The Emotive Sounds of New Scotia.
I recently sent out a Tweet asking for local bands to get in touch with music to review; and the only response came from a Glaswegian band with a singer who hailed from a town 4 miles from my doorstep.
Out of a sense of decency I said to send their latest disc; their third since 2002 and first in 10 long years which arrived the following morning.
God definitely works in mysterious ways.
I was immediately intrigued and impressed with the opening track Hymn, a Gospel flavoured acapella song lasting less than a minute; then a full on powerhouse Celtic Folk-Rocker followed; raising my eyebrows to a cartoonish level.
WOW! The epic Kaon Blues (pt1) lasts over 7 minutes and the swirling guitars, luscious harmonies, militaristic drumming and brass section combine to create a sound akin to the best of Simple Minds, Runrig and Big Country filtered through Deacon Blue. It’s a universal sound that couldn’t sound any more Scottish if it came in a shortbread tin.
While nothing else, thankfully reaches those heady heights……my senses couldn’t take it; the pitch is set perfectly for delightful folky compositions like The River and the atmospheric Ballad of the Lighthouse Keeper to seep into your consciousness like the aroma of heather after a rainstorm.
For younger listeners, on a couple of tracks The People will sound like they take their lead from bands like the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons; but ‘that Power-Folk sound’ on Into The Wilds and Henry ‘O has been around since the sixties Folk Boom and these guys do it with aplomb, passion and show you young ‘uns how it should be done.
While I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the whole album; which is just as good played on a car journey as it is in the conservatory while reading the Sunday papers one song really stands out.
The Devil Inside is one of those songs that will go on to define a band. The Devil Inside encapsulates everything that is good, not just about this album but music itself. The singer’s voice aches as a guitar weeps and wails while the bass, fiddle and drums fill every gap imaginable; and when the harmonies fill the air you feel like the world is a better place to live in.
The playing, writing and story telling throughout is quite exceptional; especially from a band I’ve never heard of and who appear to be part-time but utterly professional and play for ‘fun’…….remember that, eh?
Released April 27th 2017
My Darling Clementine
Continental Song City
Our Favourite Husband & Wife Tear Up The Country Duet Rule Book!!
While a host of giddy young things are being hailed in the national media as either being the ‘saviours’ or even ‘inventors’ of British Country Music, Michael Weston King has been consistently releasing albums that defy the title ‘British’; and in the last few years alongside wife Lou Dalgleish has released three nigh perfect Country Duet albums and the collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham created a whole new Country-Noir genre.
Still with a Country Heart, this latest release from My Darling Clementine shuffles the cards like a magician taking their now distinctive sound into it’s very own musical stratosphere.
I actually went ‘Ooooooooohhhh’ when the opening stanzas to first track Embers and Flames oozed out of the car speakers. What a way to capture the attention…….a great 60’s big band feel to the rhythm section, but red hot and bittersweet lyrics for the couple to spit out at each other as their relationship fizzles out like a spectacular firework always does; and the song contains my favourite saddest line ever “And the bedroom’s just for sleeping”. Oh dear…..that lyric hurts more than any other.
This followed by a Lou Dalgleish penned song, Eugene where Lou takes the lead and Michael tells his part from the shadows as a mournful brass band add just enough pathos to keep you from crying; but only just.
Two songs in and I was hooked like a musical heroin addict.
Oh Dear Lord I won’t forget the first time I heard Jolene’s Song…… another song from Lou’s pen; where she takes the place of the original Jolene and the resulting song has been worth the 50 year wait!
While listening to the sharp as a tack There’s Nothing That You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know) I was reminded of the Beautiful South, then the penny dropped that Paul Heaton’s Countryish album last year with Jacqui Abbott completely ripped off My Darling Clementine! Fancy that….and the track is a humdinger too btw.
My Darling Clementine have never been your ordinary duo/band; as they are very theatrical in everything they do or perform, with each and every story conjuring up Technicolour images to go with the song. Friday Night/Tulip Hotel; a tale of sad infidelity is a perfect example and the jaunty Tear Stained Smile is just the same with the listener picturing the singers playing out their roles while tapping the toes at the same time.
Two Lane Texaco fits that description too; but this inspired tale of a decaying small town somewhere in rural America demands that the video would be in sepia.
Mrs. Magpie is a fan too and after playing the album while doing the ironing last weekend she decided that Yours Is The Cross That I Still Bear; a Soulful story about a couple ‘going through the motions’ was her favourite song; while I went for the out and out love song…..Since I Fell For You. But then again, I’ve always been a soppy romantic and the line “Now I stand by by your side/I understand the Sin of Pride” should be tattooed across my heart.
I love the way Michael and Lou aren’t prepared to ‘go through the motions’ with their music and are prepared to push their own boundaries to create something vibrant and exciting, without alienating their core fans.
Released June 2nd 2017
ROCK n ROLL HEART
Fascinating and World Weary Stories and Songs.
I’m not sure if it was the eye catching artwork or discovering that Lazarus is his real name that attracted me to this CD; but history will prove that the fates got it right.
After trawling the back-roads and dives that litter America Lazarus Nichols has finally got around to actually recording and releasing his debut album of mostly self-penned songs; proving that there’s hope for every musician out there.
The simple opening track Rise; an almost Quasi-Religious song that turns the bible story about Lazarus into a harsh tale of a working man of the same name is really impressive; introducing us as it does to Nicholls’ way with words and his extraordinary voice, which sits somewhere between Tom’s Russell and Waits.
The songs here criss-cross Modern American Folk, Alt. Country and Tex-Mex with such ease you don’t know where one starts and one ends.
Promise Not To Tell is one of those gorgeously evocative stories that littered Tom Russell’s early albums and the occasional flourishes of Mexicana in the background add an extra ‘something’ that makes this song stand out from the crowd.
Nichols has really grasped the opportunities offered to him in the recording studio; adding extra layers of violin to the chunky guitar on the beautifully mournful Shit and Shame; and then on Gonna Be Okay it sounds like a whole New Orleans Jazz Band are sitting in on the session as Lazarus tips his hat towards the good Dr. John via Leon Russell.
But it’s the simpler folkie songs where Lazarus really shines; with Loathsome Shadow and Making Good Time sounding as good as anything I’ve heard in recent years from some big, big names in the Americana world.
The only cover song here is a fascinating choice; Bob Marley’s Small Axe (a favourite of Noel Gallagher from Oasis) which Lazarus turns into a luscious slice of cool West Coast Country.
Then there is the title track Rock n Roll Heart; my favourite song on the album, which is exactly ‘what it says on the tin’ but done in an Alt. Country stylee…..and just begs to be heard on the radio or perhaps one of those TV Detective shows with a cool soundtrack.
Who knows why some people with average talent find fame in this world; and why others like Lazarus Nichols live their lives in the shadows barely eking out a living; let’s right that wrong and give Lazarus his time in the spotlight that he so surely deserves.
Released May 26th 2017
Justin Townes Earle
KIDS IN THE STREET
New West Records
The Definitive 21st Century Singer-Songwriter Album.
I’ve got a lot to say about this album and Justin Townes Earle himself; but don’t want to bore you!
Let’s start at the beginning …..I first discovered JTE via a download of YUMA in 2007 and loved the raw way he wrote and performed his songs; and it was only when HARLEM RIVER BLUES was one of my first ever reviews that I discovered his father was Steve Earle…honestly; so I’ve been a fan of Justin’s music for its own worth; without the baggage or lazy comparisons.
First of all, this is his most accessible album since HARLEM RIVER BLUES and shows a new maturity in his songwriting and perhaps even subject matter; starting with the sleazy Rock n Roll opening song Champagne Corolla, which is a timeless doozy of a tune that will light up any room it’s played in.
This followed by a slower more Countrified song called Maybe a Moment; where JTE’s distinctive voice has never sounded warmer or more charismatic…..which actually sums up the whole album btw.
While I’ve loved his deeply personal songs on previous albums; Justin uses his imagination here more than ever before and shows what a staggeringly good storyteller he has developed into.
15-25 opens with a crash and is followed by some cool barrel-house piano before our man slouches in front of the microphone and regales us with an autobiographical look at his younger self; all set to a Rockabilly beat and when her purrs “I never had any regrets” and “I’m kinda lucky I survived” you kinda know he is singing from the heart.
The beautiful title track KIDS IN THE STREET follows immediately afterwards and finds the singer in reflective mood remembering his innocent days in East Nashville then seeing those same streets today.
That old school Rockabilly sound creeps back in when the snappy Short Hair Woman rolls out of the speakers and fills your senses like a sweet perfume; and again on
I’ve always had a hankering for Justin’s bluesy songs, which are few and far between and Same Old Staggolee and the atmospherically Gothic If I Was the Devil which it bleeds into, is a delightful way to spend a 10 minutes and bodes well for the day JTE finally makes a whole album in this ilk.
Which brings me to ‘favourite track’ time. One of the ‘teaser songs’ that has filtered out in the last couple of months closes the record and has haunted me since I first heard it; There Go A Fool hints at a whole new exciting direction for Justin and should be my #1; but when I first heard him crooning Faded Valentines I went weak at the knees; so that is my favourite track here by a Country Mile.
Since Justin Townes Earle first came onto the scene 10 years ago he has never released a bad album; although some of the individual songs have been challenging as he repeatedly bore his soul in public; but here he shows a new maturity in his writing and storytelling. plus at times, a mischievous sense of humour.
Producer Mike Mogis took him way out of his comfort zone in Nashville to record in Omaha and that added ‘edge’ coupled to his recent marriage, sobriety and impending fatherhood appear to have combined to create the album Justin Townes Earle has always been capable of making and will be the one his contemporaries will be judged by. 10/10.
Released May 26th 2017
LIAR LIAR! GE2017 (Single)
I haven’t been this politicised since the cusp of the 1970’s and 80’s when my country was going to Hell in a handcart and me and mostly my family were collateral damage in Maggie Thatcher’s Broken Britain and I’m devastated to find the same and perhaps worse (Food kitchens!!!!!!!) conditions prevail in 2017.
I’ve been endlessly promoting the recordings of Quiet Loner who has put my political feelings and those of many of my friends in song.
Jump back to those heady days 40 years ago and one of our anthems was Stand Down Margaret by the Beat which quickly became the riotous encore at RAR and Support The Miners concerts, but more noticeably for me….. Geordie legends Arthur 2 Stroke and the Chart Commandos closed every show with it.
A couple of days ago a friend told me about this wonderful re-worded song by another Ska band ….Captain Ska.
As I type this LIAR LIAR! A cool Ska footstomper full of righteous indignation and razor sharp observations about the snivelling twists and turns from our new Illustrious Leader Theresa May (and featuring some of her snide sound bites) is on the cusp of the Top 40!
A little push from me urging you to squander 100 British penny’s on the download will surely get it into the charts and……onto mainstream radio! (Oh…all profits go to 2 great charities too so its a Win-Win situation)
Come on guys……you know it makes sense.
Released May 1st 2017
STRIPPED DOWN/GUSSIED UP
Mighty Fresh Sounds From North Carolina Singer-songwriter.
As I’ve said before there are no definitive reasons for some of the albums getting reviewed at RMHQ; as in this case the album title STRIPPED DOWN/GUSSIED UP caught my attention as I occasionally use the term ‘All gussied up’ when I go out gallivanting of a weekend.
Well; I’m mighty pleased I did find this remarkable album from Pierce Edens.
His bio tells us that her grew up in North Carolina playing Appalachian Folk until he discovered……PUNK ROCK! Weirdly those two worlds clash/merge on several songs here, none more so than the opening track Sirens. An angry electric guitar fights an acoustic as Eden’s gravelly baritone swoops and soars on a an almost primal song that scratches at your brain until you let it in.
At times Eden’s magnetic voice sounds like a whiplash, a slow methodical build up…..then…..crash he punctuates a sentence or chorus emphasising his point in I Can’t Sleep.
Other times his voice is so low you find yourself tilting towards the speakers so as not to miss his magical stories; Further Down and Daffodils; the latter is almost like something from Thomas Hardy in spirit.
Regular readers will know how much I like an expressive gravelly voice; and that’s exactly what Pierce Edens has; in other hands songs like The Devil There Too or It’s Alright, It’s All Wrong wouldn’t be half as memorable or even interesting; but the way Edens drops his lyrical bombs kept me enthralled from start to finish each time.
The one song I’m not sure about his his treatment of Tom Waits’s Mr. Siegal where he gets a bit carried away trying to ‘out Tom Waits’ by screaming and shouting. It’s good; but could have been a bit more tempered at times.
Which brings us to my ‘favourite track’…..an easy choice this time; track #2 Here which starts with some beautifully played acoustic guitar before Edens seeps in; presumably with his eyes tightly shut as he forces each word and phrase out with as much understated power as possible.
Not always an ‘easy listen’ and certainly not ‘commercial’ enough for most people; but I’ve rather fallen in love with STRIPPED DOWN/GUSSIED UP which is actually a fair description of the contents within the record sleeve…..funny that.
Released June 2nd 2017
DON’T TRY TO FIGHT IT
Red Parlor Records.
The Renaissance Man of Americana Strides Ahead of The Pack.
It’s very difficult to keep up with David Olney; apart from his weekly Video reports (Vlog?) and radio show on Nashville’s WXNA he tours more than Dylan and hardly a year goes by without a new album of fresh new material; which always stand up alongside the best of the rest.
A friend and cohort of everybody who is worth knowing in Nashville’s (and Americas) Americana and Alt. Country world David Olney is surely due a big old Career Retrospective Double Album/box-set as by my reckoning this is Olney’s 30th album in 36 years; but until then there is NEW MUSIC to listen to…….
WOAH! I wasn’t expecting the opening electric guitar/sax salvo that breaks out of the speakers on If They Ever Let Me Out which opens the record. Olney’s trademark leathery, world worn voice then slithers over the band like a King Cobra on a tightly wound, almost claustrophobic Southern Rocker with the singer taking the character of an inmate pacing his cell dreaming about his release day. Trust me; only David Olney could right a song like this and deliver it with such élan.
As expected you have to expect the unexpected with this guy’s records; we get a Tex-Mex flavoured love song with Innocent Heart, some Leon Russell New Orleans Voodoo-Rock with the title track Don’t Try to Fight It, Cool Chicago Blues on Sweet Sugaree, plus beautifully weird Eastern Psychedelia with Situation and with Yesterday’s News Olney finally gets to record a song he wrote in his youth and it comes out as a sweet and mellow nod to the Laurel Canyon era; but first and foremost he is a teller of stories and the genre he chooses for them is secondary.
Crack in the Wall, like that opener is another tightly wrapped Country-Rocker featuring some sublime electric guitar from Blair Hogan on a song that out Alt’s the current swell of Alt. Country bands…….Olney Rocks!
On an album that sweeps you along like a night train, with hardly any time to catch your breath David Olney has never sounded finer (#discuss) than on the lilting Folk ballad Ferris Wheel, which takes us back to those heady days of first finding love; and I can’t think of a better metaphor than a Ferris Wheel at a fairground to describe those exciting highs and lows the way David and co-writer John Hadley manage.
But; my favourite track here is when David ends the disc with the cinematic and atmospheric Big Top (Tornado), a powerful and imaginative ‘talking Blues’ with a Southern Rock/Blues spine that is so left of centre it deserves a whole album based around it or, at the very least a 20 minute 12″ re-mix!
What more can I say? I’m pretty sure some reviewers will call this David Olney’s ‘Masterpiece;’ I can’t judge as I think I’ve only heard about ten of his previous discs but I can say that I doubt I will hear 10 better and more memorable albums in 2017!
Released March 31st 2017
SILHOUETTE OF SIRENS
Red House Records
Soul Baring at It’s Rawest and Most Eloquent.
This has been a very difficult album to review as it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting or wanting from one of my favourite singer-songwriters. Her previous album Back Road Highways turned my world upside down and sent me to three different cities to see her play live the following year and also buy her three hard to find previous offerings.
Whereas that album was easily accessible with songs and stories that painted beautiful imaginative pictures; this on the other hand is vary dark and the singer sounds very tightly wrapped and even pained on every track.
The scene is set with the first song Drive Slow, an intensely honest song where she questions her life now and past, in such a way she sounds like she could cry at any moment.
Every song here sounds like Chastity has had to haul the words up from the dark recesses of her heart and as her beautiful voice frees them, she’s still not sure they may be for public consumption.
With that in mind Lies, How Could I forget and the sublime Lost all sound so personal the listener is left feeling privileged to be let into that part of her life.
As you’d expect this isn’t an album with any obvious ‘single for radio’ potential; it’s an album in the old sense of the medium; but two songs really do stand out.
Pouring Rain caught my attention the first time I heard it; taking my breath away the way Chastity sexily challenges her lover to “Miss me when I’m gone/Kiss me when I go/I’m learning the hard way” but it appears that the love may be ‘one way’ and sadly unrequited; a scenario most have us have been in at one time or another but never been able to put as eloquently as Ms Brown does. Oh….it’s a bit of a Rocker too. On Wake Up the drumbeat throughout sounds like a pumping heart; and that’s just perfect for the way Chastity combines her honesty and intensity with a damn fine melody to create a multi-layered ‘plea’ of a love song that defies the laws of gravity as it floats through the ether.
The other, Carried Away opens with some twisted guitar playing followed by a piano and an angry singer giving a gut wrenching performance on a very dark love song; about the end of a troubled relationship. 10/10.
Personally I don’t like to know too much about an artist’s home life; as I like the music to do the talking and ‘speak to me and me alone’; but in this case Chastity Brown’s childhood, race and especially her sexuality have all combined one way or another to create these brooding vignettes from her own memories (and some that are re-imagined) and for once, knowing that makes the songs all make perfect sense. This isn’t some whiny singer-songwriter feeling sorry for herself; this is a Master Craftswoman using her own experiences to help others come to terms with similar issues in their own lives.
Released May 19th 2017
WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT PEACE, LOVE and UNDERSTANDING
Legendary Instrumental Guitar Band Pay Homage To A Legendary Songwriter.
You thought it couldn’t and perhaps shouldn’t be done; but it has …….. Los Straitjackets; one of the most imaginative, swaggering and strange band in the world have re-invented 13 Nick Lowe songs as instrumentals What’s not to like?
They rip up the rule book by turning opening track Shake & Pop into a surftastic slice of 60’s Pop then follow it with more than a nod to The Shadows with their take on my favourite Nick Lowe song, All Men Are Liars making it virtually unrecognisable. Okay; all the notes are there……just not necessarily in the right order!
All I could think of listening to this album was ……Quentin Tarantino is gonna LOVE IT! Everything sounds like it should be on one of his soundtracks……..I can just about picture the dance scene with Tom Hanks and Judi Dench shaking their butts to the funky Half a Boy and Half a Man; a car chase around the mean streets of Chicago involving Mark Wahlburg with I Live on a Battlefield on the car radio.
I Read a Lot sounds like it should be in a Spy Movie; conjuring up images of men in Gannex overcoats looking mysterious in the murky shadows of a European city late at night.
Hahaha……seriously (sort of).
This album is everything you would expect; and more…….there are song title here I’d totally forgot about and after hearing the outrageously bang-up versions of Raging Eyes and You Inspire Me I was obliged to pull out the original LPs and revel in Nick Lowe’s genius for a whole afternoon.
Oh……Cruel to be Kind is slowed right down to a Waltz pace and made me smile for the solid 3.18 minutes, as it washed over me like a summer breeze.
Then, of course there is the title track, WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT PEACE, LOVE and UNDERSTANDING, one of the greatest British Pop songs of all time and a song I want played at my funeral. A very brave song to cover in this format; but everything hinges on it and…….well……they pull it off with aplomb! Heavy on the bass and tambourine but with some guitar that Hank B Marvin would be proud of slicing through like a stiletto through hot butter.
This album is not just great fun and not just the soundtrack to your Sunday afternoon; as it was mine but expect it to be on constant rotation in your favourite Hipster cafe all Summer long!
PS The cover artwork is amazing and I’d like it as a t-shirt please!
Released May 19th 2017
Jon & Roy
THE ROAD AHEAD IS GOLDEN
Blue Heron Music
An Inspired and Articulate Slice of Arcadian Canada.
This is Jon Middleton and Roy Vizer’s seventh album and I’d not heard heard of them prior to receiving this disc; but thanks to the glories of the World Wide Web they found me and I can share it with you.
The atmospheric opening track Runner sets the tone nicely for a set of songs that capture the imagination and bare repeated listening.
Middleton’s distinctive voice sounds ‘lived in’ and at times ‘deeply hurt’ on songs like How The Story Goes and Nothing But Everything which features some mysteriously jazz-lite guitar and bass, which makes it perfect for listening late at night when you are feeling very sorry for yourself.
In a way it seems only Canadian artists can do it, Jon and Roy capture the sense of loss at the end of a love affair better than their counterparts anywhere else. Perhaps it’s the cold winds from the North or there’s something in the water; but I can’t imagine a song as brittle as Clever One or Every Night being written or recorded in America or the UK. Jon and Roy (plus co-producer) Stephen Franke capture that magical sense of wonderment and bewilderment quite perfectly at times.
At one stage when I was playing this on Sunday Mrs. Magpie looked up and said “There aren’t many laughs here, are there?”
That is true; and there aren’t meant to be….these songs tell fragile and complex stories in a well constructed and very articulate manner; but the whole album is still very accessible and; dare I say it….easy on the ear.
I’m contrary by nature so very rarely choose title tracks as ‘my favourite’ but The Road Ahead Is Golden which features some delightfully picked guitars and Middleton’s voice itself sounds actually golden; if a little tarnished; all making for a genuine stand out track.
Not for the first time this year I’ve made another ‘great discovery’ in Jon and Roy who are at heart Folkies but easily crossover into ‘Americana’ territory with what I can best describe as Cowboy Junkies Lo-Fi sensibilities.
Released May 19th 2017