Mind Expanding Poplicious Psychedelic-Folk.
I thought my musical tastes were eclectic, but they are nothing like those of my friends at Hemifran in Sweden, who keep sending me large parcels of eclectic CD’s that cover the musical spectrum in ways not seen since the heady days of Volume and Oz Records in the backstreets of Newcastle during my formative teenage years. .
The absolute gem this month is the double album, Second Thoughts from Sweden’s Klas Qvist aka Citizen K.
Teased by the enigmatic album cover I delved in without looking at the press release.
Wow….and indeed WOW!
Disc #1 opens with the twee sounds of birds twittering just before a mournful cello slowly leads us towards a heady late 60’s influenced intense song called Mindexpander 1 & 2 and memories of long, lonely nights in my bedroom wearing huge stereo-headphones ‘trying to discover the meaning of life via music’ came flooding back.
Track #2 Song of Adjustment begins sweetly enough but quickly builds and builds until it reaches a wailing crescendo; which is quite an achievement in under 3 minutes.
Qvist claims to have immersed himself in the Beatles White Album prior to recording this, and to some extent I can hear that in the diversity of songs on offer; but so many other bands from that era like The Moody Blues, King Crimson and more recently Electric Light Orchestra are here too.
Citizen K give us huge sweeping melodies like Train of No Forgiveness and King of Second Thoughts; but temper these with dark introspective Folk ditties like Floor 13.
Disc #2 starts as if it may turn into a concept album; but doesn’t mercifully. Track #1 In Holland is a delicious song featuring Qvist not only singing but somehow managing to play the Grand Piano, Hammond Organ, Keyboards, acoustic guitar AND electric guitar simultaneously…..quite some feat! This leads into Wasps & Cars then Dutch Coffee, which are something of a minor trilogy; but are immediately followed by the Ben Folds inspired So This is Life.
I stand by my lifelong mantra that there is no such thing as a ‘great double album’ and Second Thoughts is no exception; with at least 8 or 9 of the 23 tracks being ‘filler’ or ‘fluff’; but then again these (nameless) songs could have been a separate album aimed at a different market.
For me, the stand out tracks here are Something Truly Magic, This Is Our Town and especially King of Second Thoughts; all of which showcase Qvist and friends myriad of talents and bode well for future releases.
Now I think about it, there is an almost Musical Theatre ‘feel’ to Second Thoughts, with all of the pieces telling their own story but when added together you get a much bigger story by the end….or perhaps I’m over thinking it.
Now I’ve played Second Thoughts twice I’m still struggling to get my head around it as this isn’t what I normally listen to…..but will certainly keep it close at hand for when I need to disappear inside the music for a couple of hours.
Released January 27th 2017
Dust to Gold
The Sound of the Swamps on a Sultry Sunday Night.
This is one of those albums that you dream of discovering quite by accident, and speak of in hushed tones to a select few.
Singer-songwriter Cris Jacobs was in a Baltimore based band called The Bridge for 10 years, releasing 5 albums and filling halls across the region; but decided enough was enough in 2011 and went solo, releasing an album in 2012 that came to the attention of Stevie Winwood who personally asked him to open a US Tour, as did Sturgill Simpson a year later.
Enough of the history lesson!
With a glut of new albums arriving with 2017 release dates this nearly got lost; but thankfully the ‘random play’ button on my I-Phone found opening track he Devil or Jesse James for the first time in weeks and I ‘had to’ delve into the album again.
Jacobs deep and warm voice takes us on an eloquent journey along the Southern back-roads in a way I’ve not really heard since Willin’ by Little Feat.
Jacobs sound is a lot quieter, introspective and claustrophobic than Little Feat or Lynard Skynard; but they are the two bands that spring to mind on songs like Hallelujah Hustler and Bone Digger, which both drip sensual sweat in every groove.
Jacob’s band are as tight as a duck’s backside throughout the album; with Delivery Man and Cold Carolina featuring some mighty sharp guitar playing alongside a rhythm section that would do Muscle Shoals proud.
For an album that sounds so simple, there’s a lot going on in Turn to Gold and Jack The Whistle, and I don’t just mean the razor sharp lyrics….this band can play…..I mean ‘really play.’
That first track is right up there; but my favourite song here…..and I don’t really know why, is the easy on the ear Leaving Charm City with only Jacob’s voice an acoustic guitar and a pedal-steel. It’s deep, gut wrenching and beautiful all rolled into one song. What’s not to like?
Dust to Gold is the type of timeless Soulful Southern Rock that was a staple of AOR Radio in the 70’s and 80’s but Cris Jacobs has managed to slightly rough up the over-polished edges and create something that is perfect for late night listening when you are sitting in the darkness with the one you love……or sitting alone thinking about the one you used to love!
Released November 2016
Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins
Yep Roc Records
The Coolest Cat in Americana Re-Defines Cool Americana Music.
Chuck Prophet’s last album Night Surfer was the RM Radio Show Album of the year in 2014 and in his previous incarnation the original Green on Red were the first Alt. Country band I ever saw, ‘blowing my mind’ at the legendary Riverside Club, Newcastle many moons ago.
Although a regular visitor to our fair city in the intervening years it’s fair to say Prophet never captured his ‘on stage magic’ on vinyl until Temple Beautiful in 2012…..and now, five years later….phew, the kid can now really write as well as he plays!
The album opens with a BOOM! The title track Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins is a trademark Chuck Prophet ‘three to the floor’ rocking, chug-a-lug boogie slice of Americana, with the Mission Express supplying a fantastic chorus in-between verses hailing a forefather of Rock n Roll.
Your Skin follows, and it’s the first of several surprises as it has a slightly psychedelic feel to the beat, especially Prophets’ fuzzy guitar licks and Stephanie Finch’s almost Floydian keyboards.
Similarly, Killing Machine takes a dark story and adds a hypnotic Doors type feel to the back-beat; and I can only presume (hope) that both songs get the light-show they deserve when the band play them live.
Prophet even has the confidence now to take a stroll back to his earlier albums, with Jesus Was a Social Drinker, in as much as it has a glorious Pop-Rock feel to it much like those albums alluded too.
One song that will probably get lost in the annals of time, but doesn’t deserve it, is Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues; as it has entangled it’s way into my brain and won’t come out. It’s a tune that is difficult to pin down as it nods towards several 60’s songs without ever sounding like anything in particular and Prophet really, really makes his Strat sizzle at times!
The song most reviewers will pick up on, Bad Year For Rock & Roll, will surely become a stage favourite as it mentions David Bowie and Peter Sellers directly and alludes to the raft of other famous artistes who passed in 2016. Plus, it’s a cracking ‘rocker’ too….straight from Prophet’s #1 play-book.
I genuinely love this album from start to finish, but picking a ‘Favourite Track’ has been relatively easy; although it is a tie.
The album closes with red-hot rocker called Alex Nieto and Prophet claims this to be his first ever ‘protest song’ and his ire and anger come through in every single note as he tells us about the young Latino who was killed in a hail of bullets by the LAPD in 2014.
The other is a lot more frivolous. If I was Connie Britton sees our hero Chuck, pen a loving ode to the flame-haired star of Friday Night Lights and now Nashville. I too am smitten with Coach Taylor’s wife and swooned the first time I played the song; and even now two weeks later I still get giggly at the lyrics. 10/10 Chuck….10/10.
Because of his distinctive voice this is obviously a Chuck Prophet record; but the way he glides between 60’s Psychedelia and Garage right through to 21st Century Rock n Roll, as well as including the occasional sensitive singer-songwriter ballad (We Got Up and Played) our hero proves he ain’t no one trick pony; he’s a thoroughbred ….pure and simple.
What more can I say, apart from I will be amazed if I review 10 better albums this year.
Released February 10th 2017
Stitch of the World
Yep Roc Records
Our Favourite Redhead Comes Back To Save The The World!
I can still remember the very day my friend Biffa defied engineering science by ‘burning’ me a copy of Tift Merritt’s Tambourine album onto a ‘blank CD’ before my very eyes in 2004! The magic disc played as perfectly as anything I had bought from HMV and the music he captured for me helped change my life.
As a good boy, I subsequently bought the album, and everything else Ms. Merritt has recorded, plus two ‘in concert’ albums neither she nor her record company are aware of . Yep readers, I’m not just a fan but an unrequited lover too.
So it was with shaking hands that I slid this shining disc into the CD Player (still old school at RMHQ!) and the excitement I felt hearing the crashing guitar opening of Dusty Old Man was palpable and only comparable to that first time I heard Tambourine. The song is a real pot-boiler as Tift lets her voice swoop and soar over some really funky electric guitar solos.
A lot happens on this album; and a lot has happened to Tift since her last Alt. Country (?) album Travelling Alone in 2012…..she recorded a quasi-classical album with Simone Dinnerstein, got divorced, had a baby and turned 40 (she doesn’t look it).
At some stage she retreated to a friend’s ranch in Texas and began writing these songs before moving to LA to record them while a little bit pregnant.
The songs and stories are as good, if not a tad better than ever; and the delicate production makes songs like Heartache is an Uphill Struggle shimmer like a Spring leaf in the morning breeze.
Icarus on the other hand finds Tift at the piano singing a plaintive heartbreaker that owes more than a little to the Simone Dinnerstein period, and is tragically beautiful in it’s own perceptive way.
Something Came Over Me features a pedal-steel but is a companion piece to that song in many, almost poetic ways.
Always complex and articulate, Tift’s words and the way she uses language throughout now resemble the likes of Leonard Cohen and Lucinda Williams, with the rocking Proclamation Bones being a prime example of a singer-songwriter maturing and reaching her creative peak (although I expect that peak to last a good few more years).
The album features her best friend Sam Beam from Iron and Wine on three songs, the sweetly sad Eastern Light, the intricate Wait For Me which closes the disc and our very own Mrs. Magpies favourite song, Something Came Over Me.
Me? Choosing a favourite song is a bit like choosing a favourite Grandchild…..but if forced I have to go for the title track Stitch Of The World which is quintessentially Tift Merritt but almost mystical in the way the song comes together……a female Van Morrison, if you will?
If I had a star rating, this would be a 5 Star album and only history will go on to show if this is a major turning point in Tift Merritt’s career……it should be; fingers crossed.
Released January 27th 2017
Picks ‘n Vittles
Raw Southern Country-Folk that Warms the Heart and Cools The Soul.
Some days I despair when I look at the pile of albums waiting to review and then other days I stumble on ‘rough diamonds’ like this and can’t wait to scream it’s delights to the world at large!
First of all, a friend who is a regular RMHQ follower suggested to John Monk from Pickxen that he contact me via the Twitter; which he did then followed it up with the CD and included a charming letter that made me want to listen to their music straight away.
Probably because Laura Monk’s delicious voice reminded me of the young Nanci Griffith I was immediately entranced with the simplicity of opening track Better in Tennessee and remained through to the end.
When the nifty banjo picking and Twangtastic guitar on track #2 7lb Rhyme filtered from the speakers I knew I was listening to something really special, and the bittersweet love song more than matches the music too.
Pickxen are a trio, Laura and John Monk alongside Michael Garvey and are based in and around Atlanta Georgia, and much to my personal delight have christened themselves, Pixie, Dixie and Micksy!
Laura’s warm and sensitive voice will melt even the coldest of hearts on Weight (Sic Transit Gloria Mundi) yet later, on Star she rocks the pants off another sad love song.
Baring in mind I’d never even heard of Pickxen 7 days ago, Picks n Vittles has the ability to sound like I’ve known the songs all my life; with none being any finer than Harmony which sounds like it was written to be the last song you would ever hear; and if it was it would be a great way to go.
The album close with the only cover version here; a live version of Wayfaring Stranger that showcases Laura’s marvellous voice and John’s fancy geetar pickin’ to full and glorious effect and fades out like a vinyl record before a (well known) ladies voice says “We’re closed!” It’s a cool way to close out a very interesting and, indeed ‘cool’ album.
With intricately complex guitar, banjo and bass throughout and some wonderful arrangements on songs like Poor Lucy’s Crooked Mile and Breath I can’t help but wonder why this group haven’t ventured North of the Mason-Dixon Line……they certainly deserve a wider audience.
As I said in the intro, Laura’s voice does remind me of a young Nanci Griffith at times, but at others Allison Krauss springs to mind and at least once I thought I could be listening to a young sibling of Emmylou Harris……but all along it was the smoky sultriness of Laura Monk. Funny that.
Released June 1st 2016
The Spirit of Woody, Steinbeck and John Huston That Rekindles the American Folk Flame.
I can remember the afternoon when I first saw Otis Gibbs the Jumping Hot Club at SummerTyne as if it was yesterday. Since then I have accumulated all 7 of his previous albums and must have seen him perform 10 or more times and he never fails to make my soul stir and enrich my brain. Plus, his Thanks For Giving a Damn podcast has taught me more about Americana history, music and its exponents than any magazine or website has even come close over the last few years.
Yep, I’m a bit of a fan.
Recorded in lieu of a party in his living room on the day of hos 50th Birthday, the album opens with Ed’s Blues (Survival) a beautifully sad song featuring some incredibly maudlin fiddle and a story about a friends death that has a great similarity to Gram Parson’s final days.
Otis has always been able to extract a song from the everyday things he encounters as he travels around the highways and by-ways of rural America and at last he has managed to put all of those freaks, geeks and oddities into one three minute opus. Great American Roadside truly en-captures the ‘Spirit of Americana’ in a way I don’t think I’ve heard before, and it conjures up pictures that are best viewed in mono or sepia…..definitely not Technicolour.
On his last album, Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth, Otis looked back fondly on his upbringing, specifically his relationship with his father and that theme recurs here with the raw and emotional Empire Hole, about the Limestone Quarry that his Dad worked in. I love the way Otis contrasts the beautiful New York Skyline with the hole in the ground in rural Indiana that supplied the stone for the city’s most famous landmark.
Sticking with the ‘looking back’ theme, two songs really intrigue me….Kathleen about a ‘first love’ in 1993 who has taken a wrong turn, but still features in the narrators life, albeit the shadows. It’s lyrically excellent and truly heartbreaking with Gibb’s voice sounding warm, leathery and on the verge of cracking.
The other is the Appalachian/Irish flavoured Lucy Parsons. The type of song more normally associated with the likes of Tom Russell; but a delightful move forward for Wanamaker’s favourite son.
While One Day Our Whispers is my favourite Otis Gibbs album (and a Top 10 of all time) it’s entirely possible that the more I listen to my favourite two songs included here that this album could overtake it very soon.
Those two songs epitomise everything I love about American Singer-songwriters and especially this one.
Gibbs gives us two history lessons with Bison and Sputnik Monroe. Bison is a heartfelt tale of the ‘white men’ destroying the great Bison herds and therefore destroying the great Cherokee nation. The song’s construction and delivery will grab you by the heart strings and feel like a kick to the stomach…..but leaving you staggered at Gibbs’ story-telling ability.
The opening lines to Sputnik Monroe should instantly grab your attention – “Listen to me people/Let me speak to your Soul/There’s more to Memphis than Rock & Roll.” The song about a long forgotten white boxer, who instigated the first integrated sporting event in the South, is a ‘typical’ Otis Gibbs story. One where he finds a tiny gold nugget that needs to be brought to our attention and does it in a very articulate and never less than interesting manner.
If this song doesn’t win ‘Song of the Year’ Awards at the end of 2017 there’s no justice in this world.
No longer the ‘Angry Man of Folk’ that I first fell in love with many years ago; Otis Gibbs now sounds more rounded; mature even (?) and his story-telling on this and the previous album will surely bring him to the attention of a much wider audience that will give him the recognition and rewards his talent deserves.
Released 13th January 2017
Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough
Luscious and Lyrical Genre Defying Roots Music.
‘Roots Music’ is a bit of a loose term these days; covering everything from traditional Irish Folk through to Chicago Blues and every niche in-between; but because this charming couple throw in a little bit of everything into their musical melting-pot; it’s the only way I can describe it.
I loved Brigitte’s 2014 album Savannah Road and excitedly went to see her in concert later that year; only to find the legendary Will Kimbrough alongside her on guitar.
Sadly (in my opinion) the audience only appeared to want to hear Kimbrough’s impressive playing so, alongside a hyper-chatty bass player, Ms DeMeyer got a bit over shadowed that night.
But, when she took the lead, the heady combination of her smoky voice on Will’s sublime picking was was mind-blowing and was surely destined to be recorded.
So, a mere 3 years later the duo have finally recorded a disc under their dual names.
Will Kimbrough’s distinctive picking opens the first track, before the couple’s honey flavoured voices harmonise on a delightful song that combines 70’s Folk with timeless Southern acoustic Country.
Will and Brigitte play around with genres all through the next hour, with The Juke being a sultry Southern Country Blues featuring some sizzling harmonica; and Little Easy being exactly what the title suggests with the couple treading lightly into Gram and Emmylou territory.
Apart from adding harmonies and exquisite guitar flourishes throughout the album Kimbrough also gets his moment in the vocal spotlight with the glorious Broken Fences, with it’s deep lyrics and Alt. Country undertones.
But, it’s a personal thing;I just love Brigitte’s voice, which is a ‘one-off’ and when Will harmonises on Until Then my legs went weak at the knees, and on the sassy Honey Bee she sounds like a countryfied Dusty Springfield.
In these days when you don’t need an actual single to promote an album, two songs still stand out from a rarefied bunch; the title track Mockingbird Soul with Kimbrough sending shivers down my back with his slide guitar; Brigitte has never sounded better as she takes us on a beautiful stroll down a Savannah Road.
The other is I Can Hear Your Voice, where Kimbrough takes the lead; but this beautiful song is more about the delectable harmonies that come dripping honeyed notes as they ooze from the speakers.
All of the songs here are, all bar two written by the duo, with the dour Carpet Baggers Lullaby being a co-write between Brigitte and Oliver Wood and all are incredibly well executed, intelligent and quite atmospheric.
The finale is an interesting and quite oblique choice…..but this adaptation of the Incredible String Band’s October Song actually fits in perfectly.
I can’t say much more without sounding ‘gushing’ but the wait has certainly been worth it as this album is every inch as good as I’d hoped three years ago.
Released January 27th 2017
Hot Coffey In the D
Red Hot Jazz-Soul Fusion By and For the Coolest Cats in Town.
Dennis Coffey? No; me neither but half way through my first listen to this splendid album I was reaching for the accompanying Press Release and found out he was a one of Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers!
The album opens with moodily cinematic Fuzz; an 8 minute opus that sets the scene very nicely and could easily have been from a cool Blaxploitation movie like Cleopatra Jones, but pre-dates that scene by 10 or more years.
I can easily imagine the patrons in Morey Baker’s Showcase Lounge, down-town Detroit City sipping their cocktails and grooving to the sweet soulful interpretation of By The Time I Get To Phoenix which follows; and Lyman Woodward then gives a master-class in playing the Hammond B-3 during a near 12 minutes of The Look of Love.
Although a live recording from 1968, it’s been edited to leave out 99% of the applause and intros, but the quality is diamond tight and as pin sharp as anything that came out of Hitsville USA.
There are only 7 tracks here; but each one captures your attention; with Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and the ubiquitous Wade in the Water showcasing Coffey’s liquid guitar style in a way that only Norman Whitfield had probably heard before.
There are only two self-penned tracks here; the opener and The Big D, a super funky tune that channels Curtis Mayfield, George Benson and Booker T at their collective very best.
My favourite track; Casanova (Your Playing Days are Over) is just 7 minutes of absolute Soulful Heaven; and perfect for any time of the day or any mood that you happen to find yourself in…..Sweet Soul Music indeed!
Oh; I’ve raved about Coffey and organist Lyman Woodward who very nearly steals the show; but let’s not forget the spine of the trio…drummer Melvin Davis who does much of the ‘heavy lifting’ in the background and is the glue that holds this band together.
BTW there is a 54 page booklet that accompanies the disc entitled Celebrating an Unsung Guitar Hero, and after reading it (and poring over the amazing photos) I have to agree….Dennis Coffey is a Guitar Hero.
I don’t go out of my way to listen to instrumental albums; but when I checked I have quite a few tucked away in my collection; mostly of the Jazz and Funk persuasions and each is there on merit, and Hot Coffey in the D will be a very popular addition too.
Released January 13th 2017