Red Sky July – The Truth and The Lie

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Red Sky July
The Truth and The Lie
Shadowbirds Records

Be Afraid Americana….The Brits Are Coming!

Home-grown British Country Music has always been an acquired taste; and Red Sky July have probably suffered from that inverted snobbishness as much as anyone…..until now.
With the emergence of the Shires, Black Feathers, Ward Thomas and a host of others successfully flying the British Country flag in the last 18 months it could be ‘right place/right time’ for this enchanting trio with their third album.
Ooooohhhhh….whose not going to like the gorgeous harmonies that open track #1 Jet Trails; and when Shelly and Charity go on to ‘Out Dixie’ the Dixie Chicks on a song about ‘following your dreams; I knew I was in for the long haul.
The title track follows and is every bit as sharply observed and Ally McErlaine’s buzzing guitar compliments the ladies’ breathy vocals; just like Lindsay Buckingham does/did with Stevie Nicks and Chrissie McVie; only on a punchy Country song.
Who knew one part Alisha’s Attic, one part The Alice Band and a third of Texas could combine to create some of the finest Country songs to ever come out of the UK? Listen to (Get Out of) Dodge and Long-time Dead and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you!
The former is a real toe-tapping, butt-wiggling dance song; but with a message which is a really clever combination; and the latter is a passionate ode to living life one day at a time and getting the most out of what you have.
Again; McErlaine’s guitar guts through everything like a knife through butter. The man has always been underrated and possibly even undervalued when in Texas; but here he finally gets his moment in the sun.
By the time you get to the beautifully sad, Sway which closes the album you will still be smiling and be in danger of damaging your finger in your haste to press the ‘repeat/play’ button to hear it all over again.
As a bonafide music snob myself; I’ve loved listening to this album over the last few weeks as it’s been like a breath of fresh air; and last week when I was a passenger in my wife’s car I instantly recognised the infectious Walking Country Song on her stereo. Baffled I asked what it was; and was greeted by a sheepish smile as she confessed to ‘stealing it’ from my office; as she’d enjoyed it so much on a journey the previous week in my car. It’s ‘that’ type of album; keep it locked away or you will lose it.

Released March 25th 2016

Emitt Rhodes – Rainbow Ends

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Emitt Rhodes
Rainbow Ends
Omnivore Recordings

Singer-Songwriter Finally Delivers His ‘Difficult’ Third Album…after 43 years!

When I received this CD I instantly recognised the name Emitt Rhodes; but after reading his bio can’t think why. I guess I must have seen him on The OGQT back in my younger days; I did watch it like a religious zealot.
Let’s start with the cover; a cold, grey portrait of a man that looks like Jimmy Page being cast as Santa Claus; yes….I would have picked that picture out of the rack; regardless of the music on the disc.
In fairness the opening song; Dog on a Chain isn’t as ‘instantaneous’ as I like and is an odd choice; as its a sad song about a relationship breakdown; but without a hook or an attention-getting melody. Sadly; Rhodes just sounds like he’s feeling sorry for himself.
Thankfully the mood picks up with a bit of a rocking and rolling If I Knew Then; which follows. It’s far from being a happy go lucky dance tune; but the pop-jazz beat and lyrics about another (or the same) relationship breakdown; make the singer a more sympathetic character.
This theme continues throughout Rainbow End; and perhaps there’s a clue in the title; so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when the misery piles even higher on I Can’t Tell My Broken Heart and What’s A Man To Do? (Opening verse – ‘Long I’ve anguished/And set aside/What little’s left/Of my foolish pride/I’m feeling empty/Hollow inside.’)
Some of these sad songs are genuinely well crafted and Rhode’s soft but expressive voice gets inside your head; with Someone Else being the best song here by a Country mile; it’s just having so many songs on the same gloomy theme makes the album a very difficult thing to listen too…..unless this is what you are going through and you too feel the need to wallow in your own misery.
SPOILER ALERT! If you stick around long enough; just like It’s a Wonderful Life, thankfully there is a happy and more positive ending.
Friday’s Love uses the end of the working week as a metaphor for finding ‘second love’ or ‘love later in life’ and; while it’s not a happy-clappy tune; the title track Rainbow Ends has Rhodes; still with a broken heart, continuing to ‘Always chase Rainbow Ends/Head up in the clouds.’ Which isn’t a bad way top live life; even if the very last line is ‘But my eyes are open now.’

Released February 26th 2016


Ben Abraham – Sirens

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Ben Abraham
Secretly Canadian

Australian Singer-Songwriter Elbows Out the Competition With Debut Album.

Sometimes it takes a couple of plays to get my head around some albums; others can even take weeks; but every now and again an opening song takes my breath away and makes me stop what I’m doing; to actually listen to what the singer has to say.
That was the case with Ben Abraham on the 1 minute and 50 seconds of Sirens which opens this wonderful disc’ and when it was followed by the enigmatic Time I very nearly forgot to breathe!
‘Ethereal’ springs to mind; as does ‘plaintive’ and even ‘cinematic’ to describe the way Abraham’s golden voice soars over some quality guitar and percussion.
I’m very impressed with Ben’s way with words; he is an exceptional songwriter for one so young – You and Me; Speak and Somebody’s Mother are simply superb; the later so quiet I found myself leaning towards the speaker so as not to miss a word.
Just to add a bit of spice to the album; on the orally brittle, This is On Me Ben opens the song; but is eventually joined by Sara Bareilles; and what a wonderful pair they make; making me pine for an album of songs just like it.
Where do I start with my favourite track? The smoky and sad She, is certainly a contender; as is A Quiet Prayer, which closes the album; but the song that makes me go weak at the knees every time I hear it is To Love Someone; with it’s Brass Band in the background; because I’ve always been an old romantic.
To be honest I’m not sure how to describe Ben Abraham’s singing ‘style;’ as there are elements of Jazz in there; a smidgen of Folk, but also a feel of the classic singer-songwriters from the 70’s and 80’s that I grew up with and, to some degree Guy Garvey from beat combo Elbow; all in all it sounds very ‘grown up;’ something to listen to with a glass of something ‘nice’ in your hand at the end of the day.

Released March 7th 2016

Jodie Fitzgibbon – Storm (EP)

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Jodie Fitzgibbon
Storm (EP)

Passion Is No Ordinary Word With Songs Like These.

It’s difficult for young bands and singers these days to get radio play; but BBC Local Radio has a great with their BBC Introducing programmes; which feed into Radio’s 1, 2 and especially 6. This is where Durham Lass, Jodie Fitzgibbon first came to my attention.
This six track EP really showcases the young singer-songwriter’s talents; and opens with her last single Going Down; which is an intensely earthy Pop Song; that conjures up images of Duffy; who has disappeared without trace.
Played very loud in the car I can certainly understand why it would appeal you ‘young people.’
Next up is the muscularly acoustic track, If I Stay; which has all the hallmarks of early Tift Merritt and even Chrissie Hinde. There’s even some cutting edge guitar in there fighting to be heard over some Philadelphia style bass and rocky drumming; but pooled together it all works; even though it shouldn’t.
The title track; The Storm is another acoustic song; but this is a lot gentler and errs on the right side of being a Power Ballad; and would make great late night listening on the radio.
Which brings us to the new single (released February 26th) – Love You All Over. Now; it’s not for me to tell Jodie’s Record Label and Marketing people how to do their jobs; but this was surely a nailed on Valentines hit? No? It ticks every box in my mind; lovely, voice; passionate lyrics and a punchy drum and bass line that feels like a punch to the heart. What more do young love birds want?
While Adele and Little Mix are ruling the roost in popular music at the moment; I genuinely think Jodie Fitzgibbon is a lot easier on the ear; and it will only take a little bit of luck to get her on National TV and she will be in the Big Time before you know it!

Released Oct 30th 2015

Single ‘Love You All Over’ February 26th 2016


The Other Half (Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine) Sage Gateshead

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The Other Half
Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine
Sage Gateshead
13th February 2016

I’d been trying to see this concert for the best part of the last 12 months, as the concept really intrigued me; as you know if you’ve read my album review.
Esteemed Crime Writer Mark Billingham has joined forces with My Darling Clementine, to perform a short story based in a Memphis bar (at some time in the last 15 years) with intermittent musical accompaniment from the husband and wife duo Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish.

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The evening began with Billingham coming out to explain the format and as the lights dimmed; was followed by My Darling Clementine, with Michael sporting a large Fedora and Lou a vision in pink and black; but looking more like a Modette than a Country singer.
To get us ‘in the mood’ they performed a few songs so we could ‘get our Country on;’ with the first, Departure Lounge being a personal favourite.
Eventually Billingham rose from the shadows to begin the story at his lace covered lectern. As The Other Half is an actual story with a beginning, a middle and an end; I won’t spoil it for you except for saying everything revolves around ex-showgirl Marcia; who is now tending bar in the rundown part of town and likes to hear her patrons ‘stories’ and sometimes imagine them for them, if she hasn’t got the facts.
Every five or six minutes the story links, coincidentally to a song from MDC’s back catalogue of heartbreakers and tearjerkers; and they inhabit their characters in a very theatrical manner.
In Billingham’s favour this is a very good story; told well; although I did wish he could have stopped for breath to allow some of the funnier lines to get the chuckles that they deserved; but no; he carried on as if he was on the radio.
Speaking of ‘chuckles’ Mrs. Magpie nudged me at one stage and ran her fingers across her cheeks; which puzzled me until I realised she was mimicking the way the light was reflecting through the storytellers glasses; leaving Adam Ant like stripes across his face. Perhaps you had to be there.
The story; as on the CD/LP was split into two halves with Part I closing with MDC singing No Matter What Tammy Said; with the chorus “I’m seeing black and blue and purple/
‘cause he keeps seeing red.” Which tells you all you need to know where the story was at.
It was interesting in the bar; as opinions about what had gone before were quite polarised, with a few people I know at loggerheads as to whether they were enjoying it; and when we returned there were a few notable gaps in the seats in front of me.
Personally; I’d enjoyed it and proceeded to enjoy the second half; if the story did rush along at a frantic pace as Billingham pulled all the loose threads together; while Michael and Lou got to perform; and ‘perform’ is the perfect description as they seamlessly slid Back to Memphis and the sensational The Half of It, with it’s blind-siding punchline into the story.

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All too quickly it was over; only it wasn’t. The story came to a close of course then My Darling Clementine regaled us with ‘some songs that would have been on Marcia’s Juke box.’
The first, Good Year For The Roses raised the first cheer of the evening and highlighted Weston Kings rich baritone voice. This was followed by a rare Gram and Emmylou duet and Your Cheatin’ Heart, before the evening finally ended with Ray Price’s Heartaches by the Number.
While I enjoyed the evening (I’m a huge fan of both acts) Mrs. Magpie and some friends we met near the exit were less complimentary. For what it’s worth I did agree with a couple of their criticisms :-
1) The four songs at the end should have been included earlier and throughout the performance.
2) Occasionally MWK would strum his guitar when Mark read his story; this should have enhanced more exerts as occasionally it sounded like a school assembly.
3) More could have been made of the slide show on the big screen; the photos were good at ‘scene setting’ but there weren’t enough of them.
That’s it; a pleasant evening for some of us; but it did sound and feel like a Pulp Fiction story on the radio.


Leonard Cohen – Toronto ’88

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Leonard Cohen
Toronto ’88

The Sound of a Man Coming of Age.

Where do you begin with Leonard Cohen? He’s always been an acquired taste; some love and adore him to the point of adulation pouring over his every word and utterance; while other dismiss him out of hand; without even listening to him.
Me? I’m an unadulterated fan; but can’t be bothered to delve too deeply into his ‘mystical’ lyrics; just taking them for what they are – poetry set to music.
This album is taken from a Canadian Radio Broadcast and apparently is one of his most easily acquirable bootlegs; but I don’t move in those circles any more.
With absolutely no introduction; which I found odd the recording fades up into Ain’t No Cure For Love; which is pretty note for note the same as the album version; as is Bird on the Wire which follows.
As expected he includes several songs from the ‘game changing’ I’m Your Man album which had only just been released; so it’s odd hearing I’m Your Man fresh off the blocks. It actually receives a slightly rambling introduction which receives a loud cheer (presumably the story was ‘of its time’). The song is heartfelt as ever; but perhaps not quite as intense as more recent Live recordings; but then again Cohen was a sprightly 53 when this recording was made; so perhaps he was still singing it as a seduction device rather than a Lothario looking back on his ‘day in the sun’ which the song sounds like now.
Tower of Song and Jazz Police must have been mind-blowing that night; but now they are righteous Classics.
I’d totally forgot about Joan of Arc; so it’s appearance while spectacularly odd, compared to the other songs; was a pleasure, especially hearing Julie Christensen’s beautiful contribution; if that’s not too much of a contradiction.
For me; I was initially intrigued and eventually overwhelmed by the two closing tracks; neither of which which I was particularly up to speed with.
I Tried to Leave You (from 74’s New Skin) is pretty much worth the entrance fee alone, then it all comes to a close with his rendition of Wither Thou Goest, alongside Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla and is genuinely spine-tingling.
The fades between songs makes me believe some judicious editing has been employed; although there are a couple of station idents left in.
A very pleasant memory of a special time in Cohen’s career; but it’s not a patch on Live in London which is a fitting tribute to a Master Craftsman at his absolute peek.
This disc will go into the collection; but I doubt will ever be played again.

Released February 5th 2016

Mick Rhodes and the Hard Eight – Paradise City


Mick Rhodes and the Hard Eight
Paradise City

Beer Drinking, Ass Wagglin’ Power-Pop on Steroids.

Formed in 2007 and not releasing their debut album until 2011 this band have certainly ‘paid their dues’ on the circuit, playing everything from that dive bar in the part of town were wise men fear to tread and playing Festivals in front of tens of thousands; and that experience comes across in every note on this belting tour de force.
I’m a bugger for opening songs catching my attention and from the punchy drum opening through the Hank B Marvin influenced guitar intro; through the pleading cry of singer Rhodes’ chorus, for the listener not “to fall in love with a married girl/married girls will break your heart.” Honestly; it’s gone straight into my Sound of the Summer I-Tunes playlist; and also already a contender for Song of the Year.
On songs like Last Summer, Under the Bustle and the anthemic Since You I want to say they remind me of early Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams; which they do; but when they were ‘cool’ and all you cared about was dancing to great music; and not caring a damn whether your pals would sneer at you.
Last Summer is a great example of Rhodes songwriting skills as it sounds like a meat and potatoes Blue Collar Rocker from New Jersey or the like; but it was written for and about his 96 year old Grandfather who was in a hospice and waiting slowly and painfully; but with great dignity for the end to come.
I don’t know what the band’s ambitions are; but they sound like one of those bar bands that you dream of stumbling across one wet and windy Friday night; but with powerful Gothic Rockers like Whisky Girl in their locker I’d be more than happy to see them in an Arena with all the glitz and razzmatazz a song like this deserves.
For me, Keep It Simple is probably my favourite track here; a fairly simple Rock Song with a blistering guitar solo that comes out of nowhere and the second song off the album to go on my Sound of the Summer playlist; sandwiched between Springsteen’s Girls in their Summer Clothes and ZZ Top’s Tush.
Oh how I long for the days when I could turn the radio on and songs like this would pour out, one after the other.

Released January 23rd 2016

Big Boy Bloater & The Limits – Luxury Hobo

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Big Boy Bloater & The Limits
Luxury Hobo
Provogue/Mascot Label

The Big Boy Finally Punches His Weight!

Although he’s been on the Blues trail for more years than his youthful appearance suggests; I only discovered Big Boy Bloater by accident a couple of years ago; when I was at Durham Gala Theatre to see another act and I saw a poster for his forthcoming gig.
There was something about the way he looked; perhaps the way he carried his guitar; perhaps it was even the Pork Pie Hat; but I just knew I was going to like whatever he was selling. And like it I did!
By my reckoning this is Bloater’s sixth and while I’ve loved the rest; you can tell that he’s moved into the Division 1 right from the off; as opening track Devils Not Angels has class written all over it. There’s no surprise with the quality of the songwriting; but the production and the way the song is constructed is straight outta Memphis; mixing the Blues with some real horny Soul; and even a pinch of New Orleans Jazz in the corners, not to mention a Classic Rock rhythm section.
On I Love You (But Can’t Stand Your Friends) he is brutally honest in his words to his lover and boy, oh boy can Big Boy Bloater play that guitar!
The production on the album is very sympathetic to Bloater’s strengths – his guitar playing, his songs and most of all that distinctive, charismatic voice. Listen to the whip smart Devils Tail and Robot Girlfriend and you will fall in love with the UK’s premier Singer-songwriter/guitar-slinger amalgam; I kid you not.
While he rocks like a good ‘un on the majority of songs; Bloater can do slow and sexy too (seriously); All Things Considered is something of a bittersweet love song; that you could imagine Al Green or Otis singing;with exactly the same raw emotion Bloater gives it.
Best of breed? Whoa; that’s difficult because it will change according to my and your mood. Today it’s the title track; the funkilicious Luxury Hobo Blues; which ticks all my boxes. But last week it was It Came Out Of The Swamp in all it’s dirty, foot stompin,’ and playful glory.
The excellent use of keyboards on the album makes it different from what has gone before in his career; and without ever straying into that boring noodling territory favoured by our American cousins; Bloater keeps his own guitar playing as tight as a ducks bum; only sliding into a solo when absolutely necessary for the development of the song; which is one of the reasons that this is his best album so far….by a Country mile.
There is something here for everyone who loves Soulful Blues that not only Rocks, but has more Rhythm than a Catholic on a Friday night.

Released Friday 26th February 2016

The Miamis – We Deliver (The Lost CBGB’s Band)

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The Miamis
We Deliver (The Lost CBGB’s Band)

Danceable Pop-Punk with Attitude and a Smile.

Certainly on this side of the Atlantic; and I’m pretty sure outside of the clique who frequented CBGB’s between 1974 and 79 The Miamis don’t mean a thing.
But with this fabulous collection of All-American Power Pop should put that to rights.
The album opens with the title track, We Deliver and my toes were tapping within 30 seconds of the opening chords. Sounding mid-way between The Rubinoos, Cheap Trick and The Knack; I could instantly hear why they still have a devoted fan base 25 years after they disbanded.
Track three, I Want a Girlfriend with it’s nod to Judy in Disguise (with diamonds) was probably recorded at the wrong time; although I can think of a couple of similar sounding Surftastic songs in the UK charts about this time; so I guess the Miamis were being promoted in entirely the wrong direction – cos, snarling Punks they ain’t.
As a one time lover of Nuggets era Garage Pop; I love the chunky beat on Another Place, Another Time and the demo of She Sure Works Hard (at Lovin’ Me) both minor Ameri-pop gems.
Wang It! Is Garage Music at its finest; with some really neat piano playing and fuzzy guitar fighting a slightly wacky song; that quickly became an ‘ear worm’ as I drove down the motorway.
That 60’s Garage Sound threads through a few other songs; especially Fight, Team Fight! and Dancing Together.
The second half of the 23 tracks is made up from Demos, alternate takes (check out the ‘dreamy’ alternate I Want a Girlfriend, especially) and a bunch of Live tracks from CBGB’s itself.
These live songs show where the Miamis were at there best. While their peers the Ramones, Blondie, Willie Nile et al were cranking the speakers up to 11 and screeching their lungs out; these kids actually had tunes, choruses and songs with hooks – Dancing Together, Wang It! and Détente (That’s what I want) are all intelligent but eminently danceable songs. What’s not to like?
Plus, when listen to Dada Mama to hear the missing link between Power Pop and Punk.
The album closes with a real oddity; their take on Sinatra’s That’s Life; done in just left of straight Rock & Roll style that must have been a blast to witness.
But; and it’s a very big but….my favourite song here is Elvis, Groucho and Bing; which is straight out of downtown Weirdsville USA; and could have been a template for Devo and the Modern Lovers and a host of others, if they’d ever heard it.
Who knows what will happen with this album; it’s been a joy to listen to but as none of the band members appear to have gone onto greater things; it will sadly be destined to be another closed chapter in the band’s history.

Released 29th January 2016