Turn Left at Janis, Then Right at Lucinda and Go Straight Past Loretta.
How do they do it? Bloodshot Records I mean. They keep finding acts that I just need to listen to.
On the album cover Sarah Shook from North Carolina has the look of the only girl at school who had both the Clash and Johnny Cash albums and knew all the words too.
The quaintly titled Keep The Home Fires Burning is a raw slice of Country with a Rockabilly beat, and Sarah sounding just the right side of angry, sings as if she’s defying the listener not to like her. But if like me you know the really ‘good stuff’ doesn’t come out of those shiny building in Nashville you will like it; despite her sneer.
Sarah Shook doesn’t look old enough to have had all of the heartbreak that she writes and sings about[ but that’s the joy as she has one helluva imagination as expressed in the fiery No Name and later in Solitary Confinement when she sounds like Patsy Cline on steroids, “drinking him off her mind!”
Bloodshot used to describe itself as the ‘Home of Resurgent Country’ and boy does this young lady live up to that billing on songs like Nothin’ Feels Right Like Doing Wrong and the Punky Country Rock of Misery Without Company; and I love the way the rebellious singer is going to Make It Up To Mama by getting another ‘heart tattoo’!
As a man of a certain age I don’t normally like profanity in music; but the way Sarah describes her life – she could be the offspring of a late night relationship between Janis and George Jones; Fuck Up is the only title imaginable; and I’m pretty damn sure it will be the sing-along highlight of their concerts.
Highlights are too many to list but I will give you two songs as my favourites; the title track Sidelong is as dark a Country song as I’ve heard in years, with Snook sounding on the verge of tears at times on a wonderful piece of writing.
The other is along a similar dark romantic path; but Dwight Yoakam is about that period when that relationship is just about still hanging by a thread; “I’m drinking water tonight cuz I drank all the whiskey this morning”(“Dwight Yoakam”) pretty damn fine writing in my opinion.
Many years ago there used to be a band on Bloodshot with leather jackets, tattoos and quiffs called the Riptones who opened the Rockabilly door for me. They took what the Stray Cats did, but stripped it back to the bone and added kerosene……and now Sarah Shook and the Disarmers have taken up that mantel with a vengeance; and I can’t wait to see them play live in a hot and sweaty club.
Released April 28th 2017
STAR SMILE STRONG
The Greatest Living Scouser Still Has a Fire Inside His Soul!
I came to Ian McNabb late in the party; Friday 31st May 1996 to be precise.
His fame (and fortune) with the Icicle Works had somehow managed to evade me, as had his two previous solo albums (including the brilliant Brit nominated Head Like a Rock) but that gig and the Merseybeast album he was promoting totally blew me away – I may even have uttered the words “I have seen the future of Rock and Roll; and it’s name is Ian McNabb!”
Subsequently Ian McNabb is the only act in my collection where I own every album and single they have recorded; including a couple of bootlegs and a Japanese release of Merseybeast too.
I am an unadulterated fan.
Which brings us to STAR SMILE STRONG. Can I actually be objective? Well; yes I can, because the last couple of albums prior to the covers album ECLECTIC WARRIOR in 2013 were patchy at best and only ‘average’ especially when compared to his earlier recordings.
This new album gets off to a strange start with what sounds like static or the wind and the night for nearly a minute on Mystic Age. Then some delightful guitar evolves from the shadows before Ian’s trademark voice purrs from the speakers on a Floydian space trip that includes a haunting Tenor Sax solo, some sublime lap-steel, a synthesiser, an organ and enough guitars to start a small shop….plus an interlude from the sexiest man in Astronomy and Physics. The weirdest thing is…..it works, the whole ensemble never sound overwhelming on this 8 minute opus.
My head was still spinning when track #2 Can’t Get What I Want came crashing at my ears like a souped up Vauxhall Nova.
HURRAY! This is trademark McNabb (with the addition of a kazoo) and even has shades of latter-day Icies about it as Ian and cohorts Roy Corkhill on bass and Dodgy drummer Matthew Priest create a cranked up Rock n Roll noisefest that will send the Kasabians and Kaiser Chiefs running home crying to their Mummy’s if they ever get to hear it.
It’s been a long time coming; but Ian McNabb has certainly got his songwriting muse back with a vengeance.
Lazy Water finds him in a romantic mood, with his acoustic guitar taking precedence over a 12 string electric that shadows it, alongside Corky’s subtle bass-spine around which everything revolves as usual.
This particular songwriter uses ‘love and romance’ as a theme quite a bit; but no ‘Moon in June’ for him; there’s always a healthy dose of cynicism in his bittersweet stories and here the rocktastic Wanna Change My Plea to Guilty and I Kinda Like It Without You will definitely resonate with regular fans; and could even bring in some new fans too.
I certainly don’t want to do a ‘compare and contrast’ with his earlier songs; because Ian is very much about the now and the future; but a friendship that was cast during the Merseybeast days with the legendary Ralph Molina (Crazy Horse) has spawned a fantastic song called This Love I Feel For You; and it wouldn’t be out of place on any of his key albums; but the Tex-Mex trumpets give it a sweet Alt. Country feel and left me wanting a whole album in that vein.
I’ve had the album a few days now and have even played it ‘for fun’; not just for review purposes…..which is something I can’t say for everything I review and two songs caught my attention straight away and have gone onto a playlist for a forthcoming car journey.
Women Love a Bastard (Men Love a Bitch) is Ian McNabb back to his very, very best with a song that isn’t a million miles away from They Settled For Less Than They Wanted from Merseybeast, but brought bang up to date. His eye for detail and his vivid imagination combine in a way very few other songwriters can achieve; yet Ian McNabb is still; sadly relatively unknown to the world at large.
The other, Hotter Than The Sun won’t appeal to everyone (Mrs. Magpie hates it!) as it finds McNabb being louder than ever before, on an out and out, feet apart and head-banging RAWK SONG that will shake the fillings from your teeth. Not just a great song, but it features two legendary members of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Zal Cleminson on guitar and drummer Ted McKenna hitting his skins with hammers and…… the intro is the great man Alex himself….what’s not to like?
Never one to limit himself to the traditional three minute format when writing; the album closes with a wonderful 12 minute short story set to music, Clarabella (Come to the Window) which somehow encompasses everything I love about Ian McNabb’s songwriting style and the way he sings ’em.
If you follow Ian on Social Media you will know he has very eclectic musical tastes; and he appears to have cherry picked bits of Rock, Folk, Country and even the much maligned Prog to take a step backwards to actually move forwards. Thus making STAR SMILE STRONG by far and way his most complete album for 15 years and in many ways he’s throwing down a marker to his contempories; by writing and creating 12 brand new songs that are all worthy of inclusion here; and for you to listen to.
Released April 20th 2017
BLACK & BLUE (Single)
It’s a bit frantic at RMHQ this week, what with my photography Mojo returning with a vengeance last weekend, the day job knackering me and…..the Mighty Magpies (Newcastle United FC) returning to their rightful place in the English Premiership!!!!!
Add those together and there’s not been a lot of time for listening to full albums; so it’s back to my teenage days with the return of The Single!
This one by LA Indie kids Night Talks has really captured my imagination.
There’s not a lot to say about it, apart from it’s bloody lush!
Released March 2017
Last Chance Records/At The Helm Records
A Ragged Glory of a Rocking Country Album.
Eric Ambel? Never heard of him? But I guarantee that you have ‘heard him’ as he was the Joan Jett & the Blackhearts guitarist when they were famous, then besides playing on numerous albums as ‘guitar for hire’ he came to my attention first via the Del-Lords and then one of the greatest live bands ever….The Yayhoos with Dan Baird and Keith Christopher.
Oh; and he’s a Producer extraordinaire too!
But that’s the past, this is now.
Even though he was busy beyond belief, when his favourite NY bar The Lakeside Lounge closed down he was left with innumerable memories of playing there and also seeing loads of bands, famous, infamous and many long forgotten; but most importantly it gave him the idea to record an album under his own name as a tribute.
Opening track Here Come My Love, written by his Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner sets the scene perfectly, sounding like the type of sloppy Saturday night Honky-Tonker the Lakeside and a million other bars like it was famed for; but listen a second time and you will find there’s not a note out of place and the band have actually perfected the art of making Rock & Roll sound so simple.
I can’t help but smile every time I hear Let’s Play With Fire; obviously the song tips it’s hat to the Johnny Cash song but this witty and razor sharp modern Country Classic from the pens of Jimbo Mathus and Robert Earl Reed is perfect for 2017 in a way the ‘original’ isn’t.
Mathus’s ‘production’ is truly amazing; a mix of super-high-resolution digital sound then mixing it all to analog; and as Ambel says in the liner notes “this is for people who break in their own jeans!”
That motion to perfection comes across perfectly on the multi-layered Don’t Make Me Break You Down and later on the moody Buyback Blues……hear them on headphones and you will never listen to Pink Floyd again!
Ambel has the art of making brand new songs sound like you’ve known them all of your life, which actually makes the two cover versions fit in perfectly. I first heard Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio by a band called Ox and Ambel also gives this already sad song an almost claustrophobic feel; and not for the first time shows Neil Young how a dirty guitar should sound….and he makes it sound scary a couple of times.
The other is the Soul classic Money, which Ambel and friends turn upside down and inside out but keep the dance beat going all the way through 3 and a half glorious rocking and rolling minutes.
Ambel’s trademark guitar licks and Jimbo Mathus’ dangerously observant lyrics are the reason Hey Mr. DJ is by far and away my favourite song here; and one I expect loads of other ex-Bar Bands to pick up and include in their own sets.
LAKESIDE isn’t an attempt to top the Pop Charts or any such; it’s a true labour of love that will find it’s way into loving homes all over the world that will treasure it and whisper about it to like mined music fans in an almost conspiratorial manner……just like when we were all discovering music in our teens.
Released April 28th 2017
Six Shooter Records
Feisty and Spirited Folk-Rock From a Canadian Outpost.
Bizarrely, and for the first time in years I had just played Amelia Curran’s previous album THEY PROMISED YOU MERCY the night before I received this, her latest disc. As my Sage like Father used to say, “God acts in mysterious ways.”
Opening track Move a Mile is a real ‘ear-catcher’ as it has a ‘big production’ but also has an air of spaciousness about it. Confused? You won’t be……this is the type of quality singer-songwriter song that was all pervading in the 70’s and 80’s……think Joni, Alannis and perhaps Mary Chapin Carpenter the way Amelia carefully chooses her words and phrases but adds them to a commercial melody making the song very accessible to the casual listener.
While some of the subject matter is quite deep and occasionally dark; Amelia’s warmly expressive voice and some tightly wrapped guitar throughout pulls you in to songs like Sunday Bride and the bittersweet Act of Human Kindness; a song that really highlights not just Amelia’s writing skills but her vocal range too.
I mentioned the 70’s and 80’s earlier but only because that was probably the ‘watershed’ for singer-songwriters, especially female ones who were finally seen as the equal (and in several cases – the leaders) of the male of the species and like Tapestry, Elite Hotel and Blue there is a timeless quality to these songs, especially Try and the angst ridden No More Quiet which could easily have been on any of those classic LP’s.
This is Amelia Curran’s eighth album and that apprenticeship comes across in the way she effortlessly builds the tension in her stories and keeps you hanging on in there until she has got her message across……and that message is always worth waiting for.
While this is basically an old fashioned album that begs to be listened to as a complete package and not in bite size chunks; a couple of songs really do stand out from the crowd.
Every Woman/Every Man is a delicately fragile work that evokes memories of the early Nanci Griffith albums and, now I think about it Carole King’s Tapestry, but is also a trademark Amelia Curran song.
My other favourite is at the other end of the spectrum Gravity is as catchy and punchy a Folk Rocker as I’ve heard for quite a while and held together by a glorious electric guitar spine, that supports Amelia’s expressive vocal performance.
Maybe there’s nothing on the TV in Canada, leaving a lot of time for developing songwriting skills, but here we have another Canadian taking a traditionally American format (is being a singer-songwriter mostly associated with the USA?) and actually bettering it.
RELEASED April 21st 2017
Just when I was complaining about the lack of interesting and exciting new video singles around another has just arrived at RMHQ; and is perfect for a potentially sunny weekend!
Bodinrocker is a solo project by Anders Bodin from Gothenburg, Sweden. He is known for his straightforward rock, combining tasty guitar riffs with strong melodies. The 1st single is a catchy boogie pop and rock track that will certainly get you in the perfect summer mood…..what’s not to like?????
RELEASED 21st April 2017
TAKE ME BACK (Single)
It’s been a few weeks since we had a video worth posting…..not that there’s no good ones out there, just something that excites me and makes me want to share it.
Brenda Burch is a new name to me and has a gorgeous voice and can write a damn fine Country song too as this new single proves.
Taken from her latest EP Sparks Will Fly (review to follow) it was filmed in her home state of Utah and adds a stunning backdrop to a sharp song about getting your life back together.
Released May 1st 2017
ALL IS WELL
Another Unknown Legend From The Suburbs Delivers a Gem.
I receive music from a variety of sources and countries every week, so prioritising reviews is proving increasingly difficult, especially as I pride myself in listening to everything prior to writing about it.
Thus more and more albums are falling by the wayside; some from bands and singers on biggish record labels and also self-releases by Singers like Roy Peak. Roy did the right thing and contacted me via the website several times earlier this year, but because I was overwhelmed by work and CD’s I didn’t respond…..then two days ago he sent me a snarky/sarcastic Tweet.
I wasn’t in the best frame of mind so this was the wrong place……right time!
OK Fella…..bring it on……show me what you’ve got!
Oh dear……opening track Okolona is bloody good! Peak has the type of interesting and raspy singing voice I love and the slightly sloppy guitars and bass behind him were just what I needed to hear, but didn’t know it.
By day Roy Peak is a bass player (for hire?) in several bands; but with songs like Underhill Rose and the grizzled folk-rocker It’s Better To Be The Bride he deserves to front of house a lot more often.
I like the way Peak takes everyday subjects like life, love and death and give them a quirky left of centre makeover. His writing style on Teach Me and the punchy Black River is like the edgier side of Neil Young and John Martyn, but Peak certainly isn’t a copyist or indeed a one trick pony.
He has an angry Punky streak in him too which comes across in the fiery Mean Girl Blues and the muscular Somewhere in the Distance too.
It’s favourite song time and on an album that has appealed to me on many levels one song stands out above all others; Clear Lake, February 3rd 1959.
One of the greatest songs of all time, American Pie is about the same subject…..the death of Buddy Holly. The difference here is that Roy Peak inhabits the mind of a tired and lonely Holly and re-imagines his last thoughts about his wife Maria Elena.
It’s a genuinely clever and fascinating song that shoe horns in a couple of Buddy’s song titles without ever being cheesy or mawkish, which is quite an achievement.
Apart from the vanity side of listening to albums before anyone else; one of my main reasons for keeping going with The Rocking Magpie is discovering artists like Roy Peak and having the ability to scream their talents from the Internet Rooftops……trust me, this is right up our/your musical street; and it’s cheap too.
Released December 2014.
The Long Ryders
BEAR IN THE WOODS
Who knows where Alt. Country and indeed ‘Americana’ comes from; better scholars than me have debated this conundrum for years and will continue to do so wherever there is a Hip coffee bar or cool pub that sells ‘craft beers’ (what the Hell is ‘craft’ beer????}…..but for many of us there was a time just after Country Rock when the new young bands stopped wearing stone washed denim and growing facial hair (!) for me it was Green on Red and The Long Ryders that turned me on to a whole new world of music.
Fast forward something like 30 years and those crazy kids The Long Ryders are releasing a brand new single BEAR IN THE WOODS…..on the one hand a children’s tale for adults and if you have a vivid imagination an insight into the dark machinations of American Politics…..let you the people decide.
Whatever; it’s a cracking song and I for one can’t wait for the (alleged) follow up album later this year!
Here’s what The Long Ryders have to say about the song :-
“Whenever I hear this 1st new Long Ryders’ song in 30 years it only takes me about half a minute before I have to push back my chair, turn the volume up, and start dancing around the room like a happy fool. A killer Tom Stevens’ song, a strong ensemble performance, a real true thrill to be back in the saddle again, riding high with The Long Ryders, my musical home away from home.” ~ Sid Griffin
The new music comes just before the band’s first CA tour run in 30 years, playing club dates before their 2017 Stagecoach Festival appearance. Shows include The Chapel in San Francisco (4/26), Constellation Room in Santa Ana (4/28) and The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood (4/29).
Songwriter Tom Stevens offers the following about his new tune, “The message is complex. I wrote this song about a bear, a friendly one, approaching it like a children’s song. But what emerged under its surface was different. I likely had the state of politics on my mind. The bear in this song may not be the friendly, all knowing guru that he appears. But in real life, it’s up to us to seek our best hopes and not our worst fears in our gurus. Lately I feel that too many have done the latter”.
Lead guitarist and vocalist Stephen McCarthy explains how the new music came about, “The band played a number of shows in 2016 and we felt it would be worthwhile to try and write and record some new material. Greg flew out to Virginia and we recorded a few new songs at Adrian Olsen’s Montrose Studio. Sid and Tom sent new tunes over and we recorded remotely for the first time.”
Tom continues the story, “30 years on and the band still sounds wonderful, mature, familiar yet new, and all very much The Long Ryders. It’s brand new musical scenery in our long ryde, and we’re all enjoying the view”.
Drummer Greg Sowders agrees, “30 years goes by in the spin of a wig hat. We wanted to give our fans something new for our spring tour. It’s so great to be back in the studio with my favorite rock ‘n’ roll band. We hope you like this new music as much as we do”.
TO THE TOP
It’s Only Rock n Roll and I BLOODY LOVE IT!
New music arrives on my desk from a variety of sources and for a variety of reasons; and only occasionally someone will contact me with a personal note to say “I genuinely think you will like this album.”
Such was the case here when a ‘friend’ mentioned a band a year ago that he’d seen at SXSW then again this year and he ‘knew that I would love them’….subsequently quoting reviews of similar acts.
He wasn’t wrong!
The fuzzy Jeff Beck channelled through Warner E Hodges guitar break that opens first track I’m So Blue had me instantly hooked and then a ‘most Blues-wailing’ harmonica sealed the deal before the singer Matthew Paige had even uttered a note. What can I see boom-boom Ramones style drumming, 60’s British Beat Boom R&B and a singer who thinks he’s Jason Ringenberg…..what’s not to like?
In many ways this album starts with a bang and proceeds to drop musical bombs at every opportunity……I Had a Vision is a soundtrack for anyone with a conscience in this mad political world and will have fans screaming the chorus while manically punching the air at concerts, and I expect the 100 mph stomper I Wanna Be Famous to have a similar effect.
This band will be known for their fantastic Rockers (Everybody’s Watching is as good as life gets!); but like the best before them they will be judged (by me at least) for their ability to slow things down too; and with I’ve Got The Blues, Paige’s sorrowful lament, a mournful harmonica and a Steel-guitar, duh-duh-duh bass and some sublime understated drumming combine to make an raw and authentic Country-Blues record that sounds like it was recorded in a field outside a Juke Joint in rural Alabama in 1947…..and damn good it is too.
Then, just to confuse you Velvet Low Down Blues finds the band harmonising on a gorgeous slow and swinging tune with a fiddle as lead instrument…..and again, it’s damn good.
She Was Mine, which closes the album rocks and shakes like a cat on heat, and Promise to Keep sounds like something the Stones or Faces might have recorded but were frightened to release as it was ‘too Country Rock’ for the times; but those times are right now and the Blackfoot Gypsies are at the forefront.
Do I go for the Diddley-Rocker Gypsy Queen, with Paige imitating everyone who has ever imitated Mick Jagger, for the title of ‘Favourite Track’ or the mellow and borderline sexy Woman Woman? Today it’s the latter, but last night with the car stereo cranked up to 11 it was the former, TO THE TOP is that kind of album, it has suited and created every mood I’ve been in or needed to be in all week.
Thank you Cary and thank you Blackfoot Gypsies, you know me better than I know myself.
It’s only Rock n Roll…….and I bloody love it!
Released April 14th 2017