WHINS & WEATHER
Birdie Num Num/CD Baby
Emotional Country Songs For the Darkest Recesses of The Heart.
As regular readers know we receive albums from all corners of the globe here at RMHQ ranging from the likes of Robert Plant, Shania Twain, UB40 and Ringo Starr (clang– name drops galore!) through to the life blood of the site; artistes like husband and wife Randy and Beki Kerkman who hail from the US of A but currently reside in the Irish Countryside; plying their trade as ‘Beki Hemingway’ and don’t have the backing of a corporate PR Company or record label.
The charmingly kick-ass Two More Hills almost took my breath away that first night driving home through the cold rain at midnight*. Beki’s voice sounds like cut-glass as a maudlin Reed organ, mandolin and pedal steel weep behind her on a heart shredding love song.
Next up, My World Is Out There finds an almost breathless Beki pleading with her ex-lover in a way I’ve not heard for a long time; and memories of the early Faith Hill and Jo Dee Messina records sprang to mind, before they got lost in huge productions and orchestras that smother the emotions.
OK my mind wasn’t in the best space when I first heard this album; but as the weeks have gone by I’ve grown to love the stories and lyricism in Anyone But You, You Sing This Song and especially
Because; especially the way Beki somehow manages to sound both brittle and strong in equal measures……as only a woman can.
This isn’t YEE-HAW Country music by a long chalk; but is most definitely Country Music that treads a fine path between Alt. Nu and Classic and will find numerous fans in all three camps
While most of the songs here are in the traditional boy/girl break-up/make-up and even unrequited love song tradition; and very good they are too…..Beki and Randy through caution to the wind with the haunting Tourist (Auschwitz/Birkenau 2016). I doubt I’ve ever heard a song on this subject in all my long years; and for a Country Singer to tackle such a sensitive subject and come out the other side with an amazingly tender song is quite staggering and the couple are to be applauded for their combined bravery.
Then we come to my ‘favourite song’ on the album, Not Excused. Beki singing from the heart as Linda Good gently plays the piano in the background while Kenny Hutson occasionally compliments the pair with some scintillating Dobro playing. Is it Country Music? Possibly; but more in the vein of Linda Ronstadt or Bonnie Raitt at their saddest as Beki uses her voice like a third instrument hitting notes with consummate ease on a song that will break the hardest of hearts.
That’s about it; I believe I’ve stumbled on another ‘star in the making’ or at least a Singer and Songwriter that will never fail to deliver albums of the highest quality as and when finances dictate.
*Sadly this album arrived the week Mrs. Magpie was rushed into hospital and while it proved a wonderful soundtrack to my going to and from the hospital it has remained sitting on the front of my desk for weeks until now.
The Wailin’ Jennys
True North Records/Redhouse Records
Simple Folk Music At It’s Most Complex and Most Beautiful.
Where o’ where does the time go? It doesn’t seem five minutes since Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse aka The Wailin’ Jennys were never away from the UK; playing to ever increasing audiences that were awe struck at their combined wonderfulness.
Yet it’s now six years and assorted babies since their last album BRIGHT MORNING STAR….six years!
Even now the trio haven’t really got the time to devote to writing a whole new album so when the opportunity to gather together to record ‘something’ arose they put their heads together and came up with these marvelous nine songs; that they all loved in equal measure.
Perhaps an odd choice to open the record with; their haunting acapella treatment of the Old Churchyard is simply breathtaking; and sets the tone perfectly for what is to follow.
This is followed by a delicious old folk song called Wildflowers which captures the Wailin’ Jennys at their absolute best.
HANG ON A MINUTE!
‘An old Folk Song?’
No actually; it’s a revisiting of the classic Tom Petty song actually, but not that you would know it from this stripped back raw and emotional rendition that finds their voices harmonising and soaring in the most Angelic fashion.
As usual in these circumstances there will be readers who tsk at my ignorance at finding that I’d never heard Hank William’s Weary Blues From Waitin’; but after hearing the Jenny’s almost Spiritual version; I’m not sure I even want to hear the original!
It’s fair to say that Nicky, Ruth and Heather have shown great taste when selecting these songs with Classics like Boulder to Birmingham and Dolly Parton’s Light of a Clear Blue Morning rubbing shoulders with Warren Zevon’s starkly beautiful Keep Me In Your Heart and a personal favourite from Patty Griffin…..Not Alone.
Two songs tie for the accolade of ‘favourite track’ the stunningly beautiful Jane Siberry song The Valley; which sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it and….. and this is the oddest selection here…..but one that made my jaw drop the first time I heard it.
Simon & Garfunkel* both solo and together have been a bedrock of my musical education since the early 1970’s; so hearing The Wailin’ Jennys deconstruct Paul Simon’s Love Me Like a Rock has genuinely mesmerised me for a whole week now and I’m pretty damn sure it will continue to do so for years to come.
That’s the intrinsic beauty of this album; each disparate song is famous in it’s own rite and in normal settings wouldn’t and shouldn’t fit together, but due to the trio’s very own magical production values and arrangements they become very much Wailin’ Jennys songs; therefore making the album sounds intrinsically perfect from start to finish.
It’s been another amazing and occasionally tearful year here at RMHQ during 2017; I had my own health issues at the beginning of the year and in late October Mrs Magpie was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation (you don’t need to know the details……but it was a very scary time for me) but during the year there was always MUSIC and some of the music I’ve listened to in 2017 has been staggeringly good (some quite poor and disappointing too!) but some of the discoveries I’ve shared will change your lives.
Strangely enough when checking the data we had 93 more visitors than 2016 but 117 less views! All of which still blows my mind after two short years of going solo due to musical and financial differences.
After reviewing 312 albums, singles and box-sets choosing Ten and only Ten favourite albums was nigh on impossible; so this year I’ve stretched the list to twenty…..but it could have been fifty.
My criteria for selecting this 20 was basically sitting down with a piece of paper, a pencil and three strong cups of coffee remembering albums that ‘touched’ me in some way. Some are from perennial favourites who continue to make new and interesting music, but a lot on this list are brand new artistes to me and took my breath away in some way.
THE GUILTY & THE INNOCENT
ALT Recordings/Proper Records
Righteous Poetic Anger From Belfast Troubadour.
For a man who has released 18 or so albums in a career spanning 30 years I’ve only ever heard and reviewed one album of his; and if memory serves me correctly I was distinctly underwhelmed by it; so had a rueful smile on my lips when I read the accompanying Press Release.
But…….’they’ are right and it pains me to say this…..I’ve been wrong all these years if this album is anything to go by.
Although a smidgen younger than myself, Andy White is of the same generation and has reached the age when he is generally disappointed by life and people in general and (like me) finds himself shouting at the News on the TV……which is where the roots of this album are, and if you are songwriter this is pure gold!
I found it difficult to get past opening track This Is Not a Television Show the first time I played this CD; constantly pressing repeat and gradually turning the volume up to 11 to get the best from White’s righteous fire and brimstone stoked anger at the world around him (and us).
White takes a deep breath and lets out track #2 Age-Old Story as one long sigh, played out to an atmospheric backdrop and punchy piano.
Politics with a capital P and a lowercase one too are the thread that weaves all of these 13 songs together; and you can imagine the angry spittle coming out as White lets loose on Mean MOFO, Promises Broken and Unheard; but he can also see the absurdity in some of the situations people get their 21st Century knickers in a twist over with Johnny Depp’s Dogs.
If like me you aren’t aux fait with White’s previous canon of work I have to mention that this is very much a band effort, rather than some whiny singer-songwriter; the songs are all very punchy and quite ‘Indie’ in spirit; especially Promises Broken and my favourite song here; Jeremy a slightly tongue in cheek love song to the next leader of the Free World; and a song of hope in a very dark world.
Then; there is the title track The Guilty & The Innocent; an acoustic Folk Rocker that will scare the pants off you when you listen to White’s words; simply because every syllable is truer than you want them to be. Memories of Dylan, Paxton and even Leonard Cohen will filter from your speakers as tears well in your eyes on the finest Protest Song you will hear in the next couple of years; and God Help Us……we need more songs like this…..ON THE RADIO!
Get Down and Get With It On a Great Lost Reggae Album.
My love of Reggae music came via the British Ska movement in the late 70’s and early 80’s (Madness, Specials etc.), the Punky-Reggae Party led by the Clash and a steady diet of Bob Marley on national radio; but sadly I don’t get the time to listen to very much Reggae music these days; so jumped at the chance to hear this new/re-release by The Gladiators.
Although formed in 1968 and subsequently releasing 8 albums; I hadn’t heard of The Gladiators, presumably because they focussed on the burgeoning American market with 3 albums on the Nighthawk Label, where this disc comes from.
Their collective pedigree shines through on opening track Bongo Red; an atmospheric piece that sets the mood perfectly for a laid back hour of cool rhythms.
Unlike most Americana and Roots albums the actual songs here are secondary to the overall music and ‘vibe;’ as Reggae songs can be repetitive, hypnotic and poetic in equal measures ……in my humble opinion.
Certainly ‘of its time’ but timeless none the less, tracks like Full Time, Fussing and Fighting and Rocking Vibration are primarily based around that trademark teeth rattling Reggae bass and the judicious use of keyboards and harmonies so luscious and deep you can drown in them if you’re not careful.
Singer Albert Griffiths has a sweet voice; not unlike the young Bob Marley adding a Rocksteady swing to a couple of songs; Ship Without a Captain and You Little Rat spring to mind; but in fairness you can sway and dance to everything here.
Originally recorded in 1983 at Harry J’s studio this album fits in perfectly between the Commercial end of Reggae that UB40 and Aswad released around that time and the harder edged stuff I was listening to from Culture and Misty in Roots around that time.
Favourite track? The final two songs Full Time and One Love blend into one another perfectly and tie for the title; but as soon as the latter fades to a close I have to press ‘repeat’ immediately and start the whole groove all over again.
Bandwagonesque Alt. Country For a 5th Dimension Generation.
Quite a few times this year my trusty ‘shuffle button’ on the i-phone has discovered some truly excellent gems for me to review; and this EP from Connecticuttian (?) Stan ‘Seneko’ Olshefski is yet another.
It came to me from a trusted PR a few months ago; but family events meant it didn’t get played and stayed hidden on the computer database until last Friday night as I drove home from work after midnight and the super-lush harmonies and jingly-jangly guitars of track #2 Pierced Lip Smile lit up the bitter cold night air like a firework display. As I discretely peeked at the stereo display I half expected to see the name TEENAGE FANCLUB but saw SENEKO instead; and then pressed ‘play full album’…..and the journey home flew by.
The title track True Dimension actually opens the 6 track EP and is every inch the delight that the other (second) track is; with a breathy, multi-layered vocal and a backing band that is so cool you need Wayfarers on to listen.
You To Save Me immediately sounds deeper and darker than the previous two songs; but fits in alongside them perfectly and when you eventually bypass the spectacular Pettyesque flavoured geetars and river deep harmonies to actually listen to the lyrics you will fall in love with this singer-songwriter like I did; the guy can really, really write a song!
Slightly quirky and more than a bit left of centre the Mariachi style My Little Curioso made me smile like a Cheshire Cat every time I’ve played it. Think Jonathan Richman fronting The Jayhawks on the Letterman Show…..or something like that.
This is followed by another sweet Teenage Fanclub type Indie-Pop meets Alt. Country slice of musical perfection called Mind The Violets; and by this stage of the proceedings all of your worries will have drifted away and you will be imagining sitting in a field making daisy chains with the one you love sitting beside you.
Then of course we have track #6 Take Me Indigo; the final track and bizarrely my favourite song here. A touch like You Take Me, it’s slower and deeper than the rest but Seneko’s warm and velvety voice coupled to the multi-layered harmonies, a heart-stopping bass; voluptuous keyboards and guitar playing so sweet you will find tears running down your cheeks and a smile a mile wide across your mouth as you re-live the salad days of your youth.
This is only Olshefski’s second EP under the guise of Seneko, but is the sound of an immense talent waiting to burst forth unto the world; and if I have anything to do with it he will be my ‘one to watch’ in 2018…….you heard it here first.
The Whole Roots and Blues Range In One Glorious Album.
When you are spending your own hard earned money buying albums it’s always a ‘considered purchase’ isn’t it; even if it’s only because you fancy trying something after reading a review (you are welcome Ed.) but in this reviewers case 90% of the albums I slide into the office CD player are brand new entities for me; and that includes Samantha Fish; a name I have been aware of for several years but know absolutely nothing about. As usual in such cases I depend on the opening track to pique my attention. WOW! American Dream absolutely floored me the first time I heard it and it’s difficult to explain why. There’s an almost raw Native American beat with some kind of penny whistle accompanying Ms. Fish and her pearlescent pleading voice on an angry but restrained song about the broken American Dream. ‘Powerful’ doesn’t even come close to describing how this song comes across. I suppose I was expecting a full on Blues-Rock album; but nothing could be further from the truth as Samantha mines the darkest recesses of her Heart and Soul on the slow smouldering Cowtown and Don’t Say You Love Me. There’s plenty of super-cool guitar licks here to satisfy Samantha’s core fans; but more restrained and generally wound as tight as a coil rather than fluid and loud. Another thing of note is the way the singer mines the Countrier and Folkier end of the Blues on Blood on The Water and even more impressively the beautiful title track Belle of The West; with both featuring some sublime fiddle playing from Lillie May and mandolin from Luther Dickinson which combine to really enhance two starkly intimate stories. It would be truly lazy of me to actually compare Samantha Fish to Lucinda Williams and/or Bonnie Raitt at this stage but fans of both will fall in love with this album for all the reasons they love those two Americana Goddesses. While primarily a ‘Blues’ album Samantha throws a beautifully judged curve-ball with the Country enhanced Nearing Home which features Lillie Mae’s sublime violin playing as Ms. Fish purrs her way through a beautifully sad love long; that could easily be picked up by the likes of the Dixie Chicks to make a multi-million selling hit with. This is strictly a personal thing; but two songs stand out like poppies in a wheat-field; the raw duet with Lightnin’ Malcolm on the toe-tappin’ Country Blues interpretation of RL Burnside’s Poor Black Mattie…….red hot vocals, harmonica and slide guitar? What’s not to like? The other is probably my actual ‘favourite song’…….No Angels, which is also from the darker end of the spectrum and send chills down my spine each time I heard it; and will continue to do so over the next ten years. Produced by Luther Dickinson and featuring a host of recognisable names this album is very much a ‘keeper’ and will be pulled out of the rack every time I need a shot of Bourbon flavoured Country Blues.
We love left of centre music here at RMHQ and just fell in love with this Christmas song by New Yorker Rich Krueger, who is releasing a fabulous new album on January 26th (watch this space!)
Rich Krueger, who is now based in Chicago, IL, was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, NYC. He has been writing and performing with his band The Dysfunctionells since 1985. The Dysfunctionells, (who describe themselves as “THE Butt-Ugliest Band in Chicago”) have backed up the Holy Modal Rounders at their reunion at The Bottom Line in NYC, and Krueger has recorded with Peter Stampfel on his own and with the band.
“One of the earliest songs I wrote. It was inspired by a recollection of a memory of going to church for the midnight Christmas Eve service at our families church, and the snow coming down burying the parked cars. I have no idea why a seven year old would left outside on his own in a snow storm at 11 pm on Christmas, but hey it was simpler times.
Low Cut Connie & Curse of Lono
Jumping Hot Club
The Cluny II
Friday 8th December 2017.
For a variety of work and family reasons I’ve hardly been to any gigs this year so I thought all cherries had dropped at once on the one armed bandit of music, when Mrs. Magpie’s health picked up quite dramatically in readiness for my ‘long weekend’ from work and both coincided with this amazing triple header at the Jumping Hot Club.
The evening got off to a wonderful start with ‘One time Australian’ and now full-time Geordie Gypsy Dave Smith made his annual appearance a the club. The only problem with Dave is that we take him for granted in his adopted home town. Everywhere else he appears in the UK and indeed Europe his is feted like the star he is and tonight his skills on a beautiful new Dobro coupled with his gruff voice were as raw and authentic Delta Blues as you will hear anywhere on Planet Earth.
With his debut album to promote (after only 50 years on the road!) he opened proceeding with a footstompin’ Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan; and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end and during Jacklyn I swear I saw sparks coming from the strings; so fast were his fingers.
The audience were still filtering in as he closed his 30 minute set by re-inventing Red Rooster; or at the very least took it right back to what it must have sounded like at its inception, leaving the a couple of people visibly stunned.
As Dave exited stage left, Curse of Lono appeared from stage right setting their gear up with well practised ease and after about 5 minutes were regaling us with the beautifully atmospheric Just My Head, which was received with rapturous applause as it weaved to an end.
Surprisingly (for me) this was followed by He Takes My Place which is by far my favourite song of theirs; and just like the rest of the set was a bit tighter and arguably even better than on record or when I saw them at SummerTyne.
As with Gypsy earlier Lono were still promoting their recent album; but still slid in a new song No Trouble (written 9 years ago about a young friend who died, but only recently recorded) and the twin guitars conjured up memories of the Flying Burrito Brothers; which bodes well for a possible new album.
Another song that has had a makeover since the Summer was I Need My Girl which now has swirling keyboards and Jaggeresque “Whoo-oohs” in the chorus.
Then, just when I was thinking things couldn’t get any better the finale, their (nearly) Hit Single Pick Up The Pieces was simply outstanding and what could sound finer than two Fender Jaguars sparking off each other?
It was nice to see a queue already forming at the merch desk as the band tidied their gear away too.
Low Cut Connie were actually new to me before this week; as I was attending to see Curse of Lono….but….Whahay……what a discovery!
Another very short intermission ended as the unfeasibly young looking band took to the stage when hardly anyone was watching and….BOOM….let rip like the Ramones on steroids, which certainly caught our attention then after a minute or so songwriter, singer and piano player extraordinaire Adam Weiner made his ‘entrance’ into the hall; glad-handing everyone in his path and whipping the crowd up into something of a frenzy.
As I said earlier I know nothing of the band so can’t tell you what they actually sung; although they ran through the whole Rock & Roll compass – fast and furious plus low down and dirty with a nice ballad here and there too; but for once that’s not really the point at this stage of their career winning hearts and minds across Europe……because this was a show…..an event….a night of memories.
The band were individually technically excellent and combined RED HOT; watching Weiner like hawks for key changes and the like; and Weiner? An amazing pianist, but primarily a showman…. looking and even sounding uncannily like a young Jerry Lee Lewis channelled via Fonzie. He couldn’t sit still; sliding beneath his chair, standing on it (and the piano top!) jumping into the crowd and dancing like a crazy person while never, ever missing a note!
On a night when Hall I next door was filled to capacity to see a Dr. Feelgood tribute band (or Dr. Feelgood as the cheekily call themselves) the smaller venue was sadly half full/half empty; but every single person there was blown away tonight and will bring three friends each, who will bring another four friends the next time Low Cut Connie come to town.
Ho Ho Ho; ’tis the season to be Merry and all that stuff; but it’s also the Season to produce Annual Top 10’s on websites like RMHQ, so being the awkward so & so’s we are we are producing two Top 10’s; with one being my own personal Top 10 Albums of 2017 and because we have reviewed 312 Albums, singles, books and concerts this year…….the Annual RMHQ Readers Top 10 as judged by actual hits/reads will be a Top 20!!
So……tada (drum roll)…in reverse order…..here is the Rocking Magpie Readers Top 20 Albums of 2017 as read by you lovely people.
20) Grainne Duffy – WHERE I BELONG.
19) Stephen Fearing – EVERY SOUL’S A SAILOR
18) Mark Eitzel – HEY MR. FERRYMAN
17) Trevor Sewell – CALLING NASHVILLE
16) Orphan Brigade – HEART OF THE CAVE
15) The Flaming Groovies – FANTASTIC PLANET
14) The Haley Sisters – ALWAYS BY MY SIDE
13) Project Mama Earth – MAMA EARTH
12) The Raspberries – POP ART (LIVE)
11) Sam Baker – LAND OF DOUBT
10) Rob Vincent – I’LL MAKE THE MOST OF MY SINS
09) Rodney Crowell – CLOSE TIES
08) Will Hoge – ANCHORS
07) Colin James – BLUE HIGHWAYS
06) Danny & The Champions of the World – BRILLIANT LIGHT
05) Chuck Prophet – BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR OUR SINS
04) Prosecco Socialist – THIS DOG’S FOR LIFE
03) Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – SELF TITLED
02) Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – BAYSWATER ROAD 01) Ian McNabb – STAR SMILE STRONG
Honourable mentions also go to…….
*Bruce Foxton – SMASH THE CLOCK. (2016 winner but still pulled enough votes to come in at #12!!)
*Blackberry Smoke – Rock & Roll Again (Video) just kept getting watched 2 years after being posted.
* Heather Lynne Horton – DON’T MESS WITH MRS. MURPHY (4 x great days)
* Pickxen – PICKS & VITTLES (Unknown outside their own backyard but the hits kept coming all year)
* Mick Wynne – WORLD OF MICK (Another unknown ‘local musician’ who had an amazing month on the RMHQ Charts)
* Bap Kennedy – RECKLESS HEART (The legend lives on)
As always the Top 20 (plus 6) highlight how eclectic The Rocking Magpie is. I/We just love music regardless of genre……which is why we listen to as much as possible hopefully bringing you your new most favourite album of all time, or at least piquing your interest.