The Vietnam War (Soundtrack)
A Snapshot Of a Time That Changed Our Lives and The World.
Does the world need another compilation of 60’s Rock and Pop music? Hardly; and much like you I probably already own 90% of the songs on this double album; so why bother RMHQ reviewing it?
Well; this album is the Soundtrack to Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s amazing 10 part BBC documentary on the Vietnam War; starting with the build up and ending (I think) with the aftermath and re-building; and talking to people that were involved from every perceivable side and these songs are used to set the scene for some key parts.
With that in mind I’ve tried to clear my brain of any preconceptions and listen to the songs as if they were brand new to me; as they were to the teenagers in the 1960’s who were either being drafted and fighting a seemingly never ending war in a country they couldn’t find on a map; or the ones left at home in America protesting against it.
Put into that context Dylan’s A Hard Rain which opens proceedings on Side #1 is mind-blowing and when you listen carefully…..bloody hell……it’s still relevant in 2017!
This is followed by a Country song that I’d not heard before, Hello Vietnam written by Tom T Hall and sung by Johnnie Wright. WOAH……what a brave song to write and release in 1965; just two songs in and you realise that this compilation is really quite special.
Normally I would have expected to hear We’ve Gotta Get Outta This Place by the Animals; but here we get It’s My Life a far more intimate and intense song and is perfect for the portion of the film it’s included in.
An album like this is bound to have plenty of ‘obvious tracks’……but hearing the Staple Singers with Masters of War sent a tingle down my spine, and Nina Simone growling Backlash Blues is worth the entrance fee alone.
There are plenty of what went on to become Classic Rock tracks like Are You Experienced, Strange Brew, Piece of My Heart, Magic Carpet Ride and Gimmee Shelter; but when juxtaposed with Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, The Thrill is Gone and Otis smouldering with rage on Tell The Truth you get a whole new objective on what have become commercial pop songs on Gold Radio stations.
As well as the three Bob Dylan inclusions, a key part of the documentary is the recounting of the riot at Ohio State University and Ohio by CSN&Y is the actual cornerstone of this magical double album.
I will repeat myself by saying the difference between this release and all others is context; and the way the second album closes should and will bring a tear to your eyes and a shiver down your spine; as Ray Charles sings America The Beautiful followed by Marvin singing What’s Going On, then Simon & Garfunkel’ Bridge Over Troubled Water leads us into Let It Be by the Beatles.
For days now I wasn’t going to choose a ‘favourite song’ but I keep getting drawn back to Pete Seeger singing Waist Deep in the Big Muddy; which was surely never ever played on the wireless but must have struck a dark chord with American soldiers of all colours and religious persuasions.
Not only, but also the accompanying booklet is as fascinating as the music itself; and even though I am only half way through the actual series I can’t recommend it too highly; but I’ve learnt so much about the background to this key part to my life than I ever expected after all this time; and the music is well worth seeking out too.
PS There’s another double album out to run alongside this with the Original Score written and played by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross too.
Released September 15th 2017
Rollin’ With It
This is the latest release from Australian John McNamara and is as fine a mix of contemporary blues and soul as you’ll find outside of any extensive Stax/ Motown collection.
It’s made up of Six John McNamara originals plus covers of songs you’ll be more familiar with by Little Willie John, Bobby Bland and Otis Redding.
First listen to tracks tells you that John McNamara is no newcomer. He’s played with the best of Australian musicians, not sure what that tells you but he’s also played to great acclaim across Europe, Japan and South-East Asia. On this particular outing he’s teamed up with the best that Memphis has to offer.
Wild Out There is a mid-paced romp through a ‘guy who’s done his girl wrong, A turns up on her door after the city has spat him out and reminds her it’s ‘Wild Out There’. There’s no mistaking his blues heritage in everything from his vocal phrasing through to his stinging guitar lines. Back this up with some crazy horn stabs and this could have come straight from any of my 60’s soul albums.
It’s a cover; but certainly none the worse for that, making it ‘nice’.
For the track Security I have to declare a personal interest. I have been an Otis Redding fan since I could shout R-E-S-P-E-C-T and normally head for the hills at the merest mention of a cover version of any track associated
with the great man; but, and it’s a big BUT, this is ok. I think there’s something in the ethos that you should only cover a song if you can bring something new to it, but sometimes, if it’s a real standard
like this, I like to hear a respectful version, and John McNamara does this in spades.
If he’s been saving this vocal performance for one song, he chose that right one. There are some covers that transcend the originals, think Wilson Picket’s Hey Jude! Al Green with To Sir With Love or Rod Stewart and Handbags &
If you’ve got Steve Potts (Booker T & The MG’s), Michael Toles (Bobby Bland, The Bar-Keys), Lester Snell (Albert King, Isaac Hayes) and the cream of Memphis soul/blues studio musicians you can reasonably expect a great album….and that’s what you get.
One for repeat plays.
Review by Tony Pearce
Released 21st May 2017
You’ve Been Away So Long
Boston singer/songwriter Alice Howe’s reference points lay in 60’s folk and 70’s Southern Californian style; not just her penmanship but also in her approach to her songs. Part Joan Baez and part Joni Mitchell (Blue period).
This 5 track EP showcases her wistful style with some fine songs. The title track You’ve Been Away So Long, as you might imagine, is a call to her ‘darling, who’s been away so long’. She avoids the obvious clichés of comparing a missed loved one with missed birthdays, summers alone or long walks alone and instead, talks of the shores and, mountains and how the trees have grown since her loved one has been gone. Special mention at this point goes to Jeff Fielder who is handling practically everything that is either plucked or strummed.
Homeland Blues is the track that is getting plenty of airplay at the moment; with that man Jeff Fielder providing some tasteful Dobro that supports Alice Howes finger-style acoustic playing. It’s a twist on the old “Woke up this morning, Grandmama had them too,” it’s a familiar story of someone looking forward to the day that they can book their ticket home, but with no mention of the person she’s singing to going with her. Are they coming with? Is it a single trip? The press release will tell you it’s a driving, fingerpicked blues, but it’s not. It’s a delightful variation on a straightforward 12 bar and all the better for it.
On Make A Fool Out Of Me Hard it’s hard not to warm to the opening lines “When you hit your stride on a Monday night at a half empty bar downtown”. It’s a gentle country waltz about arriving in the Hollywood hills with no prospects and no promises. It’s possibly this track that we best hear Jeff Fielders 1920 Gibson L-1 archtop providing the sweet picked lines, supporting and not intruding on the tale of lessons learned and experienced gained.
Courtesy or Guest Reviewer TONY PEARCE
Released 21 August 2017
This has been a bit of a stop-start release for me, with some confusion over the release date; but it’s here NOW and is hopefully a fantastic teaser/taster for the album that will be released in early 2018.
A onetime member of Guitar Shorty’s band Arkansas Dave; funnily enough comes from Arkansas and was brought up in a home split down the middle with Fundamental Christianity and drug addiction on the other; which no doubt about it colours his songwriting…..and in this case; choice of song to cover.
Much like my relationship with Bob Dylan songs; I much prefer Tom Waits songs sung by someone else and here Arkansas Dave does a wonderful job with his interpretation of a Waits Classic.
Now…..where’s my album?
Released October 31st 2017
The Hightown Pirates
DRY & HIGH
Strike Back Records
Decade Straddling Indie-Rock For a Non-Hipster Generation.
Front-man and songwriter Simon Mason is quite the character; a bit of a chancer for most of his life then writing a best selling memoir detailing his time as the ‘chemist to the Stars’ in the 1990’s and now putting a band together so he could support his best friend Pete Doherty with and without the Libertines; which brings us to this The Hightown Pirates debut album.
The opening thirty seconds of track #1Higher Ground took me by surprise; a sweet acoustic guitar and a flute weren’t what I was expecting; although Mason’s lived in and sandpapered vocal certainly were. There’s a definite ‘Indie’ feel to the song; but the flute and the judicious use of feedback turn it into a transient 60’s almost Prog hybrid……yet very easy on the ear.
In fairness I’m out of touch with what ‘the kids’ like these days; but I am aware that guitar bands are still popular; so I guess songs like Two For Joy, Million Reasons and especially Perfect Strangers will appeal to fans of the Gallagher Bros. current incarnations and bands like the Arctic Monkeys.
Someone somewhere; and I guess it’s producer Mark Neary has an ear for a melody; as that’s the cornerstone of DRY & HIGH; evoking happy memories (for me) of Scouse Rockers the Icicle Works, Teardrop Explodes and Shack more than anything else; especially Last Chance Saloon and Don’t Say Anything; but it goes for the ‘feel’ of the whole album too.
I’d be more than happy to hear any of these songs on Radio 6 or the cooler end of Radio 2; and the two songs that vie for the accolade of ‘Favourite Song’ should definitely be heard on that medium; and those two are East London Morning and the dreamy Chasing Rainbows; which again is made better by the prudent inclusion of the flute as a lead instrument.
DRY & HIGH has been a pleasure to listen too over the last couple of weeks; with Simon Mason’s songwriting sounding ever more interesting on every play; but the way the songs are constructed more than anything else make this a bit of a keeper, with surprises around every corner.
Released November 10th 2017
Broken Witt Rebels
BROKEN WITT REBELS
The 3rd Wave of Classic Brit-Rock Starts Here!
Oh Lordy Lord……how excited did the Broken Witt Rebels Georgia Pine EP last year make us here at RMHQ? A lot; I can tell you; and a lot has happened for the band in the intervening months, with constant touring of the UK and US of A too, coupled with signing to the influential RAWK label Snakefarm Records on which this platter is being released.
Perhaps it’s my memory playing tricks on me, or the company they have been keeping lately but opening track Loose Change is a lot ‘heavier’ than I remembered them being…..I like it a lot and Back In Black era AC/DC springs to mind; and I likes it a lot; especially Danny Core’s occasional growls and cackles halfway through.
Things slow down and get a bit sweaty and dirty with the inclusion of Georgia Pine which follows. the guitars still sting and the bass and drums sound positively pneumatic as singer Core twists and turns his vocal chords like a pole dancer on amphetamine!
In 2017 it’s difficult to find a comfortable place for Broken Witt Rebels to sit; as with songs like Snake-eyes, Low and Guns they straddle the Classic 80’s British Rock of Thunder and Def Leppard with the American swagger of LA Guns and Poison with ease.
As I’m in my dotage now, loud music isn’t always high on my playlist; but the production here means I get to hear the songs and individual instruments clearly; even when played at 5 on the stereo and younger fans will still get the same effect when turned to 11.
Showing their new found maturity there are ballads here too; with Breathless and the risqué love song Shake Me Down giving James Tranter a glorious opportunity to show off his guitar skills as Core goes from low down and pleading to almost hysterical on the last chorus; plus Getaway Man from the original EP makes another appearance.
Speaking of ballads; my ‘favourite track’ Wait For You, probably falls into that category too. In the olden days it would have been what we called a Power Ballad; and just like the rest of the album it’s full of passion and energy; but a lot more restrained…..the type of restraint only a young man experiences when in the company of a very sexy young lady……..the hormones are absolutely fizzing from start to finish; and I can’t think of a better way to close such an exciting and interesting debut album.
Released November 24th 2017
Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union
Impromptu Musicals For The Skeptic
Sump Pump Records
Songs For Nighthawks in a Sleazy Dive Bar.
In a week I received albums from Robert Plant and Shania Twain to review I also received an e-mail offering a disc from a a label in Des Moines (my favourite sounding American city btw) because “a member of one of their bands was a regular reader of the sight!” Guess which album excited me the most? Of course, it’s this one by Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union and even allowing for my vanity it’s a winner by any standards..
Opening track Goodbye is as a raw and sloppy slice of Alt. Country as I’ve heard in a long time; and it came across like a breath of fresh air in the Rocking Magpie Mobile last week. Apparently the song was written on the drive Matt James made when he drove from Detroit to his new home in the city of Des Moines.
Now, while I love the ‘noise’ this band makes; and ‘noise’ it is ….for the uninitiated Mr. James singing style is very reminiscent of a certain Tom Waits; a slurred growl that is quite possibly hissed out of the side of his pursed lips; but that matters not a jot to me. I just fell instantly in love with the overall auditory sensations that he and the band create.
The slower the song, Tough and It’s The Kinda Place spring to mind; the more chance you have of picking out the lyrics and the story; and it turns out that the actual lyrics are quite figurative and very, very interesting too.
I had a rye smile on my lips when I heard Enthusiastic Apathetic as James sounds exactly like Tom Waits circa Nighthawks at the Diner; only with added pedal-steel for even extra pathos.
Even the song titles are enigmatic; who among could resist a song called Dying Dogs in South Carolina or And We Went Drinking With Ed Love? And if you do dip your toe into the unknown with the latter track, you will be rewarded with some of the finest bar-room boogie you will have heard in many a year.
Sadly I disappoint myself for going for possibly the most ‘commercial’ song here for my ‘favourite track’ accolade; It’s The Kinda Place, still sounds very Waitsian; which can’t be helped when your voice sounds like ‘that’ but the song is just what I would want to hear if I stumbled on Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union playing in a bar in a bar somewhere in the dark side of town.
While I’m honoured and thrilled to receive albums by the household names I mentioned at the beginning, because it sort of validates all the long hours I put in; but it’s discovering and championing acts like Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union and the quaintly named Sump Pump Records who first contacted that the Rocking Magpie website is all about; and I think I’ve unearthed another gem.
Released 1st September 2017
Swinging Sounds For Modern Country Lovers.
Recently I’ve been embroiled in a couple of arguments (inc. 2 x Twitter spats) regarding what is/isn’t Country Music these days, with far too many sub-genres muddying the waters; so let’s just say singer-songwriter Case Garrett is the embodiment of 21st Century Country Music; and just leave it at that.
Regular readers will know my penchant for good cover art and AURORA is certainly a winner on that front; proving you can judge an album by the cover.
Opening track What Can I Say? is one of those semi-autobiographical songs that Country artistes do so well; it’s obviously been a ‘life well lived’ and the song tells a sorry tale with a happy ending.
This is followed by the deep, dark and sultry Long Way Down, which sees Garrett again exploring his doleful past; but a wailing fiddle, steel guitar and a voice from the swamps makes for a beautifully bittersweet song that will stay in the memory for a very long time, and in this case Garrett finally finds redemption in the unadulterated love of his son.
Don’t despair this isn’t all doom and gloom; Case Garrett has a mighty good sense of humour too and can fit it into a song better than most; with Fill Er’ Up (about a Loving Cup) sounding like a late night drinking song that I would sing-along too and The Thought of You about a man who comes home “kinda drunk/kinda horny” and starts thinking about his ex, but can’t find his phone to send her a midnight text, very nearly became our ‘Favourite Track’ and I can guarantee it will be a fan favourite when played live. It certainly made me smile the first time I heard it, and then immediately pressed ‘replay.’
One song gets featured twice, with an Alternate Mix of Going Down To Mobile closing the album and both versions when sat alongside Case’s punchy version of Call Me The Breeze really sets the tone for the cool Southern/Country-Rock feel of the whole album; as especially does our favourite track She Never Liked Elvis; an expression his Mother used when Garrett was growing up in rural Louisiana.
Even if Case Garrett was to busk outside the 2018 CMA’s or whatever I doubt he will ever trouble the Awards Committee but, trust me if you like quality modern Country Music with a timeless feel to it, look no further…..you will love AURORA by Case Garrett.
Released November 3rd 2017
WAFFLES, TRIANGLES & JESUS
The Definitive Americana Album From Left Field Maverick.
Jim White used to be incredibly difficult to categorise; but with the advent of ‘Americana’ there isn’t a single word in the English language that sums up this left of centre Maverick better, as he encapsulates everything I associate with that all encompassing word.
Probably best know for his documentary film Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, Jim White is so much more; obviously a singer-songwriter but an artist, a writer and raconteur of the finest order too.
This is White’s 7th album under his own moniker but he also has numerous collaborations which are never less than interesting and always worth checking out.
So; why did this little silver disc make me shake with excitement when I slid it into the office CD Player?
Everything about opening track Drift Away sums up why I love Jim White, he has a soft and sensual voice and his lyrics are almost poetic in essence and he chooses instruments and melodies at will to suit the song he hears inside his head. Drift Away is almost Appalachian in mood; and moody it certainly is.
Yet Silver Threads when it comes along is positively jaunty by comparison and almost Country-Rock; no….that’s exactly what it is Country-Rock not too unlike the harmonies of Poco, if I’m not mistaken.
Playing Guitars on the other hand is a whimsical piece that would sound silly in lesser hands; but had me trying to decipher a hidden meaning (which isn’t there btw) because it’s by Jim White.
Just as your face is smiling from ear to ear, White throws a musical grenade into the mix by following it with Far Beyond The Spoken Word which is spellbinding but has to be heard to be believed.
Later we get Reason To Cry, a haunting and almost Gothic song that will send a shiver down your spine. With Jim White you never know what to expect from one song to the next; but the journey is never less than exciting and intriguing.
Picking a ‘Favourite track’ is virtually impossible with such a myriad of delights to choose from; but I’m going to toss a coin to decide between the Honky-Tonky duet Earnest T Bass at Last Finds the Woman of His Dreams and Prisoners Dilemma an almost cinematic opus, with a dark and serious and almost threatening chorus and melody.
Jim White albums aren’t for everyone; and they are never recorded with commercial success in mind, but White’s fans are many and loyal and they will love this latest release like a long lost child returning to the fold.
PS I can’t wait to finally see him on his upcoming UK Tour.
Released UK & Europe 10th November 2017
Released USA 9th February 2018
Project Mama Earth
Dazzling Fusion of Jazz, Blues, Funk and World Music.
I’d not heard a single word about this release before it arrived last week; yet it has all of the hallmarks of being a huge International story, because drummer extraordinaire Jonathan Joseph has assembled a truly All-Star cast, made up of the legendary Nitin Sawnhey on guitar, Etienne M’Bappe on bass and Jonathan Shorten on keyboards (Google their names to see who they have recorded with!) and if that wasn’t enough Joss Stone not only sings, but wrote the songs and provided board, lodging and her recording studio in Devon; where the album was written and recorded from start to finish in 10 short days.
That exciting dynamic coupled with the quality of the players oozes class right from the start, title track MAMA EARTH which combines a cool jazzy vibe with some danceable African rhythms which weave like a golden thread through every song and the short interludes too.
The playing is quite extraordinary at times, with Spring sounding like something Blue Note may have released in the 1960’s heydays and on Entanglement Sawnhey’s intricate guitar playing and M’Bappe’s bass runs twist and turn like a mountain road as Joss Stone’s voice swoops and soars like a Jazz Diva on a simply stunning song, which wouldn’t be out of place on a film soundtrack.
There are only six songs here and each is spectacularly different from each other with What Would She Say? sounding as if it had been written for Nina Simone but actually suits Joss Stone’s vocal gymnastics even better; and Breathe which brings everything to a beautiful conclusion could bring tears to a glass eye.
In between each song there is a short interlude; and these are fascinating for a number of reasons; partly because the International flavour of each truly showcases the diversity of the assembled players; but also because they give the songs room to breathe and the listener time to allow their senses to return to the default setting.
Which now brings me to the ‘favourite track’ moment; which was quite easy and difficult at the same time and in equal measure, simply because Waterfall is graceful and almost Bluesy in character; but the way Joss Stone delivers the words almost reminds me of Sade; but it just may be the finest song Miss Stone has ever recorded…..and she has recorded some stunners in her short career.
Project Mama Earth is a strange beast; as it will either sink without trace or go on to win Awards aplenty all around the world; and I expect it to be the latter; but at the very least it will hopefully draw attention to the Community Development Network in Cameroon from where the roots of this magical record were born.
Released Friday 10th November 2017