The Reigning Queen of Country Digs Deep Into Her Heart and Soul.
It can be a bit of a slog some weeks listening to music that very few others will ever hear then writing glowing prose that never gets re-promoted by lazy PR’S and Record Labels……some artists too btw; then there is always a little ray of light like when an artist takes the time to thank us personally or, as happened earlier this year a pretty damn big PR Company in London Town got in touch offering an album because the guitarist was a fan of the site!
Their latest offering is this …..the fifth album in 24 years for legendary Country Queen Miss Shania Twain!
I have to confess……hang on, why should it be a ‘confession’ that we actually own Shania’s first three albums…..alongside 70 million other people it has to be said; and I guess that there’s hardly a minute in every 24 hours that one of her songs isn’t being played on a radio show somewhere in the Western World…..that’s how BIG Shania Twain is.
So…..I guess the Music Industry isn’t waiting with baited breath for my thoughts on an album with millions of pre-sales already in the bank.
But here goes…….
NOW kicks off, and that’s as good a description as any with the awesome Swinging With My Eyes Closed. Already a hit single; this has a sort of strange reggaeish lilt to the melody (which Mrs Magpie can’t here btw) but it’s all about Shania’s voice; isn’t it? And she sure doesn’t disappoint with a classy song destined to become a fan favourite every night.
It was only after reading her bio that I remembered that the sassy Canadian had actually retired once because of ‘vocal problems’ …..not that you would know it when she belts out the likes of You Can’t Buy Love and Life’s About To Get Good; as well if not better than singers half her age.
One of the questions always raised is ‘is Shania Twain’ Country? Of course she is! Yes, these songs have huge productions to them; but listen to Who’s Going To Be Your Girl? or We’ve Got Something They Haven’t and you will not just hear a banjo and a Twangtastic guitar but hear a heartbroken theme that started for me with Tammy and Dolly in the 60’s and still burns brightly in 2017 with Shania Twain.
In a week that I spent a lot of time listening to Whitney Rose’s new Countrypolitan album; it’s easy for me to compare it to this beauty……they are completely different but very similar at their core…….a strong woman writing and singing about their life; good bits and lots of bad bits too.
The album closes with Soldier, a beautiful ballad that will break hearts and make others swell with pride as it straddles the fence between mawkish and venerable with grace; and will be sung amid thousands of flickering mobile-phones at concerts and
When it comes to the RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ bizarrely both Mrs. Magpie (who has seconded this disc) both agree that it has to be Light of My Life; a lovely, breathy acoustic led ballad, in the mode of Dusty Springfield rather than the Country Queens you would normally think of.
While still very commercial but without any bombastic Pop-Country songs we would normally associate with Shania Twain; NOW is very intimate and even vulnerable at times and sounds like a woman coming to terms with her life and age, so with that in mind; it will sell in bucket loads to women of the same ‘certain age’ who feel exactly the same way; but can’t put those feelings into words themselves.
Released September 29th 2017
Blue Eyed Boy
#Buford Pope’s 2015 release The Poem and the Rose was a big hit at RMHQ and when our latest Guest Reviewer Tony Pearce saw BLUE EYED BOY on the ‘to do’ pile he asked to take it to our secret hideaway in the Mediterranean where he could give it the time to listen that it deserves.
Here’s his words………….
Blue Eyed Boy is the seventh album by Buford Pope. Feel you should have heard of him? Well don’t feel too bad. Buford a.k.a Mikael Liljeborg is a 46yr old from Sweden. Not even mainland Sweden, by the way but a little island in the Baltic Sea called Gotland. There must be something about the air over there; as I’ve been listening to another Swedish resident, The Country Side of Harmonica Sam who harken successfully back to a Honky Tonk style from the ‘50’s. I missed catching them at The Nashville Palace by a couple of days recently; but they tore the place up apparently.
His bio will tell you that he discovered Dylan at an early age (15) and went on to discover Neil Young, Jackson Brown, Springsteen etc. while developing a high-pitched singing voice.
Still Got Dreams opens the album and straight away sets the tone. There’s a lot talked about New Country which doesn’t always sound like country, this does. It’s not your Granddad’s Yee-Haw Country either. This is a glorious mix of pedal steel, accordion, mandolin and country guitar……and ‘that’ voice.
No Man’s Land is medium paced echoing one of his influences, Neil Young; and it’s Mr Young that his voice reminds you of most often. Not enough that you could accuse him of copying, just every now and again you catch yourself thinking ‘who does he remind me of’? It’s a song of struggle and pain but never doomy.
Infirmary is a ballad with some clever lines “…so I could look at the moon/I want to leave/but death seems to miss this room”.
Freewheelin’ feels like a natural single, Up tempo with an instantly hummable chorus, it’s a song about finding some kind of release in drinking. This has been on repeat for the last couple of days. In fact, considering some of the songs began life up to 10 years ago, they all run one into the next without any obvious clunkers.
Occasionally you detect a bit of Mr Zimmerman in the vocals too, but like the earlier comparison certainly not enough to distract you.
Hard Land is pure blue-collar Springsteen albeit with a more Band-style instrumentation than a full-on Boss rocker, as Pope fills out the sound with banjo and mandolin. It’s easy to see how his version of Americana has spread across Europe and into England.
Bloodline has more echoes of The Band. More in accompaniment and melody rather than a direct copy of their songs. Given that there’s not too many people capable of carrying that off these days, I can easily put up with the odd track like that.
The Baltic Sea is in a similar vein to Freewheelin’ in that he knows how to build a catchy chorus off the back of a melody you will want to hear again. Once he gets to touring the UK and possibly USA, the name of Buford Pope won’t make you think of an Appalachian farm boy.
RMHQ Guest Reviewer Tony Pearce.
Released 22nd September 2017.
BOY CRAZY (and the singles)
Snarling and Vulnerable Post-Punk Country For The Lost Generation.
….while I have and love both of Lydia Loveless’s previous releases I don’t appear to have reviewed them; well not on RMHQ cos I’m sure I did with INDESTRUCTIBLE MACHINE, but that must have been when I wrote for…..never mind; I loved it and that’s all that matters.
Describing Lydia’s music is easy and difficult too; because she is Country through and through; but brought up in the Punk Rock Generation and coupled with a naturally feisty spirit combine to make the perfect Bloodshot act……..’Insurgent Country’ par excellence!
This neatly cobbled together compilation of singles, B-Sides and covers is the perfect way to discover her music; especially opening track All I Know, with it’s deceptive jangly guitars that mask Lydia’s beseeching voice on a heartbreaking and contemporary love story. If you like this; you will love the swinging All The Time which follows; and if you are still with us track #3, the spunky Lover’s Spat is the song when I knew Lydia Loveless had all of the qualities to become one of her generation’s finest songwriters.
Mile High is a prime example as Lydia sings “I didn’t come here to make friends/but I had no choice/I got so tired of being one of the boys/when I got drunk I lost all of my poise/I’m so sorry for the All-American noise/I was thinking of things I’d do if I had the time/My fingers smell of pussy and Lucky Strikes.” Challenging? Yes. Quality? Most definitely.
This is 2017 and it’s amazing to find someone who can still shock with words while still telling a story that will strike a chord with thousands of young women.
Loveless combines that Post-Punk intensity with Country melodies unlike anyone else I’ve heard outside of Bloodshot Records; and even then she’s one of the few who still flies the Insurgent banner with pride on Come Over and Falling Out of Love both of which conjure up memories of Loretta at her angriest and Chrissie Hynde at her most bruised and political too.
There are three fascinating covers included too, with Lydia putting her very own Loveless stamp on Kesha’s Blind and the classics I Would Die 4 U and Costello’s Allison, which she turns into a sapphic heartbreaker.
Then , of course there has to be a favourite track…….not altogether easy; but I loved Boy Crazy when it came out as a single and nothing has tarnished it’s memory so that’s what I’m going for; think Phil Spector producing Blondie a year before Parallel Lines and you will understand why this song should have been a teenage girls anthem last Summer; but never got played on the wireless.
I can’t think of a better home for Lydia Loveless than Bloodshot Records; a relationship that is less a marriage made in Heaven and more a dysfunctional couple living in sin; and having the time of their lives regardless of what the world outside thinks.
Released 13th October 2017
The Young ‘Uns
Magnificent Folk Songs For Wayfaring Strangers.
Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hedges are The Young ‘Uns and, if they’re new to you they’re not unknown to crowds of folk fans. Personally, I could never get past the name but that’s my problem. This is folk with a capital F. The band have achieved considerable success since their beginnings in Stockton Folk Club, indeed, they’ve played to a packed Albert Hall in London.
Not bad for a bunch of lads from the North East. There’s more to them than just sweet harmonies. They have a stinging wit that shows through in some of their self-penned tunes as well as their between song banter on stage.
The album kicks off with A Place Called England, the only tune not written by Sean Cooney. An acapella paen to an England of long ago. There’s mention of the meadow and retail parks and the inevitable dig at the ‘rich landowner who can stay in the Virgin Isles’.
Although their publicity hints at traditional folk songs with a modern twist the album leaves you with the feeling that success, at any level, isn’t as virtuous as a life of struggle.
Ghafoor’s Bus is another acapella track. The harmonies don’t falter from track to track but I couldn’t help wonder what this particular track would sound like with an accompaniment.
It’s not all acapella, Be The Man sets out with an acoustic guitar under a solo vocal and builds into strings and horns backing. It still sounds, to these ears, like a lyric desperately hunting for a tune. Not one that you’d be whistling after the first hearing.
Carriage 12 took me several listening’s to realise it was, amongst other things, about the Thalys terrorist attack on the train in France. I guess in 20 years’ time the mix of traditional harmonies with subject matter ranging from Syrian refugees to Gay Rights will seem perfectly normal. I find it a little incongruous to mix unaccompanied voices with modern politics. It’s not the subject matter, folk has championed the underdog for as long as songs were being recorded in Sussex.
Dark Water feels like another song in need of a more memorable tune. They’re backed by more young musicians, this time from Aldeburgh.
Bound to be a hit with the folk crowd.
Courtesy Guest Reviewer Tony Pearce
Released 29th September 2017
Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers
Country Won’t Get Countrier than this in 2017.
This has been a busy couple of years for young Canadian chanteuse Whitney Rose; after already honing her craft on the road, following a self-titled Canadian CD release in 2012; she made HEARTBREAKER of the YEAR album with none other than Raul Malo in 2015; then went back onto another Tour That Never Ends before rocking up at Dale Watson’s Countrypolitan studio to record the South Texas Suite which was released earlier in 2017.
Then…….just as she was about to tour the World promoting that disc she found a week to go back into the studio with Malo again and RULE 62 is the exciting result.
OOOHHEEE…..opening track I Don’t Want Half (I Just Want Out) is just the type of Classic Modern Country song Whitney’s previous releases threatened and boy has she delivered. It swings and shimmers like one of Dolly’s dresses and the backing band bring out the best in her voice like an actual spotlight.
It’s odd that in 2017 we consider this type of Music as ‘left-field’ because mainstream Country Music is either Rock with a pedal-steel or Pop with a banjo; whereas when Whitney Rose purrs Wake Me In Wyoming or Tied To The Wheel, with Jen Gunderman’s haunting accordion and Malo providing harmonies in the background you just know you are listening to real Country Music….real, quality down home Country Music that we all grew up with and still love today.
As a fanboy I can tell Whitney’s writing has matured over the last couple of years, with the Honky-Tonk two-steeper Arizona and Time To Cry both being fiery break-up songs that only maturity and a strong imagination can bring to life; and I can only imagine the reaction both will get when played live.
Another song, Can’t Stop Shaking has taken on a life of it’s own as it was originally written to control her pre-stage nerves; but was recorded on US Inauguration Day and now sums up how a lot of Americans feel about the state of their country.
There was very nearly a tie for the title of ‘Favourite Song’ with Mrs Magpie going for the Phil Spector influenced Better To My Baby; which is very easy to like; but I’m going for Trucker’s Funeral partly because it’s the type of tongue in cheek song Dolly or Tammy might have sung; but mostly because the first time I heard it in the car I had to turn it back to the beginning as I thought I’d misheard a line…..I hadn’t; and the delicious twist in this 100% Prime Cut Country (and true!) song is absolutely brilliant; but I won’t give the secret away.
What more can I say about Whitney Rose? If she’s good enough for Raul Malo, Dale Watson and The Rocking Magpie she’s good enough for you too.
#Rule 62 comes from the AA programme, paraphrased as “Don’t take yourself too seriously!”
Released October 6th 2017
TO THE EDGE
Bluzpik Media Group.
For Your Delectation, The Dangerous End of Urban Blues.
It wasn’t so much the album cover that caught my attention; but rather the out of focus photo of this Trio on the reverse side.
So, with nothing to lose into the car stereo it went…..yes sirree Bob; this is every bit a greasy, punky and even dirty shade of the Blues as I’d hoped.
That opening track, Heartbeat actually seemed to fight it’s way out of the speakers, kicking, scratching and biting until it got my full attention…..which it deserved.
Next out of the traps is the ‘four to the floor’ No One At Your Door; and even though best played very loud, Joe Mazzari’s gritty vocals are well up in the mix; and you can easily follow this story of a bitter broken down relationship.
While not 100% original, I can’t actually think of anyone to directly compare 61 Ghosts to, as Mazzari sounds like Henry Rollins at times and others JD Wilkes or even Nick Cave; and his guitar flits between Steve Jones, Muddy Waters and Rory Gallagher……which is why I love the low down slinky World Gone Crazy and the intimate acoustic led Show Me Your Scars with equal measure.
The short and sweet 6 track EP closes with another acoustic song, the tightly wrapped love song, Passion Tipped Arrow, which treads ever so slightly into Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt territory.
Which brings me to ‘Favourite Track’ time; and it’s a song that crystallises everything that is good with this mini-LP; If Tears Were Dirt combines that Grunge….slow, slow, fast, fast, slow format; with Mazzari’s mournful voice growling out a poetic story as he gently strums his guitar before firing it up and having you on the edge of your seat; while Dixie Deadwood treats her drums like an enemy and JD Sipe nearly pulls the strings off his bass at times.
As a taster for any proposed full size album; …..To The Edge is crammed full of quality music; a little bit of this and a lot of that, with a few bits of something else bringing any loose ends together.
Released June 20th 2017
THE LONG AWAITED ALBUM
Fascinating Contemporary Bluegrass Album From Legendary Actor.
Over the years a few albums from famous actors have passed over my various desks; with all purporting not to be ‘vanity projects’ and all have eventually disappeared into obscurity.
So, it was with a heavy heart that I agreed to receive a copy of this new Bluegrass album by Oscar, Grammy and Emmy Award winning actor Steve Martin who will be singing and playing that much maligned musical instrument; the banjo.
Hmmmmm……but I do like a challenge.
All preconceptions were blown out of the office window with opening song Santa Fe; a 90mph toe-tapping Old-Timey slice of Southern Americana Pie, that had me accidentally singing along with the chorus.
There’s certainly no doubting Martin’s love for and dexterity on the banjo; which especially comes to light on All Night Long and So Familiar; but in fairness and much to my surprise, he makes the five stringed instrument sound lovely on quite a few other tracks too.
The surprises don’t just stop there as Steve Martin is not a half bad singer-songwriter too. The windswept Canadian Girl has something of a Celtic feel to it and Girl From River Run is an absolute delight, and perfect for a sunny afternoon on the back porch.
I’m as far from an expert here as you can get; so I just have to go with how the music has captured my attention, and my attention certainly has been, especially the quaint Nights in the Lab, which has a bit of Sea Shanty feel to it.
As you would expect there are plenty of instrumentals here for everyone involved to show off their talents, especially Martin himself; there’s the rip-roaring Office Supplies and Angeline the Barista but he also shows a more intricate and sensitive side with Always Will.
Yet again selecting a favourite track proved difficult; but All Night Long, being the most traditional of Old Timey Country songs here; just edges it over a couple of others.
Probably because Steve Martin himself alongside the Steep Canyon Rangers are such consummate professionals that listening to this album several times has never been a chore; and actually been quite fun.
Released October 6th 2017
The Remedy Club
LOVERS, LEGENDS & LOST CAUSES
High Flyin’ Disc.
Damn Fine Country Music But With an Irish Heart and Soul.
Much as British Country Music used to be sneered at, Irish Country Music while hugely popular and profitable was laughable outside certain insular circles……even Daniel O’Donnell!
That is…..until now.
I’d never heard of The Remedy Club; nor its constituent parts of husband and wife KJ McEvoy and Aileen Mythen when I received this album last week; but only a few days later I found myself professing undying love on Twitter for my new favourite duo of all time…..and here’s why.
I immediately sat to attention like a Meerkat as the first notes from Aileen Mythen’s gorgeous voice filtered through the office air on opening song I Miss You, and then after a minute or so of luscious harmonies on a deeply sad love song; KJ enters the fray with some of the dirtiest Twang guitar you will ever hear.
To some degree this is two albums rolled into one; as both partners get to take lead, and each has a completely different style; with Aileen breaking hearts left right and centre with sad love-lorn ballads like Come On, Last Song or the Countriest Country song you will hear this year, This Is Love which all take you back to the era of Patsy Cline and Ruby Murray but with razor sharp lyrics that cut through the pathos like a hot knife through butter.
But; this gal ain’t no pushover as she proves she can Rock the Joint like any man can on Sweet White Lies; and I’m pleased I’m not the fella she is spitting the words out about!
KJ, on the other hand is pure Bakersfield straight outta Wexford. Big Ole Fancy is a cracking tongue in cheek look at the problems fame has caused him; and on Bottom of the Hill he sings “I gotta belly full o’ liquor/and a handful o’ pills/ain’t nobody gonna cure my ills”.
Hear it and you will hear the spirit of George and Hank in every note; which brings me to my ‘favourite song’ which breaks my heart to say it’s one of KJ’s, as I so desperately wanted it to be the Aileen song When Tom Waits Up.
But, Listening to Hank Williams is just so damn pure brilliant, it can’t be anything else. We’ve all been there; when things get so bad you just got to play some Hank; and KJ recounts his sorry tale while a honky-tonk piano rolls along beside some ace pedal-steel while the bass, drums and guitar strum gently alongside Aileen’s pearlescent harmonies…….and there is even a yodel for extra authenticity!
This is MY kinda damn Country music.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a sucker for a Country duo and The Remedy Club, with their clever and articulate songwriting, which straddle Classic and contemporary themes with ease, toe-tapping tunes and a slick as quicksilver band tick every box I have; and there’s absolutely no way you would hear this album and think it was recorded by anything other than two Americans in the heart of Texas or Tennessee; but it’s as Irish as a shamrock at it’s heart.
Released 8th October 2017
BORN IN OAKLAND
Mule Slide Records
After 30 Years The Kings of Frisco Blues Still Swing Like a Swiss Watch.
Some days I just love this job!
Mrs. Magpie wasn’t too happy with me earlier in the week because the pile of padded envelopes was stacking up in the kitchen; so I disappeared into the backroom with a strong cup of coffee and began downloading and logging the contents. After looking at 11 CD covers of acts I’d never heard of I took this one out of the packet, and there was ‘something’ about the cover artwork that caught my attention…..the band name? The harmonica? Who knows but as it downloaded I pressed ‘play’…..BIFF….BAP….POW! The opening salvo hit me like a 1960’s Batman episode.
That song, Sunny Day is way beyond ‘cool’…..way, way beyond. A swampy horn section, bass and drums from a building site, sizzling guitars and a singer with a voice that sounds like it has lived a life all of it’s very own……..more coffee was ordered and I settled in for an hour of classy, gorgeous Rhythm AND Blues.
Track two Fine and Healthy Thing bizarrely sounds like a funky Van Morrison fronting the Glenn Miller Orchestra; and coming from someone whose Mother loved the Big Band Sound; that’s as good a compliment as I give.
My, oh my Delta Wires can not only play a tune but write a damn fine song too……the love songs Your Eyes and Fun Time are both pure midnight magic; making your toes tap and your loins twitch ……if you know what I mean 😉
I very nearly chose the hiptastic Days of the Week as my favourite track; not just because of singer and bandleader Ernie Pinata’s lung busting harmonica playing that somehow leaves just enough energy to sing about waiting for Friday night.
But I’m going for the sensual and Soulful Devil’s in my Headset because……just….because. It’s a doozy and ….well….sometimes you just fall in love with a sound; and fall in love I most certainly have.
Even on that first play the quality of the individual musicians shone though on every song; with I Don’t Care and Vacation really and truly showcasing their combined efforts and Pinata really sings his heart out on album closer All I Have To Give.
If you take Jools Holland out of the equation this type of R&B doesn’t exist in the UK any-more; which is a shame because this is the music that I grew up with back in the late 70’s in the pubs and clubs of Durham and Tyneside and my gateway to The Blues of BB King etc.
I doubt Delta Wires will ever visit NE England; so I guess I will have to check flights and hotels for a trip to SF sometime soon.
Released June 30th 2017
A Contemporary Progressive Blues Experiment From Legendary Guitar Slinger.
#As the reviews workload is building up to silly proportions at RMHQ we packed off our latest recruit Tony Pearce with a holdall full of CD’s to a secret Mediteranean location and didn’t allow him back until he had filled a notebook with his thoughts on the music involved.
Here’s the first………
I first came across Jonny Lang before his first album, Smokin’ was released in 1995. He was featured as part of a guitar magazine introduction to up and coming players and ripped through a scorching version of Matchbox. Not surprising too really as he had been playing professionally since the age of 13; and his subsequent live shows were full of a young guitar slinger full of speed and flash.
The latest album, Signs, is the first in four years and shows a completely different Jonny Lang. This one confirms his departure from the instrumentals that many people will remember him for, with
Make It Move kicking off the album. It’s something of a stomper and what’s apparent is we are a long way from the purist blues of old. Backing up his searing licks are handclaps and although he never was one to play straight licks lifted from Albert Collins or Freddie King he still plays some blistering solos and it doesn’t matter which track, he’s getting some serious tone from his guitar. His vocals have matured too, as have the arrangements of the 11 tracks on this album.
Snakes is the second track. Somewhat heavier than the first track, there are similarities though with the male backing vocals. Jonny Lang’s vocals are up front which is more than can be said for previous recordings. You can see this track being the last on the set list before leaving the stage, the crowd will definitely want more after this.
What You’re Made Of starts with an intro that’s reminiscent of John Mayer but that’s where the similarity ends. A Hammond B3 (or an electronic equivalent) is prominent throughout and the song is all the stronger for it. It’s a funky track with more of the choral backing. This track is perhaps the biggest departure from his bluesy reputation and arguably the most successfully done. This will be a stand out track for me and one I’ll return to often.
There are plenty of players out there who have the blues in their DNA and they never really move on and develop beyond riff-heavy songs. Tracks like Stronger Together and the afore-mentioned What You’re Made Of mark real growth of Jonny Lang not only as a player but as a songwriter too.
Looking forward to the live shows; especially Shepherds Bush Empire on November 4th.
Courtesy Tony Pearce.
Released August 25th 2017