You just have to look at the quirky cover to know if the contents will tick your musical boxes….they certainly do mine.
Chickenbone Slim and the Biscuits are the nom-deplume for San Diego musician Larry Teves who has ‘ploughed his own furrow’ for many years now; regardless of the music he plays and loves being Commercial or not……and the world is a better place for having guys like him in it.
The album opens with the rolling and tumbling title track The Big Beat; a Country-Blues hybrid with some red hot guitar, a most ‘Blues-wailing’ harmonica and Slim regaling his lady in a very salacious manner…….what’s not to like?
This is the timeless Blues of Wolf and Muddy but with a modern shtick to it too; Do You Like It? Could be from the 1950’s East Coast Jive Joints, or the 60’s London Mod scene but the casual mention of the internet means it is right up to date; and yes….I like it.
It’s a similar story with Me and Johnny Lee…..slow and sensual Blues at its finest.
Hemi Dodge turns things on their head as it has a real Western 4/4 beat and but sometimes there’s a very thin line between musical genres and the song certainly fits in here and will get the toes a’tappin while driving or in a club.
There’re only nine tracks here, with the sweet sounding Man Down apparently being written on the way to the studio; not that you would know it from the quality of the lyrics and the way the band bring them to life.
Even a cursory glance at the song titles in a record store would make me want to hear Vodka and Vicodin and Long Legged Sweet Thing; and I certainly haven’t been disappointed as both are doozies; especially the low-down and dirty Long Legged Sweet Thing, which gets the title of RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ and has also gone onto a playlist called……’Late Night Love Songs.’
From what I gather Chickenbone pretty much only plays around the San Diego/San Francisco areas; which is good for him but lousy for me as I’d love to see and hear these songs played live in confined and sweaty club one Friday night.
Glenn Alexander & Shadowland
Rainbows Revenge Records
Enough Rhythm & Blues Infused Soul To Make Your Heart Burst.
I haven’t got the time to listen to every album I receive, never mind review them so some rare gems get lost to the Oxfam shop; which is nearly what happened here, but there was something about the cover and song titles that made me give it a try.
Yippee Whey Aye Man!!!
I knew in the first 15 seconds that this was for me; cool swishing guitars and red hot horn section hit me like a left hook; and when Glenn Alexander’s rough around the edges voice joined them I was out for the musical count.
That song If Your Phone Don’t Ring, a swinging Rhythm and Blues deluxe song would be the highlight of many albums; but here it’s just a taster for what is to come.
Memphis Soul is ‘just what it says on the tin’ but with added ‘twang’; and the low and slow Blues For You & Me and Big Boss Man are the type of suburban Chicago Blues I fell in love with 40+ years ago; and this gorgeous duet between Glenn and Orio is absolutely delicious.
The band can get low down and funky with the best of them and when needed they can pick up the pace too and make your feet twitch and shake on Get Up and the razzle dazzling The Odds Are Good.
As connoisseurs would expect, classy R&B and Soul tends to be primarily about Luuurve…..good Luuurve and bad Luuurve; and Glenn Alexander doesn’t disappoint on that front with The Odds are Good and the red hot Get a Life which features Southside Johnny on mouth harp, being prime examples; but the title of ‘Favourite Song’ goes to the soulful groove of I Picked The Wrong Day (To Stop Drinking). It’s as sad as it’s beautiful with Gospel style harmonies and a wailing B3 Organ in the background. Who among us doesn’t love a tearjerker and heartbreaker like this?
As my Father used to say “God moves in mysterious ways” and that is certainly true here; as this CD was in a box destined for the Charity Shop when something made me take it back out……and I’m mighty pleased I did; and you will be too.
Things are certainly on the ‘UP’ at the moment for British Country Music with albums and EP’S regularly arriving at RMHQ, and a lot stand shoulder to shoulder with what is coming out of the USA these days.
When I say ‘Country’ I do NOT mean that Heavy Metal stuff with added banjo or pedal-steel that masquerades as Country Music; I mean the type where the song is the most important part of the equation and a song you can and should actually listen to.
Which brings us to this cracking 4 track EP from Glaswegian singer-songwriter Steve Grozier.
Opening song and current Single, Where The Roses Grow features some razor-sharp guitar in the mode of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings or perhaps The Old 97’s; but it’s the song itself that will capture your attention….and your heart.
A brooding tale that builds and builds across the four minutes and Grozier’s world-weary and emotional voice make for a song well worthy of late night radio; when you are feeling very sorry for yourself.
Next up is the classy Hardest Thing; which has a cool Canadiacana ‘feel’ to it, as the guitars threaten to ‘jangle’ but fall slightly short diverting your attention to Grozier’s lilting voice
The dark clouds remain for Nothing Feels The Same, a slow and melancholic ex-love song which includes the ‘killer line,’ “My love for you is still burning strong/but nothing feels the same,” and when you include some truly sorrowful pedal-steel, you know the relationship isn’t going to have a happy ending; something many of us have encountered over the years.
The claustrophobic title track A Place Called Home closes the EP, and the best has been kept for last. An angrily strummed acoustic guitar competes with the melancholic pedal-steel from Tim Davison on a song worthy of an ex-Eagle or Poco member. This song in particular needs an accompanying video shot in mono on a rain swept inner-city Glasgow Sunday afternoon……or at least that’s what it conjures up for me.
This is Steve Grozier’s 2nd EP and sounds like a man (and band) on the verge of a breakthrough to whatever the next level is in the UK…….a national tour? Hopefully.
Heather Lynne Horton
DON’T MESS WITH Mrs Murphy
At The Helm Records Ltd.
Hauntingly Lo-Fi Filtered Alternative Country Love Songs For the Broken Hearted.
Even after playing this album a couple of times I’d never have guessed that Heather Lynne Horton is half of RMHQ favourites The Westies and married to Michael McDermott, the other half of that inestimable ensemble.
The album opens with the windswept Murphy’s Law which floated out of the speakers on gossamer wings the first time I played it; but later on headphones a tightly wrapped story starts to unravel and I guess there will be even more surprises the more I listen over the coming months.
This is directly followed by Wheelchair Man a very dark story set to an ethereal piece of music; and I knew I couldn’t just let this be ‘background music,’ although I suppose it could work in that scenario; but then you would miss some very clever and intricate songwriting.
If you put your mind to it, this album isn’t an ‘easy listen’ but the effort is worth it when you discover the complex delights of Did You Feel That? Boomerang and Pauper Sky, to name but three songs that definitely deserve your attention.
More astute reviewers than me will be able to do a ‘compare and contrast’ with other female singer-songwriters of this ilk; but to me when I hear fragile songs like Flesh and Blood or Save The Rain I’m reminded of singer-songwriters like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith, possibly channelled through the early Cowboy Junkies albums…..but that’s just me.
I really want to proffer the ‘secret/hidden’ track as my favourite here; because it probably is…..but I won’t spoil it for you; just saying that it may be well worth letting I Wanna Die In Sleep carry on for a couple of minutes #wink.
So the accolade of ‘Favourite Track’ goes to F.U by default. As the title suggests it’s an ‘angry song;’ and quite rightly so when you hear the story unfold, but the way Heather gets her message across is never ‘shouty;’ but more that horrible ‘simmering rage’ way women have, that men like me will never understand……but fear.
DON’T MESS WITH Mrs. MURPHY is a fascinating album, with some wonderful songs that will touch the hearts of many souls who hear them, and will play over and over until the disc wears out.
TIES OF BLOOD AND AFFECTION
The Sound of Bakersfield on Steroids.
I don’t know what constitutes ‘Country Music’ any more; but as Kris Kristofferson once said “If it sounds Country, then it IS Country!” So, using that adage Jeremy Pinnell may look like a Victorian Child Catcher on the album cover; but the songs he writes and music he makes is pure 21st Century Country Music…..but with a very dark streak at it’s heart.
Opening song finds Jeremy’s voice creaking at the seams on the Ballad of 1892; a tale of dark nocturnal goings on between a couple on the edge of society sung to a sweet tune; and even the first time I heard it I realised I was listening to an exceptional talent.
Track #2 Take The Wheel is the type of naturally swinging Country and Western I associate with the likes of Waylon, Willie and Cash…..but this lad looks and sounds like the ‘real deal’ as he sings from the heart ‘I forgot how much I love music/cos for so long I thought I might lose it’ in a song that touches on the narrator ‘driving in a haze’ and ‘spending time in an institution’ at one stage as he pleads with the woman to ‘please just take the wheel’ – a metaphor for life itself, I think.
Don’t for one minute think that this is a ‘sad album’…..no, no, no. The subjects may be stark and tell of a troubled life; but Pinnell and band certainly like a melody and a tune in the old fashioned sense.
I Don’t Believe is a beautifully crafted song that nods in the direction of several songs and bands I love; but the rip-snorting pace means you quickly forget about comparisons and just let the lyrics tie you up in knots.
Oh Lordy Lord…..how good is I’m Alright With This? The singer chugs along nicely, talking about why he has to stop drinking ‘I got tired of going to jail/every time I drink a beer’ and ‘doing a few lines’ because he now has ‘a good woman with the sweetest kiss’. Tell me that’s not the basis for a great Country song…..I dare you!
His ‘Battle with his Devils’ turn up again on Ain’t Nothing Wrong/Ain’t Nothing Right and why his ‘woman in Kentucky’ could be his saviour…..but she’s not with him every day and there are ‘temptations’ around every corner.
Pinnell certainly has a way with words and telling a story; current comparisons would obviously be Sam Outlaw or Sturgill Simpson; but Jeremy Pinnell’s songs even more steeped in the Classic Bakersfield Sound than anyone on the current circuit; with songs like Best I Could Do and The Way We See Heaven sounding as contemporary as anything I hear on a daily basis; but could just as easily have been the type of song you would hear in a Honky-Tonk bar anytime between 197o and 1990.
I’d not heard of Jeremy Pinnell before receiving this, his second album but the artwork intrigued me and the 9 songs each took my breath away in different ways; as I certainly didn’t expect ‘that face’ to sing Songs this articulate and melodious. Which brings us to our ‘Favourite Track’ Different Kind of Love. Wow…..I’m very nearly lost for words a week after playing it regularly. It’s the type of Classic Country Love Song that you presume isn’t written any more; but it is…and it’s here.
This is an album of music to ‘listen to’ but you can dance to it too, the slow smoochy, hanging on for dear life type of dancing.
WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Still Alive and Well Enough To Kick Sparks out of Blues Rock.
As the Press Release says ‘even a cursory glance at the guest stars Walter Trout has brought together for this recording’ makes it ‘interesting’ at the very least……but that is only half the story.
It’s well documented, and probably a bit boring to dwell on Walter’s recent health issues; even if it is a major part of ‘his story’; but that part of his life was put to bed with BATTLE SCARS in 2016; and this new record is hopefully the start of a brand new shiny chapter all of its own.
A tried and trusted Blues shuffle pairing Walter with Kenny Wayne Shepherd titled Gonna Hurt Like Hell kick starts everything and every kind of Blues aficionado I know will nod their head and tap their toes along as two of the finest guitarists in the world play their hearts out on a top quality song.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the guest stars on each song here; as it’s very much a Walter Trout album; but each guitarist (or harmonica player) somehow manages to put their own signature on their contribution without ever overshadowing Trout himself, which is quite some achievement.
While I’ve quickly come to love the complete record; there are some amazing individual songs here…..especially the duet with Warren Hayes on The Sky Is Crying; and when Walter gets low down and funky on She Steals My Heart Away that can only be Edgar Winter on saxophone and co-vocals; and it most certainly is. It’s a similar story with the liquid gold of Crash and Burn with Joe Louis Walker giving a Masterclass alongside Mr. Trout.
Obviously there are surprises around every corner; most notably for me when the King of the Bluesbreakers John Mayall makes an appearance on Blues For Jimmy T and the outstanding Do You Still See Me at All, when Trout’s son Jon steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park on a slow and sensuous Blues Burner.
The title of ‘Favourite Track’ will certainly depend on the time of day and mood I’m in when playing this music; but today it’s a straight coin-toss between The Other Side of The Pillow; a tale of cheating and retribution that only the Blues can get right; and this collaboration with Charlie Musselwhite defied all of my expectations and somehow channels Johnny Winter, Howlin’ Wolf and Bukka White at times……Classic and timeless.
The other is very much a song and sound of our times; the title track WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER pairs Walter with the Crown Prince of the Blues Joe Bonamassa and this 8 minute epic is worth the entrance fee alone, with not a note out of place or indeed unnecessary on a song that is as deep as it is long and very much a set of lyrics for 2017.
With no thoughts or expectations of any songs getting played on daytime radio; Walter Trout and Producer Eric Corne has created a genuine bona-fide Long Player like in the olden days; and the world is a better place for it.
What’s left to say about Walter Trout? Not a lot; and sure as Hell this album proves he is back on top of his game; if you ever doubted he was actually ‘off it.’
Proper Records/Frontier Records
The Quintessential American Storyteller Returns To His Folk Roots.
To the knowledgable few, alongside his friend and compatriot Dave Alvin there’s a bloody good argument that he helped invent what we now call Americana Music.
Straddling the feint paths that lie between Country, Folk and even the Blues at times, this Los Angeles born singer-songwriter and artist with a poets heart has previously released 27 studio albums since 1976 and his last release, the epic Rose of Roscrae was the RMHQ album of the year in 2015.
In recent years Tom certainly hasn’t been afraid to experiment and take risks with his music; but as the record title implies; here he goes back to what he does better than anyone else these days; writing incredibly complex stories and making them sound beautifully warm and simple.
The few bars of an olde worlde Jazz song which opens the album certainly made my ears prick up; but 30 seconds later Tom’s expressive trademark drawl enters the scene accompanied by Joel Guzman’s haunting accordion on Up In The Old Hotel; a wistful look at a series of dark love stories from The Chelsea Hotel, first made famous by Leonard Cohen and suddenly the world is a better place again.
This is followed by the beautiful Leaving El Paso; a typical Russell romantically cinematic song about a minor character living in the Borderlands; that makes you feel that you are sitting in the shadows watching the scenarios he describes play out before your very eyes.
I’ve just had to delete the last paragraph four times because I typed ‘typical’ then ‘trademark’ and then couldn’t think of a better way to describe track #3 I’ll Never Leave These Old Horses; and those two words actually ‘typify’ every single song here; as only Tom Russell can write a dark Country-Folk song like this and make it instantly his own then follow it with a love song to the Welsh writer Dylan Thomas on The Sparrow of Swansea with equal aplomb then close the record with a sad Folk song about a man he saw a glimpse of but never met in The Rooftops of Copenhagen. These stories Russell conjures up from his imagination, in theory are poles apart in style, genre and content but all come together in one big, bold and beautiful musical tapestry.
Like a million other Americans Tom is very proud of his Irish lineage and includes the beautiful All on a Belfast Morning; Tom reciting a poem before describing the Northern Irish capital in a way I’ve not heard before but in a way it certainly deserves. Like the poets of old, Tom finds beauty in the unlikeliest of places and makes what most people see as ordinary become extraordinary in his hands.
Later he sort of revisits Rose of Roscrae territory with the trilogy The Day They Dredged The Liffey – The Banks Of Montauk – The Road To Santa Fe-O which starts with a ‘talking Blues’ then drifts into traditional Country-Folk territory without the listener noticing.
But Tom Russell has always been at home in the mythologies of the American West and the cold recesses of Europe’s history; and both are at home on a Tom Russell record…….it shouldn’t work; but it does.
As he is prone to do these days; Tom dips back into his memory bank for The Last Time I Saw Hank; and yet again the images he paints with words had me closing my eyes and picturing the scenarios in my mind.
The CD/LP release will have two ‘extra’ tracks, the nine minutes plus Country-Blues of Scars on His Ankles but more importantly; alongside Joel Guzman’s wistful accordion playing Tom and Joe Ely reconstruct Tom Thumb’s Blues until it now becomes two old men looking back at life, and the final line “I’m going back to New York City/I Believe I’ve Had Enough” has never sounded more apt in the songs’ 50 year lifespan.
RMHQ Favourite song? Not easy at all on a Tom Russell album; but I will point you towards The Light Beyond The Coyote Fence; which is Tom Russell doing what Tom Russell and only Tom Russell does best. In theory it’s a ‘nothing special’ story about a musician living along the American/Mexican Border but lines like “I’ve got a pocket full of guitar picks/that’s my trade sir/suits me better than a gun Mister;” leave me mystified at the genius of the man; and his character even gets to compare his own dusty homelands with touring, “how many rest stops on that A1 Motorway/The road to Scotland/The Angel of The North/That great old Iron Lady seems to say sing your songs kid/ For all That You Are Worth.”
After all these years I still marvel at the skills of musicians; especially troubadour singer-songwriters and non more so than Mr Tom Russell.
THE HAMMER & THE HEART
Jersey Girl Music
Lots of Songs and Stories to Love, Laugh and Dance To.
First of all let me tell you that I firmly believe that there’s no such thing as a ‘great’ double album; as judicial editing can reduce them all to a great single album…..FACT.
But I will forgive Susan Cattaneo for releasing such a monolith; as in this instance she has coupled together a distinct ‘Electric’ album alongside an ‘acoustic’ one; in the style of LP sides of old; and that’s how I’m treating this release….as a single LP made up of two sides.
Side #1 (The Hammer)…..
Me and my I-Phone both absolutely adore the opening track Work Hard, Love Harder…..a rip-roaring Country Rocker finds Susan with the Bottle Rockets in tow blowing the cobwebs off Country Rock with fire, brimstone and a damn fine melody.
As if giving us time to draw breath things slow down and get a tad darker immediately afterwards with the reflective The River Always Wins.
As the first notes of #3 In The Grooves fought their way out of the car speakers I thought “I know that guitar picker!” And it really is the legendary Bill Kirchen adding his trademark ‘Twang’ to a gloriously sloppy, rocking and rolling three and a half minutes of pure musical joy.
This is Susan’s fifth album and wowza can she write a song to make you think, tap your toes and keep your attention too. The only comparison I can make is with Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 1990’s releases; but with added forcefulness on Dry and Back Door Slam (feat. Davy Knowles) which closes Side/Album #1.
Favourite track here should be Work Hard, Love Harder but the sensitive and bittersweet Does My Ring Burn Your Finger, with its growling guitars and menacing drum n bass combo combine with Susan’s distinctive voice to create a mighty powerful song that will stay with me long into my dotage.
Side #2 (The Heart)
Work Hard, Love Harder opens this side/album too but couldn’t sound any more different. This version alongside the Boxcar Lilies is a delightful Hill-country Folk song with the words possibly even taking on a completely different meaning.
This is followed by the brittle and beautiful love song, Ordinary Magic during which Cattaneo’s velvety voice makes my heart tingle every time I hear it.
Smoke is probably the most traditional ‘Country Love Song’ here, with the ingenious chorus ‘loving you is like catching Smoke.’ I couldn’t possibly comment; as Mrs. Magpie occasionally reads these things; but ‘I know where you are coming from!’
The nine tracks on The Heart really do sound the polar opposite of those on The Hammer; with her treatment of the Mose Allison classic (Everyone’s Crying) Mercy becoming a midnight torch song and the bizarre selection of Bowie’s Space Oddity fitting into the collection like a glove.
Choosing a favourite song on this side/album has proved very difficult indeed; but I’m going for Field of Stone which deals with the trials and tribulations that have followed her throughout her life with some incredible attention to detail and a sad and eloquent chorus that will break your heart into little pieces.
As two distinct separate ‘sides’ The Hammer & The Heart works perfectly well; meaning you can delight in Susan Cattaneo’s writing and singing no matter what mood you are in; clever that.
American Pop Legends Give New Life To Old Classics.
FAO my American readers; please forgive me if I know next to nothing about the Raspberries ‘back story’; but within reason their ‘Sound of Young America’ didn’t really travel across the Atlantic as in the early 1970’s we had our own thing going on GLAM ROCK!
But; hey…..the name The Raspberries did hit my radar later so this ‘legendary’ reformation concert in 2004 made for a fascinating few hours earlier this week.
The concert (and double album) opens with an electrifying version of I Wanna Be With You; full of Beach Boys style harmonies and Framptonesque shimmering electric guitar…..so far; so good!
Track #3 took my by surprise with a note perfect, but anger free copy of Can’t Explain. It fits in perfectly well; but ….come on……nothing will ever better the ‘Oo.
Obviously 30 years after disbanding means that the raw energy that must have fuelled songs like
Party’s Over, It Seemed So Easy and Tonight is long gone; but the passion and musicianship is still there and makes them (and others) still relevant in the 21st Century.
Of course The Raspberries were forerunners of the Power-Pop Generation (which did make it’s way into several UK record collections) but now; I hear a lot of ‘s Merseybeat in songs like Don’t Wanna Say Goodbye and I Saw The Light; with more than a nod to the Manchester sound of The Hollies on “one of the first songs they ever recorded” Come Around and See Me and Hard To Get Over a Heartbreak; to name but two.
Funnily enough two of the ‘stand out songs’ here are covers from a local band called The Choir; #5 When You Were With Me and It’s Cold Outside; both having catchy hooks and melodies that were just made for AM radio.
Favourite track….or indeed tracks would probably have to be I Can Remember and definitely Let’s Pretend with the tongue in cheek Overnight Sensation (Hit Record) being a contender too.
The concert wraps up nicely with the fist pumping I’m A Rocker and finally Go All The Way which sounds like a Heavy Metal version of the Beach Boys to these untrained ears ears, and judging by the reaction; a perfect way to close a Raspberries show.
Even I can hear why The Raspberries are still held in such high esteem and why the band members themselves went on to highly successful careers; while managing to influence a whole generation of American bands in the 80’s too.
Robert Kraft Trio
NORTH BISHOP Ave.
Resistor Record Co.
Smooth as Silk Soul Songs For Lovers of All Ages.
Music captures our attention in many different ways; usually as some kind of soundtrack for an event or mood in our lives; such was the case with this album by the Robert Kraft Trio from Austin Texas.
Mrs. Magpie and I were returning home from a delightful few days holiday in the Lake District and the sun was just on the verge of setting as first track Gotta Have You filtered out of the car stereo. Within 1 minute I had taken my foot off the gas pedal and my wife and I were exchanging the first of 100 ‘meaningful glances’ that Kraft’s words and silky voice were to induce over the next hour and a half.
By track #3, the sashaying I Want To Show You the penny dropped that ‘Robert Kraft’ (aka Al Ackhar) and guitarist JD Pendley were transporting us back to the nights; as a newly married couple when we would cuddle up on the sofa listening to George Benson…..over and over again.
A big part of me thought that the art of writing a beautiful love song was long gone; but Robert Kraft has resurrected this skill set with great aplomb and not just a little bit of Cool with a capital C.
So Beautiful is a series of often silly things that remind the singer of the unattainable beautiful girl in his life; but that’s what happens to a guys brain when the ‘thunderbolt’ hits, isn’t it? Come on guys….admit it; and ladies……you know it too.
On the other hand You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart gorgeously describes the other end of the ‘love spectrum’ when the affair is over…..but…..honey…… You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart. Pendley’s liquid guitar fills coupled to the funky rock solid bass of Lindsay Greene combine to create a Classically timeless sound; and not for the first or last time on this disc that will make your toes tap and heart skip a beat.
While he’s there throughout the album adding special dashes of magic, Producer David Boyle gives closing track Stand (The Ally Song) an extra dose of Bluenote ‘cool’ with his Wurlitzer on a song that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Curtis Mayfield, Smokey Robinson or even Lou Rawls album.
It makes a pleasant change here at RMHQ to hear a ‘distinctive’ singing voice; and while the overall ‘sound’ Robert Kraft produces and pays homage to reminds me of some truly legendary Soul singers; he himself has a beautiful voice of his very own; the type that was all pervading in my teenage years but went out of fashion in the late 70’s; but hopefully will be on the way back when this album tops the Hit Parade.
With only seven songs to choose from I wasn’t sure which to pick as my favourite; as they all have their merits; and this is definitely the type of album you play as a complete work; and have it on auto-repeat…..but one song really made my heart tingle on that first play; and again tonight…..the eloquent and ingenious Wonder, which comes in at track #2 and will make you look at your other half with a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your lips.
Seduction music at it’s finest.
If you had bought this album on the strength of the cover art-work you’d have been very disappointed; as it looks like something from a bad Joe Cocker bootleg; but as is the case. with me…..if you hear the music first……that cover doesn’t mean diddley-squat; as the music certainly speaks and sings for itself.