Every Soul’s a Sailor
LowdenProud Records LOWD60161
Rodeo King Proves He is a Prince Among Singer-Songwriters.
Well, I don’t know what I was expecting…..but I wasn’t expecting this!
I only knew Stephen as a founding member of the amazing Blackie & The Rodeo Kings; quite probably Canada’s finest Country Rock (?) band; so when the sweet rolling Country sounds of Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is filled the office just before Christmas I was astonished straight-away. Fearing’s distinctive voice is…..is…..warm, weather beaten, slightly nasally and expressive in a way not heard around these parts for a mighty long time.
The song, with it’s lovely chorus and awesome guitar interludes is so cool it made it difficult for me to listen to the rest of the album as I kept going back to it.
This left me with a huge dilemma…..could the rest of the songs live up to this compelling opening track?
Yes…is the short and definitive answer.
Red Lights in the Rain follows and takes us on a very emotional and sad journey that is full of poetic lines like ‘nothing says I’m hungry like a baby’ and ‘no one says I’m lonely like a train.’ Plus, Stephen’s soft guitar picking will send shivers down your spine.
Fearing takes a bit of a left turn on The Things We Did, which somehow sounds a bit Western Swing and a bit Country Blues and is more than a bit of a toe-tapper too.
Every Soul’s a Sailor is an album that begs to be ‘listened to’ which may seem an odd thing to say; but Stephen Fearing’s lyrics and the way he delivers them demands your full attention and not just be in the background. Carousel sounds not unlike something from James Taylor and if you listen on headphones you will get the full benefit of a craftsman at his very best.
Gone But Not Forgotten is in a similar vein; ‘easy listening,’ yet still edgy and lyrically clever….if that makes sense.
The title Better Than Good, intrigued me as it’s something I’m prone to say when describing something and the song itself certainly is Better Than Good as Stephen describes his feelings for the lady in his life.
As usual I played the album a couple of times before reading the Press Release and gave myself a smug 10/10 for getting the background to the rocking Blowhard Nation bang on the nail! I won’t give too much away but the song was written and recorded in the middle of the 2016 US Election campaign and….well….give it a listen.
10 songs here and not a bad one among them, which is some achievement but after 20 years or more as a singer-songwriter and band member perhaps that’s no surprise, it certainly won’t be for his legions of fans in North America, which brings me to my ‘favourite track’ here.
Obviously it should/could have been the opener Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, but now two weeks after receiving the album I’m going for…..the beautiful title track Every Soul’s a Sailor which closes the disc. I can’t even describe why; but it just touches me in many different ways….which is a good thing.
2016 has been a strange old year for me personally; after a couple of wobbles a year ago the website has gone from strength to strength with readers all over the world and requests from artists, PR’s and Record Labels both large and small with albums from Eric Clapton, UB40, Joe Bonamassa and Bruce Foxton from the Jam rubbing shoulders with unsigned artists like Thompson Wilson and they all fit together like a great big musical jigsaw.
Alongside that I have slowly recovered from the operation that removed my cancerous prostate and took a massive step into the unknown with a career change at age 57…..thankfully the healing powers of music got me through some very dark days early in the year.
In total we received 478 albums or EP’s for review this year….even a staff of 6 would struggle to listen to everything in full; so sorry if your music didn’t get on the website….it wasn’t personal – it was logistical.
It has been the quietest year in a long time for gigs but I still went to a couple; but perhaps my proudest moments have come from the amazing in-depth interviews that my friend Cara Gibney has supplied…..thank you pet. The ‘one that got away’ was Bap Kennedy. Sadly his health deteriorated so quickly we never got to talk to him about his music and his life…but I can recommend the Ralph McLean Radio Ulster ‘listen again’ radio show on the i-player.
On the plus side I have discovered many new artists that have blown my mind with the quality and depth of their music…..the file that my Top 10 was drawn from totalled 37 reviews a week ago and it has broke my heart to leave some out.
Everything here touched me in some deep and personal way; from making me think, dance, smile and occasionally cry with every emotion in between…..so with a deep breath here is my Personal Top 10 Albums of 2016
It’s been an amazing year here at Rocking Magpie HQ, overpowering and overwhelming at times……..and even humbling when I read some of the e-mails I receive from artists, PR’S and readers.
We now have followers in all four corners of the planet……including Japan, Iceland, Bahrain and now Lebanon as well as the usual suspects of the UK, Canada, most countries in Europe and the USA.
We’ve tried our best to bring you Exclusives as well as posting reviews ASAP and as usual we have reviewed a few hundred eclectic albums, EP’S and the occasional single and the readers Top 10, based on hits/reads reflects that.
Thanks to absolutely everyone who has helped make The Rocking Magpie the ever growing success it is; from bands, singers, Record Labels, PR Company’s and of course you….the readers. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Honky-Tonkin’, Boundary Crossin’ Grizzly Rock For Grown Ups.
It’s not a complaint, but I do get a bit overwhelmed by albums from the all corners of the Music scene and many can fall by the wayside simply because I don’t have the time to listen to everything that gets sent; or more importantly give them the time they deserve, which is why I always start my reviews with the opening track…..an opening track has to capture my attention within a minute some days.
The title track Runnin’ With The Pack did that within 30 seconds!
A wailing guitar solo (a Fender Telecaster if I’m not mistaken) followed by a grizzled voice, that sounds like it’s got a lot of stories from a life well lived in punched its way out of the speakers and I was hooked.
Who doesn’t like a song with a great hook, a melody and girlie backing singers? Not many I’d guess; so this is a song (and an album) for all of you/us.
I know next to nothing about Jimmy The Dog aka Jim Ferrie, nor do I need to with classy songs like Tumbleweed and the memorable Any Minute Now with it’s nod in the direction of early Dire Straits.
This appears to be Ferrie’s third album, with the first being released in 2013 and with songwriting as sharp as on Mule, you wonder why this dude with the naturally silver goatee beard has been for the previous 20 or 30 years. The song itself sounds perfect for audience interaction on the ‘Oooh – Ahh’ chorus.
Self produced and playing the vast majority of instruments himself, Ferrie has done a great job mixing Country-Rock, Chicago style Blues and the odd pinch of Classic R&B making it sound as natural as breathing on the love songs You’re All I Need and Countdown to Love; and he even goes a little Funky on Cross My Heart and Lovejack (think Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, if you will).
I can only imagine the shiver of excitement you would feel if you were in a bar in New Orleans, New York or New Brighton and Jimmy the Dog’s slick touring band fired up Love Or The Lack for the first time in your life. Trust me you would be strait on to Twitter swearing you had seen the future of Rock & Roll (slight exaggeration perhaps, but if you had had a few beers you may).
There is another song here that fits that bill exactly too; and it’s been an ‘ear-worm’ for me over the last few weeks……Fire In The Hole. Wow….wailing harmonica, sweet guitar licks, pounding drums, a bass line from Hades and breathless vocals straight from the Crawdaddy Club in 65 combine on 3 minutes of Rock perfection.
Jimmy The Dog? A sweaty hybrid of just about everything I’ve liked over the years – The Yardbirds, Dire Straits, Bo Diddley, Joe Cocker, CCR and a smidgen of 70’s Rod Stewart. What’s not to like?
Beautiful Folk Infused Country Music from British Troubadour.
Although we have two mutual friends, our paths have never crossed; probably because Singer-songwriter Steve Black is from London Town but now based in Devon at the other end of England from where I reside in the NE.
The loss is mine; judging by this delightful album.
Right Here and Now opens with quintessentially British tale of being caught in a traffic jam on a hot Friday afternoon; but the neat Country-Rock tune and Black’s world-weary voice defy national borders and will resonate with people all over the globe.
With a warm and expressive delivery Steve Black is an exceptional story teller with songs like Jacob and the title track Right Here Now I was reminded of singers like Don Williams, Guy Clark and even latter day Sam Baker; but on Highway of My Heart and Good Old Country (Girl) he digs deep into his Hank and George record collections for some sweet good time Country music.
For a man of a ‘certain age’ Steve Black certainly has a romantic streak running straight from his heart to his brain; with What Haven’t We Done For a While and the exquisite Dance With Me, which closes the disc both touching me in such a way I had to stop Mrs. Magpie mid-ironing to make her listen to Black’s heartfelt words.
That latter song was very close to being my ‘song of the day’ but instead I’ve gone for the deceptively complex Highway of My Heart; which brought a tear to my eyes and desperately tugged at my heartstrings and could only have been written by someone with many years of life’s various experiences under his belt to write a song this beautiful and emotional.
Steve Black’s long time/occasional sidekick Alan West has not only made a great job of the production but plays guitar throughout. The biggest surprise for me though, has been the feeling that this was a band effort, with Justin Johnson on drums, bassist Simon Goulding, Adam Sweet (Guitars etc), David Hartley on pedal-steel and the majestic fiddle, banjo and mandolin of Justin Moses all combine to bring the very best out of Steve’s delightful lyrics.
South Texas Suite
Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers
Yeehaw! Classic Country Just Got Cool Again.
Young Whitney Rose has certainly made some impressive friends in her short career, with her debut album Heartbreaker of the Year being produced and mentored by none other than Raul Malo from the Mavericks and now the young Canadian has changed direction; albeit only slightly but definitely more left-field by pitching up at Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Studio in North Austin for two whole days to record these six songs with the Continental Club’s house band – Haybale; a veritable who’s who of Country music, including piano player Earle Poole Ball, bass player Kevin Smith, drummer Tom Lewis and one of my Top 5 guitarists of all time…..the legendary Redd Volkaert.
The EP starts where the LP ended with an authentic Waltz Time Honky Tonk song called Three Minute Love Affair. A mini-soap opera about a lonely girl in a small town who meets a handsome stranger at the Saturday night hop and has but one dance with him, that leaves a life time of memories. Country music doesn’t get any more Countrier than this!
Track #2 Analog is the haunted tale of an old-fashioned girl who lives in the modern world, but loves the simpler things in life. In a whole other world this could be the great lost Patsy Cline song that features Chet Atkins; but it’s not….it is the delightful Whitney Rose and Redd Volkaert tugging at the heartstrings while in the background Earle Poole Ball shows why he played piano for 20 years with Johnny Cash.
Lookin’ Back on Luckenbach is a classy take on a Country standard set of imagery; using Luckenbach as a metaphor for ‘The Good Old Days’ and it makes for a lovely few minutes.
All six tracks are lusciously produced without ever sounding dated or overbearing; with the slow Waltz meets a Two – Step beat perfect for Whitney’s timelessly expressive voice, with Bluebonnets For My Baby being a perfect example of why only idiots say “Modern music is rubbish. They don’t make them like they used to!” They do! You just have to look in the shadows and ask the right people for directions and you will find songs like this; although there aren’t many out there this good.
The disc ends all too briefly with an instrumental, which at first seems an odd choice but How ‘Bout a Hand For the Band; originally the outro to My Boots is just too good to be thrown away and now closes the disc quite perfectly.
Oh dear…..I nearly forgot to mention My Boots.
No I didn’t really; it’s my favourite track here and makes your toes tap and head nod in time to a joy of a dancetastic tune, with an enthralling story about a Country Girl sticking to ‘her roots’ regardless of what people expect of her; and I hope Whitney Rose will still ‘wear her boots’ when she is picking up Grammy’s, CMA’s Etc. sometime soon.
Cassie Josephine & Gabriel Minnikin
Contemporary Country Duets With a Beautiful Melodic Twist.
Gabriel Minnikin has been on the outer edges of my radar for a few years courtesy of mutual friend Gem Andrews; but it is only with the release of this disc that I’ve actually heard why Gem raves about him.
Aha! You say; but this features Cassie Josephine too…..and indeed it does; which was a wonderful surprise as I was expecting another solo outing from Nova Scotian Mr. Minnikin.
Ooh! My ears pricked up like a meerkats when the soothing Twang of opening track Forever drifted from the office speakers followed by Cassie Josephine’s sweet and expressive voice. It’s sometimes lazy to throw comparisons into a review; but I immediately thought back to those early Nanci Griffith and Laura Cantrell albums as she took us on a Mid-Western Country road trip over the next couple of songs.
Although this is a CD, I’m impressed by the way the album is split into two distinctive ‘sides’ just like olde worlde LP’s used to be with Cassie taking the lead on Side 1, as befits a lady.
What a voice she has…..’like warm honey and butter on a freshly toasted crumpet (ha,ha,ha), but seriously she has a gorgeously sweet voice yet with a slight ‘edge’ to it which comes out in all its glory on the brittle I Don’t Want to Go Anywhere and Through The Blue which made me go weak at the knees whenever the mandolin got played.
Side #2 opens with Gabriel singing the dark and brooding Red Dirt Morning, and the mood immediately changes as he flirts with a sound normally associated with Gram Parsons and Neil Young’s acoustic period.
The highly atmospheric Good Listener appears to pay homage to the Godfathers of Alt. Country, the Band, with Minnikin and friends singing a doleful lament that sound like it was written around a campfire on the Lonesome Trail, as Levon taps out the beat on a wagon wheel.
The songwriting and storytelling is sublime throughout, with Minnikin’s Maid of Honor and St. Genevive trailing a very close second and third to Cassie Josephine’s The Price for the title of ‘Best in Show’ but Cassie’s beautiful rendition coupled with a violin, pedal-steel and piano accompaniment are just exquisite.
Certainly an album of ‘two halves’ but that is the couples intention, and it works very, very well producing a Country album that straddles every permutation that title suggests with ease, from Swing through Country Rock to Alt. and will please fans of Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Lambchop and Sturgill Simpson equally well.
This show was something of a double-header for me as opening act Canaan Smith has been on my radar for a year or so courtesy of friends in the Americas, so a post-gig tincture was declined and we made our way into Hall 1 just as he was coming on stage.
The ruggedly handsome singer was attired in the obligatory beanie hat, double t-shirt, washed out jeans and battered Redwing boots combo that is deemed de-rigour these days as was his pal on guitar, albeit with a Trucker cap instead of the beanie.
Enough about the fashion; what about the music you ask?
They opened their set with a song about and possibly called Getting Old, which was lyrically razor sharp and right from the heart; gaining rapturous applause as it ended. This was followed with a cool song apparently inspired by and name checking Miranda Lambert, called You Crazy Girl. As it ended Mrs. Magpie was applauding loudly and grinning like a ninny; high praise indeed.
The duo genuinely captivated the audience for their full 40 minutes, with Smith’s fascinating and slightly self-deprecating stories interspersing a well balanced mix of Country Rockers and the occasional introspective songs.
The highlight by far, was Bronco, a song about Smith’s elder brother who died in a car crash when the songwriter was but a boy. The song leant itself to an acoustic setting (I’ve subsequently seen a Rocky version on YouTube which is just as good); but when he introduced it my wife wasn’t alone as she clutched her hands to her chest as the hint of a tear formed in her eye. The song was well worthy of the story.
Tonight Canaan Smith, in the guise of a cool Alt. Country singer-songwriter won the hearts and minds of 2,000 Geordie Country fans, and when he assured the crowd he would be back in 2017 with his band, the roar of approval was as loud as for his songs.
Aha; the Shires! It’s hard to believe that in July 2014 I saw them perform for free in front of about thirty people on the concourse of Sage Gateshead at the SummerTyne Festival; and now they have two massive hit albums under their belts and tonight’s show was deemed a 2,000 seat Sell Out a month ago.
Very slick and professional Crissie and Ben followed the band onto the stage amid screams from the younger members of the audience and set the turbo to ‘warp speed’ by opening with a rocking version of Nashville Grey Skies and it’s Country Girl/Country Boy belt-along chorus set the mood for the evening.
The quintessentially English duo neatly balanced songs from their established debut album with ones from the more recent My Universe, with fans singing along word perfectly to absolutely everything.
Even though I last saw them earlier this year, Crissie seems a lot more assured with the range of her voice and Ben sounds more ’rounded’ and ‘smoky’ and when they harmonise….. even the most cynical reviewer will go weak at the knees.
As ‘fans’ you would think it would be difficult for the Shires to still surprise Mrs. Magpie and myself, but no…..they threw curve balls all night.
Tonight’s version of Naked with Ben on the piano and Crissie ‘serenading’ him with her crystal clear voice was absolutely spellbinding, and who knew Robbie William’s Angels could ever sound fresh and exciting again? Well tonight it did.
As expected Mrs. Magpie and I differed as to what the ‘best songs of the night were.’ I chose the beautiful Daddy’s Little Girl (a real tearjerker) and Save Me, which was luscious from start to finish and a lot deeper lyrically than most Country songs coming out of Nashville these day.
Mrs. M surprised me by choosing the punchy and rocktastic All Over Again, which had a hardy bunch of 50 or so dancing in the aisles and Jekyll & Hyde which saw a National Steel make its debut in the shadows.
If The Shires have signature tunes they would probably be I Just Want to Love You, State Lines, Friday Night and the ever marvellous Made in England, which all got rolled out before the evening ended, some with new arrangements but all to the audiences obvious delight.
Regardless of your feelings this IS Country Music. Hank and George may not recognise it as such, and their wasn’t a pedal-steel or banjo within a 100 yards of the stage; but this IS Modern Country and every note and word is as good, if not better than what their American counterparts are producing; and now they have been signed to Big Machine, it will be fascinating to see how they fair in the home of the music we all love.
You can’t call what The Shires are spearheading a resurgence in British Country Music, as we’ve never had anything near the crossover success as what they and Ward Thomas are currently having; and I couldn’t be any prouder.
These days I’m not always sure where the demarcation line is between actual ‘singles’ and ‘album teasers’ but I can’t resist sharing this fabulous song from Aaron Watson’s highly anticipated 2017 album Vaquero.