Pauper Sky Records
A Rare Songwriting Talent Finally Comes to Fruition After 25 Years.
Although Michael McDermott has released 9 (NINE!) solo albums in the last 25 years, I only became aware of him late earlier this year when I received Six on the Out by his alter-ego The Westies https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/the-westies-six-on-the-out/ subsequently being smitten by McDermott’s distinctive drawl and the amazing set of songs that appealed to me on every level.
So; this album excited me as soon as I opened the padded envelope.
As I do; I listened to the album 3 or 4 times before I read the accompanying bio; and when I did I was truly taken aback. Why? Because I thought that this was a ‘covers album;’ not that I actually recognised anything; although I thought I did; but that’s the ‘magic’ here, each song really does sound familiar straight from the off. A sign of a great songwriter methinks.
The title track Willow Springs opens the album; and the way McDermott enunciates and the poetic lyrics just had to be a rare Dylan song; that the singer was being clever including….but no; this song, just like everything else comes from his very own pen; and I have to say that the Willow Springs track is worthy of His Bobness in his Blood on the Tracks days.
Just like the song of the same name, this album is a lot more ‘Folk Singer’ than The Westies; and I love the way McDermott carves out scenarios with his wordplay in the maudlin Soldiers of the Same War and later the beautifully brittle Shadow in The Window.
If we jump back to my original thought that this was a covers album; I defy you to listen to Getaway Car and the more ‘rockier’ Let a Little Light In; and not presume they aren’t out-takes from Bruce’s Darkness at the Edge of Town sessions. OK, McDermott may be wearing his influences on his sleeve; but he can write a ‘Springsteen Song’ better than the man himself does these days; if these two are anything to go by!
Favourite song? Not easy; as Getaway Car caught my attention the first time I heard it; but the song that closes the disc, the haunting and atmospheric What Dreams May Come has been a grower and now has me mouthing the words every time I hear it.
It appears from the bio that Michael McDermott has had an ‘interesting life;’ now two and a half years sober; happily married with a daughter but it’s his way with words; both on paper and when he sings that make him stand out from an over crowded market place like a bright red poppy in a field of gold.
Released UK – July 22nd 2016
Released US – June 17th 2016
Sale of Lakes
Album Modern Knowledge released August 19th
We’ve just been sent this amazing ‘taster’ single from moody Irish Alt-Rockers Divan.
It’s an instant hit at Rocking Magpie Towers and we can’t wait for the album….hint, hint!
Modern Knowledge was recorded in Attica Audio & produced by Ian McNulty & Brent Knopf (EL VY, Menomena, Ramona Falls). DIVAN features members of The Ambience Affair & Tomorrows, who have supported the likes of Villagers, Lower Dens, Field Music & Peter Broderick. DIVAN are Jamie Clarke, Marc Gallagher & Conor Deasy.
22nd June 2016.
The undisputed Queen of UK Soul returned to The Sage after having to reschedule the original date due to illness. Long-time friend of Ms Knight, DJ Munro held opened the show playing some old skool funk and soul classics to get Hall One into ‘the mood’ and on ending his set, the lights went down and with no break, smoothly morphed into the Queen of the (K)night’s set and the sold-out Hall 1 went straight into party mood.
Beverley opened her show with Soul Survivor, supported with a theatrical setting of light bulbs filling the stage, as the crowd went straight on to their feet and for the first three numbers the energy was remarkably high; only to ‘mellow out’ as we celebrated the new album Soulsville with Meet Me In The Middle and a spine tingling version of I Can’t Stand The Rain. I am unsure how Beverley does it, as although the crowd were lapping up every single second some of us needed time to catch our breath and it finally came with Gold as the crowd slowly swayed or even took to their seats. It was also time to let your heart open and emotions roam free, as I do not think I was the only one that shed a tear to this powerful tune.
2016 has been a crazy year and more so in the musical world and we have lost many that people consider greats; and Ms Knight made two powerful tributes tonight, with the first being for the ‘funk-tastic’ Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire and a nice addition for us 90s soul heads was special appearance of Don-E on After The Love Has Gone. The band even supplied some EW&F moves too, as the crowd seriously got in the groove, dancing and waving their arms in the air. A few more numbers from Soulsville and a few from the back catalogue, then it was the second tribute of the night and a very fitting one too, as for anyone that ‘knows’ Beverley Knight will know how much of a MASSIVE fan of Prince she is, so it was a no-brainer that she ‘funked it up’ again with Alphabet Street and Cream from the Purple One and again the whole band showed us their smooth and sassy moves on top of the musical skills.
As the concert drew to a close, the packed hall chanted and stomped their feet for an encore; and they were rewarded with a tribute to the ‘world of theatre’ when Beverley treat us to superb renditions of Love Will Stand When All Else Falls (from Memphis) then seamlessly into I Have Nothing (from The Bodyguard). Having seen both of these in the West End I can honestly say they transferred very well into the set list of Soulsville too.
Like any Beverley Knight show Sage Gateshead went out on a high, with everyone back on their feet for the Soul Classics I’m Every Woman and Hold On I’m Coming. Before that last number Ms Knight gave her heartfelt thanks by singing her apology for having to reschedule – and with the reaction of the crowd it was a wait worth waiting for – and she continued singing about it being a Wednesday night and she hopes the night has taken away the ‘hump of hump day’ – and boy did she do that – then we ended on the highest of highs with Come As You Are – though I think if there was no curfew we could have sang and danced all night with Ms Knight.
Words and photos Victoria Ling aka L’il Vik
Shovels & Rope
I Know (single)
Little Seeds (Album – released October 7th)
Husband & wife duo Shovels & Rope will release their anticipated new album ‘Little Seeds’ on their new label New West Records on 7th October. Known for their honest, raw and highly distinctive sound, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent (aka Shovels & Rope) have made their most personal and powerful album yet.
As songwriters, Hearst and Trent have earned a reputation as gifted storytellers. The main distinction between their prior work and Little Seeds, is that the stories here are true and inspired by their own experiences and observations.
First track, ‘I Know’
Robert Rex Waller Jr.
Western Seeds Record Company
A Superb Collection of Cover Songs Given A Sensitive and Loving Overhaul.
Robert Rex Waller Jr. is the voice and words behind one of my favourite albums of the last 5 years; I See Hawks in LA’s Mystery Drug https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/cd-reviews-2014/i-see-hawks-in-la-mystery-drug-2013/ so when this disc landed in my lap I instantly got a funny feeling in my tummy. Would it stand up to the previous record? Will it be better? Will it be different? Gosh….I was as excited as a teenager on a Friday night.
Well, Waller’s instantly recognisable voice pervades throughout and I have now sat back in a comfy chair for a whole afternoon, with numerous mugs of hot tea and a plate of ginger snaps soaking up this magical music on your behalf. There’s no need to thank me.
Wow! The album opens with a haunting version of Utah Phillip’s Walking Through Your Town in the Snow; and while the timeless sad tale of an itinerant worker wandering around looking for work is given the Hawk’s trademark ‘feel’ the sentiment is never lost; and the mood is set for what is about to dawn. I only recently discovered Utah Phillips via Otis Gibbs fabulous podcasts # See end of review.
The first of 5 or 6 surprises comes in on song #2; a tasteful reinterpretation of a lesser known Neil Young song, Albuquerque from Tonight’s the Night. Listening now, with Waller pouring his heart out, it really is one of Neil’s ‘great lost songs.’
Of the songs I already knew, the Hollies’ The Air That I breathe and more importantly (The Kinks) Waterloo Sunset at first seem strange choices; but Hell Waller would have heard them as a teen (like I did) and great songs like these stick around in the brain; and his treatment is heartfelt and touching on both.
Another left of centre selection is The Crystal Ship! Only slightly stripped back, this version is staggering in it’s simplicity and complexity and it sounds like the band were having a blast in the studio!
With the whole of the Modern American Songbook to select from, Waller hasn’t gone for the obvious with his Dylan choice, She Belongs to Me and he bends it, shapes it and makes it into a pretty damn fine Alt. Country song that could grace anything released in the last 20 years of that much loved genre.
Possibly an odd choice; but another from Waller’s teenage record collection Me and Paul by Willie Nelson was new to me; and the basic construction makes for a song that had me researching the original.
Robert Rex Waller Jr. has one of those voices made for the adage ‘I could listen to him singing the phone book’ and that is how I feel; but my heart sank a little when I saw the inclusion of Amazing Grace, but…..the simple church like piano (has father Robert Rex Waller Sr.) takes this much maligned song back into the territory it originally came from and took my breath away.
Favourite song though, goes to something I’d never heard before; the beautiful Don’t Pay Them No Mind, written by Robert Ahlet and B Scott (?) and a hit for Nina Simone in 1967. Staggering only comes close to describing the lyrics and Waller’s sensitive and slightly haunting handling shows his voice off in a way I’d never expected.
There are quite a few songs (and songwriters) that I didn’t know either; but Counting My Lucky Stars (Pail Stinson) and the Jazz-lite crooning on Night Owl (Herman Hupfeld) both made my ears prick up and help bind together a great selection of songs from a man with great taste.
It’s not clear why singer-songwriter, playwright, Professor of Writing and self-styled intellectual Waller has recorded a covers album; but I’m pretty damn pleased he has.
Released July 1st 2016
Otis Gibbs podcast about Utah Phillips
Deeply Rooted in Folk But With So Much More Too.
Sinderins are something of a Scottish Songwriters Collective; or more specifically a Dundee Songwriters Collective; originally based around the late lamented Thomson’s Bar in that beautiful city.
Primarily based around Stevie Anderson, Gavin McGinty, Dave Webster, Billy Fisher and Tom Barbour Sinderins regularly fill 3-400 seater venues around their home country, but are virtually unknown further South which is a shame and hopefully this record will put that right.
Opening track All Join Hands certainly has a cool Celtic feel to it; but could just as easily be a traditional Appalachian Folk song or something from the hipsters in Toronto.
Next up we have a more subtle and more melodic twist with For Every Road, a Traveller which conjures up thought of a Genesis influenced Big Country; if that’s not too odd a concept…..I likes it by the way.
It’s not made clear who sings what; and I think each member gets a go at times; but that’s not really as an issue as this album is just that; an ‘album’ with each song here on its own merits and should be listened to for that very reason.
While obviously rooted in Folk music; there are more twists and turns here than on a Mountain road; with the multi-layered and atmospheric The Devil Wears No Disguise sounding nothing at all like Neon Cherry Blossom, which is an evocative love song that starts John Martynesque then builds into something of a fist pumping and intense Folk Rocker.
Being Folkies with a conscience I’m pleased to say that there is even a biting and brooding song about the troubles that blight our world these days, namely trouble and strife which has caused a Refugee Crisis that shames us…..Walls Come Tumbling Down gets right to the heart of the matter; and should be played to politicians of all persuasions daily.
All three songsfully deserve their place here.
Favourites? Obviously the single Fayre which is a great example of the Folk Rock I flirted with in my teens; but the prize goes to Button Pressing; with the opening line ‘Gone are the days men opened doors/manners have been blown out the window’ and a quirky Jazz-Folk hybrid evolves evoking memories of Alex Harvey in the deliberate way each word is forced out over a piano led rhythmic beat. Love it!
Sinderins are ‘different’ certainly; and that’s a very, very good thing in this beige world.
Released June 24th 2016
Gypsy Soul (EP)
You’ve probably never heard of George Breakfast; and why should you? He’s never had a hit record, never been in Hello magazine and never been on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury; but while our world is full of singer-songwriters like him; the ones who scrape by making a living, travelling to the far corners of the musical globe to play in front of 10, 100, 1,000 fans because ‘that is what they love doing’ they are also the ones we sadly take for granted….but are the life blood of what we know as Rock and Roll.
Take 5 minutes to read his bio and listen to the beautiful title track Gypsy Soul from his latest EP….please.
George Breakfast started out writing and performing songs in the late 1960’s. By the early 70’s he was traveling as a street musician all over Europe and in 1982 moved to New York for nine years and became an integral part of the burgeoning roots music scene of that time.
A handful of songs he wrote at that time are still being performed there by other artists. He moved back to England in 1991 and has lived in Cambridge since the late ’90s.
He still continues to perform solo shows, and as a member of various combos both at home and abroad.
He now returns with his 10th studio solo project to date ‘Strawhouse Sessions’ which is due for release on the 10th June and available for pre order-
Acme Hall Studios AHR 0100
An Exciting New Folked-Up Direction For New York Singer-Songwriter.
I like Rebecca Pronsky; having seen her play live twice and favourably reviewing her previous album Only Daughter a few years ago; but and it’s a big but; this has been a very challenging album to listen to.
The album gets off to a great start with Bag of Bones; an up-tempo and literate story about self-doubt and the potential for a songwriter to ‘dry up;’ and it is easily one of Rebecca’s finest songs to date.
From then on in the mood darkens; with the following track Nothing Yet sounding like the singer is on the brink; but the brink of what I’m not sure.
Probably my favourite song here, Did You Know finds Rebecca at the piano with an orchestral backing; not to far away from the likes of Carole King’s Tapestry era.
Snowing Sideways is possibly the one song that ‘sounds like’ what I expected; a very personal account set to music; and in its own way, rather beautiful.
‘Interesting’ is a word that kept cropping up when I was scribbling notes; none more so than A.E. Which is a song about some newly published revelations about Amelia Earhart and Rebecca’s disappointment with the findings haunts the song like a thick suburban fog.
I do like the inclusion of left-field cover versions on albums; and here I sort of recognised Heatwave when I first heard it; especially the chorus but couldn’t figure out why; then I picked up the Press Release only to find the original is by Glasgow’s *second finest group, The Blue Nile and a song I absolutely loved many years ago. Although slowed down to a crawl, Rebecca certainly does the song justice and at times her voice sounds almost angelic.
While all singer-songwriters are Folkies at heart; Known Objects sounds like Ms. Pronsky immersed herself in the works of Joan Baez, Nanci Griffith and Joni Mitchell before entering the studio. Obviously that’s not a bad thing; and with her existing talents this album could, and will become a firm favourite for many people; just not me.
*The Sensational Alex Harvey Band are #1
Released June 10th 2016
The Mesmerizing Sound of 1,0000 Lakes and Forests.
You never know what to expect with Scandinavian music; but this debut album; and the first in a Trilogy absolutely stunned me into silence the first night I played it; and can still send shivers down my spine when I’m least expecting anything new.
After the break up of his last band Joensuu 1685 Mikko spent the Summer of 2012 building a studio in a cabin/summerhouse in a forest by a lake in Northern Finland; where he has based himself writing and recording in that beautiful wilderness; and that loneliness comes across in every note on every song.
The album opens with Enjoy It While it lasts; Joensuu’s haunting voice, soft guitar and pedal-steel echoing off each other to create an almost Americana cinematic theme tune as strings sweep and swoop over some gorgeous harmonies. Not what I was expecting at all.
The songs that follow are all quite ‘deep and meaningful’ and very, very literate, almost poetic at times. Two songs I’d Give You All and Sometimes You Have To Go Far come in at over 7 minutes long; but not a word or note is excessive; with the latter again feeling very ‘full’ and cinematic………washing over you as it seeps into your very soul and heart.
While never actually sounding specifically like either; Mikko conjures up the ghosts of Bert Jansch and John Martyn on the fragile Thief and a Liar which is the finest combination of British Folk music and genuine Americana I’ve ever heard; and it’s taken a Finn to do it.
A while ago I got hung up on songs I wanted played at my funeral (it’s not all laughs at RMHQ) and Take Me Home Lord, with Mikko at the piano and a heavenly string section in the background is a definite contender for that playlist; and on its own merits is a stunning piece of work.
On a similar theme; but a lot more chirpier is my favourite song here; Closer to God which again has a subtle pedal-steel shadowing Mikko’s distinctive tones on a song so fragile it should come wrapped in muslin.
With so much music around these days it is difficult for artists like Mikko Joensuu to break through; but with an album of this quality….and Quality is the key word there is every chance the broadsheet music critics will get their hands on a copy of the CD and if they do…..he could very well be ‘the next big thing’ and deserves it too.
Released June 10th 2016
Nick Pride & The Pimptones
Hoochie Coochie Bar, Newcastle.
Friday 10th June 2016.
The new ‘day job’ is causing havoc with my social life; especially gig going. The random shift pattern means I’ve had to cancel 5 gigs with only 24hrs notice recently; but just like Newcastle Busses two came along at once; and they couldn’t have been more different.
The second was local Jazz-Soul legends Nick Pride & The Pimptones launching their fabulous new album Go Deep at the even more fabulous Hoochie Coochie Bar in Downtown Newcastle Upon Tyne on a Friday night.
Unable to find a spare seat at an hour before they were due on stage (in fairness the bar is primarily geared up to DANCING) I found a secretive spot at the side of the stage where I wouldn’t bother anyone.
Bar owner played an eclectic mix of rare Dance tunes as a warm up; so quite a few of the exceptionally large audience were already sweatily excited when the Pimptones made there resplendent entrance at 9.15 on the dot.
An excitedly nervous Nick Pride greeted the crowd before the band glided into a series of instrumentals (Rejuiced Phat Shake, Come and Get It, Soul Food Strut, Hit the Love Button and White Lines) which showcased their collective musical talents in a stunning 10 minute spell; with each one being noticeably different from the previous tune and merging Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop and even a little bit of Bluebeat (Ska) just for the Hell of it.
By the time regular guest singer and now ‘official Pimptone’ Beth Macari made her entrance the packed crowd had surged forward but 15 or 16 were somehow managing to dance their little socks off.
The flame haired Beth immediately showed why she is being talked about in the ‘right circles’ with a sultry version of Lay It On; before totally blowing the crowd away with Love Thing; which even had my hips shaking and feet shuffling as I dived intermittently between dancers to take photos.
Even though they were predominately showcasing songs from the new album; every song sounded like they had known them for ever; judging by the looks on the packed crowd; which spanned the age divide from, uber-cool teenage hipsters, through young Mums on a rare night out to the Hoochie Coochie’s regular crowd of ‘mature night-clubbers’ who never grew up.
If you’ve read my review of Go Deep you will know I love it; but the added thrill of playing live made Go Deep even sultrier than on vinyl and Give It To Me became a right Royal slice of Funktastic Goodness.
If the recent 45 RPM single, Gotta Leave the Lady Alone had been recorded by Sharon Jones or Amy Winehouse would have had the London critics drooling; and tonight’s version simply sizzled with excitement, sending shivers up my spine.
One of my favourite songs, Everything’s Better in the Summertime, was just that tonight with two beauty’s immediately following – Put Your Arms Around Me and Mrs. Magpies’ favourite What The Heart Wants.
While most things revolved around the pocket dynamo Macari, the rakishly handsome Nick Pride himself plays a mean Jazz guitar; reminiscent of George Benson and even Wes Montgomery at times; plus bass player Ian ‘Dodge’ Patterson; who ‘lived’ every note he played and drummer Oscar Cassidy provided a powerhouse rhythm section allowing new saxophonist Alex Saxon free reign and founder member KB Nicholson to give a Masterclass on trumpet and come very close to ‘stealing the show’ from Nick and Beth.
The hour and 15 minutes went by in the blink of an eye and of course an obligatory encore was called for with the band responding with Put Your Arms Around me, much to the fans delight; so much so a second encore was loudly demanded; taking the band (and me) by surprise; and after a hastily convened conference an oldie but goodie, Hex On My Soul was delivered with great aplomb and finally left the 200 or more souls packed into the Hoochie Coochie Bar, satisfied and smiling their little faces off.
Making Beth Macari now their permanent singer really rounds off the Pimptones ‘sound;’ and vice-versa as Nick and the lads certainly appeared to bring the very best out in Geordieland’s answer to Amy Winehouse!