Joan Baez – WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND

joan baez x

Joan Baez
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND
Proper Records

The First Lady of American Folk Still Surprises, Astonishes and Delivers.

For once I don’t have to do an introduction do I? This is Joan Baez after all…..what else do you need to know?
Well; to coincide with Ms. Baez’s final ever Tour this album is yet again made up of songs written by her favourite contemporary songwriters; with a couple of delightful surprises along the way.
The Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan song Whistle Down The Wind, which doubles as the title track opens proceedings and the first thing you notice is how beautiful Joan’s voice still is on this pleasing almost Celtic rendition of the song from Bone Machine.
Joan covers another of the couples more poetic songs; with the words of Last Leaf (on the tree) sounding uncannily perfect for Joan who is now of a ‘certain vintage’ herself.
With a million songs to choose from, only another couple were already familiar here at RMHQ with
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s The Things That We Are Made Of now becoming almost anthemic and Josh Ritter’s delicate Be Of Good Heart and Silver Leaf both sounding like they could have been on Joan’s debut album in 1960, thanks to the ethereal production from Joe Henry.
One of Henry’s own songs makes an appearance too; and Civil War takes on a whole new resonance in the hands and voice of American Folk Music’s First Lady…….’beautiful’ only comes close to describing the way she performs his words.
The major surprise for me though are the songs I’d never heard before; Eliza Gilykson’s The Great Correction is another timeless song that sounds like Joan could have recorded at anytime in the last 60 years as is Tim Erikson’s I Wish The Wars Were All Over; which is a stunning way to close this wonderful collection of songs.
Then of course I’m obliged to pick a ‘Favourite’ which in the light of today’s political shenanigans in the USA I can’t look past he stunning words of Zoe Mulford on The President Sang Amazing Grace. I’d not heard of Zoe prior to hearing this song…….but WOW……and indeed WOW……if the rest of her songs are half as powerful as this one song; she’s a very talented writer indeed and Joan Baez sings it as if her very life depends on you hearing it.
So, there you have it; Joan Baez’s 25th studio album and first in 10 years and she still has the ability to surprise with her choice of songs and, more importantly the way she delivers the words on a silver platter is astonishing after all of this time.

Released March 2nd 2018
http://www.joanbaez.com/

 

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I’m With Her – SEE YOU AROUND

im with her

I’m With Her
SEE YOU AROUND
Rounder Records

The Perfect Soundtrack to the Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer.

I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘Supergroup’ these days especially in the Roots world; but a combination of Sara Watkins, Aiofe O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz must surely deserve such a title, shouldn’t it?
The short history is that these three musicians got together for an impromptu show in 2014 which was such a success (surprise, surprise) that the trio have played together as often as schedules have allowed in the intervening years, receiving incredulous reviews and eventually the recording of this album in London with Ethan Jones at the controls.
It’s easy to see from the opening song See You Around what all of the fuss is about. At face value it’s a simple Country-Folk song; but when you actually ‘listen to it’ the intricate harmonies should normally only come from siblings; but the three disparate voices don’t just compliment each other but sound like a Summer breeze blowing through a field of wild flowers; and the ladies’ musicianship is nothing short of exemplary too.
You could easily play this one song over and over again and still be happy; but no there is more and…..even better to come.
As you would expect the lead vocals and songwriting are shared around fairly equally; and it would be a little unfair to single out any single singer for high praise; as it’s the ‘overall sound’ that this album is all about; playfully moving seamlessly from the more traditional Folk songs like Pangaea and Ryland (Under The Apple Tree) through to a more contemporary Country Folk ‘feel’ on Game To Lose, Crescent City and I-89 without you ever seeing the joins.
Personally I’ve appreciated but never really got into the solo work by these three ladies over the years; but together they have certainly won my heart here; with two songs in particular making my heart beat faster than it is meant to.
Close It Down is a very clever song when you pick apart the lyrics; but that doesn’t come until you have had your senses left tingling by the way the three voices swoop and soar like butterflies in the Garden of Eden; and that’s not even my favourite song here!
Regular readers and my friends will tell you that I’m no lover of Folk Music; but if it all sounded like Ain’t That Fine I would grow a beard and start wearing badly fitting jeans in an instant! That said, a lot of this record actually reminds me a bit of the early Dixie Chicks….so is it Country? Country-Folk? Who the Hell cares what pigeon-hole it might fit in; because it doesn’t…….it’s ROOTS MUSIC at it’s best.
I’m writing this review on a bitterly cold February afternoon with heavy snow forecast for the next few days and SEE YOU AROUND is the perfect soundtrack to a day just sitting in the living room just as much as it will be in Spring and more importantly those hazy, lazy days of Summer.

Released 23rd February 2018
https://www.imwithherband.com/

 

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters – THE LUCKIEST MAN

ronnie earl m

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
THE LUCKIEST MAN
Stony Plain Recording Co.

The Guitarist’s Guitarist Rides The Blues Train and Gets Off at Soulville.
My trusty I-Phone has done it again by finding this wonderful 12 track slice of pure damn righteous Rhythm, Blues and S.O.U.L…….with a side order of Blue Note Jazz too; without me even asking……such is the power of the ‘random button’.
I swear I thought that this was a George Benson album when the liquefied electric guitar of Ronnie Earl himself flowed from the car speakers on opening track Ain’t That Lovin’ You? and when Miss Diane Blue sexily purrs her lyrics out from the very bottom of her heart; yet again I knew I was onto another winner.
To all intents and purposes Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters are a 5 piece bar band; but from the photo on the inner sleeve and the list of Guest Musicians they are a very ‘fluid’ band indeed.
There are many things to like about this album; but first and foremost is Earl’s majestic way with a guitar……be it on the slow and sultry So Many Roads or the funky Southside Stomp when he duets with Dave Lamina on Hammond B3 or especially the Southern Gospel of Never Gonna Break My Faith he makes that guitar not just gently weep but wail and cry to the sky too, as Diane Blue sings her little heart out!
Once you get past the amazing guitar playing; there is Miss Diane Blue herself……gulp……swoon…..what a voice this lady has; not a million miles away from the late lamented Sharon Jones but with her very own distinctive singing style; and in my humble opinion under used here as she comes into her own though on the swinging Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me) and the Rev’d Gary Davis tune Death Don’t Have No Mercy which very nearly won the award of Favourite Song.
But this is very much a ‘guitar album’ very much in the vein of the Blue Note albums I own and; dare I say it…..BB KING.
Earl and the Broadcasters are quite sublime on late night instrumentals like Long Lost Conversation and their soulful strut on You Don’t Know What Love Is; but Earl really, really showcases his talents on Sweet Miss Vee and both Howlin’ Blues Southside Stomp; which are both exactly what it says on the tin.
THE LUCKIEST MAN is actually dedicated to the late Jim Mouradian, bass player and guitar maker who gets his very own track Jim’s Blues which reminded me of a George Harrison instrumental that I used to love; but can’t remember the name.
Then there is Blues For Magic Sam; a Blues Jam featuring some wonderful Hammond again; but it’s Earl’s sublime guitar playing against a backdrop of two Soulful saxophones and a spine tingling bass that makes this my favourite 5 and a half minutes here.
So, who actually is Ronnie Earl? Well, now I’ve finally read the Press Release this is his 25th album and he has played alongside (ACTUALLY alongside) BB King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan plus a score of other legends……and here I am only discovering his music in 2018.
If you like the work of any of those legendary names, you are absolutely going to adore this album.

Released 16th February 2016
http://www.ronnieearl.com/home.html

Nowhere Brothers – DOWN LIFE BOULEVARD

nowhere brothers

Nowhere Brothers
DOWN LIFE BOULEVARD
Self-Release

Stripped Back, Sparse and Simply Beautiful Americana From an Italian Duo.

Just like last year RMHQ is currently inundated with new albums to review, with quite a few even being from household names (at least in our household) so actually choosing something to review can sometimes be difficult; then along comes something like DOWN LIFE BOULEVARD to blow us away.
The Nowhere Brothers are Nick Ventolini and Roberto Fiorelli, both originally from Italy and meeting in the city of Trieste before moving on and around the world with one now based in the rainy Latin Quarter of Leeds, Yorkshire and the other in the US of A; which is a chemistry that  somehow conjure up images and music of the dusty back roads of the American Southern states that will make Ry Cooder and John Hiatt look over their shoulder.
The quaintly monikered song Nowhere Brothers opens the record with some intricately strummed acoustic guitar and a whispery harmonica before a road worn and leathery voice slides in and out on a song so atmospheric I found myself rubbing imaginary Arizona dust from eyes as the last verse filtered across the airwaves.
That laid back and often sparse mood pervades throughout with Peace and especially Soul Mirror conjuring up memories of Bruce’s Nebraska/Tom Joad albums with their stark and poetic lyrics, stinging harmonica and duelling acoustic guitars.
I’ve said it many times before that the ‘romance’ we feel towards Americana from across the Atlantic possibly makes for more authentic Roots music than what is actually coming out of Nashville and Austin these days; and The Nowhere Brothers prove my point exactly with Used Boots which nods towards early Tom Russell; but with some liquid electric guitar behind an imaginative story; and it’s a similar feeling that the quasi-political Dust Walker brings to proceedings…….”Fool Man/You’ll never stop alignin’/Flags and pledges have no meanin’/Pure Brainwashin’/But it’s too late/No matter where your Soul is. And the slide guitar therein ain’t too shabby either!
On an album that I expected very little from when it arrived, there are beautiful surprises around every corner with one song in particular taking my breath away each time I’ve played it, Montenegro Diaries is the type of deep and meaningful acoustic song that gives Americana a good name and defies the thousands of miles between where it was based and where it was actually written.
From the excellent artwork and accompanying booklet through to the actual songs themselves The Nowhere Brothers have delivered a musical time bomb that deserves to blast them to the top of the burgeoning Americana and Alt. Country movement that is currently sweeping across Europe.

Released December 4th 2017
https://nowherebrothers.bandcamp.com/album/down-life-boulevard

 

 

Prinz Grizzley – COME ON IN

prinz x

Prinz Grizzley
COME ON IN
Shed Music/Continental Record Services

Elegant Country Love Songs For the Very Sad and Lonely.

Where to start? Chris Comper aka Prinz Grizzley first got in touch with me in 2016 sending me his debut EP; which I loved and thought I’d reviewed…..but can’t find a copy any where. As happens he disappeared off my radar until a couple of weeks ago when the nice people from Continental Record Services got in touch rather excitedly raving about this ‘new’ Austrian Country influenced singer-songwriter……and it’s fair to say Chris/Prinz has spent the intervening two years immersing himself in the dark and lonely end of the Country street and honing his song-writing skills within an inch of his life.
The album starts with a delightfully sad lament called Wide Open Country; a wailing harmonica and pedal-steel link together over a slow waltz like beat as Grizzley bemoans his luck and the effect he has on the people around him.
Give Me One Reason follows; and you are instantly transported to a bar in a Nashville backstreet on a damp Tuesday night with only you and a handful of other losers in love watching the singer singing a song about ‘you’ and you alone. Yes; my friends Prinz Grizzley has the ability to reach deep inside your chest and squeeze your heartstrings with his words.
Things do perk up a little on Mountain’s Milk; a four to the floor toe-tapper that finds our singer fighting the urge to break into a yodel on the chorus; which was a relief at RMHQ.
Prinz’s nasally world weary voice is perfectly matched on the Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark influenced Irene and I Can See Darkness; both of which show a writing talent in the ascendancy.
Okay; this album is on the darker end of the Country spectrum; but there’s plenty of us out there who appreciates songs about losing in love; sung by someone who sounds like he is actually living the hurt he portrays. Yes/No?
As I’ve been happily married for 40 years Mrs Magpie has never understood why I love Country songs like Personal Hell and Where’s Your Fire Gone (which sounds like a long lost Gram song btw) but every coin has two sides and while I’m happy on the outside; I do love to wallow in my own misery some nights and songs like these are the perfect soundtrack.
Which brings me to the award of ‘RMHQ Favourite Track’……at face value not easy; as this is an album that needs to be listened to and cherished in one complete sitting; but I absolutely adore Fiery Eyes; which ticks every box I have for a bitter sweet love song; especially the brass section that swings in every few lines as does that scintillating pedal-steel on a deeply personal song that just may be written about my feelings for my own beautiful wife.
It’s a very crowded market place for Americana/Country Music at the moment; and it may be all too easy for an Austrian Country singer-songwriter to disappear between the cracks; but that would be a shame of huge proportions as in Prinz Grizzley we have a glorious songwriter and singer who, alongside his band can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the currently feted ones in America, Canada or indeed the UK at the moment.

# For fans of Sturgill Simpson, Jarrod Dickenson and Danny & the Champions of the World.

Released February 13th 2018
http://prinzgrizzley.com/

 

Janiva Magness – LOVE IS AN ARMY

janiva

Janiva Magness
LOVE IS AN ARMY
Fathead Records/Blue Elan

Music That Transcends Both the Blues and Even Soul

Although this is Janiva Magness’ 14th album I only discovered her 4 years ago and have been slowly working my way through her back catalogue ever since; so was pretty damn excited to receive two copies of her latest release……one from her American PR and the other the European one.
As usual I have to start by explaining that the Blues comes in a million shades and Janiva Magness plys her trade in the cooler more Soulful end of the spectrum.
The opening track Back To Blue is a perfect example of why Janiva was a Grammy nominee in 2016, her distinctive velvety voice soars on an absolute heartbreaker that is perfect for people of a certain age who remember the halcyon days of Dusty Springfield and Aretha in their glory years.
Things get a little more spikier on the next track Hammer; with a punchy drumbeat fighting with Charlie Musselwhite on a sparkling harmonica as Janiva ‘shakes her thang’ as the band get in a groove well worthy of the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
As is the way when you have a reputation like Ms Magness a couple of guest stars make appearances on a couple of tracks; with the legendary Rusty Young supplying some sublime pedal-steel during On And On which is a bit of a departure for the Blues Diva; but not too far left of centre that it doesn’t fit in.
Delbert McClinton makes an appearance on the lonely love song What I Could Do; taking this duet into ‘timeless territory’ and just perfect for late night radio somewhere in Lonelyville.
RMHQ favourite Cedric Burnside brings his urban Roots specialities to Home; which has a choir of Angels backing the pair on a song so atmospheric you can virtually smell the flowers on the hills as Janiva gives the powerful lyrics everything she has in her armoury.
When I played this album in the car I found myself reaching for the dial to turn the volume up a couple of notches on Tell Me, What’s That Say About You and the Gospel drenched Some Kind of Love which finds the singer alone at a piano; not because they are ‘Rockers’ but because they all deserved to give me a sensory overload; that being simple background music wasn’t fair on Dave Darling’s sparkling production.
Where to go for a favourite song? Love To a Gunfight has to be a contender with its clever lyrics and story coupled with some sublime guitar from Dave Darling, but I’m going for the classy title track Love Is An Army. As everyone knows I’m a sucker for a love song; and this one oozes lurve like an oil slick; with the words and music and most importantly the way Janiva and Bryan Stephens weave their voices around each other the song transcends both the Blues and even Soul in the way only Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson managed many years ago.
A couple of months ago I got into a heavy debate about Artistes ‘recording the same album over and over again’ versus ‘Artistes constantly changing direction and challenging themselves.’ I fall into the latter camp and find myself being proud of Janiva Magness for having the courage to make an album that is distinctively a Janiva Magness album (what else could it be with ‘that voice’?) but creating individual songs that may be out of her core fans comfort zone; although I certainly think all of their preconceptions should disappear the second time they play this album.
Here’s my forecast……..Grammy Nominee in 2016……Grammy WINNER in 2018!

Released 23rd February 2018
http://www.janivamagness.com/

Rod Picott – OUT PAST THE WIRES

ROD PICOTT OutPastTheWires

Rod Picott
OUT PAST THE WIRES
Welding Rod Records

A Double Album Packed With Quality Heart Breaking Blue Collar Stories.

After a musical career spanning 17 years and 7 albums, it’s difficult to know where to start with singer-songwriter Rod Picott, as he’s been prolific in that time and always gives great value when seen live; plus at least three of his songs are among my favourites of all time; but sung by his best friend Slaid Cleaves.
Hey ho; that’s all in the past and this is his shiny new double album of 22 songs that just may have the capacity to make him leap above his peers in my Singer-Songwriter Top 10.
It came as no real surprise that Disc #1 opens with a delightfully curmudgeonly and clever love song, Be My Bonnie, where Rod sounds uncannily like Kristofferson but with Dylan on harmonica. This is actually a great place to start for new fans as you hear amazing lyrical craft from the opening lines…..”You’ll be my Bonnie/I’ll be your Clyde/We’ll marry our future/and together we’ll ride” through to my personal favourite “Show me your scars Babe/no need to hide/I got a few scars of my own/deep down inside”.
Don’t we all?
The pace suddenly picks up on the Alt. Country Rocker Better Than I Did; which follows and finds Picott snarling the bittersweet lyrics out and punctuating them with some really angry harmonica playing.
Alongside Slaid Cleaves Picott is best known for his ‘Blue Collar’ songs; and no one I’m aware of (inc. B Springsteen & N Young) these days capture that spirit better than these two; the next two songs also feature on Slaid’s last album with Picott making the heart breaking Take Home Pay into a mid-pace Country Rocker that will be perfect for any bar bands out there to cover; and on his Father/Son co-write with Cleaves, Primer Gray the tale of a mutual love of cars becomes a delightful back porch ballad; with a haunting pedal-steel in the background.
I’m normally no lover of double-albums; but here it gives Rod Picott the opportunity to glide seamlessly from trademark acoustic ballads like Holding On and Date of Grace through Soft-Rockers like A Better Man and Coal with practised ease.
Disc #2 treads exactly the same path; with the haunting first song Dead Reckoning yet again proving what a Master Storyteller the man from New Hampshire is.
I don’t own all of Rod’s 7 albums; but it comes as no surprise that in recent years he has turned his hand to writing a screenplay and a book of poems; and there will be a book of short stories fleshing out some of the characters in these songs; and I for one can’t wait to read more about ‘the Mother and Son’ in Store Bought and also the sad and lonely man, Picott sings about in the tragically beautiful Diamonds In The Dirt but Hard Luck Baby very much tells its own tragic Alt. Rocking story of a young woman who “was thirteen when she gave herself her first tattoo” and “When she was sixteen/pulled her braces off/looked like a magazine/But every little hurt/They all add up/Till you’re hard like a diamond.”
See; I told you he is Master Craftsman in songwriting, didn’t I?
After 21 songs that take you on a ragged and rocky emotional roller coaster Picott brings proceedings to a close with a song of hope in a terrible world; or at least that’s how I hear Little Things; perhaps you will hear something different; because that’s what makes Rod Picott one of our generation’s finest songwriters.
So; how the Hell am I supposed to select a Favourite Song when the overall standard is so damn high? Well; I’ve gone a bit left-field with my choice…..Straight Job; is an acoustic Country song worthy of Cash, Bruce or more likely Waylon with Rod inhabiting a musician that knows he has to turn his life around and get a Straight Job as his wife is ill and pregnant, which means he’s finally got to sell his Telecaster and take the proceeds down to the hardware store.
I probably could have thrown a dart at the track list to find my favourite; but this song and the way he sings it probably sums up Rod Picott as much as anything else here or on his previous albums.
I doubt Rod Picott is a millionaire or ever will be; but his songs and in particular the ones on this album will bring more pleasure to people who hear them than all the wealth in the world ever will; but by buying this Double-album you will help put food on his table; and make your own life a little better every time you hear it.

Released February 16th 2018
http://rodpicott.com/

 

Ill River  – TALE TO TELL

carr t brown

Ill River
TALE TO TELL
Self-Release

Evocative and Romantic Americana From Europe’s Heartlands.

Choosing albums to review isn’t as easy as you’d imagine; as we genuinely get inundated with new music every week, so sometimes it’s a ‘big name’ that will get the site attention, others can be from acts I’ve reviewed before or perhaps it’s an album that has been recommended by a friend or another reviewer and occasionally it can just be ‘pot luck’ that something so minuscule it’s difficult to explain has caught my attention; such is the case with this album from Cary T Brown aka Ill River.
Cary got in touch following a review of Jeff Crosby’s last album and offered up his own latest release…..because a) The music was similar and b) there was a Magpie on the album artwork!
Well; lucky for him I’m a sucker for a Magpie…..and you too; because this album is well worth seeking out.
As always the opening track has to capture my attention; and the liquid guitar break that opens Smile For The Picture certainly did that; and when Cary’s warm and world weary voice entered the fray it quickly had me nodding my head and pursing my lips as a deep and poetic song unfolded before me.
‘Poetic’ as as good a way as any to describe Brown’s writing style; as his songs may not be as ‘literal’ as I normally prefer; but the way this song is constructed and others too (Janey and Little Strings too for that matter) are designed to make you think as you wallow in the language and tightly wrapped guitar fronted Alt./Indie Folk music before you.
American by birth but now based in France Brown’s ‘style’ probably owes more to a romantic vision of Americana than it would were he still to be dragging himself around the bars of his homeland; and this comes across delightfully well on On My Mind and Tie One On which are full of exquisite small town imagery and some mega-cool guitar licks too.
There’s not a bad song here; with every single one having something to capture the listener’s imagination but two are especially ‘magical’ and caught my attention every time I’ve played this record; with My Season which closes proceedings just being pipped by the spiky Alt. Country love song Lucky Guy for the title of ‘RMHQ Favourite Track’ by only the smallest of margins.
Presumably like me regular readers will never have heard of Cary T Brown or Ill River before this review; but fans of Jackson Browne, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, John Hiatt and the likes of Ray Wylie or Robert Earl Keen will love this album with all of their heart.

Released 28th February 2018
http://www.illriver.com/

Gem Andrews – NORTH

north gem andrews

Gem Andrews
NORTH
Market Square Music

Exquisite Inter-crossed Country-Folk From a Northern Industrial Town.

Don’t feel sorry for me but I have very few ‘friends’ in the music industry; not even casual ones; as I’ve made it a policy to keep away from the cliques that dominate the national and local scenes; leaving me free to review albums and gigs without the fear of upsetting someone who thinks I owe them a favour.
But; the musical stars have aligned on this latest release from adopted Geordie and recent resident of Berlin, Gem Andrews, who actually is a friend of mine and the cover artwork (a truly beautiful photo of Gem *plodging in front of St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay) by my mate David Wala and the crystal clear production and mixing is by local legend Ross Lewis……so can I be impartial?
The album opens with Letter a brooding love song that encompasses all that is I love about Gem’s music in under three and a half minutes. Just like everything which follows this song comes from a Folk Singer who has immersed herself in Country Music and turned herself into a good old fashioned and timeless Singer-Songwriter.
Sing Your Song follows and I soon found myself slouching in my chair desperately trying not to breathe too loudly in case I missed a word or phrase and would regret it for the rest of my life. It’s that type of breathtaking song.
I particularly like the way the fabled Tim Dalling has arranged Julia Darlings poem Two Lighthouses; keeping a Folk spirit to it that makes people like me fall in love with the words and sentiment, without realising it’s actually a Folk Song.
Hmmmm…..selecting a ‘favourite song’ is never easy; and here it’s nearly impossible with the tigerish Lungs being an early contender but Feather & Skin somehow stands out like poppy in a field of golden wheat. Ross Lewis’s simple production truly displays Gem’s pearlescent voice and the restrained way the musicians (aka The Mush Collective) come together in an almost Classical manner without ever threatening to overshadow the singers hushed tones is genuinely admirable.
One other song deserves a mention if for no other reason than the delightful Come a Long Way which closes the disc features some of the finest ‘cardboard box whacking’ from Dora & Macie Keddie-McLaren that you will ever hear.
When I hear albums like this, and especially songs like Bare which features some spellbinding violin from Bernard Wright and the Countrylicious Medicate I find myself despairing at the British music industry; because if Gem was from the Appalachians or indeed some tiny village in North Ontario the Press and indeed Mr Bob Harris himself would be falling over themselves to tell you about ‘the next big thing;’ but Gem is British and more importantly NORTHERN so has to plough her own furrow at her own expense and depend on sites like this to get her songs out into the wider world.
There’s not a bad song here; with Gem’s voice, writing and it has to be said her guitar playing have matured beyond all expectations…..perhaps marriage suits her.

*plodging = local dialect for paddling in the sea.
PS….The pedal-steel player? ‘The’ Chris Hillman?

Released February 16th 2018
http://www.gemandrews.co.uk/

Chris Hillman – The ASYLUM YEARS (Slippin’ & Clear Sailin’)

hillman asylum

Chris Hillman
The ASYLUM YEARS (Slippin’ & Clear Sailin’)
Omnivore Recordings

An Absolute Gem From The Country Music Vaults.

If you don’t already know Chris Hillman’s back-story and place in the Rock Pantheon then perhaps you should stop reading here; but then again not, because if you think Americana Music started with Mumford & Sons or their like then this album is definitely for you.
I actually remember the Slippin’ album being in my big brother Brian’s record collection in the late 70’s which with hindsight is no surprise as he’d been a Byrds and later a Burritos fan; so there’s a logic to it; but I can’t ever remember playing it. (Too many other musical delights for me to discover between 1976 and 1980!).
So when my favourite contact in the US of A asked if I’d like a copy of this re-release of that album coupled with the follow up Clear Sailin’ it was a hearty “YES” from RMHQ.
It was spectacularly weird finally hearing opening track Step On It after 40 years; as it sounds like it has been packaged in a time capsule just waiting for the right time to be released into the wild; and that time is now…2018.
This is followed by the sublimely mellow Slippin’ Away which really is a perfect snapshot of what I remember the ‘Laurel Canyon Sound’ being like; which shouldn’t be a surprise as it features Al Perkins on pedal-steel, Steve Cropper on lead, vocals by Hillman, Tim Schmit, Herb Pedersen and “Ooooh’s” by Flo & Eddie!
With the benefit of hindsight I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to think this album could have been a template for the first two Eagles albums; especially Witching Hour (by Steve Stills) and Midnight Again which have most certainly stood the test of time.
Obviously this was the time when releasing singles wasn’t deemed ‘cool’ so ace songs like Blue Morning and the forerunner of what us kids think of as ‘Roots Music’ (Take Me In Your) Lifeboat have remained hidden treasures to me until this last 7 days; and I guess a lot of people reading this and buying the album will feel the same way as I do.
While Hillman’s words regarding the follow up Clear Sailin’ describe him ‘turning back the dial to a more traditional style of music;’ I can’t determine a clear difference; apart from the judicious use of a saxaphone on several songs.
Although the Superstar friends had been dispensed with it is still chock full of delicious harmonies from Chris Hillman and Richard Marx (yes….THAT Richard Marx) and some glorious playing from ‘the band’ (John Brennan, Merel Bregante, Skip Edwards and Larry Sims) so the differences are quite marginal; making for a lovely album.
The first song on Clear Sailin’ comes in at #11 on this disc and opens with a roaring Sax solo; Nothing Gets Through sees Hillman and Marx’s voices providing the perfect soundtrack to glorious sunny afternoon.
Quits and Hot Dusty Roads are another two songs that made me think of those early Eagles albums; but also reminded me of a lot of Rootsy albums from the last twenty years; proving the staying power of a classy song.
A big part of me expected these two albums to sound ‘dated’ and that’s patently not the case; with Hillman taking the best of his Burritos back catalogue and tweaking it with 70’s technology on Playing The Fool and Ain’t That Peculiar with both sounding perfect for FM Radio in the 70’s and 80’s but not out of place on the cool Internet shows in 2018.
With 20 songs to choose from picking a favourite is never going to be easy; but one song above all else caught my attention straight away and subsequently my I-Phone has played it 3 or 4 times on random so I’m going for Heartbreaker.
How I’ve never heard this song before defies the laws of music…..it is brittle, beautiful and as the title suggests…a heart breaker. I can think of a dozen contemporary and feted singers that would give their left arm to have a song like this on one of their records; yet it’s remained tucked away in a box for 40 years……which just shows what a canon of work Chris Hillman has produced over the last half century, when a song; and indeed couple of albums like this have been confined to the history books until now.
Yet again the good people at Omnivore must be congratulated publicly for unearthing another gem from the vaults.
Treat yourself; or better still treat a loved one to this glorious album.

http://chrishillman.com/
Released February 2018