A Calm Sun
A new release from this multi-instrumentalist from Lesley Kernochan who is an operatically trained coloratura, contemporary composer and counts the saxophone, and being a musical saw player amongst her many talents. Now, who isn’t going to want to hear what kind of an album that Wonder-Woman would produce?
Previously Lesley has recorded an acapella album, an indie/pop venture, a children’s album and now this, her fourth release, A Calm Sun. Back in the days of browsing record racks my standard MO when faced with a band or artist I hadn’t encountered before was as follows:
1) Is the cover interesting? (I’ve got stacks of albums bought on the strength of artwork alone)
2) Who is playing on the album
3) What bizarre collection of instruments will I find for my 17/6d?
Let’s pass on checkpoint number 1 as the album cover for A Calm Sun is standard portrait fare. The who’s who is far more interesting, featuring as it does Dean Parks, Emily lazar and Scott Jacoby among others. As for point 3. I’ll just say Ukulele, Fiddle and …..Wurlitzer. Come on! Who could resist that tempting offering?
However, as has been the case in the past, this selection method really has come up trumps. Lesley Karnochan’s voice and delivery sits somewhere between Ricki Lee Jones (around the Chuck E’s In Love period) and Nora Jones/Iris Dement and the whole album sits somewhere between Americana and Folk.
A Calm Sun, the title track rolls along at an easy pace and really shows of some tasteful lyrics. Hurricane Eye’s theme is one of loss and yearning from the resigned perspective of not wasting time worrying over it any more.
Here is where you can really appreciate the musicianship. Nothing overpowering with some subtle but effective keyboards from Jeff Babko. We’re three tracks in and waiting for the mighty (isn’t it a prerequisite with Wurlitzers to refer to them as ‘mighty?) Wurlitzer to burst through on The Universe, a song maybe about brighter days, returning home & oceans?
Something you’d probably expect from such an all-encompassing title but it’s sensitively written and delivered with drama-free vocals.
Maybe that’s the secret with A Calm Sun. nothing jars. There’s nothing out of place, nothing added for effect. It’s as if someone said “Give me an example of a well-crafted Americana album”, this would be it, unless you’re choosing your albums on cover alone!
Words and thoughts by our mate Tony Pearce esq.
Released 19th May 2017
THE NASHVILLE SOUND
AT LAST! Some kind of ‘mix up’ meant we didn’t receive this album around the release date; but that wrong has recently been rectified so we sent it off to our mate Tony Pearce to hear what he thought about…..now that the hype has slowed down.
Isbell’s sixth studio album means he’s way past the ‘tricky’ second album syndrome. Produced by man of the moment Dave Cobb, who was also responsible for Southeastern and Something More Than Free, so you know we’re on a winning formula here. Isbell is joined by Jimbo Hart-bass, Chad Gamble on drums, Derry Deborja keyboards, Sadler Vaden electric guitar and of course his wife, Amanda Shires on violin and vocals.
If We Were Vampires, the track that has already had a lot of early airplay and exposure, is as good a duet as you’re likely to hear this year and is going to fit right in on future set-lists. As with many a good Isbell song, the chorus isn’t straightforward “I love you, you love me”, on If We Were Vampires it’s more “Likely one of us will have to stand some days alone” we all know it’s coming in a relationship, and he just lays it on the line early on. If that doesn’t let you know that nothing is forever “Maybe we’ll get 40 years together/ but one day I’ll be gone/ one day you’ll be gone” confirms the fact.
Last Of My Kind kicks off the album and it’s a bit of a departure from the Something More Than Free where the mood was one of grown up regrets mixed with optimism, of acceptance, of what he’s become. On Last of My Kind the mood is definitely back to the more sombre one we associate with Isbell. Now he’s wondering why college is hard. Why they have differing views from him of what’s important, he wonders why they have poor rhythm and they can’t believe the clothes he wears! Anxiety lets you know from the off where it’s at.
Bombastic chords and an opening line that sounds more than a little like a re hash of Yesterday.
If the last album looked at what he’s gained and had a definitely positive vibe about it, Anxiety drops that mood completely, “I’m out here living in a fantasy/ I can’t enjoy a god-damn thing”. This isn’t the serious mood of say, Elephant or Cover Me, neither of which are likely to raise a smile but Anxiety does feel as though it is going to spoil the pace of the album and at 7 minutes that’s a lot of doom and gloom.
I guess after the unbridled success he’s had since leaving the Drive By truckers we’ve come to expect so much of the Alabama native, but having caught at least one of the shows on the recent tour some of the more challenging songs on the album work better live.
Released June 16th 2017
THIS SWEET OLD WORLD (Re-Visited)
Highway 20/Thirty Tigers
Great Songwriting Never Goes Out of Fashion.
As so many other music lovers did, I first discovered Lucinda Williams with her Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album in 1998ish, which actually followed THIS SWEET OLD WORLD albeit 6 years later, so it’s a fascinating challenge to listen to Lucinda’s re-recording of a 25 year old album that I’ve never heard before.
So, with only a nod to the past I will treat this as a brand new release with only a couple of nods to the past and wait patiently for the pedants to rise from the shadows and explain in tedious detail why the original versions were ‘better.’
Track #1 Six Blocks Away must have sounded amazing when listeners first heard it in 1992, because it still sounds fresh and electric today as Lucinda drily sings about a part-timer lover in her inimitable style while a Roger McGuinn/Tom Petty guitarist weaves in and out behind her.
The first song I recognised enters the fray at #4, Memphis Pearl is a staple of Lucinda’s concerts and this delicate arrangement adds more pathos to an already sad song than I ever would have expected.
For me, there are pleasant and often beautiful surprises around every corner, with songs like Sidewalks of the City, Which Will and especially the title track Sweet Old World sounding as if they had been written around the time that Lucinda’s last album Ghosts of Highway 20 was released; not twenty odd years before it, such is the intricacy of Lucinda’s songwriting and storytelling; but I suppose the new arrangements may give the songs that extra touch of sorrow; but whichever way you feel…..they are absolutely beautiful songs.
One of my favourite songs I’ve heard Lucinda sing in concert (and on the Fillmore album) is here; and this version of Pineola is stunning from start to finish; with the band sounding spellbinding and even frightening behind her as she puts the Alt into Alt. Country.
There are four Bonus Tracks here, and Lucinda being Lucinda has also re-recorded these as they were from the original sessions too; and I can’t tell you how good Factory Blues and Dark Side of Life are, as they fit in perfectly with everything I’ve heard from Lucinda in the last twenty years and it would have been such a shame if they’d been left in the vaults.
But, none of those take the title of ‘RMHQ Favourite Track’ …..that accolade goes to another song I’d not heard before and one that took my breath away the first four times I heard it and may again the next…..Little Angel/Little Brother is as good a song as I’ve ever heard Lucinda Williams sing and the arrangement is as simple, raw and awe-inspiring as the words themselves; and the singer sounds like she could breakdown at any moment, but thankfully doesn’t.
Although this record didn’t attract the attention of the Chart Compilers when it was first released, it’s easy to see, with 25 years hindsight the direction Ms Williams was headed, even though very few others were in 1992; and the world is a much better place for her being in it…..as this forgottan classic proves.
Released September 29th 2017
Jumping Hot Club
Gosforth Civic Theatre
27 Oct 2017.
Getting to go to gigs on Friday nights are becoming a very rare commodity these days, but the prospect of seeing local Rock & Rolling legends the Sour Mash Trio alongside Jesse Dayton was far too good an opportunity to miss.
First of all this is a brand new venue for promoters The Jumping Hot Club; but I guess won’t be the last time they circle the wagons here……great stage, great sound and two well staffed bars…..what’s not to like?
Far too easily pigeon-holed as a Rockabilly act, the Sour Mash lads got off to a reelin’ and a rockin’ start with Sugar Daddy, a staple of their act for several years now and has matured nicely; as have others like Drinking Spree and An Empty Bottle (and a Broken Heart) which I remember playing many years ago in their raw demo forms on my old Sunday night Wireless Broadcasts.
With songs this good there’s very little reason to fill out the set with covers, like they used to do; but tonight they did slip in two. One, a Buddy Holly song I didn’t recognise gave new guitarist the incredibly young looking Joe Guillan the opportunity to really, really show what a brilliant and smart guitarist he is (and always has been!).
Although probably too old in the tooth for Global Domination, there’s no reason these three crazy kids shouldn’t go into the studio and record an album of their own self-penned songs some time soon……I know I already receive a helluva lot worse from ‘name’ acts.
Bizarrely I’d passed Jesse Dayton in the foyer earlier in the evening and not recognised him; thinking he was just one of the local Rockabilly crowd…..DOH!
So, no fancy stage clothes for Jesse and his fellow band members; just double denim that looked like it hadn’t been washed since they left home and their biker boots certainly needed a polish (does that make me sound old?).
With no into and the house lights still dimming Jesse called out “1-2-3-4!” and BOOM they ripped into Daddy Is a Badass from the Revealer album and within a minute 5 couples were dancing at the back of the hall, and plenty of chaps were shuffling their feet near the bar.
That song felt like someone sticking the key into a classic Harley, of which Dayton is so fond of mentioning and the monster rumble just got louder and sweeter as the night went on.
With no time for anyone to catch breath, least of all the trio on the stage they immediately launched into an incendiary Holy Ghost Rock & Roller before finally slowing things down with the heartfelt The Way We Are; which is about the trials and tribulations of being a troubadour Bar Band.
After a lifetime on the road (with Waylon, Cash, Willie and Ray Price) Dayton isn’t shy on a stage and has a presence worthy of much bigger venues than he’s playing on this tour (with tonight’s 100+ being the biggest crowd so far!) and his stories that introduced the likes of Possum Ran Over My Grave and 3 Pecker Goat were as funny as they were self-depreciating; leaving me thinking “I wouldn’t mind having a beer in his company.”
Pretty much the whole of The Revealer got played tonight; and the inclusion of the beautiful Mrs. Victoria (a Beautiful Thing) would have been a highlight on any other night but this evening, Dayton’s song about inter-racial tolerance coincidentally came on the weekend Newcastle was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King being given the Freedom of our Multi-Cultural city; and coupled with all of the crazy things happening in the States these days…..it’s a very relevant song indeed 10/10.
What more can I say? I half expected a gang of Biker Dudes to march in during Devil’s On The Front Porch and there was a battle of wills between the drummer and bass-player on a ‘White Trash, honky-tonker that is shorter than a Ramones song’ which I missed the title of!
But mostly this was a night for dancing and loving, with the sultry Loretta and the dirty swampy song from True Blood were absolute highlights; but the song I was singing out loud in the car on the way home was I’m At Home Getting Hammered (While She’s Out Getting Nailed)……..Friday nights just don’t get better than this (at my age.)
If you don’t already know Jesse Dayton check out The Revealer https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/jesse-dayton-the-revealer/ and if you get the chance to see him and his band play live…..take it….he is and they are The Real Deal!
Photo-Set courtesy Harrisonaphotos http://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/Jesse-Dayton-JHC-Gosfoth/
The Cornshed Sisters
HONEY & TAR
Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves And With Fire and Grace.
It was only by accident that I found out about this exciting new release; and in fairness it hardly took any begging at all for the record label to send me a copy.
Where do I start? These delightful young ladies all hail from within a couple of miles of my own front door and when they released their debut album TELL TALES in 2012 they seemed destined for stardom as Nu-Folk was in the ascendancy and their harmonious tales fit in perfectly with what the broadsheets were falling over themselves to hail as ‘The Next Big Thing!’
Alas, ‘proper jobs,’ relationships and marriages meant that their music went back to hobby status; until 2016 when out of nowhere I saw that they were playing GLASTONBURY! OK, not the Pyramid Stage, but how many people do you know who have played that Festival?
Forget the past…..here’s the present!
The opening song nearly made my eyes pop out of my head! It’s…..it’s…..unquestionably the Cornsheds, but they’ve gone Electro! The Message is a bit Bananaramaish or perhaps even Shakespeare’s Sister; but a damn site classier; and perfect for Radio 2 or even Radio 6…..but definitely r-a-d-i-o.
Sigh…..track #2 Cuddling is back to what I expected; but hey…..there’s also a Northern Gothic Lo-Fi sensitivity to it too; but there’s no mistaking those harmonies; they would make Phil Spector proud.
It’s fair to say the Cornsheds transcend what we know as Folk Music on this album, with or without the NU prefix; this is Classy and inventive Pop Music for intelligent adults; Waiting For Audreya is simply stunning and the multi-layered title track Honey & Tar sounds whimsical at first; but yet again becomes positively Gothic the more you hear it.
The 80’s Electro-Pop sensations return with the enigmatic Black and White and later the claustrophobic Show Me; which also happens to have a razor sharp narrative.
Just over the halfway mark another curve ball is lobbed into the proceedings with a bit of a rocker…..Running; and it will leave you breathless if you try to sing along with the chorus.
But; my favourite track; is a coin toss between the jaunty Jobs For The Boys, which had me singing along until I realised that it is a deceptive Feminist Anthem! It has to be said though…..the sentiment is bang on the money.
The other is Sunday Best/Small Places, which sees the Cornsheds go back to their roots with an acapella opening followed by some gentle ukulele and cello as a string section sweeps across a beautiful woman’s voice on a delightful love song. What’s not to like?
Sadly I’m writing this after only hearing each songs only three times; but that is more than enough to know HONEY & TAR is a very special record, very special indeed.
Released November 3rd 2017
POSTCARDS from MAGDALENA
At The Helm Records
Glacier Cool Americana Songs of Love, Loss and Heartache.
WOW….Where does the time go? It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since we were fawning over Jeff Crosby’s last release WAKING DAYS but that was a whole two years ago; and it appears that the hirsute songwriter hasn’t been sitting around twiddling his thumbs, as these 10 brand new songs were written ‘on the road’ and apparently in some pretty obscure towns around the world.
Such is the life of the modern troubadour.
That Californian-Americana ‘sound’ which defined WAKING DAYS is still there in the bittersweet opening track Best $25 I Ever Spent; although this song was written in Taganga, Magdalena Columbia about the unrequited love of a ‘hippie girl who loved the beach and smoking joints….and dancing in the rain.’
While there is an undoubted Laurel Canyon ‘feel’ to Crosby’s songs; his words and stories are invariably darker and more sensitive than I remember; but it was a long time ago.
Without having a lyric sheet to crib from; Beautiful & Strange reminds me of the poetry of Thomas Hardy; but set to a West Coast melody and a searing guitar.
It’s never easy for a fella that looks like me to sympathise with a good looking guy like Jeff; but listening to Hearts Too Heavy and Cold Summer he sounds like he’s had more than his fair share of heartbreak; but that’s why he’s such a good songwriter, both of these songs sound like they could have been written about episodes in my own life. Clever that.
On a couple of track Crosby Turns Left at the Alt. Country/Americana intersection; with It’s Us having an intense and almost Indie sensibility to it; although there is still the obligatory steel guitar thread running through the middle; and on Sunrise Over Iceland (For Lois) the stark story is pure Damn Country; but not like any other Country song I can think of.
There is something really special about the way Jeff Crosby uses the English language, especially metaphors and couplets and boy does he know how to add a melody too.
Favourite track? It has to be Hotel Bibles, which closes proceedings and has Crosby sat alone with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a broken heart. His description of the damaged relationship is desperately told in poetic lines like, “like an old tattoo/the definition faded” and “like hotel bibles/with torn out pages,” and when that harmonica wails…..so will you.
In my previous review I described Jeff Crosby as an ‘Americana Diamond’ and I stand by that description; but this time he proves himself to be a flawed diamond……but he can describe those most intimate and personal of stories better than most.
Released October 27th 2017
ON THE WAY DOWNTOWN (Live Recordings)
Two Fabulous Radio Shows Unearthed After 20 Years.
It behoves me that I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard Peter Case before. I certainly don’t own any of his previous 12 albums; so this has been a voyage of discovery for me.
To some degree this set of 18 songs recorded for the Folkscene radio show serve as a retrospective and a great place for people like me to start.
The album opens with a fabulous song called Spell of Wheels from his newly released (1998) album FULL SERVICE, NO WAITING, and as it faded to a close I was already kicking myself for not discovering him earlier.
The next few tracks, all featuring a ‘full band’ alongside Case all come from that release, with the lyrically astute Honey Child and Until The Next Time showing a songwriter, and singer at the very top of his game.
For a ‘Live Album’ there’s not a lot of talking or even introductions; but that doesn’t do any harm to the likes of On The Way Downtown or See Through Eyes which are both absolutely captivating.
At this stage I have to pass comment on the crystal clear sound, courtesy of Sound Engineer Peter Cutler who manages to make a Radio Show sound as if it was being recorded in Abbey Road or Electric Lady.
The second half of the album sees Case in 2000 with violinist David Perales playing a mix of older songs and newer ones from that year’s Flying Saucer Blues; and there’s a tighter, more intimate feel to these songs, with Pay Day, Icewater and the inspired Leaving Home all sounding extraordinary.
For only two musicians, Case and Perales really kick up a storm on Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda and for that reason alone it takes on the mantle of RMHQ Favourite Track.
As I said earlier this is a fabulous entry point to discover Peter Case; but the quality of the complete package and the fact that these recordings have been hidden in a locked vault for nearly 20 years mean his fans will buy this in their droves and love it to death.
Released October 27th 2017
Single of the Day
One of our favourite ‘Undiscovered’ Queens of Country Miss Brenda Burch is releasing a new single from the Sparks Will Fly EP in the UK and Europe on November 1st.
The video is full of autumn trees, a cool pickup truck, old cars and Brenda taking a few swings on the golf course…..what’s not to like on a grey, damp English Autumn morning?
It’s all about letting go of the old, making room for the new and doing fun things you love to do.
Blue Rose Code
THE WATER OF LEITH
Winsome Yet Breathtaking Sound of New Scotia.
Where to start? After nearly twenty years, there are some albums I receive where I can actually write an eloquent review the first time I hear them; and others that it takes several plays with no distractions spread over several days so I can savour everything that the music has to offer.
This is one such.
Scottish singer-songwriter Ross Wilson aka Blue Rose Code has been around the scene for a few years now, flitting on and off my radar via various friends who swoon and go weak at the knees at the very mention of his name (and they are real men’s men!), such is the way his music touches people.
It’s easy to hear why that would be the case as the beautiful first song Over The Fields (for John) floats over you like a late Autumnal sunset. Such is the combination of Wilson’s soft voice and words I totally missed the orchestral sweeps that come and go the first three times I listened to the record.
Technically you will probably find this record filed under Folk or Scottish Roots in the shop racks; but songs like Ebb & Flow, Love Is…. and On The Hill Remains a Heart all transcend such myopic depictions.
There is a definite beauty in the way Wilson allows his brogue to come to the fore alongside a young lady singing in her native Celtic tongue on the mildly socio-political Sandaig; and again the mysterious Celtic lady makes an appearance on the haunting Passing Places, which features an amazing slide guitar, violin and cello assemblage.
While never sounding experimental, Wilson throws caution to the wind by adding a Dinner-Jazz atmosphere to the delicate song Child and then adds a Chet Baker type trumpet to Nashville Blue and it all works fantastically well.
Never afraid to be bound by the traditional 3 or 4 minute rule; two songs are allowed to breathe and take on a life of their own, The Water is a heady mix of Jazz trumpet and Classical piano combining to take us into areas I would never have expected to venture on an album that is meant to be ‘Rootsy’.
The cinematic To the Shore immediately follows it and comes in at seven and a half minutes of absolute sensory delight.
I can only describe The Waters Of Leith as an old-fashioned Long Player that must be listened to in one (or two) unencumbered sittings; but I will force myself to pick out a Favourite Track; Bluebell for no other reason than it is a catalyst for everything else that is hear and sort of reminds me of a Traffic in their heyday without sounding anything like them…..if that makes any sense.
Blue Rose Code somehow manage to have ‘easy on the ear’ melodious musical sensibilities with deep and occasionally poetic lyrics that will appeal to a broad section of music lovers, without alienating the Cool Kids who have been with Ross since his earliest days.
Released October 27th 2017
Jumping Hot Club,
Little Theatre in Gateshead.
20th October 2017
Native of the CBGB’s scene in the 70’s, Willie Nile is still one of the hardest working and exciting performers you will see on the circuit these days, so with his latest album of Bob Dylan songs to promote I was especially intrigued when I saw that tonight’s concert at the quaint Little Theatre was to be solo, acoustic and with ‘stories’.
As I hung around the entrance with the promoter who was nervously checking his watch, Willie Nile and long time bass player Johnny Pisano came running around the corner with only a few minutes to ‘curtain up’…….the service in the restaurant had been ridiculously slow!
So, with only time to pick up their guitars Willie and Johnny scampered onto the stage to huge cheers from the capacity audience, who were oblivious to the drama only seconds before hand.
“1-2-3—–4” and Willie began bashing out some amazing punky chords on his acoustic that led into Seeds of a Revolution, which sounded especially revolutionary when you could hear every word.
As the cheers died down; Willie regaled us with his first story of the evening introducing Rite of Spring. When some musicians ‘name drop’ I raise my eyebrows; but Nile’s tales tonight (and this one was about Roger McGuinn leaving a message on his answerphone) were generally self-depreciating and always believable (I’ve seen the photos of him hanging out with Bruce and His Bobness).
But; as always it’s ‘all about the music’ isn’t it?
With a catalogue stretching back nearly 40 years (and he still looks so very young) filling 90 minutes was never going to be a problem; just what would he select and what would work acoustically? Life on Bleaker St? Tick. The Innocent Ones? Of course – Tick. For a hoary old Punk Rocker Willie Nile certainly has a sensitive side; and that came out in every song tonight.
I sort of already knew the background to the Dylan album; and his renditions of Love Minus Zero, Hard Rain and Positively 4th Street and the accompanying story and video of his Grandson belting it out made tonight extra special indeed (Dylan doesn’t hold his phone to the mic so you can hear a 2 year old sing, now does he?)
As I’m used to seeing Willie in a noisy, sweaty situation so, the absolute highlight of this concert was hearing him sing songs at the piano; and it’s easy to forget that he was a classically trained pianist, and those intricate skills came across on a stunning rendition of Can’t Do Crazy Anymore (Randy Newman mix) alongside a couple of rare outings for Across The River from his 1980 debut album and tonight’s Celtic influenced The Crossing which was apparently originally written for the Gangs of New York film; which I didn’t know, and was yet another lovely story.
With the 10pm curfew looming; Willie revisited the Positively Bob album for an adrenaline fuelled sing-along Rainy Day Woman; which had twenty or more Grandma’s singing at the tops of their voices as they danced in the aisles……which must be a first for this venue.
With the promoter desperately making ‘last song’ signs in the wings; Nile and Pisano cranked up the volume (which is quite some feet for one man and a wooden guitar with his pal playing a bass played through a small amp) for his theme song House of a 1000 Guitars which had everyone on their feet singing along and punching the air.
Then; without looking at the frantic promoter cries of “One more!” were answered with a frantic version of One Guitar, which must have frightened the neighbours; which is surely the purpose of Rock & Roll, regardless of the instruments involved.
Phew; what a night and managed to encapsulate everything I love about LIVE MUSIC!