; more a metaphor in the way Dylan or Townes Van Zandt would use; and after repeated plays is certainly one of the strongest songs here and well worthy of radio play.
Then we have the delightful; Feelin’ Good. Another song that must have been written as the sun was going down and the beers were coming out – and McFeron sounds like he was ruefully smiling all of the way through.
We must whiz back to the third track for the very best song on the album. Now, the other 9 songs are all very, very good but the title track ‘Radio’ is a scintillating piece of Americana wrapped up in just under four minutes.
Written from the perspective of ‘sitting in the afterglow/listening to the radio/songs by Otis Redding and Neil Young.’ Wow! McFeron’s band are as sweet as a hazelnut as the singer definitely sounds as if the words came to him seconds after bumping tummy’s with the love of his life.
I gave Summer Nights 5 stars four years ago and Radio merits exactly the same reward.
Great artwork on the cover too!
Released January 19th 2016
Excite- Excite…..here’s an exclusive behind the scenes video of Shields performing Face to Face from their imminent new LP How Can We Fix This?
Edgy Mountain Music From the Dark End Of Lonelyville.
Apart from seeing a friend wearing a Freakwater t-shirt at SummerTyne Festival last year’; I’d not heard of the band before receiving this album.
In RMHQ any release on Bloodshot is worth a listen; but I have to say this one took a few airings before I finally succumbed to its ‘charm.’
The opening track What The People Want; nearly lulled me into a false sense of security with some sizzling fiddle playing as Janet Beam and Catherine Irwin produce some staggeringly cool harmonies on a relatively simple ‘Mountain Music’ love song.
Then a pedal-steel threatens your senses as the next track, the Asp and the Albatross opens; followed by honey sweet harmonies that mask a song with a bit of a punch to it.
Ha! That’s the thing about, Freakwater….nothing is as it first seems. Like most Bloodshot acts they are pure 100% Country fans; but they certainly put the Alt. into Alternative.
Yes, songs like Skinny Knee Bone and Memory Vendor are as lovely as anything Emmylou sang in her early years; but listen closely to Take Me With You and Velveteen Matador you will find lyrics darker than the pits of Hades on a rainy day.
When you find yourself getting lost in those glorious harmonies it’s easy to miss some razor sharp guitar and fiddle playing throughout; check out the brooding Falls of Sleep to get my point. Also long term Freakwater bass player Dave Gay could easily be described as the spine of the band; as he holds everything together like superglue.
I will have to find even more time to really listen to Scheherazade on headphones; as some of the songs like Number One With a Bullet and Missionfield sound perfect for getting lost in.
If you want ‘Atmospheric Alt. Country’ of the finest hue; look no further than Ghost Song, which closes the record. Janet and Catherine’s voices intertwine, go off at tangents and come back again on another Devilishly dark story that stops just short of being Gothic.
Scheherazade is Freakwater’s tenth album in 26 years (although their first in ten!) but they have become an instant and overnight success at Rocking Magpie Towers!
Released February 5th 2016
Shipcote and Friends
22nd January 2016
To many people who attend Jumping Hot Club gigs Graham Anderson is the man who wanders around with a frown and a piece of paper at every gig; but to many of us he is his alter ego Shipcote; purveyor of something called Geordie-Swing; a delightful mix of Western Swing, Gipsy-Jazz, Blues, Folk and even a hint here and there of Ska.
Tonight was the launch of his latest album Old Is Cool, and the evening started with friends Kathy and Chet in duo form. Sadly I missed them as I was visiting my wife in hospital 25 miles away. On the second stroke of the ‘kicking out’ bell, I kissed her on the cheek and scurried to the car park. Forty minutes later I arrived at the Cluny in time to see the last ten minutes of Brendan Crokers set.
Looking a bit like a Hobbit dressed as a Hells Angel, he was sitting perched on a speaker on the front of the stage and singing ‘off-mic’.
If you’ve ever seen him before you will know his between song chat is as good as his music; and the short time I was in his company had me in stitches.
I only witnessed two songs; with I’ll Smile Tonight being an absolute delight; with sing-along chorus too; but Brendan’s story about buying his 1966 acoustic guitar from East German E-Bay for €62 (free delivery) was worthy of a stand-up comedian. His final song morphed into a delightful Tale Of The Lonesome Pine. It was obviously going to be ‘that kind of night.’
After the audience took advantage of the free promotional Hot Dogs (inc. Veggie option) Shipcote and Friends eventually made their way onto the stage, with Shipcote himself looking remarkably dapper in his Granddad’s double breasted Demob suit.
The set consisted of the album in chronological order with the delightful Rhumbatastic Saltwell Park Lilt instrumental, to set the mood.
The title track Old Is Cool came next; and I can’t think of a more suitable song for this audience; can you? It’s a lovely song with an even lovelier message; again; it was that ‘kind of night.’
Apparently a Mariachi Band had been booked to give a couple of songs ‘added spice’ but they had been held up at Customs in Sunderland Airport; so the Chet Baker of Tyneside, Graham Hardy manfully stepped in with his golden trumpet on Yes, Yes Blues. Evoking a smoky New York Jazz dive this song really came to life this evening.
On the next song Sometimes You’re Up, the band really sprang to life with the Geordie Segovia, Bryan Younger giving an absolute Masterclass on acoustic guitar; but never outshining the singer; which is some feat. We even had a mischievous reprise; when trumpetist Graham left the stage a tad early.
As the band name suggests; Shipcote and Friends this is actually a band of craftsmen (and woman) who surround and compliment an excellent singer-songwriter; with each bringing their own skill sets; to create a beautiful overall sound.
While in no ways a Rock Band; Graham made a point that they rarely do ‘slow songs’ but when they did on the touchingly gentle Amy; you wonder why they don’t do songs like this more often.
My favourite song on the album; Mr. Wonderful received a funny and silly introduction, with several people in the audience worried that the song could have been about them; not that it matters as this incisively observed song about vanity, is a diamond in its own rite.
Keenly proud of his home town, Shipcote’s North East of England is a doozy; and tonight’s passionate rendition had me thinking it should replace Fog on the Tyne as our unofficial National Anthem.
The songs from the album came to a pleasing end when Kathy and Chet were invited onto the stage to join Sue MacLaren on harmonies for Angel of the North (pt. II). While I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely song; my attention was taken with Brendan and Graham Hardy’s attempts at a Vegas style light show, with two torches and a hand held Disco ball. It really was ‘that kind of night!’
With twenty minutes to fill, Shipcote and Friends went on to regale us with a veritable Greatest Hits set including, Crazy Country Fool, Facebook, I’m Not Ready For Bed and Perambulating (featuring the vocal delights of Mr Studds Ramrod on harmonies.)
Okay I’m biased as a friend of Graham and most of the band; but this really was a delightful gig from a set of excellent musicians who lovingly regaled us with some fine songs.
Multi-Layered and Bewitching Canadiacana
It’s virtually impossible to make a decision about a new album from a new artiste on only one listening; which is why I invest so much time, on your behalf, doing the hard work for you 🙂
With this record by Canadian songstress Carly Dow, it’s a good job I took the time to let it evolve inside my head.
The first time I played Ingrained it sounded ‘average’ at best; good but run o’ the mill Americana/Folk….nothing out of the ordinary.
But today it’s been on constant rotation as I did some photography work on the laptop; and three times I’ve found myself pressing ‘repeat’ to hear songs in more detail.
The opening track Olive Branch has an almost Native American feel to it as Carly chants the the words over a very basic backing of handclaps and foot-stomps; while not forgetting some luscious harmonies too.
On the following track Soil To Dust a militaristic drum pattern, some razor sharp banjo plucking and fiddle playing kicks in as Ms Dow beguiles us with a breathlessly deep song, about living and working on the land.
Carly effortlessly glides between Roots genres with the greatest of ease; with the rather poetic This Dress having some gorgeous Twang and slide guitar aiding and abetting her Bluesy tones on a song best sung in a smoky dive bar.
Several songs have that fresh Canadiacana sound that I’ve really grown to love over the last couple of years; listen to the delightful Watch It Go and Too Much To Go Back; to hear what I mean.
Of the songs that I had to come back to was the Jazzy undertoned, Down This Road. Smoky vocals, dirty guitar and tsh-tsch drumming are always going to win my admiration on a day like this; and it should you, too.
There is one particular song that I’ve gone back to many times; and also added it to a couple of playlists on my phone; Casanova is ‘one of those songs’ that only come along once or twice in a songwriters career; sometimes not at all.
A fairly simple sounding song; has so many layers to peel away it is scary; and Carly’s voice takes on a resonance not heard before or after; and her words at times are chilling but also hopeful; which is a rare balance and one well worth hunting down.
Released Canada and USA September 2015
Released UK & Ireland February 15th 2016
A Commendable Collection of a Songwriter’s Finest Work.
Gretchen Peters is something of an anomaly; a genuine ‘Star’ in the UK; but barely noticed in her home country, the US of A, even though she is an Award winning songwriter. But, that said, she is definitely a ‘songwriter’s songwriter.’
At first look this collection is a bit odd too; as Gretchen has never had any actual ‘hits’; even in the UK, but has already released another ‘Best Of ‘ collection; yet this double album of 27 songs barely scratches the surface of her rare talent.
Album #1 is primarily made up of songs from her more recent ‘best selling’ albums; with the most recent; the almost Alt. Country song, Blackbirds opening the disc.
A couple of songs later we get the powerful When All You’ve Got Is A Hammer from the same album. When first released; this song about a soldier returning from combat, got a lot of well deserved coverage and a second outing today; is well merited, as the subject matter is sadly all too relevant in 2016.
Two songs will certainly be familiar to American fans; Gretchen’s starkly beautiful rendition of her own On a Bus to St. Cloud, which has pretty much become an Americana standard over the years; and also her duet with Tom Russell on Guadalupe.
I wasn’t aux fait with a couple of songs on this disc; The Aviators Song, dedicated to and about her father, a WWII pilot and a finer love song I’ve yet to hear; plus the duet with Bryan Adams; When You Love Someone is a complete surprise in many ways; especially the couples harmonies. Why haven’t we hard this before?
In their own way all 14 tracks on Disc #2 would constitute an excellent album and will be the reason fans will flock to buy this compilation of ‘rare songs,’ out-takes, demos, live songs and the occasional song from a film soundtrack; all neatly packaged on one disc.
The opening song The Way You Move Me, is a beautiful demo version of an existing song; but better than anything released by many of her better known peers; such is the quality of Gretchen Peters work. It’s the same with Ring Around The Moon; a song far too good to be left on a shelf; but that’s what happened until now.
While not exactly unknown; it’s a delight to hear the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses as performed by Gretchen, Suzy Bogus and the dreadfully under-rated, Matraca Berg in their capacity as Wine, Women & Song.
While there’s not a duff track among them; Gretchen’s stunning rendition of When You Wish Upon a Star from a 2009 Children in Need project called Bandaged Together will bring tears to a glass eye; and hearing her rendition of John Lennon’s Love on piano is well worth buying the album for on its own.
Which leaves us Gretchen’s two most famous songs; Independence Day and The Chill of an Early Fall; huge hits for Martina McBride and George Strait. Personally I much prefer both of Gretchen’s simple and more personal versions on this record than the huge Nashville productions; but I presume her Bank Manager will disagree.
It would be nice if this Double Album were to find its way into the collections of tens of thousands more music fans than will actually buy it; because these songs and this singer deserve a much larger audience around the world.
Released 20th January 2015