(Martin Stephenson and) The Daintees
Lilac Tree Records.
The Bard of Brady Square Blows The Boat to Bolivia Out of the Water!
I’m sure Martin G Stephenson, of this parish has some weird form of Musical Tourrettes; as the ideas just spring forth from his over active imagination and he can’t stop himself recording them. Over the past few years he has hardly finished recording one album when his is back in a studio recording something completely different, but just as relevant and of an equally high quality as when he was a young poppet singing on Top of the Pops.
Don’t let the next few paragraphs put you off buying this wonderful disc; as what I’m going to say doesn’t necessarily make sense when written down; but fans of Martin already know that in advance, don’t you?
BAYSWATER ROAD is a quintessential Martin Stephenson record, with a toe-tapping old school Rock n Roller called The Whisky opening proceedings; and Martin’s clever way with words not only extols the virtues of the amber nectar but as he so eloquently puts it;
“The Whisky, will surely beat you
Take away your heart and steal your home
Make you raise your voice to women and children
Turn you a Hydish creature left to roam
For the Whisky is a whore she’s a deep dark medicine”
Ain’t that the truth brothers and sisters?
The title track Bayswater Road; a love song to that once Bohemian centre of London Town follows in quirky pub sing-along style with John Trier providing some lovely barrel-house piano in the background.
As I alluded to earlier, music of all varieties must spin around in that head of his; how else could you explain the groovy Bossa Nova beat to High Sierra Snow? But Bossa Nova it undoubtedly is and somehow this head mix of Bert Kampfaert, The Surfaris and Cliff Richard couldn’t sound any-more up to date and Classic Daintees if it tried!!
Just as your head is coming to terms with that lovely song it leads into…….a Gospel Song; honestly and it’s wonderful. If I’m not mistaken Martin Stephenson has slipped in a sneaky subversive ‘political’ song of ‘hope’ in a way that will have us singing along and raising our arms to Heaven without realising what Lord Lead Us is actually about….or I could be wrong and it is just a glorious Sunday Morning song after all.
This in turn bleeds into Every Kind of Heaven which is pure 60’s Folk innocence and alongside the jingle-jangle guitars of Shoot are the only songs that sound like the original Daintees did way back when.
There have been a lot of strong women in Martin’s life and many are heralded in song; and in this case Elaine, the sadly departed wife of bass player Chris Mordey is beautifully celebrated in song and will not only stop you in your tracks but quite possibly stop you breathing for a moment or two when you hear it the first time. The story and intimate detail provided is pure dead brilliant; if I may say so.
Just like every other Martin Stephenson and/or The Daintees album I own there are surprises around every corner and each one is a delight; especially the poetic She Rides Horses which closes the record; but my ears keep being drawn back to two special ones over and over again.
So the title of ‘favourite’ is a tie between two lovely love songs; Secret Crush sweeps us back in time to the early to mid sixties with the band sounding uncommonly like the Shadows (take a bow Mr. Steel) and tonight………Martin is …..Billy Fury!
The other just might…..and I don’t say this lightly just might be one of the finest songs Martin has ever recorded. Thorn For a Rose is a beautiful, raw tearjerker of the highest quality; with harmonies and Neil Morrison’s bittersweet fiddle playing would bring a tear to a glass eye; even without the poignancy of the lyrics. 10/10 young man.
That gloriously perky and lived in voice of Martin Stephenson is more than complimented throughout by the rock solid bass playing of Christopher Mordey, sizzling guitar from John Steel esq. and tip-top drumming from the delightful Ms Kate Stephenson.
Released 28th July 2017
Jumping Hot Club at Live Theatre.
11th July 2017
I’m still struggling to get to as many gigs as I should; and what with me being head over heels in love with Will Hoge’s new album ANCHORS (released August), it meant I was still a tad weary as I made my way along Newcastle Quayside following a 5.30 am start that morning.
The gig was originally meant to be in the upstairs 60 seat room as it Sold Out in 72 hours; so was transferred downstairs to the very much larger main theatre which was only a few ‘bums on seats’ short of capacity.
The dapperly dressed Hans Chew opened the show with Power of a Barren Fantasy (?); a powerfully intense and articulate song coupled with lots of jagged guitar.
As the loud applause died down Chew took a deep breath and then forced each word of You Have The Answer out through gritted teeth and the occasional howl!!
I’d not heard of Hans Chew prior to tonight; but when he took his place in the spotlight at the piano for a couple of songs I had visions of a young Randy Newman in New York City 40 years ago.
In my notes for the 30 minute set I have ‘challenging’ and ‘interesting’ written three times each; which probably sums up Hans’ very well received set; and I look forward to his album that is due out in the Autumn.
Oh dear…..when the lights went up the people to my left decided on a drinks/toilet run, and it was very apparent that drink had already been taken earlier in the evening from their giggling and stumbling as the men made their way past. A minute later the poshest women I’ve ever spoke to tapped my camera and asked ‘was I with a newspaper?’ I lied and said ‘yes’ as it was evident the truth would go right over her head; especially when she went to great lengths to explain that tonight was part of a week of ‘culture’ which basically meant they’d been to see Elbow and Billy Ocean at a local Festival as VIP guests the previous weekend but probably preferred Classical music…..cue me running to the safety of the toilets.
When I returned they were discussing the poor quality of the wine and didn’t notice me.
In the rest of the room there was a palpable frisson of excitement in the room as Will Hoge walked on stage in the darkness and with no intro and with the lights still off launched into a passionate story of teenage angst, Tail Light Town which was greeted with a huge roar when it ended.
As he retuned the guitar Hoge introduced himself and explained his wife and kids were accompanying him on this tour; but were already bored with his shows so were back in the hotel.
He then told the first of a series of very funny self-depreciating stories to introduce Daddy Was a Gambler……. “She counts her blessings/He counts his cards,” is 100% pure damn Country in my book.
During the third song, the blood-and-guts On The Outside Looking In with soul stirring harmonica interludes you could actually hear a pin drop as everyone hung on every single word.
It was apparent that the first six or seven songs were already well known to the majority of the Jumping Hot Club audience (but not me nor my posh neighbours) but such was the quality of Will Hoge’s writing; they still sounded like I’d known them all my life.
As a consummate professional Hoge didn’t introduce songs from ANCHORS until 7 in; when we were informed that the ruggedly beautiful Missing You was brought about via his wife seeing something on You Tube that had been posted and subsequently misinterpreting. It’s a very funny story that I won’t spoil by repeating here.
After an hour or so I found myself smiling as in the half light, the singer in ‘double denim’ crouched over the microphone and looked a lot like Deacon from the Nashville TV series! Another note; which I can’t quantify was that there a magic to this performance that had hints of Asbury Park era Bruce.
Highlights were many from start to finish; with the story leading up to and the actual tongue-in-cheek Jesus Came to Tennessee which had the posh woman next to me snorting like a stuck pig; so much so the turn even mentioned her at the end.
One of my favourite songs on ANCHORS; 17 was a stand out tonight too; with the back story of his kids starting a Garage Band kick starting his own career a year or so ago. Check it out; especially if there’s a You Tube clip with the ‘story’.
I wasn’t aware of it; but the rest of the audience were but Will Hoge wrote a hit song for the Lady Antebellums! Who knew? Kept to the back end of the concert Better When You’re Gone really, really is quite the doozy.
The showman in Will Hoge really came to the fore when he explained why he wouldn’t be doing an ‘encore’ but the next song would be the ‘encore’ without him actually going through the charade oif leaving the stage….top man!
Simultaneously more jazzier than Lucinda Williams, and more dirt floor country than Jason Isbell, Lynne Hanson is a fine songwriter with a good ear for rhymes and she most definitely knows how to pen a heartwarming song. Her velvety voice is smooth and assured but at times it would be nice to hear her stretch her vocal cords a bit, especially on songs like “Dead Weight” and “Devil Said Do” which could use a bit more fire and hysteria. Canadian Hanson plays it nice a bit too much, which is a common complaint from me with many blues and Americana influenced musicians nowadays. This is something that bands like the Rolling Stones got right when crafting this sort of material decades ago. This is dirty, rough, messy music and sometimes needs to be treated as such. Hooting and hollering is fine, when you get it right, you just have to step out and take that chance.
He voice serves her better on the title cut, “Uneven Ground,” which is jazzier, with New Orleans influenced piano and drums, and it’s smartly followed by “Every Honest Misstep” which comes on strong, quite possibly the best “pop” song on the album.
The production comes off a bit too simple for my tastes, sounding more like demos or unfinished tracks than a completed album, but I do appreciate that they didn’t follow nearly every other artist working in this genre and shoot for the typical generic Nashville production with syrupy fiddles, cornpone twangy Teles, and stereotypical pedal steels. Instead we have some accomplished piano playing throughout which helps to cement several of the tracks together, and the acoustic guitars on these tunes are exceptional.
So, yeah, I’m a bit on the fence on this one. I like the songs, I like Hanson’s voice, I feel as if this is the album she wanted to release, but—since this isn’t her first album but rather her fifth—I would have hoped for something a little more fearless. I’ve seen several live videos where Hanson opens up
wonderfully, it would be nice to hear some of that on her next album.
Released 7th April 2017
Courtesy The legendary Roy Peak
Country-Soul Songwriter Writes From The Heart For the Broken Hearted.
Arthur Alexander made a good living during the late 50’s and early 60’s writing and recording songs that became huge hits across the Atlantic for British acts from the Rolling Stones to Dusty Springfield and even the Beatles; but as history tells us they then went on to write their own songs leaving the likes of Alexander standing in the shadows.
Eventually as Soul music finally began to evolve from just being about 45RPM singles and moving into LP’s Alexander recorded and released the original version of this album in 1972. Sadly due to a Record Label not knowing how to market such a product it pretty much flopped; with only one song being picked up by an artist as a single, and he didn’t even write it…….Burning Love and the singer……only Elvis Presley!
Alexander soon retired from the Industry until he was getting songs together for another album in 93 when he sadly had a heart attack and died.
So; has this record stood the test of time?
There are some really, really good songs here and a couple of clunkers too….but while the likes of Call Me In Tahiti, Simple Song of Love and Rainbow Road sound twee in 2017, but they were pretty much solid fayre in 72.
I’m Comin’ Home starts affairs in a glitzy manner; and I can just picture Alexander in his suit with huge lapels and even huger flares shuffling and doing big hand movements on some Saturday morning TV show like so many others at that time.
But things get interesting with the next song It Hurts To Want It So Bad; where the big ‘over production’ gets dispensed with and Alexander dips his toe into the soulful singer-songwriter world I associate with Bill Withers, and….damn….this is one cool song.
With the addition of a piano Love’s Where Life Begins follows a similar tract and alongside Down The Backroads which follows shows a talent and a ‘voice’ that was very much in the right place at the wrong time; as this was just about the time when singer-songwriter’s were coming into vogue.
All three of these songs, plus They’ll Do It Every Time and I Don’t Want Nobody from the ‘extras’ could easily still be hits today; for someone like Rod Stewart, Ronan Keating or some X Factor type teen sensation.
Which also brings me to my two favourite songs here; Arthur’s rip-snorting version of Burning Love is obviously a ‘given’; but another favourite from my teenage years makes a mysterious appearance among the Extras.
I have a long and convoluted story of buying Billy Swan’s I Can Help LP, and discovering a gateway to a whole new world and here Arthur Alexander straddles both Country and Soul with a sweeping and swooping version of Lover Please, which may not be to everyone’s taste; but I bloody love it.
This is a fascinating piece of history and with some judicial editing (which you can do yourself on your I Player) makes for a marvelous legacy for a man forgotten by the music industry.
Released July 28th 2017
CHAPTER 1: LOST
Beautiful Songs From The Heart’s Darkest Recesses.
I first saw Yorkshire Lass Meghann Clancy a few years ago; on a friend’s recommendation at the Evo Emerging Festival in downtown Newcastle Upon Tyne. He was correct, as her crystal clear voice and sensitive songs shone through a swirl of hormones, guitars and synthesisers like a sunbeam on a thundery day.
It’s taken a while; but she has been learning her craft the hard way……by almost constant gigging; and only now is releasing an album later in 2017.
As a ‘taster’ Meghan is releasing these three tracks as an EP/Single and my appetite is certainly whetted.
The opening song In Time is an absolute joy to listen too, with her gorgeous voice revealing a the twists and turns involved in a complicated story of young love in a way reminiscent of Beth Orton or Beverley Craven; all set against a softly brooding and atmospheric backdrop.
Meghann is quite brave in her choice of subject matter for the second track Life Jacket; a haunting tribute to the 1,000s of African refugees trying to make their way to Europe for a better life; and told from the point of view of said Life Jacket.
Gulp……the intricate piano opening to the third and final song Hunt My Heart is simply beauteous, and gently leads us into another slow and moody anti-love song, about a young woman wondering if she has done the right thing in ending a relationship in a way that will touch the heart of everyone who hears it.
‘LOST’ is a fascinating way to launch the trilogy of singles that will go onto to make a complete album; and certainly showcases not just Meghann Clancy’s emerging talent as a songwriter but brings her awe-inspiring voice to the world at large.
Released July 17th 2017
Holy Moly and the Crackers
Pink Lane Records
Frighteningly Exciting Gothic Folk Rock!
It was on a sunny Saturday afternoon at SummerTyne Festival in 2011, when I first fell in love with Holy Moly and the Crackers as they stole the show with a performance akin to bands like the Pogues or The Men They Couldn’t Hang that I grew up with.
Over the next couple of years they released a cool EP (Lilly) and a blazing album and I lost count of the number of times I saw the perky quartet play; occasionally augmented by mates on a variety of instruments to beef up the songs and; just because they felt like it some nights. One thing is for sure; they never stood still and always pushed their boundaries….in a good way.
But……absolutely nothing before has prepared me for THIS.
Amazingly, the title track Salem, which opens the record features (stars?) Ruth Patterson singing a very dark tale based on the Salem Witch Trials set to what can only be described as a punchy chamber orchestra and ……wow….and….. DOUBLE WOW!
This is followed by Cold Comfort Lane, a really punchy ’60s influenced hard edged piece of demonic psychedelia; again with Ruth Lyon at the forefront.
Who knew Ruth had such a powerful voice? I did. Honestly, I always thought she was cruelly underused on that front, as her voice was almost velvety smooth and a great counterpoint for Conrad Bird, the band’s traditional #1 singer. But even I didn’t think she was ‘this good’.
Conrad only makes his first appearance on the vocal front on track #3 Hallelujah, Amen and his rich baritone takes us into Alex Harvey and Wily Bo territory on this and the rocktastic Hippitty-Hop of Mary which follows. Play both as loud as possible for the best effect btw.
I’m not going to describe each individual song for you; as that will spoil the joyous surprise that faces you when you buy SALEM; and you will…..you must.
By no stretch of the imagination is this album just about the singers Ruth and Conrad; as to make music of this outstanding quality it takes a collective and an honourable mention must go to the shyest woman in Rock and Roll, Rosie Bristow for her judicial use of accordion throughout and drummer Tommy Evans whose ‘Ringo Starr on steroids’ style provides a spine for everyone else to play off and around.
There are a couple of other songs I must point you in the direction of too; Conrad exuding the delights and dangers of Sugar on the song of the same title; the sexy gypsy jazz-folk of Easy as the Sunrise and the atmospherically sweeping ballad Yours to Keep which closes the album, spring to mind; but by far and away my ‘favourite’ track is Woman From Spain which sounded great the first time I heard it; then on the second play I had to do a double take and go back to the beginning as I couldn’t believe my ears. But yes sirree Bob, Ruth Lyon, the saucy minx really is singing about a torrid sapphic holiday love affair and the band let rip in suitable style behind her too.
In theory none of this should work, but the band threw caution to the wind by raising funds to record SALEM in London Town under the guidance of producer Matt Terry, engineer Gethin Pearson and then getting everything mastered by Nigel Watson who combined have a track record as long as your arm; and collectively have managed to get the sounds that have been bouncing around the bands heads actually down on disc in a way these crazy kids could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.
In this day and age I’m staggered that a band can still be prepared to take risks with their music; as that is what Holy Moly and the Crackers have done here, and they just may have tapped into a whole new magical formula that will win them legions of fans across Europe in a way that their previous ‘good time’ show couldn’t.
Released 14th July 2017
Jess and the Bandits
KINGS OF SUMMER
The sun may be shining on Wimbledon but it’s still pretty rubbish up here in the North of England; but……the sun shines for everyone on the new Video from our friends Jess and the Bandits…..KING OF SUMMER.
The 1957 Tail-Fin Fiasco
NOT FOR EVERYONE
A Beat Crazy Streetlife Serenade On 52nd Street.
As happens, a few weeks ago I received an e-mail suggesting I may like a guys music because of a review I had recently posted. This happens most days and out of courtesy I listen to the first song and ‘make a decision;’ usually negative I’m afraid; but in this case the enigmatically named 1957 Tail Spin Fiasco very nearly blew my mind to shreds with the refreshingly, toe-tapping modern Rock & Roller 15 Hands and everything which follows.
A very eloquent, piano led, throatily sung punchy ballad of the highest order sir; and it could be straight out of the Joe Jackson/Billy Joel songbook…..and I immediately put the kettle on and sat back in the armchair.
Okay; this isn’t groundbreaking or indeed ‘hip’ but hey……..what’s not to like about great grown up Pop Songs like Swings and Roundabouts or the razor sharp wit of Vista Familiar?
Even on a follow up e-mail after I had expressed my undying love, all I could find out was 1957 Tail-Fin Fiasco are Malcolm Myers and David Myers who may or may not be from Essex and may or may not be popular on some cool NYC Radio Stations……I do like a mystery!
As they told me, they originally got together to play songs by their favourite artists and that evolved into writing their own songs in that same vein; which is obvious when you hear the clever wordplay in the tightly wrapped ’65 Rioja and beautiful Happier With Horses which closes this exquisite album which both have a glorious blend of 10CC and the two great singer-songwriters I mentioned in the second paragraph.
There’s enough intelligent wordplay here to satisfy even the most ardent Randy Newman or Steely Dan fan (me!) and the moody playing and production could only be created in a dark NYC studio surely? Possibly or probably not; but you get the sense these guys have an extensive and interesting record collection; not unlike my own.
The accolade of ‘favourite track’ is a tie; going to the magnificent Commodore Rooms 1975-76 and Cold Cuts; the type of song I would have spent hours wallowing in, listening to on huge black headphones in my bedroom as a teenager.
This remarkable album is timeless in many ways and targeted very much at fans of Classic AOR; the type of music fans who listen to ‘Gold’ music stations whining that “they don’t make them like that any-more;” well……THEY DO! Here’s the proof; now how do we get these songs on National Radio across the universe?
Released 2nd June 2017
Self-Release/Continental Record Services
Reflective, Beautiful and Poetic Songs of Love & Hope.
One of the most exciting ‘finds’ of the last three years at RMHQ has been David Corley. Originally brought to our attention by the Belfast Magpie Cara Gibney, her exclusive interview and subsequent review of his debut album AVAILABLE LIGHT (aged 53) went absolutely ballistic and brought us readers and followers from all four quarters of Planet Earth; yet to the populace at large he’s still something of a mystery.
As the adage goes, this is Corley’s ‘difficult second album’ yet hearing the opening A Vision (prelude) and Vision Pilgrim for the first (and subsequent times) ; you’d think the Indiana Singer-Songwriter was an established artist , and had been for decades.
Yet; as we know, this album may never have happened, as Corley collapsed on stage in 2015 while touring AVAILABLE LIGHT, with a major heart attack.
While several songs here touch on ‘that subject’ this ain’t no self-pitying record; Hell no! There is a righteous anger in his already grizzled voice on While and the gloriously indignant title track Zero Moon “Always someone going out/and someone comin’ in” he sighs and growls in equal measure.
I missed it on the previous album; but there’s more than a little bit of the poet in Corley’s eloquent stories and prose; not unlike the Sainted Leonard of ; most noticeably but not exclusively on Down With The Universe and A Lifetime of Mornings which it slowly distorts into.
ZERO MOON is the antithesis of ‘easy listening’; most songs; and indeed David Corley’s approach is often challenging; none more so than Take Me Down Some; but that doesn’t stop it being my very favourite song here; especially when played at full volume late at night in a fast car; which is the best way to experience that flaming harmonica and sizzling guitar …..but the next morning, the words come into their own in a way that will shatter even the happiest of hearts.
Who knows why some moderate talents become huge stars in the crazy world of music; and artistes like David Corley can be left simmering in the shadows. Who cares……this beautiful creation will find its way into homes that will love it and cherish it for years to come anyway.
Released July 14th 2017
LIVE AT HILLBILLY HAIKU
Time Served Troubadour Shows How It’s Done.
The name Jefferson Ross will mean as much or as little to you as it did to me when I first received this album; then I dug a little deeper and found not only has he released 5 studio album under his own steam as a singer-songwriter and has written songs for and appeared on stage with a bona fide who’s who of Nashville’s A-List Country acts over the years.
Here we find him showcasing his songs and telling some sweet stories in-between on an inspired Live Album.
For once on a Live Album we actually hear the act being introduced; and after thanking the audience Mr. Ross treats us to a tightly wound acoustic Country song called Two Horses, that features some mighty neat guitar picking that reinforces Ross’s warmly expressive voice.
A ‘laid back’ approach is the best way to describe Jefferson Ross’s ‘style’; akin to Gordon Lightfoot and Don Williams at times; with House of the Lord and Yesterday’s Paper being prime examples.
I’m not normally a lover of Live Albums; but producer Thom Jutz’ (who can be heard playing guitar too) has genuinely captured the warmth and intimacy of the concert, making it sound like you are there in the room sharing in the magic.
As he was a staff-writer in Nashville for many years I shouldn’t be surprised by the quality of the songs here; but I am. Trying Not To Lose My Mind is a ‘talking Blues’ that evolves into a whip sharp Folk song, that I normally associate with Tom Russell or RMHQ favourite David Olney; especially as it includes more minutiae than an encyclopedia.
While I love just about every single charming song here; especially Sol is Made of Broken Things, 77 Lime Green Cadillac Hearse and the glorious harmonies on The Thunder which closes the concert; but tucked away in the middle are two back to back songs that made me twist my head to the speakers in disbelief; first is Family Drama a fun song that will resonate with most people of our age then, it is followed by the deeply personal Isle of Hope and it’s even more personal introduction. I won’t spoil the surprise for you…but…phew…..spellbinding springs to mind.
So, I’ve made another amazing musical discovery in Jefferson Ross and I hope that you will too.
Released June 23rd 2017