Failure Machine – WAKE DRAKE SKATE

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Failure Machine
SNAFU Family Records/Bandcamp

Hippity-Hoppitty Music Punked Up and Turned Inside Out .

As my kids and Grand-kids will tell you, I know nothing about ‘modern music’……which may sound odd but it’s true; if I turn on the radio on any station apart from Smooth or Gold I have no idea if I’m listening to Adele, Take That or Radiohead.
So when my favourite Reno, Nevada Grungy Soul-Rockers Failure Machine sent me their latest EP…..covering pop songs by a singer called Drake and the Fidlar I was a) non-plussed b) intrigued.
The first time I played it I had to fight the urge to press ‘eject’ on the car stereo; then a week or so later the ‘random play’ on my I-Phone played opening track Hotline Bling just as I was leaving work at midnight as the cold rain hit the wind shield.
The crashing guitar, Ramones style bass and drums coupled with a sweaty punked up song with an actual tune and most importantly a ‘hook’ was just what I needed to hear after a 10 hour shift. As soon ass it ended I pressed ‘repeat’ and soon had a silly grin on my face as I shouted along with the chorus like hormonal teenager.
The following night I programmed the phone to play the full EP and while it wasn’t raining; it was still unseasonably cold; but track #2 No Waves; with it’s RL Burnside flavoured Bluesy riff and growling vocals had me imagining that I was listening on the Ventura Highway; not the A1231.
Now I’ve played the EP numerous times; four tracks is the perfect balance; with Energy and it’s feisty guitars, red hot horn section and ‘shout-along’ chorus of “Got a lot of enemies/Got a lot of people tryin’ to drain me of my energy” somehow seemed quite appropriate for the end of the working day…..if not 100% true in my case.
The EP closes with a 99mph nitro-fuelled car chase of a song called Cheap Beer; that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Clash gig in ’77.
I haven’t bothered to find out which songs are originally by Mr Drake or the Fidlars; why would I? I’m never going to listen to them am I? These four songs will forever be Failure Machine songs at RMHQ and in the Magpie Machine very late at night when I’m tired and very, very angry!

Released March 30th 2017


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Tine Refnes

This week just gets better and better. I’ve been inundated with some great new albums from artists we love and adore here at RMHQ then this morning I’ve just received this stunning new single from our favourite Norwegian, Tina Refnes.
It’s a pre-cursor to her new album (coming real soon) and if it’s anything like her debut NO ONE KNOWS YOU ARE LOST (2015) we will be very happy bunnies around these here parts.

MAN OF THIS HOUSE; a collaboration with fellow Oslo musicians, is a playful and gorgeous soundscape of a song, and demonstrates the unique qualities of her strong, narrative voice.

Released Friday 5th May 2017.



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The Persecuted
Dial M For Music.

A Series of Very British Melodramas Labelled With Love.

It seems like a lifetime since I first heard The Persecuted’s self-titled 2015 debut album which I loved and quaintly described as ‘Gastro-Pub Rock’, so I was giddy with excitement when I opened the envelope and read the handwritten accompanying letter (remember them kids?) that came with this, their second disc BRITAINICARNA.
That was two days ago and if I tell you I sat outside my house last night at midnight, after a ten hour shift at work just so I could listen to the last minute of Pushing Me Away you will understand how much I love this one too
Opening track I Think We Need To Talk About Kevin begins in much the same way the previous album ended; a complex slice of family life encapsulated in a three minute Country-Pop song. Don’t get frightened by the word ‘Pop’ …’s only because the Persecuted use catchy melodies and actual ‘tunes’ to accompany their Kitchen Sink melodramas. ‘Kevin is about a teenager who sits alone in his bedroom ‘wacked out on cyber porn’ and his parents worry for him. Does that ring any bells with anyone? Hmmmmm; it’s a sad state of affairs but the Persecuted manage to tell this gripping story with grace and black humour.
Baring in mind the state of the world at the moment a song entitled Revolution could be quite scary and angry; but in these lads hands it’s a sad lament about someone like me (or you) who just shouts at the TV and pretty much leaves it at that.
While there’s an Alt. Country type ‘vibe’ to the Persecuted their sound and songs are quintessentially English, with absolutely no pretence at being American like so many of their contemporaries.
There is a definite Country ‘Twang’ to I Just Couldn’t Say It To Your face; and the theme of a coward trying to get out of a relationship is universal, as are all of the stories here; and Johnny Black’s droll voice makes it the very essence of what they have dubbed ‘Britainicana’.
Although these songs are perfect for AOR Radio; I doubt they will ever get played on that medium which is a loss to people everywhere; especially if Dropping Like Flies gets lost in the midst of time. While we’ve all moved on this ode to the death of David Bowie captures the feeling of embodiment seeing Ziggy on TOTP that first night gave a whole generation then 40 years later the utter sadness at the Dame’s passing.
There’s a song here called Desperate Housewife that is disorienting in the way a man articulately manages to capture the sense of loss and decline that a young woman/mother feels in her two bedroom flat. The only other song I can equate it to is Mothers Little Helper by The Rolling Stones from half a century ago and I defy you not to hear this and not think of someone in your circle of family and friends and then have a tear in your eye.
Those Twangtastic guitars rip it up again on Mid Life Crisis; with Echoes of The Waco Brothers the Persecuted nod to Chuck Berry with the chorus of “Go Johnny Go!” as they sing about a married man who “buys a motorbike and grows a goatee beard” as he searches for his long lost youth; but only finds heartache. If I ell you I checked the album to see if this was a Springsteen/Bragg co-write (it’s not btw) you will realise what it sounds like.
On a similar tip is the quirkilly titled Natasha Kaplansky Keeps Singing The Blues; where the singer is fed up with “getting checked for lumps and bumps….but still waiting for a heart attack” and because of all of the bad news he’s stopped reading the papers and watching the news because ” Natasha Kaplansky Keeps Singing The Blues.” Again it’s a Universal topic; but given a very British theme, especially when Black lists all the fun and food stuffs he’s no longer allowed.
Where do I start in picking a ‘RMHQ Favourite’ when just about every song here resonates with me in some way; my first choice was Pushing Me Away but Mrs. Magpie may read this review so I will toss a coin between Proving The Doubters Wrong of which 90% really, really could be about me! And the other is probably the Byrds inspired Death on the Dance-floor which closes the album. A very modern take on a life long fear for me and I presume many men out there.
The Persecuted are a bunch of musicians based in East London who all have other jobs to pay the rent; and sadly have to do this malarkey for love alone, which is a huge shame as the quality of songwriting is exceptional and musicianship this good only comes from years of hard work and I, for one would like to see them get even 10% of the fame and fortune they deserve.

Released May 1st 2017$ecuted.htm

EXCLUSIVE Danny and the Champions of the World – SWIFT STREET (Single)

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Danny and the Champions of the World
Loose Records

We got all giddy with excitement at RMHQ when it was announced that Danny and the Champions of the World were touring this Summer, so surely an album must be in the offing?
Then 20 minutes ago an e-mail from the record label pinged in my box (ooh err Missus!) and I’ve spent that time playing this initial release over and over again while Mrs. Magpie is at work!

Here’s the accompanying Press Release…….
Here come Danny & The Champions Of The World with album number 6 – writing themselves large, giving themselves the space and taking the time to deliver a magnum opus. With Brilliant Light Danny Wilson has made his All Things Must Pass – a big record of hit after hit stretching over two albums plus a further bonus set of instrumentals. He’s allowed both himself and his band the absolute freedom to explore experiment and collaborate – and they’ve grabbed it with both hands. The Champs are understandably proud of what they’ve achieved. Producer and bass player Chris Clarke says outright it’s the best record the band has come up with so far while for Danny it’s “a bit like taking a peek into somebody’s house, there’s great stuff that immediately grabs your attention and then there’s other stuff and you start out thinking it might be a bit mundane, but as the whole picture takes shape it proves to be incredibly beautiful”. That’s typical Danny Wilson a brave stab at modesty but far too honest to sell himself short. He and his band are already much loved for their whole-hearted openness their democracy and their sheer joy in what they do. They’re going to be loved too for this record. Very soon Brilliant Light will be the soundtrack to an awful lot of people’s lives and that is no small achievement.

Swift Street is the first song to be shared from Brilliant Light. The song is deeply personal to Danny George Wilson who co-wrote the song with Polly Paulusma and Carra Bacon. “Swift Street is the house where my mother grew up, the song is about 3 different photographs – one of me and my brothers playing in a billy cart in the driveway, the second is of my grandfather aged 14 standing with his mother outside his childhood home in Aberdeen – he left for Australia after the Second World War. The third is of my folks in the garden of the house in Swift Street before they left to live in London. Each photograph takes a verse. I was nervous about my mum hearing it, but she loves it.”

Album released June 23rd 2017


12 – LEEDS Brudenell
15 – MANCHESTER Soup Kitchen
16 – GATESHEAD Caedmon Hall
18 – BRISTOL Lantern
19 – CAMBRIDGE Junction 2
20 – LONDON Scala
21 – CARDIFF Globe
22 – OXFORD Bullingdon
#PHOTO COURTESY Peter James Millson

David Childers – RUN SKELETON RUN

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David Childers
Ramseur Records

Remarkable Collection of Folk Tinged Americana Tales and Stories .

Within days of each other two ‘musicians in America got in touch to say that their friend David Childers had a new album coming out and they both thought I (the website) could like it and be interested in reviewing it. Intrigued that they would go out of their way to contact me; I still did nothing about it; but a week later an envelope from a trusted PR Company arrived with a handwritten letter saying much the same thing; and enclosed RUN SKELETON RUN.
I’ve now listened to it several times; first in snatches but when heard from start to finish ‘I get it.’
At face value David Childers is a Folk Singer with a warm voice in the style of someone like Burl Ives or Tom Paxton; but so are a million others. So what makes him so different three people have gone out of their way to promote him to me?
The album opens with the sound of an old radio broadcast that leads into the title track RUN SKELETON RUN; a punchy Country Rocker with a fiery fiddle and tsch-tsch drum back-beat that takes you on a fast car chase between bank robber ‘Skeleton’ and the poh-lise.
I didn’t have to hear another song to see why my friends rate Childers so highly. The story is exceptional and had me gripping the edge of my seat hoping ‘he would make it.’
Collar and Bell is a wonderful alliance between what I know as Bluegrass and what I was brought up to think of as traditional Folk music. While both genres can be as boring as wood; Childers has a twinkle in his eye and a smile in his voice on this lovely toe-tapper.
Belmont Ford is a fascinating song; based on a poem by Mary Struble Deery about a train disaster during the Great Flood of 1916 in Chicago. The way Childers holds your attention from start to finish shows not just what a great songwriter he is; but the way he interprates his own words, taking a sad tale from regional history and making it accessible. Not many can do that.
Although I’d not heard of him before this is David Childers’ sixth album in 20 years and you can tell that from the quality of his writing on the well crafted Promise to the Wind and mid paced rocker Hermit; both entirely different in style but fit together perfectly well.
The easy option for title of RMHQ ‘Favourite song’ would be Goodbye to Growing Old; another beautiful Folk-Bluegrass hybrid on a subject very close to my heart; but I’m going for Radio Moscow. An odd subject for a Folk Song you may think; but much like my own teenage self David Childers sounds like he spent a lot of time listening to crackly radio stations in his bedroom dreaming about a world far beyond those four walls in a claustrophobic small town or village.
Discovering the likes of David Childers and sharing their talents is the reason I first started writing reviews many years ago, and keeps me going today.
Trust me, if you like a good old fashioned Folk Singer whether that’s Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt or Billy Bragg I think you will love David Childers just as much.

Released May 5th 2017

Sarah Shook SIDELONG

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Sarah Shook

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 Insurgent 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


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Ian McNabb
Fairfield 15

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… 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

Night Talks – BLACK & BLUE (single)

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Night Talks
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

Eric Ambel – LAKESIDE

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Eric Ambel
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

Amelia Curran – WATERSHED

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Amelia Curran
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