The Cool Edge of Nu-Country.
This is another album I nearly missed out on if it hadn’t been for my I-Phone ‘random’ button which can be scarily accurate at times judging my ‘mood’.
Bizarrely it was about 5.30 am and I was running late for work because of snow and a frozen windscreen when the punchy Singing At The Stars eased itself out of the car speakers and suddenly the world seemed a much better place and I naturally took my foot off the accelerator.
Which took me back to the beginning for the rest of the journey; the intro to track #1 Born To Love You is interesting; but Classic Modern Country at it’s finest with singer Brandon Lancaster’s croaky voice making him sound like he’s on the verge of tears; which is why we all love a Country Love Song isn’t it?
# A couple of days later I was listening to this song on headphones as Mrs. Magpie sat across the room and I too came close to tears deciphering to the intimate lyrics as I thanked God for helping her pull through from her recent operation.)
This is followed by the rousing Long Live Tonight; a razor-sharp Pop-Country song that will lift the roof off most venues when played live, as the (young) fans bounce up and down fist-bumping the air as they scream out the chorus.
To some degree Lanco and their songs aren’t targeted at Old Folk like me; but the younger generation and boy do they know what their chosen demographic want. In the good ole fashioned Country tradition everything here has a “will she/won’t she” “I love you/You don’t love me” and of course “It’s over” thread to them and in the case of So Long (I Do) and Troublemaker they are just perfect for Drive Time radio everywhere in the world.
If you want ‘deep and meaningful’ songs there’s always Adele but if you want to drink beer and put your arm around someone’s shoulder as you belt out a roaring chorus very little else in 2018 will match We Do, Middle of the Night and the fantastic title track Hallelujah Nights; which wouldn’t surprise me if it got stolen by someone like Keith Urban or Kenny Chesney.
Then, there is my ‘favourite song’……quite an easy choice, but it pains me to choose a song that has already been a massive US Hit, although I’d not heard it before I listened to this album.
Greatest Love Song is one of those timeless Country Love songs that crosses all cultural divides; whip smart lyrics about a love struck bad boy/good girl coupled to some sweet guitar picking, cool banjo and a military tight rhythm section that defies the band’s ages.
How do I best sum up LANCO and Hallelujah Nights? Well, I had to purloin the disc from Mrs. Magpie’s car this morning where it’s replaced Whitney Rose’ Rule 62 in the player and the sleeve sits alongside the latest albums by Little Big Town, Brothers Osborne and classics by Tim and Faith; and that’s not too shabby a place to live; is it?
Released January 19th 2018
Not many things in life excite me as much as reading a press release that reads ‘an artist is releasing an album inspired by ’80’s legends Prefab Sprout, The Blue Nile and…..The Style Council’….which was the music and subsequent fashion that defined ME…..and then I discovered that the artist in question was Josh Rouse I even did a little dance!
Here’s the first single BUSINESSMAN and the title track from the album Love In The Modern Age too; due for release in April.
Trust me, when this hits the streets you will all be shaving off your beards, getting sharp haircuts and wearing enigmatic raincoats, Polo Shirts, narrow trousers and tassled loafers……the age of ‘Cool’ is back!
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa
The Dynamic Duo of Blues Create a Modern Masterpiece.
Woah, Woah and thrice WOAH!
Give It Everything You’ve Got is one mighty way to kick start this latest album from this dynamic duo. I actually have a copy of the original version by Edgar Winter’s White Trash (bought for £1.99p I hasten to add) and it’s fair to say Beth Hart brings a whole lot more S.O.U.L to proceedings and Bonamassa gives his guitar a right royal thrashing on a song far heavier than anything on the couple’s previous outing SEESAW for years ago.
I’m not sure my head could have took a whole album at that level and pace; and thankfully it doesn’t have to as Kevin Shirley’s razor sharp production allows Beth and Joe to swoop and soar through every variant of Blues Rock and even Rhythm and Blues with consummate ease and it has to be said; grace.
The Royal Couple take it on themselves to reinvent a variety of Classic (and semi-classic) songs that many of will recognise; but not necessarily in this format; and in my opinion if you are going to cover a song at least do something different with it; and boy is that the case with Lucinda William’s Joy and the 110mph version of Saved, a song I associate with Billy Fury but originally recorded by LaVern Baker and now a fire and brimstone Gospel song in these trusted hands.
As is always the case the singer is always front and centre and Beth Hart doesn’t shy away from her role here; but the normally reticent Joe Bonamassa sounds like he’s having the time of his life as he throws in liquid gold riffs left right and centre; but especially noticeable during Soul On Fire and the sublime title track Black Coffee, which just may be one of his finest recorded moments; and found me playing Air Guitar along to it more than once.
I loved SEESAW and it’s probably the case that BLACK COFFEE is an even more ‘complete album’ with both singer and guitarist both subsequently ‘growing into their respective talents’ in the intervening years and that comes to the fore front on the beautiful Lullaby of The Leaves, an Ella Fitzgerald song that will baffle fans of both the first time they hear it; but this gentle Old-Fashioned Blues song will be the one many of us come back to and discuss lovingly in years to come.
While I adore that song; it’s still not my favourite on the album; that title goes to slow and down right dirty Damn Your Eyes. Lazy reviewers normally compare Beth to Janis; but one cursory listen to this album and especially the way she inhabits this Etta James song while Joe Bonamassa and band show incredible restraint behind her, will tell them that Beth Hart is BETH HART and a world class singer in her own rite; and Mr. Bonamassa too shows some really delicate touches on the electric guitar that will set your hair standing on end.
There’s not a lot else to say; two of this generations finest musicians blow the dust of an intriguing and often beguiling collection of songs from some of our finest ever songwriters and the result is outstanding; and it won’t surprise me one iota if this didn’t go on to one numerous prestigious Awards at the end of 2018.
Released January 26th 2018
Cool Rhythm and Blues From Soulful Guitarist.
Even if I hadn’t already been aware of Greg Sover the cover of this CD caught my attention before I’d even heard a note; and opening track Emotional genuinely justified my choice to slip it into the Hi-Fi on a day when I received albums from several household names.
The Blues comes in many, many variants and we will each have our favourite format; but the slick voiced singer and red hot guitarist easily straddles the Soulful Rhythm and Blues style that I’ve loved for 40+ years. Think a pumped up George Benson or Robert Cray and you will understand why I swiftly turned the dial up to 9 that first and subsequent days.
Sover slows things down and dirty on the next track Jubilee; which features his awesome slide guitar and sizzling harmonica from Mikey Junior; and the song itself is pretty damn fine too.
The Philly native really shows his Soulful side on the sweet and tender Hand on my Heart which is the type of crossover song that not only wins fans of all ages; but wins awards too.
I Give My Love is a bit of a left of centre surprise as it’s a little bit Reggae and a little bit Blues-Lite but features some spellbinding guitar playing on a very danceable tune; especially if you’ve had a bellyful of rum.
Oddly enough for a 7 track EP JUBILEE manages to feature an edited version of Hand on My Heart as a closer; possibly for radio consumption, albeit a minute and a half shorter there’s not a lot of difference between the two versions.
Also there’s a live track Temptation; slow and sultry at heart but with guitar breaks that will blow any cobwebs out of your head; and boy does it showcase Greg Sover’s amazing voice and songwriting too.
Which then brings me to my ‘favourite track’ As The Years Go Passing By, the type of sensual yet cool Blues that you’d expect from Albert Collins or Robert Cray (whom I mentioned earlier) but ooh, ooh, ooooh is this the perfect accompaniment to a late night liaison with the love of your life; or perhaps that’s just the romantic in me.
As well as loving his previous album, Greg Sover was a featured artiste on the International Blues Artist of the Year 2018 album I reviewed a few weeks ago; and now I’m a fully committed fan.
Released January 8th 2018
BETWEEN TWO SHORES
A True Modern Rock Classic.
I still smile at my ignorance when I received Hansard’s 2015 album DIDN’T HE RAMBLE; presuming he was a new kid on the block and I wished him well; only to discover (minutes before publishing) that he had been a key figure in legendary Irish Rock band The Frames for 25 years and was the cool guitarist in the Commitments PLUS he had written and performed the music in Mrs Magpies favourite film ONCE!
A hasty re-write meant no one would ever know.
Which all brings us today and his latest release; which has taken six years to cull together all of the pieces and only a couple of weeks in the studio to complete; and both timescales make perfect sense.
The opening track Roll On Slow is one of those songs that completely stopped me in my tracks. The Irishman’s gravelly lived-in voice reminds me of many of my favourite singers but is his own distinctive tones; and the hypnotic drum and bass reeled me in before some searing guitar and a classy brass section swing and shimmy the song into the dark of night. I love it!
Oddly things slow right down for an acoustic ballad Why Woman; which finds Hansard at his smouldering best on a lovely bittersweet break up song? (Mick Hucknall will be gnashing his teeth when he hears it; as it’s the type of song he’s famous for but never recorded anything quite as beautiful).
A couple of songs later Reckless Heart makes an appearance and again; I had to stop what I was doing and turn my head towards the speakers to pick up every nuance of this incredibly sad song; which finds the singer crooning in a cracked voice over a gentle guitar, drums and string section; and I defy you not to have to cough a tear away when the trumpet makes an appearance.
For a man with such an inestimable track record Glen Hansard still has the ability to surprise; Wheels on Fire is a bit of a passionate Soft-Rocker; but delve deeper and there is a political thread weaving through the fire and brimstone lyrics. Later Time Will Be The Healer is so clever you can listen on at least two levels; as it can be a plea to a lost love or if you are a cynic like me it just may be a commentary on the world we live in today and the politicians who govern us.
Favourite song? I’m pretty sure that will change every time I play this record; but today I will toss a coin between the ever so maudlin song about unrequited love, Lucky Man and Your Hearts Not In It; which is one of those perfect songs you find and keep for a midnight drinking and crying session when only ‘that song will do.’
Glen Hansard has nearly done the impossible here by making a timeless and classy Rock Album that will sit very comfortable alongside Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Lucinda Williams and in our house Roger Chapman; but it’s also so very contemporary and will appeal to young adults who have never heard of those four singers.
Expect this to be nominated for and win numerous Awards later in the year.
Released January 19th 2018
A Guitar Masterclass From a Legendary CGP and Friends.
Here’s a thing; several of my friends are huge fans of Tommy Emmanuel and one is an actual friend of his; with Tommy staying at his home when he’s in the Region, but I’ve never heard his work until now.
Shame on me.
For a man with a huge cannon of work already under his belt this is a fascinating project for the Australian who is a Chet Atkins inspired CGP (Certified Guitar Player) as he plays alongside 16 world class singer-songwriters on an eclectic series of songs.
Emmanuel’s trademark picking opens track #1 Deep River Blues and when Jason Isbell’s distinctive voice glides into the mix the world suddenly becomes lovely again. When Tommy also adds his own cracked voice to the song, my mistake at never hearing him before becomes all too evident.
What a great way to start any album; and it’s fair to say……things actually get better and better.
Song and Dance Man with Ricky Skaggs adding mandolin and vocals follows and I was left bewildered as I tried to find the words to describe it……Country? Tick. Folk? Tick. Bluegrass? Tick. A joyful combination on a beautiful tune…..find your own pigeon hole.
There are household names littered throughout this album, with Emmanuel not just sharing the stage with Mark Knopfler on You Don’t Want To Get You One Of Those and Rodney Crowell on Looking Forward To The Past but outshining them too. There are many lesser names too; but ones very familiar to RMHQ readers like Amanda Shires and Suzy Bogguss who both sparkle and shine on their contributions in ways I’ve not heard from either in years.
The real joy though is the series of surprises from artists I’m not aware of, let’s start with some instrumentals C-Jam Blues with JD Simo & Charlie Cushman and Keeping it Reel with Clive Carroll, Purple Haze (yes…that one) with Dobro Maestro Jerry Douglas and the sublime Djangology with Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo; all three showcase world class playing and should be a Masterclass for any aspiring guitar players out there.
But the surprises don’t just stop there; I didn’t think the world needed another version of Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay but the duet with JD Simo breathes fresh life into this beautiful classic and the cutesy opening to Rachel’s Lullaby brought tears to my eyes and Emmanuel’s picking alongside Jake Shimbukuro on Ukulele is almost Classical in essence but very easy on the ear.
But the biggest surprise here is also my ‘favourite track’ and we have to go back to the Rodney Crowell song Looking Forward to The Past; which finds a new spark in Crowell’s voice as Emmanuel and the band evoke memories of the Emmylou’s Hot Band on a firecracker of a song.
There’s not a lot else to say here as there’s not a bad track here with a few being truly amazing and I must now backtrack and delve into Tommy Emmanuel’s immense back catalogue immediately.
Released January 19th 2018
LAUREN RUTH WARD
We’ve been aware of ‘Hairdresser by day…….singer by night’Lauren Ruth Ward; especially because her last few singles have trod a path very few others dare to tread in subject matter; and her voice and way with a melody won our hearts with ease.
Now we have the latest; SIDEWAYS; a sampler from the soon to be released WELL HELL (Feb 16th)and things just get better…..and now we can’t wait for the full album.
COTTON FIELDS & BLOOD FOR DAYS
Skate Mountain Records
Southern Gothic Alt.Country-Folk Fights Punk at Midnight Behind a Dingy Bar.
Every now and again an album comes along that absolutely blows me away and I can’t wait to share it with you out there in Internetland…….and this album from Alabama singer-songwriter Abe Partridge is one such.
COTTON FIELDS & BLOOD FOR DAYS arrived a few weeks before Christmas when I knew I didn’t have much time for even listening to music never mind writing about it; but when I saw the intriguing song titles I listened a couple of times late at night when I was doing my ironing; and then more recently at the crack of dawn while driving to work; and the sense of loneliness those hours create is just perfect for diving in at the deep end with Partridges rough and ready and deeply personal songs.
It was the stark opening track Colors that initially caught my attention; with Partridge sounding like a prodigy of Townes, Guy and Rodney the way his lyrics poetically twist and turn via a grizzled and lived in voice over a jagged acoustic guitar and a cello or violin.
It was only on the third time I listened to track #2 Ride Willie, Ride that I actually realised that it was a love song from a songwriter to Willie Nelson; and the actual title is Ride Willie Ride (Or Thoughts I Had While Contemplating Both the Metaphysical Nature of Willie Nelson and His Harassment By The Internal Revenue Service) and boy; is the world a better place for this song being in it!
Just as I thought I had a handle on where Partridge was coming from track #3 I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker turned everything upside down. Who among us can resist a dirty electric guitar intro followed by the opening lines “Put on my black steel toes/and my free jacket from Goodwill/Gonna get me some dark sunglasses just like Dylan used to wear/ gonna go to my barber and tell him/won’t you do me the wildest of hair’? That’s not even the best bit; but I will leave you intrigued enough to buy the album and hear it yourself.
Like the very best of his ilk Partridge is no ‘one trick pony’ as that last song proves; but it’s his haunting acoustic ballads about his home town Out of Alabama Blues and The Ghosts of Mobile that make him stand out from his contempories and peers; and not just because he sounds like every single word comes from the darkest recesses of his worn out heart.
Choosing a favourite here hasn’t been easy; even before I actually heard it I hoped Our Babies Will Never Grow Up To Be Astronauts would live up to the title; and it does with ease; and it was a similar gut wrenching feeling I had with Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down; and hearing him channel his inner RL Burnside had me slapping the steering wheel with delight when I heard it that first cold morning.
But; and it’s eventually become an easy choice; Prison Tattoos is even better than I’d ever dared hope for from reading the title on the sleeve. This could easily be a lost Townes Van Zandt or Jim White song remixed by Nick Cave as the layers of choppy electric guitars and piano are played without the aid of a safety net as Partridge’s grizzled and Demonic voice purr out a delightfully dark tale.
WOW…….I love my job on days I discover diamonds like Abe Partridge; and you are welcome to fall in love with him too; there’s plenty here for everyone.
Released January 26th 2018
Mother Jinx Records
Left of Centre, Strictly Personal and Experimental Takes on the Great American Songbook.
WOAH….WOAH……and thrice WOAH there! This album from New York’s finest experimental Alt. Country Crooning troubadour is as far from ‘Radio Friendly’ and/or commercial as you can get; and even fans of the great man himself will listen with jaws hanging in wonderment as Johnny Dowd tackles a bizarre collection of songs from the Great American Songbook in his own inimitable style.
The album opens with something called Execute American Folklore, Again which Dowd wrote himself and isn’t for the feint hearted as this twisted slice of Beat Poet induced Electronica has a searing Hard Rock guitar spine and Dowd sounding like a man demented.
This is immediately followed by a scary version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star that will make my youngest Granddaughter burst into tears should she ever hear it. AHA! It was on the second play that I ‘got it’…..and remembered a series of long lonely nights in my teenage bedroom trying to ‘understand’ Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa records; especially Yellow Brick Road.
If you’ve got as far as track three The Cuckoo; which sounds like it was recorded inside the Hadron Collider; ‘understanding’ where Dowd is coming from is way down your list of priorities…….just get comfortable, turn on, tune out and let the vibes take over.
Just like those crazy cats before him Johnny takes classics like St. James Infirmary Blues, Rock of Ages and Tom Dooley turns then upside down, inside out and injects them with Hip Hop sensibilities, Beat Poet cool and Germanic Electronica in a way that will frighten the horses but make your heart beat like you are having a coronary.
Trust me, you’ve never heard anything like Dowd’s Country drawl over a dark beat box and razor like synthesiser on House of the Rising Sun. This ain’t nothing like the Animals version; and like everything else here nor is it intended to be.
If I have to choose a favourite; and for continuity’s sake I will; I will go for Oh, My Darling Clementine which is as near ‘commercial’ as anything gets here; as Dowd duets with Anna Coogan over a bizarre electronic Native American beat…..yep; it is that weird; but fun none the less.
Everything comes to a scary conclusion with Dowd narrating Job 17: 11-17 from the Bible no less and something I’m not overly familiar with; but strangely making absolute sense in this context.
Who knows what the intended demographic is for this amazing record as many of Dowd’s core fan base will be horrified at the experimentation here; but there will also be many out there who have been steadfastly hunting record shops around the globe and on the Internet for something so left-field it nearly comes back on itself; and this is for them; boy is it for them…..and God Bless Johnny Dowd for having the courage to record and release this awe-inspiring record.
Released January 15th 2018
A GOOD OLD FASHIONED PROTEST
Timeless and Contemporary Songs of Protest and Hope.
We here at RMHQ loved Texan Keegan McInroe’s 2016 album UNCOUTH PILGRIMS and even though the songwriter himself liked our prose our review doesn’t get a mention on the latest Press Release (surprise, surprise!).
Hey, ho onwards and upwards; the actual title A GOOD OLD FASHIONED PROTEST didn’t just catch my attention; but made me growl, “At last!” through clenched teeth, as apart from a good few individual songs it’s not since we told the world about the Quiet Loner’s 2013 album Greedy Magicians that we have actually heard a complete album of such forceful and direct ‘political protest songs’ and these 9 tracks are just as eloquent and indispensable.
Opening track Talking Talking Head Blues; took me back to the first time I heard the Compleat Tom Paxton in 1971 as Keegan spits out a list of all the things that annoy him about current political life (with and without a capital P) and I found myself smiling and nodding with just about every line.
I just wish I’d listened to this record a month or so ago as Christmas 1914 is a beautiful and delicate song about that Christmas Day which has gone down in history when soldiers sang hymns together and swapped photos and cigarettes; as McInroe takes the role of a soldier who realises that these men and boys in grey uniforms aren’t really his enemy at all; but return to the trenches and the war carries on regardless. Have we not learnt anything in 100 years? #SIGH
Bastards and Bitches shouldn’t be something that I would enjoy; but the 60 seconds go by in the blink of an eye; and I had to repeat the song 5 times to catch every word as the singer recites his ‘poem’ at 100mph.
Nietzsche Wore Boots is a different type of poem; think of McInroe as a 60’s Beat Poet with a belly full of fire and brimstone using the German Philosopher as a modern day Moses. It’s certainly different; but impressive in it’s own way; as is Bombing For Peace; which has a ‘Parental Guidance’ note attached; but sometimes profanity really is the only way to get your message across and when Keegan sings “Bombing for Peace is like F*cking for Virginity’ you get the message loud and clear…..and he’s right of course .
Don’t worry; there are still plenty of contemporary Alt. Folk songs to get your heard around with Big Old River being ‘radio friendly’ until you unravel McInroe’s bitter lyrics; and then you will find yourself punching the air with unbridled joy that someone out there ‘gets it.’ The Ballad of Little Timmy Johnson is a jaunty little tune that is meant to lull you into a false sense of security; but again McInroe’s caustic lyrics will leave you breathless.
The beautiful yet bittersweet The Love That We Give is easily our favourite song here; a simple melody and a weary voice that bleeds passion on a timeless Folk song that has elements of Dylan, Paxton, Cohen et al in it; but is 100% 21st Century troubadour Keegan McInroe at heart.
Now; I also have one huge complaint here; and many of my local readers will stand by me in my righteous indignation ……what else was I to expect when I saw a song entitled Keegan’s Beautiful Dream? My heart skipped a beat as I expected this American singer-songwriter to extol the virtues of Newcastle United’s greatest ever Manager? Ha! Nope; young Mr. McInroe actually uses his own Christian name as part of another wonderful and timeless protest song that needs to be heard by his and your peers on a daily basis.
What a great way to start the new year; 9 highly articulate Protest songs and poems about the need to stop wars of all ilks and persuasions around the globe.
Released UK & Europe January 12th 2018
Released USA April 2017